The first civilization began in the city states of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, China, Mexico, and other places where small communities spawned kingdoms. We can trace the history of this culture in the wars fought between kingdoms and between nomadic barbarians and the settled communities. China and India brought forth political dynasties that had little contact with the outside world except when nomadic groups threatened them from the Asian steppe (or when a “civilized” conqueror such as Alexander the Great invaded northern India). The empires formed in Mexico and Peru were also largely self-confined. The Middle East is another story. Here political dynasties arose in Mesopotamia, Turkey, Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Italy which fought other kingdoms for control of the civilized world. The story of this civilization is the story of the rise and fall of kingdoms striving to become an empire which controls a territory containing many different peoples.
Government is the institution which survives from this period. The history of government is largely one of warfare although certain other functions also emerged. The laws of Ur-Nammu and Hammurabi were noteworthy achievements. The extensive system of roads that connected distant parts of the Persian and Roman empires allowed a central government to control far-flung territories. The first Chinese emperor Shih Hwang-ti standardized the Chinese script, replaced the hereditary nobility with appointed officials, and began work on the Great Wall. But a recognized mark of achievement was how large a territory the empire might conquer and maintain. At its height in the 2nd century A.D., there were four political empires which controlled a broad swath of land from China’s Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast of Gaul and Spain. These were the Han Chinese, Kushan, Parthian, and Roman empires. Their societies were under totalitarian rule.