Dateline 2010: the world-historical situation

In the twilight century of western civilisation, the US, the last resting place of western power, has as its primary purpose the containment of rising China. China has as its primary purpose to put the world 'back to rights'. It is playing a waiting game, and is anxious not to jump the gun.

Dark Age Watch (DAW on hold.)

Issue du jour 1: War with Iran--important to containing China but delayed over two years

Issue du jour 2: The world economy--unbalanced, interwoven, delusional--some predict its unravelling

Issue du jour 3: Somalia--leading the world into a dark age

Issue du jour 4: Pirates exploit the decline of international order

Sunday, 2 March 2008

The Mediterranean and development

I will now discuss the pattern of world development with respect to the model introduced in my last post. You can use the program supplied in that post to reproduce the following discussion and experiment for yourself.

Set up a simple model of the Mediterranean region as shown below.

This uses the default terrain types, representing land, river, coast and sea, as well as the surrounding ocean.

The layout depicts the Mediterranean sea, surrounded by Europe, Asia and North Africa. The regions bordering the sea are designated as coast. The Nile and Tigris-Euphrates river valleys are also represented. However, the main body of Africa is not included, leaving North Africa and the Nile valley as an isolated strip. This represents North Africa being isolated from the rest of the continent by the Sahara desert. (One could include some 'desert' terrain to represent this, but it is easier just to leave the southerly regions as impassable 'ocean'.)

See the diagram below, with red labels showing the terrain types, and white labels showing the geography.

The aim of this experiment is to demonstrate two aspects of historical development:

1. The Nile valley benefited from both its central location and the ease of movement afforded by the river.
2. As (marine) technology improved, the advantage shifted from the river valleys to the regions bordering the sea, especially the Italian peninsula sticking out into the middle of the sea.

We need to make sure the various terrain types have the appropriate properties of habitability and traversibility. The ones we will use are supplied as the default values in the program.

Land, river and coast are assumed to have the same habitabilities. The only difference between them is that coast and river have traversibilities that are respectively 20 and 40 percent higher than that of land. Sea has a habitability of zero, and initially a traversibility of zero. However, when technology reaches a high enough value, the traversibility of sea switches to a value much higher than that of land. The traversibilities (and habitabilities) of land/river/coast do not change at all with technology. This reflects the notion that, over the period we are interested in, roughly 3000 BC to 1 BC, although movement on land improved somewhat, the really significant change was the opening up of sea transport.

Having set up the topography as above, click the button to populate all regions.

Check the Verbose box, to get a display of the status of each region (you may need to move the land to the middle of the map display, so you can see it in verbose mode).

Press Step, to calculate the scale of each region. Compare 'Italy' with the 'Nile delta' (the region of river adjacent to the 'Mediterranean'). You should find that the Nile delta has a higher scale and consequently higher potential technology than Italy (specifically, 0.41 for the Nile delta, 0.142 for Italy, see below).

Now press the Run button and allow the simulation to run till the values for each region have pretty much stopped changing. You should find that Italy has overtaken the Nile delta (potential technologies of 1.739 for Italy, 1.489 for the delta, with both regions probably having reached their potential). The diagram below shows how the development levels of the different regions (Italy, Egypt, Mesopotamia [i.e. Tigris-Euphrates], Levant [i.e. coastal strip at east end of Mediterranean]) change during the run.

Obviously, this model is very crude in terms of the values assumed and the way we have laid out the topography. However, it demonstrates the basic points referred to above: that, with respect to development, Egypt had an initially favoured position and that this advantage shifted elsewhere as technological growth changed the sea from an insulator to a conductor of human interaction.

What happens in the simulation is that, as technology grows (in Egypt and elsewhere), it passes the level that opens the sea up to marine transport. At this point, the regions bordering the Mediterranean receive a boost in scale and in technological potential. For Italy, being surrounded by sea was previously a disadvantage but now becomes an advantage.

If you want to follow the detailed steps by which this change comes about, pause the simulation, click on Clear Population then Populate All again, and just press Step repeatedly.

  • You may like to create more realistic representations of world topography, including additional terrain types, and experiment with different values for traversibility and habitability.
  • You could also extend this simulation to model the later shift of advantage from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic rim, once technology growth opened up the ocean.

Italy is not the only land sticking out into the Mediterranean. Greece also does so, and the development of civilisation there preceded that on the Italian peninsula. This reflects its greater proximity to the original centres of civilisation in the near east. See the map below.

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