Population Crises and Population Cycles

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Medicine, Conflict and Survival

ISSN: 1362-3699 (Print) 1743-9396 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/fmcs20

Population crises and population cycles
Claire Russell & W M S Russell
To cite this article: Claire Russell & W M S Russell (2000) Population crises and population
cycles, Medicine, Conflict and Survival, 16:4, 383-410, DOI: 10.1080/13623690008409538
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13623690008409538

Published online: 22 Oct 2007.

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Date: 16 April 2016, At: 11:41

Population Crises and Population Cycles
CLAIRE RUSSELL and WMS RUSSELL

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Department of Sociology, University of Reading, Reading RG6 2AA

To prevent a population irretrievably depleting its resources, mammals have
evolved a behavioural and physiological response to population crisis. When a
mammalian population becomes dangerously dense, there is a reversal of behaviour.
Co-operation and parental behaviour are replaced by competition, dominance and
aggressive violence, leading to high mortality, especially of females and young, and
a reduced population. The stress of overpopulation and the resulting violence
impairs both the immune and the reproductive systems. Hence epidemics complete
the crash of the population, and reproduction is slowed for three or four
generations, giving the resources ample time to recover. In some mammal species,
crisis and crisis response recur regularly, leading to cycles of population growth and
relapse, oscillating about a fixed mean.
Population crisis response and population cycles have been equally prominent
in the history of human societies. But in man successive advances in food
production have made possible growing populations, though with every such
advance population soon outgrew resources again. Hence human cycles have been
superimposed on a rising curve, producing a saw-tooth graph. Because advances in
food production amounted to sudden disturbances in the relations between human
populations and their environments, the crisis response in man has failed to avert
famine and resource damage. In the large human societies evolved since the coming
of settled agriculture and cities, the basic effects of violence, epidemics, famine and
resource damage have been mediated by such specifically human disasters as
inflation, unemployment, and political tyranny.
An account of past crises, periods of relative relief from population pressure,
and resulting cycles, is given for a number of regions: China, North Africa and
Western Asia, the northern Mediterranean, and north-western Europe. The paper
ends with an account of the present world-wide population crisis, and the solution
made possible by Malthus's discovery that, unlike animals, we can choose to check
population growth by reducing the birth-rate, instead of raising the death-rate, as in
other mammals, by the population crisis response.
KEYWORDS

Environmental damage
Inflation
Population cycle
Social inequality

Epidemics
Malthus
Relief
Unemployment

Famine
Population crisis
Renaissance
Violence

* This paper is condensed from the book of the same title, published by the Galton Institute,
London, 1999, price £5.00, ISBN 0950406651. The book contains much more factual detail,
and an extensive classified bibliography of sources, including those referred to in the paper.
MEDICINE, CONFLICT AND SURVIVAL, VOL. 16, 383-410 (2000)
PUBLISHED BY FRANK CASS, LONDON

384

C. RUSSELL AND W.M.S. RUSSELL

Crises and Cycles in Animals and Man
Among lower animals, high fertility and competition prevail. Three great
trends of evolutionary progress have been:

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1. reduction in fertility
2. development and extension of parental behaviour, and
3. sociability towards and adoption of individuals not closely genetically
related.
These trends have culminated in cultural evolution in the co-operative
societies of higher primates and Cetacea (whales and dolphins), and
ultimately in the achievements of man. Despite their relatively low fertility,
mammalian populations are still liable to outgrow their environmental
resources (animal prey or plant food populations), and are in danger of
irretrievably depleting them. To avert this, there has evolved a behavioural
and physiological response to population crisis. When a mammalian
population becomes dangerously dense, but before it can deplete its
resources, the stimulus of overcrowding leads to a complete reversal or
regression of behaviour. Co-operation and parental behaviour are replaced
by competition, dominance and aggressive violence. The effect of crowding
on aggression in wild rabbits, for instance, is shown in Table 1.
TABLE 1
AGGRESSION IN WILD RABBITS

Size of Enclosure (square yards)

Number of Aggressive Acts per Hour
in Groups of 6 Wild Rabbits each

450

2.6

225

4.2

123

8.8

Source: Ref. 1

Females and young, demographically most important, are most likely to
be killed, and thus the population is reduced. In the elaborate societies of
higher primates, the effects may be quite complex, involving the
replacement of friendly leaders by aggressive bullies, lethal mob attacks on
persecuted individuals, and war between bands. But the end result is the
same - mortality of females and young, and a reduced population. The
stress of crowding and of the resulting violence impairs both the immune
and the reproductive systems. Hence epidemics complete the crash of the
population, and reproduction is slowed for three or four generations,

POPULATION CRISES AND POPULATION CYCLES

385

giving the resources ample time to recover. In some mammal species, crisis
and crisis response recur in a regular fashion, leading to cycles of
population growth and collapse, oscillating about a fixed mean, as shown
for the snowshoe hare in Figure 1.
FIGURE 1
POPULATION CYCLES OF THE SNOWSHOE HARE, BASED ON PELTS
RECEIVED BY THE HUDSON BAY COMPANY

J2

100,000-

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tio

c

160,000 j
140,000
120,000-

M

Q.

80,000 •
60,000 •
40,000 •
20,000 •
1850

1860

1870

1880

1890

1900

1910

1920

1930

Date
Source: Ref. 2

Population crisis response and population cycles have been equally
prominent in the history of human societies, but with certain differences
related to the unique character of our species. In humankind, thanks to our
advancing technology, successive advances in food production have made
possible growing populations, though with every such advance population
soon outgrew the current level of resources. Hence human population
cycles have generally been superimposed on a rising curve, producing a
saw-tooth graph. Since the cycles in different societies have not been in
phase until recently, the graph for a very large region may look smooth, but
in small regions such as Spain, or large homogenous regions such as China,
the saw-tooth effect is clear, as shown in Figure 2.
Because advances in food production amounted to sudden disturbances
in the relations between human populations and their environments, the
crisis responses in humankind have not been able to achieve their
evolutionary function in time, and hence each full-scale crash, when it
came, has generally involved famine, and often resource damage, as well as
massive violence and very high death-rates from disease, in just the manner
described in the classical works of Robert Malthus (1766-1834).
Finally, since the coming of settled agriculture and cities, human
societies have obviously been far larger and more complex than those of
any mammal, and the characteristics of crisis periods, and of the
intervening relief periods when population crash brought the population

386

C. RUSSELL AND W.M.S. RUSSELL
FIGURE 2
POPULATION CYCLES OF CHINA AND SPAIN
800
700

CHINA
l in millions

an in million

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/

r

o

500
400-

J

300
200
100'

SPAIN

30-

m 600

!
0
a

I

3b-

25
20

1o. 15
o

D.

