An Essay on the Principle of Population

Thomas Robert Malthus
Malthus, Thomas Robert
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London: John Murray
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6th edition

Book I, Chapter VI

Of the Checks to Population among the ancient Inhabitants of the North of Europe.


A history of the early migrations and settlements of mankind, with the motives which prompted them, would illustrate in a striking manner the constant tendency in the human race to increase beyond the means of subsistence. Without some general law of this nature, it would seem as if the world could never have been peopled. A state of sloth, and not of restlessness and activity, seems evidently to be the natural state of man; and this latter disposition could not have been generated but by the strong goad of necessity, though it might afterwards be continued by habit, and the new associations that were formed from it, the spirit of enterprise, and the thirst of martial glory.


We are told that Abraham and Lot had so great substance in cattle, that the land would not bear them both, that they might dwell together. There was strife between their herdsmen. And Abraham proposed to Lot to separate, and said, "Is not the whole land before thee? If thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left."*66


This simple observation and proposal is a striking illustration of that great spring of action which overspread the whole earth with people; and, in the progress of time, drove some of the less fortunate inhabitants of the globe, yielding to irresistible pressure, to seek a scanty subsistence in the burning deserts of Asia and Africa, and the frozen regions of Siberia and North America. The first migrations would naturally find no other obstacles than the nature of the country; but when a considerable part of the earth had been peopled, though but thinly, the possessors of these districts would not yield them to others without a struggle; and the redundant inhabitants of any of the more central spots could not find room for themselves without expelling their nearest neighbours, or at least passing through their territories, which would necessarily give occasion to frequent contests.


The middle latitudes of Europe and Asia seem to have been occupied at an early period of history by nations of shepherds. Thucydides gave it as his opinion, that the civilized states of Europe and Asia, in his time, could not resist the Scythians united. Yet a country in pasture cannot possibly support so many inhabitants as a country in tillage. But what renders nations of shepherds so formidable, is the power which they possess of moving altogether, and the necessity they frequently feel of exerting this power in search of fresh pasture for their herds. A tribe that is rich in cattle has an immediate plenty of food. Even the parent stock may be devoured in case of absolute necessity. The women live in greater ease than among nations of hunters, and are consequently more prolific. The men, bold in their united strength, and confiding in their power of procuring pasture for their cattle by change of place, feel probably but few fears about providing for a family. These combined causes soon produce their natural and invariable effect, an extended population. A more frequent and rapid change of place then becomes necessary. A wider and more extensive territory is successively occupied. A broader desolation extends all around them. Want pinches the less fortunate members of the society; and at length the impossibility of supporting such a number together becomes too evident to be resisted. Young scions are then pushed out from the parent stock, and instructed to explore fresh regions, and to gain happier seats for themselves by their swords.

"The world is all before them where to choose."

Restless from present distress, flushed with the hope of fairer prospects, and animated with the spirit of hardy enterprise, these daring adventurers are likely to become formidable adversaries to all who oppose them. The inhabitants of countries long settled, engaged in the peaceful occupations of trade and agriculture, would not often be able to resist the energy of men acting under such powerful motives of exertion. And the frequent contests with tribes in the same circumstances with themselves, would be so many struggles for existence, and would be fought with a desperate courage, inspired by the reflection, that death would be the punishment of defeat, and life the prize of victory.


In these savage contests, many tribes must have been utterly exterminated. Many probably perished by hardships and famine. Others; whose leading star had given them a happier direction, became great and powerful tribes, and in their turn sent off fresh adventurers in search of other seats. These would at first owe allegiance to their parent tribe; but in a short time the ties which bound them would be little felt, and they would remain friends, or become enemies, according as their power, their ambition or their convenience, might dictate.


The prodigious waste of human life, occasioned by this perpetual struggle for room and food, would be more than supplied by the mighty power of population, acting in some degree unshackled from the constant habit of migration. A prevailing hope of bettering their condition by change of place, a constant expectation of plunder, a power even, if distressed, of selling their children as slaves, added to the natural carelessness of the barbaric character, would all conspire to raise a population, which would remain to be repressed afterwards by famine and war.


The tribes that possessed themselves of the more fruitful regions, though they might win them and maintain them by continual battles, rapidly increased in number and power, from the increased means of subsistence; till at length the whole territory, from the confines of China to the shores of the Baltic, was peopled by a various race of barbarians, brave, robust, and enterprising, inured to hardships, and delighting in war.*67 While the different fixed governments of Europe and Asia, by superior population and superior skill, were able to oppose an impenetrable barrier to their destroying hordes, they wasted their superfluous numbers in contests with each other; but the moment that the weakness of the settled governments, or the casual union of many of these wandering tribes, gave them the ascendant in power, the storm discharged itself on the fairest provinces of the earth; and China, Persia, Egypt and Italy were overwhelmed at different periods in this flood of barbarism.


These remarks are strongly exemplified in the fall of the Roman empire. The shepherds of the north of Europe were long held in check by the vigour of the Roman arms, and the terror of the Roman name. The formidable irruption of the Cimbri in search of new settlements, though signalized by the destruction of five consular armies, was at length arrested in its victorious career by Marius; and the barbarians were taught to repent their rashness by the almost complete extermination of this powerful colony.*68 The names of Julius Cæsar, of Drusus, Tiberius, and Germanicus, impressed on their minds by the slaughter of their countrymen, continued to inspire them with a fear of encroaching on the Roman territory. But they were rather triumphed over than vanquished;*69 and though the armies or colonies which they sent forth were either cut off or forced back into their original seats, the vigour of the great German nation remained unimpaired, and ready to pour forth her hardy sons in constant succession, wherever they could force an opening for themselves by their swords. The feeble reigns of Decius, Gallus, Æmilianus, Valerian, and Gallienus, afforded such an opening, and were in consequence marked by a general irruption of barbarians. The Goths, who were supposed to have migrated in the course of some years from Scandinavia to the Euxine, were bribed to withdraw their victorious troops by an annual tribute. But no sooner was the dangerous secret of the wealth and weakness of the Roman empire thus revealed to the world, than new swarms of barbarians spread devastation through the frontier provinces, and terror as far as the gates of Rome.*70 The Franks, the Allemanni, the Goths, and adventurers of less considerable tribes, comprehended under these general appellations, poured like a torrent on different parts of the empire. Rapine and oppression destroyed the produce of the present and the hope of future harvests. A long and general famine was followed by a wasting plague, which for fifteen years ravaged every city and province of the Roman empire; and, judging from the mortality in some spots, it was conjectured that in a few years war, pestilence, and famine, had consumed the moiety of the human species.*71 Yet the tide of emigration still continued at intervals to roll impetuously from the north; and the succession of martial princes, who repaired the misfortunes of their predecessors, and propped the falling fate of the empire, had to accomplish the labours of Hercules in freeing the Roman territory from these barbarous invaders. The Goths, who, in the year 250 and the following years, ravaged the empire both by sea and land with various success, but in the end with the almost total loss of their adventurous bands,*72 in the year 269 sent out an emigration of immense numbers, with their wives and families, for the purpose of settlement.*73 This formidable body, which was said to consist at first of 320,000 barbarians,*74 was ultimately destroyed and dispersed by the vigour and wisdom of the emperor Claudius. His successor, Aurelian, encountered and vanquished new hosts of the same name that had quitted their settlements in the Ukraine; but one of the implied conditions of the peace was, that he should withdraw the Roman forces from Dacia, and relinquish this great province to the Goths and Vandals.*75 A new and most formidable invasion of the Allemanni threatened soon after to sack the mistress of the world, and three great and bloody battles were fought by Aurelian before this destroying host could be exterminated, and Italy be delivered from its ravages.*76


