The Civilization "Implosion" Phenomenon

  By Decebal, May 2006; Revised
  Category: World History

Originally posted by Decebal in All Empires Forum (May 2006).

One of the most interesting and cyclic phenomena in history is the process through which an area of civilization is invaded by an exterior "barbarian people" who quickly adopts the culture of the older civilization and often times its language as well. Here, the phrase area of civilization denotes an area dominated by urban cultures well interconnected by trade routes, through which ideas and commodities flow according to observable patterns. The most specific term that I've encountered for such an area is an oikumene (“inhabited area”), which I shall use from now on.

In world history several oikumenes developed, expanded and occasionally merged with each other. Oikumenes that developed include those in Greece and Asia Minor, that of in India and another in China's Huang-he's river valley. An example of a merge happened around 2000BC when the Egyptian and the Mesopotamian oikumenes effectively joined with each other. This particular merged oikumene eventually developed into a “central” oikumene of great importance that expanded through the entire Middle East, parts of Southern Europe, India, Africa and Central Asia, and then the Americas until it finally merged with the Chinese East Asian oikumene in the 19th century.

The phenomenon of particular interest is similar to an implosion on a map. The pattern is as follows: A hardy "barbarian" people at the fringes of the oikumene, propelled by population growth and the promise of riches inside the oikumene, succesfully invades the area and rapidly creates an empire, sometimes a very large one. Nearly always, this phenomenon occurs when the rich local civilizations have become decadent and can no longer support an efficient army. Over time, the "barbarians" adopt the culture and often the language of the conquered people and become assimilated in the land they conquered. They then become the staunchest defenders of this old oikumene. After a period of glory, they themselves start becoming decadent, and fall prey to new barbarian from the fringes, often when they have become too civilized and lost their "fighting spirit." Some examples include:

1. The Akkadians in Sumer
2. The Assyrians in Mesopotamia and Egypt
3. The Medians and Persians in Mesopotamia, Asia Minor and Egypt
4. The Macedonians in Greece and later on the Persian empire
5. The Romans in the Mediterranean. This may come as a surprise to some, but the Romans can indeed be seen as hardy "barbarians" who rapidily conquered large areas of the central oikumene previously dominated by the Hellenistic and Syriac civilizations, whose sophisticated cultures were then adopted by the developing Romans. 
7. The Arab Caliphate in the 7th century over most of the central oikumene
8. The Tuo'Ba, Khitans and Xi-Xia in China over the 5th to the 10th centuries AD
9. The Mongols who took over 2 large oikumenes: the East Asian (Chinese ) and the central, due to their proximity to both.
10. The Germanic populations in Europe durign the Volkerswanderung of late antiquity
11. The Aztecs in the Meso-American oikumene
12. The Incas in the Andean oikumene
13. The Songhay in the West African oikumene previously dominated by the Ghana and Mali
14. The Turks in the Middle East in the 11th-14th centuries
15. The Huns, Kambojas, Sakas and even Yavanas (Ionian Greeks) in India between the 2nd century Bc and the 7th century AD in India, giving rise to the ear of the Rajputs.