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Ethnogenesis and the Biosphere

Chapter One

Lev Gumilev



in which it is shown that superficial observations lead the investigator up the garden path, and means of self-control and self-checking are proposed


What It's About and Why It's Important


Fear of disenchantment. When a reader of our day buys and opens a new book on history or ethnography, he is not sure he will even read it to the middle. It may seem boring to him, mindless, or just not to his taste. Still it's all right for the reader- he's simply lost a few dollars or roubles. But what of the author? The collecting of information. The posing of the problem. Decades of searching for the answer. Years at his desk. Discussions with publishers' readers. Battle with the editor. And suddenly it's all to no purpose-the book isn't interesting! It lies in libraries ... and no one takes it out. Which means his life has been in vain.

That is so terrible that one must take steps to avoid such a result. But what steps? During his training at university and in postgraduate studies it is often hammered into the future author that his job is to copy out as many passages as possible from sources, to put them into some kind of order, and to draw a conclusion: in antiquity there were slave owners and slaves. The slave owners were baddies but things were good for them; the slaves were goodies, but it was tough for them.

All that, of course, is correct but that's the trouble. No one wants to read about that, even the author himself. First of all, because it is so well known, and secondly, because it does not explain, for example, why some armies won, and others were defeated, and why some countries grew stronger and others weaker. And, finally, why powerful ethnoi arose, and where they vanished to, although there was obviously no complete extinction of their members.

All these matters are wholly related to my chosen theme, i.e. the sudden strengthening of one people or another and their subsequent disappearance. A clear example of that is the Mongols in the twelfth to seventeenth centuries. But that pattern has also governed other peoples. The late B.Ya. Vladimirtsov formulated the problem succinctly: 'I want to understand how and why all that happened'; but like other scholars, he did not provide an answer. I shall come back to this subject time and again, firmly convinced that the reader will not shut the book at the second page.

Quite clearly, in order to solve the problem posed we must first of all investigate the method of research. Otherwise it would have been solved long ago, because the facts are so numerous that the point is not one of adding to them but of selecting those that relate to the matter in hand. Even contemporary chroniclers have drowned in a sea of information that has not brought them closer to understanding the problem. Archaeologists and chroniclers have assembled, published, and commented on much information over the past centuries, and orientalists have increased the stock of knowledge even more, codifying sources in various languages Chinese, Persian, Latin, Greek, Armenian, and Arabic. The amount of information has grown, but has not developed into a new quality. It has still remained unclear how a small tribe sometimes gained hegemony over half the world, then increased in numbers, and later disappeared.

I have posed the question of the extent of our knowledge, or rather ignorance of the subject this study is devoted to.


On the Usefulness of Ethnography and the Difficulties to Be Surmounted


The dissimilarity of ethnoi. When a people has lived for a long time in its homeland it seems to its members that their mode of life, manners of behaviour, tastes, opinions, and social relationships, that is to say everything that is now called the 'stereotype of behaviour', are the only possible and correct ones. And if any deviations are encountered anywhere, it is because of 'ignorance', by which is often understood simply dissimilarity from themselves. I remember when I was a child and was fond of Mayne Reid, a very cultured lady said to me: 'Negroes are muzhiks just like ours, only black'. It could not have occurred to her that a Melanesian witch-doctor might say with equal grounds: 'Englishmen are headhunters just like us, only white'. Narrow-minded Philistine judgments sometimes seem internally logical, even though based on ignorance of reality. But they immediately crumble when confronted with it.

Ethnography was not topical for the mediaeval scholars of Western Europe. Europeans' communion with other cultures was limited to the Mediterranean basin, on the coasts of which lived descendants of subjects of the Roman Empire, some of them converted to Islam. That, of course, separated them from the 'Franks and 'Latins', i.e. from the French and Italians, but the existence of common cultural roots made the difference not so big as to exclude mutual understanding. But in the age of the great geographical discoveries the position was radically changed. While it then seemed justified to call Negroes, Papuans, or North American Indians 'savages', that could not be said of the Chinese, or about the Hindus, the Aztecs, or the Incas. Other explanations had to be found.

