Archive for the 'Syria/Mesopotamia' Category

Facebook and Amazon double standards

November 19 2015

One-sided solidarity.

“The air campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has killed more than 450 civilians according to a recent Guardian report, even though the US-led coalition has so far acknowledged just two non-combatant deaths. So why is Facebook not offering an anti-war profile filter? So why is Amazon not offering solidarity to the innocent – Christians and Muslims – killed in Iraq and Syria?”

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Bob Shingleton, On an Overgrown Path, in a November 15 post now taken down.

Destruction of Palmyra

October 5 2015

Two pieces at qunfuz.com on Palmyra and more:

The dissolution of past and present

Instead of freedom, annihilation.

News timeline on Palmyra (Reuters).

Palmyra in this blog.

Daesh tortured and on August 18 publicly beheaded Palmyra’s head of antiquities, the 81-year-old Khaled al-Asaad, perhaps because he had refused to reveal the location of hidden treasures.

Guardian, August 25:

Maamoun Abdulkarim, Syria’s antiquities chief, after the destruction of the Baal Shamin temple: ‘All of my memories were torn to shreds; I lost a part of my being. […]’

“Abdulkarim, a university professor in Damascus who has worked pro bono for three years as director of antiquities and museums to preserve Syrian heritage through the war, described the day of the temple’s destruction as ‘dark, sad and frightening’, saying the loss of Palmyra was robbing his work of meaning.”

Omar Sharif’s religion

July 11 2015

He was born in Alexandria into a Christian family which was neither “Coptic” nor Coptic Catholic, but Melkite Greek Catholic. The family was of Levantine descent.

They spoke Arabic and (like many upper-class Egyptian families) French (old post) and perhaps other languages. He spoke or learned Greek, Italian, Spanish and English. He converted to Islam in 1955 in order to marry his Sunni Muslim wife. He had a Jewish grandson. Obituaries.

Recent post on the Melkite Church. My guide to eastern Christianities is here and here.

2004:

St Anthony of Padua, an early Franciscan, took his name from St Anthony of Egypt.

Mystery in Siam, and other unlucky kings

June 5 2015

Peter, Ananda and Faisal.

Yugoslavia: Ex-King Peter, 1945

Mystery in Siam, 1946

The exonym Siam became official under King Mongkut (reigned 1851-68). On June 23 1939 it was changed to Thailand. From 1945 to May 11 1949 it was Siam again. Then it reverted to Thailand.

Iraq Bombshell, 1958

Malankara Orthodox

May 25 2015

Random eastern Christian.

Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, or Indian Orthodox Church: Oriental Orthodox, West Syrian rite. Not part of the “Greek” Orthodox family. Based in Kottayam, Kerala. Language Malayalam.

Here, Quarbana or Eucharist celebrated by HG Paulose Mar Pachomios, Metropolitan, at St Stephen’s, Kattanam, Kerala. Note the curtain and the furious censer-swinging. The men and women are segregated. No religious person should wear a beard any more. I sympathise a bit with the children.

For my rough guide to eastern Christianities, go here and (for India) here.

Wikipedia pages written by Indians often seem over-engaged and not to see the wood for the trees. The one for this church is an example.

The Melkite Church

May 24 2015

The Melkite Greek Catholic Church uses the Byzantine rite (tradition of Saints John Chrysostom and Basil). The liturgical language is Arabic (and sometimes Greek). Here (no embedding) is a chant performed at the start of Holy Communion, sung in the Saint Paul Basilica, the Melkite cathedral in the Lebanese mountain village of Harissa. You’ll hear the word Allah.

Melkite comes from the Syriac word malkoyo (ܡܠܟܝܐ in the Syriac alphabet‎) and the Arabic malakī (ملكي)‎, meaning royal, and by extension, imperial (ie Byzantine).

Nearby is the Marian shrine Notre Dame du Liban, visited by all Christian denominations. Christians, Druze and Muslims all have a devotion to Mary.

For my rough guide to eastern Christianities, go here and here. I will do a further post on liturgies.

Here, courtesy of KTO, the French-language television channel of the Archbishop of Paris, is Benedict XVI at Harissa in September 2012; he reads an apostolic exhortationEcclesia in Medio Oriente, in French (it came out of his 2010 Special Synod on the Middle East), and signs it:

He also met the Syriac Maronite Patriarchate, Armenian Catholic Patriarchate, Syro-Catholic Patriarchate (Syriac Catholic) and others. Maronites, Armenians and Syrians are the three Catholic churches headquartered in Lebanon.

Saint George Will Prevail

May 23 2015

Strangely enough, I posted the last entry, in a mood of nostalgia for Istanbul while in Beirut, without noticing that one of the subjects of Hamam – lawless property speculators – was being referred to in large neon letters on a derelict building, the Saint-George Hotel, right opposite my hotel.

People remember Beirut before 1975 as they used to remember Tangier and Alexandria before 1956, Saigon before 1954, Berlin before 1939, Shanghai before 1937, Smyrna before 1922, Salonika before 1917 perhaps: a place of lost sensory pleasures. I don’t think Beirut had a reputation for loucheness or decadence, but people speak of the douceur de vivre of those days. “You should have known the city then.”

