Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Scott de Montevideo!

Why did Humans create States?

Recommended Posts

I'm going to take issue with the question, as to ask "why" implies that humans at some point made a conscious decision to "create States". The better question is "how" they created them. 

Another issue is that the sharp distinction being drawn between farmers and hunter-gatherers doesn't quite ring true. Cultivation didn't begin with widespread agriculture, but the people who started growing stuff like wheat and developing irrigation systems were the ones that made it central to food production and civilization. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, Aemon Stark said:

I'm going to take issue with the question, as to ask "why" implies that humans at some point made a conscious decision to "create States". The better question is "how" they created them. 

Another issue is that the sharp distinction being drawn between farmers and hunter-gatherers doesn't quite ring true. Cultivation didn't begin with widespread agriculture, but the people who started growing stuff like wheat and developing irrigation systems were the ones that made it central to food production and civilization. 

Scott does make that point in his introduction that the line between cultivation and H/G bands is fairly fuzzy.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Scot, the first starting axiom for any theory of why human beings create States is that one has to  realize that we are social animals. We are happiest living in groups. Hunting and gathering limits the viable size of any such group to about 30 to 40 individuals. AS resources become more plentiful, or more scarce, these groups grow and shrink in size to accommodate. Add more resources and the group size increases. A perfect example of this is the Iroqouis Confederacy. Agriculture allowed them to transform from hunter/gatherers to agriculturists within recent history. There were no large towns or villages yet, when Champlain first made contact. The idea of a State was nascent then with the tribes still grouped into nations. If another 100 or so years had passed before first contact, the Iroqouis Confederacy would have been a State in all senses of the word. 

There is no natural delineation between one for of human association such as hunting and gathering and our modern society. We live in the largest groups that our ecosystem will support. Anthropology was my favourite subject in university, but like astronomy, my other favourite subject, there were few prospects for careers. Good thing amateurs can make a contribution in both.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
47 minutes ago, maarsen said:

Scot, the first starting axiom for any theory of why human beings create States is that one has to  realize that we are social animals. We are happiest living in groups. Hunting and gathering limits the viable size of any such group to about 30 to 40 individuals. AS resources become more plentiful, or more scarce, these groups grow and shrink in size to accommodate. Add more resources and the group size increases. A perfect example of this is the Iroqouis Confederacy. Agriculture allowed them to transform from hunter/gatherers to agriculturists within recent history. There were no large towns or villages yet, when Champlain first made contact. The idea of a State was nascent then with the tribes still grouped into nations. If another 100 or so years had passed before first contact, the Iroqouis Confederacy would have been a State in all senses of the word. 

There is no natural delineation between one for of human association such as hunting and gathering and our modern society. We live in the largest groups that our ecosystem will support. Anthropology was my favourite subject in university, but like astronomy, my other favourite subject, there were few prospects for careers. Good thing amateurs can make a contribution in both.

Maarsen,

Okay, I accept that we are social animals.  Nevertheless we had fire and increasing resources for 500,000 years before the first states that we are aware of came to be.  Why?  What changed at that point that allowed the rapid rise of states and then empires?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Maarsen,

Okay, I accept that we are social animals.  Nevertheless we had fire and increasing resources for 500,000 years before the first states that we are aware of came to be.  Why?  What changed at that point that allowed the rapid rise of states and then empires?

Agriculture and technology

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

Maarsen,

Okay, I accept that we are social animals.  Nevertheless we had fire and increasing resources for 500,000 years before the first states that we are aware of came to be.  Why?  What changed at that point that allowed the rapid rise of states and then empires?

My theory is that what allows homo sapiens to dominate the planet is their ability to organise into large groups and perform tasks for the good of the whole. It pretty much allowed them to wipe out all the other human species and take over. 

I'd say that a hunter gatherer society has a limit to how big it can get to truly sustain an amount of people in one place. Once technology allows a group to settle in one place, farm the land, store food, specialise skills, then the possibility for organising into larger and larger groups, with more complex social structures is open to you. Then you can take more men to a fight and take over more land and grow even bigger.

