9: Bronze Age Warrior Kings

China Page


Taming the Metals of the Earth

Paleolithic peoples transformed the raw materials of the earth to serve their needs. In the broad sense mentioned earlier, Mesolithic humans domesticated animals and Neolithic peoples cultivated plants. In the Metal Ages, humans shifted their technological attention back to the earth’s raw materials, but in a more sophisticated way. While Stone Age peoples just shaped materials, Metal Age peoples extracted metals from ore. Then they might combine, shape or mold these metal for use. This new stage is based upon ‘taming’ the metals of the earth. This stage is quite unique from the preceding stages because of the more complicated extraction process.

Chalcolithic, Copper Age

Copper was the first metal employed by humans. The Chalcolithic, the Copper Age, follows the Neolithic. Then comes the Bronze Age, which in turn is followed by the Iron Age.

Copper Ornamentation

Normally copper, by itself, was just used for ornamentation, as such was not associated with any significant cultural change. Accordingly, the Copper Age is still considered part of the Stone Age, thus the suffix ‘lithic’. Additionally, copper can be used in its raw state without the need for mining ore and extracting copper from it. The use of copper by itself is not a real technological advance. However, the mining and extraction of copper from ore was a significant technological advance, which led to the development of bronze technology.

Bronze weaponry

Technically, the Bronze Age is associated with the development of bronze technology to produce ornamentation, tools and weapons. (Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, 1997: Bronze Age) Bronze is a mixture of copper and tin. However, bronze is harder and more durable than these softer metals. While beautiful as ornamentation, bronze is even better for weaponry due of its hardness. The big change that occurred in the so-called Bronze Age was that cultures that employed bronze for weaponry were able to dominate and subjugate Neolithic agri-cultures.

Iron continuation of Bronze

Although iron is more plentiful in nature than most other metals and is not a mixture like bronze, it takes repeated smelting at a higher temperature to extract iron from ore. As a result, iron technology was a later development that was based somewhat upon the techniques employed to create bronze. Consequently, the Iron Age follows the Bronze Age. While the Iron Age had its own subtleties, culturally it was an extension of the Bronze Age. Iron allowed for a better military technology with which to dominate other cultures. However, the social structure of the Age of Metals remained the same. A military aristocracy ruled an agrarian society. This was the cultural norm of the time.

Metal technologies homotaxial

As with Stone Age technologies, Metal Age technologies are homotaxial. In other words, they follow a specific order. For instance, bronze always follows copper. Sometimes a homotaxial sequence skips a step due to outside influence.

No universal time sequence to Metal Ages

Archaeological evidence indicates that a culture will sometimes bypass the Copper Age altogether and go directly to using bronze. Bronze was directly linked to the superior military technology surrounding the chariot. The most successful military technologies were copied as soon as the benefits became clear for both defense and aggression. Because they were so effective, the technology behind bronze chariots spread rapidly to societies that had never employed copper by itself.

In similar fashion, a culture might enter an Iron Age without a Bronze Age preceding it. Many times, the technology was transmitted immediately with no stages in between. In these cases, this jumping of stages indicates that the culture didn’t develop the metal technology, but was instead probably exposed to the technology from external sources. Hence the terms Copper Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age don’t have specific time periods associated with them.

Beginning Bronze Age Misconceptions

The mining, extraction and refining of metals demanded a more complex social organization than any that had gone on before. Many traditional historians link this metallic step with the stratification of society. While accurate most of the time, there is at least one significant exception. The culture of Southeast Asia’s prehistoric mainland developed the highest level of bronze work with no evidence of social stratification.


The original terms, i.e. Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, were related to the organization of archaeological finds. Even the Stone Age differentiation into Paleolithic through Neolithic was based upon the organization of the stone artifacts that were found. Even the further subdivision into Early, Middle, and Advanced Paleolithic was artifact-based rather than cultural.

Only much later did archaeologists begin associating human cultures with these artifacts. For instance, the existence or non-existence of homo erectus has nothing whatsoever to do with these ages. The ages only concern stone technology. And yet because homo erectus is associated with Mode 1 and 2 lithic technologies, his existence is linked with the early and middle Paleolithic Era.  These associations of years, cultures, artifacts, and subspecies become linked with a sense of progress. In the attempt to describe this progress, cultural attributes are associated with the ages linked with artifacts.

