In the beginning of the course, we talked about the primary and secondary characteristics that define a civilization. Primary characteristics are those like: urban (type of settlement), agriculture (intensive agriculture), specialization (occupational – only part of the population involved in certain tasks), complex economy (large scale interchanges of goods and services), stratification (marked social classes or ranked hereditary status), and state authority (state system of decision making (power) and ability to enforce decisions (authority)). Secondary characteristics are those like: writing, state art, tribute/taxation, monumental public works, mass production of goods, epidemic disease and malnutrition, metallurgy (decorative or warfare), and state religion (associate arts like astrology and calendrics).
Based on this, I think that primary characteristics are the most important. If they weren’t the most important then they wouldn’t be called ‘primary’ would they? Primary characteristics of civilizations are those that define them as civilizations, while secondary characteristics are the ones that make the civilizations unique and more interesting.
For example, primary sex characteristics are the ones associated with reproduction, so either a uterus or testicles. Secondary sex characteristics are those differences that are a result from puberty, like underarm hair, breasts, pubic hair, and facial hair. The primary sex characteristics are the most important, they are the ones that distinguish a person’s sex from a male or a female.
Back to the primary characteristics versus secondary characteristics debate. Intensive agriculture is a primary characteristic of a state because it requires a lot of forethought and preparation. It is a full time job that demands a great portion of the population for the work required in keeping the crops thriving and taken care of. Specialization is another important primary characteristic because it divides up the work of the population so that different jobs and needs can be seen to at the same time. Specialization also requires a lot of planning so that there are enough people to do each job, but at the same time, that the most important jobs have the most people working on them. A complex economy shows that the state authority can take care of the population and get rid of the surplus resources to trade or make a profit on. It shows how advanced and well put together a state is. Stratification shows that the population is broken up into different social classes, each with their own requirements and certain duties that is expected of them.
The primary characteristics are the most important because they are the defining characteristics that make a state a state. The secondary characteristics are the ones that make a state unique and more interesting, but you don’t need them to define a state. The secondary characteristics like epidemic disease, writing and art aren’t really important enough to define a state.