Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Civilisation Judas - Rent and Mortgage

Civilisation Judas - Chapter 7 - Rent and Mortgage

The last chapter was concerned with slavery, and we ended by discussing its abolition - which in turn helped lead to its near total demise in today's modern world. Consequently it's something we tend to see as existing largely in the past, with just a few pockets of it remaining in "backwards" cultures, and in a few dark, criminal parts of society. However, this view has left us with a bit of a misconception about what slavery is and where it comes from. So it's maybe worth having a little look at this.

We tend to think of slavery these days in a very basic, binary way.

People who get paid for their employment are free. People who don't get paid for their employment are slaves.

We generally see it as about being paid or not paid for work. Now, of course, being paid a wage for work is a huge step up from being in actual shackles, but it's still, nevertheless a bit of a false dichotomy. Which only really gives us part of the picture.

To understand this larger picture we need to look at how slavery arrived in the Americas. For the example to work we'll have to assume that the accepted history of the discovery of the Americas is correct. We'll also have to take a somewhat romanticised view of life in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus and his various old worldy counterparts. So I'm taking a bit of a liberty in setting the scene to get my story across, but the importance is more in the idea than in the factual history in this chapter.

Anyway, when Europeans arrived in the Americas they brought "civilisation" with them. A "civilisation" we'll be discussing more in the next chapter, but which for now we don't have to worry about too much. The general "civilised European/savage native" motif will suffice to paint the picture.

Now when Europeans arrived with this civilisation they imposed it on the newly discovered continent in two ways. Firstly, by actually building it there - i.e. by settling and living and building towns, etc. Then secondly, by foisting its economic systems upon the people already living there.

So, when Europeans began attempting to make their fortunes, be it by mining gold and silver, or by farming exotic crops, they needed people to work on these plantations and down these mines. However, the natives didn't want to do this - and it wasn't because they weren't being offered pay. It was because they didn't want to work at all. They didn't need to work no matter what the pay was. They had no need for it, and the primary reason they had no need was because they simply didn't need to pay rent or mortgage.

It's hard for us to imagine this from our current perspective - we think it's perfectly natural to pay rent or mortgage every week or month simply for the luxury of having somewhere to go to bed at night. However, this wasn't the case for people living "outside of civilisation". They lived where they lived, not unlike a squirrel in a tree, without the worry of having to pay another human being just to have somewhere to be. Paying just to have somewhere to exist. To breathe in and out. All these people really needed to worry about was finding food and water. Apart from that they just had to maintain their "rent-free" homes - be they temporary, movable shelters or fixed settlements.

So given their state of life why would they want to choose to spend hours everyday down a mine pit, or on someone else's plantation? Even if they were being paid handsomely for it? Unlike us they didn't have rent or bills to pay. So what exactly would they have been working for?

For most people today their biggest bill is their rent or their mortgage. It can consume more than half a person's entire wage. So people are largely working just to have somewhere to exist - in the evenings and at night-time when they're not working. It's like spending a lifetime in a hotel room. We just accept that this is normal because we have no other experience or concept of living, but to someone from outside our civilisation it wouldn't look like such a great deal.

So this is why slavery began in the Americas. Not because the slave owners didn't want to pay the natives a fair days pay, but because the natives didn't want to work for these people full stop. Consequently, these newly arrived European speculators had to literally hunt down natives and force them at gun or knife point into working. The term "headhunting", commonly used in business parlance carries echoes of this idea. It was also why countless slaves had to be imported from the African continent to do this work.

So in a way it's our need to pay rent or mortgage that forces us to work - or at least work as much as we do. In fact, it's said that even today tribes in the Amazon only spend a few hours a day working to gather and hunt for their food, and do their various other tasks. Whereas in the civilised world it's often 8, 9, 10 hour days - and that's excluding all the other work we're not paid for. Such as doing the shopping, or the laundry and all the other little things.

Earlier we noted how the word mortgage translates as "death pledge" (mort meaning dead, as in post-mortem, and gage meaning pledge), and we looked at some of the links between debt and slavery. Having to pay another human being for the privilege of having somewhere to exist seems not entirely dissimilar to slavery in many ways. Again, it's a huge step up from actually being owned by another person, and I certainly wouldn't want to swap places with any of the countless desperate victims of slavery we've mentioned previously. However, I think I'd be pretty tempted to swap with the "backwards" natives in their rent-free wilderness.



In this chapter I mentioned living rent or mortgage free and likened it to a squirrel living naturally in a tree. If we take this example further it can be especially enlightening in relation to how humans in our civilised state currently live.

I give the fable of the Squirrel-King.

If we imagine that there's a squirrel king or landlord, who owns all the trees in a particular area, and requires rent from all the other squirrels for the luxury of being in the said trees. We can then imagine the mindset of a particular squirrel living under that system.

Normally this squirrel would only have to worry about collecting enough acorns to feed himself, and maybe a few more to hide away for winter. He'd be completely at his own leisure. With only his own hunger to satiate. However, let's say he also had to pay this squirrel king or landlord a certain number of acorns every day just to be up in the trees in the first place. Let's say for the sake of argument that this amount is five acorns a day. All of a sudden he'd be in a position where he would have to find five acorns everyday before he even begins to think about his own needs.

Now imagine the extra work and stress this would cause. Imagine the constant state of anxiety this squirrel would be in. Knowing he needs to find five acorns everyday just to have somewhere to exist and to be, before he can even consider his own happiness and desires. If he falls behind the acorn debt then mounting up even more. Maybe he only managed to give the landlord two acorns yesterday, so now he needs to find an extra three today just to make parity.

This is the state humans live in. This is why we live in a constant state of anxiety, as we're constantly having to work for our right to be somewhere. In stark comparison to all the other animals living timelessly and at one with nature. This is why we can't just live in the moment. We're constantly worrying about finding the money to pay the rent (or mortgage) just to be in the tree, or in nature, in the first place.

Again, as per the chapter in general, we just seem to accept this as natural, because we know no other experience. We therefore don't even correctly recognise it as a problem, nor seek any solution to the situation. In fact, we're trapped in a political false dichotomy. With people on "the left" tending to think that the solution to housing lies in state ownership - which generally means people paying rent to live in state owned housing. And with people on "the right" recognising the great value that comes from people owning their own home, but with such an obsession over high house prices and this idea that someone must earn their home, that the prospect lies truly out of reach for most people. Or perhaps in reach, but only through decades of mortgage payments which are little different to payments of rent.

Really we should be trying to create a system where buying your first home is as easy and as cheap as buying your first car. This is something that no doubt sounds a little radical to anyone reading it ..but again, that's only because it's so removed from the experience we were all born into.

Finally, there's one more thing worth noting. When it comes to wealth, the two major expressions of it are the ownership of land/property, and also the power to coin or lend money. Interestingly, this neatly coincides with the ideas discussed in the first chapter. As the landed aristocracy tend to derive their power from owning land. Whereas in the city, or amongst the "city aristocracy" as I would put it, power tends to derive more from banking and finance. This is something that can be witnessed in today's world quite readily. With the most powerful people in society tending to derive their wealth through either land/property ownership, or through banking. In essence, through rent or mortgage.

Further chapters can be found here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Civilisation Judas - Slavery Central

Civilisation Judas - Chapter 6 - Slavery Central

The economic shift spoken of in the last chapter brings me to another neat little detour on our journey. Something that is perhaps purely coincidental, but something nevertheless worthy of pointing out. Namely that the map of the economic heartland of the world, pre the Portuguese kibosh, is pretty much identical to the map of the Islamic world at its height.

(The Islamic Empire, mirroring the world economic
heartland prior to the Age of Discovery) [1]

The Islamic Empire covered much of the Mediterranean coastline, including what is now Spain and Portugal. It included all of North Africa, large parts of Eastern Africa, the whole of the Middle East, and stretched right the way through to as far east as India and China. It even included many of the much prized (and later much fought over) islands of Indonesia. In short, wherever valuable trade was to be had, Islam was to be found - and its centre was found at the very heart of that great network of trade, namely the Middle East.

This similarity of the two maps is quite a curious concurrence, and something I wasn't expecting to find when I first started thinking about the world before and after the Age of Discovery. It now leads me to speculate that perhaps the Islamic Empire was more a project in controlling trade than an empire driven by religious ebullience. Was Islam used, or conceivably even created, to facilitate the control of this important locus of world trade? Alternately, could the religion have even "evolved" over time to meet the needs of the various rulers and groups holding sway in the region?

One thing worth noting is that Islam seems a very useful tool in regard keeping social order. Likewise it seems especially good in regard managing a soldier class. The prohibition of alcohol in particular would obviously be very useful when it comes to keeping order amongst soldiers. What with drunkenness making it difficult to maintain discipline. The prospect of multiple wives is also something that would perhaps be a boon to the managing of young military men or warriors. If you attack and defeat the enemy you can take your pick of the women ..even if you already have one ..or two ..or whatever the case may be. [2]

This freedom to have multiple wives is something that would also be appealing to the ruling elites themselves of course. It would no doubt be quite useful in winning over other rich traders or leaders to the faith too. Who with the money and/or power to openly have an entire harem of women would not at least be tempted?

