Archive for the 'Maps' Category

Russian rivers

August 13 2015

… and river systems

I  White Sea

Northern Dvina (from confluence of Yug and Sukhona; the Western Dvina or Daugava flows into Latvia from the Valdai Hills)

II  Barents Sea

III  Kara Sea, between Novaya Zemlya and Severnaya Zemlya

Ob (from confluence of Katun and Biya near Altai Mountains in Russia)

Yenisei (from Mongolia)

IV  Laptev Sea, between Severnaya Zemlya and New Siberian Islands

Lena (from near Lake Baikal)

V  East Siberian Sea, between New Siberian Islands and Wrangel Island

Kolyma (from confluence of Kulu and Ayan Yuryakh)

VI  Chukchi Sea, between Wrangel Island and Bering Strait


VII  Baltic Sea

Neva (from Lake Ladoga)


VIII  Black Sea, Ukraine, west of Crimea

Dnieper (from Valdai Hills near Smolensk)

IX  Sea of Azov, Russia, east of Crimea

Don (from Novomoskovsk)

X  Caspian Sea, Russia

Volga (from Valdai Hills)

XI  Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan

Ural or Zhayyq (from southern Urals in Russia)


XII  Bering Sea, south of Bering Strait

XIII  Sea of Othotsk, south of Kamchatka Peninsula

XIV  Strait of Tartary, between Siberia and Sakhalin Island

Amur (from northwestern Manchuria on the Russia-China border at confluence of Shilka and Argun)

XV  Sea of Japan, south of Sakhalin Island

Tumen (from Mount Paektu, but in North Korea or China?)

Other rivers are less important or are parts of these systems


Economist map

Most of the Russia-China border is formed by the Argun and the Amur and in the south the Ussuri, a tributary of the Amur (low resolution map: Economist)

Smoke over the river Volga

Smoke over the Volga, Nizhny Novgorod

Tibetan rivers (old post)


August 10 2015

In the language of Arabic political geography, the Maghrib (i.e., “the West”) means in a general way the whole of the Arabic World west of Egypt, though the term is apt to be confined to the Arabic domain in North-West Africa to the exclusion of the Arabic domain in the Iberian Peninsula (Andalūs). Maghrib al-Aqsā (i.e., “the Far West”) means Morocco. Ifriqīyah (an Arabization of the Latin name “Africa”) means a region of rather wider extent than the modern Tunisia in which urban and agricultural life had the ascendancy over Nomadism. The successive capitals of Ifriqīyah have been Carthage, Qayrawān [Kairouan], Mahdīyah [Mahdia], and Tunis.

Carthage was capital of the Vandal Kingdom for most (439-534) of the Kingdom’s existence (435-534). It remained the capital of the Byzantine province (534-698), called Exarchate of Africa from c 585.

The early Moslem capital was Kairouan.

The Fatimids (909-1171) founded Mahdia in 921.

Tunis took over during the subsequent Almohad era. The Sunni Almohad Caliphate was the Mahgrebian successor of the Ismaili Shiite Fatimid Caliphate. Saladin’s Ayyubid dynasty was its successor in Egypt and the Levant.

The flowers of Africa (old post).


The Roman province Africa Proconsularis (red), to which Ifriqiya corresponded and from which it derived its name

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

A rough guide to Karelia

August 3 2015

The Gulf of Finland (as Toynbee might have said) is a backwater of the Baltic, which is a backwater of the North Sea, which is a backwater of the North Atlantic; the White Sea is a backwater of the Barents Sea, which is a backwater of the Arctic Ocean.

Between the Gulf of Finland and the White Sea are Karelia and two large lakes, Ladoga and Onega. Between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga is the Karelian Isthmus (capital Vyborg or Viipuri, recent post) – but Karelia itself is, in a way, an isthmus between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

(The other Finnish Gulf is that of Bothnia, between it and Sweden.) Most of Karelia is now a Republic in Russia. North of Russian Karelia is Murmansk Oblast.

Karelia now:


The White Sea-Baltic Canal (Балти́йский кана́л, Byelomorsko-Baltiyskiy Kanal, BBK), or White Sea Canal (Belomorkanal), a ship canal built by forced labour from gulags under the first Five Year Plan, was opened on August 2 1933; it makes use of the Svir River, which flows from Onega to Ladoga, and the Neva, which flows from Ladoga to St Petersburg:

White Sea-Baltic Canal

Traditional divisions, with the current border:


Olonets Larelia and White Karelia are also called East Karelia. The rest is also called West Karelia. Ingria is the old name for the head of the Gulf of Finland between the Karelian Isthmus and Estonia, including the territory around St Petersburg.

Most of Finland was part of the Kingdom of Sweden from the thirteenth century to 1809, when the Finnish-speaking areas of Sweden were ceded to the Russian Empire and became the Grand Duchy of Finland. The Grand Dukes were the Russian Tsars. Finland broke away in 1917.

Karelia’s story involves the medieval contest between the Catholic Kingdom of Sweden and the Orthodox Novgorod Republic (old post), the rise of Protestant Sweden in the century from Gustavus Adolphus to Charles XII, the rise of Orthodox Russia in the two centuries from Peter the Great to the revolution, and Protestant Finland’s relations with Russia after 1917.

Karelia was bitterly fought over by the Swedes and the Novgorod Republic in the thirteenth-century Swedish-Novgorodian Wars. The Treaty of Nöteborg in 1323 regulated the Swedish-Novgorodian border and divided Karelia between the two powers. Vyborg (Finnish: Viipuri), founded by the Swedes in 1293, became the capital of the Swedish province. North Karelia, Ladoga Karelia and East Karelia were under Novgorod.

In the Treaty of Stolbovo in 1617 Novgorod’s successor Russia ceded Ladoga Karelia and North Karelia to Sweden. East Karelia remained Orthodox and under Russian supremacy.

In the Treaty of Nystad in 1721 Sweden ceded Ladoga Karelia and the Isthmus to Russia. This ended Sweden’s four hundred-year supremacy in the Isthmus.

Russia won Finland, in turn, from Sweden in 1809. The new acquisition was known as New Finland. The territories won in 1721 (and in a subsequent war in 1741-43) were Old Finland. They were combined into the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland (1809-1917). The Russians moved their capital from Turku, until that point the most important city in Finland, east to Helsinki in 1812.

In the nineteenth century an ideology of Karelianism took hold of Finnish artists and researchers, who believed that the Orthodox East Karelians had retained elements of an archaic, original Finnish language and culture, neither Swedish nor Slavic, which had disappeared from Finland.

In the sparsely populated East Karelian backwoods, especially in White Karelia, Elias Lönnrot collected the folk tales that he forged into Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala (earliest publication 1835; Kullervo is one of its characters). Scholars argue about how much of the Kalevala is genuine folk poetry and how much is Lönnrot’s own work, but don’t dismiss it as a mere Poems of Ossian.

The Karelian language is closely related to Finnish, though the variety spoken in East Karelia is usually seen as a distinct language.‪‬ ‬‬‬

Finland won its independence in 1917. Until Russia invaded in 1939-40, its territory included the Karelian Isthmus and Ladoga regions.

The idea of annexing East Karelia to Finland to make a Greater Finland was widely supported between the wars. Finnish partisans tried but failed to overthrow the bolsheviks in East Karelia in 1918-20.

With the end of the Russian Civil War and the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1922, East Karelia became (1923) the Karelian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Capital Petrozavodsk, on Lake Onega.

The Finnic peoples that made up most of the population of East Karelia were promised far-reaching cultural rights, but these rights were never realised. Stalin persecuted ethnic Finns and began an intensive Russification programme.

West Karelia was Finnish east of the brown line until the Winter War of 1939-40 and remains Finnish west of the line; although some of the ceded territories were incorporated into Leningrad Oblast, it is not clear why the pre-1940 area of Leningrad should be purple:

East and West Karelia

The war ended on March 13 1940. Russia joined Ladoga Karelia and the Isthmus to the territory of the ASSR to form a new Karelo-Finnish Soviet (Federative?) Socialist Republic, thus promoting Karelia to a union republic within the USSR (1940-56).

Areas ceded to Russia in 1940 and again in 1944; the northern areas are not part of Karelia, nor are four islands in the Gulf of Finland:

Ceded to Russia in WW2

The entire Karelian population of the areas ceded in the Winter War, over 400,000 people, mainly Lutheran, was evacuated to Finland, and the territories were settled by people from other parts of the Soviet Union. It is unclear whether Russia hoped after this to conquer the whole of Finland.

On June 22 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa. Three days later the Continuation War (to give it the Finnish name; for the Russians it was a front of the Great Patriotic War) started.

With German assistance, the Finns hoped to recover the territories lost in 1940. Many of the evacuees returned home, only to be re-evacuated in 1944.

Finnish forces also occupied most of East Karelia. The occupation was accompanied by hardship for the local ethnic Russian civilians, including forced labour and internment in prison camps.

Finland lost the Continuation War. An armistice was signed on September 19 1944. The border of the Moscow Peace Treaty of 1940 was recognised by Finland again in the Peace of Paris of 1947.

In 1956 the SSR was downgraded from a Union Republic to an ASSR, and retroceded to the Russian SFSR.

Finland was neutral during the Cold War and showed a degree of deference and self-censorship towards the USSR. The Germans called this effect of Russia, not only in Finland, Finnlandisierung.

The Finns ceased to dream of the annexation of East Karelia. Their demands for the return of the ceded territories were muted.

On November 13 1991, the Karelian ASSR became the Republic of Karelia, a subdivision of the Russian Federation.

Since the fall of communism, there has been a revival in Finnish culture in East Karelia. Some in Finland campaign for the return of the ceded territories, but the demand has never been part of government policy.

Finland joined the EU in 1995 and Eurozone in 2002. The old currency had been the markka. It is not a member of NATO.

Finnish soldier boiling coffee over a fire, wilderness of Karelia, 1941:

Karelia 1941


First four maps from Wikipedia and shown under GNU Free Documentation License; last online in various places; photo from

Recent Finnish posts:

Finland in London

Finland and Russia, 1809-1919

On Sweden:

Two Swedish heroes

From the Yangtze to the Gulf of Thailand

June 6 2015

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

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

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

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

Nanzhao had been influenced by Tantric or Tibetan Buddhism. Its Indian Acharya version as present in the Dali Kingdom. After their migration (earlier?), the Thais became converts to the Theravada or Sinhalese southern Buddhism that had established itself in Burma in 1190.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thonburi dynasty

IV  Kingdom of Rattanakosin, 1782-present
Capital Bangkok

Chakri dynasty

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

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

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

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

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

Tibetan rivers (old post).


The Pony Express

March 6 2015

Mail service running the 1,840 miles from St Joseph, Missouri, across the Great Plains, and over the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada to Sacramento, California, by horseback, using relay stations. At Sacramento, messages were placed on a steamer and sent down the Sacramento River to San Francisco.

Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California. Lake Tahoe is shared between the last two.

During its eighteen months of operation, April 3 1860 to October 24 1861, it reduced the time taken for messages to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to about ten days. It was a precursor to the First Transcontinental Railroad, constructed 1863-69, and ceased to operate when the Civil War broke out.

Pony Express

Map by William Henry Jackson, reproduction issued by the Union Pacific Railroad Company in 1960 to commemorate the 100th anniversary; Denver is 200 miles south of Fort Laramie, Wyoming, and not on the route; Library of Congress and Wikipedia

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

The four khanates

December 13 2014

Four Mongol khanates

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

Persia, 651-present

December 13 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Persian capitals before Islam

December 13 2014

Elamites. Susa.

Medes. Ecbatana.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parthia map

Ctesiphon ruin, 1864

Remains of the Sasanian White Palace, Ctesiphon, 1864

Post on Dura-Europos on the Euphrates.

National Museum, Saudi Arabia

December 6 2014

This is worth visiting. Architecture good (Raymond Moriyama), museology good. And I like dioramas. There are historical films too, and what must be the only cinema in the Kingdom outside a royal palace.

A visit reminds you, who are conscious of hotel lobbies and shopping malls, that Arabs of the subcontinent used to live in a vast, beautiful and varied landscape. They have lost the macrocosm and are imprisoned in a microcosm. The night sky is gone, too. Perhaps some tours can bring you back to them. Driving from Riyad to Bahrain, as I have done, does not. Plastic bags blow over the desert, which looks as beautiful as one of their ubiquitous dusty spaces between buildings with empty PET bottles rolling around them.

Out of that macrocosm the Arabs wrested, to paraphrase Toynbee, their conception of the unity and omnipotence of God. That seems a small affair, too, now, as reflected in the Islam we usually see, though the call to prayer can remind you of it.

Apart from the museum, there isn’t much to do in Riyad. You can go to a Friday morning public beheading by the sword in Deira Square if you really want to. It is easy to meet locals, which is not the case in some of the smaller Gulf states. They are often charming.

Don’t ignore the King Abdulaziz Memorial Hall just because it sounds boring: there are wonderful photographs of 20th-century Arabia.

Other Gulf museums: Museum of Islamic Art, Doha. Dubai Museum. The Louvre and the Guggenheim on Abu Dhabi’s Museeninsel, Saadiyat Island, have yet to open.

When did the Arabs ride into history? According to the museum, in 853 BC at the Battle of Qarqar, in which Assyria, conquering Syria, fought Aram-Damascus and Israel. A camel cavalry under King Gindibu fought on the side of Damascus.

After some cosmic and anthropological material (Man and the Universe), the museum has a section on the Old Testament of Arab history which, if it ended at the Hijra, lasted 1475 years, a few years longer than the New Testament has lasted so far.

It places the kingdoms, towns and religions of that period in a regional context. The rest of this is based on notes (nothing more) made during two visits, with some fact checking.

Tarout Island. Off the Eastern Province in the Gulf. A very early settlement.

Dilmun. The early civilisation of Bahrain.

Qurayyah. Location of the earliest Midianite pottery, 13th century BC. Cities of Midian: northeast edge of the subcontinent near the Gulf of Aqaba and northern Hejaz.

Tayma. Same area. In 2010, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities announced the discovery of a rock near the oasis bearing an inscription of Ramesses III (early 12th century BC): the first confirmed discovery of a hieroglyphic inscription on Saudi Arabian soil. Tayma must have been on a land route between the Arabia and the Nile valley. The earliest mention of it is in Assyrian inscriptions of the 8th century BC. From the 1st century CE (earlier?), it had a significant Jewish population.

