Archive for the 'Russia core' Category

Moscow, the Third Rome

December 3 2012

When, fourteen years after the ecclesiastical Union of Florence [a last-minute attempt to unify Christendom in the face of the Turkish threat], the Greek Roman Empire was extinguished by the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, the Russians saw in this a divine retribution for the Greeks’ apostasy. Now that the Muslim Ottoman Empire had imposed its rule on all the Orthodox peoples of Anatolia and South-Eastern Europe, Muscovy was the sole surviving independent Orthodox Christian state. What was more, the Russians were the only Orthodox Christian people that had preserved its orthodoxy uncompromised by any concessions to Papal claims. On these grounds a sixteenth-century Russian ecclesiastical publicist asserted that Moscow was “the Third Rome”. Augustus’s Old Rome and Constantine’s New Rome had now each fallen in its turn. Moscow was the heir of both, and her dominion, unlike theirs, was to have no end. This doctrine was endorsed by the Muscovite government implicitly when, in 1547, the Grand Duke Ivan IV “the Terrible” assumed the title “Czar” (Caesar).

The “ecclesiastical publicist” was the monk Philoteus, who in 1510 wrote to the Grand Duke Vasili III (Basil III): “Two Romes have fallen. The third stands. And there will not be a fourth. No one will replace your Christian Tsardom!”

The Grand Dukes (or Grand Princes) of Moscow were nominally vassals of the Golden Horde until the reign of Ivan III (the Great), 1462-1505.

The notion of this further Rome seems to have appealed to Toynbee in the Study, but he prints comments by two Oxford scholars who warn him not to make to make too much of it.

[The writer has had] the benefit of comments and criticisms from B. H. Sumner, the Warden of All Souls College, Oxford, and from Prince Dmitri Obolensky, the Reader in Russian and Balkan Medieval History in the University of Oxford, on the question of the degree to which the course of Muscovite History was affected by the influence of the Byzantine element in the Russian Orthodox Christian cultural heritage. B. H. Sumner’s opinion on this question is set out in the following passages of a letter of his, dated the 25th January, 1951, to the writer of this Study:

“I find the build-up and development of the Muscovite state in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries very difficult to analyse, but, from what I have read of those two centuries from the Russian side, I should say that the most effective and practical influences in building up centralized administration and government came from autochthonous Russian developments of the semi-feudal conditions of Moscow and the other Russian principalities (shot through with a strong nationalist colouring), combined with some Tatar influence, but with little Byzantine influence. I do not think, for instance, that either Ivan the Great or Ivan the Terrible [reigned 1547-84] regarded themselves as successors of the Byzantine emperors, or that they and their civil servants, boyars, diplomats, &c., had any idea of ‘oecumenical’ pretensions. It is true that Ivan the Terrible, for instance, claimed to be Tsar ‘Autocrat’, Gosudar [sovereign], and appointed by God, combining plenitude of power both vis-à-vis his subjects and as against any other states, but he never claimed to be the successor of the Basileus [Roman Emperor in the East], or to be ‘oecumenical’ or ‘Tsar of the Orthodox Christians of the whole World’ (that was the expression used by the Patriarch of Constantinople in a letter to Ivan in A.D. 1561, but not by Ivan). I don’t think that it could be held that Ivan the Great and Ivan the Terrible and the civilians in Russia held that there had been any translatio imperii, or made any claim over all Christians or all Orthodox.

“Such claims, implicitly or explicitly, had appeared from the end of the fifteenth century onwards, bound up with the idea of Moscow as the Third Rome, but, at any rate at that time, this idea, which admittedly had its origins in writings of certain monks, continued to be confined to certain ecclesiastical circles in Russia, with occasional echoes from Constantinople. It is striking, I think, that the official historiography of the sixteenth century in Russia, which was built up by the Tsars, does not lean at all towards Byzantium: both in the chronicles and in Russian diplomacy of the time the emphasis is all on the heritage of Kiev, not at all on the heritage of Byzantium. That, of course, was because of the continuous struggle for the Russian western lands against Lithuania-Poland.

“From about A.D. 1470 onwards, for more than a century, Moscow had a whole series of overtures, either from Rome or from the Emperor, or both, linking together an anti-Turkish alliance, re-union of churches, recognition of Moscow as the heir of the Byzantine Empire, and elevation of the Metropolitan of Moscow to the patriarchal dignity. It is, I think, significant that the Russians in reply were always silent as regards the inheritance of the Byzantine Empire, or coronation of the Tsar as ‘the Christian Tsar’. What the Russians were interested in was their claims against Lithuania-Poland and their struggle for an exit to the Baltic, and not the Balkans or the Ottomans: hence the failure of Western overtures for an anti-Turkish alliance and of Western attempts to win the Russians for this by dangling before them the lure of the Byzantine heritage.

“Thus, the conception of Moscow as ‘the Third Rome’, or of Muscovy as the inheritor of the ‘oecumenical’ role of Byzantium, was, in my view, of no practical importance and of very little theoretical or emotional importance among the governing class in Muscovy in the late fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries. Its appeal was in the main limited to certain ecclesiastical circles in Muscovy – and, in a sense, to needy Orthodox in the Ottoman Empire in quest of money from Moscow. It is quite true that the idea of Muscovy as the sole possessor of the pure Orthodox Christian faith after the Council of Florence and the capture of Constantinople was a stock-in-trade element in Muscovite national pride during these centuries, and it fostered Muscovite exclusiveness and xenophobia. But this line is not the same as stepping into the shoes of Byzantium by aspiring to an ‘oecumenical’ role.

“Much later [at the end of the eighteenth century], when the Russians had advanced far southwards and were strong enough to challenge the Turks, then the idea of the liberation of the Orthodox, and sometimes that of some form of resurrected Orthodox empire at Constantinople, became prominent, and increasingly so in the nineteenth century. Even so, I think that the influence of the messianic ideas of the Slavophils and Dostoievsky and their typicalness can be exaggerated, and that the ‘oecumenical’ and messianic elements in Russian nineteenth-century thought ought not to be read back into earlier centuries as being then powerfully creative and proof of a strong and continuous Byzantine heritage.”

In a note communicated to the writer of this Study on the ist June, 1951, Prince Dmitri Obolensky expresses the same view.

“Neither the successive Russian governments of the sixteenth century nor, on the whole, contemporary Russian writers and historians seem to have taken the theory of ‘Moscow the Third Rome’ very seriously; for the Muscovite rulers from Ivan III onwards, Moscow was much more the ‘Second Kiev’ than the ‘Third Rome’. I would agree here with Humphrey Sumner. Some recent historians have, rightly, it seems to me, ‘played down’ the importance of the theory of ‘Moscow the Third Rome’ in the development of Russian sovereignty. See, for example, G. Olšr: ‘Gli ultimi Rurikidi e le basi ideologiche della sovranità dello Stato russo’, in Orientalia Christiana Periodica, vol. xii, Nos. 3-4 (Rome, 1946), pp. 322-73.”

