The Restoration of the Peasantries

With especial reference to that of India

by G.T. Wrench

Chapter 3

The First Agricultural Path

THE original strength of both China and Rome was that of superior peasant-agricultures. China preserved hers as her foundation almost to the present day. Rome abandoned hers as the source of social strength and stability, and in her fall left wide-spread desolation as the final monument of her methods.

We will first take the unique story of the agricultural path of China through its forty centuries of existence. It has recently been admirably told in the English language by Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee in The Economic History of China, with Special Reference to Agriculture, 1921, issued as Volume 99 of the Columbia University of New York's Studies in History.

The agricultural history of China began in the remotest past some twenty centuries before that of Rome. It began with the creation by the Chinese sages of a practical unit of agriculture and social structure, which penetrated Chinese history as a practice and ideal up to modern times. This was known as the system of the Tsing Tien.

Tsing Tien means the nine fields, made by the division of a large square into nine smaller squares. This was devised by the sages as the primary division of land.

The eight outer squares were given to eight families for their individual use; the ninth or central square was reserved for the government and was worked in common by the same eight families.

It was a device both of family individualism and co-operation. "The advantages of the system were thus enumerated: 1. Saving of expense; 2. Unifying of customs; 3. Improved production; 4. Easy exchange of commodities; 5. Mutual production; 6. Close social relations; 7. General co-operation."

The measurements of the square fields were standardized, so that any area could be marked off without ridges or baulks and the loss of land they entail. Moreover, except for the buffalo to draw the plough, the donkey as a beast of burden, and the pig, which can live without pasture, few domestic animals were kept. The cultivation of animals, therefore, never became the rival of the cultivation of crops. "The subject of conversion into pasture lands may be wholly left out of consideration in a study of the history of Chinese land conditions."

Fields vary in fertility, even those in close conjunction. This was well known to the Chinese with their minute local knowledge of their land, so local modifications of the principle were made. So also by adoption of children and the standardized measurement of land, adjustments were made to balance large and small families.

The system included a payment of one ninth to government. This may be compared to the division in the Laws of Manu, Book 7, 130-2, and Book 118, in which it is stated that the King shall take one sixth, one eighth or one twelfth of the crops, and one sixth of the other produce. Significantly, at times of urgency, he could take one fourth.

"The whole history of the government administration of agriculture in China coincides with the history of the Tsing Tien system," writes Dr. Ping-Hua Lee. "Its vicissitudes, its crises and its epochs were timed by the abolition or re-establishment of the system ... It is fortunate for the economic historian that the Tsing Tien system is coincident with China's political history."

Chinese history is then of the simplest. At times of peace the system and its partners, the peasant-proprietors, flourished. At times of great government urgency the system waned or was even temporarily abolished.

The history of the Chinese has been singularly, though by no means entirely, peaceful. Their wide dominion came to them largely owing to the attraction which their superior civilization had upon other peoples. "They have none of the characteristics of a warlike race, and their triumphs over less cultivated peoples have been gained rather by peaceful advance than by force of arms." (Sir Robert Douglas, China.) The cause of this peacefulness was undoubtedly their excellent cultivation and their continued preservation of the fertility of the soil. They did not become land-hungry as did the Romans.

Chinese agriculture is credited with beginning forty-six centuries ago. In the reign of Emperor Yao (2357-2261 B.C.) -- we return to Dr. Ping-Hua Lee -- "the making of canals, connecting the ditches in the fields with the rivers, and the deepening of the rivers for the purposes of drainage, inaugurated the immense systems of canals found in present-day China."

