Markers of Early Civilizations Summaries - (Instructions and example)

The purpose of this project is to create a set of summaries more engaging than the textbook and to ensure that everyone is expert in the attributes of early civilizations. The hope is that you will also become acquainted with some of the best resources for research, some of the study-aids provided and begin to become comfortable with a methodology for note taking.

Below you will find a sample of a page. While your own page does not need to look exactly like this one (it could definitely be prettier), it does need to:
1. Illustrate clearly why the term "early civilization" applies to your region.
  • Step 1: Read "civilization definition" and watch the video. (Note that the video has a slightly different definition and gives you a comparative overview.)
  • Step 2: Think a bit about who came up with these definitions and when. The term implies superiority of one way of organizing communities over others. Pastoralist = barbarian? Think also about what percentage of the human population the term would have applied to during that era. Hard to know, since one of the requirements for being a civilization is that you leave behind things for us to find.
2. Show specific examples which are memorable and understandable. This means providing illustrations of vocabulary terms that one might use to differentiate one area from another.
  • Step 1: Use Bulliet, Tignor or Sterns (AP textbooks for your first pass at the research. They were written with the criteria in mind.)
  • Step 2: Use Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History essays as supplements.
  • Step 3: Find one primary source at the Ancient History Sourcebook and use it to illustrate one or two features of civilization. (If possible.)
3. Incorporate images, maps and videos that successfully summarize the material. In other words, there needs to be pictures with captions.
4. Provide a list of sources. This bibliography should NOT just be a list of URLs. Look below if you need a template.

0 to 10 points: Sloppy, inaccurate, or stolen via-cut paste without attribution, no list of sources. You clearly didn't read the instructions above or use class time.
11 to 20 points: Sloppy, inaccurate, or of questionable integrity (close paraphrasing of the textbook without interpretation), a set of urls at the bottom of the page supplied as sources.
21 to 31: Sloppy, inaccurate, clearly your own work and clearly not proofed, an attempt to reference sources but clearly incomplete. You clearly tried to do this only during class.
32 to 35: Decent summary of the region that incorporates all of the required material and has a clear reference list. One could be prepared for the test and would be able to navigate multiple-choice questions on the AP exam if he/ she took time to study the page. Will serve well as a study guide for the mid-term exam.
36 to 38: Impressive work, shows college-level mastery of the topics, attention to detail and artistry.
39 to 40: Has "wow-factor". This page is not by any stretch at that level.

Civilization Definition:

As the College Board says:
"Key Concept 1.3: Development and Interactions of Early Agricultural, Pastoral + Urban Societies
From about 5,000 years ago, urban societies developed, laying the foundations for the first civilizations.
The term civilization is normally used to designate large societies with cities and powerful states. While
there were many differences between civilizations, they also shared important features. They all produced agricultural surpluses that permitted significant specialization of labor. All civilizations contained cities and generated complex institutions, such as political bureaucracies, including armies and religious hierarchies. They also featured clearly stratified social hierarchies and organized long-distance trading relationships. Economic exchanges intensified within and between civilizations, as well as with nomadic pastoralists.

As populations grew, competition for surplus resources, especially food, led to greater social stratification, specialization of labor, increased trade, more complex systems of government and religion, and the development of record keeping. As civilizations expanded, they had to balance their need for more resources with environmental constraints such as the danger of undermining soil fertility. Finally, the accumulation of wealth in settled communities spurred warfare between communities and/or with pastoralists; this violence drove the development of new technologies of war and urban defense." (College Board)

As Richard Bulliet says on page 5 of our textbook:
"Scholars agree that certain, political, social, economic and technological traits are indicators of civilization:
1. Cities as administrative centers
2. a political system based on control of a defined territory rather than a kinship connection
3. many people engaged in specialized, non-food producing activities
4. status distinctions based largely on accumulation of substantial wealth by some groups
5. monumental architecture
6. system of records (writing)
7. long distance trade
8. major advances on science
9. major advances in the arts"
(Bulliet, p 5)
World in Third Millenium BCE at Worlds Together Worlds Apart, 2nd Edition

Examples of Key Concepts in Mesopotamia

5500 to 2500 BCE

A Reverse SCHEP Chart (cause the definition of civilization is all about the creation of political order)

Spread of Cities in Mesopotamia from Worlds Together Worlds Apart


According to the map, Mesopotamia has the political and administrative requirements to be a civilization. Here you see urban centers that function as administrative hubs, political control beyond the clan level. To get the cities built and the rivers under control, there needed to be complex governments and someone in charge. Thus we have... kings.

Sumerians(5000 to 2600) - the people who grow network of villages into complex of city-states in southern region. "Big - man" leads armies and organizes everyone to get the crops in. Over time, as the regions and roles get more complex, the job description changes.

Mesopotamian Kings (EXAMPLE BABYLON):
1. Was the gods' religious representative and was responsible for temple/ cult maintenance. Supports the priests.
2. Led the army and managed the defense system against outside aggressors.
2.5 Led the aggression against other states when feasible to create empires.
2.75 Negotiated for trade with other states.
3. Kept the internal peace by establishing laws and justice systems (Hammurabi's Code), keeping infrastructure like canals maintained

  • Bureaucracy, "obsessive" record keeping - using cuneiform (uniform writing) to keep grain records and track tax revenue according to textbook
  • Code of Hammurabi (lays out laws and punishments)
mesopotamia This link takes you to an image viewer that shows you 15 political, economic and religious examples from Mesopotamian, including: cuneiform administrative records, models of ziggurats, city plans, royal seals, statues of kings and gods, luxury goods and artifacts from royal tombs. (To make a collection like this: Go to Artstor. If you are on campus, you can create an account and create image collections that can be shared via URL(or downloaded to powerpoint). This is a super handy way to embed images and avoid having to cite them, because the citation is automatically attached to each image.)
Economics of Mesopotamia:

Settled Agriculture:
  • Using irrigation systems to create field system is a difficult ecology. Leaving fields fallow (rotational agriculture). Using ox-drawn plows
  • Actively cultivating barley and date palms, fibrous plants (for string), veggies, other grains
  • Harvesting reeds, wood from marshes
  • Fishing, herding and connecting with pastoralists

Being successful at the list above means surplus goods, which need to be counted and stored, can be used to support an artisan and literate class and can be traded with pastoralists and other societies.

