Arnold Toynbee was interested in EF's views on civilizations and their societies when they met at Oxford. The result was that EF was granted a senior research fellowship at the University of Chicago which was the only place AT said he knew where he thought EF could research as he wanted to. But it ended up with EF starting a study on the war of 1812. That was a long way from what EF had hoped for and was why he left the academic world to become a chartered accountant (equivalent of CPA in the US). Now, much later in life EF can write what he likes, and that's what's coming up in this part of the web site...




Here's a city - it doesn't matter to us which one. We see from the air the Parkway is crowded, mostly with people going home from work. That's because it's 5 p.m. - what we call the time of day. But I suggest to you there's no such thing as time. The period it takes the earth to go round the sun we've divided into a year, months, days, hours, even hundredths of a second if you're an Olympic skier or nanoseconds if you're a scientist. But 'out there' what there is is change, different rates of change, and interaction between changing things to create more change. It's how successful a civilization is in adapting to change that determines whether or not it survives.

Let's vary our focus a bit. We're looking at the city as a whole now. There are millions of people down there but we can't see any of them. What we do see is traffic moving. We can see superhighways, the side streets, the residential areas neatly laid out, tall buildings near the centre, industrial areas and parks. It all looks very orderly.

This orderliness is important to us. If your TV screen shows 'snow' during a broadcast it's not chaos, a slight adjustment will bring back the picture, because the signal was there all the time. I suggest to you there's no such thing as chaos. Chaos is an order poorly understood, and disorder is part way between one set of order we can recognize, and another we can relate to. Water changes to ice to snow to steam and so on. But it never changes to iron. Why not? Because there's order, and that's why we can hope to understand how civilizations work; civilizations are orderly entities.

Let's move on to look down on another city. It doesn't seem very different. The traffic patterns are much the same. It has tall buildings near the centre, superhighways, residential areas neatly laid out, and so on. Agricultural products and raw materials flow in and technical services and manufactured goods flow out.

This second city is in the next door region to the first city but it doesn't allow signs with lettering the same size as signs in its own language to be put up in the language of the other city. That's just a minor example of the problems that have to be solved for a society to survive and prosper.

Both these cities are in the same country, or nation, which I've called a society. It's when you have cities in a society that there's a civilization. I suggest to you that without cities there is no civilization.

Cities tend to do business and exchange culture with one another. The major cities need smaller satellite cities and towns and rural areas in nearby regions to feed them. The major regional cities interact to form a society. Canada is a society. It's one society within a civilization. Western Civilization, we call it.

We are going to look at living in civilizations. But that's not the only way people on earth exist. Some are nomadic tribes-people. This doesn't mean they're 'uncivilized.' Often their standards of moral conduct, family cohesion, ability to survive, care for their environment, complexity of language and so on are far greater than that of many people living in cities. I would call them peripherals. They are outside present civilization, but may well form part of some future civilizations. Some have been part of arrested civilizations, not having settled down to agriculture and trading from a fixed location.

Today people mostly move about in vehicles propelled by volatile fuels using internal combustion engines. We use electric power to drive most equipment in our homes and offices. That's our technology.

Ancient Rome had horse drawn vehicles. There were bumps on their side roads to slow the chariots down, and posts in some roads to keep chariots out and leave a safe way for pedestrians. Downtown Rome once had a 70 ft. high building construction limit. They used water power, animal power and slave power to drive their mechanical equipment. They constructed aqueducts to carry clean water supplies to their cities for public baths and private use, and built coliseums for public entertainment activities. They made excellent long lasting straight roads. If we go back still further to ancient Egypt, ancient Mesopotamia, or ancient civilizations in Central and South America, we find tall buildings of a different kind from ours; stepped pyramids or ziggurats. So, each civilization has a different technology.

Wherever there are cities we have people specializing in doing certain work: architects, carpenters, doctors, engineers, law enforcement officers, lawyers, politicians, plumbers, priests, soldiers, teachers, and so on. There are people in these trades or professions whether it's ancient China, Greece or Rome, Egypt, South America, or today. Whatever the form of government, these trades and professions exist in every civilization we know of.

Societies within civilizations are more like plants in a field, or trees in a wood, than animals that can move about. A society is rooted in the land it finds itself in, and it lives or dies by its success in solving its problems where it is rooted. But societies grow and try to spread out, just as plants or trees do, and societies also colonize at a distance, just as plants and trees send out seeds to propagate at a distance. The Vikings reached England, Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Labrador, Newfoundland, North Africa, down the Russian rivers as far as Kiev, and the U.S. east coast. Later, Portugal and Spain expanded overseas and the Pope divided the New World between them. Then England and France expanded overseas and competed in India and North America. Here we have important evidence that the nature of a society and a civilization includes the capacity to expand.

You'll have noticed we mentioned Portugal and Spain, England and France, and today we could add Russia and the USA, all within our civilization. We can go back to a previous civilization and notice Athens and Sparta, Carthage and Rome, and so on. The point is that they don't all spring up and expand at the same time like a crop in a field. Societies tend to flourish one after another, or two or three at a time.

Today, looking around us we can see that Portugal and Spain left their imprint on all of South America, and part of North America is Hispanic. But both Portugal and Spain shrank back to small societies. And since then Britain and France have shrunk back again. The societies we mentioned as being in a previous civilization are all extinct and when the last society ended the civilization passed away.

Some other societies have only recently begun to expand: Germany, Japan (an associate society to Western Civilization) and Russia. As the process is still going on in our civilization and societies within it are still rising and attempting to expand and assert themselves, apparently our Western Civilization has some way to go before it becomes naturally extinct.

What are the limits of a civilization? I think much broader than we've generally thought. The ancient Egyptian, Greek, Mesopotamian, Phoenician, and Roman existences I suggest we include in one civilization. They fought, traded, recognized one another's gods and goddesses, and their rulers intermarried. Let's call it the Mediterranean Civilization.

