Saturday, February 22, 2014

Guest Post: Lamanite Alliances, Spheres of Influence, and Historical Complexity, Part I

[Ryan Tanner is a student at UNC Chapel Hill pursuing a graduate degree in Physics.  This is the first part of a guest post partially inspired by my previous post about Amalickiah's Coup]
I have great respect for Mormon and for his great life's work, even if at times I wish he had included just a little more detail here and there, but I must recognize the already difficult task he had of compiling 1000 years of history into a coherent story with a central religious message. For the rest we must fill in the gaps with the best of our understanding. In that vein I offer these ideas as a way of understanding the Nephite-Lamanite wars in a different light so that we might consider the historical complexity that underlies the history of Mormon's Book.

Previously Morgan Deane has addressed the arguments that Amalickiah might have used to work his way into a position to become king of the Lamanites. It is in that context that we must consider the conditions among the Lamanites that made his rise to power, and the subsequent wars, not only a possibility but also something that must have seemed rational to all those involved. One general rule that I always try to apply when considering the motivations of others is that people, at least in the moment of their decisions, try to act in a way that seems rational to them. Thus while we may look at Mormon's account of Amalickiah's rise to power and wonder why the Lamanites were so easily taken in, if we were to know the full social, political and economic conditions at the time we may not be so quick to think the Lamanites were easily duped by a scheming Amalickiah.

It is easy for us to slip into an opinion that the Lamanites were a monolithic group who acted mindlessly, violently and vengefully to attack the peace loving Nephites without cause. But to do that would ignore the complexity that we find everywhere throughout history. Rarely (as in never) are large groups of people perfectly unified in a thought and common cause without a large measure of complexity behind their apparent unity. This is to say that political maneuverings do not stop just because a nation is at war, and in many cases the wars are a direct result of the political maneuverings.

To understand the complex landscape of the Lamanite people that Amalickiah entered into when he fled the land of Zarahemla we must go back several years and consider the mission of the sons of Mosiah to the Lamanites. Interestingly enough, their mission provides our best glimpse into the Lamanite political structure in addition to being the impetus that most likely prompted the Nephite-Lamanite wars recorded in the Book of Alma. Even though I am using the mission to the Lamanites as the starting point, in reality we are arriving in the middle of the story in the complex interaction of the Nephites, the Lamanites, and everyone else that Mormon refers to as Lamanites, despite not being descended from Lehi, Ishmael, Mulek or anyone else that came from Jerusalem.

The key date to remember is the year 72 BC, which is the year Amalickiah arrived in the land of Nephi. It is very important to pay attention to the dates since sometimes it is easy to lose sight of how interconnected certain events are when they are separated by several chapters in the Book of Alma. For example, Amalickiah arrives in the land of Nephi in chapter 47 while the destruction of the people of Ammonihah happens in chapter 16, but that only happened in 81 BC, nine years before Amalickiah arrived in Nephi. So sometimes we forget that events that are separated textually are very interconnected and directly related to each other.

So let us consider how the mission to the Lamanites, the destruction of the people of Ammonihah, and the flight of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis made it possible for Amalickiah to become king of the Lamanites.

The sons of Mosiah left the land of Zarahemla in about 91 BC, which is only 19 years before Amalickiah arrives in Nephi. When Ammon arrived at the land of Ishmael, which was ruled by king Lamoni, he unwittingly entered into a rather sticky political situation. As pointed out by Brant Gardner in a paper presented in 2004, the situation that Ammon and Lamoni found themselves in was more complex than we typically think of it.

"The king decides to place Ammon in a position where this condition of being outside the city’s political intrigues might be advantageous: He sends him to water the flocks at Sebus. The dumb thieves who don’t get much from their raids are actually getting everything they want. Key to understanding the story is that whatever ruse was employed to allow the fiction that they were robbers, the reality was that they were well-known to the servants and to the king. They were members of the rival lineage who were attempting to alter the balance of power. By scattering the king’s flocks they were embarrassing the king and therefore diminishing his appearance of total control. Because the rival lineage was sufficiently powerful, the king could not move against them directly without creating civil war. Therefore, the king could not send armed guards. If he killed the members of the competing lineage it would break whatever illusion of cooperation there was and instigate civil disorder. The guards cannot defend themselves for the same reason that the king could not send troops."

