Historical cycles in the last 5000 years

May 2011
2,925
Rural Australia
#21
I am not a historian, but I am seeking someone who could give me an opinion about this hypothesis.
Are these periods somehow meaningful to you?
Do they fit the main trends in the demographic, economic, technological, political, social and cultural history of the last 5000 years?
At least for the Near Eastern, Mediterranean and European areas?

IDK. However ....

Debt: The First 5,000 Years is a book by anthropologist David Graeber published in 2011.

His cycles - described in a highly summarised form - are as follows:

Credit Versus Bullion, And the Cycles of History


First Agrarian Empires ...................... (3500 BCE - 800 BCE) (2700 years) Virtual credit

The Axial Age ............................... ( 800 BCE - 600 CE ) (1400 years) Military-coinage-slavery complex

The Middle Ages ............................. ( 600 CE - 1450 CE) ( 850 years) Virtual credit

Age of the Great Capitalist Empires ......... (1450 CE - 1971 CE) ( 521 years) Military-coinage-slavery complex

Beginning of Something Yet to Be Determined . (1971 CE) Nixon announced U.S. dollar no longer redeemable in gold


This may or may not conform to whatever it is that you are proposing. IDK. Nevertheless because it deals in cycles over the last 5000 years it may be of interest.
 
#22
What does the top horizontal line represent? In 1920 bce, Egypt was riding high during its Middle Kingdom. But, is Egypt the standard for this graph? If so, it seems odd that you have a decline spanning the entirety of the New Kingdom when Ancient Egypt, in addition to other states like the Hittite Empire, achieved the apex of their imperial powers. And what's so great about what was happening in the Near & Middle East around 933 bce? Of course, I guess some Neo-Hittite states were doing okay at the time but they were nothing compared to New Kingdom Egypt or its Hittite contemporaries. Then you show a ~170-year decline from 933 to 769 when the Neo-Assyrian Empire was actually on the upswing during this period. To me, it seems like a good way to identify confirmation bias. You just pick a good or bad thing that happened which fits the graph at a particular point and ignore everything else going on at the same time which contradicts it.
- The top and bottom horizontal lines don't represent anything, just a frame to my drawing...
- Yes, the entire Middle East is the standard for the period 3236-1262 bce, because bronze, writing and urbanization were invented there.
- Yes, Egyptians and Hittites reached the apex of imperial power exactly around 1262 bce, but what kind of power are we talking about? It's mainly a sort of feudal power over the dynasties of the Levant, for which the two superpowers fought wars. This period finished around 1262 bce when they established peace treaties, and maybe this had something to do with the beginning of Phoenician trade, the invention of the Canaanite abjad and the development of ferrour metallurgy in the Syro-Hittite states. I just would like to say that, while the Old Kingdom and the New Empire are held as the two main periods of Egyptian "greatness", maybe their natures were essentially different. Another clue is the nature of the power in charge: in the Old Kingdom the pharaoh had all the power and was considered a god, while in the New Kingdom the pharaoh was considered mostly a general and had to share his power with the High Priest of Amun. This is also reminiscent of another feudal characteristic: the investiture struggle.
- This period of middle eastern wars and feudalism lasted mainly until Nabuchadnezzar II at the inflection point of the chart, when the archaic age begins and the focus starts shifting to the mediterranean coastal regions.
- Yes, the risk of falling into confirmation bias is high, that's why I want to confront with experts like you. Anyway, we both should be humbled by the objective observation that historiography for this period is full of blanks.
 
