The first civilizations of the world were originated by the first urban groupings of humanity. The areas where these civilizations emerged are considered “cradles of civilization” and, although the political and economic systems they had were not so complex, they laid the foundations for the progress of humanity.
The Mesopotamia region is considered to be the area where the first urban groupings originated for the first time in human history, around 5000 BC. The origin of the first civilizations did not occur at the same time throughout the world.
The cradles of civilization are geographic regions in which humans first created cities, writing systems, metallurgical systems, techniques for the domestication of animals, and a complex development of societies.
The emergence of the first civilizations in the history of mankind occurred between two rivers: the Euphrates River and the Tigris River.
Between these two rivers there was unmatched fertility in the land, which made it much easier to grow the crops required for food. This led to the region becoming the first to host life in society in the world.
Mesopotamian civilizations were organized into city-states, with independent governments but with quite similar writing systems and religious beliefs; this was the only thing that related them to each other. The first civilization that is recorded in history is the Sumerian civilization.
Social and cultural characteristics
Originally, Mesopotamian civilizations were divided into two distinguished groups. The first spoke Sumerian, a language that has nothing to do with modern languages. The second group spoke Semitic, the language from which Hebrew and Arabic originated.
As the Sumerians were the first to settle across rivers, their language was the first to be written and recorded in the history of mankind. The Sumerians developed the first writing system.
Other important civilizations that made up the Mesopotamian civilization were the Babylonians and the Assyrians. All of these social groupings had polytheistic religions (believing in more than one god) and the main god varied from period to period.
In Mesopotamia high emphasis was placed on religion and the material world was believed to be closely linked with the spiritual. The social organization was directed by the kings, but also religion was an important center of political and social influence.
Mesopotamian social characteristics and their relationship with religion demonstrate how, from the beginning of civilization, importance was given to the gods, and this pattern was maintained for thousands of years (in many cases until the 19th century of the current era).
The system of political organization in the Mesopotamian civilization is objectively impressive, but while the civilization originated there, the political systems are of much older complexity.
The political order of Mesopotamia is the consequence of an evolution that occurred for thousands of years and that was reflected in writing for the first time in this region.
As happened later in Greece, the organization of each city was independent. They were organized into city-states that did not depend economically or socially on each one. In fact, wars between each city were common by then.
The political organization revolved around the main temple of the city. Since the main god was believed to own the inhabitants, the monarchs exercised their power in the temple as a kind of representatives of divine authority.
This organization changed a bit with the rise of kings. The kings became fundamental figures for the management of each city-state in all its aspects. These kings became more powerful people as their city-state conquered territory.
The economic system of these cities used to revolve around agriculture. Each city-state was self-sufficient and, therefore, did not require outside commercial activities. Originally, temples had a high degree of control over the economy and social life.
The main temples of each city employed a large number of artisans, laborers and masons, as well as exerted control over commercial activities. Items required for trade, such as caravans, were supplied by the temple authorities.
After the rise of kings, control of the economy passed to the king of each city-state; These then began to distribute territory and powers to their assistants. The temples and palaces of the monarchs of each city were important economic centers in ancient Mesopotamia.
The economy was based on the principles of agriculture and the exchange of goods between producers and merchants.
The Egyptians were the second to organize a structurally complex civilization in the history of mankind. In addition, they built one of the most enduring civilizations that has ever existed, standing in a functional way for almost 2,700 years.
Civilization originally began as a series of small kingdoms scattered around the Nile River. These small towns arose after the appearance of agriculture in this region, around 5000 BC. However, the unification of civilization occurred in the year 2650 BC. C.
Social and cultural characteristics
Like the Mesopotamian civilization and most of the first emerging civilizations, there were a large number of people who worked as farmers, given the importance of agriculture in pre-industrial times.
Societies were not organized into independent cities, but cities did exist in ancient Egypt. All were located near the Nile River, which not only served as an unlimited source of water for crops, but was also essential for transportation.
The ancient Egyptians had unique religious beliefs; they based their beliefs on the polytheism of gods like Ra and Osiris. The belief in the “afterlife” was closely linked to the mummification of monarchs.
Ancient Egypt was one of the earliest cradles of ancient art and one of the most important. In turn, they developed two writing systems: one for everyday use and another used in monuments, known as hieroglyphs.
All the land of Egypt belonged to the pharaoh, and artisans were seen as people with a higher social status than ordinary farmers.
