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The Lost Kingdoms

Desert Climb

The area between Egypt and India contains the world's oldest known civilisations: Uruk, Babylon, pharaonic Egypt. This area was also the birthplace for several of the world's cultures and religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The list of dates below shows this in more detail.


Ostensibly all these ancient civilisations died out long ago. Any long-dead king from ancient Babylon, or pharaoh, would not recognise much in the modern Middle East. The region's capital cities, its political entities and languages have all changed.


Yet religion often preserves, in its rituals and language, customs and habits that otherwise have become extinct. So it is with the surviving minority faiths of the Middle East - and with certain strands of Islam, too. The Mandaeans who lived for centuries in Iraq's southern marshes are the closest thing there is to descendants of ancient Babylon. The Zoroastrians of Iran keep alive the ideas and rituals of the ancient Persian Empire. The Druze, who practise a version of Islam, have preserved the ancient world's veneration for the Greek philosophers.


These traditions are under threat both from actual persecution and the spread of modernity and globalization. But these communities still do exist, as shown on the map above.

map of forgotten kingdoms


1401 AD
Tamerlane’s sack of Baghdad
1263 AD
Birth of Ibn Taymiyyah conservative critic of Druze and other heterodox Muslims
1258 AD
Sack of Baghdad by Genghis Khan
1160 AD
Death of Sheikh Adi one of the key figures in the development of the Ezidi religion of northern Iraq
1017 AD
The Druze faith is first openly taught in Cairo
900 AD
Islam becomes majority religion in Egypt
634-654 AD
Arab Muslims conquer all lands from Morocco to Iran
312 AD
Constantine is the first Roman emperor to adopt Christianity
274 AD
Death of Mani founder of Manichaeism; Mandaeans already exist in Iraqi Marshes
70 AD
Sack of Jerusalem by the Romans and destruction of the Second Jewish Temple
332 BC
Alexander the Great conquers Persia destroys Persepolis; soon after passes Hindu Kush
550 BC
Approximate date of renovation of moon-temple at Harran: temple survives well into Islamic era
587 BC
Nebuchadnezzar sacks Jerusalem deports leading Jews to Babylon; on their return forty years later Jewish-Samaritan hostility increases
7000 BC
First known agricultural settlement in what is now Iraq
2560 BC
Great Pyramid built in Egypt
1900 BC
Indo-Europeans arrive in India perhaps including ancestors of the Kalash people
1842 BC
Babylon emerges as an independent city state
1000 BC
Probable date of composition of the Zoroastrian scriptures the Avesta
740 / 722 BC
Assyrians attack Israel take some of its people into captivity – later known as the “Ten Tribes”; Samaritans say that their ancestors were spared


Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms

ISIL wants to kill them, and Western history books have forgotten them. This book describes seven endangered religions in the Middle East that have roots in the distant past.

Gerard Russell - Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms
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