In the sixteenth century, European travelers and explorers, discovering lands remote for them, involuntarily began to look in them for analogies of the forms of life they were used to. The Spanish Conquistadors began to give baptized caciques the title 'Don', considering them Indian noblemen. The chiefs of Negro tribes were elevated to the rank of 'kings'. Tungus shamans were considered priests, although they were simply doctors who saw the cause of illness in the influence of evil 'spirits' that were just as material in their understanding as animals or members of other tribes. Mutual incomprehension was intensified by a conviction that there was nothing to understand, and then collisions occurred that led to the murder of Europeans who wounded the feelings of the aborigines, in response to which brutal punitive expeditions were organized. The civilized Australian aborigine Waipuldanya or Phillip Roberts relates stories of tragedies that were the more terrible that they happened without visible causes. Thus aborigines killed a white man who was smoking a cigarette, considering him a spirit that had fire in its belly. They ran another through with a spear because he had drawn a watch from his pocket and looked at the sun. The aborigines decided that he was carrying the sun in his pocket. Misunderstandings like that were followed by punitive expeditions that led to the extermination of whole tribes. And tragic collisions occurred for Australian Aborigines and the Papuans of New Guinea not only with whites but also with Malays, collisions that were aggravated by the transmission of infections.

Fairly recently, on 30 October 1968, on the bank of the Rio Negro, a tributary of the Amazon, the Indians killed a missionary and eight of his companions for nothing, from their point of view, but tactlessness. The padre, having come to the Atroari's country, announced his arrival by shots, which was improper according to their customs; he went into a small hut, despite the protest of its owner; he tweaked the ear of a child; and forbade them to take his saucepan of soup. Only the guide survived, who knew the Indians' customs and abandoned Father Cagliari, who had paid no attention to his advice and had forgotten that the people who live on the banks of the Po were not quite like those on the banks of the Amazon.

Some time passed before it was asked whether it was not better to adapt oneself to the aborigines than to exterminate them. In order to do that, however, it was necessary to admit that peoples of other cultures differed from Europeans, and from one another, not only in languages and beliefs but also in the whole 'stereotype of behaviour', which it was a good idea to study so as to avoid conflicts. So ethnography arose, the science of the differences between peoples.

Colonialism has gone, under the blows of the national liberation movement, but interethnic contacts have remained and been extended. The problem of establishing mutual understanding has consequently become more and more urgent on both the global scale of world politics and the microscopic, personal scale during meetings with people who are not like us. And so a new question has been posed, a theoretical one despite its practical significance. But why are we, people, so unlike one another that we must adapt ourselves to one another? Must study others' manners and customs, look for acceptable ways of intercourse instead of those that seem natural to us, are quite adequate for intraethnic intercourse and satisfactory for contacts with our neighbors? In some cases ethnic dissimilarity can be explained by diversity of geographical conditions, yet it is also observed where climate and relief are similar. Obviously, one cannot do without history.

In fact various peoples arose in various ages and had different historical fates, which left traces on them as ineffaceable as personal biographies that mould the character of individuals. The geographical environment influences ethnoi, of course, through man's everyday communion with the nature that feeds him, but that is not all. Traditions inherited from ancestors and traditional enmity or friendship with neighbors (the ethnic environment) play their role; cultural influences and religion have their significance, but in addition to all that there is the law of evolution or development, which applies to ethnoi just like other phenomena of nature. It is manifested in the multifarious processes of the rise and disappearance of peoples that I call ethnogenesis. Unless we allow for the peculiarities of this form of the motion of matter we cannot find the key to the riddle of ethnic psychology on either the practical or the theoretical plane. We need both, but unexpected difficulties crop up on the path I have elected.


The complexities of the terminology employed. The abundance of initial information and the poor development of the principles of systematizing are felt particularly painfully in history and ethnography. For the bibliography alone fills volumes, to look into which is sometimes no simpler than looking into the scientific problems themselves. The reader needs to be able to see the whole aggregate of events simultaneously (the principle of actualism), or all the modes of formation (the principle of evolutionism), and not a multi-volume list of the titles of articles and papers, for the most part out of date. The works of the founders of Marxism contain the program of a systematic approach to understanding historical process, but it has not yet been applied to questions of ethnogenesis.

Some attempts to introduce a systems method are known in old, often forgotten historiography but, in contrast to the natural sciences, their authors met with neither understanding nor sympathy. Polybius's conception is now regarded as an elegant rarity, ibn Khaidun's (fourteenth century) as a curiosity. Giovanni Battista Vico is remembered only in the history of science, while the grandiose, though perhaps unsuccessful constructions of N.Ya. Danilevsky, Oswald Spengler, and Arnold Toynbee have become an excuse for rejecting the construction of historical models in general. The result of this process is unambiguous. Since it is impossible to remember the whole concatenation of historical events and since there is not and cannot be a common terminology in the absence of a systems even communion among Historians gets more difficult year by year.