The strength of Aurelian had crushed on every side the enemies of Rome. After his death they seemed to revive with an increase of fury and numbers. They were again vanquished on all sides by the active vigour of Probus. The deliverance of Gaul alone from the German invaders is reported to have cost the lives of four hundred thousand barbarians.*77 The victorious emperor pursued his successes into Germany itself; and the princes of the country, astonished at his presence, and dismayed and exhausted by the ill success of their last emigration, submitted to any terms that the conquerors might impose.*78 Probus, and afterwards Diocletian*79 adopted the plan of recruiting the exhausted provinces of the empire by granting lands to the fugitive or captive barbarians, and disposing of their superfluous numbers where they might be the least likely to be dangerous to the state; but such colonizations were an insufficient vent for the population of the north, and the ardent temper of the barbarians would not always bend to the slow labours of agriculture.*80 During the vigorous reign of Diocletian, unable to make an effectual impression on the Roman frontiers, the Goths, the Vandals, the Gepidæ, the Burgundians, and the Allemanni, wasted each other's strength by mutual hostilities, while the subjects of the empire enjoyed the bloody spectacle, conscious that, whoever vanquished, they vanquished the enemies of Rome.*81


Under the reign of Constantine the Goths were again formidable. Their strength had been restored by a long peace, and a new generation had arisen, which no longer remembered the misfortunes of ancient days.*82 In two successive wars great numbers of them were slain. Vanquished on every side, they were driven into the mountains; and, in the course of a severe campaign, above a hundred thousand were computed to have perished by cold and hunger.*83 Constantine adopted the plan of Probus and his successors in granting lands to those suppliant barbarians who were expelled from their own country. Towards the end of his reign, a competent portion, in the provinces of Pannonia, Thrace, Macedonia, and Italy, was assigned for the habitation and subsistence of three hundred thousand Sarmatians.*84


The warlike Julian had to encounter and vanquish new swarms of Franks and Allemanni, who, emigrating from their German forests during the cival wars of Constantine, settled in different parts of Gaul, and made the scene of their devastations three times more extensive than that of their conquests.*85 Destroyed and repulsed on every side, they were pursued in five expeditions into their own country;*86 but Julian had conquered, as soon as he had penetrated into Germany; and in the midst of that mighty hive, which had sent out such swarms of people as to keep the Roman world in perpetual dread, the principal obstacles to his progress were almost impassable roads and vast unpeopled forests.*87


Though thus subdued and prostrated by the victorious arms of Julian, this hydra-headed monster rose again after a few years; and the firmness, vigilance and powerful genius of Valentinian were fully called into action, in protecting his dominions from the different irruptions of the Allemanni, the Burgundians, the Saxons, the Goths, the Quadi, and the Sarmatians.*88


The fate of Rome was at length determined by an irresistible emigration of the Huns from the east and north, which precipitated on the empire the whole body of the Goths;*89 and the continuance of this powerful pressure on the nations of Germany seemed to prompt them to the resolution of abandoning to the fugitives of Sarmatia their woods and morasses, or at least of discharging their superfluous numbers on the provinces of the Roman empire.*90 An emigration of four hundred thousand persons issued from the same coast of the Baltic, which had poured forth the myriads of Cimbri and Teutones during the vigour of the Republic.*91 When this host was destroyed by war and famine, other adventurers succeeded. The Suevi, the Vandals, the Alani, the Burgundians, passed the Rhine, never more to retreat.*92 The conquerors, who first settled, were expelled or exterminated by new invaders. Clouds of barbarians seemed to collect from all parts of the northern hemisphere. Gathering fresh darkness and terror as they rolled on, the congregated bodies at length obscured the sun of Italy, and sunk the western world in night.


In two centuries from the flight of the Goths across the Danube, barbarians of various names and lineage had plundered and taken possession of Thrace, Pannonia, Gaul, Britain, Spain, Africa, and Italy.*93 The most horrible devastations and an incredible destruction of the human species accompanied these rapid conquests; and famine and pestilence, which always march in the train of war when it ravages with such inconsiderate cruelty, raged in every part of Europe. The historians of the times, who beheld these scenes of desolation, labour and are at a loss for expressions to describe them; but, beyond the power of language, the numbers and the destructive violence of these barbarous invaders were evinced by the total change which took place in the state of Europe.*94 These tremendous effects, so long and so deeply felt throughout the fairest portions of the earth, may be traced in a great degree to the simple cause of the superiority of the power of population to the means of subsistence.


Machiavel, in the beginning of his History of Florence, says, "The people who inhabit the northern parts that lie between the Rhine and the Danube, living in a healthful and prolific climate, often increase to such a degree, that vast numbers of them are forced to leave their native country and go in search of new habitations. When any of those provinces begins to grow too populous and wants to disburden itself, the following method is observed. In the first place, it is divided into three parts, in each of which there is an equal portion of the nobility and commonalty, the rich and the poor. After this they cast lots; and that division on which the lot falls, quits the country and goes to seek its fortune, leaving the other two more room and liberty to enjoy their possessions at home. These emigrations proved the destruction of the Roman Empire."*95 Gibbon is of opinion that Machiavel has represented these emigrations too much as regular and concerted measures;*96 but I think it highly probable that he had not erred much in this respect, and that it was a foresight of the frequent necessity of thus discharging their redundant population, which gave occasion to that law among the Germans, taken notice of by Cæsar and Tacitus, of not permitting their cultivated lands to remain longer than a year under the same possessors.*97 The reasons, which, Cæsar mentions as being assigned for this custom, seem to be hardly adequate; but if we add to them the prospect of emigration in the manner described by Machiavel, the custom will appear to be highly useful, and a double weight will be given to one of the reasons that Cæsar mentions; namely, lest they should be led, by being accustomed to one spot, to exchange the toils of war for the business of agriculture.*98


Gibbon very justly rejects, with Hume and Robertson, the improbable supposition that the inhabitants of the north were far more numerous formerly than at present;*99 but he thinks himself obliged at the same time to deny the strong tendency to increase in the northern nations,*100 as if the two facts were necessarily connected. For a careful distinction should always be made, between a redundant population and a population actually great. The Highlands of Scotland are probably more redundant in population than any other part of Great Britain; and though it would be admitting a palpable absurdity to allow that the north of Europe, covered in early ages with immense forests, and inhabited by a race of people who supported themselves principally by their herds and flocks,*101 was more populous in those times than in its present state; yet the facts detailed in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, or even the very slight sketch of them that I have given, cannot rationally be accounted for, without the supposition of a most powerful tendency in these people to increase, and to repair their repeated losses by the prolific power of nature.


From the first irruption of the Cimbri, to the final extinction of the western empire, the efforts of the German nations to colonize or plunder were unceasing.*102 The numbers that were cut off during this period by war and famine were almost incalculable, and such as could not possibly have been supported with undiminished vigour by a country thinly peopled, unless the stream had been supplied by a spring of very extraordinary power.


Gibbon describes the labours of Valentinian in securing the Gallic frontier against the Germans; an enemy, he says, whose strength was renewed by a stream of daring volunteers which incessantly flowed from the most distant tribes of the north.*103 An easy adoption of strangers was probably a mode, by which some of the German nations renewed their strength so suddenly,*104 after the most destructive defeats; but this explanation only removes the difficulty a little further off. It makes the earth rest upon the tortoise; but does not tell us on what the tortoise rests. We may still ask what northern reservoir supplied this incessant stream of daring adventurers? Montesquieu's solution of the problem will, I think, hardly be admitted. The swarms of barbarians which issued formerly from the north, appear no more, he says, at present; and the reason he gives is, that the violence of the Romans had driven the people of the south into the north, who, as long as this force continued, remained there; but as soon as it was weakened, spread themselves again over every country.


