Re: Guest Post - Two of Three

1

The Romans had land, but not in a way we can understand it.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 12:50 PM
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Actually, if you count exurban acreages, I know many people who have borrowed to purchase land with no discussion of how one profits from it.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 12:55 PM
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Land for the Ancient Greeks and Romans was not seen as a capital investment where profits could be obtained from the growing and selling of crops, but used as showpieces to enhance one's status as well as something that was inherently desirable from a traditional stand-point where economics played no part.

This kind of argument is common going back to the 19th century. I don't really buy it, or at least I would change it to say that it's not about people lacking about irrationality, but about people maximizing a benefit/profit that is harder for us to see because it's embedded in a different social system. Ancient economies were more based on military looting than ours are. This depended on state power, which was based on control of the military and military control of the provinces. That would lead to different priorities for the nobility than we see for businessmen today, but that those priorities were no less rational given the constraints they faced.

And of course people do plenty of display spending for consumption/status purposes today too, there's nothing irrational about that.

Basically, there was no social or institutional support for a self-sustaining profitable enterprise

this seems way off.

It would be worth going back to Weber, The Protestant Ethic & Spirit of Capitalism, on all this as I think he makes a more nuanced and thoughtful version of this case.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 1:35 PM
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I think the alleged roman attitude towards land is indistinguishable from that of both the mega rich and the middle class today. Ted Turner bought ridiculous acreage in Montana, and Larry Ellickson bought a Hawaiian island, for prestige. And most homeowners I know also view their properties as places to live and enjoy, not as investments.

It seems odd to base a theory of economics on something that Pliny didn't bother to mention in a letter, since he may have written other letters that haven't survived , he may have had motivations that he didn't put into letters, and he's only one Roman. A future archelolgist would get basically the same message from my emails to my mortgage agent, but it wouldn't explain much about the society we live in.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 1:36 PM
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I think the alleged roman attitude towards land is indistinguishable from that of both the mega rich and the middle class today. Ted Turner bought ridiculous acreage in Montana, and Larry Ellickson bought a Hawaiian island, for prestige. And most homeowners I know also view their properties as places to live and enjoy, not as investments.

It seems odd to base a theory of economics on something that Pliny didn't bother to mention in a letter, since he may have written other letters that haven't survived , he may have had motivations that he didn't put into letters, and he's only one Roman. A future archelolgist would get basically the same message from my emails to my mortgage agent, but it wouldn't explain much about the society we live in.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 1:36 PM
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Well. Banaji won an award for his recent book on agriculture, deals with Poland and the ME and India, but that is mostly about colonia, transition eras, Feudal, Medieval and Early Modern and transition to Capitalism.

I know next to nothing about China, except that Japan stole everything from Korea and China. And in Japan, at least as far back as the adoption of the ritsuryo system, late Asuka-Early Nara ca 700 and stolen from Confucian China, land = rice = money, and nothing else. Or timber, silver, indigo etc. Quality of land, productive potential, improvements all were obsessively assessed and documented.

And status depended on rice. In the Heian era, maybe the rice bought the competitive scents and poetry paper; later rice paid samurai and built castles. Temples had land, and priests had status enough to switch back to royalty, which is where they usually came from. A samurai (or even daimyo) who lost his land or stipend was a ronin, nothing. Nobility had some symbolic status, and royalty granted legitimacy, but oh they were poor and could be bought.

All this is I guess familiar to students of medieval Europe. But I don't know that I buy Finley's thesis.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 1:37 PM
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I thought the current consensus was that the Roman economy wasn't actually that productive, just enormously successful at extracting resources for luxury consumption by urban elites. Both average standard of living and agricultural productivity improved significantly in the so-called dark ages. This is all based on half-remembered articles.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 1:42 PM
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This is all based on half-remembered articles.

Coincidentally, that was the basis of academic productivity in the dark ages.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 1:46 PM
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I wonder about OP:1. Lots of civs have had noble cultures proclaiming indifference or hostility to business and profit, while still having a large money-making bourgeoisie. Weren't the plebians basically this class in Rome?


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 1:48 PM
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land = rice = money

money = power = women

Therefore, women are rice.

QED.


Posted by: Opinionated Tony Montana | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 1:48 PM
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I don't know much about ancient Rome, but I thought the economy was based on slaves, and land wasn't worth much to Pliny without the labor to work it, which was a social problem for Late Rome.

Banaji is very technical and specific to certain issues in Marxism, but he does discuss at length the colonia era of the end of the Roman Empire, and all the legal steps to tie labor to land that eventually ended in feudalism and manorialism.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 1:48 PM
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Mouldboard Plough. 500 A.D.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 1:52 PM
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To 3.1, sure, agreed that people were rational for the social structures of their day.
To 3.2, and 6, both Finley and the archaeologists are interested in specific questions of what made the Roman economy run, not the general question I had. Maybe the connection I'm making is too broad, but I don't think so.

Finley's well read and he wrote a short book about a subject that other classicists didn't say much about. The wikipedia excerpt is basically an invitation to read further, not the complete substance of his ideas, neither basis nor conclusions.

6. Bob, I should have thought of Japan-- can you suggest anyone who writes nicely about the economic structure of Japan?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 1:52 PM
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The important question here is how can I work the few facts and dimly recalled stories I know about Rome into an inditement of current policies I dislike.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 1:55 PM
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14: knowledge of the latin roots of words might help, too.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 1:56 PM
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15: It might, but let's be realistic.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 1:58 PM
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Surely parallels have been drawn with the antebellum South. In a slave economy, the most attractive use of capital is acquiring more slaves and working them on plantations - this applied in the South even when the extent of gains from industrialization were better understood.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 1:58 PM
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I don't know how current it's viewed in current Chinese historiography, but Mark Elvin's _The Pattern of the Chinese Past_ is at least very thought-provoking.

(I can't remember what I thought of Finley.)

(Also, why is writing recommendations for students I like such a chore?)


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 2:01 PM
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A book about the Hellenistic period that I read years ago ("Alexander to Actium") noted that, as ingenious as the Hellenistic Greeks were in many areas, there was remarkably little theorizing about economics.

Basically wealth was something that you dug out of the ground or seized from someone else. The ways in which trade generated wealth weren't much thought about by philosophers (I'm sure the tradespeople thought about it, but they didn't bother to write books).


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 2:02 PM
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The Banaji, Theory as History is in part a response to Chris Wickham, another award winner. 400-800 CE Economic History.

13 last. Not off the top of my head for ancient economics. Most around are on the Edo era. The Cambridge Volume Two has a grueling chapter (each volume had one) on the development and implementation of the ritsuryo tax system. I just finished a book on the history of Kyushu.

I mean to get around to This on Tosa, but Tosa was unusual and unusually well-managed. Edo era.

Let me think and look.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 2:04 PM
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Sure, the latin word for plantation is Latifundium. There is fairly serious conflict between written records and archaeology. My impression from these two books is that successful plebeians sold their businesses to buy titles and land as quickly as possible.

17. Roman-era archaeology as anything other than artifact hunting is a pretty recent innovation, hence the interesting recent books. Not a settled question as far as I can tell looking in from the outside.

