Mesopotamia - The Fertile Crescent GUIDING QUESTION What role did the physical environment play in the development of Sumerian civilization? Mesopotamia, the land between rivers. Annual flooding, fertile soil and abundant crops. The Euphrates depends on spring rains and melting snow from the Taurus and Zagros Mountains (north). The river would often overflow its banks in the Fertile Crescent and leave fine silt that was ideal for crop growth and planting. Starting at the Zagros Mountains, the Tigris also overflowed and deposited fertile silt. Both rivers were unpredictable. Creation of first Mesopotamian civilization. The Fertile Crescent provided Sumerians with rich and productive land for farming. The use of irrigation ditches from the river helped expand the total amount of land that could be farmed. Sumerians even dammed portions and redirected water into Lake Al-Tharthar. In the third century, and engineering achievement linked both rivers where the rivers run closest through five channels. The Tigris and Euphrates join together in the southeast and flow directly into the Persian Gulf. The shallow gulf gets very little fresh water, only the small amounts deposited by the two rivers. The Persian Gulf served as an access point for early trade and travel to the east. The west coast of the Fertile Crescent is the Mediterranean Sea, connecting Mesopotamia with the western world. Because water in the Mediterranean is salty, it was not valuable for farming, but the sea was a major trade portal for moving goods to and from the West. Discussion Ask: Why was controlling the flow of the rivers important to the Sumerians? (Flooding was unpredictable, so controlling river flow by using irrigation and drainage ditches allowed farmers to grow crops.)
Egypt - Geography and Religion GUIDING QUESTION What was the significance of geography to Egypt's development? The Nile: Because of its length, the Nile River provided a natural route for transportation and communication. Farmers counted on yearly flooding of the Nile to replenish the soil that provided a surplus of food. The Nile River flows from south to north through the center of Rgypt. It served as he economic and cultural focus of ancient Egyptian life. The fertile regions that bordered the Nile were called the “Black Land”. Constant flooding from the river enriched the soil and made agriculture possible for the Egyptians. As it flows through southern Egypt and northern Sudan, the Nile descends through several fast-moving sections known as cataracts, or rapids. The First Cataract is the farthest north of these. Middle Kingdom pharaohs conquered land south of the First Cataract. Natural protection: The Mediterranean Sea divided Egypt from Europe to the north. The Red Sea separated Egypt from the Arabian Peninsula in the east. Deserts to the west and east, the Red Sea to the east, the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and rapids on the Nile provided natural barriers against invasion. Discussion Ask: What are some geographic advantages of Egypt's location? (Answers will vary, but students should mention the Nile, natural barriers to invasion, and access to the Mediterranean Sea.) Why might the Egyptian people have thought of the Nile River in religious terms? (The river was seen as the "creator of all good" because of its role in farming, transportation, and communication.)
Traveling downriver, or to the north, was relatively easy for the ancient Egyptians. The Nile’s current moved in that direction, so a ship in the river was naturally carried northward. Traveling upriver, or to the south, was a more difficult task. Even powerful strokes with an oar could not carry a vessel very far against the current. Instead, Egyptians built sails to take advantage of the power of the wind.
Indus Valley - The Impact of Geography GUIDING QUESTION What role did geography play in the development of the Indian subcontinent? The Himalaya Mountains form the northern border of the Indian subcontinent. They are the highest mountains in the world. Immediately south of the Himalayas is the Ganges River valley, a chief region in Indian culture. The dry Deccan Plateau stretches from the Ganges valley to the southern tip of India. Lush plains are found on India’s eastern and western coasts. Monsoons are seasonal wind patterns that cause heavy rainfall in the summer and winter. Indian farmers depend on the summer monsoon rains to grow crops. Discussion Ask: Why are the people of India dependent on the pattern of yearly monsoons? (They rely on monsoons to bring moisture for crops. If the monsoons don't come, the crops fail, and many people starve.)
China - The Impact of Geography GUIDING QUESTION How did China's physical geography influence the location of its early civilizations? China has thousands of miles of fertile, food-producing land along its two main rivers, the Huang He and the Chang Jiang. The Huang He (Yellow River) stretches from Mongolia to the Pacific Ocean. The Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) flows 3,400 miles across central China, emptying into the Yellow Sea. Valleys along the two rivers were among the greatest food-producing areas of the ancient world. Only about 10% of China’s land is suitable for farming. Much of the remaining land consists of mountains and deserts. Isolation: Mountains and deserts formed natural boundaries with neighboring countries and so isolated the Chinese from other peoples in Asia. Contact with Mongolian, Indo-European, and Turkish peoples in the frontier lands to the north often ended in conflict. Climate: Climate variations are based on land elevation and monsoons. Dry and wet seasons create major temperature differences in winter and summer. Discussion Ask: Why were the early Chinese isolated from other peoples? (Most of the people settled around the river valleys, with mountains and deserts cutting them off from neighboring peoples.)