Gerrha. Persian Gulf coast. To the Greeks, East Arabia (present al-Hasa province), or its capital city, was known as Gerrha, a corruption of the Arabic Hagar (present Hofuf). Hagar/Gerrha was destroyed by the Ismaili Shiite Qarmatians, rebels against the Abbasid Caliphate, at the end of the 9th century CE.

Al-ʿUla, southwest of Tayma on the incense road from Yemen to Damascus. The Dedanite kingdom flourished in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Nabonidus, king of Babylon, conquered Tayma, Dedan and Yathrib, the old Medina, in 552 BC or later. The next few hundred years, until around 100 BC, were the time of the Kingdom of Lihyan. Then Nabataean Arab frontiersmen controlled the region, until at least AD 106, when Trajan conquered their capital Petra. They made Madaʿin Saleh or Hegra, 22 km to the north of Al-ʿUla, their second capital. In 2008 Madaʿin Saleh became Saudi Arabia’s first World Heritage Site.

Thaj. Northwest. Perhaps Seleucid-era.

Qaryat al-Faw. Between Mecca and Yemen, but further inland than Mecca, at a pass overlooking the northwestern edge of the Empty Quarter. Capital of the Kindah Kingdom from the 1st century BC to the 4th century CE.

Ruwafa. Nabatean.

Dumat Al-Jandal. Nabatean, with a pre- and post-Nabatean history.

Ain Jawan. Pre-Islamic necropolis in eastern Arabia.

Al-Uyoon, eastern Arabia.

Najran. Oasis near Yemeni border. Now mainly Ismaili Shiite. On the incense route. Conquered c 685 BC by the Sabean King Karibʿil Watar I of Yemen. Najran was under Yemeni – Minaean or Sabean – rule at different times during the next centuries and remained part of Yemen. Aelius Gallus, Roman prefect of Egypt, led an unsuccessful expedition to conquer Arabia Felix and won a battle near Najran in 25 BC. He used it as a base from which to attack the Sabaean capital at Maʿrib. When the Ḥimyarites conquered the Sabeans in AD 280 they probably also took control of Najran. The north Arabian Lakhmids attacked Najran in 328. There was a Christian community from the 5th century CE under the influence of Axum. Under the Caliph Umar, the Christian community of Najran was deported to Mesopotamia, on the ground that no non-Muslims were to live in the Arabian peninsula. Najran had a pre-Islamic Jewish community as well, historically affiliated with the Yemenite Banim Chorath. Saudi Arabia conquered Najran in 1934. Two hundred Jews fled from persecution to Aden in September and October 1949. They were later airlifted to Israel.

Khaybar. Oasis 153 km north of Medina (Yathrib). Before the rise of Islam, a fortress town inhabited by Jewish tribes. It fell to Muslim forces in 629. Soon afterwards Umar expelled the Jews.

Lakhmids. Arab power on the frontier of Iraq, c AD 300 until their conquest by the Sasanids of Persia in 602.

Ghassanids. Similar client state of the East Roman Empire. Both were swept away by the Muslim invaders in the 7th century.

Jerash, Asir.

Al-Qullays, a pre-Islamic pilgrimage site.

The first mention of Jews in the area of modern-day Saudi Arabia dates, by some accounts, to the time of the First Temple. Immigration to the peninsula began in earnest in the 2nd century CE, and by the 6th and 7th centuries there was a considerable Jewish population in the Hejaz, mostly in and around Medina. They were expelled in the early days of Islam.

On pre-Islamic Mecca and Medina, see this old post.

And see:

Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities

Museum site.


Ancient towns in Saudi Arabia

Judaism in Arabia

Christianity in Arabia.


The rest (upstairs) deals with the Prophet; the wars of Islam; Caliphs, Mamluks, Turks; calligraphy; the Haj; the unification by King Abdulaziz. In the middle of the 18th century, Wahhabi reformers brought a strict version of Islam to the Nejd, which had sunk into irreligion – and it was the Nejd under the Saud family which unified the peninsula, or most of it, between the wars.

There had been two Saudi states before that. The First Saudi State or Emirate of Diriyah lasted from 1744 to 1818. The Ottomans, who had controlled the Holy Cities since 1517 (through the Hashemite sharifs of Mecca), felt threatened. In the winter of 1818 Diriyah fell after a siege (of which the museum makes much) to Ibrahim Pasha, the son of their Egyptian viceroy.

The Second Saudi State or Emirate of Nejd, founded by Turki, lasted from 1818 to 1891. It was brought to an end by the Rashidis of the Emirate of Jabal Shammar, the arch-enemies of the House of Saud.


Since the domestication of the Arabian camel, nearly 2,000 years before Muhammad’s day, Arabia had been traversible, and ideas and institutions had been seeping into the peninsula from the Fertile Crescent that adjoins it on the north. The effect of this infiltration had been cumulative, and, by Muhammad’s time, the accumulated charge of spiritual force in Arabia was ready to explode.

The horse was used in Arabia from about the same time. Elephants were brought into the peninsula by the invading Axumites in the 6th century. The Year of the Elephant (Wikipedia).

Old posts here:

Seepage into Arabia

Roads to Mecca (including the grotesque part about the Makkah Hilton in a comment)

Tales from the India Office.

Regions of Arabia

Historical regions of Arabia, early 20th century

Mankind and Mother Earth, OUP, 1976, posthumous

The destruction of Louvain 2

November 16 2014

It was in these circumstances that, a few minutes past eight o’clock [on the evening of August 25 1914], the shooting in Louvain broke out.

All parties agree that it broke out in answer to signals. A Belgian witness, living near the Tirlemont Gate, saw a German military motor-car dash up from the Boulevard de Tirlemont, make luminous signals at the Gate, and then dash off again. A fusillade immediately followed. The German troops bivouacked in the Place de la Station saw two rockets, the first green and the second red, rise in quick succession from the centre of the town. They found themselves under fire immediately afterwards. A similar rocket was seen later in the night to rise above the conflagration. It is natural to suppose that the rockets, as well as the lights on the car, were German military signals of the kind commonly used in European armies for signalling in the dark. There had been two false alarms already that afternoon and evening; there is nothing incredible in a third. The German troops in the Place de la Station assumed that the signals were of Belgian origin (and therefore of civilian origin, as the Belgian troops did not after all reach the town), because these signals were followed by firing directed against themselves. They could not believe that the shots were fired in error by their own comrades, yet there is convincing evidence that this was the case.

It is certain that German troops fired on each other in at least two places – in the Rue de la Station and in the Rue de Bruxelles, which leads into the Grand’ Place from the opposite direction.

“We were at supper,” states a Belgian witness, whose house was in the Rue de la Station, “when about 8.15, shots were suddenly fired in the street by German cavalry coming from the Station. The troops who were bivouacked in the square replied, and an automobile on its way to the Station had to stop abruptly opposite my house and reverse, while its occupants fired. Within a few seconds the din of revolver and rifle shots had become terrific. The fusillade was sustained, and spread (north-eastward) towards the Boulevard de Diest. It became so furious that there was even gun-fire. The encounter between the German troops continued as far as the Grand’ Place, where on at least two occasions there was machine-gun fire. The fight lasted for from fifteen to twenty minutes with desperation; it persisted an hour longer after that, but with less violence.”

“At the stroke of eight,” states another witness, “shots were heard by us, coming from the direction of the Place du Peuple, where the German cavalry was concentrated. Part of the baggage-train, which was stationed in the Rue Léopold, turned right about and went off at a gallop towards the Station. I was at my front door and heard the bullets whistling as they came from the Place du Peuple. At this moment a sustained fusillade broke out, and there was a succession of cavalry-charges in the direction of the Station.”

The stampede in the Place du Peuple is described by a German officer who was present. “I heard the clock strike in a tower. … Complete darkness already prevailed. At the same moment I saw a green rocket go up above the houses south-west of the square. … Firing was directed on the German troops in the square. … Whilst riding round the square, I was shot from my horse on the north-eastern side. I distinctly heard the rattling of machine-guns, and the bullets flew in great numbers round about me. … After I had fallen from my horse, I was run over by an artillery transport waggon, the horses of which had been frightened by the firing and stampeded. …”

The shots by which this officer was wounded evidently came from German troops in the Rue Léopold, where they were attacking the house of Professor Verhelst. The Landsturm Company bivouacked in the Station Square was already replying vigorously to what it imagined to be the Belgian fire, coming from the Rue Léopold and the Rue de la Station.

“I stood with my Company,” states the Company Commander, “at about ten minutes to eight in the Station Square. I had stood about five minutes, when suddenly, quite unexpectedly, shots were fired at my Company from the surrounding houses, from the windows, and from the attics. Simultaneously I heard lively firing from the Rue de la Station as well as from all the neighbouring streets.” (Precisely the district in which the newly-arrived troops had taken up their quarters.) “Shots were also fired from the windows of my hotel – straight from my room” (which had doubtless been occupied by some newly-arrived soldier during the afternoon, while the witness was on duty at the Malines Gate). …

“We now knelt down and fired at the opposite houses. … I sought cover with my Company in the entrances of some houses. During the assault five men of my Company were wounded. The fact that so few were wounded is due to the fact that the inhabitants were shooting too high. …

“About an hour later I was summoned to His Excellency General von Boehn, who was standing near by. His Excellency asked for an exact report, and, after I had made it, he said to me: ‘Can you take an oath concerning what you have just reported to me – in particular, that the first shots were fired by the inhabitants from the houses?’ I then answered: ‘Yes, I can swear to that fact.’”

But what evidence had the Lieutenant for the “fact” to which he swore? There was no doubt about the shots, but he gives no proof of the identity of those who fired them, and another witness, who lived in a house looking on to the Station Square, is equally positive that the assailants, too, were German soldiers.

“Just before eight,” he states, “we heard one shot from a rifle, followed immediately after by two others, and then a general fusillade began. I went at once to my garden; the bullets were passing quite close to me; I went back to the house and on to the balcony, and there I saw the Germans, not fighting Belgians, but fighting each other at a distance of 200 or 300 yards. At 8.0 o’clock it begins to be dark, but I am perfectly certain it was Germans fighting Germans. The firing on both sides passed right in front of my house, and from the other side of the railway. I was low down on the balcony, quite flat, and watched it all. They fought hard for about an hour. The officers whistled and shouted out orders; there was terrible confusion until each side found out they were fighting each other, and then the firing ceased. About half an hour after, on the other side of the railway, I heard a machine-gun – I was told afterwards that the Germans were killing civilians with it. It went on certainly for at least five or six minutes, stopping now and then for a few seconds. …”

This fighting near the Station seems to have been the first and fiercest of all, but the panic spread like wildfire through the city. It was spread by the horses that stampeded in the Place du Peuple and elsewhere, and galloped riderless in all directions – across the Station Square, through the suburb of Corbeek-Loo, down the Rue de la Station, and up the Rue de Tirlemont, the Rue de Bruxelles, and the Rue de Malines. The troops infected by the panic either ran amok or took to flight.

“About 8.0 o’clock,” states a witness, “the Rue de la Station was the scene of a stampede of horses and baggage waggons, some of which were overturned. A smart burst of rifle-fire occurred at this moment. This came from the German police-guard in the Rue de la Station who, seeing troops arrive in disorder, thought that it was the enemy. Another proof of their mistake is that later during the same night a group of German soldiers, under the command of an officer, got into a shop belonging to the F.’s and in charge of their nephew B., and told him, pointing their revolvers at him, to hide them in the cellar. A few hours afterwards, hearing troops passing, they compelled him to go and see if it was the French or the Germans, and when they learnt that it was the Germans, they called out: ‘Then we are safe,’ and rejoined their compatriots.”

These new troops hurrying into the town in the midst of the uproar were infected by the panic in their turn and flung themselves into the fighting. “On August 25th,” states one of them in his diary, “we hold ourselves on the alert at Grimde (a sugar refinery); here, too, everything is burnt and destroyed. From Grimde we continue our march upon Louvain; here it is a picture of horror all round; corpses of our men and horses; motor-cars blazing; the water poisoned; we have scarcely reached the outskirts of the town when the fusillade begins again more merrily than ever; naturally we wheel about and sweep the street; then the town is peppered by us thoroughly.”

In the Rue Léopold, leading from the Rue de la Station into the Place du Peuple, “at 8.0 o’clock exactly a violent fusillade broke out.” The newly-arrived troops, who had been under arms since the alarm at 7.0 o’clock, “took to flight as fast as their legs could carry them. From our cellar,” states one of the householders on whom they had been billeted, “we saw them running until they must have been out of breath.”

There was a single shot, followed by a fusillade and machine-gun fire, in the Rue des Joyeuses Entrées. Waggons and motor-cars were flying out of the town down the Rue de Parc, and soldiers on foot down the Rue de Tirlemont. In the Rue des Flamands, which runs at right-angles between these two latter roads, “at ten minutes past eight, a shot was fired quite close to the Institut Supérieur de Philosophie” (now converted into the Hôpital St.-Thomas). “We had scarcely taken note of it,” states one of the workers in the hospital, “when other reports followed. In less than a minute rifle-shots and machine-gun fire mingled in a terrific din. Accompanying the crack of the firearms, we heard the dull thud of galloping hoofs in the Rue de Tirlemont.”

Mgr. Deploige, President of the Institute and Director of the Hospital, reports that “a lively fusillade broke out suddenly at 8.0 o’clock (Belgian time), at different points simultaneously – at the Brussels Gate, at the Tirlemont Gate, in the Rue de la Station, Rue Léopold, Rue Marie-Thérèse, Rue des Joyeuses Entrées, Rue de Tirlemont, etc. It was the German troops firing with rifles and machine-guns. Some houses were literally riddled with bullets, and a number of civilians were killed in their homes.”

