West Asia People - People of Mesopotamia and Iran
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West Asian People

Mari warrior
Semitic Warrior
from Mari

The people of West Asia can be divided into three language groups, which also more or less match up with cultural divisions. There are the Semites, who lived mainly along the Mediterranean coast and south into Arabia, then west into Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. There are the Indo-Europeans, who started between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, but migrated south about 2500 BC into Mesopotamia and the Iranian plateau. And there are the Turks, who arrived later, around 900 AD, and dominated Turkey, with considerable influence further south into Syria and Iraq.

By and large, the Semites were nomads, who travelled around with their donkeys and sheep, and did not live in cities. The Egyptians and Phoenicians did settle down, but the other Semites - the Berbers, the Jews, the Assyrians, the Akkadians, the Arabs - were mainly nomadic.

The Indo-Europeans and Turks were mainly cattle-herders and horse-riders. These are the Hittites, the Persians, the Parthians, the Seljuks, the Ottomans.

All of these nomad groups, Indo-European, Turkish, and Semitic, have a strong focus on the family. This is perhaps invariably true of travelling people, who habitually travel in small groups based on the family. It was very important who inherited the family property - whether that was cattle or land - and generally it was sons who inherited.

The general tendency seems to be for men to control the family, and for women to remain in seclusion. That is, women traditionally do not go out in public much, and if they do they wear a veil over their faces or at least a head-covering and long robes and cloaks.
But where West Asian people did settle down in cities and begin farming, this tradition collapsed, and women soon took active parts in business and religious activities, and no longer wore veils. In general, city life tends to favor the individual over the family, which seems to empower women. This sort of city life is typical of the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Parthians, and the Egyptians.

As you might expect in a society where the family was very important, friends have generally not been emphasized in the cultures of West Asia. Even so, the greatest pieces of literature from West Asia do present images of close friends who care very much about each other. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh almost dies of grief when his friend Enkidu dies. In the Bible, the friendship between David and Jonathan is famous. Jesus advocated leaving your mother and father to form a "new family" of your "brothers and sisters in Christ."

More about West Asian slaves and schools

Bibliography and further reading about ancient West Asian people:

More about slaves and schools
More about West Asia
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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