In the course of mankind’s development, there was a period marked by a transition of humans to more massive and universal forms of existence which are generally defined as civilizations. The first springs of civilizations had appeared as early as 6000 BC in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and South Asia followed by China in the late 3rd and early 2nd millennia BC, as well as South American civilizations between 1200 and 400 BC. In the general meaning, civilization is viewed as a cultural society characterized by a complex of specific features, namely: an urban focus; a distinct religious structure; new political and military structures; a new social structure based on economic power; the development of writing; and new forms of significant artistic and intellectual activity (Spielvogel, p. 5). Thus to understand the reasons which triggered the emergence of early civilizations it appears necessary to focus on specific factors which determined the transition to civilization thousands of years ago.
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The generally acknowledged economic factor which led to civilization happens to be the flourishing agriculture. The Neolithic agricultural revolution brought about dramatic changes in the whole scope of the relationship between man and the environment. Delivered from the need to roam from place to place in search of food or pastures for herding animals, ancient tribes and families could finally settle down in permanent communities. Having gained control over the production of food and feeling safe about getting the necessary supply of it, people chose to get a more sedentary lifestyle, therefore introducing a radical change in their attitudes and habits (Giuseppe 1). Discovering a whole range of new plants and animals to domesticate and keep within systematic farming allowed diversifying and increasing the nutritious range and provided a better quality of life, allowing more time for activities other than mere food-hunting. People could erect more complex buildings of wood, brick, and stones, as well as enjoy a wider range of clothing materials and heavier pottery to satisfy the needs of their households. Easier life maintenance led to distracting people from the path of hunters to more creative activities like the workmanship of different kinds, with the possibility to exchange weapons and jewelry with other tribes thus setting the basis for commerce.
Another factor leading to civilization can be seen in the cultural sphere: agricultural development fostered literacy and science as well. By studying the movements of celestial objects people calculated seasons and so created the first calendars. Equally important was the measurement of land and amount, which eventually led to the emergence of writing as a way to keep track of records. Pictographic symbols were the beginning of the system of writing, with the most famous example of those being Egyptian hieroglyphics (Giuseppe, p. 1).
Last but not least, religion became one of the crucial factors uniting people into an identically thinking entity with the same values and attitudes. The need for good crops made people create a set of beliefs embodied in gods and idols, especially “earth mothers” who presumably helped at each certain moment of the crop-raising process increasing the fertility of the soil. Religion became one of the main political and organizing forces of civilized cultures, contributing to better control over the growing population of settlements.
In the long run, civilizations developed independently from each other in various parts of the world, with either economic or political and religious factors prevailing in each case. Whether the material or intangible incentives governed people when they strived for a civilized way of life will remain a mystery to historians, but all of the circumstances — economic, cultural, political, and religious — should be taken into account during the search for the roots of civilizations.
- Guisepi, Robert, ed. “Ancient Civilizations: The Requirements and Patterns to Develop”. International World History Project. 2007.
- Spielvogel, Jackson J. Western Civilization, Volume I: To 1715 with Map. 7th ed. PA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2009.