Cover image for The pre-Islamic Middle East
The pre-Islamic Middle East
Sicker, Martin.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Praeger, [2000]

Physical Description:
231 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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DS62.2 .S54 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Sicker explores the political history of the Middle East from antiquity to the Arab conquest from a geopolitical perspective. He argues that there are a number of relatively constant environmental factors that have helped condition -not determine-the course of Middle Eastern political history from ancient times to the present. These factors, primarily, but not exclusively geography and topography, contributed heavily to establishing the patterns of state development and interstate relations in the Middle East that have remained remarkably consistent throughout the troubled history of the region.

In addition to geography and topography, the implications of which are explored in depth, religion has also played a major political role in conditioning the pattern of Middle Eastern history. The Greeks first introduced the politicization of religious belief into the region in the form of pan-Hellenism, which essentially sought to impose Greek forms of popular religion and culture on the indigenous peoples of the region as a means of solidifying Greek political control. This ultimately led to religious persecution as a state policy. Subsequently, the Persian Sassanid Empire adopted Zoroastrianism as the state religion for the same purpose and with the same result. Later, when Armenia adopted Christianity as the state religion, followed soon after by the Roman Empire, religion and the intolerance it tended to breed became fundamental ingredients, in regional politics and have remained such ever since. Sicker shows that the political history of the pre-Islamic Middle East provides ample evidence that the geopolitical and religious factors conditioning political decision-making tended to promote military solutions to political problems, making conflict resolution through war the norm, with the peaceful settlement of disputes quite rare. A sweeping synthesis that will be of considerable interest to scholars, students, and others concerned with Middle East history and politics as well as international relations and ancient history.

Author Notes

MARTIN SICKER is an independent consultant who has served as a senior executive in the United States government and has taught political science at American University and George Washington University. He has written widely in the fields of political science and international affairs and is the author of numerous books on Middle East history and politics. His latest publications are Reshaping Palestine: From Muhammad Ali to the British Mandate, 1831-1922 (Praeger, 1999) and Pangs of the Messiah: The Troubled Birth of the Jewish State (Praeger, forthcoming 2000).

Reviews 1

Choice Review

To understand the contemporary Islamic Middle East, one must know what came before Islam. That, at least, is Sicker's contention, and it is the justification for this book, which starts with First Dynasty Egypt and Sumerian Mesopotamia and ends just before the "dynamic imperialist challenge ... emerging from Arabia" sounded the "death knell" of the Sassanid Empire in Persia. The thesis may be flawed, for Islam brought about a cultural revolution and a break with the past such as Christianity had never achieved in the Middle East. Yet there is much to be said for this swift survey of three millennia. It is a good antidote to specialization in a field that is full of specialists. Sicker has read the standard secondary sources and he is generally reliable, though his treatment of Late Antiquity is thin and not always accurate. He has no axes to grind, and he is largely successful in his purpose, which is to provide historical background for the Middle East of today. The book will make a good textbook for a swift survey course of the ancient Middle East, as well as a useful resource for undergraduate libraries. The general reader too will find it informative. ; University of British Columbia

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
1. The Middle East in Early Antiquityp. 9
2. Egypt and Asiap. 25
3. The Rise and Decline of Assyriap. 43
4. The Rise and Fall of Mediap. 63
5. The Empire of the Achaemenidsp. 75
6. The Persian-Greek Warsp. 83
7. The Macedonian Conquestp. 97
8. The Dissolution of Alexander's Empirep. 109
9. Reconfiguration of the Middle Eastp. 123
10. Rome Enters the Middle Eastp. 137
11. The Roman-Parthian Conflictp. 149
12. The Struggle over the Euphrates Frontierp. 161
13. The Roman-Persian Stalematep. 173
14. The Era of Shapur IIp. 183
15. The Struggle for Persia's Frontiersp. 193
16. End of the Sassanid Empirep. 201
Afterwordp. 211
Bibliographyp. 213
Indexp. 221