Books Environmental politics History

Notes from: The great leveler : violence and the history of inequality from the Stone Age to the twenty-first century

I don’t agree with the book’s conclusions, but it assembles a great deal of interesting material.

p. 37 “A collaborative study of 21 small-scale societies at different levels of development – hunter-gatherers, horticulturalists, herders and farmers – and in different parts of the world identifies two crucial determinants of inequality: ownership rights in land and livestock and the ability to transmit wealth from one generation to the next. Researchers looked at three different types of wealth: embodied (mostly body strength and reproductive success), relational (exemplified by partners in labor) and material (household goods, land and livestock). In their sample, embodied endowments were the most important wealth category in foragers and horticulturalists, and material wealth was the least important one, whereas the opposite was true of herders and farmers… Transmissibility of wealth is another crucial variable. The degree of interngenerational wealth transmission was about twice as high for farmers and herders as for the others, and the material possessions available to them were much more suitable for transmission than were the assets of foragers and horticulturalists. These systematic difference exercise a strong influence on the inequality of life chances, measured in terms of the likelihood that a child of parents in the top composite wealth decile ends up in the same decile compared to that of a child of parents of the poorest decile. … even among the foragers and horticulturalists offspring of the top decile were at least three times as likely to reproduce this standing as those of the bottom decile were to ascend to it. For farmers, however, the odds were much better (about 11 times) and they were better still for herders (about 20 times)…according to this analysis, inequality and its persistence over time has been the result of a combination of three factors: the relative importance and characteristics of different classes of assets, how suitable they are for passing on to others, and actual rates of transmission. .. transmissibility is critical: if wealth is passed on between generations, random shocks related to health, parity and returns on capital and labour that create inequality will be preserved and accumulate over time instead of allowing distributional outcomes to regress to the mean.”

p. 39 Historically, inequality was sometimes slow to take off. Catal Hoyuk, a Neolithic proto-urban settlement in southwest Anatolia… is a striking example. Its several thousand inhabitants relied on a mixture of horticultural hoe-farming and herding. Land was abundant, and there are no clear signs of governmental structures r social stratification. Residents inhabited family households where they stored grain, fruit and nuts … Intact millstones and querns are unevenly distributed across dwellings, whereas households generally enjoyed broad access to cooking features and stone tools. Intact querns are predominately found in more elaborate buildings, but we cannot tell whether these represent higher status households or whether they merely hosted cooperative tasks related to food processing. The observation that most millstones and querns had deliberately been broken long before they would have worn out may speak against the first of these interpretations. This custom may even reflect a widespread though not universal injunctions against intergenerational transmission of these valuable assets: in later Mesopotamian societies, querns featured prominently among heritable wealth. It is possible that levelling measures were actively applied go curb wealth imbalances among households.

p. 40 Yes inequality increasingly became the norm. Archaeological evidence from Mesopotamia shows strong signs of stratification long before the first states were established in the region. In the village of Tell es-Sawwan on the Tigris, north of modern Baghdad, for example, a mud wall with a ditch that contained many sling missiles, all made of clay, points to violent conflict some 7,000 years ago, conditions that were conducive to the creation of centralised leadership and hierarchy. Some of the richest burials at this site are of children, reflecting status distinction based on family wealth rather than personal achievement. .. some time between 6,000 and 4,000BC all the basic ingredients of structural inequality were already in place”

“A cemetery at Varna by the Black Sea in what is now Bulgaria has yielded more than 200 occupied graves from the 5th millennium BC. One burial stands out, a middle=aged man laid to rest with no fewer than 990 gold objects … a third of all gold objects found at this site and a quarter of their total weight… more than half of the occupied graves contained some goods, but fewer than one in ten is rich in deposits, and only a handful contain a wide range of material. The Gini coefficient for the number of goods per grave varies from 0.61 to 0.77, depending on the period, but would be much higher if we could adjust for the distribution of value.”

p. 71 once Rome projected power well beyond the Italian peninsula and increasingly tapped into the resources of the Hellenistic kingdoms of the eastern Med. The size of aristocratic fortunes grew enormously…over the course of about five generations, the private wealth ceiling had risen by a factor of 40. .. inflation had been modest, and there is no sign that average per capita output or personal wealth among ordinary citizens had grown by more than a trivial fraction of the expansion experienced by upper-class fortunes.

p. 73 Where did all the additional resources come from? Economic development grounded in market relations certainly picked up in the later stages of the Republican period. The use of slaves in cash crop production and manufacturing, as well as rich archaeological evidence for the export of wine and olive oil, points to the success of Roman capital owners. Yet this was only part of the story … our sources emphasize the paramount significance of coercion as a source of top incomes and fortunes … at a time when annual interest rates of 6 per cent were common in Rome itself, wealthy Romans imposed rates of up to 48% on provincial cities, which were in desperate need of money to satisfy the demands of their governors.”

