A Wealth of Examples

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[AUC 001-01, part 3]: Mutually Beneficial Treaty

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[These remarks refer to Book 1 Chapter 1 of Livy’s history of Rome, Ab Urbe Condita.]

In discussing the Trojan refugees led by Aeneas, Mr. Livy attributes their acceptance in Laurentum entirely to the fact that Latinus “admir[ed] the nobility of the folk and of the man and admir[ed] that their spirit was prepared for either war or peace”. And that was certainly a necessary part of it. We can infer from events in the next chapter, however, that the Aborgines had a sticky political problem of their own for which a big influx of experienced and motivated soldiers would be very helpful: a neighboring state was attempting to annex Laurentum. Thus, it seems to me that the key to this treaty was that each group was in a position to help the other and to help itself by joining with the other.

Alternate Traditions Regarding First Contact: Parley vs. Battle

Mr. Livy says that there were two traditions regarding the initial contact between the Trojans and Aborigines. One, which he describes in some detail, starts with Latinus asking and Aeneas answering questions about who the strangers are and what they want, and continues with a discussion between them leading to a treaty. The other he recites dutifully in a single sentence: that battle was joined, that the Trojans won, and that the defeated Latinus then negotiated a treaty with Aeneas. In both cases, a treaty resulted from the meeting, the peoples united, and the union was sealed in a stereotypically symbolic manner by the marriage of Aeneas with the daughter of Latinus.

In the latter case, we can assume that the history and current status of the refugees became known to the Aborigines after the battle. So the only real difference in the latter version is that there was a battle which the Trojans won. This kind of beginning would place an extra burden on the task of creating a single nation, beyond the normal difficulties noted below. On each side there would be mourning for those who had been killed, and survivors recovering from and living with injuries received in the battle. And the Aborigines would have a lot more resentment.

This alternate version is not impossible, but it would make the subsequent events much more remarkable. I will ignore it just as Mr. Livy does after dutifully mentioning its existence.

E Duobus Unum

To make sense of the treaty between Aeneas and Latinus, we need to acknowledge the difficulty of merging two ethnic groups, initially complete strangers to each other and probably speaking different languages, into a single nation. The situation contains plenty of opportunity for resentment, rivalry, misunderstanding, xenophobia, bigotry, and all the other problems of mixing together people of different cultures.

These two populations appear to have been of equivalent size. One tradition reports that the Trojans were numerous enough and militarily capable enough to defeat the Aborgines in a battle on equal footing. The other suggests comparable armies arrayed for a battle. Therefore, this was not a case where a large nation took in a relatively tiny number of refugees, which would be of little economic impact.

The difficulty was ameliorated to some extent by the fact that the Trojans built their own separate town, reducing the amount of day-to-day contact in the early stages, The new town was presumably far enough from the existing town to be surrounded by previously uncultivated land where the newcomers could plant their own crops. Once those farms began producing, the Trojans would be self-sustaining and would contribute to the joint economy on an equal footing. But there would have been a transition period when they were dependent on (and a significant burden to) the Aborigines.

In the next chapter, Mr. Livy mentions some of the policies that the leaders used to encourage individuals of both groups to regard the new polity as a single nation. From top to bottom these people knew how serious this was, knew that a failure could lead to bloody consequences. This kind of merger is not likely to be attempted nor to succeed unless both populations have strong motivations for its success. We know the Trojans’ motivation but must infer the Aborigines motivation from subsequent events.

The Trojans’ Behavior

Mr. Livy tells us nothing about the Trojans’ goals or strategy, other than looking for a place to build a town and live their lives. Oh, and those divine words that were guiding Aeneas “to bigger historical beginnings”. It is fruitless to speculate about their plan and expectations for the cattle-rustling raid that began this encounter; but we can note some of their conduct which may have had a positive influence on the outcome.

The Trojans did not attack any persons nor did they approach the Aborgines’ town. Either of these behaviors would have greatly increased the distrust felt by the Aborigines; or rather, abstaining from these behaviors allowed the natural distrust of thieving strangers to abate somewhat. Thus, in reaching an agreement, the Aborigines only had to forgive the newcomers, now recognized as hungry and desperate refugees, for the attempted theft of some food, not for any more serious transgressions.

