“WE BUILT THIS CITY”
CITIES AND COMPLEX SOCIETIES
5,500 years ago
|This artifact is the Standard of Ur, a 26th century BC “War” panel. It was excavated from one of the largest royal graves in the ancient city of Ur, which was located in the Sumer region of what is now Iraq.
Credit: Image is courtesy of Wikipedia.
In some areas of intensive agriculture, the economic foundations were in place for a revolutionary change in social life and economy: the rise of complex societies (sometimes called state societies or “civilizations”) and cities or urban centers with thousands of occupants. The rise of more urban, complex societies is often associated with such features as monumental architecture (e.g. temples, tombs); a royal monarch such as a king or queen and a highly stratified social system with an aristocracy, craftsman class, merchant class, and peasant class; a professional army; much greater craft specialization; standard weights and measures (including some form of currency); more widespread trade routes; and the development writing for keeping records.
Such urban centers developed independently in a number of regions. Notable areas of early complex societies and urban or proto-urban cultures include the Near East (Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Hittites), the Indian subcontinent (Indus), northern China (Shang and Zhou Dynasties), Northeast Africa (Predynastic and Dynastic Egypt), West Africa (Benin), Europe (Minoans, Myceneans, Etruscans), Mesoamerica (Olmecs, Teotihuacan, Maya, Toltecs, Aztecs), South America (Chavin, Inca), and North America (Cahokia). These early societies established the foundations of later complex urban societies.
|Reconstruction of the ziggurat built in the 21st century BC (2,300 years ago). It is located in what was known as the city of Ur, which is now present-day Dhi Qar Province, Iraq.
Credit: Photo by HardnFast, courtesy of Wikipedia.
HOW DO WE KNOW?
Urban complexes tend to leave a wealth of archaeological evidence behind: city walls, buildings, streets, temples, tombs, cemeteries, craft workshops, etc.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
Most humans around the world now live in cities (probably including you). Such urban complexes can be traced back over 5,000 years and have provided the foundations for the modern world that we live in.
This is a good article from Discover about writing, urban life, and warfare.
This us About.com’s list of characteristics of a complex society.
This webpage is a chapter from a book about cities and complex societies.