World Without West

I like this idea a lot! I'll watch this for sure!

Also, thank you for reminding me of the Spec Evo forum!
The world in 475 BC, or 342 BS, immediately after the Etruscan-Carthaginian partition of Enotria.


Europe outside the Mediterranean coast and a few places in the Baltic doesn't lend itself to city states. So we will likely see a move toward tribal confederations among the Germanics and Celts, while the Balkans become dominated by tribal kingdoms early one. We will likely see the Celts keeping control over southern Germany, while the Germanics tribes likely spread their dominance over the south Baltic coast and later follow the Gothic migration into the Pannovian plain, the Carpatians and Ukraine.

So, we're looking at Celts in Iberia, France, British Isles, Alps and Balkans, and Germans in the northern and eastern plains, correct? (Where do Illyrians fit in here?) If mass migrations occur in the future, what other peoples could dominate Europe? Baltic or Finnic peoples? Avars, Magyars? Is it even possible to tell, or is this sort of migration too chaotic?
The world in 475 BC, or 342 BS, immediately after the Etruscan-Carthaginian partition of Enotria.

So, we're looking at Celts in Iberia, France, British Isles, Alps and Balkans, and Germans in the northern and eastern plains, correct? (Where do Illyrians fit in here?) If mass migrations occur in the future, what other peoples could dominate Europe? Baltic or Finnic peoples? Avars, Magyars? Is it even possible to tell, or is this sort of migration too chaotic?

Too chaotic, I'm afraid, with almost 1000 years of difference. When you look to Europe in 1 A.D., you can never suppose that half of it will become Slavic.

I do like the idea of the Celts having a much longer lasting presence than OTL if we take Rome out of the picture, even if they lose political autonomy through the centuries by foreign invasions. I'm sure that those living in Gaul, Britain, Iberia and Helvetia could resist assimilation from a hostile invading power (possibly the Germanic peoples, but let's not forget about these far-ranging Nomadic peoples from the Pontic Steppe).
I imagine the next part will detail the collapse of the Persians?

Personally, I don't see Mesopotamia and Persia remaining united under one dynasty. Babylon was notoriously difficult to rule; at the first sign of weakness, they're going to attempt to break out from under the Persian yoke. Maybe that's how the Empire is split; one Persian dynasty that has some kind of Mesopotamian cred that lets them rule, the other ruling Persia, and whatever bits of Bactria and Scythia it can hold on to. But a unified Mesopotamia-Persia, at least in the immediate future, strikes me as unlikely.

Being cut off from the West and any potential control of Pelusium is going to put the Persians at a massive disadvantage as compared to the Mesopotamians. Until they get their next Koresh, I don't see the Persians doing much outside of fending off steppe-nomads and the Mesopotamians.
Yup the Achaemenids could use the peace gained by vanquishing the nuisance creating Greek cities to stabilize their new conquests and gain a respite from fighting wars. Maybe they would be able to consolidate Egypt more strongly under their control with the extra freed up
resources being utilized to placate the province. But the Shah n shah will have to curb the ambitions of the over ambitious Satraps from time to time, to be safe and secure powerfully in his throne.

Well wouldn't it be good that Magadha would expand more earlier in its history? With the size of Magadha shown in the map I doubt it will not consider expanding a 'bit more'.
So, we're looking at Celts in Iberia, France, British Isles, Alps and Balkans, and Germans in the northern and eastern plains, correct?

Yes seem likely, Germanic tribes may push into the Celtic "Balkans" (mostly the Pannovian plains).

(Where do Illyrians fit in here?)

I would say that Illyrians is in a pretty bad situation the coast of the eastern Adrian Sea lent itself to dominance from the Po valley and very badly to expansion or major kingdom. If they survive in the long term it will be because they have a base of hill tribes inland, who can repopulate the coast after plagues or warfare, if the Albanians are descendent of the Illyrians, they're more or less the example of this. In the short term I could see them being successful in setting some coastal city states up. Not as successful as the Greeks, but they could have their own little niche.

I think the Thracians/Dacian (let's run with the hypothesis that their languages is the same or very closely related) are more interesting, if they have room here to set up a successful kingdom, of course their major problem is that they live on the migration autobahn, so their long term survival depend on whether they can expand into a more defensive area

If mass migrations occur in the future, what other peoples could dominate Europe? Baltic or Finnic peoples? Avars, Magyars? Is it even possible to tell, or is this sort of migration too chaotic?

