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Ethnogenesis and the Biosphere

Chapter Two

Lev Gumilev


Part 2



The reality of a superethnos: the Franks. I call a superethnos a group of ethnoi arising at the same time in a definite region connected together by economic, ideological, and political contacts that by no means exclude military conflicts among them. But, in contrast to clashes at superethnic level, when wars are waged to extermination or enslavement (for example, the contact of Europeans with the aborigines of America in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries), the wars within a superethnos lead only to achievement of temporary domination (for example, the Guelphs and Ghibellines in mediaeval Europe, or the internecine wars of the Old Russian dukes), with a striving for compromise. Like an ethnos, a superethnos opposes itself to all other superethnoi, in the person of its members, but unlike an ethnos a superethnos is incapable of divergence. I ask you to accept this thesis temporarily without proof, and promise to present such at the end of the book.

At first glance this seems strange because it is incomprehensible where superethnoi come from. Their rise is evidently different in character from that of ethnoi, and furthermore of subethnic entities. If so, however, then we must presume that the riddle of the origin of ethnoi has not been solved precisely because its solution lies at a higher order, and consequently that the phenomenon of ethnos, some one or another, seen and noticed by us, is only a variant of the superethnos to which it belongs as an element of the mosaic systems entity, like a column or caryatid forms part of the whole of a palace although the caryatid can be looked at from beside it, while the palace is only visible as a whole from a great distance. The palace, however, will continue to function without a caryatid, but a broken statue will be converted at best into a museum exhibit and at worst into builders' debris. Let me explain this with examples from history.

A superethnic entity is no less real than a subethnic one. The French ethnos was already part, in the early Middle Ages, of an entity called Christianity, which included the Catholic countries of Europe, a part of whose population were Arians (the Burgundians) or pagans (the Frisians). But such details bothered no one at the time. The territory united by the Carolingians was peopled by two large ethnic groups: the German-speaking Teutons and Latin-speaking Walloons. Under the grandsons of Charlemagne these ethnoi forced their rulers to break the iron band of the Empire and achieved their aim at the battle of Fontenoy (A.D. 841): Charles the Bald and Louis the German swore in A.D. 842 in Strasbourg to stand by the division of the empire by nations.

But that was a first approximation at division. Brittany, Aquitaine, and Provence separated off from the kingdom of the West Franks, and tiny France was located between the Meuse and the Loire. This 'territorial revolution' [+19] was completed by the legitimate Teutonic dynasty of the Carolingians being overthrown in Paris itself, where Eudes, son of Rodbert of Anjou, ascended the throne in 895 A.D. The Carolingians fought for a hundred years against the disintegration of their country, but the ethnoi that arose from the broad spectrum of mixing refused to submit to them. Consequently there was the 'feudal revolution', which finished in the tenth century. Western Europe broke up politically, but continued to figure as a superethnic unity opposed to the Muslims (Arabs) and Orthodox (Greeks), and Irish and pagans (Slavs and Norsemen). Subsequently it expanded, having absorbed, through conversion to Catholicism, the Anglo-Saxons, and then the Western Slavs, Scandinavians, and Hungarians. Ethnic mosaicism did not prevent the development of a superethnos.


The origin of a superethnos: Byzantium. A second example. In the Mediterranean there existed in antiquity a single Hellenistic culture that drew Latium and the Phoenician cities into itself during development. Ethnically it resembled the West European, because the main Hellenic nucleus did not comprehend all the variants of the diverse Hellenistic culture. Rome, Carthage, and Pella had their own local peculiarities and were independent ethnoi, but in the superethnic sense were part of the broad circle of Hellenistic culture. That is not new, incidentally, but it is important to me as a starting point. The Roman state encouraged ethnic leveling, but Greek's equality of rights with Latin led to almost the whole population of the Mediterranean merging into one ethnos.

But in the first century A.D. new people appeared in the Roman Empire, unlike any of their neighbors, who formed a new entity in the next two centuries. They already counterposed themselves at the beginning of their advent to 'pagans', i.e. to all other people, and, in fact, were singled out from their number, of course, by the character of their behavior and not by anatomical or physiological traits. They treated each other differently, thought differently, and set themselves aims in life that seemed senseless to their contemporaries, in striving for bliss beyond the grave. Asceticism was foreign to the Hellenistic world; the new people created the Thebaid. The Hellenes and Romans had already, for several centuries, considered their gods literary figures, maintaining the cult as a public tradition but guided in ordinary life by many omens. The new preachers and neophytes considered with complete conviction that the other world was reality, and prepared themselves for fife on the other side. While professing loyalty to the Roman government, they refused to recognize its divine nature, and would not bow to the statues of the emperors, although that often cost them their lives. These nuances of behavior did not break the structures of society, but the new people dropped out of the ethnic unity and evoked the burning hatred of the urban poor, who demanded their annihilation, proceeding from the principle of denial of the right to be different.

It is wrong to think that the cause of the arising hostility was the difference in convictions, because there were no stable and distinct convictions among the uneducated pagans at that time, while they were diverse among the people of the new mentality. But why did the Hellenes and Romans not quarrel with Mithra, Isis, Cybele, and Helios, making an exception only for Christ? What put Christ outside must obviously have been not an ideological or political attribute, but an ethnological one, i.e. a behavioral one that was really new and unaccustomed for Hellenistic culture.

As we know, the new entity was victorious in spite of vast losses. The Gnostics disappeared, and Manichaeans were scattered; the Marcionites (subsequently Bogomils) were confined to a narrow community, and only the Christian Church proved viable and gave rise to an entity that had no name of its own. I shall conventionally call it Byzantine, or Orthodox Christian. An ethnos was formed from the Early Christian community in the fifth century A,D. throughout the Roman Empire, that called itself by the old word 'Romaic' (Gr. Rhome). From the fifth to the tenth centuries A.D. Bulgarians, Serbs, Magyars, Czechs, Russians, and Alans were converted to Orthodoxy, and then a superethnic cultural entity of the Orthodox world was created, which was broken up in the thirteenth century by blows from outside by 'Franks' [+20], 'Turks', and Mongols. In the fourteenth century the Orthodox tradition, like the Orthodox culture, revived in connection with the rise of the Great Russian people. But one cannot consider Muscovy the cultural periphery of Byzantium, because strong local traditions made an independent entity out of Rus. What is important is that the currents that deviated from the Oecumenical Church in the fifth century A.D. (Nestorians and Monophysites) continued, in spite of their having been anathematized by Oecumenical Councils, to feel their community with the Orthodox churches, while the simple schism of 1054, when the disputing parties did not proclaim their opponents heretics, formed a break in the single superethnic entity that still exists. Catholicism became the new structural system of the 'Christian world'. The area of 'Catholic' Europe differed from the 'Byzantine' in the character of the behavior of the people inhabiting them. In Western Europe the mediaeval nationes arose, from which grew modern nations, chivalry, city communes, and everything that distinguishes the European superethnos from the other superethnoi of the world.

But even after the schism of 1054 the dogma of Christianity remained as before, which means that it was not a matter of that and the history of religion, like a sensitive indicator, only reflects the deep processes of both social and ethnic history.


The breakdown of a superethnos: the Arabs of the seventh to tenth centuries A.D. The Arabs are an ancient people, so that at the beginning of our era their old feeling of ethnic unity had been lost. The most educated Arabs lived either in Byzantine Syria, or in Iranian Iraq, taking part in the political and cultural life of those empires.

On the origin of the Arabs there are only the legends in the Book of Genesis, but it has been historically recorded that for nearly a thousand years isolated tribes of Bedouins and gardeners, simultaneously engaged in trade, lived in Arabia. Their life and tribal-clan system were predominantly determined by a natural economy and consequently by the terrain of the country they inhabited. No tendencies toward unification arose. The fighting capacity of the Arabs was at a very low level, so that up to the seventh century A.D. Arabia was a field of rivalry of neighboring countries, viz., the Roman Empire, Parthian Sassanid Iran, and Abyssinia (the Aksum Empire). In Arabia itself the most active and resistant population was the Jewish communities of Hejaz and Yemen.

In the sixth century A.D. there was a sudden upsurge of poetry throughout Arabia, which needs to be regarded as a modus of activization. Must one prove that it is impossible to compose good verses without the impulse of passion? In the seventh century Muhammed came forward with a preaching of a strict monotheism and, having formed a small group of fanatical, resolute, and terribly brave followers around him, as a first act wiped out the poets as his rivals. The members of the Muslim community broke up the old clan, family connections, forming a new, special collective that, like the Byzantine, had a confessional dominating idea and an ethnogenetic nature, because Muhammed declared that a Muslim could not be a slave, and accepted into his commune those slaves who pronounced the formula of Islam. An incubation period of accumulation of drive also preceded propaganda for the new faith.

