Jump to content

Agriculture as Civilization, or “We were all herdmen, once”


mfbrandi

Recommended Posts

Academia.edu is a useful and legitimate source of stuff likely of interest to some Gloranthaphiles.

This — from The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture — dropped into my inbox today:

    “Agriculture as Civilization: Sages, Farmers, and Barbarians
     Frans Wiggermann

Even if that doesn’t fascinate, it quotes from a “Sumerian disputation”, Ewe and Wheat, which might find in-game use:

     The people of those distant days
     Knew not bread to eat,
     They knew not cloth to wear;
     They went about in the land with naked limbs
     Eating grass with their mouths like sheep,
     And drinking water from the ditches …

     For Wheat the gods made a field,
     And bestowed on her plow and yoke and team.
     Ewe, standing in her sheepfold,
     Was a shepherd full of the sheepfold’s splendor;
     Wheat, standing in her furrow,
     Was a shapely girl radiating beauty
     Lifting her noble head high above the field
     She was suffused with bounty from the skies.
     Thus both Ewe and Wheat were radiant in appearance,
     And among the gathered people they caused abundance,
     And in the land they brought well-being.

  • Like 4
  • Thanks 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, first off, welcome to the board!

I'm a serious 'real history in fantasy games' advocate, so I couldn't agree more.

No matter what game I'm playing, sci-fi to fantasy, I make sure that the gamers understand the resource to product to end user chain and the economics that it generates. While I love me some Star Trek and RuneQuest, I work very, very hard to avoid the post-scarcity * poof! * instant doo-dad trope. In my games, everything from food to plasma guns has a narrative weight and feel to them... somebody MADE these items. They didn't appear out of some aetheric nothingness for the convenience of the PCs.

I was a medieval reenactor for a great many years and I still have some bits of my stuff. In my fantasy games, I take the time to show new players some of the gear their characters will encounter. I show them a cuirboulli nasal helm that I made to give them an idea of 'light' armor. I show them my sword and explain just how much it gets in the way. I introduce people who've only worn mixed fabrics what a linen undertunic and a wool overtunic weighs and how bulky a double layered wool cloak is.

I'm also a Civil War reenactor, so I show them hard bread [hard tack], salt pork etc. and a 'campaign-weight' blanket

The whole idea is to humanize the statistics. People get hot and cold, hungry and well-fed, tired and rested. And that's in addition to making their living poking a spear into the darkness just to see what bites back 🤣

Besides, one of the first translations from the Cuneiform alphabet was a recipe for beer in lieu of bread for taxes in ancient Sumer. Can't go too far wrong with that. As an aside, for those that might be interested, the Anchor Steam Brewing Company of San Francisco bought the recipe for said beer and did a run of 'Sumerian Ale' [link to the story at the end of this post].

[link to 'Sumerian Ale' story]

https://www.anchorbrewing.com/blog/sumerian-beer-project/

Photo:

Leif Eiriksson Feast, Scandinavian Heritage Center, Pacific Lutheran Univ. AD 2000

Gear: Cuiboulli and strap iron helm, leather scale hauberk, kite shield with steel boss and rawhide rim, steel sword. Linen under-tunic, wool over-tunic, wool rectangular brooch-cloak.

Leif Eirikson Feast 2000 (2).jpg

Edited by svensson
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

42 minutes ago, svensson said:

Well, first off, welcome to the board!

https://www.anchorbrewing.com/blog/sumerian-beer-project/

Hello, again. (Gene Wolfe/RQ fiction thread.)

Do we buy honey in early Sumerian beer if (from the paper quoted in the original post) “Except in emergency situations, the import of foodstuffs was rare. Luxuries such as wine and honey were not produced in Babylonia, but reached the land in small quantities from the northwest”?

I know nothing about the history and practice of brewing, but it begins to seem unlikely.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 8/11/2022 at 1:45 PM, mfbrandi said:

That sounds like a better approach than writing a bunch of house rules for encumbrance. 😉

The way I work encumbrance is this:

After I show the players all this stuff and give them a sense of the weight and bulkiness of everything, I tell them: "We can do encumbrance one of two ways. The first is that you can respect the load you're carrying and don't try to carry a U-Haul full of crap everywhere you go. If we do it this way you just  have to accept that your character is tired when the story demands it. The OTHER way to do it is that I make you account for every quarter-ENC of weight and bulk... every ration cracker, every boot dagger, every spare tunic... and I make your life a bookkeeping nightmare. Your choice."

