For me, specialization seems like the most important characteristic of civilizations. It allows for many of the other aspects of the state to take form. Intensive agriculture can allow for specialization but it doesn’t require it. Once people make the important decision for some to take part in other kinds of work, they have opportunities to expand as a civilization. This could happen in the form of trade. If a group of people has specialists creating and managing special things, other groups may want those goods and services, leading to a system of complex trade. Specialization can also lead to stratification if some jobs in the community are valued over others. For example, someone serving ideological or religious functions may be highly valued over masses of farmers because of the perceived importance of his work.
Specialization has been present in all the civilizations we have examined this semester. Some people have held religious or political roles above the other citizens. Some have been craftsmen or worked for the state bureaucracy. Some civilizations had scribes to deal with their specific writing system. Specialization acknowledges that the civilization has expanded to a level where the people are interdependent. Not everyone has the same training to survive with or without the group. Once specialization occurs, people must rely on one another to fulfill all the needs of the people.
In Egypt, we saw specialization on a grand scale. We saw an entire village built for craftsmen working for the bureaucracy. From the Lost City of the Pyramids in the Old Kingdom to Deir el-Medina in the New Kingdom, people who were performing special functions were kept separate. By the New Kingdom, these were highly specialized artisans kept in a location where state secrets about royal tombs would be safe. In a civilization with the grandeur of Egypt, the Pharaoh was able to have an entire settlement of specialists just to help ensure his success in the afterlife.
In many of the civilizations, a priestly class was crucial to society. In Mesopotamia, priests helped to manage a tribute system that was central to the economy. In Mesoamerica, Mayan priests were needed to keep balance in the cosmos. Sometimes this involved bloodletting ceremonies, showing the great sacrifice they made to fulfill their duties. In these civilizations, priests were revered not because they performed a duty necessary for survival but because they performed a duty that was necessary for the society’s survival. This group thinking was what made early civilizations different and more complex than their precursors, in my opinion.