Iron Age Civilisations

Iron Age began about 3000 years ago when it came to be produced on a large scale and its use became common. It was much cheaper and stronger than copper and bronze. So, the use of iron tools and implements enabled our forefathers to clear forests and to reclaim lands for the extension of cultivation. Agricultural production thus increased considerably. This brought radical changes in the social and economic life of the people.

The use of iron had a great impact on transport and communication. Iron rims and spokes were used in wheels to make them stronger. Iron nails and sheets were widely used for making boats and ships. Trade and commerce flourished. This trade brought prosperity. New weapons of war like the use of long, heavy sword, saber, iron-shield, spear and lance changed the methods of warfare.

The Iron Age was also a period of intellectual progress. The most important development was the beginning of alphabets. This replaced the old pictorial and graphical style of writing. 

The Civilisations that flourished during the Iron Age were Greece, Rome, Persia and India. They were much more advanced than the earlier civilisations.

1. Greek Civilization

Greek Civilisation flourished in Greece more than 2000 years ago. There arose many independent city-states, which developed a remarkable system of government. The development of city-state was a unique feature of Greek civilization. Each city was enclosed by a wall for protection. Inside the city, there was a fort called Acropolis which was situated on a hill top.

Among the Greek city-states, the most famous were Athens and Sparta. Athens was rich and cultured. Athenian citizens included writers, philosophers, artists and thinkers. The society was based on slave labor, but the citizens enjoyed a democratic form of government. Sparta was almost like an army camp, where everyone was expected to obey the superiors. Sparta had the best army in Greece. Training in warfare was considered to be the most important thing here.

There was considerable rivalry between Athens and Sparta. But they fought side by side to drive off the mighty Persian army of Darius I and Xerxes, who tried to conquer Greece. Under Pericles, Athens enjoyed a ‘Golden Age’. But a long war between Athens and Sparta, called the Peloponnesian War, which lasted for 27 years resulted in the defeat of Athens.

Ancient Greece had the distinction of being called the birth place of Western Civilisation. They were pioneers in art and learning, science, literature and sculpture. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were great philosophers whose works are studied even today. Herodotus and Thucydides were famous historians. Archimedes, Aristarchus and Democritus were great scientists. Aeschylus, Sophocles and Aristophanes were great dramatists. Homer was the author of the famous epics - Iliad and Odyssey.

The Greeks also had great knowledge of architecture. They built many beautiful temples and palaces. The Greeks believed in many gods. Each city had its own protector god or goddess. The Olympic Games, first recorded in 776 BC was held every four years at a place called Olympia. Sports and athletic events were held to honor Zeus, the king of gods.

The Greek towns were the centers of administration as well as cultural and economic activities. The farmers mainly grew grapes, olives and grain. Wine and olive oil were important products. The Greeks, at one time, also established vast empires. Alexander of Macedonia, better known to history as Alexander the Great, led his army out of Europe and conquered Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Afghanistan and even parts of Central Asia and North-Western India. This led to the spread of Greek ideas and learning. Alexander died at an age of thirty-three only. After his death, his empire broke up into smaller kingdoms. Later, Greece was conquered by the Romans.

2. Roman Civilization

In 510 BC, the Romans set up a Republic on the city of Rome which is on river Tiber in Central Italy. The Roman Republic was ruled by the senate, which consisted of a group of elders called senators. They elected two Consuls each year to lead them. By 200 BC, Rome became the leading power of Italy. It was able to defeat rivals like Carthage for the control of the Mediterranean world.

In the early Roman society, there were three classes of people - the patricians (aristocrats), the plebeians (commoners) and the slaves. Roman economy was based on slave labor. Rich Romans owned slaves. These slaves were often trained for the gladiators’ fight, which was a fight between the slaves and wild animals. There were also frequent slave revolts in Rome. One such revolt was led by Spartacus in 74 BC.

Although Rome was a Republic, strong and influential leaders fought for power. Julius Caesar was one such leader who got enormous power and became a dictator. In 44 BC, Caesar was murdered and a civil war broke out. After the war, Augustus Caesar became the first emperor of Rome. The Roman Empire spread to three continents - Europe, Asia and Africa.

It was during the rule of Augustus, the great prophet, Jesus Christ appeared. He was the founder of Christianity. He was born in Bethlehem. According to him, all men and women are the children of God. He taught people to love each other. After his death, the followers of Christ spread his teachings among the people. At its peak, the Roman Empire stretched from Mesopotamia in the east to Gaul and Britain in the west.

People throughout the Empire adopted Roman way of living. Towns with baths, temples, palaces and theatres were built. In the countryside, the Romans built huge, comfortable farmhouses called villas. Roman rulers used to preside over victory parades, religious ceremonies and games in the arenas and amphitheatres. Gladiator’s fight, chariot racing, and theatre were some of the common amusements.

The Roman Empire was divided into several provinces, each ruled by a governor. He had a number of officers under him who looked after different affairs of administration. The main fighting forces of the Roman army were the legions. Each legion had 5000 soldiers headed by a commander. The Roman Empire was governed by the personal will of the emperor. But his power depended on the army. Weak emperors were often overthrown by the army generals.

By 395 AD, the huge Roman Empire was divided into two halves for better governance. The Eastern part with capital at Byzantium survived even after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the face of barbarian invasion in 476 AD. Emperor Constance gave Byzantium a new name - Constantinople. It became the home of Eastern Orthodox Christian faith and the capital city of the Byzantine emperors.

3. Persian Civilization

In the Iron Age, Persia (Modern Iran) was inhabited by the Aryan communities. One branch of them, known as the Medes, settled in the western part of the country. Another branch occupied the southern and eastern parts and was called the Persians. The Medes built up a powerful kingdom covering a vast area of Iran. At first, the Persians also had to acknowledge the supremacy of the Medes. One of the Persian kings, Cyrus, united the Persians in 550 BC. He built a powerful army and successfully conquered Babylon, Assyria and Asia Minor.

Darius I was the greatest emperor of Persia. He belonged to the Achaemenian dynasty. His empire stretched from River Indus to the Eastern shores of Mediterranean Sea. He made Persepolis his capital in 518 BC. During his reign, Persian art, architecture and sculpture flourished. He also built a powerful navy.

The Persian emperors were able administrators. They divided their empire into provinces, each governed by a Satrap or Governor. The Persians were good soldiers with strong cavalry, navy and had iron weapons. Though the Persians were defeated by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, their civilisation did not come to an end. Their culture and civilisation continued to flourish under the Parthian and Sassanian emperors. But ultimately they were conquered by the Arabs in 7th century AD.

Like the Indo-Aryans, the early Persians worshipped the forces of nature. They believed in the sun god, sky god and other gods. They considered fire to be a symbol of holiness. They also performed fire rites and practiced animal sacrifices.

Later, a religious preacher Zoroaster found the religion called Zoroastrianism. He taught them about Ahura-Mazda, the Lord of Heaven and Light, who gives men strength and energy. According to Zoroaster, life was a constant struggle between good (light) and evil (darkness). The holy scripture of the Persians is called Zend - Avesta.