Structure of Early Civilizations Review for AP World History
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The world's earliest civilization arose in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in an area the Greeks called Mesopotamia ("Land Between the Rivers"). The cultural achievements of Mesopotamia represented independent innovation, achievements that it passed on to other river valley civilizations in Egypt and, especially, the Indus valley. Around 4000 B.C.E., the inhabitants of Mesopotamia used bronze and copper. By this time they had already invented the wheel and developed irrigation canals to farm the arid lands of their environment.
About 3500 B.C.E., a group of invaders called the Sumerians settled in the southernmost portion of Mesopotamia. The Sumerians developed the first example of writing. Called cuneiform, it involved pictures pressed into clay using a wedge-shaped stylus. The pictographs initially stood for objects, but later were refined to represent sounds. The Sumerians also developed a number system based on 60 and studied the movement of heavenly bodies. In architecture, the Sumerians expressed the glories of their civilization and of the many gods of nature that they worshipped by building towers called ziggurats. They are credited with relating the first epic in world history, The Epic of Gilgamesh, which includes a story of a great flood similar to that of the biblical account in Genesis.
The Tigris and Euphrates rivers were noted for their unpredictable and often violent flooding. Irrigation systems to control flooding and channel water for agricultural use required the cooperation of Mesopotamia's settlements. This need promoted the beginnings of government. Early Mesopotamian government was in the form of city-states, with a city government also controlling surrounding territory.
A social structure headed by rulers and elite classes controlled the land, which was farmed by slaves. Slaves could sometimes purchase their freedom. Sumerian families were patriarchal, with men dominating family and public life. Men had the authority to sell their wives and children into slavery to pay their debts. By the sixteenth century B.C.E., Mesopotamian women had begun to wear the veil in public. In spite of these restrictions, Mesopotamian women could sometimes gain influence in the courts, serve as priestesses, or act as scribes for the government. Some worked in small businesses.
A lack of natural protective barriers made Mesopotamia vulnerable to invasion by outsiders; most cities in the region constructed defensive walls. Frequent conflicts among local Sumerian kings over water and property rights weakened the city-states. The Sumerian culture later fell to conquest by the Akkadians and the Babylonians, both of whom spread Sumerian culture. The Babylonian king Hammurabi devised a code of laws that regulated daily life and also provided harsh "an eye for an eye" punishments for criminal offenses. The Code of Hammurabi drew distinctions between social classes and genders, administering less severe punishments to elite classes over commoners and men over women for the same offense. After 900 B.C.E., Assyrians and Persians dominated Mesopotamia.
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