Archive for the 'Central Asia' Category

From the Yangtze to the Gulf of Thailand

June 6 2015

The Thai are a subgroup of the Tai people, who include the Ahom in India, Dai in China, Shan in Burma, Lao in Laos and others in Vietnam. The Tai appeared historically in the first century CE in the Yangtze River valley. Chinese pressures forced them south.

The ancestors of the Thai entered the central part of the Southeast Asian mainland from Yunnan circa AD 1000.

The most powerful Tai kingdom in Yunnan had been Nanchao or Nanzhao, 729-902. It was followed by the Dali Kingdom, 937-1253, whose founder claimed Han descent, and which was conquered by the Mongols.

Some Tai presumably migrated because of infiltration of Yunnan by Han Chinese. More later fled from the Mongols. It was the Mongols who brought Yunnan definitively into China.

Nanzhao had been influenced by Tantric or Tibetan Buddhism, but, at least after their migration, the Thais became converts to the Theravada or Sinhalese southern Buddhism that had established itself in Burma in 1190.

There have been four main Thai polities in Thailand (capital here means main capital; other cities may have served the function for some of the time):

I  Kingdom of Sukhothai, 1238-1438
Capital Sukhothai, 265 miles north of Bangkok

Phra Ruang dynasty, but from 1368 under the suzerainty of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya

II  Kingdom of Ayutthaya, 1350-1767
Capital Ayutthaya, 50 miles north of Bangkok

First Uthong dynasty, 1350-70
First Suphannaphum dynasty, 1370-88
Second Uthong dynasty, 1388-1409
Second Suphannaphum dynasty, 1409-1569
Sukhothai dynasty, 1569-1629
Prasat Thong dynasty, 1630-88
Ban Phlu Luang dynasty, 1688-1767

Ayutthaya was brought down by Burmese invaders, who continued to harass Thailand in the coming decades.

III  Kingdom of Thonburi, 1768-82
Capital Thonburi, now part of Bangkok

Thonburi dynasty

IV  Kingdom of Rattanakosin, 1782-present
Capital Bangkok

Chakri dynasty

Rattanakosin comes from Rattanakosin Island in Bangkok, the original site of the capital.

All the Chakri kings have the official name of Rama. Bhumibol is Rama IX. His predecessor Ananda (last post) was Rama VIII.

Thais called the country Mueang Thai. The exonym Siam came from the Portuguese. It has been identified with the Sanskrit śyāma (श्याम), meaning dark or brown. Some Thais are very dark.

Siam was officially adopted under Mongkut or Rama IV (reigned 1851-68). On June 23 1939 the name was changed to Thailand. From 1945 to May 11 1949 it was Siam again. Then it reverted to Thailand.

The distance from the Yangtze basin to the Gulf of Thailand is about 2,500 miles.

Tibetan rivers (old post).

Thailand

Gibbon and the defence of America

May 30 2015

Gibbon’s confidence [General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West in Vol VI] in the inviolability of an American asylum for the Western Civilization would have been justified if – but only if – the aggressor’s part had been played in reality by those arrested Nomad riders [Nomadism is one of Toynbee’s “arrested civilizations”] who had been cast for it in Gibbon’s imagination. If the Continental Power that was under suspicion in A.D. 1952 of entertaining designs of world-wide conquest had been, once again, the Mongols, the peoples of the Western World would assuredly have had better reason this time for counting on the survival of their own distinctive culture than they had had in A.D. 1238, when they had been facing the prospect of a Mongol occupation of the West European peninsula of Asia without having any reassuring Transatlantic asylum at their backs. In A.D. 1952 they could have taken comfort in reminding themselves that in A.D. 1281 the forces of a Mongol Empire, which at that date had been mistress of the Continent from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the shores of the Persian Gulf and the Baltic Sea, had been thrown back ignominiously from the beaches of Japan; for a cavalry Power which had proved impotent to conquer a cluster of small islands separated from the Continent by only a hundred miles of sea at the nearest point would have had no prospect, if she had occupied the European coastline of the Continent that the Germans held in June 1940, of being able to conquer the great island of North America on the farther side of a nearly two thousand-miles-broad Atlantic Ocean, or even the sister island of South America, which was divided by not less than sixteen hundred miles of sea from the Continent at the Straits of Dakar, where the westward bulge of Africa approached closest to the eastward bulge of Brazil. Indeed, the fiasco of Qubilay Khan’s attempt on Japan suggests that even the twenty-miles-wide Straits of Dover, which had foiled Napoleon and foiled Hitler when the local Continental war-lord of the day had had the whole of Europe under his command, might have proved impassable for Qubilay Khan in spite of his commanding the Asiatic mass as well as the European extremity of the Continent. But the historic immunity of the isles from conquest by Continental war-lords had been due to the comparative innocuousness of even a sedentary community’s most formidable weapons of offence until a hundred years and more after the date at which Gibbon had been writing; and no one who had lived through the war of A.D. 1939-45 could be blind to the truth that, since then, times had changed. The weapons with which Hitler had come within an ace of conquering Britain, and with which the combined forces of the United States and the British Commonwealth had succeeded thereafter in conquering Hitler’s vaunted Festung Europa, were indications that in a future world war the conquest of North America might not be beyond the reach of a Power controlling the aggregate resources of the Old World and capable of forging this incomparably vast store of war potential into unprecedentedly potent weapons through a mastery of an ever improving Western technology.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Sufis and Shiites 2

May 21 2015

Ismail I and the Safaviyya order of Sufis were Shiite long before he took power: I have corrected the last post but one.

The Safavi were descended from Safi al-Din (1253-1334) of Ardabil in Azeri-dominated north-western Iran, the head and founder of the Safaviyya. About 1399 the order exchanged its Sunni affiliation for Shia.

Qizilbash anti-Ottoman Shiite militant groups, named after their red headgear, flourished in Azerbaijan, Anatolia and Kurdistan (from when?) and, as members of the order (were all Qizilbash members?), contributed to the foundation of the Safavid dynasty.

Ismail’s father was their leader. He died in battle against Sunni forces when Ismail was a year old.

Ismail emerged to take his father’s position as head of the Qizilbash. In 1501 he took Tabriz and proclaimed himself Shah. He brought all of modern Iran and parts of Iraq and Turkey under his rule.

The non-Osmanli Türkmen tribes in Asia Minor had resented being conquered by the Osmanlis in the fourteenth century and being reconquered by them after having been temporarily liberated by Timur. In 1511 the Ottoman Empire was nearly overthrown once again by a widespread revolt in Asia Minor of Twelve-Imam Shiʿi Türkmen partisans of Shah Ismaʿil, the founder of the Safavi Empire. This revolt was repressed savagely by Selim I in 1512-13. The original Safavi army was composed of corps of Shiʿi emigres from the Türkmen principalities in Asia Minor that had fallen under Ottoman rule. After Shah Ismaʿil’s death in 1524, the turbulence of these Qizilbash (“Red-heads”, so-called from the colour of their headgear) became a plague for Ismaʿil’s successors, though the Shahs of the Safavi Empire were ex officio the spiritual heads of the Sufi religious order in which the tribal regiments of Qizilbash soldiers were enrolled.

So Iranian Shiism was forged partly in opposition to the Ottoman Turks. Turkish, Mongol and Persian ethnicities, languages, cultures and polities meet and overlap: it is easy to distort matters when one applies labels. Toynbee, below, in an early book, calls the Timurids Turkish, but Timur is usually described as Turco-Mongol. He is a successor of the Mongols, but came from a Turkicised Mongol federation, the Barlas.

The “native Persian” Shah Ismail unified Persia through the intolerant imposition of Shiism and a renaissance of Persian culture followed, but, coming from Azerbaijan, he is usually described as being of Turkic stock (though the point is disputed). “Native Persian” is the kind of imprecise nationalistic term Toynbee would have dropped in later books.

“Turco-Mongol” can also be used in a broader sense, to describe the hypothetical common origin of both the Turkic and Mongol peoples which can be found in their common Altaic languages, culture and, to a lesser degree, ethnic and genetic origins.

In the sixteenth century A.D. a native Persian dynasty, the Sufi, which adhered to [the Shiite] sect, swept away the Turkish [Timurid and sub-Timurid] princelings who had divided Iran between them since the Mongol [Il Khan] era. The plateau was united once more in a national state, and once more again the renaissance of Iran expressed itself in religion. The heresy of its kings became the belief of the nation, and under the banner of “Shiism,” Persia kept at bay the hated Turkish powers which hemmed her in on every side and uniformly professed the orthodox “Sunni” faith: Ottoman Turks on the West, Uzbeg Khans upon the Oxus in the North, and the Uzbegs’ Mogul [sic] cousins, who had carved themselves a mighty empire in India upon Persia’s Eastern flank.

I assume that there is an etymological connection between Sufi and Safaviyya or Safavid.

Toynbee does have throughout this book, and with a respectable publisher in 1915, “century A.D.”.

Old post: Osmanli, Safavi, Timurid.

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

Nationality and the War, with maps, Dent, 1915

Sunni and Shia in India

May 19 2015

The survival of relatively good relations between the Sunnīs and Shīʿīis of India [which he takes as a fact], in contrast to the violent recrudescence of the feud between the two sects throughout the rest of the Iranic World since the generation of Ismāʿīl Shāh Safawī and the Ottoman Sultan Selīm I, is probably due to a combination of factors. For one thing, the subversive effect of Shāh Ismaʿīl’s career upon the life of the other Iranic countries did not extend to Hindustan; for although Ismāʿīl’s career affected Indian history indirectly by leading […] to the invasion of India by Bābur, Bābur […] was a Laodicean in his attitude towards the Sunnī-Shīʿī quarrel. Another manifest ground for the relative tolerance shown by Shīʿīs and Sunnīs towards each other in India is the common consciousness of being members of an Islamic diaspora among a numerically overwhelming majority of Hindus to whom both forms of Islam are equally anathema. Though Bābur reverted to Sunnism after his final expulsion [by Uzbeks] from Transoxania […] [he had flirted with Shiism during his partnership with Safavid Iran], and though his descendants in India remained Sunnīs thereafter, the paramount concern of the Mughals, as of all other Islamic Powers in India, was to maintain as large as possible an inflow of Muslim recruits from Dār-al-Islām to sustain the Islamic ascendancy in Hindustan; and they did not inquire too narrowly into the religious views of the Muslims who responded to their call. Since Iran was the nearest part of Dār-al-Islām to India, and since Iran had become an exclusively Shīʿī country in consequence of the Safawī conquests and the Safawī policy, the Shīʿī contingent in the Muslim immigration into India was considerable. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that although the Muslim masters of Orthodox Christendom were likewise a small minority dispersed among a numerically stronger non-Muslim subject population, this state of affairs did not here deter the Sunnīs from extirpating their Shīʿī coreligionists. The reason for this Ottoman ruthlessness towards the Shīʿah in Anatolia was that Anatolia was far more dangerously exposed than India was to attack by Shāh Ismāʿīl and his successors.

Though Muslims were surely not a minority in Anatolia in 1500.

Post on the arrival of Islam in India (in a wider historical context).

There have been some Indian Shiite dynasties.

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

Lee Kuan Yew and the nation-builders

March 19 2015

Lee Kuan Yew is the last great living twentieth-century nation builder, if he is alive.

Who were the others? What defines them? They have to have created a nation where none before existed – and yet one can’t leave out Mandela.

They must have done it through a personal struggle. They must have a certain stature. Their achievement must be solid. One can’t leave out Herzl, although he died forty-four years before the birth of Israel.

At one level, Lee was a reluctant builder. He did not, at least as it appears, wish to leave the Malaysian Federation in 1965.

Norway, Finland, Iceland, the Baltic states, Poland, Belarus, Moldova, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the central Asian “stans”, Mongolia were, before the twentieth century, merged or submerged nations, but when they became independent did not have famous fathers, unless you count Piłsudski. They already, in a sense, existed, especially Poland. But, then, so did the Czech nation. (One can’t exactly call Haakon VII a nation-builder, even if he was a father-figure.)

Ukraine is a half-formed nation. Why am I implying less formed than the other Ruthenia, Belarus? At any rate, no builders.

Hungary achieved nationhood in the nineteenth century. Masaryk was a nation-builder even though the nation he founded was later divided into two.

The Philippines’ founders did their work before, not after, American colonisation. Aung San died before Burmese independence, and his legacy is unclear. So are Ho Chi Minh’s and Sihanouk’s. Burma, Vietnam and Cambodia had once contained powerful states. Burma is the most ethnically fragmented. Thailand was never colonised, so the question of nation-building does not arise.

The Republic of China was declared in 1912, but Taiwan became its last stronghold long after Sun’s death. Sun was the father of a nation that, as a geographical entity, doesn’t even recognise itself, and as a wider entity is China – not a new nation.

So I include him uneasily – or do we believe in the permanence of Taiwan? I can’t leave out Sukarno even if I want to.

Not everyone who led a colony into independence qualifies. In fact, not a single leader from the main years of decolonisation is in my list. I can’t bring myself to include Bourguiba, for example. Or, in a short list, Nkrumah or Kenyatta or Nyerere or Kaunda. Is that because black African countries are, or were, not nations, but tribal or ethnic hegemonies and coalitions? But so are others. So is Burma. So was nineteenth-century Hungary.

