Nok Steel: A Map of the Month Timeline

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

  1. Admiral Matt Member

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2004
    I'm a bit taken aback. Confucianism isn't a philosophy?

    I suppose I could grant that many of what seem to have been schools are now impossible to confirm and so we can not with certainty define them as one thing or another. Moism being the obvious example. But it seems pretty clear to me that we have the surviving evidence to show that even Legalism and Daoism were philosophies merely different in flavor to Greek and Indian variations.
     
  2. Falecius Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 3, 2010
    Location:
    Anarres
    I didn't say that.
    However, while I would I talk of it as "a philosophy", I am not sure it is "philosophy" (I am also not even close to claim expertise on the subject). It depends a lot of what definition of "philosophy" you adopt of course, which is probably wiser not to derail this thread discussing.
    As far as I know and I have read them, Confucius' writings don't display the same degree of systematic rational elaboration that you find in Greece and India. On later Confucian thought, however, I cannot say much.
     
  3. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2009
    Location:
    Kew Gardens, NY

    [​IMG]

    The trends that had begun to undermine the Nok Empire in the eleventh century BC continued apace in the tenth. Cities swelled to unsustainable size – Bio at its largest, around 960, reached 80,000 population – demands on rural people increased, and the vicious cycle of land loss and enslavement engulfed more of the state. All this was exacerbated by a series of bad harvests brought on by a drought in the 970s, as well as ongoing environmental degradation caused by overgrazing and loss of soil nutrients.

    By the middle third of the tenth century, famines were common, and often not confined to a single province. Famine or near-famine conditions, in turn, sparked tax revolts among the peasants and withdrawal among the herders, with the latter crossing the border to escape being taxed. The withdrawals often implicated neighboring tribes or states when the empire sent punitive expeditions after the fugitive herders, only to encounter both them and their local allies.

    The first few iterations of these rebellions were manageable, but they became less so as the tenth century progressed and conditions became more severe. And as the state looked less able to maintain control, the vultures circled: after about 940, some rebellions gained the support of army units, desert clans, or even opportunistic provincial governors who saw a chance to become warlords. Slowly, the empire’s border-marches began to slip out of its grip.

    At the same time, the constant state of crisis and the ever-more-extreme ossification of the social order seemed finally to have drained the Nok Empire’s creative energies. The Nok were no longer innovative in either craftsmanship or art: after a few fitful bursts of creativity in the early tenth century, art and literature settled into imitations of past forms, and artisanry – especially ironwork and military tactics – became enveloped in ritual. The innovation was happening in the neighboring states, and although kingdoms such as Asun still fielded smaller armies than the Nok, their forces were increasingly better-equipped and better-led.

    Ultimately, the Nok Empire didn’t so much get conquered as fall apart. The peasant rebellions, and unexpected military reverses such as a disastrous war against the Palm Kingdoms in 913, created a chain reaction, and as the empire fell back on its core areas, factional and religious strife in the court and provinces became more deadly. The end of the empire is traditionally dated to the sack of Bio in 855, but it had functionally ceased to exist for decades before that; sometime between 900 and 870 is probably the best guess for when the Nok polity stopped being an empire and degenerated into a collection of short-lived warring states.

    This was not, of course, the end of the Nok culture. The Nok homeland in the Jos Plateau was never conquered, and by the end of the ninth century, two rival kingdoms coalesced around Duwa and Azari. And the cultures that took the place of the empire in the western and southern provinces were Nok-influenced from their foundation. Much of the Benue and lower Niger came under the sway of Asun, either as vassals or as nominally independent but economically subservient princely states. Further north, the empire’s collapse provided an opening for the upper Niger culture to expand, although given the distances involved, this happened mostly through adventurers and mercenaries rather than direct conquest.

    The Nok did have one brief resurgence: after Azari conquered Duwa in 742 BC and reunited the Jos Plateau, a series of energetic kings managed to regain some of the neighboring lowlands and hold them for a little more than a century. This “Neo-Nok” state, as it is known, bore little resemblance to the later stages of its predecessor empire: it was a warlord state in which the person of the king, rather than bureaucrats or the army, was all-powerful, and it was something of a backwater in regional trade. It generated little cultural creativity, and with the fall of Azari to an invading army from the Chari basin in 620, the last Nok state passed out of history.

