Archive for the 'Greece' Category

The Ransom of the Soul

July 27 2015

Peter Brown bibliography here (post and comment). For the sake of completeness, his new book is

The Ransom of the Soul, Afterlife and Wealth in Early Western Christianity, Harvard University Press, 2015


GW Bowersock, New York Review of Books (subscribers)

Tom Holland, New Statesman

Steve Donoghue,

AN Wilson, Spectator

In early Christianity, the souls of the dead were believed to enter a limbo during the interlude between the material world and the Last Judgement. Tertullian (160-240) wrote of a refrigerium interim, before their awakening to damnation or to glory.

But this refrigerium did not encourage anxiety or the giving of money to the Church.

In the later view, whose evolution and theology Brown traces from the time of Cyprian of Carthage, martyred 258, to that of Julian, Bishop of Toledo under the Visigoths, late seventh century, the journey to heaven began immediately (where did that leave the Last Judgement?) and the soul needed to be encouraged on its way.

“The wealthy – and that far wider group who wished to imitate the wealthy – sought to protect, nourish, and eventually bring home to heaven their own souls and the souls of the deceased” by pious practices, gifts and endowments. (Brown quoted in Donoghue)

You gave so that the prayers might continue after your death. Ancient euergetism. Christian giving. Foundations of medieval Church. Spain to Babylon, North Africa to Ireland. The soul’s destiny could be changed by what was happening on earth post mortem. The phrase “pray for the soul of …” puzzled me as a child. Surely it was too late.

The phrase comes from Proverbs 13:8: “The ransom of the soul of a man is his wealth.” What does that mean? Commentary. It was a phrase much used in the Middle Ages, but only two or three times, Brown tells us, in the period with which he is dealing, and towards the end, so he nearly did not use it.

In Matthew 19:21 and Luke 12:33 Christ seems to say that we can store treasure in heaven through almsgiving, ie gain a spiritual reward for financial generosity.

How much giving to the poor was direct, unmediated through the Church?

Wikipedia: The ransom theory of atonement.

“Labyrinth Books and Princeton’s History Department invite you to a discussion between Peter Brown and fellow historian Helmut Reimitz. Recorded Thursday, April 2nd, 2015 at 6pm.”

Accent, quantity, rhyme

July 26 2015

While a Medieval Western vernacular poetry adopted from a contemporary Arabic poetry the device of rhyme, which could be applied to accentual verse as readily as to quantitative, it is noteworthy that the Medieval Western vernacular poets were not inveigled by their admiration for their Arabic models into doing violence to the genius of their own mother tongues by going on to borrow from the Arabic a quantitative basis of versification which was common to the Arabic school and the Hellenic.

Rhyme entered European poetry in the High Middle Ages, in part under the influence of the Arabic language in Al Andalus. Arabic language poets used rhyme extensively from the first development of literary Arabic in the sixth century, as in their long, rhyming qasidas.

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

Gunther Schuller

July 16 2015

Another post by Alex Ross. “A great force in American music is gone.” His link.

Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee (1959). Radio Philharmonic of Hannover, Schuller. What are the themes? I don’t know, but one is obviously North Africa. Klee visited Kairouan, the fourth holiest city in Islam, in 1914. The Maghrebian light changed him.

I wonder whether any visual artist has ever been referred to by more composers than Klee was.

You also hear Schuller’s jazz origins.

Greek jazz by Antonis Ladopoulos, saxophone, and Sami Amiris, piano (Morning Waltz, Alt Take, not Schuller), with Klee images:

The Greeks and Their Heritages

July 10 2015

The Greeks and Their Heritages

In the year of Greece’s accession to the EU – or rather, EEC – OUP published a final book by Toynbee.

In the last two working years of his life, 1972-74, he wrote two chronological studies: Mankind and Mother Earth (completed 1973, published posthumously 1976) and The Greeks and Their Heritages (completed 1974, published 1981).

All scholars, he thought, should pursue general and specialised interests in parallel, so these were late reviews of his two main subjects, world history (necessarily general) and Greece (specialist even if he covers thousands of years). The only chronological study which preceded them had been the brief Hellenism, published in 1959. Mere chronological history wasn’t normally his way, and even these do not descend into narrative. The main chapter headings of the later Greek book do not promise an easy read, but rather arouse forebodings of a lugubrious pedantry. Of course, it is fascinating as well (and Mankind and Mother Earth has real grandeur).

The Influence of Heritages from the Past

The Mycenaean Greeks’ Successes and Failures

The Hellenic Greeks’ Heritage from the Mycenaean Greeks

The Hellenic Greeks’ Successes and Failures

The Byzantine Greeks’ Heritage from the Hellenic Greeks

The Byzantine Greeks’ Successes and Failures

The Modern Greeks’ Heritage from the Byzantine Greeks

The Modern Greeks’ Heritage from the Hellenic Greeks

The Modern Greeks’ Successes and Failures


At least this plan suggests a way of treating Greek history, with all its discontinuities, as a whole. And he was returning to his scholarly roots and to his youth, having had a thoroughbred training in the classics at Winchester, of a type no longer available; having been introduced there even to the then little-known field of Byzantine history through reading JB Bury; and having encountered modern Greece after Oxford, first as a serious traveller, then through the Foreign Office in London and at Versailles, and then as a correspondent from the Greco-Turkish War. Does the repeated phrase “successes and failures” remind one of old-fashioned exam questions? (The whole table of contents is like a dream of an exam, the repeated ordeal of his youth.)

Buy here. I quote a review by Hugh Lloyd-Jones here and here.

OUP don’t identify the church, but it is the Church of the Pantanassa or of the Dormition of the Theotokos in Monastiraki Square in Athens. The cover shows Hellenic, Byzantine and modern Greece in the background, middle distance and foreground.

Mariori mou, Mariori mou

July 9 2015

The name of a folksong. Mariori is a woman’s name: My Mariori. Fourth in the third series of Greek Dances by Skalkottas (see comment under this post). BBC Symphony Orchestra, Nikos Christodoulou.

Fourteen Greek constitutions

July 8 2015

Wikipedia, with links where they exist:














1975, revised 1986, 2001, 2008


1968 and 1973 were imposed by a dictatorship.

Greece’s “strong democratic tradition”?

July 7 2015

Joseph Stiglitz’s phrase “Greece, with its strong democratic tradition” took some people by surprise. What democratic tradition in this rotten, almost third-world Balkan country? Did Stiglitz know anything at all about history?

Greece-bashing may not have reached such contemptible levels as some of the Greek rhetoric on Germany, but it, too, needs examining. Perhaps Greece does have a democratic tradition. Perhaps Greece has even on occasion behaved with maturity. I am not able to judge, but here are some extemporised thoughts.

Outside the mind of Condoleezza Rice, democracies take root over time. The Greeks have held regular parliamentary elections for nearly 200 years, with periodic electoral reforms. To have had at least fourteen constitutions during this time is not a sign of stability, but it may be a sign of political life.

They kicked out a lazy Bavarian king in 1863 and got a better Danish line. That spirited act is remembered by some as an earlier confrontation with Germany. The Wittelsbachs had nearly bankrupted the young state and “disfigured” a Byzantine nation. (Mikis Theodorakis, quoted in the Telegraph, does sound third-world on all this, recently alleging “two centuries of European crimes against Greece” by the Western enemies of the Hellenic Orthodox world.)

Still, Otto’s failings are admitted. His deposition by politicians was welcomed by the people.

The Greeks were no greedier for scraps of the Ottoman empire than anyone else.

Greek irredentism was not more fanatical than German or Italian. And the Greeks took their catastrophic defeat of 1922 rather well: instead of sulking and starting a cold war with Turkey, they had a diplomatic reconciliation. It was led by the very person, Venizelos, who, with the encouragement of the Allies (who were partly lying to him in 1916, as they were to TE Lawrence, but wanted him to join the war), had been such a champion of the Great Idea. Perhaps that would not have happened without an exchange of populations, but in any case it happened. The Greeks are not living in the past on that matter. Are they?

The Greek semi-fascist of the ’30s, Metaxas, refused to capitulate to the Italians.

George II did not become a German puppet in 1941. He presumably could have been one. His father had been removed in the First World War by Venizelos for being too pro-German.

The German invaders committed criminal acts in Greece. The destruction of the Jews of Thessalonika was one of the major acts of the Holocaust.

Is it a sign of immaturity to have had a struggle with communism?

The Colonels only stayed seven years and Constantine II wasn’t implicated.

Golden Dawn received a smaller percentage of the vote (6.3%) in the 2015 Greek parliamentary election than the National Front did in the first rounds of the French 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections (17.9% and 13.6%).

And when one hears young Greeks talk, they often sound not very different from young Germans. Are there worrying signs of maturity here?

However corrupt the Greek system was, however much they “lied to get in” and deserve their fate (most of them deserve nothing, even if the fate is inevitable), few deny outright that irresponsible lending helped to get Greece into the mess.

I’d rather spend an evening with the clownish Tsipras or insufferable Varoufakis than with Juncker or Lagarde. At least Varoufakis speaks good English.

This excruciating crisis might be the making, not breaking, of Greece.

The tyranny of Greece over Germany

July 6 2015

Eliza Marian Butler.

Eight Greek plebiscites

July 3 2015

I  1920, December 5, YES to return of Constantine I

He had abdicated and gone into exile in Switzerland in 1917 (retaining his titular right) because of a disagreement with the charismatic and anti-royalist prime minister, Venizelos, over whether Greece should enter the war. Constantine supported the Central Powers, Venizelos the Entente.

He came back after his son Alexander had died from a monkey bite.

He abdicated again on September 27 1922 after the Greek debâcle in Asia Minor and spent the last few months of his life in exile in Italy. He was succeeded by his eldest son, George II, but the defeat nearly destroyed the monarchy.

II  1924, April 13, NO to continuation of the reign of George II

George had himself gone into exile in December 1923 (Rumania, then Britain) after royalists had attempted and failed to take control of the government. A republican interlude followed: the only time after the revolutionary years of 1822-32 and before 1973 when Greece was a republic.

III  1935, November 3, YES to reinstatement of George II

Metaxas was the prime minister from 1936 to ’41 and died in office before the German invasion, but after the Italian invasion; despite his fascist sympathies, he had rejected an Italian ultimatum demanding the stationing of Italian troops in Greece.

George went into exile in Britain when the Germans invaded. The old regime had been quasi-fascist, but he did not become a German puppet.

IV  1946, September 1, YES to return of George II

He died in 1947. The monarchy was, of course, anti-communist in the Civil War (1946-49). The last two kings were Paul and Constantine II.

V  1968, November 15, YES to new constitution prepared by the Colonels

Military junta of 1967-74. The monarchy was retained, but Constantine II had gone into exile (Italy, then Britain) at the end of 1967. He returned to live in Greece in 2013.

VI  1973, July 29, YES to Colonels’ proposed abolition of the monarchy

VII  1974, December 8, NO to reinstatement of the monarchy after the collapse of the junta

VIII  2015, July 5, YES or NO?


As far as I can see, the record of the monarchy was not entirely dishonourable.

A referendum about conditions for debt relief was proposed under Papandreou in 2011, but not carried out.

I don’t think these referenda, which were anyway often manipulated, justify Stiglitz’s rather shallow-sounding reference in the Guardian the other day to “Greece, with its strong democratic tradition”.

On the other hand, Greece has been holding parliamentary elections for nearly two centuries.

Alexis Tsipras led the left-wing Syriza party to victory in a snap general election on January 25 2015.

There’s a list of Greek monarchs after this post.

Skalkottas sketches

July 2 2015

Nikos Skalkottas, Ten sketches for stringsc 1940, New Hellenic Quartet

Greek guitar music

July 1 2015

And, at the end, Theodorakis at 90.

Kostas Grigoreas plays Adagietto from Skalkottas’s 1925 solo violin sonata, arranged by Grigoreas; it is hard to imagine this sounding more natural in the original version

Stella Kypreou plays Αισθησιακό (Sensual) by Manos Hadjidakis

Kostas Grigoreas plays Η μπαλάντα των αισθήσεων και των παραισθήσεων (Ballad of Sensation and Illusionsby Manos Hadjidakis; it has a kind of leftist drive to it, but isn’t political

Last two from what? Originally for guitar? The last is also a song, with lyrics by Aris Davarakis.


