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The Birth Cradle of Democracy and Some of the World's Technologies: the Indus Valley Civilization

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The Mysteries Of The Indus Valley Civilization

4,500 years ago in a lush, green valley in the Far East, an ancient civilization was in the midst of creation. The year was 2500 BC; the age of discovery, rulers, and conquest, and no one could have predicted what would become of the little town on the banks of the Indus River over the coming one thousand years. This little town would flourish and become a giant empire, the Indus Valley Civilization, or the Harrapan Civilization as it is sometimes referred to as, one of the greatest civilizations in the history of mankind. And yet in the short time we’ve excavated their ancient cities and studied their detailed artifacts, we’ve learned that they’ve been the founders of many of the world’s concepts, such as democracy, and to many of the world’s technologies, such as the standardized weight system. However, even with the world’s brightest minds and greatest technologies, we have yet to decipher the script of these ancient and mysterious people. Therefore, we can’t be sure as to what type of central government drove this amazing civilization, but, using all the information that we do know about them, we can speculate. I intend to prove that a system closely related to our modern democratic system was what these people developed by studying the organization of their cities, discussing the fact that there is no evidence of a central monarch, studying and discussing the many standards whish were evident, and discussing several other theories.

In order to discuss whether or not the civilization was powered by a democratic-like system, we must first examine the cities themselves. Now, if one were to take an aerial picture of any town or city, such as Mohenjo-Daro, one of the twin capitals, one could not help but immediately notice the grid-like layout of the streets and buildings. Much like our modern system of organizing our cities, known as “blocks,” this pattern was employed to ensure free-flowing traffic and easy access to any building. Actually, this ancient system is almost identical to its modern cousin. Mohenjo-Daro has even been called a “mini-model of Manhattan” and the “earliest example of town planing.” The commercial, governmental, and residential buildings were divided into three clearly separated sections. Throughout the city ran the relatively large main roads, which were about thirty feet wide in most areas and unpaved, and were almost the only route of travel through the city. Off of these main streets by the side of each building were smaller roads, almost alley ways, which led to the doors of the buildings on the side of the building. This design avoided any unnecessary congestion in the roads by diverting people down the side roads, and thus greatly increased the safety of the citizens. The cities most often visited businesses and governmental buildings and the more expensive housing lied directly next to these larger roads, while the other buildings were set back on smaller roads behind. The symmetrical and organized road system used in all of the civilizations towns and cities suggests a very organized government that is focused on the well-being of its citizens.

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It is well-known that in most monarchial situations where there is one ruler, usually a male, there is most often found royal house, palace, or citadel to house and protect this central ruler. However, in almost no area in the entire civilization had one of these types of buildings been found, except for in the large city of Mohenjo-Daro. On a hilltop there is the base of a large building , the largest in the city, which archaeologists and historians can figure to probably be one of three things – a palace, governmental center, or a priestly college. Of course, it could be a palace, in which case we would have reason to believe that the government was a monarchy. But first, let’s examine the other facts. First, in no other place in the entire civilization is a building even resembling this kind found, yet with all monarchies, the head ruler appoints lower-class rulers with other royal housing in other sections to look after their kingdom. There is no evidence of this. Also, in no place in the entire civilization has a tomb of any sort been found, which leads us to believe that there were never any theocratic rulers. Finally, in one little section of each city is an area where the housing is substantially larger and more luxurious than that in the other parts of the city, where the common folk presumably resided. This suggests that there were several elite citizens – merchants, landowners, architects, etc. – that lived there and possibly ran the city or perhaps the civilization. Based on these facts, I think it’s pretty fair to assume that this large building is most likely a governmental center for the democracy or a school to train religious leaders.

The “Great Granary” as it has been dubbed by archaeologists is another feature the suggests democracy in the Indus Valley Civilization. It is the largest building in the monstrous city of Harrapa, not to mention the whole empire, and appears to be a giant holding bin for all types of grain. This suggests that there was a democratic system in place because to take in all the grain from surrounding towns, and then distributing it evenly, which is what historians believe took place, this would have taken much planning. It would have been much more feasible with the natural organization and ingenuity that comes with a democracy. Also, if the common folk were permitted to speak their minds like in the present day, rulers would have been able to divide the grain more precisely.

Probably the most convincing argument that a democratic system of government was in place has to do with the simple standardization of weights, bricks, and buildings. First of all, throughout the entire civilization a system of weights was imposed presumably to assist in the job of trading goods. From one unit to five hundred, each weight was double the size of its predecessor, and then after five hundred, the weights rose in increments of one-hundred up to 13,000. The system was based on a tiny red and black seed called a “gunja” seed. Eight of these seed weighed .871 grams, the same as the smallest weights. The were two types of these weights which were both used for the same purposes – the squared-off block type, and the spherical shape with a flattened bottom to prevent rolling. Both types were highly polished to insure accuracy. The smallest weights were incredibly diminutive and accurate. Every one that was weighed equaled approximately one tenth of a gram, and was probably used in jewelry, which require very miniscule weights to weigh their tiny gems. Many of the larger blocks, on the other hand, were so massive and heavy that it would take a pulley system and eight grown men to hoist them onto giant scales. These were most likely used to weigh large amounts of goods or large objects.

Another standard that we know of is the size of the bricks used to build everything from wells to towers. The bricks were made of baked clay, and each were of the standard size of 27.94 cm x 13.96 cm x 5.71 cm. The only structures that deviated from this standard were special structures, all public buildings, which required more complicated masonry. These buildings were extremely organized as every thing else was – in the center of each building was an open-air courtyard that doubled as a marketplace and a public meeting area. This shows that, in addition to being organized, they were also focused on being cost-effective. These were the only structures that didn’t follow another standard as well – the design of housing. Every house in each city was exactly the same in the manner of design – the design was focused on the safety and comfort of the residents. In Harrapa, for example, each house, except housing of the more elite, were two stories high, had seven rooms, all of these surrounding a small open-air courtyard in the middle of the development. Every window had screens over them to let air circulate, but kept foreign objects out, and had boards used to cover them when the temperature. Stairs from the lower stories led up to the rooftop for comfortable sleeping in hot weather. Also, almost every house had a private well which was designed to be safe and sanitary. The well was built on a mound to keep small children from getting near it to prevent them from injuring themselves, and drains were built around to keep dirty water away from the clean. Adjacent from this well was a private bathroom the contained a sink, toilet, and primitive – yet waterproofed the bitumen – bathtub, all equipped with drains in the bottom. These stone drains converged into one under the house and then emptied into a large sewer system underneath the streets of city. This in turn led well outside the city and emptied itself somewhere, perhaps in a river or lake. It really is remarkable how modernized this system was – quick, easy, and completely sanitary. By examining all these facts, especially the standards, it is clear that much public cooperation had to have happened, and this suggests that the government was partly run by the people.

Many secrets of the Indus Valley Civilization are still locked away in the exotic script of their culture and in the very crust of the earth. Some of them will be discovered in the near future, but perhaps some of them we will never unearth, and will remain lost in history for eternity. We may never find out for sure how this astounding empire was organized and controlled, so for now we must speculate. The intricate and organized city design, standardized weights and bricks, and housing based on comfort and safety that was the result of great care and planning would not be seen again until the days of the Greeks and Romans, a two milleniums after the last Indus structure was razed. Only a consensus of the people could have formulated such a strict and organized control over their civilization that had the general people as a first priority. Thus, based on the previous arguments, I think we can safely say that these peoples in all likelihood were the pioneers of modern-day democracy, and it shows in their great success. But as I said, we may never know…

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