The Earliest Civilizations

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The Earliest Civilizations
A. Historians have long argued that all civilizations, from the first known to

modern, all share 5 common characteristics. These characteristics are

ESSENTIAL for the success of any civilization

1. an urban focus (explain):

2. political and military structures (explain):

3. social structure based on economic power (explain):

4. record keeping (explain):

5. advanced technology (explain):

B. The civilizations of Mesopotamia are some of the earliest known

1. the land of Mesopotamia is known as “The Fertile Crescent

2. location (explain):

3. the two vital rivers that provide life for this civilization (explain):

4. the Sumerians were the first group to occupy this area and create

a civilization

5. the Sumerians faced difficult environmental challenges

living in the area

Problems living in the area

Solution to the problem

Unpredictable floods or no rain at all which led to drought

6. the significance of solving these problems is that it forced the

Sumerians to work together and to achieve the “5 C’s”

For the remainder of this section we will examine how the Four Early River Valley Civilizations demonstrated the “5 C’s”

C. The Sumerians were only one group that inhabited the area of


1. one of their most important achievements was establishing a form

of government

a. they formed city-states (explain):

b. how leadership evolved in the Sumerian culture (explain):

c. eventually the priests, army and government bureaucracy

aided the kings in their rule

2. the most important structure in the Sumerian civilization was the

ziggurat (explain):

D. As the success of the city-states grew, so too did the size of the Sumerian


1. as they came into contact with surrounding civilizations, cultural

diffusion took place (define):

2. negative effect of this contact with other groups (explain):
3. another advancement of the Sumerians was the development

of cuneiform (explain):

a. importance:

E. Soon the Sumerians began fighting among themselves and became

exposed to foreign attack. Ultimately, the Babylonians came to power

in Mesopotamia

1. the unique contribution of the Babylonians came from one ruler –


a. what he did (explain):

b. he hoped that a uniform set of laws would help unite the

various people living in Mesopotamia

c. what his laws were based on (explain):

2. the code protected all aspects and people in society . . . . .

. . . . . but not evenly (explain):

3. the “Code of Hammurabi” was an example of the belief that

the government was responsible for what happened in society

The Egyptian Civilization
F. The Nile River made civilization possible in northeast Africa

1. important points about the Nile River (explain):

2. being surrounded by desert made Egypt easily defended. As a

result, the people of Egypt mainly interacted with only those

living along the Nile
G. The form of government that ran Ancient Egypt was a theocracy

1. who was Menes? (explain):

2. the pharaoh had complete control over Egypt (explain):
3. why the Egyptians had no word for “religion” (explain):

4. it was believed that the pharaoh ruled after his/her death

5. it was important to build a structure that would house the remains

of the deceased pharaohs

6. the famous Pyramid at Giza (explain):

H. The Egyptian were polytheistic (explain):

1. they had over 2,000 gods (below are some “All – Stars”!)

a. Re –

b. Osiris –

c. Isis –

2. Egyptians believed that a pleasurable afterlife was attainable

3. in order to be ready for the afterlife upper class Egyptian bodies

were preserved by mummification (explain):

I. Egyptian society was not “fixed”

1. while it is true that there were several classes in Egyptian society,

one could move from class-to-class

a. what skill allowed this movement (explain):

2. women in Egyptian society had many of the same rights as men


3. Egyptians also made tremendous technological advancements




System of numbers

Medical advancements

4. eventually an invasion by the Hyksos brought about an end of the

Ancient Egyptian civilization that existed for over 2,500 years!
The Indus River Civilization
J. The geography around the Indus River allowed for a civilization to


1. the physical setting (explain):

2. seasonal monsoons provide much of the water for the civilization

3. these monsoons can be unpredictable and occasionally non-

K. The Harappan Civilization (explain):

1. the cities were well designed (explain):

2. one of their greatest advancements was early plumbing

a. significance (explain):
L. The cities along the Indus River created their own unique culture

1. there was not much social division

a. who was not important? (significance):

2. the significance of the discovery of toys (explain):

3. trade was an important part of society

What was traded

Where it was traded

Gold and Silver

Cotton, lumber, precious stones

4. many believe that the culture that developed along the Indus

River may have been destroyed over time by environmental

changes and not from foreign invasion

The River Civilizations of China
M. China’s geography helped create an isolated society (explain):
1. the Yellow River and the Yangtze River are where the early

Chinese civilization began

2. it was believed that over 4,000 years ago irrigation systems were

established that allowed for cities to grow along these rivers

  1. what was grown (explain):

3. the first city structures were made of wood and the cities were

surrounded by huge walls

N. The Chinese developed a unique identity as the importance of “the

group” was stressed over the importance of “the individual”

1. an example of this can be seen in the family (explain):

2. the “spirits” of the father’s ancestors were honored by making


a. these “spirits” were seen as helpful to those in need

3. the Chinese did worship several gods and would ask questions

using oracle bones (explain):

4. significance of the oracle bones (explain):

5. the Chinese created an intricate uniform style of writing

a. in order to be “literate” in Chinese society, one would have

to know 1,500 characters

b. this meant that only upper class children would be educated

O. Throughout Ancient Chinese history, several dynasties came to rule and

would challenge each other for power

1. this cycle was known as “The Mandate of Heaven” (explain):

P. The Ancient Chinese cities created several inventions that helped their

civilization flourish



Roads and canals built

Coined money

Blast furnaces that created cast iron

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