Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

2.16: Summary

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    Between about 4000 and 3000 BCE, civilizations emerged in the fertile river valleys of Mesopotamia and Northeast Africa. These civilizations had common elements, including food surpluses, higher population densities, social stratification, systems of taxation, labor specialization, regular trade, and written scripts.

    In areas adjacent to the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, Mesopotamians built city-states by 3500 BCE. While Sumerian traditions influenced developments throughout the region, other cities emerged and refined their own institutions and beliefs. Archaeological finds and records in the cuneiform script show the significance of the temple complex and religious leaders throughout Mesopotamia. Kingship, with hereditary rulers who claimed control over multiple city-states and special relationships with the gods, was just one significant political innovation in the region. History credits Sargon of Akkad with founding the first empire in Mesopotamia. Thereafter, a succession of empires rose and fell, demonstrating the dynamic nature of Mesopotamian societies.

    According to Hebrew Tradition, Abraham led his followers from the city of Ur in Mesopotamia and they eventually settled in the Levant. Several generations later, according to Hebrew Tradition, the Israelites went to Egypt where they suffered persecution and enslavement, until Moses liberated them. Upon their return to Canaan, the Israelites built kingdoms just prior to 1000 BCE. Their kingdoms formed complex administrations and were unified by powerful kings, such as the wellknown King Solomon. Historians also recognize countless other contributions made by the Israelites, especially as regards monotheistic religious traditions and western understandings of justice.

    The unification of Egypt in approximately 3100 BCE evidenced the emergence of one civilization in Northeast Africa. In Nubia to the south of Egypt, Africans built another civilization with the kingdoms of Kerma and Kush. The people in each of these civilizations made good use of the agriculturally productive floodplains of the Nile River. Egypt and the kingdoms in Nubia influenced one another; they traded and intermittently claimed control over each other’s territory. While we may be more familiar with the pharaohs, pyramids, and religious beliefs of ancient Egypt, Nubians made their own contributions, like the Merotic script and unique architectural styles, to World History.

    Works Consulted and Further Reading


    • Brown, Cynthia Stokes. “What is a Civilization, Anyway?” World History Connected (October 2009) http://
    • Bellows, Sierra. “The Trouble with Civilization,” UVA Magazine (Fall 2010) articles/the_trouble_with_civilization/


    • Belibtreu, Erika. “Grisly Assyrian Record of Torture and Death.” Teaching/documents/CP6.0AssyrianTorture.pdf
    • History Department, University College London. “Assyrian Empire Builders.” sargon/
    • International World History Project. “The Akkadians.”
    • Khan Academy. “Ziggurat of Ur.” ancient-near-east1/sumerian/a/ziggurat-of-ur
    • Kilmer, Anne. “The Musical Instruments from Ur and Ancient Mesopotamian Music.” Expedition. The Penn Museum. 40, 2 (1998): 12-18. PDFs/40-2/The%20Musical1.pdf
    • Kramer, Samuel. The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1963.
    • Leick, Gwendolyn. Mesopotamia: The Invention of the City. London: Penguin Books, 2004.
    • Mitchell, William. “The Hydraulic Hypothesis: A Reappraisal.” Current Anthropology. Vol. 15. No. 5. (Dec. 1973): 532-534.
    • Postgate, J.N. Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History. London: Routledge, 1994.
    • Spar, Ira. “Gilgamesh.” In Heinbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. (April 2009).
    • University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. “Iraq’s Ancient Past: Rediscovering Ur’s Royal Cemetery.”

    The Israelites and Ancient Israel

    • Baden, Joel. The Historical Hero: the Real Life of an Invented Hero. New York: Harper One, 2014.
    • Dever, William. The Lives of Ordinary People in Ancient Israel: Where Archaeology and the Bible Intersect. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 2012.
    • Guisepi, Robert (ed). “Civilization of the Hebrews: Along the Banks of the Rivers.” World History International.
    • Hawkins, Ralph. How Israel Became a People. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2013.
    • Milstein, Mati. “King Solomon’s Wall Found – Proof a Bible Tale?” National Geographic (Feb. 2010): http://
    • Shanks, Hershel (ed). Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple. 3e. Washington, D.C.: Biblical Archaeology Society, 2010.

    Ancient Egypt

    • Australian Museum. “The Underworld and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt.” (Australian Museum, 2015)
    • David, Rosalie. The Pyramid Builders of Ancient Egypt: A Modern Investigation of Pharaoh’s Workforce. New York: Routledge, 1997.
    • Dollinger, Andre. “Slavery in Ancient Egypt.” (February 2011) timelines/topics/slavery.htm
    • Hierakonoplis Expedition, Hierakpopolis-online.
    • Johnson, Janet. “Women’s Legal Rights in Ancient Egypt.” Fathom Archive, Digital Collections. University of Chicago Library: 2002.
    • McDowell, A.G. Village Life in Ancient Egypt: Laundry Lists and Love Songs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
    • Pinch, Geraldine. Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
    • Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
    • Shillington, Kevin. History of Africa. 2nd e. Oxford: Macmillan Education, 2005.
    • Smith, Jeffrey. “The Narmer Palette,” Yale 2013 PIER Summer Institutes, pier/classroom-resources/The%20Narmer%20Palette%20-%20by%20Jeff%20Smith%20.pdf
    • Teeter, Emily. Religion and Ritual in Ancient Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
    • Tyldesley, Joyce. Daughters of Isis: Women in Ancient Egypt. New York: Penguin History, 1995.

    Ancient Nubia

    • Afolayan, Funso. “Civilizations of the Upper Nile and North Africa.” In Africa, Volume 1: African History Before 1885. Toyin Falola (ed.) (73-108) Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic Press, 2000.
    • British Museum. “The Wealth of Africa: The Kingdom of Kush.” Student Worksheets.
    • Louis, Chaix; Dubosson, Jerome; and Matthieu Honegger. “Bucrania from the Eastern Cemetery at Kerma (Sudan) and the Practice of Cattle Horn Deformation.” Studies in African Archaeology, 11. Poznan Archeological Museum, 2012.
    • Collins, Robert and James Burns. A History of Sub-Saharan Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
    • Ehret, Christopher. The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 2002.
    • Garlake, Peter. Early Art and Architecture of Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
    • Trigger, Bruce. “Kerma: The Rise of an African Civilization.” International Journal of African Historical Studies. Vol. 9, no. 1 (1976): 1-21.

    Links to Primary Sources

    2.16: Summary is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Charlotte Miller.

    • Was this article helpful?