PDA

View Full Version : Was there an ancient civilisation which social structure resembles modern days'?


Crowbar of Irony +3
11-22-2005, 01:00 AM
I have been reading up the social structure of the Mediveal era, and was pondering if there was ever an ancient civilisation, say during the times of Rome, or before that, which has a social structure most like moden days' USA? For example

- Equality of male and female
- Secular government
- Easy availability of literature
- No stringent caste or class systems

If I am to go to a library to research on such topics, what is this field of study called?

Thanks in advances!

Johanna
11-22-2005, 04:33 AM
I haven't heard of any such descriptions of society in any contemporaneous written documents. Archaeology has found urban civilizations in places like Çatalhöyük (prehistoric Anatolia) and Knossos (Minoan Crete) where the houses and burials of the wealthiest people were not much bigger or more ostentatious than those of common people, compared to more stratified ancient societies like Mesopotamia ir Egypt. This suggests a higher level of social equality in Anatolia and Crete, from which might be extrapolated a society without rigid class divisions and perhaps therefore more equality of men and women. As has been pointed out, in a society where men oppress women, you'll also find some men oppressing other men. Running that in reverse would mean in a society where grandees didn't lord it over commoners, it's more likely that women had more equality too. Minoan Crete had writing, but no one knows how to read Linear A, or even what language it was. The lack of heavy military fortifications in Minoan Crete has been adduced as evidence that it was a more peaceful culture. The argument against this is the Minoans' powerful navy which dominated shipping in the eastern Mediterranean and provided all the defense from outside the Minoans needed, therefore no need for city walls. But I also think it indicates the Minoans didn't make war on each other.

Sage Rat
11-22-2005, 04:34 AM
- Equality of male and female
Not really. Debatable of course--I believe Native (North) Americans will usually be referenced for this, but I'm not sure that I trust that image historically.

- Secular government
Depends on if you mean non-subscribing to religion or simply not basing their power on divinity. The ancient Grecians had democracies but those still subscribed to a certain pantheon.

- Easy availability of literature
Doubtful, until the printing press. Japan before being Westernized was impressive for having a largely literate population--but this was so the people could read new city ordinances and such, not so they could go to the library.

- No stringent caste or class systems
Doubtful. Again, maybe Native Americans...maybe other hunter-gatherer groups where a good hunter is a good hunter-but even then I would have to view the shaman or whatever--even if he got to his position based on merit--would have privelages to go places others would "befowl" or whatever.

If I am to go to a library to research on such topics, what is this field of study called?
Sociology. Some political history in there of course, but mostly sociology.

cckerberos
11-22-2005, 07:14 AM
Doubtful, until the printing press. Japan before being Westernized was impressive for having a largely literate population--but this was so the people could read new city ordinances and such, not so they could go to the library.Also, Japanese literacy was largely stratified; an educated merchant literate in sorobun and more common writing styles would likely be hard pressed to read the kanbun style used by the nobility.

Hombre
11-22-2005, 09:45 AM
Sparta.

Sage Rat
11-22-2005, 10:06 AM
Sparta.
The Greeks had slaves, I thought.

Helen's Eidolon
11-22-2005, 10:21 AM
Not only did the Spartans have slaves, they were not widely literate nor was there equality between sexes.

In Egypt, there was legal equality of sexes, and I think that's likely the only ancient civilization you're likely to find that even approached practical equality. However, reading was very difficult in Egypt, government was religious and society was stratified. I suspect the best you'll do, if you forget the women and slaves, would be Athens for a (vaguely) secular government and society in which class was not important in politics.

Hombre
11-22-2005, 10:35 AM
Early on America had slaves. "Modern" is a relative term.

Access to available literature was as complete as available literature allowed.

I think under the OP there was equality between the sexes.

This question (or replies thereto) doesn't seem to take into account the progress made since. The shoulders-of-shoulders infrastructure. Without these allowances this is like asking if an ancient civilization had mass transportation that resembles modern days.

Hombre
11-22-2005, 10:40 AM
From here:
http://www.elysiumgates.com/~helena/Women.html

"In no other Greek City-state did women enjoy the same freedom and privileges of Spartan women.

Only in Sparta did girls receive public education - in other city-states most women were completely illiterate.

Only in Sparta were girls allowed to engage in sport.

Only in Sparta did women possess economic power and influence."

Helen's Eidolon
11-22-2005, 11:06 AM
Just because the Spartan women had it better than most other Greek women (like Athenian wormen, who were practically not permitted to leave their rooms) doesn't mean they had it particularly good. They were educated (a little - the Spartans as a whole were not big on literature or the liberal arts) and allowed to participate in sport so that they could be better male-baby-making machines. I'll pass on that sort of 'equality', thank you.

