Historum Essay contest#1 November 2019



Forum Staff
Apr 2010
T'Republic of Yorkshire
OK folks, let's get this underway!

Please read the contest rules here:

The deadline for contest entries is 23:59:59 GMT 30th November. Entries submitted after this date may be disqualified.

Submissions will be posted in this thread by the contest administrator (me).

For the first essay contest, I think we will have a popular theme in order to encourage participation. Future contests will have a theme chosen by members.

The theme for this contest is "Rise of Empire". You may interpret this theme however you wish, and it can relate to any time period or geographic area.

Any questions, please start another thread in this forum.
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Forum Staff
Apr 2010
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Entry#1: A medieval city empire.

When Enrico Dandolo, “doge” of Venice, found out that the Crusaders, at the beginning of the 4th Crusade, had a desperate need for means of transport he didn’t imagine that he was going to create an empire[1].

Let’s take a step back. Pope Innocent III[2] decided to call the Christians to a further Crusade as soon as he got the Papal Throne in 1198CE. The situation for the Christian states in Middle East [also known as “Latin States”] wasn’t great, to say the least, Jerusalem had fallen[3] into the hands of the Muslims and the Western Church felt the need to regain it from the hands of the “infidels”. But there was an evident logistic problem: how to persuade the Italian Sea Republics to carry the Crusaders to the Holy Land? The Italian Sea Republics did this in the past, but at the end they earned nothing in the long term and the context was well different from the initial successful crusades.

In any case, the young Pope [37 years old] adopted the conceptions of Gregory VII who sustained that the Royal dignity was a reflex of the Papal dignity. From this to feel to be in the condition to lead the Christianity the step was little. In a few words he thought that the Church had the duty to interfere with the secular power. And he wanted the secular power for the Church … in Rome there were two authorities out of his control: the prefect representing the Emperor and the Senate representing the People. After the death of Henry VI Innocent was able to persuade the prefect Pietro to accept his authority [February 22, 1198CE]. Regarding the Senate it was reduced to one senator [Scotto Paparone] who resigned under Papal pressure and Innocent created a new figure, a loyal “medianus”[4]. At imperial level, the death of the Empress Costanza in November 1198 left Federico [still a child] under the influence of Innocent.

Innocent wanted Jerusalem, no way, but as said the context had changed so that it took years to put together an army and it was thanks to the preacher Folco from Neuilly[5], in France, that the Church was able to prepare a decent expedition. The Monarchs ignored Innocent, but important Lords took the cross [we can mention Teobaldo from Champagne, Louis de Blois, Baldovino from Flanders …]. Unfortunately, the designated commander, Teobaldo died in 1200 while they were still collecting warriors and resources. They gave the leadership to a brother-in-law of the wife of the last King of Jerusalem Guido, Bonifacio from Monferrato. The Crusaders thought that to reach the Holy Land by sea was the best option and so they sent an embassy to Venice where Enrico Dandolo was doge [at 80]. Dandolo understood that it was a great occasion to gain a lot of money and it wanted to make it public gathering the citizens in the Church of Saint Mark to submit to their attention the project of the Crusade. The French speaker, Gofferdo of Villehardouin[6], was so persuasive that the Venetian People showed a great appreciation. In good substance Venice and the Crusaders signed a contract: the Venetian fleet was going to carry the Crusaders to the Holy Land, supplying ships and food for a year from June 28th 1202, and the Crusaders were going to pay 85,000 silver marks and to sell to Venice the 50% of the future conquests. According to Villehardouin [7] the Army of the Crusaders was composed by 4,500 knights [with horses], 9,000 squires and 20,000 infantrymen. To obtain the right to buy the 50% of the conquests Venice was going to supply also a military escort to the convoy. During the negotiations among the Crusaders there were not a few problems: some of them lost the patience and left on their own[8] and others didn’t share the decision to attack Egypt [that was the first target of the Crusade, but many Crusaders wanted to go and liberate Jerusalem first …]. And Venetians didn’t want to attack Egypt … Al-Adil[9] enjoyed his trades with the Europeans and Venetians enjoyed them as well. Again from the chronicle by Villehardouin [see note 7] we know that Egypt signed a treaty with Venice in Spring 1202 in which the Venetian Doge ensured Al-Adil that Venice was not going to favor an attack against Egypt.

So the Crusader Army gathered in the Venetian lands … but the Crusaders had still to pay all the promised money to Venice … it was June 1202, they were on the isle of San Niccolò di Lido and they were aware to be in troubles. After some months, in September they were ready to accept any condition to obtain the aid of the Venetians. Venice made an offer to them: to delay the payment of the debt if they helped the “Serenissima” to conquer Zara. The Pope intervened almost immediately asking them not to accept such a deal … the Crusaders accepted [the Pope wasn’t going to give them ships and food … Venice was …][10].


