Archive for the 'Russia' Category

Lee Kuan Yew and the nation-builders

March 19 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sun Yat-sen 1912

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk 1918

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk 1923

Ibn Saud 1932

Sukarno 1945

Mahatma Gandhi 1947

Muhammad Ali Jinnah 1947

Theodor Herzl 1948

Lee Kuan Yew 1965

Nelson Mandela 1994

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

The Blairs will be there, collecting cards.


1946, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge

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

Azov and Baltic

March 13 2015

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

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

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

Soviet composers

March 10 2015

Onno van Rijen’s longstanding page on the composers of the USSR. The work lists are fascinating. Everyone is covered, from Gliere to the now fashionable Weinberg and from Khachaturian to Shchedrin.

Alexander Mosolov, Soldiers’ Songs, c 1958? Marching song – Song of the native land – The song of the young horseman. Conductor Vitaly Gnutov, orchestra not stated.

“I shall not alter a single note”

March 9 2015

Kirill Gerstein on Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto – what a masterpiece it is – first performed 140 years ago, whose “famous opening chords are not, in fact, what Tchaikovsky wrote at all”.

The balance between piano and orchestra at the opening is certainly problematic in many performances.

The New York Review of Books, March 9 (a few weeks before the 175th anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s birth), with four audio samples.

This summary is taken mainly from Gerstein’s piece and from Links are mine.

At the end of 1874, Tchaikovsky showed a final draft of the first version of the concerto to Nikolai Rubinstein. He wanted advice on the playability and effectiveness of the piano writing. Rubinstein was scathing about both. Tchaikovsky described this occasion in a letter to Nadezhda von Meck (date?). At the end of the meeting, Tchaikovsky wrote, Rubinstein said

that if within a limited time I reworked the concerto according to his demands, then he would do me the honour of playing my piece at his concert. “I shall not alter a single note,” I answered, “I shall publish the work exactly as it is!” This I did.

Tchaikovsky completed this version in February 1875 and dedicated the concerto to Hans von Bülow, who premiered it in Boston that October. “There is such unsurpassed originality, such nobility, such strength, and there are so many arresting moments throughout this unique conception; there is such a maturity of form, such style – its design and execution, with such consonant harmonies, that I could weary you by listing all the memorable moments which caused me to thank the author – not to mention the pleasure from performing it all. In a word, this true gem shall earn you the gratitude of all pianists.”

The nineteen-year old Sergey Taneyev gave the first performance in Moscow in December, with a now less doubtful Rubinstein on the podium.

Pyotr Jurgenson published an arrangement for two pianos in May 1875, the orchestral parts in October 1875, and the full score not until August 1879, when it included revisions by Tchaikovsky to the piano part in the first movement.

From then on, it was the 1879 version that Tchaikovsky conducted, up to and including a performance in St Petersburg on October 28 1893, days before his death.

A new edition “reviewed and corrected by the author” was published in late 1889 or early 1890 by Daniel Rahter in Leipzig. A further version was published in 1894 by Jurgenson in Moscow. I assume it was based on Rahter.

This is what we hear now. It is impossible to know for certain who is responsible for the changes in this posthumous version, but the name of Alexander Siloti, a student of Tchaikovsky’s, is often mentioned.

Buy Gerstein’s premiere recording of the 1879 version here. Is it possible now to play the 1875 version, ie the score before Tchaikovsky abandoned his decision not to alter a single note?

Peter’s war

February 26 2015

Peter’s declaration of war upon the Byzantine social tradition was delivered in his celebrated gesture of shaving, with his own hand, the beards of the grandees who came to congratulate him on his return from the West in A.D. 1698. A ukase of the 4th January, 1700, made the wearing of Western dress compulsory by a certain date “for the glory and beauty of the State and the improvement of the Army”. This was confirmed in a second ukase of the 20th March, and detailed instructions were issued in 1701. Compare Mehmed ʿAli’s imposition of Western uniforms upon his troops, and Mustafā Kemāl’s imposition of Western dress upon the entire male civil population. [Entire?] (The compulsory change of dress which was carried through by Peter in Russia was confined to the upper class, and the obligation to shave might be bought off by the payment of a beard-tax.) Peter, however, was not content with imposing Western dress. He arranged for the compilation of elaborate manuals of Western fine manners; and in the houses of the nobility in the new capital, Petersburg, “receptions” à la française were organized by the Police.

Were bourgeois manners and behaviour in Tsarist Russia harder than in western Europe to distinguish from aristocratic?

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

Bitter Lake

February 16 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Bitter Lake


BBC Russian adaptation, Radio 4

February 16 2015

Much muffled grunting and grumbling.

“Tatyana, my dear!


Upon my word, I do declare you’re the prettiest girl this side of the Volga!”

Considerably more grumbling.

“Fetch my horse! … Ivan Ivanovich! …”


In increasingly English tones:

“Where’s that servant of mine? …

Upon my word, I do declare he’s the laziest servant this side of the Urals!”

Continued page 94.

Manchus, Chinese and Mongols

January 26 2015

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

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

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

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

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.

Summer capitals, summer palaces

December 10 2014

The Sarawat mountains run down the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia. Sarat al-Hejaz, Sarat Asir, Sarat al-Yemen.

Taʿif is in the Hejaz section, 100 km southeast of Mecca. The ruling family and much of the government are said to go there during the summer to escape the heat of Riyad. Taʿif is cool. Coastal Jeddah, on nearly the same latitude, hot and humid. Inland Riyad is hot and dry.

Taʿif is known for grapes, pomegranates, figs, roses, honey. The family of Hani Hanjour, the 9/11 hijacker-pilot who crashed into the Pentagon, ran a lemon and date farm there.

There are more grapes at Hofuf in the Eastern Province.

Taʿif, like Mecca and like Al-Qullays, was a religious centre which attracted pilgrims before the Prophet: it housed the idol of Allat, the lady of Taʿif, who was also one of the trinity of goddesses worshipped in Mecca.

It was near the site of Muhammad’s victory at the battle of Hunayn in 630. The Sharif of Mecca capitulated to Selim I at Taʿif in 1517, a surrender undone by the British four hundred years later.


Ecbatana. The Achaemenids had the old Median capital as their summer capital. Their real capital was Susa, their ceremonial capital Persepolis. (Seleucia-on-Tigris was the first capital of the Seleucid Empire, though it was officially superseded by Antioch. Ctesiphon-on-Tigris, opposite Seleucia, and Susa were the joint capitals of Parthia. Susa was briefly taken by Trajan and was the easternmost point reached by the Romans. Ctesiphon was also the Sasanian capital, and fell to the Arabs.)

Xanadu. The summer capital (1271-94) of Kublai Khan, the Mongol founder of the Yuan dynasty in China, after he moved his permanent capital from Xanadu (Shangdu) to Khanbaliq (Dadu), present Beijing. Destroyed by the Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming, in 1369. Old posts: Xanadu and Jehol and Foreigners in Cathay.

Simla. The summer capital (1864-1939), in the Himalayan foothills, of the British in India. Over a thousand miles away from Calcutta. (Much nearer to Delhi.) Old post. Wikipedia says that before 1864 the summer capital was even further away, at Murree, a pleasant, often snowy, spot in the Margalla Hills, near Rawalpindi, and now in Pakistan. But wasn’t it the regional government of the Punjab province that moved there in the summer? A cool retreat much closer to Calcutta would have been Darjeeling. Was that too inaccessible?

In the middle of the 19th century, San Sebastián, near Biarritz, became a summer capital for the Spanish monarchy. Franco spent his summers there.

The hill station of Baguio in the northern mountains of Luzon was the summer capital of the Philippines during the American occupation (1898-1946).

Srinagar in the Kashmir Valley is still the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The winter capital is Jammu.

Sochi, on the Black Sea, is described as the summer capital of Russia. Before 1991, resorts in the Crimea could play that role. Now they can presumably play it again.


Murree beer was made in Murree when the Murree Brewery was founded in 1860. In (I believe) 1910, the plant was moved to Rawalpindi. There is also one in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP), which I thought was too strict nowadays to allow this kind of thing. It was Bhutto, in 1977, not Zia, who made Pakistan dry. The Christian, Hindu, and Parsi communities were not large enough to support the Murree enterprise, and production had to be cut back.

But the laws are not very strictly enforced. The last few times I was in Pakistan (2004-06), I had to sign a declaration in hotels that I required the beer (or the local whisky, also made by Murree Brewery) for medicinal purposes. It was then handed over in a black bag. I don’t recall the form requiring me to state that I was a non-Muslim. The medical ruse, I suppose, allowed it to be sold to anyone, irrespective of religion.

Of course, part of the moneyed middle class, especially in Karachi, and of the military class and the “feudal” class, drinks quite a lot and gets its hands on foreign liquor. Musharraf’s two loves, it has been said, are dogs and whisky.

I am convinced that Murree is how beer used to taste. At least the Murree that I remember (there has been some product diversification). It’s the subaltern’s beer, still being made. But one bottle could (it must be said) taste and look disconcertingly different from another.

It isn’t exported, which doesn’t stop them from producing an Export Pils, but in 2013, Murree Brewery opened a franchise, run by a Bangalore-based entrepreneur, which allows its brewing, bottling and marketing in India.


A family and a few courtiers might go to a summer palace. A large part of a civil service might migrate to a summer capital. This is what I understand happened with Simla and Baguio and happens with Srinagar. What about Sochi? Does it really still happen with Taʿif? Why migrate when there is air conditioning?

Roman and Byzantine emperors had summer palaces. The pope has Castel Gandolfo.

