Civilizations in the past developed many of their own characteristics and traits. New religions were brought about, as well as cultural behavior. Inventions were created and practices were discovered to help in daily life. People also fashioned ways to communicate with each other. As these societies grew, they exchanged much of this knowledge with later civilizations. The people of Sumer, Egypt, and India had individual beliefs on culture and religion, technology, and language; they exchanged this knowledge with each other as their civilizations evolved.
In the “Land between the rivers,” known as Mesopotamia, the Sumerians, who emerged south of the Fertile Crescent, were the first to show signs of civilization. By 3200 BCE, this population had developed to the point where people were living in cities and showing some of the major characteristics of a civilization. These signs include a highly organized society with advanced signs of farming, science, art, and indications of an organized government. The Sumerians settled in the lower part of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and were able to take advantage of these waterways for irrigation.
Although these rivers did not continuously supply copious amounts of water, springtime brought floods of rainwater and melted snow that helped to fertilize the soil. The Sumerians were forced to work together to build dams and canals to control the flow of water to irrigate their farmland . “Their harsh environment fostered a grim, even pessimistic, spirit among the Mesopotamians. The Sumerians sought to please and calm the gods, especially the patron deity of the city. ” The best way to honor the gods was by constructing large shrines, called Ziggurats, in the center of their cities.
The Sumerians believed that by making these shrines grand and impressive, the gods would be less likely to destroy the cities with floodwaters. The Sumerians feared that humans had little control over daily life which is why they possessed a strong polytheistic faith. They assumed that there were gods with humanlike emotions for virtually every occurrence in nature. The sun was a god, as well as the moon and the stars; also, the crops grew every season because a male god was mating with his goddess wife. The Sumerian society was divided into four categories based on wealth and power.
These were nobles, free clients of the nobility, commoners, and slaves. Obviously, the nobility controlled the most land and was the dominating force empowering the other members. The commoners were free citizens who remained literate and without power, but were independent of the nobles. Slaves may have been foreigners or prisoners of war who were subject to unfair treatment by their owners, but were allowed to borrow money and engage in trade. Slaves often bought their freedom. Since the Sumerians were among the first civilizations to show evidence of writing, this era became known as the Protoliterate period.
Their basic form of writing was referred to as Cuneiform and consisted of pictograms that were formed by wedges pressed into wet clay. These pictograms later grew into ideograms that depicted thoughts and ideas. For example, “the sign for star could also be used to indicate heaven, sky, or even god. ” This system of writing grew to be so complex that it could only be mastered by professional scribes. One such scribe had few fond memories of the joy of learning this language in school: My headmaster read my tablet, said: “There is something missing,” caned me.
The fellow in charge of silence said: “Why did you talk without permission,” caned me. The fellow in charge of the assembly said: “Why did you stand at ease without permission,” caned me. This schooling technique set standards for education in Mesopotamia and was later adopted by other civilizations. The scribes that attended these schools often assumed administrative positions in the palaces and temples, and were the record keepers. This intelligent society also brought forth many useful inventions. The wagon wheel, for example, was one such creation that proved useful in the transportation of people and goods.
Along the same lines came the potter’s wheel that enabled the Sumerians to shape clay into pottery. They developed a way to make bronze out of copper and tin that allowed them to create metal plows that were useful for agricultural purposes. Another constructive development was the twelve-month calendar that was based on the cycles of the moon. All of these advancements on the part of the Sumerians showed that they were the most highly developed civilization of this time period. They created a language of their own and had many technological advancements and cultural traits that were exchanged and adapted to later civilizations.
One such society was the Egyptians, located on the Nile River in northern Africa. Around 2700 BCE between the First Cataract and the Nile Delta, the heartland of Egyptian civilization and its order and stability were being established. Similar to the Sumerians, the Egyptians were forced to deal with flooding from the river; however, they did not fear this problem. To the Egyptians, the Nile was a tame river that rarely brought death and destruction. Its flooding was more predictable than that of the Tigris and Euphrates in that, by November of every year, the Nile left behind a thin layer of fertile mud for farming.
