Ancient Civilizations

What is a civilization?

Ancient civilizations are woven fabrics of a complex human society with threads of culture and technology. The word civilization comes from a Latin word that translates to a city. Thus, ancient civilizations have an urban character of settlement and do not waver. Not only do civilizations portray divisions in the economy but also do they facilitate classes and governance. In addition to agriculture, allied occupations, writing, trading, artwork, and monuments with the facets of scientific development nurture a civilization.

The urban fabric of ancient civilizations
Civilization as a built urban fabric (© Firstlawcomic)

Development of the term ‘ civilization’ :

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, European scholars worked out a theory of a chain of human evolution. Consequently, they identified stages like slavery and brutality that finally culminate into a civilization. In the early 4000 and 3000BCE, surplus agricultural yield boosted by trade and finance shaped the society.

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Key factors of ancient civilizations
Key components of a civilization (© National Geographic Society)

Key factors of ancient civilizations:

  • The contribution of cities to trade: Urban areas develop the existing society. They allow the exchange of goods from rural residents like farmers, fishers, and traders.
  • Monuments: The chief ancient civilizations built structures to protect their culture and legacy.
  • Communication and scripts that aid development: The society learned the spoken language, alphabets, numeric systems, signs, ideas, symbols, illustrations, and representations, some of which are undecipherable to date. In addition to communication, these symbols paved the way towards technological and cultural development to establish a government. Furthermore, scripts allowed ancient civilizations to record their happenings and lifestyle.
Scripting of the Indus Valley Civilization (© Earth is mysterious)
  • Infrastructure: Though infrastructure and administration rely chiefly on the government, ancient civilizations portray a developed network of city services. In addition to an efficient road network that connected territories, these societies featured water ducts to supply fresh water and manage sanitation.
  • Division of labor: Different people carry out multiple tasks within society. In an agricultural community, people tend to be self-sufficient as they grow their food. Thus, they can arrange food, clothing, and shelter for themselves. In stark contrast, in a complex society, one part of the population carries out trade, while the other provides food.
  • Class-culture: Income and occupation divide people in ancient civilizations. In addition to economic classifications, social divisions were also prevalent. In economic class, the kings and queens had ample money, while the slaves had nothing. On dividing socially, scholars and political leaders ruled the society, while farmers, agricultural workers, and artists came next. Even though merchants were at the bottom of the social pyramid, they earned loads from trading.

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How did civilization start :

Food is the top-most necessity of man, and man works and earns daily to satisfy his hunger pangs. Thus, the progression of farming as the primary source of uninterrupted food supply proved to be the cradle for human settlement. Most of these settlements flourished in the river valleys. Not only did these rivers provide water for agriculture, but, also aided the transportation of goods over long distances. Thus, rivers supported allied activities like trading and fishing in addition to agriculture. Subsequently, farming led to the invention of tools and types of machinery for cultivation and animal skinning. Thus, metal production emerged as an industry and led to a new occupation of artisans.

With variation in occupations and self-sufficiency, permanent settlements thrived. Besides an increase in population, social, economic, and political systems gained momentum. Therefore, people started practicing non-food-producing activities like crafts, scribes, artisans, warriors, priests, and traders. Thus, small-scale villages changed to cities and, a multi-cultural society flourished.

The Great Baths at the lost city of Harappa and Mohen-jo-Daro (© The Better India)

Ancient civilizations of river-valleys:

The earliest ancient civilizations like Mesopotamia, the oldest civilization, the Egyptian, and the Indus valley civilization began near rivers. In addition to being a steady water source for agriculture, rivers catered to other needs like fertile soils and silts. These soils, further enriched by alluvial deposits during flooding, boosted agricultural produce. Furthermore, rivers provided opportunities for water transport by boats, thus, carrying people and goods to distant lands.

