Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Crackup

Books about the Thirty Years War in English are not exactly common which is why the arrival of the above book1 is an occasion for rejoicing. This is especially true in that systematic and decently through scholarly overviews of the entire war are rare in English. In fact until this book systematic overviews of the military events of the war were hard to find. Although most accounts had detailed accounts of certain campaigns.

Things were not so bad as 70+ years ago when C.V. Wedgwood wrote her book on the Thirty Years War because of a almost complete dearth of English accounts.2 It was and remained the the only even remotely comprehensive account in English for quite some time. In fact the book under review may be in fact the account that supersedes it at last. There are are of course other accounts but they are in comparison brief, sketchy and tend to provide great detail on some aspects of the war but none or barely any at all on other aspects.

This account is first of all fairly long with c. 850 pages of text it provides much more detailed coverage of the war especially military events of the last phases of the war than Wedgwood's account. In fact the general tendency is for accounts in most languages to neglect the last 13 years of the war, after France openly declared war on the Habsburgs.

The book has a fairly long section, (265 pages) devoted to giving the background to the conflict, which the author feels was rooted in not just the confessional struggle between Catholics and Protestants, but disputes within the Habsburg family and the debate over the actual powers and prerogatives of the Empire \ Emperors.

The Habsburgs were not simply lords of the lands they controlled they were also Emperors of what was called the Holy Roman Empire. Usually dismissed by modern historians as a collection of independent principalities under the nominal rule of the Habsburg Emperors. The author here of the book under review makes the case that it did have some institutions (like the Reichstag) a system of courts, etc., that functioned with a fair degree of efficiency.

The most telling indication of that efficiency on some level was the peace that existed in much of the Empire. War was basically confined to the peripheries of the empire. This peace had lasted since c. 1552 C.E. The conflict had arisen from the confessional dispute between Catholics and Protestants. Despite the virulent nature of this dispute the compromises worked out then had proven to be successful and the great majority of the Empire had enjoyed 2 generations of peace.

When the crackup happened the results were terrible. Blindly the protagonists blundered into a hellish conflict that that they all seemed incapable of ending.

The Empire in 1618 was not just German it had French, Danish, Czech, Italian speakers also. When the empire plunged into its long night of war it dragged the surrounding countries into it has they sought to take advantage of the internal problems of the Empire. What they generally got was being enmeshed in a costly horrible struggle they could not easily get out of.

The war had a long list of colourful characters such as, Archduchess Isabella of Belgium, Maximilian of Bavaria, Oxenstierna and Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, General Wallenstein, Emperors Ferdinand II and III, Cardinal Richelieu, Count Olivares of Spain. They all got tangled in this interminable war.

In some respects this book as a revisionistic cast. For example it does not engage in the usual writhing about the genius of the Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus, or the usual gasping, awestruck hero worship of the 'Lion of the North'.3 For example going against over a century of conventional opinion the author does not characterize the battle of Lutzen, 1632, during which Gustavus got himself killed, as a great Swedish victory; but correctly describes it has a draw.4 The simple fact is that Gustavus' wars and foreign policy got Sweden involved in several costly wasteful wars that Sweden could ill afford and were well beyond her strength; all in pursuit of grandiose, unrealistic religious and political goals. Only Sweden's ability to plunder Germany for men and money combined with massive French assistance enabled Sweden to carry on at all. Sweden as a great power was an illusion built on bluff and the weakness of her neighbours. Gustavus saddled Sweden with this status that cost Sweden much until the illusion was finally burst at Poltava in 1709.

Within a few years of Sweden entering the war more than two thirds of the soldiers, and usually more than three quarters were non Swedes \ Finns. In fact most were Germans, including the officers. Most of cost of paying for the war was borne by exploiting and pillaging Germany. Even so Sweden was impoverished and suffered heavy losses during the war.5

Aside from the above mentioned fairly detailed descriptions of the last c. 13 years (1635-1648) of the war which are usually covered briefly this book provides fairly detailed coverage of the policies and plans of perhaps the most important personality of the war and probably its most important figure; the french politician, statesman Cardinal Richelieu. Generally known today through bad film adaptions of Alexandre Dumas Musketeers tales as a cardboard villain he was in fact a stunningly capable, cold-blooded practitioner of realistic policy.

It was mainly through Cardinal Richelieu that the forces keeping the anti-Habsburg coalition kept going. In most respects almost from the beginning the struggle was between Bourbon and Habsburg for hegemony in Europe. Cardinal Richelieu was terrified at the prospect of the establishment of effective Habsburg rule over the Empire which would lead in his estimation to Habsburg hegemony in Europe.

In this respect when in 1635 open war between Bourbon and Habsburg finally started, only then did the real point of dispute of the war come into the open. It is of interest that only the at first covert and then open intervention of Catholic France prevent the Protestant powers from defeat. But then Cardinal Richelieu was never one to allow religion to interfere with what he perceived to be the true interests of France.

The confessional aspects of the struggle were in many respects mere window dressing; although useful for propaganda. Although the war ended with significant Protestant retreat in much of central Europe; it also froze the confessional divide and lead to the re-establishment of of toleration in much of the Empire with the exception of most of the Habsburg hereditary lands were Catholicism was imposed by force.

It is of interest that by 1635 the Habsburgs had largely given up their efforts to impose a one sided confessional and constitutional solution on the Empire. That was the year of the Peace of Prague. It was the interference of foreign powers France, Sweden and Spain that prolonged the war for another 13 years. In the end the peace finally agreed to (Wesphalia 1648) was not much different from Prague although France and Sweden got more and the Emperor less.6

In fact one of the myths that this book dispels is the story that the Empire was made impotent and the Emperors weak. In fact this is a exaggeration and the Habsburgs quickly regained a great deal of influence very quickly.7 In fact the idea that the Habsburgs experienced a comprehensive defeat is a myth. The Habsburgs lost but they were not crushed and the peace was in many respects a compromise by enemies who were mutually exhausted.

In the section describing the aftermath, Wilson rightly questions the myth of the all destructive fury of the war. The nonsense about two thirds dying etc. He points out how some areas were devastated repeatedly and other areas escaped u nharmed. How one area might be ravaged and then escape any more devastation and so forth. Still the picture is sombre after all it appears that over all the population of the Empire fell by 15-20%. Some areas suffered much worst like Bohemia and Moravia. That is a frightening picture and much worst than the decline during the Second World War.8

People died not so much of direct violence, although that killed a large number, but of disease, plague and hunger. The devastation, anarchy produced by the fighting, the breakdown of order produced mass death.9 In fact in some places peasant guerrillas emerged that attacked the soldiers of both sides in a desperate effort to achieve some security.10

The negotiations in Westphalia took years and the paroxysms throughout the Empire of joy that greeted the signing of the peace in 1648 are some of the most extraordinary events in European history. Even more remarkable was the rapid economic \ demographic recovery after the war and a long period of peace in most of the Empire.11

The war left an indelible cultural memory of horror in Central Europe which as inspired works of art to this day.12 Only in the first half of the 20th century did horrors on the scale of the Thirty Years War return to Europe.

For a glimpse into a war all too few English speaking people know about I heartily recommend this book.

1. Wilson, Peter H., The Thirty Years War, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MASS., 2009.

2. Wedgwood, C. V., The Thirty Years War, NYRB Classics, New York, 2005, (original pub. 1938).

3. Wilson, pp. 459-511.

4. IBID, pp. 510-511.

5. IBID, pp. 791, gives c. 110,000 Swedish \ Finnish dead during the war. For a country of c. 1.2 million this is quite terrible. Wilson, same page, gives a figure of at least 400,000 for Germans and others who died in Swedish service.

6. IBID, pp. 758-773.

7. IBID, pp. 773-776.

8. IBID, pp. 786-795. Bohemia's population declined from 1,400,000 to 1,000,000, a decline of 29%, Moravia's population declined from 650,000 to 450,000, a decline of 31%. From Wilson, p. 788.

9. IBID.

10. IBID, pp. 532-534.

11. IBID. pp, 805-806.

12. For Example Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children.

Pierre Cloutier

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Wishes1

Saturnallia Celebrations

Although many people think of Christmas as a Christian festival it is in many ways not Christian. After all it emerged from old pagan celebrations around the Winter Solstice.

I must be mentioned that for men not so long ago the gradual extension of darkness after late June was a source of fear and terror. Then came the cold and the gradual death of plants. There was the fear that the darkness would continue to extend until the whole Earth was encompassed in eternal, never ending darkness and its terrible companion eternal cold. With this eternal darkness and cold would also come the eternal triumph of death and the eventual end of life.

So that when in late december the days began to lengthen again it was a signal that life would come back, that the forces of darkness, cold and death would not triumph but would be forced back; that spring and new life would return and the earth would once again be abundant with life.

Thus once again hte earth would get a reprieve from the triumph of death. Men in those days could not be sure that the darkness would retreat and so when the days did in fact begin to lengthen it wasa source of joy.

This joyeous festival was not surprisingly appropriated by by Christians in that it was very hard to wean Christians from the wonderful goodtimes of this pagan celebration and further there was a built in reason for this festival.

Jesus' birth is simply not known so it was easy to tack it on to the winter solstice and so give Christians an excuse to have a good time and celebrate the return of light and the retreat of darkness.

In what time of year was Jesus' born; well we do not know. If the accounts that referer to Shepherds are anything to go by it is not likely to be late December but more likely March, April.

In point of fact the early Christians did not give much importance to the anniversary of Jesus' birth. However they were concerned with the fact that many if not most Christians continued to celebrate the pagan festivals around the Winter Solstice called Saturnallia so the Christianization of it was eventually done and since Jesus' actual birthdate was not known easy to fit that in.

So in Honour of the Holiday Season and everyone getting over on this December 26th Christmas day hijinks I wish everyone the triumph of light and life and may death and darkness stay far away from your door in the coming year.

