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One question which I have touched upon repeatedly is why is it that in some regions languages of elites replace those of the populace, and in other regions the inverse occurs? This is one reason why I’m very interested in genetic studies of populations, they add a new dimension to the large set of often confusing, contradictory and cloudy “facts” we have on hand. Among Anatolian Turks for example there is still a noticeable imprint of East Eurasian ancestry, though by & large it seems that Anatolian Turks are the descendants of those acculturated to a Turkish identity from a Greek, Armenian or Kurdish past (the main qualification is that I have read, though am not sure as to the veracity of the claims, that large numbers of Orthodox Christian Turkish speakers who switched language, but not religion, have been totally Hellenized after the exchange of populations). In contrast it is difficult to find any genetic evidence that the Magyars actually settled among the peoples of what is today Hungary (Pannonia), even though their origin was likely from the Volga region (some of the difference might simply be that it is harder to detect deviations from expectation if the Magyars were more similar to the peoples of Pannonia than the Turks were to the natives of Anatolia, as is likely the case).

In the lands of the former Roman Empire most of the Latin domains quickly assimilated the Germanic military elites to the native culture, in both religion & language. There are two glaring exceptions to this: Britain & the Balkans. Several years ago I read The Early Slavs: Culture and Society in Early Medieval Eastern Europe, and I began thinking of the processes described in this book when reading the chapter on post-Roman Britain in The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000. To my mild pleasure I then came upon this passage:

This model for the Anglo-Saxon settlements, which I broadly accept, thus has the invaders settling in the very small groups, initially covering ahandful of local communities for the mostpart, which could as in Wales, be called tribal. Political leadership would have been very simple and informal, though of course necessarily military, for a fragmented conquest is still a conquest. THis picture further fits with the archaeolgy of early Anglo-Saxon settlements and cemeteries, which shows a very simple material culture, far simpler in every respect than that found anywhere in the ex-Roman Continent outside the Balkans.

My pleasure was not due to excitement about the collapse of Roman civilization. Rather, it was that I had anticipated an analogy which the author later spotlighted, suggesting to me that the correspondence is striking enough to be obvious to independent observers. What occurred by and large in the Balkans, and to an even greater extent in Britain, is that the complex of literate Roman city-centered society yielded to decentralized village-based societies, and barbarism seems to assimilated the peasants left behind after the withdrawal of the Imperial forces. Though one can find some evidence of exogenous genetic input indicating non-trivial population movements, especially in Britain, it does not seem that the native substrate was replaced in the majority across these regions (see the links here). In Britain the old models of pots-not-peoples seems falsified by suggestive gradients of alleles of Germanic provenance from East Anglia, the Dark Age “Saxon Shore.” But, in terms of total genome content the English as a whole seem to resemble the other peoples of the British Isles more than they do the populations of northern Germany (though again, there are regional variations within England, with East Anglia and the former “Danelaw” showing signs of the more recent gene flow). In the Balkans genetic relationships between populations seem to follow geography more than language; the Bulgarians resemble Romanians, not the Czechs, who are close to the Hungarians.

And yet despite the genes there was a massive cultural discontinuity between Roman Britain and the Balkans, and what came after. It is now fashionable to assert that the Roman world “transformed,” and did not “fall,” after 476. This view seems least defensible in the case of these two regions. Not only did Romanitas disappear, but the physical character of these societies as evident from the archaeology show rupture and regression. The fall of Roman Britain can be pegged to a specific date, 410, when the legions were recalled to the continent. This did not mean that the barbarian hordes struck immediately, rather, in the decades after political fragmentation and a reassertion of the native Celtic tribal traditions seem to have occurred. In The Inheritance of Rome the author suggests that the political prominence of what were once marginal regions, Wales and southern Scotland, is a reflection of the fact that these areas held the deepest stores of Celtic tribal cultural capital which might fill the vacuum left by the collapse of Latin civilization. To battle a militarized society one requires a militarized society, and the peoples of the Celtic marchlands fit that bill. It is here that there is a contrast between Britain and the Balkans: Britain was far less Latinized than the Balkans. Latinization had proceeded in Spain, Gaul (France) and the Balkans to the point that ib these regions the natives were initially termed “Romans” by barbarian conquerors. The persistence of Latin-derived languages in the Balkans into the modern era is also witness to the thoroughness of Latinization. Romanian, the persistence of the Vlachs, as well as the recently extinct language of Dalmatian can not be ignored. Of course Greece and the region around Constantinople were presumably Greek speaking. And there were obviously regions where the ancestor of Albanian was spoken. But it seems likely that Latin was the dominant language among the peasants across much of the Balkans, most certainly above the Jirecek Line. Justinian the Great, the last East Roman (Byzantine) Emperor who spoke Latin as a first language, was born near Skopje, the capital of modern day Macedonia. In Britain the working assumption is that the peasantry spoke a Celtic language related to modern Welsh, though the elite used Latin frequently, and Latin was the dominant written language. Though the Celtic inhabitants of Britain had adopted many Roman customs, they remained Britons, while the Thracians, Illyarians, Dacians, etc., of the Balkans had adopted Roman ways to the point where they termed themselves Roman.

