James Fairgrieve.

Geography and world power. A text-book of matriculation standard, illustrating the geographic control of history online

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uncertain at what time this land began to have anything
we may call history, but by 5000 B.C. the peoples inhabit-
ing it had advanced a long way from the condition of
primitive savages, so far, indeed, as to be able to use
stone for building tombs, if not houses.

We may now look at our maps to see whether we can
find any other region in the world which may have an
early history because its conditions are similar to those
in Egypt. We may neglect the latitudes near the poles
and near the equator, because there we have found that
\ either enough energy is not present or there is no stimu-
lus to use it. As we have learned that the desert forms
a great protection, we naturally look at the desert belt
to see whether there is any other district with a supply
of water to render it fertile. West of the Nile in all the
Sahara there is nothing to compare with Egypt. East-
ward the desert belt trends northward through the
centre of Asia, which is dry because the winds have
parted with their moisture on passing over the bordering
mountains. But the desert is not so unmitigated as
^ round Egypt, nor are the climatic conditions so favour-
able. The advantages of Egypt are unique; elsewhere




you may find protected lands, lands subject to seasonal
change, lands with abundance of water or warmth, but
you will find none in which they are all united so
advantageously as in Egypt. Egypt stands alone. -

Elsewhere there is no river like the Nile, with two
sources, one in the region of constant rain, one in the
region of seasonal rain, but we shall find flowing from the


belt in which light winter rains fall, two rivers, the Tigris
and Euphrates, whose sources lie in lands high enough
to provide in summer water from the melting of the
snows which have fallen in the previous winter. Hence,
while water may be obtained at all seasons, seasonal
changes do occur. It might thus seem that the con-
ditions are similar to those in Egypt, but there are
differences which have materially affected the history.
In Egypt the Nile flows in a narrow valley sunk steeply



some hundreds of feet below the level of the desert ; the
distance between barren waste and abounding fertility
is to be measiired in yards; the lands within reach of
the river produce vegetation; elsewhere, as no rain
falls, there is utter desert. The Tigris and Euphrates,
on the other hand, have not valleys sunk fa"r below the
surrounding level. The lower part, indeed, from a little
north of the latitude where Bagdad now stands, is a
broad plain of alluvium brought down by the rivers. /
Nor is the whole lowland altogether rainless. Thus the *
Tigris and Euphrates do not flow through deserts.
Deserts there are, on the one side and on the other. On
the south-west, it is true, are the great stretches of the
Syrian desert and of the Nefud, but it is only here
and there that they approach at all close to the river ;
generally there is a belt of steppeland between. On
the north-east we find deserts on the central portion of
the Iranian plateau, but before even the mountain
margins are reached there is a stretch of steppeland, not
indeed to be cultivated except in favoured spots, yet
not altogether uninhabitable, while the valleys of the
mountains may collectively support a considerable
population. The north-western portion of the lowland
is again steppeland, so dry between the rivers as to
be called desert, but with more moisture under the
mountains and along the valleys.

We see, then, that Egyptian conditions exist in a
modified form. There is, however, another condition
present which was also present in Egypt, though in
Egypt its effect was masked by the supreme importance
of the desert. As the Tigris and Euphrates approach v
the sea and flow over the flat alluvium, they spread out
in swamps and marshes which form a very considerable


protection on three sides. Extensive swamps form very
effective protection for small communities ; land may
be traversed on foot, water may be crossed by boats,
but swamps are to a very large extent impassable.
Thus within the circle of marshes an early civilization
was possible, all the more because the rivers themselves
and their many interlacing branches afforded considerable
protection, and because beyond the rivers and the swamps
there was a belt of land only thinly inhabited and in
parts merging into utter desert. As in Egypt, too, the
sea kept off enemies; thus on the south-east, the sea,
so much greater in extent than now that the Tigris and
Euphrates flowed to the sea by separate mouths, was an
effective protection.

