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Civilization and its characteristics.

Civilization and its characteristics.

How does a civilization become a civilization or empire? What are the characteristics of a civilization ? Are there any civilizations or cultures who acted in a ‘nice, kind, tolerant, open’ manner? What happens to anyone who is residing on the land before the other civilization takes over? 

Civilizations increase through buy and sell, conflict, and exploration. Usually, all three elements must be present for a civilization to grow and remain stable for a long period of time. The physical and human geography of Southeast Asia allowed these attributes to develop in the Khmer civilization, for example. The Khmer flourished in parts of what are now Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Myanmar between 800 and 1400. Trade The Khmer maintained vibrant trading relationships throughout East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and even Europe and Africa through the Silk Road, a collection of both overland and maritime trade routes. The Silk Road linked the spice and silk markets of Asia with the merchants of Europe. Southeast Asia’s extensive network of waterways facilitated trade, with the Khmer capital of Angkor being built on the shores of Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, Tonle Sap. The outflowing Tonle Sap River is a tributary of the mighty Mekong River, which connects Southeast Asia with the Tibetan Plateau in the north and the South China Sea in the south. In addition to material goods, the Khmer civilization facilitated a powerful trade in ideas. In particular, the Khmer were instrumental in spreading the influence of Buddhist and Hindu cultures from the Indian subcontinent to Southeast and East Asia. Conflict The primary conflicts of the Khmer civilization were waged with neighboring communities—the Cham, the Vietnamese, and the Thai. The Cham were a collection of kingdoms in what is today central and southern Vietnam, while the ancient Vietnamese influence extended through what is today northern Vietnam. Thai kingdoms such as Sukothai and Ayutthaya flourished in what are now Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia. The Khmer civilization was founded on the consistent resistance of political pressure from the Cham and Vietnamese, but it ultimately could not withstand pressure from Thai civilizations. Thousands of Thai peoples migrated from the north (what is now the Yunnan region of China), establishing small kingdoms in the southwest of the Khmer Empire. Eventually, these kingdoms became strong enough to annex Khmer territory, leading to Ayutthaya’s conquest of the Khmer capital of Angkor in 1431. Exploration and Innovation The Khmer civilization relied heavily on rice farming, and developed a complex irrigation system to take advantage of the rivers and wetlands that dotted their territory. An efficient series of irrigation canals and reservoirs, called barays, allowed fewer farmers to produce more rice. This, in turn, allowed more people to pursue non-agricultural lifestyles and migrate to great urban areas, such as Angkor. Angkor, the capital of the ancient Khmer civilization, is home to one of the largest most distinctive religious monuments in the world, Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat was originally constructed as a series of shrines to the Hindu god Vishnu in the early 12th century, although it became a Buddhist temple complex less than a hundred years later. Angkor Wat and its sister complex, Angkor Thom, are beautiful examples of classic Khmer architecture. The towering, stepped pyramid towers of Angkor Wat are called “temple mountains.” The towers are surrounded by open gallery walkways, and the entire structure is enclosed by a wall and square moat. The thousands of square meters of wall space at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom are decorated by thousands of bas-reliefs and sculptures depicting Hindu stories and characters. The Khmer monument at Angkor Wat helps define the modern nation of Cambodia today. It is the nation’s primary tourist attraction, a World Heritage Site, and even appears on the Cambodian flag. Fall of Civilizations Many civilizations have flourished and then failed or fallen apart. There are many reasons for this, but many historians point to three patterns in the fall of civilizations: internal change, external pressure, and environmental collapse. The fall of civilizations is never the result of a single event or pattern. Sometimes, civilizations seem to “disappear” entirely. Internal Change Population dynamics are the most pervasive forces of internal change to a civilization. A sudden population shift or a shift in demographics may force a civilization’s infrastructure to break down. Populations may grow, due to migration or a period of unusual health. Populations may shrink, due to disease, extreme weather, or other environmental factors. Finally, populations may redefine themselves. As civilizations grow, cities may grow larger and become more culturally distinct from rural, agricultural areas. Large empires may extend across such large regions that languages, cultures, and