My question revolves around how different inventions were shared between humans in ancient times, for example in ancient Egypt (between 3000 and 0 BC). Nowadays, science is often publicly funded and will publish its results openly for all humans to (theoretically) read - notable exceptions to this are business secrets and military/national security inventions and technologies. This makes sense since all-out wars and conquest are largely a thing of the past and many people agree that bettering everyones lives with globalization and sharing of wealth to some extent is better than a nationalistic us-vs-them mentality.

Of course, this has not always been the case in human history, so I wonder what this was like in the past. When someone invented a particularly effective method of farming, or other technology that was needed by basically all humans (at least in that geographical area) and of non-military nature, how long would it take to and how would it reach neighboring countries? On the other hand, were there tries to keep inventions that you don't want to share with your neighbors, such as military stuff, secret from them?

My thoughts and guesses on this:

  • war, especially among neighbors, was extremely common. Thus, it might be very beneficial to keep as much secret as possible
  • Copying someone or something is of course much simpler than inventing it (eg the Egyptians were ruled by a foreign power for a few generations because they had never seen chariots before, until they created an army of them themselves), keeping knowledge hidden is very difficult
  • However, back then it was much easier to hide knowledge than nowadays: Learning foreign languages is much harder (I assume, no books, education is extremely expensive and rare, no internet, etc), people were much more local, less mobility, less media, expensive media (e.g. scribes)
  • Not sure: How easy or common was it to migrate to a different country? Say I'm born in Egypt but I don't like it there (or the neighboring country is richer) - can I just move to a different place? Are there border controls? Can I go there, note all their technologies and move back and share them there?

Thank you for your answers.

  • There's a lot of anachronism here. Consider, for example, what we know as science is largely a product of 19th century social relationships, and correspondingly with technology and worker. Aug 22 '18 at 7:24
  • I didn't write about science, I wrote about innovations. Of course an ancient egyptian farmer wouldn't publish in an international journal and get his idea peer-reviewed, but he may randomly stumble over a "best practice" that allows him to harvest more, and this trick might be passed down to the next generations, told or sold to neighbors, etc. If I remember correctly, they had sophisticated trenches to bring water from the nile to their fields (which of course would be useless to any civilization without the nile or similar), thus I'm asking.
    – Gaze
    Aug 31 '18 at 8:55

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