The Outburst

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Sir John Glubb examines the stages in the lives of powerful nations — or empires — starting with the first stage, the outburst:

Again and again in history we ?nd a small nation, treated as insignificant by its contemporaries, suddenly emerging from its homeland and overrunning large areas of the world. Prior to Philip (359-336 B.C.), Macedon had been an insignificant state to the north of Greece. Persia was the great power of the time, completely dominating the area from Eastern Europe to India. Yet by 323 B.C., thirty-six years after the accession of Philip, the Persian Empire had ceased to exist, and the Macedonian Empire extended from the Danube to India, including Egypt.

This amazing expansion may perhaps he attributed to the genius of Alexander the Great, but this cannot have been the sole reason; for although after his death everything went wrong — the Macedonian generals fought one another and established rival empires — Macedonian pre-eminence survived for 231 years.

In the year A.D. 600, the world was divided between two superpower groups as it has been for the past fifty years between Soviet Russia and the West. The two powers were the eastern Roman Empire and the Persian Empire. The Arabs were then the despised and backward inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula. They consisted chiefly of wandering tribes, and had no government, no constitution and no army. Syria, Palestine, Egypt and North Africa were Roman provinces, Iraq was part of Persia.

The Prophet Mohammed preached in Arabia from A.D. 613 to 632, when he died. In 633, the Arabs burst out of their desert peninsula, and simultaneously attacked the two super-powers. Within twenty years, the Persian Empire had ceased to exist. Seventy years after the death of the Prophet, the Arabs had established an empire extending from the Atlantic to the plains of Northern India and the frontiers of China.

At the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Mongols were a group of savage tribes in the steppes of Mongolia. In 1211, Genghis Khan invaded China. By 1253, the Mongols had established an empire extending from Asia Minor to the China Sea, one of the largest empires the world has ever known.

The Arabs ruled the greater part of Spain for 780 years, from 712 A.D. to 1492. (780 years back in British history would take us to 1196 and King Richard Cœur de Lion.) During these eight centuries, there had been no Spanish nation, the petty kings of Aragon and Castile alone holding on in the mountains.

The agreement between Ferdinand and Isabella and Christopher Columbus was signed immediately after the fall of Granada, the last Arab kingdom in Spain, in 1492. Within fifty years, Cortez had conquered Mexico, and Spain was the world’s greatest empire.

Examples of the sudden outbursts by which empires are born could be multiplied indefinitely. These random illustrations must suffice.

Comments

  1. Sam says:

    As they rise so shall they fall. There are cycles of nature and cycles of humans and societies. A book I’m reading, An Inquiry into the Permanent Causes of the Decline and Fall of Powerful and Wealthy Nations, by William Playfair (1759–1823) might be of interest:

    In looking over the globe, if we fix our eyes on those places where wealth formerly was accumulated, and where commerce flourished, we see them, at the present day, peculiarly desolated and degraded.

    From the borders of the Persian Gulf, to the shores of the Baltic Sea; from Babylon and Palmyra, Egypt, Greece, and Italy; to Spain and Portugal, and the whole circle of the Hanseatic League, we trace the same ruinous remains of ancient greatness, presenting a melancholy contrast with the poverty, indolence, and ignorance, of the present race of inhabitants, and an irresistible proof of the mutability of human affairs.

    As in the hall, in which there has been a sumptuous banquet, we perceive the fragments of a feast now become a prey to beggars and banditti; if, in some instances, the spectacle is less wretched and disgusting; it is, because the banquet is not entirely over, and the guests have not all yet risen from the table.

    From this almost universal picture, we learn that the greatness of nations is but of short duration. We learn, also, that the state of a fallen people is infinitely more wretched and miserable than that of those who have never risen from their original state of poverty.

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