Forum Staff
Apr 2010
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Entry#1 (cont.)

On November 8th 1202 the Crusade begun. The Venetian vessels left the lagoon and the Crusaders headed for Zara. After 2 days they were before the walls of the city and a violent assault decided the destiny of the city: it fell on June 15th and the Crusaders showed no mercy plundering it [and Crusaders and Venetians risked to fight for the loot]. Behind the curtains an other personage was acting [with Dandolo]: Bonifacio[11]. Dandolo and Bonifacio had reasons to think that it was time to do something to subjugate the Eastern Empire.

The Pope excommunicated them … At Rome they didn’t appreciate what Crusaders did, but Dandolo and Bonifacio were evidently thinking to something else: they simply ignored the Pope. And from Germany Philip sent them a message where he told them that Alessio[12] was ready to pay the Crusaders if they would have attacked Constantinople putting him on the imperial throne. For historically accuracy I have to add that someone didn’t like this among the Crusaders: Rinaldo from Montmirail … not exactly an important leader …

As a comment I can say that Venetians [and Bonifacio] were able to cultivate the mistrust towards Constantinople [conspiring against the Crusaders!] with the desire to conquer the treasures of that city. This meant that the destiny of the Eastern Empire was written … but let’s go on. And the Pope accepted the reality: he issued a generic order not to attack other Christians, but he did nothing to stop that Crusade. Greeks interpreted this Papal weak attitude as a clue that behind that Crusade there was the Pope as well …[13].

In the meanwhile at Constantinople Alessio wasn’t enjoying a great support, mercenaries apart, even the legendary Guard didn’t consider him a great leader [it was the Varangian Guard]. As for we can learn from the Chronicles it seems that the Emperor thought that the walls of the Capital were going to resist also to that storm as usual. A dreamer …

When the Crusaders took over Galata breaking the chain occluding the sea, probably at Constantinople generals begun to realize that reality was different. Alessio promised to Crusaders a worm welcome, but they found the doors closed and armed guards waiting for them [something was wrong!]. Incredibly to say, when after remarkable efforts the Crusaders were able to break through the walls [July 17th] the Emperor, despite the sacrifice of the Byzantine troops, thought to escape to Mosynopolis. The Byzantines put Isacco on the Throne telling Dandolo that there was no more necessity for a fight: the father of the pretender was Emperor, so …

And Alessio managed to be Co-Emperor with his father, but when he tried and impose the Latin liturgy to the Eastern Church he was in troubles. Not only this: he gave great presents to the Crusaders … not saving enough money to pay Venice. This forced him to impose further taxes, even on the Church [in Venice you can admire the result of this …]. In February 1204 the situation became unsustainable. Alessio got killed by a furious mass of people [nice death for an Emperor!], the father died as well and a guy called Murzuflo became Emperor Alessio V. In that moment at Galata the Venetians decided to conquer the Empire.

Venetians knew the weak point of the defenses of Constantinople: Blachernae. The Venetian fleet attacked there and Venetians landed … it was the beginning of the end. The Venetians opened a breach through the external walls, but the defenders were resisting along the internal walls. Now, it’s not known with certainty which was the cause, but a wide fire started behind the shoulders of the defenders and they were in a lethal trap. Franks and Venetians invaded the city and Murzuflo escaped with his family. And this was probably the reason why the Varangian Guard decided to fight no more.

Now, the sack of Constantinople in 1204 was something unique, no way. The Doge and the leaders of the Crusade simply ignored they were going to plunder a Christian city … not only that: the capital of a Christian Empire! Crusaders didn’t mind … anyway Venetians knew the value of what there was in Constantinople and they took the jewels of the treasure [you can see them in Venice nowadays].

But … what about the furious desire of spoils of the French Crusaders and the others? They made a massacre. No doubt. When Muslims say that it was a crime we can say they are right. As amateur historian I cannot avoid to say this: it was near to a genocide [and a mass rape][14]. Runciman reports that the Venetian didn’t exaggerate like the other Crusaders [I think that Venetians were happy with the conquest itself]. Anyway Villehardouin said that after the mess the leaders of the Crusade imposed the order forcing the Crusaders to give them what they had taken from the local population. Worse destiny expected the citizens who decided to steal taking advantage from the mess: they had tortured … to “persuade” them to give their loot back[15].

And so, the Venetian power had to … impose an Emperor to the Eastern Empire: Venice had obtained an Empire.

