Este Blogue é um estudo da Associação Projecto Raia Alentejana e tem como objectivo a discussão da violência em geral e da guerra na Pré-História em particular. A Arqueologia da Península Ibérica tem aqui especial relevo. Esperamos cruzar dados de diferentes campos do conhecimento com destaque para a Antropologia Social. As críticas construtivas são bem vindas neste espaço, que se espera, de conhecimento.

Guerra Primitiva\Pré-Histórica
Violência interpessoal colectiva entre duas ou mais comunidades políticas distintas, com o uso de armas tendo como objectivo causar fatalidades, por um motivo colectivo sem hipótese de compensação.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Origins of War - Claudio Cioffi-Revilla

Warfare—organized lethal violence practiced among social groupings—is an ancient and virtually universal social phenomenon. The origins of warfare date from early antiquity, thousands of years ago, when warfare became a distinct pattern of social behavior in specific regions of the world. Recent scholarly advances in the disciplines that study the origins of warfare—archaeology, political science, international relations, sociology, epigraphy, ethnology, and military history—continue to improve upon our current understanding of this complex puzzle.
This essay provides a survey of present-day knowledge on warfare origins; it covers basic methodology and the main known facts, including both Old World and New World origins of warfare. Its focus is on the origins of warfare based on extant empirical evidence.
Original Belligerents
The earliest warfare emerged among chiefdoms in prestate societies. Chiefdoms may have occasionally clashed over resources like good land, but unlike states, most chiefdoms did not have the manpower or political structure to conquer and hold onto others’ lands. They may therefore have contented themselves with burning a rival village, destroying its temple or Men’s House, killing its chief, then returning home to torture or sacrifice a few prisoners.
Thus, chiefly warfare among pre-state societies already contains many of the later characteristics (political motives, incipient warrior classes, specialized weapons, basic military engineering) that warfare will develop and enhance with increased political complexity. Prior to chiefly warfare, belligerents manifested only an archaic form of warfare that was not distinguishable from basic homicidal and hunting skills (coordinated killing of other humans).
Indicators of the Earliest Warfare
Measurement of warfare origins is based on several indicators or multiple lines of evidence, an indispensable redundant strategy because unfortunately all indicators do not have the same survivability in the extant record. Moats and defensive walls—powerful indicators of warfare—have a much higher survival probability than painted murals, fragile scrolls, or wooden spears that may tell of equally significant warfare. Moreover, other features of warfare—for instance, perishable weapons, troop movements, battle actions, and others—are archaeologically invisible. This survey is based on six standard indicators for detecting the emergence of warfare for a given region in a given period: forensic, locational, structural, artifactual, iconographic, and epigraphic.
Forensic evidence of warfare is contained in human skeletal remains, including but not exclusively violent traumatic wounds. Embedded projectile points, parry fractures, perforated or fractured skulls, decapitated or dismembered skeletons, and other similarly deadly lesions imparted by force constitute forensic evidence that may indicate the presence of warfare, particularly when such remains are present in large numbers in a small area (high density of skeletal trauma) having some military significance. Forensic evidence must be used with caution because alternative explanations for its presence—for example, religious sacrificial practices unrelated to warfare, or cannibalism without actual warfare—may also account for the extant forensic evidence. Where forensic evidence potentially indicative of warfare is found, it is therefore essential to also have an understanding of the other social practices.
Unfortunately, the most compelling osteological evidence of warfare emerges well after warfare originated. Skeletal remains of warriors buried with artifactual evidence of warfare—for example, weapons or armor—also prove the existence of warfare. An early Old World example is the royal cemetery of Ur (Tell al Muqayyar) in Lower Mesopotamia, Iraq, which contained weapons buried with their warrior owners (now in the British Museum, London; the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; and the Iraq Museum, Baghdad).
