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The Social Evolution of International Politics$

Shiping Tang

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199658336

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199658336.001.0001

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(p.196) (p.197) Appendix III The Coming of Warfare to Secondary Systems

(p.196) (p.197) Appendix III The Coming of Warfare to Secondary Systems

The Social Evolution of International Politics
Oxford University Press

(p.196) (p.197) Appendix III

The Coming of Warfare to Secondary Systems

Our theory insists that exodus of losers in conflicts within the pristine systems to areas around them and the subsequent learning by groups in those secondary systems when encountering the intruders would eventually transform the secondary systems into offensive realism systems. By the age of written texts the latest (c.1,500 BC), if not earlier, war had engulfed most secondary systems. Since evidences from the secondary systems are extensive, I shall elaborate on them only briefly and list secondary sources that readers can refer to later on.

A. Levant/Canaan

The ancient Levant covers today’s Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and coastal Syria.1 Levant is a secondary system: it borders (northern) Mesopotamia on the east and ancient Egypt on the southwest respectively. As the two pristine systems being transformed into offensive realism worlds, they also came to penetrate Levant and eventually transformed (and absorbed) Levant into an offensive realism world: Indeed, the two pristine systems came to blows against each other via the Levant.

One of the most famous archaeological sites in Levant has been the imposing fortification at Jericho (dated to around 8000–7500 BC): it had a massive fortress with a circuitous wall and an observation/defending tower built from stone, with a deep V-bottomed ditch. Roper (1975) initially identified the structure as a signature of warfare. After Bar-Yosef’s (1986) meticulous reinterpretation, however, most archaeologists now hold that this structure most likely served the purpose of defending against flood and beasts, or at most, occasional raids by other human groups (e.g., Ferguson 2006, 483; Hamblin 2006, 29–30; but see Watkins 1989, 16–17). As such, the structure at Jericho does not support the notion that warfare had already been frequent back then. With Jericho gone as the key evidence of warfare, firm evidences of warfare within the ancient Levant before 5000–4000 BC have been lacking.

By the middle fourth millennium (3500–3000 BC), however, warfare might have already become frequent. By then, the Uruk civilization from southern Mesopotamia had expanded into Levant, and it is highly likely that war had played an important role in this expansion (Hamblin 2006, 40–2). This interpretation is supported the fact the important Sumerian colony in Habuba Kabira (dated to around 3500–3200 BC) and other smaller colonies (dated to around the same period) had often been protected by strong fortification (ibid. 238–9).

After the unification of northern (i.e., lower) Egypt around 3100–3000 BC (Kemp 1989, ch. 2; Kuhrt 1995, 125–34; Wilkinson 1999, ch. 2), Egyptian armies began to frequently campaign for conquest and plundering in Egypt’s surrounding regions, including southern Canaan: Not surprisingly, at Arad in southern Canaan, a massive fortification was erected around 3000–2800 BC to defend against Egyptian aggressions (Hamblin 2006, 318–20).

(p.198) With all these memories (and legends) of past conflict, it is no wonder that the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) had documented wars between Akkad/Sumner, Babylon, Egypt, and Assyria extensively. Indeed, the Old Testament can be understood as not only a history of bloody war and conquest within the Israelite people but also a history of Israel’s bloody interactions with its victims and more powerful neighbors (Kuhrt 1995, ch. 8; Liverani 2005). The following sentence from the Old Testament perhaps summarized it all: “All kingdoms designated by the name of Assyria are so called because they enrich themselves at Israel’s expense…all kingdoms designated by the name of Egypt are so called because they persecute Israel” (Genesis Rabbah 16.4, as quoted in Leverani 2005, vi).2

For more on the coming of warfare in ancient Levant, see Kuhrt 1995; Sasson et al. 1995; Liverani 2005; Hamblin 2006; and Sagona and Zimansky 2009.

B. Europe (pre-Greek Europe, Ancient Greece to the Rome Empire)

Before 5500 BC, very few evidences of warfare existed in the European system (Ferguson 2006, 480–90). One exceptional site during this period is the Ofnet Cave in today’s Bavaria, Germany, dated to around 7500 BC (i.e., the Mesolithic period). Within this site, several skulls have evidences of being struck across the back of the head with an axe, strongly indicating violent death (Keeley 2004, 111; Guilaine and Zammit 2005, 80–1).

