The great historian Arnold Toynbee, the successor of O. Spengler’s ideas, proposed his unique concept of the cyclical movement of history. He studied many countries, peoples and civilizations, both ancient and modern, and described 37 civilizations in his large-scale work “The Comprehension of History”. One of Toynbee’s central ideas was that every civilization begins with a response to a challenge – whether it is a challenge from nature or a challenge from society.
An example of a response to a challenge of nature is the emergence of the Egyptian civilization. Many thousands of years ago, North Africa, including the Afrasian savannah, faced severe warming, which dried up the land and created the Sahara Desert. Communities of hunters and gatherers, without changing their way of life, faced complete extinction. However, some communities took up the challenge and decided to change their homeland and way of life. They traversed the perishing swamps around the Nile and turned them into fertile land. It was a difficult and dangerous journey, but they were able to conquer nature and succeed.
A similar example can be found in ancient Greece. Previously, the ancient Greeks who lived in Attica were cattle herders. However, when the pastures dried up and the land became depleted, they turned to olive plantations. The olive is able to grow even on bare rock and bear fruit abundantly. This transition stimulated the development of pottery and the art of seafaring as they began to transport oil by sea. The Greeks also developed silver mines to meet the needs of trade. This response to the challenge led to a significant increase in wealth and prosperity for Greek civilization.
However, history also knows examples of human failure to meet challenges. One such example is the Mayan civilization. Unlike Egypt, where dams and drains are still maintained, the material achievements of the ancient Maya have all but disappeared. The ruins of their grandiose structures are now buried in the rainforest. The forest has swallowed up these monuments, a testament to man’s victory over nature. But even from the heights of their palaces and pyramids, the Maya could not prevent the return of the forest, which swallowed up all the cultivated fields, plazas and houses. This serves as a reminder that nature’s challenges can be unpredictable and dangerous.
However, challenges can also come from society. There have been many instances in history where civilizations have faced challenges of a social nature, such as wars, economic crises, or political upheavals. Responding to these challenges requires not only courage and determination, but also the ability to adapt and change.
History shows that ancient civilizations have successfully met the challenges of nature and society through their ability to adapt and change. They found new ways to survive, developed new technologies and arts. However, they also faced failures and inability to prevent some challenges.
Ultimately, the history of ancient civilizations can serve as a lesson for modern society. We must be prepared for the challenges of nature and society, adapt and change to overcome obstacles and ensure our survival and prosperity.