Carlo Cipolla (1970), one of the great historians of the twentieth century, used to say that in the history of humanity there have been two great revolutions: the Neolithic Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. The Neolithic Revolution, which started in Mesopotamia and China after 8000 BC (this is, of course, an approximate date), could also be called the Agricultural Revolution. Around that time there appeared the first permanent human settlements, which means that those primitive societies abandoned their nomadic lifestyle, characterized by economic activity centered on the hunt and the gathering of wild fruits, and adopted a sedentary life, characterized by the practice of agriculture and cattle-raising. Naturally, this “revolution” must have happened very gradually, during generations and probably during centuries: the transition from a nomadic lifestyle to a sedentary one did not take place in Mesopotamia and China from one day to the next: on the contrary, agriculture and cattle-raising were very gradually occupying an increasing number of hours every day (or days in a year) of the primitive nomads’ life, and the process took place during many centuries. It could even be said that to this day the process has not been completed; it is worth noting that even in today’s societies, so sedentary and postmodern, there are still many who hunt and gather, in particular mushrooms, herbs, and wild fruits. The Neolithic or Agricultural Revolution expanded slowly, in China in a

concentric fashion from the valleys of the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers. In the west, it unfolded from the Middle East in an east-west direction much more than north-south: towards the east it spread through Persia and India; it expanded westward towards the Mediterranean Levant (Syria, Phoenicia, Anatolia) and towards the valley of the Nile. Its diffusion on the north shore of the Mediterranean was relatively simple, since the weather and soil conditions were similar to the original ones in Mesopotamia. For this reason agricultural methods and techniques did not have to be significantly modified in order to adapt them to new lands. On the other hand, along the southern shore of the Mediterranean (the North African shore) the spread of agriculture found the desert an obstacle, except in Egypt (whose land, as Herodotus states in The Histories (1998: 97), is “a gift from the river” Nile). The civilizations of the northern Mediterranean shore, particularly the Greek and

Roman, had a flourishing agriculture and ended up dominating the economy and politics of antiquity. From the fall of the Roman Empire until the Industrial Revolution, the

history of humanity experienced great changes and displacements in the political power structure, but some socioeconomic features remained constant during the twelve centuries that preceded the Industrial Revolution. On the one hand, agriculture remained the most important and productive sector within the planet’s sedentary societies, although, during certain periods of time, industry and commerce acquired increasing prominence. This was particularly so in Europe during the early modern period (the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). On the other hand, the European peoples, who in antiquity had already displayed technological, economic, and political leadership (leadership which may have been shared with China), after experiencing a relative eclipse in the early Middle Ages were slowly emerging as the richest – and consequently the most powerful – in the world. To a great extent their wealth and power were due to the surprising technological dynamism exhibited by these peoples since the very early Middle Ages. The result of this economic and technical superiority was the global expansion of the European countries after the fifteenth century, with the explorations, discoveries, and settlements in Africa, America, Asia, and Oceania giving way to what has been called the Commercial Revolution of the early modern period. By the mid eighteenth century Europe clearly constituted the hegemonic

region in the world. It is true that the continent was not at that time any kind of political entity: it was, simply, a geographical expression. Europe was divided into numerous groups of independent political units and several of them competed for world hegemony. Britain, the Netherlands, France, Spain, and Portugal, in order of importance, could assign themselves the title of world hegemonic powers, depending on the classifying criteria which might be adopted. The simplest criterion would be that of colonial empire: all of these nations headed vast colonial empires, the result, to a large extent, of the expansion and conquest that during previous centuries had followed the geographical discoveries initiated in the fifteenth century. Of course, to head an empire is an unmistakable sign of hegemony. How-

ever, the following questions come to mind. Was that the only indication of domination? Were there not other criteria according to which the European nations would distinguish themselves from other regions in the world? Certainly, although not as clear, there were other indications of superiority on the part of these powers or nations. For example, although colonial conquest could be the direct consequence of military power, that same power derived from a clear technical and economic superiority that had much to do with the evolution of social institutions.