Robin Yassin-Kassab: “Arabs never really achieved independence, for a variety of reasons. Corrupt elites in authoritarian Arab states have plundered the people’s wealth, obeyed the dictates of hostile superpowers against the people’s will, and entirely failed to build reasonable education or social welfare institutions. Civil society has been stifled. Now it seems that the Arab people are entering the power equation, and true independence may be at hand.”
There is a bigger picture here. After the Abbasid Caliphate, the Arab countries were to a great extent controlled by non-Arabs: Mongols, Mamluks, Persians, Ottoman Turks, Europeans and at the end by unrepresentative elites supported by the West. Libya has been a maverick, but the Berbers, too, had come under Ottoman and European control. This is, in a way, an attempt at a return.
Archive for the 'Egypt' Category
When you know the faces and that emphatic, staccato, vehement Egyptian way of speaking, Egypt doesn’t feel like just another place in turmoil (clashes between supporters of X and anti-government protesters).
A friend who was in Tahrir Square emailed me on January 18:
“Things are boiling even more these days in Cairo. There will be some demonstrations on Jan 25 that people say will be a revolution, may be a civil war.”
Revolutionary years, not only in Egypt:
Egypt felt a reverberation from France. Napoleon invaded in person and was defeated by Nelson in person in the Battle of the Nile (1798). Afterwards, the reforming Ottoman viceroy Muhammad Ali (ruled 1805-48) had French military and scientific manuals and other works translated into Arabic. Much of the French infusion was managed by Rifa’a el-Tahtawi.
I have a post here (a sketchy passage by Toynbee) about French law and culture in Egypt. I can remember meeting a old Francophone Egyptian in Cairo.
1848 did not, as far as I know, have an impact on Egypt (though it happened to mark the end of the reign of Muhammad Ali), but it is a parallel to 2011 (and 1989) in the way revolution spread from place to place. The January trigger then was Palermo – not two hundred miles away from Tunis.
1919 had been a series of nationalist uprisings against the British, who had been in Egypt since 1882. In 1914 the British-occupied Khediviate became a British-protected Sultanate. Turkish influence was ended. In 1922, after the 1919 agitations, it became an “independent” kingdom. Even then, some British troops remained until 1936, and in the Canal Zone until 1954. It is hard, from these facts, to see how 1919 can have felt like a revolution, but it did to the Egyptians. I sketched the story of Egypt from Muhammad Ali to Nasser here.
The same year saw the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, the foundation of the Fascist party in Italy, the short-lived Bavarian and Hungarian Socialist Republics, the Amritsar massacre in India, police and other strikes in Britain, and convulsions in Ireland, eastern Europe and Russia, Turkey, Korea and China.
After the uprisings, the square, which had been called Midan Ismaileyya, after Khedive Ismail, who had commissioned the new downtown district’s plan, became popularly known as Midan al-Tahrir (Liberation Square). It was not officially renamed until the revolution of 1952. Other demonstrations have taken place there, including the bread riots in 1977 and the demonstrations against the Iraq War in 2003.
1952 was the revolution led by Nasser that removed King Farouk (seventeen years before Idris was removed in Libya) and installed the present military establishment.
(The first president was not Nasser but Muhammad Naguib. Farouk was not the last king: he was briefly succeeded by Fuad II.)
Between Nasser (died 1970) and Mubarak was only Sadat. Sadat signed the peace treaty with Israel at Camp David and was assassinated.
Egyptian public morale collapsed in June 1967 (Six-Day War). It had been pumped up by Nasser and was high for good cultural reasons as well, and it was knocked back further in October 1973 (Yom Kippur War) and (though Egyptians are peaceful people) September 1978 (Camp David). Until January 25 2011 it had never quite recovered.
That’s what Americans fear, but no scowling demagogue got off a plane. Unless Yusuf al-Qaradawi is that.
Some educated Egyptians have a cultural fascination with Iran, the great or forbidden Other, and the only country in what Americans call “the region” which is similar to it in size of population. But Egypt has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979. Electronic alliances are being formed.
The sclerotic era of Mubarak began in October 1981.
From an old post:
“[People Power in the Philippines] was a T-shirted revolution before Twitter, a colour-coded revolution before mobile phones and email, a velvet revolution practically before fax. There had been peaceful protests and non-cooperation in India, but they were surely more manipulated and orchestrated.
“Since 1986, the Philippine example has been at the back of our minds wherever there have been large-scale, mainly peaceful popular protests. Václav Havel has said that it was in the minds of European demonstrators in 1989. The days leading up to the deposition of Ceauşescu in Romania reminded one very strongly of the Philippines. Was it in the minds of the Chinese students in the same year? It was in our minds this year  during the protests that began after the Iranian presidential elections.”
Before January 25 Egypt had lost its standing in the Arab world, which had been so high in the ’50s and ’60s. Qatar, as Robin Yassin-Kassab has said, counted for more.
Egyptians must be charmed now to think that at least a few young people all over the oppressed world, not only in the Middle East, are looking up to them.
The obvious, though very far from exact, precedent. The chain of revolutions got going in the second half. In Russia, two years later, a system collapsed with little pressure from below.
Egypt had transferred its loyalty from the USSR to the US before this, under Sadat.
Removal of Mubarak. Now the people are dealing with the military in uniform, face to face.
Nobody who witnessed this revolution at a distance will forget the moving words of Wael Abbas, Ahdaf Soueif, Khalid Abdalla, Wael Ghonim and many others, and nameless people.
Blair on February 2: Hosni Mubarak was “immensely courageous and a force for good”.
As always, there are those in the Middle East, the homeland of conspiracy theory, who are hinting at forces – America, Israel, other – controlling these events. Others are saying, even after February 11 (I have spoken to one of them; he was rich): “We are not ready for democracy, the West should stop lecturing us” and “Let the West dream”. But the revolution happened in spite of Obama’s ditherings and, thanks to them, Egyptians feel that Tahrir Square was their own achievement.
I had thought that the relevance of Facebook and Twitter to real politics had been exaggerated. I was utterly wrong, but I was in no doubt from January 25 that it was over for Mubarak.
“The World Bank says escalating food prices have pushed 44 million more people into poverty since last June.”
The median age in Egypt is 24. More than a quarter of males under 30 with degrees are unemployed.
Egypt had been “growing” at 6% a year. It’s said that revolutions usually happen in countries which are growing economically. Energy which had been pent up is released and destroys the system which produced the growth. Russia in 1917? That kind of growth, in any case, can make things temporarily worse, and perhaps permanently less secure, for the masses.
Real revolutions aren’t gang warfare waged at state level. They are a return to truth. Will the energy produce a later wave of expansionist Islamism or be wholly dissipated in manoeuvring, compromises and renewed corruption?
Tahrir Square became a university in which different classes and types in Egyptian society met. The best reporting was an education to the West on what living in a police state feels like. But the Egyptians, such as Waseem Wagdi, were the best exponents of their condition.
However it ends, Tahrir Square has changed the Middle East politically, geopolitically and psychologically. The revolution was not Islamist or socialist or especially anti-American or even anti-Zionist. There was no utopianism. No desire for an absolute break with the past, except in one respect. No exaggeration. Not even a leader. No “nativist romanticism, sectarian distraction or religious obscurantism” (Robin Yassin-Kassab). These facts may, perhaps, offer some grounds for hope.
Egypt has minorities, but not deep sectarian divisions. Robin Yassin-Kassab: “The answer to sectarian hatred is democracy. The answer to Arab hatred of Israel is for Israel to change itself from a violent ethnocracy to a multicultural democracy.”
On the Muslim Brotherhood: “First, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is noted for its aversion to violence. Ayman Zawahri and the al-Qa’ida types broke away from the Brothers for precisely this reason. Second, the Brotherhood by its own admission has not led the revolution, no more than Muhammad al-Barade’i or any other leader. Third, the Brotherhood is part of the revolution like almost every other segment of Egyptian society, because it is part of society, a venerable institution and a mass movement. If the revolution has an ideology, it’s one of representation and dignity, of democracy in other words. The Brotherhood, like Barade’i, has called for an interim national government with no NDP presence, followed by elections. If the Brothers win elections, they will not be in a position to establish a new dictatorship. Fourth, the most retrograde elements of Islamism, those that lead to nihilistic terrorism and sectarian hatred, are nourished by the social stagnation of dictatorship. Finally, it is not for British or American chatterers to decide whether the Egyptians are ready for freedom. The Egyptians are demanding freedom, and are making the chatterers irrelevant.”
Few people outside Egypt even know the name of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader. It is Mohammed Badie.
Many Egyptians who before January 25 did not speak in political terms nevertheless showed a pre-revolutionary mood in the way they spoke about their personal lives. But nobody predicted the certainty which they found in themselves in Tahrir Square.
A comment on this blog on February 1: “Day after day people lost the value of their own lives and now they are willing to give these lives away [...].”
Robin Yassin-Kassab: “Arabs never really achieved independence, for a variety of reasons. Corrupt elites in authoritarian Arab states have plundered the people’s wealth, obeyed the dictates of hostile superpowers against the people’s will, and entirely failed to build reasonable education or social welfare institutions. Civil society has been stifled. Now it seems that the Arab people are entering the power equation, and true independence may be at hand.”
The best foreign reporting, aside from some blogs, was from CNN. Reporting, not analysis. The Egyptians will remember it. It was less naive than some about the role of the army. Al Jazeera was good, too. I am not an expert on Egypt, but many of the Western chatterers seemed to know nothing about it at all.
Egypt had been bursting for some kind of freshness in its politics for many years. Cairo, too, in its planning. There is hardly a park or tree anywhere. There are little more than rough pavements by the Nile, next to noisy roads, along which people can stroll. Its physical charm has been squeezed out of it. This has happened in some degree in every old city on earth. In the nineteenth century and early twentieth, to judge from any account of the banks of the Nile, Cairo was a seductive place. But Egypt wasn’t a republic then.
Most of Tahrir Square has been a building site for as long as I can remember it and was not accessible by the demonstrators. You didn’t see it on the news. What you saw was a roundabout.
It isn’t clear what the work is intended to lead to. Paved area? Garden? The only thing that is clear is that the project has stalled because of corruption. Somebody, deserving or otherwise, has not been paid. Tahrir Square is a minor scandal of Mubarak’s Egypt.
Nearly all shots of the square show the giant Mogamma office building, a gift of the Soviet Union completed just before the 1952 revolution.
“[We] who were strong in love.”
Hieraconpolis or Nekhen was the religious and political capital of Upper Egypt at the end of the Predynastic period (c 3200-3100 BC).
The foundation, circa 3100 B.C., of a united kingdom of Upper and Lower Egypt was achieved by empire-builders from the extreme south of the Egyptiac World of the day, in the neighbourhood of the modern Al-Kāb, [footnote] between Thebes and the First Cataract.
The nucleus of the “nome” (canton) which was the original domain of these Horus-worshipping empire-builders consisted of a pair of cities facing one another across the Nile: Necheb (Graecè “Eileithuia”) on the site of the modern Al-Kāb on the east bank of the Nile, and Nechen (Graecè “Hieracônpolis”, in allusion to the hawk (“hierax”) which was both the heraldic emblem of the city and the symbol of its god (Horus) on the west bank. (See Hall, H. R.: The Ancient History of the Near East (London 1911, Methuen), pp. 93-94; Meyer, E.: Geschichte des Altertums, vol. 1, Part II, 3rd ed. (Stuttgart and Berlin 1913, Cotta), pp. 80 and 111).
The passage continues:
The political union, from this base of operations, of the whole of the Lower Nile Basin between the First Cataract and the Mediterranean was immediately followed by a northward shift of the seat of power. The Hieraconpolite empire-builders established their imperial residence at Thinis, and their necropolis at Abydos on the opposite bank of the Nile, down-stream from their ancestral canton; and the de facto centre of imperial administration seems soon to have moved on still farther down-stream to Memphis. Thereafter, this ideally convenient site, at the point of junction between the mouth of the Nile Valley and the head of the Delta, remained the seat of government of the Old Kingdom to the end. The de facto capital of its spring-time became the de jure capital of its summer, when the Thinites were followed by the pyramid-builders of the Third and Fourth Dynasties; and, when [the Old Kingdom’s] summer passed over into autumn, Memphis was still the place from which the demonic pyramid-builders’ pious Heliopolitan successors attempted to exert their gradually diminishing authority.
Heliopolis was important during the Fifth Dynasty (c 2465-c 2325 BC), when the worship of Re became the state cult.
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954
Kenneth Clark (last post) made some further programmes for television after his Civilisation of 1969. The last, in 1975, was an hour-long film about ancient Egypt called In the Beginning. I don’t know where it was shown, but it was produced by Reader’s Digest. From the second volume, The Other Half (1977), of his autobiography:
“On successive visits to Egypt, and especially to Sakara, I had grown more and more impressed by the suddenness with which civilised man had made his appearance. By evolutionary standards it should have taken millions of years for the primitive hunter, with low forehead and crunching jaws, to turn into the graceful, intelligent-looking man whom we find in the earliest Egyptian sculpture. In fact it took only about 500. Most people close their minds to this irrefutable fact, either because they cannot explain it, or because it smacks too much of special creation. It was on account of this second suspicion that I called my programme ‘In the Beginning’. I wanted it to make people reflect on what I believe to be the greatest miracle in history. By the year 2750 Egypt had developed nearly all the qualities that we value or used to value, in our own civilization: a belief in the individual as moral being; pride in the merciful execution of justice, a well organised system of government, a sense of the beauty and dignity of man, who had a soul that would survive him after death; an awareness of animals as something very close to ourselves, which could be lovable as well as useful; geometry and its application to stone architecture; and above all an art that combined grandeur with humanity. All this emerged in what we call the Old Kingdom, which lasted over 700 years, and to which Egypt looked back for the next 200 years, rather as China looked back to the T’ang Dynasty.”
I think “earliest Egyptian sculpture” refers to sculpture in general, not a particular piece, but is he really saying that it took five hundred years for man to be transformed from an anatomically pre-modern to modern state? He is confusing art and anatomy. Anatomical modernity was achieved in some tens of thousands of years after the appearance of homo sapiens about 200,000 years ago. Full behavioural modernity was achieved (perhaps) 50,000 years ago, after he had left Africa. Or did man really become more graceful with civilisation?
