Of all of the primary and secondary characteristics of ancient states that we discussed in class at the beginning of the year, it’s my personal opinion that agriculture is the most important to the development of statehood. It sort of acts as a cornerstone for all new, developing societies; it is the component of ancient state characteristics from which all others are capable of emerging.
Intensive agriculture allows for a surplus of food to exist, which in turn allows for a growing society to vastly increase in population. Increased population promotes a more sedentary lifestyle that comes with intensive agriculture, thus forming the cornerstone of a growing society.
The introduction of intensive agriculture allowed for less people to need to concentrate on farming and food growth. With less of the population required to produce food, more were free to develop skills or other embark in other specialized occupations. As we discussed early on in the semester, the specialized production of goods is another primary characteristic of ancient states.
The onset of specialized labor marks the beginning of the production of purely material or luxury goods. Production of luxury goods promotes the development of a more complex economy, trading material wealth for non-essential goods and services. The increasingly large scale of this complex economy is yet another primary characteristic of ancient states, yet again prompted by the onset of intensive agriculture.
Social stratification, another of the primary characteristics of ancient states, is made possible because of the growing separation between the elites in society and the common workers, such as farmers. Overseers or landowners of the working agricultural class forms the aristocracy, while specialized workers and the luxury goods they create perpetuate the marked social stratification.
Clearly, we can see that while all the characteristics that define an ancient state are all important in making that distinction, it can be argued that intensive agriculture forms the basis of the remaining traits. Heavy food production allows for a heavy, dense population to form. Food production worked by a smaller portion of the population frees up more to become specialized or become the landowners that form the basis of the aristocracy and the beginnings of a stratified social hierarchy. Specialized workers produce luxury goods, which then contribute to the production of an increasingly complex economy. Without intensive agriculture, it’s unlikely that any of the other characteristics of an ancient state would develop at all. It also stands to reason that the destruction of agriculture would also lead to the downfall of the ancient states.