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Let me start with some background, in fiction authors like to explore situations where the human race meets another civilization. As a rule of thumb both races in one way or another - sometimes after a short period of losing - end up having the same level of technology to be capable of fighting each other. As I was building an argument for how fallacious this plot construction is it occurred to me that even better than logical arguments it would be to consider history, however the only occurrence of such a thing I was able to think of of the top of my mind was the Europeans arriving in america. So I was looking for other documented situations where two more or less isolated cultures had developed with differing levels of (military) technology before meeting.

(I am more than willing to do all the research myself, but getting a starting point has proven hard. For example, I suppose that when the romans where expanding this must have happened as well at some point, but from what I was able to find the requirement of some level of isolation did not seem to occur... or was not documented... And as a last note, I know that any war tends to be won by some level of difference in either technology (including logic) or manpower, but what I am looking for is a vast difference)

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closed as too broad by Tom Au, Oldcat, Kobunite, Tea Drinker, jwenting Apr 11 '14 at 11:08

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

First, you may wish to isolate the question. There are two fairly dense paragraphs, and the question is buried. Second, H:SE generally doesn't entertain "list" questions. SE works best when you're asking for a single answer that can be clearly and objectively evaluated. –  Mark C. Wallace Apr 10 '14 at 13:20
This is a pretty broad question, for which I can think of maybe 100 examples. –  Tom Au Apr 10 '14 at 15:41
@MarkC.Wallace: I am well aware of that, but as I was not looking for an exhaustive list this was the fairest answer I could think of. Of course I could have requested the 3 biggest such scenarios, but that seemed like such an artificial extra requirement that I decided against it. –  David Mulder Apr 10 '14 at 17:27
Interestingly enough, the Romans were often at a technological disadvantage when they were expanding, they were just really smart about stealing and integrating their opponent's technology if they saw value in it. Their iconic gladius was adopted from the Spanish for example, and they eventually created their own Cataphract units after defeats at the hands of the Parthians. –  Evicatos Apr 10 '14 at 17:57
@Charles Right. They moved on from stealing from the Greeks to stealing from the Spanish :P –  Evicatos Apr 11 '14 at 16:52

9 Answers 9

The Anglo-Zulu war comes to mind.

The story of the (fictional) movie Zulu (from 1964) happens during this war, showing the advantage of fighting spears with guns.

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and Zulu Dawn, which about covers the Battle of Isandlwana. –  Kobunite Apr 10 '14 at 17:54
using a work of fiction as a reference... –  jwenting Apr 11 '14 at 11:11
@jwenting I don't really see the problem: "movie" is not synonym to "documentary". –  ANeves Apr 17 '14 at 10:54
@JohnDoe that's my point, you're refering to a movie as if it were a documentary and therefore (potentially) reliable –  jwenting Apr 17 '14 at 10:55
@jwenting edited the answer to accommodate your comment. –  ANeves Apr 21 '14 at 14:22

One such example that springs to mind is Japan and the "Black Ships".

"Black Ships" was a term that applied to western ships arriving in Japan in the 16th and 19th Century. The Portuguese made first contact in 1593 with the establishment of a trade route between Goa and Nagasaki, this is where the term "Black Ships" is thought to originate as the hulls of these trade ships were tarred.

This contact with the Portuguese lead to the Shimabara Rebellion, which mostly consisted of Catholic peasants and took place in the south west of Japan between 1697 and 1698. The consequently led to the Shogunate to implement a isolationist policy called "Sakoku" where by trade with foreigner was limited to a Dejima island at Nagasaki.

This policy then lasted until the era of the Meiji Restoration (as already mentioned by Sardathrion) which means Japan could actually fit your scenario twice.

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The Spanish invasion of the Aztec Empire, as you mentioned, is one of the best examples. I'd just like to to mention it again, because although the Aztecs eventually fell to the Spanish forces, it wasn't without a stiff fight - indeed, the Spanish probably would have never even gotten a foothold on the continent without some seriously roguish tactics such as the capture of Moctezuma during a diplomatic visit, and the whole fact that they were viewed as gods at first.

