How and when did hierarchy and militarism begin? The answer can be found in the archaeological record. The historian William Hamblin, writing in “Warfare in the Ancient Near East to 1600 BC”, defines the “military threshold” as “the point at which warfare has essentially become endemic in a region, and at which all peoples in a region are forced to militarize their societies to one degree or another.” The archaeological record shows that most (if not all) prehistoric cultures were involved to some extent in warlike activities such as border skirmishes or vengeance seeking. However, this gradually evolved into larger scale conflict and the development of fortifications, perhaps at first in specific locations to meet specific requirements. The city of Hacilar in Anatolia acquired a city wall following an attack around 5500 BC: this is the first unambiguous evidence of a city fortified for military purposes. (Jericho in Palestine was fortified earlier, but possibly for defense against local raiding parties rather than invading armies.) In ancient Elam (Iran), the city of Susa became fortified around 4300 BCE. However, Hamblin believes that there is little evidence of systematic, widespread militarization until much later.
Paleolithic Cultural and Genetic Diversity
The system of social kinship had profound implications, as the fundamental social unit may have been a regional group of interbreeding tribes sharing a common language and common technologies. These extensive regional societies, rather than atomic tribal units, became the backdrop for the emergence of agricultural and technological civilization. In archaeology, the emergence of regional cultures with uniform styles of architecture, art, clothing, pottery, technology, and lifestyles, probably is also reflective of regions of relatively free interchange of marriage and kinship relations. Linguists believe that cultural regions represented areas of linguistic continuity as well. Distinct cultures are often separated by distinct frontiers, often following geological boundaries. Within these boundaries, the underlying continuity of many aspects of the pre-existing cultural regime tends to reemerge in the long run.
Hoffecker (2005) suggests that perhaps the modern human migrants from Africa initially went far into northern Asia around 45,000 years BP, taking advantage of technological innovations such as sewn clothing, structures for shelter, and trapping skills and equipment, to survive in bitter cold climates .Later on, those modern Homo Sapiens (known in Europe as the Cro-Magnon) were driven to move southward as the climate began a long, slow descent into the frigid glacial maximum of around 25,000 years BP.
This period of isolation may have been of great importance for the differentiation of the various races of mankind. The challenges of survival in the extreme cold of this environment may have led to a rapid differential increase in cunning and native intelligence, along with a lack of melanin pigmentation as appropriate to the climate – as compared to other human populations that underwent much less severe conditions in Africa, southeastern Eurasia, and Australia.
This view of Cro-Magnon racial superiority came under severe criticism after World War II, mainly because of outraged horror and ethical disgust at the human consequences of such overweening white self-congratulation, which became apparent during the war. Social reformers such as Ashley Montagu argued that many commonly held ideas about race are dangerous myths and fallacies. And from our current vantage point, with the full extent of the disastrous consequences of the development of industrial civilization looming into view, the authors (being white males ourselves) are inclined to take a much more jaundiced perspective on the ultimate adaptive value of this supposed superiority.
Nevertheless, we believe it’s safe to say that as the glaciers receded and humans re-populated the areas that had been abandoned, the distinctions between the races of man were more clearly drawn than they are today. Tribal societies, upon encountering societies of a different racial background, must have had a distinct sense of alienation and other-ness.
Regardless of this, the invention of agriculture seems to have occurred not in Cro-Magnon lands, but in the southern Fertile Crescent. The earliest farming communities were small villages such as Abu Hureyra in Syria, and Catal Hoyuk in Anatolia, which were settled in the eighth millennium BC. These villages were not heavily fortified, and showed little evidence of hierarchical social stratification. However, they did possess highly developed artistic and spiritual sensibilities, as well as baffling and inexplicably advanced capabilities of megalithic construction. A remarkable example is a series of round megalithic temples built out of stones ~50 tons in weight and ~10 feet high, located 9 miles northeast of Urfa (330 miles east of Catal Hoyuk) at Gobekli Tepe. The stones are decorated with reliefs of animals, most prominently vultures, in a style similar to portrayals found at Catal Hoyuk. It’s thought to have been built ~9000 BCE, which would predate the earliest signs of agriculture. There is no evidence of agriculture at the Gobekli Tepi site, and not much residential use. However, the site is located 20 miles from Mt. Karaca, where wild strains of wheat are found whose DNA is said to be related to modern domesticated wheat.