[1] as Alvise Zorzi correctly underlines in his “La Repubblica del Leone – Storia di Venezia”, Venice even asked to be excused by the Papal authority, not to participate to that Crusade [Venice enjoyed rich trades with the Muslim world so that the “Serenissima” considered diplomatically negative to join a Crusade in that moment …]. But … history was different …

About the 4th Crusade, I suggest Steven Runciman, “A History of the Crusades”, II, [Italian edition] from page 779 …

[2] Lotario Conti, from Segni family [Latin: de comitibus Signiae]. This Pope was particular: he came after Celestino and the cardinals decided to give him the name of the anti-Pope Innocent III [1179-1183, see Federico Hurter “Storia del Sommo Pontefice Innocenzo III e de' suoi contemporanei”, page 159].

[3] The siege of Jerusalem by the Army of Saladin happened in 1187CE and it was a tremendous symbolic defeat for Western Christianity.

[4] Giuseppe Staffa “L’incredibile storia del Medioevo”, “Le guerre dei Papi”.

[5] “Folco di Neuilly sacerdos et predicator crucis”, Grasso, Nuova Rivista Storica 2010, Volume 94, III.

[6] Historian, 1160-1213, and author of a chronicle of the IV Crusade: “De la Conquête de Constantinople”.

[7] Volume II, pages from 18 to 34.

[8] For example Rinaldo from Dampierre who left for Acri by sea on his own.

[9] Brother of Saladin, Sultan with Kurdish roots from the dynasty of the Ayyubidi.

[10] Villehardouin I 58-66, Roberto from Clari 9-11.

[11] Bonifacio from Monferrato. We have seen that he became the commander of the Crusade after the death of Tebaldo.

[12] Alessio IV, Byzantine Prince without throne …

[13] Villehardouin, I, 100-104.

[14] Runciman, Italian edition, Volume II, page from 792.

[15] Volume II, 59-60.


Forum Staff
Apr 2010
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Entry #2: The Dutch empire had something else

I have never looked at Holland as having had an empire. How could it? It can easily fit four times in Washington state and is at a constant risk of flooding.

However, from the 17th century onwards the Dutch possessions comprised of lands in Asia, Africa, America and of course that little spot at the coast of the North Sea. Those possessions have given rise to the term Dutch empire. (Boxer, 1991)
The question is of course how such a tiny country got such possessions and managed to keep them. It is one thing to equip a few ships and go on discovering and establish some colonies. Even some wayward Vikings managed that. It is an entire other thing to build up a trading empire with colonies on the opposite side of the world. Keeping those colonies and be profitable for about 3 centuries.
The common idea is that during the 80-years-war, the Dutch had an inflow of capital, because of the Flemish merchants moving to Holland. That capital was then invested in discoveries in the East. The profits then encouraged renewed investments and so on. The singular role of the VOC in economic history only added to that view. (Emmer & Klooster, 1999)
While that idea certainly has merit, it is by no means the entire story. There was another economic driver at work, namely the trade on the North Sea and the trade on the Baltics.

That story starts at the end of the 14th century, when the Hanseatic League was the most powerful bloc in the Baltic and Germanic areas. At that time the county of Holland (and parts of Zeeland) were experiencing some developments, which would put them on the economic offensive.

Firstly, agriculture was booming. Unlike most other areas the produce was mainly based on cattle, flax and hemp. The soil was and is not suitable for grain, which was the most efficient product for feeding the population. So, there was a surplus of dairy produce and a lack of grain.
Secondly, the towns became more independent from their overlords. The count of Holland relied on the support of the towns against the nobles, netting the towns all kinds of privileges.

Lastly, the traders in Holland became real competition for the Hanseatic League. Due to developments in fishing and ship building, they were able to set up trade networks. Starting with herring but expanding to grain in the Baltic.
For these reasons the county of Holland slowly started its ascension to the economic forefront. Their focus as far as trading was concerned was the grain from the Baltic Sea. Grain was relatively expensive and the developments in shipbuilding allowed them to transport it in bulk. Their transportation capabilities became so big that they were threatening to take over the trade in the Baltics and that resulted in a war between the county of Holland (by then part of Burgundy) and the League from 1438 to 1441. (Knol, 2009) The resulting peace agreement allowed the traders from Holland complete access to the Baltics. The basic disagreement was that the League was relying on monopolies on trade, whereas the traders from Holland wanted free access to trade. The end of the war basically started the decline and eventual demise of the League, whereas for the county of Holland it became the real starting point of their empire.
The traders in Holland were in luck that the Burgundians and later Hapsburgs were also interested in these developments. They allowed the traders better access to the Flemish markets and always made a point of free trade in diplomatic negotiations. As Charles V wrote to Henry of Nassau: ‘These lands are rooted above all in commerce and we must not lose sight of this’. (Brandi, 1939)
During the reign of Charles V and under Philip II this trade to the Baltics expanded considerably. Around 1530 the estimated merchant fleet of Holland consisted of 300-400 ships, mainly sailing on the Baltics. In 1560 that had doubled (at around 1670 it was 2000). The trade on the Baltics also had an additional effect it allowed for import of wood, which was used for ship building.
That was all before the Dutch voyages of discovery began. Meaning that before the 80-years-war began, the main source of trade income came from the Baltics.