We can make some guesses, Finnic-Ugric people are quite unlikely, the Magyar was really an unusual success, the Finns suffer from the point that they don't have the necessary mobility to make a successful migration into the better areas of Europe, and Germanics and Balto-Slavs have a successful agricultural packet, which they just need to adopt to Finnish areas.

The Germanics expansion is in my opinion unavoidable, it's just a question where they will go. The Germanics live on the border of where could exist agricultural, as such few people wanted to expand into their territories, and they tended to have boom and bust population growth, where they sent a migration wave out, when they hit bust. The Teutons/Cimbri was the first example, but the Goth likely migrated for the same reasons, the Langobards are mentioned to have migrated in the Sagas for the same reason, with strong Celtic culture limiting their expansion west (I think a takeover of the Rhine and Alps are still likely in the long term), I think we will see them go east. The Goths ended up in Romanian and Ukraine. If the Dacians are going strong they may stop a Gothic (Gepid) into Transsylvania. We could see a expansion into Balto-Slavic territory, ending thehir culture or pushing them into Finnic areas (Upper Volga), or Ukraine may have enough room to all.

Turkic (Alans/Huns etc) and Sarmatian (Scytians) migration into Europe or the Middle East is also likely. of course their expansion do depend on several factors, we could see the Sarmatian expand into the original Turkish homeland and end them, before their expansions. In that case the Sarmatians will likely replace the Turks as the main nomadic group, which invade different areas. As Scytian is Indo-Iranian, they will likely often be used as mercenaries by a Persian speaking Middel East.

The Balto-Slavic expansion was likely a result of plagues depopulate much of Europe. A plague always make rooms for a migration, it just depend on who is lucky enough to be able to use the oppotunity.
Are there any plans for a major divergence in the Far East later on? Maybe Song China getting an industrial revolution? I know that would significantly change things, but it might make it so that the world becomes really different really fast and could be justified by a shorter Silk Road (maybe only reaching to the Mid East) concentrating the wealth in China a bit more.
Gothic success in the Istropontic space is a butterfly victim. Everything here depends on how Dacia develops. It's close to the Persian Empire and a likely victim for interference. If they play the game well, though, they'll easily fend off or even colonise germanic arrivals like they did with the Bastarnae.
Thank you all for the information. The age of migration is still quite far in the future, though, so there'll be more time to plan the new makeup of Europe. I expect it to result with Celtic kingdoms in the Iberia and North Africa, Germanic states in Italy and Balkans, and some kind of Asian people (Turkic/Ugric/Iranic) occupying the northern plain. Of course it's still undetermined. Right now I'm trying to figure out the relations of Carthage with the Celts and West Africa.

Are there any plans for a major divergence in the Far East later on? Maybe Song China getting an industrial revolution?

Quite sooner than that - an alternate unification of China under the Chu kingdom rather than Qin. I described it roughly near the beginning of the thread, but I'm still working on it - particularly, I still need to find a way to tie it to the PoD. Some migration displaced by the larger Persian Empire? Maybe some aftereffect of its collapse? If the empire loses control of the eastern provinces, maybe some warlord could attack Qin and weaken it enough to allow Chu to prevail. Would this be plausible?
Thank you all for the information. The age of migration is still quite far in the future, though, so there'll be more time to plan the new makeup of Europe. I expect it to result with Celtic kingdoms in the Iberia and North Africa, Germanic states in Italy and Balkans, and some kind of Asian people (Turkic/Ugric/Iranic) occupying the northern plain.

Just one thing the south Baltic coast is not plain, it may technical be that today, but that's because of agriculture and massive human engineering. At this point in history and until the late medieval periode, it was oak forests, swamps, wetlands, meadows and heaths. Until the wheeled plough was introduced in Lower Saxony and Denmark in around 500 AD, the most populated areas was the heaths, where the ard could be easily used, and coast and along rivers. The Slavic expansion was only successful, because they too used ards (and colonised heaths foremost), and the wheeled plough had not yet fully spread to the trans-Elbian Germanic tribes. It's close to impossible for nomadic invaders to colonise the south Baltic coast. The areas which lent themselves to nomadic take over is the Ukraine, the lower Volga, Hungary, northern Bulgaria, southern Romania and of course central Anatolia. Poland, Upper Volga and Belarus can get it cities destroyed, but the population just hide in the hinterland until the invaders go away, while any Nomadic army trying to invade north Germany, will be dead of attribution before they even reach the east Oder territories. There was a reason the Hunnic dominance of the Germanic tribes collapse after Attila, and that was because his son alienated the Gepids who had served as infantry for the Huns and thugs to keep the other Germanic tribes down. The Avars seem to have had a similar relationship with the Slavs.