But he defends part of his view.

It will be seen that Sumner and Obolensky agree in making three points: In the first place, the concept of “Moscow the Third Rome” was an academic idea which was never taken very seriously outside ecclesiastical circles; secondly, the architects of a Muscovite autocracy were indebted to the institutions of the East Roman Empire for little except certain external forms and ceremonies; thirdly, the statesmen in control of Muscovite policy showed themselves unwilling to sacrifice the interests of their own Russian Orthodox Christendom to those of an Ottoman Orthodox Christendom which was sundered from Russia by the double barrier of the Eurasian Steppe and the Black Sea. None of these three points would be contested by the present writer; but he would point out, in his turn, that none of them is incompatible with the thesis that the extinction of the last glimmer of the East Roman Empire in A.D. 1453 had an important and enduring psychological effect on Russian souls, [footnote below] and that this effect consisted in the implantation in them of a feeling that Muscovy, as the now sole surviving Orthodox Christian Power of any consequence, had inherited from the East Roman Empire both the mission of preserving intact the purity of the Orthodox Christian Faith and the high destiny which this onerous mission carried with it ex officio.

It will be noticed that Sumner, in the passages quoted above, equates the ideological legacy of the East Roman Empire with a pretension to an oecumenical authority. As the present writer sees it, the idea for which the East Roman Empire had stood, first and foremost, in its own people’s minds was the guardianship of Christian Orthodoxy rather than the possession of a title to world-wide dominion. He would, however, go on to contend that, in fact, the second of these two pretensions was logically latent in the first, since it would be difficult for a people to believe that God had singled them out to be the unique heralds of His Truth on Earth without also believing that He had likewise singled them out to be His instruments for propagating this Truth eventually throughout the Oikoumenê. It was, for example, an article of orthodox Jewish belief among a politically impotent Jewish diasporà that the extinct Kingdom of David would eventually be restored by the Messiah, not in its historic form as a parochial state, but with a dominion that would be coextensive with the Oikoumenê. The writer would therefore take issue with Sumner’s contention that the idea of being the sole possessor of the pure Orthodox Faith does not carry with it an aspiration to an oecumenical role; and he would have consulted his friend and mentor further on this point if, by the date when he was revising the present Part of this Study for the press, Humphrey Sumner’s friends and fellow historians had not suffered an irreparable loss in this saintly scholar’s untimely death.

Footnote to the last paragraph but one:

This psychological effect of the concept of “the Third Rome” is, however, also questioned by Prince Obolensky:

“I do not wish to minimize the importance of the religious factor in the resistance offered by the seventeenth-century Russian conservatives to the infiltration of Western ideas and customs: some of them at least seem to have regarded Russia as a guardian of the Orthodox faith against the heretical West. But I doubt whether the theory of ‘Moscow the Third Rome’ had much to do with this attitude, except possibly among the ‘Old Believers’. Except in some ecclesiastical, and particularly monastic, circles, this theory does not seem to have made much headway in Russia. … [It] [bracket in original] does not seem to have been sufficiently accepted to justify the view that future generations of Russians were moved by it to resist the impact of Western culture upon their way of life.”

In an earlier passage – admittedly speaking of “survivals” rather than revivals or successions – he points out that

“survivals” afforded [EA Freeman and his school, with their exaggeration of the link between Hellenic and Western history] the intellectual and aesthetic pleasure of tracing – as they imagined – the continuity of this thread and that, as its colour flashed out and vanished and flashed out again in the shot-silk texture of historic sequences. This pleasant exercise of the fancy has sometimes led historians who have indulged in it into irrelevant conceits and barren controversies.

Whether he is right or wrong here, Toynbee was writing of what he knew: he sometimes allowed himself such “pleasant exercises of the fancy”. In due course I will quote the passage to which Sumner and Obolensky were objecting.

Novgorod and St Petersburg (with pre-Ivan background)

Vasili III of Russia

Vasili III, contemporary (west) European engraving

Change and Habit, The Challenge of Our Time, OUP, 1966 (first quotation)

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934 (last)

The sewers of Lvov

September 19 2012

Philippa Sands on the city of Lviv, NYR Blog, May 30 (meant to post over summer).

Post mentioning Lviv. Post with Lemberg video.

Ruthenia immediately beyond the Carpathians (in Ukraine) used to be called Galicia or Austrian Poland (capital: Lvov or Lwów in Polish, Lemberg in German, Lviv in Ukrainian). It belonged to Poland until the First Partition. Austria controlled it from 1772 to 1918. It was Polish between the wars and passed to the Soviet Union (Ukraine) at the end of the Second World War.

Sands: “[Lviv] was a closed city during the Soviet period from 1945 to 1991, and even today remains relatively little known. [...] Polish director Agnieszka Holland’s film In Darkness, which was nominated for an Oscar last year, describes a short moment in [the] longer story. Drawn from Robert Marshall’s 1991 book The Sewers of Lvov [the title is actually In the Sewers of Lvov] and Krsytyna Chiger’s [formula ghost-written] memoir The Girl in the Green Sweater (2007), the film is about a small group of Jewish residents who take refuge in the sewers of Nazi-occupied Lviv with the assistance of Leopold Socha, a city worker. His nemesis is the sinister Bortnik – he is given no first name – an unpleasant Ukrainian officer who has been enlisted by the Nazis to root out hidden Jews. Holland is a filmmaker of impeccable honesty and the story is simply and powerfully told. But above all it is the film’s setting, below the streets of Lviv, that gives it such force.

“Robert Marshall’s book was among the first of dozens I have read to understand what had happened in the city from 1914 to 1945 [...].”

Lwów Eaglets by Wojciech Kossak (1926): Polish teenage defenders of Lvov in the Polish war of 1918-19 against the short-lived West Ukrainian People’s Republic; on November 21 1918 the Ukrainians were repelled from the area of the Lychakiv Cemetery

Second Polish Republic, 1922-39 (the First Republic is another term for Poland-Lithuania from 1569 until the Third Partition: “a republic under the presidency of a king”)

A teenage resistance fighter in France

Two Swedish heroes

July 9 2012

Charles XII [...] defiantly courted death in the trenches before Frederiksten in A.D. 1719 [...].

He was invading Norway – and died in 1718, not ’19. Denmark-Norway was one of Russia’s allies in the Great Northern War of 1700-21 (Sweden and others vs Russia and others).

