12
$\begingroup$

One world I've been tinkering on for months is an alternate history where Europe did not colonise the rest of the world, different global cultures remained (more) independent, until in the age of the steamship and telegraph, they forged bonds of coöperation, not exploitation.

This question was prompted by reading Jervis R. 1978. Cooperation under the security dilemma. World Polit. 30:167–214 which says that one of the causes of coöperation is when defensive weapons outmatch attacking ones. This got me thinking: is there any defensive technology that colonised peoples could have had that would have made colonising them a lot harder?

The period we are talking about is around 1450-1500. Say the Aztecs or Native North Americans for example. If they have it, peoples who were colonised later such as the Australians or Zulu could also copy it.

This question mentions star forts. Star Forts could have been invented at any time in history and make attacking a defended position a lot harder. Anything else like that?

Thank you.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jan 28, 2023 at 20:37

16 Answers 16

27
$\begingroup$

(frame challenge)

More advanced forms of government and statehood, better societal organization.

A brilliant idea, a new weapon, a neat trick, etc. might win a battle which otherwise would have been close, but it won't affect the survival of an entire civilization. It's not like "if only the idea occurred to them to make armor out of metal / build more fortresses / make gunpowder", because it wouldn't have mattered if they don't have the industry, economy, organization, and logistical capabilities to back it up.

Contrary to a recently popularized misconception, the early modern colonization wasn't like the D-day landings, with the Europeans jumping out of the ships and opening fire on the natives on the shore. That basically never happened.

Initially there was usually a period of peaceful coexistence, trade, etc. When later conflicts started to develop (don't forget, over the most of human history war was very common even among groups of the same culture, so conflict will arise sooner or later), it was never a total war. In lots of conflicts two or more European powers fought against each other, all having native allies. Or two native factions were fighting against each other, and then the Europeans arrived and supported one of them against the other, in return of some land to build a trade outpost on. So it was almost never an "every newcomer combined" versus "every native combined" warfare. Internal conflicts were common on both "sides", if we can even call them "sides", as alliances shifted often.

Yes, military conquests did happen occasionally, but in most of the cases the colonization was done mostly by out-competing rather than militarily vanquishing native civilizations.

And here does the from of centralized government come into play. Regions of the world which had established statehood with advanced societal organization were either never colonized at all, or colonized only much later (e.g. 19th century when the local empires couldn't keep up with the changing times and were out-competed by industrialized economies).

Compare the above with the Americas, where in many cases there weren't any centralized states in any permanent control of territory, but semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes, or loose federations of tribes, with much sparser population density than what a modern (at the time) state could achieve. Even in the cases where the natives had a more urbanized civilization (like the Aztecs) it was usually one tribe dominating many weaker surrounding tribes, this is quite far from the modern concept of "statehood". And these oppressed tribes decided they'd rather live under Spanish rule than become human sacrifices in the Aztec rituals.

If the Americas had states like there existed in Japan, China, India, North Africa, then colonization likely wouldn't have happened, or it would have only happened economically, leaving the local population still in the majority. On the long term the organization and structures within a civilization matter much more than any neat gadget they could have thought of if only the idea occurred to them.

$\endgroup$
0
22
$\begingroup$

Better syphilis.

One theory of "the great pox" is that Columbus and his sailors brought it back from Hispaniola.

A brief history of syphilis

The Columbian hypothesis. This very popular hypothesis states that the navigators in Columbus fleet would have brought the affliction on their return form the New World in 1493 [3,12]. This theory is supported by documents belonging to Fernandez de Oviedo and Ruy Diaz de Isla, two physicians with Spanish origins who were present at the moment when Christopher Columbus returned from America. The former, sent by King Ferdinand of Spain in the New World, confirms that the disease he had encountered for the first time in Europe was familiar at that time to the indigenes who had already developed elaborated treatment methods. As for Ruy Diaz de Isla, the physician acknowledges syphilis as an “unknown disease, so far not seen and never described”, that had onset in Barcelona in 1493 and originated in Española Island (Spanish: Isla Española), a part of the Galápagos Islands.