Of course it's still undetermined. Right now I'm trying to figure out the relations of Carthage with the Celts and West Africa.

You could simply have the Cathagian do the same thing as the Romans did with the Franks. Use them as mercenaries, maybe against the Berber and settle them as confederalis in Mahgreb and when lose control with them. The Franks was settled in southern Netherlands and in Flanders and those areas still speak low Frankish even if we don't call it that. So settle some Celtiberians in Numidia and end up with them dominate the areas, at some point Carthago lack money to pay them, and they sack the city, and set up their own kingdom in the area.
4. Athens in the Steppe (357 – ca. 250 BS)

The New Greece was as different from the old one as it could be. Whereas the land of Athens and Sparta was sunny, warm, mountainous and surrounded by the sea, the land of Theodosia and Chersonesos was damp, cold, flat and windswept. The culture of their new neighbors was also unfamiliar.

The steppe between Tauris and Central Asia was inhabited by herding nomads of Iranian stock, known to Hellenes as Scythians and to Persians as Saka. They lived in a loose confederation of tribes that organized pasture use and defense against common enemies. They were famed for their horsemanship, and they fought with powerful composite bows made out of layers of wood, horn and sinew held together by animal glue. They allowed women to fight, forbidding them to marry until they had killed, and their pride in warfare extended to taking scalps and other bodyparts as trophies from fallen enemies, and sacrificing war prisoners to Ares. Their art mostly depicted wild animals such as stags, eagles and boars. They had few static settlements, and they prized herding over farming. As far as the Hellenes were concerned, they were thoroughly barbarians.

They did, however, have one redeeming feature: they had fought the Persian army, and they had won [1].

Even with their numbers increased by the refugees, the Hellenes of Tauris found themselves in a weak position. They controlled numerous colonies along the Pontic coastline, but they couldn't expand inland. Their administration overwhelmed, the cities reestablished some order under the oligarchic government of the archons. In order to exploit their new situation, the town of Psoa specialized in collecting gas bladders from fish to make glue for the Scythian bows, while the artisans of Theodosia became famous for their carved whelk shells.

As soon as the wealth of the coastal cities began growing, it attracted unwanted attentions. The Tauri were another nomadic people that gave to the region its name. Few is known about them, except that they were considered savage and warlike, and they commonly raided both the Scythian camps and the Hellenic cities. With the disruption of maritime trade, the Hellenes found themselves lacking bronze or iron with which to forge their traditional weapons, and therefore largely reliant on Scythians for their own safety. By the beginning of the 4th century BS, all major Hellenic centers were paying Scythian warriors to fight off Tauri raiders.

The Hellenic exiles quickly picked up customs from the Scythians: they started making long-sleeved tunics and trousers out of leather, felt and woven wool, such clothes being a much better protection against the cold of the Tauris winters. They adapted their phonetic alphabet to write down the Scythian languages, creating a writing system that would last for almost a millennium before being replaced by aramaic-derived scripts. Scythians, for their part, experienced many conversions to the Hellenic pantheon, and Hellenic loanwords are still commonly found in the languages of their descendants.

The structure of the Scythian tribe confederation expanded and became more complex, including the Hellenic states that were increasingly integrated. The Hellenic introduction of writing was instrumental in the development of a more complex government. Coastal settlements, both on the Pontus and the Caspian, grew in importance. Few is known of this process, as there is almost no surviving written record of it: almost all known literature from that region and period is mythical narrative. What we know is that at the end of the 4th century BS, the Tauri were no longer considered a concern. History doesn't mention them again.

In this period, agriculture expanded significantly. The soil of Tauris and of the Scythian land at the north was excellent for wheat production, so we see increasing numbers of Scythians settling down as farmers; on the other hand, many Hellenes seem to take up herding, further blurring the distinction between the two peoples. After ca. 250 BS [ca. 380 BC] historians simply speak of Helleno-Scythians. The new polity took up the form of a land-based empire that would extend northward and eastward over the centuries, exploiting the central Asian steppe as pasture for horses and cattle; the Tauris would be their breadbasket.