Mr. Livy refers to drawn up battle lines standing face-to-face. When it became clear that they could not get back on their ships in time to avoid a confrontation with the Aborigines, apparently the Trojans organized themselves for battle in an orderly and disciplined way, and apparently waited to see what would happen, as they were, apparently, “prepared for either war or peace”. This might mean nothing, but might be different from the behavior of ordinary pirates.

A Peek at the Next Chapter

Although Mr. Livy does not mention the local political landscape until the next chapter, it is certain that Latinus was aware of it at the time the Trojan refugees landed on his shore. We ought to be aware of it, too, in trying to understand this event and the treaty that emerged.

Reading between the lines of the next chapter, it appears that Turnus, king of a neighboring people called Rutuli, was attempting to annex Laurentum and its people by means of diplomacy and marriage under a tacit threat of force.

Latinus’s Perspective

It does not seem likely, as Latinus responded to the alarm about thieves stealing cattle, that he thought that these marauders would be of benefit to Laurentum. But he would have been interested in every detail he could observe about them as a means of assessing how much of a threat they represented and as data in considering how to deal with them.

Besides their behavior mentioned above, he might have been able to notice (and yes, this is raw speculation) that the Trojans looked haggard, perhaps that some of their clothing was ragged. Possibly some Aborigines had been able to see and report that there were women and children on the strangers’ ships. Even the fact that they had undertaken a raid that they could not complete before a defense was mustered, thereby exposing themselves to attack, would have been a clue that these were not ordinary criminals.

These observations alone might have been enough to raise the question of whether the matter could be handled without the risk and injury of a battle. Any losses here would make the Aborigines that much more vulnerable to the Rutuli. Such considerations could initiate the conference that Mr. Livy describes between Latinus and Aeneas.

I do not think that simple admiration for the Trojans and their attitude, as Mr. Livy says, would have been enough to persuade Latinus to take them in as refugees. But in considering the implications of such an act, even briefly and fully expecting to turn them away, Latinus might have seen that the Trojans could also be useful to the Aborigines by increasing their population and their fighting strength, and improving their position with respect to the Rutuli.

This would be taking a risk since the Trojans could turn out to be scoundrels and could betray the Aborigines in various ways. But Latinus was balancing risks and attempting to judge whether his people would be better off united with the Trojans or merged with the Rutuli. It is only reasonable to suppose that Latinus told Aeneas all about the local political situation in the course of the treaty negotiations so that the Trojans would know just what the conditions in their new home would be. And it seems to me that, if the Rutuli were inimical enough to the Aborigines that the situation justified taking in strangers as allies, then they were even more inimical to the Trojans; and this factor in turn would mitigate the risk to the Aborigines by creating an even greater incentive for the Trojans to keep their part of the deal.


Beautiful as it might be to imagine the Aborigines taking in the Trojans just out of sympathy for their plight and because the Trojans were admirable people, I think that the success of their treaty was based more on mutual benefit and mutual appreciation. We do not, however, have enough information in this chapter to investigate this in detail.

Copyright 2009 Verbifex


Written by Verbifex

2009 July 13 at 00:55 +00:00

[AUC 001-01, part 2]: Preventing Invasions and War

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[These remarks refer to Book 1 Chapter 1 of Livy’s history of Rome, Ab Urbe Condita.]

It is not apparent why the Trojan survivors and the Eneti, their allies, could not continue to live in the region where Troy had stood, building a new (obviously much smaller) city. The Achaeans did not remain there after they destroyed the city; they had not come for the purpose of occupying the land. But Mr. Livy says that some surviving Trojans sought refuge elsewhere and, since doing so seems harder and more dangerous than just rebuilding their society in the same place, we have to accept that there was a good reason for it, some remaining hazard in the region of Troy that outweighed the privations and perils of wandering on the ocean looking for a new home.

Antenor and his followers (the Veneti, as Mr. Livy says they came to be called) invaded and stole the land of the Euganei, who were minding their own business in northern Italy and bothering nobody, certainly neither the Achaeans nor the Trojans. The Veneti group of refugees was not (presumably) composed of lawless individuals or criminals. In fact, Troy, as an ancient city, seems to fit the standard definition of a civilized people and (presuming again) had the usual laws of a successful state, whose citizens would not be accustomed to committing murder and armed robbery. Yet they did so here on a grand scale.