Mikis Theodorakis will be 90 later this month. I can’t post music when I don’t know what I think of it. It’s not a matter of not getting past the Zorba theme. I have no response at all yet to what I’ve heard. But Bob Shingleton at On an Overgrown Path has good things to say, especially about the Requiem. Here are his posts.

The main events in Greece in the twentieth century were its wars with Turkey, an invasion by the fascist forces of Italy and Germany, the subsequent Civil War and a military junta. Not that the Colonels were Greece’s first dictators. Theodorakis fought successively against fascists, anti-communists and the junta. He was tortured, went into hiding and was jailed and exiled.

There were many noble Theodorakises in Latin America. But the humane left is no longer fighting militarists or fascists. Theodorakis has declared himself in favour of Tsipras, but his leftism thrives in an unreformed system. It is part of the same set of illusions which caused the mess. The renewers of the left now are the Green movement and an emerging global class warfare in which Tsipras and Varoufakis are (sort of) players.

The Wittelsbachs and Greek debt (old post)

Thessaloniki 1913

June 29 2015

From a five-part BBC documentary series about Albert Kahn, Edwardians in Colour [why Edwardians?]: The Wonderful World of Albert Kahnc 2007. The talking head is Mark Mazower, mentioned in the last post.

BBC: “In 1909 the millionaire French banker and philanthropist Albert Kahn embarked on an ambitious project to create a colour photographic record of, and for, the peoples of the world. As an idealist and an internationalist, Kahn believed that he could use the new Autochrome process, the world’s first user-friendly, true-colour photographic system, to promote cross-cultural peace and understanding.

“Until recently, Kahn’s huge collection of 72,000 Autochromes remained relatively unheard of. Now, a century after he launched his project, [a] book and the BBC TV series it accompanies are bringing these dazzling pictures to a mass audience for the first time and putting colour into what we tend to think of as an entirely monochrome age.

“Kahn sent photographers to more than 50 countries, often at crucial junctures in their history, when age-old cultures were on the brink of being changed for ever by war and the march of twentieth-century globalisation. They documented in true colour the collapse of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, the last traditional Celtic villages in Ireland, and the soldiers of the First World War. They took the earliest known colour photographs in countries as far apart as Vietnam and Brazil, Mongolia and Norway, Benin and the United States. In 1929 the Wall Street Crash forced Kahn to bring his project to an end. He died in 1940, but left behind the most important collection of early colour photographs in the world.”

The photographer of Thessaloniki in early 1913 was Auguste Léon, but the name mentioned at 00:20 is hard to understand.

Cf Prokudin-Gorskii, who photographed the Russian Empire in colour. Posts about him here. He used a different method to obtain colour, not colourised, photographs – not the Autochrome process.

Mesmerising as some of the images are, does Kahn concentrate too much on street sellers and the like? What is unrecorded by his photographers and by most others is what life was like indoors. That is the real lost world.

And these records show nothing of people’s manners.

Mitchell and Kenyon are of similar importance in England before the First World War because of the technical quality of their work, though they made moving films, and in black and white.

Musée Albert-Kahn, Paris.

Singing Sephardim

June 28 2015

[Sephardic Jews] developed under the Ottoman régime a quite different êthos from the Jewish êthos as we know it in the West, because the treatment which they received at the ʿOsmanlis’ hands was quite different from the treatment which Jews have customarily received at the hands of Westerners.

The psychological effect of four centuries of the [comparatively benign] Ottoman régime upon the descendants in the Near East of these Sephardi refugees from Castile was once brought home to the writer of this Study by an incident which came under his personal observation.

One day in August 1921, some eight years and more after Salonica, with its Sephardi population of eighty thousand souls, had passed by conquest out of Ottoman jurisdiction into Greek, I found myself travelling by train from Salonica to Vodena in the same carriage with three Sephardi school-teachers going on a holiday and one Greek officer going to rejoin his regiment. The holiday-makers – two girls and a man – were in high spirits, and they gave vent to their mood by breaking into song. They sang in French: the “culture language” in which the modern Near Eastern Jew has found the necessary supplement to his hereditary Castilian vernacular. After they had been singing for some time, the Greek lieutenant broke his own silence. “Won’t you sing in Greek for a change?” he said. “This country is part of Greece now, and you are Greek citizens.” But his intervention had no effect. “We prefer French” the Jews answered, politely but firmly, and fell to singing lustily in French again, while the Greek lieutenant subsided. There was one person in the carriage, however, who was even more surprised at the Jewish teachers’ reply to the Greek officer than the Greek himself, and that was the Frankish spectator. Seldom, he reflected, would a Jew have shown such spirit in such circumstances in France or England or America. The incident bore witness to the relative humanity with which the Jews in the Ottoman Empire had been treated by the ʿOsmanlis; and it also had a wider and more interesting significance. It was evidence that the Jewish êthos was not something ineradicably implanted by Race or something indelibly ingrained by Religion but was a psychic variable which was apt to vary in response to variations in Gentile behaviour in different times and places.

The Jews were singing in a lingua franca, French, not in a ghetto language, and they were not showing a ghetto mentality. Such cheerful defiance in the presence of a member of the dominant culture, and a soldier, would not have been thus demonstrated in Russia or Austria – but really not in France, England or America?

Would the point have been made even more strongly if they had been singing in Turkish or Greek or would that have come from mere cultural dilution? Would they have shown even more confidence if they had been singing in the “hereditary Castilian vernacular”, ie Judaeo-Spanish, ie Ladino? Ladino was spoken by Sephardic minorities in the Balkans, Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa. Most speakers are now in Israel.

It is not to be confused with another Romance language, Ladin, which is spoken in parts of northern Italy and is related to Friulian and the Swiss Romansh.

The Jews of Salonika were happier in the multi-ethnic Turkish Empire (before the arrival of the Young Turks) than under the Greeks (1912-41). 98% of them died in the Holocaust. Much of the Jewish Quarter had been destroyed in the fire (probably accidental) of 1917.

See Mark Mazower, Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950, Harper Collins, 2004.

Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki.

A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934


June 26 2015

The sovereign of the Achaemenian Empire, which served as a universal state for the Syriac World, asserted the oecumenical range of his rule by styling himself “King of the Lands” or “King of Kings” [footnote: Meyer, E.: Geschichte des Altertums, vol. iii (Stuttgart 1901, Cotta), pp. 24-6.] – a title which was laconically translated into Greek in the one word βασιλεύς without even an introductory definite article. [Footnote: This verbal recognition of the uniqueness of the status and office of the Achaemenian Great King was a striking act of homage on the lips of Hellenes who were defying his efforts to extend his oecumenical authority over their own city-states.]

Caricaturing Persia (old post).

A Study of History, Vol VI, OUP, 1939

The Turkish spy

June 24 2015

Twice on [his] antiquarian tour [of Italy and Greece in 1911-12], the Oxford don-elect was arrested as a Turkish spy, first on the evening of the 16th November, 1911 on the last lap of a day’s march from Terracina to Formia, by an Italian carabiniere [Footnote: On this occasion, the suspect was able to clear himself by showing a card with “Balliol College, Oxford” engraved on it. “Ah! Collegio! Dunque non siete Turco”, reasoned the intelligent Italian security officer, and straightway left the left the suspicious-looking traveller in peace. Forty years later, in A.D. 1952, the carabiniere would, of course, no longer have been justified in acting on an a priori assumption that “Turk” and “college” were incompatible ideas.]

The Italians had every reason to be spy-conscious: their war with the Ottoman Empire, which gave them Libya and the Dodecanese (Rhodes), had begun at almost the exact moment Toynbee arrived in Italy. It ended soon after his return from Greece. (They held both colonies until the Second World War. The Dodecanese were returned not to Turkey but to Greece.)

and then again, on the 21st July, 1912, by a Greek military patrol. [Footnote: On this second occasion, he was arrested on the reasonable charge that he had walked across the perilously vulnerable railway viaduct over the gorge of the River Asopus at Elefterokhóri, where the sole railway running from Athens to the Graeco-Turkish frontier leaped across a chasm to come to earth again along the eastern flank of the citadel of Trachis. This charge was supported by the less convincing argument that the trespasser must be a foreign military spy because he was wearing insignia in the shape of a military water-bottle that was not of the pattern affected by the Greek Army.]

The Balkan Wars began a few weeks after his return to England.

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

Salonika 1912

June 12 2015

The writer of this Study vividly remembers how the continental character of Macedonia impressed itself upon him at the first view. He first visited Macedonia in the summer of 1912, at the end of a visit to the Kingdom of Greece within the frontiers as they then stood. Since the standard-gauge railway which now links Athens with Salonica had not been completed at that date, he travelled from the Peiraeus to Salonica by sea. He had been looking forward with interest to observing the political aspect of the passage from territory under Greek to territory under Turkish rule; but, as the steamer entered Salonica harbour, his eye was caught, not by the Turkish flag flying above the custom house, but by Austrian and German railway-wagons standing along the quay, on rails which ran without a break from Salonica to Vienna and from Vienna to Berlin. He then realized in a flash that this economic solidarity with Central Europe was the distinctive and fundamental characteristic of Macedonia, and that the political connexion with Turkey-in-Asia, though picturesque, was accidental and superficial.

These were the last days of the Ottoman suzerainty in Salonika which had begun in 1430. The First Balkan War broke out on October 8. On November 8, the feast day of Salonika’s patron saint, Demetrius, the Greek army accepted the surrender of the Ottoman garrison.

The Bulgarian army arrived a day later. Tahsin Pasha, the governor, said to them: “I have only one Salonika, which I have surrendered”.

The rail connection to central Europe had been built some years before the connection to Constantinople.

The Treaty of Bucharest of 1913, at the end of the Balkan Wars, divided Macedonia between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, with Greece getting the lion’s share; a small section went to Albania. The Serbian part ended (from 1946) as a separate constituent republic of Yugoslavia and is now an independent country.

Toynbee also visited the Athos Peninsula in 1912. On his way home to England in August, he either visited Durrës (Durazzo) or saw the Turkish flag over it from his ship. After a short period of occupation by Serbia it would become part of Albania in 1913.

The Great Fire of Thessaloniki of 1917, unlike the Great Fire of Smyrna of 1922, seems to have been accidental.

Summary of the Balkan Wars (old post).

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

Reverberations from the Morea

May 17 2015

Metternich had taken alarm at the outbreak of the Greek insurrection against Ottoman rule in 1821. Clear-sighted as he was according to his own lights, he had divined at once that this repudiation of the Ottoman Pādishāh’s authority by a handful of his Orthodox Christian subjects in the remote Morea was a menace to the authority of the Austrian Kaiser because the Greeks were claiming Western sympathy and assistance for their cause in the name of the Western principle of Nationality. Metternich represented to the Holy Alliance [whose other members were Russia and Prussia] insistently, though without success, that if their own principle of Legitimacy was to be maintained intact, the Greek insurgents must be boycotted as outlaws and Sultan Mahmūd be supported, in maintaining his dynastic rights, as one of the Lord’s Anointed. From the Legitimist standpoint, Metternich’s attitude on this occasion was entirely justified by the event. For the triumphant success of the Greek insurgents – a success which they owed to the friendly intervention of France, Great Britain, and Russia as much as to their own exertions – was an event of far more than local importance. The erection of a sovereign independent national Greek State in 1829-31 made it inevitable that every people in South-Eastern Europe should insist upon attaining its own national independence and national unity sooner or later; and thus the Greek insurrection of 1821 incidentally preordained the erection of Jugoslavia and Greater Rumania in 1918-20 [greater at the expense of Hungary]. Truly, Metternich’s senses had not deceived him when he heard the death-knell of the Danubian Hapsburg Monarchy in those reverberations from the clash of arms in the Morea which fell upon his ears in Vienna.

A hundred years of imperial dissolution: 1821-1920.

Metternich, the last survivor of 1815, died a month to the day before the armistice in the Italian War of 1859.