p. 75 Imperial unification and connectivity facilitated the expansion and concentration of personal wealth. Under Nero, six men were said to have owned ‘half’ the province of Africa (centred on modern Tunisia), albeit only until he seized their properties. While clearly hyperbolic, this claim need not have been dramatically far from the truth in a region where large estates could be described as rivalling city territories in size.”

p. 77 It is possible to quantify Roman imperial inequality at least in rough outlines. At the peak of its development in the mid-second century CE, an empire of some 70 million people generated an annual GDP of close to the equivalent of 50 million tonnes of what, or approaching 20 billion sesterces. The corresponding mean per capita GDP of $800 in 1990 International Dollars appears plausible in relation to other premodern economies… about 1.5 percent of all households captured between a sixth and close to a third of the total output.”

p. 78 A conservative range of assumptions points to an overall Gini coefficient of income in the low 0.4s for the empire as a whole … not far below the maximum that was actually achievable at that level of economic development, a feature shared by many other premodern societies.p. 81 “Inasmuch as inequality could be contained within intact imperial polities, it was by menas of violent recirculation of assets within the elite.. Mamluk Egypt, in which this principle plated out in maybe its purest historically documented form… Incessant jockeying for power within this class determined individual incomes, and violent conflict frequently altered these allocations” .. the mature Ottoman empire … officeholding was to be nonhereditary and officials’ assets were concerned prebendal, in effect appurtenances of services rather than private property. When they died, gains made during office were to be deducted from their estates and absorbed by the treasure. In practice, all their possessions might be ceased for the simple reason that officeholding and wealth were deemed indistinguishable. Confiscations at the time of death were complemented by the liquidation and expropriation of current officials who had attracted the sultan’s attention.”

p. 54 premodern societies … were about as unequal as they could be. Exceptions were rare, the only reasonably well documented case is that of classical Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, where direct democracy and a culture of military mass mobilization helped contain economic inequality. If modern estimates based on scant ancient evidence can be trusted, Athenian per capita GDP in the 330s BCE was relatively high for a premodern economy – maybe four to five times minimum physiological subsitence, similar to 15th-century Holland and 16th-centyury England – and the market income Gini coefficient reached around 0.38. By premodern standards, the implied extraction rate of about 49 percent was exceptionally modest.”

p. 146 “In World War I, the democracies of the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada were prepared to ‘soak the rich’, whereas more autocratic systems such as Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia preferred to borrow or print money to sustain their war effort. The latter, however, later paid a high price through hyperinflation and revolution, shocks that likewise compressed inequality.”

p. 147 “In the United Kingdom, top income tax rates rose from 6% to 30% during World War I, and a new war profits tax levied on companies – raised to 80% by 1917 – became the single most important tax in terms of revenue. .. the country lost 14.9% of its national wealth and it lost another 18.6% in World War II.. The share of the largest `% of fortunes in all private wealth contracted from 70 to 50% – less dramatic than the concurrent collapse from 60 to 30% in France, but nonetheless significant.”

p. 353 “land reform has a poor track record in alleviating inequality. A survey of 27 reforms during the second half of the 20th century shows that in a large majority of cases (21 or 78%) land inequality either remained largely unchanged or even grew over time. Cronyism might undermine peaceful land reform. .. in the Philippines even when a more serious attempt was made after 1988, results were modest, just as they had been in India, Pakistan and Indonesia. In Iran in the 1970s, although more sharecroppers obtained some land through compulsory sales of excess landlord holdings, favouritism coupled with compensation requirements and the lack of state support coupled with compensation requirements and the lack of state support, all of which advantaged better-off peasants.”

p 356 Genuinely peaceful reform often appears to have required some form of foreign control that checked the power of local elites. It worked in Puerto Rico in the late 1940s – and even there it was an outgrowth of equalizing reforms in the United States that had been driven by the Great Depression and World War II and coincided with top-down land reform in Hapan under American occupation. Colonial rule was also instrumental in Irish land reform. In the late 1870s, the so-called ‘Land War’ agitation for fair rents and tenant protections from evictions, involved organised resistance in the form of strikes and boycotts… The British Parliament addressed these grievances in a series of acts that regulated rents and provided for loans at fixed interest for tenants who wanted to purchase land from willing landlords. In 1903, the Wyndham Act finally bought peace as the government agreed to cover, out of state revenue, a 12% premium between compensation offered by tenants and the asking prices of landlords, thereby subsidizing the privatisation of smallholdings. This allowed smallholders to take control of more than half of all Irish farmland by the time of independence in the early 1920s.” (Barraclough, 1999, “Land reform in developing countries: the role of the state and other actors.” UNRISD Discussion Paper 101

p. 365 “scholarship on the relationship between democracy and inequality has long produced contradictory results. .. democracy does have a robust effect on tax revenue as a share of GDP. This suggests that democracy’s role in shaping the net distribution of resources is complex and heterogenous … Two reasons for this stand out: equalization can be impeded if democracy is ‘captured’ by powerful constituencies, and democratization provides opportunities for economic development that may by itself increase income inequality.”