The same phenomenon appeared after the conquests and tyrannies of Charlemagne and the subsequent dissolution of his empire; and if a prince, he says, in the present days were to make similar ravages in Europe, the nations driven into the north, and resting on the limits of the universe,*105 would there make a stand till the moment when they would inundate or conquer Europe a third time. In a note he observes, "we see to what the famous question is reduced—why the north is no longer so fully peopled as in former times?"


If the famous question, or rather the answer to it, be reduced to this, it is reduced to a miracle; for without some supernatural mode of obtaining food, how these collected nations could support themselves in such barren regions for so long a period as during the vigour of the Roman empire, it is a little difficult to conceive; and one can hardly help smiling at the bold figure of these prodigious crowds making their last determined stand on the limits of the universe, and living, as we must suppose, with the most patient fortitude on air and ice for some hundreds of years, till they could return to their own homes and resume their usual more substantial mode of subsistence.


The whole difficulty, however, is at once removed, if we apply to the German nations at that time a fact which is so generally known to have occurred in America, and suppose that, when not checked by wars and famine, they increased at a rate that would double their numbers in twenty-five or thirty years. The propriety, and even the necessity, of applying this rate of increase to the inhabitants of ancient Germany will strikingly appear from that most valuable picture of their manners which has been left us by Tacitus. He describes them as not inhabiting cities, or even of admitting of contiguous settlements. Every person surrounds his house with a vacant space;*106 a circumstance, which besides its beneficial effect as a security from fire, is strongly calculated to prevent the generation, and check the ravages, of epidemics. "They content themselves almost universally with one wife. Their matrimonial bond is strict and severe, and their manners in this respect deserving of the highest praise.*107 They live in a state of well-guarded chastity, corrupted by no seducing spectacles or convivial incitements. Adultery is extremely rare, and no indulgence is shewn to a prostitute. Neither beauty, youth, nor riches, can procure her a husband: for none there looks on vice with a smile, or calls mutual seduction the way of the world. To limit the increase of children, or put to death any of the husband's blood, is accounted infamous; and virtuous manners have there more efficacy than good laws elsewhere.*108 Every mother suckles her own children, and does not deliver them into the hands of servants and nurses. The youths partake late of the sexual intercourse, and hence pass the age of puberty unexhausted. Nor are the virgins brought forward. The same maturity, the same full growth, is required; the sexes unite equally matched and robust, and the children inherit the vigour of their parents. The more numerous are a man's kinsmen and relations, the more comfortable is his old age; nor is it any advantage to be childless."*109


With these manners, and a habit of enterprise and emigration, which would naturally remove all fears about providing for a family, it is difficult to conceive a society with a stronger principle of increase; and we see at once that prolific source of successive armies and colonies, against which the force of the Roman empire so long struggled with difficulty, and under which it ultimately sunk. It is not probable that, for two periods together, or even for one, the population within the confines of Germany ever doubled itself in twenty-five years. Their perpetual wars, the rude state of agriculture, and particularly the very strange custom adopted by most of the tribes of marking their barriers by extensive deserts,*110 would prevent any very great actual increase of numbers. At no one period could the country be called well-peopled, though it was often redundant in population. They abandoned their immense forests to the exercise of hunting, employed in pasturage the most considerable part of their lands, bestowed on the small remainder a rude and careless cultivation, and when the return of famine severely admonished them of the insufficiency of their scanty resources, they accused the sterility of a country which refused to supply the multitude of its inhabitants;*111 but instead of clearing their forests, draining their swamps, and rendering their soil fit to support an extended population, they found it more congenial to their martial habits and impatient dispositions, "to go in quest of food, of plunder, or of glory,"*112 into other countries. These adventurers either gained lands for themselves by their swords or were cut off by the various accidents of war; were received into the Roman armies or dispersed over the Roman territory; or, perhaps, having relieved their country by their absence, returned home laden with spoils, and ready, after having recruited their diminished numbers, for fresh expeditions. The succession of human beings appears to have been most rapid; and as fast as some were disposed of in colonies, or mowed down by the scythe of war and famine, others rose in increased numbers to supply their place.


According to this view of the subject, the North could never have been exhausted; and when Dr. Robertson, describing the calamities of these invasions, says, that they did not cease till the North, by pouring forth successive swarms, was drained of people, and could no longer furnish instruments of destruction,*113 he will appear to have fallen into the very error which he had before laboured to refute, and to speak as if the northern nations were actually very populous. For they must have been so, if the number of their inhabitants at any one period had been sufficient, notwithstanding the slaughter of war, to people in such a manner Thrace, Pannonia, Gaul, Spain, Africa, Italy and England, as in some parts not to leave many traces of their former inhabitants. The period of the peopling of these countries, however, he himself mentions as two hundred years;*114 and in such a time new generations would arise that would more than supply every vacancy.


The true cause which put a stop to the continuance of northern emigration, was the impossibility any longer of making an impression on the most desirable countries of Europe. They were then inhabited by the descendants of the bravest and most enterprising of the German tribes; and it was not probable that they should so soon degenerate from the valour of their ancestors, as to suffer their lands to be wrested from them by inferior numbers and inferior skill, though perhaps superior hardihood.


Checked for a time by the bravery and poverty of their neighbours by land, the enterprising spirit and overflowing numbers of the Scandinavian nations soon found vent by sea. Feared before the reign of Charlemagne, they were repelled with difficulty by the care and vigour of that great prince; but during the distractions of the empire under his feeble successors, they spread like a devouring flame over Lower Saxony, Friezeland, Holland, Flanders, and the banks of the Rhine as far as Mentz.


After having long ravaged the coasts, they penetrated into the heart of France, pillaged and burnt her fairest towns, levied immense tributes on her monarchs, and at length obtained by grant one of the finest provinces in the kingdom. They made themselves even dreaded in Spain, Italy and Greece, spreading every where desolation and terror. Sometimes they turned their arms against each other, as if bent on their own mutual destruction; at other times they transported colonies to unknown or uninhabited countries, as if they were willing to repair in one place the horrid destruction of the human race occasioned by their furious ravages in another.*115


The mal-administration and civil wars of the Saxon kings of England produced the same effect as the weakness which followed the reign of Charlemagne in France;*116 and for two hundred years the British isles were incessantly ravaged, and often in part subdued, by these northern invaders. During the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries, the sea was covered with their vessels from one end of Europe to the other;*117 and the countries now the most powerful in arts and arms were the prey of their constant depredations. The growing and consolidating strength of these countries at length removed all further prospect of success from such invasions.*118 The nations of the north were slowly and reluctantly compelled to confine themselves within their natural limits and to exchange their pastoral manners, and with them the peculiar facilities of plunder and emigration which they afforded, for the patient labours and slow returns of trade and agriculture. But the slowness of these returns necessarily effected an important change in the manners of the people.


In ancient Scandinavia, during the time of its constant wars and emigrations, few, or none probably, were ever deterred from marrying by the fear of not being able to provide for a family. In modern Scandinavia, on the contrary, the frequency of the marriage union is continually checked by the most imperious and justly-founded apprehensions of this kind. This is most particularly the case in Norway, as I shall have occasion to remark in another place; but the same fears operate in a greater or less degree, though every where with considerable force, in all parts of Europe. Happily the more tranquil state of the modern world does not demand such rapid supplies of human beings; and the prolific powers of nature cannot therefore be so generally called into action.


