Early Civilizations
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Early Civilizations. Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus River, Chinese Dynasties, and Americas. What is a Civilization?. Most historians describe a civilization as a complex culture consisting of five key characteristics: Advanced cities Specialized workers Complex institutions Record keeping

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Early Civilizations

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Early Civilizations

Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus River, Chinese Dynasties, and Americas

What is a Civilization?

  • Most historians describe a civilization as a complex culture consisting of five key characteristics:

    • Advanced cities

    • Specialized workers

    • Complex institutions

    • Record keeping

    • Advanced technology

  • Advanced Cities – a city isn’t determined solely on the size of population, but through being a center of trade for a large area where merchants, farmers, and traders bring goods to the market

What is a Civilization?

  • Most historians describe a civilization as a complex culture consisting of five key characteristics:

    • Advanced cities

    • Specialized workers

    • Complex institutions

    • Record keeping

    • Advanced technology

  • Specialized Workers – specialization (development of skills) allowed people to become artisans, or skilled workers who make goods by hand, to create a wide range of crafts that helped cities become centers of trade

What is a Civilization?

  • Most historians describe a civilization as a complex culture consisting of five key characteristics:

    • Advanced cities

    • Specialized workers

    • Complex institutions

    • Record keeping

    • Advanced technology

  • Complex Institutions – long-lasting patterns of organization, or institutions, such as governments, religions, and economies, often centered around a religious building like the temple

What is a Civilization?

  • Most historians describe a civilization as a complex culture consisting of five key characteristics:

    • Advanced cities

    • Specialized workers

    • Complex institutions

    • Record keeping

    • Advanced technology

  • Record Keeping – government officials, priests, and merchants used scribes, professional record keepers, to keep track of laws, calendars, and payments, as well as writing about dramatic events such as wars and natural disasters

What is a Civilization?

  • Most historians describe a civilization as a complex culture consisting of five key characteristics:

    • Advanced cities

    • Specialized workers

    • Complex institutions

    • Record keeping

    • Advanced technology

  • Advanced Technology – new tools and techniques used to help solve problems and make life easier, such as the plow, the potters wheel, and bronze objects made during the Bronze Age, a time when people used bronze rather than copper and stone

  • In the desert lands between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea, two important rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, were the location of an ancient civilization called Mesopotamia.

    • Fertile Crescent – unique crescent-shaped farming land located between the two rivers

  • Sumerians first arrived in the region around 3,500 B.C.E.

    • Sumerians developed a number of cities, each surrounded by fields

      • City-statesshared the same culture, but developed their own governments with their own rulers.

      • At the center of Sumerian city-states was the ziggurat, a religious temple and city hall run by priests (theocracy), though during times of war, military leaders were chosen . These leaders eventually became monarchs, passing the rule onto their heirs, and creating a dynasty, or series of rulers from a single family

    • As Sumer’s city-states prospered and grew, they came into contact with other peoples in the Fertile Crescent, namely the Semites

      • Sumerians began to absorb ideas and products from neighboring cultures, leading to cultural diffusion

  • Mesopotamia

    Sumerian Culture

    • Sumerians were polytheistic, believing in about 3,000 gods

    • One of the earliest works of literature in the world was the Epic of Gilgamesh

    • As the civilization grew, Sumerian society developed into social classes

      • Priests and kings were the highest class, followed by the wealthy merchants. The majority of Sumerians were artisans and field workers, as well as slaves (foreign prisoners and sold children could work for toward freedom)

      • Women were equal to men, except in education for scribes

    • Sumerians developed many important technologies, such as the wheel, the sail, and the plow

      • They were the first to use bronze, developed cuneiform (“wedge-shaped” pictorial writing system), create the maps on clay tablets, develop a number system in base 60 (resulting in modern time measurements and the degrees of a circle), as well as architectural innovations, such as arches and ramps

    Babylonian Empire

    • As the Sumerian city-states became more powerful, they were in near constant war with one another from 3,000 to 2,000 B.C.E. Over time, certain political centers became powerful enough to extend their control over other city-states

      • The Semitic Akkadians from the city-state of Akkad were the first to unite many cities under the control of one king in 2350 B.C.E., and were able to spread the preserved Sumerian culture beyond the Tigris-Euphrates Valley

      • Akkadian became the primary language of Mesopotamia, though they were soon overcome merely 200 years later by another Semitic group called the Amorites

    • These nomadic warriors invaded Mesopotamia in 2,000 B.C.E. and overwhelmed the Akkadians

      • The Akkadian civilization was then divided into two parts: Assyria in the north and Babylonia in the south

      • The Amorites established their capital at Babylon along the Euphrates River

    • The BabylonianEmpirestretched from the Persian Gulf along the Euphrates to the Mediterranean Sea and reached its peak during the reign of Hammurabi from 1792 B.C.E. to 1750 B.C.E.

