Characteristics of the Outburst

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

The sudden outbursts of new empires are characterised by an extraordinary display of energy and courage, Sir John Glubb finds:

The new conquerors are normally poor, hardy and enterprising and above all aggressive. The decaying empires which they overthrow are wealthy but defensive-minded. In the time of Roman greatness, the legions used to dig a ditch round their camps at night to avoid surprise. But the ditches were mere earthworks, and between them wide spaces were left through which the Romans could counter-attack. But as Rome grew older, the earthworks became high walls, through which access was given only by narrow gates. Counterattacks were no longer possible. The legions were now passive defenders.

But the new nation is not only distinguished by victory in battle, but by unresting enterprise in every ?eld. Men hack their way through jungles, climb mountains, or brave the Atlantic and the Paci?c oceans in tiny cockle-shells. The Arabs crossed the Straits of Gibraltar in A.D. 711 with 12,000 men, defeated a Gothic army of more than twice their strength, marched straight over 250 miles of unknown enemy territory and seized the Gothic capital of Toledo. At the same stage in British history, Captain Cook discovered Australia. Fearless initiative characterises such periods.

Other peculiarities of the period of the conquering pioneers are their readiness to improvise and experiment. Untrammelled by traditions, they will turn anything available to their purpose. If one method fails, they try something else. Uninhibited by textbooks or book learning, action is their solution to every problem.

Poor, hardy, often half-starved and ill-clad, they abound in courage, energy and initiative, overcome every obstacle and always seem to be in control of the situation.


  1. Zhai2Nan2 says:

    One thing to remember when reading Glubb is that he mentioned that not all nations become empires. Some nations manage to persist without bursting into imperium for many centuries.

  2. I would like to know the characteristics of successful non-bursters.

    Unfortunately, I doubt they had a Glubb-style chronicler.

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