Why do we still call Mesopotamia the "cradle of civilization"?

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
14,301
Modern Iraq has little to do with ancient Mesopotamia. It is Arab-majority, Muslim, and has been through many transformations since the time of Hammurabi.

Also, its current instability is in large part due to the interference of outside forces (e.g., USA).

Which modern country shall we hold up as an exemplar of a great civilization?
China ?
 

specul8

Ad Honorem
Oct 2016
3,625
Australia
I agree with a lot of the posts on the last page about 'Old Europe' BUT I had thought that the people of 'Old Europe' lived in 'settlements' ... and did not fulfill the definition of 'civilization' .

But then again, I have noted the academic definition of 'civilization' seems to lack solid consensus .
 

fascinating

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
2,461
I've always been fascinated how "civilisation" (the term and concept) won in the end. Western thinkers have actually put negative aspects to it as early as the 15th century with the publishing of Tacitus's Germania, saying that "civilisation" is oppressive and degenerate and that the Germanic people are actually superior because they achieved refinement and sophistication without having it, seeing civilisation as Roman decadence. This view influenced the separation between the "Germanic" or "Nordic" and "Latin" or "Romanic" races, the latter tending towards a form of Oriental despotism and lacking in freedom in comparison to the former, as represented even by their monumentalism. Even the term "barbarian" gained a positive connotation of racial purity and freedom from "civilised" corruption especially in the Romantic nationalist era, though even before. Montesquieu in the Enlightenment said that the (Germanic) barbarians were free and democratic, a view repeated by Gibbon in the same period, and all because they didn't have civilisation like the Romans. Protestantism was in large part influenced by this idea of the pure Germanic barbarian, Roman Catholicism and its evils being seen as the product of Roman corruption. There was also extensive romanticism for the nomadic Scythians, with many Europeans as late as the 18th century still believing that the Scythians were the direct ancestors of Germanics. This view is the reason why people say that Arminius's victory over the Romans at Teutoburg Forest is of world historical importance, since simple freedom triumphed over the despotism of civilisation.

In the end, though, civilisation did win over criticisms against it, hence Dark Age historiography and terms like "Western civilisation". I think Gibbon is ultimately responsible for this. Gibbon praised the freedom of Germanic barbarians but nevertheless had no time for what he saw as their inferior level of culture, and still thought that the fall of the Western Roman Empire was ultimately a cataclysmic event of negative consequences for Europe, only he blamed the Huns far more than Germanics for this, seeing the Huns as the real barbarians and not the Germanics who at least belonged to a superior race and were, according to him anyway, the most freedom-loving people in the world.
None of us here is living as the Germans did in the 1st century, and in fact the only way we know much about them at that time was because a civilised Roman wrote things about them. Ultimately, people prefer the advantages of civilisation, we see the lifestyle that those Germans had as very restrictive. Whereas civilisation , in history, has mostly been a story of oppression by the rich and powerful, all of us (who use computers) see it as the only way to go.
 

fascinating

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
2,461
If this were actually true then the Incan culture wouldn't be referred to as a "civilization" almost constantly by most people.
Quite so. To my mind, the definition of "civilisation" is fairly simple and clear, it simply means "a society that has cities". A city could be quite small, by modern standards, but would include the apparatus (typically a market with regulated exchange of goods, officials to administer law etc) for organising things. In ancient civilisations, most people probably didn't actually live in the cities, being poor farmers, but they were tied to their civilisation because most of the land would have been owned by people who dwelled within the cities. Civilisation has been regarded as superior to the alternative. I think that some have called some societies "civilisations" even though they didn't have cities, which seems to me to be an attempt to convey that those societies were intelligently organised, but such claims have reduced the clarity of the term civilisation; it's an example of the gradual degrading of the English language.

I make no claim that civilisation is superior to non-civilisation, except to say that everyone using a computer prefers civilisation.
 
Aug 2019
571
North
Because Hegel declared the eastern Mediterranean the true beginning of history. That's why Egypt and Mesopotamia are always called the "cradles" of civilisation. Hegel says that history must start with China, but clarified that China (and India) only possessed "unhistorical history", not the true history of Mediterranean civilisation of which Mesopotamia is a part of, at least close to. And Hegel declared the Mediterranean to be that because of its proximity to Greece, which he considered the greatest civilisation ever before the modern "Germanic" civilisation that emerged in Northern Europe after the 16th century.
Germans also analogued their 19th century confederation and the need to unite to the supposed greeks of philip II of macedonia. The german historian droysen played the crucial role in this undertaking. Thus, for the uncritical western world, and for the first time in history, the ancient macedonians became greek.
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
6,524
Portugal
Germans also analogued their 19th century confederation and the need to unite to the supposed greeks of philip II of macedonia. The german historian droysen played the crucial role in this undertaking. Thus, for the uncritical western world, and for the first time in history, the ancient macedonians became greek.
A bit out off topic, Ken12. Not all the world is about Greece and Macedonia, as your posts are.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,614
Italy, Lago Maggiore
If someone here around has got a nationalist agenda to diffuse all around the forum ... it's better for him to be aware that to do this on Historum is not permitted.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
5,685
Sydney
" the academic definition of 'civilization' seems to lack solid consensus "

The classic definition is Civilization is people organised in cities , it imply writing
"barbarians" are herders or farmers with villages , some rather large , it's technology is defined by pottery and metal
"savages" are hunter, gatherers , nearly always nomadic or semi nomadic

all of those definitions have exceptions or caveats but it does give an approximate grasp of the societies economics and as a consequences their politics