By attaching various nuances to terms and investing them with a different content, historians convert them into polysemantic words. In the first stages of this process the speakers can be understood from the context, intonation, and situation in which the dispute is conducted, but in the last phases this unsatisfactory degree of understanding disappears. So the Russian word rod (gens, family) is usually employed for the concept 'clan or gentile system', but the 'clan (rod) of the Shuisky boyars' clearly has no relation to that. It is even worse with translation: if a clan (gens) is a Celtic clan, it is impossible to call any Kazakh branch of the Middle or Junior Zhus (ru) such, or the Altain kost (seok), and -vice versa, because they differ in functions and genesis. Yet all these, by no means dissimilar phenomena are named identically and, worse, are equated on that basis with one another. Willy-nilly the historian studies not the object but words that have already lost their meaning as real phenomena, while the latter elude him. Let us now assume that three historians are discussing a problem, one of them investing the concept 'gens' with the sense of clan, the second of seok, the third of the boyar family. Obviously they not only will not understand one another, but even what they are talking about.

It may be objected, of course, that agreement can be reached about terms, but the number of concepts increases proportionately with the accumulation of information; ever new terms are appearing that, in the absence of a system, become polysemantic and consequently useless for analysis and synthesis. But a way out can also be found here.

So far I have been speaking of the conditions of research; let me now speak about its perspectives. Study of any subject only has practical significance when it is possible to survey it as a whole. The electrical engineer, for example, must deal with the phenomena of ionization and thermal efficiency, the electromagnetic field, etc., but not to the same degree; the physical geographer, when speaking of Earth's envelopes, has in mind the troposphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and even the biosphere. But the historian can only draw conclusions that are more weighty and interesting for the reader when he covers a broad complex of interconnected events in a single argument, at the same time reaching agreement on terminology. It is difficult, but not impossible. It is simply important for the conclusions to correspond to all the facts taken into consideration. If anyone puts forward a more elegant and convincing conception for the facts cited in my book, I shall bow to him with respect. But if, on the contrary, anyone declared my conclusions final, not requiring review and further elaboration, I would not agree with him. Ordinary books do not live longer than people, and the development of science is an immanent law of the shaping of mankind. I therefore see it as my job to pay what honour I can to Beautiful Lady History, without whom no people can exist, and to her Wise Sister Geography, who creates people's bond with their ancestress, the Biosphere of Planet Earth. [+1]


Summaries and scruples. The species Homo sapiens, which has spread over the whole land surface of the planet, and a considerable part of its marine surface, has made such significant changes in its configuration that they can be equated with small scale upheavals. [+2] But it follows from this that we distinguish a special historico-geographical category of laws that requires a special method for examining and studying them that combines historical and geographical techniques of research. In itself that is nothing new, but the approach to the problem has so far been eclectic: the use of C14 analysis, for example, to date archaeological finds, of resistivity prospecting (a business too laborious for practical application), and of cybernetic techniques to study 'stone Venuses' (which has given the same results as visual estimates), and so on. But the most important thing has been lost sight of! In my view this 'main point' is the ability to extract information from the silence of the sources. The inductive way limits the historian's opportunities to a simple or critical rendering of foreign words, the limit of the investigation moreover being distrust of the source. But this result is negative and therefore not conclusive. Only the establishing of a certain number of indisputable facts will be positive, and these, being derived layer by layer from the source, can be reduced to a chronological table or plotted on a historical map. In order to interpret them, a philosopheme or postulate is needed, but that infringes the accepted principle of inductive research. A blind alley!

So! But the geographer, geologist, zoologist, and soil scientist never have more facts, yet their sciences develop which happens because natural scientists employ 'empirical generalization' instead of a philosophical postulate and it, according to Vernadsky, has a reliability equal to observed fact. [+3] In other words, the natural sciences overcome the silence of the sources and even extract something useful for science from it, since they avoid the false that is always contained in a source or introduced by ourselves through inadequate perception. So why reject sources because of that? When taking nature as a source we also have to resort to a method of study, but that gives us wonderful prospects that enable us to lift the veil of Isis.

One of the tasks of science is to obtain the maximum information from a minimum of facts, to make it possible to single out precise patterns that enable the most varied phenomena to be understood from a single point of view, and subsequently learn to find one's bearings in them. These patterns are invisible but not invented. They are discovered through generalization. Let me give an example from biology.

