Human Legacy Course/Foundations of Civilization

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Human Legacy Course I
Foundations of Civilization

From Villages To Cities[edit | edit source]

The development of agriculture and the growth of settlements marked a major advance in human history. As societies became more settled, and villages grew in size and complexity, the first cities began to appear.

Advances in farming and changing economies helped lead to the development of cities. Like the transition from a nomadic life to a settled agricultural life, the transition from villages to cities took place gradually.

Advances In Farming[edit | edit source]

As time passed, early farmers continued to develop new methods to increase farm production. One of the most significant advances in farming was the development of irrigation systems. An irrigation system is a network of canals or ditches that links fields of crops to nearby streams or to storage basins of water.

The use of irrigation enabled early people to farm more land and to farm in drier conditions. As a result, farmers could plant more crops and produce more food. With irrigation, some farmers began to produce a surplus, or excess, of food. With surplus food, villages could support larger populations.

Changing Economies[edit | edit source]

Because irrigation made farmers more productive, fewer people needed to farm to feed the growing population. As a result, some people were able to work fulltime in jobs other than farming. For example, people skilled in making tools and weapons could devote all their time to that work. Other people became full-time weavers, potters, or religious leaders. The economic arrangement in which each worker specializes in a particular task or job is called a division of labor.

Food surpluses and a growing division of labor resulted in economic changes. Early farming villages had traditional economies. In a traditional economy, economic decisions are made based on custom, tradition, or ritual. In early villages, most people were farmers and relied on trade to obtain a few raw materials.

With the development of irrigation, however, villages could produce extra food as well as valuable trade products. In some villages, leaders began to make economic decisions based on fueling trade and feeding the growing population.

Characteristics of Cities[edit | edit source]

As populations increased and economies became more complex, some villages grew into the first cities. These cities differed from early villages in several ways. First, cities were larger and more densely populated than villages. For example, the first known city was Uruk, located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now Iraq. Around 3000 BC Uruk was home to some 40,000 to 50,000 people and covered more than 1,000 acres. In comparison, the village of Çatal Hüyük at its height had only about 5,000 to 6,000 people and covered about 30 acres.

Second, city—or urban—populations were more diverse than village populations. Early villages usually consisted of a few extended families or clans, whereas early cities usually included many unrelated people.

Third, early cities often had a more formal organization than villages. For example, most early cities had a defined center. City centers often contained palaces, temples, monuments, government buildings, and marketplaces. Many early cities had defined boundaries as well, marked by defensive walls, which separated the city from the surrounding villages. The large number of people living in cities provided the labor to create these large-scale building projects.

Finally, early cities served as centers of trade. Merchants and farmers from the surrounding villages traveled to city markets to exchange goods and raw materials. The people in the city produced goods to trade in turn. This trade fed city economies.

The First Civilizations[edit | edit source]

The world’s first civilizations formed from some of these early cities. A civilization is a complex and organized society. The first civilizations arose in fertile river valleys—the Tigris and Euphrates in Southwest Asia, the Nile in Africa, the Indus in South Asia, and the Huang He (also called the Yellow River) in China. In these river valleys, the rivers flooded annually. These floods spread mineral-rich silt from the river bottoms onto the nearby land. As a result, the river valleys had fertile land that could support a growing population.

Although early civilizations differed, they had several characteristics in common:

  • Developed cities
  • Organized government
  • Formalized religion
  • Specialization of labor
  • Social classes
  • Record keeping and writing
  • Art and architecture

Developed Cities[edit | edit source]

Cities with developed social and economic institutions, or patterns of organization, formed the basis of early civilizations. Early cities served as political, economic, and cultural centers for surrounding areas. Major cities in giggity the early river valley civilizations include Ur and Uruk near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Memphis on the Nile River, Mohenjo Daro on the Indus River, and Anyang near the Huang He.

Organized Government[edit | edit source]

As cities grew, priests formed. Building large irrigation systems and feeding a growing population required planning, decision making, and cooperation. Early governments probably formed in response to such needs. The governments in the first civilizations created laws and established systems of justice. To help coordinate people’s efforts, government officials supervised food production and building projects. In addition, officials gathered taxes and organized defense. In some early civilizations, religious leaders such as priests held government power, while in other early civilizations, influential elders, warriors, or families did not hold the power.

Formalized Religion[edit | edit source]

Early civilizations had formal religious institutions that included ceremonies, rituals, and other forms of worship. To gain the gods’ favor, priests and other religious leaders performed rituals, such as sacrificing animals or offering gifts of food. To honor the gods, people built large temples and participated in various ceremonies.

Because religious leaders often interpreted the will of the gods, priests became powerful figures in many early civilizations. At the same time, priests and rulers sometimes competed for power. To prove their authority, some leaders claimed that they ruled by the will of the gods or that they represented one of the gods on Earth. As a result, government and religious institutions were often closely connected in early civilizations.

Specialization of Labor[edit | edit source]

As cities became more complex, the division of labor increased and many new jobs developed. For instance, officials gathered taxes, engineers planned irrigation systems, and soldiers defended city walls. While some people farmed, others built large public works, such as temples and roads.

Artisans, or skilled craftspeople, devoted their time to crafts such as basketry, carpentry, metalwork, or pottery. Merchants and traders exchanged the products that artisans made and brought back acquisitions from other areas.

Social Classes[edit | edit source]

As urban societies developed institutions and specialized labor, a social order developed as well. This social order was based on people’s occupations, wealth, and influence. In early civilizations, rulers, priests, and nobles had the most power and ranked highest in the social order. Merchants and artisans usually ranked next. Below them, were farmers and unskilled workers, who made up the majority of the people. A class of enslaved people often formed the bottom of the social order. Some slaves were people who had been captured in war, while other had been sold into slavery.