Charles had already led Sweden to its major defeat by Russia in the Battle of Poltava (Russian Empire territory in the Ukraine) in 1709. This was the occasion on which the Dniepr Cossack Mazeppa, who been helping the Russians to suppress a rebellion of the Don Cossacks, unwisely switched sides and supported Sweden.

Peter the Great’s callow peasant army had won its spurs in A.D. 1709 at Poltava, in the Ukraine, against Charles XII’s far-ranging Swedes [...].

The Battle of Poltava, orchestral passage in Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa; the opera is after Pushkin’s narrative poem Poltava, which was an answer to Byron’s Mazeppa; performers not stated

With peace in 1721, Protestant Sweden and Catholic Poland-Lithuania (1385-1795) ceased to be major powers. Russia gained its Baltic territories and became the greatest power in Eastern Europe.

Voltaire published his Histoire de Charles XII in 1731. Charles ought to have been a hero in Cold-War America.

Between A.D. 1494 and A.D. 1952 the only other actor of a leading part in the Western power game who had lost his life in battle had been one of Charles XII’s predecessors on the throne of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus. Napoleon, like Francis I, had died in his bed; Hitler had died in his bunker.

The great-power century for Sweden had begun with Gustavus Adolphus. He died in 1632 at the Battle of Lützen in Saxony, near Leipzig, during the Thirty Years’ War (Sweden and others vs Holy Roman Empire and Spain).

For Toynbee, 1494, the date of Francis I’s invasion of Italy, was the beginning of modern international power relations in Europe: the age which ended in 1945.

A Swedish militarism that had been rampant since Gustavus Adolphus (regnabat A.D. 1611-32) had disembarked his expeditionary force on German soil on the 27-28th June, 1630, had been extinguished by a subsequent and consequent Swedish experience of being bled white by Charles XII (regnabat A.D. 1697-1718).

Gustavus Adolphus was a hero in Protestant Germany. My grandfather had an engraving of him hanging in the hall of his house in Baden-Württemberg.

Gustavus Adolphus in a Polish coat, Matthäus Merian the Elder, 1632, Skokloster Castle, Stockholm

Charles XII, David von Krafft workshop or circle, 1724 (posthumous), location?

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (passages not contiguous)

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote) (third extract)

Novgorod and St Petersburg

December 8 2011

There was [...] a feature in the past domestic history of Russian Orthodox Christendom which may have helped Saint Petersburg to maintain itself as the capital of the Russian Empire for as long as it did. The Empire had been brought into existence through the imposition of the rule of the Grand Duchy of Muscovy upon the city-state of Novgorod between A.D. 1471 and 1479. At that date Novgorod represented one half of Russian Orthodox Christendom, and this not merely in the extent of her territory but also in the complexion and orientation of her culture. The Russian state [Rus] which had been converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity by the cultural influence of the East Roman Empire at the close of the tenth century of the Christian Era had been founded by pagan seafarers who had made their way into Russia at her opposite extremity, from Scandinavia. Their port of entry had been Novgorod, on the River Volkhov, which the sea-going ships of the Vikings were able to ascend via the River Neva and Lake Ladoga. When the Scandinavians in their homelands were converted to Western Catholic Christianity – a conversion which was simultaneous with that of the Russians to Eastern Orthodoxy – Novgorod became a point of contact between Russia and Western Christendom, and it continued to perform this function till its subjugation by Muscovy. The heavy hand of Muscovite autocracy extinguished both Novgorod’s overseas trade with the West and the self-governing institutions that were her heritage from the pagan Viking Age and that had been favoured by the cultural effects of Novgorod’s subsequent commercial intercourse with the Hansa towns. In crushing Novgorod and what she stood for, the Muscovite empire-builder Ivan III and his successors were depriving Russian Orthodox Christendom of a valuable cultural asset, and conversely Peter the Great, in founding Saint Petersburg, was in a sense merely restoring to Russia this treasure of which his predecessors had robbed her. In purely geographical terms, Saint Petersburg was the eighteenth-century counterpart of a medieval Novgorod, taking into account the increase in the size and draught of sea-going ships that had taken place in the meantime. In cultural terms the effect of the removal of the capital of the Russian Empire to Saint Petersburg from Moscow was to create at that stage the situation which would have been created in the fourteen-eighties if at that date the political unification of Russia had been brought about through the city-state of Novgorod’s conquering the Grand Duchy of Moscow instead of through Moscow’s conquering Novgorod. In the light of this historical background, Peter the Great’s act of transferring his capital from Moscow to Saint Petersburg appears somewhat less perverse than Seleucus Nicator’s act of transferring his from a site in Babylonia [Seleucia] to Antioch.

In 882 the capital of Viking, or Varangian, Rus was moved from Novgorod on the Volkhov south to Kiev on the Dnieper. Kievan Rus, which had dissolved into a collection of principalities, fell to the Mongols circa 1240; but Novgorod, which had evolved into a largely independent republic, was spared a Mongol invasion. The Grand Duchy of Moscow did not begin to rise until the end of that century.

The Rurik dynasty, which dominated Kievan Rus (and was originally from Novgorod), also supplied the Grand Dukes of Moscow – and the first two Tsars, Ivan the Terrible (reigned 1547-84) and Feodor I (reigned 1584-98).

The Viking route from the Gulf of Finland to Lake Ilmen was via the River Neva (on which St Petersburg was built), Lake Ladoga and the River Volkhov

Kievan Rus in the eleventh century; both maps Wikimedia Commons

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954 (footnote)

Má Vlast and the Czech lands

July 21 2011

I’m not particularly drawn to Czech musical cheerfulness, but Má Vlast is stirring rather than cheerful. It received a blazing performance at the BBC Proms last night by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Jiří Bělohlávek.

Smetana composed the six symphonic poems gathered under that title (which means My Homeland) between 1874 and ’79. The cycle takes seventy minutes to perform and is a monument of healthy nineteenth-century nationalism.

The Kingdoms of Hungary and Bohemia became constituent states of the Hapsburg monarchy in 1526. Moravia (capital: Brno or Brünn) had belonged to Bohemia continuously since 1019, Slovakia (capital: Bratislava or Pressburg or Pózsony) to Hungary since 1000. There was no Bohemian constitutional settlement equivalent to the Ausgleich with Hungary. After 1918, Bohemia was separated from Austria, and Hungary was dismembered. The Slovakian part became part of the new Republic of Czechoslovakia.



Vyšehrad Castle in Prague was a seat of the earliest Czech dukes and kings, the Přemyslid dynasty (9th century-1306). They built it in the tenth century, seventy years after Prague Castle, but it was Prague Castle which eventually became the nucleus of the city. The two co-existed until the Hussites plundered and destroyed Vyšehrad. The Gothic church of SS Peter and Paul survives. Czech artists, writers, musicians and politicians are buried in its cemetery, including Dvořák and Smetana. There is also a Romanesque Rotunda of St Martin.

