Pastoral Society and its Characteristics

What is a Pastoral Society? A pastoral society is one that relies on the domestication of animals into herds as a major source of support.

Basically, the term ‘pastoral’ is derived from the Latin word ‘Pastor’, which means shepherd.

The Emergence of Pastoral Society

Around 10 to 12 thousand years ago, some hunting and gathering groups began to adopt a new subsistence strategy based on the domestication of herds of animals.

Many people living in deserts or other regions that were not suited for cultivation adopted this strategy and started taming animals such as goats or sheep. They utilized these animals as a source of food.

Pastoral societies still exist today in the modern world, particularly in Africa, and the Middle and Near East.

Eight Prominent Characteristics of Pastoral Society

The following are the eight most prominent characteristics of Pastoral societies.

1. Relatively Larger in Size

In comparison with the hunting and gathering societies, pastoral societies are larger in size. These societies have somewhere around hundreds and even thousands of members, due to their innovation of domesticated animals which can be used for human food.

2. Pastoralism: A Better Productive Strategy

Pastoralism has proved to be a better productive strategy than all the previous methods of obtaining food. It provides an assurance of food supply to members. Moreover, it also permits the accumulation of surplus resources.

3. Inequality in Society

Since pastoralism contributes to the accumulation of surplus resources; some individuals having better access to surplus become more powerful than others. Hence, they pass on their status to their descendants. Such practice results in social inequality.

Resultantly, patterns of chieftains begin to appear, as powerful and wealthy families secure better social positions.

4. Nomadism coupled with Trading

The people of pastoral societies are nomadic because of their seasonal need to find sufficient grazing areas for their herds.

Their nomadic lifestyle often brings pastoralists into contact with their groups. This helps them to develop trading. Goats, sheep, tents, woven carpets, etc, constitute their main objects of trading.

5. Development of Religious Belief

Pastoral people tend to develop their own religious beliefs. All the modern religions such as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and its offshoot, etc. originated among pastoral peoples.

6. Slavery in Society

Slavery was unknown in the previous societies i.e. there was no concept of slavery in hunting and gathering society.

However, it has made its appearance in pastoral societies as captives in wars were put to work for their conquerors.

7. Private Property and Inheritance of Wealth

Since herds can be owned and inherited; the concept of private property and inheritance evolved in a pastoral society.

Buying and selling of herds take place in these societies. Similarly, the older members inherit or transfer their properties to the next generations through inheritance.

8. Patriarchy

The patriarchal forms of social organization tend to become popular in pastoral societies; especially among those who make use of horses for transportation and warfare.

Bottom Line

In short, in pastoral societies, the population becomes larger, political and economic institutions begin to appear, and both social structure and culture become more complex.

Disclaimer: The ideas and information provided in this write-up have been mainly taken from the book Sociology, Principles of Sociology with an Introduction to Social Thought by C.N. SHANKAR RAO.

Also Read:

About the author


A versatile human being with a passion for reading and writing - always striving for growth, living in the moment but trying to keep pace with the evolving world.

1 Comment

Leave a Comment