War and agriculture: historical relationship

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Without knowing much specific war history, it seems to be common knowledge that war was often used for imperialist economic purposes in the past. Presumably, the winning army would either kill any surviving opponents and take their land and property or enslave them. My question is whether imperialistic war was usually carried out as a primary strategy for acquiring agricultural resources, including land and/or slaves - or did such war tactics evolve out of situations of need where the aggressor was already agriculturally successful but wanted to expand their territory? Is it possible that certain cultures of dominating farmers violently in order to avoid having to do farming work has always been a strategy of soldiers to get food instead of having to engage in the hard tedious labor of agriculture?
 

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  • #2
Your first and second answers are the same. If a contry needed more land than it might invade to get it and if it had plenty of land but wanted more, than is must have the perception that it needed more. This is the same.

The need to make war is probably related to agriculture because of the ability for specialization of labor. Without the need to hunt, people could build upon specific skills and allow the realitivly easy, but time consuming, labor of farming to be dolled out to the masses. This allows for organized leaders and greater divides in equality of life. The friction between what some have and what some don't have causes the need to conquest, be it to shift the populace towards one goal or to pacify them.

This is a short reply so I am not really supporting this with peer-reviewed soruces, etc, but try looking up the causality of war and the advent of the Neolithic period. The Neolithic period is the start of real farming and a greater number of fortified settlments starting at that point woudl suggest what I am saying. It could also mean that the change in the probability of war with respect to the population has a positive slope, as slope of the change in population with respect to the use of farming (i.e. stability of food supply).
 
  • #3
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Your first and second answers are the same. If a contry needed more land than it might invade to get it and if it had plenty of land but wanted more, than is must have the perception that it needed more. This is the same.
I was thinking more at the micro-level. You are already beginning at a point where "societies" are organized into separate agriculture and military sectors. I am wondering whether some people always confronted others with violence to enslave them and/or get access to their agricultural products or if all soldiers began as farmers. I guess the simplest way to put it would be to ask whether soldiers originated from farmers or whether soldier was an occupation designed for acquiring food without having to do the work of producing it.

The need to make war is probably related to agriculture because of the ability for specialization of labor. Without the need to hunt, people could build upon specific skills and allow the realitivly easy, but time consuming, labor of farming to be dolled out to the masses. This allows for organized leaders and greater divides in equality of life. The friction between what some have and what some don't have causes the need to conquest, be it to shift the populace towards one goal or to pacify them.
That's another good question: what came first, the practice of making something useful that could be traded for surplus food and other raw materials or the practice of war to take and enslave?

The Neolithic period is the start of real farming and a greater number of fortified settlments starting at that point woudl suggest what I am saying. It could also mean that the change in the probability of war with respect to the population has a positive slope, as slope of the change in population with respect to the use of farming (i.e. stability of food supply).
Thanks, I googled it. The source I read said that people not situated in agricultural communities used war and trade to get access to the surpluses of the farmers. It's interesting that there was no mention of nomadic farming, since I would guess that farmers would have needed to constantly seek new land as their current farming plots became barren. I assume they didn't have knowledge of fertilization yet, though I suppose that must have developed in that time.

I guess your point is that farming increased population-capacity and increased population resulted in a need for new land, which caused war. So there weren't just bands of lazy people that formed to conquer farmers and take their harvests and/or enslave them so that they wouldn't have to farm for themselves?
 
  • #4
I was thinking more at the micro-level. You are already beginning at a point where "societies" are organized into separate agriculture and military sectors. I am wondering whether some people always confronted others with violence to enslave them and/or get access to their agricultural products or if all soldiers began as farmers. I guess the simplest way to put it would be to ask whether soldiers originated from farmers or whether soldier was an occupation designed for acquiring food without having to do the work of producing it.


I actually researched this when writing my book because I wanted to know if the "peacful" societies really existed before the neolithic period, which just happens to be when farming starts. I don't have my referneces near me right now but I found that there were many societies with fortifications and weapons were found, at digs, which were designed (aparently) for killing humans, which came from the early neolithic period. I seriously doubt that lazy people just grouped and raided. The population of the world at the time was not such that this would be allowable (less than 10million). In later periods raiding was possible, but remember that Vikings and Mongals farmed too.

In the end these sorts of behaviours are attributable to a diverse range of factors and cannot be disolved into a simple action/reaction behaviour. The Romans wanted access to resources (which they often farmed), trade, levy to defend against others, and slaves. The Vikings wanted riches, sometimes slaves (not many), and internal political leverage (good raid = strong leader).