Vltava, or The Moldau

The Vltava flows south-north entirely in Bohemia, through Prague, ending in the Elbe. The famous tune (not my favourite part of the work) is not Smetana’s. It is an adaptation of a sixteenth-century Italian song, La Mantovana, the Mantuan (girl?, aria?), which was popular in many parts of Europe, including Bohemia. In 1888 a Zionist settler from Russian Moldavia (Moldova), Samuel Cohen, adapted a Romanian version of the song as a setting for the poem Hatikvah. This became the national anthem of the State of Israel.


Šárka is a female warrior in early (seventh-century) Czech legend.

Z českých luhů a hájů, or From Bohemia’s Woods and Fields

Woods must in part mean the Bohemian Forest or the Böhmerwald. This is the point, if any, at which the work must start to blaze.


The city in southern Bohemia which was the home of the Hussites. Quotes the Hussite war song Ktož jsú boží bojovníci. Dvořák also quotes it in his Hussite Overture. Wikipedia: “The song was sung with such intensity during the Hussite Wars [against the Holy Roman Empire], that it instilled fear throughout the enemy army, making it a weapon in itself.”


Blaník is a mountain in southern Bohemia. A legend says that an army of Czech knights led by St Wenceslas, the good king, sleeps there. They will awaken and help the motherland when she is in danger. St Wenceslas was an early tenth-century duke of Bohemia (the title of king was not used until the eleventh century).


More east European (non-Russian) symphonic poems on historical matters:

Liszt, Tasso, Lamento e trionfo (before 1849 to 1854), after Byron,

Liszt, Héroïde funèbre (1849-50), about the 1830 July Revolution in Paris, composed after the 1848 revolutions,

Liszt, Mazeppa (1851), about the Ukrainian Cossack who supported the Swedes in the Great Northern War with Russia, after Hugo (rather than Byron),

Liszt, Hungaria (1854), no explicit programme, but it clearly counts,

Liszt, Hunnenschlacht (1856-57), about the Battle of the Catalaunian Fields in 451, after a painting by Wilhelm von Kaulback,

Smetana, Richard III (1857-58), after Shakespeare,

Smetana, Wallenstein’s Camp (1858-59), after Schiller,

Smetana, Hakon Jarl (1860-61), about a tenth-century Norwegian king, after Oehlenschläger,

Bartók, Kossuth (1903), amazingly Straussian in parts, especially at the beginning, but also pure Bartók.

Some of the Liszt symphonic poems must be the worst music written in the nineteenth century, but they are fun if you are in the mood.


I didn’t hear Queyras’s performance of the Dvořák cello concerto in the first half of last night’s Prom. When I said that I wasn’t into Czech cheerfulness (I don’t even like Prague all that much, which isn’t cheerful), I meant Dvořák – but this concerto, part of Dvořák’s amazing late flowering, is a masterpiece. On an Overgrown Path on the healing power of Dvořák.

Below, map of Czechoslovakia. Why is Moravia shown as Moravia-Silesia? What is Silesia or Schlesien anyway? The second map shows how it lies across modern borders. It was part of Greater Moravia in the ninth century. Poland controlled it for a time, but it eventually came under the control of Bohemia and thence Austria. Prussia conquered most of it in 1742 (War of the Austrian Succession). A small part was retained by Austria. Most of that part, Czech Silesia or Moravian Silesia (capital: Opava or Troppau), passed to Czechoslovakia and remains in the Czech Republic. The German part, an industrial centre (capital: Wrocław or Breslau), passed to Poland in 1945. The original Bohemian border is shown in blue, the 1815 Prussian settlement in yellow.

The term Czech lands (Czech: České země) is used to describe the combination of Bohemia, Moravia and Czech Silesia.

The three parts of Prussian Silesia. Lower Silesia (capital: Liegnitz), Middle Silesia (capital: Breslau), Upper Silesia (capital: Oppeln).

Auschwitz (Oświęcim), like Kattowitz (Katowice) but unlike Oppeln (Opole), was in a part of Upper Silesia which had been retained by Austria and had passed to the Polish Republic between the wars.

And what, at the end of the first map, is Sub-Carpathian Rus? Another word for it is Transcarpathia. Or you can call it Carpathian Ruthenia or Ruthenia beyond the Carpathians or Carpatho-Ukraine.

Rus was the Viking state (capital: Kiev) eventually smashed by the Mongols. In the ninth century its Transcarpathian tip came under the influence of Greater Moravia. The Magyars migrated southward through it and most of it eventually came under Magyar, ie Hungarian and thence Austrian, control. With the dismemberment of Hungary it was given to Czechoslovakia. It passed to the Soviet Union (Ukraine) at the end of the Second World War.

Ruthenia immediately beyond the Carpathians (in Ukraine) used to be called Galicia or Austrian Poland (capital: Lvov or Lwów in Polish, Lemberg in German, Lviv in Ukrainian). It belonged to Poland until the First Partition. Austria controlled it from 1772 to 1918. It was Polish between the wars and passed to the Soviet Union (Ukraine) at the end of the Second World War.



In the early twentieth century “Sudetenland” referred to the northern, southwest and western fringes of Czechoslovakia – the border areas of Bohemia and Moravia, and Czech Silesia – where the majority of the inhabitants were ethnic Germans. It did not include the Germans of Slovakia (the Carpathian Germans).

Germany occupied the Sudetenland in 1938, with the permission of Britain, France and Italy (Munich Agreement), and the rest of Bohemia and Moravia – and also Slovakia – early in the following year. Sub-Carpathian Rus tried to declare its independence (capital: Khust), but was occupied by fascist Hungary, which held it until Germany occupied Hungary in 1944.


Despite not being very interested in Czech music, I seem to have at least three CDs of Má Vlast: with James Levine (of whom I’m a fan) and the Vienna Philharmonic, with Václav Neumann and (I think) the Leipzig Gewandhaus, and the most famous performance of this work in living memory, which I remember watching in a live broadcast – Rafael Kubelik with the Czech Philharmonic at the Prague Spring Festival on May 12 1990 after the Velvet Revolution.

This was just after the Hyphen Wars, about what to call Czechoslovakia after communism. The decision was Czech and Slovak Federal Republic.

On January 1 1993 Bohemia and Moravia separated peacefully from Slovakia, and two countries were born: the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

This clip is Kubelik in a studio recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1952. The title of the movement is mistranslated.