Some time before Civilisation, Clark had made a film for ATV about Luxor. “The Luxor film was my first introduction to Egypt, which I loved so much that I have been back many times, and have done another film [In the Beginning] about the earlier period [its main focus is on the Old Kingdom]. Working with a half-Egyptian crew, I have come to love not only Egypt but the Egyptians, and my dream of bliss, which I shall never now achieve, would be to go from Cairo to Assuan on a Nile steamer.”
Francis X Hartigan, The History Teacher (US), November 1980, of which I have accessed only part, reviewing In the Beginning:
“In Clark’s provocative view civilization came with ‘the suddenness of sunlight’ between 3000 and 2800 B.C., between the political order established by Narmer and the building of Sakkara, when Egyptian art achieved the sense of beauty, the dignity of man, the order, clarity, and inspiration that he defines as ‘civilization.’ Specifically, Clark places the cradle of civilization at Sakkara with its famous necropolis and step pyramid of Djoser, the earliest stone building in the world. Sakkara presents refinement, sophistication, and grandeur; the early elements of Egyptian art and design can be seen here.
“One may fault Clark’s criterion for civilization because it is exclusively that of an art historian. In his quest for the roots of civilization he all but ignores the greatness and primacy of Mesopotamian Civilization because comparatively little of its art and architecture survives. As an art historian Clark is understandably drawn to the unparalleled richness of the art and architecture of the Egyptians whom he regards as ‘a profoundly visual people.’ The Mesopotamians were more verbal than visual. Once in the world of Egyptian art Clark’s presentation is splendid. Two strong themes emerge: the refinement and confidence of the Egyptians and their unique love of nature and their determination to portray it as an integral part of their lives. Both themes receive their greatest expression in the Old Kingdom, the subject of Part One of the film. The audience is drawn into the freshness and vibrancy of the creative process as it unfolded in Egypt. Along the way Clark discards some old myths. The Giza pyramids were not built by slaves but were the co-operative enterprise of a dynamic and confident society. Egyptian portraiture was not static, but so sensitive that the statue of Khephren is ‘the noblest portrait of a ruler ever made.’”
Even if you look only at cradles of civilisation, and not the megaliths, Sakkara isn’t the “earliest stone building in the world”. But it depends on what ruins you are prepared to call buildings. Clark the anthropologist and archaeologist may be unreliable, but that is not what one reads him for.
Conquest of Upper Egypt by Lower c 3100 BC. Deposition of Mubarak today. Same geography, same faces even. There is some facial continuity between ancient and modern Egypt, which cannot honestly be said about Greece.
Eduard Spelterini, pyramids of Giza from a balloon, November 21 1904, Wikimedia Commons, scanned from Eduard Spelterini, Über den Wolken/Par dessus les nuages, Zurich, Brunner, 1928
America is uncertain about how and whether to change its role in the Middle East.
I miss the enthusiasm and the confidence that made the old revolutionary America irresistible. Lafayette pays a high psychological price when he transforms himself into Metternich. Playing Metternich is not a happy role. It is not a hero’s role, and not a winner’s, and the player knows it. But, in those early nineteenth-century years when the real Metternich was fighting his losing battle to shore up the rickety edifice of restored “legitimacy”, who in the World would have guessed that America, of all countries, would one day cast herself for Metternich’s dreary part?
America and the World Revolution and Other Lectures, New York, OUP, 1962
Some of Mubarak’s paid thugs. I took this picture on or before May 29 2006. They were standing opposite the apartment of the then-jailed opposition leader Ayman Nour to forestall a protest. Nour does not seem to be a serious candidate now.
Postscript, February 2: Mubarak splits the democracy movement.
I showed this picture earlier here.
I have heard a couple of the street protestors saying this. It must be an Arabic expression. I can’t find it in the Quran.
Does it come from a letter by Shah Ismail I, the founder of the Safavid Empire, to his Ottoman opponent Sultan Selim I in 1514?
“I know the Truth as my supreme guide,
I would sacrifice myself in his way,
I was born yesterday, I will die today,
Come, whoever would die, here is the arena.”
That is all I can find. Would a phrase by a Persian Shiite have gained such currency in the Arab world? Was what I heard a coincidence? Shah Ismail’s words are powerful and appropriate anyway.
“My kind old father
whose love for me has always stayed the same –
I mourn my kind old father
who died two days ago, just before dawn.
Christ Jesus, I try each day
in my every thought, word, and deed
to keep the commandments
of your most holy Church; and I abhor
all who deny you. But now I mourn:
I grieve, O Christ, for my father
even though he was – terrible as it is to say it –
priest at that cursed Serapeion.”
Priest at the Serapeion, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at cavafy.com.
Serapis was invented during the third century BC by Ptolemy I and was a version of the Egyptian god Osiris-Apis. He was shown as Greek with Egyptian trappings and combined iconography from various cults to do with abundance and resurrection. His worship was not confined to Egypt. There is a Serapeum at Hadrian’s Villa. The poem refers to the Serapeion in Alexandria, which was destroyed by a mob led by the Patriarch Theophilus in 389. The official abolition of paganism by Theodosius followed in 391.
As often with Cavafy, there is an extra force in the final line.
Serapeion: Myris: Alexandria, A.D. 340
Ptolemy I failed, like Ikhnaton before him, to make an artificial religion produce the result that was his objective. This Macedonian Greek founder of an Egyptian successor-state of the Achaemenian Empire wanted to create a bond of feeling between the intrusive Greek and the indigenous Egyptian element in the population of his usurped dominions. [Footnote: This is the motive for the establishment of the cult of Osiris that has been attributed to Ptolemy by most Modern Western students of his policy, but there are some dissentient opinions (see Nilsson, M.P., Geschichte der Griechischen Religion, vol. ii (Munich 1950, Beck), p. 148).] He sought to achieve this politically desirable effect by Hellenizing the Egyptian god Osiris-Apis, in whose temple at Memphis, the ancient national capital of Egypt, the successive bull-incarnations of Apis were buried. This Memphite Egyptian god was given a new temple in Rhacôtis, the Egyptian quarter of Ptolemy’s new Greek capital Alexandria, and here he was installed under the name Serapis, in a Hellenized visual form in which he would be an acceptable object of worship for Greeks both in Ptolemy’s dominions and beyond them. Since, by Ptolemy’s day, the Greeks were beginning to be addicted to the religiosity to which the Egyptians had long since succumbed, this new Hellenic version of an old Egyptian cult did duly strike root. But, if this successful religious innovation of Ptolemy’s was really inspired by the ulterior political purpose of promoting a rapprochement between Greeks and Egyptians, then his policy was a failure. The old Egyptian cult of a Memphite Osiris-Apis and the new Greek cult of an Alexandrian Serapis lived on side by side for centuries without ever coalescing; so that the naturalization of an Egyptian god in the Hellenic World did nothing to bring together this common god’s respective Greek and Egyptian worshippers.
The Serapeion at Pozzuoli, near Naples (Naples was mainly Greek-speaking)
An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956
Though the discomfiture by British arms of a moribund Mughal Empire’s local viceroy in Bengal might do little to upset Islamic complacency, and might be regarded in the West mainly as an incident in a struggle over India between Great Britain and France, the defeat of the Ottoman Empire by Russia in the Great Russo-Turkish War of A.D. 1768-74 was taken everywhere as a portent; and, when in A.D. 1798 the French descended upon the Ottoman dominion of Egypt, and overcame all resistance there with ease, as a step towards reopening in India a contest with their British rivals which had been decided there against France in the Seven Years’ War, even shrewd observers took it for granted that they would live to see the Ottoman Empire partitioned between France, Russia, Great Britain, and the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy. Yet this expectation, natural though it was at the time, was not fulfilled in the event; for the only parts of the Ottoman Empire, within its frontiers of A.D. 1768, which were in the possession of any of those foreign Powers in A.D. 1952 were the territories adjoining the north and east coasts of the Black Sea, from Bessarabia to Batum inclusive, which had fallen to Russia; Cyprus, which had fallen to Great Britain; and Tunisia and Algeria, which had fallen to France. As for the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy, which had held Bosnia-Herzegovina from A.D. 1878 to A.D. 1918 and the sanjāq of Novipazār from A.D. 1879 to A.D. 1908, she had voluntarily evacuated Novipazār and had lost Bosnia-Herzegovina in the act of losing her own existence. [Footnote: The occupation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in and after A.D. 1878, and annexation of this occupied Ottoman territory in A.D. 1908, had, indeed, been nails driven into the Hapsburg Monarchy’s coffin by its own statesmen’s hands, since these Hapsburg acts of aggression against a moribund Ottoman Empire had had the effect of bringing the Monarchy into a head-on collision with a youthful Serb nationalism.] The lion’s share of the Ottoman Empire of A.D. 1768, from Bosnia to the Yaman and from Tripolitania [footnote: A “Libya” consisting of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fazzān, which had been conquered from the Ottoman Empire by Italy in A.D. 1911-12, and from Italy by Great Britain in the general war of A.D. 1939-45, had attained independence on the 24th December, 1951.] to Moldavia inclusive, had passed into the hands, not of alien Great Powers, but of Orthodox Christian and Muslim successor-states, of which the largest in area – apart from a mostly arid Sa‘ūdī Arabia – was a Turkish Republic stretching from Adrianople to Mount Ararat.
A Study of History, Vol VIII, OUP, 1954
The historic areas and buildings of Istanbul may be about to lose their UNESCO World Heritage status: BBC. Hürriyet Daily News: A city unable to care for even its Muslim treasures. The Ottoman wooden houses, the quiet streets left to themselves, are being pulled down. The equivalent has been destroyed in other places, so why not here? Many had recently been left to rough rural and other immigrants. (Cairo is unable to protect its Van Gogh.)
The photogenic scaffolding in Hagia Sophia (a museum, not a holy building) was removed earlier this year after seventeen years. Istanbul (with Essen and Pécs) is a European Capital of Culture. Would it have come down otherwise?
An East Asian or Second Empire approach to London would be to demolish most of the boroughs of Wandsworth, Lambeth and Southwark and build a new greater South Bank (I hope like neither Dubai nor Poundbury) to balance the historic city on the north bank.
The Hellenic story of Odysseus’ return from Troy to Ithaca appears, in a variant form, in the Syriac story of the Chosen People’s exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. The attraction which undermines the resolution [and retards the progress] of the Israelites during their wanderings in the wilderness is not the present delight of a Lotus Land or a Calypso’s Isle, but a hankering after the flesh pots of Egypt, [footnote: Egypt seems like an earthly paradise to the Israelites in retrospect, when the memory of their past sojourn there acts as a foil to the current experience of their present ordeal in the wilderness. Yet when they had been living and working in Egypt – making bricks without straw under the task-master’s lash – they had realized as clearly as the Egyptian peasants themselves that in Egypt, as in other lands, it is ever in the sweat of his face that Man eats bread.] which may perhaps be theirs again to-morrow (sic) if only they turn back now. They have no sooner crossed the sea dry-shod, and seen Pharaoh and his host perish in the returning waters, than they begin to murmur in the wilderness against Moses and Aaron:
“Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the Land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger. [Footnote: Exodus xvi. 3.] …
“Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? [Footnote: Exodus xvii. 3.] …
“Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely – the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic – but now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all beside this manna before our eyes.” [Footnote: Numbers xi. 4-6.]
Even when they have crossed the wilderness as safely as they had crossed the sea, and stand at last on the threshold of Canaan, their thoughts fly back to Egypt as they listen to the evil report of their spies – their sight of the Sons of Anak, the children of the giants, in whose presence the spies had seemed and felt like grasshoppers.
“And all the congregation lifted up their voice and cried; and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron, and the whole congregation said unto them: ‘Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would God we had died in this wilderness! And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? Were it not better for us to return into Egypt?’ And they said one to another: ‘Let us make a captain and let us return into Egypt.’” [Footnote: Numbers xvi. 1-4.]
The Chosen People are unable to enter into their inheritance until this haunting and enervating recollection of the flesh pots has been effaced; and it is not effaced until forty years of purgatory – spent in wandering over the face of the wilderness which they have just put behind them in one straight and rapid trek – have brought the older generation to the grave and the younger generation to manhood. [Footnote: Numbers xiv. 26-35. [...]]
A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934
Moses in the wilderness encounters a benevolent numen, and receives an assurance of the kind of supernatural aid that Odysseus obtains from Athena. On the other hand, Jesus in the wilderness is fortified through being tempted by the Devil, like Job or Faust.
A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934 (footnote)
I remember Henri Frankfort criticizing me on a point [...]. I had apparently disparaged the ancient Egyptian civilization for being static. Frankfort said: Why on earth disparage it for that? Why isn’t the Egyptian ideal of keeping society static just as good as your wretched modern, Western idea of dynamism? And when we look at the world today we see there is a great deal in what he said, and we are beginning to think we must stabilize our civilization.
Toynbee on Toynbee, A Conversation between Arnold J Toynbee and GR Urban, New York, OUP, 1974
Recorded for the 1972-73 programmes of Radio Free Europe.
The organized and purposeful military campaigns of the Muslim Arabs were very different from the half automatic and barely conscious pressure of their ancestors against the yielding desert-frontier of a decaying Seleucid Empire in the second and the last century B.C. They are more comparable to the momentary Arab occupation of the Syrian, Egyptian, and Anatolian territories of the Roman Empire under Palmyrene leadership in the third century of the Christian Era. But they utterly surpassed both these anticipatory reconnaissances in the potency of their driving-force. [Footnote: This immense superiority, in potency, of the third of the three Arab offensives against the Hellenic World was almost certainly due to the most conspicuous of its distinctive features: that is to say, to the fact of its having been launched under the auspices of Islam. [...]] While the Arab encroachments in the last two centuries B.C. had got no farther than the line of the Lebanon and the Orontes, [footnote: See Jones, A. H. M.: The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces (Oxford 1937, Clarendon Press), pp. 255-6.] and the momentary Palmyrene conquests in the third century of the Christian Era had come to a halt at the banks of the Nile and of the Black Sea Straits, the Muslim Arab conquerors penetrated as far as their Palmyrene predecessors towards the north-west, while on the south-west they left them far behind. In Asia Minor the Constantinopolitan Government succeeded – at the price of abandoning its commitments and cutting its losses on all other fronts – in pushing the Muslim Arabs back from the line of the Straits to the line of the Taurus and holding them there at the cost of grievously overstraining and fatally deforming the nascent body social of Orthodox Christendom. In Africa, however, the wave of Muslim Arab conquest swept on from the Nile to the Atlantic – meeting and overpowering and, carrying along with it the lesser wave of Berber aggression which was at that time breaking, likewise for the third time, upon the remnant of the African domain which Rome had inherited from Carthage.
