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Chapter 1:The First Civilizations

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Chapter 1:The First Civilizations


The rise of civilizations developed along with surplus food production. It enabled people to work in political, religious, military positions, or in artistic & various skilled occupations; & rulers to control laborers. The first civilization arose in Mesopotamia over 7,000 years ago in

West Asia. There are other 6 centers of early civilizations including the Nile Valley.

Routes of Human Migration

Around 2500 bc, a civilization developed around the Indus River with perfect systems of drainage of brick-lined sewers.

Brick homes many stories high were common. They also developed systems of writing and counting, and dug canals to irrigate their farms.

Shang dynasty (1570-1045 bc) in the Yellow River Valley of the North China Plain

was the first civilization to develop a comprehensive writing system and to leave a written record in China.

The Aztec created an empire in the 1400s in Mexico now, which was destroyed by the Spaniards in 1521.

The Maya civilization encompassed part of Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras now. An indication of the skill and artistry of their architects, the

ruins of Maya cities have been discovered in this area. The Maya civilization collapsed in about ad 900.

The Inca built one of the wealthiest and the largest empires in to-day’s South America from the early 1500s. Located along the western coast of the South Pacific Ocean, the empire extended more than 4000 km and included regions of Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina..


Mesopotamia, located in a region with parts of eastern Syria, Iraq, & southeastern Turkey today, lay between two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. The name Mesopotamiais a Greek word meaning “between the rivers.” Its oldest known communities date from 7000 bc. Several civilizations flourished in the region. In the 6th century B.C. it came to be part of the Persian Empire, the largest empire then.

The Tigris River flows through Iraq that occupies the greater part of the ancient land of Mesopotamia, the plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

The Tigris that brings water to the desert has sustained agricultural communities for several thousand years.


A. Early Mesopotamian City-States & Empires

The need for self-defense & irrigation led the Sumerians to develop cities by the 4,000 bc, followed subsequently by the Akkadians, the Gutians, the Elamites, beforeHammurabi of Babylon (1792-1750 bc) that later fell to the Hittites and then to the Kassites, & Amorites in Ashu which fell to the Hurrians. Kassite Babylonia flourished on the cities & villages.

Mesopotamia nourished some of the world’s earliest settlements. The Sumerians in about 3500 bc built a canal system and the world’s first cities.


Ancient peoples of Mesopotamia kept important documents in a system of writing, cuneiform,into clay or stone tablets that probably originated in Sumeria more than 4,000 years ago. The collections of tablets in Mesopotamia are viewed as the earliest libraries known so far.

This Mesopotamian terra-cotta urn that dates back to 5000 and 3000 bc exhibits a design typical of ancient Persian art. As ancient nomadic tribes in the Middle East left no written records, the artwork buried with the dead provides information useful about them.

This bronze head from Nineveh, which dates from about 2300 bc is representative of an Akkadian king. The hair style and beard are typical of the Mesopotamian art.


B. The Code of Hammurabi

Babylonian king Hammurabi creates a law code. The basis of criminal law is that of equal retaliation. The law offers protection to all classes of Babylonian society; it seeks to protect the weak and the poor, including women, children, & slaves, against injustice of the rich and powerful. This code proves the law and justice of Hammurabi’s rule.

Hammurabi, king of Babylon, united the diverse tribes in the Mesopotamian area. Code of Hammurabi is a set of laws for the conduct of society and individuals; it is one of the first bodies of written law in our human history.

The Code of Hammurabi is engraved on the black basalt of this stele made in the first half of the 18th century bc. The top portion, shown here, depicts the sun god Shamash presenting to Hammurabi a staff and ring, symbols of the power to administer the law. In his reign (1792-1750 bc), Hammurabi, by means of his

impressive Babylonian army, conquered his rivals and established a unified Mesopotamia. He proved to be as great an administrator as he was a general.

  • Kingdom of Babylonia (1792--) formed around the region where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow in relatively parallel courses toward the Persian Gulf.


C. Religion

The Sumerians believed that the universe was ruled by a pantheon. They had four creating gods representing heaven, earth, air, & water, which they regarded as the four major parts of the universe; three sky deities: the god of the moon, the sun god, and the queen of heaven; gods in charge of mountains, rivers, plains, of cities, fields, farms, and of tools for farming.