Mahathir is a smaller figure than Lee. He did not become prime minister until 1981.

In theory Singapore is a coalition of three ethnic groups, like its one-time role-model Switzerland.

Here is my list, in chronological order of the nation’s birth or the builder’s accession to power if later:

Sun Yat-sen 1912

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk 1918

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk 1923

Ibn Saud 1932

Sukarno 1945

Mahatma Gandhi 1947

Muhammad Ali Jinnah 1947

Theodor Herzl 1948

Lee Kuan Yew 1965

Nelson Mandela 1994

Lee’s funeral or public memorial will be as big as Mandela’s and deservedly. [Postscript: I was wrong on that.] You don’t need to have loved someone to feel grief.

The Blairs will be there, collecting cards.

IMG_9663

1946, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

Picture source: Lee Kuan Yew, Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going via mustsharenews.com

Azov and Baltic

March 13 2015

Having realized Russia’s need to acquire a seaboard, Peter began, in A.D. 1695-6, with the relatively easy conquest of Azov from the Turks. It is significant that, after his return from the Western tour of A.D. 1697-8, he addressed himself to the far more formidable task of conquering the Baltic Provinces from the Swedes, and persevered in this arduous enterprise for twenty years (A.D. 1700-21) until he finally achieved his aim. He had come to the conclusion that a seaboard on the Baltic was worth acquiring at any price because it would open the door for direct intercourse between Russia and the West. […] On the other hand, the conquest of Azov was not worth following up, because the further passage from this port to the open sea was blocked by the Ottoman Government’s control of the Straits of Kertch and of the Bosphorus and of the Dardanelles. And even if the Russian ships had been able to run the gauntlet of these three successive “Symplegades”, they would have merely found themselves at large in the Eastern Mediterranean – a sea which, in Peter’s day, before the opening of the short-cut from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, was a sluggish backwater, remote from the principal ocean-highways of the World.

Towards the end of the fifteenth century, Moscow (Ivan III) overcame the Golden Horde, and the Crimean khans (1449-1783), minor successors of the Horde, came under Ottoman protection. Russia did not conquer the Crimean Khanate (“Little Tartary”) until the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-74.

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

Volcanoes and Titans

February 25 2015

[The Nomads’] eruptions out of the Desert into the Sown, like the eruptions of a Vesuvius or an Etna, are the mechanical resolutions of vast but inanimate physical forces. They are not the agonies of an imprisoned Titan who is frantically struggling for liberty and light.

Like the movement of wind between areas of high and low pressure, perhaps.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

Bitter Lake

February 16 2015

Adam Curtis’s extraordinary documentary is here on the BBC website. It was produced for iPlayer because of the “rigid formats and schedules of network television”. In other words, it was deemed too long or demanding. Here on YouTube.

The jury is out for me on this: I need to watch it more carefully. An introduction on Curtis’s blog is here. Extract (edited):

“Journalism – that used to tell a grand, unfurling narrative – now […] just relays disjointed and often wildly contradictory fragments of information. Events come and go like waves of a fever. We […] live in a state of continual delirium, constantly waiting for the next news event to loom out of the fog – and then disappear again, unexplained. And the formats – in news and documentaries – have become so rigid and repetitive that the audiences never really look at them. In the face of this people retreat from journalism and politics. They turn away into their own worlds, and the stories they and their friends tell each other. I think this is wrong, sad, and bad for democracy – because it means the politicians become more and more unaccountable.

“I have made a film that tries to respond to this in two ways. It tells a big story about why the stories we are told today have stopped making sense. But it is also an experiment in a new way of reporting the world. To do this I’ve used techniques that you wouldn’t normally associate with TV journalism. My aim is to make something more emotional and involving […].

“The film is called Bitter Lake. […] It tells a big historical narrative that interweaves America, Britain, Russia and Saudi Arabia. It shows how politicians in the west lost confidence – and began to simplify the stories they told. It explains why this happened – because they increasingly gave their power away to other forces, above all global finance.

“But there is one other country at the centre of the film. Afghanistan. This is because Afghanistan is the place that has repeatedly confronted politicians, as their power declines, with the terrible truth – that they cannot understand what is going on any longer. Let alone control it. The film shows in detail how all the foreigners who went to Afghanistan created an almost totally fictional version of the country in their minds. They couldn’t see the complex reality that was in front of them – because the stories they had been told about the world had become so simplified that they lacked the perceptual apparatus to see reality any longer. And this blindness led to a terrible disaster – support for a blatantly undemocratic government, wholesale financial corruption and thousands of needless deaths. A horrific scandal that we, […] here in Britain, seem hardly aware of. And even if we are – it is dismissed as being just too complex to understand.

“I have got hold of the unedited rushes of almost everything the BBC has ever shot in Afghanistan. It is thousands of hours – some of it is very dull, but large parts of it are extraordinary. Shots that record amazing moments, but also others that are touching, funny and sometimes very odd. These complicated, fragmentary and emotional images evoke the chaos of real experience. And out of them I have tried to build a different and more emotional way of depicting what really happened in Afghanistan.”

His statements about politicians may explain why they all (certainly in Britain, except for Farage) wear such puzzled expressions on their faces now. They are no longer sure what to say to us.

The Bitter Lake is a saltwater lake through which the Suez Canal flows. On Valentine’s Day 1945, after Yalta, President Roosevelt met King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia on board a warship there. A remarkable photograph was taken, which I saw consciously for the first time last year in the King Abdulaziz Memorial Hall in Riyad. The kneeling figure is the ambassador to the Kingdom, William Eddy. It’s hardly less historically important than the Yalta photograph.

Charlie Beckett presented a programme on our bad news diet (Good News Is No News) on BBC Radio 4 recently (producer Simon Hollis), asking, intelligently, what sort of reality modern journalism is presenting. It plays into Curtis’s points. Listen here. (BBC iPlayer Radio must be the worst-designed site on the web.)

Great Bitter Lake

Picture: fdrlibrary.tumblr.com

Manchus, Chinese and Mongols

January 26 2015

Chinese and Mongol battalions were brigaded with Manchu battalions in varying numbers and ratios in the Manchu Power’s army corps known as “banners”. Even when the Manchu Government’s domain was still confined to territories lying outside the Great Wall, the Chinese members of the community outnumbered the Manchus and Mongols; [footnote: See Michael, F.: The Origin of Manchu Rule in China (Baltimore 1942, Johns Hopkins University Press), p. 71.] and, after their passage of the Wall in A.D. 1644, it was the South Manchurian Chinese contingent in the banners that gave the invaders the man-power requisite for completing the conquest of Intramural China. While the Manchus thus succeeded in enlisting Chinese to help them win and hold [Ming] China for a Manchu régime, they were no less successful in dealing with the equally delicate problem presented by the Mongols, martial barbarians with memories of a great imperial past of their own and with a tincture of alien culture that made them no less difficult to assimilate than the intensely cultivated Chinese.

The Manchus attacked their Mongol problem from two directions. On the one hand, in the organization of the Mongol battalions of the banners they anticipated the policy of the British military authorities towards the Gurkhas and Pathans by recruiting their Mongol soldiers individually, and not in tribal blocs, and by placing them under the command of Manchu officers. On the other hand, they handled the Mongol tribes on the Steppe as the ʿOsmanlis had handled the Kurdish tribes in the Zagros Mountains. Without attempting to destroy their tribal organization, they contented themselves with dividing the tribes up into tribal atoms of a minimum size, and with imposing a strict delimitation of the boundaries between their respective pastoral ranges. The Mongol tribes, thus reduced in size and penned within fixed limits, were allowed to remain autonomous under the rule of their own tribal chiefs, while, to save appearances, these Mongol tribal chieftainships were nominally given the status of “banners”, as the Kurdish tribal chieftainships had been officially classified as Ottoman fiefs in the books of the Pādishāh. [Footnote: See Michael, op. cit., pp. 96-97. It will be seen that, in post-Diocletianic Roman terminology, these Mongol and Kurdish tribes were foederati of the Manchu and the Ottoman Empire respectively.] The political success of this Manchu military organization is attested by the fact that, when the Manchu régime in China was liquidated in A.D. 1911, the revolution was not the work of the Manchus’ comrades-in-arms in the Chinese and Mongol battalions of the banners.

The Manchus are descended from the Jurchen people who had earlier established the Jin dynasty (1115-1234) in northern China. Related Tungusic ethnicities: Sushen, Mogher.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Sir Aurel’s frostbite

December 29 2014

The writer could still [in A.D. 1952] recapture the excitement to which he had been moved at the time by a lantern-lecture that Sir Aurel Stein had given at Oxford, in the great hall of the Examination Schools, at some date while the writer was an undergraduate (studia exercebat A.D. 1907-11). The panoramas of huge snow-covered mountain ranges would flash up in his visual memory, and he could recall how, when the lecturer had mentioned, in passing, that he had lost some toes there through frost-bite, the eager listener had recognized that he was in the presence of a discoverer who was indeed in earnest about his intellectual mission.

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

The crucible of the Mahayana

December 28 2014

I  Alexander

Gautama Buddha and the founder of Jainism, Mahavira, both lived in a period of wars between local states in northern India in the 6th century BC. Gautama was born in what is now Nepal, Mahavira in Bihar.

What was the extent of Buddhism’s early influence in the Afghan or other domains of Achaemenid Persia?

In 326 BC Alexander the Great crossed the Indus (which the Persians had never done) and then the Jhelum or Hydaspes, the most western of the five rivers of the Punjab. At the Hydaspes Alexander defeated King Porus of Pauravas, an ancient country that soon afterwards fell to the Mauryans.

Another ruler, King Ambhi of Taxila, surrendered his city, already a Buddhist centre.

Alexander’s troops refused to advance further than the Beas, a tributary of the Sutlej, the easternmost of the five rivers.

II  Chandragupta

A Buddhist great power, the Mauryan Empire, emerged in India as the Achaemenid Empire fell.

After Alexander’s death in 323, Chandragupta Maurya (ruled 322-298) conquered Alexander’s briefly-held east-of-Indus satrapies with the help of a largely Persian army. Bactria, between the Hindu Kush and the Oxus, and Transoxiana, remained Greek. Both had belonged to the Achaemenids.

Chandragupta’s capital: Pataliputra (Patna).

III  Seleucus

Seleucus I Nicator, a Macedonian satrap of Alexander, established his authority as far as Bactria and the Indus and in 305 BC he fought Chandragupta. Seleucus appears to have fared poorly, ceding large territories west of the Indus to Chandragupta: Arachosia (Kandahar), Gedrosia (Baluchistan), the Paropamisadae (Hindu Kush), but not Bactria or Transoxiana. Post here on the Paropamisadae.

Chandragupta then sold Seleucus 500 war-elephants (who used them to fight Antigonus I) and married Seleucus’s daughter to formalise an alliance. Seleucus sent an ambassador, Megasthenes, to Chandragupta’s court. Relations continued between their successors.

Chandragupta was Jain. His successor Bindusara belonged to the Ajivika sect.

IV  Ashoka

Bindusara’s successor, Ashoka (reigned 269-32), embraced Buddhism and became a proselytiser of the traditional Theravada Pali canon.

His edicts, carved on pillars and rocks in various places in his empire, in the Kharoshti, Greek, Aramaic (Achaemenid) and Brahmi scripts, record the missions which he sent to Greeks and others.

V  Greek Bactrians

Meanwhile, the Seleucids were losing control of Bactria. It became the centre of an independent Greco-Bactrian kingdom c 256 BC, which extended into Transoxiana.

Capitals: Bactra (Balkh), Alexandria-on-the-Oxus (possibly Ai-Khanoum).

After the Brahmanical Sunga dynasty overthrew the Mauryans in 185 BC, the Greco-Bactrians invaded and conquered northwestern India with an army led by Demetrius.

VI  Indo-Greeks

The resulting Indo-Greek Kingdom lasted until AD 10 and was opposed in the east for its first century by the Sunga. Buddhism prospered, and it has been suggested that the Greek invasion of India was intended to protect the Buddhist faith from the persecutions of the Sunga.

Capitals: Alexandria-in-the-Caucasus (Kapisa or Bagram, Hindu Kush, north of Kabul), Sirkap (Taxila, Punjab), Sagala (Sialkot, Punjab), Pushkalavati (Charsadda, NWFP).

King Menander (reigned c 160-130 BC) became a student and patron of Buddhism. Were any Greco-Bactrian or Indo-Greek kings before him personally sympathetic to Buddhism?

VII  Greeks and Buddhism

The philosophers Pyrrho, Anaxarchus and Onesicritus are said to have accompanied Alexander. During the eighteen months they were in India, they were able to interact with Indian ascetics, described as Gymnosophists, naked philosophers.

At Sirkap, Buddhist stupas stand side-by-side with Hindu and Greek temples, suggesting religious tolerance and syncretism.

Early Mahayana theories of reality and knowledge may be related to Greek philosophical schools of thought.

The Milinda Panha is a Buddhist discourse in the platonic style, held between Menander and the Buddhist sage Nagasena.

