Stagnating civilisation

  1. wolram

    wolram 3,762
    Gold Member

    Through out the centuries civilizations have waxed and waned, the Roman
    empire, the Aztecs, the egyptian pyramid builders, the Henge builders, why
    is human progression not linear, is it mostly war, or are other things, drought
    and plague more to blame, or is every case unique ?
  2. jcsd
  3. There is a general pattern -cycling chiefdoms

    Civilizations also seem to inevitably 'get too big for their britches' and they contract into smaller, marginally independent societies. Due to too much pressure on the environments that support them resulting in famine/flood/etc or natural disasters, decline due to competing societies in trade/war, endemic warfare and internal power struggles. The ideology and institutions may collapse, but usu the main structures of the culture are maintained. Every case is unique, but it seems to be inevitable. It's a cycle of expansion and contraction.'s an open system and seems to operate like metabolism does - things don't remain in a balance very long and accumulation can only go so far.

    note: There are a lot of societies which aren't always clearly chiefdoms or civilizations, in fact, archaeologists can have a hard time clearly defining what each one is. Usu it has to do with number or people, degree of centralized control, degree of social stratification, and coordination of subsistence

    In typical Western fashion - Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2005
  4. Blame climate, overdressed Wolram :biggrin:

    There are several cronicles of major disasters. Take for instance the well documented history of the sea people. A reasonable hypothesis seems to be that the sea people were refugees from Europe after an major change in climate.
  5. Also, you can think of culture as an extended phenotype, subject to natural selection like any other trait.
  6. wolram

    wolram 3,762
    Gold Member

    Joy is me, some interest, but can any one show why human human evolution
    is not linear through out the ages ?
  7. Is there any reason it should be?

    btw, I thought we explained the "why." The very nature of life, and even physics that govern the stars, limit linear progression in this universe. Movement seems to be cyclical.

    And do you mean physical evolution or cultural evolution? For the former, this is because evolution has no destination, the only direction is in survival and what it takes to survive changes through time. Same goes for culture.
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2005
  8. wolram

    wolram 3,762
    Gold Member

    Andre, can climate change be matched with declines in civilization, is there some graph that shows where weather patterns could cause a decline ?

    England, Spain, France etc have all had empires, ok they get to big for their
    birches, could some analyst predict when an irreversible decline will start ?
  9. wolram

    wolram 3,762
    Gold Member

    Yes you did, sorry. I mean cultural , mental evolution, and quality of life, can
    any one predict where and when the next decline will start ?
  10. Astronuc

    Staff: Mentor

    What does one mean by "not linear"?

    It would appear that besides climate - i.e. too cold, too hot, or too dry (drought), or perhaps plague and disease, that two other critical factors might play a role: arrogance of leaders and complacency of the population.

    Then of course there are invasions - as in the European invasion of the Americas.
  11. wolram

    wolram 3,762
    Gold Member

    Linear, some thing like, cave, mud hut, log cabin, brick house.
    or, stick, spear, bow, gun, A bomb.
    or, individuals, tribes, communities, nations
    or, stone, iron, bronze, steel, carbon fiber

    one example of non linear is when the Roman empire collapsed, in some
    lands, art, literature, culture simply vanished.
  12. selfAdjoint

    selfAdjoint 8,147
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    Yes, non-linear, and more complex than you think. It's currently fashionable to blame some hypothetical climate disaster for the dark ages. But I remember looking at the pictures of Roman portraiture in the Encyclopedia Brittanica 14th edition - under "Portrait" as I recall. Portaiture was important to the Romans as it keyed into their ancestor worship, and for centuries the representations of faces just got better and better. But in the third century a (ugh!) paradigm shift occured and the portrait of Constantine the Great looks like an icon, conventionalized, hugely caricatured eyes and all. That's a pure culture change, and supports Gibbons' theory that it was Christianity that brought the empire down.
  13. BobG

    BobG 2,360
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Then why was it only the Western half of the empire that fell? The Eastern empire had many of the same 'problems' as the West and Christianity was even stronger and more prevalent in the East than the West. But the East was still a powerful empire for a few hundred years after the Western empire fell.

    I don't think Christianity was a major contributor to the fall of the Roman Empire, but it is a kind of interesting train of thought. Christianity was popular because of 'community benefits' like help for the orphaned, widowed, elderly, and others. It was the Roman times equivalent of Social Security, Medicaid, Welfare, and Unemployment. A lot of fiscal conservatives would probably look at the traits of Christianity during Roman times and agree with you - the Church was starting to be a drain on the economy, what with all of its building of new churches and social welfare programs.
  14. wolram

    wolram 3,762
    Gold Member

    What a fascinating thought, i know huge amounts of labour was being used to
    "advertise", christianity, could it have been so disastrous ?
  15. Astronuc

    Staff: Mentor

    Constantine politicized Christianity and made it the state (imperial) religion. That certainly compromised Christianity from the standpoint of foundation and initial direction.