All these ancient societies and their civilization itself are long since dead. So are other old civilizations in India, China, South America, Central America. So if they're dead, how long did they live? And why did they die?

We can only ask that kind of question and expect an answer if we look at societies and civilizations as living entities in themselves and forget about the individuals in them, just as we did when we looked at a city from the air. Then we were not aware of individuals being born and dying in the city though all that was going on as we looked. In the same way we're not aware of many different kinds of individual cells in our bodies coming into existence and later dying, yet it goes on all the time within us. As long as we think of a society as a collection of individuals with special individual leaders we know of by name, we're not going to understand a society properly. We have to acknowledge a society is a living entity. I suggest to you that's just what it is.




Human beings create and maintain societies and civilizations. What are humans actually made of? Basically, according to our present state of knowledge, cells. There are far more living cells in your one body than there are people on this planet. There are about 60,000 miles in your circulatory system. The blood coursing through your major veins and arteries is a continuous movement of cells, something like the traffic in our cities, except that in the body, traffic is all one way and so more efficient. You don't have half the width of a vein with not much traffic and the other half clogged in a rush hour. Our governments, large industries, schools, universities, offices, banks and stock exchanges are centres of activity, as are the major organs in our bodies: heart, liver, stomach, brain, lungs, and so on. There are said to be one hundred thousand million atoms in a single cell. Cells in us are like people in a society.

There are about 250 different kinds of cells in the human body. When we look at an individual cell, although we need a microscope to see it, we find it's not a simple thing. It's more like a factory. Things pass in and out of its walls, some things are excluded, others are not. Vast numbers of chemical reactions take place inside it with lightning speed. There are various complicated parts and structures inside the cell. Eukaryotic cells have organelles that live and reproduce and multiply within them. The organelles perform chemical work inside the cell and have their own double helix of DNA inside them completely separate and containing different information from the DNA in the cell nucleus. How does a cell become a liver cell, or a stomach cell? We're told it knows where its place is. It certainly knows what to do.

These billions of cells cooperate within us to do their work. We don't know exactly how or why they do this, but if they didn't work together, if they went on strike, we'd quickly die. We've never met any of these cells as individuals, we've never talked to them. We live in worlds of different dimensions, but they are somehow us. Each of your cells is a distinct individual with its own life within you. And your cells live out their lives together inside you, forming you.

A society doesn't have much interest in individual people. It taxes them, governs them, punishes them, educates them, transports them, gives them recreational facilities, health care, and so on. But people are faceless multitudes to the society. We are just the same with the cells in our bodies. We feed them, take in air and water for them, keep their habitat clean and so on, but we don't know them, though they live and die and reproduce in us, even for us. In a sense they are us, but we're not conscious of them.

A cell seems to be programmed by its DNA code, something 6 feet long rolled up inside it. The DNA in the single cell apparently has the code to reproduce the whole individual person, and an individual civilized person has the ability to start the creation of a whole society. But when we, as individuals, try to understand a civilization it's rather like a single cell of the billions in our body trying to understand how the whole human being operates.

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We shouldn't overestimate our own knowledge in our day and age. Our scientists say the sun is a nuclear furnace. They tell us the universe began with a small very dense ball which exploded with a big bang. Don't you think it's significant that the age that has discovered nuclear power and invented the hydrogen bomb should now interpret the universe in terms of that technology. When technology advances again we'll be sure to have new explanations of the solar system and the universe in terms of that technology. So when we come to look at civilizations we have to be able to stand outside all these ideas and thought patterns and see them for what they are; products of their age.

If we want comparisons with past societies and civilizations we have to rely mostly on historians and archaeologists for our raw material. That presents a problem. For example, it's been said that if we had to rely on archaeology alone, we would never have known there was a Norman conquest of England. But that event was a monumental change in the course of the history of the English society.

A further example: what we are being told by some scholars (who are themselves the product of our age) is that about 3,000 to 3,500 years ago Stone Age people in South America had implements that were fancy stone clubs used for warfare and religious ceremonies. That conforms with our general ideas about Stone Age people. Since Darwin and Wallace the view of history has been that it is a linear progression from Stone Age cave dwellers to the present. What I'm suggesting (see my The Walls of Cyclops) is that people in South America were using the same technical principles as we do today in similar ore bodies, and that about 3,000 to 3,500 years ago they were drilling for gold, silver and copper which was used for ornaments, housewares, and so on. I believe I am on firm ground in this case because as a chartered accountant one of my clients was a manufacturer of deep rock drilling equipment.

This wasn't the only Stone Age phenomenon. Look at Stonehenge, first built even earlier. A generation ago conventional wisdom held that Stonehenge was connected with the invading Beaker People. Recently the prevailing view seems to be that probably there weren't any invading Beaker People. We still don't know who the people were who built Stonehenge, or what they used it for. What we do know is that there were thousands of stone circles in Europe in that Age, stretching from what is now Turkey to what is now Scotland. There are astronomical alignments at Stonehenge, and we don't know why. (see my The Mysterious Cursus). Stonehenge has its great stone uprights weighing 45 tons shaped with what architects today call entasis: the uprights have slightly convex tapering to counteract the optical illusion of curving slightly inward when seen from a distance. The tops were slightly 'dished' to carry the 7 ton lintels and the lintels and uprights were further secured by mortice and tenon joints.

Some of the most massive blocks of stone in ancient Egypt were used to create the oldest structures; the Osirion, a beautiful rectangular pool and courtyard dressed in stone and surrounded by huge blocks of finished stone, and a building with massive blocks of stone now said to have been a temple.

I would call this Age of technical mastery in stone the Stone Civilization. That particular civilization began with agriculture, wood products, and stone implements and moved on to massive stone block construction and use of copper for implements. We know next to nothing about this civilization except for a few of its architectural remains.