Locational evidence of warfare refers to the defensible position of a given site in a surrounding physical environment. High ridges, sloping terrains, islands, or peninsulas provide locations that may constitute evidence indicative of warfare. This is often among the oldest, because it may not require much technology (a community’s decision to locate on a defensible site still requires collective-action problem-solving). As some historians have pointed out, however, locational evidence is a weak or often ambiguous indicator of warfare, because an arguably defensible location may have been chosen on grounds other than the threat of conflict—for example, for its religious significance, trade or communication links, access to natural resources, or other nonmilitary advantage.
However, while locational evidence at an individual isolated site is generally not a sufficient indicator of warfare, a regional widespread pattern of several defensible locations may be. And locational evidence (for instance, a hilltop) often combines with structural evidence (like enclosing walls, even without a parapet) to indicate warfare (for instance, in Quebec, Canada; Habuba Kabira, Iraq; and Monte Albán, Mexico).
Structural evidence, in the form of purposively planned and executed military engineering works, constitutes hard evidence of warfare (sufficient conditions for the existence of at least a threat of warfare) and is also a common indicator of significant social complexity. Structural works involve a significant level of planning and execution, involving a nontrivial proportion of able labor in the community. The polity responsible for military works will often have reached state-level complexity (with internally differentiated institutions, specialized elites, and other stable features that go beyond the mere centralization of power [chiefdom]). Chiefdoms can achieve some of these engineering goals (like moats and palisades) but not all of them (more extensive or territorial wall systems).
Structural evidence of warfare is also diverse. A palisade is an early form of fortification, erected around the perimeter of a local polity (for example, Palisade I in Cahokia, Illinois). Palisades often include baffled gates for controlled entry (for instance, Banpo [Pan-p’o], China) and sometimes they represent just the first stage of what will eventually become a more formidable wall that can include bastions as well (Palisades II–IV in Cahokia, Illinois). A palisade is erected primarily for purposes of exclusion and protection against limited range projectiles.
A wall—built of stones, bricks, stamped-earth, or plastered stockade—is a more substantial fortification than a palisade and sometimes also marks the transition from chiefdom to statehood, because of the greater specialization, resources, and coordination required. In Palestine, the earliest defensive walls were built of stone, at Jericho, during the so-called Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) period, sometime in the eighth millennium BCE, or soon after 8000 BCE. In China, on the other hand, the earliest massive walls indicative of warfare were built with a layered, stamped-earth construction technology during the Longshan (Lung-shan) period, East Henan phase, in the third millennium BCE. A wall with parapet—a vertical structure to protect defenders—is an unambiguous indicator of warfare, but without a parapet a wall may simply have other functions, such as social separation, privacy, or traffic control. However, some walled sites that contain other evidence of warfare (for instance, weapons deposited on the immediate outside proximity) lack parapets, so a parapet can be interpreted as a sufficient but not necessary condition for warfare.
A tower can be another form of fortification. Most commonly, towers are integrated with walls, as in a castle, and are sometimes located in frontier regions (Per) or as part of a more extensive wall system (the famous Great Wall of China built during the Zhou and Qin dynasties, for instance, or Hadrian’s Wall between Northumberland and Scotland, which is far more modern). In somewhat later times—during the later development of ancient warfare—wooden towers and other protected structures became mobile siege engines and were used to encase and carry other large-scale specialized weapons (for instance, battering-rams and catapults) and assault troops for attacking a fortified site (for instance, the siege of Lachish, Nineveh [now in the British Museum]). There is no evidence for the existence of siege engines in the New World, although most components (beams, ropes, and walls) would have been highly perishable.
