July 9, 2014

German national soccer team from the hills and mountains -- an influence of pastoralism?

Not being a soccer fan at all, my basic picture of which countries dominate the sport is the Mediterranean and its off-shoots in Latin America. But Germany has one of the best records in the World Cup. How does that fit into the big picture?

When Germany joins with the Mediterranean more than Scandinavia or Eastern Europe, it must really be a fact about Western and Southern Germany, not Northern or Eastern. Recall this original post on the great civilizational fault-line that runs through Europe, separating the hilly and mountainous regions from those of the Great European Plain.

Western and Southern Germany are Catholic like the Mediterranean, while Northern Germany is Protestant like Scandinavia, and Eastern Germany is increasingly de facto godless like the Balto-Slavic Plains. Also recall this post showing that Eastern Germany has historically been more (Balto-)Slavic than Germanic.

So let's take a look at the roster of their 2014 World Cup team. Of 17 ethnic Germans, only 2 were born in the North, and 0 in the East. (There are also 2 Poles from Silesia.) In contrast, 5 were born in the South, and 10 in the West.* This does not map onto the size of the population in each state. Rather, there is something about hailing from the Western and Southern regions -- and it's probably not the Catholic church.

Hilly and mountainous areas tend to be favored by on-the-move livestock herders more than sedentary farmers. (The farmers squat on the low-lying fertile plains, and the herders have nowhere to go but up.) This hunch is supported by the ethnic backgrounds of the German players who aren't from the general area. One is Albanian and another Turkish, both from the mountainous region of Southeastern Europe. Another is half-Tunisian and half-German (I couldn't find out where in Germany that parent is from), and Tunisia is another mountainous pastoralist region of the Mediterranean. Another is half-German (I couldn't tell where that parent is from) and half-Ghanaian. West Africa is generally less pastoralist than Eastern Africa, although there are a good deal of herders and milk-drinkers in the West as well.

Also, Scandinavia and most of Eastern Europe failed to qualify for the World Cup to begin with. Tiny little Alpine Switzerland out-performed all of Mother Russia. Nords and Slavs dominate those strongman competitions where the goal is to re-enact the daily tasks of Conan the Barbarian.

What about pastoralism selects for good soccer players? Beats me, since I haven't given the sport any thought since elementary school. It does seem like more of an endurance sport -- all that constant jogging around -- and mobile pastoralists are going to be better at that than farmers who only need to stoop over a small plot of land all day long, day-in and day-out. (Hence the absence of Chinese soccer players.) See this earlier post about pastoralism and endurance sports.

I think being constantly vigilant is another big factor -- herders need to be on alert for anything that might run off with their livestock, whether an animal predator or a human rustler. Is the soccer ball like a member of your flock that you're steering along a course, and the opposing players are rustlers trying to drive your property away from you, and you then have to be vindictive enough to chase them down and get it back, rather than cut your losses or rely on a central authority to go get it for you? Soccer as ritualized cattle raid.

If there is an influence of pastoralism, it wouldn't be the more nomadic kind. We don't see Ethiopians and Kenyans dominating soccer like they do distance running, where we see selection for being on-the-move for a long time. Nor do Central Asians rank very highly.

The type of pastoralism practiced among the soccer nations way back when was transhumance, not nomadism. They roamed around a decent amount each day, but they did have something like a "home base" for days, weeks, and sometimes months. Over the course of the year, they'd move toward more favorable areas -- mountains in summer and valleys in winter -- but it was not like the constant meandering around with no particular destination in mind that the nomadic pastoralists practice.

There's more to look into here, but this exhausts my interest in soccer.

* Here is the list of the player's birth state and name. The non-Germans and half-Germans are listed below.

Bav, Goetze
Bav, Lahm
Bav, Mueller
Bav, Schweinsteiger
B-W, Ginter
R-P, Durm
R-P, Schuerrle
R-P, Weidenfeller
NR-W, Draxler
NR-W, Grosskreutz
NR-W, Hoewedes
NR-W, Hummels
NR-W, Kramer
NR-W, Neuer
NR-W, Zieler

L.Sax, Mertesacker
M-V, Kroos

Boateng - Berlin, Ghanaian / German
Mustafi - Hesse, Albanian
Khedira - B-W, Tunisian / German
Klose - Polish
Ozil - NR-W, Turkish
Podolski - Polish


  1. " Is the soccer ball like a member of your flock that you're steering along a course,"

    Sounds spot-on, or maybe driving a soccer ball down the field requires the same type of coordination that riding a horse does.

    This raises a question, though: why isn't soccer popular in mountainous areas of the U.S., such as the Appalachians and the Rocky's? The mountains in upstate Pennsylvania are notorious for producing toprate quaterbacks - such as Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. You can see that culture in the "Deer Hunter".