As Sumerian cities grew, they gained control over the surrounding countryside, becoming city-states. Sumerians had little stone or wood for building, so they relied on mud bricks. They invented the arch and the dome, and built large brick buildings. Farming was the primary economic activity. Sumerians traded woolen textiles, pottery, dried fish, wheat, and metal goods for copper, tin and timber. City of Ur Reaching some 40 feet (12 m) into the air and comprised of three separate stories, the Ziggurat was built to honor the moon god Nanna, the divine patron of Ur that people believed affected the fertility of their land and animals. Located near the Ziggurat at Ur, a Temple honored Nin-Gal. The multiple temples of worship in Ur reveals a polytheistic religion, and these gods were honored in both architecture and art, as well as cuneiform writing. One of several palaces built in Ur over the city’s history, the palace of E-Khursag had an advanced drainage system that ran underneath it. Tablets found in palaces like this reveal some of the writing and art of the city and the whole of Mesopotamia. Even many of the bricks found in the palace bore the stamp of the architect who designed and created the original structure. The royal tombs were impressive: they contained not only gold, silver and precious stone treasures, but hey also contained art and sculptures that reflected the wealth of Ur culture. Another unique characteristic was that the royal tombs contained both royalty and their courtesans and servants. It has been suggested that this tradition was established in order for the servants to be able to serve the royals in the afterlife. The city of Ur was surrounded by a city wall that had defense towers and a fortress built into it. An established city with a government and social structure needed to protect itself from potential attackers or rivals. Ur’s proximity to the Persian Gulf made it particularly vulnerable to attacks from invaders from the east. Economic Activity: Agriculture City-states traded surplus crops to surrounding areas Trade Exported wool, barley, dried fish, wheat, metal goods Imported copper, tin, timber Industry Woolen textiles Pottery Metal goods of copper, gold, silver, and bronze
More than a thousand settlements. These were planned communities, among which are the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. All houses were built to the same plan - a square courtyard surrounded by rooms - though they varied in size. Streets were laud out in a grid pattern. Main streets running north-south were crossed by smaller east-west roads. Public wells supplied all residents with fresh water. Advanced drainage system moved wastewater from bathrooms to sewage pits beyond the city walls.
The Olmec had large cities that were centers for their religious rituals. The oldest city was San Lorenzo, which contained pyramids and other stone monuments. In La Venta, a 30-foot- (9-m-) high pyramid towered above the city. Around 500 b.c., the Zapotec people created a civilization in the highlands of central Mexico. Their center was at Monte Alban, site of a number of temples and pyramids, where as many as 20,000 people may have lived in terraces cut into the sides of the mountain. Teotihuacán, whose name means "Place of the Gods," was the first major city in Mesoamerica, with up to 200,000 inhabitants. Located in a valley near the site of present-day Mexico City, it was the center of a kingdom that arose around 250 b.c. and collapsed around a.d. 800. Most of the people were farmers. Teotihuacán contains two large pyramids: Pyramid of the Moon and Pyramid of the Sun. The Pyramid of the Sun is 200 feet (61 m) high and rises in four large stages. However, there is a small fifth stage between the third and fourth. A grand stairway is on the west side. Under the Pyramid of the Sun there is a large cave that is believed to have been used for religious rituals. Believing that some of the buildings lining the wide street were tombs, the Aztec referred to it as the Avenue of the Dead. It runs north-south through the city. the direction in which this street points might have had astronomical meaning. Teotihuacán was an important trade center. Goods produced there included tools, weapons, pottery, jewelry, and objects made of obsidian (volcanic glass), which were traded to Central America, other regions of Mexico, and southwestern North America for shells, bird feathers, and luxury items.
Archaeologists have found evidence of impressive cities in Shang China. Shang kings may have had five different capital cities before settling Anyang, just north of the Huang He in north-central China. Excavations reveal huge city walls, royal palaces, and large royal tombs
Sumerian religion was polytheistic (it involved many gods). Temples built along large stepped towers called ziggurats were the most important buildings. Temple priests and priestesses held a great deal of power, and kings were believed to derive their power from deities. making the government a theocracy. Human beings in general were considered inferior and were obliged to serve and obey the gods. The Ziggurat at Ur The shrine that sits atop the Ziggurat at Ur was the bedchamber of the moon god Nanna, the divine patron of Ur believed to have affected the fertility of the cowherds and dairy products. On each level of the ziggurat, all the way to the top, there were trees and shrubs. The bottom of the ziggurat measured approximately 210 by 150 feet /64 by 46 cm), and it rose up nearly 4o feet /13 m) off the ground. Despite how straight they look, the massive mud and baked brick walls are all curved to support the weight if the structure. Unlike pyramids, ziggurats do not have any internal chambers except for the small shrine at the top. On the face of the ziggurat there are three staircases, each with 100 steps. (A smaller staircase leads to the shrine.) The three walls without stairs were so steep that they were not climbable.
