WHP Lesson 14: Early Agrarian Societies

Humans were mostly foragers for the first 245,000 years of our existence. But when cities began to form about 5,000 years ago, it had everything to do with making the switch to farming. In some areas, the shift to farming led to two new structures—cities and states. Not all agrarian societies developed these structures, and certainly not all states or cities were organized in the same way. By studying them, however, we can determine certain patterns in how such societies were organized and governed.

Driving Question: How different, and how similar, were early agrarian societies?

  • While networks have increased interactions over the globe, it’s important to remember that agrarian societies developed independently from one another. And despite starting independently, many of the early agrarian societies shared a lot of the same characteristics. But then again, they were also quite different. It’s useful to look at these societies and to see what characteristics they shared, and how they were each unique or different. We call this “comparing and contrasting”. 
  • Historians often use the tools of comparing and contrasting to help us understand some of the patterns in human history.  

Word of the Day: Agrarian

  • Definition: Agrarian just means “farming”, or something related to the cultivation of land.  
  • But, in the context of history, it often means way more! We have to ask ourselves, why are so many of these early complex societies “agrarian”?


  • Read: “Introduction to Agrarian Societies
  • Optional: Go to Origins Lesson 3.3 and read two (or more) of the comparative articles on China, Nubia and Egypt, Aksum, Mesoamerica, Nok, Indus River Valley, or watch Crash Course World History: Mesopotamia.
  • Determine some elements to explore, compare, and contrast those factors for the societies you read about.

Historian’s Journal Prompt

  • How are societies around the world responding differently to COVID-19 today? Find two different societies' responses to Covid-19 and compare and contrast their responses to the pandemic. These could be legal responses, like quarantining, or cultural responses, like not shaking hands.