The consortium created was converted during the lifetime of Muhammed and Abu-Bekr into a subethnos. The Muslim subethnos, having grown from a score or so of people to several tens of thousands, conquered all Arabia and imposed a dogma of monotheism on the Arabs. The indifferent Meccan merchants and Bedouins of the deserts preferred hypocritical conversion to Islam to death or slavery. So a new ethnos was created with a changed stereotype of behavior but with the old name for itself Arabs.

The second Caliph Omar, employing the forces conquered and outwardly converted to Islam, conquered Syria, Egypt, and Persia, but already, under the third Caliph Osman, the pseudo-converts penetrated the highest posts in the new state and utilized the religious impulse of the original collective for purposes of personal enrichment. Zealots of the faith murdered Osman, but that provoked an. explosion of indignation among those who were not fanatics, and an internecine struggle began between the friend of the Prophet Ali, and the son of his enemy Moawiyah, in which the 'pseudo-Muslims' were victorious. But they did not alter the policy and official ideology and continued to conquer under the slogans of Islam. The power of the descendants of Moawiyah, the Ommiads, absorbed not only Arabic, but also Syrian, Iranian, Sogdian, Spanish, African, Caucasian, and many other elements stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indus.

The Arabs imposed their language and spiritual culture (Islam) on the ethnically varied population of the Caliphate. The majority of the conquered people became Arabic-speaking, and where they retained their own language, as in Persia, more than half of the words in the literary language are Arabic.

But already in the tenth century the Caliphate had broken up into separate regions that coincided with tribal areas. The Idrisides (A.D. 789-926), the Rustamids (A.D. 777-909), and the Zirids (9721152) were supported by Berbers, the Buyid dynasty (932-1062) by Gilam and Dailamite mountaineers; the Samanids (A.D. 819-999) by Tajiks, and so on. Even the Arabs themselves were divided. The Spanish Arabs raised the green banner of the Ommiads, the Iraqis the black banner of the Abassids, the Egyptians the white banner of the Fatimids, and the Bahrein tribes of Bedouins created first the community and then the state of the Karmathians, and they all in fact separated into different ethnoi hostile to one another.

In short, the same thing that happened with the empire of Charlemagne occurred with the Caliphate in the ninth and tenth centuries A.D. The living forces of the ethnoi broke the iron band of Empire, both Christian and Muslim, like grass breaks up asphalt. But the political partitioning did not in either case break the superethnic unity, which was reflected in a certain similarity of some elements of the Arabic and Latin culture and literary language. The Muslim superethnos proved much more viable than the Arabic ethnos that gave rise to it. The idea of the Caliphate had already been taken over in the eleventh and twelfth centuries by the Seljuk Turks, and in the thirteenth century by Polovtsy and Sudanese Negroes bought in the slave markets and enrolled in the army. The inertia of the system created by Muhammed's comrades-in-arms proved tremendous.

Let me now ask whether the religious conception can be considered dominant in the process described. As an external phenomenon it undoubtedly can. But inwardly, in content, it is a more complicated matter. Karmathianism differs in its philosophical conceptions much more from Islam than Christianity does, or even Judaism; [+21] nevertheless it not only comes within the superethnic construction of Muslim culture but also within the Arabic ethnos proper. Turkish mercenaries and Moroccan cut-throats were least of all interested in religion, nevertheless only they supported Sunnite orthodoxy with their sabers in the eleventh century. Remember, Muhammed was preceded by a pleiad of Arab poets (pagans, Christians, Jews) so that the flowering of poetry was the initial link in the process described, no less than the development of intermediate trade, the hunting of Negroes for sale into slavery, and the banditry of tribal leaders.

But for all that the Islam conceived by Muhammed was dominant in forming the Arabic ethnos (and in the superethnic sense of all Muslim culture); and for it the preceding period of the flowering of Arab poetry proved suitable soil. Islam as a symbol became the object of fanatical self-assertion and a means of introducing uniformity. The appearance of various heresies and modifications of religious-ideological content usual during the rapid onslaught of a new religious system (as a kind of inevitable antitheses) only stimulated the rapidity and fury of the course of the main process. Furthermore, a varied intellectual life developed both within the Arab ethnos proper and in the superethnic culture, which led to a flowering of science, art, and unique forms of everyday life. The process is an example of the forming of a superethnos outwardly characterized by a religious-ideological dominant. Such entities have long been known to the social sciences, and are sometimes called 'cultural types' and sometimes 'civilizations'.

In the tenth century A.D. the energy of the Arabo-Muslim ethnos gave out despite the fact that the economy flourished, social relations were normalized, and philosophy, literature, geography, and medicine yielded a maximum number of masterpieces precisely then. The Arabs were converted from warriors into poets, scholars, and diplomats. They created a brilliant style in architecture, built cities with bazaars and schools, laid irrigation works and grew beautiful gardens that provided food for a growing population. But the Arabs forgot how to defend themselves against enemies. In place of the era of conquests a time of losses set in.

The French Normans took Sicily from the Muslims. Asturian mountaineers captured Central Spain and converted it into the 'land of castles'- Castile. The Byzantines took back Syria, except Damascus. The Georgians liberated Tiflis from an Arab garrison. To save themselves the Arabs had to turn to Turkomans and Berbers. But that helped. In the eleventh century the Almoravids drove the Spaniards north and the Seljuks subdued Armenia and Asia Minor. But these newcomers did not defend the ethnos of the Arabs, [+22] for whom they did not care two pence, but the superethnos, the 'world of Islam', because the latter had become the cultural dominant for them. The Central Asian Turks, Sudanese Negroes, and savage Kurds, on becoming part of the structure of the disintegrating Caliphate, assimilated the morals, customs, views, etc., accepted in it, and became perpetuators of the cause of the community created by Muhammed. It was these people who stopped the onslaught of the Crusaders.

But for all that the culture remained, products of human hands that had no self-development and were free only to collapse and be ruined. The destruction took place slowly, and the fascination of this culture embraced ever newer regions in Africa, India, and the Malay archipelago, and also China. There it still exists, having outlived the rise of the ethnos that created it by a thousand years.

Having taken in such a large quantity of elements foreign to it in the tenth to twelfth centuries, elements introduced by the ethnoi incorporated, this culture changed its look and generated new forms, fanciful to the point of monstrosity. The Muslims ethnically foreign to the Arabs became Shi'ites, Ismailites, Sufis, or professors of doctrines outwardly orthodox but essentially original and far from the original attitude to the world of Muhammed's companions and of the first Caliphs. And since ethnic disagreements and differences were clothed in confessional forms at that time, we can if we take the reverse course (from culture to ethnogenesis) discover and characterize the ethnic contacts of the 'World of Islam'. I shall devote a special excursus to this intricate but fascinating problem, in which I shall master with readers several more techniques of the ethnological method.


The Algorithm of Ethnogenesis


Ethnic relicts. Ethnic history can number more than 20 superethnoi that have disappeared in historical time and been replaced by ones now existing. The job is still to describe the mechanism of the disappearance of superethnoi, but I shall speak specially of their origin and spread. Let me note, as an important detail, that islets often remain in the place of a once vast superethnos broken by history that have survived the epoch of its flourishing and decline. The Basques, Albanians, and several Caucasian ethnoi and the interesting and very stable ethnos of the Iroquois of North America, can serve as examples of such small ethnoi. Unlike the majority of the extinct or assimilated tribes of North and Central America, the Iroquois have maintained their numbers (20 000), their language, and their contrast to all non-Iroquois. They have, it is true, changed their life structure and have been converted from warriors into 'museum pieces'.

There are quite a few relict ethnoi, some of them dying out, and some being assimilated by other ethnoi, but some, like the Iroquois, maintaining their self-awareness, more or less stable numbers, and the territory they occupy. These ethnoi I call persistent, i.e. that have outlived themselves and are in a phase of homeostasis (equilibrium with their environment). Ethnography knows very many isolated ethnoi that, thanks to their geographical position, have not been drawn into dealings with other ethnoi or have become involved in it only in the past 100 years. Such were the many tribes of Canada before the coming of the fur-trading companies, the Indians of the interior of Brazil before the rubber boom, the Australians until the coming of Europeans, and certain mountain people of the Caucasus (even after the capture of the Gunib plateau of Daghestan by Russian troops). There are many other peoples and tribes with a greater or less degree of isolation not only in India and Africa but even in Europe. But what is very important is that isolates arise under the eyes of the historian. Such are the Icelanders, descendants of the Vikings who settled the island in the ninth century A.D. and who lost the warlike spirit of their forefathers over 300 years. The offspring of Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish vikings and slave girls captured in Ireland, already constituted a small but independent ethnos in the eleventh century that preserved certain traditions of olden times and married within their island.