And yes, 'modern' is a relative term. But I strongly suspect the OP would desire slaves to be excluded from his ideal ancient society.

Helen's Eidolon
11-22-2005, 11:13 AM
Actually, I'm going to recant my vote for Athens, and recast it for republican Rome. Women, although without the same legal and social rights as men, had it much better than in classical Athens. Although society was formally stratified by class, class was based purely on wealth and therefore it was as easy to move between classes as to make money. Government was not secular, but Roman religion wasn't the kind of thing that would influence government in an ideological, rather than ceremonial, way. There was fairly high literacy, and even the slaves didn't have it so bad - they were usually paid some small amount for their services and could buy their own freedom when they had accrued enough money.

Hombre
11-22-2005, 11:26 AM
Just because the Spartan women had it better than most other Greek women (like Athenian wormen, who were practically not permitted to leave their rooms) doesn't mean they had it particularly good. They were educated (a little - the Spartans as a whole were not big on literature or the liberal arts) and allowed to participate in sport so that they could be better male-baby-making machines. I'll pass on that sort of 'equality', thank you.

And yes, 'modern' is a relative term. But I strongly suspect the OP would desire slaves to be excluded from his ideal ancient society.

I picture some future female reflecting on our "modern" civilization:
" Sure women could vote but not be president, yeah, they could work in the marketplace but there was a glass ceiling. Many were abused to the point of having to have shelters set up just for their protection. There were serial rapist to contend with.
Even in math and science where physical size doesn't matter there was still an old boys club holding them back... I'll pass on that sort of 'equality', thank you."
And so on.

Further I disagree with your characterization of Sparta women. It all depends on whose research you choose to believe I suppose.

The OP may well have wanted slavery excluded from their ideal, but didn't exclude it. Your supposition of his/her motives are just that. Besides, the OP reads (in part):
"...which has a social structure most like moden (sic) days...?"
It doesn't read, perfect or exactly like.

Helen's Eidolon
11-22-2005, 11:44 AM
Again, I won't disagree with you that Spartan women were much more autonomous than other Greek women. But let's not pretend they were equal to men - they were excluded from the two most important things for Spartans, war and politics.

Hombre
11-22-2005, 11:54 AM
Again, I won't disagree with you that Spartan women were much more autonomous than other Greek women. But let's not pretend they were equal to men - they were excluded from the two most important things for Spartans, war and politics.

Agreed, not equal. Politics is a biggy, but in modern USA women were excluded from war until recently.

Just trying to point the OP in a direction with a suggestion. Not meaning to debate Greek history.

Cheers.

PoorYorick
11-22-2005, 01:35 PM
Sociology. Some political history in there of course, but mostly sociology.
I was thinking that this question might be more in the purview of anthropology since it's comparing cultures across space and time. But, then again, there can be a lot of overlap, what with political anthorpology, social anthropology, and so on.

JKellyMap
11-22-2005, 01:48 PM
Or geography! Perhaps the social science which is far-ranging enough, over time and space, to get into comparisons of this sort. Most geographers would emphasize the spatial aspects of the societies in question. Maybe the best shot would be a historical geographer with experience in cultural ecology (where s/he overlaps the anthropologists) and critical theory.

BrainGlutton
11-22-2005, 01:58 PM
In The Chalice and the Blade, Riane Eisler (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riane_Eisler) argued for the existence of a gender-egalitarian "gylanic" civilization in the Mediterranean region (especially Crete) that predated, and was destroyed by, the migration/invasion of the Indo-Europeans with their "androcratic" or "Dominator" culture. Evidence is sketchy, to say the least.

Hombre
11-22-2005, 04:51 PM
Again, I won't disagree with you that Spartan women were much more autonomous than other Greek women. But let's not pretend they were equal to men - they were excluded from the two most important things for Spartans, war and politics.

Not to beat a dead horse, but while we're at it let's not pretend women are treated as equal to men (in practice) in America either.

sjc
11-23-2005, 01:04 AM
Doubtful. Again, maybe Native Americans...maybe other hunter-gatherer groups where a good hunter is a good hunter-but even then I would have to view the shaman or whatever--even if he got to his position based on merit--would have privelages to go places others would "befowl" or whatever.



I'm picturing a poor Native American covered in ducks :D.

Sage Rat
11-23-2005, 08:41 AM
Gah. This is the second time I've done that. fowl != foul!!!

Ah well.