Characteristics of Civilizations


The beginning of civilizations did not start abruptly, instead there was a gradual change from tribal society to civilized society; some changes did happen quickly, but others did not. Many civilizations had different characteristics than their neighbors, but there are seven common “building blocks” of civilization; a food surplus, cities, labor specialization, religion, social and economic organizations, an organized government and a writing system.

What is a Civilization?

Merriam-Webster defines a civilization as "a relatively high level of cultural and technological development; specifically :the stage of cultural development at which writing and the keeping of written records is attained." Writing can include anything from ideograms to hieroglyphs to the modern alphabet.

Food Sources

All people need food to live, but they needed to be able to have it next to them to settle down. As human society developed, animals have been tamed and domesticated. Wolves were tamed starting around 12000 B.C.E., when both the packs of Man and Wolf were very similar in behavior and each could possibly raise the other. Soon after, at about 9000 B.C.E., animals started becoming domesticated as a food source, beginning with sheep in the Middle East. Cattle, pigs and other animals came soon after. When humans started tettle down, they needed food sources that were reliable and constant in order to survive. This began with Agriculture, which is the planting and growing of plants for food, like wheat or corn. Because the harvest of some crops were at the same time, people had to find a way to store the food, like in pottery, which was one of the many ways humans found out how to keep food fresh.


With a food surplus, you have the ability to support large amounts of people with a acre of a farm. Cities were able to form from the extra food that farmers had. Cities slowly grew from village, to town, to a urban area. Cities became a cultural center for people, and the seat of government.Cities also promoted trade, which made some people very wealthy. Slowly, more people became urban and the rural population shrink. This forms huge urban areas that compose of many cities around a key city. From the establishment of cities, there was a high concentration of people, so new jobs were formed to meet the growing demand and complex society.

Labor Specialization

Within cities, a new idea grew, labor specialization. This idea provided many job options to people.Three types of specialization grew: industrial, service and agricultural. Industry jobs include builders, potters, and other related jobs where you make or produce something. Cooks, merchants, and jobs where you help, sell or distribute things, but including food, to people are service labors. Agricultural laborers are farmers and food merchants, or anybody else who grows or distribute food. Within the service labor group, a new job was created, the priest, who preached about religion.


Another characteristic of civilization is religion. As people settle down and grow in a community, they begin to wonder about the causes of certain natural or unnatural events. People couldn't think of how these things could happen, so they thought that there were higher powers than people. This religions were either monotheistic, belief of one god, or polytheistic, belief of many gods or deities. Religion governed many aspects of peoples lives and were sometimes considered a way of living. Popular religions spread to the people near by, and many wars came from religious beliefs.

Economical and Social Organization

As civilizations developed, there began to be major differences between the people in it. People began dividing by wealth (the rich, the poor, and the middle class) and the poor began to be generally regarded as lesser than the rich. Family life began to change, as mothers and fathers spent more time teaching their children, and spent more time together. Gender-based separations also came into being-men often took dominance over the household, and women began to have less power and until recently, women were binded to the home. As these differences continued, a caste system was developed. This system severely separated each class of people, from the poor to the rich and the warriors to the artisans. Some caste systems were more enforced than others. India, for example, had a caste system that made it nearly impossible for the poor to get richer which caused social inequality.


Once people were brought together into a civilization, there became an increasing problem of mischief and mayhem from all the people compressed in one area, and people need leaders to turn to. Government was formed as a way of leading and controlling the people. The governments varied in forms, from kingship to parliaments, though monarchies were the most common. Laws, or rules, were created and upheld by the government, such as the Hammurabi's code. The government, in exchange, would levy taxes. Taxes were a payment each person payed to the government, whether in food or money. As laws were created they needed to be remembered, and this led to help create Writing.


A major characteristic of civilization is writing. The written word allows information to be transferred without the time it takes to say it, and makes it so that won't change when it is repeated over time. Writing allowed for documents about law, or the history of a civilization to be accessed from anyone who can read. Writing is a fundamental element of mass communication. Writing also helped communication between different languages, if two civilizations spoke different languages, they could use a common writing system as a means of communication. This is perfectly demonstrated with the Rosetta Stone.


In conclusion, all of these characteristics of civilizations happen in chain reaction and can turn out to be good or bad depending on if the structure is able to keep the civilization alive. But that's the process of history, civilizations die and civilizations rise as a result of the death. Which in turn allows us to learn from the mistakes of other civilizations so that we may improve our 7 basic fundamentals ourselves.

Works Cited