Category Archives: Bonus Blog

Bonus Blog: Specialization

At the beginning of this class we discussed a variety of characteristics that are typically used to define a state. Not all states have all of these characteristics, but they are generally present. However, one of these characteristics sticks out as the most important in defining and developing a state: specialization.

Specialization is when people specialize in a certain area of production. It occurs when only part of the population is needed for food production, allowing others to take on other duties. Specialization is what allows for many of the other characteristics that define a state. Without specialization, a complex economy would not form. Specialization allows for an increase in both production and quality of goods. This in turn fosters the growth of trade because a society is able to make a great number of desirable goods to exchange with others. Upper Egypt was able to create sophisticated pottery that was superior to that of Lower Egypt, creating a lot of trade between the two. It is theorized that the cultural connection produced by this trade aided Hierakonpolis in its takeover of Buto.

Specialization also aids in the development of a stratified society. It creates a class of skilled producers and creates prestige objects that are used by elites to demonstrate their status. Specialization is what leads to the creation of beautiful and sophisticated objects, such as the beads found in Harappa. Some of the beads would have taken up to twenty-four hours to make. These goods can only occur within a society that has people working this as their sole job. These objects are used as markers of class, often demonstrated bu grave goods. Cong and bi were elite grave goods found in ancient China that marked prestigious burials. These sophisticated objects had to be specially made and would have taken a great deal of time to produce.

Specialization is what really sets a state apart. It allows for growth in many different areas of society and culture. The more specialized roles get, the more opportunity there is for complexity. All the characteristics that define a state are intertwined. They are not black and white categories but rather mix in with one another. Specialization is needed in a complex economy and for social stratification, metallurgy and the mass production of goods, but specialization also depends on this complex economy and an urbanized society to maintain itself. I count specialization as the most important individual factor, but it is really the interplay of these factors that creates a state.

Bonus: The athority in a state

I believe the most important characteristic of a state is the state authority. Not only is this one of the best predictors of a complex state, it is also absolutely an essential characteristic to the success of a complex state.
A community can have agriculture and even intensive agriculture. Without out state authority though, there would be no way to distribute the goods, oversee the labor if necessary, or provide the authority for projects like irrigation. Even if there is specialization in a society, some labor in the fields while others make leather goods, for example, this does not make a state. If housemates agree that one will mow the grass and clean the pool and the other will keep track of bills and maintain the inside lighting and plumbing fixtures according to their skills, it is not a state. If there is someone to govern how and when these chores are done is starts to sound more like a state. A complex economy can’t possibly reach a level of complexity without someone to pull strings. Even the freest of markets have to be made free by laws, which the state creates and enforces. State authority goes hand in hand with elites. While a state creates specialized labor (in agriculture, in religion, in public works, etc.), it is at the same time creating an elite that prospers of the work done by others. Stratification is important to state authority as it often keeps the state’s power from being challenged. Stratification alone will not lead to a state. Just because one person has more wealth or power than another does not give them the ability to govern; that is the job of authority. A society must have a need to be governed for it to be a complex state. Otherwise there is no mandate for state authority (because it would lack legitimacy and result in tyranny).
State authority is what makes a state a state, otherwise it is simply a group of people maybe with agriculture, maybe with some trade networks or a social hierarchy. Even with these state characteristics, this society really is not a state until it is governed.
It goes without saying that secondary state characteristics are very secondary to primary ones like state authority. In fact, most of these secondary characteristics (state religion, monumental public works, state art, tribute, development of a written language, and mass production) would be possible without state authority.

Bonus Blog

Primary Characteristics vs. Secondary Characterisitcs

By Charles Wilson

Whenever we are examining an ancient state, there are two sets of characteristics that we are looking at: primary and secondary characteristics.  Primary characteristics tend to be the very basics that are found in all ancient states in some shape or form. These include urban settlement, intensive agriculture, a set of specialized occupations within the state, a complex economy, and a system of social classes. Secondary characteristics are specific qualities that are unique to that particular state, such as writing, state religion, art, monumental public works and a system of taxation. Both are important both to the ancient states and to those studying them, so it is very difficult for me to answer to pick one over the other. Ultimately, it depends on our answer “more important to whom?”