Peter the Great built one in St Petersburg, and Elizabeth of Russia another – and the Winter Palace.

There were two summer palaces at Tsarskoye Selo. Catherine I built the Catherine Palace, Catherine the Great the Alexander Palace.

Frederick the Great built Sanssouci in Potsdam. Maria Theresa was given Schönbrunn.


Construction of the complex of gardens and palaces in Beijing known as the Old Summer Palace began in 1707 under the Kangxi Emperor (Qing). He intended it as a gift for his fourth son, the future Yongzheng Emperor, who would expand it in 1725. The Qianlong Emperor (same generation as Elizabeth and Frederick) did further work.

The Old Summer Palace, with its many ancient books and works of art, was destroyed by the British and French in the Second Opium War, causing the Imperial Court to relocate to the Forbidden City.

The vast nearby Summer Palace, also in Beijing, had its origin in a palace built by the Jurchen (Jin dynasty) emperor Wanyan Liang in the 12th century. It remained in use under the Yuan. (What did the Ming do with it?) The Qianlong Emperor built much of what we see now. The Old Summer Palace had been built by his grandfather the Kangxi Emperor (hence, I suppose, “Old”). The Summer Palace was badly damaged by the British and French, but not completely destroyed.

Both of these were outside the walls of the Inner City. Did Summer Palace connote “without the walls”? The Forbidden City was within the walls.

On the history of Peking, its walls, the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, see posts here and here.


Essences from damask roses grown in Taʿif can cost thousands of pounds a bottle. I was with a friend in a perfumery in Jeddah in summer 2009. I couldn’t understand the Arabic courtesies and chatter exchanged between him and the owner, his friend, and not since childhood have I felt so trapped in a conversation that I could neither follow, nor contribute to, nor end. The light turned rosy as the evening approached, and a few miles away my friend’s plane waited for us on the tarmac at the airport like a patient camel.

A perfect Taʿif rose (image).

Germany: Memories of a Nation

November 9 2014

Neil MacGregor’s Germany: Memories of a Nation, which completed its BBC Radio 4 run on the eve of 25 years of “Germany”, was as good as his A History of the World in 100 Objects (old post). This time, thirty 15-minute episodes, not quite chronological, “using objects, art, landmarks and literature”.

The test with a series like this is: would the other side wince if they heard it? I hope not in this case, even in the tenth programme. BBC descriptions are slightly edited here. Links to podcasts:

  1. The View from the Gate. Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, begins his series examining 600 years of German history through objects with a reflection on Germany’s floating frontiers. Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Neil visits the Brandenburg Gate.
  2. Divided Heaven. Neil MacGregor examines the story of the two Germanys, East and West, created in 1949, through objects including a wet suit used in an escape attempt from the East in 1987, which was later used as a training device by the Stasi, the East German secret police.
  3. Kafka, Kant and Lost Capitals. Neil MacGregor visits Kaliningrad, now in Russia, but formerly the German city Königsberg, home of the philosopher Kant, and also visits Prague, birthplace of writer Franz Kafka.
  4. Strasbourg – Floating City. Neil MacGregor visits Strasbourg, now in France, but once also a key city in German history, culture and precision engineering, as revealed by model of the astonishing cathedral clock.
  5. Fragments of Power. Neil MacGregor discovers how coins reveal the range and diversity of the Holy Roman Empire, with around 200 different currencies struck in the various territories of Germany.
  6. Luther and a Language for All Germans. Neil MacGregor focuses on the things which bind Germans together. He begins with the story of how Luther created the modern German language, by translating the Bible.
  7. Fairy Tales and Forests. Neil MacGregor examines how the tales of the Grimms and the art of Caspar David Friedrich re-established an identity for the German-speaking people, after their defeat by Napoleon.
  8. One Nation under Goethe. Neil MacGregor focuses on Goethe, arguing that he is the greatest of all German poets, and a unifying force, so that the Germans are one nation under Goethe.
  9. The Walhalla: Hall of Heroes. Neil MacGregor visits the Walhalla, one of the most idiosyncratic expressions of national identity in 19th century Europe, a temple to German-ness, modelled on the Parthenon.
  10. One People, Many Sausages. Neil MacGregor focuses on two great emblems of Germany’s national diet: beer and sausages. He finds out how regional specialities represent centuries of regional history.
  11. The Battle for Charlemagne. Neil MacGregor visits Aachen cathedral to examine the legacy of Charlemagne (c 747-c 814) – was he a great French ruler, or was he Charles the Great, a German? And what is the significance of a very fine replica of the Imperial Crown?
  12. Riemenschneider: Sculpting the Spirit. Neil MacGregor focuses on the religious sculptures of Tilman Riemenschneider (c 1460-1531), whose reputation as an artist has steadily risen. He is seen as a supreme sculptor, working in a peculiarly German medium, limewood, but articulating the sensibilities of a continent. And Neil MacGregor reveals why, as the war came to an end in 1945, the Nobel Prize-winning writer Thomas Mann identified Riemenschneider as a moral and political hero.
  13. Holbein and the Hansa. Neil MacGregor charts the rise and fall of the Hansa, or Hanseatic League, a great trading alliance of 90 cities, and the role of the painter Hans Holbein the Younger.
  14. Iron Nation. Neil MacGregor charts the role of iron in 19th century Prussia, an everyday metal whose uses included patriotic jewellery and the Iron Cross, a military decoration to honour all ranks.
  15. 1848: The People’s Flag and Karl Marx. Neil MacGregor reflects on the events of 1848, when black, red and gold became the colours of the flag for a united Germany, and Marx and Engels published The Communist Manifesto.
  16. Gutenberg: In the Beginning was the Printer. Neil MacGregor examines how Johannes Gutenberg’s inventions led to the birth of the book as we know it. For many, it is the moment at which the modern world began.
  17. Dürer: An Artist for All Germans. Neil MacGregor focuses on the work of Dürer (1471-1528), arguing that he is the defining artist of Germany, his image – and his self-image – known to all Germans.
  18. Porcelain: The White Gold of Saxony. Neil MacGregor focuses on how 18th century German chemists discovered the secrets of Chinese porcelain, known then as “white gold” – translucent, fine-glazed, and much-coveted.
  19. From Clock to Car: Masters of Metal. Neil MacGregor focuses on the long tradition of German metalwork, from finely-engineered clocks and scientific instruments to the Volkswagen Beetle.
  20. Bauhaus: Cradle of the Modern. Neil MacGregor focuses on the Bauhaus school of art and design, founded in 1919. Its emphasis on functional elegance is visible in our houses, furniture and typography today.
  21. Bismarck the Blacksmith. Neil MacGregor charts the career of Otto von Bismarck (1815-98), known as the Iron Chancellor: he argued that the great questions of the day should be decided by “iron and blood”.
  22. Käthe Kollwitz: Suffering Witness. Neil MacGregor focuses on the art of Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), who expresses the loss and suffering of war, especially after the death of her younger son Peter at the front in 1914. Neil MacGregor argues that she is one of the greatest German artists. Like no other artist of the time, Kollwitz gave voice to the overwhelming sense of personal loss felt by ordinary Germans – the loss of a whole generation, the loss of political stability and of individual dignity.
  23. Notgeld. Neil MacGregor examines the emergency money – Notgeld – created during World War One and its aftermath. Small denomination coins began to disappear because their metal was worth more than their face value. People hoarded them or melted them down. Paper notes replaced coins, but as cities produced their own money, there was also currency made from porcelain, linen, silk, leather, wood, coal, cotton and playing cards. He also focuses on the crisis of hyperinflation in the early 1920s. At its peak, prices doubled every three and a half days, and in 1923 a 500 million mark note might buy a loaf of bread.
  24. Degenerate Art. Neil MacGregor examines how the Nazis attacked art they viewed as “entartet” – degenerate. He charts how Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, led a process designed to purify all German culture, including books, music, paintings and pottery. The programme focuses on a vase created by Grete Marks, with an evident debt to Chinese ceramics, and a loose brush-splashed glaze suggestive of modernist painting. Goebbels condemned this vase in his newspaper Der Angriff – The Attack. Grete Marks, who was Jewish and had trained at the Bauhaus, left Germany for England.
  25. Buchenwald. Neil MacGregor visits Buchenwald, one of the earliest and largest concentration camps.
  26. The Germans Expelled. Neil MacGregor focuses on a small hand-cart to tell the story of how more than 12 million Germans fled or were forced out of Central and Eastern Europe after 1945.
  27. Out of the Rubble. Neil MacGregor talks to a Trümmerfrau, a woman who cleared rubble from the Berlin streets in 1945, and focuses on a sculpture by Max Lachnit made from hundreds of pieces of rubble.
  28. The New German Jews. Germany today has the fastest-growing Jewish population in Western Europe. Neil MacGregor visits a synagogue in Offenbach, near Frankfurt, which was inaugurated in 1956.
  29. Barlach’s Angel. Neil MacGregor focuses on Ernst Barlach’s sculpture Hovering Angel, a unique war memorial, commissioned in 1926 to hang in the cathedral in Güstrow.
  30. Reichstag. Neil MacGregor ends his journey through 600 years of German history at the Reichstag, seat of the German Parliament.

