Reconstruction by Way of the Soil

by G.T. Wrench

Chapter 6

Farmers and Nomads

I. The Land

Physical maps, showing the different elevations of land, have always had an irresistible attraction for me, and none is more attractive than that of the vast continent of Asia with its European appendage, pushed out like a tongue between the Mediterranean and Northern Seas. What a huge playground of history this map presents! There has been nothing like it in the other continents of the world, Africa Australia and the Americas. They are, excepting Egypt, almost without history, compared to the Eurasiatic Continent.

The map which I possess has five colours to denote different heights, dark green to show land below sea-level, light green from sea-level to 500 feet, yellow 500 to 2,000 feet, light brown 2,000 to 5,000 feet, and dark brown over 5,000 feet.

Asia begins with the beaches of the Arctic Ocean. Then comes a vast light green band or belt with a few yellow areas within it. It stretches right across Asia and Europe. In Asia it is the Siberian Plain; in Europe the Great Lowland Plain.

Except for an extreme northern band of Arctic vegetation, called tundra, this light green belt is forest land with great rivers passing through it to the Arctic Ocean. It is Belt No. 1. It has played very little part in Asiatic history.

Yellow-tinted is the land between this green belt and the mountains to the south of it. It has less rainfall than the green land north of it, and is subject to seasons of aridity. It is grass land, the land of the Steppes. This is Belt No. 2. It has played a great part in Asiatic history.

Belonging to Belt No. 2 as Steppe land, there is a patch of light green near the Caspian Sea. It is a part of the Kirghiz Steppes and it passes directly to the Steppes of south-eastern European Russia; when north of the Caspian, it is actually tinted dark green or below sea-level. This is the Caspian Tract, through which so many hordes of Asiatics passed into Europe in prehistoric and historic times.

The third belt begins with light brown almost from the northeastern tip of Asia. It then shows a dark brown series of mountain ranges. From east to west these are, the long thin line of the Yablonoi Mountains, the much greater mass of the Sayan and Altai Mountains, and the lofty Tianshan, which ends at the seventieth longitude in the Pamir or Roof of the World.

Belt No. 4 is a light brown belt between Belts 3 and 5. It includes Mongolia, the Gobi Desert and Turkestan. It comes to an end at the Pamir. Mongolia is Steppe country and its inhabitants have played a large part in history, not only of Asia but also of eastern Europe. The name Mongol, or Tartar of the Chinese historians, however, has become attached to other peoples of the Steppes as well as to the people of Mongolia.

The filth belt constitutes the largest mass of elevated land in the world. In the east it rises almost abruptly above the light green of the lowland of China, and then forms the most extensive elevation, that of Tibet, 11,000 feet and over, which is inhabited by man. Tibet's southern border is formed by the highest mountains of the world, the range of the Himalaya. The Himalaya pass on westwards, forming the northern barrier of India and join the lofty Tianshan of the third belt in the Pamir.

From the Pamir the conjoint Tianshan and Himalaya continue westwards as the Hindu Kush Range; thence reaching across northern Afghanistan and Persia to arrive at Ararat in the east of Asia Minor. Ranges of lesser height pass from the Hindu Kush southwards to form the eastern border of Afghanistan and then pass west and north-west to the east of the Persian Gulf as the mountains of west Persia and so reach Ararat. They, and the northern ranges, enclose a smaller and much lower plateau than that of Tibet, the Iranian Plateau. Finally from Ararat, mountains continue westwards in Asia Minor, and appear in Europe as the Balkans, the Alps and the Pyrenees.

Belt No. 6 is the land of the Farmers. For our purpose it is the light green land about the great rivers, the Huang Ho or Yellow River and Yangtse Kiang of China, the Brahmaputra, Ganges, and Indus of India, the Euphrates and Tigris of Irak.

Such, in brief, is the physical map of Asia. Its fascination lies in the fact that one can read from it some of the vast progeny of history upon the huge stage of the continent of Asia.

