Sunday, July 31, 2005

Putting all that Study of History Stuff to Work: How America Rose

When the United States of America finally ensured its independence by ending the Revolutionary war in 1783, the country was anything but a power. True it held huge tracts of land and countless rivers and possible mineral deposits, but for the most part the country was just starting to gear up. It was mostly made up of farms, and industrial and commercial activities were concentrated in a few coastal cities. The national government it had chosen was barely able to do anything. Each state considered itself an autonomous unit, banding together with the other states for protection. Still disputes flared between states and people. Barely able to manage foreign policy, the United States had little if any influence on the rest of the world. Yet in the decades to come the upstart, politically radical nation would prove itself to be able to create an effective government (Constitutional Convention of 1787), deploy its military in foreign lands (wars with the Barbary pirates of North Africa), defend it’s rights against foreign powers (War of 1812), adapt to changing economies (1st Industrial Revolution), expand it’s borders and become an emerging power of the Western Hemisphere (Louisiana Purchase and Mexican-American War), and overcome the toughest of crises (American Civil War), and the list goes on.

So how did it do it? well certainly it had gifted men and a spirit to move forward, but more of an answer could be found by looking farther in the past.

As far back as circa 500 B.C., in the Italian peninsula. According to legend, it was about this time that the city of Rome gained complete autonomy from the Etruscans and establish the Republic. Yet about 600 years later the Roman nation would be the power of the Mediterranean. Again, how did it do it? The answer is that it went through an almost perpetual series of war, uprisings, economic slump, and political revolutions, and for the first half-millennia, usually came out stronger. The Romans chose to adapt, or make the situation adapt to them. Instead of just swallowing every setback and continue they sought for ways to prevent the setback from happening again.

It is possible that the same happened in this country. The country is not the same as it was 100, 50, 25, or even 10 years ago. It has gone through perpetual change, to meet the perpetual challenges. It has grown in every direction it has been attacked on. Everything at every level, from multi-national alliances to the individual goes through a constant barrage of difficulties, hurdles, crises, and disasters, big and small. That is the source of change.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Another of those History Repeats

The ancient Greek philosophers accomplished major advances in, well, philosophy, and political theory. They provided a base of scientific knowledge that would be, together with the Romans, the main source of learning until the Rennaissance and Enlightenment scientists and philosophers. There are, however, two very similar sets of events both in classical Greece and later in Rennaissance Europe. In Greece Socrates was one of the early great philosophers. Eventually the Athenian Republic grew suspicious of him and charged him with accusations such as spreading heresy. One of Socrates' students, Plato, grew disillusioned of this and soon broke away from Athens. In part because of his anger Plato wrote a series of works, many or all of which had Socrates in them as a character. Some of these works were also written in dialogue form.

Around 2000 years later Copernicus pushed the idea of a sun-centered solar system. He died shortly after his works were published and therefore did not see much of the hurricane that followed. The Church, firmly entrenched in the Ptolemaic model of the Universe, led a campaign to batter down the Copernican model. Still the new model attracted followers among the new wave of scientists adhering to the scientific method. One of these was Galileo. His Dialogue sparked intense anger in the Pope and caused the inquisition of the astronomer shortly afterwards.

Both Plato and Galileo then each had their own "patrons", each published works that were based partly on these patrons' ideas. Ironically, the Copernican model goes against the Greek originated Ptolemaic model.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Posting Centennial

This post is the 100th post of this blog. So, now I'm stuck thinking about what this one will be about. Since it's a marker for my blog, should it be about my blog? Or maybe I should knock off my own Outline of History. Maybe I should make it like a sitcom and give links as a blog version of flashbacks. In some ways blogs really are like TV shows. Well, this is milestone in the number of posts so it could be related to that.

When it comes to the actual recording of happenings there are simply no accurate ways to do it. All we have to start with is physical evidence and oral/written records. Evidence no matter how solid and objective it is, has to be interpreted to fit it in the big puzzle. Oral records go through person after person and generation after generation of adaptation and erosion. Written records are but an interpretation of something by people, it is impossible to observe everything that's happening during a siege, or funeral, or voyage. What you don't see you have to get from someone else. And even then all the events can't be put on paper. Things have to be left out, and they are.