The Mahavamsa records that during Menander’s reign, a Greek Buddhist abbot named Mahadharmaraksita led 30,000 monks from Alexandria (possibly in-the-Caucasus) to Sri Lanka for the dedication of a stupa.

There are Buddhist inscriptions by Greeks in India, such as that of the provincial governor Theodorus, describing in the Kharoshti script (and Pali language?) how he enshrined relics of the Buddha.

Coins of Menander and some of his successors show Buddhist symbols.

Buddhist tradition recognises Menander as one of the benefactors of the faith, together with Ashoka and Kanishka (below).

The first anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha are often considered a result of Greco-Buddhist interaction. The earliest Buddhist art was aniconic: the Buddha was only represented through his symbols (an empty throne, the Bodhi tree, his footprints, the Dharma wheel, the triratna).

It was natural for the Greeks also to create a single common divinity by combining the image of a Greek God-King (Apollo, or possibly the deified founder of the Indo-Greek Kingdom, Demetrius) with the attributes of the Buddha.

Stylistic elements in these representations point to Greek influence: the Greco-Roman toga-like wavy robe covering both shoulders (more exactly, its lighter version, the Greek himation), the contrapposto stance of the upright figures, the stylised curly hair and topknot (ushnisha) apparently derived from the Apollo of the Belvedere (c 335 BC), the measured quality of the faces.

During the following centuries, this anthropomorphic representation of the Buddha evolved to incorporate more Indian and Asian elements.

Several Buddhist deities may have been influenced by Greek gods. There are links between Greco-Persian and Buddhist cosmology.

The Buddha was known to the Church fathers. Buddhist gravestones from the Ptolemaic period have been found in Alexandria in Egypt, decorated with depictions of the Dharma wheel. The presence of Buddhists in Alexandria at this time is important, since it was to be an intellectual centre of Christianity.

VIII  Successors of the Indo-Greeks

Greek rule in Bactria was extinguished c 125 BC by southward-migrating Sakas or Scythians and Yuezhi, both Indo-European speaking. The Yuezhi are later called Kushan.

At the beginning of the first century, the Yuezhi invaded the northern parts of Pakistan and India and founded the Kushan Empire, a contemporary of the Roman Empire.

The Kushan rulers (30-375) displaced the Indo-Greek kings, but their culture was Greek-influenced. They used the Greek script to write their Indo-European language. Their absorption of Greek historical and mythological culture is suggested by Kushan sculptures representing Dionysiac scenes and even the story of the Trojan horse and it is likely that Greek communities remained in India under Kushan rule. Capitals: Purushpura (Peshawar, main capital), Bagram, Taxila, Mathura.

The Greek-influenced Indo-European-speaking successors of the Indo-Greeks:

Indo-Scythian/Saka kingdoms, 110 BC-400 (final extinction)

Indo-Parthian Kingdom, 12 BC-before 100

Yuezhi/Kushan Empire, 30-375

Indo-Sasanians, 3rd century-410

Ephthalite or White Hun Empire, 5th-7th century; they belonged to the Central Asian Xionite hordes and were enemies of the Gupta and of the Sasanians

The Ephthalites controlled present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and territories to the north and are probably the ancestors of modern Pashtuns. Their power was broken by the Sasanians (Khosrau I) in and after 557 and by the Turkic steppe-dwellers.

The full religious mix before Islam has to take account of Buddhism, Greek paganism, Hinduism, Jainism, Manichaeism, Shamanism, Zoroastrianism. Even Judaism and Nestorianism.

IX  The Mahayana

The Kushan king Kanishka was famous for his religious syncretism and honoured Zoroastrian, Greek and Brahmanic deities as well as the Buddha. He convened the Fourth Buddhist Council c AD 100 in Kashmir. His reign sees the earliest representations of the Buddha on a coin (c AD 120), and in a Hellenistic style. Kanishka also had the earliest Gandhari vernacular, or Prakrit, Mahayana Buddhist texts translated into the literary language of Sanskrit.

The sacred texts of Theravada Buddhism are written in Pali, a Prakrit or vernacular which is closely related to Sanskrit and to the language the Buddha spoke. The sacred texts of the Mahayana were translated from Sanskrit into local languages.

Buddhism expanded into East Asia soon after this. The Kushan monk Lokaksema visited the Han Chinese court at Luoyang in AD 178, and worked there for ten years to make the first known translations of Mahayana texts into Chinese. This was also the great age of Gandharan art (area around Taxila, northern Pakistan): subjects Buddhist, motifs Hellenistic. (Gandhara was originally the name of an ancient Vedic kingdom.)

Buddhism probably reached China from the Kushan Empire in the first century CE: from north India via the Punjab, Gandhara, the Hindu Kush, Bactria, Transoxiana/Sogdiana, and the Fergana valley (Kokand, Anijan). Then across the Tien Shan and into the Tarim basin (Kashgar, Khotan, Turfan). In other words, by linking to the Silk Road. A minority view is that it came to China by sea, entering by the Yellow and Huai rivers.

It entered by land via a region which had been partly hellenised. The interaction of Greek culture with Buddhism may have helped to determine the forms which Buddhism took in China. The Mahayana was eventually adopted in China, Siberia, Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The Mahayana goes beyond (or does it retreat from?) the ideal of the release from suffering, and the Nirvaṇa of the arhats, to elevate the Buddha to a God-like status and to create a pantheon of quasi-divine bodhisattvas devoting themselves to the salvation of their fellow human beings.

X  Decline of Buddhism

The interaction of Greek and Buddhist cultures operated over several centuries until it ended in the 5th century with the invasions of the anti-Buddhist Ephthalite or White Huns and later the expansion of Islam. In the Ephthalite empire Buddhism and Hinduism were still widespread, over a layer of Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism.

In India proper, the decline of Buddhism is usually attributed to a steady Brahmanical reaction, which gathered pace late in the Gupta era. Invasions by Ephthalites and later by Muslims must have hastened it.

Has the Greek influence been exaggerated by western historians? Have they shown undue interest in it because it is easier for them to understand than complicated autochthonous Buddhist movements and schools?

XI  Arrival of Islam

The Arabs completed their conquest of Persia in 651. In Persia and up to the Indus, the Caliphs’ power was gradually lost to local rulers, mainly Sunni, who distantly acknowledged the Caliphate until the fall of Baghdad.

In 661-71 the Arab armies conquered Bactria (by now called Tokharistan), which had passed from the Greeks to the Scythians, Yuezhi (Kushans), Sasanians, Ephthalite Huns and Sasanians again (or had the post-Ephthalite settlement there been Turkish rather than Persian?). 

Transoxiana, where the post-Ephthalite settlement had been Turkish, followed in 706-15; here they suffered a setback, but in 739-41 they conquered Transoxiana definitively.

This put the Islamic state astride the overland route between India and China via the Oxus-Jaxartes basin.

The Arabs conquered, further

Baluchistan after Persia

Sindh and the Indus valley in 711 (Muhammad bin Qasim); capital: Mansura; Sindh later came under local dynasties (Habbari, then Soomro)

Southern Punjab from a base in Sindh, occupying Multan in 712.

They failed to occupy the Kandahar-Ghazni-Kabul route to the Khyber Pass. Two small Hindu states in southern Afghanistan, mentioned below, stubbornly defended the approach to the Hindu Kush.

Their foothold even in the Punjab was precarious. A number of Hindu powers resisted them there. The area was eventually controlled by the Turkic Mamluk Ghaznavids and Persian Ghorids.

They tried to invade India, but were defeated by a coalition of post-Gupta Rajput dynasties in 738.

At the Talas River in 751 the newly-installed Abbasids came head to head with the Tang Chinese. If the Chinese had won the battle, they might have captured the Oxus-Jaxartes basin and reclaimed it from Islam or Zoroastrianism for Buddhism. But they lost, and their influence this far west subsided. They did not return to the Tarim basin until the Qing or Manchu; not even the Yuan governed it.

Before the Islamic conquest, Afghanistan was a religious mixture of Zoroastrianism, paganism, Buddhism, Hinduism (near Kabul) and others. There is no reliable information on when Hinduism began in Afghanistan, but the territory south of the Hindu Kush was probably culturally connected with the Indus Valley civilisation in ancient times.

Herat province, near Persia, was Islamised early on, but the Arabs dealt with a number of post-Sasanian, post-Ephthalite rulers who resisted them. South of the Hindu Kush were the Hindu Zunbil and Buddhist (later Hindu) Kabul Shahi dynasties.

We don’t know how much of the Afghan population accepted Islam immediately, but the Shahi rulers remained non-Muslim until they lost Kabul in 870 to the Persianate (old post) Saffarid Muslims of Sistan, capital: Zaranj. Later, the Persian Samanids (old post) from Bukhara in Transoxiana extended their Islamic influence into Afghanistan. Muslims and non-Muslims still lived side by side in Kabul before the arrival of Ghaznavids from Ghazni in the late 10th century.

The Persian Samanids (819-999) presided over a revival of Persian civilisation in Samarkand and later Bukhara. They sponsored the first complete translation of the Quran into Persian.

The Persian Saffarids ruled in Persia and Afghanistan from 891 to 1003. Capital: Zaranj in Sistan, Persia/Afghanistan. They were eventually reduced to vassals of the Samanids.

By the 11th century, the entire population of Afghanistan was Muslim, except in Kafiristan, or Nuristan, in the east, whose inhabitants continued to practise an ancient form of Hinduism until Nuristan was conquered by the Emirate of Afghanistan in 1895.

The Turkic Ghaznavids controlled large parts of Persia, much of Transoxania, and the northern parts of India from 977 to 1186. Capitals: Ghazni in Afghanistan, Lahore in Pakistan. Their most famous ruler, Mahmud of Ghazni (reigned 998-1002), invaded and plundered India east of the Indus seventeen times. Capitals: Ghazni in Afghanistan, then Lahore.

They and the Muslim rulers in India mentioned in the rest of this note were mostly Sunni.

The Tajik Ghorids (before 879-1215), originally central Afghanistan pagan, Sunni from 1011, were later the first Muslim power in Delhi and further east as far as Bengal: Muhammad of Ghor invaded the Indo-Gangetic plain in 1194, conquering in succession Ghazni, Multan, Sindh, Lahore, Delhi. Ghorid capitals: Firozkoh, Herat, Ghazni, those three now in Afghanistan, Lahore as winter capital.

In 1206 a former slave of Muhammad established the Sultanate of Delhi. His Mamluk (slave) dynasty was the first there. The Sultanate ended with the accession of the Timurid Babur, the first Mughal, in 1526. When the Mughals first arrived in India, they spoke a Turkic language. In adopting Persian, they inherited the language of the Perso-Turkic Delhi Sultanate.

Genghis Khan invaded Transoxiana and Bactria in 1219-20. Before his death in 1227, he assigned the lands of western central Asia to his second son Chagatai, and this region became known as the Chagatai Khanate. In 1369 Timur, of the Barlas tribe, became the effective ruler while continuing the ceremonial authority of Chagatai Khan’s dynasty, and made Samarkand the capital of his empire (1370-1507).

The first independent Islamic Kingdom in South India was the Bahmanid Sultanate (1347-1527). It broke up into five states known as the Deccan Sultanates.

The Arab conquests brought the demise of Buddhism in eastern Persia and greater Afghanistan, but in some places in Afghanistan, such as Bamiyan (Bamiyan province) and Hadda (site near Jalalabad), it survived until the 8th or 9th century. The Taliban dynamited two monumental Buddhas carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamiyan valley (6th and 7th centuries) in March 2001.

XII  Old posts:

Persian capitals before Islam

Transoxiana and Bactria

Indic and Hindu

Buddhism and Persia

Persia, 651-present

Toynbee and Ikeda 3

The Old World’s eastern roundabout

The Silk Road

NWFP, 1901-2010

Category:

Maps of Central Asia

Near Jalalabad

Picture credit: AfghaniDan; near Jalalabad

Silk Road

Picture credit: Luciana Di Floriano; Silk Road, probably Tien Shan mountains

Osmanli, Safavi, Timurid

December 27 2014

In 1555 [conclusion of the Ottoman-Safavid war] the Islamic World was larger than it had been in 1291 [siege of Acre and expulsion by the Mamluks of the last Crusaders from the Levant], and the greater part of it was now embraced politically in three large empires: the Osmanli (Ottoman) Turkish Empire in the Levant, the Safavi Empire in Iran, and the Timurid (mis-named Mughal) Empire in India. This was a remarkable sequel to the tribulations that the Islamic World had suffered between the year 1220 (the date of Genghis Khan’s invasion of Transoxania) and 1405 (the date of Timur Lenk’s death).

Mankind and Mother Earth, A Narrative History of the World, OUP, 1976, posthumous

The four khanates

December 13 2014

Four Mongol khanates

The four khanates into which the Mongol Empire split after the death of Genghis Khan. Karakorum is the original Mongol capital. Shangdu is Xanadu. Dadu or Khanbaliq is Beijing. The Khanate of Persia is the Ilkhanate.

Buddhism in Persia

December 13 2014

Buddhism may have reached Balkh, now in Afghanistan, then under the Achaemenids, during or soon after the lifetime of the Buddha.

From the 2nd century Parthians such as An Shigao, were active in spreading Buddhism in China. Some of the earliest translators of Buddhist literature into Chinese were from Parthia.

