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Early Civilizations

I. Mesopotamia
A. Geography of Fertile Crescent
i. located in Southwest Asia
a) land area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers extending in a crescent shape to
the Eastern Mediterranean Sea and noted for agricultural production
ii. eastern portion contains the rivers
a) area between rivers called Mesopotamia
b) rivers flooded once a year
• left behind very fertile mud called silt, which made growing crops much easier
• flooding happened every year, but could be as early as April or late as June
c) surplus from easy farming led to growing population and first cities
iii. first settled area around 4500 BCE
iv. Sumerians were first civilization around 3500 BCE
a) not sure if they moved in or if people living there just became Sumerians
b) 3 problems with living in area
• annual flooding wasn't always in the same month
• Sumer had few natural barriers, making it difficult to defend
• limited natural resources, making it difficult to do metal work or make things of
wood or stone
c) Solutions
• dug irrigation ditches to carry water
• built walls of mud for defense
• traded crafts with nearby people for natural resources
B. City-States
i. definition: an independent political unit made up of a city and surrounding land
ii. Sumer contained many cities, each with governments and leaders
a) despite sharing culture, they were different enough to be name city-states
iii. earliest governments were controlled by priest class
a) ziggurats formed the center of city, like a town hall
b) priests got a cut of all sacrifices for themselves
iv. As war began to occur more often, kings (usually the best warrior) took over
a) early on only had power during war
b) as wars become more frequent, kings stayed in power even during peace time
c) eventually would pass power to sons, creating a dynasty
• dynasty- a series of rulers from a single family
v. As population and trade increased, so did cultural diffusion
a) cultural diffusion- process of an idea or product spreading from one culture to
b) Sumerians spread idea of living in cities to other lands
c) Sumerians took on ideas about religion and warfare
C. Sumerian Culture
i. religion
a) polytheistic- belief in many gods
• had roughly 3000 gods
b) built ziggurats and made sacrifices to keep the gods happy
c) gods had faults of humans, but were immortal and all-powerful
d) Epic of Gilgamesh
• one of the earliest works of literature in the world
• story of a heroic king and tells us about beliefs and concerns for the ancient
• beliefs and legends greatly influenced other cultures, including Hebrews and
ii. life
a) social classes
• priests and kings
• wealthy merchants
• ordinary workers
• slaves (usually captured in war or sold to pay off debt)
b) women
• able to do most jobs men did
• able to own property
• able to be in the lower ranks of the priesthood
• thought not to be able to attend schools for advanced reading and writing
iii. technology
a) invented the wheel, sail, and plow
b) first to use bronze
c) first to develop writing system- called cuneiform
• symbols represented ideas
d) developed a number system in base 60
• gives us 60 seconds= 1 minute, degrees of circles up to 360
D. Empires
i. Sargon of Akkad
a) Akkad is city-state in northern Sumer
• Semitic people- language related to Arabic and Hebrew
b) 2350 BCE- Sargon conquers Sumer
• by taking control of the entire area, he created the world's first empire
• empire- brings together many peoples, nations, or formerly independent
states under one ruler
c) dynasty only lasted about 200 years, but at height controlled all the middle east
ii. Babylonian Empire
a) around 2000 BCE Sumer was invaded by Amorites
• set capital in Babylon, one of the greatest cities on the Euphrates
b) Hammurabi's rule marks the peak of Babylonian Empire
• most known for creating Hammurabi's Code
• list of laws he created
• carved into stone and sent all over the empire
• wanted to have a single code of law for everyone living in empire
• 282 specific laws dealing with everything relating to the community, family,
business, and crime
• usually followed retaliation- eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth
• set different punishments for rich and poor, men and women

II. Egypt
A. Geography of Egypt
i. located immediately on the Nile and the Nile delta
a) thin strip of fertile land on either side of the Nile
ii. Nile flooded annually in July, leaving rich soil for planting
a) any deviation in flood waters could be disastrous
b) provided easy transportation
c) remember, the Nile flows from the south to the north
iii. Lower Egypt- the last 750 miles of the river before it empties into the Mediterranean-
a) people cut off from going south due to rapids
b) contains very rich delta area, allowing for high populations
iv. Upper Egypt was the area from the rapids further south
a) lower population and more difficult to grow crops
v. Desert
a) stretches so far on either side of the Nile that it acted as a natural barrier
• spared from constant warfare
vi. despite trading with Mesopotamia as early as 3200 BCE, Egypt followed its own
