Civilizations might look different, but encompass similar characteristics.
Civilizations might look different, but encompass similar characteristics.

The characteristics of civilized societies aren't limited to just seven, but there are a few overarching ideals that encompass a wide variety of morals and beliefs that shape a certain society. The word "civilization" is simply defined as a group of people living in a city, according to the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations. Within this group of people, several characteristics keep it running smoothly and make it a place people continue wanting to live in.


Any civilized society must have a central authority, according to Cynthia Stokes Brown, author of "Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present." Of course, the laws can differ from civilization to civilization, but each society will have a government that makes and enforces the laws that dictate how people are supposed to live and behave. The political structure of a society is usually divided, however, according to Steve Blaha, a contemporary sociologist. For example, in the United States, politicians are usually divided into Republican, Democrat and Independent parties.

Food, Water and Agriculture

Access to food and clean water is a characteristic of a civilized society, and that can include the use of agriculture to provide inhabitants with a food source. A truly civilized society, however, also includes people who don't work in agricultural fields and who aren't involved in producing food, but instead have other jobs that contribute to society.

Safety and Protection

A safe place to live is a key characteristic of a civilized society, and that safety can be seen in a variety of roles. For example, personal safety includes permanent shelter for individuals and their families, as well as a police force to help enforce the laws and protect citizens. Civilized societies also include some type of army for protection, Brown notes.


Civilized societies include schools and institutions of higher education, and provide all citizens with a chance to pursue an equal education. Education is used to pass down the morals, values and beliefs of the society, as well as provide access to reading, writing, mathematics, art, music and other subjects to enhance the value and enjoyment of the civilization. Along those same lines, education advances a society and gives it the means to keep accurate written records. Being literate is another key component of a civilized society.

Trade and Availability of Goods

The ability to store surplus food is a characteristic of civilized societies, Brown notes, and this provides one way to trade with other societies for useful goods. Because civilized societies are made up of people contributing different areas of expertise, such as shop owner, farmer, teacher and office worker, these allow a civilization to trade with other civilizations that have other things to offer, such as a musician or an artist.

Defined Societal Roles

Civilized societies aren't made up of people who are all equal. Instead, a civilized society includes a type of caste system in which some make more money and have more power than others. To that end, there will be governmental officials, blue-collar workers, white-collar workers, the unemployed and those collecting governmental assistance, as well as an upper, middle and lower class.

Basic Freedoms

The specific freedoms of any society will vary, but people within any civilized society are afforded certain freedoms such as the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech and the freedom to pursue higher education. These freedoms help unite people within the civilization by allowing them to do things such as worship together and speak the same language, according to Dario Fernandez-Morera, a contemporary sociologist.