The Mediterranean Civilization (discussed in chapter 1) began with city states using stone and copper but moved to bricks and bronze, and ended with empires using roads, aqueducts, fleets of wooden ships, concrete and iron. We know quite a lot about this civilization although some of it is poorly understood.

Our present Western Civilization, which is still going on, began with know-how in stone, iron, bricks and concrete, and so on, and has moved through the Industrial Age to the Space Age with electric, internal combustion and nuclear power. The other two civilizations are dead.

We don't have many examples of civilizations to work on. The very beginning of civilizations seems to have been about 10,000 years ago, unless some earlier ones were drowned at the end of the last ice age. Many societies have come and gone, but very few civilizations. There's been some accumulation of knowledge. We still use bricks, and we use the running bond pattern for bricklaying, just as the ancient Mesopotamians did about 5,000 years ago in a different civilization. But a lot gets left behind and forgotten between civilizations that have 'dark ages' or relatively uncivilized periods between them, even though the intelligence of individuals may have continued without interruption.

Has human intelligence or moral sense improved during the last few thousand years? Do we today really have more brains or morality than Aristotle, Euclid, Pythagoras or Archimedes? Do we have better laws than those of Hammurabi or the Ten Commandments? Can we tell a better tale than Homer? I suggest to you that human intelligence and morality haven't improved significantly since the beginnings of civilizations.

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I think we have to recognize 3 different things here: an age, a technology, and a civilization. At more or less the same time, civilizations around the world, in China, Europe, India, Central and South America, for example, were using similar technology: animal power, water power, people power, and stone or copper or bronze. That's because societies are great imitators. No one can get too far ahead for long.

We can see how the technological change from the Industrial Age to the present Space Age is affecting us as individual people and our culture in our own time. I think there's a recognizable pattern here, but as it's civilizations we're dealing with the span is very broad and the cycle is very long. We have to reckon in thousands of years. And since we've moved from the Industrial to the Space Age without our civilization dying we know for a fact that a civilization has more than one Age in its life cycle.

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Difficult as it is for us to stand back and try to understand a civilization this must be our next step. I suggest the best way to do this is to start with one specimen from a civilization, a single society. I think the simplest type is what I would call an Island City Society. There have been quite a few of them, including Tyre, and Tyre's colony, Carthage, in the dead Mediterranean civilization. But that's not our civilization and we don't know enough about those cities. We don't even know when Tyre was founded. Then there are living Island City Societies, such as Singapore and Hong Kong. They're still quite young. Hong Kong started in 1841 AD, so it's only about 160 years old and incomplete. Hong Kong may come to an unnatural end by having been absorbed into China in the late 1990s, or it may have the energy with its 6 million people to change China itself with its billion plus people. It's too early to see how the change will develop.

Not all societies live to die a natural death. Tyre was murdered by Alexander the Great. It took him about seven months to do it. Before he could capture the city he built a causeway to reach the island and set up 2000 crosses within sight of the city walls, ready for crucifying the nobler citizens. After the bloodbath when the city fell he sold most of the survivors into slavery.

We need as our first example an Island City Society that lived and died in our own Western civilization. We need direct evidence we can use as well as having to rely on what historians tell us. It's not history we're after, but evidence for the life pattern of a society. Then we can apply this pattern to the incomplete societies around us today and have a better idea of how to prepare for the future. I think there is such an Island City Society for us to look at: it began as marsh and island flats, rose to be a world power, and then declined into just a city, and is now gradually physically becoming submerged as sea levels rise around the world. It's Venice, and next we'll look at its life cycle.




We know exactly how Venice began - with urban refugees after the sack of Rome and its nearby northern satellite cities. Some of these people fled to the 117 mud flat islands, sand banks, and lagoons which later grew to be Venice. It was impossible to get at them there and their possessions weren't worth looting anyway.

We know exactly when Venice began, 421 AD on 25th of March. We know exactly when Venice ceased to exist as an Island City State: Napoleon, who said with a sense of history 'I shall be Attila for the State of Venice', declared war on Venice on May 1, 1797. The government collapsed and the ruler, the Doge, abdicated. Then, without a fight, Napoleon stripped it of its wealth and it became just another Italian city. So the life span of Venice as an Island City Society was 1,376 years.

Just to test this life span, we can take two other societies that we know about; Rome itself was founded, so legend has it, in 753 BCE (before Common or Christian era) and was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 AD. Actually its power had become so vast it was sacked more than once and it took 66 more years to finally destroy it. So its life span was 1,229 years. Byzantium was intended as the eastern Roman empire, but in fact became a separate state. Its capital was founded in 326 AD by Constantine; that's why it was called Constantinople. It was besieged and overwhelmed by the Turks and sacked in 1453 AD. That time span is 1,127 years. This gives us some idea of the scale of the life cycle of a society. All three were killed off while rotting away in old age, just as elderly humans are killed off, by influenza, for example.

Carthage was unlucky enough to be a contemporary society with Rome. It had 3 Punic wars with Rome, lasting 23 years, 17 years, and the final war only 3 years. In the second, Hannibal marched his army from Spain across the Pyrenees, crossed the Rhone river, crossed through the Alps into Italy, apparently elephants included - the living tanks of the day. He smashed every Roman army he met, and then was let alone to move about in Italy until the Carthaginians grew tired of voting troops and money to him, and he left. He never did attack the city of Rome. Later, Scipio, a young Roman general, defeated him near Carthage in 202 BCE. In 146 BCE the fleet of 500 ships was towed out to sea and sunk, the citizens massacred or sold as slaves, the city was stripped, the buildings torn down, the site ploughed up and a curse put on it. Said to have been founded about 653 BCE, it was put to death after only 507 years.