My book features raids of two types: Ritualistic raids where no one is really hurt and the purpose is the exchange of women for the genepool (as seen in many paleo-indian cultures) and raiding for food and supplies when in dire need.



That's another good question: what came first, the practice of making something useful that could be traded for surplus food and other raw materials or the practice of war to take and enslave?


Actually, I would suggest that they both occured simultaneously. Both really require farming. A raid on a mesolithic community would give you a small amount of food (very small) and mostly perishable. Any slaves you took would need to be feed. Slavery and raiding of pre-agriculturaly peoples was probably not unheard of but not really in anyone's best interest.

Thanks, I googled it. The source I read said that people not situated in agricultural communities used war and trade to get access to the surpluses of the farmers. It's interesting that there was no mention of nomadic farming, since I would guess that farmers would have needed to constantly seek new land as their current farming plots became barren. I assume they didn't have knowledge of fertilization yet, though I suppose that must have developed in that time.

I guess your point is that farming increased population-capacity and increased population resulted in a need for new land, which caused war. So there weren't just bands of lazy people that formed to conquer farmers and take their harvests and/or enslave them so that they wouldn't have to farm for themselves?

Bandits have always existed... but the large growth of humanity, a direct result of farming, is most likely a great factor in the want/need of war.
 
  • #5
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My book features raids of two types: Ritualistic raids where no one is really hurt and the purpose is the exchange of women for the genepool (as seen in many paleo-indian cultures) and raiding for food and supplies when in dire need.

But women were not used as agricultural slaves as well as for reproduction? Were women always passive "booty?" Did they always accept "ritualistic raids" peacefully and go with their kidnappers without resistance? Did their fathers and brothers not resist losing them as family members and labor?

would suggest that they both occured simultaneously. Both really require farming. A raid on a mesolithic community would give you a small amount of food (very small) and mostly perishable. Any slaves you took would need to be feed. Slavery and raiding of pre-agriculturaly peoples was probably not unheard of but not really in anyone's best interest..
Enslaving pre-agricultural people works fine if you just need obedient bodies, no? If you don't have managerial knowledge, however, you need functional farms to raid for food. Is it possible that gender-segregation played a role? Among animals, males often segregate as adults. Could it be that male humans used to segregate themselves from female-dominant farming communities and then raid those communities for food? This sounds strikingly familiar to contemporary gendered life so it wouldn't be a surprise if this existed already then. Is there a way to gender the archeological evidence?
 
  • #6
When I was speaking of the women it was more of a case-by-case occurance of ritualistic raids in which both parties understood the actions and they were more scripted than anything else. Secondly, raiding for females has been a facet of humanity for a long time. I doubt severaly that the women were agreeable, aside from the ritualistic versions, and probably more than one raider returned missing an eye or speaking more highly pitched. lol

Perhaps that was a bad example given the less than common occurance and the low frequency.


As for your second idea of the segragation of genders, I have never read nor seen evidance of this, but it is an interesting idea. Animals either lead non-organized lives where they meet to mate or organized lives were a dominat animal controls a group of breeding partners. This is fine for them but humans typically pair bond and are quite social.

I would suggest that raiding, wars, and battles are a case-by-case event and the only major generalizations to be made are the frequency with respect to the population. I am only looking at the mesolithic to neoltihic shift. This is someting I have studied. For later trends I may not be helpful.
 
  • #7
Phil Sofer
Just to interject my thoughts on the matter. I rather doubt that it was population pressures that lead to warfare. In early neolithic times, there was redoubtably conflict between farmers and nomadic hunter gatherers who had no concept of ownership. This could hardly be classified as warfare, but a need for protection would have been evident. The grains that were domesticated in the Anatolian highlands were a foodstuff that could be stored for extended periods of time were the catalyst for larger communities. The fate of those communities however, was tied to the capriciousness of the weather. A dry year could result in starvation and death. When these grains made their way to the river valleys where irrigation provided a reliable water supply, it did two things; it resulted in a food surplus that allowed some members of that society to specialize in producing goods like pottery and leather that could be traded for food. It also needed an administrator to supervise irrigation and other projects for the common good. What made that possible was TAXES. The ability to tax was the gateway to real power and wealth. As these communities grew and engaged in trade, there was more wealth and the need to protect it. Controlling trade routes was where the real power lay, and was in my opinion the root cause of war.
As for slavery, it didn't require warfare and the subjugation of a populace. The Old Testament indicates that, in that part of the world at least, children were considered property and could be sold. One didn't hire a servant, they bought them.
 