Mallet, in the excellent account of the northern nations which he has prefixed to his History of Denmark, observes that he had not been able to discover any proofs that their emigrations proceeded from want of room at home;*119 and one of the reasons which he gives, is, that after a great emigration the countries often remained quite deserted and unoccupied for a long time.*120 But instances of this kind, I am inclined to think, were rare, though they might occasionally happen. With the habits of enterprise and emigration which prevailed in those days, a whole people would sometimes move in search of a more fertile territory. The lands, which they before occupied, must of necessity be left desert for a time; and if there were any thing particularly ineligible in the soil or situation, which the total emigration of the people would seem to imply, it might be more congenial to the temper of the surrounding barbarians, to provide for themselves better by their swords than to occupy immediately these rejected lands. Such total emigrations proved the unwillingness to divide; but by no means that they were not straitened for room and food at home.


The other reason, which Mallet gives, is that in Saxony, as well as Scandinavia, vast tracts of land lay in their original uncultivated state, having never been grabbed up or cleared; and that, from the descriptions of Denmark in those times, it appeared that the coasts alone were peopled; but the interior parts formed one vast forest.*121 It is evident that he here falls into the common error of confounding a superfluity of inhabitants with great actual population. The pastoral manners of the people and their habits of war and enterprise prevented them from clearing and cultivating their lands;*122 and then these very forests, by restraining the sources of subsistence within very narrow bounds, contributed to superfluity of numbers; that is, to a population beyond what the scanty supplies of the country could support.


There is another cause not often attended to, why poor, cold and thinly-peopled countries, tend generally to a superfluity of inhabitants, and are strongly prompted to emigration. In warmer and more populous countries, particularly those abounding in great towns and manufactures, an insufficient supply of food can seldom continue long without producing epidemics either in the shape of great and ravaging plagues, or of less violent, though more constant, sicknesses. In poor, cold and thinly-peopled countries, on the contrary, from the antiseptic quality of the air, the misery arising from insufficient or bad food may continue for a considerable time without producing these effects; and consequently this powerful stimulus to emigration continues to operate for a much longer period.*123


I would by no means, however, be understood to say, that the northern nations never undertook any expeditions, unless prompted by straitened food or circumstances at home. Mallet relates, what was probably true, that it was their common custom to hold an assembly every spring, for the purpose of considering in what quarter they should make war;*124 and among a people who nourished so strong a passion for war, and who considered the right of the strongest as a right divine, occasions for it would never be wanting. Besides this pure and disinterested love of war and enterprise, civil dissensions, the pressure of a victorious enemy, a wish for a milder climate, or other causes, might sometimes prompt to emigration; but, in a general view of the subject, I cannot help considering this period of history as affording a very striking illustration of the principle of population; a principle, which appears to me to have given the original impulse and spring of action, to have furnished the inexhaustible resources, and often prepared the immediate causes of that rapid succession of adventurous irruptions and emigrations, which occasioned the fall of the Roman empire; and afterwards, pouring from the thinly-peopled countries of Denmark and Norway for above two hundred years, ravaged and overran a great part of Europe. Without the supposition of a tendency to increase almost as great as in the United States of America, the facts appear to me not to be accounted for;*125 and with such a supposition, we cannot be at a loss to name the checks to the actual population, when we read the disgusting details of those unceasing wars, and of that prodigal waste of human life, which marked these barbarous periods.


Inferior checks would undoubtedly concur; but we may safely pronounce, that among the shepherds of the North of Europe war and famine were the principal checks that kept the population down to the level of their scanty means of subsistence.

Notes for this chapter

Genesis, ch. xiii.
The various branchings, divisions; and contests of the great Tartar nation are curiously described in the Genealogical History of the Tartars by the Khan Abul Ghazi: (translated into English from the French, with additions, in 2 vols. 8vo.) but the misfortune of all history is, that while the particular motives of a few princes and leaders, in their various projects of ambition, are sometimes detailed with accuracy, the general causes which crowd their standards with willing followers are often entirely overlooked.
Tacitus de Moribus Germanorum, s. 37.
Id. ib.
Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. i. c. x. p. 407, et seq. 8vo. Edit. 1783.
Id. vol. i. c. x. p. 455, 456.
Id. vol. i. c. x. p. 431.
Gibbon, vol. ii. c. xi. p. 13.
Id. p. 11.
Id. p. 19, A. D. 270.
Id. p. 26.
Id. vol. ii. c. xii. p. 75.
Gibbon, vol. ii. c. xii. p. 79, A. D. 277.
Id. c. xiii. p. 132, A. D. 296.
Id. c. xii. p. 84.
Id. c. xiii. p. 130.
Id. c. xiv. p. 254, A. D. 322.
Gibbon, vol. iii. c. xviii. p. 125, A. D. 332.
Id. p. 127.
Id. c. xix. p. 215, A. D. 356.
Id. p. 228, and vol. iv. c. xxii. p. 17, from A. D. 357 to 359.
Id. vol. iv. c. xxii. p. 17, and vol. iii. c. xix. p. 229.
Gibbon vol. iv. c. xxv. from A. D. 364 to 375.
Id. vol. iv. c. xxvi. p. 382, et seq. A. D. 376.
Id. vol. v. c. xxx. p. 213.
Id. p. 214. A. D. 406.
Id. p. 224.
Robertson's Charles V. vol. i. sect. i. p. 7. 8vo. 1782.
Id. p. 10, 11, 12.
Istorie Fiorentine Machiavelli, l. i. p. 1, 2.
Gibbon, vol. i. c. ix. p 360, note. Paul Diaconus, from whom it is supposed that Machiavel has taken this description, writes thus:—Septentrionalis plaga quantò magis ab æstu solis remota est et nivali frigore gelida, tantò salubrior corporibus hominum et propagandis gentibus magis coaptata. Sicut è contrario, omnis meridiana regio, quò solis est fervori vicinior, eò morbis est abundantior, et educandis minus apta mortalibus. **** Multæque quoque ex eâ, eò quod tantas mortalium turmas germinat, quantas alere vix sufficit, sæpe gentes egressæ sunt, quæ non solum partes Asiæ, sed etiam maxime sibi contiguam Enropam afflixere. (De Gestis Longobardorum, l. i. c. i.)

Intra banc ergo constituti populi, dum in tantam multitudinem pullulassent, ut jam simul habitare non valerent, in tres (ut fertur) partes omnem catervam dividentes, quænam ex illis patriam esset relictura, ut novas sedes exquirerent, sorte disquirunt. Igitur ea pars, cui sors dederit genitale solum excedere exteraque arva sectari, constitutis supra se duobus ducibus, Ibore scilicet et Agione, qui et Germani erant et juvenili ætate floridi, ceterisque præstantiores, ad exquirandas quas possint incolere terras, sedesque statuere, valedicentes suis simul et patriæ iter arripiunt. (C. ii.)