Besides walls and towers, other military structures occur individually or in combination, depending on local needs and capabilities. A moat is a deep and wide excavated trench, usually filled with water, most frequently located outside a fortified perimeter. Like walls and towers, moats were built both in the Old World (for instance, at Tell es-Sawwan, Iraq, and Banpo, China) and in the New World (for instance, at Becán, Mexico). Moats— more specifically, the layers of sedimentary deposits found in a moat—also often contain additional evidence of ancient warfare (artifactual or forensic). A rampart is a broad embankment or artificial ridge raised as fortification. It is sometimes, as in Becán, Mexico, surrounded by a moat, with bridges across to control access. A baffled gate is a protected or concealed entry, the purpose of which is to control access through a flow point. Finally, a guard house is often part of a baffled gate, or may occur separately.
Originally most of these structures occurred individually, consistent with a chiefdom-level of political development. However, as warfare developed in later times, as state-level political complexity emerged, many of these structures occurred jointly—as in a walled city with baffled and guarded gates and moated ramparts, fortified with protruding towers and parapets designed to provide overlapping fields of fire against attackers. An impressive New World example of a fortified site with towers that offered overlapping fields of fire against attacking infantry is in Cahokia, Illinois. Ruling out a long siege or some covert infiltration, such a site could only be successfully taken with large-scale assault engines that offered protection to assault groups, such as towering and mobile battering-rams or catapults.
The primary form of artifactual evidence for ancient warfare consists of weapons. Two types can be distinguished: specialized (used for combat only) and generic (also used for hunting). The mace is arguably the oldest specialized weapon, having been developed for the primary purpose of causing a lethal cranial injury. Maces are found in the earliest iconography of ancient warfare throughout the ancient Near East (for example, Narmer Palette and the Hierakonpolis murals in Egypt; the Stela of Vultures in Iraq; and the stelae of Ugarit, Syria). Other specialized weapons include axes and swords, as well as protective bodily gear, such as helmets, shields, and body armor. Siege engines and other machines built by the first military engineers (battering rams, assault towers, and mobile catapults) are large-scale artifacts. The chariot played a notorious role in ancient warfare, although much more so during the subsequent development of war than during its origins.
Generic weapons, first developed for hunting, include projectiles, bows, spears, bifaces, atlatls, slings, and knives. Although each of these weapons was used for hunting animals during the foraging (Paleolithic) and Mesolithic era and, therefore, appeared in the archaeological record prior to the emergence of ancient warfare, these weapons were also commonly used in warfare. Some generic weapons disappeared soon after the appearance of specialized weapons (for instance, the sword replaced cruder forms of knives and bifaces), whereas others continued to be used for thousands of years after the appearance of specialized weapons (like the spear and the bow and arrow).
Another common distinction, between short-range and long-range weapons, misses the sociopolitical dimension that is captured by the specialized/generic distinction. Short-range weapons can be specialized (for instance, a mace) or generic (like a knife), as can long-range weapons. In state-level societies the production of weapons for use in warfare was specialized and kept separate from the production of other artifacts, a pattern consistent with the more specialized and differentiated nature of institutions and elites.
Iconographic or pictorial representations of ancient warfare are another source of evidence. The most frequent occurrences of battle scenes are in murals and in stone, and include warriors with weapons engaged in combat (for instance, stone bas-reliefs of fortified cities under siege in the Near East), or domination scenes of conquest in a postwar context (for example, Maya stelae depicting a ruler standing on top of defeated enemies or Egyptian palettes representing the Pharaoh smiting the vanquished). Some of the earliest rock art in European foraging era caves, particularly in Spain, is also of this form, although the scenes depicted sometimes include hunting as well as warfare. At present the earliest depictions of battle scenes, skirmishes and hand-to-hand combat are those found in the Arnhem Land region, Northern Territory, Australia, dated at ca. 8000 BCE. Iconographic evidence sometimes appears simultaneously with epigraphic evidence in the same record (for instance, in the Stela of Vultures, Girsu [Telloh], Iraq; or in Monument 3, San José Mogote, Oaxaca, Mexico).
