Category Archives: Bonus Blog

characteristics of a state

I think that agriculture is the most important primary characteristic of a state. Food is usually the number one priory when it comes to sustaining a population, especially when the population is growing and using up more local resources than hunting and gathering can provide. If everyone is starving to death, you’re obviously doing something wrong. Agriculture isn’t just about the cultivation of plants but also about the domestication of animals. Animals besides providing primary products such asmilk, hyde, and meat can also provide important secondary products such as cheese, bread, bone tools, etc.

Of course agriculture doesn’t just have to be used as a food staple for society. In Mesopotamia’s case they decided to trade their cereals with Harappa in exchange for luxury goods. Agriculture can help open the door to trade due to the  land that one group is on being more suitable for a staple crop such as wheat than other regions. This way they can trade excess portions in order to obtain items or materials that aren’t obtainable my their local resources.

However I feel that agriculture goes hand-in-hand with large population densities. Agriculture allows for more food to be produced within a set period of time and states usually tend to keep intensifying it because there are more and more people. So that means there are more people to aid in the fields in order to produce more food and this can help lead to the plots of farming land becoming larger. This is because agriculture provides a healthier way of life than hunting and gathering. Therefore more of the younger generations are surviving and creating “age grades.” As time goes on a larger amount of people allow for specialized craftsmanship like metallurgy and skilled foremen to aid in building the monumental works.  Larger populations and an urbanized environment make trade safer. It’s not just one person making tools, going off to maybe sell them and probably getting looted on the way there or back. In urbanized states, trade is more organized traders can hire others to protect them on their journey to acquire wealth. This helps to introduce other materials to the society such as bronze or iron were for many states. A of these societies were no where near any type of mines so they had to trade in order to get what they wanted.

I really just find this interesting how many of these characteristics are inter-related and it’s hard to imagine some being unaccompanied by some of the others.

Authority Over Everything (sort of)

So I was sitting here thinking about which characteristics of a state is the most important and I’m having a really hard time. While I don’t think one characteristic is more important than the other per say, i think having a state authority is the easiest way to identify and classify a state. I came to this conclusion because I figured most (if not all) of the secondary characteristics of a state pop up after a state authority is formed. The characteristics such as monumental public works, writing, metallurgy (decorative or warfare), tribute/taxation, mass production of goods state religion (associate arts like astrology & calendric) and state art all are the result of one centralized power producing and ruling. We’ve discussed a lot this semester on how monumental works (pyramids) were built as a way to dominate over the non-elites a d justify the ruler’s position, so if there was no ruler would we have these giant buildings? Mass production also means standardization. Take the mud bricks homes from the Harappan city of Mohenjo-Daro for instance. Each brick was the same size in every building and all the buildings were formed from the same layout. What this says to me is that there had to be one central power demanding and planning the schooling and labor required for this intricate planning. Tribute and taxation is also another big primary characteristic we discussed this semester that can be explained through the idea of a state authority. We see late in the Ubaid period the “temple economics” of the urban centers which require tribute in the forms of labor to the city. Even if it wasn’t labor, if any form of tribute is considered to be a characteristic of a state than we must understand the importance of the state’s authority role.

The Most Important Primary Characteristic of an Ancient State – An Urban Setting

In my opinion, the most important primary characteristic of an Ancient State is urbanization. The location of a settlement is key to the future success of the state. The ideal metropolis would be close enough to a body of water that trade would be enabled, but far enough inland so that if an invasion was to take place, it would not be a surprise. A perfect example of this strategic planning can be seen in Ancient Egypt: the Nile River provided a trading route from upper to lower Egypt – in fact it still does to this day – and the proximity to the Mediterranean Sea was an excellent choice to create trade routes between Egypt, Italy, Greece, the area that would become the Ottoman Empire, western Africa and Southwestern Europe.

In addition to having unrestricted access to trade routes, a successful state would be centered in an area where it would be the actual center of a larger governing body. Its peripheral centers would have to be proficient in self managing for the most part, but be close enough to the core to ensure that the core still had control over them all the time.

A large population is essential for an urban metropolis to succeed. Obviously, an ancient state does not pop up overnight with a population of 100,000 people. It usually started out as a sedentary community made up of a group or several groups of hunter gatherers-turned farmers. The area would amass more and more people as time went on, by which time the settlers would have begun to build actual houses instead of tents and/or temporary living arrangements. Fields would have been planted for permanent food supply, some sort of irrigation would have been constructed, and more and more people would migrate to the area to settle down. Soon, the area would have been in need of more space for the growing number of people wanting to live there, and periphery communities would have been established. These would generally have their own leader, who would report to the central figurehead back in the core city. Once the city got to be a certain size, it would have most likely been involved in some type of warfare with neighboring cities. Because of this, there would have been a need for an army of sorts, made up of people who could defend the city and perform attacks on invaders if necessary.