The war could have ended all these developments. However, by chance the towns in Holland became the center of the revolt and by 1590 were independent in all but name. The trading was impeded, but mainly due to capers, who were on the revolting side. As soon as Holland was on that side as well that ceased completely.

Despite an ongoing war and having escaped the armies of Alva, the merchants were thriving. So much so that they had money to invest in more risky adventures. These investments went two ways:

The much-heralded voyages of discovery resulting in the VOC and later also the WIC.

Investments in better ship design for the Baltic trade.

Focusing on the 2nd point. At around 1600 the Flute was drastically improved so that it could transport way more. Before that time they had a length:width of 4:1 after that it went 6:1. (Tielhof, The ‘Mother of all Trades’. The Baltic Grain Trade in Amsterdam from the Late 16th to the Early 19th Century, 2002) They also discovered that the grain from the Baltics was at times in major demand in the Mediterranean when there was a shortage. Many of the “filthy rich” in that period, did just that.

Now this trade remained so important that the Dutch republic went to war about it on multiple occasions and it remained so much later on. (Weststrate, 2009)

Now why is this so important for the Dutch empire? Surely the VOC and WIC didn’t have anything to do with the Baltic trade. Obviously their products helped in the Baltic trade, but that would surely not explain their success. It would be a very idiotic argument to make as well. They could also sell it elsewhere as they did anyway.

However, the main point is that both the VOC and WIC were bankrolled by merchants and not only bankrolled but run. Those merchants were not putting all their eggs in one basket. They put it in multiple baskets. And the main basket for all of them was the Baltic trade as all kinds of records show. (Knol, 2009) (Tielhof, De Hollandse graanhandel, 1470-1570, 1995) (Weststrate, 2009)

If they had put all their all their chips on the East they would have been bankrupt in the English wars or the French ones. In stead they were able to keep running with them money from the Baltics. Johan de Witt, called it the “Mother of all trades” and send Michiel de Ruyter on the Sound.

Works Cited
Boxer, C. (1991). The Dutch Seaborne Empire 1600–1800. Alfred A. Knopf. Retrieved 11 10, 2019, from The Dutch Seaborne Empire, 1600-1800

Brandi, K. (1939). The Emperor Charles V.

Emmer, P., & Klooster, W. (1999). The Dutch Atlantic, 1600-1800 Expansion Without Empire. Itinerario, 23(02), 48-69. Retrieved 11 10, 2019, from https://cambridge.org/core/journals/itinerario/article/dutch-atlantic-16001800-expansion-without-empire/8c951814dc7121aa23f62a45536d9aff

Knol, H. B. (2009). Koopliedenen Kantoren. Koggen.

Masselman, G. (1966). The Dutch Seaborne Empire, 1600–1800. By C. R. Boxer. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965. Pp. xxvi, 326. $6.95. The Journal of Economic History, 26(03), 381-382. Retrieved 11 10, 2019, from The Dutch Seaborne Empire, 1600–1800. By C. R. Boxer. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1965. Pp. xxvi, 326. $6.95

Postma, M. (sd). Johan de Witt en Coenraad van Beuningen. Correspondentie tijdens de Noordse oorlog (1655-1660).

Remmelt Daalder. (1998). Goud uit Graan. Nederland en het Oostzeegebied 1600-1850 .

Tielhof, M. v. (1995). De Hollandse graanhandel, 1470-1570.

Tielhof, M. v. (2002). The ‘Mother of all Trades’. The Baltic Grain Trade in Amsterdam from the Late 16th to the Early 19th Century.

Weststrate, J. (2009). Christiaan van Bochove, The economic consequences of the Dutch. Economic integration around the North Sea, 1500-1800. Retrieved 11 10, 2019, from https://tseg.nl/articles/431


Forum Staff
Apr 2010
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Entry #3: On the Origin of States

n the following I will try to show how the structure 'empire' developed from simple beginnings. In particular, I would like to focus on two aspects of development: 1) the relationship between the sexes and 2) the relationship between religion and politics.

