Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Vasco da Gama trades Christianity for spice

Vasco da Gama (1460–1524), a peevish, paranoid trader who refused to go ashore for the first Portuguese contact at an Indian port, shores thus missed hearing a pair of multi-lingual Tunisian merchants ask in both Castilian and Genoese, “The Devil take you! What brought you here?” Replied his chosen representative, a convict, “We came to seek Christians and spices.”
The vicious commander of the first ships to sail directly from Europe to India, he tried to do business in India from a small 50 ton caravel and even smaller supply ship, with a crew of about 160 (including gunners, musicians and three Arabic interpreters), using trade goods common to West Africa but of virtually no interest in Asia—coarse cloth, bells, beads . . . “Business” is a fairly euphemistic term for what he did, though; he pretended to offer protection. His guns, for the time, were state-of-the-art and more powerful than anything those encountered on his voyages had experienced before. Through force, he opened the way to Portugal’s success in appropriating, or more politely, colonizing. He, or anyway his crew, introduced syphilis to Asia. Inflicting casual violence almost everywhere he went, he abused and slaughtered people he meant to glean advantage through, setting a tone for distrust that has remained.
The Portuguese saw excursions to Asia as more than business: they were a continuation of six centuries of war (with an average of a battle or two a day) between Christians and Islamic Moors, mainly in the Iberian Peninsula. The Republic of Venice, by trading with Muslims who’d had a trade monopoly with India and the Far East, had controled most trade between Europe and Asia. Da Gama out-flanked Venice by going around Africa (this was 5 years after Columbus “discovered” the Americas, and the route went far across the Atlantic, almost to Brazil, yet unknown).
Muslims invaded Portugal in 711 and again in 1191; they gained control of almost the whole Iberian Peninsula. Total re-conquest wasn’t made until the 1270s. In 1340 a Portuguese army joined Alfonso XI of Castile won victory over Muslims in Andalusia. Portuguese attacked Morocco in 1458, 1463, and 1471. Turks took Constantinople in 1453, while other Muslims were being pushed from Iberia. In 1578, when at the height of their power in Asia (power gained through da Gama’s efforts), Portuguese knights fought a spirited, essentially chauvinistic campaign at Alcazar, Morocco, and were soundly defeated; at least one member of nearly every noble Portuguese family died there, for abstract reasons almost purely cultural and religious.
Da Gama may have learned astronomy under renowned Abraham Zacuto; Genoese sailors, jealous of Venice’s monopoly on Arabic (Persian) trade, were willing to share secrets with the Portuguese. Da Gama’s decisive expedition sailed from Lisbon on July 8, 1497, with three interpreters: two Arabic speakers and one with several Bantu dialects, as Arab-controlled territory on the East African coast was an integral part of the Indian Ocean trade network. Upon reaching Mozambique, March 2, 1498, da Gama and crew impersonated Muslims to gain audience with the Sultan. They offered unsuitable trade goods and gifts, and were told that Prester John, the long-sought Christian ruler from whom a Pope once received a missive, lived to the interior (but controlled many coastal cities). The Sultan supplied the unconvinced da Gama with two pilots, but hostile crowds threatened. On discovering the Portuguese to be Christian, a pilot deserted. Upon departure, they fired cannons into the city.
Moving up Africa’s east coast, to Mombasa and Malindi (in present-day Kenya), da Gama found much more sophisticated economic life than in West Africa. Coastal towns had merchants—Arabs, Indians from Gujarat and Malabar and Persians—who imported silk and cotton textiles, spices and Chinese porcelain, while exporting cotton, timber and gold. Looting Arab (or more likely, Persian) merchant ships, which lacked the heavy cannon da Gama carried, he took gold, silver, jewels and spices, but was somehow able to get a competent Gujarati pilot from the ruler of Malindi, and so on to Calicut (in Kerala). Da Gama was welcomed by the Hindu ruler (Zamorin) of Calicut, but failed to achieve a treaty, partly due to hostility from Muslim merchants, but more due to the low quality of his trade goods.
The Portuguese remained in Calicut for three months, discovering much about prices and conditions in the spice market, but failed to establish amicable relations with the local ruler (or sell anything). Muslim merchants made allegations against da Gama and he was arrested; the mayor told him to leave without cargo, and detained seven men as hostages. So, upon setting sail, da Gama seized 20 fishermen. A hostage-trade was arranged, but only superior gunnery saved da Gama from Islamic wrath. He destroyed a Calicut fleet of 29 ships, and so finally got favorable trading concessions from the Zamorin. He reached Lisbon in 1499, after two years in which he’d lost half his crew and ships. Nevertheless Manuel I granted Vasco the title of dom (equivalent to the English “sir”), estates and an annual pension. Made admiral January 1502, da Gama sailed again in February, now with 20 ships. He stopped briefly at Mozambique, then sailed to Kilwa (Tanzania), and threatened the Islamic ruler with destruction if he didn’t submit and swear loyalty. He did, and also agreed to an annual tribute of pearls and gold.
After coasting southern Arabia, da Gama went to Goa, then on to Cannanore, north of Calicut, to lay in wait for Arab and Persian shipping. After several days an Arab ship returning from Mecca with valuable merchandise and hundreds of passengers, including many women and children, arrived; da Gama seized the cargo, locked passengers aboard and then set all ablaze. Headed to Cochin, he stopped opposite Calicut and demanded that the ruler expel the whole Muslim merchant community (4000 households). The Samudri, the local Hindu ruler, refused, so da Gama bombarded the city. At Cochin, he bought spices with silver, copper and textiles he’d taken from the ship he burned. After setting up a permanent factory (warehouse) in Cochin, he left five ships there to protect Portuguese interests.
Da Gama returned to Lisbon again October 1503, with 13 of his ships and nearly 1700 tons of spices, i.e. about the same as annual Venetian imports of the time. Portuguese King Manuel I “the Fortunate” (ruled 1495 to 1521), then assumed the title of “lord of the conquest, navigation, and commerce of India, Ethiopia, Arabia, and Persia”! Defeat of an Islamic navy in 1509 gave him control of sea trade, which became the chief source of Portuguese wealth. From Portuguese dominion, the British East Indian Company was able to grow; and then a century and a half of Protestant-led world domination by Europeans – a misled supremacy we can only hope we’re on the verge of recovering from, now.
Alexander of Greece had invaded the Punjab in 327 BCE; before that, Indian teak and cedar was used in Babylon (in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, as mentioned in Buddhist Jataka texts). Arab merchants brought Indian goods to Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean, and in the 2nd century BCE, Greeks from Bactria founded kingdoms, which lasted over a century, in the Punjab and bordering Afghan hills. Then European commercial involvement with India died with the decline of the Roman Empire in the 4th century CE. Trade passed completely into Arab hands. In the 1400s, land routes to India—via Egypt and the Red Sea, across Turkey and Persia, or through Syria and Iraq to the Persian Gulf—were blocked, mainly by Ottoman action. An Egyptian route was subject to increasing exploitation by a line of middlemen ending with the Venetian monopoly; in 1517 that too passed to Ottoman control. The motive for finding a new route was strong.
For Europe in 1498, India was a land of spices and wonderful marvels; for Muslims, Europe was the land of Rūm and Greek Constantinople (Turkish after 1453). For Hindus, Europe was the home of warlike Yavanas (from the Greek word Ionian). The Portuguese were the first to renew direct contact, being among the few nations to possess both the navigational know-how (including navigational techniques learned from disgruntled Genoese, as mentioned earlier) and the necessary motivation (both revenge on Islam, and supplementing the sparse economy of home).
Portuguese first tried to get a port in northwest India in 1507; by 1534 they had other important trading centers on the western coast (Panjim, Daman, and Diu), but seized from Muslims the port which became Bombay and now Mumbai, India’s principal Arabian Sea port, financial and commercial centre and one of the world’s largest and most densely populated cities. The name Bombay is an Anglicization from “Bom Baia” – Portuguese for good port. In 1661 it came under British control from King Charles II marrying Catherine of Braganza, sister of Portugal’s king; in 1668 it was ceded to the East India Company. In the early 1700s the Portuguese started exporting opium from India to sell in China (at a considerable profit), and by 1773 the British were also involved in that trade – psycho-actives replacing spice, as tea gained popularity in Europe and especially England – tea that there was little other way to pay for.
Da Gama had hoped to find Christians separated from the West by Muslims, and to be able to deal a blow at Muslim power from their maritime rear. He found some in the Syrians of Cochin and Travancore, but mostly only further alienated Muslims. His successors established a Portuguese empire in the East – Goa, Timor and Macao were Portuguese until late in the 20th century. For over 100 years, Portugal had strategic command over the Indian Ocean, and controlled the maritime spice trade, much to the detriment of trade by the Ottoman-controlled Middle Eastern Muslim world. The Portuguese relied on naval power and fortified posts backed by settlements; their ships, sturdy enough to survive Atlantic gales and mounted with cannon, easily disrupted Arab and Malay shipping. But Portugal had fewer than a million people and was involved in Africa and South America as well. It was desperately short of manpower. Fortresses had to become settlements and provide a resident population for defense; intermarriage was encouraged and a new mixed population provided stubborn resistance to attacks.
Despite their small numbers, Portuguese mercenaries operated through much of Asia. Vijayanagar, the first South Indian state to encompass the three major linguistic and cultural traditions of India—Indo-Aryan (Sanskrit), Dravidian (Tamil), and Sunni Muslim Arabs and Turks (mostly of Bahmani state) briefly retook Goa from Muslims, just before the Portuguese made it their first territorial possession in Asia, in 1510. Krishna Deva Raya (reigned 1509–29), the greatest Vijayanagar king, garrisoned forts with Portuguese and Muslim mercenary gunners (and foot soldiers from local forest tribes). Using Portuguese gunners in successful campaigns made for vivid impressions on Muslim rulers, of danger posed by Vijayanagar, resulting in more concerted action against that kingdom. Krishna Deva mostly maintained a mutually advantageous relationship with the increasingly powerful Portuguese, retaining access to trade goods, especially superior horses. In 1546 Portugal made a treaty to expand settlements, but, due to harm to locals, the treaty was broken in 1558; tribute was exacted in compensation for Portuguese damage to temples.
Portugal’s control of the Indian Ocean lasted through the 16th century. Three marks of Portuguese empire were trade, Roman Catholic Christianity, and anti-Islamism. The Portuguese felt that no faith need be kept with infidels, and were happily cruel to Muslims—well beyond the normal limits in a very rough age. This, missionary fervor and intolerance deprived them of potential Indian sympathy.
In 1580 Spain annexed Portugal; until 1640, Portuguese interests were made secondary to those of Spain. The Spanish failed to quell a Dutch uprising, and after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, sea-ways opened to the English and Dutch. Portuguese ascendancy crumbled.
The English East India Company gained monopoly rights to trade as of 1600, with an initial capital of under a tenth of the similar Dutch company’s. Its object was also to trade in spice, primarily from the East Indies (Indonesia); it used India for a secondary purpose—securing cotton for sale to spice growers. The British East Indian venture was troubled by determined Dutch opposition, and by Portuguese who enjoyed Mugal recognition (especially at the western Indian port of Surat). A 1612 English victory over the Portuguese, whose control of the sea route to Mecca was resented by the Mughals, especially pilgrims, provided the English with the right to trade and establish “factories”—in return for becoming naval auxiliaries for the Mughal Empire. Merchants lived in the “factories” or in collegiate-type settlements where life was confined, colorful, and often short, but a century of peaceful trading through factories operating under Mughal grants followed. An exception to this arrangement was the long independent island port of Bombay. Its inhabitants, the Maratha, Hindus often of the Kshatriya warrior class, whose antecedents may have been founders of the 7th to 13th century Srivijaya maritime empire, were locked in vicious combat with the Mughals. The Marathi-speaking region extends from Bombay to Goa, and inland about 100 miles.
In the long run, English trade, in bulk instead of highly priced luxury goods preferred by the Dutch, became the more profitable—as smaller areas to cover and less need for armed forces reduced overhead. But India would take little other than silver in exchange for goods, and loss of too much bullion wasn’t acceptable in England’s mercantilist political economy. So the English developed a system similar to that of the Dutch, with Madras and Gujarat supplying cotton goods (Gujarat also supplied indigo); and Bengal silk, sugar, and saltpeter (for gunpowder). There was spice trade along the Malabar coast, in competition with the Portuguese and Dutch. But it was opium shipped to China that laid a basis for continued English trade; English tea imports increased from 54,000 pounds in 1706 to over 2,300,000 pounds in 1750, paid for mostly through sale to China of Indian opium.
Goa, with a coastline of 65 miles, was finally annexed by India in 1962, after Indian troops supported by naval and air forces invaded and occupied Goa, Daman, and Diu. Portuguese India was then incorporated into the Indian Union, and what da Vaca had wrought was brought to naught. Increased trade he had facilitated reduced no cultural divides.

