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This introduction chapter summarizes the other chapters in the two parts of the book. It describes some of the main themes of each chapter and makes comparisons among them. As a sub-discipline of the modern history discipline, world history is surprisingly new. World historians have worked particularly hard to escape the Eurocentrism of so much earlier historical scholarship. The Paleolithic history of the African species is coming into sharper focus, and that makes it more important to integrate Paleolithic history more fully within modern world history scholarship, teaching, and research. The migratory pulses were also shaped by the ancestors' technological creativity and by the slow accumulation of new techniques and new ecological and social understanding, so that, despite the checks and reversals, the ancestors eventually occupied environments ranging from tropical forests to the tundras of Siberia and North America. These Paleolithic movements laid the foundations for everything that would follow in the Holocene history of the species.
Metals, Culture and Capitalism is an ambitious, broad-ranging account of the search for metals in Europe and the Near East from the Bronze Age to the Industrial Revolution and the relationship between this and economic activity, socio-political structures and the development of capitalism. Continuing his criticism of Eurocentric traditions, a theme explored in The Theft of History (2007) and Renaissances (2009), Jack Goody takes the Bronze Age as a starting point for a balanced account of the East and the West, seeking commonalities that recent histories overlook. Considering the role of metals in relation to early cultures, the European Renaissance and 'modernity' in general, Goody explores how the search for metals entailed other forms of knowledge, as well as the arts, leading to changes that have defined Europe and the contemporary world. This landmark text, spanning centuries, cultures and continents, promises to inspire scholars and students across the social sciences.
The departure of the Roman state in the west brought ‘desolation to metallurgy as well as to most of the cultural activities of our continent’. ‘With the final departure of the Romans in the fourth century evidence of most forms of economic and social activity ceased’. The ‘barbarians’ had taken over much of the Empire and the Goths now ruled over Noricum, ‘the nursery of the iron industries of the continent’. But these barbarians were metallurgically ‘inept and jejune’ claims Aitchison in his comprehensive history on the subject in the west. While large-scale mining suffered for some centuries, iron obviously continued to be produced locally and fine metal work was even made, especially in Kent. However, the author tends to play down the contribution that these ‘barbarians’ made to the use of metals. The mines in Spain were certainly closed under the Visigoths and the Roman state that ran them disappeared from view. The inhabitants now had no metal to send eastwards to exchange for oriental luxuries. But despite the hiatus we should not discount all ‘barbarian’ activity. It was not just the ‘decline’ in the Roman army that brought about their prevalence, but the strength of these enemies who were, independently, workers in iron and steel, and had an efficient weaponry, concentrating more on offence than defence. It was the Romans who were ‘static’ in terms of frontier defences, as in Britain, a system that employed permanent forces stationed in one place and at great expense.
At a certain point in Antiquity the eastern Mediterranean suffered a series of disturbances that accompanied the diminishing use of bronze, perhaps because of difficulties in importing tin. That resulted in the greater prominence of iron as an alternative, for this was locally available. It is generally thought that iron was known as a workable metal during most of the Bronze Age. In its natural state it was widely available on the earth’s surface, of which its ores make up 5 per cent of the total, and as its acquisition seldom involved deep mining it could be easily recovered. Nevertheless it required labour-intensive methods to process and to begin with it was therefore costly. Iron is somewhat different from the other metals. Although it is widespread, in the west the ‘bloom’ could only be worked by smithying to give wrought iron, while in China, which had wrought iron about 800–600 bce, the history was different and higher heats were possible so iron ore could eventually be made liquid and cast, leaving its slag free. Pure iron has a melting point of 1540 degrees Centigrade (higher than copper at 1083 degrees) and in Europe this temperature could only be obtained in the Middle Ages or even on a large scale in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. So early iron in the west had to be produced by partial reduction at about 1200 degrees with the aid of charcoal. At this heat iron ore yields not a puddle but a spongy mass (a ‘bloom’) mixed with slag. This is what the blacksmith has to work with, making iron articles by heating and hammering the product to get rid of the unwanted impurities. The result was a ‘poor substitute’ for bronze, especially as it was brittle in its normal state. What changed the situation and led to a greatly increased use was the creation of a carburised form, in which bloom iron was treated to make it harder, not only by carburisation but by quenching and tempering. All of these processes seem to have been discovered on the spot by blacksmiths working with the actual metal. It was only in the carburised form of steel made with added charcoal that the metal had distinct advantages over copper. Carburisation lowered the melting point of pure iron but it needed the addition of lime to clear the slag.