There was also another difference between the British and Balkan case, in the former instance Roman influence disappeared for centuries (only to reappear via the Franks in the early 7th century), while in the latter the lines of Imperial control washed over barbarized regions many times over the centuries. In The Fall of the Roman Empire Peter Heather contends that the northern Balkans were effectively lost in the early 5th century to
barbarians as a sort of “No Man’s Land” where city-based civilization simply was untenable. But by the late 5th to 6th centuries it seems that the Empire reasserted its control and pushed secure boundaries out toward the Danube. By the year 600 almost the whole of the Balkan interior excepting Greece itself was lost to the Avars (see A History of Byzantine State & Society). The period between the collapse of Roman control of the interior and the later medieval emergence of nations which we would recognize such as the Serbs and Bulgarians is unclear and to a great extent lost to history. There were indications and references of massive Slavic migrations, though these groups were usually under the hegemony of non-Slavic groups such as the Avars and Bulgars. But as I pointed out above, the primary predictive variable of genetic change in the Balkans is geography, not language (this does not mean that language has no effect, I am simply suggesting that outsiders do not seem to have totally replaced the local population in toto).

With this general sketch in place, let’s move to the similarities. Britain, in particular the regions which became England, and the Balkans were barbarized and descended into a “Dark Age” in a classic sense (obviously I exclude the persistent arc of city-based culture which clung to the coasts and exhibited some depth in Greece in the case of the Balkans). Writing disappears. The local language is replaced (though with important exceptions in the Balkans). And Christianity also fades. The replacement of Celtic language with Anglo-Saxon dialects was so total, with so little borrowing, that the model of replacement does not seem totally implausible. Archaeologists have also uncovered extreme discontinuities in more prosaic aspects of culture such as how farmsteads are laid out. But as I said above from what I can tell the genetic data point to Anglo-Saxon input of only a minority, if a substantial one at that with local concentrations, across England. We are then faced with the possibility that the local Romano-British elites, along with the more thoroughly Celtic peasants, assimilated into the Anglo-Saxon culture (there are textual indications of the persistence of British subjects of Anglo-Saxon rulers in England into the era of the Venerable Bede, see Norman Davies’ The Isles). The genetic data indicate the same in the Balkans, though here I am less familiar with the research, and it seems much thinner than in reference to the British for social and political reasons (i.e., British people are interested in their genetic history and can fund that interest).

In The Early Slavs the author argues that the natives simply went barbarian. Though Roman civilization was predominantly peasant-based, and caught in a Malthusian trap, it was still quantitatively different in terms of its economic and social complexity from those of societies beyond the limes (see The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization). The cultural toolkit of Slavic tribes pushing into the Balkans in the wake of the collapse of Roman rule was far simpler than that which had been dominant prior to their arrival. In a localized world shorn of Roman networks of trade it may be that peasants saw in the barbarian culture something more adaptable and appropriate in light of the new structural conditions of their lives. On the margins of subsistence perhaps those who shed affiliation with what was now a distant political power fared best. The same may have been true for the Celtic peasants who lived under Anglo-Saxon rulers, and tilled the soil with Anglo-Saxon immigrants (the weregild for Celts in Anglo-Saxon Britain was less than for Anglo-Saxons, so the incentives were strong to switch if possible). We have copious data in the case of local elites who assimilate to the norms and values of their barbarian conquerors in the post-Roman states of the West (e.g., Romans of senatorial background like Cyprian, rival of Boethius, raising sons with a strongly Gothic cultural orientation), as well as the Visigothic elites conquered by Muslim Arabs & Berbers (who were at that point barbarians). But that is a function of the fact that the elites are literate, or employ those who are literate, and leave hallmarks of cultural shifts in their correspondences or actions.

This brings me to the title of the post. It is classic chestnut of wisdom that the Christian Church was the vessel which preserved elements of classical civilization for posterity through the Dark Ages. This model is tendentious, in large part because partisan Christians and anti-Christians wish to come to different conclusions, select their data, and cull their analysis, until they arrive at the inferences which they prefer. It is a dodge to admit that the issue is complex, but dodge I will. Rather, let us note that religion, and religious institutions, have been powerful forces across history. It seems rather obvious that “higher religions” have a strong cultural fitness advantage in any complex civilization. By higher religion, I refer to religious systems which combine primal religious sentiment with philosophical content as well as robust institutional organizations. Over the long term only higher religions can resist the spread of other higher religions. There are cases where non-higher religions can arrest or suspend the expansion of higher religions, but these are always temporary setbacks. Lithuania, Japan and Tibet are detailed case studies of temporary setbacks which only delayed the dominance of higher religions. Often higher religions imported from the outside stimulate the emergence of a complex literary society because of the need of a class of text oriented religious professionals to interpret the scriptures and commentaries which justify the existence of such institutions. In theory the Bible, the Koran, the Palin Canon, are causally prior to the variegated religious institutions which accumulate around them. In the model that the Roman Christian Church preserved Roman civilization the institution which arose due to the Christian scriptures as a side effect also served to maintain and perpetuate aspects of Roman culture which were not necessarily related to Christian religiosity (though naturally justifications were often presented as to why secular works were spiritually edifying or useful).