Now let's look a little closer at the life span of Venice. It began by building up its site, it developed a local monopoly in salt, very important in the days before refrigeration; our word salary comes from the Latin word for salt as the Romans gave an allowance to each soldier. The early Venetians learned boat building and ship handling. The various lagoon populations joined together, the people assembled to decide matters of state, and after 140 years the 12 main islands elected 12 tribunes. About another 130 years after that they elected their first communal ruler, or Doge.

Venice survived the ravages on the nearby mainland of the Visigoths, the Huns, the Vandals, and then the Franks. When Charlemagne led the Franks, in about 800 AD he executed 4,500 Saxons in one day. This at a time when populations around the world were very small by our standards. In 1378 AD the population of London is said to have been only about 46,000. Charlemagne and his father before him tried to conquer Venice but failed.

Byzantium gradually conquered a fair part of the old western Roman Empire. Venice began to act as its western maritime outpost. It transported generals and supplies for Byzantium. When Charlemagne finally made peace with Byzantium a Venetian official was present and the existence of Venice was formally acknowledged. In recognition of its services Byzantium gave Venice trading privileges throughout its empire. It's said that Charlemagne always wore a Venetian tunic. So, after about 400 years of life Venice had developed maritime ability, was a trading state in luxury goods between east and west and a unified well organized society.

We don't know much about those first 400 years of Venice, but we know much more about the beginnings of Hong Kong. Both have the characteristic growth pattern of an Island City Society so let's turn to Hong Kong now. In the 1830s AD Hong Kong was a group of 236 islands with a population of about 5,000, said to be mostly stone cutters, fishermen, smugglers and pirates. British merchants had been ordered out of Canton by the government of China. Britain went to war with China over this and in the peace that followed received a lease on Hong Kong; 90% of it expired in 1997. The emperor is said to have laughed when the British wanted it. But Hong Kong has one of the largest, finest natural harbours in the world. Ocean going ships couldn't reach Canton, so Hong Kong became its port, with the displaced British merchants. That was in 1841.

In the 1940s Hong Kong survived being overrun by the Japanese. In the 1990s the Chinese (formerly mainland) population was about 98% of the total population of about 6 million. It has shipbuilding, low cost industrial technology and electronic 'high tec'. It is a free port and so has become an international trading centre. Yet, like Venice, it is incapable of supporting itself from its own territory.

Both Venice and Hong Kong suffer from site over-population. In the 1930s Venice had only 6,000 of 19,000 homes with any form of sewage arrangement. Over the centuries the houses have collected rainwater for drinking and flushed raw sewage out into the canals. Goethe complained about the filth 200 years ago. A slight tide helps wash most of it away into the Adriatic.

Before 1997 Hong Kong had a Governor and Legislative Council. That's not very different from the Doge and 12 Tribunes set up by Venice. The main point seems to be that an international trading centre needs only enough government to maintain order, and basically to be left alone and not overtaxed. Hong Kong began by being sheltered under the British Empire and Venice by being sheltered under the Byzantine Empire. Hong Kong began as an open door between the West and China. Venice built up its power by trading in luxury goods between east and west, spices, silks, and so on, and used an up-dated version of the Roman galleys. The galleys had a crew of about 200 and each man was an entrepreneur who could take goods stowed under his rowing bench and trade on his own account. The galleys were fast, safer from pirates, and avoided the tolls levied on overland caravans. Venice was a ship builder. Hong Kong is a ship builder.

We need to look outside Venice now to better understand how and why it prospered so well. Mohammed died in 632 AD when Venice was about 200 years old. After Mohammed there came a remarkable expansion among the converts to Islam: the Arabs and the Turks. The Arabs spread the faith across north Africa. They eventually crossed the straits of Gibraltar and entered Europe through their attacks on Spain. The Turks began pushing towards Europe from the eastern end and across the Dardanelles which meant they met Byzantium head on. It took them about 1,000 years but eventually they conquered the Balkans, Hungary, besieged Vienna, capital of Austria, and declared war on Russia. That was as far as they got in Europe. Bismarck, German Chancellor in the late 1800s could call Turkey the 'sick man of Europe', about 1,240 years after the rise of Islam in Turkey.

The Seljuks - one branch of the Turks - took Jerusalem in 1,071. Before 1,100 the first Crusade was organized by the North Atlantic and Central European powers to take it back. They needed Venetian support as experts in the area. In exchange they gave Venice trading rights in their own states and Venice helped them take Askelon, Tyre and Acre. Venice received 1/4 of Acre, and a street in every city of the kingdom of Jerusalem, with a bakery, public bath, market, and church. The Venetians didn't have to pay any taxes and their goods paid no duties. Venice sacked and pillaged Rhodes where the best looking youths of both sexes were sold as slaves and the plunder was described as the most fabulous since creation. Venice, with its fleet of galleys, was also helping Byzantium against the Turks and was rewarded with trading privileges there.

About 750 years after its beginnings, Venice, this city of 150,000, was said to have a colony of 200,000 merchants and others in Constantinople, capital of Byzantium. They were so rowdy and arrogant that their goods were confiscated and their trading privileges cancelled. But the Turks kept pressing on the Byzantines who by 17 years later, needing the help of Venice, restored all Venetian privileges with compensation.

Now we come to the real turning point in the life cycle of Venice - the 4th Crusade (1,202). Venice was not quite 800 years old at the time. The Northern powers wanted Venice to transport them to the Holy Land. They even collected at Venice. They had 4,500 horses, 9,000 knights, 20,000 foot soldiers and provisions for 1 year. Venice put the price at 85,000 marks, cash in advance. My calculation is that this would be about $103,445,000 today. The crusaders didn't have cash, so Venice bargained with them to stop on the way to the Holy Land and put down a local insurrection in the colony of Venice on the Dalmatian coast, and this was done.

