Role of Environment in European Conquestby Rit Nosotro
What part did environment play in allowing Eurasians to conquer the native peoples of Africa, Australia, or the Americas? (hint: Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond)
Throughout history we witness the rise and fall of many civilizations. Many nations exist in different forms now than they did only fifty years ago. The changes that the civilizations underwent thousands of years ago provide the foundations for the current world that we see today. But what caused specific civilizations to conquer other civilizations? We see the strong influence of the Eurasian civilization in all our existing cultures today. Many factors added to this, and the environment in which the Eurasian culture dwelled probably had a very influential role in allowing them to conquer the other civilizations of their time. Their environment influenced the lifestyle of these people and directly affected the resources that they had available to them in their pursuits of war and peace.
Firstly, we must determine what constitutes an environment, and what aspects of life an environment will affect. The environment of a culture describes the weather, geography, and local natural resources. Throughout history, thriving civilizations have tended to spring up near a river or other body of water. People need water to survive, not only for drinking but for watering their crops and livestock as well. When Babel was destroyed and the people divided by language, they traveled and found new areas to settle. According to the Xenophile Historian website, “The ideal place for a civilization to develop is a place where life is not an everyday struggle, but it requires some effort to make it comfortable.” In particularly harsh lands, such as the dry, hot desserts that cover much of Africa and Australia, the inhabitants must fight daily simply to maintain survival. Historically, they lacked the ability to settle down in one area for too extended a time because the lack of water would cause the natural resources to deplete. Even if they could stay permanently in one place, they still had to concentrate on fulfilling their basic survival needs. These societies had no time to develop a system of writing or complex government. In contrast, in areas like the jungles of South America, food literally just falls from the air. The people have no need to create any kind of lasting agricultural plan, such as farming or shepherding, because they have all the sustenance they need readily available to them already. This sort of bountiful environment hinders the development of a thriving, settled civilization just as much as the harshness of the desert.
However, on much of the Eurasian continent, particularly in the Fertile Crescent, semi-permanent civilizations flourished. They had to develop an agricultural system of plants and animal herds because the land did not naturally produce them, but would support them if nurtured. This gave the civilizations a sort of permanence. “Pure hunting/gathering is about 100 times less efficient than herding; it only feeds an average of one person per ten square miles.” (Xenophile Historian) So these societies that developed farming and herding also had a larger number of people per square mile. This provided solidity to a society in many different ways. First of all, with a larger amount of people, disease is less likely to destroy the entire society. Secondly, with so many people, they could divide the labor among them in a way that allowed different people to specialize in different occupations. Instead of everyone having to know a little about everything, you could have people who knew a lot about one thing. Jared Diamond references this concept as it relates to the Polynesian Islands, “In general, the larger the size and the higher the density, the more complex and specialized were the technology and organization.” If the people had specializations, not only did they develop skills in certain areas, but it also gave time for someone to pursue writing and the arts as their specialization. So when this society of people with special skills invaded other societies, they had a big advantage. The civilizations of Eurasia produced people who had specialized in politics, weaponry, or war. This specialization allowed the society to progress exponentially in their development of these technologies. These societies had organized governments system, which oversaw militaries that employed cutting-edge weapon technology. As a result of these advances in their society, they had preparation and many advantages over the societies they attacked.
Another variable factors into all of this and in fact provides an in depth and overarching explanation for it all. Psalm 97:1 says, “The LORD reigns; Let the earth rejoice; Let the multitude of isles be glad!” Throughout all the ages, the one thing that remains the same is God’s sovereignty. He has a divine and sovereign plan and controls all of the events of the world. As a result, nothing happens simply by chance. Each of these civilizations and its inhabitants dwelt in precisely where God ordained them in order to accomplish their part in His supreme plan.
1. How do the rises and falls of historical civilizations affect us today?
2. What are non-ideal geographical areas for civilizations and why do both extremes have big disadvantages?
3. What is the ideal place for a civilization to develop and why?
4. In the end, does any of this completely explain the rise and fall of civilizations? If so, how? If not, where can we find a complete explanation?
Jared Diamond. Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: Q. Q. Norton & Company,
Charles Kimball. <a href=" http://xenohistorian.faithweb.com/worldhis/Hist02.html
The Xenophile Historian: Chapter 2 </a>. World History. 24 September 2003.
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