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, Goethe in der Campagna (1787), Wikipedia

Eisenstein filmography

October 4 2014

1923 Дневник Глумова (Glumov’s Diary) (short)

1925 Стачка (Strike), set in 1903

1925 Броненосец Потемкин (The Battleship Potemkin)

1927 Октябрь «Десять дней, которые потрясли мир» (October: Ten Days That Shook the World)

1929 Старое и новое «Генеральная линия» (The General Line, or Old And New)

1930 Romance sentimentale (France, with Grigori Aleksandrov)

1932 Да здравствует Мексика! (¡Que viva México!, released in 1979)

1937 Бежин луг (Bezhin Meadow)

1938 Александр Невский (Alexander Nevsky), score by Prokofiev

1944 Иван Грозный 1-я серия (Ivan The Terrible, Part I), score by Prokofiev

1945 Иван Грозный 2-я серия (Ivan The Terrible, Part II), score by Prokofiev

Not complete.


October 4 2014

Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, made in 1925, is about a mutiny that occurred during the 1905 revolution.

Fiftieth anniversary edition with a Shostakovich soundtrack, mainly the fifth symphony (which opens and closes the film), but there are also passages from 4, 8, 10 and 11 (analysis here):

In hi res here with a different soundtrack (not sure by whom, but here is information on all its soundtracks).

Shostakovich’s eleventh symphony, The Year 1905, was premiered October 30 1957, close to the fortieth anniversary of the October revolution, by the USSR Symphony Orchestra under Natan Rakhlin.

Adagio (The Palace Square)Allegro (The 9th of January) (Julian calendar), Adagio (Eternal Memory)Allegro non troppo (Tocsin).

BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Royal Albert Hall, August 16 2005:

1905 (other post).


October 3 2014

Eisenstein’s October: Ten Days That Shook the World, made in 1927, with the soundtrack composed by Shostakovich in 1966 for the fiftieth anniversary of the revolution:

Shostakovich made a tone poem, October, from the soundtrack in 1967; Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Järvi:

Shostakovich’s second symphony, To October, was produced for the tenth anniversary of the revolution, like Eisenstein’s film. Shostakovich described the second of its four sections in a letter to Boleslav Yavorsky as the “death of a child” killed on the Nevsky Prospekt. It has a choral finale by Alexander Bezymensky praising Lenin and the revolution. London Philharmonic, Bernard Haitink:

Shostakovich’s purely orchestral twelfth symphony, composed in 1961 and not one of his best, is called The Year 1917, but doesn’t seem to cover both revolutions.

The first movement describes revolutionary Petrograd, the second Lenin’s headquarters at Razliv outside the city. The third movement is called Aurora, after the battleship that fired at the Winter Palace. The last, The Dawn of Humanity, describes Soviet life under the guidance of Lenin.

This is the premiere, October 1 1961 (YouTube says 1960), Leningrad Philharmonic, Yevgeny Mravinsky:

The Julian or Old Style October 25 1917, the date of the armed insurrection in Petrograd, corresponds to November 7 in the Gregorian or New Style calendar. On January 24 1918 the Council of People’s Commissars decreed that Wednesday January 31 was to be followed by Thursday February 14.

The rather moving last October revolution parade on November 7 1990, two days before the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall; the USSR was dissolved on December 26 1991; there had been no parade that year, the year of the attempted coup (the vodka coup):

On June 12 1991, before the attempted coup, Yeltsin was elected by popular vote to the newly-created post of President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, one of the fifteen constituent republics of the USSR. He had previously been Chairman of the Presidium of its Supreme Soviet.

On the resignation of Gorbachev and the dissolution of the USSR, Yeltsin remained in office as the President of the Russian Federation, one of the USSR’s successor states. Putin succeeded him in 2000.

Carry on lying

July 20 2014


April 12 2014

Why do Scandinavians use the Christian name Magnus?

Because Charlemagne conquered and christianised the Saxons and brought a sort of civilisation to the pagan Scandinavians’ border. Whether that was or was not connected with the start, immediately afterwards, of the Scandinavians’ raids and conquests to their east, south and west is another matter.

A freak of nature

January 26 2014

By a freakish stroke of Fortune, there was born into the purple of the Russian Orthodox Christian universal state at Moscow, on the 30th May, 1672, a genius endowed with a completely Western êthos – and this not even the êthos of his own Western contemporaries, but the êthos of their descendants in the sixth or seventh generation, whose time was not to come till some two centuries had gone by! Peter the Great was an incomprehensible and therefore disagreeable lusus Naturae in the eyes of an English Bishop Burnet or a Dutch King William III, as well as in the eyes of a Russian Arch-Priest Avvakum [leader of the Old Believers]. When Burnet met Peter in A.D. 1698, he pronounced him sordid-minded, and saw nothing more in him than a young Barbarian potentate who happened to be a good ship’s carpenter. When William met him, he complained that he had no aesthetic sense, and no knowledge of the Dutch language apart from a jargon of nautical technicalities. These worthy representatives of the modern culture of the West did not, and could not, guess that, in their encounter with this repulsive mechanically-minded barbarian, they were being given a glimpse into their own society’s future and were being shown a prototype of the typical Homo Occidentalis who was to adorn an age two centuries beyond their own! For us, their descendants, who have the fortune to live in these latter days, the figure of Peter has ceased to be enigmatic. We have no hesitation in placing Peter the Great in the same portrait-gallery as Edison and Ford and Rhodes and Northcliffe and Mark Twain’s Yankee at the Court of King Arthur and Mr. Shaw’s Straker in Man and Superman.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

Tchaikovsky en route to Davos

January 19 2014

We have met Tchaikovsky in Davos in November 1884, a visit which left its mark on his Manfred symphony.

We have heard a piece of choral music which he composed there.

On the way to Davos, in Berlin in the same month, he composed this:

Chamber Orchestra Kremlin, Misha Rachlevsky, Rachmaninov Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, September 2008

Tchaikovsky left Saint Petersburg for Davos on 1/13 November. He stopped in Berlin for four days. There, on 6/18 November, the piece was completed (according to the date on the manuscript).

He called it A Grateful Greeting. It had been commissioned by the Moscow Society of Artists as part of a tribute to an actor and director, Ivan Samarin.

On 7/19 November 1884, he wrote from Munich to his brother Modest: “I stayed so long in Berlin, because I needed to be able to compose quickly […] an entr’acte for the Samarin production. The latter has been done and dispatched.”

He saw Weber’s Oberon there which, to his surprise, he enjoyed. has details of all Tchaikovsky’s travels. One could write an essay called Tchaikovsky’s hotels

A little of the ethos of those hotels lingered in 2006, when I was last there, at the Schatzalp in Davos, with its soup at mealtimes, its Tauchnitz library, its regular hours, its airy and austere rooms. I think they were still keeping your napkin for you from meal to meal. The few WEF participants who stayed there dimly suggested the international society which gathered in Swiss hotels in the belle époque.

Foreboding at Vevey (old post).

The Schatzalp was not the unnamed Davos hotel which Tchaikovsky visited. Nor, though it started as a sanatorium, was it the one where Yosif Kotek, his tubercular friend, whom he was visiting, was staying.

The first performance of the Samarin piece was conducted by Ippolit Altani at Samarin’s jubilee concert at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow on 16/28 December, under its original title, A Grateful Greeting.

Samarin died in the following year. Tchaikovsky published the piece in 1890 with the title Elegy and dedication In Memory of I.V. Samarin and used it as the entr’acte preceding Act IV in his music for a production of Hamlet at the Mariinskii Theatre in 1891.

There are other versions on YouTube, with the USSR Symphony Orchestra and Svetlanov, with the Academia de Muzică, Teatru și Arte Plastice of Chișinău and Patrick Strub, and with the Novosibirsk Philharmonic and Thomas Sanderling. There is also the complete Hamlet music with the Russian National Orchestra and Pletnev. (Or nearly compete. Didn’t it have a soprano song?)

Elegies belong to strings. Fauré’s and Elgar’s were for strings. Grieg wrote Two Elegiac Melodies for Strings. Stravinsky wrote one for solo viola. Tchaikovsky’s other elegy for strings is the third movement of the 1880 Serenade.

There are really two Tchaikovsky winter symphonies: the first, which I posted recently, and Manfred. The marking lugubre occurs in both. The finale of the first begins with an andante lugubre. Manfred begins with a lento lugubre. For me, Manfred is, on the evidence of Svetlanov’s reading, Tchaikovsky’s greatest orchestral composition. That is a controversial view. He wrote it at the same time as Brahms was writing his greatest, the fourth symphony.

Poulenc composed much of the Dialogues des carmélites at the Majestic Hotel in Cannes in the ’50s and talks on film somewhere about a cycle of working in his room and going down to the bar and going back to work.

From Davos Tchaikovsky travelled to Paris and thence, in December, back to Russia.

Winter Daydreams

December 30 2013

Tchaikovsky, Symphony 1, performers not stated.

Dreams of a Winter Journey. Allegro tranquillo.

Land of Desolation, Land of Mists. Adagio cantabile ma non tanto.

Scherzo. Allegro scherzando giocoso.

Finale. Andante lugubre – Allegro maestoso.


