Let’s hear it for the barbarians!
It turns out that civilization as we know it might not have been possible without roving bands of bloodthirsty killers. At least that’s what recent research from the University of Connecticut suggests.
According to Peter Turchin, a professor of evolutionary biology and cliodynamics (the study of recurring patterns in history), the earliest farming societies of pre-historic Eurasia likely banded together into rudimentary civilizations specifically to fight off nomadic raiders. It’s equally likely that these same dreaded invaders snuffed out a number of proto-civilizations that weren’t fit enough to survive, he added.
“Steppe nomads influenced the dynamics of agrarian societies both directly, by eliminating weaker and less cohesive states, and indirectly, by innovating and spreading technologies that intensified warfare — most notably chariots, horse-riding, the stirrup and heavy cavalry,” Turchin wrote.
The threats posed to our primitive ancestors by marauders likely helped spur the formation of state authority and even the earliest armies. It’s equally possible that human society advanced further as civilizations were compelled to develop new and more effective killing technologies.
The researchers arrived at their conclusion after running a complex computer simulation or war game that played out 3,000 years of human history. Programmers plotted the location and sizes of various root societies on a virtual world map using archeological evidence. The game also factored in environmental, social and technological as well as military variables. As the simulation unfolded, the various tribes evolved into civilizations and then empires, which expanded and then in turn collapsed. At the end of the simulation the game map circa 1500 AD was 65 percent historically accurate.
The findings add some new perspective to the widely-held belief, as outlined in Jared Diamond’s landmark book Guns, Germs and Steel, that human civilization was largely a by-product of the domestication of crops such as wheat and barley and the taming of animals like horses and cattle.
In our modern age in which military technology and war are often (and rightly) seen as threats to civilization itself, it’s ironic that humankind’s warlike tendencies may have inadvertently helped us evolve in our pre-history.
It wasn’t just ancient civilizations that reaped benefits from military advancements. A number of modern day conveniences can be traced back to wartime. Check out our story: Eureka moments – Seven everyday inventions that came from warfare.
Who were the first warriors and what was the first known battle in history? Read about what we know about warfare at the dawn of human history in our story: First blood – History’s earliest recorded battles and wars.