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Sunday, December 03, 2017

Arab Traders

This is an interesting article: but this claim bothered me: “The opium poppy was not native to Southeast Asia but was introduced by Arab traders in the seventh century AD. “ I wrote something similar over a decade ago:

It’s claimed “Arab traders” introduced opium to the “Golden Triangle” area of SE Asia, much as they went to the Spice Islands and China. The poverty of thought behind accepting this as possible amazes.
Before Islam, in late Roman times, did Arabs have ports? No. Warehouses? Not so much. Wood for ships? No. Currency, schooling, record-keeping methods, even much of an economy? No.
Problem is, Europeans couldn’t tell Arabs from Jews, Kurds, Syrians, Bedouins, Persians or Urdu speakers. Now one finds mention of Arabic cultural “gifts” to Europeans – Arabic numerals, medical and optical knowledge, the astrolabe… pursuing actual origins perhaps not far enough.
Actually the cultural advances came from India, the Levant and Persia. “Arabs” were sometimes intermediaries, but ignorant Europeans thought Saladin was an Arab. He was a Kurd.
The Abbasids, claimed to be a “dynasty of Arab caliphs descended from Abbas, uncle of the Prophet Mohammed” by my New American Desk Encyclopedia, were Anatolians and Persians (see Harun al Rashid). “Arab traders” were Jews from Arabia, Bedouins, Sudanese and others from the area. Before the Normans, other Vikings entered Constantinople and north Africa (becoming Berbers). Arabs were few, scattered and primitive enough to be totally ignored by the Mongols. In Anatolia (Turkey) poppies are indigenous, but not in Arabia! Persians traded with SE Asia and the Spice Islands, not Arabs. Turks came from near China, so of course they knew to trade there. But just because they became Islamic hardly makes them Arabs.
Such silliness. We pride ourselves on having some understanding of physics, but don’t even know 2000 years of history, surely a much easier accomplishment. But intellectual rigor has always been much less important than socially accepted attitude.
There are English-speaking folk all over the world, but we don't call most of them English!

Before Islam, much of what has come to be seen as the “Arabic world” was Sassanid or Byzantine. Like their predecessors the Parthians, the Sassanid Empire carried out active foreign relations with Tang Dynasty China. Arabs did not. In the early Sasanian era, Persian, Greek and Parthian were used by the kings, but before a century was out, Greek was no longer in use, perhaps due to anti-Hellenic Zoroastrians, and fierce rivalry with the Roman/Byzantines. Parthian soon disappeared as an administrate language too, but remained in use in the eastern area. Aramaic was widely used, but Middle Persian was the dominate native language. In the southwest, Khuzestan, several languages were spoken; Persian in the north and east, Aramaic throughout, and some local languages like Neo-Elamite. Sogdian, Bactrian, Khwarazmian, Sistani and other non-Iranian languages were also spoken within the empire, as was some Arabic, by a few nomads.

Charles Mehl, head of the royal project to build the Hall of Opium by the Golden Triangle river confluence, explains: “Early references to opium in medicinal texts in India are from around the 4th to 7th Century AD, and in medicinal texts in China around the 7th to 9th Century AD. The terms used for opium in some of the earlier texts were not always clear or consistent and there is considerable debate whether they do in fact refer to opium, or perhaps some other medicinal plants.”and “Too often statements like "introduced by Arabs in the 7th century" become accepted simply because they are repeated often. Just like the oft-repeated statement that the earliest references to opium were by Sumerians, who called it Hul Gil or "joy plant". This all is based on one person's conjecture from the 1920s, and has not been supported by anyone since - including contemporary experts of ancient Sumerian and Assyrian.”
If, as my little 'encyclopedia' says, Iraqis are Arabs (and Egyptians and Mamelukes, Lebanese Christians, etc also), then Arabs DID have ports, etc, even very early. But to me that's like what we've done with "Negroes" - lumping Masai and Pygmies. just the other day I noticed joking reference to Navajo taking scalps... well all those damn slopes look alike to me! Persians aren't Turks and vice-versa, but both had access to opium and east Asia, and could easily have transported some as early as the 7th century. Or maybe it was Sinbad the Sailor. Toot-toot!

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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Echolalic Reverberations

To appreciate what I try to get at here, it might be best to first read

Maybe, if e=mcᵌ (light extends in 3 directions not 2) or even if not, there’s a lot of energy out there that we’ve not found ways to measure. Energy that could help explain mysterious subatomic particle activity, mysterious awarenesses, mysteries of ‘singularities’ and star formation, gravity, time and light flow, evolution and cosmic stuff that hippies trip out on. That much in our internal workings and external universe involves echolalic reverberations, resonance, vibrations, ripples and repercussions is obvious. With genetic regeneration, for a while we seem to have lost common-sense appreciation of this in favor of simplistic political/religious parallels. We all know waves from a stone thrown in a pond aren’t exactly the same, but sometimes have lost sight of it.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Cultural art sensitivity

Having spent five very active years in the ethnographic arts trade, and another decade dabbling in it part-time, I’d like to share some of the fun, here. It would have been grand to have learned more of Native Canadian and Maori carvers, Australian Aboriginal art, Sami and Siberian ornamentation, and carvings found around Altai, but I haven’t been able to. And even about things I dealt in, I’m not expert. But about the Hopi, Dogon and Tarahumara I did learn some, as I did also of Balinese art, Burmese Nats, Yao Ceremonial paintings and bits about weaving, basketry and cross-stitch. I retain a deep admiration for what I’ve seen and learned of these things. Here I’ll focus mostly on the first three. Way back in time, these tribes, ethnic groups, communities or cultures all chose to live in inaccessible places to avoid marauders. As a result they haven’t suffered nearly as much from European interference as so many other “native’ peoples. Their religious observances involve dancing (shudder), masks (horror!) and aspects they’re careful about disclosing to meddlesome outsiders. Sometimes, in response to obnoxious persistence, they’ll give false info, maybe even within an elaborate put-on. Good clean fun on a two-way street that goes both up and down but where all is not equal. Visitors aren’t likely to open up about their longings or addictions, their cravings for status symbols, reliance on overkill, poisons and euphemism or unsupportable energy and resource consumption, are they? No more do Hopis, Dogons or Tarahumara wish to expose their vulnerabilities or failings. When “exotic” cultures became the object of academic study, “artifacts” became monetarily desirable collector items, sometimes quite valuable. Soon similar items were made to supply the demand, then clever entrepreneurs delineated the real (i.e. stolen) from the fake (not so imbued with taboo magic, mystery and titillation). Grave-robbing was part of this, and alcoholic longings proved useful too. I doubt any esoteric knowledge was gained. The fashion for appropriating artifacts died after abut a century, and a few “valuable” items have been returned. Some of the craftspeople are not professional: jewelers, painters, even clothiers. Some tourists still visit and look for souvenirs. At Hopi, they aren’t allowed to take photos, record sound, or even draw what they’re observing there. Dogon folk are often friendly; Tarahumara often aren’t. What’s most significant about these people, to me, isn’t their art but their preference for a simple life where others won’t be tempted to bother taking what little they have. It’s not about being “at one with nature” (maybe some jungle folk are that, or good custodians of nature or at least not very disruptive of it, but in dry places that’s extremely difficult to similarly accomplish). It’s that they’ve been able to exist in their way a long, long time – while in about a century we’ve insured that our culture won’t last another one. Their beliefs are more tenable, effective, practical, and sustainable. Also, traditionally they don’t make a big deal out of who is the better “artist”! Some have more than others, sure, in talent, knowledge, wealth, family or whatever, sure, but the jealous frictions rending apart our society aren’t as obvious. Among the Hopi, I can attest, they DO exist, but the extremes just aren’t there. Nor the injustices, extremes of punitive folly, mean-spiritedness… well, you get the picture. I find that some of the simple artifacts, even if made for sale, can act as a valuable reminder of this. cultural art sensitivity

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Horrible Heresy

What matters most isn’t matter, but its opposite: that which animates it. Matter is evil, the prison of spirit. Light, the breath of its creator, is inseparable from time and space; spirit is not. Spirit is neither created, nor destroyed. The Wisdom of God, Sophia, a feminine creative force, wished to give birth to a creature like herself. She did so without the permission of her partner, and the fruit of her desire was imperfect. She was ashamed of it. In a spirit of revenge, it started creating the physical world, entrapping Spirit in matter. Within this world, it wears a cap of invisibility, and not only can’t be seen, but like death, is impossible to really even WANT to apprehend. It doesn’t mind being alone, and when appears, appears as an old crone, a witch with mysterious, dangerous magic (a.k.a. wisdom). Why make or defend claims, when we could be tending to the spirit, to blessedness, to beauty, serenity, gratitude and acknowledgment that we have limits like death? Life, as has been sung, could be a dream, mostly untainted by nightmare terrors, although never entirely. If we had no needs, which unfulfilled cause suffering, we’d do nothing. Our actions, our meaning, our very reality, would cease. Yet we ask why God created pain, the devil, his own undoing. But God created nothing. Love did, love arisen out of pain.
Pain, hunger, disease, exhaustion and other ways our bodies insist on this or that, make effective counter-claims against insistence that the material is but illusion. We breathe oxygen, or cease to live, and must take in and expel water. Lose and arm and a leg and you are still you, but different. Get a lobotomy and you may look the same, but become arguably even more different. The blind see (perceive) things differently. So do the intoxicated, sleep-deprived and, one supposes, those experiencing weightlessness. We live in, and are of, a material world, and cannot even prove that there is any other. But somehow, the material world remains as mysterious as does spirit, and the many feelings so hard to explain. We have life, but don’t really know what THAT is. We have dreams, and turn to look at those staring at us from behind.
So what could it mean, that only spirit is real? That only action matters, as in, deeds speak louder than words? It ain’t the meat, it’s the motion? It’s what you do with what you have, not what you have. It’s what you share, what you give, what you’re willing to relinquish to foster what’s good for others.
That’s the spirit. Faith. With good faith, all can, and will, be replenished. The truly brave possess only spirit. And that is the greatest testament of love – to gladly sacrifice all for it. No greater glory is known.

