As humans abandoned the life of wandering, tribal hunters and learned to till the soil, they needed to predict the seasons. Special knowledge was required in order to know when to plant, when to expect floods in fertile valleys, when to expect rainy seasons, and when to reap the crops. Humans had not yet invented the calendar. The first humans who discovered the regularities of sun, moon, and stars that presage the seasons possessed powerful knowledge. Many of these humans used their knowledge to manipulate and control their credulous fellow humans. For example, knowing from astronomical observations when the rainy season would occur and begin the floods, they pretended that they could control the gods and bring down the rains.
The early occult astronomical priesthoods, such as the designers of Stonehenge, convinced their subjects that they alone had contact with the gods. Thus only they could assure the return of the life-giving rains and bountiful harvests. Since they knew when solar and lunar eclipses would occur, they pretended that they actually caused such wonders by controlling the gods. When predictions (called priestly magic) sometimes went awry, the priests claimed that these resulted from the people's sins. The priests demanded that the people worship them or their gods and give them of their substance, including their most beautiful daughters.
As various trades developed, their practices and knowledge were kept secret. Mathematics, for example, became an arcane science, known only to a few. The knowledge of how to construct buildings - masonry and carpentry - became secrets arts and later played a part in concealed rituals in secret societies such as Masonry. A person would gain power through military skill or special knowledge, and assume the role of ruler. In many instances, this person would make his subjects believe that the gods had decreed his rule.
In the era of these ancient civilizations, freedom for the common person fluctuated, depending on the will of the specific ruler or ruling dynasty in power. The division of humans into classes, slavery, and the "divine right of rulers" were unquestioned cultural presuppositions. At times, an enlightened ruler might establish rule by law, protection of the weak, and general economic prosperity for all classes. But most of world history involves ego-maniacal, power-mad rulers enslaving the common people and waging protracted war against all other rulers.
During the latter history of the Egyptian culture the Theban god, Amun, and the ancient Egyptian dynastic divinity, Re, were merged, resulting in changes in religious and social beliefs and practices. The exclusive royal privilege of immortality vanished; every Egyptian was assured of his own personal survival after death. For a brief period, common Egyptian people enjoyed the freedom of owning their own parcel of land and following the trade of their choice. Trade secrets were no longer kept.
The Babylonian ruler Hammurabi (1711-1669 B.C.) established a Code by which his kingdom was ruled, assured justice for the weak, and brought economic prosperity to his people. The stele to the left shows the god of justice, Shamash, dictating his laws to Hammurabi.
The Israelite people established a nation-state ruled at various times by kings, priests, and judges. They established their own legal code based on religious dogmas and, in part, the Code of Hammurabi.
The ruling powers tended to adopt one or a combination of these:
- Plutocracy - rule through wealth
- Militarism - rule through military power
- Sacerdotalism - rule through religious dogma and practice
- Oligarchy - rule through a small cabal
In general, the common people enjoyed little if any freedom, serving at the behest of their rulers. The rulers kept their subjects under control through conditioning them with religions which sanctioned the ruler's power. Common people were forced to work at mind- and body-destroying jobs which gave them no time or energy for reflective thought or unified reform activities.
Herbert J. Muller's definition of freedom is one of the most comprehensive: (1964). Freedom in the Western World: From the Dark Ages to the Rise of Democracy"I am adhering to the broad but relatively neutral definition of freedom as 'the condition of being able to choose and carry out purposes.' This includes the most common meaning of the absence of external constraints, or freedom from coercion; the idea of actual ability with available means, or effective freedom to do what one wishes; and the assumption of a power of deliberate choice between known alternatives, involving freedom of mind and spirit, which is hardest to specify but still distinguishes human freedom from the ability of other animals to carry out their instinctive purposes. In the words of Christian Bay, 'A person is free to the extent that he has the capacity, the opportunity, and the incentive to give expression to what is in him and to develop his potentialities.'
"So defined, I repeat, freedom means concretely freedoms of various kinds, which may be at least roughly specified. Among the most fundamental is political freedom, involving some means of control of rulers by the ruled, some protection of the individual against government by legal rights or civil liberties."