Post here: The Hapsburgs and the Ottomans

Greece and Russia

July 18 2011

The Venetians had never lost hold upon the “Ionian” chain of islands – Corfu, Cefalonia, Zante, and Cerigo – which flank the western coast of Greece, and in 1685 they embarked on an offensive on the mainland, which won them undisputed possession of Peloponnesos for twenty years. Venice was far nearer than Turkey to her dissolution, and spent the last spasm of her energy on this ephemeral conquest. [Footnote: 1699-1718.] Yet she had maintained the contact of the Greek race with western Europe during the two centuries of despair, and the interlude of her rule in Peloponnesos was a fitting culmination to her work; for, brief though it was, it effectively broke the Ottoman tradition, and left behind it a system of communal self-government among the Peloponnesian Greeks which the returning Turk was too feeble to sweep away. The Turks gained nothing by the rapid downfall of Venice, for Austria as rapidly stepped into her place, and pressed with fresh vigour the attack from the north-west. North-eastward, too, a new enemy had arisen in Russia, which had been reorganized towards the turn of the century by Peter the Great with a radical energy undreamed of by any Turkish Köprili, and which found its destiny in opposition to the Ottoman Empire. The new Orthodox power regarded itself as the heir of the Romaic Empire from which it had received its first Christianity and culture. It aspired to repay the Romaic race in adversity by championing it against its Moslem oppressors, and sought its own reward in a maritime outlet on the Black Sea. From the beginning of the eighteenth century Russia repeatedly made war on Turkey, either with or without the co-operation of Austria; but the decisive bout in the struggle was the war of 1769-74. A Russian fleet appeared in the Mediterranean, raised an insurrection in Peloponnesos, and destroyed the Turkish squadron in battle. The Russian armies were still more successful on the steppes, and the Treaty of Kutchuk Kainardji [1774] not only left the whole north coast of the Black Sea in Russia’s possession, but contained an international sanction for the rights of the sultan’s Orthodox subjects. In 1783 a supplementary commercial treaty extorted for the Ottoman Greeks the right to trade under the Russian flag. The territorial sovereignty of Turkey in the Aegean remained intact, but the Russian guarantee gave the Greek race a more substantial security than the shadowy ordinance of Mustapha Köprili. The paralysing prestige of the Porte was broken, and Greek eyes were henceforth turned in hope towards Petersburg.

Greece, in The Balkans, A History of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, Rumania, Turkey, various authors, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1915

Arming the peasants

July 16 2011

In A.D. 1952 [...] the [world’s] peasantry could get arms from one or other of the two industrially potent Super-Powers that were competing, at this time, for the peasantry’s allegiance. A North Korean, Continental Chinese, and Communist Annamese peasant soldiery was being armed from an “arsenal of Communism” in the Soviet Union, while a South Korean, Formosan Chinese, and anti-Communist Annamese peasant soldiery was being armed from an “arsenal of Democracy” in the United States.

There was as yet no vast unaligned secondary market. Russia and China had been diverging ideologically since 1956, but the Sino-Soviet split came into the open in 1961 and was never repaired.

Russia and China competed to support North Vietnam, while the US supported the south.

The Cambodia-Vietnam war of 1976-90 became part of the Sino-Soviet rivalry, with Russia supporting Vietnam and China Cambodia.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954 (footnote)


April 15 2011

The Old Believers or Raskolniki became separated after 1666 from the official Russian Orthodox Church as a protest against church reforms introduced by Patriarch Nikon between 1652 and 1666. Old Believers continue liturgical practices which the Russian Orthodox Church maintained before the implementation of these reforms. Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina is about the Old Believers’ rebellion, with the help of the Streltsy, against Peter the Great.

In the eyes of these Raskolniks the Tsar Peter’s version of Orthodoxy was no Orthodoxy at all; and yet at the same time it was impossible to imagine the old ecclesiastical order triumphantly reasserting itself in the teeth of a secular government that was now omnipotent as well as Satanic. The Raskolniki were therefore driven to hope for something which had no precedent, and that was for the epiphany of a Tsar-Messiah who would be able as well as willing to undo the Tsar-Antichrist’s sacrilegious work and restore the Orthodox Faith in its pristine purity because he would combine absolute mundane power with perfect piety. The Raskolniki hugged this wild hope, because their only alternative was the bleak prospect of waiting grimly for the Last Judgement.

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939

The inheritors of the Ottoman Empire

November 24 2010

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

Persia’s losses

March 15 2010

The most serious territorial diminution which the Persian Empire has suffered since the definitive Ottoman conquest of ‘Irāq [1533] has been the loss of the Transcaucasian territory which was conquered by Russia in the early nineteenth century and which now constitutes a Republic of Azerbaijan which is one of the constituent [...] members of the U.S.S.R.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

The Cossack Army of the Dniepr

November 2 2008

The far-flung Cossack communities which – at the moment of their annihilation in the Russian Communist Revolution of 1917 – were echeloned right across Asia from the banks of the Don [map] to the banks of the Ussuri [description] – were all derived from a single mother community, the Cossack Army of the Dniepr; and we find the characteristic Cossack institutions already fully developed here by the time when, in the fifteenth century, the Dniepr Cossacks first make their appearance in recorded history.

A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934

The cataracts of the Dniepr

November 2 2008

It may be recalled [...] that while one of the two constituent elements of the Russian Civilization was Orthodox Christian, the other was Scandinavian [...], and that in the tenth century of the Christian Era the Cataracts of the Dniepr [map], among which the original Cossacks planted their stronghold before the fifteenth century, had possessed a Scandinavian as well as a Slavonic set of names. (See Constantine Porphyrogenitus: De Imperio Administrando, ch. 9.)

A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934 (footnote)

Moscow’s changes of fortune 1

July 18 2007

Both the eclipse of Moscow in the early eighteenth century and her recovery of her pristine status of being the capital of All the Russias in the early twentieth century can be explained, at least in part, in terms of the relaxation and reapplication of an external pressure.

