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n20307 Taking a break in my work of the day I stumbled upon the fact that Bernard Cornwell’s series based on King Alfred’s period, which began with The Last Kingdom, is a Netflix series. To be honest I much preferred the three volume Warlord Chronicles, set more than three centuries earlier, in post-Roman and pre-Saxon Britain. A retelling of the Arthurian romance with not too much romance, George R. R. Martin admitted to me in correspondence in the late 1990s that he quite enjoyed it as well. The protagonist of The Last Kingdom is peculiarly similar to the one in Warlord Chronicles.

As a fan of alternate history I’ve occasionally stumbled upon the “what-if” scenario whereby Alfred’s Wessex is conquered, and England becomes Daneland. Would we today be speaking another Scandinavian language? Would Christianity disappear, and the pagan rites of the Norse come to rule the day? It seems broadly likely that that would not be cause at all.

First, the victory of Christianity in Europe was overdetermined by the 9th century. Even in this period there was a Christian presence in Scandinavia. A Scandinavian ruled England would almost certainly be a Christian one. And in fact in the century before the Norman conquest the Scandinavians created a hybrid society with the native English. Harold Godwinson had a Danish mother, and connections to the Danish monarchy.

The second issue is one of language. The English language of Alfred’s time was much more Germanic, so the gap between it and the tongue of the Danes was not that large in any case. And, from what I have seen, it seems that the number of Scandinavians in relation to the native population was much smaller than that of the Saxons in relation to the British, though even in the latter case it must be acknowledged that the Germans who arrived in the 5th to 6th centuries were numerically outnumbered by the native Romano-British (see PoBI results).

Perhaps if the kingdom of Wessex fell England’s identity would be more indubitably aligned with Scandinavia, as it was arguably in the decades before Norman conquest in any case. But cultural identities can be curiously resilient. The Finns endured nearly 600 years of Scandinavian domination, but maintained their language, while the long Irish interaction with the Vikings still left the Irish identity intact.

 
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  1. A Norwegian linguist managed to draw some journalistic attention to himself a few years back by claiming that English was really a North Germanic language is disguise:

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121127094111.htm

    Everyone agrees that his fundamental point is wrong, but it is true that English word order is more like Norwegian than German or Dutch and that Norse was very effective at pushing aside many perfectly good English words. When you consider that the Danes only ever occupied half of England, and that half only briefly, the language shift seems pretty large. Had their occupation lasted for another century it seems possible that English would have evolved to into something unrecognizable to us.

    The big Viking counter-factual is of course a successful colonization of Vinland, which I am actually amazed did NOT happen. Had Leif Erickson been a little more high energy he could have easily recruited 500 or so settlers and, assuming fertility rates at the French Canadian or Puritan level, that would have been all she wrote for Indians on the Atlantic seaboard. If you imagine Earth’s history as one run of the game Civilization, the Scandinavians had the best chance of anyone to win, but they blew it……..

    • Replies: @omarali50
    How strong is the correlation between cultural domination and demographic success? If England had been ruled more completely and lastingly by a Viking elite, its culture would presumably have been more obviously Scandinavian than it is, but would that mean more Viking descendants spread across the globe than is the case now?
    What population groups have had the greatest demographic success in the last 2000 years? Is there a good essay or book out there on this topic?
    Just curious.
    , @Twinkie

    The big Viking counter-factual is of course a successful colonization of Vinland, which I am actually amazed did NOT happen. Had Leif Erickson been a little more high energy he could have easily recruited 500 or so settlers and, assuming fertility rates at the French Canadian or Puritan level, that would have been all she wrote for Indians on the Atlantic seaboard.
     
    Or maybe that simply would have resulted in 500 more Viking graves in Vinland. The Vikings of the era did not enjoy nearly the same kind of demographic and technological advantages the English colonialists (or Spanish conquistadors) enjoyed in later centuries, so it's hard to see how a few hundred more Viking settlers would have made much of a difference in the eventual outcome.
  2. @Halvorson
    A Norwegian linguist managed to draw some journalistic attention to himself a few years back by claiming that English was really a North Germanic language is disguise:

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121127094111.htm

    Everyone agrees that his fundamental point is wrong, but it is true that English word order is more like Norwegian than German or Dutch and that Norse was very effective at pushing aside many perfectly good English words. When you consider that the Danes only ever occupied half of England, and that half only briefly, the language shift seems pretty large. Had their occupation lasted for another century it seems possible that English would have evolved to into something unrecognizable to us.

    The big Viking counter-factual is of course a successful colonization of Vinland, which I am actually amazed did NOT happen. Had Leif Erickson been a little more high energy he could have easily recruited 500 or so settlers and, assuming fertility rates at the French Canadian or Puritan level, that would have been all she wrote for Indians on the Atlantic seaboard. If you imagine Earth's history as one run of the game Civilization, the Scandinavians had the best chance of anyone to win, but they blew it........

    How strong is the correlation between cultural domination and demographic success? If England had been ruled more completely and lastingly by a Viking elite, its culture would presumably have been more obviously Scandinavian than it is, but would that mean more Viking descendants spread across the globe than is the case now?
    What population groups have had the greatest demographic success in the last 2000 years? Is there a good essay or book out there on this topic?
    Just curious.

    • Replies: @Halvorson
    The genetic evidence that Razib has linked to in the past suggests that there were never all that many Scandinavians living in Britain in the 10th/11th centuries. Even if they had all been brutal Conan the Barbarian types who took multiple wives they would have not left all that many descendants.

    I'm not an expert on the demographic history of the world, but as just one example compare the demographics of France against Britain in the last 500 years. In 1500, there were about 3 million people in England, Wales, and Scotland combined. At the same time, there were about 20 million people living in France. Now that in and of itself is amazing because those countries have roughly equal populations today, but the actual difference in fertility is much larger because of the enormous English diaspora.

    It's tough to find exact numbers here, so I'll assume conservatively that Americans are only about 20 percent British, and the Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders about half. Adding these numbers up I get a total diaspora size of about 100 million. When you add that to the number of white British today you get a lower bound estimate of about 150 million British people, or a 50 fold increase in just 500 years. In the same span of time the French have only increased in numbers 3-4 fold. Partly, this is because they weren't as good at empire building as Britain, but also because for mysterious reasons they just stopped making babies.

    The world belongs to those who show up.
  3. @omarali50
    How strong is the correlation between cultural domination and demographic success? If England had been ruled more completely and lastingly by a Viking elite, its culture would presumably have been more obviously Scandinavian than it is, but would that mean more Viking descendants spread across the globe than is the case now?
    What population groups have had the greatest demographic success in the last 2000 years? Is there a good essay or book out there on this topic?
    Just curious.

    The genetic evidence that Razib has linked to in the past suggests that there were never all that many Scandinavians living in Britain in the 10th/11th centuries. Even if they had all been brutal Conan the Barbarian types who took multiple wives they would have not left all that many descendants.

    I’m not an expert on the demographic history of the world, but as just one example compare the demographics of France against Britain in the last 500 years. In 1500, there were about 3 million people in England, Wales, and Scotland combined. At the same time, there were about 20 million people living in France. Now that in and of itself is amazing because those countries have roughly equal populations today, but the actual difference in fertility is much larger because of the enormous English diaspora.

    It’s tough to find exact numbers here, so I’ll assume conservatively that Americans are only about 20 percent British, and the Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders about half. Adding these numbers up I get a total diaspora size of about 100 million. When you add that to the number of white British today you get a lower bound estimate of about 150 million British people, or a 50 fold increase in just 500 years. In the same span of time the French have only increased in numbers 3-4 fold. Partly, this is because they weren’t as good at empire building as Britain, but also because for mysterious reasons they just stopped making babies.

    The world belongs to those who show up.

    • Replies: @Shaikorth
    If you compare effective and actual population sizes, many smaller ethnicities like Ashkenazi will also appear reproductively successful.


    @AK
    "Since there appears to be a correlation between the backwardness of an existing culture and its susceptibility to foreign acculturation, it would imply that the chances of such a Nordification in England would have been low."

    We could also look at Scotland, where the Norse language didn't take solid root in the mainland, and come to a similar conclusion. Orkney and especially Shetland were Norse-speaking, but those got taken over by Scots and within a few centuries the language vanished.

    , @Matt_
    Per wiki, you've got about 8 million French Canadians and 10 million French ancestry in the United States, so that helps a little, but the basic point kind of stands.

    There were productive forces at work in England (production changes) and offshoots (free land in the Americas) that weren't opened or exploited as much by the French, and this is reflected in the different increases in population.

    All of the covergence in population size from England-France pretty much dates to the early 1800s and certainly the 19th century https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/population-by-country.png?size=1200x800&v=868b319fbf39117a1d6a2d6d140cf547. That's the impact of the British Agricultural Revolution and Industrial Revolution. (A bit of that growth is probably mass Irish migration, but by far most is going to be natural growth.)

    IRC France followed more of an older model of lower growth and not revolutionizing productive forces as much. Without that, I expect when confronted with increasing personal prosperity in neighbouring Britain, and with the same social trends that led people to choose and expect that, French people chose to have smaller families, to maintain that prosperity and wealth for their children... Great contributions to science and mathematics, to literature, great contributions to lifestyle (how to live), but not much of a population boom...
  4. I recently read the first few chapters of Robert Tombs’ The English and Their History and one of the big points he makes is that the Britons were a remarkable advanced culture with respectable literacy rates (by the Dark Age’s undemanding standards) and a proto-national spirit even by the time of Alfred the Great. Since there appears to be a correlation between the backwardness of an existing culture and its susceptibility to foreign acculturation, it would imply that the chances of such a Nordification in England would have been low.

    After all this didn’t happen in Rus’ (though Vikings came to power there via assent and trade, not conquest), it didn’t happen in Normandy, nor in the Norman Kingdom of Sicily so I don’t see why it should have happened in England.

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    I recently read the first few chapters of Robert Tombs’ The English and Their History and one of the big points he makes is that the Britons were a remarkable advanced culture with respectable literacy rates (by the Dark Age’s undemanding standards) and a proto-national spirit even by the time of Alfred the Great.

    you confused me with this comment at least. you should avoid using the term 'britons' for this time period, as that means celts.

    After all this didn’t happen in Rus’ (though Vikings came to power there via assent and trade, not conquest), it didn’t happen in Normandy, nor in the Norman Kingdom of Sicily so I don’t see why it should have happened in England.

    i think your general point is right, but you should really drop the example of sicily. by that point the normans were really north french.
    , @Paul Ó Duḃṫaiġ
    Have to agree with Razib here. Briton ≠ Anglo Saxon.

    Briton in this time period means Brythonic speakers eg. Welsh, Cornish, Bretons, Cumbrian/Strathclyde -- at a stretch you could even use it for the Picts (though Pictish was probably a parallel branch to "Neo-Brythonic" lacking influence from Latin as it was north of the wall etc.), that and Pictish starts to disappear post the creation of Kingdom of Alba (Scotland) which merged Dál Riata (Old Irish speaking) and Pictland. (c.900 -- Vikings major contributor to this change)

    In Irish we actually still preserve this differenation of the word Briton.
    Welsh person = Breathnach
    English peson = Sasnach (eg. Saxon)

    , @German_reader
    "and one of the big points he makes is that the Britons were a remarkable advanced culture with respectable literacy rates "

    As has been already been pointed out, you mean the English, not Britons. Britons in the sense you used here is an 18th-century creation (see Linda Colley's well-known book of the same name), and in any case that identity seems to be rapidly fading away now.
  5. @Anatoly Karlin
    I recently read the first few chapters of Robert Tombs' The English and Their History and one of the big points he makes is that the Britons were a remarkable advanced culture with respectable literacy rates (by the Dark Age's undemanding standards) and a proto-national spirit even by the time of Alfred the Great. Since there appears to be a correlation between the backwardness of an existing culture and its susceptibility to foreign acculturation, it would imply that the chances of such a Nordification in England would have been low.

    After all this didn't happen in Rus' (though Vikings came to power there via assent and trade, not conquest), it didn't happen in Normandy, nor in the Norman Kingdom of Sicily so I don't see why it should have happened in England.

    I recently read the first few chapters of Robert Tombs’ The English and Their History and one of the big points he makes is that the Britons were a remarkable advanced culture with respectable literacy rates (by the Dark Age’s undemanding standards) and a proto-national spirit even by the time of Alfred the Great.

    you confused me with this comment at least. you should avoid using the term ‘britons’ for this time period, as that means celts.

    After all this didn’t happen in Rus’ (though Vikings came to power there via assent and trade, not conquest), it didn’t happen in Normandy, nor in the Norman Kingdom of Sicily so I don’t see why it should have happened in England.

    i think your general point is right, but you should really drop the example of sicily. by that point the normans were really north french.

  6. Perhaps if the kingdom of Wessex fell England’s identity would be more indubitably aligned with Scandinavia, as it was arguably in the decades before Norman conquest in any case.

    Would there have been a Norman invasion if Danelaw had prevailed in England?

  7. @Halvorson
    A Norwegian linguist managed to draw some journalistic attention to himself a few years back by claiming that English was really a North Germanic language is disguise:

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121127094111.htm

    Everyone agrees that his fundamental point is wrong, but it is true that English word order is more like Norwegian than German or Dutch and that Norse was very effective at pushing aside many perfectly good English words. When you consider that the Danes only ever occupied half of England, and that half only briefly, the language shift seems pretty large. Had their occupation lasted for another century it seems possible that English would have evolved to into something unrecognizable to us.

    The big Viking counter-factual is of course a successful colonization of Vinland, which I am actually amazed did NOT happen. Had Leif Erickson been a little more high energy he could have easily recruited 500 or so settlers and, assuming fertility rates at the French Canadian or Puritan level, that would have been all she wrote for Indians on the Atlantic seaboard. If you imagine Earth's history as one run of the game Civilization, the Scandinavians had the best chance of anyone to win, but they blew it........

    The big Viking counter-factual is of course a successful colonization of Vinland, which I am actually amazed did NOT happen. Had Leif Erickson been a little more high energy he could have easily recruited 500 or so settlers and, assuming fertility rates at the French Canadian or Puritan level, that would have been all she wrote for Indians on the Atlantic seaboard.

    Or maybe that simply would have resulted in 500 more Viking graves in Vinland. The Vikings of the era did not enjoy nearly the same kind of demographic and technological advantages the English colonialists (or Spanish conquistadors) enjoyed in later centuries, so it’s hard to see how a few hundred more Viking settlers would have made much of a difference in the eventual outcome.

    • Replies: @Halvorson
    Cortes was able to conquer the mighty Aztecs with 600 men, only 12 of whom had firearms. In their final attack on Tenochtitlan they had no cannon and tried making a do it yourself trebuchet instead. Their primary technological leg up was their steel, which Europeans have had for a long time. I think the same conquest could have accomplished by any similar number of Vikings, or even Ancient Romans for that matter. A successful Vinland colony would have expanded along the coast and faced opposition from Indians who were much less numerous and well organized than the Aztecs.

    About 20,000 people immigrated to New England up until 1640, at which point the flow mostly stopped. By 1770 there were about a million inhabitants there, almost all the result of natural increase. Those people were more than doubling their every population every generation for 150 years. You see similar fertility rates from French Canadians, which suggests this pattern isn't specific to ultra religious types or the English generally.

    The Vikings would have started from a much lower population base, but they had a 492 year head start over Columbus. Even if they had grown at half the Puritan rate they would have numbered in the millions by the time other Europeans showed up to claim what was left of the Americas.
  8. @Halvorson
    The genetic evidence that Razib has linked to in the past suggests that there were never all that many Scandinavians living in Britain in the 10th/11th centuries. Even if they had all been brutal Conan the Barbarian types who took multiple wives they would have not left all that many descendants.

    I'm not an expert on the demographic history of the world, but as just one example compare the demographics of France against Britain in the last 500 years. In 1500, there were about 3 million people in England, Wales, and Scotland combined. At the same time, there were about 20 million people living in France. Now that in and of itself is amazing because those countries have roughly equal populations today, but the actual difference in fertility is much larger because of the enormous English diaspora.

    It's tough to find exact numbers here, so I'll assume conservatively that Americans are only about 20 percent British, and the Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders about half. Adding these numbers up I get a total diaspora size of about 100 million. When you add that to the number of white British today you get a lower bound estimate of about 150 million British people, or a 50 fold increase in just 500 years. In the same span of time the French have only increased in numbers 3-4 fold. Partly, this is because they weren't as good at empire building as Britain, but also because for mysterious reasons they just stopped making babies.

    The world belongs to those who show up.

    If you compare effective and actual population sizes, many smaller ethnicities like Ashkenazi will also appear reproductively successful.

    @AK
    “Since there appears to be a correlation between the backwardness of an existing culture and its susceptibility to foreign acculturation, it would imply that the chances of such a Nordification in England would have been low.”

    We could also look at Scotland, where the Norse language didn’t take solid root in the mainland, and come to a similar conclusion. Orkney and especially Shetland were Norse-speaking, but those got taken over by Scots and within a few centuries the language vanished.

  9. @Anatoly Karlin
    I recently read the first few chapters of Robert Tombs' The English and Their History and one of the big points he makes is that the Britons were a remarkable advanced culture with respectable literacy rates (by the Dark Age's undemanding standards) and a proto-national spirit even by the time of Alfred the Great. Since there appears to be a correlation between the backwardness of an existing culture and its susceptibility to foreign acculturation, it would imply that the chances of such a Nordification in England would have been low.