So let's start at the beginning, in the Palaeolithic of about 40,000 - about 10,000 BCE. The people lived nomadically in groups of about 100 people related by blood. Their culture is called hunter-gatherer culture, but this is misleading because the gatherers (the women) supplied about 80 percent of the food needs for the group and the hunters (the men) the rest. So it should be called gatherer-hunter culture. (Bott, Sacred Marriage 2009).

For our consideration it is essential that the group was without hierarchy and also without hierarchical gradation between the sexes existed. Such a social order is called 'egalitarian'. This is of course a little idealizing, because in practice there have certainly been differences between the abilities of the individual members, so that some individuals were more in charge than others. This is called a 'flat hierarchy', a hierarchy without institutionalized rule. (Fried 1960)
In addition, women seemed to have an advantage from the religious point of view, which was also significant at that time. although not perceived differently from the worldly, this distinction developed only gradually in antiquity. It was the ability to give birth, to be creative, that was already considered at that time to be the core characteristic of the divine. One imagined this divine as a kind of 'primordial mother' who constantly produces all natural things, i.e. the visible cosmos, anew. The basis of this idea was the projection of the ability of women (and female animals) to generate life onto nature as a whole, which was seen as an analogon to women, under the aspect of the ability to give birth. The `rmother' was conceived as natura naturans, as a forming force in nature, and was symbolized as a woman on the basis of this analogy, as many archeological findings show. (Bott, Sacred Marriage 2009).

Why the primordial was female and not male is explained by the (highly probable) ignorance about the male contribution to procreation, which only changed in the context of cattle breeding at the beginning of the Neolithic (about 10,000 BCE). Logically, therefore only after the beginning of cattle breeding first ideas of a male fertility god arose, first in the form of a bull or more rarely a ram. This fantasized embodiment of the 'male principle' was for a time regarded as the son and fertilizer of the higher mother goddess. (Bott, Origin 2009). This constellation can still be perceived thousands of years later in the Egyptian religion, e.g. in the relationship between mother goddess Hathor and sun god Ra. (Frankfort 1948)

The emergence of polytheistic systems with female and male deities was a reflex of the earth-social development to a hierarchization of communities and accordingly to a higher social complexity and a social (i.e. not gender-specific) division of labor. The exclusively male cattle breeders (former hunters) began to form a master class and to dominate the historically preceding peasants. Women (former gatherers and founders of arable farming) were forced out of their traditional activities (arable farming, plant breeding) and limited to domestic and unskilled labor, because the plough took the place of their howa and the man who directed the oxen took over arable farming. (Bott, Origin 2009).

This development, which begins in the 7th millennium BCE, is a milestone because it will lead to the formation of what we call 'empires'. For this it is essential that


egoistic thinking has its entry into human culture. Until now, the principle of reciprocity has been valid, everything earned by the community is equally distributed to all. Individual possessive thinking, i.e. egoistic thinking, arises because the men who breed large cattle have attained economic predominance over women and because, for the first time, large cattle breeding generates an economic surplus that awakens desire for property and allows competitive thinking to develop. Previously no surpluses were generated, everything was sufficient only for the present need.

Anthropologist Gordon Childe was of the opinion that surplus production had already taken place in the era of agriculture, but this is doubtful because contemporary agricultural societies generally do not produce a surplus. It would be technically possible, but what agricultural cultures lack is the will to produce surpluses, i.e. they are content to have what they need. (Carneiro 1970).

Consequently, surplus production occurs simply because large livestock farming produces it automatically. People suddenly realized that they were producing more than they needed. Only with this experience and the awareness of the advantages gained, a mentality of wanting more and more and of wanting to possess arose.

According to Morton Fried there are the following stadiums (Fried 1960):

At the egalitarian level, there is no distinct hierarchy. The economy is based on the egalitarian distribution of goods through reciprocity, without an individual having the possibility of accumulating beyond his or her personal needs.
The ranking society extends the reciprocal system by redistribution: instead of circulating exclusively reciprocally, a surplus of goods is accumulated for later community purposes. The social positions authorized for redistribution are not accessible to all suitable persons. In this way, a special social rank emerges which does not imply any material privileges, i.e. personal accumulation of wealth. According to Fried, the redistribution system has evolutionary advantages: increased productivity, better planning of supply, more varied nutrition.
The individual accumulation of goods leads to the next stage, the stratified society, in which certain groups (bands) gain exclusive access to important resources and generate accumulation of goods and influence, i.e. power, to a previously unknown extent. Two social strata emerge, a small, very wealthy one and a large, less wealthy one.