Although Egyptian society was divided into classes, the people were given the opportunity to advance in social status. Ranked the highest on the social order were the nobles and priests. Members of this group were wealthy, upper class people who lived in prestigious homes with magnificent gardens and pools. Next in rank came the middle class. Members of this group consisted of scribes, merchants, and tax collectors. On the bottom of the social rank was the poor lower class. The Egyptians opportunity for advancement is similar to that of the lower class Sumerians who were given the power to borrow and trade. Most probably, as was the case with the Mesopotamians, the Egyptians . . . enjoyed a long period of mostly peaceful relations during which each learned from the other. ” Much like the Sumerians, the Egyptians practiced polytheism and believed that the gods were in some way like humans. Every aspect of nature had a god related to it, such as the powerful Osiris, who was responsible for the life cycle of all living creatures. The Egyptians strongly believed in life after death and lived with a devotion of time and wealth to enhance their experience in the next world.
They developed a system of numbers and mathematics that assisted the artisans in creating great pyramids, which served as a reminder of their belief in the afterlife. Pyramids were used as monuments to house the tombs of deceased pharoahs. The form of these structures was similar to the shrines of Sumeria; however, their emphasis differed. Pyramids housed a tomb that could be found through inner passageways, while the Sumerian structures raised a shrine in the sky that could only be reached by an outer staircase.
Among the Egyptians other advancements was their strong understanding of human anatomy that they used in the embalming process. These medical skills enabled Egyptian practitioners to deal with disease not only on a physical level, but spiritually as well. “Like the Mesopotamians, the Egyptians acquired ‘necessary’ technology without developing a truly scientific method. ” To convey knowledge and information, the Egyptians used a form of writing known as Hieroglyphics, or picture writing which portrayed the actual object it represented.
As time progressed, the use of pictures to portray ideas, much like the Sumerians did, became more prevalent. Known as ideograms, this way of writing could represent complete thoughts more easily. Egyptians used this way of communicating to write stories of adventure, fairy tales, and even love. One such love poem by a young Egyptian reads, “Now I’ll lie down inside and act as if I’m sick. My neighbors will come in to visit, and with them my girl. She’ll put the doctors out, for she’s the one to know my hurt. ”
Similar to the Sumerian and Egyptian civilizations, the earliest known Indian civilization was found on a great river, the Indus. Around 2500 BCE on a large mass of land jutting southward into the Indian Ocean where some regions were very wet and others were arid deserts, we find the Indian society. Instead of floods, however, the Indians had to deal with other natural disasters such as monsoons. Their landscape was that of jungles and deserts that provided a challenge for those who inhabited it. This land mass is comparable in size to Europe and its inner cultures are equally diverse.
The Aryans, being the most dominant group in the subcontinent, assimilated much from the northern Indians in the Indus river valley. After this integration, a southeastern progression found the Aryans in the Ganges Plain where they conquered the locals and created a civilization that widened to cover most of south Asia. This society was one of nomadic tribes individually led by a chief known as a Rajah. The fertile land of the Indus valley proved more than sufficient for agriculture and this soon become a way of life for them. Cattle became not only an additional source of food, but a form of money as well.
Wealth was determined by the size of one’s herd, which often led to war as cattle were frequently stolen. In the Indus valley, the rise of civilization showed traits similar to that of the Sumerians a thousand years prior. Both civilizations consisted of Neolithic farmers and spread out on the valleys of the river to take advantage of the fertile soil and abundance of water. The cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa were two of the most prominent areas to develop in the valleys, and although they were far apart, the river enabled them to keep a consistent economy and administration.
The economy that developed was analogous to that of the Sumerians and Egyptians in that it was strongly based upon irrigation farming of wheat and barley. Figurines of mother goddesses, which represented fertility, explain the significance of agriculture to the Aryans. Much like earlier civilizations, the Aryans developed a caste system dividing their people into classes that they referred to as Varnas. The Brahmans, the highest caste, studied the Vedas, which was a book that formed the basis of Aryan religion. The Kshatriyas were warriors who held control of the government and militia.