By 5000–4500 BC, indisputable evidences of warfare appeared (Vencl 1984; Keeley and Cahen 1989; Keeley 1997; 2004; Christensen 2004; Ferguson 2006; Guilaine and Zammit 2005). In the Talheim site (in today’s Bade-Wurttemberg, Germany), dated to around 5000 BC, 34 individuals (mostly males) were buried with extensive evidences of violent death (e.g., skulls smashed behind, wounds by projectiles and axes). In the Asparn-Schletz site (in today’s Lower Austria), dared to the same time as Talheim and surrounded by a ditch, 67 bodies were buried with extensive evidences of violent death. Finally, in Herxheim, more than 300 individuals were buried in a mass grave, again with extensive evidences of violent death. These three sites strongly indicated that war had come to dawn in Europe (Keeley 1996, 38; Guilaine and Zammit 2005, 86–101).

In Southern France, before 3500 BC, skeletons with injuries by projectiles were rare. After 3500 BC and between 3000–2200 BC, there was a dramatic increase of skeletons with injuries by projectiles, strongly indicating that war had engulfed the region between 3500 and 3000 BC (Guilaine and Zammit 2005, 127–33, 240–51).

Before 3000 BC, male burials with weapons (i.e., warriors or even heroes) were rare. After 3000 BC, male burials with weapons became common. Likewise, before 3000 BC, fortifications were rare but became extremely common after 3000 BC (Keeley and Cahen 1989; Christensen 2004; Guilaine and Zammit 2005, ch. 4).3

In Neolithic time, the most well-known iconographic evidences of warfare in Europe came from rock paintings in the Spanish Levante. These paintings graphically depicted battle scenes by two groups of archers (Guilaine and Zammit 2005, 103–19). Most significantly, combat and maneuvering tactics such as formation, command, marching, and flanking/encirclement were already evident in these paintings, unambiguously pointing to the presence of warfare (ibid. 110; see also Ferrill 1985, 21–2). Overall, by 3000–2000 BC, warfare had come to pervade the European system (Keeley 2004; Guilaine and Zammit 2005, chs. 4 and 5).

(p.199) By the classical age, many states within the ancient Greek system had developed a highly militarist culture.4 The best known of them had been Sparta: Sparta practiced stringent eugenics by killing imperfect infants and separating men from women during men’s most fertile years to guarantee effective birth control, all for the purpose of maintaining a fierce fighting force (de Souza et al. 2004, 82–7).

For an excellent overview of warfare in the Neolithic Age and Bronze Age in Europe, particularly today’s France, Germany, and Spain, see Guilaine and Zammit 2005. On warfare in ancient and classic Greece, a good introduction is de Souza et al. (2004). For more detailed evidences on warfare in ancient and classic Greece, good sources include William K. Pritchett’s (1971–1991) monumental The Greek States at War (5 vols.), Sage’s (1996) Warfare in Ancient Greece: A Sourcebook, and Hanson’s (2009) The Western Way of War: infantry battle in classical Greece, 2nd edn.

On warfare in the age of Rome (republic and imperial), a good introduction is Roth’s (2009) Roman Warfare. For more in-depth treatment, see Harris’s (1979) War and Imperialism in Republican Rome, 327–70 BC and Eckstein’s (2006). Mediterranean Anarchy, Interstate War, and the Rise of Rome.

For more detailed treatments on both ancient Greece and Rome, see Sabin, Philip, Hans van Wees, and Michael Whitby eds., 2007. The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare (2 vols.). Cambridge: Cambridge Univeristy Press.

C. Ancient India

Fortification first appeared in the ancient India subsystem around 3600–2700 BC (the early Harappan period) and became common after 2600 BC (the mature Harappan period, see Avari 2007, 32, 41–4). Around 1700 BC, Aryan tribes from today’s Iran began to migrate to India (via today’s Afghanistan and Pakistan) and eventually merged with indigenous culture to form the Indo-Aryan culture (also known as the Vedic culture),5 and there should be little doubt that this inflow of external groups had involved extensive conflict (Avari 2007, 66–9).

By about 700 BC, numerous clan states and kingdoms were constantly at war with each other: war had come to dominate the subcontinent. During this pre-Mauryan era (600–320 BC), Darius I of Persia and Alexander the Great invaded India (Avari 2007, ch. 5). The establishment of the Mauryan Empire (321–185 BC) had been especially violent (Thapar 2003, ch. 6; Avari 2007, ch. 6).