Higher up the Rue de Tirlemont, in the direction of the Grand’ Place, there was a Belgian Infantry Barracks, which had been turned into a hospital for slightly incapacitated German soldiers. The patients were in a state of nervous excitement already. “Every man,” states one of them, “had his rifle by his side, also ball-cartridge.” — “About 9.0 o’clock,” states another, “we heard shots. … We had to fall in in the yard. A sergeant-major distributed cartridges among us, whereupon I marched out with about 20 men. In the Rue de Tirlemont a lively fire was directed against us from guns of small bore. … We pushed our way into a restaurant from, which shots had come, and found in the proprietor’s possession about 100 Browning cartridges. He was arrested and shot.” — “We now,” continues the former, “stormed all the houses out of which shots were being fired. … Those who were found with weapons were immediately shot or bayonetted. … I myself, together with a comrade, bayonetted one inhabitant who went for me with his knife. …”

But who would not defend himself with a knife when attacked by an armed man breaking into his house? The witness admits that only five civilians were armed out of the twenty-five dragged out. Were these “armed” with knives? Or if revolver bullets were found in their houses, was it proved that they had not delivered up their revolvers at the time when they had been ordered to do so by the municipal authorities and the German Command? The witness does not claim to have found the revolvers themselves as well as the ammunition, though even if he had that was no proof that his victims had been firing with them, or even that they were theirs. The German Army uses “Brownings” too, and at this stage of the panic many German soldiers had broken into private houses and were firing from the windows as points of vantage. Two German soldiers broke into the house of Professor Verhelst (Rue Léopold, 16), and fired into the street out of the second storey window. Other Germans passing shouted: “They have been shooting here,” and returned the fire. Mgr. Ladeuze, Rector of Louvain University, was looking from the window of his house adjoining the garden of the Chemical Institute, Rue de Namur, and saw two German soldiers hidden among the trees and firing over the wall into the street.

Ladeuze remained rector until his death twenty-five years later, a few weeks before another German invasion.

Moreover, there is definite evidence of Germans firing on one another by mistake in other quarters beside the neighbourhood of the Station.

“I myself know,” declares a Belgian witness, “that the Germans fired on one another on August 25th. On that day, at about 8.0 p.m., I was in the Rue de Bruxelles at Louvain. I was hidden in a house. There was one party of German soldiers at one end of the street firing on another party at the other end. I could see that this happened myself. On the next day I spoke to a German soldier called Hermann Otto – he was a private in a Bavarian regiment. He told me that he himself was in the Rue de Bruxelles the evening before, and that the two parties firing on one another were Bavarians and Poles [Polish conscripts from German-occupied Poland], he being among the Bavarians. …”

The Poles openly blamed the Bavarians for the error. A wounded Polish Catholic, who was brought in during the night to the Dominican Monastery in the Rue Juste-Lipse told the monks that “he had been wounded by a German bullet in an exchange of shots between two groups of German soldiers.” On the Thursday following, a wounded Polish soldier was lying in the hospital of the Sisters of Mary at Wesemael, and, seeing German troops patrolling the road between Wesemael and Louvain, exclaimed to one of the nuns: “These drunken pigs fired on us.”

The casualties inflicted by the Germans on each other do not, however, appear to have been heavy. One German witness saw “two dead transport horses and several dead soldiers” lying in the Place du Peuple. Another saw a soldier lying near the Juste-Lipse Monument who had been killed by a shot through the mouth. But most express astonishment at the lightness of the losses caused by so heavy a fire. “It is really a miracle,” said a German military doctor to a Belgian Professor in the course of the night, “that not one soldier has been wounded by this violent fusillade.” — “A murderous fire,” states the surgeon of the Second Neuss Landsturm Battalion, “was directed against us from Rue de la Station, No. 120. The fact that we or some of us were not killed I can merely explain by the fact that we were going along the same side of the street from which the shots were fired, and that it was night.” — “A tremendous fire,” states Major von Manteuffel, the Etappen-Kommandant, “was opened from the houses surrounding the Grand’ Place, which was now filled with artillery (one battery), and with transport columns, motor-lorries and tanks of benzine. … I believe there were three men wounded, chiefly in the legs.” General von Boehn, commanding the Ninth Reserve Army Corps, estimates that the total loss, in killed, wounded, and missing, of his General Command Staff, which was stationed in the Place du Peuple, “amounts to 5 officers, 2 officials, 23 men, and 95 horses.” — “I note that the inhabitants fired far too high,” states a N.C.O. of the Landsturm Company drawn up in the Station Square. “That was our good luck, because otherwise, considering the fearful fire which was directed against us from all the houses in the Station Square, most German officers and soldiers would have been killed or seriously wounded.”

Thus the German troops in Louvain seem not merely to have fired on one another, but to have exaggerated hysterically the amount of danger each incurred from the other’s mistake. And the legend grew with time. The deposition last quoted was taken down on September 17th, 1914, less than a month after the event. But when examined again, on November 19th, the same witness deposed that “Many of us were wounded, and some of us even received mortal wounds. … I fully maintain my evidence of September 17th,” he naively adds in conclusion. [The two statements are surely not incompatible.]

On the night of August 25th these German soldiers were distraught beyond all restraints of reason and justice. They blindly assumed that it was the civilians, and not their comrades, who had fired, and when they discovered their error they accused the civilians, deliberately, to save their own reputation.

The Director and the Chief Surgeon of the Hôpital St.-Thomas went out into the street after the first fusillade was over. Three soldiers with fixed bayonets rushed at them shouting: “You fired! Die!” – and it was only with difficulty that they persuaded them to spare their lives. When the firing began again a sergeant broke into the hospital shouting: “Who fired here?” – and placed the hospital staff under guard. This was the effect of panic, but there were cases in which the firing was imputed to civilians, and punishment meted out for it, by means of criminal trickery. It was realised that the material evidence would be damning to the German Army. The empty cartridge cases were all German which were picked up in the streets, and it is stated that every bullet extracted from the bodies of wounded German soldiers was found to be of German origin. The Germans, convicted by these proofs, shrank from no fraud which might enable them to transfer the guilt on to the heads of Belgian victims.

“The Germans took the horses out of a Belgian Red Cross car,” states a Belgian witness living in the Station Square, “frightened them so that they ran down the street, and then shot three of them. Two fell quite close to my house. They then took a Belgian artillery helmet and put it on the ground, so as to prepare a mise-en-scène to pretend that the Belgians had been fighting in the street.”

At a late hour of the night a detachment of German soldiers was passing one of the professors’ houses, when a shot rang out, followed by a volley from the soldiers through the windows of the house. The soldiers then broke in and accused the inmates of having fired the first shot. They were mad with fury, and the professor and his family barely escaped with their lives. A sergeant pointed to his boot, with the implication that the shot had struck him there; but a witness in another house actually saw this sergeant fire the original shot himself, and make the same gesture after it to incite his comrades.

A staff-surgeon billeted on a curé in the suburb of Blauwput pretended he had been wounded by civilians when he had really fallen from a wall. On the morning of the 26th the officer in local command arrested fifty-seven men at Blauwput, this curé included, in order to decimate them [kill every tenth man] in reprisal for wounds which the surgeon and two other soldiers had received. The curé was exempted by the lot, when the surgeon came up with a handful of revolver-cartridges which he professed to have discovered in the curé’s house. The officer answered: “Go away. I have searched this house myself,” and the surgeon slunk off. The curé was not added to the victims, but every tenth man was shot all the same.

That “the civilians had fired” was already an official dogma with the German military authorities in Louvain. Mgr. Coenraets, Vice-Rector of the University, was serving that day as a hostage at the Hôtel-de-Ville. A Dominican monk, Father Parijs, was there at the moment the firing broke out, in quest of a pass for remaining out-of-doors at night on ambulance service. He was now retained as well, and Alderman Schmit was fetched from his house. Von Boehn, the General Commanding the Ninth Reserve Corps, harangued these hostages on his arrival from the Malines front, and von Manteuffel, the Etappen-Kommandant, then conducted them, with a guard of soldiers, round the town. Baron Orban de Xivry was dragged out of his house to join them on the way. The procession halted at intervals in the streets, and the four hostages were compelled to proclaim to their fellow-citizens, in Flemish and in French, that, unless the firing ceased, the hostages themselves would be shot, the town would have to pay an indemnity of 20,000,000 francs, the houses from which shots were fired would be burnt, and artillery-fire would be directed upon Louvain as a whole.

But “reprisals” against the civil population had already begun. The firing from German soldiers in the houses upon German soldiers in the street was answered by a general assault of the latter upon all houses within their reach. “They broke the house-doors,” states a Belgian woman, “with the butt-ends of their rifles. … They shot through the gratings of the cellars.” — “In the Hôtel-de-Ville,” states von Manteuffel, “I saw the Company stationed there on the ground floor, standing at the windows and answering the fire of the inhabitants. In front of the Hôtel-de-Ville, on the entrance steps, I also saw soldiers firing in reply to the inhabitants’ fire in the direction of their houses.” — “Personally I was under the distinct impression,” states a staff officer, “that we were fired at from the Hotel Maria Theresa with machine-guns.” (This is quite probable, and merely proves that those who fired were German soldiers.) “The fire from machine-guns lasted from four to five minutes, and was immediately answered by our troops, who finally stormed the house and set it on fire.” — “The order was passed up from the rear that we should fire into the houses,” states an infantryman who had just detrained and was marching with his unit into the town. “Thereupon we shot into the house-fronts on either side of us. To what extent the fire was answered I cannot say, the noise and confusion were too great.” — “We now dispersed towards both sides,” states a lance-corporal in the same battalion, “and fired into the upper windows. … How long the firing lasted I cannot say. … We now began shooting into the ground-floor windows too, as well as tearing down a certain number of the shutters. I made my way into the house from which the shot had come, with a few others who had forced open the door. We could find no one in the house. In the room from which the shot had come there was, however, a petroleum lamp, lying overturned on the table and still smouldering. …”

These assaults on houses passed over inevitably into wholesale incendiarism. “The German troops,” as the Editors of the German White Book remark in their summarising report on the events at Louvain, “had to resort to energetic counter-measures. In accordance with the threats, the inhabitants who had taken part in the attack were shot, and the houses from which shots had been fired were set on fire. The spreading of the fire to other houses also and the destruction of some streets could not be avoided. In this way the Cathedral” (i. e., the Collegiate Church of St. Pierre) “also caught fire. …”

When war broke out in August 1914, each of the combatants rushed to publish diplomatic sources purporting to show how it had begun. Britain published a Blue Book (as it was called), France a Yellow Book, Russia an Orange Book, the Germans a White Book.

There is a map in the German White Book which shows the quarters burnt down. The incendiarism started in the Station Square, and spread along the Boulevard de Tirlemont as far as the Tirlemont Gate. It was renewed across the railway and devastated the suburbs to the east. Then it was extended up the Rue de la Station into the heart of the town, and here the Church of St. Pierre was destroyed, and the University Halles with the priceless University Library – not by mischance, as the German Report alleges, but by the deliberate work of German troops, employing the same incendiary apparatus as had been used already at Visé, Liége and elsewhere.

The burning was directed by a German officer from the Vieux Marché, a large open space near the centre of the town, and by another group of officers stationed in the Place du Peuple. The burning here is described by a German officer (whose evidence on other points has been quoted above). “The Company,” he states, “continued to fire into the houses. The fire of the inhabitants (sic) gradually died down. Thereupon the German soldiers broke in the doors of the houses and set the houses on fire, flinging burning petroleum lamps into the houses or striking off the gas-taps, setting light to the gas which rushed out and throwing table-cloths and curtains into the flames. Here and there benzine was also employed as a means of ignition. The order to set fire to the houses was given out by Colonel von Stubenrauch, whose voice I distinguished. …”

In the Rue de la Station the Germans set the houses on fire with incendiary bombs. This was seen by a Belgian witness, and is confirmed by the German officer just cited, who, in the Place du Peuple, “heard repeatedly the detonation of what appeared to be heavy guns” round about him. “I supposed,” he proceeds, “that artillery was firing; but since there was none present, there is only one explanation for this – that the inhabitants (sic) also threw hand-grenades.”

In the Rue de Manège, another Belgian witness saw a soldier pouring inflammable liquid over a house from a bucket, and this though a German military surgeon, present on the spot, admitted that in that house there had been nobody firing. Soldiers are also stated to have been seen with a complete incendiary equipment (syringe, hatchet, etc.), and with “Gott mit Uns” and “Company of Incendiaries” blazoned on their belts. The Germans deny that the Church of St. Pierre was deliberately burnt, and allege that the fire spread to it from private houses; but a Dutch witness saw it burning while the adjoining houses were still intact. There is less evidence for the deliberate burning of the University Halles, containing the Library, but it is significant that the building was completely consumed in one night (a result hardly possible without artificial means), and at 11.o p.m., in the middle of the burning, an officer answered a Belgian monk, who protested, that it was “By Order.” The manuscripts and early printed books in the Library were one of the treasures of Europe. The whole collection of 250,000 volumes was the intellectual capital of the University, without which it could not carry on its work. Every volume and manuscript was destroyed. The Germans pride themselves on saving the Hôtel-de-Ville, but they saved it because it was the seat of the German Kommandantur, and this only suggests that, had they desired, they could have prevented the destruction of the other buildings as well.

As the houses took fire the inhabitants met their fate. Some were asphyxiated in the cellars where they had taken refuge from the shooting, or were burnt alive as they attempted to escape from their homes. Others were shot down by the German troops as they ran out into the street, or while they were fighting the flames. “The franc-tireurs [free shooters],” as they are called by the German officer in the Place du Peuple, “were without exception evil-looking figures, such as I have never seen elsewhere in all my life. They were shot down by the German posts stationed below. …”

Others, again, tried to save themselves by climbing garden walls. “I, my mother and my servants,” states one of these, “took refuge at A.’s, whose cellars are vaulted and therefore afforded us a better protection than mine. A little later we withdrew to A.’s stables, where about 30 people, who had got there by climbing the garden walls, were to be found. Some of these poor wretches had had to climb 20 walls. A ring came at the bell. We opened the door. Several civilians flung themselves under the porch. The Germans were firing upon them from the street.”