Egyptians considered religion to be essential to every part of their lives, and so there was no word for religion in the Egyptian language. Egyptians were polytheistic. They believed in many gods. Gods and goddesses were associated with heavenly bodies and natural forces. They gave Egyptians a sense of security and timelessness. Because of the importance of the sun and fertile lands along the Nile, sun and land gods and goddesses held special significance. The Egyptian ruler took the title “Son of Re” and was considered an earthly form of Re, one of the sun god’s names. Pharaohs were mummified so that their bodies would be preserved for life in the text world. Horus Horus is sometimes shown wearing this double crown. The two prongs of the crown symbolize the Upper and Lower Egypt, which joined together to form a unified kingdom in about 3100 B.C. In Egyptian tradition, Horus’s eyes represented the Sun and he moon. Horus’s name is related to Egyptian words meaning “shiny-faced”. Horus was the archenemy of another god, Set or Seth. Images of Horus sometimes show him killing crocodiles and other animals believed to be sacred to Set.
The Zhou claimed to rule by virtue of a mandate of Heaven, with the king serving as a link between Heaven and Earth. The mandate became the basic principle of Chinese government and lasted into the twentieth century. Under the mandate, kings were expected to rule with goodness and efficiency, following the Dao (the "Way" of proper behavior advocated in Confucianism) to protect the people from natural disasters. Although the king was a representative of Heaven, he was not divine and could be overthrown if he was corrupt or did not rule according to the Dao. Throughout Chinese history, dynasties followed a predictable cycle—a rise to power, then years of successful rule, and finally a decline in power, leading to rebellions or invasions.
As in Egypt and Mesopotamia, religion and political power were linked. Royal palaces also served as temples, and rulers based their power on a belief in divine assistance. The Chinese believed in supernatural forces that helped the rulers, as well as in life after death. They communicated with the gods through oracle bones. The Olmec built large cities, containing pyramids and other stone monuments, as centers for religious rituals. Huge heads carved from stone by Olmec artisans are believed to represent their gods or rulers. The carving is remarkable because the Olmec had no metal tools. After the Olmec civilization collapsed around 400 b.c., some aspects of the Olmec's culture, such as a ceremonial game played in a stone ball court and their calendar and numerical system, were adopted by later civilizations. Olmec heads: This image shows an Olmec head in Villahermosa, Tabasco, that dates from between 1200 B.C. and 1000 B.C. The Olmec carved several huge heads; the largest is about nine feet (3 m) high). They are portraits of humans, and they all have flat faces with thick lips and staring eyes. Each Olmec head has a headgear that resembles a football helmet. One theory is that these headgears might have been protective coverings used in rubber ball games, which were popular with the Olmec people.
Sumerian social structure consisted of nobles, commoners and slaves. Nobles included members of the royalty and priests. Commoners were mostly farmers, and a few were craftspeople. Enslaved persons worked mainly for the royalty and temple priests and were used primarily for building projects, craftwork, and farming.
Egyptian society was ordered like a pyramid, with the pharaoh at the top, surrounded by nobles and priests who ran the government. Below that upper class was a class made up of merchants, artisans, scribes, and tax collectors. The largest class was made up of peasants who farmed the land. There were also slaves. Women could inherit property, but only men carried the family name. Some women operated businesses or became priestesses, and a few became pharaohs.
Life in ancient India centered on the family: three generations living under the same roof. Patriarchal system in which oldest male had legal authority over the rest of the family. Male superiority is evident. During the Zhou dynasty, as in the Shang, peasants worked on land owned by their lords. Town-dwelling artisans and merchants were also under the control of local lords. A class of slaves also existed. The family served as the basic Chinese economic and social unit and symbolized the social order. Filial piety was expected, with family members subordinating their needs and desires to those of the male head of the family.
Zapotec nobles and priests ruled over a population of farmers and artisans. The Zapotec had a written language, but scholars have not yet figured out how to decipher or understand the language. Zapotec society seems to have come to an end around the late eighth century a.d.
Around 3000 b.c., the Sumerians created a cuneiform (“wedge-shaped”) system of writing. Using a reed stylus (a tool for writing), they made wedge-shaped impressions on clay tablets, which were then baked or dried in the sun. Several hundred thousand tablets have been found. Mesopotamian peoples used writing primarily for record keeping. Cuneiform texts, were also used in schools to train scribes, who served as copyists, teachers, and jurists. Scribes came to hold the most important positions in Sumerian society.