Bronze Age technology separated from cultural

Just as Stone Age artifacts are loosely related with cultural developments so are Metal Ages loosely linked with cultural developments. The Neolithic is primarily associated with the development of agricultural communities, even though sophisticated Hunter-fisher communities were evolving simultaneously. In a similar way, archeologists link the Bronze Age with the establishment of centralized military kingdoms. Mainland Southeast Asia provides an exception to this rule in that bronze was primarily employed for decorative purposes and functional objects.

Ethnocentric distortions

Ethnocentrism colors the early attempts at analysis. Studying their own roots, early archaeologists focused upon the cultural development of Europe and the Near East. In studying this territory, scientists identified patterns that were geographically specific. European scientists generalized these patterns to the globe. The fit held true most of the time. However, there were some notable exceptions.

Historic Ethnocentrism

Due to historic ethnocentrism, we tend to perceive our culture as the pinnacle of evolution. Under this mindset, we pose the question: How did we come to be the superior life form with the superior culture on this planet we call Earth? We then look for antecedents to our culture to explain our place in the universe. Each preceding step, we call stages on the way to our miraculous superior existence.

Traditional analysis fits Fertile Crescent

This type of analysis worked very well in the Fertile Crescent cultural center. First came the Hunter cultures, followed by the Herder cultures, followed by the Farmer cultures. Then came the technologies of Copper, Bronze, and Iron in that order. All is well-ordered in this world view. This evolutionary progression ultimately leads to Western Europeans as the pinnacle of technological civilization.

A different perspective yields different conclusions

If a historian does not feel that shopping malls are the pinnacle of evolution, then he might interpret the whole sequence far differently. Instead of focusing upon what we did right to reach this pinnacle, the historian might instead focus upon what we did wrong that has led us to this point of ecological disaster. Then instead of viewing these as positive steps in the right direction, they are viewed as the wrong steps down the path to ecological destruction.

The geographical perspective

Viewed from a geographical perspective, we arrive at a much different story – one that is more universal, if not on the global level, at least for the northeast quadrant of the Earth. Under this scheme, hunter-gatherer societies evolved in the deep forests of the world, simultaneously with the development of agricultural societies in suitable river valleys, simultaneous with the development of nomadic societies based upon herding in the arid grasslands. Each of these cultures developed their own technologies, crafts, and culture, to satisfy their own needs.

Neolithic splintering

A more accurate way of viewing cultural development in the Eurasia-African land mass would be a series of cultural splits. First were the Hunter-gatherers. Some of them split off into pastoral cultures, others into farming cultures, while the rest remained hunters. The pastoral cultures split again. One group bifurcated off into a farming culture; the other remained pastoral. By the Neolithic three cultures were evolving side by side. In the Age of Metals these cultures came into conflict.

Beginning of Cultural Bronze Age

In loosely following the convention that associates the Bronze Age with the establishment of centralized kingdoms, let us examine the cultural dynamics associated with the establishment of these military aristocracies.

When Military cultures attack Agri-cultures

The beginning of the cultural Neolithic is defined as the first time a farmer tilled the soil. The beginning of the cultural Paleolithic is dated from the first identifiable stone tool associated with mode 1 technology. In a similar way, we will link the beginning of the Cultural Bronze Age with the beginning attacks of nomadic military cultures upon agricultural settlements. These attacks inevitably led to the establishment of centralized military aristocracies.

Warrior Cultures Raid, Invade or Migrate

There are 3 general ways in which the nomadic Military Cultures interacted with Indigenous Farming Communities: 1) a simple raid, 2) an invasion, or 3) a migration. The difference between the three is based upon residency.

A raid is temporary with no idea of staying. In a simple raid, the invaders go home. This was the case when the early Vikings invaded Europe at the end of the first millennium. In an invasion, the attackers stay as military rulers over the indigenous population, establishing a military aristocracy over an agrarian peasant base. This occurred when the Normans invaded England. In a migration, the entire population inhabits the new land supplanting the indigenous population, making themselves the leaders. This occurred when the Europeans conquered the New World. They did not establish themselves as a military aristocracy. They simply just pushed the native population out of the way, displacing them as they came.

Invasion lead to bicultural society

The nomadic cultures began by raiding the agri-cultures. Eventually they invaded and stayed as rulers, bringing their cultural background with them. The nomads left their unpredictable life behind to become military rulers of the agrarian populations. With an invasion, the customs of the conquering people are overlaid upon the dominated culture, leading to a bicultural society. There were bicultural societies all over the Eurasia-African landmass, from Egypt to England to India and to China.

