On the Rise of Cities and Civilization

It can be argued that our planet is undergoing its third great revolution, i.e., the process of becoming industrial and modern.

1. The first great transformational moment in human history occurred when human beings first emerged on the planet, probably some two hundred thousand years ago. Among the various human-like species, homo sapiens achieved biological dominance probably due to their manual dexterity, their ability to produce and use tools which, in turn, probably affected their brain development enabling the growth of spoken language skills and the intelligence needed to pave the way for the cooperation necessary to labor together in order--eventually--to engage in agriculture and transition from the tirbal, hunting gathering lifestyle of the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages to the sedentary agricultural lifestyle of villages.

2. This was the second great revolutionary transformation that occurred around 9,000 years ago when organized, settled agriculture came to be practiced and Neolithic lifestyles featuring hunting and gathering, were graduallyreplaced by larger, more complex "civilized" societies. This transformation usually occurred in river valleys like the Tigris-Euphrates (Sumer, Mesopotamia), the Nile, the Indus, and the Yellow River valley in China, among others. Primitive tribal life gave way to village and later city-state lifestyles where societies became more complex, usually written language was present, and they were organized around sophisticated relationships with deities and religious expression held a central place in the life of these cultures. These early religions shared a concern with things like water, earth, fire, fertility, renewal, etc. and usually employed symbols of varying abstraction to express their perception of the eternal truths in the world as they understood them.

The term civilization itself has its orgins in the Latin word civitas meaning city or city-state, so it is usually refers to people living in cities under more complex forms of social organization than could be found in villages or tribal societies. In this sense, the term civilized contrasts with primitive.

Civilized societies, then, were based on sedentary agriculture, and featured social stratification and economic specialization. In other words, some people or groups had to be able to sufficently establish their dominance over other people or communities in order to get them to contribute grain for those living in the cities and to perform labor to build the buildings and monuments that constituted the cities. Therfore, civilized societies were less egalitarian and communitarian than primitive societies as leaders and ranked social classes began to emerge. As a rule, the groups who came to dominate not only had military might but also claimed privileged access to the gods, to transcendant powers. Other complex social institutions like military forces, educational institutions, scribes and recod keeping organizations usually begin to appear. So, we would look for evidence of:

a. economic specialization

b. simple cities: walls, barracks, temples, palace

c. bronze utensils for cermonial purposes at least

d. at least a 2-class system

e. writing at least for ceremonial purposes


Later this would evolve into:

f. more complex cities with markets and craft centers

g. some kind of a money system and market economy

h. use of iron for agricultural tools and weapons

i. writing for abstract purposes

j. greater number of social classes, i.e., rulers, priets or shamans, peasants, artisans, craftspeople, "merchants," etc.


3. The third major revolutionary transformation of life on this planet began with the phenomenal growth of knowledge beginning with the scientific revolution and culminating in the industrial revolutions of modern times. Indeed, this process is often called "modernization" in reference to a dynamic form of innovation based on the unprecedented growth in human knowledge and the systematic application of science to modern life in the form of technology. Initially, this intellectual revolution that ushered in the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Age of Science and Materialsim, was purely a European phenomenon. But, beginning in the 19th century, the western imperial powers expanded to other parts of the globe and brought with them the fruits of the scientific revolution and the material progress that European powers had enjoyed. This put societies in East Asia and other parts of the world in a difficult spot: they could adopt some of the technology and social organization found in the west or be completely dominated and controlled by the western powers.

Another list of what we expect to find in emerging civilizations: