Friday, May 1, 2009

War and Society of the Gadianton State

In speaking of the Gadiantion Robbers in chapter 11 of the Book of Helaman Mormon says that
33...they did visit many parts of the land, and did do great destruction unto them; yea, did kill many, and did carry away others captive into the wilderness, yea, and more especially their women and their children.

As mentioned in my previous post, this verse intrigued me. After a bit of research I have come to several conclusions:

1. When I mentioned the Sabine women from Roman history I was on the right track. Bride Kidnapping is common among many ancient cultures across the world. And the Book of Mosiah already described a clearer example of this practice. (Mosiah 20:1-5)

2. This practice is in line with many norms of ancient war. The winner of a conflict had jurisdiction over its inhabitants and usually slew the men while taking the women and children captive.

3. The first two points suggest the attempted creation of a rival state. The stealing of Lamanite women by the Priests of Noah started a new "ite" in competition with the Nephites and maybe even the Lamanites (See their attack on Ammonihah in Alma 16 for an example of the latter). And the power of the Gadianton robbers to take women and children suggest they had the basics of a state apparatus. (See 3 Nephi 3 for the educated letter from their leader and the control he had over his forces)

4. The capture of women and children could represent the need for labor of an arms industry (mining metal) or agricultural production (See Hamblin "Ancient Warfare in the Near East"). There is little direct indication of the creation of a Gadianton state, although this could be the cultural bias from Mormon rather than a reflection of the facts. Every other facet (such as the precedent set in Mosiah, the sociological implications of stealing captives, the application of rules of war mentioned in #3, and the economic implications in stealing wives discussed below) does lead to that conclusion.

5. The practice of captive brides also has several economic implications. According to the journals I read, sometimes the practice of stealing brides was simply a cover for a couple's elopement in order to satisfy cultural expectations. Many more times, the practice occurs because "the men who resort to capturing a wife are often of lower social status, because of poverty, disease, poor character or criminality. They are sometimes deterred from legitimately seeking a wife because of the payment the woman's family expects, the bride price [different from a dowry]". ( Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 3 1974)

I have argued elsewhere that the increasing stratification of Nephite society led many of the have nots (or the "have not quite as much"ers) to forcibly rebel against the ruling powers, the Nephite Chief Judge and the Church, in order to equalize their share of the wealth. The abduction or absconding of Nephite daughters could be seen as the great destruction being visited upon the Nephites mentioned in v. 33. Their physical cities could be rebuilt, but the destruction of the Nephite lineage through defection to social and spiritual inferiors would be a greater insult.

And as I argued here, the increasing number of full time and landless soldiers in Nephite society would be seen as the dregs of society. Full time soldiers in the Acien Regime were on par with prostitutes and dogs (In fact businesses would have signs that read "No dogs, prostitutes or soldiers"- See Peter Paret "Makers of Modern Strategy" and John Lynn "Bayonets of the Republic") it would not be surprising that the famous soldier who scalped Zerahemnah and could give an extemporaneous sermon (Alma 44) would be replaced by a landless, uneducated (3 Nephi 6:12) robber with no loyalty to the central government.

In short,the practice of captive brides suggests additional insights into the economic motivations of the Gadianton robbers and reveals how the Nephites perceived their political enemies and social inferiors. In fact, it seems that if the Nephites defeated their enemies soundly (like the Amlicites in Alma 2) they were described as "ites" at least somewhat equal to the Nephites socially. But the increasing strength of the political enemies of the Nephite lineage and the possible defection of many parts of Nephite society to their cause results in the editorial insult by Mormon where he called them "robbers" instead of the Gadianites.

Conclusion: Helaman 11:33 suggests that the Gadianton robbers were building a state. They destroyed Nephite cities in a physical sense, but were seen by Nephites and Mormon as a threat to their families and social inferiors. The Church was unable to stem the rapacious desire for wealth among their leading houses and citizens which led to the rise of a new state filled with former soldiers whose economic situation deteriorated to the point of rebellion. Second tier nobles (the not have as much crowd) saw the growing income gap that equalled their political power gap and they allied with those disaffected full time soldiers to rebel and create a new state. This state was labelled pejoratively as robbers even though Nephite society often did the same thing only under the cover of government.

As always, I invite comment and constructive opinion as I refine my ideas and conduct more research.


Mormon Heretic said...

So Morgan, would this Gadianton state be similar in nature to the Somali pirates in the modern day?

Morgan Deane said...

I don't think so. The Gadianton robbers were depicted that way. And their tactics suggest a similarity to modern day pirates (see 3 Nephi 4:1). But I believe that lots of warfare back then was hit and run. (See John Welch's summary in Warfare in the Book of Mormon for a brief synaposis of every conflict) The leader of Gadianton was educated (see the letter in 3 Nephi 3), professed he had rights to leadership similar to the aspiring Nephite leader Paanchi in Helaman 1:13. And I argue that people "defected" because the social order of the Nephites would not allow their marriage, or they wanted greater economic opportunity among the Gadianton robbers. This was from former soldiers who did not have a chance to plunder (due to lack of wars or Nephite regulation), and among the noble households that wanted more political and economic freedom. (because they could no longer "fake it" and get the benefits of belonging to the state religion, Helaman 3:33) Thus like the Zoramites a little earlier, they seperated from the Nephites so they could obtain wealth by the power of their hands. Compare the prayer on the Rameuptum to the goals of the Gadianton robbers and notice 3 Nephi 1:29.

Thus I feel that the Gadianton robbers had as much of state as the Zoramites, Amlicites, and Amalikites, they were called robbers due to a change and tactics, and I think because they were successful in destorying the Nephite state.

Morgan Deane said...

The change in tactics I refer to, is the fact that many of them were hidden among the Nephites, and they matched much of the insurgency tactics that Mao described. Outside of that irregular warfare aspect I don't feel they were similar to Somali pirates.

Thanks for the comment.

Mormon Heretic said...

So would the US mafia, or drug gangs be a better comparison to the Gadianton Robbers? (I always like to compare scriptures to modern day problems to give me a better picture of what was happening anciently?)

Morgan Deane said...

I think the Taliban currently operating in Packistan would be the closest comparison. It is a state within a state. It has its own hierarchy and controls some territory and has its own military force. But it does this in the same sphere as the government forces and aparatus. In places where there is weak government control the mayor of the town is really just a figure head and the local Taliban commander is in charge.

So I would compare the Gadianton Robbers to military organizations that also have state functions (like Hezbollah) but significant ability to dissapear, retreat or blend in. The power of many ancient governments rested in its military. There were no such things as police for internal control and the army for external threats, it was just the army. There were some governments in Medieval China that had little control outside of the military's operational capability. (The Former Qin Dynasty comes to mind) They had to co opt local rulers, thus Nephite defections would be serious if that was the case. And they could only defeat the roobers by gathering in a central location within direct control of its governor and commander.

But the early part of the Gadianton robbers history could be loosly compared to the mafia. They were based on loyalty and had secret codes. But I would compare them more to sleeper cells that only stayed asleep because they were too weak at the time to directly confront the government. Mao said this would be the first phase insurgency. Second phase would be to gain direct control of some areas to build infrastructure. The third phase would be a conventional campaign to sieze control of the government through regular warfare. So the first phase may seem like the mafia, but it still applies more to the Taliban or other parmilitary organizations that have potential for state control.

Hope that makes sense. And I don't claim to have a monolopy on information, I'm doing my best to answer the questions and establish some working ideas for studying the Book of Mormon. Thanks for the comments!

Mormon Heretic said...

Thanks. That really helps.