cultural path
a) many migrated to Egypt and were absorbed, making Egypt diverse in culture and
B. Kingdom
i. the earliest farmers in area came around 5000 BCE
a) villages were later brought together under kingdoms called Lower Egypt and Upper
• each kingdom had it's own laws and customs- even crowns
• kingdoms were united under King Menes, who created a combination double
crown to show his power
• also created capital, Memphis, near where Upper and Lower Egypt met
• created first dynasty in Egypt
b) little is known of first 2 dynasties, but 3rd left records, beginning Old Kingdom
(2660-2180 BCE)
ii. Pharaohs
a) in Egypt, kings were gods themselves, just underneath the power of the gods in the
heavens- renamed pharaohs
• pharaoh made the sun rise and set, waters flood, crops to grow
b) pharaohs even rule after death, meaning their resting place had to be even better than
their palace
• in the Old Kingdom, this meant burial in a pyramid
• built without use of the wheel
• greatest is the Great Pyramid of Giza
• stones weighed 2½ -15 tons
• more than two million stones were stacked to a height of 481 feet
C. Culture
i. religion
a) had more than 2000 gods and goddesses and built temples to them
b) believed in an afterlife
• judged for life choices
• good would have eternal life, bad were eaten by the Devourer of Souls
• buried in tombs after being mummified and put in coffin
• process of embalming and drying a corpse to prevent decay
• buried with riches and tools to take with them to the afterlife
ii. society
a) strict class levels
• king, queen, royal family
• wealthy landowners, government officials, priests, commanders
• middle class- merchants, artisans
• lower- farmers, unskilled laborers
• later periods of Egyptian history contains slaves, usually captured in battle
b) a person could move up in status through marriage or success in their jobs
• in order to get into the highest levels, one had to be able to read and write
c) women held high status
• able to own and trade property, propose marriage or get a divorce
• if divorce was won, woman got 1/3 of couple's property
iii. writing
a) earliest forms were pictographs, which developed later into hieroglyphics
• early on pictures represented ideas
• later developed pictures for sounds, which then formed a basic alphabet
b) first written on clay, but then they developed paper
• paper made from papyrus reeds
• split reeds into strips, wet them, and pressed together
• once it dried, the sap kept everything together
iv. science and technology
a) developed numbers for counting, adding, and subtracting to assess and collect taxes
b) had advanced math skills that allowed them to build massive structures like the
c) developed a calendar to keep track of time between floods and know when to plant
and harvest
• divided year into 12 months with 30 days, added 5 days for holidays and feasting
• so accurate that it only fell short of a true solar year by 6 hours
d) famous for medicine
• had magic charms and chants, but also knew things like checking pulse, setting
splints for bones, and had effective treatments for wounds and fevers
• sometimes even used surgery
D. Invaders
i. power of pharaohs declined around 2180 BCE- called First Intermediate Period
ii. about 100 years later came the Middle Kingdom (2080-1640 BCE)
a) pharaohs took control again
• improved trade and transportation- dug canal from Nile to Red Sea
• extended farmland by irrigating the Nile more and draining swamps
b) in 1640 BCE, Asian nomads invaded using chariots
• named Hyksos
• ruled for 70 years, known as Second Intermediate Period
E. New Kingdom
i. after the Hebrews left Egypt (more in the next chapter) Egypt began its 3rd period
ii. using bronze and chariots brought by the Hyksos, the Egyptians became conquerors
iii. Hatshepsut
a) took over because her husband died and her son was too young to rule
• expanded trade south, bringing rare oils, incense, gold, ivory, and new plants and
iv. Thutmose
a) warlike stepson of Hatshepsut who conquered Canaan and Syria in the northeast and
Nubia in the south
• at this point, Egypt is at its most powerful (then and now)
v. the expansions of the New Kingdom put the Egyptians in contact with the more
advanced Hittites (1285 BCE)
a) the Hittites would introduce them to iron when the Egyptians attacked
• Ramses II signs a treaty with the Hittites for peace (aka Ramses the Great)
F. Fall of New Kingdom
i. “Sea Peoples” invaded the region
a) no one is sure who they are, but they could include the Philistines from the Bible
ii. the Egyptians also had to contend with rebellions from conquered lands
a) constantly at war with conquered peoples (like Nubians and Canaanites)
• eventually they were conquered by Libyans (to the west) and Nubians (south)
• Nubians took total control until the invasions of the Assyrians (more next
• the Nubians eventually became Kushites, but retained Egyptian customs
• dominated African trade until finally destroyed by Aksum around 350 CE

III. Indus Civilization

A. Geography of South Asia
i. area known as Indian subcontinent
a) separated from North by three mountain ranges- Himalaya, Karakoram, and Hindu