The strictness of Islamic Law is another thing which would potentially be useful in establishing top down control over society. Strict punishments, such as amputating the hands of thieves for example would no doubt help keep the population firmly in line. [3] Likewise laws decreeing strict punishments for adultery and other such behaviour would also keep the social parameters strictly defined. [4] As a system of social control it's hard not to imagine some kind of middle eastern, trade-based New World Order. Which in turn leads me nicely, or perhaps unnicely, to one very noticeable function of this Middle Eastern trading empire - namely the trade in people.

The slavery within this Islamic world was by all accounts pretty brutal. The types of slave used can be set into three categories if we look at things in a very general way. Slave soldiers, female sex slaves and household slaves. The Mamluk slave soldiers common to the Islamic world (mamluk meaning owned or property) were often drawn from Eastern Europe. It's speculated that this is where we get the term Slav from - i.e. slave. They were often taken from their families as children and raised with this specific purpose in mind.

The household slaves were treated even more brutally. Generally drawn from the African continent, they were usually castrated in transit. The process of which often resulted in death. The purpose and benefits of castration are fairly obvious. At least for the slave holder, if not the slave. The removal of the genitals meant that male slaves could be kept in-house without the danger that they would liaise with the females. It also meant that they wouldn't be able to produce offspring, meaning a lack of investment in the future - and hence less reason to fight and rebel.

The added benefit of castration was that it also reduced testosterone, meaning that slaves would have less physical strength and aggression. Again, making them more suitable for the employments they were put to, and likewise less likely to start a revolt. Though these slaves were generally drawn from Africa they also often came from numerous other parts of the world. Even as far as Northern Europe. In fact, there are stories on record of people being snatched from European villages and coastal towns by pirates and then sold into slavery in the Middle East. Again, with castration often being an added horror.

It's been suggested that during the period from the 16th to the 19th century between 1 and 1.25 million European Christians were captured and sold into slavery by Barbary pirates. [5] Slaves were even taken from as far afield as places such as Iceland and North America. For example in 1690 a Virginian resident by the name of Daniell Tyler was said to have been "taken by the Turkes & carryed to Algeir & hath not for at least 7 years past been heard of soe that he is esteemed dead". [6]

The female sex or household slavery needs even less explanation. The stereotypical vision of the Middle Eastern harem being enough to serve the story. In fact, in the 19th century the writer T.P. Hughes wrote;

"there is absolutely no limit to the number of slave-girls with whom a Muhammadan may cohabit, and it is the consecration of this illimitable indulgence which so popularizes the Muhammadan religion amongst uncivilized nations, and so popularizes slavery in the Muslim religion." [7]

Again these slaves were drawn from as far as the empire could reach, with fair haired Europeans being especially prized. Many women sold into this life were treated with severe brutality, but others through their wit or beauty could climb their way into senior female positions within families. Becoming favoured wives, concubines or mothers.

It's difficult to imagine how such a horrific and sophisticated trade in human beings could arise alongside the development of "civilised" living. It seems that often our morals lag behind the other, more practical developments we make though. A good example can perhaps be seen today. The cold factory slaughter of animals we see in modern civilised countries is much more brutal than the savage, yet more natural and isolated animal killings carried out by "backwards" tribesmen. However, we often fail to see the horrors we live amidst ..or perhaps see them and choose to turn a blind eye.

Returning to the idea of castration (which in many ways equates to treating humans like animals) there's another very interesting avenue worth exploring. Notably the links between castration and debt. The idea being that in former times, if someone couldn't pay their debts they were sold into slavery. It also provides a novel way of looking at the concept of the "pound of flesh". Famous from Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice. Though the idea, like many of the themes in Shakespeare's plays, has precedents in other earlier tales and stories. [8]

In The Merchant of Venice, where the moneylender Shylock demands a "pound of flesh" in return for his unpaid loan, the pound of flesh isn't specifically said to be the castrated genitals. It appears to be more a symbolic demand for bloody restitution. [9] However, the link seems a reasonable one to suggest. What other portion of flesh could so easily be taken? Plus what would be the literal benefit to an unpaid moneylender if say, an arm or leg belonging to the defaulter was taken off? Other than that it would act as a deterrent to any future borrower of money with a blasé attitude to repayment of course.

Equating it to castration though suddenly makes much more sense of things. You've failed to repay your loan, so now the person you borrowed the money from takes all you have left - your person. You then take the mark of a slave - castration - and then continue your life as the property of another. It's also quite interesting in this regard that the term mortgage literally translates as "death pledge". Something I'll be returning to later in the book, which ties in quite nicely with all this. Or scarily as the case may be.

The act of circumcision is something that seems to have parallels with this. Though not quite on the same level as castration, it's still nevertheless in similar area of the body ..and likewise requires the removal of flesh. It's also often seen as a pledge. In the Jewish tradition a covenant with God. [10] In Biblical times, agreements or pledges were often sealed by the sacrifice of an animal. Supposedly the idea being that whoever broke the agreement would then suffer the same fate as the animal. So it's been speculated that circumcision carries a similar sentiment.

In the Islamic world, and in African tribal cultures, circumcision is often viewed as a ceremony that marks a boy's transition into adulthood. In fact, it's often the case that males aren't allowed to get married until they've been circumcised. In this regard it's almost like a token of citizenship, where a man can't fully take part in adult society unless he's been through this ordeal.

Returning to the Old Testament we also see circumcision being required in a similar sense. In the story of Dinah and the Shechemites (Genesis 34) it's demanded that Shechem and all his fellow male townsfolk be circumcised if he's to take Dinah, the women he's unlawfully slept with, as his wife. Similarly the Romano-Jewish scholar Josephus wrote that when the Idumeans were subdued by force, they were only permitted to remain in their country "if they would circumcise their genitals, and make use of the laws of the Jews". [11] Again, suggesting circumcision was a pre-condition of social involvement, and a visible, sincere showing that one was prepared to submit to the law.

Circumcision was also common in ancient Egypt, where wall reliefs depict the procedure being carried out. In one written account, said to be from the 23rd century BC, an Egyptian named Uha tells of being circumcised on mass with "one hundred and twenty" other men. [12] The Jews were said to have come from Egypt. With the added theme being that they were escaping slavery. So it all ties in quite neatly.

Egypt, of course, is also right bang in the middle of the very Islamic or Middle Eastern empire we've been discussing in this chapter. In the conventional historic timeline the world of ancient Egypt is quite far removed from the much later Islamic empire. However, as discussed in Chapter Four, there are valid reasons for considering the possibility that the accepted timeline may not be entirely correct. So perhaps the very distant world of "ancient" Egypt overlaps more heavily with later Middle Eastern history than is commonly thought. Either way the themes of slavery and circumcision are quite consistent throughout.

In a similar regard it's also worth considering the timeline of Islamic history. Is it something of a misnomer to refer to this trading empire, centred on the Middle East, as an Islamic empire? Perhaps the empire came first and Islam then spread through it later. Again, even within the constraints of the accepted conventional timeline, we have no way of truly knowing how and when things such as slavery and circumcision began. Nor if they were helped or hindered by the advent of Islam, Judaism, or any other concurrent religion.

Some writers have speculated that Islam helped fuel the rise in slavery, others that it did the exact opposite, mitigating against its effects. One idea commonly put forth is that the rise of Islam prohibited the enslavement of fellow Muslims. Which in turn then led to the further enslavement of non-Muslims, creating an expansion of the slave market. The scale of slavery in the Islamic world is hard to ignore, though it's perhaps unfair to specifically link the two. In eighteenth century Mecca many eunuchs worked in the service of mosques. [13] However, by the same token castration is generally considered haraam (forbidden) in Islam. Likewise the Qur'an states that it is righteous;

"to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves [my emphasis]" [14]

Suggesting an antipathy to slavery itself. The Qur'an also states that it is "forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness". [15] Again, suggesting that Islam would be averse to the forcing of women into sex slavery. However, conversely there are numerous references in the Qur'an to those whom "your right hands possess". Generally taken to mean slaves. So it's difficult to know if Islamic culture was a driving force behind slavery, or a victim of it, subservient to the wider socio-economic trends it existed amongst.

As mentioned earlier I tend to favour the idea that economics tends to be the primary driving force. However, this then begs the question did Islam evolve to serve this driving force? Or did it come into being as an antidote to the problems caused by it? Anyone reading the Qur'an, and already familiar with the New Testament, will notice the many similarities Islam has with Christianity. Particularly with the Christianity as expressed by the apostles later on in the New Testament. In fact, the Qur'an, with its various apostle-like "messengers" spreading the word of Islam is notably similar in this regard. The focus on ideas such as hell and final judgement, and the distinction between believer and non-believer are likewise noticeably similar.

