Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 2
Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 2
All images with this article are taken from SFJ archives. Here an Ecuadorean measures the condition of his grain.

Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 1
Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 3
Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 4
Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 5

Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 2

“the rule of return”

by G.T. Wrench, originally published in 1946

It was during the late stages of World War II when G.T. Wrench began work on his thesis which held that soils, health, and the likelihood of war were/are closely related throughout history. And further that “reconstruction” of society after war would require a return to the soil. If you wish, we will continue with the reprint of this important and relatively obscure book. We hope that you will find these ideas as thought provoking as we have. LRM


In the previous chapter, we have not proved the point that it was the intensive personal agriculture in a favourable soil and climate, which gave to the early Romans their physiological vigour and virile character. We have not proved it for it is not susceptible of proof as a separate entity. It can only be brought forward as an example of the reasonable supposition that the quality of the food and the animal that eats it must be interwoven. All, therefore, that we have been able to do has been to bring forward certain facts bearing upon early Latium which to some readers will at least linkup with the tradition of the exceptional character of its inhabitants.

Let us now review, as far as we are able, the foods themselves from which this physiology derived.

At the beginning we are forced to realize that in history generally it is difficult to find out about the quality and character of the food of a people, and to this the early Romans afford no exception. Dr. K. Hintze, however, has in his invaluable Geographie und Geschichte der Ernahrung collected such knowledge as persistent scholarship can reveal.

What Hintze is able to tell us about the foods of the early Romans is not copious, but nevertheless it is fully in accordance with that of some of the most virile people at present upon the earth. It has already been shown what care was given to its cultivation. That is of primary importance. One may presume that with such skilled and laborious cultivation, the soil, itself of excellent natural gifts, rendered healthy and well-growing vegetable and animal food.

There is no contemporary information, says Hintze, about the foods of early Latium; there are only the traditions, supported by the influences of modern research, of what it had been.

Of grains, there was barley, wheat (emmer) and millet. There were no mills, but the grains were crushed in a mortar and the husk removed. The grain was then made into a porridge and eaten with salt. The grains were often lightly roasted so as to make the removal of the husk easier. Later came the hand mill and the grain was crushed between two millstones.

The student of nutrition and dietetics will at once note that only the husk was removed. The porridge was thus wholemeal porridge and, if flat cakes of bread were made, they too were wholemeal.

This traditional porridge, Hintze surmises, was the staple food of the early Romans, who ate alike as there was little or no food-distinction of the classes at that time.

Then came vegetables and fruit. There were cattle, but flesh was seldom eaten, except on the days of religious festivals. The animals were kept for work upon the farm, for the provision of manure, and for milk and cheese. Milk and cheese were an important part of the food.

The grape was cultivated in Italy in pre-Roman times, but in ancient Latium it seems to have been unknown. Its culture, however, reached Latium at some early date and the inhabitants then drank wine. Whether they drank wine made from other juices, as was the later habit of the Romans, is not known. Barley beer, the drink of northern peoples, never found favour in the land of the grape.

The food of the early Latin farmers was, therefore the lacto-vegetarian, which has won such high praise form Sir Robert McCarrison and other distinguished modern nutritionists, as the food of many of the healthiest and strongest peoples of the present day. If a healthy soil can be granted to these people, then they had in their food all the necessary elements of physiological excellence.

The lacto-vegetarian diet is not the only healthy whole diet. There are other such diets, that of the Polar Eskimos for example in which whole carcass feeding plays almost but not quite as prominent a part as it does in that of the beasts of prey. But the lacto-vegetarian diet of wholemeal grains, fruits, vegetables, milk and its products, as McCarrison has shown, is the basis of the excellent health and physique of the Hunza, the Pathans and the Sikhs of North-western India and, with a more precarious supply of grain and vegetables, of the Arabs and Baggaras.

What proportion milk and its products added to the vegetables and fruit foods of the early Romans is not of course known. Their value was, one would think, firmly established in the tradition of people, some of whose ancestors came from central and eastern-central Europe. It was certainly a tradition handed down to and maintained from the early days of the republic. The latifundia or large estates of the later republic largely specialized in milk and milk products, as well as wines and olives, and left the growing of corn in large degree to the provinces. They raised cows, sheep, goats, horses and asses, and the milk and cheeses of the milks of all these animals were consumed with the inner knowledge, which Cossinius, in Varro’s work, displays. Cossinius discusses the qualities and differences of these products as connoisseurs discuss those of wine. Nothing perhaps shows more vividly the immense gap that exists between the sophisticated town diets of to-day and that of early and middle republican Rome than this serious devotion to milk and its products.

It is in the lacto-vegetarian character that the early Roman diet allies itself, as has been said, to that of many of the finest people of the present day. It is in their intensive cultivation of the land as individual farmer-families that they resembled the Chinese, Koreans and pre-modern Japanese. It is in their traditional reverence for the nutritional qualities of milk and its products, however, that they differ from these far-eastern peoples, whose land supports so numerous a population that there is not sufficient for the support of a large number of domesticated animals as well. It is in the combination of the two, intensive cultivation and the culture of dairy products, that the Roman diet most resembled that of the Hunza people of the western Himalayas who are probably unsurpassed in physique and health by any other people of the present times. Moreover, whether by tradition or not cannot be said, but certainly in mid- and later republican times, and therefore possibly in the early Roman period, a great quantity of different fruits were cultivated in Italy, so that Hintze, at one passage, yielding perhaps to hyperbole, declares, that ‘at Varro’s time all Italy resembled a fruit garden.’ In this generous provision of fruit, the diet resembled that of the present-day Hunza, who eat great quantities of fresh and sun-dried fruits. It also has allied to it the great quantities of dates, which those other people of superb physique, the Arabs of Arabia, eat.

As regards early Roman agriculture, the intensity of which has already been indicated, Frank praises its practical efficiency. Professor Whitney, in his great work Soil and Civilization (1926), writes of the Roman knowledge of certain principles and practices, such as their recognition of the different types of soil and the crops suitable for them; their recognition of the need of local knowledge of the soil and its preservation by successive generations of families cultivating the soil, where they themselves were born and bred; their use of legumes which allied them to the prolonged agricultural history of the Chinese, as also in their avoidance of any waste upon the farm, all animal and vegetable refuse being returned to the soil as manure, and other technical feathers of agricultural practice upon which a competent student of practical agriculture like Whitney is qualified to write and to whose book I refer the interested reader.

There is therefore, I think, quite sufficient evidence to presume that the Romans and their neighbours belonged to those people who by long adaptation to a repetitive, well-cultivated, sound diet, seem to have acquired an absolute harmony with their food, and, as a sequential necessity, were themselves a people of exceptional physique and health. The foundations of their western world dominion included their foods and agriculture.

The change in both came with the spread of that dominion.

The change amongst the agricultural Italians was much slower in its ingress than it was amongst the rapidly increasing urban populations. The rural people were necessarily affected by the changes recorded in the previous chapter, but their foods were still locally produced, milk and its products, grains, vegetables, fruit, oil, wine and occasional meat.