1. As a Christmas gift to myself I will not footnote this posting.

Pierre Cloutier

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Hittite relief of the Goddess KuBuba

Sometimes history throws you a loop that is tantalizing but also annoying in its brevity and lack of detail such is the story or should I say lack of Story concerning Kug-Bau (alternative spelling Ku-baba), queen of Kish c. 2400 B.C.E. She is the only Queen mentioned in the Sumerian King List and has such she stands out very much in the list.1

Kish was one of the most important city states of ancient Babylonia / Sumer. In fact the first non-legendary dynasty to be listed in the Sumerian King list is in fact the first dynasty of Kish. In fact when a ruler of one of the many city states of Babylonia / Sumer was claiming some sort of domination over all of Babylonia / Sumer he would frequently title himself “King of Kish“ and try to be crowned there. If the Sumerian King List is anything to go by the rulers of Kish were very frequently the most powerful city state in Babylonia / Sumer, through out this time period.2

Map of Ancient Sumer

One of the most consistent aspects about Kingship in the Mesopotamian world is that it was a very masculine activity. Queens could of course weld considerable power but Queen’s regnant seem to have been very rare indeed.

So just how did this even happen? We do not know! However we do have two sources. The first is the Sumerian King List, which exists in c. 17 versions and in very fragmentary condition,3 which says:

Then Mari was {defeated} {(ms. TL has instead:) destroyed} and the kingship was taken to Kiš. In Kiš, Kug-Bau, the woman tavern-keeper, who made firm the foundations of Kiš, became king; she ruled for 100 years. 1 king; she ruled for 100 years. Then Kiš was {defeated} {(ms. TL has instead:) destroyed} and the kingship was taken to Akšak.

{Then Akšak was defeated} {(ms. S has instead:) Then the reign of Akšak was abolished} and the kingship was taken to Kiš. In Kiš, Puzur-Suen, the son of Kug-Bau, became king; he ruled for 25 years.4

Another translation of the above passages is:

Then Mari was defeated and the kingship was taken to Kiš. In Kiš, Ku-Baba, the woman tavern-keeper, who made firm the foundations of Kiš, became king; she ruled for 100 years. One queen ruled for 100 years.

Then Akšak was defeated and the kingship was taken to Kiš. In Kiš, Puzur-Sin, son of Ku-Baba, became king; he ruled for 25 years.5

First is must be mentioned that the Sumerian King List is a very problematic document. Only a few of the Kings mentioned in the list have yielded contemporary documents indicating that they existed and some of them like Dumuzi a fertility god seem to be clearly mythological.6

Then it must be realized that the Kings listed are in a chronological order. The first author of the King list who was copied by his successors seems to have assumed that each dynasties in the list ruled over the whole land of Sumer and Akkad. This is almost certainly wrong. It appears that the dynasties recorded were in many respects contemporary with each other. The phrasing that such and such a city was defeated / destroyed and Kingship carried off seems to be nothing more than a stock phrase meaning very little in real terms.7

We have for example in the Sumerian King List itself the following absurdity. We have listed as the son and successor of Puzur-Sin a man named Ur-Zababa, followed by 5 more kings reigning a total of 66 years. Following that Kingship is taken to Uruk whose King reigns for 25 years before Sargon the great takes Kingship to Akkade. Thus a total of 91 years separates Ur-Zababa from the Kingship of Sargon the Great who reigned, supposedly for 56 years.8 The problem is that Sargon the great is describe in the Sumerian King List as “the cupbearer of Ur-Zababa”!9 Also stories describe Ur-Zababa and Sargon as contemporaries.10

Finally the length’s given to the reigns of the Kings in the list are frequently absurd. For example 28,800 years, 1,200 years, and 900 years, and Kug-Bau is given a reign of 100 years and her grandson Ur-Zababa a reign of 400 years.11 Despite the above the Sumerian King List is considered to be fairly accurate as a list of Kings in various city states and their order.12

The first rendition of the Sumerian King List may have been during the reign of Narum-Sin, grandson of Sargon the Great and subsequently rewritten and added to until the end of the dynasty of Isin in the 18th century C.E.13

The other document is the so called Chronicle of the Esaglia (also called the Weidler Chronicle). It purports to list lessons learned by Kings in the past and especially warn of dire consequences for ignoring the cult of Marduk. It dates sometime after 1100 B.C.E.14

The passage goes follows:

38' In the reign of Puzur-Nirah, king of Akšak, the freshwater fishermen of Esagila
39' were catching fish for the meal of the great lord Marduk;
40' the officers of the king took away the fish.
41' The fisherman was fishing when 7 (or 8) days had passed [...]
42' in the house of Kubaba,[3] the tavern-keeper [...] they brought to Esagila.
42a' At that time BROKEN[4] anew for Esagila [...]
43' Kubaba gave bread to the fisherman and gave water, she made him offer the fish to Esagila.
44' Marduk, the king, the prince of the Apsû,[5] favored her and said: "Let it be so!"
45' He entrusted to Kubaba, the tavern-keeper, sovereignty over the whole world.15

Another translation of the same passage goes as follows:

During the reign of King Puzur-Nirah of Aksak, fishermen from the Esaglia caught fish on the banks of […] they caught fish for the meal of the great lord Marduk, but the king’s officers seized them. The fishermen […] Seven days having gone by, the fishermen (again) caught fish, […it] into the home of Ku-Baba, the innkeeper, […] for the large beer vat. They carried […] to the Esaglia as an offering. At this time its foun,dation. (?) BREAK, newly, for the Esaglia, […] Ku-Baba offered bread to the fishermen and offered wine to them, (but) she hurried to [deliver] the fish to the Esaglia. Marduk, the king, the ,son. Of the prince of Apsu, looked benevolently upon her and she said “Let it be so!” Ku-Baba was entrusted with the whole kingship over all the lands.16

Not is this passage late it is obviously a propaganda piece designed to help discourage Kings and that agents from taking goods and merchandise from the Temple of Marduk by claiming that those who do will be punished and those who give the temple what it is entitled to will prosper.

That being the case it does seem to be an interesting indication that even more than 1000 years after Kug-Bau’s reign she was still remembered, with a reputation for piety, and those legends about her were positive.

So what do those the above, very laconic, documents tell us about Kug-Bau? They tell us that she started out in what we call a fairly “middle class” situation. Occupations were usually hereditary among the peoples of ancient Babylonia / Sumer so her parents were probably also Innkeepers also. Since women could own and run businesses in ancient Babylonia / Sumer and Inn keeping seems to have been one of the ones with a fair number of female practitioners.17

This was certainly not the sort of occupation that would lead to becoming ruler; usually. So just what did Kug-Bau do that got her to power? The answer is we do not know. The Esaglia Chronicle would appear to indicate that perhaps Kug-Bau was helped to power in alliance with the local Priesthood, although it would not have been the Priesthood of Marduk but possibly the Priesthood of the Sumerian supreme God An / Anu, or perhaps Enlil.18

Now we know from the Sumerian King list that Kug-Bau was the founder of a dynasty, in this case the third dynasty of Kish. This would seem to indicate that Kug-Bau took power after some sort of calamity or coup seemed to necessitate the replacement of the ruling dynasty. Perhaps some sort of defeat in war? The very fact that Kug-Bau was able to take, hold on to power and establish a dynasty would seem to indicate a very high level of political skill on her part. Certainly given that in ancient Babylonia and Sumer Kingship was regarded as almost entirely outside of a women’s role; we can be assured that Kug-Bau was quite a politician.

The statement Kug-Bau, “who made firm the foundations of Kiš (Kish)”, would appear to indicate that Kug-Bau re-established Kish’s power and greatly strengthened the state, and perhaps also greatly extended Kish’s power and influence throughout Babylonia / Sumer.

The closing section is a bit bizarre. Kish is said to have been defeated and Kingship taken to Aksak for 93 years and then Kingship is restored to Kish and in the hands of Puzur-Sin the son of Kug-Bau who reigned for 25 years. Obviously that is false. Further Kug-Bau is supposed to have reigned after carrying off Kingship from Mari yet according to the Esaglia Chronicle Puzur-Nirah who according to the Sumerian King List was the third King of the dynasty of Aksak that succeeded Kug-Bau!19

It seems to be obvious that the break that the author of the Sumerian King List introduces is an error. Although rather amazingly some people call the list of names staring with Kug-Bau’s son Puzur-Sin as the fourth dynasty of Kish. This is almost certainly a mistake and what as in fact happened is that the author has broken the third dynasty of Kish into two parts.20

So it appears that in fact Kug-Bau’s reign ended simply with her death and the passing of the throne to her son.

Kug-Bau had a curious sort of afterlife, aside from showing up in legends, in that she seems to have become assimilated with a goddess Kubaba / Kububa known later on in Greco-Roman times as Cybebe or Kybebe, a Mother Earth Goddess. As Kubaba this cult spread throughout Mesopotamia, Palestine and Asia Minor; later on under the name Cybebe, / Kybebe this cult spread throughout the Roman Empire.21

It is more likely that Kug-Bau was named after a Goddess than that she inspired the cult by being deified; still it is likely that she had some influence on the cult and was to a degree assimilated to the Goddess. It is also possible that this is another example of a mythological figure, in this case a Goddess, getting into the Sumerian King List. This is rather doubtful given the circumstantial detail of her being an Innkeeper and the rather earthy statement she built up the power of Kish. It appears that Kug-Bau was indeed a real person.22

Certainly there is massive room for speculation and perhaps a few historical novels to put some flesh on the very bare bones facts we have about Kug-Bau.

Did Kug-Bau when she was Queen of Kish sometimes wistfully recall those times when she was a Innkeeper serving her customers another tall cold one? We will likely never know. But the story of the Innkeeper who became a Queen and founded a dynasty will continue to fascinate.

Map of Kish

1. Roux, Ancient Iraq, 3rd Edition, Penguin Books, London, 1992, After p. 498, in the Chronological table the fifth page, Bertman, Stephen, Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003, p. 91.

2. Bertman, p. 24, . Saggs, H. W. F., The Greatness that was Babylonia, Mentor Books, New York, 1962, pp. 60-61, Roux, pp. 138-139.

3. Glasser, Jean-Jacques, Mesopotamian Chronicles, Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, 2004, pp. 117-118.

4. From The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature (ETCSL), Sumerian King List, (SKL) Here, Glasser, pp. 118-127, includes translation and transliteration of original Sumerian.

5. From Livius, Sumerian King List, (SKL) Here.

6. Saggs, pp. 55-56, Bertman, p. 50, Khurt, Amelie, The Ancient Near East c. 3000-330 B.C., v. 1, Routledge, New York, 1995, pp. 29-31, Roux, pp. 107-108, 123-125.