Though Moscow had begun her career as an outpost of Russian Orthodox Christendom against the primitive pagan tenants of the north-eastern forests, she had made her political fortune from the fourteenth century onwards as the main bulwark of a remnant of Russian Orthodox Christendom against an aggressive Western Christendom which had advanced eastward, overrunning the White Russian and Ukrainian marches of Russia, till, by the middle of the fifteenth century, the eastern frontier of Poland-Lithuania had come to lie within a short march of Moscow’s western gate. The situation thus established had persisted for more than a century and a half. It was not till after the Polish occupation of Moscow itself in A.D. 1610-12 that the tide turned and Muscovy began to liberate Russian Orthodox Christian territory that had been conquered by Poland-Lithuania at earlier dates. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, however, Poland-Lithuania had become so feeble that the pressure on Russia from that quarter had diminished to vanishing-point, and in consequence Moscow had lost the significance – previously attaching to her as the defender of Russia’s march against the Western World – which had been one of the causes of Moscow’s both gaining and keeping a position of primacy inside the Russian World itself. During the ninety-two years that elapsed between the removal of the capital of the Russian Empire from Moscow to Saint Petersburg and the completion of the eighteenth-century partition of Poland, the balance of power on Russia’s western march tipped more and more heavily in Russia’s favour until in A.D. 1795 Russia recovered the last of the Russian Orthodox Christian territories that had been conquered by Western Christian Powers since the fourteenth century, with the sole exception of Eastern Galicia. In this rather exceptional chapter in the history of Russia’s politico-military relations with the West along this land-frontier, Moscow’s role of serving as guardian of the gate was naturally at a discount, and it was probably no accident that this was also the age in which Moscow was at her nadir and Saint Petersburg at her zenith in the domestic history of the Russian body social.

However that may be, there can be no doubt that Moscow’s recovery of prestige, which was the necessary prelude to her reattainment of her lost prerogative of serving as the political capital of All the Russias, began from the moment when the pressure of the Western World on Russia once again became formidable. When the Polish Western invaders’ feat of occupying Moscow in A.D. 1610-12 was repeated by French Western invaders in A.D. 1812, Moscow once again played the beau role while Saint Petersburg was enjoying an inglorious security; and thereafter the successive German invasions of Russia in A.D. 1915 and A.D. 1941 indicated to Russian minds that the renewal of Western aggression under Napoleon’s leadership had been, not a meaningless curiosity of history, but an earnest of a danger against which any government of Russia would have, in future, to be perpetually on its guard. The Polish and French invaders who in turn had momentarily occupied Moscow, and the German invaders who had only just failed to repeat the exploit, had all made their way into Great Russia along “the duck walk” of comparatively dry ground between the parallel upper courses of the [Black Sea] Dniepr and the Baltic Dvina, and the attractiveness of this narrow passage for Western invaders re-established the strategic importance of Moscow, in view of her situation covering “the duck walk’s” eastern exit.

It will be seen that, at the time when the Bolsheviks retransferred the seat of government from Saint Petersburg to Moscow, the original capital of the Russian Empire offered the same double advantage that had drawn the capital of the Roman Empire away from Rome to the neighbourhood of the Bosphorus in the time of Diocletian and Constantine the Great. In the “geopolitical” circumstances of the day, Moscow was not only more conveniently situated than Leningrad for serving as the administrative capital of the Soviet Union as a whole; it was at the same time a more convenient point of vantage for simultaneously keeping an eye on that frontier from beyond which the most formidable threat to the Soviet Union’s security was now to be apprehended.

A reader who is interested in this “geopolitical” question may perhaps think it worth while to compare this [passage in the Study with one written over twenty years ago] in which the same vicissitudes in the fortune of Moscow and Saint Petersburg have been rather differently interpreted. When writing that [earlier] passage in A.D. 1931, the writer did not realize that Moscow had now again become a bulwark of Russia on a once more dangerous western land-frontier, besides continuing to possess the attraction, which she had never ceased to possess, of being the most convenient centre of administration for the interior. What had become obvious to the present writer in A.D. 1952 after a German invader had all but encircled Moscow in the war of A.D. 1939-45 had no doubt been manifest to Lenin and his companions twenty-five years earlier.

“Ninety-two years between the removal of the capital from Moscow to Saint Petersburg and the completion of the partition of Poland” is not correct. 1703 was the date of St Petersburg’s foundation. It did not become the capital until 1712.

St Petersburg ceased to be the capital in 1918. Between 1914 and 1924 it was called Petrograd and between 1924 and 1991 Leningrad.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The second and third Romes

May 11 2007

The end of the Roman Empire

The end of the Roman Empire, part 2

The Roman Empire was the Hellenic civilization’s world-state, and its cultural and economic centre of gravity lay, not in Italy, but in the Levant, to the east of the Straits of Otranto and the Syrtes. After the temporary dissolution of this world-state during the anarchic half-century A.D. 235-84, it was reconstructed, on new lines, by Diocletian; and, in the Levant, the Diocletianic Roman Empire survived into the seventh century. In this region, the world-state was reconstructed again, successively, by the Syrian, Macedonian, Comnenian, and Ottoman dynasties. The Ottoman Turkish Roman Empire did not break up till the years 1912-18, when it was dismembered by the outcome of the First Balkan War and the First World War. It was not formally liquidated till 1922, when the Ottoman Dynasty was deposed to make way for the latest of its successor-states, the present Republic of Turkey. It will be seen that the Hellenic world-state, like the Sumero-Akkadian world-state, long outlasted the civilization on whose account it had originally been called into being. Its Diocletianic avatar saw the Hellenic civilization replaced in the Levant by a set of Christian civilizations: the Eastern Orthodox, the Nestorian, and the Monophysite. The establishment of the Ottoman avatar of the world-state saw the political power in it pass out of Eastern Orthodox Christian Greek hands into Sunni Muslim Turkish hands. Yet the Turks’ fellow Muslims recognized that the Ottoman Padishah had stepped into the Roman emperors’ shoes. They signified this by styling him “the Caesar of Rome” (Qaysar-i-Rum).

Russia has been a rival claimant to be the Roman Empire’s heir. Russia entered the field of civilization as a satellite of the Eastern Orthodox Christian civilization. In the course of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Russia was given internal peace, and also some protection against the aggressiveness of her Western and her Tatar neighbours, by the forcible unification of the local Russian states in the Russian world-state of Muscovy. In Russian eyes the Greek Orthodox Christian Roman Empire at Constantinople forfeited its mandate when, in 1439, it recognized the Papacy’s supremacy over the Eastern Orthodox Christian churches in the vain hope that, at the cost of this grievous concession in the ecclesiastical field, it might obtain effective Western Christian military support against the ever-advancing Ottoman Turks. When, fourteen years after the ecclesiastical Union of Florence, the Greek Roman Empire was extinguished by the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, the Russians saw in this a divine retribution for the Greeks’ apostasy. Now that the Muslim Ottoman Empire had imposed its rule on all the Orthodox peoples of Anatolia and South-Eastern Europe, Muscovy was the sole surviving independent Orthodox Christian state. What was more, the Russians were the only Orthodox Christian people that had preserved its orthodoxy uncompromised by any concessions to Papal claims. On these grounds a sixteenth-century Russian ecclesiastical publicist asserted that Moscow was “the Third Rome”. Augustus’s Old Rome and Constantine’s New Rome had now each fallen in its turn. Moscow was the heir of both, and her dominion, unlike theirs, was to have no end. This doctrine was endorsed by the Muscovite government implicitly when, in 1547, the Grand Duke Ivan IV “the Terrible” assumed the title “Czar” (Caesar). The last Russian czar was deposed in 1917, five years before the deposition of the last Ottoman Turkish qaysar-i-Rum, but the fates of the Russian and the Turkish avatar of the Roman Empire have not been the same. The Ottoman Turkish Roman Empire had broken up before the Ottoman Dynasty was dethroned; the Russian Roman Empire has survived the liquidation of the Russian czardom. It survives today, under a new name, in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; and, though it has substituted Communism for Eastern Orthodox Christianity as its official religion, it has not renounced its claim to be the unique interpreter and champion of orthodoxy.