The Saint-George opened in 1932, under the French. Abdallah El Khoury acquired it in 1958. Khoury is an exclusively Christian name. I assume he was Maronite. It has remained in his family’s possession ever since. When the civil war started, Phalangists occupied it in the Battle of the Hotels. Later, Syrian troops, attempting to pacify the warring Lebanese factions, occupied the burned-out shell.

After the war, the Syrians left the building. An abortive renovation began in 1996. But the rebuilding of Beirut had been charged to a new company called Solidere. “By agreement with the government, Solidere enjoys special powers of eminent domain as well as a limited regulatory authority codified in law, making the company a unique form of public-private partnership.” (Wikipedia)

The Saint-George threatened Solidere’s control of St George Bay. Solidere’s plans were backed by the government of Rafik Hariri, whose family and friends were Solidere’s main shareholders. The government blocked the reconstruction.

On February 14 2005, a car bomb exploded as Hariri drove past. He and twenty-one others, including five Saint-George staff, were killed.

I don’t think that, even in this land of conspiracy theories, the Khoury family have been blamed for the assassination. The road in front of the Saint-George was closed for nearly three years. The electricity and water supply and telephone network cut by the explosion were not repaired. Municipal officers blocked improvements to the Saint-George Yacht Club. Police evicted yachts from its waterfront marina.

Guardian piece about Solidere by Oliver Wainwright, January 22 2015, might fill you with cold rage, but it must also be said that some of Solidere’s planning (perhaps the earlier stages) was good. Some streets and buildings are very pleasant. The substitution of calm pastiche for a gritty, vibrant, older urban landscape has happened in other places.

Other city centres, too, are organised for the rich. Other cities have destroyed fine old buildings during the peace that followed a destructive war. It isn’t only Beirut that has empty shopping malls. For criminality among developers, I doubt whether Beirut compares with Moscow.

Part of the problem is that there is now no Gulf money coming in. Gulf Arabs are no longer comfortable in a country half-pledged to their enemies.

Two Diocletianic soldier-martyrs, St Sebastian and St George, have been irresistible to artists, but St George has the wider and more varied and extravagant cult: paintings, legends, intercessions, veneration, dedications, chivalric orders, romances, shrines, feast days, hagiographies, patronages, flags, remains.

It extended from Palestine and Lebanon through the rest of the East Roman Empire. It still touches the Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Nestorian and Uniate worlds. And Islam. It appeared early in Georgia. It reached Aragon, Genoa, Venice, Hungary, the Holy Roman Empire, England (Britannia’s trident is like George’s spear upended), Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Malta. But it was in St George Bay that George killed the dragon.

Beirut, at least, says that it happened there. Some accounts say Libya. The story was Eastern in origin, came back with the Crusaders, and was retold in the literature of Romance.

The usual depictions of Sebastian and George are complementary, passive and active. Sebastian pierced, George piercing. Arrows and Ascalon. Both were known to Diocletian, if you believe the stories.

George was tortured and decapitated. Sebastian was not killed by the arrows. He recovered and taunted the emperor again, at which point he was beaten to death. He is called twice-martyred.

St Sebastian was born c 256 in the south of France and was appointed a captain of the Praetorian Guard under Diocletian and Maximian, who were unaware that he was a Christian. He was martyred in Rome c 288 before the official persecution got underway, when Diocletian’s officials learned of his role in the conversion of Marcus and Marcellian and others.

We aren’t told much about Sebastian’s background, but George was born c 280 in Palestine to a Greek Christian noble family. His father was an important soldier, known to Diocletian. George presented himself to Diocletian in Nicomedia, the eastern capital under the Tetrarchy. By his late twenties, he had been promoted to the rank of tribune and stationed as an imperial (not Praetorian) guard there. He was executed in Nicomedia (some say at Lydda in Palestine) in 303 at the start of the persecution.

SAINT GEORGE WILL PREVAIL. Taken today. But why will the dragon be slain specifically in 2019?

St George

Other Solidere pieces: here, here, here. On the cult of St George: Helen Gibson, St George the Ubiquitous, Aramco World, November/December 1971.

Old posts:

Sebastião! Protetor do Brasil

The Grand Hotel in Yokohama.

Fall of Palmyra

May 20 2015

Guardian.

Death among the ruins: a major battle was fought between the British and Ottoman empires in 1915 at Ctesiphon.

Gallipoli

April 25 2015

The first victory of the Ottoman Empire was a defeat of the Byzantine army near Nicomedia, at Bapheus, in 1302. The defeat of British imperial and French forces on the Gallipoli peninsula, April 25 1915 to January 9 1916, was almost the last.

Gallipoli was also a landmark in the career of a Turkish general, Kustafa Kemal Atatürk. It was a dress rehearsal for the struggle to come.

It disgraced Churchill, who had ordered the naval attack.

During the Irish War of Independence balladeers sang “Twas better to die ’neath an Irish sky than in Suvla or Sedd el Bahr”.

Gallipoli helped to forge national consciousness in Australia and New Zealand, both newly independent and fighting their first war. Today is Anzac Day and the centenary of the start of the campaign.

The first Jewish fighting force – with a Jewish emblem and flag – since the defeat of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in AD 136 fought in Gallipoli. So, in a small way, this was a dress rehearsal for the wars of Zion.

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The peninsula forms the northern or western bank of the Dardanelles, the strait that provided a sea route to the Russian Empire. Russia’s allies Britain and France launched a naval attack followed by a landing, intending to secure it and then capture Constantinople. The naval attack was repelled and after eight months’ fighting the land campaign was abandoned and the invasion force withdrawn to Egypt.

