Ancient Civilizations

Figure 1.--This recreation of a boy in ancient Greece is from a well researched children's book titled Ancient Greece--Come and Discover my World. The book features the lifestyles and activities of an ancient Greek community. It was published by Two-Cam Publishing Ltd, London, 1998. A wonderful book with delightful photographs and illustrations of boys and girls depicting the wear of the day. Here we see Cleon who is nine years old. He is a citizen of Athens and when he grows up, will have to serve in the army. But for now he goes to school, helps his father and play sports. Here we see him with his tortoise-shell lyre. At school he is taught to recite poetry and play the lyre at the same time.

The dawn of civilization has come to be labeled the Neolithic Revolution. Stone-age hunter-gathering nomads began to settle down, at first in river valleys. They began to develop agriculture and domesticate animals. These developments resulted in stunning advances in technology, especially in metalurgy and writing which we now call civilization. Although the ancient world is not the focus of HBC, wevhave developed some information the nexus of fashion, clothing, and children in history of ancient civilizations. It is only basic information as HBC has not yet been able to devote much attention to this topic. We have found some images of recreations or moderrn drawings. We are very interested un finding actual contemprary images and other art showing boys clothing. Unfortunately such images are relatively rare.

The Neolithic Agricultural Revolution

The dawn of civilization has come to be labeled the Neolithic Revolution. Stone-age nomads began to settle down in river valleys. They began developed agriculture and domesticate animals. With these developments came stunning advances in technology, especially in metalurgy and writing. The Neolithic Revolution occurred first in river valleys because conditions there were the most condusive for agriculture. The Neolithic Revolution first occurred along the Tigris-Euphrates in Mesopotamia. There civilization evolved over millenia. Civilization occurred later along the Nile and Indus, but in a much shorter time frame. Archeolgists believe that this was becuse both these peoples could draw on the technology develoed in the Tigris-Euphrates Rivers. The Indus Valley civilization is the least understood of the four original civilization centers. Civilization in China, unlike the other three river valley civilizations appears to have developed in isolation. Some archeologists believe that there were other smaller river valley civilizations which because of their smaller size were overwealmed.

The Great River Valley Civilizations

We have collected some information on the history and clothing technology of several important early civilaztion. The first major civilizations arose along fertile river vallies which supported the first major agriculture systems. Conditions in river vallies profuced extrodinary yields even with primative technology. Agriculture would take longer to develop in areas where agriculture was dependant on rainfall. Thus the first true civilizations appeared in river valleys. Actual information on boys' clothing is extremely limited, but we will add what ever information becomes available. For the first time in history we know a great deal about these people because they invented writing and left a fascinating written record of their civilitaions. Writing was developed here because records were needed to account for the wealth created by productive agriculture. The first true civilization was Mesopotamia which appears to have influenced both Egypt and abchient India. China appears to have developed independently of the other three great river valley civilizations.

Other Centers of Civilization

The Great River Valleys is where civilization first appeared. There are, however, some other geographic hot spots that were particularly important in the development of civilization. It is obvious why river valleys wee so ummportan, they offered highly productive agriculture with basic technology. Why some other areas ere so important is less clear, but because they were located at gepgraphically imposed crosrods is one important factor. One of the most important is Anatolia. This is the penisula of modern Asian Turkey. Here about 7,000 BC, neolitic humters began the trasition to pastoralists and hunters. Outside of the great river vlleys, this is one of the firt areas where this transition began. Few comparatively small areas have since sen so muchhistory are fostered so many advanced civilizations. Another small area is the Middle East, the Levnt and Arabia which gave rise to three of the world's great religions (Judaism, Chritiaity and Islam). The other two religions rose in India (Hinduism and Budhism). Two othher small areas are Meso-America and the coast of northern Peru which were the craddle of Native American civilzations.

Civilized and Barabrian Balance of Power

When admiring the startling achievements of the agricultgural-based great river valley civilizations, one can't help but wondering how rude, numerically inferior babarians could have threatened these great civilizations. Barbrian is probably not a good term to use, some of these socities were sophisticated. Economically they relied on nomadic hearding, which limited their cultural achievements, but not theif ability to make war. A range of factors suggest that these civilzations should have been militarily dominant. Large populations, superior organizations, wealth, advanzed thechnology, and other factors would seem to havecaquitted the great civilizations the capability to withsand barbarian onsloughts. The problem was that the river valley civilizations were no homogenious polities. The ruling class were often a narrow strata of society if not an alien group which often oppresively treated the peasant farmers who were the primary source of wealth creation. Thus rulers were often afraid to arm the peasantry and thus take advantage of their numerical superority. The ballance of power was mintained during the Bronze Age because of the high cost of bronze weapons. The arristocratic warrior class of the civilized societies were roughly equivalent in strength to the barbarian armies. The technology of bronze metelurgy was not beyond the ability of avanced barbarian societies which often had greater access to metal ores than the river valley civilizations. Thus the Hittites, Hurrians, Kassites, and others pressed in on Babylon and Egypt with varying success over time, but none were sufficentlt strong to completely overcome the other. One particularly important question is the role of one particular barbarian group--the Steppe tribes set between the West and China.