The Sarmatian Empire is an often forgotten part of Asian history. It remained relatively isolated from the urbanized empires in Persia, India and China, mostly living off trade with the surrounding Turkic and Iranic tribes. The Hellenic urban tradition was adapted to the materials of the steppe: Sarmatian cities were largely built out of wood and hides, with stone used only for few temples and palaces [2]. They were inhabited by artisans and fishermen: the vast majority of the population comprised herders and merchants moving from city to city. The organization of the empire was largely decentralized: each tribe had a regional capital, and sent envoys to a council that sat in the imperial capital, Tanais, built at the mouth of a river flowing into the Pontus.

Tanais hosted the largest building in the empire, a temple of Tabiti or Hestia, built in the Hellenic style. Hemp was burned during rituals to induce trance in the participants, and horses were sacrificed during the most solemn occasions. The artisans of Tanais painted ceramic vessels and carved various stones and gemstones. Colorful textiles were made in large amount, and integrated with leatherwork or with metal brooches and buckles. A beverage known as kumis was produced from fermented mare milk.

The greatest Hellenic contribution to the Sarmatian Empire was certainly writing. It allowed recording the tributes offered by the various tribes to the capital, and it flourished in a rich literary tradition. The masterpiece of Sarmatian literature must be the Libadia [3], a poem written by an anonymous author around 50 BS [180 BC] that describes a mythological version of the foundation of the empire by a Persian castaway inspired by Hestia.

The empire would wax and wane over the centuries, splitting and merging many times, before its eventual fall in the 7th century AS.

[1] Darius invaded Scythian land beyond the Danube before the Ionian Revolt, and according to Herodotus the Scythians foiled his plan by letting him march without fighting. Before that, Cyrus the Great had allegedly been killed by order of the Massagetan queen Tomyris during another failed invasion.

[2] Roughly based on OTL "Scythian Neapolis", which had a stone mausoleum, defensive walls and Greek-style architecture.

[3] Literally "pastures" in Ancient Greek.


In the next installment: we look at Carthaginian trade routes and their consequences.
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A few thoughts.

Without Rome I think southern Italy will stay Greek speaking, it will likely be the main centre of Hellenistic culture. But I the settlement of Tauri is interesting in it own right, the climate are somewhat acceptable to Greek agriculture. Its main weakness is how easy it is to invade for horse nomads. But the integration with the Scytians will protect the Greeks for centuries. The Scyctian seem to have dominated it in OTL until around 4th century, when the Goths migrated to the area. Just as the Ostrogoth and Heruls adopted Scytian lifestyle I could see Greeks do the same, we could even see tem dominate Crimea and the southern Ukraine, the Scyts seem to have moved east between 300 BC and 200 AD. The result could be barbarian Hellenic state in Ukraine, which keep the Goth out. Alternate the Greeks could simply serve to unify the Scytian kingdom, serving as a administrative and mercantile caste among the Scytians (like the Persians did among the Turks of Central Asia). The result of this could be that the Scytian empire invades China and takes them out under the Warring States periode. Of course if that happens it would be natural for the Scytians to move the centre of their empire into the rich China.

If you decides to go that way, it would make China quite different as the Mandarin Chinese would likely be replaced by Indo Iranian, and we get one culture and language dominating from Danube delta to Korea. It will more or less integrate northern China, Korea and Japan with western Eurasia, while the south stay part of south east Asia.
Do the Syctho-Hellenes make their mark in later ages of migration?

I imagine they would, but it's still early to say what will happen then. Anything that goes on in the age of migration is still undefined.

The result of this could be that the Scytian empire invades China and takes them out under the Warring States periode. Of course if that happens it would be natural for the Scytians to move the centre of their empire into the rich China.

If you decides to go that way, it would make China quite different as the Mandarin Chinese would likely be replaced by Indo Iranian, and we get one culture and language dominating from Danube delta to Korea. It will more or less integrate northern China, Korea and Japan with western Eurasia, while the south stay part of south east Asia.

Ooh, nice idea. Even if I don't have the Scythians outright conquer China, I could have them at least attack Qin - this would neatly tie my plans of an alternate unification of China into the PoD.
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5. The Ivory Road (ca. 300 – ca. 1 BS)


After the unification of the Western Mediterranean, Qart-Hadasht found itself in a dire need of money. The number of mercenaries hired for the conquest of Sicily and the wars in Enotria was a potential threat, and required more resources than the conquests had made available. Carthaginian exploration of the Atlantic shores was not as useful as hoped. Trade seemed more profitable. Gold mines were known to exist in Keltistan and south of the Kwara river [1], both impervious to conquest, the former because of the rugged terrain and lack of local allies, the latter because it was impossible to supply an army through the vast desert.

