Domesday’s eastern roots.

It seems like that old “goodness gracious me” sketch about the funny uncle that was claiming everything in Britain was ‘Indian’ was, – yup, Indian – accurate after all:

Reading Wittfogel and on page 214 he finds the Domesday Book, tdocumenting property rights for landlords of yore, has Arab [Saracen – Ghengis – ok, almost Indian] origins…

‘When in 1066 the Normans conquered England, some of their countrymen had already set themselves up as the masters of southern Italy, an area which, with interruptions, had been under Byantine administration until this date: and some of them had established a foothold in Sicily, an area which had been ruled by Byzantium for three hundred years and after that by the Saracens, who combined Arab and Byzantine techniques of absolutist government.

We have no conclusive evidence regarding the effect of this Byzantine-Saracen experience on William and his councilors. But we know that in 1072—that is, thirteen years before William ordered the description of England—the Normans had conquered the capital of Sicily, Palermo, and the northern half of the island. And we also know that there were considerable “comings and goings” 43 between the Italian-Sicilian Normans and their cousins in Normandy and England, particularly among the nobility and clergy. The latter happened also to be actively engaged in administrative work.44 No wonder, then, that on the basis of his knowledge of the period Haskins, the leading English expert on English-Sicilian relations in the Middle Ages, suggests “the possibility of a connexion between Domesday Book. and the fiscal registers which the south had inherited from its Byzantine and Saracen rulers.” [cites himself]

Haskins’ hypothesis explains well why a typically hydraulic device of fiscal administration appeared in feudal Europe. It also explains why for hundreds of years afterward this “magnificent exploit” had no parallel in that area. Evidently, systematic and nationwide registration was as out of place in feudal society as it was customary in the realm of Oriental despotism’ (Wittfogel 1957: 214)


from Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power and yes, the Orientalism and the anti-communism are strong in this one, and comparative studies on this scale are wild speculation at the level of conclusion, but int he detail, well, the detail is amazing. It is like a randomised global free association generator.