Civilization: Past & Present (5)
Part I The Ancient World
The origin and age of the universe may never be known precisely, but modern scientists believe that our world has been circling the sun for 5 billion years. During that incredibly long time, the earth changed from a gaseous to a liquid and finally to a solid state, waters formed on the earth's shell, and in their depths life took form. Remains of early humanlike creatures unearthed in Africa may be 3 to 4 million years old. The time span from those remote days to about 3500 B.C.E. is usually referee to as prehistoric or preliterate times. By far the greatest part of that time span was taken up by the human struggle for survival --a struggle in which human beings learned to shape crude tools from stone, make fire, and domesticate plants and animals.
The stage was now set for a progressively rapid extension of human control over the environment. We find the first civilizations widely scattered along the banks of rivers. Mesopotamia straddled the Tigris and the Euphrates; Egypt and Nubia stretched along the Nile; China expanded eastward from the region of the Wei and the Huang Ho; India arose around the Indus and the Ganges. Prolific in their gifts to the human race and so dynamic that two of them--China and India--have retained unbroken continuity to our own day，these civilizations possessed similarities at least as arresting as their differences. In all four，political system developed, crafts flourished and commerce expanded, calendars and systems of writing were invented, art and literature of extraordinary beauty were created, and religions and philosophies came into being to satisfy people's inner yearnings.
Indebted to the Egyptians and Mesopotamians, Minoan and Mycenaean Greece fashioned awealthy, sophisticated commercial culture. Much of this Aegean civilization--the first advanced to appear in Europe--was destroyed by the end of the second millennium B.C.E., but enough remained to serve as the foundation for Greek civilization. Insatiably curious about the world, the Creeks enjoyed a freedom of thought and expression unknown in earlier societies. Their fierce passion to remain independent, however, was too often unrestrained. The failure of the Greek city-states to find a workable basis for cooperation doomed them to political disaster. Although the conquest of the city-states by King Philip of Macedonia ended the Hellenic Age, the influence of the Creeks was destined to increase. The establishment of a vast empire in the Near East by Philip's son, Alexander the Great, ushered in the Hellenistic Age and the widespread diffusion of Greek culture.