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culture with a relatively high degree of elaboration and technical development. The term civilization also designates that complex of cultural elements that first appeared in human history between 8,000 and 6,000 years ago. At that time, on the basis of agriculture, stock-raising, and metallurgy, intensive occupational specialization began to appear in the river valleys of SW Asia. Writing appeared, as well as urban centers that accommodated administrators, traders, and other specialists. The specific characteristics of civilization are: food production (plant and animal domestication), metallurgy, a high degree of occupational specialization, writing, and the growth of cities. Such characteristics originally emerged in several different parts of the prehistoric world: Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, India, the central Andes, and Mesoamerica. However, some civilizations did not have all of these characteristics (e.g., the Classic Maya had no metallurgy, and true writing apparently never emerged in central Mexico or the central Andes). Many anthropologists now focus on a political factor—the development of hierarchical administrative bureaucracies—as the critical characteristic of all civilizations.


See P. Sorokin, Social and Cultural Dynamics (1981); R. Wothnaw, Meaning and Moral Order (1987); F. Fernández-Armesto, Civilizations: Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature (2001).


  1. the advanced cultural forms (e.g. central government, development of the arts and learning, articulated concern with morals and manners) associated with cities and the wider societies in which these are located. The term derives from the Latin civis, citizen.
  2. a particular society or culture area possessing the above characteristics (e.g. ‘Chinese civilization’ or ‘Western civilization’).
Historically, use of the term was often strongly, and somewhat crudely, evaluative, e.g. the contrast with pre-existing stages such as SAVAGERY or BARBARISM. See also CIVILIZING PROCESS.



(1) A synonym for culture. In Marxist literature the word is also used to designate material culture.

(2) A level or stage of social development or material and nonmaterial culture, for example, ancient civilization and modern civilization.

(3) The stage of social development that follows barbarism (L. Morgan, F. Engels).

The concept of civilization originated in the 18th century along with the concept of culture. The French Enlightenment philosophers applied the term to a society based on the principles of reason and justice. In the 19th century the concept of civilization was used to a limited extent to characterize capitalism as a whole. Thus, N. Ia. Danilevskii formulated the theory of the general typology of cultures, or civilizations, in accordance with which universal history does not exist, but only the history of given civilizations having an individual, closed character. In the conception of O. Spengler, civilization is the distinct, final stage of development of any culture. Its primary signs are the development of industry and technology, the degradation of art and literature, the concentration of people in big cities, and the transformation of the people into faceless “masses.” In this interpretation, civilization as an age of decline is contrasted to the integrity and organicism of culture. These and other idealist concepts explain neither the nature of civilization nor the true essence of its development. The classics of Marxism analyzed the driving forces and contradictions of the development of civilization, substantiating the necessity of the revolutionary transition to its new phase—the communist society.


Marx, K. “Konspekt knigi L’iuisa G. Morgana ’Drevnee obshchestvo.’” In Arkhiv K. Marksai F. Engel’sa, vol. 9. Moscow, 1941.
Engels, F. Proiskhozhdenie sem’i chastnoi sobstvennosti i gosudarstva. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21.
Morgan, L. Drevnee obshchestvo, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1935. (Translated from English.)
Markarian, E. S. O kontsepisiilokal’nykh tsivilizatsii. Yerevan, 1962.
Artanovskii, S. N. Istoricheskoe edinstvo chelovechestva i vzaimnoe vliianie kul’tur: Filosofsko-metodologicheskii analiz sovremennykh zarubezhnykh kontseptsii. Leningrad, 1967.
Emge, K. A. Die Frage nach einem neuen Kulturbegriff. Mainz, 1963.
References in periodicals archive ?
I personally insist that the main development factor of the oldest known civilisation of Mesopotamia between the fifth century and 2371 BC was the existence of Dilmun.
Dilmun was a link between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley Civilisation - it was the heart of trade during the old time.
The interaction between the water civilisation of Dilmun and the land civilisation of Sumer resulted in a radiating civilisation.
Huntington's approach does little justice to the plurality of streams which have enriched each of his civilisations and which have enriched others in their turn.
Despite these limitations Huntington uses his analysis of civilisations, past and present, to underpin his exhortation that the world will be ordered on the basis of civilisations or not at all.
Chechnya aside, the breakup of the former was much more straightforward and uneventful than many had forecast, with the country dividing along republican lines, and not those of civilisations or even, in most instances, ethnicities.
Huntington's view of civilisations as building blocks seems to be a refraction of the conservative approach he takes to his own culture and his own civilisation.
And from there it is a short leap to identifying civilisations as threats to one another, as `publics and statesmen are less likely to see threats emerging from people they feel they can understand and can trust because of shared language, religion, values, institutions, and culture' -- an extraordinary statement when one considers the extent to which fratricidal strife seems able to cause wars as easily as cultural mistrust.
Huntington is conscious of race, and he is careful to point out that his civilisations are not racially uniform, or racial entities at all.
Huntington's civilisations are a useful analytical tool which illuminate some aspects of the contemporary landscape, but as an overarching formula for organizing the affairs of the world they are an unnecessary and dangerous encumbrance.
For Huntington Western civilisation is unique, not universal.
The principal responsibility of Western leaders, Huntington asserts, is not to attempt to reshape other civilizations in the image of the West -- which is beyond their declining power -- but to preserve, protect and renew the unique responsibilities of Western civilisation.