Posted by: ken98 | February 18, 2010

Goths Swamp the Empire and the Chinese Discover America

Day 160 – Ken here (Th)(2-18-2010)
(DEF I, v.2, ch.25, pp.1040-1050)

Another bright and hot and sunny day down here. Another 10 pages in Gibbon. Another interesting (to Ken) set of historical tangents to explore. Sometimes when you’re not feeling so well, a good dose of history is just what the doctor ordered. And sometimes not, I suppose…

well, here goes –

Now we begin the great dismemberment of the Roman Empire, and the fall of the empire in the West. The Huns have appeared in the Far East beyond Asia Minor and have pushed the Alani, who in turn pushed the Goths up against the Roman frontiers. Valens makes the fateful decision to allow a million Goth refugees to enter the empire for resettlement. Although whole peoples had been resettled by earlier emperors successfully, nothing on this scale had been attempted before, and not in a time of mass migration and tribal defeats and disasters. After the first million move into the empire, another complete nation (the Ostrogoths) asks for the same permission – Rome refuses, quickly realizing that the empire has allowed a huge indigestible mass of barbarian warriors and families to cross the Danube, and there are countless more behind. The empire is about to be swamped in a sea of panicked and well-armed barbarians.

The Story
 
Gibbon on the Huns – the missing 300 years between the end of the Xiongnu and the beginning of the Western Huns

  • Between the “Huns” of the Chinese (De Guignes hypothesis), and the “Huns” of the Invasions of the Roman Empire in the 400’s – there is a crucial 300 year lacuna (unknown spot in history). This provides both camps (the pro-Chinese and anti-Chinese Theorists) with plenty of wiggle room to move entire nations around and draw parallels between distant peoples. And of course, it leads to papers, tenure, and financial security for all the academics involved – but at least research is being done, and progress (hopefully) being made
  • Gibbon tracks the various groups of Huns out of China and shows them hitting the frontiers (and the histories) of the West when the Huns suddenly attack the Alans in the 100’s
  • The Huns overcome the Alans, and menace the next tribe to the West of the Alans – the Goths
  •  
    The Beginning of the End – A Goth-ic Tale

  • the Goths figure push back against the Romans, but are held off by Valens
  • the Goths (Visigoths) petition the empire in an age-old request – allow us to settle within the confines of the empire
  • The emperor Valens allows it with the stipulation that they lay down their arms, and give up their children (to be resettled in various parts fo the empire – this would seem at the outset to be a standard Roman Resettlement Package)
  • The border guards are corrupt and allow the Goths to cross the Danube peacefully, without relinquishing arms or children – they are IN EFFECT a HUGE MASS of ARMED BARBARIAN warriors and families encamped within the empire
  • The sheer size of the migration stuns the Romans – approximately 1,000,000 people – 200,000 warriors cross the Danube – this means the empire INCREASED in Population between 5% and 10% in one month. Suddenly one in ten Roman citizens is an armed Goth
  • Another entire nation, threatened by the Huns, makes the same request of Rome (the Ostrogoths) – Rome panics and refuses – the stage is set for disaster
  •  

    De Guignes and the Chinese maintain that Fu-sang (North America - California?) was visited by the Chinese monk Hui-Shen, in 459 A.D.  The Chinese say it is likely that Fu-sang consisted of the entire West Coast of North America, as well as some of the interior parts of northern Mexico and the southwestern U.S.  Although Leif Ericson and his voyage in the year 1002 to Labrador and Newfoundland is used to buttress the possibility of Chinese settlement in the U.S. in the 5th century, no evidence of settlement has been found to date, and the theory remains controversial and more a topic of highly emotional national pride than concrete history

    De Guignes and the Chinese maintain that Fu-sang (North America - California?) was visited by the Chinese monk Hui-Shen, in 459 A.D. The Chinese say it is likely that Fu-sang consisted of the entire West Coast of North America, as well as some of the interior parts of northern Mexico and the southwestern U.S. Although Leif Ericson and his voyage in the year 1002 to Labrador and Newfoundland is used to buttress the possibility of Chinese settlement in the U.S. in the 5th century, no evidence of settlement has been found to date, and the theory remains controversial and more a topic of highly emotional national pride than concrete history

     
    Gibbon’s Boys: The Long, Long Shadow of the Historian Monsieur de Guignes

    Huns Are the Nemesis of the Early Chinese

    Gibbon relies heavily on the (now) controversial Hun-ologist/Sinologist historian Joseph de Guignes, who was the first european to notice the similar sounds of the Chinese name for a barbarian empire that menaced one of the early Chinese states around the time of Christ (the “Xiongnu”), and the Greek name for a people that menaced the Roman West in the 400’s ( the “‘unnoi” or Huns). He developed his theories at length in a controversial book that earned him a seat in the Royal Academy – the Mémoire historique sur l’origine des Huns et des Turcs (1748) (Historical Essay On the Origin of the Huns and the Turks).

    De Guignes had a number of other paradigm-shaking opinions which are still hotly debated to this day.

    Chinese Discover America

    Another theory of his, published in book form in 1761 Recherches sur les Navigations des Chinois du Cote de l’Amerique, et sur quelques Peuples situés a l’extremite orientale de l”asie (Study on the Naval Expeditions of the Chinese to the Coast of America and on Certain Peoples Living at the Easternmost Parts of Asia) – describes the famous Fusang hypothesis – that a Chinese monk discovered America in the 400’s.
     