Next, Venice wasn't too pleased with Byzantium for cutting off its trading privileges, even temporarily. The Crusaders had with them the son of the former Byzantine emperor who had been deposed and blinded. The Crusaders and Venice now agreed to sack Constantinople, a Christian capital. Venice took fabulous spoils as well as architects, craftsmen, artists, and secured Byzantine overseas possessions - the Cyclades, the Sporades, the islands and eastern shore of the Adriatic, the shores of the Propontis and the Euxine and the littoral of Thessaly, and Venice bought Crete.

Venice now controlled the Adriatic, the Ionian Islands, the archipelago, the sea of Marmora and the Black sea, the trade route between Constantinople and western Europe and was established in the sea ports of Syria. Of the 12 electors who set up the new emperor of Byzantium 6 were controlled by Venice. Venice was now a world power.

Here's part of the Doge's "State of the Nation" address when Venice was at the height of its power, just over 1,000 years from its beginning:

"My Lords,... In my time 4 millions of debts have been paid off, and there are other 6 millions owing, which debt was incurred for the wars of Padua, Vicenza, and Verona; we have paid every 6 months 2 instalments of the debts, and have paid all my officers and regiments. This our city now sends out in the way of business to different parts of the world 10 million ducats' worth yearly by ships and galleys, and the profit is not less than 2 million ducats a year. In this city there are 3,000 vessels of one to 200 'enfore' (measure of capacity) with 17,000 seamen; there are 300 larger ships with 8,000 sailors. Every year there go to sea 45 galleys with 11,000 sailors, and there are 3,000 ship's carpenters and 3,000 caulkers. There are 3,000 weavers of silk and 16,000 weavers of cotton cloth; the houses are estimated to be worth 7,050,000 ducats. The rents are 500,000 ducats. There are 1,000 noblemen whose income is from 700 to 4,000 ducats. If you go on in this manner you will increase from good to better, and you will be the masters of wealth and Christendom; everyone will fear you. But beware, as you would be of fire, of taking what belongs to others and of waging unjust war, for God cannot endure those errors in princes. Everyone knows that the war with the Turks has made you brave and experienced of the sea, you have 6 generals fit to fight any great army, and for each of these you have sea captains... officers... and rowers enough to man 100 galleys; and in these years you have shown distinctly that the world considers you the leaders of Christianity. You have many doctors of diverse sciences, and especially lawyers wherefore numerous foreigners come here for judgement of their differences and abide by your verdicts. Your mint coins every year a million ducats of gold and 200,000 of silver... Therefore be wise in governing such a State and be careful to watch it and see that it is not diminished by negligence..."

By my calculations, translating the Doge's information into modern statistics, Venice had a GNP (gross national product) of over $26 billion and controlled a population of probably over 20 million, which is greater than the present population of Australia, or Austria, or Bolivia, Cambodia, Chile, Ecuador, Hungary, Iraq... and so on.

The Venetians whose income was 4,000 ducats yearly would have more than $10 million annually today.

Incidentally, Marco Polo, a Venetian, left in 1271 and travelled overland to China where he spent 17 years including service with Kublai Khan, before returning to Venice. He was impressed with China's wealth and power. The wealthy Venetians response to his stories was "Oh, really?" "Yeah?" "You don't say" ...

At this stage we're just looking at some of the more important information about the life cycle of Venice as an Island City Society. When we've followed it to its end, - which we'll do in the next chapter - we can deduce a pattern and begin to apply it to others to see if there's a resemblance. Then we can better understand where we're at today which is something history doesn't tell us.




We left Venice at about 800 years old, when it had just become a world power, which it was by 1220 AD. As early as the 1200s double entry bookkeeping, the basis of modern accounting systems, was brought into use at the Rialto, the Venetian commercial centre and clearing house. It may be that the ancient Romans knew the principle of the system, Suitonius writing in about 110 AD mentions 'the debit side of the ledger', but the Venetians brought it into modern practical business and so provided themselves with accurate and efficient record keeping.

For about 800 years this city of 150,000 had a virtual monopoly of the luxury trade from east to west. But Venice in its rise to power had bitten off the hand that fed it: Byzantium. It cannibalized that society just as Rome had done earlier with Carthage and other societies, including Egypt. By weakening Byzantium, Venice inherited its problem: expansion of the Turks.

Venice, on the east side of Italy, also faced the bitter rivalry of Genoa on Italy's west side. Venice and Genoa fought intermittently for about 150 years, with first one side winning, and then the other. They fought several sea battles. Finally Venice won a 3 year war. From then on Genoa ceased to be a significant naval power.

Even before the final victory over Genoa, Venice was fighting Hungary over the Dalmatian coast. And while that intermittent fighting was going on, Venice began fighting inland in northern Italy. One by one it took over the smaller towns in its area: Verona, Vicenza, Fruili, Brescia, Bergamo, Ravenna, Crema, Treviglio, the Polesimo, and so on. This drew the attention of France and Spain who had been trying to partition up Italy between them.

In 1509 the League of Cambrai had France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, the Pope and even Henry 8th of England together against Venice which lost the war and all its mainland possessions. But Venetian diplomacy helped the victors to quarrel and within a year or two Venice had most of it back, but it cost 5 million ducats. Some have argued this started the decline of Venice, now about 1,100 years old. But most of the Italian 'terrafirma' was glad to have back the enlightened rule of Venice, which held much of it until the time of Napoleon.

Probably Venice could have remained a much larger player in Europe had it been able to take over all the major Renaissance cities in northern Italy: Florence, Genoa, Mantua, Milan, Padua and Pisa. But intermittently Venice was fighting the Turks in the east at the same time. It's said that Venice attacked the Italian mainland because the small states there were charging excessive tolls and levies on Venetian imports going to Germany and northern Europe. But Venice was also running out of room on its islands, it constantly needed more lumber for shipbuilding, as it suffered losses in war and wooden ships only last a few years anyway. The wealthy citizens needed room to relax on shore and set up larger industries there with less water and sanitation problems.