II. The Nomads

The Nomads are the inhabitants of Belt 2, the Steppe country. They are defined in Annandale's Concise English Dictionary as 'those people whose chief occupation consists of feeding their flocks, and who shift their residence according to the state of the pasture'.

The Nomads, according to this definition, present a picture to the mind's eye of wandering shepherds and peaceful pastoralists passing from pasture to pasture to the sound of tinkling cow bells. They would erect their tents of oxhide at new pastures and enjoy the comfort of a home and resting place, until their experienced eyes told them that the pasture was insufficient for their cattle and it was time to move on.

Probably in the earliest historical times, the Nomads had horses. The horse is an Asiatic animal and the only wild horse now known is found in Western Mongolia, as a natural denizen of its dry, open steppes. Certainly the Nomads had horses before 2000 B.C., for horses appeared in Babylonia at that time and two centuries or so later the Hyksos, who conquered Egypt, introduced horses into that country. So we can add the horse to a company of Nomads. But the horse was to them a noble animal and was ridden only. It was not used as a beast of burden as it is to-day; it was the oxen who drew the heavy wagons of the Nomads when they trekked. The horse was loved for its speed. It was the swiftest animal of the steppes and it was this which made it loved by the Nomads.

The picture of the Nomads is a pleasant one and their life was peaceful and pleasant as long as the pasture was good. But, when the rain was scanty and the pasture poor, they were in trouble, Then they had to move frequently and, sometimes, faced by the loss of their cattle by starvation and themselves feeling the pinch of hunger, they would move quickly and their warriors, mounted on their loved steeds and armed with bows and arrows, would fling themselves upon peaceful people, either more fortunate pastoralists like themselves or farmers, slay many and take possession of their land. With their incredible swiftness on the march and an unprecedented speed of encircling attack, with their deadly accuracy of arrows shot from the saddle, with their horrific cries to terrorize their slow-moving victims, they must have seemed like a horde of winged insects, whose sting was death, and whose capture and destruction were impossible.

The cause of this disturbing loss of food was at one time believed to be an increasing dryness of the climate in historical times. This hypothesis was propounded by Prince Kropotkin in an article in the Royal Geographical Journal of 1904 in which he stated that it was quite certain that Belt No. 4 was more populated than it is now; it was quite certain, for example, that within historical times Eastern Turkestan and the adjacent part of Mongolia 'were not deserts as they are now. They had a numerous population, advanced in civilization, which stood in lively intercourse with different parts of Asia'. Many of them were successful farmers dependent on irrigation from rivers flowing from their enclosing mountains. This, Sir Aurel Stein, in his monumental work The Desert Cities of Cathay, 1912, has convincingly proved beyond further discussion. Kropotkin continued: 'All this is now gone, and it must have been the rapid desiccation of this region which compelled its inhabitants to rush down to the Jungarian Gate' (Jungaria was a name of Western Mongolia) 'to the lowlands of Balkash and the Obi.' Mr. Huntingdon Ellsworth skilfully developed this hypothesis in The Pulse of Asia.

The hypothesis gave rise to very widespread investigation, with the result that, though fluctuations of climate undoubtedly occurred, as shown, for example, by the rise and fall of the level of the Caspian Sea, nevertheless a continuous decline in humidity in historical times could not be accepted. Drives through the Jungarian Gate were, however, accepted.

Another reason had to be found. It was found in the particular character of the treatment of the soil by the Nomads.

The first statement of this other reason, which I have been able to find, is that by Monsieur Rorit in the Royal Geographical Journal of 1870. Rorit wrote: 'The nakedness of Arabia and the vast tracts of Asia in the north and west, the sterility, which extends over Persia, cannot be traced to any other cause than the pastoral habits of the inhabitants. The people inhabiting them are locusts; they destroy all woodland and vegetation, modifying even the climate -- whence the necessity of migrations. Had the invasions of the barbarians any other cause? A study of the question in this sense would perhaps give us the key to the great migrations of mankind.'