The Imazigh [Berbers], on the other hand, had been crossing the desert for centuries. They had left megaliths and monumental tombs rising from the sand. They had an intricate knowledge of paths, shelters and oasis, and knew all the secrets of survival in this unforgiving environment. In fact, horse-riding Imazigh tribes had managed in the past to exact tributes from Qart-Hadasht; the goddess Tanit herself had her roots in Imazigh religion. As the Phoenician city grew in power, though, northern Imazigh were reduced to a poorly assimilated lower class in Carthaginian society, and they became an important component of the mercenary army.

Under the significant threat of a mercenary revolt, the Council negotiated a deal with the Imazigh community to take up trade with their southern kin, supplying them with horses and some of the first domesticated dromedaries purchased from Egypt. The caravans leaving Carthaginian territory would carry cloth, beads, tin, salt, and a variety of iron tools; the manufacture of artifacts like jewels, glassware, statuettes and masks had increased in Carthaginian cities, and they would make for precious exchange goods. Wine and oil were produced in Sicily and on the Libyan coast.

These caravans, either directly or through the Imazigh middlemen, would reach the tribes settled in the basin of the Kwara River. They would exchange the Carthaginian goods with gold and slaves, and also large amounts of ivory. Ivory-based artwork becomes much more abundant in the Mediterranean markets from the 2nd century BS, such as the “Horned Baal” discovered a few years ago in Vetluna. Animals such as giraffes and barbary apes would be traded as curiosities; even Scythian kumis and composite bows could sometimes enter the Mediterranean trade net through Illyria.

In the Libyan harbors, caravans coming from the desert would load their goods on ships destined to Keltistan, Sicily, Sardinia and Enotria. Whenever the Celtic tribes of inland Keltistan fought, they would sell their prisoners as slaves on the markets of Agadir and Saguntum, and in peacetime they would rent themselves out as mercenaries. In exchange, they would receive Libyan gold and ivory; artwork was less prized, but raw gold and silver was exchanged as material. This complex of trade routes became what we know as the “Ivory Road”: at its apex around 100 BS it extended from Burdigala on the Garona river to Djenne-Djeno on the Kwara.

This doesn't mean that the relationships between peoples were always peaceful. Slaves from the Benin region, exchanged through the kingdoms of the Kwara and eventually sold to Imazigh traders, had been employed to work the farms of Sicily, thus covering a key role in the production of food for Qart-Hadasht. We know them, with a Persian word, as zangi. As the slave population outnumbered the free workers, it became increasingly difficult to control. In 119 BS [252 BC], a minor act of violence escalated into outright rebellion.

Losing control of Sicily meant losing both a significant fraction of crops and many important trade routes with the eastern Mediterranean. Qart-Hadasht sent an army of Celtic mercenaries under the general Reburrus to reestablish order. The mercenaries landed to Katane and quickly secured the city, but the slave army spread out in the island and waged a guerrilla war that would last for years. The Carthaginian empire tried to compensate by increasing food production in Sardinia, where most farmland was still manned by free workers, and buying large amounts of grain from Egypt (this would eventually help fund the Egyptian rebels during the fall of the Persian Empire).

It took five years for Reburrus to crush the rebellion. The surviving slaves were being sold off to Rasna, Ionia or Keltistan, as the Carthaginian governor Hamelqart tried to get agriculture running again. Reburrus demanded payment for his men, only to hear that the empire couldn't afford it. In response, the mercenary army immediately seized Katane and captured Hamelqart, who would be shipped back to Qart-Hadasht under a hefty ransom. Reburrus set himself up as the tyrant of Katane, controlling the northeastern corner of Sicily. Many of the captured Zangi slaves were freed and given plots of land to work.

Qart-Hadasht was in no shape to reclaim Katane: it had to reluctantly acknowledge its independence and negotiate a deal for Sicilian grain. Of course, less than four decades later the Celtic kingdom in Sicily would be annexed again, and Reburrus's heir would end his life in exile in Rasna. Despite its short life, this little anomaly played an important role in the shifting of Carthaginian trade priorities from the traditional maritime routes to focus on the Ivory Road proper. Even today, eastern Sicily bears the genetic and linguistic mark of its Zangi and Celtic occupiers.

In their quest for gold and food, Carthaginian/Imazigh traders brought previously unseen amounts of horses and iron tools to the tribes of the Kwara. The horses gradually acclimated to the semi-arid savanna around the Kwara, known as Azawagh in the language of the Imazigh, even developing into a specialized breed. That of horse breeder became a profitable occupation among the peoples of the Awazagh, such as the Hausa, the Mandinka or the Akan [2]. The face of Libya was about to be changed forever.

