Lecture 18: Cities, States and Civilizations

\star ya = years ago

Effects of Food Production and Cities

  • Increase in population density
  • Permanent settlements
  • New technologies (increasing craft specialists)
  • New social and economic relations (status)
  • Environmental changes (including decreased species diversity)
  • Diet and health (including new diseases due to population density)

Cities (Urbanism)

  • A city is a large settlement with a dense population. It functions as a center for surrounding settlements, production, trade, religion and administration (go here to get things you need). It's a place of social complexity and diversity (non-kin leaders, different classes and occupations).
  • They've been around for the past 5,000/6,000 years, but people only moved into them 100ya.
  • Older world cities were denser while the new world cities offered more green space.

City Ostia Antica street

States (Political and Social Hierarchies)

  • A state is a governmental entity, who politically owns territory, has the authority to settle disputes, maintains the central symbols of the society and can defends and expands the society. In ancient states (which are more diverse), the government had the power to enforce decisions though force as well as persuasion. Leaders were highly ranked, usually it was hereditary, and had power over non-kin. Associated with class-based societies instead of kin-based.
  • Class is divided into social groups which are hierarchical. Usually based on occupational/economic groups (not kin-groups) of who has more power, who owns more things and who has more rights than others. This creates roles, such as owners vs. workers (these roles are usually passed down in the family). But it can have a hereditary aspect.
  • There are specific pathways to increased social status (what people can do to become leaders). It can be a hereditary with someone who has a high status, you can claim your status from your skills (ex. warrior, religious leader, diplomat), if you own many things (accumulation of wealth or owning rare items), if you do charitable things for others and if you use your own capital to create wealth for yourself (by giving loans to people etc).
  • We don't see individual land ownership yet, mostly kin-based.

social_pyr egypt


  • Political organizations are states and social organizations are based on classes.
  • Civilizations are social orders (including states), related by language, traditions and other aspects of cultural unity. They are broad and can include many small city states.

Typical attributes of a state

  • (some or all of)
  • Urbanization (cities)
  • Social stratification (hierarchical classes)
  • Centralization of power
  • Complex exchange systems
  • Labor control/ mobilization \rightarrow Specialized occupations and trades, labor used for community projects.

Social cohesion

  • What binds people in a group together?
  • Mechanisms of cohesion can be (some or all of)
  • Overly coercive (military, police): reduces conflict but is short lived as its expensive and takes a lot of time and effort if it's the primary method.
  • Base on ideologically-motivated solidarity (religion, social rules, nationalism): making people believe that they're part of a larger group.
  • Based on common economic interests (trade, wealth accumulation)
  • Base on real or fictive kin relationships \rightarrow Example \rightarrow Romans.
  • Ancient states, like modern states, used a mixture of these as an effective way to promote cohesion.

Causes of the origins of civilizations

  • Environmental situations can affect the rise or collapse of civilizations, but not alone. It depends on the social, cultural and political responses.
  • Management organization \rightarrow leader needed for situations where people need to be coordinated to undergo community projects, organizing defence etc. Sometimes their leadership role continues.
  • Internal conflict within the civilization.
  • External conflict outside of the civilization \rightarrow Example \rightarrow war.
  • Integrative mechanisms \rightarrow Religious specialists who are good at using symbolic ideological motivation.
  • It's all about the organization of society, including the organization of information, decision-making, goods and services etc. They create methods of accounting, and started numerical and writing systems to record things.

Early civilizations

  • Old world:\rightarrow Mesopotamia (Sumer, Akkad), Egypt, Indus, China (Shang)
  • New world \rightarrow Maya (various city-states), Teotihuacan, Toltecs, Aztecs, South American groups (Moche, Wari, Tiwanaku, Chimor and Inka).
  • Know for the exam.

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