The Rise of Civilization in the Middle East and Africa

Topics: Sumer, Civilization, Mesopotamia Pages: 46 (8396 words) Published: August 24, 2013
The first full civilization emerged by 3500 B.C. in the Tigris-Euphrates

valley in the Middle East. Relatively soon thereafter civilization developed

along the Nile in Egypt, and later spread to other parts of the Middle East

and one region in Africa. The advent of civilization provided a framework for

most of the developments in world history. Additionally, the specific early

civilizations that arose in the Middle East and Africa had several distinctive

features, in political structure and cultural tone, for example. These

features secured the evolution of these societies until the partial eclipse of

the river-valley civilizations after about 1000 B.C. The early civilizations

in the Middle East and North Africa served as generators of a number of

separate and durable civilization traditions, which can still be found in

civilizations around the Mediterranean, in parts of Europe, and even across

the Atlantic.

Both of these early civilizations formed around major rivers - the Tigris

and Euphrates in Mesopotamia and the Nile in northeastern Africa. Explaining

how civilizations emerged in the Middle East and then Africa requires a

reminder of the conditions that contributed to change after 4000 B.C. and a

more precise definition of civilization. Once that is done, we can turn to the

characteristics of Mesopotamian civilization, from its origins around 3500

B.C. until it experienced an important period of disunity around 1000 B.C.

Next comes Egypt, the world's second civilization in time, which again can be

traced until about 1000 B.C. The two early civilizations had very different

cultures and political structures reflecting their very separate origins. By

1000 B.C. both of these two early civilizations produced offshoots in eastern

Africa, southern Europe, and additional centers in the Middle East. These

smaller centers of civilization made important contributions of their own, for

example, the monotheistic religion created among the Jewish people in


Early Civilization In Mesopotamia

Even the technological innovations that shaped the context for the rise

of civilization took many centuries to win full impact. Soon after 4000 B.C.

however, conditions were ripe for a final set of changes that constituted the

arrival of civilization. These changes were based on the use of economic

surplus and the growing needs of a coordinated regional network of villages.

The Sumerians

The scene for the first civilization was the northeastern section of what

we today call the Middle East, along the great rivers that led to the Persian

Gulf. The agents were a newly-arrived people called the Sumerians.

The first civilization developed in a part of the Middle East slightly

south of the hilly country in which the first agricultural villages had

emerged several thousand years earlier. Between the northern hills and the

deserts of the Arabian peninsula, running from the eastern Mediterranean coast

to the fall plain of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, lies a large swath of

arable land called the Fertile Crescent. The rivers rise in the spring,

depositing immensely fertile soil. Rainfall was scant in the region, so as

population pressure increased, farming communities began to find ways to tame

and use the rivers through irrigation ditches. Construction of the ditches

required improved tools that were not available much before 4000 B.C., and

from that point onward developments in the region were swift. Irrigation plus

the fertility of the Tigris-Euphrates region generated substantial food

surpluses promoting population growth and village expansion, as well as

increasing trade and specialization. The region was vulnerable in one respect:

It was so flat that it was open to frequent invasion.

By 3500 B.C. farmers in Mesopotamia,...
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