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Before Greek poetry, the Aegean Sea area was in a Greek Dark Age, at the beginning of which syllabic writing was lost and alphabetic writing had not begun. Prior to then in the Bronze Age the records of the Assyrian Empire, the Hittite Empire and the various Mycenaean states of Greece mention a region undoubtedly Asia, certainly in Anatolia, including if not identical to Lydia. These records are administrative and do not include poetry.

The Mycenaean states were destroyed about 1200 BCE by unknown agents although one school of thought assigns the Dorian invasion to this time. The burning of the palaces baked clay diurnal administrative records written in a Greek syllabic script called Linear B, deciphered by a number of interested parties, most notably by a young World War II cryptographer, Michael Ventris, subsequently assisted by the scholar, John Chadwick. A major cache discovered by Carl Blegen at the site of ancient Pylos included hundreds of male and female names formed by different methods.

Some of these are of women held in servitude (as study of the society implied by the content reveals). They were used in trades, such as cloth-making, and usually came with children. The epithet lawiaiai, "captives", associated with some of them identifies their origin. Some are ethnic names. One in particular, aswiai, identifies "women of Asia".[22]Perhaps they were captured in Asia, but some others, Milatiai, appear to have been of Miletus, a Greek colony, which would not have been raided for slaves by Greeks. Chadwick suggests that the names record the locations where these foreign women were purchased.[23] The name is also in the singular, Aswia, which refers both to the name of a country and to a female of it. There is a masculine form, aswios. This Aswia appears to have been a remnant of a region known to the Hittites as Assuwa, centered on Lydia, or "Roman Asia". This name, Assuwa, has been suggested as the origin for the name of the continent "Asia".[24] The Assuwa league was a confederation of states in western Anatolia, defeated by the Hittites under Tudhaliya I around 1400 BCE.

Alternatively, the etymology of the term may be from the Akkadian word (w)a?û(m), which means 'to go outside' or 'to ascend', referring to the direction of the sun at sunrise in the Middle East and also likely connected with the Phoenician word asa meaning east. This may be contrasted to a similar etymology proposed for Europe, as being from Akkadian er?bu(m) 'to enter' or 'set' (of the sun).

T. R. Reid supports this alternative etymology, noting that the ancient Greek name must have derived from asu, meaning 'east' in Assyrian (ereb for Europe meaning 'west').[20] The ideas of Occidental (form Latin Occidens 'setting') and Oriental (from Latin Oriens for 'rising') are also European invention, synonymous with Western and Eastern.[20] Reid further emphasizes that it explains the Western point of view of placing all the peoples and cultures of Asia into a single classification, almost as if there were a need for setting the distinction between Western and Eastern civilizations on the Eurasian continent.[20] Ogura Kazuo and Tenshin Okakura are two outspoken Japanese figures on the subject.

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