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History generally uses written and oral sources as the primary tools; however, artifacts have proved to be more useful than the two in the context of ancient civilization. This research will be based on the three sources in an attempt to reveal the actual forces behind the political-economic systems in early history, specific to Paleolithic, Early Agricultural states, natives of the city-states, and the Universal Empires. Paleolithic is a term for Stone Age period; a time in the history of humans characterized by hunting, foraging, and fishing as the sources of livelihood. With the quick expansion of the human population lead to the constraints of the natural resources, it was inevitable for humans to advent into agriculture and later the rise of empires and dynasties. The gradual emergence of human civilization was as a result of universal forces related to culture, social compositions of the communities, and trade relationships. Therefore, this paper covers the three variables about the political-economic systems over time to reveal the standard features and differences in the political economic systems in the communities about change in time.
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To begin with, Paleolithic period dates back to between 150,000 and 12,000 years ago as estimated by the anthropologists characterized by Kinship production system; however, it was until 11,000 years ago when the hunting and gathering systems began to transform in the process of adaptation to new environments through migration (Shostak, 8-10). This saw man’s quest to develop tools and methods that could equip them in the process of making the best of their respective environmental constraints. Most studies of early man often focus on the on biological evolution and the natural selection. In both accounts of human existence, sociocultural evolution best explains the ways in which the early human societies created their political economic systems. According to Sahlin (pg. 186), Paleolithic humans never depended solely in the cave life, in which they were only to be concerned on conquering the next meal, but according to the archaeological evidence, the community had systems of religious beliefs characterized by religious beliefs and rituals such as burying the dead. Such religion dates back to the creation account at the time when morals were the significant laws (Genesis 3:1-2). The verses capture the instructions given by God as a reference to guide man since breaking them has consequences; this proves that beliefs were the dominant driving force behind culture and therefore the political economic systems. Culture is what enabled the communities to survive and flourish in the unique but rather dynamic ways.
The late Paleolithic society, just before the introduction of agriculture, was characterized by little or no control of the environment. Therefore, the focus was only on staking out territory and negotiation of relationships with the neighboring communities. The activities gradually led to the creation of small temporary settlements around the natural water bodies. These settlements eventually allowed for the division of labor along the gender lines. The women became gatherers, cooks, and reared children while men hunted (Shostak, 5-10). The archaeological evidence further shows that the Middle Paleolithic cultures in Eurasia divided work almost equally among men and women; this explains the differences in political economic systems dictated by the gender-based roles. Such gender dynamics are specific to the Paleolithic periods because today, a division of labor on a gender basis no longer indicates the difference in equality and power as it was in the case.
Cultural evolution alone wasn’t sufficient enough to help humans cope with the demands of nature. The onset of agricultural societies saw the need to limit conflicts and competition due to the increased human population and the introduction of human settlement. The constraints of the available natural resources facilitated the need for division of labor, security, and new production patterns that were exogamous. The communities had to disintegrate into social classes to fill such positions; this was the onset political economic system in the early agriculturalists. The major political economic systems among the agriculturalists included slavery and feudalism. Some of the systems mentioned are ancient, dating back approximately 100,000 years ago. However, the other political economic systems appeared recently. Such include feudalism, capitalism, and socialism. The most common system among agriculturalists is feudalism common in Western Europe as well as parts of Eastern Europe, China, and Japan. Feudalism varied significantly with the regions however certain forces were common. One is the social classes; serfs and lords. Serfs included the small farmers who owned tools and animals while the lords were the dominant class. The feudal political economic systems were based on coercion and consent in which the power of the nobility gives them the legal rights to use coercion to keep the system in check. Even in this case, there are aspects of religion owing to the revolutions against the nobility and the church in Germany by 1525 (Sahlins, 204). The idea of hierarchy and authority was rather natural among these societies especially in Western Europe based on the belief that the higher someone was placed in the social hierarchy, the closer to perfection the individual was. Therefore, everyone had to respect the pre-existing customs. Meaning the basis of political economic systems was a mix of hierarchy and religion.
Slavery as a force was common among the agriculturalists forcing the system to adopt a master-slave relationship as the driving force of the political economic system. Occasionally, the societies’ economy was founded on the services of the slaves that included farm labor, mining and overseeing the running of the households. Others largely depended on slaves as the most significant part of their production; those included the Ottoman Empire and Kwakiutl Indians of North-West America (Sahlins, 199). Some of the best-known slave economies had good agricultural foundations; however, such societies rarely achieved rapid rates of economic growth. The denizens of city-states and Universal empires are other categories of communities that employed a mix of kinship, capitalism, and slavery as their political economic sub-systems. First, the capitalist’s system was made up of two major classes namely the employers and employees. The employers dominated the society and took charge of the social and political matters in their dynasties or city-states. In this case, there are unique criteria in this economic system; production of commodities, production for profit, private ownership, the existence of wage labor. In the universal empires, the most common system is kinship production motivated by the desire to unite behind a stronger force. The system was developed into tribes from the unity of several kinships and informal alliances that in turn engaged in production as a single group (Harper, 106). Since the groups can’t make their own economic decisions, the tribes opt to develop into chiefdoms that have more formal leadership structures. Those within the ruling families have the political, economic dominance as leadership is passed from generations within the royal families.
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The political economic differences evident among the communities discussed above are based on time. The older communities; Paleolithic and early Agriculturalists based their systems on religion and direct production which was characterized by division of labor on gender perspectives. However, the two communities differ upon the introduction of settled life among the early agriculturalists as opposed to the paleolithic period of hunting and gathering. It is important to note that the onset of settlement began in the late paleolithic period but they were temporary. The city-states and the universal empires, on the other hand, never used the division of labor but depended on feudalism, slavery, and kinship systems that placed other classes as workers while the upper classes owned the society (George, 87). Technology is also a major distinguishing feature between the communities since stone tools are perhaps the only cultural artifacts in the Paleolithic age. Agriculture brought wealth that could be exchanged for better equipment and armor. With time, communities developed strong defense systems based on improved armor and tools. Also important is that the Universal Empires are the only societies that employed feudal systems due to the affluent families and belief in the laws.
Despite the differences, there are political, economic features that remained relevant with changes in time. For instance, frequently did particular societies employ many different economic systems of capitalism, kinship production, and slavery. According to Marx, production consists of three aspects; ownership, roles in the production process, and the distribution pattern. Despite the differences in the ways of production dictated by time, there must be production relations. Generally, the productive forces are revealed as the major determinants of the historical, political economic developments. Kinship system proved to exist through all the communities beginning with the Neolithic period of hunting and gathering where people often grouped on the basis of tribe membership however it was relatively flexible with evidence of the tendency to be matrilineal. Sahlins challenges the common view that the hunters and gatherers lived in solitary and poor conditions by stating that they worked few hours and enjoyed leisure compared to the late kinship systems basing their affluence to the idea of satisfaction out of the little material sense (Sahlins, 187). Agriculturalists also shared the practice of hunting-gathering in the winters. Most societies also went hunting for leisure. There are other contemporary hunting and gathering communities, a culture borrowed from other societies with some modifications especially in the 21st century. Never-the-less, agriculture also proves to be the backbone of economic prosperity of modern societies owing to the increased technology, new farming methods, and specialization.
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