The noted blogger Fjordman is filing this report via Gates of Vienna.
For a complete Fjordman blogography, see The Fjordman Files. There is also a multi-index listing here.
Part 1 of this series was published here.
Michael H. Hart evaluates the accomplishments of various civilizations. He claims that the contributions of the ancient Egyptians were quite meager. The Sumerians invented writing first, which the Egyptians may well have been aware of. They made no significant contributions to astronomical theory, nor to physics, chemistry, biology or geology. The Egyptian political structure was an absolute monarchy, which was not an original idea and did not influence modern thinkers. While the pyramids are certainly very visually impressive, the pyramid is strictly speaking a simple architectural structure and for the most part not a very useful one. Why are the contributions of the ancient Egyptians so overrated? Because the climate in Egypt is so dry, the architecture (and the mummies) they created survive better there than elsewhere. Their monuments are still visible. Hart is not in any way claiming that the ancient Egyptians were savages, only that their contributions are frequently overrated.
Personally, I think he slights the Egyptians somewhat. It is true that they were not very scientifically advanced, and Greek art during the Hellenic and Hellenistic periods was lifelike to an extent which Egyptian art never was, but the Greeks were inspired by Egyptian temple architecture and by their studies of the proportions of the human body. As art historian Gombrich says, “the Greek masters went to school with the Egyptians, and we are all the pupils of the Greeks.” Here is how the American writer Lawrence Auster puts it:
“Let’s remember to give the Egyptians credit for first developing the beautiful human form, which the Greeks then adopted and made more alive. Camille Paglia is mostly silly, but be sure to read the first chapter of her book Sexual Personae, where she discusses the Egyptian creation of the clear, perfect, ‘Apollonian’ form which became the basis of Western art….For the Greeks, natural form conveys the divine. So they weren’t just being ‘naturalistic,’ i.e., true to nature. They saw nature as so beautiful because they saw nature as informed by a perfect harmony. That’s where the incredible sensitiveness of the Athenian fifth century sculptures comes from. In a sense, the artists of the Athenian Golden Age were expressing in stone what Homer had expressed centuries earlier in poetry: those special moments in life when the hero ‘seemed like something more than man.’ Or like the scene in the Iliad (Book III, 156-58) where the old men on the wall of Troy see Helen approach, and say to each other: ‘Surely there is no blame on Trojans and strong-greaved Achaians, If for long time they suffer hardship for a woman like this one. Terrible is the likeness of her face to immortal goddesses.’“
In science, the ancient Greeks easily outperformed the Egyptians. Greek deductive geometry turned out to be an indispensable prelude to the advent of modern science, and apart from mathematics and astronomy they made great contributions in poetry, history, drama and mythology, produced elegant architecture such as the Parthenon in Athens as well as great sculptors and painters. The works of Plato and Aristotle are among the oldest analytical writings on political theory. If people in the twenty-first century read Aristotle’s Politics to see what it says about democracy, this is not just out of historical curiosity but because this is considered relevant today. In contrast, virtually nobody reads “Pharaonic” political theory.
Why did the ancient Greeks achieve so much? Possibly the geography of Greece made them a seafaring nation and led them to engage in exploration and trade. Yet there were many other peoples who enjoyed a similar geographic advantage, too, and the Phoenicians, while being great seafarers and traders, did not create anything near the scientific achievements of the Greeks according to historical evidence. Hart believes that while other Europeans had at least as high IQ as the Greeks, science is above all the creation of urban, literate cultures, and in this the Greeks benefited from early contact with the literate civilizations of the Middle East:
“The best explanation for the Greek phenomenon lies in a combination of genetic and geographic factors. The peoples living in the cold regions of Europe had, over a period of many millennia, evolved higher average intelligence than the peoples living in the Middle East. However, because of the mild climate in the Middle East, and the availability of a large assortment of useful domesticable plants and animals, the inhabitants of the Middle East developed agriculture long before the peoples of northern Europe. The early advent of agriculture and cities in the Middle East enabled them to make major progress during the Neolithic Era and the early historic era, and to get a big jump on the rest of the world in technology and in intellectual matters. In time, the superior genetic endowment of the Europeans would enable them to overcome that head start. However, between European groups, the one most likely to advance first was the one which had the earliest opportunity of learning from the civilizations of the Middle East and Egypt. Because of their geographic location, the Greeks were the first European people to come into contact with those civilizations.”
In Understanding Human History, Michael H. Hart also evaluates the Islamic world. He says, correctly, that non-Muslim dhimmis under Islamic rule were hardly even second-rate citizens, but rather non-citizens who lacked many basic civil rights. For example, they could not testify in court against a Muslim. He disputes whether conversion to Islam were always “voluntary,” given the various humiliations, pressures and taxes non-Muslims continuously had to face just for the sake of being non-Muslims. Regarding cultural achievements, he mentions some noteworthy scholars and figures. One is the Moroccan Berber explorer and writer Ibn Batutta (1304-1369), who traveled from West Africa via southeastern Europe and India to China in the fourteenth century and described his experiences in his book Rihlah (Travels).
