• civilization
    Civilization depends on agriculture.

    Photograph by Thomas J. Abercrombie

    World Powers
    The so-called "Group of 8" (G8) is an organization of the eight wealthiest democracies in the world. Seven of the eight countries are part of Western civilization: the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia. The only G8 member from outside Western civilization is Japan. Japan is usually considered its own civilization.

    Representatives from the G8 usually meet once a year, and discuss international issues, including the spread of disease, economic development, terrorism, and climate change.

    Cradle of Civilization
    The southern part of the modern country of Iraq is called the "Cradle of Civilization." The worlds first cities, writing systems, and large-scale government developed there.

    Civilization is a complex way of life that came about as people began to develop urban settlements.

    The earliest civilizations developed after 3000 BCE, when the rise of agriculture allowed people to have surplus food and economic stability. Agricultural populations advanced beyond village life, and many people no longer had to practice farming at all.

    Civilizations first appeared in Mesopotamia, in what is now Iraq, then in Egypt. Civilizations thrived in the Indus Valley by 2500 BCE, in China by 1500 BCE and in Central America, what is now Mexico, by 1200 BCE. Civilizations developed on every continent except Antarctica.

    Characteristics of Civilization

    All civilizations have certain characteristics. These include: (1) large population centers; (2) monumental architecture and unique art styles; (3) written language; (4) systems for administering territories; (5) a complex division of labor; and (6) the division of people into social classes.

    Large population centers, or urban areas (1), allow civilizations to develop. People, like farmers, who live outside urban centers but sell their goods and services there, are still part of that region’s civilization. The huge urban center of Teotihuacan, in modern-day Mexico, for example, had more than 100,000 residents between 300 and 500 CE. The development of the Teotihuacan civilization was made possible in part by the rich agricultural land surrounding the city. As the land was cultivated, fewer farmers could supply more food, such as corn and beans, to more people.

    All civilizations work to preserve their legacy by building large monuments and structures (2). This is as true today as it was thousands of years ago. Western civilization, another name for civilizations of European origin (which include Australia and much of North America), has monuments like Mount Rushmore, in the U.S. state of South Dakota, or the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, France. These monuments represent the civilization that made them.

    Similarly, pyramids and other monumental structures have represented Egypt for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptian civilization is also represented by a distinct art style. Characteristics of this art style include hieroglyphics and stiff human figures.

    Written communication (3) is another element that all civilizations share. Writing allows systems for trade, government, and thought to develop. Written language also allows civilizations to record their own history. The world's oldest known written language is Sumerian, which developed in Mesopotamia. Sumerian civilization began keeping records about 3100 BCE. Sumerian writing was called cuneiform, meaning it was made up of different collections of wedge (triangle) shapes. Just like written records of modern civilizations, Sumerian cuneiform kept track of taxes, grocery bills, and laws for things like stealing.

    Civilization comes from the Latin word "civis," meaning "citizen." Latin was the language of ancient Roman civilization, which stretched from the land surrounding the Mediterranean Sea all the way to Scotland in the north and the Black Sea to the east. To rule an area that large, the Romans, based in what is now central Italy, needed an effective system for administering territories (4).

    Romans used a variety of methods in this system. They built a network of roads so communication between far-away territories was quick and easy. Roads also made travel by the Roman military much easier. Romans built structures of their civilization everywhere they went: aqueducts to supply fresh water to towns and baths for improved hygiene, for example. They also spread the Latin language. The so-called "Romance languages" (Spanish, French, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalan, and Italian) are called that because they all developed from the Roman language: Latin. Having a similar language made communication and leadership easier for Rome in its far-flung territories.

    Romans used local leaders, as well as Romans, to administer the law in their territories. Residents were more familiar with their own leaders, and more likely to follow their instructions. Jewish leaders worked with Roman authorities in what is now Israel, while British leaders often worked with Romans on the island of Great Britain, for example. Some people born in Roman territories eventually became Roman emperors: The emperor Constantine, for instance, was born in what is now Serbia. This interaction reduced conflict between Rome and its territories.

    It didn’t reduce all conflict, of course. People who live in territories or colonies are rarely happy with the administration, or leadership, of a foreign civilization. Ancient Rome endured many revolts, from North Africa to Great Britain. Western Civilization has endured its own revolts, many of them successful. The South American independence movement led by Simon Bolivar against Spain in the early 19th century led to the independence of the countries of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Panama. Mahatma Gandhi led a successful, nonviolent revolt against British rule in the 20th century, which resulted in independence for the nation of India.