This story gives us an insight into the positions of power in Lamanite royalty. What we see here is that king Lamoni was in a situation where he might lose his kingship. His position was not necessarily secure and depended on how well he was able to drive away threats and defend his own land. There were also rival systems of power, or families, that were constantly vying for influence and power. For the king to fail to maintain his influence and power would most likely result in civil war. This insight will be important when we consider Amalickiah.

Later, we don't know how much later (months or maybe even a year), Ammon and Lamoni meet up with Lamoni's father. There are three things in this exchange that come up that give us insight into the power structures among the Lamanites. In the first place Lamoni offers to go with Ammon to Middoni, which was ruled by king Antiomno, because he thinks that he can help get Ammon's brethren out of prison due to the fact that Antiomno is a "friend" (Alma 20:4). This indicates that the king of Middoni is not a brother or even family member of Lamoni. When Ammon and Lamoni meet and confront Lamoni's father, Lamoni's father grants that Lamoni may rule the land of Ishmael without interference and that Ammon's brethren "may be cast out of prison" (Alma 20:26-27).  This indicates that both Lamoni and Antiomno were only semi-autonomous kings in their kingdoms and that both of them owed fealty to Lamoni's father. It also indicates that while Lamoni's father could maintain his hold on some cities by appointing his son(s) as kings of those cities, in other cities he relied on non-family members, or family members by marriage, to maintain control.

Upon his conversion Lamoni's father proclaims that Ammon and his brethren are to be given free access "throughout all the land" (Alma 23:1-3). The phrase "all the land" apparently applied to at least seven cities that we assume were directly under the control of Lamoni's father (the cities are listed in Alma 23:9-12). Mormon also states that Lamoni's father "and all his household" were converted, which would indicate that the conversions happened along familial and social lines. Based on our prior insights we can assume that the conversions spread to the other cities under the control of the king through family lines, and other lines of influence and power. Just as Lamoni was a king over one of the seven cities, Lamoni's brother, whose post conversion name is Anti-Nephi-Lehi, may have also been the king in one of the seven cities and helped the conversion of people in positions of influence and power.

We cannot assume that everyone in the seven cities listed were converted since there would be those who for political or economic reasons would not wish to associate with the political structure controlled by Lamoni's father. Plus we must consider the presence of the Amalekites (possibly the Amlicites from Alma chapters 2 and 3?) and Amulonites who by this time were exerting considerable force in Lamanite society. These two groups were the ones who led the attacks on the newly named Anti-Nephi-Lehis, and as we read in chapter 24 the Amalekites waited until the king, Lamoni's father, had died before they began their attacks (v. 4). Thus these attacks would have been the first major challenge to the power and influence of the new king, Anti-Nephi-Lehi.

Even if the new king had not converted he may have had to face these challenges anyway. The seven allied cities, and possibly more, were under the direct control of Lamoni's father and the new king, Anti-Nephi-Lehi, would have had to exert his influence over these cities to maintain control. There were most certainly some of the subject kings who were willing to try to toss off the yoke that had been imposed on them by Lamoni's father. This challenge would have been expedited by the fact that the king's recent conversion would have signaled an alliance with the Nephites (as noted in Alma 23:18), an alliance which some of the kings in the seven cities would not have been too keen on making for political, cultural, historical, linguistic, or economic reasons.

We do not know when the attacks began, but it must have been shortly before the Lamanite armies, led by the Amalekites and Amulonites, attacked and destroyed the city of Ammonihah, a Nephite allied city, in 81 BC. The result of the attack on Ammonihah destroyed the influence of the Amulonites (see Alma 25:7-9), but the influence of the Amalekites continued unabated. We also learn that the Lamanites who were converted by their experience in that brief war "came over to dwell in the land of Ishmael and the land of Nephi" (Alma 25:13). What we see here is an indication that the Anti-Nephi-Lehis were consolidating into those two cities and lands, most likely for safety. This may also indicate that the sphere of influence of the new king was greatly diminished from that maintained by his father. That is, he may have lost the allegiance of five (and possibly more) cities.