    After all this didn't happen in Rus' (though Vikings came to power there via assent and trade, not conquest), it didn't happen in Normandy, nor in the Norman Kingdom of Sicily so I don't see why it should have happened in England.

    Have to agree with Razib here. Briton ≠ Anglo Saxon.

    Briton in this time period means Brythonic speakers eg. Welsh, Cornish, Bretons, Cumbrian/Strathclyde — at a stretch you could even use it for the Picts (though Pictish was probably a parallel branch to “Neo-Brythonic” lacking influence from Latin as it was north of the wall etc.), that and Pictish starts to disappear post the creation of Kingdom of Alba (Scotland) which merged Dál Riata (Old Irish speaking) and Pictland. (c.900 — Vikings major contributor to this change)

    In Irish we actually still preserve this differenation of the word Briton.
    Welsh person = Breathnach
    English peson = Sasnach (eg. Saxon)

  10. The really interesting question (to me at least) is what would have happened if things had gone differently in 1066. It seems the battle of Hastings was a fairly close-run thing (and if I’m not mistaken there’s even an argument Harold could/should have avoided it and lured the Normans inland to gradually decimate their forces and interrupt their lines of supply). It’s a sobering thought that maybe the entire subsequent history of England (and by extension of Europe and the world) would have been fairly different if the events of a single day had gone another way as they could well have.

  11. @Anatoly Karlin
    I recently read the first few chapters of Robert Tombs' The English and Their History and one of the big points he makes is that the Britons were a remarkable advanced culture with respectable literacy rates (by the Dark Age's undemanding standards) and a proto-national spirit even by the time of Alfred the Great. Since there appears to be a correlation between the backwardness of an existing culture and its susceptibility to foreign acculturation, it would imply that the chances of such a Nordification in England would have been low.

    After all this didn't happen in Rus' (though Vikings came to power there via assent and trade, not conquest), it didn't happen in Normandy, nor in the Norman Kingdom of Sicily so I don't see why it should have happened in England.

    “and one of the big points he makes is that the Britons were a remarkable advanced culture with respectable literacy rates ”

    As has been already been pointed out, you mean the English, not Britons. Britons in the sense you used here is an 18th-century creation (see Linda Colley’s well-known book of the same name), and in any case that identity seems to be rapidly fading away now.

  12. @Halvorson
    The genetic evidence that Razib has linked to in the past suggests that there were never all that many Scandinavians living in Britain in the 10th/11th centuries. Even if they had all been brutal Conan the Barbarian types who took multiple wives they would have not left all that many descendants.

    I'm not an expert on the demographic history of the world, but as just one example compare the demographics of France against Britain in the last 500 years. In 1500, there were about 3 million people in England, Wales, and Scotland combined. At the same time, there were about 20 million people living in France. Now that in and of itself is amazing because those countries have roughly equal populations today, but the actual difference in fertility is much larger because of the enormous English diaspora.

    It's tough to find exact numbers here, so I'll assume conservatively that Americans are only about 20 percent British, and the Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders about half. Adding these numbers up I get a total diaspora size of about 100 million. When you add that to the number of white British today you get a lower bound estimate of about 150 million British people, or a 50 fold increase in just 500 years. In the same span of time the French have only increased in numbers 3-4 fold. Partly, this is because they weren't as good at empire building as Britain, but also because for mysterious reasons they just stopped making babies.

    The world belongs to those who show up.

    Per wiki, you’ve got about 8 million French Canadians and 10 million French ancestry in the United States, so that helps a little, but the basic point kind of stands.

    There were productive forces at work in England (production changes) and offshoots (free land in the Americas) that weren’t opened or exploited as much by the French, and this is reflected in the different increases in population.

    All of the covergence in population size from England-France pretty much dates to the early 1800s and certainly the 19th century https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/population-by-country.png?size=1200×800&v=868b319fbf39117a1d6a2d6d140cf547. That’s the impact of the British Agricultural Revolution and Industrial Revolution. (A bit of that growth is probably mass Irish migration, but by far most is going to be natural growth.)

    IRC France followed more of an older model of lower growth and not revolutionizing productive forces as much. Without that, I expect when confronted with increasing personal prosperity in neighbouring Britain, and with the same social trends that led people to choose and expect that, French people chose to have smaller families, to maintain that prosperity and wealth for their children… Great contributions to science and mathematics, to literature, great contributions to lifestyle (how to live), but not much of a population boom…

  13. Michael Wood’s BBC series on King Alfred is worth catching if you get the chance.

    It’s “popsci” but very good of its kind. He’s a very engaging presenter, on a par with John Romer, whose “Testament” was IMHO the gold standard for popular TV history.

  14. @Twinkie

    The big Viking counter-factual is of course a successful colonization of Vinland, which I am actually amazed did NOT happen. Had Leif Erickson been a little more high energy he could have easily recruited 500 or so settlers and, assuming fertility rates at the French Canadian or Puritan level, that would have been all she wrote for Indians on the Atlantic seaboard.
     
    Or maybe that simply would have resulted in 500 more Viking graves in Vinland. The Vikings of the era did not enjoy nearly the same kind of demographic and technological advantages the English colonialists (or Spanish conquistadors) enjoyed in later centuries, so it's hard to see how a few hundred more Viking settlers would have made much of a difference in the eventual outcome.

    Cortes was able to conquer the mighty Aztecs with 600 men, only 12 of whom had firearms. In their final attack on Tenochtitlan they had no cannon and tried making a do it yourself trebuchet instead. Their primary technological leg up was their steel, which Europeans have had for a long time. I think the same conquest could have accomplished by any similar number of Vikings, or even Ancient Romans for that matter. A successful Vinland colony would have expanded along the coast and faced opposition from Indians who were much less numerous and well organized than the Aztecs.

    About 20,000 people immigrated to New England up until 1640, at which point the flow mostly stopped. By 1770 there were about a million inhabitants there, almost all the result of natural increase. Those people were more than doubling their every population every generation for 150 years. You see similar fertility rates from French Canadians, which suggests this pattern isn’t specific to ultra religious types or the English generally.

    The Vikings would have started from a much lower population base, but they had a 492 year head start over Columbus. Even if they had grown at half the Puritan rate they would have numbered in the millions by the time other Europeans showed up to claim what was left of the Americas.

    • Replies: @Razib Khan
    Cortes was able to conquer the mighty Aztecs with 600 men, only 12 of whom had firearms. In their final attack on Tenochtitlan they had no cannon and tried making a do it yourself trebuchet instead.

    i think that's a ridiculous analogy. the peoples of the NE north america were comparatively decentralized. there wouldn't have been any decisive victory, because you'd have to beat each tribe in turn.

    The Vikings would have started from a much lower population base, but they had a 492 year head start over Columbus. Even if they had grown at half the Puritan rate they would have numbered in the millions by the time other Europeans showed up to claim what was left of the Americas.



    the logic makes sense. but my intuition is with Twinkie that the viking advantages over the natives were not great enough. note that viking conquests in other places were where they co-opted and took over a native organizational structure. this is true even in russia. that's the most likely model in the new world.

    the wild card is disease. i think 500 is too small a number. 5,000, yes, that might have given them enuf breathing space.
    , @Twinkie

    Cortes was able to conquer the mighty Aztecs with 600 men, only 12 of whom had firearms.
     
    That is highly deceptive and inaccurate, to say the least. Cortes was able to conquer the Aztecs because of the confluences of many fortuitous (for him and his supporters) circumstances, including:

    1. The outbreak of Eurasian diseases among the Aztecs that preceded the Spaniards;
    2. The role of ominous omens in the Aztec religious landscape;
    3. The dissension among the Aztec leadership class;
    4. The synergistic effectiveness of several military technologies and related methods, such as the gunpowder weapons (more for psyschological dislocation than actual physical effect on their own), the steel impact/blade weapons, the crossbows, the advanced armor, the horse, and finally the combat techniques and experiences of pitched battle derived from centuries of warfare against the Muslims and other Europeans;
    5. The powerful ideology of harnessing all of society to conquer, colonize, and settle new lands;
    6. Being able to find ready and willing allies (Tlaxcalans) who provided thousands of excellent scouts and troops; and
    7. The great luck of being invited into the capital of the Aztecs and being able to "decapitate" the leadership of a highly centralized state in one stroke.

    The Vikings would have enjoyed virtually none of these advantages.

    Their primary technological leg up was their steel, which Europeans have had for a long time. I think the same conquest could have accomplished by any similar number of Vikings
     
    At the tactical level, most Vikings fought with spears or axes. Swords were an expensive rarity among ordinary Vikings as was metal armor (most of them likely had a leather cap or metal helmet, if they were a bit affluent, and perhaps a leather corset; only the very exalted among them would sport a full metal panoply).

    More important than this though was the fact that most Viking groups did not possess a "total war" ideology of conquest-extermination-colonization that the later Europeans did. Most Vikings were highly opportunistic raiders (and traders) who utilized the mobility afforded by their longships to strike un- or lightly-defended targets and who were liable to flee quickly if confronted in force by the defenders. History records numerous instances in which they were cut down or captured by the defenders when caught in a pitched battle or when they failed to make it back quickly enough to their ships (there is one especially gruesome account of one group of Viking raiders who were caught by Frankish defenders and only those Vikings who were able to swim back to their ships making out alive and the rest drowning or being massacred on the beach). In other words, they were hardly the avatars or practitioners of the oft-mythologized "Western way of war" of settling political disputes by a decisive field battle.

    The Spanish conquistadors of the 16th Century were truly terrifyingly efficient and ruthless killers with a very cohesive and expansive ideology, who were the products of centuries of relentless warfare and reconquista. The Vikings were, more often than not, more opportunistic bogeymen and phantoms (products of their unpredictable raids made possible by their maritime mobility)* than the fearsome and all-conquering superhuman giant warriors that the myths make them out to be.

    *This is not to say that they couldn't be fearsome warriors - the Frenchified Normans were very adept combined-arms practitioners and Viking mercenaries, particularly those in service of Byzantium, could be indeed a very steadfast battlefield presence (though in that particular case, they were more known for fighting and dying to the last man in the service of their Byzantine paymasters, usually in losing battles, than conquering anything, as the Byzantines relied on skilled and highly mobile mounted archers when they were on expeditionary campaigns of reconquest).
  15. @Halvorson
    Cortes was able to conquer the mighty Aztecs with 600 men, only 12 of whom had firearms. In their final attack on Tenochtitlan they had no cannon and tried making a do it yourself trebuchet instead. Their primary technological leg up was their steel, which Europeans have had for a long time. I think the same conquest could have accomplished by any similar number of Vikings, or even Ancient Romans for that matter. A successful Vinland colony would have expanded along the coast and faced opposition from Indians who were much less numerous and well organized than the Aztecs.

    About 20,000 people immigrated to New England up until 1640, at which point the flow mostly stopped. By 1770 there were about a million inhabitants there, almost all the result of natural increase. Those people were more than doubling their every population every generation for 150 years. You see similar fertility rates from French Canadians, which suggests this pattern isn't specific to ultra religious types or the English generally.

    The Vikings would have started from a much lower population base, but they had a 492 year head start over Columbus. Even if they had grown at half the Puritan rate they would have numbered in the millions by the time other Europeans showed up to claim what was left of the Americas.

    Cortes was able to conquer the mighty Aztecs with 600 men, only 12 of whom had firearms. In their final attack on Tenochtitlan they had no cannon and tried making a do it yourself trebuchet instead.

    i think that’s a ridiculous analogy. the peoples of the NE north america were comparatively decentralized. there wouldn’t have been any decisive victory, because you’d have to beat each tribe in turn.

    The Vikings would have started from a much lower population base, but they had a 492 year head start over Columbus. Even if they had grown at half the Puritan rate they would have numbered in the millions by the time other Europeans showed up to claim what was left of the Americas.

    the logic makes sense. but my intuition is with Twinkie that the viking advantages over the natives were not great enough. note that viking conquests in other places were where they co-opted and took over a native organizational structure. this is true even in russia. that’s the most likely model in the new world.

    the wild card is disease. i think 500 is too small a number. 5,000, yes, that might have given them enuf breathing space.

    • Replies: @Paul Ó Duḃṫaiġ
    Another good example of Viking's been co-opt into native system is the case of the Gall-Ghaeil (Gall-Goídel in old irish literally "foreigner-Gaels") who are first recorded in Irish annals in the 9th century.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norse%E2%80%93Gaels

    Their name survives to this day in the name Galloway.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suibne_mac_Cin%C3%A1eda

    Currently the last major stronghold of Scottish Gaidhlig is the outer Hebrides, this is somewhat ironic as this area seems to have first under gone language shift to Norse and than later undergone language shift to Middle Irish (it's possible that area was either Old Irish or Pictish speaking before Viking incursion). As a result to an Irish ear, a speaker of say for example Lewis dialect of Gáidhlig almost sounds Scandinavian when it comes to their vowels.

    It's quite possible that Somerled the ancestor of later McDonalds for example was actually given a more "Irish" genealogy to co-opt his lineage into Gaeldom:

    Alex Woolf has decent article about it on academia.edu

    https://www.academia.edu/2985753/The_origins_and_ancestry_of_Somerled_Gofraid_mac_Fergusa_and_The_Annals_of_the_Four_Masters

    Likewise following:
    The break up of Dál Riata and the rise of Gallgoídil
    https://www.academia.edu/19596633/The_break_up_of_D%C3%A1l_Riata_and_the_rise_of_Gallgo%C3%ADdil

    FROM DÁL RIATA TO THE GALL-GHÀIDHEIL
    https://www.academia.edu/9130286/FROM_D%C3%81L_RIATA_TO_THE_GALL-GH%C3%80IDHEIL

    Western Scotland (in my opinion) offers an interesting parallel to how Vikings might have been integrated into the elite of Anglo-Saxon England (if things had taken different turn).

  16. The point about the Spanish was that they were not so technologically far ahead of medieval Icelanders. The New World conquests of the 16th and 17th centuries were largely accomplished by small groups of men using old fashioned pikes and swords. As an example of the numbers involved, during King Philip’s War the Puritans don’t seem to have ever raised an army of more than 1,000 men strong and were still able to essentially exterminate all the Indians living in eastern New England.

    i think 500 is too small a number. 5,000, yes, that might have given them enuf breathing space.

    There were around that many in Greenland alone. This isn’t something that could have happened, it SHOULD have happened. Typical Scandinavian laziness.

    • Replies: @Twinkie

    The point about the Spanish was that they were not so technologically far ahead of medieval Icelanders. The New World conquests of the 16th and 17th centuries were largely accomplished by small groups of men using old fashioned pikes and swords. As an example of the numbers involved, during King Philip’s War the Puritans don’t seem to have ever raised an army of more than 1,000 men strong and were still able to essentially exterminate all the Indians living in eastern New England.
     
    Those Puritans would have exterminated numerous Danish or Norwegian villagers of the high tide of the Viking era as well, had they been magically transported to that time and place.
    , @Twinkie

    This isn’t something that could have happened, it SHOULD have happened. Typical Scandinavian laziness.
     
    So, what you are saying here is that, instead of intimidating lightly defended English or Frankish towns into paying hoards of gold and silver coins as "protection" money (Danegeld), many of which seem to have become necklaces for Nordic lasses back home, or earning enough wealth to become a king through working as a mercenary in the fabulously rich Byzantium (e.g. Harald Sigurdsson, aka Hardrada), these "lazy" Vikings - devoid of the later European ideology of colonization - instead should have headed in large numbers into distant and uncharted and unknown lands of indeterminate wealth (or defenses)? All in the service of a prescient goal of turning the later superpower of the United States into a Nordic, rather than an English creation?
    , @russell1200
    A lot of the histories of King Philip's war is given too heavy of a Massachusetts bias. You would hardly know that the Mowhawk's (at the request of New York's Governor Andros) were involved in a devastating winter raid on the Wampanoag, and that Connecticut successfully worked with their local native allies in their portion of the fighting. The general sense I get is that everyone thought the Massachusetts Bay folks were jerks and incompetent to let the whole thing get so out of hand, and then to do so poorly in the fighting.
  17. “[Consider] the strange and futile destiny of the Scandinavian people. In universal history, the wars and books of the Scandinavians are as if they had never existed; everything remains isolated and without a trace, as if it had come to pass in a dream or in the crystal balls where clairvoyants gaze. In the twelfth century, the Icelanders discovered the novel – the art of Flaubert, the Norman – and this discovery is as secret and sterile, for the economy of the world, as their discovery of America.”

    Jorge Luis Borges. The Scandinavian Destiny. 1953

  18. There was little difference between the germanic peoples that settled Britain before and during the Viking Age. Even those in the first wave mostly came from Denmark and the regions directly south.

    Both waves also shared many cultural aspects even after those in Britain moved towards Christianity as proved by Beowulf and the Sutton Hoo findings.

  19. I forgot to add that the Danes did conquer the entire England, during the reign of Cnut the Great and held it without much opposition for 30 years, but by this point the Danes were also mostly Christians.

  20. @Razib Khan
    Cortes was able to conquer the mighty Aztecs with 600 men, only 12 of whom had firearms. In their final attack on Tenochtitlan they had no cannon and tried making a do it yourself trebuchet instead.

    i think that's a ridiculous analogy. the peoples of the NE north america were comparatively decentralized. there wouldn't have been any decisive victory, because you'd have to beat each tribe in turn.

