Nok Steel: A Map of the Month Timeline

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Jonathan Edelstein, Jun 30, 2014.

  1. Russian woolly rhinoceros

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    That's a pity. That would be interesting to see how the "Nok culture civilizations" interacted with Carthage and Rome. That's the most exciting aspect for me. If we had prosperous civilizations on both sides of Sahara that would lead to better exploration and development of the region. Considering the gold resources of West Africa and other mineral and natural riches the history of this part of the world would change tremendously.
     
  2. Moonstruck Exasperated Cultist

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    Depending on how exactly trans-Saharan exchanges work out - which I know absolutely nothing about - I think that the existence of anything recognizable as 'Carthage' is far from sure. Indeed, just by merit of the PoD being as early as it is, the classical Mediterranean as a whole may well be far removed from anything with which we're familiar.
     
  3. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

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    [​IMG]

    The early 14th century BC brought with it the first Nok name we can be reasonably sure is historical: Inadese the Conqueror. His tomb is the first one built in the religious capital of Duwa, on what is known as the Avenue of Kings. He was buried with several terra-cotta statues that are almost certainly of him, so we even have some idea of what he looked like, albeit in a highly stylized fashion. His life and deeds, however, are less certain.

    According to legend, Inadese was born in Duwa about 1420 BC. His family was prominent in village society and ranked as kingmakers, but they had never been kings themselves. At his birth – or so the story goes – it was prophesied that he would become king and outdo not only his own ancestors but all the ancestors of the Nok. Such a mighty prophecy, confirmed by the secret society and by signs from the shadowy creator-deity himself, was something the people of Duwa could hardly ignore, and at the age of two, he was acclaimed by the kingmakers as heir to the monarchy.

    At nineteen, when the old king died, Inadese came into his own. He had spent the intervening time training as a warrior, a priest and a blacksmith, and was accounted a great magician. It is said that he forged enchanted swords that no army could withstand, and that he could inspire warriors to feats of courage never before witnessed. By the age of thirty, he had united the Jos Plateau, and was formally elected its ruler by a council of kingmakers made up of the former hill-fort kings: thus his famous announcement that “the kings have become kingmakers, but a kingmaker is their king.”

    Much of this is no doubt mythical gloss – but archaeological evidence indicates that the plateau was united sometime between 1400 and 1350, and that Duwa steadily gained importance compared to the other hill-forts. There were improvements in ironworking during this period, enabling more soldiers to be equipped with metal weapons, although it is unlikely that they were invented by Inadese himself: more probably, his innovation involved forming the village raiding parties into a disciplined army. The battlefield at Aduna, excavated in the early twentieth century, shows evidence of military formations and standard equipment, with most of the army still armed with stone spears and axes but the front rank of soldiers each carrying an iron sword and three throwing-spears. This sort of organization could easily have overwhelmed undisciplined village warriors, and after the first few conquests, the sheer size of Inadese’s kingdom no doubt made further victories easier.

    In time, of course, others would copy Inadese’s tactics, and scattered resistance appears to have continued for some time. The next two rulers are also credited with conquests, indicating either that Inadese failed to unite the entire plateau or that rebellions occurred under his successors. The Tale of Kings records dissension among the college of kingmakers at the investiture of the second and rhird rulers, and they may have had to subdue dissident factions afterward. Not until after 1350 can we be sure that the Jos Plateau was a single polity. But by that time it was already evolving from a tributary empire to an organized state.

    The fourth ruler, Tunde the Great, is credited with establishing a bureaucracy: although the beginnings of one existed before, he was the king who formalized the early system of bureaucrat-griots. These were a corps of men – and, exceptionally, women – loyal only to the king, who acted simultaneously as tax assessors, judges and historians. In a preliterate age, they were drawn from the class of poets, who were the only ones whose memories were considered up to the task. This made the griots politically powerful, but also brought them under royal patronage; from this point, legends tend more and more to glorify the monarchy. And as royal power grew, election became more of a formality: Tunde’s successor was his son rather than than the most powerful of the kingmakers, and by the end of the 14th century, it is possible to speak of a dynasty.

    As the king’s power waxed, so too did the royal seat. In 1400 BC, Duwa had perhaps 1100 people; by 1300, it was a true city with a population between 8000 and 10,000. The cult of the nameless creator-deity was there – a cult that could only be carried on by the secret society, because worship of the creator was not for the people – as well as the more public cults of the various guardian deities and divine ancestors. Even the hill-forts’ and villages’ tutelary spirits were worshiped in Duwa as the state became more centralized, and evidence of pilgrimage exists from about 1320.

