Cities, ancient, and daily life

Date
2008
Authors
Gates, Charles
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Academic Press
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Pages
996 - 1002
Language
English
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Abstract

By the fourth millennium BC, developed cities had appeared in the Near East, the earliest cities in the world. This article focuses on daily life in selected cities in this and neighboring regions, with one New World example for comparison. Evidence for daily life in ancient cities comes from two sources: archaeology and, for historical periods, ancient texts. Archaeological evidence is variously preserved, depending on climatic, geological, and cultural conditions. Moreover, archaeologists weigh the evidence differently, depending on the questions they seek to answer. Daily life itself comprises many elements, but a basic distinction can be drawn between private and public. Private life centers around the house, its appearance and furnishings, its occupants (males and females of different ages), and household functions. Public life concerns such aspects as social relationships outside the family, political organization, the maintenance of order, economic matters, and religious practices. Such activities take place in a physical setting, both natural and built; understanding daily life in ancient cities includes analysis of what these elements looked like, individually and in relation with others. To explore these themes, five case studies are presented. The first Old World example is Pompeii, a Roman city destroyed in AD 79 by the eruption of the volcano, Vesuvius. Well preserved under the volcanic pumice and ash, Pompeii has yielded an immense amount of information about daily life. The second example is the Agora, or city center of Athens. Here, archaeological excavations combined with textual sources have illuminated the political, commercial, and religious concerns of this ancient Greek city. The third example is Amarna, or Akhetaten, the short-lived capital city of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten (ruled c. 1353-1337 BC). The final Old World case is Ur, a Sumerian city, and a good example of a Near Eastern 'tell,' an artificial mound consisting of accumulated remains of centuries of occupation. The article concludes with a contrasting New World example: Teotihuacan, the large city in the Valley of Mexico that flourished c. AD 150-600.

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Book Title
Encyclopedia of archaeology
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Published Version (Please cite this version)