    The Vikings would have started from a much lower population base, but they had a 492 year head start over Columbus. Even if they had grown at half the Puritan rate they would have numbered in the millions by the time other Europeans showed up to claim what was left of the Americas.



    the logic makes sense. but my intuition is with Twinkie that the viking advantages over the natives were not great enough. note that viking conquests in other places were where they co-opted and took over a native organizational structure. this is true even in russia. that's the most likely model in the new world.

    the wild card is disease. i think 500 is too small a number. 5,000, yes, that might have given them enuf breathing space.

    Another good example of Viking’s been co-opt into native system is the case of the Gall-Ghaeil (Gall-Goídel in old irish literally “foreigner-Gaels”) who are first recorded in Irish annals in the 9th century.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norse%E2%80%93Gaels

    Their name survives to this day in the name Galloway.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suibne_mac_Cin%C3%A1eda

    Currently the last major stronghold of Scottish Gaidhlig is the outer Hebrides, this is somewhat ironic as this area seems to have first under gone language shift to Norse and than later undergone language shift to Middle Irish (it’s possible that area was either Old Irish or Pictish speaking before Viking incursion). As a result to an Irish ear, a speaker of say for example Lewis dialect of Gáidhlig almost sounds Scandinavian when it comes to their vowels.

    It’s quite possible that Somerled the ancestor of later McDonalds for example was actually given a more “Irish” genealogy to co-opt his lineage into Gaeldom:

    Alex Woolf has decent article about it on academia.edu

    https://www.academia.edu/2985753/The_origins_and_ancestry_of_Somerled_Gofraid_mac_Fergusa_and_The_Annals_of_the_Four_Masters

    Likewise following:
    The break up of Dál Riata and the rise of Gallgoídil
    https://www.academia.edu/19596633/The_break_up_of_D%C3%A1l_Riata_and_the_rise_of_Gallgo%C3%ADdil

    FROM DÁL RIATA TO THE GALL-GHÀIDHEIL
    https://www.academia.edu/9130286/FROM_D%C3%81L_RIATA_TO_THE_GALL-GH%C3%80IDHEIL

    Western Scotland (in my opinion) offers an interesting parallel to how Vikings might have been integrated into the elite of Anglo-Saxon England (if things had taken different turn).

  21. @Halvorson
    Cortes was able to conquer the mighty Aztecs with 600 men, only 12 of whom had firearms. In their final attack on Tenochtitlan they had no cannon and tried making a do it yourself trebuchet instead. Their primary technological leg up was their steel, which Europeans have had for a long time. I think the same conquest could have accomplished by any similar number of Vikings, or even Ancient Romans for that matter. A successful Vinland colony would have expanded along the coast and faced opposition from Indians who were much less numerous and well organized than the Aztecs.

    About 20,000 people immigrated to New England up until 1640, at which point the flow mostly stopped. By 1770 there were about a million inhabitants there, almost all the result of natural increase. Those people were more than doubling their every population every generation for 150 years. You see similar fertility rates from French Canadians, which suggests this pattern isn't specific to ultra religious types or the English generally.

    The Vikings would have started from a much lower population base, but they had a 492 year head start over Columbus. Even if they had grown at half the Puritan rate they would have numbered in the millions by the time other Europeans showed up to claim what was left of the Americas.

    Cortes was able to conquer the mighty Aztecs with 600 men, only 12 of whom had firearms.

    That is highly deceptive and inaccurate, to say the least. Cortes was able to conquer the Aztecs because of the confluences of many fortuitous (for him and his supporters) circumstances, including:

    1. The outbreak of Eurasian diseases among the Aztecs that preceded the Spaniards;
    2. The role of ominous omens in the Aztec religious landscape;
    3. The dissension among the Aztec leadership class;
    4. The synergistic effectiveness of several military technologies and related methods, such as the gunpowder weapons (more for psyschological dislocation than actual physical effect on their own), the steel impact/blade weapons, the crossbows, the advanced armor, the horse, and finally the combat techniques and experiences of pitched battle derived from centuries of warfare against the Muslims and other Europeans;
    5. The powerful ideology of harnessing all of society to conquer, colonize, and settle new lands;
    6. Being able to find ready and willing allies (Tlaxcalans) who provided thousands of excellent scouts and troops; and
    7. The great luck of being invited into the capital of the Aztecs and being able to “decapitate” the leadership of a highly centralized state in one stroke.

    The Vikings would have enjoyed virtually none of these advantages.

    Their primary technological leg up was their steel, which Europeans have had for a long time. I think the same conquest could have accomplished by any similar number of Vikings

    At the tactical level, most Vikings fought with spears or axes. Swords were an expensive rarity among ordinary Vikings as was metal armor (most of them likely had a leather cap or metal helmet, if they were a bit affluent, and perhaps a leather corset; only the very exalted among them would sport a full metal panoply).

    More important than this though was the fact that most Viking groups did not possess a “total war” ideology of conquest-extermination-colonization that the later Europeans did. Most Vikings were highly opportunistic raiders (and traders) who utilized the mobility afforded by their longships to strike un- or lightly-defended targets and who were liable to flee quickly if confronted in force by the defenders. History records numerous instances in which they were cut down or captured by the defenders when caught in a pitched battle or when they failed to make it back quickly enough to their ships (there is one especially gruesome account of one group of Viking raiders who were caught by Frankish defenders and only those Vikings who were able to swim back to their ships making out alive and the rest drowning or being massacred on the beach). In other words, they were hardly the avatars or practitioners of the oft-mythologized “Western way of war” of settling political disputes by a decisive field battle.

    The Spanish conquistadors of the 16th Century were truly terrifyingly efficient and ruthless killers with a very cohesive and expansive ideology, who were the products of centuries of relentless warfare and reconquista. The Vikings were, more often than not, more opportunistic bogeymen and phantoms (products of their unpredictable raids made possible by their maritime mobility)* than the fearsome and all-conquering superhuman giant warriors that the myths make them out to be.

    *This is not to say that they couldn’t be fearsome warriors – the Frenchified Normans were very adept combined-arms practitioners and Viking mercenaries, particularly those in service of Byzantium, could be indeed a very steadfast battlefield presence (though in that particular case, they were more known for fighting and dying to the last man in the service of their Byzantine paymasters, usually in losing battles, than conquering anything, as the Byzantines relied on skilled and highly mobile mounted archers when they were on expeditionary campaigns of reconquest).

  22. @Halvorson
    The point about the Spanish was that they were not so technologically far ahead of medieval Icelanders. The New World conquests of the 16th and 17th centuries were largely accomplished by small groups of men using old fashioned pikes and swords. As an example of the numbers involved, during King Philip's War the Puritans don't seem to have ever raised an army of more than 1,000 men strong and were still able to essentially exterminate all the Indians living in eastern New England.

    i think 500 is too small a number. 5,000, yes, that might have given them enuf breathing space.

    There were around that many in Greenland alone. This isn't something that could have happened, it SHOULD have happened. Typical Scandinavian laziness.

    The point about the Spanish was that they were not so technologically far ahead of medieval Icelanders. The New World conquests of the 16th and 17th centuries were largely accomplished by small groups of men using old fashioned pikes and swords. As an example of the numbers involved, during King Philip’s War the Puritans don’t seem to have ever raised an army of more than 1,000 men strong and were still able to essentially exterminate all the Indians living in eastern New England.

    Those Puritans would have exterminated numerous Danish or Norwegian villagers of the high tide of the Viking era as well, had they been magically transported to that time and place.

  23. @Halvorson
    The point about the Spanish was that they were not so technologically far ahead of medieval Icelanders. The New World conquests of the 16th and 17th centuries were largely accomplished by small groups of men using old fashioned pikes and swords. As an example of the numbers involved, during King Philip's War the Puritans don't seem to have ever raised an army of more than 1,000 men strong and were still able to essentially exterminate all the Indians living in eastern New England.

    i think 500 is too small a number. 5,000, yes, that might have given them enuf breathing space.

    There were around that many in Greenland alone. This isn't something that could have happened, it SHOULD have happened. Typical Scandinavian laziness.

    This isn’t something that could have happened, it SHOULD have happened. Typical Scandinavian laziness.

    So, what you are saying here is that, instead of intimidating lightly defended English or Frankish towns into paying hoards of gold and silver coins as “protection” money (Danegeld), many of which seem to have become necklaces for Nordic lasses back home, or earning enough wealth to become a king through working as a mercenary in the fabulously rich Byzantium (e.g. Harald Sigurdsson, aka Hardrada), these “lazy” Vikings – devoid of the later European ideology of colonization – instead should have headed in large numbers into distant and uncharted and unknown lands of indeterminate wealth (or defenses)? All in the service of a prescient goal of turning the later superpower of the United States into a Nordic, rather than an English creation?

  24. Look at my username, brother. Just a joke.

    The most important factor, by far, underlying European success in their early New World conquests was the enormous decline in native population brought about by disease. I think 90 percent of the commenters here are probably aware of this. The outbreak that affected Tenochtitlan in 1520 was not some lucky, one off event. The Aztecs would have been cut down by smallpox had any significant number of Europeans of any nationality arrived. The Cayapo in Venezuela, the Mandan in North Dakota: in every well studied case of white people encountering uncontacted natives, disease and major population declines follow.

    It is also true that, especially in the case of Cortes, there could have not been a conquest without native help. But Indians used white men to settle grudge matches against their rivals everywhere. It’s not an iron law of sociology, but the definite pattern was that the natives didn’t realize the magnitude of the threat until it was too late. The Tlaxcalan reaction appears to be the natural one and not a specific result of Spanish charisma or ideology.

    I don’t think ideology of warfare played any role in Spanish success, nor has it played a role in the success of any army in history. Cortes had no combat experience and never fought any pitched battles against the Aztecs. Maybe when he went to sleep at night he had dreams of El Cid and the Reconquista, but it played no role in his victories.

    Greenland was a bona fide shithole in 1000 and it is baffling why Erikson was unsuccessful in getting the colonists there to move to better lands. It was in his his self-interest and the self-interest of those people to a move to a warmer place with much more arable land and yet they chose to stay put. I rescind my earlier comment: they were bums.

    • Replies: @Twinkie

    The outbreak that affected Tenochtitlan in 1520 was not some lucky, one off event. The Aztecs would have been cut down by smallpox had any significant number of Europeans of any nationality arrived.
     
    First of all, the Eurasian diseases that arrived with the Spaniards to "the New World" *preceded* Cortes. Do you understand this? In all likelihood, this rapid transmission was made possible by the structure of the Aztec empire and its trade/communication routes. As Razib Khan pointed out earlier, that centralized structure was not replicated in the north.

    Furthermore, the lucky part was not that an epidemic swept the natives (which was a given; note it was item number 1 in my comment earlier), rather the lucky part was whom the epidemic killed. In the case of the Aztecs, unluckily for them, a substantial portion of their leaderships seems to have perished from disease, creating both confusion and dissension among their ranks. That does not mean the same pattern would have resulted in the highly fractured world of North American natives.

    The Tlaxcalan reaction appears to be the natural one and not a specific result of Spanish charisma or ideology... I don’t think ideology of warfare played any role in Spanish success, nor has it played a role in the success of any army in history.
     
    It might be instructive for you to study the history of ancient Roman warfare. Roman warmaking ideology was instrumental in its ability to defeat Hannibal by allowing it to sustain enormous casualties that would have forced other ancient polities to seek peace (e.g. the Athenian empire after Aegospotami). A polity's conception of what warfare is supposed to achieve has much to do with whether or not that polity experiences military success or not. If the military history of Rome is too inaccessible to you, perhaps you might examine why the United States lost the war in Vietnam despite possessing an extreme technological and materiel advantages.

    Unlike the Vikings of the earlier era who were *highly opportunistic* pirates, brigands, extortioners, and traders, the Spanish of the 16th Century possessed an ideology of colonial expansion, religious supremacism, and that of an early form of "total war," derived from centuries of warfare and reconquista against Muslim Iberia. Vikings simply lacked this kind of "burning the ships behind them" mentality and were liable to abandon and flee settlements that became difficult to defend/maintain. That was not likely to be a successful recipe for sustaining themselves in isolated, faraway settlements surrounded by many hostile peoples, let alone expanding and out-populating the natives.
    , @Johann Ricke

    I don’t think ideology of warfare played any role in Spanish success, nor has it played a role in the success of any army in history. Cortes had no combat experience and never fought any pitched battles against the Aztecs. Maybe when he went to sleep at night he had dreams of El Cid and the Reconquista, but it played no role in his victories.
     
    Au contraire. Ideology is the main reason Europe lost its empire in the post-WWII era. Europeans were no longer willing to sustain large losses in men and treasure to maintain empire, whereas the colonized peoples were willing to make great sacrifices to put their chosen leadership in power.
  25. The most important factor, by far, underlying European success in their early New World conquests was the enormous decline in native population brought about by disease. … The outbreak that affected Tenochtitlan in 1520 was not some lucky, one off event. The Aztecs would have been cut down by smallpox had any significant number of Europeans of any nationality arrived. The Cayapo in Venezuela, the Mandan in North Dakota: in every well studied case of white people encountering uncontacted natives, disease and major population declines follow.

    This was one of the theses of the great William H. McNeill’s Plagues and Peoples (1976 and still worth reading; an amazon link is in the sidebar).

  26. @Halvorson
    Look at my username, brother. Just a joke.

    The most important factor, by far, underlying European success in their early New World conquests was the enormous decline in native population brought about by disease. I think 90 percent of the commenters here are probably aware of this. The outbreak that affected Tenochtitlan in 1520 was not some lucky, one off event. The Aztecs would have been cut down by smallpox had any significant number of Europeans of any nationality arrived. The Cayapo in Venezuela, the Mandan in North Dakota: in every well studied case of white people encountering uncontacted natives, disease and major population declines follow.

    It is also true that, especially in the case of Cortes, there could have not been a conquest without native help. But Indians used white men to settle grudge matches against their rivals everywhere. It's not an iron law of sociology, but the definite pattern was that the natives didn't realize the magnitude of the threat until it was too late. The Tlaxcalan reaction appears to be the natural one and not a specific result of Spanish charisma or ideology.

    I don't think ideology of warfare played any role in Spanish success, nor has it played a role in the success of any army in history. Cortes had no combat experience and never fought any pitched battles against the Aztecs. Maybe when he went to sleep at night he had dreams of El Cid and the Reconquista, but it played no role in his victories.

    Greenland was a bona fide shithole in 1000 and it is baffling why Erikson was unsuccessful in getting the colonists there to move to better lands. It was in his his self-interest and the self-interest of those people to a move to a warmer place with much more arable land and yet they chose to stay put. I rescind my earlier comment: they were bums.

    The outbreak that affected Tenochtitlan in 1520 was not some lucky, one off event. The Aztecs would have been cut down by smallpox had any significant number of Europeans of any nationality arrived.

    First of all, the Eurasian diseases that arrived with the Spaniards to “the New World” *preceded* Cortes. Do you understand this? In all likelihood, this rapid transmission was made possible by the structure of the Aztec empire and its trade/communication routes. As Razib Khan pointed out earlier, that centralized structure was not replicated in the north.

    Furthermore, the lucky part was not that an epidemic swept the natives (which was a given; note it was item number 1 in my comment earlier), rather the lucky part was whom the epidemic killed. In the case of the Aztecs, unluckily for them, a substantial portion of their leaderships seems to have perished from disease, creating both confusion and dissension among their ranks. That does not mean the same pattern would have resulted in the highly fractured world of North American natives.

    The Tlaxcalan reaction appears to be the natural one and not a specific result of Spanish charisma or ideology… I don’t think ideology of warfare played any role in Spanish success, nor has it played a role in the success of any army in history.

    It might be instructive for you to study the history of ancient Roman warfare. Roman warmaking ideology was instrumental in its ability to defeat Hannibal by allowing it to sustain enormous casualties that would have forced other ancient polities to seek peace (e.g. the Athenian empire after Aegospotami). A polity’s conception of what warfare is supposed to achieve has much to do with whether or not that polity experiences military success or not. If the military history of Rome is too inaccessible to you, perhaps you might examine why the United States lost the war in Vietnam despite possessing an extreme technological and materiel advantages.

    Unlike the Vikings of the earlier era who were *highly opportunistic* pirates, brigands, extortioners, and traders, the Spanish of the 16th Century possessed an ideology of colonial expansion, religious supremacism, and that of an early form of “total war,” derived from centuries of warfare and reconquista against Muslim Iberia. Vikings simply lacked this kind of “burning the ships behind them” mentality and were liable to abandon and flee settlements that became difficult to defend/maintain. That was not likely to be a successful recipe for sustaining themselves in isolated, faraway settlements surrounded by many hostile peoples, let alone expanding and out-populating the natives.

  27. The Hundred Years’ War continues….

    First of all, the Eurasian diseases that arrived with the Spaniards to “the New World” *preceded* Cortes. Do you understand this?

    This is an incidental point, but the smallpox that devastated Tenochtitlan only arrived in Mexico in 1520 with the arrival of Narvaez and his expedition to arrest Cortes. It was the same version of the disease than had exterminated the last natives on Hispaniola in 1518.

    In all likelihood, this rapid transmission was made possible by the structure of the Aztec empire and its trade/communication routes.