Manichaeism (from Greek hairein, the teaching of heterodox, or unorthodox, doctrine) is a philosophical construct attributed in origination to Mani (Manes, or Manichaeus), a Persian. Born is southern Babylonia in 216 BCE, and related to a Parthian royal family overthrown in 224, Mani spoke Aramaic, but traveled in India. He posited that matter was evil, while God was something mostly separate - pure spirit. His followers saw our world of matter as a creation of the enemy of the true god. They believed that an eternal war between good and evil is being waged on an invisible plane, with effects and affects here. This led to belief that the soul is divine but the body evil. Man is an alien sojourner in an evil world, needing to free his spirit, which in its original nature is good. Only by restricting temporal desire can we restore communion with God. Material desire, especially physical desire, is evil, while spiritual sharing good. Only what we use in sharing has validity in terms of what it is correct to desire.
Eventually, Papist “Catholics” with great love of idolatrous pageantry, material splendor and oppression of the downtrodden, initiated the first genocide against followers of descendant beliefs, with extreme violence in southwestern France. Albigensian Cathars, bons hommes (good men) in Lombardy, Provence and Aquitaine, and the troubadour culture, were mostly wiped out, violence peaking in 1244. Thus the High Church destroyed the luminous, exceptional Provençal civilization, and kept the European world safe for punitive hierarchy.

Moderns like to assume an ordered, rational and intelligible universe, much as did ancients. But when we probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or into far outer space, observing distant galaxies, any elegant mathematical order we expect to find, confirmed, may be but a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy. We feel need for rational order, but have strong evidence, should we wish to acknowledge it, that there is more involved. Science, subservience to material delusion, may be somewhat tautological, and little more to the end of true good than most religion.
We mostly recognize, now, but fail to sufficiently deal with, our obligations to, and need for, aboriginal, indigenous peoples, environmental and linguistic diversity, preservation of the Earth’s resources, social and personal justice, and a new kind of Enlightenment. A new set of parameters is needed, a new story-context for understanding not only the world and our responsibilities, but love, desire and longing, and a better concept of possession. We need to know that we are both individuals and not individuals, that we both have choice and no choice; that we act and interact within set patterns we can at best only slightly modify. We get to make decisions, but certainly cannot decide everything, and cannot drive the Earth &/or society like a bicycle or car. We need the satisfactions of achievement and recognition of attainment, of truly good food and rest, conversation and the give-and-take of sharing. Meanwhile, we remain limited by problematic thought-constructs (and real events) of the last few thousand years. We need to listen, and to learn to see ourselves more as vehicles for expression than as expressers, originators of expression, artists, or creators. We are not Gods – though the adage of Peter Abelard (Pierre Abélard), “Ye are as Gods,” certainly had its place. I submit, though, that that viewpoint is no longer appropriate. We can be as angels in Heaven, perhaps… even without the boredom that Dante seems to suggest resides there.

While I’d hate to disappoint the reader, I’m not going to try presenting things on this subject as an expert on them; as far as I can tell, the experts are afflicted with tunnel-vision anyway. But as a mild aficionado and once enthusiast, I’m glad of opportunity to express the allure I’ve found. So much with so little to recommend it receives extensive study and even devotion, with what result? Has society or even individual lives really benefited? Some individuals may have claimed so, but the proof would be in what they became able to do through that benefit, I think. Just to suffer exquisitely, be happier, or know what love is hardly seems enough.
There’re always gaps in knowledge – about all we can really know is that some things will hurt, that you feel hungry, are sleepy, need to defecate or clean up. Water is wet, some things will burn, reciprocated sexual arousal feels good, sugar is sweet, lemons sour, spoiled kids bitter; in all, not a whole lot. More than the nothing of Socrates of Sergeant Shultz, but hardly as much as some like to pretend. Much, sometimes it seems like too much, is murky, and subject to discussion.
After the first millennial craziness with eschatological expectations, many folk accepted the idea that things need not be the way they’d long been, that ruling precepts might indeed be wrong, and that even their own lowly selves could be part of a process of betterment. Which annoyed authorities, as this undermined their authority. But society had reached a stage where rulers enjoyed annoying, even attacking, each other, and there was just room and wealth enough for some subversion and experimentation. Who knew what might be useful for undermining the power of an enemy? Magic, undermining through infiltration or psychological warfare, distractions… rulers CAN be devious.
As some freedom expanded, along with trade, pilgrimage travel, and hopes, traveling entertainers were no longer but church propagandists, bear-baiting gypsies, physical and emotional freaks and the insuppressibly exhibitionistic. Some were troubadours, singing of love and longing, freedom and imagination, reviving folk culture and sometimes even nostalgic longings. Courts usually had jesters, clowns of sorts, jugglers and presdigitators, and allowing those entertainers to wander meant less upkeep, more variety and less sense of attachment and thus more ease of censure. The cult of the troubadour became an integral part of some local cultures, even while bringing with it new ideas that challenged local culture.

While Bernard of Clairvaux denied that the Catharists originated from Mani, it doesn’t matter. A tradition of aestheticism exists, throughout the enormous Eurasian continent and over as many millennia as we have records for.
Essences were an apocalyptic sect that literally abandoned Jerusalem over 2000 years ago, in protest against the way the Temple was being run. They went out in the desert to prepare the way of the Lord, the Savior who’s arrival they held to be imminent, following the commands, as they saw it, of the prophet Isaiah. They abandoned the corrupt worldliness of Jerusalem the Temple, striving to become as pure as they could. They’d been around for a century by the beginning of the “Christian era” but the reign of Herod and the Roman Procurators stimulated a new phase of life of their community, with more strident protest against Roman rule and worldliness. The Essenes lived in various cities but congregated in communal life dedicated to asceticism (some groups practiced celibacy), voluntary poverty, and bodily purification (some say, including daily immersion, but that may well not have been practicable or even possible in the deserts they resorted to). Many separate but related religious groups of that era shared similar mystic, eschatological, messianic and ascetic beliefs. These groups are collectively referred to as the “Essenes”; Flavius Josephus identified the Essenes as one of the three major Jewish sects of that period. Almost all of the principal founders of what would later be called Christianity were Essenes.
Accounts by Josephus and Philo show Essenes leading a strictly communal life. Many of the groups seem to have been celibate, but Josephus wrote of an “order of Essenes” that observed the practice of being engaged for three years before becoming married. According to Josephus, they practiced collective ownership, electing a leader to attend to the interests of the group, forbore from swearing oaths or sacrificing animals, and controlled their tempers, carrying weapons only for protection against robbers. They didn’t engage in trade. One major preoccupations was to protect themselves from any contact with evil spirits, in order to preserve the purity of their souls. They knew that they would only be on earth for a short time, and they didn’t want to prostitute their eternal souls.

Bogomilism, a dualist sect of the First Bulgarian Empire, was founded by a priest named Bogomil in the 10th century. It probably arose in today’s Macedonia, in response to feudalistic social stratification, and opposition to the formal church and Bulgarian state. The Bogomils were Gnostics (‘people of knowledge’) who believed in a world within the body and a world outside the body. They didn’t use the cross icon or build churches, considering the human body to be their temple. This gave rise to many forms of practice to cleanse oneself through purging, fasting, celebrating and dancing. They wanted return to earlier spiritual teachings; they rejected ecclesiastical hierarchy and state authority. The movement spread quickly through the Balkans then through the Byzantine Empire and eventually reached Kiev, Bosnia, Serbia, Dalmatia, Italy and France. Much of their literature was destroyed by contemporary ‘Christian’ Churches.
In France Bogomilism became Catharism. Cathars clearly regarded themselves as good Christians, since that is exactly what they called themselves. But they rejected the concept of priesthood and saw Roman Catholics as mistakenly following a Satanic god rather than the beneficent god Cathars worshipped, which hardly panned out well for them. Their view that their theology was older than that of the Roman Church and that the Roman Church had corrupted its own scripture, invented new doctrine and abandoned the beliefs and practices of the Early Church, was quite opposite to the Catholic view. Dualist ideas had a long history, stretching back well into pre-Christian times. All of the essentials were known to the Greek philosophers. Human bodies were material objects made of earth and dust, but our immortal souls were not, they were sparks of the divine. The divine was characterized as light, opposed to the darkness. They believed in the ultimate salvation of all human beings.
‘Cathar’ derives from a Greek word, Katheroi, which means ‘pure ones’. The Cathars referred to themselves as ‘good Christians’ – the ‘good folk’! Cathars didn’t swear, or lie, or speak evil of others, nor kill any man or animal. Catharism extended through Languedoc society, from the peasantry to merchants in their shops and nobles in their castles. Some were just sympathizers, who saw the Cathars lead simple, holy lives in extreme contrast to the corruption and low morals exhibited by their own clergy, but did not choose to emulate their discipline. One branch of the Cathars became known as the Albigenses because they took their name from the local town Albi.
Cathar theology was essentially Gnostic: they believed that there was a malevolent God as well as a good one. The former was in charge of all visible and material things and was held responsible for all the atrocities in the Old Testament. The benevolent god was responsible for the message of Jesus. Cathar practices were often in direct contradiction to how the Catholic Church conducted business, especially with regards to the issues of poverty and the moral character of priests. Cathars believed that everyone should be able to read the Bible, translating into local language, but the Synod of Toulouse in 1229 expressly condemned such translations and even forbade lay people to own a Bible.
Much later Luther broke with the Catholic Church over some similar matters, then just a few years later, Anabaptists (Mennonites then Amish) and in the mid-17th century, “Quaker” members of the Religious Society of Friends had related problems with the Church of England (and others).