The Sasanids persecuted the Buddhists when they came to power in AD 224 and promoted Zoroastrianism.

Surviving Buddhist sites were raided by the Ephthalites or White Huns, the nomadic confederation which at the height of its power (first half of 6th century) controlled territories in Transoxiana, Bactria, India, China.

Nevertheless, at the time of the Arab conquests, much of the eastern Iranian world was mainly Buddhist.

The Arab conquests brought the demise of Buddhism in eastern Persia and Afghanistan, but in some places, such as Bamiyan and Hadda (both Afghanistan), it survived until the 8th or 9th century.

In 1295 the Mongol ruler in Persia, Ghazan, was converted from Buddhism to Islam and made it the state religion of the Ilkhanate. He prohibited the practice of Buddhism, but allowed monks to go into exile in neighbouring Buddhist regions.

Persia, 651-present

December 13 2014

The Arabs complete their conquest of Persia in 651. Umayyad, Abbasid.

Abbasid power there is lost, except in name, to local kingdoms, some of Persian, some of non-Persian origin. Persianisation a reaction to Arabisation. “Persianate” rulers may or may not have been ethnically Persian.

Samarkand and later Bukhara played a role in a revival of Persian civilisation under the native Persian Samanid dynasty (Sunni, ruled Persia 819-999). The Samanids sponsored the first complete translation of the Quran into Persian.

Mongol invasion. The Mongol House of Hulagu sets up the Ilkhanate. Tabriz is one of its capitals.

Ilkhans are followed by the Turco-Mongol Timurids from Transoxiana (Tamerlane). Capital Samarkand, now in Uzbekistan. (It is a Timurid prince, Babur, who, pursued by a west-Siberian section of the Golden Horde, the Uzbeks, founds the Mughal dynasty in India.)

Then a Persian renaissance (though Shah Ismail I spoke a Turkish language). The Ilkhans and Timurids had been Sunni. The Safavis are Twelver Shiite.

For four years (1511-14) the founder of the Safavi Empire, Shah Ismaʿil, threatened the Ottoman Empire with a repetition of the disaster that had been inflicted on it by Timur in 1402.

In 1598, the fifth Safavi, Shah Abbas I, moves his capital from Qazvin to Isfahan.

Afsharid, Zand, Qajar, Pahlavi dynasties follow. Allegiance to the Shia continues, but the Afshar make compromises with Sunni Islam.

The Afshar capital is Mashhad, Zand capitals Shiraz and Tehran. Tehran becomes sole capital in 1796 under Mohammad Khan Qajar. Persia is bled dry by Britain and Russia, but not officially colonised.

Then the revolution, violently Islamic: but Islam has never owned the whole of the Persian soul. Persia is a continuum under successive waves of Greek, Buddhist, Arab, Islamic (Arab and Islamic are not always the same thing), Turkic, Mongol and western culture.

Persia was also connected with China via the Silk Road. The Parthian and Sasanian empires had been in touch with the Han and Tang dynasties.

Iran

Credit: worldofmaps.net

Mankind and Mother Earth, A Narrative History of the World, OUP, 1976, posthumous

Persian capitals before Islam

December 13 2014

Elamites. Susa.

Medes. Ecbatana.

Achaemenids. Their real capital was Susa, their ceremonial capital Persepolis, their summer capital Ecbatana (the old Median capital).

Seleucids. The first Seleucid Greek capital was Seleucia-on-Tigris. It was superseded by Antioch.

Parthians. The joint capitals were Ctesiphon-on-Tigris and Susa. Seleucia and Ctesiphon are now in Iraq, south of Baghdad on opposite sides of the Tigris. Susa was briefly taken by Trajan and was the easternmost point reached by the Romans.

Sasanians. Ctesiphon was also the Sasanian capital. It fell to the Arabs.

The ruins of Ctesiphon were the site of a major battle in 1915 between the British and Ottoman empires. The ruins of Persepolis were the site of the monstrous celebration of 2,500 years of Iran’s monarchy staged by the Shah in 1971.

The five cities are all on this map of the Parthian Empire (Encyclopaedia Britannica, low resolution):

Parthia map

Ctesiphon ruin, 1864

Remains of the Sasanian White Palace, Ctesiphon, 1864

Post on Dura-Europos on the Euphrates.

Historians of the Ilkhanate

October 8 2014

One of the incidental and undesigned effects of the overthrow of the ʿAbbasids and devastation of ʿIrāq was, as we have noticed already in an earlier context, the birth, in a ci-devant Syriac World’s now derelict north-eastern provinces, of an Iranic Muslim Civilization, affiliated to the Syriac, in which, for most purposes other than the exposition of Islamic theology, a New Persian language and literature were to supplant the Arabic language and literature that had been dominant in all provinces of Dār-al-Islām during the six centuries intervening between the overthrow of the Sasanids by the Primitive Muslim Arab ghāzis and the overthrow of the ʿAbbasids by the pagan Mongols. When a previously oecumenical Arabic culture retreated westwards before the face of the oncoming Mongols into a fastness in Egypt with a glacis in Syria and an eastern frontier at the western elbow of the River Euphrates, a New Persian literature that, by this time, had been on the rise for some three hundred years now at last came fully into its own; and this was perhaps the only creative cultural activity in the conquered and devastated half of Dār-al-Islām that benefited from the disaster on the very morrow of it. During the lifetime of the survivors of a generation in Dār-al-Islām that was old enough to have completed its education in a classical Arabic language and literature before the catastrophe of A.D. 1258, the cultivation of the New Persian language and literature was already relieved of the incubus of the cultural ascendancy of Arabic without being yet impoverished by being cut off from the living sources of Arabic literary inspiration. The period of Mongol domination in Iran and ʿIrāq (currebat A.D. 1258-1337) was an age in which the leading Persian men of letters were still bilingual in the full sense of still being able not merely to read Arabic but also to write in it, as well as in their native Persian tongue; [footnote] and it was also an age which produced incomparably eminent Persian historians, in contrast to both the previous and the subsequent age, in which the brightest stars in the firmament of a New Persian literature were, not historians, but poets. [Footnote.]

[First footnote in last paragraph: This point is made by Browne in op. cit. [Browne, E. G.: A Literary History of Persia […] (Cambridge 1928, University Press)], vol. iii, pp. 62-65. The historian Rashīd-ad-Dīn (vivebat circa A.D. 1247-1318), for example, made it his practice to arrange for the translation of his Persian works into Arabic and the translation of his Arabic works into Persian. Rashīd-ad-Dīn’s own account of these arrangements of his is quoted verbatim, from man. arabe No. 356, foll. 1 et seqq. in the Bibliothèque Nationale [ci-devant Royale] in Paris, by E. M. Quatremère in his life of Rashīd-ad-Dīn prefixed to his edition of part of Rashīd-ad-Dīn’s Jāmiʿ-al-Tawārīkh (“A Comprehensive Collection of Histories”), Histoire des Mongols de la Perse, vol. i (Paris 1836, Imprimerie Royale), pp. cxxxiv-cxxxvi. A student of History will be reminded of the cultural situation in Italy under an Ostrogoth domination (durabat A.D. 493-535), when the leading Italian men of letters were still conversant with Greek as well as with their native Latin.]

[Second footnote: The pre-Mongol age of New Persian literary history had been made illustrious by Firdawsī (vivebat circa A.D. 932-1020/1) and by Saʿdi (vivebat circa A.D. 1184-1292); the post-Mongol [Timurid] age was to be made illustrious by Hāfiz (obiit A.D. 1389) and by Jāmi (vivebat A.D. 1414-92). […]]

Saadi was probably born a little later than Toynbee states and was surely not pre-Mongol: “the unsettled conditions following the Mongol invasion of Khwarezm and Iran led him to wander for thirty years abroad through Anatolia, Syria, Egypt and Iraq” (Wikipedia). And if he mentions Saadi, why not his contemporary Rumi, the most famous of all Persian poets in the West, who settled in Anatolia?

Later in the same volume he calls a Time of Troubles “an historian’s golden age”.

The ascendancy of the historians in the intervening Il-Khānī Age is significant; and it is no less significant that the two greatest members of this pleiad – ʿAlā-ad-Dīn ʿAtā Malik-i-Juwaynī (vivebat A.D. 1226-83) and Rashīd-ad-Dīn Fadlallāh Tabīb al-Hamadāni (vivebat circa A.D. 1247-1318) – were also eminent civil servants in the Mongol Il-Khāns’ service, and that two of the lesser lights, Wassāf-i-Hadrat ʿAbdallāh b. Fadlallāh of Shirāz and Hamdallāh Mustawfī of Qazwīn, both of whom were protégés of Rashīd-ad-Dīn’s, were officials of the Il-Khānī Government’s Internal Revenue Department.

The pagan barbarian conquerors of Iran and ʿIrāq, who held out for thirty-seven years (A.D. 1258-95) after their conquest of Baghdad before succumbing to Islam themselves, had found themselves from the outset unable to dispense with the services of their newly acquired Muslim subjects; for the conquerors’ purpose in invading Dār-al-Islām and overthrowing the Caliphate had been to step into the Caliph’s shoes; and the only means by which these interloping barbarians could ensure that, after they had extinguished the Caliphate, the Caliph’s government should be carried on for their benefit was by drawing upon an existing panel of native Persian Muslim professional administrators. The historian ʿAlā-ad-Dīn ʿAtā Malik-i-Juwaynī’s brother, Shams-ad-Dīn Muhammad Juwaynī, managed the administration of Hūlāgū’s appanage for the conqueror and for his first two successors during twenty-one years (A.D. 1263-84) of the Il-Khānī regime as their sāhib-dīwān, and the two brothers were the sons of a mustawfi’l-mamālik (minister of finance) and the grandsons of a prime minister of a by then already fainéant ʿAbbasid Caliphate’s Khwārizmian successor-state in the north-eastern marches of Dār-al-Islām, over against the Eurasian Steppe, on which the Mongol storm had broken in its full fury in A.D. 1220 at the fiat of a world-conquering Chingis.

A discussion of Rashid-al-Din and Juvayni follows.

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

Indian churches

August 10 2014

There is no direct contemporary evidence for St Thomas the Apostle coming to Kerala, but such a trip would have been possible for a Roman Jew in the first century. Jews lived in India then. The earliest text connecting him to India is the Acts of Thomas, one of the New Testament Apocrypha, written in Edessa early in the third century.

The word Malankara in the name of several south Indian churches derives from the name of the island of Maliankara near Muziris, where Thomas first landed.

According to tradition, he established Seven Churches, the Ezharapallikal: Cranganore (Malayalam: കൊടുങ്ങല്ലൂര്‍), Paravur (Kottakavu) (കോട്ടക്കാവ്), Palayoor (പാലയൂര്‍), Kokkamangalam (കൊക്കമംഗലം), Niranam (നിരണം), Chayal (Nilackal) (നിലക്കല്‍), Kollam (Quilon) (കൊല്ലം).

Thomas of Cana, a Syrian, arrived in Kerala in the fourth century or later. The subgroup of Thomas Christians known as the Southists trace their lineage to him and his followers. The Northists claim descent from Thomas the Apostle’s converts.

Settlers and missionaries from Persia, members of the Church of the East (East Syrian rite), or Nestorian Church (last post), which was centred in the Sasanian capital of Seleucia-Ctesiphon, started to establish themselves in Kerala.

Nestorianism, which insists on the dual nature of Christ, had been condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431. Many of Nestorius’s supporters moved to Sasanid Persia, from where they spread into Central Asia and China.

Circa 650 Patriarch Ishoyahb III solidified the Church of the East’s jurisdiction over the Thomas Christians. In the late eighth century Patriarch Timothy I organised the community as the Ecclesiastical Province of India, one of the Nestorian church’s illustrious Provinces of the Exterior.

After this point the Province of India was headed by a metropolitan bishop provided by Persia, the Metropolitan-Bishop of the Seat of St Thomas and the Whole Christian Church of India. His metropolitan see was probably in Cranganore, or (perhaps nominally) in Mylapore, the original burial site of St Thomas, before his body was moved to Edessa. Under him were bishops, and a native Archdeacon, who had authority over the clergy and who wielded a great amount of secular power.

For a time the archidiaconate was hereditary in the Pakalomattam family, who claimed a connection with Thomas the Apostle. In the broader Church of the East, each bishop was attended by an archdeacon, but in India, there was only ever one archdeacon, even when the province had several bishops serving it.

The blame for the destruction of the Nestorian communities east of Iraq has often been thrown upon the Turco-Mongol leader Timur, whose campaigns during the 1390s spread havoc in Persia and Central Asia. But in many parts of Central Asia Christianity had died out decades before Timur’s campaigns. The evidence from Central Asia, including a large number of dated graves, indicates that the crisis for the Church of the East occurred in the 1340s rather than the 1390s.

In China, the last references to Nestorian and Latin Christians date from the 1350s. It is likely that all foreign Christians were expelled from China soon after the revolution of 1368, which replaced the Mongol Yuan dynasty with the xenophobic Ming.

