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KRONOS Vol II, No. 2

The New World Ascendancy in Ancient Times
by James Bailey

(St. Martin's Press, New York, 1973; $9.95)

Reviewed by


Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics
Drew University, Madison, N. J.

Note: Reprinted with permission from The Comparative Civilisations Bulletin (published by The International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilisations), Haverhill, Mass., 01830, Fall-1974.

The God-Kings is a fascinating book, boldly heterodox and eloquently argued. And it is visually attractive, being clearly printed and well illustrated.

Its thesis, in brief, is that "establishment" historians, blinded by professional over-specialisation and the dogma of inevitable progress, have failed to consider the growing probability that there was regular transoceanic contact between the Old and New Worlds during the pre-Christian era. More precisely, says Bailey, during the period between the late sixth and the early first millennia B. C. there was a worldwide culture ruled by a South-West Asian aristocracy and based on the metallurgy of copper. This period, in turn, is divisible into three subperiods of about two millennia each: during the first of these (the sixth and fifth millennia), copper was unalloyed, religion was earth-centered, and power was focused in Mesopotamia; during the second (the fourth and third millennia), copper yielded to bronze, religion became heliocentric, and power diffused to India and the Mediterranean; and during the third (the second and first millennia), the old thalassocracy, having been displaced in Eurasia by iron-smelting upstarts, recruited fresh soldiers and labourers from Black Africa and removed to new power-centers in Mexico and Peru. The continued spread of iron and the growth of predatory Old World land empires combined to eliminate first the links between the two cultures and then all Eurasian records of American glory.

The chief evidence for this sweeping reconstruction of ancient history consists of Mexican sculptures and bas-relief carvings of Negroids and Caucasoids, Canaanite rock inscriptions ranging from Brazil to Tennessee, and persistent Nahau, Maya, and Quechua oral traditions of white gods who came from across the Atlantic.

Bailey is but one of several scholars who have recently posited pre-Columbian cultures of global extent. Among these are Constance Irwin (in Fair Gods and Stone Faces, 1963), Charles Hapgood (in Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, 1966), and Cyrus Gordon (in Before Columbus, 1971), of whom Gordon stops at the third millennium B. C., while Hapgood pushes back into the Mesolithic Period.

My personal inclination is to be sympathetic with Bailey and his confreres, if only because they have the intellectual courage to examine and deal with ancient evidence that most historical investigators of the past century and a half have swept under the scholarly rug.

Of necessity, Bailey draws much of his evidence from ancient myth and legend especially Homer. In his interpretation of fantastic beings and occurrences, however, he is a strict Euhemerist. For him, gods and titans are honorific synonyms for Bronze Age rulers and noblemen. Doctrinal differences between early religions do not, in his view, refer to any praeternatural reality but symbolically reflect clashes of economic interest among early peoples.

On balance, I am persuaded that Bailey and his fellow "ecumenists" are right about the reality of a world-wide Bronze Age network of travel and trade. On the other hand, I am not satisfied with Bailey's explanation of the relatively sudden rupture of his network during the late second and early first millennia B. C. Both the Minoan and the Indus Valley civilisations, for example, show evidence of swift and violent destruction by fire and flood about 1500 B. C. While it is possible that iron-wielding Indo-European invaders were responsible for both cataclysms, it may well be that these coincident large scale catastrophes themselves require an explanation of global scope, such as the near-collision of Earth and Venus hypothesized by Immanuel Velikovsky in Worlds in Collision.

The only realm in which Bailey seems to be clearly out of his depth is that of philology. In the area of graphonomy, he equates scripts with alphabets, despite the fact that most scripts are not alphabets, confuses hieroglyphic Hittite with cuneiform Hittite, and states that ancient Greek had no w, although many non-Attic dialects did (the name for it having been "digamma"). In the area of phonology, he talks of "glottal p" in Minoan and Mayan a phonetic impossibility, unless he means glottalized p. In the area of etymology, he suggests the cognation of the three Classical words okeanos, "ocean current," aqua, "water," and oikoumenê, "inhabited world," when no Indo-Europeanists support these equations. In the area of linguistic classification, finally, he describes Ancient Egyptian as "partly Semitic," which is the taxonomic equivalent of referring to horses as "partly cattle." Egyptian was closely related to Semitic, as horses are to cows; but hybridization, in the strict sense, is no more feasible in the one case than in the other. My negative assessment here is, I think, due less to the fact that I am a linguist by trade than to the fact that Bailey, like many good amateur scholars, mistakenly assumes that language is capricious and lawless, so that one man's opinions about it are as good as another's. In fact, language is probably the most rule-governed sphere of human behaviour, with the result that we can often trace the history of individual words and speech-sounds back to a time-depth of five millennia even when the history of the peoples who spoke the languages involved is not known for half that long. Fortunately, however, none of Bailey's linguistic errors affect his major historical contentions.

One matter on which Bailey remains inexplicit is one about which I continue to feel curious, and that is the social structure of the Bronze Age thalassocracy he so glowingly re-creates. As the editor of African Drum, he was known as an ardent civil libertarian and racial egalitarian. By implication, on the other hand, his White thalassocrats were so arrogantly monopolistic of power that they treated not only non Whites but even Whites of lower caste as domestic animals or midgets, in relation to whom they themselves acted as gods or giants. Quite apart from the moral issues involved, one wonders how such an extreme cultural polarisation came about. For, prior to the sixth millennium B. C., social stratification among hunting peoples seems to have been non-existent and even among horticultural peoples to have been minimal. Does this puzzle leave room for yet more extravagant hypotheses, such as that of Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods?

Bailey's prose is lucid and fluent, though an editorial eye flinches at the large numbers of sentence splices and sentence fragments he produces. Outside of maps (where Nazca appears as Nasca on one page and Nazco on another), typographica are mercifully few. The only one that suggests misspelling is the ubiquitous appearance of Phaecian for Phaeacian.

In sum, The God-Kings is an exciting book, which should be required reading for anyone whose intellectual curiosity about the past is not circumscribed by The Cambridge Ancient History.

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