Overall, an ancient state had no chance of survival if it did not have a strategic location that would be beneficial in regards to trade, a growing population, and a need for a strong defense team to keep the city from collapsing

Importance of Secondary Characteristics

In my opinion, a states secondary characteristics are much more important than the primary characteristics. I believe this to be true in terms of emergence, development, and every other aspect which attributes to a state. Yes, the primary characteristics are what classify an area as a state, but thats all that they do. It’s almost like the primary characteristics are the definition, while the secondary characteristics are all of the ways which you can use that definition. These are what make the state to be what it was, who the people were, and what makes them stand out from every other ancient state from the past. Take writing for example, there were few ancient states which we discussed with special forms of writing, and that is because not every ancient state developed with this tactic. For example, Harrapa displayed their writing through ceramic seals, and the people in Uruk produced cuneiform which was not an actual “language” but the writing displayed that they had a spoken language. Another popular example is the Egyptian pyramids. When most people think of Egypt the pyramids are the first thing that come to mind, and that is because the pyramids are what make the Egyptians stand out in society. Or how the people who seasonally occupied Nabta Playa created the earliest known calendar circle that we know of. We may have had no interest in this social group had we not found something so symbolic. State religion is also a secondary characteristic which can define a state. I do not think that it is only the presence of the religion, but how the society plays a role to display it. Such as the Aztecs who worshiped the Sun God Huitzilopochtli by making ritual sacrifices to keep him pleased and powerful. Or the people of Teotihuacan doing both private and public rituals, some including sacrifice, to keep in contact with the cosmos. It is easy to see that there were many ways which the people of ancient states would express their cultural practices using secondary characteristics. These characteristics are vital to all areas of the ancient states, and are much more important than the primary characteristics. These tell us not only that they are classified as a state, but what that state consisted of. Who were the Aztecs or the Egyptians as individuals cultures? What did certain ancient states consist of that others did not? What makes every ancient state in history unique? This is the type of information that secondary characteristics of a state can give us, making them more important than the primary ones.

Primary characteristics bonus blog

I believe the most important characteristic of being categorized as an ancient state would have to be agriculture. Agriculture opens doors to extensive trade networks, a rising economy, and the survival of the people of the state. This primary characteristic leads is an imperative asset to the continuation of a state. It is necessary to survive and without it a dependence of hunting and gathering would not be enough. Without the advancement of agriculture, states would not have been able to rapidly expand as they did once agriculture was established around 10,000 BC. Agriculture is key to the rest of the remaining primary characteristics. If agriculture was not present then a complex economy and urban setting would not have been possible. Without those, the people of the time would continue to be nomadic and would not retain a state authority and stratification of classes as well as having specializations. Specializations are based on the presence of food production and that would not be as present without agriculture.  As for the secondary characteristics of being called a state, they branch off from the primary characteristics and without them, they would not have much of a basis in societies.  Agriculture maintained a population increase in order for all of these characteristics to follow. Until agriculture became a part of everyday life for the people living around 10,000 BC, advancements were slow and relating to hunting and tools. But until the radical change of agriculture came, humans were more nomadic and followed herds of animals in order to survive. With agriculture people were able to settle down and become sedentary and reproducing more. The growing populations continued humans advancements and urban centers grew and distinct cultural societies were claiming their lands. You can see the rapid growth and advancement through states like Mesopotamia, the Aztecs, and the Egyptians. These states growth and development would not have been possible without the foundation of agriculture. As agriculture spread, societies sprouted up where agriculture was possible continuing the humans settlement across our planet. When you look at all of the ancient states we learned about in class, take out agriculture and you can see it was the foundation and beginning of that particular state and the reason behind its continuation. Without agriculture these states would not be the great ancient states we learn about in school today. We may not even be here today without the primary characteristic of agriculture.

Primary vs. Secondary

Over the course of this semester both primary and secondary characteristics of a state have been discussed. Primary characteristics are categorized as urbanism, agriculture, specialization, complex economy, stratification, and state authority. A state must have all of these characteristics in order to be considered a state. On the other hand, a state may or may not have all secondary characteristics. Secondary characteristics are categorized as writing, monumental public works, metallurgy (decorative or warfare), tribute and taxation, mass production of goods, state religion (associated arts like astrology or calendars), state art, and epidemic disease and malnutrition. After learning about the different ancient states throughout this semester, I have come to the decision that when defining a state, primary characteristics are definitely the most important and teach one more about the culture and society of the state. In my opinion, the most important and impacting primary characteristic is agriculture.

