Although the elements of civilization and the rise of civilization have been studied extensively, I never gave the subject much thought. That is, until I was commissioned to find at least five elements that are characteristics of a civilization that make it different from non-civilized peoples. Initially, this seemed like a daunting task, but watching the video “Iraq: The Cradle of Civilization” (Wood) and reading the assigned part of “Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics and Society, 1” (Perry), it was evident that there are a number of different elements that characterize each civilization. Namely, large population centers in cities, writing, ceremonial buildings or ritual centers, continuity and arts. Each of these characteristics of civilization works synergistically, making civilized societies stand out in stark contrast to the uncivilized societies that preceded them. A brief description of some of these vital components will demonstrate their importance.
In the first place, the large population centers of cities are one of the elements of civilization. The word civilization, by itself, can be more easily expressed as life in cities. The area of Suma, or Mesopotamia, in southern Iraq, was the birthplace of the first city, Uruch (Ur). The vast lands, fertile by the constant flow of life from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, were the ideal place to cultivate and support the hordes of people drawn to this city. Naturally, people flocked in increasing numbers to this prototype city.
Second, writing is another element of civilizations. In fact, some would say that writing was invented in Uruch. The obvious advantage of this was the ability to pass on and pass on important cultural and spiritual truths and stories to posterity. Although the oral legend of the people of this time is well documented, the history of these people is now preserved and spread through the written word.
Equally important were the ceremonial buildings and ritual centers that dotted the Ur landscape. Shrines, alters, and temples played a central role in ancient civilization, as they do today. Linked to the religious and cultural fabric of society was worship and ritual ceremonies. These ritual centers were considered sacred places and, like the fertile land itself, served as a magnet for people.
Continuity is another characteristic of civilization. Unlike nomadic peoples, civil societies, by definition, were sedentary societies. Of course, people and ideas flowed in and out of early civilizations, but there was the element of perpetual inhabitants. Without doubt, property and private property rights were natural products of this continuity as people chose to settle in cities.
Finally, the arts are another of the essential elements of civilization. According to legend, the arts were sent by Enki, the god of wisdom, through the goddess Innana, known today as Ishtar. Decorative arts, ceramics, jewelry, ‘elegant’ clothing, and ritual ornaments were increasingly popular products during this time. As the standard of living of the people improved in the early cities, there was more time (relatively speaking) for the leisure pleasures offered by the arts.
Clearly, there are other non-negotiable elements of civilization; laws, government, social (class) systems, etc. Obviously, these characteristics include the large population centers in the cities, writing, ritual centers, continuity and the arts. In contrast, uncivilized societies lack all of these aspects.