When we speak about the degree to which a society's agrarian, we're talking about whether they live a settled life on the land, supported by agriculture, as compared to the lifestyle of the hunter-gatherers we discussed last week
We're talking about large-scale agriculture and herding, and with that usually comes the division of labour and a social hierarchy with people on the top and the bottom and in between. Private property is widespread, and large estates already exist. Religion is no longer a matter of shamanism or magic – it's a polytheist worship structure. The family is now primarily patrilinear, with children raised by their biological father, taking his name and inheriting his wealth.
There are different ways these societies were organized, with Aristotle listing up to 150 of them. These include chiefdoms, not unlike the polynesian societies mentioned last class. Or patrimonial regimes where families held power. There could also be kingdoms with large aristocratic classes and vast territory, or tyrannies where someone came to power by force or ruse. Aristocratic regimes are led by a small number of large families, and empires are monarchies that have invaded other cultures and rule over different peoples.
Conflict and war, at this point, are widespread. Large-scale violence among archaic people is a topic of debate, but agrarian violence is not. We have cultures with centralized command structures, professional armies and additional sources of conflict because there's plenty more to fight over.
But they've also developed new forms of conflict resolution, two of which are law and politics. These existed in archaic societies but were not formalized, written or standardized. Law as a system regulating human behaviour only took effect with agrarian societies, along with politics as the exercise of power necessary to control large groups of people.
But innovations like law and politics result from a phenomenon of what Max Weber calls political domination. In archaic societies you don't have top-down organizations where some possess the privilege of command and others follow orders. Power, in hunter-gatherer tribes, is intermittent and conditional – a chief is powerful because he led a big war, and he can't pass on his status. He'll have to defend it as time goes on, or seek alliances.
The domination emerging from agrarian societies creates institutions like bureaucracies and armies and courts of law that will basically be instruments of this domination. But traditional forms of authority, like family and religion, remain and continue to hold power especially in the village or countryside. But while most people still lived a rural life, cities slowly became the center of power.
And, for a good thousand years, one city dominated most of the western agrarian world.