River valley civilization is an agricultural civilization located beside and drawing aid from a river. A “civilization” means a society with large permanent settlements emphasizing urban development, social stratification, specialization of labor, centralized organization, and written or other formal means of communication.
The river provides the inhabitants a good source of water for drinking and agriculture. It also provides fishing, fertile soil due to annual flooding, and ease of transportation.
The first great civilizations, such as those in Mesopotamia, Harappa, and Ancient Egypt, all grew up in river valleys. Mesopotamia civilization flourished near Tigris River and civilization of Egypt flourished near river Nile.
The Uruk period of Mesopotamia dates from about 4000 to 3100 BCE and gives the earliest signs of the presence of states in the Near East. Positioned along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the Middle East, the name was given to that civilization, Mesopotamia means “between rivers”.
The Nile valley in Egypt had been home to agricultural settlements as early as 5500 BCE, but the growth of Ancient Egypt as civilization began around 3100 BCE.
A third civilization grew up along the Indus River around 3300 BCE in parts of what is now India and Pakistan. The fourth great river civilization emerged around 1700 BCE along the Yellow River in China.
There are several reasons why civilizations grow up in river valleys. The most prominent is way to a usually good source of water for agriculture and other needs.
Plentiful water and the improvement 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. Boats provided an easy and efficient way to transport people and goods, allowing the development of trade and promoting central control of remote areas.
Mesopotamia was one of the earliest river valley civilizations. It started from around 4000 BCE. The civilization was established after regular trading began relations between multiple cities and states around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.
Mesopotamian cities grew self-run civil governments. One of the cities within this civilization, Ur, was the first literate society in history. Finally, they built irrigation systems to utilize the two rivers, converting their dry land into an agriculturally productive area, allowing population growth throughout the cities and states within Mesopotamia.
Ancient Egypt also built irrigation systems from its local river, the Nile River, which more complex than previous systems. The Egyptians would rotate legumes with cereal which would stop salt buildup from the freshwater and improve the fertility of their fields.
The Nile River allowed easier travel, ultimately 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 BCE.
Discovered in the 1920s, Harappan society remains a mystery because the Harappan system of writing has not yet been translated. It was larger than either Egypt or Mesopotamia.
Historians have found no evidence of violence or a ruling class. There are no unique burial sites and there is not a lot of evidence to submit a formal military. However, archaeologists believe that the lack of knowledge about the ruling class and the military is largely due to the inability to read Harappan writing.
The Yellow River became settled in 9500 BCE. Many tribes resided along the river, the sixth-longest in the world, distinguished by its heavy load of yellow silt and its periodic destructive floods.
A major reason for the tribes to unite into a single kingdom by around 1700 BCE (Erlitou culture, a Yellow River civilization) was the desire to find a solution to the frequent deadly floods. The Yellow River is often called “The Cradle of Chinese Civilization“.