Friday, September 25, 2009

Before European Hegemony, During Potential “Indian” Hegemony

During the period of the 13th and 14th centuries, virtually the entire world was involved in one trading system.  This system had no dominating force to administer control on the rest of the players, though it did have one region that certainly had the potential for it.  India had a monopolizing opportunity for any trade between the Middle East and China, and therefore the goods from China en route to Europe and vice versa.  India never capitalized on this opportunity.  This was in part due to the fact that there was no unitary state known as India.  It was also due to the fact that Indian statesmen and merchants really didn’t seem to find a purpose in such.  According to Janet Abu-Lughod, the type of trade policies commonly thought of as the standard operating procedure for hegemony and control were completely unknown in the Indian Ocean region until the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century.  The way that trade should be conducted, according to the merchants of the area, was for ships of all nations to sail freely through the sea and then exchange their goods at ports without excessive harassment by the local authorities.


For Indian hegemony, unification was probably necessary.  At the very least, it would have been helpful.  This would have allowed the strength in numbers, production, wealth, etc that was needed for the expansion of influence across the ocean.  There would have also been a need for this newly unified state to become a naval power.  Controlling, and constantly patrolling, the sea lanes used for this trade would have required a very large, very sophisticated navy, and many many well-trained sailors.  These were not things that were possessed by the various states on the Indian subcontinent.  Indian traders and rulers seemed to lack much of an interest in growing a navy.  After all, it would seem to be a pointless venture, as any trade with any substance would need to not only pass through India, but required long layovers at their ports.  If the entire world brought their trade to India, why should they bother spending money shipping their goods elsewhere?


What would the world look like today if India had taken in interest in dominating its neighbors, or if India had simply unified into one state at this point in history, rather than now?  The world would almost certainly look very different than it does, but whether this would have been enough to prevent the eventual hegemony imposed by Europe will never truly be known.

1 comment:

  1. I was thinking about that same question, "What would the world look like today if India had taken interest in domininting its neighbors, or if India had unified?"

    My thought on this were originally a sort of reverse colonization, India colonizing other parts of the world; had they united, India very well could have become hegemonic. Yet, would this reverse colonization ever be conceivable to a nation that values peace? Can any nation that values peace above power and wealth really stay on top in a world system that thrives off of brutality in an effort to gain control? After evaluating, I think India, had they united, would have been a short-lived hegemony; but it would not have survived for western ideal would have and did lead them to hegemonic status.