Agricultural civilizations continued to develop in this region of Anatolia, Syria, Egypt and the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, during the millennia that followed. Along with increased population densities and intensified agricultural production with irrigation technology, signs of wealth and social stratification proliferated.
Neolithic Migratory Patterns Revealed by Genetics
Genetic studies indicate that there most likely have been two great waves of population migration across Europe since the invention of agriculture. Cavalli-Sforza’s classic “History and Geography of Human Genes” from 1994 is an early example of a study consistent with this view. Additional databases have also become available from sources such as the National Geographic Society “genographic project”, the “1000 Genomes Project”, the “HapMap project”, POPRES, LOLIPOP, and many small academic studies.
In general, the picture that is emerging is consistent with Cavalli-Sforza’s analysis of 1994. His analysis revealed three interpretable components. The first component is basically a north-south gradient, which may represent the initial settlement of Europe by Cro-Magnons as they moved from the far north and displaced the Neanderthals. The second component apparently represents the migration of agriculturists from the Fertile Crescent and Anatolia slowly into Europe in a process that apparently involved largely peaceful (or at least, non-genocidal) demic diffusion. That is, settlers from agricultural societies would migrate into new areas and occupy the most fertile lands suitable for farming, while the indigenous hunter-gatherers retreated into lands that were not immediately suited to cultivation. In centuries following the initial settlement, the agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers must have gradually intermingled and interbred, resulting in the mixed genetic heritage of northern hunter-gatherers and southern farmers that exists today. The third component is believed to represent a spread of nomadic / pastoral culture originating from the Russian steppes.
Our thesis is that this latter wave of immigration represents the advance of Indo-European language and culture. Certainly it’s safe to say that the Indo-Europeans were the most successful of all prehistoric cultures in spreading their influence around the globe. Roughly half the people in the world today speak Indo-European languages (including the Indo-Iranian, Italic, Celtic, Germanic, Balto-Slavic and Hellenic branches). And of course, with the advent of European colonialism, the other half of the world has also been under the economic and political domination of Indo-European peoples.
As a no-doubt oversimplified abstraction: the highly productive agricultural societies of the Middle East and Fertile Crescent represented rich and vulnerable targets for the peoples of the North, with their more advanced technological skills and aptitudes. In its most prototypical pattern, the invasion from the north proceeded in several stages: first, the establishment of trade outposts; second, decapitation of the leadership of the target country, and their replacement by the outsiders; and (sometimes) third and much later, a final conquest by another northern country. This process, we believe, is at the root of the phenomenon we mentioned in our Introduction: that the ruling elite of a nation may be more closely related, genetically and culturally, to the ruling elites of other nations, than they are related to the people they are ruling over. And, this ruling elite is fundamentally of a Cro-Magnon (that is, Nordic or Caucasian) racial heritage. Linguistically and culturally, it is basically Indo-European, with possible contributions from Altaic and Turkic cultures, all of which were Nordic in origin.
It is this Nordic invasion (rather than the invention of agriculture) that resulted in mankind becoming chained to a system that could build the Pyramids and many other monuments to central authority, far too numerous to count; but could not free the vast majority from lives of poverty and want.
Mallory & Adams’ “Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European world” gives an excellent introduction to the Indo-European language concept and its historical development, beginning with the recognition of commonalities across Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Persian, Celtic and Germanic languages, as popularized by William Jones in 1786. Jones based his argument on similarities of grammar as well as vocabulary. The comparative method was developed in the 19th century, and the Baltic, Slavic and Albanian groups were recognized as part of the Indo-European family during the early 1800’s. Tocharian and Hittite were discovered and recognized as Indo-European during the early 20th century.
