The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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A Natural Consequence

January 10th, 2008 · No Comments · history, intentional communities

My current book is Michael Grant’s The Etruscans, self-published in 1980. His view of urban development is very organic, seeing it as a disorganized collection of little steps rather than a tidy, straight-line shift. Unlike other writers, who have the Etruscans pop fully-developed from the head of the Alps, Grant describes how the Etruscans represented a cultural bridge from Mycenaean to Greek culture.

Grant has a model of urban development as an agglutination of several neighboring villages into a central, well-defended, urban organization. He refers to a period of post-nomadic culture as “pre-urban” until the villages are abandoned for cities, at which point it becomes “urban”. The mechanism for this process is the profitable trade with local resources for distant ones — when trade with the Greeks stepped up the demand, the various producing villages combined together to reduce competition and conserve resources.

Because it’s not important to the telling of the story — the golden age of the Etruscans — we’re not given any hints about the nature or structure of villages, or how they developed. So I’m left to wonder if a “village” is the same as a sedentary or semi-nomadic family group, or if a “village” isn’t somehow more advanced, like a collection of related family groups.

The implication is that the pre-urban village was economically relevant and that the post-urban village was not. The process also dictates that cities naturally dominate a larger area than did villages, so that in an area that was forming cities, it was a natural consequence to abandon the village when a strong economic current was found.

So is there an economic incentive to forming a village, or is a “village” just what happens when the family group or a tribe settles down? The distinction is important in that I’m trying to understand the transition from tribal-group leadership to multi-family urban politics: does the creation of a village represent a shift to one or the other? If each “village” is simply a family group, then the formation of cities marks the beginning of urban politics. If, on the other hand, villages were formed from multiple family groups, then “urban” politics would retain much of whatever political structure already developed by the nomads.

I will need to investigate this question further.