There is a narrative that Yelu Chucai, and advisor of Genghis Khan and his son, was responsible for the saving of much human life by making the case for taxation rather than extermination. The story told is that the Mongols toyed with the idea of driving peasants off their land so as to create vast pastures for their animals. Of course, peasants driven off their land would die of starvation. Yelu Chucai’s clearly correct argument was that peasants in place yielded more rents than larger herds. The Emperor of China was always wealthier than the Shanyu of the Xiongnu.
But was this wisdom always known? Next week on my Substack I’ll be posting my interview with Dr. Kristian Kristiansen about the transition from Yamnaya to Corded Ware in Northern Europe (this week’s podcast is with David Anthony of The Horse, The Wheel, and Language). A few years ago a notorious sensationalist piece came out based on some of Kristiansen’s assertions titled Story of most murderous people of all time revealed in ancient DNA. The title and assertion were ridiculous, but Kristiansen doesn’t deny that the Yamnaya were a militaristic people.
I posited to Kristiansen that the early Yamnaya did not have an ideology or theory of subjugation and subordination. That is, rather than conquering the native Neolithic societies the Yamnaya only saw the opportunity to replace them because that’s what human populations had been doing since time immemorial. Some of Kristiansen’s work involves highlighting the fact that in Western Europe the Yamnaya/Corded Ware seem to have engaged in mass burnings to clear the forest and transform them into pastures. As the Mongols imagined doing!
The near-total elimination of Neolithic paternal lineages is striking. Within a few centuries, the overwhelming preponderance of the lineages in Northern Europe was Indo-European. No native chiefs were co-opted into Corded Ware society. All the local elite lineages were all extinguished.
The world became less brutal when men could dream of being rich and lazy, living off the rents of their inferiors.