De Bello Gallico, vi. 22. De Moribus German. s. xxvi.
De Bello Gallico, vi. 22.
Gibbon, vol. i. c. ix. p. 361.
Id. p. 348.
Tacitus de Moribus German. sect. v.; Cæsar de Bell. Gall. vi. 22.
Cæsar found in Gaul a most formidable colony under Ariovistus, and a general dread prevailing that in a few years all the Germans would pass the Rhine. De Bell. Gall. i. 31.
Gibbon, vol. iv. c. xxv. p. 283.
Id. ib. note.
Les nations adossées aux limites de l'univers y tiendroient ferme. Grandeur et Décad. des Rom. c. xvi. p. 187.
Tacitus de Moribus Germ. s. xvi.
Id. s. xviii.
Id. s. xix.
Tacitus de Moribus Germ. s. xx..
Cæsar de Bell. Gall, vi. 23.
Gibbon, vol. i. c. ix. p. 360.
Id. vol. i. c. x. p. 417.
Robertson's Charles V. vol. i. s. i. p. 11.
Id. p. 7.
Mallet, Introd. à l'Histoire de Dannemarc, tom, i. c. x. p. 221, 223, 224. l2mo. 1766.
Id. p. 226.
Mallet, Introd. à l'Histoire de Dannemarc, tom. i. c. x. p. 221.
Perhaps the civilized world could not be considered as perfectly secure from another northern or eastern inundation, till the total change in the art of war, by the introduction of gunpowder, gave to improved skill and knowledge the decided advantage over physical force.
Hist. Dan. tom. i. c. ix. p. 206.
Id. p. 205, 206.
Hist. Dan. tom. i. c. ix. p. 207.
Nec arare terram aut expectare annum tarsi facile persuaseris, quam vocare hostes et vulnera mereri; pigrum quinimò et iners videtur sudore acquirere quod possis sanguine parare. Tacitus de Mor. Germ. Nothing, indeed, in the history of mankind, is more evident than the extreme difficulty with which habits are changed; and no argument therefore can be more fallacious than to infer that those people are not pinched with want, who do not make a proper use of their lands.
Epidemics return more or less frequently, according to their various soils, situations, air, &c. Hence some return yearly, as in Egypt and Constantinople; others once in four or five years, as about Tripoli and Aleppo; others, scarce once in ten, twelve or thirteen years, as in England; others not in less than twenty years, as in Norway and the Northern Islands. Short, History of Air, Seasons; &c. vol. ii. p. 344.
Hist. Dan. c. ix. p. 209.
Gibbon, Robertson and Mallet seem all rather to speak of Jornandes's expression vagina nationum as incorrect and exaggerated; but to me it appears exactly applicable, though the other expression, officina gentium, at least their translation of it, storehouse of nations, is not accurate.

Ex hâc igitur Scanziâ insulâ, quasi officinâ gentium, aut certè velut vaginâ nationum egressi, &c. Jornandes de Rebus Geticis, p. 83. .

End of Notes

10 of 60

Book I, Chapter VII

Of the Checks to Population among modern Pastoral Nations.


The pastoral tribes of Asia, by living in tents and moveable huts, instead of fixed habitations, are still less connected with their territory than the shepherds of the North of Europe. The camp, and not the soil, is the native country of the genuine Tartar. When the forage of a certain district is consumed the tribe makes a regular march to fresh pastures. In the summer it advances towards the north, in the winter returns again to the south; and thus in a time of most profound peace acquires the practical and familiar knowledge of one of the most difficult operations of war. Such habits would strongly tend to diffuse among these wandering tribes the spirit of emigration and conquest. The thirst of rapine, the fear of a too-powerful neighbour, or the inconvenience of scanty pastures, have in all ages been sufficient causes to urge the hordes of Scythia boldly to advance into unknown countries, where they might hope to find a more plentiful subsistence or a less formidable enemy.*1


In all their invasions, but more particularly when directed against the civilized empires of the south, the Scythian shepherds have been uniformly actuated by a most savage and destructive spirit. When the Moguls had subdued the northern provinces of China, it was proposed, in calm and deliberate council, to exterminate all the inhabitants of that populous country, that the vacant land might be converted to the pasture of cattle. The execution of this horrid design was prevented by the wisdom and firmness of a Chinese mandarin;*2 but the bare proposal of it exhibits a striking picture, not only of the inhuman manner in which the rights of conquest were abused, but of the powerful force of habit among nations of shepherds, and the consequent difficulty of the transition from the pastoral to the agricultural state.


To pursue, even in the most cursory manner, the tide of emigration and conquest in Asia, the rapid increase of some tribes, and the total extinction of others, would lead much too far. During the periods of the formidable irruptions of the Huns, the wide-extended invasions of the Moguls and Tartars, the sanguinary conquests of Attila, Zingis Khan and Tamerlane, and the dreadful convulsions which attended the dissolution as well as the formation of their empires, the checks to population are but too obvious. In reading of the devastations of the human race in those times, when the slightest motive of caprice or convenience often involved a whole people in indiscriminate massacre,*3 instead of looking for the causes which prevented a further progress in population, we can only be astonished at the force of that principle of increase, which could furnish fresh harvests of human beings for the scythe of each successive conqueror. Our inquiries will be more usefully directed to the present state of the Tartar nations, and the ordinary checks to their increase, when not under the influence of these violent convulsions.


The immense country, inhabited at present by those descendants of the Moguls and Tartars, who retain nearly the same manners as their ancestors, comprises in it almost all the middle regions of Asia, and possesses the advantage of a very fine and temperate climate. The soil is in general of great natural fertility. There are comparatively but few genuine deserts. The wide extended plains without a shrub, which have sometimes received that appellation, and which the Russians call steppes, are covered with a luxuriant grass, admirably fitted for the pasture of numerous herds and flocks. The principal defect of this extensive country is a want of water; but it is said that the parts which are supplied with this necessary article, would be sufficient for the support of four times the number of its present inhabitants, if it were properly cultivated.*4 Every Orda, or tribe, has a particular canton belonging to it, containing both its summer and winter pastures; and the population of this vast territory, whatever it may be, is probably distributed over its surface nearly in proportion to the degree of actual fertility in the different districts.


Volney justly describes this necessary distribution in speaking of the Bedoweens of Syria. "In the barren cantons, that is, those which are ill furnished with plants, the tribes are feeble and very distant from each other, as in the desert of Suez, that of the Red Sea, and the interior part of the Great Desert. When the soil is better covered, as between Damascus and the Euphrates, the tribes are stronger and less distant. And in the cultivable cantons, as the Pachalic of Aleppo, the Hauran, and the country of Gaza, the encampments are numerous and near each other."*5 Such a distribution of inhabitants, according to the quantity of food which they can obtain in the actual state of their industry and habits, may be applied to Grand Tartary, as well as to Syria and Arabia, and is, in fact, equally applicable to the whole earth, though the commerce of civilized nations prevents it from being so obvious as in the more simple stages of society.


The Mahometan Tartars, who inhabit the western parts of Grand Tartary, cultivate some of their lands, but in so slovenly and insufficient a manner as not to afford a principal source of subsistence.*6 The slothful and warlike genius of the barbarian every where prevails, and he does not easily reconcile himself to obtaining by labour what he can hope to acquire by rapine. When the annals of Tartary are not marked by any signal wars and revolutions, its domestic peace and industry are constantly interrupted by petty contests and mutual invasions for the sake of plunder. The Mahometan Tartars are said to live almost entirely by robbing and preying upon their neighbours, as well in peace as in war.*7


The Usbecks, who possess as masters the kingdom of Chowarasm, leave to their tributary subjects, the Sarts and Turkmans, the finest pastures of their country, merely because their neighbours on that side are too poor or too vigilant to give them hopes of successful plunder. Rapine is their principal resource. They are perpetually making incursions into the territories of the Persians, and of the Usbecks of Great Bucharia; and neither peace nor truce can restrain them, as the slaves and other valuable effects which they carry off form the whole of their riches. The Usbecks and their subjects the Turkmans are perpetually at variance; and their jealousies, fomented often by the princes of the reigning house, keep the country in a constant state of intestine commotion.*8 The Turkmans are always at war with the Curds and the Arabs, who often come and break the horns of their herds, and carry away their wives and daughters.*9