Ibn Khaldun could be mentioned for his work in historiography, although he shared the contempt for all non-Muslim cultures which hampered the growth of archaeology and comparative linguistics in the Islamic world. Muslim scholars did not seriously study other cultures with curiosity and describe them with fairness, the Persian universal scholar al-Biruni’s (973-1048) writings about Hinduism and India being one of very few exceptions to this rule. He had taken the trouble to learn enough Sanskrit to be able to translate in both directions between this language and Arabic (for him also a learned language). As author John Keay writes in his book India: A History, Muslims were viewed by Indians as just another group of foreigners, perhaps annoying but essentially marginal. This was a big mistake:
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“There is no evidence of an Indian appreciation of the global threat which they represented; and the peculiar nature of their mission — to impose a new monotheist orthodoxy by military conquest and political dominion — was so alien to Indian tradition that it went uncomprehended. No doubt a certain complacency contributed to this indifference. As al-Biruni (Alberuni), the great Islamic scholar of the eleventh century, would put it, ‘the Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no science like theirs.’…his scientific celebrity in the Arab world would owe much to his mastery of Sanskrit and access to Indian scholarship….Unlike Alexander’s Greeks, Muslim invaders were well aware of India’s immensity, and mightily excited by its resources….Since at least Roman times the subcontinent seems to have enjoyed a favourable balance of payments….The devout Muslim, although ostensibly bent on converting the infidel, would find his zeal handsomely rewarded.”
Personally, I wouldn’t say that absolutely no achievements were made in the medieval Islamic world, only that they are greatly exaggerated for political reasons today. Let us divide scholars into three categories: Category 1 consists of those who make minor contributions, category 2 medium-level ones. Category 3 consists of scholars who make major, fundamental contributions to an important branch of science. Not a single scholar of this stature has ever been produced in the Islamic world even at the best of times. Finding some Muslim scholars who made minor contributions to mathematics, medicine or alchemy is not difficult, and I can probably name half a dozen to a dozen individuals who might qualify under category 2, for instance al–Khwarizmi, Omar Khayyam, Rhazes, Geber and perhaps Avicenna and Averroes.
Hart says that Alhazen was “probably the greatest” of all the scholars in the Islamic world, which I agree with, but even he was a good scholar in category 2, not 3. Muslim original contributions to engineering were minor and they do not appear to have equalled the achievements of the Romans. He notes that the mediocre contributions of Middle Easterners are all the more striking given their geographically favorable position, which gave them the unique opportunity to gain knowledge from all major Eurasian civilizations simultaneously.
According to Hart, Middle Eastern scholars made few major discoveries in mathematics and science, medicine or engineering, certainly nothing comparable to printing and gunpowder in China in the Early Middle Ages or spectacles and mechanical clocks in Western Europe during the High Middle Ages. While they did produce, for a while, a number of scholars who made minor contributions and a handful or two who made medium-level contributions, they never produced truly great geniuses such as Aristotle, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler or Newton. Hart attributes this primarily to their lower IQ compared to Europeans, although I would personally add the repressive atmosphere created by Islamic orthodoxy as a contributing factor as well. Ideas have consequences.
Michael H. Hart writes about India, by which he means the entire Indian subcontinent, which has been affected by several human migrations/invasions from the northwest. At its peak between 2500 and 2000 BC, the Indus Valley or Harappan civilization close to Sumerian Mesopotamia in the northwest was larger and more advanced than anything we know from China during the same time period. It is noteworthy that civilization originated in the far north of India, in a region that was geographically and maybe genetically more closely attached to the civilizations of the Middle East than to South India, which remained more backward than North India for a long time. Hart believes that the peculiar caste system in India originally had a racial component and dates back to the Indo-European invasion of lighter-skinned peoples from the north and northwest. The only large empires ruled by native Indians were the Mauryan and Gupta empires, and these endured for a combined total of less than 400 years.
Hart devotes considerable space to arts and literature. The Rigveda is a collection of hymns composed between 1500 and 1200 BC; the Upanishads from around 900-500 BC are prose commentaries on the Vedas. The two most famous works of epic poetry are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. India has produced a great deal of lyric poetry and theater has been a major art form there, as it was in ancient Greece, for many centuries; Kalidasa from the fifth century AD has a position within Sanskrit literature comparable to that of Shakespeare in English literature. India has a long tradition of sophisticated music and musical theory, painting and above all sculpture, but Indian music and literature is not widely followed elsewhere in the world, at least outside of Southeast Asia. India was strong in the arts but weaker in science and technology, with the partial exception of mathematics.
