Characteristics of Pastoral and Agrarian Societies


Pastoral Societies

Pastoral or Herding societies are characterized by domestication of animals. They first appeared about 12,000 to 15,000 years ago. These societies are typically found in mountainous regions and in areas with insufficient rainfall to support horticultural and agrarian societies. Most of these societies have secondary means of subsistence - usually small scale horticulture or agriculture. True pastoral societies are rare today.


Size and Density Pastoral communities are usually small (average size 72) with several dozen communities forming a society with a total population of approximately 6,000.


Mobility - Most (90%) are nomadic. In desert areas they travel from water hole to water hole. In mountain areas they move up and down the terrain as the weather changes.


Social Institutions

Stratification and social status is based on the size of one's herd. These societies are very patriarchal (male dominated) in customs. Women have very few rights. Newly married couples are likely to live with the husbandís family.

Agrarian Societies

The first agrarian societies appeared about 6,000 years ago with the invention of the plow. The important of the plow was that it

  1. controlled weeds which would compete with horticultural gardens and necessitated moving those garden every 2 to 4 years.
  2. maintained the fertility of the soil by turning top soil.

Size and density - Agrarian societies were larger and more dense than previous societies. They could support over 100,000 people with densities of over 100 people per square mile. Modern agrarian societies often have rapidly expanding populations.

Permanent settlements. Agrarian societies were the first societies to develop cities. Farming allowed people, for the first time, to be able to be born, live to be an adult, and die in the same place. The surplus food also allowed a small portion of the people to live in cities where they were not directly involved with food production.


Social institutions. Agrarian societies developed more elaborate and complex institutions.

Stratification is very extreme. Possibly highest of all societies for both class and sex.


Other - There is a decrease in head-hunting, cannibalism and human sacrifices. Life is very hard. Improvements in transportation increase trade and production.