    A modern essay shows how De Guignes came to this conclusion:
     

    (De Guignes writes) Li-yen, a Chinese historian who lived at the beginning of the seventh century, speaks of a country named Fou-sang (Fusang) which was more than 40,000 li east of the eastern shore of China. To reach it, “one must depart from the province of Lean-tong, north of Pekin, and that after travelling 12,000 li, the traveller would reach Japan; and thence to the north, after a journey of 7000 li…”

    from Fusang hypothesis – sacredtexts.com
     
    With the rise of China and Chinese nationalism in general, I’m sure the historian Li-yen, the land of Fusang, and the excellence of all things Chinese will be taught in the history books for years to come in official Chinese texts.
     

    Photo of the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum - Champollion deciphered the language of Egyptian Hieroglyphics in the 1820's through use of the 3 parallel inscriptions (all saying the same thing) - one in Egyptian Hieroglyphics and two in known scripts of the Greek language.  His famous breakthrough came when viewing the royal names - surrounded by circles (cartouches).  Interestingly, De Guignes proposed that circles in Hieroglyphics represented royal names 40 years earlier - although at the time nothing came of it

    Photo of the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum - Champollion deciphered the language of Egyptian Hieroglyphics in the 1820's through use of the 3 parallel inscriptions (all saying the same thing) - one in Egyptian Hieroglyphics and two in known scripts of the Greek language. His famous breakthrough came when viewing the royal names - surrounded by circles (cartouches). Interestingly, De Guignes proposed that circles in Hieroglyphics represented royal names 40 years earlier - although at the time nothing came of it. Minor Authorial Note of Shame - I've actually touched the Rosetta Stone in the British Musuem years ago - a mind-blowing experience for a historian - well at least for me

    Chinese are Really Egyptians, and Chinese Characters are Modified Egyptian Hieroglyphics
     
    Of course, this is a few decades (unfortunately for De Guignes) before Champollin got ahold of the Rosetta Stone and systematically and accurately translated Egyptian Hieroglyphics for a European audience for the first time in 1500 years. With the advent of useful translations, it quickly became evident that Chinese characters and Egyptian Hieroglyphics trace separate and parallel evolutions.

    In one sense, De Guignes was correct, in that with current DNA analysis we (of the 21st century) know with more certainty that one of the massive migrations out of Africa (possibly during an interglacial period) of Homo Sapiens resulted in a peopling of the continent of Asia. So there is some truth in an African source for all things Asian (see here for an article on Africa as the source of mass migrations through the Middle East to the rest of the globe).
     
    A brief biography of De Guignes from Wiki (here):
     

    Joseph de Guignes (October 19, 1721 – March 1800), French orientalist and sinologist, was born at Pontoise, the son of Jean Louis de Guignes and Françoise Vaillant. He died in Paris.

    He succeeded Fourmont at the Royal Library as secretary interpreter of the Eastern languages. His Mémoire historique sur l’origine des Huns et des Turcs, published in 1748, earned him admission to the Royal Society of London in 1752, and he became an associate of the French Academy of Inscriptions in 1754. There soon followed the three volume work, Histoire générale des Huns, des Mongoles, des Turcs et des autres Tartares occidentaux (1756-1758). In 1757 he was appointed to the chair of Syriac at the Collège de France.

    He originated the proposal that the Huns who attacked the Roman Empire were the same people as the Xiongnu mentioned in Chinese records.[1] This view was popularised by his contemporary, Edward Gibbon in Gibbon’s famous work, Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. The proposal has been strenuously debated by central Asianists including Maenchen-Helfen, Henning, Bailey, and de la Vaissière.

    He maintained that the Chinese nation had originated in Egyptian colonization, an opinion to which, in spite of every refutation, he obstinately clung.[2] He published a number of articles arguing that Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese characters were related, one deriving from the other. Although he was mistaken in this, he is the first scholar known to have recognize the fact that cartouche rings in Egyptian texts contained royal names.

    Protraint of Jean-Francois Champollion by Leon Cogniet.  Champollion ultimately deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphics, destroying many alternate theories of what exactly the hieroglyphics signified.  De Guignes Chinese-Egyptian theories were one of many casualties of Champollion's work (although Champollion de-coded the Egyptian language 20 years after De Guignes' death)

    Protraint of Jean-Francois Champollion by Leon Cogniet. Champollion ultimately deciphered Egyptian Hieroglyphics, destroying many alternate theories of what exactly the hieroglyphics signified. De Guignes Chinese-Egyptian theories were one of many casualties of Champollion's work (although Champollion de-coded the Egyptian language 20 years after De Guignes' death)


     

     
     
     

    Last Word…

     
    Quotable Gibbon –
     
    While some of Gibbon’s scholarship is very nearly modern in his attention to socio-anthropological aspects of history and his transparent use of original sources, every so often Gibbon’s work throws you for a loop and suddenly you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore. Gibbon, although he speaks English and appears to have a very similar psychological makeup to a modern reader is actually a man with an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT set of cultural values than, say a 21st century Academic.

    His obvious, and frequently reiterated predilection for blue eyes, blond hair, and fair skin and his association of all of the above with CIVILIZATION tend to weaken the rest of his historical arguments – causing you to assess how much of Gibbon is patient philosophical reasoning and how much is unquestioned, knee-jerk, red-neck prejudice.

    It makes you wonder how WE will be read in 2 centuries, and what barbarisms we will be seen to commit in the eyes of disgusted future readers of our histories. Only time will tell.
     
    Here is the offending passage for today:
     

    The mixture of Sarmatic and German blood had contributed to improve the features of the Alani, to whiten their swarthy complexions, and to tinge their hair with a yellowish cast, which is seldom found in the Tartar race. They were less deformed in their persons, less brutish in their manners, than the Huns…

    (DEF v.2, ch.26, p.1043)

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