  • See map for examples of goods
  • Using rivers for transport and communication
  • Merchants are employed by the government and the temples to get goods that would demonstrate power
  • At the local level most people barter for what they need
  • Precious metals and measures of grain are standardized to operate as currency
  • Govt. controls raw materials, thus guilds

Labor supply:
  • Almost everyone is working in agricultural labor
  • Conscription by gvt. gets "big stuff" done
  • Some specialists in textiles, pottery, metal working and tool making work in shops
Primary Source Examples:
  • Hammurabi's Code makes it illegal to ignore upkeep of irrigation systems.
  • Hammurabi's Code stresses protecting grain. (Which tells us that the agricultural system was fragile.)
  • Hammurabi's Code talks about tavern operations. -
  • Epic of Gilgamesh describes items that are taken into the boat: grain, domesticated animals, oil
  • Epic of Gilgamesh describes paying labor in wine

Tigris River
Mesopotamia - Land Between Two Rivers

Human interaction with the environment is defined in this case by the ways in which the Mesopotamians tamed their environment.
As mentioned above, lots of labor keeping up lots of canals, plowing fields and creating agricultural surplus. Alluvian plains are fertile soil made by silt. The soil is great, but the region is too hot, too dry and floods unpredictably. Thus, you need a civilization if you are going to cultivate it. And, cultivating it gives you the resources needed for a bigger civilization!

Bulliet defines technology as "the specialized knowledge that allows for the transformation of the natural environment and human society." (Bulliet, p. 21)
In Mesopotamia technologies enable control of the environment. They include: boats, barges, domestication of donkeys and , creation of bronze tools, pottery, bricks, wheeled carts, engineering, military training, chariots, base-60 number system, and religious texts. (This is his list from p. 23 and 24.)

Cuneiform - a system of writing - allowed people to keep records! Making wedge-shaped impressions allowed them to account for transactions.

Migration is facilitated by the rivers. As populations increased they spread out, or they took over their neighbors.

Sumerian gods were anthropomorphic representations of forces of nature. They were moody. Their emotional state explained what was happening in nature. Thus, they needed to be appeased.

Cities built temples and staffed them with priests. The temples were complexes that included shrines to a main god and sub-gods, and a host of buildings for the staff. The ziggurat was the most notable feature. (See the slideshow for examples). Its actual purpose is debated. Bulliet notes that the temples operated like the residence of the god, and that priests treated the image as they would a person.

The priesthood was a hierarchical profession passed through the generations of men.



Creation of social stratification is one of the hallmarks of civilization. There are generally three classes: elites, free and slaves. Bulliet makes the point that slavery was less critical to the economy. Most people lived in mud brick buildings, worked hard and had little that remained. Scribes left records of themselves and of male society. Thus, our understanding of Mesopotamia is biased toward the writers' interpretations of what life was like.
  • Hammurabi's Code protects the interests of slave holders.
  • The monetary damages described in Hammurabi's Code suggest commoners are worth more than slaves and less than elites. Code defines three classes of people: free landowners, dependent farmers and slaves. You are punished based on your class.

Below are some interesting examples of how women are presented in those texts. What kind of restrictions are they placing on women?

From Hammurabi's Code (Examples about Women):

"If a married lady who is dwelling in a man's house sets her face to go out of doors and persists in behaving herself foolishly wasting her house and belittling her husband, they shall convict her and, if her husband then states that he will divorce her, he may divorce her; nothing shall be given to her as her divorce-money on her journey." (Law #141.)

"If a married lady is caught lying with another man, they shall bind them and cast them into the water. If her husband wishes to let his wife live, then the king shall let his servant live." (#129)"

"If the husband of a married lady has accused her but she is not caught lying with another man, she shall take an oath by the life of a god and return to her house." (#131)

"If a man wishes to divorce his first wife who has not borne him sons, he shall give her the amount of her purchase money and the dowry which she brought from her father's house, and let her go." (#138)

"If a woman quarrel with her husband, and says: "You are not congenial to me," the reasons for her prejudice must be presented. If she is guiltless, and there is no fault on her part, but he leaves and neglects her, then no guilt attaches to this woman, she shall take her dowry and go back to her father's house." (#142)



Bulliet, Richard, et al. Earth and Its People, AP Edition, (Boston: Wadsworth, 2011) p. 5
College Board, AP World: Course and Examination Description, 2011. published at:
Code of Hammurabi Excerpts, Ancient Tablets, Ancient Graves: Accessing Women's Lives in Mesopotamia, Women in World History Curriculum,
Historyteachers, Civilization, (YouTube:Historyteachers Channel, 2011.
Tignor, Robert. Map of World in 3000 BCE,Worlds Together Worlds Apart, 2nd Edition (New York: Norton, 2009)
Tignor, Robert, Map of Trade in Mediteranian at 3000 BCE, WTWA,
Tignor, Robert. Map of Spread of Cities in Mesopotamia, WTWA,
They Might Be Giants, The Mesopotamians on YouTube.