It seems based on the readings about the rise of Mesopotamia as well as the lecture this morning that ancient states were heavily dependent on there being a surplus of resources. We already learned that intensive agriculture is one of the necessary traits of an ancient state and this is because it increases the carrying capacity of a piece of land. This allows for enough food to be made by a smaller number of specialized farmers so there can be specialization in other types of work. Places of water are very important to this because they allow for irrigation. When Egypt underwent a climate change, it forced the people to move closer to the river. Eventually, they figured out that they could grow large amounts of food. This was more successful than each individual hunting and gathering. It could also support a larger amount of people. Birth rates must have increased and the surplus must have attracted other people to the area.
In Mesopotamia, some of this urbanization is even thought to have been forced. Patterns in Prehistory states, “…Adams, argues that early Mesopotamian urbanization may have been imposed on a rural populace by a small, politically conscious superstratum that was motivated by military and economic interests,” (Wenke, 348). However, this indicates a chicken and the egg type of conundrum. Complex economy comes out of complex society and so does political and military organization. How could there even be political leaders, let alone ones with the power to enforce mandatory immigration? It seems as if urbanization is one of the first steps of a society becoming complex (more people are needed to build irrigation canals, which then support more and more people). To me, this indicates that there was already some time of infrastructure in place that then began forcibly sucking up rural people from around the area.
As agriculture becomes more intensive, the surplus increases. This then requires some handling. Who takes care of the surplus? Who is in charge of distributing it? I think it just started out as a specialized profession like any other but the importance of food was so great that the position became glorified. The person who distributed the surplus might have found a way to restrict access to it, thereby increasing his importance. Whoever has control over the surplus, has the power in an ancient state.
This explains the ability of ancient states to grow but ti also explains their eventual collapse. The reason given today for Egypt’s first collapse was a possible drought. There was no surplus so the centralized state lost a great deal of power. No surplus = no centralized power= no ancient state. When food production becomes more successful, (for example, when the Nile’s drought was over), there becomes more of a surplus. When there is a surplus, people who are in charge of distribution rise to power and the whole cycle continues again.
Of course, this is nor the only reason for the rise and fall of the ancient states but it does prove the necessity of agriculture to civilization. When humans exceed carrying capacity, centralized government breaks down. It begs the question, when will modern states reach that carrying capacity if they haven’t already. When will our first intermediate period begin?