“When we were crossing a particularly high wall,” states another victim, “my wife was on the top of the wall and I was helping her to get down, when a party of 15 Germans came up with rifles and revolvers. They told us to come down. My wife did not follow as quickly as they wished. One of them made a lunge at her with his bayonet. I seized the blade of the bayonet and stopped the lunge. The German soldier then tried to stab me in the face with his bayonet. …

“They kept hitting us with the butt-ends of their rifles – the women and children as well as the men. They struck us on the elbows because they said our arms were not raised high enough. …

“We were driven in this way through a burning house to the Place de la Station. There were a number of prisoners already there. In front of the station entrance there were the corpses of three civilians killed by rifle fire. The women and the children were separated. The women were put on one side and the men on the other. One of the German soldiers pushed my wife with the butt-end of his rifle, so that she was compelled to walk on the three corpses. Her shoes were full of blood. …

“Other prisoners were being continually brought in. I saw one prisoner with a bayonet-wound behind his ear. A boy of fifteen had a bayonet-wound in his throat in front. … The priests were treated more brutally than the rest. I saw one belaboured with the butt-ends of rifles. Some German soldiers came up to me sniggering, and said that all the women were going to be raped. … They explained themselves by gestures. … The streets were full of empty wine bottles. …

“An officer told me that he was merely executing orders, and that he himself would be shot if he did not execute them. …”

The battue of civilians through the streets was the final horror of that night. The massacre began with the murder of M. David-Fischbach. He was a man of property, a benefactor of the University and the town. Since the outbreak of war he had given 10,000 francs to the Red Cross. Since the German occupation he had entertained German officers in his house, which stood in the Rue de la Station opposite the Statue of Juste-Lipse, and about 9.0 o’clock that evening he had gone to bed.

“Close to the Monument Square,” states Dr. Berghausen, the German military surgeon who was responsible for M. David-Fischbach’s death, “I saw a German soldier lying dead on the ground. … His comrades told me that the shot had been fired from the comer house belonging to David-Fischbach. Thereupon I myself, with my servant, broke in the door of the house and met first the owner of the house, old David-Fischbach. I challenged him concerning the soldier who had been murdered. … Old David-Fischbach declared he knew nothing about it. Thereupon his son, young Fischbach, came downstairs from the first floor, and from the porter’s lodge appeared an old servant. I immediately took father, son, and servant with me into the street. At that moment a tumult arose in the street, because a fearful fusillade had opened from a few houses on the same side of the street against the soldiers standing by the Monument and against myself. In the darkness I then lost sight of David-Fischbach, with his son and servant. …”

The soldiers set the old man with his back against the statue. Standing with his arms raised, he had to watch his house set on fire. Then he was bayonetted and finally shot to death. His son was shot, too. His house was burnt to the ground, and a servant asphyxiated in the cellar.

“Later,” adds Dr. Berghausen, “I met Major von Manteuffel with the hostages, and all four or five of us saw the dead soldier lying in front of the monument and, a few steps further on, old David-Fischbach. I assumed that the comrades of the soldier who had been killed … had at once inflicted punishment on, the owner of the house. …”

The corpse was also seen by a professor’s wife who made her way to the Hôpital St.-Thomas – the old man’s white beard was stained with blood.

The massacre spread. Six workmen returning from their work were shot down from behind. A woman was shot as she was beating for admittance on a door. A man had his hands tied behind his back, and was shot as he ran down the street. Another witness saw 20 men shot. One saw 19 corpses, and corpses were also seen with their hands tied behind their backs, like the victim mentioned above. There was the body of a woman cut in two, with a child still alive beside her. Other children had been murdered, and were lying dead. There was the body of another murdered woman, and a girl of fourteen who had been wounded and was being carried to hospital. A German soldier beckoned a Dutch witness into a shop, and showed him the shop-keeper’s body in the backroom, in a night-shirt, with a bullet-wound through the head.

These were the “evil-looking franc-tireurs” whom the German soldiers shot down at sight. Inhabitants of Louvain dragged as prisoners through the streets recognised the corpses of people they knew. Here a bootmaker lay, here a hairdresser, here a professor. The corpse of Professor Lenertz was lying in front of his house in the Boulevard de Tirlemont. It was recognised by Dr. Noyons, one of his colleagues (though a Dutchman by nationality), who was serving in the Hôpital St.-Thomas and so escaped himself. “On the 27th,” states a Belgian lady, “M. Lenertz’ body was still lying on the Boulevard. When his wife and children were evicted by the Germans and came out of their house, members of the family had to stand in front of the body to hide it from Madame Lenertz’ sight.”

The dead were lying in every quarter of the town. In the Boulevard de Tirlemont there were six or seven more. There was one at the end of the Rue du Manège. But the greatest number were in the Station Square, where they were seen by all the civilian prisoners herded thither this night and the following day. Their murder is described by a German sergeant-major who was fighting in the neighbourhood of the Station. “Various civilians,” he remarks, “were led off by my men, and after judgment had been given against them by the Commandant, they were shot in the Square in front of the Station. In accordance with orders, I myself helped to set fire to various houses, after having in every case previously convinced myself that no one was left in them. Towards midnight the work was done, and the Company returned to the station buildings, before which were lying shot about 15 inhabitants of the town.”

The slaughter itself increased the thirst for blood. A Dutch witness met a German column marching in from Aerschot. “The soldiers were beside themselves with rage at the sight of the corpses, and cried: ‘Schweinhunde! Schweinhunde!’ They regarded me with threatening eyes. I passed on my way. …”

The soldiers in their frenzy respected no one. The Hostel for Spanish students in the Rue de la Station was burnt down, though it was protected by the Spanish flag. Father Catala, the Superior of the Hostel and formerly Vice-Consul of Spain, barely escaped with his life. There was no mercy either for the old or the sick. A retired barrister, bedridden with paralysis, had his house burnt over his head, and was brought to the Hôpital St.-Thomas to die. Another old man, more than eighty years old and in his last illness, was cast out by the soldiers into the street, and died in the Hôpital St.-Thomas next day. An aged concierge was cast alive into the blazing ruins of the house it was his duty to guard. So it went on till dawn, when the havoc was completed by salvoes of artillery. “At four o’clock in the morning,” states an officer of the Ninth German Reserve Corps Staff, “the Army Corps moved out to battle. We did not enter the main streets, but advanced along an avenue. … As the road carrying our lines of communication was continuously fired on, the order was given to clear the town by force. Two guns were sent with 150 shells. The two guns, firing from the Railway Station, swept the streets with shells. Thus at least the quarter surrounding the Railway Station was secured, and this made it possible to conduct the supply-columns through the town. …”

Louvain 1914

Map based on one in the German White Book; opens in a new window

German and Belgian soldiers, 1915

German and Belgian soldiers, both wounded, 1915; Flickr source: Nationaal Archief, Spaarnestad Photo SFA022802554

Photographer unknown. Why in the Dutch archive? Where was this taken? A million refugees fled Belgium into neutral Holland. Were these deserters?

The German Terror in Belgium, An Historical Record, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

The destruction of Louvain 1

November 15 2014

The Germans invaded Belgium on August 4 1914.

[They] entered Louvain [Leuven] on August 19th. The Belgian troops did not attempt to hold the town, and the civil authorities had prepared for the Germans’ arrival. They had called in all arms in private possession and deposited them in the Hôtel-de-Ville. This had been done a fortnight before the German occupation, and was repeated, for security, on the morning of the 19th itself. The municipal commissary of police remarked the exaggerated conscientiousness with which the order was obeyed. “Antiquarian pieces, flint-locks and even razors were handed in.” The people of Louvain were indeed terrified. They had heard what had happened in the villages round Liége, at Tongres and at St. Trond, and on the evening (August 18th) before the Germans arrived the refugees from Tirlemont had come pouring through the town. The Burgomaster, like his colleagues in other Belgian towns, had posted placards on August 18th, enjoining confidence and calm.

The German entry on the 19th took place without disturbance. Large requisitions were at once made on the town by the German Command. The troops were billeted on the inhabitants. In one house an officer demanded quarters for 50 men. “Revolver in hand, he inspected every bedroom minutely. ‘If anything goes wrong, you are all kaput.’ That was how he finished the business.” It was vacation time, and the lodgings of the University students were empty. Many houses were shut up altogether, and these were broken into and pillaged by the German soldiers. They pillaged enormous quantities of wine, without interference on the part of their officers. “The soldiers did not scruple to drain in the street the contents of stolen bottles, and drunken soldiers were common objects.” There was also a great deal of wanton destruction — “furniture destroyed, mirrors and picture-frames smashed, carpets spoilt and so on.” The house of Professor van Gehuchten, a scientist of international eminence, was treated with especial malice. This is testified by a number of people, including the Professor’s son. “They destroyed, tore up and threw into the street my father’s manuscripts and books (which were very numerous), and completely wrecked his library and its contents. They also destroyed the manuscript of an important work of my late father’s which was in the hands of the printer.” — “This misdemeanour made a scandal,” states another witness. “It was brought to the knowledge of the German general, who seemed much put out, but took no measures of protection.” The pillage was even systematic. A servant, left by an [the?] absent professor in charge of his house, found on August 20th that the Germans “had five motor-vans outside the premises. I saw them removing from my master’s house wine, blankets, books, etc., and placing them in the vans. They stripped the whole place of everything of value, including the furniture. … I saw them smashing glass and crockery and the windows.” On August 20th there were already acts of violence in the outskirts of the town. At Corbeek-Loo a girl of sixteen was violated by six soldiers and bayonetted in five places for offering resistance. Her parents were kept off with rifles. By noon on August 20th the town itself “was like a stable. Streets, pavements, public squares and trampled flower beds had disappeared under a layer of manure.”

On August 20th the German military authorities covered the walls with proclamations: “Atrocities have been committed by (Belgian) franc-tireurs.” — “If anything happens to the German troops, le total sera responsable” (an attempt to render in French the Prussian doctrine of collective responsibility). Doors must be left open at night. Windows fronting the street must be lighted up. Inhabitants must be within doors between 8.0 p.m. and 7.0 a.m. Most of these placards were ready-made in German, French and Russian. There were no placards in Flemish till after the events of August 25th. Yet Flemish was the only language spoken and understood by at least half the population of Louvain.

Hostages were also taken by the German authorities. The Burgomaster, a City Councillor and a Senator were confined under guard in the Hôtel-de-Ville on the first day of occupation. From August 21st onwards they were replaced successively by other notables, including the Rector and Vice-Rector of the University. On August 21st there was another German proclamation, in which the inhabitants were called upon (for the third time) to deliver up their arms. Requisitions and acts of pillage by individual officers and soldiers continued, and on the evening of August 24th the Burgomaster was dragged to the Railway Station and threatened with a revolver by a German officer, who had arrived with 250 men by train and demanded a hot meal and mattresses for them at once. Major von Manteuffel, the Etappen-Kommandant in the city, was called in and the Burgomaster was released, but without reparation. On that day, too, the German wounded were removed from Louvain – an ominous precaution – and in the course of the following day there were spoken warnings.

The mayor, or burgomaster, was Leo Colins. Alfred Nerincx, professor of international law at the university, took over on August 29. Colins came back at the end of the war.

On the morning of this day, Tuesday, August 25th, Madame Roomans, a notary’s wife, is said to have been warned by the German officers billeted on her to leave the town. In the afternoon, about 5.0 o’clock, another lady reported how an officer, billeted on her and taking his leave, had added: “I hope you will be spared, for now it is going to begin.” At supper time, when the first shots were fired and the alarm was sounded, officers billeted on various households are said to have exclaimed “Poor people!” – or to have wept.

On the morning of August 25th there were few German troops in Louvain. The greater part of those that had entered the town since the 19th had passed on to the front in the direction of Malines [Mechelen], and were now engaged in resisting the Belgian sortie from Antwerp, which was made this day. As the Belgian offensive made progress, the sound of the cannon became louder and louder in Louvain, and the German garrison grew increasingly uneasy. Despatch riders from the front kept arriving at the Kommandantur; at 4.0 o’clock a general alarm was sounded; the troops in the town assembled and marched out towards the north-western suburbs; military waggons drove in from the northwest in disorder, “their drivers grasping revolvers and looking very much excited.” At the same time, [German] reinforcements began to detrain at the Station, which stands at the eastern extremity of the town, and is connected with the central Grand’ Place and with the University buildings by the broad, straight line of the Rue de la Station, flanked with the private houses of the wealthier inhabitants. These fresh troops were billeted hastily by their officers in the quarters nearest the Station. The cavalry were concentrated in the Place du Peuple, a large square lying a short distance to the left of the Rue de la Station, about half-way towards the Grand’ Place. The square was already crowded with the transport that had been sent back during the day from the front. As the reinforcements kept on detraining, and the quarters near the Station filled up, the later arrivals went on to the Grand’ Place and the Hôtel-de-Ville, which was the seat of the Kommandantur.

During all this time the agitation increased. About 7.0 o’clock a company of Landsturm which had marched out in the afternoon to the north-western outskirts of the town, were ordered back by their battalion commander to the Place de la Station – the extensive square in front of the station buildings, out of which the Rue de la Station leads into the middle of the city. The military police pickets in the centre of the city were on the alert. Between 7.0 and 7.30 the alarm was sounded again, and the troops who had arrived that afternoon assembled from their billets and stood to arms. The tension among them was extreme. They had been travelling hard all day; they had entered the town at dusk; it was now dark, and they did not know their way about the streets, nor from what quarter to expect the enemy [Belgian] forces, which were supposed to be on the point of making their appearance.


The German Terror in Belgium, An Historical Record, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

British accents

April 24 2014

Or rather, accents of the British Isles. A brilliant but not exhaustive tour:

No Brummie (Birmingham), Geordie (Newcastle), Manchester, Cumbria, Potteries (Stoke-on-Trent), Derbyshire, Black Country (between Birmingham and Wolverhampton). The first three are big omissions. There are more variations within regions. He does Scouse or Liverpudlian.

He deals with some regional, but not class or “ethnic” or English-diaspora nuances. His Devon-Cornwall needs some polishing.

Voice of Andrew Jack, a dialect coach. He should do another, five-minute, take.

Recent post.

Austronesia: Madagascar to Hawaii

April 24 2014

The widest term for the languages and cultures, not racial identities, of Malaya, Madagascar, Sumatra, Java, Taiwan (before the Chinese), the Philippines, Borneo, Micronesia, Melanesia, New Zealand, Polynesia, Hawaii is Austronesian.

Austronesian languages include Acehnese, Hawaiian, Javanese, Maori, Malagasy, Malay, Polynesian languages, Sundanese, Tagalog.

They are not to be confused with the much older Papuan and Australian languages. (New Guinea is outside the Austronesian space.)