  • #8
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there was redoubtably conflict between farmers and nomadic hunter gatherers who had no concept of ownership.
So you're saying it wasn't so much raids and bullying people to produce food for you, gatherers just found it convenient to gather where farmers were cultivating and the farmers, in turn, developed methods of stopping them. So the gatherers must have viewed the farmers as belligerent in hunting them away from the food.

The Old Testament indicates that, in that part of the world at least, children were considered property and could be sold. One didn't hire a servant, they bought them.
That is logical, but clearly something has to occur to motivate people to sell their children as slaves or to buy children as slaves instead of just doing their own work and teaching their children to live the same way. There must have been a culture of subjugation that evolved from previous wars and enslavement, no? Or was it just the realization that you could make children and get cattle or other things in exchange? That must have been pretty convenient for people who didn't have much except the ability to have children.

Good post, btw, generally. I'm impressed with the quality that has emerged from this thread.
 
  • #9
Phil Sofer
All I am saying is that there were two different mindsets that were in conflict until each learned to live with the other and respect different customs. Hunter-Gatherers undoubtedly found advantages in trade vs raid. These scenarios must have been played and relayed over millenia as farming cultures moved out of the middle east or other points of origin. I am reminded of one scene in the movie "The Gods Must Be Crazy". If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. It is a humorous view of a clash of cultures.

Then, as well as now, poverty drove many to sell a child perhaps so that other children could be fed. The love of a parent for their child often had to be balanced with the welfare of that child in a society where starvation was the alternative. In many cases the individuals must have considered themselves lucky to find a buyer. The story of Hansel and Gretal probably illustrates a practice that sometimes occurred in medieval Europe. I don't believe that people in any time or place spawned children with the intent of selling them, but birth control was not an option.
 
  • #10
Phil Sofer
It would be interesting to document instances where mass enslavement (i.e. by warfare) took place. Did this actually take place in Sumer? Or is this conjecture? There is the biblical account of the mass enslavement of Hebrew peoples in Babylon (circa 500 B.C.E. ?)
and the Romans made a big business of it. A slave was the greatest labor saving device of that time.
 
  • #11
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Without knowing much specific war history, it seems to be common knowledge that war was often used for imperialist economic purposes in the past. Presumably, the winning army would either kill any surviving opponents and take their land and property or enslave them. My question is whether imperialistic war was usually carried out as a primary strategy for acquiring agricultural resources, including land and/or slaves - or did such war tactics evolve out of situations of need where the aggressor was already agriculturally successful but wanted to expand their territory? Is it possible that certain cultures of dominating farmers violently in order to avoid having to do farming work has always been a strategy of soldiers to get food instead of having to engage in the hard tedious labor of agriculture?
The period of "Viking imperialism" might just as well be defined as a period of settlement expansion, assimilation, and integration.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/u...t-wasnt-all-raping-and-pillaging-1643969.html
 
  • #12
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It would be interesting to document instances where mass enslavement (i.e. by warfare) took place. Did this actually take place in Sumer? Or is this conjecture? There is the biblical account of the mass enslavement of Hebrew peoples in Babylon (circa 500 B.C.E. ?)
and the Romans made a big business of it. A slave was the greatest labor saving device of that time.
These were the examples, I was thinking of. Mainly the Roman practice of using war-captives as slaves, though this seemed like a very natural logic of enslavement that would be similar in just about any situation where two individuals or organized factions would fight over territory. Once you lose, it's either submit or die - and for the victors, once you taste the economic facility that comes with subjugating people by war or intimidation, it would be very tempting to make a business of it (provided you lacked the ethics not to - which the Roman hegemony seemed to until the advent of Christianity.

I have read the book of Exodus but I don't recall it saying how the Israelites ended up enslaved in Egypt to begin with.


All I am saying is that there were two different mindsets that were in conflict until each learned to live with the other and respect different customs.
Submission to the authority and interest of a trading partner requires first recognizing what you want as belonging to them. If you have an ideology where all the bounty of the Earth is your natural providence, you wouldn't necessarily offer anyone anything in exchange for what you wanted from them. Faced with defensive violence, you might attempt to bargain with them or just come up with some devious strategy to get around the people defending the (farm) land.

