The Two Axial Ages of Economic History

36 Pages Posted: 16 Feb 2014

See all articles by Carl Mosk

Carl Mosk

University of Victoria - Economics

Date Written: February 15, 2014


Between 10,000 BCE to 1,000 BCE, core areas emerged throughout Eurasia. Having abandoned hunting and gathering, embracing settled agriculture using domesticated plants and animals, core zones spawned populous nascent states. Suppressing domestic conflict within their jurisdictions were elites – priests and civil officials – monitoring and disciplining mass behavior. Cooperation stimulated innovation. In energy capture, urban infrastructure, war-making and communications, remarkable breakthroughs in material life occurred, their pace reaching a pinnacle between 1,000 BCE and 0 BCE/CE. However, material improvements came at a price: violence. Core states battled for hegemony; attracted by the wealth and power amassed by core zone states, nomads nipped at their heels; haves and have-nots jostled against one another within citizenries. Addressing the unrest were the prophets and philosophers of the first Axial Age. Asserting peace and harmony could only be won by inculcating “super-virtue” among elites and masses alike, a few emerged as identity figures. Their doctrines embodied in institutions, a new form of elite rule emerged in states, monarchs and supreme religious figures garnering legitimacy through their defence of “super-virtue.” Smashing to pieces the equilibrium painstakingly managed by these elites was a second Axial Age. Its hallmarks: nationalism and the knowledge economy. Predicated on unleashing the masses from subjugation, nationalism threatened the legitimacy of rulers and religious authorities who relied on first Axial Age doctrines to bolster their rule. Remarkably the second Axial Age set the stage for unheard of gains in energy capture, social organization, war-making capacity and communications, swamping in their magnitude the gains managed in the first Axial Age.

Keywords: Economic History, Religious History

JEL Classification: Economic History

Suggested Citation

Mosk, Carl, The Two Axial Ages of Economic History (February 15, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Carl Mosk (Contact Author)

University of Victoria - Economics ( email )

Victoria V8W Y2Y, BC

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