It is difficult to imagine Beethoven and Metternich living in the same city. They never met, though a film even worse than Amadeus suggests that they did.

A Study of History, Vol II, OUP, 1934

A well worn tag

May 12 2015

The earliest complete extant works in Latin, the surviving plays of Plautus and Terence, are undisguised translations of “Hellenistic” Greek originals. And I should say that, in a rather subtler sense, the whole of Latin literature – including even such masterpieces as the poems of Virgil – is in essence a version of Greek originals translated into the Latin. After all, I can quote the second most famous of all the Latin poets [Horace] for my purpose. Indeed, the tag is so well worn that I hardly dare bring it out.

Conquered Greece took her savage conqueror captive, and introduced the arts into rustic Latium:
Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit, et artes intulit agresti Latio.

We all know the passage, and we all know that it is true. The mere linguistic difference between the Latin and Greek languages creates no division of literary style and no break in literary history.

This is from a chapter

based on a lecture delivered at Oxford University in the summer term of one of the interwar years, in a course, organized by Professor Gilbert Murray, of prolegomena to various subjects studied in the Oxford School of Literae Humaniores.

Part of tag used here.

Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948

Since Nine O’Clock

May 11 2015

“Half past twelve. Time has gone by quickly
since nine o’clock when I lit the lamp
and sat down here. I’ve been sitting without reading,
without speaking. Completely alone in the house,
whom could I talk to?

Since nine o’clock when I lit the lamp
the shade of my young body
has come to haunt me, to remind me
of shut scented rooms,
of past sensual pleasure – what daring pleasure.
And it’s also brought back to me
streets now unrecognisable,
bustling night clubs now closed,
theatres and cafés no longer there.

The shade of my young body
also brought back the things that make us sad:
family grief, separations,
the feelings of my own people, feelings
of the dead so little acknowledged.

Half past twelve. How the time has gone by.
Half past twelve. How the years have gone by.”


Since Nine O’Clock, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at Spelling anglicised.

The First Step

May 10 2015

“The young poet Evmenis
complained one day to Theocritos:
‘I have been writing for two years now
and I have composed just one idyll.
It’s my only completed work.
I see, sadly, that the ladder of Poetry
is tall, extremely tall;
and from this first step I now stand on
I will never climb any higher.’
Theocritos replied: ‘Words like that
are improper, blasphemous.
Just to be on the first step
should make you happy and proud.
To have come this far is no small achievement:
what you have done is a glorious thing.
Even this first step
is a long way above the ordinary world.
To stand on this step
you must be in your own right
a member of the city of ideas.
And it is a hard, unusual thing
to be enrolled as a citizen of that city.
Its councils are full of Legislators
no charlatan can fool.
To have come this far is no small achievement:
what you have done already is a glorious thing.’”


The First Step, from Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, translators; George Savidis, editor, CP Cavafy, Collected Poems, revised edition, Princeton University Press, 1992, at

Theocritos, a bucolic poet who flourished around 270 BC, was born in Sicily and spent part of his life in Alexandria. Evmenis is invented.

The archaeologists

April 18 2015

Some archaeologists from Winckelmann onwards: those who entered the popular imagination, or were known to non-specialists, in the UK.

No earlier antiquarians, no current names: these are from the great age of the profession, when the big discoveries were made, with some perhaps marginal inclusions. Equally or more important discoveries were made by less famous people. We remember the excavator of Knossos, but not the excavators of Hattusa or Anyang.

Thomas Ashby

Gertrude Bell

Frank Calvert

Howard Carter

Vere Gordon Childe (last post)

Jacques Cousteau

Glyn Daniel (last post)

Wilhelm Dörpfeld

Arthur Evans

Jacquetta Hawkes

TE Lawrence

Austen Henry Layard

Louis and Mary Leakey

John Lubbock

Max Mallowan

Prosper Mérimée

Theodor Mommsen

Stewart Perowne

William Matthew Flinders Petrie

Stuart Piggott

Augustus Pitt Rivers

Michael Rostovtzeff

Heinrich Schliemann

Lady Hester Stanhope

Marc Aurel Stein

Mortimer Wheeler (last post)

Johann Joachim Winckelmann

Leonard Woolley

Yigael Yadin

Archaeology, it is often pointed out, reflected colonialism and its attitudes, not least because it sometimes operated as organised looting (Wikipedia on repatriation demands: it doesn’t refer to Schliemann’s exports), but it was not automatically true that the white archaeologist organised “native” diggers: it was only under Sir John Hubert Marshall, Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India from 1902 to ’28, that Indians were first allowed to participate in excavations. The Survey had been launched in 1861; the first Indian Director-General was Daya Ram Sahni, from 1931 to ’35. The last white Director-General was Mortimer Wheeler, from 1944 to ’48.

It was, nevertheless, usually Europeans who started the work outside Europe, or professionalised the methods. China had Johan Gunnar Andersson.

The French invasion of Egypt in 1798 led to the birth of modern Egyptology.

Ruins can serve modern regimes: Yigael Yadin made archaeology support Zionism, Shah Reza glorified his rule at the ruins of Persepolis, Saddam Hussein his at the ruins of Babylon, ISIS tried to bolster its legitimacy by destroying Nimrud and Hatra.

In a way, the rise of the modern archaeologist paralleled the rise of the orchestral conductor. Both were conjurers and became stars in consequence. Their gestures from the podium and in the field were not so dissimilar.

Romancing Schliemann (old post).


March 31 2015

For the ‘Osmanlis 1453 was symbolic of the virtual completion of their conquest and political reunification of the main body of Eastern Orthodox Christendom, though the decisive step in a process that took about one hundred and fifty years, from first to last, had been the Ottoman occupation of Macedonia eighty years earlier, in 1372-1373. By “the main body” of Eastern Orthodox Christendom I mean the region, astride the Straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, which embraces the habitats, at that time, of the Greeks, Georgians, Bulgars, Serbs, and Romans – in fact, all the Eastern Orthodox Christian peoples except the Russians. This region comprises two peninsulas, Anatolia and the Balkan Peninsula. Macedonia, not Constantinople, is the strategic key to the rest of the Balkan Peninsula and indeed to the whole of Southeast Europe. And the center of gravity of Eastern Orthodox Christendom had shifted from Anatolia to the Balkan Peninsula in the eleventh century. In seeking their fortunes on the European side of the Straits, and pushing forward to the Danube before moving towards the Euphrates, the ‘Osmanlis had given striking evidence of their political sagacity.

For the Greeks 1453 was symbolic of the end of the East Roman Empire, though the decisive event in its breakup had been the conquest of Constantinople by the Franks in 1204, a quarter of a millennium before the conquest of the former imperial city by the ‘Osmanlis. The fall of Constantinople in 1204 had been a truly historic event. It had shattered the East Roman Empire irretrievably; and, between that date and the establishment of the Ottoman Empire in the fourteenth century, the main body of Eastern Orthodox Christendom had been in a state of anarchy. The East Roman Empire, which the Franks destroyed in 1204, was an eighth-century renaissance of the Roman Empire (which, in its central and eastern provinces, had gone to pieces at the beginning of the seventh century, after having held together here for two hundred years longer than in its outlying and backward western provinces). […]

The date 1453 was also symbolic for the Russians and for the Franks. For the Russians it signified that the original Rome’s title to world-dominion had passed from “the Second Rome,” Constantinople, to a “Third Rome,” which was Moscow. As the Russians saw it, the fall of Constantinople to the ‘Osmanlis in 1453 was the retribution meted out by God to the Greeks for their betrayal of Eastern Orthodox Christianity in A.D. 1439, when, at the ecclesiastical Council of Florence, their official representatives had acknowledged the supremacy of the Roman See over the Eastern Orthodox churches in the vain hope of purchasing effective Frankish military help at the price of this act of religious apostasy. For the Franks 1453 signified that Western Christendom had now become the trustee of the Ancient Greek culture, which, at this date, the Franks equated with “Culture” with a capital “C.” By this time, the Franks had learned to treasure every fragment of Ancient Greek statuary and every scrap of Mediaeval Greek manuscript of any text of Ancient Greek literature, though, unfortunately, the fifteenth-century Frankish humanists’ barbarous thirteenth-century ancestors had felt no interest in any Ancient Greek writer except Aristotle and had found no better use for Ancient Greek bronze statues than to chop them up and mint the pieces into petty cash.

The Ottoman Empire in World History, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol 99, No 3, June 15 1955; delivered Philadelphia, November 11 1954

Defeat in the west

March 21 2015

The Achaemenian Rāj in South-Western Asia was no more seriously shaken by the disastrous failure of the Persian invasion of European Greece in 480-479 B.C. than the British Rāj in India was by the even more disastrous failure of the British invasion of Afghanistan in A.D. 1838-42.

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

Christian brigands

March 20 2015

The Treaty of Bucharest of 1913, at the end of the Balkan Wars, divided the Macedonian region between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, with Greece getting the lion’s share; a small section went to Albania. The Serbian part ended (from 1946) as a separate constituent republic of Yugoslavia and is now an independent country.

In Macedonia, where the social peripeteia accompanying a transfer of sovereignty from the Ottoman Empire to the Kingdom of Greece had taken place ninety-one years later than in Laconia [with which he has just been concerned], the writer once had the good fortune to obtain a vivid sidelight on it from a living beneficiary. Waiting for an omnibus at Sorovich on the 4th September, 1921, he fell into conversation with a bystander who turned out to be a Slovene, born in Klagenfurt, Carinthia, who had emigrated as a boy to the United States, had come to Macedonia as a chauffeur for the American Red Cross, and was now driving a tractor in the service of three Greek brothers who were joint owners of a large estate in the neighbourhood of Sorovich, besides owning a whole block of houses just across the road from the railway station. Like the property itself, the present owners’ up-to-date Western method of farming was a legacy from their father, who had died only four months since. In answer to a question about his enterprising deceased employer’s antecedents, the Slovene mechanic volunteered: “Well, he hadn’t owned this property for very long. Before ‘the war’ [meaning the Balkan Wars of A.D. 1912-13] [Toynbee’s bracket], when the Turks owned the land, he was just one of those ‘Christians’ – what is the English word for them? … O, now I remember it: ‘brigands’ – up in the mountains. But, when the Greek Army marched in, the Turks cleared out and the brigands came down from the mountains and seized the land. So that is how my employer got his property, and how I got my job.”

There was a tradition in ancient anti-Christian polemic of referring to Christ himself as a brigand.

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

Wells on Cnossos

February 24 2015

Wells’s A Short History of the World (1922) is not an abridgement of his much longer The Outline of History (1919-20), but (he claimed) a new work. They are no more than period pieces now, but enjoyable in small doses because Wells. This is from the shorter work.

The omissions are of words and phrases that make no sense, but I have left the rest as it is.

“The earliest boats […] must have come into use some twenty-five or thirty thousand years ago. Man was probably paddling about on the water with a log of wood or an inflated skin to assist him, at latest in the beginnings of the Neolithic period. A basketwork boat covered with skin and caulked was used in Egypt and Sumeria from the beginnings of our knowledge. Such boats are still used there. They are used to this day in Ireland and Wales and in Alaska; sealskin boats still make the crossing of Behring Straits. The hollow log followed as tools improved [might it not have preceded?]. The building of boats and then ships came in a natural succession.

“Perhaps the legend of Noah’s Ark preserves the memory of some early exploit in shipbuilding, just as the story of the Flood, so widely distributed […], may be the tradition of the flooding of the Mediterranean basin.

“There were ships upon the Red Sea long before the pyramids were built, and there were ships on the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf by 7000 B.C. Mostly these were the ships of fishermen, but some were already trading and pirate ships – for knowing what we do of mankind we may guess pretty safely that the first sailors plundered where they could and traded where they had to do so.

“The seas on which these first ships adventured were inland seas on which the wind blew fitfully and which were often at a dead calm for days together, so that sailing did not develop beyond an accessory use. It is only in the last four hundred years that the well-rigged, ocean-going, sailing ship has developed. The ships of the ancient world were essentially rowing ships which hugged the shore and went into harbour at the first sign of rough weather. As ships grew into big galleys they caused a demand for war captives as galley slaves.