Absence of frequent intercourse with foreigners inevitably leads to stabilization of the relations within an ethnos. A structure arises that I call 'stagnant', and a 'simplification of the system' takes place in the ethnos. Let me clarify this from an example.

In Ancient Egypt the united Hamite tribes merged into a powerful ethnos and created a ramified social system. In it were the pharaoh and counselors, princes or dukes of nomes and armies, priests and scribes, merchants, farmers, and poor laborers. The system became complicated as clashes occurred with foreigners. The conquests in Nubia and Syria were made by professional soldiers; treaties with Babylon were concluded by experienced diplomats; canals and palaces were built by specialist engineers trained from childhood. The ramified system survived the Hyksos invasion and was revived as if watered by a regenerating power. But from the eleventh century B.C. a process of simplification started, and the resistivity of the system fell. From 950 B.C. power over Egypt fell into the hands of Libyans. In. 715 B.C. dominion passed to Ethiopians, who lost a war with Assyria, and then Asians occupied Egypt, which lost the capacity to defend itself. The Sais dynasty liberated the country but was supported by the spears of Libyans and Hellenes. In 550 B.C. this dynasty fell after which Egypt was successively dominated by Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Arabs, Berbers, and Turks. Of all the social groups only the farmer fellahin and a small handful of Hellenized Coptic townsmen survived by the first century A.D. The fellahin became isolates, and although an active, historical life seethed around them, it had nothing to do with them. They lived in a society not ethnically foreign to them but remained themselves for 2 000 years. We can call that ethnic statics or rest. It means that development so slowed down that it could be ignored in the description.


Statics and dynamics. Let me explain the terms. I conditionally call those peoples whose life cycle is repeated without change in each generation 'static' or 'persistent'. That does not mean, of course, that such peoples do not experience external influences. They often even perish from a change of the environment, as, for example, the Tasmanians, who were wiped out, or the Araucans who were stamped out in Patagonia. Sometimes stable ethnic groups, tribes, or peoples avoid borrowing from their civilized neighbors, but more often they easily adopt what suits them without thereby changing their accustomed rhythm of life. The Algonquian tribes, for example, had already taken the musket into their armament in the seventeenth century, and learned to shoot no worse than the French or English colonists; the Patagonians were converted in one generation in the nineteenth century from hunters on foot to mounted ones; the Tungus mastered matches and iron stoves suitable for their skin tents. But the ethnic image of these peoples remained as it used to be, until the twentieth century. Neither the Algonquians nor the Araucans became French or Spanish.

The problem of 'fathers and sons' always arises among 'dynamic' peoples. The young generation is not like the older one. Ideals, tastes, and customs change, and a category of 'fashion' develop. Along with the appearance of the new there goes a forgetting of the old; these changes are called the development of culture.

Dynamic peoples are also not eternal. They either disappear without trace or, with the passage of a certain cycle of development, are converted into static peoples who in turn, after various transformations, become dynamic, but already different peoples. The disappearance is sometimes linked with the complete death of the people who constitute the ethnos, the survivors being assimilated by neighboring ethnic communities; the people remain but the ethnos as a systems entity disappears. If part of an ethnos is preserved as a relict it will be an isolate.

These examples are clear, but there are such smooth gradations of traditionality that if we distributed all the ethnoi known to us by degree of diminishing conservatism, it would turn out that the zero limit, i.e. the absence of tradition, is not reached by any ethnos, because by then it would have simply ceased to exist, having melted away or been dissolved among neighbors. That phenomenon, though observed from time to time, is never the fruit of the purposive efforts of the ethnic collective itself. Nevertheless ethnoi die. That means there are destructive factors through which this happens. And since no ethnoi are completely isolated from external influences, we must suppose that all ethnoi are mortal. It is most interesting that ethnoi sometimes prefer death to an existence unacceptable to them. Why?

Perhaps it is this right to death that distinguishes an ethnos that is in a state of homeostatic equilibrium with its environment from a population of any species of animal. The death of an ethnos is a breakdown of systems unity, and not total extinction of all the individuals composing it. Although history has preserved shameful pages of the extermination of separate Indian tribes by Americans, and of Hunni by the Chinese, the members of a dying ethnos much more often become part of new, neighboring ethnoi. Ethnic extermination is therefore more a social phenomenon than a biological one.

According to dialectical philosophy death is a necessary moment and the law-governed result of an organism's life activity,

the negation of life as being essentially contained in life itself, so that life is always thought of in relation to its necessary result, death, which is always contained in it in germ. [+23]

This universal law of dialectics operates as well in the processes of ethnogenesis.

Just as a person can be killed at any age, so an ethnogenetic process can be cut short in any phase. It is easier, however, to cut ethnogenesis short either at the commencement when the ethnos has not gathered force, or when it is ending, when this force has already been expended. The level of technique and culture, moreover, is not of great significance, any more than the size of the population. In the fifteenth century the Iroquois created an original, developing form of community life a league of five tribes, a sort of republic. The Nahua were the start of the Aztecs, and the state of Montezuma II can hardly be considered undeveloped from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century (more exactly from 1325 when Tenochtitlan was founded, to 1521 when it was captured by Cortes). These are examples of beginning ethnogenetic processes cut short by blows from outside.

An even more graphic example is the ancient Jews. In the fifteenth century B.C. nomadic tribes the Habiru invaded Palestine and seized a territory on the Jordan. In level of technique and methods of farming, and fighting methods they were indistinguishable from the other Semitic tribes of Syria and Arabia, and behind the peoples of Egypt and Babylonia. But this was a people that was intensively developing on the ethnic plane, and it survived all neighbors, until perishing as an ethnic community under the short swords of Roman infantry. A few saved themselves, finding refuge in Parthia and on the Rhenish frontier of the Roman Empire. But this death coincided (and obviously not by chance) with the ethnic divergence of the Jewish people themselves, when the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes ceased to feel their community and began to see each other either as apostates and traitors (the attitude of the Pharisees and Essenes to the Sadducees) or as savages (the attitude of the Sadducees to the Essenes, or the common people), or as a priestly caste cut off from the people (the attitude of the Sadducees and Essenes to the Pharisees). But in standard of culture the Jews in the first century A.D. were not inferior to either the Romans or the Greeks.

One might think, from these examples, that it was barbarism that had forces within it that vanished with the development of culture. But that point of view finds no support in history. European peoples conquered Africa and South-East Asia in the nineteenth century and created a system of colonial empires that embraced almost the whole land surface of the world at the beginning of the twentieth century. In some cases that can be explained by superiority of military technique, but not always. In India, for example, the Sepoys were armed with British weapons, yet nevertheless were beaten by the British, who were fewer in numbers. The Turkish army was not inferior in quality of weapons in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the Russian and Austrian armies, but Prince Eugene of Savoy and Suvorov proved the victors, in spite of the smallness of their armies and the remoteness of their supply bases. The French conquered Algeria and Annam not so much by better guns as by the celebrated courage and daring of the Zouaves exhibited in the little (anti-guerrilla) war. The Italians, on the contrary, while disposing the most modern weapons, lost the war in 1896 with the Negus Menelik, whose troops were armed with spears and flintlocks, but who were not inferior in the antiquity of their culture to the natives of Italy. That's how it was!

All these conquests were inseparable from the ethnogenetic process in Western Europe, the consequences of which made it possible to create nations and colonial empires already back in feudal times. But the extension of the area of the European ethnoi finished in the twentieth century, and it has become clear that it was an important, bloody, heroic, and contradictory episode (but only an episode and not the pinnacle of evolution) in the history not only of the whole world but of Western Europe itself. The collapse of the colonial empires, that we have been witnesses of, shows that the process of ethnogenesis had passed the phase of flowering, and that history took a former direction, viz., Europe again returned to its geographical frontiers. It is consequently not a matter of level of technique or culture, and it is impossible to build a model of ethnic development on these principles.

No people, no races remain unchanged. Continually they are mixing with others and slowly changing; they may appear to die almost and then rise again as a new , people or just a variation of the old. [+24]

But it remains unclear why isolated ethnoi lose the capacity to resist a hostile environment. In Arnold Toynbee's conception of 'response' to 'challenge', they should give a powerful response to the challenges of an enemy, but they either surrender or take flight and scatter. The transition to homeostasis, which enables an ethnos to exist in isolation, is seemingly linked with loss of some attribute that stimulates its resistance in earlier phases. They remain firm in one thing only, not to admit others into their environment.


Incorporation. The peculiarity of the ethnic phenomenon noted and described explains the difficulties constantly arising during the incorporation of outsiders. It is not sufficient, in order to become part of a foreign ethnos, to desire to do so and simply even for the accepting collective to agree. It is possible to fit beautifully into a foreign medium and still for it not to become one's own.