Of course, most historians and others who study events like this would not refer to the Veneti’s action as criminal, although a similar action on a smaller scale within a country would clearly be a crime. One reason for this is that historians and related professionals attempt to determine what happened and why without judging historical figures by modern values. For these essays, it is equally unnecessary to judge historical figures, but we can critically examine actions, attitudes, and policies in an effort to find insights which may influence our own behavior.

Another reason that historians do not call this event criminal may be that we generally regard these ancient cultures as less civilized than our own; and the people, therefore, not really accountable. I will argue that they really were not less civilized, although certainly many of their practices differ markedly from our own.

Just as we are more informed than the ancients were about scientific and technical matters, we also have the advantage of 3 more millennia of political science experiments (governments and revolutions, autocrats and legislatures) and administrative experience; plus, since Mr. Gutenberg anyway, better distribution and preservation of the records of the experiments and the reflections of observers. Technical knowledge has allowed the world population to increase and has provided economic and military resources the ancients could not imagine. We can bring all this knowledge, wealth, and technical power to bear on statecraft in ways that were simply not available to the Veneti and their contemporaries.

But although we may now have the technical ability to prevent injustices like the Veneti’s invasion of the Euganei’s land, it will be a long time before we have the political ability to do so. As in health, prevention is the key: there is no real cure for a population placed in dire straits, or driven from its land; nor for genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other related political diseases. The political requirement for prevention of these transgressions is a single worldwide civilization which all peoples have joined voluntarily because they recognize its value. This is not likely to occur for several more centuries, if ever.

A Functional Definition of “Civilization” for this Discussion

The word “civilization” has been used in a variety of ways. In this essay I concentrate on the colloquial notion that a “civilized person” recognizes and respects the rights of other persons, recognizes and fulfills some kinds of obligations toward other persons and society as a whole, expects most other persons to be “civilized” too, and regulates his or her personal actions accordingly. In this colloquial usage, “civilized” behavior is considered the norm and a “civilized” person’s behavior is expected to be the same towards all persons without exception so long as those other persons also are behaving in a “civilized” manner. Implicit in the notion is a recognition of the value of reciprocity: the belief that when everyone behaves in the “civilized” manner, certain benefits accrue to everyone which would not be available in the absence of “civilization”.

This differs from the standard definition in not relying in any way on the material possessions or method of living of the persons under consideration. Hunter-gatherers, owning only what they can carry and having no fixed abode, may be just as “civilized” under this definition as the most affluent residents of an industrial superpower. The key is the recognition of a system of mutual rights, obligations, and benefits.

The concept of “civilization” in this colloquial sense is the set of rights and obligations of “civilized persons”; together with recognition of the benefits which derive from their mutual action.

A “civilized polity” is a population (tribe, nation, etc.) composed of “civilized persons” acting with mutual respect and mutual obligations and enjoying the mutual benefits.

Some clarifications are in order. It is common for the word “civilization” to be used both for the concept, as I did here, and for a specific culture; e.g., Aztec Civilization. This may be because a culture that is regarded as a “civilization” is not always limited to a single polity; e.g., Western Civilization. Sometimes, for lack of a better word, I will call such a collection of polities a “civilized system”.

Some General Comments about Civilizations

I have defined “civilization” for this discussion without regard to wealth or living style because it seems to me that, in a functional sense, there are hardly any uncivilized populations anywhere on the planet. The exceptions might be those populaces that we call “failed states” although even there I think the failure is in organization, leadership, resources, and trust rather than a failure to understand the value of civilization.