7. Luxuries are complicated, because they're well-documented and durable relative to staples. Definitely people traded less, stopped building with durable materials, forgot that population centers needed clean water after 400 or so in Western europe. The survivors may have been taller than urban Romans, though.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 2:10 PM
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This book on seems like it might be interesting, but I dunno:

The book chronicles the sweeping history of enterprise in Mesopotamia and Neo-Babylon; carries the reader through the Islamic Middle East; offers insights into the entrepreneurial history of China, Japan, and Colonial India; and describes the crucial role of the entrepreneur in innovative activity in Europe and the United States, from the medieval period to today. In considering the critical contributions of entrepreneurship, the authors discuss why entrepreneurial activities are not always productive and may even sabotage prosperity. They examine the institutions and restrictions that have enabled or impeded innovation, and the incentives for the adoption and dissemination of inventions. They also describe the wide variations in global entrepreneurial activity during different historical periods and the similarities in development, as well as entrepreneurship's role in economic growth. The book is filled with past examples and events that provide lessons for promoting and successfully pursuing contemporary entrepreneurship as a means of contributing to the welfare of society.

Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 2:11 PM
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18, 20.2: Thanks!

By conflict between records and archeology, I mean that the existing classical writngs are not thought to accurately reflect their contemporary reality, similarly to ancient sources estimates of the sizes of armies being unreliable.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 2:14 PM
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Magistra et Mater has been blogging her way through an interesting-sounding book on _Framing the Early Middle Ages_ which seems to have a lot on the economics of the transition from late antiquity to the medieval period, and to emphasize comparisons across different regions.


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 2:16 PM
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Okay. Until corrected, I'm going to assume Rome was an economy run exclusively for the elites that was stable for so long only through expansionary wars. And that they collapsed because the Foederati Reservant Ripam favored tight money over low unemployment.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 2:18 PM
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20: Wickham is fantastic, I really liked reading his book. 22: Baumol I thought was a free-markets partisan, not a specialist in some period.

I'm much more interested in carefully sourced bottom-up writing than in this or Wallerstein, personally.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 2:20 PM
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24: That's a very interesting blog.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 2:24 PM
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The ways in which trade generated wealth weren't much thought about by philosophers

They thought about it, and decided that they didn't like it.


Posted by: beamish | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 2:25 PM
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24 is the Wickham linked in 20

I don't remember completely the problems Banaji has with Wickham, but I think B says W focuses too much on the top-level politics, and oversimplifies the transition from slaves to free wage labor (sorta) to serfs.

The question for Marxists is about whether the transition to capitalism was about wage labor or about capital movements.

Don't hold me to it, but I think Banaji swears by Wendy Davis An Early Welsh Microcosm: Studies in the Llandaff Charters. Way the fuck out of print


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 2:38 PM
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I kind of love the excerpt/blurb in 22. History as teaching by example must be alive and well in b-schools!


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 2:56 PM
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ancient sources estimates of the sizes of armies being unreliable

Why was this?


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 2:59 PM
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People were smaller then.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 3:00 PM
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Large numbers were a rhetorical flourish, I think. Only generals and other grubby practical people cared whether there were twelve hundred or ten thousand.

Similarly, to say "bitchin huge plantations!!! Like in Texas!" Pliny would write six landowners for all of Africa.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 3:03 PM
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Size of the Persian invasion


Posted by: beamish | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 3:07 PM
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31: Have you ever tried using Roman numerals?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 3:09 PM
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23, 31: I don't think that's at all true as a general matter. I mean, some ancient accounts are famously inaccurate as to army size (though the most famous--Herodotus--is not contemporary with the armies in question). But it's not the case that ancient sources as a rule are unreliable for that kind of info.

lw, on the "land as an investment" question and related issues you might be interested in this book, which is specific to 4th century Athens but is in large measure a polemic against the primitivist views of Finley et al.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 3:19 PM
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26: Baumol and Mok/yr are both big-picture generalists, yes, but that's not a bad thing to be if you're putting together an edited collection. Haven't read much of either, TBH, but Baumol is about as decorated as you can get in economics (which may or may not be a good thing), and I've heard only good things about Mok/yr (admittedly, mostly from Liberty Fund / IHS / NIE types).


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 3:20 PM
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I mean, chapter one is "Entrepreneurs: From the Near Eastern Takeoff to the Roman Collapse" by noted apologist of financial oligarchy Michael Hudson, so it's not like it's pure rah-rah-capitalism.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 3:26 PM
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May I recommend Erik Lund's awesome blog, especially the posts on Rome?

31: Hans Delbruck asked the question, back in the late 19th century, of how armies so huge could be fed and paid and how they could manoeuvre over the countryside, in the light of how the Prussian army of his days worked.

The 1880s German army had railways, but beyond the railhead, it had horses and carts and its boots, like the Romans. Delbruck pointed out that there were well defined limits on how big an army you could put in the field logistically, and how fast it could move, and it wasn't as if it would be easier with the technology of 2000 years before.

Further, the Romans were all about how their enemies were barbarians without a civilised state, but how the hell do you mobilise such an army without a state?

Delbruck concluded that the answer was simple; armies that huge and fast could not have operated in late antiquity, could only just operate in the railway and telegraph age (and wouldn't really work until the age of trucks and radio), and therefore you had to inquire into the motives of the sources in pretending that insignificant barbarians totes marched 300,000 men from Barbaria to Gibraltar and back as far as Austria and then to Marseille and across the sea to Tunisia in two campaigning seasons, and then that the same people turned up outside Tripoli 12 years later and certainly none of them were our guys who changed sides.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 3:26 PM
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But I haven't read it! Maybe it's terrible!


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 3:26 PM
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Then, the German army decided that it was damn right going to march 7 armies through Liege and outflank Paris, before the Brits even turned up like anybody cared, and then go after the Russians. Delbruck's like, eh, oh my days this is craycray, and so they killed his career and did it anyway. Hilarity didn't result.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 3:30 PM
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34: Size of the Persian invasion

There were 300 Spartans at the pass, as every moviegoer/graphic book fan knows.


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 4:14 PM
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but how the hell do you mobilise such an army without a state

Axiom I: The war machine is exterior to the State apparatus.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 4:14 PM
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43: More formally, it depends on the military participation ratio, surely.


Posted by: Cosma Shalizi | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 9:05 PM
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Size of the Persian invasion

I believe you'll find that it was "a mere reconnaisance in force
By three brigades of foot and one of horse
(Their left flank covered by some obsolete
Light craft detached from the main Persian fleet)".


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 9:32 PM
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19, 28: In Plato's Republic, doesn't Socrates (or his interlocutor) depict the origins of the city in gains from trade and specialization of labor?


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 10:54 PM
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The city arises from the value of the specialization of labor, which necessitates retailers and merchants. On the one hand, Plato describes the traders as people who are useless for any other kind of work. On the other, he says that justice arises in the city from the use that the citizens have for one another.

But unrestrained trade leads to the luxurious city, which leads to prostitution, warfare, and injustice.

I think in both Plato and Aristotle, there's a sympathetic description of a certain minimum level of interdependent economic activity, but for both it's important not to let it get out of hand.


Posted by: beamish | Link to this comment | 12-10-12 11:49 PM
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The large sale commercial class in classical Rome was the Equestrian order (minor aristocracy), who also had important political and military roles which changed beyond recognition over the course of time. Equites were the people who bid for and made millions out of government contracts, and who had the money to build ships and dominate large sale long distance trade (I'm talking about the late republic/early empire here).

Senators were technically not allowed by law to engage in commerce, so they formed partnerships with Equites and invested by laundering their money through Equestrian businesses. Senators were meant, according to state ideology, to invest their wealth in land.