But entry into a small ethnos living by a natural economy is the most difficult, although there have been exceptions to that. The ethnographer Lewis Henry Morgan, for example, was recognized by Iroquois as one of them, and the French interpreter and fur-trader Etienne Bruld by the Hurons. One could continue with examples, but justice demands that we note that Morgan still remained an American scholar, and Bruld, whose activity stretched from 1609 to 1633, was killed by the chiefs of the tribe after he had set the young men against old customs. V.G. Bogoraz described a 'Russian Chukchi' an orphan boy brought up by Chukchi who did not know Russian. The Chukchi persistently considered him Russian, and he held that opinion as well, himself.

Incorporation, employed for practical purposes since time immemorial has thus always run up against the resistance of a factor lying outside the limits of consciousness and self-awareness, in the field of sensations which, of course, reflect phenomena of nature that are not always correctly interpreted by the apparatus of consciousness. However complicated the problem, I can now conclude that the ethnic phenomenon is material that it exists outside and apart from our consciousness, although it is localized in the activity of our soma and higher nervous activity. It is manifested in nuances of people's character and activity, and is related to ethno-psychology. The latter must not be confused with social psychology, which aspires 'to account for the things that men do in terms of the properties of five functional units act, meaning, role, person, and group'; [+25] 'a social group', moreover, 'may be regarded as consisting of men acting together as a unit', [+26] as participants 'in collective activity,' [+27] the members of a football team, for example, or a 'Lynch court'. Just so, but not an ethnos! And as Shibutani noted:

(The) many European intellectuals who fled to America ... in many cases ... knew more about American history, law, and regional customs than the natives. Yet they frequently found themselves perplexed by the strange reactions they encountered. Using the distinction that William James made famous, the scholars had a 'knowledge of' American life, but they did not have an 'acquaintance with' it. In spite of all they knew, they were unable to understand many simple things that any child reared in the United States could intuitively feel as the proper thing to do. [+28]

It is characteristic, moreover, that some people could settle down in America, while others longed to get away, despite their being well remunerated there.

There are seemingly different degrees of ethnic compatibility. With some incorporation is easy, with others difficult, and with still others impossible. What is the reason for so strange a phenomenon?

There have always been ethnoi since neoanthropes appeared on Earth. And their mode of existence, as the history of mankind shows, is one and the same origination, expansion, loss of a degree of activity, and either disintegration or transition to equilibrium with the environment. This is a typical inertial process of a system that exchanges information and entropy with the medium, always in a special unique way or, one may say, in an original rhythm. It is that which limits incorporation. In order to become truly 'its own', one must be included in the process, i.e. inherit the tradition and ideals of the ethnos, and that is only possible in infancy and when the person being incorporated, moreover, does not know his own true parents. In all other cases incorporation is converted into ethnic contact.


The difference between equilibrium and development. Now let me ask what is the difference between isolated ethnoi and those that are developing rapidly. In the systems of relict ethnoi there is no struggle between members of the ethnos, and when there is rivalry it does not involve death of the loser. Only innovations are hounded that, as a rule, no one wants. But if so, then natural selection, one of the factors of evolution, is snuffed out. There remains an ethnorelief equilibrium on the background of which only social progress or regress is possible. But in the complex, difficult conditions of readaptation and change of stereotype of behavior natural selection arises again, and the population being formed by it either dies or becomes a new ethnos.

The primary classification of ethnoi on the plane of their becoming is thus their division into two types differing sharply from one another in a number of attributes, as shown in Table 1.


Table I


Signs of the Difference between the Persistent and Historical States of an Ethnos



Persistent State

Historical State

Relation between generations The new generation aspires to repeat the preceding one The new generation aspires not to be like the preceding one (the fathers and sons problem)
Attitude to time Cyclic counting of time Linear counting of time
Attitude to nature Economy adapted to the relief Adaptation of the landscape to the needs of the economy
Attitude to neighbors Defense of frontiers, hospitality A striving to extend territory, wars of conquest
Attitude to offspring A striving to limit growth, infanticide A striving to unlimited multiplication
Attitude to religion Genotheism, non-admission of foreigners to their culture Proselytizing and religious intolerance
Attitude to social institutions Authority of elders Institution of power (authority)
Attitude to public affairs Conservation of already formed groups of the population Formation of classes or new tribes
Attitude to other cultures Ignoring of other ideas and borrowing of technique Active assimilation of foreign ideas, adoption or repulsion
Length of the life cycle Limited only by the external influence of elemental or anthropogenic origin Not more than 1500200 years (according to observations)
Ethnogenesis As a result of a long evolutionary process of a historical ethnos As a consequence of mutation and the appearance of a population with an ethnogenic attribute
Relationship Tenure in the historical state is regarded as a senseless, unnatural waste of forces Existence in a persistent state is evaluated as 'uncivilized', 'stagnant', 'inferiority'


The division proposed is based on a principle different from those so far employed (anthropological, linguistic, social, and historico-cultural). The twelve attributes of difference noted in Table 1 are invariant for all ages and territories. Just as in a class society there may be persistent ethnoi so in the gentile system a regrouping of individuals also takes place through which new tribal alliances or military-democratic associations arise. Examples of the first variant can be the inveterate slaveowning relations in Arabia, among Bedouin tribes, in West Africa (in Benin, Dahomey, etc.), among the Tlinkits of north-western America, and among the mountain peoples of the Caucasus before the nineteenth century, who owned male and female Georgian slaves. Hardened feudal relations were observed in the nineteenth century in Tibet, western and north-eastern; in mountain Daghestan, among Yakuts and among Malays. The Iroquois League, on the contrary, which arose in the fifteenth century, is a clear example of the creation of a new ethnos in conditions of pre-class society. The same process took place in the clan state of the Hunni in the third century B.C., and in the military-democratic Turkish Kaghanate ('The Eternal Ehl') in the sixth to eighth centuries A.D. The Celts of the first millennium B.C. undoubtedly constituted an ethnic whole, with a clan system of social relationships. The number of examples can be multiplied, but those given are sufficient. Any division of material in a classification is arbitrary, but that is why it is constructive, because it is defined by the task set by the systematizer. My aim is to establish the place of ethnic forming in diverse observed phenomena. And of course, it turns out that the rise of an ethnos is a rare case on the background of general ethno-relief equilibrium, which cannot be treated as 'backwardness' or 'stagnation' occurring because of the inferiority of the people. All modern 'stagnant' ethnoi developed at some time, and those that are developing now, if they do not disappear, will become 'stable' sometime later.


Ethnogenesis and natural selection. It follows, as a consequence, from the descriptions of the phenomenon of ethnos given above, that social and ethnic processes are different in nature. Coincidence between social and ethnic rhythms is accidental, although it is they that strike one during superficial observation, since interference during phase coincidence increases the effect. The problem facing us has to be formulated as follows: where do the forces that create ethnoi come from? There must have been such forces, because if there were not, then the entropy determined by natural selection, ages ago in the Paleolithic, would have smoothed out all ethnic differences and converted the diversity of the human race into a featureless anthroposphere.

It is usual to say that natural selection must always lead to the survival of individuals better adapted to the struggle for existence. But J.B.S. Haldane noted that this is correct for a rare, dispersed species forced to defend itself from other species and inorganic nature. But as soon as a population becomes dense the separate representatives of the species begin to compete with one another. If even separate individuals prove victorious the struggle itself is biologically harmful for the species. The development of huge horns and spines on males may help them to win personal victories, but it is often the beginning of extinction of the species. [+29]

That point also concerns man, who is a dominant species, the pinnacle and crowning link of the biocoenosis. The struggle of individuals within a species noted by Haldane has nothing in common with the intraspecific struggle for food and transference of its patterns to human society. Something quite different is established here, viz., sharpening of the struggle for predominance in the flock or herd, it being, moreover, not surprisingly, the victors who do not leave offspring. We consequently meet not Darwin's law of survival of the fittest but a kind of excess that is not reflected in the evolution of the collective as a whole. The selection occurring through the clash of adult males or expulsion from the herd of growing young males does not lead to the formation of new populations, but on the contrary is a powerful factor preserving the attributes of the majority of the individuals, including the stereotype of behavior.

This is quite understandable, because each species populating a certain region, is part of its biocoenosis and is adapted to it in the best way. That position is only disturbed when there is a change either of the physical, geographical conditions, for example during a lasting drought or powerful flood when the soil is covered with alluvial deposits, or during migration into the region of other animals that alter the balance of the biocoenosis. All these considerations also apply to man, who is a major predator, and the crowning link of the biocoenosis. But the influence of any exogenic factors does not explain why even in the absence of catastrophes, some ethnoi replace others, leaving as a legacy to posterity only ruins of architecture, fragments of sculpture, fragments of literature, and household vessels, and muddled memories of ancestral glory. Selection obviously has a different significance for man, and that is what Haldane paid great attention to.