Buddhism was a local religion until about 250 BC when the Emperor Ashoka (304-232 BC) converted and promoted the spread of this religion in India and far beyond. Buddhism was of limited importance in a global perspective, but it had a great influence in Asia and easily trumped any ideologies developed in China. Chinese philosophies such as Confucianism and Taoism had some impact among China’s immediate neighbors, the Koreans, the Japanese and the Vietnamese, but little in other regions. The Chinese will no doubt say that this is because they do not impose their ways on others, but given China’s size and the fact that it was for centuries the world’s largest economy, the Chinese ideological impact abroad must be described as surprisingly limited. According to Thomas T. Allsen in Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia, “Almost all of the major religious movements originating in the Middle East — Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Manichaeanism, and Islam — reached China, while Chinese ideological systems made no inroads in the West. This intriguing and persistent pattern, which has never been explained, was apparently established quite early.”
As Michael H. Hart sums up, “no other non-European civilization has produced nearly the variety of high-quality literature, music, and art that India has. The mathematical knowledge of the ancient Greeks was eventually transmitted to India. However, the only important advance made by Hindu mathematicians was the invention of positional notation, which greatly simplifies arithmetic operations. Positional notation was probably invented about 700 AD; however, the first complete description is by Bhaskara, about 1150 AD. Prior to the modern era, Indians do not appear to have made significant contributions to science; nor did any important inventions come from India. The Indian subcontinent produced a thriving civilization, and in pre-modern times its culture was incomparably more sophisticated than that of backward regions such as Australia or sub-Saharan Africa.”
Let us consider the case of China. The Chinese were convinced of their superiority to all other nations and kept careful historical records. The most celebrated Chinese historian of ancient times was the palace eunuch Sima Qian (ca. 145-86 BC) during the Han Dynasty, who had an enormous influence on later Chinese historiography and on how the Chinese view their own civilization. His great work Records of the Grand Historian “is generally considered to be superior to anything written by European historians before modern times,” according to Hart.
As Bruce G. Trigger states in his fine A History of Archaeological Thought, second edition, Confucian Imperial scholars in China stressed the past as a guide to moral behavior and made historical studies an important component of the unifying Chinese culture. Bronze vessels and jade carvings from the ancient Shang Dynasty were treasured as prestige objects the way ancient vases or statues were viewed in the Classical Mediterranean. Yet the Chinese did not develop a specific corpus of techniques for recovering and studying such artifacts comparable to European archaeology. Even the Greeks and Romans did not do this; they could collect ancient works of art, but they did not develop a systematic science dedicated to the study of physical remains from the past. According to Trigger,
“Wealthy Romans admired the works of talented Greek artists and sought to purchase the originals or good copies of them. This interest inspired the Roman author Pliny the Elder’s (AD 23-79) historical account of Greek art and artists. Yet, despite a growing interest in ancient works of art, scholars made no effort to recover or collect such artifacts systematically, nor, with the notable exception of a few works, such as that of Pliny on art, did artifacts become a specialized focus of analysis….Educated Greeks and Romans were aware that the culture of the remote past was different from that of the present and valued the fine art works from earlier times as collectibles. Yet, they did not develop a sense that these objects could be used as a basis for learning more about the past, as written records and oral traditions were being used.”
There was a general gap between theory and practice in Greek science and a strong dislike among intellectuals for studying mundane objects. Archaeology was created in early modern Europe, beginning with the growth of antiquarians from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. The influential German antiquary Johann Winckelmann (1717-1768) carefully studied Greco-Roman art and is sometimes called “the first archaeologist.” However, while his comparative work represented a great step forward in the systematic study of the past, he was not interested in the everyday life of the ancients and studied objects removed from their archaeological context. “Hence, in many ways, the claim that he was the founder of art history may be even more appropriate than the claim that he was the father of classical archaeology. Winckelmann clearly was responsible for establishing a close and lasting relation between classical studies and what was to become the separate discipline of art history.”
The eighteenth century witnessed more systematic archaeological excavations, especially at the buried Roman sites of Herculaneum and Pompeii near Naples, Italy, but prehistoric archaeology was born with the scholar Christian Jürgensen Thomsen(1788-1865) from Denmark in the early 1800s. Although he was inspired by earlier ideas and Enlightenment ideals, it was Thomsen who developed the highly influential Three Age system (Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age). During the Napoleonic Wars the Danish fleet had been destroyed by the British, so Danes needed national consolation and reassurance in their past. His importance is often underrated in historical accounts, but “Thomson’s work constituted the chronological breakthrough that set the study of prehistory on a scientific basis. His work was as fundamental for the development of prehistoric archaeology as were the major theoretical discoveries in historical geography and biology during the nineteenth century.”