“We have already noted the appearance of the Semitic people as wanderers and nomads in the region of Syria and Arabia, and how they conquered Sumeria and set up first the Akkadian and then the first Babylonian Empire. In the west these same Semitic peoples were taking to the sea. They set up a string of harbour towns along the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean, of which Tyre and Sidon were the chief; and by the time of Hammurabi in Babylon, they had spread as traders, wanderers and colonizers over the whole Mediterranean basin. These sea Semites were called the Phœnicians, They settled largely in Spain, pushing back the old Iberian Basque population and sending coasting expeditions through the straits of Gibraltar; and they set up colonies upon the north coast of Africa. Of Carthage, one of these Phœnician cities, we shall have much more to tell later.

“But the Phœnicians were not the first people to have galleys in the Mediterranean waters. There was already a series of towns and cities among the islands and coasts of that sea belonging to a race or races apparently connected by blood and language with the Basques to the west and the Berbers and Egyptians to the south, the Ægean peoples. These peoples must not be confused with the Greeks, who come much later into our story; they were pre-Greek, but they had cities in Greece and Asia Minor; Mycenæ and Troy for example [which would become Greek], and they had a great and prosperous establishment at Cnossos in Crete.

“It is only in the last half century that the industry of excavating archæologists has brought the extent and civilization of the Ægean peoples to our knowledge. Cnossos has been most thoroughly explored; it was happily not succeeded by any city big enough to destroy its ruins, and so it is our chief source of information about this once almost forgotten civilization.

“The history of Cnossos goes back as far as the history of Egypt; the two countries were trading actively across the sea by 4000 B.C. By 2500 B.C., that is between the time of Sargon I and Hammurabi [modern dating places Sargon of Akkad around 2300 BC, Hammurabi of Babylon around 1800 BC], Cretan civilization was at its zenith.

“Cnossos was not so much a town as a great palace for the Cretan monarch and his people. It was not even fortified. It was only fortified later as the Phœnicians grew strong, and as a new and more terrible breed of pirates, the Greeks, came upon the sea from the north.

“The monarch was called Minos, as the Egyptian monarch was called Pharaoh; and he kept his state in a palace fitted with running water, with bathrooms and the like conveniences such as we know of in no other ancient remains. There he held great festivals and shows. There was bull-fighting, singularly like the bull-fighting that still survives in Spain; there was resemblance even in the costumes of the bull-fighters; and there were gymnastic displays. The women’s clothes were remarkably modern in spirit; they wore corsets and flounced dresses. The pottery, the textile manufactures, the sculpture, painting, jewellery, ivory, metal and inlay work of these Cretans was often astonishingly beautiful. And they had a system of writing [Linear A], but that still remains to be deciphered.

“This happy and sunny and civilized life lasted for some score of centuries. About 2000 B.C. Cnossos and Babylon abounded in comfortable and cultivated people who probably led very pleasant lives. They had shows and they had religious festivals, they had domestic slaves to look after them and industrial slaves to make a profit for them. Life must have seemed very secure in Cnossos for such people, sunlit and girdled by the blue sea. Egypt of course must have appeared rather a declining country in those days under the rule of her half-barbaric shepherd kings, and if one took an interest in politics one must have noticed how the Semitic people seemed to be getting everywhere, ruling Egypt, ruling distant Babylon, building Nineveh on the upper Tigris, sailing west to the Pillars of Hercules (the straits of Gibraltar) and setting up their colonies on those distant coasts.

“There were some active and curious minds in Cnossos, because later on the Greeks told legends of a certain skilful Cretan artificer, Dædalus, who attempted to make some sort of flying machine, perhaps a glider, which collapsed and fell into the sea.

“It is interesting to note some of the differences as well as the resemblances between the life of Cnossos and our own. To a Cretan gentleman of 2500 B.C. iron was a rare metal which fell out of the sky and was curious rather than useful – for as yet only meteoric iron was known, iron had not been obtained from its ores. Compare that with our modern state of affairs pervaded by iron everywhere. The horse again would be a quite legendary creature to our Cretan, a sort of super-ass which lived in the bleak northern lands far away beyond the Black Sea. Civilization for him dwelt chiefly in Ægean Greece and Asia Minor, where Lydians and Carians and Trojans lived a life and probably spoke languages like his own. There were Phœnicians and Ægeans settled in Spain and North Africa, but those were very remote regions to his imagination. Italy was still a desolate land covered with dense forests; the brown-skinned Etruscans had not yet gone there from Asia Minor. And one day perhaps this Cretan gentleman went down to the harbour and saw a captive who attracted his attention because he was very fair-complexioned and had blue eyes. Perhaps our Cretan tried to talk to him and was answered in an unintelligible gibberish. This creature came from somewhere beyond the Black Sea and seemed to be an altogether benighted savage. But indeed he was an Aryan tribesman, of a race and culture of which we shall soon have much to tell, and the strange gibberish he spoke was to differentiate some day into Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, Latin, German, English and most of the chief languages of the world.

“Such was Cnossos at its zenith, intelligent, enterprising, bright and happy. But about 1400 B.C. disaster came perhaps very suddenly upon its prosperity. The palace of Minos was destroyed, and its ruins have never been rebuilt or inhabited from that day to this. We do not know how this disaster occurred. The excavators note what appears to be scattered plunder and the marks of the fire. But the traces of a very destructive earthquake have also been found. Nature alone may have destroyed Cnossos, or the Greeks may have finished what the earthquake began.”


Was the scene at the waterfront ever played out? Perhaps it was. An “Aegean” gentleman (whether or not of the blood and race of “Basques”, “Berbers” and “Egyptians”), presumably dark, from Cnossos meeting an “Aryan” slave-captive from the steppe?

Arthur Evans, William Blake Richmond

Arthur Evans, the man who, from 1900 to 1905, unearthed the Minoan civilisation, by William Blake Richmond, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Britain and Crete

February 21 2015

Eco-historian of both, especially of English forests: Oliver Rackham.




Schliemann and his father

February 15 2015

In the village of Ankershagen, between Waren and Penzlin in the Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, of which Heinrich’s father, Ernst Schliemann, was the Protestant pastor, and where Heinrich lived from his second to his fifteenth year (A.D. 1823-36), there were two elements in the social milieu – the local folk-lore and the pastor’s personal interest in Hellenic history – that made their impress on Heinrich’s receptive mind; and “the persistence with which, throughout his life, he recalled the scenes of his youth and wrote to the people there – a family-feeling which no love of country had helped to nourish in this cosmopolitan – indicates the depth of those first experiences and discoveries”. [Footnote: Ludwig, E.: Schliemann of Troy (London 1931, Putnam), p. 135.]

“Just behind our garden was a pond called ‘das Silberschälchen’, out of which a maiden was believed to rise each midnight, holding a silver bowl. There was also in the village a small hill surrounded by a ditch, probably a prehistoric burial-place (or so-called Hünengrab), in which, as the legend ran, a robber knight in times of old had buried his beloved child in a golden cradle. Vast treasures were also said to be buried close to the ruins of a round tower in the garden of the proprietor of the village. My faith in the existence of these treasures was so great that, whenever I heard my father complain of his poverty, I always expressed my astonishment that he did not dig up the silver bowl or the golden cradle, and so become rich.” [Footnote: Schliemann, ibid., pp. 1-2. [Refers to Schliemann, H.: Ilios (London 1880, John Murray).]]

The curiosity of the future excavator of the treasures buried in the Second City at Troy and in the royal tombs at Mycenae was diverted from Mecklenburg to the Mediterranean by his father’s talk of the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum and his recital of the tale of the Trojan War; and here, twelve days before Heinrich’s eighth birthday, the decisive impact was made by an engraving, [footnote: reproduced by Emil Ludwig in his Schliemann of Troy (London 1931, Putnam), facing  p. 106.] representing the flight of Aeneas from the burning city of Ilium, in a Universal History [footnote: written by Dr. Georg Ludwig Jerrer, and published at Nuremberg in 1828. Some forty years after Schliemann’s death, this volume was found among his books and papers in his house at Athens by his biographer (see Ludwig, Emil: Schliemann of Troy (London 1931, Putnam, p. 24).] which was the father’s present to his son on Christmas Day 1829. [Here is a link to an 1833 edition of the second volume.] The boy had long been grieved to hear from his father that Troy had vanished without leaving a trace, and this picture – depicting massive city-walls – was naïvely taken by little Heinrich as evidence that his father had after all, happily been mistaken, since the author of the book must have seen Troy as it was here represented. When his father replied that the picture was merely a fanciful one, Heinrich drew from him the admission of his belief that Troy must, in fact, have had walls as massive as those which the imaginary picture displayed.

“‘Father’, retorted I, ‘If such walls once existed, they cannot possibly have been completely destroyed: vast ruins of them must still remain, but they are hidden away beneath the dust of ages.’ He maintained the contrary, whilst I remained firm in my opinion, and at last we both agreed that I should one day excavate Troy. … Thanks to God my firm belief in the existence of that Troy has never forsaken me amid all the vicissitudes of my eventful career; but it was not destined for me to realise, till in the autumn of my life …, our sweet dreams of fifty years ago”. [Footnote: Schliemann, ibid., pp. 3 and 5.]

The “our” at the end, a long footnote tells us, refers not to Schliemann’s father but to a never-forgotten childhood friend with whom he had hoped to spend his life, Minna Meineke, the daughter of a neighbouring farmer.

Another footnote confusingly connects an observation that Waren was probably inhabited by descendants of Warni or Varini with one that the Teutonic-speaking barbarians who descended on the Aegean after AD 375 anticipated Schliemann’s descent.

The flight of Aeneas

The flight of Aeneas, in Jerrer’s Weltgeschichte für Kinder

Walls of Troy

Walls of Troy VII, the level likely to be the Troy of the Iliad; Schliemann, at least initially, placed Homer’s Troy lower, at the level of Troy II; Wikimedia Commons

Nine Troys

Nine Troys, via; opens in a new window; map by Lloyd K Townsend; image truncated: Troy I (2900-2500 BC) is at the bottom

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

Romancing Schliemann

February 14 2015

In the tenth volume of A Study of History (though there were two more to come, almost as afterthoughts), Toynbee is demob-happy. He throws off the scientific scholar’s mask and comes out as an unadulterated romantic. We read about his emotional responses to passages by great and not so great historians and at the sites of historical events. We learn about his heroes. All this is mocked by Trevor-Roper. A long passage about Schliemann, from which I took a fragment in the last post, who overcame all personal difficulties and disadvantages and transformed the study of ancient Greece, is therefore uncritical. I will quote more of it in a future post.

In the present writer’s mind, the heroic exemplar of an invincible curiosity’s response to the challenge of heart-breaking circumstances had always been Heinrich Schliemann (vivebat A.D. 1822-90), ever since a memorable day at Winchester when the writer as a boy had listened spell-bound to his master M. J. Rendall retailing, with zest, the salient episodes of this romantic life in a parenthesis during a session officially allocated to the construing of the Iliad.


[Schliemann], who had spent his fifteenth to his forty-second year (A.D. 1836-63) in accumulating the means, spent his forty-seventh to his sixty-ninth year (A.D. 1868-90) in disinterring from the ground, and retrieving from oblivion, not only Troy, but Ithaca, Mycenae, Orchomenos, and Tiryns as well.

In an Annex, Toynbee, after further examining Schliemann’s international business career, celebrates other businessmen who were also serious scholars: George GroteJames Ford RhodesWalter Leaf. Grote was a banker in Threadneedle Street and wrote a history of Greece which became famous. Rhodes was an American industrialist and historian of the US. Leaf was the chairman of Westminster Bank and the leading Homer exegete of his day. Leaf did much of his work before retiring.

Goethe is Toynbee’s main German hero. But Goethe never visited Greece: he discovered Greek architecture in Sicily and was startled by its simplicity. Toynbee hardly ever mentions Goethe’s

revered plebeian forerunner Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the shoemaker’s son

who first articulated the difference between Greek, Greco-Roman and Roman art, also never visited Greece, and has a claim to have been the founder of modern archaeology. The fashion of going to Greece started with Byron, when Goethe was old.