So why the inversion in my title? One cynical and obviously irreligious perspective contends that the specific belief content of higher religions is actually co-opted as a post facto rationale for organically emerging institutions which are products of complex societies. This can be approached from a religious perspective; many early Christian thinkers offered that a singular and unified political order was the ideal seedbed for a singular religion which expressed the fullness of truth (there are analogs to this sort of thinking among Buddhists when a potential chakravartin appears on the scene). The point is that higher religions seem to coexist with higher civilizations. In some cases they bring higher civilization to a lower one, and in other cases they are the products of higher civilizations (e.g., Christianity in the Greco-Roman world, Zoroastrianism in the Persian Empire, Buddhism in the early phase of Indo-Aryan literate states in the Indian subcontinent).
< br />But what if a higher civilization regresses to the state of a lower one? To some extent the collapse of the social and economic order in the Post-Roman world fits the bill, and Christianity remained a robust presence. But so did the Latin language in what became France, Spain and Italy. It is in these regions that the term “transformation” as opposed to “fall” apply the most. There was a shift away from direct taxation and toward what became feudalism, and an evolution from a civilian aristocracy into a military caste. Literacy became less prominent a feature of the cultural landscape, though it did not disappear (e.g., Gregory of Tours, Isidore of Seville and Boethius & Cassiodorus, the province of specialists rather than elites as a whole). But the contrast with the total collapse in what became England and the sharp reordering of the cultural landscape in the Balkans is obvious. The decline of Christianity (to the point of near total extinction in England) and the need for missionary efforts centuries after the collapse suggest to me that higher religion is not robust when higher civilization disappears.

I discount the suggestion that concerted persecution led to de-Christianization. Pagan societies and states did persecute Christians (or adherents of higher religions with foreign connections in general, such as the case with Buddhism in late Tang China), but on the whole they were more systematically tolerant of religious pluralism than civilizations where higher religions were dominant. Pagan Lithuania remained pagan for a relatively long time in part because it lay between Catholic Poland and Orthodox Russia, and conversion to either religion would have aligned it with one of the states irrevocably (Lithuania eventually became Catholic and was absorbed into the Polish political and cultural orbit). But during the period when this state remained officially pagan large numbers of Christians were under Lithuanian rule, and at the height of the state the majority of the population was no doubt Christian, as were large numbers of Lithuanian nobles. There are many other examples which illustrate the trend whereby pagan persecution of adherents of higher religions is sporadic and situational, and not persistent, structural and systematic, so I won’t belabor the point.

What I am positing then is that the process of barbarization led not just to the discarding of language, but also of Christian religion, in both England the Balkans. In France, Spain and Italy the pagan or heretic (Arian) rulers of predominantly Catholic populations acceded to the religious sentiments of the ruled. In the Balkans and England it seems that the rulers had no such inclination, and the institutional framework of the Christian Church simply withered without the proper structural preconditions. There are cases where even Christian rulers can be paganized by their population, as seems to have occurred with Samo. Protestant critics of the depth of Catholic Christianization of illiterate peasants in Medieval Europe have already assembled a large amount of scholarship which allows us to comprehend how nominal Christians might shift their identity to that of identified pagans. The Christian priesthood was also often illiterate and quite ignorant of the details of their religion during this period (though sometimes the deviation was from the other end, an archbishop of Toulouse in the 18th century was a materialist and atheist, see The Pursuit of Glory). Here is a quote from The Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914:

…While roughly a third of village schools were run by the Orthodox Church, the priests had little influence on their flock. They were themselves hardly more than peasants and were deeply ignorant; studying theology and doctrine were the domain of the robed ‘black clergy’ in the monasteries, who fulfilled no pastoral duties. Knowledge of the Christian doctrine was therefore minimal, as Maksim Gorky heard from a Kazan peasant, who said that God ‘cannot be everywhere at once, too many men hae been born fro that., But he will succeed, you see. But I can’t understand Christ at all! He serves no purpose as far as I’m concerned. There is no God and that’s enough. But there’s another! The son, they say. So what if he’s God’s son. God isn’t dead, not that I know of’

This describes late 19th century Russia, but I have read similar accounts from Prussian peasants of the 18th century who were left without a pastor for a generation because of a bureaucratic problem. These peasants’ worldviews were only recorded because there was an inquisition into their beliefs after the burial of a bull which occurred in the locality to ensure a good harvest (the peasants’ rationale was quite inchoate, but the burial of bulls was actually a custom of the Baltic peoples of that region, so I suspect the reemergence of the practice reflected folktales which had preserved fragments of the old religion). Books such as Theological Incorrectness report data that illustrate the reality that cross-culturally most lay persons exhibit religious sentiments and intuitions which are roughly the same. A tendency to “default” toward animism when philosophical religion disappears because of a lack of institutional support shouldn’t be too surprising.

With all that said, it is understandable then why higher religion goes extinct with a regression to barbarism, just as literacy, civilized arts and economies of scale go into decline. What I am contending then is that the suggestion that Christianity was responsible for the perpetuation of classical high culture is incoherent, the same level of civilizational complexity which would allow for the perpetuation of classical high culture in some form may also be necessary for the perpetuation of Christianity! What if Constantine had lost at Milvian Bridge? If you are familiar with Rodney Stark’s oeuvre then you will respond that this was irrelevant, and perhaps even counterproductive, as Christianity was a bottom-up movement with a better religious product which was inevitably going to become dominant. Looking from the year 300 I think that this is a defensible position. But years ago I read an alternative history short story which posits that Europe would be dominated by illiterate savages if Maxentius had defeated Constantine. This is fictionalization, but lays out the extreme case that but for Christianity Rome & Greece would have been lost forever. As it is, I think that this is likely wrong. Chinese civilization persisted after the collapse of the Han even though that polity did not have an organized religion like Christianity (in fact, Buddhism as a foreign religion spread after the fall of the Han and influenced indigenous religious traditions such as Daoism into competitive imitation). As a point of fact, it was the pagan Sabians of Haran who were heavily overrepresented in the translation of Greek classics in the service of the Abbasid Caliphs because the Sabians revered ancient pagan works. Haran’s paganism was a historical accident, as they were protected by the Persian Shahs from forced conversion by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. If Christianity had not become the dominant religion of the Roman world I suspect some other religious system would have become the vessel for classical culture. Higher civilization begets higher religion, or adopts higher religion.