7. IBID, Roux, pp. 138-145.

8. ETSCL, SKL, Livius, SKL, Glasser, p. 123.

9. IBID, Glasser.

10. IBID, p. 267. See also story Sargon and Ur-Zababa, ETSCL Here.

11. IBID, pp. 121-123, see also Livius, SKL, and ETSCL, SKL.

12. Roux, pp. 123-124.

13.Glasser, p. 118.

14. IBID, pp. 263-264.

15. Livius, The Weilder Chronicle, (WC) Here.

16. Glasser, p. 267.

17. Hawkes, Jacquetta, The First Great Civilizations, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1973, pp. 104, 114-115.

18. For more about those Gods see Bertman, pp. 116, 118.

19. Glasser, pp. 123, 267, Livius, SKL, WC.

20. For an example of this see Wikipedia, Sumerian King List Here.

21. Wikipedia, Kubaba Here.

22. See Footnotes 6 & 7.

Pierre Cloutier

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Diffusionistic Fantasies IIa
Thor Heyerdahl’s List Part 1

Thor Heyerdahl

The Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl was among other things an extreme Diffusionist, who believed that a group of blond / red headed, blue eyed “white” people from the Atlas region of Africa brought civilization to the Americas c. 1200 B.C.E. Further Thor Heyerdahl believed that their descendants eventually explored the Pacific ocean creating the Moai of Easter Island, and that the Polynesian’s originated in the region of coastal British Columbia and first settled Hawaii and then the rest of Polynesia intermingling with Melanesians to produce the Polynesians .1

Of course this hypothesis already unlikely in 1952, when Thor Heyerdahl published American Indians in the Pacific was even more unlikely in 1978 when he wrote Early Man and the Ocean, is now even more unlikely given the genetic and skeletal studies now done. In fact it is virtually impossible.2

Given that Thor Heyerdahl resisted until the day he died the idea that the Polynesians ultimate origin was South East Asia and that the undeniable fact that he Polynesians speak an Austro-Asiatic language. (This group includes Aboriginal languages on Taiwan, Malay, Indonesian, languages of Micronesia and the languages of coastal New Guinea)3 No Polynesian dialect or language shows any influence or vocabulary from any of the Aboriginal languages of the Americas.4 That would in itself be a powerful indication of where the Polynesians came from but Thor Heyerdahl just waved it away as of little importance.

Later in life Thor Heyerdahl convinced himself that he had found the tomb of Odin and the “real” Asgard to cap off his life of promoting far out ideas.5

But then as it was said in a review of the book by Thor Heyerdahl about Odin:
The conversation between Thor and Per, however, frequently takes on the character of an involuntary parody, since the “master” often demonstrates as much ignorance as the disciple.6
In this case “Master” Thor Heyerdahl displays a great deal of ignorance and an unbending, dogmatic adherence to his opinions and an unwillingness to learn. This is not however confined to Thor’s ideas about Odin.

In the book Thor Heyerdahl wrote called Early Man and the Ocean, Thor Heyerdahl lists 53 cultural traits that indicate contact between the Middle Eastern civilizations and the civilizations of the New World uniting them in a common cultural area with those civilizations.7 Here I will deal with the first 20 listed.

Before I start on Thor Heyerdahl’s list I would just like to mention that it is passing strange that Thor Heyerdahl in compiling this list assumes that the civilizational influence came from the Middle East. He does not consider either India or China must less Africa outside of Egypt, even though his culture bearers came from the Atlas region of North Africa. This is interesting given the very interesting and quite arresting similarities between certain cultural features of the Americas and East Asia.8 The Euro-centric bias, considering that the Middle Eastern Civilizations are generally assimilated as part of the European heritage, of Thor Heyerdahl is blatantly obvious.
1. A Hierarchy based on sun worship and complex state administration under the leadership of an absolutist priest-king whose dynasty claimed descent of the sun.
2. Brother-sister marriages in royal families to preserve the solar blood line.9
Thor Heyerdahl at once shows us that he will engage in deception by omission. He fails to tell us what those societies are. Why? The answer is obvious. The comparison is between The Inca Empire and Ancient Egypt. This faces the rather serious problem that the Inca established their Empire traditionally c. 1200 C.E., and by then Egyptian civilization had been dead for a long time. There is no evidence for the idea being transmitted to the Incas and the time difference makes it very unlikely. There is no evidence of those practices in the intervening time in Peru. In fact Thor Heyerdahl’s comparison shows deep ignorance of Egyptian practice. His comparison is with common practice during the 18th dynasty in Egypt which was c. 1530-1310 B.C.E; well over 2000 years before the Incas. At other times in Egyptian history royal incest was a lot less common.10

The rest of it is mere puffery or is he really claiming that bureaucracy and absolute rule had to diffuse from Egypt?
3. A fully developed system of script in a period when writing was still unknown among European nations.
4. Paper manufacture by soaking and beating intersecting layers of vegetable fibers, and the production of books filled with polychrome hieroglyphic inscriptions and formed as long wide bands that were folded or rolled up.11
Thor Heyerdahl carefully elides mentioning that the script developed by which I think he means Epi-olmec, Mayan and Aztec is quite distinct from any Old World system and shows no evidence of being derived from such systems. Further Thor Heyerdahl is simply wrong the earliest evidence for a writing system in Mexico is c. 600 B.C.E., and by then Europe had had several writing systems like Linear A and B, (c. 1800 B.C.E.-1200 B.C.E., and the Greek Alphabet by 750 B.C.E.) None of which have any similarity to the Mexican systems.12

Again Egypt rears it head. Thor Heyerdahl is describing the manufacture of Papyrus. Well in the Americas there is no papyrus and the techniques of manufacturing paper in the Americas, because of the different materials, (they used bark generally), have a lot of differences from making papyrus into paper. And again Thor Heyerdahl weasels out using terms like polychrome in an attempt to compare Mayan and Mexican hieroglyphic books with Egyptian papyrus scrolls. Well no one would mistake Egyptian hieroglyphs for Mayan or Aztec hieroglyphs. If the Mayans and Aztecs were making paper than it makes sense that they would write on said paper. No bearded cultural bearers needed.

Further in Egypt “books” were rolled into scrolls and in Mexico books were folded into codices with virtually no exceptions. It appears that in Peru record keeping was done with knotted string or Khipu which may have been a complete writing system and as such as no parallel in the Old World.13

Thor Heyerdahl seems to have realized that detailed comparisons tended to break down so he settled on obscurity and obfuscation.
5. The organization of spectacular masses of people for the erection of colossal structures with no practical function.
6. A technique unknown today which permitted mathematically perfect cutting of colossal blocks of stone which quite independent of either shape or size, were fitted together without cement but with joints so exact that a knife’s edge could not be inserted between them.
7. Technical knowledge which permitted the long-range transportation of such gigantic blocks, weighing upwards of 100 tons, across many miles of rugged terrain, swamps, rivers, and lakes; and the ability to maneuver them on edge as towering monoliths or to lift them onto each other in perfect megalithic walls.
8. The raising of colossal stone statutes carved in human form and serving as religious outdoor monuments.14
Numbers 5 and 8 can be dismissed as telling us nothing of value. Is Thor Heyerdahl seriously proposing that the idea to build impressive structures to the God(s) needs to be taught and that it would not occur to anyone independently? Oh and since when does Thor Heyerdahl get to decide what is practical. After all to the men of those times building temples to the Gods was very practical. Of course building outdoor statutes to the Gods seems an obvious idea or does Thor Heyerdahl seriously think that indoor statutes to the Gods are obvious but outdoor ones need to be taught? Of course with this level of analysis I am surprised Thor Heyerdahl is not suggesting that the very idea of carving statutes of the God(s) is proof of diffusion.

As for 6 and 7. Thor could have used with some intense research which would indicate that the techniques of cutting, fitting and transporting huge stone blocks were not that mysterious to Archaeologists at the time he wrote the book. Of course Thor Heyerdahl once again does not give any specifics. The cultures he as in mind seem to be mainly Ancient Egypt and the Incas. Of course the vast time difference, (more than 2000 years) between the two is forgotten. Thor Heyerdahl also seems to be thinking of the cyclopean walls of Mycenaean fortresses, Hittite structures etc., (dated c. 1200 B.C.E.) Of course the vast amount of time between those structures and the Inca ones are ignored.

Thor Heyerdahl also ignores that the builders of Stonehenge were able to develop techniques of stone carving and moving without help from culture bearers.

The fact is the development of stone working techniques is clear from the archaeological record in Peru and shows no signs of appearing suddenly fully developed. In fact it seems to have reached its full form only with the Incas, and that includes the fitting together of irregular stones c. 1500 C.E. In other words the evidence shows slowly evolving and improving stone working and moving skills in both Mexico and Peru not a sudden interruption of a technology with no precursors.

