Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Expansion of the Nephite Nation

Nascent nations and empires grow in logical ways out from a center. The young United States of America provides a well-known classic example of this ordered growth. This is what the new nation looked like in 1787:
The incipient United States of America in the year 1787
Just 2 years later, in 1789, 12 of the original 13 colonies had become states under the new U.S. constitution. Rhode Island, the only holdout, joined the following year in 1790, followed by Vermont in 1791.
The rapidly growing United States of America by 1789
31 years after Delaware became the first state in the new union, the expansive U.S. of A. consisted of 20 states that reached from the Atlantic Ocean to the mighty Mississippi river. The map of the United States looked like this in 1818:
The 20 states that were part of the U.S.A. in the year 1818
The blank spot that is today West Virginia is an historical anomaly. In 1818, the very large state of Virginia included all of what is now West Virginia. West Virginia was created by partitioning Virginia in 1863 into Union & Confederate sides at the height of the Civil War. Note how U.S. expansion followed major rivers. Settlers pushed west along the Illinois, the Wabash, the Ohio and the Tennessee. They then followed the Mississippi south to the Gulf of Mexico, leaving Alabama and Florida as sparsely populated territories, what The Book of Mormon would call "wilderness". (See the article entitled "A Note About Wilderness" in this blog.)
We would expect to see a similar pattern (expansion out from a core, settlement following major rivers, pockets of wilderness) in the Nephite nation that was growing rapidly in the days of Alma II and his son, Helaman I. When we plot Nephite lands according to the date of their first mention in the text, we see logically ordered expansion out from Zarahemla, following major rivers, with interspersed pockets of wilderness. This is a list of Nephite and Lamanite geographic referents ordered chronologically by the approximate year of first mention in the text:

Date           First Mention in the Text          Reference
570 B.C.    city & local land of Nephi  2 Nephi 5:8
200 B.C.    city & local land of Zarahemla  Omni 1:12
200 B.C.    city & land of Lehi-Nephi*  Mosiah 9:6
200 B.C.    city & land of Shilom  Mosiah 9:6
178 B.C.    land of Shemlon  Mosiah 10:7
155 B.C.    hill north of Shilom  Mosiah 11:13
147 B.C.    forest, waters, place & land of Mormon  Mosiah 18:4
145 B.C.    city & land of Helam  Mosiah 23:19
121 B.C.    land of Amulon  Mosiah 23:31
120 B.C.    valley of Alma  Mosiah 24:20
91 B.C.      hill Manti  Alma 1:15
90 B.C.      land of Ishmael  Alma 17:19
90 B.C.      waters of Sebus  Alma 17:26
90 B.C.      land of Middoni  Alma 20:2
90 B.C.      city & land of Jerusalem  Alma 21:1
90 B.C.      village of Ani-Anti  Alma 21:11
90 B.C.**  city & land of Manti  Alma 22:27
90 B.C.**  head of Sidon & river Sidon Alma 22:27
90 B.C.**  city & land of Bountiful  Alma 22:29
90 B.C.**  city & land of Desolation  Alma 22:30
87 B.C.      hill Amnihu  Alma 2:15
87 B.C.      river Sidon (dated narrative)  Alma 2:15
87 B.C.      city, land & valley of Gideon  Alma 2:20
87 B.C.      land of Minon  Alma 2:24
87 B.C.      wilderness of Hermounts  Alma 2:37
82 B.C.      land of Melek  Alma 8:3
82 B.C.      city & land of Ammonihah (Desolation of Nehors)  Alma 8:6
82 B.C.      city of Aaron  Alma 8:13
81 B.C.      land of Sidom  Alma 15:1
81 B.C.      city & land  of Noah  Alma 16:3
81 B.C.      city & land of Manti (dated narrative)  Alma 16:6