It was upon the metropolis and other major urban centers that the chief effect of the change fell. The bread or porridge of the lower classes was now prepared, not from local grains, but from grain imported across the seas from Egypt and northern Africa. ‘The sustenance of the Roman people is day by day being tossed about at the caprice of wave and storm’, were the words of the Emperor Tiberius to the Senate. But that is almost all that can be said with accuracy about the urban lower classes and their food. Hintze laments that ‘unfortunately as concerns the life of the smaller folk, comprising the mass of the population, we can learn practically nothing from the writers of the time’.

It is a very different story as regards the wealthier classes of the later republican and early imperial Rome. Their breakaway from the simplicity of their great ancestors to luxury were frequent themes of the writers of the time. The wealthy Romans were indulgent of their appetites. Taste and the temptations of delicate dishes replaced the satisfaction of robust appetites. Dinner (cena), beginning about 3 p.m., became a cult. Individually and socially it occupied by its time alone, which was three or more hours, a considerable part of the day.

Hintze gives a list of the foods in their variety which reached the table at the time of the empire: milk, cheese, honey, wine, wheat, barley, millet, beans, lentils, peas, cabbage and other leafy vegetables, tubers, beets, turnips, radish, salad, onion, cucumber, celery, mushrooms, truffles, dill, mint garlic, coriander, mustard, pepper, cardamon, olives, grapes, apples, oranges, lemons, dates, pears, plums, cherries, figs, quinces, apricots, peaches, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, fruit-wines of apple, pear, pomegranate, mulberry and other juices, mutton, goat, pig, deer, boar, chamois, antelope, hare, spiced meats, smoked meats, hams, goose, chicken, ortolan, bunting, starling, thrush, dove, peacock, flamingo, guinea-fowl, fish, mussels, crabs, lobsters and oysters. Beef was not much eaten, the bullock being kept for labour and the cow for milk.

There was, therefore, a complete change from the ancestral lacto-vegetarian diet to one drawn from all parts of the available world by the fame and wealth of Rome.

The new diet had what has been termed the virtue of variety. Whether the inventive of variety or the adaptation of familiarity is better for individual men cannot be answered. As far as I know, the question is one of those which has had little attention paid to it.

One can only repeat facts. This very varied diet is essentially one of wealthy urban or urbanized classes, and it entails gradations downwards to the masses of the urban population. Immediately below the upper class which gets the pick of the food, there is a grade which gets the foods that are in excess of those required by the rich or those slightly spoilt for the fastidious palates of the wealthy. So the diet passes downwards, contracts, and changes to that of the lower classes, who, in the case of Rome, depended for their staple food on distant countries.

It is most important, however, here to realize that the defects due to poor food are acquired defects and therefore they are not, in the commonly accepted view of modern science, inheritable or inherited defects. Any poor Roman, who by wisdom or fortune, received a good diet from conception onwards, would show the better physique and health which that diet ensured. As to the rich, their varied diet judiciously used clearly gave opportunity for health and fine bodily quality, for the rich mostly had estates and other means of access to good milk, cheese, oil, fruit, vegetables and corn.

The rural population, like the wealthy, had access to fresh food. The growing of wheat in Italy did not come to an end. ‘In Nero’s day,’ writes Frank, ‘Egypt sent about five million bushels of wheat to Rome annually while Africa sent about twice as much. That would suffice for the capital alone, and reveals why cereal-culture could be neglected in the vicinity of the city. But the rest of Italy had a population of about fifteen million and they would require more than 150 million bushels a year… We must conclude therefore that wheat was very extensively and successfully raised during the first century.’

The foods of Rome of the period of dominion may then be summed up broadly as four.

Firstly, there were the small farm home-produced foods to the Italian countrymen. These approached most closely of the four groups to the traditional foods of their ancestry. To what degree they did so it is impossible to relate, for as Mr. H. Stuart Jones says in Companion to Roman History, 1912, though ‘there is good evidence in the literature and inscriptions of the early Empire that the small holding was far form extinct in A.D. 100 and later, we know so little of its working that we can only described the fundus of the capitalistic landowner as Cato and Varro picture it.’

Secondly, there were the home-produced foods of the slave-worked latifundia. Under the late republic the condition of the slaves was wretched in the extreme. Under the empire their lot was gradually ameliorated. Their foods were presumably not the equal of the first group. Moreover, the specialization of the estate limited the number of foods compared to that produced on the general farm.

Thirdly, there was the varied diet of the wealthy classes comprised of fresh foods from their own or neighbouring farms and estates, fish from the seas and rivers, and luxury foods imported from abroad.

Lastly, there was the food of the lower urban classes. Of this Mr. F. H. Marshall, in Sir John Sandys’ A Companion to Latin Studies, 1921, writes: a kind of porridge of wheat, like that eaten in early republican times ‘even in imperial times continued to be eaten by the classes… with green vegetables, seldom meat.’ The grain was still consumed as a wholemeal grain. As to its quality, there is no means of comparing it with the wheat or emmer and other grains of early Latium. But its wholemeal character was certainly preserved.

This is about the only fact of importance one can gather from what is known of the food of the urban lower classes. One knows little or nothing about their access to dairy foods. As already quoted, Hintze states that ‘unfortunately as concerns the life of the smaller folk, comprising the mass of the population, we can learn practically nothing from the writers of the time.’

Summing up one may assert that compared to the foods produced by the farmers of early Latium, that of the first group approached, but owing to the increasing difficulties of the farmers, cannot have reached that of the early period.

The food of the second class of the agricultural slaves was certainly inferior.

The food of the third class, the wealthy, is less comparable. It is not possible to state, but it is possible to imagine that it produced a greater variety of human qualities. That it also brought with it the deterioration of over-luxurious and over-gross feeding is certain. Nevertheless, the daily life of its eaters, their gymnastics, games, and bathing proves the persistence of the ideal of bodily health and physique.

The food of the fourth class, the poorer urban class, was certainly inferior.

With the degeneration of Italian agriculture, there came a degeneration of foods and their quality, and a degeneration of the eaters of these foods. To whatever other causes the decline and fall of the Western Empire was due, this of its foods was assuredly amongst the primary ones. It suggests that no empire can endure with its centre in the motherland, if the agriculture of the motherland deteriorates. The process is naturally a slow one and as such was not mentally impressed upon the Romans as a people, though realized by many of its thoughtful and prominent men.

Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 2
A young man in a south east asian village brings home willing, and unwilling, ducks to an enclosure for their night’s safety.


The human group, by which the farming of early Latium was carried out, was the family. A slave of that time was one of the family and took his part in the general work and domestic life without degradation.

The human family and the cultivated soil were indissolubly connected; the family was pledged and wedded to the soil. The very type of marriage, that of monogamy, was dictated by the soil.

The farm provided the family group with food, clothing, shelter, fuel and an overflow of produce for exchange for goods produced by others. It gave security to the children and old people, and the security was continuous so long as the soil was well-husbanded. The peculiar knowledge of the family and of their ancestry was that of their farm and all that affected it.