The problem as regards defensive syphilis is that it just does not rampage through populations quite like smallpox or flu or measles.

Your alternate world Amerinds have syphilis that is more like those other diseases as regards a plaguelike ability to spread. Columbus' ship would come into port with all hands dead or dying (except for the natives they brought back) and before the nature of the problem is understood the Pox is ravaging Barcelona.

Europeans think twice about revisiting the New World.

$\endgroup$
9
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I liked that idea at first, but giving it more thought it doesn't work as a deterrent because diseases were not well understood. It's got to be something that DISCOURAGES attacks, not just makes them fail. $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Jan 25, 2023 at 17:37
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ It is exactly that. It is scary disease that discourages Europeans from showing up and messing with these people. The Spaniards knew that syphilis was in the people they encountered and now they had it too as in the excerpted quote. It does nothing to make attacks fail. If Cortez decides to show up and attack, disease notwithstanding it will go fine for him. In the short term. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jan 25, 2023 at 18:17
  • 13
    $\begingroup$ @wokopa You don't need to understand diseases to fear them and know that they spread. People feared disease and it spread before they knew about microbes. Disease, radiation poisoning, a curse, it doesn't matter whether the people of the world understand it or not. All they need to know is that it kills, it spreads, and you get it when you go to this place. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 26, 2023 at 0:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DKNguyen, in fact, the less you understand about a disease the easier it is to fear. In our region of the U.S., an early University of Montana study claiming COVID-19 would remain viable on hard surfaces for long periods of time (days...) led to a coinage crisis (nobody would use them leading to some fascinating consequences). What history proved is that the MSU results were misinterpreted and the fear they caused led to a crisis that shouldn't have happened. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 26, 2023 at 15:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Actually, Europeans were lucky that their were the ones to bring a disease that the native had no defense against. Just like you suggested, had there been any disease the European would have carried back that would have proven highly lethal after a few months and was highly contagious, Europe would have been devastated. $\endgroup$
    – werfu
    Jan 27, 2023 at 13:43
9
$\begingroup$

Flamethrowers and flame grenades

Flaming weapons have a long history of being very deadly.

Furthermore, Thucydides mentions that in the siege of Delium in 424 BC a long tube on wheels was used which blew flames forward using a large bellows.

The Aztecs have in your world designed some similar weapon, with animal drawn vehicles and grenades and similar things.

While they can't match the guns of the Europeans, this would let them penetrate the steel armor and spook the horses of Europeans, rendering many of their deadliest weapons useless.

There were some massive defeats for the Aztecs and similar societies where they outnumbered their enemy 100s or 1000s to one, but lost because European steel and guns were just too deadly. This would let them pierce such defenses.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ Not to mention , cooking off their powder reserves if a stealth op was one with flame grenades in tow. $\endgroup$
    – Harry Mu
    Feb 19, 2023 at 20:51
8
$\begingroup$

A star fort, by itself, isn't worth anything

Let's assume the Aztecs had star forts and no other advancement. Would they have been harder to defeat?

Nope.

Star forts are useful when the ranged weapons of attackers and defenders have basically the same range and accuracy. The purpose of a star fort is to force attackers to bunch their attacks at points that benefit the defenders.

But so long as the attackers have guns and the defenders don't, star forts don't matter.

Why bother pointing this out about Star Forts?

Because no fixed fortification has value so long as there's a significant disparity between the firepower used to defend the fort and the firepower used to attack it (which might be why Gen. Patton said they were monuments to the stupidity of Man). Which brings us to....

The only defensive weapon that would matter is gunpowder

The point of a defensive technology is that it nullifies the advantage of an attacking technology. Flak vests are useful because they minimize the potential damage of small arms fire. But they're useless against RPGs, tanks, and gas, which is why many (most?) modern military organizations have combined technologies: no one technology is perfect.

But you're asking for just one. And the one technology that can even the playfield vs. guns is gunpowder. Without it, it doesn't matter what other technology is brought to play. The guns will always be more beneficial.