Hence biological selection has largely been directed upon those characters which determine that one individual member of a nation shall be represented in the next generation by more children than another.

These characters include resistance to disease and a certain measure of physical vigor. But they do not include a number of the qualities which man himself finds most admirable, or which make for the multiplication of the species as a whole. [+30]

According to Haldane the genes of the martyrs of ideas and science, of bold warriors, poets and artists are met less and less often in succeeding generations. For my analysis what may happen as a result of this for the further fate of an ethnos is important, not of course on the social plane but in the aspect interesting me, i.e. the population, genetic one. Haldane formulated this position as follows:

... natural selection can only act on the variations available, and these are not ... in every direction. ...most mutations lead to a loss of complexity ... or reduction in the size of some organ. ...most evolutionary change has been degenerative. [+31]

A similar conclusion can be reached, employing the method of cybernetics:

Decay of variety. Having... a set of states and one single-valued transformation, we can now ... predict that as time progresses the variety in the set cannot increase and will usually diminish. [+32]

At first glance the thesis demonstrated by Haldane contradicts the school idea of evolution as progressive development. But as soon as we adopt the dialectical method the contradiction disappears like smoke. Species either degenerate or become stabilized and transformed into persistent ones. But new species arise, more perfected than the preceding ones. Yet they yield their place in the sun to whoever follows after them. The reptiles succeeded giant amphibians, and mammals the dinosaurs, and modern man Neanderthal man. And each rise is preceded by a deep fall.

Translating that into the language of ethnology, let us apply it to our material, taking the simplest model, viz., a localized (territorially), closed (genetically), self-forming (socially) ethnic collective.


Altruism or rather anti-egoism. A newborn ethnos is automatically switched into the world historical process as soon as it announces its existence. That means that it begins to interact with neighbors that are always hostile to it. It cannot be otherwise, for the advent of the new, active, and unaccustomed breaks up the already established and accustomed way of life. The riches of the region in which an ethnos is born are always limited. And that applies primarily to stocks of food. It is quite understandable that those who have lived quietly under the established order will not want to cramp their style or yield place to other people, foreign to them, and incomprehensible and unacceptable to them. Resistance to the new will arise as a natural self-defense reaction and will always take acute forms, usually of a war of extermination. For an ethnos to win, or at least to defend itself, an altruistic ethic must arise within it, by which the interests of the collective will become higher than personal ones. [+33] Such an ethic is also observable among gregarious animals, but only in man does it get the significance of the sole species-preserving factor. It always borders on an egoistic ethic in which the personal and the family are put higher than the social, but since the interests of the individual and collective often coincide, acute conflicts seldom arise. From the standpoint of preserving the human analogue of the species taxon, i.e. the ethnos, a combination of both ethical conceptions creates the optimum situation. Functions are divided. The 'altruists' defend the ethnos as a whole, the 'egoists' reproduce it in progeny. But natural selection leads to a reduction of the number of 'altruists', which makes the ethnic collective defenseless and, with the passage of time, the ethnos, deprived of its defenders, is swallowed up by neighbors. And the progeny of the 'egoists' continue to live, but already in the ranks of other ethnoi, remembering the 'altruists' not as their hero-defenders, but as obstinate, willful, difficult people with a bad character.

There can be only one way of testing that formula on historical material and I shall have to speak about it in more detail. Ethics regards a relation of what is to what ought to be, and the ought, like the real or existent, changes in each age. These changes are always distinctly registered by the authors of sources who in other respects shamelessly distort the facts. They are sincere in that, because they are describing the ideal rather than reality, an ideal that seems to them beyond doubt in each case. We can therefore employ historiography and even the literature of the past in order to fix a change in the behavioral imperative, taking them not as a source of information but as a fact subject to critical investigation, and to establish thereby how the process really went. As an example let me take some completed stretch of the history of a nationality (not of a state, and not of political institutions, and not of socio-economic relations, but precisely of an ethnos), that is quite familiar to the reader, and briefly examine its phases. A convenient example is a city-state-Ancient Rome. If we disregard the mythical, and therefore unreliable period of the kings, we can easily trace the evolution of the relations of the 'altruists' and the 'egoists' from the first secession (the withdrawal of the plebs to Mons Sacer, after which followed their compromise with the patricians) which determined the character of the social system, to the edict of Caracalla (recognition of provincials, subjects of Rome, as Romans), i.e. from 494 B.C. to A.D. 212. That had already been done in antiquity, incidentally, by Roman historians, who called the process 'the decline of morals'.

In the first period, to the end of the Punic Wars, there was no lack of heroes ready to die for the patria, as the authors of the sources report. Quintus Mucius Scaevola, Alarcus Atilius Regulus, Lucius Quinctius Cincinatus, Emilio Paolo, and a host like them, probably, were largely made a patriotic legend, but it is important that it was precisely such personalities that served as the ideal of behavior. During the civil wars the position was drastically altered. The heroes became the leaders of parties: Marius or Sulla, Pompey, Crassus or Caesar, Sertorius, Brutus or Octavian. They no longer gave their lives for the patria but risked life in the interests of their party and with certain profit for themselves. During the Principate, too, there were no few intrepid and energetic figures, but they all acted openly in their personal interests, and that was perceived by public opinion as proper and even as the sole possible behavior. Emperors and generals were now praised for conscientious performance of their duties, i.e. for absence of dishonesty and senseless cruelty, but that meant, of course, that they were perceived as 'rational egoists', because it was profitable to them themselves. The parties of the optimates (patricians) and of the plebs receded into the past and groups of certain legions came to the fore, for example, Syrian, Gallic, Pannonian, etc., who fought among themselves exclusively for power and money. Under the Severan dynasty the ideal of force and profit triumphed; it was not accidental that the Roman ethnos, called the Populus Romanus, melted away at that time among the peoples it had conquered.

We see a similar picture in Europe in the Middle Ages, when the most urgent task was the war against the Muhammedans. The heroes of the first epic poems-Roland and El Cid Campeador were paladins of Christianity. In fact Roland was the historical count of the Breton Marches and was killed by Basques and not by Moors; El Cid was simply an unprincipled adventurer. Nevertheless the ideals were altruistic and heroic. In the second period the hero did not forget himself. Such were Cortes and Pizarro, Vasco da Gama and Albuquerque, Francis Drake and Juan of Asturias. No one held it against them that they, though men of courage, were frankly selfish. On the contrary, that even evoked admiration and approval. Time passed, and the mercenary soldier, for whom only his own skin was important, became a hero, although one must give him his due for wit, self-control, and self-possession. As we see, the ideal varying in a certain direction, is an indicator of shifts in the social subconscious, because the attitude of an author to a hero is emotional and, consequently, deliberate lying is ruled out. But the social subconscious reflects a deeper essence, viz., a change of the stereotype of behavior that is the real basis of the ethnic nature of human collective being.

But it is impossible in that connection not to take the sphere of the conscious into account, because only consciousness makes it possible to find the optimum decision in a situation that cannot help being acute. Until a new ethnic system is formed and while inertia is accumulating, the process may be disrupted by outside interference; consequently, there is no room for determinacy (fatalism).


The extermination of relict ethnoi. With such a posing of the matter one can answer why ethnoi die out and, moreover, so frequently that not one of those recorded at the beginning of written history, in the third millennium B.C., remains, and of those that lived and acted at the beginning of our era, there remain rare units. It is all the more necessary, since indirect descendants of the ancient Romans, Hellenes, and Assyrians, changed out of all recognition, still live but are no longer Romans, Hellenes, or Assyrians, because they have borrowed only the gene fund from their ancestors. Let me take an example from paleontology which is also concerned with the problem of the extinction of biological taxons (it is not essential in principle what the magnitude of the studied object is). The process of dying out, it seems, should have a pattern.

At first glance it may seem that the least developed species, and consequently the least adapted to the natural situation of past eras, are the survivors, while the old kings of life the dinosaurs, mastodons, saber-tooth tigers, cave bears, and cave lions disappeared completely, although they had no worthy rivals. The extinction of species went hand in hand with a gradual reduction of their area and with the rivalry of neighboring species that dislodged the doomed one from the biochore. But it remains unclear what this 'doom' consisted in. Without straining to solve the paleobiological problem, I can say that in ethnology it lies in the structure of an ethnos. Other conditions being equal (numbers, technique, etc.), complication of the structure increases resistance to a hostile environment, while simplification reduces it. That is why physically and intellectually sound peoples, for example Indians or Polynesians, proved helpless compared with colonizers who were by no means the best representatives of their peoples. The greatest danger, both for an ethnos and for nature, is thus neighbors that have not lost, during development, the capacity to adapt and therefore extend their area. Without the appearance of such an enemy a relict ethnos can exist for an unlimited time. But the death of developing ethnoi is not excluded (right down to complete annihilation), if they come up against the irresistible resistance of more rapacious neighbors. Let us limit ourselves to one striking example, the Turks (Turkuts) of the sixth to eighth centuries A.D.

