history and social typology [and possibly maybe war]

Daniel A. Foss (U17043@UICVM.BITNET)
Sat, 15 Oct 1994 10:44:49 CDT

see that I've concurred with all three of the others on this or that, even
most of what someone or other had earlier formulated. But if I take it that
contemporary warfare has certain qualitative continuities with stereotypical
"primitive" warfare; and if I take it that historians' approximations of
ethnographic descriptions (of which they are latterly very proud, asserting
that they are very much anthropologists, merely having gathered a bit of dust,
that's all; see, for example, a recentish book entitled Leadership and
Community in Merovingian Gaul, left behind in the Old Country, Long Island)
are sometimes or even quite often invalidated over the medium range or even
short range, we then are dealing with the raw stuff of history. This is too
multivariate to deal with.

We can't say where a society or people *is*, let alone categorize it, with
a time-lapse-like flip of the historical atlas. We cannot say what it's
environment is, or its language, as a people like the Northern Xiungnu,
defeated by the Chinese Latter Han Dynasty in the second century, was sent
reeling West, picking up Turks, dropping off Tunguses, putting up collateral
on loanwords, stealing to pay back the loans (and why not mix metaphors before
they're hatched should that abet the sense of confusion that's desired), to
become known as Huns in Eastern Europe. There, the Ostrogoths, who'd themselves
- or rather, some entity known as Goths throughout whatever or whoever it
comprised - originated in what is now Sweden, they said, had reached the
Crimea and the South Russian steppes by the third century. The Huns' cavalry,
moving west, overran the Ostrogoths, who for a century were employed by
Hunnish rulers to add a touch of class to their administration and court.
The Visigoths, in the effort to evade this fate, crossed the Danube seeking
Roman protection, in both political and crooked senses. The Romans seemed not
to have realized that these starving barbarians had discipline and infantry
weapons superior to their own; this was revealed in 378. A third people, the
Gepids, "related" to the Goths somehow, staggered as far as Pannonia, now
Hungary, where those quintessentially primitive savages, Longobardi, finished
them off in the sixth century. The Huns were stopped by Visigoths, in 451, in
the middle of what is now France. The Visigoths had earlier done what they
thought was a favor to the Romans, by slogging down into Spain, chasing the
Suevi, as in Swabia, Germany, up into Galicia, where they hid out till the
seventh century, and the Vandals, who'd got from the middle of Germany to the
southern tip of Spain whereto they gave their name, Andalusia. Also Alans, who
were said to have been wiped out, albeit when mounted difficult to catch. The
Alans are said to be the same people of the Caucasus today giving the Russian
government a headache under the name of Ossetians. While hanging out in Baetica
or southern Spain, the Vandals, onetime cultivators in the middle of Germany,
acquired that nautical flair which made them rulers of Tunisia and Algeria,
not to mention the predominant sea power in the Mediterranean, with the ability
to sack Rome at will.

Think of Europe, in the fifth century, as "for all practical purposes
uninhabited." Central Asia with trees.

I hope I've added to the confusion here; things are, substantively, too
damned multivariate for too many societies in too many places in too many
historical periods. Priorities blur: Do we look at fighting, or what fights?

Daniel A. Foss