The official timeline places a gap of approximately six centuries between the rise of Christianity and the rise of Islam. However, again, as mentioned before it's tempting to reappraise this commonly accepted timeline and place all these events much closer together. If this was the case it could be that Christianity rose in opposition to this Middle Eastern empire, and that the rise of Islam which followed was a continuation of this trend. With Islam spreading these ideas throughout this Middle Eastern trading empire, only in a way much more acceptable to the pre-existing culture. With Islam essentially attempting to manage the mass slavery which already existed. Though again this is speculative. Either way the overlap between the map of Islam and the map of world trade prior to the Age of Discovery is pretty striking.

Returning to the economic aspect, it's interesting to note that circumcision is also common amongst Australian Aborigines, and likewise it seems to carry the same connotations. For instance, in the Walbiri society if a male doesn't pass through the rite of circumcision he cannot obtain a wife, enter his father's lodge, or participate in further religious ceremonies. In essence he remains socially excluded. [16] This is similar to what we see in Africa and the Middle East and leads one to wonder if perhaps this Middle Eastern empire stretched as far as Australia at some point in the past. It's also tempting to wonder if these links explain the similarity, both in appearance and in custom, of Africans and Aborigines. Perhaps both are more closely related than the current scientific model of human migration allows for.

It should also be noted however, that the practice of circumcision was said to be found in the New World too. In fact, it's reported that when Columbus reached the New World he found that the Native Americans practised the custom. So this perhaps puts paid to my idea that circumcision was in some way a token of this larger Middle Eastern empire. Unless the official history is really messed up that is, and there was some degree of traffic to the New World before the advent of Columbus. [17]

The evidence that Native Americans practiced circumcision does seem a little tenuous though. There are some written accounts attesting that the practice took place, but there are also others that are much more sceptical. Most of the textual sources attesting to it seem to be quite speculative, and oftentimes it seems that other ritual practices are being mistaken for circumcision. One 19th century publication relates the following anecdotal account from a person by the name Doctor Beaty;

"an old Indian informed him that an old uncle of his, who died about the year 1728, related to him several customs of former times among the Indians, and among the rest, that circumcision was long ago practised among them, but that their young men made a mock of it, and it fell into disrepute and was discontinued." [18]

Another states;

"There are no traces of the rites of circumcision ..Circumcision was reported as existing among the Sitkas, on the Missouri; but a strict examination proved it to be a mistake" [19]

There's also the following account, which sounds a little apocryphal;

Las Casas and Mendieta state that the Aztecs and Totonacs practiced it [circumcision], and Brasseur de Bourbourg had discovered traces of it among the Mijes. Las Casas affirms that the child was carried to the temple on the twenty-eighth or twenty-ninth day after birth; there the high-priest and his assistant placed it upon a stone, and cut of the prepuce at the root; the part amputated they afterward burned to ashes. [20]

However, in the footnotes to this vivid account the author also relates several other authorities which cast doubt on the prevalence of the custom. Expressing the belief that most accounts were mistaking other rituals, such as blood letting rites for the act. On top of this Brasseur de Bourbourg in a later work acknowledged that his claim to have found "traces" of circumcision had been mistaken.

All in all it seems difficult to know with any degree of certainty whether the custom was or wasn't practiced by the natives of the Americas. So, without further research, it remains an intriguing maybe. Regarding the supposed account of native circumcision by Columbus that we began with, I actually have some doubts about that entire story as a whole. In the previous chapter I mentioned the various discoveries made by the Portuguese during the Age of Discovery. However, I only briefly mentioned the important, epochal discovery of the New World made by the Spanish.

The first thing worth nothing is the name Christopher Columbus itself. It's quite curious as the word columba means dove, and the given name Christopher comes with obvious connotations of the name Christ. Given that the Spanish were bringing Christianity to the New World it's therefore possible that the name could simply translate as "dove of Christ", or something to that effect. [21]

Interestingly, the Portuguese were also said to have discovered the Americas too. Though in their case it was an accidental discovery, as opposed to the more deliberate voyage said to have been taken by Columbus. The Portuguese were gradually exploring the west coast of Africa and the various islands of the Atlantic Ocean, so it would perhaps make sense that through a stray voyage they would alight upon the east coast of Brazil. The most easterly part of the Americas, and the very part colonised by the Portuguese. This all leads me to wonder if perhaps it was only the Portuguese that made the discovery, and that the Spanish version was simply something of a retelling. Maybe a retelling contrived for political or religious reasons. Whatever the truth, given that the New World was a destination for African slaves, the very mention of circumcision in this part of the world is worthy of note. So it remains an interesting avenue of investigation.

Another point to consider in regard circumcision is the possibility that it perhaps was something that was changed from a negative to a positive marker by the peoples that were subjected to it. As mentioned earlier the Jews were said by some to have originally been slaves in Egypt. In leaving Egypt did they carry the act of circumcision with them, and in doing so turn a negative act into a badge of religious forbearance? Perhaps in a similar way to how in modern times members of the black community have reclaimed the "N-word" from its original use.

According to the Book of Joshua the Jews that fled Egypt were all circumcised. However, those that were born in the wilderness were not. It was Joshua himself who was commanded by God to circumcise them once again;

At that time the Lord said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time. - Joshua 5:2, King James Version

Once again, reading this we get the sense that circumcision is a prerequisite for joining "civilisation" and that to be in a state of uncircumcision is to be in the wilderness, outside of the fold. It's often speculated that Moses, the predecessor of Joshua, forbade circumcision whilst he was leader of the Israelites. There's even a strange passage in the Book of Exodus where God threatens to kill Moses, but then spares his life after his wife circumcises their son;

And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision. - Exodus 4:24–26, King James Version.

It's hard not to read this as the story of a man leading his enslaved people to freedom, only to see them dragged back towards the very civilisation they were leaving. With circumcision being the totemic mark of belonging to it. Though again this is highly speculative.

As suggested earlier, perhaps in these religious traditions we see a negative act enforced upon a people being rebranded as a mark of religious devotion. Today circumcision is generally viewed positively by the cultures who practice it. However, throughout history it's often been used in a more adverse way. For instance, in the 7th century, in Visigothic Spain, it's recorded that King Wamba, following a period of warfare, ordered the circumcision of everyone who had committed atrocities against civilians. [22] Showing that at that time, in that part of the world at least, it was viewed as a mark of defilement. A punishment for a crime.

Also, in the Old Testament it's said that the future King David slew two hundred Philistine men and collected their foreskins to give to King Saul as a dowry for his daughter Michal. So even within the Biblical tradition it seems there was at times a sense that the removal of the foreskin could be viewed as a display of power over an enemy. In this particular example it's not too dissimilar to an Indian scalp following an act of warfare.

Another interesting element to add to all this is the Pondus Judaeus. [23] This was a device used in the ancient world to restore the foreskin. Essentially a weight that was attached to what was left of the foreskin with the aim of stretching it to once again cover the glans. The term pondus is also perhaps suggestive of the "pound of flesh" mentioned earlier. It's generally thought that the main cultural factor leading to the use of such devices was the desire on the part of Jewish men to fit into Greek culture.

For Greeks it was common to display the naked body publicly during athletic contests and at public baths. However, it was considered unseemly to show the uncovered head of the penis, which makes sense as normally this would only be on display during sexual arousal. In fact, it's said that the Greeks only considered someone to be truly naked when this was on display. Consequently it became desirable for circumcised people who wanted to fully take part in Hellenistic culture to try to reverse or hide the procedure of circumcision.

Interestingly, the original act in Jewish custom only involved cutting a part of the foreskin off. This procedure is called the milah. However, because of the frequent attempts made by circumcised men to restore their foreskin, Rabbis decided to introduce a more radical version of the act which removed the whole of the foreskin. Making it almost impossible to reverse the procedure. This type of circumcision is referred to as the periah. [24]

The fact that many Jewish men in the ancient world were eager to reverse their circumcision would suggest that the act was far from voluntary in many cases. That those doing the circumcising were also eager to make it irreversible likewise lends weight to this argument. In many ways it brings to mind the idea of branding. As in cattle branding or the branding of criminals. The idea being to mark a person in such a way that it would be impossible for them to then hide their denoted status. I can't help but wonder if perhaps circumcision in many cases was deliberately intended to be a visible marker. Denoting belonging or ownership - maybe to a tribe, caste or religious grouping. Or again, as some kind of token of "citizenship".