For a transition here, let’s recall the meaning of the terms fruition and fructification: fulfillment of desired results, or producing of successful results. Sometimes plants flower and produce fruit; sometimes animals beget progeny; sometimes systems give desirable results. But, as is said, what’s good for the spider may not be good for the fly; also, flowers get cut and fruit eaten – or eventually it spoils. But we do tend to like flowers and fruit, so let’s move on to a different, but I think related, flowering.
The first major development in French decadence would come when writers Théophile Gautier and Charles Baudelair used the word proudly, to represent a rejection of what they considered banal “progress.” Baudelaire referred to himself as decadent in his 1857 edition of Les Fleurs du Mal (“The Flowers of Evil”) and exalted the Roman decline as a model for modern poets to express their passion. He would later use the term decadence to include the subversion of traditional categories in pursuit of full, sensual expression. In his lengthy introduction to Baudelaire in the front of the 1868 Les Fleurs du Mal, Gautier at first rejects the application of the term decadent, as meant by the critic, but then works his way to an admission of decadence on Baudelaire's own terms: a preference for what is beautiful and what is exotic, an ease with surrendering to fantasy, and a maturity of skill with manipulating language.
Baudelair wrote:

The Death of Artists

How often must I shake my bauble-bells and kiss your ugly brow, you sad, shabby, dismal surrogate?
To pierce the mark, that mystic heart,
how oft, my quiver, must I waste arrows in vain?
We shall wear out our souls concocting subtle schemes
and burst the bars of many a tyranny,
ere we shall glimpse the vast divinity
For whom tormenting desire makes our hearts sob and burn!
Some their idol never knew, though they prayed, and now,
flouted and branded with the mark of hell,
these doomed sculptors, notorious in their disgrace,
Hammer heavy-handed your brows and bosom,
For having but one hope, O bizarre and somber Capitol!
That Death soaring like some new sun
Shall rise and, giving warmth to their wasted glory,
Bring to bloom the flowers of their minds!

Arthur Rimbaud, according to some the original enfant terrible of western literature and undoubtedly one of the most influential poets who’s ever lived, got shot by his much older lover poet Paul Verlaine, gave up writing, went to Africa and settled into arms and coffee dealing. He didn’t die at 27, but rather at 34.
He wrote: “One evening, I sat Beauty in my lap. - And I found her bitter. - And I cursed her.” “I found I could extinguish all human hope from my soul.” “Life is the farce we are all forced to endure.” “Once, I remember well, my life was a party, a banquet where all hearts opened and all wines flowed.” “I believe I am in Hell, and so I am there.” “A while back, if I remember right, my life was one long party.” “I called for executioners so that, while dying, I could bite off the ends of their rifles.” And “You’ll always be a hyena etc. . . ," yells the devil, who’d crowned me with such pretty poppies.

Another of the poètes maudits (accursed poets), Isidore-Lucien Ducasse (4 April 1846 – 24 November 1870), a French poet born in Uruguay and elevated in the minds of some, to a Surrealist Pantheon, beside Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and also acknowledged as a direct precursor to Surrealism. André Gide regarded him as the most significant, the “gate-master of tomorrow’s literature”…
He wrote: “Throughout the centuries, man has considered himself beautiful. I rather suppose that man only believes in his own beauty out of pride; that he is not really beautiful and he suspects this himself; for why does he look on the face of his fellow-man with such scorn?” “Throughout my life, I have seen narrow-shouldered men, without a single exception, committing innumerable stupid acts, brutalizing their fellows and perverting souls by all means. They call the motive for their actions fame.” And “I do not accept evil. Man is perfect. The soul does not topple. Progress exists. Good is irreducible. Antichrists, accusing angels, eternal sufferings, religions are the product of doubt.”
Auguste de Villiers de I’Isle-Adam believed the imagination has within it much more beauty than reality itself, existing at a level in which nothing real could compare. In “Tomorrow’s Eve” he asserted, “I have come with this message: since our gods and our aspirations are no longer anything but scientific, why shouldn't our loves be so too?” Elsewhere he wrote, “Uncertainty is a quality to be cherished, therefore – if not for it, who would dare to undertake anything?” and “Dead voices, lost sounds, forgotten noises, vibrations lockstepping into the abyss and now too distant ever to be recaptured!...What sort of arrows would be able to transfix such birds?”
Yet another French poet of that era, Stephane Mallarme, wrote: “Dreams have as much influence as actions.” Also, And in a personal letter, “Yes, I know, we are merely empty forms of matter, but we are indeed sublime in having invented God and our soul. So sublime, my friend, that I want to gaze upon matter, fully conscious that it exists, and yet launching itself madly into Dream, despite its knowledge that Dream has no existence, extolling the Soul and all the divine impressions of that kind which have collected within us from the beginning of time and proclaiming, in the face of the Void which is truth, these glorious lies!”

To me, at least, these outpourings are almost as significant as The Sermon on the Mount, a great teaching, but hardly original, for which I hold nothing against it. We are here to do what we can, for others, for ourselves, for the future, for life itself. We may be in a kind of limbo-hell, or not, we don’t know, but if we are to learn anything, to share anything, to achieve anything, we must listen, and not just assert. We are most certainly NOT here to revel in some sense of superiority.

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Pantheon of god-kings

There is often huge linguistic, cultural and even genetic difference between rulers and ruled, much, much more so after the advent of ‘civilization’. Most significant is the rather ubiquitous presentation of ‘superiority’ – of right to rule, of need of the ruled to BE ruled, and of a great gap, between those who can rule and those who cannot.

To start with my exposition, a ‘true’ story (as true as any history, anyway):
When Philip II was born, about 382 BCE, Macedonians were “wandering about without resources, many of them clothed in sheepskins and pasturing small flocks in the mountains, defending them with difficulty against the Illyrians, Triballians and neighboring Thracians” (according to Arrian of Nicomedia). This is exaggerated, but Philip’s father Amyntas III had difficulty defending his country, a client state of Illyria.
As a young man, Phillip spent 3 years as a hostage to Thebes, which had the most powerful army in Greece. Phillip studied the tactics of its renowned commanders, and the then-famous ‘Theban wedge’ which could be used in a mass attack over open ground by a phalanx at pace, to drive an enemy from the battlefield. Deeply impressed by the Theban elite force the ‘Sacred Band’, he later modeled his own elite forces on it. The earlier Macedonian army had had a capable, aristocratic cavalry alongside a light infantry of peasants, but after becoming regent, Philip quickly re-molded it into a superb fighting unit, with expert heavy infantry. He increased the size of the army from 10,000 to 24,000, greatly expanded the cavalry (from 600 to 3,500) and trained troops in the latest Theban tactics. He supervised drills and discipline, made sure that the army was paid regularly and received other benefits, including uniforms. Soldiers were no longer loyal to a particular town or province but faithful only to the king. They weren't citizen-soldiers but professionals. Philip soon made the phalanx more flexible, with a better system for communications. He introduced a very long spear, 14 to 20 feet in length, so that the phalanx could reach the enemy before themselves coming within reach of enemy spears. He equipped every soldier with a short sword, ideal for close combat, a new helmet, and a redesigned shield. He also established a corps of engineers which soon proved adept at siege warfare, using towers and catapults.
Forced by Athens to cooperate in attempt to conquer the city of Amphipolis, once it was captured, he kept it for himself, breaking off collaboration. Amphipolis controlled the Strymon River, which passed along strategically important forests with high trees ideal for building ships; it controlled the road from Macedonia to Thrace, and most importantly, had gold mines, at Mount Pangeon. As long as Macedonia had Amphipolis, it had resources to build up its army, and could also blackmail neighboring sea powers.
At Chaeronea in 338, Philip’s army feigned a retreat that created openings for his cavalry, and thus won a great victory over the Greeks. 18-year-old Alexander led heavy cavalry against the Athenian Sacred Band, an extraordinarily responsible position which delivered the knock-out blow. The Sacred Band was wiped out. As a result, Phillip was able to form the League of Corinth (337), bringing almost all Greek city-states into alliance. Once appointed as leader of the Greeks, confident in his superior military, he inaugurated war against Persia by sending an army to 'free' the Greek cities of Asia (Anatolia, today Turkey). Already hoping to establish a cult of divinity for himself and his family, he built a circular edifice he named the Philippeum, with gold and ivory statues of him, his wife, his parents and Alexander. Alexander was appointed an ambassador extraordinary to Athens, which went well, until suddenly father and son were at odds. As leaving on his Asiatic campaign involved risk of a plot back home for a usurping coup, Phillip had initiated precautions.
Alexander felt destined from birth to, like Achilles, win glory and renown fighting barbarians in Asia, and resented being deprived of glory from the victory at Chaeronea, and felt that his virtue and accomplishments mandated quick elevation. Philip had made the tool (his army), but it seemed to his son his right to prove what it could do, as he had, after all, been raised to that task. Phillip, having problems feeling secure in his position while away (and unable to be two places at once), exiled the haughty prince and his mother. Preparations for the invasion went ahead with 10,000 men, including 1000 cavalry, sent over to ‘liberate the Greek cities’.
During his conquest of Greece, Philip had married seven times, despite becoming much less handsome through many scars of war. After two decades of fighting, he'd a fractured collar and mutilated hand, was missing an eye, and walked with a limp thanks to a lance wound to his leg. His 7th wife, Cleopatra, first had a daughter, but then a son, who, unlike Alexander, was fully Macedonian. Phillip performed magnificent sacrifices to the gods to celebrate the birth and also the wedding of a daughter to the king of the Epirots, invited friends from all over Greece, and instructed his friends to bring as many of their acquaintances as they could. Provided were music contests, public games and rich, sumptuous feasts for those bound to him by ties of guest friendship.
When people flocked to the festival, not only was Philip awarded crowns of gold but among processional statues of the twelve Olympian gods (including Dionysus) extravagantly fashioned with the most magnificent workmanship and wondrously adorned with the gleam of precious metal, a thirteenth was carried, a statue fit for a god, of Philip himself, enthroned with the twelve Olympians. It wasn't just Alexander who was haughty.

