Chris Blattman

Why did the Glorious Revolution happen in England, not Egypt?

A new APSR paper by Lisa Blaydes and Eric Chaney.

what was it about feudalism that promoted both ruler stability and economic growth? And how did feudal institutions compare to methods of social control and organization in the Islamic world?

European monarchs lacked the financial resources to outsource their military needs to foreign mercenaries following the fall of the Roman Empire. The feudal relationships which evolved served as the foundation
for military human resources as the landed nobility of Europe emerged as a “warrior class.” When monarchical abuses took place, barons were able to impose forms of executive constraint on European kings that formed the basis for more secure property rights.

Sultans in the Muslim world, by contrast, inherited more capable bureaucracies from conquered Byzantine and Sassanid lands and introduced mamlukism—or the use of slave soldiers imported from non-Muslim lands—as the primary means of elite military recruitment. Mamluks—segregated from the local population—swore their allegiance to the sultan. Local elites in the Muslim world did not serve as the source of elite military recruitment and, thus, were poorly positioned to impose the types of constraints on the executive that became evident in Europe.

The important, counterintuitive bit is actually in a footnote:

This pattern suggests a “reversal of fortune”… where fiscal and administrative capacity actually hindered long-term economic prosperity by providing Islamic dynasties with the means to avoid bargaining with their own elite populations.

I would have expected that to be the punchline of the paper. In line with this autocracy article.

5 Responses

  1. Several points need some amplification: 1) In the Ottoman Empire there were two types of warriors -Janissaries, infantry recruited from Christian Balkan lands at a very young age, they were kept in their own environment, became bondsmen to the Sultan, and did not engage in any outside activity during the zenith of the Empire; the others were Sipahis – cavalry, recruited from Moslem families, often hereditary tax farmers (timars). Corruption entered into the affairs of both groups as Janissaries in the 17th & 18th centuries began to marry and the “timar” system did not collect enough revenue to finance the regime. As a result, the Ottomans were increasingly at the brink of economic disaster until reformed military systems could be introduced. It was not, in the end, a formula for success.
    The key to the Ancient Greek system of warfare, besides recruiting all members of the polis on an equal basis, was the superior tactic of the massed phalanx. Without these two elements – the “polites” of the polis acting together with their fellow citizens in the phalanx they would not have been successful. The massed formation like the bundled “fasces” needed all the parts to hang together.Just like a winning country.

  2. I’m watching Kenneth Harl’s Great Course’s “Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor”. A related quote: “So that type of infantry fighting – that heavily armed infantry, which proved invincible on the battlefields in the later Archaic and classical age – really depended very much on the political institutions of the polis [the Greek city-state]. One was premised on the other”
    It does seem that in order to give power to The People you need to be able to count on them in battle. I don’t know how you extend that to modern nations – I guess we’re all hoping that war continues to become less important.

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