To the family its land with its particularities was as living and particular as were their own particularities. The creation of children to continue the family was, as it were, an aspect or relation of the creative quality of the soil. The blended intimacy was an intimacy formed within the mystery of the recurrent creation of both. The farming family was inevitably religious; it was so near in its life to the abundant life in which it was itself the agent of creation; in death it was so near to the inevitability of the resurrection of that which is apparently dead but which, mixed with the soil, again joins the regions of life.

Every schoolboy, recalling his Roman history, carries in his mind the grim figure of the pater familias, the head of a Roman family, who preserved the form of the family and punished any member of it who endangered its corporative existence, and did not in extreme cases hesitate to inflict death upon his own flesh and blood.

Ordinarily, one may presume, as member of a family he was not grim, but the fact that he had those traditional powers showed that the family was cultivated with as great an intensity as the land; and his summoning of the family at the awakening of day to the worship of the household gods showed that that, which man ultimately does not reach but which by intimacy he can approach, was a deeper interpretation of the common life upon the farm.

The family was the large or joint family, which is the form of family particularly correlated with the intensive hereditary cultivation of small farms. It was the large or joint family consisting of the father and mother, their sons and grandsons with their wives and children, and their unmarried daughters. The men worked upon the land and for the State, the women worked for the family. Outside the family woman had no recognized place. She inherited her portion of the family land, but that was for her security and not to give her individual scope for agricultural skill or toil.

She was the mother and the housewife. But in the relation of her children to the State and family, she was subordinate to the pater familias. It was he who had an absolute legal right to decide whether a child born to him or in his family should be reared or not. It was he who ordained the death of a defective child or one threatening the family unit by over-population. ‘The maxim was not suggested by indifference to the possession of a family,’ is Mommsen’s comment. ‘On the contrary, the conviction that the founding of a house and the begetting of children were a moral necessity and a public duty had a deep and earnest hold of the Roman mind.’

But the family had to be strong in its individual units and in itself as a unit of the State. It had to be strong because the proper service of the soil demanded physiological strength, and the strong State, the State that could successfully defend itself against invaders and aggressive neighbours, had to be compounded of strong family units. The family was, indeed, the very essence of the State. ‘Of all Roman institutions marriage was the most sacred,’ wrote Mr. Romaine Patterson in The Nemesis of Nations, 1907. ‘The family altar, transmitted from one generation to another and holding a fire which had been lit by ancestors who had been dead for centuries, was the central and most impressive fact in the life of a Roman burgess.’

The economy which was attached to this sanctity of the family has been called a ‘natural economy.’ After the Punic Wars, there arose as its rival and supplementer a ‘money economy.’ The new rich, in the main, were new men, the Equites. The older landed aristocracy, as was to be seen later in other nations, were not a match for the new men. It was the Equites who made and controlled the money economy in its various forms. They farmed rents, taxes, customs, excise and other duties. They controlled the import of food, the slave trade, and the creation and circulation of money. The most certain path to wealth was the profession of banking. Only exceptional cleverness or luck in speculation built up wealth more rapidly than did banking, and this very speculation was supported by the bankers. Almost all, who laid claim to credit, fell into the bankers’ debt. The successful politicians depended upon the backing given to them by the bankers. Capital, labour and competition, under the money economy, became commonplaces, though unknown under natural economy. In the growing ascendancy of money economy, the bankers necessarily became indispensable, and eventually the whole State became an exhibition of their indispensability. Everything hung from them as the staples of the State. Property concentrated. The tribune, Philippas, quoted by Cicero, stated that there were only 2,000 property and landowners in the whole Commonwealth.

The effect upon the family and marriage was profound, they both began to lose their meaning, and indeed did lose the greater part of their meaning. As the sacredness of marriage and the family fell, it is in the women of the upper class — the class which, as in the case of food, practically monopolized the pens of the great Roman writers from which we get our information — that the change of values is most vividly illustrated.

The Roman matrons now became figures of tradition. The object of the fashionable ladies was the reverse of that of the displaced domina or mistress of the home and family. Their desire was to avoid by all possible means the appearance of being matronly. To conceal all appearances of advancing years, to look young, attractive and ripe for adventure, that was, in particular, the object of the society women. Their culture was beauty cultures, their scarcely concealed convention was to occupy themselves with love affairs without fruition. As, perhaps, a form of revenge for the secret desolation of their wifehood and motherhood, they wasted the imperial resources with lavish prodigality. Fashion and beauty cost so much that thousands of slaves throughout the empire were necessary to support them. The passion for personal freedom, in the sense of untrammelled desire, divided them from the few children which they had. The younger folk, on their part, freed themselves from the shackles of parental authority. The pater familias vanished into the past with the domina. The family elders, once honoured as the store-house of experience and wisdom and links with the past, were unreverenced and made to feel the uselessness of old age.

I cannot better substantiate the accuracy of the picture of the upper class Roman women than quote Theodor Mommsen’s account in his History of Rome. He is describing the time when society has first erected itself to a great height of luxury upon the wealth that accrued from the exploitation of Rome’s widespread provinces and the great number of slaves, which filled the place in the Roman world that machines were to fill in the Industrial Era. Amongst society, he wrote: ‘Morality and family life were treated as antiquated things amongst the ranks of society. To be poor was not merely the saddest disgrace and the worst crime, but the only disgrace and the only crime.’ The effect upon society women, he described in these words: ‘Liaisons in the first houses had become so frequent, that only a scandal altogether exceptional could make them the subject of special talk; a judicial interference seemed now almost ridiculous. An unparalleled scandal, such as Publius Clodius produced in 61 B.C. at the women’s festival in the house of the Pontifex Maximus, although a thousand times worse than the occurrences which fifty years before had led to a series of capital sentences, passed almost without investigation and wholly without punishment. The watering-place season — in April, when business was suspended and the world of quality congregated in Baiae and Puteoli — derived its chief charm from the relations licit and illicit which, along with music and song and elegant breakfasts on board or on shore, enlivened the gondola voyages. There the ladies held absolute sway; but they were by no means content with this domain which rightfully belonged to them; but also acted as politicians, appeared in party conferences and took part with their money and their intrigues in the wild coterie-proceedings of the time.’ ‘Celibacy and childlessness became common, especially amongst the upper classes,’ and it was held to be the duty of ‘a citizen to keep great wealth together and therefore not to beget too many children.’

Childlessness, indeed, had further advantages. Men and women who had children were debarred from the joys of society and were omitted from invitations to social gatherings. Hence Seneca (5 B.C.—A.D. 65), himself a man of great wealth, whose strange attachment to Stoic philosophy led him, with his colleague Burrus, to the wise and humane government of the first five years of Nero’s reign, did not think it ill, in a manner that would have outraged the farmer-Romans, to console a mother who had lost her only son by pointing out that she would not be free to enjoy the pleasures and prestige of society.

Nothing could better than this convey the gulf that formed between the position of the women of ‘natural economy’ and the dominant women of ‘money economy.’ But it is juster to regard this great change as an example of relativity than to condemn it on the grounds of morality. The conduct of the first women was relative to the preeminence of the soil, that of the second to the pre-eminence of money. The first economy was preservative of life and the soil, the second was destructive. How destructive it was will be seen in the next chapter.

Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 2
Similar to Roman times, a north african coaxes a camel to pull a bent stick through the ground in preparation for planting.


The best summary of this aspect of Roman history which I have read is that of Professor Simkhovitch, in an essay published in the Political Science Quarterly of the Columbia University, 1916, under the title of ‘Rome’s Fall Reconsidered.’

Simkhovitch began with quotations from Roman writers, Pliny, Horace, Varro, Columella and others, who were fully aware of Rome’s progressive degradation at the roots. The process was a slow, progressive exhaustion of soil fertility. It was not due to lack of knowledge of good farming, for, ‘nothing could be more startling than the Roman knowledge of rational and intensive agriculture’. Nor, I think, could it be said to be due to debt, for debt did not begin its devastating career until the fertility of the soil became impoverished. Debt was not necessary as long as the farming families were able to give their time to intensive cultivation.

The spread of the degradation of the soil was centrifugal from Latium itself outwards. Varro noted abandoned fields in Latium, and two centuries later Columella, about A.D. 60, referred to all Latium as a country where the people would have died of starvation, but for their share of Rome’s imported corn. The Roman armies moved outwards from Latium demanding land; victory gave more land to the farmers; excessive demands again brought exhaustion of fertility; again the armies moved outwards.

‘Province after province was turned by Rome into a desert,’ wrote Simkhovitch, ‘for Rome’s exactions naturally compelled greater exploitation of the conquered soil and its more rapid exhaustion. Province after province was conquered by Rome to feed the growing proletariat with its corn and to enrich the prosperous with its loot. The devastation of war abroad and at home helped the process along. The only exception to the rule of spoliation and exhaustion was Egypt, because of the overflow of the Nile. For this reason Egypt played a unique role in the empire. It was the emperor’s personal possession, and neither senators nor knights could visit it without special permission, for even a small force, as Tacitus stated, might “block up the plentiful corn country and reduce all Italy to submission”.’

Latium, Campania, Sardinia, Sicily, Spain, Northern Africa, as Roman granaries, were successively reduced to exhaustion. Abandoned land in Latium and Campania turned into swamps, in Northern Africa into desert. The forest-clad hills were denuded. ‘The decline of the Roman Empire is a story of deforestation, soil exhaustion and erosion,’ wrote Mr. G.V. Jacks in The Rape of the Earth. ‘From Spain to Palestine there are no forests left on the Mediterranean littoral, the region is pronouncedly and instead of having the mild humid character of forest-clad land, and most of its former bounteously rich top-soil is lying at the bottom of the sea.’

The same fate at a later date fell upon Asia Minor, the decline of the Eastern repeating that of the Western Empire in its soil-aspects. Sir William Ramsay, in The National Geographical Magazine of November, 1922, wrote one of those articles which almost stagger one with the super-eminence of the treatment of the soil in the story of mankind. The Province of Asia ‘in Roman times was highly populated and therefore highly cultivated… It is difficult to give by statistics any conception of the great wealth and the numerous population of Asia Minor in the Roman period. In the single province of “Asia,” to use the Roman name for the western part of the peninsula, which was the richest and most highly educated of the whole country, there were 230 cities which each struck its own special coinage, under its own name and its own magistrates, each proud of its individuality and character as a self-governing unit in the great Empire.’

Sir William carried out a careful exploration of some of the areas of high cultivation, which he regarded as the necessary basis of this wealthy province. What he found was what is found elsewhere, namely, hills denuded of forest and swept by heavy seasonal rains, and what he further found was the relics for the extensive terraced engineering by which the nourishing water had once been conserved and distributed: ‘In older time,’ he wrote, ‘the numerous terraces would have detained the water from point to point up the mountain side, preventing it from ever acquiring a sufficient volume to sweep down in a destroying flood.’ Against this fertile land came invaders. First came the least destructive, the Arabs, least destructive because they observed in war the sanctity of trees. The Arabs could under the rules of war destroy the crops and produce of the enemy, but only exceptionally the trees which conserved the soil. ‘It was left to the Crusaders under the command of German, Norman and Frankish nobles and bishops, to inaugurate the era of total destruction of a country by cutting down the trees… These broke the strength of an organized society by reducing a great part of the country from the agricultural to the nomadic stage. The supply of food diminished accordingly, and with the waning of the food-supply the population necessarily decreased.’

‘A decreasing population,’ continued this masterly account, ‘in its turn was unable to supply the labour necessary to maintain the old standard of water engineering, on which prosperity rested. Gradually industries languished and died in the towns as well as the agriculture in the country. The Sultans did what they could. Neither the Seljuk Turks nor the Ottoman Turks were actuated by fanaticism. They wished to preserve the old social system so far as it was consistent with the dominance of a conquering caste; but they could not maintain the education which was necessary in the old roman system… Thus the whole basis of prosperity was wrecked, not by intention, but by steady decay. A number of causes co-operated and each cause intensified the others. Can the prosperity of this derelict land be restored?’

Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 2
An exported steel plow (from the U.S.) would appear to do a better job of seed bed preparation although many experts believe the desert soils of the Mediterranean were and are too fragile for such practices.



Physical maps, showing the different elevations of land, have always had an irresistible attraction for me, and none is more attractive than that of the vast continent of Asia with its European appendage, pushed out like a tongue between the Mediterranean and Northern Seas. What a huge playground of history this map presents! There has been nothing like it in the other continents of the world, Africa, Australia and the Americas. They are, excepting Egypt, almost without history compared to the Eurasiatic Continent.

The map which I possess has five colours to denote different heights, dark green to show land below sea-level, light green from sea-level to 500 feet, yellow 500 to 2,000 feet, light brown 2,000 to 5,000 feet, and dark brown over 5,000 feet.

Asia begins with the beaches of the Arctic Ocean. Then comes a vast light green band or belt with a few yellow areas within it. It stretches right across Asia and Europe. In Asia it is the Siberian Plain; in Europe the Great Lowland Plain.

Except for an extreme northern band of Arctic vegetation, called tundra, this light green belt is forest land with great rivers passing through it to the Arctic Ocean. It is Belt No. 1. It has played very little part in Asiatic history.

Yellow-tinted is the land between this green belt and the mountains to the south of it. It has less rainfall than the green land north of it, and is subject to seasons of aridity. It is grass land, the land of the Steppes. This is Belt No. 2. It has played a great part in Asiatic history.

Belonging to Belt No. 2 as Steppe land, there is a patch of light green near the Caspian Sea. It is a part of the Kirghiz Steppes and it passes directly to the Steppes of south-eastern European Russia; when north of the Caspian, it is actually tinted dark green or below sea-level. This is the Caspian Tract, through which so may hordes of Asiatics passed into Europe in prehistoric and historic times.

The third belt begins with light brown almost from the north-eastern tip of Asia. It then shows a dark brown series of mountain ranges. From east to west these are, the long thin line of the Yablonoi Mountains, the much greater mass of the Sayan and Altai Mountains, and the lofty Tianshan, which ends at the seventieth longitude in the Pamir or Roof of the World.