After the Turks had finished off Byzantium by capturing Constantinople, Venice traded with them such as by importing Turkish rugs, and made treaties with the Turks when it could. But even before 1500 Venice found it necessary to cede Albania and Lemnos to the Turks and pay a tribute of 100,000 ducats for the retention of trading privileges. At the end of the next war with the Turks it had to offer 6,000 ducats for Malvasia and 300,000 as indemnity for the war. This was rejected and the Venetians had to give up some Dalmatian ports as well. Eventually Crete, which Venice had held for 450 years, was captured by the Turks after a 24 year war in which the heroic Venetian commander was captured, flayed alive, his skin stuffed and put on display in the Turkish capital. By 1718, within 100 years of the end, all major overseas possessions were lost.

In the early days the council met every day of the week including Sundays and every holiday except 2 in the year. In summer they sat from 8 to 12 and in winter from noon to sunset. Some of the older nobles had hardly missed a day in 30 or 40 years of service. Then the "Golden Book" of the noble families was closed. An ingrowing aristocracy resulted.

Between about 1200 and 1700 when Venice was between 800 and 1300 years old, Venice fought about 50 wars. Many of the best men were gradually killed off, Venice resorted to mercenaries, (as Carthage had done); massive debts piled up to finance the wars. Then titles were offered for sale - 100,000 ducats would buy one - official positions were for sale, and Venice became exhausted militarily and in spirit.

Venice did adapt when it could. It even partially recovered the spice trade threatened by Portugal after discovery of the Cape route to the East Indies. There was a further blow to Venice in the sailing ship revolution. Ocean going round-hulled merchant ships with guns and gunpowder could more or less defend themselves with a small crew while 200 man galleys were expensive to crew and not suited to ocean-going trade.

At its peak the Venetian state-owned ship-building yard, the Arsenal, employed 16,000 men and by assembly line methods could build a ship a day. They gave a practical demonstration for Henry 3rd of France who visited Venice in 1574 and saw a galley put together in a few hours.

As the local supplies of lumber were used up, the Venetian merchants were prepared to ship goods in foreign vessels or have ships built on the Dalmatian coast, or at Ragusa, which became a colonial competitor. But the Venetian government put duties and tariffs on foreign shipping, so that considerable trade shifted to Leghorn and Ragusa, to the disadvantage of Venetian entrepreneurs.

Now that its eastern monopoly was declining, Venetian ingenuity turned to industry, It developed a fine quality woollen trade, and the highest quality glass, mirrors, and lacquered furniture. Even today we have Venetian blinds as quality adjustable shades for windows (but not made in Venice). The English and the Dutch were more experienced ocean going navigators - they lived next to oceans and had adapted to them in their development. They sailed right through the Mediterranean to trade with Turkey. England took 40% of the Aleppo trade and left Venice only 25%. Worse, English and Flemish manufacturers were taking their cheap imitations of Venetian quality goods to the eastern Mediterranean. (Britain had the same complaint about Germany in the late 1800s and North America about the Pacific Rim States in the late 1900s).

When Venice was about 1000 years old its arts began to flourish. Genoa produced Columbus, Florence produced Boccacio, Dante, Machiavelli, the Medicis, Michelangelo, and Leonardo. From Pisa came Galileo. Venice produced Bellini, Cabot (a naturalized Venetian), Canaletto, El Greco, Gabrieli, Marco Polo, Monteverdi (concert master there), Spinetus (who invented the spinet), Tintoretto, and Vivaldi. Except for Marco Polo, who was earlier, all this took place when Venice was between 1000 and 1300 years old,

During the final 150 years everything fell apart; but the reasons for it lay mostly in the 140 years or so before that, so let's look at that period first - from about 1505 to 1645 if you like historical dates.

In 1505 Venice was almost 1100 years old. Its colonies were competing with it, producing more cheaply than it could. Soon after its defeat by the League of Cambrai in 1509, a new experience in its lifetime, it joined the Pope, Spain, and Henry 8th's England against France which was invading Italy. Then 13 years later Venice joined the Pope, France, Florence, and Milan against the Holy Roman Empire.

Venice had been warring against the Turks on and off all this time and was instrumental in defeating Turkish sea power at Lepanto in 1571. But the Turks took Cyprus from Venice. All these wars were very costly to Venice. And during this period there was European inflation. But while English builders' wages went up 25%, the Venetian increase was 100%. Volunteer oarsmen were being replaced by convicts. France switched its importing from Venice to its own Marseilles, and the English traded direct with the near east or through Leghorn.

We can see why: Venetian taxes were too high, labour costs were too high, workers were becoming inefficient, there were high city wages for services, sites were expensive, there were frustrating guild (labour union) restrictions. The government tried to curb wage increases but found it impossible. Let's take an example. Around 1600 AD Venetian cloth was of the highest quality. An average 'piece' cost 79 ducats. The average components were:

Government taxes 33 ducats (42%)

Labour costs . . . . 34 ducats (43%)

Merchant's share . 12 ducats (15%)

Total . . . . . . . . . . . 79

From that 12 ducats or 15% the merchant had to provide for the raw material cost (probably at least 10%); overhead (probably about 10% today); a return on capital to investors (which should be at least 5%); a reserve for replacements and improvements (say 5%) and then 'profits' or wages of the merchant, (which should be at least 5%). You can see that the money isn't there, and the product was already over-priced in the world market. The taxes were high because the wars were killing Venice. Venice was now in a world class league without a monopoly any more to support it.