It used to be thought that they had originated in Taiwan, from where large-scale migrations began after 5000 BC. The first Austronesian-speaking settlers were said to have landed in northern Luzon, where they intermingled with an older population.

Recently (2009) their origin has been placed further south, in Sundaland, the peninsula, before the end of the last Ice Age, that had extended the Asian landmass as far as Borneo and Java. Under this scenario, refugees from the rising seas migrated north to Taiwan.

Austronesian-speakers spread eastward to the islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia and westward to Madagascar. Sailing from Melanesia and Micronesia, they had discovered Polynesia by 1000 BC, Easter Island and Madagascar by AD 300, Hawaii by AD 400 and New Zealand by AD 1280. They reached South America and traded with Native Americans.

By the beginning of the first millennium CE, the Austronesian inhabitants of maritime Southeast Asia had begun trading with India and China. Hinduism and Buddhism were introduced and Indianised kingdoms established. By the tenth century Muslim traders had brought Islam, which gradually displaced the older religions. The Austronesian inhabitants of Polynesia were unaffected by these cultural migrations and diffusions and retained their indigenous culture.

Map of the Austronesian migrations, Wikimedia Commons, opens in a new window; a couple of the dates differ slightly from ones I have given:


Migrations of Homo sapiens

April 23 2014

Simple map (many places online) of first migrations of Homo sapiens on the main landmasses of the Old World.

He reaches the Bering Strait circa 12000 BC.

Hom sap

The map also shows the maximum range of Homo erectus. The first fossil evidence of Homo erectus dates to circa 1.9 million years ago, the most recent to 143,000 years ago. One hypothesis is that Homo erectus migrated from Africa. Another is that he evolved in Eurasia and migrated to Africa. If the former is correct, then he may be another name for Homo ergaster and the direct ancestor of later hominids such as Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens.

Tiananmen Square

March 13 2014

The Tiananmen Gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace) to the Forbidden City (last post), on the north side of Tiananmen Square, was built in 1415 under the Ming Dynasty.

Attached to it, to this day, is a large portrait of Mao Zedong, wart and all.

Tiananmen Square was laid out in 1651, under the Qing. At its original southern end (where the Mao Zedong Mausoleum now is) stood the early-fifteenth century Great Ming Gate, renamed Great Qing Gate (“Daqingmen” in the map in yesterday’s post), the old southern ceremonial gate to the Imperial City. Gate of China under the Republic.

A short way south of that and built at the same time was Qianmen Gate (or Front Gate; Ch’ien-men, Wade Giles; also called Cheng-yang-men, Wade Giles, and Zhengyangmen, pinyin) into the Outer City. See last post.

The Square in the early twentieth century viewed from Qianmen Gate; Qing Gate in middle distance; beyond it the Imperial Way leading to Tiananmen Gate in the far distance; flanking the Imperial Way on each side is the “corridor of a thousand steps”:

Peking, Blick vom Chienmen auf die Kaiserstadt

The British and French troops who invaded Beijing in 1860 during the Second Opium War considered burning down the Qing Gate and the Forbidden City. They decided ultimately to spare them and to burn instead the emperor’s Old Summer Palace a few kilometres away.

The Qing emperor was forced to let the foreign powers barrack troops and establish diplomatic missions in the area, resulting in the Legation Quarter to the east of the modern square.

The Legation Quarter was besieged and damaged during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.

In 1954, the Gate of China was demolished, allowing for the enlargement of the square. The Qianmen Gate survives.

Modern square, map at (please visit):


Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

Monument to the People’s Heroes

Great Hall of the People

National Museum of China

The square in 1900 (old post).

The walls of Peking

March 12 2014

Before the unification of China by the First Emperor in 221 BC, Beijing had been, for centuries, the capital of the ancient states of Ji and Yan.

During the first millennia of imperial rule, it was a provincial city in northern China. Its stature grew in the 10th to 13th centuries when the nomadic Khitan and forest-dwelling Jurchen peoples from beyond the Great Wall expanded southward and made the city a capital of their dynasties, the Liao and Jin.

Beijing as a capital for the whole of China grew out of the Yuan (Mongol) capital Dadu or Khanbaliq. The Ming moved their capital there from Nanjing in 1421.

The walls in the photographs below, built under the Ming, are those of the Inner City. Under the Manchu or Qing Dynasty rulers (1644-1912), it came to be called the Tartar City, in the loose sense of Tartar, because only Manchus were allowed to live there.

The Han Chinese, whose businesses depended on the imperial households, lived in the Outer City, which had its own wall.

The Imperial City was the collection of gardens and shrines in the Inner City which surrounded the Forbidden City, the imperial palace under the Ming and Qing.

Historical names of Beijing (Wikipedia).

Beijing city wall map

The Inner and Outer walls were damaged during the Boxer Rebellion, punctured in various places after 1911 and almost entirely dismantled by the Communists.

Tiananmen Square lies between Tiananmen Gate, the gate into the Imperial City, and Zhengyangmen or Qianmen Gate, the gate into the Outer City.

Walls of the Tartar City via

Peking wall 3

Peking wall 2

Peking wall 1

African languages

January 28 2014

“To the south of a zigzag boundary which stretches from Fernando Pó on the west to Mombasa on the east, lies the sphere of the Bantu speech. … There is but one indigenous language-family over the whole of Central and South Africa, the only exceptions to this universality of type being a few patches of Sudanian tongues on the Northern Congo, Nilotic dialects in East Africa, a click language south of the Victoria Nyanza, and the nearly extinct Hottentot and Bushman languages of South-West Africa” (Johnston, Sir H. H.: The Opening Up of Africa (London, no date, Williams & Norgate), pp. 131-2).

Swahili is a Bantu language and, of course, is spoken in Kenya north of Mombasa. Afro-Asiatic, once called Hamito-Semitic, must be a rather loose group. The Hottentot and Bushman languages are also Khoisan or click languages.


Map: Wikipedia.

Parts of West Africa and the Sudan are extremely linguistically diverse. Nigeria has 522 living languages (Ethnologue, 358 classed as “vigorous”), one of the greatest concentrations of languages in the world. Bantu languages are themselves diverse.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

The expansion of Greece, 1832-1947

September 15 2013

Expansion of Greece

Click to read.

San Francisco

September 2 2013

Spanish mission, New Spain, Mexico, US, 1776-.

Mexican-American War, Alta California to US, 1846-48.

Gold rush, making of San Francisco, 1848-55.

San Francisco Examiner, 1863-.

San Francisco Chronicle, 1865-.

Lurid portrayal of Barbary Coast, “curse-mark on San Francisco’s brow”, in BE Lloyd, Lights and Shades of San Francisco, San Francisco, AL Bancroft, 1876.

A Trip Down Market Street: San Francisco from 8th Street down Market Street to the Ferry Building, shot by the Miles Brothers from the front of a cable car. The Library of Congress had dated it to September 1905, based on the state of construction of buildings, but an ad in the New York Clipper on April 28 1906 claims that it was shot a week before the earthquake of April 18. The uploader says “Stunden”, hours. Number plate evidence dates it to no earlier than February. Cars were recruited to circle around the camera. About the film.

Bubonic plague, 1900-04.

Earthquake and fire, 1906.

Report by Jack London, Collier’s, May 5: “Not in history has a modern imperial city been so completely destroyed. San Francisco is gone.”

Trailer for San Francisco, 1936 movie directed by WS Van Dyke, starring Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, Spencer Tracy, about “the lusty days when the Barbary Coast was the boldest district from Singapore to Paris”:

Earthquake; but was even the Barbary Coast this lusty at 5.13 am?:

San Francisco Symphony, 1911-.

Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915. Documentary starts here.

San Francisco Opera, 1923-.

Golden Gate Bridge construction 1933-37.

Bridge opening, 1937:

Colour film by Harold T O’Neal, August 1940, so pre-war, via GLBT Historical Society:

[That clip has been taken down, and wasn’t very gay. This is similar, from Prelinger Archives: ]

Thousands of gay servicemen and women were dishonourably discharged, 1941-45. Many were processed out in San Francisco. Some settled there rather than going home. The city became a magnet for others.

Via GLBT Historical Society, Harold T. O’Neal Collection:

City Lights Bookstore, 1953.

Roy Harris, eighth symphony, San Francisco, 1961-62.

Paul Hoefler Productions, bland travelogue and history with no mention of earthquake, 1963:

Summer of love and Scott McKenzie’s song, 1967.

Emergence of Castro as gay hub, circa 1970.

Silicon Valley (southern Bay Area), first use of name 1971.

Election and assassination of Harvey Milk, 1978.

AIDS, June 5 1981-, first reported cases, though they were in LA.

June 28 1969 (Stonewall riots, New York) to June 5 1981 is a US era. June 5 1981 to July 16 1996 (close of 11th AIDS conference, Vancouver, where HAART therapy was promulgated) is another.

Clip about PBS documentary about AIDS in San Francisco by David Weissman, We Were Here, 2011:


SF Bay

Jan Morris, Independent, circa January 1991, reprinted in Locations, OUP, 1992:

“A lady leaning from her balcony admires the flowers and foliage in the gully below and remarks to me out of the blue, as I come sauntering by, ‘Sometimes I thank God just for making that particular tree down there.’”

Russian America (old post).

Territories of Chinese dynasties

May 20 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wikimedia Commons.

Is China expansionist?

The closed sea

April 13 2013

The only Mediterranean waters that were a mare clausum to the Hellenes […] were those bounded by the north coast of North Africa west of a point just north by west of Carthage, by the south-east coast of Spain as far [east] as a point at some […] distance north-east of (the future site of) Cartagena, and by the Carthaginian insular possessions in the Balearic Islands, Sardinia, and the western tip of Sicily. For the light thrown upon the limits of this Carthaginian preserve by the terms of successive commercial treaties between Carthage and Rome see Strachan-Davidson, J. L.: Selections from Polybius (Oxford 1888, Clarendon Press), pp. 65-70.

Why “north by west” of Carthage?

Plus ultra!

Carthaginan Empire

The Carthaginian Empire before the First Punic War, 264-241 BC

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

The Swahili coast

April 3 2013

Map at Nairaland Forum and elsewhere. Click for better resolution.

Swahili coast

From Somalia to Mozambique. Wikipedia list of settlements:









Dar es Salaam







New York to Washington

March 23 2013

George Washington, President April 30 1789-March 4 1797, lived at:

Samuel Osgood’s house, 3 Cherry Street, New York City, April 30 1789-February 1790

Alexander Macomb’s house, 39-41 Broadway, New York City, February-August 1790

Robert Morris’s house, 190 High Street (now 524-530 Market Street), Philadelphia, November 1790-March 4 1797; never occupied White House (and died in 1799)


John Adams, March 4 1797-March 4 1801, lived at:

Robert Morris’s house, 190 High Street (now 524-530 Market Street), Philadelphia, March 4 1797-May 1800

White House, Pennsylvania Avenue (presumably the number 1600 came later), Washington, DC, November 1 1800-March 4 1801


Thomas Jefferson, March 4 1801-March 4 1809, lived at:

White House for whole of his two terms, March 4 1801-March 4 1809


James Madison, March 4 1809-March 4 1817, lived at:

White House, March 4 1809-August 24 1814, when the British burned it down

John Tayloe III’s Octagon House, (at or now at) 1799 New York Avenue, Washington, DC, 1814-October 1815

(Walter Stewart’s?) Seven Buildings, Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC, October 1815-March 4 1817


James Monroe, March 4 1817-March 4 1825, lived at:

White House for whole of his two terms (though rebuilding continued), March 4 1817-March 4 1825; it has been the residence of all subsequent presidents; had United Airlines Flight 93 reached a possible intended target on September 11 2001, would have been destroyed again


Those were the five US presidents who were Founding Fathers.

This post was about the change in the inauguration date of presidents from March 4 to January 20, where it is now.

This post (yesterday) tracked Congress’s changes of location from 1774 to 1800. After the Constitution came into effect, President and Congress were in New York 1789-90, Philadelphia 1790-1800 and Washington from 1800. They remained there, but had to move into temporary quarters when the British burned the city in 1814. So the Republic has had three capitals.

July 1790 Residence Act approved creation of capital district on Potomac River and named Philadelphia temporary national capital for ten years. Commissioners overseeing construction named it in honour of Washington September 9 1791. Federal government was relocated 1800. Plans for the Federal City were by Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant.

Jefferson proposed competition to solicit designs for Capitol and President’s House spring 1792 and set four-month deadline. He submitted own design for the White House anonymously. Result: original architect of the White House was James Hoban, of the Capitol William Thornton. Many others became involved.

Presidential residences were referred to as President’s Palace, Presidential Mansion, President’s House, Executive Mansion. Earliest use of name White House seems to be from 1811. Executive Mansion was used in official contexts until Theodore Roosevelt established formal name by having “White House – Washington” engraved on stationery in 1901. Name may have derived from Martha Washington’s home, White House Plantation in Virginia.

Construction began with laying of cornerstone October 13 1792. Adams first occupier. Jefferson made changes, with help of Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Both Hoban and Latrobe were involved in post-1814 rebuilding. Further changes under Presidents Arthur, Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman (who moved across the street to Blair House, state guest house, from 1949 to ’51), Kennedy. Kennedy did restoration. Out of respect for the historic character of the building, no substantive architectural changes have been made since Truman.

White House Complex

Enlarge. Executive Residence, where the First Family lives, is the original core. Has square portico (1829) on the front, facing North Lawn and round one (1824) at the back, facing South Lawn. Colonnades were designed by Jefferson, with Latrobe. They didn’t lead to wings. West and East Wings are twentieth-century. West Wing contains Oval Office, Cabinet Room and Roosevelt Room (named 1969 after both Roosevelts) on the ground floor. East Wing contains offices of First Lady and White House Social Secretary. More White House administration is in Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Pennsylvania Avenue.

William Howard Taft created first Oval Office in 1909, though the house had had earlier oval rooms. It was rebuilt in same ground-floor West Wing location under Herbert Hoover after a fire in 1929 and relocated by FDR in 1933-34 to another part of the West Wing, where it remains.

Present Cabinet Room was completed 1934 under FDR.

Present design of grounds was by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr of Olmsted Brothers, commissioned by Roosevelt in 1935. Olmsted’s father, Frederick Law Olmsted, with Calvert Vaux, had designed Central Park.