The patriarchy emerges, the social dominance of man over woman. Instead of the previous matrilineal group organization (groups organized around the maternal line), the patriarchal nuclear family (father, mother, children) emerges. The man ties a woman to himself and forces her to be faithful, because he wants to make sure that it is really his own son to whom he bequeaths his property. (Lerner 1986)

Thus two conditions are given which are essential for 'empires':

1) economic power is in the hands of individuals and 2) the tight organization of the nuclear family, without which a functioning empire is inconceivable. The nuclear family is quasi an empire in small scale: the father is the ruler and the wife and children are the ruled.

In a further step leading to what we call state-building, the hitherto fundamental principle of kinship takes a back seat to a more instrumental principle: the step from stratified society to the state is accomplished by overriding kinship as a socially organizing principle and by establishing independent (supra-kin) social networks. Fried considers K.A. Wittvogel's theory that state royalty emerged as a pragmatic solution to the challenge of organizing complex irrigation systems to be justifiable.

It could, I think, also have been the other way round, namely that only on the basis of an established royalty it was possible to plan and realize such projects. State formation could thus have been the effect of an emotional need for more and more power instead of just the effect of a rational decision to optimize irrigation techniques.

(to be continued)
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Forum Staff
Apr 2010
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Entry #3 continued

Now the question arises in which organizational steps the development towards the state took place. Elman Service suggests this sequence: 1) foraging bands, 2) horticultural tribes, 3) horticultural chiefdoms, 4) state. (Service 1975)

A band is, as I said, organized relatively egalitarian. Tribes correspond to Fried's ranking society, there are 'big men' with authority, but without institutionalized rule. Such domination is the hallmark of chiefdoms, in which domination is not only structurally established, but can also be bequeathed. Common to all forms of organization is the principle of kinship as a means of binding the community. At least, the idea exists that all members descend from a common ancestor, e.g. in the case of the (mythical) tribes of Israel. A one hundred percent blood relationship between all members certainly did not exist, because tribes were composed of individual bands, which however mixed with each other, so that after some time a general blood relationship was at least approximately reached. In order to mask this uncertainty, the fiction of a common forefather was conceived, which additionally legitimated male ascendency. (Lerner 1986)

If a state is formed, then - see above - the kinship principle is suspended and the community is organized according to other, more rational principles. The state originates by combining several chiefdoms into a larger unit, which, like the chiefdom, is headed by a single ruler, the 'king'. Logically, this is a man who previously led the most powerful chiefdom. He relies on two social strata to exercise power: the warriors, i.e. the aristocracy, and the priests.

Now the religious aspect of this new structure has to be considered. Here, of course, the priesthood plays a decisive role, because it develops, together with the king and the aristocrats, the theological superstructure of the whole system. In the chiefdoms and kingdoms religious institutions and concepts are always connected with the authorities. Either priests act as servant functionaries of a ruler or the priesthood is a partial function of the ruler (priestking). Religious concepts include the idea that the supreme deity has an intimate relationship to the ruler and that he owes his earthly power to the deity. The oldest document of such a relationship is the Sumerian Vulture Stele, which makes the ruler Eannatum owe his power to various deities, especially the city god of Lagash, Ningirsu, whom he calls his father. (Steible 2001)

The text says, among other things: "Ningirsu implanted the seed of Eannatum in the womb and Ninhursaga bore him. Over Eannatum Ninhursaga rejoiced; Innana took him on her arm and named him 'Worthy of the Eanna of Ibgal.' She set him down on Ninhursaga's knee for her, and Ninhursaga suckled him."

Elsewhere in the text, however, the biological father of Eannatum, Akurgal, is also mentioned, which seems to oppose the procreation by the city god. But in the minds of the Sumerians at that time this does not seem to have been a contradiction, presumably they both thought together in a way that we cannot recognize today.

Anyway, such concepts are called the "religious legitimation" of a ruler. Linked to this is the idea that the ruler acts as the earthly representative of the deity and exercises his power on behalf of or in the interest of the deity. The same idea exists in ancient Egypt even in a sharpened form, since here the ruler himself was considered divine. Also in Greece (Alexander), Persia and Rome - to name only a few examples - the concept of divine assistance for the ruler helps him to an acceptance which he would not have had otherwise of course. In short: Theistic religion cannot be separated from the power aspect of political rule, its basic structure is even a product of this rule.


