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 "A History of the Ancient World With Much to Be Desired",
a review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star, xxxx 1965,
of a book:
HISTORY OF MANKIND: Cultural and Scientific Development.
Volume II: The Ancient World, 1200 BC to 500
by Luigi Pareti, assisted by Paolo Brezzi and Luciano Petech.
New York: Harper and Row, 1965



"A History of the Ancient World With Much to Be Desired"


HISTORY OF MANKIND: Cultural and Scientific Development.
Volume II: The Ancient World, 1200 BC to 500.
By Luigi Pareti, assisted by Paolo Brezzi and Luciano Petech.
Harper & Row (for UNESCO). 1,048 pages. $15.50.


   This book is a disaster. It should serve as a solemn warning against those who believe that the National Science Foundation (which has $530 million in public funds this year to sponsor the natural sciences) should be supplemented by similar foundations to sponsor the social sciences and the humanities. This is volume II of the six volume "History of Mankind" sponsored by UNESCO since 1946, under the guiding supervision of an impressive commission of experts, with numerous drafts and rewritings reflecting the critiques of its expert consultants. The result is unbelievably bad. And in the United States these are probably the same experts who would advise on the expenditure of public funds if we had a national foundation to sponsor history. Of course, in this case, I am sure, the experts' critiques were ignored by the authors, and their objections relegated to the notes at the end of each chapter, leaving the text itself as a tissue of errors, irrelevancies, omissions, and superficialities. But the expert must bear the responsibility for accepting the author in the first place.

   This volume falls into three parts, the whole period 1200 BC-AD 500 being divided at 500 BC and at the time of Christ. The author obviously sees no meaning in these divisions. He fails to see that the whole volume encompasses the period of Sub-Atlantic Climate in which the well-watered condition of the grasslands of Eurasia allowed the Classical Civilization of the Mediterranean to exist without the pressure of the intruding pastoral invaders who constantly threatened the area during the drier Sub-Boreal climate of 2500-1000 BC or the equally arid period of AD 200-1200. These drier periods with their consequent pastoral intrusions framed the Classical Civilization between two Dark Ages (about 900 BC and again about AD 900), in which political order, distant commerce, city life, a commercial middle class, and literacy were largely eclipsed, replaced by a rural, two-class, self-sufficient society of warriors and peasants.

Some Shortcomings

   None of this is recognized in this volume; it omits most significant developments, misunderstands most of the rest, and is filled with errors.

   We are told (p. 132) that early Greek ships had fixed rudders and wheels (fixed rudders came into the area in the Middle Ages from China, and the wheels are sun symbols on Greek Geometric vases which also show symbolic ships); that the Etruscans were the same people as the Swiss lake-dwellers of 2000 BC, and that they lived for centuries in the Po Valley before they crossed the Apennines into Etruria (the archaeological evidence shows that they moved in the opposite direction, from Etruria to the Po); that astrology was spread by "wandering Chandeans" (this is an obsolete nineteenth century idea) and that these invented the Zodiac "after the eighth century" (it goes back before 2000 BC and has nothing to do with Chaldeans); that Greek rationalism (logos) was “equivalent to” empirical science (it was a rejection of science, since it dispensed with sense observation); that Babylonian astronomy established theoretical laws (it was purely empirical, based on repetitive, and unexplained, observed sequence patterns); that slave labor reduced production costs, that Empedocles discovered that respiration takes place through pores of the skin; that Hurrians were the same people as the Mitanni (they were different in language, race, and culture); that Zoroaster "cannot be put later than 1000 BC"; that the Semitic languages used in the Near East in 1200-500 BC were "Acadian and Assyrian, though Aramaic was beginning to creep in" (this separates Acadian from its dialect Assyrian and leaves out the dominant Semitic language group of the period, the "Amurru," which included Amorite, Canaanite, Hebrew, Ugarit, Phoenician, Punic, and others); that the Roman consuls were originally not equal; that Sparta originally had one king and later had three (the evidence shows only two); that social disturbances in Greece, which threatened the landlord class, in the seventh century came from the commercial middle class; there was no such class at that time, the troubles were purely rural, and were possible because iron weapons were spreading to lower economic groups); and on and on, page after page.

More Confusions

   There are constant misidentifications and confusions. In chapter II, on languages and writing, names are thrown about without any realization that language, kinship (race), and culture are different groupings which must be distinguished. The Dorians are persistently identified with the earlier and quite different Achaeans and all the effects of the Dorian invasions are ignored, including the Greek Dark Ages, 1100-850 BC, and the destruction of the Mycenaean palaces is attributed to uprisings of local nobles, not to the Dorians. The development of the Greek polis, which involved a steady shifting of power from religious and kinship elements to a secular territorial basis, is reversed by Pareti who believed that the polis began as a secular, territorial power to which religious and kinship elements were added, or increased, later, the religious element by the king to increase his power, and the kinship element by the nobles as voluntary associations to hamper the royal authority. Neither in Greece nor in early Rome does Pareti show any recognition of the role played in political life by weapon control, nor does he see that in both areas political functions were originally based on military formations (orders or classes) reflecting possession of different weapons (cavalry, heavy infantry,
and auxiliaries).

