The shapes and orientations of Eurasia and Africa result in the former having larger regions of similar climate. This video discusses the hypothesis that:

  • regions of similar climate can more readily form cultures with a common language and leadership;
  • this impaired the expansion of African empires;
  • it also partially explains the different levels of socioeconomic and political success in post-colonial African nations, with more of such success going to nations that either had little climate variation or found a cultural way to manage around this.

Putting aside the various issues with such a hypothesis for the moment, my main concern is the lack of a discussion of the Americas and Australasia. Given the latter's unusual population density distribution, I'll focus on the Americas for the following questions.

  • In theory, the Americas would face similar climate changes to Africa. Does the history of native empires reflect this?
  • Like Africa, the Americas have been carved anew in recent centuries by colonialism and nations becoming independent. Did the outcomes for such nations reflect the extent to which their climates varied?
  • 4
    I may compose an answer on this when I get one of those round tuits (others feel free to go ahead), but I can't help but notice from reading this question that you almost certainly have not read Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, & Steel. That book is on this site's unofficial reading list. In fact, it is the list. I highly suggest you go rectify that situation immediately.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 10, 2019 at 14:05
  • @T.E.D. Here was me hoping this SE would have a longer recommended reading list than that. I have read it before, but either too cursorily or without a good enough memory since then. The only point it made about Americas that I remember is the germs part.
    – J.G.
    Mar 10, 2019 at 14:11
  • @J.G. There is room in the Sudan in the larger sense, the region south of the Sahara, for an empire to stretch about 3,000 miles from east to west, about as far as the Roman and Persian Empires did. And there have been empires in the larger Sudan, such as Mali, Songhai, and Bornu, though not as impressive as the Roman or Persian empires.
    – MAGolding
    Mar 10, 2019 at 20:42
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    @J.G. Two South American countries, Argentina and Chile, extend far in the north-south direction. And the largest and most powerful native state in the Americas, the Inca Empire, also extended far in the north-south direction.
    – MAGolding
    Mar 10, 2019 at 20:46
  • 1
    @MAGolding It sounds like climate doesn't do a good job of explaining pre-1500 events in the Americas at all, then.
    – J.G.
    Mar 10, 2019 at 21:04

1 Answer 1


Your thesis is borne out by some "American" history, but a better source of instruction is post colonial, rather than "Native American" history.

South America is divided east and west, roughly 50-50 in terms of land area and population, between Spanish and Portuguese speaking areas. The Treaty of Tordesilles awarded "Brazil" to Portugal and the rest of South America to Spain. But most of modern Brazil actually extends west of the Tordesilles line, because that part of the country is climatically similar to the eastern part awarded to Portugal, rather than to the parts of South America with Spanish settlers described below.

The Spanish part of South America can be subdivided into two parts; the Andean highlands, and the southern cone. Much of the Andes is in tropical latitudes parallel to Brazil, but except for Venezuela, it is the "highlands" and not the tropics that define most of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. The southern cone (Argentina, most of Paraguay, Uruguay and most of Chile) are non-tropical lowlands that are neither highlands nor tropics, which makes them more alike than they are to either the Andean countries or Brazil.

  • 1
    Does climate really play a major role in the Portugese/Spanish divide, or is it simply geography and the ease of access from harbors and rivers?
    – jamesqf
    Mar 11, 2019 at 19:29
  • The line moved westwards because Portugal gave some of its possessions in Africa and Asia to Spain. Also, Brazil extends westwards because the Andes and the Amazon are (obviously) formidable barriers. Have you ever been to Brazil? Your simplistic answer suggests profound ignorance of Brazil's geography. Mar 16, 2019 at 7:15

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