    Not all the pilgrims, even, came from the Jos Plateau. By this time, the Early Nok traders were ranging throughout the lower Niger and exploring far up the river. This coincided with increasing use of the hardy West African ponies, which were too small to ride but could serve as effective pack animals. [1] By 1340, they reached the bend of the Niger and traded with the tribes who mined salt in the deep desert. Salt proved to be a commodity as dear as iron itself, and the “Salt Road” became an established route with the beginnings of way stations and towns at strategic points.

    It was shortly after this, around 1320 to 1290 BC, that an unnamed smith in Duwa (although the deed has been attributed to various gods) learned to make primitive carbon steel using lignite purchased from the tribes to the south. [2] And at roughly the same time, the descendants of Hyksos cavalry horses, which had been spreading across Africa since the 17th century, arrived in the Lake Chad area and were brought as tribute and trade goods to the Nok. These two things – steel and horses – would be what transformed the early Nok state into the Nok Empire.

    _______

    [1] This is also believed to be the case in OTL; donkeys were not yet domesticated in West Africa at this time, but pony teeth have been found in archaeological sites.

    [2] In OTL, the Bantu learned to do this sometime before Christ, albeit nowhere near as early and most likely with charcoal rather than lignite. In the savanna, where trees are scarcer, low-grade coal – which exists in southern Nigeria, and may have been used sporadically as a heat source – seems a more likely vector (we can assume that the discovery happened accidentally when coals used to heat the furnace got into the iron instead), although they may soon trade for charcoal from the forest peoples as well.
     
  4. Hnau free radical

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    Way cool installment, Jonathan! How large will the Nok empire grow?
     
  5. St. Just Angel of Death

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    And so comes the eponymous steel- along with political consolidation...
     
  6. Soverihn Kanye 2020

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    Ah, steel and horses. The empire builder's tools.
     
  7. Dathi THorfinnsson Daði Þorfinnsson

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    So ittl is the superstition 'nok on steel' rather than 'nok on wood'?
    :p
     
  8. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

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    As we'll see in the next update, the empire will reach natural boundaries eventually: too far south and cavalry horses die of malaria, too far north and they become unable to deal with the rigors of the desert, and even along the east-west belt between the two zones, there are obvious logistic issues with maintaining control too far from the center.

    Suffice it to say that the Nok Empire will be about as large as a *Nigerian cavalry-based empire could be at that time, at least IMO.
     
  9. Utgard96 Hons, Dons and two smoking MA(Oxon)s

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    As always, fascinating stuff. It occurs to me that from your description, the OTL peoples of the Sahel seem to have been at about the same technological level as the Norse up until around 500 AD, so one certainly wonders what could've become of the two groups had there been a desert to the north of the Mediterranean and a plain to its south…
     
  10. Russian woolly rhinoceros

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    Great update, I really enjoyed it.

    So we have an early division of military power and non-military power of the king/state?
    I guess one man in the province/region was in charge of the army and the other(s) responsible for taxes and/or courts of law?
    Quite unusual.
     
  11. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

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    Huh. Sounds like the West Africans invented writing.
     
  12. Russian woolly rhinoceros

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    By the way, when shall we see the map?
    That would be nice to have something like a sketch in the beginning, not necessarily the final masterpiece.
     
  13. Kaiphranos Hydraulic Despot Donor

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    Hey, it's only the 3rd! I've still got most of a month to work on this thing! :p

    I'll try to post a draft or two along the way, though.
     
  14. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

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    From my limited knowledge of the subject, that sounds about right. They're also at roughly the same level of state organization, although they're in the process of becoming more consolidated.

    West African raiders descending on the Med is a hell of a thing to imagine, but I'm not sure it would have happened - the climate in the Niger Valley is better, for one thing, and the terrain isn't nearly as conducive to isolated smallholdings, so several ingredients of viking culture wouldn't be there. I'm guessing that without the Sahara, there would have been more of an empire-to-empire interaction like (say) Rome and Parthia, although the absence of the Sahara would also change folk-migrations in the region beyond recognition.

    Both military and civil power come together in the person of the king (and to some extent the kingmakers, who act as an informal senate during periods when the king is weak) but yes, at the provincial level, military and bureaucratic commands are separate. This is one way in which the kings are trying to weaken the provincial nobles (i.e., the kingmaker families and former hill-fort rulers).

    At this point, it's more like they've invented skalds. Proto-writing systems are starting to develop, one of which will be discussed in the next update, but Nok civilization is still preliterate.
     
  15. Russian woolly rhinoceros

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    Would you please elaborate on military command at the provincial level?
    Is there anything resembling a "standing army" of the king in a province?
    Are there core provinces where kingmakers are like feudal lords which lead their troops to the king's wars?
    What about conquered provinces which were taken "by spear"? What about these defeated local aristocrats? Did they lose their power and were substituted by the nobles from the core provinces of the Empire? Or did they retain their power? If so do they have local military levies under their command?
    How does the king control these former hill-fort rulers? Does he have their sons heirs as hostages at his court?