The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was formed in Egypt in 1915 and commanded by General William Birdwood. It was disbanded in 1916. Later formations.

What has been happening in Palestine during the War? Dr. Trietsch informs us that the Ottoman Government has been proceeding with the “naturalisation” of the Palestinian Jews, and that the “local execution of this measure has not been effected without disturbances […].” [My bracket, not AJT’s.] One significant consequence was the appearance in Egypt of Palestinian refugees, who raised a Zion mule corps there and fought through the Gallipoli campaign.

The Zion Mule Corps was formed in March 1915. It was the precursor of the Jewish Legion (1917-21), the unofficial name for the 38th to 42nd Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers, which fought against the Ottoman Empire. Jacob Epstein served in the 38th.

Casualties at Gallipoli:

Ottoman Empire (Turks, Arabs, others): 109,042 wounded and missing, 57,084 killed

Britain: 52,230 wounded, 21,255 killed

Australia: 19,441 wounded, 8,709 killed

France: 17,000 wounded, 10,000 killed (estimates), including an unknown number of Senegalese

New Zealand: 4,752 wounded, 2,721 killed

India: 3,421 wounded, 1,358 killed

Newfoundland: 93 wounded, 49 killed

Germans: a few fought with the Turks

The numbers vary greatly from one source to another. Allied numbers here are via airminded.org, which gives its source as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Australia. It doesn’t say whether wounded includes missing. Ottoman numbers via greatwar.nl. Most sources give only the Allies. Have the Ottoman totals ever been broken down?

Anzac parade, London, date not shown:

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

The archaeologists

April 18 2015

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

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

Thomas Ashby

Gertrude Bell

Frank Calvert

Howard Carter

Vere Gordon Childe (last post)

Jacques Cousteau

Glyn Daniel (last post)

Wilhelm Dörpfeld

Arthur Evans

Jacquetta Hawkes

TE Lawrence

Austen Henry Layard

Louis and Mary Leakey

John Lubbock

Max Mallowan

Prosper Mérimée

Theodor Mommsen

Stewart Perowne

William Matthew Flinders Petrie

Stuart Piggott

Augustus Pitt Rivers

Michael Rostovtzeff

Heinrich Schliemann

Lady Hester Stanhope

Marc Aurel Stein

Mortimer Wheeler (last post)

Johann Joachim Winckelmann

Leonard Woolley

Yigael Yadin

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

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

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

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

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

Romancing Schliemann (old post).

Toynbee and Indiana Jones at Versailles

March 12 2015

The image links to the full Indiana Jones episode of which I showed a clip here.

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 02.08.05

Background and context are in the old post. Toynbee’s big scene starts at 5:00. His other main appearances are at 26:00 and 33:00. Later the scene shifts to Princeton.

Mistakes and unconvincing portrayals aside (Lawrence is the worst, Gertrude Bell a close second), it doesn’t do such a bad job of bringing history to life. Vignettes of Arabs, Vietnamese, Germans. Woodrow Wilson is shown as comically out of his depth. Indiana is touching, trying to be nice to the Germans.

Toynbee is rather convincing. He never said that those who forget the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it, but he had a sharper political mind when he was young than when he was old.

Destruction of Hatra

March 7 2015

GuardianBBC. Wikipedia.

Destruction of Nimrud

March 6 2015

Guardian. BBCWikipedia.

The unchanging West

February 27 2015

… or, A boy from Baghdad

Let us […] construct the intellectual history of a fictitious Baghdadi boy, who has been born since the arrival of the British at Baghdad in 1917 and whose father has determined to give him a thoroughly Western scientific education in order to fit him for making his way in the Westernized East of to-morrow. The father begins by giving the boy some direct insight into Western scientific methods by showing him Western scientists at work in his own country. He takes him to see the archaeological excavations at Ur. Let us assume that the boy is as intelligent as his father, and that this visit arouses in him a general interest in modern Western Archaeology, ranging over the whole field as far as it has been explored by Western scholars. Among other things, the life of the lake-dwellers in the Alps in the “Eneolithic Age” [which we would now call Early Bronze Age] is sure to appeal to the Baghdadi boy for the same reasons which invest the conditions of life on the North Arabian Steppe with a special interest for Western readers of the Book of Genesis. The boy’s interest in the lake-dwellers will broaden out into a study of all aspects of their life, including the manner in which they adapted themselves to the imperious conditions of the local terrain and climate in keeping their cattle. He will follow the ancient lacustrine herdsmen as they drive their cattle up from the lake-side to ever higher upland pastures with the advance of spring and then gradually down again from alp to alp to the water’s edge with the retreat of summer. This study will become his hobby; and when the time comes for him to visit Europe, he will make a bee-line first for Switzerland. There, herded by some tourist agency into Alpine hotels, he will observe, with astonishment and delight, that the pastoral life with which he is familiar from the books about the ancient lake-dwellers which his father gave him to read at home is being lived, apparently unchanged, by the Swiss herdsmen of to-day. With what extraordinary persistence social phenomena perpetuate themselves in this strange and romantic Western World! How different from ʿIraq, where the disinterred vestiges of Ur and Babylon and Nineveh proclaim to any Baghdadi who sets eyes on them that, in his country, Life is a flux and history a synonym for change. And now this Baghdadi has discovered “the Unchanging West”. What a tale to tell to his countrymen when he goes home again!