Romans seem to have had a poor grasp of the idea of economies of scale. Either Columella or Pliny (I think - it's been decades since I read this stuff, so it was probably Cato) has a discussion about buying additional land in which he recommends buying land adjacent to your existing holdings for convenience of travelling between the two, but has no concept of reducing management overheads by merging the estates at any level.

Finley was a Weberian, if you're wondering what spectacles to wear reading him. Both his analysis and his knowledge of the sources were awesome in his lifetime, but he's been dead 25 years and The Ancient Economy was published in 1973, so a lot of work has been done since from various standpoints.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 4:53 AM
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44: it's deeper than that, which is the important thing. Fundamentally, supplying and moving a large army is really hard.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 5:02 AM
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Romans seem to have had a poor grasp of the idea of economies of scale.

Could part of that not be due to the fact that really significant economies of scale don't kick in until mechanisation? Until the printing press, the marginal cost of a manuscript is basically the same no matter how many copies you make. Three scribes aren't massively more efficient than one


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:18 AM
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You could have one guy who specializes in the vertical lines, one guy for the horizontal, and one guy for the curves.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:31 AM
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History should be about getting perspective on our own society in this way, by comparing to other societies.

I remember the sensation of finally realizing what governments did to support themselves in the days before they depended on taxation. Land! Revenue from the king's land. Of course!


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:50 AM
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I remember the sensation of finally realizing what governments did to support themselves in the days before they depended on taxation.

No taxes to waste on social programs, money was gold, everybody could have whatever weapons they could afford, and no EPA rules about burning shit. It must have been a paradise.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:54 AM
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50: one big mill is a lot more efficient than 50 peasants with hand querns, though.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:59 AM
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53: unfortunately the Romans did have massive social programmes - corn dole for the poor, etc...


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:59 AM
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what governments did to support themselves in the days before they depended on taxation. Land! Revenue from the king's land. Of course!

Still largely the case in Hong Kong - the government owned all the land and a lot of its revenue came from leases.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:00 AM
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That's why Rome fell and was replaced by the efficient German tribes which appreciated the work of the pillaging horde entrepreneur.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:01 AM
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57 to 55.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:02 AM
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53 -- The water mill -- also a product of the early dark ages. That and the mouldboard plow (500 ad) and the end of tax extraction to feed artificially huge cities* in Rome and Constantinople were more important to 95% of the population than a thousand ampiteaters or aqueducts.

*massive imports of subsidized grain to feed an urban poor population that otherwise wouldn't have been there.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:14 AM
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The Romans had massive social programmes, and of course they also had taxation on a big scale, particularly for provincials. Tax collecting was a huge business opportunity for Equites, as it was all outsourced to the private sector. Tax farmers were known as Publicani, and in biblical times "Publicans and Sinners" were equated in the popular mind. It wasn't because people resented innkeepers.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:24 AM
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Thanks for 36, looks very nice.

59. The Romans had water wheels for milling and sawing. Lime and pottery kilns were centralized and larger than what was necessary for a single workshop as well. Constantinople had 400-500k people in the 6th and also 12th centuries.

Remaining aqueduct ruins are worth a trip to see. There's a huge segment of one on a busy road in kind of a dumpy neighborhood in Istanbul. The Pont du Gard is pretty cool also-- the many kilometers of level pipes to feed that one are still visible from above, and there's a nice video of a hang-glider survey of the remnants.

The book I know is Medieval Technology and Social Change by Lynn White. Readable, interesting, dated. He apparently overreaches about the impact of the stirrup, I haven't read anything more recent.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:41 AM
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Other than being used extensively in the classical antiquity, the water wheel was a product of the dark ages.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:53 AM
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Yes, the Romans had water mills, but their widespread use (and technical advances in using them) happened mostly after the end of the empire. That, the mouldboard plow, and advances in harnassing and using horses are all mostly post-Roman, and combined to create what was basically an agricultural revolution. I just think its awesome that the technology advances which mattered most for ordinary people happened after the collapse of mighty Rome and the supposed end of civilization (though that's largely false as well).

Roman cities (and Byzantium) are interesting because tax revenues and subsidies were used specifically for the purpose of creating an urban poor that otherwise couldn't and wouldn't have been there (very different than most modern urbanization) Kind of a massive subsidized pro-urbanization movement for the rulers in the center.

Not an expert, etc etc.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:59 AM
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63.2. No, the urban poor was created by the ruling class building up huge estates run on slave labour, so that many free peasants had nowhere to go. The tax revenues were spent on preventing them from burning shit down.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:05 AM
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That makes much more sense than specifically creating a class of urban poor people.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:05 AM
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64 -- I'm just gettig that from a skim of Wickham, which inpicked up again last night. In any case it's clear that there weren't 500,000 people in Rome because of great opportunities for jobs and civil service positions, it's because there were massive state subsidies that allowed those populations to exist, and the subsidies were largely provided because the Romans (unlike many later rulers) had a centralized form of government based around collecting tax revenue for the purpose of sustaining huge subsidized cities.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:10 AM
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Or, put another way, the existence of huge cities was the product of a ruling elite that set up its revenue system and economy to produce huge cities with a large (heavily subsidized) urban poor.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:13 AM
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That's not actually putting it another way.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:20 AM
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Is something up your butt, Mobes?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:21 AM
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I think chris's point should be addressed if you are going to continue the topic.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:24 AM
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Yes, but you're making it sound like Romulus said to himself, "I know what, lets make it so that in seven hundred years my city is full of thousands of people with nothing to do so that we have to spend millions of sesterces every year to feed them." You describe the effect OK, but the situation didn't arise from deliberate policy (which would have been insane), but from the impact of the Social War, ubiquitous debt,the failure of the Gracchan reforms, political competition between populist leaders in the first century, etc, etc.

The revenue system was set up, and continually revised, to raise funds for felt needs, not to generate those needs from sratch.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:24 AM
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And poop. There's poop up my butt.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:25 AM
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71 is not what I was saying in 70. Of course "felt needs" drove the system; I'm not saying the idea for large cities came out of the aether and was decreed from on high. But at least by the late empire you had a system where policy was specifically being set by a felt need to obtain tax revenue from throughout the empire for the purpose of sustaining the cities, and that was as much an end in itself as something being driven by an influx of surplus peasantry into the cities. There would have been any number of ways to deal with excess agricultural labor, but by the key point is that (certainly by the late empire) you had a system that was basically massively taxing outlying regions for the purpose of sustaining an urban poor that didn't "need" to be in the city in any strict economic sense.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:31 AM
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Wasn't a concentrated urban populace militarily useful? If you want to draft your legions, it's easier to sweep up thousands of idle young men who want salaries out of the Roman slums than finding them one by one on farms.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:36 AM
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I'm not an expert but I think Roman legions were made of career soldiers and they served long periods of enlistment. I don't know if the Roman urban poor was good for that kind of thing.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:40 AM
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Taxes on the outlying regions were a way to reward the soldiers who conquered them and to keep local rulers too weak to raise armies. The taxes served political purposes over immediate graft.