In particular, it is a mistake to imagine that hunter-gatherer societies are composed of unruly, undisciplined, “savage” persons. Military organizations have a concept called “unit cohesion” which may be summed up by noting that the effectiveness of a unit requires that every member of that unit work with all the other members in a trustworthy and reliable manner in all circumstances. O. Henry describes a similar need for trust and reliability among partners and companions on the Western frontier in the 19th century. Some kind of “unit cohesion” is also needed by a nomadic cultural unit (clan, tribe, etc.). Its members live from hand to mouth on what they can reap from the landscape and are constantly vulnerable to natural forces, wild animals, and hostile or predatory humans of other groups. This polity has individuals with varying capacities as a result of age (from infants to senior citizens) and as a result of disabilities (congenital and due to injury or illness). In order to survive (let alone thrive) it requires a comprehensive set of rules regarding interpersonal behavior among the individuals and contribution to the needs of the people as a whole. Agriculture, cities, and other aspects of a “sedentary” lifestyle did not originate civilization; they simply required new sets of rules to accommodate new circumstances (and the use of writing provided a better record of these rules).

Societies big and small, rich and poor, all seem to have some organizing principle for trust and cooperation among individuals and groups internally, and for collective action of the whole population. The details of the rules, obligations, and benefits vary widely, however, from one polity to another.

Civilization’s Imperfections

In the definition above, and in the colloquial understanding of civilized behavior, there is no idea that uncivilized behavior would be proper toward persons from some particular country, or of some particular religion, or race, or whatever; but tacit exceptions of these sorts have been common in practice in many times and places. They indicate disruptions in the universality of the polity’s civilization: disagreements either real or perceived about the rules of the society.

And within a population there seems always to be a tacit exception that no duty of civilized behavior is required towards persons outside that population. But this exception generally has its own exceptions for neighboring polities and for allies.

These variations and inconsistencies arise from the fact that we have many local civilizations rather than a single universal civilization. And that results from the lack of resources available to early humans; only very small polities were possible until recently.

It is not necessary to speculate about the very first band of Homo Sapiens, about whether they inherited any traits of civilization from the hominids that went before them, nor how long language might have taken to develop, and so on. At some point communal organization and cooperation became established because these practices produced good results. But there were limits to the size and uniformity of early polities.

One practical limit on size is the difficulty of maintaining cohesion in a group larger than 150 individuals without formal institutions and procedures. As the size of each group reached the limit, the group would tend to split. Since these splits would not necessarily be rancorous, a civilized system could develop consisting of several such groups who maintained contact and commerce, and who might join together from time to time in specific projects. Another limit on size is the number of people who can live on a particular piece of land, which is very low if they are living only on what they can find there naturally. This would require the groups to disperse over a larger and larger area as the population increased. Eventually contact among them all would become impossible, the details of their respective societies would diverge, and various practical matters would require a difference of treatment between members of a polity and outsiders.

The first practical limit to civilized treatment of neighbors for an early society would be lack of resources. Living themselves from hand to mouth and limited in number, there would be a limit to their ability to help a neighboring polity which fell on hard times or was attacked by others, however sympathetic they might be. The effort expended in such cases would depend also on the degree of affinity between the polities.

The second practical limit to civilized treatment of neighbors for an early society is the difficulty of knowing whether a stranger can be trusted. In fact, some entire societies derived at least some of their livelihood by stealing from other groups, by kidnapping, enslaving, and other activities which modern states regard as crimes.

Thus, there would develop a patchwork of many tiny civilizations and possibly a few small civilized systems. In each of these, the lack of resources and the uncertainty regarding the behavior of foreigners would lead to a tacit understanding that civilized behavior was required only toward fellow citizens. This notion persists today.

Agrarian Civilized Systems

Agriculture brought a new way of life: larger populations, fixed in place and living in close proximity. It required new cohesive mechanisms to augment the familial loyalty and interpersonal affinity that hold smaller groups together: formal authority, explicit laws regarding behavior and property, law enforcement, judicial procedures; all the familiar societal details which scholars living in such societies have mistaken for civilization itself. Again it is not necessary to speculate about how much time was necessary for all these matters to be worked out; indeed, some work continues to be done even now.

Just as there was continued success in regulating domestic order, civilization’s imperfections in foreign relations continued under the new paradigm. These were still mostly very small states with limited resources and a limited ability to help each other. Communications were slow and a community could be wiped out before its neighboring friends and allies even knew it was under attack. States from time to time invaded other states. Sometimes the purpose was to take land for an expanding population. Sometimes the purpose was only to take personal property that could be transported back to the invaders’ home territory to enrich the invaders. Sometimes a king just wanted to rule over more people or more territory. In the last two millennia, religion and race have been added to power and economics as purported reasons that foreigners (or, indeed, even fellow citizens) may not be entitled to civilized treatment. Add to these the hubris of Menelaus in the Trojan War and the desperation of the Veneti.