From A.D. 550 to 581 a small Altaic ethnos, the Turkuts, established their domination over the whole Great Steppe from China to the Don, and from Siberia to Iran. The system called the 'Eternal Ehl' was flexible and ramified. The steppe and mountain tribes had their place in it and also the inhabitants of the Sogdian oases and of the then broad lower reaches of the Volga, merchants and shepherds, Buddhists and Fire-worshipers, together with the Turkic warriors themselves who honored 'the Blue Sky and the Black Earth'. But China, united by the Sui Dynasty (A.D. 589-618), and the victorious T'ang Dynasty (A.D. 619-907), was stronger and more aggressive. The Chinese could not break the Turks' resistance by military force, but they managed by diplomacy to divide the united Kaghanate into Western and Eastern, and then to isolate the steppe-dwellers from the oases of the Tarim basin, which they occupied, and from Sogdiana, fallen victim to the Arabs; then the Chinese rose Uighurs, Karluks, and Basmali against the Turks, and managed to defeat the Turkish horde in A.D. 747, the victors taking no prisoners. But the Chinese themselves accepted the Turkish fugitives and enrolled them in their border troops. The 'fortunates' were killed in A.D. 756-763, having taken part in An Lushan's uprising against the despotism of the Chinese bureaucracy. The steppe Uighurs and Tibetan hillmen opposed the mutineers, as well as the Chinese, so that there was nowhere to flee to. The isolated, and in that way simplified system perished. Everywhere that similar collisions have been observed, the mechanism of the process has remained unchanged.


Ethnic Contacts


The hierarchy of ethnic taxonomy. All the examples I have cited show that superethnoi are not the arbitrary generalizations of historians but entities no less real than ethnoi although having certain original features that I shall draw attention to below. For the present let me say that a superethnos, like an ethnos, is a systems entity of a higher order than an ethnos. The existence of an even higher form, the hyperethnic, is possible, i.e. of a formation of several superethnoi that oppose themselves to another group. But this is usually ephemeral and there is no need for my purposes to study this level.

Ethnic systematics differs, of course, from social classification. They only rarely coincide. The need for the one or the other depends on the aspect of the investigation, i.e. on the angle from which the chain of historical events is examined. And this angle is determined by the task set by the investigator, who selects a degree of approximation serving his purposes. The fact that this task has been repeatedly posed and has not received a satisfactory answer (Vico, Spengler, Toynbee) should not deter the investigator from continuing attempts at empirical generalization, however difficult they may be. Unlike some authors, who have inquired into how this process goes, I have the possibility of answering what precisely is subject to change, although I get a fundamentally one-sided model that characterizes only certain aspects of the phenomena. But the creation of conceptions underlies any historical interpretation, which distinguishes history ('the search for truth') from the chronicle or a simple enumeration of events. I start from the varied material accumulated by historical science, so that the object of study becomes the system of phases of ethnogenesis at one level or another and in one definite epoch or another, and not Spengler's 'lan' or Arnold Toynbee's 'intelhgible field of study'. For the following epochs proceeding in historical time, the arrangement of the components will already be different.

Now we can construct an ethnic hierarchy in general form, and at the same time make the meaning of the terms more precise.

Anthroposphere the biomass of all human organisms. [+34]

Ethnosphere the mosaic anthroposphere [+35] + the sociosphere, i.e. a combination of ethno-relief systems entities, which are always dynamic.

Superethnos a group of ethnoi arising simultaneously in a region and exhibiting itself in history as a mosaic entity.

Ethnos a stable collective of people that counterposes itself to all other collectives and has a peculiar, original structure that changes regularly in historical time. More precise definition: a dynamic system arising naturally in Earth's biosphere and changing through the phases of ethnogenesis.

Subethnos an element of the structure of an ethnos interacting with other elements. With simplification of the ethnosystem in the phase of decline the number of subethnoi is reduced to one, which becomes relict.


Taxonomic units of one order:

Consortium a group of people united by one historical fate or destiny; it either breaks up or passes into a convicinity.

Convicinity a group of people united by a way of life of one character and by family connections; it sometimes passes into a subethnos. It is not recorded by history but by ethnography.


Having agreed to understand by ethnogenesis not simply its initial, starting moment (the appearance of an ethnos on the arena of history), but the whole course of the forming of an ethnos to the end (about which I shall speak below), one can give the following definition: any directly observed ethnos is some one phase of ethnogenesis. And ethnogenesis is a deep-seated process in the biosphere observable only through its interaction with the social form of the motion of matter, i.e. the external manifestations of ethnogenesis accessible to study have a social character.

And that poses the main question, viz., why do the processes of ethnogenesis arise that generate the ethnoi studied by ethnographers. According to a widely held point of view new ethnoi arise through close living together, as a consequence of mutual assimilation of primary ethnic substrata. [+36] But, like all banal conceptions, it crumbles under an elementary check. The French and the Germans have lived in neighborhood on the banks of the Rhine for more than a thousand years, profess one religion, employ identical everyday objects, study each other's language, but have not merged, just the same as the Austrians and the Hungarians and Czechs, and as the Spanish and the Catalonians and Basques. One could continue with examples.

A merging of ethnoi in one region takes place sometimes, very rarely but the merged ethnoi then disappear, and in their place a new one appears dissimilar to either of them. At first the members of the new ethnos cannot vet get used to their distinctiveness, but in the second or third generation they note their difference from their ancestors. This phenomenon cannot be considered the result of mutual assimilation since it does not always occur and happens very quickly, almost explosively. Some kind of supplementary factor that we have to discover is required for their origin.

Apart from the mode of origin of ethnoi described, there is another, not like the first. Often, as a result of historical upheavals, a group of people hives off and changes its place of residence. In the course of time these people work out a new stereotype of behavior and lose their link with the metropolis. These groups sometimes fall to pieces but frequently, by intermarrying with aborigines or other settlers, they form an independent ethnos.

Examples of the second variant are the Americans of Anglo-Saxon origin who broke their ties with the English at the end of the eighteenth century, the descendants of the Spanish conquistadors or Creoles, the Boers, grandsons and great-grandsons of Dutch, French, and North-German peasants, the Buryats Mongols who at the general assembly in 1688 preferred alliance with Russians to submission to Manchus and similar groups, cut off from the main ethnos by the vicissitudes of fate. It is easy, and very necessary, to note that the genesis of both varieties is different, and the character of the variability has nothing in common in the two variants. In the second case the newly appearing ethnos remains within the orbit of its culture, only acquiring a local peculiarity. In the first case there is a quite new phenomenon that retains the institutions of the peoples giving rise to it, as survivals or borrowings. Obviously, the first variant is genuine ethnogenesis, i.e. the birth of new peoples, while the second is only the reproduction of existing peoples. I shall therefore, in what is to come, speak only of the first variant, and in so far as history is the science of events, and the events happen through collisions during the contacts, it is the contacts that must be given predominant attention. I have already touched on this theme, but not sufficiently.


Contacts at different levels. Returning to the problem of ethnic contacts, it is necessary first of all, to pose the question of the level at which the contacts are made (see Table 2). A combination of two or more consortia and convicinities is not stable. It leads either to break-up or to the formation of a lasting form of subethnos. The problem of intermarriage is treated here as 'unequal marriage' with someone 'not of our circle', the rung of the social ladder often having no significance. Thus, Cossacks still regarded marriage with peasants, and even with gentry, in the nineteenth century as 'unequal', although the gentry were often richer and more noble than the Cossacks. I have heard a maxim, coming originally, it would seem, from the Time of Troubles [+37]: 'It says in the Scriptures: Yids do not consort with Samaritans, and Cossacks with gentry'. Of course there is none of that in any 'Scriptures', but how alike that is to the attitude of Kurds to Persians and Armenians. The poor Kurdish shepherd will not decide to present a Persian wife to his relatives unless she is known to have a splendid genealogy. The Albanians maintained themselves that way in the Ottoman Empire, the Basques in Spain, the Scottish Highlanders in Great Britain, the Pathans in the Hindu-Kush. They formed stable ethnic entities with other subethnoi on a basis of symbiosis, reinforced by endogamy. In the central part of Eurasia forms of the symbiosis of ethnoi have been very clearly manifested since remote antiquity. The ethnoi occupied different topographical regions that corresponded to their cultural and economic habits, and did not disturb but helped one another. So the Yakuts settled in the broad flood plain of the Lena, while the Evenks lived in the watershed massifs of the taiga. The Great Russians settled along the valleys of rivers, leaving the steppeland spaces to the Kazakhs and Kalmycks, and the heart of the forest to the Ugric peoples. The more complex and ramified such an ethnic entity was, the stronger and more resistant it was.


