Historians have used the term civilization to describe any human society whose members live in towns and cities, trade with one another, and participate in specialized jobs. Civilization is usually associated with writing, art, and religion as well as economic and technological progress. Civilized societies are also characterized by a high degree of social specialization and organized government. They have been responsible for many of the world’s major advances in culture, science, and technology.
The key to understanding civilization is knowing that it is a process of change, not something that simply happened in a given place at a specific time. The earliest civilizations appear to have been nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers that gradually grew into more complex, centralized systems of production and control. This change, which came about c. 12000-11000 years ago, is known as the Pre-agricultural Revolution.
By defining themselves as a civilization, these early societies developed shared institutions and practices. They learned to store food, make pottery, and even produce a form of writing that allowed them to record their ideas for future use.
These innovations allowed them to free large numbers of people from agricultural work so that they could devote themselves to jobs like priests, merchants, and government officials. These societal changes have been the driving force behind all civilizations since, and are the reason why it is difficult to define what makes a civilization different from other forms of human society.
For decades, historians have struggled with how to best explain this transformation of human groups into cities and civilizations. Many have viewed this development as evidence of humanity’s progress from a state of “noble savagery” to a world of progress and prosperity. Others have rejected the idea of a linear progression, instead insisting that there are many different paths to civilization.
Despite these debates, most big historians now agree that civilization is a useful concept for studying the history of human society. Most also agree that there are certain basic characteristics that must be present for a society to be considered a civilization, including a town or city with the capacity for massive public buildings, writing, and a high degree of social specialization.
In addition to these essential features, a civilization must have access to food from an area larger than the village or family farm. This food surplus allows the development of towns and cities, which allow large numbers of people to become free from farming. Cities are also required for the emergence of other cultural features that historians often associate with civilization, such as religion, writing, and art.
This definition of a civilization has helped scholars to understand how and when the first cities appeared, and how these cities evolved into the advanced cultures that historians call civilizations. But it is important to remember that any list of a civilization’s essential characteristics contains a value judgment and reflects the viewpoint of its creator. As a result, it is important to consider all possible views of the past when creating lists of the features that characterize civilization.