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River Civilizations
Characteristics of a civilization
1. Written Language
2. Specialized Labor
3. Complex Culture & Society
4. System of Government & Laws
Mesopotamia & the Fertile Crescent
Mesopotamia & the Fertile Crescent
Mesopotamia – the land between the
rivers
- little rain but rich soil and source of
water from the Tigris & Euphrates rivers
- ideal for start of farming  becomes the
first civilization in world
- flooding of rivers are unpredictable
and often devastating
- few natural barriers  invaders
constantly storm through region
difficult to stabilize
Mesopotamia
Writing System
- cuneiform (wedge-shaped) –
stylus used to make marks on
clay and baked to harden tablet
- began as early as 4000 BCE –
accepted as written language by
3200 BCE
- first used for record-keeping
- later uses include literature
(Gilgamesh), laws, religious
ceremonies
- scribes have important place
Mesopotamia
Specialized Labor
-used to divide people into skilled members of society; categorize
jobs
- copper, gold, silver metal work  bronze
- pottery & textiles
- scribes
Mesopotamia
System of Government & Laws
- created through city-states 
city and surrounding area under
control
- ziggurat (temple) was center of
city
- theocracy  ruled by a divine
authority or priest
- Hammurabi’s Code  first set
of written laws
- many different rulers due to
constant invasions
Mesopotamia - Complex Culture & Society
Reconstructed Ziggurat of Ur
Religion
- polytheistic  worshipped
many gods
- personal gods  each family
and/or city had own god to
represent them
- humans are inferior to gods
 serve the gods & keep
them happy or suffer their
wrath
- Ziggurat – step pyramid
with temple at top (close to
gods); also administrative
center
Mesopotamia - Complex Culture & Society
Society
- patriarchal  male dominated
- three social groups 
- nobles (leaders, priests, scribes)
- commoners (artisans, merchants)
- slaves (conquered people)
Gilgamesh – first known literature
Technological advancements
- first wheel
- sundial
- math system
- first laws
- FIRST
Egypt & the Nile River Valley
“Egypt, the gift of the Nile.”
~ Herodotus, Greek historian
(484-432 B.C.E.)
Egypt & the Nile River Valley
Egyptian civilization centered around the Nile River
• 4,100 miles long, flows northward
• The Nile is the longest river in the world!
• Yearly flooding, but predictable
Every July the river flooded regularly,
leaving behind rich soil…silt.
 Regular cycle: flood, plant, harvest,
flood, plant, harvest…
• Nile provided reliable transportation
 To go north, drift with the current toward the sea
 To go south, sail catching the Mediterranean breeze
Egypt & the Nile River Valley
• Egypt arose along narrow strip of
land made fertile by the river
• Most of Egypt’s history focused
around Lower Egypt (near the
Nile Delta)
• Upper Egypt developed later
upstream
• Deserts on both sides of Nile
 provided natural protection
against invaders
 reduced interaction with others
 Egypt would develop a unique
culture because of isolation
Egyptian Writing
• Egyptians wrote in
hieroglyphics
 Pictographic writing
• Wrote on papyrus
Dried reeds from the
Nile.
Used a reed pen, or fine
brush, and ink.
• Hieroglyphics were
deciphered by The Rosetta
Stone
 discovered in 1799 A.D.
Egyptian Government
Above: Abu Simbel, built by
Ramses II
The Great
Pyramids at
Giza
• Egyptian rulers were called
Pharaohs:
priest-kings
considered gods
served both political and
religious roles
• Theocracy  government
where the rulers are thought
to be divinely-guided, or
divine themselves
• Pharaohs’ tombs very
important  believed their
spirits or Ka lived there
 Built massive tombs
for them: pyramids
Egyptian Economy/Specialized Labor
• Traditional economy 
based on farming and trade.
• Egyptians traded up and
down the Nile, with
Mesopotamians and
sometimes with Indus
Valley (in Pakistan)
Egyptian Economy/Specialized Labor
A. Harvesting grain; B. Musicians play for the workers in the
fields; C. Women winnowing the grain; D. Scribes tally the
farmer’s taxes; E. The farmer’s son tending the livestock / cattle.
Egyptian Complex Culture & Society
Distinct Social Classes
Women had many
of the same rights
as men: could own
property, seek
divorce, or rule!
Not “locked in”!
 could rise up
through marriage
or through merit
(success).
Egyptian Complex Culture & Society
Religion:
• Polytheistic  many gods…over 2,000
 Main deities: Ra, the sun god; Horus, sky god; Isis, mother
goddess “giver of life”; Osiris, god of underworld
• Pantheon-family of gods
1) Horus, son of Osiris, a sky god closely connected with the king. 2) Set or Seth, enemy of Horus and Osiris, god of storms and disorder.
