© 2005 David Koeller.  All rights reserved.

Early Urban Societies


From Agricultural Settlement to City

  • A. Specialization--Some people stopped working on the farm and took up other occupations:
    • 1. Merchant and Craftsman: While there was certainly some long distance trade in Neolithic societies and some people working in specialized crafts, this was rarely full time and the primary means of livelihood.
    • 2. Priest: While almost all societies have some member who is regarded as having magical powers or some special relationship with the spirits or gods, in urban societies there is a whole class of such people.
    • 3. Warrior: While warfare was certainly present in agricultural settlements, people only engaged in warfare part-time. In the urban setting, a full-time warrior class develops. In most cases, this group also forms the full time political leadership.
    • 4. Peasant: Even though the city made possible many forms of nonagricultural labor, the majority of the population of a city-state continued to be involved in farming.
  • B. Surplus--In order for people to specialize in something other than agriculture, the people engaged in agriculture must produce more than they need to survive. This surplus can then be used by those mot working on the farm.
  • C. Irrigation--Rather than relying on rain, irrigation makes it possible to regulate the amount of water crops receive. This, in turn, dramatically increases crop yields making specialization possible.
    • 1. There is some controversy among experts in the field as to which group took the lead in developing irrigation. Irrigation obviously requires some kind of organization or coordination. Who in the society took the lead?
  • D. Urban Culture--Just as it was possible to do things in an agricultural village which could not be done in a foraging society, so it was possible to do things in a city which could not be done in a town or village. Among the developments which cities made possible were:
    • Trade and Markets
    • Monumental Architecture
    • Writing and Literature
  • E. Warfare--Just as organized violence appears to have begun with the development of the agricultural village, so the development of the city increased the scale and destructive power of warfare. Early city-states were often with one another. Institutions such as diplomacy and treaties developed as part of efforts to maintain the peace.

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