Ancient Civilizations

Figure 1.--This recreation of a boy in ancient Greece is from a well researched children's book titled Ancient Greece--Come and Discover my World. The book features the lifestyles and activities of an ancient Greek community. It was published by Two-Cam Publishing Ltd, London, 1998. A wonderful book with delightful photographs and illustrations of boys and girls depicting the wear of the day. Here we see Cleon who is nine years old. He is a citizen of Athens and when he grows up, will have to serve in the army. But for now he goes to school, helps his father and play sports. Here we see him with his tortoise-shell lyre. At school he is taught to recite poetry and play the lyre at the same time.

The dawn of civilization has come to be labeled the Neolithic Revolution. Stone-age hunter-gathering nomads began to settle down, at first in river valleys. They began to develop agriculture and domesticate animals. These developments resulted in stunning advances in technology, especially in metalurgy and writing which we now call civilization. As civilization evolved, hunter-gathers began turning into agriculture. This occurred even though hunter-gatheer people were often better off than aguculturists. What did not occur was an important conlict between huntergathers and the new agriculturists. What did occur was the rise of a new group--nomadic hearding people. This appears to have begun among the Pontic-Caspian area--the Eastern Steppe. And this set up a major historic conflict that often dominated ancient historic--the conflict mounted barbarians amf te settled people of the civilized world giving rise the maxim -- Rome fell when China built their wall. Although the ancient world is not the focus of HBC, we have developed some information the nexus of fashion, clothing, and children in history of ancient civilizations. It is only basic information as HBC has not yet been able to devote much attention to this topic. We have found some images of recreations or moderrn drawings. We are very interested un finding actual contemprary images and other art showing boys clothing. Unfortunately such images are relatively rare.

The Neolithic Agricultural Revolution

The dawn of civilization has come to be labeled the Neolithic Revolution. Stone-age nomads began to settle down in river valleys. They began developed agriculture and domesticate animals. With these developments came stunning advances in technology, especially in metalurgy and writing. The Neolithic Revolution occurred first in river valleys because conditions there were the most condusive for agriculture. The Neolithic Revolution first occurred along the Tigris-Euphrates in Mesopotamia. There civilization evolved over millenia. Civilization occurred later along the Nile and Indus, but in a much shorter time frame. Archeolgists believe that this was becuse both these peoples could draw on the technology develoed in the Tigris-Euphrates Rivers. The Indus Valley civilization is the least understood of the four original civilization centers. Civilization in China, unlike the other three river valley civilizations appears to have developed in isolation. Some archeologists believe that there were other smaller river valley civilizations which because of their smaller size were overwealmed.


After the development of agriculture, the next stage in human development was civilization. Agriculture is required because only with agriculture can humans produce the surpluses needed to finance the complex sociuties eeded to create civilization. Not all aricultural societies developed civilizations. Most did, but not all. We do not, for example see advanced civilizations emerging in Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa. We note agricultural socities with iron-age tchnology in West Africa, but no advanced civilizations. Civilization is a complex society with several important characteristics. Especially important was urban development meaning cities. It is in cutues that people came together ia lsrge numbers anbd exchanged ideas and thoughts leading to the advances for which civiizations are known. Other characteristics include the emergence of scialial elites and social stratificatione, a formal political aparatus, symbolic systems of communication (witing), and the concept of a separation from the natural environment and the idea of dominating it. Formal political structures wre vital. To get the full benefits of water in river valleys, irrigation systems had oi be built. And this required a political structure capable of mobikizing labor. Technology appeared in the Neolithic (Stone) Age with fire and stone tools. This took millenia. With the beginning of the development civilization, the pace of technological change quicked leading to metal usage. Copper was the first metal, but the huge recnological change was the jump to bronze for weaoons and tools (about 4,000 BC). All of this first came togther in important river valleys. It is important to note that agriculture did not quickly or even ievitably lead to cibilization. We see the bgimning stepos toward agriculture (about 8,000 BC, but we do not see the first beginning steps toward civilization until much later (about 4,000 BC). For millenia there were only a few isolad civilizations hile most of humnanity was still at the hunter-gather stage. Nor was it evitable And because resources such as metals are not evenly distributed around the world, much more sophisticated trade networks were needed.

