The history of urbanization in the ancient world is a rich and fascinating subject. The period from the third millennium BCE to the 6th century BCE saw the rise of some of the world’s first cities and the emergence of complex societies that would shape the course of human history for centuries to come. During this time, Afghanistan was considered as the meeting point of all the civilizations of the world, be it the Indus Valley, Mesopotamian, Egyptian, or Chinese.
The Mesopotamian Civilization
The development of urbanization in Mesopotamia can be traced back to the Third Millennium B.C.E., when cities first began to emerge in Mesopotamian Cities. The Mesopotamian cities such as Ur, Nippur, and Uruk were some of the earliest examples of urbanization and were characterized by the development of writing, the use of a standardized system of weights and measures, and the creation of large public buildings such as temples and palaces.
The growth of cities in Mesopotamia was largely driven by the need to control and manage the fertile land along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which were crucial for agriculture. Cities were also centers of trade, and goods were exchanged between the cities and other regions through a network of roads and canals.
The Egyptian Civilization
The development of urbanization in Egypt can be traced back to the Third Millennium B.C.E., when cities first began to emerge in Egyptian Cities. Egyptian cities, on the other hand, developed as a result of the abundance of natural resources and the need to control the Nile River, which was crucial for agriculture.
The largest Egyptian city during this time was Memphis, which served as the capital of the Old Kingdom and was known for its large public buildings, such as the pyramids, and for its sophisticated system of governance.
The Indus Valley Civilization
The Indus Valley Civilization, which formed around the third millenium BCE, was the result of the congregation of people due to trade between the different villages across Indus and the villages in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was considered as the meeting point of all the civilizations of the world, whether it is Indus Valley, Mesopotamian, Egypitian or Chinese, due to its fertile climate. The surplus of farm goods produced by the fertile climate formed the basis of trade and resulted in the formation of the Indus Valley Civilization.
The Indus Valley Civilization was famous for its grid pattern of town planning. Every town had two parts, the lower eastern and higher western with cross roads intersecting each other at right angles. The houses were made of bricks, sun baked as well as fire baked, and the civilization had an efficient sewage and drainage system. They had made such deep drains that an adult could run in them to flush out flood water.
The script of the Harappan culture was right to left with pictographic boustrophedon. The script has not been deciphered and the Harappan people were the first to produce cotton and had an advanced and prosperous textile industry. They exported their textiles to Mesopotamia and other regions.
Urbanization in the Vedic Period
The early Aryans who came to India in and around 1500 BCE could not develop stable kingdoms as they were semi-nomadic people, resulting in the development of the tribal principalities. However, the process of urbanization had already begun during this period.
The tribal state of the Vedic period tended to assume the territorial character in the later Vedic period, which was indeed the result of a settled life. The improvement in the material situation, particularly in the middle Ganga plains, in the post Vedic period brought to the fore the need for the protection of private property and the patriarchal family, which in turn occasioned the rise of the state and subsequent urbanization.
Urbanization in the 6th Century BCE
The 6th century BCE was a more decisive phase for the development of Indian culture and may well be said to be when the history of Indian sub-continent actually started. In this period, the first territorial kingdoms were established in the central part of the Ganga plains and Northern India witnessed a second phase of urbanization. The origins and the internal organization of these 16 mahajanapadas are still a matter of speculation, but they were likely confederations of several tribes, some of which had two capitals.
The direct exercise of royal power was restricted to the immediate tribal surroundings while other principalities in the kingdom enjoyed a greater deal of internal autonomy. The heads of these principalities only joined the king in warfare and plunder and participated in his royal ceremonies. The only definite borders of such mahajanapadas were rivers and other natural barriers and the extension of royal authority depended on the loyalty of the border tribes and the influence of the neighboring kingdoms.
The most remarkable contrast between the new cities in the Gangetic plains and the earlier towns like Hastinapur was their system of fortification. The new cities had moats and ramparts, which were made of earth covered with bricks from about the fifth century BCE onwards and later replaced by solid brick walls. A millennium after the decline of the Indus civilization, kiln-made bricks were more prevalent. The city walls of Kausa were the most impressive, with walls about 4 miles long and at some places 30 feet high.
Trade in the 6th Century BC
The growth of the urban economy in the 6th century BC is indicated by the discovery of punched-marked coins and standardized weights, evidence of highly developed trade. A new type of ceramic, known as Northern Black Polished Ware, was in high demand. The center of production for this ceramic was in the Gangetic plains, and it appeared around 500 BC and could be found in all the mahajanapadas.
Fortifications and Urbanization
The new cities in the Gangetic plains were fortified, with moats and ramparts, in contrast to the earlier, non-fortified towns like Hastinapur. The ramparts were made of earth and covered with bricks, and later replaced with solid brick walls. A notable example is the city of Kausa, with walls that are 4 miles long and 30 feet high in some places.