Simple models of causality in the social or historical realm assume the unproblematic teasing apart of variables. Many anti-religionists as
sert that all evil done in the name of religion is necessarily contingent upon religion. Many religionists assert that all good done in the name of religion is necessarily contingent upon religion. I think both views are probably wrong. Religion may be the root of some evil and the root of some good, but I doubt it is the root of all good or evil, and I believe we tend to overestimate how much of a root it is in any specific behavior. Religious suicide bombing seems very comprehensible today, but the atheist anarchist movement of 19th century Russia also engaged in a great deal of suicidal terrorism.

The historical data I survey above tell me that there is a very easy way to destroy organized religion: destroy organization. That is what I believe occurred in Britain and the Balkans. Without scale, complexity and organization the Christian Church could not flourish. Even the bottom-up “Primitive Church” of the early Empire was likely dependent upon the structure which the Roman Empire provided. The Christianization of much of Europe after the fall of Empire was concomitant with the rise of complex polities which wished to integrate themselves into the Christian commonwealth of states, as well as the ambitions of kings who were eager to justify centralization of power into one individual with the ideology of one true religion. If globalization is here to the stay, then the global religions are here to stay. Additionally, the vast majority of the world religions all emerged in the period between 600 BC and 600 AD. We’re probably at some sort of competitive equilibrium, and without some major exogenous shock it looks like the market is saturated.

(Republished from GNXP.com by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: History, Science • Tags: History, Religion 
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  1. If globalization is here to the stay, then the global religions are here to stay. 
     
    Nice phrase. I wonder if the same principle extends to particular niches — churches of the downtrodden, for instance, or whether they may be to some extent less stable. One feature of the long-lived global religions is that the tend not to make earthly promises they can’t keep.

  2. There is no God and that’s enough.  
     
    Enough for you and me, maybe, but I bet that the guy said “one God”.  
     
    “The Cheese and the Worms” is a fun book about medieval Christian folk belief. It’s derived from the files of Inquisition interrogations, IIRC. So was Ladurie’s “Montaillou”, which was about Albigensians.

  3. the suggestion that Christianity was responsible for the perpetuation of classical high culture is incoherent, the same level of civilizational complexity which would allow for the perpetuation of classical high culture in some form may also be necessary for the perpetuation of Christianity 
     
    But the pro-religion argument is precisely that the Christian organisational network was itself the enduring backbone that allowed for the maintenance of some degree of complexity (literacy and inter-regional communications). When barbarian rulers sought to establish some form of bureaucracy, they relied heavily on the structures and manpower provided by the Church. 
     
    The fact that this network failed in Britain and the Balkans, together with “civilisation” in general, does not indicate the causal direction between the two. For one thing, was it really as developed and structured in these regions as in, say, Gaul?  
     
    Also, it’s worth pointing out that the Anglo-Saxon rulers remained pagans, while the Franks converted to various forms of Christianity (Arianism/Catholicism, the latter eventually winning out with Clovis). This may comfort the pro-religion viewpoint: areas where the barbarian leaders converted to christianity saw the persistence of (some impoverished form of) organised civilisation, while those where the barbarian elite remained pagan did not. Of course, there may well be counter-examples to this idea. 
     
    (Btw, it’s written “?uvre”, or “oeuvre” if ligature is unavailable, but never “ouvre” – that means something else. Thus quoth the nitpicking gallotroll.)

  4. But the pro-religion argument is precisely that the Christian organisational network was itself the enduring backbone that allowed for the maintenance of some degree of complexity (literacy and inter-regional communications). When barbarian rulers sought to establish some form of bureaucracy, they relied heavily on the structures and manpower provided by the Church. 
     
    yes. but there was a fair amount of latency in this. civilian literate culture had disappeared in much of the west by the time economic and social complexity had arisen again which required bureaucratic apparatus. in any case, it may be that religious literate classes would have been the only ones to remain extant on the ground in economically regressed regions, but it need not be christian. it may have been inevitable that religion would have filled the vacuum when high culture collapsed, assuming that the culture reaches a certain degree of complexity (in contrast, there was a civilizational disruption after the bronze age, and greece had to import writing from the near east during the archaic period). 
     
    The fact that this network failed in Britain and the Balkans, together with “civilisation” in general, does not indicate the causal direction between the two. For one thing, was it really as developed and structured in these regions as in, say, Gaul?  
     
    i think so. at least in the balkans (which after all provided many emperors in the 3rd and early 4th century, including the bureaucrat par excellence diocletian). i’d have to look it up, but i doubt britain (the english) was any less developed than gaul north of the loire. it was a relatively stable part of the empire (natural defenses and all). 
     