I don't believe that people in any time or place spawned children with the intent of selling them, but birth control was not an option.
But people do hope that their children will be prosperous so they will help them in old age. Some people begin training their children as young as possible to be prosperous. Many people have an ethic of wealth-sharing among family-members, and some even go so far as to order their children into certain jobs so that they can remit their earnings to sibblings and parents. There are numerous ways to exploit your children for labor and prosperity, and what's more, many people don't see anything wrong with it - they see it as just good child-rearing to make them productive and contributive to a common welfare (whether that welfare is for the family, other social-network, or state).
 
  • #13
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But people do hope that their children will be prosperous so they will help them in old age. Some people begin training their children as young as possible to be prosperous. Many people have an ethic of wealth-sharing among family-members, and some even go so far as to order their children into certain jobs so that they can remit their earnings to sibblings and parents. There are numerous ways to exploit your children for labor and prosperity, and what's more, many people don't see anything wrong with it - they see it as just good child-rearing to make them productive and contributive to a common welfare (whether that welfare is for the family, other social-network, or state).
If the only family asset was the farm - why would they not (have as many children as possible to ensure success of the farm and) teach the children to prosper in their lifetimes by continuing to work the farm? Isn't that a basic survival instinct?
 
  • #14
Phil Sofer
'Common Knowledge'? Seems like another term for popular opinion. I'm not really interested in opinions, "Just the facts, M'am".

There are far too many assumptions here. Once early societies had food surpluses, it enabled all sorts of specialization, priests, soldiers, potters, tool and weapon makers, etc. To say that someone became a soldier to avoid manual labor is far too simplistic. Having a military with too much time on its hands was dangerous to those in power.
Using terms such as 'imperialistic' hardly seem to fit here. The expansion of early civilizations was accompanied by rape and pillage which was the soldier's reward. Ruler's profited from control of trade routes. The life of the farmer likely didn't change much.

Comparing late Neolithic/early Bronze age civilizations to Roman practices doesn't make sense. There is a gap of about 5000 years.
 
  • #15
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'Common Knowledge'? Seems like another term for popular opinion. I'm not really interested in opinions, "Just the facts, M'am".

There are far too many assumptions here. Once early societies had food surpluses, it enabled all sorts of specialization, priests, soldiers, potters, tool and weapon makers, etc. To say that someone became a soldier to avoid manual labor is far too simplistic. Having a military with too much time on its hands was dangerous to those in power.
Using terms such as 'imperialistic' hardly seem to fit here. The expansion of early civilizations was accompanied by rape and pillage which was the soldier's reward. Ruler's profited from control of trade routes. The life of the farmer likely didn't change much.

Comparing late Neolithic/early Bronze age civilizations to Roman practices doesn't make sense. There is a gap of about 5000 years.
It makes sense if you compare changes in behavior.
 
  • #16
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If the only family asset was the farm - why would they not (have as many children as possible to ensure success of the farm and) teach the children to prosper in their lifetimes by continuing to work the farm? Isn't that a basic survival instinct?
Yes, but for nomadic hunter/gatherers, traders, or others who didn't farm, it may have made sense to have children to sell them into slavery, maybe even with the belief that farming was such a great lifestyle that even as slaves, their children would ultimately benefit from the prosperity of the farm they were sold into. Probably parents sought to sell their children into better farms, the same way as a father might hope to find a kind husband for his daughter instead of a cruel one (women were treated as property until relatively recently btw).
 
  • #17
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Yes, but for nomadic hunter/gatherers, traders, or others who didn't farm, it may have made sense to have children to sell them into slavery, maybe even with the belief that farming was such a great lifestyle that even as slaves, their children would ultimately benefit from the prosperity of the farm they were sold into. Probably parents sought to sell their children into better farms, the same way as a father might hope to find a kind husband for his daughter instead of a cruel one (women were treated as property until relatively recently btw).
Was this a documented or verified custom?
 
  • #18
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Was this a documented or verified custom?
Fathers selling there daughters for marriage or parents selling their children as slaves to a farmer? I have definitely read about various forms of parental compensation from and for marriage partners. I have also read about economic interests involved with one's children becoming nuns/monks in the middle ages. I have not directly read about what kind of deals people made when selling their kids to farmers - I figured it was worth mentioning for brainstorming purposes in this thread.
 