Cattle raising, money lending, and trading were duties that were given to the caste known as the Vaisyas. This group consisted of merchants, farmers and artisans. Lastly, the slaves, known as Sudras, were expected to be servants to the other Varnas. Aryans were born into specific castes, but unlike the Sumerian and Egyptian people, were not given the opportunity to advance to a higher class and were forced to marry within their own group. Another similarity to earlier civilizations was the Aryans belief in polytheism. Acts of nature were a direct result of the many deities.
As time progressed and politics and societies evolved, this religion slowly developed into Hinduism, which became India’s national religion. Hinduism was based not solely on the teachings of an individual, but rather many different ideas having their roots with the Vedas. These were books of knowledge that compared to the Bible in the Christian faith and the Koran to the Muslims. In direct relation to the beliefs of the Egyptians, the Aryans followed the theory of reincarnation and believed that the soul progresses through many lifetimes before achieving a connection with the universal spirit.
The Upanishads, religious writings that portrayed their search for knowledge and truth, speak of this rebirth: As a caterpillar, having reached the end of a blade of grass, takes hold of another blade, then draws its body from the first, so the Self, having reached the end of his body, takes hold of another body, then draws itself from the first. It is evident that around 2300 BCE, there was an active exchange of goods between the Aryans and the Mesopotamians, who resided approximately 1500 miles to the west. Bronze and copper were used to make tools and occasionally weapons.
The Indian people used fired mud brick to fashion their dwellings and towering citadels that stretched up to 50 feet high defended their cities. These large structures compare greatly to the shrines of Sumeria, although they were erected for different purposes. Since the Aryan people were nomadic in nature, it took some time before they developed any form of written language. Sanskrit was, at first, strictly a spoken language for these people. It slowly progressed, though, to be one of India’s major languages and contains many of the root words found in prominent modern languages such as English and Spanish.
To be able to communicate without words like the Sumerians and Egyptians, the Indian people later formed a written form of Sanskrit that was the basis for the religious Vedas. It is evident that the civilizations of Sumeria, Egypt, and India had individual cultural and religious beliefs, technological advancements, and ways of communicating. This knowledge was developed independently as well as through exchanges between the societies. Around 3200 BCE, the Sumerian society emerged and began showing signs of a growing farming civilization.
They worked together to live off of the land and developed cities and an organized government. A system of classes also grew into existence. The Sumerians religious beliefs were that of polytheism wherein their gods were human-like and controlled the individual forces of nature. Inventions of this time included the wagon wheel, the twelve-month calendar, and a way of making tin. They used a form of writing known as Cuneiform to make ideograms that were later adapted by the Egyptians in their writing. In Egypt, this writing was known as Hieroglyphics.
Nestled along the great Nile River around 2700 BCE, the civilization of the Egyptians grew much like the Sumerians into an agriculturally dependent society. A caste system was developed based on wealth and religious status, and the people were given the opportunity to advance in the classes. Their belief in polytheism compared greatly to that of the Sumerians with nearly human gods representing nature. An obvious exchange in building techniques between these two societies presents itself in the shrines of Sumeria and the pyramids of Egypt.
Furthermore, the people of Egypt advanced quickly in the area of medicine and used this knowledge to care for the bodies they laid to rest in the pyramids. In the subcontinent of India about the time of 2500 BCE, the Aryan civilization was rising along the Indus River and spreading quickly. They had to deal with the extremities of the land and used the river for irrigation just like previous societies. The people of this development were born into specific castes and were not given the ability to advance to higher classes. They too believed in polytheism and slowly developed Hinduism, which became the dominant religion of India.
The Aryans traded goods such as bronze and copper with the Mesopotamians, which clearly represents an active exchange between these civilizations. They also developed the language of Sanskrit that began as a spoken dialect and evolved into a written form. Through the early development of all of these societies, individual characteristics were formed that were passed along. Some exchanges were as active as direct trade, while others were more passive like the passing on of building styles. Either way, each civilization benefited strongly from the developments of earlier people.