5-

^—-

/

10-

/~^—y

AS

0
400BC AD1000
Year

1500

2000

400BC AD1000 1500

2000

Year

Source: Ref. 3

down to a better balance with current resources, have been correspondingly
complex, and can be described under various headings.
The economic effects of population crises have included a rise in prices,
a fall in real wages, and massive unemployment, often met by massive
building projects, which further drained the society's resources. Relief
periods have been marked by lower prices, higher real wages, and better
levels of employment; the relation of population to prices and real wages
over five centuries of history in England and Wales is shown in Figure 3.
The social effects of population crisis have included sharper differences
between classes and greater difficulty in moving between them, whereas
relief periods have seen greater equality and social mobility. Politically,
crisis periods have been marked by tyranny and oppression, relief periods
by intelligent leadership and greater freedom, especially in Europe, where
the ground level of population density was (until recently) much lower than
in other civilisations.
All these complex effects have of course promoted the original
behavioural crisis response of competition, domination and violence,
especially against women and children. Famine and malnutrition have
combined with stress to produce enormous death-rates from epidemics,
completing the crash of the population, so that longevity declined markedly
during crisis and recovered during relief periods. Table 2 shows the
changing life expectancy of males before, during and after the fourteenthcentury population crisis in England. In climatically vulnerable regions,
there has also been lasting resource damage during crises, and in the present
world-wide crisis this too is becoming world-wide.

POPULATION CRISES AND POPULATION CYCLES

387

FIGURE 3
PRICES, REAL WAGES AND POPULATION, ENGLAND AND WALES, 1350-1850
14

T140

••Population of England and
Wales (millions)
Real Wage Index

"Population of
England and Wales
(millions)
Price Index

1200

- \

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1000

04 1
1350

1 1
1450

1 1
1550

1 1
1650

1 1 h
1750 1850

H
1350

1
1
1450

1
1
1550

1
11650

1750

1850

Source: Ref. 4

TABLE 2
EXPECTATION OF LIFE IN MEDIEVAL ENGLAND
Dates (AD)

Expectation of life at birth for males in years

Before 1276
1276 to 1300
1301 to 1325
1326 to 1345
1346 to 1375
1376 to 1400
1401 to 1425
1426 to 1450

35.3
31.3
29.8
30.2
17.3
20.5
23.8
32.8

Source: Ref. 5.

The Crises and Cycles of China
The civilization of China has always depended on irrigation and flood
control. In the first millennium BC it was composed of many little states,
each busy completing the water control system within its own borders, and
disputing with other states using the same rivers. The wars between the
states ended in unification of the Yellow river and the lower Yangtze areas
by the state of Ch'in on the upper Yellow river, forming what has been
called a water-shed empire. Like similar empires elsewhere (the Assyrians,
the Inca), the Ch'in Empire was an horrific military tyranny. When the
wars, with their huge death-rates, were over, the first emperor used his

388

C. RUSSELL AND W . M . S . RUSSELL
TABLE 3
THE POPULATION CYCLES OF CHINA

Dates
BC
481-206

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BC-AD
206-221
AD
221-618

618-755
754

618-907
755-960
839
907-960
960-1280
1100
1280-1368
1290
1368-1644
1393
1600
1644-1683
1661
1644-1912
1700
1779
1794
1850
1850-1880
1872
1900
1912-1949
1931
1950-1953

Period

Food Production

Water Control
Works*

Crisis 1:
Warring states, Ch'in,
civil war

NW Loess area
developed

1.6

2 Han dynasties

NE Lower Yellow
River developed

6.6

Crisis 2:
3 kingdoms, Tsin, S
& N dynasties, Sui

SE Lower Yangtze
developed: Grand
Canal

7.6

Population
(millions)

Height of T'ang
50
43.9
Crisis 3: Civil war,
later T'ang, 5
dynasties
30
Sung

Early-growing rice

12.3
174.4
100

Crisis 4: Yuan
(Mongol)

175.6
60

Ming

Potatoes, sweet
potatoes, groundnuts, maize

411.2
65
150

Crisis 5: Fall of Ming,
Manchu conquest
100
Ch'ing (Manchu)

603.4
150
275
313
430

Crisis 6: Taiping,
Nien, Moslem revolts
330
430
Crisis 7: Warlords,
civil war, Japanese
invasion
People's Republic

*Number of engineering works of water control per 50-year period
Source: Ref. 6.

450
580

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POPULATION CRISES AND POPULATION CYCLES

389

enormous army to build the Great Wall, a Stone Curtain designed to keep
his subjects from straying out of his reach into the Central Asian steppe,
where climate and terrain favoured the development of a nomad herding
culture. In 202 BC the first over-population crisis was over, and the Ch'in
were replaced by the first great Chinese dynasty, the Han, ruling through a
relatively humane and flexible bureaucracy, selected by public
examinations. This system survived through all the Chinese Imperial
dynasties.
As Chinese historians have observed, each major dynasty rose and fell in
a cycle of reduced population pressure, population growth, overpopulation, and population crisis. The great productiveness of Chinese
irrigation agriculture permitted a high population density, even in periods
of relative relief from over-population, so the accumulated effects of the
crisis periods outweighed the constructive effects of the relief periods, and
by the time of the later Ming, Chinese civilisation was in decline. The
population cycles of China since the Ch'in are shown in Table 3.
In every population crisis, China fell apart into its component regions,
and even smaller fractions, ruled by numerous lesser dynasties not shown
in Table 3. Besides famines, epidemics and appalling civil wars, China
suffered during the population crises from incursions of nomad chieftains
from across the Central Asian borders, who often founded later Chinese
dynasties, notably the Yuan (Mongol) and Ch'ing (Manchu). In the
dreadful crisis of the twentieth century, China suffered instead from her
own brutal war-lords, European exploitation and Japanese conquest. In
1949, the People's Republic brought peace to China, but the new
government delayed introducing birth control, and another crisis ensued,
the 'Cultural Revolution', which nearly destroyed Chinese civilisation and
caused massive environmental damage. It remains to be seen whether
China's new birth control policy will reduce the population in time to avert
another crisis, and bring to an end the 'cycles of Cathay'.
North Africa and Western Asia
The dry belt of North Africa and western Asia extends from Morocco to
Central Asia. Throughout its extent rainfall is irregular and often scanty.
There are large areas, notably in flood plains, where the soil can be
enormously fertile, and support a very dense population, provided it is
suitably irrigated and drained. But these settled enclaves are everywhere
bordered by seasonal grasslands merging into arid desert. Instead of a
homogeneous land-mass with grasslands on one border, as in China, the
belt is a mosaic of juxtaposed areas of settlement and more or less nomadic
herding peoples. Hence it was only once, and briefly, politically unified, by
the Arabs in the early eighth century AD.
There is abundant evidence of recurrent population crises in the belt,
with inflation, famine, violence and epidemics. In Babylonia, in the mid-