    Civilizations are also marked by complex divisions of labor (5). This means that different people perform specialized tasks. In a purely agricultural civilization, most members of the community know how to farm, cook, and hunt. In complex civilizations, farmers may cultivate one type of crop and depend on other people for clothing, shelter, and information.

    Civilizations that depend on trade are especially marked by divisions of labor. The city of Timbuktu, in the modern country of Mali, was an important trading center for several African civilizations. Residents of Timbuktu specialized in trading such goods as gold, ivory, or slaves. Other residents provided food or shelter for caravans traveling on camels from the Sahara Desert. The urban center of Timbuktu was also a center of learning. Its division of labor included not only merchants, but doctors, religious leaders, and artists.

    The last element that is key to the development of civilizations is the division of people into social classes (6). This is a complex idea that can be broken down into two parts: income and type of work performed. Changing classes has traditionally been difficult and happens over generations.

    Social classes can mean groups of people divided by their income. Western civilization usually divides economic class into wealthy, middle-class, and poor. This is not always the case, however. In medieval civilizations of Europe, there were few social classes based on income. Kings and queens had enormous amounts of money and land. Serfs, or people who worked the land, had almost nothing. Eventually, a merchant economic class developed.

    Social class can also refer to the type of work people perform. There are many divisions of social class. In the ancient civilization of China, there were four classic types of social classes. Scholars and political leaders (known as shi) were the most powerful social class. Farmers and agricultural workers (known as nong) were the next most-powerful group. Artists (known as gong), who made everything from horseshoes to silk robes, were the next order of social class. At the bottom of the social classes were the merchants and traders, who bought and sold goods and services. Known as shang, these merchants often had more money than the other classes but had a lower social status.

    Development of Civilization

    Civilizations expand through trade, war, and exploration. Usually, all three elements must be present for a civilization to grow and remain for a long period of time. Ancient Rome is a good example.

    The ancient Romans traded goods, services, and ideas with the lands they had contact with. They traded in silver from the island of Great Britain, spices such as cloves from partners in what is now India, and exotic animals such as giraffes from civilizations in Africa. They also traded ideas with civilizations such as Greece, where Romans were exposed to the ideas of democracy and citizenship.

    Roman civilization also developed a powerful military. One of Rome’s most important political figures was actually a general: Julius Caesar. Caesar conquered Gaul, what is today France and Belgium, through years of war and armed conflict. Gaul remained a part of Roman civilization for hundreds of years.

    Exploration was the foundation of Roman civilization. Early Romans explored the land around the Mediterranean, seeing what areas were good for agriculture (such as Gaul) and what areas had large trading centers (such as Egypt, which traded with almost all of Africa). These early explorations allowed Rome to grow from a kingdom in what is today central Italy to a republic expanding across the Mediterranean region to an empire that spread across three continents—Europe, Africa, and Asia.

    Fall of Civilizations

    Many civilizations have flourished and then failed or fallen apart. There are many reasons for this. The reasons can be internal, such as conflict within the civilization. It can also be external, such as a natural disaster.

    Internal conflict may have led to the fall of the Anasazi civilization, in what is today the southwestern part of the United States. The Anasazi civilization developed around 1200 BCE. The Anasazi seem to have abandoned their complex urban areas in the cliffs at Mesa Verde, Colorado, and other sites around 1300 CE. The disappearance of the Anasazi civilization remains a mystery, although many scientists say groups competed for land and resources. The Anasazi people never disappeared, of course: Groups developed their own, competing civilizations after the Anasazi civilization migrated or fell apart. These groups include the Pueblo and Hopi civilizations.

    Some anthropologists, people who study cultures and civilizations, believe that misuse of the environment may have helped cause the collapse of some civilizations. The Rapa Nui civilization of Easter Island collapsed because of deforestation. Residents cut down almost all the island's palm trees before new ones could grow. Trees were used for building homes and community structures, and were burned for firewood. Trees were also used to construct tools, such as large sleds, to transport huge ceremonial stone structures known as moai. Easter Island is isolated from other islands in the South Pacific, as well as South America. The Rapa Nui civilization had no trading partners, so they could not trade for trees or finished goods, such as chopped firewood or wooden sleds. People first arrived on Easter Island around 300 or 400 CE. By the time Europeans arrived on the island in 1722, the palm forests of Easter Island were gone.

