Essay on Agrarian Societies – Around 3000 B.C [or 6000 years ago] the invention of the plough led to the beginning of the agrarian society. Agrarian societies first arose in ancient Egypt and were based on the introduction of the plough and the harnessing of animal power.
i. “An agricultural society focuses its mode of production primarily on agriculture and the cultivation of large fields.”
ii. Agricultural societies employ animal drawn ploughs to cultivate the land.”
iii. Agrarian society refers to “any form of society, especially so traditional societies, primarily based on agricultural and craft production rather than industrial production “.
The mode of production of the agrarian society, that is, cultivation distinguishes it from the hunter-gatherer society which produces none of its food, and the horticultural society which produces food in small gardens rather than big fields. Characteristics of Agricultural Societies
1. Cultivation of Land through the Plough:
Based on the invention of the plough around 3000 B.C., the “agrarian revolution” marked its beginning. This invention enabled people to make a great leap forward in food production. Use of plough increases the productivity of the land. It brings to surface nutrients that have sunk out of reach of the roots of plants. It also returns weeds to the soil to act as fertilizers. The use of animal power to pull the plough enables a person to achieve great productivity.
i. Combining irrigation techniques with the use of the plough increased productivity and made the increased yields more reliable. It also made it possible to work on land which had been previously useless for food production. The same land can be cultivated almost continuously, and full permanent settlements become possible.
ii. Introduction of plough in the cultivation of land increased food production enormously. One person with an animal drawn plough could do the work of many working with sticks and hand hoes. This increased production and ability to renew the soil allowed the development of some of the first permanent residential settlements or cities, in human history.
2. An Increase in the Size of Society:
Size of the agricultural societies is much greater than that of horticultural or pastoral communities. It relieves the burden of working in the field for a fairly large number of people who can engage themselves in other types of activities on full-time basis.
Appearance of Cities: The full-time specialists who engage themselves in non agricultural activities tend to concentrate in some compact places which ultimately led to the birth of cities. The society itself often consists of several such cities and their hinterlands loosely welded together.
3. Emergence of Elaborate Political Institutions:
Agricultural societies, in course of time, lead to the establishment of more elaborate political institutions. Power is concentrated in the hands of a single individual. A hereditary monarchy tends to emerge. The monarch becomes powerful and literally has the power to take off the lives of his subjects.
In well established agricultural societies, a formalised government bureaucracy emerges duly assisted by a legal system. Court system of providing justice also emerges. These developments make the state not only to become for the first time a separate institution but also the most powerful one.
4. Evolution of Distinct Social Classes:
Agricultural societies produce relatively greater wealth which is unequally shared. As a result, a small minority enjoys a surplus produced by the working majority. Thus for the first time, two distinct social classes – those who own the land and those who work on the land of others- make their appearance.
Land is the major source of wealth and is individually owned and inherited. This actually creates the major difference between the social strata. The old feudal system of Europe is an example of such differences between the strata.
5. Emergence of a Clearly Defined Economic Institution:
Agricultural societies provide the basis for the establishment of economic institutions. Trade becomes more elaborate and money is used here as a medium of exchange. Trade which takes place on an elaborate scale demands the maintenance of records of transaction, crop harvest, taxation, government rules and regulations. These developments provide an incentive for the enrichment of systematic writing which is found only in these societies and not in the previous ones.
6. Religion Becomes a Separate Institution:
As societies become more and more complex, the religion also becomes more complex with the status of a separate institution. Religion requires full-time officials (priests, shamans, church officials and others) who often exercise considerable political influence.
The religions of the agricultural societies often include a belief in a “family of gods”, of whom one becomes more powerful than the others. In some societies, a hierarchy of gods (higher gods, lesser gods, etc.,) is also found.
7. Warfare and Empire Building:
Agricultural societies constantly fight amongst themselves and hence warfare becomes a regular feature. These societies also engage themselves in systematic empire building. These developments necessitate the formation of an effective military organisation. For the first time, full-time permanent armies make their appearance.
These armies require, like that of the traders, the development of proper roads and waterways. Such developments in the field of transport bring the previously isolated communities into contact with one another.
8. Enrichment of Culture:
Since more food is produced than is necessary for subsistence, agricultural societies are able to support people whose sole purpose is to provide creative ideas to the culture. Hence, poets, writers, historians, artists, scientists, architects and such other talented people are encouraged to spend their days cultivating wisdom and beauty rather than fields. Surplus agricultural resources are now invested in new cultural arte facts such as paintings, statues, public buildings, monuments, palaces and stadiums.
“The ability to produce great surpluses and to support a complex division of labour brought with it an enormous expansion of knowledge, technology, population, trade and the size and performances of communities that could truly be called “cities”. With these changes came major social institutions such as organised religion, the state, universities, and the military.”
9. Revolutionary Transition in the Social Structure:
In comparison with many other less evolved types of societies (hunter-gatherer, herding or horticultural) the agricultural society has a far more complex social structure and culture. The transition from the previous social structures to the present one has been revolutionary.
“The number of statuses multiplies, population size increases, cities appear, new institutions emerge, social classes arise, political and economic inequality becomes built into the social structure, and culture becomes much more diversified and heterogeneous.”