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Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur

Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur

by Ben Kiernan, B. Kiernan


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Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur

For thirty years Ben Kiernan has been deeply involved in the study of genocide and crimes against humanity. He has played a key role in unearthing confidential documentation of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. His writings have transformed our understanding not only of twentieth-century Cambodia but also of the historical phenomenon of genocide. This new book—the first global history of genocide and extermination from ancient times—is among his most important achievements.

Kiernan examines outbreaks of mass violence from the classical era to the present, focusing on worldwide colonial exterminations and twentieth-century case studies including the Armenian genocide, the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin’s mass murders, and the Cambodian and Rwandan genocides. He identifies connections, patterns, and features that in nearly every case gave early warning of the catastrophe to come: racism or religious prejudice, territorial expansionism, and cults of antiquity and agrarianism. The ideologies that have motivated perpetrators of mass killings in the past persist in our new century, says Kiernan. He urges that we heed the rich historical evidence with its telltale signs for predicting and preventing future genocides.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300144253
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 02/17/2009
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 768
Sales rank: 548,479
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 2.00(d)

About the Author

Ben Kiernan is the A. Whitney Griswold Professor of History, professor of international and area studies, and the founding director of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale University ( His previous books include How Pol Pot Came to Power: Colonialism, Nationalism, and Communism in Cambodia, 1930–1975 and The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-1979, published by Yale University Press.

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Blood and Soil

A World History of Genocide Extermination from Sparta to Darfur
By Ben Kiernan

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2007 Ben Kiernan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-14425-3

Chapter One

Classical Genocide and Early Modern Memory

The cults of classical antiquity and of agriculture that emerged during and after the Renaissance, along with new religious and racial thinking, made key intellectual contributions to the outbreaks of genocidal violence that accompanied Europe's early modern expansion. From the turn of the sixteenth century, as leaders and thinkers began to build new empires, they looked for lessons and inspiration from antiquity. At their classical height, Sparta and Rome stood out as martial models of successful longevity. Rome's internal decay and corruption by exotic luxuries also served as a cautionary tale, and the legendary annihilations of Troy and Carthage provided precedents for harsh treatment of new enemies. As empires grew, so did cultural and racial prejudices. Newly uncovered and occasionally inaccurate, ancient models and agricultural roles helped define conquered peoples and even justify their destruction.

Writing of his native village of Ascra in central Greece in the eighth century B.C.E., the poet Hesiod composed two of the first texts that idealized agricultural "fair husbandry." He also criticizedcommerce and set down notions of race and gender hierarchy, but he lacked an obsession with domination or violence that later appeared in the writings of some of his classical successors. Celebrating "the rich-pastured earth" with advice to farmers in Works and Days, Hesiod praised the "rich man who hastens to plough and plant and manage his household." In his view, the "wheat fields of the fortunate" require a disciplined "sturdy man" to "drive a straight furrow" and make grain "nod towards the earth with thickness." Only to "straight-judging men" who "feast on the crops they tend" would "womenfolk bear children that resemble their parents." Such farmers earned a lyrical pastoral life: "When the golden thistle is in flower, and the noisy cicada sitting in the tree pours down its clear song thick and fast, ... then goats are fattest and wine is best, women are most lustful, but men are weakest." Yet "the trouble women cause" made them "a calamity for men who live by bread." Hesiod warned: "No arse-rigged woman must deceive your wits with her wily twitterings when she pokes into your granary." He compared men to productive bees, and women to "drones" who "pile the toil of others into their own bellies."

His idealization of the patriarchal rural hearth carried a similar prejudice against trade and travel. While "profit deludes men's minds," commerce takes them from the land to brave "the violet-dark sea." The prudent, happily self-sufficient farmer does not "ply on ships," but should store "all your substance under lock inside the house." "If now the desire to go to sea (disagreeable as it is) has hold of you," then "come home again as quickly as you can." Only the gods could stop a farmer growing enough in one day "to provide you for a whole year without working. Soon you would stow your rudder" and live on the fruit of "the grain-giving ploughland."