Compared with the West the Chinese were a conspicuously practical people who had relatively little interest in pure mathematics or theology and no European-style religious wars. They made many useful practical inventions, from papermaking, block printing, the magnetic compass, cast iron, porcelain, wheelbarrows and canal lock gates to the use of coal as fuel.
As writing material, bamboo was cumbersome and silk was expensive. With the invention of paper, China had a better and cheaper writing material than anything used anywhere else in the world, although a certain type of bark paper books were made by the Maya and others in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Hart believes that the introduction of paper partly explains why China was so dynamic in the period which corresponds to the Early Middle Ages in Europe. In contrast, the famous Great Wall of China is somewhat overrated. Author Julia Lovell explains in the book The Great Wall: China Against the World, 1000 BC — AD 2000:
“Wall-building was in general an unpopular choice because it was associated with defeat and political collapse, with short-lived imperial houses such as the brutal Qin (221-206 BC) — the first regime to erect a more or less continuous barrier across northern China — or the Sui (581-618). And the Great Wall simply hasn’t worked that well as a barrier to protect China from marauding barbarians. Ever since walls were first built across Chinese frontiers, they have provided no more than a temporary advantage over determined raiders and pillagers. When Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes conquered China in the thirteenth century AD, frontier walls proved little obstacle. The Great Wall offered no protection to the greatest wall-builders of all, the Ming dynasty, from their most threatening adversaries, the Manchus of the north-east, who ruled China as the Qing dynasty from 1644. Invaders could make detours around strong defences until they found weaknesses and gaps or, less effortfully, simply bribe Chinese officials to open the Great Wall forts. When the Manchus decided to make their final move on Beijing in 1644, they were let through a Great Wall pass by a disaffected Chinese general.”
The Great Wall could be compared to the Maginot Line, the elaborate system of concrete bunkers, tunnels and machine gun posts which France had constructed along its eastern borders following World War I. These expensive fortifications provided little effective defense for the French as the Germans during WW2 circumvented it and invaded France, anyway. When the Chinese built their Great Wall they spent a very large amount of financial and human resources on something that was, in the end, not very effective. When the Chinese invented paper and printed paper books they changed the course of human history. Sometimes the most visually spectacular creation is not necessarily the most historically important one.
An impressive feat of Chinese engineering which actually worked as intended was the Grand Canal, which has later been extended and now stretches from Beijing to the city of Hangzhou, roughly 1,770 km. The Japanese Buddhist pilgrim and writer Ennin (ca. 794-864), who is better known in Japan as Jikaku Daishi, was one of the many visitors who were impressed by the sheer size of the Grand Canal. Nevertheless, in architecture “The Chinese were relatively late in making use of the arch and the dome; and although they did build many attractive homes and other buildings, they did not construct anything that rivals the Parthenon in Athens, Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, or the magnificent cathedrals of medieval Europe.”
In sharp contrast to the impressive list of great practical inventions was the relative sparseness of major Chinese achievements in science and mathematics. They suffered from a general lack of interest in theory in the sciences. For instance, the Chinese were diligent in keeping astronomical records, but they never created any elaborate theoretical structure and never deduced that the Earth was round. Their failure to do so made significant progress in astronomy difficult. In 1600 AD, Chinese astronomy was at least 2000 years behind the West. The Chinese made no major contributions to physics, chemistry or geology, either.
During politically strong periods China expanded into neighboring territories in the immediate south and west, especially Xinjiang and Central Asia as well as Vietnam. There were some exceptions, mainly related to the introduction of Buddhism when some scholars went to India, but in general the Chinese showed little interest in exploration beyond this. There were the famous naval expeditions in the Indian Ocean during the Ming Dynasty in the early fifteenth century AD led by men such as the admiral Zheng He (1371-1433), which reached as far as the east coast of Africa. Yet the whole reason why these expeditions have generated so much attention is precisely because they constituted a rare event. The project happened comparatively late and was eventually discontinued. Claims that the Chinese reached the Americas before Christopher Columbus in 1492 are not convincing. If anything, they would have brought Eurasian crowd diseases, which means that many of the Native American peoples would in that case have died from smallpox even before the first Europeans got there.
The Chinese produced many beautiful landscape paintings, great calligraphy and a very extensive literature in philosophy, poetry, fiction and history. Relatively few of these works are widely read by non-Chinese today, one of them being the Tao Te Ching (“The Classic of the Way and its Power”) ascribed to Lao Tzu or Laozi, considered to be the founder of Taoism, some Confucian classics and above all The Art of War by Sun Tzu, by universal acclaim the greatest treatise on the psychology of warfare ever written in any language.