Mallory argues that the best approach to understanding the culture of the Proto-European people is reconstruction of the lexicon. However, this is difficult because of a poverty of information. The reconstructed PIE language currently consists of 1474 cognate roots, but almost half of these are represented in only 4 or fewer child language groups. Some of these might have developed in regional subgroups and might not date back to PIE, while others are of uncertain meaning. Modern non-literate languages have vocabularies of ~30,000 roots, so it’s possible that as little as 5% of the original PIE vocabulary has survived. Thus it is risky to come to conclusions based on absence of a root or concept in reconstructed PIE. However, based on the common roots that have survived, we can still make some inferences about the earliest culture of the Indo-Europeans.
Reconstructed PIE includes names for 75 animal species including 42 mammals, and an assortment of domesticated farm species, reflecting a pastoral neolithic lifestyle. Words for dwellings indicate that structures were solidly built of wood timbers, wattle and daub, and that cities were fortified with walls. Diet included meats, a variety of milk products, bread, and beer. They also had vocabulary for woven wool, flax and leather garments, colorfully dyed.
The vocabulary for metallurgy includes words for copper, gold and silver. Tools include plough, rake, sickle, axe, awe and hook. Weapons are limited to spear, knife and shield. There is an extensive vocabulary for wagons, which were not necessarily horse driven. The known vocabulary for boats is limited to canoes and other small boats for rivers and lakes. There are several words for “rain”, “snow” and “ice”. The word for “sea” is ambiguous as to whether it refers to a lake or ocean.
Vocabulary for social concepts indicates a hierarchical society with a primitive capitalist exchange system, wealth, and poverty. Words for marriage and household structure indicate a patriarchal, possessive view. There is an extensive vocabulary describing fighting and battles. However, there is little evidence of occupational specialization. Evidence for slavery seems inconclusive.
The universally accepted vocabulary about religion is relatively sparse. God is ‘deiwos’ meaning also ‘sky’. We also have ‘sky father’ and ‘sky daughter’. Germanic ‘Gott’ is from PIE ‘ghutom’ meaning ‘that which is invoked.’ PIE also includes cognates for ‘sacred’ and ‘sacrifice’. The ancestor of all humans is ‘manu’. There is a much broader (but controversial) PIE pantheon, including possible restorations for Celtic ‘Brigantia’, Latin ‘Mars’, ‘Neptunus’ and ‘Volcanus’, sanskrit ‘Bagha’, Lithuanian thunder god ‘Perkunas’, and Greek ‘Pan’, ‘Triton’ and ‘Kerberos’. There are several candidate roots for ‘priest’ but none is securely attested.
The Kurgan hypothesis
The Kurgan hypothesis of Indo-European origins, first proposed by Marija Gimbutas, held that Indo-European homeland was located in the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, the region north of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea in modern Ukraine and Russia, which was known as Scythia and Sarmatia during classical antiquity. This hypothesis seems very consistent with what we know about the Proto-Indo-European vocabulary. David Anthony, in “The Horse, The Wheel and Language”, presented a spirited defense of the Kurgan hypothesis. Anthony argues that overall, the Kurgan model provides the best “fit” to all the archaeological data, especially the fact that the vocabularies for wagons (wheel, tiller, axle etc.) were propagated across the Indo-European world (except Anatolia) in accordance with the general principles of sound changes under comparative linguistics. Thus, he argues that Indo-European must have been a single language at the time the wheel was invented in 3500 BCE.
While the Kurgan hypothesis has been academically controversial and has come under many challenges by scientists including Colin Renfrew, Grey & Atkinson, Mario Alinei and many others, we believe that it remains the most convincing explanation for the early spread of militarism and hierarchical dominance of society. Leaving the controversy to others, we will simply explain our view of the Kurgan hypothesis of Indo-European origins.