Hesiod combined his notions of the sturdy farmer, devious woman, and deluded merchant with an emerging theory of race. Early Greeks took the Near Eastern myth of five successive "ages" or "races" of mankind, symbolized by different metals, and elaborated a concept of racial hierarchy and repeated extinctions. Hesiod's first "race of men" lived in the golden age, when "the grain-giving soil bore its fruits of its own accord in unstinted plenty," and they "harvested their fields in contentment." Their demise was not final: "Since the earth covered up that race, they have been divine spirits." But the succeeding, "much inferior" silver race was short-lived and soon exterminated. Unable to "restrain themselves from crimes against each other," they were "put away by Zeus." Likewise, their successors, "a terrible and fierce race" of bronze, "were laid low by their own hands, and they went to chill Hades'house of decay leaving no names ... dark death got them." Next, in turn, the "demigods" were destroyed, as at Troy, by "ugly war and fearful fighting." Survivors live in the Isles of the Blessed where "the grain-giving soil bears its honey-sweet fruits." Last, there came a fifth "race of iron," which Hesiod lamented was his own. He predicted: "Zeus will destroy this race of men also.... Nor will father be like children nor children to father." Among this race, Hesiod distinguished Greeks from "the black men," but he assigned no hierarchy or prejudice.

Possibly for the first time, Hesiod connected cultivation, gender, "race," and extinction. Yet he disapproved of the aggression essential to genocide. He advised his brother to "hearken to Right" and "not promote violence. For violence is bad for a lowly man; not even a man of worth can carry it easily.... Right gets the upper hand over violence in the end." People who "occupy themselves with violence," not its victims, are the ones whose "womenfolk do not give birth, and households decline." Hesiod's legendary "bronze age" men were prone to "acts of violence," in his view perhaps precisely because they were nonagricultural, "no eaters of corn." Though he innovatively linked race and agriculture, he did not foster militarism. That was the role of a powerful state emerging to the south of his homeland, a state that in Hesiod's lifetime "committed herself to an almost purely agricultural future." Sparta's combination of agrarianism and violence against its enemies made it a precursor of genocidal regimes.

Sparta and Its Neighbors

Ancient Sparta was a society without cities. It prohibited the circulation of money and domestic trade, carefully controlled external commerce, and made a "concerted effort to depreciate family life." Based on an unpaid subject labor force, it was a secretive, militaristic, expansionist state that practiced frequent expulsions of foreigners and demonstrated a capacity for mass murder.

Sparta's "uniquely military society," in the words of historian Paul Cartledge, was "a conquest-state," a "workshop of war." Its expansion, he writes, probably began in the eighth century B.C.E., with the "conquest and annihilation of Aigys," a town in its own region, Lakonia. Fifty years later, Sparta launched an invasion of the neighboring region of Messenia. This conquest, completed in a 20-year war of pacification, doubled Lakonia's population base and made Sparta the wealthiest state in Greece, facing no foreign invasions of its territory for three and a half centuries. Sparta dominated and exploited Messenia from 735 to 370 B.C.E., repressing local revolts like the seventh-century Second Messenian War, and another in the fifth century. Messenia's population made up most of Sparta's Helots, its serf-like labor force whose name denoted "capture." In the sixth century, Sparta conquered Tegea and took control of Arcadia. Its defeat of Argos in 546 led to the subjugation, Herodotus wrote, of "most of the Peloponnese." By 500, Sparta dominated its neighbors and controlled the "Peloponnesian League." It reached the zenith of its power with its key role in the Greek victories over Persia in 480-479 and its defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War of 431-403.

Sparta based its lasting power partly on ethnic domination, maintained by violence. A minority of Sparta's Helots were domestic serfs from Lakonia, but most were Messenian in origin and these, historian G. E. M. de Ste. Croix writes, "never lost their consciousness of being Messenians." Thus, the Spartans feared that they could rebel at any time, as they successfully did, with Theban help, in 369, when they reestablished the polis of Messene. Sparta's ruling ephors had long ritually declared war on the Helots, in what Cartledge calls a unique but "typically Spartan expression of politically calculated religiosity designed to absolve in advance from ritual pollution any Spartan who killed a Helot." Thucydides describes a case where the Spartans had "raised up some Helot suppliants from the temple of Poseidon at Taenarus [in Lakonia], led them away and slain them." A great earthquake then struck Sparta, in c. 465. Over 20,000 people perished, and Lakonian Helots rose up alongside Messenians in a revolt that raged for much of the next decade.