Justinian had expelled the Vandals from the Maghreb.
The two earlier waves of Berber aggression had been, first, the Numidian intervention in the Second Punic, or Hannibalic, War and the Numidian King Jugurtha’s war with Rome (these are taken together) during the Hellenic “Time of Troubles” and, second, renewed pressure during the shorter crisis of the middle of the third century CE.
At the Straits of Gibraltar the united Arab and Berber wings of the Afrasian Nomad forces collided with the epigoni of the Visigoths, who had settled down in the Iberian Peninsula at the end of a Völkerwanderung which had carried them across the whole breadth of the Roman Empire from a starting-point on the Great Western Bay of the Eurasian Steppe. When these Gothic pupils of the Eurasian Nomads now encountered the Afrasian Nomad invaders of the Roman Empire at a point on the Empire’s extreme western verge which was almost equally remote from the original mustering-grounds of both the rival war-bands, it was the Afrasian Nomadism that was victorious; [footnote: The victory of the Afrasian Nomads over the Visigothic representatives of the Eurasian Nomadism at Xeres [modern Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia], on the Iberian threshold of Europe, in A.D. 711, has the same piquancy as the victory of the Indian over the African elephants at Raphia, on the Egyptian threshold of Africa, in 217 B.C.] for the united Arab-Berber forces were not flung back from the Straits of Gibraltar by Roderick in A.D. 711 as the Arabs were flung back from the Bosphorus by Constantine IV in A.D. 677 and again in A.D. 718 by Leo Syrus. Scattering the Goths like chaff, the Arabs and Berbers pressed on across the Pyrenees and reached the banks of the Rhône and the Loire before they collided with the Franks and fared as ill at their hands in A.D. 732 on the road to Tours as the ancestors of the Arabs’ discomfited Gothic adversaries had fared at the same Frankish hands at Vouillé in A.D. 507. It was characteristic of the heavy-footed gait of the sedentary North European barbarians that, at dates which were two hundred and twenty-five years apart, they should win their successive victories over their mobile rivals from the Ukraine and the Hijāz on battlefields that were something less than twenty miles distant from one another as the crow flies. [Footnote: The battle between the Austrasians and the Arabs which is traditionally known by the name of Tours seems actually to have been fought in the neighbourhood of Old Poictiers [sic], in the angle between the rivers Elain and Vienne.] Charles Martel allowed the Arabs to come that much nearer to the home territory of the Frankish Power in the basins of the Seine and the Rhine [footnote: Charles Martel’s sluggishness in marching to the help of the Aquitanians in A.D. 732 may be compared with the sluggishness of the Spartans in coming to the Athenians’ aid in 490 B.C. and again in 479 B.C.] than Clovis had allowed the Visigoths to advance in the same direction before marching out to defeat them; but the event was the same. At Tours in A.D. 732, as at Vouillé in A.D. 507, the immovable Franks remained masters of the field.
These Frankish victories over Goths and Arabs were a double triumph for the tortoise who had been content to crawl from the Rhine to the Loire during the time that it had taken one hare to sprint from the Ukraine, and another to sprint from the Hijāz, to the tortoise’s doorstep in Aquitaine. In this contest between the barbarians for the division of the Hellenic dominant minority’s territorial spoils the race was certainly not to the swift, though the battle may have been to the strong. [Footnote: Ecclesiastes ix. 11.] But this revelation of the relative strengths of the rival barbarian war-bands is not the main interest of the two battles in which they tried conclusions with one another. The outstanding historical event to which the battles of Vouillé and Tours bear witness is not the discomfiture of the Goths and the Arabs by the Frank, but the collapse of the resistance of the Roman Power which had been the common arch-adversary of all the three combatants. By the time when, in the heart of the Orbis Romanus, the war-bands from beyond one of the four anti-barbarian frontiers encountered and defeated – on derelict Roman ground – the war-bands from beyond each of the other three frontiers, it was manifest that the third of the three attempts of the external proletariat to take the Hellenic universal state by storm had been completely and definitively successful.
The four frontiers are defined in an earlier passage as
the front against the sedentary barbarians of Continental Europe from the North Sea coast to Transylvania; the front against the Eurasian Nomads (and the Nomadicized sedentary intruders upon the Nomads’ ranges) in the Lower Danubian bay and the Middle Danubian enclave of the Great Eurasian Steppe; the front against the barbarians in the interior of North West Africa (Nomads on the Sahara and highlanders in the Atlas); and the front against the Arabs beyond the desert-coast of Syria who constituted the Asiatic wing of the Afrasian Nomad forces.
The two earlier attempts to take the universal state had been, first, the series of attacks – by Sarmatians, Arabs, Numidians, Cimbri, Teutones, Suevi – in the last two centuries BC during the Hellenic “Time of Troubles” (he treats this as a single crisis) and, second, the attacks – by Goths, Arabs, Berbers, Franks, Alemanni – of the crisis of the middle of the third century CE.
Perhaps one could quibble with this by pointing out that, according to Toynbee’s own system, the first attempt was an attack on the society before it had had a universal state (the Roman Empire) imposed on it.
In the third attempt
the action opened on the Eurasian front, where the eruption of the Hun Nomads blew the nomadicized [lower case this time] Goths right off the Steppe into the far interior of the Roman body politic – as rocks and trees are uprooted and hurled through the air by an exploding shell. From the end of the fourth century to the end of the sixth the pressure continued to be heavier on this front than on any other, as the ebb of the Hun wave was followed by the onrush of the Avar wave, and the vacuum left by the violent propulsion of the Goths was filled by the gentle infiltration of the Slavs. It was only in the seventh century, when the onslaughts of pagan Huns and Avars were outmatched by the demoniac outbreak of the Muslim Arabs, that the main pressure shifted from the Eurasian front to the Arabian.
Charles de Steuben, Bataille de Poitiers en Octobre 732, Musée du Château de Versailles, Wikimedia Commons
A Study of History, Vol V, OUP, 1939
Wikipedia list. Covers the world, but incomplete.
In the age of water-transport, the key pieces of the land-surface of the Oikoumenê were those that offered portages from one sea or from one navigable river to another. Egypt itself was a portage area, since the Nile debouches into the Mediterranean, and, from the Nile to the Red Sea coast, there is a short portage from the easternmost arm of the Delta to Suez via the Wadi Tumilat, and another via the Wadi Hammamat from Coptos, in Upper Egypt, to El Qusayr (Leukos Limen).
These portages are the points where the Delta/Nile is closest to the Gulf of Suez/Red Sea. The second of them is a little north of Luxor. The Wadis are dry river beds that are flooded during rain.
Indeed, the portage across the Isthmus of Suez between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean is part of a wider portage area that includes Egypt to the west and Iraq to the east. In this area the Mediterranean, which is a backwater of the Atlantic Ocean, and the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, which are backwaters of the Indian Ocean, are separated from each other by the narrowest extent of intervening dry land, and the passage from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea via the Nile is duplicated by the passage to the Persian Gulf via the Euphrates.
If you look at a map, it’s obvious that the key city in the Mediterranean-Euphrates portage is Aleppo.
Two other portages have been of outstanding historical importance: the portage between the rivers debouching into the Baltic and those debouching into the Caspian and the Black Sea, and the portage across the North China plain between the lower courses of the Yangtse, the Hwai, the Yellow River, and the Pei Ho – a portage that has been turned into a waterway by the digging of the Grand Canal. However, the Chinese and Russian portages are on the fringe of the Old-World Oikoumenê; they are surpassed in historical importance by the central portage between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.
In the seventh century BC, the Corinthian tyrant Periander built the Diolkos, a paved track which allowed boats to be carried across the Isthmus of Corinth between the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf.
He had thought of building a canal. So did the Diadoch Demetrius (336–283 BC). So, according to Suetonius, did Julius Caesar and Nero. Nero actually began work, breaking the ground with a pickaxe himself and removing the first basket-load of soil. Six thousand Jewish prisoners of war started digging. The work stopped when Nero died. The modern Corinth Canal was built between 1881 and ’93.
Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous
“It wouldn’t have lasted long anyway –
the experience of years makes that clear.
Even so, Fate did put an end to it a bit abruptly.
It was soon over, that wonderful life.
Yet how strong the scents were,
what a magnificent bed we lay in,
what pleasure we gave our bodies.
An echo from my days given to sensuality,
an echo from those days came back to me,
something of the fire of the young life we shared:
I picked up a letter again,
and I read it over and over till the light faded away.
Then, sad, I went out on to the balcony,
went out to change my thoughts at least by seeing
something of this city I love,
a little movement in the street and the shops.”
In the Evening, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at cavafy.com.
According to Herodotus, Cambyses, after his conquest of Egypt, aspired to round off the Achaemenian Empire in North Africa by conquering the Napatan Kingdom up the Nile and the oases of the Libyan Desert and the Carthaginian Empire beyond the Syrtes. Operations against Napata and the Oasis of Ammon were actually attempted with disastrous results. Simultaneously, Cambyses “ordered the fleet to sail against Carthage; but the Phoenicians declined to carry the order out. They explained that they were bound to the Carthaginians by solemn pledges, and that they would be committing an atrocity if they made war upon their own colonists. The Phoenicians’ refusal was decisive, since the remainder of the fleet by itself was no match for the Carthaginian forces. Accordingly, the Carthaginians escaped the Persian yoke; for Cambyses shrank from coercing the Phoenicians, who had become members of the Persian Empire of their own free will and were the mainstay of the Persian Navy.” (Herodotus: Book III, ch. 19.)
The Persian navy today and its commanders since 1932.
A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934 (footnote)
“Journeys, those magic caskets full of dreamlike promises, will never again yield up their treasures untarnished. A proliferating and overexcited civilization has broken the silence of the seas once and for all. The perfumes of the tropics and the pristine freshness of human beings have been corrupted by a busyness with dubious implications, which mortifies our desires and dooms us to acquire only contaminated memories.
Now that the Polynesian islands have been smothered in concrete and turned into aircraft carriers solidly anchored in the southern seas, when the whole of Asia is beginning to look like a dingy suburb, when shanty towns are spreading across Africa, when civil and military aircraft blight the primeval innocence of the American or Melanesian forests even before destroying their virginity, what else can the so-called escapism of travelling do than confront us with the more unfortunate aspects of our history? Our great Western civilization, which has created the marvels we now enjoy, has only succeeded in producing them at the cost of corresponding ills. The order and harmony of the Western world, its most famous achievement, and a laboratory in which structures of a complexity yet unknown are being fashioned, demand the elimination of a prodigious mass of noxious by-products which now contaminate the globe. The first thing we see as we travel round the world is our own filth, thrown in the face of mankind.”
Victorians and post-Victorians were always talking about vital, stimulating, diverse Europe and static Asia. In the previous post I quoted an opinion that the Victorian view of Hellenistic culture was sometimes coloured by racism.
There was generalised prejudice against Asian Hellenes, no doubt, but what specific culturally-Greek philosophers, artists or institutions in the Hellenistic era were denigrated or not given their due?
The simple passage below is not especially condescending.
Greek culture before this contact with the Middle East had covered a period of about eight centuries. It had developed maritime city states around and in the Aegean. It had spread round the Mediterranean and had begun the process of penetration which Alexander was to carry to its farthest limits. This penetration had been going on for two or three centuries before the critical contact with the Persian Empire. At Marathon and at Salamis the Hellenic world had repulsed this attempt at unity by the Middle East acting westward. Their success on this occasion was the greatest event in the building-up of their national self-consciousness. Then came the failure of their own internal efforts at unity, the Athenian Empire baulked by Sparta in the Peloponnesian war. The catastrophe of 431 B.C. was followed by a century of woe. The internecine struggles of the city states left the way open for the Macedonian conquerors, Philip and Alexander, who put themselves at the head of the Hellenic world. The conquering house then led the Greek advance on its crusade to the Middle East.
What do we know of the Middle East before its contact with Alexander’s advance? and in what state was it prepared to meet it? Our knowledge here, though less intimate, is far more extensive; it reaches from the fourth millennium to the fourth century B.C., i.e. for more than four times as long as our knowledge of the Greek world. And the civilization itself was of much longer date than the Greek. These eastern civilizations had conquered and occupied the great river-basins in the earlier part of their long evolution. This had been accomplished by the beginning of the second millennium B.C. In this phase the Egyptian and the Mesopotamian basins were separate unities. In the second millennium, and for a period of more than a thousand years after, these two unities had come into contact with disastrous shocks. The Assyrian wars were the culmination. The Greeks could look on, tertii gaudentes. In the interval that passed before Alexander’s advance the Persians had succeeded easily in uniting the Middle East, but the Greeks, as yet unable to permeate Asia Minor themselves, resisted the Persian fusion. The Middle East lay torpid, awaiting the Greek expansion as Persia decayed.
Let it be noted that at the time of the Greek expansion under Alexander both the attacking and the attacked were past their zenith. But the Greeks, though they had just experienced their first grave catastrophe in the Peloponnesian war, were still full of energy and initiative. The war had not destroyed the national vigour which produced a Thucydides and a Plato. The training in warfare prepared Philip and Alexander for their work. On the other hand the civilization of the Middle East was passive and inert. It seemed bound to run out to the end of the course set by an earlier initiative, unless deflected by an outside force. It had been rising for two millennia and had then passed through more than one thousand years of catastrophe and conflict. It now lay ready for attack and absorption by the more vigorous Greeks; and Greek civilization was to recover itself by assimilating this fresh material, and to move forward again with renewed strength.
There were many factors in the situation, for and against successful fusion. It was a favourable factor that the oriental had an older religious experience than the Greek. In the East was wisdom born of sorrow. Hebrew prophets had been expressing in the eighth and seventh centuries what Greeks began to feel in the fifth and fourth. This is the source and explanation of that long religious penetration proceeding from the East to Greece, the cults of Cybele and Isis, and the later religion of Mithra and of Hermes. Christianity itself shows abundant traces of the communion of the Greek mind with the East. Another favourable factor was the superiority and vigour of the city state contrasted with the mass society and centralized organization of the Oriental powers. Antioch and the cities founded by Seleucus and his house bear witness to the vitality of this development. They contain the agora, the theatre of the old Greek world, they nourished schools of rhetoric and philosophy which had continued life down to the advent of Islam.
