Angelique Baker December 17th, 2017
Global Essay- Geography’s Destiny
“Geography is destiny”. Rumored to have been said by Napoleon Bonaparte, this quote has been a source of debate for quite some time. This theme can be applied to some of the earliest civilizations to determine why they were able to become so powerful. In this essay, the indicated theme will be applied to multiple early civilizations to dictate a possible geographical pattern that can be attributed to their success.
One geographical feature that can be attributed to success is an island. This feature can be seen in the ancient civilizations of Greece and Phoenicia. Both civilizations were quite affluent, and it is apparent that their geography had a large influence. For example, in Document 3 a “sculpture of Phoenician trading ship from about 100 B.C.” is observed. This reflects what may have been important to them: shipbuilding, trading by sea, etc. Historical records support this claim, with the Phoenicians being described as “a great trading people” and “excellent sailors.”1 In Document 4, it can be seen why the Greeks were successful. The exterior part of Greece was made up of many small islands, so in order to trade and gain more natural resources, they had to be able to navigate the sea. They are described as becoming “skilled seafaring people and traders who, possessing an abundance of raw materials for construction in stone and great skill, built some of the most impressive structures in antiquity.”2
Another geographical feature is natural land barriers. This is seen in the geography of the Ancient Greeks and Chinese. Geography gave China a sense of entitlement and authority over other civilizations at the time. This claim is supported by the map of China in Document 6, which shows mountains on the western side and seas in the south and east. Isolation didn’t completely bar them from being successful though. “Despite isolation from the rest of the world, the challenge presented by China’s varied and dangerous topography led to the proliferation of primitive inventions…natural geographic resources…resulted in the development of such advancements as silk, paper, and porcelain.”3 These same goods offered later successes in the Silk Road, “an ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean.”4 Natural land barriers in Greece also provided success. Since most of Greece was separated, independent city-states formed, therefore creating an overall culture with many different influences. Greeks also had to venture out in order to find lands with fertile soil, thus promoting more cultural diffusion. “Cultural diffusion is the spread of cultural beliefs and social activities from one group to another.”5 Finally, the mountains provided both protection and “natural resources of gold and silver.”6
The final geographic feature to be discussed is rivers/river valleys. These features can be seen in the Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations. In Document 2, a picture of the Nile Delta is shown. This is ultimately where Egyptian civilization began. “The life of Ancient Egypt centered around the river Nile and the fertile land along its banks.”7 This led to new technologies and techniques stemming from the need to control the annual flooding of the Nile, agriculture, trade, etc. Egypt’s achievements involved advancements “…in irrigation and agricultural methods; as well as in developing some of the earliest ships.”8 Mesopotamian civilization began between two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. The land Mesopotamia encompassed was a section of the Fertile Crescent, a large patch of ultra-fertile land. This was an excellent place to begin a civilization, as they were able to become prosperous in the field of agriculture. “Thanks to the fertile Mesopotamian soil and expansion of irrigation from the rivers, agriculture took off, letting civilizations grow in size and complexity. The river also aided with the trade needs of Mesopotamian city-states. “Since they did not have many natural resources, contact with neighboring lands was important.”9 They used the surplus of food from farming to trade for the goods they required. “The Tigris and Euphrates rivers made transport of goods easy and economical”11 Through all of this, the Mesopotamians were able to prosper.
For each and every civilization referred to in this essay, and many others that weren’t, geography played a huge part in determining the successes of one civilization and the downfalls of another. It is apparent that certain geographical features led to the prosperity of the civilizations mentioned above. So, the quote “Geography is destiny” is indeed quite true.