After four years, Ammon, Lamoni and Anti-Nephi-Lehi realized that their situation was very precarious and organized their people and left the land of Nephi and Ishmael. When the people of Ammon left there must have been a general power vacuum in Lamanite society since the old king (Lamoni's father) and new king (Lamoni's brother) and all their relatives/allies left. The new power base that took over when they left must have been concerned about Lamoni and his brother returning since they sent an army to follow them and try to kill them (Alma 28:1-2), but were defeated by the Nephites. All this happened or finished up in 77 or 76 BC, just a few years before Amalickiah arrived.

The power vacuum that remained must have been tremendous. The alliance of seven, or more, cities that had been maintained by Lamoni's father, which had been breaking down since before his death, was thrown into disarray. The traditional power base, or those that remained, in the city of Nephi must have been threatened on all sides. The new power base would have been moving in, but due to recent defeats the Amalekites would still be powerful, but not enough to seize control. Those who wished to ensure that the Anti-Nephi-Lehis would never return had lost significant influence and power due to their military defeats. So who was in control in the land of Nephi, and in the six other cities, may have been an open question.

This brings us to four years before Amalickiah arrives in Nephi. The Lamanite alliance is weak and ready to break. There is no clear king, the Amulonites, and all their influence, had just been driven from the land, and the Amalekites were weakened but not defeated and still influential.

It is in this context that in 74 BC the Zoramites entered into an alliance with the Lamanites and a new Lamanite leader named Zerahemnah. If Zerahemnah was king then he would have been still consolidating his power since he had only been king for a maximum of three years. But if we reread Alma chapters 43 and 44 carefully we see that it never actually says that Zerahemnah was the king of the Lamanites. He did rely on the Amalekites and the Zoramites to form his power base so we can infer that he may not have been king over all the Lamanites. That is, the question of who was king over all the Lamanites (the seven cities) may not have been a settled question three years after the people of Ammon left.

So Zerahemnah may have been one of the contenders to be king of the Lamanites, with the backing of the Amalekites and the Zoramites. There is no word on how many Lamanite cities supported him so we cannot know how many of the seven cities he controlled, if any. I think we can assume that he did not control the city of Nephi because if he did then he most likely would have been referred to as king of the Lamanites, but Mormon does not refer to him as the king. Zerahemnah was never heard of again after being defeated spectacularly by Moroni so I don't think he lasted very long as king, if he was a king. At any rate his defeat ended his chance at controlling the seven allied Lamanite cities.


mormonchess said...

Great stuff! Please keep these insights coming. They are greatly appreciated.

Michaela Stephens said...

Sounds pretty plausible. Nice job.

Morgan Deane said...

I'm glad you like it. I'm working on a couple projects so I haven't been able to get to the ideas I have. I appreciate you reading and enjoying the articles.

Anita Wells said...

Thanks, fascinating! How does this article work in to it all?:

Quantumleap42 said...

Thanks everyone for reading and commenting.

Anita, thanks for the link. In answer to your question, that is something that I did try to imply very briefly in a parenthetical statement when I first mentioned the Amalekites. The connection between the Amlicites and the Amalekites was something that I had heard about from various sources, yet at the time I was writing this I couldn't find a good source to link to to establish the connection. So I just didn't go into it in my post.

A full treatment of this part of the history would definitely need to look at the influence of the Amlicites/Amalekites. They were definitely an important part of the timeline considering the Nephite-Amlicite war happened in about 87-86 BC, just 14 years before Amalickiah arrived in Nephi. Also we would need to consider how this fit in with the mission to the Lamanites by the sons of Mosiah since they were four or five years into their mission when the Nephite-Amlicite war happened.

Brother Conkling mentions this briefly in his article and he does give some passages where it seems to indicate that the sons of Mosiah had to deal with problems presented by the Amlicites/Amalekites.

It should also be pointed out that the Amalekites and Amulonites had control of at least three cities, or lands, that were not part of the seven city Lamanite alliance (see Alma 24:1 for the three cities). There were also a few villages, such as Ani-Anti (mentioned in Alma 21:11) that were part of the Lamanite sphere of influence yet were not independent and most likely relied on a near by city for protection and trade. The presence of these villages adds a little more complexity to the overall picture that I glossed over in my post. Any thorough treatment of this part of the history would have to consider all of these political units and sub-units.