Years earlier, a Macedonian named Pausanias became a bodyguard of Philip, who loved him for his good looks. On observing another man of the same name becoming the object of the king’s affections, he made a great jealous scene, abusing the second Pausanias by calling him a hermaphrodite and promiscuous little tart willing to submit to the erotic advances of anyone who desired to initiate them. The humiliated replacement killed himself for shame (in battle, it’s told, protecting Phillip). A friend then invited the first to dinner, plied him with unwatered wine until he was dead drunk, and with his other guests raped the youth by turns, then, when done, gave him over to the grooms and muleteers from his stable, to further sexually abuse. On sobering up from his intoxication, Pausanias was extremely bitter about the physical abuse he’d suffered and complained to Phillip, who did nothing but offer some gifts and a higher place among his bodyguards. Pausanias nursed wrath against one who had demeaned him by failing to extract vengeance, until opportunity came to kill him. That the victim was also one who had accomplished much and so would be remembered, as then also would be his slayer, mattered also, bu he was unlikely to have done it without encouragement and help from others.
As part of the celebrations, Philip ordered his bodyguards to leave him for a time (as a leader, not a tyrant, it would send the wrong signal for him to attend a public celebration, in the royal theater, surrounded by armed men). Pausanias disobeyed the orders, lingered behind, and when no-one was watching, stabbed a Celtic dagger into Philip’s heart.
This happened at a crucial moment for Alexander, who quickly took over. Some hold that the murder was instigated by Olympias, Alexander’s mother, and that Alexander himself knew his father was to be killed. Olympias was resentful at having been divorced, and feared the new son would supplant her own. Both are thought to have encouraged Pausanias; Olympias had horses prepared for the escape of the assassin. A few days later, she burnt his body upon the remains of her ex-husband, made him a tomb in the same place, and provided that yearly sacrifices should be performed for him. She tortured Cleopatra, even killing her daughter in her lap, then she forced her to hang herself. She publicly consecrated the Celtic knife with which the king had been killed, to Apollo, under the name of Myrtale, which was Olympias’s own name when a child. None dared voice criticism.
At the age of only twenty, Alexander, through a virtual paracide, became king of Macedonia. To throw into disarray any potential accuser, he directed towards Persians suspicion of having arranged the plot. A letter from him to Persian King Darius purportedly states that: “My father was killed by conspirators whom you instigated as you have yourself boasted to all in your letters.”
Philip, in the course of a reign of 24 years, had been the greatest of the kings of Europe of his day. Found in his tomb were the remains of his last wife, and of the son born a few days before his assassination, also killed soon after Philip’s murder.

About 3000 years ago, a mountain people from the Badakshan area of Central Asia (northeastern Afghanistan and southeastern Tajikistan), an important trading center through which a “Silk Road” passed, became tempted by thoughts of wealth in lowlands to their west, which they were becoming strong enough to consider appropriating. These people of Kamboja, or Kambujiya, had strong belief in hierarchy, divine will and the right of might. To them, to be able to take was a mandate to do so, within the natural, moral compass and order of things. How could it be else-wise?
In the 9th century BCE they took Persis (now Fars Province of Iran, where Shiraz is), then Anshan (in the Zagros mountains of southwestern Iran), a quite ancient civilization, and soon the whole Iranian plateau.
The empire at around 500 BCE stretched from the Indus Valley in the east to Thrace and Macedonia; it eventually controlled Egypt and encompassed approximately 8 million square kilometers; in 480 BCE it is estimated to have had 50 million people. At its greatest extent, it had absorbed the modern territories of Iraq, Syria, Armenia, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, most of Turkey, parts of Libya, Georgia and Azerbaijan, much of the Black Sea coastal regions and extensive parts of Central Asia, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Oman. They may well have been the root of the Ksyatriya caste, India’s ruling and military elite who were in charge of protecting society by fighting in wartime and governing in peacetime, and Gautama Buddha was most likely one of them (see the work of Ranajit Pal, who faces much disparagement but seems to me spot on, at least about some things).
Some of these Persian Kshatriyas created the Srivijaya maritime empire, a splinter group from which met other Kambojas who had come overland (through Afghanistan, south of the Himalayas to Bengal and eventually following the path of the Mekong) to the Tonle Sap in what was then the kingdom of Chenla (Zhenla) and what is now Cambodia. These two groups, united by racial background, world-view and Indo-European language, would have had trouble communicating verbally after a millennia of differing influences on their language, but they saw the locals (who mostly spoke Austronesian language) in quite the same way. Together they enslaved the local aboriginals, built the extensive Angkor Wat complexes, became known as the Khom and eventually formed the core of Siamese royalty and what became Thailand. As less than 1% has great difficulty holding in slavery over 99%, when drought and the Black Plague hit about 1300 CE, the Angkor Empire started to crumble, its edifices, by the time of the rise of Ayudhaya, left as a bad memory to become over-run by jungle, and the Khom were almost forgotten.
The term ‘Khom’ gets used for the Ancient Khmer lettering used in Thailand's Buddhist temples to inscribe sacred Buddhist mantras and prayers, with its own script, one sometimes used with some minority languages of southern Laos. A century ago there was an independence movement there (as well as in parts of far southeast Issan, Thailand). Led by Ong Keo (องค์แก้ว) then Ong Kommadam (both were assassinated), the plan was to throw out all foreigners and bring back holy rule. The Kom, Kam or Kamboj are also a tribe in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in the lower part of the Bashgul Valley, also known as Kam Kamboj. Pre-Angkorian Khmer (used 600 – 800 CE) is only known from words and phrases in Sanskrit texts; Angkorian Khmer (Old Khmer) was subsequently used (until the 13th c. CE) as a language of government, but that does NOT mean it’s what rulers spoke at home. Other, accredited scholars have connected the names Kom and Kata with ancient Kamboja, but discussion of this seems to be frowned upon by Thailand’s ruling elite in Bangkok.
Jit Phoumisak, called by some the only Thai intellectual, wrote about Khom rulers of Angkor, and seems as a result to have been executed. David K. Wyatt of Cornell University, the foremost historian on Thailand, might well have wanted to write on it, too, but wanted even more to be able to return to Thailand for visits, and so did not, although some of his later writings show interest in the surrounding controversies.
Srivijaya, like the Dutch and British East India Companies, merely expropriated ports, with “factory” warehouses, and didn't attempt administration of colonies (Ligor, now Nakorn Sri Thammarat, Thailand, a possible exception), but the Khom rulers of the Khmer (pronounced “kha-may”, the first syllable just like the Thai word for slave) raised rule to an art form, beguiling a gullible public with magical incantations and other bewitchery for half a millennium.

This is fascinating: in his “A history of Cambodia” David Chandler says, “In the 17th century, according to Dutch sources, foreign traders were required to live in specific areas of the new capitol, Udong, reserved for them and to deal with the Cambodian government only through appointed representatives, or shabandar.”
Wikipedia says, “Shāhbandar (Persian: شه‌بندر‎‎, lit. “harbourmaster”), was an official of the ports in Safavid Persia and one also known on other shores of the Indian Ocean. The Shahbandar (Port Master) was in charge of the traders and the collection of taxes. The office of shahbandar first appeared in Persia, and from there spread throughout the Indian Ocean basin.” Chandler doesn’t mention Persians though.
Yup, Persian influence in SE Asia goes WAY back. As Dr. Ranajit Pal put it, “evidence has revealed the presence of Siddhartha Gautama, the man who became Buddha, as far west as Persia. Family seals and records found at Persepolis, the ancient capital of the fourth Persian Emperor, Darius the Great, have been identified and associated with the names of Siddhartha Gautama and his father, Suddhodana Gautama. … Even the Indus Culture (India) is a colony of the Sumerian Empire, ...”
I was researching to write about Vasco de Gama for one of my novels, and ended up parroting others who had him meeting (and battling with) Arab traders in the Arabian Sea area, as if Persians would not have come down from the Persian Gulf… I’ve corrected that now. Clearly, Persians did travel and interact to the east and south of their home area, and why not? I’ve yet to have solid evidence for my speculations about their possible influence on Angkor, yet, though.
Seems likely to me that well before Persians became bureaucrats for Cambodian and Thai kings, they traded through a large coastal area extending until Chinese influence and control became too strong to deal with. Over centuries, they became knowledgeable in methods of control, lost interest in colonization or active political control in preference to manipulations through trade (for the most part), doing what Portuguese, Dutch and British later did with their “East India” companies. A break-away group forged Angkor, though, and kept an empire until Han population explosion and conquest of Han people by Mongols changed the socio-political situation enough that an alliance with T’ai peoples, emigrating for safety’s sake from their Southern Chinese homelands, seemed an appropriate recourse. Pressures from Vietnamese peoples may have contributed.
Anyway, mangroves clogging the northern shores of the Gulf of Siam were reduced in extent sufficiently that a new port city on the ChaoPraya River could be built, and a descendant of Shan/Lanna royalty invited to come rule. The rulers of Angkor and their hangers-on, Chinese merchants from Kwantung and others formed a new elite for this new city, which they called Ayudhaya, after a mythological city from the Ramayana tale. Eventually integration of their descendants with locals created the distinction from Malays that has become much more noticeable over the last century. Cambodia was left with neither a strong elite nor much of a trading community (except for Cham Vietnamese who took control of the ports that had exported their forest products), lost population and area and became a kind of satellite state controlled by Siamese and Vietnamese rivals.
This explains more to me than any other scenario I have encountered, and leaves fewer holes, less confusion, and so, utilizing Occam’s Razor, I accept it without the kind of proofs Western academicians prefer.
But I do have this: Tibet and Altai are high-altitude places a series of conquerors descended from. Tajikistan might be another. People from there, or other mountains nearby, conquered Persia and almost Ancient Greece. Their Achaemenid Empire was huge but historians have underestimated it, I think. They didn’t only go West, but also East, along the Old Silk Road and to the headwaters of the Mekong, down that river and finally to Cambodia, the name of which comes from them. Marco Polo’s ludicrous account of descending steadily downhill for three months, into what is now Myanmar, may well be a reflection of this, taken from stories Turk traders heard from Tajiks. After Cambyses II, (a Tajik descendant, I am suggesting), son of Cyrus the Great and uncle of Xerxes, died in a Libyan sandstorm (or something close enough), some of his people turned back and tried India instead, forming the Kshatriyan caste of India and then the Srivijayan maritime empire based in Ligor and Java. One of their explorers, finding descendants of Tajik traders near Tonle Sap, decided to go for real empire instead of just trading, and with the help of a “5th column” of distant relatives, was able to found the Angkor Empire. In 1431, secrets of kingship gleaned over two millennium were used to found Ayudhaya, a trading partner for Southern Chinese loathe to remain subjects of Beijing (or Xanadu, X’ian, of Mongols, Ming or Qing). To accomplish this, when they were overthrown by a successful slave revolt, they allied themselves with T’ai princes pushed south not only by Mongol conquests but by Han Chinese population expansion. Later, others from Persia formed the backbone of Thailand’s Chakri Dynasty’s bureaucracy… Mountain people who ate fresh meat and forest products tended to be much hardier than lowland grain-eating agriculturists, and sometimes found opportunity to enrich themselves through their strength and simultaneously gain revenge on the “civilized” folk who despised them. To maintain supremacy, they found elaborate, formal high-church-like ceremony endowed with purported accouterments of power and embellished with semblances of magic importantly helpful. The pageantry, as it often does, worked, but they had to continually work at it, becoming, in a way, increasingly slaves to their slaves. Thus the switch to “maritime empire,” which was often equally rewarding but less demanding. Ports in India, Indonesia and at Ligor became havens of luxury. Then some, as happens, sociopathically aspired to God-hood. Wealth and power weren’t enough; adulation and sycophancy were desired also. And so, Babylon, Constantinople, Angkor, Xanadu (X’ian) and perhaps Ayudhaya, although in its case, the mountain people must have been at greater remove from their ancestral mountains. I suspect it was similar with the Aztecs. Incas, however, stayed in their mountains (and I know little of their pageantry, except that they had plenty). I suspect that secrets of mass-manipulation have been handed down. This theory might help explain mafia influence in some current governments… Capishe?