Table 2


The Ethnic Hierarchy


Taxonomic Unit Hybrid Direction of Development Limit of Formativeness
Consortium Unstable combination Toward a social institution Convicinity
Convicinity Altered combination Toward a territorial community Subethnos
Subethnos Symbiosis* Toward ethnic self-assertion Ethnos
Ethnos Xenia** Creation of a social organism Conservation of structure
Superethnos Chimera*** Annihilation**** Relict*****
Mankind Hypothetical cross-breeding with Paleoanthrops in the Mesolithic on Mt. Carmel Ethnogenesis ?
Hominids ? Evolution, as phyloogenesis Disappearance of species


* Symbiosis - coexistence in which the symbionts benefit one another.

** Xenia (Gr. xenos a guest) in geology xenolith, a piece of rock which has been incorporated in a rock and either congealed in it, or converted into a contact hybrid formation.

*** Chimera - a mythical animal with a lion's head, the body of a goat, and the tail of a dragon, an inorganic combination of different ethnoi.

**** Annihilation ( phys.) conversion into nothing; the phenomenon of the conversion of elementary particles of different sign into another form of matter, e.g. into light, with loss of mass.

***** Relict (Lat. relictus) - a survivor or surviving trace.


The combination of two or more ethnoi in a single social organism is another matter. The character of a social organism of this or another kind puts its stamp on the interaction of the mixed ethnoi which, forced in some cases to five in one region, reconcile themselves to the fact of coexistence but cannot help being oppressed by one another. One can call them xenias. Belgium is one such, where Walloons and Flemings were pushed close together like the tenants in shared accommodation. Such is Canada, where English-speakers, French, Franco-Indian metises, and now, too, Slavs, coexist but do not merge and do not share functions, which is inherent in symbiosis. A similar situation in Scandinavia was ended with the separation of Norway from Sweden, which was to the benefit of both.

The contact of two or more superethnoi, however, is even more painful. Then not only does ethnic annihilation occur, but also a demographic decline, or to put it bluntly dying out because of intolerable conditions or physical extermination of the weak party. Such situations arose in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the USA (the shooting of Indians with payment for scalps), in Brazil during the rubber boom, in Australia during its annexation by the British, and in the valley of the Yellow River where the civilization of ancient China came up against the culture of the ancient tribes of Tanguts. No Tanguts remained.

But at the same time whole periods are observed in history of the coexistence of superethnoi, not always peaceful but also not mutually exterminating. And sometimes subethnoi in one ethnic entity waged murderous wars on one another, finding (and sometimes not) an excuse for hatred. Let us take the clearest examples and examine how that came about. Can the history of states provide an exhaustive explanation of the course of events?


The relation of ethnic entities of different orders. The division of ethnoi proposed is very useful not only for contemporary but also for historical ethnography. I shall try to demonstrate that from the example of an age well studied and long past, namely, the twelfth century in Eurasia, and as a partial example, Old Rus about which there have been so many disputes and which is counted by the banal and therefore commonly held division, as both 'West' and 'East'. That quite irrational division was born in the superethnic entity of the Romano-German world, ideologically united by the Roman Church and by its counterposing of itself to all the rest. In short, it is a Philistine Eurocentrism that had sense in the Middle Ages but which exists even now in Western Europe and its transatlantic continuation America. If we take the western 'Christian World' as a superethnic standard, its equivalents will be the 'Levant' or the 'World of Islam', an entity by no means religious but rather ethno-cultural, stretching from Spain to Kashgar; India, with the exception of that part where Muslims predominate; China, which considered itself the 'Middle Empire' with a barbarian periphery; Byzantium, the eastern Christian entity whose political boundaries were always narrower than superethnic; the Celtic world, defending its original traditions against English feudal lords until the fourteenth century; the Baltic Slavonic-Lithuanian pagan entity, which was becoming a relict in the twelfth century; the East European superethnic entity the Russian land. I shall concentrate on the last-named, but will treat its ethnic fate on the background of the interweaving of the conflicts of all the other superethnoi named above, because isolation was only possible in Eurasia for the superethnos of the circumpolar peoples of Siberia, and it, too, was often disturbed now by the Evenks, now by the Yakuts.

When the Slavs made their appearance in Eastern Europe, we know, they were divided into tribes that were still preserved at the beginning of the twelfth century only in the memory of the authors of the 'Initial Annals'. That was natural. Ethnic integration was proceeding intensively around the big towns, in which the former tribal differences were losing their significance in the new conditions. A.N. Nasonov has described Rus of the eleventh and twelfth centuries as a system of 'semi-states', standing on a lower scale than the 'Russian land' [+38]: (1) the Novgorod Republic and its environs; (2) the Duchy of Polotsk; (3) the Duchy of Smolensk; (4) the Rostov-Suzdal land; (5) the Duchy of Ryazan; (6) the Turov-Pinsk land; (7) the Russian land, including the three duchies or principalities of Kiev, Chernigov, and Pereyaslavi; (8) Volhynia; (9) Red Rus or the Duchy of Galicia. One must add to that list the Polovitsian steppe between the Don and the Carpathians, captured by Vladimir Monomakh, but Great Bulgar (Bolgar), the Transdon nomadic Polovtsy, the Alan lands in the North Caucasus, and Volgan Khazaria and the town of Saxin lay beyond the Russian frontier of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

The Bulgars and Khazars belonged at that time to the Levantine or Muslim superethnos. They did not differ from their neighbors in their mode of adaptation to their country. But Bulgar's systematic trade and cultural relations with Iran were more effective than the influence of the geographical environment, and it was they which made Great Bulgar an outpost of the 'Muslim' superethnos and an opponent of the Dukes of Vladimir.

Following the principle I have adopted and observed, we could put the Alans and the Crimean Goths in the Byzantine superethnos, and the Lithuanians, Letts, and Yatvyags in the Baltic. The Poles and Magyars had already become part of the West-European superethnos in the tenth century, and the victory of the German Crusaders over the Slavs of the Elbe converted Catholic Western Europe into a monolithic domain culturally, although a mosaic ethnically, which was on the rise in the twelfth century and persistently, though not always successfully, was expanding its area, which led to a crisis in the thirteenth century, namely defeat of the Crusades.

Descending to a lower order, i.e. to one of the Russian subethnoi, say to Kiev, we find three active consortia there: the western, supporters of Duke Svyatopolk II, including the Kiev-Pechery Monastery; the Grecophile, supporters of Vladimir Monomakh and the Metropolis, with its see in St. Sophia; and the national, suffering heavily for sympathy with Vseslav after his banishment from Kiev.

It will readily be noted that a consortium does not coincide with class, estate, religious, and tribal divisions, being an independent system of reference. But this system is very useful because it is through it that we can catch the motives of the actions of supporters of the political trends listed above. That cannot be done by analyzing the class contradictions, because all the participants in the events belonged to the same class, but they drew strength from their sympathizers within the people. The struggle, nevertheless, was active and violent. Why? And for what?


Ethnoi always arise from contacts. How do superethnoi differ? And what prevents them from merging with one another or inheriting the wealth of their predecessors? For the ethnoi within a superethnos often merge without impediment. This heightened stability of superethnoi may be due to the existence of ethnic dominants, i.e. of verbal expressions of certain ideals that have a uniform meaning in each superethnos and a similar semantic dynamic for all the ethnoi included in the system. The ideal may be changed hypocritically, but then the merging of superethnoi would be illusory. Each member of the different superethnoi would be left in the depths of his soul with what seems natural to him and solely correct. For the given ideal seems, to its follower, not so much an indicator as a symbol of his life assertion. So I call the dominant the phenomenon or set of phenomena (religious, ideological military, everyday, etc.) that determines the transition to purposeful uniformity of the ethnocultural diversity that is the starting point for the process of ethnogenesis.

Remember, the phenomenon of an ethnos is concentrated in the behavior of the individuals that make it up, and not in the soma or in the genotype. In other words, it is not in the bodies of people but in their acts and relationships. Consequently no one is outside an ethnos, except the newborn infant. Everybody must be able to behave in some way, and it is the character of his behavior that determines his ethnic affiliation. That being so, the rise of a new ethnos is the creation of a new stereotype of behavior different from the preceding one. It is quite evident that the new stereotype is created by people, but perplexities immediately arise here. (1) Do these innovators operate consciously or unconsciously? (2) Is the new always better than the old? (3) How do the innovators manage to break the inertia of tradition, even not in fellow-tribesmen but in themselves, since they are flesh and blood of the former ethnos? These doubts are not resolvable theoretically, but material from paleoethnographic observations comes to the rescue, enabling us to formulate an empirical generalization: every ethnos develops from a combination of two or more ethnic substrata, i.e. ethnoi that existed before it.

