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In my world I need people of culture A to invade the lands inhabited by people of culture B. The invasion is successful and A conquers the territory. However, the A people adopt the B culture to a large extent, rather than imposing their own culture on B, causing them to diverge from the A people who stayed in their homeland.

I know that real history has examples of invaders adopting the culture of the invaded, but in general, what are the factors you expect to see for this to take place?

For context, the B people live in an island about the size of Madagascar and both A and B are comparable technology-wise (roughly tribal/pre-feudal), so it's not like barbarians invading Rome.

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    $\begingroup$ The Romans often appointed local leaders to maintain order in the conquered region. This helped limit insurgencies because the leader seemed more legitimate than a foreigner. We can very well imagine that this kind of cultural mix and the presence of locals in power ended up over time by privileging the cultures of the conquered rather than the conquerors. $\endgroup$
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 12:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Alex: The Roman empire was a very, extremely decentralized state. Compared to the Roman empire, the USA is positively Napoleonical. Basically each and every city in the empire governed itself, as it had always done. The Romans very seldom "appointed" people to govern cities; they left it to the people of those cities to do it the way they had always done it. "Governors" of provinces had limited attributions, mostly having to do with taxes and the army; they did not "govern" in the modern sense. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 13:48
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps the invaders thought the invaded's culture/societal norms were objectively better. Doesn't preclude the need of the invaders to invade the to-be-invaded. $\endgroup$
    – BMF
    Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 20:29
  • $\begingroup$ Ask folks at Coachella, they seem like they would know $\endgroup$
    – Maxim
    Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP Like a nation-state mafia wanting protection money and not much else. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 22:34

3 Answers 3

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It is usually determined by (1) numbers, (2) unequal levels of civilization and (3) particular situations in each case.

  • If the conquerors are much fewer than the conquered, or
  • if the conquerors are barbarians and the conquered are much more advanced in civilization and technology, or
  • if the conquerors didn't bring women with them,

then it almost certain that the conquering culture will dissolve into the conquered culture.

Examples:

  • The conquerors are much fewer than the conquered: the French-speaking Normans in England. It will take a few generations, but eventually if the numerical difference is too large, the conquering culture will eventually wither and die.

  • The conquerors are much fewer than the conquered, and they didn't bring women with them: the Norsemen (= Vikings) in Normandy and the Varangians (= Vikings) in Kievan Russia. (The Vikings were experts at conquering lands and then promptly losing their culture and going native. Those are not the only examples.)

    (Women are essential because they are the driving force in preserving the culture over generations. There is a reason why we say mother tongue and not father tongue. Not bringing women practically guarantees the loss of the conquering culture in two or three generations.)

  • The conquerors are barbarians and the conquered are much more advanced in civilization and technology: the Germanic tribes in the Western Roman Empire, the Mongols in China and India, the Arabs in Persia.

    Barbarians are great warriors, but poor administrators. Wise barbarians will rely on local administrators, and this will inevitably lead to the merger of the conquering culture in the local culture, albeit usually leaving clear influences. For example, the Persians adopted the religion of the conquering Arabs, while preserving their distinct Persian language and culture.

The question asks about "invaders". I have answered about "conquerors", because invasions do not necessarily have to be successful; see the British, the Russians and the Americans in Afghanistan, for an example recurring every century or so.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why not add a section about invaders. If an invasion fails, the invaders can scatter and some join society there, adapting to the culture. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Trioxidane: I would have to invent my own scenario of the invasion, the failure mode, the local culture... It is much more complicated, and the question doesn't provide any starting point. The failed invaders may leave, they may be killed, they may be enslaved, they may be expelled forcefully... It's complicated. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ true. I just thought that it might be an extra answer how invaders could adopt the culture. Feel free to add or omit. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Commented Sep 2, 2020 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ I really doubt that you can make a case that the Norman culture in England withered and died, rather than forming a hybrid culture. For instance, Google suggest that a majority of English words are derived from French or Latin roots. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Sep 3, 2020 at 4:18
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf -- It's also true that middle class Englishmen during the 12th & 13th centuries actively sought to learn French. It's also true that it took a long time to entirely switch over to English: 400 or 500 years for the nobility to make the switch; and a further century or two for the lawyers to abandon French, except for a very few terms like "oyez", "force majeur", and "la reyne le veult" $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented Sep 3, 2020 at 6:30
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Some combination of:

  1. It makes the conquered more tractable
  2. The conquerors can only really rule with the tools of the conquered. (Mongol governance was not sufficient to govern and collect taxes from China.)
  3. It's the only practical way to live in that land. (The conquered land lacks grazing for horses; your horse-dependent culture does not work.)
  4. It is more pleasant than their own. Expect this to be denounced by the conquerors, but insisting that their officials walk or ride horses when they could travel by sedan chair is not going to be popular with the officials.
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Keep the wheels turning.

So, this is a great day. Your nomadic horde has finally conquered that rich agricultural country. YOUR word is now THEIR law.

First day of business, two local villagers ask you to solve their dispute (you are now the law, after all). They explain to you the long history of ownership of the land of dispute.

This is mind numbling to you. Your people has never cultivated the land, so they have never worried about "owning" it. They do not have rules to decide who owns the land. You do not know the pros or cons of each decission.

So you pick one of the former ruler's advisors out of jail (preferibly one who still has a tongue in himself) so he can inform you of the usual way of solving this issue. That way, both parties have a ruling and they can go back to their fields and continue produce food for the court.

Well, that was a good day at work. Now, where are the concubines? This damn palace is SO great.

In order to reap the profits of your victory, the society conquered needs to keep working. Which means management. But your nomadic lifestyle provides no guidance to do so, so you keep the previous administration in place.

With time:

  • Your nomadic tribe becomes settled as lords, so the nomadic traditions are no longer useful.
  • You realize that you need to keep an eye to maximize the profits of using the old system. Learn how it works, and you may tweak a law there or here so you get to reward an ally, or to get more revenue.
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