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The term civilization means the level of development at which people live together peacefully in communities. It is associated with high levels of political, social and economic organization. Ancient civilization refers to the first settled and stable communities that became the basis for later states, nations and empires. From around 5000 BC mankind changed from hunting and gathering to agricultural production. This caused a rapid expansion of population. This was followed by urbanization in Mesopotamia around 3500 BC. It was at this time that mankind invented civilization. The urban revolution was a result of favourable geographical features such as Tigris-Euphrates, Nile, Indus, Yellow (Hwang Ho) river valleys which made production of food easy. Another explanation for urbanization was that people had the knowledge and motivation to respond to challenges in their environment. People in these river valleys learnt to organize themselves to solve problems facing human settlements and in the process invented civilization. Through trade, migration, conquest and other forms of interaction ideas of civilization spread to other areas, resulting in the emergence of yet more advanced civilizations, for example, Greece and Rome.

Some characteristics of civilization include creation of permanent urban and administration centres, invention of political, social and economic institutions to address man’s basic needs such as food, shelter and security; external trade; a hierarchical system of classes; the development of arts and science, development of religious practices, and the invention of a written language for communication, record keeping and the transmission of culture. According to historians, civilization first developed in Mesopotamia and Egypt, although there are suggestions that the earliest civilization could have developed in China.



The word Mesopotamia is Greek for land between two rivers. The civilization of Mesopotamia developed between Rivers Euphrates and Tigris in Sumer. Sumer or Babylonia was the lower part of Mesopotamia, also present day Iraq. Sumerians were the most influential in Mesopotamia. Here civilization developed around 3000 BC.

Factors for the rise of civilization in Mesopotamia

Civilisation emerged in Mesopotamia because the soil provided surplus food. This led to the setting up of settlements in villages and urban centres. Settlements led to the rise in population. There was development of urban centres. Urban centres were a result of interaction between different people. Most urban centres evolved from villages as a result of farming and irrigation which produced a stable food supply. The stable food supply led to rise in population. Some people gave up farming and engaged in other activities which contributed to political, social and economic innovations. Gradually urban centres developed into city states. By 3000 BC the people of Mesopotamia had made contact with other peoples and cultures in the Fertile Crescent. This facilitated exchange of ideas which resulted in political, social and economic innovations.

Characteristics of Mesopotamian Civilization

The civilization of Mesopotamia was characterized by several innovations. This marked advancement in political, social and economic organization.

Political organization

The Sumerians developed a form of government known as the city-state. The city-state comprised a town and the surrounding land. People believed that city-states belonged to god or gods. This was why they were ruled by Priests. Apart from handling issues of worship, priests governed the city. However, the city-states were not united because of rivalry. Warfare between cities eventually led to the rise of kings called Lugals, whose authority replaced city- state rulers. Sumer became a centralized state with a common culture and centralised government. By 2735 BC most of Sumer was under one king, Lugalzaggisi of Umma. Sumerian society was divided into various social classes: the elite, free men and slaves. Elites included officials, priests and warriors. Under the elites were free men. These included artisans and professionals. Slaves were the lowest class.