Monsieur Rorit's reason is pungently expressed, but it is now accepted. It could not well be otherwise, for, to confirm it, the same process is going on in many parts of the world under our eyes today.

In the countries in which Nomads fed their flocks and herds and grew temporary crops of grain, there was, as is usual in uninterfered with nature, a balance between animal and vegetable life. Animals feed upon the land and manure it, but they do not ravage it. When human pastoralists entered these countries, there entered with them an altogether new danger, namely a form of terrene animals so advantaged by their upright position, their hands and their large brains, that they have the capacity to override the natural law of balance. They could breed more animals than the land could permanently support; they could break up the natural life-cycle of a district by using all that the soil produced, and then, when exhaustion of the soil came, move on to another district. With weapons forged from the iron of the Altai Mountains, these Nomads could cut down trees and shrubs and, with their ability to create fire from flint or friction, they could burn as well as cut down. The ash of the burnt trees and shrubs gave the manure of their substance to the land and enabled the Nomads to grow good temporary crops for a number of seasons. They, in short, as men, had power; and power in this sense may be defined as the ability to exceed the limitations set by nature.

Nature followed the rule of return, and the Nomads, unlike the true farmers, failed to follow the, rule of return. Indirectly, by cutting down trees and shrubs for fuel and for ash, they made the soil drier. Rain fell and was by nature broken into a fine spray by trees, shrubs and thick grass and was thus evenly and widely spread in the topsoil. The topsoil, sheltered from sun and rain, stored the water. By slow evaporation from the vegetation, the water was returned to the air. But where excess of cattle fed upon the land and where trees and shrubs were widely burnt, the soil was exposed, dried and powdered, and then blown away by the winds or washed away by the rain. So a district of desert was formed, which forced the Nomads to move on. Nature then returned and in many cases restored the ravage. But if the destruction of fertility had been too great or if the half-recovered soil was again used for crops and grazing, permanent deterioration was the result.

The Nomads, then, lived a life of ill-balance by not following the rule of return, which is the only stable rule of living. They were, therefore, forced to live a life of chance. They depended on the seasons and, as the seasons varied, they themselves were necessarily speculative. In this character, indeed, they were like to other kinds of speculators, many prominent at the present time. Speculators disregard the rule of return. They strive to gain without giving; they disregard future generations; they are indifferent to the sufferings of others, provided they themselves can escape suffering. Yet eventually there is no escape from the effects of these actions, because ultimately their values are destructive and not conservative.

As long as the Nomads failed to use settled agriculture and limit their cattle-breeding, life was sometimes generous to them, sometimes even-handed, sometimes, at seasons of drought, harsh. At times of harshness, mounted on their horses they organized wide-sweeping hunts of wild animals for their food. If further pressed, they were forced to move on and this sometimes entailed making raids into the lands of their neighbours, who, in their turn might raid or join with them in raiding. Then, with increasing numbers, they might successfully, make themselves masters of the land of settled farmers and the food and wealth, which they had not the wit to get by their own skill and toil. Hence they praised war, not as a means of defence in the way in which a sturdy peasantry has so often successfully defended itself and its soil, but as a means to mastery and wealth. To them life was not only a struggle for existence, but a will to power over their enemies, an assertion of the right of the better-armed and of the more savage nature over what they regarded as possible, and if possible legitimate, prey. They terrorized when they attacked, and, when they conquered, they were successful owing to the speed of their attack, the terror they aroused, and the human slaughter they effected. All these characters of theirs ultimately, therefore, arose from their attitude to the soil. The soil was something to be exploited and even plundered for their gain. This attitude was in the sharpest possible contrast to the tenet of the Babylonians, that the soil belonged to their god, or to the sanctity with which the soil was endowed by the followers of Zoroaster. These faiths of the holiness or wholeness of the soil were, as we shall see, faiths of the farmers; the very word cultivate is derived from the Latin verb colere, of the two-fold meaning of tilling and worship.