The Emperor Yao was followed by the "Golden Age" of Chinese history. Here it may be said that a golden age is so common in the traditions of many peoples that one may conjecture that it may one day be found by research that it had a material basis in a widespread period of excellent agriculture. There is already evidence of this. Mr. O. F. Cook, of the U.S.A. Department of Agriculture, began a remarkable article in the National Geographic Magazine of May, 1916, with these words: "Agriculture is not a lost art, but must be reckoned as one of those which reached a remarkable development in the remote past and afterwards declined. The system of the ancient Peruvians enabled them to support large populations in places where modern farmers would be helpless." Sir William Ramsay, in the November number of 1922 of the same magazine, brought forward similar evidence of a wonderful agriculture in ancient Asia Minor; Professor Vavilov, of the University of Leningrad, has established the remarkable ancient agriculture of Afghanistan and North-western India; Sir William Willcocks has championed the existence of an ancient Bengal agriculture comparable to that of the China of the Emperor Yao; and the list could be greatly extended. There is certainly evidence of the reality of a Golden Age. It can be thought of as a great agricultural period, and in the main free from the wars, migrations and civil disturbances which take their origin in a hunger for land and its products.

No country is left to the uninterrupted enjoyment of a golden age. In the history of China, as well as that of India and Europe, a chief disturbing factor has been the aridity of the continental lands mainly lying to the north of the great desert belt of the Gobi, Lopnoor, Taklamaken, Kisyl-Kum, the Persian and Arabian deserts.

It is not possible here to enter into the causes of aridity; to debate as to how much was due to climate and how much due to the destruction of forests by fire and axe by pastoral peoples and those that practice shifting cultivation. The effect of droughts occurring in arid countries can, however, be graphically realized by a recent calculation made in the arid regions of New South Wales, Australia. A rainfall of 20 inches upon a square mile of land will keep 600 sheep; one of 13 inches reduces the number to 100; one of 1 inch to but ten sheep. In dry periods the resulting starvation of pastoral peoples living upon their flocks can only be avoided by migrating to food-giving areas.

The pastoral peoples and peoples of shifting cultivation in Mongolia to the north of the Gobi Desert were the section of the arid peoples who had the chief and most continued effect upon the history of China. They appear as the invaders of her territory under the name of the Hun-yu about four centuries before the Emperor Yao, and they included the Manchus, whose dynasty came to an end in A.D. 1911. They were in general called the Tartars by Chinese historians.

The Chow dynasty (1122-256 B.C.) saw the maturity of the Tsing Tien system, with the land and its taxation apportioned to careful estimations of soil fertility and the working capacity of the family, to which each portion of the land was allotted.

The later period of the Chow dynasty, from 659 B.C., was one of nominal authority. The empire was broken up into the "Warring States," some of which had Tartar dynasties from the west and north. One of the seven principal states was that of Chin. In 350 B.C. the Duke of Chin created Shang Yang his minister of state. Shang Yang saw that in Chin land was plentiful but the population was scarce. He adopted two methods to improve and enrich the state. He regulated the rivers and by irrigation made the land safer for agriculture, and then he invited farmers from more crowded states to migrate to Chin. To tempt them he allowed them to take up as much land as they could cultivate, regardless of the Tsing Tien system; in other words he abolished that system and gave the land as private property to those who were willing to cultivate it. Having established agriculture by means of the new settlers, he freed the native men of Chin from work upon the fields and made them into an organized army. "Within a period of several years the state became rich and the army strong." Chin became the strongest of the Warring States.

About a century later Chen, to become known as Chin Chi Huangti, meaning the first Chin Emperor (246-202 B.C.), became the duke of Chin. He used his army to such effect that he reunited China.

Impressed by the results of the land system of Shang Yang, Chin Chi Huangti abolished the Tsing Tien system throughout the empire, and land was made private property to be bought and sold freely. This enabled him to collect peasants who had lost their land and set them to work on the stupendous achievement by which he is chiefly known, the building of the Great Wall of China to shut out the Tartars. The wall extended along the frontier for fifteen hundred miles. He also followed Shang Yang in instituting irrigation works; he built roads; he erected a magnificent capital; in short, upon the capital of the labour which he had forced from the fields, he erected public works on an immense scale. His was the first great departure from the Tsing Tien system.

