Friday, July 30, 2010

The Roman State and Genetic Pacification

The online journal Evolutionary Psychology has published my article “The Roman State and genetic pacification.” The following is the abstract:

Over the last 10,000 years, the human genome has changed at an accelerating rate. The change seems to reflect adaptations to new social environments, including the rise of the State and its monopoly on violence. State societies punish young men who act violently on their own initiative. In contrast, non-State societies usually reward such behavior with success, including reproductive success. Thus, given the moderate to high heritability of male aggressiveness, the State tends to remove violent predispositions from the gene pool while favoring tendencies toward peacefulness and submission.

This perspective is applied here to the Roman state, specifically its long-term effort to pacify the general population. By imperial times, this effort had succeeded so well that the Romans saw themselves as being inherently less violent than the “barbarians” beyond their borders. By creating a pacified and submissive population, the empire also became conducive to the spread of Christianity—a religion of peace and submission. In sum, the Roman state imposed a behavioral change that would over time alter the mix of genotypes, thus facilitating a subsequent ideological change.

Please feel free to offer your comments.

Reference

Frost, P. (2010). The Roman State and genetic pacification, Evolutionary Psychology, 8(3), 376-389, http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP08376389.pdf

24 comments:

THE_TRUTH said...

I posted this article on my facebook page last week. I was impressed since I recently reviewed Helen Leach's 2003 article on human domestication (Human Domestication Reconsidered - http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/368119). If I remember, you also posted a comment on this article. It is just so fascinating how modern humans (possibly all hominds throughout history) have applied strategies of control, cooperation, or phenotype removal (such as killing off aggressive phenotypes) through war.

Is it possible that at periods in history, those phenotypes with the real smarts took the opportunity, of a conflict, to escalate (or exaggerate) a perceived problem, with the sole purpose of killing off members of their own population, perceived as difficult to control.

Tod said...

In its early stages genetic pacification may have improved the the Romans' ability to fight by making troops amenable to discipline and reducing impulsiveness; the pacified soldier would be better able to fight and maneuver in close order, (ie use Rome's trump card of heavy infantry tactics).

The lack of Roman recruits that took place in the later Empire would be disastrous as Legions which included the totally unpacified non Romans would make for less cohesive formations in battle.

'Barbarization' of the heavy infantry

How do you account for the different course of the Eastern Roman Empire and its morphing into the Byzantine?

Dragon Horse said...

If this is true, shouldn't Greece, and Italy have a lower crime rate than the Nordic nations? I know they probably have a lower crime rate than France and the UK, but a lot of that is due to populations that did not exist in those locations during Roman Times. Have you looked into current European crime rates?

I guess I would look at "murder" and "rape" since they are more standard than other types of crime (although what constitutes a murder varies from nation to nation or even within nations). This might boost your theory a bit:

Seems that Germany is more violent than Italy...


http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/rwinslow/europe/germany.html

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Anonymous said...

"I know they probably have a lower crime rate than France and the UK, but a lot of that is due to populations that did not exist in those locations during Roman Times. Have you looked into current European crime rates?"

It could also be that culture can change over 1,000+ years.

Peter Frost said...

The Truth,

A good example would be sub-Saharan Africa. Since the incidence of polygyny is high (over 20% of all marriages), there is typically a surplus of young single males. These societies often resolve the destabilizing influence of these males by stationing them on the periphery of their territory in warrior camps.

This set-up, in turn, is conducive to endemic warfare, since war is usually the only way these men can get access to women.

Tod,

The Eastern Roman Empire (or Byzantine Empire) likewise suffered a dramatic loss of territory. By c. 710 it had been reduced to a rump state, essentially Asia Minor and parts of the coastal Balkans.

The main difference, of course, is that it survived as a rump state for another seven centuries, whereas the Western Empire collapsed completely. I see several reasons for this difference:

1. The Eastern Empire, especially Asia Minor, was further removed from the main barbarian invasion routes.

2. In the East, the Church was made subordinate to the Empire at an early date. In the West, the Church became a rival center of authority.