By the late empire, latifundia within Italy basically did not exist any more. Viewing large slave populations in the late empire (say after Diocletian) as economically productive has a few problems: If slaves were valuable, why were there so many freedmen? If slaves were valuable, why did Roman agents or soldiers not raid populated areas outside the empire without also attempting to hold the land?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:42 AM
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I wouldn't be surprised if urban populations (both in Rome and elsewhere) provided a large chunk of the army, though there was significant change in the early and later armies of the empire, with the latter being heavily barbarian and citizenship (and ability to serve in legions) granted throughout the empire. Recruitment in cities is consistent with my understanding of the overall (remarkably successful) structure, which was to use taxation, military force, and good transportation systems to funnel revenue into the hands of a small urban elite.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:47 AM
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OK, that's true, but it's not a very exciting point. Unemployed peasants have drifted into cities since the bronze age and continue to do so today - look at the informal slums of places like Lagos and Nairobi. It's easier to beg there, and there are more rich bastards to beg from. Equally, urban elites have taken what steps they could to neutralise the urban poor since the beginning of recorded history.

Rome was exceptional because of its size, but its size was a function of the fact that its hinterland came to be the entire Mediterranean basin. During the Song dynasty, Kaifeng and Hangzhou had populations of over a million too, because their hinterland was the whole of China. But the construction of the Roman empire wasn't deliberately planned either.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:52 AM
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78 -- I dunno, it seemed exciting to me. When I first learned something about ancient history there was a strong implication that the size of the urban population of Rome was somehow a reflection of its "greatness" or "civilization" and economic and technological might, and that something had been lost between then and, say, the 18th century when European cities (for quite different reasons) started to get large again.

Learning that the size of Rome was basically a sham brought about by taxing the empire to provide for cheap North African grain for a population that didn't otherwise need to be there, and was kept there through the subsidy for the purpose of sustaining the city for its own sake, puts an important gloss on that story and the actual importance of things like the aqueducts, forums, etc. The lack of underlying urban productivity also suggests differences between the growth of the ancient cities and the growth of, say, a place like Ho Chi Minh City, where peasants are being drawn ou of the countryside by the promise of manufacturing or service sector jobs, not primarily state-subsidized urban planning.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:04 AM
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I guess I should say "massive food subsidies" to clarify "state-subsidized urban planning." And of course many modern third world countries do provide food subsidies for the urban poor, but I think few if any have the particular taxation-extraction-needlessly subsidized urban dynamic of the Roman model.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:08 AM
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I don't understand what it means to say that the size of Rome was a sham. Do you mean that you think there could have been an alternative world where the Roman empire was equivalently geographically large and well-organized, but Rome and other cities in the Roman world weren't as big?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:10 AM
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I mean that it wasn't the product of the factors that make, say, New York or London enormous and important cities -- the available economic opportunities and need for clustering to support large scale manufacturing or service sector jobs. It's as if most of the population of Manhattan survived and lived there because Mayor Bloomberg sent armies to tax New Jersey and Pennsylvania and used the money to provide free food for the poorer residents.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:16 AM
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To put it another way, or to repeat what I understand Chris to be saying: In the alternative universe where the Roman empire is just as large, and just as wealthy, but there's no bread and circuses for the plebs, I think you're envisioning Rome being smaller, because without the dole the plebs would have left town, or never come to town in the first place. I think a more likely outcome would have been that the peasants would have still drifted into Rome, because that's where the rich people and their stuff are, and if there hadn't been a corn dole, Robertus McManus would have talked them into burning shit down, making maintenance of the empire somewhat more difficult. The dole wasn't bribing peasants to come to the city, it was bribing the people who were going to have come to the city one way or the other not to destroy it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:20 AM
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the subsidy for the purpose of sustaining the city for its own sake

This is the bit that seems to me to be arse about face. The Senate and emperors would have loved to get rid of the proles from Rome (and Alexandria and Antioch and latterly Constantinople and a ton of smaller places) - they cost money, they were a security risk, they were unsightly and ill mannered. The city would have been a lot cleaner and more desirable from the aristocratic point of view if they could have been shut of the lot and kept the place for the rich and their clients, slaves and suppliers.

But they couldn't get rid of them, because they were outnumbered. Suppose they had tried to stop the corn dole - their heads would have ended up on poles. They were locked into a vicious circle as far as the urban poor were concerned, which only began to resolve itself when the government abandoned Rome for places like Trier and Ravenna. Once that happened, the population of Rome shrank pretty fast.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:22 AM
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Pwned by 83.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:24 AM
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83 -- that's not my point; my point is to make a systemmic critique of the whole notion of the empire. The cities themselves were sustained by taxation, largely for the purpose of sustaining the wealth of the centralized cities and providing for the centralized army that held the empire together. Cities weren't getting large because they were market towns or trade emporia or whatever, but because they were where extractive revenue, imposed by force of arms, ended up. So, sure, if you have a system like the Empire set up to produce such cities, people will go there (so long as food can be provided). The more interesting question is whether this system made any sense at all except as a means for a very wealthy class who were also culturally pro-urban to sustain themselves.

And, in fact, with the collapse of the Empire we see the decline in size of Rome (although the extent of general European de-urbanization has been exaggerated), the rise in importance of trading centers, an agricultural revolution, and a generally more prosperous peasantry, though combined with a decline in the material culture for the urbanized wealthy.i


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:32 AM
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Well, right. The Roman empire wasn't the Roman empire because its populace was better fed or happier than the people anyplace else, but because it was more successful at projecting military power.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:35 AM
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84 -- I don't disagree with the "vicious circle" point in general -- i think thats the dynamic -- though I'd emphasize that it was also for the elite Romans also something of a virtuous circle, in the sense that urban life was an end unto itself for the culture. Put differently, I'm sure roman elites would have been happy to have had the same kind of urban structure/taxation system without paying for the grain subsidies. But they'd set up their system to be an extractive one put together to sustain those cities, and paying for grain subsidies was the necessary way of doing so.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:37 AM
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Is anybody arguing that the Roman Empire didn't suck for most people involved or in defense of the notion of empire as a moral good?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:37 AM
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Me, me! But I've always been fond of public buildings. And baths.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:38 AM
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Certainly the way most basic history books teach things (or taught them to me) Rome and the Empire was a Great Thing and its fall was a Bad Thing.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:41 AM
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although the extent of general European de-urbanization has been exaggerated

I'll leave you (and Wickham) to fight that claim out with Bryan Ward Perkins. The growth of trading centres in the early middle ages didn't follow immediately on the dissolution of the western empire though. As Wickham points out, large scale trade was disrupted for centuries because there was no large commercial entity left to consume traded goods after the collapse of the cities and the transformation of the army into successor kingdoms.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:41 AM
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Robots!

The Roman economy was based of course on slave labor, mostly working the fields and mines. The "enclosed" unemployed peasants were much more dangerous out in the country...guerrillas. Cities are not profitable, and never have been. They exist to control profit centers and protect rentiers.

which only began to resolve itself when the government abandoned Rome for places like Trier and Ravenna. Once that happened, the population of Rome shrank pretty fast.

Rome declined when the supply of slaves dried up. Dixie learned a lesson from them, and from the sugar plantations. Slaves are capital.

Robots! The new slaves.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:42 AM
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88: I think you're still making an odd move by attributing the extractive nature of Roman society to an irrational taste for cities.

To be teleological about it in a manner that's just as wrong for history as it is for evolutionary biology, Roman society in the republic and early empire was the way it was largely because it was an extraordinarily militarily successful model. Societies set up in manners less conducive to military success got overrun and replaced. A feature of this model was urban centers; a characteristic of urban centers is that they're subject to being held hostage by unruly slumdwellers, meaning that if you want an urban center you need a strategy to deal with the slumdwellers.

But there was never a choice made where Rome decided between being an empire with cities or without cities -- you needed the cities for the military success (they're defensible, they provide population centers for recruitment, they constitute resource bases for your armies), so it was cities or no empire at all.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:44 AM
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91: My history teacher was a Parthian.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:45 AM
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92: Markets do not produce use-value.