Feb 2013
4,299
Coastal Florida
#23
- The top and bottom horizontal lines don't represent anything, just a frame to my drawing...
- Yes, the entire Middle East is the standard for the period 3236-1262 bce, because bronze, writing and urbanization were invented there.
- Yes, Egyptians and Hittites reached the apex of imperial power exactly around 1262 bce, but what kind of power are we talking about? It's mainly a sort of feudal power over the dynasties of the Levant, for which the two superpowers fought wars. This period finished around 1262 bce when they established peace treaties, and maybe this had something to do with the beginning of Phoenician trade, the invention of the Canaanite abjad and the development of ferrour metallurgy in the Syro-Hittite states. I just would like to say that, while the Old Kingdom and the New Empire are held as the two main periods of Egyptian "greatness", maybe their natures were essentially different. Another clue is the nature of the power in charge: in the Old Kingdom the pharaoh had all the power and was considered a god, while in the New Kingdom the pharaoh was considered mostly a general and had to share his power with the High Priest of Amun. This is also reminiscent of another feudal characteristic: the investiture struggle.
- This period of middle eastern wars and feudalism lasted mainly until Nabuchadnezzar II at the inflection point of the chart, when the archaic age begins and the focus starts shifting to the mediterranean coastal regions.
- Yes, the risk of falling into confirmation bias is high, that's why I want to confront with experts like you. Anyway, we both should be humbled by the objective observation that historiography for this period is full of blanks.
You generalize about these matters as if you've taken a quick glance at the wiki and studied nothing else. For instance, the year 1262 may be around the time the peace treaty was concluded between the Hittites and the Egyptians but, according to your graph, this point was at rock bottom for the region. I don't see why it should be characterized as such. Nevertheless, I'd also note that 1262 bc isn't the point when the "Egyptians and Hittites reached the apex of imperial power". In particular, the Egyptians conquered their greatest extent of territory during the previous dynasty, like some 200 years earlier. Then you speak of the "Canaanite abjad and the development of ferrour metallurgy in the Syro-Hittite states" as if these were completely new and original inventions which were entirely unknown previously. I assure you that isn't the case as both had been in development for centuries. In particular, during the height of the Hittite Empire, other "Great Kings" were practically begging their Hittite contemporary for "good iron". As for the feudalism thing, I assume you're referring to their penchant for reducing the less powerful cities and states around them to a position of vassalage. If we're thinking about it abstractly, isn't that basically what an empire is?

More to the point, however, I just don't see any real methodology underpinning your graph. Again, I ask what's so great about what was happening in 933 bc? Compared to periods before and after, this was the nadir of a relative dark age for the region. If your graph is supposed to correlate with regional expressions of power and culture, 933 bc should be a point near rock bottom. While I realize the biblical text makes out like there was a lot going on around this time, Shoshenq I wasn't the greatest pharaoh and archaeology can't find any evidence for the supposed fabulously wealthy kingdom of Israel the bible claims existed during this period. The remains of life are there, but I wouldn't describe them as products of fabulous wealth and power, and certainly not when compared to New Kingdom Egypt before it or the Neo-Assyrian Empire after.
 
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#24
You generalize about these matters as if you've taken a quick glance at the wiki and studied nothing else. For instance, the year 1262 may be around the time the peace treaty was concluded between the Hittites and the Egyptians but, according to your graph, this point was at rock bottom for the region. I don't see why it should be characterized as such. Nevertheless, I'd also note that 1262 bc isn't the point when the "Egyptians and Hittites reached the apex of imperial power". In particular, the Egyptians conquered their greatest extent of territory during the previous dynasty, like some 200 years earlier. Then you speak of the "Canaanite abjad and the development of ferrour metallurgy in the Syro-Hittite states" as if these were completely new and original inventions which were entirely unknown previously. I assure you that isn't the case as both had been in development for centuries. In particular, during the height of the Hittite Empire, other "Great Kings" were practically begging their Hittite contemporary for "good iron". As for the feudalism thing, I assume you're referring to their penchant for reducing the less powerful cities and states around them to a position of vassalage. If we're thinking about it abstractly, isn't that basically what an empire is?

More to the point, however, I just don't see any real methodology underpinning your graph. Again, I ask what's so great about what was happening in 933 bc? Compared to periods before and after, this was the nadir of a relative dark age for the region. If your graph is supposed to correlate with regional expressions of power and culture, 933 bc should be a point near rock bottom. While I realize the biblical text makes out like there was a lot going on around this time, Shoshenq I wasn't the greatest pharaoh and archaeology can't find any evidence for the supposed fabulously wealthy kingdom of Israel the bible claims existed during this period. The remains of life are there, but I wouldn't describe them as products of fabulous wealth and power, and certainly not when compared to New Kingdom Egypt before it or the Neo-Assyrian Empire after.
Fair enough. The period 1262-933 bc could be considered a "contracting phase" because the Bronze Age collapse protacted for centuries (even though I understand that there is much controversy about dates of city destructions) and because it was followed by the Greek Dark Ages. Nonetheless, this period is unanimously recognised as the beginning of the Iron Age in Anatolia and the Levant. Why are you trying to diminish the importance of this change? Of course, discovery of and experimentation on the new ferrous metallurgic technology may have begun earlier, but its vast application to those factors that contribute to an "expanding phase" (like agriculture, food transformation, building and manufacturing, for example) is characteristic of what we call "Iron Age".
Same thing for the abjad: it may have been discovered by unknown semitic people in southern Levant centuries earlier (maybe the Israelites, who knows...), but the use in trade by Phoenicians made the real difference. But again, dates for the development of alphabets are rather vague.
By the way, am I the only one who seem to realize that the correlation between iron and abjads is as strong as the one between bronze and logograms? The beginnings of the Bronze Age and logographic writing are quite well defined and coincide with each other. Why wouldn't it be the same for iron and abjads?
 
