Ancient Civilizations

This textbook is the best one-volume survey of earlier civilizations I’ve found. It supplies a couple of overview chapters and then summarizes every ancient civilization in Asia, the Mediterranean, and the Americas in fair detail. I relish its planetary perspective.The important point is that cultural, political, and social complexity arose in widely separated areas; this complexity was diverse in origin but remarkable in sharing a number of common features:

-Intensive, well-organized agriculture, which supported dense populations but at the cost of great social inequality and sometimes catastrophic environmental degradation
-Strongly centralized political and social organization, which institutionalized social inequality the right of a tiny minority of the population to command the labor of thousands of farmers, artisans, and slaves
-Stratified social classes with a well-defined nobility, often closely linked by kin ties, at the peak of pyramidlike society in which upward mobility was difficult to achieve except on the battlefield
-A universal set of religious beliefs, which often supported the notion of the leader as divine monarch, a living god on earth
-Elaborate public architecture, which usually mirrored the symbolic architecture of the state: for example, Angkor Wat or Teotihuacan or, in their own way, the parthenon at Athens and the Colosseum at Rome
-A closely organized, centralized bureaucracy, backed by force or the threat of force. This bureaucracy administered the gathering of tribute, a major activity in many preindustrial civilizations
-Some form of record keeping, usually a written script in the hands of powerful officials. Power came from literacy
-Some type of communication system by land or water, often road networks or caravan routes, usually administered by the state
-Cities, or lesser but still large administrative centers and agglomerations of population, and a hierarchy of lesser centers positioned strategically across the landscape.

-- KK  

Ancient Civilizations
Christopher Scarre & Brian M. Fagan
$108
2007 (3rd edition), 551 pages
Longman

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