The Euro economies came back when the rentiers found a new way to tie farmers to land and exploit their labor. Manorialism.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:46 AM
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Certainly the way most basic history books teach things (or taught them to me) Rome and the Empire was a Great Thing and its fall was a Bad Thing.

Indeed. The impression you get from learning British history at school is that things got radically worse in Britain once the Romans left. Faction fighting, invasion, the abandonment of London etc.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:51 AM
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Markets do not produce use-value.

Quite true. However, trade presupposes consumption. I'm not going to ship tons of oil from Andalusia to Italy if I can't sell it when it gets there.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:52 AM
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unruly slumdwellers, meaning that if you want an urban center you need a strategy to deal with the slumdwellers.

The slumdwellers are a feature, not a bug.

Tokugawa Japan. Shoguns created mega-cities and demanded daimyo live there half the year. Also, separated samurai from the land. They had a few urban riots, but most of the lower-class uprisings, before and after, were rural.

Point was very explicit. An insurgency needs resources, food and grunts. The countryside is the danger zone. Urban insurgencies are easily handled, because they starve out or run out of ammunition. 1870 Commune.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:53 AM
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The taste for cities (of a particular kind) isn't "irrational" from the point of view of a tiny, domineering wealthy elite that imposed its rule through force, and of course you're right that it was enormously successful and stable (though not really militarally, strictly speaking in the sense you mean, it was an amazingly effective long-term mode of exploitstion). The extent to which we should buy into the assumptions of the Roman elite as to what was meaningful or important is a different question.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:54 AM
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97. That impression is broadly correct. However, Britain was a bit exceptional; the Goths and the Franks retained some semblance of continuity elsewhere, as did the Romans in the east.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:55 AM
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And hell, where did the problems for Rome come from?

Provincial governors and generals.

I have a sudden urge to read Mao.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:56 AM
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I think there are conflicting measures of prosperity for a peasantry in premodern societies; average nutrition and health don't track well with risk of death by violence. My impression (and I haven't read about this stuff seriously for decades) is that the Pax Romana was real -- there were centuries where peasants in the empire were very safe from military violence. Not necessarily well fed, but safe. Without that, you're getting less extracted from the populace, but they're also being murdered by bandits more -- the ones who survive are taller and have better teeth, but they also have more memories of watching their families being killed.

Which end of the tradeoff is better for people? Hard to tell.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:56 AM
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On the depopulation question, Peter Wells and others argue strongly that London (and many other Northern European cities) were not depopulated, simply that the large monumental buildings for which the population no longer had use were replaced with wooden buildings appropriate for a city more strictly based on trade, though with less of the trade in specifically mediterranean luxuries sen to the Romano-British elite. I am not an archaeologist but I believe that's the current consensus.

I believe that most dark ages scholars also argue that stories of deaths from barbarian invasions and violence are massively massively exaggerated. And the internal violence of the Roman Empire should not be underplayed either.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:03 AM
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101 -- except that the average Briton was probably healthier, better fed, and more free in 700 than in 200.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:07 AM
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Population in Europe did drop quite a bit after the fall of the Western Empire. I doubt you're disagreeing with that, but I'm not quite clear on what you are saying.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:08 AM
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Not sure where those numbers are from, but I believe the current consensus is that, while all these numbers are speculative, the biggest population decline took place during the late empire, from about 200-500, and remained at relatively stable levels for much of Europe until about 1000, when they took off again. But it's all pretty speculative.

Regardless, the archaeological evidence seems pretty strong that the extent of simple abandonment of urban centers is exaggerated (see Peter Wells on London) and new trade centers came along to take their place, combined with better agriculture (the second agricultural revolution) and a generally taller and better fed population after Rome's collapse.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:26 AM
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London wasn't abandoned; it was moved outside the walls of the Roman city, and the archaeological remains of early Londunwic are sparse and underneath the modern city. However, taking Britannia as a whole, trade, even local trade in basic goods like pottery, does seem from the record to have collapsed.

Britain is a terrible example to generalise from in late antiquity, because there is no contemporary documentation, and nobody really understands what happened, beyond the broad facts that Magnus Maximus took most of the army out of the province and the Romans had neither the will nor the resources to replace them.

However, the Franks on the Loire and the Goths in southern Gaul and Italy were well established and integrated with the army, so that they provided an element of continuity as well as disruption - bear in mind that Theoderic took over Italy at the instigation of the eastern emperor and theoretically ruled in his name.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:26 AM
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The Roman empire fell because they replaced their standard infantry training with MOOCS. They were easy prey after that.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:30 AM
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Speaking of robots and things the Romans like to build, there is an automated road compactor operating outside my office. It's about the size of a riding mower and is driving itself.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:30 AM
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average Briton was probably healthier, better fed, and more free in 700 than in 200

In the intervals of fighting for control of their land and livestock with the average Angle, Saxon, Pict or Irishman.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:31 AM
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I always worried about the Jutes.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:34 AM
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Anyway, I just bought myself Barbarians to Angels. I hope you're happy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:38 AM
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"When you're a Jute,
You're a Jute all the way.
From the tip of Denmark
To the Thames Estuary."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:39 AM
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Is the evidence of collapse of trade as strong as all that? The book I read by Peter Wells said absolutely no, pointing to things like the excavations at Tintagel.

I think the idea that a generally more prosperous peasantry was made worse off (or, worse off on net) by the invading barbarian armies is frankly laughable. First of all, these armies were relatively tiny and mostly fought each other in pitched battles. Secondly, even in Britain you had relatively stable kingdoms that, while less exploitative than Rome, lasted for decades or hundreds of years. It wasnt like 600 years of viking invasions before 1000. Third, the argument downplays the brutality of the empire itself. Fourth, as far as I am aware there is no archaeological evidence for a massive increase in violence (ie bodies found with marks of execution or murder) though again IANAArchaeologist.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:45 AM
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Was Tintagel ever part of Roman Britain?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:48 AM
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First of all, these armies were relatively tiny and mostly fought each other in pitched battles.

Why would they do that? (And, to be clear, from the reading I've done on this, I don't think it's true.) Given the choice between fighting a pitched battle and stealing stuff from unarmed peasants, the arguments in favor of stealing stuff from unarmed peasants are powerful.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:49 AM
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116: AFAIK, Roman Britain covered the whole island south of Hadrian's Wall. Cornwall definitely, for the tin mines.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:56 AM
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117 -- because you had different kingdoms fighting each other for political control. Of course parties of raiders did exist but as I say there's little evidence that this was more than a local problem. Certainly by 600 or so you had we'll established kingdoms, and probably long before that. The situation is even more clear when you move from Britain to th continent, where Barbarian rulers (in different ways) took over the existing administrative machinery and ruled essentially continuous units from the get-go.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:58 AM
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Please LB, when you get a chance to use the word "stannaries" don't miss it.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:59 AM
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115. Yes, definitely. Commercially produced pottery, coins, and oil/wine amphorae stopped moving long distances by sea, decline beginning mid-300s.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 12:00 PM
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The book I read by Peter Wells said absolutely no

The books I read by Chris Wickham and Guy Halsall said absolutely yes. But as I said above, the ourse of events in Britain in extremely unclear because the archaeology isn't supported by any contemporary documentation. It remains the case that the British kingdoms, except in the far west and Cumbria, were eliminated to the point where people's language and culture were entirely replaced by the late 8th century. I don't know what your source is for the claim that they were better off at that point, but the question I would ask is, by what criterion better off?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 12:05 PM
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Kingdoms in Western Europe were tiny, Spain and southern France excepted. Even there, much less trade in commercial commodities, let alone in luxuries, than under Rome.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 12:06 PM
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...were eliminated to the point where people's language and culture were entirely replaced by the late 8th century

That does sound like maybe widespread violence was involved.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 12:09 PM
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Hodges and Whitehouse Mohammed, Charlemagne, and the Birth of Europeis an archeological survey , concurs with Wickham who describes in detail much more localized politics than before.