To solidify and clarify this concept of a magical importance to god-kings, I made a short history of early ‘civilization’:
The emergence of humanity into what we call civilization is shrouded in mystery; recent archaeology has given us more than myth and legend, and science may soon offer us even more. Today the earliest settlements with several thousand inhabitants known are from the 31st century BCE - cities which housed tens of thousands, at Memphis in Egypt and Uruk of Sumur (Iraq). A 7,000-year-old town by the Nile, across from Luxor, held homes of some important people of Egypt’s First Dynasty - Abydos, a “lost city” believed to date from 5,316 BCE, could have been part of the first capital of one of the earliest Egyptian empires.
The origin of Mesopotamia dates further back; there’s no known evidence of any other civilized society before them. Somewhere around 8000 BCE people there began agriculture, and slowly started to domesticate animals for food as well as to assist in farming. Mesopotamia is credited with being the first place where truly ‘civilized’ societies took shape, about 3300 BCE. It’s unclear to me how Abydos and the early First Dynasty of Egypt weren’t civilized, but nevermind.
People had been creating art beforehand, but that considered culture, not civilization. As Mesopotamia arose, it refined and formalized systems, combining them to form civilization. This began in the highlands (freer from insects and germs and with hardier animals), then moved to where there was better soil, plus ease of irrigation and travel for trade, in lowland Iraq (Babylonia, Sumer and Assyria).
The origins of agriculture in the Near East can be attributed to multiple centers rather than a single core area and that the eastern Fertile Crescent played a key role in the process of domestication. Early cultivation was of wild barley, goat-grass and lentil, all wild ancestors of modern crops. 9800 years ago, domesticated emmer wheat appears. Plants including multiple forms of wheat, barley and lentils together with domestic animals later accompanied farmers as they spread across western Eurasia, gradually replacing the indigenous hunter-gather societies. This didn’t improve living standards, just eliminated need to be nomadic, and allowed for some rapid population growth. People became somewhat smaller with the nutritional changes, but also found strength in numbers.
Around 10,200 BCE Fertile Crescent cultures with pottery (7600 to 6000 BCE) and from there spread eastwards and westwards. Notable was Jericho, the world’s first town (settled around 8500 BCE and fortified around 6800 BCE). The convergence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers produced rich fertile soil with water for irrigation. The civilizations that emerged around the rivers are the earliest known non-nomadic agrarian societies. From about 6500 to 3800 BCE urbanization began. Agriculture and animal husbandry were practiced in sedentary communities in Northern Mesopotamia, and intensively irrigated agriculture began in the south.
About 3200 BCE, as the two earliest civilizations developed in the area where southwest Asia joins northeast Africa, great rivers are a crucial part of the story. The Sumerians settled between the mouths of the Euphrates and the Tigris. Egypt developed in the long narrow strip of the Nile valley. Ancient Egypt, one of the oldest and culturally richest civilizations, is known for its prodigious culture, with a majestic civilization that resided by the banks of the Nile. It coalesced around 3150 BCE (according to conventional Egyptian chronology) with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first Pharaoh. This wouldn’t have been possible had there not been settlers around the Nile valley as early as 3500 BCE - people who fished in the river… but could hardly do very successful hunting and gathering away from the river, in Egypt’s desert lands.

The first god-kings may have been Pharaohs, 5000 years ago. There’s not a lot to go on about that, beyond myths told in hieroglyphs, but we know that magic was resorted to in endeavor to influence Nile floods. Everything depended on the Nile for the people there, but the Nile well resisted puny human efforts to exert any control at all. Record-keeping facilitated anticipation and prediction. Useful flood-gates and canals could be constructed given sufficient central guidance, as also could be grain storage. Central Command was also helpful with crop rotation, but a heavy responsibility, failures at which could easily provoke dangerously disruptive wrath. For social stability anger needed to be controlled, contained and deflected, better than the river could be. To install awe for those in charge could minimize social instability and maximize benefits the river continually brought. So the charade of deification hardly seems strange. It worked well for 3000 years.
The Chinese had two great rivers; when the first god-king somewhat less legendary than the “Yellow Emperor” first occurred isn’t clear; earlier, to be sure, than the first great emperor we’ve records of. From Mesopotamia we know of Cyrus becoming god-king soon after 550 BCE; maybe he initiated the idea there, maybe he’d heard tales from Egypt &/or China.
Rivers offer two main advantages to a developing civilization. They provide water to irrigate the fields, and they offer the easiest method of transport for a society without paved roads. Rivers also played an important role in the civilizations of the Indus, and later, many other places (particularly in Cambodia and Thailand, and along the Mississippi).
King Hammurabi, who ruled from Babylon around 2000 BCE, drew up the first recorded set of laws. His “Code of Hammurabi” set down harsh penalties for those who broke the laws—“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Punishment fit the crime. These early laws provided everyone, regardless of their class or rank, at least some protection from their neighbors, but punishments differed between the ‘superior’, normal and slave classes.
It’s not known whether contact with Mesopotamia inspired the first civilization of India, but by about 2500 BCE the neolithic villages along the banks of the Indus combined into a unified and sophisticated culture. The Indus civilization, with large cities at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, expanded over a larger region than Egypt and Mesopotamia combined. It survived, in remarkably consistent form, for about 1000 years. Over 4,000 years ago in the valley of the Indus River (which flows through Pakistan), people enjoyed an ever-improving standard of living, learning to use bronze and copper to make cooking utensils as well as weapons. Mohenjo-Daro had streets paved with bricks and lined with shops.
The Harappan, or Indus Valley Civilization, planned cities in advance, but apparently a massive, centuries-long drought brought the culture into a slow decline, from which it never arose. This is nothing more than a theory, but it helps explain other cultural declines in the area. Beginning sometime in the 25th century BCE, the Harappans developed their language with a script of nearly 500 characters (which have still to be completely deciphered). Noteworthy artifacts include seals made of soapstone depicting animals and mythical creatures. The peak phase of this civilization lasted from 2600 BCE to around 1900 BCE - a sophisticated and technologically advanced urban culture, the first in the region. Its people achieved great accuracy in measuring length, mass, and time. Based on artifacts excavated, it’s evident the culture was rich in arts and crafts. After collapse, the ruins of the Harappan civilization provided a template for the various other cultures which sprang up after it.
Europe’s biggest prehistoric civilization, the Vinca, existed for nearly 1,500 years. Beginning in the 55th century BCE, it occupied land throughout Serbia and Romania. Named after a present-day village near the Danube River, where the first discoveries were made in the 20th century, the Vinca worked metal, were perhaps the world’s first civilization to use copper (they excavated the first mine in Europe). Though the Vinca had no officially recognized form of writing, examples of proto-writing, symbols which don’t actually express language, have been found on stone tablets dating from 4000 BCE. Archaeologists unearthed toys (animals and rattles) from among other artifacts. The Vinca had organized specific locations for trash, with their dead all buried in a central location.
The next region to develop a distinctive civilization centers on the Aegean Sea, about 2000 BCE. The bays and inlets of the rugged coastal regions of Greece, and the many small islands strung like pearls across this relatively sheltered sea, made this an ideal area for trade (and piracy). The Aegean civilization, which began on Crete, stands at the start of the very lively tradition of Mediterranean culture. Surely the reader knows some about that!

Around 3000 BCE the wheel made transportation of good easier and quicker. Mesopotamia was known for metalwork, wool textiles, pottery and foods (dried fish, barley, wheat). Copper, tin and timber were imported. The oldest known wheel found in an archaeological excavation is from Mesopotamia, and dates to around 3500 BCE. By this time, humans were planting crops, herding domesticated animals, engaging in semi-organized fighting and paying for social hierarchy.
Wheels might have been thought of, as they were in Mexico and made for toys but for nothing else, but didn’t obtain utility until metal tools became available to chisel fine-fitted holes and axles. The wheel isn’t just a cylinder as in a Flintstone cartoon; connecting it to a stable, stationary platform presented a serious challenge. The ends of the axle, as well as the holes in the centre of the wheels, had to be nearly perfectly smooth and round, or too much friction between components would hinder and even prevent turning. The axle had to fit snugly in its holes, but with enough room to allow them to rotate freely.
Wheels were first used by potters. A 5,500-year-old wheel from Mesopotamia (Sumeria) was a potters’ wheel; use of wheels for pottery-making likely dates even further back. Wheels for transportation may have first been invented either in Mesopotamia or the Eurasian steppes. An early image of a wheeled cart was found in Poland, and others elsewhere in the Eurasian steppes. The earliest well-dated depiction is on the Bronocice pot (c. 3500 – 3350 BCE) found in southern Poland, and depicts a vehicle with a shaft for a draught animal, four wheels and lines connecting them probably representing axles. The ‘Ljubljana Marshes Wheel’ was found in the capital of Slovenia and dated to 3150 BCE. Linguistic evidence is used to support the claim that the wheel originated in the Eurasian steppes.

The development of proto-writing in Harappa around 3300 BCE was followed by Chinese oracle bone script and Mesoamerican writing from about 2000 BCE. Chinese civilization may have begun about 1900 BCE, although ancient Chinese historical records like the Bamboo Annals mention the Xia Dynasty, for which there is no archeological evidence. The earliest Chinese dynasty for which there is both archeological and written evidence is the Shang Dynasty (1600 to 1046 BCE), sites from which revealed the earliest known Chinese writing, the oracle bone script. The longest consistent civilization is that of China. Its vast empire seems set apart from the rest of the world, fiercely proud of its own traditions, resisting foreign influences. Its history begins in a characteristically independent manner, with no identifiable precedents. Shang texts use characters recognizably related to Chinese writing today.
At Ban Chiang, in Udon Thani, Thailand, graves from about 2100 BCE were uncovered. Bronze making there may have begun c. 2000 BCE, as evidenced by crucibles and bronze fragments. Bracelets, rings, anklets, wires and rods, spearheads, axes and adzes, hooks, blades, and little bells were found. The date of 2100 BCE was obtained from rice phytoliths from inside a grave vessel of the lowest grave. Later analysis suggests that the initial settlement of Ban Chiang took place by about 1500 BCE, with the transition to the Bronze Age about 1000 BCE. Politics seems to have hindered progress with this.