Presented that way, it's amazing how often players see things my way. 😁🤣

Edited by svensson
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 8/11/2022 at 1:42 PM, mfbrandi said:

Hello, again. (Gene Wolfe/RQ fiction thread.)

Do we buy honey in early Sumerian beer if (from the paper quoted in the original post) “Except in emergency situations, the import of foodstuffs was rare. Luxuries such as wine and honey were not produced in Babylonia, but reached the land in small quantities from the northwest”?

I know nothing about the history and practice of brewing, but it begins to seem unlikely.

Well, bees are necessary to pollinate plants so every major agrarian area has them. How well the locals keep bees and the quality of the honey is an entirely different matter.

Most long distance caravan trade will be in luxury goods or non-subsistence 'variety foods'. Wines, honey, dried fruits, vegetables that travel well, all these will be highly desired items the next region over. Most areas Mankind settles will allow them to be self-sufficient in basic foodstuffs, so trade value comes from supplying the things they don't have. Oats are valuable in a place that grows rice, for example. The problem with transporting high bulk food items like sacks of grain is that they have a generally low trade value [especially compared to luxury goods like spices and dyes] and your caravan animals need to eat a fair percentage of your cargo to maintain their health on the trip.

As this applies to brewing, well, I can only apply the same basic principle... people like flavors they don't encounter much at home and are therefore wiling to pay a premium for them. It's not unreasonable that honey was exported from an area with an abundance of it and it became an ingredient in beer. Honey travels well, keeps for an extended time [especially when you consider other sugar sources], and different flowering plants have a detectable difference in flavors in honey. I'm not sure how this directly effects brewing specifically, but the logic should hold.

Edited by svensson
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

One effect of brewing was to get rid of all the spelt along with the tossed (well, beast fodder) remnants, something hard to accomplish for (or with) milling with early breeds of wheat. As a trade commodity, you might wish to transport the undliuted wort rather than the finished watery solution, increasing your trade volume somewhat, but other than water transport, neither grains nor beer are going to travel far.

Which is why cities only came up in areas with water transport, often where irrigation brought water all the way to the fields. But then, irrigation is what requires coordination and hierarchy in the first place. This seems to be even more pronounced for rice farming.

On the other hand, the Frisians and Germanic neighbors demonstrated how communities a fifth the size of a Sartarite clan could do communal water works (and land reclamation) on a similar scale without having those deep hierarchies.

Telling how it is excessive verbis

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 hours ago, Darius West said:

Have a look at Bappir

Yeah, but that Wikipedia page just refers us back to the Anchor Brewing Co., so it cannot settle the question of whether the Anchor Brewing Co. was right to include honey in their recipe, can it? (I don’t think the people at the brewing company would pretend to be experts (“Sumeria”?) or that their beer was authentic, just that it was a fun thing to make — which is true.)

My thought was that if honey was a luxury import and beer was a domestic staple, it was unlikely that honey was an ingredient for early Sumerian beer, but I am not going to pretend to know the truth in this matter.

Again, I wouldn’t swear to this, but I don’t think barley needs insects for pollination — which is not to say bees cannot pollinate barley — but check with a botanist.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, mfbrandi said:

Yeah, but that Wikipedia page just refers us back to the Anchor Brewing Co., so it cannot settle the question of whether the Anchor Brewing Co. was right to include honey in their recipe, can it? (I don’t think the people at the brewing company would pretend to be experts (“Sumeria”?) or that their beer was authentic, just that it was a fun thing to make — which is true.)

Fair enough.  From what I read, the honey goes into the bread, and only indirectly into the beer, though I have had honey beer (I called it Quasimeado).

1 hour ago, mfbrandi said:

My thought was that if honey was a luxury import and beer was a domestic staple, it was unlikely that honey was an ingredient for early Sumerian beer, but I am not going to pretend to know the truth in this matter.

Honey was seen as medicinal by the Sumerians, and is definitely an antiseptic, but is also something that yeast could feed on. 

1 hour ago, mfbrandi said:

Again, I wouldn’t swear to this, but I don’t think barley needs insects for pollination — which is not to say bees cannot pollinate barley — but check with a botanist.

  You are quite correct.  Barley self pollenates.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have not seen references to ancient long distance trade in beer, but there is plenty of proof of long distance trade in wine.  

Beer was and is cheaper and a natural product of a grain growing society.  I have even seen a hypothesis that the first grain growing was for alcohol rater than for bread.  I'm not sure how you would test that hypothesis.

