The Bronze Age as the First World-System: Theses for a Research Agenda
Bronze Age is traditionally viewed as historical period in the third and second millennia BCE. My key contention is that it is more meaningfully considered in geographic terms, as interconnected space of trade and cultural exchanges encompassing Afro-Eurasia but not Tropical Africa, let alone Australia and the Americas. The Bronze-age world-system extended from Scandinavia and British Isles to Egypt and Mesopotamia, from the Indus valley civilization and ancient Arabia to the Urals and western Siberia, possibly, also China and South-East Asia. Geologically, copper and tin as two metal components of bronze are randomly distributed on the planet which necessitated long-distance trade. In turn, the world trade in metals created whole cascades of logistical needs and opportunities. The consequences included the emergence of social complexity: chiefly powers, diplomacy, merchants, specialist coppersmiths and weapons-makers, professional warriors. New means of transportation emerged such as sailed ship and domesticated pack animals (donkey, camel, horse). The exchange in secondary products (wine, cloth, elaborate pottery) led to a revolution in conspicuous consumption. These theses are intended to generate a discussion about the earliest world-system, its morphology and flows. This may also extend to the comparative analysis of later world-systems known to us Antiquity, the Medieval ‘Silk Roads’, and modern capitalism.
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