Fried, Morton: On the Evolution of Social Stratification and the State (1960)
Elman Service: Origins of the State and Civilization (1975)
Gerda Lerner: The Creation of Patriarchy (1986)
Gerhard Bott: The Origin of Patriarchy and Warfare in the Neolithic (2009)
Gerhard Bott: The Sacred Marriage in Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt (2009)
Robert L. Carneiro: A Theory of the Origin of the State (1970)
Henri Frankfort: Kingship and the Gods (1948)
Horst Steible: Legitimation von Herrschaft in Mesopotamien des 3. Jahrtausends v. Chr. (Legitimation of Rule in Mesopotamia in the 3rd mill. BCE) (2001)


Forum Staff
Apr 2010
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Entry #4: Why didn't the Inca emperor Atahuallpa capture King Charles I of Spain?

This is the question that Jared Diamond poses, rhetorically of course. In fact, the title of the chapter is not even a question, because what Diamond actually says is "Why the Inca emperor Atahuallpa (sic) did not capture King Charles I of Spain". He is in fact not asking but already introducing the answer, as the answer appears to Diamond to be already self-obvious to his readers: Atahualpa was the emperor of a more primitive people, so of course he was going to get captured. You might as well ask who would win in a fight, a caveman with a rock or an AI drone with the payload to destroy a whole city block.

The reason why Diamond focuses so much on the Inca Empire is that the Inca Empire, as far as we know, was the biggest state in the Americas in the 16th century. The Aztecs had a territory that was probably even smaller than France and a population of only about a third. At best, when taking into account vassals, it still only increases its size by about 15% and its population by about double, for a grand total of some 700,000 square kilometres and 10 million people controlled by a highly feudal decentralised state that was more a confederation than an empire. The Incas, however, were a highly centralised state that ruled well over 1 million square kilometres and had a population of nearly, if not over, 15 million. That's not taking into account how surrounding peoples like the Mapuche were effectively "tributaries" of it. They, unlike the Aztecs, were an empire in the full sense of the word. If I had to give a comparison, the Incas were the Roman Empire to the Aztecs' Holy Roman Empire. Diamond of course finds it dumbfounding that the Spaniards under Francisco Pizarro could therefore so easily capture Atahualpa. He thinks it the equivalent of Decebalus sending a force numbering no more than 300 and successfully capturing emperor Trajan himself.

Diamond's explanation, not surprising, is that the Spaniards were superhuman beings with thousands of years of technological advance facing up against what were basically "hunter-gatherers", Diamond's favourite word to describe pretty much everyone outside of Hegelian civilisations like Western Europe, Islam or China. He of course is forced to admit that certain peoples like the Incas were more than just that, but he always makes it sure to find some way to emphasise their assumed primitiveness, like the Incas not having metallurgy (despite working platinum, a metal with an even higher melting point than steel) or using a system of cords instead of written letters (Diamond needs to be reminded that illiterate pagan Vikings conquered his literate and Christianised Anglo-Saxon ancestors).

In reality, the Spaniards were by the point they invaded the Incas much bigger than the Incas, with about double the territory (that is, 2 million square kilometres) and well over its population, the Spanish Empire having already over 20 million people. This includes territory in the Americas, including Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, much of Mexico and Central America and much of Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela. The Spain that faced the Incas was the same Spain that had already absorbed the Aztec Empire and had numerous possessions all over Europe and even Africa. Diamond seems to think that Spain was just Spain, the around 500,000 square kilometres kingdom of merely 8 million people, ignoring all its vast possessions. It was in fact a polity well over four times that size. Even if Spain only send a couple of hundred people under Pizarro, it was not any kind of underdog by any means. It was the opposite in fact, a bigger state invading a smaller one.

But what about the Battle of Cajamarca where the Spaniards defeated a force about 50 times bigger than them? The idea that the encounter at Cajamarca was any kind of "battle" is nothing but one of history's biggest calumnies. Cajamarca was not a battle, it was a diplomatic mission in which the Spaniards attacked the Incas by surprise and captured the emperor, while the reason why Atahualpa went to talk with Francisco Pizarro rather than just attack him was precisely because of the enormous size of the Spanish Empire. He wasn't expecting a battle at all, since he was in no position to be mobilising so much resources against a much bigger polity. Not only that, but the Spaniards did not conquer the whole of the Inca Empire after this either. It took them 40 years more of war, what we would expect from an empire the size of the Incas, to finally conquer it whole, while it failed to progress further south where Mapuche resistance was far too much so that Spaniards were forced to delimit their frontier at the southern cone, or basically leaving a free territory of more or less 2 million square kilometres (and the Spaniards would leave over half of South America unconquered; they in fact would not conquer even Uruguay and Paraguay fully until well into the 18th century).