[1] The Hausa name of the Niger river.

[2] OTL, the Akan are now found in Ghana, where they created the Ashanti Empire, but they lived in the Sahel (= Azawagh) before the 11th century CE.

In the next installment: the butterflies reach China...
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No, just salt (which I guess could count as food...) The only major food transport in this chapter are to Carthage through the Mediterranean, either from Sardinia and Sicily or from Egypt following the coast. I could have made it clearer, but "in their quest for gold and food" refers to the fact that they were using much of that gold to buy food, as long as Sicily was unavailable.


I am glad to see that you are producing such a detailed timeline for a PoD with such potential. Best of luck, I'll be watching!
6. Ripples in the Pond (ca. 200 – 137 BS)

(Note: the term “China” will be used here to indicate what Chinese people call “Yigong” [Erjiang] [1], literally “two rivers”, meaning the plains of the Yellow and the Blue River, as well as the hilly area in the south.) [2]


While Qart-Hadasht grew in power in the far west of Asia and Persia in the middle, in the far east a great power had fallen apart. The great Zhou dynasty in the north of what we know has China had shattered into a multitude of polities in battle with each other. Most of them were concentrated in the wide plain between the Yellow and the Blue River [Yangtze], which flowed parallel from west to east. By 200 BS [330 BC], the fiefdoms had consolidated into seven kingdoms tied together by ephemeral alliances: Qin in the west, Zhao and Yan in the north, Chu in the south, Qi in the east, Wei and Han at the center of all.

The early period of fragmentation had been the cradle of Chinese culture. While it produced fine artwork out of jade and bronze, its greatest accomplishments were the major schools of Chinese philosophy. Legalism claimed that man is innately prone to vice, and must be held in check by a ruthless application of the law. Daoism placed a greater value over the individual, teaching to adapt oneself to the natural order of the world, more than to society. Confucianism held that a state can work only if everyone acts according to their role in social relationship through rituals and hierarchies, the key of which was the relationship between father and son. Mohism, on the contrary, taught to treat everyone with equal compassion, and to evaluate customs by their usefulness.

Forged in the fire of centuries of war, the kingdoms strove to apply their philosophies in the most effective way. Pragmatism had long replaced honor in warfare. The first such case were the Legalist reforms that Shang Yang applied to the kingdom of Qin in 223 BS [356 BC]. He abolished hereditary nobility, exerted a totalitarian control of the assets of the state, and reorganized the army to promote officers by merit. These reforms endowed Qin with an extremely powerful military, which allowed it to break Wei's hegemony and annex outer regions like Shu.

The other states gathered in an alliance against Qin, and unsuccessfully attacked it in 185 BS [318 BC]. Chu, meanwhile, expanded in the south, conquering the vast Yue lands and becoming by far the largest of the Warring Kingdoms. During negotiations among the largest kingdoms, king Huai of Chu was abducted to Xianyang, the Qin capital. [3] As Qin prepared to take on the alliance, the unexpected occurred.

In the summer of 164 BS [297 BC], a horde of bow-wielding horsemen spewed forth from a mountain pass in the far west. Over the last century, the expansion eastward of the Sarmatian Empire had displaced many nomad tribes of central Asia, and each of them pushed others away. As from a stone cast in a pond, the ripples spread outward until they reached the borders of China, channeled through the Gansu Corridor, and Qin was the first nation on their path.

Historical sources about the invaders – tentatively identified with the Yuezhi – are scant, but they certainly were desperate. Xianyang, on which all the western routes converged, was pillaged while most of the Qin army was occupied defending the Hangu pass from the Wei army. As they advanced east, they found the bulk of the Qin army, and were forced to turn back. As often in history, this unpredictable event turned the tides of the war. [4]

The king Zhaoxiang hurried back to Xianyang to find not only that the population had fled to the countryside and that his palace had been looted, but also that his general Bai Qi had taken over. The traditional story has Zhaoxiang rushing into the palace just to be killed by a guard that had mistaken him for a straggling looter. The king's five-year-old son, Xiaowen, was brought out of the capital by his mother, who would rule as queen dowager. King Huai managed to bribe soldiers into escorting him back to the Chu border.

Bai Qi had the fame of an excellent general, if a vicious one. However, the extreme centralization of the Legalist state meant that the devastation of the court, as well as the uncertainty of the officials as to whether obey general Bai or the queen dowager, prevented him from organizing an effective defense. Many officials were executed. While the Wei army broke through the Hangu pass, Chu soldiers appeared in the south to recover Huai.