No practical inventions of comparable importance to paper, printing or gunpowder were ever made in the Islamic world. Moreover, virtually all of the admirable features of this civilization were created by the Chinese themselves, whereas Muslims relied heavily on knowledge generated by others, the ancient Greeks, Byzantines, Persians, Hindus and Chinese. Michael H. Hart rates Chinese civilization as the only one that rivals European civilization:
“The Chinese — virtually unaided by outsiders — created a complex and complete civilization, with a smoothly functioning government, and multitudinous achievements in technology, construction, literature, the arts, and philosophy. They had a wide variety of skilled craftsmen; they maintained large, powerful armies; and they created a school system, a network of roads, an elaborate (and delicious) cuisine, and all the other attributes of a sophisticated civilization. In general, the Chinese enjoyed more internal unity than Europe. Europe has usually consisted of many independent states, often fighting one another. In contrast, China has usually been politically unified. Between 600 and 1300 AD, China was clearly more prosperous than the West. Because of this, it has often been asserted that (until the rise of modern science in the last five centuries) China was usually more advanced than the West. However, that assertion is incorrect. In the first place, even during that period, China was far behind the West in mathematics and science. In the second place, the interval 600-1300 AD was atypical. For most of recorded history — and for most of the last ten thousand years — China has been well behind the Western world in both technology and the arts.”
But still there were no Chinese equivalents to Copernicus, Newton, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Columbus or Magellan. In the ancient world, there were none to Pythagoras, Archimedes, Euclid, Hipparchus or Ptolemy, either.
During the unusually dynamic Song Dynasty (960-1279) they issued the first banknotes (paper money) and recorded the first known use of gunpowder and the magnetic compass. According to Arnold Pacey in Technology in World Civilization, “In 1100, China was undoubtedly the most technically ‘advanced’ region in the world, particularly with regard to the use of coke in iron smelting, canal transport and farm implements. Bridge design and textile machinery had also been developing rapidly. In all these fields, there were techniques in use in eleventh-century China which had no parallel in Europe until around 1700.”
However, the painful practice of footbinding, which lasted well into the twentieth century and affected countless Chinese women, began during the Song Dynasty and spread rapidly from the tenth or eleventh centuries onward. Confucian scholars found nothing objectionable about this. J. M. Roberts’ The New Penguin History of the World is somewhat dismissive of the negative impact of Islamic Jihad but is still worth reading. As Roberts indicates, the history of women is often obscured by the bias of the documentation, but in China especially so:
“We hear little of them, even in literature, except in sad little poems and love stories. Yet presumably they must have made up about half of the population, or perhaps slightly less, for in hard times girl babies were exposed by poor families to die. That fact, perhaps, characterizes women’s place in China until very recent times even better than the more familiar and superficially striking practice of foot-binding, which produced grotesque deformations and could leave a high-born lady almost incapable of walking. Another China still all but excluded from the historical evidence by the nature of the established tradition was that of the peasants. They become shadowly visible only as numbers in the census returns and as eruptions of revolt; after the Han pottery figures, there is little in Chinese art to reveal them, and certainly nothing to match the uninterrupted (and often idealized) recording of the life of the common man in the fields, which runs from medieval European illumination, through the vernacular literature to the Romantics, and into the peasant subjects of the early Impressionists.”
All this does not mean that the rest of Asia was technologically primitive, but China’s role was disproportionate. What came from China to the West? Professor Derk Bodde lists a number of ideas and innovations from porcelain, tea, paper and gunpowder to dominoes, playing cards and the shadow play. Lacquer, like silk, is one of the products longest known in China. It comes from the sap of a tree which is native to China and is used to paint decorative designs on wooden boxes and other objects. European agricultural production was greatly improved after the arrival agricultural tools such as the moldboard plow. The Dutch and other Europeans saw that the Chinese plough did not suit their type of soil, but Chinese and Asian prototypes stimulated them to produce new designs, rockets and winnowing machines.
Even though you can find a number of practical innovations that came to the West from China, very few theoretical scientific ideas came from East Asia. Moreover, it would be fair to say that by now China owes much more science and technology to the West than vice versa. Arnold Pacey admits that “…the most significant developments in Asia were the technical books published in Japan during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a handful of Chinese scientific works, and very occasional episodes in India such as the use of models in the design of the Taj Mahal in the 1630s, and the systematic use of scale drawings by some shipbuilders by the end of the eighteenth century. But such examples are few and isolated. The great preponderance of new technological potential generated by increased ability to conceptualize technical problems was accruing in the West.”
