Back To CourseHistory 112: World History I
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Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
Pick a civilization, any civilization. Tell me about it. No, go ahead. I'm listening.
Okay, I don't actually know what you said, but I can guess that part of your description would include the geography surrounding that civilization. It's an important detail to consider; geography is very closely tied to everything about a civilization, from how it developed to how it survives. For the early civilizations of Egypt, Kush, and Canaan, geography was one of the central elements to not only their success, but their very existence.
Most of us know of the great and powerful civilization of Ancient Egypt. Egypt was one of the first major civilizations in world history, developing into a major kingdom around 3150 BC. Its rise was tightly tied to its geography, most notably the great Nile River, the largest river in the world at over 4,200 miles long. Egyptian civilization was so reliant on this river that the Ancient Greek historian Herodotus even stated that Egypt was the gift of the Nile.
The Nile River floods annually, which may not sound great for the rise of civilization, but actually is. When the Nile floods, it deposits fresh soil over its banks - soil which is abundantly fertile. This reliable pattern of flooding helped people develop agriculture, which is necessary to support the growing population of a major civilization. Since Egyptian civilization developed near the mouth of the Nile, where the river empties into the Mediterranean Sea, waterways also played a major role in the development of Egyptian economy, and the access to trade routes across the region via the Nile and Mediterranean were instrumental in the accumulation of wealth in Egypt's rise to power.
The Nile is very, very long, and Egypt really only occupied the northern part, although they did essentially control most trade that ran along it. South of Egypt, another civilization grew thanks to the rich soil and abundant resources of the Nile Valley. The Kingdom of Kush, in modern-day Sudan, was a culture that had existed since at least the 21st century BC at the confluence of three major tributaries of the Nile. They were conquered by Egypt and formed into an Egyptian colony before they became powerful enough to establish their own kingdom around 1070 BC.
Like Egypt, the natural resources of the Nile Valley were major factors in the development of civilization. What made Kush unique was that their reliance on the Nile was even more closely tied to trade. Kush was one of the first powers in the region to have an economy that was almost entirely dependent on export, and their position in the Nile Valley granted them easy access to the Red Sea, which itself was connected to the Arabian Sea. Since maritime trade is much easier than overland trade, access to the ports on the Red Sea made Kush extremely wealthy and powerful, so much so, in fact, that they actually conquered and ruled Egypt for about a century. They facilitated trade routes that ran across the Arabian Sea to India and China, making them a centerpiece of the world's largest trade network at that time.
While the Nile Valley was an incredible resource that encouraged the rise of early civilizations, it was not the only one. The region of Canaan, roughly corresponding to the portion of the Middle East along the Mediterranean Sea, also called the Levant, saw early development as well. Naturally, the access to the Mediterranean Sea meant that resources were abundant and that people could connect to trade routes. Additionally, Canaan has several major fresh water rivers running through it, which provided suitable land for agriculture. One of these is the Jordan River, which runs 156 miles into the Dead Sea.
Along the Jordan River, early civilizations developed, such as the city of Jericho. People have lived at Jericho since at least 9,000 BC, making it one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. The civilizations of Canaan grew quickly in size and power, and there were many of them. This region had great resources, and like Egypt and Kush, it was surrounded by unforgiving desert. This meant that, rather than spreading out, people settled in the same area and competed for resources.
Geography plays a key role in not only how a society is formed, but what values it adopts. You may have heard of the famous walls of Jericho, the walls that came tumbling down, allowing for the Israelite leader Joshua to invade the city, according to the Jewish holy book, the Torah. Well, those walls were a common feature of Canaan, where competition for resources meant that civilizations needed to defend themselves.
Geography is very important to civilizations. All civilizations. Access to fresh water, reliable weather, natural defenses or just good trees for shade can make an incredible difference. Egypt, Kush, and Canaan all developed civilizations early on because the geography encouraged it. All three are in the fertile river valleys surrounded by harsh deserts. Egypt, located where the Nile River empties into the Mediterranean Sea, was abundant in resources. The annual flooding of the Nile River made extremely fertile agricultural land, allowing the Egyptians to grow enough food to support a quickly growing population.
South of Egypt, Kush developed a kingdom along several important tributaries of the Nile. These tributaries connected Kush to the Red and Arabian Seas, letting them develop a massive trade network that extended as far as India and China. Kush was one of the first civilizations with an economy that was almost entirely dependent on trade. To the north, civilizations arose in the region called Canaan, along the Mediterranean coast of the Middle East, at an early date, as well. Here, the Jordan River was one of the most important sources of water that allowed for agriculture and brought many people into the same area. Geography was a major factor in the development of civilizations around the world, and it still affects every culture to this day.
Having studied the entire lesson, you could be prepared to describe the important role geography played in structuring the Egyptian, Kush and Canaan civilizations.
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Back To CourseHistory 112: World History I
30 chapters | 246 lessons