      • Hammurabi’s Code was a single code of laws used to unify a diverse empire and was one of the first written codes of law in recorded history

      • There were 282 specific laws carved in stone that established equal punishments for everyone and applied the principle of retaliation

      • The Code reinforced the principle that government had a responsibility for what occurred in society

    • Throughout its early history, the Babylonian Empire rose and fell

      • The nomadic Indo-European Hittite people invaded Babylonia using the new technology of horse-drawn war chariots and iron weapons, though they left around 1,200 B.C.E.

      • Babylonia then became a hot potato for numerous peoples and empires for next 600 years


    • The decline of many of the early river valley civilizations came about the same times as the spread of the Indo-European peoples

      • Indo-Eduropeans were a seminomadic pastoral people who came from the steppe lands of the Caucasus Mountains between the Black and Caspian Seas, spreading throughout Eurasia from 1,700 to 1,200 B.C.E.

    • Because the Indo-Europeans were skilled horsemen, their invention of the chariot allowed them to spread far in all directions

      • Historians are able to decipher where different Indo-European tribes settled based on the languages they spoke

        • Slavic-speakers moved north and west to the Baltic and East European regions

        • The Germanic, Celtic, and Italic languages moved west throughout Europe

        • Greek and Persian-speakers moved south

        • For those Indo-Europeans who moved east to North India and Iran, the Sanskrit language was established

    • Another major was established in an area west of the Fertile Crescent in North Africa along the northward flowing Nile River called Egypt

      • Upper Egypt – southern stretch of the Nile River from Memphis to the First Cataract (just north of the Tropic of Cancer)

        • Lower Egypt – northern delta of the Nile River from Cairo to the Mediterranean Sea

    • The Nile River was essential for Egyptian way of life

      • Promoted transportation and trade between Upper and Lower Egypt

      • Helped unify Egypt’s villages

      • Provided a yearly fertilization cycle of the region (flood, plant, harvest)

      • Sheltered Egyptians from outside contact by the desert

    • By 3,200 B.C.E., Egyptians began trading caravan goods with the Mesopotamians, and by 2,000 B.C.E., they traded with Nubia and Kush to the south along the Nile

    • Cultural diffusion occurred mostly between the Egyptians and migrating peoples from other parts of Africa, and to a lesser degree, from the Fertile Crescent

    river valley civilization


    Pharaoh's Law and Order

    • By 3,200 B.C.E., Egypt was under the rule of two separate kingdoms, Upper and Lower Egypt

      • According to legend, an Upper Egyptian king named Menes joined the two regions around 3,100 B.C.E. and established the first Egyptian dynasty

      • Before 2660 B.C.E. and the establishment of the Old Kingdom under the Third Dynasty’s rule, little is known

    • Unlike Mesopotamia, Egyptian leaders weren’t representatives to the gods, they were gods known as pharaohs

      • In Egyptian’s theocracy, the pharaoh was responsible for the kingdom’s well-being and continued ruling even after death

      • The great age of pyramid building occurred during the Old Kingdom

        • The pyramids were rectangular prisms built as burial places for the pharaohs

        • These pyramids show Egyptians had developed enough economic strength to support massive public works projects, as well as leadership and government organization to carry them out

    Egyptian Culture

    • Like their Mesopotamian neighbors, Egyptians were polytheistic

      • Because Egyptians believed in an afterlife, they built great tombs and preserved a dead person’s body by mummification so they could have use of it in the afterlife

      • They were also buried with other objects, such as food, clothing, and jewelry, that the dead would need, as well as the Book of the Dead

    • Egyptians had a similar societal structure as the Mesopotamians

      • The pharaoh and royal family were at the top, followed by other upper class members (wealthy landowners, government officials, priests, and army commanders), with merchants and artisans coming after them, and ending with the lowest, and largest, group of farmers and unskilled workers (and later, slaves)

      • Unlike the Mesopotamians, Egyptians had social mobility, or and ability to move between classes through marriage and success in their jobs

      • Women were also considered equals to men in Egyptian society

    • Egyptian scribes created an advanced flexible system of pictographic writing called hieroglyphics, which could be used almost like letters in an alphabet

      • They first wrote on clay tablets, but later invented papyrus, a paperlike material created from reeds near the Nile River

    • Egyptians developed many practical inventions, including an early form of geometry for architects and farmers

      • They were first to use stone columns in architecture, create an accurate calendar (only six hours difference from solar year), and scientific medical knowledge

    • The weakening pharaohs’ power ended the Old Kingdom around 2,180 B.C.E.

