Imperial War Stimulates Population Increase

“Did mounting population exhaust the land, tempting Petexbatun rulers to seize their neighbors’ property, leading to a cycle of response that spiraled into cataclysmic war? If anything, (Arthur) Demarest believes, it was the other way around: An unleashed lust for wealth and power turned them into aggressors, resulting in reprisals that required their cities to abandon vulnerable outlying fields and intensify production closer to home, eventually pushing land beyond its tolerance.

‘Society had evolved too many elites, all demanding exotic baubles.’ He describes a culture wobbling under the weight of an excess of nobles, all needing quetzal feathers, jade, obsidian, fine chert, custom polychrome, fancy corbeled roofs, and animal furs. Nobility is expensive, nonproductive, and parasitic, siphoning away too much of society’s energy to satisfy its frivolous cravings.

‘Too many heirs wanted thrones, or needed some ritual bloodletting to confirm their stature. So dynastic warfare heightened.’ As more temples need building, the higher caloric demand on workers requires more food production, he explains. Population rises to insure enough food producers. War itself often increases population–as it did in the Aztec, Incan, and Chinese empires–because rulers require cannon fodder.”

Excerpted from Pp. 228-229 of Weisman, Alan. 2007. The world without us. New York: St. Martin’s Press.


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