The Usbecks of Great Bucharia are reckoned the most civilized of all the Mahometan Tartars, yet are not much inferior to the rest in their spirit of rapine.*10 They are always at war with the Persians, and laying waste the fine plains of the province of Chorasan. Though the country which they possess is of the greatest natural fertility, and some of the remains of the ancient inhabitants practise the peaceful arts of trade and agriculture; yet neither the aptitude of the soil, nor the example which they have before them, can induce them to change their ancient habits; and they would rather pillage, rob, and kill their neighbours, than apply themselves to improve the benefits which nature so liberally offers them.*11


The Tartars of the Casatshia Orda in Turkestan live in a state of continual warfare with their neighbours to the north and east. In the winter they make their incursions towards the Kalmucks, who, about that time, go to scour the frontiers of Great Bucharia and the parts to the south of their country. On the other side they perpetually incommode the Cosacks of the Yaik and the Nogai Tartars. In the summer they cross the mountains of Eagles, and make inroads into Siberia. And though they are often very ill treated in these incursions, and the whole of their plunder is not equivalent to what they might obtain with very little labour from their lands, yet they choose rather to expose themselves to the thousand fatigues and dangers necessarily attendant on such a life, than apply themselves seriously to agriculture.*12


The mode of life among the other tribes of Mahometan Tartars presents the same uniform picture, which it would be tiresome to repeat, and for which therefore I refer the reader to the Genealogical History of the Tartars and its valuable notes. The conduct of the author of this history himself, a Chan of Chowarasm, affords a curious example of the savage manner in which the wars of policy, of revenge, or plunder, are carried on in these countries. His invasions of Great Bucharia were frequent; and each expedition was signalized by the ravage of provinces and the utter ruin and destruction of towns and villages. When at any time the number of his prisoners impeded his motions, he made no scruple to kill them on the spot. Wishing to reduce the power of the Turkmans who were tributary to him, he invited all the principal people to a solemn feast, and had them massacred to the number of two thousand. He burnt and destroyed their villages with the most unsparing cruelty, and committed such devastations that the effect of them returned on their authors, and the army of the victors suffered severely from dearth.*13


The Mahometan Tartars in general hate trade, and make it their business to spoil all the merchants who fall into their hands.*14 The only commerce which is countenanced, is the commerce in slaves. These form a principal part of the booty which they carry off in their predatory incursions, and are considered as a chief source of their riches. Those which they have occasion for themselves, either for the attendance on their herds, or as wives and concubines, they keep, and the rest they sell.*15 The Circassian and Daghestan Tartars, and the other tribes in the neighbourhood of Caucasus, living in a poor and mountainous country, and on that account less subject to invasion, generally overflow with inhabitants; and when they cannot obtain slaves in the common way, steal from one another, and even sell their own wives and children.*16 This trade in slaves, so general among the Mahometan Tartars, may be one of the causes of their constant wars; as, when a prospect of a plentiful supply for this kind of traffic offers itself, neither peace nor alliance can restrain them.*17


The heathen Tartars, the Kalmucks and Moguls, do not make use of slaves, and are said in general to lead a much more peaceable and harmless life, contenting themselves with the produce of their herds and flocks, which form their sole riches. They rarely make war for the sake of plunder; and seldom invade the territory of their neighbours, unlest to revenge a prior attack. They are not however without destructive wars. The inroads of the Mahometan Tartars oblige them to constant defence and retaliation; and feuds subsist between the kindred tribes of the Kalmucks and Moguls, which, fomented by the artful policy of the emperor of China, are carried on with such animosity as to threaten the entire destruction of one or other of these nations.*18


The Bedoweens of Arabia and Syria do not live in greater tranquillity than the inhabitants of Grand Tartary. The very nature of the pastoral state seems to furnish perpetual occasions for war. The pastures, which a tribe uses at one period, form but a small part of its possessions. A large range of territory is successively occupied in the course of the year; and, as the whole of this is absolutely necessary for the annual subsistence of the tribe, and is considered as appropriated, every violation of it, though the tribe may be at a great distance, is held to be a just cause of war.*19 Alliances and kindred make these wars more general. When blood is shed, more must expiate it; and as such accidents have multiplied in the lapse of years, the greatest part of the tribes have quarrels between them and live in a state of perpetual hostility.*20 In the times which preceded Mahomet, seventeen hundred battles are recorded by tradition; and a partial truce of two months, which was religiously kept, might be considered, according to a just remark of Gibbon, as still more strongly expressive of their general habits of anarchy and warfare.*21


The waste of life from such habits might alone appear sufficient to repress their population; but probably their effect is still greater in the fatal check which they give to every species of industry, and particularly to that, the object of which is to enlarge the means of subsistence. Even the construction of a well or a reservoir of water requires some funds and labour in advance; and war may destroy in one day the work of many months and the resources of a whole year.*22 The evils seem mutually to produce each other. A scarcity of subsistence might at first perhaps give occasion to the habits of war; and the habits of war in return powerfully contribute to narrow the means of subsistence.


Some tribes, from the nature of the deserts in which they live, seem to be necessarily condemned to a pastoral life;*23 but even those which inhabit soils proper for agriculture, have but little temptation to practise this art; while surrounded by marauding neighbours. The peasants of the frontier provinces of Syria, Persia and Siberia, exposed, as they are, to the constant incursions of a devastating enemy, do not lead a life that is to be envied by the wandering Tartar or Arab. A certain degree of security is perhaps still more necessary than richness of soil, to encourage the change from the pastoral to the agricultural state; and where this cannot be attained, the sedentary labourer is more exposed to the vicissitudes of fortune than he who leads a wandering life, and carries all his property with him.*24 Under the feeble, yet oppressive government of the Turks, it is not uncommon for peasants to desert their villages and betake themselves to a pastoral state, in which they expect to be better able to escape from the plunder of their Turkish masters and Arab neighbours.*25


It may be said, however, of the shepherd, as of the hunter, that if want alone could effect a change of habits, there would be few pastoral tribes remaining. Notwithstanding the constant wars of the Bedoween Arabs, and the other checks to their increase from the hardships of their mode of life, their population presses so hard against the limits of their food, that they are compelled from necessity to a degree of abstinence, which nothing but early and constant habit could enable the human constitution to support. According to Volney, the lower classes of the Arabs live in a state of habitual misery and famine.*26 The tribes of the desert deny that the religion of Mahomet was made for them. "For how," they say, "can we perform ablutions when we have no water; how can we give alms when we have no riches; or what occasion can there be to fast during the month of Ramadan, when we fast all the year?"*27


The power and riches of a Chaik consist in the number of his tribe. He considers it therefore as his interest to encourage population, without reflecting how it may be supported. His own consequence greatly depends on a numerous progeny and kindred;*28 and in a state of society where power generally procures subsistence, each individual family derives strength and importance from its numbers. These ideas act strongly as a bounty upon population; and, co-operating with a spirit of generosity which almost produces a community of goods,*29 contribute to push it to its utmost verge, and to depress the body of the people in the most rigid poverty.


The habits of polygamy, where there have been losses of men in war, tend perhaps also to produce the same effect. Niebuhr observes that polygamy multiplies families till many of their branches sink into the most wretched misery.*30 The descendants of Mahomet are found in great numbers all over the east, and many of them in extreme poverty. A Mahometan is in some degree obliged to polygamy from a principle of obedience to his prophet, who makes one of the greatest duties of man to consist in procreating children to glorify the Creator. Fortunately, individual interest corrects in some degree, as in many other instances, the absurdity of the legislator; and the poor Arab is obliged to proportion his religious obedience to the scantiness of his resources. Yet still the direct encouragements to population are extraordinarily great; and nothing can place in a more striking point of view the futility and absurdity of such encouragements than the present state of those countries. It is universally agreed that, if their population be not less than formerly, it is indubitably not greater; and it follows as a direct consequence, that the great increase of some families has absolutely pushed others out of existence. Gibbon, speaking of Arabia, observes, that "The measure of population is regulated by the means of subsistence; and the inhabitants of this vast peninsula might be out-numbered by the subjects of a fertile and industrious province."*31 Whatever maybe the encouragements to marriage, this measure cannot be passed. While the Arabs retain their present manners, and the country remains in its present state of cultivation, the promise of Paradise to every man who had ten children would but little increase their numbers, though it might greatly increase their misery. Direct encouragements to population have no tendency whatever to change these manners and promote cultivation. Perhaps indeed they have a contrary tendency; as the constant uneasiness from poverty and want which they occasion must encourage the marauding spirit,*32 and multiply the occasions of war.