Now let's look at the last 140 to 150 years when Venice was over 1200 years old. Everything began unravelling. First, a 24 year war to the death to defend Crete against the Turks. The cost far exceeded the 5 million ducats annually in taxation. Every Venetian had to give up 3/4 of his family plate to be melted down. The taxes rose higher than ever. The government debt rose to 80 million ducats and required annual interest payments of 2.5 million ducats.

No wonder that the cloth tenderers' guild had 22 masters and 12 unemployed, and the tanners with 63 in the guild had 35 unemployed (before 1700 AD). There were less than 2000 beggars in the 1500s AD but over 20,000 in the late 1600s. Many skilled workers moved to other parts of Europe.

Public morals disintegrated. An abbess and a nun fought with daggers over a lover. A woman put up her daughter's virginity as a lottery prize. Someone prepared a book listing over 11,600 call girls. Casinos sprang up everywhere.

The Arsenal, which once employed over 16,000 now had about 1,500 men. 70,000 pieces of lumber intended for shipbuilding disappeared annually, used by workers to heat their homes. Many workers had other jobs and only turned up for payday. Apprentices in the guilds paid for their certificates instead of working for them. Government offices were for sale.

The army cost as much as ever but was corrupt. Corfu should have been defended by 1 company of Venetians and 2 of Albanians. In fact there were only a couple of Venetian officers who drew the pay for the lot. Colonial defences were decayed. Guns were rusted up or without ammunition. Battlements were overgrown with bushes and trees.

The cost of the 19 day election campaign for the Doge was about 70,000 lire around 1700 AD and about 400,000 lire just before the end. Within 20 years of the end the Doge had said "We have no forces, on land or sea. We have no alliances. We live by luck, by chance." It was a pathetic ending, in 1797. Just after an ultimatum from Napoleon about a new form of government was read in the Great Council, there was a discharge of musketry outside. In panic the members voted 513 yeas, 30 nays, and 5 blanks. Then, having signed themselves out of office, they went home.

But the musket shots weren't the French troops after all. They were the parting salute of the Slavonic troops, the mercenary palace guard, leaving because the French minister had said they 'irritated' him and so the Venetian government had ordered them to leave. Then Napoleon, without a fight, began the systematic looting of the treasures of Venice. The crown jewels were removed, precious metals melted down, the finest art catalogued and shipped to the Louvre in Paris. So ended Venice, the Island City Society which lasted from the sack of the Roman Empire to the looting of Venice by Napoleon, 1376 years.

The peninsula of Italy was a patchwork of small states at the time. But soon afterwards Cavour and Garibaldi were among the leaders of the 'risorgimento' or resurrection of the Italian spirit of the Renaissance and even of ancient Rome, leading to the unification of Italy. By 1861 King Victor Emmanuel 2nd, king of Sardinia, was able to proclaim himself king of Italy and in 1866 Venetia was finally wrested from the Austrians for Italy. In less than 90 years after its end as a distinct Society, Venice was swallowed up with its competitors into a new, much larger entity, a Nation State.





Remembering that our example of Venice was just one type of society, an Island City Society, which had a simplistic beginning, now we're ready to test the theory on some of the societies that are important to us in our present Western Civilization: alphabetically, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States of America.

First, we have to know when they started. This is where a lot of people have given up. It all looks like an endless stream of history to them. But if I'm right in saying societies are living entities and have life cycles then there has to be a start. So, what are we looking for? I think it's:

1. A precise location. We've seen that societies don't move around, they're rooted. They take their chances where they began, like trees. So they should have begun where they are today.

2. The name should be the same. It's true Venice was briefly called Rivo Alto at the beginning but it soon became Venice and kept that name. So the earliest use of the present name will be of help to us.

3. We want continuity. If a society dies out early on, then that's not a full life and we're talking about life cycles. If it ceases, like Gilbert's colony in Newfoundland, or the lost colony of Roanoke in Virginia, then we have to look for a different start.

Later on we'll look for the characteristic phases: formative, ascendancy, expansion with cannibalism, dominance, decay, and termination or death. Right now we'll concentrate on starts. Let's take the easy ones first.


The name Canada came from the Huron-Iroquois language kanata (settlement) as told to and used by Jacques Cartier in 1535. By 1550 it was already being shown on European maps as the name for part of present eastern Canada.

We know when Canada started as our present Canada, because we know from looking at Venice that it has to be started by people from another society within a civilization. The first permanent settlement of that kind was in 1604 when Acadia was founded.


The name America came from a German map maker who read the popular accounts of the travels of Florentine merchant Amerigo Vespucci and named the territory after him in 1507.

The US generally regards its beginning as the 1607 settlement in Virginia. But Spain's American empire began with Cortez in Mexico from 1520, De Soto along the Mississippi from 1539, Coronado beyond the Rio Grande and Menendez who founded the first European settlement in North America, in Florida in 1565. Then came the French with forts along the Ohio river, La Salle on the Mississippi to the gulf of Mexico, calling it Louisiana, founding New Orleans at the mouth of the river. As late as 1701 La Salle founded Detroit for France. There were also Dutch and Swedish colonies. So here we have complications. What is the true beginning of the US? I think we have to give recognition to the various influences, particularly the Spanish, as the US took New Mexico, Texas, and California from Mexico. So do we take 1520 as the start of what eventually became part of the US, or 1565, as the first European permanent settlement, or the first permanent English settlement, in Virginia in 1607, as the area that motivated the existence of the society that is the US?

From our point of view, dealing with societies with long life spans, we don't care much which date is used. We're looking at change in status of the territory which was to become the US. We could just as well say 1520, as 1607, because we're not trying to be historians here, we're after something different. But the US, unlike Mexico, is fundamentally English speaking, although Spanish is increasingly a second language, so let's say it started in 1607.

. . . . . . . . . .

If we had slight problems finding the start of the US, where do we begin with Britain, France, Germany, and Russia? It may not be as hopeless as you might think. Let's take Britain next.


