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Inspired by this question, I have a more general one: What is, historically speaking, a civilization?

We can identify broad traits that make a society a civilization- agriculture, city building, social structures, etc. But what separates one civilization from another, both geopolitically and chronologically? Is there a widely accepted definition of "a civilization" that identifies a particular time period or region as being one distinct from others? What factors would be considered in defining a specific civilization?

For example, why would (not) the Roman Republic and the Byzantine Empire be considered the same civilization? What about the Byzantine Empire and the Western Roman Empire?

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Definitions from Free Dictionary, Dictionary.com, and Oxford dictionary (subscriber only) should tell you the official definition.

The Roman Republic and Byzantine Empire are different because of religion, geographical location, population, language and customs. Although the Byzantine did consider themselves the heirs of the Roman Empire. In the same way that the Holy Roman Empire is not the same as the Roman Empire in religion, location, language, population, and customs but again a lineage was claimed.

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your link is only accessible to subscribers –  Travis Christian Oct 26 '11 at 15:33
    
Ah, probably only works in the UK. Apologies and main answer edited. –  Sardathrion Oct 26 '11 at 15:45
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The Byzantine Empire has a much better claim to successor of the Roman Empire though, for quite obvious reasons. –  Noldorin Nov 7 '11 at 22:13
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