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Civilization

The term civilization (or civilisation) - from the Latin civis meaning 'city'/'state' - has been used in various ways at different times.

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A stage of technical or political development

Sometimes examples are given of the earliest civilisations, such as China, ancient Egypt, Indus Valley Civilisation and Sumer. The features of these groups that are seen as distinguising them from earlier settlements such as neolithic Jericho and Catalhuyuk[?]:

  • urban settlements where people followed specialised occupations,
  • some kind or organisation of an area larger than a single settlement.
  • extensive trade
  • the use of writing, developed to keep track of it all.

A standard of behavior

Encompassing concepts such as chivalry, barbarian. The concept of civilisation has at time formed part of the justification by which some groups have exerted control over others, e.g., during European colonization of the Americas or British India. Hence, Mahatma Gandhi's famous response to the question "What do you think of Western civilisation?" - his reply: "I think it would be a good idea."

A cultural phenomenon

One school of thought says that civilisation is a cultural identity which represents the broadest level of identification in which an invididual intensely identifies, broader than family, tribe, hometown, nation, or region. Civilizations are usually tied to religion or some other belief system.

The concept of civilization is central to the historical theories of Arnold J. Toynbee who described history as the process of the rise and decline of civilizations, of which he identified 26. It is also central to the political beliefs of Samuel P. Huntington who argues that the defining characteristic of the 21st century will be the interaction and conflict between civilizations.

The concept of empire overlaps with that of "civilisation", so the empirical description of the 500-year old Western empire[?] by Noam Chomsky and the more theoretical analysis by Negri[?] and Hardt[?] constitute other contemporary analyses of civilisations.

The 25 main civilizations of Human History

Civilization Main Empire
Sumerian Sumerian Empire[?]
Egyptian Middle Empire[?]
Indian -
Minoan Minoan Empire[?]
Hittite Hittite Empire[?]
Chinese Qin Empire
Austronesian -
Babylonic[?] Babylonic Empire[?]
Inuit -
Greek and Roman Roman Empire
Central American[?] Mayan Empire
Syrian[?] -
Spartan[?] Spartan Empire[?]
Mongol Mongol Empire
Khmer -
Islam Arabian Empire
Japanese Tokugawa Shogunate
Western British Empire, French Empire and Spanish Empire[?]
Orthodox Christian[?] Byzantine Empire
Hindu Mugal Raj[?]
Russian Russian Empire
Zimbabwe Trading Entrepot[?]
Ottoman Ottoman Empire
Andean[?] Inca Empire[?]
Communist Soviet Union

Source (with some changes): Guinness Book of Historical Records


Civilization is also the name of a line of computer games, see: Civilization computer game.


Civilisation: A Personal View by Lord Kenneth Clark was a popular TV series outlining the history of Western society produced by the BBC and aired in 1969. Lord Kenneth Clark wrote and presented the series and also wrote the book Civilisation: A Personal View published in 1970.



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