The “ecclesiastical publicist” was the monk Philoteus (Filofey, Filofax to his friends), who in 1510 wrote to the Grand Duke Vasili III: “Two Romes have fallen. The third stands. And there will not be a fourth. No one will replace your Christian Tsardom!”

Change and Habit, The Challenge of Our Time, OUP, 1966

Historic sieges

January 30 2007

Cities, like ships, are readily personified by the human imagination; and their greatness depends, not merely upon immediate practical values which can be expressed statistically, but also always to some extent, and often to a far greater extent, upon an imponderable prestige which is created and sustained by an emotional consciousness of their historic trials and triumphs. In many cases it is possible to trace the origin of this prestige to certain particular outstanding ordeals; and the prestige of Vienna is a case in point. It is manifestly founded upon the successful resistance of Vienna to the Ottoman assaults of A.D. 1529 and A.D. 1682-3.

A city’s resistance, however, need not be successful in order to win the reverence and affection of later generations. For example, the prestige of Moscow is founded upon the passive endurance of the city on two occasions when she has fallen, without serious military resistance, under the heel of a Western invader: a Polish invader in 1610-12 and a French in 1812. On the other hand, the prestige of Constantinople in Orthodox Christendom, like that of Vienna in the Western World, is founded on a series of successful resistances: to the Persians and Avars in A.D. 626 (a supreme crisis which is commemorated, down to this day, in the Liturgy of the Orthodox Church [...]); to the Arabs in A.D. 673-7; and to the Arabs again in A.D. 717-18. The prestige of Constantinople, like that of Vienna and unlike that of Moscow, is bound up with the concept of inviolability; and it has suffered from the Latin conquest of A.D. 1204 and the Ottoman conquest of 1453, as the prestige of Vienna has suffered from the French occupations of 1805 and 1809. In contrast to Constantinople and Vienna, Rome and Paris and London, all three, owe their present eminence, as the respective capitals of Italy, France, and England, to prestige gained by them in ordeals in which they have made an heroic resistance but have not remained inviolate.

How was it that Rome achieved the tour de force of becoming the capital of the new Kingdom of Italy in preference to Turin, a city which enjoyed the practical advantage of being the capital of the particular Italian State that was the instrument of national unification, and likewise in preference to Milan, a city which enjoyed the practical advantage of being the industrial centre [select few, please note] of the Italian Peninsula? These practical considerations telling in favour of Milan or Turin would hardly have been overridden, in favour of Rome, on the strength of historical sentiment pure and simple [surely they might have been], if Rome had not identified herself, in the hearts and minds of the Italian people, with the Risorgimento of Italy by standing siege from the French in 1849. So far from Rome suffering any loss of prestige through the fact that her resistance to her besiegers on this occasion was unsuccessful, she gained her prestige in 1849 in virtue of the very fact that her resistance was a forlorn hope. She rejected the summons to capitulate with the clear foreknowledge that her fall was inevitable; for by that time the Italian national uprising of 1848 had already suffered defeat in almost every other quarter; the reaction was in the ascendant all over the European Continent; and the reactionary forces which were being concentrated upon Rome were overwhelming. Rome’s heroic gesture in making this last and hopeless stand against overwhelming odds in 1849 was just what appealed to the Italian national imagination. [That, at any rate, made its selection as the capital certain.]

As for the prestige of Paris and London, which was won a thousand years earlier than the prestige of modern Rome in the utterly different ordeal of the Scandinavian Völkerwanderung, inviolability was not of its essence either. In fact, at the first encounter with the Vikings, both London and Paris were ignominiously taken by assault and pillaged: London in A.D. 842; Paris in 845. London was actually ceded to the invaders by Alfred under the Treaty of Wedmore in A.D. 878 and remained for seven years in their hands. The two cities emerged from their ordeal with a new and enduring prestige not because they never fell but because they fell only to rise again and oppose a firmer resistance to the invader. As the ordeal continued, this resistance became indefatigable. The Vikings never succeeded in forcing their way above Paris up the Seine or above London up the Thames; and either city crowned its long endurance with a final feat of arms which made a permanent impress upon the national imagination: Paris with her successful resistance to the great siege of A.D. 885-6; London with her successful barrage of the Thames in A.D. 895.

A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934

Is China expansionist?

January 19 2007

Early Chinese history was about the expansion southward of the dominant Chinese ethnic group, the Han, from its original home in the Yellow River basin. See this post on the Shang dynasty and the beginning of civilisation in China.

As well as occupying the space we now call China, sometimes as a minority, the Han Chinese spread into Southeast Asia in a diaspora. Migration on a large scale began in the nineteenth century. At various times, the Chinese state also controlled or claimed suzerainty over parts of Southeast Asia politically.

But since the beginning of the nineteenth century, the state has not shown a strong desire for territorial expansion. Was that only because of its weakness? Will China become expansionist in the future? Recent rows with Japan show that Chinese nationalism is alive.

Toynbee in reply to Daisaku Ikeda:

I agree that since 1839 [the first Opium War], the Chinese have fought only in self-defense.

They were involved, Ikeda had said, in three major wars which they did not start: the Opium War (there were actually two wars), the Sino-Japanese War, and the Korean War.

[But] I think they interpret self-defense as including the recovery of the frontiers that the Chinese Empire had attained when the Qing dynasty [or Ch’ing or Manchu dynasty, China’s last, 1644-1911] was at its zenith, during the latter part of the reign of Ch’ien Lung.

He reigned from 1735 until 1796. His regnal name is the Qianlong Emperor. We have met him already, impersonating Alec Guinness in a post called Anglo-Saxon attitudes.

Ch’ien Lung incorporated what we think of as Chinese Turkestan into the Qing dynasty’s rule. This is now the huge Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. It used to be known as Sinkiang in the West. Some Uyghurs, who are mainly Moslem, now have aspirations to independence.

Ch’ien Lung also took control of Tibet. China lost Tibet after the empire fell in 1911, but took it back immediately after the revolution of 1949.