    In a primitive early state the power of a tax official and a judge is closely connected with the violence, brute force. How would you confiscate the house or the last cow from a taxpayer in debt? Or if the crime is punishable by death how would you catch and execute the criminal?
    I mean if the loyalties of the local troops belong to the local lord (kingmaker or a former hill-fort ruler) it is he, who in the end makes the final decision - if he says "no" none of the soldiers moves a finger.
    Even if there is a king's garrison with a king's military officer in charge - the real power belongs to him as the soldiers quite naturally obey him. It is especially true when the times are troubled, the center of power is always the one who has more warriors.

    Speaking of donkeys and horses:
    Do I understand correctly that the war chariots are used? Are the chariots owned by the nobility?
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2014
  16. danmac Well-Known Member

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    Great update. The fact that West Africa is on the path to literacy could have huge implications, especially if it is spread by the Bantu Migrations.
     
  17. TFSmith121 War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen ... Banned

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    This is nicely done, both the concept and the

    This is nicely done, both the concept and the presentation.

    Early iron age armies - using chariots? - south of the Sahara seems like they could hold sway over a long but narrow band of terriory, as you've suggested, but if a state oriented towards pastoralism was able to bring domesticated camels into use, I could see their sucessors being able to deal with the desert...West Africa to the Maghreb in a single state would be difficult, but trade and eventual diplomatic connections with the cultures to the north would be possible, I'd think...

    All sorts of ripples.

    Nice work.

    Best,
     
  18. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

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    The army is controlled by the king, because (a) the monarchy broke up the feudal armies after the first round or two of rebellion, and (b) in an increasingly centralized state, he's the one who can afford to equip it. The officers are appointed from family allies or men of proven loyalty.

    The hill-fort kings who submitted were absorbed into the system as landed nobles and electors, ranking as kingmakers but above the older, landless kingmaker families. They are civil governors of their provinces but do not have charge of the military or tax collection - the king wants to placate them and use them as a foil to the army officers and bureaucrats, but he doesn't want them in a position to act as states within the state.

    It's a divide-and-conquer system, and like all such systems, it doesn't always work - it's not impossible, for instance, for a governor to form a marriage alliance with a military or bureaucratic family, and the royal officials are often corruptible. We'll hear more of this when the empire hits hard times.

    Charioteers do not yet exist in West Africa - the horses introduced by the Hyksos have spread there, but not the technique of building or using chariots. The best analogue is probably Iron Age Persian or Neo-Assyrian cavalry, with the limitations resulting from lack of stirrups but many advantages over less mobile armies.

    The northern Bantu peoples are at one end of the Nok trade routes, so anything that comes to the Nok will get to them eventually, and they'll take it with them when they migrate south.

    This could happen, possibly with the salt tribes as middlemen, but given the timetable of camel domestication, the empire that expands into the Sahara will probably be one of the Nok state's successors.
     
  19. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

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    [​IMG]

    The Tale of Kings relates that the Nok expansion beyond the Jos Plateau began in 1286 BC and reached the Niger by 1265. This roughly agrees with the archaeological record: fairly soon after 1300, Nok official regalia and symbols of office begin appearing in Niger Valley villages as well as those immediately north of the Jos Plateau and east as far as Lake Chad. These would be the boundaries of the Nok Empire for the remainder of its history: the Niger to the west, the Benue to the south, the lake to the east and the desert to the north.

    The era of military expansion would prove brief (although the wars would not), because the empire’s borders were natural ones. South of the Benue, horses died of malaria and a cavalry empire was impossible to maintain. Nor, unlike the Salt Road ponies, could cavalry horses survive long campaigns in the desert. By this time, also, the peoples of the Lower Niger had themselves learned the art of carbon steelmaking, and had begun to form defensive alliances and proto-states capable of resisting Nok armies at the ends of long supply lines. The lands beyond the border would become an increasingly important part of the Nok trade network, and would in many ways be part of its mercantile empire, but they would never come under its direct rule.

    The Nok found themselves a minority within their new domain: the Niger Valley was less technologically advanced but more densely populated. As the fertile new provinces began to assimilate to Nok ways and the lords and chiefs who submitted were incorporated into the Nok nobility, they eclipsed the homeland as sources of troops and tax revenue. Inevitably, this meant that they would also eclipse the plateau in political importance.