    Some anthropologists believe that modern societies’ use of natural resources will affect future civilizations. Oil, coal, and natural gas are natural resources that, like the palm trees on Easter Island, may be used more quickly than they can be replenished.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    abandon Verb

    to desert or leave entirely.

    administer Verb

    to oversee, manage, or be in charge of.

    agriculture Noun

    the art and science of cultivating the land for growing crops (farming) or raising livestock (ranching).

    Encyclopedic Entry: agriculture
    Anasazi Noun

    (1200 BCE-1300 CE) people and culture native to what is now the southwestern United States. Also called Ancestral Puebloans.

    anthropologist Noun

    person who studies cultures and characteristics of communities and civilizations.

    aqueduct Noun

    a pipe or passage used for carrying water from a distance.

    architecture Noun

    style and design of buildings or open spaces.

    BCE Adjective

    (Before the Common Era) designation for the years before the year 1, or 1 CE.

    bigoted Adjective

    prejudiced or intolerant of a person or group not like oneself.

    camel Noun

    type of large pack animal with one or two humps on its back.

    caravan Noun

    group of people who travel together for safety and companionship through difficult territory.

    ceremonial Adjective

    used for a ritual or formal occasion.

    characteristic Noun

    physical, cultural, or psychological feature of an organism, place, or object.

    citizenship Noun

    behavior of a person in terms of their community.

    civilization Noun

    complex way of life that developed as humans began to develop urban settlements.

    Encyclopedic Entry: civilization
    class Noun

    division in society based on income and type of employment.

    coal Noun

    dark, solid fossil fuel mined from the earth.

    collapse Verb

    to fall apart completely.

    communication Noun

    sharing of information and ideas.

    compete Verb

    to work against someone or something else for an award or acknowledgment.

    complex Adjective

    complicated.

    conflict Noun

    a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.

    cradle of civilization Noun

    vague area credited with the earliest development of cities and civilizations, usually located around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

    crop Noun

    agricultural produce.

    Encyclopedic Entry: crop
    cultivate Verb

    to prepare and nurture the land for crops.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    cuneiform Noun

    written language made up of different collections of wedge or triangle shapes.

    deforestation Noun

    destruction or removal of forests and their undergrowth.

    democracy Noun

    system of organization or government where the people decide policies or elect representatives to do so.

    developed country Noun

    a nation that has high levels of economic activity, health care, and education.

    doctor Noun

    person who provides medical care to people or animals.

    documentary Noun

    non-fiction film.

    economic Adjective

    having to do with money.

    effective Adjective

    useful or able to perform a task.

    Eiffel Tower Noun

    (1889) monument in Paris, France.

    emperor Noun

    ruler of an empire.

    empire Noun

    group of nations, territories or other groups of people controlled by a single, more powerful authority.

    endure Verb

    to survive.

    enormous Adjective

    very large.

    exotic Adjective

    foreign or strange.

    exploration Noun

    study and investigation of unknown places, concepts, or issues.

    far-flung Adjective

    spread over a great distance.

    farming Noun

    the art, science, and business of cultivating the land for growing crops.

    firewood Noun

    wood that is burned for warmth, cooking, or cleaning.

    flourish Verb

    to thrive or be successful.

    Gaul Noun

    Western European civilization that became a major part of ancient Rome.

    general Noun

    highest rank of leadership in armies and air forces.

    generation Noun

    time between an organism's birth and the time it reproduces.

    giraffe Noun

    large mammal with a long neck, native to Africa.

    gold Noun

    valuable chemical element with the symbol Au.

    gong Noun

    social class in ancient China made up of artists and craftsmen.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    Great Britain Noun

    large island in Western Europe consisting of the countries of England, Scotland, and Wales.

    Group of 8 (G8) Noun

    eight wealthiest nations in the world: the United States, Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Russia, and Canada. The European Union is also included in the G8.

    hieroglyphics Plural Noun

    written language using pictures to represent words or ideas.

    history Noun

    study of the past.

    horseshoe Noun

    C-shaped thick metal sheet nailed to a horse's foot to protect it from damaging surfaces.

    hygiene Noun

    science and methods of keeping clean and healthy.

    income Noun

    wages, salary, or amount of money earned.

    inferior Adjective

    of lower quality.

    isolate Verb

    to set one thing or organism apart from others.

    ivory Noun

    hard, white substance that forms the teeth or tusks of some animals.