One system of writing in Egypt emerged around 3000 b.c. The Greeks later called this earliest Egyptian writing hieroglyphics, meaning “priest- carvings” or “sacred writings.” The hieroglyphic system of writing, which used pictures and more abstract forms, was complex. It appears in writing on temple walls and in tombs. A simplified version of hieroglyphics, known as hieratic script , was used for business transactions and the general needs of daily life. Hieratic script was based on the same principles as hieroglyphic writing, but the drawings were represented by dashes, strokes, and curves. Egyptian hieroglyphs were at first carved in stone. Later, hieratic script was written on papyrus, a paper made from the papyrus reed that grew along the Nile.
The Indus Valley civilization had its own written language, which used characters, symbols, and other marks to convey meaning. The number of distinct symbols in the Indus writing system is at least 250 and may possibly be as high as 500. While archaeologists have succeeded in translating Egyptian and Sumerian writing, they have not yet been able to interpret the writing of the Indus civilization. When the Indus Valley civilization collapsed around 170 B.C., use of this writing system vanished. Around 1000 B.C., however, south Asians developed a writing system for a Indo-European language known as Sanskrit.
The earliest Chinese writing was in the form of pictographs etched into cattle bones and turtle shells. These characters were probably written in red or black ink. Then a sharp instrument was used to carve the characters into the bone or shell. After this, the material was heated, which created cracks. These objects were called oracle bones because the ancient Chinese used them to attempt to foretell the future. The cracks caused by the heating formed a pattern, which was interpreted as a way to make predictions about upcoming events. The events included weather, harvests and sickness. In 1899 scholars notices that Chinese pharmacists were selling “dragon bones”, which were etched with ancient pictographs. The pharmacists claimed that the bones could be used for medicinal purposes. Eventually, scholars traced the bones to a site near Anyang. Excavation of the site uncovered about 1,000 oracle bones. Although the Chinese language has evolved continuously over a period of 4,000 years, it has never entirely abandoned its original format.
The Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem that records the exploits of a legendary king named Gilgamesh. Part man and part god, he befriends a hairy beast named Enkidu. Together, they set off to do great deeds. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh feels the pain of death and begins a search for the secret of immortality. His efforts fail, and Gilgamesh remains mortal, showing that “everlasting life” is only for the gods. Inventions: wagon wheel, for transportation the sundial, to measure time the arch , in construction bronze out of copper and tin, for tools and jewelry Science: math, they devised a number system based on 60 geometry to measure fields and to erect buildings astronomy, charted the heavenly constellations.
Pyramids, temples, and other monuments bear witness to the architectural and artistic achievements of the ancient Egyptians. Artists and sculptors were expected to follow particular formulas in style. For example, the human body was often portrayed as a combination of profile, semi-profile, and frontal view to accurately represent each part. Egyptians also made advances in mathematics, helped them to build their massive monuments. Egyptians were able to calculate area and volume and used geometry to survey flooded land. The Egyptians developed an accurate 365-day calendar based on the movements of the moon and on the bright star Sirius.
Use of irrigation and iron plows, which increased the available cropland. The production of more food allowed the population to grow. By the end of the Zhou period, iron weapons had replaced bronze weapons, and soldiers on horseback carried powerful crossbows.
Solar calendar Base-20 number system Use of jade and obsidian for tools and jewelry
The First Civilizations
Unit 2. Ancient and Classical Civilizations
Ph1007 Evolution of the Great Civilizations
Created by Carmen Zamora
How did the first civilizations form and what
were their achievements?
Identify basic characteristics of civilizations.
Explain how geography affected the development of river-
Identify major achievements of each of the first
CIVILIZATION refers to
a complex culture in
which large numbers of
people share several
CULTURE is the way of life
of a people in a certain time
and place. Examples:
neanderthal culture in
Europe 20,000 years ago,
inca culture 500
years ago, Japanese
Cities: made possible by abundance of food; new patterns of living
Government: organize and regulate human activity
Religion: explanation of forces of nature and people’s role in the world
Social Structure: class divisions based on political and economic power
Writing: allows keeping of accurate records
Art: paintings, poetry and other cultural productions
QuickTime™ and a
are needed to see this picture.
Polytheistic: it involved many gods
Temples called ziggurats.
Priests and priestesses held a great deal of power.
believed to derive
their power from
the government a
Gods and goddesses associated
with heavenly bodies and natural
Sun and land held special
The Egyptian - “Son of Re (Ra)”
Pharaohs were mummified.
Mandate of Heaven
King as a link between Heaven and Earth (but not divine).
Expected to follow the dao.
Old Dynasty loses
Mandate of Heaven
Religion in other
Divine rule in the IndusValley.
Belief that supernatural forces helped rulers in China.
Belief in a jaguar-god
Ruled by a priestly class.
Ritual ball game and sacrifices