Rose Garden borders Oval Office and West Wing. Established 1913 by Ellen Loise Axson Wilson, wife of Woodrow, on site of garden made by Edith Roosevelt in 1902. Before that, stables. Redesigned 1961, under Kennedy, by Rachel Lambert Mellon.

Jacqueline Kennedy Garden on east side established 1913 by Ellen Loise Axson Wilson, replanted under Kennedy and named after Jacqueline Kennedy by “Lady Bird” Johnson.

White House north, 1860s

North Lawn, 1860s, “under Lincoln” according to Wikipedia, but Library of Congress record only says 1860s; one can just see west colonnade; east colonnade had been dismantled 1859, but was rebuilt when first version of East Wing was added under Theodore Roosevelt

White House, 1846

First photograph of White House: South Lawn, c 1846, under Polk, apparently winter; daguerreotype by John Plumbe

Five roads from Edo

October 17 2012

The Five Routes (五街道Gokaidō) were five roads (kaidō) that started at Nihonbashi (the Japan Bridge over the Nihonbashi River, a tributary of the Sumida River; a river named after a bridge) in Edo, ie Tokyo, during the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868).

The most important was the Tōkaidō, which linked Edo with Kyoto, the seat of the irrelevant Emperor.

Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Tokugawa Shogun, started the construction of the roads. Post stations (宿場shukuba) were set up so that travellers could rest and buy supplies. Enlarge map (will open in a separate window).


The Ōshū Kaidō had 27 stations, running north to Mutsu Province (now in Fukushima Prefecture, the area affected by the recent earthquake). Ōshū is another name for Mutsu.

The Nikkō Kaidō, Nikko Road, had 21 stations, connecting with Nikkō Tōshō-gū (now in Tochigi Prefecture).

The Kōshū Kaidō had 44 stations, connecting with Kai Province (now Yamanashi Prefecture) and ending at the Shimosuwa-shuku, the 29th stop on the Nakasendō. Kōshū is another name for Kai.

The Nakasendō (or Kisokaidō), Central Mountain Road (or Kiso Road), the longest, had 69 stations and ran through the centre of Honshu to Kyoto.

The Tōkaidō, East Sea Road, the most famous, had 53 stations and ran along the Pacific coast to Kyoto. Hiroshige made a series of prints of The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō. (He made another of Famous Restaurants of the Eastern Capital.)

That makes 214 organised stops on a feudal Gokaido. The Japanese had no mental barriers to overcome when it came to organising railways and subway systems.

At the beginning of her authentically recorded history, Japan was a unitary empire, and in 1868 she became a unitary empire again. During the seven centuries ending in 1868 [from the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate, which lasted from 1185 to 1333, until the Meiji “restoration”] the political map of Japan was a mosaic of local states which had been held together during the latest two and a half of those centuries [Tokugawa shogunate, 1603-1868] under the hegemony of the most powerful of them, but, except for Sakai, these Japanese states had not been city-states. They had been feudal states, each of them ruled from a castle by a baron [daimyo] commanding a war-band of retainers [samurai].


In Japan the Great North-East Road, running up the south-eastern side of the Main Island [Honshu] from the civil capital at Kyoto in the interior to the successive military capitals at Kamakura and Yedo [Kyoto had also been the military capital under the Ashikaga shoguns, from 1337 to 1573], served first to secure the conquests made by the Far Eastern Civilization in Japan at the expense of the Ainu barbarians and afterwards to bring and keep Yamato [the area around Nara in which the Japanese state first emerged] under the domination of the Kwanto [Kantō] – as the new northern marches came to be called, after the name of the road by which they had been opened up. Under the Tokugawa régime, which provided the Far Eastern Society in Japan with its universal state, this trunk road and its branches ministered to the policy of the Shogun’s government at Yedo as an instrument not only for keeping an eye on the impotent Imperial Court at Kyoto, but also for the more formidable task of keeping to heel the feudal lords all over the Empire – especially those “Outside Lords” (Tozama) whose houses had once been rivals of the Tokugawa in the grim struggle for power at the climax of a Japanese Time of Troubles.

These daimyō were required by the Shogun to reside in Yedo, with their principal retainers, for so many months in the year, and to leave their wives and families there as hostages when they themselves were in residence in their fiefs, with the triple object of keeping them under supervision, loosening their personal hold on the fiefs from which they drew their political and military strength, and weakening them financially by putting them under social pressure to live, while in the capital, in a style beyond their means. [Footnote: See Sansom, G. B.: Japan, a Short Cultural History (London 1932, Cresset Press), p. 436; Sadler, A. L.: A Short History of Japan (Sydney 1946, Angus & Robertson), p. 217.] The migration, twice a year, of these feudal lords, with their retinues, between their fiefs in the provinces and their residences in the capital was one of the distinctive features of Japanese life in the Tokugawa Age; and the grand trunk road and its ramifications were the media of communication for their perpetual coming and going. While the Government were interested in seeing the means of communication kept up sufficiently well to serve this police purpose, they were equally interested in seeing to it that they should not be kept up well enough to tempt disaffected feudal forces into planning a convergent march on the capital; and they “deliberately refrained from building bridges and otherwise facilitating communications on the main lines of approach to Yedo”. [Footnote: Sansom, op. cit., p. 437. Perhaps their scholars had reminded them of the unintended and untoward service that the roads built by Ts’in She Hwang-ti had once rendered to the rebels who had overthrown his regime a few years after his death […].]

He says that the Tōkaidō ran from Kyoto to Edo. It would be better to put it the other way round.

He is implying that a road existed between the Kanto and Yamato regions before the seventeenth century. As it must have done.

Tōkaidō, 1865, by Felice Beato

Daimyo residences, Edo, 1865 or ’66, demolished after the Shogunate ended; coloured print after Felice Beato

Hiroshige’s 55th print: the end of the Tōkaidō and arrival at Kyoto (the first shows the beginning of the journey at Nihonbashi)

Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970 (first quotation)

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

The sewers of Lvov

September 19 2012

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

Post mentioning Lviv. Post with Lemberg video.

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

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

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

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

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

A teenage resistance fighter in France

The US in 1789

July 5 2012

Wikimedia Commons


July 4 2012

Sixteen out of the eighteen Spanish-speaking nations of the New World established their separate republics at the expense of the Spanish Empire in the revolutionary struggles of the early nineteenth century. [Footnote: The seventeenth Spanish-American republic – the Republic of Cuba – had to wait for its establishment until the War of A.D. 1898 between Spain and the United States. The eighteenth – Panamá – seceded from Colombia in 1903.]

The 1846 war with Mexico gave the US a third of Mexico’s territory. Between then and 1890: interventions in Nicaragua and Panama-within-Colombia.

The 1890 census announced that the frontier region of the United States no longer existed and that the Census Bureau would no longer track the westward migration of the US population. Taking that as the start of modern US history, the period from 1890 to 1932 saw many armed US interventions south of the Rio Grande, especially after the Spanish-American War.

In 1933, Roosevelt announced the Good Neighbor policy in his inaugural address. From then until 1945 there were no interventions. (Roosevelt ended the occupation of Haiti in 1934.)

After 1945, with the Cold War, armed interventions resumed, often overt, sometimes covert. They haven’t ceased entirely. Since the end of the Cold War, there have been two overt military interventions in Haiti and a covert attempt to oust Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, and even under Obama there was commando-led support, in 2009, for a coup that removed Manuel Zelaya in Honduras.

The US has had the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba since the Spanish-American War. There is also a US Naval Support Detachment in São Paulo.

The Rio Grande, Wikimedia Commons

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

The Pamirs

June 23 2012

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

Both images Wikimedia Commons.

The Silk Road

June 22 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Novgorod and St Petersburg

December 8 2011

There was […] a feature in the past domestic history of Russian Orthodox Christendom which may have helped Saint Petersburg to maintain itself as the capital of the Russian Empire for as long as it did. The Empire had been brought into existence through the imposition of the rule of the Grand Duchy of Muscovy upon the city-state of Novgorod [Novgorod Republic, established in 1136] between A.D. 1471 and 1479. At that date Novgorod represented one half of Russian Orthodox Christendom, and this not merely in the extent of her territory but also in the complexion and orientation of her culture. The Russian state [Rus] which had been converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity by the cultural influence of the East Roman Empire at the close of the tenth century of the Christian Era had been founded by pagan seafarers who had made their way into Russia at her opposite extremity, from Scandinavia. Their port of entry had been Novgorod, on the River Volkhov, which the sea-going ships of the Vikings were able to ascend via the River Neva and Lake Ladoga. When the Scandinavians in their homelands were converted to Western Catholic Christianity – a conversion which was simultaneous with that of the Russians to Eastern Orthodoxy – Novgorod became a point of contact between Russia and Western Christendom, and it continued to perform this function till its subjugation by Muscovy. The heavy hand of Muscovite autocracy extinguished both Novgorod’s overseas trade with the West and the self-governing institutions that were her heritage from the pagan Viking Age and that had been favoured by the cultural effects of Novgorod’s subsequent commercial intercourse with the Hansa towns. In crushing Novgorod and what she stood for, the Muscovite empire-builder Ivan III and his successors were depriving Russian Orthodox Christendom of a valuable cultural asset, and conversely Peter the Great, in founding Saint Petersburg, was in a sense merely restoring to Russia this treasure of which his predecessors had robbed her. In purely geographical terms, Saint Petersburg was the eighteenth-century counterpart of a medieval Novgorod, taking into account the increase in the size and draught of sea-going ships that had taken place in the meantime. In cultural terms the effect of the removal of the capital of the Russian Empire to Saint Petersburg from Moscow was to create at that stage the situation which would have been created in the fourteen-eighties if at that date the political unification of Russia had been brought about through the city-state of Novgorod’s conquering the Grand Duchy of Moscow instead of through Moscow’s conquering Novgorod. In the light of this historical background, Peter the Great’s act of transferring his capital from Moscow to Saint Petersburg appears somewhat less perverse than Seleucus Nicator’s act of transferring his from a site in Babylonia [Seleucia] to Antioch.

In 882 the capital of Viking, or Varangian, Rus was moved from Novgorod (Holmgard) on the Volkhov south to Kiev on the Dnieper. In the late 980s, Vladimir the Great was baptised at Chersonesos on the Black Sea and proceeded to baptise his family and people.

Kievan Rus dissolved into a collection of principalities and fell to the Mongols circa 1240; but Novgorod, which had in 1136 become not a principality but a republic, was, unlike Moscow, spared a Mongol invasion.

The Grand Duchy of Moscow (or Grand Principality of Moscow) was established in 1283 and lasted until the Tsardom was proclaimed in 1547. It extinguished the Novgorod Republic in 1478 and ceased to be a tributary of the Golden Horde in 1480.

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

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

Kievan Rus in the eleventh century; both maps Wikimedia Commons

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

Má Vlast and the Czech lands

July 21 2011

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

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

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



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

Vltava, or The Moldau

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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

Post here: The Hapsburgs and the Ottomans

Death of Communism in India

May 15 2011

BBC. Not quite, but the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had ruled without interruption in West Bengal since 1977. As the main party in the Left Front there, it lost to Congress in the 2011 state assembly elections. Another historic event of 2011.

We can expect West Bengal to return to something of its historic form and be hyped as a new “emerging market” in the coming years.

The CPI(M) split from the Communist Party of India in 1964. It had dominated the Left Democratic Front which had been ruling in Kerala and also lost to Congress. West Bengal and Kerala had been its two bastions. It continues to rule only in Tripura, whose elections are not due until 2013.

There is also a Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), formed in Calcutta in 1969. Its founders had mobilised a revolutionary peasants’ movement in Naxalbari, which evolved into an armed uprising of the Santhal tribal inhabitants. The Communist Party of India (Maoist) has roots in it. Naxalites has become a general term which refers to various militant communist groups in different parts of India.

Red Corridor: Naxalite-affected districts in 2007

The Sea of Japan

December 12 2010

… and its five straits

View at full size. Shikkoku should have one k. Wikimedia Commons.

Anatolian regions

November 5 2010

Simple but useful. Click to enlarge.

Byzantine Constantinople

June 8 2010

Wikimedia Commons map. (It shows the quarters belonging to the repubbliche marinare – Venice, Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa – in the old city in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, but not the Genoese colony in Galata (1261-1453) or earlier Jewish, Genoese, Venetian and perhaps other settlements on the Galata side.)

The last battle

May 22 2010

(XENOPHON OF ATHENS (ca. 430-354 B.C.): A History of Hellenic Affairs, Oxford text, ed. by E.C. Marchant: Book II. chapter 23-4)

At Athens the disaster [footnote: The battle of Aegospotami, in the Dardanelles, in which the last Athenian fleet had been annihilated by the Peloponnesians in 405 B.C. [ED.]] was announced by the arrival of the Paralus, [footnote: The Paralus and the Salaminia were the two fastest sailers in the Athenian Navy, and were employed to carry dispatches. [ED.]] and a wail spread from the Peiraeus through the Long Walls into the city, as the news passed from mouth to mouth. That night no one slept. Besides mourning for the dead, they mourned far more bitterly for themselves, for they expected to suffer the fate which they had inflicted on the Melians (who were colonists of the Lacedaemonians) when they had besieged and captured their town [416 BC], and upon the Histiaeans, the Scionians, the Toronians, the Aeginetans and many other Hellenic peoples. Next morning they held an assembly, in which it was decided to block up all the harbours except one, to clear the fortifications for action, to dispose troops to man them, and to put the city into a thorough state of defence for the eventuality of a siege.

The Spartan admiral was Lysander, the Athenian Conon. The Aegospotami (Goat Streams) was a stream issuing into the Hellespont (Dardanelles) in the Thracian Chersonese. The Long Walls connected Athens to its ports at Piraeus and Phalerum. The siege followed; Athens surrendered in 404.

Introduction and translations, Greek Historical Thought from Homer to the Age of Heraclius, with two pieces newly translated by Gilbert Murray, Dent, 1924 (taken from an American edition; spelling anglicised)

Bacchus Alpinus

January 31 2010

JA Symonds, in a passage called Bacchus in Graubünden in his Italian Byways, Smith, Elder & Co, 1883, tells us that much of the wine drunk in Davos was from the Italian Valtelline valley in Lombardy.

He stayed in Davos from August 1877 to April 1878, suffering from tuberculosis, and then settled there.