The sick man of Europe

September 17 2013

[The] picture of the Turk as “the Sick Man” has had a curious history. It substituted itself in the imagination of the West for the older picture, in which the Westerner was the sinner and the Turk was the Scourge of God, divinely commissioned to chastise him, sometime between the raising of the second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 and the establishment of the Russians on the shores of the Black Sea through the Peace Treaty of 1774. The phrase in which the new concept of the Turk finally found its classical expression was coined by the Czar Nicholas I in 1853, during a conversation with the British Ambassador in St. Petersburg. “We have on our hands a sick man – a very sick man. … He may suddenly die upon our hands. …”  From that day to this, the imminent decease of the supposed invalid has perpetually been awaited by his neighbours – by some of them with pleasurable expectancy, by others with anxiety, but by all with a dogmatic faith which seems capable of surviving any number of disillusionments. It was awaited in 1876 and in 1912 and, most confidently of all, in 1914; and now, when the Turk has given incontrovertible evidence of outward health and vigour by imposing the peace-settlement of Lausanne upon the victorious Allied Powers, his imminent dissolution through some hidden internal disease is prophesied with all the old assurance. We are told that the ravages of siphylis [sic] will extinguish the population of Turkey in three generations, or that the Turk cannot mend his own boots or work his own locomotives and will therefore perish through sheer economic incapacity now that alien minorities have been driven out. This persistence of the “Sick Man” theory indicates how powerfully the Western attitude towards Turkey is governed by a priori notions and how little it is based upon objective facts; for, as it has turned out, “the man recovered from the bite, the dog it was that died.” [Goldsmith.] At the time of writing, seventy-three years after Czar Nicholas I pronounced his celebrated verdict, the Czardom has vanished not only from St. Petersburg but from the face of Russia, whereas the Turkish “Sick Man” has taken up his bed and walked from Constantinople to Angora, where, to all appearance, he is benefiting by the change of air.

The words “of Europe”, which are used in the paragraph preceding this, ceased to have much meaning after the autumn of 1912. In the 1970s, the UK was called “the sick man of Europe” because of industrial strife and poor economic performance compared to other Common Market countries, culminating in the Winter of Discontent of 1978-79. Nowadays, the phrase is applied to Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece.

Bernard Partridge

Bernard Partridge, Punch, April 7 1915; boor and sycophant

With Kenneth P Kirkwood, Turkey, in The Modern World series edited by HAL Fisher, Benn, 1926; it is unclear which passages are by which author, but this reads like Toynbee

Putin fact-checked

September 12 2013

By Max Fisher, Washington Post. There’s a kind of historical interest in all this.

The rise of Reza Pahlavi

September 7 2013

An account from 1926. Toynbee seems innocent of the idea that Britain had had a hand in the coup of 1921.

The Persian point of view (background in recent post).

Atatürk and Reza Shah

Atatürk and Reza Shah, Flickr credit: zenbuoyzenbuoy

On December 13, 1925, a Persian constituent assembly, sitting in Tehran, elected a King of Kings and made the crown of Persia hereditary in his family. The new shah was Reza Khan Pahlevi, a man of action who, starting from the rank of simple private soldier in a Persian force organized and officered by a foreign power, had risen during five years to be the real ruler of a genuinely independent Persia. The crown and the title that he received at the end of 1925 merely registered what was already the outstanding fact in the internal politics and the international relations of Persia, the personal ascendancy of Reza Pahlevi.

Meanwhile, on October 31, the ordinary Persian Madjless or Parliament had deposed the existing dynasty and its representative, Ahmed Shah, who for two years had been going the round of European watering-places in an indefinitely protracted foreign tour.

Thus Ahmed Shah gave place to Reza Shah, and the dynasty of the Kajars to the dynasty of the Pahlevis. In one sense this was a very old story; in another sense it was part of a new chapter in the history of the Islamic world.

The dramatic personal career of Reza Shah, though it naturally strikes the imagination of the Western public, is not a novelty in the Orient. The boy who mounts from the lowest rung of the social ladder to be a king in the literal sense of the word is as familiar a figure in the East as the self-made coal king, railway king, meat king, or oil king is in Europe or America. Men who have started as peasants or brigands, camel-drivers or coppersmiths, have repeatedly founded Oriental monarchies and handed them down to their heirs – or, rather, to a limited number of heirs, for in politics as in business, the work of the self-made man is likely to be undone by successors who reap where they have not sown.

The greatest of the Moslem political philosophers, Ibn Khaldun, lays down the general law that hereditary political power is invariably lost by the great-grandson of the founder. The deposed Ahmed Shah was the seventh sovereign of his line, but on the whole Ibn Khaldun’s law is as true for politics in Persia as the proverb, “It is three generations from shirt-sleeves to shirt-sleeves,” is true for business in America.

At the same time, the rise of Reza Pahlevi is not altogether an old story, even from the Oriental point of view, for Reza Shah is one among a new group of leaders who have appeared simultaneously all over the Islamic world since the end of the World War. Reza Pahlevi in Persia is akin to Abd-el-Krim in Morocco, Mustafa Kemal Pasha in Turkey, and Amanullah (the present amir) in Afghanistan. They were all brought up under the shadow of foreign domination. They all, when they were still young and undistinguished, formed the resolve to save their country’s independence. And they all set about their task by deliberately learning from the foreigner in order to fight him with his own weapons. They have not fought Western civilization. They have realized that their countries have been suffering not so much from the immorality of the foreign aggressors as from the operation of a universal and inexorable social law, which decrees that the weak-kneed and incompetent must give place to the efficient and the strong.


Before reviewing Reza Shah’s career, it may be well to take a glance at the Persia in which he grew up and which formed his mental background. During Reza Shah’s childhood and youth (he was born about 1877) the outstanding institution in Persia was an irresponsible despotism. Before completing the cycle of its existence, the Kajar Dynasty had produced shahs of three out of the four recognized varieties: the vicious strong man, the amiable weak man, and the vicious weak man, who is the worst of all. This, though bad, could be borne, for it was a familiar evil; but during the last quarter of the nineteenth century the Kajar sovereigns of Persia discovered the West, a discovery which had always made Oriental despots intolerable to their subjects, sooner or later. The native traditions of Oriental life set a limit to the extortion and extravagance of Oriental rulers by circumscribing their possible self-indulgences, but as soon as they learn to use Western luxuries, and to pay for them by borrowing money in Western markets, there are no bounds to the ravages which they may commit, not only upon the wealth of their subjects but upon the political independence of their countries. An Oriental sovereign who is hopelessly in debt to private Western money-lenders soon finds himself in the political power of the government which claims these money-lenders as its nationals. If he cannot pay in cash, he must pay in concessions, tariff agreements, or leases of territory; and when his subjects become restive at the betrayal of the public interests, he is driven to commit himself still more deeply to the foreign power and to rely on foreign bayonets for protection against his own people. Reza Pahlevi learned his soldiering – and learned it most effectively – by enlisting in the Cossack Brigade which Russian officers were organizing for the reigning Kajar shah with the double object of keeping the shah on his throne by force and of bringing that throne under the shadow of the Russian Empire. The crisis began with the constitutional revolution of 1906, a Persian echo of the greater upheaval which had been convulsing Russia since the Japanese war. Losing their patience at last, the Persian people introduced a parliamentary régime and girded themselves for the task of placing their country on her feet.

The revolution of 1906, however, was only the first chapter. The Persian Cossack Brigade, under its Russian commander, soon found itself fighting to overthrow the Madjless and restore the absolute monarchy. The counter-revolution was foiled, and in 1909 the reactionary shah, Mohammad Ali, was forced to leave the country and find asylum in Russia; but this constitutional victory was bought at the price of a Russian military occupation of Tabriz, the second city of Persia and the citadel of the constitutional movement. Moreover in 1907 the prospects of Persian independence had received a blow through the reversal of British policy in the Middle East under the stress of the situation in Europe. Fear of Germany had induced the British government to go into partnership with Russia; and the price of Russian cooperation in Europe was that Russia should have things her own way in Persia. Under the Anglo-Russian Agreement of 1907, in the negotiation of which the Persian government was not consulted, Persia was divided into a Russian and a British zone with a neutral zone between them. The spirit of the Anglo-Russian Agreement was tested in 1911, when the Persian government engaged a private American citizen, Mr. W. Morgan Shuster, as its financial adviser, and the Russian government compelled the Persian government to dismiss Mr. Shuster as soon as it became apparent that he was making effective progress in putting Persian finances in order. Not content with Mr. Shuster’s dismissal, the Russian government sought to repress Persian nationalism by methods of barbarism in Tabriz and had the Cossack Brigade fall upon the Madjless at Tehran and disperse it by artillery-fire.

The climax of Persia’s humiliation was reached during the World War; for though Persia was not a belligerent, her territory was marched over and fought over by Russians, Turks, and British like a no-man’s-land. Meanwhile, in 1915, Great Britain had insisted that the neutral zone in Persia should be added to her zone in return for the acquisition of Constantinople by Russia; and Russia had consented on condition that in her own zone in Persia she should receive a free hand. Thus the partition of Persia between the Russian and the British empires was almost an accomplished fact when it was unexpectedly voided by the Russian Revolution. Yet this miraculous escape from one danger only exposed Persia to another. The temporary elimination of Russia left Great Britain in military and political control, not only of all Persia, but of the Russian border territories of Transcaspia and Transcaucasia; and the new situation was reflected in the Anglo-Persian Agreement of 1919, which was negotiated by Lord Curzon – with a Persian government which was almost avowedly unrepresentative of the Persian people – while the Peace Conference was in session at Paris.

These were the sensational and distressing experiences in the midst of which Reza Pahlevi learned his trade. He showed that he had profited by them as soon as he found his opportunity to play an active part in his country’s affairs.