The Great River Valley Civilizations

We have collected some information on the history and clothing technology of several important early civilaztion. The first major civilizations arose along fertile river vallies which supported the first major agriculture systems. Conditions in river vallies profuced extrodinary yields even with primative technology. Agriculture would take longer to develop in areas where agriculture was dependant on rainfall. Thus the first true civilizations appeared in river valleys. Actual information on boys' clothing is extremely limited, but we will add what ever information becomes available. For the first time in history we know a great deal about these people because they invented writing and left a fascinating written record of their civilitaions. Writing was developed here because records were needed to account for the wealth created by productive agriculture. The first true civilization was Mesopotamia which appears to have influenced both Egypt and abchient India. China appears to have developed independently of the other three great river valley civilizations.

The Early Era: Other Centers of Civilization

The Great River Valleys is where civilization first appeared. There are, however, some other geographic hot spots that were particularly important in the development of civilization. It is obvious why river valleys wee so ummportan, they offered highly productive agriculture with basic technology. Why some other areas ere so important is less clear, but because they were located at gepgraphically imposed crosrods is one important factor. One of the most important is Anatolia. This is the penisula of modern Asian Turkey. Here about 7,000 BC, neolitic humters began the trasition to pastoralists and hunters. Outside of the great river vlleys, this is one of the firt areas where this transition began. Few comparatively small areas have since sen so muchhistory are fostered so many advanced civilizations. Another small area is the Middle East, the Levnt and Arabia which gave rise to three of the world's great religions (Judaism, Chritiaity and Islam). The other two religions rose in India (Hinduism and Budhism). Two othher small areas are Meso-America and the coast of northern Peru which were the craddle of Native American civilzations.

PIE People (6500-5000 BC)

Nomadic pastoralists appeared millennia after the development of agriculture at the rise of civilization. The first of the people appeared not surprisingly around the first civilization--Mesopotamia. Scholars locate them Pontic–Caspian steppe zone in Eastern Europe north of the Black and Caspian sea--the Eastern Steppe. There is considerabler debate as to the their chronology from 7,500 - 4,500 BC. These first nomadic peoples are the Proto-Indo-Europeans or PIE people. There is little historical record as they were not a literate people and left no monumental architecture. They were the Pontic-Caspian people--the hypothetical pre-historic people of spoke Proto-Indo-European (PIE). Linguists point to PIE as the ancestor of the Indo-European languages. Knowledge of these people is derived from linguistic reconstruction, along with some material evidence from archaeology and archaeogenetics (DNA evidence). These are the peopole who invented the nomadic, herding way of life. This has not changed much over the millenia. These were hunter gathers who began to heard animals on the Easter Steppe. And as horses inhabited the Steppe. The people appear to have at first hunted and eventually donesticated the horse. This was a major develooment because hearders on horseback could raise far larger herds than on foot. They also used the wheel providing mobility on the steppe. Here the actual inventor of both the basic wheel and more imporantly the spoked wheel is not clear. Their mobility enabled a rematakable expansion beginning (about 2,500 BC). Linguistic studies suggest that these people migrated west, east, and south. Indo-European languages are spokes by something like 65 percent of the world's population/. They conquered people already there giving rise to the Slavs, Germans, Celts, Italians, Greeks and others. They moved south confrobting the River Valley civilzations. The Hitties were the first PIE language to become a written language. Other Steppe people include the Synthians which appeared to be the first group to develop horse archers giving the Steppe Nomads great military power. Another impotant teppe people were the Medes. The successful people from the Eatern Steppe were Persians were another Steppe people who eventually conquered the entite Midle East. The PIE people also moved east bbringing the nomadic life style with them. . Much of this eraly group was eventually overwhealmed by the Monglian peoples from the Eastern steppewjo would eventually dominate the Western Steppe as well. Others moved further south toward the Indian Subcontinent. Tese are the Aryan people who eventiuallly ovewhealmed the Indus valley people and dominated the Subcontinent.