Stars and planets move across the sky. Balloons rise, but a stone dropped from a cliff falls in space. Rivers run to the sea, and sediments slowly settle in the ocean forming layers of sedimentary rocks. Mice have very thin paws and elephants huge extremities. Land animals do not attain the size of whales and giant squid. What do those facts have in common? They are all based on the law of universal gravitation, which is intertwined with other laws, just as real, invisible, but mentally comprehensible. [+4]

Terrestrial gravitation has always existed but it needed the insight of Newton observing the fall of an apple from a branch for people to recognize its existence. And how many other powerful forces of nature that surround us and govern our fate lie outside our understanding. We live in an underdiscovered world and often move feeling our way, which sometimes leads to tragic consequences. That is why the magic eyes of science, by which I mean the insight of scientists of genius, are needed in order to understand the world around us and our place in it, and to learn to foresee even the immediate consequences of our actions.

Studies to establish the functional link of phenomena of physical geography and paleontology in material of the history of Central Asia and the archaeology of the Lower Volga, enable us to draw three conclusions. (1) The historical fate of an ethnos resulting from its economic activity is directly linked with the dynamic state of the area occupied. (2) The archaeological culture of an ethnos, which is a crystallized trace of its historical fate, reflects the paleogeographical state of the terrain in an era amenable to absolute dating. (3) The combination of historical and archaeological material makes it possible to judge the character of the areas occupied in one age or another, and consequently the character of their changes.

Precision is relative here, of course, but a tolerance of plus or minus 50 years for diffuse boundaries does not affect the conclusions and is consequently innocuous. Much more dangerous is the striving for scrupulousness in the direct sense of the word.

Scrupulus (Lat.) means a bit of grit that has got into a sandal and is irritating the sole of the foot. The ancients considered it is senseless business to study the distribution of these grits; one simply had to take off one's sandal and shake it. The word 'scrupulousness' therefore meant unnecessary concern about trifles. Now the word is used in the sense of 'superexact'.

Unfortunately the demand for 'scrupulousness' is not always innocent and harmless, in particular when natural phenomena are being correlated with historical events, because the legitimate tolerance may be as much as 50 or 60 years, and cannot be reduced since the link being sought is mediated by the economic geography of ancient epochs. The system of livelihood, cultivation, stock-breeding, or even hunting, has its own inertia. If it is undermined, say, by drought, the state founded on it is only weakened when reserves are exhausted, and the constant malnutrition (and not short-term famine) undermines the strength of the reproductive population. This process can only be discovered through a broad integration of a number of historical events, and not by a scrupulous correlating of natural and historical phenomena. In that connection one must remember the words of a famous natural scientist:

you could never learn what a mouse is like by carefully examining each of its cells separately under the electron microscope any more than you could appreciate the beauty of a cathedral through the chemical analysis or each stone that went into its construction. [+5]

Of course, when we examine one or even two facts in isolation from others, we remain trapped by old authors who were able to impose their opinion with skill and talent on the reader. But when we extract direct information from sources, and take not two facts but 2 000, we then get several causal chains that not only correlate with one another but also with the model we propose. It is not a simple functional dependence like that sought in the eighteenth century by champions of geographical determinism like Montesquieu. Here we find a systemic link, underlying the science of the relationship of mankind and nature.

The universality and specificity of the interaction I have noted makes it possible to single out study of it as an independent boundary field of science, and as a combination of history and geography, called ethnology. But here there is a new sore point. Can we find a tangible definition of ethnos?


Limits. What do we know precisely about ethnoi? Very much and very little. We have no grounds for asserting that an ethnos occurred as a phenomenon in the Lower Paleolithic. Behind the high brow ridges, and within the huge brainbox of Neanderthal man, were lodged thoughts and feelings. But what they were we still have no right even to guess if we want to remain on a platform of scientific authenticity and reliability. We know more about the people of the Upper Paleolithic. They were splendid hunters, made spears and javelins, dressed in clothes of animal skins, and drew no worse than the Parisian Impressionists. The form of their collective life was seemingly similar to those that are known to us, but that is only a supposition on which we cannot even build a scientific hypothesis. It is not excluded that there were features in ancient times that have not come down to us.

But we can consider the peoples of the Late Neolithic and Bronze Ages (third and second millennia B.C.) similar to historical ones with a high degree of probability. Unfortunately, our knowledge of the ethnic differences then is fragmentary and scanty, so that if we rely on it we risk not distinguishing the patterns that interest us at the moment from local features and, by taking the particular for the general or -vice versa, falling into error.

So-called historical time gives us reliable material for analysis, when written sources throw light on the history of ethnoi and their interconnections. We have the right, when studying this period of time, to apply the observations obtained to earlier times and to fill the gaps in our knowledge arising in the first stage of study by extrapolation. We thus avoid the aberrations of distance, one of the most frequent mistakes of the historical critic.