Reza’s opportunity presented itself because the various foreign aggressors successively canceled each other out, while the Persian nation’s power of passive endurance outstayed the active energy of her neighbors. The Russians and British turned the Turks out of western Persia; the Russian Revolution caused the Russians to withdraw; and the steady pressure of the British taxpayer combined with the sound strategic instinct of the British War Office (which desired, from the moment of the Armistice, to extricate itself from outlying military commitments), and with a well timed military stroke delivered by the Bolsheviki, to bring about the evacuation of Persia by the British forces in their turn. Once the British troops were withdrawn [late 1920?], the administrative, financial, and military advice which was to be furnished to the Persian government by British officials, under the Anglo-Persian Agreement of 1919, was deprived of effective sanctions. Had the advisers got into the saddle at once, they might perhaps even so have held Persia under control; but here they were baffled by the Persian genius for passive resistance. The one point which was apparently overlooked by Lord Curzon and his Persian friends who signed the agreement of 1919 was that under Article 24 of the Persian Constitution of 1906 every public treaty, covenant, or concession negotiated by the Persian government had to be ratified by the Madjless; and the Madjless, like Humpty-Dumpty, proved easier to pull down than to set up again. Artillery can disperse a parliament in session by bringing down the roof about its ears, but it cannot conduct a general election and induce the deputies to assemble. The agreement hung fire while the Madjless omitted to reconstitute itself, and at this point the Bolsheviki gave Reza Pahlevi his opportunity by taking a hand in the game.

The departure of the British troops from Transcausasia [sic] in the summer of 1919, and the collapse of [the White Russian] General Denikin in the last months of the same year, reopened for the Red army the road to Persia. In the early summer of 1920 they landed in force on the Caspian coast, seized General Denikin’s fleet in the Persian port of Enzeli (since renamed Pahlevi in honor of the new shah), and pushed back the advanced detachments of the weak British army of occupation. The Persian government of the day, which was acting in the British interest, sent against the Red invaders the Persian Cossack Division, which was still officered by White Russians, though the force was now financed by a British subsidy. The Cossacks – among whom Reza Pahlevi had gradually risen to one of the highest positions open to a Persian member of the division – advanced against the Reds and gained some successes; but the attitude of the White Russian officers became so dubious that in the late autumn of 1920 the British military authorities in Persia removed them, and the Persian Cossack Division became a purely Persian force with British military instructors. Thus a trained and organized Persian corps, which had been created to serve Russian imperialist interests, passed in the end into Persian hands; and Reza Pahlevi, after serving his long apprenticeship under Russian teachers, found himself with an effective force at his back to be used for Persian national purposes.

The Cossacks now made common cause with the Constitutionalists, and in February, 1921, Reza Pahlevi marched from Kazvin, the Cossack headquarters, upon the capital. Tehran was occupied on February 21, the Anglophile government overthrown, and a nationalist government formed with Sayyid Zia ad Din as prime minister and Reza as commander-in-chief of the army. Zia ad Din’s term of office was signalized by the denunciation of the Anglo-Persian Agreement of 1919 and by the signing of a treaty with the Soviet government on February 26.

From the moment when the Persian Cossacks escaped from both Russian and British control, it was evident that if they produced a strong man from among their Persian officers, he would have the government of Persia in his hands. The opportunity found Reza Pahlevi ready to seize it, and from February, 1921, he has gone from strength to strength. He was appointed minister of war as well as commander-in-chief a few weeks after Sayyid Zia ad Din became premier, and he held this post continuously until he chose to combine the premiership with it [1923]. Meanwhile successive premiers went and came at Reza Pahlevi’s dictation, the first to go (May, 1921) being the sayyid himself.

Reza assumed the premiership on October 28, 1923, and thereupon Shah Ahmed Kajar started on that foreign tour from which, as it has turned out, he has not returned. The day after Reza Pahlevi became prime minister of Persia, the National Assembly at Angora proclaimed Turkey a republic and elected Mustafa Kemal Pasha as her first president. Reza Pahlevi was naturally impressed by the career of a brilliant soldier who was the national hero of the leading country in the Islamic world, and it is almost certain that he intended to have himself elected first president of a Persian republic on the next Persian New Year’s day, which fell on March 21, 1924. In this regard he suffered the only serious rebuff he has encountered so far.

The first stages went well. The Madjless assembled on March 13; a meeting of forty ex-premiers, cabinet ministers, and other notables called upon Reza to declare in favor of a republic and to make arrangements with the Madjless for the election of a president; pro-republican demonstrations were made in Tehran; pro-republican telegrams poured in from the provinces. Meanwhile, however, there had been fresh developments in Turkey which again influenced the course of events in Persia, though this time in a contrary sense. On March 3 the Turkish National Assembly had not only abolished the caliphate but had secularized the Turkish state and had drastically disestablished the Islamic ecclesiastical organization. Persia and Turkey belong to different sects; but the Persian ecclesiastics argued nevertheless that the proclamation of a republic in Persia would involve them In the same fate as had overtaken their Turkish confrères. They therefore threw the whole weight of their influence into the anti-republican scales; anti-republican counter-demonstrations began; and before the Persian New Year’s day arrived, Reza felt it advisable to beat a retreat. He went off to confer with the leading religious jurisconsults in the holy city of Kum, and he proclaimed at the beginning of April that the establishment of a republic was contrary to religion and that all further mention of the subject was prohibited.

Superficially, at any rate, Reza’s position was weakened by this fiasco, and he had to demonstrate that he was indispensable by resigning office on April 7 and resuming it with some show of reluctance at the pressing entreaty of his countrymen. If Reza Pahlevi had failed to become the first president of a new Persian republic, he might still become the first shah of a new dynasty on the ancient throne of the Persian Empire.

The first step in this new move was taken on February 14, 1925, when the Madjless passed a bill appointing Reza generalissimo of all the armed forces of Persia and making him irremovable except by the same body. The next step was the deposition, by another vote of the Madjless on October 31, 1925, of the reigning Shah Ahmed and the whole Kajar Dynasty into the bargain. By the same resolution, the maintenance of a provisional government was intrusted to Reza Pahlevi, pending the election of a constituent assembly.

The final inevitable step occurred on December 12, when the constituent assembly, duly meeting, conferred the crown of Persia upon Reza Pahlevi and his heirs forever. The new shah took the oath on the fifteenth of the same month.


What is the secret of this meteoric career, and what has Reza Shah Pahlevi done to deserve so well of his fellow-countrymen? To these two questions there is a single answer. He has built up a national army which, though small in numbers (it probably does not exceed forty thousand men all told), has nevertheless proved itself an efficient fighting force and, almost for the first time in history, has established the effective authority of the central government over all the territories and populations within the Persian frontiers.

How has he achieved this? At first sight it seems miraculous, considering the poor reputation of the Persian as a fighting man. Yet this miracle, if it is a miracle, has been performed by the same simple means that have enabled a number of modern Western powers to acquire vast Oriental empires.

How did the English make themselves masters of India? Not by importing legions of Nordic supermen, but by turning a small select body of Indian troops into better soldiers than their fellow-countrymen. And how did they endow their Indian troops with this military superiority? Simply by making sure that they should be properly and regularly fed, clothed, and housed and properly and regularly paid; in other words, by the prosaic but fundamental Western virtues of business honesty and efficiency, by superiority in the arts of the caterer and the accountant rather than by superiority in physique and valor. From 1921 onward, Reza has systematically asserted the authority of the central government in one sector of the country after another, his crowning triumph being the unconditional surrender, at the end of 1924, of Sheikh Khaz’al, the Arab ruler of Mohammerah on the Persian bank of the Shat-el-Arab, who, since before the World War, had been virtually a sovereign prince with a private agreement of his own with the British government.

It must not be supposed, however, that, because his policy is simple, it is also crude. When Dr. Millspaugh arrived at Tehran in the autumn of 1922, he found that certain revenues had been deflected from the Ministry of Finance and were being paid direct into the coffers of the Ministry of War; but Reza’s vision was not bounded by this provisional solution of his financial problem. He realized that if the general public finance and administration of the country remained unsound, the exaction of his pound of flesh would only hasten the hour of death and dissolution, and that then, in the general ruin of Persia, the Persian new-model army would perish irretrievably.

Having grasped this simple but fundamental truth, Reza Pahlevi gave his hearty support to the policy of engaging private American citizens as financial experts. It is interesting to observe the difference in his attitudes toward the unfortunate British financial adviser who was attempting to establish control when Reza made the coup d’état of February, 1921, and toward the American advisers who arrived at Tehran the next year on the invitation of the Persian government with no political ax to grind. Reza kept the Englishman’s hands off the finances of the Persian army by that kind of stolid passive resistance at which Persians are adepts; but the sequel showed that he was pursuing a patriotic and legitimate aim in thus concentrating as much power as possible in his own hands. Less than two years later, when Dr. Millspaugh asked him to restore to the Ministry of Finance those revenues which he had diverted in the meanwhile to the Ministry of War as security for the army budget, he agreed without demur, because he understood that Dr. Millspaugh’s sole object was to restore Persian finance without any thought of simultaneously establishing an American political ascendancy, and because he perceived that if Dr. Millspaugh succeeded in his endeavor, this would enable Reza himself to increase the efficiency of the army proportionately. Evidently Dr. Millspaugh acted with great tact in this delicate negotiation; nevertheless the transaction, which has been the foundation of Persia’s remarkable recovery during the last few years, could hardly have been concluded satisfactorily if the Persian soldier of fortune had not shown the same breadth of view as the American financial expert.

