8: Cultures on the Cusp

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Let us see what has happened to the distinct Neolithic cultures as we enter the Bronze Age. Remember we are only on the cusp between the two ages. We are not in the Age of Metals, quite yet. We are only verging.

The Pastoral Way of Life evolves into a Military Culture

Overview of the Ages of Homo

In the Paleolithic, the Genus Homo developed a sophisticated stone technology. The Mesolithic saw the beginning of cultural differentiation based upon geography. However, hunting and gathering was still necessary to supplement the diet. In the Neolithic, three distinct cultural styles crystallized, i.e. pastoral, hunter/fisher, and agricultural. In the Bronze Age, the clash of these cultural styles morphed into a brand new culture. It evolved from the hostile interaction between the three.

Herder cultures evolve as dominant military culture

Because of the inherent mobility of the pastoral groups and because of their constant battling over the scarce resources of the arid grasslands, the Herding cultures gradually evolved into military cultures with superior martial abilities. It was these Warrior-Herder societies that inevitably launched the invasions that were to transform the Neolithic into the Bronze Age.

When pastoral tribes fought amongst themselves, as they frequently did, their strength was dissipated and unthreatening. However, when these groups coalesced under a strong leader, they were invincible. It was impossible for the agricultural settlements to defend themselves from the nomadic raiders.[1]

“The second type [of nomad], the most significant numerically and historically, comprises the pastoral nomads who move with their families, belongings, and herds of cattle, camels, sheep, or goats through an annual cycle of pastures whose availability is determined by the alternation of hot and cold or wet and dry seasons. For thousands of years, pastoral nomads have controlled vast areas from southern Africa to the Siberian Arctic. Because they can organize themselves in large or even very large numbers, as in the Mongol invasions, and because they are free of any fixed assets, they have played an important part in the history of Asia and Africa.” (Grolier’s Multimedia 1997: Nomads)

What an understatement!

Unfortunate Dynamics from the Militarization of Culture

War Cultures encourage War culture

There are multiple dynamics associated with the militarization of culture. Peaceful cultures don’t tend to convert warlike cultures to peace, while warlike cultures do turn peaceful cultures warlike. As such, there is an innate tendency for conflicting cultures to become increasingly warlike over time. This dynamic transformed the Herding culture into a Warrior culture.

Military Cultures Tend to Grow Larger

Another unfortunate dynamic: military cultures tend to get increasingly bigger rather than smaller. There is a both safety and increased power in numbers. The dynamic that leads to militarization also encourages increasingly larger political groupings.

Rising status of the Warrior into King

Further, as a culture militarizes, the status of the warrior as protector and soldier rises. This role tends to be played by the male. Due to this tendency, the male-warrior stock rises. Conversely in a military society, the status of the farmer, craftsman, herder, hunter and even woman all fall in relation to the warrior. As any part of the world is militarized and organized into larger and larger political groups, the Warrior-Soldier rose in status with regards to those supplying the fruits of society. As the Warrior rose in status, they became rulers. Eventually, leadership was institutionalized and the most powerful warrior became the supreme ruler or king.

Beginning Dynasties

These kings frequently fathered sons, who were trained to take their place. Often, a hereditary dynasty developed from this lineage. To understand the roots of this process, let us see how leaders might have been chosen in the different cultures. .

Hunter culture: Merit determines leadership

Merit probably determined the leader of the Paleolithic Hunter-gatherer tribes. The existence of the Tribe was so tenuous that they required the best leader to maximize the chances of survival. The Tribe had built-in ways of establishing leadership, many times trial by mock combat. In mock combat the fight ends, not with death or injury, but when one acknowledges the superiority of the other and grants him or her leadership status. This merit-based method works well when the stakes are small.

Herder Culture: Breeding determines Leader

Although the Hunter-gatherer Tribes primarily employed merit to determine leadership, the Herders based their choice of leader upon a combination of merit and genetics. The pastoral cultures were acutely aware of the advantages of good breeding. They had diligently domesticated wild herds of sheep, goat, cattle and pigs by selecting for certain desired traits. It was an easy process to extend the concept of breeding to humans.


Under this mindset, the warrior-king established a dynasty founded upon his good breeding. In similar fashion, invading cultures could consider themselves to have better breeding than the indigenous culture and consequently avoid cross-cultural breeding. This mentality led to the notion of a military aristocracy. The notion of good breeding is just as prevalent now as it ever was.

Sex and War

There is yet one more cultural dynamic associated with the militarization of culture. It has to do with the status of women.

Status: As Male Warrior Rises, Female Creator Falls

As populations expanded beyond the capacity of their ecosystem, cultural conflict arose due to competition for dwindling resources. In this conflict, military strength, not cultural sophistication, determined the outcome. As these military conflicts grew larger, the warrior’s status also increased. Indeed, the top warrior was frequently elevated to the role of ruler or king.

As the warrior’s status rose, the woman’s status in the tribe fell. Because of his importance as defender, men rose above women in social importance. Increasing conflict reinforced the importance of the warrior. This value system was not due a religion or a philosophy, but instead inherent to the growing hostilities of the time period.

War as an institution

Unfortunately, there is a tendency of a war leader to prolong a war to maintain his power, sometimes throughout generations. The intensive training of warriors from childhood led to the increased desire for battle to test these marital talents. These tendencies in turn led to the rise of war as an institution.