p. 405 The last generation to have lived through the Great Compression is rapidly fading. .. As with people, so with levelling. In developed countries, the massive decline in inequality that commenced in 1914 has long run its course. For about a generation, give or take a decade, income disparities have been growing in all countries for which we have reliable data… inequality began to rise in 1973 in the United Kingdom, and in 1973 or 1976 in the United States, in 1977 in Ireland, in 1978 in Canada and in 1981 in Australia.

p. 410 “formally or effectively post-communist societies have witnessed enormous increases in material inequality. This development has been particularly dramatic in China, where the market income Gini more than doubled from 0.23 in 1984 to somewhere around 0.55 in 2014 and the corresponding measure of wealth concentration rapidly rose from 0.45 in 1995 into the 0.7s by the early 2010, and likewise in Russia, where the market income Gini has hovered above 0.5 since 2008, up from 0.37 in 1991”

Books Environmental politics History Politics

Notes from Growing A Revolution: Bringing Our Soils Back to Life

p. 27 “By my reckoning, we’ve already experienced four major revolutions in agriculture, albeit at different times in different regions. The first was the initial idea of cultivation and the subsequent introduction of the plow and animal labor. This allowed sedentary villages to coalesce and grow into city-states and eventually sprawling empires. he second began … as farmers adopted soil husbandry to improve their land. Chiefly, this meant rotating crops, intercropping with legumes … and adding manure to retain or enhance soil fertility. in Europe, this helped fuel changes in land tenure that pushed peasants into cities… Agriculture’s third revolution – mechanization and industrialization – upended such practices and ushered in dependence on cheap fossil fuels and fertilizer-intensive methods. Chemical fertilizers replaced organic matter-rich soil as the foundation of fertility. Although this increased crop yields from already degraded fields, it took more money and more capital to farm… The fourth revolution saw the technological advances behind what came to be known as the Green Revolution and biotechnology breakthroughs that boosted yields and consolidated corporate control of the food system through proprietary seeds, agrochemical products, and commodity crop distribution – the foundation of conventional agriculture today…. A recent study coauthored by hundreds of scientists from around the world concluded that modern agricultural practices must change again if society is to avoid calamitous food shortages …Those at the vanguard invoke a variety of names — agroecology, conservation agriculture, regenerative agriculture and the Brown Revolution…. the common ground they share in placing soil health at the heart of their practices.”

p. 35 Myth 1: Industrialised Agrochemical Agriculture Feeds the World Today According to the UN Food and Agrculture Organization, family farms produce 80% of the world’s food and almost three-quarters (72%) or farms worldwide are smaller than one hectare.

Myth 2: Industrialized Agrochemical Agriculture Is More Efficient Most industries have economies of scale that lower production costs per unit output for larger-volume operations. But efficiency can also be viewed in terms of input use per unit of production. An authoritative 1989 National Research Council study concluded that ‘well-managed alternative farming systems nearly always use less synthetic chemical pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics per unit of production than conventional farms.’.. Farms that grow a diversity of crops produce more food per hectare overall. “.. we burn ten calories of fuel to grow one edible calorie. Because of this, it has been said we are eating oil. But it would be more accurate to say we are eating natural gas. For industrial fertiliser production not only depends on the ready availability of cheap energy, it also consumes a lot of natural gas as feedstock… It is axiomatic that for any organism to be viable over the long run, it must get more energy from eating than it expends acquiring food. That modern societies don’t hold to this simple test of biotic viability should concern anyone with an interest in the future.”

p. 39 The GMO sidewhow “A 2016 report from the National Research Council Committee on Genetically Engineered Crops found that ‘nation-wide data on maize, cotton or soybeans in the United States do not show a significant signature of genetic engineering technology on the rate of yield increase”… overall pesticide use in the United States increased by about 7% as a result of adopting GM crops, according to a 2012 study”.

p. 46 “Roots are not simply straws. They are two-way streets through which carefully negotiated and orchestrated exchanges occur. Plants release into the soil a variety of carbon-rich molecules they make, and which can account for more than a third of their photosynthetic output. For the most part, these exudates consist of proteins and carbohydrates (sugars) that provide an attractive food source for soil microbes. In this manner, plant roots feed the fungi and bacteria that pull nutrients from the soil – from the crystalline structure of rock fragments and organic matter. .. with the help of soil-dwelling bacteria certain mycorrihizal fungi use their thread-thin root-like hyphae to seek out and scavenge particularly biologically valuable elements, like phosphorus, from rocks or decaying organic matter.”