Of course our intelligent young man from Baghdad would not have rushed into this ludicrously erroneous generalization if the romance of the Alpine pastures had not absorbed his attention to the extent of preventing him from studying with equal thoroughness the histories of those sites on Western soil that are now occupied by the cities of Zurich and Lausanne – not to speak of Paris and London and Berlin and New York and Chicago. If he had studied these likewise, he could not conceivably have imagined that the West was “unchanging” by comparison with Iraq (immense though the changes in ʿIraq have been, on every plane of social life, over the span of five or six thousand years within which we happen to know something about the country’s history). He has been misled by a failure to realize that he has been making a generalization about half the World on the strength of local conditions in a small area with a peculiar character of its own. While the Alps impose upon all human beings in all ages who have the hardihood to be their inhabitants as rigid and as unvarying a way of life as is imposed by the North Arabian Steppe, it is likewise true that the Alps are as small a fraction of the Western World as the North Arabian Steppe is of the East. An extravaganza? Yet quid rides? For mutato nomine de te fabula narratur, [footnote: Horace: Satires, i (i), ll. 69-70.] you Western traveller, whoever you may have been, who first brought home to us the catchword of “the Unchanging East”.

Toynbee was saying this kind of thing before Edward Said, who presumably mocked the phrase. Was its inventor a Scottish Canadian writer named Robert Barr (founder of The Idler) in a book with that name published in 1900?

[Footnote: It may be objected that even an ingenuous and unobservant Oriental traveller who visited the Alps to-day with a picture in his mind of the local conditions of life in the “Eneolithic Age” could not really fail to notice, side by side with many points of correspondence, at least as many and as remarkable evidences of change. It can only be replied that Western travellers have contrived to ignore similar evidences on the North Arabian Steppe, where the conditions portrayed in the Book of Genesis have been changed profoundly, since that portrait was drawn, by at least two far-reaching innovations: the introduction of the horse and the introduction of fire-arms (not to speak of dry farming and motor-cars, which are both still too recent introductions to have had time to produce their full effects).]

The unchanging East (last post but one).

A Study of History, Vol I, OUP, 1934

Semitic outliers

February 17 2015

Which Semitic language is written now in Latin script?

Answer: Maltese.

Which Semitic language is written now in a script that is not Hebrew, not Arabic and not Latin?

Answer: Amharic (Ethiopian). Main example.

Bitter Lake

February 16 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Bitter Lake

Picture: fdrlibrary.tumblr.com

William Dalrymple

December 31 2014

One of Dalrymple’s heroes is Leigh Fermor. WD’s a fine historian, but not PLF’s literary equal.

Books:

In Xanadu (1989), following the path taken by Marco Polo from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to the site of Shangdu, Xanadu, in Inner Mongolia, the summer seat of Kublai Khan. Posts here: Xanadu and JeholThe Silk Road and Summer capitals, summer palaces.

City of Djinns (1994), about Delhi, where he lives.

From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium (1997), about eastern Christianity. Posts here: Indian churches, Christians and Yazidi, and work back from links in latter.

The Age of Kali (1998), about trouble in modern India. Kali Yuga is the fourth age in Hindu cosmology.

Editor, Lonely Planet Sacred India (1999).

White Mughals (2002), about a love affair in early-nineteenth-century Hyderabad between James Achilles Kirkpatrick and a Muslim noblewoman, Khair-un-Nissa Begum.

Begums, Thugs and White Mughals – The Journals of Fanny Parkes (2002), an edition of the travel journals of Fanny Parkes, who travelled in India from 1822 to ’46 and wrote Wanderings of a Pilgrim in Search of the Picturesque.

The Last Mughal, The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857 (2006).

Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (2009).

Return of a King – The Battle for Afghanistan (2012), about the first Anglo-Afghan War, 1839-42.

Editor, with Yuthika Sharma, Princes and Painters in Mughal Delhi, 1707-1857 (2012). After Aurangzeb.

TV, radio, journalism.

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Links to podcasts this year in the BBC Radio 4 Point of View series, with my comments:

A Lenten reflection, April 4. About the discovery, by a British hunting party in 1819, of the painted caves at Ajanta, in the western Ghats in central Maharashtra. “Along with the frescoes of Pompeii, […] the greatest picture gallery to survive from the ancient world.” The caves were inhabited by Buddhist monks, but show the sensual life of the court in which the Buddha grew up, not the austerities of the religious life. They were probably painted in the 2nd century BC, with a later group from the 5th century CE. There was no conflict between the sacred and the sensual in the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, says Dalrymple; he does not dwell on Hindu traditions of mortifying the flesh.

Later: Buddhist, Jain and Hindu carvings and fragments of paintings in caves at Ellora in Maharashtra. Buddhist and Hindu carvings in caves on Elephanta Island in Mumbai harbour. Erotic Jain and Hindu carvings at temples in Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh.

The puritanical break in India, he suggests, came not with Islam, but with the British, with effects still felt today in a false reinterpretation of their history by Hindus. Africans and Muslims are doing the same thing with theirs. What is rejected as unMuslim and unAfrican is often nineteenth-century unWestern.

A classic instance in modern Western art of wild eroticism united with religious sensibility is Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie. Its original inspiration wasn’t Indian, but its title is a composite of two Sanskrit words, turanga and lîla, which, apparently, roughly mean “love song and hymn of joy, time, movement, rhythm, life, and death”. How odd that Bernstein, who conducted the premiere in Boston, never returned to it or recorded it. Or is it kitsch?

