20 The Political Abroach to the Classical World
knowledge of the long chain of political experience to which the
classical world was heir.
Our especial concern must be with Egypt. Her semi-isolated
position, shut in on either side by the desert, together with the
wealth of her natural resources, made her far more self-contained
than other countries. Movements of world-wide significance
touched her but indirectly; within her confines she could develop
her own highly characteristic civilization. But no nation can
remain isolated that lacks anyone essential raw material, none can
withdraw from the outside world that produces any sought-after
commodity. Egypt's need for copper led her early to Sinai, her
lack of timber brought her to the Syrian ports of the Lebanon.
In return, she exported gold, and such manufactures as linen
and faience which were in universal demand. And thus she was
brought more and more into touch with the surrounding world,
and played her part in the making and unmaking of nations.
In the long period of prehistory, when no written records can
help us, and our only sources of information are archaeological,
we are still groping dimly among suppositions. Some facts stand
out clearly against a background of doubt. We can distinguish,
by their different weapons and utensils, their ornaments, their
modes of life, various peoples in the Near East and various move-
ments of peoples, and it is thereby possible to attempt a recon-
struction, if a tentative one, of the main story of this distant past.
Which was the oldest of the Near Eastern civilizations ? It is
a question still disputed among archaeologists, each of whom
is apt to claim the honour for his own field of study. The answer
must be that we do not know, that perhaps we shall never know.
It cannot have been Sumer, for that country was not yet in exist-
ence when the people of Cilicia and Syria were producing their
earliest pottery. It may have been Egypt. But a scheme of
comparative chronology cannot yet be established for s,o early
a period, and the beginnings of civilization hardly concern