Once again in his capital at Ying, Huai felt deeply frustrated by the inability of his own kingdom to protect him from abduction. Comparing Chu's organization with Qin's, he decided that the fault lay in the waste and corruption of its government. He entrusted his minister Gan Mei with a reform as thorough as that of Shang Yang, although based on Mohist doctrine.

The assets of the aristocracy were requisitioned on a massive scale to fund the reconstruction of the army – as well as collecting state-owned land as a reward for soldiers that performed well, which was recognized as a major factor in the effectiveness of the Qin army. Administrative power went to a system of appointed officials whose status depended from their performance. The full extent of Gan Mei's reforms took over eight years, and their details will be described later. By 153 BS [286 BC], the Chu army was more than able to stand up to Qin, which was now unambiguously ruled by Bai Qi, but had been greatly weakened by the loss of Hangu. Wei accepted a new alliance with Chu; it was sealed by marrying a Wei princess to Huai's son Qingxiang.

The Chu army marched again northwest into Qin, and after two years of bloody warfare Xianyang fell again. Bai Qi was executed, and Xiaowen was allowed to retake the throne on condition he swore loyalty to Huai and disbanded most of the army. The Qin state became functionally Chu territory, and Xiaowen's son wouldn't be allowed to inherit the throne.

King Huai died in 146 BS [279 BC], and the continuation of the war fell to Qingxiang, who had administered the kingdom during his father's imprisonment. With Qin gone and Wei secured, he turned to conquer the southern lands of Minyue and Nanyue, and spent most of his reign trying to maintain order. Meanwhile, Wei was attacked by Han from the south and Zhao from the north; Qinxiang allowed the fight to weaken Wei, and then intervened crushing and annexing Han. Wei, too, accepted annexation in exchange for protection from Zhao, which was dangerously close to its capital. However, even Zhao wouldn't last long, falling to Yan a few decades later.

By 137 BS [270 BC] the only surviving kingdoms were Chu, Qi and Yan. With its capital on the Yangtze and trouble controlling the far south, Qingxiang decided to cease fighting, and instead strengthened the borders. In that year, he performed in Ying the yearly sacrifice to Shangdi, which was once prerogative of the Zhou. In doing so, he marked himself the only and rightful successor of the Zhou royal dynasty. The age of the Warring States had officially come to an end. The Chu Empire had begun.

[1] ITTL the standard version of Chinese is much more similar to modern Cantonese, because of the more southern orientation of China. For this reason, I use Cantonese names (in Yale romanization) for concepts like titles or regions, indicating the Mandarin (Pinyin) equivalent between square brackets. However, for the sake of clarity, I keep using Mandarin/Pinyin for historical kingdoms and people. At this time they would have all spoken Old Chinese anyway.

[2] IOTL the term “Zhongguo” (“middle kingdom”) was used unambiguously to indicate all China only under the Qing dynasty, so I'm making up a purely geographical term to replace it.

[3] Everything in this chapter until now, at the best of my understanding, occurs as OTL.

[4] IOTL Zhaoxiang, great-grandparent of Qin Shi Huangdi, conquered with Bai Qi the Chu capital Ying in 278 BC (that's why it's in Qin territory in the map above), and went on to defeat Zhao and execute the last Zhou emperor. Eventually Bai Qi would fall into disagreement with Zhaoxiang, who forced him to commit suicide.


In the next installment: we see what the new China looks like.
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7. China Remade (137 BS – ca. 50 AS)


Chu drum in lacquered wood, depicting tigers and phoenices (source)​

Like Legalism, Mohism was a very pragmatical philosophy. It regarded the well-being of the state in wealth, order, and population as the supreme good, and examined the best strategies to ensure it. Laws had to be evaluated according to precedents, evidence, and usefulness. Mozi's ethics of “impartial compassion” had to be reconciled with the necessity of warfare: this was the challenge of the reforms of minister Gan Mei. The authority of the king – and later of the emperor – was justified as necessary to preserve the order in the state.

In accordance with Mozi's triple standard, ostentation and waste of public resources had to be cut, as well as purposeless ceremonies. After the wars, the damaged cities would be rebuilt with almost sterile efficiency. The excess of wealth and land confiscated from the nobles was redistributed to the soldiers and to the peasants, increasing popular support for the reforms. It goes without saying that nobility was deeply unhappy with these actions, and they would revolt more than once.