Migrations; mono-cultural

Migrations can also lead to a bicultural society, with the indigenous population becoming the underclass. However they tend to be mono-cultural with the migrating population replacing the indigenous population. As an example in the United States, the Native American culture, while still existent, is so submerged and localized that it has virtually no effect upon American society.

Raids stratify agri-cultures

After a raid, the raiding party took their loot with them and returned to the grassy plains from whence they came. This type of raid, while devastating the farming communities to which they occurred, allowed the community to rebuild. However, these raids permanently transformed the farming communities to which they occurred. Now these military communities became militarized to defend themselves from the next attack.

Raiding cultures stay as rulers, possibly welcomed

The militarization of Neolithic societies was due to external aggression, but became a permanent part of the political structure. Inevitably, unfortunately, the Farmers learned that they must defend themselves and that the best way would be to have a military ruler, who was granted great powers in time of war. Sometimes these rulers might come from their own ranks. Other times the agri-cultures might even welcome a nomadic army as rulers to protect themselves from the wilder nomadic raiders.

Militarization of farming communities

The militarization of the farming communities was also the beginning of social stratification. To provide an effective defense, the farming communities had to centralize under a single leader. Under attack, this leader assumed dictatorial powers to more effectively survive the onslaught of the nomadic tribes. If the community had become sufficiently militarized to defend themselves from the raiding pastoral groups, then they were also militarized enough to attack their neighbors. This process led to the further militarization of the agricultural communities independent of the military pastoral cultures.

The following quotation provides us with a glimpse into the Early Dynastic Period of Sumer about 3000 BC.

“The rise in material well-being was accompanied by major changes in social structure, the most notable of which was the emergence of kings or officials of comparable status, at first as temporary war leaders, but in due course as established rulers of the city state. The immediate cause of this was undoubtedly the rise of warfare as an institution and this itself was linked with the increase in wealth already noted: thus, the growing affluence of the cities only served to increase their attraction to marauding pastoralists of the highland and the desert, …, and, even more to the point, rivalry between the cities grew as the opportunities for enrichment increased and this occurred at a time when armament was becoming more effective and the inhabitants found themselves able to support warriors. Whatever the factors responsible there can be no doubt that war had by this time become a well-organized institution.” World Prehistory: A New Outline, 1969, p. 106

Human rights a casualty of the military culture

Simultaneous with the militarization of the agri-cultures was the same glorification of the warrior, stratification of society, and disappearance of human rights, especially women’s rights, which had already occurred in the nomadic military cultures. As war became institutionalized due to more frequent cultural clashes aggravated by ever-increasing populations, one of the casualties was human rights.

“Nevertheless, it is true that, in emerging from agricultural villages, men gave up the relative equality of that stage. Some became the managers of society; most worked to support themselves and the managers; in the course of wars and economic distress, unfortunate men even found themselves enslaved or forced to sell themselves or their children into slavery. … It may be noted, too, that of the two sexes women were now definitely subordinated in the processes of law and government. Although their position was still fairly high in Sumerian days, it tended rather to sink than to rise… The inevitable product of the differentiation of classes was a chain of exploitation, unrest, and attempts at reform.” (Rise and fall of the Ancient World by Chester G. Starr, Rand McNally, 1973, p 28)

Pattern of ‘exploitation, unrest, and reform’ a Universal

It seems that we must acknowledge that this pattern of ‘exploitation, unrest, and reform’ is a universal of social stratification. Social stratification is a universal of military cultures. Military cultures are a universal of cultural clash based upon eco-shortages, which are a universal of the geography of the earth. Sorry about that folks.

The Institution of war a universal

Indeed some say that war, itself, is a basic emergent phenomenon of civilization itself and as such is also a human universal.

“A very obvious result of the appearance of civilization was the emergence of war. In earlier times, packs of food-gatherers probably had had only occasional contacts. Even in villages, men had been relatively self-sufficient and clashed with each other rarely. The first cities, however, set the stage for a type of conflict which subsequent civilizations have rarely been able to overcome.” (Rise and fall of the Ancient World, 1973, p 30)

Civilization caused by conflict

Some might say that when enough humans get together that they will inevitably fight. Others of us feel that it is not the number of humans as much as it is the cultural clash based upon geographical cultural differentiation. We would almost be tempted to say that civilization, as defined by large populations of humans grouped in a relatively small geographical area, is caused more by conflict than is conflict a result of civilization. Basically people group behind city walls, not for fun, but to protect themselves from external attack. The building of city walls is a sign of a hostile environment.