Civilized and Barabrian/Herding Balance of Power

When admiring the startling achievements of the agricultural-based great river valley civilizations, one can't help but wondering how rude, numerically inferior babarians could have threatened these great civilizations. Barbarian is not the appropriate term to use. It was Greek term and the Greeks saw all noin-Greeks as barbarians. Rather the destinction is between civilized socities based on agriculture and nomadic peoples with pastoral (hearding) socities. As pastoral socities were nomadic, there were no cities and none of the dazzling achievements of the settled civilzed world. Nomadic hearding limited their cultural achievements, but not their ability to make war. In fact nomadic hearders had advantages in war. Some factors suggest that settled civilizations should have been militarily dominant. Large populations, superior organizations, wealth, advanced technology, and other factors would seem to have aquitted the great civilizations the capability to withstand nomadic onslaught. The problem was that the river valley civilizations were not homogenious polities. The ruling class were often a narrow strata of society if not an alien group which often oppresively treated the peasant farmers who were the primary source of wealth creation. Thus rulers were often afraid to arm the peasantry and thus take advantage of their numerical superority. This was a factor in the reluctance of these societies like Egypt to make the transition from bronze to iron weaponry. The ballance of power was maintained during the Bronze Age because of the high cost of bronze weapons. The aristocratic warrior class of the civilized societies were roughly equivalent in strength to the nomadic armies. The technology of bronze metalurgy was not beyond the ability of avanced nomadic societies which often had greater access to metal ores than the river valley civilizations. Thus the Hittites, Hurrians, Kassites, and others pressed in on Babylon and Egypt with varying success over time, but none were sufficently strong to completely overcome the other. One particularly important development is the role of one particular nomadic group--the Steppe tribes set between the West and China. The fact that they did not practice agruculture, freed virtually the entire male population and some women for war. Thus they could generate large armies with smaller populations. And the social divisions were less sharp than in agricultural socities. Their armies were not composed of aristocratic warriors, but of the entire population. Here the development of iron/steel weapons was a huge advatage because it meant that their large armies could be inexpensively armed. And their was no need for an expensive standing army. The whole population was essentially a standing army constantly on the move which could be easily mobilized. And it was on the Steppe that the horse was domesticated and bread to a large enough size to be useful in war. South of Mesopotamia, the donkey nomads were also important.

The Great Divide (1,200-800 BC)

One of the great isues in history in what happened at about the turn of the firt millennium BC. It was one of the great turning points of history. During this period all the great River Vally civilizations disappeared and were replaced by the great civilizations of the clasical era. No one understands just why this change took place and why it occured in each of the four major river vally civilizations and at about the same time. Invastions from Central Asia seems to have been a factor. The massive transitions all occurred after the Iron technologies began to be developed (about 1,500 BC). The new classical civilizations arose in ares close to the old river valley civilizations, but in subtabtually expanded territory. The Indus River (Harappan) Civilization disappeared entirely. Indo-European invaders from Central Asia poured into the Indoan Sub-contiment and began to mix with the xisting population. Indian civilization spread south from the Indus River to reach the entire Sub-continent, but with a focus on the Ganges River. The Mauryan and Guptann Empires emerge. Egyptian civilzation continued, but weakened considerably (about 1,000 BC). It was replaced by a wider-Mediterranean civilixation. Egypt was conquered by Alexander and a Greek Dynasty would emerge. The dominnt civiization became Greece and ROme. So did Mesopotamia and related areas such as the Asyrians and the Hitties. Some local state emrged such as Israel. Indo-European invasions from Central Asia again may have been involved. The civilzations of Mesopotamia were replaced by the vast Persian Empire extending into Central Asia. Chinese civilization experience the least important dustruptions. The Shang Dynasty fell, but the transition to the Zhou Dynasty was the least dramatic of the four river valley civillizations. China expanded from the Yellow River toward the Yangtse becoming the Middle Kingdom.

Subsequent Ancient Civilizations

The technologies developed by the great early civiizations enabled other peoples to develop high levels of civilization outside the great river valleys. Expanding technology and the development of tools like the iron or iron-tipped plow meant that high yields could be achieved even without irrigation. And these yields could support a high level of civilization. These civilizations drawing on the achievements of the early centers of civilization, gradually eclipsed the great river valley civilizations. These subsequent civilizations, especially in the West, were the formerly barbarian more war-like people on the fringe of the river valley civilizations which became civilized. Other were the nomadic raiders from central Asia that never developed settled agriculture and a sophiticated civilization, but did develop a major military capability. Of some importance is the fact that the more war-like people on the fringe of civilization tended to have more egaltarian traditions than the great river valley civilizations which developed systems based on the often despotic rule of divine-right kingship. The Western tradition evolved from the more marshall and eqaltarian traditions of Greece and Rome and through Christianity that of the Hebrews. Each of these traditions included a recognition, no matter how imperfectly persued, of the innate value of individuals, a spirit often lacking in the eastern tradition flowing from the great river valley civiizations.

Ancient Battles

Many great battles were fought in the ancient world. In most cases the information comes from the victors, thus our information is often biased. Ancient accounts site huge numbers in terms of combatants. These may have been used primarily for literary affect. While these battles occurred in some cases over two millennia ago, they had a powerful impact on shaping our modern world. Quite a bit is know about these battles as a result of a variety of sources. The first battle we know of recorded in history is Megiddo (1479 BC), although details of sparce. The first battle for which relatively detailed informtion exists is Qadesh (1274). Quite a bit of information is available on the battles of the Greek and Roman era. We assume that information on Chinese battles is available, but here we are not yet familiar with the literature.


