The Aristocratic Warlike Ethos of Indo-Europeans and the Primordial Origins of Western Civilization - Part Two1

Article excerpt

Western civilization has been the single most war-ridden, wardominated, and militaristic civilization in all human history.

Robert Nisbet

[Mycenaean] society was not the society of a sacred city, but that afa military aristocracy. It is the heroic society of the Homeric epic, and in Homer's world there is no room for citizen or priest or merchant, but only for the knight and his retainers, for the nobles and the Zeus born kings, 'the sackers of cities. '

Christopher Dawson

[T]he Greek knows the artist only in personal struggle... What, for example, is of particular importance in Plato's dialogues is mostly the result of a contest with the art of orators, the Sophists, the dramatists of his time, invented for the purpose of his finally being able to say: 'Look: I, too, can do what my great rivals can do; yes, I can do it better than them. No Protagoras has written myths as beautiful as mine. No dramatist has written such a lively and fascinating whole as the Symposium, no orator has composed such speeches as I present in the Gorgias - and now I reject all of that and condemn all imitative art! Only competition made me a poet, sophist and orator!'

Friedrich Nietzsche

IV. Chariots, Mycenaeans, and Aristocratic Berserkers

Scholars - as I argued in Part One - have tended to underestimate the legacy of the origin and diffusion of IndoEuropean (IE) speakers. Mallory says that, as far as "concrete legacies" of the Indo-Europeans go, "the best claim is that of horse domestication."2 He thinks that the horse-drawn chariot cannot be regarded exclusively as an IE invention, because it was possibly invented independently in the Near East at about the same time. By the seventeenth century, in any case, chariot warfare was widespread from northern Anatolia down to the Nubian lands below Egypt. Mallory minimizes even the significance of horse domestication in his observation that horses were visible in the Near East from the second millennium BC onwards.3

Drews, for his part, does not think that the domestication of the horse per se was the most distinctive feature of Proto-IndoEuropean society. While he notes that "by the end of the third millennium the riding of horses was apparently a common phenomenon on the open steppes," in contrast to the fact that horses were "rare... in the Near East... in the third millennia," he nevertheless insists that the distinctive legacy of PIE speakers was "the development of chariot warfare."4 He says that the chariot was most likely pioneered and perfected in Armenia (or eastern Anatolia) soon after 2000 BC, adding that this region was "far more likely" the Indo-European homeland rather than the Pontic steppes. It was "mastery of chariot warfare" that led to successful takeovers in the Near East by IE speakers in the middle of the second millennium.5

It is unclear why Drews needs to insist that Armenia was the IE homeland simply because this may have been the location where chariots for warfare were first created. Drews's preoccupation with linking the coming of the Mycenaeans into Greece (in the 1600s BC) with charioteering peoples leads him to dismiss as "historically insignificant" the pastoral movements of IE speakers before the second millennium. He rejects the claim that horse-riding was a peculiar IE ethnic marker on the grounds that, by the end of the third millennium, the domesticated horse was quite common from central Europe to central Asia.6

He does not consider the possibility that the horse might have been common in central Europe (they were in fact not common in the Near East until after 1800 BC) due to the diffusion of PIE speakers into this region. Be that as it may, non-IE speakers, as Drews tells us, were soon using chariots in such military undertakings as the Hyksos, who established command over northern Egypt in the seventeenth century, and the Kassite-speakers who took over much of southern Mesopotamia soon after 1600 BC. …