But before the end of his reign this fevered capitalization had eaten up much of the real wealth of the people. A contemporary recorded that the people became so impoverished that "the men worked hard on the farms, but were unable to get enough to eat. Girls spinning could not get enough to wear. Therefore the people became dissatisfied with the Chin dynasty."

Upon the death of this masterful emperor, rebellion broke out, his son was slain, and the Han dynasty (202 B.C.-A.D. 220) was established. Then ensued a long struggle between the large landowners who opposed and the imperial ministers who desired the restoration of the Tsing Tien system. "Tung Chung Shoo, in his petition for the limitation of landholdings, reveals to us the condition of the poor. They were so reduced that they lost all their holdings to the rich, so that it was a common saying of the day -- 'that whereas the land of the rich extended from fields to fields, the poor had not enough to accommodate the point of an awl.' Landlords, being given a free hand, rents went as high as fifty per cent of the produce."

In these critical times it seemed as if China would be permanently forced off the first agricultural path on to the second, that of capitalistic farming. The fate of the peasantry hung in the balance. The struggle was severe; the soil, lacking its accustomed tendance, degraded with the peasants and much of it went to waste; great numbers of the peasants died of starvation. At one time, continues Dr. Ping-Hua Lee, it was "estimated that only 20 to 30 per cent were left. This reduction of population was itself a remedy, for there was land, left ownerless, which could be given to the poor and to returning wanderers ... Every encouragement was given to agriculture by the extension of irrigation; the poor were relieved through tax exemptions and provided with lands, seeds and food. Even land belonging to the ruling house and attached to its imperial ancestral temples were thrown open to cultivation." By these efforts of an administration inspired "to govern the country, not with the interests of the few, but with the necessities of the many," the peasant-family cultivation was restored. A period of grandeur followed, in which all the provinces south of the Yangtze River joined those to the north, and the empire itself was extended over Mongolia and westward to the Caspian Sea, at the time when Rome had attained the widest extent of her dominion. Parthia alone separated the two empires.

The Han dynasty came to an end and was followed by a long period (A.D. 220-590) of divided states and partial conquests by Tartars. The Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-905) restored the unity and the fame of China. It was followed by the Sung dynasty (A.D. 960-1276). Both dynasties supported the Tsing Tien system against the rich who had "eaten up" the land in the long period of divided states. Emperor after emperor strove to check and reduce the large estates of the wealthy. Their efforts succeeded when fertility gave prosperity, and the fields, worked in common for the government, supplied the needed revenue. But when drought, flood, imperial expense in combatting the Tartars or due to extravagance, degraded the soil, the opportunities for the rich to take over the lands of the poor recurred. Both dynasties, after centuries of fame and prosperity, came to an end at times of increase of the large estates and corresponding distress amongst the peasants.

So the inner history of China continued, fluctuating according to the fertility of the soil and the adherence of the government to the principles of the sages.

The next rulers of China were Tartars, the great conqueror, Jenghiz Khan and his descendants. Both they and their predecessors in Northern China, the Kin, were vigorous people; both were profoundly impressed with the principles of the Chinese civilization; both reorganized agriculture on the model of the Tsing Tien system.

The Chinese Ming (1368-1643), who expelled them when their original vigour had decayed, were at first the champions of the Tsing Tien system. Later, before the end of their dynasty, they and their officials became corrupt, levied supertaxes for their own benefit upon the peasants and despoiled the land. The Ming were overthrown by a small body of Tartars from Manchuria, who constituted the last dynasty of China, that of the Manchus (1644-1912).

The Manchus modelled themselves upon Chinese methods, to which they gave their northern energy. "Within sixty years from the beginning of their dynasty, they had restored prosperity and contentment to the realm."

They restored the cultivation of the land by peasant families, but they did not restore the payment of revenue from the central field. The Ming had introduced other taxes, poll tax and super-taxes. The Manchu imposed a single fixed tax upon land, at one time said to have been only one twentieth of the gross product. It was paid partly in kind and partly in silver.

