The Neolithic Revolution
The Neolithic Revolution is the term that has been given to the development of agricultural societies. This revolution in economic, political, and social organization began in the Middle East as early as 10,000 B.C.E. and gradually spread to other centers, including parts of India, North Africa and Europe. With the rise of agricultural forms of economic production, humans were able to remain settled more permanently in one spot and increase their levels of specialization regarding particular economic, political, and religious functions. Additionally, the emergence of agriculturally based societies caused a massive increase in the sheer number of people in the world. However, agriculture as an economic system was not embraced by every society. Most evidence suggests that gathering and hunting peoples resisted agriculture as long as they could. It is not that hard to imagine that many would have found the new life too complicated, too difficult, or too exciting.
The word civilization itself comes from the Latin term for city. Formal states, writing, cities, and monuments all characterize civilizations. Civilizations also exhibit elaborate trading patterns and extensive political terrorizes. While many of the ingredients of civilization had existed by 6000 or 5000 B.C.E., the origins of civilization strictly speaking date to only about 3500 B.C.E.
The first civilizations were labeled the river-valley civilizations. This was because they all developed alongside of major rivers in order to secure an adequate water supply to aid agricultural production. The earliest river-valley civilizations began in the Middle East and flourished for many centuries. They created a basic set of tools, intellectual concepts such as writing and mathematics, and political forms that would persist and spread to other parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Most of the river-valley civilizations were in decline by 1000 B.C.E
Egyptian civilization emerged in northern Africa along the Nile River by about 3000 B.C.E. It benefited from trade and influences from Mesopotamia, but it also produced its own distinct social structures and cultural expressions. Unlike Mesopotamia, Egyptian civilization featured very durable and centralized institutions. Mathematical achievements and impressive architectural structures also characterized Egyptian civilization.
Chinese River-Valley Civilization
Civilization along the Hwang River in China developed in considerable isolation, though some overland trading contact developed with India and the Middle East. In addition to the existence of an organized state that carefully regulated irrigation in the flood-prone river valley, the Chinese had produced advanced technology and elaborate intellectual life by about 2000 B.C.E. There were also less of a break between Chinese river-valley society and the later civilizations in China than in any other region.
Indian River-Valley Civilization
A prosperous urban civilization emerged along the Indus River by 2500 B.C.E., supporting several large cities, such as Harappa, whose houses had running water. Indus River peoples had trading contacts with Mesopotamia, but they developed a distinctive alphabet and artistic forms. Invasions by Indo-Europeans, however, resulted in such complete destruction of this culture that little is known about its subsequent influence on India.
The Jews were the most influential of the smaller Middle Eastern groups. They gave the world the first clearly developed monotheistic religion. While settling near the Mediterranean around 1200 B.C.E., the Jews were never able to form a strong political or military tradition. However, Jewish monotheism has sustained a distinctive Jewish culture to our own day; it would also serve as a key basis for the development of both Christianity and Islam as major world religions
The end of the ice age saw both the retreat of some big game animals and increases in human populations, stemming from improved climate. For these two reasons people were prompted to look for new and more reliable sources of food. There is evidence that by 9000 B.C.E., in certain parts of the world, people were becoming increasingly dependent on regular harvests of wild grains, berries, and nuts. This undoubtedly set the stage for the probably accidental discovery of the deliberate planting of seeds and the improvement of key grains through selection of seeds from the best plants.
Metalworking: Agricultural Technology
By about 3000 B.C.E., metalworking had become common in the Middle East. Like agriculture, knowledge of metals gradually fanned out to other parts of Asia and to Africa and Europe. Metalworking was extremely useful to agricultural and herding societies. It allowed for the crafting of more efficient farming tools and better weaponry. However, the production of metal instruments was not a popular undertaking. Agricultural peoples had the resources to free up only a small number of metal toolmakers who would specialize in this activity and exchange their product with farmers for food. Specialization of this sort did not guarantee rapid rates of invention; indeed, many specialized artisans seemed very conservative, eager to preserve methods that they had inherited
The Sumerians were the most influential people in the Tigris-Euphrates region. By about 3500 B.C.E., the Sumerians had developed the first known case of human writing. They also were characterized by the development of astronomical sciences, intense religious beliefs, and tightly organized city-states. The Sumerians also improved the region's agricultural prosperity by learning about fertilizers and adopting silver in order to conduct an early form of commercial exchange. They eventually succumbed to people called the Akkadians, who continued much of the Sumerian culture in the Tigris-Euphrates region.
Sumerian Alphabet: River-Valley Intellectual Development
By about 3500 B.C.E., the Sumerians had developed a cuneiform alphabet, the first known case of human writing. Their alphabet at first used different pictures to represent various objects but soon shifted to the use of geometric shapes to symbolize spoken sounds. The early Sumerian alphabet may have had as many as 2000 such symbols, but this was later stripped down to about 300.
Polytheism: River-Valley Religion
Sumerians believed in many powerful gods, for the nature on which their agriculture depended often seemed swift and unpredictable. Prayers and offerings to prevent floods as well as to protect good health were a vital part of Sumerian life. Sumerian ideas about the divine force in natural objects were common among early agricultural peoples; a religion of this sort, which sees gods in many aspects of nature, is known as polytheism.
City-States: Sumerian Political Structure
Sumerian political structures stressed tightly organized city-states, ruled by a king who claimed divine authority. The Sumerian state had carefully defined boundaries, unlike the less formal territories of precivilized villages in the region. Here was a key early example how a civilization and more political structures combined. The government helped regulate religion and enforce its duties; it also provided a system of courts for justice. Kings were originally war leaders, and the function of defense and war, including leadership of a trained army, remained vital in Sumerian politics.
Hammurabi's Code: River-Valley Legal Culture
Hammurabi's code laid down the procedure for law courts and regulated property rights and duties of family members, setting harsh punishments for crimes. This focus on standardizing a legal system was one of the features of early river-valley civilizations.
From 2700 B.C.E. onward, the Egyptian Pharaohs directed the building of the pyramids, which were to function as their tombs. However, the building of these massive architectural monuments could only be accomplished with the use of an abundance of slave labor.
The Shang Dynasty
The Shang ruled over the Chines, or Hwang-Ho, river valley by about 1500 B.C.E. These rulers are noted for managing the construction of impressive tombs and palaces. The Zhou took over from the Shang about 1000 B.C.E. and ruled over a loose coalition of regional lords.