Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Jonathan Edelstein, Jun 30, 2014.
And now we see other states develop... I assume that river valley is Egypt?
Aw yiss, this is shaping up to be good. Looks like the going will be rough for Makemakean and me once we get our collective shit together.
Well, I in turn look forward to seeing what you guys come up with.
In the meantime, as promised, here is a little snippet of the map in progress, showing a couple of the places mentioned in the recent update. (And possibly also one or two that haven't been mentioned yet?)
That's the only valley that qualifies - the Congo is south rather than east. The trade route is a long one, via the Chari and Aouk, overland through the gap in the mountains to the upper Nile, and then by river and portage to Egypt. Think of it as a Silk Road, with trade being conducted via a series of intermediaries - but there may be a direct visit or two.
Very cool, except that the big lake on the Volta wasn't there at the time. It's a reservoir created by twentieth-century damming.
Ah, thanks--I caught one of those already on the Niger. Kind of a pity, it's a neat shape...
Jonathan Edelstein, I love this TL of yours!
First of all that is the brilliant POD. Usually the TLs about development of sub-Saharan Africa are about influence or direct invasion of the "white men" from the Mediterranean. But the Nok culture was one of the most ancient in the history of the humankind and might have developed quite independently.
My guess in OTL the decline of Nok culture was one of the lost chances of African civilization.
Are the civil governors hereditary posts? I mean from the family of the former hill-fort king of the territory? From father to son? Or the emperor chooses the most loyal member from the ruling family of the hill-fort and installs him as the governor?
I do admit that Nok soldiers might use the horses riding on their backs as the Persians and the Assyrians did. Nothing wrong about it.
But the Sahara and Sahel are full of ancient pictures of chariots on the stones before and during the time of OTL Nok culture. And Hyksos horses might spread only with chariots, that would be most natural. No one there knew how to use a horse except as together with a chariot.
And the steps of development of using horse in warfare usually are 1) first with chariots 2) after that riding on horseback as the second step.
But that is the only thing which seems a little bit strange in your TL so far.
And I repeat you definitely have the right to presume that the Nok military started to use horses like the Iranians and Assyrians, they might "invent" horse-riding independently. Why not? They were smart enough...
Well, no one's quite sure what Nok culture actually was or what it led to - it was obviously a creative culture, and some parts of its aesthetic can be seen in subsequent Nigerian art, but we don't know what its political structure was like or what it might have accomplished with better tools. I think my guesses aren't that far from the mark, given that the cultural norms of later Nigerian peoples came from somewhere, but with the Nok being a preliterate people with few extant artifacts, there's no way to tell for certain.
Anyway, I agree that ancient Africa is neglected here, which is understandable since we know so little about it, but on another level, "we know so little" is the same as "storyteller's dream."
They're semi-hereditary. In theory, the hill-fort kings/civil governors are elected by the local kingmaker families, but by this time, the old king's son is nearly always elected, unless he's obviously unfit or has offended the emperor.
Hmmm. Maybe they did have chariots - after all, they would have had wheeled carts, and when they got cavalry horses, someone might have got the idea of having them pull a cart into battle. They might also have heard travelers' tales of chariots in the Nile Valley by now. I'll admit I kind of like the idea of Nok charioteers charging through the savanna. Maybe I'll assume a mixed cavalry, composed mainly of charioteers but also some Persian-style skirmishers and screening elements.
Love the map and the latest updates!
Do the Nok and the inhabitants of the Niger Valley belong to the same linguistic family? Are their languages/dialects mutually comprehensible?
Well, as you previously mentioned these are the seeds of the future problems. If civil governors are not directly appointed by the emperor that might result in separatist local tendencies.
You see my point is the Nok did not get cavalry horses. The Nok could get only chariot horses (together with chariots).
There were no cavalry horses in Africa of that time. At all.
Not in Egypt, not in Sahara, not in Sahel, nowhere in Africa you could see a man riding on a horseback. Even the asiatic foes of Egypt of that time used horses in warfare only with chariots.
So the Nok could not borrow the way of using horse sitting on its back from their neighbours. They could borrow horses with chariots and then independently invent the way of riding on the horseback.
But that is highly unlikely as historically the first to sit on the horseback were nomads and semi nomads (of Iranian origin) and only after that the sedentary civilisations borrowed this way from them.
I’ve posited a Niger Valley origin for the ancestral Nok, so their languages will be related – maybe as mutually comprehensible as the Scandinavian languages. There’s also been enough back-and-forth trade that each language will have loanwords from the other, and there may even be a traders’ patois. Language won’t be any more an obstacle to integration than it was for, say, Rome and the Italian cities.
We know the Nok did learn horseback riding in OTL, because their statues include figures of men sitting on horses. But that was considerably later than the period we’re talking about, and I take your point about nomadic or semi-nomadic people being the ones to develop horseback riding. You’ve convinced me that the Nok armies of the 14th-11th centuries BC will be chariots supported by infantry – maybe it will be the peoples of the Lake Chad region who first begin to ride the horses.