p. 47 “rhizosphere-dwelling bacteria are most effective at promoting plant growth once a critical microbial density is reached, triggering a process known as quorum sensing. When enough individual bacteria of the right kind are present, they coordinate the release of compounds that aid in promoting plant growth. But if the population of soil microbes drops too low, they turn off the tap. … where are the most bacteria-eating protists and nematodes? Around the roots, where the bacteria are. .. after sacrophytic fungi and bacteria consume organic matter, they become enriched with nutrients. Predatory arthropods, nematodes and protozoa feast on them, then release those nutrients bac into the soil in plat-available forms. … rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and micronutrients, it makes excellent micromanure.”

p. 49 “even when standard soil chemistry tests say you need to add fertilizers, the right soil life – if present and abundant – may be able to supply what plants need. Growing evidence shows that synthetic fertilizers work like agricultural steroids, propping up short-term crop yields at the expense of long-term fertility and soil health.”

p. 57 Since colonial times, the average amount of soil carbon held in North American agricultural oils dropped from around 6% to below 3% .. by 1980 roughly a third of the carbon humanity had already added to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution came from plowing up the world’s soils, primarily in the Great Plains, Eastern Europe and China. Overapplication and overreliance on nitrogen fertilizers accelerated the loss of soil organic matter…. [which] feeds the microbial life that helps make and keep soils fertile”.

p. 81 Lal had worked on soil problems in 14 countries on four continents … his experiments all pointed to the value of ground cover and mulch for preventing destructive erosion and for keeping soils fertile… funders and aid agencies wanted breakthroughs and rapid revolutions, not gradual improvements of the soil. Commercial interests pushed to develop solutions that could be commodified: they wanted agrochemical products, not practices that anyone could adopt for free. No modern, forward-looking foundation or agency wanted to hear about mulching and growing a diversity of crops. Such simple answers did not – and still don’t – fit the technophilic narrative of progress.”

p. 83 “Globally conservation agriculture was practices on less than 3 million hectares in the early 1970s. By the early 1980s, it had more than doubled … and by 2003 it increased another twelvefold to 72 million hectares. By 2013, it had doubled again, to 157 million hecatres. And yet, despite the rapid pace of adoption, only about 11% of  global cropland is under conservation agriculture .. about 3/4 in the Americas… just a few percent of cropland in Europe, Asia and Africa.

p. 87 On the Great Plains undisturbed prairie … secret to productivity lay in a mix of warm- and cool-season grasses, legumes and members of the sunflower family.”

p. 105 “Consider the case of the western bean cutworm and corn earworm. A mother earworm feeds on pollen and lays her eggs on an ear of corn. Only one of her darling cannibalistic babies survives – the one that eats all of the others. When Pioneer, a subsidiary of DuPont, developed Bt corn that killed the corn earworm.. it created a golden opportunity for the western bean cutworm. [previously eaten by the earworms] .. the new technology to control one pest created a new, even more problematic one.”

p. 147 “Consider a direct side-by-side comparison of organic corn grown under a conventional plow-based system and his no-till system. In a field previously planted with hairy vetch, growing no-till corn took a total of just two passes of diesel-fed machinery: one to simultaneously roller-crimp the cover crop and plant the corn, and another at harvest time.. conventionally without a cover crop involved multiple lasses across the field to plow, disk, pack, plant, rotary-hoes, cultivate and finally harvest. The conventional plot produced 143 bushels per acre, the no-till 160.

p. 149 “The Rochdale Institute’s Farm Systems Trial is America’s longest-running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional farming…in addition to measuring crop yields, the standard measure of agronomic success, the study also tracked economic returns, energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil health. The organic systems consistently performed better by all measures, except for yield, which was comparable after an initial several-year period of lower corn yields in the organic plots. Averaged over the full duration of the trial, including the transition years wen organic plots went ‘cold turkey’ off chemicals, there were no statistical difference between organic and conventional yields…. but there was no initial loss in yield on the plots where the rotation started with soybeans.”

p. 159 glomalin … a protein that mycorrhizal fungi make in the walls of their hyphae and exude out into the soil … hyphae need it to work properly. .. it seems to ‘weather seal’ the porous walls of fungal hyphae, which are otherwise like pipes full of holes. The glomalin acts like a polymer coating, sealing leaks where necessary. This allows hyphe to transport material over long distances in the soil across pressure changes in pockets of air and water. Glomalin also helps aggregate the soil. It’s sticky, glue-like qualities bind small particles together. And its wax-like property that seals up hyphae makes some soil pores impermeable to water, but not to air.. stablises the passages through which water moves and can be stored… the physical structure of fertile soil depends on its biology. This is what conventional agroncomists missed.”