    In the meantime, a new empire had arisen, following the upper Niger cultural model but ironically based in what had once been the Nok colony of Aminni. This city, grown rich from the salt trade and a cultural midpoint between the ancestral Nok, the upper Niger peoples and the desert tribes, was geographically situated to control both the upper and lower Niger. By 770, it had done so, first consolidating its power over the regions that had once been part of the Nok Empire and then conquering the fractious upper Niger floodplain.

    The Aminni Empire would bear the influence of both the Nok and Kemet; in fact, it would ironically be more influenced by Kemet than the Nok empire had ever been, because it was a hydraulic state in the style of the Nilotic kingdoms. But the differences between Aminni and its predecessors would prove to be the model for the West African empires of the late Iron Age and classical period. Aminni was not a tributary empire or feudal confederation, but nor was it a highly centralized despotism: the king controlled the army and appointed provincial governors, but the provinces had substantial internal autonomy (including matters of customary law) and the governors acted as an aristocratic senate and council of electors. This would produce a more stable balance between the capital and the provinces, and although Aminni would ultimately fall, its system of government would be adopted by its successors.

    Possibly the most striking innovation of Aminni, though, was the prophetic faith founded there in the chaotic tenth century, which initially centered around iboga imported via the Nok empire but quickly became independent of the drug. It can best be described as a form of prophetic shamanism: ancestor-worship is one of its central tenets and tutelary spirits are common, but these are combined with a moral code centering on communal solidarity and an ethic in which each individual is considered to have received the gift of prophecy from the creator deity.

    The Nok are often the foils in this faith’s scriptures: they are often portrayed as despoilers and practitioners of evil, and Aminni’s secession from the empire (which was the occasion for some of its foundational prophetic writings) was mythologized as a turning away from sin. But the scriptures also recognize the Nok as the ancestral people, the “people of steel,” and credit them with much wisdom. Many stories passed unchanged from Nok legend into that of Aminni, and Nok heroes from the pre-imperial era – always portrayed with the elongated features Nok statuary even after contemporary Aminni aesthetics turned away from such things – are included in its list of moral exemplars.

    Even in post-classical times, the Nok – by then barely remembered as a historical people – would be remembered as founders and teachers, and even some gods are believed to be descended from historic Nok figures. This was the Nok people’s legacy, and even mixed as it was with the suffering that came later, it might not have displeased them.
     
  4. Admiral Matt Member

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2004
    Well, to the best of my reading I would say that the use of coinage, combined with Classical era forms of usury and government (at home), and warfare (abroad) tended to engender a burst in Thinking. Or at least that's the most coherent explanation I've ever heard for why so many parallel changes occurred simultaneously in Greece, India, and China while apparently taking place later in the Persian Empire (at that time synonymous with "the rest of the civilized world") and elsewhere. The obvious example being all the concurrent philosophers - when Confucius was born, Pythagoras was 19 and Siddhartha was 12.

    Now in classifying the different perspectives of all this Thought, some were more or less materialist and others were rejections of materialist perspectives. Or if we want to force it into modern terminology, some supported Capitalism and wars rendered necessary by Capitalism, while others opposed. [I'm sure I should be saying proto-demi-semi-Capitalism or something, but whatever.] That second category I'd divide further into back-to-our-roots-using-the-new-tools rejections like Confucianism, later Judaism, later Zoroastrianism, and later Hinduism on the one hand, and a-new-way-after-Capitalism rejections like Moism, Buddhism, Daoism, Samaritanism, Jainism, Christianity, and Islam on the other.

    In this sense, Legalism was the successful Chinese parallel to what you term Greek and Indian Philosophy. The rest of Chinese philosophy is very consciously a rejection of the ideas which reached their culmination in Qin Shi Huangdi's Legalism but were already being rejected as a problem well before the Qin conquest. In that sense, I'd argue that in China the kind of a philosophy you term Philosophy was thoroughly rejected by the Han dynasty's state ideology.