At the site of the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur stands this mud brick religious temple tower, built for the moon god Nanna in the 2100s bc.

Often depicted as a wise old man with a long beard, the moon god Sin was one of the most famous and important Babylonian gods. His main

temples were situated a Ur & Harran. This relief from about 2300 bc shows Ur-Nammu, the first king of the third dynasty of Ur, making a sacrifice before Sin.

Mesopotamian Relief

Palaces of ancient Mesopotamia were covered with reliefs that usually depicted scenes from the lives of the kings. This is a relief, which was one part of the palace at Dur Sharrukin, that shows Sargon II (721-705 BC) and one of his subjects.


A. Introduction

Ancient Egypt, (around 3300--30 bc), was the longest-lived civilization of the ancient world, & the origin of the first recorded worshiper of one god, with one of the first religions to have a concept of the afterlife. Hieroglyphs (象形文字), great pyramids, statues combining human and animal forms, and temple complexes(综合建筑), are only a few of its many remnants.

Architectural sites in ancient Egypt were concentrated on the Nile River between the Mediterranean Sea in the north and the First Cataract, the first major section of rapids on the Nile River, at Aswān in the south. The capital of the Old Kingdom was at Memphis, the south of the delta of the Nile .

The pyramids at Gizaon the west bank of the Nile on the outskirts of Cairo, is the best-known monument.

Egyptian Pottery

Pottery was among earliest art forms undertaken by the ancient Egyptians. This piece from the Pre-dynastic period (5000 -3000 BC) is decorated with some ostriches, boats, and geometrical designs.

Palette of King Narmer

The Palette of King Narmer, a slate slab, depicts the ancient Egyptian king (center) smiting an enemy; the piece symbolized the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt and marked an example of a trend in Egyptian art to glorify the king.

  • More than 4000 years old, the Great Sphinx at Giza is the most famous emblem of ancient Egypt.


B. Old & Middle Kingdoms

Egyptian history is divided into three periods of stability each followed by political chaos. The Old Kingdom, (3rd-6th dynasties: 2686-2125 bc) Memphis set as the capital, featured prosperity and splendid constructions created by absolute monarchy. The Middle Kingdom, (2055-11650 bc) with Thebes as the capital, featured pharos’ concern for the people.

Step Pyramid at Şaqqārah

This large Step Pyramid of King Djoser was built during the third Dynasty, as the first royal tomb monumental and is considered as one of the oldest stone structures

  • The temple of Hatshepsut is a rock-cut tomb built in the 15th century BC near Thebes, designed for the female pharaoh Hatshepsut.

King Thutmose III King Thutmose III of Egypt came into power at the end of the reign of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut in 1458 BC. He embarked on a campaign of building the empire that expanded Egyptian influence into Syria, Palestine, and Phoenicia.


C. Chaos, and a New Order (1550-1085 bc)

The Middle Kingdom ended in a new instable time featured the rule of Hyksos, who brought in new farming and military skills. The 18th dynasty reunited Egypt into a New Kingdom that ever experienced some religious changes.The 19th dynasty extended Egyptian power to capacity, over Palestine and Syria. The New Kingdom ended as the 20th dynasty collapsed.

Amenhotep III

of the 18th dynasty ruled Egypt in the mid-1300s BC, during a period of peace and prosperity. He built his own palace near the capital of Egypt then, Thebes.


Amenhotep IV,alsorenamed Akhenaton, established the deity Aton as the supreme divine ruler. In this sunken relief carved into the stone, he is depicted as making an offering to Aton who is described as a solar disk.

This is a statuette

of Akhenaton& his wife, Nefertiti. He directed people to worship only Aton, the sun god and he moved the capital from Thebes to Akhetaten. Nefertiti was also a devout follower of Aton.

Ramses II of the 19th dynasty had several large statues of himself set in the temple at Luxor that occupies part of the ancient capital of Egypt, Thebes. The pharaoh was viewed as a living god, and his reign a high point in the ancient history of Egypt.


D. People and Society

1. Population

As ancient Egypt was an agricultural society, its densest population was on the floodplains. Only a small fraction of the population lived in cities & towns. A major city generally had a densely populated center, such as Memphis, and Thebes.Population density decreased as distance from the center increased.