It's worth noting that I believe the goal is to keep the invaders off the land so thoroughly that nobody wants to finance more expeditions. There's not enough perceived benefit compared to the cost ("Do you remember Columbus? Whatever happened to him? What do you think he found out there? What do you mean he never returned?"). Compare this to WillK's idea, which I like!, of sending back a better disease. ("Cough! Cough! Was Columbus' mission worth it? It was? Wow! that's a lot of... Cough! Cough! Gold! What's with this cough! And I ache all over! Where can I sign up for the next mission? I want some of that gold!") Once the value of the New World is established, all the disease in the world won't stop people from trying to take advantage of it.

But couldn't there be something other than gunpowder?

I can think of only one — but I hardly consider it a viable solution. You could have vast numbers of people. If you had so many people that all the guns the Conquistadors brought no longer mattered then conquering the people would be womping difficult. But the cost in human lives could be higher than the cost in life being conquered. Not sure that really solves the problem.

$\endgroup$
12
  • $\begingroup$ Star forts would actually work? They were a fortification designed to not collapse when under canon fire and a “come on if you think you are hard enough” design. By occupying the ground behind the starfort enbankment (would need some adaptation to get the most out) you get gunpowder attackers in much closer range while nullifying the canon advantage, at which point the advantage of gunpowder was more psychological compared to arrows as people seemingly suddenly fell over. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Jan 27, 2023 at 12:17
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Star forts also rely on being manned by lots of people with guns, that can shoot attackers, as an alternative for high walls that make climbing over them hard, but are vulnerable to cannon. It is said that the manpower requirements of defending (and attacking) star forts drove the massive increase in army sizes during the early modern period. $\endgroup$
    – AI0867
    Jan 27, 2023 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan Canons are ballistic. Shoot over the walls. The longer range of guns vs. arrows and spears means it's easier to set ladders. Walk around them and assault the cities/communities. Like Patton said, monuments to stupidity.... $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jan 27, 2023 at 21:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Don't bring a knife to a gunfight" indeed $\endgroup$
    – Lodinn
    Jan 27, 2023 at 22:45
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @jbh that makes no sense. The star fort specifically sacrificed protection against mass infantry attack to withstand canon fire. An outer glacis catches canon fire, then there’s a ditch and then the actual wall which is low so the glacis provides protection. You may need to change the design a little so firearms opponents are closer to you, original star forts were designed with defenders having longer range but that can be tightened up. Also Patton was a propagandist living in an era where artillery, maneuver warfare and aircraft dominated the minds. Gee static defenses what would he think? $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Jan 28, 2023 at 7:30
7
$\begingroup$

Man-of-War

The best defense is offense.

Imagine the face of european navigators if they were received with cannon shots from a fleet larger than their own upon arriving at the New World.

The Chinese had a navy far more impressive than any European one around the time the New World became a thing. They could have explored the New World and Oceania before Europeans, even sharing technology. If you believe in the Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics, then there is really a universe where that happened!

$\endgroup$
8
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This makes me wonder, why didn't they?! $\endgroup$
    – kutschkem
    Jan 26, 2023 at 7:06
  • $\begingroup$ @kutschkem some historians say internal politics in China crippled their naval operations. $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2023 at 16:47
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @kutschkem Long story short, the emperor who thought using naval power to project power overseas was worth the cost died, and his replacement disagreed. $\endgroup$
    – Michael W.
    Jan 26, 2023 at 22:24
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @kutschkem The thing is, China itself is already a large continental area that was, at the time, quite under-populated and uncultivated. Workforce(population) and productivity was also not high enough to support the economic model of post-industrial-revolution-style colonization. The west to then China is just like Mars to present day us, where the opportunity for growth and improvement at home is plenty and far cheaper than those faraway. $\endgroup$ Jan 27, 2023 at 3:54
  • $\begingroup$ actually, what I was wondering was: Why didn't the New World have a navy? $\endgroup$
    – kutschkem
    Jan 27, 2023 at 8:09
5
$\begingroup$

Frame challenge: The innovation you need is more advanced states. You get this by improving the demographics and the diffusion of ideas.