It is convenient to take the beginning of the nineteenth century as the upper date because we need only completed processes in order to establish patterns. One can only speak of uncompleted processes for purposes of forecasting, but for that we have to have a formula of regularity available - the same as the one we are looking for. In addition, when we are studying twentieth-century phenomena, there is the possibility of an aberration of propinquity by which phenomena lose scale just as with the aberration of distance. I shall therefore limit myself to the 3 000 years between the twelfth century B.C. and the nineteenth century A.D., for posing the problem, or for clarity of representation, from the fall of Troy to the overthrow of Napoleon.

To begin with I shall investigate our abundant material by a synchronic method, basing myself on a comparison and collation of information about whose reliability there is no doubt. The new element that I shall decide to introduce will be the combining of facts in the aspect I propose. That is necessary because the kaleidoscope of dates in the various chronological tables does not give the reader any idea of what happened with peoples throughout their historical life. The method proposed is not as characteristic of the humanities, as it is of the natural sciences. Empirical generalization is neither a hypothesis nor a popularization, although it is built on facts already assembled and tested rather than on original material (experience, observation, and reading of primary sources). The introduction of material into the system and the construction of a conception is the middle stage of comprehension of the problem that precedes philosophical generalization. For my purposes I need precisely this middle stage.

It would seem that the more detailed and numerous the information about a subject the easier it is to form an exhaustive idea of it. But is that so in fact? Most likely not. Unnecessary and too fine information, while not altering the picture as a whole, creates what they call 'noise' or 'interference' in cybernetics and the study of systems. But for other purposes it is precisely nuances of mood that are needed. In short, in order to clarify the nature of phenomena one must take in the whole concatenation of facts relating to the problem under consideration, but not all the information available in the arsenal of science.

But what are we to take as 'relating to the problem'? The answer will obviously be different in different cases. The history of mankind and the biographies of famous people are not equal phenomena, and the pattern of development will be different in both cases, but there are as many gradations as you like between them. The point is complicated by the fact that any historical phenomenon (war, the promulgation of a law, the building of an architectural monument, the founding of a princedom or republic, and so on) has to be treated in several degrees of approximation, the comparison of which, moreover, yields contradictory results at first glance. Let me take an example from the history of Europe. After the Reformation a struggle began between the Protestant Union and the Catholic League (approximation A). Consequently all the Protestants of Western Europe should have been battling against all the Catholics. But Catholic France was a member of the Protestant Union, and Protestant Denmark stabbed Protestant Sweden in the back in 1643, i.e. political interests were put before ideological ones (approximation B). Does that mean that the first statement was not true? By no means. It was only more generalized. In addition, mercenaries fought in the armies of both sides, for the most part indifferent to religion, but avid for plunder. That means that one could characterize the Thirty Years' War in the next approximation (C) as an orgy of banditry, and that, too, would be to some extent correct. Finally, real class interests lay behind the religious slogans and the golden diadems of kings, interests it would be wrong not to take into account (approximation D). And one can add to that the separatist tendencies of the different, separate regions (approximation E) discoverable by paleoethnography, and so on.

As will be seen from this example, the system of successive approximations is a complicated business, even when we are investigating a local episode. Nevertheless we need not lose hope of success because there remains the path of scientific deduction. Just as the motion of Earth is composed of many regular motions (rotation around its axis, rotation around the sun, movement with all the planets of the solar system through the galaxy, and many others), so mankind, the anthroposphere, experiences in developing not one but several effects that are studied by separate sciences. The spontaneous movement, reflected in social development, is studied by historical materialism; human physiology is a field of biology; man's relation with the landscape - historical geography - lies in the, sphere of the geographical sciences; the study of wars, laws, and institutions is political history, and of opinion and thoughts the history of culture; the study of languages is linguistics, and of literary creation philology, and so on. Where does our problem fit in?

Let me begin with the point that an ethnos (any one), like a language, for example, is not a social phenomenon, because it can exist in several formations. The influence of spontaneous social development on the molding of an ethnos is exogenous. In order to affect the forming or the break-up of an ethnos, social development operates through history, both political and cultural. One can therefore say that the problem of ethnogenesis lies on the boundary of historical science where its social aspects pass smoothly into the natural ones.

Since all phenomena of ethnogenesis originate on the earth's surface in certain geographical conditions, the question of the role of terrain and relief inevitably arises, as a factor presenting economic opportunities for human collectives (ethnoi). [+6] But the combination of history and geography is not sufficient for my problem because it is a matter of living organisms which, as we know, are always in a state of evolution or involution, or monomorphism (stability within the species), and interact with other living organisms, forming communities, and geobiocoenoses.

