One of the most consistent sources of conflict for the last 5,000 years has been the battle between civilization (or city builder) and barbarism (or nomad). Throughout the entire history of man, dating as far back as the bronze age all the way to the early 20th century, the rise and fall of great civilizations can be traced back to this social duality. Those living in more developed and "civilized" cities and communities often had to find ways to protect themselves from nomadic and "barbaric" invaders. And the main method they used was to build walls and fortifications for protection.
The split began around 12,000 years ago when man figured out how to domesticate both animals and crops. One group became farmers, caring for the plants and grains. Since they had to stay near their crops, they evolved into city builders, slowly building around their farms. The other group became herders, raising domesticated animals and being constantly on the move to (literally) find better/greener pastures.
Because of this nomadic lifestyle, herders were exposed to more perils out in the open and learned how to protect themselves by fighting with weapons and not by walls. They would periodically return to the agricultural areas and simply take what they wanted, with farmers being easy prey since they could not flee. To prevent future attacks, they began to build walls.
These walls not only protected but also contributed to the rise of towns and cities and eventually countries and empires. One of the earliest of these empire-building walls was built by the Sumerian king Shulgi around 2,000 BC, which was eventually breached by nomadic tribes. The Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar II also built a sprawling wall to keep nomads out who then destroyed it. Other walls were built by the Greeks, Persians and even the Roman-made Hadrian's Wall located in England.
Numerous Chinese emperors followed suit building the Great Wall of China, mainly as protection from the Huns and later the Mongol tribes that occupied the vast 5,000-mile grassland to the north known as the Eurasian steppe. What is clear though is that no matter how strong and solid, all these walls were eventually breached.
The isolation of living behind walls often made the population complacent, less vigilant and less warlike. This made it easier for the tough and hardened outsiders or barbarian invaders to overcome those within the walls. Advances in warfare tactics and weaponry also made it possible to break these walls down. One of the more dramatic instances was when cannonballs were used in the battle of Constantinople in 1453. Walls that had stood for over a millennia were suddenly crumbling, destroyed by new weaponry, cannon fire and gunpowder, then considered new technology.
As the world moved towards the 20th century, the barbarians who once attacked and pillaged slowly became irrelevant. Today, there are still many nomadic tribes, living free, out in the world. They have embraced modernity in their own way and are part of society at large. As for walls, they will continue to be built if someone wants to keep people out and themselves in.
Directed by: Pete Kelly