Clash of titans: East vs. West
Europe includes an immense diversity of cultures and languages that developed side by side; Asia on the other hand had been developing on its own for centuries before Europe began to evolve. So how did the “peninsula of Asia”, become not only a strong force in the West, but a global power. Through the different articles we read, Illustrated History of Europe, Roberts’ A History of Europe, Davies’ Europe: A History, Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, Landes’ The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, and Hanson’s Carnage and Culture one can understand how and why the later developing Europe became the dominate power over the already powerful Asia.
The Illustrated History of Europe calls Europe a divided continent, but one civilization. Europe’s wide plains, for example the Great Northern Plain, only aid to an easy invasion from the east which happened numerous times throughout Europe’s history. Europe also has a high diversity of languages, 43 in total, that were originated from Sanskrit. Because of this, Europe’s language, in written from, is based on a consonantal system rather than that of an ideographic system such as the Chinese use.
This article broke down Europe’s civilization into three different bases: democracy originating from the Greeks, law coming from the Romans, and finally, the value of individualism and liberty derived from the Christians. Roberts and Davies mainly describe Europe’s geography and how it affected the development of the people within. Roberts described Europe as a “peninsula of Asia”, being surrounded on its boundaries, primarily by water. This was why Europe was able to develop on its own.
The bodies of water, plus the plains and heavily forested inner regions, caused people to become very isolated from one another thus letting them make their own decisions and also forming their own languages. Western Europe’s temperate climate aided by the Gulf Stream kept its environment mild year round, plus with the addition of a good amount of rain made it easy to farm without irrigation. Central and Eastern Europe were not as lucky, however, because they experienced fluctuations in temperature and rainfall.
Diamond discussed how the “creation” of the farmer through the domestication of plants and animals led to the development of guns, germs, and steel. He compared the “hunter/gather” peoples with the “food producing” peoples, to demonstrate the benefit of the farmer. With a farming group, one could devote one’s time to other jobs, and thus become “specialists”. These specialists could master an art or trade instead of spending time searching for food, and eventually evolved to become the kings, bureaucrats, soldiers, priests, and artisans.
The domestications of plants and animals was an integral part of the development of the farming culture over that of the hunting culture. For example, the peapod when it is ripe will “explode” and drop its seeds onto the ground. The only thing left on the plant after this occurs are the pea pods that did not explode. Thus those were the ones which we were able to eat because they were the only ones we were able to gather. We would therefore only disperse the seeds of the “non-exploding” pea pods through our excrement or our garbage dumps.
In the end the hunter/gatherers will eventually die out because they do not have the steel to make tools as well as the weapons that the farmers have and thus will, in time, be destroyed. Latitude played a huge role in the rise of farmers in Europe. Due to the similar latitude throughout Europe the growing season is relatively the same, along with a relatively equal climate. The easy spread of germs came about because people lived in crowded villages where a disease could simply pass from one household to another.
Plus with the domestication of animals, the animals now lived in close quarters to the people and thus contributed to the spread of diseases. When the European explorers introduced germs to the Native Americans, many Native Americas were killed because they didn’t have the built up resistance because of the lack of domesticated animals. Because of Europe’s close proximity to animals many of the world’s diseases have originated there. The Fertile Crescent was a very ecologically fragile area. It ended up being destroyed due to deforestation, and erosion, as well as other factors and now is mainly desert.
The Great Man theory said that a few great men can influence the events of history. One of the main reasons Europe “outdid” China was because of Europe was fragmented, whereas China was totally united, this basically meant that competition could flourish while in China what was said was unquestioned. Landes covered some of what was in the Roberts article as well as what was in the Davies article. He discussed the Gulf Stream and the immense forests, but he also pointed out facts about riverside civilizations. People gathered around rivers because they not only provided water, but also a mode of transportation.
Riverside civilizations, because of their strategic importance were, however, more likely to have a ruler. In riverside civilizations if the ruler needed money or more land then he would just take what they wanted from the people. As far as property goes in the West, where there was no need for riverside civilizations due to the temperate climate and abundant rainfall, there was a deep commitment to private property; so much so that even kings did not take their subjects property. During the period of 1000 – 1500 AD, five “great” inventions were made.
These inventions were deemed the “inventions of inventions”. The inventions were the mechanical clock, gunpowder, eyeglasses, printing, and the water wheel. Gunpowder, in China was used as a defense, but in the European’s hands it became an offensive weapon. Eyeglasses “created” an additional work force from the many people who had poor eyesight but were in overall good physical condition. Printing was used to spread knowledge, so ideas no longer had to be passed by word of mouth. The water wheel became an addition source of power.
The mechanical clock, in my opinion the most important, kept people task oriented, and because people always want the most accurate time we kept improving upon it and it turn improved upon all inventions. This was the economic revolution, which was only comparable to when humans went from hunter/gatherers to food producers. Hanson stated that the reason the West fought so well was because Europeans fought for their own land. Peoples in the West had a voice in what happened, militarily and politically, whereas peoples in the east had none.
An example of this would be the battle of Salamis, the Greek soldiers got together only hours before the battle to decide if fighting this fight was really worth it. On the Persian side, however, the soldiers had no say in it, and fought that battle not necessarily wanting to fight for the cause. Due to the West’s freedom, private property, domestication of plants and animals and the movement from hunter/gatherers to food producers were all factors why the less developed Europe came to overpower the already strong Asia. If Asia had had a these “fundamentals” as did the West think how different the world would be.