The other post-Roman events in Western Europe are the hunnic invasions and then the migration of peoples that followed, not consistent with dense and thriving populations who left few durables, not even cooking ware, behind.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 12:12 PM
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122 -- by the measure of the standard of living of the bulk of the population, as far as we're able to tell.

I'm sure you know that the idea that Saxon invaders displaced, murdered, or eliminated the native British population has been decisively disproven, by DNA evidence and otherwise. The invading tribes formed small kingdoms in which they ruled over a continuously settled population. There's no evidence of mass violence and considerable evidence that the population that stayed was taller, better fed, had more access to much better agricultural technology (which was overwhelmingly the most important technology of the time) and wee (likely) better treated by the governing authorities. I think the notion of rampaging barbarian hordes destroying everything is basically a product of people adopting the views of conservative Roman sources, combined with a long modern educational tradition of presenting that view.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 12:27 PM
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DNA evidence

No way is this true.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 12:31 PM
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I'd think that switching languages and cultures is some evidence that population replacement was happening. Hardly definite evidence, but not thing. Certainly, you can get a great deal of DNA continuity and taller, better fed people if you kill the men, rape the women, and taken their land.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 12:33 PM
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Distinguishing between two northern European tribes with DNA is very difficult today. Doing it with small numbers of imprecisely identified remains 1500 years old is impossible. ANy historian who makes this claim or alludes to it is a clown.

The book Halford's citing may have interesting, defensible things to say-- I'm not attacking RH, and haven't read that book. But the DNA claim is nuts.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 12:40 PM
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Certainly, you can get a great deal of DNA continuity and taller, better fed people if you kill the men, rape the women, and taken their land.

Particularly mitochondrial DNA continuity.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 12:42 PM
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I think the DNA evidence he's talking about his looking at DNA of people living today and comparing the current population of Britain with the population so where various invaders are presumed to come from.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 12:42 PM
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Halford's talking about something that I remember seeing reported at the pop-science newspaper level a couple of years ago, but what I'm remembering is some evidence that there was more than no population continuity between pre-Roman and post-Roman Britain -- that there was never a total genocidal population replacement or ethnic cleansing. But I don't recall details.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 12:42 PM
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Gildas and Nennius as conservative Romans is an interesting take.

But I wish this thread hadn't got diverted into a discussion of the (largely unknowable) minutiae of events in Britain, which are quite boring compared to what emerged in continental Europe and western Asia, and which ultimately led nowhere anyway.

Dipping out now. Dinner time.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 12:44 PM
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The encyclopedia has some evidence. I take it that there is now dispute, but it doesn't look the "it was all peaceful" school has won or anything.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 12:45 PM
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As is usually the case in these kinds of debates, there's a lot of ground between "it was all peaceful" and "total population replacement." I'm no expert and it's been a long time since I read about any of this, and I've read a whole lot less about this than most people on the thread, but my understanding is that most of the pushback has been against the near-total war of replacement theory because the evidence isn't there for it: you don't have the textual sources or mass graves you'd expect to find. So you're left with some combination of war and voluntary cultural mixing. The cultural/linguistic change that we know about is at the level that left surviving evidence; it's harder to say what was going on with the people about whom we have comparatively less evidence.

(But I also doubt DNA evidence could settle things.)


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 12:55 PM
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It makes little sense to off everyone when you take over a place unless you are importing huge numbers of people. Much more sensible to off the elites and slip into their place in the scheme of things, keeping the producers on the land and creaming off of them.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 1:06 PM
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127-129:

See here for the genetic argument, and here for the historical/archaeological argument.

My understanding is that the current consensus is to view the anglo-saxon "invasion" as more of an "acculturation" of a relatively small number of invaders who were militartily successful gradually assimilating with the native population of Britons, in a relatively peaceful fashion.

Here's an article giving a little archaeological push-back, that I hadn't read until just now. Even he puts the "high" estimate of the number of invaders from continental Europe at about 2,000/year for a 100 year period; he suggests that there was an initial period of "apartheid" or separation of the populations followed by gradual assimilation.

It's worth pointing out that we have evidence of many other conquests of subject populations by invadiing armies, and it's difficult to find much evidence of mass murder or violent population displacement


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 1:28 PM
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137. Not refereed.

This is, though and the data is a pile of maybes.

I doubt that it's productive to take this much farther. There weren't censuses. There was less trade, even of staples, and less building after 300 than before. The period we're talking about is poorly documented and poorly preserved, which limits what anyone can know, so some level of contradictory evidence is expected.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 1:47 PM
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I meant "historical evidence of many other roughly contemporaneous conquests."

For example, people in Egypt now speak Arabic, and have a largely "Arab" culture, and the Chrtistian minority is small. But, since we have historical sources, we know that the Arab invasion of Egypt, far from being a murderous and genocidal displacement of an existing people, was in fact largely welcomed as a more humane respite from extremely oppressive and intolerant rule from Constantinople. Of course, that doesn't tell you anything decisive, but it's worth thinking about as an analogy.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 1:47 PM
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I doubt that it's productive to take this much farther.

What? I don't think we can stop until this thread gets a DOI and a citation on google scholar.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 1:55 PM
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138 -- I mean, I agree that it's hard to know much decisive about this period, but the article you cite says that there is significant evidence that "there has not been complete population replacement anywhere in the British Isles and that "Perhaps the most surprising conclusionis the limited continental input in southern England [ie the region where we know the Saxon invasions were most significant], which appears to be predominantly indigenous and, by some analyses, no more influenced by the continental invaders than is mainland Scotland."


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 1:57 PM
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"Not been complete population replacement" is a fairly weak piece of evidence for life being good, though.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 2:01 PM
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I'd think that switching languages and cultures is some evidence that population replacement was happening.

As I understand it, the Arabic language and culture spread across a vast area by methods other than population replacement.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 2:05 PM
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142: Life sucked and then someone delivered the oration at your funeral in another language.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 2:06 PM
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It's worth pointing out that we have evidence of many other conquests of subject populations by invadiing armies, and it's difficult to find much evidence of mass murder or violent population displacement

Americans are so fucking exceptional.

But back to my study of the Kyoto School, which between trying to mashup Heidegger with Dogen, proved beyond any doubt that threads like this are prima facia proof of racism and imperialism. Yes you are. Admit it.

I am desperately trying to get away from studies of dead Romans or dead Goths, or rebelling slaves in Dixie or not-famous-enough Renaissance women painters because the crisis of the West in confronting or ignoring Asia grows more obvious and destructive every single day.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 2:10 PM
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The article uses current population's locally born paternal grandfather as a proxy for 1500 years ago.

It's interesting that this was attempted, looking at the extant halpogroups is cool, but this paper doesn't say much about any definite interval in the past. Using this method shows halpogroup gradients. Migration, war, who knows? Estimating times from the current tree (btw, many trees can be made from the same data) requires knowledge of each haplogroup's population growth in the past.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 2:11 PM
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I saw a phrase this week that was usefully shocking:

"the American factory workers living in China"

Don't believe it, privileged ones?