If we are asking which is more important to those who actually lived in the ancient state, the primary characteristics were more important. Human beings are very social beings and found, like many other animals, that living with others increased their chances of not only surviving but thriving. Much like with a pack of wolves, leaders eventually rose from the group, eventually creating a social hierarchy. As time passes and the population grew, alternative food sources were sought out to feed everyone, which eventually (not over night) became a complex form of agriculture. With a new food source that requires more time and energy than hunting, permanent (or at least seasonal) settlement which eventually leads to urban cities. From these settlements, there are ideas that are being exchanged (particularly of beauty or practicality) which eventually leads to artifacts not associated solely with agriculture (such as jewelry, ritual objects, clothing, etc); as the greater community not only accepts these artifacts but desires them, specialized jobs emerged. Trade systems are created in order to gain raw materials that are not found in that particular environment.

While secondary characteristics were still important to the people who lived in these ancient states (especially state religion and a system of taxation), they were not as important as the primary ones. While it would still be a heavy blow to the state if one of the secondary characteristics failed, it would not necessarily lead to collapse as much as if one or more of the primary ones did. As important as a system of taxation would be for the state, it would not necessarily be as disastrous as if their system of agriculture failed (as we have seen happen towards the end of multiple states in the past such as the Egyptians and the Mississippians). A disruption in wealth is a lot easier to solve than famine is. So why did I not pick the Primary characteristics over the Secondary ones? For one simple reason: while they may not have been as important to the past citizens of the ancient states we are studying, they are very important for those who are studying them in the present.  Without the Secondary Characteristics, it would be very difficult to study multiple states in great detail because all states would essentially be the same (in other words, Archaeology would become a fairly boring gig). While the similarities between different states are indeed important, it is the differences in things like art or ideology that make each of these states unique and interesting to study in the first place. It also makes it easy to see how the state become more…complex (proper term?) by observing artwork and architecture  from earlier periods of the state’s history to those found in later periods (heck, at times it is HOW we can come up with a time line for that state).

So, to summarize everything up, both characteristics are very important not only to those who lived in the ancient states themselves but for those who study them as well; which one is more important depends entirely on the individual’s perspective on the issue.

Bonus Blog: Joseph Wright

In the early part of the semester, the second day to be precise our class began our discussion on what were identified as the characteristics of states. Out of those characteristics there were six that were identified as primary: urbanization, agriculture, specialization, complex economy, stratification, and state authority. The other emphasis was placed on the secondary characteristics of civilization that included: monumental public works, writing, metallurgy, tribute and taxation, mass production of goods, state religion, sate art, and epidemics of diseases. Together all of these embody what is means for a band or small group to become a society or a state. Perhaps may opinion may be biased or incorrect, that seems to be a running theme this semester, but in my ideal view of what it takes for a band, group, society, etc. to be considered a state I belief that a complex economy needs to be in place.
Granted this perspective comes from and individual who is a self-identified communications marketing major, and as such I have a view that is biased towards business. Still based on the evidence presented in class there is reason to believe that my ideal is the correct one. Considering all of our advanced societies that we examined over the class period there usually existed some system of exchange for goods and services. It could be based off of the tributary economy, a system of work for goods and services, or ultimately it could just be like how our society operates today. No matter what commerce is usually at the forefront of societies evolution into a complex state. Complex economies are tied inherently to the other primary characteristics of states as well as its secondary characteristics.
Through the development of economic systems and taxation practices stronger and larger urban centers are able to be developed for urbanization. Agriculture is able to produce a profit and those that do not grow their own food are able to use a complex monetary system of purchase to acquire food or other agricultural resources. Specialization is able to exists because they are able to focus on a particular area of interest in the hopes of turning a profit, without being overly burdened by the day-to-day thanks to a reliance of an economic system. Finally states are able to build up authority and be recognized as the elites by their subjects basically because they exercise the power of the purse, to control tax and regulate economic affairs within their state. I realize that my ideal may not fit some of the other opinions of my classmates, but it is still my mentality that the presence of a complex economy is THE most important primary characteristic of states. Thank you.

Bonus Blog: Richelle Valkema

Of the primary and secondary characteristics of a “civilization” (Ancient State), I think three of the most important are a complex economy, social stratification, and a strong state authority.  The reason I picked these three instead of just one is because I don’t really believe you can have any one of them without the others, they kind of go together.

Complex Economy: large-scale interchanges of goods and services.