In the Biblical story where God makes his covenant with Abraham slaves are specifically mentioned. Illustrating that slavery was common at that time, but likewise illustrating that both slaves and non-slaves in Jewish culture were expected to be circumcised. Suggesting that if circumcision was originally a marker of slavedom or serfhood it wasn't thought of as such by the Jewish people retelling these religious stories. In Genesis 17 God states to Abraham; "He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant." The fact that God seems a tad blasé about people owning other people doesn't quite sit well with my own tastes, but then again these are allegorical stories that aren't necessarily meant to be taken as hard factual history. Nor the verbatim word of God almighty.

Just how linked or otherwise the concepts of circumcision and castration were in the past, the ubiquitous nature of slavery in the Middle East is nevertheless highly apparent. With the above Bible passage highlighting that. This leads me to the final section of this chapter.

We often have the view that it was Europeans that went out, built empires, and enslaved the rest of the world. However, if we look at European history as taking its lead from the Middle Eastern empire it usurped, we can see that this is only half true. Many European countries actually began by defending themselves from the threat of slavery, and in a sense only inherited the trade in flesh when they overturned the previous dominance of the Middle East, following the discoveries made by the Portuguese.

This doesn't excuse the European involvement in the slave trade of course, nor does it excuse the brutal exploitation of it. However, it is worth mentioning how unnaturally the trade in people often sat with some Europeans, and with some aspects of European culture.

Firstly the doctrine of Christianity, with its emphasis on charity and forbearance, made the hypocrisy of the slave trade a little too obvious to ignore. Leading to many Christians being at the forefront of movements to end the trade. Then on top of this there is the tradition of individual liberty that is often found in Europe, particularly in Northern Europe. Which can be seen in both the strong legal traditions found in places such as Britain, and also in the wild drunken disorderliness common to Northern European cultures. Think the Wildings in Game of Thrones with their free, but rowdy style of living.

For example, in 1569, after a slave was brought to England from Russia an English court ruled that English Law couldn't recognise slavery. Sadly this didn't stop England's subsequent involvement in the shipping of slaves with its rise to empire status. However, it did at least act as a precedent, and by as early as 1701 the Lord Chief Justice had ruled that a slave became free the minute he stepped foot on English soil. Not much use for slaves elsewhere in the empire, but nevertheless a sign that slavery troubled the conscience and tastes in Britain perhaps more than it did in other slave-owning cultures.

This attitude probably also owes something to the fact that Britons were sometimes in fear of being dragged into slavery themselves, as mentioned earlier. For instance, John Rawlins, an English sailor described how he and his crew were kidnapped by Barbary pirates in 1621. He stated that two younger men were "by force and torment" made to "turn Turks" - i.e. they were circumcised. Continuing the theme from above. [25] In fact, a similar example of forced circumcision comes from the 1780 Battle of Pollilur (in present day India). After which many British soldiers were taken captive, several hundred of whom were circumcised against their will. One victim lamented "I lost with the foreskin of my yard all those benefits of a Christian and Englishman which were and ever shall be my greatest glory." [26] So Britons were never truly free from such threats themselves in these earlier times.

Indeed, the famous song Rule, Britannia with its famous refrain "Britons never, never, never shall be slaves" was in fact just that. [27] A cry against slavery. Stating that never again would Britons be under the rule of tyrants, or victims to slavery. [28] Historians often deem the song's lyrics to be simply in reference to the threat of European tyranny. However, at the time the threat of actual slavery was very much a real thing, and there was a very blurred line between the Middle East and the European continent from a British perspective. Though this sense is now lost and forgotten these days. Now when people hear Rule, Britannia they tend to see it as an imperial anthem - with the feeling being that Britain was intent on enslaving everyone else, but in many ways the British Empire began precisely in opposition to slavery.

Now this is a little bit of a rose-tinted view of Britain's history of course. However, all this did help to set the tone for the political reforms that would eventually lead Britain to abolish slavery with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. Following which Britain then went on to use her Royal Navy to help enforce the abolition of slavery around the world. So, once again, though there's no excuse for Britain's involvement in the trade, nevertheless she did abolish the practice whilst at the height of her powers. A practice that had long preceded Britain's involvement in it, and that at one time had plagued the people of Britain itself. So the general perception of the British Empire as the leading culprit is a tad unfair. Then again though, I'm British, so perhaps I'm a little biased :)



[1] This map just gives a vague approximation of the Islamic Empire at its height and is only designed to provide a visual reference for readers. In reality the influence of Islam ebbed and flowed over the centuries. At one time even including Sicily and parts of mainland Italy under its sway. It likewise spread deeper into Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe than the map depicts.

[2] Sūrah 4 - An-Nisā' - The Women. The Holy Qur'an. Wordsworth Classics of World Literature, 2000.

"If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess."

[3] Sūrah 5 - al-Māʼida - The Table Spread. The Holy Qur'an. Wordsworth Classics of World Literature, 2000.

"As to the thief, male or female, cut off his or her hands"

[4] Sūrah 24 - An-Nūr. The Holy Qur'an. Wordsworth Classics of World Literature, 2000.

"The woman and the man guilty of adultery or fornication - flog each of them with a hundred stripes: let not compassion move you in their case"

[5] According to the writer Robert Davis, in the period from the 16th to the 19th century, between 1 and 1.25 million Europeans were captured by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery.

Robert Davis. Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast and Italy, 1500–1800.

[6] Faith in the New Millennium: The Future of Religion and American Politics edited by Matthew Avery Sutton, Darren Dochuk. Who in turn referenced the source; York County Court Records [Virginia], vol. VIII, fol. 441-442, May 26, 1690, "Daniell Tyler Taken by ye Turkes."

[7] Hughes, T.P., Dictionary of Islam.

[8] The "Pound of Flesh" theme can be found in earlier works such as the 14th century Italian novela Il Pecorone by Giovanni Fiorentino and the 16th century work The Orator by Alexandre Sylvane. This concept of the flesh-bond is also found in numerous folk tales.

[9] It's perhaps worth noting that in The Merchant of Venice Shylock makes mention of slavery when decrying the hypocrisy of the Christians he's living amongst;

SHYLOCK: What judgment shall I dread, doing no wrong?
You have among you many a purchased slave,
Which, like your asses and your dogs and mules,
You use in abject and in slavish parts,
Because you bought them: shall I say to you,
Let them be free, marry them to your heirs?
Why sweat they under burthens? let their beds
Be made as soft as yours and let their palates
Be season'd with such viands? You will answer
'The slaves are ours:' so do I answer you:
The pound of flesh, which I demand of him,
Is dearly bought; 'tis mine and I will have it.
If you deny me, fie upon your law!
There is no force in the decrees of Venice.
I stand for judgment: answer; shall I have it?

As a further note here, whilst on the topic of Venice, we mentioned in the notes to the last chapter the impact Portuguese discoveries had on the economy of the eastward facing Venetians. The term Venetian is very similar in sound to the term Phoenician, and both groups were Mediterranean powers noted for their trade and seafaring exploits. So maybe we see here another example of ancient history overlapping very heavily with medieval history.

[10] In Chapter Two we talked of the apparent links between druidic tradition and Jewishness. The word covenant is another case in point. The term is commonly used in Protestantism, especially with regard to Scotland. For instance, the National Covenant of 1638. This was where Scottish nobles and ministers, along with thousands of ordinary Scots, signed a covenant (essentially a pledge) to defend their "true", reformed Christianity from outside innovation and interference. The word also shares its root with the word coven. Meaning a close knit gathering, or a meeting of witches. Again suggestive of some kind of compact or confederacy. Very druidic.

[11] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews. Book XIII. chapter 9.

[12] The Offering of Uha, c. 2400 BCE. Source: D. Dunham, Naga-ed-Der Stelae of the First Intermediate Period, (London, 1917), pp. 102-104.

[13] Encyclopedia of Islam. E. J. Brill. Leiden.

[14] Sūrah 2 - Al-Baqarah - The Heifer. The Holy Qur'an. Wordsworth Classics of World Literature, 2000.

[15] Sūrah 4 - An-Nisā' - The Women. The Holy Qur'an. Wordsworth Classics of World Literature, 2000.

"Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness, that ye may take away part of the dower ye have given them - except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good."

[16] Circumcision of Male Infants Research Paper. Queensland Law Reform Commission. Brisbane, 1993. Who in turn cited; Meggitt MJ. Initiation among the Waibiri in Religion in Aboriginal Australia: An Anthology (1986).

[17] The idea that there may have been such a traffic before the advent of Columbus will be a familiar concept to anyone well versed in alternative history. Plenty of possible links between Old and New World have been noted by various writers and theorists. Suggesting traffic both across the Pacific and across the Atlantic Ocean. In regard possible links between the Americas and the Middle East the most famous example is perhaps the claim that traces of coca and nicotine have been found in Egyptian mummies, suggestive of trade links between Egypt and the American continent. The fact that the Aztecs and Mayans also built pyramids, similar in style to those of Egypt, is also often noted as further evidence of this.

