Advanced Horticultural Societies



Alteration of social patterns emerged as horticultural societies incorporated new technologies and practices that generated wealth and social stratification. These cultures practiced wealth retention using their religious and belief system to concentrate wealth and power among a few members of the community and diversified the economy to include specialization.

Key words: community, horticultural society, social division.

Advanced Horticultural Societies: Increased Division Resulting from Wealth


Hunter-gatherer societies transitioned into early horticultural societies as they settled into the areas, at least temporarily, to raise crops in order to supplement their food sources. These early horticultural civilizations practiced egalitarian resource distribution and had local political structures. In practice, surplus food was used to assist those within the community who were in need. This situation had the effect of leveling wealth within the community. Those who had more than they needed shared it with others, and social standing was not a factor in determining who received assistance.

The advance of technology, such as irrigation and use of plows, increased production and excess food far in advance of what had existed previously. This additional fare began to be converted into material wealth. As wealth became concentrated in individuals and families, it led to increased social division. Civilizations that had excessive material wealth developed complex political structures based upon familial lines rather than upon accomplishment. Advanced horticultural societies began to exhibit increased social stratification resulting from sedentism changing societal traditions and thus increased material wealth.

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Rising Sedentism

The value of land increased as agricultural technology allowed settlements to stay in one place in contrast to the semi-nomadic slash and burn techniques used previously. Technology improvements allowed people to settle permanently, as land could sustain more people and resisted depletion unlike primitive horticulture. Land became more valuable when people did not constantly move from place to place. Chafetz (2004) claims that the advance of technology and increased production led to increased social division (p. 270).

Kiste (2014) informs that land ownership became the primary form of wealth, and inheritance kept the wealth in families increasing social separation. As wealth began to focus in land-owning families, economic and social separation was growing. According to Kahn (2014), civilizations that had increased material wealth managed to build complex political structures that were founded upon family ties. Hierarchies that were more complex supplanted the egalitarian distribution and political practices used previously.

Lagerlof (2009) claims, One of the most significant institutional transformations of human societies involves property rights in man: slavery (p. 319). While slavery was not common, the practice of renting land or borrowing money to purchase land became more common. Boucher, Carter, and Guirkinger (2008) explain, are able to borrow but only under high-collateral contracts that offer them lower expected well-being than a safe, subsistence activity. This created dynamics where those who borrowed could remain indebted creating a virtual slave class that is insulated from the benefits of wealth.

Increased wealth resulting from surplus of resources created change in the social fabric of advanced horticultural peoples. Women became less central to activities outside the homes as men dominated food production and political infrastructure. Bolger (2010) states, ...the adoption of the plow is normally associated with a diminution of female status on the grounds that in conditions of intensive agriculture female labor is largely removed from contexts of primary production. Mulder et al. (2010) illustrate how inheritance customs reinforced patriarchal tradition; according to them, Preindustrial agricultural societies are overwhelmingly patrilineal.

Societal Effects of Increased Wealth

Sheil (1975) notes that early horticultural societies practiced egalitarian resource distribution and political structure (p. 116). Increased material means changed civilizations. One of the differences concerned their views of the land. Winterhalder and Kennet (2009) describe, Localization and control over property and productivity generate opportunities for specialization and economies of scale, at the same time setting up the possibility of exchange among specialists and between locales with differential production advantages and consumption needs (p. 646). These new vocations were independent from food production. Thus, society moved farther from the homogenous egalitarian early form to a wealth-centered, specialized form.

Tradition played a role in reinforcing this new structure, as the emerging specialist roles descended through family lines. Kiste (2010) describes, Training in cultural specialties...was often delayed until young adulthood or middle age. Usually an older relative taught an individual these skills. Embodied wealth transmission segregated specialist function in families and created generations that did not learn the basic skill set of food production. This increased social division created new vocations that had not existed previously.

The motivation behind these changes was greed. Bolger (2010) claims, Economic rivalry was the driving force behind food production, a rivalry that resulted in the end of egalitarian social organization and the emergence of new cultural traits such as social hierarchy, slavery, and warfare. As people began to yearn for more than subsistence, they strove to accumulate wealth without ensuring that all people benefitted, as society used to ensure previously.

Wealth and Status Preservation

Those who attained wealth strove to retain it. Bolger (2010) states that belief structures were used to help accomplish this: Particular emphasis has been given to the ways in which social phenomena such as mortuary and other ritual practices promote a collective ethos that helps to preserve and maintain traditional social structures. The maxim it takes money to make money applies to the collective ethos in the quote. Landowners maintained their wealth through usurious lending and used arrangements described previously, and inheritance kept that wealth in their families. Shenk (2010) elaborates on the stratification in these cultures by noting their complex division of labor and greater concentration of non-agricultural employment centered in urban population centers.

In similar fashion, wealth was controlled through arranged marriages. According to Mulder et al. (2010), The preferential marriage of people of similar social standing (also called isogamy) is quite common in agricultural societies. This may include rules or practices of endogamy by caste, social class, occupation, or wealth. Resource management was used to achieve growth and retention; communal benefit of surplus was no longer a consideration. Advanced horticultural societies further distanced themselves from their predecessors in terms of social class and wealth inequality. As this new social class relied upon food from the farmers, it reinforced the new social hierarchy.


Technological advancement increased food production and made permanent settlement possible. Increased surplus stimulated a specialist economy that was independent of food production. Kiste (2010) explains that political hierarchies became more centralized and exerted greater control over the population. As population centers were divided into rural agricultural areas and urban business centers, the lines between farmers and rulers became wider, and more societal divisions appeared between the upper and lower register of the social structure.

New beliefs and religious infrastructure increased the distance between the rungs of the culture ladder through inheritance of land and embodied wealth. This had the practical effect of keeping the rich and the poor separate. Now the poor worked to support the rich and to maintain their wealth at the expense of their own. These changes define the differences between the egalitarian, loosely defined civilizations that preceded these new cultures and demonstrate how those who lived in them differed from their earlier counterparts.

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