Having a complex economy is an important characteristic because having a complex economy means that the state is organized and capable.  In order to have a complex economy, you must have job specialization and social stratification under close watch of a strong state authority or the state won’t be able to grow and improve or sustain its current population or wealth.  When a complex economy has emerged, it is safe to assume that the secondary characteristic of the mass production of goods has already begun to start because one area must have a reliable flow of one good to trade with another area that has a reliable flow of a different good.

Stratification: marked social stratification (social classes); ranked hereditary status.

I am not placing these three traits in any particular order except for the order in which they appear in my notes because it would be impossible to put one down and say that it started before the others.  Job specialization probably wouldn’t have occurred as quickly as it did if it were not for the social stratification occurring; however, stratification would have no purpose if there wasn’t profit to be made through a complex economy or status to achieve within a strong state authority.  So there is obviously a lot of duality through these traits as they must have begun occurring at a similar time.  Stratification is important, in my opinion, because it marked an end to the traditional egalitarian societies and brought about the beginning of how all states work now today.  No matter if the stratification is between a group of elders and the people of which they give guidance or a group of wealthy men who own most of the global wealth and have the power to end global hunger, stratification is emphasized and idealized as important and natural.  This is especially true of the work place as it was in the beginning of state creation when the farmers first started having to give a percentage of their profits to elite in order for resource distribution.  Stratification is an important characteristic of an ancient state and a modern state because it ensures that there will always be a hierarchy that keeps people at a lower status and doing the dirty and more exhausting work for less profit with a small chance of moving up: keeps the wealthy wealthy and the poor poor.

State Authority: state system of decision-making (power) and ability to enforce decision (authority).

It is almost too obvious to say that in order for there to be a state then there needs to be a state authority, but that is the case.  If you move from having just a few families who interact with each other to a group of families banding together and sharing resources, then you need someone to be in charge of making sure that the resources are equally distributed.  Because that person is given the power to make the final decision and the authority of having been voted to that position and so able to carry out or enforce their decision on how to distribute the resources, that person has in effect become the state authority.  With that example it must be noted, in order to avoid confusion, that it takes a lot more to identify something as a state such as having urban development with a large population and job specialization which neither of which are present in the example.  I just wanted to simplify how I understand the process of creating elite and eventually an all encompassing state authority.  The state authority owns and influences the complex economy, perpetuates social stratification with just its existence, and allows for the state to become and continue being a state.

I hope that I was clear in my wording and didn’t ramble on too much as it is probably obvious that I enjoy studying structuralist anthropological theorists!

The Importance of Urbanization

Of all the primary characteristics that are attributed to the creation of a state I believe urbanization to be of chief importance. The rationale behind this decision is the agency urbanization plays in the transition between nomadic hunter-gather societies to those that are sedentary. Once a society has decided to become sedentary all other characteristics of a state may then proceed. It is through settlement that agriculture may ensue, which gives way to social stratification, which then leads to a complex economy, which then produces specialized occupations and activities. Although I do not believe that this relationship is definitively linear as I just previously stated, I do believe that there a progression in any order first occuring with urbanization. The basic premise of a civilization of that it is an adaptive response to a need, and therefore, progresses out of a decisive measure to transition from one way of life to another. In addition I assert that Marvin Harris’s model of cultural materialism supports to primacy of urbanization in progression from a band to a state. Bands begin as nomadic groups that are loosely associated with a territory. The next phase of complexity is a tribe. This society is composed of a group on bands. Here, one can see that a population is growing and is becoming increasingly inclined to a sedentary lifestyle. One of the chief caveats of urbanization is its population. As exemplified here the population is growing and its adaption is to reformulate its subsistence strategy, enter the beginning mark of agriculture. In the next phase of complexity is chiefdom. Population density is still continuing to expand which commands the need for an institution to coordinate the economic and social practices of the given community. As a result hierarchy enters into the society as an individual or elite group is required to administer such coordination. The last phase of Harris’s model concludes with a state. As this point the society has reached technological sophistication that allows for greater economic production, leading to greater economic gains, and thus also giving its citizens greater freedom of choice as activity levels increase and more occupations become available.