The iconography of early warfare is abundant for both the Old World and the New World. It also developed considerable artistic quality (from sketchy engraved art to rich colorful murals) as part-time artisans became fulltime artists in the transition from relatively simpler (chiefdom) to more complex (state) societies. Many artistic masterpieces of antiquity consist of iconographic representations of warfare. Along with their aesthetic value, they also provide valuable information for scientific research.
Evidence of warfare also comes from written records. Until recently, the presence of written records marked the beginning of truly “historical” warfare. Today, however, most scholars agree that the origins of warfare are earlier than the appearance of written records. Moreover, because written records can be unreliable (for instance, the boastful claims of Mesopotamian kings or the doubtful exaggerations of Maya rulers), some prehistoric data based on, say, fortifications, are more reliable and more valid indicators of warfare. Thus, “more recent” or “more historical” does not necessarily mean “more reliable” or “more valid.” Nonetheless, in general, epigraphic records are the most detailed and useful sources for constructing precise data sets of past wars, particularly when they are validated by other alternative indicators, such as forensic, structural, or iconographic lines of evidence.
Old World Origins
Our present knowledge about the precise origins and early development of warfare in the various regions of the ancient world is still incomplete. However, a tentative pattern is beginning to emerge, a pattern which is different and far more precise than that which was imagined even just a few years ago.
The earliest plausible evidence of warfare in the Levant— arguably the oldest in the world—comes from Natufian human remains, at ca. 10,000 to 7500 BCE, from Nahal Oren, Israel, which were quite possibly cannibalized. Cannibalism often accompanied warfare in all six regions of the Old World and the New World. Soon after this, during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period, at ca. 7500 BCE, the first fortifications were erected at Jericho, Palestine, including the oldest known massive walls and a tower. Other key centers followed soon after Jericho, including Beidah, Jordan, and Haçilar, Turkey. Simultaneously, Ugarit and Byblos on the Mediterranean coast are settled on high defensible locations, and mace heads begin to appear in Jordan, followed by stocks of sling pellets at the Mersin fort in southern Turkey. By the sixth millennium BCE numerous fortifications already exist in the eastern Levant and northern Mesopotamia, by which time these regions form one large “Crescent system.” Warfare is fully developed in the Levant by at least 4300 BCE, based on the garrison at Mersin fort and other centers. By ca. 2000 BCE the Ugaritic text of the epic of Baal is completely fluent in the language of warfare.
In the area of Mesopotamia warfare appears first in the northern part of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, with mace heads already present at Jarmo by 7000 to 6000 BCE, which is somewhat earlier than the earliest maces in the nearby Levant region at ’Ain Ghazal, Jordan. Locational evidence at ca. 6000 BCE also shows Tell es-Sawwan being built on a cliff over the Tigris River, and soon after, at ca. 5600 BCE, being fortified with a system of moat, wall, and baffled entrances. In the southern part of Mesopotamia, the first ’Ubaid-period agricultural settlements, starting at ca. 5500 BCE, are being defensively located on islands— arguably the only defensible locations in the southern alluvial plain—and mace heads are also already common throughout the area (for instance, at Abu ’Ilba, Iraq). During the Uruk period, from ca. 4000 BCE the most important cities in Mesopotamia are fortified, including many in the periphery, at which time cylinder seals also begin to display a clear array of warfare scenes, including prisoners of war being smitten by their captors. Warfare is already fully developed well before the rise of the first Sumerian city-state system that followed soon after ca. 3000 BCE. By the time writing is invented in Mesopotamia, it is ready to record the continuation of stately warfare (Sumerian) and, not much later, the first imperial warfare (Akkadian).
