Collections: Teaching Paradox, Europa Universalis IV, Part IV: Why Europe?

This is the fourth and last part of our series (I, II, III, IV) examining the historical assumptions of Europa Universalis IV, Paradox Interactive’s historical grand strategy computer game set in the early modern period. Last time we looked at how Europa Universalis IV often struggles to reflect the early modern history of places and peoples outside of Europe but how those struggles fit into a fairly clear pattern of efforts by Paradox to steadily convert what began as a European history simulator into a world history simulator. While that slow process has had uneven results over the years, it has steadily transformed EU4 into a real rarity: a game that actually makes a serious attempt at world history.

One of EU4’s loading screens, featuring the Grand Empress Dowager Xiaozhuang.

Before we dive in, I need to clarify some terms. I’ve tried to avoid a lot of the games jargon so that these posts will be intelligible to people who haven’t played the game, but as I wrote this I realized that I am going to have to clarify one thing. I have in the past two posts alluded to ‘resources’ of administrative, diplomatic and military ‘points’ which are used to develop provinces, fully absorb conquered territories (called ‘coring’ them), and a number of other things (including developing new technology and adopting new ideas). Collectively, these are called ‘monarch points’ (because they are, in part, generated by the skill of your ruler, although the ruler’s abilities in this regard were much more important when the game released and are far less important now) and they are meant to reflect in a very abstract way your overall state capacity. The state can, after all, only do so many things at once and so these monarch points are meant to throttle your activity to reflect that.

I bring them up here because we’re going to be talking about how this single currency (really, three separate currencies, but we can treat them together) is going to impact the game design and I want to be able to just say ‘monarch points’ and not have to type out a huge explanation of them each time.

We also need to bring forward one other thing we discussed in part II. To summarize the conclusions of that post, EU4 presents a model of international relations where security is only achievable for most states by aggressive expansion, creating a zero-sum game where the only way to avoid becoming a victim of the intense military competition was to become the victimizer, violently expanding into your neighbors (and even very distant overseas peoples) before they did the same to you (or more obliquely, conquering your weaker neighbors so as to deter your stronger ones from attempting the same of you). As we noted, this isn’t an unreasonable model of state-action during this period – the patterns it creates map on quite well to what is known in international relations political science as ‘interstate anarchy’ (from the neorealist school of IR thinking), which create situations where war is normalized and polities are forced to match the militarism of their neighbors. We are going to be bringing that thread forward here, because it provides part of EU4‘s answer for one of the more central questions that historians (and political scientists) ask about this period.

Why Europe?

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It is not hard to see why this question is so influential. At the beginning of the early modern period (say, c. 1400 or 1450), Europe was unexceptional. Not the poorest part of the globe, but far from the richest, Europe was most notable for having relatively fragmented, relatively weak states. Compared to the more prosperous and densely urbanized regions of Eurasia, Europe was fairly clearly a backwater.

Yet, by 1840 or so, all of the military and economic great powers were European states (with the First Opium War demonstrating with stunning clarity that the last of the great powers of East Asia could no longer defend itself; note that I am classifying the Ottoman Empire as a European power for this purpose. The Ottomans were – and had always been – part of the European state system, even if they were also part of other state systems). While European imperialism had not reached its zenith yet by 1840, it was clear that the tipping point had already been passed some time prior, creating a situation where there were no non-European powers (understood to include some of Europe’s now independent colonies) which could effectively compete with the great powers of Europe.

What on Earth happened? is thus a question the historical record very clearly demands, not only because of how the rise of Europe reshaped global politics (with continuing ramifications) but also because of the potential implications for modern political thinking and statecraft. After all, if whatever factors caused Europe’s rise could be replicated by modern states, they would be fools not to; likewise avoiding whatever mistakes were made by non-European states.

EU4 covers almost this entire time period (it ends in 1821 rather than 1840) and so it must supply an answer to the question ‘how did that happen?’ EU3, the game’s predecessor had a hard-coded deterministic approach; while it set Europe behind technologically at the start, it gave every culture group a hard-coded penalty to technological development speed with essentially forced Europe (the ‘Latin’ tech group being the only one that moved at full speed, covering Western Europe; all other tech groups suffered research penalties, larger as they got further away from Europe) to leapfrog ahead. Other cultures were provided no option to ‘keep up’ save for adopting European culture (a nonsense mechanic; as we’ll discuss in a moment, at various points various non-European powers ‘kept up’ just fine without any attempt to ‘westernize‘). This is not great as a model. While this kind of pure cultural explanation used to be (decades ago) quite common in assessments of this question and still occasionally appear in deeply frustrating popular works (we’ll touch on the most popular modern such work in a bit), their explanatory power against the detailed record of history is relatively weak. We’ll talk about more current explanations in a moment, but to be brief, such ‘cultural’ explanations generally rely both on supposed virtues Europe only occasionally showed (it is difficult to say, for instance, that the Europeans of the 1500s were particularly rational or particularly free as Europe prepared to descend into brutal wars of religion under the leadership of increasingly absolute monarchs, for instance), but also fail to explain why other states in some periods and places kept up with Europe’s sudden ascent, despite supposedly lacking those ingredients and generally making no effort to obtain them (attempts to ‘westernize’ in that sense belong to a later historical period and are much more complex than the term implies).

As I noted at the beginning, though, Paradox’s development style has changed over the years from such ‘railroaded’ results (where key historical changes are hard-coded like this) to an effort to simulate historical forces. So how does EU4 compare? As in EU3, Europe starts ‘behind’ much of Eurasia at the beginning of the game though not by nearly so much as it probably ought. Europe starts even in technology with much of the agrarian societies of Eurasia, but it receives no obvious cultural hard-coded research bonus. Development is a bit trickier, with Europe starting with province development scores that are often as high as other peer states (rather than being something of a backwater), leading to the ‘great power’ list (largely driven by development scores) having perhaps too many European powers. But even with the higher-than-probably-historical development scores in parts of Europe (and lower-than-probably historical scores for parts of Asia in particular which were quite urbanized in this period), the small and fragmented nature of European states means that they still start behind in comparative military and economic power, particularly compared to juggernauts like Ming and will rapidly find themselves looking up at, not down upon, strong centralizing states like the Ottomans. So far, so good.

Two factors enable European states to catch up and then eclipse other states. The less important of these factors are the statistics assigned to military units. Each culture-group has their own unique set of infantry and cavalry units (everyone shares artillery and ships) with modestly different stats based on tech level. The ‘Western’ (read: Western European) units are notable for being generally very poor in cavalry until very late in the game (due to complex factors within the game’s battle calculations, cavalry is very strong early but its importance wanes as the game goes on; Europe gets good at cavalry just in time for cavalry to not matter very much). European infantry is subpar at game start, becomes roughly average by mid-game and surges into the lead in the late game. The consequence of this is that, for a given ‘tech level,’ by 1820, a European army will have a fairly modest combat advantage over a non-European army.

Via the EU4 Wiki, the ‘pip’ values (essentially combat power) of infantry units at various tech levels. The color of each line indicates the associated culture group; the very high purple line is ‘High American’ a tech group introduced to translate a counter-factual game mode from Crusader Kings II games (which can be imported into EU4); High American cultures do not ever appear in normal EU4 games and so the purple line can be disregarded.
Note that the dark blue line, reflecting western European armies, begins at the bottom by some distance, but ends at the top.

(Players of the game may be chafing a little bit at this description from experience – ‘the difference isn’t modest, it’s huge!’ No, it’s modest, check the stats. What causes European armies to stomp all over everyone else in the game isn’t the differences in stats (‘pips’) within tech levels (which are small enough to be easily swamped by differences in drilling, discipline, general skill or just raw numbers), but Europe’s tendency to end up several tech levels ahead of everyone else. Even fairly small differences in military tech levels can lead to substantially large disparities. Consider that tech 25 European infantry (despite being the strongest at that tech level) is weaker than tech 30 Native American infantry (which is the weakest at that tech level) and that’s before even accounting for the bonuses provided by the military technology directly. In practice, that tech-30 army with weaker units will easily defeat a similarly sized tech-25 army with stronger ones because of the substantial bonuses to morale, tactics and general’s skills in the intervening tech levels. Tech level is far more impactful than unit types; playing a non-European power and ‘keeping up’ in tech makes this obvious as overcoming the small advantages in ‘pips’ is easy if you keep up in tech level.)

Far, far more substantial are institutions, the awkwardly named not-quite-obvious technology bonus that Europe receives. Briefly, at fifty year intervals, key ‘institutions’ (a mix of technological, social and economic innovations) spawn and begin diffusing through the map from a central point. States that do not have all currently existing institutions take a stacking penalty to the cost of raising their technology level (up to 50% per missing institution). That penalty has even wider implications however; the resources used to upgrade in technology are those same monarch points used to develop provinces or fully absorb (in game terms, ‘core’) new territory. Consequently, increased costs in technology can have ripple effects if a player tries to ‘keep up’ anyway while behind on institutions, because that means foregoing development and other options which require these same resources.

So far, this seems like a much better system than the hard-coded culture-based research penalties of EU3. But the devil is in the details. Because these institutions radiate out from a central point where they were ‘discovered,’ states very far from that origin point may find it takes many decades for that knowledge to ripple out, with very few options to accelerate the process (you actually can ‘force’ an institution to spawn in your province once it is spawned somewhere else, that but requires investing a couple thousand of those same monarch points with all of the same effects as the last paragraph noted. It is often still a better investment than overpaying for technology over decades – at least you get a very developed province out of the deal – but hardly efficient compared to just being fairly proximate to the start locations of key innovations).

Naturally we have to finish out our Vijayanagar game as well, though I only took it through 1750. Here we are in 1715. We have formed Bharat (which functions as a ‘national union’ tag formable by any culture in a Hindu culture group that manages to establish control over the entire sub-region) and between the Mughals and Bharat, all of the intervening states have been absorbed, leading to the first large class the result of which is this map – victory allowed Bharat to annex much of the Indus River basin.
Note that Doti and Gugh (orange-brown and purple in color) are vassals of Bharat here. The strategy I am engaging in is called ‘vassal feeding’ – taking land in war by seizing it in the name of vassal states. Absorbing vassal states uses diplomatic power, in contrast to the administrative power required to absorb land directly via conquest. Vassal feeding thus allows a player to expand more rapidly by spreading out the monarch point cost between the two.
Also, at this point the game is effectively over – the collapse of Ming means that, barring some truly silly decisions, Bharat has no real peer competitors anymore and has effectively escaped the conditions of anarchy (shifting into hegemony, one of the other neorealist state systems).

And – you knew this was coming, didn’t you – nearly all of the institutions tend to spawn in Europe. Of the eight institutions in the game, one is available everywhere in Afroeurasia at game start (‘Feudalism’) and so mostly serves as a permanent 50% research penalty to the New World. Two (Renaissance and Printing Press) are hard-coded to only occur in specific European regions (Italy and Germany, respectively). One (Colonialism) requires the state to have the ‘Exploration’ idea tree, which generally only is taken very early in the game by European states; a player could try to pull this innovation out of Europe by burning their first idea group on ‘Exploration,’ but the nature of the map gives most states outside of Western Europe few reasons to explore and few benefits to doing so. One more (Enlightenment) is heavily weighted towards Europe, but not exclusively so. Two others (Global Trade and Industrialization) are set to appear in the highest valued trade node in the world which, for the reasons discussed last week, will almost always be one of the three European end-nodes. Consequently, in most normal games, all institutions will spawn first in Europe and then radiate outward. That propagation is often very slow (sometimes taking close to a century for an innovation to make its way from Europe to China), meaning that states essentially suffer research penalties based almost entirely on their distance from Europe.

On the one hand, that set of mechanics produces a historically recognizable set of changes. Europe begins technologically behind, but will tend (in fits and starts as institutions appear and propagate) to catch up and then overtake the rest of the world. And because the same resources (the monarch points) are involved, European states will tend to have a surplus of those ‘monarch points’ to develop their provinces (because their technology is effectively cheaper), leading Europe to also tend to increase province development substantially more rapidly than the rest of the world, reflecting rapid European urbanization. The outcome of these mechanics looks something like historical outcomes.

On the other hand, this system bears essentially no resemblance to what we generally suppose to have been the historical forces that actually motivated those changes, as we’ll discuss in a moment. It also makes a mess of the actual geography of competitiveness in the period. As multiple scholars have noted (see below), outside of Europe (again, understood to include the Ottomans), the states which were most able to ‘keep up’ with European developments in this period were China and Japan – at times both states achieved and held effective parity with the West. But in this system, both China and Japan are at extremely deep disadvantages, being likely some of the last states to gain access to each institution and as a result falling behind even relative to parts of South and South-East Asia. That is, to put it charitably, not what happened.

Briefly, how might I fix institutions? First, ‘Feudalism’ which exists to create a semi-permanent research penatly for the New World, ought to be renamed; I might suggest ‘iron-working’ as a better descriptor of the technological gap as it really existed. Second, at least some of these institutions should already be present outside of Europe and thus be able to be independently discovered in different places. The Renaissance reflects, for instance, a recovery of classical learning; but China and India in this period do not need to recover their classical learning, having never lost it. They should thus start with the Renaissance, if it is to remain an institution. That of course also means breaking up the strict ordering of institutions and the hard region-locking of them; make them fully contingent on conditions and then let the chips fall where they may. But what about this system and how it speaks to the ‘Why Europe?’ question?

And that means it is time to talk about…

Why Europe?

There is a massive amount of literature to explain what is sometimes called ‘the Great Divergence‘ (a term I am going to use here as valuable shorthand) between Europe and the rest of the world between 1500 and 1800. Of all of this, most readers are likely only to be familiar with one work, J. Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel (1997), which is unfortunate because Diamond’s model of geographic determinism is actually not terribly well regarded in the debate (although, to be fair, it is still better than some of the truly trash nationalistic nonsense that gets produced on this topic). Diamond asks the Great Divergence question with perhaps the least interesting framing: “Why Europe and not the New World?” and so we might as well get that question out of the way first.

I am well aware that when EU4 was released, this particular question – and generally the relative power of New World societies as compared to Old World societies – was a point of ferocious debate among fans (particularly on Paradox’s own forums). What makes this actually a less central question (though still an important one) is that the answer is wildly overdetermined. That is to say, any of these causes – the germs, the steel (through less the guns; Diamond’s attention is on the wrong developments there), but also horses, ocean-going ships, and dense, cohesive, disciplined military formations would have been enough in isolation to give almost any complex agrarian Old-World society military advantages which were likely to prove overwhelming in the event. The ‘killer technologies’ that made the conquest of the New World possible were (apart from the ships) old technologies in much of Afroeurasia; a Roman legion or a Han Chinese army of some fifteen centuries earlier would have had many of the same advantages had they been able to surmount the logistical problem of actually getting there. In the face of the vast shear in military technology (though often not in other technologies) which put Native American armies thousands of years behind their Old World agrarian counterparts, it is hard not to conclude that whatever Afroeurasian society was the first to resolve the logistical barriers to putting an army in the New World was also very likely to conquer it.

(On these points, see J.F. Guilmartin, “The Cutting Edge: An Analysis of the Spanish Invasion and Overthrow of the Inca Empire, 1532-1539,” in Transatlantic Encounters: European and Andeans in the Sixteenth Century, eds. K. J. Andrien and R. Adorno (1991) and W.E. Lee, “The Military Revolution of Native North America: Firearms, Forts and Politics” in Empires and Indigenes: Intercultural Alliance, Imperial Expansion and Warfare in the Early Modern World, eds. W.E. Lee (2011). Both provide a good sense of the scale of the ‘technological shear’ between old world and new world armies and in particular that the technologies which were transformative were often not new things like guns, but very old things, like pikes, horses and metal axes.)

This isn’t the place to discuss every response to ‘Why Europe?’ (that would be a graduate seminar, at least), but I think it is worthwhile to hit some of the major theories I think are worth dealing with. It’s worth noting at the outset that while historians presenting an argument about what caused the Great Divergence tend to present arguments in monocasual form (‘look at the impact of this‘), if you talk to them, most historians I’ve discussed the point with tend to blend these theories (they are mostly not mutually exclusive); I’ll give a sense of my own blend at the end.

Frag Out

The first argument is about fragmentation. The balance of political systems, military technologies (castles and cavalry), and geography in Europe created persistent European fragmentation through much of the Middle Ages. Even after the period of rapid consolidation in the 1400s and 1500s, European geography didn’t lend itself towards a single dominant state emerging (contrast China, where a bunch of big navigable rivers all connected to the same coastline encourage larger regional consolidation, though by no means make it certain). Consequently, Europe remained unusually politically fragmented (and still is). One argument for the Great Divergence then is that this fragmentation, combined with the pressures of the competition we discussed last time, forced European states, when faced with existential pressures, to innovate rapidly to survive. New innovations in military technology could not be avoided – even if they destabilized the existing political systems – because failing to take them up meant falling potentially fatally behind. Consequently it was impossible for any European state to choose stability over progress, not because they were enlightened (they weren’t) but because they had to survive. This argument is most closely associated with W. McNeill, The Pursuit of Power (1982), but the impact of fragmentation on firearm development specifically is also important and we’ll come back to it. Of note, McNeill argues that the European flourishing of relatively free markets and a degree of free expression was not so much a product of European ruler’s tolerance of these things or some general European commitment to them (there is little evidence of either), but a product of their inability to be rid of them; markets and ideas suppressed in one country could and did simply shift over the border into the next.

Fragmentation does have some odd but significant effects on the trajectory of games in EU4 and that comes back to ‘monarch points.’ Meant to reflect state capacity, monarch points are used both to acquire new technology levels and develop provinces and absorb new land. But a well run state in the game will only ever gain marginally more monarch points per month than a poorly run one, as the bulk of monarch points come from the base value every state has along with ruler skill (which is functionally random for most states). Consequently, a tiny ‘one-province minor’ (or ‘OPM’ in the community lingo) is going to be gaining almost as many of these points as mighty France or Ming. Such small states lack the military power to expand and technology can only be pushed so far ‘ahead of date,’ leaving province development as the remaining way to use those points. Consequently very small states tend to develop their handful of provinces very highly and so European fragmentation does drive its urbanization.

Except that creates a pattern where the areas of most intense fragmentation (generally the German regions of the Holy Roman Empire) develop the largest and most developed provinces. But this is exactly wrong. If we take development to mean improves in something like economic productivity and infrastructure, these developments were most rapid not in the fragmented Holy Roman Empire, but in the larger, consolidated states of Great Britain, France, the Dutch Republic (which, do not forget, had a vast colonial empire) and so on. The industrial revolution, after all, began in Britain and spread first on the continent to Belgium and France. Likewise, if development is taken to mean urbanization and population growth, there is no indicator that small states were any further along in that either; if anything, the small states of the Holy Roman Empire lagged behind France, Britain and the Low Countries.

Consequently, while fragmentation has some effects in contributing to the rising economic power of Europe in most EU4 playthroughs, those effects happen because of pure game mechanics untethered to any identifiable historical forces. What we do not see are situations where existential warfare in the context of extreme fragmentation provide meaningful bonuses to technology or where states are given the option to preserve stability by avoiding economic or technological development – situations that would be more concordant with McNeill’s arguments. In the end, I suspect this goes to Paradox’s stated preference to avoid situations where producing historical results requires the AI to be taught to play badly. By McNeill’s thesis, most non-European states ought to be, in many cases, trading long term technological and economic advancement for stability, taking the short term benefit over the long term one. Historical actors didn’t know that is what they were doing, but a player would and so training the AI to make those stupid decisions, while it might fit the historical theory, would break with Paradox’s core design philosophy.

Firearm Up

All of which bring us to technology, particularly military technology and a debate known in military history circles as the military revolution, which serves as another answer to the ‘Why Europe?’ question. The core of this question, well stated by K. Chase is, “Why was it the Europeans who perfected firearms when it was the Chinese who invented them?” G. Parker, The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West 1500-1800 (1988; 2nd ed. 1996) sets out a technological argument mostly confined to Europe, where the development of cannon (a technology that had spread from China), led to a change in fortifications (to trace italienne or ‘star forts) which demanded larger infantry based armies, which spurred development in firearms for those armies to use; the defensive stalemate this technological package (cannon + star forts + big infantry armies + guns) spurred colonial expansion at sea as an effort to get resources to fund these huge armies and Europeans found the military package that this ‘military revolution’ had given them basically unbeatable abroad. Much of the last 40 years of writing on the topic has been responses and refutations to portions of this argument, though Parker has never quite been fully forced from the field. That said, Parker is also careful to clarify that the Ottomans, China and parts of India kept pace with this rapid change; it would take the industrial revolution (rather than the military one) for them to fall behind (the military revolution is generally dated from c. 1450 to 1700 or so; the industrial revolution from 1760 to the mid-1800s though industrialization obviously continued after that). Chronology, as we are going to see, matters a lot here.