Modern Spaniards, for example, developed into the ethnos that carries this name, relatively late, in the Middle Ages, from a combination of ancient Iberians, Celts, Roman colonists, German tribes (Suevi and Visigoths), in which were mixed Basques (direct descendants of the Iberians), Alans (descendants of the Sarmatians, very close relatives of Ossetians), Semitic Arabs, Moors and Hamitic Tuaregs, Normans, and Catalonians (who partially retained their distinguishing ethnic features).

The English are a compound ethnos of Angles, Saxons, Celtic females, whose husbands were killed in battles, Danes, Norwegians, and Western Frenchmen from Anjou and Poitou.

The Great Russians include Eastern Slavs from Kievan Rus, Western Slavs (Vyatichi), Finns (Merya, Muroma, Vesi, Chuds), Ugrians (who mixed first with the Finnish tribes listed), Balts (Golyads), Turks (baptized Polovtsy and Tatars), and a small number of Mongols.

The ancient Chinese were a mixture of many tribes of the valley of the Huangho who belonged to various anthropological types of Mongoloids and even Europeoids (the Di people). There is a similar picture in Japan, where tall Mongoloids similar to Polynesians, short Mongoloids from Korea, Australoid Aini, and immigrants from China merged in remote antiquity into a monolithic ethnos.

Even the non-numerous, isolated ethnoi whose history is lost in the haze of the centuries preserve past differences of ethnic substrata in relict anthropological and linguistic features. Such are the Eskimos and the inhabitants of Easter Island, the Mordovians and Mari people, the Evenks, and the Pathans of the slopes of the Hindu-Kush. In antiquity these were ethnic collectives of a complex composition, and the uniformity now observed is the fruit of protracted ethnogenetic processes that smoothed away the roughnesses of different traditions.

But surely that contradicts the descriptions just made of the destructive mixing of ethnoi remote from one another? Yet both the first observation and the second are indisputable! Could a conclusion that contains an inner contradiction be true? Only in one case if we have not made allowance for some very important detail, some 'X' factor, without discovery of which it is impossible to solve the problem. Let us therefore move ahead by trial and error so as to find a non-contradictory version that explains all the known facts.


Factor X. Let me test yet another proposition. Perhaps an instantaneous leap, and not a protracted process, is the cause of the formation of a new ethnos? We can only test that on examples from modern history, events that have been quite adequately described. Take the history of Latin America. The Spanish conquistadors were cruel in battle, but saw the Indians as worthy opponents and not as a 'lower race'. The surviving Indian chiefs were baptized and taken into their milieu, while the simple Indians were made peons on haciendas. So, over 200 years, the population of Mexico and Peru was built up; in the mountains, however, and in the tropical forests, pure Indian tribes survived. The slave-traders brought Negroes to America. The absence of racism led to the appearance of mulattos and samboes (a Negro-Indian cross). When, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a struggle arose for independence from metropolitan Spain, occupied by the French, the majority of the leaders of the insurrectionary movement were not Spaniards but metises or mulattos. [+39] General Bolivar himself said of this as follows in 1819:

We should present our people not as European nor as North Americans but rather as a compound of Africa and America than as an emanation of Europe; certainly as regards their institutions and by their character. It is impossible to rightly say to what human family we belong. Most of the natives were destroyed, the European mixed with the American and the African, and the latter mixed with the Indian and the European. We were all born from the womb of the same mother, our fathers were different in origin and blood, were foreigners and differed visibly in epidermis. [+40]

And this people, taking shape before the eyes of historians, has proved very stable and dissimilar to other neighboring peoples. The inhabitants of Venezuela and Colombia were copies of Spaniards in all their outward attributes-language, culture, religion, etc. Economically they only lost, replacing Spanish protectionism by dependence on British and North American trading companies. The war for independence was fought with such bitterness that it cost a million lives in a thinly populated country, as many as all the Napoleonic wars in densely populated Europe. But in the eyes of the insurgents all the victims were justified by their not being Spaniards and that they consequently should live separately. It is interesting that at the same time the Indians supported the Spanish government. So a crossbred origin did not prevent the creation of monolithic ethnoi.

But was it so? For we know that among animals crossbred forms are often unstable and usually lack the specialized capacities of both parents, making this good in the first generation by heightened vigor, which often falls off in subsequent generations. The offspring of mixed marriages either revert to one of the original types (paternal or maternal), or die out, because adaptation to some one environment takes several generations to develop. It is a tradition, but a mixture of two traditions in one organism creates an unstable genotype.

So it happens in the majority of cases among animals, and possibly sometimes among people, but if that had always been so, not a single new ethnos would have arisen, and mankind, which has practiced mixed marriages from time immemorial would already have degenerated in the early Neolithic. In actual fact not very many ethnic groups have disappeared from the ethnographic map, and the human race as a species is developing so intensively that the increase of population is now called a demographic explosion. Clearly, there is a factor that offsets the destructive influence of natural selection and the stabilizing role of signal inheritance or tradition. This X-factor should manifest itself in changes of behavior and be perceived by people themselves as a peculiarity of the psychic structure. It is this attribute, consequently, that arouses and stimulates the process of ethnogenesis. By finding the X-factor, and disclosing the content of the unknown attribute, we shall clarify the mechanism of the process of each separate ethnogenesis and of the whole aggregate of them.

In order to achieve my purpose, I need an abundance of verified and strictly dated material from the universal history of mankind. If we process it by the techniques employed in the natural sciences we shall be able to get data for tackling my problem; at present, however, I shall limit myself to answers to puzzles that can be formulated as follows: (1) a new stereotype of behavior cannot be invented, because if some crank set himself such an aim, he himself would all the same be behaving according to the old, accustomed stereotype, at best adapted to the conditions of the existence of the ethnic collective. To get outside the ethnos is the same as to pull yourself from a bog by the hair of your head; as we know, only Baron Munchausen was able to do that.

(2) Since a new stereotype of behavior arises through peoples' instinctive activity, it is senseless to ask whether it is better or worse. There is no scale of comparison. It is simply different.

(3) But if it is impossible to break the everyday tradition of an ethnic image, and there is no need for anyone to want to do so consciously, it will obviously happen by virtue of a special coincidence of circumstances. Which ones? That is what we have to find an answer to!




[+19] A.Thierry. Letter No. 12. Lettres sur l'histoire de France, pp 169-172.

[+20] All West Europeans were called 'Franks' in the thirteenth century in the Near East.

[+21] A.E. Bertels. Nasir-i-Khosrov i ismailism (Nasir-i-Khosrov and Ismailism), Moscow, 1959, pp 202-247.

[+22] The population of the Near East who speak Arabic are now called Arabs. That is incorrect. The majority of the population of Syria, Iran, and North Africa are a mixture of ancient ethnoi in the zone of contact. The descendants of the true Arabs are the Bedouins of Saudi Arabia.

[+23] Frederick Engels. Dialectics of Nature. Translated by Clements Dutt, with a preface and notes by J.B.S. Haldane, F.R.S. Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1940, p 164.

[+24] Jawaharlal Nehru. The Discovery of India. Asia Publishing House, Bombay, Calcutta, New Delhi, 1964, p 56.

[+25] Tamotsu Shibutani. Society and Personality. Prentice-Hall, Inc., New York, 1961, p 25.

[+26] Ibid., p 33.

[+27] Ibid., p 34.

[+28] Ibid., p 44.

[+29] J.B.S. Haldane. The Causes of evolution. Longmans, Green & Co., London, New York, Toronto, 1932, pp 139-140.

[+30] Ibid., pp 128-129

[+31] Ibid., p 139.

[+32] W.Ross Ashby. An Introduction to Cybernetics. Chapman & Hall Ltd., London, 1956, p 136.

[+33] In introducing the concepts 'altruism' and 'egoism' I do not attach any qualitative value to them. 'Good' and 'bad' have no connection with them, as will be seen subsequently. The use of ordinary words as scientific terms is only justified by the need to help the reader understand the construction of the concepts as such. 'Altruism' is more exactly 'anti-egoism'.

[+34] An established term but one that has no Perspective without understanding of the problem.

[+35] 'Mosaicism' suggests the existence of a structural articulation in the anthroposphere along the ethnic principle.

[+36] R.F. Its. Vvedenie v etnografiyu (introduction to Ethnography), Nauka, Leningrad, 1974, pp 43-46.

[+37] The Time of Troubles (Smutnoe vremya) a term signifying the events of the end of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in Russia.

[+38] A.N. Nasonov. 'Russkaya Zemlya' i obrazovanie territorii drevnerusskogo gosudarstva (The 'Russian Land' and the Formation of the Territory of the Old Russian State), Izdatelstvo Akademii Nauk SSSR, Moscow, 1951.

[+39] I. Lavretski. Simon Bolivar. Editorial Progress, Moscow, 1982, p 80.

[+40] Ibid., p 89.


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