Enough has now been said to demonstrate that Reza Shah Pahlevi is a remarkable man, but what about the Pahlevi Dynasty? How many generations, the skeptical reader will ask, is it to be this time from shirtsleeves to shirt-sleeves? Is Ibn Khaldun’s law of dynastic cycles destined to be repeated again? Certainly there is no reason to suppose that the descendants of Reza Shah Pahlevi will maintain his level of character and ability any better than the nephews and great-nephews of Agha Muhammad Khan Kajar; yet there is one fresh factor which must be taken into account. The new dynasty has been founded in a new Persia, a Persia with a national consciousness and a national parliament, and if Reza Shah’s heirs turn out to be lesser men than he, they are less likely to be overthrown as incompetent despots than to survive as harmless constitutional monarchs. It may be, therefore, that the old series of dynastic cycles has been broken and that Persia’s feet are now securely set upon a westward road. The new national consciousness is very much alive, and Reza Shah Pahlevi, the self-made man, is a true representative of his nation, for, in spite of the foreign quality of his Parthian surname, he comes from the province of Mazandaran, which in times of adversity has often been the citadel of Persian national independence. The only condition which the constituent assembly attached to the hereditary principle was that Reza Shah’s successors on the throne must be born of Persian mothers, and this was a deliberate reversal of the law of the Kajar Dynasty, which was that successors to the throne must be born of Kajar princesses. The strange fact was that the Kajars were not Persians at all but a Turkish clan, speaking a Turkish dialect as their household language. Thus, until last year, a necessary qualification for succeeding to the Persian throne was that the candidate should be of non-Persian descent on both sides! In this as in other respects the Kajar Dynasty stood for a dispensation under which Oriental peoples existed for the benefit of their rulers, whereas Reza Shah Pahlevi has been elected to the Persian throne by the chosen representatives of the Persian people because he has served the nation well in the past and is expected to serve it no less faithfully hereafter.

He writes in his usual tone of jaunty optimism about rulers emerging in a post- or neo-colonial age.

Reza Shah was anti-British, anti-Russian (despite the friendship treaty with Russia) and pro-German in his sympathies and was forced to abdicate by the Anglo-Soviet invasion of 1941. His son took over and reigned until deservedly overthrown by the Islamic revolution of 1979.

The Strong Man of Persia: Reza Shah Has a Firm Grip on the Reins, The Century Magazine, Vol 112, No 5, September 1926

The Persian point of view

September 5 2013

We may also reflect upon a conversation which took place between a British statesman and a Persian visitor some time after the peace-settlement which followed the General War of 1914-18. The Persian was saying that he could not understand how the British Government, which he acknowledged to be intrinsically honourable and liberal-minded, had brought itself to pursue in Persia, from A.D. 1907 onwards, a policy which he could only describe as a cynical sacrifice of the rights and welfare of an innocent, friendly, and defenceless country on the altar of the Anglo-Russian entente. The British statesman, who had been largely responsible for the policy and who was of a frank, straightforward disposition, admitted to his visitor that Persia had been deliberately sacrificed; “but”, he added, “the British policy which you criticize was not pursued by us in a cynical frame of mind. In matters of statesmanship, choices are usually limited; and in this case, with only two alternatives before us, we were simply choosing the lesser of two evils: the risk of allowing Russia to destroy the independence of Persia rather than the risk of seeing Russia remain neutral or even take the German side in the then imminent event of a European War. If, seven years later, Germany had started the Great War with Russia as an ally or indeed as a neutral, she would certainly have won the War; and that would not only have been the end of the British Empire. It would have been the end of Civilization. When Civilization was at stake, how could we act otherwise than we did? Put yourself in our place, and answer me with your hand on your heart.”

At this the Persian, who had at first been mildly puzzled and aggrieved, completely lost his temper. His heart burnt within him and a torrent of denunciation issued from his lips: “Your policy was infinitely more wicked than I had suspected! The cynicism of it is beyond imagination! You have the effrontery to look me in the face and tell me complacently that you have deliberately sacrificed the unique treasure which Persia preserves for Humanity – the priceless jewel of Civilization – on the off-chance of saving your worthless Western Society from the catastrophe which its own greed and pugnacity were inevitably bringing upon its head! Put myself in your place, indeed! What should I have cared, and what do I care now, if Europe perish so long as Persia lives!” Therewith, he indignantly took his leave; and the British statesman found himself unable to feel certain that his visitor’s indignation was unjustified or his point of view unreasonable. Was it Europe or Persia that held the seed from which the life of the future was to spring? Perhaps the answer to that question could not, after all, be taken for granted. Perhaps it could only be given by Time and only be read correctly by some historian looking back upon the year 1907 of the Christian Era from a distance of many centuries.

In the nineteenth century, Britain’s policy had been to prop up Turkey as a bulwark against Russia. Now it made plans for the Ottoman Empire’s dismemberment. I’ll write about Greek and Russian relations with Turkey, and with Britain in relation to Turkey, from 1907 to ’23 in another post.

The Russian revolution gave the British a free hand in Persia for three years. Then, in 1920, the Red Army invaded. The British removed them and then withdrew their own forces.

Having beaten Germany and retreated from the Russian Civil War, they continued to interfere with Persia’s internal affairs, as they had done long before 1907. In the nineteenth century, Persia had been a pawn in the Great Game (main phase 1813-1907). Now, whatever its traditional concerns about Russia, Britain had oil interests to defend. Oil had been discovered in Masjed Soleiman in 1908, leading to the formation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the antecedent of BP.

Britain played a part in the coup of Reza Khan in 1921: he had helped to expel the Red Army. But as commander-in-chief, then prime minister, then Shah (from 1925, when the Qajar dynasty fell), he was anti-British before he was anti-Russian. It was anti-British, not pro-Russian, sentiment which had caused the Persian parliament to accept the 1921 Russo-Persian Treaty. In 1935 he renamed the country Iran.

Britain and Russia invaded Iran in 1941, again partly to forestall Germany.

Britain and the US jointly organised the coup against Mossadegh in 1953. The US had had advisers in Persia before the First World War, but was the Shah’s main prop from 1953 until the revolution of 1979.

A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934

Foreboding at Vevey

September 3 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Vevey is a beautiful town, sloping towards Lake Geneva.

Old posts:

Tchaikovsky on communism

Davos 1884


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


August 29 2013

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

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


August 15 2013


Chinatowns in Africa

Chinatowns in Asia

Chinatowns in Australia

Chinatowns in Canada

Chinatowns in Europe

Chinatowns in Latin America

Chinatowns in the Middle East, but are any real?

Chinatowns in Oceania

Chinatowns in the United States

Oldest. Anywhere: Manila. In Japan: Nagasaki. In Americas: Mexico City. In US: San Francisco. In Canada: Victoria. In Australia: Melbourne. In Europe: Liverpool. The oldest are never the largest.

Largest. In US: New York, followed by San Francisco. In Canada: Vancouver, followed by Toronto. In Japan: Yokohama, followed by Kobe, followed by Nagasaki (the three official Chinatowns). In Australia: Sydney, followed by Melbourne. In Britain: London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle.

In the Netherlands: Amsterdam, followed by The Hague, followed by Rotterdam. In Belgium: Antwerp (the only official one). In France: Paris, the main one in the 13th arrondissement.

The only official Chinatown in Korea is in Incheon. There are Chinatowns in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Jakarta’s is in a district called Glodok. The only real Chinatown in India is in Kolkata.

It is odd, in the case of Singapore, to have a Chinatown in a country that is ethnically Chinese. The word at least pays lip service to Singapore’s multiculturalism. There is no Chinatown in Tokyo.

Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo do not have well-defined areas. Buenos Aires has a small Chinatown. Moscow and Berlin do not have historic Chinatowns.

Many Chinatowns are in decline or are being replaced by China-themed malls. Flight of upwardly-mobile Chinese in US to the suburbs.

Chinese laundries in North America.


Chinatown cooks

Manhattan, Wikimedia Commons

Lenin’s withdrawal and return

July 21 2013

Withdrawal-and-Return is […] the key to the career of Lenin: [footnote: See Mirsky, D. S.: Lenin (London 1932, Holme Press).] the second Russian “Antichrist” whose intention it was to undo, and whose achievement it has been to consummate, the work of Westernization which was originally initiated by Peter. Born in 1870, Lenin entered, in 1893, upon the conventional revolutionary career of the Russian intellectual of his generation: an abortive agitation which ended in 1897 in banishment to Siberia. It was after his withdrawal from Russia to Switzerland in 1900, after his Siberian sentence had been served out, that Lenin came to know his own mind and began to impose his will upon the minds of his fellow revolutionaries. He came to the front in 1903, when a conference of Russian Marxian Socialists in exile, which was held that year in Brussels and London, resulted, by reason of Lenin’s masterful intransigence, in the historic split of the Russian Marxian Socialist Party into the two sects of Minoritarians (Mensheviki) and Majoritarians (Bolsheviki). From that time onwards Lenin, as leader of the “majoritarian” Bolshevik faction in the Russian Marxian Socialist camp, continued to gain in authority and prestige through the long course of an absence from Russia which extended, from first to last, from 1900 to 1917. And though this potent exile’s first return missed fire in the failure of the abortive Russian Revolution of 1905-7, [footnote: On this occasion, Lenin returned to Russia in November 1905 and withdrew again in December 1907.] his second return, when he appeared again in Russia from the West on the 4th April, 1917, will assuredly rank as one of the decisive events in the history of our Western Civilization and perhaps in the history of Mankind, as well as in the history of Russia. After twenty-four years of revolutionary work, of which some eighteen years had been spent at work in exile in Siberia and Europe, Lenin now returned, with seven more years of life before him, to carry out his tremendous life-work. Before he died in 1924 he had made himself master of the territory and population and resources of the ci-devant Russian Empire; and he had turned this mastery to account in order to put in hand – with a ruthlessness equal to Peter’s – the great experiment of translating the Marxian Utopia into real life on the grand scale.