Rice cultivation may have begun quite early along the now submerged Sundaland (the Sunda Shelf), possibly even earlier than barley and lentils in Iraq. Savanna vegetation from the last glacial period, in now submerged areas of Sundaland, suggests a continuous savanna corridor connecting modern mainland Asia to Java and Borneo. Vegetation there may have been dominated by tropical rainforest, with only small, discontinuous patches of savanna vegetation, but a savanna corridor would have allowed for savanna-dwelling fauna and early humans to go from the modern Malaysian Peninsula to Borneo. A 50-150 kilometer wide savanna corridor down the Malaysian Peninsula, through Sumatra and Java, and across to Borneo, is strongly suggested by the composition of bat guano deposits in Sundaland. Life in coastal areas may have been safer from large predators than further inland, but changing sea levels would have caused humans to move away from their coastal homes and culture, farther inland and upland, throughout Southeast Asia. This forced migration would have caused these humans to adapt to the new forest and mountainous environments, fostering development.
A 2009 genetic study published by the 2009 Human Genome Organization Pan-Asian SNP Consortium found that Asia was originally settled by humans via a single southern route from Africa via India, into Southeast Asia and what are now islands in the Pacific, then later up to the eastern and northern Asian mainland. Similarities were found between populations throughout Asia with an increase in genetic diversity from northern to southern latitudes. Although the Chinese population is very large, it has less variation than the smaller number of individuals living in Southeast Asia, because the Chinese expansion occurred recently, within the last 3,000 years, following the development of rice farming. Genetic research from 2008 indicates that islands which remain from Sundaland were likely populated as early as 50,000 years ago, contrary to the hypothesis that they were populated as late as 10,000 years ago from Taiwan. Historical linguistics supports the theory that the home of the Austronesian languages is the main island of Taiwan. Australian Aborigines have been proven resident in that continent from 31,000 BCE. Aboriginal Australians diverged from Papuans some 37,000 years ago, well before the Australian land mass separated from New Guinea roughly 10,000 years ago. It’s widely accepted that Aborigines have been in Australia well over 40,000 years.

Early accounting dates to ancient Mesopotamia. Related to developments in writing, math and money, early auditing systems of ancient Egyptians and Babylonians go back more than 7,000 years. Documents from ancient Mesopotamia show lists of expenditures, and of goods received and traded. The development of accounting, along with that of money and numbers, were related to the taxation and religious trading activities. All emerged in the context of controlling goods, stocks and transactions in the temple economy. People relied on primitive accounting methods to record the growth of crops and herds. Because there was a natural season to farming and herding, it was easy to count and determine if a surplus had been gained after harvests or the weaning of young animals.
Between the 4th and 3rd millenniums BCE, the ruling leaders and priests in ancient Persia had people oversee financial matters. In Godin Tepe (گدین تپه) and Tepe Yahya (تپه يحيی), cylindrical tokens used for bookkeeping on clay scripts were found in buildings that had large rooms for storage of crops. Godin Tepe scripts had only tables with figures, while in Tepe Yahya, they also contained graphical representations. The invention of a form of bookkeeping using clay tokens was a huge leap. During the 1st millennium BCE, commerce and business expanded, as did the role of the accountant. Phoenicians invented a phonetic alphabet for bookkeeping purposes. An individual in ancient Egypt held the title “comptroller of the scribes”.

After 550 BCE, the Achaemenians Cyrus, Darius, Cambysus and Xerxes perfected a new form of semiotic narrative to excuse (whitewash) extension of class and power differentiation and separation, and enhance the empowerment of a predatory, grasping elite. Ritual forms to placate the deprived masses, allow empire building and lavish entitlement for a hereditary few were perfected. This required intermediary levels of managers, overseers, officers and bureaucrats who of necessity had to believe in and support the system exploiting them and the serfs and slaves they direct, shepherd and lead to slaughter. Emblems of rank and privilege became icons: crowns, robes, scepters, diadems, signet seals, thrones and flags joined images and effigies as not only representations but actual implements of power (well, purportedly, anyway), the real object being the total differentiation of rulers and ruled. Eventually lawyers, doctors, journalists, and business executives became priests in this caste differentiation, with bankers as the real power behind figurehead royalty.
An army needs a command center, tents, footwear, reserve weapons, a commissary and kitchens, quartermasters, and in ancient times livestock (to pull wagons, for food, and to ride into battle). All the organization involved demanded relatively sophisticated trade: stockpiles of weapons and gear, tools, bandages, salt, flags and other insignia… things which would be purchased rather than foraged for. So there must have been bursers, pursers, treasurers, coffers, rudimentary bankers with some expertise in exchange rates, accounting, securities and watch-guards. These might act in an intermediary way between political and military rulers (generals like Pompey, Crassus and Caesar had no reliance on treasurer-bursers, and so things easily got out of hand).
At any rate, there was always someone who did accounts, arranged for purchasing, storing and disbursing according to need, and it wasn’t just supply sergeants. Tabulated planning is a responsibility generals and heads of state delegate to appropriately trained and connected functionaries, who find themselves in positions of considerable power and influence, especially when making arrangements outside of the power structure, as often required. Experience suggests that much of their work involved discretion, secrecy and cunning.
Perhaps the first people to fill these positions came from the ranks of those who first gained expertise in animal breeding (and selling). Also, just perhaps, the first really good animal breeders might have been mountain people who couldn’t as easily replace stock as those on the steppe, savanna or prairie. This is just to imagine why folk from Armenia or Tajikistan might have been able to take Persia from the Assyrians and Babylonians (before 500 BCE). I think descendants of those folk were prominent in the Srivijaya maritime empire, organized the building of Angkor Wat, and contributed to history in other, interesting but seldom acknowledged ways.
In 387 BCE, a Gallic war band of Brennus, king of the Senones (from the SE of what is now France then NE Italy) took Rome and held it for several months. The Romans hadn’t yet perfected the fighting style that later made their legions famous; many scattered at the first charge of wild-haired, bare-chested Galls, who only wanted a bit of fun and removable wealth, quite a lot of which they took away. Had they had something to offer, they might well have gained a lot more.
Suppose various refugees from the new agriculturally-supported cities of the Tigris-Euphrates wandered to mountainous areas – criminals, escaped slaves, young adventurers, elders turned recluses, the unfortunate, deformed, humiliated or angered – where they met livestock breeding nomads of much less limited social and intellectual horizons… These horsemen, shepherds, dog breeders and fighting men might have progressed in ways those in the flood-plain had not, due to their mobility, to necessity, to observation of greater variety, and maybe even through ideas brought by the refugees.
Their stronger livestock, better fed, might well have produced a lot more shit, shit useful as fertilizer, for hotter firing of pottery, for warmth where there was little else to burn. A new pottery glaze was once of quite a lot of value. Not only their livestock would have been bigger than that in the flood-plain; they themselves would have been, and practice in warfare might well have taught them useful techniques. But what they really needed, and apparently got, was a “fifth column” – refugees to reinsert into the farming and urban society they came to lust to conquer.
To do better than Brennus’ band, though, they needed to stay, and to manage that they needed to offer something. Too offer more, offer improvements, hope, variety and confidence. These cannot be forced. But better ideas for defense, savvy policing, successful trade, entertainments and pageantry, even clothing, might well have been (at least somewhat, sometimes) possible. Advancement opportunities through new occupations (smithing, marketing, performing, sewing, building and maintenance, rodent killing, tax accounting, overseeing, bucket and wheel manufacture…) could have been suggested by returnees even before military victory, making for more permanent conquest. But instead of the ‘more’ anticipated, they got another kind of more.
With the new “narrative” (as modern academics like to call it) and anticipation of more opportunity, they got more taxes, more mandatory military service, more training to subservience, homogeneity and acquiescence, more regimentation under and even more lavishly pampered elite, more worries, sorrows and headaches, more law, more fear.
With more promise, more mirage and then disillusion – eventually leading to a new invasion by a new order of barbarians promoting then establishing new ideals, greater glories, a better future. With resultant further distancing from that horrible, animalistic, uncivilized hunter-gatherer Garden of Eden. But hey, one now had shiny tokens of somewhat more durability than unprocessed, unpackaged food…

For as long as we’ve had records of social interactions, we’ve had evidence of petty despots, petty tyrannies, injustices and excesses. These might be within small family units in unimportant villages, by unusually strong and skilled warriors or by petty bureaucrats. Once it was most often royalty, now it is perhaps more often elite bankers, members of uniformed services or even elected officials.

Cyrus the Great, or Cyrus II of Persia (in Old Perisan Kourosh or Khorvash; ~576 – July 529 BCE), was the founder of the Achaemenid Persian Empire, first ruled in Anshan, then conquered the Medes and then the Babylonian Empire. His “Cyrus Cylinder” is considered to be the first declaration of human rights. He was the first ruler whose name was suffixed with the words the Great (Vazraka in Old Persian), a title adopted by many others after him. Alexander the Great overthrew the Achaemenid dynasty two centuries after the death of Cyrus.
Cyrus’s notions of human rights influenced Thomas Jefferson and the US Constitution. The “Cyrus Cylinder” decreed religious tolerance, and end to slavery, freedom of choice of profession, and expansion of the empire. The cylinder, along with Biblical and other historical statements, substantiates the idea that Cyrus allowed the nations he conquered to practice their various religious beliefs - an unprecedented tolerance. He assisted captive peoples, including Jews, to return to their lands of origin, giving grants both from the Imperial treasury and also from his own personal fortune. In the Bible, he is known as Koresh - mentioned twenty-two times in the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, where he is unconditionally praised.
Promising religious freedom and human rights, as Cyrus did, was just part of a Big Lie. For government to ‘return’ something it took away is hardly largesse, especially when it makes things easier for government, instead of more difficult. “Freedom” given to bolster power is hardly that, just a bad image or caricature of it.

When Cyrus defeated the Babylonians, he became “king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four sides of the world.” He incorporated sub-kingdoms, including Syria and Palestine, into his empire, the largest the world had seen. At the end of his rule, the Achaemenid Empire stretched from Asia Minor and Judah to the Indus River. A large super-state of many dozens of countries, races, and languages, under him it ruled by the single administration of a central government. Centuries later, the administrative techniques created by Cyrus and his successors were adopted by the Greeks and Romans. Modernized versions of his administrative divisions remain in use.
After Cyrus’ death, his son eldest son, Cambyses II, succeeded him as king of Persia. Cambyses continued his father's policy of expansion, capturing Egypt, but then died in a sandstorm, marching on Libya, after only seven years of rule. An impostor named Gaumata became the sole ruler of Persia for seven months, until killed by Darius, a grandson of Arsames, who ruled Persia before Cyrus’ rise.