And once one group does it, it becomes a sort of farming arms race.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, larrytheimp said:

Agriculture and technology

But why then and not in the 500,000 years before when there was sedentary gathering and sowing of crops in very fertile locales like river flood plains?  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

But why then and not in the 500,000 years before when there was sedentary gathering and sowing of crops in very fertile locales like river flood plains?  

Wait?! How long ago?!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sowing of crops didn't happen for most of that period though, Scot. That only started at the end of the last ice age, around 15'000 years ago, give or take a few millennia. Similarly, the rivers weren't crucial until the plains between them became deserts, which happened due to the end of the ice age.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, theguyfromtheVale said:

Sowing of crops didn't happen for most of that period though, Scot. That only started at the end of the last ice age, around 15'000 years ago, give or take a few millennia. Similarly, the rivers weren't crucial until the plains between them became deserts, which happened due to the end of the ice age.

Its probably even less than that, maybe 10,000 years. I think Wheat and other grains were cultivated in the middle east, and Rice in China around the time. Then later on other foods, and animals were domesticated.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, theguyfromtheVale said:

Sowing of crops didn't happen for most of that period though, Scot. That only started at the end of the last ice age, around 15'000 years ago, give or take a few millennia. Similarly, the rivers weren't crucial until the plains between them became deserts, which happened due to the end of the ice age.

We’ve had fire for half a million years.  We’ve had plants that grow in middens and that bands could depend on for much longer than 15,000 years.  That’s not sowing but it is enough to allow populations to depend upon certain locales for food.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, Eggegg said:

Its probably even less than that, maybe 10,000 years. I think Wheat and other grains were cultivated in the middle east, and Rice in China around the time. Then later on other foods, and animals were domesticated.

It's confirmed for 11000 BC, 13000 years ago; collection of wild grains started only around 20000 years ago.

@Ser Scot A Ellison But people didn't depend on those grains until 20'000 years ago.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
15 minutes ago, theguyfromtheVale said:

It's confirmed for 11000 BC, 13000 years ago; collection of wild grains started only around 20000 years ago.

@Ser Scot A Ellison But people didn't depend on those grains until 20'000 years ago.

That's still more than ten thousand years wherein people where doing the equivalent of sowing but were not creating states.  Isn't that a long time to say that agriculture prompted the rise of States wherein people were depending upon that methodology but States were not arising?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

But the practice of cultivation does not necessarily imply any particular timeline for the development of large scale agriculture. We can theorize that it required a very particular confluence of circumstances for this to happen, along with a bit of randomness. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
15 minutes ago, Aemon Stark said:

But the practice of cultivation does not necessarily imply any particular timeline for the development of large scale agriculture. We can theorize that it required a very particular confluence of circumstances for this to happen, along with a bit of randomness. 

I'm sure there is randomness there but most theories about the formation of the State have tied it to the rise of agriculture.  12,000 years is a long time for agriculture or it's equivalent to exist without States being created if agriculture is really the prompt for the creation of States.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
52 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

That's still more than ten thousand years wherein people where doing the equivalent of sowing but were not creating states.  Isn't that a long time to say that agriculture prompted the rise of States wherein people were depending upon that methodology but States were not arising?

No, Scot, it's far less than 10'000 years and closer to 1'000 to 3'000 years between the beginning of agriculture and the consolidation of some kind of centralized power, at least in Egypt or Mesopotamia.

 

Also, collecting grains to eat them is still a far cry from cultivating them, which, again, is only attested to have happened arond 11'000 BC

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
45 minutes ago, theguyfromtheVale said:

No, Scot, it's far less than 10'000 years and closer to 1'000 to 3'000 years between the beginning of agriculture and the consolidation of some kind of centralized power, at least in Egypt or Mesopotamia.