Books History Women's history

Notes from The Business of Women: Female Enterprise and Urban Development in Northern England 1760-1830

p. 15 In Sheffield, a unique brand of radical politics was evident from before the French Revolution, whilst the Sheffield Register, under the editorship of Joseph Gales, was one of the most famous radical provincial newspapers during the 1790s.

p 19 the effect of piecemeal development in Sheffield caused one commentators to remark that “as its commerce was extended, and the population increased, streets were lengthened and new ones added in every direction, without any attention to uniformity and order.” (Joseph Hunter, 1819)

p 30 “there is evidence that a regional pattern of advertising was emerging in the late 18th century, in which nearby towns were used as points of reference and indicators of trustworthiness. Thus in Leeds and Sheffield adverts appeared for Elliot’s Family Cordial from Huddersfield, Lignum’s Healing Tincture and AntiscorbuticDrops from Manchester, ‘Moxon’s effervescent magnesian aperient’ from Hull and ‘cordial balm of gilead’ produced by Samuel Solomon of Liverpool.”p…31 Foreign influences also loomed larges … advertisements for Johnson and William’s American Soothing Syrup, Dr Brodum’s botanical syrup from Denmark, Venetian blings, French corsets and brocades, Genoa silks, Indian muslin, Persian carpets, Italian crapes, French bonnets, Tuscan hats and Oriental ointment and cordial.”

p35 “Horace Walpole described Sheffield as “one of the foulest towns in England, in the most charming situation in 1760. In 1798, a London visitor noted: “shops all shut, place extremely dull and not a person to be seen of a tolerable, decent appearance”. Morover, he complained that the town was “completely dirty and strewed with Nutshells from one end to the other, as if all the inhabitants had been eating them the whole day”. Around the same period, and after a somewhat abortive shopping trip there, Lady Caroline Stuart-Wortley wrote that “I never was in so stinking, dirty and savage a place”.

p65 In Sheffield .. after 1774, women involved in the three main sectors varied between 61 and 77 per cent [clothing,food and drink and shopkeeping] , while manufacturing – although it showed a remarkable decline in 1828 – was a consistently large area of female employment throughout the period. Here women such as the filemaker, Alice Corker, the button mould manufacturer, Ann Allcar, and the razor manufacturer, Hannah Dewsnap, were a constant feature of economic life…. The manufacture of metalwares appeared from the directory lists to be a greater employer of lower middling women in Sheffield than were the cotton trade in Manchester or woollen manufacturing in Leeds.”

p68 the majority of women active in manufacturing in all three towns were … in a large range of trades connected to the diverse requirements of consumer-orientated urban economies.. the jeweller Sarah Bowman, who ran a shop in Queen Street in Sheffield… Elizabeth Saynor of High Street Sheffield, who made umbrellas and parasols…. The pocket-book maker Ann Paul, of Silver Street in Sheffield.”

P 77 “In Sheffield, the Gale sisters, Ann and Elizabeth, advertised their bookselling and stationery business on a weekly basis during much of the 1790s and up to at least 1817. In common with many booksellers of the period, the Gales not only sold books and pamphlets but also medicines such as Spilsbury’s Antiscorbutic drops, Dr Bodrum’s nervous cordial and Dr Arnold’s pills for the treatment of venereal complaints

p107 succeeded their brother Joseph … after he had been forced to flee to America.. the sisters chose not to continue the paper, leaving their friend, James Montgomery, to set up the Sheffield Iris … which was also prosecuted and attacked by government agents.

p. 80 In 1828 … advertisement … placed by … the improbably named Madame Paris, who sold winter fashions from her ‘show room’ in Sheffield”

p87 In an advertisement announcing her intention to carry on her husband’s business in 1797, Ann Mearbeck decribed herself as ‘PLUMBER AND GLAZIER, Bank Street, SHEFFIELD’ and thanked the public for ‘the friendship of her deceased husband, JOHN”

p109 the widow of the buttonmaker Josef Cofin, a member of one of the few Jewish families in late 18th-century Sheffield, took over his business in the Park district of the town when he died some time before 1787. Another Sheffield button maker, Sarah Holy, inherited her business from her husband in 1758 and ran it until her own death ten years later … she was soon emeshed in the local Methodist community; so much so that she lent money to the Mulberry Street chapel to pay for new pillars during the 1760s. … her personal effects spoke of a comfortable, middling lifestyle, mahogany chairs, a writing desk, card table, china, silverware and Delft plates.

p111 “a Mrs Garnett, the widow of Mr Bryce Garnett … announced in the same year [1817] that she intended to continue his hairdressing business in York Street, Sheffield, with the assistance of her son.

