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In my last two articles, I introduced Riane Eisler’s partnership and dominator models of society, discussed the nature of trauma, and argued that it could explain the emergence and stability of dominator cultures. The origins of civilization are lost in the mists of time, but research over the last few decades has confirmed the importance of climate and other environmental factors.
In this article, I outline the history of the earliest civilizations and the transition from the partnership to dominator model as described by Eisler. In my next article, I will explore in greater depth the relationship between climate change and cultural evolution. I will argue that the trauma due to a drying of the climate may well have been an important factor in the switch to the dominator way of being. In this time of rapid global warming, the stress of climate change may once again emerge as a major determinant of our destiny.
THE RISE OF PARTNERSHIP CULTURES
As the glaciers of the last Ice Age retreated 10,000 years ago, settled agricultural societies began to emerge in Europe, the Middle East, Mesopotamia and as far east as India. Riane Eisler claimed in The Chalice and the Blade that these societies were peaceful and relatively egalitarian, worshipping the goddess and nature as the abundant source of all life. Their villages were located in fertile areas rather than defensive locations, and lacked fortifications or caches of weapons. There is no sign of war damage, their art is free of violent scenes, and their skill in metal work was directed towards tools, religious symbols and ornaments rather than weapons. As Eisler put it: “the many images of the Goddess in her dual aspect of life and death seem to express a view of the world in which the primary purpose of art, and of life, was not to conquer, pillage and loot but to cultivate the earth and provide the material and spiritual wherewithal for a satisfying life.”
As early as 7,000 BP (before present) these societies were irrigating their farms, and engaged in extensive trade. They developed a wide variety of arts and crafts, including weaving and sewing, rug and furniture making, copper and gold work. They invented plastered brick buildings and the wheel; domesticated horses, and practiced stock breeding. Despite this specialisation, the relatively uniform size of dwellings and absence of lavish burials suggests that they were non-hierarchical. There also appears to have been equality in gender roles.
This village-based culture spread from western Europe to India. A notable exception was the highly urbanised and sophisticated civilization of Minoan Crete. This was comparable to the civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia except that it followed the partnership model, and they were dominator cultures, as discussed in the next section. The cities of Crete were large, perhaps as many as 100,000 living in Knossos. They are notable for their extensive public works including paved roads and viaducts, reservoirs and water pipes, fountains and gardens, with an emphasis on beauty and grace rather than monuments to power.
Minoan cities were ruled by a wealthy elite, but even the peasants enjoyed a relatively high standard of living. There was central administration but no evidence of autocratic rule. There are no statues or pictures of rulers, not even the names of authors and artists. This egalitarian atmosphere extended to gender relations, with young men and women both engaging in dangerous bull sports. Theirs was a happy religion with lots of public ceremonies including music, singing and dancing.
The Cretans had weapons, but did not idealize warfare. The separate city states on the island did not make war with each other but lived in harmony and peaceful coexistence. There are no battle or hunting scenes in their art. In contrast to dominator civilizations, power was not equated with dominance, destruction and oppression. In the words of historian Jacquetta Hawkes, “the idea of a warrior monarch triumphing in the humiliation and slaughter of the enemy” is absent.
THE TRANSITION TO DOMINATOR CULTURES
These peaceful and egalitarian partnership societies were not utopias, but nevertheless lasted for thousands of years. They demonstrate that humans are capable of creating and sustaining creative and technologically innovative partnership cultures. However, about 6-7,000 years ago, this culture began to disintegrate and had ceased to exist by 4,500 BP. There are signs of invasions and natural catastrophes that caused major destruction. Their crafts, such as pottery, regressed to more primitive forms, and defensive structures began to appear.
Riane Eisler claimed this disruption was due to invasion by aggressive nomadic peoples who brought with them their male gods of war and mountains, and were ruled by powerful priests and warriors. At first, these were “the activities of seemingly insignificant nomadic bands roaming the less desirable fringe areas of our globe seeking grass for their herds.” But “Bit by devastating bit, a period of cultural regression and stagnation sets in. Finally, during this time of mounting chaos the development of civilization comes to a standstill. ... it will be another two thousand years before the civilizations of Sumer and Egypt emerge.”
The civilization of Minoan Crete resisted the dominator take-over until after 3,500 BP. It may have lasted longer than other partnership cultures because its isolation on an island protected it from invasion, and may also have ameliorated the impact of a drying climate which is discussed in the next section.
Archaeologist Marija Gimbutas identified three waves of destruction in Europe which she dated to 6,300-6,200 BP, 5400-5200 BP and 5000-4800 BP. The invaders swept down from the remote north-east of Europe and Asia, but Eisler points out that similar invasions of the Middle East came from the south, the best known of which were the Hebrews.
Very little is known about the origins or culture of the invaders from the north, but they may have been descended from the hunting and fishing peoples of the northern European forests and coasts. Sometimes called “Sons of the North Wind”, or Aryans, they left no archaeological remains, and yet they burst into history as aggressive warriors who imposed their male gods and dominator culture on a vast territory. We can only speculate about how this culture evolved. Fortunately, far more is known about the history of North Africa as we’ll see in my next article.