The Near East was the kernel of the Age of Metals but itself had few of these and other materials such as wood and sometimes even stone for building. For these it had to search and exchange among ‘barbarians’, thus changing the nature of these societies. I have looked at the eastwards search and the transmission or creation of the Bronze Age in the Indus and Yellow River valleys. But of immense significance was the search eastwards to the Lebanon for wood and to Cyprus and eventually Europe itself for copper.
So, in the Bronze Age, it was not simply a matter of collecting the precious ones, gold and silver, as ‘decorative’ or monetary items, but of locating deposits of working metals and of bringing them back in mass. As with the Egyptian imports of the cedars of Lebanon or the Mesopotamian acquisition of teak from India, this usually required shipment by sea in boats that could take the heavy weights, which meant the construction of larger and more solid craft, and acted as a spur to invention. In the eastern Mediterranean the development of sea-faring occurred in many communities and the transport and exchange of commodities resulted in the establishment of trading posts and even colonies, such as the Indian one on the island of Socotra, or the settlements of the Carthaginians throughout the Mediterranean. Much later, after the Middle Ages, we have the fondaco of the Turks at Venice, that of the Venetians in Constantinople, or of the northern Europeans on the west coast of Africa. These were essentially establishments where large quantities of goods were brought down to ports of trade from which bulk transport was readily available, and where the exchange was not simply the ‘silent trade of the Moors’ but required some degree of local organisation. Carrying-trade of this kind involved transporting large cargoes of metals (or indeed other large-scale items such as slaves from West Africa, cowries from the Maldives and cloth from India) led to the founding of ‘factories’ by local ‘agreement’, although in many cases these factories were followed by the creation of colonies by military intervention, as at Carthage or in West Africa.
In an article of 1981, Christian Bromberger explains that western metallurgists only discovered the nature of ‘oriental steel’ at the beginning of the nineteenth century, although they had known and used it since Roman times. This steel was known as ‘Damascene’, possibly so called after the town with a flourishing manufacture of armaments; however the steel may in fact have been named after the patterning of damask cloth. In Arabic it was known as al-hindi, as the recipe originally came to the Near East from India, around Hyderabad, and from Transoxiana in Persia. The steel was made in India, even before the Christian era. Some iron for this purpose was imported from Sofala, in south-east Africa and the finished product was sent not only to the Near East but also it is claimed to China (though the process was also carried out there, from whence it may possibly have come). In fact it appears that in East Africa the Haya did invent a type of high-heat blast furnace which allowed them to forge carbon steel at 1,802˚ C nearly 2000 years ago. Such partial results were always possible in the experimentation of smiths. Moreover, the reach of metallurgy extended well beyond that of a particular ‘society’ or ‘culture’. Even Rome had imported Indian steel. In the east, the disks were often made up into blades, later into curved ones, for the sabre which was made to cut whereas the western sword was largely a weapon of penetration. These different weapons were associated not only with different steels and modes of manufacture but with different ways of fighting. The sabre was, for example, used in cavalry warfare, the sword mainly on foot.
The search for metals and other products went on of course not only in the Mediterranean to the west but also to the east, to the hill country of the Zagros mountains and of the Persian plateau along the route that led to India and to China. Despite the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west, in the latter countries iron-working flourished. Like the ‘barbarians’ in the west, the inhabitants, especially the Persians, proved to be the conquerors and to some extent the successors of the Mesopotamian civilisation of the valleys.
The development of those regimes, where bronze metallurgy had begun, is instructive. The Iron Age ‘started’ in the east about 1300 bce marked by major disturbances in the region and the appearance of the Medes in the Zagros mountains on the Iranian plateau. These were people who had also acquired the techniques of metal-working from the settled urban communities but were largely dependent upon a pastoral economy and consequently could raise a mobile military force. Indeed these Indo-European-speaking horsemen became dominant in the politics of the region. The Zagros mountains were of course a place where early domestication had taken place. The whole area became one that challenged Mesopotamian hegemony, and would both attack others and defend itself. It was there that various groups emerged, not only the Medes and the Scythians but also the Achaemenians, that is, the dynasty founded by Cyrus in about 550 bce and that in 331 bce was conquered by Alexander of Macedon, another great Iron Age general. He in turn founded his own dynasty, the Seleucids, which was followed by the Parthians and then by the Sasanians (c. 224–651 ce), both of whom controlled the western Silk Road, just as Alexander had fought his way to Bactria in Central Eurasia, which communicated with China, and from there entered the north of India, attempting to return via Baluchistan.