C. RUSSELL AND W.M.S. RUSSELL

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390

second millennium BC, the price of barley tripled and the economy
relapsed into barter. Towards the end of the Egyptian Old Kingdom, the
skeletal figures of starving peasants appear on a temple bas-relief. During
the ensuing population crisis, an Egyptian writer reported: 'All is ruin.
Blood is everywhere ...'In AD 1060, up to 10,000 people a day were dying
of plague in Cairo.
The resulting massive fluctuations of population are attested by tax
records and by changing density of settlement. Under the Sassanian kings
of Persia (AD 226-637), the tax receipts of Khuzestan reached a figure
twelve times as high as under the Achaemenid dynasty (539-331 BC). By
the tenth century AD, the receipts had fallen to 40% of the Sassanian
figure, and by the fourteenth century to 6%. In the Diyala Basin, the
number of settlements fell by more than 80% between the eighteenth and
thirteenth centuries BC. The population cycles in these two regions are
shown in Table 4 and the cycles for Ancient Egypt in Table 5. In Egypt, the
Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, and the Saite Dynasty, were periods of
relative relief from population pressure, with prosperity and cultural
flowering. In 332 Alexander the Great conquered Egypt after which there
was a relief period under the Macedonian Ptolemy Dynasty, but no more
native kings.
TABLE 4
RELATIVE DENSITY OF SETTLEMENT IN TWO WESTERN ASIAN REGIONS

Region

Diyala Basin

Khuzestan (ancient
Elam)

Location

Central Iraq, east of
Baghdad

South Western Iran

Rough Dates
BC

AD

3000-2300
2300-1800
1800-1700
1700-700
700-100
100-AD 300
300-650
650-750
750-1000
1000-Present

Settlement Density
Moderate
Low
Moderate
Low
Low
Moderate
High
Moderate
High
Low

Moderate
Moderate
Moderate
Moderate
Low
Moderate
High
Moderate
Moderate
Low

Source: Refs. 7, 8.

Because of their climatic and geographical vulnerability, recurrent
population crises in the settled regions of the belt caused increasing
devastation of the environment. This has been superbly well documented
for the Levant (modern Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan). 9 The region

POPULATION CRISES AND POPULATION CYCLES

391

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TABLE 5
THE POPULATION CRISES OFANCIENT EGYPT
Dates BC

Periods

2700-2200
2200-2050
2050-1700
1700-1550
1550-1050
1050-664
664-525
525-332

Old Kingdom
Population Crisis
Middle Kingdom
Population Crisis
New Kingdom
Population Crisis
Saite Dynasty
Population Crisis

Foreign Invaders

Hyksos
Libyans, Ethiopians, Assyrians
Persians

Note: during the third and second millennia BC, absolute dates are in dispute (ours are rounded), but
there is no dispute about the sequence of events.

attained a peak of prosperity in Roman times but was totally ruined by a
succession of medieval population crises. Much of the region was still
covered with forests in the Roman period; less than 1% of the Levant is
woodland today. Since Roman times enough soil to make nearly 4000
square kilometres of good farmland has been eroded from the western
slopes of the Judean hills. In the plain of Northern Syria around Qal'at
Sim'an, by the mid-twentieth century AD, the ruins of 42 ancient towns lay
scattered among the 14 villages still occupied, in a desert littered with
ruined oil and wine-presses.
By the twentieth century, with much reduced populations, attempts
were being made to restore ruined land and reconstruct the sophisticated
water control technology of ancient and medieval times. But population
growth was soon outstripping the resulting increase in resources. Only
immediate massive programmes of voluntary birth control can possibly
avert further disasters in the great dry belt where civilization first began,
and where it reached glorious heights in earlier times.
The Northern Mediterranean: Greece
In China and the dry belt, the food surplus was ample for developing high
civilization, but high population density and the demands of water control
(hydraulic) engineering produced what has been called hydraulic societies arbitrary autocracy, bureaucratic elite, and mass labour, with no one really
free.10 The peoples of the ancient northern Mediterranean lacked sufficient
food surplus to build high civilization. They did so only by exploiting the
surplus of the neighbouring dry belt, through piracy, trade and conquest.
Table 6 shows how utterly the ancient civilizations of the northern
Mediterranean depended on food imports from outside the region, chiefly
from North Africa and Western Asia. The imports to Rome and

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392

C. RUSSELL AND W.M.S. RUSSELL

Constantinople were collected as taxes from provinces of the Empire. At
first the northern Mediterranean peoples were not forced into the
hydraulic pattern, and they could develop the rule of law with real freedom
for many people, even democracy, and leisure for fundamental scientific
inquiry. But their dependence on imported food meant two factors for
population crisis: their own population increase, and a failure of food
imports. Overpopulation was enhanced when slavery diffused into their
societies. Table 7 shows how slavery diffused into the northern
Mediterranean from Asia Minor (modern Turkey); the centuries cited are
those in which slavery became well established in the regions mentioned,
with substantial numbers of slaves. The Mediterranean societies could not
possibly afford slaves from their own meagre surplus, yet the slaves reached
grotesquely high proportions. Athens, in 431 BC, probably had some
80,000 slaves, nearly one quarter of the total population of some 340,000.
So high civilization in this region was a conditional and precarious affair.
From the eighth century BC, the Greek islands and the plains isolated
by mountains gave rise to some 200 city-states, each a city with surrounding
farmland territory, such as Athens with its territory of Attica. But
population soon outstripped resources, leading to land disputes, rural
unrest, food shortages and epidemics. The problem was eased in the
seventh and sixth centuries by the planting of colonies all over the Black Sea
and Mediterranean, until the emigration was blocked by the rival
colonizing movement of the Phoenicians (which had started earlier) and the
empire of their greatest colony, Carthage, in (modern) Tunisia. Meanwhile
some city-states, notably Aegina, Chios, Corinth and Athens, began to
export manufactures to and import food from Egypt.
TABLE 6
GRAIN IMPORTS INTO THE NORTHERN MEDITERRANEAN
Importing City

Period or Year

Amount of Grain
(tonnes per year)

Region of Origin
(modern names)

Athens

Mid-4th century BC

40,000

Ukraine, Egypt,
Syria, Sicily, Cyprus

41 Greek Cities

328/7 BC

48,000

Libya

Rome

1st century BC to
1st century AD

300,000

Tunisia, Algeria,
Egypt

Rome

Early 3rd century AD

180,000

Tunisia, Algeria,
Egypt

Rome

Late 4th century AD

67,000

Tunisia, Algeria

Constantinople

Mid-6th century AD

240,000

Sources: various.

Egypt

POPULATION CRISES AND POPULATION CYCLES

393

TABLE 7
THE WESTWARD DIFFUSIION OF SLAVERY FROM WESTERN ASIA
Centuries BC

Regions with Slavery Established

7th

Cities and islands on coast of Asia Minor, especially Chios

6th

Central Greece, especially Corinth, Aegina, Megara, Athens

4th

Remainder of Greece

2nd

Rome and Roman Italy

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Source: Ref. 11.