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Feb 2013
4,299
Coastal Florida
#25
Fair enough. The period 1262-933 bc could be considered a "contracting phase" because the Bronze Age collapse protacted for centuries (even though I understand that there is much controversy about dates of city destructions) and because it was followed by the Greek Dark Ages.
If the period 1262-933 is to be considered a "contracting phase", shouldn't the graph be going down toward a trough over that period rather than up to a peak?

Nonetheless, this period is unanimously recognised as the beginning of the Iron Age in Anatolia and the Levant. Why are you trying to diminish the importance of this change? Of course, discovery of and experimentation on the new ferrous metallurgic technology may have begun earlier, but its vast application to those factors that contribute to an "expanding phase" (like agriculture, food transformation, building and manufacturing, for example) is characteristic of what we call "Iron Age".
Same thing for the abjad: it may have been discovered by unknown semitic people in southern Levant centuries earlier (maybe the Israelites, who knows...), but the use in trade by Phoenicians made the real difference. But again, dates for the development of alphabets are rather vague.
Like traditional ideas about history itself, the three-age system is an oversimplification of a vast subject with many nuances. The more people parse these concepts and compare them to anthropological reality, the more they are and should be rethought. When it comes to the three-age system, you have to think about geographic location and time period as there is no universal timestamp across the world (or even a geographic region, necessarily) where everyone developed metal technologies at the same time or the same rate. As for the Hittite Empire, there is ample evidence, primarily textual references about production and its products, to argue the Hittites went far beyond experimentation and iron was common during the height of their empire. While the extent of their iron production isn't known and iron production clearly became far more common across a much wider area at a later date, I don't think it's necessary to restrict ourselves to rigid temporal or geographic boundaries when trying to determine what is an iron age and what is not. To be honest, it seems rather arbitrary to me. It's easier to find agreement when iron is commonly distributed over a large area. But, at what point and in what location did it begin? Must iron be spread across X square miles and in the hands of Y number of people before you can say an iron age has begun? I'm not so sure it's even necessary for us to conceptualize it like that. And I don't think opinions about this are so rigidly unanimous anyway, except perhaps in the wiki or when people generalize and gloss over the details. Generalizations like that might be okay in the proper context but you've presented us with a graph seemingly presented as an accurate representation of history which is based upon a mathematical function you've somehow derived. Thus, in my opinion, it's proper to subject it to greater scrutiny which goes beyond mere generalization.

By the way, am I the only one who seem to realize that the correlation between iron and abjads is as strong as the one between bronze and logograms? The beginnings of the Bronze Age and logographic writing are quite well defined and coincide with each other. Why wouldn't it be the same for iron and abjads?
Correlation doesn't equal causation. I'd also note the iron age you speak of correlates with Egypt's Third Intermediate Period, a time of decline in this civilization's history, particularly in terms of external expressions of political power and cultural influence when compared to other eras. Does that mean something too?
 
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#26
If the period 1262-933 is to be considered a "contracting phase", shouldn't the graph be going down toward a trough over that period rather than up to a peak?



