River valley civilization

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A river valley civilization or river culture is an agricultural nation or civilization situated beside and drawing sustenance from a river. A "civilization" means a society with large permanent settlements featuring urban development, social satisfaction, specialization of labor, centralized organization, and written or other formal means of communication. A river gives the inhabitants a reliable source of water for drinking and agriculture. Additional benefits include fishing, fertile soil due to annual flooding, and ease of transportation. The first great civilizations, such as those in Mesopotamia and Egypt, all grew up in river valleys.

History of the above civilizations[edit]

Civilization first began in 3500 BC[citation needed], along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the Middle East; the name given to that civilization, Mesopotamia, means "land between the rivers". The Nile valley in Egypt had been home to agricultural settlements as early as 5500 BC, but the growth of Egypt as civilization began around 3100 BC[citation needed]. A third civilization grew up along the Indus River around 2600 BC, in parts of what is now India and Pakistan. The fourth great river civilization emerged around 1700 BC along the Yellow River in China.[1][2]

Civilizations tended to grow up in river valleys for a number of reasons. The most obvious is access to a usually reliable source of water for agriculture and other needs. Plentiful water and the enrichment of the soil due to annual floods made it possible to grow excess crops beyond what was needed to sustain an agricultural village. This allowed for some members of the community to engage in non-agricultural activities such as the construction of buildings and cities (the root of the word "civilization"), metalworking, trade, and social organization.[3][4] Boats on the river provided an easy and efficient way to transport people and goods, allowing for the development of trade and facilitating central control of outlying areas.[5]

Early civilizations[edit]

Fertile Crescent[edit]


Mesopotamia was the earliest river valley civilization, starting to form around 3500 BC. The civilization was created after regular trading started relationships between multiple cities and states around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Mesopotamian cities became self-run civil governments. One of the cities within this civilization, Ur, was the first literate society in history. Eventually, they all joined together to irrigate the two rivers[clarification needed] in order to make their dry land fertile for agricultural growth. The increase in successful farming in this civilization allowed population growth throughout the cities and states within Mesopotamia.[6]


Egypt also created irrigation systems from its local river, the Nile River, more complex than previous systems. The Egyptians would rotate legumes with cereal which would stop salt buildup from the freshwater[clarification needed] and enhance the fertility of their fields. The Nile River also allowed easier travel, eventually resulting in the creation of two kingdoms in the north and south areas of the river until both were unified into one society by 3000 BC.[7]

Indus valley[edit]

Much of the history of the Indus valley civilization is unknown. Discovered in the 1920s, Harappan society remains a mystery because the Harappan system of writing has not yet been deciphered. It was larger than either Egypt or Mesopotamia. Historians have found no evidence of violence or a ruling class; there are no distinctive burial sites and there is not a lot of evidence to suggest a formal military. However, historians believe that the lack of knowledge about the ruling class and the military is mainly due to the inability to read Harappan writing.[8]

Yellow River[edit]

The Yellow River (Huang Ho) area became settled. Many tribes settled along the river, ninth longest in the world, which was distinguished by its heavy load of yellow silt and its periodic devastating floods. A major impetus for the tribes to unite into a single kingdom by around 1500 BCE was the desire to find a solution to the frequent deadly floods. The Yellow River is often called "The Cradle of Chinese Civilization".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McCannon, John (2008). Barron's AP World History. Barron's Educational Series Inc. pp. 57–60. ISBN 978-0-7641-3822-5.
  2. ^ "The River Valley Civilization Guide". rivervalleycivilizations.com. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  3. ^ Rivers and Civilization: What's the Link?. Mindsparks. 2007. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-57596-251-1.
  4. ^ Mountjoy, Shane (2005). Rivers in World History: The Indus River. Chelsea House Publishers. p. 15.
  5. ^ "Indus River Valley Civilization". The River Valley Civilization Guide. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  6. ^ Adrian Cole and Stephen Ortega, The Thinking Past (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 83, 95-101.
  7. ^ Adrian Cole and Stephen Ortega, The Thinking Past (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 83, 95-101.
  8. ^ Adrian Cole and Stephen Ortega, The Thinking Past (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 106-108.

Further reading[edit]

  • Clayton, Peter A. & Dent, John (1973). The Ancient River Civilizations: Western Man & the Modern World. Elsevier. ISBN 9780080172095