Yet the Nomads were not by any means always wild horsemen, as when they presented themselves to their enemies, the farmers. They had within them the gentler character of humanity. Professor Keane, in Man, Past and Present, said of the Tartars or Mongols of Mongolia: 'They are all brave, warlike, even fierce, and capable of great atrocities, though not normally cruel.' The invention of the gun has now robbed them of their power and, in consequence, they have 'almost everywhere undergone a marked change from a rude and ferocious to a milder and more humane disposition.'

The Nomads have been the great human desert-makers, and the deserts of the Gobi, the Lop Nor, the Taklamakan, the Registan, the Great Salt Desert, the Syrian Desert, and even the Arabian Desert and the Sahara of Africa are due to their treatment of the soil. Nor is this desert-making by men at an end. It is going on at the present, as future chapters will show, in North and South America, in Russia, in Asia, in North and South Africa, in Australia, and even in the islands of New Zealand and the West Indies, with a speed that outstrips that of the Asiatic Nomads, so much so that it may even be said that man, in this proud scientific era, has paid for his all-too-swift advance by the loss of terrene capital, of the fertility of the soil. He has become the great transferrer of this capital to other fields than those of the soil, and, by his destruction of the soil, has foredoomed himself to God knows what impending calamities, exceeding those brought about by the Asiatic Nomads, unless he calls a halt.

It is this fact which gives this dissertation on the Nomadic character its present significance.

III. The Farmers

Belt No. 6 of Asia is the belt of the Farmers. From the mountains of Belt No. 5 great rivers run southwards into the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, and along these rivers the Farmers built up their civilizations. The first civilization we shall take will be the one that is believed to be the oldest of them with the doubtful exception of that of China. It is that of Iraq.

This civilization was, par excellence, the civilization of irrigated farming. The rivers upon which it built itself were three, the Euphrates, the Tigris and the Karun. All three rivers, throughout its duration, discharged their waters separately into the head of the Persian Gulf. To-day the Karun joins the Tigris, and the Euphrates and Tigris have one joint mouth 140 miles to the south of where the three mouths then met the sea.

The first river of the three to form a basis of civilization was the shortest and the most eastern, the Karun, with its important tributary, the Ab-i-Diz. These two rivers ran through flat alluvial country before they reached the sea. Their courses in the flat land were brief compared to those of the Euphrates and the Tigris, their major lengths being amidst the mountains, through which they dashed down. Elam, as was the name of this country, therefore, resembled Latium, having a plain near the sea, and a great capital, Susa, situated on the plain within thirty miles of the hills. The civilization of the farmers and hillsmen of Elam preceded that of the Latins by some three thousand years. Elam showed much of the tenacity of Rome, for mostly it kept its independence and played a considerable part in the riverine civilization of Iraq for a period of some 2,000 years.

The riverine civilization was further developed by Sumer, Akkad, and Babylonia, with their City-States watered by the sluggish Euphrates. The Tigris was swifter and more steeply banked and, therefore, less used. The Akkadians and Babylonians were men of the Semitic Race. The Sumerians were of doubtful origin. They were believed to have preceded the Semites, and to have been the inventors, about 3500 B.C., of the cuneiform writing later adopted by the Semites and found upon the baked clay tablets, the excavation and deciphering of which have enabled scholars to extract from the sites of the City-States the history of this artistic, flourishing, powerful and very ancient civilization of irrigated farming.

The City-States consisted of the cities and the pastures of the cattle, together surrounded by walls, and of the farmed land outside the walls. The life of the land depended solely on irrigation and it was the ambition of good rulers of the City-States to cut out a new canal and clean out the old ones. The early history of the tablets records such work, the building of temples and the wars carried out by the cities against each other, wars to establish suzerainty, but not in any way to injure the farming of the soil, upon which all depended for their existence. Eventually Babylon became paramount. Babylon's first dynasty is given as beginning about 2400 B.C. Babylon was conquered by the Persians under Cyrus in 538 B.C.