    Also, it’s worth pointing out that the Anglo-Saxon rulers remained pagans, while the Franks converted to various forms of Christianity (Arianism/Catholicism, the latter eventually winning out with Clovis). This may comfort the pro-religion viewpoint: areas where the barbarian leaders converted to christianity saw the persistence of (some impoverished form of) organised civilisation, while those where the barbarian elite remained pagan did not. Of course, there may well be counter-examples to this idea. 
     
    yes, but my point is that in gaul there was more structural continuity than in britain, period. the frankish adoption of the higher religion dominant in gaul was inevitable. in what became england the picture is murky, but it looks like everything went to hell simultaneously.

  5. How does your hypothesis fit with the Romano-Briton Patrick carrying Christianity to barbarian Ireland, whence it eventually returned to Northern Britain and parts of the Continent?

  6. How does your hypothesis fit with the Romano-Briton Patrick carrying Christianity to barbarian Ireland, whence it eventually returned to Northern Britain and parts of the Continent? 
     
    1) i’m not talking about celtic parts of britain, which exhibited more continuity (they barbarized, but it was mostly endogenous) and remained christian (areas christianized after the fall of rome seem to have been christianized by celtic britons). 
     
    2) patrick is probably overemphasized as having converted the island from what i understand (probably took several generations and occurred in a decentralized fashion, unlike other barbarian nations where conversion was a top-down process and can be pegged from the flip of the monarchy).

  7. The historical data I survey above tell me that there is a very easy way to destroy organized religion: destroy organization. 
     
    I wonder how well Islam and Catholicism will last in the more anarchic states sub-Saharan Africa; how are things in Ruanda in that sense right now, does anyone know?

  8. onder how well Islam and Catholicism will last in the more anarchic states sub-Saharan Africa; how are things in Ruanda in that sense right now, does anyone know? 
     
    pre-modern states were very weak, and we would probably think they were anarchic. by pre-modern, i mean states before 1900. so honestly i don’t think africa is really as chaotic as all that. sub-saharan africa though is an interesting case because the historical evidence is that widespread expansion of world religions outside of ethiopia, a few cities along the saharan and indian ocean fringe, is a feature of the 20th century. regions dominated by muslim polities for nearly 700 years in the western sahel were still predominantly tribal in religious outlook until the arrival of europeans, who actually facilitated a deeper penetration of islam because of better transport and communication. similarly, ethiopians have been christian for 1,500 years, but the religion did not spread much out beyond the highlands. in the kingdom of kongo the portuguese crown introduced catholicism to the local monarchy nearly 500 years ago, but again, that did not spread until relatively recently.

  9. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    You write that “The historical data I survey above tell me that there is a very easy way to destroy organized religion: destroy organization. That is what I believe occurred in Britain and the Balkans. Without scale, complexity and organization the Christian Church could not flourish.” 
     
    If I am reading you correctly you seem to feel that an imperial model or some equivalent is necessary for organized religion to survive. If this is your point I strongly disagree. In the tradition I am familiar with (ie the Celtic Church) it absorbed its monastic structure from St Martin and John Cassian, an organizational system more consistent with the extended clans of Ireland & Scotland at the time. St Patrick’s ecclesiastical system, with its Romanized hierarchy did not last much beyond his own life (based as it was on an urban model) and then reverted to a more appropriate model developed from the St Columcille’s tradition which was in turn derived from St Comhall in Bangor, influenced by St Ninian. This model stayed largely intact until the Angol-Norman invasion of the 12th century which had more to do with a radical impacting of Irish monasticism and the adoption of Roman hierarchical practices (Cistercians, Augustianism, etc.). As late as the 11th century the two Marianus Scotus’ were in Germany involved in found monasteries in Ratisbon and continuing to uphold 6th and 7th century foundations developed by the Irish “system”. They were of the far older Celtic church clan organization than of the “new” 12th century continental model.  
     
    You might find reading the historian, Arnold Toynbee, helpful in this regard. He made the point that if the golden age of Celtic civilization (6th-11th centuries) had survived the European and American world would not be so radically separated from the natural world and attitudes toward the environment would be considerably less damaging.

  10. If I am reading you correctly you seem to feel that an imperial model or some equivalent is necessary 
     
    no. as noted above, i am not addressing the celts when talking about britain above. in any case, i think there is a minimum level of social complexity and economic scale which is necessary for the maintenance of a literate culture, upon which higher religion is conditioned. imperial orders generally fit the bill by definition, but obviously polities of smaller scale and scope can as well.

  11. The historical data I survey above tell me that there is a very easy way to destroy organized religion: destroy organization
     
    Similarly it is said that the Buddhists got a severe jolt when their organisations were finally destroyed by the Muslim invaders in Eastern India. 
     
    Buddhisim never recovered in India.

  12. Similarly it is said that the Buddhists got a severe jolt when their organisations were finally destroyed by the Muslim invaders in Eastern India. 
     
    Buddhisim never recovered in India. 
     
    sure. though 
     
    1) buddhism was already in decline by the time that the muslims knocked them out (e.g., the palas had been superseded by the senas). 
     
    2) some argue that islam was successful in the two areas of south asia here buddhism at the most robust presence in the second half of the first millenium, the northwest and northeast. these were the regions where puranic hinduism were arguably the weakest. muslims already had a precedent of assimilating and converting buddhists in central asia….

