History and Context: A Timeline of Western Civilisation

Early Civilisations

In our first lecture on History and Context we had a look at the beginnings of what we consider ‘civilisation’. Some of the earliest forms of civilisation are termed as ‘River Valley Civilisations’.

Nearly 5000 years ago the first complex civilisations began to develop along a number of river valleys throughout the southern half of Asia and northern Africa. Between 3000 and 2000 B.C.E. these groups formed independently of each other along the Indus, the Nile, the Tigris and Euphrates, and the Yellow Rivers. These civilisations laid the foundations for political centralisation and organisation such as: practices of monument building, written articulation of legal codes, and the construction of the legal and political infrastructures crucial in the development of a central government of a state.

The Nile River was the axis of two early African civilisations, Egypt and Nubia. The Nile River allowed the development of both civilisations, providing a reliable source of water for farming and linking them to sub-Saharan Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.

Mesopotamia is a Greek word that means “land between the rivers”, referring to the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers. Around 6000 B.C.E. there was the development of irrigation which gave birth to farming villages which grew into larger communities and then cities.

From around 3000 to 1500 B.C.E. an urbanised civilisation existed along the Indus River; this ancient Indus River valley civilisation was dominated by several large cities, including Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.

Early Chinese civilisation developed similarly to that of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Agricultural villages appeared between 7000 and 5000 B.C.E. and grew along the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. Ancient Chinese history is marked by three successive dynasties that would become the foundations of Chinese culture and civilisation. These were:

  • The Xia Dynasty (2200-1766 B.C.E.)
  • The Shang Dynasty (1766-1122 B.C.E.)
  • The Zhou Dynasty (1122-256 B.C.E.)

Civilisation: The Skin of Our Teeth

‘Civilisation’ was one of the first UK television documentary series made in colour and was commissioned during David Attenborough’s overview of BBC2. Here is a link to the first episode of the series titled ‘The Skin of Our Teeth’:

In this episode Sir Kenneth Clark begins his study of the restoration of Western civilisation from the fall of Rome to the 20th century – looking also at the Dark Ages. He travels from Byzantine Ravenna to the Celtic Hebrides and this episode (although nearly an hour long) provides a concise summary and analysis on the basic beginnings of Western civilisation.

Mad Max 2

‘Mad Max’ is a 1979 Australian dystopic action film directed by George Miller. A dystopia is an imaginary place or state in which the condition of life is extremely bad and the main dystopian feature in ‘Mad Max’ is terror. In our lecture we watched the 1981 sequel: ‘Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior’ which is set in the post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland after the collapse of civilisation.

The film highlights the dangers of a world without gas – an already pressing subject in the 21st century where the dangers of running out of these finite resources and fossil fuels, which our civilisations depend on, are becoming more stressed.





About brackenstockley

Contributor to the JusticeGap and WINOL. Currently studying journalism at the University of Winchester (Year Three).
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