A tale of two elections, April 11. About the 2014 elections in India and Afghanistan.

Travel-writing giants, April 18. About Peter Matthieson, who had just died, and Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Last year in the same series, we had Islamo-Christian heritage, December 20 2013, about the old sharing of sacred space in Egpyt, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, India by Christians, Muslims and Jews. I quoted from it here.

Islam did not tolerate Christianity: it showed great tenderness towards it. Dalrymple quotes examples from Akbar’s abortive capital at Fatehpur Sikri. Mary is mentioned more often in the Quran than in the Gospels. Many apocryphal sayings of Jesus were and are current in Islam.

Contested sites and the failure to share: Jerusalem and Ayodhya, the Temple Mount and Ram Janmabhoomi. Though the Israeli occupiers of the Temple Mount do enforce a ban on prayer by non-Muslims at its Umayyad structures, a ban which some orthodox Zionists would like to defy and nearly all Muslims demand.

Dalrymple on Akbar and Christianity, New Statesman, December 19 2005. Post here mentioning Akbar’s attempt to start a new syncretic religion, the Dīn IIāhī.

Todenhöfer on ISIS

December 30 2014

Seven thoughts from Jürgen Todenhöfer, whom I mentioned in the last post.

Some German commentary on world affairs seems worthy and provincial to Brits, but much of it is more serious and responsible than ours. This is only a short note, but it does not show the defects. But his reports are not deep, or wholly clear or consistent. There is an understandably hasty air to them. The full account, one assumes, will come.

Do German history and over-sensitivity to certain matters make a German analyst a more or a less reliable interpreter of events such as are unfolding in Iraq and Syria? On the whole, I think more.

Todenhöfer was brave to enter ISIS territory, and he has returned to tell the tale.

Whoever it was that said that the Bush-Blair invasion would produce a thousand Bin Ladens was right.

Damascus and Mosul

December 30 2014

Eddie Mair’s moving 36-minute interview, for any who missed it, with David Nott, a British doctor who has worked in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria. And in other countries at war. PM Programme, BBC Radio 4, December 23. Nott’s political forecast for Syria was bleak in the extreme.

So was that of Jürgen Todenhöfer for Iraq and Syria. In 2014 he became the first Western journalist to travel extensively in ISIS-controlled territories and to return safely.

Osmanli, Safavi, Timurid

December 27 2014

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

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

Thesiger’s voice

December 8 2014

Compilation of Wilfred Thesiger’s words spoken on BBC radio, with his photographs. I have some posts here on Thesiger, including a bibliography.

The rightly-guided

November 28 2014

Many Muslims in Dar al-Islam feel that things have drifted off course since the pristine days of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs. Many citizens of the US look back to the Founding Fathers and feel that they have lost something.

In the Islamic world the nostalgia for lost unity and virtue isn’t confined to Shiites, and it has been present for centuries. In the US it isn’t confined to conservative sentimentalists.

Perhaps it is to do with a feeling of powerlessness among ordinary people.

Both societies are, in different ways, paralysed and tortured by their fundamentalist obsession with a text associated with their founders: the Quran and the Constitution.

The prisoners of Ezra

October 31 2014

The scribe and prophet Ezra was born in Babylon, but under the Persians c 480 BC after the exile was over. He moved to Jerusalem, where the Temple had been rebuilt, and reintroduced the Torah there.

In their attitude towards gentiles, Jews today are still the prisoners of the masterful Babylonian Jewish reformer Ezra. His objective was to make the Jews obey the Torah; and, as a necessary means to this end, he took drastic steps to segregate them from their gentile neighbours. “The general result of his policy was to draw a sharp line of division between Jew and gentile, and to make for the Jewish community a sort of enclosure in the midst of the gentile world.” This was an inevitable effect of enforcing the observance of the Torah as Ezra understood it. But the observance of the Torah as understood by Ezra and by his successors the Pharisees is not an inevitable accompaniment of the religion of Deutero-Isaiah [the exilic “second Isaiah”]. Ezra raised an issue. He did not settle it. And the debate that he started has been continuing in Jewish hearts and minds ever since.

The quotation is from R Travers Herford, Judaism in the New Testament Period, Lindsey Press, 1928. The passage also refers to his The Pharisees, Allen & Unwin, 1924.

A Study of History, Vol XII: Reconsiderations, OUP, 1961

Historians of the Ilkhanate

October 8 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

Three monsters

October 5 2014

Qunfuz. Yassin al-Haj Saleh: “Three monsters are treading on Syria’s exhausted body.”

And here.

Abandoned virtuosity

September 11 2014

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

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

See an old post on dated pessimism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Mankind and Mother Earth, we have:

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

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

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

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

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

Picasso, Woman with a Fan,1907

Archaism in art (old post).

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

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

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

Indian churches

August 10 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kanjirappally Bishop Mathew Arackal and Prasant Palakkappillil

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

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

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

What are the differences between the

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

and

What two churches are Chaldaean?

Christians and Yazidi

August 9 2014

As night falls in Iraq, let’s summarise Christianity there and eastern Christianity generally.

