The World System Urbanization Dynamics: A quantitative analysis

Author: Korotayev, Andrey
Almanac: History & Mathematics: Historical Dynamics and Development of Complex Societies

The available estimates of the World System[1] urban population up to 1990 may be plotted graphically in the following way (see Diagram 1).

[1] We are speaking here about the system that originated in the early Holocene in the Middle East in direct connection with the start of the Agrarian ("Neolithic") revolution, and that eventually encompassed the whole world. With Andre Gunder Frank (1990, 1993) we denote this system as "the World System". As we have shown (Korotayev, Malkov, and Khaltourina 2006a, 2006b), this was the World System development that produced the hyperbolic trend of the world's population growth. The presence of a hyperbolic trend itself indicates that the major part of the respective entity (that is, the world population in our case) had a systemic unity; and we believe that the evidence for this unity is readily available. Indeed, we have evidence for the systematic spread of major innovations (domesticated cereals, cattle, sheep, goats, horses, plow, wheel, copper, bronze, and later iron technology, and so on) throughout the whole North African – Eurasian Oikumene for a few millennia BCE (see, e.g., Чубаров 1991, or Diamond 1999 for a synthesis of such evidence). As a result, the evolution of societies in this part of the world, already at this time, cannot be regarded as truly independent. Note, of course, that there would be no grounds for speaking about a World System stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific, even at the beginning of the 1st millennium CE, if we applied the "bulk-good" criterion suggested by Wallerstein (1974, 1987, 2004), as there was no movement of bulk goods at all between, say, China and Europe at this time (as we have no reason to disagree with Wallerstein in his classification of the 1st century Chinese silk reaching Europe as a luxury rather than a bulk good). However, the 1st century CE (and even the 1st millennium BCE) World System definitely qualifies as such if we apply the "softer" information-network criterion suggested by Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997). Note that at our level of analysis the presence of an information network covering the whole World System is a perfectly sufficient condition, which makes it possible to consider this system as a single evolving entity. Yes, in the 1st millennium BCE any bulk goods could hardly penetrate from the Pacific coast of Eurasia to its Atlantic coast. However, the World System had reached by that time such a level of integration that iron metallurgy could spread through the whole of the World System within a few centuries. Another important point appears to be that even by the 1st century CE the World System had encompassed appreciably less than 90 per cent of all the inhabitable landmass. However, it appears much more important that already by the 1st century CE more than 90% of the world population lived precisely in those parts of the world that were integral parts of the World System (the Mediterrannean region, the Middle East, as well as South, Central, and East Asia) (see, e.g., Durand 1977: 256), whereas almost all the urban population of the world was concentrated just within the World System. A few millennia before, we would find another belt of societies strikingly similar in level and character of cultural complexity, stretching from the Balkans up to the Indus Valley outskirts, that also encompassed most of the world population of that time (Peregrine and Ember 2001: vols. 4 and 8; Peregrine 2003). Thus, already for many millennia the dynamics of the world population, the world urbanization, the world political centralization and so on reflect first of all the dynamics of population, urbanization, political centralization, etc., of the World System that makes it possible to describe them with mathematical macromodels.