 

Also, collecting grains to eat them is still a far cry from cultivating them, which, again, is only attested to have happened arond 11'000 BC

I though the whole point of associating agriculture with states is the increased population due to surplus food allowing people to do something other than hunt and gather with their time.  Isn't that the case?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

I though the whole point of associating agriculture with states is the increased population due to surplus food allowing people to do something other than hunt and gather with their time.  Isn't that the case?

It is one thing to grow grains but one also needs the technology to farm efficiently and to store the surplus without losing it rats and rot. Cultivation of soil needed to be learned, grain needed to be milled and then stored. All this needed new technology. Soil needed to be turned which required draft animals. Milled grain required polished stone tools and storage of grains required pottery. 3 major tech innovations needed to be created first. 

Pottery allowed for the first time a leak proof and fire proof container. Pottery allowed the state to rise because it made surpluses easy to store. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, maarsen said:

It is one thing to grow grains but one also needs the technology to farm efficiently and to store the surplus without losing it rats and rot. Cultivation of soil needed to be learned, grain needed to be milled and then stored. All this needed new technology. Soil needed to be turned which required draft animals. Milled grain required polished stone tools and storage of grains required pottery. 3 major tech innovations needed to be created first. 

Pottery allowed for the first time a leak proof and fire proof container. Pottery allowed the state to rise because it made surpluses easy to store. 

Even so states only arose in very small portions of the total agriculture-practicing world. Around a few of the big rivers in the most arable regions of the world basically, and that was it. The Mediterranean region at large took several millennia longer to get going for example, even though they too were farming at the time, and it was like 5000 years from the introduction of agriculture in Northern Europe to when you can talk about real states forming there.

State creation probably had more to do with population densities than with agriculture per say. Once you hit a certain population treshold you can start forming cities, create specialized economic classes, and produce surpluses to pay for government bureaucracies, large monuments, standing armies, and so on. Hence why civilizations first arose in the most easily farmed areas of the world and then gradually spread to more and more regions as new agricultural methods were developed that allowed more effective production (and hence population increases) in less hospitable areas as well. The introduction of the iron plow at the beginning of the Middle Ages was one such invention that revolutionized agriculture in Northern Europe, for example, due to the kind of heavy soils we have there compared to the Mediterranean region.

 

Edited by Khaleesi did nothing wrong

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, maarsen said:

It is one thing to grow grains but one also needs the technology to farm efficiently and to store the surplus without losing it rats and rot. Cultivation of soil needed to be learned, grain needed to be milled and then stored. All this needed new technology. Soil needed to be turned which required draft animals. Milled grain required polished stone tools and storage of grains required pottery. 3 major tech innovations needed to be created first. 

Pottery allowed for the first time a leak proof and fire proof container. Pottery allowed the state to rise because it made surpluses easy to store. 

From Against the Grain:

Quote

Perhaps the most troubling of all, the civilizational act at the center of the entire narrative: domestication turns out to be the stubbornly elusive.  Hominids have, after all, been shaping the plant world-largely with fire-since before Homo sapiens. What counts as the Rubicon of domestication? Is it tending wild plants, weeding them, moving them to a new spot, broadcasting a handful of seeds on rich silt, depositing a seed or two in a depression made with a dibble stick, or ploughing?  There appears to be no “aha!” or “Edison light bulb” moment. There are, even today, large stands of wild wheat in Anatolia from which, as Jack Harlan famously showed, one could gather enough grain with a flint sickle in three weeks to feed a family for a year.  Long before the deliberate planting of seeds in ploughed fields, foragers had developed all the harvest tools, winnowing baskets, grindstones, and mortars and pestles to process wild grain and pulses. (Cites “Emergence of Agricultural in Southwest Asia”.).  For the layman, dropping seeds in a prepared trench or hole seems decisive.  Does discarding the stones of an edible fruit into a patch of waste vegetable compost near one’s camp, knowing that many will sprout and thrive, count?

Edited by Ser Scot A Ellison

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×