Rise and Fall of Civilizations

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Chanelle Samuel

The Inevitable Progression of Complex Societies

Ancient civilizations and the civilizations of today all share a commonality. That commonality is that all civilizations seem to go through this pattern of rise and fall. The civilization will grow, prosper, accumulate wealth and power, but eventually due to a variety of factors including natural disasters, economic decline, invasion, and so on, the civilization will slowly lose power and land and relinquish any sort of ties that once held them together. This is clearly evident in most civilizations, and the civilizations that it is not clearly evident in are those that can technically be called civilizations today. But since they are still civilizations of today, the cycle or rise and fall may not be completer yet. This rise and fall of civilizations is an inevitable process that continues to be a factor in today’s world.

For the purpose of this essay I would like to clarify the definitions of terms that I will be using. The first is the term rise and fall. I clarify rise to be when a group of people gains power over their geography and environment, are unified in some way, and have the ability to not only sustain their power but have the potential to expand that power and influence outwards. Fall will be defined as when a group of people have no potential to expand, are losing their sustained power, and when there is no chance for them to rise again. A harder term to define is that of civilization, but for the purpose of this essay civilization will be defined as occupying a geographical area, the defining feature of how that civilization responds to the challenges from their location, maintain a social organization (that may change over time), a common religion, a form of communication, and an economic system (that changes over time). So form this point onwards these are the meanings of the terms I will be using.

Form the beginnings of time humans have aggregated together, and lived within family groupings. These groupings at the beginning were very small, usually only containing of one family. But as humans began to learn, with the innovations of new tools and ideas were formed, as well as the ability to travel in larger numbers emerged. These were known as the hunter-gatherer civilizations. They were nomads who continually migrated in search of food resources with the changing of the seasons. From natural progression some of these peoples evolved to stay in one area and cultivate crops that beforehand they had mostly gathered. They began to domesticate regional plants and animals found in the area. This transfer from nomadic peoples to agricultural settlements was the first real implications of a true civilization.

One of the first agricultural settlements that expanded and became a prosperous civilization was that of the Indus River Valley in present day Pakistan and India. It was built on the floodplains of the Indus and Saraswati Rivers, which created a problem as leaders would have to deal with environmental factors such as intense flooding during the rainy season. The civilization was at its height from twenty-six hundred to nineteen hundred B.C.E., and contained as many as five million people. Its economy was based heavily on trade which they prospered from due to their valuable commodities of ivory, cotton, hardwoods, and precious stones. They also had a unified culture, art and script. As I have outlined here the Indus River Valley clearly meets the criteria of a civilization. Although the historical evidence for this society is scarce as we cannot interpret their script, it is clear that this society expanded and flourished with the help of an extensive trade network and a fortified city. This would constitute the civilizations rise to power and extension of that power from trade alliances. This led to the height of the civilization which was showcased with the societies planned streets, with complicated plumbing, bath houses, and...
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