Civilization (or civilisation) comes from the Latin word civis meaning someone who lives in a town. When a people are civilised, they have learned from the wisdom, skill and knowledge gained over centuries of human progress. The opposite of civilization is sometimes said to be entropy, barbarity, rudeness, or animal-like behavior.

A civilization is generally an advanced stage of organisation. That means it has laws, culture, a regular way of getting food and protecting the people. Most civilizations have agriculture, and a system of government like monarchs or elections. They speak a common language, and usually have a religion of some kind. They teach their young the knowledge they need. All civilizations since the Sumerians and the Egyptians have had some kind of writing. This is because writing lets people store and build up knowledge.

Past societies that would be called more primitive compared to today, are still often referred to as civilizations for their time. The Roman Empire is an example of a past large civilization. It was governed from Rome. This empire once stretched from the Scottish borders to North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean. Their language was Latin.

Latin remained the preferred method of communication among educated people, long after their civilization had vanished. Some scientists, scholars and others still use Latin in the course of their everyday work, even though the Roman civilization fell apart more than 1,500 years ago. The Roman civilization lasted almost 1000 years, but the Ancient Egyptian civilization was older and lasted longer.

Dictionary definitions

  1. An advanced state of intellectual, cultural, and material development in human society, marked by progress in the arts and sciences, an advanced state of moral conduct, the extensive use of record-keeping, including writing, and the appearance of complex political and social institutions.
  2. The type of culture and society developed by a particular nation or region or in a particular epoch: Maya civilization; the civilization of ancient Rome.
  3. The act or process of civilizing or reaching a civilized state.
  4. Cultural or intellectual refinement; good taste.
  5. Modern society with its conveniences: "We returned to civilization after camping in the mountains".