The autocephalous Orthodox (Eastern Orthodox) churches (Greece, Russia, etc) accept the formulation on the nature of Christ promulgated at the Council of Chalcedon (451). They mainly use two liturgies in the Byzantine rite: those of St John Chrysostom and of St Basil the Great (Basil of Caesarea). The main liturgical languages are Greek and Church Slavonic.

The Oriental Orthodox (Miaphysite) churches reject the Chalcedonian formulation. They are in full communion with each other, but not with the Orthodox churches. They include the dominant Christian churches in Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia. Oriental Orthodoxy is the dominant religion in Armenia and in the ethnically Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

There are 23 Eastern Catholic churches: autonomous, self-governing particular churches in communion with Rome which use non-Latin rites. Are they all technically “uniate”? Is that word universally applied? Together with the Latin Church, they make up the entire Catholic Church.

The ones in the near and middle east, ie the ones not mainly established in Europe, the Horn of Africa or India, are, in no particular order, the Armenian Catholic Church (Armenian rite in Armenian; based in Lebanon), Greek Byzantine Catholic Church (Byzantine rite in Koine and modern Greek; based in Greece), Melkite Greek Catholic Church (Byzantine rite in Arabic and sometimes Greek; based in Syria), Syriac Maronite Church (West Syrian rite in Syriac, a modern version of Aramaic; based in Lebanon), Chaldean Catholic Church (East Syrian rite in Syriac; based in Iraq), Syriac Catholic Church (West Syrian rite in Syriac; based in Lebanon) and Coptic Catholic Church (Alexandrian rite in Coptic and Arabic; based in Egypt). All have diasporas. There are other rites.

The Nestorian (aka East Syrian) church survives in the Church of the East.

Iraqi Christians are divided into:

Oriental Orthodox, or the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch (West Syrian rite)

Catholics, the Chaldean Catholic Church (East Syrian rite) and Syriac Catholic Church (West Syrian rite)

Nestorians, or the Assyrian Church of the East (from which the Ancient Church of the East is a split dating from 1968) (East Syrian rite).

I mentioned the Yazidi of Iraq here and here. Their religion blends elements of Mithraism, pre-Islamic Mesopotamian religious traditions, Christianity and Islam. Toynbee commits a common howler (in Turkey, A Past and a Future) by saying that they worship Satan, a myth that is perpetuated by their persecutors in the Islamic State.

I will do a separate post on Indian churches (next).

Old posts:

S Rozhdestvom! (lists the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches)

Ottoman people and Orthodox churches (lists the Oriental Orthodox churches)

The East-West Schism.

The age of Medina

July 31 2014

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

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

A Study of History, Vol VII, OUP, 1954

Damascus before the war

July 30 2014

Old posts:

In Damascus

In Damascus 2

In Damascus 3

Euphrates to Rhine

July 15 2014

“Hinc movet Euphrates, illinc Germania bellum”. – Virgil, Georgic I, l. 509.

“Here the Euphrates, there Germany wages war.” Americans might see their last century partly in those terms.

Virgil was writing about the time of the confrontation of Octavian and Mark Antony at Actium.

The North Sea is connected with the Black Sea via the Main-Danube canal in Bavaria (the Main being a tributary of the Rhine), which was opened in its present form in 1992. It replaced the Ludwig Canal.

The Kara Su or Western Euphrates, one of the Euphrates’ two sources (the other is the Murat Su or Eastern Euphrates), rises in northeastern Turkey only sixty miles from the southeastern corner of the Black Sea. Kara means black. (Murat is a proper name.) So only a sixty-mile portage separates the Gulf from the North Sea.

The Tigris also rises in Turkey, a little further south.

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

Islamic dynasties: 2, Umayyad Caliphs

July 12 2014

The Umayyad Caliphs, 661-750

Capital: Damascus

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

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

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

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

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

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

They had completed the conquest of North Africa by 698.

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

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

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

On four fronts, they were defeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gm

Umayyad Moque, Damascus, picture: studyblue.com

Islamic dynasties: 1, Orthodox Caliphs

July 11 2014

The Orthodox or Rightly Guided or Rashidun Caliphs, 632-61

The age of the pristine Islamic virtues.

Abu Bakr (Abdullah ibn Abi Quhafa)

Umar (Umar ibn al-Khattab)

Uthman (Uthman ibn Affan)

Ali (Ali ibn Abi Talib)

Mnemonic: Arab uniters underestimate adversity

Capitals: Medina, Kufa

The leaders of the Muslim umma or community, all related to the Prophet by blood or through marriage. I won’t go into relationships. Muslim Arabs had not yet moved outside the Arabian peninsula when Muhammad died. He himself had fought in military campaigns within Arabia.

But by 641 they had conquered Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Egypt from the East Roman Empire. The southern part of Iraq was conquered from Persia.

By 651 they had conquered Persia, as far north-eastward as Merv inclusive, extinguishing the Sasanian Persian Empire. Merv is now in Turkmenistan (one of Iran’s three eastern neighbours, along with Afghanistan in the middle, and Pakistan in the south).

In 653 the Armenians and Georgians (both ex-Roman and ex-Persian Armenian and Georgian subjects) had surrendered.

Between 647 and 698 they conquered north west Africa from the East Romans – who under Justinian had reconquered it from the barbarians.

Khalifa means “he who follows behind”. The Orthodox Caliphs ruled from Medina, the city previously called Yathrib which Muhammad had renamed.