So he was a kind of Trajan. But he was not successful in Southeast Asia.

This accounts both for China’s reconquest of Tibet – from the Tibetans’ point of view an act of aggressive colonialism – and for China’s otherwise inexplicable breach with India, which had previously been China’s best friend.

The breach with India happened in 1962.

China broke with India over some strips of territory in the high Himalayas that, although worthless in themselves and strategically superfluous for China, had, I guess, symbolic importance, because India claimed a frontier line imposed by the British when China was too weak to object.

In 1914 the McMahon line had advanced the border of India into Tibet. The line runs between Bhutan and Burma and divides India and Tibet/China. So the present Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh is called South Tibet by China.

Wikipedia suggests that China did have a strategic concern, but a defensive one, namely to protect the Sichuan-Tibet Highway, which ran near the Indian border and was the primary route for supplying the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in Tibet before the opening of Qinghai-Tibet railway in 2006, which now runs from Xining in Qinghai province to Lhasa (map below).

The war was fought in “AP”, but also at the other end of Tibet, in the China-administered region of Aksai Chin, an almost uninhabited area in northern Kashmir at the junction of Pakistan, India, Tibet and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Aksai Chin is a separate dispute. It was part of the Himalayan Kingdom of Ladakh until Ladakh was annexed by Kashmir in the nineteenth century. It was thus absorbed into British India. The Republic of India claims it, but a Chinese highway runs through it connecting Tibet with Xinjiang. China therefore has a strategic interest in it and considers itself the heir to this part of Ladakh.

Neither dispute has been resolved.

The Sino-Indian war was one of the largest ever fought at such an altitude. (Cf the Kargil War, fought between India and Pakistan in the mountains of Kashmir in 1999.) It coincided with the Cuban missile crisis, so it was seen in the Western media as another act of aggression by a Communist state. It is not clear to me which side started it. Perhaps China.

I see no indication that China intends to expand beyond [my italics] her frontiers of the year 1796, the year of Ch’ien Lung’s death.

The editor didn’t pick up on Toynbee’s slip when transcribing this conversation or he made his own: it was Ch’ien Lung’s reign that ended in 1796. He died in 1799, and retained influence during the final years.

Toynbee then turns towards China’s northeast.

Indeed, though recently the Chinese have clashed with the Russians along the Amur River, they do not seem to be seriously intending to try to recover the vast territories beyond the left bank of the Amur and the right bank of the Ussuri that China was compelled to cede to Russia in 1858-61. The Chinese element in the population of these territories was, and is, very small.

The Amur rises in China and now forms most of the border between Russia and China, before it turns north at the Russian city of Khabarovsk. Its mouth is in the southern part of the Sea of Okhotsk, opposite the northern end of Sakhalin.

The Ussuri rises in Russia, flows north, joins the Amur at Khabarovsk, and forms part of the eastern border between Russia and China.

The right bank of the Amur is the northernmost part of China, hundreds of miles north of Beijing, and the northern edge of Manchuria: ie of the territory between Mongolia and China’s eastern border. The Russian side is sometimes called Outer, or Russian, Manchuria.

The Qing or Manchu dynasty hailed from Manchuria, so their claims beyond the Amur were ancestral. They were ceded without a war, like so many other concessions to foreign powers by the Qing in the nineteenth century.

Toynbee could have added, in support of his argument that China does not even wish to return to all of its borders of 1796, that it has no declared wish to reconquer Mongolia.

Mongolia (that is, the country called Mongolia, aka Outer Mongolia, Inner Mongolia being a Chinese province) was ruled by the Qing from the end of the seventeenth century until the end of the Chinese empire in 1911, when it declared its independence.

Toynbee made these points in response to these remarks by Daisaku Ikeda:

“I do not think that the Chinese are a people with aggressive ambitions. On the contrary, I regard them as essentially pacifists seeking peace and security for their own country. [...] It seems to me that the Chinese participate in hostilities only when it is necessary to defend themselves. In my opinion, the Chinese people developed a nationalistic inclination as a natural reaction against the successive invasions by foreign countries – including Japan – that have occurred since the Opium War.”

China’s natural attitude, according to that view, is not an aggressive nationalism so much as a calm Chinese ethnocentrism.

None of this has touched on China’s overseas claims. The biggest of these is, of course, Taiwan. But this is seen as already Chinese. China could invade. Reclaiming it would satisfy Toynbee’s 1796 test.

Not that Taiwan is an ancient Chinese possession. It wasn’t settled by the Chinese until 1662, when Koxinga, a former pirate and a Ming loyalist in opposition to the Ch’ing, landed there and expelled the Dutch. He established the Kingdom of Tungning, which ended in 1683, when his grandson was defeated by a Qing armada and Koxinga’s followers were expatriated to the furthest reaches of the empire, leaving approximately 7,000 Chinese on Taiwan. So Taiwan began as a centre of Ming resistance, just as it is now the centre of Republican resistance.

There are some uninhabited islands near Taiwan which the Japanese (who had Taiwan between 1895 and 1945) administer and China claims: the Senkaku Islands in Japanese, Diaoyutai or Tiaoyutai Islands in Chinese, Pinnacle Islands in English.

Then there are the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. They are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and gas and oil deposits, whose true extent is unknown and disputed. The PRC, the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Vietnam each claim sovereignty over the entire group of islands, while Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines each claim various parts. Several of the nations involved have soldiers stationed there and control various installations on different islands and reefs. Taiwan occupies one of the largest, Taiping (Itu Aba Island). The disputes remain a plausible scenario for a major east Asian war involving the PRC, or a smaller war between other claimants, a scenario depicted by Tom Clancy in his novel SSN.

The Paracel Islands are disputed for the same reasons. They have been controlled and administered by China since 1974, but other countries lay claim to them.

More on Chinese rivers here.

Below this post, five maps. Of, from left to right:

  • China’s administrative divisions and territorial disputes
  • the new Qinghai-Tibet railway
  • Aksai Chin
  • Manchuria (where you can see the very short border between Russia and North Korea)
  • Indian states and Union Territories, showing the Indian version of the borders of Arunachal Pradesh, which China disputes, and of Kashmir, which Pakistan and China dispute

The first three from Wikipedia and stated to be public domain, the fourth distributed freely with the online version of the 2004 edition of the CIA World Factbook, the last from I have requested permission.

china-administrative.png  qinghai-tibet-railway.png

aksai-chin.jpg  manchuria.jpg


With Daisaku Ikeda; Richard L Gage, editor; Choose Life, A Dialogue, OUP, 1976, posthumous

From the Japanese English-language edition, The Toynbee-Ikeda Dialogue: Man Himself Must Choose, Tokyo, New York and San Francisco, Kodansha International, 1976