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INTRODUCTION TO VOLUME I

 

CIVILIZATION was first planted in the great river valleys of the East. The upland, hill-country, and plain reacted less favorably upon the faculties of man than did the dark alluvium richly spread along the banks of overflowing streams. The exuberance of the soil thus formed, and the copious and perennial supply of water, gave great advantages to those primitive tribes of men who chose for their homes the valley-lands rather than the mountain slopes and plains. Accordingly we find that, at the suggestion of Nature, the first progressive communities were organized by the river-banks, on the fertile deposits made by the overflow of turbid waters as they spread out to meet the sea.

In such a locality the first well-developed society of which history is called to take account was established. Where the River Nile bears northwards to the Mediterranean his swollen waters, annually yellowed with the rich debris of the mountains, the oldest nation of antiquity was planted. The secular history of mankind properly begins with EGYPT.

The second region to which the attention of the historian is directed is similar to the first. The valleys of the Euphrates and the Tigris, occupying the depression between the Syrian plateau and the table-land of Persia, furnish a situation specially favorable to the development of great kingdoms. Here the incentives and instigations to a civilized life are scarcely inferior to those of Egypt; and accordingly we find that, at a very remote period, man availed himself of the natural advantages of the lowlands lying along the two great rivers, and planted powerful empires on their banks.

In this fruitful and well-watered region no fewer than three of the great monarchies of the ancient world-CHALDJEA, ASSYRIA, BABYLONIA rose, flourished, and fell. It will therefore be natural, after tracing the vicissitudes of Egyptian history, down to the time of the conquest of that country by the Persians, to turn to the valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates, and narrate, in chronological order, the histories of the three great kingdoms founded on the banks of those rivers. The Second, Third, and Fifth Books of Ancient History will thus be occupied with an account of the Chaldean, Assyrian, and Babylonian monarchies.

In an exhaustive account of the early movements of the human race, we should next enter the valley of the Indus. Here we should see the oldest branch of the Aryan family developing into the civilized condition, until, by the separation of the Iranic tribes on the west, a new dominion is established in the hill-countries of MEDIA and PERSIA. We should observe the growth of this power, warlike and aggressive from the first, until attracted by the wealth and emboldened by the effeminacy of the Mesopotamians, the army of Cyaxares captures Nineveh and makes it the capital of the Median dominions. The Fourth Book will be occupied with the history of the Median Empire, down to its overthrow by Cyrus the Great.

With this event we may properly pause to observe the revival of BABYLONIA under Nabopolassar and his successors. We shall see a new power arising on the ruins of ancient Chaldaea more glorious than she, but destined to a brief career. The Lower or Later Empire of the Babylonians will occupy a few of the most brilliant and interesting chapters in the annals of antiquity.

The collapse of Babylonia under the blows of Cyrus will take the reader again beyond the Zagros and open to him the records of the MEDO-PERSIAN EMPIRE. Here he shall note the growth, culmination, and decline of the greatest power ever planted by the Aryan race in Asia, and at its close shall mark with admiration the triumph of the freedom-loving Hellenes over the consolidated despotism established by Cyrus and his successors.

But before transferring his historical station from Asia to Europe, the reader may