    Is it that the geography of the Appalachians and Rockies are more conducive to a different type of pastoralism than that which was practiced in the Mediterranean? And that this results in football rather than soccer?

    I always saw football as a throwback to chariot warfare - the quarterback is the charioteer, looking for openings in the enemy ranks. But who knows...

  2. In other words, America's mountain systems are more conducive to nomadic pastoralism. The obvious examples would be the cowboys from the 19th century, who traveled long distances.

    If true, it would mean, oddly, that the culture of hillbilly conservatives is more similar to the Massai and Mongols than to the culture of the Mediterranean.

    football, therefore, would more resemble the type of warfare practiced by nomadic pastoralists. Soccer is not very popular over here, unless you count gradeschoolers, which can be explained because the sport is not as violent and football and you don't need to be a giant to succeed. Football is very popular in the upper Appalachians - or at least it was during the New Wave. I assume its very popular in the southern Appalachians and the Rocky mountains.

  3. Holland's pretty good as a team, albeit with a large population.

    Per capita football rankings apparently look something like this -


    25. Hungary, 24. Czech Republic, 23. Honduras, 22. Bulgaria, 21. Belgium, 20. Serbia, 19. Sweden, 18. Greece, 17. Paraguay, 16. Slovakia, 15. Portugal, 14. Costa Rica, 13. Central African Republic, 12. Switzerland, 11. Ireland, 10. Denmark, 9. Norway, 8. Panama, 7. Jamaica, 6. Bosnia, 5. Croatia, 4. Slovenia, 3. Uruguay, 2. Cape Verde, 1. Montenegro

    Does show some effect - the Irish don't seem to have any advantage on the Scandos, but the Southern Slavs (Balkanish types) seem to do well. Some of this might be the effect of just being allowed in to play.

    More stereotypically pastoral countries might have a more generally playful and less hardworking culture, gang-ish attitudes, and more honor-machismo, might matter in certain sports. North African and Middle Eastern pastoralist countries don't seem any good really.

    Northeastern Europeans (and those on the cline to them like Sweden etc) don't quite seem as sporting, except in the Olympics, which tend to reward very strong focus and practice at a limited range of tasks, outside a team environment, which would match with farmer drive and hard work.

    Pastoralism might also help explain why the Southern Europeans are famous for diving. They're not as above dishonoring themselves by exploiting a central authority like the referee, unlike more self reliant Northern farmers who just want the referee there to act as a fair adjudicator for team competition and individualistic effort.

  4. I don't know anything about American football but it seems to be all about preset positions (don't exist in soccer, just evolved naturally out of the game rules), forming formations and then playing a role in them with discipline and athleticism. Stop-start, the general makes the formations, then the troops join battle.

    Not much individual alertness or judgement or sense of space really needed compared to soccer, as where you need to be is mostly foreordained by the play that's been called.

    Sounds like a Imperial Roman farmer-legion kind of game. A suitable game for an empire of ultra-patriotic pioneer farmers. We know horticulturalists like Pacific Islanders and West Africans tend to be fairly good at it, just hard to tell there how much it is a function of athleticism.

  5. Germany vs. Brazil - This Is What Happened


  6. Appalachian culture is an extension of ruralBritish culture, which is pastoral. Important thing to consider about the Dutch is that The Netherlands was essentially a cold water marshy floodplain for a long time, so maybe underneath that modern facade is essentially Batavians, Frisians, Saxons and Franks waiting for the North Sea to wash their rickety thatched roof peat moss houses away.

  7. agnostic, by the way, in general on your pastoralists and farmers posts, on this, I've been thinking, Greg Cochran's previously demonstrated how a constant influx from a community who are not subject to a selection pressure can stymie local adaptation.

    Like, if selection would raise your IQ by 0.5 point per generation and you have an influx of 3% people from a 1 SD lower population per generation, then that offsets local adaptation, as the influx is lowering your population by 0.45 points per generation.

    In the same way, if farmers and pastoralists were about 1SD apart in "farmer-ness" and "pastoralist-ness" and you had movement of around 3% between each community, then that could stymie the development of farmer personality traits in the farmers, while not really making them more pastoralist. They'd only get selected in ways that both populations were pushing towards, not ones they're both pushing against.

    Might explain why the pastoralist-farmer divide is more intense in South Asia and the Middle East, where reproductive barriers are higher. The local clans diverge more over time.