Compare Khomeini’s exile in Turkey, Iraq and France, 1965-79.

A Study of History, Vol III, OUP, 1934

Ancient Crimea

July 13 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cimmerian darkness

Russian America

June 5 2013

Why does Petrenko (last post) say that the Russian Empire had got within fifty miles of San Francisco?

He is not getting his Alaskan geography wrong. He is referring to Fort Ross.

Semyon Dezhnev in 1648, not the Dane Vitus Bering, was the real European discoverer of the Bering Strait.

The first European boat to reach Alaska was probably the St Gabriel under the authority of the surveyor MS Gvozdev on August 21 1732. Did it land?

Bering led the first and second Kamchatka expeditions for the Russian Navy, 1725-30 and 1733-43. The second landed in Alaska in July 1741. After his crew returned to Russia with sea-otter pelts, associations of fur traders began to sail from Siberia towards the Aleutian islands and established trading posts. The first permanent European settlement in Alaska was founded in 1784.

The trading companies forced the Aleuts to work for them. As the animal populations declined, the Aleuts were coerced into taking greater and greater risks in dangerous waters. Much of the population was destroyed by Old World diseases.

In 1799, by decree of Tsar Paul I, a monopoly was given to a new state-sponsored chartered company, formed on the back of the Shelekhov-Golikov Company of Grigory Shelekhov and Ivan Larionovich Golikov. A third of the profits would go to the emperor.

The Russian-American Company had its capital at New Archangel or Novoarkhangelsk, present-day Sitka.

From 1812 to 1841, it ran a fur-trading colony at Fort Ross, which is actually about a hundred miles north of San Francisco. It was also an agricultural base from which Alaska and the islands could be supplied with food. (I presume it was within the Alta California claimed by the Viceroyalty of New Spain and then Mexico. San Francisco was a mission under the Spanish and attracted the first American homesteads during the 1830s under Mexico. The US won California from Mexico in the Mexican-American War of 1846.)

It established another outpost in Hawaii, Fort Elizabeth, active from 1814 to 1817, just before the arrival of the first American missionaries. What were the Russians looking for there?

By the 1830s, the monopoly was weakening. The British-controlled Hudson’s Bay Company set up posts on the southern edge of Russian America in 1839 and began siphoning off trade. The Americans were also becoming a force. They could sell furs to the Canton market, which was closed to the Russians.

If the mid-nineteenth century was a bad time for Russians in Alaska, conditions improved for the Aleuts, Koniags and Tlingits who had survived contact. The Tlingits were never conquered and continued to wage war on the Russians into the 1850s. The Aleut population had declined, but new naval officers of the Company established schools and hospitals and gave them jobs. Russian Orthodox clergy moved into the islands. The population began to increase.

But by the 1860s, the Russian government was considering ridding itself of Russian America. Over-hunting had reduced the fur-bearing animal population and competition from the British and Americans made matters worse. The colony was sold to the US in 1867 and all the holdings of the Russian-American Company were liquidated.

If Russia had retained Alaska, how different would the US psychology have been in the twentieth century? It would perhaps not have sold it a generation later.

Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959. Oil was discovered in Alaska in 1968.

Russian naval and merchant ships visited San Francisco. Some crew members were buried there. The Russian Hill cemetery was removed, but the name remains. The oldest Russian orthodox church in San Francisco, the Holy Trinity Cathedral, completed in 1857, is a few blocks away on Van Ness and Green Street, but the Russian community is mainly in the Richmond District.

North American fur trade: context (Wikipedia)

Russian sailors in the US, 1863

Imperial Russian sailors visiting the US (San Francisco?) in 1863, Harper’s Weekly, Flickr

New Archangel

New Archangel, drawn by Aleksandr Olgin, a Creole (half-Russian, half-native), July 1837, State Archive of the Russian Navy, St Petersburg, Wikimedia Commons

In praise of Vasily Petrenko

June 4 2013

Vasily Petrenko has the air of having been educated. In England there are pockets of educational excellence, but a universal or republican standard, however theoretical, creates a more natural person. He is a product of the Soviet system on one side. On the other, he belongs to a generation which had been exposed to the West, but had not been stupefied by junk culture. The interminable English debate about education is becoming debilitating. Get on with it. Educate.

Petrenko was resident conductor at the St Petersburg Opera and Ballet Theatre from 1994 to ’97 and has been chief conductor of the State Academy of St Petersburg since 1994. He has been chief conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra since 2006 (contract extended beyond 2015). Season trailers: 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14. Lives on the Wirral Peninsula. From 2013-14, he will simultaneously be chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic.

He’s giving Liverpool a musical glory it hasn’t had since the ’60s. Will he be regarded as a great conductor one day, with the last degree of concentration that those people bring? He won a prize for a Manfred recording with Liverpool, but it isn’t as good as Svetlanov’s. His Turangalîla was exciting at the Proms last year. But it’s with the National Youth Orchestra, which may be a better orchestra than the Liverpool Phil. I need to hear him in Mozart or English music.

YouTube comment: “How lucky and how perceptive of the Oslo Philharmonic to appoint Vasily Petrenko as their new chief conductor, in my opinion he is the finest of the young generation of conductors and does not go in for sensationalism but rather for pure music making.”

The RLPO was founded, as the Liverpool Philharmonic Society, in the year of Tchaikovsky’s birth, making it two years older than the Vienna Philharmonic and New York Philharmonic, eighteen years older than the more famous Hallé and forty-two years older than the St Petersburg Philharmonic and Berlin Philharmonic. Among the chief conductors in the early decades were Julius Benedict, Max Bruch, Charles Hallé. Frederick Cowen ruled 1896-1913. Interregnum, then Malcolm Sargent, John Pritchard, Charles Groves.

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 sinified until 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?

Song of the Bride

May 16 2013

The young Menuhin playing, with Hubert Giesen, an arrangement of the Song of the Bride from Rimsky’s The Tsar’s Bride. London, December 11 1930. Meeting Menuhin was one of the great moments of my life. I’ll describe it next time I write about Davos. Another post of the same recording.

The procession in Mlada

May 15 2013

Inspired by Daniel Miller’s comment under the post before last: the Cortège or Procession of Nobles from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mlada. Performers one of the ensembles on the LP cover. The “tread” of the marvellous tune could be a little more Russian and dignified, and slower. Still, these are marchers who are capable of breaking into dance. I always think something goes wrong with Rimsky’s harmonising towards the end. It seems particularly jarring in this version.

There are versions for band. Rimsky-Korsakov was Chief-Inspector of Bands of the Imperial Russian Navy from 1873 to ’84.

From an old post about assassinations in theatres:

“On September 14 (Old Style September 1) 1911, the Russian Prime Minister Pyotr Arkadyevich Stolypin attended a performance, in the presence of the Tsar and his family, of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tale of Tsar Saltan at the Opera House in Kiev. Stolypin had travelled to Kiev without his bodyguards, defying police warnings and refusing to wear his bullet-proof shirt. A young man in evening dress, Dmitri Bogrov, produced a gun and shot him twice, once in the arm and once in the chest. Bogrov was both a leftist radical and an agent of Okhranka, a secret police force and extended body-guard for the Tsar. (Rimsky’s fairy-tale world had collided with twentieth-century violence just as Rimsky’s spirit was encountering the twentieth century in the living person of Igor Stravinsky. … Had the opera begun? Did Bogrov enter Stolypin’s box or was the shot fired across the auditorium?) The wounded Stolypin stood up from his chair, carefully removed his gloves, and unbuttoned his jacket, unveiling a blood-soaked waistcoat. He sank down and shouted ‘I am happy to die for the Tsar’, motioning to the Tsar in his royal box to withdraw to safety. Tsar Nicholas remained in his position and Stolypin blessed him with a sign of the cross.

“Stolypin died four days later. The following morning, the Tsar knelt at his hospital bedside and repeated the words ‘Forgive me’. Bogrov was hanged ten days after the assassination, and the judicial investigation was halted by order of Tsar Nicholas II. This led to suggestions that the assassination had been planned not by leftists, but by conservative monarchists who were afraid of Stolypin’s reforms and his influence on the Tsar, though this has never been proved. This might have been the reason for the Tsar’s penitence, if the hospital story is true. The first line of Stolypin’s will read ‘Bury me where I am assassinated.’”

Song of the Indian Guest from Sadko.

Champion of Medtner

March 25 2013

He’s a champion of Medtner.

The other Boris Berezovsky

March 24 2013

Lily and crescent

March 20 2013

… and other impious unions

There was […] a fitful co-operation between France and the Ottoman Empire against the Hapsburg Power from the generation of Francis I and Suleymān the Magnificent onwards, while in the eighteenth century Sweden and Poland were drawn towards the Ottoman Empire by their common concern over the rising power of Russia.

There had been an earlier, sixteenth-century Polish-Ottoman alliance. The Crimean War saw Britain, France and Sardinia nominally on the side of the Ottoman Empire. The First World War saw Germany allied with Turkey.

