Category Archives: Bonus Blog

Specialization Bonus Blog

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.

Characteristics of a State

On the second day of class we learned there are six important/primary characteristics that make a state: urban, agriculture, specialization, complex economy, stratification, and state authority.  Secondary characteristics are usually evident in some combination of the following: monumental public works, writing, metallurgy, tribute/taxation, mass production of goods, state religion, state art, and epidemic disease and malnutrition.  While both primary and secondary characteristics are important for the classification and study of states, I believe that the primary characteristics are most important.
Allow me to elaborate.  The secondary characteristics are important as well, but I feel that those characteristics cannot be reached, or achieved, by the community until the primary characteristics are met.  In the following paragraphs, I will indicate how each one of the primary characteristics leads to some of the secondary characteristics being achieved.
For the urban characteristic to be applied, it must be a densely populated, permanent settlement; non nomadic living.  Without this dense population, other secondary characteristics could not be met.  For instance, there would be a greatly reduced risk of epidemic diseases.  The monumental public works would not be completed because the work force would be so spread out that it would be difficult to get enough people in one location.
The agriculture required is intense agriculture, providing for many people, not just a family.  This large production of crops can be used in taxation/tribute, depending on how the state organizes the system.  Mass production can also involve crops and food stuffs.
A group is considered to implement specialization when the population is split up for occupations; only part of the population is involved in food production, health care, security, clothing production, etc.  This specialization could be implemented in metallurgy, the creation of decorative or warfare metal objects.  The mass production of goods can also include specialization, in determining who is producing what objects and making sure the necessary variety is produced.
A complex economy involves long trade routes and large-scale trading of goods.  Mass production of goods can be required if a state has a high demand from the areas/states it trades with.  Epidemic diseases could also be introduced into a state through the interaction with other areas that a complex economy encourages.  Tribute and/or taxation are also involved in a complex economy, by helping ensure it has enough resources to function.
I believe stratification and state authority are linked closely to one another; stratification is essentially the presence of a hierarchy or social classes in a state, and state authority is the implementation of decision-making processes decided upon by the state (and a ruling body to carry out those decisions).  Usually the ruling body that carries out the state authority is part of the elite class present in stratification.  The state can then implement a state religion or state art (or similar fields like astrology).  The state authority can dictate the rules and amount of tribute/taxation for the citizens, and could even have a hand in the distribution of jobs and food.  Monumental public works are perhaps one of the most visible indicators of the presence of state authority; all of the workers required to build something so impressive must be coordinated by someone.
Taking all of this into consideration, I believe that the primary characteristics of state are more important.  Without the primary ones, a state cannot achieve the secondary characteristics.


When I was reviewing the primary and secondary characteristics of a state I kind of found it hard to decide which one was most important. In my opinion, I think that they all depend upon each other for the betterment of a society. The main three characteristics that I was able to narrow it down to but had a hard time deciding on were: urban, agriculture, and complex economy. Personally I think that all three of these are equally the most important but since I have to choose I think that agriculture is the most important characteristic.

Why agriculture? Let’s take a moment and think about this for a second, agriculture is concerned with cultivating land, raising crops, and feeding, breeding, and raising livestock; farming. This takes a lot of time and community cooperation. A lot of times we see that a lot of civilizations start to dwindle down and decline because they become so largely populated that they aren’t enough resources to sustain the society.  A large scale intense agricultural system helps not only sustain a society but also helps bring means to the use of trade and market economy. Through the domestication of wheat, barley, lentils, sheep, goats, and cattle bring the business of trade which can help a society sustain its society.

Agriculture was also a key factor in indentifying the transition to the Neolithic period. We see the development of human history that was traditionally the last part of the Stone Age. This transition was associated with the transition from nomadic hunting and gathering communities to agricultural subsistence and settlements. In many parts of the world began to transition to the village life but not at the same time. Another reason why I think that agriculture is the most important characteristic is that it is used as archaeological evidence in identifying and finding information about ancient states. We see this trough the domestication of plants and animals by identifying their distinct morphologies.

I think that agriculture is in close ties with urbanism. Through urbanism we also learn about past settlements and learn from their mistakes or follow in their footsteps to a better society.  In my opinion you just can’t set up a community anywhere and just start farming. If you want a good, productive, thriving community you would look for an area with promising features. Now these promising features may range from a number of things such as close bodies of water to large plains for raising live stock. My main point is that positioning is everything and I feel that urbanism is a key factor in creating a state along with agriculture because for urbanization to occurred because there was an available food source to support an increasing population.