    In 1903 the 7,000 Cayapo living in central Brazil had no empire of and no advanced trade/communication routes to facilitate the spread of disease. Five years after the first missionary arrived their population declined to 500, and by 1927 only 27 were left. This happened everywhere. From Mann’s 1491:

    In the 1990s Black reviewed thirty-six studies of South American Indians. Not to his surprise, he discovered that overall Indians have fewer HLA types than populations from Europe, Asia, and Africa. European populations have at least thirty-five main HLA classes, whereas Indian groups have no more than seventeen. In addition, Native American HLA profiles are dominated by an unusually small number of types. About one third of South American Indians, Black discovered, have identical or near-identical HLA profiles; for Africans the figure is one in two hundred. In South America, he estimated, the minimum probability that a pathogen in one host will next encounter a host with a similar immune spectrum is about 28 percent; in Europe, the chance is less than 2 percent. As a result, Black argued, “people of the New World are unusually susceptible to diseases of the Old.

    rather the lucky part was whom the epidemic killed. In the case of the Aztecs, unluckily for them, a substantial portion of their leaderships seems to have perished from disease, creating both confusion and dissension among their ranks.

    The Tenochtitlan outbreak killed 40-50 percent of the population there. In a catastrophe of this magnitude the fact that the sitting emperor also died is a bit of an afterthought.

    Roman warmaking ideology was instrumental in its ability to defeat Hannibal by allowing it to sustain enormous casualties that would have forced other ancient polities to seek peace (e.g. the Athenian empire after Aegospotami).

    After the Athenian defeat at Aegospotami they were unable to import grain from Ukraine and would have all starved to death had they kept fighting, even if Fabius Maximus had been leading them. Rome was never threatened in the same way by Hannibal. Ideology was irrelevant.

    Unlike the Vikings of the earlier era who were *highly opportunistic* pirates, brigands, extortioners, and traders, the Spanish of the 16th Century possessed an ideology of colonial expansion, religious supremacism, and that of an early form of “total war,” derived from centuries of warfare and reconquista against Muslim Iberia.

    How were Cortes and Pizarro not highly opportunistic brigands? They were motivated by the same material concerns for wealth that launched Vikings raids. Cortes was a criminal who disobeyed direct orders from the governor of Cuba not to sail to Mexico and later attacked the men sent to arrest him.

    I think you have a tendency to listen too much to a particular kind of amateur military historian who likes to explain the results of wars in the terms of entertaining stories instead of with more concrete factors.

    We’ll probably end up arguing in circles for a while, so I’d like to re-emphasize my main point: the European conquest of the New World was accomplished with small numbers of men utilizing crude weapons, operating without much organization and aided primarily by the predestined decline in Indian populations brought about by disease.

    Had a large enough Viking colony been established in Canada, all historical precedent suggests that the endless supply of arable land there would have led to a great explosion in population. Motivated only by personal self-interest, those farmers would have expanded in all directions just as English pioneers did. They would naturally have come into conflict into Indians who stood in their way. They would win some battles, lose others, but in the end their advantages in fertility and in their resistance to disease would have guaranteed their long term victory.

    • Replies: @BCD
    Your main point strikes me as largely valid, but I see it as ever having been a very strong historical possibility:

    1.) As other commenters mentioned, population structures didn't support brush fires of disease up north in the same way as the jungles of Mexico did.

    2.) 11th century Vikings weren't nearly as diseased as 16th century Spaniards (or Englishmen, for that matter), making epidemics among the native populations even less likely.

    3.) Even if you get your initial population set up, you still need sustainment from the motherland to maintain your meager technological edge, or you'll soon regress to the level of the natives (try keeping up steel production in Canada with a population of 5,000). The Vikings established their Vinland colony at the peak of the Medieval Warm Period, after which the northern ocean route became considerably more difficult. By contrast, the Puritans had ships that could make a several-month passage across open waters.

    4.) Given Scandinavian population sizes, how many able-bodied men and women could they afford to send off?

    Nevertheless, it's a fascinating counterfactual. Such a society that survived to the time when other European nations began crossing the Atlantic would doubtlessly look very different from those colonies, as they would have been more-or-less out of contact with Europe for several centuries.
    , @Twinkie

    This is an incidental point, but the smallpox that devastated Tenochtitlan only arrived in Mexico in 1520 with the arrival of Narvaez and his expedition to arrest Cortes. It was the same version of the disease than had exterminated the last natives on Hispaniola in 1518.
     
    There were four waves of epidemics that ravaged the Aztecs. The first wave was in 1519 that landed with the Spaniards and likely traveled *ahead* of the Europeans. The second wave was in 1920 you mentioned. These were most likely smallpox. As destructive as they were to the general population, the truly "cataclysmic" epidemics occurred decades later in 1545 and 1576 well after the Spanish conquest. These later, far deadlier epidemics are now thought to be native in origin: http://blogs.plos.org/publichealth/2013/07/30/guest-post-what-killed-the-aztecs/

    In a catastrophe of this magnitude the fact that the sitting emperor also died is a bit of an afterthought.
     
    On the contrary, deaths of key leaders from disease is rather a matter of a luck of the draw that can have nonetheless a substantial impact, e.g. Pericles. If it were purely a matter of numbers, even after the smallpox outbreaks of the 1519 and 1520, the Aztecs had enough manpower to overwhelm the Spaniards, had they a very different notion of warfare (that was lacking in their historical development).

    After the Athenian defeat at Aegospotami they were unable to import grain from Ukraine and would have all starved to death had they kept fighting, even if Fabius Maximus had been leading them. Rome was never threatened in the same way by Hannibal. Ideology was irrelevant.
     
    This is a modern rational, retrospective analysis of the situations. When Hannibal inflicted crushing defeats one after another on the Romans, culminating in the devastating destruction at Cannae, the Romans were seized with utter panic and despair. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cannae#Aftermath

    For a brief period, the Romans were in complete disarray. Their best armies in the peninsula were destroyed, the few remnants severely demoralized, and the only remaining consul (Varro) completely discredited. As the story goes, Rome declared a national day of mourning as there was not a single person who was not either related to or acquainted with a person who had died. The Romans became so desperate that they resorted to human sacrifice, twice burying people alive[43] at the Forum of Rome and abandoning an oversized baby in the Adriatic Sea[43] (perhaps one of the last instances of human sacrifices by the Romans, apart from public executions of defeated enemies dedicated to Mars).

    Lucius Caecilius Metellus, a military tribune, despaired so much of the Roman cause as to suggest that everything was lost, and called the other tribunes to sail overseas and hire themselves into the service of some foreign prince...

    A gold ring was a token of membership in the upper classes of Roman society;[17] Hannibal and his men collected more than 200 from the corpses on the battlefield, and sent this collection to Carthage as proof of his victory. The collection was poured on the floor in front of the Punic Senate, and was judged to be "three and a half measures."

    Hannibal had defeated the equivalent of eight consular armies (16 legions plus an equal number of allies).[44] Within just three campaign seasons (20 months), Rome had lost one-fifth (150,000) of the entire population of male citizens over 17 years of age.[45] Furthermore, the morale effect of this victory was such that most of southern Italy joined Hannibal's cause. After Cannae, the Hellenistic southern provinces of Arpi, Salapia, Herdonia, Uzentum, including the cities of Capua and Tarentum (two of the largest city-states in Italy) revoked their allegiance to Rome and pledged their loyalty to Hannibal. As Livy noted, "How much more serious was the defeat of Cannae than those which preceded it, can be seen by the behavior of Rome's allies; before that fateful day, their loyalty remained unshaken, now it began to waver for the simple reason that they despaired of Roman power."[46] In the same year the Greek cities in Sicily were induced to revolt against Roman political control, while the Macedonian king, Philip V, pledged his support to Hannibal, initiating the First Macedonian War against Rome. Hannibal also secured an alliance with the new King Hieronymus of Syracuse, the only independent left in Sicily.[17]
     
    Almost any other polity would have sued for peace in a similar predicament. Certainly Carthage would have (note that Carthage sued for peace after the first two Punic Wars without having committed many of their own citizens to battle). But Rome had a very different conception of warfare than most other polities of this period that allowed it to sustain enormous number of deaths of its citizens, including its elites.

    In 1903 the 7,000 Cayapo living in central Brazil had no empire of and no advanced trade/communication routes to facilitate the spread of disease. Five years after the first missionary arrived their population declined to 500, and by 1927 only 27 were left. This happened everywhere.
     
    But what about other tribes surrounding it? Unlike the Aztec empire, the natives who lived in the northeastern part of North America were not highly centralized. They had no urban civilization and the correspondingly high population density that is more-or-less required for epidemics to sustain themselves. Isolated tribal groups with lower densities were not as liable to suffer from recurring epidemics.

    How were Cortes and Pizarro not highly opportunistic brigands? They were motivated by the same material concerns for wealth that launched Vikings raids.
     
    Please do not be obtuse. I did not say the Spanish conquistadors were not motivated by greed or opportunism. The difference was that the Viking way of war was based mainly on raids and looting, not colonization while the Spanish had developed a politico-military ideology of conquest, conversion, extermination, and colonization that was based on their particular history and culture. As John Gillingham (now Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at London School of Economics and Political Science) writes in Maurice Keen's "Medieval Warfare: A History" (Keen was a well-known British historian of the medieval period and chivalry in particular):

    Everywhere from taifa Spain to the far North where the Norse raided Laps to enforce a tribute of reindeer, the basic form of war was the raid, the chevauchée (see also Chapter 5, p. 98). In urbanized societies such as Spain and Italy the raid was not enough; ultimately wars were decided by sieges and blockades. By contrast in societies such as those in the Celtic, Scandinavian, and Slav worlds, where towns and markets were few and where wealth was dispersed widely through the countryside, the raid was virtually the only form of war... On land the job of most of those who rode with a raiding party was to round up the prey; there was no need for them to be heavily armed. When the going got tough they scattered and left the fighting to the well-armed few, the nobles.
     
    There was already such differences in the conception of warfare between the Viking raiders and mainland Europeans in the 11th Century; by the 16th Century, the Spaniards (and later the French and the English) had vastly different ideas of warfare than did the earlier Vikings.

    Furthermore, the Spanish, by this period, had developed the corresponding maritime technology and navigational knowledge to cross deep seas with a reasonable reliability, something the Vikings lacked. The Viking longships were exceptionally maneuverable in shallow waters (such as estruaries and rivers) that were excellent for raids. Although these longships could and did navigate deep waters occasionally, they were not nearly as suitable for oceanic navigation and transport (for such voyages to be reliable and sustainable, ships have to be able to carry heavy loads of provisions, including, crucially, water).

    Nor did the Vikings have a whole colonial infrastructure to sustain overseas conquests in any sustainable manner the way the later Europeans did. Indeed, the very first drives of the 15th-16th Century Europeans to the west by based on their actual knowledge that there was Asia (China and India) with fabulous wealth. The Vikings had no such knowledge and did not strike out into terra incongita in the hope of finding a faster route to the riches of the Indies. So they largely stuck to shaking off the proverbial lowest hanging fruit and raiding ther nearby urban centers with the end goal being to cart off as much gold and silver as they can back to their homes in Scandinavia (where the precious coins often ended up as necklaces for women or were buried in hoards rather than recirculated to finance further overseas ventures as actually did happen with the later Europeans).

    I think you have a tendency to listen too much to a particular kind of amateur military historian who likes to explain the results of wars in the terms of entertaining stories instead of with more concrete factors.
     
    Don't be ridiculous. I was a professional military historian (though not a medievalist). And certainly Maurice Keen was and John Gillingham (still) is despite his advanced years. Judging from your remarks such as "Ideology was irrelevant," it's pretty clear to me that you have very little clue about the subject.

    Had a large enough Viking colony been established in Canada, all historical precedent suggests that the endless supply of arable land there would have led to a great explosion in population.
     
    Being from Europe, by itself, is not some magic power that makes all crumble before one. The Europeans of the 16th Century and on, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, and the English in particular, had been shaped by their particular historical and cultural experiences and social and technogical developments that were largely lacking in the Scandinavians of the 11th Century.

    Was it possible that the Vikings could have established a successful and *sustainable* colony in North America? Certainly it was possible. But the fact that the Spaniards were successful centuries later in Central America after a significantly divergent historical development does not make certain or even likely that the Vikings could have pulled off a similar feat in a very different location, against different adversaries, with a different level of socio-politico-military and technological development. And, as actual history demonstrates, they did not.
  28. Re: disease, perhaps bizarrely, the big drops in population in Mexico apparently were associated with a disease called cocoliztli, which we don’t actually know what the pathogen is and which has been suggested to be an indigenous viral hemorrhagic fever, and not a Eurasian import. It seems overly coincidental. Perhaps this will be solved by viral adna.

  29. @Halvorson
    Look at my username, brother. Just a joke.

    The most important factor, by far, underlying European success in their early New World conquests was the enormous decline in native population brought about by disease. I think 90 percent of the commenters here are probably aware of this. The outbreak that affected Tenochtitlan in 1520 was not some lucky, one off event. The Aztecs would have been cut down by smallpox had any significant number of Europeans of any nationality arrived. The Cayapo in Venezuela, the Mandan in North Dakota: in every well studied case of white people encountering uncontacted natives, disease and major population declines follow.

    It is also true that, especially in the case of Cortes, there could have not been a conquest without native help. But Indians used white men to settle grudge matches against their rivals everywhere. It's not an iron law of sociology, but the definite pattern was that the natives didn't realize the magnitude of the threat until it was too late. The Tlaxcalan reaction appears to be the natural one and not a specific result of Spanish charisma or ideology.

    I don't think ideology of warfare played any role in Spanish success, nor has it played a role in the success of any army in history. Cortes had no combat experience and never fought any pitched battles against the Aztecs. Maybe when he went to sleep at night he had dreams of El Cid and the Reconquista, but it played no role in his victories.

    Greenland was a bona fide shithole in 1000 and it is baffling why Erikson was unsuccessful in getting the colonists there to move to better lands. It was in his his self-interest and the self-interest of those people to a move to a warmer place with much more arable land and yet they chose to stay put. I rescind my earlier comment: they were bums.

    I don’t think ideology of warfare played any role in Spanish success, nor has it played a role in the success of any army in history. Cortes had no combat experience and never fought any pitched battles against the Aztecs. Maybe when he went to sleep at night he had dreams of El Cid and the Reconquista, but it played no role in his victories.

    Au contraire. Ideology is the main reason Europe lost its empire in the post-WWII era. Europeans were no longer willing to sustain large losses in men and treasure to maintain empire, whereas the colonized peoples were willing to make great sacrifices to put their chosen leadership in power.

  30. @Halvorson
    The Hundred Years' War continues....

    First of all, the Eurasian diseases that arrived with the Spaniards to “the New World” *preceded* Cortes. Do you understand this?

    This is an incidental point, but the smallpox that devastated Tenochtitlan only arrived in Mexico in 1520 with the arrival of Narvaez and his expedition to arrest Cortes. It was the same version of the disease than had exterminated the last natives on Hispaniola in 1518.

    In all likelihood, this rapid transmission was made possible by the structure of the Aztec empire and its trade/communication routes.

    In 1903 the 7,000 Cayapo living in central Brazil had no empire of and no advanced trade/communication routes to facilitate the spread of disease. Five years after the first missionary arrived their population declined to 500, and by 1927 only 27 were left. This happened everywhere. From Mann's 1491:

    In the 1990s Black reviewed thirty-six studies of South American Indians. Not to his surprise, he discovered that overall Indians have fewer HLA types than populations from Europe, Asia, and Africa. European populations have at least thirty-five main HLA classes, whereas Indian groups have no more than seventeen. In addition, Native American HLA profiles are dominated by an unusually small number of types. About one third of South American Indians, Black discovered, have identical or near-identical HLA profiles; for Africans the figure is one in two hundred. In South America, he estimated, the minimum probability that a pathogen in one host will next encounter a host with a similar immune spectrum is about 28 percent; in Europe, the chance is less than 2 percent. As a result, Black argued, “people of the New World are unusually susceptible to diseases of the Old.
     
    ...rather the lucky part was whom the epidemic killed. In the case of the Aztecs, unluckily for them, a substantial portion of their leaderships seems to have perished from disease, creating both confusion and dissension among their ranks.

    The Tenochtitlan outbreak killed 40-50 percent of the population there. In a catastrophe of this magnitude the fact that the sitting emperor also died is a bit of an afterthought.

    Roman warmaking ideology was instrumental in its ability to defeat Hannibal by allowing it to sustain enormous casualties that would have forced other ancient polities to seek peace (e.g. the Athenian empire after Aegospotami).

    After the Athenian defeat at Aegospotami they were unable to import grain from Ukraine and would have all starved to death had they kept fighting, even if Fabius Maximus had been leading them. Rome was never threatened in the same way by Hannibal. Ideology was irrelevant.

    Unlike the Vikings of the earlier era who were *highly opportunistic* pirates, brigands, extortioners, and traders, the Spanish of the 16th Century possessed an ideology of colonial expansion, religious supremacism, and that of an early form of “total war,” derived from centuries of warfare and reconquista against Muslim Iberia.


    How were Cortes and Pizarro not highly opportunistic brigands? They were motivated by the same material concerns for wealth that launched Vikings raids. Cortes was a criminal who disobeyed direct orders from the governor of Cuba not to sail to Mexico and later attacked the men sent to arrest him.

    I think you have a tendency to listen too much to a particular kind of amateur military historian who likes to explain the results of wars in the terms of entertaining stories instead of with more concrete factors.

    We'll probably end up arguing in circles for a while, so I'd like to re-emphasize my main point: the European conquest of the New World was accomplished with small numbers of men utilizing crude weapons, operating without much organization and aided primarily by the predestined decline in Indian populations brought about by disease.

