The earliest civilizations arose in the (river valleys) because the land was fertile and a good place to farm. Mesopotamia was located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in an area called the Fertile Crescent. The Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia, the Nile River in Egypt, and the Indus and Ganges Rivers in India typically flooded. When a river flooded it spread silt which fertilized the soil. Silt was a natural resource and ancient man built canals to irrigate the land and manage the floodwaters.
When ancient man was able to grow a food surplus, people were able to do different type of work. This is called job specialization. As settlements grew larger, complex societies with stronger governments, systems of writing to manage daily life, and religions developed.
The governments of Mesopotamia were theocracies or the King had political and religious power. The people viewed their Kings as gods. There are several notable Kings from Mesopotamia. Gilgamesh ruled Uruk around 2700 BC. He searched for immortality. The worlds oldest know literature is the “Epic of Gilgamesh”. Cyrus the Great captured Babylon and was remembered to for tolerating the beliefs and customs of the people he conquered. Sargon, the king of the city Kish, built the Akkadian empire that lasted for 200 years. Nebuchadnezzar II ruled from about 605 BCE to 561 BCE and is best remembered for Babylon. Hammurabi is remembered for his fairness. He wrote the Code of Hammurabi which was a list of crimes and their punishment. His scribes recorded of a set of laws on a large pillar, called a stela. This stela was placed in the city for everyone to see.
Ancient man saw their kings as gods or divine. They were polytheistic or they believed in more than one god. A city’s ruler usually claimed to be related to the city's patron god. A patron god was the city's most important god. People saw this god as their provider and protector. The largest structure inside a city was a stepped pyramid called a ziggurat. A ziggurat linked the people to the city’s patron god. In Mesopotamia, religion and government were closely tied (theocracy). City business and economic activities were carried out in the ziggurat and other temples.
Around 1800 BCE, a man named Abraham challenged the religious establishment in Mesopotamia. He thought there was only one god. Believe in only one god is called monotheism. He led a group of people that became known as Hebrews. They started a new religion called Judaism.
Around 3000 BCE, a system of writing called cuneiform was introduced to keep track of farm surplus. Cuneiform was a picture based and easily understood by people that spoke different languages. Scribes recorded information about food, workers, and other things that helped rulers run the cities. They used a triangular shaped stylus to write on wet clay tablets.
Mesopotamia had a traditional economy. In a traditional economy, the economic activities (what is grown or produced) are decided by customs of the region. Mesopotamians also traded for both finished goods and raw materials. Trade in silk, spices, and precious metals created a wealthy middle class.
Like other River Valley Civilizations, early cities in Egypt were located along a major river, the Nile, to take advantage of annual flooding which brought silt. This explains why the economy of Mesopotamia and Egypt was based on farming. Some Egyptian cities were built along coast of the Mediterranean Sea. These cities will play an important role in trade with other Mediterranean countries. The people that managed the exchange of goods for other goods in Egypt was called a merchants.
Pharaoh was the most powerful person in Egypt. Pharaoh , like the Mesopotamian Kings, was a theocrat holding both religious and political power. The Egyptian people believed he was divine or a god. The Egyptians were also polytheistic or they believed in many gods. Gods worshiped by the Egyptians include; Ra the son god, Osiristhe goddess of the underworld, and Amun the god of the air. Akhenaten tried to change Egyptian worship practices when he became pharaoh. He was monotheistic or he believed in only one god like Abraham did. He ordered the people to worship the sun god Aten only. After Akhenaton died the Egyptians destroyed all of his monuments and returned to the old religion.
The Mesopotamians built ziggurats. A ziggurat linked the people to the city’s patron god. City business and economic activities were carried out in the ziggurat and other temples. Egyptian pharaohs build pyramids. The first pyramid was built by Imhotep. Pyramids were designed to protect the pharaoh’s body after death. The Egyptians also used a collection of magical spells to help Egyptians safely reach the after live. The collection of spells is commonly referred to as “The Book of the Dead”. Archeologist have learned a lot about ancient Egypt be excavating pyramids. In 1922, Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered. It was the first tomb found that had not been emptied by tomb robbers. The tomb was full of amazing treasure and art. Tutankhamen is unique because he was only nine when he became pharaoh.