Agriculture (bonus blog)

Because each of these characteristics are interdependent, it is difficult to simply choose one as the most important.  As I explored the interrelationships between the primary characteristics of the state, I have narrowed down what I think are the most important to agriculture and state authority.  Of these, I am unsure which is more important since, in order for the state authorities to enforce class stratification, urban planning, specialization for elite consumption, and complex trading systems, they need excess agricultural production for their own consumption.  Otherwise they would be spending their days working land or hunting for enough food for themselves and their families.  However, in order for agricultural practices to grow enough to have a surplus, there must be some initiative or reason for a people to engage in these practices past their own needs.  In this way, the idea of an elite or authoritative class would encourage the agricultural production they then seem dependent on. After exploring these through our course texts for a bit, I have decided that agriculture appears to be the most central, not just in terms of what makes a state, but also what makes a state collapse, making this the key characteristic of statehood, for me.

Most, if not all, of the ancient states we have talked about in class have centered around a river or some other body of water (the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates, monsoons and Indus/Ganga rivers, Yellow River, etc.).  In each case, hunter-gatherer societies started to become semi-sedentary to sedentary societies with the cultivation of land around these rivers or bodies of water.  In some places, like Andean South America, Lower Egypt, or Lowland Mesoamerica, the ocean itself became a body of water around which agriculture and trade could evolve.  Once these semi-sedentary communities were established around the annual floods of the Nile or Tigris and Euphrates, or around the seasonal lake beds and storms in the Indus Valley and China, people started to become more sedentary, staying year-round instead of moving for half the year to go hunt and gather in other parts of the region.  Instead, they developed ways to glean the most they could from the land that was already extremely fertile part of the year.  For some areas, this meant canals (Mesopotamia), raised fields (Andes), or other types of irrigation to bring water to bigger areas of land.

However each emerging society decided to further their ability to use and harvest crops, they each had to plan for the times of the year in which crops were not available, leading to surpluses that had to be stored for later.  In egalitarian societies, the excesses could be stored together from each individual/family, and then dispersed as needed through the rest of the year.  As populations grew, however, there came to be a necessity for organizing people and enforcing the ‘rules’ of the society.  With this necessity came a position of power for those in charge of distribution and enforcement.  As societies grew bigger and ideologies became more present, this minor elite came to have more and more power, eventually able to place themselves at the ‘top’ of a social hierarchy, with varying levels of specialization and class standings.  In this way, I think agriculture allows for each of the other primary characteristics to exist, even if the actual existence of agriculture is not what causes the other characteristics to exist.

While I understand that this is a fairly speculative assessment of what actually happened in these ancient states, I also understand that in each ancient state, we talked about the geography, climate, and agricultural possibilities as a first step toward learning about ancient peoples.  Because of its importance to our discussions, I also think that its importance to the rise of states cannot be undervalued.  There is a reason that ancient states arose where and when they did, and also a reason they fell when they did.  In many cases, agricultural decreases played large roles in the collapse of these states.  Therefore, it appears to be at least a very major contender for the most important characteristic of a ‘state’.


Primary Vs Secondary Characteristics of a State

I believe that secondary characteristics of a state are the most important. The secondary characteristics of a state in my opinion are what we remember most about a society. Secondary characteristics is what is left behind for us as Anthropologist to study and build upon to gain more knowledge about histories of the past and understand our place as modern civilizations in the future. I think that we should place more emphasis on secondary characteristics as opposed to the primary characteristics because in my opinion the primary characteristics of a state are a lot more generic and do not provide as much information as we could gather from secondary characteristics.  The reason why I believe secondary characteristics are more important because it allows us to compare characteristics across different civilizations. Thus allowing us to see not only similarities, but we also get the chance to see how the evolution of previous civilizations are sometimes passed on to the next one and this helps us understand newer aspects of our own civilizationsFor instance, think of the Indus Valley: There are certain characteristics that are present in Early Harappan that are similar to characteristics that were present from the Sumerians and Akkadians; such as the extension of trade networks. The Early Harappan’s were able to pull from the Akkadians and Sumerians and reorganize their trade to be more efficient to the needs of their civilization and they also understood the importance of the foreign goods/trade.

Although I do believe that secondary characteristics are more important than primary characteristics I do not think that we should completely dismiss the role that primary characteristics play in helping Anthropologist understand civilizations from the past. The biggest thing that we should take away from primary characteristics is that they lay a foundation for the importance of secondary characteristics. Understanding the basic layout of a particular state such as its geographical location, agriculture, its main sources of food, etc. allows us to better understand why certain states adopted the particular secondary characteristics that they did. For example, the Indus Valley were near bodies of water so it made since for their methods of transportation  agriculture and major networks of trade to be based around water as well. Granted this is a very simplistic example of why primary characteristics are valuable to recognize, but it does help us see how primary and secondary characteristics interact with one another and even though i’m arguing that one may be more important than the other these two characteristics do work hand in hand at times. I believe that as anthropologist we shouldn’t necessarily look at whether one is more important than the other, but rather than how does one affect the other or arguably is there any relationship at all.