Books Feminism Women's history

Notes from Tamta’s World: The Life and Encounters of a Medieval Noblewoman from the Middle East to Mongolia, by Antony Eastmond

p. 15 Despite its complexity, Tamta’s life can be summarised in one sentence. Of Armenian birth, she was raised at the Georgian court before being married to two Ayyubid rulers, raped and then married by the Shah of the Khwarazmians, captured by the Seljuks, transported by the Mongols, before finally returning to the city of Aklat as its ruler for the last decade of her life.”

p. 22 Even to define her family’s ethnicity is problematic. “… the Armenian-speaking historian Kirakos Gandzaketsi essentially regarded them as Armenian … his idea of what constitutes ‘Armenian’ fluctuates, as elsewhere in his history he notes the family was of Kurdish descent… the Ayyubid family of Saladin into which Tamta was to marry are similarly recorded by Arab historians as being of Kurdish descent, originating from a village near the Armenian city of Dvin … they reinvented themselves as Arabic-speaking rulers. ”

p. 26 Whatever the origins of Tamta and her family, the Mqargdzelis rose to prominence not in Armenia but Georgia. Following their father Sargis, Ivane and his elder brother Zakare found promotion at the Georgian court of Queen Tamar (r. 1184-1210_. Tamar, the only daughter of King Giorgio III, had faced considerable opposition to her elevation to the throne on her father’s death. However, after a decade of rebellion and plot she managed to establish herself as the legitimate, sole ruler. This later enabled her daughter Rusudan, to succeed to the throne after her son, Giorgio IV Lasha, died without legitimate heirs…. Zakare, the elder brother, was appointed by Queen Tamas … commander of her army, and Ivane was made … chamberlain…”

p. 73 Akhlat … is now a small provincial town on the north-west shore of Lake Van in eastern Turkey, its population of just 20,000 dispersed over a wide area … its old buildings were burned down during the Khwarazmian and Mongol sieges of the 1220s and 1230s and what was left was destroyed in two devastating earthquakes in 1246 and 1276…cold and snow are cliches in all of the medieval descriptions of the tosn … its key value lay in its location: it was the meeting place of four different worlds … to the north-east stood the Christian kingdoms of the Caucasus, Georgia and Armenia. It was from here that Ivane drew his army that was to face defeat in 1210 by the walls of Akhlat… the city’s population was largely Christian and Armenian … in the north and west was the plateau of Asian Minor. Although historically a province of the Byzantine Empire, much of the territory had come under the control of Turkish tribes in the course of the 12th century .. still contained a majority Christian population, mostly Greek speaking, but also Armenian and Syriac. To the south lay Syria and the Jazira, a confederation of Arabic city-states, divided among the Ayyubid family of Saladin. Finally to the south-east lay the Persian world of Azerbaihan and Iran. And … from the 1220s Akhlat became a frontier for yet more groups to cross and conquer, the Khwarazmians from Central Asia and then the Mongols.

p. 77 “Under its Sokmenid rulers the fabric of the city had been transformed over the previous 50 years using the income it earned from its position on the trade routes between Anatolia and Iran as well, perhaps, as the spoils it had taken from the Georgians in the 1160s. This had enabled Shahbanu, the wife of the Shah-i Armen Nasir al-Din Sokmen II, to begin an extensive building programme in the city. Like Tamta, she had come to Akhlat as a diplomatic bride to form an alliance with the neighbouring emirate of Erzurum… a campaign had begun to renew and repair all the roads leading to Akhlat; the old wooden bridges were replaced with new stone ones and a series of caravanseais was established along the roads leading to the city…

beseiging the city, Ivane was captured, p. 82 “although al-Awhad was still in command of Akhlat … it seems that he was barely in control: his army was effectively beseiged in the town’s citadel by its population Indeed even al-Awhad’s marriage to Tamta seems to have been organised without his knowledge … it balanced the needs and bargaining strengths of three different groups… although she started off simply as a pawn … she stood to be transformed by the wedding. The act of marriage provided a new and potentially powerful dimension to her identity as the figure that each party in the negotiation needed in order to placate the others. … Tamte’s ability to reduce taxation of monasteries and improve access for pilgrims to Jerusalem show she was able to capitalise on this, and convert her position to one with real power.

p. 89 the marriage of Simonis, the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos (r. 1282-1328) to Stefan III Milutin, the King of Serbia …in 1299 the Byzantine Emperor was forced to agree to the marriage: Byzantine power was on the wane, and he needed a way to prevent further incursions from Serbia into his territory. Simonis’ dowry was Byzantine lands in the north-west of the empire, which were already in Milutin’s hands: presenting them as a dowry legalised the transfer of ownership and allowed the Emperor to save face… p. 90 Simonis was just five when the marriage was agreed. Milutin was in his forties. This would be his fourth marriage (possibly his fifth) and his sexual appetite was legendary.. Simonis’s age outraged Byzantine society. Andronikos had to plead forgiveness from the Patriarch of Constantinope, wringin his hands like Pilate and claiming that it was a matter beyond his control… Simonis was forced to go to live at her new husband’s court in Serbia, supposedly looked after until she reached puberty. But within three years – when Simonis was at most only eight – she was repeatedly raped by her husband, leaving her unable to have children. Over the years that followed she tried to escape and get back home on more than one occasion; but even when she succeeded … she was forcibly returned by her own brother. Adopting a nun’s habit had proved no defence; her brother simply ripped the clothing off her back and tied her to her horse for the return…. Milutin’s ability to mistreat his bride with impunity clearly symbolised the impotence of the empire”