A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934

Laziness and greed on Mount Athos

March 9 2013

The monks of a monastery on Mount Athos in which the writer had been spending the night as a guest in June 1912 courteously expressed to him, the morning after, their hope that his sleep had not been disturbed by their frequent nocturnal celebrations of the Liturgy. Wishing to return his hosts’ courtesy in kind, the writer on his side expressed the hope that the monks did not find these never intermitted night-long vigils too painfully exhausting. “Not at all”, replied the monks, “considering that we are able to sleep in the day-time.” – “And how do you manage to do that?” their English guest inquired. “O, well, because we have fine estates in Rumili, with peasants on them to work them for us. You will remember our showing you yesterday our arsenal at the water’s edge, stored with provisions of gram, oil, and wine. All that comes from our estates, and the peasants have to deliver it to us at the arsenal by water.” – “And how do the peasants live?” I asked. “O, the peasants live like dogs”, said the monks, “but you can see for yourself what an admirable arrangement ours is. As the peasants work for us and fetch and carry for us, instead of our having to do any of this for ourselves, we can afford to sleep in the day-time and so keep ourselves fresh for praying at night, and this is really most advantageous, as you can imagine. After all, most people in the World – including, perhaps, Your Honour (τὸν λόγον σας) – are in this respect in the less favourable position of our peasants. Having, as they do have, to work all day, they are forced to spend the night in sleep instead of in prayer, in order to be fit for work again next morning; so at night-time the volume of prayers reaching God is at a minimum, and this means that God can give to a prayer offered up to Him during the night an amount of individual attention that would be out of the question in the day-time, when the great majority of Mankind are awake and in the running to gain a hearing for their prayers at odd moments of their working day. Yes, thanks to the endowments bequeathed to us by pious benefactors, we monks do find ourselves in a decidedly advantageous position.”

The kind of story, then considered gently funny, that used to appear in Douglas Woodruff’s Talking at Random column in The Tablet, 1937 to ’68 and ’72 to ’78. Toynbee would have read it occasionally.

In any case, entirely believable. In September 2008, on the eve of the recession in Greece, the Vatopedi monastery, one of twenty monasteries on Mount Athos, was accused of enhancing its real estate portfolio through corrupt deals made by Abbot Ephraim and the monk Arsenios with the government of Kostas KaramanlisMichael Lewis told the story in Vanity Fair, October 2010 and in Boomerang, Travels in the New Third World, New York, WW Norton, 2011, and compared Ephraim and Arsenios to Skilling and Lay of Enron.

Abbot Ephraim

Abbot Ephraim carrying the Belt of the Mother of God on a roadshow through Russia in late 2011; who are the others?; picture credit: Valeriy Melnikov at RIA Novosti, cropped, use deemed fair for non-commercial scholarly purposes

Ephraim was jailed in December on his return to Greece, but released the following March. He and Arsenios are still being investigated.

RIA Novosti, piece by Andrei Zolotov, Jr:

“The Belt of the Virgin Mary, otherwise referred to as the Precious Sash, or Cincture, of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos – the holy treasure of the Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos in Greece – is travelling abroad for the first time. The Belt is travelling in style. It flies in a private jet, chartered by the tour’s organizer, the influential St. Andrew Foundation, and is accompanied by six Vatopedi monks. In St. Petersburg, it was welcomed by none other than Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. In Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth largest city, Governor Alexander Misharin and the region’s bishop, Metropolitan Kirill, met the relic with the guard of honor before a procession of some 15,000 people took it to the cathedral.”

He quotes George Fedotov’s The Russian Religious Mind (1946): “Russia knew neither Reformation nor Counter-Reformation with their explanations, symbolic interpretations and the uprooting of medieval idol-worshipping.” Didn’t he mean veneration? What kind of symbolic interpretation could have undermined icon-veneration in the Orthodox world? “People were more superstitious” might have been a better way of putting it.

Mary is supposed to have worn the belt on earth and given it to St Thomas during her transition to heaven. The Monastery also holds a silver and jewel-encrusted reliquary allegedly containing the skull of St John Chrysostom, a chalice made of a single piece of jasper, many icons and a large library.

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

Hearth and hell

March 1 2013

The Russian Pale, the hearth and hell of modern Jewry.

Isaac Watts, A Fair Enquiry and Debate Concerning Space, Whether It Be Something or Nothing, God or a Creature: “It has a being like God, in heaven, hearth and hell, diffused through all […].”

Presumably there are etymological links between hearth, earth and hard.

Turkey, A Past and a Future, Hodder & Stoughton, 1917

The music Tchaikovsky wrote in Davos

January 27 2013

… was the third of the three settings of the cherubic hymn that are the first three of his Nine Church Pieces for unaccompanied mixed voices of 1884-85 (three settings of the same words).

Performers not stated.

I did a post about Tchaikovsky’s stay in Davos in November 1884 here.

The nine pieces are all liturgical settings. His Liturgy of St John Chrysostom for the same forces from 1878 had set some of these texts (and others), including the words of the cherubic hymn.

This is the main (not only) divine liturgy in the Byzantine rite and is used by all Orthodox Churches. John was Archbishop of Constantinople from 398 to 404. The title of Patriarch came after the Council of Chalcedon. Kievan Rus was converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity in 988, nearly half a millennium before the fall of Constantinople.

Tchaikovsky wrote to Balakirev about the sacred pieces on November 17 (Julian calendar). That was the day he left Davos. Did he post the letter there or in Landquart?

That date and the quotations below are from Tchaikovsky Research. My link to Bortnianskii.

“I have written three Cherubim’s Songs, which I am now sending to you. … If His Majesty orders [the Imperial Chapel Choir] to study one of them, then I humbly ask you, my good fellow, to choose which one of the three you consider to be superior. In my opinion the third (in C major) is the best, but I fear lest my attempt to imitate non-notated sacred chants (in «Яко да Царя» [‘That we may receive the King’: the opening words of a verse in the Cherubic Song]) should strike you as unsuccessful and inappropriate. Then again the remaining two are different, in that one (in D major) sounds closer in style to Bortnianskii, while the other is much further away, although I am admittedly a poor judge of my own works, and you have complete discretion to choose any one of them.”

Balakirev, who was director of the Imperial Chapel, was important to Tchaikovsky at this time as a kind of mentor for the Manfred Symphony, which, as I showed in the earlier post and had always suspected, was partly inspired by this visit to Davos. And no sacred score could be published or performed without the Chapel’s imprimatur.

Tchaikovsky Research shouldn’t present Balakirev’s reply, presumably from St Petersburg, as being from the following day.

“I received your Cherubim’s Songs some time ago, and since I was not ordered to make a hasty decision, I sent them to your publisher friend in order to study them from the printed parts, which is more straightforward for choral works. On their relative merits I shall say nothing, since I have hardly seen them. But with regard to the one in C major, which you prefer, then I am not sure that it could be considered the best. Its opening is ruined by piquances […] [my bracket], has no spice to it and sounds like a kind of dance rhythm [after the opening notes]. Anyway, in spite of these reservations, it is my considered opinion they should all be published.”

“Considered” even though he had hardly seen them? Ruined by piquances, but lacking spice?

[Postscript, January 29: the site has tidied up the translation and corrected the date of the letter to December 18 (Julian).]

The C major hymn is perhaps not very Orthodox-ecclesiastical. Do we hear a dance rhythm? Did Tchaikovsky, who loved church music, think that he had imitated non-notated sacred chants successfully? His “publisher friend” was Petr Jurgenson.

Some of Bortnianskii’s music, including cherubic hymns, is on YouTube.

The first performance of the nine pieces was in the Moscow Conservatory in February 1886.


It is hard to judge Davos when you are not there. But the evidence of the “public programme” posted on the Forum’s website this year wasn’t encouraging. It was only the public programme (an idea that came in circa 2002 as a gesture towards inclusiveness), but why is the real one no longer posted? It wouldn’t have to show times and locations, but why hide it? The public programme had unexciting people on panels and too many of them.

Russians in Jerusalem

January 7 2013

On the morrow of the decisive Russian victory in the Great Russo-Turkish War of A.D. 1768-74, […] the sincerity of the Russian peasantry’s devotion to the Holy Land was attested by the volume of an annual pilgrimage-stream that used to roll through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles till it broke on the coast of Palestine after sweeping over the promontory of Athos. The aspiration to make the pilgrimage to their holy places came to play as dominant a part in the Russians’ life as in the Muslims’; and in the World War of A.D. 1914-18 an Imperial Russian Government at its last gasp obstinately vetoed all Western suggestions for establishing a Jewish National Home in Palestine on the ground that this would create an intolerable eye-sore for Russian pilgrims to Orthodox Christendom’s Holy Land. In A.D. 1917 the Tsardom had to fall on the 12th March before the Balfour Declaration could be published on the 2nd November.

And General Allenby entered Jerusalem on foot, through the Jaffa Gate, on December 11.

The Russian Compound.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Constantine and Peter the Great

December 5 2012

Peter transferred the capital of his dominions from Russian Orthodox Moscow to a new city, founded by him in the maritime Western March of the Russian World and named after its founder; and, on the culturally as well as physically virgin soil of St. Petersburg, a Westernizing Russia was to have a seat of government that would be Western from the start, uncontaminated by any antecedent deposit of Orthodox tradition. [Footnote: A corresponding consideration had been in the mind of Constantine the Great when he had transferred the capital of the Roman Empire from Old Rome to his own foundation of New Rome or Constantinople. The seat of Government of a converted Roman Empire was to be Christian from the outset, unaffected by the archaistic paganism that was dying so hard in its Senatorial fastness on the banks of the Tiber […]. In making the transfer, both Constantine and Peter were, of course, moved by political and strategic motives in addition to the cultural motive here in question […].]

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Moscow, the Third Rome

December 3 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he defends part of his view.

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

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

Footnote to the last paragraph but one:

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

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

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

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

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

Novgorod and St Petersburg (post with pre-Ivan background).

Vasili III of Russia

Vasili III, contemporary (west) European engraving

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

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

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