One notable response to Parker is the aforementioned K. Chase, Firearms: A Global History to 1700 (2003). Chase argues that the key factor is not Parker’s technological interaction (though I’d note that the two theories are not quite so mutually exclusive as Chase argues they are), but rather the threat profile. Chase notes, very persuasively, that firearms just weren’t a very good answer if your major threat was steppe nomad horsemen. Sure, firearms c. 1800 would do the job, but no one directing resources in 1550 could know that. So societies where the major threat was other agrarian states with big infantry armies invest heavily in firearms while states whose major threats are nomads do so to a lesser degree. Since – in a way no one could realize in 1550 – firearms had the potential for much greater power in the long run, Western Europe (one of the few areas of the belt of complex agrarian societies running over Eurasia that did not have major steppe nomad threats due to Eastern Europe being in the way) found itself, by mostly dumb geographic luck with the ‘killer app’ of the 1600s and following. In short then, Chase argues that Europe’s military advantage (and thus its dominant position) was a consequence of environment – being relatively shielded from regions of Steppe which would give rise to dangerous nomads – which in turn motivated European to embrace the new technology (guns) with greater long-term growth potential. The weakness of the thesis is that other places similarly insulated (namely Japan) didn’t have an indigenous military revolution (though they adopted it enthusiastically when it showed up), while Mamluk Egypt, which in this formulation ought to have been as eager on firearms as the Ottomans very clearly wasn’t for what seem pretty clearly to be cultural reasons (Chase anticipates and attempts to fend off this argument, but it is one of his weaker arguments in an overall excellent book).

Via Wikipedia, an illustration from a Ming era (1639) military manual showing instructions for volley fire drill. Volley fire, and the synchronized discipline necessary to produce it, is one of the core developments in the European military revolution, but also developed in China. In the relative dates and influences, see Andrade (op. cit.) below.

Most recently, T. Andrade, The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation and the Rise of the West in World History (2016) blends the fragmentation explanation with a look at firearms particularly through a contrast between China and Europe. He helpfully demonstrates the weaknesses of many under-cooked ‘cultural’ explanations (property! rule of law! despotism!), by showing that at times China (and the Ottomans) kept up, at other times fell behind and at points surged back ahead but that the key factor here was conflict and fragmentation not far slower changing culture. Periods of hegemony saw wars of expansion but also military stagnation as the state prioritized stability over innovation in military affairs. But periods of fragmentation in China saw technological leaps that kept pace with (always fragmented) Europe. In the process of charting these developments, Andrade also rescues some of Parker’s key European innovations from Chase’s dismissal, most notably trace italienne forts and broadside warships. Andrade also emphasizes that successful use of firearms is also dependent on ‘statecraft’ factors; strong states (which may be small; we mean ‘strong’ here to mean well organized internally) are a required factor for success. Of course 1400-1700 was a period where the modern European strong administrative state was, by fits and starts, emerging and developing itself to an administrative parity with the strong states of other parts of the world. In essence then, Andrade argues that rapid advancement in military science was a product of internally strong states kept in conditions of existential danger; as he puts it (op. cit., 302-3):

Rates of warfare thus correlate with military effectiveness, but we mustn’t forget the many other factors that come into play: state-craft, knowledge networks, economic organization, fiscal structures, communications and transportation infrastructure, and so much more. Warfare explains a lot, but not everything

(I should note here I have simplified a lot to just the word ‘firearms’ in all of this – these authors are not just talking weapons, but a complex mix of chemistry, manufacture, tactics, systems of drill and discipline and so on.)

Here I can say with some confidence that Paradox’s developers are at least aware of Parker’s arguments but perhaps not the more recent scholarship on firearms development. Most of Parker’s key developments are name-checked either in the names of units (e.g. Maurician Infantry referring to infantry using Maurice of Nassau‘s countermarch volley-fire technique), buildings (with ‘Bastion’ and ‘Star Fort’ being upgrades to castles which are more resistant to artillery) and technologies. And there’s clearly an effort to create a period of offensive dominance between the introduction of artillery (at tech-level 7 which becomes available c. 1492) and the appearance of upgraded forts (at lech-level 14, which becomes available in c. 1583), but the upgrade only marginally increases siege time (adding around two months to the total siege time). The historical impact of these technological interactions was much stronger, leaping from Machiavelli’s insistence in 1519 that “No wall exists, however thick, that artillery cannot destroy in a few days” – reflecting the inability of castles to stand up to cannon – to the sieges of 17th century bastion fortresses lasting months if not years (Parker, op. cit., 13 notes the siege of Breda in 1624 lasted nine months and was fairly short; the siege of Ostend, in Flanders in 1601 lasted three years despite ample artillery available to the attackers). Consequently, state consolidation doesn’t occur in a flurry as a window opening in 1490 and them slamming shut by 1590 – the historical pattern – but rather as a continuous process which only becomes marginally easier or more difficult over time.

The other problem is that these technological interactions are extrapolated to the whole world, but of course Parker’s thesis relies on the precise interactions being confined largely to Europe, since the base technology (gunpowder) was not unique or indigenous to Europe. This is a point where Andrade’s more recent work is particularly useful, as he demonstrates how European castle design was particularly vulnerable to the new cannon (and thus incentivized European states fighting other European states to push artillery development), but the indigenous fortress traditions of China and India, with much thicker walls often using rammed-earth construction, were already very resistant to early cannon, making artillery development seem like a dead end in China, rather than the tectonic technological shift it was in Europe (Andrade, op. cit., 75-114; note that the moment those new European cannon got to China, the Chinese bought and copied them in a period that Andrade terms “An Age of Parity.” They knew a good thing when they saw it and Chinese metallurgy was more than up to the task of replicating European designs and in some cases improving on them.)

Via Wikipedia, a model of a Chinese city wall, made using rammed earth construction finished over with stone or brickwork. Andrade argues, persuasively in my view, that such walls drastically limited the utility of siege cannon, as the earth interiors of the walls absorb the energy of impact much better than thinner European castle walls, and the earthwork fill is essentially ‘self-sealing.’ Brick-faced earthwork walls would be a core feature of the later European trace italienne fortifications designed to resist cannon.

How might this be done better? I think the development of conventional arms (cavalry and traditional non-firearm infantry) might be split off from the development of firearms (including artillery) to create a balancing question for each state. Conventional arms development might be balanced to be far more effective against cavalry-heavy armies (like nomads), while early artillery might be more or less useless against them. Next, set Indian and East Asian powers to start with the ‘bastion’ fort-type, and dial up the ‘castle’ fort-type’s profound vulnerability to cannon. Those things, combined, create that strong incentive for European states to pursue firearm development, but force other states with thicker walls and more nomad exposure to diversify (and thus potentially risk falling behind).

Map Painting to Riches

Finally, there is the colonialism and trade explanation, perhaps most notably set out by K. Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy (2000). Pomeranz focuses his chronology later, noting (as Chase and Andrade do) that Europe really only begins to outstrip China beginning in the 1750s. What he argues is that the key difference was the colonial empires that the European states had spent the previous two and a half centuries building (and also the use of coal instead of timber as a heating material) which by the 1700s brought in tremendous resources in primary products (raw materials and agricultural goods) which freed up land in Europe’s interior to produce other goods more intensively, leading first into the second agricultural revolution and then the industrial revolution, which would provide European states with insurmountable economic advantages (which in turn enabled more colonialism).

This really isn’t modeled much at all in EU4. European overseas imperialism- either in the form of port-and-fort trade networks reaching east (frustratingly represented in the game as consisting far more substantially of large stretches of territorial control rather than the isolated fortified trading posts of the era) or settler-colonialism – does feed significant income back to European states as an EU4 game progresses. But that income doesn’t feed back into development (which is produced by monarch points; the mechanism for turning money into monarch points is very limited); money can be used to build province improvements (buildings), but not to develop the underlying province resources. This dovetails with the relative underdevelopment of the game’s approach to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade as well; the movement of literally millions of (brutally enslaved) people from Africa to the Americas doesn’t result in shifting development or increased manpower in those regions. As grim as it might be, a system that transferred development from West Africa to European colonies in the Americas might more nearly simulate what was happening (Paradox’s ancient warfare game, Imperator, does almost exactly this with ancient slavery, so we’ll talk about that when we get there).

As I said, my own view of the evidence is something of a hybrid of most of these models explaining the rise of Europe. The rapid European development of firearms-based warfare created a feedback loop in terms of state centralization (cannon and muskets broke the power of the rural nobility, enabling centralization, which enabled more cannon and muskets, repeat until state-building complete then let dry; see Lee, Waging War (2016), ch. 7&9), while the fragmented agrarian state-on-state warfare in Europe encouraged firearm development particularly leading to an uncommonly effective military package (though not an unbeatable one in the 1600s and early 1700s) corresponding fairly substantially to the elements of Parker’s military revolution. That package enabled European states to set up and hold on to port-and-fort toeholds on other continents they might otherwise have lost (though early on, often only at the sufferance of local rulers, a balance of power that shifts almost imperceptibly until it shifts all at once). The networks of global trade and exploitation that created – because empire must be a product of military strength first – in turn fed a second feedback loop, providing the resources for greater intensification of both state power and economic development which then fed into the industrial revolution. The products of that second cycle, emerging in the late 1700s and the early 1800s, at last proved sufficient to overwhelm the large, complex agrarian states of Eurasia which had, up until that point, generally been able to maintain rough parity with Europe.

Crucially, all of this was an engine of change which was clearly destabilizing (it would, in the final account, consume all of the real monarchies of Europe and render the handful of survivors into powerless constitutional monarchs), but which no European prince, no matter how ‘absolute’ was in a position to shout ‘stop’ because of the intense competition inside of the cockpit of Europe. Any individual European monarch would have been wise to pull the brake on these changes, but given the continuous existential conflict in Europe no one could afford to do so and even if they did, given European fragmentation, the revolutions – military, industrial or political – would simply slide over the border into the next state.

Back to the Model

EU4‘s model manages to capture basically none of this. Indeed, some of the most important technologies that were historically distinctly European and important – broadside warships and trace italienne forts – are in EU4 general technologies available to everyone equally (which incidentally makes it flatly impossible for the game to capture the Portuguese cartaz-system (c. 1500-c. 1700) which was the main way that the Portuguese and later European powers wrested control over trade in the Indian Ocean; it only worked because Portuguese warships were functionally unbeatable by anything else afloat in the region due to differences in local styles of shipbuilding). Of the main institutions, only four of them (Colonialism, Global Trade, Manufactories and Industrialization) can be really connected to any of these processes and of these, at least two can hardly be said to have started in Europe. The Phoenicians (a Levantine, which is to say West-Asian people) were doing overseas settler-colonialism from at least 800 B.C. and potentially for a couple of centuries earlier and as J.L. Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350 (1989) lays out, global trade was not new in this period, although the scale of commerce and its management by a handful of European states was. In a real sense, European merchants, long confined to the rump-end of Eurasia were only now entering into a stream of global commerce which had run, in fits and starts, since at least the Roman period if not earlier.

What seems to have happened here is that the developers have taken a set of developments within Europe, which were very important within Europe (like the Enlightenment, or the Renaissance or the Printing Press) and invested them with tremendous explanatory power for what happens between Europe and the rest of the world, when that simply doesn’t seem to have been the case. In essence, the wires for the “Europe and the World” course and the “European Intellectual History” course appear to have gotten crossed. The various developments and intellectual currents they cite absolutely would be included in a course focused on Early Modern Europe (indeed, I have taught that survey and we talked about all of these in depth save for the industrial revolution, which sat mostly after our time frame and so was only alluded to in the final lecture). But in a global world history course covering the period 1440-1821, only some of these trends would be world-historic ones and their stories would in some cases not start in Europe.

Back to our Bharat, another war with the Mughals now means that the entire Indus basin is under Bharat’s control, while in the east the last of the Bengal region has been secured, which is important for the trade networks we saw last time. In a bit of realpolitik maneuvering, Bharat ended its alliance with the rapidly expanding Tsang, causing the latter to be pounced upon by its neighbors and brought back down to size – one example of the ways that a regional hegemon can reshape their neighborhood to their benefit.
Note that the pace of expansion here has clearly picked up. This is a result of the game’s systems as well. Every war in EU4 requires a casus belli – a cause for war – which can effect the peace deals at war’s end. Towards the end of the game, stronger casus belli unlock which lower the cost of demanding territory, allowing wars to become more total, even when fought between large powers. That shift is presumably meant to make the Napoleonic Wars and their near-unlimited nature possible. For more on that, check out Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Warfare as we Know It (2007)

That is not to say there is no Great Divergence (an absurd position I still see sometimes adopted in internet arguments but which is impossible to sustain in the face of European imperial expansion; something happened, the question is merely ‘what was it?’ and ‘why?’), but rather that EU4 does not provide a very compelling set of systems to explain it.

There is one exception to this, however, and that goes back to EU4‘s strongest feature: its model of interstate anarchy. While it does not explain why European states were in a position to be able to expand overseas, EU4 does encapsulate one argument as to why they did so. The solution it adopts is that European states had no choice but to expand militarily and economically overseas in order to survive, that for western European states directly exposed to other colonial powers whose armies were funded by the wealth of the Americas or trade in Africa and beyond, deciding not to do colonialism meant handicapping yourself in an all-or-nothing game of military power. And that is an argument that both Parker (1996) and McNeill (1982) – both discussed above – make. EU4 represents empire as a game nearly every large state is already playing and so the question of differing results falls not on the desire to expand and exploit neighbors (which is the assumed goal of all states) but on the different abilities to do so. And this too is not a position without a scholarly basis; it is a clear part of Azar Gat’s model of human conflict in War in Human Civilization (2006) and part that I think clearly holds up. As noted above, Europeans were not the inventors of imperialism, slavery or settler-colonialism, though they did become some of the largest scale practitioners of all three.

But when we move beyond asking about the willingness to expand to asking about the ability of European states to do so, the game falters. In particular, the placement of institutions as the key mechanism setting Europe apart causes the game to drift perilously close to (bad) arguments of the sort made by Victor Davis Hanson’s Carnage and Culture (2001); VDH attributes western success to a shifting mix of key culture features the core of which are representative government, civic militarism, and freedom in expression, criticism, debate, markets and trade, which he argues gave rise to a cultural affinity for decisive battle which he argues in turn results in superior military performance. And in some of the ‘institutions’ of EU4, you can see something similar to (but not quite identical with) parts of that thesis (with the Renaissance and Enlightenment institutions seeming to align with the free debate and even a bit of the representative government and Global trade and Industrialization seeming to connect to the free markets and trade). But while Carnage and Culture sold very well to the general public and was lauded in popular press (in part due to the timing of its publication; a lot of people in 2001 wanted to read that ‘the West’ was inherently superior and destined for ultimate victory after the shock of 9/11), the book has been almost universally rejected by historians and a work of shoddy and deeply irresponsible pseudo-scholarship.

Briefly, Hanson’s thesis fails at every level, from basic errors in his battle narratives (he gets the number of ‘free Greeks’ at Plataea wrong, for instance, catastrophically misunderstands what the Roman corvus boarding-bridge was, and his reconstruction of the Battle of Midway bungles the crucial minute-to-minute chronology), to grander errors in the overall argument. Arguments that political freedom is a characteristic ‘western’ value over 2,500 years of history ignore that such freedom was almost completely absent for the middle 1,700 years or so (more than half!). The fact that the West does not, in fact, have superior military performance for most of those 2,500 years is also glossed over in deceptive rhetoric but is fatal to the thesis in fact. Hanson argues that shock infantry is a distinctly western fighting style when it is clearly not; shock infantry shows up in Japan and shield walls and pike lines in China and even the ancient Near East. Hanson’s notion of a countervailing ‘eastern’ way of war is pure orientalist bunk supported only by his ignorance of warfare outside of the western tradition. Even a casual acquaintance with pre-modern Chinese warfare, for instance, reveals quite a lot of decisive large-scale infantry engagements. I could go on at some length, but I think this will suffice; do note that this is by no means a comprehensive accounting of the book’s failings. In short, this is a theory of the matter which EU4 would be well advised to steer clear off – it is not taken seriously by historians for good reason.

Via Wikipedia, the Terracotta Army, dating to the late third century BCE. But yes, tell me about how disciplined, close order infantry engaging in decisive battles is distinctive to Europe and no where else. Presumably this is just a very large, very well armed and armored interpretive dancing troupe?

(Of course I do not expect you all to just take my word for it. For an in-depth critique of Carnage and Culture, note S.J. Willett, “History from the Clouds,” Arion 10.1 (2002), 157-178. The fatal problems in the book’s thesis are also addressed head-on in the first chapter of J. A. Lynn, Battle: A History of Combat and Culture (2004). Suffice to say, I do not think any part of Carnage and Culture‘s main thesis survives the critiques offered.)

The Power of Simulation

The great power of a game like Europa Universalis IV in wrapped up in the persuasive potential of simulation. It is one thing to be told how something works, but quite another to see it play out with your own eyes and yet something still far more persuasive to watch the same processes play out differently each time, shaped by the basic assumptions of the simulation. But that power can also be a trap because the simulation is not, in fact, shaped by natural laws but rather by assumptions within the design. A simulation is not a real-world experiment, but rather a thought-experiment.

Now I have been, particular this week, sometimes rather harsh with EU4, but I want to reiterate that I think the game’s positives put it well above par with historical games. I could even imagine using it in class precisely as a thought experiment in interstate anarchy if the game itself weren’t so complex and long to play. And the tremendous amount of effort that went into getting names, provinces, states and regions correct makes EU4 an excellent stimulator of wiki-walks for players who find themselves wondering who the Timurids were, what the Sejm was, why they’ve never heard of Ayutthaya and so on.

And the last screenshot of this Vijayanagar into Bharat run. At this point, there’s honestly not a lot of fun left in the game because all sense of threat is essentially removed.
One thing that EU4 – and indeed, nearly all of Paradox’s games – struggles to simulate is the demands of controlling very large frontiers. In practice here, further expansion into the Iranian Plateau ought to impose crushing and impractical logistical burdens; these frontiers are nearly unguardable and merely keeping all of this territory ought to push Bharat to its limits. But because war is a binary state in the game (you are either at war or not), in part because all polities are states, there isn’t a significant level of low-scale conflict along frontiers during peacetime, making it possible for the entire army to be focused one war target at a time. For this period, that isn’t too much of a problem, but the lack of endemic small conflicts is much more striking in Crusader Kings II and III.

But that care and attention to accuracy in geographic detail, combined with the power of the simulation, also pose a real problem, in that it is also all too easy for a player to assume that, since the developers bothered to get the borders of 15th century Vijayanagar right, that the systems in place that produce the surging European dominance in the late game are also right. And unfortunately, while EU4 does place competitive pressures in the mix, most of the factors it has on offer to produce eventual European hegemony aren’t based on the best history. And the game presents these outcomes as substantially mechanistic and inevitable (e.g. certain institutions are mechanically restricted to appearing in Europe), rather than contingent on either long-term underlying structures or on events.

And, as we’ve already discussed, EU4 presents a particular vision of history as being about the affairs and concerns of states, with little time or attention paid to the regular people whose lives those states shape. This is nowhere more apparent than how the ‘rise of Europe’ is treated – the game only rarely gives any sense of what it was like for people to find themselves on the business end of colonialism or imperialism (European or otherwise), although it can give a sense of the experience of being a state in that position, which is still far more than most strategy games where you are never placed in the position of being a minor, technologically disadvantaged power. And I do want to stop and note how unusual and quietly radical that design decision is: many EU4 players, new to the game or at least new to playing outside of Europe will find themselves in the unenviable position of being on the receiving end of militarily superior European forces, put in the same no-win situations that faced Native Americans, West Africans, South Asians and others. Fight the Europeans and you lose. Refuse to deal with the Europeans and be victimized by those who do. Cling to closely to a European protector and lose your independence. In many cases, all possible roads lead to catastrophe, which is, sadly, one of the true lessons of history. To quite Star Trek (of all things), “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.”

That said, this lesson is only delivered at the level of states. We never really see the human cost of those dilemmas. For the teacher and the student alike, the antidote to this state-centric narrative are primary source narratives of the lives and conditions of regular people, which can deliver home the frequently nasty reality of state action and conflict.

That said, the history of states is a valid lens of historical analysis. I absolutely teach some of my courses with a primary focus on this lens, but then of course I have other courses I teach (when universities let me – I have this syllabus for a course on ‘War and Society in the Ancient Mediterranean World’ which I am dying to talk a department into letting me teach, but alas on the adjunct-treadmill I am mostly confined to the Big Survey Courses). And just so, Paradox has other grand strategy games! And while I have noted how EU4 is limited in how it portrays the agency of real people, how it focuses on their problems, the next game in the series (chronologically, not in release date), Victoria II aims squarely at those limitations.

And so that is where we are going to go next. That’s right folks – Victoria II confirmed.

(For those who have asked, the announcement that Victoria III is a real thing that is really going to happen isn’t going to change my schedule here. If anything, I want to talk about Victoria II even more to set up what I think are its particular strengths in the great hope that Paradox will build on those strengths in the sequel.)

