Environmental determinism essentially means where you live has a direct correlation with how you live. Countries that need to focus on hunting and gathering cannot focus on other aspects of their society like military power, religion, technology and education. Geographic luck is another factor of environmental determinism. Geographic luck means that people have strong advantages to their lives because of where they currently live. Environmental determinism allowed countries to grow their military power and allowed them to enhance their weaponry, which was shown during the Peloponnesian War, the Punic Wars and the Viking Invasions.
During the period of Ancient Greece, the Peloponnesian War showed military changes because of environmental determinism. After the Persian War, the Persian Empire was very weak (“Peloponnesian War. “). The Athenians saw this as a great opportunity to attack and take control of some very important land. Some of the land that they wanted to capture was called the Fertile Crescent and was very rich with many resources such as very rich soil which is opportune for growing crops, as well as large rivers of water for drinking (“Fertile Crescent. “).
The Athenians were able to attack the Fertile Crescent because of environmental determinism. The land the Athenians were on allowed them to create a strong civilization early, which allowed them to grow their military power, which in turn also allowed them to defeat the Persians in the Persian War. Environmental determinism also allowed the Athenians focus on upgrading their navy to a high enough level that they could travel the long distance of attacking the weakened Persian Empire. Environmental determinism also factored into the primary reason the Peloponnesian War started.
When the city states divided up between the Delian League and the Athenians, and the Peloponnesian League and the Spartans, in the agreement it stated that each side was to not get involved with the opposite sides affairs and the Athenians ignored that rule because of environmental determinism (“Peloponnesian War. “). Corcyra and Corinth were in a small war of their own and it was a Peloponnesian League matter, however, Corcyra had a large navy and Athens was afraid of Corinth taking this navy because they were a part of the Peloponnesian League, while Corcyra was still undecided on which side it was on.
Environmental determinism factors into this because Corinth was powerful enough because of their developed civilization to make Athens worried, and Corcyra had a powerful enough navy that Athens was willing to start a war with the Peloponnesian League to start a war. At the beginning of the war, environmental determinism seriously affected the Athenians. Pericles, the most important general in Athens, decided at the beginning of the war to take a defensive strategy by keeping the army within the Athenian walls (“Peloponnesian War. “).
He thought this would wear the Spartan army out to the point where they would retreat. The main problem with this strategy was that all of the Athenians crops were located outside of the Athenian wall. Athens still had a secret trade route which allowed them to eat, however they could not sell their crops and they had to keep buying crops so they were rapidly losing a large amount of money. The plan also backfired a second time, because the Athenians were hit with a plague which killed a third of their people in 3 years, including Pericles.
Environmental determinism is shown because the crops had to grow there because the soil within the city was not rich enough and the Athenians could not grow crops outside the other side of the Athenian walls, because they were located right on the coast of the Aegean Sea (“Ancient Greece Map. “). Athens was hit by the plague before the Spartans because of environmental determinism as well. They are closer to where the plague started, which was in Ethiopia, where it then moved through Rome and the Persian Empire. In the next phase of the war, environmental determinism influenced the decisions of Athens and Sparta.
One of the new leaders of the Athenian war party, Cleon wanted to be much more physical than Pericles was, and he saw his opportunity in Italy (“Peloponnesian War. “). The city state of Syracuse in Sicily was allied with Sparta and when they attacked a tribe called the Leontini, Cleon chose to help fight back. He chose to fight against Syracuse for the reason that he wanted to weaken the Spartans because their grain supply came from Syracuse. The Spartans used Cleon’s over-aggressiveness against him, by setting up a Spartan colony named Heraclea right near Athens.
This forced Athens to make a decision of sending its troops to Syracuse and getting attacked in Athens, or not attacking Syracuse altogether. This goes back to environmental determinism again, because generals such as Brasidas of Sparta was able to come up with this plan, because the Spartans had a growing and strong enough colony that they did not need to focus on hunting and gathering and could focus on military matters. Focusing on military matters helped the Spartans again when the Athenians attacked the city state Boetia.
