University or Maryland – University College
World History I
Stephen C. Cory
In the early stages of the development of complex societies, many different factors had a powerful impact on the way the societies developed. In some areas of the world, religion was the primary force that led to the creation of organized societies. Other areas developed on trade routes that made it necessary to develop complex societies to incorporate the growth of different economic classes and the wealth they generated into the structure of the government. In each part of the world where complex societies emerged, the communities were responding to different types of challenges and the complexities each society created forced them to confront new challenges which then led to the great, complex societies of history. The urban society of Mesopotamia developed because of the engineering discoveries that allowed residents of the area between the Tigris and Euphrates to increase food production, while the predictability of the Nile River allowed the Egyptians and Nubians to build large, complex societies around their commercial and religious activities.
Many simple early societies were based around farming. Through cultivating crops and the land, people learned they could settle down in one place instead of being nomads and support a larger population of people. These villages needed a social structure, but their sizes were limited by the amount of food they could produce. In Mesopotamia, especially Sumeria and Babylon, there is not much rainfall, but farmers learned they could artificially irrigate their crops using the fresh water in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The large-scale engineering projects required greater social organization than the simple farming communities that came before, but they also resulted in increased food production that allowed them to build cities. The urban centers that resulted required more sophisticated organization to make sure that the population was productive: that building projects could be completed, that resources were distributed fairly, and that the city could continue to grow.
The division of labor also created different economic classes, which resulted in various social classes as well. Some merchants grew wealthy catering to customers who came to the city from other places, and community building projects required supervision, organization, and funding. Such a large society could not exist as small farmers trading with one another. Political authority was needed to maintain order between the citizens and protect the interests of the entire community, especially the cropland that existed outside the city walls. An example of the way that authority influenced society is the codification of laws by Hammurabi, especially as they related to family relationships and how husbands could treat their wives. Upper-class people whose marriages represented political and economic alliances were subject to the same law, so that even if a husband had a right to punish his wife for a suspected affair, he could not do anything to her unless he caught her in the act. If he did act out on his jealousy, he would be punished. Hammurabi’s laws treated women like the property of their husbands and fathers, but they also described certain standards of behavior that citizens should be expected to follow for the sake of stability and to reign in people’s behavior.
The innovation of urban development also led to the Sumerian creation of military power, as each city-state had to protect its farmland and irrigation projects from one another and from outside invaders. Once the city-states had organized themselves into relatively peaceful social organizations united under a single government, their growing populations often led them to go out and try to conquer other city-states or areas with more resources to increase their...