260 thoughts on “Collections: Teaching Paradox, Europa Universalis IV, Part IV: Why Europe?

  1. Of note, the Printing Press Institution is not hardcoded to Europe. It can spawn in any Protestant or Reformed province. This can fairly easily happen if say as Kongo you go Catholic and flip to either Protestant or Reformed and the Printing Press can just spawn there.
    Also, you say there’s a limited way to turn in-game money (ducats) into monarch points, which is true-ish, but hiring higher and higher level advisors is exactly this transformation of money into development, that can almost match the monarch point generation of the ruler.

    1. Still, it’s a bit weird that Korea and China don’t start with Printing Press given they had, you know, *invented the printing press* several centuries prior. (and did have an interest in literate disputation etc which are related to the printing press institution).

      It’s a pity that EU has to model Chinese weakness as a technology problem – based on my own more limited reading the Chinese state probably could technologically and administratively have done many of the things 15-18th century European states did if it could have been bothered to, but it just wasn’t a priority. And that’s hard to code into a game because someone playing as Ming China, knowing the long-term outcome of going too easy on securing overseas trade routes, overseas resources and military development can then rather easily win…which is less fun as a game.

      1. I think someone, not sure if a developer or just a player offered a reasonable interpretation. The Printing Press wasn’t also discovered in 1550. What the Printing Press represents is the societal changes that came with the mass publications around that time. So, what the game tries to represent is a large shift in society caused in European societies of the time by the spread of mass printing. One counter-point I’ve heard (but am ignorant of it’s veracity) is that no similar unrest happened due to the development of the press in China and Korea when they popped up.

        1. The first big issue I have with this explanation is that while casual literacy can be a potent explanation (and, with Vic II on the table for next week, worth noting that Vic II has a lot dictated by starting literacy rates and your ability to produce a literate society), this doesn’t account for a decent bit of documentation suggesting Japanese literacy rates where usually comparable if not above those of the major European powers. It also seems to fall a bit into bad historical determinism by assuming that Protestant Europe alone would be having these societal changes organically emerge.

        2. I am fairly sure an important difference between in the impact of the Sino-Korean development of the printing press, versus the European one, was choice of materials. Korea and China, if I recall my past readings correctly, tended to use wood. Even after (I think just the Koreans) independently came up with movable type at around the same time or slightly ahead of the same European development, they stuck with wood. These much less durable options lent themselves well to a few hundred copies, suitable to the needs of an administrative/bureaucratic elite or the dissemination of knowledge among a scholarly elite. The Europeans, with somewhat better access very large amounts of copper and iron, went straight to metal for their etched plates and movable types. These much more durable materials were suited to printing thousands of copies. This in turn made the broadsheet and pamphlet culture, that helped drive the Reformation, much faster to evolve and spread to almost all levels of society.

          1. Wikipedia “Movable Type”:

            “The earliest printed paper money with movable metal type to print the identifying code of the money was made in 1161 during the Song Dynasty.[2] In 1193, a book in the Song dynasty documented how to use the copper movable type.[3] The oldest extant book printed with movable metal type, Jikji, was printed in Korea in 1377 during the Goryeo dynasty. “

          2. IIRC many European visitors in the 17th and 18th century were amazed how cheap and common books were in China. As our host says, the problem is taking a hypothesis about western Europe and its neighbours and applying it to world history without checking whether its valid in other cases.

          3. In the C18 local officials in China were distributing pamphlets giving guidance on new crops and spinning techniques. This presumes a reasonable level of literacy among ordinary folk.

          4. From what I recall the major difference was more in how Gutenberg went about making type, and the way he systemized and refined the printing process.

            The Chinese and Koreans had metal type and the Koreans were full on using it to print books decades before Guttenburg. But they were sand casting bronze type from hand carved wooden letter forms.

            That was time consuming and expensive. You needed skilled labor, molds were single use, bronze is fuel intensive to cast. Wood wears quickly requiring regular replacement.

            Gutenberg created a hardened steel die for the letter form. Used it to knock out reusable metal hand moulds. And cast in cheap, low temp hardened lead.

            Meaning once you had dies, or even just moulds run off the dies, you could quickly and cheaply run off type as needed with minimal specialized skill.

            Similar his press. Screw presses were already used in printing, especially cloth. But Gutenberg managed to develop one that could evenly press the page. Allowing you to transfer ink without rubbing or multiple presses. Ink that held better to metal. And wrapped it all in a system of moving frames that allowed you to easily slide the different elements in. Or even do more than one operation at the same time. One guy could pull out a printed page, while another inked type, another loaded new paper.

            It was all just faster and cheaper.

      2. The game could perhaps stress the innovation in Europe was a simple type and characters set and mechanical apparatus that far more easy to knock out more stuff faster.

      3. I’ve wondered if the difference in writing systems was a factor. But stability always seems to have been a priority over innovation. In fact ‘Progress’ wasn’t an ideal anywhere in the world before say the nineteenth century. That isn’t to say there wasn’t change and development but it was justified by appeals to an ideal past.

        1. From the sound of it, it may have been a subtle factor, but it doesn’t seem to have caused a sudden boom of Europe relative to China specifically in the 1400s and 1500s, when the printing press was invented.

          In other words, if “has the printing press with movable type and a simple alphabet” is supposed to represent something Europe had and China didn’t at some point in the 1400s, then it would be better modeled as some kind of national spirit that grants a steady +3% or whatever to research, which isn’t impressive at first but will add up quite a bit by the end of the game. Much better to do that than to model it as an institution that basically cripples China’s technological growth if they don’t have it by 1500 AD or whatever… Because China wasn’t thus crippled in 1500, not by any factor directly traceable to the printing press or lack thereof.

    2. Your first point is true enough, but this if anything makes the underlying criticism of the game mechanics worse. What possible argument can be advanced for why you have to be a Protestant to invent the printing press? Printing techniques were already in use before the Reformation in other parts of the world that did not and never have Christianized on any large scale. Gutenberg came up with some major innovations to printing technology that certainly gave Europe a major advantage in terms of ability to mass-produce written texts… but Gutenberg was a Catholic, because [i]he himself[/i] predated the Reformation.

      Your second point is indeed true- and Dr. Devereaux notes that there is a “limited” way to turn money into monarch points. The trick here being that this sounds like a method that is limited in that it will achieve diminishing returns when implemented on a larger scale. So the underlying point stands- a dozen little city-states will still have more total monarch points available than a single nation-state governing the same territory, even if none of them have the funds to indulge in this “hire better advisors” method.

      1. On the first point, I parrot what I said in another reply (still unsure if it was said by a developer or just an explanation by a player): the Printing Press here represents the societal changes happening in Europe has mass printing became diffused, largely tied to the Protestant reformation. In contrast, the same level of societal change would not have taken place in China or Korea with their development of a printing press.
        But, that it can pop outside of Germany is totally an oversight, or purposefully tipping the scales for the Institution to appear in the historical region, without hardcoding it.

        On the second point, I agree with Bret’s sentiment, but I don’t think it’s that limited how much you can do with money. Though it is very expensive, income in this game really rolls up very fast. A minor disagreement on the extent to which the mechanic is relevant in the analysis. 🙂

        1. If you hover over the institution it will provide you flavor text, this is what it says:

          “The ability to mass-produce the written word would revolutionize the spread of information and in many ways early modern society as a whole. Pioneered by Renaissance men such as Venetian Printer Aldus Manutius, the new art helped fuel the Renaissance by making the translated classics more widely available. Later the Reformation benefitted greatly from the ability to spread critical publications and translations of the Holy Scriptures.
          Now that Printing has matured as a technique and spread throughout Europe, hundreds of thousands of copies of everything from Religious and Political pamphlets to scientific treatises and instructions on how to behave are circulating the continent. With print shops growing evermore commonplace, rulers have found it hard to contain the new technique as the comparatively easy means of production means censorship can be sidestepped by moving business across a border or even just changing the name on a title page.”

          It does not mention china/korea having developed it before, but it does mention it was invented a lot earlier than 1550 when the institution spawns.

          1. Also, it mentions the effect of people moving across borders to avoid censorship (so this movement and its effect on technological advancement is kind of packaged into the institution). Once youve embraced this technology you are also vulnerable to a bad event where people print work of you being a bad ruler, and you either dont do anything about it (and suffer unrest) or censor it (and lost legitimacy).

            The other institutions also have flavor text that expand on the name. Feudalism isnt just feudalism as we know it but “Unlike the other Institutions, ‘Feudalism’ covers a wide range of different systems and exists from the start in all parts of the world where a strong tradition of Urbanism, Institutionalized Government and Social Stratification has reached a critical point. The institution can spread from contact with any of these cultures, or in some cases begin to grow on its own in a society that fulfills certain criteria.” renaissance already mentions early printing in its flavor text. Colonialism isn’t just about starting colonies (which people already figured out agest ago) but “As animals, crop types, silver and diseases spread across the Atlantic the first steps have been taken towards a truly global economy and as foreign lands and people are mapped and documented ideas as well as religious and philosophical debate has become more and more colored by what we have found in overseas societies. Great minds feel the need to question what was once truth and from Valladolid to Fatehpur Sikri the nature of the world is now up for debate.” Global trade already mentions there was global trade, but trade flowed through nations that added and subtracted from the flow of trade, while global trade cut out the middle man and connected one nation to another nation “Goods have been moved across continents since antiquity. But where this was previously limited to a set number of routes and goods such as the manufactured goods of India and China finding their way across the Indian Ocean and along the Silk Road, all trade is now increasingly becoming part of a greater world network”.

            And the game actually has a lot of flavor text like this. From technological improvements to unit types. (you have red coat infantry, which if you read the flavor text describes the British infantry doctrine, white coat infantry which describes the Austrian infantry doctrine (and how they also were trained to deal with the cavalry using Ottomans) and blue coat infantry which describes the French infantry tactics).

            I would add this to my post but i cant edit

      2. Honestly, I think the relationship between the Protestant Reformation and the printing press in the game should be reversed: the Protestant Reformation cannot trigger before the Printing Press institution appears, and can only trigger in a province with said institution. Not only would this better reflect history, it would solve the gameplay problem of the Protestant Reformation not infrequently triggering in the 1480s or 1490s and thus cutting the Age of Discovery extremely short.

        1. Then the printing press institution should trigger in 1500 in place of colonialism, which should be moved to 1550, otherwise the Reformation would only pop up way too late.

          (but I think that instead it’s better if the institutions are completely reworked to avoid such cases)

          1. That seems fine to me. There weren’t really that many colonies yet in 1500.

      3. I fear at this point we have to get into actual numbers.

        Monach points per type per month are:

        3 base (every state gets this)
        0-6 monarch skills (this is random, but more powerful states can manipulate their monarch skills and average about 3; the default distribution averages 2)
        0-5 advisors (OPMs can generally not afford advisors at all; hegemonic empires can afford level 5)
        0-1 power projection (you get power projection by winning wars against “rivals”)
        0-1 estates (you have to give up some income to get this, so again this benefits more powerful states)

        [For those that know the game, I’ve ignored natualn focus, which redistributes monarch points between type]

        At release, advisors were capped at 3 rather than 5, there were fewer ways to manipulate monarch skills and the estates option didn’t exist, so you can see that the advantages to more powerful states have been increased, while the random factor has become relatively less important. Still, a big state will struggle to achieve more than twice that of a small state.

        However, a small state will spend 90-95% of its monarch points on tech and ideas, so it’s only the surplus that will go to development; a large state will spend 50% or so on tech and ideas, using the remainder for absorbing territory (admin points for coring, dip points for unjustified territory and annexing subjects), fighting wars (mil points hiring generals, artillery barrages in sieges, war taxes, etc) and development.

        If a small state had a large surplus over tech and ideas, resulting in lots of development, then the typical 100% or so penalty for Asian countries institutions would not result in them being behind in tech, just that they wouldn’t have anything left over for dev. That’s not how the game actually works, though.

    3. The Printing Press is over-rated. You have to consider the presence of cheap paper as equally important.

          1. Except that Japan had quite high levels of literacy, and literacy in China was quite widespread. Literacy in England was higher in the C17 than later (probably due to the intense interest at the time in religious issues).

          2. I would like to note that currently, the actual writing systen of English is not really alphabetic. Instead, you can make a good case that it is a mixture of syllabic, logographic and alphabetic systems. For example, “gaol” is actually a single grapheme, because it cannot be pronounced or understood without knowing its meaning beforehand. Most English phonemes are written in syllabic form, as the phonetic value of a letter can only be assigned based on the neighbouring letters forming a syllable.

            This is compounded by the fact that functionality in modern English-speaking society requires knowing a large number of rather abstract logographs: especially European traffic signs are much more than just images, and educated, scientific writing uses mathematical symbolism liberally.

            If thought this way, you can see that actual literacy in our world requires about the same amount of effort as liteacy in East Asian language

          3. That doesn’t influence the number of elements you need to create a piece of text.

    4. Yeah, I was about to say that. I’m playing a Tuscany run right now and don’t even control all of Northern Italy yet, but I’m comparatively filthy rich, can afford high level advisors and am almost constantly at the point limit, developing my provinces over and over when I almost reach the cap, which makes me more wealthy. There, feedback loop. And I’m not even colonizing. Any of the big colonizers (Spain, France, England, Portugal and the Dutch) controlled by the player is bound to swim in absurd amounts of cash and will be able to constantly employ level 5 advisors and thereby ‘out-tech’ any small state.

    5. I think the key is the Reformation actively encouraged reading among common folk, in the form of the Bible printed in local languages rather than Latin. The Catholic Church actively discouraged common literacy and certainly distribution of hot takes on religion. And though printing had been centuries old and originated in East Asia, it was viewed there as a tool of administration. Not the realm of commoners, and for similar reasons.

      1. It’s true that the Catholic Church preferred Latin, but sermons and other advice were in the vernacular, and printed. In Asia, novels (eg The Water Margin, Tale of Genji, 1001 Nights) were printed and circulated – hardly administrative tools. In both there was a linguistic distinction between the high culture (Latin/French in Europe; classical Arabic/Persian in the Middle East; Sanskrit/Persian in India; Chinese in Vietnam and Korea, classical Chinese in China) and the vernaculars – but printing went on in both.

    6. The printing press spawning in Protestant or Reformed Christian provinces is bad history. Gutenberg was a proper Catholic when he invented his around 1439. Point of fact, he was living in properly Catholic Strasbourg at the time, then returned to equally Catholic Mainz to open his first print shop.
      That’s aside from China and Korea having equivalent tech centuries earlier.

  2. Regarding the Old World vs New World thing — you talk about how Europe vs the New World is not the main question given how all of the Old World was way ahead of the New World even before the Great Divergence. But doesn’t that just mean that there are two questions here instead of one? Like, there’s the question you discuss here — how did Europe get so far ahead of the rest of the Old World — and the other question of, how did the Old World get so far ahead of the New World in the first place? Like, OK, I guess the term “Great Divergence” refers to the former, but like, maybe it would make more sense to refer to it as the “Second Great Divergence”, where the “First Great Divergence” would be the latter? So even if the question of what caused the [Second] Great Divergence were somehow resolved, there’d still be the separate question of what caused the First Great Divergence. (Because I’m wondering how that happened, since you didn’t discuss it at all here!)

    1. The first divergence is due to the limited domestic number and utility of plants and animals that could be domesticated that the new world had access to. Especially the lack of horses and cattle for use in transport of people and goods, as well as for plowing fields and other labor was a big detriment.

      1. The New World had, in many ways, significantly *better* domesticated plants than the Old World. There’s a reason everyone started growing potatoes and maize in Europe as soon as they could. They’re enormously productive crops.

        1. The “Guns, Germs, and Steel” explanation is that while the New World has better domesticated plants, they (like many plants) only grow in narrow temperature / climate bands.
          The advantage Eurasia has is being “horizontal” so the climate band where, say wheat flourishes stretches right across the continent and makes it easy to go east to west or vice versa.
          The Americas are “vertical” so for a crop to spread it has to go north or south, meaning more sharply changing temperatures and seasonal variation, meaning a new variant has to evolve or be created by human selection. As GGS notes, this means that American crops existed early, but never or only very slowly expanded out from the initial areas of cultivation.
          When American crops like potatoes and tomatoes arrived in Eurasia, the same easy horizontal spread kicked in and they very quickly went from Ireland to China.

        2. The argument is actually slightly different from Diamonds end.

          His argument is basically that urbanization started in mesoamerica much later than in the middle east/china/india because the staple crop availible (Maize) while an incredibly productive crop (which he notes, and especiallypoints out how readily it was spread) required a much more intensive specialization program to go from its wild ancestor to a productive staple crop: Traditional wheat is much more like wild wheat than cultivated maize is to the wild varieties (who are small, knobbly things that you cant really rely on for large scale cultivation)

          Which seems… a tad monocausal to me, but its the argument he is making, so he is taking maize into account.

      2. So Jared Diamond was right on that one? (supposedly – according to this post – he isnt well regarded.

      3. This, it seems to me, was the core thesis of Guns, Germs and Steel.

        My reading is that the book primarily addressed “why Eurasia” not “why Europe”, answered that question relatively well, and then did a chapter at the end speculating on how the answers could be extended to the “why Europe” question, which proved to be not very good.

        1. That chapter mostly proposes the fragmentation hypothesis though, in essentially the same form as here. So I don’t think that’s what was being referred to. I’m guessing it’s more Diamond’s general “geographic determinism” kind of perspective that’s viewed skeptically these days.

    2. The “first great divergence” is usually put down to the”neolithic revolution”.
      Settled->crops->surplus->population density->specialists->trade->metalworking->writing
      A lot of older works portrayed this as the obvious march of progress to a “better state”, but a lot of anthropology and archaeology questions this (JC Scott, Against the Grain), pointing out the requirements of forced serf labour, disease risk and vulnerability to famine.
      This is kind of the only part of GGS that isn’t controversial, that old world fertile crescents had crops that were easier to domesticate, and everything else (of this “first great divergence”) follows. Where it falls down is in trying to explain how “civilisation” moved north into Europe, the “little divergence” (north western Europe and sounvth Europe in c15-18th) and the great divergence. Diamond also gets Africa backwards, but the principles hold (ie Africa had guns and steel, and germs kept Europe at bay until c19th)

      1. But the New World had crops (potatoes and maize, as noted above) and cities and metallurgy (otherwise there would have been no gold for Cortes to loot). The only real deficiency was in draft animals.

        1. Gold and copper (and silver) metallurgy are a lot easier and a lot less useful than ironworking, being too soft in their pure forms. The New World cultures pretty much didn’t even use bronze tools, let alone iron and steel. That’s a large deficiency. For one thing it means that although they took readily to the use of guns in warfare, they didn’t have the means to develop their own gun industry. Unlike 1500s Japan, which was mass-producing its own improved matchlocks within 20 years.

        2. I would say riding animals. You might be able to use bisons for pulling a plough or a cart. People have some success rising bisons for food at least. Why wouldn’t it be possible to breed bisons to fill the role of an ox?

          The wheel wasn’t used in Americas “enough” – Chinese peasants were known to use “wooden oxen” – that is, wooden wheelbarrows, pulled by the peasant. But wheels require an earlier invention – ROADS. I recommend the video “Why animals don’t have wheels”

          In his book “Black Mother”, Basil Davidson has said Africa likely lagged behind in development because it’s so… vast. People were loosely packed together (and many areas are nearly unhabitable) so conflicts were often resolved by one group moving away. Development as we Westerners understand it seems accelerated by dense population – something both Africa and America tended to lack. Europe had not just friendlier climate, not just competing states, but dense population which aids in exchange of ideas. There’s the Nile and Kongo. Not sure about Kongo, but Egypt always lacked trees, which are very valuable for certain kinds of crafts. Good luck with a stone wheel.

          Perhaps development in Europe was so fast because there was inter-state pressure in conditions of high population density? China was densely populated along the great rivers, but inter-state competition ended when China dominated most of its neighbors.

          As for the climate, I won’t beat around the bush. Hot climate makes thinking hard. This is documented for example by US bureaucracy achieving noticeable efficiency gains once air conditioning became commonplace. I’m not saying Africans are racially inferior – just that the climate doesn’t help.

          1. I once mentioned being thrown out of a story allegedly set in the Regency by the nurses with baby carriages, and someone went off with how it was “perambulators” in British English — which is wrong. It was not a perambulator, because it did not exist until the Victorian era. For the obvious reason that no one will prefer pushing one through mud to just carrying the baby.

      2. As I recall it, Diamond spends only half a page musing on why Europe ended up pulling ahead of China. The book is almost entirely about why Eurasia was pulling ahead of the rest of the world. Thus the importance of rapid horizontal spread of crops, leading to early agriculture for more regions, and a bigger population to innovate, and a bigger population + animals to develop diseases.

        1. And specifically says he isn’t writing about the divergence between Europe and countries in Asia in the early modern era. Yet people still complain that he doesn’t do what he is not only not doing, but says he is not doing.