Belt No. 4 is a light brown belt between Belts 3 and 5. It includes Mongolia, the Gobi Desert and Turkestan. It comes to an end at the Pamir. Mongolia is Steppe country and its inhabitants have played a large part in history, not only of Asia but also of eastern Europe. The name Mongol, or Tartar of the Chinese historians, however, has become attached to other peoples of the Steppes as well as to the people of Mongolia.

The fifth belt constitutes the largest mass of elevated land in the world. In the east it rises almost abruptly above the light green of the lowland of China, and then forms the most extensive elevation, that of Tibet, 11,000 feet and over, which is inhabited by man. Tibet’s southern border is formed by the highest mountains of the world, the range of the Himalaya. The Himalaya pass on westwards, forming the northern barrier of India and join the lofty Tianshan of the third belt in the Pamir.

From the Pamir the conjoint Tianshan and Himalaya continue westwards as the Hindu Kush Range; thence reaching across northern Afghanistan and Persia to arrive at Ararat in the east of Asia Minor. Ranges of lesser height pass from the Hindu Kush southwards to form the eastern border of Afghanistan and then pass west and northwest to the east of the Persian Gulf as the mountains of west Persia and so reach Ararat. They, and the northern ranges, enclose a smaller and much lower plateau than that of Tibet, the Iranian Plateau. Finally from Ararat, mountains continue westwards in Asia Minor, and appear in Europe as the Balkans, the Alps and the Pyrenees.

Belt No. 6 is the land of the Farmers. For our purpose it is the light green land about the great rivers, the Huang Ho or Yellow River and Yangtse Kiang of China, the Brahmaputra, Ganges, and Indus of India, the Euphrates and Tigris of Iraq.

Such, in brief, is the physical map of Asia. Its fascination lies in the fact that one can read from it some of the vast progeny of history upon the huge stage of the continent of Asia.

Reconstruction by Way of the Soil Part 2
A nomadic woman spins wool as she and her dog herd the sheep in rough terrain.


The Nomads are the inhabitants of Belt 2, the Steppe country. They are defined in Annandale’s Concise English Dictionary as ‘those people whose chief occupation consists of feeding their flocks, and who shift their residence according to the state of the pasture.’

The Nomads, according to this definition, present a picture to the mind’s eye of wandering shepherds and peaceful pastoralists passing from pasture to pasture to the sound of tinkling cow bells. They would erect their tents of oxhide at new pastures and enjoy the comfort of a home and resting place, until their experienced eyes told them that the pasture was insufficient for their cattle and it was time to move on.

Probably in the earliest historical times, the Nomads had horses. The horse is an Asiatic animal and the only wild horse now known is found in Western Mongolia, as a natural denizen of its dry, open steppes. Certainly the Nomads had horses before 2000 B.C., for horses appeared in Babylonia at that time and two centuries or so later the Hyksos, who conquered Egypt, introduced horses into that country. So we can add the horse to a company of Nomads. But the horse was to them a noble animal and was ridden only. It was not used as a beast of burden as it is to-day; it was the oxen who drew the heavy wagons of the Nomads when they trekked. The horse was loved for its speed. It was the swiftest animal of the steppes and it was this which made it loved by the Nomads.

The picture of the Nomads is a pleasant one and their life was peaceful and pleasant as long as the pasture was good. But, when the rain was scanty and the pasture poor, they were in trouble. Then they had to move frequently and, sometimes, faced by the loss of their cattle by starvation and themselves feeling the pinch of hunger, they would move quickly and their warriors, mounted on their loved steeds and armed with bows and arrows, would fling themselves upon peaceful people, either more fortunate pastoralists like themselves or farmers, slay many and take possession of their land. With their incredible swiftness on the march and an unprecedented speed of encircling attack, with their deadly accuracy of arrows shot from the saddle, with their horrific cries to terrorize their slow-moving victims, they must have seemed like a horde of winged insects, whose sting was death, and whose capture and destruction were impossible.

The cause of this disturbing loss of food was at one time believed to be an increasing dryness of the climate in historical times. This hypothesis was propounded by Prince Kropotkin in an article in the Royal Geographical Journal of 1904 in which he stated that it was quite certain that Belt No. 4 was more populated than it is now; it was quite certain, for example, that within historical times Eastern Turkestan and the adjacent part of Mongolia ‘were not deserts as they are now. They had a numerous population, advanced in civilization, which stood in lively intercourse with different parts of Asia’. Many of them were successful farmers dependent on irrigation from rivers flowing from their enclosing mountains. This, Sir Aurel Stein, in his monumental work The Desert Cities of Cathay, 1912, has convincingly proved beyond further discussion. Kropotkin continued: ‘All this is now gone, and it must have been the rapid desiccation of this region which compelled its inhabitants to rush down to the Jungarian Gate’ (Jungaria was a name of Western Mongolia) ‘to the lowlands of Balkash and the Obi.’ Mr. Huntingdon Ellsworth skillfully developed this hypothesis in The Pulse of Asia.

The hypothesis gave rise to very widespread investigation, with the result that, though fluctuations of climate undoubtedly occurred, as shown, for example, by the rise and fall of the level of the Caspian Sea, nevertheless a continuous decline in humidity in historical times could not be accepted. Drives through the Jungarian Gate were, however, accepted.

Another reason had to be found. It was found in the particular character of the treatment of the soil by the Nomads.

The first statement of this other reason, which I have been able to find, is that by Monsieur Rorit in the Royal Geographical Journal of 1870. Rorit wrote: ‘The nakedness of Arabia and the vast tracts of Asia in the north and west, the sterility, which extends over Persia, cannot be traced to any other cause than the pastoral habits of the inhabitants. The people inhabiting them are locusts; they destroy all woodland and vegetation, modifying even the climate – whence the necessity of migrations. Had the invasions of the barbarians any other cause? A study of the question in this sense would perhaps give us the key to the great migrations of mankind.’

Monsieur Rorit’s reason is pungently expressed, but it is now accepted. It could not well be otherwise, for, to confirm it, the same process is going on in many parts of the world under our eyes today.

In the countries in which Nomads fed their flocks and herds and grew temporary crops of grain, there was, as is usual in uninterfered-with nature, a balance between animal and vegetable life. Animals feed upon the land and manure it, but they do not ravage it. When human pastoralists entered these countries, there entered with them an altogether new danger, namely a form of terrene animals so advantaged by their upright position, their hands and their large brains, that they have the capacity to override the natural law of balance. They could breed more animals than the land could permanently support; they could break up the natural life-cycle of a district by using all that the soil produced, and then, when exhaustion of the soil came, move on to another district. With weapons forged from the iron of the Altai Mountains, these Nomads could cut down trees and shrubs and, with their ability to create fire from flint or friction, they could burn as well as cut down. The ash of the burnt trees and shrubs gave the manure of their substance to the land and enabled the Nomads to grow good temporary crops for a number of seasons. They, in short, as men, had power; and power in this sense may be defined as the ability to exceed the limitations set by nature.

