Friday, 18 November 2016

Accumulated Experience

Prehistoric people lacked "...the accumulated experience and examples and recorded thought of ..."

Sun Tzu
Caesar Augustus
Han Fei-Tze and the Legalists
Frederick II
Elizabeth I
Maurice of Nassua
Shaka Senzagakhoa of the Zulu
Catherine the Great
Nguyen Giap

-SM Stirling, On The Oceans Of Eternity (New York, 2000), p. 111.

That is a lot of accumulated experience and we have been affected by them all even if we have never heard of some of them. And Frederick II is a character in an alternative timeline in Poul Anderson's The Shield Of Time.


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    And the point Stirling was making in this list was how the people enumerated here and the works many of them wrote was an accumulation of knowledge about war and politics. As Marian Alston thought in her mind: "War and politics are technologies too. They evolve, in their Lamarckian fashion" (also from page 111 of ON THE OCEANS OF ETERNITY).

    I was surprised by the next paragraph on the same page 111: "She remembered how amazed she'd been to find the Romans had no real concept of intelligence work--it just didn't occur to them to keep contact with an enemy, or set up a network of scouts and spies and information analysts. There were a thousand examples like that." To me, it is so obvious that information about one's enemies is power that I would almost instinctively think of setting up spy networks!


    1. Sean,
      Especially since Odysseus spied in Troy and Moses sent spies into the Promised Land.

    2. Kaor, Paul!

      Exactly! I even recalled how Moses sent spies into the Promised Land before invading it. But, I forgot about how Oydsseus had spied out Troy.


  2. I forgot to add to my previous comment that I have read the works of some of the writers in this list: Sun Tzu, h,an Fei-tze, Machiavelli. And Sun Tzu had much to say about spies!


  3. It was regarded as unusual -- unusual enough to be noted as a mark of an exceptional emperor -- for a Roman ruler to have merchants and other travelers questioned and their testimony compiled before an anticipated war with Persia. There's a bit from the life of Marcus Aurelius where he's with his immediate staff during the wars along the Danube against the Marcommani. The officers comment that the Baltic must be one or two hundred miles north (it's very considerably further) and then get sidetracked into a discussion of obscure verb-forms in Greek poetry -- no kidding. I suspect that the Romans in particular simply relied on whaling the stuffing out of anyone who came within arm's reach. This usually worked, but occasionally led to nasty surprises. Hannibal destroyed several large Roman armies simply because he knew where they were and where they were going and they had no earthly idea of his location or intentions, despite the war being fought in Italy.

  4. The Romans also had the concept of maps, but didn't use them much. There was a famous map of the Empire in Rome, made in the 1st century CE, which showed the Rhone running east and west for most of its length (Rome must have been full of veterans who'd marched the length of the Rhone), and in the 1st century BCE there was apparently a genuine belief among Romans that one of the big Central European rivers flowed into the Po in northern Italy. What the Romans apparently did use was "itineraries", strips of papyrus made up like a scroll, with a sketch of the road (or other route) between a series of points with notes on distances, terrain and facilities. It worked reasonably well but compared to an accurate map it was extremely clumsy.

    1. Mr Stirling.
      Thank you for all this discussion. I realize how little I know. Also, how much background work goes into writing a novel.

    2. Dear Mr. Stirling,

      I'm very interested by your comments. It still surprises me that the Romans made so little use of spies and intelligence gathering. Which Roman Emperor was the exception you mentioned?

      And the same goes for how little use they made of maps. Was it partly because they did not have the TOOLS needed to make accurate maps?

      And I remember how, in others of your books, you had the leaders of various states talking about such grave concerns as obscure verb forms!