    3. Peter Watson’s The Great Divide is a good book on the key differences between the Old World and the New.

    4. The reasons for this are really still not understood all that well.
      One common explanation is to look at a long-run difference in the availability of domesticated plants and animals, but that has become complicated because of the increasing awareness of what we might call broad-scope modifications to the flora and fauna- the “Firelands” of the coastal Great Lakes, the terra preta de indio of Amazonia, etc,, along with an increasing awareness of the extraordinary leap between domesticated maize and its closest wild relative teosinte.

      More importantly, as Bret points out in the body of the text, the main technological divergences here are in military capacity (though this is easy to overstate- European powers never were able to achieve mass armies on their own terms in the Americas without having a settled population to draw from- compare total British deployment in the American Revolutionary War [48,000] to the 250,000 combined Anglo-Dutch forces of the War of Spanish Succession) and in these terms it is often easier to focus on materials science- ironworking prior to mass contact was limited to cold-foring from meteoric or wreckage sources, bronzeworking was relatively rare across the Americas- and perhaps an explanation can be found in the geographical concentration of accessible tin deposits and the design of New World pottery kilns limiting their working temperatures below the point where a spontaneous discovery of iron could occur.

      But that gets into another question that is difficult to answer- what is the independent chance of these historical discoveries? As far as we know, the spoked wheel and axle may have been independently invented once or twice in all of human history and simply diffused from there. So is this a matter of chance?

      Possibly the largest factor here is the lack of widespread writing, not as a technology in its own right but as a window into the past of the Americas. Archaeological evidence is suggestive with regards to an emergent social complexity and hierarchy in the area north of the Rio Grande from about a thousand to about five hundred years ago, followed by a movement away from centralized urban settlements and hierarchical rule across most of this area (the Natchez people retained more of this system into mass contact), but without textual sources, our ability to interpret these things is limited.

      That being said, the picture of conquest is also substantially more complex than is usually acknowledged, in many of the same ways that the picture of European domination has been pushed to a substantially later date. So the divergence is somewhat smaller than it appears.

      1. In “Black Mother”, Basil Davidson says slave trade was absolutely devastating for the countries in Africa. You couldn’t opt out of the trade unless you wanted your neighbors to arrive with guns. So the slave trade caused 300 years of WARS in Africa – wars fought to get more slaves.

        1. I’m sure there’s a lot of truth in that for vast swathes of the west African coast and hundreds of miles beyond. But sub-Saharan Africa is enormous – does this apply to all of it?

          1. He says wars were even fought for the sea access, to be the ones trading slaves. I don’t remember the details and don’t have the book at hand. In any case, I forgot that slave trade proper started after industrial revolution. The big question is why Europe had the best conditions for industrial revolution to happen. There was already a divide when it started.

          2. Okay I think I need to clarify. It was like in the saying:

            “If you’re not at the table, you’re in the menu.”

            The coasts were the table. The interior was the menu.

            People are more likely to accept misfortune if it happens to someone else. So tribes and states in control of the shores could easily trade with Europeans. If you sell your own people, family, neighbors, you end up upsetting these groups. If you sell someone from another tribe, especially a traditionally hostile one, there’s less unrest. Slave trade with Europeans created more incentives to get slaves. Initially they would be selling slaves captured as a byproduct of wars or criminals, but over time they started waging wars just to get more slaves. And inland peoples were obvious targets. Especially that lacking sea access themselves, they couldn’t arm themselves with guns. Literally the path of least resistance. According to Davidson, slavers needed to reach farther and farther to keep the trade going. The corruption was spreading and destroying social organization. That, combined with the fact that industrial revolution dried up, 300 years later led to colonialism in the form of European soldiers on African soil. The trade simply stopped being so profitable.

          3. Borsukrates, what do you mean by “industrial revolution”? I usually see it presented as more or less 19th century, but it looks like you’re talking about something earlier.

        2. That applies to West Africa, but not so much the rest. Was the Middle Eastern slave trade similarly devastating to East Africa as the Atlantic slave trade to West Africa (I don’t know the answer, its not a rhetorical question)? What about Central Africa and Southern Africa, which didn’t participate heavily in the slave trade?

          1. Between the horrendous shipboard conditions and the “seasoning camps” meant to acclimatise the Africans to their new conditions, transport losses exceeded 10 percent, and may have been as high as 30 percent. 12 million people were ultimately sold in the Americas. By my math, that means as many as 18 million may have been bought in Africa, not counting however many died in the wars and raids that created the supply.
            Plus, of course, the voracious appetite of the colonies for labour, which was significantly greater than that of the essentially saturated markets in North Africa and the Levant.

    5. I mean that’s a fair point to make, though talk to a prehistory specialist and they’ll wryly smile and bring up several yet older possible “great divergences.”

      Bluntly the reason that the question of “how did Europe come into a commanding military position over the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, and even Southeast Asia” gets referred to as “*the* Great Divergence” is because it has a lot of weight and power in 21st century politics. While there are definitely Native American historians who put effort into challenging the modern pro-colonialism narratives about settlers insurmountable power over helpless Americans, these historians don’t typically have powerful states backing their arguments. Seen through a 21st century lens, the People’s Republic of China looks like a superpower only matched by the United States of America, and anybody can point to nearly any point in the last 3000 years and land on a place where there’s a regional hegemon in modern Chinese borders and reasonable claims to being a peer to any state anywhere on the globe – and what THAT means is that the bainan guochi (hundred years of national humiliation) cries out for, demands, some sort of explanation beyond “I dunno bad luck.” There’s parallel questions coming from Indian and Thai and Iranian and so on nationalists. I’m not proposing any sort of like conspiracy theory logic mind you, just the point that national political questions get a lot more attention and funding when they involve existing and powerful nation-states.

      It’s because the contrast is so sharp, and because the postcolonial states have a huge stake in the conversation, that this particular question of how European powers got the top billing in the great power fight of colonialism, takes on so so much weight.

      1. On the other hand, the very reason there are so many states dominated by people on the losing end of the second great divergence was because it was actually vastly smaller than the first great divergence; there are in fact a few countries in the Americas dominated by people of south or southeast asian descent (Guyana and Suriname and a few caribbean islands), but zero dominated by people descended from the indigenous inhabitants, whereas in mainland asia and Africa there are only a handful of places where the indigenous inhabitants are outnumbered by Europeans (mainly Siberia and parts of South Africa).

        And there have indeed been more technological divergences than one can count- indeed one could argue they’re the norm, parity is the exception only brought about by prolonged contact, so the real question of the first great divergence is why Europe and China were so close together circa 1200- these two only get lumped together because European imperialists took advantage of both in short order and overlooked the difference.

        1. “why so close together”: I think this gets back to Diamond’s Eurasia thesis: Europe and China *were* in prolonged contact. Not *direct* contact, but ideas and techs were schlepping back and forth — well, mostly from Asia to Europe. Not all of them, which is why India and East Asia were still ‘ahead’ of Europe in many ways, but like gunpowder and the compass and paper, and they’d both been agricultural for thousands of years.

    6. The Old World had a larger landmass and a larger population. There were single events which moved fast across the entire Old Word: metal smelting, writing, horse domestication, gunpowder. The Mediteranean Sea and the Eurasian Steppe were the main communication arteries. The New Word was basically split from the Old Word and strangulated at the middle. The bow arrived în Alaska from Siberia by the time of Constantine the Great and it reached the Andes by the time of the war of hundred years.War chariots seemed to have moved from Ukraine to Middle East and Western Mongolia în just 100-200 years. Guns and gunpowder reached Europe from Yuan China în less than 50 years from the first functional prototypes.

      1. ” The bow arrived în Alaska from Siberia by the time of Constantine the Great and it reached the Andes by the time of the war of hundred years.”

        This is interesting, do you have a source for these statements so that I could read further? Particularly about humans crossing the Bering strait by the time of Constantine the great, which is a complete novelty to me (unless I misunderstood what you meant).

        1. Humans were in the Americans long before that, but I think there was late crossover between the Arctic regions. OTOH Wiki says

          > Archery seems to have arrived in the Americas via Alaska, as early as 6000 BC,[19] with the Arctic small tool tradition, about 2,500 BC, spreading south into the temperate zones as early as 2,000 BC, and was widely known among the indigenous peoples of North America from about 500 AD.[20]

          And says “There were at least four waves of bow and arrow use in northern North America. These occurred at 12000, 4500, 2400, and after about 1300 years ago.”

          Yet another page says different things. So I dunno.

        “Gunpowder is the first explosive to have been developed. Popularly listed as one of the “Four Great Inventions” of China, it was invented during the late Tang dynasty (9th century) while the earliest recorded chemical formula for gunpowder dates to the Song dynasty (11th century). Knowledge of gunpowder spread rapidly throughout Asia, the Middle East and Europe, possibly as a result of the Mongol conquests during the 13th century, with written formulas for it appearing in the Middle East between 1240 and 1280 in a treatise by Hasan al-Rammah, and in Europe by 1267 in the Opus Majus by Roger Bacon. It was employed in warfare to some effect from at least the 10th century in weapons such as fire arrows, bombs, and the fire lance before the appearance of the gun in the 13th century.”
        “The 1320s seem to have been the takeoff point for guns in Europe according to most modern military historians.”

    7. Charles Mann in 1491 rather persuasively blames the First Great Divergence on domestic animals-but not in the way most people immediately think. To go into rather more detail, Afroeurasian society had a whole lot of domestic animals, whereas most large domisticable animals in the New World went extinct at the end of the last ice age (why this happened is not well understood, and is probably a question best left to paleontologists and scholars of prehistory). This put New World societies at a disadvantage compared to Afroeurasia-they lacked the labor, transportation, and food sources that domestic animals provide, and thus seem to have taken much longer to transition from nomadism and hunter/gatherer lifestyles to agriculture, and consequently lagged behind in areas like urbanization and metal-working. But the biggest impact of not having domestic animals would show up in another area-disease.

      You see, people who spend lots of time around farm animals-like most Old World farmers-run the risk of catching animal diseases, and sometimes, a disease of say, cattle or chickens will (because of the constant, prolonged contact between these animals and humans) have the opportunity to evolve into a form that can not only infect people, but spread from human to human without animals being further involved. Scientists call diseases that originate this way zoonotic diseases. Most of the common diseases in pre-industrial populations that we’ve all heard of-measles, mumps, bubonic plague, smallpox-seem to fall into this category. Because of the nature of farming, new zoonotic diseases would periodically originate, zip around Afroeurasia and kill a greater or lesser percentage of the population, and then the survivor’s immune systems would develop the ability to fight the new disease, and it would become endemic-present in the population at a constant background level. (Imagine Coronavirus in a world with no lockdowns or vaccines-it kills 2-3% of the human population, possibly several times over, then people develop immunity to it and it becomes, for all practical purposes, another form of flu.)

      Native peoples, because they largely didn’t have domestic animals and were isolated from populations that did, they largely didn’t have to deal with zoonotic diseases. And thus, when Europeans started sailing to the New World, the New World got walloped with every single zoonotic disease still endemic in Europe-all at once, with no chance to develop immunity to them individually and immune systems that weren’t even used to having to learn how to fight a deadly new disease once every century or so. The result was utterly apocalyptic-as much as 80 or 90 percent of the New World’s population died, largely before European colonizers even got to them. Thus, the Virginia that the English encountered in 1607 should be understood as the rough equivalent of the post-nuclear wastelands depicted in so many Hollywood movies-the abandoned remnants of civilization abounded (trails, cleared but empty farm fields, earth mounds-Native Americans, at least in North America, don’t seem to have used stone much so relatively few actual buildings survived). Meanwhile, the original population had been reduced to scattered bands of survivors trying to rebuild among the ruins-and still vulnerable to the diseases that had destroyed their society. Just enough survivors, in fact, remained alive to pass on crops like maize to Europeans and teach the Europeans how to farm them-which, fatally, allowed the Europeans to take over all those empty farm fields, and negated what advantages the surviving natives might have had against them (and even still, there were instances where the Natives almost militarily defeated the European colonists-the Powhatan wars in Virginia and King William’s War in New England come to mind).

      And one can argue that the First Great Divergence goes a long way to explaining the second-without the resources of what amounted to two captive continents, its questionable whether Europe would indeed have managed to pull ahead of the rest of Afroeurasia.

      1. Plus less immune diversity from smaller founder populations, immunity possibly geared more for parasites than viruses/bacteria, and possibly customs not used to contagion — Mann says Indians would gather around a sickbed, whereas Europeans would nail up your door and run away. (Loosely speaking.) Oh, and most of the adults getting hit at once means people who might survive given good care don’t, because all the caretakers are sick too.

        OTOH! AIUI Portugal became Pirate Lord of the Indian ocean with no advantages at the time more than good ships and cannon. And as we’ve been discussing, it’s not so obvious what American resources would actually have helped Europe “pull ahead”. Cotton and timber, maybe; sugar, very maybe; tobacco and furs, no. Silver, not really, even if it bought a lot of silk and spices. It’s not like the Americas were being plundered of coal and iron ore, or food, and they’re not obviously feeding into the scientific/industrial revolutions that gave steam engines and plastics and the periodic table.

        The Americas *were* plundered of guano (see Mann’s 1493) to grow food in Europe, but that starts in the 1800s, so doesn’t explain any divergence up to that point.

        Oh, Atlantic fish might have mattered a lot to European food, though fishing ships off the shores of North America isn’t quite the same as Cortez conquering Mexico.

    8. Incidentally, Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel acknowledges this distinction and explicitly says he’s confining the book to the question of Eurasia (and parts of Africa) vs the rest of the world, leaving aside the question of Europe vs rest of Eurasia and North Africa.

      His exact proposed mechanisms are very debatable, but I want to give him credit for correctly framing the question in a way almost nobody else does (Dr. Devereaux in this post might be the 2nd person I’ve ever seen explicitly lay it out) and in regards to what you call the First Great Divergence it’s very obvious he’s in the right general area by focusing on geography rather than genetics, culture, chance or individual brilliant inventors.

      My personal opinion involves more focus on technologies like writing and metalworking than on crops and animals (I would guess a lot of it is the sheer size produced more inventions per year than someplace like north america), but it’s very obvious the things that gave Eurasia an advantage were things that spread back and forth along trade and invasion routes there, to a lesser degree southwards into sub-saharan Africa, and not at all across the Atlantic or Pacific prior to 1492.

  3. Very glad to see you bag on Diamond as he deserves. I found his geographic determinism not wholly without merit (his book was where I first encountered a discussion of what makes for good domesticatable animals, though of course that just kicks us off into a different Question of Many Theories, which is the Pleistocene die-off of so many New World megafauna species) — but yeah, he grabs that one explanation and rides it into the ground, with way too much emphasis on guns.

    I also appreciate the perspective on different answers to the Great Divergence. I picked up Patricia Crone’s Pre-Industrial Societies on your recommendation, and it was kind of hilarious how much shade she threw on Europe in the course of arguing that they industrialized because of how badly they failed at solving some core problems of being pre-industrial. It’s good to get some additional views — especially the part about the effects of wall construction, which I hadn’t been aware of.

    1. From the sound of it, Diamond’s geographical determinism hypothesis is a better (or at least less bad) fit for what Sniffnoy in a comment above this one calls “the First Great Divergence,” the one that caused Eurasia to pull ludicrously far ahead of the Americas, Australia, and much of sub-Saharan Africa. It is a singularly poor fit for discussing the “Second Great Divergence” within Eurasia, the one that resulted in tiny England being able to dominate massive China by the time the 19th century rolled around.

      …My own recollection of Guns, Germs, and Steel is that Diamond didn’t dwell nearly as much on the guns as all that, though. Perhaps I’m mis-remembering? Are there particular passages or chapters that push this?

      1. Diamond (at least i my edition from about 20 years ago) is completely clear that he is actually trying to explain the First Divergence, and I still think he does a really good job of this (and you’re right, ‘guns&steel’ in the title are a shorthand, as explained in the book, for steel armour, swords, doctrine, and literature outlining previous experiences, etc etc).

        There is brief speculation on the Second, China/Europe divergence at the end of Guns, Germs & Steel, but it is rather brief, without the confidence for the rest and although it does to push geographic determinism it actually mostly looks at the Fragmentation theory mentioned above

        1. Yeah, most of GG&S addresses “Why Eurasia?” Only the final chapter addresses “Why Europe?”, and he expresses far less confidence in his conclusion there. His guess is that Europe (for geographic reasons) hit the sweet spot between too-unified China and too-fragmented India. Or maybe, he says, Europe’s recent dominance is a weird aberration and China is about to take over.

    2. That’s a bit of stupid sounding argument, its like saying the Akkadians only had an empire because they failed at solving the problems of a city state.

      Sorta curious about her arguments, is she claiming that somehow Europeans were just too stupid to organize efficiently or what?

      From a quick wiki search she seems to be mostly known for her work on Islamic history. Wonder if its a case of historian with a specialty in one area not necessarily having all the context or information on another segment?

      1. That isn’t at all what Crone is saying — it has more to do with the fragmentation mentioned here and the geographical factors that drove it, the political compromises early European rulers had to make with their magnates/the Church/etc. in order to maintain their power instead of being able to assert it directly (and by the time they could really do the latter, there were strong traditions underpinning the idea that other groups should get a say), and other things more complex than I can summarize in a blog comment.

      2. Most historians are known for their work on a specific specialty; surely you wouldn’t immediately dismiss Dr. Devereaux simply because he’s more known for his study of Roman history?

  4. > these frontiers are nearly unguardable and merely keeping all of this territory ought to push Bharat to its limits.

    John Masters – officer in the British Indian army in & before WW2, novelist after – mentions in his memoirs that in 1941/2, when there would have been plenty of opportunities to usefully employ them elsewhere, there were twenty-some battalions of hard, combat experienced British & Indian regulars fully occupied on the North West Frontier. And a German consul in Kabul doing his best to ensure that they stayed there.

  5. > firearms just weren’t a very good answer if your major threat was steppe nomad horsemen.


    Genuine question – it’s a region & period I know next to nothing about

    1. Yeah, not entirely convinced on that one. This is also the period when Russia is basically expanding and colonizing Central Asia and Siberia, right? Under this model, shouldn’t they face the same dilemma as China? (I haven’t played much EU4 lately, but I remember one I played as the Oirat Mongols, where the Russians were definitely the looming European threat on the horizon.)

      Or, to take another angle: Southeast Asia was also comparatively fragmented and certainly its military technology was not geared towards dealing with steppe nomads. So why Europe and not them?

      1. Russia conquered a lot of northern forest with tercios, but their expansion into the true central asian steppe started in the mid-18th century and really got going in the 19th. That means minee-balls and breach-loaders.

        From a perspective of hindsight, refining muzzle loaders until you can make fast-loading rifles is a clear win. But without future knowledge, refinement of muzzle loaders happens if *muzzle loaders* are useful.

        1. To put the dates more clearly, they barely took anything of note before 1822. (Wish there were an edit button)

          1. Eh, they took Crimea in the 18th century. And Kazan earlier (though that extended into the forest zone)

          2. The Crimea is a relatively easy target for an expanding Russia, compared to Central Asia out around and beyond the Caspian Sea. Because the Crimea is at the mouth of the Volga. The terrain may be flat and suitable for nomadic cavalry, sure. But the logistics are favorable for big Russian infantry armies equipped with the relatively cruder muskets of the 1700s. And for building and supplying fortified bases that nomadic cavalry can’t crack. Much easier to penetrate than the steppes of Central Asia.

            Besides, didn’t the Russians take the Crimea from the Ottoman Empire, who were not primarily a steppe cavalry power?

    2. Yes, I was wondering about that too. This was the period where Russia historically made a push to colonize Central Asia and Siberia; their techniques seem to have been pretty effective in dealing with steppe peoples. (Illustrated for me in part by an EU4 game I played some years ago as the Oirat Mongols – Russia was definitely the looming European threat on the horizon.)

      Or to take another angle – Southeast Asia was also pretty fragmented, and presumably their military technology was not geared towards dealing with steppe nomads. So why Europe and not Ayutthaya, Majapahit, or Sulu?

      1. To understand the Russian push through the Tiaga, which happened relatively early, you have to understand Cossacks. The Cossacks were a class of undesirables that were pushed to the Russian periphery, but allowed to remain in good standing through raiding on behalf of the Tsar. Much as the Steppe Nomads subjugated Russia with mobile raiders, the Russians created a social class of frontier raiders and reversed all the gains of the Nomads.

    3. Yes, I was wondering that too. The game also covers the era when Russia colonized Central Asia and Siberia, and so it seems like their military technologies were effective against the steppe peoples living there. (Or from an EU4 perspective, I remember some years ago I played a game as the Oirat Mongols, and the Russians were definitely the looming European threat on the horizon.)

      Or to probe at this theory from another angle – Southeast Asia seems to have gone through periods of fragmentation, and their military technologies certainly weren’t geared towards fighting off steppe nomads. Why didn’t the same kind of military/technological cycle kick off there?

      1. Southeast Asia had China mucking around in the region. Europe didn’t. That probably played a major role in how state formation and military technology developed.