ii. northern area covered by Indus-Ganges plain, a farm rich area where the rivers overlap
iii. seasonal winds called monsoons control the climate
a) October to May winds blow from northeast and drive moisture to sea
b) June to September winds reverse, bringing moisture and big storms
iv. yearly floods provide fertile soil
a) predictable
b) river sometimes changed course
c) people therefore had to be able to handle many conditions- changing river course,
too much rain, too little
v. mountains to the north and giant desert to west provided natural barriers to invaders
a) Indus River provided link to sea and ability to trade with far-away lands like
B. Civilization Emerges
i. evidence of domestication of animals date to about 7000 BCE, villages appear around
3200 BCE
ii. around 2500 BCE the first cities were beginning
iii. largest cities include Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro
a) sometimes called Harappan civilization due to archaeological findings at city
b) well known for sophisticated city planning
• used grid system to lay out city
• had strong defensible area with important buildings called citadel
• residential areas for homes
• buildings made of uniform sized bricks of mud
• had extensive plumbing and sewage systems that were the most advanced system
developed before the 19th century
iv. evidence in artifacts suggests a stable government and society
a) uniform housing suggests that social divisions were low
b) clay and wooden toys suggest a culture that could have leisure time
c) few weapons found, suggesting that conflict was rare
v. religion
a) artifacts link early religion to modern Hinduism
vi. trade
a) stamps and seals made of carved stone suggest long distance trading
• merchants identify goods by seal
b) Indus seals found in Sumer and Sumerian seals in Indus Valley suggest long
standing trade between them
C. End of Indus Valley Civilization
i. around 1750 BCE building quality declined and cities began to decay
a) no one knows exactly why
• some say Indus changed course too much
• some say people wore out the farmland
ii. around 1500 BCE, a sudden catastrophe hit
a) 38 unburied bodies found in Mohenjo-Daro, suggesting people abandoned the city
after a natural disaster or invasion occurred
iii. later area is invaded by Aryans
a) not sure if arrival finished the first Indus Civilization or came after

A. Geography of China
i. natural barriers protect area creating cultural isolation
a) Gobi Desert to north, Taklimakan Desert to west, Himalayas to south west, and
Pacific Ocean to south and east
ii. two major rivers run from middle of China to Pacific
a) Huang He and Yangtze
iii. 90% of farmland lies in plain between Huang He and Yangtze rivers
iv. Huang He would flood and deposit silt called loess (yellow fertile dirt)
a) floods could be bad enough to destroy entire villages
B. Civilization Emerges
i. first cities begin to appear around 2000 BCE
a) first dynasty appears, called Xia Dynasty
• created flood-control and irrigation projects to help with destruction from river
• little known about time, except farm surpluses allowed cities to grow
b) Shang Dynasty (1532-1027 BCE)
• first to leave written records
• greatest city was Anyang
• built mainly of wood
• cities surrounded by walls of earth
• only wealthy lived inside walls- peasants stayed outside
• one wall was 118 feet wide and enclosed an area 1.2 square miles
• Shang constantly at war
• used the chariot
• professional warriors in noble class went through lengthy training to learn
how to drive and shoot in a horse-drawn chariot
• society was divided between nobles and peasants
• government run by noble-warriors and king
• nobles owned land
• peasants worked the soil with primitive stone and wood tools
• had bronze, but considered too valuable to be used on soil
• soil so rich that it allowed for two harvests a year
C. Origins of Culture
i. family was central to Chinese society
a) most important is respect for parents
b) elder man controlled family's property and made important decisions
c) women were completely inferior to men
• expected to obey fathers, husbands, and sons
d) girls from 13-16 had arranged marriages and moved into the house of her husband
• only bearing sons could improve a woman's status
ii. religion
a) family was closely tied to religion
• spirits of family ancestors could bring good fortune or disaster to family
• these spirits were not gods, but required attention and respect
• families made sacrifices to their honor
b) the Shang worshiped a supreme god (Shang Di) and many lesser gods
• priests used animal bones and tortoise shells, wrote questions on them, poked it
with a hot poker to crack it, and the cracks would tell the will of the gods- called
oracle bones
iii. writing
a) earliest writing is on oracle bones
b) characters stand for ideas, not sounds
• no link between written and spoken language
• people could read Chinese without speaking a word of it
c) advantage: written language was uniform across China, even though language wasn't
• allowed for a large area with diverse people to be united
d) disadvantage: complex, and each character had to be memorized for each idea