In the early fifth century BC a monopoly of silver enabled Athens to
control grain imports from the Ukraine and Egypt, so becoming the
entrepot of Greece. The temporary large surplus of resources over
population produced the greatest concentration of creative activity in
world history. But increase in the free population and mass import of slaves
led to a desperate food supply problem. Figure 4 shows the probable
changes in the total population of the city state of Athens in its territory of
Attica, that is citizens, resident aliens (including freed slaves) and slaves.
There was only one census of adult male citizens, in the late fourth century
BC, but military and naval records and other kinds of evidence are available
for these (rounded) estimates. As shown in the figure, the territory of Attica
could regularly feed no more than 70,000 people.
Competition for grain import sources with Corinth (in a similar
position) resulted in 431 BC in the first and worst of the major wars
between the overpopulated Greek states that occupied 53 out of the
following 85 years, with recurrent inflation, unemployment, food shortages
and epidemics. In the late fourth century, thanks to the development of
alluvial gold, the Macedonians dominated Greece, weakened by
overpopulation, and suppressed democracy.
Population crisis in the fifth century BC ended with a disastrous defeat
for Athens, and a big drop in population caused by war casualties and the
serious epidemics of 430 and 427-6 BC. After a short relief period (while
crisis continued in other parts of Greece), population growth resumed, and
further crisis ended in Macedonian domination. After 323 BC, Athens lost
control of the Aegean grain trade and could no longer afford massive grain
imports. After 167 BC, when the Romans overcame the Macedonians,
Athens briefly recovered control of the grain trade, but over population
soon caused a final crisis that ended in the sack of the city by the Romans
in 86 BC. Thereafter the population remained very small until modern
times; by this time the carrying capacity of Attica had been reduced by
deforestation.
Alexander the Great used a combined Macedonian-Greek army to

C. RUSSELL AND W.M.S. RUSSELL

394

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FIGURE 4
THE POPULATION OF ATHENS, 500 BC-250 AD

Nurrber of people that could regularly be fed from the territory of the city-state (Attica)

s s s s
CM

i-

t-

s s s s s
i-

T-

CM

CM

conquer Egypt and Western Asia as far as India. On his death, his dry belt
empire broke up into a number of typically hydraulic states, the Hellenistic
monarchies, with bureaucracies staffed by Greeks. The Aegean mainland
and islands lost their monopoly of manufactures, as industry developed
elsewhere, and their populations shrank back to the reduced carrying
capacity of their own lands, with deforestation and exhausted mines.
In the third century BC, the Hellenistic monarchies in the dry belt
enjoyed some relief from population pressure, with scientific advances,
brilliant art, and more humane and less destructive warfare. But Carthage
suffered from severe stress culture, a complex of behavioural aberrations
socially transmitted through the generations, the heritage of chronic
overpopulation in its Phoenician homeland; it was culturally backward,
with a frequency of human sacrifice unparalleled in the Old World. In the
second to first centuries BC, rising populations produced devastating crisis
in the Hellenistic kingdoms. Hence Carthage was conquered in the third
century, and the Hellenistic kingdoms in the second and first centuries, by
the new power of Rome.
The Northern Mediterranean: Rome and After

The central position of Rome in Italy and Italy in the Mediterranean
enabled the independent farmers of the Roman Republic to form a league
of Italian states and conquer the population-crisis-ridden societies of North

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POPULATION CRISES AND POPULATION CYCLES

395

Africa, much of Western Asia, the Aegean, and finally the divided tribes of
half-civilized Gaul and Britain. By 167 BC, Rome had extracted some 80
tonnes of gold from the dry belt, and sums of this order came in annually
when the Empire was established. This enormous wealth in loot and taxes
enabled Rome to develop a brilliant civilization with a wonderful literature
and an impressive legal system. But, perhaps uniquely in history, this
coincided with a grave population crisis in Italy, which set in at once as a
result of very rapid population growth.
There were regular censuses of male Roman citizens of military age
from the fifth century BC, and some censuses of all male citizens from 28
BC to AD 72 (besides occasional censuses in the provinces of the Empire).
From these and other evidence it is probable that the total population of
Italy (including the Po Valley) rose from about four million in 225 BC to
about 12 million in AD 47, partly by growth of the free population and
partly by the import of slaves, who became Roman citizens if freed on
Roman territory. Table 8 illustrates the resulting population crisis lasting
for some three centuries, during which the republic was replaced by a
monarchy. In this unique combination of renaissance and crisis, it was
typical that Cicero, who created the vocabulary of Western civilization, was
twice forced into exile, had his house burned down, and was finally
murdered.
By the late first century AD, the dry belt provinces of the Roman Empire
had recovered from their prolonged crisis, and at first the resulting revenue
increase also benefited Rome itself. Then, from AD 100 to 160, settlement
increased in many parts of the Empire. This suggests that the population of
the Empire rose from about one hundred millions in AD 50 (UNESCO
estimate) to about 120 million (Gibbon's inspired guess) in AD 150. Table
9 illustrates the population crisis that followed. There are no food shortages
mentioned after AD 189 in the scanty historical records for the period, but
they must have been very common, except during and shortly after the
reign of the North African Emperor Septimus Severus (AD 193-211).
Violence in Rome and elsewhere was so common that 26 out of the 37
Emperors of the period were murdered or killed in civil battles, not to
speak of their relatives, their high officials, and the dozens of pretenders.
Besides the barbarian incursions, there was sporadic warfare with the
Parthian, later the Persian, Empire. This period saw a notable decline in
culture and art. In the fourth century AD there was some recovery, but only
at he cost of the Empire becoming largely a hydraulic society, with
distinctions between slaves and free workers disappearing. A final truly
catastrophic crisis in the sixth century AD culminated in the plague
pandemic of AD 542-3, which killed 40% of the Empire's population, and
ended Latin and classical Greek as living languages.
By the late third century AD, the dry belt surplus wealth that had
supported Roman civilization had drifted back to North Africa and Western
Asia, where the surplus was actually produced and where trade with the Far

396

C. RUSSELL AND W.M.S. RUSSELL
TABLE 8
POPULATION CRISES IN ITALY, 200 BC-AD 100

Crisis Incidents

Dates

Food Shortages

BC:180, 165, 142, 135-131, 129, 125-124, 75
67,58-56,42-36,23-22,18
AD: 5-9, 19, 32, 40-41, 51, 62, 64, 68-70
BC: 133, 121, 100, 87, 75, 67, 58-57, 53-52,
41-36
AD: 51, 69
BC: 198, 196, 185, 143, 141, 135-132,
104-100,73-71
BC: 88-82, 78-77, 63-62, 50-45, 43-36,
32-30
AD: 68-70
BC: 91-88
BC: 82-78, 43
AD: 23-41, 50-54, 62-68, 88-96
BC: 187, 182-180, 165, 142,43,22, 18
AD: 5-9, 65, 79

Violence in Rome
Slave Revolts

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Civil Wars
Social War (Rome against its allies - Latin socii)
Tyranny
Epidemics

TABLE 9
POPULATION CRISES IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE, AD 160-330
Crisis Incidents

Dates (AD)

Food Shortages
Barbarian Incursions

161, 189
167-175, 178-1880, 205-209, 234-237,
245-259, 262-271, 275-279, 286-292, 322
192-197, 217-218, 238, 249, 253, 260-268,
271-274, 280, 284-285, 293-296, 306-324
165-167, 177, 202-211, 235-238, 249-251,
257-260, 303-313, 320-324
180-192, 211-217, 218-222, 235-238
165-180, 189,251-266,271

