Geeky idea time – I was reading Hugh Thomson’s The White Rock about his travels in what were the Inca lands in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, and in it he makes the comment that the Inca Empire wasn’t really an empire, it was more akin to a series of mergers and acquisitions by a large corporation in which other polities were absorbed by one means or another and their efforts redirected to those of the Inca polity.
This is actually quite a powerful idea. To be ruled implies a degree of consent. If we look at the Roman Empire it grew in part by military power, but also by incorporating the local rulers into the Roman political elite, or to loosely misquote Tacitus, seduce them with dinner parties and porticoes.
So rather than as a set of conquests we can look on it as a set of acquisitions, not necessarily peaceful, but ones that bought consent, because they brought benefits to the acquirees, and hence their tacit consent.
Remember that during the first couple of centuries of the Empire the army was in the main stationed on the frontiers to keep interlopers at bay, rather than to impose order on the conquered populace.
Yes, of course there were insurrections and rebellions, but on the whole the ruled stayed more or less ruled.
The same analysis can be extended to other empires – such as British rule in India, where again the local political elite bought into the fantasy of Imperial rule and the poor got a possibly better, possibly more consistent, administration, meaning that the non Indian forces in India were comparitively few in number.
As I say it’s an interesting idea – not one that justifies empire, but one that perhaps explains why some regimes seem to work, and others turn to nasty repressive failures ….
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