hill country and warlike people - is there connection or is it a case of cherrypicking examples?

some ethnic groups who live in mountainous areas have a long historical reputation for being warlike. E.g. the Chechens in North Caucasus and the various nations in Afghanistan and north-west Pakistan. To some extent, there even seems to exist a pop-culture notion of the stereotypical hill country people being warlike, e.g. as reflected in the Conan the Barbarian cycle where when he ends up outside the civilization in the hills, the aggressive behavior of the locals is a given.

So, what do people think is the straight dope here? Is there a particular type of hill country (e.g. as can be objectively detected by running an AI classification algorithm on data from Google Earth or by examining historical economic or land use statistics) that is known to give rise to warlike nations in many cases? Or is it the case that both warlike and peaceful groups have been in many cases known to live in very similar mountainous surroundings and so the nature of the landscape is just one, not so important variable amongst many in determining national culture?

I think it’s less a question of aggression and more a question of have/have not economic status. Hill communities tend (overall) to be poorer and less well off than more agriculturally intensive communities in flatter, more productive lands. Wealthier, more developed areas also tend to have more effective bureaucracy and policing infrastructures.

It’s more a question (IMO) of socio-economic disparities and the nature of people in more desperate circumstances than hills=warlike.

Do you recall the song from the 70s, One Tin Solider?

It is the mountain people that have the treasure, and they are perfectly willing to share it with the valley people

Then the vally people realizing half isn’t enough (OK maybe the mountain people were only willing to share 1% of it :)) so the valley people, kill the mountain people “Like for sure, totally.”

If such a generalization occurs, I think it’s more a matter of hill country being easier to defend, so that hill people are better able to resist being subjugated by the larger societies nearby. At the same time, it’s difficult to control extensive territory, so individual groups in the hills are likely to be at war with each other.

Historically, groups inhabiting open plains and grasslands have also had a reputation for being warlike, such as the Huns, Mongols, and several Great Plains Indian tribes. But in modern times such groups have become subjugated.

In mountainous country you get separate small groups developing in each individual valley, and communication with the people living even in the next valley over can be quite difficult and limited. When the different groups do come into contact, they are strangers to each other, with strange ways and customs, and sometimes mutually unintelligible languages. This leads to conflict, and this leads to getting pretty good at fighting.

Well, you’ve got your bonny Scots, your Punjabi Sikhs, your Ghoorkas, your Afghans and Kurds, your Japanese, your Incas, your Vikings, heck even your Romans and Greeks… There does seem to be a trend.

I’d guess that, while plains people* can thrive through agriculture and trade thereof alone, to the people from yonder craggy mountains it’s often easier and in the end more immediately productive to simply raid your rich neighbours than to try and eke out a living on difficult terrain.

  • that is, plains people on fertile land - the open Steppes might be plains technically, but they aren’t really suitable for agriculture. Hence the Huns, Tatars, Cossacks, Mongols… I think astro’s right on the money, there : it’s more about socio-economic disparities than the terrain itself, although of course the latter plays into the former.

Switzerland is hilly, yet they stay out of wars.

Yeah, but they have those knives with all the different blades and stuff. :stuck_out_tongue:

well, the socio-economic is all well and good - but if it is directly caused, in many cases, by the easily detected terrain features, then the theory would still stand. Instead of running economic and sociological studies to figure out who is the have and subjugated or have not and not subjugated, you could just study the terrain and make accurate predictions. If the theory is right, at least…

Often the ethnic groups that live in mountainous areas are ones that have been there longer than the groups that live in the plains. The ethnic groups in the plains came through hundreds (or even thousands) of years ago and swept all the previous inhabitants of the area out of the plains area. The invading group generally wasn’t interested in the mountainous areas since it was too hard to cultivate the land, so they ignored that area. This is why it’s quite common to have an area with a large ethnic group living in the plains with a highly developed agriculture and larger cities and a smaller ethnic group living in the mountainous areas. The group in the plains will always control the political and cultural affairs of the entire area. The group in the mountains will be less important politically (and will be thought of as ignorant hicks by the plains people) but will have a highly developed (low-tech) warlike culture to defend themselves from the larger group.

Sure now, but for most of European history the people who lived in the Alps were regarded as fierce fighters. The area used to be best known as a place to hire mercenaries - in fact, switzers became a generic name for mercenaries.

Those Tibetan monks are so blood thirsty.

Not to mention of course how Switzerland emerged as its own country in the first place. Namely, they boldly took on half of the mighty Holy Roman Empire… and won. Until the battle of Marignano (1515), Swiss armies and mercs were widely believed to be invincible. Not just good, not even great : invincible. They were the original broken, overpowered and unbalanced unit :smiley:

The Pampas South America had tribes that were hostile to other peoples. It’s an immense plain.

The Mongols were plainsmen but were without doubt the most terrifying, destructive and effective military force in human history.

The large European states like France and Germany are primarily lowlands - they have mountains but that’s not where the people live for the most part - and have long and stried military histories.

Britain conquered a quarter of the surface of the planet and I can’t think of the name of a single mountain in Britain. Much of the country’s very flat.

The Zulu conquered any number of neighboring tribes by creating the most efficient, advanced, and ferocious army in sub-Saharan Africa, and they were a plains people.

And many of the “mountain people” mentioned so far… well, most Japanese don’t actually live in the mountains.

I’m not seeing a connection.

All civilizations have a history of warfare, but that doesn’t necessarily make them “war-like people”. I think the OP was thinking of groups that even the pretty war-friendly Europeans thought were feistier and harder to subjugate than average, or whose culture revolved around aggressive warfare & raiding first and foremost.

I will grant you that the Japanese was pushing it, admittedly - in retrospect, they were no more violent than any other feudal kingdom. Which is to say : a whole lot, but not *all *the time :smiley:

but is Tibet truly a hill country or is it just a normal flat land on a high plateau? I think there are some distinctly Tibetan social features like, oh, the big monastery estates worked by serfs, which don’t fit into the stereotypical decentralized hill country social environment but do fit in great with the usual practices of plains agricultural peoples.

To a certain extent, they may just have “long historical reputations” period. The flat steppes of Russia (which have seem many “warlike” peoples, by the way) have changed hands several times, while the mountains of northern Spain house the Basque culture which may descend directly from paleolithic Europeans.

The reason for their “long history” may be …

It is intriguing to note that there have been many invasions from the Russian steppes into the Danubian basin, but nary a one in the opposite direction. I wonder if there have been studies to see whether history can indeed be predicted from terrain!

I think ALL people are periodically warlike people.

Often people are pushed up into the hills when a larger invading group takes over the desirable plains. I know this was the case in Cameroon- the hill people were originally from the plains, but were pushed up to the mountains during the Fulbe Jihads. Not surprisingly, they can be pretty hostile towards the plains people and this can lead to violence.

The Punjabi Sikhs come from the plains. And they gave the highland Afghans a good thrashing, While the Highlanders were tamed by lowland British government.