    Had a large enough Viking colony been established in Canada, all historical precedent suggests that the endless supply of arable land there would have led to a great explosion in population. Motivated only by personal self-interest, those farmers would have expanded in all directions just as English pioneers did. They would naturally have come into conflict into Indians who stood in their way. They would win some battles, lose others, but in the end their advantages in fertility and in their resistance to disease would have guaranteed their long term victory.

    Your main point strikes me as largely valid, but I see it as ever having been a very strong historical possibility:

    1.) As other commenters mentioned, population structures didn’t support brush fires of disease up north in the same way as the jungles of Mexico did.

    2.) 11th century Vikings weren’t nearly as diseased as 16th century Spaniards (or Englishmen, for that matter), making epidemics among the native populations even less likely.

    3.) Even if you get your initial population set up, you still need sustainment from the motherland to maintain your meager technological edge, or you’ll soon regress to the level of the natives (try keeping up steel production in Canada with a population of 5,000). The Vikings established their Vinland colony at the peak of the Medieval Warm Period, after which the northern ocean route became considerably more difficult. By contrast, the Puritans had ships that could make a several-month passage across open waters.

    4.) Given Scandinavian population sizes, how many able-bodied men and women could they afford to send off?

    Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating counterfactual. Such a society that survived to the time when other European nations began crossing the Atlantic would doubtlessly look very different from those colonies, as they would have been more-or-less out of contact with Europe for several centuries.

  31. @Halvorson
    The point about the Spanish was that they were not so technologically far ahead of medieval Icelanders. The New World conquests of the 16th and 17th centuries were largely accomplished by small groups of men using old fashioned pikes and swords. As an example of the numbers involved, during King Philip's War the Puritans don't seem to have ever raised an army of more than 1,000 men strong and were still able to essentially exterminate all the Indians living in eastern New England.

    i think 500 is too small a number. 5,000, yes, that might have given them enuf breathing space.

    There were around that many in Greenland alone. This isn't something that could have happened, it SHOULD have happened. Typical Scandinavian laziness.

    A lot of the histories of King Philip’s war is given too heavy of a Massachusetts bias. You would hardly know that the Mowhawk’s (at the request of New York’s Governor Andros) were involved in a devastating winter raid on the Wampanoag, and that Connecticut successfully worked with their local native allies in their portion of the fighting. The general sense I get is that everyone thought the Massachusetts Bay folks were jerks and incompetent to let the whole thing get so out of hand, and then to do so poorly in the fighting.

  32. @Halvorson
    The Hundred Years' War continues....

    First of all, the Eurasian diseases that arrived with the Spaniards to “the New World” *preceded* Cortes. Do you understand this?

    This is an incidental point, but the smallpox that devastated Tenochtitlan only arrived in Mexico in 1520 with the arrival of Narvaez and his expedition to arrest Cortes. It was the same version of the disease than had exterminated the last natives on Hispaniola in 1518.

    In all likelihood, this rapid transmission was made possible by the structure of the Aztec empire and its trade/communication routes.

    In 1903 the 7,000 Cayapo living in central Brazil had no empire of and no advanced trade/communication routes to facilitate the spread of disease. Five years after the first missionary arrived their population declined to 500, and by 1927 only 27 were left. This happened everywhere. From Mann's 1491:

    In the 1990s Black reviewed thirty-six studies of South American Indians. Not to his surprise, he discovered that overall Indians have fewer HLA types than populations from Europe, Asia, and Africa. European populations have at least thirty-five main HLA classes, whereas Indian groups have no more than seventeen. In addition, Native American HLA profiles are dominated by an unusually small number of types. About one third of South American Indians, Black discovered, have identical or near-identical HLA profiles; for Africans the figure is one in two hundred. In South America, he estimated, the minimum probability that a pathogen in one host will next encounter a host with a similar immune spectrum is about 28 percent; in Europe, the chance is less than 2 percent. As a result, Black argued, “people of the New World are unusually susceptible to diseases of the Old.
     
    ...rather the lucky part was whom the epidemic killed. In the case of the Aztecs, unluckily for them, a substantial portion of their leaderships seems to have perished from disease, creating both confusion and dissension among their ranks.

    The Tenochtitlan outbreak killed 40-50 percent of the population there. In a catastrophe of this magnitude the fact that the sitting emperor also died is a bit of an afterthought.

    Roman warmaking ideology was instrumental in its ability to defeat Hannibal by allowing it to sustain enormous casualties that would have forced other ancient polities to seek peace (e.g. the Athenian empire after Aegospotami).

    After the Athenian defeat at Aegospotami they were unable to import grain from Ukraine and would have all starved to death had they kept fighting, even if Fabius Maximus had been leading them. Rome was never threatened in the same way by Hannibal. Ideology was irrelevant.

    Unlike the Vikings of the earlier era who were *highly opportunistic* pirates, brigands, extortioners, and traders, the Spanish of the 16th Century possessed an ideology of colonial expansion, religious supremacism, and that of an early form of “total war,” derived from centuries of warfare and reconquista against Muslim Iberia.


    How were Cortes and Pizarro not highly opportunistic brigands? They were motivated by the same material concerns for wealth that launched Vikings raids. Cortes was a criminal who disobeyed direct orders from the governor of Cuba not to sail to Mexico and later attacked the men sent to arrest him.

    I think you have a tendency to listen too much to a particular kind of amateur military historian who likes to explain the results of wars in the terms of entertaining stories instead of with more concrete factors.

    We'll probably end up arguing in circles for a while, so I'd like to re-emphasize my main point: the European conquest of the New World was accomplished with small numbers of men utilizing crude weapons, operating without much organization and aided primarily by the predestined decline in Indian populations brought about by disease.

    Had a large enough Viking colony been established in Canada, all historical precedent suggests that the endless supply of arable land there would have led to a great explosion in population. Motivated only by personal self-interest, those farmers would have expanded in all directions just as English pioneers did. They would naturally have come into conflict into Indians who stood in their way. They would win some battles, lose others, but in the end their advantages in fertility and in their resistance to disease would have guaranteed their long term victory.

    This is an incidental point, but the smallpox that devastated Tenochtitlan only arrived in Mexico in 1520 with the arrival of Narvaez and his expedition to arrest Cortes. It was the same version of the disease than had exterminated the last natives on Hispaniola in 1518.

    There were four waves of epidemics that ravaged the Aztecs. The first wave was in 1519 that landed with the Spaniards and likely traveled *ahead* of the Europeans. The second wave was in 1920 you mentioned. These were most likely smallpox. As destructive as they were to the general population, the truly “cataclysmic” epidemics occurred decades later in 1545 and 1576 well after the Spanish conquest. These later, far deadlier epidemics are now thought to be native in origin: http://blogs.plos.org/publichealth/2013/07/30/guest-post-what-killed-the-aztecs/

    In a catastrophe of this magnitude the fact that the sitting emperor also died is a bit of an afterthought.

    On the contrary, deaths of key leaders from disease is rather a matter of a luck of the draw that can have nonetheless a substantial impact, e.g. Pericles. If it were purely a matter of numbers, even after the smallpox outbreaks of the 1519 and 1520, the Aztecs had enough manpower to overwhelm the Spaniards, had they a very different notion of warfare (that was lacking in their historical development).

    After the Athenian defeat at Aegospotami they were unable to import grain from Ukraine and would have all starved to death had they kept fighting, even if Fabius Maximus had been leading them. Rome was never threatened in the same way by Hannibal. Ideology was irrelevant.

    This is a modern rational, retrospective analysis of the situations. When Hannibal inflicted crushing defeats one after another on the Romans, culminating in the devastating destruction at Cannae, the Romans were seized with utter panic and despair. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cannae#Aftermath

    For a brief period, the Romans were in complete disarray. Their best armies in the peninsula were destroyed, the few remnants severely demoralized, and the only remaining consul (Varro) completely discredited. As the story goes, Rome declared a national day of mourning as there was not a single person who was not either related to or acquainted with a person who had died. The Romans became so desperate that they resorted to human sacrifice, twice burying people alive[43] at the Forum of Rome and abandoning an oversized baby in the Adriatic Sea[43] (perhaps one of the last instances of human sacrifices by the Romans, apart from public executions of defeated enemies dedicated to Mars).

    Lucius Caecilius Metellus, a military tribune, despaired so much of the Roman cause as to suggest that everything was lost, and called the other tribunes to sail overseas and hire themselves into the service of some foreign prince…

    A gold ring was a token of membership in the upper classes of Roman society;[17] Hannibal and his men collected more than 200 from the corpses on the battlefield, and sent this collection to Carthage as proof of his victory. The collection was poured on the floor in front of the Punic Senate, and was judged to be “three and a half measures.”

    Hannibal had defeated the equivalent of eight consular armies (16 legions plus an equal number of allies).[44] Within just three campaign seasons (20 months), Rome had lost one-fifth (150,000) of the entire population of male citizens over 17 years of age.[45] Furthermore, the morale effect of this victory was such that most of southern Italy joined Hannibal’s cause. After Cannae, the Hellenistic southern provinces of Arpi, Salapia, Herdonia, Uzentum, including the cities of Capua and Tarentum (two of the largest city-states in Italy) revoked their allegiance to Rome and pledged their loyalty to Hannibal. As Livy noted, “How much more serious was the defeat of Cannae than those which preceded it, can be seen by the behavior of Rome’s allies; before that fateful day, their loyalty remained unshaken, now it began to waver for the simple reason that they despaired of Roman power.”[46] In the same year the Greek cities in Sicily were induced to revolt against Roman political control, while the Macedonian king, Philip V, pledged his support to Hannibal, initiating the First Macedonian War against Rome. Hannibal also secured an alliance with the new King Hieronymus of Syracuse, the only independent left in Sicily.[17]

    Almost any other polity would have sued for peace in a similar predicament. Certainly Carthage would have (note that Carthage sued for peace after the first two Punic Wars without having committed many of their own citizens to battle). But Rome had a very different conception of warfare than most other polities of this period that allowed it to sustain enormous number of deaths of its citizens, including its elites.

    In 1903 the 7,000 Cayapo living in central Brazil had no empire of and no advanced trade/communication routes to facilitate the spread of disease. Five years after the first missionary arrived their population declined to 500, and by 1927 only 27 were left. This happened everywhere.

    But what about other tribes surrounding it? Unlike the Aztec empire, the natives who lived in the northeastern part of North America were not highly centralized. They had no urban civilization and the correspondingly high population density that is more-or-less required for epidemics to sustain themselves. Isolated tribal groups with lower densities were not as liable to suffer from recurring epidemics.

    How were Cortes and Pizarro not highly opportunistic brigands? They were motivated by the same material concerns for wealth that launched Vikings raids.

    Please do not be obtuse. I did not say the Spanish conquistadors were not motivated by greed or opportunism. The difference was that the Viking way of war was based mainly on raids and looting, not colonization while the Spanish had developed a politico-military ideology of conquest, conversion, extermination, and colonization that was based on their particular history and culture. As John Gillingham (now Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at London School of Economics and Political Science) writes in Maurice Keen’s “Medieval Warfare: A History” (Keen was a well-known British historian of the medieval period and chivalry in particular):

    Everywhere from taifa Spain to the far North where the Norse raided Laps to enforce a tribute of reindeer, the basic form of war was the raid, the chevauchée (see also Chapter 5, p. 98). In urbanized societies such as Spain and Italy the raid was not enough; ultimately wars were decided by sieges and blockades. By contrast in societies such as those in the Celtic, Scandinavian, and Slav worlds, where towns and markets were few and where wealth was dispersed widely through the countryside, the raid was virtually the only form of war… On land the job of most of those who rode with a raiding party was to round up the prey; there was no need for them to be heavily armed. When the going got tough they scattered and left the fighting to the well-armed few, the nobles.

    There was already such differences in the conception of warfare between the Viking raiders and mainland Europeans in the 11th Century; by the 16th Century, the Spaniards (and later the French and the English) had vastly different ideas of warfare than did the earlier Vikings.

    Furthermore, the Spanish, by this period, had developed the corresponding maritime technology and navigational knowledge to cross deep seas with a reasonable reliability, something the Vikings lacked. The Viking longships were exceptionally maneuverable in shallow waters (such as estruaries and rivers) that were excellent for raids. Although these longships could and did navigate deep waters occasionally, they were not nearly as suitable for oceanic navigation and transport (for such voyages to be reliable and sustainable, ships have to be able to carry heavy loads of provisions, including, crucially, water).

    Nor did the Vikings have a whole colonial infrastructure to sustain overseas conquests in any sustainable manner the way the later Europeans did. Indeed, the very first drives of the 15th-16th Century Europeans to the west by based on their actual knowledge that there was Asia (China and India) with fabulous wealth. The Vikings had no such knowledge and did not strike out into terra incongita in the hope of finding a faster route to the riches of the Indies. So they largely stuck to shaking off the proverbial lowest hanging fruit and raiding ther nearby urban centers with the end goal being to cart off as much gold and silver as they can back to their homes in Scandinavia (where the precious coins often ended up as necklaces for women or were buried in hoards rather than recirculated to finance further overseas ventures as actually did happen with the later Europeans).

    I think you have a tendency to listen too much to a particular kind of amateur military historian who likes to explain the results of wars in the terms of entertaining stories instead of with more concrete factors.

    Don’t be ridiculous. I was a professional military historian (though not a medievalist). And certainly Maurice Keen was and John Gillingham (still) is despite his advanced years. Judging from your remarks such as “Ideology was irrelevant,” it’s pretty clear to me that you have very little clue about the subject.

    Had a large enough Viking colony been established in Canada, all historical precedent suggests that the endless supply of arable land there would have led to a great explosion in population.

    Being from Europe, by itself, is not some magic power that makes all crumble before one. The Europeans of the 16th Century and on, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, and the English in particular, had been shaped by their particular historical and cultural experiences and social and technogical developments that were largely lacking in the Scandinavians of the 11th Century.

    Was it possible that the Vikings could have established a successful and *sustainable* colony in North America? Certainly it was possible. But the fact that the Spaniards were successful centuries later in Central America after a significantly divergent historical development does not make certain or even likely that the Vikings could have pulled off a similar feat in a very different location, against different adversaries, with a different level of socio-politico-military and technological development. And, as actual history demonstrates, they did not.

    • Replies: @Halvorson
    We've moving far away from the original subject of discussion but historical nit picking is fun so let's keep going.

    There were four waves of epidemics that ravaged the Aztecs. The first wave was in 1519 that landed with the Spaniards and likely traveled *ahead* of the Europeans.

    Historians of the Spanish conquests have such great documentation that they can trace the smallpox epidemic of 1520 to its original Patient Zero, a black porter in Narvaez's expedition by the name of Francisco de Eguia.

    On the contrary, deaths of key leaders from disease is rather a matter of a luck of the draw that can have nonetheless a substantial impact, e.g. Pericles.


    This isn't central to your point, but you keep bringing up specific historical examples that are just wrong. Athens did BETTER in the war after Pericles died; their biggest victory came at Pylos four years after he croaked during the plague.

    This is a modern rational, retrospective analysis of the situations.

    It is not a modern, rational view that Aegospotami forced Athens to surrender or starve. The Spartans marched through Attica every year so the Athenians were completely dependent on food shipments from the Black Sea. Rome was never threatened with starvation while it fought Hannibal and its military losses were not uniquely severe for a country that ended up winning a war e.g. the Soviets lost 1/3rd of their adult men in 41-45 and yet never seriously considered surrender.

    The difference was that the Viking way of war was based mainly on raids and looting, not colonization while the Spanish had developed a politico-military ideology of conquest, conversion, extermination, and colonization that was based on their particular history and culture.

    The Vikings raided when their numbers were small and invaded when they were numerous. The Great Heathen Army was not a raid unless raids can last for a full decade. And they did colonize and not just in the Orkneys: there are hundreds and hundreds of Norse place names in northern and eastern England. Some of these are translations of older English names but many (Grimsby) are bona fide colonies. There were so many Norwegians running away to Iceland in the early 10th century that Harald Fairhair had to temporarily ban emigration. They were not constrained by some ideology learned at university that taught them only to be raiders, even when it was more profitable to be something else.

    Being from Europe, by itself, is not some magic power that makes all crumble before one.

    The purpose of that passage from 1491 I posted above was to demonstrate that settlers from the Old World did possess what must have seemed like a magic power to the Indians. You need to understand that the decline in American Indian population due to disease was enormous and happened absolutely everywhere. According to Alan Taylor there were 300,000 Taino in 1492 and just 500 survivors by 1548, this decline being accomplished primarily by disease . The Spanish were desperate to keep the Caribbean Indians alive as slaves but they died anyways. The general pattern in the Americas was:


    In any given locale, the first wave of epidemics afflicted almost every Indian. Within a decade of contact, about half the natives died from the new diseases. Repeated and diverse epidemics provided little opportunity for native populations to recover by reproduction. After almost fifty years of contact, successive epidemics reduced a native group to about a tenth of its precontact numbers. Some especially ravaged peoples lost their autonomous identity, as the few survivors joined a neighboring group. Consequently, the Indian natives ("tribes") of colonial history represent a subset of the many groups that had existed before the great epidemics. Historian Alfredo W. Crosby Jr., vividly characterizes the population collapse as "surely the greatest tragedy in the history of the human species".
     
    As Greg Cochran said when summarizing the latest Amerindian genetics paper: "But this is nuts! or at any rate amazing. It suggests that in large areas, Amerindians went extinct, and were later replaced by different Amerindians from other places (plus Spaniards and Portuguese), not too closely related. "

    The much more depressing Indian version of The War of the Worlds would end with "directly these invaders arrived, and directly they drank and fed, our microscopic enemies attacked us. From that moment, we were doomed".

