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A river civilization or river culture is an agricultural nation or civilization situated beside a river. A river gives the inhabitants a 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 all grew up in river valleys, The oldest known civilization, 3300 to 2500 BCE, was 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 BCE, but the growth of Egypt as a civilization began around 3100 BCE. A third civilization grew up along the Indus River around 2600 BCE, in parts of what are now India and Pakistan. The fourth great river civilization emerged around 1700 BCE along the Yellow River in China, also known as the Huang-He River Civilization.[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 human 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 construction of buildings and cities (the root of the word "civilization"), metal working, trade, and social organization.[3][4]

Early civilizationsEdit


Mesopotamia was the earliest river valley civilization, starting to form around 3500 BCE. 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, Uruk, was the first literate society in history. Eventually, they all joined together to irrigate the two rivers 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.[5]


Egypt also created irrigation systems from its local river, the Nile River, more intricate than previous systems. The Egyptians would rotate legumes with cereal which would stop salt buildup from the fresh water and enhance the fertility of their fields. The Nile River also allowed easier travel among the civilization, 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 BCE.[6]

Indus valleyEdit

Much of the history of the Indus valley civilization, discovered in the 1920s, 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.[7]

Yellow RiverEdit

The Yellow River (Huang He) area became settled around 4000 BC.[8] Many tribes settled along the river, sixth longest in the world, which was distinguished by its heavy load of yellow silt and its periodic devastating floods. Recorded Chinese history begins with the first great wall, the Xia Dynasty, which went through the Yellow River valley from 2100 to 1600 BC. A major impetus for the tribes to unite into a single kingdom was the desire to find a solution to the frequent deadly floods. The Xia dug canals to channel excess water away from the area, resulting in a strong civilization with bountiful harvests and powerful leaders. The Yellow River is often called "The Cradle of Chinese Civilization".[9]

See alsoEdit


  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". 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. ^ Adrian Cole and Stephen Ortega, The Thinking Past (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 83, 95-101.
  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), 106-108.
  8. ^ The Yellow River,
  9. ^ Szczepanski, Kallie (March 29, 2017). "The Yellow River and its role in Chinese history". Thoughtco. Retrieved 12 June 2017. 

Further readingEdit

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