In the Chinese protobellic area of the Yellow River, in the northern part of the country known as the Central Plains, warfare is first evidenced soon after ca. 5000 BCE by locational (higher elevations) and structural (moats, palisades, baffled gates) indicators at Banpo (possibly) and Jiangzhai (certainly). Clearly, these early chiefdoms must have been seeking security from some neighboring or outside aggressors, although their identity remains unknown (not unlike the first fortified chiefdom sites in West Asia and the New World).This first stage in the rise of warfare in China occurred during or soon after the first successful settlements were established (in the Yangshao village chiefdoms), similar to the ’Ubaid settlements in southern Mesopotamia. Later (Longshan chiefdoms in the Central Plains region), starting at ca. 3000 BCE, plenty of structural (massive walls) and artifactual (first weapons) evidence exists with increasing frequency, followed by further increases in the period that saw the rise of the first states during the Bronze Age and the Three Dynasties. In China, as elsewhere in the world, warfare is fully developed before the time the first states form and begin to interact.
New World Origins
The first evidence of warfare in the Andean region occurs along the Peruvian coast during the Late Preceramic Period, through mutilated human remains and weapons at Asia (ca. 3000 BCE) and an assemblage of locational, structural, and artifactual evidence at the Ostra site (aka. Salinas de Santa, ca. 3500 BCE).
The early nature of these first indications of Andean warfare at Asia and Ostra during this early stage of political development is reminiscent of the similarly isolated cases of Jericho or Çatal Hüyük in the Levantine system. Unequivocal indicators of warfare begin occurring consistently about two thousand years later. Although written records never appeared in this region, by ca. 2000 to 1500 BCE the iconography of armed warriors and captives at Cerro Sechín (Casma Valley) and elsewhere leaves no doubt that warfare has emerged from its protobellic stage and is entering a more developed stage. Warfare is fully developed in this region with the appearance of numerous hilltop fortifications during the Early Horizon Period, a pattern that continues and reaches maturity by the time of Chavín de Huantar’s supremacy, ca. 500 to 250 BCE, by which time complex chiefdoms—perhaps states—had formed. Thus, the Inca imperial warfare that followed much later had been preceded by chiefly and stately warfare thousands of years earlier.
At the main Olmec political centers of San Lorenzo, founded on high defensible ground ca. 1400 BCE, and La Venta near the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, there is some plausible locational and iconographic evidence of warfare (helmets, clubs, knuckle-dusters, and blade axes depicted on stone), as well as generic weapons. However, Olmec iconography is arguably ambiguous as evidence of warfare. For example, helmets could have simply been headdresses and the association of the ballgame depictions with warfare is not a direct one. The earliest large political center that attained at least the chiefdom level of development, San Lorenzo, contains locational evidence as well as structural and forensic remains that some scholars interpret as valid indicators of warfare.
Figurines and statues of ballplayers may provide some evidence, because elsewhere in Mesoamerica the ball game was associated with warfare, albeit at a later time. What was once thought to be the violent and systematic destruction of San Lorenzo ca.950 BCE, which could have been the first concretely dated occurrence of warfare for this area of Mesoamerica, is no longer viewed with such certainty. Warfare at the subsequent Olmec polity of La Venta, on the other hand, is not debated, given the numerous iconographic indicators present after ca. 900 BCE (depictions of warriors, weapons, armor, captives, and others).
Using locational evidence alone, the origins of warfare in the Oaxaca Valley could date back to the founding of San José Mogote on high ground overlooking the Atoyac River during the egalitarian (pre-chiefdom) political stage of the Tierras Largas phase, ca. 1400 BCE. However, high ground may have been chosen to avoid flooding by the nearby river, not necessarily as a defensible location. Soon after, at ca. 1100 BCE, another community was founded in the northern area of the Etla subvalley, called Huitzo, which means “military lookout” in Zapotec. By the Rosario phase, 700 to 500 BCE, warfare is already clearly shown by the defensible position and fortification of many communities in the Etla subvalley, by weapons buried with chiefs, and by the iconography showing nude prisoners and war captives. For example, over three hundred prisoners were set up in a gallery just before state formation at the regional capital of Monte Albán.
