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The Age of the Gods

The Age of the Gods

Christopher Dawson
with an introduction by Dermot Quinn
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  • Book Info
    The Age of the Gods
    Book Description:

    When first published in 1928, The Age of the Gods was hailed as the best short account of what is known of pre-historic man and culture. In it, Christopher Dawson synthesized modern scholarship on human cultures in Europe and the East from the Stone Age to the beginnings of the Iron Age.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1978-3
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xx)
    Dermot Quinn

    The Age of the Gods is an astonishing book by an extraordinary writer. Nearly forty years old when it was published, Christopher Dawson was no longer young for a first-time author. He had worked on the book for nearly fifteen years and had thought about its major themes even longer. Nor, as a part-time lecturer at Exeter University in the southwest of England, was he a figure of much academic standing. Nor was he likely to make much of a splash. Quiet, shy, and reserved, he was a scholar’s scholar, an improbable popularizer. Yet The Age of the Gods helped...

  2. Preface
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
    Christopher Dawson
  3. Introduction
    (pp. xxiii-xxxii)

    After a century and more of historical specialism and archæological research, of the minute criticism of documents and sources, the time has come when it is becoming possible to reap the fruits of this intensive labour, and to undertake some general synthesis of the new knowledge of man’s past that we have acquired. It is a truism that we cannot understand the present without a knowledge of the past or the past without the whole, but previous to our own age it has been difficult to realise this. Men were forced to rest content with the history of a few...

  4. I The Glacial Age and the Beginnings of Human Life in Europe
    (pp. 1-14)

    The question of the origins of cultural change is hardly less fundamental than that of the mutation of species itself, which remains the fundamental problem of biology. In fact, the development of a new way of life, and that of a new race or species, are, as we have seen, closely bound up together, and form two aspects of a single vital movement. The farther we go back in the history of humanity, the more difficult it is to conceive of any spontaneous development or modification of culture. The way of life of a primitive people is almost as unchangeable...

  5. II Later Palæolithic Culture and the Religion of the Hunter
    (pp. 15-31)

    The later palæolithic period which we have described in the last chapter has an extraordinary importance for the history of culture, not only because it witnesses the appearance of the modern type of humanity, but still more because for the first time it enables us to form some idea of the inner life of primitive culture. Hitherto we have been dealing with the dry bones of vanished cultures. Now for the first time we are able to see something of the life behind. We can at last enter into the mind of primitive man and gain some knowledge of the...

  6. III The Dawn of the Neolithic Age and the Rise of the Peasant Culture in Europe
    (pp. 32-45)

    The change of climate which resulted from the passing of glacial conditions, and the emergence of Northern Europe from the great ice-sheets that had covered it, did not, as one might suppose, lead to any immediate progress in European culture. On the contrary, the passing of the glacial age seems to have been in many respects a time of retrogression and cultural decadence. The highly specialised hunting culture of Magdalenian times could not survive the passing of the cold, dry steppe conditions to which it had adapted itself, and it was many centuries and probably thousands of years before the...

  7. IV Asia and the Origins of the Higher Civilisation
    (pp. 46-63)

    While Europe was passing through the stages of culture which were described in the first chapter, what was happening in asia? There can be no question of the importance of the Asiatic developments, for there is every reason to think that the traditional belief in Asia as the original cradle of the human race is true, but the study of Asiatic prehistory is in its infancy, and the whole course of palæolithic development is still obscure. There is no doubt that the palæolithic cultures were widely spread in Asia. Industries corresponding to those of the older palæolithic cultures of Europe...

  8. V Neolithic Culture and the Religion of the Peasant
    (pp. 64-80)

    It is obvious that the gap between the culture of the palæolithic hunters and that of the neolithic and æneolithic peoples of the Near East is a very wide one. It involves something far deeper than the mere change in the type of stone implements which is implied in the term “neolithic.” The ordinary classification of human cultures in stone, Bronze, and Iron ages is a convenient one for practical purposes, but it is extremely superficial. The change from the palæolithic to the neolithic culture—one of the greatest changes in the whole range of human history—is not a...

  9. VI The City State and the Development of the Sumerian Culture
    (pp. 81-102)

    According to the view put forward in the last chapter, the earliest agriculture must have grown up round the shrines of the Mother Goddess, which thus became social and economic centres, as well as holy places, and were the germs of the future cities.¹

    Now we know from the sumerian evidence that in later times the temples were great landowning corporations. Moreover, the god or the goddess was in a sense the owner of the whole city territory. The actual cultivators were tenants of the divine landlord, and paid part of the produce of the land into the temple storehouses....

  10. VII The Archaic Culture in Egypt and the Development of the Great State
    (pp. 103-122)

    Vast as is the importance of Mesopotamia for the development of ancient civilisation, it does not stand alone. No less imposing and original is the creative genius of the Egyptian culture, and even if the latter was, as we have suggested, indebted to the fertilising influence of Asiatic civilisation, it nevertheless preserved its originality and its ancient indigenous culture-tradition. It is, in fact, in Egypt that it is possible to trace back the continuous history of civilisation farther than anywhere else. Owing to the dryness of the climate a far larger mass of archæological evidence has been preserved, and owing...