As their dynasty continued, the fame of China in Europe increased. Marco Polo had already sung the praises of the Chinese, their politeness, their cheerfulness, their use of every part of their land, and their beautiful cities such as Hangchow, which other travellers also acclaimed as the loveliest and greatest in the world.

It was the wealth of these cities that most attracted the merchants and sailors of Europe. The land route across Asia being blocked by the Turks, the sea route was discovered. On their part, the Chinese had no desire to trade. Their vast and rich country gave them all they needed; their civilization was complete; they desired no change. But the day of intrusion into their self-sufficiency came. In 1516, a Portuguese trading vessel sailed up the river to Canton and startled its inhabitants with a salute of guns. The influence of the western traders had begun. Later came the enforced opening of certain ports, the establishment of embassies in Peking, and the permission for foreigners to travel in any part of the empire.

Wars and quarrels with Europeans led to the exaction of indemnities to be paid in money, and, after the Taiping rebellion in 1860, all Chinese taxes, including the tax on the land of the family cultivators, had to be paid in silver and not in produce. The unique agricultural path of China, embodied in the Tsing Tien system, came to an end.

Such, in brief outline, is the story of the most aged dominion of the earth. Other empires rose and sank; she alone survived. And one reason of her survival was that, throughout her long history, she preserved as a principle, sometimes strained to the breaking point, the partnership of the peasants and soil which her sages systematized.

We now turn to the story of the Roman agricultural path, which failed to preserve the peasantry, through whose strength and superior agriculture Rome originally rose to greatness.

Chapter 4

The Second Agricultural Path

THE original strength of Rome, like that of China, was that of a superior family-agriculture.

The evidences of the quality of the early agriculture of the "Old Latins" (prisci Latinii ) exist in the traditions of the later Romans, but not in actual history as in China. The traditions, however, have been confirmed by the revelations of modern excavations.

These excavations were carried out by Monsieur R. L. la Blanchère and described by him in the Memoires of the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres in 1893.

Mr. Tenny Frank conveniently summarizes them in his well-known Economic History of Rome, 1927. Monsieur de la Blanchère exposed, he writes, "numerous relics from that remarkable period in Latium, traces of drains, tunnels and dams too little known ... By diverting the rain waters from the eroding mountain gullies into underground channels, the farmer not only checked a large part of the ordinary erosion of hillside farms but also saved the space usually sacrificed to the torrent-bed. It would be difficult to find another place where labour had been so lavishly expended to preserve arable land from erosion." In addition to underground channels, there were dams "of finely trimmed masonry ... largely made of huge blocks weighing half a ton each ... It is impossible, after surveying such elaborate undertakings, not to conclude that Latium in the sixth century was cultivated with an intensity that has seldom been equalled anywhere."

The soil itself was rich but not deep. It had at one period been enriched by the volcanic ash of more than fifty craters, long extinct, which can be found within twenty-five miles of Rome.

Thus the heroism of Rome began with an heroic agriculture upon a favoured soil, comparable on a small scale to that of the great engineering agriculture of the ancient Peruvians in the inhospitable valleys of the Andes.

Roman literature itself began with writers upon agriculture some four centuries later. These writers, though they constantly praise the virtues and skill of their ancestors, do not include -- or such records have been lost -- the engineering quality of their cultivation. The elder Pliny repeated the tradition of the populousness and prosperity of Latium of that period, its fifty flourishing villages, and modern excavations of their sites have confirmed his description. The Latin people were so strong and healthy, he asserts, that they had no need of physicians. Their high quality of manhood, exemplified by their military invincibility and their devotion to the soil, left an ineradicable impression upon their descendants; and the decadence of the family-farmers, which was seen in their own times, became the constant lament of the writers and the no less constant but useless endeavours of Roman statesmen to avert it and to restore the traditional virtues.