Civil Wars
Major Persecutions of Christians
General Tyranny
Epidemics

East was concentrated: 'much more than half of the silver and much more
than two thirds of the gold which had circulated in Roman territory ... had
left the Northern Mediterranean world'.12 By then, Italy had lost its
privileges, and the effective capital shifted to Nicomedia in (modern) Turkey
and then to Constantinople. In AD 476 the Western Empire disintegrated
into barbarian kingdoms, and the population shrank back to the low level
permitted by the local surplus. In the East, the Byzantine Empire, now a
totally hydraulic state, went through several vicissitudes and population
cycles before its conquest by the Turks in AD 1453.
Except in Greece, the northern Mediterranean environment was little
damaged in ancient times. But in the late fifteenth century AD, incipient
population crisis brought to power in Spain a gangster group of
transhumant sheep-owners, the Mesta. This Mafia-like organization ruled
Spain for over two centuries, with its Murder Incorporated branch, the

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Spanish Inquisition (their personnel overlapped). With the Inquisition to
eliminate its opponents, the Mesta destroyed most of Spain's forests and
farmlands. Well might Don Quixote mistake the sheep flocks for armies! In
Southern Italy, since the thirteenth century AD, transhumant sheep-rearing
had been encouraged by rulers for its tax yield, but the damage vastly
increased when the region was totally controlled by Spain after 1504, with
even more sheep than in Spain itself (Table 10). By the eighteenth century
AD, the northern Mediterranean countries were backwaters. Later they
suffered further from pollution export and mass tourist development. By
AD 1973, a conference of Mediterranean states showed the whole region
to be in a desperate state of pollution and environmental devastation. The
success of plans to improve the situation will depend on the achievement of
very substantial reduction, by voluntary birth control, of the population of
this region, to whose past glories and grandeurs so much is owed by human
civilization.
TABLE 10
ARMIES OF SHEEP
Dates (AD)

Number of Transhumant Sheep
In Spain

1463
1477
1496
1526
1578
1586
1684

In Southern Italy
600,000

2,694,032
1,700,000
3,453,168
3,500,000
4,500,000
5,500,000

Source: Refs. 13, 14.

North-Western Europe: the Region and its Crises
The region of north-western Europe is of unique interest, for it was here,
in the Middle Ages, that an entirely new kind of society evolved, which was
eventually to achieve the technological breakthrough that made the modern
world. Territorial boundaries, and the dynastic unions or divisions of the
modern countries, have varied considerably at different times, but the
region has always maintained a certain cultural identity. It is not perfectly
defined by any one ecological boundary, but most of it falls within an area
where the beech tree grows, and outside an area where continual frosts
prevail for at least one month in the year. The medieval north-west
Europeans 'showed an enthusiasm never seen before or elsewhere for
power technology and the mechanisation of industrial processes'.15 'By
1250 or 1300, foundations had already been laid for the later technological
ascendancy of north-western Europe." 6

398

C. RUSSELL AND W.M.S. RUSSELL
TABLE 11
SOME POPULATION DENSITIES

Region

Date

Population/km2

Hydraulic societies
Egypt
Chekiang Province (pre-industrial)
S. China

1st Century BC
Early 20th C AD

280
214

431 BC

104

1086 AD
1300
1479
1600
1600
1600
1750
1850
1900
1750
1850
1900
1992
1992
1992

11
35
15
50
45
34
43
68
76
31
86
155
104
225
236

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Ancient Northern Mediterranean
Attica
North Western Europe
England
France
Switzerland
Netherlands
North Italy
France

United Kingdom
France
Germany
United Kingdom

This wonderful development was not, of course, due to the north-west
Europeans being inherently wiser or more skilful than other peoples. Many
of the crucial inventions that made the breakthrough possible came from
outside Europe, notably from China. The north-west Europeans succeeded
because until the nineteenth century they had far lower population densities
than other civilizations. Table 11 gives a fair picture of the relatively low
population density of north-western Europe, compared with other
civilizations, until the late nineteenth century. Note also the relatively low
population density of Britain, the country that launched the industrial
revolution, until the middle nineteenth century. By the late twentieth
century, population densities in the region are quite comparable with those
of the hydraulic societies.
The Chinese exploited new power sources (notably fossil fuels), but
everything was subordinated to the hydraulic mass labour system: watermills were banned and actually destroyed under the T'ang. Mass slavery in
the northern Mediterranean created a nightmare of unemployment for free
workers: the Emperor Vespasian paid an engineer to suppress a laboursaving invention. The north-west Europeans, short of docile labour or
slaves, had no such inhibitions. Hand-made paper was invented by the
Chinese in the second century AD, and diffused to the dry belt in the

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POPULATION CRISES AND POPULATION CYCLES

399

eighth; in the thirteenth century it reached north-western Europe, and
production was promptly mechanized (see below).
The north-west Europeans practised versatile forms of mixed farming
(crops and stock), and two successive sets of improvements enabled them
to colonise their clay valleys and increase their yields, as shown in Table 12.
The New Husbandry included root fodder crops and leys (temporary
pastures) with clovers and lucerne in rotations, heavy manuring and
marling. HEI Agriculture means agriculture with high energy inputs: from
1850 this applied to agriculture both at home and in the overseas regions
from which food was imported. The inputs were of agricultural machinery
and agricultural chemicals. In the modern United States, 'intensive systems
... may yield as little as one tenth' in food energy 'of the input'.17
Between 1851 and 1931 about 18 million people emigrated from the
British Isles, and about 17 million from the rest of north-western Europe.
The peak population of the region under the Roman Empire, in AD 150,
was probably about 30 million, but this population level in the western
Empire was dependent on imports from the dry belt provinces. Thanks to
the growing food supply, the population did rise, though until the
nineteenth century densities remained low. Despite this, north-western
Europe experienced population crises (Table 12), because, as usual, with
every advance in food production population soon outgrew the new level
of resources.
The crises in this region had all their usual effects. There was severe
price inflation and fall in real wages (as in Figure 3). This, together with
unemployment, created a mass of paupers, comprising up to one quarter of
the total populations in the region, many of them naturally vagabonds and
some brigands. There were massive persecutions of minorities. The
medieval crisis included the major part of the Hundred Years War, the early
modern crisis the Thirty Years War. The threat of famine was virtually
continuous during the crises. In the Early Modern Crisis, the city of Bremen
(not untypical) had 25 severe epidemics between 1565 and 1657, and in
south-western France there were 282 revolts between 1635 and 1660. The
effect of all this on the expectation of life at birth was shattering, as shown
in Table 2. The crises greatly reduced the survival of young children, and
hence the total population. This is vividly shown in Figure 5 for the town
of St Lambert des Levees in Anjou, northern France, at the climax of the
early modern population crisis in this region, during the civil war of the
Fronde, which involved fierce fighting.