I must thus put my problem at the junction of three sciences: history, geography (study of relief), and biology (ecology and genetics). But that being so, we can make a second approximation of the definition of the term 'ethnos': an ethnos is a specific form of existence of the species Homo sapiens, and ethnogenesis is a local variant of the intraspecific form-making determined by a combination of historical and choronomic (landscape) factors.

The aspect in which mankind appears as an anthropofauna may seem extravagant, but Darwin and Engels laid the foundations for such a study. Following the scientific tradition, I shall turn my attention to this aspect of human activities which has been missed by most of my predecessors.


'The historian without geography stumbles'. Man's dependence on the world around him, or rather on his geographical environment, is never disputed, although the degree of dependence is assessed differently by different scholars. In any case, however, the economic life of the peoples who have inhabited Earth and now live in it is closely linked with the relief and climate of the territories inhabited. It is quite difficult to trace the rise and decline of the economy of ancient periods, again because of the incompleteness of the information obtained from primary sources. But there is an excellent indicator - military power. As for modern times, there are no doubts whatsoever about that, but for 2 000 years matters remained precisely the same, for nomads as well as for settled peoples. Not only were well-fed, strong, tireless people needed for a campaign, capable of drawing a bow 'to the ear' (which enabled an arrow to be shot for 700 meters while with drawing 'to the eye' the range of an arrow was 350-400 meters), and of fencing with a heavy sword or (much harder) with a curved saber. It was also necessary to have horses, roughly four or five per man, taking the wagon train or pack train into account. A stock of arrows was needed, and making them was a laborious business. Stocks of provisions were needed, for example, for nomads, a flock of sheep and consequently shepherds for it. A reserve guard was needed to protect women and children. In short, war required funds even then, and big ones at that. It could only be waged at the enemy's expense after the first, considerable victory, and in order to win it a strong rear was required, a prosperous economy, and consequently optimum natural conditions.

The significance of geographical conditions, for example, relief, for military history has long been talked about, always, one might even say. Suffice it to recall some examples from ancient history. Hannibal won the battle of Lake Trasimene by making use of several deep valleys disposed at right angles to the lake's shore and the road along which the Roman troops passed. Thanks to that he attacked the Roman army in three places at once and won the battle. At Cynoscephalae the Macedonian phalanx was scattered on broken ground, and the Romans easily broke the heavily armed enemy, who had lost formation. Examples like these have always been in historians' field of vision and gave the eighteenth-century Russian scholar Ivan Boltin grounds for a famous comment: 'The historian who is not strong in geography stumbles'. [+7] But it is pointless to dwell on such an obvious problem in the twentieth century, because history is now faced with more profound tasks than it used to be, while geography has moved away from simple description of the marvels of our planet and has acquired possibilities that were inaccessible to our ancestors.

I shall therefore put the question differently: not only how does the geographical environment affect people 6ut also how far do people themselves constitute part of the envelope of Earth that is now called the biosphere; and also to what extent, precisely, do the patterns of mankind's life influence the geographical environment and to what extent do they not. That posing of the matter calls for analysis, i.e. an artificial breaking down of the problem for convenience of investigation. It consequently has only subsidiary significance for understanding history, since the aim of our work is a synthesis. Alas, however, just as one cannot build a house without a foundation so it is impossible to generalize without preliminary differentiation. Let us limit ourselves to the minimum. When we speak of the history of mankind we usually have in mind the social form of the movement of history, i.e. mankind's progressive development, as a whole, along a spiral. This is a spontaneous movement and for that reason cannot be a function of any external causes whatsoever. Neither geographical nor biological effects can influence that aspect of history. So what do they influence? Organisms including human ones. L.S. Berg had already drawn that conclusion in 1922, legitimate for all organisms, including people.

The geographical landscape necessarily affects the organism, compelling all individuals to vary in a certain direction insofar as the organization of the species permits. The tundra, forest, steppe, desert, mountains, water medium, life on islands, etc. all put a special stamp on organisms. Those species that are incapable of adapting must migrate to another geographical terrain or perish. [+8]

But by 'terrain' is meant

a sector of the earth's surface that differs qualitatively from other sectors, framed by natural boundaries, and representing a whole, and reciprocally conditioned, natural aggregate of objects and phenomena typically expressed over a considerable area and inseparably linked in all respects with the topographical envelope. [+9] 

Berg called this thesis the choronomic principle of evolution (from the Greek choros, place), so linking geography and biology. In the aspect I have adopted history is added to these two sciences, yet the principle remains unshakeable. Furthermore it has received unexpected confirmation, and that obliges me to continue the examination of an ethnos's patterns of development, but now with allowance for the dynamic moment, the development of new ethnoi, i.e. of ethnogenesis, on the basis of a description of the phases of ethnogenesis. But that is the theme of another chapter.


