Bronze Age Civilizations

(Down to 500 AD)

Mesopotamian Civilization

The Oldest Civilization of the World

(4000 BC – 6th Cen. BC)

Modern Area: Iraq

River Valley: Tigris and Euphrates

Mesopotamia was a region around the Tigris and Euphrates river, which is now part of Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The area was controlled by several different peoples, beginning with the Sumerians in around 3500 BC. They set up a number of city-states that constantly battled to control land and trade routes until they were united under one ruler in 2350 BC. The Sumerians are said to have invented the wheel and cuneiform script. They finally became absorbed into other races around 2000 BC.

  • Mesopotamia means ‘land between the rivers’. Mesopotamia is the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
  • Mesopotamia comprises four regions: Sumer (Southernmost region), Babylonia and Akkad (middle region) and Assyria (Northernmost region).
  • Hammurabi (C.2100 BC), the greatest Babylonian ruler, united the whole of what is now called Iraq into a single Kingdom. Hammurabi gave his people a code of laws. His code covered every aspect of life. His code was based on the law of ‘eye for eye’ and ‘tooth for tooth’ i.e., the law of ‘tit for tat’.
  • Hittites, who came from Asia Minor (now Turkey) and destroyed the Babylonian kingdom, were the first to make regular use of horses for war chariots and to make iron implements.
  • The potter’s wheel was perhaps first used in Mesopotamia.
  • The Mesopotamians also seem to have been the first to make glass ware.
  • The Sumerians were the first to evolve a proper system of writing. This system is called cuneiform. The cuneiform script was invented in C. 3400 BC. This script is found on clay tablets. The cuneiform script was deciphered by Henry Rawlinson.
  • The Mesopotamian system of counting is known as sexagesimal because the Mesopotamian people counted by sixties as we count by tens (decimal system). Their sexagesimal system is no longer in use but we still use it as the basis of division of time into minutes and seconds and of a circle into 360 degrees.
  • In geometry, the Mesopotamians had discovered what was later called the Pythagoras’ theorem.
  • In astronomy, the Mesopotamians made astonishing progress. They could calculate the length of the day and the night. They divided the whole day into 24 hours. They divided the sky into 12 parts, each assigned a name. This has come down to us as the 12 signs of zodiac or rashis as we call them in India.
  • Another remarkable achievement of the Mesopotamians was the invention of a lunar calendar, based on the moon.

Egyptian Civilization

(3400 BC – 1000 BC)

Modern Area: Egypt

River Valley: Nile

Egypt is an area in the Nile valley which was ruled as a single state from about 3200 BC. There were 30 dynasties, led by pharaohs who were both kings and gods. The pyramids were built during the fourth dynasty (2575 – 2467 BC) as tombs for the pharaohs oof that time. The Great Pyramid of Giza was the world’s tallest building for 4000 years, and it is the only wonders of the world that still stands. The Egyptians are also famous for their hieroglyphic writings and sea-going ships. Like other powerful empires, ancient Egypt was weakened by invasions, until it was taken over by Alexander the Great in 332 BC.

  • Egypt is called the ‘gift of the Nile’.
  • Historians divide the history of Egypt into three periods: The Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom and the New Kingdom.
  • The Old Kingdom is also called the ‘Age of the Pyramids’.
  • The Egyptian king was called the ‘Pharaoh’.
  • The Egyptians were the worshipper of the nature and the sun was their most important god.
  • The Egyptians believed that after death both the body and the soul live while other people believed that only the soul lives and body perishes. So, Egyptians took great care in preserving the body of the dead. The body was embalmed in spices and then wrapped in strips of fine linen. Such a preserved body is called a mummy. The mummy was put in a wooden box and buried.
  • The Pyramids and the Sphinx are the two specimens of Egyptian architectural excellence.
  • The Pyramids were the tombs of kings and they contained the mummies of these monarchs. The most imposing of all is the Great Pyramid at Gizeh in Cairo, built by the king Cheops (Khufu) of the old kingdom. The Great Pyramid is one of seven wonders of the ancient world.
  • The Sphinx is a mythological animal with the body of a lion and the head of a man. Each Sphinx was carved out of a single solid stone.
  • The Egyptian script, known as hieroglyphic, was invented in C. 3100 BC. The script is found on papyrus sheets made of reeds. The Egyptian script – hieroglyphic script- was deciphered by Champollion.
  • The Egyptians developed a decimal system of numeration.
  • The crowning achievement of the Egyptians was the solar calendar.

Chinese Civilization

(1765 BC – 250 BC)

Modern Area: China

River Valley: Hwang-Ho

China was one of the places where people are known to have lived. From 1600 BC it was made up of many small kingdoms which all united in 221 BC under one leader or emperor. Various dynasties ruled the empire, starting with the Qin dynasty. During this time, the Great Wall of China was built to keep invaders out. China was an extremely learned civilization, ahead of Europe in the arts and sciences by up to 200 years. The empire finally fell apart under Han dynasty in AD 220 as a result of corruption and poverty.

  • The earliest Chinese civilization is the Shang civilization.
  • The Shang dynasty was overthrown by the Chou dynasty.
  • The Chinese script is a pictographic script. It is remarkable that the Chinese script has changed very little since the earliest times.
  • The Chinese calendar — Solar-lunar calendar, was a combination of solar and lunar Calendar. The Chinese were the first to calculate the length of the year 365 1/4 days.
  • In 3rd century BC, the Chin dynasty became important. To keep out invader from the north, he began construction of a wall known as the Great Wall.
  • The Han dynasty followed the Chin dynasty in 202 BC and the Han emperors ruled China for almost 400 years.
  • The political practices of the Han rulers were greatly influenced by the teaching of Confucius. During Han rule, to qualify for appointment, the young men had to pass through an elaborate system of examination before they were chosen. Such ‘scholar-officials came to be known as mandarins. The Chinese was the first civilization in history to have a system of selecting public officials on the basis of education and competitive examination.
  • Under the Hans, silk was a principal item of export.
  • Two main roads were built across the Great Wall to carry on trade with the west.
  • The two major religions of ancient China are Taoism (based on the teachings of Lao-tse: b. 604 BC) and Confucianism (based on the teachings of Confucius: 551 BC-479 BC). Confucius was a contemporary of Mahavira and Buddha.
  • Buddhism was brought into China by Indians during the Han rule.
  • The Great Wall is a mighty monument to the building skill of ancient China. This wall, built of stone and earth to a height of 6 metres and extending over 2400 km.
  • The Chinese script was standardized by the Chin ruler. The Chinese script spread to other countries also. It influenced the Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese scripts.
  • In the 1st century AD, paper was invented in China. The invention of paper and its importance in spreading knowledge within and outside China makes it one of the great contributions of China to the world.
  • Some of the first historical works in the world were written in China. Each dynasty compiled its own history. The pattern of these histories was set by Ssuma Chien (1st or 2nd cent. BC), and is commonly remembered as the ‘Herodotus of China’.
  • The water clock, abacus, umbrella was invented by Chinese.
  • In the 2nd cent. AD, Chinese invented a seismograph.