3. The Eastern Empire skilfully exploited the main weaknesses of the barbarians, i.e., their lack of central authority and their lack of long-term strategy. Diplomacy was used as a means to set one rival faction against another. This strategy proved to be powerless once an enemy materialized (the Ottoman Turks) who had both strong central authority and a coherent long-term strategy.

Dragon Horse,

My impression is that male hooliganism is much worse in northern Europe than in southern Europe. But keep in mind that northern Europe has likewise had State formation for the past one and a half thousand years.

Joven,

Will do!

Anon,

I agree. This is the point that G. Clark made in A Farewell to Alms. A lot of natural selection can happen over a thousand years.

Glossy said...

"By creating a pacified and submissive population, the empire also became conducive to the spread of Christianity—a religion of peace and submission."

On paper Christianity is pacifist, and today it's pacifist even in practice, but early on it was quite aggressive. Certainly more aggressive than the polytheistic Greek and Roman religions. Pagans couldn't care less if you believed in any of their Gods. Before the spread of monotheism religious warfare was unknown. The introduction of the idea that there is only one true God in the Universe and that all who believe in other Gods are wrongheaded and morally corrupt predictably led to a lot of violence.

Also, the best armies have always been made up of the most disciplined, least aggressive sorts of men. You're never going to make a good army out of high-testosterone guys. It simply doesn't work - armies are nothing without discipline and teamwork. Historically Scandinavians and the Swiss, Europe's most emotionally-reserved peoples, were considered to be its best soldiers. The macho Sicilians were not. That's not a coincidence. Which country is more capable of conquering half the world, Japan or Nigeria? Exactly. I'm going to paraphrase here a quote from Napoleon Bonaparte about his Egyptian campaign:

A single Mamluk will always beat a single Frenchman, 10 Mamluks will fight 10 Frenchmen to a draw, but a hundred Frenchmen will always beat a thousand Mamluks.

Exactly the kind of qualities that make men dangerous in one-on-one confrontations have always made them terrible soldiers. So, all other things being equal, one would expect "domesticated" men to be more successful warriors than tribal men. Of course, all other things are never equal in history.

Why did Rome eventually succumb to the Germanics? Romans imported millions of slaves from their Middle Eastern provinces to Italy, the slaves intermarried with the natives, and so the nature of the Roman state gradually became more and more Middle Eastern (the dominate). It's very difficult to force Middle Easterners to risk their lives for anything larger than their extended families, so Middle Eastern armies rarely work. The Roman state tried to solve that problem by hiring Germanic mercenaries, but eventually the mercenaries got tired of working for the Empire and seized power for themselves instead.

Fred D. said...

Peter,

This is off-topic, but I was wondering if you had read Jim Bowery's Genetic Omni-Dominance Hypothesis.

If you have, it'd be interesting to hear your thoughts about it.

Antonio Pedro said...

I was wondering: can we really test whether the genes responsible for aggressiveness actually changed over time? We would need to find some locations in Europe with very little migration, get genetics samples from these populations over time - is it possible ? -, and then try to associate these genetic changes with the development of modern state and the rule of law...that would be really cool!!!!!

Ben10 said...

"Also, the best armies have always been made up of the most disciplined, least aggressive sorts of men. You're never going to make a good army out of high-testosterone guys"

I absolutely agree with that. And the high tstosterone guys worn out mentally and physiscally more quickly too.

Stephen said...

Another factor may be the the limited breeding opportunity of the soldiers themselves. Roman legionnaire signed on for a minimum 20 years and were not allowed to marry for that duration. Sleeping with prostitutes is unlikely to produce surviving of spring in the ancient world. Living in the ancient world in crowded barracks conditions a significant proportion must of died before they were able to retire and marry. So like the Europeans powers during WW1 the Romans killed off the most loyal devoted and disciplined people in their population.

Glossy said...

"Sleeping with prostitutes is unlikely to produce surviving of spring in the ancient world."

Or in the modern world. Phrases like "hijo de puta" and "son of a bitch" would have never become so insulting if the people described by them were common.

Anonymous said...

For Adam Ferguson, Rome is ‘a signal example of the vicissitudes to which prosperous nations are exposed . . . To know it well is to know mankind’.

