The Sumerian, Hittite, Assyrian and Chaldean Civilisations
The earliest civilisations known to man flourished in the Near East, which is so-called because it is the first place you get to when you travel east from Britain. After that you get to the Middle East and the Far East, and then you go across the sea and come to the edge of America - which we call the Far West. That is because it is far from Britain in a westerly direction. It would be amusing to know what the people in Japan think of finding themselves in the Far East and whether they ever wonder what they are so far east of.
Getting back to the Sumerian, Hittite, Assyrian and Chaldean civilisations, it is interesting to remember that all that we know about these far-off and now economically negligible powers has been discovered by the work of archaeologists, many of them British, such as Professor Max Mallowan, husband of the late Agatha Christie, one of the greatest detective story writers of all time (see Part 437 - 'Great British Writers and where to stay in Britain to follow their tracks').
One of the greatest of pre-Christian cultures was that of ancient Egypt, many of whose most impressive artefacts can now be found in the British Museum, just one of the many storehouses of antiquity which make the capital of England (London) the foremost stopping-off place for the inquisitive traveller. There is a good range of medium-priced accommodation within easy reach of the museum, and this is true also of the museums in the world-famous South Kensington area. Westminster should be avoided during rush hour.
Egyptian Civilisation (continued)
By the time the British had arrived in Egypt, the ancient civilisations were but a memory, and the British were forced to subdue the rebellious Islamic fundamentalists led by the Mahdi, whatever that means, and run the place ourselves and precious little thanks we got for it.
The Persian and Greek Empires
Democracy is said to have existed in a rudimentary form in ancient Greece, though when we examine the situation we find that the actual power was centred in the hands of the few wealthy politicians and businessmen, just as it is in Britain today. No, sorry - what I meant to say was that when British democracy was perfected, it proved to be so popular that we took it all over the globe. And to this day there are still many countries throughout the world where democracy was abandoned as soon as the British turned their backs.
The Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was a loose confederation of countries in Europe which got together under a treaty of Rome for better economic prosperity and the end of war. For a long time Britain lay outside the Roman Empire, as conditions were not right for our entry and we sensibly waited until they got even worse before joining. Once inside the Roman Empire, we had a very strong and beneficial effect on the running of the Empire. Of course, there were always those who said that we in Britain lost our independence when we joined the Empire, and that things were run from Rome, but you will get whingers and trouble-makers at every period. The important thing was that we told Rome what conditions we wanted and we insisted on them, and we went on insisting on them as long as it took to get them, and then we got them, and then the Roman Empire fell apart.
The Advent of Christianity
Until the birth of Christ, calendar years had been measured very roughly from the foundation of Rome. After the birth of Christ we measured things from AD0, though people are not very sure even now if there really was a year AD0, or whether it started with AD1 - anyway, it was not until Greenwich Mean Time was invented by British scientists that things became properly sorted out.
Jesus Christ is chiefly remembered now for his part in helping to found the Church of England (continued in next instalment).