    In the Middle East in particular, this might be more important in explaining why these cultures are pastoralist generally, as it's not like many more of the people in those regions actually practice pastoralism, no great percecentage gap. Middle Eastern folks are inbred but don't really have a proper caste system like India so periodically when the pastoralist clans win out (because they're better at violence), they take power and demographically replace the farmers by taxing all their wealth and using it to support their own micro-dynasty, many of whom then have to take up farming by necessity, starting the process again. The Indian Caste system would prevent any occupational downdrift, so you have lots of castes rather than the whole population adapting slowly then undergoing lurches towards pastoralism when a pastoralist clan take over.

    While the Europeans remain fairly smart and healthy generalists, as although they're mostly farmers, there's a good solid 20-15% at least that does other things (of which pastoralists are only one occupation). I'm envisioning a late Medieval distribution by about 1200 of about 80% farmers, 8% pastoralists, 4% merchants, 2% nobles, 1% fisher folk and 5% artisans and manual labourers.

    Generalists would look like pastoralists compared with farmers and farmers compared with pastoralists but wouldn't really be adapted to either condition that much. They'd mostly just be selected on general ability, not any specific ability.

    What do you think?

  8. Tony Kroos is the only East German on the squad. And he's arguably the best-performing player on the team right now.

    I generally agree with you on topics, but some Balto-Slavic people are pretty darn religious: the Poles and Lithuanians (including my girlfriend) are the most devout Catholics I know.

    East Germans are generally more religious than West Germans. I know because I lived there. But they're generally religious Lutherans.

    Also, half of the squad is from Nordrhein-Westphalen. That's plains country in the north settled by farmers. I think your theory is thin here.

  9. And how do you explain the success of Dutch soccer, which has been outstanding for half a century? It doesn't get much flatter than in Holland. Again, I think your hypothesis is off here.

  10. M:

    You raise some goods points about how football seems more like a farming or horticultural sport. But this is partly why I thought football was a throwback to chariot warfare, since chariots were produced from farming societies, from what I remember. Two infantry armies face off with each other, and the charioteer races back and forth, trying to find a break in the enemy ranks to then race behind enemy lines. At least, that's I thought it worked.

    Furthermore, soccer is just not that popular in mountainous areas of the U.S, where the citizens historically practiced pastoralism. Football is popular in those areas - though admittedly, all over the U.S. as well, so that may bolster the idea that football comes from complex agricultural societies - where some of the population were farmers who served as infantrymen, and others were pastoralists and served as cavalrymen and charioteers.

  11. "And how do you explain the success of Dutch soccer, which has been outstanding for half a century?"

    I don't; the title says an "influence" of pastoralism. A good idea rarely explains 100% of the variation.

  12. Klose isn't pure Polish. He's one of those Prussians who has mixed German-Polish ancestry. Klose is a German name.

  13. Now, if football(and rugby, which it is similar to) represents a throwback to more organized chariot warfare, why is it popular in Anglo-Saxon countries? Hard to say, but I guess it is because America and Britain maintained their militaries in recent times and were basically more militaristic countries. Doesn't explain why rugby never caught on in other countries with strong militaries, like Russia and China, though.

  14. ""And how do you explain the success of Dutch soccer, which has been outstanding for half a century?""

    A simple look at a topography map shows the Netherlands has moutainous sections, especially the south.


    "only in the extreme south of the country does the land rise to any significant extent, in the foothills of the Ardennes mountains. This is where Vaalserberg is located, the highest point on the European part of the Netherlands at 322.7 metres (1,059 ft) above sea level."

    So "Face to Face"s theory is correct.

  15. @ Curtis:

    Pretty funny :-)

  16. there are still hilly parts in the Netherlands, if not exactly mountains.

  17. Now, if football(and rugby, which it is similar to) represents a throwback to more organized chariot warfare, why is it popular in Anglo-Saxon countries?

    Not sure sure, with the chariot idea but maybe self conscious Classicism in Anglo-Saxon nations?

    Rugby has some popularity outside the UK along the Core Europe line - https://hbdchick.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/charles-murray-human-accomplishment-map-european-core-hajnal-line.png. Rugby's also popular in Italy mainly among the northerners from the hilly regions. Matches up OK to the Six Nations Championship.

    In the UK and Ireland, Rugby has a Celtic bias, and it's popular among upland pastoralists along the Spanish-France border, so funnily enough actually would fit in a European context as perhaps more of a pastoralist sport than football. I think Rugby's different from American Football in being more free form and doesn't have as much of the dynamic where play stops and starts and players work in organised formations, so that plus the physical violence and endurance of the game might be why pastoralist regions have more contribution than in association or American football.

  18. Thanks, M. perhaps rugby is more nomadic pastoralists - I think the Celts were those, but I could be wrong. maybe Football is more nomadic pastoralists as cavalrymen fighting along pioneer farmers, as you say.


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