Category Archives: Bonus Blog

The Central Characteristic of State Authority

There are many ways to approach this question. There are different aspects of these characteristics in terms of importance; they could be important to archaeologists, in helping us interpret the remains of the civilization that we find or they could be important in terms of helping the society grow into complexity. As for growing into complexity I believe all of the characteristics, including the secondary characteristics, can be fundamental to any society depending on the climate they live in and the general socio-political direction they are tending to grow in. Taking all of this into consideration, in my opinion, the most important primary characteristics for both measures of importance discussed above would be state authority or a state system of decision making and ability to enforce decisions.

I realize that there are also other characteristics that others may consider more important and fundamental for the growing complexity of a society however state authority is what I think defines a state as a state. Tribes or chiefdoms don’t have this level of authority in their government by cause of their general tendency toward egalitarian characteristics. Once we are able to identify that a civilization had this characteristic we are able to confidently confirm that the civilization in question was indeed a state and there is no ambiguity unlike the primary characteristic of agriculture or specialization where as these could be applied to both chiefdoms and possibly complex tribes. This characteristic is also relatively easy to spot in the form of state art and architecture. Since large works of art imply a strong state authority that can successfully command many people (slaves or citizens alike) into doing things that they want them to do.

However states don’t necessarily need state art to confirm that they indeed held the characteristic of state authority. We can also see the presence of state authority in the characteristic of a complex economy. In order for a state to distribute its goods widely a central coordinator is necessary. It is important for a state to be able to record transactions and distribute incoming goods to the population. This would be impossible without some form of state authority large enough to manage all of the incoming and outgoing goods in a large society. This also implies that the state is large enough to hold a large number of people which means urbanism is involved, something that a tribe or chiefdom lacks.

In conclusion, the primary characteristic of state authority is important not only for the central management of the other primary characteristics but also for archaeologists to identify a state in the future.

Bonus: Specialization and Tribute

The primary and secondary characteristics of a civilization seem to be relatively dependant on one another. With that, in my evaluation of which single primary characteristic and which single secondary characteristic is most integral to a civilization based on how it relates to the others. With that, I will start with the primary characteristic.

To me, specialization is the most important and most telling primary characteristic of a successful state. Specialization implies the presence of all other primary characteristics. With specialization, stratification will inevitably follow. Differing professions require differing pay and prestige. Beyond this, specialization would imply the presence of a complex economy. If your population has specific jobs and tasks to perform, your economy will thus become complex. Beyond this, the presence of specialization leads one to believe that said society is an urban one (one in which specialization can really count, as it can only exist within an urban environment), and that intensive agriculture is present. In this instance, one cannot have carpenters, soldiers, artisans, and sculptors if there is no food readily available. There is only one primary characteristic that I could see being somewhat exclusive from specialization, and that would be state authority. I cannot think of an instance in world history (off the top of my head) has happened, though I can certainly tell you that this would be the basis for the idea of anarchy (which would then do away with stratification as well). Nonetheless, specialization is absolutely integral to any developed civilization – without, the said civilization would surely fail.

In terms of secondary characteristics, I attempted to use the same method in order to single out one that is paramount. It was definitely more difficult, but I believe the most telling secondary characteristic would be the tribute or taxation imposed by the ruling government. I initially leaned toward writing, but I remembered that many ancient civilizations did not necessarily have a written language, but rather some form of hieroglyphics (though I am unsure as to whether this would count or not, so for the purposes of this blog, I will say they do not). The idea that a government would have the power to enforce some type of tribute or taxation implies a fairly well developed civilization. I cannot necessarily make the argument that every other secondary characteristic is dependent on this one, but it seems to fit in well within the theme of the primary characteristics.

State Art: Luxury of the Successful

After revision of the primary and secondary characteristics I have come to the conclusion that State Art is the most vital characteristic.  It is not only offers material culture for archeologists and anthropologists to study/showcase in museums, but it is also an indication of wealth within a state.  This is true in ancient and modern terms.  To expound, investing in State Art proves moderate success concerning primary needs (food, security, resources, stable environment).  Moreover, art is a reflection of society.  It responds, as well as challenges the community.  I am not saying art catalysts agriculture or religion or state authority, but it is the best signal that these are factors have been strongly established.

Usually, the first artifacts archeologists find are creative in nature—ceramics, figurines, wall paintings.  Why are they so easily discovered? Because they are prized possessions for individuals (oft interred with them in a mortuary context), meant for communication and aesthetic appeals to the senses/psyche.  This outlook continues to modern day society; ancient artwork is why museums are so attractive to a populous.  Whether it is cavemen paintings, delicately carved woodworks, or adorned headdresses, ornamental and stylistic accent can be ascertained.  Furthermore, personal interest in artwork only comes after a certain point of comfort or well-being.

Wealth: artistic endeavors by the state mean an abundance of valuable possessions because it is usually an afterthought.  Following the accumulation of scarce resource such as food, water, weapons to establish a stable state consisting of a sizable population, defined territory, sovereignty, and governing elite COULD the state indulge in creative expressions that offer zero marginal utility.  Also, little to no labor allocation by the state (citizens can choose an occupation).  When a state is powerful enough to no longer depend upon its population for labor (an excess of workers), citizen specialization begins.  Thus, the rise of artisans is attributed to an unregulated labor economy.  Another byproduct of specialization is payment for labor.  This bring me to the influence of religion on artwork.  The manifestation of deities lining walls of pyramids, statues in palaces, figurines shrined in households, is worth a price with specialization. The capitalization of religion, a product of skilled craftsmanship, also influences society.  It makes religion available for the plebeians.