When, in the early days of her history, Rome fought for Latium, the farmers proved themselves sound warriors. Then began the magic story of her wide dominion. War followed upon war, and it was the military qualities of the intensive farmers in particular that brought about the triumphs of the State. In this they contrasted radically with the Chinese intensive farmers, who were exempted from military duty. In the frequent call to arms, occurred the first departure -- no doubt an enforced and unavoidable departure for so small a state -- from the primary partnership of the peasants with the soil. The soil suffered from the absence of the able-bodied men; its culture was left to the young and the old, while they were away. War was antagonistic to the soil's fertility.

There came the second Punic War (218-210 B.C.), and the invasion and devastation of Italy by one of the world's greatest commanders, Hannibal of Carthage. When, finally, Hannibal was expelled by the victorious farmers, the Roman senators were faced with a crisis similar to that which faced the early Han emperors and their ministers, after the building of the Great Wall and the abolition of the Tsing Tien system.

Many of the farmers had lost their lives and yet more had seen their farms destroyed in the tragic seventeen years. Was Rome to be restored to the first path of agriculture, that of peasant family farming, or was she to enter upon that of capitalistic farming? The senators or statesmen of Rome had no Tsing Tien system of the Chinese sages, no separation of agriculture from militarism as taught by the Hindu sages, to guide them. They earnestly desired the restoration of the peasant families. But they desired it for military reasons rather than for agricultural reasons. The military value of the farmer-warriors had never shown to greater advantage than against the terrible genius of Hannibal. Its restoration appeared the chief hope for the future to the Roman statesmen faced by immense new military responsibilities. They were committed to dominion and war.

But, great as was their desire for a restoration, it was beyond their grade and will. Rome had grown greatly in wealth and territory through the overthrow of her powerful rival. In the place of the farmer-warriors, who had lost their lives or land in the war, there were numbers of slaves from agricultural countries, to be bought cheaply by men with capital. Moreover, as a fundamental cause overriding all subsidiary ones, was the state of the soil itself. The soil had generally lost the high grade of fertility, which is necessary to small intensive farming; farms were in disorder; many were abandoned. Roman Italy's soil was in short in the same condition as was that of China after the death of the Emperor Chin Chi Huangti, the builder of the Great Wall.

In such cases degraded arable land, no longer yielding sufficient return to repay the labour spent upon it, can, for more immediate profit, be better turned into pasture than be restored to its original condition; it can be more easily aggregated into large estates requiring less intense personal labour and capable of being worked by cheap hired or slave labour. In Italy the slave gangs offered cheap labour in such abundance as to compare with that of modern agricultural machines. Feeding on the land and with the crudest living accommodation, the cost of their maintenance was minimal. Moreover, the success of the Romans in overcoming Carthage had won for her the cornfields of Sicily and those of a considerable part of Northern Africa, so that her urban populations could now be fed from overseas. This released much of the arable land of Italy for the profitable cultivation of the olive and the vine, and for the rearing of sheep, which, in view of the universal practice of wearing woollen clothes, had its especial value. The consequence was that the senators yielded to the pressure of events and allowed or encouraged capitalistic farming to take its course. The aristocratic families came to own nearly all the land, the seizure of which they legalized. "Since the aristocracy had given itself legal permission to buy out the small-holders, and in its new arrogance allowed itself with growing frequency to drive them out, the farms disappeared like rain drops in the sea," are the words of the famous historian, Theodor Mommsen.

The choice resulted in changes, which were to be repeated in more modern times in western peasantries and agriculture. Money, profit, the accumulation of capital and luxury, became the objects of landowning and not the great virtues of the soil and the farmers of few acres; small owners, striving to restore the fertility of their farms, fell into hopeless debt; the position of the moneylenders was reversed.

In the past that position was described by Porcius Cato in the following words: "Our ancestors considered and so ordained their laws that, while the thief should be cast in double damages, the usurer should make fourfold restitution. From this we may judge how much less desirable a citizen they esteemed the banker than the thief. When they sought to commend an honest man, they termed him a good husbandman, good farmer. This they rated the superlative of praise." (De Agricultura, Mr. F. Harrison's translation).