India was cut off from the Church’s new heartland in northern Mesopotamia. Nestorian Christianity was now mainly confined to the triangle formed by Mosul and Lakes Van and Urmia. There were small Nestorian communities further west, notably in Jerusalem and Cyprus, but the Malabar Christians of India represented the only significant survival of the once-thriving exterior provinces of the Church of the East.

By the late fifteenth century India had had no metropolitan for several generations, and the authority traditionally associated with him had been vested in the Archdeacon.

In 1491 the Archdeacon sent envoys to the Patriarch of the Church of the East, as well as to the Oriental Orthodox Coptic Pope of Alexandria and the Syriac Oriental Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, requesting a new bishop for India.

The Patriarch of the Church of the East Shemʿon IV Basidi responded by consecrating two bishops and dispatching them to India. These bishops helped to reestablish fraternal ties with the patriarchate, but the years of separation had changed the structure of the Indian church. The Archdeacon was firmly established as the real power in the Malankara community.

When the Portuguese arrived in 1498, the Thomas Christians were in a difficult position. Though prosperous owing to their large stake in the spice trade and protected by a formidable militia, the small community had come under pressure from the forces of the powerful rajas of Calicut, Cochin and various smaller kingdoms. When the Vasco da Gama arrived on the Malabar coast, the leaders of the St Thomas community proffered a formal alliance to their fellow Christians. The Portuguese, keen to implant themselves in the spice trade and to expand Latin Christianity, jumped at the opportunity.

Facilitating the objective, the Padroado Real: the treaties and decrees in which the Pope conferred authority in ecclesiastical matters on the Portuguese secular authorities in territories they conquered. The Portuguese organised themselves in Goa, established a church hierarchy, and set themselves to bringing the native Christians into conformity with Latin church customs and subjecting them to the authority of the Archbishop of Goa.

After the death of Metropolitan Mar Jacob in 1552, the Portuguese became more aggressive in their efforts to subjugate the Thomas Christians. Protests on the part of the natives were frustrated by events in the Church of the East’s Mesopotamian heartland, which left them devoid of consistent leadership. In 1552, a schism there resulted in there being two rival patriarchates, one of which entered into communion with the Catholic Church (was that the Chaldean Catholic Church?) and the other of which remained independent. At different times both patriarchs sent bishops to India, but the Portuguese were able to outmanœuvre the newcomers or convert them to Latin rite Catholicism outright. In 1575 the Padroado declared that neither patriarch could appoint prelates to the community without Portuguese consent, thereby cutting the Thomas Christians off from their own hierarchy.

In 1599 the last Metropolitan, Abraham, died. The Archbishop of Goa, Aleixo de Menezes, secured the submission of the young Archdeacon George, the highest remaining representative of the native church hierarchy. Menezes convened the Synod of Diamper, which instituted a number of structural and liturgical reforms to the Indian church. The parishes were brought directly under the Archbishop’s authority, certain “superstitious” customs were anathematised, and the indigenous liturgy, the East Syrian Malabar rite, was purged of elements unacceptable by the Latin standards. Though the Thomas Christians were now formally part of the Catholic Church, the conduct of the Portuguese over the next decades fuelled resentment in parts of the community, ultimately leading to open resistance.

Matters came to a head in 1641 with the appointments of Francis Garcia as Archbishop of Kodungalloor (pro-Portuguese) and of Archdeacon Thomas, the nephew and successor of Archdeacon George. In 1652, the situation was further complicated by the arrival in India of a mysterious figure named Ahatallah.

Ahatallah arrived in Mylapore in 1652, claiming to be the rightful Patriarch of Antioch who had been sent by the pope to serve as Patriarch of the Whole of India and of China. He appears to have been a Syriac Orthodox (Oriental Orthodox) Bishop of Damascus who was converted to Catholicism and travelled to Rome in 1632. He then returned to Syria in order to bring the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Hidayat Allah into communion with Rome. He had not accomplished this by the time Hidayat Allah died in 1639, after which point Ahatallah began claiming he was Hidayat Allah’s rightful successor. In 1646 he was in Egypt at the court of the Coptic Pope Mark VI, who dispatched him to India in 1652, evidently in response to a request for aid from Archdeacon Thomas. Reckoning him an impostor, the Portuguese arrested him, but allowed him to meet members of the St Thomas Christian clergy, whom he impressed. The Portuguese put him on a ship bound for Cochin and Goa. Archdeacon Thomas led a militia to Cochin demanding to meet him. The Portuguese refused, asserting that he was a dangerous invader and that his ship had already sailed on to Goa.

Ahatallah was never heard from again in India, and rumours spread that Archbishop Garcia had had him drowned in Cochin harbour before he reached Goa, or burned at the stake. In reality, it appears that Ahatallah did reach Goa, was sent on to Europe and died in Paris before reaching Rome, where his case was to be heard. In any event, Garcia’s dismissiveness towards the Thomas Christians’ appeals only embittered the community further.

The dismissal of Ahatallah was the last straw for the Thomas Christians, and in 1653 Thomas and representatives of the community met at the Church of Our Lady in Mattancherry. In a ceremony in the churchyard, before a crucifix and lighted candles, they swore an oath that they would never obey Garcia or the Portuguese or Jesuit missionaries again, and that they accepted only the Archdeacon as their shepherd. The Malankara Church and all its successor churches regard this declaration, known as the Coonan Cross Oath (Malayalam: Koonan Kurishu Satyam), as the moment when their church regained its independence.

In the same year, in Alangad, Archdeacon Thomas was ordained, by the laying on of hands of twelve priests, as the first known indigenous Metropolitan of Kerala, under the name Mar Thoma I. Pope Alexander VII sent a Syrian bishop, Joseph Sebastiani, at the head of a Carmelite delegation, to convince a majority of the Thomas Christians that the consecration of the Archdeacon as metropolitan was illegitimate. Palliveettil Chandy Kathanar was consecrated as bishop for the East Syrian rite Catholics with the title The Metropolitan and the Gate of all India, denoting a quasi-patriarchal status with all-India jurisdiction, in communion with Rome.

This led to the first permanent split in the St Thomas Christian community. Thereafter, the faction affiliated with the Catholic Church was designated the Pazhayakuttukar or Old Party, while the branch affiliated with Mar Thoma was called the Puthankuttukar or New Party. These appellations were controversial, as both groups considered themselves the heirs to the St Thomas tradition, and saw the other as heretical.

Initially the terms Malankara Christians or Malankara Nasranis were applied to all Thomas Christians, but following the split the term was usually restricted to the faction loyal to Mar Thoma, distinguishing them from the Syrian Catholic faction.

Out of 116 churches, the Catholics claimed eighty-four and the Archdeacon Mar Thoma I thirty-two. The eighty-four churches and their congregations were the body from which the Syro-Malabar (East Syrian rite) Catholic Church descended. The thirty-two churches and their congregations were the body from which the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christian Church and its offshoots have descended.

An Oriental Orthodox affiliation now replaced the old Nestorian one. In 1665, Mar Gregorios Abdul Jaleel, a Bishop sent by the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, arrived in India and the Thomas Christians under the leadership of the Archdeacon welcomed him. This visit resulted in the Mar Thoma party claiming the spiritual authority of the Antiochean Patriarchate and gradually introducing the West Syrian liturgy, customs and script to the Malabar Coast.

Jacobites or Syrian Jacobites is a reference to the Syriac Orthodox Church’s connections with a sixth-century bishop of Edessa, Jacob Baradaeus.

Over the next centuries this relationship strengthened, and the Malankara Church adopted a variant of the West Syrian rite known as the Malankara rite (as distinct from the previous East Syrian usage) and entered into full communion with the Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. These affiliations seem to have been more matters of liturgy and hierarchy than Christology.

In 1912 a dispute over authority between supporters of the Metropolitan and supporters of the Patriarch divided the Malankara church, with the former group becoming the essentially independent Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church or Indian Orthodox Church under an autonomous Catholicos of the East, and the latter maintaining ties with the Patriarch as the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church.

Other groups that split from the main body of the Malankara Jacobite church:

The Thozhiyur Sabha, or Malabar Independent Syrian Church (1772). Independent. West Syrian rite.

The Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church (1835). Follows a variant of the West Syrian tradition.

The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church (1930). Re-entered into communion with the Catholic Church as an Eastern Catholic Church following the West Syrian liturgy. It and the larger Syro-Malabar Catholic Church (East Syrian rite) are among the 22 Eastern Catholic churches mentioned in the last post.

The St Thomas Evangelical Church of India (1961). Derives from a schism in the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church.

The Nestorian connection survives in the Chaldean Syrian Church, an Indian archbishopric in the Nestorian Assyrian Church of the East (last post).

Kanjirappally Bishop Mathew Arackal and Prasant Palakkappillil

Syro-Malabar Catholic bishop Mar Mathew Arackal, Bishop of Kanjirappally Eparchy, holding the Mar Thoma Cross, which symbolises the heritage of St Thomas Christians even for Catholics, and other priests, at the tomb of the beatified Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly, St John Nepumsian Syrian Catholic Church, Konthuruthy, via Wikimedia Commons

A few years ago, I was taken into the San Thome Basilica in Chennai by a Hindu friend who crossed himself as he entered. India has been notoriously slow at adopting positions on anything in international diplomacy, which is perhaps a legacy of its standing in the Non-Aligned Movement. If it is seeking a global role now, it should be as the most complex partially-successful multicultural society on earth.

Anyone who has read the last two posts and followed their few links should now be able to answer the trivia questions:

What are the differences between the

Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch
Assyrian Church of the East
Greek Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East and
Jacobite Syrian Christian Church?

and

What two churches are Chaldaean?

Islamic dynasties: 2, Umayyad Caliphs

July 12 2014

The Umayyad Caliphs, 661-750

Capital: Damascus

The dynasty starts with Muawiya (ruled 661-80), who had been governor of Syria. Uthman had also been an Umayyad, but is classed as one of the four Rightly-Guided caliphs. Shia Muslims believe that the succession should have gone through Ali.

Muawiya had fought against Byzantium and had a well-trained army to set against the anarchic Bedouin who had followed Ali.

The Shia vilify Muawiya. They believe that his conversion to Islam was superficial, that he was motivated by lust for power and that he secured it by force. They point out that he is the only Sahaba Caliph (companion of the Prophet) who was not regarded as righteously guided by the Sunni. (He was related to the Prophet, like the others.)

His son and heir Yazid I is hated for his actions towards the house of Ali, in particular for sending forces against Ali’s son Husayn ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala in 680.

The great administrators of the dynasty, Muawiya I, Abd al-Malik (ruled 685-705) and Hisham (ruled 724-43) took over many of the systems of the Greeks and Persians.

In 661-71 the Arabs conquered Tokharistan (Bactria), which the Persian Empire had won from the Ephthalite Hun Empire. This put the Islamic state astride the overland route between India and China via the Oxus-Jaxartes basin.

They had completed the conquest of North Africa by 698.

In 706-15 they conquered Transoxiana and Khwarezm, which had been the Turkish steppe-dwellers’ share of the Ephthalite Empire. They consolidated their position there in subsequent decades.

In 710-12 they extinguished the Visigothic Kingdom in Spain.

In 711 they conquered Sind and the southern Punjab, up to and including Multan.

On four fronts, they were defeated.

In order to conquer Asia Minor and take Constantinople, they needed naval command of the Mediterranean. In 669 Muawiya built a fleet. In 674-8 and in 717-18 the Arabs besieged Constantinople by sea and land and were defeated.

In 677 they gained a temporary foothold in the Lebanon. In 741 they were brought to a halt along the line of the Amanus range in southern Turkey. They did eventually carry their frontier beyond the Amanus to the Taurus.

In 732 they failed to conquer Carolingian France. Before reaching the Loire, they were checked at Poitiers.

In 737-38 they failed to conquer the empire of the Khazar nomads, between the Volga (which flows into the Caspian) and the Don (which flows into the Sea of Azov).

The Umayyad caliphs faced the opposition of Shiite Arab tribesmen of Iraq and that of pious elements in Medina who favoured the claims of Ali’s descendants, the Imams of the Shia (Shiʿat Ali or party of Ali).

The masses of non-Arab peoples in the conquered territories, the Mawali, began to stir and to resent their position as second-class citizens.

In 750 the Umayyads were overthrown by a revolution which began in Khurasan in eastern Persia, led by Abu Muslim Khorasani. One of the few members of the Umayyad family to survive was Hisham’s grandson, Abd al-Rahman, who escaped to North Africa and continued the Umayyad line in Spain.

See Clifford Edmund BosworthThe Islamic Dynasties, A Chronological and Genealogical Handbook, Edinburgh University Press, 1967, revised 1980. There have been subsequent revisions. It contains complete lists of rulers. I am partly following it in this series, but leaving out most diacritics used in romanisations of Arabic.

gm

Umayyad Moque, Damascus, picture: studyblue.com

Twin assaults

November 27 2013

The Mongols invaded Japan in 1274, and again in 1281, after the completion of their conquest of the Sung Empire in 1279. On both occasions Japanese valour was assisted by storms that made havoc of the invaders’ ships. In 1274 the Mongols’ expeditionary force was small, and it broke off its attack after only one day’s fighting. In 1281 the invading force was on a large scale, and the attack was kept up for two months. The repulse of these two Mongol assaults on Japan had as momentous an effect on mankind’s history as the repulse of the two Persian assaults on European Greece in the fifth century B.C. [492-90 and 480-79] and as the failure of the two Muslim Arab sieges of Constantinople [674-78 and 717-18].