The Egyptians wanted their pyramids to be big and to last forever. So the builders had to become more advanced in engineering and math. The Egyptians learned about astronomy so they could align the pyramids with the stars. By studying the stars the Egyptians were also able to create an accurate calendar.
The social structure of Egypt was similar to that of Mesopotamia. At the top was the leader (pharaoh /king). Merchants, artisans, and farmers made up the bulk of Egyptian society. The lowest social class was made up of slaves.
Mesopotamia had a traditional economy. In a traditional economy, the economic activities (what is grown or produced) are decided by customs of the region. Egypt had combination of a traditional and command economy. A command economy has a central authority that makes economic decisions. The pharaoh collected taxes on goods made, on people’s time, and decided how to use surplus crops.
Mesopotamian scribes recorded information about food, workers, and other things on wet clay tablets using cuniform. The Egyptians developed their own form of writing call hieroglyphics. Egyptian scribes later used hieratic script, a simpler form of hieroglyphics, to record information on paper made of papyrus reeds.
The Indus River valley was a mountainous region with a temperate climate. It was home to two groups of people in 2500BC; the Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. Their cities had citadels, for protection from both enemy invasions and floods. The bricks used to build these structures were fired in a kiln, not sun-dried as in Mesopotamia. The Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro also had large community granaries. This means that many people in the civilizations were farmers. Some people, however, were artisans. They worked in copper, bronze, ivory, and wood. The residents of the ancient Indus River valley were the first people known to make cotton cloth. They traded with people as far away as Mesopotamia and Egypt.
The Aryans arrived in the Indus Valley as the Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were declining. They spoke an Indo-European language. The Aryans were religious and, like other Indus River valley people, polytheists. They religion of Hinduism began with the Aryans. The caste system, which is related to Hindu beliefs, also began with the Aryans. In the caste system, the Aryans divided their society into four groups based on jobs. Everyone had to stay in the group into which they were born. Most of what we know about the Aryans comes from the Vedas, a collection of hymns, spells, and religious teachings. These were memorized by the priests for a thousand years before they were written down. The Vedas describe the Aryans as warriors who used chariots and iron weapons. The Aryans were led by chiefs called rajahs. Rajahs were elected by a group of warriors. They got advice from a council of elders made from the heads of families.
Two groups of people lived in Canaan; the Israelites and the Phoenicians. Like the Aryans from the Indus Valley, the Israelites were a nomadic people. They were groups of shepherds who lived near the Jordan River. The Phoenician lived in cities on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Unlike the nomadic Israelites, the Phoenicians turned to the sea for their living.
Much of what we know about the Israelites or Hebrews comes from the old testament of the Bible. Abraham left his home in Mesopotamia and founded Judaism, or the Jewish religion. Followers of Judaism are called Jews. Abraham believed in only one god. This is called monotheism. In ancient Egypt, the pharaoh Akhenaton had worshiped one god above the others. Abraham believed that there was only one God that was invisible and all powerful.
One of the most notable people in the Hebrew Bible is Moses. He was important for several reasons. Moses is considered to be a prophet. A prophet is a person who speaks for God. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and received the Ten Commandments from God.
Two of the best known Israelite Kings are David and Solomon. King David first came to power by defeating a Philistine warrior named Goliath using a sling shot. For his actions, David was made king. King David made Jerusalem his capital city. He is credited with writing the Psalms. At the end of his long reign, David was succeeded by Solomon.
King Solomon was said to be the wisest of men. Under his rule, the Israelites grew wealthy and powerful. Yet, Solomon's most important contribution was the building of a temple in Jerusalem. The temple became the focus of the Jewish religion. Its location is still considered to be a holy site today. According to the Bible, the builders of the temple were from neighboring Phoenicia.
The Phoenicians were neighbors of the Israelites. They lived in port cities on the Mediterranean coast. Land and sea trade routes linked Phoenicia to Asia, Africa, and Europe. They turned valuable metals, such as silver, into coins. Using currency made international trade easier. Coins are easily carried from place to place. They also keep their value. The Phoenicians established colonies around the Mediterrain Sea. The Phoenicians borrowed the idea of an alphabet from the cultures they met. They took the alphabet idea and made it simpler. The Phoenician alphabet became the basis for the alphabet we use today. The Phoenicians also influenced fashion. The harvested sea snails and made purple dye. Purple dye became a status symbols worn by the rich throughout the Mediterranean.