Geographic factors contributed to the early cultural and political unification of China, which was difficult in the more rugged terrain of Europe. As Jared Diamond states in Guns, Germs, and Steel, the “Sinifaction” of East Asia “involved the drastic homogenization of a huge region” and the repopulation of tropical Southeast Asia by people of Chinese origins:
“Some developments spread from south to north in China, especially iron smelting and rice cultivation. But the predominant direction of spread was from north to south. That trend is clearest for writing…All three of China’s first three dynasties, the Xia and Shang and Zhou Dynasties, arose in North China in the second millennium B.C. Preserved writings of the first millennium B.C. show that ethnic Chinese already tended then (as many still do today) to feel culturally superior to non-Chinese ‘barbarians,’ while North Chinese tended to regard even South Chinese as barbarians.”
Although Southeast Asia was originally populated by dark-skinned peoples comparable to some New Guinean groups, only a few New Guinean-like populations remain in this region today, among them the Negritos living in mountainous areas of the Philippines. The rest have been more or less completely eradicated. As Diamond writes, “The historical southward expansions of Burmese, Laotians, and Thais from South China completed the Sinification of tropical Southeast Asia. All those modern peoples are recent offshoots of their South Chinese cousins. So overwhelming was this Chinese steamroller that the former peoples of tropical Southeast Asia have left behind few traces in the region’s modern populations.”
Regarding the Indo-European expansion, Michael H. Hart supports the hypothesis championed by scholars like the archeologist Marija Gimbutas (1921-1994), born in Vilnius, Lithuania and later based in the USA, in believing that the original PIE homeland was in the region of southern Ukraine and Russia north of the Black Sea. Gimbutas identified the early speakers of PIE with the so-called Kurgan people who lived there after 4000 BC. These people got their name from the low mounds, kurgans, where they often buried their dead. Speakers of an early Indo-European branch which would evolve into Greek probably entered Greece from the north between 2200-2000 BC, when we can find traces indicating a disruptive intrusion in the archaeological record. The ancient Greeks themselves referred to an earlier people (the Pelasgians) who had lived in Greece before them, although he exact nature of these people and their culture is still a matter of contention. How can we explain the spread of the Indo-European languages into so many different regions and forms of terrain?
“The simplest explanation is that the original speakers of PIE possessed, on average, considerably higher intelligence than most of the peoples they defeated (including the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Carthaginians, Phoenicians, Pelasgians, Tartessians, Iberians, Etruscans, Berbers, and Dravidian-speaking peoples), all of whom had evolved in milder climates than had the ancestors of the Indo-Europeans. This hypothesis has the added advantage of also applying to the modern expansion of the Indo-Europeans, and it also explains their remarkable intellectual achievements. No other hypothesis comes close to explaining all of these phenomena.”
While the basic premise could be correct, I personally find this a little simplistic since the Indo-European languages also displaced the native tongues of the northern peoples, who presumably had at least as high IQ as the Ukrainians. The only surviving pre-IE language on the entire European continent is believed to be Basque. The Basque people inhabit the Pyrenees in northern Spain and southwestern France. Their tongue has no known relatives and contains words for axe and other tools which carry the root meaning “stone.” It is perhaps a direct descendant of the languages spoken in some regions of Europe during the Stone Age. Does this mean that the Basque had uniquely high IQs since their language alone survived?
In this age of DNA analysis, some earlier findings of comparative linguistics can be confirmed through genetics. In 2008, Fox News reported that a Cornell University-led study found that white (European) Americans are genetically weaker and less diverse than their black compatriots. This follows the first rule of Political Correctness, which says that there are no significant genetic differences between different groups of people, and if there are, whites must always be inferior. I’m glad our weak genes didn’t prevent Europeans from producing individuals such as Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Beethoven and Pasteur.
The study showed that genetic diversity was greatest among Africans and smallest among Native Americans. This is consistent with the fact that North and South America were the last major landmasses to be settled by humans. The study also showed that the Basques are not closely related genetically to anyone else. Judged by a combination of linguistic and genetic evidence, the Basque people have a strong claim to being the oldest distinct nation in Europe.
Throughout history, most of the instances where people from one region have conquered another have involved “northerners” invading more southerly lands. China has never been conquered by the populous nations south of it but has been repeatedly attacked from the north. On two occasions — the Mongols and the Manchus — northern invaders conquered all of China. Within China itself, it was the northerners who first created a unified country by conquering southern China. India, despite its large population, has never invaded the lands north of it, but has itself been repeatedly invaded from the north and northwest. The three Indian dynasties which came closest to ruling the entire subcontinent (the Mauryas, the Guptas and the Mughals) all originated in the north. According to Hart, “The obvious — and, I believe, the correct — explanation for the military superiority of the northerly peoples is the higher average intelligence of those peoples compared with the inhabitants of more tropical regions.”
