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Social Structure in Early Complex Societies Primary Sources

By lmack730 Oct 12, 2014 663 Words
In early civilizations, there was already a distinct hierarchy of social classes. However, although there were similarities between the hierarchies of these civilizations, the manner in which they manifested themselves and the factors which led to an individual being in a particular class differed throughout the regions and time periods.

As shown in document one, social classes were very dependent on occupation at times. In document one, an Egyptian father is shown instructing his son be academically successful, during the First Intermediate Period when invasions were common and the country was divided, for the sole reason that if he fails to do so, he will spend his days performing difficult manual labor instead of commanding those who do so. Additional documents that could support this analysis may include the diaries of a peasant worker and a priest.

Document two illustrates that a king, in this case - Hammurabi (who created the Code of Hammurabi, the official law of Babylon), at the top of the hierarchy, has all power and is capable of creating and recording all laws for his citizens. This excerpt also shows that slaves were considered far less important than the common person. This is shown in Law 199 which discusses the punishment for hurting a man's slave, which is far less severe than the punishment for hurting a man; the slave is at the lowest end of the hierarchy. Additional documents that could support this analysis might include the diaries of Hammurabi's people.

The previous analysis is also supported in document three in which a priest tells his people a story about how their world was created, during a time period when the Aryans had recently arrived in India. Within the story, it is shown that the world was created from the body Purusha. When the body was divided, Purusha's mouth, the most important part of the body,

becomes the priest, who happens to be at the highest end of the hierarchy. The arms become the warrior (or strength--possibly the class just below the priest), the thighs become the merchants, farmers, and artisans, again one step lower in class, and lastly the feet of Purusha become landless peasants and servants. In India, Purusha is a physical representation of social class. Additional documents that may help with this analysis might include the diary of a landless peasant who can only listen to the priests.

Document four is an excerpt from the Book of Songs illustrating a peasant's protest towards the current ruler: how he or she is unable to prevent rodents from eating his or her millet. At this time period in China, this would have been a sign that the current ruler had lost the Mandate of Heaven, which was the concept that the correct ruler was chosen by a supreme deity and would remain in power if they ruled with wisdom, principle, and served as an energetic guardian towards his/her people. The fact that the peasants had even the slightest say in the choice of ruling was unique when compared to the other ancient civilizations. Some additional documents that could support this analysis might include the journal log of the ruler who was in power.

Finally, document five is about an Egyptian man standing over a woman, during the end of the ruling of Tutmoses III (possibly during the time period of the Exodus according to the Bible), perhaps suggesting that men were of a higher class than women in the Egyptian culture. The man is also shown to be physically bigger than women, possibly alluding to the fact that men were of greater importance. Some historical documents that may support this conclusion might have included the translation of the hieroglyphs surrounding this scene.

As has been shown previously in the analyses of these five documents, while all of these societies contained social classes and/or hierarchies, the factors which controlled the level of which social class you fell in and your power differed from society to society.

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