But there were other feelings and forces which made against fusion.
There is a certain natural antipathy between Greek and Oriental, a different outlook, a different rhythm of life. How the Persians felt about one aspect of Greek life was pointedly expressed by Cyrus to the Spartan herald who brought him the warning and defiance from their city. Never yet, he said, did he fear men such as these, who had a place appointed in the midst of their city where they gathered together and deceived one another by false oaths. “These words Cyrus threw out scornfully with reference to the Hellenes in general, because they got for themselves markets and practised buying and selling there; for the Persians themselves are not wont to use markets, nor have they any market place at all” (Herodotus i. 153). The absence of the “agora”, the talking-shop, the Parliament of the West, is a significant mark of the old theocratic order. These free-speaking, free-thinking Greeks had lost most of that old religious prejudice which led the Egyptians (Herodotus ii. 39) to cast into the river the head of their sacrificial beast like a scapegoat with its imprecations. If, we are told, they found a Hellene at hand they would sell it to him and despised him into the bargain. And was not the “Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not”, only an altar of Zeus Ouranios?
But the Greeks also had feelings which made against fusion. They were intensely attached to their ancient homes, and this home-sickness showed itself even in the lives of the most distinguished and successful members of the Seleucid house. Seleucus himself was on his way back from Asia to his old Macedonian home when he met his death by the hand of Ptolemy Ceraunus. Antiochus Epiphanes preferred to build temples at Athens rather than at his own city of Antioch. All through, in fact, Hellenistic politics continued to cluster round the homeland of Greece.
With FS Marvin, Alexander and Hellenism, in The Evolution of World-Peace, Essays Arranged and Edited by F. S. Marvin, OUP, 1921
There is some evidence to show that, as a result of her annexation to the Roman Empire after the Battle of Actium, Alexandria lost, not only her perhaps rather nebulous primacy among the cities of the Hellenic World, but also some of the solid substance of her municipal self-government (see Jones, A. H. M.: The Cities of the Eastern Roman Provinces (Oxford 1937, Clarendon Press), pp. 311-12). It must be added that, according to the same authority (pp. 304 and 471), the Romans were only carrying farther a process of Gleichschaltung which the Ptolemies had already begun. A civic council of Alexandria seems to have existed under the earlier Ptolemies, but to have been abolished by the later Ptolemies before the Roman conquest. No doubt the “totalitarian” structure of the Ptolemaic state and the “servile” character of native Egyptian social life under the Ptolemaic régime [...] made an unpropitious environment for Hellenic political institutions.
A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939 (footnote)
My mind flows back to a day in 1916 when I was standing [...] in front of a triumphal arch put up to celebrate the three hundred and eightieth anniversary of Calvin’s first arrival in the city. “Since that man came here,” said Monsieur Naville deliberately and emphatically, “this place has never been the same again.” “But anyway,” he went on to console himself, “that vulgar electric light along the lake-side has been cut off, thanks to this war.”
This war: it was the First World War, but Monsieur Naville’s war had been, and still was, the South African War, in which he had been an impassioned partisan of Great Britain. The only English newspaper that Monsieur Naville could read with comfort was the Morning Post; The Times was too Jacobin for him to be able to stand it.
He had served as a captain in the Swiss army during the Franco-Prussian War – I suppose when the French Army of the East was driven into neutral Switzerland (Neuchâtel and Vaud) in early 1871, and disarmed, imprisoned and repatriated.
Monsieur Naville was a Genevese aristocrat [I suppose Catholic], which made him an ultra-conservative. He was also an Egyptologist, and this gave him a true historical perspective. Calvin coming; the electric light coming: these were just two almost simultaneous instances of the recent deplorable vulgarization of Monsieur Naville’s home-town. And, for him, Calvin’s arrival was no more historic than the electric lighting’s arrival. A.D. 1536: the date of Calvin’s hijrah was recent indeed by comparison with the date of the Pyramid Builders, or even by comparison with the date of that ancient Egyptian Proto-Calvin Akhenaton. It was not an historic date, like those; it was a current event, and a disagreeable one at that.
Triumphal arch? I think Toynbee is misremembering this. The Reformation Wall in the grounds of Geneva University was erected between 1909 and 1917, but as far as I can tell never had a triumphal arch. 1916 was indeed the 380th anniversary of Calvin’s first arrival in Geneva: his hijrah, as Toynbee so aptly calls it. But a Geneva website points out that 1909, when the wall was inaugurated, was the 400th anniversary of Calvin’s birth and 350th of the foundation of the university: Calvin had founded it in 1559 as a theological seminary.
What was Toynbee doing in Geneva in 1916? Obviously intelligence work. McNeill, his biographer, tells us that he went on a month-long secret mission to Switzerland in 1917. Was Toynbee misremembering again? That passage was probably part of a travel dispatch to the Observer Foreign News Service in 1964. There may have been little time for fact-checking, or did McNeill not mention an earlier visit?
The secret mission was to try to persuade a secret military intelligence office known as “C” to share its reports about Ottoman affairs with him. He saw some of “C”’s political and economic reports, but was refused full access. On his return home, he asked his father-in-law Gilbert Murray (November 12 1917, less than three weeks after the start of the Bolshevik revolution) to intervene with “the grandees at the top” in the hope of persuading them “to take some action which would have a permanent effect”. “The Foreign Office has definite claims on ‘C’, and there seems no reason why these claims should not be insisted on.”
Maugham’s absurdly entertaining Ashenden stories, published in 1928 (one straggler in 1947) are inter alia about espionage in Geneva during the First World War. “At that time Geneva was a hot-bed of intrigue and its home was the hotel at which Ashenden was staying. There were Frenchmen there, Italians and Russians, Turks, Rumanians, Greeks and Egyptians. Some had fled their country, some doubtless represented it. There was a Bulgarian, an agent of Ashenden, whom for greater safety he had never spoken to, even in Geneva [...]. There was a little German prostitute, with china-blue eyes and a doll-like face, who made frequent journeys along the lake and up to Berne [...].” There was Count von Holzminden, the German agent in Vevey. The stories mention an English intelligence officer, not office, called not “C” but “R”.
What about the lights along the lake? Ashenden, crossing the lake after filing reports in Thonon in France, “looked in the direction of Geneva, could see no lights, and the sleet, turning into snow, prevented him from recognising the landmarks. [...]
“There were as usual two police officers on the quay to watch the passengers disembark and Ashenden, walking past them with as unconcerned an air as he could assume, was relieved when he had got safely by. The darkness swallowed him up and he stepped out briskly for his hotel. The wild weather with a scornful gesture had swept all the neatness from the trim promenade. The shops were closed and Ashenden passed only an occasional pedestrian who sidled along, scrunched up, as though he fled from the blind wrath of the unknown. You had a feeling in that black and bitter night that civilization, ashamed of its artificiality, cowered before the fury of elemental things. It was hail now that blew in Ashenden’s face, and the pavement was wet and slippery so that he had to walk with caution. The hotel faced the lake. When he reached it and a page-boy opened the door for him, he entered the hall with a flurry of wind that sent the papers on the porter’s desk flying into the air. Ashenden was dazzled by the light.”
Does that suggest a city, for whatever war-time reason, blacked out? The Toynbee passage is a digression, based on recollections while flying from Tripoli to Rome on April 22 1964, in
Between Niger and Nile, OUP, 1965
This was a Depression, not Crash, song, but it will do to mark the anniversary.
The market slid on Thursday October 24 1929, but the catastrophic collapse occurred on Monday and Tuesday, October 28 and 29.
Here sung by the little-known Charlie Palloy, with guitar and his orchestra, recorded in 1932. He gets the song’s grim tread better than its better-known exponent, Bing Crosby.
Bing Crosby. I’m not sure of the date.
“Said Myrtias (a Syrian student
in Alexandria during the reign
of the Emperor Konstans and the Emperor Konstantios;
in part a heathen, in part christianised):
‘Strengthened by study and reflection.
I won’t fear my passions like a coward;
I’ll give my body to sensual pleasures,
to enjoyments I’ve dreamed of,
to the most audacious erotic desires,
to the lascivious impulses of my blood,
with no fear at all, because when I wish –
and I’ll have the will-power, strengthened
as I shall be by study and reflection –
when I wish, at critical moments I will recover
my spirit, ascetic as it was before.’”
Dangerous Thoughts, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at cavafy.com. Spelling anglicised.
Egypt is said to have been the breadbasket of the Roman Empire. Had Greece depended on Egyptian grain? Did the Romans merely buy Egyptian wheat or did they also buy out or expropriate local landowners and manage Egyptian agriculture as a colonial ruling class? Today Egypt supplies no-one and is a large-scale net importer of wheat.
Nineteenth-century imperialists exploited Africa for copper, cotton, rubber, palm oil, cocoa, diamonds, tea, tin. In southern and east Africa there were European settlers who had their own farms. A few of their descendants are still there.
There must have been some direct foreign investment in agriculture in Africa over the past fifty years. But there was an intensification of interest in 2008 as a result of unprecedentedly high world food prices.
Countries that depended on food imports became conscious of their lack of “food security”. Countries that could only farm unsustainably (by reducing their reserves of water to a dangerously low level: the story in Saudi Arabia, which had engaged in an ecologically-disastrous programme of wheat-farming in the ’80s and ’90s) had a similar problem.
Could those countries improve their “food security” by outsourcing their farming to Africa? Africa was not productive or efficient enough to supply the world’s needs on the open market, and was further hindered by the protectionism of the first world, so why not invest directly there? If having one’s farms in another country was not, on the face of it, the most obvious strategy for improving “food security”, at least it was a hedge.
It would benefit Africa, too. Africa, which should be a major food exporter, buys about a quarter of its food on the world market, where it buys its clothes, and is a net food importer. (For world market, read, in many cases, China, which is about to overtake the US as Africa’s main trading partner. I’m surprised it hasn’t yet.)
African agriculture is inefficient. Education, logistics, distribution systems are poor. Pockets of lingering African socialism and outbursts of official anti-colonialism don’t help. Value chains are short. There has been little investment in food processing or packaging. Africa hasn’t been turned into a continent of consumers.
China was already being accused of rapacity with the world’s mineral resources. Now it is being blamed for agricultural neo-colonialism. (What, one might ask in passing and without prejudging its effect on Africa, is so wrong with Chinese agriculture that it can’t make the investment at home?)
I did a short post a while back on China in Africa, quoting from Prospect. Very few countries have relations with Taiwan now – the Vatican, a few Pacific islands, Paraguay, a few states in Central America and the Caribbean, and four countries in and off Africa: Burkina Faso, Gambia, São Tome and Príncipe, and Swaziland.
The latest African country to have made the switch is Malawi, at the beginning of 2008. A friend of mine who works there watched the Taiwanese government and NGO workers, whom he saw as a mainly beneficent influence, leave in short order. The mainland Chinese are not yet present in large numbers, as they are in Angola and Zambia. When they come, it will be for the sake of uranium and agricultural land. Whatever deals they do with the government holding company, Press Trust, he expects them to be the low-grade Chinese he has seen elsewhere, “floor-gobbing racists” in nasty suits, who will bring their own people along to do the work, because “African people lazy, no li’ wor’.”.
Which sounds racist itself. We all know that China, for the sake of oil concessions, supports the régime in Sudan that supports the militias in Darfur, but how do we compare the economic and political effects of its interventions across an entire continent?
There is already a significant anti-Chinese political movement in Zambia. The Chinese may find themselves reacting to Africans as they did to the Uighurs a few days ago. “We love your culture. How can you object to us when we are bringing so many improvements to your way of life?”
African governments are as sensitive about their farmers as governments anywhere else, and depriving smallholders of their land in the name of agricultural reform is, in most or all African countries, a political non-starter. But isn’t that what many of the projects now being discussed are threatening to do?
The mantra of “working with African smallholders to reform agriculture” is, according to my friend in Malawi, largely sentimental NGO talk. So how will foreign partners be engaged?
GRAIN is a “small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems” based in Barcelona.
“Today’s food and financial crises have, in tandem, triggered a new global land grab. On the one hand, ‘food insecure’ governments that rely on imports to feed their people are snatching up vast areas of farmland abroad for their own offshore food production. On the other hand, food corporations and private investors, hungry for profits in the midst of the deepening financial crisis, see investment in foreign farmland as an important new source of revenue. As a result, fertile agricultural land is becoming increasingly privatised and concentrated. If left unchecked, this global land grab could spell the end of small-scale farming, and rural livelihoods, in numerous places around the world.”
The second of those pages allows you to download a summary called The 2008 land grabbers for food and financial security. This is a list of projects announced or referred to in the media in 2008 up to October. It isn’t limited to Africa. The link to a page which is supposed to show us its sources doesn’t work.
GRAIN have also created a dedicated site about global landgrabbing. The word landgrabbing is obviously loaded. GRAIN has a point of view.
In the course of a work project, I extracted from The 2008 land grabbers for food and financial security everything about Africa. I’m reproducing those extracts below. I made some stylistic changes, added a small amount of new material, and tempered the language in the direction of caution where it seemed advisable to do so by inserting phrases such as “was reported”.
Much of this is hearsay. It is easy to turn these reports into alarmist headlines. Some people have suggested that large tracts of African land are being virtually given away. The list here is presumably not even complete. China is not the only grabber. Many of the projects promise to be on a huge scale, but how many are turning into realities? How new is all this? Is the pressure still as strong in 2009? (Cereal prices have continued to rise in 2009: Economist.)
Some of the investments were being made as a means of supplying the local African market or the world market, but the majority in the list are envisaged as a method of supplying the investors’ home countries with staple products.
Some of the projects were being considered at a government-to-government level. The majority depended on the technological expertise and financial commitment of the private sector. Many involve public-private partnerships and dialogue between governments and investors, with government-to-government discussions to prepare the ground.
“The government of Bahrain, working with private-sector investors, was reported to be seeking to lease farmland in Egypt and Sudan and contract out food production.”
“In the first half of 2008, it was reported that China’s Ministry of Agriculture was drafting a central government policy to encourage domestic firms to acquire (lease or purchase) land abroad, including in Africa, for farming purposes, especially to assure China’s long-term soybean supplies. Five state-owned firms were chosen to implement the plan.”
“In May 2008, the French television station TF1 produced a major report on how the Chinese businessman Jianjun Wang has acquired rights to 10,000 hectares of land in Cameroon to produce rice. The local farm-workers contracted to work the fields believe that the project is meant for rice to export to China.”