[18] Light and Truth: Collected from the Bible and Ancient and Modern History, Containing the Universal History of the Colored and the Indian Race, from the Creation of the World to the Present Time - Robert Benjamin Lewis, 1844.

[19] The native races of the Pacific states of North America, Volume 5 - Hubert Howe Bancroft, 1876.

[20] Civilized Nations, Volume 2 - 1875, Hubert Howe Bancroft.

[21] I was first made aware of this possible interpretation of the Columbus name on the Applied Epistemology Library web forum. On the thread A Dove Tale. Where the poster Ishmael noted;

"Columbus might be a kind of generic name for a mariner: Someone who sends forth the dove to find new land, as did Noah.

Stretching the concept further: Christopher literally means Christ-bearer. So Christopher Columbus is a sea-explorer who bears Christ to a new world."

[22] Julian of Toledo (642 - 690). Historia rebellionis Paulli adversus Wambam Gothorum Regem.

[23] Sometimes written as Judeum pondum.

[24] Given that circumcision appears to be a social marker of sorts it's perhaps worth noting the similarity of the word pariah. The words periah and pariah are said to be unrelated. Pariah coming from a Tamil word meaning drummer, and denoting a member of an indigenous caste in southern India - it being said that this lower caste originally functioned as ceremonial drummers. They're also both pronounced slightly differently. With periah generally being pronounced to sound more like priah (also incidentally how it's sometimes written as well).

However, taking into account this "caste" sense of the word pariah, and the fact that it's used to denote an outcast in common English, it seems worth making mention of.

The word caste itself is also of interest. It brings to mind the similar theme of castration. No doubt sharing in its roots connotations of cutting, or to cut off. As in terms like cast away. The official etymology gives its root as the Latin castus, meaning clean or pure. Which gives a similar sense of being cut off or separated. This Latin castus is said to be the root of the English/French word chaste.

So it seems being cut off comes with a double meaning. To be cut off as in being excluded or exiled from a wider group for negative reasons. Or conversely to be cut off as a marker or purity or special standing.

[25] The Famous and Wonderful Recovery of a Ship of Bristol, Called the Exchange, from the Turkish Pirates of Argier. John Rawlins. (London, 1622).

[26] Diary of Col. Cromwell Massy, Late of Hon'ble East India Company's Service Kept While a Prisoner at Seringapatam Bangalore. Mysore Government Press, 1876.

[27] There was just one "never" in the original version. "Britons never will be slaves" morphing into the more recognisable and easier to sing "Britons never, never, never shall be slaves".

[28] "The nations, not so blest as thee, 
Must, in their turn, to tyrants fall;
While thou shalt flourish great and free,
The dread and envy of them all"

A verse referencing tyrants from Rule, Britannia. Lyrics by James Thomson (1700 -1748). Set to music in 1740 by Thomas Arne (1710 - 1778).

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Civilisation Judas - Port of the Gauls

Civilisation Judas - Chapter 5 - Port of the Gauls

So, after the detour of the last chapter I can return to the current task at hand. Namely the economic shift from the Middle East to Europe. We may start by noting how everything in history, and I mean everything, seems to have its starting point in the Middle East. The three major Abrahamic religions have their origins there, even civilisation itself is said to have begun there in the form of ancient Mesopotamia. Likewise the earliest literature, the birth of which is synonymous with the advent of civilisation, is found there in the form of ancient Sumerian texts. It's even often stated that the wheel was invented there. It seems everything that we deem a hallmark of civilisation gets traced backwards to the Middle East in a similar progression.

It's a well known timeline - we got our civilisation from the Greeks, who in turn were preceded by the Egyptians, who likewise followed on from ancient Sumeria. In fact, even the Garden of Eden, the very origin point of all Abrahamic tradition is often said to have had its "real" location in Mesopotamia.

In the west we seem to have this in-built desire to find our origins in this "middle" area of the world landmass. It has a similar outpouring in new age obsessions about ancient Egypt and its various mysteries. In alternative circles it's popularly stated that Freemasonry and other secret societies can trace their lineage back to Egypt. Though even in the case of the lofty Freemasonry the official and recorded history dates back no further than a few centuries. As in the previous chapter, we like things to be old, and whatever tradition we ourselves believe in we like to know it's as ancient as possible. For people consciously or unconsciously thinking within the constraints of our western paradigm "a long, long time ago in the Middle East" is the furthest back any tradition can go. So it's the obvious place where people like to root their myths. Be they religious, academic or otherwise.

To anyone free from this way of thinking this focus on the Middle East can seem a little odd, especially with regard to the religious mania focused on the region. Three major religions all fighting to place their flag in what otherwise looks like a barren desert can seem a little deranged at times. Particularly when so little of modern civilisation can be found there. What makes this region, so unattractive in many practical and aesthetic ways, so valuable to people of a religious persuasion? Of course, people will state that the value is found in the fact that these religions began there. However, this then begets the question why were these three huge religions started there? Why was this region so busy with new religious ideas and philosophies in comparison to everywhere else, and what led to these ideas spreading to the rest of the world in such a dominant way. Again, I guess some would give the answer "because God willed it", but again, the reply would come back "but why would God will it there in particular?". There must be some rational reason.

Personally, I believe there is a rational reason, though as per the ideas discussed in the last chapter it may require some un-belief in the accepted version of history. I believe that rational reason can be found in economics.

First you have to imagine a world before the advent of major oceanic sailing. A world preceding the Age of Exploration, which saw European sailors venture out onto the "world ocean" and into dark areas of the map labeled simply "unknown". An era which saw two major discoveries in particular. The most notable being the discovery of the American continent by the Spanish. The other, and perhaps more important in regard the argument I'm about to make, being the successful navigation around the southern tip of Africa by the Portuguese in the 15th century.

(By sailing around the tip of Africa the
Portuguese managed to circumvent the inland trading routes)

Now when the Portuguese succeeded in making this trip around the tip of Africa (and then into the Indian Ocean) it meant that there was now, for the first time in history, a way to trade with the east via a single oceanic voyage. A feat that we unthinkingly take for granted today, but which must have seemed something of a world changing revelation at the time. Just envision the world economy before this possibility was opened up. All major international trade would have been via land journey and/or much shorter seagoing journeys. Therefore, the center of world trade will have been the center of the world landmass - i.e. the Middle East.

All major trade between east and west will have came through this crucial region. The items coming back and forth along these trade routes coming via numerous hands and being taxed at numerous points along the way. Making the people in control of these trade hubs very wealthy and powerful. So when the Portuguese started to bypass this they managed to undercut the whole operation. You can imagine how unhappy their eastern trading rivals were. A virtual monopoly on trade brought crashing down by a single voyage of discovery. [1]

So let us imagine this world before the Portuguese brought it all tumbling down. Vast journeys to far flung places via the world ocean are not an option. Let alone a trading option. As a result, the impetus for trade has an inward focus. Most people just trade locally, and any trade of a larger scale has to look inwards to the land, not so much outwards to the sea. Consequently, the central areas and the inner seas of the world map become the areas of real action. The melting pot in the middle where everything meets. Where the most exotic goods can be found, and where wealth can be most easily made and accumulated.

This is why the three major Abrahamic religions have their seat in the Middle East. Not because of divine selection, nor historical accident, but because this is where the focus of the world economy was at that time. Just as how now the wealthy capitals of our modern world economy, such as New York, Tokyo and London, tend also to be the places where cultural trends are set and political ideas set in action.

A good example of how economic opportunity leads to the spread of religion is the USA itself. The USA is primarily a Christian country, and countless European Christians arrived in the Americas with the dream of starting a new life there. However, the primary reason why Christians arrived en masse in what is now the USA was not Christianity itself, but the economic circumstances. The newly discovered Americas provided a huge opportunity for any Europeans willing or desperate enough to make the journey. This was what provided the main impetus for people choosing to go. They left mainly for economic reasons, and when they left they took their Christianity with them. Without this economic opportunity things wouldn't have turned out how they did.

Of course, their religious and political beliefs may have had some bearing on their decision to leave or not to leave, and it's worth noting as a counterbalance that at times a few hardy souls may make a difficult pilgrimage to some ungodly place for purely spiritual reasons. However, the prospect of poverty is generally quite unappealing to the average person, no matter how spiritually inclined they may be. Plus without at least some kind of economic success it's unlikely any religious message or purpose will endure anyway. Nor would it be possible to raise a family and ensure the success and happiness of successive generations if people ignored the basic economic necessities. So the economic factors always tend to be the most overriding ones for people. They dictate human migration patterns, and likewise the flow of ideas and cultures.