    Lethal disease could have been spread by any Old World group that happened to get to the Americas first: the Spanish, Norse, Chinese, Africans, anybody.
    , @AP
    I'd just like to express my appreciation for the informative and fascinating discussion.
  33. @Twinkie

    This is an incidental point, but the smallpox that devastated Tenochtitlan only arrived in Mexico in 1520 with the arrival of Narvaez and his expedition to arrest Cortes. It was the same version of the disease than had exterminated the last natives on Hispaniola in 1518.
     
    There were four waves of epidemics that ravaged the Aztecs. The first wave was in 1519 that landed with the Spaniards and likely traveled *ahead* of the Europeans. The second wave was in 1920 you mentioned. These were most likely smallpox. As destructive as they were to the general population, the truly "cataclysmic" epidemics occurred decades later in 1545 and 1576 well after the Spanish conquest. These later, far deadlier epidemics are now thought to be native in origin: http://blogs.plos.org/publichealth/2013/07/30/guest-post-what-killed-the-aztecs/

    In a catastrophe of this magnitude the fact that the sitting emperor also died is a bit of an afterthought.
     
    On the contrary, deaths of key leaders from disease is rather a matter of a luck of the draw that can have nonetheless a substantial impact, e.g. Pericles. If it were purely a matter of numbers, even after the smallpox outbreaks of the 1519 and 1520, the Aztecs had enough manpower to overwhelm the Spaniards, had they a very different notion of warfare (that was lacking in their historical development).

    After the Athenian defeat at Aegospotami they were unable to import grain from Ukraine and would have all starved to death had they kept fighting, even if Fabius Maximus had been leading them. Rome was never threatened in the same way by Hannibal. Ideology was irrelevant.
     
    This is a modern rational, retrospective analysis of the situations. When Hannibal inflicted crushing defeats one after another on the Romans, culminating in the devastating destruction at Cannae, the Romans were seized with utter panic and despair. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cannae#Aftermath

    For a brief period, the Romans were in complete disarray. Their best armies in the peninsula were destroyed, the few remnants severely demoralized, and the only remaining consul (Varro) completely discredited. As the story goes, Rome declared a national day of mourning as there was not a single person who was not either related to or acquainted with a person who had died. The Romans became so desperate that they resorted to human sacrifice, twice burying people alive[43] at the Forum of Rome and abandoning an oversized baby in the Adriatic Sea[43] (perhaps one of the last instances of human sacrifices by the Romans, apart from public executions of defeated enemies dedicated to Mars).

    Lucius Caecilius Metellus, a military tribune, despaired so much of the Roman cause as to suggest that everything was lost, and called the other tribunes to sail overseas and hire themselves into the service of some foreign prince...

    A gold ring was a token of membership in the upper classes of Roman society;[17] Hannibal and his men collected more than 200 from the corpses on the battlefield, and sent this collection to Carthage as proof of his victory. The collection was poured on the floor in front of the Punic Senate, and was judged to be "three and a half measures."

    Hannibal had defeated the equivalent of eight consular armies (16 legions plus an equal number of allies).[44] Within just three campaign seasons (20 months), Rome had lost one-fifth (150,000) of the entire population of male citizens over 17 years of age.[45] Furthermore, the morale effect of this victory was such that most of southern Italy joined Hannibal's cause. After Cannae, the Hellenistic southern provinces of Arpi, Salapia, Herdonia, Uzentum, including the cities of Capua and Tarentum (two of the largest city-states in Italy) revoked their allegiance to Rome and pledged their loyalty to Hannibal. As Livy noted, "How much more serious was the defeat of Cannae than those which preceded it, can be seen by the behavior of Rome's allies; before that fateful day, their loyalty remained unshaken, now it began to waver for the simple reason that they despaired of Roman power."[46] In the same year the Greek cities in Sicily were induced to revolt against Roman political control, while the Macedonian king, Philip V, pledged his support to Hannibal, initiating the First Macedonian War against Rome. Hannibal also secured an alliance with the new King Hieronymus of Syracuse, the only independent left in Sicily.[17]
     
    Almost any other polity would have sued for peace in a similar predicament. Certainly Carthage would have (note that Carthage sued for peace after the first two Punic Wars without having committed many of their own citizens to battle). But Rome had a very different conception of warfare than most other polities of this period that allowed it to sustain enormous number of deaths of its citizens, including its elites.

    In 1903 the 7,000 Cayapo living in central Brazil had no empire of and no advanced trade/communication routes to facilitate the spread of disease. Five years after the first missionary arrived their population declined to 500, and by 1927 only 27 were left. This happened everywhere.
     
    But what about other tribes surrounding it? Unlike the Aztec empire, the natives who lived in the northeastern part of North America were not highly centralized. They had no urban civilization and the correspondingly high population density that is more-or-less required for epidemics to sustain themselves. Isolated tribal groups with lower densities were not as liable to suffer from recurring epidemics.

    How were Cortes and Pizarro not highly opportunistic brigands? They were motivated by the same material concerns for wealth that launched Vikings raids.
     
    Please do not be obtuse. I did not say the Spanish conquistadors were not motivated by greed or opportunism. The difference was that the Viking way of war was based mainly on raids and looting, not colonization while the Spanish had developed a politico-military ideology of conquest, conversion, extermination, and colonization that was based on their particular history and culture. As John Gillingham (now Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at London School of Economics and Political Science) writes in Maurice Keen's "Medieval Warfare: A History" (Keen was a well-known British historian of the medieval period and chivalry in particular):

    Everywhere from taifa Spain to the far North where the Norse raided Laps to enforce a tribute of reindeer, the basic form of war was the raid, the chevauchée (see also Chapter 5, p. 98). In urbanized societies such as Spain and Italy the raid was not enough; ultimately wars were decided by sieges and blockades. By contrast in societies such as those in the Celtic, Scandinavian, and Slav worlds, where towns and markets were few and where wealth was dispersed widely through the countryside, the raid was virtually the only form of war... On land the job of most of those who rode with a raiding party was to round up the prey; there was no need for them to be heavily armed. When the going got tough they scattered and left the fighting to the well-armed few, the nobles.
     
    There was already such differences in the conception of warfare between the Viking raiders and mainland Europeans in the 11th Century; by the 16th Century, the Spaniards (and later the French and the English) had vastly different ideas of warfare than did the earlier Vikings.

    Furthermore, the Spanish, by this period, had developed the corresponding maritime technology and navigational knowledge to cross deep seas with a reasonable reliability, something the Vikings lacked. The Viking longships were exceptionally maneuverable in shallow waters (such as estruaries and rivers) that were excellent for raids. Although these longships could and did navigate deep waters occasionally, they were not nearly as suitable for oceanic navigation and transport (for such voyages to be reliable and sustainable, ships have to be able to carry heavy loads of provisions, including, crucially, water).

    Nor did the Vikings have a whole colonial infrastructure to sustain overseas conquests in any sustainable manner the way the later Europeans did. Indeed, the very first drives of the 15th-16th Century Europeans to the west by based on their actual knowledge that there was Asia (China and India) with fabulous wealth. The Vikings had no such knowledge and did not strike out into terra incongita in the hope of finding a faster route to the riches of the Indies. So they largely stuck to shaking off the proverbial lowest hanging fruit and raiding ther nearby urban centers with the end goal being to cart off as much gold and silver as they can back to their homes in Scandinavia (where the precious coins often ended up as necklaces for women or were buried in hoards rather than recirculated to finance further overseas ventures as actually did happen with the later Europeans).

    I think you have a tendency to listen too much to a particular kind of amateur military historian who likes to explain the results of wars in the terms of entertaining stories instead of with more concrete factors.
     
    Don't be ridiculous. I was a professional military historian (though not a medievalist). And certainly Maurice Keen was and John Gillingham (still) is despite his advanced years. Judging from your remarks such as "Ideology was irrelevant," it's pretty clear to me that you have very little clue about the subject.

    Had a large enough Viking colony been established in Canada, all historical precedent suggests that the endless supply of arable land there would have led to a great explosion in population.
     
    Being from Europe, by itself, is not some magic power that makes all crumble before one. The Europeans of the 16th Century and on, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, and the English in particular, had been shaped by their particular historical and cultural experiences and social and technogical developments that were largely lacking in the Scandinavians of the 11th Century.

    Was it possible that the Vikings could have established a successful and *sustainable* colony in North America? Certainly it was possible. But the fact that the Spaniards were successful centuries later in Central America after a significantly divergent historical development does not make certain or even likely that the Vikings could have pulled off a similar feat in a very different location, against different adversaries, with a different level of socio-politico-military and technological development. And, as actual history demonstrates, they did not.

    We’ve moving far away from the original subject of discussion but historical nit picking is fun so let’s keep going.

    There were four waves of epidemics that ravaged the Aztecs. The first wave was in 1519 that landed with the Spaniards and likely traveled *ahead* of the Europeans.

    Historians of the Spanish conquests have such great documentation that they can trace the smallpox epidemic of 1520 to its original Patient Zero, a black porter in Narvaez’s expedition by the name of Francisco de Eguia.

    On the contrary, deaths of key leaders from disease is rather a matter of a luck of the draw that can have nonetheless a substantial impact, e.g. Pericles.

    This isn’t central to your point, but you keep bringing up specific historical examples that are just wrong. Athens did BETTER in the war after Pericles died; their biggest victory came at Pylos four years after he croaked during the plague.

    This is a modern rational, retrospective analysis of the situations.

    It is not a modern, rational view that Aegospotami forced Athens to surrender or starve. The Spartans marched through Attica every year so the Athenians were completely dependent on food shipments from the Black Sea. Rome was never threatened with starvation while it fought Hannibal and its military losses were not uniquely severe for a country that ended up winning a war e.g. the Soviets lost 1/3rd of their adult men in 41-45 and yet never seriously considered surrender.

    The difference was that the Viking way of war was based mainly on raids and looting, not colonization while the Spanish had developed a politico-military ideology of conquest, conversion, extermination, and colonization that was based on their particular history and culture.

    The Vikings raided when their numbers were small and invaded when they were numerous. The Great Heathen Army was not a raid unless raids can last for a full decade. And they did colonize and not just in the Orkneys: there are hundreds and hundreds of Norse place names in northern and eastern England. Some of these are translations of older English names but many (Grimsby) are bona fide colonies. There were so many Norwegians running away to Iceland in the early 10th century that Harald Fairhair had to temporarily ban emigration. They were not constrained by some ideology learned at university that taught them only to be raiders, even when it was more profitable to be something else.

    Being from Europe, by itself, is not some magic power that makes all crumble before one.

    The purpose of that passage from 1491 I posted above was to demonstrate that settlers from the Old World did possess what must have seemed like a magic power to the Indians. You need to understand that the decline in American Indian population due to disease was enormous and happened absolutely everywhere. According to Alan Taylor there were 300,000 Taino in 1492 and just 500 survivors by 1548, this decline being accomplished primarily by disease . The Spanish were desperate to keep the Caribbean Indians alive as slaves but they died anyways. The general pattern in the Americas was:

    In any given locale, the first wave of epidemics afflicted almost every Indian. Within a decade of contact, about half the natives died from the new diseases. Repeated and diverse epidemics provided little opportunity for native populations to recover by reproduction. After almost fifty years of contact, successive epidemics reduced a native group to about a tenth of its precontact numbers. Some especially ravaged peoples lost their autonomous identity, as the few survivors joined a neighboring group. Consequently, the Indian natives (“tribes”) of colonial history represent a subset of the many groups that had existed before the great epidemics. Historian Alfredo W. Crosby Jr., vividly characterizes the population collapse as “surely the greatest tragedy in the history of the human species”.

    As Greg Cochran said when summarizing the latest Amerindian genetics paper: “But this is nuts! or at any rate amazing. It suggests that in large areas, Amerindians went extinct, and were later replaced by different Amerindians from other places (plus Spaniards and Portuguese), not too closely related. ”

    The much more depressing Indian version of The War of the Worlds would end with “directly these invaders arrived, and directly they drank and fed, our microscopic enemies attacked us. From that moment, we were doomed”.

    Lethal disease could have been spread by any Old World group that happened to get to the Americas first: the Spanish, Norse, Chinese, Africans, anybody.

    • Replies: @Twinkie

    Lethal disease could have been spread by any Old World group that happened to get to the Americas first: the Spanish, Norse, Chinese, Africans, anybody.
     
    You keep writing as if any contact with the Old World population would have wiped out the New World population with equal effectiveness. Epidemiology is just not that simple.

    Epidemics require a certain level of population density and frequency of interaction, because they are spread by human contact. The conditions that obtained in the Aztec Empire - political centralization, urban centers, trade/communication routes, and the tropical climate - did not exist in the highly fragmented northeastern North America of the 11th Century. And the peoples - both native and invaders - were of different genetic stocks, to boot. Given those very significant differences, you cannot simply assume that the Norse presence in northeastern North America would have resulted in the same kind of epidemiological impact on different sets of natives as occurred with the Spanish among the Aztecs. The kind of certainty you seem to exude on this score is either ignorance on your part or an emotional unwillingness to lose an argument.

    Furthermore, you seem unable to grasp the latest finding regarding what killed off the Aztecs, which suggests that the truly devastating epidemics occurred decades after the original conquest, likely based on native diseases.

    To return to my earlier point: although the smallpox epidemic brought by the Europeans were deadly, the "lucky" part of that epidemic wasn't so much that it killed off all or most of the population, but that it seems to have struck some Aztec elites, thus creating instability in the Aztec power structure.

    This isn’t central to your point, but you keep bringing up specific historical examples that are just wrong. Athens did BETTER in the war after Pericles died; their biggest victory came at Pylos four years after he croaked during the plague.
     
    The death of Pericles led to a more aggressive Athenian war policy. Although it experienced some minor successes* at both Pylos and Sphacteria that led to a temporary peace - the so-called Peace of Nicias - the Athenian overconfidence eventually led to the disasters of Mantinea and Siciliy that in turn led to Aegospotami.

    *You might note that the prospect of losing mere 120 Peers led the Spartans to commence a peace negotation, no Romans were they.

    Rome was never threatened with starvation while it fought Hannibal and its military losses were not uniquely severe for a country that ended up winning a war e.g. the Soviets lost 1/3rd of their adult men in 41-45 and yet never seriously considered surrender.
     
    The Soviet losses during World War II were without peer, and the Soviet Union was a totalitarian industrialized modern power fighting in the most destructive *total war* ever fought. By equating the Roman willingness to absorb horrendous casualties to persevere in an ancient war to that of the modern Soviets, you make my point for me. The Roman ideology of war was quite unlike that of, say, the Spartans (who nearly panicked at the prospect of losing 120 Spartiates and started peace negotiations) or the Carthaginians (who gave up two wars without having committed most of its citizens to war, let alone lose them). It was precisely because the Romans possessed a very modern-like conception of total war that it was able to survive terrible defeats and go on vanquish their mortal foes who did not.

    I don't understand how a reasonably intelligent human being could not comprehend that a given people's conception of what warfare means (and how to fight it) affects - very significantly - whether it is successful or not in the end. I suppose some might question my presupposition about a reasonably intelligent human being here.

    The Vikings raided when their numbers were small and invaded when they were numerous. The Great Heathen Army was not a raid unless raids can last for a full decade.
     
    And most often their numbers were small, because they lacked political unity (theirs was not a unified Spanish monarchy forged from the historical experience of vanquishing the Muslims and reconquering Iberia) and the organization necessary to field large armies of conquest. Most Vikings operated in groups of dozens or a few hundred men at most, centered around a charismatic chieftain or a raider of proven successes.

    The so-called the Great Heathen Army numbered between one thousand to a few thousand men at most. And it too could not maintain a unified command and ultimately failed to conquer Wessex. Harald Hardrada also tried this hand later at conquest and also failed and died at Stamford Bridge. Only Cnut the Great was able to forge an empire - one that did not survive his death. And even what conquering successes the Norse had only occurred in nearby Britain. They never had the capacity to conquer and colonize distant lands, only to loot and raid.

    They lacked the conception of warfare, supporting technology, and the demographic and maritime infrastructure necessary to effect an overseas colonization as the Spanish did in the 16th Century. That you cannot see this or acknowledge this strikes me as either disingenuous or obtuse... which of coure leads to non sequitur ad hominem such as this:

    They were not constrained by some ideology learned at university that taught them only to be raiders, even when it was more profitable to be something else.
     
    Earlier you admonished me for allegedly learning from "amateur historians" (rather than, presumably, peer-reviewed professionals, of whom I was one early in my career). Now university-learned knowledge is suspect. You will have to make up your mind whether you want to play an intellectual or a hard-nosed "I don't need no stinking books" street realist.

    To the silly point at hand: the 10th and the 11th Century Vikings didn't learn their conception of warfare from a university - they learned it from their own, particular, history and circumstances, of being a fractious and highly sea-mobile people with few resources and manpower, surrounded by far richer and more urbanized polities, that were easier to loot and extort than conquer. That is to say, they had a very different history and consequent development than did the Spanish of the 16th Century. As it happened, even when they "modernized," they never did manage to achieve the great colonial feats of the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, and the English.
  34. @Twinkie

    This is an incidental point, but the smallpox that devastated Tenochtitlan only arrived in Mexico in 1520 with the arrival of Narvaez and his expedition to arrest Cortes. It was the same version of the disease than had exterminated the last natives on Hispaniola in 1518.
     