Agriculture is the cultivation of domesticated plants, animals, and fungi for food, fiber, and other products. There are two different types of agriculture. Casual agriculture is when groups of people would consistently harvest a certain plant, this begins to domesticate and change the species. Intensive agriculture is the harvesting of huge crops of land. Archaeologists have theories about agriculture. The Oasis Theory maintains that as the climate got drier due to ocean depressions shifting, communities contracted to oases where they were forced into close association with animals, which were then domesticated together with the planting of seeds. The Feasting Model was agriculture driven by ostentatious displays of power, such as giving feasts to exert dominance. This required assembling large quantities of food, which drove agricultural technology. The Demographic Model was sedentary population that expanded to the carrying capacity of the local environment and required more food than could be gathered. Agriculture had many characteristics on its own.

It can be seen throughout history that agriculture played a large role in the rise of states and the collapse of states. Communities would collect around land that was prime for cultivation. Ancient states formed around agriculture. It is my opinion that agriculture is the base of the creation of the ancient states. The ancient states that were studied this semester all had sustainable agriculture that maintained survival for the citizens. I also believe that agriculture was the main reason for a state’s collapse as well. Many of the ancient states experienced drought or some other intense climate/environmental change. If a state’s agriculture is not able to survive neither will its people, which in the end will cause a decline and collapse.

I believe primary characteristics are what define ancient states, and agriculture is the most important.

What characteristic is the most important? Bonus blog for the final

Now you ask us which one of the primary or secondary characteristics we believe to be the most important? Well I say agriculture and these are my reasons for my decision. If these ancient cultures did not realize and understand the importance of agriculture and learn to manipulate it into intensive agriculture they would have ceased to exist, and we would not be where we are today. I know you are saying hold on wait a minute all these ancient city/state collapsed and are no more, and for some of them there is hardly any archaeological evidence to show that they even existed, so what does this have to do with us? Even though these ancient civilizations collapsed and disappeared their methods and ways still lived on from one culture to another. If these people’s had not taken a crock and moved it to their liking and learn how to domesticate it to fit their needs they would have starved. This is how they accomplished intensive agriculture from my viewpoint. First they found a plants they would use as their main food crop and they felt that they could live off this crop and it would help their community to thrive and flourish. They moved this food crop onto a plot of land that they had learned how to cultivate and fertilize properly. Next they learn how to control their water sources and were able to irrigate this plot of land when needed to ensure crop growth. The controlling of the water source with also a huge feat within itself, it took a lot of thinking and planning and manpower to accomplish such a plan. But when all these factors were put together your final result is a domesticated crop, yielded by use of intensive agriculture. Also included in this segment is the importance of the domesticated animal. These cultures learned the importance of domesticating the animal to use for labor in building, traveling and working the fields where the intensive agriculture was taking place. Also with the domestication of animals it  gave them another food source. They could get meat, milk, oils, and much more from animals. Also they could use their other parts like the hide and bones for daily living practices. Domesticating an animal was less time-consuming than going out to hunt, which in turn allowed them time to practice and involve their intensive agriculture.


I would also like to say that I believe the secondary characteristic writing was also important because without some form of writing we would not be able to identify some of these many cultures that we are finding today.

Bonus Blog: Primary vs. Secondary Characteristics

In my opinion, primary characteristics are the most important. Secondary characteristics are important as well, however I do not think that they are completely necessary for a civilization if I was forced to choose between the two. For example, one of the Primary characteristics, state authority, is very important to a civilization or a state. Without a system of decision making, which is the power, and without a way to enforce the decisions made, which is the authority, the state would be in complete chaos. People need a leader and for someone to tell them what to do and to represent the different opinions of the masses. People in a state also need to know that they are safe and protected (and that the state is not in chaos) and criminals need to know that there will be repercussions for their actions. Agriculture, another primary characteristic, is also extremely important for a civilization or state. I think that it is the foundation of a civilization. Intensive agriculture allows for a stable and steady food supply and settlement in a single location. It also helps with trading with other regions as well; some forms of agriculture can be used as dyes which can be used and/or traded, which  boosts the economy. Branching off from my last point, it is important for a state to have a complex economy, another primary characteristic. Another important primary characteristic is that the state is Urban; meaning that it is large and dense. It must be large and dense in order for neighborhoods to be established, public and government buildings, etc. If the state was not dense, everything would be spread apart, people would not feel as if they were a part of a community and they may begin to stop listening to their ruler. There would be no businesses thus no stimulation of the economy.  As I mentioned earlier, secondary characteristics are important for a civilization as well. Characteristics such as a state religion (and its associated arts; calendrics and astrology) organizes daily life and brings people together. Mass production of goods shows that a civilization is specialized. Tribute or taxation are also really important secondary characteristics because the money is used to support the economy and the region as a whole. Epidemic Disease and Malnutrition show that the state is unified and helps people become resistant to other strains of diseases which makes the state stronger health wise.  Concluding, I think that primary characteristics are much more important than secondary characteristics.