Tamta married Al-Awhad’s brother Al-Ashraf when the former died … her influence seems to have worked throughout the Ayyubid confederacy. Tamta’s advocacy for pilgrims indicates that she also still retained contacts with the Georgian and Armenian heartlands in which she had grown up.”

p. 216 “The most impressive account of a pilgrimage made during Tamta’s time as wife of al-Ashraf comes away from Jerusalem, at the monastery of Gandzasar, located in the eastern Armenian prvince of AStsakh (now the disputed territroty of Nagorno-Karabagh in Azerbaijan). It concerns a woman named Khorishah, a senior member of the ruling family of the region and a close ally of the Mqargrdzelis.. an inscription set up on the north side of the nave in 1240 by Khorishah’s son … “my mother became a nun and went three times to Jerusalem. There, from the gate of the Holy Resurrection, she took herself to the dwelling of the nuns wearing a hair shirt and, after many years spent in … penitence, she passed into Christ, adorned with the seal of light, and her remains are preserved there.” [travelled between 1216 and her death in 1238 ” “Once in the Holy City she earned her own living my making and selling embroideries. Indeed, this was the one form of employment that was deemed honourable for (noble) women to undertake.”
p. 322 The battle of Garni “the latest invaders, the Khwarazmians, appeared in the Caucasus in 1225 at Garni. This site, in cetral Armenia, possesses the eastern-most building of the Graeco-Roman world. … a peristyle temple probably erected in the 1st century AD… still standing in the 13th century.. the shadow that Ivane drew up his forces to face the Khwarazmian army in 1225. .. Jalal al-Din captured Akhlat in April 1230 p. 327 “he entered the palace where he passed the night in the company of the daughter of Ivane”… “rape was a common tactic of war … but it was much rarer to employ it against female members of the elite … rape simultaneously humiliated the Georgians, the Armenians and the Uyyabids .. Tamta’s treatment was subsequently legalised by marriage, giving Tamta her third (and in this case bigamous) husband. The marriage only lasted four months we must assume she stayed behind in Akhlat.”

p. 340 al-AShraf … having restored Tamta to Akhlat her left the city and rode on to Sinjar and then back to Damascus. He was never to return to Akhlat. .. Tamta’s capture by the Mongols in 1236 shows that she cannot have travelled with al-AShraf … in 1232 Akhlat was firmly brough back into the Turkic world of Anatolia, after the 30 year interlufe of Ayyubid rule. .. it was possible for Tamta to shift allegiance without losing power.”

p. 347 “as the crow flies it is more than 4,800 km from Akhlat toi Kakakorum; on the ground, whether travelling on foot or on horseback, it is considerably longer. This was the journey that Tamta made twice, as she travelled to and from the capital of the Great Khan. She was probably away from Akhlat for between five and nine years.”

p. 369 “The decision of the Mongols to return Tamta to Akhlat suggests that they believed she still represented the Ayyubid government in Akhlat, even though no Ayyubid had been in control of the city for more than a decade. However, the fact that Queen Rusudan requested her return indicates that even after her years in capitivity Tamta still possessed a complex, multi-faceted identity which enabled her to retain a value and relevance among the different groups across the region … to the Armenians and others in Akhlat she was still regarded as their ruler, although she now had to meediate between them and her Mongol overlords, rather than the Turkic and Arabic powers that had previously been in power. It was convenient for all sides to believe that Tamta had inherited rule of the city and its surroundings from her husband.

p. 380 The cultural traditions of the Mongol world accorded women much higher status and independent power than they received among the people they conquered to the west. The women who married into the family of Genghis Khan and his relatives possessed considerable rights. Each organised her own ordo (court) Wwith multiple tents, carried on up to 200 carts ,… they had independent wealth, could own property and conduct trade, all of which could be passed on to other women on their deaths; they could command armies and even fight; and they determined the faith and education of their children. [[Culture and Conquest of Mongol Eurasia, TT Allsen.]]

