Why did some cultures build cities and other big/permanent structures, while others didn’t?


Cultures around the world have been building temples and tombs and cities for thousands of years; most people think of Europe, but there’s also the Americas, parts of Africa, parts of Asia. Everyone can name some famous historical buildings or ruins from multiple countries.

Why is it then that other people didn’t? I’ve never heard of or seen anything really permanent built by the Australian Aboriginals for instance – arguably the oldest culture on earth – and I’m Australian!

In: Culture

Cities form once agriculture begins.

In regions too environmentally hostile for long term major agricultural development, societies build around hunting/gathering, fishing, or livestock keeping instead.

This usually precludes the development of large permanent cities, since a large population can’t continually and excessively hunt/graze the same area very long.

I’m sure a lot of people built mega structures but you got to remember we are only seeing the ones that survived. Land development, looting and vandalism were probably the downfall of many ancient structures. Not to mention the ones destroyed by natural causes. What we see now is the most durable and lucky ones.

Some conditions allow for it and some don’t. The first societies that arose did so exclusively around fertile river valleys. In this case, large scale agriculture was possible and a necessity to maintain population growth. Which in then creates more labor > more people to do stuff other than growing crops > build big buildings. When these societies establish, their culture will be capable of interacting with others and trade ideas, alternatively conquer more land and build infrastructure. So basically, if one society is established, neighboring regions will be influenced by them.

Nomadic people on the other hand, usually live in conditions that don’t allow for agriculture. So for instance Mongolia or the Arabian peninsula you can’t grow shit. Hence people travelled with livestock who provide them with what they need. But they also need to travel with them so they can graze and trade with other tribes. Building permanent settlements here anywhere aside from by an oasis is not viable.

As for aborigines, they lived in Stone Age, hunter-gatherer societies, because they were more or less completely isolated from the rest of the world and the conditions weren’t favourable for agriculture.

Food. You can’t make cities if you don’t have enough concentration of food to feed that city. Today only a small portion of the population need to work to produce food, but it wasn’t like that in the past.

– Agriculture is hard, you need a lot of knowledge, good soil and good plant to be able to do it with decent result. A lot of people were not able to do it yet, or were in situation where living of hunting and gathering just gave more result for their effort. So they had to move and couldn’t stay in the same place for enough time to develop a city.

– There was a LOT of technological development in agriculture over the years. As those technology spread people were able to produce more food in a certain area, allowing cities to grow. And I’m not talking about tractor or stuff like that, there was a lot of development in agriculture over the years. Finding the best type of crops and spreading that knowledge, using stone tools, domestication of animal to work on the farm, crop rotation, irrigation, etc. In the beginning, we simple didn’t had enough technology to make farming productive enough to feed cities, and so only in the most fertile region huge civilisation were able to prosper. Anywhere else, each square kilometre of field just didn’t produce enough food. As technology progressed, less fertile regions were able to produce enough food and cities started to appear all over the world, but it take time to knowledge and know how to spread. In Australia they had the disadvantage of being isolated, Europe could learn through merchant about a technology developed in China and they had a far larger population that could come up with new idea, so the development was faster.

Possibly political structures have something to do with it, too- Kings build palaces and monuments and other large edifices for whatever purposes they require because they can command the resources of a very large number of workers.

Individual workers doing their own thing will build efficient dwellings for their own use, or the use of their immediate family or clan group- they’ll probably be much smaller.

So the work of the monarch survives the ages, and the lowly serf’s works die not long after the serf does.