Earlier Bantu Expansion and Better Vikings

What enabled the conquistadors to take out entire American empires was that those cultures were rather isolated and low tech. Those early successes motivated later endeavours. If we take out opportunity and motivation, less European colonialism should happen. This will be a world were America and Africa look like East-Asia from a development standpoint. This doesn't mean that local cultures will be independent, it means that more local Martine empires form. In our world, there were several Non-European colonial empires (or attempts in that direction). Majapahit, Oman, Japan, China and Egypt are just the one I'm aware of.

An earlier Bantu Expansion (the conquest of what we call Africas today, which stated with farmers from the Niger River Delta) only reached some parts of Southern Africa 1000 years ago. Pushing this event back gives you time for more advanced cultures in that region to develope. You could do the same thing in America, have the continent be discovered by early humans a few millia earlier.

The vikings did reach America, but were unsuccessful there. The main issue was the poor state of the Greenland colony. Make the colony bigger and more successful by changing the local geography. A few viking trade posts down into the Caribbean (this might be what makes this network successful in the first place ans the local luxury goods would be very valuable) should allow the slower diffusion of European diseases, cattle, statecraft and metalworking. The same thing is likely not needed for Africa, as a more advanced south African civilization would be bound into an extended Indian Ocean trade network or ideas would travel across the Sahara. The more advanced states would would, depending on how they developed be their own religious thing or world either be some version of Copts or Sunnites.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This also seems to tie into the disease answers that have been given, but suggests a straightforward solution. Maybe the Vikings are just a little more successful in North America -- not enough to maintain a real colony, but enough to keep a couple trading ports open and keep small steady flow of people back and forth. Eventually people with the various European illnesses will make it through, and the illnesses will bounce around the Americas spreading devastation, but also immunity, before the Europeans have a chance to take advantage of the former. $\endgroup$
    – Zwuwdz
    Jan 26, 2023 at 17:00
4
$\begingroup$

I've thought long on this question. I think it's an interesting premise. There are 3 or so key factors IMO that give decisive advantages:

1: Plate Armor/Personal Armor.

The requirement was for defensive technologies and this is probably the closest to the request. Now, this would require for your alternate history that the Indigenous peoples discover smelting and Iron work - which is a pretty big technological leap, but they did have familiarity with Metalwork in general, mainly using Gold and other naturally occurring metals.

Why is this important? Plate armor gives the individual the single biggest advantage in Melee combat against crushing, stabbing and slashing weapons - against an unprotected opponents, it gives such a tactical advantage (until the significant advent of Firearms, which mitigates plate armor).

2: A 'Professional', well organized Army.

Enter Shaka Zulu! Bane of the British. I'm going to link to Wikipedia here - but the TL;DR - is that Shaka Zulu did the following things:

1: Issues standard equipment to his Troops
2: Regularly trained and drilled them
3: Had a focus on Logistics (amateurs study tactics, Professionals study logistics)
4: Discipline - Cowardice in battle was a death sentence for you and your entire family

Even with Spears and hide shields against Muskets and Cannon - The Zulus gave the British a damn good thrashing - they weren't ultimately victorious - but we still talk about them, we still study them and we still respect the hell out of them.

If we look at the Roman Empire (where arguably, the disparity in technology between the Romans and the germanic tribes was much much smaller) - the decisive factor was the organization of the Roman Army. An indigenous culture that has a bunch of Warriors, skilled though they may be, is no match for a well drilled and practiced army. As the Zulus have shown us, a well drilled army, with a significant technology disadvantage can still be victorious.

Granted, this isn't strictly a defensive technology per se, but I think it's something that you could and should weave into your story.

3: A Navy.

Most indigenous peoples had some form of Boat/River craft technology - obviously the closer the proximity to greater amounts of water, the more complex and advanced the Boat - look at the history of the Polynesian Peoples (Maori, Hawaiin, Samoan, Niue, Tongan etc. etc.) and how complex and skilled they were in Boat Building. In particular the Waka Taua (War Canoes)

But they didn't have a Navy. The easiest way to stop yourself from being colonized is to prevent them coming there in the first place - a successful Naval engagement (See Japan during it's isolation period) stops them setting foot on your land.