North-Western Europe: The Breakthrough
In the hydraulic societies, with their huge population densities, the effects
of the crises were cumulative, causing a growing load of stress culture and
the decline of civilization. In north-western Europe, with its low population

400

C. RUSSELL AND W.M.S. RUSSELL
TABLE 12
THE POPULATION CYCLES OF NORTH WESTERN EUROPE

Dates (AD)

Population
Crises

400-700

Late Ancient

Renaissances

Food Production

600

18

7th Century

Fixed mouldboard plough

8th Century

3-course rotation
Carolingian

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750-850

22

800
9th Century
850-950

Horse-collar, Horse-shoes
Dark Age

19

1000
11th Century

1050-1200
1200
1200-1400
1300
1400
1400-1530

Combinations of above
Medieval

30
Medieval

45
32
Early Modern

15th Century

1500
1530-1670
1600
1670-1914

New Husbandry,
Low Countries

42
Early Modern

50
Long

17th Century

New Husbandry, England

1700

45

18th Century

1750
1790-1850
1800
1851-1931
18501900
19141970
1990

Population
in Millions

New Husbandry, NW Europe

46
Incipient

65
Mass
Emigration
HEI Agriculture, Imports

150
Modern

280
300

POPULATION CRISES AND POPULATION CYCLES

401

FIGURE 5
SURVIVAL OF CHILDREN IN A POPULATION CRISIS
500

450 --

400 --

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350 --

300 --

250 --

200 --

150 --

Number of children
surviving from the age of
one to four years

100 --

50 "-

1647

1648

1649

1650
Dates AD

1651

1652

1653

densities (until the nineteenth century), it was the effects of the relief and
renaissance periods that accumulated, causing continuous progress even
during the crises and eventually the technological breakthrough.
In the Roman Empire, the only important labour-saving devices were
the animal-powered Gallic reaping machine, used and probably invented in
north-western Europe, and the vertical water-mill, also used mainly there,
and in any case on a tiny scale - a few dozens altogether. In early medieval
north-western Europe, water-mills were legion. In 1086, in England, 5624
were recorded, and at the same time France may have had 20,000. 'This
hydraulic energy was equivalent to that which could be deployed by onequarter of the adult population of the kingdom." 9 Some time before 1137,
the English invented the rotating vertical wind-mill: there were at least 56
in England by 1200, and in the next century they diffused all over north-

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402

C. RUSSELL AND W.M.S. RUSSELL

western Europe. Tidal mills appeared in the twelfth century, steam bellows
in the thirteenth. The mills were used for grinding corn, forging iron,
tanning, fulling, making paper, sawing, brewing, polishing armour, and
crushing anything from olives to ore. During the medieval crisis, fear of
unemployment caused some opposition to fulling mills, but nothing could
stop their advance.
Medieval technologists enjoyed great prestige. In the Gothic cathedrals,
thousands of craftsmen proudly signed their work. 'In the 12th and 13 th
centuries ... there was born ... a new conscious empirical science.'20 During
the population crises, there was some censorship of science, but it was
nothing like as bad as that in the population crisis of late fifth century BC
Athens, when virtually all scientific activity was banned.
In the fourteenth century, block printing reached north-western
Europe, ultimately from China. The Chinese had also invented movable
type, but this was of little importance until combined with the alphabetic
scripts of Europe. But between 1439 and 1450 Johann Gutenberg reinvented movable type for printing books, and mechanised printing by
devising the press. This supreme invention gave science the momentum to
advance spectacularly right through the early modern population crisis.
Between 1670 and 1750, north-western Europe enjoyed the priceless
gift of a near-stable population. Malthus discovered the reason: the region
had achieved (especially during this period) unprecedentedly low birth
rates, thanks to a change in the pattern of marriage (Table 13). According
to Malthus:
In the different states of modern Europe, it appears that the positive
checks to population [high death-rates] have prevailed less, and the
preventive checks [low birth-rates] more, than in ancient times, and
in the more uncultivated parts of the world ... In almost all the more
improved countries of modern Europe, the principal check ... is the
prudential restraint on marriage ... the greater number of persons
who remain unmarried, or marry late.
Modern research fully confirms Malthus, as the tables show especially for
north-western Europe ('the more improved countries'). The pattern seems
to have become established in the seventeenth century. In ordinary families
(as opposed to the upper class ones in part B of Table 13), the age of
women at marriage was particularly high during the later seventeenth and
earlier eighteenth centuries, the precious period of almost stable population
in north-western Europe that prepared the way for the industrial
revolution.
The resulting labour shortage in the British textile industry in the
eighteenth century led to explicit demands for labour-saving inventions and
even the offer of prizes for them in the 1760s. The demand was met by a
number of new devices, and the expanding textile industry launched the
industrial revolution (Figure 6). This figure shows the sudden huge

403

POPULATION CRISES AND POPULATION CYCLES
TABLE 13
THE MARRIAGE PATTERN OF NORTH WESTERN EUROPE
Comparison in Space: Selected Countries
Country
Date (AD)

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North Western Europe
Austria
Britain
Sweden
Others
Ceylon
Korea
Morocco (Moslems)

Percentage of Women still Single:
Ages 20-24
Ages 45-49

1900-01

1946
1930
1952

66
73
80

13
15
19

29
2
8

3
0
2

Comparison in Time: British Royal and Ducal Families
Period of Birth (AD)
Percentage of Women still Single
Age 20
Age 50
1330-1479
42
7
1480-1679
45
6
1680-1729
75
17
1730-1779
76
14
1780-1829
89
12
1830-1879
80
22
Source: Refs. 21, 22.

FIGURE6
THE POPULATION OF NORTHERN EUROPE

360

38
36
34
32
30

320
280

/

28
26

Net
Imports of *t
Raw
20
Cotton in 18
Millions of 16
Pounds
14
12
10
8
6
4
2
notao

A n

uaies A . U .

Source: Ref. 16

2 4 0

7 /

Pig Iron Production
-

120

Cotton Imports

-

Pig Iron
200 Production
in
160 Thousands
of Tons

"

80

/ y
X

40
1705

1715

1725

1735

1745

1755

1700 1710 1720 1730 174o 175O

1765

1775

1785

1795

1805

1760 m o 1780 1790 1800

404

C. RUSSELL AND W.M.S. RUSSELL

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expansion of the British textile industry (as measured by imports of raw
materials). Some 12 years later the iron industry expanded in turn. As the
cotton industry grew, 'it created a greatly-increased demand for steam
engines, machines, transport, dyes, fuel and building materials. The almost
explosive development of the textile trade therefore led to a rapid
expansion in the industries which produce these things, most notably the
iron industry'. Thus, 'cotton effectively led the whole of the British
economy into the industrial revolution'.16 Unfortunately, birth rates rose
again, leading to a further population explosion, in which all the precious
benefits of low population density were thrown away.
The Modern World: the Population Explosion in North-Western Europe
Besides the cases considered in this article, we have demonstrated
population crises in other regions: monsoon Asia (the Indian sub-continent,
Ceylon, Burma, South-East Asia and Indonesia), Central Mexico, the Maya
area, the Andes, West Africa, prehistoric Europe, prehistoric eastern and
south-western United States, the Marquesas, and Easter Island.23 These
examples have been enough to establish that population crises and cycles
have been a regular feature of human societies in the past. It is now time to
consider the modern world crisis, beginning with the population explosion
in north-western Europe.
From 1790 to 1850 north-western Europe experienced an incipient
population crisis, with inflation, unemployment, revolution, destructive
war, cholera epidemics, and famines, especially during the 'hungry
(eighteen-) forties'. But the population did not crash. Instead, death rates
fell and birth rates rose; even the rate of population growth rose until the
development of oral contraceptives in the 1960s. The result was an
appalling population explosion, as is obvious from a glance at Figure 7. As
shown in Table 11, population densities in the region rose from tens to
hundreds per square kilometre, reaching the levels found in hydraulic
societies. How was this possible? Not, of course, directly because of
industrialization - you cannot eat machine tools - but because of two
massive increases in the food supply, the first unrepeatable and the second
unsustainable.
The first increase was provided by vast new croplands and pastures in
North America, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and the Ukraine, the
cropland becoming available because of the new steel plough, which could
break up the tough sod of the world's great temperate grasslands. This
bonanza will never happen again, for, as Mark Twain put it, 'they're not
making land any more'. But it made possible massive food imports into
north-western Europe in exchange for manufactured products. Britain was
importing nearly one quarter of its wheat by the 1850s, more than half by
the 1870s; in the 1970s it was still importing nearly half its food and even
in the 1990s one quarter of its temperate foodstuffs.

