When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?
I think it was in the Byzantine Basilica of San Vitale at
I’m not close to having an answer that satisfies me, but I have stumbled on one instructive source that opens up some promising paths of inquiry. That would be Nicholas Wade’s Before the Dawn, an exemplary piece of pop science that undertakes to survey human beginnings from, well, the beginning. Wade surveys a broad landscape, but he identifies a critical juncture at the point—perhaps 15,000 years ago—when human first abandoned roving and foraging in favor of the sedentary life:
Hunter-gatherers own almost no personal property and, without differences of wealth, everyone is more or less equal. The first settled communities show evidence of a quite different social order. Houses and storage facilities seem to have been privately owned. With personal property allowed, some people quickly acquired more of it than others, along with greater status. The old egalitarianism disappeared and in its place there emerged a hierarchical society with chiefs and commoners, rich families and poor, specializations of labor, and the beginnings of formal religion in the form of an ancestor cult.
—Nicholas Wade, Before the Dawn, 114 (Penguin Books Paperback ed. 2007)
From there on , it’s only a heartbeat to Justinian, Catherine the Great, and Donald Trump. Wade footnotes to The Origins of Human Social Institutions (Oxford University Press 2001), which sounds like it deserves a look.
*When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may ( if ye will ) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.
—John Ball, Speech Upon Blackheath;
Ball was hanged, drawn and quartered before Richard II
for his role in the Peasant’s Rebellion (1381)