• had to know over 1000 characters to be barely literate
• scholars knew over 10,000
e) writing education limited to nobles only
iv. technology and art
a) artisans were housed outside city walls like peasants, but held higher esteem
• especially skilled at making bronze objects
• used in religious rituals, for weapons, and as symbols of royal power
• also learned to make silk cloth by drawing fine threads from a silkworm's cocoon
and weaving into light fabric
• nobles regarded wearing silk as a symbol of civilization
D. Zhou
i. people who overthrew the Shang Dynasty around 1027 BCE
ii. justified takeover by saying that the last Shang king was so bad, the gods took the right
to rule from the Shang and gave it to the Zhou
a) provides the Mandate of Heaven
• idea that a just ruler had the blessing and right of rule given by the gods
• gods could take away right if the ruler was no good
• this means all good and bad things (like floods, riots, etc) were signs of the
spirits and gods being pleased or displeased with a ruler
• this idea was used as the explanation for rebellion, civil war, and the rise of
new dynasties
iii. dynastic rule wasn't removed until the early 1900's
a) historians describe the rise, fall, and replacement of dynasties as the dynastic cycle
iv. Zhou ruled China through feudalism
a) gave control of regions to nobles, who protected and made most decisions for their
b) in return for control, nobles owe loyalty and military service to king
c) once nobles got used to the new rulers, they began to fight amongst themselves to
expand wealth and territory
v. technology and trade
a) Zhou built roads and canals in large cities, which allowed for better trade
b) introduced coin money, improving trade even more
c) daily life became so complex that a new class of civil servants was created
d) iron was developed to replace bronze- not seen in Europe until Romans
• created weapons and agricultural tools
vi. Zhou ruled from 1027-256 BCE
a) first 300 years peaceful
b) nomads from north attacked 771 BCE
• killed king and much of royal family, though some survived
• Zhou kings returned, but never recovered full power
c) nobles began fighting each other, and some proclaimed to be kings of their territories
d) early wars were fought according to code of conduct
e) as law and order declined, commanders began making their own rules, using peasant
foot soldiers backed by chariots
• new weapons created, like the crossbow, not used by Europe until Middle Ages
E. Ideas
i. Confucius (551 BCE)
a) born at a time of crisis and violence in China
• believed social order could be restored by organizing 5 basic relationships
• ruler and subject
• father and son
• husband and wife
• older brother and younger brother
• friend and friend
• each of the relationships had a code of conduct
• leaders should practice kindness and virtuous living, subjects should be loyal
and law-abiding
• children should devote themselves to their parents and honor their memories
after death
b) the ruler of his province was impressed by him and made him minister of justice
• when the ruler became corrupt, Confucius resigned
• he then taught others his ideas, who wrote books
• these eventually made their way into Chinese society and established the
first bureaucracy in China
• education became the only way to advance in society
c) Confucianism
• not a religion, but an ethical code
• these ideas would be spread to others through trade
ii. Legalists
a) a group that was basically opposite of Confucius
• believed efficient and powerful government was key to restoring order
• believed the ruler should reward service and punish the disobedient
• example: anyone caught outside his village without a permit should have his
ears and nose chopped off
• also wanted to control ideas
• burn any writings that might encourage criticism of government
b) the ruler who took over after the Zhou followed Legalist ideas
F. Qin Dynasty
i. replaced the Zhou Dynasty
ii. early leader was Shi Huangdi (named himself First Emperor)
a) crushed internal rebellion that had weakened the Zhou and political opposition
• then took the fight to outside invaders, eventually doubling the size of China
b) forced 120,000 noble families to move to the capital city so he could keep an eye on
• then took their land and made 36 administrative districts
c) had his Legalist followers hunt and murder hundreds of Confucianists
• burned their books too
d) built a highway system for trade that measured over 4,000 miles
e) also set standards in all lands for writing, law, currency, and weights and measures
• under this, farm production increased and trade expanded quickly
• heavy taxes and repressive government made the Qin Dynasty very
unpopular though
f) also built the Great Wall of China
• there were small walls at various areas built by Zhou, but Shi Huangdi wanted to
close the gaps
• the people were forced to work on the wall or die
iii. fall of Qin Dynasty
a) Shi Huandi's son was just as cruel, but not as competent
• peasant uprisings began just three years after he took the throne
b) a peasant from the land of Han marched his troops into the capital and took the
• this gave way to the Han Dynasty