Imperial Rule

By Alexei Miller; Alfred J. Rieber | Go to book overview

The Comparative Ecology
of Complex Frontiers

ALFRED J. RIEBER

The advance and defense of frontiers has always played a central role in the destiny of continental, Eurasian conquest empires. Frontier maintenance absorbed large resources, influenced the evolution of imperial ideologies and institutions and largely defined relations with the external world. Attempts to consolidate and incorporate frontiers into the imperial body politic left a tripartite legacy to both the peoples and the nation states that emerged following the retreat and collapse of the Eurasian Empires during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The first legacy was a tradition of violence and instability that characterized the histories of the frontiers along the peripheries of both the old empires and the successor states. A second legacy was the [great nation] complex. Successor states particularly in Eastern Europe expressed vague aspirations occasionally embedded in concrete policies aimed at reestablishing historic boundaries irrespective of ethnic identities or else incorporating all members of their nationality however widely dispersed among other states. Either way they reproduced some of the same internal tensions of the defunct empires. A third legacy was the syndrome of the divided nation. The breakup of empires did not lead to redrawing their boundaries along national lines. The Ukrainian, Armenian, Kurdish, Azeri, Uighur and Mongol peoples, to name the most prominent, remained divided as they had been under imperial rule. In short the end of Eurasian Empires did not solve the problems of advancing, fixing and defending frontiers throughout the region. It is not surprising then that in the twentieth century both world wars and a number of smaller ones (RussoJapanese, two Balkan Wars,Yugoslav war) had their immediate origins in the competition over the geo-cultural space along the margin of the multicultural empires of Eurasia and the successor states that emerged from their dissolution.

This chapter seeks to reassess the role of Eurasian frontiers in the rise and fall of empires as a means of reinterpreting two major interpretive schemes. The first is a clutch of myths about the unique expansionist and messianic character of certain imperial traditions. The second is the concept of [clash of civilizations.]1

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