historic european homicide rates … and the hajnal line

here’s another map of europe — from steven pinker’s Better Angels:

pinker - fig. 3.8 - hajnal line

“Figure 3-8. Geography of homicide in Europe, late 19th and early 21st centuries [i’ve only shown the 19th century map here – h.chick]. Sources: Late 19th century (1880-1900): Eisner, 2003.”

now here’s the same map with the hajnal line added. oh … oops!:

pinker - fig. 3.8 - hajnal line02

what i’ve been wanting to see is a map showing the reduction of homicide rates in europe over time. eisner has shown that the homicide rates didn’t drop all at once — they started dropping the earliest in england, belgium/netherlands, germany and switzerland — later scandinavia — and, much later, italy and the rest of peripheral europe (see this post for more details and nifty charts). here’s pinker summarizing eisner’s findings (from chapter 3 of Better Angels):

“[F]rom the 13th century to the 20th, homicide in various parts of England plummeted by a factor of ten, fifty, and in some cases a hundred — for example, from 110 homicides per 100,000 people per year in the 14th-century Oxford to less than 1 homicide per 100,000 in mid-20th-century London….

“Were the English unusual among Europeans in gradually refraining from murder? Eisner looked at other Western European countries for which criminologists had compiled homicide data. [T]he results were similar. Scandinavians needed a couple of additional centuries before they thought the better of killing each other, and Italians didn’t get serious about it until the 19th century. But by the 20th century the annual homicide rate of every Western European country had fallen into a narrow band centered on 1 per 100,000….

The Civilizing Process spread not only downward along the socioeconomic scale but outward across the geographic scale, from a Western European epicenter…. England was the first to pacify itself, followed closely by Germany and the Low Countries. Figure 3-8 [the one i half-posted above – h.chick] plots this outward ripple on maps of Europe in the late 19th and early 21st centuries.

“In the late 1800s, Europe had a peaceable bull’s-eye in the northern industrialized countries (Great Britain, France, Germany, Denmark, and the Low Countries), bordered by slightly stroppier Ireland, Austria-Hungary, and Finland, surrounded in turn by still more violent Spain, Italy, Greece, and the Slavic countries. Today the peaceable center has swelled to encompass all of Western and Central Europe, but a gradient of lawlessness extending to Eastern Europe and the mountainous Balkans is still visible.”

i wanted to see THAT on a map, so i drew one (NOT with crayons, although it kinda looks like it…). lighter shades=earlier drop in homicide rates; darker shades=later drop. i’ve indicated the century in which homicide rates began to drop for each region. and i’ve drawn in the hajnal line:

pinker eisner reduction of homicide in europe over time 02

finally, a footnote from pinker:

“There are gradients within each of these countries as well: the hinterlands and mountains remained violent long after the urbanized and densely farmed centers had calmed down. Clan warfare was endemic to the Scottish highlands until the 18th century, and to Sardinia, Sicily, Montenegro, and other parts of the Balkans until the 20th.”

previously: ibd rates for europe and the hajnal line and outbreeding, self-control and lethal violence and what pinker missed

(note: comments do not require an email. hello there!)

26 Comments

  1. I think they’re connected. The question is did the outbreeding reduce the violence directly or did it simply facilitate the extension of a rule of law and thereby *speed up* a pacification process which happens whenever you get high-density agriculture?

    Or a bit of both?

    In the context of individual males or young male gangs fighting and based purely on inner city anecdata i don’t think nw euros are the least violent at all. I’d say in that context asians from areas which have had high-density agriculture the longest were the least violent (in the male-male context) so i’m inclined to think the bulk of the outbreeding effect over those 600 years was in speeding up the pacification process.

    nb I think violence needs to be split into three segments (again anecdata so take with pinch of salt):

    1) Male vs male violence.
    2) Male vs female violence.
    3) Communal violence.

    High levels of (1) can also spill over into high levels of (2) and (3) but among some populations – highly related to clannishness vs outbreeding imo – you can have high levels of (2) and (3) with low levels of (1).

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  2. Quote: “Were the English unusual among Europeans in gradually refraining from murder?”

    They didn’t refrain from murder. They refrained from murdering each other. What they did instead was to invade other people’s countries and murder the indigenous people that they found there to build their British empire.

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  3. Joe Walker has a point. Is this about the English pacifying themselves, or successfully shifting the focus of their violence to out-groups. What, if any, is the relationship between an increase in in-group peace and an increase in violence towards out- groups?

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  4. They had out-groups before: Irish, Scots, Normans. Joe Walker’s use of the word “murder” is ridiculous. They went to trade, and were ruthless in securing and holding advantage. That’s ugly, but it’s not the same thing. Words have actual meanings, and when one starts throwing them around for emotive effect rather than accuracy, one moves into Orwell territory.

    Yeah, I know, it’s your political opposites that are the Orwellian ones, Joe. Never you. You’re morally superior.

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  5. @Joe Walker
    What they did instead was to invade other people’s countries and murder the indigenous people that they found there to build their British empire.