It's similar now with the modern immigration of Muslim people into western countries. They're making these journeys primarily for economic reasons. This is easy to understand and obvious to see from our point of view witnessing it. It also makes perfect sense given the difference in living standards between the countries they're leaving and the countries they're arriving in. It's a perfectly logical thing to do, and it has little to do with religion in actuality. So it would be silly for us to try to explain today's mass migrations, and likewise the spread of religion in our era, by ignoring these everyday factors and practicalities. However, we tend to ignore these things when we look back at history. We try to explain the development of religion in purely religious terms. As if all the various figures involved didn't have to pay bills and make ends meet like we do. Fortunately with the American example, the history is so recent that we don't have to guess at how and when Europeans arrived in North America. The basic circumstances are all on record. So it's easy for us to understand how and why so many white European Christians ended up living so far from Europe.

Imagine this wasn't the case though, and our recorded history only stretched back a century or so. Imagine the countless wacky and bizarre theories that people would possibly put forth to explain why white Christian communities could be found on both sides of the Atlantic. It's worth picturing the potential scenario. Without documented evidence how would anyone know when Europeans arrived in the Americas. Or even if they arrived at all. Perhaps people would speculate that Europeans had always been there, or even that the Europeans in Europe had originally came from the Americas. Of course, there would be nothing wrong with such speculation given the lack of sufficient historical evidence. It would even be difficult for people in possession of the correct answer to prove and know that they were right with categoric certainty. Sometimes we just have to accept that we simply don't know, and that all we can do is offer a "best guess". However, with such an absence of evidence it's always better to assume that whatever happened in the past happened due to the same forces that drive human behaviour today. Rather than to ignore the daily necessities of life, and invoke more fanciful reasons. [2]

Returning to my original purpose, which was to simply highlight the role trade played in making the Middle East the religious center of gravity. I guess I could simplify the whole argument by stating the general rule;

Where you have economic opportunity you get concentrations of people. Where you get concentrations of people you get the blossoming of culture.

Think of a situation where a hill or mountain is discovered to contain gold. First you have prospectors turning up, then you get miners. Then you get taverns opening up to service the miners. Then you get musicians and showmen playing in the taverns. Then you get inns for such visitors to stay at. An entire town or village can spring up around this single discovery. Perhaps this town or village will then go on to have a huge influence on the wider world, perhaps even producing great men of history, who influence the wider world in some important way or other. These figures, their ideas and endeavours may become much more famous than the original discovery of "gold in dem hills". However, none of this impressive wellspring of civilisation would be present were it not for this original economic pull.

It's much the same with the Middle East prior to the Age of Discovery, only to a much, much greater degree. The Middle East, the Mediterranean, Anatolia and the Indian Ocean were all swimming with economic activity at this time. They were the busy high streets of the world economy. The market place of the world, and consequently also a market place for ideas and information. Not to mention the centres of wealth and power.

So I would wager that all the migrations we witness in history as coming from the Middle East to Europe are in effect echoes, or garbled traditions relating to this economic shift that occurred following the explorative exploits of Portuguese, and then later other sailors. Things we think of as occurring deep in antiquity in all probability happened much more recently, in the centuries preceding the Age of Exploration. I would include in that everything in regard "Biblical" history, and also even perhaps the flow of civilisation from places such as ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. In effect, we've mistaken an economic shift in human history for the human story as a whole.

Or to summarise it all;

  • The world economy was originally focused on the Middle East - the center of the world landmass.
  • The discoveries of European sailors then shifted this focus away from the Middle East and to areas facing outwards, towards the "world ocean" - i.e. areas on the edge of the world landmass. Especially so Europe.
  • Consequently, the focus of civilisation and culture shifted from the Middle East to Europe

Then furthermore;

  • The historical evidence of this shift - i.e. the evidence of extensive civilisation in the Middle East, preceding the more recent extensive civilisation found in Europe - became misconstrued as evidence that civilisation gradually developed. Beginning in the Middle East deep in history and then slowly reaching Europe and elsewhere over the course of many centuries.
  • When in actual fact that evidence was just the effect of a vast economic shift. Precipitated by these new oceanic discoveries.

To take an overview it seems all we really have is a fairly well recorded European history, preceded by a much more murky Middle Eastern or Mediterranean history. Before which we have very little at all. Everything lost beyond some dark historic event horizon. Much like how our vision is limited the further into the distance we look.

This grand economic shift may also in part explain the flow, or perceived flow of Jewish peoples from the Middle East in history. As we mentioned in previous chapters Jews could be viewed as being a product of city-based living. A class of people naturally emerging from wider society as towns and cities grow and proceed to trade with each other. Presumably, given that the Middle East was once the centre of world trade, such a class of people would be in abundance there. Once the shift occurred though, and the focus of world economics moved to Europe it naturally follows that Europe would now become the natural centre for such a class. No doubt some traders will have migrated from the Middle East to follow this shift in trade and opportunity. Perhaps even in large numbers. It may also be possible that the change in economic fortune of the regions now being undercut by European traders led to various social and political upheavals in these areas. Forcing people to leave en masse.

From our vantage point looking back it would be easy to underestimate how world changing the discoveries of European explorers were. The knowledge and opportunity these discoveries yielded led to a shift in power hard to comprehend. When the Portuguese began their endeavours to explore the world ocean in the 15th century, largely thanks to the patronage of Prince Henry the Navigator, their view of the world was quite different to the view we have now. Many sailors believed that as they sailed closer and closer to the equator the ocean would begin to boil, and that it was simply impossible for humans to pass beyond this fiery terminus. The revelation of what was found beyond these limitations represented a huge leap in understanding and possibility.

The Portuguese kingdom was found at the very end of the European landmass, and this breakaway kingdom, by exerting its independence and spirit of adventure started a revolution not only political and economic, but also in thought and understanding. In fact, looking at the very name Portugal, it's quite interesting in regard the idea that "ancient" and medieval history are much more merged and entwined than is generally allowed for. Some have speculated that the name simply means "port of the Gauls". If we took this literally we could therefore view Portugal as the entrepôt for the entire body of people in North Western Europe. The Gauls of course being the numerous Celtic and Gallic people the ancient Romans encountered to the north. So perhaps we once again see echoes of the now obscured clashes of civilisation that happened prior to and in consequence of Europeans trying to break out from Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dominance.

Again, it's difficult to know exactly what happened so deep in history, but nevertheless we once again see similar and overlapping themes when we look back at both the ancient and medieval periods of history. Very much running counter to the idea that centuries of dark age barbarianism separated these periods of complex civilisation.



[1] Fretting over the danger these Portuguese discoveries posed to the Venetian economy the nobleman Girolamo Priuli wrote;

"..all the people from across the mountains who once came to Venice to buy their spices with their money will now turn to Lisbon.."

He noted the situation in regard goods coming through Venice as follows "..with all the duties, customs, and excises between the country of the Sultan and the city of Venice I might say that a thing that cost one ducat multiplies to sixty and perhaps to a hundred".

This can be found in the aforecited book, A History of the World in Twelve Maps, Jerry Brotton, pp 188-189. Who in turn referenced the work Ambassador from Venice: Pietro Pasqualigo in Lisbon, 1501. Donald Weinstein (ed.),  (Minneapolis, 1960), pp. 29-30.

[2] In the notes and references to Chapter Four I mentioned the book The History of Britain Revealed. In that work a similar though more succinct sentiment is expressed - "What is is what was - unless you've got bone-chilling evidence to the contrary." I won't try to explain it for fear of bastardising it, but it essentially states that it's best to assume that the situation in the past was the same as it is today, unless there's good evidence suggesting otherwise.

Further chapters can be found here.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Civilisation Judas - Ancient Avatars of the Medieval World

Civilisation Judas - Chapter 4 - Ancient Avatars of the Medieval World

At the end of the last chapter I promised that I would explain the economic shift that precipitated the possible mass migration of people and ideas from the Middle East into Europe. However, I've decided I'll leave that until the next chapter, as I've realised it may be wise to devote a chapter to explaining how and why I can brush aside accepted history with a casual wave of my hand.

Now I tend to be quite open minded when it comes to the timeline of human history. It's not so much that I don't believe the established academic version, but more that there are other alternatives that I think are more likely. Or at the very least necessary tweaks that could be made to the generally established view. One case in point - and the case that's relevant to the themes touched upon in this book - is the apparent "Dark Age" which preceded the medieval period.

The official version of European history goes something like this; firstly you have the high civilisation of ancient Greece and Rome. This is then followed by a period of massive decline, generally called the Dark Ages. After this we then have the medieval period, following which we then have a return to high civilisation with the mighty Renaissance ..since which humans in Europe generally haven't looked back.

Now the Dark Ages are said to have been dark because very little happened, culturally speaking. Or rather, to put it a little better, the historical record is somewhat blank for the period. We have a few textual accounts written by later writers of what was said to have been going on, but it's all very scant and iffy. Since we find ourselves with this badly illuminated, centuries-wide gap in the historical record academics simply assume that there must have been something going on. Consequently whole industries and disciplines have been built up with the sole purpose of filling this gap or speculating about it. However, the question arises, if there is so little evidence for anything actually happening, then why do we believe this period happened at all? What if we have hundreds of years of history simply inserted by hook or by crook into the historical record that were never there to begin with.