One ethnic conflict led to another. Sparta called on Athens for aid in fighting the Helots. However, Thucydides tells us, when their combined assault on the Helot stronghold at Mt. Ithome failed, the Spartans were not only disheartened, but worse: they were "apprehensive of the enterprising and revolutionary character of the Athenians, and further looking upon them as of alien extraction," the Spartans feared both political challenge and a potential Helot-Athenian alliance. They sent the Athenians home. Insulted, Athens allied itself with Sparta's enemy Argos. The Messenian rebels on Mt. Ithome finally surrendered, on Sparta's conditions: "that they should depart from the Peloponnese under safe conduct, and should never set foot in it again; any one who might hereafter be found there was to be the slave of his captor."

War crimes compounded Sparta's domestic brutality and xenophobia. From the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War, the Spartans "butchered as enemies all whom they took on the sea, whether allies of Athens or neutrals," Thucydides wrote. After Spartan troops took Plataea they cold-bloodedly "massacred ... not less than two hundred" of its men, "with twenty-five Athenians who had shared in the siege." In 419, Spartans captured the town of Hysiae, "killing all the freemen that fell into their hands."

The subjugated Messenian and Lakonian Helots made up Sparta's agricultural workforce. Their servitude released every Spartan "from all productive labour," freeing them for war. Bound to a plot of land, the Helots performed this labor "under pain of instant death"; even Lakonian Helots were often expendable. Ste. Croix writes that Spartans could "cut the throats of their Helots at will, provided only that they had gone through the legal formality of declaring them 'enemies of the state.'" Cartledge adds that Helots were even "culled" by Spartan youth as part of their training. The Krypteia, or Secret Service Brigade, a group of select 18-year-olds assigned to forage for themselves in the countryside, was specifically commissioned "to kill, after dark," any Helots "whom they should accidentally-on-purpose come upon." Besides these random executions, some Spartan massacres of Helots were organized on a large scale. Around 423, Thucydides informs us, 2,000 Helots who had served creditably in their army in the Peloponnesian War were invited to request emancipation. When they did, Spartan forces massacred them, "as it was thought that the first to claim their freedom would be the most high-spirited and the most apt to rebel."

The Perioikoi, a category of people practicing trade, fishing, and crafts (particularly weaponry) in the service of the Spartans, from whom they were segregated, occupied the rung of the social ladder above the Helots. These were the town dwellers of Lakonia and Messenia, "free men but subjected to Spartan suzerainty and not endowed with citizen-rights at Sparta." The Lakonian Perioikoi were "indistinguishable ethnically, linguistically and culturally from the Spartans."

Finally, the citizens of Sparta formed an elite cadre. Only a tenth of the population, fewer than 10,000 people, were full citizens. These Spartiates, the male inhabitants of Sparta's four original villages and the village of Amyklai, lived and trained there but were barred from agricultural labor. "Their sole skill and their major preoccupation was warfare." Spartiate citizenship depended on payment of common mess dues from the produce delivered to the Spartiates by the individual Helots permanently tied to working their private plots. This system evolved to "perpetuate Spartan control over the Helots and Perioikoi without abolishing the wide and growing disparities within the citizen body itself." Spartiates had to adopt "a simple and uniform attire."

Traditional "land-oriented values" dominated the polity. Thucydides reported that Sparta was not "brought together in a single town ... but composed of villages after the old fashion of Greece." Its "closed and archaic" system contrasted with the Greek city-states. Favoring autarchy, Sparta discouraged both trade and towns and approached Hesiod's ideal of the self-sufficient, near-subsistence farmer, spurning the commercial producer and merchant. Laws barred Spartiates from engaging in trade or "expenditures for consumption and display." Cartledge writes that Lakonia "was extraordinarily autarchic in essential foodstuffs" and had abundant deposits of iron ore. Sparta decided around 550 not to import silver, and coined none until the third century, unlike other Greek states in their prime. Iron spits apparently figured in Spartan exchanges, but Cartledge finds the evidence "unclear whether they are monetary or purely functional." Plutarch asserted that the early Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus had "introduced a large iron coin too bulky to carry off in any great quantity." Seneca wrote that Spartans had to pay debts "in gold or in leather bearing an official stamp." Coins, presumably permitted among the Perioikoi, "have been found on only two Perioikic sites." Sparta seems to have been one of history's few states without a widely circulating currency.