“According to a study by Loro Horta, the son of Timor L’Este’s President Ramos Horta, the Chinese government has been investing in infrastructure development, policy reform, research, extension and training to develop rice production in Mozambique for export to China since 2006. EximBank has already provided a loan of US$2bn and pledged an additional US$800m for these works, though more is expected. Some 10,000 Chinese settlers will be involved. G2G contracts and land leases are still under negotiation. Land cannot be owned by foreigners in Mozambique, so joint partnerships with ‘sleeping’ Mozambican entities may need to be formed.”
“According to China’s Economic Observer, the US Blackstone Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms, in which Chinese investors have a stake, has already invested heavily in sub-Saharan agricultural projects.”
“President Museveni of Uganda was reported to have provided Chinese investors with 4,046 hectares of land, to be farmed by 400 Chinese farmers using imported Chinese seeds. The project is being overseen by Liu Jianjun, a former Chinese government official and now head of the China-Africa Business Council, who also has contracts to build a cornflour-processing factory in Kenya and a farm in Côte d’Ivoire.”
“In May 2008 it was reported that China has received rights to farm 101,171 hectares of maize in southern Zimbabwe.”
“Egypt, one of the world’s largest importers of wheat, signed a contract with President Omar Al Bashir’s government to produce 2m tonnes of wheat a year in the north of Sudan for export to Egypt. Egypt is also eager to raise livestock there.”
“The Ugandan government was reported to have leased 840,127 hectares of land – a staggering 2.2% of Uganda’s total area – in various parts of the country to Egypt, so that Egypt’s private sector may come in and produce wheat and maize for export to Cairo. The deal was apparently struck in late August 2008 and would involve seven Egyptian agribusiness firms, according to Reuters’ discussions with Egyptian officials.
The details were denied by Ugandan ministers, as well as Egypt’s ambassador to Uganda, though he did confirm that a deal of this nature is under preparation; it will focus on wheat and organic beef for export to Egypt; they hope small farmers, not large, will be contracted for production; the Egyptians may build abattoirs in Uganda for the scheme; and it will be financed by the private sector.”
“In August 2008, three Gulf firms – Abu Dhabi Investment House, Ithmaar Bank and Gulf Finance House – announced the creation of AgriCapital, a new Islamic investment fund. The US$1bn investment vehicle will engage in land purchases in Africa and elsewhere to produce food for the region, through a separate investment bank specially created for this purpose, and to fund biotechnology research.”
“There are reports that some Gulf states have talked with the government of Somalia about allocating land for Gulf food production.”
“According to the Economic Times (India’s largest financial daily), Africa has been among the places targeted by India’s Ministry of External Affairs as a place where Indian agribusiness firms can go and farm for export to India.”
“In 2006, the governorate of Qena, in Egypt, granted 1,600 hectares of farmland to Kobe Bussan, a Japanese agribusiness firm, to produce food for export at a total investment cost of LE1.2bn (US$290m).”
“In March 2008, Jordan’s prime minister announced that his country would cultivate land allocated to it by the Sudanese government to produce food for Jordanians, and urged the private sector to get involved. Four months later, the agriculture ministry in Amman said that it was appointing a private company to handle the government’s overseas agricultural investments in the fight against domestic food insecurity and inflation.”
“In 2008, it was reported that the Kuwait Investment Authority, the country’s US$265bn sovereign wealth fund, may invest in food production, particularly poultry, in Morocco, Yemen and Egypt for export to Kuwait. The trade ministry was also seeking to change the statutes of the Union of Cooperative Societies, the government-run group which dominates food retail in Kuwait, in order to enable the union to invest in overseas farmland, possibly in cooperation with other Arab Cooperative Unions. That move is apparently on hold for now.”
“On 7 September 2008, Kuwait’s Minister of Finance was reported to have signed what his Sudanese counterpart called a ‘giant’ strategic partnership deal with the government in Khartoum. Under the agreement, the two will invest jointly in food production in Sudan, including cattle.”
“In April 2008, during the World Islamic Economic Forum, the government of Kuwait was reported to have launched a new US$100m fund called ‘Dignity Living’. The funds will be invested in food production and agribusiness development in Uganda, among other (unreported) countries, to supply the Middle East market.”
“In December 2007, Libyan African Investment Portfolio, a Switzerland-based subsidiary of Libya’s sovereign wealth fund, put US$30m into a rice project in Liberia through a tie up with a local NGO, the Foundation for African Development Aid. The Liberian government has granted the joint company, ADA/LAP Inc, land concessions of over 17,000 hectares to produce rice for the local and international markets.”
“The Qatar Company for Meat and Livestock Trading (Mawashi) has established a sheep farm in western Sudan and has signed a memorandum of understanding with the country for further expansion in livestock farming.”
“In July 2008, Qatar and Sudan announced the formation of a joint holding company which will invest in food production for export to the Arab markets. Zad Holding Company (previously Qatar Flour Mills), a state-owned firm, and QIA, the emirate’s sovereign wealth fund, are both involved.”
“There are reports that Saudi Arabian investors are exploring possibilities for land acquisition to produce food for Saudi Arabia in Egypt, Senegal and Uganda. There are also reports that Saudi Arabian firms are looking for Thai partners to jointly go into rice production in Uganda and Sudan.”
“In August 2008, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister told the Financial Times that he is eager to give Saudi Arabian investors access to ‘hundreds of thousands’ of hectares of farmland for investment and development.”
“In August 2008, the Saudi Fund for Development announced that it will set up a US$566m special investment vehicle for buying land abroad for domestic food production. Both the government and the private sector will invest in the fund. The priority crops are rice and wheat, and the first investment will be made in Sudan.”
“In June 2008, the Saudi Arabian ministers of trade and agriculture both visited Sudan to survey possible food project investment sites and push for further agriculture investment liberalisation, including for livestock.”
“Hail Agricultural Development Company (HADCO), a Saudi Arabian agribusiness firm, which has since been acquired by Almarai, leased 10,117 hectares for US$95m north of Khartoum to produce food and feed (presumably alfalfa) for export to Saudi Arabia.”
“In May 2008, President Lee Myung-Bak publicly declared his government’s plan to purchase land in Sudan to grow food for South Koreans, and invited President al-Bashir to cooperate with him.”
“In May 2008, the Sudanese government committed 690,000 hectares of land for Koreans to grow wheat to export home. Production will start later this year – through a joint venture between Korean, Sudanese and Arab firms – on an 84,000-hectare farm.”
“Al-Qudra Holding, an Abu Dhabi investment firm, plans to acquire land by early 2009 to produce wheat, maize, rice, vegetables and livestock in Egypt, Eritrea, Morocco and Sudan (to name only the African destinations). The land will be acquired through a mixture leases, concessions and outright purchases. Al Qudra have reportedly already acquired 1,500 hectares in Algeria (cattle and dairy) and Morocco. According to the CEO, Mehmood Ebrahim Al Mehmood, 40% of the total investment will go to maize, although no decision has been taken yet about whether to convert it to ethanol, with the first harvests expected in 2011 or 2012. The investment plan may expand to port operations, breeding and the manufacture of irrigation equipment.”
“The UAE’s Minister of the Economy is on record as saying, in mid-July 2008, that UAE intends to purchase farmland in Africa to ensure the emirate’s food supply.”
“The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development is seeking land in Senegal (to refer only to Africa) to produce food and feed for the UAE market.”
“The UAE government is investing in food production in Sudan to meet its own market needs. As of August 2008, it was reported that the UAE had invested in a total of 378,000 hectares of farmland in various Sudanese states, including a 16,000-hectare plantation for maize and wheat production. According to some sources, Khartoum is providing the land free of charge. It was also reported that the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development is hoping to set up a joint company with another Arab partner to develop at least 28,329 hectares in Nile State, northern Sudan, to the tune of ‘hundreds of millions of dirhams’, for the production of wheat, maize, alfalfa and possibly potatoes. Initial studies on this will be finalised in November 2008.”
“Cru Investment, a UK-based ethical fund, facilitates private investment in African agriculture for guaranteed returns of 30-40%. They already control more than 2,500 hectares of farmland in Malawi and operate another 4,000 hectares there through outgrower schemes. The produce is exported to the UK. In September 2008, Cru announced that in 2009 it will expand its Africa fund to the Middle East. This means teaming up with Gulf investors to address food security concerns in the GCC.”
“In September 2008, the IFC, the commercial investment arm of the World Bank, announced that it would greatly increase investments in agribusiness development because of new private sector interest in seeking returns through the food crisis. Part of its spending will be to bring ‘under-utilised’ lands into production. In 2008, IFC spent US$1.4bn in the agribusiness supply chain, of which US$900m went directly to agribusiness firms.”
“In October 2008, the Financial Times reported that Lonrho, a UK-based pan-African corporation, is putting together funds to acquire 20,000 hectares of productive farmland in Angola. This is part of a wider ‘aggressive’ strategy to acquire ten times that amount – 200,000 hectares – for the same purpose across Africa. The Angolan government is reportedly trying to attract US$6bn worth of new agricultural investments and is engaged in talks with corporations from Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Canada and the US.”
“Trans4mation Agri-Tech, a UK investment house, is involved in a joint venture with a Vietnamese company that will bring Vietnamese workers, scientists and technology to villages in the Niger Delta in Nigeria to produce food for the local and world markets. T4M, as it is sometimes called, has reportedly received loan financing from the UK government of US$36m, and the Delta villages are providing infrastructure, including land. A minimum of 10,000 hectares of fertile land has been assigned to the project for 25 years by Delta state officials. Stephen Liney, the project director, is in similar discussions with the Rivers, Abia and Ebonyi state governments.”
“At the G8 summit in Italy (July 2009), Japan advocated a set of principles to ensure smooth investment in agriculture in developing countries and to limit ‘land-grabbing’. Tamaki Tsukada, director of the economic security division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has said: ‘We feel there should be a code of conduct, a set of principles, for investment in farmland [...] for both producing and consuming countries. There’s a need to provide a scheme to ensure private sector investments are promoted while the interests of the producing countries are preserved.’”
“Painter and poet, runner and discus-thrower,
beautiful as Endymion: Ianthis, son of Antony.
From a family on friendly terms with the Synagogue.
‘My most valuable days are those
when I give up the pursuit of sensuous beauty,
when I desert the elegant and severe cult of Hellenism,
with its over-riding devotion
to perfectly shaped, corruptible white limbs,
and become the man I would want to remain forever:
son of the Jews, the holy Jews.’
A most fervent declaration on his part: ‘… to remain forever
a son of the Jews, the holy Jews.’
But he did not remain anything of the kind.
The Hedonism and Art of Alexandria
kept him as their dedicated son.”
Of the Jews (A.D. 50), Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at cavafy.com.
[The] twentieth-century integration of international relations all round the globe into a single system, centring on a Balance of Power that had originated in Western Europe and had then progressively brought the rest of the Earth’s surface within the field of its magnetic attraction, presented a striking contrast to the configuration of the field of force in earlier chapters of the same story. The overture (currebat A.D. 1494-1559) had ranged no wider than the areas involved in a competition for hegemony over Italy between nascent adjoining Great Powers in the Transalpine and Transmarine provinces of Western Europe [the Holy Roman Empire and France]; and even Flanders had then been only a secondary theatre of military operations, though the two Great Powers of the day actually marched with one another there, without being insulated on this front by any intervening political vacuum or buffer. The civil war between Catholics and Protestants in France (gerebatur A.D. 1562-98) went on its way more or less independently of the contemporary civil war between Dutch and Spaniards in the Spanish Hapsburg Monarchy (gerebatur A.D. 1568-1609). The civil war in England (gerebatur A.D. 1642-8) likewise followed its own course without becoming implicated in the contemporary civil war in the Holy Roman Empire (gerebatur A.D. 1618-48). The Americas and the Indies were drawn into the main vortex of Western warfare only in the course of the first regular cycle (currebat A.D. 1568-1672); and, though during the second regular cycle (currebat A.D. 1672-1792) the decisive military operations on Flemish and Lombard battlefields were usually accompanied by “side-shows” in North America and in Continental India in which the same belligerents were engaged, the synchronization of the local conflicts in the West European and the overseas theatres of war was still inexact. As often as not, the eighteenth-century campaigns on American and Indian soil would open later or earlier and close later or earlier than the corresponding campaigns in Western Europe, so that there were years in which France and Great Britain were at war with one another in Europe while at peace with one another overseas, or conversely at war overseas while at peace in Europe. [Footnote: For example, in the General War of A.D. 1672-1713 the respective war years were 1672-8, 1688-97, 1702-13 in Western Europe; 1690-7, 1702-10 in North America. In the epilogue to the General War of A.D. 1672-1713 the respective war years were 1733-5, 1740-8, 1756-63 in Western Europe; 1744-63, 1775-83 in North America; 1746-9, 1750-4, 1758-61, 1778-83 in India.
The synchronization of the local conflicts continued to be inexact in the third regular cycle (currebat A.D. 1792-1914). In the General War of A.D. 1792-1815 the respective war years were 1792-1802, 1803-14, 1815 in Europe; 1812-14 in North America; 1799-1805, 1816-18 in India. In the epilogue to the General War of A.D. 1792-1815 the respective war years were 1848-9, 1859, 1864, 1866, 1870-1 in Europe; 1861-7 in North America (taking account of the French expedition to Mexico, 1862-7); 1838-42, 1843, 1845-6, 1848-9, 1857-9, 1878-81 in India; 1839-41, 1853-6, 1875-8, 1882, in the Near and Middle East.]
To be continued.
A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954
SM emailed some interesting comments on my last Cavafy post.
“For centuries they hadn’t seen gifts at Delphi
as wonderful as those sent by the two brothers,
the rival Ptolemaic kings. But now that they have them,
the priests are nervous about the oracle. They’ll need
all their experience to decide
how to express it tactfully, which of the two –
of two brothers like these – will have to be offended.
And so they meet secretly at night
to discuss the family affairs of the Lagids.
“But suddenly the envoys are back. They’re taking their [leave.
Returning to Alexandria, they say. And they don’t ask
for an oracle at all. The priests are delighted to hear it
(they’re to keep the marvellous gifts, that goes without [saying)
but they’re also completely bewildered,
having no idea what this sudden indifference means.
They do not know that yesterday the envoys heard [serious news:
the ‘oracle’ was pronounced in Rome; the partition was [decided there.”