Anthony suggests that the Indo-European expansion was based on the mobility provided by horseback riding and horse-drawn wheeled vehicles. We would add that wheeled mobility was certainly an important factor, but also that the Indo-Europeans must have established permanent and powerful encampments throughout a broad and ever-expanding area, either through decapitation of the pre-existing hierarchy, or by domination of the local economy by trade, or both.
An early example of such a confrontation may have occurred at the frontier between the Indo-Europeans of the Pontic Steppe, and the farming culture of “Old Europe”. Anthony states that in the eastern Carpathian piedmont, along the Dneister River, the early farming cultures of “Old Europe” adopted grain cultivation & animal husbandry, as they were imported from the Fertile Crescent. However, the hunter-gatherer cultures to the east of this (along the Dneiper , Don and Volga) resisted adopting any agricultural practices for many centuries, establishing a long-standing cultural frontier or barrier. On both sides of the barrier, the cultures evolved over time, and established trading relationships, while remaining clearly distinct. Anthony argues that this sort of cultural frontier always reflects a linguistic as well as cultural and pre-national barrier. The proto-Indo-European language must have developed on the eastern side of this barrier, while the farming cultures might have spoken Afro-Asiatic dialects and/or ancient European tribal dialects.
On the western (Old European) side, the successive cultures were the Cris (5800-5300 BCE) and Cucuteni-Tripolye (5200 BCE-4200 BCE). The Cucuteni were “eneolithic” people distinguished by their ceramic goddess figures, copper (but not bronze) ornaments and small tools, and their large villages.
On the eastern side, the Bug-Dneister culture maintained a hunter-gatherer lifestyle until about 5200 BCE, when it was superseded by the Dneiper-Donetz and Khvalynsk cultures, which adopted animal husbandry (cattle, sheep, goats) but continued to reject growing row crops. Perhaps this was because of the climate & soil conditions — the “Black Earth Soil” of the Ukraine resisted all attempts to break the sod until the invention of modern hard steels and tractors. Along with the adoption of animal herding, Anthony describes an increase in social inequality, as the wealthier graves started to be decorated with ornaments and weapons.
Based on extensive studies of the bones remaining in ancient garbage deposits, Anthony believes that the population of wild horses in the Steppes was much greater than elsewhere in Europe and the Middle East, and that the ancient hunter-gatherer cultures of the region were proficient at wild horse hunting. Horses were better adapted to surviving harsh winters than cattle, because they have the instinct to break the snow with their hooves to get at the grass underneath. So, Anthony argues, the Dneiper-Donetz people would naturally have tried to domesticate the horse as part of their newly adopted pastoral repertoire. He thinks this might have happened sometime between 4800 BCE and 4200 BCE, although the evidence is tenuous & indirect. Anthony developed a technique for measuring the wear of ancient horse teeth to detect the use of bits, but the earliest example of proven horseback riding discovered by this approach is from a site in Kazakhstan from approximately 3700 – 3000 BCE.
In due course, the Dneiper-Donetz culture was succeeded by the Sredni Stog / Suvorovo-Novodanilovka, which was characterized by increasing social stratification. Archaeologists initially noted what they thought were two distinct cultures sharing the same region in time and space, approx. 4300 BCE to 4000 BCE (Anthony 2010 p. 216): the “Sredni Stog culture” which was represented by humble unadorned burials, and the “Suvorovo-Novodanilovka culture” represented by burials in huge kurgans (burial mounds) accompanied by abundant copper ornaments, axes, maces, and the remains of livestock sacrifices, most prominently horses. Gradually it dawned on the archaeologists, that these very distinct burials were manifestations of one and the same community, with an unprecedented level of social stratification and hierarchical organization, and relative impoverishment of the lower class.