Among the Tartars, who from living in a more fertile soil are comparatively richer in cattle, the plunder to be obtained in predatory incursions is greater than among the Arabs. And as the contests are more bloody from the superior strength of the tribes, and the custom of making slaves is general, the loss of numbers in war will be more considerable. These two circumstances united enable some hordes of fortunate robbers to live in a state of plenty, in comparison of their less enterprising neighbours. Professor Pallas gives a particular account of two wandering tribes subject to Russia, one of which supports itself almost entirely by plunder, and the other lives as peaceably as the restlessness of its neighbours will admit. It may be curious to trace the different checks to population that result from these different habits.


The Kirgisiens, according to Pallas,*33 live at their ease in comparison of the other wandering tribes that are subject to Russia. The spirit of liberty and independence which reigns amongst them, joined to the facility with which they can procure a flock sufficient for their maintenance, prevents any of them from entering into the service of others. They all expect to be treated as brothers; and the rich therefore are obliged to use slaves. It may be asked what are the causes which prevent the lower classes of people from increasing till they become poor?


Pallas has not informed us how far vicious customs with respect to women, or the restraints on marriage from the fear of a family may have contributed to this effect; but perhaps the description which he gives of their civil constitution and licentious spirit of rapine, may alone be almost sufficient to account for it. The Chan cannot exercise his authority but through the medium of a council of principal persons, chosen by the people; and even the decrees thus confirmed are continually violated with impunity.*34 Though the plunder and capture of persons, of cattle and of merchandise, which the Kirgisiens exercise on their neighbours the Kazalpacs, the Bucharians, the Persians, the Truchemens, the Kalmucks and the Russians, are prohibited by their laws, yet no person is afraid to avow them. On the contrary, they boast of their successes in this way as of the most honourable enterprises. Sometimes they pass their frontiers alone to seek their fortune, sometimes collect in troops under the command of an able chief, and pillage entire caravans. A great number of Kirgisiens, in exercising this rapine, are either killed or taken into slavery; but about this the nation troubles itself very little. When these ravages are committed by private adventurers, each retains what he has taken, whether cattle or women. The male slaves and the merchandise are sold to the rich, or to foreign traders.*35


With these habits, in addition to their national wars, which from the fickle and turbulent disposition of the tribe are extremely frequent,*36 we may easily conceive that the checks to population from violent causes may be so powerful as nearly to preclude all others. Occasional famines may sometimes attack them in their wars of devastation,*37 their fatiguing predatory incursions, or from long droughts and mortality of cattle; but in the common course of things the approach of poverty would be the signal for a new marauding expedition; and the poor Kirgisien would either return with sufficient to support him, or lose his life or liberty in the attempt. He who determines to be rich or die, and does not scruple the means, cannot long live poor.


The Kalmucks, who before their emigration in 1771 inhabited the fertile steppes of the Wolga under the protection of Russia, lived in general in a different manner. They were not often engaged in any very bloody wars;*38 and the power of the Chan being absolute,*39 and the civil administration better regulated than among the Kirgisiens, the marauding expeditions of private adventurers were checked. The Kalmuck women are extremely prolific. Barren marriages are rare, and three or four children are generally seen playing round every hut. From which (observes Pallas) it may naturally be concluded that they ought to have multiplied greatly during the hundred and fifty years that they inhabited tranquilly the steppes of the Wolga. The reasons which he gives for their not having increased so much as might be expected, are the many accidents occasioned by falls from horses, the frequent petty wars between their different princes and with their different neighbours; and particularly the numbers among the poorer classes who die of hunger, of misery, and every species of calamity, of which the children are most frequently the victims.*40


It appears that when this tribe put itself under the protection of Russia, it had separated from the Soongares, and was by no means numerous. The possession of the fertile steppes of the Wolga and a more tranquil life soon increased it, and in 1662 it amounted to fifty thousand families.*41 From this period to 1771, the time of its migration, it seems to have increased very slowly. The extent of pastures possessed would not probably admit of a much greater population; as at the time of its flight from these quarters, the irritation of the Chan at the conduct of Russia was seconded by the complaints of the people of the want of pasture for their numerous herds. At this time the tribe amounted to between 55 and 60,000 families. Its fate in this curious migration was what has probably been the fate of many other wandering hordes, who, from scanty pastures or other causes of discontent, have, attempted to seek for fresh seats. The march took place in the winter, and numbers perished on this painful journey from cold, famine, and misery. A great part were either killed or taken by the Kirghises; and those who reached their place of destination, though received at first kindly by the Chinese, were afterwards treated with extreme severity.*42


Before this migration, the lower classes of the Kalmucks had lived in great poverty and wretchedness, and had been reduced habitually to make use of every animal, plant, or root, from which it was possible to extract nourishment.*43 They very seldom killed any of their cattle that were in health, except indeed such as were stolen.; and these were devoured immediately, for fear of a discovery. Wounded or worn-out horses, and beasts that had died of any disease except a contagious epidemic, were considered as most desirable food. Some of the poorest Kalmucks would eat the most putrid carrion, and even the dung of their cattle.*44 A great number of children perished of course from bad nourishment.*45 In the winter all the lower classes suffered severely from cold and hunger.*46 In general, one third of their sheep, and often much more, died in the winter in spite of all their care; and if a frost came late in the season after rain and snow, so that the cattle could not get at the grass, the mortality among their herds became general, and the poorer classes were exposed to inevitable famine.*47


Malignant fevers, generated principally by their putrid food and the putrid exhalations with which they were surrounded, and the small-pox, which was dreaded like the plague, sometimes thinned their numbers;*48 but in general it appears that their population pressed so hard against the limits of their means of subsistence, that want, with the diseases arising from it, might be considered as the principal check to their increase.


A person travelling in Tartary during the summer months would probably see extensive steppes unoccupied, and grass in profusion spoiling for want of cattle to consume it. He would infer perhaps that the country could support a much greater number of inhabitants, even, supposing them to remain in their shepherd state. But this might be a hasty and unwarranted conclusion. A horse or any other working animal is said to be strong only in proportion to the strength of his weakest part. If his legs be slender and feeble, the strength of his body will be but of little consequence; or if he wants power in his back and haunches, the strength which he may possess in his limbs can never be called fully into action. The same reasoning must be applied to the power of the earth to support living creatures. The profusion of nourishment which is poured forth in the seasons of plenty cannot all be consumed by the scanty numbers that were able to subsist through the season of scarcity. When human industry and foresight are directed in the best manner, the population which the soil can support is regulated by the average produce throughout the year; but among animals, and in the uncivilized states of man, it will be much below this average. The Tartar would find it extremely difficult to collect and carry with him such a quantity of hay as would feed all his cattle well during the winter. It would impede his motions, expose him to the attacks of his enemies, and an unfortunate day might deprive him of the labours of a whole summer; as in the mutual invasions which occur, it seems to be the universal practice, to burn and destroy all the forage and provisions which cannot be carried away.*49 The Tartar therefore provides only for the most valuable of his cattle during the winter, and leaves the rest to support themselves by the scanty herbage which they can pick up. This poor living, combined with the severe cold, naturally destroys a considerable part of them.*50 The population of the tribe is measured by the population of its herds; and the average numbers of the Tartars, as of the horses that run wild in the desert, are kept down so low by the annual returns of the cold and scarcity of winter, that they cannot consume all the plentiful offerings of summer.