Eg.1 Mesopotamian Civilization:

This civilization prospered in the fertile valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates as early as around 4000BCE. Mesopotamia consisted of several cities, Ur being the first literate one, to become hubs of democratic governments. Eventually, as agriculture progressed, irrigation systems, used to convert dry land to productive ones, helped satisfy hunger. The architecture of this period was pretty uniform and disciplined. Stepped base temples or Ziggurats marked the center of each city. By 2000BCE, mud-brick ziggurats were popular in Sumeru and Babylonian cities and helped prosper ancient civilizations.

Mesopotamia - an artist's view of ancient civilizations
An artist’s view of Mesopotamian cities and ziggurats (© Leonardo Newtonic)

Eg.2 The Egyptian Civilization:

The Egyptians derived their irrigation from the local Nile. Being more advanced than the previous ones, the Egyptians rotated legumes with cereal to avoid excess salts from entering fields.

The Egyptian civilization as the gift of the Nile (© Wallpaper Safari)

The Nile boosted transport. Thus, the two kingdoms of the north and the south came together by 3000BCE. In addition to agriculture and trading, the Egyptians built stone pyramids, tombs, temples, and palaces. Paintings, carved stone images, and hieroglyphs decorated these ancient civilizations.

Eg.3 The Indus Valley Civilization:

More popular because of the stories that behold the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, the Indus valley civilization began with migrating herders. These herders moved to the river valley for warmth during colder months. They practiced agriculture on fertile, watered farms. Furthermore, they traded all along the Indus to the Arabian sea. This society that housed nearly 4000 people emerged around 2500 BCE and set foot for about 500 years.

The urban plan of Mohenjodaro along the Indus river (© Twitter)

Architecturally, the city featured a more developed plan. Besides following a grid, spacious streets of about 45m in width subdivided the region. Furthermore, private residences had wells, bathing spaces, and brick-lined toilets with regularly flushed drainage. Hence, they carried liquid and solid waste to sumps and fertilized fields. Functionality was the base bone of ancient civilizations.

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Maritime civilizations:

Though these economies cantered around fishing, exploration, and trade as their primary occupations, they gave rise to the shipbuilding industry. Thus, they required good timber supply and good transportation to the shipyards. Hence, trade emerged and prospered. Furthermore, sea civilizations led to the development of sail-powered ships and navigational tools based on celestial bodies.

Eg.1 The Aegean civilization:

The Aegean civilizations are a group of bronze age communities around coastal Greece. Owing to the salt content of the Aegean sea, fertility was an issue. Hence, agriculture circulated between olives, vineyards, and wheat. But, because of poor agriculture, goods had to be imported through the Mediterranean, and commerce flourished. Though the civilization sits on a large island with its brick homes, it guards the entrance to the Aegean Crete.

Ancient civilizations of the ocean
The Aegean civilization – the lost faces of the ancient world (© Obelisk Art history)

Plain and Plateau civilizations:

Plains provide deep fertile soil, while plateaus are a chest of minerals. Plain regions develop irrigation, while plateaus boost industries. Both of them favor population growth and enjoy a suitable climate. They help graze animals effectively owing to their grasslands. Thus, civilizations flourished in these regions, with animal rearing as the prime occupation.

Ancient civilizations of China.
The Ming tang modular unit of Chinese civilizations (©Chaz)

Eg.1 The Jiahu civilization:

Located in the central plain of ancient China, the Jiahu’s settled around 7000BC. However, their site flooded around 5700BC. Thus, the 800 people society had to migrate. During its peak, the Jiahu covered 55,000 sq.m, and a moat surrounded the city. To date, 45 semi-subterranean, single-roomed houses have been excavated.

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The decline of ancient civilizations:

Civilizations witnessed their falls as culture led to rebels and internal disturbance. Un-planned use of resources led to deforestation, soil erosion, and climate change. Thus, trade paid excessive penalties and reduced drastically. Internal and external violence coupled with instability led to the breakdown of chief cities of the past and will continue to do so in the coming future if left as it is.

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