Around 6,000 BC, a new era of human development, The New Stone Age or Neolithic begins. Human capabilities altered as people began to replace a free-roving, hunter—gatherer existence with settled town life. Architecture improved, as did animal husbandry and agriculture.
In the Mediterranean basin, keen observers must have noted how large nautical birds, such as swans, can utilize their feathers as sails and be pushed by the wind against a river's current. The Nile river boats, some of which have been preserved in tombs, would be instrumental in uniting Egypt into a national entity.
Before the invention of writing, some of these crude craft were used to explore the islands closest to Egypt—Crete and the other Cyclodic isles. Perhaps using craft not unlike those described in the biblical legend of Noah and the Sumerian epic of Gilgemesh, early civilized humans began to island hop across the Mediterranean.
As the Bronze Age dawned with advances in literacy and mathematics, some of the colonists from North Africa and West Asia began to contribute to the art of ship design. Long before the Classical era, keel-equipped ships, originally invented in Minoan Crete, completed the exploration of the Mediterranean Sea. Certainly before 1,000 BC, humans had crossed the English Channel and ventured into the Atlantic.
Once again, native materials must have been extensively used by these explorers and settlers. Their expansion would have been greatly limited if a ship had to return to Tyre, Memphis, Ur, or Knossos every time a sail required mending.
Although the keel was a major innovation, it would provide less-than-adequate stability for an early sailing ship attempting to traverse the stormy Pacific. Several thousand years ago, a genius in New Zealand must have realized that greater stability in rough seas would result if several canoes were lashed together side-by-side to produce the first catamaran.
Over the course of several millennia, the pre-literate Polynesian people used these craft to island hop across the vast Pacific Ocean, sometimes navigating between tiny islands separated by thousands of miles of open sea. Navigation instructions for these epic journeys were passed on in the form of memorized epic poems. Everywhere they ventured, the Polynesians learned to develop and exploit the local environments in their island habitats.
During the Iron Age, in the fifth century BC, Greek scholars including Thucydides and Herodotus produced the first written histories. Accurate record-keeping subsequent to this development resulted in better knowledge of human territorial expansion during and after the Classical era.
This was the time of the first great empires—the Athenian, Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman. Colonies of existing city states were no longer established only by private individuals; government also played a role.
One model for historical human territorial expansion was established around 900 BC. Recovering from the Aegean Dark Age, Dorian and Ionian Greeks began to expand from their homelands into southern Italy and Asia Minor. What resulted was a "city-hopping" type of expansion in which migrants would first establish a city state mirroring the ideals of their distant home and then, in turn, send out expeditions to establish new colonies. Naples was established in this manner, as a colony of Cumae around 600 BC. Many Greek-established towns around the Black Sea evolved to become major cities of Russia and neighboring countries.
Human population was increasing in this period, and technology was advancing. Unfortunately, this technological advance manifested itself in warfare. Colonies of rival empires engaged in constant battle, in some cases for centuries.
People living in the modern west are used to thinking of progress as a constant upward march, but this is not an accurate historical perspective.
Attempted territorial expansions have not always succeeded. Because of advances in written record-keeping, we know a great deal about historical expansions that failed, as well as those that succeeded.
One notable failure was the expansion of Norse culture starting around 800 AD. The Vikings were a warlike people who preyed upon other cultures they encountered. Viking longboats, equipped with flexible keels, oars and sail, were superbly adapted to the treacherous North Atlantic.
By 930, the Vikings had spread far from their Norwegian origin, to occupy Iceland. In 986, they reached Greenland. Around 1000 AD, it is thought that Viking ships had sailed to Baffin Island, Labrador and to their New World colony called Vinland.
But over the next few centuries, the Viking tide retreated. Perhaps their failure was due to climatic change or perhaps it was do to violent competition within Viking society. Certainly, the violent reaction of Native North Americans to Viking predations played a role in the demise ofNorse America. Another possible contribution to their failure is Viking dependence upon pillage and trade, as opposed to the development of indigenous industries utilizing local resources.
A few centuries later, history witnessed on of the great "what might have beens" of all time. In the early fifteenth century, Ming Dynasty China constructed a huge fleet of enormous ocean-going junks and used these vessels to visit ports throughout Asia and Africa
With the support of Ming Emperor Yung-Lo, the Moslem eunuch admiral Zheng Ho used these junks—some of which measured 130 meters bow-to-stern and had crews of 500 men—to show the flag in Asian and African waters and ship novelties home to the court. Unfortunately, policy changed upon the death of the emperor; the fleet was recalled and the junks rotted at their piers. Although Imperial China certainly had the technology to spread its culture around the globe, the will for such an endeavor was lacking.
It was left to fifteenth-century European powers with much fewer resources than Imperial China at their disposal, notably Portugal and Spain, to initiate the Age of Discovery. Using the newly developed caravels, Portuguese navigators were encouraged by Prince Henry the Navigator to explore, fish, and trade farther from home. Some have speculated that the comparative scarcity ofresources in tiny Portugal led to these explorations around Africa and to the far ports of exotic India.
Driven by greed and religious fervor (some would call it bigotry), Spanish Conquistadors followed Columbus to the New World in ships not derived from those of Prince Henry. Rather than settling in their new Caribbean and South American holdings, most Conquistadors sought to make it rich and return to Seville on the backs of native American and imported African slaves. It is a good thing that these slave societies were ultimately supplanted in the New World by the somewhat freer colonies of northern European powers.
After the American Revolution, the 13 former British colonies were huddled along the eastern coast of the North American continent. Thomas Jefferson proved to be one of the most visionary US presidents when he commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition to begin the exploration of the vast continental interior.
The 13,000-kilometer trek of the Lewis and Clark "Corps of Discovery" began near St Lewis in May 1804, crossed the continent to the Pacific and ended in September, 1806. Since weight limitations were substantial, food supplies for the 48 men in the expedition were supplemented by hunting. With the assistance of friendly Native Americans, notably Sacagawea and her French-Canadian husband Toussaint Charbonneau, members of the Corps of Discovery were able to supplement their diets with local vegetation, thereby learning how to truly "live off the land.'
The success of the Lewis and Clark preliminary continental survey led to further exploration and the westward migration of the nineteenth century. Settlement would have been considerably slowed if efficient means of transporting people and baggage westward and frontier products eastward did not exist.
One efficient transport mode was the Conestoga Wagon. These "Prairie Schooners'' had boat-shaped bodies topped with white sail-like canvas bonnets. Pulled by teams of horses, mules, or oxen, they could carry as much as 7,000 kilograms and were about 3 meters in length.
These wagons were equipped with tool kits so that repairs could be made en route. Such a provision was essential, since the nearest repair facility might be almost a thousand kilometers distant.
Although the Conestoga Wagon was instrumental in opening the American West, transcontinental transport using this method could not keep to a timetable. Human passengers found them very uncomfortable and they were hard on the animal teams providing the motive force.
A vast improvement on the Prairie Schooner was the Transcontinental Railroad, which was completed in 1869. Surveyed by the US Army Topographic Corps, this monumental project required the support of both the Federal Government and private interests.
As the examples presented above indicate, a number of factors are required for a successful human territorial expansion. These include innovation, the ability to live off the land, a flexible ideology, and a partnership between public and private sectors. Also necessary is at least a modicum of good luck and a good deal of determination!
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