The Importance of Staple Crops in State Societies

State level societies are not simple institutions and are the culmination of many traits and forces. It is difficult to pinpoint a specific source for complex societies, since many of the aspects of these societies are interrelated and hard to separate. However one feature that seems to be universally required for growth in complexity is the adoption of large scale agriculture. While agriculture in itself is not a guarantee for social complexity, it does provide the required resources needed for larger populations, urban centers, and specialists who are no longer needed to aid in food production.

It is difficult though to say whether agriculture was the precipitate of large urban populations, or if agriculture was developed out of necessity to feed the larger population. Whatever the case may be, large-scale agriculture was necessary in sustaining the livelihood of the ancient states. This meant going beyond a simple family vegetable garden, and planting a large scale staple crop to feed the masses. This crop took on different forms for each civilization. For the Mayans, Mississippians, and Ancestral Puebloans, this crop was maize. For the ancient Chinese states it was rice. For the cities that began springing up along the Nile it was barley and wheat.Each crop may have been adapted for different climatic circumstances, but each fulfilled the purpose of providing the mass crops needed to sustain large populations and free people to engage in other specialties.

It should be noted as well what happened to ancient states when a staple crop failed to produce. The onset of a drought or flooding could have catastrophic consequences, even potentially causing the state to collapse. Even smaller climate fluctuations could have deadly consequences. The people of ancient Egypt were at the mercy of the Nile. Too much floodwater and the crops would be drowned, while a drought would wither their chances of a good harvest. The scenes depicted at the causeway of the Pyramid of Unas show emaciated victims of famine.

Take away a state society’s staple crops and social order will begin to deteriorate. The Ancestral Puebloan culture of the American Southwest was sent spinning into turmoil by a decades long drought in the late thirteenth century. Trade systems collapsed and regional urban centers were abandoned as groups splintered into highly defensive communities. Across the globe the Akkadian Empire faced a similar situation with the onset of climate induced drought period of three centuries. The southern plains were unable to produce enough food surpluses to support a large urban population, forcing the people to leave and central power to collapse.

Thus we can see that a state society’s existence is highly entwined with the production of staple crop. Intensive agriculture allows for the growth of population, the rise of urban centers, and the subsequent features of a complex culture. However a society that looses the ability to feed its people will begin to crumble as central authorities are unable to maintain social order among the masses. When we boil a complex society down to its raw components, we are left with a few basic necessities. Chief among these is food and the ability to ensure a continued supply of crops to promote a large population and a diversification of advanced cultural traits.

Primary vs. Secondary Characteristics of a State

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.

Bonus Blog: Characteristics of a State

In the beginning of the semester we talked about the characteristics of a state. These characteristics ranged from intensive agriculture to the taxation of the people. When examining these characteristics I believe that the most important characteristic to a state is the presence of a state authority. A state authority is a system of decision making that has the ability to enforce these decisions. In other words, they have the power to make decisions and the authority needed to enforce them. This state system is responsible for organizing and maintaining all these other characteristics. They are responsible for making sure the state runs smoothly in all aspects. Without this system how would they organize their population to do anything. This system can created social stratification and ranked status throughout the state in order to maximize the state’s ability to grow and flourish. The state authority is also responsible for organizing intensive agriculture and creating specialization for the population. For example, they can assign different workers to work in different areas so that every function the state needs to accomplish can be accomplished. Some people can work in agriculture while others can work in trading and selling goods. Which brings me to my next point about state authority. There is no way that a complex economy, another characteristic of states, could function or even get running without a state authority. The complex, large scale interchange of goods and services that can make a state develop into an empire would not be possible without someone on top pulling the strings for the people. The state authority is also responsible for organizing the urban side of the state. They can decide the layout of the cities in order to maximize the space, while leaving room for temples, agriculture, housing, and even things like ball courts to entertain the population.

As you can see it is hard to imagine a state growing let alone maintaining the same level for years without a state authority. We listed six primary characteristics in class, and every single one of these characteristics would be hard to accomplish and put into place without a state authority. It would be complete chaos for the state and its population. A state authority, by giving the power and important decisions to one group, is able to act in the best interests of the state and allow it to grow and develop into the empire it can.