Michael H. Hart admits that the Muslim conquests constitute a major counter-example to this general rule. It is true that Muslims never managed to establish lasting control over Europe, as they did in North Africa and the Middle East, but the impact of Islamic Jihad over many centuries on the nations of southern Europe was far from marginal. Regarding the Mongols, as soon as they left the dry and colder region of the mountains, both warriors and horses weakened and grew sick. They failed to adapt their successful strategies based on horses to the sea, and never conquered most of India and Southeast Asia. Their conquest of Iran and Iraq but defeat by the Egyptian Mamluks in 1260 cannot be attributed to differences in IQ.
Some would say that the mass immigration of many low-IQ peoples to white majority Western nations at the turn of the twenty-first century is another major counter-example, but this development constitutes such an anomaly in world history that it must be treated as a special case. Western nations have not been military defeated. These immigrants/colonists would not have been able to settle in these countries if they couldn’t exploit the deranged altruism and political-ideological flaws of the modern West, and they have always received substantial aid from high-IQ groups within the West itself, among them white Marxists.
Scandinavian (Norse) Vikings dominated much of northern Europe from the late eighth century on, trading as well as plundering. At home they were free farmers. The Viking Age ended in the eleventh century AD when they faced stronger states abroad and Christianization at home, at which point Scandinavia became integrated into the Christian civilization of Europe. From Sweden they often went down the rivers in Eastern Europe to the Black Sea and Kiev and founded what would later become the Russian state. Norwegians went to Scotland, Ireland and the North Atlantic. Dublin was the richest of the Norse colonies in Ireland.
The Viking impact was especially strong in the British Isles, destructive but also transformative. From Denmark they raided and settled in Normandy and Brittany. The northeastern and central parts of England where the Vikings settled became known as the Danelaw because Danish laws and customs, not English, prevailed there. Scholars argue that some legal institutions such as the ancestor of the modern grand jury may have originated in the Danelaw. Danegeld was an English tax levied to buy off the Danish invaders. The Danish King Canute the Great (ca. 990-1035) ruled much of England in the early eleventh century.
Charles “the Simple” III (879-929) of France in 911 signed a treaty with the Viking leader Rollo for what would become Normandy (French: Normandie) along the English Channel coast of northern France. The Vikings (“Northmen”) were given this territory in the hope that they would fend off future Viking raids against France. Their descendants of mixed French and Norse origins, the Normans, would successfully conquer England in 1066.
The causes of the Viking expansion are still not known, but their ships were certainly a critical factor in this story. They were perhaps the fastest craft in the world at that time. Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea was originally one of the most remote regions of Europe, far removed from the Mediterranean-dominated Roman civilization. Rock carvings from before 1500 BC demonstrate that boat-building was known in the region at least at this time, but there is no depiction of a mast or sail. Oared vessels are depicted quite early in the Nordic countries, but the first depictions of sailing vessels come from the Swedish island of Gotland as late as around AD 600. Soon after this they developed remarkably fast and manoeuvrable sailed-and-rowed ships that could also be used on rivers, allowed them to carry out trade as well as raids and to get away without being overtaken to the slower ships of the locals.
The great rivers that criss-cross the European Peninsula provided a network of routes linking the ocean interfaces together. Not all rivers were easily navigable, but with some effort it was possible to haul even large vessels overland between navigable waterways and around rapids. The Vikings were not the first Europeans to do this; the ancient Greek geographer Strabo mentioned it centuries earlier. Nevertheless, their uniquely mobile longships have become the symbol of the Viking Age. Else Roesdahl explains in the book The Vikings: Revised Edition:
“A reliable description of the main type used in Scandinavia, and some insight into its specialization, can be given on the basis of the many ships and fragments discovered. This main type has also been found in England and in the Slav regions south of the Baltic, with local modifications. It was probably introduced in both places as the result of Scandinavian influence. The ships which William the Conqueror, a Viking descendant, had built for his invasion of England in 1066 were of the same type. The finds also tell us that within Scandinavia ships varied according to local natural conditions, and there is evidence that they developed technically during the Viking Age. Sails seem to have been introduced during the centuries preceding the Viking Age, although sailing ships had then been used in Western Europe for many hundreds of years. In Scandinavia sailing ships rapidly attained a level of sophistication that was outstanding for their time. Without sails, the Vikings’ far-flung exploits would have been impossible. Many of the ships are now dated by dendrochronology. The best-preserved and the most famous Viking ships are the magnificent Norwegian burial ships from Oseberg and Gokstad in Vestfold.”
Dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) shows that the well-preserved Oseberg ship was buried in AD 834. The Gokstad ship was found beneath a burial mound at a farm in Vestfold and excavated in 1880. It is 24 meters long, 5 meters wide and very seaworthy. Both ships can be seen on display in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway. Tønsberg in Vestfold County was probably founded in the 800s and is one of the oldest still-existing towns in Scandinavia. The trading center Hedeby in southern Denmark flourished from the eighth to the eleventh centuries. Birka west of present-day Stockholm in Sweden was linked via the Baltic and the rivers of Eastern Europe to the Black Sea, the Byzantine Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate. The Norse referred to impressive Constantinople as Miklagard (“the Great City”).
