Peoples and Empires : A Short History of European Migration, Exploration, and Conquest, from Greece to the Present
Written by one of the world's foremost historians of human migration, Peoples and Empires is the story of the great European empires--the Roman, the Spanish, the French, the British--and their colonies, and the back-and-forth between "us" and "them," culture and nature, civilization and barbarism, the center and the periphery. It's the history of how conquerors justified conquest, and how colonists and the colonized changed each other beyond all recognition.
This addition to the Modern Library Chronicles series is described by the author as "a very short book on a very big subject." Happily, Pagden handles the topic with skill, learning, wit and balance. A professor of history at Johns Hopkins, Pagden has written extensively on empires, imperialism and human migration. His new offering is an overview summarizing the influence of empires on the development of civilization. Beginning with the first empire in European history, that of Alexander the Great, which was also the first empire to claim a universal scope, Pagden goes on to examine the land-based empires of Rome and the Hapsburgs that gave way to the seagoing empires of England and the Netherlands. The author makes much of the fact that these last two commercial empires were founded to be "empires of liberty," but derived much of their wealth and power from the exploitation of slave labor. Pagden has not written a screed against European hegemony, though. He knows full well the good and the bad of these institutions ("Most empires have offered their subject peoples a combination of opportunities and restraints"), and he impressively illustrates the ways in which the history of empire has for many centuries past been in fact the history of the human race. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 06, 2003
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Excerpt from Peoples and Empires by Anthony Pagden
The First World Conqueror
The story of the empires of the peoples of Europe begins in ancient Greece. For the Greeks, who devised the vocabularies with which we still think about how to live our lives, were also, as they described themselves, "extreme travelers." The Cyclopes, one of whom devours Odysseus's crew, are the embodiment of barbarism, because, among their other defects, they know nothing of navigation and have never left their island home. Travel, as we know, broadens the mind. The first person to have made the connection between voyaging (plane) and wisdom (sophia) was supposedly Solon, who also gave the Athenians their laws, and thus created the first true political society in European history.
Subsequent Greek history is filled with wanderers in search of knowledge. Sometime in the fifth century B.C., Herodotus, the "father of history," traveled well beyond the limits of his world, to Egypt and to Libya, Babylon, and the Phoenician city of Tyre, even to southern Russia, and reported extensively on what he had found there. Pythagoras, the great sixth-century-B.C. mathematician, journeyed from his native Samos to Egypt and Crete before settling finally in Croton in southern Italy, and the earliest of the ancient geographers, Hecateus of Miletus, visited Egypt even before Herodotus.
The knowledge to be gained from travel was almost always, however, also a means to possession. The Greeks were not only great travelers, they were also great colonizers. Beginning in the eighth century B.C. when Corinth established a colony on what is today Corfu, the Greek city-states moved steadily across the entire Mediterranean until by 580 they had occupied, to some degree, all the most obviously desirable areas in the world then available to them.
Colonization and conquest on this scale required skilled navigators and relatively large ships. Most of all, however, it required the evolution of a certain kind of warfare. Immanuel Kant believed that human conflict was nature's means of forcing primitive men to leave the settled comfortable boundaries of their homes. There, like grazing cattle, they might be happy, but because they were not also anxious and active, they could not be properly human. Kant credited nature with too much insight. But in one way or another war has contributed more than any other single factor to the steady distribution of peoples around the world.
Yet if all peoples engage in some kind of warfare, wars themselves are of many different kinds. The conflicts that took place between the tribal peoples of North and South America, parts of East Africa, and Australia and that still occur among the few remaining peoples of the world's rain forests is often harsh, cruel, and sudden; but it rarely does, nor is intended to do, much lasting damage. Such struggles are, as one sympathetic Spanish observer in the sixteenth century described them, "no more deadly than our jousting, or than many European children's games." They are fought for limited and often symbolic gains, and they rarely aim at conquest or subjugation. They do not intend to change the world.
The kind of war of which Kant was thinking was something very different. It emerged out of the eastern Mediterranean and the steppes in the late Bronze Age. It is the warfare celebrated in the Iliad, and it aimed at the total transformation of entire peoples, or sometimes, as in the Trojan War, at their ultimate destruction. The Trojan War, not only the best-known but also one of the longest recorded wars in history, ushered in a new era in human conflict, at least in the Mediterranean. Agamemnon and his crew of semidivine warriors have no objective beyond revenge for the insult inflicted upon the Spartan Menelaus by a Trojan prince. They are not conquerors, much less empire builders. When they finally leave after ten long years of unceasing conflict, Troy will be no more.