Nature followed the rule of return, and the Nomads, unlike the true farmers, failed to follow the rule of return. Indirectly, by cutting down trees and shrubs for fuel and for ash, they made the soil drier. Rain fell and was by nature broken into a fine spray by trees, shrubs and thick grass and was thus evenly and widely spread in the topsoil. The topsoil, sheltered from sun and rain, stored the water. By slow evaporation from the vegetation, the water was returned to the air. But where excess of cattle fed upon the land and where trees and shrubs were widely burnt, the soil was exposed, dried and powdered, and then blown away by the winds or washed away by the rain. So a district of desert was formed, which forced the Nomads to move on. Nature then returned and in many cases restored the ravage. But if the destruction of fertility had been too great or if the half-recovered soil was again used for crops and grazing, permanent deterioration was the result.

The Nomads, then, lived a life of ill-balance by not following the rule of return, which is the only stable rule of living. They were, therefore, forced to live a life of chance. They depended on the season and, as the seasons varied, they themselves were necessarily speculative. In this character, indeed, they were like to other kinds of speculators, many prominent at the present time. Speculators disregard the rule of return. They strive to gain without giving; they disregard future generations; they are indifferent to the sufferings of others, provided they themselves can escape suffering. Yet eventually there is no escape from the effects of these actions, because ultimately their values are destructive and not conservative.

As long as the Nomads failed to use settled agriculture and limit their cattlebreeding, life was sometimes generous to them, sometimes even-handed, sometimes, at seasons of drought, harsh. At times of harshness, mounted on their horses they organized wide-sweeping hunts of wild animals for their food. If further pressed, they were forced to move on and this sometimes entailed making raids into the lands of their neighbours, who, in their turn might raid or join with them in raiding. Then, with increasing numbers, they might successfully make themselves masters of the land of settled farmers and the food and wealth, which they had not the wit to get by their own skill and toil. Hence they praised war, not as a means of defence in the way in which a sturdy peasantry has so often successfully defended itself and its soil, but as a means to mastery and wealth. To them life was not only a struggle for existence, but a will to power over their enemies, an assertion of the right of the better-armed and of the more savage nature over what they regarded as possible, and if possible legitimate, prey. They terrorized when they attacked, and, when they conquered, they were successful owing to the speed of their attack, the terror they aroused, and the human slaughter they effected. All these characters of theirs ultimately, therefore, arose from their attitude to the soil. The soil was something to be exploited and even plundered for their gain. This attitude was in the sharpest possible contrast to the tenet of the Babylonians, that the soil belonged to their god, or to the sanctity with which the soil was endowed by the followers of Zoroaster. These faiths of the holiness or wholeness of the soil were, as we shall see, faiths of the farmers; the very word cultivate is derived from the Latin verb colere, of the two-fold meaning of tilling and worship.

Yet the Nomads were not by any means always wild horsemen, as when they presented themselves to their enemies, the farmers. They had within them the gentler character of humanity. Professor Keane, in Man, Past and Present, said of the Tartars or Mongols of Mongolia: ‘They are all brave, warlike, even fierce, and capable of great atrocities, though not normally cruel.’ The invention of the gun has now robbed them of their power and, in consequence, they have ‘almost everywhere undergone a marked change from a rude and ferocious to a milder and more humane disposition.’

The Nomads have been the great human desert-makers, and the deserts of the Gobi, the Lop Nor, the Taklamakan, the Registan, the Great Salt Desert, the Syrian Desert, and even the Arabian Desert and the Sahara of Africa are due to their treatment of the soil. Nor is this desert-making by men at an end. It is going on at the present, as future chapters will show, in North and South America, in Russia, in Asia, in North and South Africa, in Australia, and even in the islands of New Zealand and the West Indies, with a speed that outstrips that of the Asiatic Nomads, so much so that it may even be said that man, in this proud scientific era, has paid for his all-too-swift advance by the loss of terrene capital, of the fertility of the soil. He has become the great transferrer of this capital to other fields than those of the soil, and, by his destruction of the soil, has foredoomed himself to God knows what impending calamities, exceeding those brought about by the Asiatic Nomads, unless he calls a halt.

It is this fact which gives this dissertation on the Nomadic character its present significance.


Belt No. 6 of Asia is the belt of the Farmers. From the mountains of Belt No. 5 great rivers run southwards into the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, and along these rivers the Farmers built up their civilizations. The first civilization we shall take will be the one that is believed to be the oldest of them with the doubtful exception of that of China. It is that of Iraq.

This civilization was, par excellence, the civilization of irrigated farming. The rivers upon which it built itself were three, the Euphrates, the Tigris and the Karun. All three rivers, throughout its duration, discharged their waters separately into the head of the Persian Gulf. To-day the Karun joins the Tigris, and the Euphrates and Tigris have one joint mouth 140 miles to the south of where the three mouths then met the sea.

The first river of the three to form a basis of civilization was the shortest and the most eastern, the Karun, with its important tributary, the Ab-i-Diz. These two rivers ran through flat alluvial country before they reached the sea. Their courses in the flat land were brief compared to those of the Euphrates and the Tigris, their major lengths being amidst the mountains, through which they dashed down. Elam, as was the name of this country, therefore, resembled Latium, having a plain near the sea, and a great capital, Susa, situated on the plain within thirty miles of the hills. The civilization of the farmers and hillsmen of Elam preceded that of the Latins by some three thousand years. Elam showed much of the tenacity of Rome, for mostly it kept its independence and played a considerable part in the riverine civilization of Iraq for a period of some 2,000 years.

The riverine civilization was further developed by Sumer, Akkad, and Babylonia, with their City-States watered by the sluggish Euphrates. The Tigris was swifter and more steeply banked and, therefore, less used. The Akkadians and Babylonians were men of the Semitic Race. The Sumerians were of doubtful origin. They were believed to have preceded the Semites, and to have been the inventors, about 3500 B.C., of the cuneiform writing later adopted by the Semites and found upon the baked clay tablets, the excavation and deciphering of which have enabled scholars to extract from the sites of the City-States the history of this artistic, flourishing, powerful and very ancient civilization of irrigated farming.

The City-States consisted of the cities and the pastures of the cattle, together surrounded by walls, and of the farmed land outside the walls. The life of the land depended solely on irrigation and it was the ambition of good rulers of the City-States to cut out a new canal and clean out the old ones. The early history of the tablets records such work, the building of temples and the wars carried out by the cities against each other, wars to establish suzerainty, but not in any way to injure the farming of the soil, upon which all depended for their existence. Eventually Babylon became paramount. Babylon’s first dynasty is given as beginning about 2400 B.C. Babylon was conquered by the Persians under Cyrus in 538 B.C.

Lastly in the accumulated centuries of this riverine civilization came the Assyrians, also a Semitic people, appearing in the thirteenth century. They inhabited the land of the middle reaches of the Tigris.