    I suspect the reason we don't see more of that sort of Thought from the Chinese was because they took and held the entire region of their civilization and despised it. In the West, Persia, and India things remained disorganized and unstable for over half a millennium, so the materialist stuff was able to settle in more, be transcribed more, be developed more.....

    I say all this because I'm hoping it isn't derailing the thread. I would be very, very interested to see another civilization's Classical period. Particularly the philosophies that came with it.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2014
  5. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2009
    Location:
    Kew Gardens, NY
    You might get the merest glimpse of that in the epilogue (and for those who think my meliorism has taken a vacation for this timeline, wait till then).
     
  6. Al-numbers Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2013
    Location:
    Between Gensokyo and Berk
    I shamefully realise that since the beginning of this TL, I haven't made one single comment on it. Since this TL is heading towards an epilogue, I want to say this was an interesting and amazing ride you've taken us, Jonathan. :eek:

    Now, on to the final chapter!
     
  7. Alex Richards Still, at least we're not Heanor UDC Donor

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2009
    Location:
    Empire of Nova Elysium
    I've also been greatly enjoying this. The last update reminds me somewhat of the shift from Sumer to Babylon and Assyria- from what I recall Eridu, Ur and Uruk were long held as sacred and important places from where civilization had sprung even after they declined in importance or were sacked.
     
  8. iddt3 Herald of the New Board Donor

    Joined:
    Jul 14, 2010
    JE, if you don't stop writing brilliant timelines about areas of history I knew nothing about I'm going to have to abandon my Eurocentrism, and move towards making more than a pretense of respect towards other cultures. You just won't stop broadening my goddamn Horizons will you? :p
     
  9. St. Just Angel of Death

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2010
    Location:
    A mistake
    And so falls the empire... and thus rises a new one to replace it. Is this prophetic faith organized or pre-organized (early Zoroastrianism, for example, or later Zoroastrianism?)
     
  10. Haaki Self-proclaimed idiot

    Joined:
    May 12, 2009
    Location:
    Belgium
    Good update, I hope we get to learn a bit more about the religion in the epilogue.
     
  11. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2009
    Location:
    Kew Gardens, NY
    Thanks once again for the support and praise.

    I didn't have that analogy in mind when writing, but it's a good one. The Nok culture of TTL is West Africa's dawn civilization (as, for all we know, it may have been in OTL) and all the later ones will consider it ancestral, which has major spiritual significance in a region where animism is strong. There will probably still be pilgrimages to the old Jos Plateau cities in classical times or even after, although the people of those cities won't much resemble the Nok by then.

    For the most part, it's organized - it will become a state religion fairly early on, with all that implies, and will be one in several empires - but it will also have flashes of independence and grass-roots activism, particularly where it isn't the state religion.

    A bit, yes, although by then it will have taken on some ideas from overseas.
     
  12. Faeelin Lord of Ten Thousand Years

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2004
    Overseas?!?
     
  13. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2009
    Location:
    Kew Gardens, NY
    Remember who the East Indians will be trading with by the middle first millennium - and the trans-Saharan trade, when it's established, will bring both goods and ideas from across the Med.
     
  14. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2009
    Location:
    Kew Gardens, NY

    [​IMG]

    The road from Ayo’s house to the Plaza of Kings led past the harbor, and whenever she went there with her father, she liked to stop at the docks and look out at the lagoon. There were long ships bearing the treasures of the south: leopard and zebra hides, potent drugs, ivory, copper and gold, jewels from the Diamond Coast. A few had even come from the north, with the purple-striped sails of Gades or the plainer ones of Syracuse and Tartessos: they knew that they’d probably have to endure much of the journey back under oars, but risked that in order to trade for Africa’s riches. [1] There was shouting in a dozen languages as men unloaded and haggled, and beyond them, hundreds of smaller boats out fishing or ferrying people from the villages and towns on the lagoon’s shores.