Once again Thor Heyerdahl shows an embarrassing lack of familiarity with the Archaeological record.15
9. The erection of mnemonic stele with images of people carved in relief and surrounded by incised hieroglyphic inscriptions. The repetition in both areas of the same relief motif showing a bearded man fighting off a giant snake standing on its tail. (Hittite stele at Aleppo museum and Olmec Stele from La Venta now in Villahermosa.)
10 Stucco-covered rooms of religious edifices with walls and columns covered with polychrome fresco paintings of priest-kings and processions with people depicted in profile and with all limbs visible. The recurrence within both areas of such a special fresco motif as a man with bird head standing on the back of a plumed serpent. (Common on walls in the Valley of Kings, Egypt, and recently discovered on the excavated temple walls at Cacaxtla, Mexico).
11. The Constructions of pyramids of the Mesopotamian Ziggurat type of stupendous dimensions and geometric perfection, which on both sides of the Atlantic are sometimes built from squared stone blocks and sometimes from sun-dried adobe bricks, always with a ground plan carefully oriented astronomically. These pyramids do in some cases exhibit additional parallels on both sides of the Atlantic: a ceremonial staircase leading up one or more of the pyramid’s sides to a temple structure on the summit; a sealed and hidden doorway to a secret inner staircase leading to a burial chamber; a special hexagonal cross section of the steep passageway containing the long and narrow staircase to the door of the burial chamber; the presence in this burial chamber of a stone sarcophagus, a ventilation system, and burial gifts; the knowledge of a technical-architectural solution which, in spite of the ignorance of the principle of the arch among those pre-European constructors, nevertheless enabled the wide ceilings of the burial chamber as well as the narrower one of the inner staircase to support the enormous weight of the entire pyramid.
12. A large walled temple yard adjacent to one side of the pyramid with tall stone columns of both round and square cross sections set in long parallel rows.
13. Megalithic sarcophagus covered by a stone lid which itself weighed several tons and was sometimes sculptured to show a human image.
14. The ability and practice of mummifying deceased persons of high rank by evisceration through the anus and use of certain resins, cotton padding, and wrappings.
15 A special mummy mask perforated at the edges so as to be tied on in front of the face outside the mummy cloth.16
Regarding No. 9 it is basically a comparison between stele in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Anatolia and Mayan stele. Aside from the fact no one could possibly mistake Mayan for Egyptian etc., there is the obvious and rather large difference in time between say Egyptian, Mesopotamian stele and Mayan. Further the development of stele in the Mayan region shows a clear progression of development over time from simple beginnings to the elaborately carved versions. Thor Heyerdahl than for the first time gives an “exact” similarity. The problem is he provides no details of exactly what the two items are, neither does he provide illustrations. I have attempted to find pictures of the figure Thor Heyerdahl describes but have been unable to do so. The nearest one is a stand alone stele with a snake on it. As for the Olmec figure. I think Thor Heyerdahl is referring to this one.

Olmec Stele

I note that the snake is NOT fighting the man and unlike most Neo-Hittite, (Thor Heyerdahl gets it wrong the stele in the Aleppo museum are not Hittite but Neo-Hittite), this sculpture has no inscriptions, further is not artistically similar in terms of design. The similarity is vague and not very convincing with Neo-Hittite stele.

Neo Hittite Stele

Number 10 is a collection of bromides and not very convincing ones. Frescoes are common world wide and not require diffusion. Similarly stucco was made and used differently in the Americas as compared to the Old World, aside from archaeology showing the gradual development of the use and technique of stucco in the New World. The rest of the comparison is generally between the frescoes in Egyptian tombs and the frescoes of Bonampak Mexico done by the Maya c. 795 C.E. The comparisons are meaningless in that doing people in profile is easier than face on and further Thor Heyerdahl once again forgets the time difference after all the Egyptian paintings he is comparing them with date from c. 1500-1000 B.C.E., more than 1500 years earlier. The comparison of a motif in a painting from Cacaxtla Mexico (c. 800 C.E.) to paintings in the Valley of the Kings, (c. 1500-1100 B.C.E.) falls for the same reason. Of course given that Thor Heyerdahl does not supply any details about said paintings so checking is virtually impossible. (I tried).

Regarding pyramids. I dealt with that in an earlier posting but to repeat in the Americas pyramids were built with a variety of techniques including using earth and rubble. Pyramids built entirely or largely of stone do not exist in the Americas. Of course we now know that pyramids existed in the Americas before pyramids in the Old World. So much for the natives copying people from the Middle East. Note that the pictures that Thor Heyerdahl uses on p. 87 to illustrate how American and Egyptian pyramids look alike are old 19th century drawings and not pictures that make them look more alike than they are.

Once again obfuscating the issue by not providing details Thor Heyerdahl compares Egyptian pyramid burials with the tomb of Pacal (c. 680 C.E.) in Palenque Mexico; thus Ignoring the vast amount time that past between them of over 2000 years. Thor does not seem to note that in many respects the tomb of Pacal shows many one off features, and is in many respects a unique not typical Mayan royal burial. Further of course the development of Mayan royal burials was a gradual process as indicated by the archaeology and Pacal’s tomb shows clear signs of being a development of previous Royal burials. Thor Heyerdahl thus compares one Mayan Royal burial with Egyptian royal burials of the pyramid age and ignores the other Mayan royal burials probably because they are not so similar to Egyptian pyramid burials.

The final bit is about the corbelled vault, which for some reason Thor Heyerdahl does not name. I suspect because it is abundantly clear that this solution to the problem of building walls and roofs over spaces was invented multiple times all over the world, including megalithic Europe. But by dressing it up in this fashion Thor Heyerdahl can dress it up as some sort of secret arcane knowledge that could only have diffused to the Americas instead of being a common solution to a problem. I note that arches existed in the Old World by 1200 B.C.E., supposedly when these culture bearers arrive in the New World. I wonder why they failed to bring the true arch?

Number 12 is trivial a walled temple yard next to a temple is obvious and no great shakes secondly the columned hall Thor is referring to, but once again failing to name, is the columned yard next to the Temple of Warriors in Chichen-Itza, and also next to a Temple at Tula Mexico, both of which date to c. 1000 C.E., so comparing them to Egyptian mortuary temples next to Egyptian pyramids, (which were tombs and not platforms for temples, which Mexican pyramids were), which date to more than 2000 years earlier is a bit much.

Number 13 refers yet again to the tomb of Pacal at Palenque Mexico. Again the dates do not correspond and Pacal’s massive stone sarcophagus dates more than 2000 years after the pyramid age in Egypt, further as stated above in many respects Pacal’s tomb is a one off. Thor Heyerdahl once again cherry picks a particular construction that fits his ideas and ignores the others which do not.

Number 14. Well let’s just say mummification as been dated to before 4000 B.C.E., in South America. That the usual way Egyptian’s eviscerated the dead for mummification was through a slit made in the belly not through the anus. And again Thor Heyerdahl is comparing later Peruvian practice, which is not very similar to Egyptian practice and besides is much later than Egyptian practice. Once again archaeology shows a slow development of Peruvian mummification practices and no evidence of a technique fully developed suddenly appearing.

Number 15. Since masks are a near universal in human cultures tying a mask to a face by this method is obvious. So it should be a matter of little importance that people might tie masks to the deceased in the same manner. This is an example of Thor Heyerdahl making much of the trivial and obvious.17
16. Great skill in the difficult magio-surgical trepanning of the skull bone of living persons, with a high percentage of survival among the patients.
17. Circumcision performed on young boys as a religious ritual.18
Is Thor Heyerdahl serious? Trepanning is an exceptionally common practice all over the world dating from well before civilization and practiced by many so-called primitive peoples. There is no reason to assume diffusion at all.

As for circumcision again it is practiced all over the world by all sorts of people including Australian Aborigines who entered Australia before 50,000 B.C.E. It is a common practice and again there is no need to assume diffusion at all.19
19. The use of false beards as ceremonial attire of high priests.
20. The making of adobe bricks from a paste of selected soil mixed with straw and water and formed into rectangular blocks in a wooden mold, subsequently sun dried and used for the building of pyramids, temples, and houses with one or more floors.20
Number 19 is basically pretty trivial. It seems rather obvious that if you can grow a real beard a false beard would follow and from that would follow using it in ceremonies. Thor Heyerdahl is thinking I believe of the use of false beards by Egyptian Pharaohs and Priests. I merely note that the again the chronological lack of comparisons between the use of false beards in ancient Egypt and false beards in Mexico c. 1000-1500 C.E. False beards seem to have been less used in Peru and the chronological problem is the same.

Number 20 is simply adobe is used the world over. The use of clay / mud for building is universal. Further in Peru and Mexico a variety of methods and types of technologies were used to create adobe bricks. To say nothing of adobe techniques that did not use molds or adobe at all. Oh and the Peruvians were using adobe c. 3000 B.C.E. Thor Heyerdahl is once again cherry picking a trait that is similar, although not that similar, to a technique also used in the Old World to prove diffusion. Also once again Thor Heyerdahl ignores issues of chronology or the indications of the slow development of the technique in the New World.21

Over and over again Thor Heyerdahl cherry picks particular traits, regardless of the time those traits existed. He for example picks traits from the New World that date from 1500 C.E. and compares them to traits that existed in the Old World c. 1200 B.C.E., and earlier. Thor Heyerdahl assumes surface similarity is evidence of contact and ignores specifics. He picks as evidence of diffusion traits which are commonplaces and evidence of nothing but Thor Heyerdahl’s lack of knowledge, like circumcision and trepanning.

He waves away the problems with the idea of contact like the almost total lack of even arguable Old World artefacts in the New World during this so called contact period. He neglects to tell us why invaders from North Africa would bring such a cacophony of traits from a smorgasbord of Old World cultures. Thor Heyerdahl does not try to match it up with cultural traits from North Africa c. 1200 B.C.E. The fact that he matches traits from all sorts of different time periods in the Old World to time periods in the New World from Olmec times to the conquest doesn’t help.

Thor Heyerdahl’s cherry picking is just that he goes through the enormous variety of Old and New World traits and declares that the similarities he picks are evidence of contact. The mere piling up of similarities proves nothing, a bunch of vague similarities does not get added weight by piling them up on top of each other. Bad evidence remains bad evidence regardless of the amount; it does not become good evidence by simply accumulating examples.

Thor Heyerdahl seems to assume that similarities are evidence of contact when what a lot of them prove is that humans tend sometimes to find similar solutions by virtue of the fact that we are all human. It should not be the slightest surprise that human cultures show similarities, it would be more astounding if they did not.

Thor Heyerdahl glides over the problem of the total lack, (with some dubious exceptions) of ancient Old World artefacts in the New World. The time period he gives for his Conquistador like conquest of the New World is c. 1200 B.C.E., would indicate that we should find such Old World remains at such a time. We do not. The Archaeological record does not record such an event. Instead it see the steady development of village cultures into Olmec civilization with no massive intrusion of outsiders.

Thor Heyerdahl neglects to explain how bronze weapon welding invaders managed not to bring bronze weapons with them to Mexico or how bronze weapons didn’t appear in Mexico until c. 800 C.E. To say nothing of various Old World crops. In fact what they left behind is amazing; say pigs and rats for example. Yet they came in such numbers as to conquer Mexico and Peru!

Finally if similarities are evidence of contact than logically differences are evidence of lack of contact. And such differences are not minor. For example the quite different agricultures of the Old World and New World in terms of plants.

In the end the obvious solution is that the civilizations of the New World arose largely independently of Old World civilizations, and any contact had little or no influence on the development of New World civilizations.

