Bruce Morrison » Early River Valley Civilizations 3500 B.C. to 450 B.C.

Early River Valley Civilizations 3500 B.C. to 450 B.C.

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

Civilizations emerge and develop on fertile river plains in Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, and China.


Section 1: City-States in Mesopotamia

Section 2: Pyramids on the Nile

Section 3: Planned Cities on the Indus

Section 4: River Dynasties in China


Section 1: City-States in Mesopotamia

The earliest civilization in Asia rises in Mesopotamia and organizes into city-states.


Geography of the Fertile Crescent


The Fertile Crescent

  • Fertile Crescent- an arc of land between Persian Gulf and Mediterranean
  • IncludesMesopotamia—“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 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 duringHammurabi’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


Section 2: Pyramids on the Nile

Using mathematical knowledge and engineering skills, Egyptians build magnificent monuments to honor dead rulers.


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
  • KingNarmerunites 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 calledpharaohs
  • 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
  • Developmummification, 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

  • Inhieroglyphicswriting system, pictures represent ideas
  • Paperlike sheets made frompapyrusreeds 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.


Section 3: Planned Cities on the Indus

The first Indian civilization builds well-planned cities on the banks of the Indus River.


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 calledHarappan civilizationafter 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


Section 4: River Dynasties in China

Early rulers introduce ideas about government and society that shape Chinese civilization.


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 leavesloess—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 bonesused 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 exchange 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