Gender inequality

The status of women tends to be inversely proportional to the effort a society puts into war and defense. As competition for marginal land increased between nomadic cultures, a more warlike mentality grew and women were relegated to a more inferior role in the tribe.

Sexual Implications

This unfortunate cultural dynamic had interesting implications for attitudes towards sex. Remember that the woman’s capacity for non-seasonal sex was probably a major contributing factor binding the male to the family unit. The Hunter was drawn regularly back to the family for its comforts and to have sex. In this way, sex and the family structure are intimately linked. Additionally this limits the territory of the Hunter because he must be in reasonable proximity to the tribe to provide sustenance for his offspring.

Disconnection of Man from Tribe

This binding of the man to the family, while advantageous for his mate and children, had major disadvantages to the growing military culture. Military culture stresses the warrior’s duty to the tribe and nation above all else including the family. In other words, the army became top priority.

Sex devalued

The glue of recreational sex with one partner became an obstacle, as it bound the warrior to his wife and family. The soldier needed to be free to leave the home to defend the borders of the growing military organization. When his nation was under attack or attacking, the soldier’s priorities shifted to the army at the expense of his family unit. As military commitments rose in importance, loving relationships were devalued simultaneous with fall in the status of women.

Tribal Sex

A distinction needs to be made. In the small, personalized tribe, sex was also more personal. Sex primarily occurred between members of the same tribe or within related tribes. The woman was valued and revered for her procreative powers. While monogamy might not have been prevalent, sex was probably a consensual venture. This cooperation could have been the beginning of romantic love and was probably based upon mutual respect.

Depersonalized Violent Sex

In these early military cultures the ties to the intimate tribal home were broken. Once the culture needed soldiers to leave the tribal home, personal consensual sex became devalued, while depersonalized violent sex became the norm. the warrior commonly raped the women he came in contact with, perhaps as a symbol of his independence from his intimate tribal home. This violent sex reinforced his estrangement from a loving home and family. This useful military attitude was encouraged and eventually institutionalized. Good soldiers don’t make good husbands and fathers and vice versa.

Feral Male

It could be said that the domesticated male of the Hunter-Gatherer cultures had gone feral. It took a woman to tame a man, whether it be mother or lover. Men by themselves tend to go wild. Man at heart is a Hunter. Once ‘tamed’, he employs his talents to provide and protect, and even trains the next generation in the use of his techniques. When untamed, he reverts to the wild becoming a savage beast again. Of course, the savage beast in man makes the best soldier. As such, military cultures did their best to isolate men from women, or at least devalued the feminine influence. Indeed showing respect for women came to be regarded as a sign of weakness. ‘You sissy’, ‘momma’s boy’, ‘pussy whipped’ are just a few pejorative expressions that indicate these cultural residuals. Women, by the way, don’t go feral by becoming violently savage, when separated from men.

Modern times

To show how far we haven’t come, check out the connection between sex and violence in contemporary cultural expressions. Sex is still obscene, while violence is tolerable. Sex and violence are integrally connected like bread and butter, toast and jam, or meat and potatoes. Even in the most acclaimed artistic expressions like Schindler’s List, which won many Oscars including best picture, sex and violence are intertwined in an artistic fashion, great lighting and overlays: a rape is combined with a wedding. While reflecting our military culture, it does not reflect a healthy attitude towards couple sex.

Farming Villages evolve into Prosperous Trade-based Agrarian Societies

As the pastoral cultures were organizing into larger military units, agricultural technologies were improving. The improvement created greater surpluses, which sustained larger population centers and provide for more leisure time. Due to the increase in spare time, the crafts of pottery and weaving flourished. With this growing wealth of goods, trade grew in a huge way. The small farming villages became larger population centers based upon both agriculture and trade.

As an indication of the importance of both trade and agriculture in these prehistoric times, the ancient city of Catal Huyuk in Anatolia was an advanced agricultural center. The equally ancient city of Jericho in the Near East was a major trade center. Due to the complexity of large population centers, the populace began developing specialized talents. Farmers and crafts people began creating goods for a larger marketplace. People became traders to move the goods around. There were no professional warriors   on this theoretical cusp of the Neolithic and Metal Age.

Gender equality

Women had equal status in the early farming communities. As an indication of the high esteem in which women, especially mothers, were still held, many of the early agri-cultures, including Catal Huyuk, were still producing fertility figurines.

Cultures setting up for inevitable conflict

Thus at this Age between Ages, Farmers and Traders were growing fat and prosperous. Arts and crafts were flourishing. Women were still valued as equal human beings. Their society has not yet begun to stratify. Simultaneously, the Herding societies were developing war-based cultures due in part to growing populations and shrinking resources. The Hunter/Herder was becoming a Warrior. The strongest and meanest warrior became king. As the war-based culture continued to evolve, social stratification increased with the Male Warrior growing in status. At the same time, the status of the woman fell in the pastoral society. The clash of the pastoral military-based societies with the agrarian trade-based societies was inevitable. The outcome was a foregone conclusion. Enter the Bronze Age.

[1]We see this trend regularly throughout history and into modern times. The Moslem Arabs of the Middle Ages were unable to defeat the Crusaders decisively only because they were fighting constantly amongst themselves. The modern Arab nation could be a powerful international force if they would cooperate. Their power was exhibited in their oil cartels of the 1970s. Saddam Hussein of Iraq was counting on the Arab world rising in unity to defeat the west, but because of conflicting interests, he was effectively isolated.


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