    There were four waves of epidemics that ravaged the Aztecs. The first wave was in 1519 that landed with the Spaniards and likely traveled *ahead* of the Europeans. The second wave was in 1920 you mentioned. These were most likely smallpox. As destructive as they were to the general population, the truly "cataclysmic" epidemics occurred decades later in 1545 and 1576 well after the Spanish conquest. These later, far deadlier epidemics are now thought to be native in origin: http://blogs.plos.org/publichealth/2013/07/30/guest-post-what-killed-the-aztecs/

    In a catastrophe of this magnitude the fact that the sitting emperor also died is a bit of an afterthought.
     
    On the contrary, deaths of key leaders from disease is rather a matter of a luck of the draw that can have nonetheless a substantial impact, e.g. Pericles. If it were purely a matter of numbers, even after the smallpox outbreaks of the 1519 and 1520, the Aztecs had enough manpower to overwhelm the Spaniards, had they a very different notion of warfare (that was lacking in their historical development).

    After the Athenian defeat at Aegospotami they were unable to import grain from Ukraine and would have all starved to death had they kept fighting, even if Fabius Maximus had been leading them. Rome was never threatened in the same way by Hannibal. Ideology was irrelevant.
     
    This is a modern rational, retrospective analysis of the situations. When Hannibal inflicted crushing defeats one after another on the Romans, culminating in the devastating destruction at Cannae, the Romans were seized with utter panic and despair. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cannae#Aftermath

    For a brief period, the Romans were in complete disarray. Their best armies in the peninsula were destroyed, the few remnants severely demoralized, and the only remaining consul (Varro) completely discredited. As the story goes, Rome declared a national day of mourning as there was not a single person who was not either related to or acquainted with a person who had died. The Romans became so desperate that they resorted to human sacrifice, twice burying people alive[43] at the Forum of Rome and abandoning an oversized baby in the Adriatic Sea[43] (perhaps one of the last instances of human sacrifices by the Romans, apart from public executions of defeated enemies dedicated to Mars).

    Lucius Caecilius Metellus, a military tribune, despaired so much of the Roman cause as to suggest that everything was lost, and called the other tribunes to sail overseas and hire themselves into the service of some foreign prince...

    A gold ring was a token of membership in the upper classes of Roman society;[17] Hannibal and his men collected more than 200 from the corpses on the battlefield, and sent this collection to Carthage as proof of his victory. The collection was poured on the floor in front of the Punic Senate, and was judged to be "three and a half measures."

    Hannibal had defeated the equivalent of eight consular armies (16 legions plus an equal number of allies).[44] Within just three campaign seasons (20 months), Rome had lost one-fifth (150,000) of the entire population of male citizens over 17 years of age.[45] Furthermore, the morale effect of this victory was such that most of southern Italy joined Hannibal's cause. After Cannae, the Hellenistic southern provinces of Arpi, Salapia, Herdonia, Uzentum, including the cities of Capua and Tarentum (two of the largest city-states in Italy) revoked their allegiance to Rome and pledged their loyalty to Hannibal. As Livy noted, "How much more serious was the defeat of Cannae than those which preceded it, can be seen by the behavior of Rome's allies; before that fateful day, their loyalty remained unshaken, now it began to waver for the simple reason that they despaired of Roman power."[46] In the same year the Greek cities in Sicily were induced to revolt against Roman political control, while the Macedonian king, Philip V, pledged his support to Hannibal, initiating the First Macedonian War against Rome. Hannibal also secured an alliance with the new King Hieronymus of Syracuse, the only independent left in Sicily.[17]
     
    Almost any other polity would have sued for peace in a similar predicament. Certainly Carthage would have (note that Carthage sued for peace after the first two Punic Wars without having committed many of their own citizens to battle). But Rome had a very different conception of warfare than most other polities of this period that allowed it to sustain enormous number of deaths of its citizens, including its elites.

    In 1903 the 7,000 Cayapo living in central Brazil had no empire of and no advanced trade/communication routes to facilitate the spread of disease. Five years after the first missionary arrived their population declined to 500, and by 1927 only 27 were left. This happened everywhere.
     
    But what about other tribes surrounding it? Unlike the Aztec empire, the natives who lived in the northeastern part of North America were not highly centralized. They had no urban civilization and the correspondingly high population density that is more-or-less required for epidemics to sustain themselves. Isolated tribal groups with lower densities were not as liable to suffer from recurring epidemics.

    How were Cortes and Pizarro not highly opportunistic brigands? They were motivated by the same material concerns for wealth that launched Vikings raids.
     
    Please do not be obtuse. I did not say the Spanish conquistadors were not motivated by greed or opportunism. The difference was that the Viking way of war was based mainly on raids and looting, not colonization while the Spanish had developed a politico-military ideology of conquest, conversion, extermination, and colonization that was based on their particular history and culture. As John Gillingham (now Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at London School of Economics and Political Science) writes in Maurice Keen's "Medieval Warfare: A History" (Keen was a well-known British historian of the medieval period and chivalry in particular):

    Everywhere from taifa Spain to the far North where the Norse raided Laps to enforce a tribute of reindeer, the basic form of war was the raid, the chevauchée (see also Chapter 5, p. 98). In urbanized societies such as Spain and Italy the raid was not enough; ultimately wars were decided by sieges and blockades. By contrast in societies such as those in the Celtic, Scandinavian, and Slav worlds, where towns and markets were few and where wealth was dispersed widely through the countryside, the raid was virtually the only form of war... On land the job of most of those who rode with a raiding party was to round up the prey; there was no need for them to be heavily armed. When the going got tough they scattered and left the fighting to the well-armed few, the nobles.
     
    There was already such differences in the conception of warfare between the Viking raiders and mainland Europeans in the 11th Century; by the 16th Century, the Spaniards (and later the French and the English) had vastly different ideas of warfare than did the earlier Vikings.

    Furthermore, the Spanish, by this period, had developed the corresponding maritime technology and navigational knowledge to cross deep seas with a reasonable reliability, something the Vikings lacked. The Viking longships were exceptionally maneuverable in shallow waters (such as estruaries and rivers) that were excellent for raids. Although these longships could and did navigate deep waters occasionally, they were not nearly as suitable for oceanic navigation and transport (for such voyages to be reliable and sustainable, ships have to be able to carry heavy loads of provisions, including, crucially, water).

    Nor did the Vikings have a whole colonial infrastructure to sustain overseas conquests in any sustainable manner the way the later Europeans did. Indeed, the very first drives of the 15th-16th Century Europeans to the west by based on their actual knowledge that there was Asia (China and India) with fabulous wealth. The Vikings had no such knowledge and did not strike out into terra incongita in the hope of finding a faster route to the riches of the Indies. So they largely stuck to shaking off the proverbial lowest hanging fruit and raiding ther nearby urban centers with the end goal being to cart off as much gold and silver as they can back to their homes in Scandinavia (where the precious coins often ended up as necklaces for women or were buried in hoards rather than recirculated to finance further overseas ventures as actually did happen with the later Europeans).

    I think you have a tendency to listen too much to a particular kind of amateur military historian who likes to explain the results of wars in the terms of entertaining stories instead of with more concrete factors.
     
    Don't be ridiculous. I was a professional military historian (though not a medievalist). And certainly Maurice Keen was and John Gillingham (still) is despite his advanced years. Judging from your remarks such as "Ideology was irrelevant," it's pretty clear to me that you have very little clue about the subject.

    Had a large enough Viking colony been established in Canada, all historical precedent suggests that the endless supply of arable land there would have led to a great explosion in population.
     
    Being from Europe, by itself, is not some magic power that makes all crumble before one. The Europeans of the 16th Century and on, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, and the English in particular, had been shaped by their particular historical and cultural experiences and social and technogical developments that were largely lacking in the Scandinavians of the 11th Century.

    Was it possible that the Vikings could have established a successful and *sustainable* colony in North America? Certainly it was possible. But the fact that the Spaniards were successful centuries later in Central America after a significantly divergent historical development does not make certain or even likely that the Vikings could have pulled off a similar feat in a very different location, against different adversaries, with a different level of socio-politico-military and technological development. And, as actual history demonstrates, they did not.

    I’d just like to express my appreciation for the informative and fascinating discussion.

    • Replies: @Twinkie

    I’d just like to express my appreciation for the informative and fascinating discussion.
     
    Thanks for that, but I am getting more than a little tired of lecturing someone who seems to me to be deliberately obtuse. I don't think I will write any more comments on this topic.
  35. @Halvorson
    We've moving far away from the original subject of discussion but historical nit picking is fun so let's keep going.

    There were four waves of epidemics that ravaged the Aztecs. The first wave was in 1519 that landed with the Spaniards and likely traveled *ahead* of the Europeans.

    Historians of the Spanish conquests have such great documentation that they can trace the smallpox epidemic of 1520 to its original Patient Zero, a black porter in Narvaez's expedition by the name of Francisco de Eguia.

    On the contrary, deaths of key leaders from disease is rather a matter of a luck of the draw that can have nonetheless a substantial impact, e.g. Pericles.


    This isn't central to your point, but you keep bringing up specific historical examples that are just wrong. Athens did BETTER in the war after Pericles died; their biggest victory came at Pylos four years after he croaked during the plague.

    This is a modern rational, retrospective analysis of the situations.

    It is not a modern, rational view that Aegospotami forced Athens to surrender or starve. The Spartans marched through Attica every year so the Athenians were completely dependent on food shipments from the Black Sea. Rome was never threatened with starvation while it fought Hannibal and its military losses were not uniquely severe for a country that ended up winning a war e.g. the Soviets lost 1/3rd of their adult men in 41-45 and yet never seriously considered surrender.

    The difference was that the Viking way of war was based mainly on raids and looting, not colonization while the Spanish had developed a politico-military ideology of conquest, conversion, extermination, and colonization that was based on their particular history and culture.

    The Vikings raided when their numbers were small and invaded when they were numerous. The Great Heathen Army was not a raid unless raids can last for a full decade. And they did colonize and not just in the Orkneys: there are hundreds and hundreds of Norse place names in northern and eastern England. Some of these are translations of older English names but many (Grimsby) are bona fide colonies. There were so many Norwegians running away to Iceland in the early 10th century that Harald Fairhair had to temporarily ban emigration. They were not constrained by some ideology learned at university that taught them only to be raiders, even when it was more profitable to be something else.

    Being from Europe, by itself, is not some magic power that makes all crumble before one.

    The purpose of that passage from 1491 I posted above was to demonstrate that settlers from the Old World did possess what must have seemed like a magic power to the Indians. You need to understand that the decline in American Indian population due to disease was enormous and happened absolutely everywhere. According to Alan Taylor there were 300,000 Taino in 1492 and just 500 survivors by 1548, this decline being accomplished primarily by disease . The Spanish were desperate to keep the Caribbean Indians alive as slaves but they died anyways. The general pattern in the Americas was:


    In any given locale, the first wave of epidemics afflicted almost every Indian. Within a decade of contact, about half the natives died from the new diseases. Repeated and diverse epidemics provided little opportunity for native populations to recover by reproduction. After almost fifty years of contact, successive epidemics reduced a native group to about a tenth of its precontact numbers. Some especially ravaged peoples lost their autonomous identity, as the few survivors joined a neighboring group. Consequently, the Indian natives ("tribes") of colonial history represent a subset of the many groups that had existed before the great epidemics. Historian Alfredo W. Crosby Jr., vividly characterizes the population collapse as "surely the greatest tragedy in the history of the human species".
     
    As Greg Cochran said when summarizing the latest Amerindian genetics paper: "But this is nuts! or at any rate amazing. It suggests that in large areas, Amerindians went extinct, and were later replaced by different Amerindians from other places (plus Spaniards and Portuguese), not too closely related. "

    The much more depressing Indian version of The War of the Worlds would end with "directly these invaders arrived, and directly they drank and fed, our microscopic enemies attacked us. From that moment, we were doomed".

    Lethal disease could have been spread by any Old World group that happened to get to the Americas first: the Spanish, Norse, Chinese, Africans, anybody.

    Lethal disease could have been spread by any Old World group that happened to get to the Americas first: the Spanish, Norse, Chinese, Africans, anybody.

    You keep writing as if any contact with the Old World population would have wiped out the New World population with equal effectiveness. Epidemiology is just not that simple.

    Epidemics require a certain level of population density and frequency of interaction, because they are spread by human contact. The conditions that obtained in the Aztec Empire – political centralization, urban centers, trade/communication routes, and the tropical climate – did not exist in the highly fragmented northeastern North America of the 11th Century. And the peoples – both native and invaders – were of different genetic stocks, to boot. Given those very significant differences, you cannot simply assume that the Norse presence in northeastern North America would have resulted in the same kind of epidemiological impact on different sets of natives as occurred with the Spanish among the Aztecs. The kind of certainty you seem to exude on this score is either ignorance on your part or an emotional unwillingness to lose an argument.

    Furthermore, you seem unable to grasp the latest finding regarding what killed off the Aztecs, which suggests that the truly devastating epidemics occurred decades after the original conquest, likely based on native diseases.

    To return to my earlier point: although the smallpox epidemic brought by the Europeans were deadly, the “lucky” part of that epidemic wasn’t so much that it killed off all or most of the population, but that it seems to have struck some Aztec elites, thus creating instability in the Aztec power structure.

    This isn’t central to your point, but you keep bringing up specific historical examples that are just wrong. Athens did BETTER in the war after Pericles died; their biggest victory came at Pylos four years after he croaked during the plague.

    The death of Pericles led to a more aggressive Athenian war policy. Although it experienced some minor successes* at both Pylos and Sphacteria that led to a temporary peace – the so-called Peace of Nicias – the Athenian overconfidence eventually led to the disasters of Mantinea and Siciliy that in turn led to Aegospotami.

    *You might note that the prospect of losing mere 120 Peers led the Spartans to commence a peace negotation, no Romans were they.

    Rome was never threatened with starvation while it fought Hannibal and its military losses were not uniquely severe for a country that ended up winning a war e.g. the Soviets lost 1/3rd of their adult men in 41-45 and yet never seriously considered surrender.

    The Soviet losses during World War II were without peer, and the Soviet Union was a totalitarian industrialized modern power fighting in the most destructive *total war* ever fought. By equating the Roman willingness to absorb horrendous casualties to persevere in an ancient war to that of the modern Soviets, you make my point for me. The Roman ideology of war was quite unlike that of, say, the Spartans (who nearly panicked at the prospect of losing 120 Spartiates and started peace negotiations) or the Carthaginians (who gave up two wars without having committed most of its citizens to war, let alone lose them). It was precisely because the Romans possessed a very modern-like conception of total war that it was able to survive terrible defeats and go on vanquish their mortal foes who did not.

    I don’t understand how a reasonably intelligent human being could not comprehend that a given people’s conception of what warfare means (and how to fight it) affects – very significantly – whether it is successful or not in the end. I suppose some might question my presupposition about a reasonably intelligent human being here.

    The Vikings raided when their numbers were small and invaded when they were numerous. The Great Heathen Army was not a raid unless raids can last for a full decade.

    And most often their numbers were small, because they lacked political unity (theirs was not a unified Spanish monarchy forged from the historical experience of vanquishing the Muslims and reconquering Iberia) and the organization necessary to field large armies of conquest. Most Vikings operated in groups of dozens or a few hundred men at most, centered around a charismatic chieftain or a raider of proven successes.

    The so-called the Great Heathen Army numbered between one thousand to a few thousand men at most. And it too could not maintain a unified command and ultimately failed to conquer Wessex. Harald Hardrada also tried this hand later at conquest and also failed and died at Stamford Bridge. Only Cnut the Great was able to forge an empire – one that did not survive his death. And even what conquering successes the Norse had only occurred in nearby Britain. They never had the capacity to conquer and colonize distant lands, only to loot and raid.

    They lacked the conception of warfare, supporting technology, and the demographic and maritime infrastructure necessary to effect an overseas colonization as the Spanish did in the 16th Century. That you cannot see this or acknowledge this strikes me as either disingenuous or obtuse… which of coure leads to non sequitur ad hominem such as this:

    They were not constrained by some ideology learned at university that taught them only to be raiders, even when it was more profitable to be something else.

    Earlier you admonished me for allegedly learning from “amateur historians” (rather than, presumably, peer-reviewed professionals, of whom I was one early in my career). Now university-learned knowledge is suspect. You will have to make up your mind whether you want to play an intellectual or a hard-nosed “I don’t need no stinking books” street realist.

    To the silly point at hand: the 10th and the 11th Century Vikings didn’t learn their conception of warfare from a university – they learned it from their own, particular, history and circumstances, of being a fractious and highly sea-mobile people with few resources and manpower, surrounded by far richer and more urbanized polities, that were easier to loot and extort than conquer. That is to say, they had a very different history and consequent development than did the Spanish of the 16th Century. As it happened, even when they “modernized,” they never did manage to achieve the great colonial feats of the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, and the English.

  36. @AP
    I'd just like to express my appreciation for the informative and fascinating discussion.

    I’d just like to express my appreciation for the informative and fascinating discussion.

    Thanks for that, but I am getting more than a little tired of lecturing someone who seems to me to be deliberately obtuse. I don’t think I will write any more comments on this topic.

  37. Alright, this’ll be the final salvo.

    You keep writing as if any contact with the Old World population would have wiped out the New World population with equal effectiveness. Epidemiology is just not that simple.