  13. Lot’s goin on in that, but as far as the western part of the roman empire being involved, the Church ending up as it did was somewhat intentional in that Constantine sort of wanted it that way. 
     
    The late roman empire was exactly that, an empire, a state without anything resembling a nation or a tribe that went along with it. When the empire fell, there were lot’s and lot’s of different tribes running around, Burgundians, Franks, Lombards, Goths, who were Burgundians… first and foremost, that’s where their tribal allegiance lay. By say 1000, or even a bit earlier, there weren’t any such tribes anymore, and a European in a Catholic area’s tribe was confessional, RCism was his tribe. France was a kingdom, not a nation, and France and the French, or England and the English, as they are understood now, did not as yet exist, and noone who lived in England or France identified themselves as such, not even on the level a modern day Red Sox fan identifies with Red Sox nation. If the real John of Gaunt had delivered the ‘this England’ speech in the 1390’s that Shakespeare puts in his mouth in a play written in the 1590’s, his contemporaries would have looked at him like he was from Mars. 
     
    I don’t know how this might relate to India or China, but this state of affairs coming about was policy as far as the Church was concerned, and they obviously succeeded most of the time (England, but not Ireland, being a failure).

  14. bioIgnoramus  
     
    The Romano-Brit Patrick may have come upon a previously hellenized Christian substrate which in the 200s-300s had come from Orthodox/Copt cenobites who started in Egypt & sailed out to proselytize the Irish, who adopted the Eastern Easter. Pope Leo the Great [?] then sent St Augustine to turn the Angles into angels much later even though the Greeks had evangelized [pun intended] the Isles through their Irish proto-missionaries. The Council of Whitby [666AD] fixed the disparity between the two. [The formal split between Roman and Greek orthodoxies came hundreds of years later, but there had always been a two-track cultural/religious rivalry between the Nicean Christians.]  
     
    I’m reading The Inheritance of Rome and Cunliffe’s 9000-1000 & a lot of this period is emerging clearly. The monastic movement, especially the Benedictines, seems to be underrated by Razib. A lot of the higher civilization was carried northward by crusading monks, including Cyrus and Methodius, whence the Cyrillic alphabet ensues. 
     
    But razib poses a chicken/egg conundrum which might never be resolved on the Christianity/civilization queston.

  15. ” If Christianity had not become the dominant religion of the Roman world I suspect some other religious system would have become the vessel for classical culture.”  
     
    Don’t forget that Muslims also preserved much of the Greek and Roman knowledge. 
     
    I wonder how this theory applies when one higher religion replaces another.  
     
    In Persia, Zoroastrians were replaced with Muslims. To this day, Iranians lament the Arab invasion although Iran has hardly been uncivilized since the change, particularly compared to its neighbors. Where would you rather live over the last several centuries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran? 
     
    The decline of the Hindu Khmer Empire coincided with the rise of Theravada Buddhism. Buddhist teaching undermined the Hindu based political structure. The Khmer urban centers were largely abandoned as the people returned to a decentralized way of life (partly due to other factors as well such as the rise of the Thai and internal civil, economic and political problems.) Cambodia has never recovered.

  16. a state without anything resembling a nation or a tribe that went along with it.  
     
    your general point obviously has a lot of validity. but i think the idea of a roman, a latin or greek speaker, who was conversant in virgil or homer, did resemble a “nation.” 
     
    I don’t know how this might relate to India or China 
     
    hindu elites recognized the south asian cultural domain as having some commonalities, between sri lanka and the himalaya, the indus and the brahmaputra. common texts. in china the bureaucratic elite had a similar self-conception. china has often been termed a ‘nation-empire.’ 
     
    Don’t forget that Muslims also preserved much of the Greek and Roman knowledge. 
     
     
    yes. noted above. though as noted above sabians and christians played the dominant roles during the early phase when a deep knowledge of a range of languages necessary during translation. 
     
    The Romano-Brit Patrick may have come upon a previously hellenized Christian substrate which in the 200s-300s had come from Orthodox/Copt cenobites who started in Egypt & sailed out to proselytize the Irish, who adopted the Eastern Easter. Pope Leo the Great [?] then sent St Augustine to turn the Angles into angels much later even though the Greeks had evangelized [pun intended] the Isles through their Irish proto-missionaries. The Council of Whitby [666AD] fixed the disparity between the two. [The formal split between Roman and Greek orthodoxies came hundreds of years later, but there had always been a two-track cultural/religious rivalry between the Nicean Christians.]  
     
    i think you overemphasize a greek-latin divide. the roman church sent theodore of taursus to be archbishop, right? 
     
    I’m reading The Inheritance of Rome and Cunliffe’s 9000-1000 & a lot of this period is emerging clearly. The monastic movement, especially the Benedictines, seems to be underrated by Razib. A lot of the higher civilization was carried northward by crusading monks, including Cyrus and Methodius, whence the Cyrillic alphabet ensues. 
     
    yes. i do underrate the monastics outside civilized areas. irish monks were active in much of germany during the merovingian period, but christianization was superficial or non-existent until charlemagne. christian missionaries and missions were active across much of pagan northern europe during the early medieval period, but large-scale christianization followed the conversion of the elite (king), or exogenous pressure (e.g., charlemagne’s suppression of saxon paganism).

  17. Thanks, Razib, and i think the original Greek-Latin divide is always overrated—but I lived in Lebanon for a year studying Arabic and had a Greek Melkite basketball team wherein the village I dwelt. They hated Maronites with a passion. My own RC heritage combined with a G.O. greek-american wife also probably exerts a pull.  
     