The development of state art, while not a primary characteristic of an ancient state, is the most important in my opinion because of it only originate AFTER other vital facets of the state.  Therefore, whenever art is found, there is likely other evidence present indicating agriculture, infrastructure, economy, and religion.

Bonus blog: agriculture

It is difficult to say which of the six primary and numerous secondary characteristics of a state are most important: they are all so interrelated that trying to determine the most important is like trying to determine if the chicken or the egg came first. However, in my opinion, the most important is agriculture. Taken by itself it is not the be-all, end-all, but its occurrence is generally what sparks the emergence of the other characteristics. And, it is that it is fairly easy for archaeologists to find tangible evidence of intensive agriculture (for example, changed plant/animal distribution, changes in the features of plants/animals as seen in fossils, sickle sheen on blades). This is in contrast to some other state characteristics, such as state authority and state religion, because the information we have on these latter characteristics is often gathered through ethnohistory, which is generally nonconcrete information that requires extrapolation.

Arguably, nearly all of the primary characteristics are reliant on the preestablishment of intensive agriculture. Intensive agriculture occurs only in nonnomadic groups, and as the agriculture becomes more productive, it necessitates the establishment of storage buildings and some sort of administrators to distribute the harvest (so, more buildings and more people; thus, urbanism). When such large surpluses occur and there is a large enough amount of people devoted to maintaining the agricultural side of things, we also see the emergence of skilled workers who can dedicate their time to specialized crafts without fear of starving. These large surpluses also allow the state to start forming a complex economy–an excess of harvest goods allows it to exchange food and specialized crafts in exchange for items not readily available in its locality, thus developing   often-long-distance trade networks.

With the aforementioned establishment of distribution administrators also comes state authority (although not necessarily right away). Those with the power to control the distribution of food eventually find that they have all the power and therefore can make (and enforce) decisions. Here is where we typically also start to see the development of social stratification, with the state authority forming the upper class, then skilled laborers, then farmers. And of course, agriculture and the primary characteristics that emerge because of it influence secondary state characteristics such as epidemic disease (due to the high concentration of people around the productive agriculture zones) and state art, writing, and metallurgy (at a certain point, not everyone has to dedicate all of their time to agriculture; this is an aspect of specialization).

In sum, while all primary characteristics are extremely coinfluencial, agriculture often has to be the first to occur. It is difficult to imagine, for instance, a highly urbanized city that emerged before intensive agriculture was established or a complex economy that came into being before a community had a relatively easy, steady, reliable source of food.

Agriculture: The catalyst for all Characteristics of a State

After reviewing of the different primary and secondary characteristics of a state, I truly believe the most important characteristic of all is the practice of agriculture, particularly intensive agriculture. While the other characteristics such as urbanism, complex economy, stratification, and state authority are extremely important, I argue that without agriculture, these factors would not have emerged period.

I argue, first, that agriculture is the most important characteristic because it is involved in one of the four classic theories for the emergence of Ancient State. Irrigation agriculture was particularly important because hit allowed for high density populations, higher productivity, and higher efficiency of agriculture. In addition, agriculture combined with irrigation, requires an elite who can be in authority and tell people what needs to be done. With the utilization of agriculture, human populations were able to create a sedentary life style that allowed them to produce massive amounts of subsistence products in response to the increase in their population size. It was through agriculture that early populations learned how to create irrigation systems, such as canals, that eventually led to the emergence of a more complex society because management of the canals and water were controlled by the elite.

In other words, agriculture “births” the opportunities for other primary characteristics of states to come about:

URBANISM- with the practice of agriculture, groups of people were able to begin a sedentary life style. This allowed for the population density to increased because there was available food for all. Thus, in a way, agriculture allowed for urbanization to occur.

STRATIFICATION & SPECIALIZATION- through agriculture, stratification could occur at the same time as specialization because agriculture allowed civilizations to developed different specializations- whether it was specializations in farming, domesticating the animals which would help cultivate, or even the specialization of creating the tools/technology necessary to cultivate the crops. But as with any empire, when specializations occur, so does stratification. So therefore, the presence and practice of agriculture allowed for these other two characteristics to become more prominent.

COMPLEX SOCIETY- I also believe that agriculture allowed for the beginnings of a complex society to emerge. Through agriculture, states were able to not only grow enough crops for their use, but they were also able to grow enough surplus for trade. Having surpluses was incredibly important for the beginnings of trade.

STATE AUTHORITY- For agriculture to even be successful, irrigation canals had to be put in place to help give the crops a better opportunity to survive. According to class lecture, the presence of the irrigation canals alone allowed for the emergent of state authority because someone had to be in charge of them- for the production of them and for the management of them. In addition, surpluses were more common in agriculture societies and it was not uncommon for the state to demand some of the surpluses for taxes for example. These kinds of acts only enforce and strengthen the state authority. So again, I argue that agriculture provided the opportunities necessary for other characteristics of a state to emerge.

In my opinion, really all of the characteristics of a state relate to each other and are intimately connected in some way or another because when one occurs, another one follows. It is my belief that without agriculture, states would not exist at all because I believe agriculture was the catalyst for all characteristics to emerge.