This was important for the Athenians, because Boetia was a short distance away from them and did not want to get attacked, as well as they needed morale boost because they were losing the war, however the Spartans outsmarted them. When the Athenians were attacking and the fight seemed to be over, Boetia brought out their two hidden lines of cavalrymen and encircled the Athenians, and then routed them. In the final stage of the war, the Athenians were finally finished off because of environmental determinism. The Athenians sent 130 ships in one final effort to attack in Sicily (“Peloponnesian War. ).
Because of environmental determinism however, the Syracusians were able to upgrade their navy with a new piece of equipment, which rammed the ships and damaged them on water, which made them not mobile and sink. In this battle the Athenians lost twenty thousand people, and that was enough for the Persians to get involved in the war and ally with Sparta. Environmental determinism takes a big part in this move, because the Persian army was now attacking from the east, while the Spartans were attacking from the west and the Athenians were conquered.
Because of where Athens was situated, they could not even flee from the incoming attacks, because they were surrounded by the Persians coming over the water, and the Spartans coming by land. In conclusion, the Spartans were successful in defeating the Athenians by outsmarting them with new tactics that were studied and by defeating them with a stronger army, which they were able to create because of environmental determinism. Environmental determinism influenced other parts of history too, as shown in Punic Wars in the period of Ancient Rome.
During the three Punic Wars fought by Rome and Carthage, Rome was successful because of military power and strategies they could develop because of environmental determinism. Before the Punic Wars started, Carthage extremely wealthy and was the most technologically advanced city in the region, as well as having the strongest naval power (“Punic Wars. “). Rome was very powerful as well with the biggest land army in the region. These two countries were allowed to become this advanced and this powerful because of environmental determinism.
Both cities were so well developed and had such a strong way of life that they could focus on expanding their empires instead of worrying about if they were going to survive. In 264, there was a dispute in Sicily and both Rome and Carthage got involved and that was the beginning of the Punic Wars. Because of Carthage’s large navy, they were able to win many battles on water, however the Roman fleet were able to break their naval superiority, with allowed them to take Sicily as their own, making it their first overseas province. Carthage and Rome went to war over Sicily because of the land.
The Sicilian land was very rich with its soil and natural resources, as well as having many wealthy cities and many major ports for trading. It was also located right between the capitals of Carthage and Rome. Rome and Carthage also wanted to go to war because of where they were located. Both cities were located on either side of the Mediterranean (“Ancient Rome Map. “). By defeating the other power there, Carthage or Rome could become the main power in the Mediterranean which would allow them to trade and make themselves even more powerful. So, because of environmental determinism and greed, the Punic Wars had begun.
In the second Punic War, environmental determinism would urge Carthage to attack the Roman Empire once again. In 237 B. C, Carthage established a new base of influence in Spain under the powerful general Hamilicar Barca (“Punic Wars. “). After his death, his son Hannibal took command of the forces in Spain, and in 221 B. C, Hannibal took these forces and marched his army across the Ebro River into Saguntum. This was an important gesture, because Saguntum was under Roman protection which showed that Hannibal wanted to continue war against the Roman Empire.
Carthage, using its ninety thousand infantry, killed as many as fifty thousand Roman soldiers, destroyed the Italian countryside and recaptured Sicily, but since the Romans have such a large infantry, this was not a large enough causality to faze them as they fought back. Rome pushed back and took all of Italy, as well as Carthage’s ties in Spain and North Africa. Environmental determinism played a role in many factors in this part of the Punic Wars. Firstly, the Roman Empire was able to bounce back so easily after losing fifty thousand troops because their population was so large and was still growing.
This has to do with the fact that the land the Romans were on was very rich in resources and could maintain a large amount of people living there. Secondly, Carthage used a maneuver where they destroyed the Italian countryside. This was a smart move by the Carthaginians, because it stopped the Romans from getting some of their food supplies, as well as them losing a large sum of money, and the Carthaginians were able to do this maneuver before the Romans could stop them because they are located closer to the countryside than Rome is.
In the third and final of the Punic Wars, the Romans used environmental determinism against Carthage to capture the Carthaginian power, money and land. Before the war started, Rome and Carthage had signed an agreement that they could not attack Rome or anyone else without consulting Rome, or else war would start again (“Punic Wars. “). This treaty was broken by Carthage, when they chose to attack Numidia, who was allied with Rome. Carthage was fending off the Roman army until the young general of Rome Scipio the Younger used environmental determinism to defeat Carthage.