    The lowlands’ rise to prominence began with the foundation of Bio in about 1270 BC. Originally a military garrison, Bio grew quickly into a market town and center of regional government. After 1240, as the valley became the most economically important part of the empire, an increasing number of bureaucrat-griots and government offices moved there – and around 1220, so did the king.

    The Tale of Kings gives several reasons for the move, some of which are contradictory, but two stand out. The ruler of this time had been born on the Niger himself, and was a child of the old king by his marriage to a woman from a lowland kingmaker family. And there also appears to have been a split between the royal bureaucracy and the religious authorities in Duwa. By moving away from the plateau, the king hoped to break free of the secret societies’ influence and to achieve absolute rule.

    It is not clear whether he succeeded – later passages from the Tale of Kings tell of rulers making pilgrimages and consulting with the priesthood – but the shift of the capital proved permanent. Changes also start to show about this time in the Nok religion itself, also with the monarchy at its center. Earlier stories of capricious guardian spirits and an aloof creator deity began to be overlaid with new ones suggesting a more organized cosmology, in which the creator was king of the gods and ruled the ancestors the way the emperor ruled the living. The emperor was obviously identified with the creator, albeit not having divine status himself, and worship of that deity shifted from a shadowy secret cult to one involving public ceremony. It appears that during the later 13th and 12th centuries, there may have been two rival cults of the creator-deity, the original in Duwa and the royal one in Bio.

    The assertiveness of the monarchy and its associated cults also showed in architecture and statuary, both of which became more monumental in scale. Bio was a new city without the historical or religious importance of Duwa, so the kings sought to lend it prestige by constructing lavish palaces and public buildings. Many terra-cotta figures of the king, his soldiers and the bureaucrats were also erected in the streets and plazas; these were not the figurines of earlier times but life-size or even larger. A visitor to the palace in the late 13th century was greeted by a veritable terra-cotta army standing guard over the approach, and had to pass other guardian figures of gods and fire-breathing horses before entering the king’s presence. The Nok Empire was an Iron Age rather than Bronze Age society, and thus never developed a palace economy, but by this time, politics were very much a palace affair.

    Bio, located at the northernmost continuously navigable point on the Niger, also became a center for trade with the south. The third and greatest of the West African trade routes, the Palm Road, was well traveled by 1250 BC, with palm oil from the Niger Delta flowing north in exchange for steel implements and works of fine craftsmanship. Some merchants ranged still farther south to the Baka people of the mountains, and there they learned of iboga, a plant whose bark, mixed with water, would give powerful visions. Dried iboga, and the ivory that came from trade with proto-Bantu peoples to the south and east, became prized commodities in the growing Nok cities, and both would feature in religious rites.

    So valuable did foreign trade become that, by mid-century, the Nok had begun to establish colonies: on the western shore of Lake Chad, in the Niger Delta, and on the bend of the Niger where salt caravans came in from the desert. These towns, though not part of the empire proper and often eager to flout imperial edicts, became centers for transmission of Nok culture. They also provided further stimulus to state formation in the south, partly through example and partly by fueling fears of domination.

    By about 1225, the forest regions west of the Niger Delta had coalesced into the kingdom of Asun, which was more of a tributary empire and military alliance than a centralized state but which could field a large army and control the local trade routes. Asun wood-carving reached a high level of workmanship – as high as Nok terra-cotta – and became a valuable trade item in its own right; also, in a preliterate age, wood panels were a means of keeping records. The throne of Bio at century’s end was an Asun-made hardwood stool carved with scenes from the reigns of each Nok king from Inadese onward, and panels on the doors of public buildings showed important episodes in the history of the kingdom or the cities in which they were located.

    In the delta itself, a number of city-states grew up, which became known as the Palm Kingdoms. These “cities” were towns by Nok standards, with populations of 1500 to 4000 and few of the elaborate defensive works and public structures that characterized Nok centers, and they were dominated by the Nok trading colony of Ado to a greater extent than Asun was. Their artwork – which, like Asun’s, was wood – took on the characteristic poses and elongated features of Nok statuary, albeit portraying their own deities and particularly their creator-god Chukwu. [1]

    But the trade route that would affect the Niger region most profoundly was neither of these. Instead, it was the one to the east, past Lake Chad into the Chari basin, where Nok merchants traded for ivory, hides and forest products. By the late 13th century, the Palm Road extended far beyond the lake, and Bantu market towns were growing up all along the Chari and Aouk. They would bring word to the Nok of a rich river valley still further east, dotted with kingdoms and cities, and from them, the peoples of that valley would learn of the Nok.
    _______

    [1] I’m probably cheating by assigning the modern Igbo name of God to the proto-Igbo, but then again, names of God tend to be durable.
     
  20. altwere Well-Known Member

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    Oh, I like this one.