The government of ancient Egypt was the first in human history to run an entire country in its entirety. After the unification of all the independent groups in 2650 a. C., the government of Egypt managed a nation that expanded for thousands of kilometers and with a population of several million inhabitants.
The main king was known as pharaoh. Pharaoh was seen as the king of all Egypt and the representation of all the gods on Earth.
In fact, for the ancient Egyptians the pharaoh was considered a god too, given his high religious significance. In addition, the pharaoh was in charge of commanding the nation’s armies in war.
Egypt also developed the first civil service system. As the country had a very wide extension of territory, the first pharaohs created a group of helpers who represented their authority throughout the country.
In the royal palace of the pharaoh, the monarch was surrounded by important authorities of the country, ministers and those in charge of the courts.
This political system, like that of Mesopotamia, is the consequence of social progress that occurred during thousands of years prior to the establishment of civilizations.
The presence of the Nile River made the economy completely revolve around agriculture, as was common in most of the first civilizations of humanity.
During the time of year when the water level rose, the land became fertile; this allowed to harvest during a great part of the year.
The cities that were grouped near the Nile were ideal centers of commerce, since the same river served to transport goods by boat from one city to another. This led to the creation of large local markets in each city, as well as administration centers in each.
The Nile also allowed the Egyptians a path to exchange goods with Africa. Expeditions were made in search of precious goods such as gold and ivory, and slaves were also imported from Africa to work in Egypt.
Indus river civilization
The Indus River civilization was established along this river, which was located in the territory of what is now India. Its development was contemporary with that of the Mesopotamian civilization and that of the Egyptian civilization.
One of the fundamental characteristics of this civilization was the large number of cities and establishments that made it up. Around 1000 locations have been found; Although many were small, they had a fairly advanced level of organization for the time.
Social and cultural characteristics
The study of this civilization has become a problem for archaeologists and anthropologists given the few significant texts that have been recovered at excavation sites.
Most of the texts created by the members of this civilization were made on perishable material, which leaves very few decipherable texts today.
The lack of sufficient content to study its social structure does not allow us to know if civilization was organized in city-states or under the same government.
However, the civilization presented advanced knowledge regarding astronomy. The Hindus are thought to have been one of the first human groupings to develop an understanding of the mass and length of objects, as well as time itself.
They developed a characteristic artistic style, which is reflected in the sculptures that have been recovered and in their craftsmanship.
Furthermore, given the character of the structures found, it is valid to assume that the inhabitants gave priority to hygiene and that the majority of those who lived in cities were artisans or farmers.
Although there is no conclusive knowledge about the way in which they organized politically, it is likely that the Hindus had a central government.
The meticulous way in which cities were planned suggests that decisions originated from a source of authority.
Most of the Indian towns and cities studied today have a fairly similar structural organization. It is very likely that they all acted under the same government and not independently. This is also reflected in its architecture and crafts.
It is thought that many of the smaller cities did not have a ruler, but other larger cities (such as Harappan and Mohenjo-Daro) had rulers who oversaw the development and growth of the settlement.
The advanced technological capabilities of civilization allowed the development of extremely complex economic structures for the time.
The docks, barns and their storage structures helped to have an unprecedented economic development for the time.
Agriculture played a fundamental role in the development of its economy. In fact, incredibly complex irrigation canals have been found in some cities. The Hindus had quite complex control over the distribution of water in cities for agrarian purposes.
There were transport systems between cities, which were used to trade between one and another; in addition, there was international trade.
Artifacts of this civilization have been found that were developed in Afghanistan and there is evidence to suggest that they also entered into trade relations with the Mesopotamian civilization.
- Mesopotamia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, March 14, 2018. Taken from ancient.eu
- Beginnings and Early Civilizations, McGraw-Hill Learning, (nd). Taken from mheducation.com
- Cradle of Civilization, (nd). Taken from ipfs.io
- The Cradle of Civilization, Senta German for The Khan Academy, (nd). Taken from khanacademy.org
- History of Mesopotamia, Encyclopaedia Britannica, (nd). Taken from Britannica.com
- Ancient Mesopotamia, Time Maps, (nd). Taken from timemaps.com
- Ancient Egypt, Encylopaedia Britannica, (nd). Taken from Britannica.com
- Ancient Egypt Civilization, Time Maps, (nd). Taken from timemaps.com
- The Indus River Civilization, Time Maps, (nd). Taken from timemaps.com