78 B.C.      city of Lemuel  Alma 23:12
78 B.C.      city of Shimnilom  Alma 23:12
78 B.C.      land of Midian (critical text = Middoni)  Alma 24:5
77 B.C.      city & land of Jershon  Alma 27:22
74 B.C.      land of Antionum  Alma 31:3
74 B.C.      hill Onidah  Alma 32:4
74 B.C.      land of Siron  Alma 39:3
74 B.C.      hill Riplah  Alma 43:31
72 B.C.      place of Onidah (critical text = Oneidah)  Alma 47:5
72 B.C.      mount Antipas  Alma 47:7
72 B.C.      city & land of Moroni  Alma 50:13
72 B.C.      city, land & plains of Nephihah  Alma 50:14
72 B.C.      city & land of Lehi  Alma 50:15
68 B.C.      city & land of Morianton  Alma 50:25
67 B.C.      city of Omner  Alma 51:26
67 B.C.      city of Gid  Alma 51:26
67 B.C.      city of Mulek  Alma 51:26
66 B.C.      city of Judea  Alma 56:9
65 B.C.      city of Zeezrom  Alma 56:14
65 B.C.      city of Cumeni  Alma 56:14
65 B.C.      city of Antiparah  Alma 56:14
A.D. 34      city of Moronihah  3 Nephi 8:10
A.D. 34      city of Gilgal  3 Nephi 9:6
A.D. 34      city of Onihah  3 Nephi 9:7
A.D. 34      city of Mocum  3 Nephi 9:7
A.D. 34      city of Gadiandi  3 Nephi 9:8
A.D. 34      city of Gadiomnah  3 Nephi 9:8
A.D. 34      city of Jacob  3 Nephi 9:8
A.D. 34      city of Gimgimno  3 Nephi 9:8
A.D. 34      city of Jacobugath  3 Nephi 9:9
A.D. 34      city of Laman  3 Nephi 9:10
A.D. 34      city of Josh  3 Nephi 9:10
A.D. 34      city of Gad  3 Nephi 9:10
A.D. 34      city of Kishkumen  3 Nephi 9:10
A.D. 322    land of Antum  Mormon 1:3
A.D. 322    hill Shim  Mormon 1:3
A.D. 327    city of Angola  Mormon 2:4
A.D. 327    land of David  Mormon 2:5
A.D. 327    land of Joshua  Mormon 2:6
A.D. 345    city & land of Jashon  Mormon 2:16
A.D. 345    city & land of Shem  Mormon 2:20
A.D. 363    city of Teancum  Mormon 4:3
A.D. 375    city of Boaz  Mormon 4:20
A.D. 379    city of Jordan  Mormon 5:3
A.D. 384    land & hill Cumorah  Mormon 6:2
A.D. 384    tower of Sherrizah  Moroni 9:7
A.D. 384    Moriantum  Moroni 9:9

* The city & land of Lehi-Nephi are an historical anomaly. "Lehi-Nephi" was a politically correct term used only in the first few years of the reign of King Zeniff. Before and after that brief window in time, the Nephite term was simply "Nephi".
** The 90 B.C. dates for Manti, Bountiful & Desolation are potentially misleading. Mormon's geographic text inserted in Alma 22 is in the context of Aaron's missionary work at the court of King Lamoni's father, which was soon after the sons of Mosiah arrived in the  land of Nephi about 90 B.C. Mormon actually authored that text during his career as a prophet/historian ca. A.D. 345 - 375. The model he describes represents Nephite lands as they were constituted ca. 90 B.C.
Focusing our attention on those places under Nephite control in the geographical golden age (the time of Alma II, Moroni I, and Helaman I when Nephite political hegemony in the land southward reached its apex) we see the expected pattern of ordered expansion along major rivers out from Zarahemla with intermittent wilderness enclaves. Based on the spatial analysis in this blog, this was the Nephite nation attested in the text at 91 B.C.:
Extent of the Nephite nation mentioned in the text at 91 B.C.
The proposed local land of Zarahemla is shown in red, with the hill Manti behind (immediately south of) Palenque. The yellow circle has a radius of 60 kilometers. Remember that clicking on any image in this blog expands it.
Four years later, in 87 B.C., the text mentions adjacent features along major rivers extending out from the Zarahemla core:
Extent of the Nephite nation mentioned in the text by 87 B.C.