    When I read Norman Davies The Isles a while ago, I concocted one of those very sophomoric big thoughts about the inherent difference between the Anglo-Saxon, or East Anglian puritanism [Cromwell in his youth was a regional football star before he became Lord Protector—I think ND has that gem] and the Celtic reversion to steady state small-village parochialism as a mindset. 
    Perhaps it’s the Teutonic mystical chiliastic bent versus the day-to-day anarchic and sensuous vibe of the Celtic world, which Tacitus describes in Germania. When I read Albion’s Seed, that was something which hit me about the Scots-Irish mountain folk, now the despised Appalachian hillbillies SNL & 30Rock derides mercilessly, versus the WASP New England patriots. 
     
    Philips The Cousin’s Wars also nibbles at the edges of a sort of underlying Jungian archetypes separating East Anglia’s New Model Army from the Royalist Cavaliers. And the Union “Truth goes Marching On” from the Confederates folkish “Dixie.” Und so weiter und so fort.  
     
    This diversion may not be intelligent, but it, like Wilde’s bad poetry, is sincere.

  18. Thanks, Razib, and i think the original Greek-Latin divide is always overrated—but I lived in Lebanon for a year studying Arabic and had a Greek Melkite basketball team wherein the village I dwelt. They hated Maronites with a passion. My own RC heritage combined with a G.O. greek-american wife also probably exerts a pull.  
     
    the dynamics in lebanon are…complex from what i am to understand. but the maronites are not even by origin a western church; they’re probably derived from the monothelite controversy. they aligned with the west during the medieval period and went into communion with rome. also, rome had many eastern popes in the period between 600 and 800, greek and syrian. before 750 rome was firmly oriented east as an outpost of the byzantine empire.

  19. razib, yes and there are some strains of Nestorian Christianity in Lebanon & I believe the Chaldean or Assyrian Christians in Iraq are Nestorian also. The great thing about the complex…dynamics of Lebanon is that as a practical matter there are 19 recognized religious and ethnic minorities influential enough so that a holiday for each is observed, meaning that when we studied Arabic at FSI in the [soon-to-be-bombed-to-rubble} US Embassy, we had an off-day almost every other week, throwing in other national holidays. Made for a lot of playing tawla with plenty of arak [or the excellent Turkish raki, both identical to ouzo & Sambuca & Pernod]to soothe the competitive juices.  
     
    I still believe, to interject a bit of politics, that if my friend Tom Warrick’s State Dept postwar playbook under the Arabist US General Barker’s [?] leadership had been allowed some time to develop……but Rumsfeld put his cat’s paw Bremer in who promptly made a bad postwar situation untenable. [FSO bias] 
     
    Finally, I’ve lived in two of the three cities in the Roman Empire that had official mints, Lyon & Beirut. Of the three, I’d have preferred Rome!  
     
    Just before I left Lebanon for my onward assignment, the Maronites blew up a bus full of Palestinians and started a civil war that exhausted everybody and his neighbor there, destroying what had been one of the nicest places I’d ever visited/lived in and where you never even had to lock your car.

  20. razib, yes and there are some strains of Nestorian Christianity in Lebanon & I believe the Chaldean or Assyrian Christians in Iraq are Nestorian also. 
     
    from what i recall ‘nestorianism’ became the state position of the church of persia. that is, the christians of the sassanid empire. i put it in quotes because the term is somewhat inaccurate, and the modern descendants of the church of persia, the assyrian church of the east, deny they are nestorians. the chaldeans come from the church of the east, but reunited with the catholic church 500 years ago. just like the maronites reunited as well. in the western levant the primary ‘heretical’ position (i.e., anti-melkite) was that of the monophysites, who are now the jacobite church.

  21. France was a kingdom, not a nation, and France and the French, or England and the English, as they are understood now, did not as yet exist, and noone who lived in England or France identified themselves as such, not even on the level a modern day Red Sox fan identifies with Red Sox nation. If the real John of Gaunt had delivered the ‘this England’ speech in the 1390’s that Shakespeare puts in his mouth in a play written in the 1590’s, his contemporaries would have looked at him like he was from Mars. 
     
    That might be an exaggeration. Joan of arc was very explicit about the ethnic motivation for her struggle (“Bouter les Anglois hors de France“).  
     
    In the Roman de Renart, there is a scene where Renart the Fox pretends to be English to dupe Ysengrin the wolf, adopting a stereotypical “Englishman-trying-to-speak-French” language that is surprisingly similar to the modern one. In Chretien de Troyes’ version of the Arthurian cycle (pretty much the standard one for us moderns), Lancelot is explicitly described as French, as opposed to the mostly British other knights. Note that both were written down by highly educated clerics, elaborating on popular material. 
     
    National feelings extended over smaller areas (the “culturally French” Duchy of Burgundy had no qualms in siding with the English, and let’s not even talk about the South), but the concept of an “us” as opposed to a “them” was nevertheless very much present. I think.

  22. Thanks. 
     
    Paul Johnson argued in his history of England for the liberal Christian theologian Pelagius (a rival of Augustine, c. 400 AD) as the founder of distinctly English ideas. Is that just a romantic idea or were there means of transmission across the Dark Ages from Pelagius to re-Christianized England a few hundred years later?