It'd be nice if we had some big movie studio or TV where we could just punch in the date and location of a place on Earth and see everything that happened, then again, maybe it wouldn't be so great. History is nothing more than educated (or dumb) guesses fitted with the latest interpretation of evidence and the most recent theory. No human can know everything everywhere at any moment, much less in all moments. It is therefore practically impossible to predict a future. But for every moment in the present there probably has been a similar moment in the past.

This then, is one of the major goals and purposes of the study of history: to break through all the technological, scientific, and all other change that has happened and to find common rythms and patterns that have always happened. Change, as the saying goes, is a neccessary evil, so it follows that at some level of thought and study of the past it's effect is gone. The emotions and instincts people had millenia ago are still the exact same ones we have today. Everything has it's role. The idea of a chain of events is then probably somewhat innacurate, a stack of world "snapshots" is more fitting.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Why I'm so Obsessed with Early Human History...and some philosophy

Some of you are probably wondering why I'm posting so much about how things were like in early societies. Basically, it's cause I'm spending my summer not at the beach, or at some other vacation spot, but by pondering the meaning of life, society, and a bunch of other stuff.

The answers to life and society are connected, here's what I have come up with for the purposes of life:

-To live (it seems simple and obvious, but it is connected into everything alive.)
-Increase frequency of your DNA into gene pool (have kids, or anything alive that has your DNA in it)

Society was at the least an attempt to help in both. Humans, by themselves, are not really the greatest physical machines. They have intelligence, the ability to use natural objects and change them to suit their needs, and the ability to create some level of an artificial environment, (a bit off-topic, but sounds like the character traits from a video game). By combining the different talents of different people, society was able to get an edge in the struggle for survival. Large groups allow people to specialise in different jobs needed for the whole to survive and progress. Specialisation can lead to expertise and skill in a job. To pass on this knowledge, their were people who specialised in teaching, and perhaps general care for children while their parents where busy).

Speculating on early events in society is a way to understand the foundations of today's civilizations. It can explain some of the things happening now, and maybe we could then make better decisions.

Blog Update: Scroll down to the bottom if you want to see my blog advisor.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Origins of Law

I've finally ended several weeks of constantly not posting. Lack of topics and simple laziness are both reasons. Hopefully I'll be able to continue the daily posting I used to have. For now I will start with laws, tomorrow or maybe later today I'll finish the First Sack of Rome posting, later I'll continue with linguistics, Mesopotamia, Crusades, and other topics. Also, I'll welcome any other topics proposed by readers, some basic info and/or Internet resources about the topic would also be nice. Last, if you have anything to say about a post, please tell it in a comment. Laws, in some way or other, are vital for efficient, long-lasting, and functioning societies. In the earliest nomadic tribes there probably were some sort of basic understood rules that all member abided by. They may have been obvious things like, don't murder other tribe members, or don't steal food. To break these rules would result in communal backlash. Also, there is evidence that these people had some ideas of an afterlife. Fear of not having a good time after you die would have been a great force too. As a tribe grew more complex the laws had to expand too. There may have been laws governing different occupations or situations. Laws helped clear up and establish procedures and customs. While they complexified life, they also took away many worries. They would have helped keep things in order and direct people in different situations as cultures grew more sophisticated. Of course, as the number of these laws increased, it would have been impossible for an ordinary person to remember every one of them, in times before writing and alphabets, the responsibility would have had to be passed on to a group of people. These could be any number of different types, priests, elders, wisemen, council members, or shamans. But of course, a growing society placed other demands on these people, and more people meant that you could have people who solely spend their lives memorizing legal rules. Whoever ruled the tribe could then draw on these as advisors in daily and long-term issues. As the number and complexity of the laws continued to grow, the specialists would have divided them up into common subjects, such as civil or criminal law. At this time society was probably already urbanized, and far from the nomadic life before. This new highly complexified and sophisticated culture was strongly influenced by three principal forces: laws, government, and religion. Laws served the function of protecting people’s rights or making sure that the economic or political systems functioned smoothly. Government had two jobs, apply its power to tackle everyday issues and situations, and plan and safeguard future growth and welfare. Religion served as an explanation of phenomena, and an important aspect in shaping culture.