Toynbee, like less romantic people of his generation, hero-worshipped Schliemann, but Schliemann’s shortcomings were well known when he was writing. Schliemann timeline:

1868. Having made his money, visited Homeric sites in Greece and Asia Minor.

1869. Published first book, Ithaka, der Peloponnes und Troja, in which he argued that Hisarlık, a large man-made mound in Asia Minor, not Pınarbaşı, a short distance south of it, was the site of Troy (as it is still thought to be) and that the graves of the Greek commander Agamemnon and his wife Clytemnestra were not outside the citadel walls at Mycenae but inside them. He wanted to prove that the Iliad and Aeneid reflected historical events.

Married a Greek schoolgirl named Sophia Engastromenos, having divorced his Russian wife, Ekaterina.

1871. Joined the English archaeologist Frank Calvert (whom Britannica confuses with his brother Frederick) at Hisarlık. Schliemann took sole credit for identifying the site even though Charles Maclaren had suggested it as the location of Homeric Troy as early as 1822 and Calvert was the first to dig there.

He and Calvert worked on the eastern half of the site. The Turkish government owned the western half. Schliemann believed that the Homeric Troy must be at the lowest level. 

1873. Uncovered fortifications and the remains of a city (“Troy”) and a treasure of gold jewellery (“Priam’s treasure”). We now know that the level he named the Troy of the Iliad was a thousand years older than Troy.

The treasure even looks anachronistic at this level. Did Schliemann plant it there? His excavations were condemned by later archaeologists as having destroyed the main layers of the real Troy. Even Calvert seems to have had doubts.

“Schliemann may not have discovered the truth, but the publicity stunt worked, making Schliemann and the site famous and igniting the field of Homeric studies in the late 19th century.” (Lauren Stokes, Trojan wars and tourism: a lecture by C. Brian Rose, The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore College, November 23 2005.)

1874. Published Trojanische Alterthümer. His discoveries were received sceptically by many scholars. Others, including Gladstone, and a wide public, accepted his identification.

When he proposed to resume work in February, the Turkish government revoked his permission to dig and sued him for a share of the treasure. Collaborating with Calvert, Schliemann smuggled it out of Turkey. He defended this as an attempt to protect the items from corrupt officials. 

After much haggling the Turkish authorities agreed to drop their claim in return for a large cash sum. It was eventually presented to the German nation and housed in a museum in Berlin. It disappeared in 1945 and reappeared in 1993 in Moscow.

1874-76. Dug first at the site of the Treasury of Minyas at Orchomenus in Boeotia, and found little. Published Troja und seine Ruinen (1875) and began excavation at Mycenae in the Peloponnese. Here, in 1876, he discovered gold, silver, bronze and ivory objects. He believed he had found the tombs of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. His greatest trophy, the Mask of Agamemnon, is now known, once again, to be several centuries older.

Some have said that Schliemann salted his digs with artefacts from elsewhere. He could even have had the mask manufactured on the general model of the other Mycenaean masks and found an opportunity to place it in the excavation.

On this and more, see John Chadwick, review of David Traill, Schliemann of Troy: Treasure and Deceit, Times Higher Education Supplement, June 12 1995, a hatchet-job on his methods and character.

“The Greek authorities have wisely refused to allow [the objects] to be tested; who would want to risk killing a golden goose that attracts the tourists in their thousands? [Has anyone “tested” the treasure in Moscow?] […] [His diaries] frequently disagree with the details given in his books, and show signs of having been tampered with at crucial points. There are too many instances of his improving stories in the telling, or even appropriating to himself events that happened to someone else, for us to be able to accept his word, at least where he could obtain an advantage by the deception. The morals of the market place were imported into the world of scientific scholarship.”

In 1876 he received permission to resume excavations at Hisarlık, but he did not reopen the site until 1878.

1878-79. Published Mykenae. After an unsuccessful excavation on the Ionian island of Ithaca (mentioned in the Odyssey) in 1878, resumed work at Hisarlık. In the following year was joined there by Emile Burnouf and Rudolf Virchow.

1882-83. Third excavation at Troy.

1884. Excavated fortified site of Tiryns, near Mycenae, with Wilhelm Dörpfeld.

1888-90 (his death). Fourth excavation at Troy, with Dörpfeld.

Schliemann thought that there must have existed a civilisation earlier than Mycenaean Hisarlık, and he guessed that it might be in Crete. He had hoped to work there. In the event, the discovery of Minoan Crete was left to Sir Arthur Evans ten years after Schliemann’s death.

(The Mycenaean Greeks controlled the Aegean after the fall, c 1400 BC, of the pre-Greek Minoan civilization – script: Linear A, undeciphered – and built fortified citadels and large palaces. They spoke a form of Greek; script: Linear B, deciphered. Their culture in its last phase is portrayed in the Homeric poems. Their power declined during widespread upheavals at the end of the Mediterranean Bronze Age, around 1100 BC.

When I first learned about Troy, I was bothered by the fact that the Trojans seemed as Greek as the Greeks. In fact, they probably spoke another Indo-European language, widely used in Anatolia, called Luwian, though there are no Trojan inscriptions. It is clear from the Iliad that they had a close relationship with the Greeks on their west. They had a similar relationship with the Hittites on the east.)

Schliemann died in Naples. His corpse was transported to the First Cemetery of Athens and interred in an elaborate mausoleum designed by Ernst Ziller. His palace in Athens, the Iliou Melathron (Ιλίου Μέλαθρον, Palace of Ilium), is now the Numismatic Museum.

Through his books and dispatches to The Times, the Daily Telegraph and other papers, he became the first populariser of archaeology (an equivalent, perhaps, of William Howard Russell as the first war correspondent). He inspired scholars as well as the public. When he died, John Myres said that it seemed that “the spring had gone out of the year”.

When he began excavating, no corpus of accepted practice existed for archaeological fieldwork. He was a pioneer, like Flinders Petrie and Augustus Pitt-Rivers. Stratigraphy had been observed and understood in Danish peat bogs, the Jutland barrows, and prehistoric Swiss lake dwellings, but Hisarlık was the first large dry-land man-made mound ever dug. It is not surprising that Schliemann was puzzled by what he found, but, eventually, with the help of Dörpfeld, he was able to untangle the stratigraphy and admitted his initial mistakes. He did well for someone starting to dig in the 1870s, yet is criticised by those who are excavating similar mounds more than a century later.

Did he, a victim of what Eliza Marian Butler called “the tyranny of Greece over Germany”, get carried away? Was he a con-man? He was certainly learned and spoke and read many languages. His record-keeping was suspect. He seems to have twisted a few things. For Toynbee, his net contributions to knowledge, the fields which he opened up, were so large, and his career was so romantic, that his defects could be overlooked. But GP Gooch had been able to give this account of him in History and Historians in the Nineteenth Century, Longmans, Green and Co, 1913:

“After Thirlwall and Grote [above], Duncker and Curtius, it might seem as if there was only room for monographs; but during the last quarter of the century the discoveries of Schliemann [footnote: See Schuchhardt, Schliemann’s Excavations, 1891.] revolutionised the treatment of early Greek history. At seven he read of the burning of Troy and longed to visit the site, declaring that the fortifications could not have wholly vanished. At ten he wrote a Latin essay on the Trojan war. His father’s poverty compelled him to begin earning his living at fourteen, and it was not till the age of thirty-four that he began to learn Greek. At forty-one he had become a rich man and retired from business. In 1870 he began the excavation of Hissarlik, and in 1874 published his ‘Trojan Antiquities.’ The learned world laughed at his naïve identifications of the objects and buildings described in the Iliad, and he confused the different strata superimposed upon one another. None the less his discoveries aroused world-wide interest, while his shortcomings were only known to scholars. Hindered in his work at Troy by the Turkish Government he transferred his attention to Mycenae, where he discovered the graves of the kings filled with gold and other ornaments. In a telegram to the King of the Hellenes he announced that he had found Agamemnon and his household; but more careful study revealed the fact that the treasure did not belong to a single period and that the number and sex of the persons did not agree with the legend. It was, however, of minor importance whether the body of Agamemnon or of other kings had been found; for he had revealed a vanished civilisation. He next discovered at Orchomenos the so-called Treasury of Minyas, and, after a further visit to Troy in company with Dörpfeld, laid bare the fortress-city of Tiryns, the neighbour of Mycenae.

“When Schliemann died in 1890 he had filled the world with his fame. In twenty years he had unearthed three cities, had revealed Mycenaean civilisation, and had given an incalculable impetus to archaeological research. Yet he was almost pathetically incompetent to interpret the marvellous treasures he had brought to light. He was filled with a romantic attachment to Greece. He married a Greek lady, and called his son Agamemnon and his daughter Andromache. But he possessed neither the training nor the qualities required for the task of scientific excavation. He treated Homer as the historian no less than the poet of the Trojan wars. He held the Mycenaeans to be Homer’s Achaeans, and it was left to others to point out that the civilisation of Mycenae was pre-Homeric, and to Dörpfeld to prove that the city of Hector and Achilles was the sixth, not the second. Schliemann was a pioneer, a conquistador, [footnote: Salomon Reichnach.] and much of his work has had to be done again by Dörpfeld. Like Cesnola, who spent years burrowing in the sites of Cyprus, his sumptuous volumes are of little value for the purposes of exact scholarship. If he revealed the romantic possibilities of excavation, his errors emphasised the need of professional training.”

Heinrich Schliemann


A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

The drunken miller

February 7 2015

Heinrich Schliemann, the excavator of Troy, was the son of a Protestant clergyman in the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. He learned Latin as a boy, but not Greek, and could not afford to go to university. Greece had obsessed him since early childhood, but he gave himself to archaeology only after a highly successful business career.

In 1837, at the age of fifteen, he was working in Theodore Hückstädt’s grocer’s shop at Fürstenberg.

“As long as I live, I shall never forget the evening when a drunken miller came into the shop. … He was the son of a Protestant clergyman in Roebel, Mecklenburg, and had almost completed his studies at the gymnasium of Neu Ruppin when he was expelled on account of his bad conduct. … Dissatisfied with his lot, the young man gave himself up to drink, which, however, had not made him forget his Homer; for, on the evening that he entered the shop, he recited to us about a hundred lines of the poet, observing the rhythmic cadence of the verses. Although I did not understand a syllable, the melodious sound of the words made a deep impression upon me, and I wept bitter tears over my unhappy fate. Three times over did I get him to repeat to me those divine verses, rewarding his trouble with three glasses of whisky, which I bought with the few pence that made up my whole fortune. From that moment I never ceased to pray God that by His grace I might yet have the happiness of learning Greek.”

He would teach himself as an adult. From the autobiographical note in Schliemann’s Ilios, English edition, John Murray, 1880.

Old posts:

Hellenic holy ground

Goethe’s Italian Journey.

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

Greece and Japan

January 18 2015

I can’t exactly explain what I mean by Japanese culture being classical, but you feel it very strongly indeed when you go into the temples. They feel like Greek temples, retranslated into wood.

Perhaps it was a matter of ritual being pristine, not yet turned to metaphor or acting or symbol.

Greek temple architecture in stone had evolved out of wooden structures.

Noh, with its masks, choruses, music and strongly ritualistic elements is often compared with Greek drama.

When I lived in Tokyo in 1990-91, a lonely water-seller (he must have been the last in the city) used to walk through the Kamiyacho area where my office was. His strange cry seemed to come from a remote world and to have nothing at all to do with the modern life around him.

Japanese premodern culture is a survival, not a bogus revival.

Judging by the sound and atmosphere of his Sinfonía de Antígona (1933), which uses Greek modes, the Mexican composer Carlos Chávez felt a connection between classical Greece and the pre-Spanish civilisations of Mexico. YouTube.

Japanese and Greek music both used the pentatonic scale.