After making long journeys where they had to fight off enemies at every point, it is not surprising that Scandinavians at this time earned a reputation as fierce, determined warriors. As Timothy Gregory says in A History of Byzantium, the Byzantine Empire suffered from a decline in its conscript army. Because of this, “the state had to rely more and more on foreign mercenaries, at first Varangians from Russia but increasingly Normans from Sicily and France, Anglo-Saxons from England, and others. The most famous of these was the Varangian Duzina, attested from 1034 onward, which enrolled Vikings from Russia and eventually Anglo-Saxons. This elite guard, whose members had distinct arms and uniforms, had its quarters in Constantinople but also took part in field campaigns.”
The Varangian Guard, who were recognized for the massive battle-axes that they wielded as well as for their drunkenness, defended Constantinople during the shameful Fourth Crusade in 1204. One of their prominent members was the future king Harald Hardråde (1015-1066), “Hard-ruler,” whose story was told by Icelandic poet and historian Snorri Sturluson (1178-1241) in the Heimskringla. Harald participated in a number of battles against Muslims and returned to Norway with great wealth. He wasn’t the only one to do so. Many Byzantine gold coins and Islamic silver coins have been found in Scandinavia. He is most remembered for his invasion of England with several hundred longships. Hardråde was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in England in 1066. The victor Harold Godwinson (ca. 1022-1066) was himself defeated by William the Conqueror (ca. 1027-1087) and his Normans at the Battle of Hastings the same year. This story has been immortalized in the beautiful Bayeux Tapestry.
The Norse explorer Leif Eriksson, or Ericson (ca. 975-ca.1020), son of the Norwegian outlaw Erik the Red who had founded two Norse colonies on Greenland, was probably the first European to land in North America. Research done in the 1950s and 1960s by the Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad (1899-2001) and his archaeologist wife Anne Stine Ingstad (1918-1997) identified a medieval Norse settlement located at Newfoundland in eastern Canada.
As author Barry Cunliffe states in Europe Between the Oceans, “The Scandinavian diaspora of the eighth to tenth centuries was a remarkable phenomenon, quite unprecedented in its magnitude. At the moment that Swedish Vikings were crossing the Caspian Sea on their way to trade in Baghdad, Norwegians were sailing down the coast of Labrador looking for suitable land to settle in America. The Scandinavians were the first Europeans to have sailed in all of Europe’s seas.”
The only pre-modern oceanic exploration that can match the Viking expansion is the Polynesian expansion of peoples speaking Austronesian languages. The origin of the Austronesian language family is believed to be in Taiwan just off the southeastern coast of China before 3000 BC. It spread in stages from Southeast Asia and throughout the scattered islands of the Pacific Ocean. As Jared Diamond writes in Collapse, “The prehistoric Polynesian expansion was the most dramatic burst of overwater exploration in human prehistory….By around A.D. 1200, Polynesians had reached every habitable scrap of land in the vast watery triangle of ocean whose apexes are Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island….both the discoveries and the settlements were meticulously planned.”
This exploration was challenging and must have required a certain minimum IQ to develop canoes capable of surviving such long sea voyages. Native Australians lived close to the Pacific Ocean for tens of thousand of years, but as far as we currently know they had never undertaken anything similar to these Polynesian voyages, not even to nearby New Zealand.
In an extreme case of the experimental method where he put his own life on the line to prove the viability of his theories, the Norwegian explorer and author Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002) with his Kon-Tiki balsa raft in a 1947 expedition crossed much of the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands. He believed that these islands had been settled from South America. However, linguistic as well as genetic evidence strongly indicates that the peoples inhabiting the Pacific islands are of Southeast Asian origin. What Heyerdahl did prove with this and later voyages was that transoceanic contacts between distant cultures was possible at least in theory with what we would today consider relatively simple watercraft.
The most impressive aspect of the Viking expansion is how Scandinavians managed to create some of the fastest ships in the world only a few generations after they had first become familiar with the concept of sails. This extremely quick innovative response is not unprecedented. As Diamond mentions, firearms reached Japan in 1543 when two Portuguese adventurers armed with harquebuses (primitive guns) arrived on a Chinese cargo ship. The Japanese quickly commenced indigenous gun production and by AD 1600 “owned more and better guns than any other country in the world.” This met with resistance from their numerous and powerful warrior class, the samurai, for whom swords rated as class symbols, but the response was nevertheless impressive. Was this extremely fast rate of innovation, which has been matched in Japan in more recent times in electronics, a product of the high Japanese IQ? Jared Diamond does not ask this question, but I believe it is a relevant one.