Anonymous said...

"Why did Rome eventually succumb to the Germanics? Romans imported millions of slaves from their Middle Eastern provinces to Italy, the slaves intermarried with the natives, and so the nature of the Roman state gradually became more and more Middle Eastern (the dominate). It's very difficult to force Middle Easterners to risk their lives for anything larger than their extended families, so Middle Eastern armies rarely work. The Roman state tried to solve that problem by hiring Germanic mercenaries, but eventually the mercenaries got tired of working for the Empire and seized power for themselves instead."

The idea of rome falling due to mixing with other races is such an incredibly tired, refuted idea. It only really achieves prominence among WN and nordicist circles.

Glossy said...

"The idea of rome falling due to mixing with other races is such an incredibly tired, refuted idea."

Refuted by whom? Can you provide names of the historians who refuted it? Summaries of the refutations? How does the reasoning behind those refutations go?

Tod said...

"In the East, the Church was made subordinate to the Empire at an early date. In the West, the Church became a rival center of authority"

It is interesting that the assertion of State authority over that of the Church (ie Byzantine Iconoclasm - "relics thrown into the sea ... Monks were apparently forced to parade in the Hippodrome, each hand-in-hand with a woman, in violation of their vows") came after major reverses at the hands of Islam. Maybe the Emperor had worked out what the problem was!

Anonymous said...

"It only really achieves prominence among WN and nordicist circles."

I'm sure academic exponents of the theory who wrote during the last 40 years, if any, got an extremely fair hearing. Therefore I see no reason not to accept what you say, even without evidence.

Mencius Moldbug said...

A word I didn't see in the article: "homosexuality."

I've long wondered if genetic pacification has anything to do with male homosexuality - specifically, with its historically unusual prevalence in societies with a long history of law and order. After all, what's the easiest way for biology to tone down those killing rages? It's right there on the X chromosome...

As a straight man in San Francisco, also, it's hard to avoid noticing a number of "types." You have the fairy type that seems low-T - and the rarer "bear" type in which some T receptor in the brain seems to have been suppressed. Again, this says "genetic pacification through male feminization" to me. Exclusive homosexuality is not Darwinian, of course, but perhaps it's like sickle-cell anemia...

Anyway. This hypothesis seems obvious - so I wonder why I've so seldom seen it discussed, even just to refute it.

Anonymous said...

Mencius Moldbug,
The most homosexual nations have been ancient greeks and persians, both older than Rome and the church.

Anonymous said...

This article is premised on nonsense: it cites two examples of non-state societies in which male aggression is rewarded with reproductive success and then generalizes those two isolated examples to all non-state societies.

That's bad science.

Anonymous said...

"By c. 710 it had been reduced to a rump state, essentially Asia Minor and parts of the coastal Balkans."

And by the early 11th century...?

"Caesaropapism" also didn't exist in Byzantium. See more recent treatments of the subject.

Attributing the Ottoman conquests to "Byzantine diplomacy not working due to special circumstances" is also extremely silly.

Before grand theories are (attempted to be - all those ridiculous grand narratives are doomed to failure) based on history, history should be understood a little better maybe.

Toddy Cat said...

With all due respect, Christianity is not pacifist in theory, and throughout most of its history, it has not been pacifist in practice. In fact, the “evidence…is fairly strong that from A.D. 170 onward there were significant members of Christians in the [Roman] army, and ‘the numbers of these Chrisitans began to grow, despite occassional efforts to purge Christians from the army [by the Romans], through the second and third centuries into the age of Constantine. We may estimate the number of Christian soldiers at the beginning of the fourth century in the tens of thousands’” (p.112 of Prof. J. Daryl Charles’ War, Peace, and Christianity. Also, see the Bible for additional verification.

Anonymous said...

There is an interesting theory over at www.anonymousconservative.com

Basically says these changes are produced by resource availability, which either rewards or punishes competitiveness, and also alters dopamine receptor function, affecting aggression.

The blog posts on gays being a neurological overshoot of the pacifisitic nature is interesting.

Did homosexuality rise as Rome became pacified?

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