    An excellent history of Christianity can be found in James Carroll's "Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews -- A History."

    Later the Popes wrestled control from the Emperors and later European Nobility. That often lead to instability.
  16. wolram

    wolram 3,762
    Gold Member

    The Eastern Empire was largely spared the difficulties of the west in the 3rd and 4th centuries (see Crisis of the Third Century), in part because urban culture was better established there and the initial invasions were attracted to the wealth of Rome. Throughout the 5th century various invasions conquered the western half of the empire, but at best could only demand tribute from the eastern half. Theodosius II expanded the walls of Constantinople, leaving the city impenetrable to attacks. Zeno I ruled the east as the empire in the west finally collapsed in 476. Zeno negotiated with the Goths, ending their threats to the east but leaving them in control of the west
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2005
  17. selfAdjoint

    selfAdjoint 8,147
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    Also look at the map. There's a land road from central Asia straight down into Italy, but the Slavs constituted a barrier to invasion through Thessaly, and the Armenians did the same for the land bridge between the Black Sea and the Caspian. East and South of the Caspian was the Persian Empire which was the chief foe of the Eastern Empire until the rise of Islam.
  18. Astronuc

    Staff: Mentor

    It would be nice to put some timelines together on this period.

    Certainly the East and Central Asian tribes (e.g. Huns and Mongols) had a significant impact on Central and Eastern Europe. - 3rd-5th centuries CE - 13th century CE

    The Byzantine Empire (330 AD–1453 AD) -

    The Persian Empire(s) -

    1. The first Persian state: Achaemenid Persia (648 BC-330 BC)
    2. Hellenistic Persia (330 BC-170 BC)
    3. Parthian Persia (170 BC-AD 226)
    4. Sassanid Persia (AD 226-650)
    5. Islam and Persia (650-1219)
    6. Persia under the Mongols and their successors (1219-1500)
    7. A new Persian empire: the Safavids (1500-1722)
    8. Persia and Europe (1722-1914)
    9. Persia in World War One (1914-1918)
    10. Persia after World War One (1919-1935)

    The Ottoman Empire was a rival to Europe (primarily Southeastern Europe and the Meditteranean) from 1299 to 1922 -

    Oct 7 1571:
    from Wikipedia
  19. selfAdjoint

    selfAdjoint 8,147
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member

    "Don John of Austria is going to the war!"

    From Lepanto by Chesterton
  20. wolram

    wolram 3,762
    Gold Member

    Was it Emperor Zeno who saved the eastern empire with his truce with the
    Goths ?
  21. fuzzyfelt

    fuzzyfelt 743
    Gold Member

    I don't know, but I'm interested to know more.

    When SelfAdjoint mentioned Gibbon blaming the downfall of the Western Empire on Christianity and gave cultural examples this was a bit confusing. For Gibbon also mentioned not only the costs and politics of Christianity but also the Christian mentality as having a detrimental effect –that Roman citizens, believing in a better life after this life, had an indifference to this life and diminished desire to ‘maintain and sacrifice for the Empire’.
    As to how other Christian civilisations have managed to maintain and rely upon sacrifice for their survival may have been answered, that it involved initially Byzantium’s tight control via Church and State.

    Interesting is whether or not Christian mentality had the effect of cultural stagnation, linear progression or Theswerve's 'evolution with no destination'.
    I think what was noted in the course of Roman portraiture was a decline of realism, not necessarily a decline in evolution, as this mentality judged reflection of this life of lesser importance. A portrait of Theodosius I contrasted with the peak of Roman realism shows less interest in the reality of this world but replaces realism with expressionism (of the soul), which is a different type of cultural progression.(with no destination)

    The Eastern Roman Empire culture continued to evolve away from the Roman Empire by incorporating Hellenism and further influences like those of Alexandria and Antioch. Initially this was extremely progressive, but slowed with the weight of strict religious conventions- emotion was censored in art, then emotion allowed, a brief iconoclastic enforcement... Nevertheless, Byzantine art and architecture developed unique styles. ‘Despite or perhaps because of the iconoclastic restraints, the Byzantine icon made a lasting contribution to European art’. I have read somewhere that the amount of classical knowledge and culture that could be retained due to the control of the Orthodox Church in Byzantium and was retained, allowed the possibility of the renaissance.
    Going off on a tangent here, if the early Christian preoccupation with life after death brought a diversion to the direction classical culture was progressing, was St Francis, with his revolutionary and celebrated appreciation of not only The Creator (as the early Church), but also His Creations (this life), another important cause for the renaissance? This is something I must have read once and am rather drawn to.o:)
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