Subsequent Ancient Civilizations

The technologies developed by the great early civiizations enabled other peoples to develop high levels of civilization outside the great river valleys. Expanding technology and the development of tools like the iron or iron-tipped plow meant that high yields could be achieved even without irrigation. And these yields could support a high level of civilization. These civilizations drawing on the achievements of the early centers of civilization, gradually eclipsed the great river valley civilizations. These subsequent civilizations, especially in the West, were the formerly barbarian more war-like people on the fringe of the river valley civilizations which became civilized. Other were the nomadic raiders from central Asia that never developed settled agriculture and a sophiticated civilization, but did develop a major military capability. Of some importance is the fact that the more war-like people on the fringe of civilization tended to have more egaltarian traditions than the great river valley civilizations which developed systems based on the often despotic rule of divine-right kingship. The Western tradition evolved from the more marshall and eqaltarian traditions of Greece and Rome and through Christianity that of the Hebrews. Each of these traditions included a recognition, no matter how imperfectly persued, of the innate value of individuals, a spirit often lacking in the eastern tradition flowing from the great river valley civiizations.

Ancient Battles

Many great battles were fought in the ancient world. In most cases the information comes from the victors, thus our information is often biased. Ancient accounts site huge numbers in terms of combatants. These may have been used primarily for literary affect. While these battles occurred in some cases over two millennia ago, they had a powerful impact on shaping our modern world. Quite a bit is know about these battles as a result of a variety of sources. The first battle we know of recorded in history is Megiddo (1479 BC), although details of sparce. The first battle for which relatively detailed informtion exists is Qadesh (1274). Quite a bit of information is available on the battles of the Greek and Roman era. We assume that information on Chinese battles is available, but here we are not yet familiar with the literature.


We have begun to develop pages on children and aspects of childood in the different ancient civilizations we have addressed.


Even within recorded history, few children attended schools of any kind. Information on ancient times is sketchy. With the agrcicultural revolution wtitibg developed as systems were needed to manage the expanding harvests and other production. Ans kills were needed to build and maintain canals. As a result, children had to be taught to read and wtite, basic numeracy, and other skills. This process began first in Mesopotamia, but occurred in the other great river valley civilizations--although information is limited, especially for the Indus Valley culture. At first professional scribes were needed as the first writing systems were complicated. Gradually simplier systems were develooped and larger numbers children could learn to read and writes. Even so, a relatively narrow part of societty were educated. The basic system in early civilizations was for a teacher to rent or otherwise obtain a room or set up in a park or square. This would be a school. This was normally done by individual teachers so they wwre not schools in the sence that a group of teachers taught children in age grouped classrooms. Parents who could afford it, sent their children there and paid a monthly fee. Most parents coild not afford to do so and thus the great mass of children began work at an early age rather than attend school. The Greeks developed a more organized system of education (about 500 BC). As far as we know, this was the world's first systematic approach to education. At least it is the first one that historians have so far found. This may be because we know so muvh more about Greece than other ancient civilizations except Rome. Boys of different ages were taught by different teachers. Greek schools (except in Sparta) were private, but fees were so low that even the poorest citizens (Not slaves) could afford to send their children, at least for a few years. This a substantial part of the male population was literate. Few girls attended school, although some were taught at home. There were some exceptions. Sappho appears to have run a school for girls. Plato and Aristotle founded the started the first advanced schools, the ancestors of modern universitiesb (4th century BC). The Romans looked down on the Greeks because they were not able to defend themselves, they admired Greek arts and education. Thus the Romans adopted Greek methods and curricula with few changes. The Roman state did not found schools. Romans sent their boys to private teachers. Even for Rome, the ancient civilization which we know most about, accounts vary. We do not know just how wide spread education was in Rome or what percentage of the population was literate. Some historians believe that education was fairly common, but actual evidence is limited. For advanced studies, the well-to-do might send their boys to Greece. The less civilzed people to the north like the Celts abd Romans were pre-literate and did not have schools.


With the advent of ariculture we have the development of much more sophisticated societies and the appearance of witing and more refined arts including music. We see musical instruments in the earliest civilization --Sumer in Mesopotania. some of these civiliztions like the Hittites left little or no pictorial evidence. Egypt was an exception. Ancient Egypt had a rich musical tradition includung a wide range of musical instruments. Studying anient music is very difficult. Archeologists can find instruments or representations of instuments in art and sculpture. And there are some rferences in available literary works. But because musical notation had not yet been invented, there is no way of knowing about actual musical compositiins and just what ancient people accomplished with their instruments. Music in the Roman Empire is particularly important as the Empire was the vessel in which Western Civilization and Christianity developed. The early Church, however rejected music, expet for the human voice. Instrumental music and dancing at the time was asoociated with immoral practices and thus rejected by the puritanical Church, rather like Islam today. The Chirch would, however, play a major role in the development of modern music. Weare sure about gender and age trends. Egyptian images show beautiful women playing instruments. The Biblical story of David describes boys learning musical instruments. The Greeks saw music as part of a wll rounded education. It was not as important to the Romans, but Nero was of course famous for his fiddle.


Weaving Technology

The various garments and the material used to make them varied from civilization to civilization in the ancient world. Weaving is the interlacing of threads, yarns, strips or other fiberous material. It is primarily associated with the production of fabric for clothing, but other items are also woven such as baskets. Weaving is well established in ancient societies where it was generally relegated to women. While weaving has pre-historic orgins, many technical developments over a long period have led to modern weaving mills. The spinning and weaving of textiles were time-consuming, but essential household tasks. The Industrial Revolution in Western Europe began primarily as the mechanization of textile production.


James, Peter and Nick Thorpe. Ancient Inventions (New York: Ballantine Books, 1994).

Smitha, Frank. "The Hebrews between Assyria and Egypt, The Ancient World.


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Created: December 27, 1999
Spell checked: December 1, 2001
Last updated: 2:54 AM 2/3/2017