Serial Bus

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Persians & Incas

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Recently I visited Peru and also read the excellent NatGeo cover story about the Persian soul of Iran. It is interesting how most people have no clue of Cyrus or Pachacutec.

Both were great emperors who ruled over 2 of the largest kingdoms that the world ever saw. Under Cyrus about half a millennium before Christ, the Persian empire extended from Turkey in the west to Indus river in the east, covering most of Central Asia and Middle East. About 2 millennia later, Pachacutec transformed a one-city tribal dominion (Qosqo or Cuzco) into the biggest pre-Colombian empire in the Americas. The empire was called Tahuantinsuyo – four regions with Qosqo at the centre. 

These juggernaut-like empires were also the beacons of civilization and established cultures that were based on intellect and respect for nature. Ahura Mazda of Zoroastrianism and Inti of Incas have a lot in common; they represent energy hence the symbolic use of fire and sun, the essential forces of life. These and other proud symbols of their times have been rendered obscure. On the other hand, the forces that conquered them went on to become the torch-bearers of civilization and modern world. This reversal of fate is more ironical when you consider the standing of the conquering forces at the time of their victory.

The Spanish conquistadors that invaded Peru were widely regarded as the dregs of the Spanish society who were driven by greed. Most of them had no regard for human life and their sole purpose was to loot the fabled gold of the New World which they used for ingratiating the Spanish Crown. Francisco Pizarro, the most celebrated conquistador was an illiterate and was no match for Athahualpa, the Incan emperor who he captured and executed with tremendous bravery and some guile. Another contemporary, Christopher Columbus, was similarly driven by ruthless ambition and completely untouched by gratitude. The natives of Hispaniola, who had provided succor to his weary ships, were later enslaved and butchered under his patronage.

Again, it may come as a surprise to most worshippers of the Greek civilization that the Greeks, in their times, were considered no more than a set of war-mongering feudal states. Alexander represented one of these (Macedonia) and had little in common with the art-loving Achaemenids who he destroyed.

Today, Spanish and Greek are regarded as the champions of the civilized world and are credited for the great turns in history that arguably shaped the world.

For a moment, let us imagine how different the world would have been if the more tolerant and more ‘civilized’ of the two forces had won the day and lived on. If Darius had routed Alexander’s armies and had Atthaulpa managed to rein in Pizarro before he marched on to Cajamarca, would today’s world be a better place?

Of course, I am putting the 2 historical events in separate silos as if they were completely unconnected. The Spanish imperial effort obviously had some causation in Macedonia’s victory 2000 years before. But then, I am not concerned about time-warps here. I am wondering if these historical events have some relevance for today’s world.

History is largely written by those who win and survive. Defeated and dead would find it very difficult to write a blog, let alone a history book. Historians of the ages have led us to believe that Greeks and Spanish were wonderful people. Is is possible that a millennium later, some of the belligerent countries amongst us would be considered a great ‘civilizing’ forces, while the world would have relegated the memory of the unprepared nations to the heap where Persia and Tahuantinsuyo currently lie.


Written by serialbus

August 24, 2008 at 10:04 pm

Posted in History

Tagged with , ,

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