Envoys from Alexandria, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at cavafy.com. Spelling anglicised.
Islam [...] is not a totally alien and contradictory ideal of life, as Westerners vulgarly believe. Its relation to Western Christianity differs in degree rather than in kind from that of Monophysitism. In their theological disguise, both were monotheistic reactions against trinitarianism (of different form and intensity), and in their essence revolts of the Middle East against Hellenism. At the same time, both had in their veins the blood of the parent whom they repudiated. The influence of Ancient Greek originals upon early Islamic literature, of Roman upon Islamic law, and of Hellenistic upon Islamic ideas and institutions is more and more engaging the attention of modern Orientalists.
The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922
A section of the bibliography in this book is called Hellenistic Element in Islam.
Bob Shingleton, in On an Overgrown Path: “My parents’ 1962 LP of the Oscar-winning soundtrack for Lawrence of Arabia was an integral part of my music education.”
It was of mine, too, except that, as a boy, after seeing the film, I insisted on being given the LP.
In a Comment, Bob adds: “I have to say I am astonished at the lack of coverage on the music blogs of the death of Maurice Jarre. He may not have been a musical genius – whatever that means. But his music, which was never less than wonderfully crafted, touched many, many more than that of, say, Schoenberg.” On an Overgrown Path is the best blog about so-called classical music on the web, and only a really musical person would have said what Bob said in such unpretentious terms or dared to put him in the same sentence as Schoenberg. The Toynbee convector isn’t a music blog, but Bob’s remark has given me the confidence to write an appreciation of Jarre here.
Jarre’s 1962 score for David Lean’s film was the last major work of French musical orientalism in the line that began with Félicien David’s Symphonic Ode Le désert (tenor, speaker, chorus, orchestra) in 1844.
Le désert at least is usually given as the start of the romantic vein of orientalism in French music. Possibly a couple of Berlioz’s Prix de Rome cantatas, from somewhat earlier (1827-30), should be put into the bracket. I had never heard of a recording of Le désert until just now, but Amazon is showing one as due for release later this month. Marco Polo have recorded other work by David, including piano cycles such as Les brises d’orient and Les minarets.
After that, we have music in the nineteenth century by Reyer, Saint-Saëns, Delibes, Bizet, Massenet et al, much of it not particularly highly-coloured. Franck and Fauré did not really go down the orientalist road, though Franck wrote Les djinns. Then, at another level, Debussy and Ravel, Debussy’s orientalism tending towards Indonesia, where Britten would follow him; and some of the music of Koechlin (who occupied both impressionist and modernist space), and Schmitt, and their contemporary Rabaud, an anti-modernist. I have a 3-CD box of Rabaud’s Mârouf, savetier du Caire, based on the Arabian Nights. Its premiere took place in the final season at the Opéra Comique before war broke out in 1914.
The Saint-Saëns includes, of course, his opera Samson et Dalila. Another, La princesse jaune (one act), is about (without being set in) Japan. Saint-Saëns’s orchestral orientalism was concerned with Egypt and perhaps with Algeria, though Maghreb means west, not east. On the Egyptian side, we have Africa for piano and orchestra, the fifth piano concerto, and Sur les bords du Nil, a piece for brass band. The orchestral Suite algérienne is a gentle celebration of the French in Algeria. There is a Marche dediée aux étudiants d’Alger, I suppose for orchestra or band.
Saint-Saëns often visited Algeria. He died there in 1921. He also visited Ceylon. Somebody once imputed homosexuality to him in public, perhaps thinking of these travels. The composer is said to have snapped back: “Je ne suis pas homosexuel, je suis pédéraste.” Would he have used a piece of jargon like “homosexual”? Did his interlocutor use it first? He married and had two sons, who both died young. His answer was probably accurate. Today he would be advised to state it the other way round.
Few books have been written about Saint-Saëns. The one I have, by Stephen Studd (2003), doesn’t tell this oft-repeated story.
Milhaud, reacting against not only against the later stages of orientalism and not only against French music: “When I first started to write music, I was immediately conscious of the dangers of following the paths of impressionist music: all that haziness, those balmy breezes, those pyrotechnics, those sparkling raiments, those veils of smoke, that languor marked the end of an era I found so affected it filled me with overwhelming disgust. The poets were my salvation. Francis Jammes’ stanzas led me out of the mists of symbolist poetry and introduced me to a completely new world all the easier to apprehend because I had only to open my eyes. Poetry was at last turning back to everyday life, to the appeal of simple people and familiar things.” I can no longer find the source for this quotation: it is probably given by Paul Collaer.
The reaction, shared by many composers, meant that fewer orientalist or orientally-inflected works were written or, if they were, the borrowings were of a different kind, as with Messiaen, whose more grown-up approach to eastern music had been anticipated by Debussy. The middle movement of Ibert’s Escales, published in 1924, called Tunis-Nefta, is in the older manner.
Jarre came very late to music. He was a Lyonnais, but studied engineering at the Sorbonne, before moving to the Conservatoire. He has said that music was nothing in his life before he reached the age of fifteen. He produced his first film score in 1951, but the most important part of his early career was in theatre, as musical director of the Théâtre National Populaire from 1951 to 1963, when it was run by Jean Vilar. There is a 3-CD box containing some of the music he wrote for productions there. Somewhere I have a CD of songs composed for the French post-war theatre, which contains one by Jarre.
The film of 1951 was Georges Franju’s Hôtel des Invalides. There is a CD of some of the film music between 1959 and 1964 called Ma période française. His international breakthrough came with Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. He composed for three more films by David Lean: Dr Zhivago (1965), Ryan’s Daughter (1970) and A Passage to India (1984) and for about 150 films in all. He won Oscars for all the Lean scores except Ryan’s Daughter. His music for The Year of Living Dangerously (1982), about Indonesia in 1965-66, was his first purely electronic score, but he had used the ondes-martinot to fine effect in Lawrence. He lived in the US in his later life.
Lean had wanted Malcolm Arnold to compose the music for Lawrence, while the producer, Sam Spiegel, wanted William Walton. In Tony Palmer’s astonishing film about Arnold (2004), Toward the Unknown Region (“I think it must surely set the nation alight when broadcast”: Paul Driver; Palmer’s films about English music are the less flamboyant successors of Ken Russell’s), Arnold says that he was asked to provide the “dramatic” music and William Walton the “patriotic”. They watched the unscored film together. Both turned it down. I’ve read elsewhere that Walton fell asleep. Lean never spoke to Arnold again.
According to the Telegraph obituary of Jarre, Spiegel, who had heard some of Jarre’s music, then hoped that Jarre would write the “incidental dramatic sequences”, while two better-known composers, Khatchaturian and Britten, would handle the “theme music”. Neither Khatchaturian nor Britten turned out to be available, and can one imagine Britten having done this? Spiegel turned to a Broadway composer, Richard Rodgers, keeping Jarre in the background. Lean strongly disliked what Rodgers produced, so Spiegel asked Jarre if he had written anything. Jarre proceeded to play what became the main theme. Lean insisted that he should be given the whole job. Jarre was left with six weeks to compose, rehearse and record about two hours of music. Arnold could have done it in two.
Writing music for a film that has already been made or to an exact scenario is like the way some ballet music was written in the nineteenth century.
Tchaikovsky was expected to follow Marius Petipa’s scenario for the Nutcracker:
“No. 1. Soft music. Sixty-four bars.
No. 2. The tree is lit up. Sparkling music. Eight bars.
No. 3. Enter the children. Animated and joyous music. Twenty-four bars.
No. 4. A moment of surprise and admiration. A few bars of tremolo.
No. 5. A march. Sixty-four bars.
No. 6. Entrée des Incroyables. Sixteen bars, rococo (tempo menuet).”
And in a film, every bar had to be marked in seconds.
Jarre’s score was to be recorded by the London Philharmonic with a subsidy from the British government, which required the conductor to be British. Adrian Boult was duly brought in for a rehearsal, but when Jarre began to explain the technicalities of synchronising the music of the orchestra with film footage, Boult withdrew and Jarre himself conducted. Boult’s name remained on the film credits to safeguard the subsidy, but Jarre was credited on the LP.
There are two recorded versions of Jarre’s Lawrence music: his own soundtrack with the London Philharmonic and a more recent one conducted by Tony Bremner with the Philharmonia. Bremner’s sound is far better. There are some passages here which do not appear in Jarre’s version. The first appearance of the main theme is even more stomach-punching. But there is something soupy in the way the brass play under Bremner. This is the main defect of this version. And the ppppppppianissimo, if I can coin a word, at the beginning of the section called Miracle under Jarre, which must surely be the quietest sustained note in all of recorded orchestral music, is barely piano.
The theme of Born Free is not so different from, sounds like a variation of, the Lawrence theme, but is merely a vulgarly sentimental film tune.
With Lawrence, Jarre succeeded Malcolm Arnold as “master of the Lean’s music”. Arnold had written, and won an Oscar for, the music for The Bridge on the River Kwai. Here we come to a problem. Who wrote the Colonel Bogey march as we know it? Arnold often gets the credit. The Tony Palmer film I’ve referred to credits him. It sounds like Arnold. Others say it was by FJ Ricketts, aka Kenneth Alford. Or that Arnold wrote a counterpoint to the original march. I haven’t worked this out. But Spiegel and Lean used a fine march by Alford in Lawrence of Arabia, The Voice of the Guns, which took the place of what Walton might have written. It was the only music, in the end, not written by Jarre.
The film, of course, had little to do with the real TE Lawrence. Prince Feisal was played by an English actor, Alec Guinness. Lean’s A Passage to India must have been the last somewhat serious film in which a white actor (Alec Guinness again) had his face painted to look like an oriental. It appeared after Richard Attenborough’s hagiographic Gandhi, in which Ben Kingsley played the main role. (In this post, I wondered what the last case was of an Englishman dressing up in real life in Arab service as an Arab.) The march was a counterpoint to the scenes in Cairo and Damascus. Memorable acting by Claude Rains.
What does French orientalist music amount to? Some attractive pieces (the Debussy and Ravel more than that), but there is no descriptive masterpiece among them. Unless it is Jarre’s score.
There is no French tone poem of the Sahara. But some of Jarre’s material could have been used in one. Some passages in his score are as imaginatively detailed as passages in La mer.
That does not mean that you can simply lift this music into a concert hall. Jarre did this occasionally by performing a Lawrence of Arabia “Suite” at gala concerts. It doesn’t work and embarrasses anyone who wants to take Jarre more seriously. This is film music and needs images, or headphones. But some of the musical ideas, if you concentrate enough to hear them, are worthy of the great, unwritten, French tone poem.
According to the French Wikipedia article, “Jarre a aussi composé des œuvres de concert majeures et écrit cinq ballets dont Notre-Dame de Paris pour l’Opéra de Paris”. In the passage in Jarre’s recording called That is the Desert, we hear an embryonic symphonist. Bremner makes nothing of it. None of the other film music that I have heard is as good as Lawrence, even for films that you might have thought would bring out a similar style. But Lara’s theme in Dr Zhivago is his other claim to immortality. It took human beings this long to reach such a simple musical idea.
Jarre deserved the Oscars for Lawrence and Zhivago, but not, I think, the last one, for A Passage to India. The score is recycled Jarre (partly recycled from Ryan’s Daughter), less distinguished, and neither Jarre nor Lean appears to have had the slightest idea what the book was about.
The picture above and the first below show Jarre at the Berlin Film Festival in February this year, where he accepted a prize a few weeks before dying from cancer.
“In 1919, Paris was the capital of the world.” Margaret MacMillan’s Peacemakers, The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War, John Murray, 2001.
Below, HG Wells’s Outline of History on Paris in 1919.
Wells, as an older contemporary of Toynbee, wanders into this blog occasionally. But why was the Outline, large parts of which were, as he admitted, cobbled together from the Encyclopædia Britannica, taken so seriously in its time?
It was published as a serial in soft covers in 1919, with colour plates and black-and-white photographs, and drawings and maps by JF Horrabin. The first hard cover book edition appeared in two volumes in 1920, reproducing or imitating the large-page format. The book one sees more often, which endured, was a monochrome single-volume blockbuster with no photographs, but with Horrabin’s drawings and maps.
What value does the Outline have now? None really, except as ’flu reading, though some passages, including those on Versailles, are vintage Wells (I have quoted another on Versailles here). It’s an otherwise intellectually unsatisfying work, a thousand times superseded. Some saw its limitations at the time, but nearly all agreed that it was a wonderful achievement.
Wells had prestige. There was a hunger for a “synoptic view of world affairs” after the war. But, as I have suggested, it impressed partly because the idea of a world history, strange as this now sounds, was new. There had been ancient and medieval precedents, and a few recent multi-volume syndicated encyclopædic efforts (such as The Historians’ History of the World) in a format which the original, serialised Outline itself partly followed, but nothing by a serious modern figure, pace Ranke and Burckhardt.
Soon, there were imitators. Hendrik Willem van Loon’s The Story of Mankind was particularly popular, not only with children. Spengler’s Decline of the West, very different, had appeared in Germany in 1918.
Forster wrote at least three critical articles about it (they are reprinted in The Prince’s Tale and Other Uncollected Writings, André Deutsch, 1998).
Catholics objected. Chesterton wrote a book, The Everlasting Man, to refute its world view. “I do not believe that the past is most truly pictured as a thing in which humanity merely fades away into nature, or civilization merely fades away into barbarism, or religion fades away into mythology, or our own religion fades away into the religions of the world. In short, I do not believe that the best way to produce an outline of history is to rub out the lines.”
Belloc wrote A Companion to Mr Wells’s “Outline of History”. Wells replied with Mr Belloc Objects. Belloc replied with Mr Belloc Still Objects.
Toynbee referred to it in the Study.
Nehru’s Glimpses of World History (I mentioned it here) was a kind of Asian riposte to it. This is an enchanting book, even though, or because, written for a child, his daughter Indira (Gandhi). Somebody offered it in a Sunday newspaper list recently as among the unjustly forgotten books. I’ll second that. I’d rather have it on a desert island than the Wells. Its maps were done by Wells’s illustrator, JF Horrabin.
Virginia Woolf referred to the Wells in Between the Acts.
There was more.
