How many ancient civilizations can you think of?
We’re going to talk about 8 of them today and remember the wonderful things they left behind. They may be gone, but they’re not forgotten!
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The Ancient Egyptians
3150 B.C. – 30 B.C.
Nile valley, Egypt
Construction of pyramids, mummification, pharaohs. The Ancient Egyptians also gave us distinctive art, a collection of gods and a rich mythology.
The earliest agricultural villages date back 7,000 years on the banks of the River Nile and it’s one of the oldest known civilizations.
In 1274 B.C., one of the first peace treaties was signed between Pharaoh Ramses II and the Hittites, which ended a bloody 200-year-old conflict.
The kingdom of Ancient Egypt disappeared slowly. The Assyrians weakened Egypt’s military and economy. Greek letters replaced hieroglyphics.
The Romans ended the pharaohs. The Arabs took control of the country in 640 A.D., and by the 16th century, the Egyptian language had been completely replaced with Arabic.
The Ancient Greeks
2700 B.C. – 479 B.C.
Greece, Italy, Sicily, North Africa, and as far west as France
They gave us democracy, art, philosophy (Plato, Aristotle, Socrates) science and maths (Pythagoras, Archimedes), literature, astronomy, medicine (Hippocrates), theatre (Homer’s poems), the Senate, the Olympics (started around 776 BC). Often considered the cradle of Western civilization.
It started with farmers. During the time of the Greek Dark Ages, only a few villages worked on the land and grew food. When Ancient Greece was at its peak around 700 B.C., these villages had developed into entire city-states.
New land was needed so Greece spread 1,500 city-states from the Mediterranean to Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), and from the Black Sea to North Africa.
Their power didn’t end with blood and fire; instead, around the year 480 B.C., the era evolved into the spectacular Classical Age — a time that dramatically changed architectural and philosophical thinking until 323 B.C.
2600 B.C. – 900 A.D.
Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas in Mexico; south through Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras.
The Mayans were in Central America for thousands of years, but around the year 1800 B.C. was when hunters and gatherers decided to settle down and build permanent homes.
They were successful farmers and built tall and impressive temples.
They had an unusual calendar that counted millions of years.
They had a very complex understanding of astronomy.
They were known for extensive record keeping.
Inner conflict, drought, and their conquest by the Spanish in the 16th century led to their downfall.
The Mayan culture mostly disappeared under the pressure to convert to Christianity and from the spread of European diseases but never became completely extinct, as millions of their descendants exist across the world today and continue to speak several Mayan languages.
The Ancient Chinese (Dynasties)
1600 B.C. – 1046 B.C.
Yellow River and Yangtze region, China
Small neolithic villages became famous dynasties that first appeared along the Yellow River in the north.
They are known for the invention of paper and silk.
They built the original maritime compass, invented the printing press and gunpowder
Invented and perfected porcelain-making – a thousand years before European craftsmen!
Imperial in-fighting led to wars that ended the Shang Dynasty in the year 1046 B.C.
753 B.C. – 476 A.D.
Original location: Rome and the Tiber River in Italy
Thought by many to have been founded in 753 B.C., Rome’s beginnings were that of a modest village. The people who settled the banks of Italy’s Tiber River then exploded, growing into the most powerful ancient empire in world history.
Through war and trading, the Roman empire reached most of Northern Africa, Western Asia, Continental Europe, Britain, and the Mediterranean islands.
The culture is famous for its monuments, some of which still exist today. Thanks to the use of special concrete as well as attention to detail, the Romans built impressive monuments like the Colosseum and the Pantheon.
The Romans gave us our calendar, currency, aqueducts for irrigation, sanitation, roads, Latin – the language of religion – newspapers (news written on papyri or wax slabs and placed in the town square – Acta Diurna or ‘daily acts’ originated as early as 131 B.C.), the postal service (20 BC) and many other social benefits that are still in use today.
But the Roman Empire crumbled due to political unrest and power struggle that led to a civil war.
The empire had grown too large and its borders couldn’t all be defended. The Germanic prince, Odovacar, crushed what remained of the Roman army, removed the last emperor, Romulus Augustus, and became king of Italy, ending the Roman civilization in 476 A.D.
550 B.C. – 331 B.C.
Egypt in the west to Turkey in the north, through Mesopotamia to the Indus River in the east. These days, its location? power base would be mostly in Iran.
Cyrus II was the first Persian king.
He, and his successors, conquered new lands to form the Persian empire from 550 B.C. to 331 B.C.
The Persians had the largest empire recorded in ancient history. It included modern-day Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Northern India, and regions inside Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia.
The culture left behind great ruins, intricate metalworks, and golden treasures.
The Persians practiced the Zoroastrianism religion which remains one of the oldest religions still practiced today.
The Zoroastrianism religion has a very tolerant belief system. Cyrus II was unusual for his time. He treated his defeated enemies with respect instead of brutality.
A later king, Darius I, created the impressive Royal Road, a network that reached from the Aegean Sea to Iran and connected several cities through 2,400 kilometers of paved road.
Express mail service as well as control over a vast territory. But, unfortunately, it was also what brought down the Persian empire.
Alexander the Great from Macedonia used these convenient roads to move his troops and conquer the Persians who were financially exhausted from the suppression of revolts among their captured states.
1438 A.D. – 1532 A.D.
Peru and into Ecuador and Chile
Grew from a small tribe to being South America’s largest empire in the pre-Columbian era.
Apart from building Machu Pichu, they created an extensive network of roads and some are still around today. Its capital, Cusco, was an important center of power and culture.
Their engineers constructed hydraulics and stone fountains that brought fresh water from a long way away.
They were skilled farmers, herders, and weavers, and they constructed elaborate stone architecture and created beautiful works of art.
The Spanish conquistadors brought diseases like influenza and smallpox. Civil war broke out and the Spanish killed the last of the Incas using superior weapons.
1325 A.D. – 1521 A.D.
Nobody knows where the Aztecs came from. They built their civilization in the south-central region of pre-Columbian Mexico.
They excelled at architecture, art and agriculture and they had an excellent military.
They had a population of nearly 6 million in 500 city-states. They developed a rich and vibrant economy. The capital, Tenochtitlan, was one of the largest cities in the world at the time.
We get the words “coyote,” “chocolate” and “avocado,” from Nahuatl, the major language of the Aztecs.
The Aztecs also engaged in frequent warfare, and they practised human sacrifice as part of their religion.
The Aztec civilization collapsed in a similar way to the Incas. The Spanish came in 1517, lead by Hernán Cortés, and brought epidemics, battles, and death.
What major civilization(s) seem to be most dominant in this day and age, or is the world too globalized to distingush?
Does globalization threaten the idea of unique civilizations?
Which, if any, will be the next dominant civilization or superpower to emerge?
…and now it’s your turn to practise your English.
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In next week’s episode: Types of Houses
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