Although the proximate impetus for this book came from students from the east, some wearing their veils, I have always wanted to pursue the story of the Bronze Age in more recent times, perhaps ever since I was in the ‘Middle East’ during the Second World War and ‘discovered’ civilisations in Asia that existed much earlier than my own. The Bronze Age meant the development of urban life, not only of the metal plough and the spear, the sword and the axe but of writing, with a complete shift in the mode of communication. If this was not the beginning of scientific and cultural life, at least it gave those activities a great spur and eventually pointed the way to the modern world; if it was not the beginning of artistic activity, it represented the birthplace of many of those forms that we value today. In talking of the role of metals in this Bronze Age, I have never wanted to exclude the more ‘spiritual’ aspects of culture, so important for an anthropologist. But on the other hand I have never accepted a complete gap between the two. Libraries proceeded from writing; in Mesopotamia writing was at first developed for accounting. Our division between the material and the spiritual has always seemed to me a crude and primitive distinction related to that between the soul and the body which I had considered at some length when writing on LoDagaa funerary practices. There appeared to be little firm basis for this widespread dichotomy. The Bronze Age that was the effective beginning of the Age of Metals also produced the golden treasures of Ur.
At a similar level of abstraction, magic and science (or technology) have always been intertwined for me as with the Oceanic fishermen discussed by Malinowski, as with the Alchemists of the Islamic, European and indeed Chinese ‘Middle Ages’, as with Newton himself and perhaps even with Joseph Needham. It is true that with the later separation of these aspects, the advance of knowledge of the world proceeded more rapidly, but in the minds of most they are still intertwined. Nevertheless the long-term development of mankind did involve a certain separation, as it did with the arts and sciences. But earlier, among the LoDagaa, there was little discrimination between these activities, between powder for a gun and ‘medicine’ from a shrine.
In the earlier days of the Bronze Age one of the main reasons for interchange in trade or war was the search for metals. For while the river valleys of the Near East provided a perfect environment for intensive agriculture, and saw the first development of urban civilisation, it was not at all well endowed with the metals it needed, nor even with wood and stone. It was a Bronze Age without bronze. The essential copper and its alloy had to be sought elsewhere, in Oman, in Kandahar, in Pakistan, in Sinai, in Cyprus, in Spain and in Britain. The metals were to be found outside the confines of these valley societies, mainly in more hilly surroundings. In this way aspects of wider Bronze Age culture, ‘the culture of cities’, were spread throughout the region and elsewhere, as was also later the case in the Iron Age that originated in the hills of Anatolia.
Thus the search for metals did not occur so much within the Bronze Age communities themselves but meant travelling into the territory of ‘barbarian’ societies. To do that meant not simply locating the metals but often having to process them on the spot, or even to delve underground to dig them out. Some of this involved fox-holes, in other cases something more profound. Deep mining entailed the introduction of special methods, even the development of pumps, the use of the wheel, the installation of hauling equipment. Part of this technology of early civilisations was transferred to the Neolithic population who produced the ore; in particular this population learnt how to utilise the metals in warfare but also in peace, so that they were able to defend themselves against the power of the states and even to take the offensive by equipping themselves with the metal weaponry as well as by using their own innovations to achieve higher production. This process of the use and production of metals was occurring continuously on the boundaries of settled urban communities, leading not only to a spread of aspects of that ‘civilisation’ but subsequently to the very defeat of some of the centralised states by the ‘barbarians’ using their own weapons against them.
Although the early stages of mankind are defined by the materials from which tools and other objects are made (stone, copper and its alloy, bronze, and iron), all derived from the earth’s surface, we do not always think sufficiently about the effects that these materials have had on human life, especially metals in their distribution and in the technology of their production, let alone in their uses. We speak of the Bronze Age which arose fully around 3000 bce without giving sufficient thought to where that material came from – there was little enough metal on the riverain sites of the Near East where the ‘age’ originated. Nor do we think that, in speaking of the Iron Age, it was not the discovery of iron, which was known long before, but its widespread use by the Hittites and urban societies of Crete, Greece and Rome that marked the beginning of its effective influence. And even then there was all the difference between the simple iron-making found earlier on and which diffused throughout Africa, and that which developed in Eurasia, especially in India, in China and later on in modern Europe.
The Bronze Age in most cases was preceded by the Chalcolithic, the Copper Age, which used the same metal but mostly in its ‘raw’ state, often without any casting, but worked by hammering. The question of the origins of metallurgy in the Old World (see Appendix 1) has been much discussed and a recent study concludes that this began around the eleventh to ninth millennium bce in South West Asia due to ‘a desire to adorn the human body . . . using colourful ores and naturally-occurring metals’. That may well be the case; experimentation with coloured stones was certainly important. But what is more important for human history is the deliberate use, the casting or manufacturing of metal tools and weapons, which had so many implications for the creation of complex cultures. That aspect seems more closely linked to the use of kilns for pottery and eventually to the control of fire. Not that beads were without such implications but if they could be said to have ‘developed’ at all, it was not in the same way or with such important results for the human race.