Rome launched a forceful attack on the harbour side of Carthage, and pushed the enemy troops towards their citadel. Carthage then surrendered after seven days and the Romans succeeded in destroying Carthage. This was important, because Rome destroyed a city that no one could defeat for 700 years, and the Romans were not done there as they later moved east and gained Macedonia. Environmental determinism allowed Rome to attack from both sides of Carthage and surround them, because Carthage was located right next to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Roman Empire succeeded in becoming the main power in the Mediterranean because of military techniques, a strong army, and advantages of positioning because of environmental determinism. During Viking Invasions in the Medieval Times, the Vikings and Europe would experience cases in which environmental determinism aided them as well. During the Viking Invasions, the Vikings disrupted and benefitted many European countries because of environmental determinism. The Vikings began their raids in 789 A. D when Norwegian ships attacked Portland, located in the British Iles (“Medieval Maritime Culture. ).
The Vikings then continued to raid Europe including Spain, France, Constantinople and England and find parts of Russia, Greenland, Norway and Canada. This is important because it shows how powerful and influential the Vikings were in Medieval Times, by finding new land and establishing it as a major trade centre, and converting whole countries to different religions as shown when they converted Greenland and Iceland to Christianity in 1000. Environmental determinism is shown in why the Vikings began to raid.
The Vikings began to raid partially because of the terrible weather conditions that they were subject to in Scandinavia, as well as a lack of agriculture which led many Vikings to sail south in search of land. Because Scandinavia was farther away from the equator, this made the weather colder, which also allowed for fewer crops to grow. This was the main premise on which the Vikings began to head south. Environmental determinism also allowed the Vikings to have a large army which allowed them to attack many places with a high degree of effectiveness.
The Vikings were able to sail in fleets of many hundreds of ships filled with 100 people each, because of environmental determinism. The Vikings developed themselves into a powerful people in Scandinavia which allowed them to focus on strengthening their people instead of keeping their population or army at the same level. This is much like what happened in the Peloponnesian Wars and the Punic Wars. The Vikings were also able to attack strong countries so well because of their advanced technology.
The Vikings developed a ship called a “longship”, which was very fast and very agile (“Viking Timeline. “). They used these boats to travel quickly, allowing them to attack more people at a faster rate and gain more land. This along with their strong navigation system called “celestial navigation”. This was important because it allowed them to find land and capture it efficiently. The Vikings were able to invent these powerful and innovative ships and means of travel because of environmental determinism.
The Vikings were a very civilized culture that were very strategic and very smart because of their way of life. Their way of life was so enhanced because of environmental determinism. The Vikings could not grow as many crops as countries that were closer to the equator, so they had to adjust to their surroundings accordingly (“Viking Timeline. “). For example, the Vikings of York were very close to a river, so they consumed a large quantity of freshwater fish. Around the year 1000, the Vikings used their innovative ways to develop a square rigged sailboat that they called the “knaar”.
The knaar was used as a merchant ship that the Vikings used to form and trade with their colonies in the Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands, Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland. This was important because this allowed them to solve one of the problems that is caused by environmental determinism. The colonies the Vikings had were so far apart that it would take long periods of time to trade between them, or they would not trade at all, so the Vikings made the knaar to help solve this problem.
This showed once again that the Vikings were ground-breaking with new technology during the Medieval Times. This technology along with their large military power allowed them to attack larger armies and successfully defeat them. The Vikings used environmental determinism as a reason to claim new land as their own by attacking and using their large armies, innovative weaponry, and navigation. They also solved their problem that environmental determinism caused by making their colonies too far away by adapting and creating new technology.
In conclusion, in all three cases the main factors of the reasoning or victories of the winning sides were because of environmental determinism. Whether it was the Spartans defeating the Athenians because of new militaristic techniques combined with their strong army, Rome using Carthage’s positioning against them to conquer the Mediterranean, or the Vikings successfully defeating armies much bigger than theirs in Europe using new technology; environmental determinism was the main factor in success.
Courtney from Study Moose
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