How do society structures & organizations compare throughout history & geography?

Oct 2017
America ??
Pretty broad question or topic but nonetheless comparative & interesting isn’t it? Let’s begin!

Classes, hierarchies & obligations between them seem to be universal across societies across the world throughout history don’t they?
This is usually described as feudalism isn’t it?

Hunter-gatherers, while usually destined as egalitarian, usually seem to feature minimal hierarchical levels.

Most if not all animal societies have dominance hierarchies. Those of primates have long been intensively studied for insight into human psychology & sociology. Wonder whether civilizations’ classes & hierarchies could be an extension or manifestation of those of animals?

The modern notion that all people are equal & should have equal rights & unrestricted opportunities exemplified in the concept of the American Dream seems to be very recent & unique historically & not typical example of historical societies. This concept was born out of the Enlightenment wasn’t it? It’s a bit sad & concerning though that, like so many of contemporary civilization’s other moral fundamentals, it took until historically recently for people to recognize & implement them seriously, isn’t it?


I notice there appears to be these main basic universal classes throughout societies across the world throughout history. Of course it’s very generalized & summarized, but what’s important is that they seem to be universal, in order of most importance:

• Superme rulers;
usually in the form of monarchy, sometimes elected.

• Religious body;
priests & monks, often intellectuals & often main writers & carriers of information in societies. Usually of important status, often on par or even above supreme rulers across societies.

• Nobles;
broad term & description of important people, usually hold most important political, judicial & military occupations, usually born & inherited status.

• Warriors;
usually nobles, perhaps should be considered as part of above class, usually born & inherited status.

• Professionals & Artisans;
scientists, doctors, architects, engineers, craftsmen & merchants.

• Peasants;
farmers, fishermen & laborers.
Vast majority of population of societies throughout history. Main food & resource producers of societies, hence the old saying “the plough-man feeds us all”.
Usually don’t own their own land but live off landlord or lord of area to whom they pay taxes. Usually very poor & uneducated, which often leads them to stereotypical image. I suppose frontier people on the fringes of societies & wilderness are still considered peasants.

• Slaves;
all societies featured slavery in many forms throughout history, only recently universally recognized & outlawed as immoral. Tend to originate from outside of the respective societies they live in, individually as well as ancestrally, but to what ratio depends on societies & situations. Usually not considered & included as citizens of societies, sacrifice of social dead.

• Outcasts;
these seem to be universal characters across throughout geography history. Vague & informal term for variety of peoples disgraced & not considered citizens & part of societies isn’t it? Often engage in vice, informal & criminal activities. Peasants & slaves would usually be main constituents. Wildmen or people on fringes of societies might fall under this category, though they’re usually not considered to be part of the society at all in the first place are they.

Do you agree with my observed basic hierarchies?
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Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
Canary Islands-Spain
There seem to be a very basic structure crossing most post-neolithic societies. A three state organization:

Those who fight
Those who pray
Those who work

The similarities between the three order society of pre-Roman Gaul and that of feudal France is something striking. This description could be of France in 1100, excepting of the legal capacity of the druidic order, which in medieval France was ultimately in the hands of the King:

Throughout all Gaul there are two orders of those men who are of any rank and dignity: for the commonality is held almost in the condition of slaves, and dares to undertake nothing of itself, and is admitted to no deliberation. The greater part, when they are pressed either by debt, or the large amount of their tributes, or the oppression of the more powerful, give themselves up in vassalage to the nobles, who possess over them the same rights without exception as masters over their slaves. But of these two orders, one is that of the Druids, the other that of the knights. The former are engaged in things sacred, conduct the public and the private sacrifices, and interpret all matters of religion. To these a large number of the young men resort for the purpose of instruction, and they [the Druids] are in great honor among them. For they determine respecting almost all controversies, public and private; and if any crime has been perpetrated, if murder has been committed, if there be any dispute about an inheritance, if any about boundaries, these same persons decide it; they decree rewards and punishments; if any one, either in a private or public capacity, has not submitted to their decision, they interdict him from the sacrifices. This among them is the most heavy punishment. Those who have been thus interdicted are esteemed in the number of the impious and the criminal: all shun them, and avoid their society and conversation, lest they receive some evil from their contact; nor is justice administered to them when seeking it, nor is any dignity bestowed on them. Over all these Druids one presides, who possesses supreme authority among them. Upon his death, if any individual among the rest is pre-eminent in dignity, he succeeds; but, if there are many equal, the election is made by the suffrages of the Druids; sometimes they even contend for the presidency with arms. These assemble at a fixed period of the year in a consecrated place in the territories of the Carnutes, which is reckoned the central region of the whole of Gaul. Hither all, who have disputes, assemble from every part, and submit to their decrees and determinations. This institution is supposed to have been devised in Britain, and to have been brought over from it into Gaul; and now those who desire to gain a more accurate knowledge of that system generally proceed thither for the purpose of studying it.

The Druids do not go to war, nor pay tribute together with the rest; they have an exemption from military service and a dispensation in all matters. Induced by such great advantages, many embrace this profession of their own accord, and [many] are sent to it by their parents and relations. They are said there to learn by heart a great number of verses; accordingly some remain in the course of training twenty years. Nor do they regard it lawful to commit these to writing, though in almost all other matters, in their public and private transactions, they use Greek characters. That practice they seem to me to have adopted for two reasons; because they neither desire their doctrines to be divulged among the mass of the people, nor those who learn, to devote themselves the less to the efforts of memory, relying on writing; since it generally occurs to most men, that, in their dependence on writing, they relax their diligence in learning thoroughly, and their employment of the memory. They wish to inculcate this as one of their leading tenets, that souls do not become extinct, but pass after death from one body to another, and they think that men by this tenet are in a great degree excited to valor, the fear of death being disregarded. They likewise discuss and impart to the youth many things respecting the stars and their motion, respecting the extent of the world and of our earth, respecting the nature of things, respecting the power and the majesty of the immortal gods.

The other order is that of the knights. These, when there is occasion and any war occurs (which before Caesar's arrival was for the most part wont to happen every year, as either they on their part were inflecting injuries or repelling those which others inflected on them), are all engaged in war. And those of them most distinguished by birth and resources, have the greatest number of vassals and dependents about them. They acknowledge this sort of influence and power only.
Mar 2018
There seem to be a very basic structure crossing most post-neolithic societies. A three state organization:

Those who fight
Those who pray
Those who work
I'd probably subdivide those who work into:
Those who make food
Those who make crafts
Those who trade


Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
United States
Social structure does not necessarily coincide with a particular type of subsistence, rather it has to do with population/food density.

The Amerindian groups along the northwest coast were hunter-gatherers but they had a pretty complex social system of multifamily houses competing for social prestige.

Most hunter-gatherers have a simple system that's pretty much egalitarian (other than certain people seen as especially wise or good at hunting would be respected, as well as gender and age distinctions, and shamans often had some authority in religious matters).


Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
United States
Based on my observations there are four basic classes of societies (similar to but much more nuanced than Elman Service's four levels of social structure):
Egalitarian (no formal status)
Graded (status of individual political units (heads of families/multifamily houses) that is earned)
Ranked (status of individual political units that is ascribed/hereditary)
Stratified (status held by (marriage-exclusive) segments (all genders and ages) of the population, not just individual political units)

This is the basic scheme, not all societies neatly fit into one of these categories, it's actually more of a spectrum.