Davos participants drink Swiss wine, but possibly only notice it on the last day (today), when the initiated few (who know that this isn’t a boring closing buffet) take the funicular up to the Schatzalp, a former sanatorium, above the town. There, weather permitting (and, for some reason, it usually does), lunch is eaten al fresco on a snowy terrace.

The lunch is a rediscovery of the sun after a week in a valley, a rediscovery of real food, prepared in the open (much of it basic mountain food), and a rediscovery of a proper spirit of wine drinking. The view towards the Jakobshorn is a big picture at last in liberatingly concrete landscape terms.

Most people get to know Dôle. This is the Swiss red wine made, in more than one region, from two thirds Pinot Noir and a third Gamay. It tastes good in the cold. If your table gets crowded, you can plunge your bottle into a bank of snow to steady it and it will be none the worse.

To the north of Graubünden, or Grisons, the Grey Leagues, which joined Switzerland in 1803, and in which Davos is situated, are Liechtenstein and Austrian Vorarlberg. To the northeast Austrian Tirol. To the east Italian Trentino-Alto Adige. To the south Lombardy. The Valtelline is reached across the Bernina Pass.

Symonds writes about the Valtelline wines, which are made from Chiavennasca grapes, the local name of the red Piedmontese Nebbiolo.

“Some years’ residence in the Canton of the Grisons made me familiar with all sorts of Valtelline wine; with masculine but rough Inferno, generous Forzato, delicate Sassella, harsher Montagner, the raspberry flavour of Grumello, the sharp invigorating twang of Villa.” He speculates on a legend that the Etruscans had colonised these hills.

“Then my thoughts ran on to the period of modern history, when the Grisons seized the Valtelline in lieu of war-pay from the Dukes of Milan. For some three centuries they held it as a subject province. From the Rath-Haus at Davos or Chur they sent their nobles – Von Salis and Buol, Planta and Sprecher von Bernegg – across the hills as governors or podestàs to Poschiavo, Sondrio, Tirano, and Morbegno. In those old days the Valtelline wines came duly every winter over snow-deep passes to fill the cellars of the Signori Grigioni. […] The wine-carriers – Wein-führer, as they are called – first scaled the Bernina pass, halting then as now, perhaps, at Poschiavo and Pontresina [both in Graubünden]. Afterwards, in order to reach Davos, the pass of the Scaletta rose before them – a wilderness of untracked snow-drifts. The country-folk still point to narrow, light hand-sledges, on which the casks were charged before the last pitch of the pass. Some wine came, no doubt, on pack-saddles. A meadow in front of the Dischma-Thal, where the pass ends, still bears the name of the Ross-Weid, or horse-pasture. It was here that the beasts of burden used for this wine-service, rested after their long labours. In favourable weather the whole journey from Tirano [in the Valtelline] would have occupied at least four days, with scanty halts at night.

“The Valtelline slipped from the hands of the Grisons early in this century. It is rumoured that one of the Von Salis family negotiated matters with Napoleon more for his private benefit than for the interests of the state. However this may have been, when the Graubünden became a Swiss Canton, after four centuries of sovereign independence, the whole Valtelline passed to Austria, and so eventually to Italy. According to modern and just notions of nationality, this was right. In their period of power, the Grisons masters had treated their Italian dependencies with harshness. The Valtelline is an Italian valley, connected with the rest of the peninsula by ties of race and language. It is, moreover, geographically linked to Italy by the great stream of the Adda, which takes its rise upon the Stelvio, and after passing through the Lake of Como, swells the volume of the Po.

“But, though politically severed from the Valtelline, the Engadiners and Davosers have not dropped their old habit of importing its best produce. What they formerly levied as masters, they now acquire by purchase. The Italian revenue derives a large profit from the frontier dues paid at the gate between Tirano and Poschiavo on the Bernina road. Much of the same wine enters Switzerland by another route, travelling from Sondrio to Chiavenna and across the Splügen [which is north of Como, to the west]. But until quite recently, the wine itself could scarcely be found outside the Canton. It was indeed quoted upon Lombard wine-lists. Yet no one drank it; and when I tasted it at Milan, I found it quite unrecognisable. The fact seems to be that the Graubündeners alone know how to deal with it; and, as I have hinted, the wine requires a mountain climate for its full development.


“It is customary for the Graubünden wine-merchants to buy up the whole produce of a vineyard from the peasants at the end of the vintage. They go in person or depute their agents to inspect the wine, make their bargains, and seal the cellars where the wine is stored. Then, when the snow has fallen, their own horses with sleighs and trusted servants go across the passes to bring it home. Generally they have some local man of confidence at Tirano, the starting-point for the homeward journey, who takes the casks up to that place and sees them duly charged. Merchants of old standing maintain relations with the same peasants, taking their wine regularly; so that from Lorenz Gredig at Pontresina or Andreas Gredig at Davos Dörfli, from Fanconi at Samaden, or from Giacomi at Chiavenna, special qualities of wine, the produce of certain vineyards, are to be obtained. Up to the present time this wine trade has been conducted with simplicity and honesty by both the dealers and the growers. One chief merit of Valtelline wine is that it is pure. How long so desirable a state of things will survive the slow but steady development of an export business may be questioned.”


Participants making their way up to the Schatzalp have absolutely no idea what it took to live in the Alps. I’d like to see a comparative study or world atlas of old trans-montane trading routes, of all arduous seasonal journeys of men, herds, flocks and goods across mountain passes. We no longer know the planet from living in terrains, but are piecing the macrocosm together in our minds in order to understand and repair it.


“With so much practical and theoretical interest in the produce of the Valtelline to stimulate my curiosity, I determined to visit the district at the season when the wine was leaving it. It was the winter of 1881-82, a winter of unparalleled beauty in the high Alps. Day succeeded day without a cloud. Night followed night with steady stars, gliding across clear mountain ranges and forests of dark pines unstirred by wind. I could not hope for a more prosperous season; and indeed I made such use of it, that between the months of January and March I crossed six passes of the Alps in open sleighs – the Fluela, Bernina, Splügen, Julier, Maloja, and Albula, with less difficulty and discomfort in mid-winter than the traveller may often find on them in June.

“At the end of January, my friend Christian and I left Davos long before the sun was up, and ascended for four hours through the interminable snow-drifts of the Fluela in a cold grey shadow.” He describes the journeys.


Alpine tourism, in which the British were pioneers – as earlier with mountaineering and later with skiing – was under way.

Vignette of Sankt Moritz.

“The next day was spent in visiting the winter colony at San Moritz, where the Kulm Hotel, tenanted by some twenty guests, presented in its vastness the appearance of a country-house. One of the prettiest spots in the world is the ice-rink, fashioned by the skill of Herr Caspar Badrutt on a high raised terrace, commanding the valley of the Inn and the ponderous bulwarks of Bernina. The silhouettes of skaters, defined against that landscape of pure white, passed to and fro beneath a cloudless sky. Ladies sat and worked or read on seats upon the ice. Not a breath of wind was astir, and warm beneficent sunlight flooded the immeasurable air.”


On the Bernina Pass he meets the slow Valtelline wine-train heading north.

“When we came to the galleries which defend the road from avalanches, we saw ahead of us a train of over forty sledges ascending, all charged with Valtelline wine. Our postillions drew up at the inner side of the gallery, between massive columns of the purest ice dependent from the rough-hewn roof and walls of rock. A sort of open loggia on the farther side framed vignettes of the Valtelline mountains in their hard cerulean shadows and keen sunlight. Between us and the view defiled the wine-sledges; and as each went by, the men made us drink out of their trinketti. These are oblong, hexagonal wooden kegs, holding about fourteen litres, which the carter fills with wine before he leaves the Valtelline, to cheer him on the homeward journey. You raise it in both hands, and when the bung has been removed, allow the liquor to flow stream-wise down your throat. It was a most extraordinary Bacchic procession – a pomp which, though undreamed of on the banks of the Ilissus, proclaimed the deity of Dionysos in authentic fashion. Struggling horses, grappling at the ice-bound floor with sharp-spiked shoes; huge, hoarse drivers, some clad in sheepskins from Italian valleys, some brown as bears in rough Graubünden home-spun; casks, dropping their spilth of red wine on the snow; greetings, embracings; patois of Bergamo, Romansch, and German roaring around the low-browed vaults and tingling ice pillars; pourings forth of libations of the new strong Valtelline on breasts and beards; – the whole made up a scene of stalwart jollity and manful labour such as I have nowhere else in such wild circumstances witnessed. Many Davosers were there, the men of Andreas Gredig, Valar, and so forth; and all of these, on greeting Christian, forced us to drain a Schluck from their unmanageable cruses. Then on they went, crying, creaking, struggling, straining through the corridor, which echoed deafeningly, the gleaming crystals of those hard Italian mountains in their winter raiment building a background of still beauty to the savage Bacchanalian riot of the team.

“How little the visitors who drink Valtelline wine at S. Moritz or Davos reflect by what strange ways it reaches them. A sledge can scarcely be laden with more than one cask of 300 litres on the ascent; and this cask, according to the state of the road, has many times to be shifted from wheels to runners and back again before the journey is accomplished. One carter will take charge of two horses, and consequently of two sledges and two casks, driving them both by voice and gesture rather than by rein. When they leave the Valtelline, the carters endeavour, as far as possible, to take the pass in gangs, lest bad weather or an accident upon the road should overtake them singly. At night they hardly rest three hours, and rarely think of sleeping, but spend the time in drinking and conversation. The horses are fed and littered; but for them too the night-halt is little better than a baiting-time. In fair weather the passage of the mountain is not difficult, though tiring. But woe to men and beasts alike if they encounter storms! Not a few perish in the passes; and it frequently happens that their only chance is to unyoke the horses and leave the sledges in a snow-wreath, seeking for themselves such shelter as may possibly be gained, frost-bitten, after hours of battling with impermeable drifts. The wine is frozen into one solid mass of rosy ice before it reaches Pontresina. This does not hurt the young vintage, but it is highly injurious to wine of some years’ standing. The perils of the journey are aggravated by the savage temper of the drivers. Jealousies between the natives of rival districts spring up; and there are men alive who have fought the whole way down from Fluela Hospice to Davos Platz with knives and stones, hammers and hatchets, wooden staves and splintered cart-wheels, staining the snow with blood, and bringing broken pates, bruised limbs, and senseless comrades home to their women to be tended.” That describing piracy.

“Bacchus Alpinus shepherded his train away from us to northward, and we passed forth into noonday from the gallery. It then seemed clear that both conductor and postillion were sufficiently merry. The plunge they took us down those frozen parapets, with shriek and jauchzen [rejoicing; first word of the Christmas Oratorio: Jauchzet!] and cracked whips, was more than ever dangerous. Yet we reached La Rosa safely. This is a lovely solitary spot, beside a rushing stream, among grey granite boulders grown with spruce and rhododendron: a veritable rose of Sharon blooming in the desert. The wastes of the Bernina stretch above, and round about are leaguered some of the most forbidding sharp-toothed peaks I ever saw. Onwards, across the silent snow, we glided in immitigable sunshine, through opening valleys and pine-woods, past the robber-huts of Pisciadella, until at evenfall we rested in the roadside inn at Poschiavo [still in Graubünden].”


Vignette of the frontier.

“One comes at length to a great red gate across the road, which separates Switzerland from Italy, and where the export dues on wine are paid. The Italian custom-house is romantically perched above the torrent. Two courteous and elegant finanzieri, mere boys, were sitting wrapped in their military cloaks and reading novels in the sun as we drove up. Though they made some pretence of examining the luggage, they excused themselves with sweet smiles and apologetic eyes – it was a disagreeable duty!”

Bernina by rail in the days when there was a frontier. Rattle of doors. “Passkontrolle!”. Night silence. Cold air. Half an hour later: “Passaporti!


There used to be wine-tasting at the Annual Meeting. Gideon Rachman’s entertaining FT blog tells us that it was abandoned this year in the earnest spirit of the times.

How much Valtelline wine is drunk in Davos now?


Tabula Regionum Europæ


Davos 1884

Rome, Constantinople and the sea 1

October 1 2009

The Toynbee convector is three years old today.

A capital city could neither become nor remain a capital if it could not import large supplies from distant sources by water. Rome was able to satisfy this condition without difficulty so long as she was the capital of a commonwealth whose area was limited to Peninsular Italy. Standing, as she did, on the bank of the Tiber, which is the biggest and longest river in the Peninsula – a river that was navigable for barges far up its course – Rome, in this first phase of her history as a capital, was able to supply herself with grain from higher up the Tiber valley, as well as with timber from the Appennine forests overhanging the Tiber’s source. When, however, in the course of half a century ending in the year 168 B.C., the Romans expanded the area under their political control from Peninsular Italy to the whole perimeter of the Mediterranean basin, the population of the City of Rome consequently grew to a size at which it could no longer live solely on the river-borne supplies that it could draw from Central Italy. The City now had to draw the major part of its food-supplies from overseas; the military and political ascendency (sic) that Rome had established by this date over Sicily enabled her to requisition food-supplies from there; the granaries of Sicily were subsequently supplemented by those of North-West Africa and Egypt, and the export of grain from Sicily and from Egypt presented no problems, since no cornfield in Sicily was far from the coast, while every cornfield in Egypt was close to the waterway of the River Nile or one of its arms. The City of Rome’s problem at this stage of its history was the conveyance of these sea-borne supplies on the last stage of their journey.

The costly work of excavating an artificial maritime harbour, Portus, connected by a water-link with the Tiber above the river’s mouth, could not eliminate the clumsy and still costly operation of trans-shipping the sea-borne cargoes into river-barges that could reach the City’s riverside quays. This handicap, under which imperial Rome laboured, did not afflict Constantinople, the New Rome by which the Old Rome was eventually superseded in the role of serving as the capital of the Roman Empire. Constantinople possesses a first-rate natural maritime harbour in the Golden Horn, a sheltered deep-water inlet of the Bosphorus that runs inland for the whole length of Constantinople’s northern waterfront, and an obliging current automatically diverts into the Golden Horn a ship drifting down the Bosphorus laden with a cargo of grain grown in the Ukraine and carried from there, down any one of half-a-dozen navigable rivers, to sea-ports on the shores of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Rome’s inferiority to Constantinople in point of accessibility for the delivery of sea-borne supplies was one consideration, though not the only one, that led to the eventual transfer of the capital to Constantinople from Rome in spite of the enormous prestige that had enabled Rome to hold her position as the capital of the Mediterranean World for the five centuries that had elapsed between the Roman state’s crowning victory at Pydna in 168 B.C. and the laying-out out of Constantinople in A.D. 324.