    4. I need to much read more as well, I only really know the Streltsy of the end of this period but
      a) ‘Streltsy’ as a corps did lead with arquebuses but included many bardiches (long halberd-y thing) and pikes as well (like the French Musketeers having swords and the mixed Spanish Tercios, all from the same period), so they were basically pike/shot.
      b) I believe the Streltsy actually saw more service in the west against Poland/Sweden, although they also had a role in the Eastern wars, especially during sieges. that would fit with the fact that they were a weird semi-prfessional/hybrid. They were nominally in service to the Tsar but paid so little they had to have a second job as a craftsman or whatever. So they weren’t ideal for very long range, time-unlimited campaigns (they were notorious grumblers)

    5. I think it comes down to some of the other points made by Brett piecemeal across various different articles about the nature of warfare generally, and then specifically about the nature of nomadic horse archer warfare.

      In general, the point to bear in mind is that the point of a battle isn’t to kill all of the other side…it’s to make them stop fighting. Now, you can certainly do that by killing them all to a man, but usually the more efficient way is to make them run away (where it’s also much easier to kill them to a man if you really want to).

      It also so happens that killing lots of people on one side is a very good way to get them to run away, but an even better way is to kill people on the other side in a way that they have no real tangible way of striking back. This is one of the reasons mounted horse archers are so successful in pitched battles, because they can rain arrows down on a traditional infantry army with near impunity, making it very difficult indeed for an individual footsoldier to maintain their resolve and stand in line until their mounted enemies have exhausted their supply of arrows (or while your mounted/bow-wielding compatriots work their way into a battle-winning position). Once you as a line-infantryman flee, those mounted/bow-wielding compatriots are now vulnerable to assault by the mobile horse-archers (who now will likely have a numbers advantage).

      Now, while arming your entire army with early muskets might sound like a good idea (as now all of your forces can strike back at mobile horse archers, rather than just some of them), it’s worth appreciating the gulf between early muzzle-loading smoothbore firearms and later breech-loading muskets, both in rate of fire and importantly range.

      Early muskets don’t meaningfully outrange a bow, are an order of magnitude slower firing, and mean if you want a shield (and you do against archers) you’ll need to lug a pavise around with you. So, you march up to the battlefront alongside your mates, sans shield but plus musket. You raise your gun and fire. Shots explode out in a long line and a few of the horsemen fall (because your guns aren’t very accurate at this extreme range). At this point, your morale is pretty good compared to our long-pointy-stick-wielding equivalent. Unfortunately, this lasts until the arrows start to fall (which were loosed at roughly the same point as you pulled your trigger). Without your shield, lots more of your mates next to you die with each volley. You can reload, but it’s slow and makes you feel even more vulnerable as you have to concentrate on a task that’s not ‘try not to get hit by arrows’. This is a situation that is much worse morale-wise than a situation that was already bad for morale under the previous tactical doctrine, and not a whole lot more lethal (arrows kill horses well enough as they’re unlikely to be armoured in this instance, so the additional penetration and stopping power of a roundball is wasted).

      This balance of power shifts significantly by the time you get rifling and breech-loaders. Rifling allows the effective range of a firearm to be much larger than a bow, allowing you to strike horse archers before they have the ability to respond (reversing the main advantage of horse archery as a battlefield tactic). This is probably the key development, although the improved rate of fire for breech-loaders will also close the gap in deadliness if the resolve of the horse archers is enough to get them into firing range.

      That’s my take on the situation at least.

      1. How well do the steppe horses deal with the noise of muskets? Or horses and arches with the smoke clouds soon produced by lots of black powder?

        Don’t know if it matters but I’d guess when a horseman does fall it’s likely because his horse was hit, as the bigger target.

        1. Like most people and animals, I assume initial shock and fear, and then adapting.

          Historically the steppe nomads resisted European / Chinese imperialism for longer than most. See “Firearms : A Global History to 1700” by K Chase for detailed explanation of why.

          Cortez and the Spanish started conquering bits of America in the early 1500s, the Portuguese were building up their empire in the Indian Ocean in the early 1500s, by the 1600s there are Europeans all over America. The Russians didn’t really get going on expansion into Siberia and the steppes until the late 1700s and didn’t finish until the mid 1800s.

  6. The discussion of technologies here has me imagining a grand strategy game where you, as the player, can never quite be sure which routes will be viable or what the long-term effects would be.

    Maybe something set starting in the early twentieth century, and incorporating various classic science fiction tropes? So it could end up in a cyberpunk future if computers turn out to be a big thing, or you could be flying around the solar system in ships with vacuum tube computers the size of houses. Or it turns out that psi powers were the real deal all along. Or it turns out that something is *too* effective or has knock-on environmental degradation effects, so that you have a nuclear war, or the psi powers trigger an ice age, and you have to deal with a potentially apocalyptic situation.

    (Or to put it another way, if given the options to research either “Fusion Power” or “Social Media”, the choice should never be clear…)

    1. The most recent Civ IV expansion tries something like this. Obviously has to be implemented a little differently, but with the same goal in mind. Basically, the tech and civics trees are randomized and hidden. The technology itself remains the same, but you’re unable to rush certain things in ways you may previously have been able to. It’s certainly still gameable, but not to the degree that the old tech tree was.

      1. Do you mean Civ VI? I don’t think they’ve made any Civ IV expansions in quite a while.

    2. Well EU4 of course has the problem of being a historical game, this means that you already know what the new world looks like before you even explore it. They did add in random new world in a DLC, which is nice since you actually want to spend some time exploring the place and figure out which places are the best to start your colonies, rather than just going caribbean into mexico. The execution isnt too good though, most of the random new worlds are pretty bad.

      One problem is that randomness can be really frustrating. “oh, i researched lasers but plasma torpedos are the best weapon, guess Im screwed.” EU3 for example had a lot more randomness than EU4. And some of it can be really annoying. In EU4 they also reduced the randomness by a lot over time. For example, first if you lost your ruler while your heir was underage, you got a regency council and you cannot declare war. In a game where opportunistic wars are important, and must be timed, being unable to wage war for 10 years is horrible. Then they gave us consorts, if you have a wife (or husband), she will take charge until your heir is of age. And most importantly, you can still start wars. This takes out a lot of frustration out of the game. But at the same time it kills a lot of the randomness. Rarely is a country incapacitated because they have a child as ruler, controlled by his nobility.

    3. There’s a boardgame called Pax Transhumanity that takes a punt at this problem. It’s an interesting game, definitely not grand strategy, but one very much shaped by unexpected technological breakthroughs building on each other until you get a new paradigm that no one could have predicted from the outset.

    4. It’s not quite the same thing, but the devs for Sword of the Stars had a definite interest in this. The result is that tech trees are probabilistic: you only get the next link in the tree if (1) you have a prerequisite and (2) you roll successfully on a chance to develop the new thing. (In truth, the tree is generated when the game starts, but you’re not able to see it until you get to that point.) Some techs have multiple potential prerequisites, as well. As a result, you generally know, based on the faction you pick, what high-potential techs are for you, but sometimes you will discover that you got halfway down a tech tree (which has three levels, generally) and the next tech just … isn’t there for you.

      That said, there’s a “salvage” mechanic where you can reverse-engineer the techs that your opponents have if you win (or maybe merely survive; I forget) and have a salvage ship available. This is definitely a thing the devs have to say about technology spread through contact, but I’d say the salvage mechanic does have somewhat of a homogenizing effect, especially given that they don’t tell you what you’re reverse-engineering until you finish it.

    5. The vast majority of games seems to treat technology as something additive. Players complain loudly if they can’t research the whole research tree.

      Your idea, that research could end up going IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS is an interesting one. In a typical game, it can essentially only go ONE way, up. But in our world communications satellites still have the shape of a hydrogen bomb! We still have uranium nuclear reactors instead of thorium (thorium only lost because it’s very safe and can’t make a nuclear bomb; it’s much more plentiful).

      I think the costs of making such a game would be prohibitive unless you were very careful. It’s the same reason (RPG) games with very reactive storyline rarely get made. If your actions can influence the storyline much, it’s like making several games. And the frequent complaint from game industry is that player will end up seeing only one path anyway and you need to pay for making all of it. I think this is much less relevant in a strategy game, because they are meant to be replayable.

      A bigger problem is AI. AI is already notoriously bad in 4X games. Your idea would make it a great deal harder to make smart AI. So, in the end… prohibitively expensive to make such games.

    6. Actually, in a strange way your idea reminds me of the 1994 fantasy Civilization clone “Master of Magic”. Much more than a clone, the game is still remembered for its ridiculously ambitious ideas and scope. And pages of bugs – fan-made patch “insecticide”, made after years, still fixes PAGES of bugs.

      Master of Magic had stuff like “flying fortress” spell. It was removed in one of the first patches because it was too buggy. You could enchant one of your cities to fly, and it would only be attackable by flying units. I’m sure they would make the city move if they could.

      You could cast Zombie Mastery, making all enemies that die in battles with you (anywhere!) spawn zombies. You could raise volcanoes, permanently change terrain with magic, stop time, cause eternal night, etc.

      There was a parallel world – Myrror – which could be reached through portals found in ruined towers guarded by very powerful magical beasts. Whole new magical races lived on Myrror, and all roads were enchanted by default (instant travel). Unique resources like adamantium.

      One bug was undiscovered for decades and led to a popular strategy of starting with spells: “Invulnerability” and “Guardian Spirit”. You can enchant a Guardian Spirit to be invulnerable, and many players and strategy guides loved the idea. What we found out was that… there’s an off-by-one programming error, Invulnerability was last on the spell list and it was literally impossible to dispel. Even though Dispel Magic and Dispel Area were supposed to do exactly that.

  7. Some questions:
    The game, you say, makes European cavalry inferior to other areas. Robert Bartlett, in The Making of Europe, argues that in the period preceding, core Western European military technologies in the broad sense, particularly cavalry, were equal to those of their Mediterranean neighbours: sufficient to take and keep hold of Greece and the Levant for longer than the logistical balance would suggest was feasible, and to capture Iberia. Bartlett is about twenty years old: How is Bartlett’s thesis regarded among medievalists?

    If firearms weren’t a good answer to steppe nomads, why not? And what were good answers? (Also, did the Indian subcontinent have much of a steppe nomad problem?)

    Finally, with regards to the scientific revolution (thinking here of David Wootton: the only primary source I’ve read is Francis Bacon, which I think supports the thesis): the importance of the Renaissance isn’t supposed the recovery of learning (the medieval period had a lot of learning), but the crisis of tradition that resulted from having two different bodies of authoritative texts. Bacon isn’t just inheriting Renaissance arguments against scholasticism, but scholastic arguments against Renaissance texts. The crisis of authority was only intensified by importing Chinese technologies and by geographic discoveries. But the scientific revolution (assuming there was such a thing) took a while to have much direct effect on military technologies. (I would suppose logarithm tables made artillery more effective.)

    1. The point I was trying to make about the Renaissance is that as I understand it, whatever effect the Renaissance had on Western European intellectual history it was largely due to the reintroduction of lost authoritative texts rather than the content of those texts: it was just because China had never lost its classical learning that it couldn’t have a Renaissance, for whatever that is worth, which may not be much.

      1. Were those texts actually of any significant importance? I have heard arguments that they cut down on innovation and even rolled some back, and certainly regarding the classics as the thing to study rather than science was no help at all.

        1. The Confucian Classics were all about ethics and ideal social relationships. They certainly didn’t encourage innovation. But then neither did European classics. Both systems privileged theoretical learning above practical.

          1. I kind of think it is. Classical science texts were mostly wrong after all.

        2. The explanation in my history classes was a couple of things.
          First there was some really innovative texts about ways of thinking, modern science method, in the very early Greek texts from around the time of Pythagoras. Only a minority of texts, far more were Aristotle style proclamations, but “science” is a very unusual way of thinking and it helped to have that spark.
          Secondly and more generally, the classical texts showed *different* ways of thinking and doing things. Even if they weren’t necessarily better, this helped the people who wanted to innovative and do things differently.
          So the influence is more meta, changing the process of knowledge generation, rather than anything direct.

        3. The texts themselves weren’t of any or much importance. With hindsight, there were thinkers in the scholastic tradition doing innovative work, such as Grosseteste, and the humanists mostly weren’t interested in natural philosophy. The theory goes that the importance of the Renaissance was that it (among other factors) precipitated a crisis in authority, particularly in Biblical interpretation and ethics, that led to a search for simpler and better grounded forms of knowledge (especially Biblical interpretation). I’m just reading Jonathan Ree’s history of English-language philosophy: which though ostensibly about philosophy in the modern sense, early on has a lot of overlap with natural philosophy, and the sense that writers – while often educated in the scholastic tradition – were rejecting the positive aspects of the Renaissance humanist tradition while also rejecting the scholastic tradition on humanist grounds.

    2. India was very well insulated from the steppe nomads, mostly for reasons of climate. Apparently, the humidity is brutal on steppe bows and horses’ hooves. If you look at a map of the Mongol conquests, you’ll notice that they avoid tropical regions like India and Vietnam even while wreaking terrible havoc on their neighbors in Persia and southern China.

      1. I’m curious as to why the Ottoman Turks and Mongols get counted as “steppe nomads” but the Delhi Sultans (Turko-Afghans) and the Mughals (Turko-Mongols) were not.

        1. Idk about the Delhi Sultans, but the Mughals regularly get refered to as “steppe invaders”

        2. They usually are. (and before them were the Kushans and the Hephtalites) Stepped invaders get into india lots. (though usually they seem to stick to the gangetic plains and not conquer the south, Delhi and the Mughals doing so but only briefly)

        3. I don’t know who would count the Ottomans as steppe nomads, seeing how they had been settled for around 300 years by the time of their emergence as a significant power. I wouldn’t count the Mughals as steppe nomads for the same reason and I’m not very familiar with the Delhi Sultans. But if the Delhi sultans are really “Turko-Afghan” that would imply that they are, at best, only partially steppe nomads given the distinct lack of steppe in Afghanistan.

          1. The Mughals invaded India from Afghanistan, but their “homeland” is farther north (Babur always dreamt of going back to Samarkand) they had just been kicked out of there by the Uzbekhs.

          2. It’s my impression that the Mughals at that time had long since ceased to be nomads. Timur’s immediate successors seem to have lost the allegiance of their nomadic tribes and been driven off the steppe frontier, deeper into the Afghan highlands and the Iranian Plateau. And all over that around 100 years before Babur’s invasion. Certainly by the time on 1st Panipat etc., they had more in common with the Ottomans or Safavids than the Mongols.

    3. Re: Firearms vs steppe cavalry
      I think our host already has an whole post about this, but the tldr version is something like this:
      Early firearms were cumbersome and slow to fire, thus needing big cumbersome infantery formation to be useful. Both strategically and tactically fast and nimble horse archers, could simply outmaneuver them.
      Aditionally steppe nomads do not have places that can be sieged, rendering early artillery next to useless.

    4. -》If firearms weren’t a good answer to steppe nomads, why not? And what were good answers? (Also, did the Indian subcontinent have much of a steppe nomad problem?)

      Firearms aren’t terribly effective, until you get to at least matchlocks. Even those will be secondary weapons, most of your infantry will still have pikes. To fully replace dedicated melee weapons, you need to get to flintlocks, with bayonets. Suvorov still argued in the 18th century that “the bullet is a fool, the bayonet is a hero”, and the early victories of Revolutionary France were more due to bayonets than gunfire.
      The earliest European firearms date to the late 14th century. Matchlocks come into general use in the 16th, and exist in parallel with early flintlocks, which fully replace them by 1700. Bayonets are also a 17th century innovation, and standard issue by 1700. That’s 350 to 400 years of gradual improvement.

      Steppe nomads are a problem for infantry armies generally. You can’t force them into battle, they usually don’t have a geographically defined centre of power, and mounted archers are fairly effective against any force that cannot outshoot them. Plus, of course, the infantry’s supply lines are under constant threat from raiding nomads.

      IIRC, the traditional answer is better light, missile-armed cavalry plus forts.

      1. Except that the Chinese regularly kept steppe armies at arms length by invading the more threatening groups (they failed from time to time, of course, but generally had the upper hand). And the Qianlong Emperor crushed the Mongols, Kazakhs and Turks as far west as the Tien Shan and brought the Tibetans under Chinese rule. All with mostly infantry.

        1. It wasn’t their infantry armies that allowed them to do this (or at least using their infantry armies in direct pitched battles, or chasing around steppes). The successful tactic was using the vast resources of their state in both manpower and materials to build a massive chain of area-denial forts and walls across key choke points (like the Dzungarian Gate), coupled with adopting the mounted horse archery tactic for fast-response forces stationed at these forts.

          This negated the mobility advantage of steppe nomads, and allowed them to take over key portions of the East-West trade routes that brought so much wealth and resources to steppe nomad polities, slowly but surely grinding them down until they couldn’t compete (it took Han China nearly 30 years to gain the upper hand against the Xiongnu, even with these tactics).

  8. Some questions:
    You say the game makes European cavalry relatively weak at the beginning of the period. I’ve read Robert Bartlett’s book, The Making of Europe, but don’t have any real sense of how it is regarded in the scholarship. Part of his thesis is that core Western European military technologies, particularly cavalry, around and after the turn of the millennium, were at least the equal of their Mediterranean neighbours and enabled some logistically impressive feats: capturing Greece and the Levant and holding them for a generation, not to mention capturing Iberia. Do you know how that thesis is regarded in the scholarship these days?

    If firearms weren’t a good answer to steppe nomads, why not? And what were good answers?
    (Also, did the Indian subcontinent have a lot of trouble with steppe nomads?)

    On the Renaissance: as I understand it, the Scientific Revolution (I realise it’s controversial if there was such a thing) didn’t have much immediate effect on European colonial expansion. But the supposed importance of the Renaissance to Western European thought isn’t (David Wootton, Jonathan Ree, various historians of medieval science) any direct revival of learning, as the crisis of tradition resulting from having two competing bodies of authoritative texts, combined with the importation of Eurasian technologies unknown to either, and geographic discoveries. Early modern natural philosophers were as much the heirs of scholastic critiques of humanist learning as from humanist critiques of scholasticism. India and China couldn’t have a Renaissance just because of the cultural continuity. Having said that, I appreciate that even if there was a scientific revolution it comes too late to explain Western European colonial expansion. (Though, logarithmic tables must have made artillery and navigation easier.)

  9. I would be interested to hear your take on the historical model that Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson put forth in Why Nations Fail, as I have heard people describe the book as essentially a refutation of what Jared Diamond advocated.

  10. A minor, quibbling point: While OPM’s do tend to have more development in their one province than larger empires do for precisely the reasons you mention, they also tend to have low amounts of money, because even a province with 40-50 development can’t generate cash in huge scales. That in turn means that buildings, built by cash, are much rarer in smaller countries than in larger ones, And those buildings, especially the ones that increase production income and manpower produced, can often take the place of quite a lot of development in terms of ultimate output of the provinces in question.

    While I haven’t done any particularly rigorous study of the trend, I have the feeling that if you factor in the increased likelihood to have buildings in places, especially the most developed parts of large empires (who can pool the resources of the smaller provinces to provide cash to create buildings and will usually start with the largest developed provinces first) will in fact outstrip places like the HRE’s OPMs.

    1. Yeah, province development isn’t a cost-effective way to use monarch points if your goal is to dominate other parts of the world. My impression of optimal expansionist play is that administrative points go mostly toward making cores (territory and state), diplomatic points go mostly toward demanding more provinces and annexing vassals, and military points go mostly toward “idea” bonuses and bleeding-edge tech.

  11. Another possible aspect where the race between European states brought them to their military domination might also be in the administrative ability to extract resources from their population. If we can believe the numbers from Thomas Piketty capital and ideology book (and as far as I know, at least among economist he is regarded as very serious), taxation rates grew considerably in Western European states during this period while they stayed much more constant in China (or the Ottoman empire). In these curves, and it seems that the increase in fiscal capacity of say France and England mostly mirrors the increased tax rates meaning that the growth of the underlying economy is not so important.

    1. Does that take into account things that are like taxation but not rendered in money? E.g. grain, agricultural labour or conscription?

  12. A fine conclusion to a fascinating series! I’m sure I’ll be thinking of it in my upcoming EU4 multiplayer game. But, while I fully support moving on to the amazing bundle that is Victoria 2, are you *sure* that it’s the next chronological title?

    March of the Eagles review when?

  13. As I recall, William McNeill makes another argument, that Europe was distinguishable from most other regions of the world in the social respect and political power enjoyed by military men. (Unlike VDH, he connects this to the feudal institutions of the Middle Ages, and possibly to the barbarian tribes which established those institutions, not to hoplite infantry.) The argument is that, e.g., (i) the Roman Empire may have been ruled by generals, but the Roman aristocracy generally did not respect military service, (ii) the Ottomans had slave soldiers (unthinkable in western Europe), who may have exercised some political power at times, but never commanded sociial respect, (iiI) imperial bureaucrats and landowners, not generals, controlled China economically and socially. And so on. Japan is an exception. When infantry with firearms displaced armored cavalry, the European aristocracy did not retire to their estates, as they might have, but reinvented themselves as officers of the new units.