Wells on Versailles and Paris in 1919, mainly relying on a quotation:
“As the heads of the principal Governments implicitly claimed to be the authorized spokesmen of the human race, and endowed with unlimited powers, it is worth noting that this claim was boldly challenged by the people’s organs in the Press. Nearly all the journals read by the masses objected from the first to the dictatorship of the group of Premiers, Mr. Wilson being excepted. … [Footnote: Dillon. And see his The Peace Conference, chapter iii, for instances of the amazing ignorance of various delegates.]
“The restriction upon our space in this Outline will not allow us to tell here how the Peace Conference shrank from a Council of Ten to a Council of Four (Wilson, Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Orlando), and how it became a conference less and less like a frank and open discussion of the future of mankind, and more and more like some old-fashioned diplomatic conspiracy. Great and wonderful had been the hopes that had gathered to Paris. ‘The Paris of the Conference,’ says Dr. Dillon, ‘ceased to be the capital of France. It became a vast cosmopolitan caravanserai teeming with unwonted aspects of life and turmoil, filled with curious samples of the races, tribes, and tongues of four continents who came to watch and wait for the mysterious to-morrow.
‘An Arabian Nights’ touch was imparted to the dissolving panorama by strange visitants from Tartary and Kurdistan, Korea and Aderbeijan (sic), Armenia, Persia, and the Hedjaz – men with patriarchal beards and scimitar-shaped noses, and others from desert and oasis, from Samarkand and Bokhara. Turbans and fezes, sugar-loaf hats and head-gear resembling episcopal mitres, old military uniforms devised for the embryonic armies of new states on the eve of perpetual peace, snowywhite burnouses, flowing mantles, and graceful garments like the Roman toga, contributed to create an atmosphere of dreamy unreality in the city where the grimmest of realities were being faced and coped with.
‘Then came the men of wealth, of intellect, of industrial enterprise, and the seed-bearers of the ethical new ordering, members of economic committees from the United States, Britain, Italy, Poland, Russia, India, and Japan, representatives of naphtha industries and far-off coal mines, pilgrims, fanatics and charlatans from all climes, priests of all religions, preachers of every doctrine, who mingled with princes, field-marshals, statesmen, anarchists, builders-up and pullers-down. All of them burned with desire to be near to the crucible in which the political and social systems of the world were to be melted and recast. Every day, in my walks, in my apartment, or at restaurants, I met emissaries from lands and peoples whose very names had seldom been heard of before in the West. A delegation from the Pont-Euxine Greeks called on me, and discoursed of their ancient cities of Trebizond, Samsoun, Tripoli, Kerassund, in which I resided many years ago, and informed me that they, too, desired to become welded into an independent Greek Republic, and had come to have their claims allowed. The Albanians were represented by my old friend Turkhan Pasha, on the one hand, and by my friend Essad Pasha on the other – the former desirous of Italy’s protection, the latter demanding complete independence. Chinamen, Japanese, Koreans, Hindus, Kirghizes, Lesghiens, Circassians, Mingrelians, Buryats, Malays, and Negroes and Negroids from Africa and America were among the tribes and tongues foregathered in Paris to watch the rebuilding of the political world system and to see where they “came in.” …’
“To this thronging, amazing Paris, agape for a new world, came President Wilson, and found its gathering forces dominated by a personality narrower, in every way more limited and beyond comparison more forcible than himself: the French Premier, M. Clemenceau. At, the instance of President Wilson, M. Clemenceau was elected President of the Conference. ‘It was,’ said President Wilson, ‘a special tribute to the sufferings and sacrifices of France.’ And that, unhappily, sounded the keynote of the Conference, whose sole business should have been with the future of mankind.”
The “Council of Ten” contained the heads of government and foreign ministers of Britain, France, Italy, the United States and Japan.
The months of the conference were those of the Spartacist uprising in Berlin, of the foundation of the Fascist party in Italy, of the Bavarian and Hungarian Socialist Republics, of the Amritsar massacre in India, of convulsions in Ireland, Egypt, eastern Europe and Russia, Turkey, Korea and China.
Arrival of jazz in France. In painting and a vein of “classical” music, the eve of a return to form and order.
Paris would remain the centre of the Western art world for another twenty years. Then its decline would be as steep as that of Vienna’s in music.
Parisian throngs not embroiled in war or revolution: La comédie humaine … Les enfants du paradis … La bohème, Act II … Louise, Act II …
Versailles 1919 (post here)
William Orpen, The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, London, Imperial War Museum
It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the Code Napoléon found a second home in this stronghold of Islam after the process of Westernization, foreshadowed in the shattering but transitory visitation of Napoleon’s expeditionary force, had been put in hand in good earnest by Mehmed ʿAlī [Muhammad Ali]. In the whole field of civil law outside the communal preserve of Personal Statute, the Code Napoléon was received in Egypt in A.D. 1876 as the law for the new Mixed Courts and in A.D. 1883 (a sensational triumph, this!) [footnote] as the law for the new system of civil and criminal jurisdiction, [footnote] applying to Ottoman subjects in Egypt, that was introduced in that year. This naturalization of French Law in Egypt goes far to account for the strength of the hold which French culture obtained in Egypt notwithstanding the ultimate discomfiture of France in her military and political struggle with Great Britain for ascendancy there. The French military occupation of Egypt had lasted for little more than three years (reckoning from the landing of Napoleon’s expeditionary force on the 1st July, 1798, to the ignominious surrender of ʿAbdallah Menou on the 2nd September, 1801); the second and single-handed British occupation [footnote] had lasted for fifty-four years (reckoning from the landing of a British expeditionary force on the 20th August, 1882, to the ratification of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of Alliance signed on the 26th August, 1936), and in A.D. 1952 the vestiges of British occupation which the terms of the Treaty had preserved had not yet been entirely removed. Yet on the morrow of the General War of 1939-45 the by this time penetratingly Westernized governing class of Egypt bore its Western imprint in the French and not in the British variety of the pattern.
The Mixed Courts were a unified system of courts for civil disputes between foreigners in Egypt of whatever nationality and between foreigners and natives. (Most criminal matters affecting foreigners remained under consular courts.) After 1882, British administrators often saw the Mixed Courts courts as an impediment to their own plans for reform and political control. Egyptian nationalists campaigned for the abolition of any institution that infringed on Egyptian sovereignty. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 paved the way for the Montreux Convention in the same year, which provided for the abolition of the Mixed Courts by 1949. The example of the Mixed Courts’ bar association, law codes, structure and procedures influenced Egypt’s local court systems.
How were “Ottoman” subjects defined under the law of 1883 and how were the former subjects’ legal positions changed by the ending of Turkish influence in 1914 and by “independence” from the British in 1922?
Sensational in view of the gulf between the Code Napoléon and the communal systems of law which it was replacing. It did, however, share one vital common source with the Islamic Sharīʿah as well as with the communal laws of the several Christian millets. [Were those millets abolished in 1876?] All these legal systems alike were derived in large measure from varieties or transmutations of Roman Law. The influence of Roman Law on Islamic Law is discussed [...] below.
The traditional Sharī‘ courts retained their jurisdiction in matters of “personal statute”.
In response to the challenge of the French occupation, British troops had already set foot on Egyptian soil from the 8th March, 1801, to March 1803; but on this first occasion they had come by invitation of the lawful sovereign of Egypt, the Ottoman Pādishāh, and in the company of a Turkish expeditionary force.
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954
Click to get full size and resolution.
The six cataracts
The Fourth Cataract
The main sites of the ancient history of the Nile up to Meroe
Maps from Wikimedia Commons; Wikipedia photograph used under terms of GNU Free Documentation License
All over the Middle East are people, middle managers, who are almost sick with love of England, not because they know it well: they may not have been there since their youth, and certainly have never shopped in Harrods, but because of the weeks they spent with that family in Bromley or Streatham in 1977. [Comments below.]
Though the name “capitulations”, by which [the] Ottoman charters to colonies of resident aliens came to be known, meant simply “articles” [headings of an agreement] and not, of course, “terms of surrender”, they did in fact have the effect of putting the Ottoman Empire at the mercy of the Frankish Powers in the latter days of the Empire’s weakness. In origin these instruments were unilateral acts by which the Sublime Porte conferred on Frankish Christian residents the same right to administer their own civil affairs that it granted to its non-Muslim subjects [in the millets; the distinction is between residents and subjects].
The “capitulations” were inspired by the same motive of disinclination towards undertaking the distasteful task of administering the affairs of infidels in a field that did not appear to touch the security either of Islam or of the Ottoman State. Moreover, the “capitulations”, as well as the millets, had been a going concern in the parochial states whose place the Ottoman Empire had taken. They had originally been granted by the Western Christian Crusader successor-states of the ‘Abbasid Caliphate to colonies of business men from Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Amalfi, and other medieval Italian city-states, and the practice had spread thence both to the dominions of the Egyptian Mamlūks and to the Orthodox Christian successor-states of the East Roman Empire. It was thus easy to understand how the ‘Osmanlis slipped into their error of conferring “capitulations” not only on the old-established Venetian and Genoese residents but on the French, Dutch, and English who now came bustling in at the Italians’ heels. The error lay in failing to perceive that the analogy between charters granted to “millets” consisting of Ottoman subjects and “capitulations” conferred on resident colonies of the subjects of foreign Powers was one of form without being one of substance. The essential difference was that, in the second case, the rights and powers were accorded, not to Ottoman subjects, but to foreign governments who, unlike the millet-bāshī [leader] of the Millet-i-Rum [millet of the Christians], were not in the Pādishāh’s power, but, on the contrary, wielded power of their own which they could use, in the hour of the Sublime Porte’s weakness, for forcing upon the Porte their own interpretation of the “capitulations” to the advantage of their subjects in partibus Ottomannorum.
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)
(POLYBIUS: Book VI. chapter 5210-544)
The Italians possess an innate superiority over the Phoenicians and Berbers, both in physical strength and in animal courage; but they also enormously stimulate the development of their young men in this direction by the training that they give to them. The description of a single institution will suffice as an example of the efforts made by the Roman commonwealth to breed men prepared to endure all things for the sake of winning honour and glory in the sight of their countrymen.
When any of their distinguished men departs this life, the funeral ceremony includes a procession in which the corpse – usually erect and exposed, or more rarely recumbent – is carried in state to the so-called “Rams” [footnote: A platform decorated with the rams of captured Carthaginian warships. [ED.]] in the piazza.
A ram would protrude from a ship’s bow and could pierce an enemy’s hold. The word rostrum originally meant not platform, but ram bow. Did the platform only exist in the Roman Forum or were there similar ones in other cities?
The whole people gathers round, and the platform is ascended by a speaker [footnote: The son of the deceased if he survives him and happens to be in Rome, or, failing a son, some other relative. [AUTHOR.]] who delivers an oration upon the character of the deceased and his career.
As far as I know, ancient authors did not use footnotes (though they did write prefaces): ascribing them to them is a mildly irritating feature of the anthology from which this is taken.
By this recital a vivid remembrance of the past is aroused in the minds of the public, including those who have no personal connection with the dead as well as those who have shared in his achievements, and the sympathy thus created is so intense that the fatality is felt as a public loss which is not confined to the mourners. Later, when the funeral is over and the customary rites have been performed, they place the likeness of the deceased, enclosed in a miniature shrine of wood, in the place of honour in his ancestral mansion. This likeness is a bust [a mask] designed with a minute and conscientious realism in modelling and in contour. The whole series of likenesses [of many eminent deceased] is unveiled on the occasion of public festivals and decorated with scrupulous devotion; and whenever a distinguished member of the house departs this life, they parade these likenesses in the funeral procession, selecting individuals with the closest possible resemblance to the original, for the honour of wearing them. These impersonators assume the appropriate uniforms – white with a scarlet border, if the original was a consul or a praetor; scarlet throughout, if he was a censor; and white shot with gold, if he had celebrated an official triumph or attained some equally signal honour. The impersonators themselves ride in carriages, preceded by the Rods and Axes and the other insignia which ordinarily accompany high offices of state, in accordance with the official rank actually attained in his career by the individual impersonated. When they arrive at the platform they all take their seats in order of precedence on ivory thrones, and it is not easy to imagine a spectacle which would make a happier impression upon a young man of good character and wholesome ambition. Who would not be affected by seeing the likenesses of the revered and celebrated men of the past gathered together before his eyes in all the animation of real life? What spectacle could be more impressive? And then the speaker who is to deliver the funeral oration does not confine himself to the individual just deceased, but proceeds, after exhausting his immediate theme, to recite the successes and achievements of his predecessors, beginning with the earliest there represented. By this perpetual commemoration of the glorious dead, the fame of all who have distinguished themselves by any noble action is immortalized, and the story of those who deserve well of their country becomes a household word which is handed down to posterity. Most important of all, young men are stimulated to endure all things for the sake of the common weal, by the hope of winning the fame that does not fail to attach itself to those who deserve it.
Pliny, Natural History XXXV, 6-7, suggests that the masks were made of wax. Were they death-masks?
“But conditions were different in the atria of our ancestors [perhaps he is referring to the generation of Polybius], where it was portraits which were looked at, and not statues by foreign artists, either in bronze or marble. Wax impressions of the face were set out on separate chests, so that they might serve as the portraits which were carried in family funeral processions, and thus, when anyone died, the entire roll of his ancestors, all who ever existed, was present. Genealogical lines of descent, in fact, used to be indicated, running back and forth between painted portraits [which must refer to family trees with portrait illustrations]. The family archive rooms were filled with scrolls and other records commemorating deeds done [by members of the family] during their magistracies. Outside the doors around the lintels there were also portraits of these great spirits along with spoils of the enemy fixed in position near them; not even one who bought the house was permitted to remove these spoils; and so the house celebrated perpetual triumph even though the masters changed.”
I am not sure what translation this is. The Polybius is in
Introduction and translations, Greek Historical Thought from Homer to the Age of Heraclius, with two pieces newly translated by Gilbert Murray, Dent, 1924 (I’ve referred to an American edition and anglicised the spelling)
Mummy portraits in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt: the Fayum portraits are paintings on wood, but mummies of the most important ancient Egyptian figures, including Tutankhamun, wore sculpted masks.
Photographs on placards at martyrs’ funerals in the Middle East.
