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This is a series of maps of Old World empires:

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And now look at the pre-Columbian New World empires:

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We're not 100% sure why Old World empires were so huge and New World empires so small, but a good guess is that the Old World took advantage of a mammal called Equus ferus--the horse. Horses had been used as draft animals, long-distance carriers and war weapons.

The horse used to be a triumph of New World evolution, but the Younger Dryas climate chaos 13,000-11,000 years ago drove the Western Horse into extinction, so the horse could not be a source of New World cavalry. The Younger Dryas also drove to extinction another American originality--the camel.

In this alternate history scenario, the Younger Dryas still happened, and it still drove the American horses into extinction, antelopes--real and pronghorn--never existed, but camels still thrived in North America. Questions follow:

  • Would the Native Americans still view them as food, or would they be domesticated just like horses?
  • Would camel cavalry change the very foundation of Native American culture? If yes, then to what extent?
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    $\begingroup$ I like to point out all those large empires have metal working, where the smaller ones are still stone age I believe. $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Apr 9 '17 at 10:34
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    $\begingroup$ This question asks for "all the impacts of X on Y". That's not a question that can be answered in this format. Almost all such questions are, by definition, "Too Broad". Obviously calvary would impact a civilization -- that happened many times in history. How? No one could answer that. As an author, you're free to give your opinion in a story or text, but it's out of scope for WorldBuilding. Ask about a specific change... the community can help you vet that out. $\endgroup$ – SRM Apr 9 '17 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ I think the question relies on a supply-side fallacy. As Mormacil points out, metallurgy is what drove bronze age trade, via boats not horses. Zinc and copper came from 2 different places, but together they made Unobtanium. Meso-American empires did not travel even to conquer. By the time of the conquistadors they had not even worked out a system to supply a standing army with food, so a small enemy with the range of horses was baffling to them. They figured out horses quickly enough, but they had only begun to explore bronze trade between Peru and Mexico. See link: bit.ly/2oeA1GI $\endgroup$ – wetcircuit Apr 9 '17 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ @wetcircuit" Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin, not zinc. If you look at European history, Mediterranean cultures - Phoenicians, Greeks, early Romans - were obtaining tin from Britain through trade with the natives for centuries before the Romans extended their empire that far. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 9 '17 at 17:27
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    $\begingroup$ I read or watched a video or something, that said that the old empires took advantage of horizontal spreading. they could use the same farming techniques and crop types across the breadth of the continent with similar climates whereas vertical spreading requires a more dramatic shift in farming styles due to vastly different climates. I'm not saying that horizontal spreading has no climate shifts, just that it is less dramatic than vertical spreading! if you look at the spread of the mongol empire on Wikipedia, you see it starts quickly horizontally and then slowly increases vertically. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Apr 9 '17 at 17:37
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Camel cavalry has been employed many times in the past, with one of the best known being used by Muhammad and his followers, who conquered much of the Arab peninsula using them. While camels have some disadvantage as cavalry, (they aren't quite as fast as horses and their swinging gait makes it difficult to fire arrows from camelback), which is why historically they have mainly been restricted to use in desert climates (and occasionally to specifically counter horse cavalry; horses who were unaccustomed to camels would often flee at the sight of them), they are still a heavy, fast animal that people can ride for long distances and charge enemies with. In the absence of horses, it is quite likely that camels would become a primary cavalry animal.

If the absence of the horse is indeed the reason why New World empires did not expand to the same extent as Old World ones, it is likely that the presence of camels would change its history significantly.

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Genghis Khan had horses, he also had the vast Asian step on which to ride them, but look at that southern border where it traces round the edge of the Indian Subcontinent. Mountains.

Alexander had horses and ships, he travelled round the Mediterranean and out as far as the Indian Subcontinent then he stopped at almost exactly the same border as the Golden Horde, at the mountains. Also his northern border at Armenia, mountains.

The Romans were a Mediterranean and coastal empire. All roads might lead to Rome, but it's quicker by boat, their inland penetration from the coasts is relatively limited compared to the others.

Now take a look at the geography round the American empires, they have that same limiting feature, they're stuck in the mountains. They just hit their mountains a lot sooner, a lot closer to home. If they'd crossed the mountains then they'd have hit the rain forest, also not an environment suited to fast travel. There'd be potential for a North American empire with horses, again across the plains, but South America is a dead loss until you can cross the mountains and clear the forest.

Camels are going to be no better at crossing those mountains than horses. Transport is not a limiting factor until you can actually get out onto the plains.

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  • $\begingroup$ The southern borders of the Mongol Empire are far to the south of the mountains and plateaus of Tibet north of India, so those mountains were not what stopped the Mongols from conquering India. Alexander took over most of the Persian Empire, but not all of it, the northern mountains of Armenia didn't stop the Persians from making Armenia part of the Persian Empire. The Inca Empire had its center in the Mountains and spread along the mountains. Mountains didn't stop it. Some regions of the Roman Empire included mountains hundreds of miles from the Mediterranean. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Mar 1 '18 at 23:34
  • $\begingroup$ Oops! a duplicate. The southern borders of the Mongol Empire are far to the south of the mountains and plateaus of Tibet north of India, so those mountains were not what stopped the Mongols from conquering India. Alexander took over most of the Persian Empire, but not all of it, the northern mountains of Armenia didn't stop the Persians from making Armenia part of the Persian Empire. The Inca Empire had its center in the Mountains and spread along the mountains. Mountains didn't stop it. Some regions of the Roman Empire included mountains hundreds of miles from the Mediterranean. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Mar 1 '18 at 23:34
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Empire requires 1: Intensive agriculture 2: Central authority 3: Surplus population

Intensive agriculture requires draft animals and one could make the case that a draft animal like a camel would be much more helpful than the use of a camel as a war animal.

Some cultures did not have intensive agriculture for lack of suitable crops (e.g. Australian aborigines). Maize is definitely suitable for intensive agriculture, and potatoes too, both of which are now grown worldwide with the help of draft animals. So why no draft animals? One reads that Native American animals like buffalo and moose are not tamable (like African elephants and Cape buffalo). But it is hard for me to understand why the Incas did not use llamas to pull plows. Not strong enough? Why didn't the Mound builders use elk? I suspect neither of these is a strong, tractable and optimal draft animal like an ox or a donkey and the energy of activation was to much. In circumstances where people were familiar with draft animals like oxen they might be motivated to try other animals, like a water buffalo. But like anything else: if you have never seen it done maybe you would not think of it?

One other thing about empire: these preindustrial eurasian empires consolidated advanced, resource rich civilizations. These empires did not incorporate the Scythians or subsaharan Africa because there were not advanced civilizations there and so the profit from conquest was not worth the effort to do it and the ongoing effort of administration. If those people had something the empires wanted they could get it via trade.

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  • $\begingroup$ Buffalo are never American. $\endgroup$ – JohnWDailey Apr 9 '17 at 20:46
  • $\begingroup$ Excuse me. BISON. $\endgroup$ – Willk Apr 11 '17 at 1:36
  • $\begingroup$ You are forgetting that there were empires in the New World and the Inca Empire was quite impressive. There was intensive cultivation in some new world societies even without draft animals or metal tools, so draft animals are not necessary of intensive agriculture or empires. PS - African elephants are tamable. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Mar 1 '18 at 23:24

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