We have begun to develop pages on children and aspects of childood in the different ancient civilizations we have addressed.


Even within recorded history, few children attended schools of any kind. Information on ancient times is sketchy. With the agrcicultural revolution wtitibg developed as systems were needed to manage the expanding harvests and other production. Ans kills were needed to build and maintain canals. As a result, children had to be taught to read and wtite, basic numeracy, and other skills. This process began first in Mesopotamia, but occurred in the other great river valley civilizations--although information is limited, especially for the Indus Valley culture. At first professional scribes were needed as the first writing systems were complicated. Gradually simplier systems were develooped and larger numbers children could learn to read and writes. Even so, a relatively narrow part of societty were educated. The basic system in early civilizations was for a teacher to rent or otherwise obtain a room or set up in a park or square. This would be a school. This was normally done by individual teachers so they wwre not schools in the sence that a group of teachers taught children in age grouped classrooms. Parents who could afford it, sent their children there and paid a monthly fee. Most parents coild not afford to do so and thus the great mass of children began work at an early age rather than attend school. The Greeks developed a more organized system of education (about 500 BC). As far as we know, this was the world's first systematic approach to education. At least it is the first one that historians have so far found. This may be because we know so muvh more about Greece than other ancient civilizations except Rome. Boys of different ages were taught by different teachers. Greek schools (except in Sparta) were private, but fees were so low that even the poorest citizens (Not slaves) could afford to send their children, at least for a few years. This a substantial part of the male population was literate. Few girls attended school, although some were taught at home. There were some exceptions. Sappho appears to have run a school for girls. Plato and Aristotle founded the started the first advanced schools, the ancestors of modern universitiesb (4th century BC). The Romans looked down on the Greeks because they were not able to defend themselves, they admired Greek arts and education. Thus the Romans adopted Greek methods and curricula with few changes. The Roman state did not found schools. Romans sent their boys to private teachers. Even for Rome, the ancient civilization which we know most about, accounts vary. We do not know just how wide spread education was in Rome or what percentage of the population was literate. Some historians believe that education was fairly common, but actual evidence is limited. For advanced studies, the well-to-do might send their boys to Greece. The less civilzed people to the north like the Celts abd Romans were pre-literate and did not have schools.


With the advent of ariculture we have the development of much more sophisticated societies and the appearance of witing and more refined arts including music. We see musical instruments in the earliest civilization --Sumer in Mesopotania. some of these civiliztions like the Hittites left little or no pictorial evidence. Egypt was an exception. Ancient Egypt had a rich musical tradition includung a wide range of musical instruments. Studying anient music is very difficult. Archeologists can find instruments or representations of instuments in art and sculpture. And there are some rferences in available literary works. But because musical notation had not yet been invented, there is no way of knowing about actual musical compositiins and just what ancient people accomplished with their instruments. Music in the Roman Empire is particularly important as the Empire was the vessel in which Western Civilization and Christianity developed. The early Church, however rejected music, expet for the human voice. Instrumental music and dancing at the time was asoociated with immoral practices and thus rejected by the puritanical Church, rather like Islam today. The Chirch would, however, play a major role in the development of modern music. Weare sure about gender and age trends. Egyptian images show beautiful women playing instruments. The Biblical story of David describes boys learning musical instruments. The Greeks saw music as part of a wll rounded education. It was not as important to the Romans, but Nero was of course famous for his fiddle.


Economic Developments

The neolithic revolution created civilization anf there wee many social and cultural consequences, including economic consequences. The primary economic impact was of course agriculture which dominated civilzations until the 19th century and many countries even today. Agricultural technologies were so inefficent that ancient farmers could only support relative small urban populatioms. There were, however, many more econoic sectors spawned by the agricultural rdevolution. They include commerce (international trade), handicrafts, mining, pastoralism, weaving, and other developments.