Abu Bakr imposed the authority of Medina over outlying parts of the peninsula after the Bedouin tribes had renounced their personal allegiance to Muhammad (the Ridda Wars, ridda meaning apostasy).

Umar attacked the Byzantine territories of Syria, Palestine and Egypt and the Sasanid territories of Persia and Iraq. He adopted the title Amir al-Muʿminin, Commander of the Faithful, implying a spiritual as well as political element in his leadership.

Uthman was assassinated.

Ali moved his capital to Kufa in Iraq in order to confront Muawiya, the recalcitrant governor of Syria, in battle at Siffin on the Upper Euphrates. He was later killed, and his son, al-Hasan, was persuaded by Muawiya to renounce all rights to the Caliphate. Ali had been the son-in-law and cousin of Muhammad. Shia Muslims believe that the succession should have continued through him. The martyrdom of one of Ali’s other sons, Husayn, in 680 is taken as the beginning of the Shiite split.

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

Kufa_Mosque,_1915

Kufa Great Mosque, 1915

Caliphates

July 11 2014

Some posts on the Caliphates in order of posting:

Ashura

Sunni and Shia

The Indian merchant

Ghosts of universal states

A tea-party in Delhi

Roads to Mecca

Hashish 2

The end of the Abbasid Caliphate

The Arab Kingdom of Syria

The Indian summer of the Caliphate

The resilience of the Caliphate

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) declared a new Caliphate in Mosul on June 29 2014 (the first day of Ramadan) with its Sunni leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the new Caliph.

Wikipedia article.

Absit omen

April 27 2014

Pan-Islamism is dormant – yet we have to reckon with the possibility that the sleeper may awake if ever the cosmopolitan proletariat of a “Westernized” world revolts against Western domination and cries out for anti-Western leadership. That call might have incalculable psychological effects in evoking the militant spirit of Islam – even if it had slumbered as long as the Seven Sleepers – because it might awaken echoes of a heroic age. On two historic occasions in the past, Islam has been the sign [under] which an Oriental society has risen up victoriously against an Occidental intruder. Under the first successors of the Prophet, Islam liberated Syria and Egypt from a Hellenic domination which had weighed on them for nearly a thousand years. Under Zangi and Nur-ad-Din and Saladin and the Mamluks, Islam held the fort against the assaults of Crusaders and Mongols. [In] the present situation of mankind […] Islam might be moved to play her historic role once again. Absit omen.

Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948

Twin assaults

November 27 2013

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

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

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

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

Cambyses and Carthage

November 24 2013

“Cambyses gave orders to his fleet to sail against Carthage, but the Phoenicians refused to obey. They submitted that they were bound by solemn engagements and that they would be guilty of a crime if they made war on a daughter-community. This unwillingness of the Phoenicians [to lend themselves to Cambyses’ designs against Carthage killed the project, since] [bracket in Toynbee] the remainder of the fleet was inadequate for the task. So, thanks to their Phoenician kinsmen, the Carthaginians escaped subjugation at Persian hands; for Cambyses felt it impolitic to try to coerce the Phoenicians, considering that they had come under Persian sovereignty voluntarily and that the naval power of the Persian Empire depended entirely on them” (Herodotus, Book III, chap. 19).

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

The pitchfork and the flute

November 23 2013

It was Human Nature that Horace had in mind when he wrote that Nature will always keep on coming back at you, even if you drive her out with a pitchfork; [footnote: “Naturam expellas furcâ, tamen usque recurret.” – Horace, Epistulae I, x, 24.] and, in the Subconscious Psyche’s repertory of “primordial images”, this Nature that is Man’s inseparable and intractable companion is expressively portrayed as a bull. This creature, far stronger physically than Man, which Man has precariously subjugated by the exercise of his Intellect and his Will, is an apt symbol for those subconscious principalities and powers in the Psyche which are so much more difficult for the Intellect and the Will to cope with than any veritably non-human living creature is.

Two antithetical alternative policies for coping with this psychic bull are commended in two significant myths. In the Mithraic myth a hero slays the monster and staggers forward with his victim’s inseparable carcase weighing on his shoulders. In the Zen Mahayanian Buddhist myth a boy-herdsman makes friends with the great ox and comes home riding on the monster’s back to the music of the rider’s flute. The boy’s deft diplomacy is a more effective way of dealing with Man’s problem than the hero’s crude resort to force; for the force which sometimes recoils upon its user, even when Non-Human Nature is its target, is a wholly inappropriate instrument for dealing with the psychic bull.

An Historian’s Approach to Religion, OUP, 1956

Furor Assyriacus

November 19 2013

The mad-dog militarism of a National-Socialist Germany […] could only be compared with the last phase of the furor Assyriacus, after its temperature had been raised to the third degree by Tiglath-Pileser III (regnabat 746-727 B.C.).

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Militarism

November 18 2013

[A] discouraging symptom in Modern Western history had been the emergence there, first in Prussia and latterly in Germany at large, of a militarism that had been deadly in the histories of other civilizations. Militarism was a portentous moral evil because it was an abnormal one. The millions of human beings who had sacrificed wealth, happiness, and life itself in fighting the battles of some parochial state, whose subjects they had happened to be, had mostly gone to war, not because they had delighted in War for its own sake, but because they had more or less ruefully resigned themselves to war-making as an evil necessary for the preservation of another evil – Parochial Sovereignty – to which they had perversely said “Be thou my good”. [Footnote: Milton: Paradise Lost, Book IV, l. 110.] In contrast to this normal negative human attitude towards the evil of War, militarism was a state of mind in which War had ceased to be looked upon merely as a means of serving an idolized state and had become an idol and an end in itself; and this cult of War was manifestly something contrary to Human Nature.