There were instances of the Maori successfully engaging the British/Dutch from their Waka and driving them off - but they didn't take the next step which is to formalize a Naval force. Each Hapu (sub-tribe of an Iwi - Tribe) would be responsible for their own Waka, it is consider a Taonga (Sacred/Treasure) - sometimes the Iwi would go on a War Party and multiple Hapu would join together with their Waka to raid another Iwi - but they never created a Navy whose sole purpose was the defence of the Sea and Rivers.

$\endgroup$
1
  • $\begingroup$ AFAIK In NZ the British only ever left due to waka atracks because it indicated no chance to dock and trade, and that was during exploration, not post settlement. Primary accounts record firing warning shots (sometimes effective) and then some real shots (invariably effective). $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Jan 26, 2023 at 18:29
3
$\begingroup$

Biological warfare.

In our history, while in the Americas the European got syphilis and brought measles and other diseases for which the locals had no immunity, the net outcome was the the indigenous were decimated.

Now imagine that instead of a disease that takes years to kill and can be transmitted only with sexual interaction, the indigenous had some disease which could be spread much more easily and for them was no big deal but against which the Europeans had no immunity. It would for sure hamper any colonization attempt and might even give a strong blow to the European economy and power.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ Better yet, give the aboriginal peoples complete immunity to Smallpox and Measles. Perhaps the best counter-disease would have been influenza or the plague, both of which devastated (not decimated - decimated is one-in-ten, devastated is 'complete' - use the correct word) Europe at different points in history. Influenza ended The Great War, the Plague altered the course of European wars. Had there been an equivalent disease in the Americas, they would not be currently called 'the Americas', they would have been quarantined.. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2023 at 20:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond Or mosquitoe-borne disease like Malaria. That gets you the reverse of the how Europeans were exposed to and became resistant to pathogens due to husbandry, without the husbandry. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 26, 2023 at 18:31
3
$\begingroup$

You could use a Martello tower

This is a few centuries later. If you follow the link to the 'origins' section you find the story of how the British unsuccessfully attacked the tower at Mortella Point with two warships, and then took it later with a large land force. The tower had only 33 people in it. Its main success was that it was a bit higher than the surrounding ships and land so it could chuck its shot a bit further (maybe you can arm it with a ballista?). The walls were massive, and sometimes the lower levels were filled with earth, so they could take a lot of battering.

$\endgroup$
1
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Martello towers are pretty strictly a defense against naval attack. They're quite vulnerable to siege. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Jan 26, 2023 at 0:53
2
$\begingroup$

Modern trench warfare

Starting from First World War, soldiers no longer march in an open field - instead, they dig elaborate systems of trenches and bunkers, holding their ground in them. Today, 90% of fatalities on the battlefield come from artillery fire rather than firearms.

Unless the colonizing side has brought massive number of cannons and gunpowder, good luck storming trenches with their muskets.

Trench warfare requires advanced society in the sense that soldiers need to understand what they are doing, coordinate and carry their orders. They also need some ideology to hold their ground without running and leaving defensive positions behind. That level of cohesion may not be available to pre-modern societies.

$\endgroup$
11
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ How are you going to have trenches with bow and spears? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jan 25, 2023 at 15:52
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Trenches are a response to machine guns and artillery, and only really work if you have the those as well. $\endgroup$
    – Daniel B
    Jan 25, 2023 at 16:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Cadence European conquerors had very limited manpower and their muskets will not be efficient, leading to eventual demise of conquistadores who are being clubbed to death in their steel armour. $\endgroup$
    – alamar
    Jan 25, 2023 at 18:47
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Trenches would literally be the worst thing you could do. In hand-to-hand combat, the attacker with the high ground has significant advantages. The people in the trenches would be sitting ducks. $\endgroup$ Jan 25, 2023 at 19:42
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @wokopa Pretty sure archery comes from the shape of the bow, not of the path traced. $\endgroup$
    – pipe
    Jan 26, 2023 at 14:53
2
$\begingroup$

An attacking (pre-modern) army hundreds or thousands of kilometers away from their home is at a severe disadvantage.

