““Some military inventions had cascading effects on cultural and social evolution,” explains Turchin, who conducted the data analyses in this study. “The invention of bit and bridle, for instance, made it easier to control horses, which led to advances in weapons or the appearance of mounted archers and knights, which again made it necessary to build better fortifications. According to our study, this bundle of military technologies was one of the most important factors leading to the rise of mega-empires and of world religions like Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam during the first millennium BCE.”
Turchin and colleagues define a ‘mega-empire’ as a society supporting tens of millions of inhabitants and covering millions of square kilometers of territory, which they say began to appear in different parts of Europe and Asia as part of a process of growing social complexity driven by the connection – and competition – between states with increasingly advanced and dangerous technology.
The scientists also found strong signs of the importance of agricultural productivity. “A certain level of food production may have been necessary for the subsequent development of new war technologies,” says co-author Dan Hoyer, who leads and organizes Seshat data collection. “To explore the role of agriculture for the evolution of military technology in more detail would be an interesting next research step.””
Comment: The authors do not mention stirrups, Before the 4th or 5th Century stirrups were unknown in Europe. They were invented somewhere out on the steppe in Asia and drifted westward down the “steppe gradient.”
Before stirrups cavalry was a minor part of western armies. The Roman Army had a small cavalry arm but it was mainly useful for reconnaissance. The problem was that without stirrups the horseman’s “seat” was not steady enough to enable the warrior to use the horse as a massive source of energy in attacking with a lance or indeed to be able to produce a steady, aimed, stream of arrow fire from horseback.
Stirrups changed all that and cavalry became a major shock arm on every battlefield. pl