Thor Heyerdahl used a variety of polemical techniques, such as not giving details that could be checked, ignoring crucial data in evaluating claims etc., and he does not forget the ultimate technique of portraying himself as a moderate against two extremes; when of course his idea of bearded, blue eyed, blond and white culture bearers conquering Mexico and Peru, bringing civilization, c. 1200 B.C.E., is in fact nothing but extreme hyper-diffussionistic fantasy.

Of course the recent the discoveries in Peru, pushing back high culture if not civilization to c. 3000 B.C.E., to say nothing of Olmec culture or at least it precursors being pushed back to c. 2000 B.C.E. have made Thor Heyerdahl’s fantasy of 1200 B.C.E. very unlikely indeed.

1. See Heyerdahl, Thor, American Indians in the Pacific, 1952, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., New York, 1952, and Early Man and the Ocean, Vintage Books, New York, 1978, pp. 151-184, 273-281.

2. Flenley, John & Bahn, Paul, The Enigmas of Easter Island, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2003, pp. 50-60.

3. Diamond, Jared, Guns, Germs, and Steel, W.W. Norton and Co., New York, 1998, pp. 334-339.

4. I am excluding coincidental similarities and recent additions.

5. See Heyerdahl, Thor, & Lilliestrom, Per, Jakten på Odin—På sporet av vår fortid, J.M. Stenersens forlag, Oslo, 2001. For a devastating review of the above book see Hovdhaugen, Even, et al, at Google Cache, Here. (Note: the document does not seem to be available anymore at Google Cache. I'll send a copy to anyone who requests it)

6. Hovdhaugen, pp. 1-2.

7. Heyerdahl, 1978, pp. 84-91.

8. Heyerdahl, 1978, p. 84. For the similarities between East Asia and the Americas see, Davies, Nigel, Voyageurs to the New World, William morrow and Co. Inc., New York, 1979, pp. 103-124.

9. Heyerdahl, 1978, p. 84.

10. Tyldesley, Joyce, Daughters of Isis, Penguin Books, London, 1994, pp. 198-199, Mason, J. Alden, The Ancient Civilizations of Peru, 2nd Edition, Penguin Books, London, 1968, pp. 155, 186.

11. Heyerdahl, 1978, pp. 84-85.

12. Diehl, Richard A, The Olmecs, Thames and Hudson, London, 2004, pp. 96-97, Pool, Christopher A., Olmec Archaeology and Early Mesoamerica, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2007, pp. 260-263, . Finley, M.I., Early Greece, W. W. Norton and Co. Inc., New York, 1970, pp. 34-38, 145.

13. Hawkes, Jacquetta, The First Great Civilizations, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1973, pp. 436-442, Longhena, Maria, Maya Script, Abbeville Press, Publishers, New York, 2000, p. 20, Townsend, Richard F., The Aztecs, 3rd Edition, Thames and Hudson, London, 2009, pp. 206-212, Urton, Gary, Signs of the Inka Khipu, University of Texas Press, Austin, 2003, pp. 1-36.

14. Heyerdahl. 1978, p. 85.

15. Mason, pp. 160-165, Moseley, Michael E., The Incas and their Ancestors, Thames and Hudson, London, 1992, pp. 74-75, 153, 165, 205, 212.

16. Heyerdahl, 1978, pp. 85-86.

17. See Sharer, Robert J., et al, The Ancient Maya, 6th Edition, Stanford University Press, Stanford CA, 2006, check out items in Index marked Stelae, also pp. 215-216, 449-450, 568-575, Schele, Linda, et Al, A Forest of Kings, William Morrow and Co. Inc., New York 1990, pp. 96-129, Gurnay, O.R., The Hittites, Penguin Books, London, 1952, pp. 39-46, Miller, Mary Ellen, The Art of Mesoamerica, 3rd Edition, Thames and Hudson, London, 2001, pp. 165-167, Schele, Linda, et al, The Code of Kings, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1998, pp. 95-132, Mason, 187-188, Moseley, pp. 54, 93-94, 151-152.

18. Heyerdahl, 1978, p. 86.

19. See Wikipedia article Circumcision Here. See also Majno, Guido, The Healing Hand, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MASS, 1975. pp. 24-29.

20, Heyerdahl, 1978, p. 86.

21. See Wikipedia article Notre Chico Civilization Here. See Davies, pp. 125-126, for an example of use of a false beard in a mythological context in Mesoamerica.

22. IBID, Notre Chico Civilization, Heyerdahl, 1978, pp, 273-281, Pool, pp. 92-144.

Pierre Cloutier

Monday, December 14, 2009

Blinkered History

Book Cover

Sowell, Thomas, Conquest and Cultures: An International History.1

I’m writing this review of the above book in response to reviews of this book I have read on Amazon.com,2 not because I was really impressed by this book but because of some of the comments written earlier.

This book fills the need to have a "conservatively correct" history of the world. Certainly the complaints about "political correctness" and Sowell allegedly demonstrating that minorities are totally responsible for their various plights is something a great many people want to hear so they won't feel any responsibility, and that is the real reason for the appeal of Sowell’s books. They help those who have “made it” avoid feeling of responsibility for those who have not “made it”.

Sowell in this book uses a great many facts and much statistical information. Unfortunately Sowell has far too much faith in the dubious and weak figures for the past (say before 1800 A.D.) and is too complacent about both their accuracy and his interpretations of the data.

Also Sowell judges cultures according to ethical criteria and argues that success somehow proves moral superiority. Sowell also more than just implies that failure to develop along the "proper" lines indicates some sort of serious moral failing and is therefore deserved.

For all of Sowell’s discussion concerning the environmental and geographical constraints on the development of different cultures his view is basically moralistic. Sowell is basically repeating with considerably less skill and scholarship and a repellent moralistic bias the work of Jared Diamond.3

In the end his view is an apologia for the triumph of western culture and states by arguing that they "deserved" their success.

The result is we get a lot of detail about non-western atrocities and less about western atrocities. For example Aztec Human sacrifice is described with shall I say a less than critical look at the problems with Spanish descriptions of it. While at the same time downplaying Spanish atrocities in the Conquest of the Americas.

What we have here, dressed up in modern garb, is an old fashioned late nineteenth century world history in which the west is the summit of human achievement and that western dominance is praiseworthy and "deserved".4

What Sowell seems to have a hard time grasping is that some times people have “cheated” in the market place of success by using terror violence and coercion to rob, oppress and otherwise take unfair advantage of others and have reaped massive rewards while doing so. It appears that Sowell seems to think that “better” (I.e., more intensive) exploitation of an environment justifies or at least excuses stealing it from those not using it “correctly”; say Hunter-gatherers. If those victims of mans progress suffer and die as a result well it is their choice not to adapt.5

Sowell doesn't seem to get it that the failure to develop civilization and accumulate "cultural capital" is not an ethical failure but a rational response to a situation. Why should people develop civilization is a question Sowell can't seem to understand. It is typical of his mind set that Sowell commodifies culture as “capital”. Just how does he know that Europeans c. 1500 C.E., had more “cultural capital” than Australian Aborigines? Of course he des not what he means is that Europeans of that time period had more technological goods of various kinds, which by calling them “cultural capital” Sowell can dress up in moralistic terms. Of course there is no reason to believe that Europeans in c. 1500 C.E., had more “culture” than Australian Aborigines; it was simply different. Also Sowell seems to be saying that “cultural capital” can be accumulated. No doubt once “cultural capital” is accumulated it can be spent in conquest, slavery and genocide.6

This results in a "Stalinist" view of history in which economic development justifies or excuses all manner of acts. Thus the conquest of the New World lead to development so it was "justified" because the natives were "stagnant", one of Sowell's many ethical excuses and one that in this case is not true. But then Sowell as long been a purveyor of the idea that so long as atrocities are done by the operation of the "market" rather than the state that that is at least more "correct".7

So the huge corpus of facts in Sowell's book make it a useful read but just remember that his interpretation is in the service of an ideology and a rather blinkered one at that.

1. Basic Books, New York, 1999.

2 At Amazon Here.

3. See Diamond, Jared, Guns, Germs, and Steel, W.W. Norton and Company, New York, 1998.

4. For an analysis that amply describes Sowell’s pretty obvious biases that go back to the 19th century see Blaut, J.M., Eight Eurocentric Historians, The Guilford Press, New York, 2000, pp. 1-12. Note Blaut does not discuss Sowell explicitly but the biases he describes fit Sowell perfectly. For an overview of the 19th century European biases about progress and “backward” peoples that Sowell recapitulates to very large extent see Kiernan, V.G., The Lords of Human Kind, Penguin Books, London, 1972.

5. Foe an account of some of the losers, (including the Aztecs), see Cocker, Mark, Rivers of Blood, Rivers of Gold, Jonathan Cape, London, 1998.

6. For a look explaining that the Australian Aborigines where not either mentally or morally deficient in not developing civilization, agriculture see Blaut, pp. 160-161.

7. For a look at the “Fellow Travellers” who celebrated the “progressive” (economic “progress”) successes of Stalinism see Caute, David, The Fellow Travellers, 2nd Edition, Yale University Press, 1988.

Pierre Cloutier
Cloning and Boring
Capsule reviews of three Star Wars flicks

Movie Poster

Last year I saw the latest Star Wars flick. The aptly named Star Wars: The Clone Wars. George Lucas' surrender of what little is left of his integrity continues. The movie sucks on so many levels, but one is especially annoying. The Teenage sidekick with attitude. Please see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for why such adolescent abortions should indeed be aborted before they are born and terminated by infanticide if they are born. Basically George Lucas has surrendered integrity for cash, which is why his movies now reek with clichés, and stereotypes. He wants his movies to make piles of money so banal clichés now submerge his films in a stew of mediocrity, catering for the lowest common denominator. Hence the saccharine Ewoks, (chosen because they were more merchandisable than the Wookies for the third film), having the dis-improvement of Solo shooting Greedo after Greedo tries to shot him. (Thus making Solo a more "acceptable" "goody goody" hero. This of course also explains the abomination of Jar Jar Binks, and young Anakin's vile and evil mop top hair cut. (Proof positive of a complete surrender of all artistic integrity).

