Stratification and Outcome

The Eurasian Bronze Age is famous for an entirely new cast of characters: the super-rich. High kings and queens, high priests and priestesses, pharaohs and emperors—chiefs of the local tribal chiefs, traders, empire-builders, all huge hoarders and displayers of luxury goods. Their urban-based civilizations are the founding myths of Eurasian history;a story told quite simply with a roll-call of their famous cities scattered throughout the fertile subtropical zones, all of which provided the context (and the cash) for their expensive lifestyles. In western Eurasia the Fertile Crescent in Mesopotamia supported the Sumerian and Assyrian dynastic cities of Ur (c.5000-2000 bce), Babylon (c.1792-800 bce), and Nineveh (c.883-612 bce);Egypt had created the Nile river port cities of Memphis (c.3000 bce), Thebes (c.2060 bce), and Alexandria (c.323 bce);in central and eastern Eurasia the Harrapans built the stone cities of Harrapa and Mohenjo-Daro (c.2550-1550 bce) along the Indus valley;the early Bronze Age Shang dynasty founded the Yellow River valley cities of Zhengzhou and An-yang (c.1554-1045 bce), and the Chou dynasty on the Wei River founded a grid-planned city at Chou-tsung (c.1027 bce). The large continental 'inland seas', with their ports and volcanic-island archipelagos, produced the Mediterranean cities of Knossos (2000-1200 bce), Sidon (c.1000 bce), Carthage (814 bce), and Rome (753 bce);and the various early volcanic-island civilizations of ancient Japan, Indonesia, and the peninsula of Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Bronze tools and weapons had accelerated one imperial phase in Eurasia; iron tools set off the next round of warring states. Isolated thousands of miles away across the Pacific Ocean, in c.2000 bce the Mayans and other Meso-Americans were just getting to grips with their Stone Age, to be followed by a prosperous 'Gold Age'.1

Surplus wealth and increasing populations irrevocably brought about increased social stratification and widening social divisions between city, town, village, and countryside. A pyramid of social ranks rose from a broad agricultural base to a small urban-palace elite (thought to be roughly 10 per cent or less of their populations).2 A similar social stratification can be seen in religious politics. It was around this time that the Indus valley or Vedic caste system (jati), which was heritable down the bloodline, developed as a purification theology which divided the whole of society from top to bottom, into four separate orders or clans (varna) according to a hierarchical order of purity—holy priests (Brahmans), noble warriors (Kshatriyas), wealthy merchants (Vaisyas), and obedient servants (Sudras). (The aboriginal Dalits, or Untouchables, were excluded from this classification by their Aryan conquerors, becoming socially invisible.)3 But whether you were rich or poor, there were three important reasons to groom in the ancient world: bodily protection, social status, and divine protection—the proverbial state of 'health, wealth, and happiness' (or peace of mind).

The main regional hubs of the ancient Asian beauty trades scattered along the Eurasian subtropical latitudes served the city civilizations. Within these stratified, centralized societies, grooming had become a 'high' art form associated with the modern urban era, clearly distinguishing their populations from earlier or peripheral tribal groups—those without towns, houses, clothing, cookery, kings, or religion. The importance of grooming to the social elites is proved by the quantities of high-class cosmetic evidence they left behind them, leaving the personal grooming (toilet, or toilette) of the remaining 90 per cent of their populations something of a blank. Body-art was not confined to the wealthy;but as you moved up the social scale, you got every extra bit of grooming that time or money could provide (the same strict principle of unequal access that also applied to purification rituals). The old Neolithic nursing and grooming routines, however, were probably insufficient to protect fully those in the bottom ranks, living on bare subsistence, from significant environmental change; particularly those living in increasingly dense urban sites, who were the likely victims of proliferating parasites, (worms, flies, lice, fungi, bacteria), and new species of epidemic disease (malaria, dysentery, bilharzia, tuberculosis) already on the move.4 Each individual may have had similar needs, but there was a wide variety of outcomes.

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