We know that just before the Roman society died, Roman legions started moving out of Britain, and the last of them left by 409 AD. After they left, the Roman colonial society in Britain collapsed and died. So we know there has to be a fresh start, a new society has to come into existence after that. But the Romans hadn't even left before the Picts, Irish, and Saxons were already invading Britain. Then came the Angles, and Jutes. Three small kingdoms took shape, Northumbria, in the north, Mercia in the west, and Wessex in the south and east. Offa, king of Mercia, built a 'dyke' to keep out the Welsh, and subdued just about everyone else, except the Danes and Vikings who were starting to come in. But the first king to call himself King of the English was Egbert of Wessex in 802. Both Mercia and Northumbria did homage to him. Several other kings followed Egbert, then came Alfred 'the Great'.

Britain was really founded as an independent society during the reign of Alfred (871 - 900 AD). He was a successful warrior, organized a navy, re-organized the army, was an educated man himself, invited scholars to his court, founded schools, churches and monasteries, patronized merchants and explorers, and was a great law-giver.

Alfred's successor Edmund the Elder was acknowledged as king or as overlord over the whole island. Athelstan (925 - 940) became lord of the whole of Britain:

"Rex Anglorum curegulus totius Britanniae"

If we look forward a few years we find the Danes took over half the country, and later, one of them, Canute, became king of England. Then Harold Hardrada of Norway attacked and was defeated by Harold king of England in the north in 1066, a few weeks before William of Normandy landed in the south. Harold marched his army south and chose to meet William's forces without delay. He was killed and his army defeated at Hastings on the south coast.

So England, which later grew to be Britain, started somewhere in there. Do we take 802 or 871 as our starting date? The title came into existence with Egbert, but the reality began to take shape with Alfred. I suggest in this case we take 871 as our starting date.


Being in the continental land mass of Europe, how do we define the location of the society that is France? Natural frontiers and language differences are of some help. Parts of it front on to the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and the Channel. To the south west past the Pyrenees the Spaniards speak a different language, as do the Italians to the south east. The Alps separate Switzerland from France, but about 20% in Switzerland speak French. Language and the Rhine river separate France from Germany, but Alsace and Lorraine, presently French, have both languages and have been fought over for a thousand years. The Dutch in the north east have a different language, but about a third of Belgians, also north east, speak French.

The corpse of the Roman society was barely cold when Clovis, king of a group of Franks - a Germanic people - settled in part of what is now France. Between 486 and 507 the Franks pushed the Visigoths back into Spain, took over Burgundy, and defeated the Alemanni. (Allemagne is French for Germany today). But the Frankish kingdom broke up when Clovis died. Charles Martel (the Hammer) in the 700s pulled the east and west kingdoms together as Austrasia and his grandson Charlemagne (the Great) in about 800 AD united it all again and more, as Austrasia. But it was as much or more Germany as France. France was only 2 regions of 5 or more. There's no France recognizable yet, and I think we need to have some semblance of the right territory to start with.

I suggest we begin with the treaty of Verdun in 843 between Charles the Bald who was the first king of Western France, and his brother, later called Louis the German. They agreed to have as their inheritances what later became France and Germany respectively. There wasn't much progress beyond that until the time of Hugh Capet. His kingdom was the Ile de France area and his capital was Paris, a central position in the future France. When the Capets came to power in 987 France was about the size of 2 French Departments today. But by the end of that dynasty France was the size of 59 modern French Departments (there are about 95 today). There was a common justice and coinage, and the Pope was at Avignon. France had a pre-eminent position in Europe. That was in 1328. I think we can recognize that as phases 1 and 2, the formative and ascendancy phases for France, 843 - 1328 = 485 years.


Now that we're getting the idea of how to do this, let's tackle our most difficult case so far - Germany.

First, the name, Germany, is no help to us; it comes from the Latin Germanus, of Roman times.

The territory lacks natural frontiers: on the east, next to Poland, on part of the west with France, and the Low Countries, and to the north with Denmark. As to language, Austria to the south is German speaking, as is most of Switzerland.

Our starting point, though, is not too difficult. We can begin with Louis the German, in 843, the other side of the treaty of Verdun. It's in the development of its later existence as a society that problems arise.

There's the problem of the continuous entity called the Holy Roman Empire. It was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor Empire, but existed as a phantasmagoria for close to a thousand years. This began with Otto 'the Great', a Saxon, who was chosen "German' king in 936. In 962 he was crowned by the Pope as Holy Roman Emperor. Frederick Barbarossa (1152 - 1190) called the 'empire' located in 'Germany' and 'Italy' by this name. To him it was a universal empire established directly by God and equal in rank with the Church. He was crowned emperor in 1155. This title went with Germany until 1254, then came a break and after that it gradually became more an honorary title with little power. It ended when Napoleon captured Vienna in 1805 and defeated the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz in 1806. So we have two starting dates, the concept, in 936, with Otto; and the recognition, 962, when the Pope needed Otto's help. If we take the earlier date, 936, we have 936 - 1806, = 870 years. I would say it was never really a society, more a papal reward for good service. If we are to recognize it as a society, then it seems to me it has to be an Austrian rather than a German society. It distracted Germanic kings from their own territory into wars in northern Italy and dealings with the popes at Rome. But we have our date for the start of Germany - 843 AD.


Russia is further removed from the Roman Empire than the other societies we've discussed, so we're not looking for a start that has to be after the death of the Rome society. Where did the word 'Russia" come from? The 'Russ' were asked by the local population to come to Novgorod to put an end to local in-fighting. As a result, the first 'Prince' of Novgorod was a 'Russ' in 862.

Who were these 'Russ'? In 945 there was a treaty with Byzantium. It had 3 Slav signatures and 50 Norse signatures. The Russ were Norsemen. And so we can say that Russia began in 862.


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