But I have read that archaeology in recent decades has detected remnants of flavorings in beer residues, and these could include both plants (like hops for us Europezn oriented moderns) and things such as honey.  Maybe cheap beer wouldn't  have them, the oldest analyses of beer that I have seen reflect pretty flat stuff. But flavor is a step up, that's what makes luxury goods and trade.

So thanks for the discussion of that class of trade goods.

 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Agriculture as a marker of difference is baked into Glorantha through the ongoing survival of people for whom agriculture is taboo: the Hsunchen shapechangers. This dramatises the idea that agriculture was a much a curse as a blessing. It was the enabler of priests, and obeisance to divinity. It drastically lowered the quality of life for almost everyone. And it resulted in the ascendance of deities (in Glorantha, the Grain Goddesses, and the Herd Mothers) which legitimise the domestication or subjugation of otherwise free-living beasts (and so, inevitably, of otherwise free-living peoples).

Agriculture represents the fall from paradise, and so long as Glorantha includes free-living indigenes like the Hsunchen, this is a "live" trope that can be addressed within the game.

For more on this, see The Children of Hykim (plus jokes, new spells, lots of weirdness and more):

http://tiny.cc/TCoH

  • Like 3
  • Thanks 1

--

The Silver best-selling The Children of Hykim offers over 150 pages on Glorantha's shape-changing totemic animal people, the Hsunchen. "Magisterial ... highly recommended" - Nick Brooke. "An amazing labor of love" - Evan Franke, Exploring Glorantha. "A deep dive" - Joerg Baumgartner. "Excellent sourcebook, well-written and well-researched" - Niall Sullivan.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

9 hours ago, Brian Duguid said:

Agriculture represents the fall from paradise, and so long as Glorantha includes free-living indigenes like the Hsunchen

Though perhaps “paradise” — a walled enclosure/garden, an orchard, a vegetable patch, etc. — is not the word the free-living people would pick to describe their preferred state.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wine travels relatively well because the alcohol content is usually high enough to reduce spoilage. It is also usually the highest alcohol content you can get easily, so that is a drink for dedicated alcoholics. Wine probably did not taste that great for our palates, so adding honey or other taste modifiers was typical, as well as diluting with water to make it drinkable (and the water less dangerous to drink).

Many cultures have kept bees more for wax than honey. However honey has always been a luxury good, and it appears in many RW sacrifices to deities, and we can suppose they also do the same in Glorantha.

Unlike the RW, where it was population density what helped agriculturalists to displace hunter-gatherers, in Glorantha it has been magic, and it is also magic what has helped important communities of hsunchen to resist the pressure of the agriculturalists.

The magical landscape, in my opinion, favors theists in the long term, because they are better suited for the menaces of the Lesser Darkness and the Great Darkness, and probably the In-time events, from the Gbaji Wars to the remake in the Hero Wars. Which is why hsunchen, although holding their own, are diminishing in time. However it is not yet clear whether the theists or the humanists do a better job converting them.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

All this talk of honey and alcohol makes me think of mead....

 

 

On 8/13/2022 at 5:45 AM, Brian Duguid said:

It drastically lowered the quality of life for almost everyone. And it resulted in the ascendance of deities (in Glorantha, the Grain Goddesses, and the Herd Mothers) which legitimise the domestication or subjugation of otherwise free-living beasts (and so, inevitably, of otherwise free-living peoples).

Agriculture represents the fall from paradise, and so long as Glorantha includes free-living indigenes like the Hsunchen, this is a "live" trope that can be addressed within the game.

I don't understand where you get this idea from.. other than the "real world", where the gods didn't actively engage in occurrences except by mere coincidence. In Glorantha, the gods could be called upon at will, and answered most of the time when requested. The people are somewhat freer than the gods they worship...

 

On 8/12/2022 at 9:59 PM, Squaredeal Sten said:

I have even seen a hypothesis that the first grain growing was for alcohol rater than for bread.  I'm not sure how you would test that hypothesis.

Theoretically, very easy. In practice, very difficult.

Although, I'd suggest that both may have been major considerations at the same time, so suggesting that one was more important than the other would be difficult.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

7 hours ago, Shiningbrow said:

I don't understand where you get this idea from.. other than the "real world", where the gods didn't actively engage in occurrences except by mere coincidence. In Glorantha, the gods could be called upon at will, and answered most of the time when requested. The people are somewhat freer than the gods they worship...

I write as a provocation from what I imagine to be a Hsunchen perspective, because I think we read too much about the perspective of the colonial and imperialist cultures in Glorantha, and I think that distorts our perception of the world.