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POPULATION CRISES AND POPULATION CYCLES

405

Second, there was a massive increase in food yield per land area, made
doubly necessary because population pressure not only increases the
demand for food but the demand for land by housing and motorways over 17,000 hectares of farmland per year are lost in England alone. By the
eighteenth century, as shown in Table 12, north-western Europe had
evolved splendidly sustainable systems of mixed farming. To achieve the
yield increase, these have been replaced by high-energy-input (HEI) crop
agriculture and factory farming of stock. HEI crop agriculture uses huge
amounts of agricultural chemicals - NPK fertilisers (nitrogen, phosphorus,
potassium) and pesticides (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides). For lack of
organic manure, the soil deteriorates, and needs more and more mineral
fertilisers, eventually with diminishing returns. The deteriorated soil is
vulnerable to wind or water erosion. Nitrates and phosphorus compounds
pollute lakes and groundwater. Fertilisers cost vast quantities of energy to
produce, and nitrogen fertilisers are made from petroleum, and thus doubly
costly in energy. Pesticides increasingly fail to control harmful organisms
(which acquire resistance), often kill useful organisms, and threaten human
health. Systems of HEI crop agriculture 'are not sustainable, given their
physical, chemical and biological impacts on the soil, their excessive
consumption of non-renewable resources, and their far-reaching sideeffects on the global ecosystem'.24
Meanwhile factory farming involves keeping animals crowded indoors,
and the ultimate lunacy of feeding animal proteins to herbivores. Besides
atrocious suffering for the animals, this results in threats to human health,
for instance from Salmonella and Campylobacter species and bovine
spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The animal waste, instead of being
spread over the land as soil-renewing manure, is so concentrated that it
pollutes the water with solids and liquids, and the air with gases.
The Modern World: Universal Crisis and the Malthusian Solution
In the past, population crises and relief periods have been staggered
between regions. Table 14 compares the sequences of crisis and relief
periods in three major regions. For the first four centuries, much of northwestern Europe was within the Roman Empire and shares its vicissitudes.
In the fourth century there was a slight respite from population pressure in
this region, but hardly enough to call it a relief period. Centuries are of
course arbitrary divisions, so that the timing shown in this table is only
rough. However, it brings out clearly the staggering of cycles between the
three regions until the twentieth century. Now every country in the world
is simultaneously in crisis. The population explosion is not confined to
north-western Europe, but has occurred everywhere, producing an
unprecedented rise in the world population to six billion.
This has been made possible by the two increases in food supply we have
already considered. By the 1960s virtually every country was importing

C. RUSSELL AND W.M.S. RUSSELL

406

FIGURE 7

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THE POPULATION OF NORTHERN EUROPE

I

50
40
30
20
10
0
Date AD 0

200

400

600

1000 1200 1400 1600 1800 2000

grain from Canada and the United States, but by 1973 the enormous stocks
of surplus grain had all been used up, and the Americans began to plough
up their reserve cropland. The populations continued to rise, however,
because HEI crop agriculture was diffused to the poorer countries of the
world, often with massive irrigation projects. But in a world of recurrent
famines, in which at least a billion people must be chronically seriously
under-nourished, world food production per head increased by less than
5% between 1989 and 1996. And this small increase was at the cost of all
the long-term damage done by HEI agriculture and over-irrigation to the
soil and to water. A survey in 1990 by the World Health Organization
suggested that 25 million agricultural workers are acutely poisoned by
pesticides every year.
The world population crisis is having all the usual economic and social
effects. Everywhere there is evidence of inflation, unemployment, gross
inequality and desperate poverty. Amnesty International reports violation
of human rights in virtually every sizeable nation - 152 countries in 1993.
The two World Wars and incessant local, national and civil wars have been
extremely destructive to civilians (including women and children). Against
this background, violent crime has steadily increased. The number of
multiple murders in the United States has risen markedly since the 1950s,

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POPULATION CRISES AND POPULATION CYCLES

407

although these 'private' murders cannot compare in scale with those of
multiple murderers in control of criminal governments. In the first three
years alone after the Fascist counter-revolution in Iran the Ayatollah
Khomeini murdered 20,000 women and girls.
Dominance and violence towards females and the young are
characteristic of both animal and human population crises. While Fascist
Iran represents the criminal extreme, there is enough dominance and
violence towards women around the world to justify the title of Marilyn
French's book The War against Women. 'In the United States,' she reports,
'a man beats a woman every twelve seconds, and every day four of these
beatings are lethal.'25
As for the children, the industry catering for pederasts is on a horrific
scale. It has been estimated that there are a million child slave prostitutes
(both sexes), and that another million are used in pornographic films, in
which they may be abused, tortured, and probably even killed. The annual
income from 'child trafficking and exploitation' is estimated at five billion
dollars.26
Deterioration of language is yet another effect of population crisis. 'But
if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.'27 It is
therefore a dangerous confusion, symptomatic of the crisis, that the press
in more than one language habitually refers to pederasty (lust for children)
as paedophilia (love of children).
The stresses of population crisis upset the immune system and cause
high mortality from epidemics in animals and man. Health authorities are
predicting tens of millions of deaths from AIDS and tuberculosis in a few
years' time, as is already happening with AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.
The world crisis response has not averted harm to the world
environment. Besides rapid depletion of minerals and fossil fuels, and
pollution of land, fresh waters and oceans, there is direct damage to the
land environment - deforestation, overgrazing, over-cropping, overirrigation, and the resulting erosion, silting, laterization, water-logging,
salinization and desertification. In India there is serious wind or water
erosion on 1.5 million square kilometres of and, and about the same area
in China. Several estimates agree that about 130,000 square kilometres of
forest are lost every year, an area roughly equivalent to that of England or
New York State.
The remedy for all these horrors was succinctly stated in 1830 by
Malthus. He realized that the two crucial measurements of population are
those of 'crude' birth-rate and death-rate, usually reckoned as numbers
being born or dying per cent or per thousand of the population per year. If
the birth-rate exceeds the death-rate, the population grows by compound
interest, because the more people there are the more they can breed. A
calculation has been made by PC Putnam that shows the fantastic
implications of this. If mankind had sprung from a single couple living
about 12,000 years ago, and if (after the population reached a few

