22 The Political Approach to the Classical World
As time went on, villages grew into towns and life became
more complicated. In Mesopotamia men learnt to scratch
symbols and numerals on clay tablets, accounts for so many
sheep and so much barley, which are the beginnings of writing.
They built temples for their gods, ornamented with elaborate
mosaic designs, and they began to import stone from the hills
to carve into vases and to lay firm foundations for their shrines.
The Egyptians were already familiar with the use of stone. It
had always lain ready to their hand—flint in the high desert,
limestone and harder materials in the cliffs and wadies bordering
the valley. But as the pre-dynastic people developed their skill,
the objects they produced improved in technique; their slate-
palettes, with scenes of the chase and mythological subjects,
surpass anything that the Near East could produce at the time.
They too, by carving symbols on stone and ivory, discovered a
system of writing. They too built shrines to their gods.
The prosperity of the town communities increased. At Ur,
the city of the moon-god, local rulers were interred in deep pits
with great pomp and magnificence, adorned with their jewels
and finery. They were accompanied in the grave by their
entourage, the servants and ladies of the court, the musicians
with their harps, and chariots with their charioteers and horses,
all ritually slain to accompany their master to the next world.
In Egypt, the king was also buried in a deep shaft, surrounded
by the members of his household, but in separate tombs that
they might occupy when they died—a survival, perhaps, of a
less innocent custom, as the Sumerian burial-rite suggests. It
was a custom which soon died out in the great countries of
antiquity, but it lingered on on the fringes of the civilized world,
among the savage tribes of further Nubia and the Scythians of
the northern steppes.
By now, Egyptian writing was not only used to mark owner-
ship, to make inventories and to send simple messages, but had
developed to a point where historical facts, the names of