Even small combinations of these three forces could produce very different civilizations, a comparison of that could be made in the differences of Egyptian and Mesopotamian lands. Ancient Egypt, during the times it was united, put together all three forces in the pharaoh. He was lawgiver, absolute ruler, and a descendant of the gods all in one. It is important to note that in Egypt all property was considered to belong to the Pharaoh, while the people were mere holders of it. Mesopotamia went an entirely different course, splitting up the three forces to a great degree. Rulers considered themselves only agents who carry out their god’s/gods’ commands. Government and religion have always been closely tied to each other.

But the important thing is that government and law were separated. Ever since writing laws could be set down on tablets, always able to be referred to later. This was completely solidified by Hammurabi’s Code of Laws (about 1800 B.C.), although earlier codes are known to exist. The significance of this was that a ruler could no longer change a law to suit his/her particular needs. This greatly protected the people’s rights. Also, private property was recognized and the rules of its exchange, along with many other commercial exchanges, were laid out in laws.

Of course laws would still have to be changed to fit changing ways. But changing often very old rules would not be easy, and public unrest or even revolt might happen if some king just did it by himself. The process of changing these laws would be a great facet of government in the future.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

First Sack of Rome Part II

Here's Part I

The Celts continued to destroy large parts of Rome. The Roman defenders inside the Citadel were forced to look on as section after section was laid to waste. For some reason or another the Celts did not destroy the entire city, but left parts of it intact, though still looted. Eventually they tired of doing nothing but ransacking and burning empty buildings. Arraying themselves in a line, they proceeded to take the Citadel by assault.

The Romans noticed that and prepared myself. First guarding all the ways to the Citadel, they positioned their best men to face the incoming Celts. The Citadel was located on a rather steep hill so that a simple charge by the outnumbered Romans managed to send the entire Celtic army reeling back. Realizing that another attack would be too costly, the invaders prepared a siege. Also realizing that there was no food inside our directly outside the city walls part of the army was sent out to find food. This party then laid siege to a town named Ardea. The defenders of the town, led by Camillus, sallied outside and surprised the sleeping Celts in their camp, killing almost all.

The remnants of the Roman army which had been defeated before on the Tiber river still had a part to play. In their retreating march they stumbled upon, surprised, and drove away some Italic raiders taking advantage of the situation. In the process they managed to capture a large number of supplies and armaments, which they used to equip the citizens of Veii. One of the men then took it upon himself to sneak through the Celtic lines to give the news to the defenders. By swimming along a river he reached a cliff that had been forsaken by the Celts as too hard to climb. After some great difficulty the messenger reached the Romans and told them about the new army that was prepared to attack the invaders. After this the messenger managed to return to Veii.

The Celts spotted the tracks and decided they would be able to climb the cliff too. During the middle of the night some of them started to go up. The guards were not too watchful as they thought they were secure. However, some sacred geese at a temple noticed these climbers and started a fuss. The guards soon found and managed to stop the attackers and drive them off the cliff.

After this (and after a payment of gold) the Celts agreed to withdraw from the city. On their way back home they besieged another Roman city, this time the inhabitants attacked the Celts and recaptured most of the spoils.

Now the Romans had a nearly empty city and the job to rebuild it. To speed things up they allowed people to build wherever they wanted, thus resulting in the maze of twisting narrow roads and infamous dark alleys of old Rome. Also, if you read the first post, the people had refused to let the Senate give back the ambassador who had killed a Celt in a battle, even though there was no war between the two at the time. This was just the beginning of the deep split between the Senate and the People of Rome.