As far as where these ideas are from: the Hsunchen view that agriculture is taboo; that domestication of beasts is slavery; and that priesthoods diminish freedom - these are all set out in official published Gloranthan material, mostly fairly explicitly. And the view that agriculture came IRL at a great cost (except to monarchs and priests) is, I think, fairly uncontroversial. There's nothing in Gloranthan lore to indicate it would differ. Magic may help the crops grow, but it doesn't substantially reduce the labour needed for the harvest.

  • Like 4

--

The Silver best-selling The Children of Hykim offers over 150 pages on Glorantha's shape-changing totemic animal people, the Hsunchen. "Magisterial ... highly recommended" - Nick Brooke. "An amazing labor of love" - Evan Franke, Exploring Glorantha. "A deep dive" - Joerg Baumgartner. "Excellent sourcebook, well-written and well-researched" - Niall Sullivan.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

30 minutes ago, Brian Duguid said:

Magic may help the crops grow, but it doesn't substantially reduce the labour needed for the harvest.

Of course, from the gods’ perspective, this isn’t so: humans are their magical agribots, their ultimate labour-saving devices.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Deities and their myths reflect the process of transition from hunting/foraging to pastoralism and cultivation. Hippoi was originally just the horse goddess: Hyalor had to domesticate her for the horse peoples to then exploit the animal. Mralota was the goddess of wild boar, and a new deity or hero, Entru, was needed before they could become farm animals. Eiritha's very title as "herd mother" shows that we only really know the mother of hoofed beasts through the lens of those who farm them. If the legendary (mythical?) wild Aurochs survived we might have a different view of Eiritha.

I'm looking forward to reading more about the Grain Goddesses in the Cults book.

--

The Silver best-selling The Children of Hykim offers over 150 pages on Glorantha's shape-changing totemic animal people, the Hsunchen. "Magisterial ... highly recommended" - Nick Brooke. "An amazing labor of love" - Evan Franke, Exploring Glorantha. "A deep dive" - Joerg Baumgartner. "Excellent sourcebook, well-written and well-researched" - Niall Sullivan.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There have been quite a few cases of Hsunchen lording over a farming population, taking tribute etc. while maintaining their purity as an overlord class, and those Pure Horse riders or the Kostaddi Sables manage a similar balance. Great temple cities built by Kachasti survivors finding shelter from Vadeli persecution among the beast totem people are a common carry-over into the Dawn Age Greatwood. The builder families may have lost most of their previous identity, but may still persist as a weird, somewhat holy somewhat unworthy fringe group.

It is good to be the king, or at least to take the king's tribute, and the White Bear Empire as well as the Pujaleg Empire show how Hsunchen overlords may dominate civilized lands for quite a while.

Telling how it is excessive verbis

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

31 minutes ago, Joerg said:

It is good to be the king, or at least to take the king's tribute, and the White Bear Empire as well as the Pujaleg Empire show how Hsunchen overlords may dominate civilized lands for quite a while.

Indeed. I see Hsunchen antagonism to agricultural lifestyles as thematic, not prescriptive.

The Calusa of Florida were an interesting real-world example of a "monarchical" hunter-gatherer people, subsisting primarily from seafood. I wonder whether many East Isles might resemble this culture, or possibly the Sofali.

--

The Silver best-selling The Children of Hykim offers over 150 pages on Glorantha's shape-changing totemic animal people, the Hsunchen. "Magisterial ... highly recommended" - Nick Brooke. "An amazing labor of love" - Evan Franke, Exploring Glorantha. "A deep dive" - Joerg Baumgartner. "Excellent sourcebook, well-written and well-researched" - Niall Sullivan.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

39 minutes ago, Ali the Helering said:

I am afraid that 'herd' can also apply to social groupings of wild animals. 

Good point, pushed too hard on that one 🙂

--

The Silver best-selling The Children of Hykim offers over 150 pages on Glorantha's shape-changing totemic animal people, the Hsunchen. "Magisterial ... highly recommended" - Nick Brooke. "An amazing labor of love" - Evan Franke, Exploring Glorantha. "A deep dive" - Joerg Baumgartner. "Excellent sourcebook, well-written and well-researched" - Niall Sullivan.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, mfbrandi said:

Of course, from the gods’ perspective, this isn’t so: humans are their magical agribots, their ultimate labour-saving devices.

Interestingly enough this is the hypothesis of Zecharia Sitchin in his Earth Chronicles series.  That the "gods" (Ancient Astronauts) created human beings as slave laborers because they didn't want to do all that work themselves.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...