The administration of the new empire, taken away from the aristocracy, was entrusted to servants appointed by the sovereign. A number of dukes (gung) controlled large regions, each centered on a major city, and in turn they appointed local lords (gwan), which had authority over village heads. People were eligible to these positions if they passed a series of civil exams that proved their ability, and while their office was theoretically lifelong, they could be demoted and replaced in the case of corruption or incompetence. They were expected to live frugally, with only minor luxuries allowed as rewards for good behavior. [1]

The Mohist ethics also rejected aggressive warfare (although the invasions of Qin and Han had been justified as preemptive defense and protecting an ally, respectively). For this reason, actual practicing Mohists were restricted to civilian roles and prevented to have direct authority over the army. Many, being skilled in mathematics and engineering, were employed in the construction of border fortresses, as well as public works like bridges, channels and dams. A new road system with a regular gauge was built to connect Ying to all the major cities of the empire.

One of the most useful innovations under Gan Mei was the standardization of measurements units, and the shape and size of mechanical parts. Complex machines like crossbows and catapults could have broken parts easily removed and replaced, greatly increasing their efficiency and allowing the Chu army to challenge Qin's military superiority. This was followed under the emperor Shaoyi with the creation of a unified writing system based on the “birds and worms” seal script originally used in the south.

A group of Mohist scholars was present at court to analyze the law and modify it by preserving useful principles and eliminating useless ones. Their philosophy required that society had to be studied objectively, rather than assuming that traditional customs are the best ones. Over the centuries, Mohists would be excellent mathematicians (Zheke), logicians (Qilian) and engineers (Wu Yu); Qilian is also remembered for a Natural History in nineteen volumes. However, they showed little concern for practical experimentation. Although Ma Xizang (164 – 221 AS) [31 – 88 AD] is considered by many historians as the first scientist, with surprisingly prescient discoveries about the properties of gravity, his work was clearly atypical, and in fact it was forgotten for well over a millennium.

Ever since the dawn of Chinese civilization, the Yellow River floodplain had been prime ground to farm millet, but now the fortified border with Yan and Qi prevented Chu from exploiting it properly. Furthermore, Yan managed to extend its control to all the northern bank of the river over the century after the unification. The problem was solved by the Yue peoples. The wet valleys of the lower Blue River and other southern rivers, largely spared from destruction, were flooded and turned into rice paddies, to feed a vastly increasing population. Aquaculture would become the main source of food, later expanded to carps, clams and shrimps.

Numerous families were encouraged with tax breaks; the population of Chu rose from about 18 to 22 millions in the century after the unification. After political and linguistic unification, the later Chu emperors encouraged migration and mixing among their subjects, so that all the peoples living south of the Yellow River would become one.

Even though Mohism was established as the official doctrine of the state, it had little appeal for the population. Daoism survived, though heavily influenced by Yue religions. With the increased wealth and stability of the Chu Empire, production of artwork depicting deities and totem animals actually increased. Shrines to Yu Huang, the “Jade Emperor”, were found in all cities. In Fukgin [Fujian] there were female shamans, and although the government at Ying recognized only male representative for each household, in the far south they were typically dominated by women. [2]

Keeping perfect Mohist ethics all the time was exhausting (even music was considered an unacceptable waste), and it was said that every civil servant was “mohist at the court, daoist at home”; many dukes and lords owned brazen or lacquerware effigies of sacred animals like turtles, tigers or phoenices. The popular Daoist-shamanist vision certainly offered more comfort, with rituals and ceremonies that promised an amount of control over spirits and nature.

North of Chu, the state of Yan was fighting a long border war with Gojoseon, the kingdom established in northern Goryeo [Korea], which had recently adopted iron weapons, and was rich in iron mines. Gojoseon would soon lose the Liaodong peninsula to Yan, and around 40 BS [170 BC] it would fall apart altogether, replaced by several kingdoms, a few of which vassals of Yan.

While war convulsed the mainland, Yamato was progressing in a more peaceful way. Rice farming and pig breeding reached to the southern islands, probably accompanied by a migration from the continent that mixed with the native hunter-gatherers. The first cities were built out of wood and stone, bells and mirrors were made out of cast bronze, and local governments took shape. Tribes of horse archers known as the Emishi kept living in the northern half of the archipelago. [3]

[1] The description of the Mohist political structure is adapted from this source.

[2] The Minyue people lived in the modern Fujian province, on the coast near Taiwan, and their culture was very similar to that of Taiwanese natives.

[3] As OTL (Yayoi period).
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