Early Civilizations: c. 5000 BCE - 600 BCE

AP Concept: 1.3 The Development and Interactions of Early Agricultural, Pastoral, and Urban Societies
Key Concepts
  • Foundational civilizations developed in areas with strong agriculture
  • The first states developed within these civilizations
The Importance of Agriculture
  • Early civilizations developed in regions with strong agriculture
  • Most settlements were centered around river valleys, as rivers improved the land's fertility and could be used for transportation
  • Mesopotamia (c. 5000 BCE): developed in the Fertile Crescent, between two rivers in southwest Asia
  • Rivers flooded people needed to work together to control flooding through irrigation
  • Egypt (c. 5000 BCE): called "gift of the Nile" because the Nile River was vital to survival in the desert climate
  • River flooded on a regular basis and deposited fertile silt people could plant barley and wheat after flooding finished
  • China (c. 5000 BCE): earliest civilization, the Shang dynasty, developed along the Huang He (Yellow River)
  • River provided fertile land but could also flood with devastating impact known as "China's Sorrow"
  • Civilizations in the Americas did not develop in river valleys, but agriculture was vitally important
  • Olmec (c. 1200 BCE): settled along the eastern Mexico coast, growing maize four times a year in swampy, tropical forest irrigation unnecessary
Urban Civilizations
  • Agricultural settlements gradually developed into urban civilizations as they grew more complex, primarily through irrigation projects and other large-scale productions
  • Cities centered around a marketplace, where economic, political, and military operations occurred
  • Most urban civilizations shared similar characteristics, such as:
  • Job specialization
  • Chavinculture in Peru (c. 900 - 200 BCE) had artisans working with gold, ceramics, and textiles
  • Food surplus
  • Complex religions
  • Egypt had a complex polytheistic religion centered on an afterlife
  • Arts and architecture
  • Indus Valley civilization (India, c. 3000 - 1500 BCE) featured walled cities designed in a grid, with temples, halls, baths, marketplaces, and housing
  • Olmec civilization constructed massive heads
  • Organized government
  • Hammurabi (king of Babylon, 1792 - 1750 BCE) had a powerful central bureaucracy and an organized code of laws
  • Written language
  • Shang dynasty (China, 1766 - 1122 BCE) developed written Chinese character
  • Trade
  • Olmecs traded for jade from nearby regions
  • Social stratification
  • Aryans in India (c. 1700 BCE)
  • established a rigid social structure divided into 4 varnas, based on occupation
  • City centers
Interaction with Nomads
  • Pastoral nomads continued to exist, depending on their herds of animals for survival
  • Groups traveled to find steppe, or grassland, for their herds, primarily in Central Asia
  • Often grew skilled in warfare to defend their herds
  • Helped spread new technologies as they came in contact with settled civilizations

Related Links:
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AP World History Notes
Culture of Early Civilizations: c. 5000 BCE - 600 BCE