In ordinary corporate parlance, “ancient history” is often deemed to be anything more than twenty-five years old. I believe that the study of genuine ancient history can provide contemporary businesses with lessons in survival, strategic thinking, success and failure that case studies miss for two critical reasons. First, the verdicts are much more final; we have had sufficient time to determine that the competitor who gained market share was not doing so through fraudulent accounting or through tactics that led to their eventual failure as well. Secondly, but no less important, is that by stepping out of the analogies of corporations we sensitize ourselves to the differences between our circumstances and those that we study. It may be tempting to try and apply the same tactics that worked for a successful competitor to our own situation, but great leaders will force themselves to consider that such answers may not be applicable due to cultural misalignment, a distinct competitive landscape, or subtle but profound differences in the time that has been taken.
My primary source for this task is the volumes of the Cambridge Ancient History, beginning with Volume I: Part I, Prolegomena and Prehistory.
My interpretations and even the data that I cite will necessarily be limited by this approach. The books are surveys, they are dated, and they appear to overemphasize Europe and the Near East, with little information at this point on the migration patterns or archaeological evidence from other regions. Nevertheless, they will provide a more comprehensive overview than I (or likely most readers) have currently of the subject, and provide a valuable frame of reference as I study more. I will intersperse these posts (and the books) with others from great minds of the past (including military strategists, political philosophers, and others). I will welcome recommendations of deeper or more recent scholarship as well, but as my time for recreational reading (and writing about it) is finite and this project is somewhat ambitious, it may take some time for me to explore additional sources, or I might never get past the Paleolithic.
The books take a tone that presumes a knowledgeable reader, or access to the numerous sources which the authors of the various sections cite; maps are provided at the back, but as the various Chapters and sections in this volume were written by 16 different authors, some overlap and others are disappointingly lacking in sites that are mentioned in the text. It requires flipping back and forth between multiple maps and the text to keep track of the various settlements. Additionally, due to differences of focus of the different authors, the chronology is not linear; one chapter (to be discussed later) describes the numerous techniques used to identify the dates of various Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian rulers into the first Millennium B.C., while later chapters trace the development of Neolithic settlements from 7000 B.C. up to the 3000 B.C. era.
In order to share some of the insights that I gain from this study of history and provide structure to this blog, I will post reflections on what I have read as well as the lessons that I think contemporary businesses (and people) can draw from the era, as well as some interesting (to me) trivia that I learned. I hope that this project proves interesting to readers, but I freely admit that I am undertaking it primarily selfishly- to enhance my own ability to learn from every subject and seek out the lessons that are relevant to my own work and life. If nothing else, this journey should provide some additional interesting trivia, a greater sense of perspective (being informed by over ten thousand years of human survival and development), and some further insight into formative periods of humanity’s existence.