Wikijunior:Ancient Civilizations/What is a Civilization?

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A civilization is a singular culture shared by a significant large group of people who live and work co-operatively, a society. The word civilization comes from the Latin civilis, meaning civil, related to the Latin civis, meaning citizen, and civitas, meaning city or city-state, and that also somehow defines the size of the society. City-states are the precursors of nations. A civilizational culture implies the passing on of knowledge across several generations, a lingering cultural footprint and fair dissemination. Minor cultures often vanish without leaving relevant historic evidence and fail to be recognized as proper civilizations.

Civilization are defined by their individual culture, even if derivative. All of a civilization usually shares common characteristics, but some emerge from conquest or the decline of preceding ones, making them more closely related. There is also a relation to time, geography and terrain, how much contact one civilization has with another limits their cultural influence on each-other.

Civilizations evolved from the concept of city state, the aggregation of several city states into specific regions of the world that shared a stable food supply and a form of government as to creates distinct social structures that implement a range of common techniques for stabilizing their way of life. Civilization seems only to be possible with advanced practice of agriculture (for example crop rotation, understanding of seasons, basic irrigation), complex trade is also present in all civilizations (normally the use of some form of basic currency, like salt, shells or metal that permits trade at a distance and long term contracts, and with this the ability to plan ahead for food and energy), a code of rules (a form of legal system, the social enforced stratification and the recognition of property and land rights is also present) this allows them to settle and live in towns and cities in some organized way. A majority shared religious system is also characteristic.

Civilizations are usually also characterized by an intricate social hierarchy, commonly structured according to specific skills such as farming, trading, or defending their settlements and ultimately the ruler and ruled. Older civilizations were usually headed by a powerful leader, a king, queen, emperor, or empress at the top, supported by tributes (taxes) and allegiance (obedience due to honor, family ties, duty and self interest) by a noble or ruling class who maintained and controlled a military forces and the land. These nobles often could, in the name of the leader, discipline the ordinary people on the land administered by they: artisans who made things, peasants who worked their land, merchants who traded things, and so on.

Source: Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Simon & Schuster, 1996. Some minor or cleft civilizations have been added by the author

Civilizations are not only found in the past. Today we can say that we are heading toward a global civilization. That means we are starting to share the same culture — that includes the acceptance of differences — all over the world. If we look into the last century, we can clearly identify some distinctions.2