Primary vs Secondary Characteristics of the State

Before this class I had never actually thought about how state authorities emerged, what went into creating a complex society, or how on earth states could be sustained for extend periods of time, especially in antiquity. In learning about the differences between primary and secondary characteristics of states at the beginning of the semester, I had clearly never really thought about such features playing such important parts in the rise and fall of ancient societies. Though secondary sources are very important and provide physical evidence of state emergence, sustenance, and decline, I personally believe that primary characteristics have proven to be more important throughout this course. Don’t get me wrong, I do know the importance of monuments, writing systems, mass production, religion, etc., but the six primary characteristics that make up the core of state societies seems to be the crucial features of these political entities. Urbanization, agriculture, specialization, complex economies, social stratification, and state authority have all had key roles in the linear transition that occurred as cultures moved from simple to complex societies.

Overall, I believe that the intensification of agriculture was the most important process of state emergence. Not only was agriculture important for the obvious reasons of the food production, but it also contributed to other primary characteristics of the state. With intense agriculture came the need to specialized occupation such as making specialized tools for farming and exploiting resources or storage vessel to extend the shelf life of food products. This intensification and specialization of the agricultural process led to complex economies. While some societies were known for their food production, others were successful in craft trades that produced luxurious or exotic goods. Because of the demand of product that couldn’t be obtained locally, large scale interchanges of goods and services eventually created expansive trade networks throughout the ancient world. Because some of these objects came from so far away, one’s ability to acquire these exotic goods contributed to the growing social stratification taking place in different states. State authority was then needed to aid in keeping order of the state, make decisions, and enforce some type of power. The centralization of the state contributed to the rise of urbanization.

Though secondary characteristics tell great stories of the past, can provide a detailed visual of certain aspects of primary characteristics, and are easily identifiable through archaeological remains, such as the Great Pyramids of Giza or Shang Dynasty oracle bones, primary characteristics tell us more about the actual structure and function of the society. Despite the fact the primary characteristics do seem to be slightly more significant in the history of past societies, both have proven to a play significant role in allowing us to peek into the past, learn from ancient states, and potentially better shape our future.

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