Chapter 2 Early River Valley Civilizations, 3500 B. C.–450 B. C. Geography of the Fertile Crescent

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Chapter 2

Early River Valley Civilizations, 3500 B.C.–450 B.C.

Geography of the Fertile Crescent

The Fertile Crescent

• Fertile Crescentarc of land between Persian Gulf and Mediterranean

• Includes Mesopotamia—“land between the rivers”—a fertile plain

• Tigris and Euphrates rivers flood once a year, leaving rich soil

Environmental Challenges

• Around 3300 B.C. Sumerians begin farming southern Mesopotamia

• Environment poses three disadvantages:

- floods are unpredictable; sometimes no rain

- land offers no barriers to invasion

- land has few natural resources; building materials scarce

Solving Problems Through Organization

• Sumerians work together; find solutions to environmental challenges:

- build irrigation ditches to control water, produce crops

- build walled cities for defense

- trade grain, cloth, and tools for raw materials—stone, wood, metal

• Organization, leadership, and laws are beginning of civilization

Sumerians Create City-States

Sumerian City-States

• By 3000 B.C. Sumerians build cities surrounded by fields of crops

• Each is a city-statean independent political unit

• Sumer city-states: Uruk, Kish, Lagash, Umma, and Ur

• Each city has temple and ziggurat; priests appeal to gods

Priests and Rulers Share Control

• Sumer’s early governments controlled by temple priests

• Some military leaders become rulers; dynasties rule after 2500 B.C.

• Dynasty—series of rulers from a single family

The Spread of Cities

• By 2500 B.C. many new cities in Fertile Crescent

• Sumerians exchange products and ideas with other cultures

• Cultural diffusion—process of one culture spreading to others

Sumerian Culture

A Religion of Many Gods

• Sumerians believe in many different gods—polytheism

• Gods are thought to control forces of nature

• Gods behave as humans do, but people are gods’ servants

• Life after death is bleak and gloomy

Life in Sumerian Society

• Sumerians have social classeskings, landholders, priests at top

• Wealthy merchants next; at lowest level are slaves

• Women have many rights; become priests, merchants, artisans

Sumerian Science and Technology

• Sumerians invent wheel, sail, and plow; first to use bronze

• Make advances in arithmetic and geometry

Develop arches, columns, ramps, and pyramids for building

• Have a complex system of writing—cuneiform

• Study astronomy, chemistry, medicine

The First Empire Builders

Time of War

• From 3000 to 2000 B.C. city-states at constant war

Sargon of Akkad

• Around 2350 B.C., Sargon from Akkad defeats city-states of Sumer

• Creates first empire—independent states under control of one leader

• His dynasty lasts about 200 years

Babylonian Empire

• Amorites, nomadic warriors, take control of region around 2000 B.C.

• Make Babylon, on Euphrates River, the capital

• Babylonian Empire at peak during Hammurabi’s rule (1792–1750 B.C.)