Lastly in the accumulated centuries of this riverine civilization came the Assyrians, also a Semitic people, appearing in the thirteenth century. They inhabited the land of the middle reaches of the Tigris.

From the level of Hit on the Euphrates, a little to the north of the modern Bagdad on the Tigris, the land for 550 miles to the Persian Gulf is purely alluvial, with all the advantages of alluvial soil, such as lower Egypt enjoys from the Nile, Bengal from the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, and the Chinese in the lower reaches of the Huang Ho and Yangtse Kiang. Above Hit there is a reef of hard rock from which to the north the land continues to be rocky. For this reason the Assyrians, with their capital at Kalaat Shirgat on the Tigris about 200 miles to the north of Babylon, were not so favoured as the southern alluvial peoples, and therefore exhibited what Sir Percy Sykes, in his History of Persia, calls a predatory character. Their initial strength, says Sykes, lay in the formidable fighting quality of a free agricultural class. When this class became exhausted, the Assyrian rulers moved their capital to Nineveh on the opposite bank to the modern Mosul, near where the Tigris enters Iraq from the mountains of the south-eastern corner of Asia Minor. This gave them the control and use of sturdy hillsmen as mercenaries. The Assyrians, as northerners, became masters of the southerners of Babylonia in 745 B.C. and remained so until 606 B.C., the brief period of about a century and a half which is so constant in the case of inferior conquerors. In 606 B.C. the Medes, with the assistance of the revolting Babylonians, sacked Nineveh. So great had been the cruelty and barbarity of the northerners compared to the southerners of Babylon, that Sykes declares: Assyria 'shone only as a great predatory power, and when she fell, passed away into utter and well-merited oblivion'.

Assyria's predatory character introduces us to the Aryans, for the Medes were Aryans, living in the valleys of the Zagros Mountains, and the adjacent Iranian plateau in the north-west of Persia.

The Aryans entered the north of Persia about 2400 B.C. and the Medes about 2000 B.C. They were steppe dwellers, as their language, in its omission to speak of forests and mountains, discloses. They came as Nomads with flocks and herds, moving their habitation from place to place with the help of large wagons.

The Medes, at the time of Assyria's ascendancy, were subject to predatory raids by the armed Assyrian forces; and the results of these raids show the Medes as a more settled people than were their nomadic ancestors. 'From the frequency with which these expeditions raided the Iranian plateau', writes Sykes -- the plateau that is to-day so desolate -- 'and from the number of towns they destroyed, it was then a distinctly fertile and well-populated country. The inference is confirmed by the number of prisoners and the thousands of horses, cattle and sheep that were captured.' Thus in one raid in 744 B.C. 'the success of the campaign may be estimated from the fact that 60,500 prisoners and enormous herds of oxen, sheep, mules and dromedaries were led back in triumph to Calah', near Nineveh.

These afflictions brought about a desire for vengeance in the Medes. They were sturdy hillsmen and unexcelled horsemen. Under Cyaxares, their great leader, they circled round the Assyrian soldiers just beyond the range of their weapons, and poured a ceaseless shower of arrows into their midst. With the help of the Babylonians, they destroyed the Assyrian Empire in 0o6 B.C.

The Persians entered eastern Persia from the steppes to the north of Khorasan in what is now Russian Turkestan and, traversing the south-eastern Persian province of Kerman, reached Fars, with the Persian Gulf as its western limit and Elam and the Medes to the north. At this time a notable event happened, which illustrates the soil character of the Medes and Persians. They both adopted the religion of Zoroaster, who was born 'about 660 B.C. or perhaps a few generations earlier' (Sykes), and therefore some half a century or more before the destruction of the Assyrians. Zoroaster raised the use of the soil to the first place in the three chief tenets of his religion. His first tenet was: 'That agriculture and cattle-breeding are the noble callings.' 'He who sows the ground with care and diligence', he announced, 'acquires a greater stock of religious merit than he would gain by the repetition of ten thousand prayers.'