Like traditional ideas about history itself, the three-age system is an oversimplification of a vast subject with many nuances. The more people parse these concepts and compare them to anthropological reality, the more they are and should be rethought. When it comes to the three-age system, you have to think about geographic location and time period as there is no universal timestamp across the world (or even a geographic region, necessarily) where everyone developed metal technologies at the same time or the same rate. As for the Hittite Empire, there is ample evidence, primarily textual references about production and its products, to argue the Hittites went far beyond experimentation and iron was common during the height of their empire. While the extent of their iron production isn't known and iron production clearly became far more common across a much wider area at a later date, I don't think it's necessary to restrict ourselves to rigid temporal or geographic boundaries when trying to determine what is an iron age and what is not. To be honest, it seems rather arbitrary to me. It's easier to find agreement when iron is commonly distributed over a large area. But, at what point and in what location did it begin? Must iron be spread across X square miles and in the hands of Y number of people before you can say an iron age has begun? I'm not so sure it's even necessary for us to conceptualize it like that. And I don't think opinions about this are so rigidly unanimous anyway, except perhaps in the wiki or when people generalize and gloss over the details. Generalizations like that might be okay in the proper context but you've presented us with a graph seemingly presented as an accurate representation of history which is based upon a mathematical function you've somehow derived. Thus, in my opinion, it's proper to subject it to greater scrutiny which goes beyond mere generalization.



Correlation doesn't equal causation. I'd also note the iron age you speak of correlates with Egypt's Third Intermediate Period, a time of decline in this civilization's history, particularly in terms of external expressions of political power and cultural influence when compared to other eras. Does that mean something too?
Ok, we've established that you hate wikipedia, but I'm going to quote it anyway, from the articles on "Hittites":

From wikipedia english:
The development of iron smelting was once attributed to the Hittites of Anatolia during the Late Bronze Age. As part of the Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age, the Bronze Age collapse saw the slow, comparatively continuous spread of iron-working technology in the region. It was long held that the success of the Hittite Empire during the Late Bronze Age had been based on the advantages entailed by the "monopoly" on ironworking at the time. But the view of such a "Hittite monopoly" has come under scrutiny and no longer represents a scholarly consensus.[5] While there are some iron objects from Bronze Age Anatolia, the number is comparable to iron objects found in Egypt and other places of the same time period; and only a small number of these objects are weapons.[6] Hittites did not use smelting iron, but they used meteorites.[7]
...reference [5] Muhly, James D. 'Metalworking/Mining in the Levant' in Near Eastern Archaeology ed. Suzanne Richard(2003), pp. 174–183
...reference [6] Waldbaum, Jane C. From Bronze to Iron. Göteburg: Paul Astöms Förlag (1978): 56–58.
...reference [7] 'Irons of the Bronze Age'(2017), Albert Jambon. Ancient History Encyclopedia. "Sea Peoples." September 2009.

From Wikipédia français:
Contrairement à une opinion répandue, le métal des armes des troupes hittite était le bronze et non le fer. 92...
...Le travail du bronze était de loin le plus répandu. Celui du fer a progressé lentement durant les derniers siècles de l'empire mais est resté à un niveau technique limité, aucune preuve matérielle n'ayant encore attesté une maîtrise du bas fourneau nécessaire à la réduction du minerai de fer (qui n'est prouvée que pour le début du Ier millénaire en Anatolie et en Syrie). 131.
...reference 92. Jack M. Sasson (dir.), Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, New York, Scribner, 1995
...reference 131. J. Siegelová et H. Tsumoto, « Metals and Metallurgy in Hittite Anatolia », dans Genz et Milke (dir.) 2011

From Wikipedia Deutsch:
Spätestens um 1400 v. Chr. (nach König Telipinu)[10] gelang den Hethitern durch Verhüttung von Eisenerz in einfachen Rennöfen und nachfolgendes Aufkohlen und Vergüten, aus dem weichen Eisen härtbaren Stahl zu erzeugen und Waffen oder Werkzeuge zu schmieden, die den Waffen aus Bronze häufig überlegen waren. Es ist schriftlich belegt, dass auch Eisenwaffen in der Schlacht bei Kadesch (1274 v. Chr.) gegen die Ägypter eingesetzt wurden, welchen nur Bronzewaffen zur Verfügung standen. In den Aufzeichnungen der Hethiter wurde der Stahl als gutes Eisen bezeichnet.[10]
...reference [10] Friedrich Cornelius: Geistesgeschichte der Frühzeit, Verlag Brill-Archive, Band 1, Erstaufl. 1960, S. 132

As you cas see, Wikipedia English and French agree with me, while Wikipedia German agrees with you.
But the reference for Wikipedia German is quite old. Maybe your sources are old too.