He could have added: “and as the failure of the two Turkish sieges of Vienna” (1529 and 1682-83).

The Persians never set foot on mainland Greek soil again, nor the Mongols on Japanese. The Arabs never returned to the walls of Constantinople, nor the Turks to the walls of Vienna.

Mankind and Mother Earth, A Narrative History of the World, OUP, 1976, posthumous

Peter Hopkirk’s Great Game

September 6 2013

Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Cities and Treasures of Chinese Central Asia, OUP, 1980, on early European explorations of the Taklamakan Desert

Trespassers on the Roof of the World: The Secret Exploration of Tibet, OUP, 1982

Setting the East Ablaze: Lenin’s Dream of an Empire in Asia, OUP, 1984

The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, OUP, 1990

On Secret Service East of Constantinople: The Great Game and the Great War, OUP, 1994, on plots by the Germans to raise Central Asia against the British during the First World War

Quest for Kim: In Search of Kipling’s Great Game, OUP, 1996, travelogue about the locations of Kipling’s novel

Link to UK Kindle editions of all six.

Peter Hopkirk.

Foreboding at Vevey

September 3 2013

“Vevey [1875]. [Bracket in Toynbee. Real date a Monday, perhaps earlier rather than later, between September 27 and November 8.]

“There is a perfect little woman here, mother of a fair-haired child, niece of Gortschakoff. She smokes cigarettes, very small, very elegantly. She told me that Ignatieff never by any chance told the truth. It is a proverb in Russia: ‘II ment comme Ignatieff’.

“She was mentioning the overthrow of previous civilisations by barbaric forces; and we came to the conclusion that it was unlikely that the Tartars, who seem the only available barbarians, would stamp out the civilisation, extended as it is over the World. She expressed her belief that the dark force is developed with the brightness of prosperity all-pervading now; and then suggested that what could provide a force strong, ignorant, barbarian, and widespread, is the lower populations of the various nations of Europe grouped in some such society as the International inbred with communistic and destructive notions” (Journals and Letters of Reginald Viscount Esher, ed. by M. V. Brett, vol. i (London 1934, Nicholson & Watson), p. 34). This passage [which is from the Journals] was brought to the present writer’s attention by his friend J. L. Hammond on the 3rd September, 1934.

This elegant smoker, casting a shadow during the belle époque, might have been the wife of the diplomat Nikolay Girs. The Ignatieff must have been the ambassador to Constantinople at the time, Nikolay Pavlovich Ignatyev.

Esher was the twenty-three-year-old son of Sir William Brett, first Baron Esher 1885, Viscount 1897. See James Lees-Milne, The Enigmatic Edwardian, The Life of Reginald, 2nd Viscount Esher, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1986. The 5th Viscount lives.

Vevey is a beautiful town, sloping towards Lake Geneva.

Old posts:

Tchaikovsky on communism

Davos 1884

Sleep.

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

Hashish

August 29 2013

Sergei Lyapunov (1859-1924), Hashish, Oriental Symphonic Poem, opus 53, 1913. State Academic Symphony Orchestra, Evgeny Svetlanov. Echoes of Scheherezade.

After poem by Arseny Golenishchev-Kutuzov, whom Mussorgsky had set in Sunless and Songs and Dances of Death, descendant of the Kutuzov of 1812. Painting by Frederick Arthur Bridgman.

Ecbatana

August 22 2013

The choice of Ecbatana [modern Hamadan, western Iran] for the summer residence of the Achaemenian Court was doubtless partly due to the coolness of its climate and partly to its historic prestige as the former capital of the Median Power which the Achaemenian Empire had supplanted. Under the Achaemenian régime, even after its reorganization by Darius I on a narrower political basis, the Medes were second only to the Persians in the hierarchy of imperial peoples.

Ecbatana was also on the road which linked the Tigris-Euphrates basin with the Oxus-Jaxartes basin, passing across the northern part of the Iranian plateau. In other words, the part of the Silk Road connecting Mesopotamia with Sogdiana or Transoxiana.

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

Stolen elections

August 15 2013

Dr Omar Ashour, Director, Middle East Graduate Studies Programme, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, The World Tonight, BBC Radio 4, August 14: “Chile 1973, Argentina post-1976, in Algeria 1992, in Tajikistan 1992, in Spain 1936.”

He wasn’t allowed to continue. Wikipedia list of “incidents involving direct voter fraud or in which the results were procedurally contested, massively or violently protested, or recognized as fraudulent by a reliable international organization”. That covers elections, like the recent one in Zimbabwe, which were contested by those with legitimate grievances, but not counter-coups of the kind that has been staged in Egypt.

List of coups d’état and coup attempts.

Has Egypt had a civil war since pharaonic times? It is hard to imagine one in that old country, but also hard to imagine any way out of this impasse.

___

United States Presidents and control of Congress: historical charts.

Ancient Crimea

July 13 2013

Artemis (Diana to the Romans) sent Iphigeneia to Tauris (Crimea) after rescuing her from the human sacrifice that Iphigeneia’s father, Agamemnon, was about to perform on her. Iphigeneia became a priestess at her temple. Here, she was forced by the Taurian king Thoas to perform human sacrifices on any foreigners who came ashore. (Euripides, Goethe. Campra, Gluck, Piccinni.)

The Scythians expelled the Cimmerians in the interior during the seventh century BC (both were Indo-European). The Cimmerians who survived in the southern coastal regions became known as the Tauri and gave their name to the peninsula.

Were Cimmerians participating in a Greek cult? Was Artemis originally Cimmerian? Tauris and its inhabitants’ custom of killing Greeks are described by Herodotus.

In the fifth century BC, Greek colonists began to settle along the Black Sea coast. Dorians from Heraclea founded the port of Chersonesos outside modern Sevastopol. Ionians from Miletus landed at Feodosiya and Panticapaeum (the latter also called Bosporus, after the strait between the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea).

In 438 BC, the Archon of the Ionians assumed the title of King of the Cimmerian Bosporus. This Bosporan Kingdom came to dominate the other colonies in the peninsula. It supplied Athens with wheat, honey and other commodities. The last of that line of kings, Paerisades V, hard-pressed by the Scythians, put himself under the protection of Mithridates VI, the king of (Greek or Greco-Persian) Pontus, in Anatolia, in 114 BC.

After a long struggle with Rome in the Mithridatic Wars (88-63 BC), Pontus was defeated. From 63 BC until AD 370, when it was overrun by Huns, the Cimmerian Bosporus was a client kingdom of Rome.

A few centuries after the Hunnic invasion, the Bosporan cities enjoyed a revival, under Byzantine or Bulgarian protection. Other powers: Khazars (Turkic converts to Judaism), Kievan Rus, Kipchaks and Cumans (Turkic), Genoese, Mongols, Crimean Tatars (Turkic), Ottoman Turks, Russian Empire.

Cimmerian darkness

The resilience of the Caliphate

June 19 2013

The main line of Sunni Caliphs – Rightly Guided, then Umayyad, then Abbasid – came to an end when the Mongols conquered Baghdad in 1258.

A surviving member of the Abbasid house was installed at Cairo under the patronage of the newly formed Mamluk Sultanate three years later.

In 1517 the Ottoman Turks took the last nominal Abbasid Caliph at Cairo into custody and transported him to Constantinople.

When he died, the Caliphate was virtually in abeyance. The first time Caliph was used as a political instead of symbolic religious title by the Ottoman Sultans was in the peace treaty with Russia at the end of the war of 1768-74, as a way of allowing the Turks to retain moral authority in territory they had ceded, notably the Crimea.

Around 1880 Sultan Abdul Hamid II reasserted the title as Russia expanded into Central Asia. His claim was fervently accepted by the Muslims of British India.

The Khilafat movement (1919-24) was a vain pan-Islamic protest campaign launched by Muslims in India to persuade the British government to protect the Ottoman Empire and the Caliphate. The Ottoman Sultanate was abolished in 1922, the Caliphate in 1924.

At the time when the present chapter was being written, it looked as if this had really been the end of the Caliphate, for an immediate attempt on the part of the Hāshimī King Husayn of the Hijāz to assume the office (on the eve, as it turned out, of his own ejection from his ancestral patrimony by Ibn Saʿūd) was – in spite of the Sharīf’s unimpeachable Qurayshī lineage and his sovereignty, at the moment, over the two Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina – as dismal a failure as most of his other enterprises. Nor did any practical action result from a Caliphate Congress held at Cairo on the 13th-19th May, 1926.

Yet, even if this forecast were to prove correct – though, in the light of previous history, it would not be safe to sign a death certificate for so resilient an institution as the Caliphate until it had been in abeyance for at least a quarter of a millennium [footnote: Its latest interregnum had lasted from the death of the last Cairene ʿAbbasid Caliph Mutawakkil in A.D. 1543 to the drafting of the Russo-Turkish Treaty of Küchuk Qaynārja in A.D. 1774.] – the marvel would be, not that the Caliphate should have petered out at last, but that, on the strength of having been an effective sovereignty over a span of less than two hundred years, [footnote: From the death of the Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632 to the death of the ʿAbbasid Caliph Amīn (imperabat A.D. 809-13), in a civil war with his brother and supplanter Ma’mūn (imperabat A.D. 813-33) over the heritage of their father Hārūn-ar-Rashīd (imperabat A.D. 786-809).] it should have been able within that time to acquire a prestige sufficient to keep it alive, and twice revive it, [footnote: i.e. at Cairo in A.D. 1261 and at Constantinople in A.D. 1774.] for another eleven hundred years [footnote: Reckoning from the death of the Baghdādi ʿAbbasid Caliph Amīn in A.D. 813 to the deposition of the Constantinopolitan ʿOsmanli Caliph ʿAbd-al-Mejīd in A.D. 1924.] during which it never emerged from the state of political impotence into which it had begun to decline in the reign of Hārūn-ar-Rashīd’s son Ma’mūn (imperabat A.D. 813-33).

The revival of the Caliphate is often predicted today, in Brummie, Indonesian and other accents.

Ma’mūn is written thus in the OUP text, not as Maʿmūn.

At times in Muslim history there have been rival caliphs, notably those of the Ismaili Shia Fatimid Caliphate in North Africa, 909-1171.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Twelve years

June 15 2013

For the Primitive Muslim Arabs’ feat of conquering the Oriental provinces of the Roman Empire with one hand and the whole of the Sasanian Empire with the other hand simultaneously, between A.D. 632 and A.D. 643, see [reference given to an earlier part of the work]. In these twelve years of conquest the Arabs emulated the achievement of the Macedonians in 334-323 B.C. without quite equalling it. While the larger part of the area conquered was the same, the Arabs fell short of their Macedonian predecessors both on the north-west and on the north-east. On the north-west they did not win any permanent foothold in the Anatolian Peninsula; on the north-east they did not begin the conquest of the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin until more than half a century, or complete it until more than a century, had passed since their occupation of the north-eastern frontier fortresses of the Sasanian Empire in A.D. 643-51.

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

Last Chukker

May 24 2013

There was no North-East Frontier Province so-called, but the Burma-Yunnan border was the Raj’s northeast frontier from the fall of Mandalay in 1886 to Burma’s separation from India in 1937. In the north, on the Burma side, were the Kachin Tracts. In the south were the Shan States. Those British names do not do justice to the complex ethnographic map of Burma.

Now India’s northeast frontier is Arunachal Pradesh, which is claimed by China. If you take Arunachal away, it is Assam. Arunachal borders Tibet and Burma. So would Assam but for Arunachal: the buffer was established by the McMahon line in 1914. Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram, to the south of Arunachal, border Burma.

I saw a novella in a real bookshop recently about life in the Kachin country: Last Chukker by JK Stanford (the Wikipedia entry needs an editor), Faber and Faber (no less), mcmli. 1951.

“Few writers have attempted to describe the north-eastern frontier of Burma, where it marches with Yunnan, in all its loveliness and savagery. Fewer still have woven a real knowledge of this land, little known even before the Japanese War, into a tale of smuggling and polo, of mystery and murder, of wild beasts, and even more dangerous men.

“The author of The Twelfth, who knew Burma well for over eighteen years, has crowned the vivid story of Jeremy Gayner (naturalist and ex-policeman and the bankrupt outcast of the European community) with a climax which will thrill even those who have never seen polo played.

Last Chukker is an unforgettable vignette of the Burma which came to an end so abruptly in 1941.”

How can one resist an invitation to a lost world? I bought, read and enjoyed it.

Stanford saw active service in both wars, and between the wars was a civil servant in Burma, including in the Police Department.

M.F.M.M., Obituary, Lt.-Col. J.K. Stanford, O.B.E., M.C., Scottish Birds, Vol 7, No 1, spring 1972:

“He was one of that admirable band of servants of the British Empire who passed the few hours of leisure they had in enriching, or even founding, the ornithology of the remote areas where they were stationed, and it is as an authority on Burmese fauna that J.K.’s name will largely survive.”

Until twenty years ago, one read obituaries of these Empire naturalists in the Telegraph.

