Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: Before 1900' started by Jonathan Edelstein, Jun 30, 2014.
Or possibly just a significantly weaker Rome- could be Greek Syracuse after all.
That would be welcome I believe.
Syracuse is a Greek city, and yes, the major influences in the western Med are Greek and Phoenician, although Tartessos is a native Iberian kingdom and there are surviving Celtic states in southern Gaul. My back-of-the-envelope rationale for this is that the trans-Saharan trade, and the subsequent sea trade with West Africa, gave an economic advantage - and thus an indirect military advantage - to the states with the best access to it.
Rome never became an imperial city, but on the other hand, it's the most important of the Latin city-states. An early focus on maritime trade made it a prosperous merchant-republic, and it has a few colonies of its own in Gaul, Iberia and Mauretania. Yes, TTL's Rome is primarily a naval power.
The predominant influences in the eastern Med are Persian, Greek and Egyptian (the last-named was conquered by Libyans and Persians, reunited under a Kushite dynasty, and now has a native dynasty again albeit with heavy upper Nilotic and even Bantu cultural influence). There are Semitic and proto-Armenian kingdoms and city-states in the interstices, usually as vassals to one of the major powers.
There's been less imperial consolidation in the Mediterranean world than OTL; there are and have been some large empires, but small kingdoms and city-states are still the norm. Republican government at the municipal level is common throughout the Greek, Phoenician and Latin worlds and, as we've seen, in parts of West Africa as well (although the Mediterranean republics can't fathom why Asun still calls its head of state a king).
The only Abrahamic religion existing at this time is Judaism, and Jews from OTL would find it unrecognizable: it's a prophetic henotheism rather than monotheism, and retains much more Phoenician and Egyptian character. There have been other influential prophets from India, Persia and West Africa, and by this time, their teachings are intertwined with a hodgepodge of secular philosophies.
An edited version of my notes on the Med is above; I'll work up the African notes later today.
I wonder if the Carthaginians will end up being swept towards Brazil, or whether the Nok successor peoples will. You'd think if there's more maritime activity (which will wax and wane depending on how safe the Sahara is).
You know, I really like this idea of Rome as a merchant-republic.
So now that this very fine short TL is complete, what sort of map (or maps even?) will we be seeing?
There are a couple of map excerpts further up in the thread, and the current map in progress can be seen at the blog linked in my signature...
I very much like your textures - the map reminds me of an overview for some kind of video game.
The ships that ply the Med-West Africa route are very careful to stay within sight of land, but one of them might find South America by accident if blown out to sea by a storm. As others have mentioned, the problem is developing the shipbuilding and seafaring techniques for sustained contact - but if a ship succeeds in coming back from *Brazil, and if its sailors' accounts aren't dismissed as fantasy, the knowledge that there's land out there might inspire people to work on those techniques. Maybe there could be a regular back-and-forth trade sometime in the first millennium AD, depending on whether trade along the West African route is interrupted by a dark age.
I'll admit I wanted to do something a bit different - Rome in AH always becomes an imperial capital or disappears, and I've never seen it as a prosperous but minor power.
Anyway, here are my notes on Africa in 22 BC:
West Africa is dominated by three large empires, although smaller buffer states and vassals exist in the interstices. The most powerful is currently the Asun Republic, a coastal state which controls everything from the western Niger Delta (the proto-Igbo are vassals but not subjects) to what we would know as eastern Côte d'Ivoire, and the lower Niger Valley as far north as the site of Niamey. It is the cultural successor of the Asun kingdom that existed in Nok times, but has endured foreign conquest and warring-states periods in the interim; its current incarnation took place during the third century BC and marked a shift in power from the inland cities to the coastal ports.
The dominant culture is cognate to the Yoruba, although like all of West Africa, Asun has been influenced by Indian and Mediterranean philosophies via the Palm Road and the Sahara. Government is an often-Byzantine interplay between the elected king, lesser elected officials, the aristocratic senate (the kingmakers) the secret religious society, and the citizens' assemblies.
The other two empires are Bara, an upper Niger empire with its capital at the site of Bamako, and Djamé, which is centered on Lake Chad and controls both the old Nok heartland on the Jos Plateau and what were once the Iron Cities of Termit. Bara is dominated by the peoples who would, in OTL, have become the Mandé, Mossi and Dogon, and Djamé by the proto-Sara and proto-Hausa, but the northern empires have been heavily influenced by the desert tribes, both during periods of ascendancy when their reach extended to the Sahara and periods of decline when the tribesmen acted as raiders and barbarian conquerors.