    When Ayo looked at the ships, she could imagine strange lands, the smell of spices, cargoes beyond belief. And even at seven years old, she knew that the wealth that came through the harbor was what made Ikeja the jewel of the Asun Republic, what made it mistress of an empire rather than one among many quarreling city-states.

    “Is our ship there?” she asked, straining to see it amid the forest of masts and furled sails.

    “No, omo,” her father answered, his hand resting lightly on her shoulder. “Our ship is at the Congo now, trading for medicines and okapi hides. It won’t be back for another month, the same time that your brother’s caravan is due in from Carthage. But now we have to go the festival.”

    Ayo’s face brightened and she looked up at her father’s. “Will it really be seven days?” she asked. Her brother Ola looked at her as if she were stupid, but she had been two months old at the last Festival of Rebirth, and everything about this day was delightfully new to her.

    “Yes, omo – one day for each year of the king. And on the last day, we will choose a new king for the next seven years.” [2]

    “Will you be king, baba?”

    “Silly!” Ola cried. “We’re not noble!”

    “Ola’s right. Only kingmakers can become king. But I can vote for the new king – once only the kingmakers could do that, but now all the citizens do. But come now.”

    His hand lifted off Ayo’s shoulder and pointed the way to the Five Cowrie Boulevard. [3] For a moment, she caught sight of the acacia brand on its back, the clan-sign he had been marked with when he was thirteen years old. Touched with steel, he’d said, as all men of Asun were, as Ola would be next year. Ayo couldn’t imagine her brother as a man, but in her father it was clear: his graying hair was steel too, the mark of wisdom and spiritual power. As they walked out onto the boulevard, the sun caught it for a moment and it seemed like the metal itself.

    The broad street ran from just outside the docklands to the Plaza of the Kings, past public buildings made of stone and others of brightly painted mud-brick and clay. [4] Behind them, in the back streets, were apartments of three and four stories. The boulevard itself was a hundred feet wide with gardens and black hardwood statues running down its length: the nearest one showed the gods, with their elongated faces, founding the city, and the others portrayed the deeds of kings, griots and warriors.

    The boulevard was always busy, but today it was glorious chaos. Even the carts and hitching-posts were decorated with flowers and palm fronds, banners and cloth streamers. People from all the lands that paid tribute to Asun, and even beyond, thronged the street, men in long wide-sleeved robes and women in patterned dresses and intricately tied hair-cloths. Ayo didn’t know it, but there were three hundred thousand people in the city, and bringing food and water to them was the work of thousands more for miles around.

    One, in particular, caught her eye: a widow making a procession up the street with an entourage of family, hangers-on, blond Cimbri bodyguards, and slaves. Her dress was silk, no doubt imported at hideous expense from Tandja [5], and both it and her gele were dyed in Tyrian purple. Ayo’s own clothing was of serviceable raffia-cloth, and the geometric patterns on it were lovingly made, but they were in no way as fine, nor could her necklace of shells and a single locally-mined tourmaline compete with the widow’s diamonds. A kingmaker’s widow, surely, and still a power in her family; no doubt she hoped to have much to do with who the next king would be.

    Ayo’s suspicions were confirmed when she saw the woman stop to talk to a group of masked egun-men. The masqueraders from the secret society were always there; they would interpret your prophetic dreams, and for a fee, they might tell your fortune or convey a message from your ancestors. Today, though, they had changed their raffia masks for wooden ones, and their costumes were covered with letters in the griot-hand and streamers in the gods’ colors.

    “They’ll carry messages for the whole city this week,” her father said, seeing where she was pointing. “And they’ll tell us whether the ancestors approve our choice of king.”

    “Why? He’s not their king…”

    “Isn’t he? We’re all our own ancestors, hasn’t the griot taught you that? You, omo, are the ancestor of the woman you will be, and she will see with the wisdom you store for her. I am the ancestor of your first child’s grandfather. And the city is its own ancestor too: the prophet from Urata [6] who came by the Palm Road taught us that it dies and is reborn every time the king is chosen. The ancestors know how much wisdom it has laid up in its current life, and they can tell us whether it will be reborn greater or less under a new king.”