Hammurabi’s Code

• Hammurabi creates a code of laws for the Babylonian Empire

• 282 laws on all aspects of life; engraved in stone and made public

• Set different punishments depending on social class, gender

• Goal is for government to take responsibility for order, justice

• Amorite rule of Fertile Crescent ends 200 years after Hammurabi

Pyramids on the Nile

The Geography of Egypt

Egypt’s Settlements

• Arise along the 4,100-mile Nile River on narrow strip of fertile land

The Gift of the Nile

• Yearly flooding brings water and fertile black mud—silt

• Farmers build irrigation system for wheat and barley crops

• Egyptians worship Nile as a god

Environmental Challenges

• Light floods reduce crops, cause starvation

• Heavy floods destroy property; deserts isolate and protect Egyptians

Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt

• River area south of First Cataract is elevated, becomes Upper Egypt

• Cataract—where boulders turn Nile River into churning rapids

• River area north, including Nile delta, becomes Lower Egypt

• Delta—land formed by silt deposits at mouth of river; triangular

Egypt Unites into a Kingdom

King Narmer Creates Egyptian Dynasty

• Villages of Egypt ruled by two kingdoms—Lower Egypt, Upper Egypt

• King Narmer unites them around 3000 B.C.; makes Memphis capital

• Establishes first Egyptian dynasty

Pharaohs Rule as Gods

• To the Egyptians, kings are gods; Egyptian god-kings called pharaohs

• Pharaohs control religion, government, army, well-being of kingdom

• Government based on religious authoritytheocracy

Builders of the Pyramids

• Kings believed to rule even after death; have eternal life force, ka

• Build elaborate tombs, pyramids, to meet needs after death

• Pyramids made with blocks of stone, 2−15 tons each; 481 ft. high

• Kingdom had leadership, government; economically strong

Egyptian Culture

Religion and Life

• Egyptians believe in 2,000 gods and goddesses—polytheistic

• Re is sun god; Osiris, god of the dead; goddess Isis is ideal woman

• Believe in life after death; person judged by deeds at death

• Develop mummification, process that prevents body from decaying

• Book of the Dead contains prayers and spells, guides soul after death

Life in Egyptian Society

Social Classes

• Society shaped like pyramid, from pharaoh down to farmers, laborers

• Few people at top have great power; most people at bottom

• People move into higher social classes through marriage or merit

• Women have many of the same rights as men

Egyptian Writing

• In hieroglyphics writing system, pictures represent ideas

• Paperlike sheets made from papyrus reeds used for writing

Egyptian Science and Technology

• Egyptians invent calendar of 365 days and 12 months

• Develop system of written numbers and a form of geometry

• Skilled engineers and architects construct palaces, pyramids

• Egyptian medicine famous in the ancient world

Invaders Control Egypt

Changes to Egyptian Society

• Power of pharaohs declines about 2180 B.C.; end of Old Kingdom

• In Middle Kingdom (2040 to 1640 B.C.), some pharaohs regain control

• Improve trade, dig canal from Nile to Red Sea, drain swamps for farms

• Hyksos move into Egypt from Palestine; rule from 1630 to 1523 B.C.

Planned Cities on the Indus

The Geography of the Indian Subcontinent

Indian Subcontinent

• Subcontinent—landmass that includes India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh

• World’s tallest mountain ranges separate it from rest of Asia

Rivers, Mountains, and Plains

• Mountains to north, desert to east, protect Indus Valley from invasion

• Indus and Ganges rivers form flat, fertile plain—the Indo-Gangetic

• Southern India, a dry plateau flanked by mountains

• Narrow strip of tropical land along coast


• Seasonal winds—monsoons—dominate India’s climate

• Winter winds are dry; summer winds bring rain—can cause flooding

Environmental Challenges

• Floods along the Indus unpredictable; river can change course

• Rainfall unpredictable; could have droughts or floods

Civilization Emerges on the Indus

Indus Valley Civilization

• Influenced an area larger than Mesopotamia or Egypt

Earliest Arrivals

• About 7000 B.C., evidence of agriculture and domesticated animals

• By 3200 B.C., people farming in villages along Indus River

Planned Cities

• By 2500 B.C., people build cities of brick laid out on a grid system

• Engineers create plumbing and sewage systems

• Indus Valley called Harappan civilization after Harappa, a city

Harappan Planning

• City built on mud-brick platform to protect against flood waters

• Brick walls protect city and citadel—central buildings of the city

• Streets in grid system are 30 feet wide

• Lanes separate rows of houses (which featured bathrooms)

Harappan Culture


• Had writing system of 400 symbols, but scientists can’t decipher it


• Harappan cities appear uniform in culture; no great social divisions

• Animals important to the culture; toys suggest prosperity

Role of Religion

• Priests closely linked to rulers

• Some religious artifacts reveal links to modern Hindu culture


• Had thriving trade with other peoples, including in Mesopotamia

Indus Valley Culture Ends

Harappan Decline

• Signs of decline begin around 1750 B.C.

• Earthquakes, floods, soil depletion may have caused decline

• Around 1500 B.C., Aryans enter area and become dominant

River Dynasties in China

The Geography of China

Barriers Isolate China

• Ocean, mountains, deserts isolate China from other areas

River Systems

• Huang He (“yellow river”) in north, Yangtze in south

• Huang He leaves loess—fertile silt—when it floods

Environmental Challenges

• Huang He floods can devour whole villages

• Geographic isolation means lack of trade; must be self-sufficient

China’s Heartland

• North China Plain, area between two rivers, center of civilization

Civilization Emerges in Shang Times

The First Dynasties

• Around 2000 B.C cities arise; Yu, first ruler of Xia Dynasty

• Yu’s flood control system tames Huang He (“Yellow River”)

• Shang Dynasty, 1700 to 1027 B.C., first to leave written records

Early Cities

• Built cities of wood, such as Anyang—one of its capital cities

• Upper classes live inside city; poorer people live outside

• Shang cities have massive walls for military defense

The Development of Chinese Culture

Chinese Civilization

• Sees China as center of world; views others as uncivilized

• The group is more important than the individual


• Family is central social institution; respect for parents a virtue

• Elder males control family property

• Women expected to obey all men, even sons

Social Classes

• King and warrior-nobles lead society and own the land

Religious Beliefs

• Spirits of dead ancestors can affect family fortunes

• Priests scratch questions on animal bones and tortoise shells

• Oracle bones used to consult gods; supreme god, Shang Di

Development of Writing

• Writing system uses symbols to represent syllables, not ideas

• People of different languages can use same system

• Huge number of characters make system difficult to learn

Zhou and the Dynastic Cycle

The Zhou Take Control

• In 1027 B.C., Zhou Dynasty takes control of China

Mandate of Heaven

• Mandate of Heaven—the belief that a just ruler had divine approval

• Developed as justification for change in power to Zhou

• Dynastic cycle—pattern of the rise and decline of dynasties

Control Through Feudalism

• Feudalism—system where kings give land to nobles in exhange for services

• Over time, nobles grow in power and begin to fight each other

Improvements in Technology and Trade

• Zhou Dynasty builds roads, canals to improve transportation

• Uses coins to make trade easier

• Produces cast iron tools and weapons; food production increases

A Period of Warring States

• Peaceful, stable Zhou empire rules from around 1027 to 256 B.C.

• In 771 B.C., nomads sack the Zhou capital, murder monarch

• Luoyang becomes new capital, but internal wars destroy traditions

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