The three states are in a metastable relationship: they go to war occasionally, but at least for now, there’s no danger of a major shift in the balance of power and no threat to any of their heartlands. They have traded places over the last few centuries as the cultural leading light of West Africa, with that title currently held by Asun. Not everything is happy and shiny there – slavery exists, inequality is high, and the political system isn’t much more democratic (or much less corrupt) than the Roman Republic – but the republic is going through a remarkable creative period and is the birthplace of West African theater.
Central and Southern Africa, with “central” defined purely on a north-south basis, is dominated by Bantu-speaking peoples. With the earlier formation of large-scale political organizations, Bantu expansion has gone somewhat faster than OTL, and by 22 BC, they occupy nearly all the areas where they historically lived. This has generally been bad news for the pre-Bantu peoples such as the Baka, the Batwa and the various hunter-gatherers, who were conquered and subjugated by the Bantu; however, pre-Bantu peoples have held on in the extreme south, the deep rainforest and mountainous regions, and those with something to trade have been able to buy steel weapons.
The northern boundary of Bantu rule is roughly the same as OTL; although the formation of states allowed for more cultural exchange, the upper Nilotic peoples were strong enough to resist their political domination, and the crop package on the Ethiopian highlands was different enough that the Bantu never made a serious attempt to conquer them.
The eastern and western coasts are dotted with city-states and kingdoms based on trade with the Indian Ocean rim (in the east) and the West African empires (in the west). Most of these are small, but a few extend a considerable distance into the interior, and all of them have trade connections deep inland. There are also kingdoms of considerable size around the Great Lakes, most of which are feudal herding societies. In the Rift Valley, the Congo basin and the south, where populations are sparser and (in the south’s case) where Bantu occupation is relatively new, most peoples are still at pre-state levels of development. However, a powerful mining-based kingdom has recently arisen in the Copperbelt, and states are starting to form in what we would know as interior Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Nile and the Horn are dominated, respectively, by the lineal descendants of Kush and Iam and by the proto-Amhara. The more northerly Nilotic peoples have conquered and been conquered by Egypt several times, with Wawat and Kush still nominal Egyptian vassals, and a great deal of Egyptian and Mediterranean cultural influence has filtered south (and vice versa) over the centuries. The southern Nilotic peoples are more Bantu-influenced and, as stops on the Palm Road, have encountered Indian and West African cultures. Iam and Kush are something of a transitional zone between the African and Mediterranean cultural spheres.
Ethiopia, in TTL, is one of Africa’s younger civilizations, with early kingdoms and urban culture appearing on the highlands after 500 BC. The current hegemon is an empire centered on Lake Tana which controls nearly all the highlands and also much of the Somali coast. There is substantial interaction between this empire and South Arabia, and it also competes with the eastern Bantu city-states for the India trade. A number of important religious teachers have come from this region, including one who predated the rise of organized kingdoms and is known to Egyptians and West Africans as “the myrrh-country prophet.” Ethiopia is considered something of a cultural isolate by its neighbors, but as an integral part of the African trade routes, it is less of one than commonly believed.
Very interesting- a Rome dominated by patricians in the Venetian sense, and a much more globally connected Africa...
What a magnificent ending.
Absolutely it would.
There is a lot of high-risk commerce going on. How is it financed? Historically that has mostly been by high-interest loans (in fact the Sumerians seem to have invented compound interest for the trade with India, and to a lesser extent the north Arabian coast and Elam) but the Indian Ocean in the Islamic era certainly demonstrates that that isn't the only way to do it. Of course the Muslims were an ideological reaction against the destructive effects of usury, but the Egyptians seem never to have touched the stuff until they were first subsumed into a foreign empire.
I couldn't tell, are the West Africans using coinage? If so, is it democratized, or just used by the nobility and for international trade? What metals do they trade (besides the steel!) and how and where are they mined?
Following from that, how common are slavery and debt-peonage in Classical West Africa? In most of the time period you're covering, dealing with these issues were perhaps the one universal problem of civilization. People borrow money they can't pay back. How does society prevent the rich from becoming poor, and the poor from becoming slaves? It's a national security issue - a city full of slaves is easily conquered and the independently wealthy were often the source of elite troops.
Are the West African states operating at their logistic limits? It seems the Med is much further from its own. I buy your explanation for how that could still be the case, but given the era's structural tendency to instability, I suspect that the elimination of small states in favor of one or two great empires is basically inevitable.
I believe that West African big gold reserves are playing an important part in this.
Well, regarding Samaritans, I seem to have been wrong. I went from hazy memory without double checking. I think it's safe to classify them with Judaism, Hinduism, et al.
Legalism is intriguing. Another way of classifying these things that I didn't mention was the huge gap between state co-opted philosophies and those that aren't. None of the Western "secular" philosophies won state backing (at least not in nation-sized regions) until the early modern era. In India, on the other hand, you had rulers of kingdoms the size of Greece penning guides on how to subvert democratic systems in neighboring polities and weighing the merits of using people's faith against them. These were the extension of logic-based practical philosophies into the field of governance, and Legalism was a similar school.