Although in this essay I have noted urbanization as the greatest influencer in the development of a state it is important to also note that each of the characteristics of a state of not mutually exclusive and therefore may not exist in their own right. Each of these characteristics are interrelated thus making distinctions difficult at times. It is also important to clarify that the progression of a state does not occur on any given trajectory where a clear-cut path may be determined. There are many factors that contribute to the building of state and as a result each state may take a different pathway to achieve their progress. Thinking unilaterally often gets those who employ this school of thought into trouble as to assert that there is are natural stages for societal progression. Moreover this is gives way to prejudice thinking where someone may discount the legitimacy of one society because they do not exhibit the complexities of another society.

Bonus Blog: Urbanism and the Journey to Statehood

I spent some time deliberating with myself as to which of the six primary characteristics seemed o be the most important when considering ancient states. It was between Urbanism and Intensive Agriculture, but I ultimately settled on Urbanism as the most important of the primary characteristics of an ancient state as the most important, and this is why:

Every single one of the other primary characteristics comes as a direct result of urbanism. As populations begin to increase, agriculture must intensify to meet the demands of a growing populace. It might also be viewed that populations bean to expand as a result of increasing agriculture, but for the sake of my argument I will assert that increases in agriculture were a direct response to increasing populations. As populations grew and became more centralized, and agriculture intensified further, new technologies allowed for specialization in the labor force. Less people are required for food production due to new technologies that increase production and efficiency, allowing others to learn additional crafts such as weaving, ceramics, even literacy. These specialized professions gave rise to excess and unique goods and crafts that were sought after by neighboring societies. This created the first trade networks, the large scale exchange of goods over geographic distances. This process would have continued, with populations growing, new technologies emerging, the amount of individuals required for food production decreasing, the number of individuals going into specialized occupations increasing, all resulting in larger numbers of goods leaving the location for trade, bringing in other crafts from elsewhere. This would have directly caused social stratification to occur. The accumulation of goods or control over new technologies, or possession of a particular specialized skill would set one apart from his or her peers, a difference in status essentially. Soon enough, individuals with control over large amounts of land, or important trade connections, or who were able to write, became increasingly powerful, ascending past others, creating a hierarchical structure within the society. One individual will end up on top of this emerging pyramid, and elite systems and bureaucracies begin to develop. Those now in charge, at the top of the new social hierarchy, will start creating codes of law to guide those below them, this ability to make decisions for a large number of people is a large source of power, and after trial and error, a successful system for enforcing those decisions emerges, authority in its simplest form.

And the catalyst for that entire process, the creation of an ancient state was increasing populations, the beginning of urbanism. I realize the preceding example was extremely general, but it highlights the process that can be traced and examined in many ancient states, beginning with the dual process of rising populations and increasing agriculture, which one happens first is hard to determine, but in my opinion, the journey t statehood begins with urbanism.

Primary vs. Secondary Characteristics

A civilization is a social system or culture defined by specific characteristics; both primary and secondary.  There are six primary characteristics that make up all civilizations which include: urbanization, agriculture, specialization, complex economy, stratification, and state authority. These characteristics in my opinion are more important in characterizing a civilization compared to the secondary characteristics. The secondary characteristics of a civilization are: monumental public works, writing, metallurgy, tribute & taxation, mass production of goods, state religion, state art, and epidemic disease & malnutrition. The reason I think that primary characteristics are more important than secondary characteristics is because while primary characteristics are shared among all civilizations secondary characteristics are not. They are used merely to help strengthen the identification of a civilization. The secondary characteristics make up the parts of the primary characteristics that can be used to describe them. For instance the secondary characteristics monumental public works, writing, tribute & taxation, mass production of goods, state religion, and state art can all be used to describe how  a civilization demonstrates the primary characteristic of state authority. This reinforces the fact that primary characteristics are general ways of describing a civilization and that secondary are more detailed characteristics. The primary are basic general characteristics that are more important because they make classifying a civilization easier and as you want to began to describe a civilization more specifically the primary characteristics break down into more specific parts in the secondary characteristics that are used to continue to describe how complex a society is. The secondary characteristics describe more the specific parts of a civilization that make it complex while the primary are better for generalizing what a typical civilization looks like thus making them more important when trying to describe a civilization. You can use the primary characteristics as check list for what a society needs to be considered complex then use the secondary characteristics as a way to further describe a civilizations complexity and compare which areas of the civilization is it more complex in than another. Overall both sets of characteristics are useful in describing a civilization; however, primary characteristics are more important because of their ability to describe exactly what characteristics a typical complex civilization has. Secondary characteristics are only important in comparing two complex civilizations and showing the more specific areas of complexity within a civilization.