Portus superseded Ostia. It was built by Claudius and extended by Trajan.

Ostia and Portus



Wikimedia Commons

Cities on the Move, OUP, 1970

On the Visé Road, 1914

February 13 2009

The Germans invaded Belgium on Aug. 4th, 1914. Their immediate objective was the fortress of Liége [A few posts ago, I corrected OUP when they spelt the Walloon city of Liège Liége in a 1954 text. I was right to do so, but for the wrong reason. I thought it was a misprint. It was merely obsolete usage. An acute accent was used until 1946.] and the passage of the Meuse, but first they had to cross a zone of Belgian territory from twenty to twenty-five miles wide. They came over the frontier along four principal roads, which led through this territory to the fortress and the river, and this is what they did in the towns and villages they passed.

The first road led from Aix-la-Chapelle [Aachen], in Germany, to the bridge over the Meuse at Visé, skirting the Dutch frontier, and Warsage was the first Belgian village on this road to which the Germans came. Their advance-guards distributed a proclamation by General von Emmich: “I give formal pledges to the Belgian population that they will not have to suffer from the horrors of war. … If you wish to avoid the horrors of war, you must act wisely and with a true appreciation of your duty to your country.” This was on the morning of Aug. 4th, and the Mayor of Warsage, M. Flechet, had already posted a notice on the town-hall warning the inhabitants to keep calm. All that day and the next the Germans passed through; on the afternoon of the 6th the village was clear of them, when suddenly they swarmed back, shooting in at the windows and setting houses on fire. Several people were killed; one old man was burnt alive. Then the Mayor was ordered to assemble the population in the square. A German officer had been shot on the road. No inquiry was held; no post-mortem examination made (the German soldiers were nervous and marched with finger on trigger); the village was condemned. The houses were systematically plundered, and then systematically burnt. A dozen inhabitants, including the Burgomaster, were carried off as hostages to the German camp at Mouland. Three were shot at once; the rest were kept all night in the open; one of them was tied to a cart-wheel and beaten with rifle-butts; in the morning six were hanged, the rest set free. Eighteen people in all were killed at Warsage and 25 houses destroyed.

At Fouron-St. Martin five people were killed and 20 houses burnt. Nineteen houses were burnt at Fouron-le-Compte. At Berneau, a few miles further down the road, 67 houses (out of 116) were burnt on Aug. 5th, and 7 people killed. “The people of Berneau,” writes a German in his diary on Aug. 5th, “have fired on those who went to get water. The village has been partly destroyed.” On the day of this entry the Germans had commandeered wine at Berneau, and were drunk when they took reprisals for shots their victims were never proved to have fired. Among these victims was the Burgomaster, M. Bruyère, a man of 83. He was taken, like the Burgomaster of Warsage, to the camp at Mouland, and was never seen again after the night of the 6th. At Mouland itself 4 people were killed and 73 houses destroyed (out of 132).

The road from Aix-la-Chapelle reaches the Meuse at Visé. It was a town of 900 houses and 4,000 souls, and, as a German describes it, “It vanished from the map.” The inhabitants were killed, scattered or deported, the houses levelled to the ground, and this was done systematically, stage by stage.

The Germans who marched through Warsage reached Visé on the afternoon of Aug. 4th. The Belgians had blown up the bridges at Visé and Argenteau, and were waiting for the Germans on the opposite bank. As they entered Visé, the Germans came for the first time under fire, and they wreaked their vengeance on the town. “The first house they came to as they entered Visé they burned”, and they began to fire at random in the streets. At least eight civilians were shot in this way before night, and when night fell the population was driven out of the houses and compelled to bivouac in the square. More houses were burnt on the 6th; on the 10th they burned the church; on the 11th they seized the Dean, the Burgomaster, and the Mother Superior of the Convent as hostages; on the 15th a regiment of East Prussians arrived and was billeted in the town, and that night Visé was destroyed. “I saw commissioned officers directing and supervising the burning,” says an inhabitant. “It was done systematically with the use of benzine, spread on the floors and then lighted. In my own and another house I saw officers come in before the burning with revolvers in their hands, and have china, valuable antique furniture, and other such things removed. This being done, the houses were, by their orders, set on fire. …”

The East Prussians were drunk, there was firing in the streets, and, once more, people were killed. Next morning the population was rounded up in the station square and sorted out – men this side, women that. The women might go to Holland, the men, in two gangs of about 300 each, were deported to Germany as franc-tireurs [irregular troops]. “During the night of Aug. 15-16,” as another German diarist describes the scene, “Pioneer [soldier employed to perform engineering tasks] Grimbow gave the alarm in the town of Visé. Everyone was shot or taken prisoner, and the houses were burnt. The prisoners were made to march and keep up with the troops.” About 30 people in all were killed at Visé, and 575 out of 876 houses destroyed. On the final day of destruction the Germans had been in peaceable [peaceable?] occupation of the place for ten days, and the Belgian troops had retired about forty miles out of range.

He goes on to describe what happened on three other roads into Belgium.


Map showing Visé and, inter alia, the course of the Meuse from France through Belgium into Holland; opens in a separate window


The German Terror in Belgium, An Historical Record, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

I have omitted seven footnotes which state sources.

Tabula Regionum Europæ

February 7 2009


I have no idea whether the Assembly of European Regions does anything else useful, but its website offers this map. Will open in a separate tab.

For some reason, maps, pace Google, still haven’t made it on the web. Why not? If anyone can point to a single good, comprehensive atlas (I don’t count Microsoft’s efforts), let alone historical atlas, I’d like to know.

Perry-Castañeda at Austin only offers scans, nothing Internet-native. The CIA World Factbook maps are clear pdfs, but rudimentary. One used to see maps from a company called Magellan in Santa Barbara. They were simple and often inaccurate gifs. Most maps on the web are amateur creations. A fortiori there are few historical maps. Where are the rich maps of Catalonian or Tamil or Thai history and culture? I may be missing something.

It’s exciting to see Europe as a mosaic of regions, even if some of them have been rather unhistorically renamed. (I did a post recently on Graubünden.)

As industry gets more and more sophisticated, and lighter and lighter, can’t Europe redeploy itself away from megacities and back into its regions and smaller towns? Where a more delicate, eighteenth-century balance between Man and nature is possible?

Europe’s small towns should come into their own again in the hyper-connected world and are, anyway, marvellous ready-made pieces of infrastructure. All kinds of architectural and other traditions are latent in them. I don’t mean at the cultural level of the souvenir shop. They should stop being provincial.

How many “stans” are there in Europe? Three, and all in European Russia. The Republics of Dagestan, Tatarstan and Baskortostan.

I went to Tatarstan in late 1995. Its beautiful capital, Kazan, blew my mind. I sat in the President’s office in the Kazan Kremlin. I remember turning a corner in an entirely uncommercial street and being shocked by a sign in huge gold Roman letters: BANKERS’ RESTAURANT.

Dagestan is larger than Switzerland. Tatarstan is much larger. Baskortostan is larger than Greece.


February 2 2009

Back to a pre-crisis world.

Sanatoria, hotels, a railway, electricity, the telephone and skiing arrive in Davos.

How many Davos participants realise that Landquart is on the Rhine? Or practically on it?

Landquart is the nondescript village where, having ascended by train from Zurich, you change to take the narrower-gauge railway up to the highest town in Europe, Davos.

You are in eastern Switzerland. In Graubünden. The Grisons, Grischun, i Grigioni. The Grey Leagues: the name comes from the merging in 1524 of three Alpine alliances, the League of God’s House, the Grey League and the League of Ten Jurisdictions. They joined federal Switzerland as a canton in 1803.

To the north are Liechtenstein, Austrian Vorarlberg and Austrian Tirol. To the east Trentino. To the south Lombardy. Landquart is at the bottom of the Prättigau valley, through which runs the Landquart river. Near the top of the valley is Klosters. Davos is in the valley of the Landwasser river.

And further south in the canton is the Engadine valley, which follows the Inn river northeast from its headwaters at the Maloja Pass until it flows into Austria.

We met a Russian, Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, getting off the train in Landquart in November 1884 and spending the night there in a “rather miserable little room”, before making an eight-hour ascent to Davos by carriage.

When was the railway extended? Soon afterwards.


The Times, Thursday October 7 1886. Click for better resolution.


The journey now takes an hour.

Phthisis means TB. Wikipedia has a page on the Rigi mountain railway.


I wondered in the Tchaikovsky post when hotels had appeared in Davos. A picture from 1870 showed a quiet-seeming village, presumably dependent on cows. Yet, before the railway, Tchaikovsky found “a row of first class hotels, and shops where you can get whatever you like”.

John Addington Symonds, suffering from tuberculosis, stayed in Davos from August 1877 to April 1878 and then settled there. He published impressions of it, Bacchus in Graubünden and Winter Nights at Davos, at the end of a book about Italy, Italian Byways (1883).

The two essays are reprinted in Our Life in the Swiss Highlands (1892), which he wrote with his daughter Margaret. Further material there, some of which had appeared in reviews, dates back to 1878, including a piece called Davos in Winter, to which he adds a postscript dated January 1892:

“I have allowed this essay to stand almost exactly as I wrote it nearly fourteen years ago, because it possesses some small historical interest, as having powerfully stimulated the formation of an English colony in Davos.“When I found, after several experiments, that I could not hope to settle down again in my own home, I built a house here. The experience I have gained during this considerable space of time has not shaken my faith in the principle of what is called the Alpine cure. But it has to a large extent modified my opinion about Davos as a health resort. The rapid development of the place, which has brought a railway up the Prättigau, and bestowed upon us the blessings of electrical illumination and the telephone, besides multiplying the resident and floating population, I dare not say how many times, has naturally increased the dwelling-houses to a very serious – I might say dangerous – extent. They stand too closely packed together, and in winter the heating apparatuses of all these houses render it absurd to speak of ‘flawless purity of air’. [The Times had used the phrase “the well-known purity of its air”. The Victorians were far more conscious of air quality than we are, because the range of quality was far wider.]

“Still, the climate, irrespective of these drawbacks, due to the swift expansion of the village, has not altered in any essential respect. It must be added, also, that the authorities of Davos show great spirit as well as an enlightened intelligence in doing all they can for its conveniences and sanitary requirements.

“Under my eyes the village has become a town. Modest hotels have grown into huge European caravanserais. Prices have risen, and the wine current in houses of entertainment has deteriorated. Social life imitates upon a small scale the manners of a city. Not a few points in my article of 1878 are almost ludicrously out of date now. The modest information I was then able to communicate regarding the method of treatment for invalids, the atmospheric condition of the valley, and so forth, have lung ago become the common property, not only of experts, but also of the general public.

“Nevertheless, I let this essay take the first place in our book, partly because in the main my old impressions are not altered, and partly because it indicates the real beginning of ‘Our Life in the Swiss Highlands.’

January 1892.

J. A .S.”


Robert Louis Stevenson also wrote an essay called Davos in Winter, for the Pall Mall Gazette of February 21 1881.

The Times correspondent (above) says that the summer season ended in the first week of September, and he/she mentions a winter season. But the winter season was for patients, not skiers, because skiing had not even begun to get under way as an Alpine activity. It hadn’t even been adopted in the Alps as a method of getting around.

Arthur Conan Doyle arrived in Davos in October 1893 with his tubercular wife and became a pioneer. He engaged two local guides, the Branger brothers, one or both of whom had first seen Norwegian skis in Paris in 1889 (I presume at the Exposition Universelle).

On March 23 1894, accompanied by the Brangers, he became the first Englishman to cross the 2,440 meter Maienfelder Furka pass above Davos and ski down to Arosa on the other side. He had recently killed off Holmes and Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls in the Bernese Oberland. He wrote about Davos and skiing in the Strand Magazine, and no doubt elsewhere.

What about “Dr Ruedi”, who had feared the approaching railway? (The correct spelling is Rüedi, three syllables.) The web (why are we still surprised?) has a page on him.

He was Dr Carl Rüedi. His father, Lucius, had been Landschaftsarzt in Davos and the first doctor in history to report on the healing effect of the Alpine climate on consumptives. In May 1844, in a letter to Dr Meyer-Ahrens in Zürich, he reported that children suffering from phthisis in varying degrees had been healed after having undergone his treatment at Davos. Previously, people had been sent to warm places. He died in 1870.

Carl was born in Davos in 1848. He spent some time in America, studied in Switzerland, Germany and Austria, and in 1874 was called to Davos to fill the position his father had held, and, in addition, that of Bezirksarzt. In 1875, he was elected to the committee of the newly-established Kurverein. In 1876 he became a member of the Bündner Ärzteverein.

At the end of 1878 Rüedi resigned from his post as a country doctor and restricted his work to that of a Kurarzt who could devote his attention entirely to the treatment of visiting invalids. He gained a particular reputation among the English-speaking patients. His wife was a Scotswoman. He treated Symonds. Perhaps he treated Tchaikovsky’s friend.

He also treated Robert Louis Stevenson, who came to Davos for treatment in the winters of 1880-81 and 1881-2. In the first year RLS stayed in the Belvedere Hotel, in the second in a villa. In the dedication of his book of poetry of 1887 called Underwoods, RLS called Rüedi “the good genius of the English in his frosty mountains”.

The Belvedere, now Steigenberger Belvedere, was one of three hotels in Davos in 1880. But when was the first dedicated sanatorium opened? The first in the world was the Brehmerschen Heilanstalt für Lungenkranke in Görbersdorf (now Sokołowsko) in the Suche Mountains in Silesia, opened by Hermann Brehmer in 1863.

In 1891, Rüedi departed again for America, intending to settle in Denver, but he returned in 1896, to practice not in Davos but in Arosa, where he seems to have overcome his worry about railways, arguing for the construction of an electric railway link with Chur, the capital of Graubünden. Perhaps the cleaner technology persuaded him. The railway opened in December 1914, but Carl Rüedi died in Arosa in June 1901.

Here is the whole Times page on which the Davos article appears (will download to desktop).




Places mentioned