Warfare and Society: Archaeological and Social Anthropological Perspectives

By Ton Otto; Henrik Thrane et al. | Go to book overview

8 Warfare and pre-State Societies:
An Introduction

HELLE VANDKILDE

This section concerns warfare in non-state or pre-state societies. In our own part of the world social entities without central power no longer exist. To find them we have to reach far back into the prehistory of Europe or to consult ethnographic descriptions of tribal populations outside Europe even today not entirely subordinated to a state power. European prehistory represents excellent research ground for the study of warfare in non-centralised societies outside the sphere of influence of states and, later still, under various forms of impact from such centralised units.

For thousands of years de-centrality was a dominant social principle in Europe and remained so even after the formation of states in certain core regions: around 2000 BC the first state societies emerged in the eastern Mediterranean. Further north, in central Europe and the Balkans, there were attempts to monopolise power early on, but it is not until the 7th and 6th centuries BC – under the influence from Mediterranean city-states – that these efforts turned out more successful. In northern Europe, by comparison, state formation is a late phenomenon; a prolonged process of emulation connected to the expansion and politics of the Roman Empire. Turning to the ethnohistorical and ethnographic record, few, if any of the tribal societies we know of, have maintained themselves independently of the modern world system, and this particular context should be taken into account when assessing their relationship to war.


Research and stereotypic pre-understandings

To venture into the subject of warfare among tribes is intriguing, not least, due to the mythical constructions associated over the years with these societies. The difficulties scholars are facing in avoiding these stereotypic pre-understandings are obvious when looking at the history of archaeological and anthropological research into the subject of warfare and society: we have tended to classify tribal

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