    In the depopulated wasteland of what used to be India, British colonial government passes the Criminal Tribes Act and suppresses the Thuggee cult.

    “Membership was sometimes passed from father to son, in what would now be termed a criminal underclass. The leaders of long-established Thug groups tended to come from these hereditary lines, as the gang developed into a criminal ‘tribe’.”

    Mark Twain wrote:
    assisted, protected, sheltered, and hidden by innumerable confederates —big and little native chiefs, customs officers, village officials, and native police, all ready to lie for it, and the mass of the people, through fear, persistently pretending to know nothing about its doings; and this condition of things had existed for generations,

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  6. Fortunately, British de-empirized India in 1947, creating modern day India and Pakistan. Both countries went on to became prosperous republics, even so modernized as to have nuclear weapons. (2001–2002 India–Pakistan standoff )

    Partition of India
    It resulted in a struggle between the newly constituted states of India and Pakistan and displaced up to 12.5 million people with estimates of loss of life varying from several hundred thousand to a million (most estimates of the numbers of people who crossed the boundaries between India and Pakistan in 1947 range between 10 and 12 million).

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  7. @joe – “They didn’t refrain from murder. They refrained from murdering each other.”

    @p. o’neill – “Is this about the English pacifying themselves, or successfully shifting the focus of their violence to out-groups.”

    the homicide rates in england decreased ginormously over the course of the medieval period. so did the homicide rates in other nw european countries — but the process started earliest in england. that is interesting and requires explanation (at least i want it explained!).

    yes, they refrained from murdering each other — and that’s what’s so interesting! because the peoples in the balkans certainly don’t (or at least most of them don’t) — or the peoples in the arab world — or loads of peoples in africa — or the yanomamo — or the kato (see some of my recent posts). again, the question is — why? how’d they do it? what happened?

    the implications of stopping to kill (or want to kill) your unrelated next-door neighbor or the guys in the next valley are enormous. suddenly you can build a nation-state. you can have peaceful trade and commerce. you maybe even can build a liberal democracy.

    there are out-groups and there are out-groups. you need to define your terms. for people in the arab world (not to mention pakistan or afghanistan — or papua new guinea), the next tribe over is an out-group, therefore lots o’ difficulties in making anything work at levels higher than the tribe.

    once the english quit killing each other, were they able to successfully shift their murderous intentions to a larger out-group (like “the indians”)? i dunno. maybe. certainly they (and other nw european groups) were able to build vast armies (without too much coercion — tommys volunteered!) and they had an advantage over clannish peoples, like the scots and the irish, who were too focused on fighting amongst themselves to manage to pull together and fend off invading anglo-norman/english forces. oops.

    what was the english kill rate when they went colonizing? how does it compare to their homicide rates today or their homicide rates of the past? i dunno. would be interesting to know.

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  8. i said – “once the english quit killing each other, were they able to successfully shift their murderous intentions to a larger out-group (like ‘the indians’)?”

    something to consider is the fact that many studies have shown that european soldiers (nw european soldiers) have a hard time with killing. they often don’t aim directly at enemy combatants, suffer ptsd, etc. (see pinker on this.) meanwhile, from the sounds of it, many clannish/tribal peoples seem to relish killing outsiders. from pinker (chapter 2):

    “In the early 19th century an English convict named William Buckley escaped from a penal colony in Australia and for three decades lived happily with the Wathaurung their aborigines. He provided firsthand accounts of their way of life, including their ways of war:

    “‘On approaching the enemy’s quarters, they laid themselves down in ambush until all was quiet, and finding most of them asleep, laying about in groups, our party rushed upon them, killing three on the spot and wounding several others. The enemy fled precipitately, leaving their war implements in the hands of their assailants and their wounded to be beaten to death by boomerangs, three loud shouts closing the victors’ triumph. The bodies of the dead they mutilated in a shocking manner, cutting the arms and legs off, with flints, and shells, and tomahawks.

    ‘When the women saw them returning, they also raised great shouts, dancing about in savage ecstasy. The bodies were thrown upon the ground, and beaten about with sticks—in fact, they all seemed to be perfectly mad with excitement.'”

    i think there’s a difference between clannish/tribal peoples and more peaceful nw europeans. i think clannish/tribal peoples enjoy killing more than nw europeans do. (and different clannish/tribal peoples to different degrees, of course.) they relish it. which shouldn’t be surprising. our feelings are there to drive us to behave in certain ways. if “killing unrelated tribes” (at least sometimes) is a behavior that’s been selected for in some peoples, i should expect them to enjoy it. or, at least, not find it repulsive.

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  9. Doesn’t hold up at all today does it? Well, better in Eastern Europe and not at all the South. And wasn’t the case prior to the period in question. That seems the most interesting part.

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  10. @matt – “Doesn’t hold up at all today does it? Well, better in Eastern Europe and not at all the South. And wasn’t the case prior to the period in question.”

    huh?

    Reply

  11. Joe Walker

    “They didn’t refrain from murder. They refrained from murdering each other. What they did instead was to invade other people’s countries and murder the indigenous people that they found there to build their British empire.”