   In a similar way, the history of the Hebrews is reversed. They are presented as a strictly monotheistic people, quite distinct from the Canaanites, who later became mixed with these neighbors and began to adopt from them polytheistic elements (the Hebrews originally were largely Canaanite polytheists, who, over centuries, were driven and urged toward monotheism and separation from their neighbors by a small minority of families, groups, and prophets, who did not succeed completely until the Babylonian Captivity in the sixth century).

   Hundreds of errors such as these are matched by equally grave omissions: Most of the story of Greek science (and Greek mathematics) is left out, with no recognition of the decline of Ionian Science by 400 EC (from the growth of Pythagorean rationalism) and the subsequent revival of Hellenistic science as a result of Aristotle's influence, especially at Alexandria. The four "Schools of Athens" and the Museum at Alexandria are not mentioned. The only content of a section on metallurgy in the period 500 BC to the Christian era is concerned with mercury and gold (this at a time when advances in iron-working were providing arms for mass armies of citizens), just as the sections on mathematics omit the vital Greek contribution of the use of theorems and proofs; and in philosophy the most significant point (the development of nominalism by the Sophists and the Platonic reaction to this) is left out.

Hebrews and Religion

   Having thus bungled the Greek contribution in mathematics, in philosophy, and in science, it is only to be expected that Prof. Pareti would bungle the Hebrew contribution to religion. There is no mention of their two greatest contributions to us (that the deity is transcendental, and that the material world and time are good, since God reveals his will through them; these were vital contributions since at that time both the influence of Zoroaster and that of Greek rationalism were tending to despise matter and time).

   Pareti's discussion of the Hebrew contribution to ethical monotheism is deficient because he knows nothing of the historical context in which it occurred. He knows little of the archaic religion prevalent at that time (which confused agricultural fertility, human propagation, and spiritual survival, and regarded sex as the key to all three), and he likewise fails to see that the period he is discussing saw a worldwide revulsion toward ethical monotheism, perhaps earliest in Egypt, but, during the sixth century, from Zoroaster, Buddha, the Hebrew prophets, and Confucius.

   The endless flood of errors and omissions in this volume are eclipsed by the author's ignorance of the most fundamental historical principles. He has no conception of social organization, cultural patterns, the process of invention or change, nor of historical context. His historical assumptions are along the lines of the crudest kind of naive, nineteenth century evolutionism, in which each society follows along the same established path (so that hunting always is followed by agriculture and the use of iron follows the use of bronze).

   He knows nothing about the sociology of invention and, accordingly, assumes that every people simply invents anything they need when they decide they need it. To him any people may wake up some morning and say, "Today we shall 'invent agriculture." Accordingly, Pareti sees no need to explain why anything is ever invented or improved under the pressure of social forces, and since any people can do this, there is likewise never any need to speak about diffusion. Worse than this, he does not even recognize what are the great innovations in the period concerned.

On Agriculture

   Of the invention of agriculture he says: "Primitive people got their food by gathering wild vegetables. . . . Agriculture was born when certain peoples thought of making collection easier by controlling crops within definite areas through operations at appropriate seasons." Of the invention of metalworking (in which both bronze and iron-smelting were discovered and diffused by specialized metal-workers from the area north of Lake Van, at the base of Anatolia), he says, "It is not unlikely that iron-working was invented on many occasions in different places, and that each time the invention came casually during the fusing of other metals."

   His brief mention of the invention of the plow is meaningless gibberish, and he says nothing of its diffusion. Of the vital invention of the wheel (in Mesopotamia, fourth millennium BC) and its diffusion, which created a chariot-riding upper class of conquering warriors, he says, "The cart was typical of the ancient world, though unknown in America before Columbus. Its invention was made possible with the invention of the wheel, and, the solid wheel which carried its axle around with it later gave place to the spoked wheel, in a variety of shapes, which rotated around an axle. Carts, or chariots, had many functions, in war, in agriculture, and for commercial transport." He ignores completely that the earliest civilizations (for significant reasons) arose in alluvial river valleys and that this gave rise to important social and organizational problems, many of them associated with irrigation and the rise of cities.

   Imagine the world's greatest historians using large sums of UNESCO money to produce bilge like that and presenting it to the world as the most recent achievement "that noble line of great syntheses which seek to present to man the sum total of his memories as a coherent whole," if I may quote the director general of UNESCO, in what he says of this book. The sad thing is that this book will sell and be read, simply because of its high sponsors, setting the whole subject of general history back a full generation or more, after many of us have struggled for at least that long to bring history as an academic discipline up to a level of sophistication it has usually failed to reach.



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