    “Do they ever say the king can’t be king?”

    “It’s happened sometimes, when the law was broken - when the new king was from the same family as the old one, or when he was too weak to reign for seven years. They say it also happens when the egun-men are bought. There was the year of four elections in my grandfather’s time – but there was a rebellion after the fourth one, and it taught the kingmakers and the egun-men that they had to be careful…”

    He looked away as another merchant, a master of desert caravans, came up and greeted him by his given name, Bogun. Ayo tried to follow the conversation, but soon got lost: it was full of names she didn’t know and details of the election. She got the idea they were at cross purposes with the widow she had seen, and that they knew egun-men of their own, but the city’s political factions meant nothing to her.

    And then they were at the plaza.

    Ayo had been there before in recent days, and had seen the workers busily building the seats. Now they were finished, row on row, facing the palace and the stage that had been set up where the citizens gathered to make laws. This wasn’t where plays were normally performed – there was an amphitheater just outside the city gate – but the contest this year would take place where the old king had no choice but to watch and the would-be new ones no choice but to listen.

    Ola led the way to an open seat while their father bought yams and skewers of grilled meat. Ayo ate, watching the stage intently, wondering with a child’s impatience when something might happen…

    And there was suddenly the pulse of talking drums, and a double line of costumed actors ran onto the stage. They whirled and leaped in a formal dance, and as they did, they sang.

    Ancient Dese, man and god,
    Called to the Creator high;
    Steel he brought from stars above,
    With desire he came down…

    “What story is this?” Ayo whispered.

    “The first play is always a story of Dese. He stole the secret of steel from the star-gods, and he was punished by being made a man. He was the ancestor of the Nok, and he invented kingship and prophecy.” [7]

    “Who were the Nok?”

    “The first people. The makers of all things. But they became proud, and they didn’t listen to the wisdom of their youth. They were our ancestors, but they didn’t realize they were their own.”

    On stage, the talking drum remained but the dancers had gone, and Dese, cast from the stars but still robed as a god, discoursed to two actors who seemed to be his subjects. He continually confused godhood with merely human kingship – hilariously so, to judge by some of the audience’s reaction, although others sat stone-faced. Ayo laughed too, less at the humor than the exaggerated body language, and clapped when the choral dancers returned.

    The second act was more somber than the first: Dese still thought himself a god on earth, but he let it blind him, and he paid no notice when his subjects and the egun-men came to tell him that his schemes had led to blighted fields and lost battles. Again, some of the audience looked on without expression – including, Ayo noticed, the widow she had seen before. She sensed that the play had something to do with the election, that it was a challenge to one faction or another, but there was also something else…

    “The play was reborn!” she said suddenly.

    “Quiet, omo,” her father reminded. “What do you mean?”

    “They told the story of Dese as a god, and it was funny. Now they’re telling it again and it’s sad.”

    Her father smiled, a look of proprietary pride in his eyes. “Yes. And the third act will tell the story another time – when Dese has learned from laughter and tragedy both.”

    “The play is its own ancestor…” she mused, and another thought came to her. “We don’t really have to wait seven years for rebirth, do we? We’re all reborn every minute.”

    “Yes, omo, so make sure you gain wisdom every minute. From the Nok, from the Aminni, from all the ancestors in every land. And from what you see and hear all around you.”

    “Will the new king do that?”

    “If we choose wisely, and if the ancestors do.”

    “I hope…” Ayo began to say, but then the dancers returned to the stage. The third act was about to begin, and they sang a song of Dese the Nok’s reconciliation.

    _______

    [1] I’m assuming here that Hanno did get to Mount Cameroon and back in OTL, and that sea trade with West Africa is difficult but possible if there’s something worth trading for. Most of the carrying trade at this point goes across the Sahara, but there’s some contact by sea.