It turns out that the Incas were far more powerful than Diamond suggests, and that any idea of technological backwardness is more in his mind than in reality. Thus, Diamond may respond by asking why didn't Spain conquer France or Britain. It even sent an Armada against Britain that got destroyed. This is rather disingenuous since the Spaniards did effectively partially rule Britain thanks to Catherine of Aragon and again with Mary I. Meanwhile, Spain did defeat France so thoroughly in the Italian War of the 1520s that it captured its king and held it hostage in Madrid. It would then advance into Paris with the Duke of Parma to relieve a Huguenot siege on the Catholic League-held capital of the French, which is the equivalent of the French advancing into Zaragoza, Valladolid or Madrid, which they of course never did in the whole of the 16th century, and then successfully taking it. The only reason why Spain wasn't more decisive against these two has more to do with the economic than the technological factor. The Spaniards, as well as other Europeans, could afford being as brutal as they wanted with the people of a faraway continent across the ocean, but they didn't have this luxury in their homeland with their own direct neighbours because it would collapse their own economy like it collapsed the economy of America's indigenous peoples. Brutalising the French people like the French brutalised the Aymaras, Quechuas and other peoples in and around the Inca Empire could well have triggered another Black Death (which let's remember ended less than two centuries prior) extending again all over Europe.

Another reason is that the French allied themselves with the Ottoman Empire, an empire that was Spain's equal in territory and population, ruling from Iran's borders all the way into Hungary and including vassals like Romania. Effectively, the Spaniards were fighting an alliance of about 50 to 60 million people and around 4 million square kilometres, the Ottomans not even being Spain's neighbours. It didn't do the Spaniards any favours that the French could attack them by land while the Ottomans could attack them by sea. The Incas, meanwhile, had alienated themselves, as even its neighbouring peoples resented being under Inca hegemony and wanted the Incas to end as much as the Spaniards. However, once they woke up to the menace of the Spaniards, at least the Mapuches did everything they could to stop them and did in fact succeed. What would an Inca, Muisca and Mapuche alliance look like to stop the Spaniards is now unknown since it never happened, but it could have theoretically stopped the Spaniards at Panama or northern Colombia at least. The French at least had enough sense to recognise a potential ally to stop the Spaniards.



Forum Staff
Apr 2010
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Entry #4: Continued...

Contra Diamond, technology is not really what decides the fate of states. It's their size, whether in territory or in population, that does. The Incas weren't conquered because they were technologically primitive or backwards, they were conquered because the Spanish Empire was a much bigger polity than them. This can be seen with how it took the Spaniards 40 years to finally conquer the Incas for good and with how they defeated the French, at the time smaller in territory at least, in the Italian Wars, imprisoned their king and captured their capital. Even then, a more permanent conquest only occurs through sheer brutality, a luxury that the Spaniards did have in the Americas but which they didn't in Europe lest they collapse their economies and reignite another catastrophic plague (as in fact nearly happened during the French Wars of Religion). And yet another reason is proximity. The French, when allying with the Ottomans could stand up to Spain because they were close enough to easily attack the Spanish political and economic centre of power. Far away enemies couldn't do that.

I want to end by pointing out how there's really nothing that significant in Atahualpa getting captured by Charles V. After all, Atahualpa never had any intention of invading Spain, was content with the richness of not just his empire but with the neighbours he traded with or extracted tribute and invading another state is hardly any evidence of superiority or anything like that. Would Diamond accept that the Anglo-Saxons were technologically inferior to the Vikings because the latter invaded the former? I doubt so in all honesty. One can ask why there's an Edmund the Martyr instead of a Gorm the Killed (rather than Gorm the Old). One can also ask why Tariq ibn Ziyad killed the Visigothic king Rodrigo rather than the latter killing the former. Or why Kublai made Emperor Duanzong run and drown rather than the latter doing that to the former. Of course, Charles V also imprisoned Francis I, yet we don't find Diamond rhetorically answering "Why French King Francis I didn't capture Charles I of Spain". These kinds of questions are only reserved for outsiders of Hegelian civilisations like the Incas. In other words, since Atahualpa never invaded Spain, Diamond's question is completely moot, while the answer can just as easily be "because Atahualpa didn't want to". Diamond's simplistic and utterly demeaning answers to his questions don't do anything other than misinform. Empires rise more because the states that became said empires progressively conquered and absorbed smaller states than because they were technologically superior.

(no sources provided)


Forum Staff
Apr 2010
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Due to a low number of entries, I am extending the deadline until the 14th of December.

If you are planning to enter, please let me know by PM.