The Story of the First Civilizations

The Story of the First Civilizations

Civilizations are significant milestones in human history. Agricultural revolution created a reliable supply of food. And this led to the rapid growth of the human population. As the population grows, small villages near farmlands gradually developed into towns. With trade and production networks, these towns became cites. Consequently, this process eventually led to the formation of the first civilizations.

First Villages

With the agricultural lifestyle, early humans quit their nomadic lifestyle and located in permanent settlements. They considered the water bodies the most suitable areas for their farming activities and started settling in such areas. The availability of water, fertile soil, and satisfactory climate were the main factors in making that decision. Thus, the people who settled in the water bodies found it easier to carry their lives than their predecessors. This transformation first took place around 8500 BC, in the area known as the “Fertile Crescent” (Present-day Iraq, Syria, and Turkey).

As agriculture gave them a secure food source, humans received an opportunity to think about other relevant things. Moreover, they did not have to engage in farming all year round, so they could take a break from farming life and engage in religious and cultural activities. These led to the development of the fields of arts, transportation, language, and medicine. Besides, people started to worship gods and goddesses instead of natural objects. 

With the emergence of villages, humans tend to lead a more complicated life than the simple one that existed before. People started specialized in different industries according to their abilities. Some became craftsmen, such as potters, metalworkers, and masons, while others became priests. They used to share their surplus production with others. Subsequently, trade networks emerged.

First Cities

As the population of the ancient villages increased, first they became towns and later cities. The first towns were just a collection of communities, and over time they became major trading centers. Life in these towns and cities was more complicated than rural life. There was trade between the cities. People from villages brought their surplus food production to the cities and exchanged it for the goods they needed.

Evidence of earliest towns can found in Jericho, West Bank, and Çatalhöyük, Turkey.

Jericho: First city in the world

Jericho is one of the oldest settlements in the world. First, around 9000 BC, it was populated by Mesolithic hunters. By about 8000 BC, the people here had grown into an organized community and had a population of around 2000 to 3000. Around the city, two large walls were there to protect it from enemies. They were in 3 m wide and 5 m high. There were giant stone pillars to strengthen the walls. Given the size of this settlement, it is reasonable to use the term city to refer to it. 


Farming settlements of Çatalhöyük first appeared in 13,000BC. At the peak of the town, it had a population of about 8,000. The residents of this city lived in interconnected square houses. Those houses had no doors and had to be entered through a hole in the roof. And the rooftops of houses used as roads.

The emergence of cities led to social, economic, and political developments. Social hierarchies existed in the cities, and the rulers were at the head of that hierarchy. Below them was a privileged class of high officials and priests. At the end of the social hierarchy were the craftsmen, the lesser bureaucrats, the soldiers, and the ordinary people. Rulers used religious ideas to maintain their power, and most rulers represented as living gods. And each city had a shrine in the center, and other buildings built around it.

First Civilizations

This development led to the emergence of the first civilizations. A civilization is a complex human society, in which a high level of cultural and technological advancement is visible.

“Civilization begins with order, grows with liberty, and dies with chaos”

Will Durant

The world’s first and foremost civilizations developed around rivers and other water bodies. There are several reasons for this. First, the soil along the rivers basins was fertile and favorable for agriculture. Second, water was readily available for day-to-day activities. Third, waterways facilitated transportation and trade. The first four major civilizations formed along the river are

  1. Mesopotamia Civilization between Tigris and Euphrates rivers (Present – day Iraq)
  2. Egypt Civilization based on Nile Valley
  3. The Indus Valley region (Present day Pakistan and India)
  4. Huang He (Yellow river) Valley of China

The first civilizations appear around 4,000 BC. However, there is a discussion on the first civilization. According to the archaeological consensus, first civilizations emerged in the area called the “Fertile Crescent,” which often known as the “cradle of civilization.” This Crescent-shaped area from the Nile River in Egypt to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers valleys. Present-day it is a part of the Middle East and covers what now Southern Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and parts of Turkey and Iran.

Main components of Civilizations

These are some of the features that are common to all civilizations. First, large urban centers were at the center of all early civilizations.  For instance, the Mesopotamian civilization formed around Ur and Uruk, and the Indus Valley civilization was located around the cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. All major political and religious institutions located in the cities.

Second, civilizations were ruled by central governments. With the increase in population, a system of law and order was essential. As a result, leaders were born to maintain peace. The government, which consisted of kings and officials, was responsible for the maintenance of the city. Besides, they were responsible for enforcing the law, taxing and collecting, and protecting its inhabitants.

Next, every civilization had a complex division of labor. In early agricultural societies, people were self-sufficient. But with the advent of trade, people began to specialize in one particular task. This specialization led to the formation of a complex social structure with the class system. Such social hierarchies are evident in all civilizations.

Also, every civilization had a writing system. Due to the more complex economic and trade relations methods of measuring were needed.  In agriculture, for example, it was necessary to measure land, seeds, and grains. It was also essential to keep a record of these measurements. With that comes the need to write.  Around 3000 BC, Mesopotamian civilization was able to develop a writing system.

Writing system in the Mesopotamian Civilization
Ancient Sumerian Writing/

Moreover, in every civilization, grand monuments were built for religious or political reasons. In Egypt, pyramids were created for deceased rulers and in Mesopotamia “The Ziggurats” built as temples.

2 Replies to “The Story of the First Civilizations”

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