Tag Archives: ancient state

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.

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.