The Film is indeed a clone, with has much feeling as a clone and has much integrity has a clone. In other words none at all. The movie is designed to feed George's huge bank account by catering to the lowest common denominator of banalities and cliché. The lack of originality, the sheer idiocy of the script are breath taking. This is to movie making what cold MacDonald's food is. BORING!!!

Movie Poster

When I saw Revenge of the Sith, and I must say that there was some things to like and much to dislike.


a), The "Emperor", his carpet chewing over the top performance was wonderful, like that in Return of the Jedi, (One of the few saving graces of that shit fest).

b) The "birth" of Darth Vader. Yeah!! With the Voice!!

c), The Wookies!!


a), Anakin as "misunderstood", and "well meaning". His performance was cloying and saccharine. I thought he was performance was one long whine. "I want my mommy!!"

b), Lucas once again thinks that effects can compensate for serious defects like:

c), Bad script. People say the dumbest things!

d), Acting generally Space Opera bad.

e), Finally Yoda. "Conceited, self satisfied jerk is he". Terminally annoying and the way he talks is no longer amusing the millionth time you hear his backwards shtick. After hearing his stupidities in the other two movies of the second trilogy I was so hoping not to see or hear him.

Movie Poster

The Return of the Jedi, is indisputably the worst Star Wars flick of the first three (of course Revenge of the Sith of the three prequels is certainly worst, one can argue about the other two) for it has the following idiocies.

A) The Ewoks, a saccharine creation designed quite coldly to sell merchandise, unlike the non cute Wookies. Ewoks remain in desperate need of extermination.

B) The battle on Endor. One of the stupidest battle scenes ever. I note the almost total absence of Ewok dead, the reams of Storm Trooper dead. I further note that this battle scene is believable only if you think that !Kung Bushmen armed with spears can destroy a Nazi Panzer Division, and about has believable.

C) The we're the good guys so we will win by sheer dumb luck crap. Our Heroes walk into a trap, being totally out smarted by the Emperor but they still win! It never occurs to anyone to have a plan B. An OLD, OLD!! bit of cliché crud.

This film coasts to its relatively high status, in my opinion entirely on the coat tails of the other films in itself it is badly acted, badly scripted etc., aside from the three criminal errors noted above.

Pierre Cloutier

Monday, December 07, 2009

Arnold Toynbee and Fantasy

Toynbee on the cover of Time Magazine 1947

Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) used to be a well known public intellectual, best known for his monumental A Study of History that was published in 12 volumes and attempted to Analyse Human history in order to find patterns and universal historical laws.1

Today the volumes are little read or remembered and most academics never took them seriously as academic history. In fact today Toynbee, among academics, is largely remembered for his specialist publications which are models of deep research and extensive familiarity with the sources.2

Here I will explore just one problem with Toynbee’s system; Toynbee’s list of civilizations.

Toynbee lists 21 civilizations3 which are:

Far-Eastern (China)
Far-Eastern (Japan)
Orthodox Christian (Main body)
Orthodox Christian (Russian)

Now what are the problems with this list?

Well let us start with what is a Civilization? The fact is it is nothing more than a label that is attached to a collection cultural characteristics. It has no fixed definition. However Toynbee commits the biological fallacy and analogises Civilizations to biological organisms. Toynbee assumes Civilizations are born live and die. This is special pleading, collections of cultural traits are not born, neither do they live or die.

A civilization is then an arbitrary collection of traits that are arbitrarily defined. One can not say the same of living organisms.

Toynbee in his book defines Civilization by language, by cultural traits, by religion in a contradictory way that indicates that his “civilizations” as living organisms do not exist.

For example Arabic and Iranian are defined in terms largely of Arabic as against Persian language. The same is true of Sumeric versus Babylonic. Frankly the only noticeable cultural difference between Sumeric versus Babylonic is in fact language. The cultural similarities between the two are so huge one would hesitate to call them two separate civilizations.

Meanwhile Hellenic even though it comprised Greek and Latin speakers is considered one Civilization. Orthodox Christianity is considered two Civilization although why for the life of me Russia is considered separate except in terms of language is beyond me.

Despite massive cultural, historical and language similarities early Mayan civilization is considered a different civilization from later Mayan Civilization (Yucatec) is inexplicable. The same is true for the distinction between Indic and Hindu Civilizations and Sinic and Far Eastern (China). The division between Far-Eastern (China) and Far-Eastern (Japan) also makes no sense.

Hittite and Minoan are names given to cultures which shared an enormous amount of similarity with the societies around them, again there chief difference with other Civilizations seems to be language / political, not cultural.

The difference between Western (Christian) and Orthodox and Islamic Civilizations seems to be religious. Although I note that Toynbee does not create separate Sunni and Shia Civilizations. Instead he divides Islamic into two Civilizations based on language. Arabic v. Iranic!

Syriac was Toynbee’s special creation supposedly emerging in Syria. What it actually was simply a culture, like many others, affected by both Mesopotamia and Egypt. Supposedly the Universal state of Syriac Civilization was the Persian Empire and then the Early Caliphate of Islam. This is nonsense. Toynbee just assumed that the Persian Prophet Zarathustra was akin to a Hebrew Prophet. Toynbee ignored the well known similarities between Zarathustra’s ideas and the Rig-Vedas of Hinduism. The fact that Syriac Civilization was originally supposedly created by Semitic speakers, but then Toynbee has it taken over by Indo-European speakers; (the Persians) didn’t seem to create any problems in Toynbee’s mind. But then I suppose if your definition of what a Civilization is; is in fact arbitrary it may create no problem at all.

If the alleged distinction between Sumeric and Babylonic is largely imaginary / nonexistent the same goes for the distinction between Indic and Hindu and Sinic and Far-Eastern. In order to create the distinctions Toynbee must go into contortions about the “breakdown” of a Civilization to explain how one was replaced by another when apparently there was massive continuity.

Also Toynbee implicitly assumes that the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (i.e., Hellenic Civilization) is the template for all human history. This is a common conceit among Western Academics who seem to assume the fall of Rome was the fulcrum of all human history. So Toynbee tried to impose the pattern of classical antiquity and its end on all human history. So if the Indians and the Chinese never had anything like a “Fall of Rome”, Toynbee would create one for them by wishful thinking and fantasy.

In other words Toynbee was arbitrary and cavalier with his “facts”. If his list of civilizations cannot be trusted than neither can any theory based upon the idea that these “Civilizations” are distinct units.4

Perhaps another time I will discuss other aspects of Toynbee’s system.

1. Toynbee, Arnold J., A Study of History, 12 Volumes, Oxford University Press, Oxford, v. 1-3, 1934, v. 4-6, 1939, v. 7-10, 1954, v. 11, 1959, v. 12, 1961. See also the Abridgement of v 1-6, by Somervell, D.C., A Study of History, v. 1, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1946, Abridgement of v. 6-10, by same abridger, A Study in History, v. 2, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1957.

2. Examples are Toynbee, Arnold J., Hannibal’s Legacy, Two Volumes, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1965, Constantine Porphyrogentis and His World, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1973.

3. Toynbee sometimes adds and subtracts from his list by fusing and dividing. See Somervell, v. 1, reproductions of tables at end of book, no page numbers, for list of Civilizations.

4. Rather than list a lot of footnotes I will simply list my sources here:

Geyl, Pieter, Toynbee’s System of Civilizations, in Toynbee and History, Editor, Montagu, M. F., Porter, Sargent Pub., Boston, 1956, pp. 39-72.

Stone, Lawrence, Historical Consequences and Happy Families, in Montagu, pp. 111-114.

Taylor, A. J. P., Much Learning, in Montagu, pp. 115-117.

Trevor-Roper, Hugh, Testing the Toynbee System, in Montagu, pp. 122-124.

Dawson, Christopher, The Place of Civilization In History, in Montagu, pp. 129-139.

Coulborn, Ruston, Fact and Fiction in Toynbee’s Study of History, in Montagu, pp. 148-166.

Boer, W. Den, Toynbee and Classical History, in Montagu, pp. 221-242.

Altree, Wayne, Toynbee’s Treatment of Chinese History, in Montagu, pp. 243-272.

Kaufmann, Walter, From Shakespeare to Existentialism, Doubleday & Co. Inc., New York, 1959, See Toynbee and Super-History, pp. 387-402, Toynbee and Religion, pp. 403-428.

Tainter, Joseph, The Collapse of Complex Societies, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1988, pp. 39-41, 79-86.

McNeill, William H., The Rise of the West, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1963, pp. 154-157, 170-177.

Pierre Cloutier

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Notes on Aztec Art

The Aztec Empire before it was conquered and destroyed by the Spanish produced some of the most extraordinary art that the world has seen. The fact that this art was based upon a very disturbing series of practices and a, from a European point of view, rather odd way of perceiving the world as made this art a very disturbing art for many. This is because of the Aztec practice of mass human sacrifice, along with ritual cannibalism, genuinely horrified contemporary Europeans even as it continues to horrify us. This rather grotesque practice or more correctly atrocity has continued to color the perception of the Aztec's and their culture.1

Now if it is without question that mass human sacrifice is indeed an atrocity, (an opinion I hold), then of course we should condemn the Aztec's for practicing it. If occasional human sacrifice is an abomination than of course mass human sacrifice is even more so. However condemnation is not enough after condemnation comes how do we understand such practices and further how does it affect our evaluation of Aztec culture and society? Of course using one vile practice to condemn utterly a society / culture is generally not fair and certainly it cannot be said that the Spanish were moral improvements over the Aztecs.2 After all what the Spanish oversaw in the conquest of Mexico and its aftermath was the veritable annihilation of a civilization to say nothing of what can only be described as sheer brutal murderous terror and exploitation. The extent of Spanish responsibility for the dramatic and spectacular fall in the Population of Mexico or whether it was the "accidental" effects of disease are hotly contested points. Still it appears to be the case that the population of Mexico was smaller in 1900 C.E., than it was in 1515 C.E., shortly before the Spanish came.3 If anything a damning indication of the catastrophic effects of the conquest.