3)Thoth, a moon deity and god of writing, counting and wisdom. 4) Khnum, a ram god who shapes men and their kas on his potter's
wheel. 5) Hathor, goddess of love birth and death. 6) Sobek, the crocodile god,7) Ra, the sun god 8) Amon, a creator god often linked
with Ra. 9) Ptah, another creator god and the patron of craftsmen. 1O) Anubis, god of mummification. 11) Osiris, god of agriculture
and ruler of the dead. 12) Isis, wife of Osiris, mother of Horus and Mistress of Magic.
Egyptian Complex Culture & Society
Belief in an afterlife!
Envisioned as an agrarian paradise
The Funerary Scene: depicts what ancient Egyptians believed occured
after a person died.
Egyptian Complex Culture & Society
Mummification – embalming and preserving body
 believed a better after-life if preserved.
 took out all the internal organs, except heart.
 organs were put in canopic jars, put in the tomb
 did not take out the heart...the intelligence and emotion of the
person.
 thought the brain had no significant value, taken out through nose.
 body packed and covered with natron (a salty drying agent), then
left for 40-50 days.
 made many preparations for their burials, including painting tombs
and preparing canopic jars for the organs
Egyptian Complex Culture & Society
• Items needed for after-life
placed in tomb with body
(Writing materials, clothing,
hairdressing supplies and assorted
tools, etc.)
• Food left for the dead, and
depicted on walls of the
tombs  thought would be
magically transformed as
needed.
• Images of items tomb
owner may want in after-life
painted on walls
Egyptian Complex Culture & Society
SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
• Geometry, Astronomy and Math
 numeric system on base 10 (decimal)
• Engineers and Architects
 first to use stone columns (in homes,
palaces and temples)
• Advancements in Medicine
 earliest known medicine and surgery
• Calendar
 12 month, 365 day calendar from
studying the stars
So accurate it was only 6 hours off
from today’s calendar year
Edwin Smith Papyrus medical text
Indus River Valley
Indus River Valley  settled on
the banks of the Indus River
farmers relied upon monsoons to
bring in heavy rainfall for crops
- heavy rains was also
destructive  makes life
unpredictable
- mountains protect
subcontinent but does
not keep out invaders
PLANNED COMMUNITIES – Specialized Labor
• Careful city planners; laid out in
grid with a defendable citadel.
- Harappa
- Mohenjo Daro
• Engineered sophisticated
plumbing and sewage systems.
• Similarity in housing indicates
little differences between social
classes
• farming-based
Left: The
excavated
ruins of
Mohenjo Daro
– one of
several
planned cities
laid out on a
grid system in
the Indus
region.
Right: The
citadel at
Mohenjo Daro.
System of Government & Laws
Religion and government were linked
Priest-King 
- connection for the people to the gods
Royal palace and holy temple
were combined in the citadel 
central administrative area
 Mohenjo-Daro Citadel
Complex Culture & Society
• most Harappans were farmers
– grew rice, wheat, barley, peas, and
cotton
• city dwellers  made copper and bronze tools, clay pottery,
and cotton cloth
• known traders  with Mesopotamia & Egypt
• patriarchal society
Written Language
• used a special script  cannot translate
• wrote on seals
• perhaps to denote ownership
China
- most isolated of the four river civilization due to geographic
distance and barriers
- mountains and deserts separate civilization from others
- develops most unique civilization of the four river civilizations
- key rivers were the Huang He
(Yellow) & Yangtze
- destructive flooding  China’s
Sorrow
China
Writing system
- first found on oracle bones
(cattle bones or tortoise
shells)
- used to verify China’s first
dynasty
- told of kings and their
exploits
- historical record
- divination  fortune telling
- oldest continuously used script
China
Government & Laws
- earliest societies – Yangshao &
Longshan  little known of their laws
- first known rulers were the Shang
kings  cruel, harsh rulers known for
practicing ritual slaughter of servants
after their death
- able to control through harsh
laws and powerful military
- well-organized hierarchy
with nobility controlling
peasants and king controlling
nobility
China
Specialized Labor
- Yangshao and Longshan
known for developing
distinctive pottery  potters
- also shaping stone – jade 
artisans
- also cultivated rice, millet,
barley, and wheat  farmers
- during Shang - world’s finest
bronze workers  metal workers,
miners, etc.
China
Complex Culture & Society
- raised bronze casting to art form
- used for ritual honoring ancestors 
ancestor worship
- ancestors intercede on behalf of family
with the gods (polytheistic)
hierarchy – king at top  “Son of
Heaven”
-nobility controlled bureaucracy &
religious rituals of ancestor worship
- peasants were farmers, artisans,
etc.