The brick wall of the Roman Rostrum (Flickr); it will originally have been covered in marble
Petra and Palmyra each rose in turn to greatness by finding places for themselves in the interstices between the dominions of mutually hostile Great Powers whose hostility was too great to admit of their coming to a direct understanding with each other, while it was not great enough to drive them into forgoing the advantage of doing business with one another indirectly through the agency of commercial go-betweens who would also serve as political buffers. Petra rose in this way in an interstice between the Selcucid and the Ptolemaic “successor-state” of the Achaemenian Empire; Palmyra rose in an interstice between the Roman Empire and the Arsacid [Parthian] Power. Petra was doomed when the Roman Empire supplanted both the Seleucid and the Ptolemaic Power alike; Palmyra was doomed when the decay of the Arsacidae left Rome momentarily without a rival in this quarter likewise – pending the rise of the Sasanidae.
A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934 (footnote)
The passage below is part of a survey of imperial communications.
A footnote refers us to maps 11 (South-West Asia, Egypt, and the Aegean in the 18th cent. B.C.: Successor-States of the Third Dynasty of Ur at the Beginning of Hammurabi’s Reign at Babylon, 1792 or 1728 B.C.), 14 (The New Empire and its Neighbours after Thothmes III’s Campaign in the Thirty-third Year of his Reign (? 1458 B.C.), 20 (The Achaemenian Empire: Communications and Taxation Districts on the Eve of Xerxes’ Invasion of Continental European Greece in 480 B.C.) and 21A (The Syrian “Roundabout”) in the eleventh volume.
This Wikimedia Commons map shows the King’s Highway c 1300 BC in red. The Via Maris is shown in purple, other routes in brown.
There was [a] famous road, “the King’s Highway”, [footnote: Num. xx. 17 and xxi. 22. See Wright, V. E., and Filson, F. V.: The Westminster Historical Atlas of the Bible (London 1946, Student Christian Movement Press), p. 40, fig. 25, for an aerial photograph of a section of this road in Transjordan.] which [...] played an historic part in the life of one empire after another. This thoroughfare ran north and south, along the border between Syria and the Syrian Desert, from the crossings of the Euphrates, at the point where the river bends nearest to the Mediterranean [the Wikimedia map has it starting south of this point], through Damascus and Transjordan to the head of the Gulf of ’Aqabah, where the road branched westwards across the Desert of Sinai towards Egypt and south-eastwards into Arabia. This King’s Highway had served successively the Empire of Sumer and Akkad, “the New Empire” of Egypt, the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and the Achaemenian Empire. After the shattering of the Achaemenian Peace by Alexander, the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, holding opposite ends of the thoroughfare, had contended with one another for possession of the whole of it, and the Seleucids had won the contest only to give place to Rome – till the King’s Highway had changed hands again from the Roman Empire to the Arab Caliphate and thereafter, in its southern sector, from the ‘Abbasids’ Fātimid successor-state to the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
In the course of its long and chequered history the King’s Highway has been used, not only by its official masters of the moment, but by rebels, raiders, and rival Powers. The Elamite and Babylonian warlords who had twice taken this road in the eighteenth century B.C. in order to reimpose the long dormant authority of an Empire of Sumer and Akkad on the princelings of Syria had been pursued along their own highway on their return march, and been relieved of their booty, by an untamed band of Hebrew Nomads. [Footnote: See Gen. xiv. The historical events which here loom through a mist of tradition may perhaps be dated some time between the annexation of the Sumerian Empire of lsin by the Elamite State of Larsa circa 1799-1793 or 1735-1729 B.C. and the annexation of Larsa by the Amorite State of Babylon in 1762 or 1698 B.C. [...]. The account in Gen. xiv. 13-24 of Abraham’s audacious but successful surprise attack on the plunder-laden army of the retreating [Elamite] imperialists is reminiscent of the attack by the [Thracian] Brygi on an Achaemenian army marching along the coast road from the Hellespont to European Greece circa 492 B.C. (Herodotus, Book VI, chap. 45) and of the similar attack by Thracians on a Roman army following the same route in 188 B.C. (Livy, Book XXXVIII, chap. 40).] In the eighteenth or seventeenth century B.C. the King’s Highway had carried a Palestinian barbarian Hyksos war-band to the north-eastern corner of Egypt, and perhaps also an advance guard of the Eurasian Nomad Mitanni to the northwestern corner of Arabia, on the last stage of their long trek from the south-western shore of the great Eurasian Steppe. In the fourteenth or thirteenth century B.C. the Children of Israel had been refused a passage along the southernmost section of the King’s Highway by the Edomite successor-state of “the New Empire” of Egypt, [footnote: Num. xx. 14-22 and xxi. 4.] and had forced a passage along another section in the teeth of opposition from an Amorite successor-state in the Peraea, [footnote: Num. xxi. 21-32.] on their way to carve out a domain for themselves on the western side of Jordan. In the ninth, eighth, and seventh centuries B.C. the independent principalities of Syria that had emerged from a dark age following the collapse of “the New Empire” of Egypt and the overthrow of “the thalassocracy of Minos” had fallen victims to Assyrian aggressors following on Chedorlaomer’s track [Chedorlaomer was the Elamite whom Abraham attacked]; and when the downfall of Assyria had seemed to promise them relief they had been cheated of it by the immediate substitution of Babylonian for Assyrian rule. On the eve of the overthrow of the Neo-Babylonian Empire by Cyrus the Achaemenid, the King’s Highway had once again come to the fore in the play of international politics, and a would-be leader of an anti-Babylonian movement among the remnant of Judah had exhorted his countrymen to recondition this historic route in order to expedite the passage of Cyrus’s liberating armies.
“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.” [Footnote: Isa. xl. 3-4. [...]]
At the break-up of the Achaemenian Empire’s Seleucid successor-state, Nabataean intruders from Arabia, treading in the footsteps of the Children of Israel, had followed the King’s Highway, without turning off it to pass over Jordan, till they had reached and occupied Damascus; and at the break-up of the Roman Empire the Primitive Muslim Arabs – taking the same war-path, and avenging, in a decisive victory at the passage of the Yarmuk, their discomfiture at Mu’tah in their first encounter with the Roman veterans of the last and greatest Romano-Persian War – had not only captured Damascus but had established there the capital of an empire whose boundaries they had pushed out, within the next hundred years, to Farghānah on the one side and to the Atlantic coasts of Morocco and the Iberian Peninsula on the other. At the break-up of the Arab Caliphate the Crusaders, bursting into Syria through the Cilician Gates and by sea, had forced the passage of the Jordan in the reverse direction to that of the Israelites’ trek, and had pushed their way southwards, down the southernmost stretch of the King’s Highway, till they had reached the head of the Gulf of ‘Aqabah and had thereby momentarily cut the land communications between the African and Asiatic domains of Dār-al-Islām.
This history of the King’s Highway over a period of some three thousand years might look like a monotonous repetition of contests between successive universal states claiming legitimate sovereignty over the thoroughfare and outsiders disputing their title by force of arms. Yet the historic importance of the King’s Highway lay in none of these episodes. This long-fought-over thoroughfare was to find its destiny at last as an Islamic Pilgrims’ Way on which, year by year, a peaceful multitude of Muslims – converging from the far-flung outposts of Dār-al-Islām in Fez and Sarayevo and Vilna and Qāzān and Kāshghar – would make the Hajj, at first on foot or camel-back and latterly by train, [footnote: The building of the Hijāz railway southwards from Damascus along the route of the King’s Highway was begun in A.D. 1900 and was completed as far as Medina in A.D. 1908. Put out of action in the war of 1914-18, the Hijāz Railway remained derelict thereafter from Ma’ān southwards.] to the Holy Cities of the Hijāz.
I’ll post a synopsis of the history of all the ancient near-eastern empires in due course.
A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954
“While looking for pictures of Io, I found this slideshow of Roman frescoes from the BBC reporting on an exhibition [Rosso pompeiano] at the National Museum of Rome. Unfortunately the exhibition has finished, but you can still enjoy these.” – Roman History Books in June.
A pity this couldn’t travel further. The mural above, not in the exhibition, is at the Villa dei Misteri in Pompeii. It shows a woman being initiated into the cult of Dionysus.
What ancient painting remains? There are Egyptian murals and paintings on papyrus, but let’s look at Greeece and Rome.
The Greeks did panel paintings on wooden boards, using encaustic or wax-based paint or water- and egg-based tempera. We know the names of many painters of the Classical and Hellenistic periods from literature. We have descriptions of compositions. Pausanias describes public exhibitions at Athens and Delphi. But not one of the famous works of Greek panel painting has survived, nor any copies. The most important surviving Greek examples are the Pitsa panels (encaustic or tempera?) from c 530 BC, found in the 1930s near the village of Pitsa and the site of the ancient Sicyon, in Corinthia.
We have a larger group of much later Graeco-Roman archaeological survivals from the dry conditions of Egypt, the Fayum mummy portraits, from the Fayum oasis west of the Nile and south of Cairo. They date from the late first century BC and first and second centuries CE. The Italian explorer Pietro della Valle, on a visit to Saqqara-Memphis in 1615, was the first European to describe mummy portraits, which were attached to the mummy at the face. He took some, with their mummies, to Europe. They are now in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (Albertinum).
Those curly-haired patresfamiliarum of Fayum, large-eyed, thirty-ish, and their earringed wives, were part of an élite Greek minority whose culture had become synthesised with Egyptian culture. The early Ptolemaic Greek colonists married local women and adopted Egyptian religious beliefs, and by Roman times their descendants were viewed as Egyptians by the Roman rulers, although they saw themselves as Greek. Most of the portraits depict the deceased at a young age, either because that was the convention or because they died young. Many show children. It used to be thought that the wax portraits were completed during the life of the individual and displayed in their home; this is no longer the view. The patrons of the portraits belonged to the affluent class of military personnel, civil servants and religious dignitaries. Most mummies did not have portraits. Only a few people could afford them.
The Hadrian exhibition still on at the British Museum has at least one mummy portrait from Antinopolis, Boyfriend City, which is on the right bank of the Nile, up river from Fayum, and perhaps some from Fayum itself.
Byzantine icons are also derived from the encaustic panel painting tradition. So much for panels.
Greek wall painting
Wall painting in Greece goes back at least to Minoan (Knossos, Crete, unearthed by Sir Arthur Evans from the end of the nineteenth century) and Mycenaean (Tiryns and Mycenae, Peloponnese) Bronze Age sites. The Egyptian painters of the time painted their wall paintings in the fresco secco technique, but the Minoans used a “true” or “wet” painting method, using metal and mineral oxides and requiring quick execution. The painting of the subsequent Mycenaean age was influenced by the Minoan. It is not clear whether there is any continuity between these antecedents and later Greek wall paintings. Only fragments of them remain.
Greek wall paintings are described in Pausanias. Few have been preserved. The most notable examples are a monumental Archaic seventh century BC scene of armoured combat from inside a temple at Kalapodi (near Thebes, Boeotia; unearthed when?) and the frescoes from the fourth-century remains at Vergina (present central Macedonia), discovered in 1977, which is believed to be the burial site of the Kings of Macedon; the paintings here are at what is thought to be the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, and at a tomb which may have been that of the founder of the Antigonid dynasty. Graves in Magna Graecia also had wall paintings, eg the Tomb of the Diver at Paestum (c 470 BC), discovered in 1968.
Some scholars suggest that the Roman frescoes at Pompeii are the direct descendants of Greek tradition, and that some of them copied famous panel paintings.
Greek vase painting
The most copious evidence of Greek painting survives on vases, but the techniques and subject-matter were different from those used in larger-scale painting. The earliest styles were geometric. Black-figure pottery (black on red) was late Archaic (c 620-480 BC) and a Corinthian invention. It reached its full potential in Athens. Red-figure pottery (red on black) was an Athenian invention of the late sixth century. It stopped in Athens after Alexander, but continued in Magna Graecia a little longer. Black figures on white (white ground technique) was developed in Athens at about the same time as red-figure pottery and died out at the end of the fifth century.
Greek sculpture and architecture
Much of the figural or architectural sculpture of ancient Greece was polychromatic. So were the buildings themselves.
Many of the Greek styles influenced Etruscan art. Etruria became a centre of red-figure vase painting. The Etruscan paintings that have survived are mostly wall frescoes from graves, and mainly from Tarquinia. They are the most important examples we have of pre-Roman figurative art in Italy. How much of the influence of Greek art on Rome came directly and how much through the Etruscans?
The Romans painted on panels, but almost nothing survives. The Severan Tondo, from c AD 200, is a tempera painting on a circular wooden panel (tondo), with a diameter of 30.5 cm. It is at the Antikensammlung in Berlin. It depicts the emperor Septimus Severus with his family. It is probably an example of imperial portraits that were mass-produced to be displayed in offices and public buildings throughout the empire. Some documents had to be signed in front of an image of the Emperor, which gave them the same status as if signed in his actual presence. With each change of emperor, they would have been discarded or replaced. The Berlin Tondo is the only known surviving specimen of this type of painting and appears to be of Egyptian origin.
Roman wall painting
Our knowledge of Ancient Roman painting comes mainly from the murals at Pompeii and Herculanum, which were preserved after the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. They were excavated in the eighteenth century.
Most of this wall painting was done using the secco (“dry”) method, but some wet paintings also existed in Roman times. There is evidence from mosaics and a few inscriptions that some Roman paintings were adaptations or copies of earlier Greek works, but some must have been done by immigrant Greek artists. There were triumphal scenes, paintings of animals, still lifes, pictures of everyday life, mythological paintings, erotic paintings, and some portraits. Paintings evoked the pleasures of the countryside and represented shepherds, herds, rustic temples, rural mountainous landscapes and country houses. There was architectural trompe l’œil. Four successive styles have been identified on the Pompeiian murals. In the late empire, after 200 AD, early Christian themes mixed with pagan imagery on catacomb walls.
Pompeian red became fashionable in Europe at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century, and is still used in some grand rooms. The discoveries at Pompeii influenced the Empire style and early-nineteenth-century neoclassicism. Were they a distant influence on the pre-Raphaelites?
The main innovation of Roman painting compared to Greek was the development of landscapes, incorporating techniques of perspective, though true mathematical perspective was developed 1,500 years later.
In Greece and Rome, wall painting was not considered high art. The most prestigious form of art besides sculpture was panel painting.
The Paestum diver
A Fayum mummy portrait
From a mural of the goddess Victoria at Pompeii, shown in the exhibition. At eternallycool.net. It seems incredible that Botticelli had not seen it.
Gaza has usually been a stop on the trading route between Egypt and Syria.
At different times it has been under Egyptian, Phoenician, Philistine, Israelite, Chaldean, Persian, Greek, Roman, Arab, Crusader, Turkish, British rule. I’ll look at its history properly another time. (I went there in 1973.)