To get a look at the Philosophies on the ground before that is more difficult for reasons others have mentioned. It's worth remembering that things like Legalism, but not supportive of the Qin, went on the fires just as easily as any other competing view. The big difference being that they were unpopular and were not revived. In a way it's like the lost Greek schools that we only know about from when Plato or Socrates made a point of saying why they were wrong. In that sense there are some neat works analyzing the ideas and perspectives that the Confucians and Taoists felt the need to spend time arguing against.
I'd agree that it's difficult to establish the precise relationships between background and ideas, and not just in India either. But I think it's pretty easy to demonstrate the broad strokes.
Buddhism is in a way socially very similar to Islam. Both were founded by members of the merchant class and advocated better treatment of the poor by that class. In doing so both quickly gained the support of the masses. But while Islam forbade usury, Buddhism institutionalized it. Honestly, I suspect that is why Buddhism was swept out by grassroots New Hinduism (and Islam). In China, for example, every "persecution" of the Buddhists was framed as part of the monetary policy. Certainly some of that was concealed bigotry, but the fact was that monasteries again and again were gradually accumulating enormous wealth. Specifically, sucking coinage out of the economy and using it to issue loans that small farmers often couldn't pay off in a bad year.
Thanks--looking at it, I suspect was subconsciously influenced by the style of an atlas of world history that I used to have around.
I'm curious on how the greater trade between India and West Africa (via South and East Africa) might affect the spread of tropical diseases back and forth. Additionally, with much more traffic going around West Africa (I'm assuming the Canary Islands have been discovered and are being used?) there seems to be a greater possibility of someone getting blown into Brazil, so to speak. The New World will likely be discovered much earlier ITTL.
The Roman senators got over their aversion to trade pretty early in TTL (or, possibly, never developed it). And parts of Africa are more globally integrated than others - West Africa very much so, the interior of central and southern Africa much less.
Thanks! Lagos as an ancient imperial city is a picture I've wanted to draw for some time, and what better eyes to see it through than those of a child?
The jackpot would be stock companies and maritime insurance - the remote antecedents of both were present at this time, albeit in nothing resembling their perfected form. There could be merchants' guilds that provide a form of mutual insurance if one of their members loses a ship or caravan. As Falecius says, the West African gold reserves are important, as are diamonds (which Asun merchants sell on for much more than they pay Namibian miners) and locally-mined sapphires.
Also, since the money economy is largely an urban phenomenon at this point, debt isn't as big a deal for peasants. And those who move to the cities might be part of village progressive societies (i.e., mutual-aid associations composed of people from the same village) such as exist throughout West Africa today. Government intervention by populist politicians, Clodius-style, isn't out of the question either.
With that said, though, the West African empires do face the same problems as other classical societies. Slavery is becoming more common, inequality is rising, and as a result, political populism is increasing. The year of four elections that Ayo's father mentioned, involved a politician not all that different from the Gracchi, and although a populist victory in the subsequent rebellion led to some reforms, the fundamental issues are rearing their heads again.
West Africa, the eastern Med and the upper Nile are fairly close to high-end equilibrium, and it's no accident that these are the most politically consolidated regions. The western Med, Ethiopia and the Bantu-speaking regions haven't yet come close to their limits.
Hmmm. The exchange between India and West Africa would probably be equivalent to that between Europe and China via the Silk Road - most trade from one end of that network goes through multiple hands before reaching the others. Bantu East Africa, though, would have a much more direct connection to India. I'm not sure what diseases East African had at this point that India didn't (or vice versa) - I'll have to look into it.
The Canaries have been discovered, and someone's bound to find South America sooner or later - the question is whether they get back, whether their stories will be dismissed as sailors' fantasies, and how long it will take to develop the technology and skills for reliable crossing.
Really interesting concept;
I had a sense of a West African trade republic; definitely some parallels in the Mediterranean (Athens or Venice comes to mind...) Do you see an "Asunian" (Asunite?) state leading to a string of daughter colonies along the the coast, and how far north and south?
Definitely seems like the Phoenician daughter cultures have done "better" in this Mediterranean than historically. Combine that reality with a "strong" series of maritime-oriented cultures/societies in West Africa and the obvious frontiers are to the far south - Congo River Basin and then the Cape? Do they run into the Bantu pastoralists coming overland? Are there "missions" to the Khoikhoi et al?
The other open frontier would be the Atlantic via Macronesia...the Western Hemisphere would be a stretch, I'd think, but certainly closer to the realm of the possible than historically.
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