About your observation of the periods of decline in Egypt and Greece, I would say that each period has a "standard bearer", a region that embodies the spirit of the time more than any other region. For the period 1262-933 bc that region is the Levant, where iron and abjad are developed. Egypt is already the past. Greece is yet the future.
Their decline is just the protraction (or the delay) of the previous Bronze Age collapse, as some sort of inertia.
A metaphor for this would be the season of summer: on June 21th daylight is at its maximum, but at that moment the situation begins to reverse. Nonetheless, the heat of the weather continues and even increase for some time after the solstice. (...to end on a funny note)
 
#28
That's one of the points on which I have more doubts. If you are a classicist your opinion will be highly appreciated.

Some of the clues for this period:
- the debasent of the Roman coinage starts during the reign of Nero.
- historical CO2 charts from glaciers show a peak in the 1st century AD, which correlates with a peak in smelting and forging of metals, and with a peak in economic production in general. Obviously, not only for Rome, but also for other populous countries, like China.
- the Pax Romana riceives many consequential blows, with the Jewish-Roman wars, the war of Armenian succession, Boudica's revolt and the Year of the four emperors.
- the spread of cults other than state-sponsored religions: mithraism, christianity, gnosticism and rabbinism (in the Roman Empire), buddhism (in the Han Empire).
- the villa rustica and latifundia start (in Italy) the process that will lead to manorialism, by replacing slaves with coloni, by replacing a specialized production with a subsistence economy, by receiving exemptions from central taxation and organizing their own defence.
 
Feb 2013
4,299
Coastal Florida
#29
As you cas see, Wikipedia English and French agree with me, while Wikipedia German agrees with you.
But the reference for Wikipedia German is quite old. Maybe your sources are old too.
I'm not sure about the French and German but the only sentence from the English passage you quoted which contradicts anything I've had to say is this one:

Hittites did not use smelting iron, but they used meteorites.[7]
Of course, in isolation, that sentence contradicts the rest of the wiki article it came from as well so I'm not overly concerned about it. For the rest, it's essentially a straw man as I didn't make any claims concerning the main thrust of what you quoted.

About your observation of the periods of decline in Egypt and Greece, I would say that each period has a "standard bearer", a region that embodies the spirit of the time more than any other region. For the period 1262-933 bc that region is the Levant, where iron and abjad are developed. Egypt is already the past. Greece is yet the future.
Their decline is just the protraction (or the delay) of the previous Bronze Age collapse, as some sort of inertia.
A metaphor for this would be the season of summer: on June 21th daylight is at its maximum, but at that moment the situation begins to reverse. Nonetheless, the heat of the weather continues and even increase for some time after the solstice. (...to end on a funny note)
So it's merely an arbitrary exercise in confirmation bias, as I initially suspected. It seems to me we're not hearing anything based on objectivity here, much less mathematics. What if I think Rome is more substantial to history than Greece for Classical Antiquity? How would that work out for your graph?
 
#30
I'm not sure about the French and German but the only sentence from the English passage you quoted which contradicts anything I've had to say is this one:



Of course, in isolation, that sentence contradicts the rest of the wiki article it came from as well so I'm not overly concerned about it. For the rest, it's essentially a straw man as I didn't make any claims concerning the main thrust of what you quoted.



So it's merely an arbitrary exercise in confirmation bias, as I initially suspected. It seems to me we're not hearing anything based on objectivity here, much less mathematics. What if I think Rome is more substantial to history than Greece for Classical Antiquity? How would that work out for your graph?
It's not a question of confirmation bias or objectivity. You're simply skeptical about deterministic cycles as applied in humanities like economics or history.
It's a matter of philosophical assumptions: research on mathematical modeling of this kind of cycles is impossible under the reigning paradigm in the humanities, according to which events are caused either by human free will or by blind chance.
My philosophical assumption, on the contrary, is nomological determinism, the hardest form of causal determinism. But skeptical people like you are more than welcomed, as they help me put to test my hypotheses. I can doubt that my current model is wrong, but I won't doubt that a mathematical model can be found that best describes human history and human evolution.

We all know that both Greece and Rome are substancial to Classical Antiquity. Greece would have its expanding phase at 522-440 bce, and Rome at 275 bce - 55 ce.
 

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