He wrote many books, mainly in his retirement in England. The first, The Twelfth (1944, revised 1964), written in the North African desert, was a comic fantasy of English sporting life about a character called George Hysteron-Proteron. Later came Ladies in the Sun: The Memsahibs’ India, 1790-1860 (1962). His bird knowledge is evident in Last Chukker.

The nineteen year-old Orwell joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma in 1922 and stayed until ’27. Perhaps Stanford met him. Perhaps Orwell reported to Stanford. Orwell’s maternal grandmother lived at Moulmein. He was posted in various places, ending in Katha, which became the setting for Burmese Days (1934). That was furthest north he got. He arrived in Burma during a crime wave which had turned it into the most violent corner of the Empire.

Emma Larkin quotes a memoir by Stanford (Reverie of a Qu’hai, and Other Stories, 1951, apparently a memoir) in her book about Orwell in Burma, Secret Histories, John Murray, 2004:

“‘Everyone had realised what an astounding assortment of malefactors – murderers, dacoits, thieves, robbers, house-breakers, forgers, coiners, blackmailers, and so on – each district possessed. They seemed to spring up like dragon’s teeth, till there were scarcely enough columns in the criminal game-book.’”

We meet them in Last Chukker. One wonders how much of that savagery was a result of British interference with Burmese life.

Last Chukker has illustrations (drawings by Maurice Tulloch). I wish more books did, but publishers are too lazy and mean to commission them. “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?”

Beyond the Raj, to the north and east, were desert, ice and green: Sinkiang (Xinjiang, Chinese Turkestan), Tibet and Yunnan. Which, come to think of it, are the colours of the Indian flag, not that that is its official symbolism.

Afghanistan, Pakistan and India border Xinjiang.

India, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma border Tibet.

Burma, Laos and Vietnam border Yunnan.

eBay:

JK Stanford

Territories of Chinese dynasties

May 20 2013

Territories_of_Dynasties_in_China

Click to activate. Maps will open in a new window.

Downloading the active file to your desktop should allow controlled navigation.

Not complete, obviously. Some dates are exact, some arbitrary. They are not for the most part the starting dates of dynasties.

The file has to be used with a lot of caution, but it does show a few simple things. For example, the Zhou origins of the Chinese state around the Yellow River. The extension of power south of the Yangtze after the Qin unification. The absorption of Hainan by the Han. The first Chinese expansion into the Tarim and Dzungarian basins (Xinjiang) under the Tang (the area was not re-absorbed until the Qing or Manchu; not even the Yuan governed it). The first inclusion of Manchuria under the Jin, ancestors of the Manchus. How Yunnan was not fully sinified until after the Mongol invasion, even if the Eastern Jin had absorbed it briefly. The inclusion of Mongolia and Tibet by the Mongols (Yuan) and then again by the Qing. The absorption of Taiwan by the Qing. The Qing concession to Russia of territory beyond the Amur.

It does not show the brief periods of control of the Tarim Basin by the Han.

The Ming conquest of Vietnam lasted twenty years (1407-27). It appears as part of China in the map here, which is dated 1410. Had earlier Chinese dominations been only in the north?

The confusing thing about Chinese dynasties is that Western and Eastern or Northern and Southern refer to successive incarnations of a dynasty, not simultaneous states of a divided dynasty.

Wikimedia Commons.

Is China expansionist?

The rout of Pan-Islamism by Nationalism

November 21 2012

The apparent triumph of our Western Political Nationalism in the Islamic World since the beginning of the twentieth century of our era – and, conspicuously, since the outbreak of the general war of A.D. 1914-18 – is a remarkable testimony to the assimilative power of our Western Civilization and to the inability of the Islamic Civilization to hold its own against it. For the Pan-Islamic Movement, which was set in motion under the patronage of the Ottoman Sultan-Caliph ʿAbd-al-Hamīd (imperabat A.D. 1876-1909) as an attempt to enable the Islamic World to repel the Western offensive, was not only good strategy on its merits (on the principle that “union is strength”); it was also in the true line of the Islamic tradition; for, from the time of the Hijrah, which was the crucial event in the career of Muhammad and in the history of the institution that he founded, Islam had been a unitary society which embraced both the two Western social fields of Church and State; and, after the founder’s death, the unity of Islam in its political aspect had been incarnated in the Arab Caliphate […]. Thus the Pan-Islamic attempt to restore the political unity of Islam, under the historic aegis of a Caliphate, in face of a formidable external menace to the Islamic Society’s very existence, might have seemed a promising stroke of statesmanship; and the rapid rout of Pan-Islamism by an irresistible outbreak of Nationalism in the Muslim ranks is a surprising denouement.

[…]

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

The calamitous seventh century

November 19 2012

For the East Roman Empire, the seventh century was a time of almost continuous troubles. The mutiny in 602 and the murder of the Emperor Maurice plunged the Empire into anarchy. In 604 the Persians started to invade the Empire’s Asian provinces, while the Slav Völkerwanderung from the north bank of the lower course of the Danube swamped the whole of the interior of the Balkan Peninsula. The Empire had hardly begun to recover from the last and worst Romano-Persian war of 604-28, when the Arabs launched their assault in 633. The climax of this assault was the Arab siege of Constantinople in 674-8, and this peril had only just been surmounted when, in 680-1, the Eurasian nomad Bulgars established a permanent foothold on the south bank of the Danube.

At the first Arab siege, napalm or Greek fire was first used. There was a second Arab siege in 717-18. The Bulgars were not Slavs, but by the tenth century had become slavicised.

The founder of the First Bulgarian Empire in 681 was Asparukh.

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

Cultural diversity in universal states

October 20 2012

Owing to the tendency of the parochial states of a broken-down civilization in its Time of Troubles to sharpen their weapons in fratricidal conflicts with one another and to take advantage of this dearly bought increase in their military proficiency to conquer neighbouring societies with their left hands while continuing to fight one another with their right hands, most universal states have embraced not only a fringe of conquered barbarians but substantial slices of the domain of one or more alien civilizations as well. Some universal states, again, have been founded by alien empire-builders, and some have been the product of societies within whose bosoms there has already been some degree of cultural variety even on a reckoning which does not differentiate between march-men and the denizens of the interior of the same social world. […]

No other universal state known to History appears to have been as homogeneous in culture as Japan under the Tokugawa régime. In “the Middle Empire” of Egypt, in which a fringe of barbarians on the Nubian glacis of its Theban march was one element of variation from the cultural norm of the Egyptiac Society of the age, there was another and more positive feature of cultural diversity in the Empire’s culturally Sumeric provinces and client states in Palestine and Coele Syria. As for “the New Empire”, which was a deliberate revival of the original Egyptiac universal state, it accentuated the pattern of its prototype by completing the assimilation of the barbarians of Nubia and by embracing the domain of an abortive First Syriac Civilization in Syria and North-Western Mesopotamia; and this culturally tripartite structure – in which the cultural domain of the civilization through whose disintegration the universal state has been brought into existence is flanked by culturally alien territories annexed at the expense of both barbarians and neighbouring civilizations – appears to be the standard type.

For example, in the Mauryan Empire, which was the original Indic universal state, an Indic cultural core was flanked by an alien province in the Panjab, which had been at least partially Syriacized during a previous period of Achaemenian rule after having been partially barbarized by an antecedent Völkerwanderung of Eurasian Nomads, while in other quarters the Mauryan Empire’s Indic core was flanked by ex-barbarian provinces in Southern India and possibly farther afield in both Ceylon and Khotan as well. The Guptan Empire, in which the Mauryan was eventually reintegrated, possessed an ex-barbarian fringe, with an alien Hellenic tincture, in the satrapy that had been founded by Saka war-bands in Gujerat and the North-Western Deccan, and a Hellenized fringe, with a Kushan barbarian dilution, in the territories under its suzerainty in the Panjab. In a Han Empire which was the Sinic universal state, the Sinic World proper was flanked by barbarian annexes in what was eventually to become Southern China, as well as on the Eurasian Steppe, and by an alien province in the Tarim Basin, where the Indic, Syriac, and Hellenic cultures had already met and mingled before this cultural corridor and crucible was annexed to the Han Empire for the first time in the second century B.C. and for the second time in the first century of the Christian Era. In the Roman Empire, which was the Hellenic universal state, a culturally Hellenic core in Western Anatolia, Continental European Greece, Sicily, and Italy, with outlying enclaves in Cilicia, in Syria, at Alexandria, and at Marseilles, was combined with the domain of the submerged Hittite Civilization in Eastern Anatolia, with the homelands of the Syriac and Egyptiac civilizations in Syria and in the Lower Nile Valley, with the colonial [Carthaginian] domain of the Syriac Civilization in North-West Africa, and with ex-barbarian hinterlands in North-West Africa and in Western and Central Europe as far as the left bank of the Rhine and the right bank of the Danube. [Footnote: Leaving out of account the late-acquired and early-lost Transdanubian bridgehead in Dacia.]

There are other cases in which this standard cultural pattern has been enriched by some additional element.

In the Muscovite Tsardom, a Russian Orthodox Christian core was flanked by a vast ex-barbarian annex extending northwards to the Arctic Ocean and eastwards eventually to the Pacific, and by an Iranic Muslim annex consisting of the sedentary Muslim peoples of the Volga Basin, the Urals, and Western Siberia. This pattern was afterwards complicated by Peter the Great’s deliberate substitution of a Westernized for a traditional Orthodox Christian cultural framework for the Russian Orthodox Christian universal state, and by the subsequent annexation of additional alien territories – at the expense of the Islamic World on the Eurasian Steppe and in the Crimea, the Caucasus, and the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin, and at the expense of Western Christendom in the Baltic Provinces, Lithuania, Poland, and Finland.

In the Achaemenian Empire, which was the original Syriac universal state, there was an antecedent cultural diversity, within the Syriac core itself, between the Syrian creators of the Syriac Civilization and their Iranian converts, and a geographical gap between Syria and Iran that was still occupied by the dwindling domain of the gradually disappearing Babylonic culture. The Achaemenian Empire also embraced the domain of the submerged Hittite culture in Eastern Anatolia, the best part of the domain of the Egyptiac Civilization, fringes torn from the Hellenic and Indic worlds, and pockets of partially reclaimed barbarian highlanders and Eurasian Nomads. Moreover, after its life had been prematurely cut short by Alexander the Great, its work was carried on by his political successors, and especially by the Seleucidae, whom it would be more illuminating to describe as alien Hellenic successors of Cyrus and Darius. In the Arab Caliphate, in which the Achaemenian Empire was eventually reintegrated, the Syriac core – in which the earlier diversity between Syrian creators and Iranian converts had been replaced by a cleavage, along approximately the same geographical line, between ex-subjects of the Roman and ex-subjects of the Sasanian Empire – was united politically, by Arab barbarian empire-builders, with barbarian annexes – in North-West Africa, in the fastnesses of Daylam and Tabaristan between the Elburz Mountains and the Caspian Sea, and on the fringes of the Eurasian Steppe adjoining the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin – and with fragments of alien civilizations: a slice of the new-born Hindu World in Sind; the potential domain of an abortive Far Eastern Christian Civilization in the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin; an Orthodox Christian diaspora in Syria and Egypt; and a fossil of the by then elsewhere extinct Babylonic Society at Harran.

In the Mongol Empire, which was a universal state imposed by alien empire-builders on the main body of the Far Eastern Society in China, the annexes to a Chinese core were unusually extensive – including, as they did, the whole of the Eurasian Nomad World, the whole of Russian Orthodox Christendom, and the ex-Sasanian portion of a Syriac World which by that time was in extremis. The Mongols themselves were barbarians with a tincture of Far Eastern Christian culture. In the Manchu empire-builders, who subsequently repeated the Mongols’ performance on a less gigantic yet still imposing scale, there was the same tincture in a more diluted form; and the Chinese universal state in its Manchu avatar once again embraced, in addition to its Chinese core, a number of alien annexes: a “reservoir” of barbarians in the still unfelled backwoods and still virgin steppes of Manchuria, the whole of the Tantric Mahayanian Buddhist World in Tibet, Mongolia, and Zungaria, and the easternmost continental outposts of the Islamic World in the Tarim Basin, the north-western Chinese provinces of Kansu and Shansi, and the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan.

In the Ottoman Empire, which provided, or saddled, the main body of Orthodox Christendom with its universal state, the alien ʿOsmanli empire-builders united an Orthodox Christian core with a fringe of Western Christian territory in Hungary, with the whole of the Arabic Muslim World except Morocco, the Sudan, and South-Eastern Arabia, and with pockets of barbarians and semi-barbarians in Serbia, Bosnia, Albania, the Mani, the Caucasus, the Crimea, and on the Arabian Steppe. In the Mughal Empire, which was the Ottoman Empire’s counterpart in the Hindu World, the pattern was simpler, since, apart from the Iranic Muslim empire-builders and their co-religionists who had been deposited in the Hindu social environment by earlier waves of invasion from the Middle East and Central Asia [since the twelfth century], the Mughals’ only [sic] non-Hindu subjects were the Pathan barbarian highlanders on the north-western fringe of their dominions. When, however, the Mughal Rāj was replaced by a British Rāj, the pattern of the Hindu universal state became more complex; for the advent of a new band of alien empire-builders, which substituted a Western element for an Islamic at the political apex of the Hindu universal state, did not expel the Indian Muslims from the stage of Hindu history, but merely depressed their status to that of a numerically still formidable alien element in the Hindu internal proletariat, so that the Hindu universal state in its second phase combined elements drawn from two alien civilizations with a Pathan barbarian fringe and a Hindu core.