Letter to Gilbert Murray, probably from Nagoya, November 10 1929

The failure of the League

January 14 2015

An international political order was offered, ready-made, to the Greek city-states of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. by the Lydian and Persian and Carthaginian Empires. The Persian Empire systematically imposed orderly political relations upon the Greek city-states which it subjugated; and Xerxes attempted to complete this work by proceeding to subjugate the still independent remnant of the Greek world. These still unconquered Greek city-states resisted Xerxes desperately – and successfully – because they rightly believed that a Persian conquest would take the life out of their civilization. They not only saved their own independence but they also liberated the previously subjugated city-states of the Archipelago and the Asiatic mainland. But, having rejected the Persian solution to a Greek political problem, the Greek victors were confronted with the task of finding some other solution. And it was here that they failed. Having defeated Xerxes in the years 480 and 479 B.C, they were defeated between 478 and 431 B.C. by themselves.

The Greeks’ attempt at an international political order was the so-called Delian League founded in 478 B.C. by Athens and her allies under Athenian leadership. And it is worth noticing, in passing, that the Delian League was modelled on a Persian pattern. One sees this if one compares the accounts of the system which the Athenian statesman Aristeides induced the liberated cities to accept in 478 B.C. with the account – in Herodotus Book vi, chapter 42 – of the system which had been imposed upon these self-same cities by the Persian authorities after the suppression of the so-called “Ionian Revolt” some fifteen years before. But the Delian League failed to achieve its purpose. And the old political anarchy in the relations between the sovereign independent Greek city-states broke out again under new economic conditions which made this anarchy not merely harmful but deadly.

The destruction of the Graeco-Roman civilization through the failure to replace an international anarchy by some kind of international law and order occupies the history of the four hundred years from 431 to 31 B.C. [outbreak of Peloponnesian War to Battle of Actium]. After these four centuries of failure and misery there came, in the generation of Augustus, a partial and temporary rally. The Roman Empire – which was really an international league of Greek and other, culturally related, city-states – may be regarded as a tardy solution of the problem which the Delian League had failed to solve. But the epitaph of the Roman Empire is “too late.” The Graeco-Roman society did not repent until it had inflicted mortal wounds on itself with its own hands. The Pax Romana was a peace of exhaustion, a peace which was not creative and therefore not permanent. It was a peace and an order that came four centuries after its due time. One has to study the history of those four melancholy intervening centuries in order to understand what the Roman Empire was and why it failed.

Toynbee could not help seeing Rome in this way. Did the Pax Romana not last longer than most?

The League had its headquarters on the island of Delos until 454 BC, when Pericles moved it to Athens. It was dissolved on the conclusion of the Peloponnesian War in 404.

Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948

Hellenism abandoned

January 12 2015

In the field of architecture the attractiveness of the new Byzantine style in the eyes of a Justinian and an Anthemius was probably due to the very fact that this Byzantine style presented the greatest contrast to the Hellenic style that was well conceivable. The Hellenic architecture was a structure of straight lines and flat surfaces meeting at right-angles; the Byzantine architecture was a structure of curves and cupolas. The Hellenic temple looked outwards towards an assembly in the open air; the Byzantine church looked inwards towards a congregation in the interior. The Haghia Sophia was the monumental protest of a generation which could no longer find inspiration in the Parthenon or in any of those things for which the Parthenon stood. In building an Haghia Sophia instead of a Parthenon, Anthemius was doing, in essence, what a Synesius or a Sidonius Apollinaris was doing when he became a bishop instead of remaining just a cultivated country gentleman, or an Augustine when he became a bishop instead of remaining just a professor of rhetoric, or an Ambrose or a Gregory the Great when he became a bishop instead of remaining just an Imperial official. In each of these cases a creative personality was breaking his way out of his hereditary social framework, in which his creative powers had been baulked, and was setting himself into a new framework in which these powers were offered an outlet.

Reluctant churchmen in late antiquity (old post).

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

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


Maps of Central Asia

Near Jalalabad

Picture credit: AfghaniDan; near Jalalabad

Silk Road

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

The Cretan villa 4

December 12 2014

At the east end of the Island of Crete on the 19th March, 1912, as he rounded the shoulder of the last mountain on his path from Khandrà to Palaíkastro, the […] twentieth-century Western student of History suddenly sighted the ruins of a baroque villa – built, by the look of it, for one of the last of the Venetian governors of Candia – which, had it been erected on English and not on Cretan soil, would probably then still have been inhabited by the descendants of its original occupant, but which in Crete in A.D. 1912 was already a relic of “Ancient History” on a par with the ruins of the Minoan imperial palace at Cnossos which the twentieth-century English wayfarer had been visiting a week since. As he stood staring at this Jacobean country house, where the Modern Western Civilization in which he himself lived and moved and had his being had suffered the pangs of death on Cretan soil a quarter of a millennium ago, the spectator had an experience which was the counterpart, on the psychic plane, of an aeroplane’s sudden deep drop when it falls into an air-pocket. On that spot on which Time had stood still since the eviction of the Venetians by the ʿOsmanlis in the War of Candia (gerebatur A.D. 1645-69), the spectator was suddenly carried down in a “Time-pocket” from a day in the year A.D. 1912 to a day in the fifth decade of the seventeenth century on which History, in that house, had come abruptly to an end in an evacuation without any sequel except solitude and decay.

The Cretan villa

The Cretan villa 2

The Cretan villa 3

Another Time-pocket: Ephesus.

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

The Cretan villa 3

December 7 2014

The truth that Venice is “dead and done with”, and the moral that others, besides “Venice and its people”, may be “merely born to bloom and drop” [all Browning, A Toccata of Galuppi’s], have […] been impressed upon the present writer’s imagination by [a] visual image which remains as sharply printed on his mind to-day as at the instant when he received it more than twenty-five years ago. Turning the corner of a mountain in a lonely district at the eastern end of Crete, he once suddenly stumbled upon the ruins of a baroque villa which must have been built for the pleasure of a Venetian grandee in the last days of Venetian rule in the island before the ʿOsmanlis came to reign there in the Venetians’ stead. It was a house which might have been built for a contemporary nobleman in England, and have been lived in – had it stood on English ground – by its builder’s descendants down to the tenth generation in the writer’s own day; but, having been built, as it happened, by Venetian hands in Crete, this piece of modern Western architecture was as utterly “dead and done with” – as veritably “a museum piece” [quoting himself] – in A.D. 1912 as the Minoan palaces at Cnossos and Phaestus which the traveller had been looking at a few days before. In the common mortality which had overtaken each of them in turn, at moments more than three thousand years apart, these desolate habitations of vanished thalassocrats bore witness, against their makers, that

in due time, one by one,
Some with lives that came to nothing,
some with deeds as well undone,
Death came tacitly and took them
where they never see the sun.

[Browning, ibid; lines broken to make them fit into the column here.] As the English traveller recalled the English poet’s lines, he reflected that the four and a half centuries for which Venice had been mistress of Crete were a longer span of time than the present age of his own country’s rule over the earliest acquired of her overseas dominions; and his ears seemed to catch an echo of Galuppi’s music among the Cretan crags.

In you come with your cold music,
till I creep in every nerve.

That baroque ruin in Crete, as it stood in A.D, 1912, was a memento mori for an England that was then still alive, as well as for a Venice that was then already dead.

The Cretan villa

The Cretan villa 2.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

The Cretan villa 2

December 4 2014

On the 18th March 1912 I was walking through an out-of-the-way district in the east of Krete. The landscape was the bare limestone mountain-side characteristic of the Aegean. Villages were rare, and some of them had been sacked during the civil war of 1897 and not reoccupied. Suddenly, as the path turned the corner round a hillside in the limestone wilderness, a Western country-house came into view. It was built in the Jacobean style; the curves and flourishes of its façade were in excellent preservation; one’s own friends, or their great-grandparents, might have walked out of the front door. But, after a few steps towards it, the illusion of life faded. The door was half walled-up with loose stones to convert the ground-floor into a sheepfold, the windows stared blindly, the cornice had no roof above it. It was the villa of some Venetian landowner or official, and must have been deserted since the great War of Candia, two and a half centuries ago.

In that war Crete passed from Venetian to Ottoman rule. Before Venice, it had been under Constantinople, with an Arab interlude.

The Cretan villa.

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

The towers of Afrasiab

December 3 2014

“The spider has wove his web in the imperial palace, and the owl hath sung her watch-song on the towers of Afrasiab.”

Ferdowsi, quoted by Gibbon.

[Footnote: “From Saint Sophia he [Mehmed the Conqueror] [bracket in Toynbee] proceeded to the august but desolate mansion of an hundred successors of the Great Constantine, but which, in a few hours, had been stripped of the pomp of royalty. A melancholy reflexion on the vicissitudes of human greatness forced itself on his mind, and he repeated an elegant distich of Persian poetry.” – Gibbon, E.: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chap. lxviii.

In a footnote, Gibbon observes that “this distich, which Cantemir gives in the original, derives new beauties from the application. It was thus that Scipio repeated, in the sack of Carthage, the famous prophecy of Homer. The same generous feeling carried the mind of the conqueror to the Past or the Future.”]

The prophecy, uttered by Hector, is in Book II of the Iliad, lines 448-49. The History of the Growth and Decay of the Othman Empire by the polyglot Dimitrie Cantemir, Prince of Moldavia, one of Gibbon’s sources, was written in Latin. Was Gibbon reading the English translation? Who translated the distich by Ferdowsi?

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

The Cretan villa

December 2 2014

The present writer received his first intimation of the mortality of the Western Civilization in an experience […] at the south-eastern corner of the Island of Crete, en route from Khandrà to Palaíkastro, on the 19th March, 1912. Rounding the southern shoulder of a mountain, he was startled at suddenly finding himself face to face with the ruins of a country house in the Baroque style of architecture. If the date of this experience had been A.D. 1952 instead of being A.D. 1912, probably he would not have felt the same shock; for by A.D. 1952 a deserted and dilapidated seventeenth-century country house was no longer an unimaginable object in the landscape of the writer’s native province of the Western World; but in A.D. 1912 every house of the kind in England would have been intact and have been inhabited – as likely as not, by descendants of the country squire who had had the house built for him some two or three hundred years back in the past. What was startling and disturbing for a Western observer in A.D. 1912 was to see a piece of architecture which, in his mental picture of his native country, was associated with the living world of his own generation standing here in Crete as starkly dead and deserted as the monuments of an Hellenic architecture at Gortyna and Praesus, and the monuments of a Minoan architecture at Cnossos and Phaestus, that he had been inspecting within the last few days in the course of his journey. This inevitable comparison awakened his imagination to the truth that, on this island, a civilization which was his own, and which on his own island was then still self-confidently alive, was already as dead as the civilizations that had come and gone in earlier generations of this species of society.

Gazing at what, at that date, was so portentous a spectacle for Western eyes, the English traveller realized that this house must have been built, on the eve of the Great Veneto-Ottoman War of Candia (gerebatur A.D. 1645-69), by some Venetian country gentleman or official, and that this seventeenth-century Venetian builder must have taken it just as much for granted as his English contemporaries, who were then building other houses in the same style on another island, that his new family mansion would continue to be occupied by his descendants for many generations to come. The Englishman then reflected that a Venetian rule in Crete that had been extinguished by Ottoman arms in A.D. 1669 had by that date been in existence for no less than 457 years – a span of time which, in A.D. 1912, was longer than that of the duration, up to date, of British rule in the oldest of the overseas possessions of the British Crown. The inference was inescapable. If the Venetian Empire had perished, the British Empire could not be immortal; and, if the Western Civilization, in which Great Britain as well as Venice lived and moved and had her being, had become extinct in a former Cretan province of its domain, there could be no province, on any shore of either the Mediterranean or the Atlantic, in which a Westerner would be justified in assuming that his civilization was invested with the incredible privilege of being exempt from the jurisdiction of Death the Leveller.

Except in his journalism, Toynbee isn’t an especially repetitive writer, but he tells the story of this disturbing epiphany several times.

Crete had passed from Byzantium to the Arabs in 824. The Arabs destroyed the old city of Gortyn and made a new capital, Khandak, known to the Venetians (as was the whole island) as Candia, to the Byzantines as Chandax, and now called Heraklion.

Byzantium reconquered Crete in 960 and held it until it passed to Venice in 1204-12, after the Fourth Crusade. The Turks conquered it in 1669.

