How Physical Settings Supported Early Civilizations

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Agriculture in Ancient Egypt & Mesopotamia

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:08 Recipe for Civilization
  • 0:25 Landforms
  • 2:10 Climate
  • 3:09 Neighbors
  • 4:32 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed Audio mode
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

When determining where to build their first villages, people had to consider many factors. This lesson explores how physical environments affected where the first villages and cities were built.

Recipe for Civilization

When humanity decided it was time to settle down, chieftains did not begin building towns just anywhere. Locations for villages and cities were carefully chosen, taking into account the landforms, climate and potential neighbors of any given site.


Many landforms either encouraged or discouraged the decision of early humans to stop hunting and start farming. For starters, there had to be land that was good for farming. This eliminates many different landforms. No one wants to farm in a swamp, as the land is too low.

That said, sometimes the land was too high. Of course, some hills were understandable, and even if some of the land was too hilly for farming, it could be used for herding sheep, cows or even horses. Also, a nice hill surrounded by flat land could provide the perfect place to defend a village, as the attackers would be tired from climbing the hill. However, mountains were not a good choice. They were often too steep to make crops worthwhile, and even then the soil would often be too rocky for anything to grow. Also, mountains could often block rain, meaning the crops would wilt and die.

Instead, nice flat land was ideal for farming. This meant that farmers could grow their crops with greater efficiency, which meant they could work less and grow more food at the same time. But it wasn't just the elevation of the land. There had to be sources of water nearby as well. However, not any kind of water source was ideal.

While lakes and ponds may sound like the perfect water source, they could quickly become polluted, as water sources often doubled as toilets. As such, some form of water that moved was preferable. For this reason, many of the greatest early civilizations, such as the Egyptians and the Sumerians, developed near rivers. In some cases, such as the Nile in Egypt, a river could also bring nutrients for the soil, meaning that better crops could be grown.


Even in the best-watered places, though, the climate, or weather over a long period of time, was just as important. After all, it was impossible to grow crops in places where there was snow year round. Likewise, some places were simply too hot or dry to be able to grow the types of crops necessary to support a village.

Of course, there are exceptions. Egypt and Mesopotamia are both in the middle of deserts, but because of the abundant water supply from rivers, the civilizations were able to develop. However, the shift of these rivers could (and did) often leave towns too far away from water, meaning that the people moved a few miles away and rebuilt everything.

Water wasn't the only climate factor though. Equally important was the amount of sunshine that a village's farms would receive. In much of Mesopotamia and Egypt, this was not too much of a problem, which is one of the reasons those places were able to grow such large cultures.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account