  11. VIII The Dawn of the Higher Civilisation in Europe: Crete and the Ægean Culture
    (pp. 123-140)

    European civilisation derives its origins from a double tradition—on the one hand from the neolithic Peasant Culture of Central Europe, which was described in Chapter III, on the other from the metal-using culture of the Mediterranean, which was in closer contact with the ancient civilisations of the Near East, and it was the interaction and combination of these two elements that created the European culture of historic times. The neolithic culture of Central Europe was the more truly European tradition, since it influenced the whole continental development, but it did not possess within itself the seeds of progress. It...

  12. IX The Origins of the Megalithic Culture and Its Expansion in Western Europe
    (pp. 141-153)

    The problem of the Megalithic Culture lies at the root of the whole question of the origins of the higher culture in Western Europe. We have seen that the culture of the west in neolithic times was of a very backward type. It was an outlying region, and the cultural currents transmitted from the great centres of civilisation in the Near East only reached it late and indirectly. While the Eastern Europe and the Danube region already possessed a settled and semi-civilised peasant culture, in the west the conditions of life were hardly in advance of what they had been...

  13. X Spain and the Later Development of the Megalithic Culture in Western Europe
    (pp. 154-173)

    With the beginning of the Age of Metal the Megalithic Culture of the West enters on a new phase. Its great development, not only in Spain and Sardinia, but also in France, and above all in Brittany, undoubtedly falls within this period, which we may date approximately to the second half of the third millennium.¹ The starting-point of the movement and its centre of highest development is to be found in spain, but it was largely due to new influences which did not originate within the domain of the earlier Megalithic Culture. For the latter was far from being characteristic...

  14. XI The Warrior Peoples and the Decline of the Archaic Civilisation
    (pp. 174-191)

    The Archaic Civilisation, which has been described in the preceding chapters, reached its full development in the third millennium B.C. Thereafter the note of the civilisations of the Near East was conservation rather than progress. In fact, in many respects the general level of material culture stood higher in that age than at any subsequent period. All the great achievements on which the life of civilisation rests had been already reached, and there was no important addition to its material equipment until the rise of the great scientific and industrial movement in Western Europe in modern times. The most important...

  15. XII The Nordic Culture and the Origins of the Warrior Peoples in Europe
    (pp. 192-212)

    In the chapters that deal with the history of the Megalithic Culture little has been said about the most northerly extension of that culture in the Southern Baltic and Northern Germany. It is, however, a region of exceptional importance, not only because it is the terminal point of the expansion of the Megalithic Culture in Europe, but still more because it marks the beginning of a brilliant development of Nordic Culture, which proceeded without a break from neolithic times down to the end of the Bronze Age. With the coming of the Megalithic Culture, the Baltic region ceases to be...

  16. XIII The Age of Empire in the Near East: Egypt, Asia Minor, and Syria
    (pp. 213-229)

    The decline of the Archaic Culture and the invasions of the warrior peoples at the beginning of the second millennium was followed by a period of darkness and confusion during which there is an almost entire absence of historical records. When the Near East begins once more to emerge from obscurity in the sixteenth century B.C., we find ourselves in a new world. Throughout Western Asia, from the highlands of Cappadocia to the Persian Gulf, the conquering peoples have established themselves as the overlords of the native populations and the rulers of powerful states. The most important of these, though...

  17. XIV The Bronze Age in Central Europe and the Formation of the Indo-European Peoples
    (pp. 230-252)

    The Age of Empires in the Near East finds its counterpart in Europe in the Mycenæan period of Greece and the continental Bronze Age. This is an important phase of the development of European culture, for it marks the transition between the prehistoric and the historic worlds. During its course the peoples and cultures which emerge into the light of history in the following epoch were already in the process of formation. Moreover, it was during this age that Europe first acquired a certain measure of cultural unity. The earlier neolithic peasant cultures and the hunting and food-gathering cultures of...

  18. XV The Mycenæan Culture of Greece and the Age of the Invasions
    (pp. 253-267)

    During the later Bronze Age a new culture, contemporary with the New Kingdom in Egypt and the Hittite Empire, was arising in mainland Greece which was destined to take the place of the old Minoan civilisation that had its centre at Cnossus. It occupies an intermediate position between the barbaric cultures of the European Bronze Age and the civilised empires of Egypt and Western Asia, and affords a remarkable example of the new type of warlike society which arose from the contact between the invading Indo-European peoples and the Archaic Culture of the Near East.

    Owing to its geographical position...

  19. XVI Italy and the Beginnings of the Iron Age in Europe
    (pp. 268-284)

    The changes that passed over the ancient world in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries B.C. were not confined to the Eastern Mediterranean. At the same time that the Mycenæan Culture was passing away in Greece and the Ægean, a great change was also taking place in Italy. The Terremare Culture of the Po valley came to an end and its place was taken by a group of new cultures, all of which were characterised by the use of iron and by a new geometrical style of art. The most important of these, the Villanova Culture, occupied the northern slopes of...