A further illustration of the character of these farming and pastoral peoples in the highland of Western Persia is shown by the remarkable fact that Cyaxares and his Medes did not take possession of the wonderful riverine civilizations of Iraq after the sack of Nineveh. They were content to hand it over to their allies, the Babylonians, who then erected the brief but brilliant Tenth Dynasty. Cyaxares, however, did not cease from his conquests, but confined them to the uplands of Persia, Armenia, the upper reaches of the Tigris and western Cappadocia.

One of the greatest of Aryan leaders, the Persian, Cyrus, defeated the son of Cyaxares by taking Ecbatana, the modern Hamadan, and the capital of the Medes, in 550 B.C. Cyrus became the first king of all Persia and proceeded to make himself master of the most extensive empire the world had then seen. From 500 B.C. to A.D. 600 Persia must have denoted an area more than half the size of Europe. The Medes were not made the subjects of Cyrus, but his brethren in religion and status. He overthrew Croesus in 546 B.C. and became master of the Greek colonies in Asia Minor. He took Babylon in 538 B.C. So the early Persian conquests, it seems, were not based on the strength in food of Iraq. By becoming the master of Iraq, Cyrus brought the independence of its riverine civilizations to an end.

Now, this long story of the riverine civilizations, enduring as it did for thirty centuries and only surpassed by the forty centuries of China, illustrates the extraordinary stability of a civilization founded upon the soil as its first principle. The City-States of Babylonia regarded,the land as sacred. Each state had its god and, writes Mr. C. H. W. Johns, in Ancient Babylonia, 1913, 'the god was the owner of all the city land, its belu, or "Lord".' The priests acted as his agents. Sykes terms it 'a feudal, ecclesiastical system', but the fact remains that the soil was regarded as sacred. This sanctity was revived by the followers of Mohammed, when they became masters of Iraq.

A second notable fact of the thirty centuries of the civilization founded on farming was its freedom from destruction by the Nomads. Only once, in Sykes's record, did Nomads threaten its independence. That was the invasion of Iraq by the Semitic Aramaean hordes from Arabia. They apparently took the whole of Assyria, and brought the Eighth Dynasty of Babylonia to its end. They were eventually subdued by the Assyrians. With this exception and a brief raid by Scythians, sent against the Medes by the failing Assyrians, the factor of the invasions and conquests of Farmers by Nomads, which played so large a part in history, did not greatly affect the strength of the organized societies of the Farmers. It is to its vast effects on history that we must now turn.

IV. Nomadic Migrations and Farmers

The first great migrations of the Nomads occurred between 2500 and 2000 B.C. During that time Aryans, as we have seen, reached the Iranian Plateau. It was the time of the First and Second Dynasties of Babylon, and apparently had no effect upon the highly organized riverine civilizations.

The second migratory period was about 1500 B.C. It was the time of the overthrow of the early Minoan civilization of Crete by the Dorians, the conquest of Egypt by the Hyksos and the disturbances of the first dynasty of China, the Shang, 1750-1122 B.C., by the Mongolian, Hiung-wu.

The third migratory period was about 1200 B C. It was the time of the invasion of Greece by the Dorians and their destruction of the later Minoan civilization, and the end of the Shang Dynasty of China brought about by the Hiung-wu.

Neither of these two periods of nomadic migration affected the riverine civilization of Babylonia. The Kassites, who formed the Third Dynasty of Babylonia (1700-1170 B.C.) and came from the Zagros Mountains though originally, perhaps, nomadic Aryans, were not at this time nomadic, but a settled people like those of Elam, their southern neighbour amidst the hills.

The fourth migratory period witnessed the virtual fall of the Chow Dynasty in China in 659 B.C. The same movement brought the Sesunaga to India in 620 B.C. They established the Magadha Kingdom in the central and eastern Gangetic Plain. Possibly contemporaneous movements in Europe were those of the Celts into the middle valley of the Danube, and from there at a later date into France, Spain and Northern Italy.