But now the positions were reversed. The moneylenders or bankers were no longer controlled, but grew in importance, as the good farmers, for all their efforts, failed to restore their farms, fell into irredeemable debt, surrendered their farms, and, unable even as labourers to compete with the slaves, added their numbers to the pauper population of the metropolis. Even those, who had been craftsmen and tradesmen, found little work, for they too met with the competition of the slaves, attached to the great families of the rich. So the chief material reason for family life, namely the continued work, generation after generation, upon the family land or at the family craft, was lost, and with it the ancestral virtues, morality and religion also vanished.

"The Equites, the upper middle class, were the great capitalists of the day," writes Lord Tweedsmuir in Julius Caesar, 1932. "They farmed the state rents and taxes, contracted for the armies, made fortunes in the slave trade, and controlled the banks. Usury was one of the main industries of the Roman world." Debt was general, but at the same time under the stimulus of capital and the opportunities which the provinces and trade offered to it, there was a period of immense material progress, comparable to that of the early part of the industrial era of modern times.

Meanwhile, the fate of Rome depended, as the fate of men depends, ultimately upon the fertility of the soil, from which they get their food and the chief raw materials for their manufactures. The story is one of notable advance in the newly conquered provinces, when the engineering skill and agricultural methods of the Romans were applied in place of those of less tutored peasants. Nevertheless, in spite of this, especially from the end of the second Punic war, a gradual loss of soil fertility, spreading outwards centrifugally from Latium and Italy to the provinces, took place. The one exception was Egypt. Egypt owed her fertility to the annual overflow of the Nile. That was beyond the influence of men. It may be conjectured that, together with the exceptional military and federative quality of the Romans, it was this perennial fertility of Egypt that gave to Rome her prolonged ascendancy.

The story of the gradual failure of fertility has been graphically described by Professor V. G. Simkhovitch in the thirty-first volume of the Political Science Quarterly of the Columbia University, 1916, in an article entitled "Rome's Fall Reconsidered."

He begins by collecting and quoting from the great Roman writers who were "quite conscious of Rome's progressive disintegration." The elder Pliny, for example, had no doubt about a chief factor in the degradation: "The large estates, the latifundia, were ruining Rome as well as the provinces." Seneca, one of the richest landowners, gave the same warning. Cicero, at an earlier time, reported the statement of the tribune Phillipus that "the entire commonwealth could not muster two thousand property owners."

Other writers stressed the moral corruption of the times. "What does ruinous time not impair?" wrote Horace, the poet. "The age of our parents, more degenerate than that of our grandfathers, make us even more worthless and we give birth to a still more vicious progeny. The great deeds of the Romans were the deeds of a sturdy farmer race, and these farmers' sons exist no longer." Columella, about A.D. 60, opposed a general opinion "that the soil, worn out by long cultivation and exhausted, is suffering from old age," and attributed its degradation to the enforced and indifferent labour of the agricultural slaves, and to bad farming generally. To those who saw in frequent wars the cause of the deterioration of the soil, Columella replied that, though fields may be laid waste by an enemy, the fertility of the soil is not taken away or wasted; it remains to respond to good cultivation, when renewed.

The degradation, according to these writers, began first in Latium itself, closest to and most able to feed the great metropolis of Rome. Varro noted bad patches and foul or abandoned fields in Latium, and two centuries later Columella referred to all Latium as a country where the people would have died of starvation, but for its share of Rome's imported corn.

"It seems to me," continues Professor Simkhovitch, after further quotations, "that the progressive exhaustion of Roman soil is completely established ... It was a long process and many were its stages."

At first the farm of seven jugera (a jugerum was 5/8 acre) was sufficient for a family; then, in bad times due to wars and the absence of the farmer-warriors, it was ill-worked, then over worked and overstocked to make up for lost time, when the survivors of the war returned. So deterioration began. Loans did not help. Debt, due to a single bad season, can be paid, but under conditions of progressive soil deterioration, however gradual, debt correspondingly increases until its burden becomes no longer bearable, and the land falls into the hands of the monied classes. This fate fell upon the small, intensive farmers of Rome. It was not due to the lack of agricultural knowledge. "Nothing could be more startling than the Roman knowledge of rational and intensive agriculture." It was not due to debt. The fact that debt began when the failure of the soil's fertility began was symptomatic, not causative.