In 1897 an insurrection in Crete led the Ottoman Empire to declare war on Greece. Great Britain, France, Italy and Russia intervened on the grounds that the Ottoman Empire could no longer maintain control. It was the prelude to the island’s annexation to the Kingdom of Greece, which occurred de facto in 1908 and de jure in 1913 at the end of the Second Balkan War.

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

Éllinas and Romyós

November 30 2014

… or, Promiscuous properties of our puppet-show

The differentiation of Near Eastern from Ancient Hellenic culture came about by a deliberate breach with the past, and not by a tearful parting. The Academy of Athens, founded by Plato, was not broken up by the Turks. It was closed, in the ninth century of its existence and just forty years before the first Turks visited Constantinople, [footnote: The Academy was closed in A.D. 529; the first ambassadors from the Khan of the earliest Turkish Empire in Central Asia arrived at Constantinople in A.D. 569.] by Justinian, the Near Eastern sovereign who built Aya Sofía and who figures as a worthy in the legend of Modern Greek nationalism. Seven philosophers who refused to embrace the Christian religion took refuge in the dominions of Justinian’s Middle Eastern rival Khosru, [footnote: It must be admitted that the Hellenic philosophers did not find themselves at home at the Middle Eastern court.] and the Persian Government stipulated for the repatriation and toleration of these last representatives of Hellenic culture in a treaty of peace with the East Roman Power. [Footnote: In A.D. 533.]

This is over a century after Theodosius’s edict.

Mani is the middle promontory of the three at the tip of the Peloponnese. Messenia is to the west, Epidaurus to the east. They mirror the three promontories of Thrace.

The cult of the Olympian gods survived three centuries longer in the Mani, the most inaccessible promontory of the Morea, which was cut off from the East Roman Empire by the Slavonic migrations at the close of the sixth century. But in the latter part of the ninth century, when the Moreot Slavs had been reduced to subjection, this scandalous survival of Ancient Hellenic usages attracted the attention of the Constantinople Government. The Olympian cults of the Maniots were suppressed and the last taint of Hellenism was purged out of the Near Eastern world. [Footnote: See Konstandínos Porphyroyénnitos (= “Constantine Porphyrogenitus”): On the Administration of the [East Roman] [bracket in original] Empire, ch. 1. (ed. by Bekker, I., Bonn, 1840, Weber).] The repudiation of the Hellenic tradition had already been symbolised by a change in the use of names. “Hellene” had come to mean a heathen outsider [a Maniot pagan], in contrast to the Christian subject of the East Roman Empire. The latter was the orthodox pattern of the primitive Modern Greek, and Romyós, or “East Roman,” […] became the national name in the vernacular. The Modern Greek merchants and peasantry of the Ottoman Empire only learnt to call themselves Hellenes from the children of the French Revolution in the West, who delighted to speak of Switzerland as the Helvetian Republic and to have their portraits painted in the costume of Roman Senators. This classical affectation was a Western fashion which the Modern Greeks borrowed with other promiscuous properties of our puppet-show, just as the classical scholarship of Koraís was a part of his enlightened advocacy of Western culture among his fellow-countrymen.

The bibliography of the book from which this is taken gives these references in a section called The names Éllinas and Romyós […]; all brackets hereafter are in the original:

BURY, J. B. : “History of the Later Roman Empire.” (2 vols., London, 1889, Macmillan.) [See vol. ii., bk. iv., pt. 2, ch. vii. : “The Language of the Romaioi in the Sixth Century.”]

POLÍTIS, N. G. : “Éllines i Romyí? <Hellenes or Rum?>.” (Athens, 1901, Sakellarios.) [This pamphlet originally appeared as a letter to the Press, in answer to one from the poet Kostìs Palamás, in which the latter had maintained that “Romyós,” and not “Éllinas” <or, in purist form, “Éllin”>, was the true national name of the Modern Greeks. Mr. Polítis sets out to prove not only that the name “Éllinas” was occasionally employed during the Middle Ages as a literary affectation by the learned, but that it had never dropped out of the popular consciousness – in fact, that its use during the War of Independence and thereafter was a survival rather than a revival. Without wishing to show disrespect to the memory of this distinguished scholar, I venture to state my opinion that in this controversy he has not proved his case.]

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

Abandoned virtuosity

September 11 2014

We may [ask ourselves] why our own traditional Western styles of music and dancing and painting and sculpture are being abandoned by our own rising generation. In our own case, is the explanation a loss of artistic technique? Have we forgotten the rules of rhythm and counterpoint and perspective and light and proportion which were discovered, or invented, by that Italian and Flemish creative minority which carried our Western Society out of the second chapter in its history into the third chapter some four or five centuries ago? In this case, in which we happen to be first-hand witnesses, the answer to our question is palpably in the negative. In these days of mass-education our Western World is more amply supplied than ever before with virtuosi who are masters of these techniques and who could put them into operation again any day if they felt the impulse in themselves and received the demand from their public. The prevailing tendency to abandon our Western artistic traditions is no involuntary capitulation to a paralytic stroke of technical incompetence; it is the deliberate abandonment of a style of art which is losing its appeal to the rising generation because this generation is ceasing to cultivate its aesthetic sensibilities on the traditional Western lines. We have wilfully cast out of our souls the great masters who have been the familiar spirits of our forefathers; and, while we have been wrapt in self-complacent admiration of the spiritual vacuum which we have discovered how to make, a Tropical African spirit of music and dancing and statuary has made an unholy alliance with a pseudo-Byzantine spirit of painting and bas-relief, and has entered in to dwell in a house that it has found empty and swept and garnished. [Footnote: Matt. xii. 43-5, Luke xi. 24-6.] The decline which betrays itself in this revolutionary change in aesthetic taste is not technical but is spiritual. In repudiating our own native Western tradition of art and thereby reducing our aesthetic faculties to a state of inanition and sterility in which they seize upon the exotic and primitive art of Dahomey and Benin as though this were manna in the wilderness, we are confessing before all men that we have forfeited our spiritual birthright. Our abandonment of our traditional artistic technique is manifestly the consequence of some kind of spiritual breakdown in our Western Civilization; and the cause of this breakdown evidently cannot be found in a phenomenon which is one of the subsequent symptoms.

From the fourth volume of the Study. From “We have wilfully cast out” onwards, he sounds like the headmistress Miss Strudwick, whom he would quote twenty years later: see August 26 post. He started work on Vol IV in the summer of 1933. She made her speech that June. I am sure he filed a cutting. We know from the same volume what he thought about the state of universal education, and from Vol IX his views (expressed just after the Strudwick quotation) on neo-barbarian city-dwellers and their entertainments.

See an old post on dated pessimism.

Benin bronzes became known in the West somewhat earlier than the historically-earlier stone, bronze and terracotta heads of Ife. But they have nothing to do with the country of Dahomey, now called Benin. This looks like a howler. The Empire of Benin was in what is now Edo state. Ife was in Yoruba country, further west.

Toynbee, like many of his English class and generation, had, when he wrote this, no grasp of what modern art was or of what made it happen. His taste in modern literature, such as it was, was also unreliable.

For all his awareness of the impact of the West on Japan, he does not mention in a single place, even a caption in the Caplan abridgement, and may not even have known about, the effect on art in the West in the nineteenth century of the West’s discovery of Japanese aesthetics.

In the passage I have quoted, he sees a “breakdown” of the culture that had come before, rather than a prescient response to what was approaching or a dynamic response to what was new. European culture had never been something static and therefore liable to break down. It was breaking down all the time. Why, nevertheless, did things change so dramatically when even comparatively conservative artists seemed unexhausted? I asked that question, in relation to music, here and here.

Was he so ignorant of modern art in his old age? Perhaps not. An artist such as Epstein (August 27), whom I took as a bogeyman for his class and generation, should have had great appeal for him. Epstein wasn’t even avant-garde at the end. He was quasi-religious and humane, like Toynbee.

Toynbee’s travel in his retirement (1955-75) included Latin America several times between 1956 and 1966, India in 1956-57 and 1960, the US repeatedly during the civil rights struggle, Japan in 1956 and 1967, Nigeria in 1964. His perspectives on art must have changed. From April 1970 to August 1972, he worked on an illustrated abridgement of A Study of History with Jane Caplan, which contained images by Raoul Hausmann, Rivera, Franz Wilhelm Seiwert, CRW Nevinson, Magnus Zeller, Bruno Caruso, Picasso, Dix. He was ready at the end of his life to take African and southeast Asian history seriously, about which he had known nothing earlier. He quotes TS Eliot on the title page of his Gifford lectures (published 1956).

We have evidence of a pre-retirement change of outlook in the ninth volume of the Study (1954). There is a section about renaissances of the visual arts of a dead civilisation in the history of an affiliated civilisation of the next generation. The Sumeric style of carving in bas-relief was revived under the Neo-Assyrian Empire (911-612 BC). The style of sculpture and painting of the Old Kingdom was revived in the Saite age (Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, the last before the Persian conquest). The Hellenic style of carving in bas-relief (see Attic masterpieces of the fifth and fourth centuries BC) was nostalgically revived on Byzantine diptychs carved not in stone but in ivory in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries CE. The Babylonic civilisation was indeed, in Toynbee’s scheme, affiliated to the Sumeric, and the Orthodox Christian civilisation to the Hellenic. But why is he suggesting that Saite Egypt was part of a civilisation affiliated to the Egyptiac?

The example on which he dwells, however, is a further one, namely

the renaissance of Hellenic visual arts in Western Christendom which made its first epiphany in a Late Medieval Italy and spread thence to the rest of the Western World during a Modern Age of Western history. This evocation of ghosts of Hellenic visual arts was practised in the three fields of Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting; and, in every one of these three fields, the revenant style of art made so clean a sweep of the style that it found in possession of the corresponding sector of a Western artistic arena that, by the time when the aggressive ghost had spent his formidable force, Western Man had become so thoroughly used to living his aesthetic life under this alien ascendancy that he did not know what to do with a liberty that was not recovered for him by his own exertions, but was reimposed upon him by the senile decay of a pertinaciously tyrannical intruder. When the evaporation of an Hellenic spectre presented Western souls with an aesthetic vacuum, they found themselves at first unable, for the life of them, to say what was the proper visual expression for the West’s long-suppressed native artistic genius.

Hellenism had been an “intruder”. Now he seems to want modernism to hurry up, as if it might be the expression of “the West’s long-suppressed native artistic genius”. “Vacuum” now means something different.

The most extraordinary episode [had been] the triumph of an Hellenic revenant over the native genius of the West in the province of Sculpture in the Round; for, in this field of artistic endeavour, the thirteenth-century Northern French exponents of an original Western style had produced masterpieces that could look in the face those of the Hellenic, Egyptiac, and Mahayanian Buddhist schools at their zeniths, whereas in the field of Painting, by the time when a revenant Hellenic style invaded it, Western artists had not yet shaken off the tutelage of the more precocious art of a sister Orthodox Christian Society, while in the field of Architecture the Romanesque style – which, as its latter-day label indicates, was a nascent Western World’s variation on an architectural theme inherited from the latest age of an antecedent Hellenic Civilization – had already been overwhelmed by an intrusive “Gothic” style which, contrary to the implication of its misnomer, had originated, not among the barbarians in a no-man’s-land beyond the European limes of the Roman Empire, but in a Syriac World which, in articulo mortis, had made a cultural conquest of the savage Western Christian military conquerors who had seized upon fragments of a dissolving ʿAbbasid and a dissolving Andalusian Umayyad Caliphate.

So Gothic had been another alien intrusion. This nativism seems out of place in a man who had never been taken in by racial theories. Whatever the eastern influences in Gothic, to suggest that its small debt to something external made Hellenism’s subsequent triumph over it less surprising than its triumph over an “original” Medieval sculpture is extreme sophistry.