It appears that the first couple of generations after the conquest were for the native population an age of unimaginable horror and disaster, during which time a steel curtain fell between the world before the conquest and world after. We have very few native voices of this horror. It appears that the native population fell at least 80% and likely 90% or more. We have from Europe chronicles and accounts of the horror of the black death that killed c. 33% of the population of Europe, (1347-1350 C.E.), and its terrible aftermath, which may have reduced Europe's population by c. 40% by 1400 C.E. We have very little concerning the native Mexican reaction to an incomparably worst horror. Further Europe had recovered its population losses by 1500 C.E. As mentioned above Mexico may not have recovered to population levels of c. 1515 C.E., until c. 1920 C.E.4

The aftermath of the conquest puts Aztec atrocities into perspective. There is simply no way to morally use Aztec atrocities to justify this. Further the fact that the Spanish were largely motivated by greed and ambition and not by any desire to end Aztec atrocities also should be factored in. In the end it is simple straight forward Colonialism and Imperialism using Aztec atrocities as a fig leaf of justification.5

As I said a steel curtain as come down between us and the Aztecs because of the Spanish Conquest, which may be compared to something like a "War of the Worlds". However due to Spanish documents describing the old society etc., Indian survivals in modern Mexican culture, Archaeology and the surviving art of the Aztecs we can get a glimpse into their world.

Map of the Aztec Empire showing its expansion under various rulers

The Aztecs started out as a wondering tribe of nomads who settled on some islands in the midst of lake Texcoco c. 1325 C.E., calling the city Tenochtitlan. A century, c. 1420 C.E., later they broke free of vassalage to local rulers and established in alliance with two other cities, (Texcoco and Tlacopan) an alliance to establish a Empire.

Under a succession of able rulers they established an empire which dominated Mexico by the time the Spanish arrived.

Their Capital Tenochtitlan, was a island city crisscrossed with canals and one of the most densely populated cities in the world in 1517 C.E., with a population of c. 150-200 thousand.6

Map of Tenochtitlan c. 1518 C.E.

The art of the Aztecs being Imperial as the usual attributes of Imperial powers. Massive size and the attempt to intimidate.

An example of this is Aztec Temple pyramids like the following two pictures of the pyramid at Teopanzolco.

View of Pyramid of Teopanzolco

View of Pyramid of Teopanzolco

This massive pyramid erected in the late 15th century has on its top the typical two temples of the most important Aztec Gods. One is the common central Mesoamerican rain god Tlaloc the other is the Aztec tribal war god and patron deity Huitzilopochtli, ( Left handed Hummingbird). 7

Among the peoples of Mesoamerican it was a common belief that the Gods shed their blood and lives so that the Man and life could go on living and the Universe could continue to exist. Given that it was considered fair that Humans should shed their blood and lives so that the Gods could continue to live.

Tlaloc the rain God for example shed rain so that the Earth would continue to give forth crops and the peoples of Mesoamerica considered rain and water to be analogous to blood. Tlaloc thus shed his blood so that man should have crops so ergo men should shed blood so that Tlaloc could continue to exist and nourish the Earth.

Huitzilopochtli was also thought of in the same terms and he needed blood and sacrifice so that he could continue to patronize the Aztecs and give them success and victories and as he was assimilated with other gods, like the the Sun he too needed human blood so that the Earth could continue to exist.8

Pyramid at Santa Cecilia Acatitlan

This pyramid erected in the late 15th century is a temple of Huitzilopochtli, which was reconstructed recently. Next to it is the unreconstructed remains of a pyramid to the God Tlaloc. The stone in front was the sacrificial stone on which human sacrificial victims had their hearts torn out with sacrificial flint knives.9

Plan of site of Tetzcotzinco

Built in the late 15th century by the Poet, Philosopher, Diplomat, Warrior and Engineer Nezahualcoyotl, king of Texcoco one of the two allies of the Aztecs. This site consisted of agricultural terraces, a Palace and several villas along with several small temples and baths, and Plazas. The most remarkable part of the system was the massive aqueduct that surrounds the whole site which is a mountain top.10

Remains of stone cut baths of Nezahualcoyotl

The following is a reconstruction of the famous Aztec sun stone as it may have looked like when it was completed in the early 16th century.

Aztec Sun Stone

The stone sums up Aztec and central American conceptions of the Universe. The face in the center is Tonaliuh the Sun God. He is sticking out his tongue, which is in in the form of a sacrificial knife. his face has wrinkles indicating old age. The claws of either side of the head grasp human hearts. Around the God's head is the symbol Nahui Ollin or fourth movement which is the date on which this sun was created at Teotihuacan. Around the head of Tonaliuh are four boxes showing the names of the four previous creations, four Jaguar, four Wind, four Rain, four water. The world that Tonatiuh dominates is the fifth creation or the fifth sun.

Also around the head of Tonatiuh are symbols representing the four cardinal points. North is a warriors head gear symbolizing the power of the Aztecs. The south is symbolized by a monkey which represents one of previous suns of creation. The east is represented by a sacrificial knife or Tecpatl. The west is Tlalocan or the house of Tlaloc the rain god and represents life giving water.

Around the head are the twenty days of the month. The Aztecs had a calender of 18 months of 20 days each complete with a extra month of five days. after that is a ring composed of the names of the months of the Aztec calender. Out of that circle eight arrowheads symbolized the suns rays. The last circle was in the form of two fire serpents that connected heaven and the underworld and also the earth with each other. At the bottom the serpents open their mouths with two heads emerging. One figure is Quetzalcoatl as Tonatiuh the sun or day. The other figure is Tezcatlipoca as Xiuhtecuhtli the night. Thus symbolizing the contest between day and night. They are sticking out their tongues, which are touching. This represents the continuity of time and the alteration of day and night. Further the Gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca were in continuous conflict with each other with Quetzalcoatl symbolizing creation and Tezcatlipoca destruction.

Thus the stone represents the balance of creation and destruction in the world, further on the sun stone is a glyph representing the mythical date on which the Aztecs left their mythical homeland of Aztlan to eventually settle in the valley of Mexico and also the date the Aztecs defeated the Tepanec ruler Maxtla to become rulers of the valley of Mexico.

The stone also represents the creation of the world of the fifth sun. In the legend of creation after the destruction of the world of the fourth sun the gods gathered at Teotihuacan to create the world anew. The god Tecuciztecatl volunteered to throw himself into a fire and be reborn as the new sun. The God Nanahuatzin, a minor god of venereal disease, was selected to accompany him. Tecuciztecatl hesitated and drew back but Nanahuatzin threw himself in without hesitation and was reborn as the sun Tonatiuh. Techuciztecatl, thoroughly ashamed, threw himself in and was reborn as the moon.

Tonatiuh was however unable to move and demanded the blood of his fellow gods so he could move. The other gods agreed to this. So Quetzalcoatl sacrificed his fellow gods by removing their hearts with a sacrificial knife. Nourished the sun began to move. But from then on in order to continue to move the sun needs the blood and hearts of humans.11

Statue of Coatlicue

The above statue of Coatlicue is over 10 feet tall and is overall a very frightening image. With her claw like hands and her necklace of human heats, hands and a skull, along with her skirt composed of interlocking serpents this is a frightening image. The climax of stunning grotesqueness is the "head" composed of two serpent heads meeting and forming a terrifying mouth and divided tongue and two eyes. Although that is the visual intent of that part of the sculpture is to suggest a head in reality it is not a head. In fact Coatlicue is in fact shown decapitated and the serpents symbolize streams of blood from her neck.

Coatlicue is in fact an Earth Goddess, a mistress of life and death, fertility and destruction. Like many Mexican deities she has dualistic and contradictory aspects so that she is both a goddess of life and a goddess of death. Coatlicue is also the mother of the Aztec patron god Huitzilopochtli, and gave birth to him as she was dying.12

Sculpture of Tlaltecuhtli

The above sculpture was found near the remains of the great pyramid in Mexico city in 2008 C.E.; it represents another Earth Goddess, this time called Tlaltecuhtli. Like the statue of Coatlicue it is a monumental sculpture over 10 feet tall. The claw like hands and feet and the tongue indicating a avid need for blood, human blood. The image is one of raw elemental power.

Like virtually all the Mexican gods Coatlicue and Tlaltecuhtli have to shed their blood and die and be reborn so that man could live, crops could grow and the universe continue to exist.

The pre-columbian Mexicans associated water with blood. Basically water, which was the blood of the gods nourished the earth and gave life to both man and beast and therefore man and beast should shed their blood and sometimes give their hearts to nourish the gods so they could continue to nourish the earth and men.13

Stone of Coyolxauhqui

In Aztec myth Coyolxauhqui was the sister of Huitzilopochtli. When she found out that her mother Coatlicue was pregnant, supposedly by a ball of down at the hill of Coatepec, Coyolxauhqui allied with her 400 brother slew her mother. As she lay dying Huitzilopochtli was born and springing from the womb of his mother he avenged her death by dismembering his sister Coyolxauhqui and routing the 400 hundred brothers. Huitzilopochtli was armed with a fiery serpent called the Xiuhcoatl. Coyolxauhqui's dismembered body fell to the base of the hill of Coatepec.

The stone image depicts Coyolxauhqui at the moment of dismemberment with her head and arms and legs cut off. The arms and legs are in a curious swastika like design. She is naked except for a belt around her waist with a skull attached, along with a headdress, skull like images on her knees and sandals. The image is believed to date from c. 1490 C.E., and is about 13 feet across.

In Aztec myth Coyolxauhqui represented the forces of evil and chaos which had to be defeated so that order could be imposed. She was also associated with the ballgame. Temples to Huitzilopochtli had a ball court next to them. At this ball court there would be re-enactments of the battle between Huitzilpochtli and Coyolxauhqui, and of course the forces of order would triumph over the forces of chaos. This sculpture was found at the base of the great pyramid in Mexico city, where it served to symbolically represent the sacrificial victim who like Coyolxauhqui falling down the hill of Coatepec would be thrown the pyramid steps after sacrifice.

It is possible that the contest between Huitzilpochtli and Coyolxahqui represents in highly mythologized form a contest between different factions among the Aztecs during their migrations which reached some sort of violent resolution at the hill of Coatepec.14

Throne of Motecuhzoma II

The above is believed to be a ceremonial throne built c. 1510 C.E., in the shape of a pyramid, for the Aztec Emperor Motecuhzoma II, the unfortunate Emperor who encountered Cortes. Aside from the usual Aztec motifs of skulls and feathered warriors the top image depicts a sun disk with the rain god Tlaloc on one side and Motecuhzoma II on the other.