Nature and History


The combination of nature study and history. In antiquity, when the world seemed a whole to man, in spite of its obvious diversity, and interconnected, in spite of the seeming isolation, the problem of coupling natural science and history could not even arise. All events considered worthy of perpetuation were entered in the annals. Wars and floods, revolutions and epidemics, the birth of a genius and the flight of a comet were all considered phenomena of equal significance and interest for posterity. The principle of the magi then prevailed in scientific thought, viz., 'like breeds like', which made it possible, through broad associations, to catch the connections between phenomena of nature and the fates of people or of 'individual persons. That principle was developed into astrology and mantik (the lore of divination), but with the development of the separate sciences, as knowledge accumulated, it was discarded as unsound, and not substantiated in practical application.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, thanks to the differentiation of the sciences, a huge amount of information was accumulated, which had become vast by the beginning of the twentieth century. Figuratively speaking the mighty river of Science had been diverted into irrigation ditches. Life-giving moisture watered a broad area, but the lake previously fed by it (i.e. integral world-contemplation) dried up. And now the autumn wind drifts the bottom sediments and blows salty dust onto the friable land of fields. Soon, in the place of steppe which, even though dry, fed herds, salt marshes arise, and the biosphere gives way to inert matter, not forever, of course, but for a long time. For when people quit a doomed land, the ditches begin to silt up, and the river again cuts a channel, and fills a natural depression. The wind blows a fine layer of fresh dust over the salt marshes, grasses sprout and die, uneaten by ungulates. In a few centuries a humus layer is formed on the plain, and plankton in the lake; then herbivores arrive, and waterfowl carry fish spawn to the lake on their feet. Life again triumphs in its diversity.

So it is in science. Narrow specialization is only useful as a means of accumulating knowledge. The differentiation of disciplines was a stage, necessary and inevitable, that inevitably becomes disastrous when dragged out for a long time. Accumulation of information without its systematization into an object of broad generalization is a quite senseless task. Were the principles of ancient science indeed false? Perhaps its unsoundness was not rooted in its postulates, but rather in lack of skill in applying them. For there is an interaction 'of the history of nature and the history of men' that can be caught by employing the total of accumulated knowledge and a method of research that is developing under our eyes. So I shall endeavor to follow this path and to formulate the problem as follows: can the study of history be of benefit for interpreting phenomena of nature?

Social and natural phenomena are obviously not identical, but they do have a point of contact somewhere. And it is necessary to find it, because it cannot be the anthroposphere as a whole. Even if we understand the anthroposphere as the biomass, we must note two aspects of the phenomenon: (a) its mosaic structure, because various collectives of people interact differently with the environment; if we take into account the well-known history of the past 5 000 years, this diversity and elucidation of its causes will prove the key to the problem posed; (b) the many-sided character of the object being studied, i.e. mankind. This has to be understood in the sense that every person (or mankind as a whole) is a physical body, and an organism, and the upper fink of any biocoenosis, and a member of a society, and a member of a people or ethnic national grouping, and so on. In each of these the object (in this case man) is studied by a corresponding scientific discipline, which does not deny other aspects of research. It is the ethnic aspect of mankind as a whole that is important for my problem.

Let me make a slight excursus into epistemology. Ask yourself what is accessible to direct observation. It is not the object itself, but the limits of object. Thus we know that time, as a category, exists, but unless we see its limits we have no chance of giving a generally accepted definition of time. And the greater the contrast, the clearer objects a-re for us that we do not see but dream up, i.e. imagine.

We constantly observe history as a chain of events; consequently history is a boundary. Happily we know of what - the social and the four natural forms of the motion of matter. That being so there is, together with the sociosphere and the technosphere generated by it, a living essence that not only surrounds people but is also within them. And these elements are so contrast that they are caught by human consciousness without the least effort. Humanitarian conceptions have proved unnecessary, or rather inadequate, precisely because they pose the question of the influence on the historical process, or processes, of geographical, biological, social, or ('in idealist systems) spiritual factors, and not of the connection of the one and the other, thanks to which both the process itself and its components become accessible to empirical generalization. The approach suggested here is nothing other than the analysis, i.e. 'breaking down', needed to untangle the unclear places in history and then pass on to a synthesis in which the results of the various methods of research are taken into account.

