Features of Civilisations

The various features of civilisations are inter-related (e.g. cities gave rise to the need for an organised government.)

1. Cities
  • The hunter-gatherers settled in areas like fertile river valleys during the Neolithic Revolution and they were able to practise agriculture (farming and domestication of animals).

  • This allowed them to have produce surplus amount of food which led to the growth of agricultural communities around river valleys.

  • As a result of stable supply of food, the population of the communities began to grow and this gave rise to the growth of cities such as Ur in Sumer and Bablyon in Mesopotamia.

2. Organised Central Governments & Law and Order
  • The growth of cities gave rise to the need to maintain the food supply and the irrigation system (i.e. public infrastructure).

  • Councils and religious leaders were respected by others for their power and knowledge hence they were appointed the job of maintaining the public infrastructure and law and order. This gave rise to the government.

  • The government had to oversee the day-to-day management of the growing cities.

3. Complex Religion
  • The ancient people had the notion of god(s) who could ensure their safety and fertility. So a set of beliefs (religion) were established.

  • People believed that through worshipping god(s), they could ensure good harvests which were crucial in their survival.

4. Job Specialisation
  • People were able to produce surplus food with relatively little manpower compared to the age of hunter-gatherers. This allowed people to explore other areas of jobs (e.g. artisans, craftsmen,etc.)

  • This specialisation of jobs allowed people to produce specific goods for various needs of the community (e.g. show-making, metal-working, jewellery, etc.)

  • Hence, individuals in civilisations had to depend upon one another for survival.

5. Social Classes
  • The nature of job became specialised in civilisations. So did the status of jobs.

  • Knowledgeable and educated people like religious leaders were well-respected by people, hence they were put at the highest rung of the social class just below the ruler.

  • The farmers and herders were perhaps the second most important class because they produced food for the people to survive.

  • Skilled workers like masons and artisans were needed for their ability to provide people with their needs (e.g. buildings and ornaments).

  • On the lowest rung of the society were the slaves who were often not treated as humans. They were treated more or less the same as animals.

6. Writing
  • Writing probably began as a result of the need to keep the accounts of trade goods and food storage. As civilisations grew, they began to trade their surplus goods extensively, hence they had to keep the accounts of transactions.

  • Also, writing was invented because people had to keep the vast records of information (e.g. skills) which must be passed down from generation to generation.

  • Writing was needed to allow the expression of complex ideas like religious beliefs and social order which could not be adequately described by pictures and simple words.

7. Art and Architecture
  • Art and architecture were developed for religious expressions (e.g. Hindu temples and murals).

  • Art and architecture also served as a means for the rulers of civilisations to show off the power of the civilisations.

8. Public Works
  • The government built public works to benefit the community (e.g. fortresses for protection against enemies and irrigation canals to ensure good harvests).

  • For example, the Indus Valley Civilisation had vast sophisticated water systems.

Eight Features of Civilization

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Kingdoms and Empires

  • A kingdom is a civilisation ruled by a single ruler (king, emperor or sultan) who has all the power. It is a monarchy.

  • A kingdom becomes an empire when it expands out its influence to other territories and takes control of those territories. Hence, an empire is a kingdom and all the lands it controls in other places - lands which were once ruled by someone else.

Difference between civilisations, kingdoms and empires
  • Civilisations and empires do not necessarily have a single ruler; a kingdom does. (e.g. A civilisation, for example, the Chinese Civilisaton, can be seen in many countries of Southeast Asia and East Asia. This does not mean that the Chinese civilisation has one ruler. The influence of the Chinese civilisation can be seen in all these countries but each individual country has their own ruler. Hence, the Chinese civilisation has many rulers. An empire is like a network of many kingdoms which are subjected to one strong and powerful emperor. Each kingdom in the empire has its own ruler but they have to report to the emperor.)

  • Civilisations and kingdoms do not need to control large amounts of land, or land in other places; an empire does. (e.g. The Chinese civilisation influences lots of people in Southeast Asia and East Asia, but this does not necessarily mean that China controls all the land in Southeast Asia and East Asia.)

Kelly, N., & Shuter, J. (2006). Insight: history - a learning journey into the ancient world of India, Southeast asia and China. Singapore: Pearson Education South Asia Pte Ltd.

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