      • The Middle Kingdom began a hundred years later, resulting in improved trade and transportation by connecting the Nile and Red Sea to the east, but it soon came to an end when the chariot-riding Hyksos invaded in 1,640 B.C.E. (about the same time as nomadic invaders attacked Mesopotamia and the Indus River Valley farther to the east)

    • Unlike the early civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt, little is known about the origins or decline of the Indus River Valley civilization

      • Located along the Indus and Ganges Rivers between mountain ranges and a large desert, the Indus Valley civilization arose about 2,500 B.C.E., due partly to the seasonal monsoons

      • Because of these natural boundaries, the Indus Valley was protected from invasion , though was able to trade with distant peoples, including Mesopotamians, through the use of the Indus River

  • While the Egyptians were erecting pyramids, the people in the Indus Valley were laying the bricks of India’s first cities

    • The largest cities were Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa

    • The Indus Valley people were remarkable city planners, creating a precise grid system with a fortified area containing all the major buildings of the city (citadel), as well as separate residential areas

    • The Indus Valley engineers also created sophisticated plumbing and sewage systems

    • The advanced city planning suggests the Indus people had a strong central government

  • Indus Valley

    Culture and Trade

    • What little knowledge of the early Indus Valley civilization comes from the remains archaeologists find in their dig sites

      • Based on the artifacts found, archaeologists suggest that the Indus civilization was generally stable

        • The lack of weapons found suggests conflict was limited

        • Clay and wooden children’s toys suggest the society could afford to produce nonessential goods

      • Religious artifacts have been found, linking the culture of the Indus peoples to modern Hindu culture (polytheistic)

      • Stone stamps and seals were probably used by the Indus merchants to identify their goods

        • Sumerian objects have been found in the Indus Valley ruins and Indus seals have been found in Sumer, indicating long-distance trade

        • Trade began as early as 2,350 B.C.E. and continued until 2,000 B.C.E.

    • Around 1,750 B.C.E., Indus cities began to decline

      • Though many theories persist about the decline, none are conclusive

    Aryan Invaders

    • Around the time the Hittites were invading Mesopotamia, another Indo-European people called the Aryans migrated to the region in 1,700 B.C.E.

      • The Vedas, a religious text, helps anthropologists piece together Aryan culture

        • The polytheistic Aryans lived their lives according to the Vedas, which led to the establishment of Hinduism in India, and later Buddhism in East Asia

      • Aryans developed a caste (social class) system based on skin color

        • The four social classes began with the Brahmin, or priests, followed by the warriors, then the peasants and traders, and lastly, the shudra (laborers). Those who were considered “unclean” were called the untouchables, and were left outside the caste system itself

    • As the Aryans became more powerful, the individual minor kings of the territorial kingdoms began fighting with one another

      • In the sixth century B.C.E., the Magadha kingdom controlled the region and further expanded to the south, occupying almost all of the Indian subcontinent

    • The last eastern early civilization was found in China along the Huang He and Yangtze Rivers roughly 1,000 years after the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, and Indus River civilizations began

      • Because of the surrounding mountains, plateaus, and desert, the early Chinese civilization formed along the fertile farming area created by the Huang He and Yangtze Rivers among these natural barriers

      • China’s relative geographic isolation prevented increased trade with other early peoples; however, invasions repeatedly occurred throughout China’s history

    • Around 2,000 B.C.E., China’s first cities began

      • Though unsubstantiated, legend has it that the first dynasty (Xia) established flood-control and irrigation projects

      • About the time Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and Indus Valley peoples fell to invaders, the Shang Dynasty began (1,532 to 1,027 B.C.E.)