Mistakes were made by desperate people, but the Kyoto School scholars had the future down in the way many more recent scholars of colonialism have miserably failed. Said hadn't a clue, really.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 2:24 PM
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I'm thinking seriously about Asia and I feel great.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 2:24 PM
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This article about mean heights over the millenia is pretty interesting.

To 146, there's pretty much no other evidence of population replacement, either, so it's a piece of the puzzle.

To 142, sure, which is why people have turned to other archaeological evidence (n.b. -- life was nowhere close to "good," just probably better for most people, who were mostly peasants, than under Rome).


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 2:55 PM
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i recall i read somewhere the roman empire fell bc of the widespread lead? or some other heavy metal poisoning, their vessels containing vine were made of such metals something


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 3:04 PM
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You don't really need genetics to know that the so-called volkerwanderung is pretty implausible --- it's ol' Hans Delbruck point about the difficulties of moving large numbers of people.

Lund is actually super interesting on this stuff. He has certainly convinced me that we are primarily looking at a series of ethnogenesis events, often structured around relations (or, importantly, evasion of relations) to various state/non-state powers.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 4:01 PM
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151 (Alex?) -- thanks. Lund is really super interesting on that stuff. The use of the James Scott stuff is great.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 4:56 PM
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Me! Me!

It would be super fun to use the James Scott stuff on Oceanian settlement I think.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 5:26 PM
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With respect to 17th century New England, Lund is a fantasist.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 5:49 PM
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Oh, was he the guy who thought that the Native Americans weren't killed, they all intermarried with the Puritans? That did seem a little wacky.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 5:52 PM
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Haven't read him on that, so who knows. That seems pretty implausible.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:07 PM
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The NE stuff is surprisingly convincing for crazy fantastical theorising. It confuses me.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:22 PM
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Also eh I dunno, I think the argument that substantial mingling of populations occurred on the Atlantic seaboard is way stronger than it is given credit for. I am still hilariously suspicious of the whole thing, but.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:30 PM
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157 -- We're not talking Roman Britain here. A literate population who left copious records. A fairly racist population, that would certainly remark on mixed marriages and children. And yet there's virtually nothing.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:34 PM
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Well, it would be nice to unseat the pure-blood blathering of claimed descendants of fucking Puritans. But that doesn't make it true. (Not that I've read him on this).


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:36 PM
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160 -- What, you think the descendants of Cherokee prncesses are less annoying? There's no way around it: annoyers gonna annoy.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:40 PM
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157 -- Really? My family is so fond of the three Native American women who married in that I assumed all NEnglanders were.

The narrative may have changed after the Native Americans had lost enough power to become distantly romantic (see also: Highlanders, Queen Victoria) and partly to snob it over 18th- and 19th-c immigrants and their inarguable European ancestry. ("Pioneer women died. Anyone who's all white stayed in the towns.")


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:44 PM
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In contrast to the missing data on mixed marriages, you have the very well documented (a) ravages of disease [especially just prior to the founding of the Plymouth colony] and (b) Puritan wars of Native annihilation. With captives sold into slavery in the West Indies.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:45 PM
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But the racist population bit is the problem, isn't it? There's a strong incentive to cover it up.

(But I really don't know. I am quite swayed by the patterns of previous plantations leading to heavy intermarriage. On the other hand, cray-cray. So my position is not-convinced-it-happened-but-could-be.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:45 PM
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Agh, I meant 159, not 157. Nb: not princesses. Respectable hardworking women from the next town over, we are told. (Just as ideologically important, that.)


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:46 PM
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165 -- Where and when, clew?

164 -- The people who were executing witches were successfully concealing mixed marriages. I'm not saying there were none. But I've certainly never seen any reason to believe that it was going on on a massive scale, and if it had been, you would have expected things to be quite different.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:50 PM
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It's true that it would be better if we could secretly prove that the folks who are into their Mayflower connections are actually part black or Mexican, but Indian will have to do.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:53 PM
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Of course I don't believe any of that is true, sadly.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:55 PM
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I think the argument that substantial mingling of populations occurred on the Atlantic seaboard is way stronger than it is given credit for.

In light of what Charley says in 159 and 163, why? I mean, I understand that mixed relationships were very likely covered up when they occurred, but that doesn't deal with the well-documented epidemics, the not-as-well document epidemics, the incredibly well documented race wars/massacres, and the Native oral histories of catastrophic population decline (but not of mixing). Given all of that, I'm entirely unpersuaded by the mingling argument, but I'm interested in it.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:59 PM
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167 --- I think the Mayflower stuff is actually pretty plausible. It's the 1700-1800 bit that makes me pause, at least personally.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 6:59 PM
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169: because fundamentally I don't buy smooth-the-pillow historiography. Against that, yeah, facts.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:01 PM
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God damn it no one has to care about you all the time, America. That's not this thread. Homeboy is interesting on just why the battle of Adrianople mattered so much.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:03 PM
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It's a long time since I had this rehearsed to me... early 18th east of the Alleghenies, probably New York, not urban; right after the War of 1812 in what's now Ohio, she was probably good-looking, her son was and went to the state senate; and Florida? but what the hell were the Yanks doing down there? I should ask someone before I am the oldest surviving generation.

On the Southern side, we have a daguerrotype of the Woman With No Known Antecedents, who could be anything, given the generations of Not Talked About she's been filtered through. Partly black? Italian? Jewish? Shopkeeper's daughter of boring Mancunian extraction? The only thing one can tell from the image is that she's plump and ringletted -- it is, of course, completely gray.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:03 PM
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I'm skimming Lund's stuff right now and he seems to be relying very heavily on two things:

1. various gaps in the records of migration/emigration, without which he wouldn't be able to say that a significant proportion of the population growth has been unaccounted for

2. Some real intermarriage/inter-mingling that - and I haven't read beyond this - he appears to be presenting in a tip-of-the-iceberg fashion.

Squinting at it from the right angle, he seems to be fusing demographic history with some of the recent scholarly fascination with racial mixture and intercultural relations that consisted of more than just war and then claiming that what was almost certainly exceptional was actually normal.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:04 PM
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I don't buy smooth-the-pillow historiography.

I'm not sure what this means. Sorry, I'm not being coy; I really am this dense. How is the well-documented history of race wars in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century New England smooth? Add to that, Native oral histories are very clear on the decline while having precious little to say about mixed relationships in the region. Maybe Native peoples had as incentive to cover such things up, but I'm not seeing it.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:05 PM
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Sorry, that's probably a bit of a NZ-specific reference.
Specifically, claim was that Maori were dying out and so pakeha were to "smooth the pillow" and you know, act as a kind of nurse as Maori died off.

But the idea is that almost every coloniser claims the colonised are dying out/declining/fading away/decadent, and yet all the time it turns out they aren't. So.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:11 PM
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MOULDBORD PLOW


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:14 PM
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Yeah, that's what bugs me too. Still, absent any compelling evidence, the persistence/mingling argument looks like counter-intuitive fame-seeking to me. And in case I haven't been clear already, it pisses me off that such arguments, to date at least, must ignore Native sources.


Posted by: vw | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:15 PM
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(Fatal impact theory might be more recognisable?)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:15 PM
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Yeah, facts remain the big problem.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:16 PM
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178 to 176. And thanks for explaining the reference. I should know much more about the NZ case but don't.