The sterility with which the Western genius had been afflicted by a renaissance of Hellenism in the domain of Architecture was proclaimed in the West’s surprising failure to reap any architectural harvest from the birth-pangs of the Industrial Revolution. In Great Britain at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and in the Western World as a whole before the nineteenth century reached its close, a mutation in industrial technique that had begotten the iron girder had suddenly thrust into the Western architect’s hands an incomparably versatile new building-material; and this gift of the grimy gods might have been expected to inspire the favoured Western human recipient to break even the toughest cake of inherited architectural custom in an eager exploration of the potentialities of a hitherto untried instrument. As it happened, no great effort was required of a Western architect of that generation to break a Hellenizing architectural tradition that was then already crumbling between his fingers; yet the architect who had been presented by a blacksmith with the iron girder, and by Providence with a clean slate, could think of no better ways of filling an opportune vacuum than to cap an Hellenic Renaissance with “a Gothic Revival” and to recoil from the “Gothic” ironmongery of Ruskin’s Science Museum at Oxford [1855-61] and the Woolworth Building in New York [1910-13] into a “Colonial” brickwork [equivalent of our Georgian] reproducing the Hellenizing Western style of architecture as this had been practised during an eighteenth-century North American “Indian Summer”.

Ruskin had deemed the use of iron improper in neo-Gothic buildings, but it became increasingly common. In France, Viollet-le-Duc made a virtue of it.

The first Westerner to think of frankly turning the iron girder to account as a building material without bashfully drawing a “Gothic” veil over his Volcanic vulgarity was not a professional architect but an imaginative amateur; and, though he was a citizen of the United States, the site on which he erected his historic structure overlooked the shores of the Bosphorus, not the banks of the Hudson. The nucleus of Robert College – Hamlin Hall, dominating Mehmed the Conqueror’s Castle of Europe – was built by Cyrus Hamlin in A.D. 1869-71; [footnote: “The building is 113 feet by 103. … The stone is the same as that of the fortress built in A.D. 1452-3. … It is fire-proof, the floors being of iron beams with brick arches” (Hamlin, Cyrus: Among the Turks (London 1878, Sampson Low), p. 297). […]] yet it was only within the life-time of the writer of this Study, who was born in A.D. 1889 and was writing these lines in A.D. 1950, that the seed sown by Hamlin in Constantinople bore fruit in a Western World that was Brunel’s as well as Hamlin’s homeland.

Toynbee had known Robert College since 1921 and had written about it before that, but was it really the first non-Gothic architectural marriage of stone and iron?

Iron had been married to glass in the revolutionary Crystal Palace and had been used in bridges earlier still. By about 1890, steel frames would enable skyscrapers.

It is true that modernism had a delayed entrance. The steel-framed Woolworth Building, and much of early twentieth-century New York, was a halfway house. But while it was going up, so were the earliest examples of modernism in the US.

Toynbee’s generation had been taught to despise neo-Gothic. The generation which valued it – which included, among English taste-makers, Evelyn Waugh, Kenneth Clark and John Betjeman – was a little younger.

This sterilization of the West’s artistic genius, which was the nemesis of a Hellenizing renaissance in the realm of Architecture, was no less conspicuous in the realms of Painting and Sculpture. Over a span of more than half a millennium running from the generation of Dante’s contemporary Giotto (decessit A.D. 1337), a Modern Western school of Painting, which had unquestioningly accepted the naturalistic ideals of an Hellenic visual art in its post-archaic phase, had worked out, one after another, divers methods of conveying the visual impressions made by light and shade until this long-sustained effort to produce the effects of photography through prodigies of artistic technique had been stultified, on the eve of its consummation, by the invention of photography itself. After the ground had thus inconsiderately been cut away from under their feet by the shears of Modern Western Science, Modern Western painters made a “Pre-Raphaelite” Movement, in the direction of their long since repudiated Byzantine provenance, before they thought of exploring a new world of Psychology which Science had given them to conquer in compensation for the old world of Physical Nature which she had stolen from the painter in order to hand it over to the photographer. After the invention of photography the best part of a century had to pass before the rise of an apocalyptic school of Western painters who made a genuinely new departure by frankly using paint – veritably more Byzantino – to convey the spiritual experiences of Psyche instead of the visual impressions of Argus; but the increasing sureness of foot with which the Western painters were advancing along this new road by the close of the first half of the twentieth century seemed to augur that the Western sculptors, in their turn, would eventually set their faces in the same direction after discovering, by trial and error, that the broken road to Athens, which they had been following ever since a Niccolò Pisano had swerved into it in the thirteenth century, could not, after all, be regained by a detour through either Byzantium or Benin.

So they would abandon the road altogether? Was it a road to Athens?

More Byzantino. Byzantine art is about the expression, or rather holding or representation, of spiritual reality, not (pace the Medieval ivories) about the representation of surfaces. The bronzes of Benin influenced modern artists. I don’t know whether there were Benin bronzes at the Palais du Trocadéro in May or June 1907, when Picasso experienced his African revelation there.

Thus, at the time of writing, it looked as if, in all three visual arts, the sterilization of a native Western genius by an exotic Hellenizing renaissance might eventually be overcome; but the slowness and the difficulty of the cure showed how serious the damage had been.

Sterilization of a native Western genius! Cure! Damage! This is the kind of thing that made Trevor-Roper write off Toynbee.

A footnote after the reference to Argus shows that his thinking on modern art has advanced:

In IV. iv. 52, this positive aim [Byzantinist rather than Beninist?] of a revolutionary twentieth-century school of Western painting has not been given due recognition.

He has come, in other words, as far as Expressionism, which is a fair way.

In Mankind and Mother Earth, we have:

Artists have psychic antennae that are sensitive, in advance, to portentous coming events.

They did before 1914. But this isn’t a historical law either. Did Athenian artists have the jitters before the Peloponnesian War, which is Toynbee’s Hellenic First World War?

Perhaps northern European artists on the eve of the Reformation had presentiments of an end of an order.

And in the illustrated abridgement of A Study of History, we have an illustration of Picasso’s Woman with a Fan of 1907, with a caption probably written by Caplan:

The camera’s conquest of the visual world left twentieth-century artists free to explore the hidden worlds of the mind and its modes of perception; art finally exorcized its Hellenic ghost: Picasso, Woman with a Fan, 1908 [ says 1907].

Picasso, Woman with a Fan,1907

Archaism in art (old post).

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

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

With Jane Caplan, A Study of History, new one-volume abridgement, with new material and revisions and, for the first time, illustrations, and with a Foreword by Toynbee, Thames & Hudson, 1972

The age of Medina

July 31 2014

Thanks to the intuition of the discordant oligarchs of an oasis-state in the Hijāz, who had invited the rejected prophet of a rival community to make himself at home with them and try his hand at being their ruler, in the hope that he would bring them the concord which they had failed to attain by themselves, Yathrib became, within thirty years of the Hijrah, the capital of an empire embracing not only the former Roman dominions in Syria and Egypt but the entire domain of the former Sasanian Empire. [Footnote: Ibn Khaldūn suggests that the Primitive Muslim Arabs’ success in conquering the whole of the Sasanian Empire was a consequence of their conquest of the Sasanian imperial capital Ctesiphon, and that their contemporary failure to conquer more than a portion of the Roman Empire was a consequence of their inability to conquer the Roman imperial capital Constantinople (see the Muqaddamāt, translated by de Slane, Baron McG, (Paris 1863-8, Imprimerie Impériale, 3 vols.), vol. i, p. 333).] Yathrib’s title to remain the seat of government for this vast realm was indisputable on its juridical merits. This remote oasis-state was the territorial nucleus out of which the Muslim Arab world-empire had burgeoned in its miraculously rapid growth, and it was now also hallowed as Madīnat-an-Nabī, the City of the Prophet which had recognized his mission and had furnished him with home, throne, and sepulchre. This title was so impressive that de jure Medina remained the capital of the Caliphate at any rate until the foundation of Baghdad by the ʿAbbasid Caliph Mansūr in A.D. 762. Yet de facto the swiftly expanding dominions of the Prophet Muhammad and his successors were governed from Medina for no longer than thirty-four years; for the fact was that this oasis hidden away in the interior of the Arabian Plateau – a vaster, wilder, barer, emptier counterpart of the Plateau of Iran – had condemned itself to political nullity by the immensity of its political success.

Toynbee is referring to the thirty-four years from the Hijra (622) to the move to Kufa by the fourth Caliph Ali (regnabat 656-61) after the assassination of Uthman.

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The exile of Thucydides

July 11 2014

A greater luminary in Toynbee’s “Pleiad” of captured or exiled historians (last post).

Thucydides (vivebat circa 454-399 B.C.) was a citizen of Athens who lived through the Twenty-Seven Years’ War of 431-404 B.C., and who was overtaken by the outbreak of the war in his early manhood. He thus belonged to a generation which was just old enough to have known the pre-war Hellenic World as an adult member of the pre-war society; and at the same time he lived long enough to see the denouement of the great catastrophe that brought the growth of the Hellenic Civilization to an end and set in motion the long and tragic movement of decline and fall. The definite breakdown of the Hellenic Civilization was, in fact, the challenge which the generation of Thucydides had to encounter and the experience through which they had to live; and Thucydides was fully alive to the significance of the catastrophe. “This war”, he says in the preface to the first part of his work, [footnote: Thucydides’ History of the Twenty-Seven Years’ War is in two parts, each introduced by a preface. […] Part II is unfinished. (The work was apparently interrupted by the author’s death.) The narrative breaks on abruptly in the middle of the record of the twenty-first year of the war (411 B.C.) out of the total of twenty-seven years (431-404 B.C.) which the author intended to cover.] “was … the greatest upheaval ever experienced by Hellas and by a part of the non-Hellenic World (it would hardly be an exaggeration to say: by the Human Race)”; and he informs his readers in the same passage that, “in the belief that this war would eclipse all its predecessors in importance, he began to write as soon as war broke out”. In the Athens, however, of Thucydides’ day an able-bodied adult male citizen was constrained in peace-time, and a fortiori in war-time, to devote the best part of his time and energy to public service if the State made the demand; and we may suppose that, as soon as war broke out, this “practical” demand upon Thucydides became exacting. At any rate, in the eighth year of the war, we find Thucydides serving as one of the ten Athenian Generals: a board of public officers, elected annually for a twelve months’ term, who exercised the chief executive authority in the civil government in addition to their command over military operations.

It was in this position of “practical” responsibility, which Thucydides held in 424-423 B.C., that he suffered the break in his career which was the turning-point in his life-history. In the winter of 424-423 B.C., when Thucydides was in command of an Athenian naval squadron stationed at Thasos [north Aegean], he failed to prevent a Lacedaemonian expeditionary force commanded by Brasidas from capturing Amphipolis [Thracian mainland]. The lost fortress was a key-position, since it commanded the passage across the River Strymon on the land-route leading from Continental Greece towards the Dardanelles: the only route along which it was possible for the Peloponnesians to strike, with their superior land-power, at a vital point in the Athenian Empire, so long as Athens retained her command of the sea. The Athenian People sought relief for their feelings of chagrin and alarm at the news of this reverse by cashiering Thucydides and sentencing him to exile. And it was thanks to this personal mishap to Thucydides the soldier that Thucydides the historian at last obtained the opportunity to accomplish his life-work.

He never returned to Athens. Where did he live?

“I lived”, he writes in the preface to the second part of his work, “through the whole of [the Twenty-Seven Years’ War] [bracket in original], and I was not only of an age of discretion, but I took special pains to acquire accurate information. It was my fate to be exiled from my country for twenty years after my command at Amphipolis; and in this situation I was enabled to see something of both sides – the Peloponnesian as well as the Athenian – and to make a special study of the War at my leisure.”

Thanks to this fortunate misfortune, Thucydides was able to complete rather more than two-thirds of his projected work, though he seems to have died a premature death before he was out of his fifties. What is more, he has triumphantly achieved his ambition, declared in the preface to the first part of the work, to produce “an everlasting possession” – a permanent contribution to knowledge – “rather than an ephemeral tour de force”. In his own austere intellectual way, this cashiered Athenian officer has anticipated the injunction

“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon Earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal;

“But lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal;

“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” [Footnote: Matt. vi. 19-21.]

The passing agony of one unhappy generation of Hellenes who dealt their own Hellas a mortal blow and knew that her blood was on them and on their children has been transmuted by Thucydides, in a great work of art, into an ageless and deathless human experience.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934