The time before the development of writing is known as Prehistory.

The term “civilization” refers to a complex society that develops because of its food surplus that exists from the development of agriculture. The first civilizations developed in several river valleys around the world: the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley, the Nile River Valley, the Indus River Valley, the Huang He River Valley.

Photo of the Tigris River

This civilization originated in the valley of the Tigris  and Euphrates rivers in a part of the Middle East called Mesopotamia. It was one of the few cases of a civilization that started from scratch—with no examples from any place available for imitation. This civilization progressed mostly due to the accomplishments of the Sumerians, the most influential people in the Tigris-Euphrates region. By about 3500 B.C, the Sumerians had developed the first known human writing, cuneiform. They also were characterized by the development of astronomical sciences, intense religious beliefs, and tightly organized city-states. The Sumerians improved the region’s agricultural prosperity by learning about fertilizers and using silver to conduct commercial exchange. Their ideas about divine forces in natural objects were common among early agricultural peoples; a religion of this sort, which sees many gods in aspects of nature, is known as polytheism. Sumerian political structures stressed tightly organized city-states, ruled by a king who claimed divine authority. Here was a key early example how a civilization and political structures combined. The government helped regulate religion and enforce its duties; it also provided a system of courts for justice. Kings were originally war leaders, and the function of defense and war, including leadership of a trained army, remained vital. The Sumerians eventually succumbed to the Akkadians, who continued much of the Sumerian culture in the Tigris-Euphrates region, and the Babylonians, who developed Hammurabi’s code. It laid down the procedure for law courts and regulated property rights and duties of family members, setting harsh punishments for crimes. This focus on standardizing a legal system was one of the features of early river valley civilizations.


Edited from Georgia Virtual Learning