Just think how much effort it is to transport cannons, shelters, men, supplies, pack animals, ammunition and so on and so forth over hundreds of kilometers into land and terrain you don’t know.

Well organized, united defenders can continually harass the attackers while they are trying to set up camp or while they are advancing. Just imagine trying to move through a foreign land when you can expect a bowman behind every tree.

I can’t think of any defensive technology which would give a similar advantage.

$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Aggressive xenophobia

Disclaimer: I am not a historian.

The impression I always got is that the Americans were initially cautiously welcoming to the Europeans.

This placed the Americans at a huge disadvantage, because while they were making friendly overtures and not coordinating any kind of attack or even defense, the Europeans were planning to pillage the land and forcibly subjugate everybody. If the Europeans hadn't brought diseases that decimated the population, I think it's likely that European greed and culture would have done the same.


Law is technology. As an example: one reason Silicon Valley is today a byword for rapid innovation is not because they invented a bunch of consumer products, but because the men at the top (and their lawyers) invented a bunch of new legal arrangements regarding labor and consumers that tilted both arenas hugely in favor of capital, while still fitting into the wider extant legal regime. To put it very crudely and only a little inaccurately: they invented a new form of semi-slavery that technically avoided laws forbidding chattel slavery, and they invented a new form of "selling" products that technically avoided transferring anything of value to the purchaser. These were the real inventions of Silicon Valley, and their implementation empowered a new class of predator whose members now dominate all of society.

That is how powerful the technology of law can be. It is no less powerful than an army of jack-booted thugs with batons. Nations conquered without a single shot fired.


So, the defensive invention your people need is a law or legal framework that puts all your people on a defensive footing from the outset, something that will establish the equivalent of a state of war between the natives and any visitors.

In a pinch, I propose something analogous to a standing bounty on the heads of foreigners. Ideally, you want something that will encourage locals to pool their efforts and cooperate as teams of hunters, rather than having each individual go off on their own to attempt murder. Even better, something that encourages locals to lull visitors into a false sense of security before killing them, perhaps inviting them in to share a meal and conversation.

So, there might be a standing bounty not just for the heads of foreigners, but especially for intelligence that can be extracted from them first, and a bounty for any weapons or other technology that can be captured from them. You want to avoid a situation where the locals who kill the visiting delegation loot the bodies and keep that stuff for themselves; instead, you want them to deliberately send all that stuff to the central authority so it can be studied.

This law could be something that was established a long time ago when the immediate area was awash in inter-tribe conflict, and which has not been removed from the books despite having wiped out all their neighbors.

$\endgroup$
3
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Aggressive xenophobia is not going to create a a more coöperative world $\endgroup$
    – wokopa
    Jan 27, 2023 at 9:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Agreed. But your post asks for "technology that colonised peoples could have had that would have made colonising them a lot harder". $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Jan 27, 2023 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ I was going to give this answer a '+1" until I got to the misuse of the term 'decimated' instead of 'devastated'. $\endgroup$ Jan 28, 2023 at 19:51
2
$\begingroup$

A navy

Ok, there is already another answer about ships, but the reasoning is completely different, and more in line with the political aspects of vsz's answer.

Any single technology is irrelevant. After all, while Europeans had some technological advantages, usually the disavantage of numbers was so big that it hardly mattered. Also, technology was developed in accordance with the scientific knowledge and othere constraints available. You cannot give kevlar vests to the Mayans. So what could be the difference?

Time and time again, countries have used the times of weakness of their neighbours to expand. And time and time again, those countries fighting a stronger enemy have found a way to forge alliances with the enemies of their enemies. Be it by promoving internal rebellions, invasions by other neighbouring countries, or whatever.

The difference was that Europeans could meddle in American politics, but not the other way around. They could support a claimant to the throne, or a rival nation, and use that to their advantage. If it failed, they could try again some time later.

In contrast, Americans could only play with the colonial factions of the European powers (as they did to an extent in North America, with France and England) but could not affect significantly the metropolis.