\ This land is Babylonia. Again, as in Egypt, we see
that it is the place with its conditions that is the im-
portant fact in its history, for though little is certain of
Babylonia for the 4000 years after 7000 B.C., it is known
that two races were concerned in the raising of the
civilization in the form in which we know it, and that
the earlier race had learned many of the arts of life ere
they came into contact with the later.

J The geographical protections were sufficient in a
primitive age to keep off enemies and allow of develop-

. ment; the^y had also a tendency to divide Babylonia
into smaller parts. Thus it is that, though a high state
of civilization existed in Babylonia as early as, or even
earlier than, the corresponding stage was reached in
Egypt, yet a thousand years passed from the time Egypt
was welded into a single state, before the first Baby-
lonian Empire arose under Sargon of Accad, about
3800 B.C. Before that time the Babylonians had passed
a peaceful agricultural existence in various small


independent states. Secure from savage foes behind
their defences, they had very slowly through thousands
of years evolved higher ways of living. They had
learned how to make bricks, they had built houses and
towns, they had made canals earlier than had the
Egyptians, but they had not existed under one ruler.
Even after Sargon's time, for another thousand years
the tendency seems to have been to consider the polity
as a loose confederacy of states bound together by
common interests, rather than a single state under a
common government.

As the conditions of living improved, it was only
natural that the Babylonians should have entered into
relations with their neighbours, and that a civilization
originally based on agriculture should gradually have
given way to one in which trade had a considerable part.
This had important consequences. As long as the
Babylonians remained within their defences and settled
petty squabbles among themselves, the tendency was
to progress free from interference from without, but
expansion beyond these defences brought out the weak-
nesses of the position, and the history of the Rowlands
of the Tigris and Euphrates from 2500 B.C. onwards is
the history of the endeavours of surrounding peoples
to become possessed of the fertile heart land. The
swamps were sufficient to keep off savages in a primitive
age, when almost any protection is complete, but they
were not impassable, especially after their area had been
greatly reduced by the labours of the Babylonians.
Beyond the swamps were districts habitable and in-
habited by races who, after being brought into contact
with a higher ideal of living, themselves became half-
civilized, and looked with envious eyes on the fertile


lands within their grasp. Race after race held Baby-
lonia and ruled the Babylonians, but the native dynasties
were few and unimportant. On the mountains to the
east bordering the Iranian plateau were the Elamites;
on the continuation northward of the same highlands
were the Kassites. Each held the land of Babylonia
for a longer or shorter period, and such of them as de-
scended to the lowlands adopted the civilization they
found there, became separated from their kin among the
hills, and were gradually lost amid the other peoples of
the plain.

Later, a power from the steppeland on the north-west
came to the front. Probably founded by the Baby-
lonians during the period of expansion, Aesur or Assyria
on the Middle Tigris for long was tributary to Babylonia.
But separated by a considerable stretch of country,
partly steppe, partly even desert, the tendency was for
Assyria to become independent and dominate the more
productive land under the mountains, so that by the
time Babylonia began to be controlled by foreign kings,
Assyria was already a force to be reckoned with.

As long as Babylonia was the centre of civilization
the history of Mesopotamia was, in the main, peaceful.
Its inhabitants depended on agriculture and trade, and
there was little necessity or inducement to embark on
conquest. Even when the dynasties from the north-
eastern hills ruled Babylonia, its essential peacefulness
asserted itself, but when Assyria had the upper hand the
condition of things was changed. ^^

The difference is due to geographical conditions.
Except in a small area Assyria was not suited for
agriculture, and there could be no great extension of
that area. In Babylonia the land is flat and little above


the level of the streams, so that canals for irrigation and
commerce could easily be constructed, but in Assyria
the rivers for the most part lie just too far below the
level of the land to be of much service. The district
suited for irrigation and agriculture enjoyed a fertility
which passed into a proverb, but it was too small to
support a large population. Nor had it more protec-
tion than was afforded by the surrounding steppe, which
becomes dry enough to be called desert only on the
south-west. Its peoples, if they are to be defended,
must defend themselves. Though probably not Baby-
lonians themselves, they brought from Babylon a
civilization in advance of the times, and were able to
defend themselves successfully against their enemies.
For defence, a strong centralized government is an
advantage, so from the beginning Assyria, ruled from
Nineveh, was a single monarchy, a state which grew by
conquering the surrounding tribes less advanced in arts
of war. By 1400 B.C. it was able to give up the farce
of allegiance to Babylon, and was even able to invade

Fighting was bred into the Assyrians. The lesson
they had learned under the stimulus of geographical
conditions was that they must take energy from others,
as there was not enough available to serve their needs.
Babylonia, the mountains on the east, Syria, Palestine
and Phoenicia were all laid under tribute. But for long
they evolved no system of government to make the
most of captured provinces. All the neighbouring
states were overrun when they rebelled against the
power of Assyria, but they were left to themselves while
they paid tribute, or in times when the central authority
'was weak. It was only as late as 750 B.C., under what


is called the Second Assyrian Empire, that any attempt
was made to consolidate conquests and use the subject-
states to the best advantage, so that the whole trade of
the Eastern world might be controlled.

This was a somewhat higher ideal of government, but
the attempt to found a trading empire by cruel conquest
was as unsuccessful as the attempt to continue a trading
empire without being prepared to defend it. First one
tributary state and then another revolted. Some revolts
were put down, but wherever Assyrian armies were not,
there rebellion broke out afresh. Ringed round by races
united in their hatred of a conqueror if in nothing else,
Assyria was attacked and utterly destroyed.

Babylonia, having at length learned something of the
value of united action, for a short time raised an empire
on the ruins of Assyria, under a dynasty founded by a
former viceroy; but on the heights of the Median
plateau a new danger threatened. Brought into contact
with the outer world by the trading schemes of Assyria,
the Medes beyond the border mountains learned of the
lowlands, and at length descended to the plain and made
it all their own.

,/^ In all this history the geographical control is evident,

/ but the history is not so simple as that of Egypt, because

I the geographical conditions are more complex. The

I main facts are, however, obvious. /At first Babylonia

had the opportunity to evolve a civilization of its own

\ because to climatic conditions, at once providing suffi-

\ cient energy and reacting on the minds of men towards

a saving of energy, there was added adequate protection.

/I/Then Assyria took the lead because the geographical

I conditions stimulated her peoples to protect themselves.

Just as long-continued exposure to protected conditions


evolved races in Egypt and Babylonia almost incapable
of protecting themselves, so continued exposure to con-
ditions requiring self-defence reacted in producing races
in whom fighting for its own sake was an essential of life.
Since Nineveh fell, the geographical conditions have
continued to act, for Assyria having failed to set up an
empire based on force, the whole lowland of the Tigris
and Euphrates has been a unit of which the most im-
portant part has been Babylonia. But, as in Egypt,
the lesson taught by thousands of years was difficult to
unlearn. The_tendency of_things_to_continue as they i/
have been, is tremendously

never been independent. To Elamites, Kassites and
Assyrians succeeded Medes, Persians, Greeks, Romans,
Arabs and Turks, so that, after 3000 years in which
its original defences have counted for nothing to men
who have reached a higher standard of living, and in
which it has lain open to whatever people chose to take
it and make what they could for the time, there is no
wonder that Babylonia is now little more than its
original swamp.

Yet the land is able as of old to produce its fruits and
on a greater scale than in the past; vast reservoirs, as
in Egypt, may hold up water from times of plenty for
times of scarcity, and more effective provision may be
made for the diversion of the floods which, uncontrolled,
cause these swamps. Under wise rule it might again be
a garden.




IT has been pointed out that two centres of civilization
arose in Egypt and Mesopotamia because the geographi-
cal conditions in these two regions gave the people
living in them an advantage, on the whole, over their
fellows elsewhere. The rise of these two centres, and
especially of the latter, affected the inhabitants of other
districts near them. Naturally those peoples inhabiting
the lands between the two were affected not, perhaps, as
greatly as others at any one time, but more continually
and in the long run more effectively.