408

C. RUSSELL AND W.M.S. RUSSELL

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TABLE 14
THE POPULATION CYCLES OF CHINA, NORTHERN INDIA AND
NORTH WESTERN EUROPE
Century (AD)

China

N India

NW Europe

1st
2nd

Relief
Relief
Crisis
Crisis
Crisis
Crisis
Relief
Relief
Crisis
Crisis
Relief
Relief
Crisis
Crisis
Relief
Relief
Crisis
Relief
Crisis
Crisis

Crisis
Crisis
Crisis
Relief
Relief
Crisis
Relief
Crisis
Crisis
Crisis
Crisis
Crisis
Relief
Relief
Crisis
Relief
Relief
Crisis
Relief
Crisis

Crisis
Relief*
Crisis
Crisis
Crisis
Crisis
Crisis
Relief
Crisis
Crisis
Crisis
Relief
Crisis
Crisis
Relief
Crisis
Crisis
Relief
Relieff
Crisis

3rd
4th
5th
6th
7th
8th
9th
10th
11th
12th
13th
14th
15th
16th
17th
18th
19th
20th

Notes:
*Due largely to importation of resources
+Due to emigration of people and importation of resources
Source: Ref 6.

hundreds) there had been one more birth than deaths per hundred per year,
then today 'the world population would form a sphere of living flesh many
thousand light years in diameter, and expanding with a radial velocity ...
many times faster than light'.28 'In real life, as opposed to the wonderland
of mathematics, nothing of the kind can happen.'6 So in real life, when a
population increases even at this apparently modest rate, sooner or later
one of two things must happen - either the birth-rate comes down or the
death-rate goes up (the population crisis response), and the increase is
checked. This was Malthus's greatest discovery, and he had the supreme
genius to realize that unlike animals we can choose which.
The modern methods of birth control provide ample means for
exercising the Malthusian choice - that is, for shunting out the population
crisis, with all its horrors, by reducing the birth-rate instead. Fortunately,
birth control campaigns 'pay for themselves almost at once, and very soon
begin to increase the prosperity of the region'.6 It would therefore be
extremely easy to mount a massive world programme of voluntary birth
control, and how welcome this would be is shown by the fact that
desperately poor women in Calcutta have been known to spend 10% of
their minuscule incomes on contraceptives. We may thus hope to reduce
the world population to the billion or so who could probably live a

POPULATION CRISES AND POPULATION CYCLES

409

good life even in our already depleted Earth environment. It may then take
time to eliminate the stress culture resulting from past crises, but we could
make population crises and population cycles a thing of the past, and usher
in a permanent renaissance.

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References
1. Russell C, Russell WMS. Overpopulation crisis. Social Biology and Human
Affairs 1984; 49: 23-42.
2. Kormondy EJ. Concepts of Ecology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall,
1969.
3. McEvedy C, Jones R. Atlas of World Population History. Harmonsdworth:
Penguin, 1979.
4. Russell WMS. Population and inflation. Ecologist 1971; 1 (8): 4-8.
5. Russell WMS, Russell C. The history of the human life span. Update 1976; 12:
571-88.
6. Russell C, Russell WMS. Scarcities and societal objectives. In: Polumin N, ed.
Growth without Ecodisasters? London: Macmillan, 1980: 409-28.
7. Jacobson T, Adams RM. Salt and silt in ancient Mesopotamian agriculture. In:
Caldwell JR, ed. New Roads to Yesterday. London: Thames & Hudson, 1966:
466-79.
8. Adams RM. Agriculture and urban life in early south-western Iran. In: Caldwell
JR, ed. New Roads to Yesterday. London: Thames & Hudson, 1966: 436-65.
9. Reifenberg A. The Struggle between the Desert and the Sown: Rise and Fall of
Agriculture in the Levant. Jerusalem: Publication Department, Jewish Agency,
1955.
10. Wittfogel KA. The hydraulic civilisation. In: Thomas WL, ed. Man's Role in
Changing the Face of the Earth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956:
152-64.
11. Beloch J. Historiche Beiträge zur Bevölkerungslebre.Vol 1. Die Bevölkerung der
Griechisch-RömischenWelt. Leipzig: Duncker und Humblot, 1886.
12. Heichelheim FM. Effects of classical antiquity on the land. In: Thomas WL, ed.
Man's Role in Changing the Face of the Earth. Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1956: 165-82.
13. Klein J. The Mesta: a Study in Spanish Economic History, 1273-1836.
Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1920.
14. Toynbee AJ. Hannibal's Legacy: the Hannibalic War's Effects on Roman Life.
2. Rome and her Neighbours after Hannibal's Exit. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1965.
15. Russell WMS. Man, Nature and History. London: Aldus, 1967.
16. Pacey A. The Maze of Ingenuity: Ideas and Idealism in the Development of
Technology. London: Allen Lane, 1974.
17. Russell WMS. Population, swidden farming and the tropical environment.
Population and Environment 1988; 10: 77-94.
18. Kamen A. The Iron Century: Social Change in Europe, 1550-1660. London:
Sphere, 1976.
19. Debeir J-C, Déleage J-P, Hémery D. In the Servitude of Power: Energy and
Civilisation Through the Ages. (trans. Barzmen J). London: Zed Books, 1991.
20. Crombie AC. Augustine to Galileo. 2 vols. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969.
21. Hajnal J. European marriage patterns in perspective. In: Glass DV, Eversley
DEC, eds. Population in History. London: Edward Arnold, 1965: 101-43.
22. Hollingsworth TH. A demographic study of the British ducal families.

410

C. RUSSELL AND W.M.S. RUSSELL

Population Studies 1957; 11: 4-26.
23. Russell C, Russell WMS. Population Crises and Population Cycles. London:
Galton Institute, 1999.
24. Lampkin N. Organic Farming. Ipswich: Farming Press, 1994.
25. French M. The War against Women. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993.
26. Freemantle B. The Octopus: Europe in the Grip of Organized Crime. London:
Orion, 1995.
27. Orwell G. Collected Essays. London: Mercury, 1961.
28. Cipolla CM. The Economic History of World Population. Harmondsworth:
Penguin, 1962.

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(Accepted 1 July 2000)
Claire Russell was born in Berlin in 1919, and escaped in 1939 to Britain, where
she later practised as a psychoanalyst for 40 years. She died in 1999.
William M S Russell was born in Plymouth in 1925. He served as a rifleman in the
12th Battalion, the King's Royal Rifle Corps, in NW Europe in 1944-45, and after
the war became a zoologist. He is currently emeritus Professor of Sociology in the
University of Reading.
The Russells worked jointly on many aspects of animal and human behaviour, and
the relations between them. Between them they wrote seven scientific books,
contributions to 42 other scientific books, and over 200 scientific papers. Claire
Russell also published a book of poems, Words Fresh Caught in a Net, and WMS
Russell a novel, The Barber of Aldebaran.
Correspondence:
RG6 2AA.

Department of Sociology, University of Reading, Reading

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