Sparta was a collective under strict state control. In a "social compromise between rich and poor citizens," the Spartiates or Homoioi (Peers) submitted to state interests. From the age of seven, they underwent "an austere public upbringing (the agoge) followed by a common lifestyle of participation in the messes and in military training and service in the army." The state, not the individual landowners, owned the Helots working the Spartiates' private landholdings. Only the state could emancipate them. It enforced communal eating and simple uniformity of attire and, according to Thucydides, "did most to assimilate the life of the rich to that of the common people" among the Spartiate citizens. The state even prohibited individual names on tombstones.

Communal living facilitated state supervision. Xenophon tells us that Lycurgus had deliberately arranged for the Spartans to eat their meals in common, "because he knew that when people are at home they behave in their most relaxed manner." A Spartiate who married before age 30 was not allowed to live with his wife: "[H]is infrequent home visits were supposed to be conducted under cover of darkness, in conspiratorial secrecy from his messmates and even from the rest of his own household." Fathers who had married after 30 lived most of their lives communally and publicly with male peers, while "the Spartan boy left the parental household for good" at age seven.

The links between Sparta's agrarian ideology, domestic repression, ethnic domination, and expansionist violence highlight its role as a precursor of genocide. Agrarianism was common in Greek thought and influenced later civilizations. Writing during the fourth century, Aristotle stated in Politics: "Hesiod was right when he wrote, 'First and foremost a house and a wife and an ox for the ploughing.'" Aristotle preferred agriculturalists to "idle" pastoralists, and he, too, denigrated trade and usury. An early pupil of his, writing in Oeconomica, termed cultivation the prime "natural" vocation that was "attendant on our goods and chattels." For, "by Nature's appointment all creatures receive sustenance from their mother, and mankind like the rest from the common mother the earth." Moreover, "Agriculture is the most honest of all such occupations; seeing that the wealth it brings is not derived from other men," distinguishing it from trade and wage employment. Finally, "agriculture contributes notably to the making of a manly character." Cultivation, "unlike the mechanical arts," Aristotle's pupil wrote, does not "weaken" men but inures them "to exposure and toil and invigorates them to face the perils of war. For the farmer's possessions, unlike those of other men, lie outside the city's defenses." Historian Victor Davis Hanson argues that the "ethos of the land" represented "a near-religious feeling among the Greeks that yeoman agriculture, manual work on one's own farm, was morally uplifting." The very term for landed property, ousia, also meant "essence." Even in an urban polis like Athens, agrarian ideology was pervasive if not as influential as in Sparta; in an exceptional episode of violence that has been described as genocide, Athenian forces murdered all the men they captured on the island of Melos, at the height of their city's maritime power during the Peloponnesian War. However, Hanson distinguishes "urban, democratic and imperialist Athens" from the "ten-acre farmer" who provided the Greek hoplite infantry. Sparta's agrarianism produced a territorial, land-based expansion distinct from that of commercial, maritime Athens. The first classical genocide would combine agrarian ideology with both sea power and territorial imperialism.


Excerpted from Blood and Soil by Ben Kiernan Copyright © 2007 by Ben Kiernan. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents

List of Maps     ix
Introduction     1
Early Imperial Expansion
Classical Genocide and Early Modern Memory     43
The Spanish Conquest of the New World, 1492-1600     72
Guns and Genocide in East Asia, 1400-1600     101
Genocidal Massacres in Early Modern Southeast Asia     133
Settler Colonialism
Introductory Note     165
The English Conquest of Ireland, 1565-1603     169
Colonial North America, 1600-1776     213
Genocidal Violence in Nineteenth-Century Australia     249
Genocide in the United States     310
Settler Genocides in Africa, 1830-1910     364
Twentieth-Century Genocides
Introductory Note     393
The Armenian Genocide: National Chauvinism in the Waning Ottoman Empire     395
Blut und Boden: Germany and Nazi Genocide     416
Rice, Race, and Empire: Japan and East Asia     455
Soviet Terror and Agriculture     486
Maoism in China: A Rural Model of Revolutionary Violence     512
From the Mekong to the Nile: Genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda     539
Epilogue: Racial and Religious Slaughter from Bangladesh to Baghdad     571
Notes     607
Acknowledgments     698
Index     701

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