Though there lies on either side of Egypt an almost
impassable desert, yet at the north-eastern corner, along
the shores of the Mediterranean, the desert has a fringe
of coast which is not so desert as the rest, and shades
farther north into a strip of fertile, fairly watered, low
coast land and inland hills, the home of Philistines,
Hebrews and Phoenicians. This district forms a
connecting link between the two great early centres of
civilization, and owes its supreme importance to that

Thus in the study of advance in civilization, of history,
we are introduced to another geographical control. Not
only do men live in places where existence is easiest,



in the sense that more energy may be used, but they
move in the directions in which movement is easiest,
where least energy is expended in motion. Movement
is always along the lines of least resistance, as we say.
When roads exist men pass along them, but long before
roads existed there were routes along which, owing to
geographical distributions, movement was easier than
elsewhere. These are ways, not roads. A road is so
many feet or yards wide, a way has not any definite
width. There is a way from the door of a room to the
fireplace, the way one walks avoiding any obstacles
between, but there is no road. There may be one way
and many roads. The way to Scotland from London
lies northwards between the Humber and the Pennines,
through the plain of York and the Newcastle plain,
round the coast to Edinburgh. The Great North Road
was, and is, one form of it ; the Great Northern Railway
with its allies is the corresponding Railroad. There is
no road from Mesopotamia to Egypt, but there are very
definite ways which for part of the distance become one.
It was comparatively easy to pass from Babylon up the
Euphrates valley, then across to the valley of the Orontes
between Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, down the valleys
of the Leontes and Upper Jordan, across the plain of E&- /
draelon, past Megiddo or Armageddon, the meeting-place
of the armies of this little world, through the land of the
Philistines by the shores of the Mediterranean, across
the narrow strip of desert to Egypt. It was less easy,
but shorter and thus more economical of energy for
traders who had reached a certain stage of civilization,
to cross the narrow northern end of the Syrian desert to
the oasis of Damascus, the jumping-off place for crossing
the desert towards the east or the landing-place on the


west, and the essential part of Syria. However they
came, they all passed through Esdraelon and Philistia.

This Way did not spring into importance at once ; its
importance grew with the growth in importance of the
two lands between which it lay. Nor must it be thought
of as having even the traffic of a country road in Eng-
land; but it was the route taken by far the greatest
portion of such trade as was carried on in the world at
that time.

Naturally we need not expect the lands through
which "the Way " passed to have a history as early as
had Egypt and Mesopotamia. Between these there lies
a wide space, so that they must have had a civilization
of a high order, and their influence must have been
extensive, before they came into contact with each other.
Even then the first contact seems to have been purely
accidental. In the times of the 4th Dynasty in Egypt
and of Sargon of Accad, i. e. about 3800 B.C., expeditions
from both lands were sent to the deserts of Sinai to work
the copper mines or obtain stone suitable for sculpture.
But by " the Way " in course of time commerce took
place and armies marched, so that for 3000 years, during
which Egypt and Mesopotamia were the important lands
in the world, these fertile coasts of the southern Levant
assumed an importance out of all proportion to their
size. Since this home of Philistines and Israelites was
the door between the two empires of the Ancient World,
it is little wonder that these peoples figure so largely in
history, though Palestine itself is so small that Elijah ran,
as we are told, from end to end in a day.

Egypt and Mesopotamia at various times claimed the
right of suzerainty, but even when it was claimed the
control was not always effective, and for the greater


part of the time we are considering, the lands through
which " the Way " passed were occupied by peoples who
owed allegiance to none and, at first continually at war
with each other, were gradually civilized by recognition
of the advantages obtained from trade passing through
their midst. It was only about 1000 B.C., in the times
of David and Solomon, when Egypt and Assyria had
declined in power, that the hillmen of Palestine, the
Israelites, as opposed to the coastmen, the Philistines,
held " the Way " so effectively as to be able to establish)
an empire comparable to the other empires of the Ancient/
World. When that kingdom split in two, it lost effective
control of " the Way," and became again merely a little
hill state in its neighbourhood centrally placed, indeed,
but not politically effective. Leaning first to one and
then to another of the two great empires, the kingdom
of the Hebrews was finally crushed in the struggle
between them.

