A civilization is a large group of people who live in cities and depend on agriculture for food. They have complex institutions, like government and religion, and they produce art, architecture, and technology. They also make war to defend themselves and advance their interests. This kind of human society is often compared with the non-civilized world, which is characterized by savage and barbaric behavior.
Despite the fact that civilization can be defined in many different ways, anthropologists have settled on some criteria for what constitutes a civilized society. For one thing, they look for urban settlements that are not nomadic and that have a surplus of food. They also want to see a division of labor, a form of work where people specialize in different jobs and purchase food with their earnings. This leads to the development of writing and trade, which are considered key aspects of civilization.
Early civilizations grew out of bands of hunter-gatherers who formed semi-permanent communities and then moved to an agrarian lifestyle. These societies grew larger and began to have more people living together, which meant that a system of ruling had to develop. Leaders, called rulers or governments, emerged to enforce rules and create laws that kept people in line. Religious beliefs were unified as well, with some rulers claiming to be the divine kings or representatives of their gods.
It is important to remember that, at the time when the word civilization first entered the English language in the mid-18th century, it was used as a synonym for “civilized.” Anthropologists and other scholars of the day often saw the non-civilized societies around them as morally regressive and in need of cultural edification. They were sometimes referred to as savage or barbaric, and these terms are now considered derogatory.
Throughout history, civilizations have varied widely in size and complexity. Some are small, based on family and clan relationships. Others are vast, encompassing an entire region or continent. The earliest civilizations, like the Olmec and Maya of Mesoamerica, appear to have developed close to water sources because of the need for water to sustain life. The earliest civilizations also seem to have centered on food, and the idea of trade was central to their survival.
Regardless of their differences, all modern civilizations have in common the need for government administration. In the case of the United States, this is a federal government consisting of the executive branch (headed by a president and his or her cabinet) and the legislative branch, made up of members of Congress and their staffs. This structure provides a framework for lawmaking, which is an essential component of any democracy. Civilizations also rely on the transport of goods and services, which requires an extensive infrastructure of roads, bridges, buildings, and canals. This is another essential component of civilization, and it has been a driving force behind the growth of cities.