Tag Archives: Empires

Society

The More It Changes, the More It’s The Same Thing ?

From about 3000 BCE into the Middle Ages, empires were agrarian empires.

Such societies had three primary social classes—urban rulers holding the reins of power, wealth, and social status, and, with their extended families, amounting to perhaps 2% of total population.

About 5% were a “retainer” class—the army, government officials, scribes, high ranking servants, upper echelons of the priesthood, etc.

At the bottom of the ladder were 90%+ of the population, rural peasants, mostly agricultural workers, (working as sharecroppers day-laborers, or slaves), plus fishermen/women, artisans, etc.

In such empires, about 66% of the wealth, (produced by the rural peasants), was pocketed by the 2% by means of taxing agricultural production, and/or ownership of agricultural land.

Consequences for the peasantry were: unending hard labor, marginal nutrition, high infant mortality rates, and greatly reduced life expectancy.

Such societies could be described by three key phrases: economic exploitation, (above described), political oppression, (the bottom 90%+ had no voice in ordering society), and religious legitimation, (the religion of the elites decreed social structures—aka God was said to prefer the rich). ¹ 

Considering the course of present-day world-wide social development, how many similarities can you find between then and now?


¹ This discussion of empires was drawn from: Marcus J. Borg, Reading The Bible Again for the First Time, ISBN 978-1- 4351- 4914 – 4

Borg credits Gerhardt Lenski, Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966).  (Publication antedates use of ISBN numbers.)