    He also argues that Europeans were much more bloodthirsty than most other peoples, which he connects to the regular slaughter of large-bodied animals as an important of European agriculture. This doesn’t apply so much to east Asia, but New World tribes conceived the purpose of warfare as taking a handful of captives (who were frequently tortured to death, if male), and were shocked by the European tactics of surrounding and slaughtering their enemies, pursuing defeated foes, etc. I’m not really sure how Africans responded to European military mores.

    1. While the Roman aristocracy became disconnected from the army in the mid to late Empire, during the whole Republican period and the early Empire they were integral parts of the Roman military machine. The same was true of the Greeks and Alexander’s Hellenistic successors.

    2. The OP, Professor Devereaux, has already spoken about doctrine and the idea of European warrior “culture” – primarily refuting it, and I’d suggest reading his Universal Warrior Collection! I’d agree with you that the “barbarian” aristocracy that dominated Western Europe prized military success and skill, but McNeill’s argument seems flawed. (Basically, military culture doesn’t explain the Divergence). The Late Roman Empire was dominated by miltary men and soldier-emperors, for example the Illyrians and later immigrants who were thoroughly Romanized elites. Medieval Europeans did cheerfully employ slave-soldiers, depending on how you interpret them, such as housecarls on one end of the spectrum – like janissaries – and subject auxiliaries on the other. Finally, the growth of a civil service, be it clerical or bureaucratic, only accelerated the state’s ability to project power and violence. European military culture wasn’t the deciding factor in the Great Divergence, and I’d really recommend theUniversal Warrior series for how military values and tactics change and develop over time!

      1. I read Prof. Devereux’s original posts. I agreed with some of what he wrote, disagreed with some, and commented on same. (Mostly on what I disagreed with, but I wouldn’t have kept reading if i didn’t consider that he had something to say.) Prof. McNeill’s point, as paraphrased by me, has nothing to do with “universal warriors,’ nor even with supposed Western cultural universals, but only with the particular history of western Europe and its aristocracy.

        And for purposes of this discussion, we do not consider Turkey part of of Europe, as my original reference to the Ottomans clearly implied. So janissaries are irrelevant.

        1. I apologize if I was unclear; I meant that the “Universal Warrior” series goes into more detail about military culture and the contingency of tactics and value systems. To your paraphrased point about Macneill, I provided counterarguments to (i), (ii), and (iii).

          I think that the Medieval European military aristocracy is fascinating, but, personally, I don’t think that the European aristocracy’s value system in and of itself can explain the Great Divergence.

    3. He also argues that Europeans were much more bloodthirsty than most other peoples, which he connects to the regular slaughter of large-bodied animals as an important of European agriculture.

      It was probably not meant that way back in the 80s, but in a modern context this sounds like “Meat is War. Vegetarians for World Peace!”

      I think any differences in the treatment of enemies are more likely to be the result of differing goals of warfare for the two sides. For one side, “raiding for captives” is the whole point of the war; for the other side the goal is control over forts and cities, a battle is just a means to that end if there are enemy forces in the way, and captives are only interesting inasmuch they can be ransomed for money or for political concessions. Which is not the case when you’re fighting a tribe with no money and no centralized leadership. But understanding behavior that results from different social incentives and structures as the expression of an innate cruel, bloodthirsty, unfair, craven, or in any other way “barbaric” nature of the enemy, is probably as old as the difference between nomads and sedentary people.

  14. The discussion of how technology works in EU4 has me imagining a grand strategy type game where the player wouldn’t know ahead of time which research options were viable, which ones would be dead ends, and which might have unexpected consequences down the road.

    (I guess if I were to design such a game, I would have players start with something like an early 20th century level of technology, and let it explore various classic science fiction tropes. But the “tech tree” would have random factors involved, so sometimes computer technology might be the path forward, and you end up in a cyberpunk future, while in others you end up building starships that are controlled by massive arrays of vacuum tubes. Or maybe it turns out sometimes that psionics was the real deal all along!)

    1. Sword of the Stars (a sci-fi game in which you control a burgeoning space empire colonizing the galaxy) has something like that. Not every technology in the game’s tech tree will appear each game. The low level technologies always appear, but as you get higher in the tech tree it becomes less and less likely. As a result, you can find yourself scrambling to catch up because you invested in lasers only to find that the high end laser cannons aren’t available this game and you should have gone for railguns instead.

      1. hah; I had a very similar reply to a very similar comment farther up! (might have even been somewhat of a double-post.

        Also, sometimes even very basic techs are missing. (with a fist-shake at biome colonizers having only an 80% or 90% chance for several factions)

    2. To add to Sword of the Stars: this is one thing that differentiates the aliens, different aliens have different chances at techs, and some have better overall chances at higher technologies.

      For a civilization/real history based game this would be harder, since we know certain things existed and roughly what they do. You might be able to do this by changing the stats of various techs each game, maybe in one playthrough guns(to pick an example) just aren’t as powerful as another, though fill a similar role, so in a situation where guns are good, you get them, but in general you can’t be sure if they are worth it in an “optimum” playthrough.

      The biggest problem, really, is a general issue: Empire building computer games don’t simulate factions/political competition within an empire well. Ties into stability here, also a reason empires don’t just expend forever (internal political strife, they break up, …), or a reason some empires/systems seem to work more efficiently than others with similar money, territory, etc. I’d sometimes brainstormed/thought about how you could do this, but a lot of ideas would almost require a game within a game (gameception!) to deal with factions competing, siding with each other, etc., or even deciding which differences matter (religions, types of workers or economic sectors, nationalities, alien species/fantasy species, could all be the basis for factions, but chosing which one at different times could mean different divisions.)

      1. Shadow Empire does both, but in its own way :

        1.) Tech discovery is somewhat random, and beelining requires to spend more political and bureaucratic points, but all techs are still eventually guaranteed.

        However unit model design gives you random stats on engine/weapon/armor effectiveness, which *can* be remediated eventually, but by extra field testing, and/or also by spending more bureaucratic points.

        2.) It has Factions aligned along Leaders liking some of the 3×3 Politics/Society/Psychology Profiles, which you move via Decisions that you have to make every turn.
        But it’s a bit of a panopticon system, where Factions don’t directly interact with each other (well, except in competing in elections and for Power Base points), but solely with you (through Leader Relation and Faction Happiness), as a kind of “disembodied head of state” (despite the existence of a Supreme Command Council Director and Strategic HeadQuarter Director(s) !).

        But this was probably a specific game design choice so as not to make the system completely unmanageable once you get more than a dozen leaders and 3 factions ? Especially in a game that is a wargame first, and leader manager / 4X second.

        Note that failing to keep them happy not only results in loss of effectiveness, but also can result in rebellions, which are usually easy to put down (unless you made the mistake of neglecting one of your Military leaders !), but can have disastrous consequences if they happen to cut off your logistics going to the frontline at the wrong moment !

  15. Now that you have successfully bullied Paradox into making Victoria III, can you get CA to make Empire: Total War 2 and/or Medieval 3?

  16. Personally I always felt Europe lucked out due to a combination of factors; being something of a crossroads, in contact with Asia Minor and North Africa allowing for a flow of ideas and a lack of centralized hegemonic control .

    1. Europe had contact with Asia Minor and North Africa, but so did the Near East. If you want contact with as many civilizations as possible, you’d want the Near East, or Central Asia, or South Asia. Europe was way off on one end of the world. It didn’t become the center until Columbus.

      1. But the near east tended to be under hegemonic empires with both the ability and the will to enforce conformity.

  17. This is a fascinating post and I learned a lot from it, but I’m puzzled by the claim about the role of imports in the Second Agricultural Revolution. What were the “raw materials and agricultural goods” that contributed so much to British agricultural productivity economic and military dominance? Cotton is the only plausible candidate I can think of, but did it really import that much cotton in the early stages of the Second Agricultural Revolution?

    1. Cotton plantations were actually a later thing. Earlier imports from North America include timber (critical for shipbuilding), a ton of staple crops like potato, tomato, maize, and others in the Columbian Exchange (these directly contributed to the Agricultural Revolution when planted in Europe). Cash crops that made Britain and other European countries extremely rich include tobacco and sugar. Fur trading was big business in North America also, and the British had a ton of conflicts with the French over this lucrative industry.

      1. Oak is too heavy for masts, so they had had to import conifers from Scandinavia. The American colonies offered a superior product, so that they didn’t have to assemble a mast from parts. But the colonists hated it because it was a lot more work and didn’t pay any better than regular lumber.

        Then the American Revolution hit.

        There were people preventing the shipment of the mast timber even before fighting broke out. And the British had lost the skills to assemble a mast from timber that was too short for a full mast, even when they got wood from Scandinavia. A lot of naval ships could not leave port for the lack of masts, which did not help the war.

        Life is complicated.

        1. Actually, ‘made’ masts were quite usual, but need long seasoning in mast ponds. In the American Revolution the initial shortage of supply coupled with the seasoning period meant that the fleet suffered shortages at crucial periods.

      2. Tobacco, sugar, and furs are luxury goods, and I don’t see how they contributed to European military domination. Perhaps they reduced the amount of land in Europe being devoted to growing luxuries? But that seems like a bit of a stretch.

        I don’t believe staple crops were being loaded up into cargo holds and shipped back to Europe from the Americas. It sounds like what was actually being brought back was seeds—something Europeans could have gotten just fine without their colonial empires.

        The timber thing sounds somewhat more plausible but again I question just how much was freed up there.

    2. Potatoes are a big one, I’ve seen here and other places that they are a very efficient crop to grow. The Americas also have a lot of other crops, that in general allow more efficient farming, though I don’t remember what those are. (Some legume type plants I think, that allow better fallowing if I remember right.)

      1. But the food crops weren’t imported en masse from plantations, they were imported as seed and grown in Europe, just as they were elsewhere (maize and potatoes in China, chili peppers in India, etc.) It’s an instance of exchange, not of imperial resource extraction.

        Tobacco made some Europeans and Americans wealthy, but I’m not sure it made *Europe* wealthy; was Europe selling American tobacco in China to buy Chinese goods? Likewise I don’t see furs contributing to European industry. Sugar at least contributed to European calories (and tooth decay) and timber was useful for construction but how big was that? Mary suggests not that big.

        American cotton fed part of the Industrial Revolution but AIUI only really took off in the 1800s, after Eli Whitney’s 1790s invention.

        1. The arguments as I’ve heard them are kind of mixed up, some arguments are that imports directly from the Americas put Europe ahead. The food crops one is that, with new foods, Europe would grow a lot more food and had more resources as a result, which were put to industry eventually, without comparing to the rest of the world. the second one could suggest that Europe used the new crops better, since they would have arrived in it first, but I haven’t looked into this theory in depth.

        2. This was my thought, and why I found the claim so puzzling. From what I’ve read, colonialism seems like it probably destroyed vastly more wealth than was actually transferred to Europe.

      2. The potato was critical. Before potatoes the center of European population was roughly Rome, after potatoes plus 100 years the center of European population was either the Rhine Estuary or Hamburg. And it was all from population growth.

        Part of the ‘European backwater’ is that Europe starts the early modern period with relatively low global populations and ends the the early modern period with the most population. This is largely due to potatoes as a cold tolerant crop. It’s very easy to forget how far north Europe is. (St. Petersburg, Russia is on the same median as Hudson’s Bay)

  18. “One thing that EU4 – and indeed, nearly all of Paradox’s games – struggles to simulate is the demands of controlling very large frontiers. In practice here, further expansion into the Iranian Plateau ought to impose crushing and impractical logistical burdens; these frontiers are nearly unguardable and merely keeping all of this territory ought to push Bharat to its limits.”

    Relatively small tweaks to the rebellion mechanics would do this — lowering the threshold for enforcing demands and lowering the supply limit in provinces with unrest come to mind.

    I’m playing as Ayutthaya and rebellions (especially in my Sunni regions on the Malay Peninsula) have been a nearly constant annoyance and keep a big chunk of my armies tied up.

  19. I think the naval discussion got a bit of a short thrift here – European navies were utterly devastating the seas long before their land armies became unbeatable in Eurasia, like the Portuguese just sweeping the Indian Ocean on arrival.

    If you look at Europe in 1400, one thing that really will stand out is the top-notch naval technology for ocean-going vessels and integration of naval artillery.

    1. It is a dramatic Clausewitzian advantage to fight wars where all of the consequences to the land fall on your opponent and your opposition stands no real chance to counter-invade.

    2. It’s probably post 1400 (Lepanto?) but there’s a line mourning an Islamic navy’s defeat that goes something like… “Allah has given us the earth, but He has left the sea for the Christians”

      There should probably be more analysis of how the Ottomans/other Muslims failed to introduce the lateen sail into the Indian Ocean, one of the parts of the world where (because of the very strong trade winds, as I understand it) it’s the most useful. And this isn’t purely a state-centered approach…how did no profit-maximizing merchants operating in the Mediterranean say “A sail that lets you travel against the wind??? I know where that would be pretty useful”

      And then once cannons (translation: early modern WMDs) become small enough to fit on ships, it’s all over, the people with the best ships have won.

      1. The Ottomans did contest the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and at least kept the former. I think a large part of Europe’s success is that it managed to avoid the Malthusian trap just long enough to transition to fossil fuels (the trap is that rises in productivity lift population, but arable land is fixed – so it comes to a choice between food, materials (especially timber and textile plants) and fuel. If food wins out, then soil degradation eventually leads to productivity collapse, then to population collapse – usually with accompanying social unrest. Europe has been deforested three times – twice with the above cycle. Third time lucky.

        Timber availability is a major constraint for the Ottomans and Persians. European-style ships eat amazing amounts of wood, both in construction and maintenance (Indians built European style ships using local teak, but the supply soon ran short).

        Lateens were an Arab sail originally. Jibs are the real deal, but they don’t come in until the early C18 (when they allow Anson to round the Horn against a head wind). But long periods of going against the wind demand a strong hull and impose much wear.

  20. I’ve never played any of these games, so I just want to ask: can foreign powers colonize Europe? I assume only players can do it and not AI factions, but it would be amusing for Dai Viet to set up trading ports in the Spanish Netherlands, for instance.

    1. Depends on how you define “colonize”. In Eu4 jargon, colonization happens only a handful of times, effectively when states move in to carve up areas not held by other states. What modern people would term as “colonization” in places like West Africa, or in India, is simply treated by the game as conquest. Someone with a big nasty army rolls up, wins battles and occupies forts, and grabs land from the native states. And there isn’t a whole lot of granularity in how a colonizing state conquers and integrates land into itself. If you’re playing say, France, the way you can conquer and absorb what’s now Vietnam is mechanically identical to how you conquer and absorb Burgundy, the only difference being how you overcome resistance.

      So by that metric, no, Europe cannot be “colonized” because all of Europe starts the game as part of one state or another. Europe can, however be conquered by a non-European state which can pull together enough power. Difficult, to be sure, but theoretically possible.

      1. Ah okay, but it’s only players who can do this? Like if you’re unifying India, will you ever look at Europe and see the Ottomans have taken Austria or that Mali has conquered the Maghreb and has a toe hold in Sardinia? Basically I’m asking how counterfactual the historical simulation can get with regards to European dominance.

        1. Nothing in the game prevents it from happening but in my (limited) experience it’s unlikely. For example, I just finished a playthrough as Bharat. The Ming Dynasty never fell, the Mamluks were a colonial power in Indonesia, and Brazil became an independent Muslim country, but in Europe there were no big surprises: Britain / France / Spain were the major New World powers and Germany and Italy remained fragmented, with Russia and Poland-Lithuania dominating the east. Due to a combination of tech, colonial income, and special political mechanics (e.g. HRE and crusades), expanding into Europe is an uphill battle for non-European powers even when players control them.

        2. (Both of the scenarios you mention seem well within the realm of possibility, though.)

        3. The counterfactuality is more or less complete. After starting off the game in the 15th century nothing is hardcoded to happen, although some important historical events are softcoded, such as the Iberian Wedding uniting and the Burgundian Inheritance, but they will only happen if certain prerequisites are met, and most of the specific historical events are limited to the first one and a half century of gameplay, since after that such details are tougher to be sure happens.

          That said, that doesn’t make things probable, just possible. AI coding, events and country ideas tend to steer countries in the rough direction of history. The player on the other hand has near complete freedom, with the game system only presenting obstacles, not insurmountable walls.

        4. The AI usually isn’t clever or aggressive enough to reliably create counterfactual scenarios. That being said, because the game is big and varied to a tremendous extent, there’s usually one or two counterfactuals unrelated to the human player running amok that happen, somewhere. So for instance, a while ago, playing as France and doing very stereotypical things mostly in Europe and a bit in the New World, when I finally discovered East Asia, I had found that Korea had conquered and occupied about 2/3 of what’s modern China. Not really sure how that happened.

          Now the game gives a bunch of bonuses to Europe so it’s pretty rare for non-Europeans to push in against the Europeans, but it can happen, and on rare occasions will. Also, for purposes of this game, the Ottmans are basically a European country. In fact, they’re usually the single strongest country in the game, until accumulated human player advantages eclipse them.

        5. Funny thing – if you look at my screenshots at Bharat, you may see that the Ottomans have in fact absorbed most of South-Eastern Europe (think the traditional territory of Austria-Hungary) and have control over most of the Black Sea Coast, which has made an utter mess of central European politics.

          So, yes!

        6. The Ottomans in particular are at their apex in this period and are given many advantages in the game; Scenarios where they take Austria are not uncommon, though they are not the norm, either.

          The counterfactualness of the simulation depends on large part on where the player is – the player is almost always capable of becoming ahistorically strong and tends to shape the region around them heavily. Combine this with the tendency for most to play within Europe, and you’re less likely to see a domineering Ottoman empire because the player will target them specifically to prevent their domination – unless they are used as a sledgehammer against Austria-Hungary or Russia, which also happens at times.

          In areas where the player doesn’t play, history tends to follow the structure if not the details of history: in Persia and Afghanistan, you might get a Mughal Empire or a Persian one, but who forms them varies; the end result tends to be a regional major power either way, that tends to end up in conflict with the Ottomans and the Indian nations. Ming either fractures and is replaced by a new hegemon of China who eventually reconquered the rest of it, or they stay the same throughout the game.

          Towards the end of the game, most of the world is consolidated into large empires either way; few small states survive except as fragments of a previous empire.

  21. Since we’re talking about geographic determinism and the great divergence, and I spy a mention of navigable rivers, I’m wondering what your take is on the specific StratFor/Friedman/Zeihan argument that the developments in shipbuilding and sailing techniques (which they collectively call “Deepwater Navigation”) were a fundamental prerequisite to the gunpowder technology arms races of the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe and that without the incentive to claim colonial wealth before other states did the early European states would never have bothered with the Military Revolution. (You can ignore the rest of their theses)
    Unfortunately, these guys are the sort to seldom cite their claims, probably in the belief it affords them more legitimacy to their target audience.

    1. Can’t speak for Bret, but no?
      The book to read would be “Firearms: A Global History to 1700” by Kenneth Chase, which I discovered through the recommendation of Our Pedantic Host.
      The Ottomans and Japanese were making excellent muskets in the 16th C because they needed them against their enemies, no ocean going fleet required.

  22. My favorite historical contrast, thinking along the lines you ascribe to McNeill, is between Hungary (1450-destruction) and ‘three unifiers’ Japan.

    In both countries, you have a society heavily dominated by an aristocracy that finds it dominated by a ruler who comes to power through tense competition (Matthias Corvinus / Oda Nobunaga) and dominates through the establishment of a heavily professionalized army (the Black Army / Nobunaga’s firearm-armed ashigaru) that sidelines the traditional aristocracy. He is comparatively highly effective at statebuilding, increasing the power of a modernizing central government over the preexisting power structure, but ultimately successors (Vladislaus Dobže and Louis II / Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu) reverse the trend; they identify more with the aristocracy, and so either deliberately or semi-deliberately break the power of the new army to restore power to the aristocracy.

    At which point Tokugawa, a revolt or two aside, builds 200-odd years of peace and isolation for Japan, unthreatened by its rivals, since it has no rivals…

    And Hungary is immediately annihilated at Mohacs by its rapidly-expanding neighbor, the Ottoman Empire.

    Japan, once unified, was not in a highly competitive environment. When it *was* in a highly competitive environment, in the Sengoku era, it rapidly developed new military doctrines (the description given by Stephen Turnbull in his ‘War in Japan 1467–1615’ is of horse archers countered by massed foot archers countered by cavalry spear charges countered by walls of foot spearmen countered by masked muskets, eventually ending up with what really reminds me of Europe’s pike-and-shot tactics), but after it was unified under the Tokugawa, they were more worried about revolts than anything else – hence the development of clever, if destructive, systems like ‘alternate attendance’. Until ships got good enough in the 19th century, Japan could and did afford to sacrifice military potential to keep Tokugawa and his class in power.