        • The oldest and most important city was Anyang, built mainly of wood with massive city walls; these walls (probably taking about twelve years to build) demonstrate the ability to raise and control large forces of workers


    Shang Dynasty

    • Shang society was sharply divided between nobles and peasants

      • The nobles (professional warriors headed by a king) lived within the city, while peasants and artisans lived outside the city walls, working the land and manufacturing bronze objects and silk

    • People’s lives were governed by their duties to their family and their king, or emperor, creating strong bonds of unity

      • Family was central to Chinese society, and as such, respect for one’s parents was essential

      • Elder men controlled the family’s property and made decisions, while the women were considered inferior and were expected to obey

      • Families were closely linked to religion through the spirits of their ancestors, helping and hindering the lives of the living

        • Through the spirits of the ancestors, Shang kings consulted their gods (polytheistic)

    • Earliest Chinese writing comes from the oracle bones of the priests

      • Because Chinese written and spoken languages were separate, people throughout China could learn the same writing system, though few became literate because of the vast number of characters that had to be memorized

    Zhou Dynasty

    • Despite its natural barriers, China was invaded by nomads from the north (modern-day Mongolia) around 770 B.C.E., weakening the dynasty greatly

    • During this chaotic time of warring feudal lords, China’s most influential scholar Confucius sought to restore social order, harmony, and good government

      • Confucius’s teachings about reform focused not only on the social order of family with filial piety(respect for one’s parents/elders), but also of governmental order

      • According to Confucius, education was the key for creating a working government, laying the groundwork for the creation of a bureaucracy, or a trained civil servant to run the government

    • Another influential thinker of the time established Daoism (a philosophy based on a search of knowledge and understanding through nature)

    • Political thinkers called legalists believed the government should use law to end civil disobedience by stressing punishment over rewards

    • Around 1,027 B.C.E., the Zhou Dynasty overthrew the Shang dynasty, adopting much of the Shang culture

      • Zhou leaders justified their new reign through the Mandate of Heaven, or the divine approval for royal authority

      • This view became central to the Chinese view of government

    • Because the Zhou Dynasty controlled lands beyond the Huang He and the Yangtze Rivers, control over different regions was given to members of the royal family and other trusted nobles, establishing a system of feudalism (political system in which nobles, or lords, are granted the use of lands that legally belong to the king)

      • Though warfare was common among the feudal states, the era produced many innovations

        • Establishment of city roads and canals, coined money, civil servants, and cast iron products, such as weapons (crossbow) and agricultural tools


    • While nomadic peoples of the east spread across Africa, Europe, and Asia around 20,000 B.C.E., some ventured further east across the ice-covered Bering Strait to establish civilizations in Mesoamerica

      • The land bridge Beringia allowed nomadic hunter-gatherers from Asia to cross over to North America in search of the roving herds

    • Mesoamerica’s first known civilization, or the “mother culture”, was the Olmec people of Southern Mexico

      • Flourishing from 1,200 to 400 B.C.E., the Olmec civilization was located along the Gulf of Mexico due to the fertile soil, and was made up of a small ruling class of priests and nobles, who commanded the lower class peasants

      • They were polytheistic and worshipped the jaguar, creating large stone monuments, such as the Great Pyramid, and colossally sculpted heads, and trading with other parts of Mesoamerica

      • The Olmec culture influenced many things, including the Mayan culture, art (jaguar motif), pattern for urban design, planned ceremonial centers, ritual ball games, and an elite ruling class

    • Though it is unclear what brought about the demise of the Olmec peoples, their civilization ended around 400 B.C.E.

    • The Zapotec civilization began emerging in Southern Mexico by the time the Olmec society had collapsed

      • By 500 B.C.E., the Zapotec civilization had constructed temples, monumental sculptures, and had developed an early form of hieroglyphics and calendar system

      • The first real urban center in the Americas was Monte Alban, located at the top of a mountain, which would come to boast 25,000 inhabitants and contained towering pyramids, temples, and palaces

      • Like the Olmec peoples, the Zapotec civilization influenced later peoples of the region through their hieroglyphic language and calendar system based on the movement of the sun, as well as the development of cities such as Monte Alban

    Andean Civilizations

    • The first South American civilizations emerged in the northern Andes region of Peru along the Pacific Ocean coastal plain

    • The Chavin culture began in the Andes Mountains in 900 B.C.E. who built pyramids, plazas, and massive earthen mounds until their decline in 200 B.C.E.

      • Believed to be primarily a religious center rather than a commercial or governmental site for ancient Peruvians

      • The Chavin are believed to have laid the foundation for later civilizations in Peru, thus acting as the “mother culture” for the region

    • The Nazca flourished along the Peruvian coast beginning in 200 B.C.E. and lasted until 600 C.E.

      • The Nazca developed irrigation systems and underground canals to combat the dry environment

      • The most intriguing, and beguiling, aspect of Nazcan culture comes from the famous Nazca Lines that still remain a mystery today

    • The wealthy Moche civilization lasted from 100 B.C.E. to 700 C.E. through farming the fertile northern coast of Peru and were famous for their pottery

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