From the level of Hit on the Euphrates, a little to the north of the modern Bagdad on the Tigris, the land for 550 miles to the Persian Gulf is purely alluvial, with all the advantages of alluvial soil, such as lower Egypt enjoys from the Nile, Bengal from the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, and the Chinese in the lower reaches of the Huang Ho and Yangtse Kiang. Above Hit there is a reef of hard rock from which to the north the land continues to be rocky. For this reason the Assyrians, with their capital at Kalaat Shirgat on the Tigris about 200 miles to the north of Babylon, were not so favoured as the southern alluvial peoples, and therefore exhibited what Sir Percy Sykes, in his History of Persia, calls a predatory character. Their initial strength, says Sykes, lay in the formidable fighting quality of a free agricultural class. When this class became exhausted, the Assyrian rulers moved their capital to Nineveh on the opposite bank to the modern Mosul, near where the Tigris enters Iraq from the mountains of the southeastern corner of Asia Minor. This gave them the control and use of sturdy hillsmen as mercenaries. The Assyrians, as northerners, became mates of the southerners of Babylonia in 745 B.C. and remained so until 606 B.C., the brief period of about a century and a half which is so constant in the case of inferior conquerors. In 606 B.C. the Medes, with the assistance of the revolting Babylonians, sacked Nineveh. So great had been the cruelty and barbarity of the northerners compared to the southerners of Babylon, that Sykes declares: Assyria ‘shone only as a great predatory power, and when she fell, passed away into utter and well-merited oblivion’.

Assyria’s predatory character introduces us to the Aryans, for the Medes were Aryans, living in the valleys of the Zagros Mountains, and the adjacent Iranian plateau in the north-west of Persia.

The Aryans entered the north of Persia about 2400 B.C. and the Medes about 2000 B.C. They were steppe dwellers, as their language, in its omission to speak of forests and mountains, discloses. They came as Nomads with flocks and herds, moving their habitation from place to place with the help of large wagons.

The Medes, at the time of Assyria’s ascendancy, were subject to predatory raids by the armed Assyrian forces; and the results of these raids show the Medes as a more settled people than were their nomadic ancestors. ‘From the frequency with which these expeditions raided the Iranian plateau’, writes Sykes – the plateau that is to-day so desolate – ‘and from the number of towns they destroyed, it was then a distinctly fertile and well-populated country. The inference is confirmed by the number of prisoners and the thousands of horses, cattle and sheep that were captured.’ Thus in one raid in 744 B.C. ‘the success of the campaign may be estimated from the fact that 60,500 prisoners and enormous herds of oxen, sheep, mules and dromedaries were led back in triumph to Calah’, near Nineveh.

These afflictions brought about a desire for vengeance in the Medes. They were sturdy hillsmen and unexcelled horsemen. Under Cyaxares, their great leader, they circled round the Assyrian soldiers just beyond the range of their weapons, and poured a ceaseless shower of arrows into their midst. With the help of the Babylonians, they destroyed the Assyrian Empire in 606 B.C.

The Persians entered eastern Persia from the steppes to the north of Khorasan in what is now Russian Turkestan and, traversing the south-eastern Persian province of Kerman, reached Fars, with the Persian Gulf as its western limit and Elam and the Medes to the north. At this time a notable event happened, which illustrates the soil character of the Medes and Persians. They both adopted the religion of Zoroaster, who was born ‘about 660 B.C. or perhaps a few generations earlier’ (Sykes), and therefore some half a century or more before the destruction of the Assyrians. Zoroaster raised the use of the soil to the first place in the three chief tenets of his religion. His first tenet was: ‘That agriculture and cattle-breeding are the noble callings.’ He who sows the ground with care and diligence’, he announced, ‘acquires a greater stock of religious merit than he would gain by the repetition of ten thousand prayers.’

A further illustration of the character of these farming and pastoral peoples in the highland of Western Persia is shown by the remarkable fact that Cyaxares and his Medes did not take possession of the wonderful riverine civilizations of Iraq after the sack of Nineveh. They were content to hand it over to their allies, the Babylonians, who then erected the brief but brilliant Tenth Dynasty. Cyaxares, however, did not cease from his conquests, but confined them to the uplands of Persia, Armenia, the upper reaches of the Tigris and western Cappadocia.

One of the greatest of Aryan leaders, the Persian, Cyrus, defeated the son of Cyaxares by taking Ecbatana, the modern Hamadan, and the capital of the Medes, in 550 B.C. Cyrus became the first king of all Persia and proceeded to make himself master of the most extensive empire the world had then seen. From 500 B.C. to A.D. 600 Persia must have denoted an area more than half the size of Europe. The Medes were not made the subjects of Cyrus, but his brethren in religion and status. He overthrew Croesus in 546 B.C. and became master of the Greek colonies in Asia Minor. He took Babylon in 538 B.C. So the early Persian conquests, it seems, were not based on the strength in food of Iraq. By becoming the master of Iraq, Cyrus brought the independence of its riverine civilizations to an end.

Now, this long story of the riverine civilizations, enduring as it did for thirty centuries and only surpassed by the forty centuries of China, illustrates the extraordinary stability of a civilization founded upon the soil as its first principle. The City-States of Babylonia regarded the land as sacred. Each state had its god and, writes Mr. C.H.W. Johns, in Ancient Babylonia, 1913, ‘the god was the owner of all the city land, its belu, or “Lord”.’ The priests acted as his agents. Sykes terms it ‘a feudal, ecclesiastical system’, but the fact remains that the soil was regarded as sacred. This sanctity was revived by the followers of Mohammed, when they became masters of Iraq.

A second notable fact of the thirty centuries of the civilization founded on farming was its freedom from destruction by the Nomads. Only once, in Sykes’s record, did Nomads threaten its independence. That was the invasion of Iraq by the Semitic Aramaean hordes from Arabia. They apparently took the whole of Assyria, and brought the Eighth Dynasty of Babylonia to its end. They were eventually subdued by the Assyrians. With this exception and a brief raid by Scythians, sent against the Medes by the failing Assyrians, the factor of the invasions and conquests of Farmers by Nomads, which played so large a part in history, did not greatly affect the strength of the organized societies of the Farmers. It is to its vast effects on history that we must now turn.


The first great migrations of the Nomads occurred between 2500 and 2000 B.C. During that time Aryans, as we have seen, reached the Iranian Plateau. It was the time of the First and Second Dynasties of Babylon, and apparently had no effect upon the highly organized riverine civilizations.

The second migratory period was about 1500 B.C. It was the time of the overthrow of the early Minoan civilization of Crete by the Dorians, the conquest of Egypt by the Hyksos and the disturbances of the First dynasty of China, the Shang, 1750-1122 B.C., by the Mongolian, Hiung-wu.

The third migratory period was about 1200 B.C. It was the time of the invasion of Greece by the Dorians and their destruction of the later Minoan civilization, and the end of the Shang Dynasty of China brought about by the Hiung-wu.

Neither of these two periods of nomadic migration affected the riverine civilization of Babylonia. The Kassites, who formed the Third Dynasty of Babylonia (1700-1170 B.C.) and came from the Zagros Mountains though originally, perhaps, nomadic Aryans, were not at this time nomadic, but a settled people like those of Elam, their southern neighbour amidst the hills.

The fourth migratory period witnessed the virtual fall of the Chow Dynasty in China in 659 B.C. The same movement the Sesunaga to India in 620 B.C. They established the Magadha Kingdom in the central and eastern Gangetic Plain. Possibly contemporaneous movements in Europe were those of the Celts into the middle valley of the Danube, and from there at a later date into France, Spain and Northern Italy.