  23. Is that just a romantic idea or were there means of transmission across the Dark Ages from Pelagius to re-Christianized England a few hundred years later? 
     
    i’d be really skeptical if it was transmitted specifically from the romano-british christian tradition to the anglo-saxon christian tradition. culturally the anglo-saxons were relatively insulated from the celts. yes, celtic christianity did have some influence, but i think overall the effect was a lot less than you would have thought if you didn’t know what really happened on the ground. 
     
    pelagianism was preserved because arguments against this heresy were somewhat famous. the english could have rediscovered it via standard catholic sources instead of needing an indigenous pipeline.

  24. One book I have distinguished “francien”, the specific romance dialect of the Paris area, from “francais”, the eventual official language of France descended from it. In the beginning there were many competing dialects (just as with English) and “French” only gradually became dominant. 
     
    I’ve read that even day speaking the right dialect of Parisian French is what makes you really French, so that a second-generation Polish-Frenchman can count as a better Frenchman than a southerner with a thick accent. Something like that is somewhat true in China, where the Communists downgraded the elite Beijing dialect but still made a generic form of Mandarin into the national language.  
     
    When people say that China or France is culturalist rather than racist, part of what is meant, I think, is that Chineseness and Frenchness are normative hierarchal concepts, and the more cultured native speakers are “more French” (Chinese) than the less cultured, with the result that a fully-educated immigrant can push ahead of rustic natives. (In China it’s often possible to accuse rustics of being partly-assimilated non-Chinese, Thai or Mongols or whatever.)

  25. John, I’ve just finished re-reading The Discovery of France and almost bought Montaillou today at B&N but my sojourn of two years in Lyon makes me remember while reading your post that even the French in Paris would tell me that the Lyonnais speak the “purest” French. There are a lot of arguments about the French language, more than English or German [that I’m aware of], but they are always couched in social terms, and the French being French, nouvelle vagues wash through the Zeitgeist continuously.  
     
    The Lyonnais, a very crusty bunch, always looked down on Paris as full of arrivistes, sort of like Main Line Philly looks at NYC. 
     
    They point to Lyon being the capital of Roman Gaul, the fact that the primate of France lived in Lyon, and more recently the fact the maquis like Jean Moulin were fighting Nazis while the Parisians were consorting with their conquerors during WWII.  
    Plus the food….etc. etc. 
     
    As for urban dialects, I loved Celine, who of course was a breton by origin, and a lieutenant who spoke breton to his poilus in the trenches. His was a Parisian slang made literary.

  26. If you’re reading “Inheritance of Rome” (as I am), you might also like “Lost to the West”. “Lost” deals with the Byzantine empire from Diocletian to the end. Part of the author’s thesis is that Byzantine contribution to Christianity and the Classics is underplayed, partially due to Renaissance thinkers bias against the East.  
    One interesting fact the author brings up is that IIRC, 70% of classical texts that we have now were preserved by the Eastern Roman Empire. This kind of fits with your thesis that a civilization was needed to preserve religion, you just need to look a little further east. 
     
    It’s a great read and I would highly recommend it.

  27. Part of the author’s thesis is that Byzantine contribution to Christianity and the Classics is underplayed, partially due to Renaissance thinkers bias against the East.  
     
    well, i think part of the bias is more recent, the muslims are emphasized by anti-christian thinkers who wanted to highlight the presumed regression of the “dark ages.” additionally, i suspect in northwest europe there was something of a bias toward the translations which came out of al-andalus, as opposed to what happened in italy, where byzantines greeks were the mediators.

  28. The bias against the East and the Byzantines extended to the Swabian immigrant German ironmongers in Brasov who made and sold to the Ottoman Sultan the cannons needed to destroy Constantinople’s walls in 1453. Those same Germans were brutally suppressed by the supposed Romanian ogre Vlad, who dealt with them brutally as they were supporting his mortal enemy who was invading his country and persecuting Christians from Hungary eastward. 
     
    He was an ogre, but there was method to his savagery.

  29. The presumed regression during the Dark Ages is pretty real. I spent a couple of months looking at the Western European literary relics of the period 525-800 AD (death of Boethius to the coronation of Charlemagne) and except for “Beowulf” (non-Latin) there was essentially nothing that anyone would ever want to read except for purely historical purposes.  
     
    Trust me; I like that kind of stuff, but it was all either local chronicles that were unreadable without extensive commentary, or else near-verbatim copies of old encyclopedias.

  30. john, 
     
    yes, i’m a declinist so i agree. i would say though that 
     
    1) the period after 1000, the “high middle ages,” is qualitatively different, than before (though qualitatively different from the roman period as well). 
     
    2) privileging literary production exposes normative biases, which i generally share. though i think the regression can be measured more generally in a reversion to more ancient economic and social patterns in many dimensions. 
     
    that being said, i do think sometimes the period between 500-1500 gets a bad rap. windmills, moldboard plow, and the 3-field system were not trivial. not to mention the cultural production i the domain of religion.

  31. You have to admire the timing: the mother of all archeological treasures has just been found in England, including an Anglo-Saxon golden strip from the 7th Century with a quote from the Latin Vulgate engraved on it
     
    The quote is not random: it talks about striking enemies, on a weapon fitting. So the owner was educated (and Christian) enough to have an appropriate Old Testament quote engraved (in correct Latin) on military hardware.

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