The New Kingdom of Kemet was in decline by 1200 BC, but its political and cultural influence still extended far to the south: Wawat and Kush were provinces of the empire, and trading expeditions made regular trips to the land of Iam on the upper White Nile. And the people of Iam had their own trading partners: through them, Kemet’s indirect commercial links reached the Bantu who were just beginning to migrate into the Lake Victoria region and others who lived in the upper Chari basin.
The first Nok-made goods reached the Kemetic capital of Waset even before 1200; among other things, a terra-cotta sculpture of a seated figure in royal regalia was found in the tomb of the middle 13th-century Kemetic nobleman Meryre. No doubt they passed through many hands on the way: there was much wild country between the Niger Valley and the upper Nile, and it was seemingly unthinkable for one merchant to make the entire trip. There are fragmentary references in Kemetic records to a kingdom of black men far to the southwest, on the banks of a river that flooded annually much as the Nile did; this indicates that the pharaohs had at least heard of the Nok Empire, although they knew little of its ways.
That would change in 1167, when a caravan of Nok merchants did the unthinkable, making the difficult journey east from the upper Chari and Aouk through hill country to the Nile, and thence through Iam to the borders of Kemet. In 1166, they arrived in Waset with the ceremony of a royal procession, bringing exotic goods and gifts from their king Omele. The record of their stay in Waset is the first known written account of the Nok, and provides our main cross-check to the chronology in the Tale of Kings. But more importantly to the merchants’ contemporaries, the Nok “discovery” of Kemet, and their return with domestic donkeys, exotic goods and stories of an empire even older and richer than theirs, led to an enduring fascination.
The Nok – or at least the bureaucrat-griots and merchants – came to view the luxury trade that grew up during the later 12th century as not only a source of profit but a source of learning. They had heard travelers’ tales of Kemet, as the nobles of Kemet had about them, but having gone there and seen it for themselves was more inspirational than any number of Palm Road legends. By about 1120, Kemetic influence showed in medicine, engineering, and most of all, writing.
Nok writing would derive from, but not mirror, Kemetic writing, both because the Nok language had several sounds that were not used in Kemet and because the writing materials were different. Papyrus didn’t grow anywhere in the Nok domains; instead, writing was done on walls, hides or clay. Palace and tomb inscriptions were the most prestigious, but clay was the most common, being widely used for merchant accounts. The formal alphabet – the Nok did adopt the Kemetic custom of having several forms of writing with varying degrees of formality – was closest to the writing of Kemet, while the merchant alphabet, adapted to be written with a stylus on clay, soon bore only a passing resemblance.
Be that as it may, this was the end of Nok prehistory and the beginning of the historic era: the time when the Tale of Kings and the ancient legends were codified. It was all the more significant because it came soon after a major civil war between Omele’s successor and a coalition of powerful kingmakers. This war – the last significant event of prehistory – resulted in victory for the kingmakers, who had married into many high-ranking military families, and in a rebel general being crowned king. But the victory was not all the kingmaker families had hoped for: the power of the throne was temporarily eclipsed, but the vacuum was filled not by them but by the military. The kingmakers bitterly resented this state of affairs, and did everything they could to undermine the soldier-king’s legitimacy.
The new regime seized on writing much as the previous ones had seized on bureaucrat-griots or monumental works of art: as a means of proclaiming its right to rule. Not only chronicles but myths were reinterpreted to glorify the king and to portray the ancestral Nok as soldiers and conquerors much like him. At the same time, a remarkable dissident thread grew up, which harked back to an ideal time when men were free and monarchs answered to the kingmakers and village assemblies; this, it is believed, is the source of many of the tales of the Age of Kings. The bureaucrat-griots, who formed the core of the emerging scribe class, could be found on both sides. In many ways, the late twelfth and early eleventh centuries BC were an extended rhetorical duel between the soldier-kings and the old nobles, which produced some of the finest works of Nok literature and poetry.
At the same time, unseen, the other end of the Palm Road also felt the effects of trade, ironically augmented by the fact that Kemet was not nearly as fascinated with the Nok Empire as the other way around. The nobles of Kemet might value the palm oil, salt, steelwork, drugs and exotic art that traveled the Palm Road, but they had a middle-kingdom view of themselves and their tradition of centuries was to look inward. They had little interest in going to a land they viewed as wild and barbaric, and they didn’t believe they had much to learn from it.
Perhaps the Kemetic nobles should have paid more attention, because Kush and Iam grew stronger through the riches that commerce brought, and Nok steelworking techniques – superior to anything the Nile Valley had at the time – made them better able to resist Kemetic encroachment. Sometime after 1150, Kush broke away from Kemetic rule, and Wawat would follow by the end of the century as Kemet itself slipped into the civil wars that would mark the beginning of the Third Intermediate Period. Iam, for its part, coalesced into a collection of market towns and tribal kingdoms, not yet states or even city-states, but at a higher level of organization than had existed before and with a rising divide between newly-rich chieftains and their people.
