The first cities emerged as a result of a fundamental reorganization of food production and economic diversification in human societies. Before the advent of cities, ancient peoples lived in clan groups and villages organized around extended kin, or family, relationships and sustained by hunting and gathering of food supplies. Kinship is a system of social organization based on real or putative family ties Gradually these villagers grew more knowledgeable of the various attributes of wild plants in the local area. Over time, as those plants were fully domesticated and controlled by humans, crop yields began to increase. Increasing food supplies, in turn, led to increasing populations, as more and more people could be sustained by the growing food supply. This eventually resulted in the transformation of small kin-based villages into larger towns, and eventually cities.
As a result, more efficient farming methods developed and led to increased yields, some members of a society could be released from the daily farming tasks to perform other tasks that were becoming necessary. For example, there was a growing need for containers to store and transport the growing food supplies. This led to the emergence of pottery. As some members of the community became full-time pottery makers, the skill and sophistication of the resulting pottery increased. Other crafts emerged, including metallurgy, the working of various metals into tools and implements. The combination of improved agriculture and new crafts was an explosive one. New tools and farming implements further increased agricultural productivity, enabling additional community members to be released to develop even more crafts. A larger food supply led to increased population which in turn provided more labor available for agriculture, and so on.
This also led to increased prosperity and more complicated arrangements. At the center of these new arrangements was the transfer of agricultural surpluses from the producers of that surplus (the farmers) to the consumers of that surplus (the non-farming city population). In a simple, face-to-face society, this transfer could be voluntary, as villagers shared their produce with relatives or family members. But in the more complex urban societies then emerging, most people were not related to each other and, indeed, did not know each other. In this situation, it would be unlikely that a hard-working farmer would voluntary give up a portion of his produce to non-relatives without some form of persuasion or coercion. This “persuasion” could take many forms. Most commonly, city
authorities would promise protection and services (such as irrigation maintenance) in return for regular levees of “tribute” in the form of produce or labor services. Scholars have termed this type of society a “tributary society.” Virtually all societies in history that advanced beyond simple village arrangements were tributary societies, until the advent of industrial capitalist economies in the modern era.
As human settlements increased in size and complexity, the social networks based on kinship relations began to break down. In a village community organized around extended families, everyone knew each other and interacted with other members of their community in close face-to-face relationships. Disputes that arose could be contained and resolved by the intervention of other family members before they escalated into violence. But as population growth transformed those small kinship societies of a few hundred people into towns and cities of tens of thousands of people, the old face-to-face relationships could no longer govern social relations. Now, many encounters would take place between people who did not know each other and be not bound to each other by extended family relationships. New systems of social management were needed, leading to the emergence of law codes, police forces and governing elites to manage these new systems. The hierarchical society of the city was born……