Judge William Davis QC, the Recorder of Birmingham, made the remarks as he handed out the first sentences over disorder in the West Midlands.
Sentencing 44-year-old Ivor McCooty to 16 months in prison for burglary of a petrol station, the judge said his comments applied to all defendants connected with the unrest.
He said: “A properly functioning society has many different strands.
“At its heart is the notion that shared interests, purposes and values will allow everyone within the society to live peacefully and without fear.
“That notion, rather than any coercive power of the state, is what allows us to call ourselves civilised. For a few days in the early part of August 2011 in certain parts of England our civilised society broke down.”
Violence initially flared in Birmingham on August 8, culminating in an incident when three men were hit by a car and killed early on August 10.
Judge Davis said 530 people had been arrested so far over the violence.
“Lest it be thought that the disorder can be laid wholly or mainly at the door of disaffected youths, more than half of those arrested were aged 21 or over, with a significant percentage being in their thirties or forties,” he said.
Judge Davis said sentences passed would not be disproportionate.
Handling stolen goods would be as serious an offence as the original theft or burglary.
“A person who handles goods looted from a shop within minutes of and close to the shop being looted must be treated as having the same culpability as the looter,” he said.
In relation to McCooty, from Lea Bank, the court was told he entered a petrol station and stole beer.
Thomas Kenning, representing the defendant, said: “He entered opportunistically through an already-burgled premises and the boarding was insecure, and he entered. He is someone that bitterly regrets his actions.”
Mr Kenning said McCooty was not involved in widespread disorder and in police interview he made a “full and frank admission to the offence and showed remorse for his actions”.
Four other men were also jailed in Birmingham yesterday for their parts in the looting.
Judge Melbourne Inman QC, jailed Aston Walker, 40, of Norton Street in Winson Green, for 16 months after he admitted burglary of clothes worth £200 he took from an H&M store in the city which saw overall losses of £10,000.
Norman Khan, 22, of Chetwynd Road in Woodend, pleaded guilty to burglary after he stole cigarettes from Court News in the city centre and was sentenced to 16 months imprisonment.
Justinder Douglas, 24, of no fixed address, admitted handling stolen goods after he was found carrying carrier bags of perfume taken from House of Fraser. He had 41 previous convictions for theft and dishonesty and was sentenced to 20 months.
Ayub Ahmed, 23, of Blenheim Avenue, Coventry, admitted handling stolen goods, having travelled from his home in Blenheim Avenue, Coventry, to “see the riots”.
He was found carrying looted mobile phones and an Armani watch and trousers worth a total of £1,050. He was sentenced to 20 months in prison.