What Makes a Civilization a Civilization?
In this chapter you will explore the rise of civilizations, which is a much more advanced type of society than we have studied so far. Early civilizations began in Mesopotamia around 3,500 B.C.E. Before civilizations could really begin they needed a stable food supply. One of the highest priorities for people was feeding themselves. Once groups of people were assured that they could regularly produce enough food to feed themselves, it allowed people to do other things, like create art and build cities. As you will see in this chapter, there are seven characteristics of civilizations and all of them are very interconnected.
The development of cities is one of the characteristics of all civilizations. Before people had a stable food supply, large groups of people could not live together in one place because they did not have enough food. Once farming and irrigation were advanced enough to provide a stable food supply, large groups of people began to live together in settled areas. This was a positive advancement because it allowed people to specialize in areas other than producing food. People became priests, soldiers, artists, and blacksmiths. They were able to create great advancements in the areas they specialized in.
Cities were a positive advancement, but so many people in one place led to new problems. How do that many people live together without fighting? How can that many people be fed? What do we do with all of the human waste and garbage? To solve these and other questions, civilizations gradually developed a set of laws and government , which were meant to help people behave in a manner that benefited the society as a whole.
Written language is another characteristic of civilizations that helped people live together. Writing was probably first developed to keep records of items bought and sold. It also allowed people to write down the laws of the society. Each of the civilizations you will study in this chapter also had what we call a social system or structure. This means that there were different classes of people: some wealthy, some poor; some leaders, some followers.
As these civilizations developed they encountered many problems. This led to the introduction of complex technologies, or, new ways to do things. Today’s complex technologies are things like computers and 3D printers. They allow us to solve problems in new ways. In ancient civilizations, their complex technologies might have been things like wells, plows, and a new method for building arches. As you read about these civilizations look for what complex technologies they invented or used to make life better.
Each civilization also had its own distinct culture, or way of life, which included organized religion. Each group developed art and language and their own stories. These things are what tied these groups of people together and helped to create their identity.
As you learn about the different cultures in this chapter, try to identify these seven characteristics of civilizations.