It appears that Moteuhzoma II is being depicted as some sort of intermediary between and subjects and the rain god Tlaloc to ensure the fertility of the soil and the continued well being of the empire. This apparently goes well with Moteuhzoma's attempts to consolidate the empire and to exhault his own status as semi divine. 15

Coiled Serpent possibly Xiuhcoatl

Depictions of serpents are very common in Aztec art generally speaking they can come in two forms. Serpents like the above, which are fairly realistic depictions of snakes are likely representations of Huitzilopochtli weapon Xiuhcoatl with which he destroyed his sister Coyolxauhqui and her brothers.16

Feather Serpent representing Quetzalcoatl

Feathered Serpent Representing Quetzalcoatl

One of the great Gods of pre-Columbian Mexico was Quetzalcoatl, the so-called feathered serpent. He was commonly depicted as a serpent with feathers. In Mesoamerican mythology he was associated with creation, civilization, culture and order. He was also associated with benevolence on the one hand and the cruelty needed to impose order. Quetzalcoatl was partly named after the Quetzal bird with its magnificant emerald green feathers which were considered prize treasures by the peoples of Mesoamerica. The feathers on the sculptures and paintings of the feathered serpent were quetzal feathers.

As mentioned above it was he who sacrificed his fellow gods so that the world of the fifth Sun could continue to exist. Because of this the priests who engaged in human sacrifice by heart extraction were often called Quetzalcoatl, given that in symbolic terms they performed same function as the god Quetzalcoatl did in order for the world to continue to exist.

In Mesoamerican myth Quetzalcoatl was in eternal conflict with the forces of disorder, chaos and destruction symbolized by the god Tezaltlipoca.17

Aztec Jade Mask

This magnificant jade mask was apparently among the items sent by Cortes to Charles V in about 1518 C.E. probably because it was not made of gold or silver it was not melted down. Exactly who or perhaps what it represents is not known. Possibly it is a representation of death. The pre-columbian Mexicans considered jade more valuable than gold or silver so to them this would be a exceptionally valuable treasure. Fortunately for this object the Europeans did not think that it was valuable; so it survived intact.

It was probably a ceremonial mask worn on ritualistic occasions.18

Page from the Codex Mendoza

This is the first page of the Codex Mendoza a post conquest Mexican book produced c. 1540 C.E., written for the then Spanish Viceroy of Mexico Mendoza. The Codex Mendoza is 71 pages long. It is divided into three parts. It is in the form of the hieroglyphic writing of the Aztec with extensive annotations written in Spanish on the manuscript. It was written by surviving Aztec scribes.

The first part is a history of the Aztec from the foundations of the Aztec Empire in 1325 C.E., to the fall of the Empire to the Spanish. The second part is a tribute list of the tributary provinces of the Empire. It appears to be incomplete. The third part is an over view of Aztec life, pre-conquest, covering occupations, life, law and administration.

The above picture is of the first page of the Codex Mendoza Which depicts the foundation of the Aztec Capital Tenochtitlan in 1325, on islands in lake Texcoco. The name Tenochtitlan means cactus flower so the depiction of a flowering cactus with the Eagle on top representing the imperial destiny of the Aztecs. Often the eagle is shown eating a serpent. In fact this image is on the modern flag of Mexico.

The division into four quarters represents the division of Tenochtitlan into four quaters with the men inside each section representing leaders at the time of foundation. The figures at bottom represent early conquests of the Aztecs.19

Page from the Codex Mendoza

The above is part of the third section from the Codex Mendoza. In this case a governement official is instructing two youths in various tasks and also instructing them to avoid idlness and thievery. The two figures on the right repesent a tramp and a thief.20

Page from a divination text

The image above is from a divination text and depicts the thirteen days in Aztec sacred calender of 260 days, (13 times 20). This calender operated simultaneously with the regular calender of 365 days. It was believed that careful consultation of auspicious versus inauspecious days could achieve good fortune and avoid bad fortune. Further it was believed that the day on which one was born helped to dertermine one's fate and that careful attention to the effects of being born on a particular day could avoid disaster.21

Page from a divination text

This page represents a god eating a human arm while around him floats day signs indicating various days in the sacred calender.22

Sacrificial Offering

The above is the front of a skull with inlays in the eye sockets and a sacrificial blade in the nasal cavity. It is certainly a goulish image and quite horrifying. It was among the offerings found in Great pyramid of Tenochtitlan. The blade in the nasal cavity symbolizes the way a sacrificial blade snuffs out the breath of life in the sacrificial victim. In this case the former occupant of the skull. The bulging inlaid eyes symbolize death. The back of the skull as been removed which adds to the macabre horror of this image. This offering was probably made to the Aztec patron god Huitzilpochtli.23

As this brief view of Aztec art indicates, much of this art is visiseral dealing with deep unconcious forces of life and death. This art also dealt with elemental, almost Freudian forces, of the id and the violent. It as elements of horror and brutality and a frightening awarness of how close the forces of creation and destruction are to each other and in fact how dependent they are on each other. To those who want brutal realities of life and death carefully hidden Aztec art is too direct, too in your face.

1. See Keen, Benjamin, The Aztec Image in Western Thought, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick NJ, 1971, pp. 43-47, 96-97, 525-526, Austin, Alfredo Lopez, Lupin, Leonardo Lopez, Aztec Human Sacrifice, in The Aztec World, Editors, Brumfiel, Elizabeth M., Feinman, Gary M., Abrams, New York, 2008, pp. 137-152.

2. See Todorov, Tzvetan, The Conquest of America, Harper Torchbooks, New York, 1984, Las Casas, Bartolome, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, Penguin Books, London, 1992, (Modern study indicates that although this account is both one sided and exagerates it contains far too much truth to be dismissed as simply propaganda), Rivera, Luis N., A Violent Evangelism, John Knox Press, Louisville Kentucky, 1992, Leon-Portilla, Miguel, Editor, The Broken Spears, Second Edition, Beacon Press, Boston MASS., 1992, Denevan, William M., Estimating the Unknown, in The Native Population of the Americas in 1492, Second Edition, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison WI., 1992, pp. 1-12, at pp. 4-7.

3. See Denevan, Native American Populations in 1492: Recent Research and a Revised Hemispheric Estimate, in Denevan, pp. XVII-XXIX, at p. XXVIII, Gives a total population of Mexico in 1518 C.E., as 17,174,000. In McEvedy, Colin, Jones, Richard, Atlas of World Population History, Penguin Books, London, 1978, p. 292 gives the population in 1900 as 13.5 million.

4. See Sanders, William T., The Central Mexican Symbiotic Region, in the Basin of Mexico, and the Teotihuacan Valley in the Sixteentth Century, in Denevan, pp. 85-150, McEvedy, p. 292, Whitmore, Thomas M., Disease and Death in Early Colonial Mexico, Westview Press, San Francisco CA., 1992, pp. 201-214, Prem, Hanns, J., Disease Outbreaks in Central Mexico during the Sixteenth Century, in "Secret Judgements of God", Editors, Cook, Noble David, Lovell, George, University of Oklahoma Press, London, 1992, pp. 20-48, Stannard, David E., American Holocaust, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992, pp. 75-82, Todorov, p. 133.

5. See Todorov and Las Casas, Townsend, Richard F., The Aztecs, Third Edition, Thames and Hudson, London, 2009, pp. 220-241, Smith, Michael E., The Aztecs, Second Edition, Blackwell, London, 2003, pp. 272-279. see also Diaz, Bernal, The Conquest of New Spain, Penguin Books, London, 1963, and Prescott, William H., The History of the Conquest of Mexico & The History of the Conquest of Peru, Cooper Square Press, New York, 2000, (Originally Published in 1843 and 1847), Thomas Hugh, Conquest, Touchstone Books, New York, 1993.

6. Sanders, William T., Tenochtitlan in 1519: A Pre-Industrial Megalopolis, in Brumfiel, pp. 67-85, at p. 84.

7. Aguilar-Moreno, Manuel, Handbook to Life in the Aztec World, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006, p. 241.

8. Ibid, pp. 148, Miller, Mary & Taube, Karl, The Illustrated Dictionary of The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya, Thames and Hudson, london, 1993, pp. 93-96.

9. Aguilar-Moreno, p. 240.

10. IBID, pp. 244-247.

11. Miller, pp. 158, 172, Aguilar-Moreno, pp. 140, 181-182, The names of the months of the Aztec Calander are Cipactli (Crocodile), Ehecatl (wind), Calli (house), Cuetzpallin (Lizard), Coatl (serpant), Miquiztli (death), Mazatl (deer), Tochtli (rabbit), Atl (water), Itzcuitli (dog), Ozomatli (monkey), Malinalli (plant, grass), Acatl (reed), Ocelotl (jaguar), Cuauhtli (eagle), Cozcacuauhtli (vulture), Ollin (movement), Tecpatl (flint, obsidian), Quiahuitl (rain), Xochitl (flower). The special five day month at the end was called Nemontemi (usleless, nameless) and was considered unlucky.

12. Aguilar-Moreno, pp. 190-191, Miller, pp. 64-65, 68, Davies, Nigel, The Ancient Kingdoms of Mexico, Penguin Books, 1982, pp. 201-202, 223-224. .

13. Townsend, p. 185.

14. Miller, pp. 64- 65, 68, 93-96, 188-189, Aguillar-Moreno, pp. 224, 192-193.

15. Aguilar-Moreno, p. 186-187.

16. Aguilar-Moreno, pp. 195-196, Miller, pp. 188-189.

17. Aguillar-Moreno, pp. 139-141, 149-150, 195, Miller, pp. 140-142, Davies, 220-223.

18. Coe, Michael D., Koontz, Rex, Mexico, Sixth Edition, Thames and Hudson, London, 2008, p. 168.

19. Ross, Kurt, Codex Mendoza, Miller Graphics, Ch-Fribourg, 1978, pp. 11-12, 18-22.

20. IBID, p. 114.

21. Brumfiel, p. 180, Davies, pp. 225-227, Miller, pp. 48-54, Aguilar-moreno, pp. 290-299.

22. Phillips, Charles, The Complete Illustrated History of the Aztec and Maya, Hermes House, London, 2005 , p. 379.

23, IBID.

Pierre Cloutier