In short, what if the dating system itself is wrong?

Now this isn't a thought original to me, many modern writers have written on this topic suggesting various amendments to the current accepted timeline. With the idea that history is wrong or confused in someway becoming increasingly common in alternative circles - if not in the world of academia itself sadly. [1] In fact, when historians started compiling history into its current form about four or five hundred years ago the whole timeline was up for debate. The process being something of a jigsaw puzzle, with all the various pieces of history being allotted their various places in the grand scheme of things.

Today we just tend to assume that everyone has been using the same dating system from day one, but of course that was never the case. Historic texts were often dated simply in relation to the king or ruler who reigned at the time, or often not even dated at all. People during the days of the Roman Empire weren't writing 250 A.D. at the top of their texts, nor was anyone else for hundreds of years after that. The practice of using Anno Domini itself was said to have been started by the monk Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, and then popularised by the famed Venerable Bede a few centuries later. Though again, with the darkness and sparseness of the Dark Ages it's impossible to know just how popular it was. Or if that was indeed the case at all.

In reality various calendars and dating practices were in common use all across the many cultures of Europe right up until the middle ages and beyond. So the process of amalgamating all the various texts, traditions and historic artefacts of European history into one coherent, flowing timeline was something of an onerous task for the Renaissance era historians who attempted it. A process that was made even more difficult by the task of getting that history to fit in with the wider history of the world in general, and with Biblical history too.

Of course, the towering king-like figure in European history is Jesus Christ, and it's no coincidence that we ended up dating everything in relation to him. In fact, it's amazing that no one seems to find it the least bit odd that the Julian Calendar was created just in time for the birth of Christ. The Julian calendar was said to have been implemented by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, and then amended by his successor Augustus in the years following. It was the dominant calendar in the European world until it was superseded by the similar, but slightly improved Gregorian calendar in the 16th century. [2]

To me it seems just a little bit coincidental that the pagan Romans managed to create a whole new calendar just in time for the birth of little baby Jesus. This one fact alone would make me question the validity of the dating system we have, but nevertheless people seem to just accept that that's the way it all happened. Without the slightest thought, or even a pause for breath. Even science-minded academics seem to accept this Christ-centred calendar without question.

Christianity is two thousands years old, the calendar we use is also two thousand years old - and it was implemented two thousand years ago by non-Christians. The odds are quite impressive. It's easy to imagine how Christians could put this down to divine provenance of some description, but it's a little harder to forgive academics for their lack of curiosity. Surely it's at least worthy of investigation?

This calendar coincidence, along with the "no show" of the Dark Ages, does provide a wonderful opportunity for academic outsiders to revise things though. My general view is that we can simply dismiss anything pre the medieval period as largely "unknown" - or at best as "vaguely" known. Which then means we can try to fit most of the written European history into the period of the last thousand years or so - and that includes the writings of the "ancient" Greeks and Romans.

Now for clarity here I should say that this is by no means a fixed view I have, more just a bias towards that line of thinking. Nor, again, is it an original view. As I wrote earlier many others have suggested a similar view point. Most notably the Russian revisionist Anatoly Fomenko with his New Chronology series of books.

The idea that the works of ancient Greece and Rome are products of a much later time may sound an odd concept to those unfamiliar with it, however it appears much more rational once the novelty and heresy of the idea is overcame. For a start just consider that mainstream timeline once again. The high civilisation of Greece and Roman, then a thousand years of relative darkness, then high civilisation once again. This time courtesy of the Renaissance, itself inspired by the high civilisation of ancient Greece and Rome.

So, in effect, Europeans created high art, sculpture, architecture, literature. Then completely forgot how to do it. Then started remembering again a thousand or so years later. Compare this to European history after the medieval period. From the medieval period to the modern period there's a linear progression. In art, technology, music, architecture and everything else. For example, medieval art looks primitive in comparison to Renaissance art, and we see a gradual improvement in things such as technique and perspective from the medieval to the Renaissance period. Then following this things continuing progressing in skill and technology all the way through to modern photography and Photoshop. This is a progression that can easily be seen, that makes sense, and that has no large gaps in its record. One continual sequence of graded improvement. However, with the timeline from the ancient world to the medieval (and then into the Renaissance) that same progression is absent, and everything is jumping about back and forth. Art from ancient Rome looks massively superior to medieval art, and both of which put the lack of art in the Dark Age period to shame.

It's almost like if an extra century of time had been accidentally inserted between the 19th and 20th centuries. People looking back in a thousands years time would see people with a high degree of technological advancement in the 19th century, followed by a century where people completely forgot how to utilise electricity and literacy. Then followed by another century where people immediately invented the aeroplane. It would be reasonable for those people looking back to suspect that perhaps their historic timeline was somewhat screwy.

Of course, that wouldn't necessarily mean that the inserted one hundred years definitely didn't happen. It's plausible and possible that societies can advance, then regress, then re-advance again. Just as it's perfectly plausible that a period of Dark Age regression could have occurred in the middle of European history. In fact, that's so plausible that for the last five hundred years or so plenty of intelligent men and woman have believed just that. However, it does mean that the possibility that the timeline is messed up in someway is something worthy of study and investigation. It would be a reasonable thing to consider.

The parallels are quite obvious once one begins to look. For starters the ancient Roman and Greek cultures have their later parallels in the Holy Roman Empire in the west and the Greek Byzantine Empire in the east. Then when we look further we often find that the evidence for the famous figures and ideas of the ancient world tend not to actually date back much further than the medieval period.

A good case in point is the famed astronomer and geographer Claudius Ptolemy. He was said to have lived in the 2nd century AD, however his famous text, the Geography, "disappeared" for a thousand years after its completion. No copies from his own time have survived, but it "reappeared" in 13th century Byzantium. On top of this there are no contemporary accounts of his life, nor any contemporary statues or depictions of him. [3]

It's a familiar story with most our ancient texts. You may opine; "but how could so many historians so badly misdate so much history?". However, the reality is that most modern historians haven't really consciously dated anything. Rather they have just repeated the datings handed down to them by the previous generation of historians. Who in turn were handed down their datings from their previous generation, and so on and so forth. Not especially different to the way all traditions and beliefs are handed down from one generation to the next. You are told Ptolemy lived his life in the 2nd century AD, so any text or idea attributed to the man must also date from that time.

As for how these individual texts or the various people who were said to have written them came to be thought of as "ancient" there are numerous possible explanations. Some are no doubt simply unfathomable and lost in the darkness of time, others quite easy for us to see and understand.

Simple mistakes, accidents, acts of fraud and fakery, wishful thinking. [4] All these things can lead to items being misrepresented as something other than they are. Perhaps the most potent driver of such misrepresentation is the human tendency to put great value on things that are "old". Which often leads us to desire that the things that we possess or put value in are much more ancient than is really the case. That look on a person's face when they're told on the Antiques Roadshow that their antique vase isn't quite as old as they thought it was is a classic example. It's still the exact same vase, but somehow it ceases to be as beautiful. The lack of heritage and prestige makes it less desirable, and likewise less expensive.

Similarly a written text, whatever its content, will have more value to people if they're told it was written by Aristotle in the world of ancient Greece, than if it was scribbled by Steve from Rochdale relatively recently. In fact, Aristotle is another great case in point. There are countless texts attributed to the Greek philosopher. All of which were, as a matter of fact, said to be the work of the legendary man when they were first in circulation in the middle age or Renaissance period. However, thanks to numerous anachronisms and inconsistencies, many are now deemed by historians to be the work of other authors. These works are now stated to be the work of various pseudo-Aristotles - a general cognomen given to the unknown authors to distinguish these works from the works of the "real" Aristotle. A real Aristotle who was said to be the tutor of the famed Alexander the Great no less. [5]

It's similar with the works attributed to Caesar. He was said to have authored numerous works during his lifetime, though only five such have survived. All of which are war commentaries - essentially journals of his conquests. Modern scholars believe that two of these, The Gallic Wars and The Civil War were written by the man himself. However, the other three works, though classically attributed to him, are now thought to be the work of other authors. [6] Now you would think that the doubt over three of the works would lead scholars to doubt the veracity of the other two, but no. For instance, were I to tell you that I owned five paintings by Rembrandt and you discovered that three were not Rembrandts at all would you be willing to put your faith (and your cash) in the provenance of the other two? Scholars, however, are not so cynical it seems. Plus everyone wants these to be the work of Caesar, so it would take a hard heart to come and spoil the party.

