Rivers' Impact on Early Civilizations

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  • 0:02 River Valleys
  • 0:53 Food
  • 1:16 Floods
  • 2:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson explains why ancient civilizations developed along rivers. In doing this, it highlights the importance of food supplies, flooding, and the process of irrigation.

River Valleys

There are some things that never change. Peanut butter and jelly make a great sandwich, salmon can swim upstream, and river valleys are usually pretty great places to live.

Now, since most of us know all we need to know about sandwiches, and since I know nothing else about salmon, our best bet for today's lesson is to concentrate on rivers. More specifically, let's focus on why the world's earliest civilizations developed around them. Before we get into this, let's take a minute and locate the first four river valley civilizations of our world.

Counted as one, we first have the valleys of the Tigris & Euphrates, located in the region of modern-day Iraq. Second, there's the famous Nile River Valley, located in Egypt. We also have the Indus River Valley, located in South Asia and the Yellow River Valley, located in Asia.


With these now listed and located, let's get back to why civilization developed around them. First and foremost, the answer is food! To explain, the first civilizations came to life in the river valleys of Asia and Africa because they provided great places to get meat. Not only did they provide fish, they also provided pretty good hunting as the rivers attracted thirsty animals.


Beyond hunting and fishing, the early river valleys also gave people a place to grow crops. Ironically, the secret to this was flooding. Although this flooding was dangerous, it also carried some real benefits for ancient people. To explain, as the ancient rivers of our world overflowed their banks, they dredged up nutrient-rich earth from their floors. As this earth resettled on the land, it made the river valleys perfect places for crops to take root. These crops made it possible for early farmers to provide enough food for themselves and their families.

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