Ancient Near East
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Ancient Near East refers to early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia (modern Iraq and Syria), Persis, Elam and Media (all three in Western Iran), Armenia, Anatolia (modern Turkey), the Levant (modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan), and Ancient Egypt, from the rise of Sumer in the 4th millennium BCE until the region's conquest by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE, or covering both the Bronze Age and the Iron Age in the region. As such, it is a term widely employed in the fields of Near Eastern archaeology, ancient history and Egyptology. Some would exclude Egypt from the ancient Near East as a geographically and culturally distinct area. However, because of Egypt's intimate involvement with the region, especially from the 2nd millennium BCE, this exclusion is rare.
The ancient Near East is considered the cradle of civilization. It was the first to practice intensive year-round agriculture; it gave the rest of the world the first writing system, invented the potter's wheel and then the vehicular- and mill wheel, created the first centralized governments, law codes and empires, as well as introducing social stratification, slavery and organized warfare, and it laid the foundation for the fields of astronomy and mathematics.
Sources of fantasy
The Epic of Gilgamesh was written over generations following the supposed reign of King Gilgamesh, and is seen as a mythologized version of his life. This figure is sometimes an influence and, more rarely, sometimes a figure in modern fantasy.
Perhaps because of Tolkien's popularity, a little known religion exerts an important, although indirect influence on fantasy. The ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism is characterised by far-reaching dualism and spiritual and material battles of the good spirit Ahura Mazda and evil Ahriman. These are described in the Avesta texts, the earliest of which was the Gathas, composed by Zoroaster. Depictions of such wars have become common among modern fantasy authors.