The spread of the degradation of the soil was centrifugal, from Latium outwards. The Roman armies moved outwards from Latium demanding land; victory gave more land to the farmers; excessive demands again brought exhaustion of fertility; again the armies moved outwards.

In her early days, says the professor, Italy was famous for her wheat; Greece, preceding her in her degradation of the soil, had imported wheat from Italy. Yet, after her seizure of Sicily from the Carthaginians, Italy depended mainly upon Sicilian fields for wheat. Thus the ring of movement in search of food widened outwards.

"Province after province was turned by Rome into a desert, for Rome's exactions naturally compelled greater exploitation of the conquered soil and its more rapid exhaustion. Province after province was conquered by Rome to feed the growing proletariat with its corn and to enrich the prosperous with its loot. The devastations of war abroad and at home helped the process along. The only exception to the rule of spoliation and exhaustion was Egypt, because of the overflow of the Nile. For this reason Egypt played a unique role in the Empire." Egypt was made a special imperial possession. It was carefully guarded. Not even senators or knights could visit it without the permission of the emperor, for, as Tacitus stated, a small force might hold Egypt and "by blocking up the plentiful corn country, reduce all Italy to a famine."

Sardinia, Sicily, Spain, and north-western Africa, as Roman granaries, were, like Italy, involved in the same process of exhaustion. Though the Romans were well aware of the dangers of deforestation to the land, their hills were denuded of their forests. The abandoned land of Latium and Campania turned into malarial swamps; that in north-western Africa and in parts of Asia turned into deserts. It was not war that led to depopulation. After the first increases in the numbers of the people due to the material progress of the Caesarian Empire, depopulation set in and proceeded throughout the longest period of peace Rome ever enjoyed. It was due to the loss of the fertility of the soil.

The "inner decay" of the Empire "was in the last analysis entirely based upon the endless stretches of barren, sterile, and abandoned fields of Italy and its Provinces ... Italy's great historians marvelled how sections of Italy, that in their times were almost entirely deserted, could in former days send forth legion after legion of invincible warriors ... Egypt was the only province which maintained its population."

It was not the intention of Professor Simkhovitch to advocate a history based only on soil fertility or its loss; still less to ascribe the fall of the western empire of Rome to that sole cause. The causes of that great historical catastrophe were manifold, as also were those that preserved China through the ages from a like fate. No historian would presume to isolate a single cause, nor indeed attempt to surpass or even simplify the last sad chapter of Gibbon's monumental record of Rome's fall. It is sufficient to have shown that both empires suffered periods of disaster; both were subject to invasions and conquests from peoples who originally came from the same great arid belt of Asia; both strove, amongst other means of strength and recovery, for the establishment of an independent family cultivation of the soil.

Rome failed and, before her fall, as a last final effort to gain food for the empire, she bound the agricultural community by law to the soil, and thus left the heritage of serfdom to western Europe. China, on the other hand, recurred again and again to the restoration and strengthening of family farming, and succeeded, after each catastrophe in her history, in regaining her authority and in expelling or absorbing her conquerors.

The Roman Empire was an epoch of such grandeur of achievement and power that it has captured the imagination of men, yet it left desolation in its wake. The Chinese Empire was also one of great, though less dazzling, achievements. At the present time it still survives, though deeply involved in the tragic disturbances of modern civilization, which is forcing it to join up upon the catastrophic second agricultural path.

Next chapter

Table of Contents
1. British and Native Systems of Government in India
2. Conflicting Dominant Ideas
3. The First Agricultural Path
4. The Second Agricultural Path

5. The Degradation of the Peasants
6. The Ascendancy of the Town
7. The Degradation of the Soil
8. The Village System
9. The Restoration of the Peasants

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