The Middle East–East of the Sun

tajAssyria, Mesopotamia, Persia; Arabia. These are names you know and recognize. Iran. Iraq. Syria. Pakistan. You know these names as well, but not for the same reason. The first set is associated with rich history, culture, and the cradle of civilization. The second set is associated with war, fear, and modern politics. But what if I were to tell you they were all the same place?

Colonization and modern politics have significantly changed the borders and landscape of the middle east, causing us to sometimes forget that the nation we’re currently terrified of because they have nuclear weapons, also once gave us the Persian cat. We’re so used to praising Western Civilisation, that we tend to forget that the Middle East invented civilisation. Syria may be torn by civil war now, but a few thousand years ago they were the cradle of civilization. They invented cuneiform–the earliest known writing system. They built the first cities. The hanging gardens of Babylon in 290 BC were considered one of the Seven Marvels of the World.

The Middle East also gave us the world’s oldest known poetry–the Epic of Gilgamesh. The fairytales of the nomadic people were collectedand translated in 1706, and practically overnight became the sensation known as The Arabian Nights. The Middle East gave us the two largest religions in the world–Christianity and Islam. Both branched off from Judaism, and the Judaic scriptures are another example of some of the most remarkable ancient literature in the world.

While Rome was reeling from barbarian attacks, and Europe was recovering from Roman occupation, Islam was unifying Arabia and leading to huge advances in art, architecture, medicine and science. When the crusaders set off from England to liberate Jerusalem they came back with gold and wealth, but also with the scientific advancements of the Arabs which may have served as a catalyst to the Renaissance.

So the next time you see a headline about the conflict in the Middle East, remember that without them our modern civilization might not even exist.

Reading List

crescentThere are a remarkable number of speculative fiction books set in or inspired by the Middle East. Here are just a few suggestions. Feel free to send us your own!

Throne of the Crescent Moon–Saladin Ahmed
A Star Curiously Singing—Kerry Nietz
The Lost Art – Simon Morden
Beast – Donna Jo Napoli
The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio – Lloyd Alexander
The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha – Lloyd Alexander
Ansible – Stant Litore
The Blue Sword—Robin McKinley


Katie Lynn Daniels is the author of Supervillain of the Day, and the mastermind behind Vaguely Circular. She blogs about science and things that are peripherally related to science. You can read all her posts here.


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