customs may dilute the identity of the empire’s residents. Internal changes contributed to the collapse of the Maya civilization, which had thrived in Mesoamerica for more than a thousand years. The “Classic Maya” collapse happened relatively quickly in the 800s. Diseases such as dysentery and lethal hemorrhagic fevers killed and disabled thousands of Mayans. Millions more were forced to relocate from cities to more rural areas. Such huge population shifts reduced the ability of the Maya to communicate, administrate, and unite against outside forces and natural disasters (such as drought). External Pressure The clearest example of external pressure on a civilization is foreign invasion or sustained warfare. Protecting a civilization’s borders can be extremely expensive and demand a strong military at the expense of developing or maintaining other aspects of a civilization. External pressure can lead to the relatively abrupt end of a civilization (and, often, the adoption of another). The fall of the Aztec Empire with the arrival of European conquistadores is such an example. External pressures can also lead to the gradual diminishing of a civilization. The “fall” of what we often think of as Ancient Egypt is a good example of how external pressures can redefine a civilization over hundreds of years. Egypt had faced longstanding, intermittent conflict on its borders, with competing civilizations such as the Nubians (to the south), the Assyrians (in the Middle East), and the Libyans (to the west). Later, Egypt encountered the civilizations of Ancient Greece and Rome, and eventually became part of the Roman Empire. Ancient Egypt also faced external pressures not directly associated with armed conflict. The powerful forces of Christianity and Islam influenced the eradication of both hieroglyphics, the writing system of Ancient Egypt, and its polytheistic religion. Environmental Collapse Some anthropologists think that both natural disasters and misuse of the environment contributed to the decline of many civilizations. Natural hazards such as drought, floods, and tsunamis, become natural disasters as they impact civilizations. Drought contributed to the fall of civilizations such as the Maya and the Indus Valley or Harappan civilization. The Indus Valley Civilization was a Bronze Age civilization in what is now Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. The Indus Valley Civilization depended on seasonal monsoon rains to supply water for drinking, hygiene, and irrigation. Climate change made monsoons much more unpredictable and seasonal flooding less reliable. Harappans suffered from water-borne diseases and were unable to effectively irrigate their crops. The collapse of Minoan civilization, a major influence on Ancient Greece, is often associated with a catastrophic eruption of the Thera volcano on the island of what is now Santorini. The eruption caused a massive tsunami that reduced the population, trading capabilities, and influence of the Minoans. Human activity can also strain the environment to the point of a civilization’s collapse. One of several factors contributing to the collapse of the Viking outpost in Greenland, for instance, was the failure of European settlers to adapt to Greenland’s climate and soil. Farming methods that were successful in the rich, loamy soils of Northern Europe were ill-suited to Greenland’s colder, thinner soil and shorter growing seasons. The land could not support the crops necessary to sustain Viking livestock, including goats, cattle, and sheep. In addition, the land itself was harvested for peat, the outpost’s primary construction material. The Vikings in Greenland also faced internal pressures, such as a weak trading system with Europe, and external pressures, such as a hostile relationship with their Inuit neighbors. ‘Lost Civilizations’ History and myth are rich with “lost civilizations,” entire ways of life that seemed to flourish and then disappear from the historical record. The disappearance of the Ancestral Puebloan civilization is one such mystery. Ancestral Puebloan civilization thrived in what is now the Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Ancestral Puebloan civilization developed around 1200 BCE and thrived for more than a thousand years. Ancestral Puebloan civilization was marked by monumental architecture in the form of apartment-like cliff dwellings and large urban areas known as pueblos. Culturally diverse Ancestral Puebloans were connected by a complex road system, a standard style of religious worship, and a unique art style evidenced by pottery and petroglyphs. Ancestral Puebloans seem to have abandoned their urban areas around 1300 CE. The disappearance of this civilization remains a mystery, although most scientists say Ancestral Puebloans engaged in warfare with their Navajo neighbors, internal groups competed for land and resources, and sustained droughts reduced Ancestral Puebloan ability to irrigate crops in the arid Southwest. The Pueblo people never disappeared, of course: Diverse groups developed their own, competing civilizations after the Ancestral Puebloans migrated or fell apart. These groups include the Zuni and Hopi civilizations.