Origin of Civilized Societies

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* Book: Origin of Civilized Societies. Rushton Coulborn. Princeton University Press, 1959

URL = https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691621944/origin-of-civilized-societies


"The receding of the ice in the last Pleistocene Ice Age, the resulting dessication, and the emigration of peoples into river valleys and other places where control of water required new forms of civilization are here seen as the chief causes of the origin of the seven primary societies-Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Indian, Cretan, Chinese, Middle American, and Andean. Professor Coulborn presents clearly and convincingly a number of significant conclusions concerning the formation of civilized societies as well as an abundantly documented and an analysis of the pertinent data drawn from archaeology, anthropology, and history. He shows how a new religion in each case gave the settlers the needed courage to survive the hazards of difficult physical environment, and he concludes that religious acts occupied a central place in the formation and initial development of all the primary societies."


Andrew Targowski:

Rushton Coulborn, in his book The Origin of Civilized Societies (1959), debates a very difficult question concerning origins of civilized societies and addresses two questions:

1) Is there a distinction between civilized and primitive societies?

2) Were civilized societies of single or multiple origin?

He reserved the term “civilized” for the large societies and the term “civilization” for their high culture considered abstractly (he was a student of A.L. Kroeber). He found five of the first seven primary civilized societies in river valleys (Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Indian, Andean, Chinese societies), one on a small island (Cretan society) and another in a tropical forest (Middle American society).

Among factors creating these societies, he perceived the following:

  1. warmer climate,
  2. settlement,
  3. creation of religion by the settlers, which led to the creation and integration of these societies,
  4. change of leadership during migrations from more to less dangerous locations,
  5. adaptation to water supplies, and
  6. establishment of a new religion based upon some parts of old religion or brought by newcomers with charismatic leaders (e.g., the Spaniards colonizing America).

The most intriguing part of the author’s method is that he applies comparisons among these civilized societies, which show some analogies and some differences.

For example, he defined one distinction between civilized and primitive societies which is “perfectly clear and is not only quantitative: civilized societies are all subject to a cyclical movement of rise and fall in the course of their development, but no similar movements occur in the development of primitive societies.” From this author’s 21st-century perspective, cyclical development is controlled by growing cognition of a given society, which learns how to survive and develop itself."