They had grown wildly different military tactics and technology, but I'd not say either was inferior to the others. Had the Aztec and other Mesoamericans taken an initially hostile view of the Spanish, they would have been kicked off the continent in bloody fashion. The obsidian-studded macuahuitl was sharpened finer than than steel could be, and could cleave the head off a horse in a single stroke. The marshy ground was horrid for the armored Spaniards, whose guns took time to load and relatively large amounts of supplies to use and maintain, making them only very effective in pitched battles or sieges. The atlatl was deadly because of the sheer weight behind the point - it could and did pierce amour.

I'm not going to keep going, but look into it. It could easily be that without the belief that white man was a god, the Aztec empire would have stood hundreds more years, and the lack of gold-funded power that the Spanish had would have severely affected European politics.

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In my view, the most powerful factor was the diseases that the Westerners carried. The massive loss of life was more damaging and destabilising than the technological differences. –  Jack Aidley Apr 10 '14 at 20:08
Correct me if I'm wrong, but according to current researches Spaniards have played militarily rather secondary role in the fall of Aztec Empire. Mostly, their arrival has catalized the rebel processes inside the harshly ruled empire. –  РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ Apr 11 '14 at 6:39

I would consider the Mongol empire to be an example of this, depending on your definition of technology. Massed horseback archers using powerful composite bows wasn't anything that most opponents of the Mongols were ready for or knew how to handle.

You could also make a similar case for the English longbow vs. the French cavalry at the battle of Agincourt

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As the link you provided also says there are conflicting theories about what role the actual longbow played. –  S Vilcans Apr 11 '14 at 7:58
@SVilcans Technically that link (and the specification of cavalry) wasn't part of my original answer. I was actually thinking more Crecy and Longbow vs. Crossbow. –  Evicatos Apr 11 '14 at 17:05

The events leading to the Meiji restoration is a good example although less dramatic than the Conquista.

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The British conquest of Australia and subsequent genocide of the Tasmanians (still the only successful genocide in history, something for my country to be proud of there...) springs to mind as a good example.

Or, on a more controversial note, the Western allies vs. Iraq in either of the Gulf wars. It's probably not the kind of thing you're thinking of but it shows what happens when a more technological advanced and supported nation takes on a backwater without even the long separation of time. Iraqi students were educated in the UK, after all, yet the technological gulf (as well as other logistical issues) made it a grotesque version of a turkey shoot.

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Did you mean Afghanistan? Iraq wasn't that far behind the US, maybe ~50 years tops. –  Charles Apr 10 '14 at 21:18
No, I meant Iraq. 50 years is a very long time in the modern era, although I doubt it was even that large a gap. For example, Iraqi tanks were destroyed by Western tanks before they could even see them. The comprehensive advantage that a few decades of military advancement was one of the factors that meant the actual war in Iraq was over in a timescale measured in days (obviously the involvement in the country lasted longer). –  Jack Aidley Apr 10 '14 at 21:39
Can you clarify which Iraq war you are referring to? (1991 vs 2003) –  Thomas Apr 11 '14 at 1:20
This answer can use some clarification and citations. Also, not quite sure if your "something to be proud of" comment is sarcastic, and from what perspective it's coming from (what country are you from?). And the second part of your answer... what does the UK have to do with anything? This section can use a citation. –  samthebrand Apr 11 '14 at 5:03
@SamtheBrand: Of course it's sarcastic. The point about education in the UK is that Iraq was not totally isolated from the technological knowledge of the West; and thus its possible to have dramatic technological inbalances even where the knowledge is available. –  Jack Aidley Apr 11 '14 at 7:41

A typical example would be the colonization of America by European settlers, Spanish at the beginning, and other nations later. This is also a good example how a lot of sci-fi alien invasion stories (or youtube anti-European animation films) try to make a parallel and fail miserably: The meeting of the two cultures of different levels of technology didn't happen D-Day style (or in the style of the movie Independence Day), with the newcomers jumping out of the ships and opening fire on the natives standing on the shore.

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

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Your question is pretty much the theme song of the history of Western imperial expansion. Some places to look might be a general history of imperialism. Also a book I much enjoyed that deals with this topic is James Gump, "The Dust Rose Like Smoke: The Subjugation of the Zulu and the Sioux".

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Ethiopia? Although they had help from Russia et al, they successfully defended themselves against the Italians; Some using bows, arrows, and spears.

They weren't so lucky during the second war.


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