    Hungary sacrificed military potential to keep the aristocracy in power, too. It just couldn’t afford to; in the tight, competitive world of Europe, everyone had to constantly worry about expansionist states such as the Ottoman Empire, and when Hungary made the wrong decision, it was destroyed. Other countries learned its lesson, and Europe kept up fairly tight military competition, ending up with armies much closer to maximized than its rivals, allowing European-style troops to defeat unreformed Asian ones despite astonishing odds against them. (e.g., the battle of Plassey featured something like 15-1 odds against the British, who still won.)

    I’m not saying this is *the* key thing, but it’s something I think about a lot.

    1. Except that Plassey was won by a well-timed switch of side (arranged beforehand), and with native soldiers – admittedly fighting European style. European drilled infantry were quite rapidly adopted in India – Wellington remarked that the Army of Hindostan gave him the hardest fight of his career.

      1. Worth noting is that at Assaye Wellington was outnumbered five to one in both troops and cannon, longer odds than he faced in any other battle. (Though it should be noted that only about a fifth of the Hindostani army was trained in the European style, while the rest were irregulars.)

  23. Good stuff as usual, but the post seems unfair to Guns Germs and Steel, which explicitly is asking about *Eurasia* vs the Americas / Sub-Saharan Africa / Oceania. Diamond may not be right about the proximate causes (the guns / germs / steel themselves) but what makes the book interesting is his theory of the ultimate causes of the tech discrepancy (roughly, geography -> agriculture -> population size -> tech). At the end he has a brief discussion of how Europe eventually outpaced other parts of Eurasia, where IIRC he mostly follows the fragmentation thesis.

  24. FWIW, the Total War games simulate the difficulty of guarding a large frontier better, because individual enemy armies can slip by if you are not careful. Of course, there’s still almost no simulation of small-scale border conflicts. The recent games (Total War: Warhammer at least) have raiding mechanics, but you cannot actually do anything about the raiders unless you declare war to fight them.

    Incidentally, I would love if you did a critique of a) various Total War games, and b) Total War: Warhammer, in particular the different faction army lists (can combine it with Warhammer Fantasy Battles sourcebooks). Warhammer especially has plenty of crazy and weird armaments, and it would be interesting to read how usable they would actually be!

    1. While Paradox GSG’s occupation mechanics definitely have their advantages (such as portraying that not everything your armies occupy will be given to you in a peace deal, or that you do not necessarily need to actually send an army to a remote colony to gain it in war), they also have their disadvantages, and one of them is that they make large frontiers and fighting on multiple front much less problematic than in reality. In Total War: Rome 2 as the Seleucid Empire, I’ve had to sign status quo peace deals against countries I could have easily defeated and who I had been planning to conquer because something far more pressing came up and I needed those armies elsewhere. I’ve never had a similar experience in any Paradox game because other than HoI (where you can’t really make separate peace deals anyway) time is imply not of the essence during war.

      1. Indeed. You’d expect that when a major imperial power you want to break free from is embroiled in a war with another major power, that would be your moment, but in practice in all the Paradox games I’ve played much of (EU III and IV, CK II and III, Stallaris) it’s almost always the sensible thing from the player’s POV to more or less abandon the front long enough to utterly crush whatever minor powers attempt such a move. You can count on the general slow pace of war between greater powers and the abstraction of forces that support your military to make any losses from doing so relatively insignificant by the time you can regroup your forces to focus against the more dangerous enemy.

  25. I do note that, in regards to institutions *where they spawn* is only part of their thing but also *how they spread*.

    Global trade, for instance, usually spawns in Europe, but it spreads to any province that has a centre of trade (and some other variations) So some institutions only spread via connection (from one province to the other) while others can “jump” to any province that meets the criteria. A lot of those criteria are lcoked to Europe (or at least to the “Not New World”) but not all.

    Global Trade, for instance, is specifically designed as “catch up” institution that will spread across the globe (huh) rather tahn slowly creep from europe, like the Renaissance or Printing Press. Colonialism tends to spawn in europe but will spread to any capital with a colonial nation, even if they aren’t connected to the original colonialism institution, for instance.

    1. Yeah, I was coming here to say that. The second through fourth institutions – Renaissance, Colonialism and Printing Press – spread very slowly by proximity (Feudalism, the first, starts everywhere in the Old World except for a few steppe hordes and some bits of sub-saharan Africa, so its spread mechanics matter little). The later ones spread much faster into Asia, as they require just certain buildings (Manufactories for Manufactories, Universities for Enlightenment, Furnaces for Industrialisation) or a centre of trade for Global Trade.

      The net result of this is that the period of the peak European advantage over Asia is around 1600. By the 1650s, the early institutions have reached across Asia, while the later institutions, even if they spawn in Europe, will spread as quickly into Asia as they do to European countries other than the one they spawn in (so, if, say Global Trade spawns in London, then England will get ahead of everyone else, but Italian states will get it just as fast from their centres of trade as Indian ones).

  26. I really enjoyed this series. As someone in a history adjacent discipline (Sanskrit/Dravidian Philology, working within the timeframe of EUIV), I’ve found the anachronisms produced by EUIV and other Paradox simulations as great tools for thinking through historical preconceptions. But because I don’t have much knowledge of statecraft / economics / military etc., I often struggle to come up with explanations of how the simulations go wrong. So thanks for helping answer my questions!

    Tangent: As always, I think a lot more ink deserves to be spilled on how South Asia fits into the “Why Europe?” question. South Asians, well at least those who were producing texts, don’t make much of the European arrival. You find occasional, often negative and dismissive, references to the Portuguese etc., but the contact seems to have initially influenced Europe far more than it did South Asia, at least from a socio-cultural standpoint. This, of course, changed as trade companies seized more land, especially with the British EIC’s seizure of Bengal, but the Mughal Empire was already in severe decline at this point. And while I don’t know too much about this decline, I don’t believe it had much or anything to do with Europeans (nor did the decline of Vijayanagara a century and a half earlier — as far as I’m aware).

    My point is, it’s always seemed to me that European dominance in South Asia was largely due to chance i.e. the British EIC happened to be in such a position that established and maintained hegemony in the interstate anarchy following the Mughal decline. It’s interesting to ask why Europe? but to me its no more interesting as asking why the Mauryas? why the Guptas? why the Mughals? etc. The more interesting question to me, is what historical forces made British hegemony as brutal and destructive to the subcontinent as it was.

    1. “made British hegemony as brutal and destructive”

      I think Amartya Sen has pointed to the simple fact that the British were outside resource extractors. They were hauling stuff away, not recirculating in a local economy; also they didn’t have the close touch that might lead a local lord to go “yes, the weather *is* bad this year, I’ll suspend your taxes”. Plus destroying textile manufacturing for their own industry, ham-fisted codification of the caste system, and such. Oh, and AIUI the Company men were generally there for a few years, hoping to get rich and return to Britain, that would also make them more rapacious.

      A local ruler might tax heavily, but would be logically concerned with the sustainability of his lands. Perhaps also the London directors of the East Indian Company, but the Brits on the ground wouldn’t care if everything collapsed after they left.

    2. Recently, I’ve been wondering if people have overcomplicated the Great Divergence debate. It seems possible (at least to this my uneducated eyes), that the coincidence of the bouts of political crisis that can occur in any polity in any period and the disparity in ships specific to the Modern period are all that’s needed to explain Early Modern European expansion across the world in the big picture.

      Every polity suffers bouts of instability, but most of the time they pull themselves together and keep on trucking. This process can get much more difficult when other polities wish to expand or gain influence inside the weakening polity. Local polities by virtue of proximity have more connections to their neighbors, and also more conflicts of usually more existential nature than with distant powers (because locals have shorter supply lines and can use their connections to draw upon forms of legitimacy that have current in that place, both of which distance makes much more difficult to accumulate and manage).

      Thus, when a polity suffers a crisis, it’s most important external threats are usually its immediate neighbors. Conceding a small bit of land on the coast or some trading rights to some distant power in order to get access to the goods or revenues of the trade sustained by the tall ships is worthwhile, as compared to spooking away the distant traders (and the revenues and goods that might sustain wars against local foes and gifts to local friends) by seizing the port and military reprisal against the distant lands themselves simply isn’t in the cards. And those small footholds then provide bases for the tall-ship traders to venture out of to expand their holds through negotiation under duress or plain seizure whenever the local polity is destabilized, one small piece at a time.

      Of course, whole thesis relies upon the assumption that tall ships were unique or near-unique to Europe in the Early Modern Period. Did other complex societies in the Old World and the New ever acquire or build substitutes for the capabilities of the tall ships of the European empires? If yes, did they engage in similar overseas imperialism, colonialism, etc.? If not, then why Europe and why did others not copy the tall ships, keep pace, or have something as they often did with state capacity or every other form of technology?

      1. A loose analogy would be comparing the Early Modern European tall ships to the Eurasian steppe-nomads as noted Dr. Devereaux in his Fremen Mirage series. The Europeans don’t need to have better armies to conquer other regions, just the infinite tries and the ability to seize the initiative in times of crises along with a lack of ability for non-European powers to reach the shores of Europe and cores of the European empires, which is enabled by the tall ships that cross the oceanic deserts. Just like the steppe-nomadic lifestyle allowed them to cross the steppe while agrarian empires foundered unless they adapted their logistical systems to reach deep and close the Steppe as the Russian and Qing Empires finally did in the Early Modern period.

        1. Possible analogy with the Viking raids, too: ability to strike repeatedly from a safe space. Though they were more repulsable by a strong state with organized defenses.

      2. The closest anyone ever came to that would probably be Zheng He’s fleet that he took around Southeast Asia and India in the mid-to-late 1400s, and which certainly engaged in some “trade or bleed”-style negotiations with the locals. It’s also worth noting what happened to said fleet–the notion of seagoing voyages fell out of favor in the Imperial court, and so the financing for them stopped, the seagoing vessels were broken up or left to rot, and China quit exploring.

        Which, by the way, answers your last question: those polities who might have had the desire to copy the tall ships didn’t have the capacity, and those polities with the capacity to copy the tall ships didn’t have the desire.

        1. Didn’t have the desire or didn’t see a point. China was already a focal point of a trade network including a majority of the world’s population and resources; the European “tall ships” were developed in large part for getting to China. Sailing around the world had clear payoff for Europeans that it didn’t for China.

          1. That kind of brings us back the political fragmentation of Europe as a point in their favour. There were plenty of people in both China and Europe that saw value in large, ocean crossing navies but in China one political group was able to dominate the discourse sufficient to completely shut it down. Europe too had plenty of people against the expansion of tall ships, notably the Venetians who saw it as the deathknell it turned out be, but the fragmentation of European polities meant there was no group capable of cancelling the whole endeavour.

  27. Converter guy, just again at your service! It’s worth pointing out that the fun hasn’t completely drained from the game, the fun is now to convert to Vic2 and struggle to hold your state together, build an economy, and see what political shenanigans happen. Though I am a little bit biased.

    And interestingly, we’ve found that EU4 tends to produce a relatively balanced world. At least enough that we’ve had to take extreme measures to make conversions contain the same kind of imbalance as a vanilla Vic2 start.

  28. I’d like to take a break from the GG&S chat and ask if there are any good takedowns of Culture and Carnage? Preferably in this blog’s author’s style. I read it nearly 20 years ago and zeroed in almost right away that it was written backwards. He presumes Western military superiority and then goes cherrypicking for data points.

    1. The problem with that critique of Hanson is that A. he would agree with you that he started from a presumption of western military superiority–the entire book is about why the West spent the past couple of hundred years defeating everyone it came into conflict with (but Adowa! Isandhlwana! There’s a reason Adowa was famous–it was a rarity, and Isandhlwana was followed by Rorke’s Drift) and B. he’s not nearly as wrong as most of his critics want him to be about why. He attributes it to a combination of factors that didn’t exist anywhere else, and I suspect that if you pressed him on why this mattered, he would probably say that while other cultures had individual elements of that combination, none of them had all of them.

      Disagree with his thesis as you will, and there’s certainly much to dispute about it, but the idea that different methods of waging war are more effective than others at achieving certain goals and that both will be influenced by a society’s patterns of thought–that is, its culture–really shouldn’t be that controversial.

      I will also note here that exceedingly silly ideas such as the notion that Europeans were more bloodthirsty because of the slaughter of large animals don’t get nearly as much pushback from academia as Hanson’s do.

      1. Yes, the idea that hunting large animal made Europeans bloodthirsty is silly. Very silly since large and fierce animals were hunted everywhere.

  29. Recently I was researching about Stone Age warfares [sic]. I read only lightweight sources, a few websites, but FWIW:

    Hawaii: pike formations and slings, but no shields or armor; highly trained warrior caste.
    Maori: fortified villages, but no projectile weapons? Also a genocidal conquest of the Moriori.
    New Guinea: lots of shields and archers.

    If that’s accurate, then as entire systems, they have odd gaps compared to Eurasian warfare, but they still show useful ideas being re-invented in different places.

    1. Why would anyone use pike formations without shields or armor?? You’d be easily defeated not just with bows, but slings and javelins.

      1. From ‘De Bellis Antiquitatis’, the generally well regarded WRG rules and army lists for ancient/medieval warfare, the Hawaiian pike formations were the best specialist warriors, not the entire army. Supported by lighter troops with various wooden swords and clubs, and their own skirmishers with slings.

        Slingers can’t generate as much concentrated firepower as archers, because they have to spread out more to give themselves room to swing, and in Hawaii because they weren’t using cast metal shot, just stones. Javelins are more lethal than arrows, but also very short range.

        Swiss pike formations started off with little or no armour, but with discipline and good morale they were rarely stopped by longbows or early firearms. Presumably the Hawaiians pikes were similar, they would take their losses from missiles and then skewer anyone who hadn’t run away. The lighter troops would guard the flanks of the pikes.

      2. Also, ammunition limits. How many javelins or arrows can a man carry? How many of those javelins or arrows will miss altogether? How many will end up striking someone that another javelin or arrow already hit? How many will hit someone but not actually do them any damage?

  30. While the overall point that there’s not much about Europe in 1400 that would indicate it would dominate the world remains true, I do question the characterization of Europe as a backwater. Obviously estimations of the size of ancient and medieval economies are tenuous at best, but the estimates I have seen for approximate GDP per capita in High and Late Medieval Europe put it at a similar level of GDP per capita to China or India during the same time frame. Indeed, the only region that seems notably wealthier in that time period based on the estimates I’ve seen is West Asia.

    1. No, it’s definitely a backwater. While the per capita GDP was comparable between Europe and East and South Asia, the latter two areas had a lot more people than Europe did, making them wealthier and more powerful.
      It’s also worth noting that while Europeans found reasons to go to Asia, the opposite was not true.

      1. They had spices. Which were definitely luxury goods. Lacking one specific type of luxury good does not make a region a backwater.

      2. Which leads us to the question: which is the real backwater ? Those who explore, travel, trade and wage war across the whole world, or those who do not, because they don’t feel any curiosity and believe there nothing of real worth outside of their own country ?

        1. “Backwater” doesn’t mean “these people are stupid”. It means an area that isn’t a center of commerce or political power. Europe was a backwater for a long time, and then it wasn’t.

          1. Well, that’s exactly the point: it’s hard to argue that Late Medieval Europe was a backwater, when the Italian city-states ran a trade network that extended from Senegal to China. It’s hard to argue that the Papacy or the Ottomans weren’t a centre of political power.
            Not to mention Portugal, who built the first true global empire in less than 50 years, spanning from Brazil to Japan.

      3. I guess we’re running into the problem of differing definitions of what a backwater is. I would hardly call present day Russia a backwater but I think it would fit into the definition of backwater you seem to be using.

    2. One issue with these estimates is that – as Pomeranz points out – they treat ‘China’ and ‘India’ as one entity, and compare it to England or the Netherlands of France. Where in fact China is larger than western Europe. The Yangtze delta area or Goungzhou was probably richer than anything in Europe, while Gansu was as poor as Poland. Likewise, Gujarat and Bengal were rich, Coorg much less so.

      1. That’s a good point. China had within its borders at least as much diversity of ethnicity and territory as Europe. What China had that Europe didn’t was a centralized hegemonic government with a highly developed bureaucracy to control it.

      2. I do note that Poland, at this point, was actually fairly wealthy. The impoverishment of Poland happens during the period (partially due to bad terms of trade, partially due to people constantly burning the place down)

      3. When looking at estimates, I actually completely ignored any individual country estimates and just went with regional estimates i.e. Western Europe as a whole, precisely because India was a region as well at the time and China covers such a large area.

        Also Poland wasn’t really poor until the early modern period, when it really begins to fall behind. The Western Europe/Eastern Europe divide is a product of Western Europe really pulling ahead in the early modern period and not reflective of relative wealth and power earlier on.

        1. Ok. perhaps I should have used Finland rather than Poland. Point is that certain regions (Ile de France, the Netherlands, southern England, north Italy) were well above everywhere else. Since these regions dominate in our data, and we have nothing for much of eastern Europe before the C16, Europe gets over-weighted. The Indian data is likewise skewed, and fragmentary. China has better records for the whole, but this tends to under-weight it (as eg the wealth and sophistication of the Yangtze is offset by the poverty of the northern interior).

          Also, GDP is a bad measure now. It’s a much worse one for pre-modern economies.

  31. Colonial empires are supposed to be a major advantage yet in RL Spain, with one of the largest, politically and economically lost ground from their high point in the 16th and 17th centuries. Treasure fleets poured gold and silver into Spain which seems to have had the effect of ruining its economy.

    1. I don’t think “X polity squandered the advantage they gained from Y” really translates into “Y was not an advantage.” Spain’s problem wasn’t getting all of that gold and silver–its problem was that it instead of using its gold and silver to build up its economy, it instead used its colonial resources as a substitute for building up its economy.

      1. Good point. Spanish rulers made some really bad decisions about how to spend their New World wealth and ignored how it contributed to inflation. Internal development was definitely not a priority but maintaining ideological purity and the domination of the crown was. They went full bore on enforcing the ideals of social stasis and conformity.

        1. Though I wonder if it was a bad decision for the time, or just in hindsight. We have the advantage of looking back at and learning from imperial Spain, and also other Dutch disease/resource curse situations. Managing the flood of silver well in the 1500s might have taken someone truly visionary.

          1. There’s that but Charles V and Philip Ii were constantly in debt from bearing their heads against intractable does. Philip was especially OCD about the Netherlands ND England

          2. They seemed like good ideas at the time. But it shouldn’t have taken a soothsayer to see the problem inherent in dependency on a constant stream of treasure from the New World. And despite their wealth Spain was deeply in debt and had miserable credit because of spending on military ventures.

  32. Going back to Tolkien, he makes a point with his fantasy world of Middle-Earth that empires rise and fall, and only some of it (e.g. Númenor) is down to divine intervention. Arnor (the ‘North Kingdom’) managed to fragment itself and be overwhelmed and destroyed, piecemeal, by Angmar (and then Angmar, weakened and exhausted by the destruction of Arnor, was itself finished off.) Gondor managed to hang on in the ‘south’, despite losing bits to factional fighting (e.g. The Kinstrife) but then stagnated and became moribund, and basically needed divine intervention (Gollum being tripped up and falling down a volcanic fissure, whilst clutching a critical item) to deal with the aggressive up-and-coming Mordor renewed across the Great River.

  33. Great idea here that EU5 should have some driving variables guiding events rather than dates and unrelated ones based on European history.

    One improvement would be literacy driving the size of republics (rather than a hard limit on provinces) and democratic revolutions (13 colonies, for instance).

  34. In line with what Bret Devereaux says, black African people were initially treated with respect. There were black-skinned envoys in Europe treated with honors. I remember a poem about a “thick-lipped lady”. Mani-kongo even wanted to pay a very large sum for the seafaring ship technology, but Europeans refused. Even back then they knew it was essentially priceless.

    The African cities on the east coast had traded with China. There were no written accounts mentioned in the book, just archeological evidence like Chinese porcelain. Coral cities… The Portuguese were the ones that sailed along the east coast and blasted them to bits with cannons.

    source: “Black Mother” by Basil Davidson.
    Another source: (The Swahili Culture – 0 to 1500 CE – African History Documentary | Stefan Milo | 15 minutes)

  35. Bret, Oh, what fun . . . I actually posted this–or at least I pasted it into the text box and clicked to post–on Saturday. But I see this morning that it never appeared for some reason. So I have reread your entire post and reconstructed a list of remaining typos and concerns for you.
    a lot of the games jargon -> game’s or games’
    somewhere else, that but -> but that
    the steel (through less the guns -> (I don’t understand what is intended by “through less” here/?)
    between old world and new world armies -> Old World and New World
    European ruler’s tolerance -> rulers’ tolerance
    But a well run state -> well-run
    to mean improves in -> improvements
    larger infantry based armies -> infantry-based
    defensive stalemate this technological -> stalemate of this
    motivated European to embrace -> Europeans
    as the Ottomans very clearly -> Ottomans[insert comma] very
    many under-cooked ‘cultural’ explanations -> undercooked
    forts (at lech-level -> tech-level
    but which no European prince -> to which (or other fix to grammar of sentence)
    Caption: Back to our Bharat . . . which can effect the peace deals (Is effect the right word here?)
    and part that I think -> and a part
    historians and a work -> as a work
    to steer clear off -> to steer clear of
    Caption for Terracotta Army: and no where else -> and nowhere else
    Caption for Terracotta Army: very well armed and armored -> well-armed
    Suffice to say, -> Suffice it to say,
    Universalis IV in wrapped up in -> is wrapped up in
    particular this week -> particularly this week
    right. And unfortunately, while -> And unfortunately [all boldface]
    who do. Cling to closely to -> Cling too closely
    To quite Star Trek -> To quote Star Trek
    the antidote…are primary source -> is primary source

    1. I’m not really replying to my own post; I am signing up for notification of new comments, because apparently the system failed to recognize my original request,

  36. I would love a clear post on why Diamond is so disliked among specialists. The comments I’ve seen tend to have an insidery tone of “can you believe the rubes trust this guy?!” without helpfully pointing out what’s wrong to, well, a rube like me.