There had been other universal states in which, as in the Mughal Empire, the cultural pattern had been less complex than the standard type yet not so simple as that of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The Empire of Sumer and Akkad, which was the Sumeric universal state, included no representatives of an alien civilization – unless Byblus and other Syrian coast-towns are to be counted as such in virtue of their tincture of Egyptiac culture. On the other hand, the Sumeric Civilization itself was represented in two varieties at least – a Sumero-Akkadian and an Elamite – and in no less than three if the domain of the Indus Culture should prove also to have been included in “the Empire of the Four Quarters of the World”. Moreover, the Babylonian Amorites, who eventually restored a polity that had been first constructed by the Sumerian Ur-Engur (alias Ur-Nammu) of Ur, were not merely marchmen but marchmen with a barbarian tinge. So, on a broader and a longer view, the cultural pattern of the Sumeric universal state proves to have been less homogeneous than might appear at first sight. “The thalassocracy of Minos”,  again, which was the Minoan universal state, probably included representatives of the continental Mycenaean variety of the Minoan culture as well as the creators of that culture in its Cretan homeland, even if it did not embrace any representatives of an alien civilization.

In the Central American World, two once distinct sister societies – the Yucatec Civilization and the Mexic – had not yet lost their distinctive characteristics, though they had already been brought together by force of Toltec arms, when the task, and prize, of establishing a Central American universal state was snatched, at the eleventh hour, out of the hands of barbarian Aztec empire-builders by Spanish representatives of an utterly alien Western Christendom. In the Andean World the Empire of the Incas, which was the Andean universal state, already included representatives of the Kara variety of the Andean culture […] before the indigenous Incan empire-builders were suddenly and violently replaced by Spanish conquistadores from Western Christendom who turned the Andean World upside-down, with a vigour reminiscent of Alexander the Great’s, by proceeding to convert the indigenous population to Christianity and to variegate the social map by studding it with immigrant Spanish landlords and self-governing municipalities.

The Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy, which served as a carapace for Western Christendom against the assaults of the ʿOsmanlis, and which, seen from the south-east, wore the deceptive appearance of being a full-blown Western universal state, set itself, like the Tokugawa Shogunate, to achieve domestic cultural uniformity, but lacked both the ruthlessness and the insularity which, between them, enabled the Japanese isolationists for a time to put their policy into effect. In pursuing its aim of being totally Catholic, the Hapsburg Power did succeed, more or less, in extirpating Protestantism within its frontiers; but the very success of its stand, and eventual counter-attack, against the Ottoman embodiment of an Orthodox Christian universal state broke up the Danubian Monarchy’s hardly attained Catholic homogeneity by transferring to Hapsburg from Ottoman rule a stiff-necked minority of Hungarian Protestants and a host of Orthodox Christians of divers nationalities, most of whom proved unwilling to accept the ecclesiastical supremacy of Rome, even when the yoke was proffered in the easy form of Uniatism [union with Rome and retention of local rites], while, among those who did accept this relatively light burden, the rank and file remained nearer in heart and mind to their dissident Orthodox ex-co-religionists than they ever came to be to their fellow Catholics who were of the Latin Rite.

The [post-Assyrian] Neo-Babylonian Empire [or Chaldean Empire], which was the Babylonic universal state, similarly forfeited its cultural purity – and thereby worked unwittingly for the eventual extinction of the Babylonic Civilization itself – when Nebuchadnezzar conquered and annexed the homeland of the Syriac Civilization west of the Euphrates; and the impress of the indigenous Babylonic culture became progressively fainter as the domain which Nebuchadnezzar had bequeathed to a short line of native successors was incorporated first into the barbaro-Syriac Empire of the Achaemenids and then into the Hellenic Empire of the Seleucids.

Our survey has shown that, in the cultural composition of universal states, a high degree of diversity is the rule; and, in the light of this fact, it is evident that one effect of the “conductivity” of universal states is to carry farther, by less violent and less brutal means, that process of cultural pammixia that is started, in the antecedent Times of Troubles, by the atrocities that these bring in their train. The refugees, exiles, deportees, transported slaves, and other déracinés of the more cruel preceding age are followed up, under the milder régime of a universal state, by merchants, by professional soldiers, and by philosophic and religious missionaries and pilgrims who make their transit with less tribulation in a more genial social climate.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The old Islamic order

October 19 2012

The military vs the militant.

Hulagu’s hesitation

October 2 2012

Though Hūlāgū Khan was a pagan under the influence of a Nestorian Christian wife […], he did not take the ʿAbbasid Caliph’s life without some searchings of heart:

“The awe with which the institution of the Caliphate was regarded, even in these days of its weakness, may be realised by the fact that, cruel and bloodthirsty savage though Hūlāgū was, even he hesitated to put to death the Successor of the Prophet, for the Muhammadans who accompanied him in his army in the expedition against Baghdad had warned him that, if the blood of the Khalīfah was shed upon the ground, the World would be overspread with darkness and the army of the Mongols be swallowed up by an earthquake” (Arnold, op. cit., p. 81). [Arnold, Sir T. W.: The Caliphate (Oxford 1924, Clarendon Press) […].]

He killed the last Abbasid there nevertheless. Three years later, in 1261, the Mamluk sultans appointed a nominal Abbasid Caliph in Cairo. In 1517, the Abbasid Caliph of Egypt, Al-Mutawakkil III, was transported to Constantinople, and Sultan Selim I announced himself to be a Caliph.

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

Sirkap, Purushapura, Sthanesvara

July 11 2012

The Mauryas and the Guptas alike retained their seat of government at Pataliputra (the latter-day Patna), which had previously been Magadha’s parochial capital. [Magadha was ancient Bihar.] Standing, as it did, at the junction of the Ganges with the Jumna and with two other tributaries, Pataliputra was the natural administrative centre for the Ganges Basin […].

After the derelict domain of an enfeebled Mauryan Empire had been overrun by the Euthydemid Bactrian Greek prince Demetrius in the second decade of the second century B.C., the conqueror transferred the seat of government from Pataliputra to a new site far along the Great North-West Road connecting the former Mauryan capital with Demetrius’s own former capital at Bactra (Balkh) on the Central Asian side of the Hindu Kush. Demetrius’s New Taxila [it was called Sirkap] lay near the old city of the same name, in the neighbourhood of the latter-day Rawalpindi, which, before the foundation of the Mauryan Empire, had been the capital of a parochial Indian state; and it commanded the approaches, on the Indian side, to the difficult section of the highway in which a traveller had to negotiate the three successive obstacles of the River Indus, the Khyber Pass, and the main chain of the Hindu Kush.

This neighbourhood was the natural location for the capital of a Power which was seeking to “abolish the Hindu Kush” by uniting the Ganges-Jumna Basin with the Oxus-Jaxartes Basin. The Greek warlord Demetrius’s pioneering essay in this audacious defiance of physical geography proved ephemeral. The Bactrian Greek Power had no sooner overrun the Mauryan Empire than it was broken up by fratricidal warfare which opened the way for Nomad invasions of its dominions on the Indian as well as the Central Asian side of the Hindu Kush; but, when, after more than two centuries of kaleidoscopic political changes, the momentary achievement of the Greek empire-builder Demetrius was repeated in the first century of the Christian Era by the Kushan empire-builder Kadphises I and was perpetuated by Kadphises’ successors, the seat of government of this reconstituted political union of North-Western India with Central Asia came to rest not far from the spot originally selected for it by Demetrius. The capital of the Kushan Empire was planted at Peshāwar [then called Purushapura], on the Great North-West Road between the Indus and the Khyber Pass.

After the Mauryan Empire had been re-established by the Guptas, history repeated itself. The Guptas, like their predecessors, ruled the Indic World from Pataliputra; but, when the Guptan Empire collapsed in its turn and was momentarily restored by the Emperor Harsha (imperabat A.D. 606-47), this last of all the rulers of the Indic universal state [after this, in Toynbee’s terminology, the society is no longer Indic, but Hindu] placed his seat of government, not at Pataliputra, but at Sthanesvara [now called Thanesar] on the banks of the Upper Jumna, above the site of Delhi, covering the north-western approaches to the Ganges Basin from the quarter from which Hun and Gurjara Nomad invaders had swept down on the Guptan Empire from the Eurasian Steppe in the preceding chapter of Indic history.

Pataliputra – Patna

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Mazeppa

July 10 2012

Byron’s main source seems to have been Voltaire. (Liszt based his rather tiresome symphonic poem on Byron.)

Wikipedia, edited:

“The poem opens with a framing device: Mazeppa and the Swedish King Charles XII, together with their armies, are retreating from the Battle of Poltava, where they were defeated by the Russians. Exhausted and war-weary, the two men set up camp for the night. The King admires Mazeppa’s horsemanship, and Mazeppa offers to tell him how he learnt this skill. The poem then switches to the first person. Mazeppa describes his youth and his service as a page to King John II Casimir in Poland. He becomes acquainted with Theresa, a beautiful woman who ‘had the Asiatic eye’. She is married to a Count who is thirty years her senior. Mazeppa falls passionately in love with her, is unable to control his passions, and they meet at night and consummate their love.

“However, the Count’s men catch them together and bring him to the Count. The Count orders an unusually cruel punishment: Mazeppa is to be tied naked to a steed, which is then to be taunted and set loose. Stanzas 10 to 18 recount the steed’s flight across Eastern Europe, emphasizing the pain, suffering and confusion that Mazeppa feels. However, the horse has seemingly limitless energy. Mazeppa nearly dies twice. In Stanza 13, he describes himself ‘full in death’s face’, but is restored when the horse swims through a river. Stanza 18 concludes with a description of ‘an icy sickness’ and his vision of a raven flying overheard, ready to feast on his corpse. However, in Stanza 19, Mazeppa awakes to find himself in bed, with his wounds being tended by a Cossack maid. In the final stanza, Mazeppa’s narrative ends. The poet-narrator describes Mazeppa preparing his bed for the evening. King Charles is already asleep.

“There are historical sources which verify that the Orthodox Ivan Stepanovych Mazepa, his historical name, served in the Polish Court to John II Casimir. However, it is unclear why he left Poland in 1663 and returned to his homeland in what is now Ukraine. There is no historical evidence that Mazepa was exiled from Poland because of a love affair, or that he was punished by being strapped to a wild horse.”

After Poltava, Mazeppa, as I write it, arrived with Charles XII at the Turkish fortress of Bendery, within modern Moldova. Mazeppa died there a few months later.

Géricault, c 1820, private collection; crossing the river; the body has the animal immediacy of a cave painting

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)

Timbuktu

July 2 2012

Attack on the Sufi Sidi Yahia mosque in Mali. Sufis venerate saints. Salafi fundamentalists don’t like that. This is something like the destruction of the sixth-century Buddhas of Bamiyan in central Afghanistan by the Taliban in 2001.

Timbuktu was an important centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th centuries. The city played a major role in spreading Islam in West Africa. As somebody has said, Mali is threatening to become the Afghanistan of Africa.

BBC slide show. BBC radio’s The World Tonight has a segment on this today, starting 34 minutes in.

Over the Pamirs

June 24 2012

Not my footage, I hasten to add. With Tajik Air from Khorog (Tajik Pamirs near Afghan border) to Dushanbe (Tajik capital). More at uncorneredmarket.com.

Pamir song. Different source.

The Pamirs

June 23 2012

Click. (Strange spelling of Uzbekistan.) The Hindu Kush is a western extension of the Pamirs. On Aksai Chin, see this post.

Both images Wikimedia Commons.

The Silk Road

June 22 2012

Maps of the Silk Road differ and are often approximate if not inaccurate. Nor is there one Silk Road. I’ll take this one, which appears to be in the public domain, as a simple reference. It shows the main route from Chang’an, now Xi’an, in Shaanxi province, going north and south of the Taklamakan desert or Tarim Basin. The westernmost city in modern China here is Kashgar or Kashi. From there the road passes through Tajikistan (and perhaps Kyrgyzstan) into Uzbekistan – in other words, through Sogdiana – and from there into Turkmenistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria.

This does not show an alternative southern route which began near Kashgar and passed through Bactria, north of the Hindu Kush, before rejoining the main route north of Merv.

Another road left China to cross the Karakoram into what is now Pakistan.

The Silk Road is not a steppe route. It runs south of the steppe. It is a mountain and desert route.

On the other hand, from Transoxiana, traders could pass north of the Aral and Caspian seas in order to reach the Black Sea ports via the steppe.

Buddhism entered China on the Silk Road via the Kushan Empire in the first century of the Christian era.

The salt lake at the eastern edge of the Taklamakan is Lop Nur.

The Dzungarian Gap is the approach, between the Altai to the north and the Tien Shan to the south, across the now-Chinese Gobi, to the Great Wall and China proper.

China’s artificial northern frontier was the Wall. Its natural northern frontier was the Gobi.