This pattern of increasing sociopolitical complexity continues to evolve until warfare reaches an imperial (albeit brief) stage during the period of the Monte Albán state, arguably the first state in Mesoamerica. Again, as in the Inca case, the warfare that the Spaniards encountered in Mesoamerica in the 1500s CE was the result of a protobellic process that had begun thousands of years earlier, at a chiefly stage of political development.
Unprecedented Lethality
The causal mechanism that accounts for the origin of warfare in antiquity is based on the specialization, growth, and refinement of a set of background behavioral skills acquired by humans during the Paleolithic period: homicidal skills on how to kill other humans and hunting skills on how to coordinate a group for killing animals. Each of these primitive activities produced a set of transmittable skills, including homicidal know-how and the know-how necessary for successful group hunting (for example, intelligence, stealth, and concealment).
The negligible level of political organization that existed during the foraging and early Neolithic eras explains why at most only protowarfare was produced by these nonspecialized skills. Protowarfare was essentially indistinguishable from humans-hunting-humans, leaving behind only ambiguous forensic and locational indicators (like projectile points embedded in skeletal remains, cannibalism, and plausibly defensible locations) and no other evidence of warfare (that is, no defensive structures or specialized weapons, and certainly no writing).
The chiefdom, the state, and eventually the empire acted as catalysts, reinforcing and magnifying the initial background conditions through a complex interactive process. Warfare and political development were mutually reinforcing processes, as in a feedback loop, because warfare can produce conditions favorable for political development (for instance, a perceived group emergency condition, a centralization of power, or a need for compliance with authority) and political development can increase the probability of success in waging war. The state did not produce war, but it did enhance it with unprecedented organization and lethality.
The investigation of ancient warfare and early political development may hold the key to enduring and challenging puzzles in social science and contemporary world politics.
By Claudio Cioffi-Revilla
Further Reading
Cioffi-Revilla, C. (2000). Ancient warfare: Origins and systems. In M. I. Midlarsky (Ed.), Handbook of war studies II (pp. 59–89). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Cioffi-Revilla, C., & Lai, D. (1995).War and politics in ancient China, 2700–722 B.C. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 39, 467–94.
Earle,T. (1997). How chiefs come to power. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Emerson, T. E., & Lewis, R. B. (1990). Cahokia and the hinterlands. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Ferrill, A. (1997). The origins of war (Rev. ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Haas, J., Pozorski, S.,& Pozorski,T. (Eds.). (1987). The origins and development of the Andean state. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Hassig, R. (1992). War and society in ancient Mesoamerica. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Keeley, L. H. (1996). War before civilizaton. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
LeBlanc, S., & Register, K. E. (2003). Constant battles: The myth of the peaceful, noble savage. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Liu, L. (2003). State formation in early China. London: Duckworth.
Liverani, M. (1988). Antico Oriente. Rome: Editori Laterza.
Marcus, J. (1992). Dynamic cycles of Mesoamerican states. National Geographic Research and Exploration, 8, 392–411.
Marcus, J., & Flannery, K. V. (1996). Zapotec civilization. London: Thames & Hudson.
Moseley, M. E. (2001). The Incas and their ancestors (Rev. ed.). London: Thames & Hudson.
Roper,M.K. (1975). Evidence of warfare in the Near East from 10,000–4,300 B.C. In M. A. Nettleship, R.D.Givens, & A. Nettleship (Eds.), War, its causes and correlates. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton.
Rothman, M. (Ed.). (1999). Mesopotamia in the era of state formation. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.
Stein, G., & Rothman, M. S. (1994). Chiefdoms and early states in the Near East. Madison, WI: Prehistory Press.
Underhill, A. (1989).Warfare during the Chinese Neolithic period. In D. C. Tkaczuk & B. C.Vivian (Eds.), Cultures in conflict. Proceedings of the twentieth annual Chacmool conference. Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Vencl, S. (1984).War and warfare in archaeology. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 3, 116–132.
Yadin, Y. (1963). The art of warfare in Biblical lands. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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