    There’s definitely some sloppiness on specific facts, and maybe a lack of credit to other researchers. Which might be enough to explain the disdain. But at this point I have no idea if the main thesis is considered total nonsense, heavily oversold, or a more-or-less mainstream hypothesis.

      1. From reading the comments in the AskHistorians FAQ I gather that the main problems historians have with Diamond are
        a) a general fear of history being invaded by biologists or economists.
        b) an ideological fixation on “agency” which Diamond’s “determinism” supposedly takes away from people. I can somewhat understand the motivation behind that; Great Man History has long treated 99% of people as mere pawns, and it is important to stress that everyone was (and is) a player in their own right. But should that mean you can no longer point out that the playing field isn’t level, and in some places it’s not just uphill but a cliff?

        I feel like these are the reasons why the book is sometimes treated as a toxic pile of disinformation, and not as as “has some flaws, and the points that actually hold up are not very original”.

      2. It’s a mixture of things. Part of the issue is that Diamond synthesises earlier research (which isn’t itself a problem) but in doing so end up simplifying things in order to make his arguments, which often complicates things, the book also seemingly being overly broad (as mentioned he focuses on the First divergence but spedns some time talking about the second despite obviously not having the same kind of thesis about it) there’s also been some recent that casts into question exactly how disease worked in the New World (basically, it’s hard to disentangle deaths from disease from other complicated effects such as displacement and starvation, etc.)

        There is alsoa general scepticism against grand narratives at this moment in history, largely for precisely these reasons.

  37. One of the things that always strikes me about strategy games, is that almost always, all of your major threats are external. You never have to deal with home grown environmental, economic, political, or demographic problems unless you spectacularly screw up, and frankly, that just doesn’t seem accurate.

    1. The Crusader Kings series games are quite good at this – especially on the political/familial side of things. Some other Paradox games are not bad either (Stellaris). But yes, usually they’re pretty war focused. There used to be more (I remember the Democracy series, and the Tropico series) but I see less of them nowadays)

    2. I think Civilization is the granddaddy of 4X games, and it has at least some internal problems to manage, if not a huge variety. ‘Corruption’ limits your returns from trade, and increases with distance from the capital for most forms of government, and can be managed by building the right buildings, or switching to Democracy. A large product of population x industry produces pollution, which reduces the productivity of local tiles (requiring you spend effort cleaning it up), and also contributes to Global Warming, which eventually changes terrain (floods and dryouts.) Your pollution can be pushed down — but if the other players are still polluting, you get flooded by Warming anyway, in theory leading to a “I must conquer the world to save it” dynamic.

      I play freeciv which branches from Civ II, so I don’t know the later Civ stuff, but experimental rules in freeciv include epidemic diseases, population migration, population identification with their original culture (and I guess chance of city rebellion? I haven’t played with it) and natural disasters (like earthquakes destroying buildings.)

      1. Later versions of Civilization have reduced and then completely eliminated instability and revolutions.

        1. Seriously? What.

          Though that does remind me of city unhappiness from increasing city/empire size, and Republic and Democracy giving you more trade but also objecting more to warfare.

          1. I remember that in Civ 3, where even as a kid I found the idea that democracies and republics are naturally anti-war to be a tad silly.

    3. Depends on the game. Some games include things along these lines, but in simplified, abstracted ways. Population happiness/unrest is a measure of rebellion, crime, etc., health sort of measures diseases, different cultural influences are a version of religious conflict, nationalism, etc. Of course, most games I’ve played just treat these as more or less constant numbers, not events you might need to respond to.

      the big thing they leave out, as my previous comment mentioned, is political fighting within a faction, apart from some games that do elections. This is probably hard to simulate well, since you would need a good way to determine who makes up a faction (is it based on economic roles? cultural groups/racial groups/fantasy or sci-fi alien species groups? location?), what it wants, and what it is willing to do (start rebellions, work less, generate unhappiness, etc.) and factional conflict could easily end up being more AI to simulate.

      I do like the idea of including such things if I were to make a game, since it they could lead to interesting decisions if done right (Do you go for a more unstable, disease ridden empire, or a more stable one that has less of something else?) I’ve idly thought about mechanics that could do this, though not in any big detail. (I have gone to the trouble of downloading unity and am doing some basics for a game idea, but no guarantee whatsoever it gets anywhere near done, or uses such mechanics.)

      1. Again, the best I’ve ever seen on this is Crusader Kings 3, where individual vassals in your Kingdom do band together to resist you in different ways. Because of the period, the main ideological reason to resist you is religion, but faction members can join because you’ve offended them, threaten them, they want more (relative) independence, you’ve hurt their relatives or half a dozen other things. Or because they are more loyal to someone with a grudge against you than they are to you. The whole thing is *intensely* personal – there are ‘peasant’ factions who represent wider ideological/cultural trends against you, but they are usually less dangerous (though they can pull in nobles/leaders who can make them much worse).
        The result certainly ‘feels’ a lot like medieval history, and added to the fact that the war system is currently quite dull, means that political management is probably the backbone of the game.

        Because of the period, economic management is less of a thing – people aren’t looking to you for economic answers and there’s only so much you could do to help them beyond ensure peaceful governance)

      2. If you’re going to try developing such a game, I suggest Excel instead. Unity is great if you want to draw a million anti-aliased Uruk-Hai at 60 frames per second. A political / economic game is going to be about lots of numbers, lots of formula calculating other numbers, lots of relationships between numbers, and studying / experimenting with how changing numbers over time changes other numbers and relationships. That’s the kind of thing spreadsheets are made for.

        1. Unity is actually pretty bad performance-wise, but easy to program a game in.

          I’m not aware of a single (non-“toy”) game using Excel as an engine – and since it’s not free & libre, you would probably want to go with LibreOffice Calc instead.

          And you’re going to want some kind of way to easily display bitmaps at some point.

          AFAIK Shadow Empire, with its minimal animations, uses WinForms.

          The most “spreadsheety” game I’m aware of, Aurora 4X, still has a map on the main screen, with lots and lots of windows and tabs and menus and tables that can be open over it.

  38. This post just makes me more and more curious about the Age of Discovery… what specifically made the Portuguese ships navy light years better that they could dominate the sea a full world away from their power base? Was early naval cannon that much larger of an advantage than gunpowder on land?

    Also, how does the oft-repeated bit of history that the Europeans didn’t much of interest to trade to the Chinese square with the fact that introducing firearms to Africa completely destabilized the region? I understand that China had more primitive gunpowder weapons, but it would seem that matchlocks were a significant upgrade here?

    Actually, for that matter, what kind of efforts were there to match European shipbuilding and sailing techniques locally? When did China start sending its own ships around the Horn?

    1. Portugal: dunno

      Guns: I mean, Japan’s 1500s reaction to matchlocks was “how neat! Let’s copy the design, improve it, and mass produce it with innovative tactics.” I’m guessing China of the time was at least as capable, so running European guns to China wouldn’t get far. By contrast, natives of the Americas didn’t have ironworking, or much metallurgy at all in North America, so you could sell them guns and ammo indefinitely. Africa famously *did* have ironworking, but maybe not good enough? I dunno.

      Ships: my impressions is that the early 1400s ships of Zheng He were bigger and better than European ones, *as ships*. Advanced sailing into the wind and long distance navigation may be another matter.

    2. The Portuguese had been developing their shipbuilding and navigation since the early 1400s, sailing further and further south to eventually get around Africa. So when Vasco da Gama finally got into the Indian Ocean, he had very good ships, crews, guns, and new tactics. In the sea battles of 1498 – 1501 we have (apparently) the earliest instructions to form a line of battle, keep your distance and rely on broadside gunnery instead of trying to board. (This is 80 odd years before the Spanish Armada.)

      The Portuguese ships would blow the locals out of the water, and there wasn’t anything the locals could do on the ocean unless they were lucky enough to catch a ship becalmed. And as noted in an earlier thread by Lev, even if the locals were successful, they couldn’t reach Portugal themselves so they couldn’t stop the Europeans from trying again.

    3. Looks like that the Europeans were the only ones that had access to lots and lots of high-quality wood ?


      What makes you think that China had more primitive gunpowder weapons ?

      After all, gunpowder and fire lance were invented in China.

      Also I’ve read recently about the Opium Wars (mid-19th) – sure, at that point the British clearly dominated the Chinese, but the Chinese were also then using “17th century” gunpowder weapons, not “14th century” ones (that’s when they finally reached Europe), so I assume that European gunpowder weapons surpassed them somewhere in the 14th-17th centuries, but when exactly ?

      Note also that at that point Europeans only recently started to use rockets, while Chinese (and Indians ?) were already using them in the 13th century.

      (And not even talking about all other sorts of fire weapons – the Chinese tried to burn down the British ships at night using fireships, but their plan was noticed, and the British could evade them thanks to their much superior maneuverability.)

      Also, remember that India had the best (“wootz”) steel in the world until mid-19th century (when the British both destroyed their industry and invented the Bessemer process), and also that the Chinese were the only ones that knew how to make cast iron worth a damn (and in fact used it to make cast iron & copper cannons, while Europeans were limited to bronze).

  39. Hi Bret. I’m no computer gamer (not since Microsoft Age of Empires/Age of Kings anyway), just a student of history, but I’m loving your posts. I do have a beef with this one though. You write:

    “…my own view of the evidence is something of a hybrid of most of these models explaining the rise of Europe. The rapid European development of firearms-based warfare created a feedback loop in terms of state centralization (cannon and muskets broke the power of the rural nobility, enabling centralization, which enabled more cannon and muskets, repeat until state-building complete then let dry; see Lee, Waging War (2016), ch. 7&9)”

    In what universe did this happen? I’ve crawled around at least two castles left over from the Barons’ war in England, 1135-53, and I’m fairly sure firearms played no part in their demise. (In the spirit of pedantry they are at Ely and Saffron Walden). The King (Henry II) had other means. I’d be doubtful of any similar case in France.

    Unless you mean much later, in the Wars of Religion… but still. Isn’t “cannons and muskets”, etc, just another American gun fantasy?

    1. The key window for state consolidation is generally set at roughly 1490-1600. The opening bell is the French invasion of Italy under Charles VIII in 1494.

      England, being an island is always a bit of a special case. The English state achieved a relatively high degree of centralization under the Anglo-Saxons and never quite lost that (though obviously the Baron’s Wars and Magna Carta represent a retreat of royal power), and so England is rather better run and more effectively centralized than its continental European peers for most of the Middle Ages. That said it’s hard not to notice again that the Tudors were also able to substantially centralize power compared to the few centuries that preceded them (and the monarchs that followed them!) and correspond neatly to the time period (1485-1603).

      1. Hi again, thanks for replies. I guess I got my buttons pressed by the remarks about gunpowder. Ultimately I should like to portray some scepticism about games of this type, on the grounds they are “historicist” in Karl Popper’s sense and as such tend to “theories of history” which cannot and should not exist.

        But let’s talk about feudalism. In gamer-world, I guess, there is an equation: feudalism = knights on horses = castles = old. Now feudalism is a disputed term, but if it means anything definite, it means the feudal system which originated in France of the early Frankish kingdom, aka Merovingian, from around AD 500.

        The way Bishop Stubbs tells it [1] there were “benefices” and “commendations”. The benefices were land-grants to the elite, heavily armed Frankish warriors who formed the King’s “comitatus” or companions in battle. The commendations were a kind of client status, granted to wealthy Gallo-Romans, landowners and so forth, by which they gained “protection”, so to speak.

        The system worked for as long as it worked. William 1 brought it to England. It replaced a somewhat analogous Anglo-Saxon system, but the replacement was systematic and brutally thorough; Domesday Book is its testament. In France and Germany the feudatories grew over-mighty. It took centuries for the French monarchy to overcome them; the German emperors never did.

        Eventually feudalism ended. Some say it was because of gunpowder but some, more credibly in my view, say it was because of the growth of money economies, which gathered pace after the Black Death. For a time royal fortifications, now cannon-resistant, continued to be built, such as Henry VIII’s castle at Southsea and Star Castle itself (it is of Elizabethan date and is at St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly).

        My point is that feudalism (if, as I say, it’s a valid term at all) wasn’t a substrate from which larger realms might develop, as the game rules might imply. Rather it grew from monarchies which were already in power. In an age when castles were a force-multiplier, they were built in vast numbers. If feudalism worked as intended, castles in the hands of feudatories cemented the monarchical power, either to “hold down the country” or to defend a border. But the plan often went wrong.

        The early modern period was, indeed, a period of state consolidation, which led to what we call the absolute monarchies. In Spain and France these were established. In Germany not so much, but notoriously by the 18th century every petty king or archduke kept up a “mini-Versailles”. In England the Tudors began this consolidation, including rather crucially the plunder of the monasteries, 1536. The Stuarts attempted to complete it, leading to the English Civil War (from 1641), with many actions fought around decaying mediaeval castles. All great fun to delve into but I don’t think grand theories help very much.

        [1] William Stubbs, “The Constitutional History of England”, 5th ed.(1891), p.276

        1. Frankly, I side with my medievalist colleagues who generally insist that ‘feudalism’ isn’t a helpful term or way of understanding medieval political and social structures. Elsewhere on the blog, you will note I tend to discuss some institutions as ‘vassalage’ and others as ‘manorialism’ but try to avoid ‘feudalism’ as a concept.

          Note that state consolidation and absolutism are not necessarily connected. The Dutch Republic was also a very consolidated state. So was Victorian England. The question is not the power of the king but the power of the state however composed.

          Also, I’d be very cautious about basing much of anything in late 19th century scholarship when it comes to social structures in the Middle Ages. We have learned quite a bit about the past in the last 120 years.

          1. Thank you for your reply Bret. I think we are on the same page. I happen to like the Stubbs book as I have it in print, a slightly random inheritance from 1950s Oxford where my parents met. I’m fairly sure Stubbs’s account of Anglo-Saxon institutions fed into Tolkien’s “Prologue”. A topic for another time!

    2. Cannon destroyed the walls of Constantinople. Machiavelli wrote old walls could not withstand cannon. New types of forts like star forts were made. Wikipedia says James II of Scotland destroyed many castles with cannon, though does not list them.

      Seems plausible to me that once people got the idea that cannon could break stone walls, then noble military power would be “broken” without the king having to blast every castle.

  40. Maybe this is another just-so story, but the growth of a scientific community, sharing ideas and replicating discoveries, seems a big part of Europe’s scientific divergence in the 1600s. Starting maybe with Mersenne’s copying out letters, then the Royal Society (1660) and French Academy of Science (1666). Helped somewhat by tech (optical glass, steel vessels capable of vacuum) but also an attitude of poking at the world and sharing the results; Tim Harford writes that the difference between alchemy and chemistry was secret private research vs. publication. Now, why that happened there and then, I don’t know.

    On the practical side, I’ve seen people talk about a legal and economic regime conducive to financing and protecting inventors and tinkerers. And patent laws, to encourage disclosure — starting in the late 1400s in Venice, and being well-established in Britain and the colonies by the 1600s.

    1. I’ve read that a major problem with alchemy was that alchemists didn’t make it clear which parts were meant to be taken literally and which were metaphors for spiritual self-improvement.

    2. It happened because the Church started to lose ground, while the monarchy gained it (Protestantism for example) ?

      1. That seems a very inadequate explanation, given all the strong monarchies in history that have not spawned Academies of Science, and the fact that publication starts with Mersenne, a private agent.

  41. I do hope that the next EU has much more dynamic trade- the biggest issue I face with playing a lot of countries in east Asia is frustration with how limited the local trade nodes are- like, the one for Japan just kinda sucks.

    I like Kilwa a lot- I was happy for the shout-out you made to them being interesting- in large part because the Zanzibar trade node is pretty damn good, and it’s very easy to block any Europeans from taking it by colonizing the Cape.

    Looking forward to Victoria, and especially when you get to Crusader Kings.

  42. I find the hate for Diamond by historians, both legitimate and r/AskHistorians quality, really really weird. Every dismissal of Guns, Germs, and Steel comes down to, “It’s an awful book! But he’s not entirely wrong!” Then the actual gripe seems to be something similar to yours, which boils down to, “I wouldn’t compare Europe to the Americas, it’s not interesting, and it’s not the actual determining factor.” That may be fair, except that the question Diamond poses IS the most interesting question to anyone who hasn’t specialized in 3rd Century transitions of power from Rome to the surrounding empires. People who want to learn, but who are not experts, want to understand the things that they have experienced, or at least are subjected to. In the case of North America, that is the Native Americans and their genocide at the hand of the Europeans.

    So maybe the exploration of that genocide is less important to the grand scheme of things than the book implies, but it IS an interesting question for many. Dismissing it does a real disservice to the amateurs’ interest in asking core questions like “Why?”, and really gives everyone outside of Academia the impression that you’re all just grumpy that your dry and boring treatise on the agricultural economy of 2nd century Italy didn’t sell 10 million copies 🙂

    1. IIRC, Diamond says the book grew out of a New Guinea Highlander friend asking him something like “how come you have helicopters and we have stone tools?” Seems a relevant question.

  43. A lot of the problems with the lack of a contingent tech system, and the stability of large societies are the same thing. The game designers have a hard time creating a meaningful choice between stability and dynamic growth. Throughout history, when thinking of ‘power’ the ideal state has always been ‘the state large enough to maximize its economic base without divergent governing systems forming’.

    This is a moving target but it basically is the central idea of the thesis of the anarchic European conflicts v. say China. And European states, that grew too large, also stagnated – Russia, the Commonwealth, the Ottomans – until technical ability to communicate over long distances and bureaucratic innovation caught up. (Or they were destroyed).

    A game like EU4 that modeled the inherent instability of large states AND the effect this had on technological innovation and warfare, etc. Could organically simulate the early modern period while leaving in the contingent nature of development. The closes EU4 comes to this is their ‘corruption’ mechanic which (1) isn’t biting, (2) DECREASES instability rather than increases instability, and (3) is easily solved monetarily. But, what EU 4 does get correct about corruption, is that it saps the ‘innovativeness’ of the state, and eventually makes technology more expensive. (Just look at modern American military procurement from the Hegemonic period post 1990s as compared to American military procurement before WWII and during the early Cold War.)

  44. Brett, I know this is a bit late but I am curious if you are familiar with Joseph Heinrich, or his work The WEIRDest People in the World? His work is cross-disciplinary involving anthropology, psychology, and some history and I think solidly fits into the ‘big-idea’ history genre of Jared Diamond. I also think it might fit at least superficially into the ‘undercooked cultural explanation’ that Andrade answers in his work. The thing is, I find his work on cultural evolution fascinating and his scholarship careful given the immense breadth of his thesis. In short, Catholic church marriage and family policies from 500-1000 broke down kin and clan-based institutions in such a way that it affected psychology and social organization in ways that brought on European economic dominance a thousand years later. I would love to hear your thoughts either on Heinrich’s work specifically or on the concept of ‘big-idea’ cultural explanations of historical causation more broadly. Thank you so much for all of your work. I find nearly everything you post extremely illuminating.

  45. > a Roman legion or a Han Chinese army of some fifteen centuries earlier would have had many of the same advantages had they been able to surmount the logistical problem of actually getting there.

    Very interesting, I was not aware about that.

    BTW, I need to reread – what you wrote here about ‘the Great Divergence‘ is nearly the same what I remember from book by Diamond – that was repeatedly criticized by various historians. The only difference that I note right now is that here animal domestication is not mentioned at all.

    I need to recheck what was actually wrong with his book.

  46. Hi, I almost never comment on anything but am taking the time to say how extremely impressed I am by this series of articles. As someone with 1000+ hours on EU3 and who has recently become a thrall of EU4, I am both gratified that someone with your history credentials finds them worthwhile and rather gobsmacked at the level of critical analysis that can be linked to the game. But perhaps most impressively, you apparently can play the game AND write such in-depth articles AND have a job, all at the same time. Which to me seems like sorcery.

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