Characteristics of Agrarian Societies

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  • 0:00 What Are Agrarian Societies?
  • 0:39 Characteristics of…
  • 2:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
Agriculture was pivotal for the development of human civilization, and a key transition in civilization was the rise of agrarian societies. In this lesson, you will learn what an agrarian society is and its key characteristics.

What Are Agrarian Societies?

Imagine a society of farmers and you'll have a pretty good idea of what an agrarian society is all about. An agrarian society is a society whose economy and wealth is primarily based upon agriculture. Agrarian societies have been around for at least five thousand years. In fact, they still exist today. Nearly every civilization has spent some time as an agrarian society. The ancient Egyptian, Indian, Chinese and Mayan societies were agrarian. Today, the poorest of the lesser-developed countries are pretty much agrarian societies.

Characteristics of Agrarian Societies

Agrarian societies share many common characteristics. As we've already mentioned, the society's economy is almost exclusively based on agricultural production. Keep in mind that agrarian societies can be involved in other economic activities, but the primary activity, and the primary form of wealth, is in agriculture. Agricultural production relies primarily upon human and animal labor as opposed to mechanized tools. For example, a farmer in an agrarian society is likely to plow a field with a plough powered by horse, oxen or even just himself. An industrial society would utilize a tractor to till the field.

A division of labor among its members also characterizes agrarian societies. While many are engaged in direct cultivation of the fields, other artisans support the process, such as blacksmiths, who make and repair tools, and potters, who create storage containers. In more developed agrarian societies where there is a sufficient surplus of food, some members of the society will become specialized in arts, crafts and professions that are not agriculturally related.

Settlements are more stable and permanent compared to nomadic societies that rely upon hunting and gathering. If you are growing a bunch of food, you need a place to store it. You also need a place that is relatively secure to help protect it from other people. These settlements became villages and sometimes grew to into cities that became places of commerce and learning.

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