8 Oldest Ancient Civilizations in World History

The term civilization can be defined as a society that is complex enough to have advanced social, political and economic structures as well as a system of communication, most likely writing, used for the betterment of its inhabitants.

The civilizations we are about to explore below hold the record of being the first humans on earth to properly organize their daily lives in such a way that it spurred on further division of labor, domestication of animals and humans, massive architectural projects, taxation, agriculture/farming, expansion, and conquests of surrounding areas. Although these civilizations date back thousands of years ago, it is impossible to say that there was one single cradle of civilization. Many of them developed fairly independently of each other, with the oldest one beginning around 10,000 to 8,000 years ago.

World History Edu presents the 8 oldest civilizations of all time, as well as what life was like in those cradles of civilization.

8. The Ancient Persian Civilization (the Achaemenid Empire)

Oldest Civilizations

Oldest Civilizations Ancient |Ancient Persia |Bas relief carvings of servants on the sidewall of stairs in front of the Palace of Darius, in Persepolis.

Period: 550 BCE – 331 BCE

Ancient location: Mesopotamia area through to Egypt in the west and Turkey in the North

Current location: Present-day Iran

Cultural hub: Royal road; Persepolis (present-day Shiraz, Iran)

Major religion/gods: Zoroastrianism

Most famous ruler: Cyrus the Great, Darius the Great, and Xerxes the Great

Most known for: one of the greatest civilization in history; very powerful military, including the Persian Immortals; and wise rulers

Before going into decline following their defeat to Alexander the Great, the Persian Empire, also known as the Achaemenid Empire, had been unified for centuries. This civilization first lodged in the valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris. Those rivers were the lifeblood of the empire, providing fertile lands for more farming and raising of livestock.

The Persians unified under their great leader Cyrus the Great (Cyrus II) who would later lead the empire to conquer ancient Babylon and invade India. His successors followed in his footsteps and made the Persian civilization a real force to be reckoned with.

At the height of this civilization, the Persian kings (the “shah”) could boast of controlling areas of present-day Turkey, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.

Leaders like Cyrus the Great allowed for diversity, human rights, and religious tolerance in the Persian Empire. This trait of Cyrus was evident when he freed several thousands of slaves after conquering the City of Babylon in 539 BCE. His decision to grant religious freedoms and rights to the conquered areas was recorded in cuneiform script on a clay cylinder called the Cyrus Cylinder.

Inheriting the throne after Cyrus was Darius I (Darius the Great). Darius instituted more structural reforms that allowed him to manage the empire in a structured and efficient manner. For example, Darius I saw the importance of smooth and swift communication. He therefore set up a postal service in the empire. And from the vast resources he acquired during his conquests of surrounding city-states, he constructed roads, temples, and canals.

Shortly before Alexander the Great dealt a crushing blow to the Persians, the Persian Empire had started to decline. This was primarily due Darius I’s successors not living up to the greatness and standards of great Persian rulers of the Achaemenid era (550 BCE to 330 BCE).

Their label as one of the most advanced and oldest civilizations is certainly deserved due to their many astounding inventions, including backgammon and a refrigerator (known as the yakhcal).

Did you know: Many scholars regard Cyrus the Great’s beyond-the-era religious freedoms and human rights as the world’s first declaration of human rights? Cyrus relied heavily on Zoroastrian law of Asha (truth and honesty) during his reign.

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