The remarkable fact, then, about these four great migratory periods of the Nomads is that they had little or no effect upon the first and perhaps greatest Asiatic farming civilization, though they were so destructive to other lands and peoples. The Persians who succeeded the Babylonians, in 538 B.C., were no less strong. They were Zoroastrians and Zoroaster taught the high significance of farming. From the time of Cyrus and for a long period later, Persia offered an almost invincible obstacle to these movements of the Nomads of Asia, diverting them to India to the south and northwards to Central Turkestan and Europe. Persia fell to Alexander of Macedon and after his death the Seleucids reigned. They were replaced by their pupils the Parthians of Khorasan, like the Persians an Iranian people, the words of Arya and Iran having the same derivation. The Parthians, in their turn, gave way to the Persian Sassanian Dynasty, and the Sassanians to a people who rapidly became great farmers, the Arabs of Islam. The, significance of this barrier-power of Farmers against Nomads is very great indeed. It began with Babylon's first dynasty, nearly 2400 B.C., and it endured until the overthrow of the Arabs by the nomadic Mongols in A.D. 1258, a total of some four thousand years.

The next great farming people of Asia were the Chinese, and they can also claim a history of four thousand years. Professor F. H. King, who quite recently wrote his famous book on their agriculture, called it truly Farmers of Forty Centuries. The first location of the Chinese was along the Huang Ho or Yellow River, which arises in the highlands of Tibet, as does their second great river, the Yangtse Kiang. They settled upon the lands along the Huang Ho after it makes its right-angled bend from east to south in the fortieth latitude. The Nomads, who so frequently threatened this otherwise peaceful people were called by them the Tartars, and by us the Mongols and their country Mongolia. The Chinese are historically-minded. They begin their history with the Emperor Fuhi (2852-2738 B.C.), who is said to have founded the large or patriarchal family system. In the reign of the Emperor Huang-ti (2704 or 2491 B.C.), the northern Mongols receive their first mention under the name of Hun-yu. The date of the first definite dynasty, the Shang, is given as 1766-1122 B.C. In their time, Chinese history was mainly one of peace, but towards the end of their period, the Mongols, known now as Hiung-wu, appeared, and it is said that it was with their help that the Shang Dynasty was overthrown by its successor, the Chow (1122-659 B.C.). The Chow and the Shang Dynasties together reigned for a thousand years. In this length of time, they resembled the Babylonians.

When the Chow Dynasty came to an end, a general unity ended with it. Various states, especially the border states, asserted their independence and fought together for suzerainty. It was in the period of Contending States, as the Chinese historians call it that, from 551 to 479 B.C., the most famous of the Chinese, Confucius, lived.

Another very famous Chinaman changed the complexion of the Contending States. He was the Emperor Chin Chi Huang-ti, who ruled from 249-210 B.C. This Emperor united the Chinese, and to shut off the invasions of their troublesome neighbours, the Mongols, he built perhaps the most prodigious Maginot Line mankind has ever witnessed. This immense fortified Great Wall stretched from the sea to the north of Pekin for 1,500 miles. Nor did the Emperor's energy exhaust itself in this brobdingnagian undertaking. He drove the Mongols out of Inner Mongolia, on the borders of China, into Outer Mongolia, and the Early Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 23) continued the aggression. Then occurred one of those remarkable shunting-train movements which the Chinese in an aggressive imperial mood originated. The driven Mongols and Turki-Mongols retreated westwards, forcing other peoples before them. Some of these peoples, continuing westwards, conquered the Greek Kingdom of Bactria-Sogdiana between the Hindu Kush and the Sea of Aral; others turned south and eventually passed through the Bolan Pass and invaded the land of Five Rivers, the Punjab. The Early Hans annexed Mongolia and Eastern Turkestan, and Bactria and Sogdiana were compelled to acknowledge their supremacy. Any further conquest was then stopped by the barrier of organized Persia.

