The study of ancient history takes students on a time-travelling journey to lands both near and far and from many thousands of years ago! Students become history detectives as they learn about how humans began to farm, formed communities, and created the world’s first civilizations. Scientists have learned that the first humans came from Africa over 4 million years ago and eventually migrated to the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and North and South America. The world’s first civilizations were located on every continent where humans created language, art, architecture, scientific achievements, religions, and forms of government. The advancements made in the ancient world continue to influence our societies today.
Ancient Civilizations are typically taught focusing on the key areas of: Geography, Religion, Achievements, Politics, Economy and Social Structure using the acronym G.R.A.P.E.S. By utilizing this acronym, students can compartmentalize their findings and compare and contrast different civilizations. There are other similar acronyms that teachers may use, like P.I.R.A.T.E.S., P.E.R.S.I.A.(N)., and, G.R.E.A.T.S., and they all address similar areas of civilization. Any of the graphic organizers shown here can be adapted to fit the acronym of your choice!
The study of geography is a crucial starting point to learning about any ancient civilization, as it influences nearly every part of their development. Students can identify the physical features and climate of a region and uncover what natural resources were present. These natural resources such as water, land to cultivate, wildlife, rocks, and timber for building, were all crucial in shaping how people met their basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. The types of weather phenomena present and the seasons (if any) influenced a civilization's development of religion. Adapting to their environment necessitated the creation of new inventions and achievements. Geography also influenced the civilizations economy, what they could create and export and what they lacked and needed to import or trade. Where people lived is inextricably connected to how they lived.
People developed religion to honor a higher power and explain phenomena that they did not understand. Religion was also crucial in dictating how a person should behave as well as outlining familial and societal structures. Many ancient civilizations were polytheistic and worshipped many gods that presided over different aspects of their lives such as the weather, the leadership, love, war, and the economy. Many ancient civilizations believed that they were at the mercy of the gods and needed to worship them in order to be free from their wrath in the form of flooding or drought. Priests and religious leaders held great power and the highest ruler was either worshipped as a god or was deemed to be "approved" by the gods in order to rule. People's beliefs about the afterlife, what happens to humans after they die, influenced the way they lived, worshipped, and their burial practices.
Many of the discoveries made thousands of years ago continue to influence us today. Students might be surprised to learn about the breadth and depth of scientific breakthroughs, mathematical thinking, and complex architecture that developed thousands of years ago. Ancient peoples loved to express themselves through music, art, and storytelling much like we do today. They developed spoken language and in many cases, written languages as well. All of which influence our modern inventions, art forms, and means of communicating. They also give us insight into what different civilizations valued.
Ancient societies were typically governed by a powerful ruler. The ruling class was often inherited or seized by war. Control over the populace was often exerted through intimidation and fear as well as the belief that the ruler had divine powers. It is interesting for students to note the differences in the political aspects of different civilizations. Some, like Ancient China, believed that their emperors had the right to rule by divine right or the "mandate of heaven." Others, like Ancient Egypt, believed that their Pharaohs were mediators between the gods and the people. Still others, like the Inca, believed that the Sapa Inca was part god himself. Humans have always sought power, and the means to maintain their power is often brutal. Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome each attempted representative governments, where at times the citizens themselves elected rulers and helped write the laws. Studying the politics of ancient civilizations gives a crucial insight into our modern governments around the world.
The economics of an ancient civilization was tied to their natural resources and what they could make, collect, mine, and grow. It influenced the jobs that were required and how peoples' needs were met. A society may have an abundance of certain resources, while needing to import others that they lacked in their area. Trade allowed for the exchange of ideas as well as goods. Ancient civilizations had different ways of accumulating wealth, whether it be from large homes, farms, plots of land, or valuable commodities. Some civilizations, like Ancient Rome, created their own currencies with the imprint of their ruler on the coins.
Societal structures in ancient civilizations were often rigid, with a sharp divide between the wealthy and ruling class and the poor and enslaved. Men and women often had different and unequal roles, although there were women who ruled, such as Hatshepsut in Ancient Egypt. Slavery was commonplace in the ancient world. Most enslaved people were prisoners of war or enslaved as a punishment. The family that you were born into drastically influenced the course of your life, as it was difficult in the ancient world to attain wealth and power if you were born into poverty. The study of ancient civilizations' social structures can help students get a glimpse into peoples' daily lives as well as inform their study of modern day inequities in society.
Studying Ancient Civilizations is a great way for students to understand why and how things came to be. These civilizations brought incredible innovations, scientific achievements, political growth, and literature that is still studied today. Within each of our lesson plans, there are a variety of resources to help students illustrate what they have learned. You can view all of the Ancient Civilization resources, and find activities for Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient India, Ancient China, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, the Maya, Inca, and Aztec Civilizations, and more!
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