    [2] It isn’t that great a leap from kingmakers electing a king to citizens doing so, especially in a country where everyone is considered to have the gift of prophecy and therefore divine wisdom, and the kingmakers were rarely the only powerful group in West African city-states. Election for a term of years is somewhat more of a stretch, but they’ve been getting ideas from elsewhere for centuries by now, and officials who serve terms are a notion as old as Assyria.

    [3] Between this and the city’s name, you should be able to tell where it is.

    [4] You can get some pretty impressive architecture with mud-brick and clay, and its use is common in Nigeria and elsewhere in West Africa even for mosques and palaces.

    [5] This comes through a mispronunciation and misunderstanding of “Tianxia.”

    [6] This is a misunderstanding of “Bharata,” via the East African end of the Palm Road. The East African Bantu traders who interact with India assumed the first syllable was the same as the Bantu plural prefix, thus concluding that "Rata" was the root word for Indians, "Bharata" meant multiple Indian people, and "Urata" - Rata with the territorial prefix - was the Indians' country. They figured out the error eventually, but by then, "Urata" for India was well established in East African speech and spread from there to West Africa.

    [7] You may recognize, in Dese’s story, fragments of several legends from the first two updates, as well as other archetypes from this timeline and ours. As should be apparent from his name, he is a conflation of Inadese the Conqueror with earlier legendary figures from the dawn of the Iron Age. Of course, the play doesn’t tell the standard story of Dese, any more than Euripides simply retold the myth of Medea.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2014
  15. St. Just Angel of Death

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2010
    Location:
    A mistake
    Some very interesting morsels in there- but this update shows the mark of its author! Wouldn't be one of your works without an excellent, human narrative update.

    So Ikeja is Lagos- and there is trade from across the Old World... very interesting indeed.
     
  16. Falecius Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 3, 2010
    Location:
    Anarres
    Interesting, and I largely agree with your assessment (I am not sure the way you classify Samaritanism, but again, my expertise on Samaritans is fairly limited). My knowledge of Chinese Legalism is too modest to comment, but your take on it sounds worth expanding on.
    It is also worth mentioning that approximately in this era we see a large expansion of what could be termed "private" sector in craftsmanship and trade (as opposed to the centralisation of agricultural properties into royal and templar massive estates) even in the more intellectually "stagnant" areas such as Mesopotamia. In this sense, the context may be argued to have been proto-capitalistic (in opposition to the more clearly centrally-managed and more markedly agrarian economies of older empires).
    A close collegue who is an authority on Classical Indian philosophy told me once that we it is very difficult to link philosophical tradition of India to specific social or economical contexts (of course, Buddhism may be said to be more appealing to the lower classes, but this just a sweeping generalization).
     
  17. Alex Richards Still, at least we're not Heanor UDC Donor

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2009
    Location:
    Empire of Nova Elysium
    Now that was a stunning way to finish off this. Bravo.
     
  18. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2009
    Location:
    Kew Gardens, NY
    Ikeja is actually a bit north of where the Lagos city center is in OTL - it's on the northwest shore of the lagoon at the mouth of the Ogun River, where there's a reliable supply of fresh water. (Much of the lagoon is drinkable during the rainy season - see top of page 4 - but brackish to salty during the dry season.) Ancient ships with pilots to guide them are much better able to handle the lagoon's depths than modern ones, so there's no need to situate the harbor on the ocean. Lagos Island, the center of the city in OTL, contains fishing villages and small towns in TTL.

    BTW, the "s" in Asun is pronounced "sh" in the Yoruba fashion.
     
  19. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2009
    Location:
    Kew Gardens, NY
    Any other thoughts on either the epilogue or the story as a whole? I usually don't bump my own threads, but I've still got an author's high from this and I'd like to talk about it some more.

    Would it be an incentive if I posted my rough notes about Africa in 22 BC?
     
  20. Maltaran Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 12, 2011
    I noticed that Gades, Syracuse, and Tartessos seem to be the main Mediterranean naval powers (possibly just Western med, it might be a bit much for the Levantines to send ships all the way round to Ikeja). Does this mean that the Phoenicians did better TTL than OTL, if some of their colonies are still around in 22BC? If so, does Carthage exist?