Read Catastrophe: An Investigation Into the Origins of the Modern World Online

Authors: David Keys

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Catastrophe: An Investigation Into the Origins of the Modern World

 

C
ATASTROPHE

 

A N   I N V E S T I G A T I O N   I N T O

 
 

T H E   O R I G I N S   O F   T H E

 
 

M O D E R N   W O R L D

 

 

 

 

 

 

DAVID KEYS

 

 

 

 

 

 

BALLANTINE BOOKS   ·   NEW YORK

 
 

A Ballantine Book
Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group

 

 

 

Copyright © 1999 by David Keys

 
 

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by The Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Ballantine and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

 
 

www.randomhouse.com/BB/

 
 

Keys, David.
Catastrophe / David Keys.—1st ed.
p.       cm.
eISBN 0-345-44436-1
1. Climatic changes—History.    2. Human beings—Effect of environment on—History.
3. Natural disasters—History.    4. Weather—Effect of volcanic eruptions on.
5. Asteroids—Collisions with Earth.    I. Title.
QC981.8.C5K45     1999
551.6‘09‘02—dc21          99-14357
CIP

 
 

First Edition: February 2000

 
 

This book is also available in print as ISBN 0-345-40876-4.

 

CONTENTS

 

     
Acknowledgments

     
Introduction

 

 

PART ONE
   THE PLAGUE

 
1
  The Winepress of the Wrath of God

 
2
  The Origins of the Plague

 

 

PART TWO
   THE BARBARIAN TIDE

 
3
  Disaster on the Steppes

 
4
  The Avar Dimension

 

 

PART THREE
   DESTABLIZING THE EMPIRE

 
5
  Revolution

 
6
  “The Cup of Bitterness”

 
7
  Changing the Empire: The Cumulative Impact of the Plague and the Avars

 

 

PART FOUR
   THE SWORD OF ISLAM

 
8
  The Origins of Islam

 
9
  Islamic Conquests

10
  Behind the Roman Collapse

 

 

PART FIVE
   THE TURKIC DIMENSION

11
  The Turkish Time Bomb

12
  The Jewish Empire

 

 

PART SIX
   WESTERN EUROPE

13
  Disaster in Britain

14
  The Waste Land

15
  The Birth of England

16
  Irish Conception

17
  French Genesis

18
  The Making of Spain

 

 

PART SEVEN
   DISASTER IN THE ORIENT

19
  Chinese Catastrophe

20
  The Rebirth of Unity

21
  Korean Dawn

22
  “Ten Thousand Strings of Cash Cannot Cure Hunger”

 

 

PART EIGHT
   CHANGING THE AMERICAS

23
  Collapse of the Pyramid Empire

24
  The Darts of Venus

25
  North American Mystery

26
  From Art to Oblivion

27
  The Mud of Hades

28
  Birth of an Empire

29
  Glory at the Heart of the Cosmos

 

 

PART NINE
   THE REASONS WHY

30
  In Search of a Culprit

31
  The Big Bang

32
  Reconstructing the Eruption

33
  The Endgame

 

 

PART TEN
   THE FUTURE

34
  Beyond Tomorrow

     
Appendix

     
Notes

     
Index

 

 

 

C A T A S T R O P H E

 

 

 

T O  G R A Ç A,  M I C H A E L,

A N D  C A M I L E

AIMS AND CAVEATS

 

 

 

 

 

The aim of this book is to help change people’s view of the past—and of the future. Although human inventions, achievements, and actions are obviously key factors in determining the course of human history, the forces of nature and other mechanisms beyond the control of individual human beings, or even states, play an even greater role, both directly and indirectly, by conditioning the circumstances that induce, produce, or permit individual or collective human actions.

Determinist views of history have been out of favor now for several decades, and this book should rightly be seen as an attempt to reinstate respect for the basic concept of determinism—though not for the often simplistic nature of much past deterministic thinking.

In this book I will attempt to describe a process that could perhaps be labeled “evolved determinism.” My research does suggest that a force of nature ultimately lay behind much of the change experienced by the world in the sixth and seventh centuries
A
.
D
. But it also shows that key aspects of change, while ultimately triggered by a force of nature, were finally delivered through a plethora of consequent ecological, political, epidemiological, economic, religious, demographic, and other mechanisms that interacted with each other for up to a hundred event-filled years before producing final, irreversible change.

Moreover, toward the end of this book I suggest what triggered the sixth-century climatic catastrophe. I am reasonably sure of my conclusions as to the type of event that set all the climatological and historical dominoes falling. But, as you will see, I have also chanced my arm at pinpointing the event geographically. That is a more difficult task—and only future geological and ice-core research will reveal whether all the circumstantial evidence I have gathered was indeed pointing toward the right culprit.

Although the main title of this book is
Catastrophe,
that chiefly refers to the natural trigger mechanism that set off the collapse of so many dominoes and, through the medium of those dominoes, effected permanent historical change. This book does not attempt to deny in any way the range of other factors which, over many centuries, helped in the downfall of the ancient world. But I do believe that the final decisive factor in its demise was the mid-sixth-century natural catastrophe described in this book. And I do believe that that catastrophe was the only worldwide common element involved in that demise. It is because of that fact that I believe one can talk of semi-integrated world history even in the sixth and seventh centuries
A.D
. The political repercussions of commonly caused events in places as far apart as Mongolia and East Africa did interact with each other to shape history: and civilizations in both the Old World and the New were changed forever by a common catastrophe.

In many areas, these changes laid the geopolitical foundations of our modern world. That’s why I prefer—in geopolitical terms (not economic or even cultural ones)—to use the term protomodern rather than early-medieval when describing the sixth- and seventh-century emergence of the post-ancient world. Moreover, I believe the evidence in, and the perspective argued for within, this book suggests that one can talk of a sixth/seventh-century protomodern geopolitical genesis in many different parts of the world—not just in Europe and the Middle East.

In order to help change people’s view of history, I have tried to write this book in as accessible a manner as possible. I have tried hard to make sure that the data and other information on which I have based my arguments are as accurate and up-to-date as possible. Indeed, to ensure this, I sought the help and advice of more than fifty academic specialists and authorities in more than twenty different disciplines in a dozen countries.

I believe that the case for a mid-sixth-century worldwide climatic catastrophe is incontrovertible. And I think that, without doubt, the catastrophe was the major worldwide factor in finally bringing the ancient world to a close, and helping to lay the geopolitical foundations of our modern one. The mechanisms are clearest in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. In Mesoamerica, where archaeology rather than history has to provide the bulk of the evidence, the argument is strong, but has by definition to be more circumstantial. And in South America, where there is no sixth/seventh-century written history at all, one is reliant on the relatively inexact dating and often hotly debated interpretation of purely archaeological evidence. Nevertheless I believe that even there, the evidence for a climatic catastrophe is incontrovertible and it is only the suggested mechanisms of change that remain reasonable proposals rather than totally proven theses.

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