Larger Civilized Systems

Since the time of the Trojan War there has been a steady trend toward larger and larger civilized aggregations. Most of these aggregations were the result of the ambition of specific individual rulers who used the power of their states to annex adjacent regions. A few were formed by voluntary unions for the purpose of mutual protection externally and peace and order within. These aggregations enjoyed varying degrees of success. The very large aggregates (empires) often disintegrated after the death of the founding ruler, or after a few generations of his heirs, because the aggregated polities had little or nothing in common. Even the attempts to use religion as the primary cohesive force for large aggregations failed to achieve lasting civilized systems. Smaller aggregations of similar or closely related polities, however, coalesced over time into most of the modern nations.

In every case, the pattern persists: civilized behavior is required within the nation (among citizens), but is optional for the nation as a whole in foreign relations. We need only look at the history of recent centuries to see this.

Naturally, some nations are better in this respect than others. But even the nation we consider the most enlightened and well-run (our own, of course), sometimes asserts for itself the right to ignore international law and even to violate its own law in dealing with foreigners.

In Search of a Solution

Until recently, there was no mechanism at all to address this problem because there was no one with both the authority and the resources to intervene.

I speculated in discussing the Preface that the Romans may have taken control of the region, at least in part, in an attempt to achieve national security; especially to avoid invasion of Rome specifically and Italy in general. This also would include maintaining conditions conducive to trade and therefore, inter alia, suppressing wars and the kind of violent migration under discussion here. (See, for example, the matter of the Helvetii in Book 1 of Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War.) But that policy was unilateral and mixed with the pursuit of Rome’s own interests; it may have created as many problems as it solved. Certainly the other nations never granted Rome any formal authority to perform this role.

In fact, no nation can realistically have authority over any other nation; the one will misuse the authority and the other will resent it. The only restraint that can make any difference is the restraint of peers. It is not acceptable to attack another member of one’s own civilized system and other members have authority to intervene as peers of both parties. To avoid the transgressions we are discussing, there must be no population which may be considered outside the civilized system; in short, there must be a single worldwide civilization.

Technology and increased world population have made possible some serious attempts to mitigate the problem. Whenever one of these events occurs, it is known to the world almost as soon as it begins, which allows some opportunity for quick intervention. Modern nations, by treaty, have created international agencies (e.g., the United Nations and regional alliances) to attempt to deal with these problems and the conditions that lead to them; and have provided some resources to support interventions. But the treaties under which these international agencies operate are not anywhere close to union or confederation agreements. They are a first step that can only be described as “better than nothing”.

The solution will take time and can not be hurried. A certain minimal uniformity of attitude toward civil rights and civil liberties is required in a civilized system. If changes are necessary before a polity can reasonably join a larger system, those changes can occur only when the individuals of the society recognize the value of new attitudes; and social changes proceed very slowly and are resisted at every step. Here the process will be even slower because attitudes toward foreigners will have to be adjusted in many countries and trust will have to be built in many places where mistrust is now the rule. It is likely that regional solutions will develop first and at different rates; demonstrable success in one area may help accelerate acceptance elsewhere.

One experiment of this kind has been in progress for nearly 60 years in Europe. After the region had been wrecked by major war twice in less than 50 years, a few nations entered into some modest international economic agreements intended to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible”. Early success led to expanded economic agreements, and these over the decades led to treaties of wider scope and more member nations. The latest organization in this series is the European Union. It is important that this process has been entirely voluntary and democratic at every step, with voting and referenda on every expansion, and everyone has been very careful to get the details right. This process, just getting started really, has already been more successful for a longer time than either Alexander or Napoleon.

I suggest that the rest of the world is watching and will see the value of this kind of cooperation, that more such regional unions will appear, and that eventually there will be a really united world. But none of us will see it. All those folks who talk about making a better world for their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren should pay attention. This is it.

Copyright 2009 Verbifex


Written by Verbifex

2009 May 21 at 07:38 +00:00