When Egypt and Mesopotamia gave place to others,
then the geographical importance of the way between
became of little account, though Jerusalem must always
have a tremendous significance for reasons with which
we have here no concern.

A related geographical condition was the next to
influence the world's history a condition dependent on
the distribution of land and water. It is obvious that man
must live on the land. States must be on the land, so
that history concerns itself in the first place and mainly
with the land. But though no large body of men can
live permanently on the water, can use energy profitably
and have a history on the water, yet, on the other hand,
movement, as opposed to settlement, is much more
easily possible on water than on land. On land there


are barriers hindering communication; these must be
surmounted or detours must be made to avoid them : in
neither case is energy used with adequate return. Not
only so, but very much less energy is required to move
a given amount of matter on water than on land. That
is to say, water is more fitted than land to form " a
Way " by which men and goods may be taken from one
place to another.

This fact was known to both the early empires. The
Nile, Euphrates and Tigris not only supplied water for
irrigation and man's more immediate personal wants,
but were found to be ways. At first rafts, mere bundles
of reeds, were used; then bladders were employed to
give greater buoyancy ; later, light boats were also made
use of, and in the latter the Babylonian traders of
3000 B.C. may even have ventured out into the protected
waters of the Persian Gulf, while Egyptians certainly
used a few vessels in the Red Sea on one occasion a
century or two later. These were, however, exceptional
and noted with wonder. It was to the rivers that boats
were restricted.

On rivers, though less energy is used than on land,
there is the disadvantage that men must go where the
river goes. Rivers, and especially those with few or no
tributaries like the Euphrates or Nile, cannot, even when
supplemented by canals, be of such service as the sea,
for, when once on the sea, it is possible to go to the ends
of the earth. Thus the geographical distribution of
land and water is of enormous importance, and one of
the most important features of that distribution lies
in the fact that communication by sea is easy, just
because the sea is one and the lands are many.

But to those early peoples, even after thousands of


years of civilization, the mystery of the unknown forbade
a greater knowledge of the sea. Everyone was familiar
with the land, but the fertile districts on which men
lived were separated from the sea by marshes. Rivers
flowing through the land were familiar, but no one knew
the sea; to venture on it was a fearful thing. When
men did discover the sea, they made one of the great
discoveries of the world; henceforward it became part
of history. It was no longer an impassable barrier, but
a bond which united all lands on its borders.

It is significant that it was the people who lived where
the great land Way came to the sea who really made the
first discovery. Here under the mountains is a fertile
though narrow belt of coast on which is no border
swamp ; here the sea is deep. Thus the inhabitants of
this land are never out of sight of the sea ; they are
compelled to think of it, and they can with far less trouble
than elsewhere launch their boats out on to the deep.

It was of extraordinary importance, too, that the
particular sea that was thus discovered was the Mediter-
ranean. It is, as many have pointed out, a place
where seamanship, not merely river navigation, may be
learned. As its name implies, it is set in the midst
of lands, and because it is an inland sea not only are
storms of less effect than on the open ocean, but, what
was of even more importance for these mariners of old,
it is a tideless sea, so that almost anywhere, at almost
any time, small vessels, and such they all were, could
easily land. These advantages it had in common with
the Persian Gulf and with the Red Sea, though its far
greater extent was of importance. But there are other
advantages not possessed by either of the others. Its
coasts on the whole are far more fertile, nor is it wanting


in good natural harbours ; with its many projecting points
and indentations of coastline, and islands rising through

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Online LibraryJames FairgrieveGeography and world power. A text-book of matriculation standard, illustrating the geographic control of history → online text (page 3 of 22)