In the historiography of the nineteenth century the interaction of the social and natural was not always allowed for. [+10] But now the dynamics of natural processes has been sufficiently studied for their comparability with social events to be obvious. Biocoenology has shown that man enters the biocoenosis of the terrain as an upper final link, because he is a major predator and, as such, is dependent on the evolution of nature, which by no means rules out the existence of an additional element, i.e. the development of the productive forces, which produce the technosphere, lacking self-development and capable only of disrupting.


Formations and ethnoi. If, however, we look at all world history, we will note that coincidences of changes of formation and the appearance of new peoples are only rare exceptions, while ethnoi very dissimilar to one another constantly arise and develop within a formation.

Take the example of the thirteenth century when feudalism nourished from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The French barons were hardly like the free peasants of Scandinavia, the slave-warrior Mamelukes of Egypt, the unruly population of the Russian veche towns, the indigent conquerors of half the world, the Mongol nomads, or the Chinese landowners of the Sung Empire. Common to them all was the feudal mode of production, but little else. Agriculturists' and nomads' attitudes to nature did not coincide; receptivity of things foreign, or capacity for cultural borrowings, was higher in Europe than in China, no less than the striving for territorial conquests that stimulated the Crusades; Russian slash-and-burn agriculture was simpler and more primitive than the viticulture of Syria and the Peloponnese, but yielded a fabulous harvest with less expenditure of labour; languages, religion, art, education were all unlike each other, but there was no confusion in this diversity because each fife style was the property of a definite people.

It should not be thought, however, that the degree of ethnic individuality is determined only by nature. Centuries passed and the relations of ethnoi changed, some disappearing, others appearing; it is accepted in Soviet ethnography to call that process ethnogenesis. The rhythms of ethnogenesis are coupled in world history with a pulse of social development, but the coupling does not mean coincidence, let alone unity. History is a single process, but its factors are different, and my task, i.e. analysis, is to single out the phenomena directly inherent in ethnogenesis, and so to clarify what an ethnos is and what its role in the fife of mankind.

It is necessary, to start with, to agree on the meaning of the terms and the limits of the investigation. The Greek word ethnos has many meanings in the dictionary, of which I have chosen one, viz., 'species, breed', implying by that people. There is no point, for my posing of the theme, in singling out such concepts as tribe or nation, because I am interested in the common denominator; in other words the general that exists among Englishmen and among Masai, among ancient Greeks and modern Gypsies. This is the property of the species Homo sapiens to group together so as to counterpose themselves and 'theirs' (sometimes close, but often quite remote) to all the rest of the world. This singling out is characteristic of all epochs and countries: Hellenes and barbarians, Jews and the uncircumcised, Chinese (people of the Middle Kingdom) and Hu (the barbarian periphery, Russians included), Muslim Arabs in the time of the first Caliphs and 'infidels'; Catholic Europeans in the Middle Ages (the unity called the 'Christian world') and 'godless', including Greeks and Russians; 'Orthodox' (in the same period) and unbaptized, including Catholics; Tuaregs and non-Tuaregs, Gypsies and all other people, etc. This opposition is a universal phenomenon, which indicates its deep foundation, but in itself it is only the foam on a deep river, and I have still to bring out its essence. But the observation already made is enough to attest the complexity of the effect which can be called ethnic (in the sense 'stock' or 'breed') and which can be taken as an aspect for constructing an ethnic history of mankind. My task is therefore first of all to find the cause of the process.

There is an undoubted link between ethnic history and geography, but it cannot exhaust the whole complexity of the relationship of the diverse phenomena of nature and the zigzags of the history of ethnoi. Furthermore, the thesis: 'Any attribute by which ethnoi can be classified is adaptive to a concrete environment' reflects only one aspect of the process of ethnogenesis. As Hegel wrote: '...the mild Ionic sky certainly contributed much to the charm of the Homeric poems, yet this alone can produce no Homers'. [+11]

However, when an ethnos that has taken shape in a definite region where adaptation to the terrain has been maximum migrates, it retains many of the original features that distinguished it from the aboriginal ethnoi. The Spaniards who settled in Mexico, for example, did not become Indians - Aztecs or Mayas. They created an artificial microlandscape for themselves - towns and fortified haciendas - and preserved their culture, both material and spiritual, in spite of the fact that the moist tropics of Yucatan and the semideserts of Anlhuac were very different from Andalusia and Castile. But the separation of Mexico from Spain in the nineteenth century was largely the work of the descendants of Indian tribes that had adopted the Spanish language and Catholicism, but that were supported by the free tribes of the Comanche who had migrated north of the Rio Grande.

Let me now dr