Droughts and unfavourable seasons have, in proportion to their frequency, the same effects as the winter. In Arabia*51 and a great part of Tartary*52 droughts are not uncommon; and if the periods of their return be not above six or eight years, the average population can never much exceed what the soil can support during these unfavourable times. This is true in every situation; but perhaps, in the shepherd state, man is peculiarly exposed to be affected by the seasons; and a great mortality of parent stock is an evil more fatal and longer felt than the failure of a crop of grain. Pallas and the other Russian travellers speak of epizooties as very common in these parts of the world.*53


As among the Tartars a family is always honourable, and women are reckoned very serviceable in the management of the cattle and the household concerns, it, is not probable that many are deterred from marriage from the fear of not being able to support a family.*54 At the same time, as all wives are bought of their parents, it must sometimes be out of the power of the poorer classes to make the purchase. The Monk Rubruquis, speaking of this custom; says that, as parents keep all their daughters till they can sell them; their maids are sometimes very stale before they are married.*55 Among the Mahometan Tartars, female captives would supply the place of wives;*56 but among the Pagan Tartars, who make but little use of slaves, the inability to buy wives must frequently operate on the poorer classes as a check to marriage, particularly as their price would be kept up by the practice of polygamy among the rich.*57


The Kalmucks are said not to be jealous,*58 and from the frequency of the venereal disease among them,*59 we may infer that a certain degree of promiscuous intercourse prevails.


On the whole, therefore, it would appear that in that department of the shepherd life which has been considered in this chapter, the principal checks which keep the population down to the level of the means of subsistence are, restraint from inability to obtain a wife, vicious customs with respect to women, epidemics, wars, famine, and the diseases arising from extreme poverty. The three first checks and the last appear to have operated with much less force among the shepherds of the north of Europe.

Notes for this chapter

Gibbon, vol. iv. c. xxvi. p. 348.
Gibbon, vol. vi. c. xxxiv. p. 54.
Id. p. 55.
Geneal. Hist. of Tartars, vol. ii. sec. i. 8vo. 1730.
Voy. de Volney, tom. i. ch. xxii. p: 351. 8vo. 1787.
Geneal. Hist. Tart. vol. ii. p. 382.
Geneal. Hist. Tart. vol. ii. p. 390.
Id. p. 430, 431.
Id. p. 426.
Geneal. Hist. Tart. vol. ii. p. 459.
Id. p. 455.
Geneal. Hist. Tart. vol. ii. p. 573, et seq.
Id. vol. i. ch. xii.
Geneal. Hist. Tart. vol. ii. p. 412.
Id. vol. ii. p. 413.
Id. p. 413, 414, and ch. xii.
"They justify it as lawful to have many wives, because they say they bring us many children, which we can sell for ready-money, or exchange for necessary conveniencies; yet when they have not wherewithal to maintain them, they hold it a piece of charity to murder infants new-born, as also they do such as are sick and past recovery, because they say they free them from a great deal of misery." Sir John Chardin's Travels, Harris's Col. b. iii. c. ii. p. 865.
Geneal. Hist. Tart. vol. ii. p. 545.
Ils se disputeront la terre inculte, comme parmi nous les citoyens se disputent les héritages. Ainsi ils trouveront de fréquentes occasions de guerre pour la nourriture de leurs bestiaux, &c.**** ils auront autant de choses à régler par le droit des gens qu'ils en auront peu à décider par le droit civil. Montes. Esprit des Loix, l. xviii. c. xii.
Voy. de Volney, tom. i. c. xxii. p. 361, 362, 363.
Gibbon, vol. ix. c.1. p. 238, 239.
Voy. de Volney, tom. i. c. xxiii. p. 353.
Voy. de Volney, tom. i. c. xxxiii. p. 350.
Id. p. 354.
Id. p. 350.
Voy. de Volney, tom. i. c. xxiii. p. 359.
Id. p. 380.
Id. p. 366.
Id. p. 378.
Niebuhr's Travels, vol. ii. c. v. p. 207.
It is rather a curious circumstance, that a truth so important, which has been stated and acknowledged by so many authors, should so rarely have been pursued to its consequences. People are not every day dying of famine. How then is the population regulated to the measure of the means of subsistence?
Aussi arrive-t'il chaque jour des accidens, des enlèvemens de bestiaux; et cette guerre de maraude est une de celles qui occupent davantage les Arabes. Voy. de Volney, tom. i, c. xxiii. p. 364.
Not having been able to procure the work of Pallas on the history of the Mongol nations, I have here made use of a general abridgment of the works of the Russian travellers, in 4 vols. oct. published at Berne and Lausanne in 1781 and 1784, entitled Découvertes Russes, tom, iii. p. 399.
Découv. Russ. tom. iii. p. 389.
Id. p. 396, 397, 398.
Id. p. 378.
Cette multitude dévaste tout ce qui se trouve sur son passage; ils emmènent avec eux tout le bétail qu'ils ne consomment pas, et réduisent â l'esclavage les femmes, les enfans, et les hommes, qu'ils n'ont pas massacrés. Découv. Russ. tom. iii. p. 390.
Découv. Russ. tom. iii. p. 221. The tribe is described here under the name of Torgots, which was their appropriate appellation. The Russians called them by the more general name of Kalmucks.
Id. p. 327.
Découv. Russ. tom. iii. p. 319, 320, 321.
Id. p. 221. Tooke's View of the Russian Empire, vol. ii. b. ii. p. 30. Another instance of rapid increase presents itself in a colony of baptized Kalmucks, who received from Russia a fertile district to settle in. From 8695, which was its number in 1754, it had increased in 1771 to 14,000. Tooke's View of the Russ. Emp. vol. ii. b. ii. p. 32, 33.
Tooke's View of the Russ. Emp. vol. ii. b. ii. p. 29, 30, 31. Découv. Russ. tom. iii. p. 221.
Découv. Russ. tom. iii. p. 275, 276.
Id. p. 272, 273, 274.
Id. p. 324.
Découv. Russ. tom. iii. p. 310.
Id. p. 270.
Id. p. 311, 312, 313.
On mit le feu à toutes les meules de blé et de fourrage.**** Cent cinquante villages également incendiés. Mémoires du Baron de Tott, tom. i. p. 272. He gives a curious description of the devastation of a Tartar army, and of its sufferings in a winter campaign. Cette journée coûta à l'armée plus de 3,000 hommes, et 30,000 chevaux, qui périrent de froid, p. 267.
Découvertes Russes, vol. iii. p. 261.
Voy. de Volney, vol. i. c. 23. p. 353.
Découv. Russ. tom. i. p. 467; ii. p. 10, 11, 12, &c.
Id. tom. i. p. 290, &c.; ii. p. 11; iv. p. 304.
Geneal. Hist. of the Tartars, vol. ii. p. 407.
Travels of Wim. Rubruquis, in 1253. Harris's Collection of Voy. b. i. c. ii. p. 561.
Découv. Russ. tom. iii. p. 413.
Pallas takes notice of the scarcity of women or superabundance of males among the Kalmucks, notwithstanding the more constant exposure of the male sex to every kind of accident. Découv. Russ. tom. iii. p. 320.
Id. p: 239.
Id. p. 324. .

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