The remarkable fact, then, about these four great migratory periods of the Nomads is that they had little or no effect upon the first and perhaps greatest Asiatic farming civilization, though they were so destructive to other lands and peoples. The Persians who succeeded the Babylonians, in 538 B.C., were no less strong. They were Zoroastrians and Zoroaster taught the high significance of farming. From the time of Cyrus and for a long period later, Persia offered an almost invincible obstacle to these movements of the Nomads of Asia, diverting them to India to the south and northwards to Central Turkestan and Europe. Persia fell to Alexander of Macedon and after his death the Seleucids reigned. They were replaced by their pupils the Parthians of Khorasan, like the Persians an Iranian people, the words of Arya and Iran having the same derivation. The Parthians, in their turn, gave way to the Persian Sassanian Dynasty, and the Sassanians to a people who rapidly became great farmers, the Arabs of Islam. The significance of this barrier-power of Farmers against Nomads is very great indeed. It began with Babylon’s first dynasty, nearly 2400 B.C., and it endured until the overthrow of the Arabs by the nomadic Mongols in A.D. 1258, a total of some four thousand years.

The next great farming people of Asia were the Chinese, and they can also claim a history of four thousand years. Professor F.H. King, who quite recently wrote his famous book on their agriculture, called it truly Farmers of Forty Centuries. The first location of the Chinese was along the Huang Ho or Yellow River, which arises in the highlands of Tibet, as does their second great river, the Yangtse Kiang. They settled upon the lands along the Huang Ho after it makes its right-angled bend from east to south in the fortieth latitude. The Nomads, who so frequently threatened this otherwise peaceful people were called by them the Tartars, and by us the Mongols and their country Mongolia. The Chinese are historically-minded. They begin their history with the Emperor Fuhi (2852-2738 B.C.), who is said to have founded the large or patriarchal family system. In the reign of the Emperor Huang-ti (2704 or 2491 B.C.), the northern Mongols receive their first mention under the name of Hun-yu. The date of the first definite dynasty, the Shang, is given as 1766-1122 B.C. In their time, Chinese history was mainly one of peace but towards the end of their period, the Mongols, known now as Hiung-wu, appeared, and it is said that it was with their help that the Shang Dynasty was overthrown by its successor, the Chow (1122 – 659 B.C.). The Chow and the Shang Dynasties together reigned for a thousand years. In this length of time, they resembled the Babylonians.

When the Chow Dynasty came to an end, a general unity ended with it. Various states, especially the border states, asserted their independence and fought together for suzerainty. It was in the period of Contending States, as the Chinese historians call it, that, from 551 to 479 B.C., the most famous of the Chinese, Confucius, lived.

Another very famous Chinese man changed the complexion of the Contending States. He was the Emperor Chin Chi Huang-ti, who ruled from 249-210 B.C. This Emperor united the Chinese, and to shut off the invasions of their troublesome neighbours, the Mongols, he built perhaps the most prodigious Maginot Line mankind has ever witnessed. This immense fortified Great Wall stretched from the sea to the north of Pekin for 1,500 miles. Nor did the Emperor’s energy exhaust itself in this brobdingnagian undertaking. He drove the Mongols out of Inner Mongolia, on the borders of China, into Outer Mongolia, and the Early Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 23) continued the aggression. Then occurred one of those remarkable shuntingtrain movements which the Chinese in an aggressive imperial mood originated. The driven Mongols and Turki-Mongols retreated westwards, forcing other peoples before them. Some of these peoples, continuing westwards, conquered the Greek Kingdom of Bactria-Sogdiana between the Hindu Kush and the Sea of Aral; others turned south and eventually passed through the Bolan Pass and invaded the land of Five Rivers, the Punjab. The Early Hans annexed Mongolia and Eastern Turkestan, and Bactria and Sogdiana were compelled to acknowledge their supremacy. Any further conquest was then stopped by the barrier of organized Persia.

The Hans, early and late (A.D. 23-230), bring us to the Mongol or Nomadic movements of our own era. A great Mongol movement brought about the downfall of the Western Tsin Dynasty in China in A.D. 419. The Gupta Dynasty in India was overcome by the White Huns in A.D. 450. These White Huns also for many years harassed the Persians, but were eventually destroyed by the power of the Sassanian Dynasty. The date of the movement under Attila the Hun, who reached Rome, is given as A.D. 445-453, and caused the Slavs to push the Teutons into Britain, France, Austria and Lombardy.

The Chinese, under the short Suy Dynasty (A.D. 590-618), and the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), in its early period, launched an imperial recoil movement and by A.D. 640 had again conquered Eastern Turkestan and extended their influence as far as Persia and the Caspian. The Arabs in Persia checked their threat to Persia about A.D. 650.

A further Mongol movement brought he Tang Dynasty to an end in A.D. 907 and sent the Turki-Mongol Ghazni Dynasty into Northwestern India. The Magyars entered Europe and divided the Slavs into northern and southern Slavs.

The vast Mongol and Turki-Mongol movements under Genghiz Khan and his successors occupied the thirteenth century. China was conquered. Northern India was conquered. The Arab power was broken in A.D. 1258. Assaults were made on the Byzantine Empire, and southern Russia was conquered and occupied.

The latter half of the fourteenth century witnessed the peculiarly personal achievements of the greatest of Asiatic conquerors, Tamerland (A.D. 1335-1405), the Turk. No ruler of the time was able to oppose his supreme genius with success. He was not destructive and murderous as were Genghiz Khan and his successors, but supplanted the established rulers by conquest. He was, wrote Sykes, ‘profoundly sagacious, generous, experienced and persevering… In The Institutes it is laid down that every soldier surrendering should be treated with honour and regard, a rule which, in striking contrast with the customs prevailing at the period, is remarkable for its humane spirit.’ As a consequence no marked change occurred in the habitation of peoples.

The last two Mongol movements were conquests and changes of dynasty without any general effect. The first was the Moghul conquest of most of India (Akbar, A.D. 1556-1605); the second that of the Manchu conquest of China in A.D. 1644.

Such, in outline, was the historical effect of the Nomads of Asia. A full account of these movements, the history caused by them, and the numerous dynasties founded by them in Asia and in Europe, mostly to endure only about a century and a half, will be found in my Causes of Peace and War. (Heinemann, 1926.)

Here let us close the physical atlas, and this long chapter, which it is hoped will convince readers of a dependence of much war and history upon men’s attitude to the soil. At present it is a subject mostly ignored by the historians, but I hope that soon some great modern scholar will deal with the subject more adequately than I have been able to do. Perhaps it will give rise to a greater knowledge of the causes of devastating wars and their prevention. Perhaps it will show that home-farming establishes in each nation a class strong in its desire for peace, and that, as in the past the Nomads were the chief enemies of peace, so the nomadic type is still prevalent and powerful, and still sees in war the means of its advantage. The social elimination of these advantages and a true valuation of the soil may then prove powerful factors in the maintenance of peace.