D. People and Society

2. Social Structure

Ancient Egyptian urban society were made up of three levels: the king surrounded by upper- class nobles and priests; merchants & artisans; the largest number of serfs or common people, who cultivated the land, paid taxes to the king, nobles, & priests, & provided military service and forced labor for public building projects.


D. People and Society

3. Family Life

The father worked outside, his wife inside. In wealthy families, the wife’s power extended over the servants. Children were expected to care properly for and support their parents of old age and the afterlife. The living-and-dead contact took place by ancestor cults at home. Divorce rather than adultery was acceptable.

  • This bed carriage, resembling a cow, is one of the earliest and most elaborate examples of furniture preserved in ancient Egyptian tombs.


D. People and Society

4. Writing

Around 3300 to 3200 bc, hieroglyphs (象形文字) came into being, first to denote objects & concepts, and eventually to represent sounds primarily. In the form of images drawn from the Egyptian environment, the scripts shaped the longest-lived system of writing, used until the end of the 4th century ad.

In ancient Egypt, hieroglyphs were used to record important documents, and were also painted on tomb walls and coffins.


D. People and Society

5. Religion and the Afterlife

Egyptian gods took human, animal or mixed forms to represent natural forces, statues of whichrepresented the abstract powers of the gods in concrete form.Sun gods & land gods were well-known creation gods. Religion was deep-rooted in ancient Egyptians, such as the concern for afterlife & the preparations for it.

  • The temple at Luxor was built to honor the gods, with colossal statues and obelisks as a standard then.

Creation Myth In this painting Sun god Ra’ son Shu stands on another son, Geb, later the Earth. Shu, god of the air, raises up Ra’s daughter Nut, later the sky.

Goddess Isis

Isis is the goddess of motherhood & fertility in Egyptian mythology. Isis worship lasted until the 6th century ad when the last temples were closed as a result of the adoption of Christianity which was widespread already in the Near East.

Egyptian Mummy

The ancient Egyptians are believed to be the first people to create a mummy, in which a dead body is artificially preserved to delay the decaying process. They believed that it was necessary to preserve a body in order to allow the soul to survive.

Osirisis the ruler of the dead in the underworld shown here, center, with Anubis, another god of the dead.

  • The Egyptian Book of the Dead was used by the dead to guide and protect the soul on the dangerous journey through the afterlife. This scene shows the final judgment of the dead before Osiris, god of the dead through the ritual of weighing the dead’s heart to determine whether he can be awarded eternal life.

Seti I & Anubis

(1306 -1290 bc)

Seti I managed to defend Egypt against invaders from abroad and conquer Palestine.

In this painting, Seti I was with jackal-headed Anubis, guardian of tombs, god of the dead.

Egyptian Relief

Ancient Egyptians decorated tombs with paintings and reliefs to ensure the dead to spend an eternal life in a comfortable and familiar place. The relief here shows the dead seated at a table stacked with offerings of food.


D. People and Society

6. Arts

The ancient Egyptians produced a large body of creative works in areas such as architecture, literature, music, painting, sculpture & drama. Often the purpose of their artistic output was not recreation or cultural enrichment, but the communication of some sort of religious idea or theme concerning life and afterlife.

Ramses III, reigned from 1194 to 1163 BC, who defended Egypt against many foreign invasions. Paintings depicting his military feats decorate the walls of his temple, near the ancient city of Thebes, though the painting shown here depicts his queen.

  • The Banquet is part of a wall painting from Thebes in the New Kingdom. The top section shows nobles of the court and their wives receiving attention from slaves, waiting for the food piled high on the right; figures in the row below might be ladies of the court.

Death Mask of Tutankhamun

The death mask of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun is made of gold inlaid with colored glass and semiprecious stone. This mask comes from the innermost mummy case in the tomb of the pharaoh.

Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone, inscribed in 196 BC, provided the key to the translation of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. It contains a decree, praising the Egyptian King Ptolemy V, that is carved in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Egyptian demotic, and Greek.


The Mesopotamians and Egyptians, founders of Western civilization, developed cities and fought with the problems of organized states; developed writing & created literature; new political, military, social, religious structures; constructed monumental architecture. They left records for us to view how they explored the nature of human relationships, the nature of the universe, and the role of divine forces.

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