Commerce in the modern sence of international trade was not possible until agriculture developed and settled communities developed. Hunter gathers were not traders. They could not carry quantities of goods as they moved about. This thaey had little to trade. As agricultural people did not move about like nomads, they were limited to locally available resources. With settled life, we have urban development and a range of technological innovations. All of this led to the need or demand for materials not locally available like furs, metals, salt, timber, and much else. The result was the birth of international trade. Cities located close to each other did not have much to trade. The basically harvested the same crops and produced the same goods. It was cities at distance from each other that had needed trade goods. What was needed for commerce was transport. Boats beginning with rafts have very ancient origins, but boats that could carry significant cargoes are much more recent. This probably meant planked boats which developed in Mesopotamia and Egypt (about 3000 BC). This permitted the efficent movement of goods any distance for the first time, but rivers often did go where the trader wanted to go even sea transport was developed. This problem began to be solved about the same time. With the domestication of the donkey land trade routes, meaning possible invasion routes. came into existence (about 2800 BC). The Assyrians were one of the great warrior nations of Mesopotamia. It is no accident that the Assyrians were also important traders. Some of the first documented records on interrnational trade come from Assyrian cuneiform tablets (19th century BC). They came from as Assyriam merchant colony at Kanesh in Cappadocia, central Anatolia. From that time. international trade has been and continues to be a major factor in world affairs. Yet throughout history a fine line separated trade and commerce. We belive that the first postulated war in history resulted from trade leading to war--the destruction of Tell Hamoukar (c3500 BC). This was clearly evident with the ancient Greeks, but in more modrn history we see it with the Portugese, Durch, English, and others. And war as opposed to violent squirmishes could only begin with substantial populations and settled lands to defend. Af first only wars between neigboring people was possible. Waging wars at any distance required beasts of burden to transport weapons, food, and water. Again the domestication of the humble donkey made this possible.



As metals became imprtant in civilization. miming became imporant. And as more amd more metal was need, mining had to go deeper and deeper. New mining tecnologies had to be developed. Not all civilaztions, however, have mineral resources that can be mined. The first important metal was copper and it soon was discovered thaqt mixed with a little tin, amuch harder meral alloy could be produced -- bronze. Soldiers with bronze weapons jad a very real military advantage giving rise to a distinct historical era--the Bronze Age. Copper was rare emough. Tin was even more rare. The need to acquire these metals drove trade and commerce. Copper was available in may locations such as Cyprus. Tin involved longer voyages to obtain. It is at this point that Britain enters history. Britain had tuin. And Mediterranean traders would actually go out into the Alantic and sail along the coas of France all the way to waht innow Cornwall (southwest England) to obtain tin. This not onlt drove trade, but advances in maritime technology. Gold and silver also drove commerce and expansion. Not because of their utilyu, but because of their beauty. Egyptians built huge forts on the Nile south of their settlements to control the Nubian gold trade. Metals aalso drve technology. Iron is a much more common metal. Working with metals drove technology. Iron was a much more common metal than copper. It required a much hotter temperture, however, to work with and thus tecnologicval advances. The issue with iron was more than just technology. Bronze was very expensive to produce. This limited the sizes of armies. Warfare tended to be aristcatic exercizes. Iron whih was more available was less expensive. Larger armies could be equipped for war. This raised a cultral issue. Did ancient rulers want to arm the peasantry.


The origins of pastiralism are a matter od some debate. Some historians believe it was a natural evolution from hunter-gathering. Hhunter-ghathering by its very nature involved peop;le becoming atuned to animal behavior. Another theory is that pastoralism developed out of agriculture, especially mixed farming. Irrigation may have been a factor here. [Bates and Lee] With orrigation production increased production and populations increased forcing people beyond the irrigated areas to adopt animal husbandry. The fact that pastoralists, especially early pastoralists, left very little aechologal evidence makes this adiificult subject to research. While the origins are somewhat uncertain, we see agriculture and pastoralism developed alongside each other, with continuous interactions, both peaceful and violent. Some of the major conflics in history involve Steppe pastoralists raiding the wealthy agriculyural people both in the East and West. There were also desert pastoralists which attacked both Mesopotamian abd Egyptian agriculural peoples.

Weaving Technology

The various garments and the material used to make them varied from civilization to civilization in the ancient world. Weaving is the interlacing of threads, yarns, strips or other fiberous material. It is primarily associated with the production of fabric for clothing, but other items are also woven such as baskets. Weaving is well established in ancient societies where it was generally relegated to women. While weaving has pre-historic orgins, many technical developments over a long period have led to modern weaving mills. The spinning and weaving of textiles were time-consuming, but essential household tasks. The Industrial Revolution in Western Europe began primarily as the mechanization of textile production.


James, Peter and Nick Thorpe. Ancient Inventions (New York: Ballantine Books, 1994).

Lees, Susan H. and Daniel G. Bates, (1974). "The Origins of Specialized Nomadic Pastoralism: A Systemic Model," American Antiquiy Vol. 39, No. 2, pp. 187–93.

Smitha, Frank. "The Hebrews between Assyria and Egypt, The Ancient World.


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Created: December 27, 1999
Spell checked: December 1, 2001
Last updated: 7:33 PM 6/27/2019