Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 August 2022
Civilization is often considered to be the culture of state societies, in which urbanism, specialized market exchanges, foreign trade, and traders developed to support large-scale political societies with social stratification, wealth inequalities, and high arts (Childe 1952). The present volume, Trade before Civilizations, as well as the Gothenburg University conference on which it is based, consider the social and political dynamics associated with distant trading as it existed before states, and we have been asked to be discussants and now commentators. Our common research agenda has focused on how political economies underlay the formation of centralized power and social inequality. for both of our lifetimes, we have studied the evolution of intermediate-scaled societies that emerged both before state formation and beyond the domination of states. These societies represent varying political scales and centrality that we have glossed as “trans-egalitarian” and “chiefly” (Earle 1987, 1997; Hayden 1995, 2001a, 2014). In prehistory and history, such societies existed around the world without states and on the periphery of states. The elaboration and significance of trade (long-distance exchange) in these societies involved trans-regional movements of prestige goods (wealth) and people. Such objects carried meaning that structured social relationships in terms of status, roles, values, and authority. To understand wealth-based trade helps us to understand the nature of how social complexity emerged and operated.
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