The Hans, early and late (A.D. 23-230), bring us to the Mongol or Nomadic movements of our own era. A great Mongol movement brought about the downfall of the Western Tsin Dynasty in China in A.D. 419. The Gupta Dynasty in India was overcome by the White Huns in A.D. 450. These White Huns also for many years harassed the Persians, but were eventually destroyed by the power of the Sassanian Dynasty. The date of the movement under Attila the Hun, who reached Rome, is given as A.D. 445-453, and caused the Slavs to push the Teutons into Britain, France, Austria and Lombardy.

The Chinese, under the short Suy Dynasty (A.D. 590-618), and the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), in its early period, launched an imperial recoil movement and by A.D. 640 had again conquered Eastern Turkestan and extended their influence as far as Persia and the Caspian. The Arabs in Persia checked their threat to Persia about A.D. 650.

A further Mongol movement brought the Tang Dynasty to an end in A.D. 907 and sent the Turki-Mongol Ghazni Dynasty into North-western India. The Magyars entered Europe and divided the Slavs into northern and southern Slavs.

The vast Mongol and Turki-Mongol movements under Genghiz Khan and his successors occupied the thirteenth century. China was conquered. Northern India was conquered. The Arab power was broken in A.D. 1258. Assaults were made on the Byzantine Empire, and southern Russia was conquered and occupied.

The latter half of the fourteenth century witnessed the peculiarly personal achievements of the greatest of Asiatic conquerors, Tamerlane (A.D. 1335-1405), the Turk. No ruler of the time was able to oppose his supreme genius with success. He was not destructive and murderous as were Genghiz Khan and his successors, but supplanted the established rulers by conquest. He was, wrote Sykes, 'profoundly sagacious, generous, experienced and persevering ... In The Institutes it is laid down that every soldier surrendering should be treated with honour and regard, a rule which, in striking contrast with the customs prevailing at the period, is remarkable for its humane spirit.' As a consequence no marked change occurred in the habitation of peoples.

The last two Mongol movements were conquests and changes of dynasty without any general effect. The first was the Moghul conquest of most of India (Akbar, A.D. 1556- 1605); the second that of the Manchu conquest of China in A.D. 1644.

Such, in outline, was the historical effect of the Nomads of Asia. A full account of these movements, the history caused by them, and the numerous dynasties founded by them in Asia and in Europe, mostly to endure only about a century and a half, will be found in my Causes of Peace and War (Heinemann, 1926).

Here let us close the physical atlas, and this long chapter, which it is hoped will convince readers of a dependence of much war and history upon men's attitude to the soil. At present it is a subject mostly ignored by the historians, but I hope that soon some great modern scholar will deal with the subject more adequately than I have been able to do. Perhaps it will give rise to a greater knowledge of the causes of devastating wars and their prevention. Perhaps it will show that home-farming establishes in each nation a class strong in its desire for peace, and that, as in the past the Nomads were the chief enemies of peace, so the nomadic type is still prevalent and powerful, and still sees in war the means of its advantage. The social elimination of these advantages and a true valuation of the soil may then prove powerful factors in the maintenance of peace.

Next chapter

Table of Contents
1. Introductory
2. Rome
3. The Roman Foods
4. The Roman Family
5. Roman Soil Erosion
6. Farmers and Nomads
I. The Land
II. The Nomads
III. The Farmers
IV. Nomadic Migrations and Farmers
7. Contrasting Pictures
8. Banks for the Soil
9. Economics of the Soil
10. The English Peasant and Agricultural Labourer
11. Primitive Farmers
12. Nyasa
13. Tanganyika
14. 'Earth Thou Art'
15. Sind and Egypt
16. Fragmentation
17. East and West Indies
18. German Colonies: The Mandates
19. Russia, South Africa, Australia
South Africa
20. The United States of America
21. A Kingdom of Agricultural Art in Europe
22. An Historical Reconstruction
The Initiation
The Institution
The Achievement
23. Recapitulation
24. Action

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