Posted by: vw | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:16 PM
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Yes, FIT I know. I need a year off to do nothing but read.


Posted by: vw | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:18 PM
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But the idea is that almost every coloniser claims the colonised are dying out/declining/fading away/decadent,

The thing is, there is an early American historiography that pushes back against this, which argues that disease+war doesn't capture everything, and which goes to length to point out persistence in the face of narratives of disappearance. But it doesn't go as far as Lund does.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:24 PM
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so pakeha were to "smooth the pillow" and you know, act as a kind of nurse as Maori died off

Ironically, the Carib tribe died out because of an infection that spread through bumps in pillows.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:26 PM
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Ok, now that his series on North America seems to be using extended close readings of Fenimore Cooper* as an end run around contemporaneous evidence, I'm going to remain unconvinced.

*They're interesting as readings, though.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:35 PM
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The readings of Mormonism are super fascinating if not exactly the most solid evidential foundation for an argument ever.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 7:38 PM
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I don't really know anything about the specific topics under discussion, but this thread is fascinating.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:06 PM
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Ok, last exciting update on my skimming of Lund on North America. He doesn't seem to have returned to the subject - at least not with a dedicated post in 2012.

Essentially, his argument requires you to accept the idea that there was a mass effort to cover up native ancestry and identity in the early 19th century. If you accept his skepticism on the demographic story - and Lund is probably strongest on doubt than he is on alternative explanation - then you still have to explain why so many fewer people identified as Indians. And his argument basically comes down to intermarriage + passing, with some hints at the hidden past left for people to discern through esoteric readings of cultural artifacts.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:27 PM
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I'm sure a decent portion of demographic doubt can be covered by (a) they were fucking their slaves* (b) they were fucking their indentured servants and washerwomen before you get to (c) they were fucking the Indians.

*this was a massive stupid-obvious revelation for me about US history, gained about 4 years ago through that Gordon-Reed book.

But still, fuck America. Good lord is that guy right in calling for a history of dark ages barns.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:36 PM
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Essentially, his argument requires you to accept the idea that there was a mass effort to cover up native ancestry and identity in the early 19th century.

I actually find this part plausible.

And his argument basically comes down to intermarriage + passing, with some hints at the hidden past left for people to discern through esoteric readings of cultural artifacts.

Right, and the problem isn't just that he wants people to suspend disbelief, it's that he has no mechanism for debunking the sources, documentary and oral, that chronicle massive die-offs from disease and extended periods of warfare.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:45 PM
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Sorry, Halford, you can have the blog back. I just finished a big project, so I've got time on my hands. But I can devote that time to reading things I really should read, including a new book about the Dakota War.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:48 PM
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Plus, I have to design a new logo for the UC system.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:48 PM
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190.last: I think Lund does make good points about the general untrustworthiness of demographies of disease/war. I don't go all the way with him but.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:50 PM
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190.1: I've no doubt many people covered up ancestry when they had it, it's just the scale he's proposing is enormous.

190.2: People exaggerate. Ok, source debunked.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:52 PM
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193: again, I think that's fair, and I agree. The problem is that the sources in this case aren't only generated by settler-colonists. There are Native sources -- though not the kind that most people deem worth grappling with -- documenting many of the the same demographic catastrophes.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:54 PM
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192: Since it's a university, maybe you should have a book in the logo. Has anybody tried that?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 8:57 PM
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194.1: right. I wish Phil Deloria had done more, in either of his books, with the transition from Americans denying their Native ancestry to trumpeting it (Elizabeth Warren*).

* I'm just trolling.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:00 PM
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196: you mean a kindle? That's a good idea. And since we've decided that the word of God is dated, maybe we can use a quote from Jeff Bezos.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:01 PM
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How about "guy surprised to see there's a castle on his head?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:06 PM
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I can't be expected to close a tag and a quote.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:06 PM
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193: Yeah, the whole thing is a fascinating example of what you can turn up when you try to apply real precision to something that's just generally been accepted. The sources are the for demographic catastrophe, but don't add all the way up in aggregate. There are sources for intermarriage too, on a smaller scale of course.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:14 PM
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Keir, if you're still around, I'd be grateful if you'd suggest a few titles that cover NZ's indigenous history.

(Why is it that I never read Keir's comments in appropriately accented English? The same is true for emir's comments and ajay's. On the other hand, I read ttaM's comments with an accent. Teo? Thoughts?)


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:33 PM
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No idea, man. Maybe ttaM's persona reads as more obviously Scottish? He does seem to use more Scottish terms and refer to Scotland more often than the others.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:35 PM
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That wouldn't explain emir, though.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:36 PM
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Frankly emir's imagined Irish accent is so sexy I'd be embarrassed to meet her in person.

I really shouldn't comment while drunk.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:41 PM
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I don't see voice.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:50 PM
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Plus, I have to design a new logo for the UC system.

Since nobody seems to like "circa 2010 Internet startup", try stealing this one that says "circa 1996 Internet startup".


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 9:55 PM
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202: Bah, I haven't really thought about this since seventh form. Um, Claudia Orange's The Treaty of Waitangi is very good on Maori/pakeha relations, primarily the Treaty. James Belich is very good as well. Paul Moon is good, but be careful, a bit idiosyncratic. Michael King is also worthwhile.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 10:38 PM
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209: many thanks.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:19 PM
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(Why is it that I never read Keir's comments in appropriately accented English? The same is true for emir's comments and ajay's. On the other hand, I read ttaM's comments with an accent. Teo? Thoughts?)

Perhaps you have heard ttaM's speech, but not that of any of the others?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 12-11-12 11:23 PM
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Interesting stories, clew.

Ohio was a state in the war of 1812, but obviously still the frontier. Considering the racial dimensions of the war there and in Indiana, the match is all the more remarkable.

You know, the census might have some useful information about the ancestor in the old picture. Send me an email if you want me to help you look into it.

I'm still agog that anyone would think that a society would make up stories like the massacre at Mystic -- and the shock of the Puritan's Narragansett allies at that massacre -- in order to keep secret their mixed race children.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 12-12-12 12:01 AM
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Thanks, CharleyCarp. We've had a couple rounds of family genealogists fail to find the unknown woman -- who was from New Orleans, or went through, just to complicate things a bit.

Anyway, following up on 197, I don't know if I could figure out when my family specifically started playing it up, but I've run across the transition in 18th and 19th c. pop literature and it can be very early. The defeated group doesn't have to be gone and forgotten, just completely defeated. E.g., actual Highlander survivors of the Clearances turned up for a Sir-Walter-Scott Highlands pageant (but weren't romantical enough to be let march). US dime novels are annoyingly praising the nobility of the fading braves by the 1880s, maybe earlier.

And connecting to something much earlier, there is *no* family belief that any Native traditions were kept or admired or handed on. I don't even know if the women kept up contact with their families.

And, threaded through the vileness and ferocity of the race wars against Native Americans, there were as usual tragic alliances and doomed attempts at decency. Those go back to Ben Franklin trying to restrain the Allegheny-crossers and giving up (IIRC, he thought the demon seed of Albion had to be bribed into pretending to respect US laws by letting them break US-Native treaties. The other parent of our eternal Civil War.)

Oh! Oh! Comedy! Have I mentioned the *current* family genealogy er, enthusiast? She has decided that we descend from King Arthur and therefore should sign our letters "From the Blood". (And live up to the highest chivalric standards.)


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 12-12-12 1:49 PM
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