Books History Women's history

From How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer by Sarah Bakewell

p. 150
Libertinism remained a minority pursuit, but a disproportionately influential one, because out of the libertins would evolve the Enlightenment philosophers of the following century. They gave Montaigne a dangerous yet positive new image, which would stick. They also spawned a less radical breed of salon socialites,: aphorists such as La Bruyere and La Rouchefoucauld whose Maximes gathered together brief, Montaignean observations on human nature:
At times we are as different from ourselves as we are from others.
The surest way to be taken in is to think oneself craftier than other people.
Chance and caprice rule the world.
And, as it happens, one La Rochefoucauld maxim provided a neat comment on Montaigne’s own 17th-century predicament:
We often irritate others when we think we could not possibly do so.

p. 174
According to Giovanni Botero, an Italian political writer living in France in the 1580s, the French countryside of that decade was so rife with thieves and murderers that every house was obliged to keep “watch of the vineyards and orchards: gates, locks, bolts and mastiffs’. Apparently Botero had not visited the Montaigne estate: there the only defender was a person whom Montaigne described as ‘a porter of ancient custom and ceremony, who serves not so much to defend my door as to offer it with more decorum and grace’.
Montaigne lived this way because he was determined to resist intimidation, and did not want to become his own gaoler. But he also believed that, paradoxically, his openness made him safer … Locks made a place look valuable, and there could be no sense of glory in robbing a household where one was welcomed by an elderly doorkeeper. Also, the usual rules of fortification hardly apply in a civil war, ‘your valet may be of the party that you fear’ … far better to win the enemy over by behaving with generosity and honour.
,, once travelling through a forest in a dangerous rural area, he was attacked by 15 to 20 masked men … “I owed my deliverance to my face and the freedom and firmness of my speech’… this was the kind of confrontation that could happen at any time, to any person, and Montaigne often wondered about the best way of dealing with it. Is it wiser to face up squarely to your enemy and challenge him, or should you curry favour by showing submission. Should you throw yourself on the aggressor’s mercy and hope that his sense of humanity will make him spare you? Or if that foolhardy?”

p. 179 “For Montaigne, all humans share an element of their being, and so do all other living things … ‘There is a certain respect, and a general duty of humanity, that attaches us not only to animals, who have life and feeling, but even to trees and plants. We owe justice to men, and mercy and kindness to other creatures that may be capable of receiving it. There is some relationship between them and us, and some mutual obligation’….
We owe other beings the countless small acts of kindness and empathy that Nietzsche would describe as ‘goodwill’ … Montaigne added this remark about his dog: “I am not afraid to admit that my nature is so tender, so childish, that I cannot well refuse my dog the play he offers me or asks of me outside the proper time.” He indulges his dog because he can imaginatively share the animal’s point of view: he can feel how desperate the dog is to banish boredom and get his human friend’s attention.”

p. 291 “Marie le Jars de Gournay, Montaigne’s first great editor and publicist … was a woman of extreme enthusiasm and emotion, all of which she uninhibitedly threw at Montaigne on their first meeting in Paris … her family, minor provincial nobles, lived partly in Paris and partly at the Picardy chateau and estate of Gournay-sur-Aronde, which her father bought in 1568. In adulthood, Marie took her last name from this estate. Such a right was normally reserved for sons, but it was typical of her to ignore this rule … By 1580, Marie was confined to a provincial world … she did what she could to educate herself using the books in the family library. By reading Latin works alongside their French translations, she gave herself the best classical ground she could. The result was a patchy knowledge, unsystematic but deeply motivated.”

Books Feminism History Politics Women's history

Notes from The Kingdom of Women: Life, Love and Death in China’s Hidden Mountains by Choo Waihong

p. 120 The very existence of a woman-centric society in a sea of patriarchy that has inundated the whole world … calls into question the inevitability of human society involving as the male-dominant archetype. The Kingdom of Women has shown that it is possible to have an alternative model … forging a better environment in which a woman can e nurtured and fostered to reach her full potential as a complete, confident person ready to contribute as meaningfully as a man to society … the Mosuo model that puts the female at its centre without downgrading the male to purgatory appears to be a much better option. In a mad moment … I had a vision that I must have been a Mosou woman in a past life. How else could I make sense of the feeling of connectedness I feel in the midst of my Mosuo friends, never again having to fight against covert male chauvunusm in my previous law firms in Singapore or be as aggressive as the next man in an all-male network of lawyers in Los Angeles.”

p. 121. “Gumi … her direct maternal ancestor is Malaxshimi, whose clan is found today in the southern parts of Asia and on the islands of the Pacific as well as in Mongolia, Korea, India and Pakistan.”

p. “I became curious to find out where Zhaxi’s ancestors [a particularly prominent, popular, six-foot man] came from … his genes revealed that he was descended from the paternal clan ancestor of Sigurd, the dragon-slayer of Norse mythology. Here was a he-man from Lugu Lake who could trace his ancestry to the Vikings of Norway .. it might suggest why Zhaxi and his Musou brothers look so different from the Chinese and other ethnic minority groups in this part of the world.”

p. 147 “An axia pair may decide to go on meeting on a regular basis that progresses over time into a stable relationship, and this is when their affair is more open, with the ‘walking’ man not hiding his presence in front of the woman’s family … the male axia comes and goes openly, though still only at night “

p. 149 “the ‘nuclear’ family is a separate unit consisting of the grandmother and her children and all her matrilineal descendants’”