Chakravartin (Sanskrit cakravartin, Pali cakkavattin) refers to an ideal universal ruler who rules ethically and benevolently over the entire world, it’s chariot “rolling everywhere without obstruction”. The devarāja cult grew from it, or at any rate is closely related. It taught of monarchs as divine universal rulers, manifestations of Shiva or Vishnu. Possessed of transcendental qualities, the king is the living god on earth. The concept gained its elaborate manifestations in ancient Java and Cambodia. Monuments like Prambanan, Borobudur and Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat were erected to celebrate the king’s divine rule on earth. The devaraja cult of Jayavarman II associated the king with Shiva, whose divine essence was represented by a phallic idol housed in a mountain temple. The king was deified in an elaborate and mystical ceremony, in which the divine essence of kingship was conferred on the ruler through the agency of that linga. The safeguarding of the linga became bound up with the security of the kingdom, and the great temple architecture of the Khmer period attests to the importance attached to the belief.
The devaraja concept enables a monarch to claim divine authority, ensuring political legitimacy to manage the social order and its economic and religious aspects. It also exalts the king as a living god, thus demanding the utmost service and devotion of his people. It also enabled the king to embark on large scale public works and grand projects, by mobilizing their people to create and maintain elaborate irrigation systems for agriculture, and to construct grand monuments and temples.
Jayavarman II is widely regarded as the king that set the foundations of Angkor, beginning with a consecration ritual in 802 on sacred Mount Mahendraparvata, now known as Phnom Kulen, to celebrate the independence of Kambuja from Javanese dominion (that of the “neighboring Chams”, or chvea – or perhaps of their Srivijarian rulers). At that ceremony Prince Jayavarman II was proclaimed a universal monarch (Kamraten jagad ta Raja in Cambodian), or chakravartin, Lord of the Universe.
No inscriptions authored by Jayavarman have been found, but he is mentioned in some written long after his death. He appears to have been of aristocratic birth. “For the prosperity of the people in this perfectly pure royal race, great lotus which no longer has a stalk, he rose like a new flower,” declares one inscription.
At Angkor Wat, built under Suryavarman II in the early 1100s CE, one finds bas-relief depictions of the Ramayana/Ramakein/Reamker epic from northeast India, about a perfect king, Rama of Ayodhaya. Maybe this was depicted in Ayutthaya, but still is at Wat Po (Wat Phra Jerubon, 152 depictions in stone) and Wat Pra Kaeo (178 scenes painted in vivid color), both in the City of Angels, Bangkok.
The Ramayana is a marvelous exhibition of elitist propaganda which clarifies what lisping, bejeweled Aristotle taught Alexander son of Phillip: that a ruler must be better in all ways than everyone else. One shudders at thinking how things might have been for leadership, and for the rest of us without these glorious educational exemplars. Rama knew that all who seek asylum must be given protection, that victory without honor isn’t victory at all, and learned that honors, especially kingship, must not be accepted lightly. He exemplifies strength, humility, reverence, loyalty, duty, charity, discipline, generosity, honesty, honor and fortitude, he was valorous and magnanimous, prudent and merciful. He surely inspired many, perhaps even more than Aristotle inspired Alexander. How Sita felt as she jumped to immolate herself… well, surely she understood that Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion, that sacrifices must be made and that the state comes first. Anyway, the flames turned to flowers at her proximity. And anyway, that was just an illusion of the perfect wife, that so many animals sacrificed their lives for (according to the Kurma Purana)…

In the 350 years between the rise of Cyrus II and that of Jayavarman II, “universal rule” centered in Persia, Rome and Constantinople. Egypt had been great until then, but after Cleopatra VII (60-30 BCE) was for almost two millennia a colony. India had empire, as did China, but they were racially hidebound, except in terms, sometimes, of trade. Srivijaya, which seems to have somehow gained from Phoenician experience, didn’t conquer or administrate outsiders. But Jayavarman did – he seized an opening, a rare opportunity to assert divinity. Nothing like the Islamic leadership which for the most part dropped that pretense, but involving a hereditary caste of entirely superior beings (socially, anyway, if not biologically) responsible for all that was good (purportedly). It worked for a while: about four centuries. Then the devaraja god-king, overthrown by Thais, moved to Phnom Penh (1434) while much of the court was forced to Ayutthaya, which adopted much of that convention, tradition and observance. About 1500 CE Ayutthaya became a great trading center and the biggest city in the world, a reality now for the most part forgotten, although that its size and wealth compared favorably to that of the Paris of Louis XIV under King Narai (1656–88) has not.
Pressures from other ‘universal rulers’ – Javanese, Mongols, Burmese, maybe Mughals (though I think not directly) and eventually the Dutch VOC in Indonesia, Catholics of various stripe, the British East India Company, “Western” drug merchants, “overseas” Chinese, and French colonialists all constrained Ayudhaya and its successor capitol KrungThepMahanakorn (Bangkok), limiting horizons. But Jayavarman and his successors made a good stab at empire (“universal” or not) with influence remaining today.

Early Roman Emperors used the title princeps (first citizen), and were leaders of a Republic. After Diocletian took power in 284, senate ratification was but a useless formality. But in 285 Diocletian took on a co-emperor, Maximian. In 286 Maximian took the title of Augustus (after the first emperor, who’d resolutely refused recognition as a monarch, despite changing his name from Octavian to one meaning “sacred” or “revered”). In inscriptions, Diocletian and his cohorts are referred to as “restorers of the whole world” who succeeded in “defeating the nations of the barbarians, and confirming the tranquility of their world”. A new style of ceremony was developed, emphasizing the distinction of the emperor from all other persons. The quasi-republican ideals of Augustus’ were abandoned; Diocletian wore a gold crown and forbade the use of purple cloth to any but emperors. His subjects had to prostrate themselves in his presence (adoratio); the more fortunate were allowed to kiss the hem of his robe. Circuses and basilicas were designed to keep the face of the emperor perpetually in view. The emperor, a figure of transcendent authority, beyond all but power and glory, had his every appearance stage-managed. This adoration led to eventual deification or apotheosis. This type of honor, or Imperial Cult, dated back to Alexander of Macedon, who considered himself not the son of Phillip II but of Zeus. Emperor Augustus was treated as a deity during his reign; altars and temples were built to honor him, although none in Rome itself (at least while he lived). Although he may have considered himself the son of a god, he never permitted himself to be called a god. Upon his death, the Senate would deify him - as would happen to many who followed after. Caligula and Nero deemed themselves gods while still alive, but were considered too odious to maintain the honor after death.
The Western Roman Empire collapsed in the late 5th century, but in the east, emperors continued to rule from Constantinople (‘New Rome’); these are called “Byzantine emperors” but didn’t use that title, calling themselves “Emperor (or King) of the Romans” (βασιλεύς) until their city fell to Ottoman Muslims in 1453. Basileus and megas basileus had been used by Alexander and successors in Ptolemaic Egypt, in Asia (e.g. the Seleucid Empire, the Pergamon and by non-Greek, but Greek-influenced states like the Pontus) and Macedon. The feminine counterpart is basilissa (queen), meaning both queen regent (like Cleopatra VII) and queen consort. By the 4th century basileus was used officially only for the two rulers considered equals to the Roman Emperor: the Sassanid Persian Shahanshah (‘king of kings’), and to a lesser degree the King of Axum, who was rather peripheral. Consequently, the title acquired the connotation of “emperor”; barbarian kings of the “Dark Ages” were but rēx or rēgas, hellenized forms of the Latin title rex, king.

Islam had caliphates with caliphs, persons considered a successors to the Islamic Prophet Muhammad (Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah). They were purportedly leaders of the entire Islamic community, but the Shi’a/Sunni split limited that reality. The caliphates developed into multi-ethnic trans-national empires including the Rashidun Caliphate (632–661), the Umayyad Caliphate (centered in Damascus, 661–750), the Abbasid Caliphate (Shi’i tolerant, Baghdad, 750 to the Mongol sacking of 1258 but continuing in Egypt to 1520), and the Ottoman Caliphate (which established the Ottoman Empire in 1517). Other hereditary caliphates existed with much lesser importance. The term caliph derives from the Arabic word khalīfah (خَليفة), which means “successor”, “steward”, or “deputy” and was long considered a shortening of Khalifat Rasul Allah (“successor of the messenger of God”) until studies of pre-Islamic texts showed that the original meaning of the phrase was “successor selected by God.” The first caliphate, the Rashidun Caliphate, was established right after Muhammad’s death in 632; four Rashidun caliphs, chosen through shura, a process of community consultation that some consider to be an early form of Islamic democracy, directly succeeded Muhammad. The fourth caliph, Ali, who, unlike the prior three, was from the same clan as Muhammad, is considered by Shias to be the first rightful caliph and Iman, after Muhammad. A civil war between supporters of Ali and supporters of the assassinated previous caliph led to the establishment of the Umayyad Caliphate, in 661. The Abbasid Caliphate was established in 750.
Sunnis hold that a caliph should be elected by Muslims or their representatives; Shiites that a caliph should be an Imam chosen by God from Muhammad’s direct descendants. In simpler terms, the Sunni majority favor election while the Shia minority favor bloodline. Ayatollahs are another thing, Iranian religious leaders, from a term for “reflection of God” “sign of God” and not heads of state – at least until the overthrow of the Shah and initiation of the Iranian Islamic republic, the political head of which is a non-religious leader, the president. Most Shi’is await the 12th Imam while ‘temporarily’ relying on Mujtahid scholars who might become marja-e taqlid mullahs, hojjat-ol Islam, ayatollah and even ayatollah al-uzma – an elaborate hierarchy not matched within Sunni Islam.
These divine rulers have never been just kings of us (as in ‘us vs them’), but of all, (in a conditional, optimistic kind of way) - kinda like the USA being the “world’s policeman” – no?

The Normans, Aztecs and Mughals were also invaders who told the conquered what to believe. Might didn’t just make right, but proved, or better yet, was an aspect of, divine guidance. They were doing God’s will. Many still accept this attitude. Others have learned to see it differently.

“I’ll let you worship freely as long as you recognize that that is a privilege that comes from ME, the God-King Universal Ruler from whom all good things come (including your privilege to be silly).
Less expensive force needed to be exerted, chances for rebellion were lessened, need for duplicity by many folk eliminated while potential threats to public order became less hidden. It’s win-win! But the Big Guy wins the most, mostly for seeming to have done something he didn’t really do (as he has NOT really relinquished control).
Control is only given up, or lost, after it is asserted too much, as controllers are only human (assertions to the contrary notwithstanding) and when cracks begin to show sharks begin to tear flesh. It is ALWAYS the way.
Given that humans go power-mad, abuse authority and forget so much so easily, it’s naieve at best to think that strength brings happiness. Nothing is as dangerous as unfulfilled demigods who can’t even remember how all that they’ve gotten was supposed to be fulfilling, and no longer have any idea of what they want.

Early empire seems to have led to trade without empire (promulgated by the Phoenicians) and then to empire with mass slavery and inevitable power-collapse such as seems to be happening now. Our notional investment communities with their ‘limited liability’ seem to do something I call “money farming” wherein which earnings of the many can be harvested by the few through manipulation of gullibility (aka fashion, materialistic competitiveness, or short-sighted greed: the kind of thing that leads to lack of co-operation and sharing and indulgence in cosmetic surgery, over-priced printer ink, pools and hot-tubs, ‘play-stations’, pleasure boats, private airplanes, world travel, hired friends, security systems, expensive perfumes, exercise equipment, diet fads and fancy hats and sunglasses – feelings of need for which far too many of us slavishly adhere to).
Money having become firmly god-king, or at least the empowering tokens of god-kings, we now seem to be finding it suddenly less accessible or rewarding, more distant and confusing. But take comfort in this: Pharaohs notwithstanding, separation between a class of the deified and the class of the slaving produces gross instability. Social collapse would cause much agony and death, but a phoenix arising from ashes might not take many generations.

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