Indo-European invasion of Mesopotamia
Around 4200 to 4000 BCE, there was a change of climate (mini ice age) and the “Old European” Cucuteni culture collapsed. Anthony thinks this was partly because of crop failures, but also due to pressure from raids on horseback by the Sredni Stog and Suvorovo. After this collapse, the Cernavoda culture and Ustatovo culture emerged out of the rubble. Anthony interprets theses as much-subdued client cultures that survived under the subjugation of the steppe chieftains. These groups eventually migrated deep into Europe. A little bit later, around 3700 BCE, a small group of Steppe riders migrated all the way to the Altai Mountains of Siberia, where they established the Afanasievo culture (predecessors of the Tocharian).
Starting about 3500 BCE, the great agricultural cities of Mesopotamia were starting to project more and more influence towards the north. Around the Caucusus Mountains, traders of the Maikop culture grew tremendously rich, apparently by trading between Mesopotamia and the Steppes. Imports from the Steppes into Mesopotamia may have included marijuana as well as horses and metal products.
About the same time, the wheeled wagon was invented. The exact origin of this technology is controversial, but Anthony thinks that the Steppe people were able to quickly adopt the technology to best advantage because of their abundance of horses. All across the Steppes, the result was that the people completely abandoned any sort of settled living, and became nomads living out of wagons. They were able to greatly expand their pastured areas, moving further away from water sources. The only material remnants of their culture during this era were the Kurgan burials, which now enclosed the dead within their wagons as though they were planning to ride into the heavens. This lifestyle encompassed the Sredni Stog as well as other Steppe cultures, forming what Anthony calls the “Yamnaya Horizon”. By “Horizon” he says he means something akin to the adoption of Levi’s blue jeans as a unifying factor across many modern communities, and perhaps that may have been true especially for the Eastern expansion.
According to Hamblin, it was also in this era that the threshold of pervasive militarization was crossed, in the region of the Near East and the Fertile Crescent, with the rise of the Sumerian empire (the “Late Uruk” period) from 3500 to 3000 BCE, and the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under Menes in about 3050 BCE. The Sumerians were believed to have arrived from outside the region, and spoke a language widely regarded as an isolate. Simo Parpola, however, has argued vigorously that Sumerian is a Ural-Altaic language. Owing to the large amount of borrowed vocabulary between early Indo-European and Uralic languages, it is thought that the homelands of the two language families must be located in neighboring regions. So although not Indo-European, the Sumerian invasion of Mesopotamia may follow the northern-source pattern suggested here. As for Menes, it is striking that this name is the Indo-European root for the first man.
During the period around 2800 BCE, the Steppe people spread eastward past the Ural Mountains and established outposts that were oriented largely towards supplying bronze metal products from materials mined in the area. These outposts (the Sintashta culture) were heavily fortified, and defended by possibly the world’s first spoked-wheel chariot drivers.
Anthony’s view is that the Anatolian languages (Hittite, etc.) were the earliest branches from Proto-Indo-European, and that the invasion of the Stredni Stog into the Danube basin (the Cernavoda) was followed by the transmission of the early Proto-Indo-European of 4000 BCE into Anatolia where it evolved into the Hittite tongue. Prior to the arrival of the Hittites, Analtolia was occupied by the Hattites and Hurrians, whose languages were thought to be related to the North Caucasus family rather than the Indo-European. The Hittites conquered the Hattites in their city of Hattusa by the 18th century BC (or perhaps much earlier) while the Hurrians of northeast Anatolia and northern Syria continued to exist as an independent people, and continued to speak their own language. However, starting in the 15th century BCE they were ruled by the Mitanni, who took Old Indic throne names. In a treaty with the Hittites, the Mitanni named the gods of the Rig Veda. This suggests that Indo-European intruders (perhaps mercenaries or merchants) may have overthrown the indigenous Hurrian leadership, while adopting the local language of the region.
Somewhat later, the Ustatova carried a later version of Indo-European into Southern Europe, creating the Italic / Celtic branch. Around 2600 BCE, Anthony says that the Corded Ware culture of Northern Europe adopted the Yamnaya way of life and created the Germanic branch. Finally, the Shintashta culture (past the Ural Mountains) migrated southward to become the Iranian/Indic branch of the Indo-European world.