  • likely hill Amnihu immediately east of river Sidon
  • candidate river Sidon (Usumacinta)
  • proposed valley (city & land) of Gideon shown in green following the San Pedro River eastward
  • suggested land of Minon shown in grey, upstream on the Sidon
  • probable wilderness of Hermounts shown in green, between the Chilapa and the Sidon Rivers northwest of the local land of Zarahemla
The radius of the 87 B.C. circle is 125 kilometers.
Moving ahead 5 years to 82 B.C., we see more expansion out from Zarahemla along major rivers with plenty of wilderness in between settled areas:
Extent of the Nephite nation mentioned in the text by 82 B.C.
The radius of the 82 B.C. circle is 225 kilometers. New geographic referents include:
  • the proposed land of Melek at the confluence of the Lacantun & the Sidon (Usumacinta) Rivers. The Lacantun is the major tributary of the Usumacinta coming in from the west
  • the likely city & land of Ammonihah eastward along the San Pedro River
  • the candidate city of Aaron (El Ceibal) at the great bend of the Pasion River.
By 81 B.C., The Book of Mormon text mentions 3 more place names that continue the pattern of extending out from the Zarahemla core along major rivers with embedded wilderness. According to our analysis in this blog, the map of the Nephite nation in 81 B.C. looked like this:
The Nephite nation per the text by 81 B.C.
The map now includes:
  • the candidate land of Sidom eastward from Ammonihah along the San Pedro River
  • the proposed city & land of Noah eastward from Melek along the Pasion River
  • the likely city & land of Manti, southernmost Nephite polity along the river Sidon
The 81 B.C. circle has a radius of 275 kilometers. Every Nephite place name mentioned up to this chronological point in the text can be reasonably accommodated within the Usumacinta River drainage basin, but that is about to change as we move ahead to 77 B.C.  
In 77 B.C., the land of Jershon is  mentioned for the first time in The Book of Mormon, and it is near the east seacoast. Our candidate for Jershon is the area between the Belize River and the Rio Hondo, encompassing the important pre-classic site of Lamanai. With that addition, the map of the Nephite nation in 77 B.C. looks like this:

The Nephite nation according to the text by 77 B.C.
The 77 B.C. circle has a radius of 350 kilometers.
The lands of Antionum (home of the Zoramites) and Siron (on the frontier) are in the text by 74 B.C. In 72 B.C. we read about the founding of Moroni and Lehi on the east coast and Nephihah inland from Moroni. Morianton is  mentioned for the first time  in 68 B.C. and by 67 B.C. the cities along the northern east coast enter into the picture from Omner to Gid and then on to Mulek just south of the city of Bountiful. This map had become so busy we simplified it by replacing shaded polygons with push pins to represent local lands within the greater land of Zarahemla.
The extent of the Nephite nation 67 B.C.
The 67 B.C. circle has a radius of 400 kilometers. The Nephites grew toward their territorial apogee in an orderly, predictable manner, expanding out from a central core (the local land of Zarahemla), with major rivers figuring prominently in their settlement patterns. This is precisely what we would expect from historical precedent.
We lack only 4 cities mentioned by Helaman I in his war epistle to Moroni I to round out the Nephite nation at its maximum extent in the land southward. Those are the city of Judea, first mentioned in 66 B.C., and the cities of Zeezrom, Cumeni & Antiparah that all appear for the first time in the text in 65 B.C. In this correlation, all 4 of those cities were between Manti along the Sidon and the west (Pacific) coast. Here they are shown on a proposed map of the greater land of Zarahemla. As with all images in this blog, click to enlarge.
Greater land of Zarahemla south and east of the land Bountiful
and north of the narrow strip of wilderness
The Nephites did not control all of this vast territory politcially and militarily. The Mirador Basin, for example, in the northern Peten was probably never under Nephite hegemony. The Nephites were spread very thin over a large area Alma 58:32. The map above represents the approximate Nephite territorial maximum at the end of the book of Alma before the Lamanites began inexorably displacing Nephites from their homelands.