On this showing, it was disquieting for a Western historian to recall in A.D. 1952 that a Modern Western militarism in its pristine Prussian form had made its first appearance – regnantibus Frederico Gulielmo I et Frederico II, A.D. 1713-86 – in an age in which, of all ages of latter-day Western history, the evil of War had been at its minimum. Yet this Western militarism, as it had been practised in Prussia in the days of Frederick the Great and even in the darker days of Bismarck, had been, like the Hellenic militarism practised at Sparta in the days of Cleomenes I, a vice that had still been kept within bounds by a surviving respect for at least some of a civilization’s traditional conventions. The more devastating militarism of a post-Bismarckian Prussia-Germany which had brought upon the Western World the catastrophe of A.D. 1914-18 had been a Western counterpart of a Spartan spirit, exacerbated by the Great Atheno-Peloponnesian War of 431-404 B.C., which had found its nemesis in 371 B.C. at Leuctra, or of a Babylonic militarism practised in Assyria in the days of Asshurnazirpal II and Shalmaneser III (regnabant 883-824 B.C.). As for the mad-dog militarism of a National-Socialist Germany, this could only be compared with the last phase of the furor Assyriacus, after its temperature had been raised to the third degree by Tiglath-Pileser III (regnabat 746-727 B.C.). It was true that, in A.D. 1952, it might look as if the fires of Western militarism had at least temporarily burnt themselves out, even in Germany, and at the same date it seemed improbable that even the virus of Russophobia would prove sufficiently inflammatory to kindle the same flame in the traditionally unpropitious atmosphere of the United States. Nevertheless, the fact that, no farther than seven years back, one of the principal nations of the Western World had been still waging an unprovoked war for war’s sake, and this with all its might, was a fact of bad augury for the Western Civilization’s prospects.

A Study of History, Vol IX, OUP, 1954

Parliaments and alcohol and that kind of thing

November 17 2013

A conversation […] took place in the nineteen-twenties between the Zaydi Imam Yahya of Sanʿa and a British envoy whose mission was to persuade the Imam to restore peacefully a portion of the British Aden Protectorate which he had occupied during the general War of 1914-18 and had refused to evacuate thereafter, notwithstanding the defeat of his Ottoman overlords. In a final interview with the Imam, after it had become apparent that the mission would not attain its object, the British envoy, wishing to give the conversation another turn, complimented the Imam upon the soldierly appearance of his new-model army. Seeing that the Imam took the compliment in good part, he went on:

“And I suppose you will be adopting other Western institutions as well?”

“I think not,” said the Imam with a smile.

“Oh, really? That interests me. And may I venture to ask your reasons?”

“Well, I don’t think I should like other Western institutions,” said the Imam.

“Indeed? And what institutions, for example?”

“Well, there are parliaments,” said the Imam. “I like to be the Government myself. I might find a parliament tiresome.”

“Why, as for that,” said the Englishman, “I can assure you that responsible parliamentary representative government is not an indispensable part of the apparatus of Western civilization. Look at Italy. She has given that up, and she is one of the great Western powers.”

“Well, then there is alcohol,” said the Imam, “I don’t want to see that introduced into my country, where at present it is happily almost unknown.”

“Very natural,” said the Englishman; “but, if it comes to that, I can assure you that alcohol is not an indispensable adjunct of Western civilization either. Look at America. She has given up that, and she too is one of the great Western powers.”

“Well, anyhow,” said the Imam, with another smile which seemed to intimate that the conversation was at an end, “I don’t like parliaments and alcohol and that kind of thing.”

The Englishman could not make out whether there was any suggestion of humour in the parting smile with which the last five words were uttered; but, however that might be, those words went to the heart of the matter and showed that the inquiry about possible further Western innovations at Sanʿa had been more pertinent than the Imam might have cared to admit. Those words indicated, in fact, that the Imam, viewing Western civilization from a great way off, saw it, in that distant perspective, as something one and indivisible and recognized certain features of it, which to a Westerner’s eye would appear to have nothing whatever to do with one another, as being organically related parts of that indivisible whole. Thus, on his own tacit admission, the Imam, in adopting the rudiments of the Western military technique, had introduced into the life of his people the thin end of a wedge which in time would inexorably cleave their close-compacted traditional Islamic civilization asunder. He had started a cultural revolution which would leave the Yamanites, in the end, with no alternative but to cover their nakedness with a complete ready-made outfit of Western clothes. If the Imam had met his Hindu contemporary Mr. Gandhi, that is what he would have been told, and such a prophecy would have been supported by what had happened already to other Islamic peoples who had exposed themselves to the insidious process of “Westernization” several generations earlier.

Toynbee’s distant perspectives are as dangerous as the Imam’s. The modern cultural interaction of the West with other societies was a subtler process than he acknowledges. He rarely examines its nuances. He had a rather superficial conception of what constituted modernity.

The Imam is, in Toynbeean terminology, a Zealot rather than a Herodian.

Britain in Yemen (old post).

List of British residents in Aden.

Civilization on Trial, OUP, 1948

Putin fact-checked

September 12 2013

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