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Militarism and the Indo-Europeanizing of Europe

Militarism and the Indo-Europeanizing of Europe

By Robert Drews. Pp. x + 284. Routledge, London 2017. $119.96. ISBN 978-1-138-28272-8 (cloth).

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Thirty-five years ago, while I was completing an essay concerning Bronze Age Crete, a passage in V.G. Childe’s What Happened in History? (Harmondsworth 1942: 172) made an indelible impression on me: “The princes owed their power and wealth to a monopoly of new implements of war—long rapiers of costly bronze, huge shields and light horse-drawn chariots. . . . Only a few could afford the long blades of bronze, the chariots—marvels of the wainwright’s skills—and the highly trained steeds, so that masses were militarily worthless and accordingly politically impotent.” On the immediately preceding pages, Childe also took a continental perspective and discussed Indo-European language, the history of Greek, Asian influences, and dates and the dialectics of the intercourse of cultures. In the 1980s, these subjects were taboo for mainstream northern European archaeology. Today’s archaeology, exemplified by the work of, for example, Helle Vandkilde or Kristian Kristiansen, is again interested in Indo-European migrations, war, weapons, and the flow of interaction throughout the Old World. Drews has studied these issues, through the lens of Near Eastern and ancient Greek history, throughout his career and across shifting trends in history and archaeology. Militarism and the Indo-Europeanizing of Europe draws on this experience to produce a synthesis from Caucasia to Scandinavia; to address at length topics previously remarked on in passing; and to comment on a number of current debates about the role and nature of militarism, warfare, chronological issues, Indo-European dispersions, the arrival of the Greeks in Greece, and the history of Europe. The expanded geography is mirrored by disciplinary excursions beyond ancient history, drawing on archaeology and comparative linguistics. Though exploring multiple levels of patterns and hypotheses, the book is fundamentally an empirical discussion, and the patterns Drews creates are based on historical data. The broad historical and geographical approach makes the book interesting, but it also produces some weaknesses.

The first chapters present the author’s view of the spread of Indo-European languages and theories of the Kurgans and the taming of horses. These chapters primarily serve to set premises for the ensuing historical argument, partly in opposition to prevalent views concerning the place of the Anatolian group in the history of Indo-European languages and Anthony's thesis (2007. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language. How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Princeton University Press) (and, to an extent, Gimbutas’ (2007. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language. How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, Princeton University Press) concerning the rise and role of horseback riding in the fourth millennium B.C.E.

There are multiple narratives in the following chapters, though these intertwine to create Drews’ overarching argument that (briefly) Indo-Europeanization was a result of a military takeover made possible by innovations in militarism and military technologies (as opposed to, e.g., Renfrew’s spread of agriculture). Chronologically he places these events in a period of turmoil in European history ca. 1600 B.C.E. The argument is at odds both with theories tied to agricultural dispersal out of Anatolia in the seventh millennium and, more importantly, with the prevalent theory of movements during the fifth to third millennia. In terms of the latter, there is a range of theories and disputes, but as Drews discounts “militarism” and Indo-European expansion in Europe before 1600 B.C.E., questions like the role of the Corded Ware Culture or its relation to the Bell Beaker Culture are a priori not important and not dealt with. Drews initially focuses on the central premise of horse riders out of the steppes, as argued by Anthony. After clarifying the premises and background, the book pursues three narratives: one about militarism and war technologies, another about Indo-Europeanization in the wake of militarism, and the last a historical narrative that focuses on the second millennium B.C.E. (and particularly the arrival of the Greeks).