Mahabharata and Ramayana, the two great epics in ancient India, both captured legends of heroic warriors with royal heritages (Thapar 2003, 98–104; Avari 2007, 99–100). The notion of divine king had been highly developed in ancient India by the formative period of the pre-Mauryan era (c.600–320 BC; see Thapar 2003, 117–22; Avari 2007, 88–90, 157–8).

A concise introductory text to ancient India is Avari 2007. A more in-depth treatise, with a flavor of archeological anthropology, is Thapar 2003. Also useful are Kulke and Rothermund’s (1998) A History of India (3rd edn.) and Stein’s (2010) A History of India (2nd edn.). Unfortunately, although D. K. Chakrabarti’s (1999) India: An Archaeological History is informative, it does not address warfare.

(p.200) D. Other Less Secondary Systems: North America and Africa

For an overview of warfare in pre-colonial North American system, see Keeley 1996; Ferguson 2006, 490–5. On the Tennessee Valley, see Smith 1998. On Northwest Coast of North America, see Maschner 1998; Maschner and Maschner 1998. On the Mississippi River valley, see Redmond and Spencer (2012).

On warfare between the Nuer and the Dinka (Africa), between the Zulus and the Ngunis (Africa), and between Iroquois and Huron (Lake Ontario, North America), see Otterbein (2004, ch. 8) and references cited there. In all three cases, competition for scarce resources (e.g., land, games, and women) had been a critical cause of war.

E. Warfare by Nomads

An obvious challenge that can be posed against our theory on the origins of war is that the theory can only explain the origins of war in sedentary agrarian societies, yet it seems to be that some of the most ferocious war-making societies have been nomads (the Hsiung Nun, the Huns, and of course, the Mongols). Can the same theory explain the rise of these war-making nomadic societies? The answer is an affirmative yes. Depletion of readily supplied food underpinned by population growth, natural disasters (e.g., drought, snowstorm), and allure of wealth, mild climate, and fertile land from settled agricultural lands readily explain the origins of these war-making nomads. In other words, nomadic societies relying on horse chariots (originated in Mesopotamia around c.1500 BC, see Hamblin 2006, ch. 5; van de Mieroop 2007, 122–5) and horse-raiding based on cavalry (developed around 900–800 BC; see Barfield 1989, 28–30) developed much later than the origins of war in those pristine systems. Hence, more likely than not, nomadic societies learned to be nomadic warriors after the origins of war in those sedentary pristine systems.

Of course, once nomadic peoples became fearsome warriors by mastering cavalry, they could overwhelm their sedentary opponents from time to time. Hence, the Amorites might have played a key role in the collapse of the Third Dynasty of Ur (Charpin 1995; Whiting 1995; cf. Kuhrt 1995, 70–2; Van De Mieroop 2007, 82–5). Likewise, the Han Dynasty of China battled against the Hsing-nu’s for almost two centuries (Si-Ma, 1997[c.87 BC]). Indeed, through the long history of ancient China, empires, kingdoms, and warlords at the heartland of the ancient Chinese system had battled nomadic powers for millenniums (Barfield 1989; Di Cosmo 2004). In the European system, the Germanic tribes and the Huns might have played a key role in the eventual collapse of the Rome Empire (Heather 2006).


(1.) In geographical terms, Levant and Canaan overlap with each other greatly, with Canaan being slightly larger. Canaan included today’s Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, (coastal) Syria, but sometimes also a bit of Cyprus and even Northern Iraq. Here, I use Levant to denote a narrower region.

(2.) The Old Testament also recorded the use of a sling by David versus Goliath in I, Samuel 17, 49–50.

(3.) For evidences of fortification in Eurasia, see figure 57 in Guilaine and Zammit 2005, 210–11 for a partial list of sites, see also ibid. 188–91.

(4.) For a brief compilation of scatted evidences from this period, see van der Dennen 1995, 53–8.

(5.) The fact that Aryans were originally from Iran has been firmly established (see Avari 2007, ch. 3; Kulke and Rothermund 1998, 48). It may be speculated that Aryans were really driven out from Iran by other groups such as the Elmans and Hittites.