  • #19
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Fathers selling there daughters for marriage or parents selling their children as slaves to a farmer? I have definitely read about various forms of parental compensation from and for marriage partners. I have also read about economic interests involved with one's children becoming nuns/monks in the middle ages. I have not directly read about what kind of deals people made when selling their kids to farmers - I figured it was worth mentioning for brainstorming purposes in this thread.
In the case of marriage, the dowry has long been a tradition.
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/170540/dowry#
However, these were used more to guarantee the success of the marriage.
 
  • #20
Phil Sofer
All of that is mere speculation. Lacking a written record, it is impossible to know what someone long gone may have been thinking. History and science require evidence. As any criminal investigator knows, "If you don't have evidence, you've got nothing". For your assertions to have credibility, you need to cite historical or archaeological evidence, not 'common knowledge'. Even the historical records must be viewed with some caution, because history was written by the victor. The losers were the 'bad guys' who picked their noses, had B.O., ate their children, etc. The winners were 'obviously' morally superior, or were favored by god or gods. To quote from CSI, "People lie, evidence doesn't".
What I am saying is that one person's assertions may or may not be true. This applies to written history as well as the internet. Archaeology fills in the gaps in the written record. I would be interested in what evidence there is for how extensive slavery was in early civilizations. It did exist, I am sure, and probably ties with prostitution as the 'oldest profession' but did early warfare result in mass enslavement? That is my question.
There are quite a lot of cuneiform tablets that have been recovered from this period, that include tax records. From those it should be possible to deduce the extent of slavery.
 
  • #21
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All of that is mere speculation. Lacking a written record, it is impossible to know what someone long gone may have been thinking. History and science require evidence. As any criminal investigator knows, "If you don't have evidence, you've got nothing". For your assertions to have credibility, you need to cite historical or archaeological evidence, not 'common knowledge'.
What happens all too much in historical and other social-descriptive accounts is that evidence gets mixed up with interpretation and assumptions in a way that extends the directly evidence-based claims beyond their true range of applicability. What makes for better science, imo, is to rigorously distinguish between evidence and theorizing but not to eschew theorizing where there is vague or absent evidence to establish the veracity of claims. "Common knowledge," as you put it, is an indispensable part of any kind of social research because it gives you access to direct knowledge of what is possible in human relations and interactions. When you are aware of the various forms of economic exchanges that are coupled with kinship exchanges in the lives you witnessed directly in the present, you can ask how that level of nuance occurred in antiquity - even if sufficient evidence isn't available to answer definitively. In any case, a range of possible answers can be theorized and some possibilities may be discarded on the basis of evidence, narrowing down the field of what actual people living in that time might have or were able to do.

Even the historical records must be viewed with some caution, because history was written by the victor. The losers were the 'bad guys' who picked their noses, had B.O., ate their children, etc. The winners were 'obviously' morally superior, or were favored by god or gods. To quote from CSI, "People lie, evidence doesn't".
The issue isn't so much that history is biased as it is that history-readers are oblivious to the bias and interpret the spin as factual truth. Readers have to learn to distinguish between facts and interpretations and accept that facts have to be interpreted in one way or another to become meaningful. They can be interpreted in multiple ways to generate multiple meanings, but it's silly to insist that people stick to the facts alone, since this only obfuscates whatever interpretation emerges in the way those facts are (re)presented.

What I am saying is that one person's assertions may or may not be true. This applies to written history as well as the internet. Archaeology fills in the gaps in the written record. I would be interested in what evidence there is for how extensive slavery was in early civilizations. It did exist, I am sure, and probably ties with prostitution as the 'oldest profession' but did early warfare result in mass enslavement? That is my question.
There are quite a lot of cuneiform tablets that have been recovered from this period, that include tax records. From those it should be possible to deduce the extent of slavery.
I think it gets tricky once you start asking questions like "how extensive slavery was in early civilizations." This implies that the data is dense enough and representative of the entire diversity in human relations/interactions for millennia of every sort of "society" from small family-based groups to various forms of cities and trans-familial cultural networks. So how would you expect to answer the question of "how extensive" without having total knowledge of all forms of labor-relations that occurred in all those diverse situations? I think you're better off asking for historical examples that illustrate how slavery did or did not occur and when/how it was a product of war and when/how slaves were recruited in other ways. This way, the focus is the qualitative relationship between slavery and war instead of some quantification of "how extensive" slavery and/or war might have been correlated, in whatever way these terms are operationally defined and with the presumption that the "survey sample" is representative of a total population of events/situations.
 

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