Indo-European Political Ideology
Georges Dumezil built a long and distinguished career around the idea that another approach to studying the Proto-Indo-European culture is to study commonalities in the mythology and worldview of the various daughter cultures. Dumezil’s work makes it clear that in addition to racial and technological factors, a sophisticated political ideology was also a major aspect of Indo-European militarism.
His basic framework was the tripart caste model of social organization, characteristically displayed in the Indian case: Brahman (priest / king), kshatriya (warrior), vaishya (agriculture / trade). Dumezil’s “Mitra-Varuna” is focused on a study of the priestly class, while “The Destiny of the Warrior” which seems to be a similar study of the kshatriya.
Dumezil views the priestly / royal function in terms of a series of complementary pairs. The first pair is Flamen / Luperci. The Flamen in Roman society represented a principle of stability and order within the ordained hierarchy. The rule of the Flamen (along with the Rex, the Senate and so forth) is unchallenged except for a festival day, the Februatio, when naked young equestrians called Luperci frolic through the streets, carrying out sacrificial ceremonies and “making women fertile.” Dumezil argues that the Luperci represent a primitive, orgiastic aspect of the priesthood which could not be suppressed entirely, therefore it had to be allowed to emerge for its day. Dumezil argues that this same duality is manifested in the “historical” figures of Romulus and Numa, with Romulus presenting the wild untamed energy of creation, and Numa representing the institution of law, order, property and hierarchy. And in the realm of Roman gods, Dumezil finds this same duality in the two aspects of Jupiter, which he claims are Jupiter Summanis and Dius Fidius. Sumannis is the one with the thunderbolts, while Jupiter’s aspect as Dius Fidius represents law and contracts, like the Flamen.
Having established this structure as a fundamental construct of Roman religion and civil life, Dumezil goes on to show parallels in other Indo-European cultures. He shows an amazing series of detailed parallels between the Flamen and the Vedic Brahman: they cannot swear oaths; they cannot be involved in warfare; they cannot ride horseback; they must avoid funerals; they are subject to similar taboos on oil for anointment, and on raw meat, and dogs; they must not be naked, or see their wives naked; both conduct religious ceremonies together with their wives; and both are dressed in white. They are paired with the rex and the raj, respectively — regal executives who are dressed in red. And finally, as the Flamen stand in complementary opposition to the Luperci, Dumezil finds that the Brahmin have a similar counterpart in the Gandharva. The Gandharva were a mythical brotherhood of men with horses’ heads who drank a lot of soma, and exercised the droit du seigneur with every bride. Dumezil argues that from a linguistic perspective, the words flamenbrahman, rexraj, feruatiogandharva are all cognates, and although he admits that the sound changes aren’t perfectly regular, he states that other widely accepted cognate sets are just as irregular.
In the Vedic and Avestan pantheons, Dumezil argues that the pairs of Mitra Varuna and MithraAhura Mazda are analogous to Jupiter Dius Fidius. He also argues that Vedic Manu is cognate to Latin Numa, as well as many other *man* forms across Indo-European societies. Dumezil sees some Greek parallels as well (for example, gandharva centaur) but shies away from making a comprehensive case, ironically stating that some of his earlier works had addressed this and been (unjustly?) shot down by critics.
There are also with Celtic, Germanic and Nordic analogies for these same aspects. Dumezil equates thunderous Odhinn / Wodhinaz / Othinus with Jupiter, and stately Tyr / Tiwaz / Ollerus with Dius Fidius. In these legends, Odhinn has lost one eye in return for his magical powers, and Tyr has lost his arm as a result of a deception which tricked the enemy into defeat.
Amusingly, Dumezil notes that both deities represent a priestly power to win wars without resorting to fighting a fair fight on the battlefield: Odhinn through the power of psychological intimidation and propaganda, and Tyr through deceptive use of diplomacy and legalistic trickery.
Discuss in forum!