Violent cultural eco-protection inherently Human

The universality of war seems to have many factors, including the inherent greed and aggression of humanity as well as the clash of differing cultures. While humans aren’t innately violent intra-culturally, they inherently participate in violent cultural eco-protection, as an extension of their earlier tendency towards species eco-protection.

Following cultural instincts leads to extinction

This type of reasoning leads us to focus upon cultural tolerance as the solution to global war rather than focusing upon man’s aggressive nature. The insight that we belong to a universal human culture with individual variations would be a helpful step in diffusing the instinctive pattern of cultural aggression. Following our cultural instincts will certainly hasten our inevitable extinction.

Cultural blending

Another major aspect of clash is the cultural blending of the combatants. The independent Celtic tribes of Britain centralized to fight Julius Caesar’s Roman armies. After the Roman armies left, the leader of the Celts became Romanized. He tried to maintain the leadership he had attained and even adopted Roman customs, independent of Roman presence. In a similar way, the Middle Eastern agricultural communities that were constantly raided and then militarized adopted many of the value systems of their attackers. The subliminal motivation might be articulated in this fashion: ‘if their culture turns them into a great military power, let us emulate them so that we can also be a great military power to defend ourselves against them. Further, with greater martial prowess, we can conquer our neighbors.’

Military Social Stratification a Universal

In summary, it seems that cultural eco-competition based upon over-population led to the establishment of military cultures as a means of self-preservation. Military cultures tend to be stratified with women at the bottom. The loss of human and women’s rights due to militarization seems to be a human universal based upon the inherent geography of the Earth. There was no other possible outcome, i.e. no peaceful outcome based upon human rights. The militarization of the Eurasia-African land mass was inevitable due to expanding populations combined with different cultural solutions to the available geography. In other words, the innate values of the nomadic herding societies and the settled agricultural societies were incompatible. Armed conflict was inevitable.

The Inevitability of Pastoral Dominance

It was equally inevitable that the pastoral societies would conquer the agrarian societies. As mentioned, the Herders had developed superior martial skills fighting over the scarce resources of the Central Asian Steppes. Further, the farming cultures had a few innate disadvantages.

They were dependent on their crops and land. Harvest time demanded all the farmer’s energy or the family would starve over the winter. Because they were dependent upon the planting and harvesting cycle, it was devastating when anything interfered, such as fighting invaders. Any interference with the annual agricultural cycle would threaten their survival. They were faced with a dilemma: Survive the battle, but perish over the winter. Or lose the battle and survive the winter. As a comparison, the nomadic warriors did not risk losing their food source due to warfare. The pastoral warriors simply moved their herds to greener pastures.

The second weakness of the Farmers was land dependency. Retreating behind city walls saved their lives, but their crops were placed at risk. The nomadic cultures could easily turn farmland into grazing land and often times did. Even if the Farmers were able to save their lives by retreating behind city walls, they still lost their land to the Herders. Due to these two fundamental weakness, land and crop dependency, the farmers were at a distinct disadvantage in battle.

Farmer’s lifestyle not inherently warlike

Another military weakness of the farming lifestyle: it is not inherently aggressive. Farmers don’t get any practice fighting. They must tend their soil over most of the year to produce food and have the same harvest schedule. Because farming is so strenuous, the individual farmer does not have the time or energy to wage war most of the year. Most of his time is spent tending his crops, not training for battle.

Herders, natural warriors

While the lifestyle of the Farmer did not lend itself to warfare, the lifestyle of the herder did. Basically the nomadic life style of the pastoral cultures invites combat. The shepherds are always using up the land. They are always returning to a place that is already inhabited. They always need fresh grazing land. Who gets the grazing land? The strongest of course. Hence the growing nomadic groups were always coming into conflict with other nomadic groups. They were in constant training for battle. The toughest herders got the best grazing land.

Settled Prosperity of Farmers

We’ve established why pastoral cultures tended to be dominant militarily. These military nomadic cultures were probably enticed to raid or conquer the agrarian societies because of their settled prosperity. Due to the enhanced possibilities for cultural transmission in this stable environment, the farming societies were able to develop their crafts to the level of specialization that encouraged trade. The trading centers developed into cities supported by agriculture. The prosperity of these settlements attracted the warrior cultures like honey does bees.

These rich trading centers based upon craft specialization enabled by agricultural surplus provided convenient targets for pastoral warriors. Having fine-tuned their fighting skills against each other, the nomadic peoples invaded the agri-cultures, becoming the military rulers at the top of the social structure.


Home    China Home    Chapters    Previous    Next    Comments