The following three chapters (“Warfare in Western Eurasia in the Third and Early Second Millennium BC,” “Chariot Warfare, the Beginning of Militarism, and Its Indo-European Connection," and “The Beginnings of Militarism in Temperate Europe”) deal with the evolution, from the 18th century B.C.E., of warfare practices, parameters for sieges and combat on the battlefields, the evolution of weapons (spears, swords, axes), and horse riding and the chariot in western Eurasia. The discussion extends from the Indus Valley to temperate Europe’s northern perimeter in Scandinavia. The stringent analysis of these technologies and their historical context provides the most interesting chapters and discursively serves as a counterbalance to theoretical schools that view the tactics and strategies of war as epiphenomena and consistently privilege social and political factors or the blunt insertion of “deeply flawed” (124) versions of militarism and war into the historical equation. In my opinion, this discussion of practices and technologies, irrespective of the sometimes problematic culture historical argument Drews wishes to place them in, is the most valuable section of the book. The account of the logic of siege with laborers during Hammurabi’s time, via pitched battles and the rise of warriors to the development of chariot warfare, is an excellent history of warfare. The final two chapters focus on the events in Greece slightly before 1600 B.C.E. with the arrival on the eastern mainland of an armed force equipped with composite bows, chariots, socketed spearheads, leather shields, and corselets taking control over harbors (and metal and amber trade). The military takeover in Greece is a precursor to takeovers in northern Italy, the Carpathian Basin, and Scandinavia.

The present reviewer comes to the issues from other angles than Drews in terms of research tradition (prehistoric archaeology), region of primary focus (Scandinavia), and chronological position on the transition to Indo-European in northern Europe (mid third millennium). Given this, I have critical remarks on certain aspects of the book. A minor criticism is that the archaeology referred to in the first chapters is a bit uneven. The use of “historical chronology” from western Asia to Scandinavia is confusing and, though explicated in an appendix, is focused on Aegean chronological problems in the larger narrative. The confusion might have been alleviated by a traditional diagram expressing the author’s organization of time periods. More importantly, I agree with the author that there were important events in Europe in the period under consideration—conflicts, disturbances, changes in military technology, migrations, and elite takeovers—and whether we push it 100 years back or forward in time is not the main issue. However, the author seems to create a circular argument by insisting that discussions of all the important events concerning Europe ca. 1600 B.C.E. (in Drews’ historical chronology) are dependent on an insufficiently considered concept of militarism that excludes genuine warfare (and most archaeology) in preceding periods, thus placing little importance on conflict before the metal sword and chariot. The book does not enter into discussions of the impact of, for example, Chalcolithic or Jungneolitische cultures and horizons, and the technologies, institutions, and events before the mid second millennium B.C.E. I believe that an understanding of events in the fourth and third millennia from northern Caucasia to northern Europe can be constructed based on archaeological evidence, even though there are important gaps in the prehistoric record. Still, the aDNA and isotopic evidence collected in the last 10 years or so creates a new discursive playing field, and addressing the evidence of the fourth and third millennia extensively when discussing the Indo-Europeanization of Europe is critical. On a more general level, archaeological research, molecular biology, and biochemistry have demonstrated that Europe’s Holocene history has many incidences of mobility, migration, and conflicts. What happened ca. 1700–1600 B.C.E. is important, and the events Drews traces are dramatic and fundamental; however, I am not convinced that all the elements assigned in Militarism and the Indo-Europeanizing of Europe to this time belong in the mid second millennium and that the overarching history of Indo-Europeanization should be placed at 1700/1600 B.C.E.

On a technical level, the book is jargon-free, well-organized, and clearly written. On a few occasions, it switches between being written for a wider academic audience and arguing specialist points with other experts. The text carries the book, but it would have been useful to have more illustrations, maps, and diagrams, and figures and tables that better supported the text.

I started this review with an anecdote from the 1980s.Theoretical streams in archaeology (but perhaps not from that time), whether “processual,” “post-processual,” or more recent heirs to postmodern thinking, were not concerned with the issues raised in this book and would probably not have appreciated the historical approach or continental scale of analysis. Despite this, issues discussed in Drews’ book (militarism, war technology, Indo-Europeanization, migration, the events in the first half of the second millennium, and the scale of analysis and interconnected nature of Eurasia) have again become central concerns in contemporary Old World archaeology, comparative linguistics, and ancient history. The contributions from science have only made these issues more significant. Drews’ research, particularly concerning weapons, war practices, and militarism, enriches an informed, contextualized, and accurate knowledge that deepens our understanding of the detailed history of Europe.

Christopher Prescott
The Norwegian Institute in Rome
University of Oslo

Book Review of Militarism and the Indo-Europeanizing of Europe, by Robert Drews

Reviewed by Christopher Prescott

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 123, No. 1 (January 2019)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1231.prescott

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