More History You Didn’t Learn in School: The Nazca Empire (100 BC) in Southern Peru

World History Part 3 – The Word and the Sword

BBC (2018)

Film Review

Part 3 traces the rise of the Quin dynasty in China, the Mauryan empire in India, the Roman empire, the Nazca empire in South America, and the first Islamic empire. It also traces the development of world religions that arose in reaction to the barbarous violence of empire building. In my mind the ghoulish reenactments of human sacrifice and the popular Roman spectacles of massacring Christians in the Coliseum significantly detract from the film.

The film starts by contrasting the rise of the Quin empire with that of the Mauryan empire in the 3rd century BC. After coming to power, the Mauryan emperor Ashokan embraced Buddhism, renouncing violence and issuing a universal of human rights. In addition to sending Buddhist missionaries across the known world from Vietnam to the Mediterranean, he abolished the slave trade and established schools and hospitals for the poor.

It goes on to cover the rise of the Roman empire, which owing to an alliance between Julius Caesar and Cleopatra in 48 BC made Egypt a Roman colony.

In this context, it traces the rise of Christianity, thanks to the missionary zeal of Saul of Tarsus (St Paul), who dedicated his life to spreading the Christian faith to non-Jews, and the Christians’ cult of martyrdom in the face of Roman persecution.

The Nazca Empire, which emerged in South America in 100 BC practiced human sacrifice to guarantee soil fertility and protect their civilization against natural disasters. The empire vanished owing to the inhabitants’ depletion of verango trees they relied on for fuel and food. Without tree roots to anchor it, fertile soil was washed away and the region became a desert.

The film ends with the rise of Islam on the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century AD and the role of Bilal, a freed African slave, in uniting warring Arabian tribes in a religion that united belief in jihad with conquest. Within 120 years, Muslims controlled more territory than the Romans, extending from Central Asia to Spain.

The Historical Roots of Patriarchy

Patriarchy, Civilization, Militarism and Democracy

Gwynne Dyer (1994)

 

This documentary traces the development of patriarchy around 5,000 years ago, which Dyer links to the consolidation of agricultural villages into empires. Simultaneously in Mesopotamia, Central and South America and China, hierarchical political systems formed under a single male dictator who controlled their subjects via absolute terror.

This transition from autonomous villages into heavily militarized states was always accompanied by strict control of women’s behavior. Dyer maintains the ultimate goal of controlling women was to increase the birth rate and produce more male subjects for the rulers’ armies. In Mesopotamia, the formation of new religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) glorifying a single male god was the crowning achievement of patriarchy.

According to Dyer, Egypt was the last ancient empire to fully adopt patriarchy. Owing to natural barriers (the Sinai desert and the Mediterranean) that protected it from foreign invasion, it was the last ancient empire to militarize and adopt strict laws restricting women’s freedom.

The 40 minute film is divided into four parts. Parts 2-4 start automatically when the prior part concludes.

 

The Hidden History of Money, Debt and Organized Religion

Debt the First 5,000 Years

David Graeber (2012)

In this presentation, anthropologist David Graeber talks about his 2012 book Debt: The First 5,000 Years

For me, the most interesting part of the talk is his discussion of the historical link between debt and the rise of the world’s major religions (Hinduism, Christianity, Confucianism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism) between 500 BC and 600 AD.

As Graeber describes it, all commerce was based on credit prior to the development of coinage around 500 BC. In all societies, coinage arose in conjunction with the onset of empire building – traveling armies had to be paid in hard currency rather than credit. The result, according to Graeber, was the simultaneous rise of military/coinage/slavery* empires in Greece, China and India.

According to Graeber, all the major religions arose around the same time – as a “peace movement” opposing militarism, materialism and slavery.

Around 400 AD, when the Roman and other empires collapsed, coinage vanished, along with the standing armies that necessitated its creation. During the Middle Ages, nearly all financial transactions were based on credit. Until 1493, when the “discovery” of the New World initiated a new cycle of empire building, accompanied by militarism, coinage and slavery.

I was also intrigued to learn that Adam Smith stole most of his thinking about free markets from medieval Islamic philosophers. The Islamic ban on usury enabled the Muslim world to operate pure free markets that were totally outside of government influence or control. Trying to operate an economy without such a ban (or a system of debt forgiveness like the Biblical practice of Jubilee) leads to inevitable economic chaos and ultimately collapse, even with government intervention.

People who like this talk will also really like a series Graeber recently produced for BBC4 radio entitled Promises, Promises: The History of Debt.  In it, Graeber explores  the link between Native American genocide and the harsh debt obligations imposed on the Conquistadors.  He also discusses the formation of the Bank of England in 1694, the role of paper money as circulating government debt and the insanity of striving for government surpluses.


* In ancient times, the primary mechanism by which people became enslaved was non-payment of debt.