And at the opposite end of the Nok sphere, yet another kingdom was coming into being, this one on the upper Niger beyond even the Salt Road. The peoples of the rich floodplain were too far away to come under Nok rule or even to be knitted into their commercial empire, but they traded enough with the Nok colonies in the middle Niger to learn the art of ironworking and the concept of statehood. Their own king list places the first ruler at about 1120 to 1105 BC, and all evidence indicates that this is an accurate birthdate for the culture that would one day put the Nok into eclipse.
Nok borrow the Egyptian ALPHABET!?
Did Egyptian ever progress past syllabaries? Admittedly, IIRC, the later syllabary had some syllables which had essentially decayed to consonants, but others still had full vowels and some multiple consonants.
Was that a gross oversimplification? Am I way wrong? Is this a change ittl (which I doubt)? Or did the Nok misunderstand the Egyptian writing system, and MAKE it an alphabet, parallel to how the Greeks misunderstood and advanced the Semitic abjad to an alphabet?
The hieratic script was an abjad which, as far as I understand, had no multi-consonantal letters. The hieroglyphs did have multi-consonantal symbols, but my assumption was that visiting merchants would be most likely to learn hieratic writing and might assume that the hieroglyphs they saw on public buildings and monuments were the same.
Unfortunately, this means that the idea of abjads will spread to West Africa, but I never said this would be a utopia.
Whoa, so steel is going to hit the Middle East much faster than OTL.
From what little I can tell, with a quick google, there seems to be a 1-1 correspondence between hieroglyphs and hieratic characters. Unicode, for instance considers them 'font' variants.
Another map snippet, covering some of the subject matter of the most recent post:
Upon checking, it seems that the hieratic script did have multi-consonantal letters (see lesson 3 here) - I thought it had lost those by New Kingdom times, but evidently not.
That leaves several possibilities. The first is that the Nok might refine hieroglyphics/hieratic into an abjad as the Semites did. This would make a certain amount of sense, since many of the multi-consonant symbols would not correspond to sound combinations used in the Nok language. I also have a sneaking suspicion (albeit no proof) that semi-literate Egyptians might learn the single-consonant letters first and use them most often, making them the ones most likely to be passed on in the course of trade. Wikipedia, admittedly not the most reliable source, does describe hieratic writing as an "abjad with logographic elements."
Another possibility is that, as you suggested, the Nok would misunderstand Egyptian writing and bring it back as an alphabet rather than as it was actually used.
A third possibility is that the Nok would bring back all the characters, discarding the multi-consonantal ones that didn't fit their language and keeping those that did. I doubt they'd invent new multi-consonant signs, given that the single consonants would enable them to write anything they needed, so this would still result in a pared-down semi-syllabary. This might eventually resolve into a true abjad or complete alphabet, or it might not.
I wonder what they'd do with determinatives. I'd like to think they'd keep them - they make abjad-type writing easier to understand - but the Semites didn't.
Yes, the Iron Age will get a boost, although the effects on the Mediterranean world won't be explored much here. It's relatively primitive steel, but it would still have an impact - it could make the post-Bronze Age Collapse dark age end sooner, or it could prolong that age.
Very interesting, very interesting. Hopefully an alphabet will develop.
JE, I just found this new work of yours, and it's great work as usual. ou never cease to enlight us.
Alphabets (as in, full alphabets in the strict sense) appear to be counter-intuitive at first. They are not an easy or obvious step. (So arguably are abjads, if your language doesn't happen to be Afro-Asiatic).
We seem to be naturally to perceive the syllable as the immediate phonetic unit, rather the single "segment".
Thus, the most likely path for intepretation may be either a syllabary, or a alphasyllabary: both have possible historical precedents, the former perhaps in Luwian hieroglyphs and Linear A, the latter more clearly in Meroitic (but at a time where abjads and maybe even Indian early abugidas were widespread in the area).
The way it develops depends heavily on the typology and phonetics of the Nok language. By the way, is it Afro-Asiatic like Hausa or Niger-Kordofanian like most tohers OTL languages in the area? Or maybe something else (Nilo-Saharan?).
Seems odd, unless their language has meaningful consonantal root systems (which I guess proto-Hausa should have). Otherwise, they'd take logographic "Egyptograms" with a meaning like the Hittites did, with a reading in their language.
The Semites didn't because, as far as the documents lead us so far, their adaptation was a bottom-up process which probably involved complete destruction of the system and reuse of its materials for a new, much simpler one. The Nok are doing this top-down. It would look more like the Persians taking over cuneiform.
So an illiterate bureaucracy exists for a time? Is there precedent for that?
Separate names with a comma.