Class Systems in Ancient History:
Throughout all of ancient history there have been three prominent civilizations that rose and fell but offered something in common unlike any other- class systems. These historical societies were the Hindus, Egyptians and Mesopotamians. Though all from separate coordinates of the world and all forming historical and heritage differences. Commonly, they shared many of the same characteristics and significant pieces. However, as they all shared, they also all had their differences which will all be defined in this essay.
During the Rig Veda, (the oldest written text) the Hindu cast system was established. The Hindus were the only society to have such established and meaningful classes that were based as powerful as the law in our very own society. Four separate levels of social standing were used with an additional class outside of the system. This class was the “untouchables,” the lowest of class with no power what so ever. Working its way up from servants to peasants, warriors and the last and most powerful being priests and royalty. The Hindus set up their city so that the most powerful (priest) would be closest to the center of the city nearest the temples of worship. Each step down lived farther away. A common rule for many civilizations and religions (although not as strict in others) was the prohibition of marriages between separate classes. Although this was the case, anyone from a higher class could choose to marry someone of a lower class, such as a peasant marrying a servant but a servant could not marry a peasant. As far as the untouchables, they were so low they hardly even recognized as part of society. The untouchables were also considered the “outcasts” and received the worst jobs of society often being burial duty.
Similarly, in Mesopotamian culture there were three classes of people. The highest class starting at Nobles, Commoners were in the middle and then came Slaves, the lowest. In this civilization, the people were ruled by The Law Code of Hammurabi. This code was written to provide a safe, sane and prosperous society. The first and most important document was made to protect the family. Second of importance came the land of which they lived on. The third most important was the provision of commerce and business. When a lower person of the system committed a crime against a higher-class person the penalty was strictly enforced, often times with death being the circumstance. Crimes that were committed in the opposite of order by higher class person were not enforced nearly as brutally. Often times when this took place, it was just as if no one ever saw it happen. The slaves were much like the outcasts or untouchables that did all of the dirty work that no one else wanted to do. The slaves themselves also broke into three separate categories. For the kings, there were slaves which were subjected to very severe labor often building temples. Slaves that worked for the nobles or preists were often times women spinning yarn to make clothes. Also, commoners had slaves work for them doing daily chores such as plowing fields.
Four different class systems made up the Egyptian society. Although the King was the highest as usual, he was also seen by all of society as a God. Next down from the King comes nobles, second commoners and then slaves. Such as in Mesopotamian society, slaves also would work for the kings building temples. Since the King was the only law and justice who chose what was wrong and right there was no need for a written law such as Mesopotamias Code of Hammurabi. At one time, the King was the only soul that was able to achieve life after death but within time the nobles could and then eventually all Egyptians were able to reach absolute eternity. Some kings were buried in mestabas that were tombs filled with hieroglyphs, food and jewels meant to give the King a extraordinary afterlife. The first example of this in Egyptian history was Zosers Step Pyramid, made by architect Imhotep. (Just a bit of knowledge from my Architectural History class!)
The three of these separate civilizations all share the same characteristics in that they have at least three or more different classes. Similarly, the highest class, whether it be a king, noble or priest would rule over each civilization and sometimes even create the law to follow. Commoners, warriors or peasants would most often always be the working class. Lowest and least powerful would be servants, untouchables or slaves always being the poor class of every society. Basically, history has played its role in class-systems and has developed into what we now call ordered society.