The art analogy is quite a good one actually, and the large amount of fakery in the art world is something we're all much more familiar with. The motive is obvious. You have art dealers and connoisseurs searching out lost works by the past masters. Likewise you have modern artists with abundant technical skill, but doomed to wallow in poverty painting their unwanted works. The temptation to paint something in the style of a dead great and pass it off as a genuine work is perfectly rational - if not somewhat illegal and amoral. The artist makes some money and gets the smug satisfaction of seeing his work sitting in a gallery amongst the greats. The patrons get their much longed for masterpiece. The dealer gets his cut. The market forces alone make it rational to suspect, if not presume forgery when any new painting is miraculously discovered.

The same market exists for ancient texts and no doubt the same levels of forgery have abounded. The formula exactly the same;

Famous name + very old = very expensive

It's perhaps reasonable to suspect that most of our historical artefacts are fake, or at the very least misdated and misattributed. I have a guitar in my attic that once belonged to Chuck Berry. You may not believe me, but someone else may - and they may be willing to pay good money based on that belief. Once they've bought it their faith will no doubt be further entrenched. Who would want to admit to themselves, let alone to others, that something they've invested so much time, money and emotion in was a simple act of fabrication all along? Is a statue or document in the British Museum any different to this? Is the emotional and financial investment not somewhat similar, if not even greater?

There's also another very human tendency that I think may play a large part in this confusion we see between the medieval and ancient world. This is the desire for anonymity. Imagine you're a writer expressing your opinions in the medieval world. Would you necessarily want everyone to know that you were the author? Especially if you were living in a time of religious intolerance or persecution. It's quite likely you'd be tempted to use some kind of pseudonym. There's likewise the desire to have an attractive, impressive sounding name when you're publishing something. This is true both for the actual author, and for the publisher trying to sell the books. Johannes Ferrarius sounds a lot more impressive than John Smith, and no doubt would've sold a lot more volumes.

This Latinisation of names, along with the other various pseudonyms people may have used, could have often led to confusion on the part of later readers and historians. For example, it would be quite easy for someone to find a "John Smith" in the historical record, living in let's say rural England, and simply not realise that this seeming rustic bumpkin also wrote texts under the fancy-sounding name Hermeticus the Great, or whatever the case may have been. It would be easy, and perhaps quite likely, that a person would just assume that these two names found in the historic record were two completely different people. Perhaps even two people living in completely different centuries.

It's much like with the Internet today. People often use various exotic-sounding avatars when they're gaming or expressing their opinions online. DominatorX339 on Twitter may in fact be Greg the accountant from down the road, but you'd never know this from simply viewing his profile. This anonymity allows us to express our views with less fear of repercussion. It also allows us to present an image of ourselves to the wider world that we feel will be more successful or appealing. Or that just looks and feels cooler.

Avatars also allow us to indulge our fantasies to some extent. In fact, you could argue that the ancient world was in some sense a fantasy world created in the text books of medieval and Renaissance writers. A virtual world where novel and controversial ideas could be expressed and explored without fear of repercussion. Where social and political structures could be shared and envisioned, and where personal fantasies could be enacted out. A Humanist precursor to the fantasy worlds we indulge ourselves in online today. Perhaps these Humanist authors then helped make these fantasies become political reality to some extent in the heady days of the Renaissance, and thereafter.

Today it seems we place our visions for society in the future. We create our futuristic Science-Fiction, then chase those utopian, technological visions in reality. In past times it seems they placed their visions in the past as examples to be copied. Did ancient Greek democracy really exist the way we're told it did? Maybe not. Yet by the same token we could also ask; would we have democracy today if such a vision wasn't set out and explored in these supposedly ancient texts? Perhaps the belief people had in the reality of these ancient, more enlightened times gave them the confidence to believe that such worlds could be recreated in the present.

In a way it makes perfect sense. You could perhaps even describe such faked history (if indeed it was faked) as a noble lie. If you tell someone they should fight for their liberty they'll do it more readily if they feel they have an ancient tradition pertaining to that liberty. It sets a precedent that proves it has been done, therefore it can be done again. Without which the task may just appear as a hopeless dream.

If people feel like they've had something stolen they'll fight for it back, but if they never had it to begin with they'll lack the confidence that they can ever have it. It's like if you tell someone who's earning £15 an hour they should ask their boss for a pay rise. They'll feel like they're taking a liberty and will balk at asking for an increase. However, if you tell them that the guy doing the job before them was getting £20 an hour they'll feel smited and demand parity. This is perhaps why inflation is such a grand illusion. It gives us all the impression that we're earning more money than our forebears, though quite often the opposite may indeed be the case.

Returning to pseudonyms, it's also worth nothing that today authors often write under pen names for similar reasons. In fact, I could be writing under a pen name right now. The question would then be how would someone reading this know if I was or wasn't? Would they be bothered, and would they bother going to the effort to find out even if they were? Most people generally take things on face value, simply because it's much easier and much less time consuming. This is another tendency that makes it easy to fool people, either accidentally or on purpose. It stands to reason that the whole of history is filled with such misunderstandings and twisted knots. So once again, it's always reasonable to try to have an open mind. It's far too easy to be wrong about something.

Just for the record I'm not writing under a pseudonym ..nor would I ever mis-sell a guitar as once belonging to Chuck Berry.



[1] As I go on to mention later in the text, the most noted proponent of this idea is the Russian mathematician and historian Anatoly Fomenko. In his New Chronology theory he essentially compresses the last three thousand years or so of history into a much shorter period of time. Claiming amongst other things that Jesus Christ was actually crucified during what we now call the medieval period. Some of his claims are highly unorthodox, but it's fascinating stuff, which I highly recommend. Though I should warn some of his books can be quite heavy going.

A further such proponent of timeline revisionism, though not quite to the same extent that Fomenko goes, is the German historian Heribert Illig. He claims that 297 extra years were artificially inserted into the calendar, covering the period from AD 614 - AD 911. An idea generally now known by the moniker phantom time hypothesis. Again, an idea well worth investigating.

The writer I would probably most recommend on such topics is the English author M J Harper. His works The History of Britain Revealed and Meetings with Remarkable Forgeries are perhaps the most relevant ones in regard this chapter. The History of Britain Revealed in particular highlights some of the problems with the accepted history vis-à-vis Roman Empire to Dark Age to medieval period. Though in this case in regards the evolution and history of the English language. His books are also highly readable, so they're quite an enjoyable ride too.

[2] To give a quick Wikipedia style overview. The Gregorian calendar was first introduced in the year 1582. It was named after Pope Gregory XIII, under whom it was introduced. It corrected the Julian calendar by shortening the average year by 0.0075 days. Stopping the calendar from falling out of sync with the natural yearly cycle. To correct for the drift the Julian calendar had already accumulated the calendar was advanced 10 days. So the 4th October 1582 was followed by the 15th October 1582. Adding a further layer of complexity to the historical record.

[3] I came across this particular example in a very interesting and useful book titled A History of the World in Twelve Maps by Jerry Brotton (page 20.);

"After its completion, Ptolemy's Geography disappeared for a thousand years. No original copies from Ptolemy's own time have survived, and it only reappeared in thirteenth-century Byzantium.."

Continuing further;

"Turning to Ptolemy's biography to try to understand the significance of his book offers little help. Virtually nothing is known about his life. There is no autobiography, no statue, not even an account written by a contemporary."

[4] Another factor worth mentioning, which I alluded to slightly in Chapter Two, though have avoided in this one, is political motive i.e. the deliberate falsification or destruction of history for reasons of realpolitik. This is quite a commonly understood theme. Be it royals and rulers commissioning works of history that legitimise their reign, the stifling of dissident opinion, or the burning of heretical books. In fact, the concept is so familiar in the wider public consciousness that one would expect to find more scepticism of the historical record in general.

[5] Aristotle was said to have lived from 384 BC to 322 BC. The texts falsely attributed to him are numerous and could fill a chapter in of themselves. Notable ones include Aristotle's Masterpiece, now dated to just the late 17th century. De Proprietatibus Elementorum (On the Properties of the Elements), now believed to date from the 9th or 10th century, and to originally have been the work of an Arab author. The Secretum Secretorum - a treatise purporting to be a letter from Aristotle to his student Alexander the Great, a cherished theme in Aristotelian lore. Modern scholars believe it likely that this one also began life as a 10th century Arabic work, which was later translated into Latin ..and so the list continues.

[6] These other three works are De Bello Alexandrino (On the Alexandrine War), De Bello Africo (On the African War) and De Bello Hispaniensi (On the Hispanic War). Oddly, amongst Caesar's now lost works were said to be works of poetry - he had a sensitive side apparently. This is in keeping with the above noted high culture and apparent literacy of Alexander the Great. Perhaps suggesting that we're in the realms of fiction and romance here, rather than actual historic record. Again though, it may be the case that all these figures existed as written. Or a question of something in between. Either way it's not unreasonable to doubt such things.

Further chapters can be found here.