    Jewish Adjective

    having to do with the religion or culture of people tracing their ancestry to the ancient Middle East and the spiritual leaders Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

    Julius Caesar Noun

    (100 BCE-44 BCE) leader of ancient Rome.

    kingdom Noun

    type of government with a king or queen as its leader, or the land ruled by that king or queen.

    Encyclopedic Entry: kingdom
    labor Noun

    work or employment.

    Latin Noun

    language of ancient Rome and the Roman Empire.

    legacy Noun

    material, ideas, or history passed down or communicated by a person or community from the past.

    Mahatma Gandhi Noun

    (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1869-1948) leader of Indian independence movement.

    medieval Adjective

    having to do with the Middle Ages (500-1400) in Europe.

    merchant Noun

    person who sells goods and services.

    Mesopotamia Noun

    area between the Tigris and Euphrates River in Iraq.

    method Noun

    way of doing something.

    middle class Noun

    people and culture characterized by incomes between the working class and the wealthy.

    migrate Verb

    to move from one place or activity to another.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    misuse Noun

    incorrect or ignorant use of resources.

    moai Noun

    very large stone figures carved and displayed on Easter Island.

    monument Noun

    large structure representing an event, idea, or person.

    monumental Adjective

    very large, serious, and important.

    Mount Rushmore Noun

    (1941) mountain in the U.S. state of South Dakota carved by Gutzon Boglum with the faces of U.S. presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt.

    natural gas Noun

    type of fossil fuel made up mostly of the gas methane.

    Encyclopedic Entry: natural gas
    natural resource Noun

    a material that humans take from the natural environment to survive, to satisfy their needs, or to trade with others.

    network Noun

    series of links along which movement or communication can take place.

    nong Noun

    social class in ancient China made up of farmers and agricultural workers.

    oil Noun

    fossil fuel formed from the remains of marine plants and animals. Also known as petroleum or crude oil.

    Penelope Spheeris Noun

    (1945-present) American filmmaker.

    political system Noun

    method of leadership and government.

    poor Noun

    people and culture characterized by very low income.

    population center Noun

    settlement with many residents, often an urban area.

    punk Noun

    style of loud, energetic music.

    pyramid Noun

    three-dimensional shape with a square base and triangular sides that meet in a point.

    racist Adjective

    community or government policy of denying certain rights to people based on their ancestry, usually signified by skin color.

    Rapa Nui Noun

    people and culture native to Easter Island. Also another name for Easter Island.

    religious system Noun

    method of spiritual practice and worship.

    represent Verb

    to stand for a person, community, or idea.

    republic Noun

    system of government where power rests in citizens who vote and representatives who stand for those citizens. The United States is a republic.

    research station Noun

    structure or structures built for scientific study of the surrounding region, possibly including residential and lab facilities.

    road Noun

    path, usually paved, for vehicles to travel.

    Romance languages Noun

    spoken and written forms of communication that share a root in the Latin language: Spanish, French, Italian, Catalan, Portuguese, and Romanian.

    Sahara Desert Noun

    world's largest desert, in north Africa.

    scholar Noun

    educated person.

    serf Noun

    type of slave forced to work on land owned by others in return for protection.

    shang Noun

    social class in ancient China made up of merchants.

    silver Noun

    chemical element with the symbol Ag.

    similar Adjective

    alike or resembling.

    Simon Bolivar Noun

    (1783-1830) Venezuelan revolutionary.

    specialize Verb

    to study, work, or take an interest in one area of a larger field of ideas.

    spice Noun

    tasty and aromatic plant substances used in cooking.

    Sumer Noun

    (5000 BCE-2000 BCE) ancient civilization in what is now southern Iraq.

    surplus Noun

    more than what is needed or wanted.

    tax Noun

    money or goods citizens provide to government in return for public services such as military protection.

    Teotihuacan Noun

    (200-750) ancient civilization in what is now central Mexico.

    territory Noun

    land an animal, human, or government protects from intruders.

    trade Noun

    buying, selling, or exchanging of goods and services.

    trading partner Noun

    country or community that exchanges goods and services with another country or community.

    unique Adjective

    one of a kind.

    urban area Noun

    developed, densely populated area where most inhabitants have nonagricultural jobs.

    Encyclopedic Entry: urban area
    village Noun

    small human settlement usually found in a rural setting.

    Encyclopedic Entry: village
    wealthy Adjective

    very rich.

    wedge Noun

    triangle shape.

    Western Civilization Noun

    civilizations of European origin.

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