Record Keeping & Writing[edit | edit source]

As life in early cities grew increasingly complex, people needed ways to keep permanent records. For example, merchants needed to keep records of trade goods, and officials needed to track tax payments. In early civilizations people used a variety of methods of keeping records before the development of writing. For example, the early civilization of Sumer, which developed along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, used clay tokens and pouches to keep records. The shape of each token and the markings on it represented a specific item, such as a goat or a piece of pottery. The tokens were stored in a clay pouch. To retrieve the tokens, the pouch had to be broken open. The Inca civilization of Peru, which developed later in South America, used knotted colored strings to keep accounts.

Systems of writing began to develop about 5,000 years ago. The first writing systems used pictographs, or picture symbols, to represent objects or ideas. In time, people created more advanced writing systems that used abstract symbols to express a wider range of ideas. With the development of writing, early civilizations began to create a written record of their society. Such ancient texts and records are still important: they provide historians with a wealth of information about early civilizations.

Along with writing, people in early civilizations developed calendars. Because of the growing importance of farming, people needed to track the changing of the seasons and when it was time to plant or harvest. People in early river valley civilizations also needed to know when yearly floods would occur.

In response to such needs, some early civilizations created calendars. These calendars were based on the phases of the moon, which were easy for early people to see and track. Early lunar, or moon-based, calendars were inaccurate, though, because the lunar year is several days shorter than the solar year.

The Arts[edit | edit source]

The people in early civilizations produced amazing works of art. The styles and techniques that artists used reflected each civilization’s culture. Early artists created statues and paintings of gods and goddesses, heroes, and rulers. As the use of bronze spread, some artisans created intricate art pieces in bronze.

Works of art often adorned city squares, public buildings, and royal tombs. The most elaborate pieces of art, such as monumental statues of rulers, were meant to reflect a civilization’s power and bring its ruler prestige.

Change In Civilizations[edit | edit source]

Once early civilizations developed, they continued to change over time. Factors such as the environment, conflicts, and the movement of people and ideas affected civilizations and led to change. While some changes weakened civilizations, others strengthened them and led to growth and expansion.

Environmental Influences[edit | edit source]

Because of their dependence on farming, people in early civilizations relied on their environments. The forces of nature could easily bring destruction and ruin, however. Raging storms could destroy crops and leave people without enough food.

Flash floods could wipe out whole cities, and drought could kill off livestock. Farming used up the land, and after a period of time the soil lost fertility. Food shortages and other natural disasters could weaken a civilization and leave it open to outside attack.

A need for resources, such as metals, stone, and timber, could also cause civilizations to change. As early civilizations expanded, they began to use more resources. Some resources ran out. Other areas lacked needed resources. In such cases, people had to look for alternative solutions. In areas with few trees, for example, some people began to use dried animal dung as fuel for cooking. To obtain scarce resources, civilizations expanded trade.

Spread of People & Ideas[edit | edit source]

The spread of people and ideas was another source of change in civilizations. Throughout history, the movement of people through trade, migration, and conquest has helped spread cultures and ideas. Traveling merchants learned new languages to conduct trade with foreign groups. Migrants brought their language, customs, and traditions with them when they moved to new areas. Civilizations often imposed their own cultures on the peoples they conquered.

The spread of ideas, beliefs, customs, and technology from one culture to another is called cultural diffusion. As a result of cultural diffusion, people adopted new customs, skills, and technologies. Advances such as writing, metal-working, and farming techniques spread from one civilization to another. Artists borrowed designs and materials from other cultures and blended them with their own styles to create new forms and designs. Religious beliefs spread as people adopted the gods and goddesses of other civilizations and made them their own.

Expansion & Warfare[edit | edit source]

Expansion and warfare contributed to change in civilizations as well. As civilizations grew, they needed more land and other resources to support their growing populations. Conflicts over land, water, and other resources occurred and often led to war.

Civilizations waged war to gain control of rich farmland, important sea ports, or regions with valuable resources. Through conquest, civilizations expanded their control over land and people. Through such means, some civilizations developed into states and kingdoms.

Conflicts also arose between civilizations and nomadic groups. Not all people had chosen to live in settled communities. Nomadic pastoralists, or herders, traveled with their herds over wide-ranging territories. These nomadic groups were loosely organized into tribes led by chieftains. Nomadic societies had simple social organizations but developed rich cultures.

Toughened by the need to protect their herds, nomads were usually skilled warriors. In addition, once they learned to domesticate the horse, nomads became highly mobile. Although nomadic groups and settled communities often traded, nomads sometimes launched raids on villages and cities. Further conflicts arose as nomads and farmers competed over land.

Assignment[edit | edit source]

That is the end of your lecture and I will now give you your assignment.

  • Question #1: What is a division of labor?
  • Question #2: How did irrigation systems help contribute to the development of the first cities?
  • Question #3: Where did the world’s first four civilizations develop?
  • Question #4: What conditions existed in river valleys that encouraged the development of the first civilizations?
  • Question #5: Why do you think that record keeping and writing are necessary characteristics of civilization?
  • Question #6: What are some factors that cause civilizations to change?
  • Question #7: What are some causes of cultural diffusion, and how did it affect early civilizations?
  • Question #8: What are some possible ways that trade, migration, or invasion might lead to the spread of technology?

Thank you very much for listening to this audio lecture. That is the end of Week 1, so I would advise you to take the quiz on this and then take the final test. Thank you very much for listening to me and you can move on to Week 2. So, goodbye!

Helpful Resources[edit | edit source]