    Let’s ask a virologist who specializes in the immune systems of South American Indians what he thinks.

    From Mann’s 1491:

    After learning about this sad history I again telephoned Francis Black. Being genetically determined, Indian HLA homogeneity cannot be changed (except by intermarriage with non-Indians). Did that mean that the epidemics were unavoidable? I asked. Suppose that the peoples of the Americas had, in some parallel world, understood the concept of contagion and been prepared to act on it. Could the mass death have been averted? “There have been lots of cases where individual towns kept out epidemics,” Black said. During plague episodes, “medieval cities would barricade themselves behind their walls and kill people who tried to come in. But whole countries—that’s much harder. England has kept out rabies. That’s the biggest success story that comes to mind, offhand. But rabies is primarily an animal disease, which helps, because you only have to watch the ports—you don’t have many undocumented aliens sneaking in with sick dogs. And rabies is not highly contagious, so even if it slips through it is unlikely to spread.” He stopped speaking for long enough that I asked him if he was still on the line. “I’m trying to imagine how you would do it,” he said. “If Indians in Florida let in sick people, the effects could reach all the way up to here in Connecticut. So all these different groups would have had to coordinate the blockade together. And they’d have to do it for centuries—four hundred years—until the invention of vaccines. Naturally they’d want to trade, furs for knives, that kind of thing. But the trade would have to be conducted in antiseptic conditions.”…..

    “But I don’t see how it [waves of epidemics from European diseases] could have been prevented for very long. That’s a terrible thought. But I’ve been working with highly contagious diseases for forty years, and I can tell you that in the long run it is almost impossible to keep them out.”

    The conditions that obtained in the Aztec Empire – political centralization, urban centers, trade/communication routes, and the tropical climate – did not exist in the highly fragmented northeastern North America of the 11th Century.

    I’ve already brought up the Cayapo of Brazil, the Mandan of North Dakota, and Taino of the Carribean. They did no better than the Aztecs, but maybe New England Indians were made of different stuff:

    From Taylor’s American Colonies:

    In 1633-35 smallpox and measles epidemic killed half of the Iroquois, plunging the nations into grief. The angry survivors suspected sorecery by an enemy people, such as the Huron…

    From Petrieollo’s Bacteria and Bayonets:

    A series of pestilences descended the St. Lawrence region from 1634-40, eventually becoming known as the Huron Indian epidemics. From a population of almost 20,000 at the end of the 1620’s the Huron nation was cut down to 9,000 souls by 1640…..

    Epidemics had emerged in the area (New England) among the Natives in 1616-19, 1633-34, 1647, and 1649-52. Dysentery, tuberculosis, influenza, and smallpox severely reduced the population of the Natick and associated tribes….Evidence points to a reduction in population from perhaps 90,000 in 1600 to around 11,000 in 1675…..

    Hoping to cement an alliance they (the Dutch) sent a caravan to the Pequot loaded with trade goods, weapons, and foodstuffs. Unfortunately, it was also accompanied by smallpox. Gov. William Bradford estimated that 95% of the native inhabitants of the Connecticut River died during the outbreak.

    Furthermore, you seem unable to grasp the latest finding regarding what killed off the Aztecs, which suggests that the truly devastating epidemics occurred decades after the original conquest, likely based on native diseases.

    You have very high standards about what constitutes a devastating epidemic. The first smallpox outbreak sure looks like it killed half the population of Tenochtitlan and then a measles outbreak 10 years later cut that number further. I’d say that’s devastating.

    Re: historical trivia

    The death of Pericles led to a more aggressive Athenian war policy. Although it experienced some minor successes* at both Pylos and Sphacteria that led to a temporary peace – the so-called Peace of Nicias – the Athenian overconfidence eventually led to the disasters of Mantinea and Siciliy that in turn led to Aegospotami.

    The Sicilian Expedition sailed 14 years after Pericles’ death. He would have been 80 that year. His death played no role in the Athenian defeat.

    The Roman ideology of war was quite unlike that of, say, the Spartans (who nearly panicked at the prospect of losing 120 Spartiates and started peace negotiations) or the Carthaginians (who gave up two wars without having committed most of its citizens to war, let alone lose them). It was precisely because the Romans possessed a very modern-like conception of total war that it was able to survive terrible defeats and go on vanquish their mortal foes who did not.

    I feel like Scully arguing with Mulder here: there’s a rational explanation for this! In 421 B.C. Sparta had no hope of cracking Athens’ walls or blockading the city with their small fleet. Their decision to make peace with terms of status quo ante bellum was sensible. Rome, with a navy many times larger than that of Carthage, had a straight path to victory as soon as Hannibal (cut off from all resupply and a good bet to ultimately fail) was not an immediate threat. They weighed the odds in 216 B.C. and correctly calculated that they had a path to total victory. They behaved like rational human beings and their actions can explained in these terms.

    • Replies: @Twinkie

    “But I don’t see how it [waves of epidemics from European diseases] could have been prevented for very long.
     
    Straw man. No one is arguing that European diseases could have been prevented or "blockaded." My argument is that you cannot automatically assume the same level of the 16th Century Spanish-induced epidemics in tropical Aztec territory on the 11th Century Norse-settled (what is today) Canada where the population density was greatly lower with no urban centers to speak of.

    Let me ask you a direct and simple question: are you suggesting that the fact that both 11th Century Norse and the 16th Century Spanish being Europeans was enough to produce the same kind of epidemiological impact on populations that had very different density levels, climate, and genetic stock?

    You have very high standards about what constitutes a devastating epidemic. The first smallpox outbreak sure looks like it killed half the population of Tenochtitlan and then a measles outbreak 10 years later cut that number further. I’d say that’s devastating.
     
    You clearly didn't read the link I provided:

    Records confirm there was a smallpox epidemic in 1519 and 1520, immediately after the Europeans arrived, killing between 5 and 8 million people. But it was two cataclysmic epidemics that occurred in 1545 and 1576, 25 and 55 years after the Spanish conquest, which swept through the Mexican highlands and claimed as many as 17 million lives.

    To Dr. Rodolfo Acuna-Soto, a Harvard-trained infectious disease specialist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, it made no sense that a deadly outbreak of European origin could occur so long after the Spanish arrived, because the natives who survived previous plagues would have passed on their immunities.
     
    The last time I checked, 17 million is far more devastating than 5-8 million, especially given that the starting population was greater with the latter. So as a percentage of the population, the later two epidemics based on native diseases were far deadlier.

    This also means that there were still millions of natives left when the Spanish conquered the empire. In other words, the Spanish victory was decapitation (toppling of the Aztec leadership), not extermination. The latter happened decades after the conquest.

    The Sicilian Expedition sailed 14 years after Pericles’ death. He would have been 80 that year. His death played no role in the Athenian defeat.
     
    In what world do you live where causality only lasts a few years?

    Pericles avoided land combat with Spartans, considering them unbeatable on land. Once he died, the Athenians adopted a more aggressive policy that led to minor victories at Pylos and (more importantly) Sphacteria. These small victories gave the Athenian false confidence that they could beat the Spartans on land that *eventually* led to the disaster at Mantinea... which led the desperate Athenians try the over-ambitious Sicilian gambit that was truly an epic failure. All of this paved the way to Aegospotami and the total Spartan victory.

    While it's possible that, had Pericles not perished in the plague, things might have turned out the same way still, chances are the trajectory of events would have differed - at what scale no one but God knows.

    Anyone who speaks of counter-factuals in history as certainties is either deluded or woefully-informed. To paraphrase Mr. Khan from a discussion he and I had about the impact of the Battle of Talas, historical contingencies affect the dials of probabilities. Very little, if any, is set in stone.

    Rome, with a navy many times larger than that of Carthage, had a straight path to victory as soon as Hannibal (cut off from all resupply and a good bet to ultimately fail) was not an immediate threat.
     
    With what army? They lost close to 20 legions' worth of manpower plus an equivalent number of allies. Furthermore, because of the revolt and defection of the major Italian allies, they instantly lost something like half of the remaning accessible manpower. Given that 20% (!) of those citizen age over 17 (not just a small, selected age cohort, the entire adult male citizenry) had already perished, things looked pretty dire.

    After Cannae, what inkling did the Romans have that the next 20 months would bring anything different from the previous 20 months?

    They weighed the odds in 216 B.C. and correctly calculated that they had a path to total victory. They behaved like rational human beings and their actions can explained in these terms.
     
    Ancient polities did not have general staffs and only a few had even a rudimentary sense of strategic-level "correlations of forces." As much as I am a big fan of Edward Luttwak, the ancients often fought for glory and loot rather than some keen sense of grand strategic calculations. They didn't even have access to topographically accurate maps we moderns have and their geographic sense was often quite relational (e.g. "twenty days of journey west from the city...") rather than objective.
  38. @Halvorson
    Alright, this'll be the final salvo.

    You keep writing as if any contact with the Old World population would have wiped out the New World population with equal effectiveness. Epidemiology is just not that simple.

    Let's ask a virologist who specializes in the immune systems of South American Indians what he thinks.

    From Mann's 1491:

    After learning about this sad history I again telephoned Francis Black. Being genetically determined, Indian HLA homogeneity cannot be changed (except by intermarriage with non-Indians). Did that mean that the epidemics were unavoidable? I asked. Suppose that the peoples of the Americas had, in some parallel world, understood the concept of contagion and been prepared to act on it. Could the mass death have been averted? “There have been lots of cases where individual towns kept out epidemics,” Black said. During plague episodes, “medieval cities would barricade themselves behind their walls and kill people who tried to come in. But whole countries—that’s much harder. England has kept out rabies. That’s the biggest success story that comes to mind, offhand. But rabies is primarily an animal disease, which helps, because you only have to watch the ports—you don’t have many undocumented aliens sneaking in with sick dogs. And rabies is not highly contagious, so even if it slips through it is unlikely to spread.” He stopped speaking for long enough that I asked him if he was still on the line. “I’m trying to imagine how you would do it,” he said. “If Indians in Florida let in sick people, the effects could reach all the way up to here in Connecticut. So all these different groups would have had to coordinate the blockade together. And they’d have to do it for centuries—four hundred years—until the invention of vaccines. Naturally they’d want to trade, furs for knives, that kind of thing. But the trade would have to be conducted in antiseptic conditions.”.....

    “But I don’t see how it [waves of epidemics from European diseases] could have been prevented for very long. That’s a terrible thought. But I’ve been working with highly contagious diseases for forty years, and I can tell you that in the long run it is almost impossible to keep them out.”
     
    The conditions that obtained in the Aztec Empire – political centralization, urban centers, trade/communication routes, and the tropical climate – did not exist in the highly fragmented northeastern North America of the 11th Century.

    I've already brought up the Cayapo of Brazil, the Mandan of North Dakota, and Taino of the Carribean. They did no better than the Aztecs, but maybe New England Indians were made of different stuff:

    From Taylor's American Colonies:

    In 1633-35 smallpox and measles epidemic killed half of the Iroquois, plunging the nations into grief. The angry survivors suspected sorecery by an enemy people, such as the Huron...
     
    From Petrieollo's Bacteria and Bayonets:

    A series of pestilences descended the St. Lawrence region from 1634-40, eventually becoming known as the Huron Indian epidemics. From a population of almost 20,000 at the end of the 1620's the Huron nation was cut down to 9,000 souls by 1640.....

    Epidemics had emerged in the area (New England) among the Natives in 1616-19, 1633-34, 1647, and 1649-52. Dysentery, tuberculosis, influenza, and smallpox severely reduced the population of the Natick and associated tribes....Evidence points to a reduction in population from perhaps 90,000 in 1600 to around 11,000 in 1675.....

    Hoping to cement an alliance they (the Dutch) sent a caravan to the Pequot loaded with trade goods, weapons, and foodstuffs. Unfortunately, it was also accompanied by smallpox. Gov. William Bradford estimated that 95% of the native inhabitants of the Connecticut River died during the outbreak.

     

    Furthermore, you seem unable to grasp the latest finding regarding what killed off the Aztecs, which suggests that the truly devastating epidemics occurred decades after the original conquest, likely based on native diseases.

    You have very high standards about what constitutes a devastating epidemic. The first smallpox outbreak sure looks like it killed half the population of Tenochtitlan and then a measles outbreak 10 years later cut that number further. I'd say that's devastating.

    Re: historical trivia

    The death of Pericles led to a more aggressive Athenian war policy. Although it experienced some minor successes* at both Pylos and Sphacteria that led to a temporary peace – the so-called Peace of Nicias – the Athenian overconfidence eventually led to the disasters of Mantinea and Siciliy that in turn led to Aegospotami.

    The Sicilian Expedition sailed 14 years after Pericles' death. He would have been 80 that year. His death played no role in the Athenian defeat.

    The Roman ideology of war was quite unlike that of, say, the Spartans (who nearly panicked at the prospect of losing 120 Spartiates and started peace negotiations) or the Carthaginians (who gave up two wars without having committed most of its citizens to war, let alone lose them). It was precisely because the Romans possessed a very modern-like conception of total war that it was able to survive terrible defeats and go on vanquish their mortal foes who did not.

    I feel like Scully arguing with Mulder here: there's a rational explanation for this! In 421 B.C. Sparta had no hope of cracking Athens' walls or blockading the city with their small fleet. Their decision to make peace with terms of status quo ante bellum was sensible. Rome, with a navy many times larger than that of Carthage, had a straight path to victory as soon as Hannibal (cut off from all resupply and a good bet to ultimately fail) was not an immediate threat. They weighed the odds in 216 B.C. and correctly calculated that they had a path to total victory. They behaved like rational human beings and their actions can explained in these terms.

    “But I don’t see how it [waves of epidemics from European diseases] could have been prevented for very long.

    Straw man. No one is arguing that European diseases could have been prevented or “blockaded.” My argument is that you cannot automatically assume the same level of the 16th Century Spanish-induced epidemics in tropical Aztec territory on the 11th Century Norse-settled (what is today) Canada where the population density was greatly lower with no urban centers to speak of.

    Let me ask you a direct and simple question: are you suggesting that the fact that both 11th Century Norse and the 16th Century Spanish being Europeans was enough to produce the same kind of epidemiological impact on populations that had very different density levels, climate, and genetic stock?

    You have very high standards about what constitutes a devastating epidemic. The first smallpox outbreak sure looks like it killed half the population of Tenochtitlan and then a measles outbreak 10 years later cut that number further. I’d say that’s devastating.

    You clearly didn’t read the link I provided:

    Records confirm there was a smallpox epidemic in 1519 and 1520, immediately after the Europeans arrived, killing between 5 and 8 million people. But it was two cataclysmic epidemics that occurred in 1545 and 1576, 25 and 55 years after the Spanish conquest, which swept through the Mexican highlands and claimed as many as 17 million lives.

    To Dr. Rodolfo Acuna-Soto, a Harvard-trained infectious disease specialist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, it made no sense that a deadly outbreak of European origin could occur so long after the Spanish arrived, because the natives who survived previous plagues would have passed on their immunities.

    The last time I checked, 17 million is far more devastating than 5-8 million, especially given that the starting population was greater with the latter. So as a percentage of the population, the later two epidemics based on native diseases were far deadlier.

    This also means that there were still millions of natives left when the Spanish conquered the empire. In other words, the Spanish victory was decapitation (toppling of the Aztec leadership), not extermination. The latter happened decades after the conquest.

    The Sicilian Expedition sailed 14 years after Pericles’ death. He would have been 80 that year. His death played no role in the Athenian defeat.

    In what world do you live where causality only lasts a few years?

    Pericles avoided land combat with Spartans, considering them unbeatable on land. Once he died, the Athenians adopted a more aggressive policy that led to minor victories at Pylos and (more importantly) Sphacteria. These small victories gave the Athenian false confidence that they could beat the Spartans on land that *eventually* led to the disaster at Mantinea… which led the desperate Athenians try the over-ambitious Sicilian gambit that was truly an epic failure. All of this paved the way to Aegospotami and the total Spartan victory.

    While it’s possible that, had Pericles not perished in the plague, things might have turned out the same way still, chances are the trajectory of events would have differed – at what scale no one but God knows.

    Anyone who speaks of counter-factuals in history as certainties is either deluded or woefully-informed. To paraphrase Mr. Khan from a discussion he and I had about the impact of the Battle of Talas, historical contingencies affect the dials of probabilities. Very little, if any, is set in stone.

    Rome, with a navy many times larger than that of Carthage, had a straight path to victory as soon as Hannibal (cut off from all resupply and a good bet to ultimately fail) was not an immediate threat.

    With what army? They lost close to 20 legions’ worth of manpower plus an equivalent number of allies. Furthermore, because of the revolt and defection of the major Italian allies, they instantly lost something like half of the remaning accessible manpower. Given that 20% (!) of those citizen age over 17 (not just a small, selected age cohort, the entire adult male citizenry) had already perished, things looked pretty dire.

    After Cannae, what inkling did the Romans have that the next 20 months would bring anything different from the previous 20 months?

    They weighed the odds in 216 B.C. and correctly calculated that they had a path to total victory. They behaved like rational human beings and their actions can explained in these terms.

    Ancient polities did not have general staffs and only a few had even a rudimentary sense of strategic-level “correlations of forces.” As much as I am a big fan of Edward Luttwak, the ancients often fought for glory and loot rather than some keen sense of grand strategic calculations. They didn’t even have access to topographically accurate maps we moderns have and their geographic sense was often quite relational (e.g. “twenty days of journey west from the city…”) rather than objective.

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