Sir Barrington Windsor says walls only lead to fall of civilisations, empires’….A special report by Vikas Datta at JLF
US President Donald Trump has called for a strong barrier on the country’s southern border, the British government wants a “hard Brexit” with full immigration control, but history teaches us that civilisations only flourish with free movement of people and walls eventually lead to the downfall of even powerful empires, says a British academician.
“Walls are not a sensible barrier. They stop the free movement of people and eventually civilisations collapse… Look at the case of the Roman empire,” Sir Barrington Windsor “Barry” Cunliffe, one of the world’s pre-eminent archaeologists, told IANS in an interview at the Jaipur Literature Festival, 2017.
Cunliffe, who headed Oxford’s European Archaeology department for over three decades and is now a professor emeritus there, had in a session titled “By Steppe, Desert and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia” at the litfest, stressed on the long “understated and underestimated” role of the steppe stretching from what is China’s Manchuria to the Great Hungarian Plain in the making of Europe and Asia.
He had also cited the effect of climate change in determining the course of human development and society, as well as geography — as Eurasian mountain ranges run east to west and close to the latitudes which determines climate as against the north to south chain on the American continents.
Cunliffe argued that it was the large-scale migrations of people from East to West (as well as southward into India and China), compelled by climate change (which has been well proved) as a major reason, that led to Eurasia becoming the centre of the world from the earliest times to the 13th century and guiding the course of human civilisation till now.
Among other things, he noted it was the steppe nomads that had domesticated the horse and learnt to ride it, enabling humans to cover more distances; invented the wheel and subsequently the chariot; and forms of subsistence and organisations that allowed larger concentrations of people to live together.
The invasions of Mongol warlord Genghis Khan, which also demonstrates the effects of climate change on pastoral societies, was the last phase of these migrations, Cunliffe said.
Cunliffe, who has also written about the Celts, a people of Western and Northwestern Europe from the Iron Age to around the medieval era and whose language is the root of Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Irish and Breton (in France), said they were more important to European society.
“They are embedded in feelings of Europeans as a people, of their ancestry, to understand their roots. We can read stories about them, they feel real as peoples. On the other hand, they have been manipulated for political reasons, especially in Britain and France,” he said.
The Celts, encountered by the Romans when they invaded Western Europe and Britain in the 1st century BC, are most vividly known to most of us through one of their most prominent warriors, though in a comic book — Gaul warrior Asterix of the sole village to withstand Roman occupation. Cunliffe agreed.
“Yes, the Asterix series… they are very clever, well-researched, full of insights and can be enjoyed by children and adults alike, and can be a good introduction.
“I am in favour of anything that can popularise the subject.”