    So if the argument is England’s homicide rate didn’t decline it was exported then surely the same argument would apply to other empires?

    I do think there’s something to the argument of exported violence but i think the armies of the time were too small for it to be the main factor.

    (If anything i think empires might slow a pre-existing pacification process down by giving more violent individuals a larger reproductive niche – although it might re-arrange the proportions i.e. more on the border, less in the core regions).

    The alternative argument is that something happened to the peoples around the edge of the north european plain (including the English) which allowed the creation of a more organized society and the counter-intuitive thing about more peaceful organized societies is it gives the potential to wage group violence on a much larger scale than more clannish, disorganized and individually violent societies.

    Put another way how likely were the men who dropped the atomic bombs on Japan to stab a random guy in a drunken bar fight? How likely is it that the sort of man most likely to stab a random stranger in a drunken bar fight to ever be the pilot of a nuke bomber?

    I think it is a counter-intuitive truism that a more organized society is both more likely to be internally pacified and also much more effective at large scale external warfare. They are two sides of the same coin e.g Japan in WWII.

    The fact that this kind of homicide data exists – when and where it exists – more or less proves the point.

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  12. @GW:

    “I think it is a counter-intuitive truism that a more organized society is both more likely to be internally pacified and also much more effective at large scale external warfare. They are two sides of the same coin e.g Japan in WWII.

    The fact that this kind of homicide data exists – when and where it exists – more or less proves the point.”

    Very well said!

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  13. Quote: “They went to trade, and were ruthless in securing and holding advantage.”

    If by “trade”, you mean invade then you are absolutely correct.

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  14. People make a big fuss about the Great Leap Forward famine deaths under Mao, but the British were arguably more murderous (and genocidal, since the victim was a different ethnic group) during the Irish Potato Famine. Estimates of the famine deaths during the Great Leap Forward range from 3% to 6% of China’s population, while the Irish Potato Famine resulted in 1 million Irish deaths, around 12.5% of Ireland’s population.

    [edit: your comment was stuck in the spam box. no idea why. sorry! – h.chick]

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  15. Could it be the earlier consolidation of England under one king, leading to that larger area with one focal leader, that led to the various areas considering themselves as part of the larger entity? Which would cut down on the otherness of those from elsewhere in the kingdom? Though I had an English teacher in 9th grade who told us there were 22 dialects in England, some being mostly mutually incomprehensible.

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  16. Tom

    “People make a big fuss about the Great Leap Forward famine deaths under Mao, but the British were arguably more murderous (and genocidal, since the victim was a different ethnic group) during the Irish Potato Famine.”

    That doesn’t change the argument though does it?

    All that shows is that individual homicidal violence is separate from collective group violence and that peoples who reduce individual homicidal violence within their society are more able to engage in collective group violence (but not just collective violence – they become better able at anything requiring large-scale co-operation like clean water systems or railways).

    (Also generally speaking people, as in the media and academia, don’t make a big fuss about Mao’s mass starvation in China in the same way they ignore what happened in the Soviet Union.)

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  17. Sam L

    “Could it be the earlier consolidation of England under one king, leading to that larger area with one focal leader, that led to the various areas considering themselves as part of the larger entity?”

    It’s a possibility although if you look at the areas that were the most rebellious i’d say they more or less followed the same upland/lowland split seen in many of hbdchick’s posts so even if that was the case there’d still be something to say there.

    Also if it was just England then you could look for a specifically English answer but the actual epicentre of this process – if hbdchick’s idea is correct – is a spot somewhere around the east of Holland/Belgium and south of Denmark (Austrasia in the middle ages) and Holland is imo the earliest exemplar of the results of the process…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_Golden_Age

    …with England more on the periphery. However being on the periphery meant the process *survived* in England better with less interruptions like constant (land) wars with Spain or the Thirty Year’s war getting in the way like it did with the Dutch and Germans.

    (Islands are so the best.)

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  18. @g.w. – “If anything i think empires might slow a pre-existing pacification process down by giving more violent individuals a larger reproductive niche – although it might re-arrange the proportions i.e. more on the border, less in the core regions.”

    that’s an interesting thought.

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  19. @sam – “Could it be the earlier consolidation of England under one king, leading to that larger area with one focal leader, that led to the various areas considering themselves as part of the larger entity?”

    maybe. but how did they manage to consolidate all of england under one king in the first place? i mean, the neighboring irish never/barely managed. why not? what was so different between the two island? (lot of things, i know….)

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  20. Possibly the result of centralization of power. Henri II Plantagenet of Anjou, when he took over England in the 12th century had imposed a shield tax on his nobles, in lieu of mlitary service (as he had previously done over Normandy). It essentially turned them from warriors into big farmers and made decentralization, in England, much harder, while allowing the king to hire professional soldiers rather than relying as heavily on militia and feudal levies. He also imposed other laws making rebellion more difficult and while England would face dynastic warfare among his descendants it never was as weak or decentralized as medieval France, Italy, Ireland, Scotland etc.

    Reply

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