The first cities
The agricultural revolution made possible the first towns and cities. Dependable local food supplies allowed permanent settlement and these settlements grew. People built permanent homes, permanent structures for the production and storage of food, and an entirely new infrastructure of civic institutions such as courts, religious centers, and marketplaces as the need for these arose.
The economic advantages of cities
The rise of the town led to a further specialization of labor. Some of the town residents continued to specialize in producing food as farmers or herdsmen, but a smaller percentage of the total population was required for this work than in a hunting and gathering society. The remaining townspeople were free to concentrate on becoming experts at other tasks such as masonry, carpentry, wool making, pottery making, tool making, and so on. An expert potter made quality pots and jars for the entire village and bartered them for food and other services. This was better for the village than having each family make their own. The expert produced items of better quality and at a faster pace than non-experts. As individuals divided up the tasks and specialized, the total village production of food, pots, clothes, and other goods was much larger than if each family had tried to provide its own needs.
Abundant food and the economies of production from specialization increased leisure time. It was no longer necessary that the majority of waking hours be spent obtaining the basics of life. Leisure time was available for entertainment, music, dancing, art, and other pursuits. Clothes, homes, and other goods could be decorated and made stylish, not just functional. The quality of life improved.
The new challenges of cities
Towns created new problems to be solved, however. Concentrated populations required new rules of behavior and the beginnings of government to administer the rules. Organized religions helped to govern behavior and unify the multifamily groups now living together so closely. Permanent residences required new standards of sanitation, safe sources of water, common areas, medical care, and, eventually, preparations for defense.
The dense populations of towns increased the incidence of disease and epidemics. Measles, mumps, smallpox, and influenza spread easily through new towns. These diseases are thought to be evolved versions of diseases that originally afflicted animals 6000 to 8000 years ago. Irrigation incidentally spread the mosquito and the diseases it carried.
The northern Iraq settlement of Jarmo, dated by archaeology to 7000 BC, had a population of about 150. Jericho in Palestine and the Turkish town of Catal Huyuk each had about 2000 inhabitants less than a thousand years later. By nearly 2000 BC the city of Ur had perhaps 100,000 inhabitants. The populations of both Egypt and Babylon at this time were around five million. Greece had a population of about two million in 500 BC. By the first century AD the population of Rome alone was one million. By comparison, Asian cultures were much larger. The population of India in 300 BC has been estimated at 30 to 40 million. By the birth of Christ China may have contained 50 to 60 million people.
The beginnings of government
The earliest human societies may have been matriarchal, giving precedence to women because of their critical role in bearing and rearing children—so important to the survival of the small primitive hunter-gatherer groups. At some point, the prominence of women switched to a hierarchy of male dominance. Some believe that a wave of barbarians from Asia, perhaps 6000 years ago, were instrumental in this change. The invading warrior society placed its priority on strength and power, setting the tone for all following human society.
Male-dominated hierarchies were ruled by the “strongman.” Strongmen evolved later into kings and emperors. Within the new city societies, the strongman was at the top. He ruled as his contribution to the group, served by the first bureaucracies of clerks and other officials who managed the organization of the city.
Important roles of early governments were to store food surpluses and protect them from outsiders. In the early cultures of the arid Middle East, governments built and maintained the irrigation systems that made the farms possible. These were large and complex systems that required planning and organization on an unprecedented scale