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Agricultural Revolution and Changes to Ancient Societies in Terms of the State, Urbanization, and Labor Essay

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Updated: Jul 8th, 2021

The ancient story of Gilgamesh and the flood is found in antiquity and later in another variation of the Old Testament. In the story, ancient deities created a flood that destroyed all living life except those that were chosen to survive on boats (“The Epic of Gilgamesh,” n.d.).

It is commonly considered that in the aftermath of the flood, mankind and the planet were given a fresh start. This Mesopotamia region, where the story originates, is considered the cradle of civilization, also known as the Fertile Crescent. This is largely due to its fertile soil and significant improvement in agricultural practices which led to the rapid development of cities and trade routes in this epicenter. The civilizations in the region produce the earliest examples of settled agriculture which allowed for other technologies to prosper. Furthermore, it led to the critical transition of humans from nomadic hunter-gatherers to seasonal farmers (Freeman, 2014).

The transition described earlier is the first agricultural evolution occurring in 10,000 B.C. during the Neolithic Period. There are several hypothesized causes of the Neolithic Revolution. Scientists believe that Earth began to warm around this time, leaving the Ice Age. This made the climate and soil more adaptable to plant growth and farming as some of the wild variants of barley and fruit began to grow in the region on their own. Furthermore, artifact evidence suggests that human biological and social development at this time reached a higher level of sophistication, giving way to research of new methods and tools (Bowles & Choi, 2018).

As these influencing factors took place, humans began to build more permanent shelters in warmer and fertile areas such as Mesopotamia. This led to the emergence of agricultural science as a complement to animal meat in the diet.

The agricultural revolution can be characterized by two developments: plant domestication and farmed animals. It was a gradual transition from wild harvesting to complex agricultural systems seen later in civilizations such as Egypt. However, many crops ranging from wheat and barley to seedless fruit emerged at this time, with primitive cultivation and processing techniques to support the settled lifestyle. The domestication of animals also appeared in the Fertile Crescent, with cattle helping to revolutionize society by no longer requiring continuous migration to find meat.

The book of Genesis in the Old Testament of the Bible describes some of the first civilization cities. The first city was built by the exiled Cain, and later followed the infamous city of Babylon and the story of the Tower of Babel. The Bible portrays cities in a largely negative light as failed experiments in societal development and urban architecture, other than the Holy City of Jerusalem (Gen. 11:1-9 Kings James Version). To some extent, the Bible was correct to describe first cities as cluttered, overcrowded, and needing much improvement. However, urbanization was a necessary trend in the development of civilizations at the time.

The Uruk Period lasting until 311 B.C. saw the greatest growth of rural communities into urban centers. This occurred as settlements attracted nomadic tribes which then attached to the community, expanding it. Climate was critical in this urbanization process since the Fertile Crescent was prone to mass flash flooding from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which could wipe out whole settlements. To survive, tribes were forced to condense on the safe land and resort to collective management to protect themselves from floods. As society and technology advanced, urbanization began to form cities such as Ur which had become a walled-in metropolis by 2900 B.C. (Mörner, 2015).

Despite the total of food available to people because of the agricultural revolution, it did not effectively lead to significantly improved diets or greater leisure for everyone. The first signs of social hierarchy began to emerge as the population size began to increase exponentially. Since large harvests were attributed to the gods, Mesopotamian priests were highly venerated and respected, using their position to usurp power.

Eventually, as irrigation methods were developed, cities required intelligent leadership and secular leaders began to emerge to oversee communal labor. It was a division of power as priests had religious power as servants of the gods while a secular leader, a king, also known as the lugal, governed the city. As governments such as the Dynasty began to form, the rule of the lugal over its subjects became more extensive in the Akkadian empire. The central government conscripted labor and passed along oversight to provincial governors and smaller cities. The military began to emerge as a method of control (Freeman, 2014).

Working farmers had to labor to feed city populations while the wealthy elite was pampered. The urbanization of the region required a significant amount of labor for building and maintaining infrastructure, dams, and canals. Most of the lower class were organized into communal labor. Meanwhile, specialized labor emerged at this time as primitive engineers and artisans were necessary for several tasks. However, laborers were adequately paid and were able to live comfortably for their time, even if they were not rich. Later, captured soldiers and civilians from warring tribes were used as labor sources, as well as criminals and debtors.

References

Bowles, S., & Choi, J.-K. (2018). The Neolithic agricultural revolution and the origin of private property. Journal of Political Economy, 1-72. Web.

. (n.d.). Web.

Freeman, Charles. (2014). Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Civilizations of the ancient Mediterranean. (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Mörner, N.-A. (2015). The flooding of Ur in Mesopotamia in new perspectives. Archaeological Discoveries, 3, 26-31. Web.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Agricultural Revolution and Changes to Ancient Societies in Terms of the State, Urbanization, and Labor." July 8, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/agricultural-revolution-and-changes-to-ancient-societies-in-terms-of-the-state-urbanization-and-labor/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Agricultural Revolution and Changes to Ancient Societies in Terms of the State, Urbanization, and Labor'. 8 July.

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