An American Navy could change that. They could ship soldiers to support Scotland against England, or gold to allow Morocco to hire mercenaries to attack Spain. That would have allowed to be nations with more relationships, instead of backwater regions that could only deal with the closest colonial power.

Being limited to dealing with their colonial power meant that such colonial power was able to impose its own pace; when the colonial power was distracted somewhere, it would be benign, when circumstances were ok, it would attack the Americans and weaken them.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

the short answer, not any one thing

no single one technology could make that difference. what happend to the native was not just about warfare.

even if somehow they could match in battle the world that was industrialising with some secret weapon, in a vacum it wouldn't change much, as the domination wasn't just martial, but on all other economical aspect.

without firing a single shot the european just had access to a much more efficent and productive economy that would have dwarfed the native regardless.

what would change thing.

the biggest change would be, as pointed out in some other answer, would be an immune system that knew how to handle the European disease.

but another very effective tactic would have been a more organised and trained guerilla tactic. you probably won't be able to match the new colonizer weapon, but by playing on your knowledge of the terrain, if a concerted effort is made to make life of the invader hell, there would be much less chance they try to settle.

$\endgroup$
1
$\begingroup$

Mongolian bows

Let's say that we really do want the Aztecs to survive into the 19th century so that they can project their ever-loving power using steam and cooperate with like minded people (King Leopold of Belgium comes to mind).

Very well, give them the best of Mongolian and Chinese bows. The typical Native American bow was far inferior to those of Europe and had a range of 100 metres or even less: the Mongols could get 300 metres easily, with 500 metres in unusual circumstances. This actually outranges muskets, unlike the Native Americans.

Now the Native Americans have weapons that are still really useful in 1500 A.D. instead of outclassed in every way. They've probably also developed hit and run tactics similar to the Mongols*. In sieges, they're still outcompeted by guns but nowhere near as badly.

Note that this can be done without completely rewriting their technological development.

  • Or will, as soon as they get horses.
$\endgroup$
3
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I found some notes of dubious origin that there was a tribe/clan/nation (idk what the unit of community is) by the name of Mi'kmaq (@ SE Canada) made the double limbed bow (most readily found under the search name "Penobscot bow") that claimed that that bow was accurate out to 200yds. Source: outdoorsoddity.com/the-whacky-penobscot-bow Edit: I do agree that better bow technology is much needed, alongside the type of wood needed. Just sharing a tidbit outside of that. $\endgroup$
    – Harry Mu
    Feb 16, 2023 at 1:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @HarryMu Interesting! The tribes up north seem to have had the best bows by a substantial margin by everyone's account, so it's not totally unreasonable. The numbers I saw were 100, 150 though; even at 200, they're well inferior to the Europeans (or Mongols, or East Asians) centuries earlier. The tribes in the now lower 48 and the Aztecs weren't even pushing 100. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Feb 16, 2023 at 2:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Bear in mind, when you see statements like 'muskets were only accurate to 50 yards', that muskets were used for mass volleys and so were still devastating to armies at 100 or 200 metres. But the very best bows actually start to give bowmen the chance to do damage outside volley range. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Feb 16, 2023 at 2:14
0
$\begingroup$

I would wager something like a more fundamental development in technology.

The sooner you are doing things not from your own personal calorie budget the sooner you are developing things that weren't possible earlier. Domesticated animals, slavery, machines, waterwheels for rope pulled carts, whatever.

As for tech that would have an immediate effect would be one of two things.

First, social technology like organized government (i.e. having treaties, laws, protocols, and clearly defined government positions that are elected, appointed, or hereditary) This will mobilize the resources of a group much more effectively if done correctly and facilitate fast travel of information, resources, and speed development of technology to a certain extent. This would more quickly bring the full resources of a community to bear when doing essential things like defense.

Second, As another commenter said, Gunpowder. Guns turn killing from a skill issue to a guts issue (ok there's still some skill but yk what I mean). It simplifies and lowers the bar to deadly force. Gunpowder also is relatively easy to make from natural resources even on North America as long as you know what you are doing. Gunpowder itself can also move land, set traps, and generally do things where rapid separation is necessary. The defense using deadly force would be a much easier prospect.

$\endgroup$

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .