July 2016 Vol 66 Issue 7
Tragic? Yes. Wasteful? Yes. Futile? No.
Publisher Andy Patterson Editor Paul Lay Digital Manager Dean Nicholas Picture Research Mel Haselden Reviews Editor Philippa Joseph Contributing Editor Kate Wiles Editorial Assistant Rhys Griffiths Art Director Gary Cook Subscriptions Manager Cheryl Deflorimonte Subscriptions Assistant Ava Bushell Accounts Sharon Harris Board of Directors Simon Biltcliffe (Chairman), Tim Preston CONTACTS History Today is published monthly by History Today Ltd, 2nd Floor, 9/10 Staple Inn London WC1V 7QH. Tel: 020 3219 7810 [email protected]
Flowers of fascism: Jean-Louis Trintignant in Il conformista.
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EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD Dr Simon Adams University of Strathclyde Dr John Adamson Peterhouse, Cambridge Professor Richard Bessel University of York Professor Jeremy Black University of Exeter Professor Paul Dukes University of Aberdeen Professor Martin Evans University of Sussex Juliet Gardiner Historian and author Tom Holland Historian and author Gordon Marsden MP for Blackpool South Dr Roger Mettam Queen Mary, University of London Professor Geoffrey Parker Ohio State University Professor Paul Preston London School of Economics Professor M.C. Ricklefs The Australian National University Professor Ulinka Rublack St John’s College, Cambridge Professor Nigel Saul Royal Holloway, University of London Dr David Starkey Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge Professor T.P. Wiseman University of Exeter Professor Chris Wrigley University of Nottingham All written material, unless otherwise stated, is the copyright of History Today
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FROM THE EDITOR I HAVE LONG FELT GUILTY about my attraction to Italian fascist architecture, for which I blame an early addiction to film-maker Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 expressionist study of political compromise and deceit, Il conformista. Yet, if there is a more beautiful 20th-century building than the vast post office that graces central Naples, I have yet to see it. So I felt a sense of relief when, in June, Jonathan Meades, TV’s most brilliant, belligerent and historically aware auteur, devoted 90 minutes to the subject in his documentary, Ben Building: Mussolini, Monuments and Modernism, which examined architecture under the regime of the ‘Dictator who could not dictate’. Meades’ essay, ‘Form and Fascism’, in which he outlines his thoughts on the topic, can be found on page 43. Meades has long made plain his detestation of fascism and totalitarianism of all kinds, as well as his militant atheism – previously he has made coruscating, thrilling programmes on architecture under Hitler and Stalin – but he makes a crucial point when he says: ‘The attribution to inanimate objects of humours or moral qualities is half-witted … Can a car be fascist?’ The best of Italian architecture produced during Mussolini’s time has survived despite Il Duce and his thugs. Much of it is extraordinary, the best of it is sublime. And so to the ridiculous. At exactly the same time that Meades’ playful provocations were being broadcast on BBC4, BBC2 offered us the first episode of Versailles, a rompy-pompy French drama, allegedly the most expensive ever made in that country, which purports to give life to the court of the priapic Sun King, Louis XIV. It is what one might expect: oodles of nudity (which apparently is a big thing, though it is no more daring than that in I, Claudius – first broadcast in 1976); a smattering of violence, to hold the Game of Thrones crowd; and lots and lots of hair. In other words it is a take it or leave it, silly if sometimes enjoyable, riff on a few popular cliches about early modern kingship, similar in style and what content there is to the highly profitable TV drama, The Tudors. I am assured by those who have a stake in this kind of thing that the script improves. Yet the most historic thing about Versailles, a fact overlooked by those historians who have lashed themselves to its banner, is that such a high-profile French production is in English. When even France, that most chauvinistic of cultures, embraces the Anglosphere, that is truly historic. It is also rather sad.
Willoughbyland • Dissection Theatres • Byzantine Lessons • Pieter Geyl
The Colony of ‘Eternal Spring’ The short-lived colony of Willoughbyland, in what is now Suriname, was both verdant and dangerous. In the end, it was exchanged for New York. Matthew Parker THREE AND A HALF centuries ago this month, on July 26th, 1666, an English armada of warships and 1,000 men, en route from Barbados to recapture the island of St Kitts from the French, was struck by a devastating hurricane. Almost the entire fleet, together with the men on board, was destroyed, driven ashore at Guadeloupe, with wreckage washed up on Martinique as well. Of its commander, the Governor of the ‘Charibbee Islands’, Francis, Lord Willoughby, there would be no trace, except a couch, recognised as his own, ‘and some peeses of a ship’ washed ashore at Montserrat. Thus ended an extraordinary career. A Presbyterian from a wealthy Lincolnshire family, Francis, Lord Willoughby was a parliamentary general in the first years of the Civil Wars. But alarmed by the ‘levelling principles’ taking hold of the army and Parliament, he defected to the Royalists in early 1648. Meanwhile, he put together an exit strategy, securing a share of the proprietorship of the English Caribbean islands. Following the execution of the king and seeing that ‘all is gone at home’, Willoughby, like many other Cavaliers, set sail for Barbados, which had declared itself Royalist. When a parliamentary fleet arrived
Aphra Behn found it a land where all things ‘by nature are rare, delightful and wonderful’, ‘a place of Eternal Spring’
Cavalier colonist: etching of Francis, Lord Willoughby, 1647.
to subdue the island, Willoughby determined to resist, asking why Barbados should obey ‘a Parliament in which we have no Representatives, or persons chosen by us?’ But after two months’ blockade, the Royalists surrendered. Once again, though, Willoughby had an exit plan. Soon after his arrival in the West Indies he had sponsored
an expedition to the ‘Wild Coast’ of Guiana. Here he had established a small satellite colony – Willoughbyland – in what is now Suriname. Many previous efforts at European settlement in the Guianas had failed, usually ending with a massacre by the indigenous inhabitants, called ‘Caribs’ by the English, who could fire ‘ten or twelve arrows in the time it takes to load a gun’. But Willoughby had made a treaty with the local ‘Carib’ kings and secured an uneasy peace. The soil was spectacularly fecund and far inland, it was rumoured, lay the golden city of El Dorado. Expelled from Barbados in March 1652, the Cavaliers transferred to Willoughbyland. Aphra Behn, later a giant of the Restoration stage, spent about seven months in Suriname from mid-1663, an experience that would inspire her masterpiece, Oroonoko. She found it a land where all things ‘by nature are rare, delightful and wonderful’, ‘a place of Eternal Spring’, where ‘the blissfully warm air’ was fragrant with the scents of oranges, lemons, figs, nutmeg and ‘noble aromatics’. Sometimes, she writes, the heat was ‘something violent’. An earlier visitor praised the ‘luxuriant soil’ and declared Willoughbyland the most beautiful place on Earth. He also devoted a whole chapter of his book to ‘Things there Venomous and Hurtful’, including electric eels and jaguars, as well as ‘snakes, crocodiles, scorpions, bats, ants, mosquitoes, toads, and frogs’. However rich or alarming the wildlife, the soil was undoubtedly luxuriant. As well as trading with the ‘Caribs’ for tobacco and cotton goods, the first settlers, numbering some 300, planted cotton and tobacco themselves and harvested valuable dyestuffs and hardwoods. Willoughby himself had quickly left for England, to recruit new settlers and to plot for the return of the monarchy. Left alone for a decade, the colony boomed. As well as rich soil, JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 3
HISTORYMATTERS Willoughbyland enjoyed free trade with all comers and friendly relations with neighbouring French and Dutch colonies. It was agreed that, even if their countries were at war elsewhere, the Guiana colonies would remain at peace. Freedom of religion was established in Willoughbyland, which quickly attracted numerous Jewish immigrants, who were granted freedom of conscience, the right to erect a synagogue (the first of which was built in 1654), eligibility for election as burgesses and from seven to 12 years’ exemption from taxation. There was even democracy, described
Freedom of religion was established in Willoughbyland, which quickly attracted numerous Jewish immigrants, who were granted freedom of conscience by one settler as ‘a peculiar form of government, elective in the people’, with the annual election of a governor from among the planters. By the end of the 1650s there were 4,000 settlers and this number grew weekly with incomers and with ‘succeeding generation, for the women are very prolifical and have lusty children’. There were around 200 plantations lining the rivers that constituted the sole method of travel and transport, of which 50 were now growing what was considered the finest sugar in the world. In May 1662 a London newspaper informed its readership: ‘Surynam ... is coming to the highest probability of being the richest and healthfullest of all our foreign settlements’. A government inspector declared it England’s most hopeful colony anywhere in the world. Yet the colony had already reached its zenith. The Restoration triggered a series of disasters in Willoughbyland. The elected governor, William Byam, described by Aphra Behn as ‘the most fawning fair-tongu’d fellow in the world ... not fit to be mentioned with the worst of slaves’, used the return of the king to declare himself permanent governor. As he later explained: ‘Here democracy fell, by the loyal concessions to monarchy.’ The scheduled elections were cancelled as a ‘needlesse and 4 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
unnecessary Charge and Trouble to the inhabitants’. There were fierce protests and Byam started locking up or expelling his critics. Soon the colony had descended into angry factionalism. As a reward for his constant plotting, after the Restoration Willoughby was given the governorship of the ‘Charibbee’ islands and also proprietorship of Willoughbyland, to be held jointly with the Earl of Clarendon. This gave him almost unlimited power, a state of affairs unwelcome to many planters there. When at last Willoughby visited his colony in November 1664, he only narrowly survived assassination. Worse, his entourage introduced a fever into the colony, which killed as many as a third of the population. War brought the final ruin. At the beginning of 1666, Willoughby ordered Byam to overturn the gentlemen’s agreement and attack nearby Dutch colonies and then, in June 1666, the French settlements to the east. Losses in the fighting weakened a Willoughbyland already decimated by disease and desertions. Willoughby’s death at sea the following month further depressed morale. So, when a fleet from Zeeland arrived at the Suriname River in February 1667, the English defenders of Fort Willoughby quickly surrendered. The fort was recaptured in October but by then the Treaty of Breda had been signed. This was the end of Willoughbyland’s brief existence, given to the Dutch in exchange for their colony New Amsterdam, later renamed New York.
Matthew Parker is the author of Willoughbyland: England’s Lost Colony (Windmill Books, 2015). Alternative Histories by Rob Murray
The Star is the Corpse The dissection theatres of 17th-century Europe were hot tourist spots, spectacles that mixed medicine with art. Anna Jamieson THE ANATOMICAL THEATRE in the Archiginnasio of Bologna is one of the city’s most intriguing tourist attractions. For three euros, tourists can visit the anatomical theatre and the former university, one of Europe’s first. But the space is missing one vital feature: a corpse. In the 1650s the crowds would not have flocked to take photographs and gaze at the architectural features. Rather, they came to gawp at the dead. This cultural phenomenon was not just reserved for Italy, despite the presence of theatres in Padua, Verona, Venice and Rome. Across Europe,
anatomical theatres affiliated with the early universities steadily became tourist attractions, due to the public dissections they held. From Leiden to Paris, Amsterdam and London, these unusual urban sites opened their doors to an enthused and interested public. As the 17th century progressed, the anatomical theatre became a focal point of city life, where the fashionable elite would gather. Not solely reserved for medical men, it represented an enlightened arena, where clergymen, magistrates, merchants, administrators and even royalty could mingle. Bologna’s is not the only anatomical theatre that survives; Leiden and Padua serve as the earliest modern examples that continue to operate as tourist venues. Both built in 1594, they offered anatomy lessons in the form of weekly dissections for university students and the public alike. Sessions took place during the coldest months of the year – to preserve the corpses – with different ones dedicated to particular organs or systems of the human body. In 1638 Bologna followed suit and, by the end of the 17th century, Europe was
Theatre of death: the anatomical theatre in the Archiginnasio, Bologna.
awash with anatomical theatres. Putatively designed for educational purposes, their function soon proved multifarious, as other uses quickly surfaced. Grandiose in scale, ornate in decoration, the varying theatres of Europe were often different stylistically, most had one thing in common: those dissected had been executed as criminals. Aside from Bologna, where relaxed laws allowed other methods of procuring the dead, most theatres relied on a flow of corpses coming directly from the gallows. In this sense, a trip to the anatomical theatre went hand in hand with viewing a public execution. Shortly after viewing a hanging or execution, witnesses could then see the same individual being dissected, and a strange, macabre and popular source of urban entertainment began to unfold. As a result, viewing a public dissection came to mean more than just a medical investigation. In Italy especially, dissections took place during communal festivities; most notably, the Carnival. Despite the fact that these celebrations coincided with the cooler months, the historian Giovanni Ferrari argues that the intermingling of festivities and public dissections was a very deliberate choice by Bolognese officials, designed to encourage large audiences to attend. ‘Out of season’ dissections were often badly attended and labelled as unsuccessful by organisers, regardless of the usefulness of the lecture or the range of subjects covered. As one observer described, Bologna’s theatre was ‘one of the most renowned constructions in Italy, the constant amazement of foreigners, and the glory of the city wherein it was built’. This interplay between wonder, recognition and glory suggests that what was important here was not education or medical progress but, rather, a large audience, international prestige and a reinforcement of the university’s authority, medical or otherwise. As Jonathan Sawday notes, no respectable English traveller would travel to Holland and miss Leiden’s anatomical theatre, often the highlight of a visit. In 1641, the writer and diarist John Evelyn wrote that: ‘Amongst all the rarities of this place, I was much-pleased with the sight of the anatomy school, theatre and repository adjoining.’
By the mid-17th century the anatomical theatre was no longer seen, by the medical set at least, as a place of anatomical discovery. Rather, jostling crowds and competing academic factions meant that getting a good seat was tricky and students tended to rely on private closed sessions, reserved for medics, to advance their understanding of the body. Historians now argue that it was the ceremonial, symbolic and ultimately spectacular function of the anatomical theatre that drew in crowds. In Bologna, posters were papered up around the city announcing the date and time of the public sessions. Like a show or museum, entry was ticketed and, usually, paid for. Often, the audience would be entertained with music beforehand and reports were made of rowdy revellers and hecklers, excited by the festivities. A vigorous set of rituals consolidated this sense of ceremony. The audience sat according to rank and a dress code was maintained. Theatres themselves were extremely beautiful and ornate, often loosely based on classical models, such as the Colosseum, and carved from wood. Like Roman emperors, anatomists behaved like showmen and often sat aloft on decorated ‘thrones’. The sense of spectacle was reinforced by wooden carvings of renowned physicians or eerie sculptures and wall paintings of skeletons, strange and unsettling mementos mori. All these elements created an enticing atmosphere of drama and display, where viewing the dead through an aesthetic and even celebratory eye was encouraged. Despite the disapproval of medical men, such as William Hunter, anatomical science had become a form of spectacle, its gaze no longer purely medical, which often descended into voyeurism. Whatever the motive for viewing the dead, by the 1800s the popularity of the anatomical theatre was waning, as new teaching methods developed and public interest decreased. Today, some still stand, relics of a continuing relationship between medicine and the arts, a fascinating meeting point for historians of theatre, science and culture.
Anna Jamieson is a masters student of History of Art at Birkbeck, University of London. JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 5
Victims of Their Own Success The United States should heed the lessons of 1,000 years ago, if it is to sustain its military superiority. Peter Frankopan THE PICTURE is a familiar one. Young men, spurred on by religious beliefs and encouraged by their peers, gathered on the edges of Asia Minor, waiting to attack the Christian world to the west. Immense kudos was to be won within the Muslim world from inflicting pain and damage on innocent victims: men, women and children who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Launching attacks could and did cause untold damage to the economy, driving fear and changing the way people lived, moved and thought. Training bases in northern Syria prepared eager wouldbe soldiers, teaching them the survival techniques needed to infiltrate enemy territory and, of course, how to launch their attacks. And spiritual rewards were on offer too: a place in paradise, if you met your end during the mission. That
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was Asia Minor 11 centuries ago. The Roman Empire splintered in two spectacular explosions. First, Rome itself was sacked in 410 and then its western provinces and many of those of North Africa collapsed later in the fifth century. Two hundred years later, ‘the most important parts of the Empire’ did not just remain standing, but were flourishing. Centred on the great city of Constantinople, the East Roman (or Byzantine) Empire, controlled the wealthy grain basket of the Nile delta, as well as Anatolia (modern Turkey), much of the Balkans, Greece, Palestine and Syria. Life looked rosy, as the numismatic and archaeological records show. The second expansion brought the Byzantine Empire to its knees as followers of the Prophet Muhammad poured out of the Arabian peninsula in the 630s, forging a vast new world that linked Spain with the Middle East and Central Asia, pushing right up to the border with China by 751. The Empire hung on for dear life, pouring resources into a frontier network across Asia Minor to hold back the tide. Byzantine generals were realistic about how secure the border could be: there was no hope of stopping bands of motivated, fast-moving individuals from penetrating under the cover of darkness or otherwise: policing a frontier in this way required (and still requires) money,
time, resources and people to maintain it. Instead, the Byzantines had to learn how to deal with attacks. They identified patterns. Timing was predictable; so, too, were the targets: the attackers were more keen on glory than death, on the bragging rights in this world than the next and more keen on enriching themselves than finding out what paradise had to offer. The best approach was to adapt to the reality and prepare for regular pin-pricks, rather than becoming the target of more powerful forces further away. As seen from Constantinople, there would
The USAF – like the Byzantine army of the 10th and 11th centuries – is a victim of its own success
Eternal war: battle between the Byzantine and Arab armies, from the Madrid Skylitzes, 11th century.
always be problems on the periphery, so it was important to build relations with Baghdad and Cairo and to use official channels to try to rein in troublesome warlords in border zones, whose successes could destabilise not just the Byzantine Empire but the Abbasid Caliphate, too. In the 10th century, however, the balance began to change. A series of economic shocks rattled the economies of the Middle East and Central Asia, in part the result of a period of climate change. Soul searching in Baghdad opened the door for daring Byzantine raids that knocked out the attack bases that had been used to such great effect for almost 200 years. That, in turn, changed the make-up and fighting practices of the imperial military. Having pioneered defensive tactics to prevent raids causing too much damage, attention now turned to big targets: fortified towns and cities. Within the space of a generation, the Byzantines had rolled the frontier back hundreds of miles, recovering places long lost to Muslims. The jewel in the crown was Antioch in northern Syria, the gateway to Palestine, but also the protecting valve to defend Asia Minor and the interior. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the century that followed saw an astonishing period of economic and demographic growth, as well as an intellectual and cultural flowering, as artists, scholars and writers like Michael
Psellos created some of the treasures of Byzantine culture. The problem was that when a new threat appeared in the form of the Sekjuk Turks in the 11th century, it took the Byzantines too long to remember how to fight a rearguard action. Instead of dealing swiftly with nimble attackers, a ploy that had worked in the past, the response was to send large, heavy armies that took too long to move and were left chasing shadows. A similar problem, it seems, is facing the US Air Force today. In a recently published report, Lt General David Barno, former Commander of Military Operations in Afghanistan, argued that the USAF – like the Byzantine army of the 10th and 11th centuries – is a victim of its own success. Not a single American warplane has been shot down by an enemy aircraft since 1991; and not one has been lost to enemy air defences since 2003. ‘As a result’, General Bardo notes, ‘the risk to aircraft and airmen in combat has become nearly negligible’. At a time when the US is acutely aware of growing ambition and military expenditure by China and Russia, the fact that pilots have never experienced ‘contested air war’ means that investment is needed to prepare for threats of the future and not those of the present. It also means that skills need to be taught and developed in advance, rather than when it is too late. ‘Resilience’, for example, to enable soldiers and airmen to cope when ‘more and more squadrons of their mates don’t come home’, should be impressed on serving a military that has got used to undisputed superiority. When the going had been good in Constantinople 1,000 years ago, there were voices like those of General Barno, too, who warned about under-funding in the armed forces and the fact that young people did not want to serve the emperor but to feather their own nests by becoming lawyers and making money. By the time anyone listened, it was too late. Whether General Barno’s warning meets the same deaf ears remains to be seen.
Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads: A New History of the World is published by Bloomsbury (UK) and Knopf (US).
The Lives of Pieter Geyl
On the 50th anniversary of his death, we should recall the career and influence of the great Dutch historian.
Stijn Vanrossen PIETER GEYL’S influential career not only shaped the development of the historical profession in Britain but, at the time of his death, he was one of the few historians writing in a ‘minor language’ to have attained world fame. Pieter Geyl arrived in London in 1914 as a correspondent for the Nieuwe Rotterdamse Courant, one of the largest Dutch newspapers, and interviewed political leaders such as Robert Cecil, Winston Churchill and Éamon de Valera. After the First World War he became the first professor of Dutch Studies at the University of London, with a chair created by the Dutch government at both University College London and Bedford College for Women. Encounters in History, the 1963 His early professional edition. years were notably difficult: the individualist Geyl soon clashed with the provost, Sir Gregory Foster, and was almost fired. Being a professor was but one of the lives Geyl led in this period. From 1919 he acted as the London representative of the Nationaal Bureau voor Documentatie over Nederland, a foreign affairs agency that paid a number of ‘silent attachés’ to influence public opinion and improve the image of the Netherlands abroad. The Dutch had stayed neutral during the First World War, causing a diplomatic rift with neighbouring Belgium, which was seeking international support to annex parts of the Netherlands as retribution. At the same time, Geyl supported the Greater Netherlands movement, advocating the unification of Flanders with the Nether-
lands, and paid regular visits to Belgium to meet with champions of the Flemish case and to giving public speeches. His political influence is illustrated by the fact that he was refused entry into Belgium in 1929 and 1931 and almost missed his appointment at the University of Utrecht in 1936, as a large part of the academic staff saw him as a troublemaker with dangerous political views. On the brink of the Second World War, Geyl moved away from the Greater Netherlands movement, which aligned itself increasingly with fascism. A lecture series in Rotterdam, only months after the invasion of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany, on the figure of Napoleon in which parallels with Hitler were all too clear, led to his arrest and initial transfer to Buchenwald concentration camp. Geyl was detained until 1944, mainly in the Netherlands. In Dutch historiography, Geyl is best known for his unfinished multi-volume study, three decades in its creation, on the joint history of the Dutch-speaking people of the Netherlands and Flanders, in which his political ideas and personal hopes at times overwhelmed his historical judgement. In the English-speaking world, he found intellectual fame when he turned from primary research to historical criticism and the philosophy of history, perhaps most notably in an intellectual boxing match with Arnold Toynbee on BBC radio in 1948, where Geyl showed himself as a vehement opponent of the determinism apparent in Toynbee’s A Study of History (1934-39). Geyl demanded a humble position for the historian: historical research will always have a relative character and must be stripped as much as possible from big theoretical frameworks or conclusive certainties. In his work on Napoleon, Geyl defined history, like Ranke, as an argument without end. And Geyl loved to argue, as Toynbee himself wrote in his obituary on Geyl in 1967: ‘The fact was that Geyl could not resist the temptation to seize any opportunity for having a fight in any kind of arena that offered itself.’
Geyl in Britain. The Institute of Historical Research and University College London will organise a conference on the impact of Pieter Geyl in Britain on November 18th, 2016. The full programme will be announced on history.ac.uk in June. JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 7
The first day of the Somme, July 1st, 1916, has become synonomous with incompetent leadership and a callous disregard for human life. Gary Sheffield offers a more complex picture of the four-month-long battle and the role played by General Sir Douglas Haig.
An exercise in futility? The Battle of the Somme, or at least its opening day, is such a notorious event that it
is difficult to assess it objectively. On the first day of the offensive, July 1st, 1916, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) suffered 57,000 casualties, of whom 19,000 were killed. This was just the beginning of a four-month attritional struggle, which may have resulted in as many as 1.2 million British, French and German casualties. The Allies advanced a maximum of seven miles. Arras and Passchendaele followed in 1917, battles that similarly failed to break through the German trenches but which caused enormous losses. Such was the scale of the suffering that many see the Somme as mere futile slaughter and the Commander-in-Chief of the BEF, General (later Field Marshal) Sir Douglas Haig as a criminally incompetent ‘butcher’. At least in the anglophone world, it is difficult to separate the reputation of the Somme from that of Haig, both of which have undergone revision in recent years. 10 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
British and German walking wounded on their way to a dressing station near Bernafay Wood, July 19th, 1916.
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Clockwise from above: the 20th Deccan Horse of the Indian Army line up in preparation for attack, Bazentin Ridge, July 1916; General Sir Henry Rawlinson, by Francis Dodd, 1917; Douglas Haig, newly promoted to Field Marshal, by William Orpen, 1917.
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From the 1980s onwards scholars began a full-scale reassessment of the BEF. A rough consensus emerged that, faced with the seemingly intractable problems of trench warfare and revolutionary changes in the conduct of war, the BEF eventually adapted well to these new conditions and by 1918 it had emerged as an effective fighting force. There is no such consensus about Haig. Historians such as Tim Travers, Ian Beckett, Paul Harris and the team of Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson take a generally dim view of his generalship. Other historians, such as Stephen Badsey, John Bourne and Peter Simkins, although far from uncritical, regard Haig in a more positive light. Even in the 1960s, when risible books such as Alan Clark’s The Donkeys (actually about the British army in 1915) attracted much attention, some historians such as John Terraine, Cyril Falls and Anthony Farrar-Hockley had been prepared to see the Somme as something other than blind slaughter. The Somme continues to divide historians. Prior and Wilson’s 2006 book The Somme takes a downbeat view of the battle. By contrast, my study, The Somme (2003), places the offensive in the context of the BEF’s learning process and argues that the battle was an attritional success for the Entente powers, an essential step on the road to eventual victory. William Philpott’s 2009 book goes even further. To quote its title, the Somme was a ‘Bloody Victory’, Philpott being perhaps the first historian since Terraine to make that claim, and he, too, explicitly links the 1916 battle with Allied success in 1918 (he also firmly re-inserts the French army into the narrative of the Somme). Today, the debate goes on: the 2016 edition of Prior and Wilson’s Somme is critical of Haig and robustly disputes Philpott’s thesis.
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME was the consequence of Allied strategy agreed in late 1915, whereby sequential offensives would be mounted on the Eastern, Western and Italian fronts. The Franco-British contribution was to be a ‘push’ in the area of the River Somme. Originally, the French army was to play the major role but the German offensive at Verdun, which began on February 21st, 1916, changed all that. Increasing numbers of French divisions were committed to Verdun, meaning that, when the attack was finally launched, on July 1st, it was Haig’s BEF that took the lead. This was a major test for the British. Much of the BEF consisted of raw wartime volunteers, the majority fighting in their first major battle. This deprived the BEF of the advantage of being nursed through the Somme by the experienced French army. On the northern part of the battlefield on July 1st there was some initial success, which could not be sustained, but otherwise it was a picture of bloody failure. South of the Roman road that ran diagonally across the battlefield things were different. Indeed, on the extreme right of the line the British took all of their objectives and the French did exceptionally well, the latter’s advances being achieved while sustaining very light casualties. July 1st, 1916 was the beginning, not the end of the Battle of the Somme. For four months, until November 18th, the Allies continued the offensive, gradually forcing the Germans back but failing to deliver a knockout blow. Such a result was almost certainly impossible to achieve on the Western Front in 1916. It was certainly beyond the capabilities of the inexperienced BEF. The Somme is central to assessments of Haig’s generalship. He has been accused of being ludicrously over-optimistic and of failing to exercise proper control over his senior subordinates. Other writers, while acknowledging Haig’s mistakes, view the Somme as a key stage in his learning experience. It is important to remember that he had only become C-in-C in December 1915 and it was the first major battle which he had commanded at this level. As C-in-C, Haig’s responsibilities were huge. He was far more than just a battlefield commander. Rather, he was a ‘war manager’, answerable to the government for the operations, discipline, training, logistics and welfare of the largest British army in history. In today’s terms he was an Army Group Commander, responsible for conducting operations; a theatre commander with a
Haig (in cap) and Rawlinson leaving the Fourth Army headquarters, Querrieu, July 1916.
It is important to remember that Haig had only become C-in-C in December 1915 and it was the first battle he had commanded at this level JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 13
SOMME huge political and administrative burden; and a National Contingent Commander, the senior British soldier in the coalition forces on the Western Front. Arguably, as C-in-C he simply had too much to do, but Haig was reluctant to give up any of his responsibilities. One of Haig’s urgent tasks on becoming C-in-C was to establish his authority. As a full general, he was the same rank as his army commanders. Although Haig’s authority was surprisingly limited (he did not have a free hand in hiring and firing), he made it clear that he would only allow promotion on merit and was prepared to work with men with whom he had a difficult relationship. General Sir Henry Rawlinson, commander of Fourth Army, had been caught trying to scapegoat a subordinate for a failure in battle in 1915, but after due consideration Haig had decided not to sack him. In December 1915 Haig recommended Rawlinson for promotion knowing that he was ‘not a sincere man’ but believing ‘he has brains and experience’. It has been argued that Haig’s forbidding character discouraged subordinates from discussion because they were scared of him. It is an assertion undermined by the planning for the Somme, during which there was a great deal of debate between Haig and Rawlinson. In the end, the Fourth Army commander simply ignored his C-in-C.
1915 Dec 6-8th
Allied strategy for 1916 agreed as Chantilly conference
1916 Feb 21st
German offensive at Verdun begins
Allied artillery bombardment on Somme begins
Allied offensive on Somme begins
Germans go onto defensive at Verdun
British dawn attack captures Bazentin ridge
Australians capture Pozières
Battle of Guillemont
French nearly break through at Bouchavesnes
British capture Delville Wood after two month struggle
British launch battle of Flers-Courcelette (first use of tanks)
Battle of Morval
Capture of Thiepval
Oct 1st-Nov 11th
Battle of the Ancre Heights
Battle of the Ancre begins
Battle of the Ancre and entire Somme offensive concludes
Battle of Verdun comes to an end
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THREE OTHER CHARGES are often made against Haig. First, he was too optimistic. There is some truth in this. Certainly his tendency to believe what he wanted to believe about the German morale and manpower reserves was, in 1916, his most serious defect as a commander. Brigadier-General Charteris, his intelligence chief, shared Haig’s optimism, but was not the cause of it. The second charge is that he was a technophobe. On the contrary, Haig was a keen advocate of tanks, aircraft, artillery and machine-guns. In fact, one of Haig’s most important achievements was to oversee the transformation of the BEF from a mere collection of units into a war-winning army. He played a critical role in the adoption of modern technology into the BEF, as well as developing training, logistics, doctrine and numerous other matters. Even during the victorious campaigns of 1918, the BEF was a flawed instrument of war. On the Somme two years earlier, the learning curve was steep indeed: but it was real. The much-improved performance of the BEF at the beginning to the Battle of Arras in April 1917 is testimony to that, although there was still much to learn. Strangely, many historians have downplayed the significance of his wider role as a war manager. A third criticism is that Haig was callous. Although he was a ruthless practitioner of total war, he was not heartless with it. He had a full measure of paternalism common to British regular army officers. ‘Why waste your time painting me?’, he burst out to William Orpen, when he was sitting for his portrait. ‘Go and paint the men. They’re the fellows that are saving the world, and they’re getting killed every day.’ Haig’s remoteness from the ordinary soldier should not be equated with callousness. His means of imposing his personality on the army, by inspecting them on parade and publishing orders, was appropriate for an army drawn from a deferential society although, as his aide-de-camp noted, Haig ‘talks to any odd man in the road: all being a means to the end, to keep in touch with the spirit of his troops’. Haig faced the same dilemma as every military commander in history: to achieve objectives, he had to put his own troops in harm’s way. He commanded more British soldiers than any other general, before or since. Given that simple fact and the general bloodiness of the fighting on the Western Front, it was inevitable that more British soldiers would be killed on Haig’s watch than at any other time in Britain’s military history. In preparing for the Somme, Haig had a ‘Plan A’: an ambitious operation to break through the German positions and reopen mobile warfare; and a ‘Plan B’: a more limited attritional offensive, possibly combined with an attack at Ypres. He has been much criticised for an antediluvian approach to modern war because he kept faith in cavalry. As innovative recent research has demonstrated, however, even on the Western Front
‘Gough’s Mobile Army’ was the victim of a fundamental disagreement between Haig and Rawlinson
Welsh Guards in a reserve trench at Guillemont, early September 1916.
cavalry could be highly effective, as was demonstrated on July 14th, 1916 near High Wood. The cavalry most definitely had a role in open warfare. If a tactical defeat of enemy infantry is to be converted into something greater, it is essential to have an instrument of exploitation, i.e. troops that can move faster than foot-soldiers, to get in among the retreating enemy and rout them. Given that the tank was only introduced in September 1916 and, in any case, was far too slow and unreliable to be used in this role, cavalry was Haig’s only option. The experience of the Germans in March 1918, when they pushed the BEF back but were unable to build on their initial success, demonstrated the perils of mounting an offensive without cavalry.
Haig intended all-arms groups of Hubert Gough’s Reserve Army to play a key role. ‘When a break in [the enemy’s] line is made’, Haig instructed, ‘cavalry and mobile troops must be at hand to advance at once to make a bridgehead (until relieved by infantry) beyond the gap ... At the same time our mounted troops must cooperate with our main attacking force in widening the gap.’ This was a bold, imaginative response to the problems identified in 1915, firmly grounded in the practice of earlier years and anticipating many of the post-1918 developments in mobile warfare. But it was also extremely ambitious and the staff work and traffic control involved would have severely taxed the inexperienced BEF. In the event, ‘Gough’s Mobile Army’ was the JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 15
On June 30th, Haig wrote to his wife: ‘I feel that everything possible for us to achieve success has been done’
Men of the Royal Field Artillery haul an 18-pounder gun into position at Delville Wood, September 15th, 1916.
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victim of a fundamental disagreement between Haig and Rawlinson about how the Battle of the Somme should be fought. Rawlinson’s plan aimed for limited advances to capture the high ground followed by a pause to break up the inevitable German counterattacks. The eventual plan that emerged was an unhappy compromise between two fundamentally different concepts of operations. Rawlinson paid lip service to the C-in-C’s concept while quietly working to subvert it. The consequence was tragic. The situation in the early afternoon of July 1st, with the German First Position in British hands, cried out for Gough’s Reserve Army to fight its way onto the weakly defended Second Position. The Germans had few forces to stop a determined advance. Positions, which subsequently took months to capture at the cost of thousands of lives, could have been taken quickly. In sum, the first day on the Somme could have ended with a partial success for the BEF. But Rawlinson ignored Haig’s clearly expressed concept of operations. He failed to order local reserves forward, paid no attention to Gough and at midday issued an order for the Reserve Army to stand down. At 12.15pm Rawlinson wrote in his diary: ‘There is of course no hope of getting cavalry through today.’ According to one source the XIII Corps commander, after carrying out a personal reconnaissance, telephoned Rawlinson for permission to advance, only to be turned down. The most likely reason why Rawlinson refused to advance is that he had made up his mind long before the battle. In a classic example of cognitive dissonance he simply refused to believe the optimistic reports arriving on his desk. This is not to argue that, if Rawlinson had committed the mobile reserves, Haig’s ambitious breakthrough plan would have succeeded in full. Apart from anything else, the BEF’s logistic system was at that time incapable of sustaining a major advance. But even an advance of 20 or so miles ending in a resumption of static warfare would have been a major political victory that would have enhanced Britain’s standing in the coalition and might, just might, have undermined German confidence sufficiently to have brought about an offer of a compromise peace on terms acceptable to the Allies. While Haig has often been accused of blindly adhering to a doctrine of breakthrough, on July 1st, 1916 it was Rawlinson’s rigid refusal to countenance anything but a limited ‘bite and hold’ approach that was disastrous. Haig was little more than a bystander as his plans were being wrecked by Rawlinson. July 1st, 1916 reveals much about the impotence of high commanders in the First World War once battle had been joined. Haig spent the morning at his Advanced HQ. At noon he wrote a letter in which he gave a report on the progress of the battle. Although it may seem incongruous, or even obscene, for the general in command of a great army to be catching up with his routine paperwork in the middle of a terrible battle, in truth it was as sensible a use of Haig’s time as any. Because Haig noted the exact time on his letter we have a clear idea of how much he knew about the true situation four and a half hours after the infantry went over the top: not very much. In the absence of reliable radio communications, a major contributing factor to the deadlock, it could not be otherwise. Haig arrived at Fourth Army HQ in the early afternoon. He did not intervene to rescind the order for the Reserve Army to stand down, if indeed he knew of it. In accordance with army doctrine he requested, but did not order, the Fourth Army to continue to attack on July 2nd.
ALTHOUGH RAWLINSON remained in command of the Fourth Army throughout the Somme campaign, Haig grew increasingly dissatisfied with his performance. Rawlinson was sidelined during 1917 and returned to front-line command in 1918 largely through the influence of his friend Henry Wilson, by that stage Chief of the Imperial General Staff. In the Hundred Days –the series of decisive Allied offensives, beginning with the Battle of Amiens, that ran from August 8th to November 11th, 1918 – under very different conditions from
From top: the first official photograph of a British tank in action, Flers-Courcelette, September 15th, 1916; a soldier of the Royal Fusiliers wears a German helmet after the capture of Thiepval, September 26th, 1916; Gordon Highlanders march to the trenches along the BecordelFricourt road, October 1916. JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 17
A German photograph of the Somme following the Battle of Ancre, c.1917.
the Somme, Rawlinson proved an outstanding success as the Fourth Army’s commander. Here is not the place for a detailed analysis of the reasons for the failure and success on July 1st, 1916 but we can identify elements for which Haig was personally responsible. On June 30th, Haig wrote to his wife: ‘I feel that everything possible for us to do to achieve success has been done.’ These words reflected the huge efforts put into preparing the army for battle and, as C-in-C, Haig deserved a share of the credit for any success, as well as ultimate responsibility for any failures. Haig cannot really be blamed for the failure of tactics employed by the infantry. He certainly made clear his views on tactics to his senior officers but the actual methods used by brigades and battalions were decided, quite properly, by local commanders. The idea that the infantry uniformly advanced slowly in lines has been shown to be false. It is clear that Haig erroneously believed that German barbed-wire had been cut by the artillery bombardment before the attack on July 1st, but this was the information he had received as the result of a collective intelligence failure. Haig’s operational plan was sound in principle but too ambitious in practice, given the state of training and the inexperience of the BEF in 1916. It was a case of trying to make his army run before it could walk. He also deserves criticism for failing to impose his will on Rawlinson, although the Fourth Army commander deserves more opprobrium for sabotaging Haig’s concept of operations. Haig’s worst mistake was his misuse of artillery. ‘Poor Haig’, Major General J.F.N. ‘Curly’ Birch, artillery advisor at GHQ later reflected, ‘ – as he was always inclined to – spread his guns.’ In theory, Haig understood the need to concentrate artillery fire but, nonetheless, the frontage of trench attacked was too wide for the number of guns available. Haig made things worse by directing that a greater depth of trench, an average of 2,500 yards, should be included in the bombardment plan. Birch told Haig that ‘he was “stretching” his artillery too much’, but Haig simply overruled him. The result was that the weight of shell was dispersed, not concentrated. Too few guns were given too much to do. It was a ghastly error on Haig’s part, perhaps prompted by a misreading of the lessons of recent battles. As with many battles of the First World War, the ‘butcher’s bill’ is debated by historians, but there were probably 420,000 British Empire killed, wounded and missing, 200,000 French and 500-600,000 Germans (a much lower German figure has been postulated but this is 18 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
based on a controversial source). Although morale remained substantially intact on both sides, attrition favoured the Allies, not least because of the degrading of the quality of the German army. The conflict on the Western Front climaxed, in 1918, with a series of decisive Allied offensives, but the cumulative attrition of the previous years played a vital role in determining the outcome. It is wrong to see the Somme as an aberration. High-intensity battles fought between equally matched armies fielded by modern industrialised states in the era of total war were invariably attritional pounding matches, even when, as in 1918 and in the Second World War, they became mobile. The inexperienced, poorly-trained BEF achieved as much on the Somme as it was reasonable to expect under the circumstances. It made the enemy take notice. Before the Somme, German high command had underestimated the British army. Now, it faced the unpalatable reality of a major new force on the Western Front. This contributed to a new strategy. The German army at the end of 1916 was utterly worn out. Between February and March 1917 it abandoned the Somme battlefield and pulled back to 20 miles to the newly built Hindenburg Line. This gave tactical advantages but was also a tacit admittance of defeat. Germany sought to achieve victory at sea, using submarines to try to cut the ‘Atlantic lifeline’ by sinking the merchant shipping that kept Britain supplied with essential supplies. This was a dangerous gamble, for the move to ‘unrestricted’ submarine warfare involved attacking neutral shipping, a move that predictably brought the US into the war, further stacking the odds against Germany.
COULD HAIG CLAIM CREDIT for these consequences of the Somme? The answer is a qualified ‘yes’. In his first experience of commanding the BEF in a major battle, Haig’s performance was undeniably erratic. His expectations of his green troops were too high, especially in the initial stages. He failed to ‘grip’ his principal subordinate, Rawlinson. The Somme was a painful but vital stage in Haig’s training as a high commander. In a rare moment of self-analysis, he admitted as much at the end of the battle in a conversation with one of his divisional generals. But hammering away on the Somme was the right strategy. It did not produce a crisis of the magnitude for which Haig hoped, but nonetheless it weakened the German army. The Allied offensive also had an impact on the minds of the German politico-military leadership that helped to deflect them onto paths that proved ultimately disastrous for their cause. Haig’s official despatch written in December 1916 was uncompromisingly entitled ‘The Opening of the Wearing-Out Battle’. He also followed this line in his ‘Final Despatch’ of 1919, a carefully constructed and powerful interpretation of the BEF’s operations, which argued that the fighting on the Western Front from 1914 to 1918 formed ‘a single continuous campaign’ of ‘ceaseless attrition’, the pay-off being the victories of the Hundred Days. Although Haig imposed a degree of coherence on events that in reality was absent and downplayed his expectation of decisive success in 1916, this interpretation has never been satisfactorily debunked. Indeed, it is reflected in influential writings on the Somme to this day. The Somme was a tragic, wasteful battle, but it was not an exercise in futility. Gary Sheffield is Professor of War Studies at the University of Wolverhampton and the author of Douglas Haig: From the Somme to Victory (revised edition: Aurum Press, 2016).
FURTHER READING William Philpott, Bloody Victory The Sacrifice on the Somme and the Making of the Twentieth Century (Little, Brown, 2009). Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson, The Somme, new edition (Yale University Press, 2016). Gary Sheffield, The Somme (Cassell, 2003).
Aboriginal Tribes of Australia, 1940 NORMAN B. TINDALE was a hugely prolific entomologist, ornithologist, anthropologist and curator at the South Australian Museum. During the Second World War he was integral to the deciphering of the Japanese master naval code and the success of the American attack on Japan. Tindale’s research, which included years of fieldwork, challenged contemporary beliefs about the early history of Australia. His work was vital to the understanding that Aboriginal peoples were not nomadic, but rather held connections to specific regions, as represented in this map. He also compiled over 150 parallel vocabularies of Aboriginal languages. The map, published alongside his catalogue of Aboriginal tribal groups in 1940, was designed to show the diversity that was in danger of being subsumed by the European presence. It has been called ‘radical in its fundamental implication that Australia was not terra nullius’. Kate Wiles 20 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 21
PALMYRA The oasis of Palmyra, September 24th, 2008.
WHEN ALL ROADS The desert city of Palmyra, ravaged recently by ISIS, held a key position on the Raoul McLaughlin describes how a remote caravan settlement assumed a leading
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LED TO PALMYRA Silk Route, connecting the Chinese, Persian and Roman Empires. role in international affairs, generating enormous wealth.
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Palmyra’s world, c.first century ad.
HE RUINS OF ancient Palmyra stand in the Syrian desert as a rubble of collapsed stonework. They are now in a worse state than time alone can account for, due to the recent destruction wrought by ISIS. Once a great city and trade centre, lines of broken classical columns can still be seen, marking the broad avenues that led through the ancient city to large market squares, fronted by temples and monumental administrative buildings decorated with marble sculptures. Civic authorities and caravan merchants erected statues and dedications to individuals who had performed some noteworthy service, some of which still survive on ancient stone edifices. The inscriptions are written in a local form of Aramaic, called Palmyrene, but many are duplicated in Greek so that the frequent Hellenic travellers to Palmyra could understand the text. Over 30 of these inscriptions commemorate people who assisted merchants on their caravan ventures into Babylonia and these texts reveal important details about the organisation and destinations of Palmyrene trade ventures. These business networks ranged throughout the Roman Empire. A second-century funeral sculpture found at South Shields in northeast England depicts a seated Palmyrene matron dressed in fine fabrics, holding a textile spindle and gesturing to an open box of jewellery by her side. She was British by birth and the accompanying inscriptions in Latin and Palmyrene read: To the spirits of the departed and Regina, freedwoman and wife of the Palmyrene Barates. Born a Catuvellaunian and died aged thirty. Barates was a Syrian merchant who had married a freed slave-woman from a native British community near the commercial city of Londinium (London). At nearby Coria (Corbridge) a memorial inscription commemorating Barates was found. It reads: ‘To the spirits and the departed Palmyrene Barates, a vexillarius, lived 68 years.’ The term 24 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
‘vexillarius’ indicates that Barates was a supplier of vexilla, flags, standards and ensigns made from silk or fitted with silk tassels and trimmings. Both inscriptions confirm the existence of a Syrian commercial network importing Chinese silk as far as the western frontiers of the Roman Empire. The oasis city of Palmyra held a unique position in the Syrian desert between Rome and the Parthian Empire, which ruled Persia from 247 bc to ad 224. Palmyra was unusual, occupying an outlying location and separated from other Syrian cities by a wide expanse of desert. It, therefore, maintained a high level of independence and its citizens were able to claim protection and assistance from both the Roman and Parthian regimes. The local authorities in Palmyra raised and equipped their own regional troops to protect their territory from bandits and to keep control over the desert trails leading to their city. This allowed Palmyra to develop into a major centre for caravan trade passing from Babylonia and the Persian Gulf to Syria and the Mediterranean seaboard. Ancient Palmyra appears in the Old Testament as ‘Tadmor’, from the Semitic word Tamar meaning ‘palm-tree’. King Solomon, in the tenth century bc, established an outpost at ‘Tadmor in the wilderness’, but it was soon reclaimed by locals. By the third century bc, Palmyrenes spoke a Semitic dialect related to Arabic and Hebrew, though the earliest Palmyrene inscriptions used Greek terminology. Government consisted of a council of appointed leaders (boule) presiding over a citizen body (demos) assembled to receive instruction or approve political measures. Early Palmyra was surrounded by oasis field-systems that irrigated a broad stretch of land. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder reports: Palmyra is a city famous for its location, for its rich soil and for its ample springs. Its fields are surrounded on every side by a vast circuit of sand, so that nature has isolated this place from the rest of the world.
Clockwise from above: relief showing a Palmyran ship, third century ad; funerary relief showing a laden camel with camel drivers, secondthird century ad; inside a tomb in the Valley of the Tombs, Palmyra, 2010.
Ruins indicate the size the city attained during the height of its prosperity, when its boundary walls encompassed an area almost as large as the Syrian city of Apamea, which, according to Roman census reports, had 117,000 adult citizens. Neighbouring Babylonia was dominated by the cities of Seleucia-Ctesiphon on the banks of the Tigris. The combined population of these enormous cities concentrated demand and offered substantial business opportunities. Greek and Roman wines could be traded for dates and figs and Mediterranean slaves were exchanged for their eastern counterparts. Roman merchants visiting Seleucia acquired Arabian incense and Indian spices from Persian Gulf trade routes as well as oriental silks imported by Iranian caravans. During the Augustan era (63 bc-ad 19), most Greek and Syrian merchants crossed into Parthian territory near Zeugma then travelled south by caravan between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers. This trade route crossed dry and difficult terrain to avoid the numerous tolls and taxes imposed by the communities who controlled the river valleys. Though the Greek geographer Strabo makes no mention of Palmyra as an important caravan city, Palmyrene merchants were gaining significance in the
overland trade routes between Syria and Babylonia. During this era the first in a series of monumental buildings was constructed in Palmyra, partly funded by the wealth acquired from eastern trade ventures. Construction of a vast temple devoted to the Babylonian god Bel began in ad 19 with donations from the ‘Palmyrene and Greek merchants from Seleucia’. Another dedication honours a citizen named Hasas who gave money to the new temple on behalf of Palmyrene merchants in Babylon. During this period Palmyra was considered part of Roman Syria, but its civic council was permitted exceptional regional autonomy. Palmyrenes could manage their own political arrangements with the Parthian regime and negotiate deals with communities in Babylonia. Pliny the Elder indicates the attitude of the Roman government in the first century ad when he explains: Palmyra has its own fate between the mighty Roman and Parthian Empires, so any discord between these two regimes will cause them immediate concern. Palmyra was significant because it offered a direct caravan route from JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 25
Left: digital reconstruction of the Temple of Bel from the New Palmyra Project, 2015. Below: the Temple of Bel, 2001.
Syria to the mid-Euphrates, which flowed downstream to Babylon. Merchants taking this route could also cross to Seleucia and follow the Tigris south to where it joined with the Euphrates. The converging rivers flowed past the port of Spasinu Charax in the small subject kingdom of Characene at the head of the Persian Gulf.
N INSCRIPTION dated to ad 71 provides the first mention of Palmyrene operations at Spasinu Charax. This trade route covered 600 miles and represented a journey of at least 40 days for caravans. Spasinu Charax was the main port for incoming Indian and Arabian products destined for Babylonia. In ad 50 a Greek merchant from Alexandria wrote an account of Roman trade in the Indian Ocean, The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. He describes large Indian craft bringing shipbuilding materials, including teak wood beams and copper used for rust-resistant metal fittings, to ports in the Persian Gulf. When the Emperor Hadrian visited Palmyra in ad 129 he bestowed political privileges on the ruling council and the city was formally renamed ‘Hadriane Palmyra’ in commemoration. Two years later the Parthian king Vologases III seized direct authority over the Gulf kingdom of Characene and installed a relative, Meredates, as ruler. Meredates offered Palmyrene merchants privileged positions in his new kingdom and extended his authority into the Persian Gulf. Agreements between Meredates and the Palmyrene council gave Characene associates an access route to Roman markets and, therefore, a means to mutually enrich both territories. In ad 132 Palmyrene merchants from Spasinu Charax paid for the erection of a statue in their home city honouring a colleague named Yarhai who Meredates had made Satrap (governor) of the island of Tylos, in modern Bahrain, which lay off the Arabian coast, about 300 miles south of Spasinu Charax, with good harbours and valuable pearl fisheries. Palmyrene caravans exported woollen fabrics, reworked silks, purple cloth, wine stored in skin-flasks, perfumes, ointment, decorative tableware, coloured glass, red coral, Mediterranean slaves and batches of gold 26 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
and silver Roman coins to cities in Iraq. Evidence of this commerce is revealed by sculptures of rich matrons bedecked in finely woven fabrics and lavish pearl- and gem-encrusted jewellery. Remnants of silk found in the ruins of tomb towers suggest that these ladies dressed in imported oriental fabrics. Palmyrene inscriptions refer to the caravans as synodiai, meaning ‘companies’, and merchants were ‘sons of the company’. Each caravan appointed two spokesmen: one of these representatives took the title Synodiarchos, or ‘Caravan-Leader’, with responsibilities for security and travel-logistics; another was appointed Archemporos or ‘LeadingMerchant’ and managed tolls, taxes and business deals at markets. Merchants joining the expedition contributed funds for necessary expenses to these representatives. The Synodiarchos arranged for caravan guards and the Archemporos paid the tolls and bribes taken by communities encountered on the planned route. Sometimes the Archemporos took care of expenses from his own funds or negotiated a lower rate on behalf of his associates. These men were honoured by
Ancient Palmyra on April 13th, 2010 (left) and 19th April, 2016 (right) showing ISIS’ destruction of the Temple of Bel.
The Destruction of Palmyra In May 2015, just months after the launch of UNESCO’s Unite4Heritage, a campaign aimed at protecting heritage in areas threatened by extremists, Palmyra became the latest site to be identified by ISIS’ Kata’ib Taswiyya for ‘cultural and historical cleansing’. Kata’ib Taswiyya, or, settlement battalions, is the branch of ISIS responsible for identifying those mosques, churches, shrines and cultural sites across Syria and Iraq to be marked for destruction, with the view to establishing tawhid (monotheism). In the months before the occupation of Palmyra these had included the Assyrian cities of Nineveh and Nimrud in northern Iraq and artefacts from museums in Mosul and Baghdad. After the modern settlement of Palmyra and its ancient ruins were seized, ISIS initially promised to leave the ruins untouched, vouched for with a short video released via social media, which showed the ancient city intact.
However, on August 18th, 2015 the Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad was murdered and his mutilated body displayed in the city. He had been interrogated by ISIS for months as to the location of Palmyra’s antiquities, a secret he refused to reveal. Despite the UN banning the trade of artefacts looted from Syria in 2011, ISIS has funded much of its arsenal through the looting and selling of antiquities on the black market. The destruction of Palmyra’s ruins followed throughout August, beginning with the first-century Temple of Baalshamin. As the world watched the destruction via satellite images, wholesale eradication of the ancient site was feared. ISIS’ 10-month habitation of Palmyra came to an end in March 2016 when Syria’s government troops, backed by allied Russian air strikes, retook the site. The Syrian army reported that ISIS had ‘booby-trapped everything, trees, doors, animals’ and left thousands of mines which had to be cleared before
inscriptions in Palmyra, where they were praised for bringing back caravans ‘at no cost’ or ‘at their own expense’. Palmyrene caravan ventures were seasonal operations, timed to coincide with desert conditions and the annual trade winds in the Persian Gulf, which delivered merchant ships to Spasinu Charax. Based on later historical evidence, the Palmyrenes probably organised two caravan ventures into Babylonia every year. One caravan travelled to the main cities of central Babylonia and the other made the longer journey south to Spasinu Charax. Both caravans would have left within weeks of each other to exploit favourable seasonal conditions. Larger convoys maintained several thousand camels to carry merchandise and travel supplies, including bedding and tents. Each caravan included several hundred drovers and scores of armed guards to ensure the safety of the company as they passed through contested territories or regions threatened by bandits. Palmyrene merchants soon began to outfit their own commercial ships to sail from the Persian Gulf to trade ports in the Indus Kingdoms.
archaeologists could assess the extent of the damage. Retreating ISIS soldiers also blew up the 13th-century castle. While this marked a major victory in the war against ISIS, the damage to Palmyra was substantial, with many previously well-preserved sites, including the Roman Arch of Triumph (third century), the Canaanite Temple of Baalshamin (ad 131) and the Mesopotamian Temple of Baal (ad 32), reduced to rubble. On May 5th, 2016 St Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra performed at the Roman amphitheatre, the site where 25 Syrian soldiers had been executed by a group of young ISIS recruits not one year earlier. The concert, held to celebrate Russia’s role in recapturing the city, featured an appearance by the country’s premier Vladimir Putin via video link from Sochi. While the liberation of Palmyra was greeted as a cause for celebration, the event – a clear display of Russian culture – has also been interpreted as propaganda for the nation’s ongoing military role in Syria.
From the Persian Gulf, ships also sailed westward to visit trade stations in southern Arabia and northern Somalia. Evidence of Palmyrene business operations in the Gulf of Aden comes from the island of Socotra off the Horn of Africa. Somalia produced incense and other fragrant saps, which sold for high prices in Roman markets. Wooden tablets found in a cave at Hoq on the north-east coast of Socotra included business records written in Indian, Ethiopian, Nabataean and Palmyrene scripts. In the mid-second century a group of Palmyrene businessmen established a commercial building in the Nile city of Coptos. A Palmyrene inscription honours a businessman named Zabdalas, ‘who established the foundations of this building entirely from his own funds’. Archaeologists have found two Palmyrene altars in the ruins, along with 12 stone slabs, each depicting a pair of Palmyrene merchants. Palmyrene businessmen from Coptos also left a dedication in the nearby Nile town of Dendereh, the site of a major temple complex. This inscription refers to Palmyrene businessmen as naukleroi, captains or shipowners involved in Red Sea voyages. JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 27
Clockwise from top left: fresco of women dressing in silks from Herculaneum, third/second century bc; bust of Emperor Gallienus, third century ad; tombstone of Regina found near Hadrian’s Wall.
Due to the wealth passing through Syria, gangs of bandits would lie in wait to ambush caravans crossing through unclaimed wilderness territories Roman agents at Palmyra assessed the quarter-rate customs tax, the tetarte, which was imposed on all commodities crossing the imperial frontiers. Some of these officials could have been Palmyrenes, who paid imperial authorities competitive rates for the right to collect the tax and keep any surplus earnings. An inscription from a tomb tower in the Umm Belqis necropolis in Palmyra records how imports worth 360 million sesterces were assessed for the tetarte at Palmyra. The precise amount is presented in three currencies: Roman, Palmyrene and Greek, whose monetary units are listed down to small denominations such as brass shekels and obols. To place this figure in context, the tax revenues of the Roman Republic amounted to 340 million sesterces in the first 28 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
century bc. Palmyrene imports valued at 360 million sesterces would have raised 90 million sesterces in tax revenue for the Roman state, enough to pay the annual cost of six Roman legions. Trade goods were conveyed onwards under a state bond, with the assessed import payment due at the destination city. If a merchant could not afford to pay the tetarte in cash, then customs agents would secure a quarter share of his merchandise to sell on behalf of the government. This was the system that operated in Egypt and it meant that the government was not responsible for the cost and risk involved in moving large amounts of cash or seized goods between frontier stations and Mediterranean ports.
I had the good fortune to get hold of some Indian lyceum as the drug had recently been imported to Phoenicia together with some Indian aloe. Galen was certain that the product was genuine because ‘it was brought in by camels with a whole cargo and the material is not produced in this region’. Many merchants would have sold their eastern goods to Greek and Roman shippers based at Syrian ports, but Palmyrene trade networks also operated in the Mediterranean.
M Above: detail on the Roman arch in Palmyra, third century ad. Below: Palmyrene funerary portrait.
Once the tetarte was evaluated at Palmyra, merchants regrouped into smaller caravans for travel to the Syrian capital Antioch or one of the other cities on the Mediterranean coast. Antioch was positioned next to the River Orontes and connected to the Mediterranean via Seleucia Pieria. At 150 miles, or ten days’ travel, from Palmyra, this was the closest major seaport. Confirmation is provided by a Palmyrene inscription honouring a tetarte collector at Antioch, who gave special assistance to a caravan returning from Spasinu Charax. The Greek physician Galen encountered what was possibly a Palmyrene caravan at the Phoenician port of Tyre or Sidon; he visited Syria in the 150s looking for drug ingredients from the East for his medical remedies. He reported:
ANY OF THE merchant vessels visiting the Syrian ports were sailing to Ostia, the main port serving Rome, which was the largest market in the Empire. Merchant communities from Palmyra and Tyre operated in Rome, where they established temples to their homeland gods. Their commercial networks extended into Gaul and supplied the Atlantic trade routes that brought Continental commodities and merchants such as Barates into Roman Britain. Due to the wealth passing through Syria, gangs of bandits would lie in wait to ambush caravans crossing through unclaimed wilderness territories. To counter this threat the city council in Palmyra raised and armed its own troops to protect routes between the city and the Euphrates. These troops were under the command of Palmyrene generals, issued with orders to accompany the caravans, protect approved travellers and patrol the wilderness. An inscription dated ad 144 records how a citizen named Soados saved a Palmyrene caravan from an ambush by robbers. Soados held a command on behalf of the city council and his intervention was commemorated by grateful merchants, with several statues in his honour erected in prominent sanctuaries. A Greek inscription in the Palmyrene Temple of Athena records that ‘Soados took a large force and protected the merchants against Ahdlallathos and his robbers who had lain in wait for a long time to harm the caravan’. The Palmyrene Council also dedicated statues to Soados and placed these on columns in a plaza near the city centre. A dedication from ad 150 records that Soados achieved an unprecedented reputation for his military actions and was the first Palmyrene to have statues erected in his honour at Charax, Vologesias and a caravan station called Gennaes. The inscription records that Soados was also honoured in decrees issued by the governors of Syria and commended in official letters by the Emperors Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. The Roman military were also involved in efforts to protect Palmyrene caravans from attack by bandits and nomads. In ad 135 a caravan led by a merchant named Ulpius Abgar was returning from Spasinu Charax when the group encountered difficulties on the Roman frontier. An inscription commends a centurion called Julius Maximus, who protected the merchants from bandit communities in the Syrian Desert. PALMYRENE INTEREST in protecting commercial traffic transformed the city into a regional military power. Caravan inscriptions reveal how civic officials received titles and recognitions usually given to generals. An inscription from ad 199, for example, names a Palmyrene named Ogeilu, who was selected several times by the council to serve as strategos or ‘general’ of desert troops. Ogeilu is credited with taking command ‘against the nomads’ and assuring ‘the security of merchants and many caravans under his leadership’. Although they were not part of the Roman command structure, these generals received commendations from Syrian governors in recognition of their military exploits. As in other parts of the ancient world, trade thrived when overland routes were dominated by a strong and accountable authority able to deploy troops to protect its commercial interests. But Palmyrene prosperity did not last. In ad 216 the Parthian army was decimated in a new conflict with Rome. As a consequence, the JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 29
PALMYRA Parthian regime was overthrown and replaced by a Persian dynasty, the Sassanids. The third century also became a period of crisis for the Roman Empire as repeated civil wars, lethal pandemics and foreign invasions reduced the fighting strength of its legions. The desert frontier between the two empires became a battleground as they fought to capture or devastate strategic outposts and control invasion routes.
N AD 260 the Persian king, Shapur I, captured the Emperor Valerian during an attack on Syria. Valerian’s son Gallienus was proclaimed emperor in Rome but the commander of the Rhine legions declared autonomy and established an independent government in Gaul. Gallienus was also challenged by imperial rivals who seized power in Syria. The Palmyrenes took this opportunity to intervene and a commander, Odaenathus, gathered a large force of armed men from his home city. His militia pursued and attacked the Persian army as it withdrew from the Roman frontiers and helped defeat rival imperial claimants in Syria. With these victories, Odaenathus proclaimed himself Ruler of Palmyra and received imperial titles from the grateful Emperor Gallienus, such as ‘Preserver of the East’, as well as confirmation of consular Roman rank. By the time Odaenathus was assassinated in 267, Palmyra had become a royal military regime dominating Roman Syria. After his death, Odaenathus’ wife, Queen Zenobia, claimed his royal titles and began to rule on behalf of their infant son. In 268 there was further crisis in the west when Gallienus was murdered and Roman armies fought to repel Germanic invaders who threatened Italy. Exploiting the situation, Zenobia sent Palmyrene forces into Jordan, Egypt and Asia Minor to seize authority from the established Roman governors. In ad 272 the Emperor Aurelian led a Roman counterattack and, after defeating the Palmyrene army at Antioch, he marched on Palmyra.
Ancient Palmyra, March 14th, 2014.
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Zenobia was captured trying to escape into Persia and Aurelian placed a Roman garrison in the captured desert city. The following year the Palmyrenes staged an uprising and Aurelian ordered Palmyra and its inhabitants to be sacked and destroyed. Following these dramatic events Palmyra never recovered its former independence or commercial importance. All records of caravan ventures cease in 273 and the depleted city became no more than a garrison outpost for imperial troops defending a frontier territory from foreign hostilities. Yet even after two millennia, remnants of abandoned ancient ruins have survived the savagery of war, terrorism and the erosion of dry desert winds. Such was the prosperity of the ancient city of Palmyra. The concern now is its restoration – or not – following the barbarities of ISIS as the Syrian civil war continues. Raoul McLaughlin taught at Queen’s University, Belfast.
FURTHER READING Pat Southern, Empress Zenobia: Palmyra’s Rebel Queen (Hambledon, 2009). Raoul McLaughlin, Rome and the Distant East: Trade Routes to the Ancient Lands of Arabia, India and China (Bloomsbury, 2010). Raoul McLaughlin, The Roman Empire and the Indian Ocean: The Ancient World Economy and the Kingdoms of Africa, Arabia and India (Pen & Sword, 2014). Raoul McLaughlin, The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes: The Ancient World Economy and the Empires of Parthia, Central Asia and Han China (Pen & Sword, 2016).
Out of the The idea of public history, in which academics seek to address a wider audience, is considered to be a modern one, but, discovers Eleanor Parker, a form of it was practised during the Middle Ages.
ID PUBLIC HISTORY exist in the Middle Ages? Since the term itself is relatively modern, the immediate answer to this question would seem to be no. Nonetheless, there were many diverse forms in which medieval audiences could encounter stories about history and we might discover some parallels in the various ways educated historians communicated information about the past. One of the most common means must have been through public preaching about the deeds of the saints. The primary aim of preaching is not to teach history, of course, but in some cases it can hardly be avoided: it is often necessary to understand the historical context in which a particular saint lived in order to understand their deeds and their claim to sanctity. To encourage popular devotion to their saints, medieval preachers had to find ways to explain this context to audiences who might know very little about it. We can get some sense of how such interactions might go from occasional references in hagiographical texts of sermons preached by monks and clerics about the saints of the past. One memorable example concerns a monk of Bury St Edmunds named Herman, a learned man and a trained historian. In the last decades of the 11th century Herman wrote a long and historically informed account of the miracles of St Edmund, in which he traces the relationship between the saint’s cult and the chief events of English history over the 10th and 11th centuries. Herman was also an experienced preacher and in a contemporary text we hear of him preaching at Pentecost about St Edmund to a congregation in the abbey church, probably in 1097. The crowd who listened to him preach
without explaining something about were lucky: they were hearing from the historical context for his miracles, an expert on St Edmund, who must whether it was the separate kingdoms have had plenty to say about the which existed in England in saint. While Herman’s erudite Edmund’s time or the later written works were intended Danish invasions led by Svein. for a Latinate audience within However Herman explained the monastery of Bury St his subject, he greatly succeedEdmunds, in his preaching he ed in increasing his audience’s obviously found a way of medienthusiasm for St Edmund. ating this material to the crowd Word spread and public in English. To underline his demand for access to the relics sermon on this occasion, we are increased. Unfortunately, while told, he displayed to the congrehis preaching seems to have gation the martyr’s garments been successful in inspiring his and the casket in which the congregation, it did not end saint’s relics were kept. These well for the preacher himself. would have been dramatic Herman got carried away and visual aids for the preacher, put the relics on open display since Edmund’s clothes were in the church. He began to still stained with blood and allow the crowd not just to see pierced with the holes left by the objects but to touch and Viking arrows. Miracle worker: St Edmund in a kiss them in exchange for gifts It would be interesting to miniature from the Macclesfield of money. This disrespectful know what Herman said about Psalter, c.1330. handling was apparently going these relics as he displayed too far. Shortly afterwards Herman them to the crowd. Did he tell the fell ill and died and a vision revealed story of Edmund’s death in 869, to his fellow monks that his death was explaining how the king was mara punishment for his lack of respect tyred when the Danes invaded East towards St Edmund. Anglia under Ivar and Ubbe, sons of Herman seems to have made enemies and the fact that another monk recorded this story about his death (not very regretfully, it must be said) suggests some of his colleagues thought he had got what he deserved. But it was not Herman’s popular preaching that proved his downfall, but his presumptuous treatment of the precious relics. This kind of public Ragnar Lothbrok? Perhaps he told how communication was a regular duty, Edmund’s vengeful ghost had caused one of the ways in which knowledgethe death of Svein Forkbeard in 1014, a able medieval monks would engage story first found in Herman’s writing. with audiences outside the monastery: Herman’s work on the history of Edperhaps not so different from what mund’s miracles aimed to show God’s many historians aim to do today. power at work through time, but it is rooted in the complexities of preConquest English politics; it would Eleanor Parker is a medievalist and writes a blog be difficult to talk about Edmund at aclerkofoxford.blogspot.co.uk.
There were many diverse forms in which medieval audiences could encounter stories about history
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P Life for the poor in 18th- and 19th-century Ireland was hard and, for many women, prostitution was the only option. But, writes Julie Peakman, the bawdy houses were rife with disease and police did little to protect women from violent customers.
HILIP REILLEY, a constable, and his wife Catherine were tried and convicted on October 12th, 1736 for keeping a bawdy house in White Lion Court in Strand Street, Dublin. Reilly was sentenced to three months in jail and on the following day his wife was to be whipped from Newgate Prison to Trinity College. The Daily Gazetteer for October 1736 reported that Reilly was so loving a husband that he earnestly begged the court that he should be punished in place of his wife, but his request was denied. The case was unusual in that most of the brothels in Dublin were run by women, although there is evidence of other couples running similar bawdy houses. Many of the brothels were situated close to the centre of Dublin, located along alleyways near Christ Church Cathedral from Cork Hill, Copper Alley, Fishamble Street and Wine Tavern Street (so-called because of the large number of brothels, taverns and gambling houses in the area) to Cook Street. The quaysides were particularly notorious for brothels serving the seamen coming off the boats on the River Liffey. Mary Browne operated in Prince’s Street, near Sir John Rogerson’s Quay in 1751. She was convicted of brothel-keeping and sentenced to be carried in a cart through the street but, because she was so popular and the police were so corrupt, she was allowed to hide in the floor of the cart to hide her from public view. Most of what we know about prostitution in Dublin in the 18th century comes from newspaper accounts,
‘A Bawd on Her Last Legs’, by Thomas Rowlandson, 1792. JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 33
Right: portrait alleged to be of Peg Plunkett by William Hoare (1707-92). Below: title page of the 1798 edition of her memoirs.
which tell us that life could be dangerous: Catherine Halfpenny of Marshall Alley, Fishamble Street was targeted by rioters in 1768; Miss Keenan in Frederick Street North in 1791 had all of her furniture removed from her house and burned in street by a mob. While such reports are useful and provide an idea of the public reaction to, and problems inherent in, prostitution, relatively little is known about the real extent of prostitution in Ireland, as few other records survive. Further information can be gleaned from court descriptions, the Magdalene Asylum records and from later police accounts.
UBLIN PROSTITUTES were brought before the city’s courthouse. Those involved in the legal process – judge, barristers, court officials, jurors and staff of the court (apart from the cleaner) – were all men. This brought with it all the implication of gender bias, of men’s views on the desire for modesty and chastity in women coming into conflict with the perceived necessity for prostitution. Brothel-keepers could be charged under the Disorderly House Act of 1751, which recognised that: The multitude of places of entertainment for the lower sort of people is another great cause of thefts and robberies, as they are thereby tempted to spend their small substance in riotous pleasures, and in consequence are put on unlawful methods of supplying their wants and renewing their pleasures. In order to prevent idleness and subsequent mischief, it was deemed that ‘any house, room, garden, or other place kept for publick dancing, music, or other publick entertainment of the like kind’ needed a licence; those without were deemed disorderly houses. It was therefore prudent for some brothel-keepers to hide their business. In Ashton’s Quay in 1793, Mrs Brazen hid her business behind the 34 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
façade of a haberdasher’s shop. Such concealment, however, did not necessarily make a place safe; Mrs Davis, who ran a brothel behind the façade of a China shop in Fishamble Street, incurred damage to her shop in 1792 when four bucks pushed a blind horse into it. Suppression of individual prostitutes was mainly reliant on vagrancy and curfew laws. Prostitutes who came before the local courts had often been arrested for crimes other than soliciting, such as stealing, pickpocketing, indecency, vagrancy or public disturbance. Statistics on prostitution in Dublin become more plentiful from 1838 onwards, when the Dublin Metropolitan Police kept records, which show 2,849 arrests in 1838 in Dublin alone. As late as 1889, the manual for the Dublin Metropolitan Police showed the continued difficulties in bringing women to court, noting that, ‘prostitutes cannot legally be taken into custody for being prostitutes; to justify that apprehension they must commit some specific act that which is an offence against the law’. Other difficulties were that the public showed little interest in attempting to eradicate prostitution; this was particularly true of the soldiers who made up a large proportion of the population of Dublin. Prostitution was to be found in almost every town in Ireland but was most prevalent in garrison towns. The Dublin Barracks dominated Dublin City, an ever-present reminder of British rule; other army camps were scattered around the coast acting as defence. One contemporary observer remarked that the large number of troops and sailors ‘in every town, nay small village’ had led to an ‘increased profligacy of manners amongst the lower orders of females’.
With thousands of soldiers in Ireland to protect British interests, the army brought with it a ready made clientele for the prostitution business. Isaac Weld commented, about Roscommon, in 1832: The evil was of far greater magnitude than it appeared in view. In Castle Street, on the skirts of the town, there was actually a range of brothels, at the doors of which females stood noonday, to entice passengers, with gestures too plain to be misunderstood. He put this down to the huge military complex at Athlone in the Irish Midlands. Prostitutes followed the barracks while they were young and pretty and were obliged to beg when they had lost their good looks.
HE REASONS WOMEN took up prostitution were numerous and varied. ‘The First Report From his Majesty’s Commissioner for Inquiry into the Condition of the Poor in Ireland’ in 1835 remarked that any ‘failure in chastity’ on the part of a woman meant that she ‘forfeited for life her character and caste’. For seduced women, this meant ostracism from family and friends. The word ‘seduced’, though, is a broad term, which might include intimidation or even rape, as can be seen in one newspaper report, in which one ‘little rosy cheeked milk girl’ attracted the attentions of a gentlemen who served in the Liberty; he ‘frequently plied her with cake and wine and promised to make a Queen of her, or anything she could mention’, if she consented to become his mistress. She refused, but he eventually whisked her into his parlour and ‘easily prevailed on her to suck in as much of the juice
The Dublin barracks in an engraving by James Malton, 18th century.
of the grape as threw her off her centre of gravity, and entirely over powered her senses’, thereby ensuring his conquest. Drink was to play its part in the loss of many women’s virginity. Poverty was also recognised as playing an important part in women turning to prostitution, an illegitimate child adding to a woman’s hardship. Work in agriculture and domestic service were possibilities for poorer women, but the latter was seen as a route into prostitution. With poor pay, lack of skills and without family to support them, survival for such women was bleak. Many women working on the streets were often addicted to alcohol, homeless and destitute. One witness claimed, ‘most of the females who infest the streets of cities are such persons [unmarried mothers and poor]’. Intimidation and procuring were seen on a daily basis. Unscrupulous female brothel-keepers organised children and young women into the ever-expanding sex trade in Dublin and young girls were often impelled to work in bawdy houses for fear of recrimination. The Hibernian Journal for February 1781 reported that the police watch had interviewed a local brothel-keeper and her cronies about a prostitute who had been murdered in Temple Bar. Although nothing was done at the time, eight months later, after a 17-year-old Belfast girl was murdered in her lodgings in Stephen Street, having refused to go with Ann McDonagh, a brothel-keeper in Little Booter Lane, the public reacted by ransacking her brothel. This was not enough to prevent her continuing her brutal reign; in July the following year, she beat up a prostitute so badly that she lost an eye.
JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 35
‘British Plenty’, engraved and published by Charles Knight, 1794. 36 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
The public saw the police as too ineffectual to deal with the problem of procurement or ill-treatment of prostitutes and often tackled the perpetrators themselves; after a dead prostitute was discovered on the premises of Ms Truly of Kennedy’s Lane a riot erupted in December 1795; her building was again damaged the following year after allegations that a female passer-by had been forced into prostitution there. When another procuress, Mother Beatty of Ross Lane, had lured a girl into her brothel, the mob pelted the police with stones, believing they were failing to take proper action.
The police had difficulty controlling crime, be it gangs of marauding youths, riotous mobs or women involved in prostitution
HE WOMEN WHO worked in the profession, as elsewhere in the world, ranged from ill-dressed, half-starved street-walkers to women from wealthier backgrounds who serviced elite clients. Those who came from wealthier backgrounds would be more likely to look for a rich man to keep them. Women in this position could expect expensive houses, credit at the merchants and a coach and four. They would have the education and the know-how to attract richer clients. Such clients included aristocratic men from Dublin Castle, the hub of British administrative rule, including the governor of the Bank of Ireland, David LaTouche, and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Duke of Rutland. When the Irish courtesan Peg Plunkett opened her elite establishment to gentlemen, these men were among her lovers. Along with her friend, Sally Hayes, she ran a luxurious brothel with lascivious prints on the walls and new ‘elastic’ beds, in order to pull in the most elite of punters. The attraction to this kind of life was that they no longer had to rely on their keepers and could forge an independent life of considerable luxury and extravagance, answering to no-one but themselves. Nonetheless, even in higher-class establishments life was tough and their inhabitants were an easy target for the gangs of ruffians who prowled the streets, ransacking houses, beating up men and assaulting women as they went. One of the most notorious gangs was known as the Pinking Dandies. They dressed in fine regalia and strolled around the town pricking passers-by with their swords. One commentator wrote of them, Some were sons of respectable parents, who permitted them to get up to man’s estates in idle habits, without adequate means of support; others were professional students, who having tasted the alluring fruits of dissipation, abandoned their studies and took a shorter road to gain supplies, by means no matter how fraudulent. Often drunk and in bad humour having lost at gambling, they would ‘assail passengers in the street, to levy contributions, or perhaps, take a lady from her protector, and many females were destroyed by that lawless banditti’. PEG PLUNKETT WAS the victim of an attack one night in 1779, when the Pinking Dandies broke into her wellknown ‘flash-house’ in Wood Street near Dublin Castle. She described in her memoirs how the gang assaulted her and wrecked the house, resulting in the death of her twoyear-old daughter and her unborn baby. The gang was led by Richard Crosbie, who was later to become a famous figure when he made an attempt to cross the Irish Sea in a balloon in 1785. Although Peg successfully sued him and some of the gang members, his earlier criminal activities do not
The court buildings, Dublin. Hand-coloured engraving by James Malton, 1798.
appear to have been a barrier to his future achievements. The police had difficulty controlling crime, whether gangs of marauding youths, riotous mobs or women involved in prostitution. In part this was because policing itself was problematic and half-hearted during the early 18th century. At that time it was provided by the local watch; the official Dublin police force was not established until the Dublin Police Act of 1786. Before this, each parish had a permanent ‘watch’ of 15, selected and overseen by the minister and church wardens and presided over by a constable. The watch was only employed to police crime between the hours of 11pm and 5am from April to Michaelmas and 10pm to 6am for the rest of the year. Trouble outside these hours went unmonitored. Some 900 watchmen were supposed to cover 450 stands, some with two watchmen, some with just one, the rest acting as ‘flying patrols’ to come at a moment’s notice. Even then they were hardly diligent in their duties, as one statutory report noted in the first half of the 18th century: ‘The watches of the city of Dublin have of late been found to be very weak and of little use, by reason of many ill affected persons … but refuse to watch, when they are thereto required’. In other words, they were simply not fulfilling their duties. Another commentator described the reliance on the watch as a ‘woeful experience’, thanks to the watch being unfit, feeble and unforthcoming. Although prostitutes were regularly brought before the courts, they were just as regularly dismissed. Brothelkeepers often made bribes to judges and many of the local watchmen were in the wine trade, supplying the alcohol sold in the brothel houses. Magistrates frequently rented houses to prostitutes, either the more elite women near JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 37
PROSTITUTION euphemism for catching venereal disease, ‘once more in Sackville Street’. A common route out of prostitution was for a woman to enter one of the established Magdalene Asylums, such as the one on Leeson Street in Dublin, opened by Lady Arabella Denny in 1767. The charity was intended to rescue young women from the fate of prostitution and was focused on ‘seduced’ Protestant girls, those under 20 and expectant unmarried mothers. The aim was to offer a refuge to ‘penitents’ and shelter from ‘Shame, from Reproach, from Disease, from Want, from the base Society that had either drawn you into vice, or prevailed upon you to continue in it, to the utmost hazard of our eternal happiness’. One observer wrote in 1794 that such an institution ‘was greatly wanted for Dublin, where our sight was constantly struck by objects disgraceful to human nature, with wretched strumpets, tricked out in tawdry apparel, or converted with tattered weeds; where our ears are constantly assaulted with vociferations that would startle deafness, and appal blasphemy’. However, as the ‘Report of the Committee of the Dublin Female Penitentiary to the General Meeting’ reported in 1815, it was unlikely these institutions would allow hardened prostitutes to be admitted. Only those who were at their first ‘fall’ were accepted, if they were ‘young unskilled … and not hardened in the ways of vice’.
Dublin Castle or the lower end of the market housed in Barrack Street close, as the name suggests, to the soldiers. Two years after the new police force was introduced, the situation changed and prostitutes were routinely arrested; in 1788, 17 street-walkers were arrested in Copper Alley, within the vicinity of St Stephens Green, and a further 32 were caught a few nights after; in July 1799, in the same area and around the Rotunda, 150 women were rounded up.
ENEREAL DISEASES WERE another inevitable consequence of prostitution. These ranged from pubic lice to unpleasant symptoms of inflammation and discharge (‘gleets’, ‘whites’ and sores) from gonorrhoea and syphilis. The two diseases were thought to be different stages of the same disease called the ‘pox’. Mercury was considered to be the only effective treatment and could be administered in the form of an ointment, a steam bath or a pill but, although
Portrait of Lady Arabella Denny by Hugh Douglas Hamilton, 18th century.
it appeared to alleviate symptoms, it was by no means a cure. Brothel-keepers had particular doctors or surgeons on whom they would call for gynaecological problems, sexual diseases, pregnancy and abortions. The less fortunate could seek treatment at the Westmoreland Lock Hospital, which had opened at Donnybrook in 1755, although its location outside of the city made this more difficult for Dublin city prostitutes. A new site opened in 1792, in the centre of Dublin. From the start, the hospital had treated both men and women, but from 1820 onwards treated only women and, in doing so, increased the visible association of women with the infection. As Westmoreland Lock Hospital took on an increasingly moral and reformatory role, one satirist commented in 1826 that a female patient would be ‘put on a course of mercury and the Bible, and having spat out her pint a day [‘salivation’ from mercury was a popular treatment for syphilis] and perused her diurnal portion of chapters, she has a choice of stitching “plain or fancy work” in the Dorset Asylum, or go out to “catch cold”’, a known 38 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
BY JULY 1803, though, little had changed regarding the number of women working in prostitution, despite the new police force being introduced. One commentator complained that Parliament Street, Essex Street and the immediate vicinity ‘are much annoyed by a number of prostitutes at all hours of the day and night, continually drunk and insulting the passengers. The Police are usually afraid to interfere as the prostitutes are protected by the Military’. As late as 1854 one witness to a committee on Dublin hospitals confessed he thought ‘prostitution is absolutely necessary; if it is discouraged among the soldiers, you would reduce the moral character of the men. It is much better that soldiers have free access to women, or they will have worse’. Given the number of single army men in the area, it was unlikely the situation would change dramatically, although the area of Monto (nicknamed after Montgomery Street, now Foley Street) would take over as an area of known prostitution after the demolition of the smaller alleyways. The story of prostitution in 18th-century Dublin is one of warring needs. For many women, prostitution was a much-needed solution for their troubles and prostitutes were seen as a necessary social evil. But they suffered, in numerous ways, in their struggle for survival. Julie Peakman’s latest book is Peg Plunkett, Memoirs of A Whore (Quercus, 2015).
FURTHER READING Kelly, James and M.J. Powell, (eds.) Clubs and Societies in Eighteenth-Century Ireland (Four Courts Press, 2010). Luddy, Maria, Prostitution and Irish Society, 1800-1940 (Cambridge University Press, 2007). Peakman, Julie, Lascivious Bodies: A Sexual History of the Eighteenth Century (Atlantic, 2004).
The Age of Pericles, after the painting, 1853, by Philipp Foltz.
Democracy It comes in many forms and often disappoints, yet democracy has come to be regarded as the most desirable of all political systems. Paul Cartledge offers a guide to its roots in ancient Greece and reminds us of its long absence in the West.
HERE HAS BEEN, in the last couple of decades, an outpouring of research, as well as agitational literature, on the subject of democracy. Most of it concerns its contemporary condition, a sense that democracy is not all it is cracked up to be. Winston Churchill’s quip, made in the House of Commons in November 1947, that it is ‘the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time’, may not be far off the mark. A contributor to the letters page of a national newspaper lately claimed: ‘The illusion that we live in any sort of democracy evaporates by the day.’ Did the West became too complacent in comparing its forms of democracy too favourably with non-western autocratic or
oligarchic systems of governance, or even with genuinely democratic ones? A reaction has arisen among non-western scholars and commentators, who advocate the merits of other modes of democracy (including that of the world’s largest, India), as well as from western academics, who seek to knock the West and, in particular, its original democrats, the ancient Greeks, off their pedestal. There is no one ‘democracy’ but rather a multiplicity of them, now as well as in Hellenic antiquity, and all ancient democracies differ from the modern variety in crucial respects. So I offer a Decalogue of Difference, an abbreviated inventory of what I consider to be the ten constituents necessary to the essential nature of ancient Greek democratic thought and practice. JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 39
The ancient Greek abstract noun demokratia combines demos with kratos. We do not know exactly when or where it was coined, but we do know that the word continued to be used (and abused) in ancient Greece for centuries, because it began life as a polemical term of debate, even civil strife, rather than as the agreed platitude that it has since become.
Kratos meant power (or strength), unambiguously. But Demos, crucially, was both ambiguous and ambivalent. It seems originally to have meant a village or a local community of some sort, a meaning it retained even after two other political meanings had emerged and been widely adopted. These were, first, People (all the people, the people as a whole); second, the Masses, the poor majority of the People. Demokratia may therefore be interpreted according to context as either (to put it in somewhat anachronistic terms) Lincoln’s ‘government of the People, by the People, and for the People’ or Marx’s ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’.
Much of English political vocabulary is derived from ancient Greek: politics, aristocracy, oligarchy, monarchy, tyranny, plutocracy, anarchy – and democracy. There is a paradox here so far as ‘democracy’ is concerned. All contemporary systems of democracy are either indirect or representative or a combination of the two. ‘They’ (politicians) rule for ‘Us’ (citizens). But all ancient Greek systems of demokratia were direct: ‘We the demos rule ourselves, for ourselves.’ To an ancient Greek, all modern democratic systems would count as ‘oligarchy’, that is, rule of and by the Few, even if the Few happen to be elected to serve by (all) the People.
Though our English ‘politics’ is derived ultimately from the Greek word polis and its adjective politikos, translators beware. The title of Aristotle’s treatise that we know as the Politics, for example, meant ‘Matters to do with the Polis’. Aristotle’s deceptively familiar ‘Man is a political animal’ was intended as shorthand to capture his special teleological view that Man is a living creature designed by nature to realise his full potential in, and only within, the framework of the peculiar state form called polis by the Greeks. Aristotle remains by far the best ancient analyst of the polis and it is on the basis of his and his students’ enquiry (historia in Greek) that we can get something approaching a clear grasp of the essence of the ancient Greek polis and its peculiar politics. It was not just a ‘city state’. The most accurate translation of polis is ‘citizen state’: for it was the collective body of empowered, participatory politai (citizens) that gave its name to the political entities by which the Greeks referred to themselves: ‘the Athenians’, ‘the Spartans’ and so forth, not ‘Athens’ or ‘Sparta’, which were geographical terms. 40 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
Below: the Athenian Agora, fifth century BC. Bottom: ostraka, inscribed potsherds, cast against Aristides and Themistocles in the 480s.
There existed in the three centuries or so between 600 and 300 bc something in the order of 1,000 of these ‘citizen states’, which collectively made up Hellas, the Hellenic world of culture that embraced much of the Mediterranean and Black Sea basins. There was thus no single ‘ancient Greece’, politically speaking. Of those 1,000 or so poleis, only a minority ever had any form of demokratia for their politeia (‘constitution’). Most of them, most of the time, were governed by more or less extreme forms of oligarchia, that is the rule (arche) of the Few (rich elite citizens). Not only was there no such thing as ‘ancient Greek democracy’, there was not even such a thing as ‘ancient Athenian democracy’. For over a roughly 200-year span Athens had, successively, at least three versions of demokratia.
All Greeks believed in, or professed to believe in, equality but differed radically over which citizens should be counted as equal
Most ancient Greek writers were not democrats. Some even opposed it. Plato was extremely anti, Aristotle less so. The number of ancient Greek writers who were ideological democrats was small: the Athenians Pericles and Demosthenes, the atomist Democritus and his fellow-countryman Protagoras. This is for two reasons: first, Greek political systems were direct, not representative, and politics was reduced to in-yourface power play; second, anti-democrats interpreted demokratia as a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, of the poor masses of citizens exercising power for their own benefit over the elite.
The earliest surviving example of Greek political theory is contained in the Histories of Herodotus (c. 484-425 bc). The so-called ‘Persian Debate’ (the three speakers were Persian nobles) has a dramatic date of about 522 bc, which is historically impossible, as is the Persian setting itself, since the terms of the debate make it clear that the issues as well as the theorising are purely Greek. The three speakers advocate versions in turn of Rule by All, Rule by Some, Rule by One, respectively an egalitarian form of Democracy (though the word demokratia is not used), an aristocratic form of Oligarchy and an absolutist version of Monarchy. It is the speaker that favours Monarchy who ‘wins’.
Top: bust of Herodotus, Roman period. Above: a kleroterion (allotment machine) fragment, used to select citizens by lot for public jury service.
All Greeks believed in, or professed to believe in, equality but differed radically over which citizens should be counted as equal, in what respects and to whom. Herodotus’ Persian pro-Democracy speaker, for example, advocated what he referred to as isonomia: literally, equality of distribution of privileges and power, equality under the laws, comprising selection of all officials by lottery, the responsibility of all officials to the people as a whole and the taking of public political decisions by majority vote of all empowered citizens. According to this world view, every citizen must be empowered with one equal vote, regardless of birth, wealth, beauty, strength and intelligence. Opponents of radically egalitarian democracy, however, believed that some citizens were more equal than others, that the well-informed, clever, sensible, educated and, above all, rich Few should be entitled to rule over the ignorant, stupid, fickle, uneducated and poor masses. JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 41
Harmodius and Aristogeiton, Greek symbols of liberty and democracy. Roman copies in marble of bronze originals.
In one respect, however, not even an ancient Greek radical democrat was egalitarian. The polis was a men-only club for free, legitimate adults of citizen parentage. Only they were entitled to qualify as citizens with political power. The point is well made in an ancient Greek joke, supposedly a Spartan one, re-told centuries later by Plutarch (c. ad 46-120): when an Athenian asked a Spartan why his fellow-countrymen had not instituted democracy as their form of self-government, the Spartan replied that they would do so as soon as the Athenians introduced democracy into their own homes. By implication, the Athenians were male chauvinists, as indeed, legally and politically speaking, they were. Women in Athens were only ever second-class citizens, treated legally as minors throughout their lives and able to act both inside and outside the home only with the authorisation of their official male kurios (lord and master). Resident foreigners and slaves suffered even greater political exclusion and deprivation.
Finally, we must note the increasing depreciation of demokratia over the course of antiquity, both as a word and as a thing. After about 300 bc hardly any demokratia, in the sense of the rule of the masses, existed anywhere in Hellas. Instead, demokratia came to be used politically to mean something like ‘republic’, freedom from direct rule either by Greek autocrats or by the mighty Roman Empire, which by 27 bc had conquered the Greek world. The Romans always hated and set out systematically to destroy original, Athenian-style democracy. For centuries they were themselves republicans, but from the reign of Augustus (27 bc-ad 14) onwards, the Roman Empire became a monarchy. The Byzantines, who called themselves ‘Romans’ and instituted a theocratic form of absolutist monarchy, took the Roman abhorrence of demokratia a significant step further: by the reign of Justinian (527-565) the term could be used derogatorily to mean ‘riot’! Against such a background it is not surprising to find that ‘democracy’ took a long time to recover any sort of positive meaning or application. It took until well into the 19th century for it to do so. The real puzzle perhaps is the rise in esteem of the term ‘democracy’ from the later 18th century to its present commanding heights.
Against such a background it is not surprising to find that ‘democracy’ took a long time to recover any sort of positive meaning or application
Paul Cartledge is A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture emeritus, University of Cambridge. His latest book is Democracy: A Life (Oxford University Press, 2016).
FURTHER READING L. Bretherton, Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship and the Politics of a Common Life (Cambridge University Press, 2015). J. Dunn, Breaking Democracy’s Spell (Yale University Press, 2014). J. Dunn (ed.), Democracy: The Unfinished Journey, 508 bc to ad 1993 (Oxford University Press, 1992). D. Held, Models of Democracy, 3rd edition (Polity Press, 2006). A. Papadatos, A. Kawa, A. Di Donna Democracy (Bloomsbury, 2015). R. Fuller, Beasts and Gods: How Democracy Changed its Purpose and Lost its Meaning (Bloomsbury, 2015).
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Though many writers, film-makers and other artists found it difficult to work in Fascist Italy, modernist architecture flourished under the less than watchful gaze of Mussolini. Jonathan Meades wonders why. Through the myth of the executioner’s mask, Alison Kinney explores our tortured relationship with life, death, mortality and museums.
The Palazzo della Cività Italiana, part of the EUR complex in Rome and now home to the fashion house Fendi.
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The alliance between progressive architecture and progressive politics is ruptured by this uncomfortable combination of buildings and ideology
T IS A COMMONPLACE that the dictatorships of the 20th century existed in aesthetic isolation. This is a fabrication of both the democracies which opposed the most murderous regimes mankind has yet devised and of the countries that suffered the retrospective shame of having succumbed to those regimes. Everyone is anxious to avoid the taint of having shared the idioms or forms which supposedly characterised those regimes and those regimes alone. Thus the Royal Academy’s 1985 exhibition, German Art in the 20th Century, omitted work made between 1933 and 1945. Its curators could hardly deny that during those 12 years Germany was under Nazi rule. They duly referred, then, to the infamous ‘decadent art’ exhibition of 1937-8. However, they included not a single bulgily muscled, genitally impoverished sculptural figure by Josef Thorak or Arno Breker, nor a single representation of saccharine bucolicism by Werner Peiner or Adolf Wissel. Yet the hackneyed genres these artists adhered to were practised throughout the rest of Europe and North America. A kindredly catholic 44 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
exhibition devoted to American art of the same period would appear oddly curtailed if it did not show works by Grant Woods or Thomas Hart Benton. Europe’s capital cities abound in preposterously stylised athletes and supermen: the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, Vigelands Park in Oslo, Jacob Epstein and Henry Moore. Their ubiquity shows that there was no specifically Nazi art or architecture. Nor communist: Stalin’s palaces for the people, built in the years after the Great Patriotic War, were pastiches of American structures of 20 or 30 years before given a bewilderingly promiscuous dusting of classical, Baroque and panto-oriental gestures: postmodernism avant la lettre. The architecture of Mussolini’s 22-year-long dictatorship provides an even greater hurdle for the champions of this flawed notion of cultural isolationism. While he censored journalists and writers, film-makers and playwrights, Mussolini’s treatment of visual artists was laissez-faire, benign going on slothful. Part of the job description for any dictator is surely to build to his own glory. He duly fulfilled the
Clockwise from opposite page: the Palazzo delle Poste, Naples, by Giuseppe Vaccaro and Gino Franzi, 1936; the Palazzo delle Poste, Palermo, by Angiolo Mazzoni, 1920s; the First World War memorial at Redipuglia, north-east Italy.
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FASCIST ARCHITECTURE building part of that contract. He commissioned all sorts of construction. He prescribed building types, commanded infrastructure, had marshes drained so that new towns might be built (the water went, the mosquitos remained). Yet he was largely indifferent to self-advertisement through brick and stone. Architectural style did not preoccupy him as it preoccupied his fellow dictators. In this regard he was unique among autocrats down the ages, self-sanctioned cleansers who will invariably favour classicism of one sort or another: something, no doubt, to do with symmetry’s supposed equation with strength, power, supremacy. Mussolini was not scared of what we are now obliged to call ‘vibrant diversity’.
HERE WERE INDEED exercises in bloated, mannered classicism as well as in the pared-down, skin and bones classicism, whose origins were to be found in Sweden and Finland. There were Armando Brasini’s impressively dotty evocations of the Baroque. At Monte Grappa and Redipuglia there were startlingly grand First World War memorials that are precursive of land art. EUR – the suburban Roman site of an international exhibition that would never take place – is today well known as the backdrop for countless advertisements. These exceptions account for only a fraction of the work that was made in those two decades: they are much mediated for the very reason that they are exceptions. Due to their consequent familiarity they have come to be taken as typical. (It is by the same process that England is supposed to be composed exclusively of limestone villages and gentle chalk streams.) The powerful mainstream of architecture in the fascist era was modernist and modernism was a broad church. The Italian variety was bereft of the quirks that are characteristic of Belgium and Holland and of Germany before 1933. It was crisp, austere and seldom overtly sculptural. It was an architecture of pragmatism, practicality and abstraction,
The First World War memorial at Monte Grappa in the Venetian pre-Alps.
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which has caused certain problems for scholars who have been less than enthusiastic about admitting that many of its most able practitioners were members of the Fascist party. The alliance between progressive architecture and progressive politics is ruptured by this uncomfortable combination of building and ideology. Of course, just because their authors are true believers or fascists of convenience does not make the buildings fascist. There is no such thing as a fascist building, or fascist car, or dish of fascist spaghettini. To ascribe dicta and creeds to them is feebly anthropomorphic. Cars rust. Pasta is ingested. Buildings, should they survive, change their uses and meanings with the passing of years. At a push one might concede that they once represented the fascist state. Mussolinian fascism was a precursor of Islamofascism. They share a taste for gratuitous statist violence as a norm. But they do not make much of a job of it. There is nothing pragmatic, nothing practical, nothing advantageous, nothing in the national interest about war for the sake of war, war as its own validation. Italy went into wars in the name of a dictator who believed himself to be a god but was not, while Islam goes into wars in the name of a god who cannot believe in himself because he is fictional. Mussolini prosecuted war – he frivolously prosecuted war – in order to show off the ability to prosecute it. For him war was nothing more or less than the expression of ostentatious bellicosity and martial can-do, an end in itself. This was the nearest thing he had to an ideology. The wastefulness, the loss of personnel and the geopolitical pointlessness demonstrate the frailness of this supposed strongman’s grasp of realpolitik just as his failure to exploit architecture’s expressive potency suggests that as a living god he was fated to be forever stalled on the foothills of Olympus. Jonathan Meades’ documentary Ben Building: Mussolini, Monuments and Modernism is available on BBC iPlayer for viewers in the UK.
Wheelchair of Sir Thomas Fairfax, parliamentarian commanderin-chief.
ISTORIANS OF THE Civil Wars are beginning to take notice of these bloody conflicts as a critical moment in the history of welfare. Previous conflicts had seen commanders demonstrate little concern for the welfare of sick and injured soldiers and they devoted few resources to them. Yet during the Civil Wars, Parliament’s concern for the ‘commonweal’ led to centralised care for those who had suffered ‘in the State’s service’. These innovative measures were immensely significant as, for some, they led to improved medical treatment, permanent military hospitals and a national pension scheme. Many historians consider the Civil Wars to be the most unsettling experience the British and Irish peoples have ever undergone. It is estimated that between 1642 and 1651 around 180,000 to 190,000 people, including civilians, died from combat and war-related diseases in England and Wales. This represents a population loss of three per cent. The percentage population loss in Scotland and Ireland was probably far higher. The First World War is generally regarded as the conflict that resulted in the greatest loss of British lives and the Second World War as the one that had the greatest effect on the civilian population. Yet if the above estimate is even approximately correct, then a far larger percentage of the population of the British Isles died as a direct result of the Civil Wars. The impact of the world wars was immense and has continued to resonate through British and Irish society right up to the present day. How much greater must the influence of the Civil Wars have been upon the far smaller 17th-century populations? Some of those injured were still petitioning for relief as late as the 1690s. There are also indications that thousands of veterans and civilians were afflicted with mental health problems as a result of the conflict. The impact of this is all too easy to imagine when we consider how British society was traumatised by the psychological legacy of the world wars.
Welfare for the WOUNDED
The Civil Wars of the 17th century prompted pioneering medical care and welfare, provided by the state not just for soldiers but for the widows and children they left behind, as Eric Gruber von Arni and Andrew Hopper show.
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CIVIL WARS There is a popular misconception that 17th-century medical treatments were incompetent and ineffective, that medical practice was riddled with charlatans and quack doctors and that, in an age lacking modern antibiotics, those suffering from infection were doomed. Medical ideas were still based largely on the work of the Classical Greeks, Hippocrates and Galen, and the theory that sickness resulted from an imbalance in the human body’s four humours: black bile, yellow bile, blood and phlegm. Yet much medical practice was also based on practical experience, observation and the use of specific drugs according to the teachings of the Swiss physician Paracelsus. Herbal remedies were also administered. Most English towns had apothecaries, from whom drugs, potions, herbs and spices were available. Civilians, as well as soldiers, could not avoid the effects of war and increased numbers died from diseases spread by marching armies, such as plague and typhus, for which there was no effective treatment.
VOLUME of Gerard’s Herball (1597), a popular book of herbal remedies, which belonged to a Nottinghamshire royalist family, the Coopers of Thurgarton, is annotated throughout with 244 ‘manicules’ or hands in the margins pointing to ailments curable by certain plants. The majority pick out six medical matters: bleeding; spitting blood (a possible sign of typhus); bloody flux (a form of dysentery); laske (diarrhoea); green wounds; and ulcers – all conditions associated with early modern siege warfare. It would seem that this book was used by the Coopers to treat injured and ill soldiers from the sieges of Newark, perhaps using their garrison at Thurgarton House as a royalist field hospital. Affordable manuals of self-help were also purchased by soldiers for use in the field. In his Approved Medicines of Little Cost (1651), Richard Elkes recommended treatments for typhus, scurvy, scabies and lice, as well as shot wounds. He described low-cost items that could be carried by a soldier, or kept by a householder, to help prevent or treat disease, especially the ‘bloody flux’, a common disease in crowded military camps with poor sanitation. A ‘peece of steele’ could be heated to red-hot in a camp-fire, then dropped into a drink of water, milk or beer to heat (and sterilise) it before drinking. Crushed leaves or bark from oak or blackthorn trees in a stew helped settle the stomach. Salt and oatmeal were recommended for the flux. Salt might replace lost electrolytes from the body during diarrhoea and oatmeal might help solidify the patient’s stool, much as products such as Dioralyte and Immodium do today. Medicine had a significant effect on lowering the death toll. Physicians, doctors, surgeons, nurses, apothecaries, herbalists and midwives all played their part. Many of the inherited work traditions and practices among hospital personnel remained similar over centuries, in some cases right up to the present. The use of spa treatments was increasingly recommended, as advocated by 48 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
Dr John French, a military physician at Ely House Hospital, in his book the Yorkshire Spaw (1652). During the 1650s, hundreds of recovering parliamentarian wounded from London’s hospitals were sent on organised trips to take the waters at Bath, a practice that became enormously popular in the following centuries. Many medical textbooks were also published during the period. Yet not all the lessons learned in the Civil Wars were applied more widely. For example, the medical support for colonising ventures in the Caribbean in the 1650s was underfunded and appalling. Even without antibiotics, military surgery saved many lives. The Civil Wars witnessed advancements in bone-setting, prosthetics and medical cleanliness. Military surgeons accompanied the armies at regimental and even company level. Many surgical treatises were published to share new medical practice, such as The Marrow of Surgery by James Cooke, the parliamentarian surgeon at Warwick Castle. This treatise illustrated the use of various surgical instruments. Early forms of plaster and splinting were devised to support fractured limbs while they healed. Numerous amputations were performed and hospital carpenters produced prosthetic limbs, some of which were
Military surgery saved many lives. The Civil Wars witnessed advancements in bone-setting, prosthetics and medical cleanliness
Ely House, London. From a print by F. Grose, c.1783.
Left: title page of the 1676 edition of The Marrow of Surgery by James Cooke. Below: James Cooke. Engraving by Robert White, 1676.
remarkable for their sophistication and craftsmanship. Indeed a 17th-century prosthetic leg compares very favourably to those given to soldiers returning from Afghanistan in the 21st century. The most feared wounds were those inflicted by musket balls or cannon shot. These were more difficult to treat than sword cuts and required the use of excruciating bullet extractors in a period before modern anaesthetics were available. Sir Thomas Fairfax, the parliamentarian commander in chief, was shot at least twice: once through the wrist at Selby in 1643, then in the shoulder at Helmsley Castle the following year. He received many additional wounds, including a sword cut across the face at Marston Moor. In 1645 he wrote to his father: ‘I am exceedingly troubled with rheumatism and a benumbing coldness in my head, legs and arms, especially on that side I had my hurts.’ His cousin Brian Fairfax recalled how from 1664 he resorted to his wheelchair: he ‘sat like an old Roman, his manly countenance striking awe and reverence into all that beheld him’. Fairfax was fortunate to survive so many wounds. For those shot in the chest or belly there was little hope of recovery. John Hussey was shot with a musket ball into his upper chest at Gainsborough in 1643. The armour he wore at the time clearly shows the bullet hole in the upper rim of his breastplate. Hussey’s right lung would have collapsed, leading to his eventual death within a few hours as a result of haemorrhage, heart failure and suffocation. The best military surgeons were influenced by the work of the Frenchman Ambroise Paré (1510-90), whose teachings recommended the precise application of ligatures
to arrest haemorrhage instead of the drastic cauterisation advocated previously. Additionally, he recommended the application of egg-yolk, oil of roses and turpentine to gunpowder burns and pioneered the development of several innovative surgical instruments and prosthetic limbs. It is distinctly probable that Thomas Trapham, Oliver Cromwell’s personal surgeon, followed Paré’s teachings and methods at the Savoy Hospital but, sadly, there is no surviving record of his operative procedures. Fortunately the royalist surgeon Richard Wiseman published works of advice to fellow surgeons that, in the main, closely followed Paré’s teaching. The popular idea that military surgeons were little better than torturers, inflicting damaging and unnecessary treatments on their patients, might be challenged when faced with the successes of some of their techniques. These successes in saving lives are reflected in the thousands of recorded petitions that survive from maimed soldiers detailing the terrible injuries from which they survived, the effects of which they carried for years, even decades, afterwards. Contrary to the popular imagination, the history of British military nursing did not begin with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War. Similarly, nursing in the Civil Wars was not restricted to the haphazard efforts of camp JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 49
Reproduction of a Civil War bullet extractor.
Diets were far more generous than those of most of the population and compare favourably with those endured under rationing in the Second World War
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followers and members of the poorest classes of society. Instead the wars led to the establishment by Parliament of Britain’s first permanent military hospitals. This was in contrast to the approach of those loyal to Charles I, which only provided lip-service to casualty care and varied in worth according to the concerns of individual commanders and the availability of casual local facilities. Although both sides established military hospitals and there was little difference between the practices of the doctors, surgeons and nurses on each side, Parliament achieved greater levels of care through superior administration, legislation and clerical support. At considerable expense, Parliament established some of the first professionally staffed, permanent military hospitals such as at the Savoy in the Strand in 1642 and at Ely House, formerly the London residence of the Bishop of Ely, in 1648. Their location on the banks of the Thames aided in the waterborne transit of patients. A revolutionary and innovatory building in its time, the Savoy has been described as the first of the ‘modern’ hospitals. Ely House boasted a cloistered quadrangle and a herb garden of medicinal plants. The nursing and medical practice in these hospitals aided the soldiers’ recovery. High moral standards were enforced to promote spiritual welfare, while diets were far more generous than those experienced by most of the population and compare favourably with those endured under rationing in the Second World War. A structure of staffing and codes of conduct were established, which helped shape hospital practice today. In contrast to popular misconceptions about unhygienic and deplorable conditions, at the Savoy and Ely House significant investment in decent bedding, laundered sheets and prepared linen for bandages all helped contain infection. Individuals such as the pamphleteer Elizabeth Alkin, nicknamed ‘Parliament Joan’, emerged to organise nursing care in London and the south-east.
ESPITE THE foundation of permanent hospitals, the majority of care for the wounded took place in settings such as houses, inns and temporary hospitals. How far these places lived up to the standards in London’s regular hospitals requires further research. Although the Savoy and Ely House were shut down upon the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, their example provided a blueprint for the future, with the establishment of later hospitals for soldiers and sailors at Greenwich and Chelsea in 1692. The day after the Battle of Edgehill, the Long Parliament’s ordinance of October 24th, 1642 acknowledged its duty of care not just to soldiers maimed in its service but also to the orphans and widows of their war dead. This was immensely important. For the first time in history Parliament publicly assumed responsibility for such matters. This was not entirely altruistic, as it did so to rally support and encourage men to volunteer for its armies in the knowledge that their dependants would be looked after. However, when the war dragged on for longer than many imagined, Parliament gradually found the financial burden of paying such pensions increasingly difficult to meet. Nevertheless, a genuine attempt was made to meet these obligations. Military relief was granted by Parliament’s county committees, provincial military governors and at Army Headquarters. Parliament established a Committee
The application of surgical instruments from the 1676 edition of The Marrow of Surgery. JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 51
CIVIL WARS Reproduction of the seal of the parliamentary Committee for Maimed Soldiers.
Most claimants received their relief through a county pension scheme, first established during the reign of Elizabeth I in 1593 for Maimed Soldiers; a reproduction of its seal bears the moving motto ‘Justice to the Maimed Soldier’. Yet most claimants received their relief through a county pension scheme, first established during the reign of Elizabeth I in 1593 and modified by a series of parliamentary ordinances in the 1640s. Payments were made through the local county courts – the Quarter Sessions – where claimants appeared in person to petition civilian Justices of the Peace for financial relief. Many of these petitions survive, with thousands of pensions and one-off payments of gratuities being recorded in court order books for about 30 years from the mid-1640s onwards. Most of these petitions were not written by the maimed soldiers and widows themselves, many of whom were illiterate. They were usually written for them by a paid scribe, clerk, schoolmaster or clergyman. However, the petitioners had to swear the details in their petitions as true by appearing in person with them before the Justices at Quarter Sessions, which could prove a daunting experience. If successful, they might receive a pension of several pounds per annum from the County Treasurers for Maimed Soldiers, who supervised the scheme’s administration. These pensions were worth the considerable trouble they often took to obtain, though they tended only to provide a 52 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
fraction of the cost of living for their recipients, who might also depend on customary rights, by-employments and parish relief to eke out their livelihoods. Pensions often ran into arrears, as funds provided by the county rate imposed on parishes proved insufficient to meet demand. As Parliament consolidated its victory and the king’s cause collapsed, only petitions from parliamentarian soldiers and widows were accepted, with their royalist counterparts being thrown back on the poor rate and the charity of their home parishes. Parliament had used the pension scheme to encourage men to volunteer, but also to shore up support for its right to rule. Claimants became skilled in spinning their stories and crafting the language in their petitions to satisfy the justices’ expectations. In many counties, widows only received what income was left after the maimed soldiers had been dealt with. For the first time ever, war widows were entitled to relief not from Christian charity but because their contribution to the parliamentarian cause warranted it. Some now saw themselves as part of the political nation. They were encouraged in this belief by godly sermons, polemical print and the pronouncements of parliamentarian commanders. In 1648 Colonel Algernon Sidney, a noted republican, supported the petition of one gunner’s widow as ‘not only an act of justice and mercy
but an encouragement to others to adventure their lives for the state in hope of the like relief for theirs’. Richard Deane, General-at-Sea, reminded Sir Henry Vane in 1653 that ‘victory is purchased with the blood of those who were precious in the eyes of the Lord’. In April 1659 Lord Fairfax presented a petition to Parliament on behalf of 2,500 maimed soldiers and 4,000 war widows and orphans.
NDER such circumstances, some widows became adept at addressing authority and manipulating the system. The portrait of Katherine, widow of the parliamentarian Lord Brooke, slain at Lichfield, presents her as a model of godly piety and stoic forbearance, bearing her bereavement and suffering with patience for the sake of the cause. The House of Lords readily voted for her to receive £5,000 for the education of her infant son. In contrast, the concerns of most war widows were more pressing, as nearly all endured a loss of status and many faced destitution. Jane, the widow of Colonel John Meldrum, presented herself as in ‘a starving condition, destitute of friends or means’. She appealed to Cromwell’s millenarian religious fervour when she pleaded with the Lord Protector in 1655 that her husband’s ‘blood and services may not be buried in oblivion’ and ‘that your highness will be graciously pleased to number her amongst your distressed widows whom God hath drawn forth of your pious heart mercifully to relieve. And Christ will put it to your account on the Great day’. Other widows manipulated the memory of the wars, being selective about what they included in their petitions. After the Restoration in 1660, the Devon Quarter Sessions stipulated that relief would only be granted to those who had never been in arms against the king. So Grace Batishill pleaded that her husband George had been ‘unjustly and inhumanely hanged for his loyalty to Charles I’, whereas in fact he had been hanged by Plymouth’s parliamentarians for having deserted them and having changed sides. Local Justices endorsed her claims despite this deliberate spin and distortion of her husband’s past. Others adopted the strategy of shaming the authorities into action. At Walsall, then in Staffordshire, in 1653, the uncle of the orphaned children of Colonel ‘Tinker’ Fox claimed he was too impoverished to continue supporting them, warning one parliamentary committee of their shame if he was forced to turn the children onto the streets to beg: ‘Lest otherwise in their want, your and the Commonwealth’s enemies say in reproach and especially in the county where his service was so eminent “These are the children of Colonel Fox”.’ Following the Restoration, maimed parliamentarian soldiers were stripped of their pensions. Their places on the county lists were taken by maimed royalist soldiers, who now petitioned in their thousands. Among them was John Tinckler, a gunner from Hartlepool in the north-east of
Portrait of Katherine, 2nd Lady Brooke, attributed to Theodore Russell, c.1643.
England, who in 1643 ‘lost both his eyes and arms whereby he is become a very sad spectacle’. His position was considered so desperate and exceptional that he had continued to receive a small pension during the Interregnum despite his known royalism. After 1660, the right of widows to petition for pensions was rescinded, leaving most of them reliant upon charitable relief in their home parishes. Many royalist widows petitioned nevertheless but they tended to receive one-off payments rather than regular pensions. Maimed soldiers continued to petition as a result of Civil War injuries into the 1690s. These thousands of surviving petitions of maimed soldiers, widows and orphans provide an extensive resource for the medical history of the Civil Wars. They also constitute a powerful reminder that the consequences and human costs of war do not end with treaties and peace settlements, but linger on for generations. They tell us much about how common people remembered the wars and articulated their losses and sufferings in the subsequent decades. Parliament’s efforts after the Civil Wars to provide pensions to the widows and orphans of its servicemen was revolutionary. For the first time the government considered a group of women to be part of the political nation, having shared in the sacrifices made for the ‘Good Old Cause’. Yet after the return of Charles II, this unique precedent was ignored and statutory military pensions were denied women for more than 200 years. By changing the understanding and perception of medical care and welfare during the Civil Wars, we can reflect upon whom the responsibility should fall of caring for those maimed and bereaved in today’s wars. Eric Gruber von Arni is an Honorary Visiting Fellow and Andrew Hopper is a Senior Lecturer in the Centre for English Local History at the University of Leicester. They are curators of the Battle-Scarred exhibition at the National Civil War Centre, Newark Museum, which continues until October 2nd, 2016. The Centre was opened in May 2015 by Newark and Sherwood District Council with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The exhibition builds on a grant from the Wolfson Foundation and comprises four rooms allocated to the themes of civil-war medicine, surgery, aftercare and welfare.
FURTHER READING Eric Gruber von Arni, Justice to the Maimed Soldier: Nursing, Medical Care and Welfare for Sick and Wounded Soldiers and their Families during the English Civil Wars and Interregnum, 1642-1660 (Ashgate, 2001). Mark Stoyle, ‘“Memories of the Maimed”: The Testimony of Charles I’s Former Soldiers, 1660–1730’, History, 88 (2003), pp. 204-26. Early Modern Medical Practitioners in England, Wales and Ireland: http://practitioners.exeter.ac.uk JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 53
Portrait of the Author as a Historian The Austrian writer, whose short stories and novellas have recently enjoyed a new burst of popularity, used history to remind us that a better life is possible, as Alexander Lee explains in his new series.
Ideal and imagination: Stefan Zweig, c.1940.
No.1 Stefan Zweig Born: November 28th, 1881, Vienna. Died: February 22nd, 1942, Petrópolis, Brazil.
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STEFAN ZWEIG’S PLAY Jeremias was performed for the first time at the Stadt Stadttheater in Zürich on February 27th 27th, 1918. The Old Testament prophet was returned to life to deliver again his prophecy of Jerusalem’s destruction. Castigating the people of Judah for having abandoned the faith of their fathers, Jeremiah warned that their punishment was at hand. His words went unheeded. At the instigation of the Temple priests, he was beaten and put in the stocks. When war with Babylon broke out, some urged King Zedekiah to put him to death. But as he was hurled into a cistern, they saw the terrible truth of his warnings. After a long siege, Jerusalem fell to the Baby Babylonians, its Temple was destroyed and its people were scattered. All that was left was for Jeremiah – rescued from his well by a Cushite – to mourn the city’s fate; in the final scene, he held its past up as a mirror to the present, in the hope that it might strengthen the exiles’ faith. Written at the height of the First World War, Jeremias was an attempt to articulate Zweig’s growing sense of foreboding. Employed in the Austrian ministry of war, he was appalled not only destrucby the loss of life, but also by the destruc tion of European culture. What alarmed him most was the silence of those who longed for peace. He felt he had to speak out, to warn of what lay ahead. Unable to say in ‘plain terms what [he] felt and thought, [he] chose the only way left open to [him], that … of historical allegory’. Turning to the Hebrew Bible, the ‘primal source’ of his Jewish faith, he found in Jeremiah – ‘sublimest among the adversaries of war’ – the perfect subject for his play. Jeremias was emblematic of Zweig’s attitude towards history. Though now best known for the psychological depth of his short stories and novellas, he was expressdrawn to the past as a means of express ing his cultural hopes and societal fears. Condemned to witness the destruction of all that he held most dear and forced to wander the earth as an exile, he came to see himself as a modern Jeremiah: looking forward, looking back, weeping and warning. Zweig’s outlook had been forged by the radical transformation of Germanic historiography during his youth. For much of the 19th century this had been dominated by the empiricism of Leopold von Ranke and Theodor Mommsen. Reacting against Hegel’s idealism, they had argued that it was history’s task to reconstruct the past wie es eigentlich
gewesen (‘as it actually was’). Though this approach was to have a lasting influence, its dominance was shaken by political and social upheaval in the decades before Zweig’s birth. As Prussia led the charge towards German unification and Austria-Hungary allowed its territories greater autonomy, two separate visions of history emerged. The first, pioneered by the Frenchman Hippolyte Taine and the Austrian Heinrich Friedjung, embodied the ‘liberal’ and nationalistic fervour sweeping the Continent. Drawing on the sociological positivism of Auguste Comte, it was grounded on the belief that culture was shaped predominantly by race, milieu and moment. By analysing the past in such ‘scientific’ terms, it was hoped that history could serve to strengthen national identity and thereby accelerate the nation’s progress. But the second, developed by Jacob Burckhardt and Friedrich Nietzsche, was diametrically different. Rejecting positivism, it grew out of a more individualistic understanding of life. As Nietzsche explained, man was not created by his environment; nor, indeed, could he ever be defined objectively. His nature was inherently and ineradicably subjective. Any attempt to force human experience into a nationalistic straightjacket was to deny the essence of humanity. If history had a purpose, it was not to record the past but to counter the tide of nationalism, to idealise the ‘European’ spirit and to illustrate the spiritual heights to which the individual could rise. Inflame the soul Growing up in fin-de-siècle Vienna, Zweig was, from his earliest days, a cosmopolitan modernist. Enthralled by the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke and Emile Verhaeren, he came to share their preference for a dream-like state of ideals and imagination over the gritty realities of an industrial age. Like his friend, Hugo von Hoffmanstahl, he evinced a profound faith in the individual’s creative potential and believed that the function of literature was not to petrify a ‘spirit’ in words, but to inflame the soul. This applied to history, too. In his 1904 doctoral thesis on Taine’s philosophy, he found the Frenchman’s positivism unsatisfactory. It seemed inconceivable to him that the human mind could be determined so exclusively by race, milieu and moment; it seemed absurd that history should be conducted on such a basis. Instead, he – like Nietzsche – saw history as a means of
exemplifying that spirit of individualism that he most admired. Seeing his beloved Europe torn asunder in the Great War, its importance was brought home to him. As he later recalled in a preface to Jeremias, it was then, ‘amid the rage of battle’, that he realised not only how precarious the future of his cultural ideals were, but also how the past could reveal the dangers of war and nationalism to the present. In the hope that Jerusalem’s fate might warn of what lay ahead, he ‘formed a present out of the past and translated the present back into the past’ for the first time. Yet it was not until the postwar period that Zweig turned to writing history in earnest. Alarmed by the nationalistic violence that erupted after the fall of the Habsburg Empire, he was deeply troubled when fascism began to raise its ugly head in Austria. Setting himself against the völkish histories of Otto Brunner and his ilk, he began writing not only a memoir – Die Welt von
Growing up in fin-de-siècle Vienna, Zweig was, from his earliest days, a cosmopolitan modernist Gestern (‘The World of Yesterday’, published posthumously) – but also a series of biographies, including Der Kampf mit dem Dämon: Hölderlin – Kleist – Nietzsche (1925), Marie Antoinette: Bildnis eines mittleren Charakters (1932) and Triumph und Tragik des Erasmus von Rotterdam (1934). Taking for their subjects individuals who embodied the intellectual freespiritedness, bold imaginativeness and ‘European-ness’ that he believed to be imperilled, they were an unapologetic attempt to show that a different way of living was possible and a call to action. Hope against hope Like Jeremiah, his words were in vain. After the assassination of Chancellor Engelbert Dolfuss on July 25th, 1934, Austria’s fate was sealed. Zweig fled: first to Britain, then to America, settling finally in Brazil. For a time, he continued to cling to his hope that history could turn back the tide, or at least point the
way towards a future beyond Europe. He penned passionate, moving works on Sebastian Casteillio’s defence of religious toleration against Calvin’s authoritarian Protestantism (1936), on Ferdinand Magellan (1938) and on Amerigo Vespucci (1942). But as Nazi Germany went from triumph to triumph in the early days of the Second World War, his relationship with history changed. This was illustrated by the enigmatic Dr B. in Schachnovella (‘Chess Story’, 1941). Kept in isolation by the Nazis, Dr B. occupies himself by endlessly replaying the greatest games of chess ever played. After memorising every move in the book he has been using as a guide, he begins playing himself and, as his psyche begins splitting into two distinct personalities, suffers a nervous breakdown. After being nursed back to health, he flees. On his journey across the Atlantic he finds himself on board a ship with a group of chess enthusiasts and is drawn into playing the reigning world champion. The first game develops quickly and Dr B. scores a brilliant victory. But when the tempo slows in the second, he has the time to think more carefully and – returning to his memories of great games past – runs through every move that could possibly be made in his mind. Unable to free himself from the past and the possibilities it creates, he loses and plunges once again into madness. In the same way, history had come to torment Zweig. While it seemed to hold out hope of another way of life, he felt powerless, torn and depressed whenever he paused to think about it more carefully. Looking at the past, there seemed to be so many possibilities; but looking at the horrors of the present, the unreality of those possibilities became a form of torture. As he worked on his memoirs during the darkest days of the war, the last of his belief was destroyed. In despair at the unbridgeable gulf between past and present, he and his wife committed suicide on February 22nd, 1942. Though his critics – of whom there are sadly many – might say that his death is a warning against his vision of history, precisely the opposite is true. As war and nationalism again come to blight out lives, we are in need of exactly such a modern Jeremiah to warn us of what we stand to lose and to remind us that a better life is possible. Alexander Lee is a fellow in the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance at the University of Warwick. His book The Ugly Renaissance is published by Arrow.
Key works Amok (1922), Beware of Pity (1939), Chess (1942), The World of Yesterday (1942) A best-selling writer in his day Zweig’s novellas, short stories and biographies sold more copies than contemporaries Thomas Mann and Joseph Roth, both of whom envied his success. However, his star fell dramatically postwar. In 2012, English Heritage decided against commemorating with a Blue Plaque the London house in which he briefly lived, stating that ‘a critical consensus does not appear to exist … regarding Zweig’s reputation as a writer’. A recent resurgence in interest in Zweig, however, was helped by the release of Wes Anderson’s film The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), which was a paean to the author. His work is now widely available in English, published by the Pushkin Press. JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 55
Oren Margolis in praise of Aldus Manutius Patrick J Murray on the Scottish Covenant Jennifer Altehenger on a people’s history of Mao’s Cultural Revolution
REVIEWS EUROPEAN HISTORY
A Stable, Successful, Imperial Europe? Peter H. Wilson’s account of the ideas, events and institutions that shaped the 1,000-year history of the Holy Roman Empire will surely long remain unrivalled in its field.
IN HIS 2014 radio series, Germany: Memories of a Nation, Neil MacGregor used coinage to introduce his listeners to the complexity of the Holy Roman Empire. Holding a gold five guinea piece, he pointed out that there was only one currency minted in Great Britain under George I. However, in the German lands from which he came there were nearly 200 different currencies, each representing a particular state with its own forms of government, laws and traditions. The 56 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
British Museum’s coin collection provided a wonderfully immediate way of visualising the early modern Empire, a patchwork of territories that was, in the eyes of some contemporaries and many later historians, a failure, because it did not centralise and did not generate national loyalty in the manner of its European neighbours. The narrative of delayed nationhood, with its attendant implications for modern German history, has long been discredited. Peter Wilson’s The Holy Roman Empire rides a wave
of recent scholarship, of which he shows a truly prodigious grasp, which argues that the Empire was, in fact, a stable and successful political structure. The book’s most immediate counterpart, Joachim Whaley’s Germany and the Holy Roman Empire (2011) presents a broadly chronological account of the Empire’s last 300 years. Wilson offers something very different: a thematic history of the Empire from its medieval origins to its demise in 1806. In the first of four sections, Wilson shows the power of the
imperial ideal: the emperor’s assumption of the ancient Roman mission of protecting Christianity, which gave him a status above that of an ordinary king. This ideal remained important, Wilson suggests, well into the early modern period: Maria Theresa may have described the imperial crown as a ‘fool’s hat’, but the title still conferred symbolic power. In the second section, ‘belonging’, Wilson explores how the Empire’s various peoples and lands related to it and it is one of the book’s great strengths that it takes the Empire’s ‘peripheries’ (including Italy and Bohemia) seriously throughout. While political and legal frameworks and intellectual culture and symbols created a shared sense of belonging, Wilson argues that the Empire also successfully preserved particular identities and freedoms. In section three, ‘governance’, he examines the Empire’s rulers, institutions and resources, emphasising that its history must not be written in terms of a failed attempt to create a unitary state. In the final section, ‘society’, Wilson addresses what he rightly sees as the largest gap in writing on the Empire: the relationship between its governance and the lives of its inhabitants. Through examining various forms of authority and association, he shows the extent to which the political and social structures of the Empire were interwoven.
Key concepts emerge from the book: the idea of the Empire as a ‘status hierarchy’ and the strength of its ‘corporate social order’. In constitutional terms, Wilson suggests that the Empire should be equated with a mixed monarchy. It developed in ways that diffused power though various authorities, making them dependent upon one another. Few other historians could convey such a long and complex history so effectively: for an account of the ideas, institutions and events that shaped the medieval and early modern Empire, this book is, and will surely long remain, unrivalled. Wilson’s other major theme, identity, is more elusive. As he acknowledges, it is easier to study the symbols and arguments deployed to foster identity than to recover any sense of the subjective self-definition of the Empire’s
Wilson offers a thematic history of the Empire from its medieval origins to its demise in 1806 ... few other historians could convey such a long and complex history so effectively inhabitants. Did Zwickau burghers or Brandenburg peasants really see themselves as belonging to the Empire? Here Wilson’s case rests on his conviction that the Empire’s decentralised structure created ‘numerous layers of engagement and identification’, from the Reichstag at the top to peasant associations at the bottom. He argues for the significance of appellate justice in the early modern Empire and points to the pride that cities such as Nuremberg showed in their imperial traditions and to peasant petitioning. Yet, as he admits, social and economic regulation – the forms of governance that shaped the day-to-day experiences of most people – developed at a local, not an imperial level.
In the Holy Roman Empire as described by Wilson there is much to admire. As a ‘collective actor’, the Empire was not bellicose or expansionist, unlike Louis XIV’s France. Wilson praises its ability to manage both political and legal problems, using methods that were ‘more realistic and often more humane’ than those employed elsewhere in Europe. He stops short of suggesting that the Empire really functioned as the ‘protector of the weak’, but he emphasises the emperors’ (less than reliable) guardianship of Jewish communities and the system of justice that inserted courts ‘between ordinary folk and lordly exploitation’. He writes of a common political culture, of small, cohesive urban communities and of decentralised politics that created opportunities for social mobility. The fact that a review of the book in the Economist picked out the story of the 11th-century Emperor Conrad II, who stopped on the way to his coronation to listen to petitions from the dispossessed, is indicative of the message that some readers will take from this book. It will speak to a contemporary audience preoccupied by debates about Europe’s future and Wilson uses this opportunity wisely. Yet the desire to show that effective polities do not always require their inhabitants to surrender local identity and autonomy should not lead historians to oversell the Empire. Wilson acknowledges only in passing, for example, that imperial courts could do little to prevent the misuse of law that helped make Germany the heartland of early modern witch-hunting and we must remember that the Empire’s ‘progressive’ religious diversity came about only against the wishes of its rulers and as the result of prolonged and bloody conflict. Just like the European Union, the Holy Roman Empire could divide as well as unite. Bridget Heal The Holy Roman Empire: A Thousand Years of Europe’s History by Peter H. Wilson Allen Lane 942pp £35
Death of the Republic & Birth of the Empire by Richard Alston Oxford University Press 385pp £20 RICHARD ALSTON traces the transformation of the Roman state, from the tribunate of Tiberius Gracchus in 133 bc to the accession of Tiberius in ad 14. The years in between witnessed the collapse of the old Republican political system, the bloodletting of almost 20 years of civil war and the consolidation of a monarchical system of power through the long years of the reign of Emperor Augustus.
Alston’s title rather invites comparison with one of the most distinguished works of classical scholarship, Ronald Syme’s The Roman Revolution This story is not new and Alston’s title rather invites comparison with one of the most distinguished works of classical scholarship: Ronald Syme’s The Roman Revolution (1939). Early on, Alston acknowledges the greatness of Syme’s contribution but thereafter he avoids direct reference to it: the section heading ‘Octavian’s Coup: The March on Rome’ reads like a nod to the titles of chapters nine and 13 of Syme’s masterpiece, but there is no explicit engagement with
his thought. Other scholars will recognise similar acts of homage in sections entitled ‘Caesar’s Legacy and the Formation of the Revolution’ and ‘The Cultural Revolution’. Some will react badly to Alston’s tendency to refer to the mistaken approaches of ‘conservative thinkers’ or ‘elite historians’ without actually identifying with whom he is picking a fight. Throughout Rome’s Revolution the impression is given of a study in denial about its true identity. Published in a new series of narrative histories aimed at a wider market, it provides a vigorous, swift-paced account of events and is particularly strong at describing the military campaigns leading to crucial battles, such as Philippi in 42 bc and Actium in 31 bc. It has some interesting analyses of the financial aspects of the brutal proscriptions of the second triumvirate and of the massive investment involved in settling retired legionaries or ensuring the grain supply to Rome. Alston also draws effectively on his knowledge of Roman Egypt and is an informed and intriguing guide to Octavian’s treatment of that country’s people in the aftermath of the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra. One figure of particular interest is the poet and first prefect of Egypt, Cornelius Gallus, who contributed to the adornment of Alexandria by transporting an obelisk from its home city of Heliopolis, saw off a significant local revolt and erected a boastful trilingual inscription recording his achievements. Alston then follows Gallus back to Rome and writes well about his prosecution by the odious Valerius Largus: so perilous was it to speak openly in front of this scoundrel that his contemporary Proculeius would theatrically cover his mouth with his hand whenever Largus drew near. This is handled with aplomb, but Alston seems conscious that he should be doing more. That something more is developing a new way of describing social and political relations at JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 57
REVIEWS Rome. Rejecting others’ talk of ‘classes, institutions, constitutions, and political structures’, Alston borrows the sociology of contemporary African states in his analysis of ‘patrimonial networks’ as a vehicle for the distribution of power and resources. There is considerable overlap here with the distinctive role of the patron-client relationship (clientela) and political friendship (amicitia), but Alston argues for the patrimonial network as the conceptual basis for offering a more global account of power at Rome. Yet to make this work he needs more than a single footnote to explain what the model offers and then more explicitly to address the similarities and differences between contemporary Africa and ancient Rome. Pompey could have been used here, who, aged just 23, mustered a private army of 15,000 men from his native region of Picenum to fight for Sulla. In fact Alston says of this extraordinary episode simply that ‘Pompey rose to prominence with Sulla’s second march on Rome’. The final impression is of two very different books forced into one. The first is the ‘riveting narrative’ with which the blurb draws in the non-specialist reader and which Alston successfully provides. The second is the innovative account of Roman society that might have been. It resurfaces in sentences that insistently repeat the buzzword ‘network’ as if repeatedly using the word will itself make the concept more compelling. This is both intellectually disappointing and stylistically aggravating. Alston is much better when he sticks to the basics and keeps the story ticking over. When he reaches for aphorisms and asserts universal truths, bathos almost inevitably results. The book has a variety of maps and illustrations and closes with a timeline, a cast of characters, some slightly patchy endnotes, a bibliography and an index. The proliferation of misprints should put the publisher to shame. Matthew Leigh 58 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
Rome’s most erotic poet Daisy Dunn brings to life the ancient Rome experienced by the poet Catullus and, in her new translations of his work, captures the elegant simplicity of his poetry.
THE CATCHY subtitle of Daisy Dunn’s biography of Catullus does not do justice to its scope. Catullus’ short life (84-54 bc) covers the period when Rome stood on the brink of a civil war that would result in the Republic being swept away to bring to power Rome’s first emperor, Augustus. Catullus’ Bedspread is loosely structured around the story that Catullus’ first-person lyric tempts us to reconstruct (but never explicitly tells), namely his love for the woman he called Lesbia, probably the aristocratic Clodia, married sister of Cicero’s nemesis, Publius Clodius Pulcher. Catullus brings a wide range of characters into this drama of infatuation and betrayal, a love story appropriate to the turbulence of the late Republic and touching on some of the great events of the time without directly engaging them. Around Catullus’ poems Dunn weaves a picture of his world that is full of evocative detail: one of the chief pleasures of this book is its attention to the material and sensuous aspects of Roman life, which refreshes the rather abstract ancient Rome of most history books. Whether it be the novelty of Rome’s first permanent theatre, built by Pompey,
the recipe for the ubiquitous fish sauce garum or Roman attitudes to baldness, Dunn shows us the world that Catullus would have experienced. She is also a sensitive and knowledgeable critic of Catullus’ poetry, quoted in excerpts from her translation of his work. Catullus covers a broad range of emotional and stylistic registers;
Dunn weaves a picture of Catullus’ world that is full of evocative detail ... which refreshes the rather abstract ancient Rome of most history books his love poetry veers from the tender to the obscene and the violent and, in the poem which gives Catullus’ Bedspread its name, we find a long, extravagantly mannered description of the coverlet of a wedding bed, which depicts the story of Ariadne. Dunn’s translations are not equally successful with all of Catullus’ modes, but where she scores is in the ability to capture the elegant simplicity of his
poetry, which often suffers from the translator’s desire to make it more ‘poetic’. Reconstructing Catullus’ life is difficult, as we have little to go on apart from his poems. Cicero’s letters help Dunn to put flesh on the names of the friends and enemies that Catullus’ poetry celebrates and excoriates, and on the fragile political alliances formed, broken and re-formed under Catullus’ sceptical eye, but even the loquacious Cicero has nothing to say about Catullus. Perhaps Dunn’s biography takes Catullus the poet too much at his word. In ancient Rome, firstperson poetry was even less constrained by truth than it is now. I am not sure that we can say with any confidence, for instance, that Catullus was ‘partial to cunnilingus’, as Dunn tells us, but she gives us a good sense of what his peers might have thought of him if he were, which is characteristic of the range of this most enjoyable book. William Fitzgerald Catullus’ Bedspread The Life of Rome’s Most Erotic Poet by Daisy Dunn William Collins 320pp £16.99 Gaius Valerius Catullus The Poems of Catullus, a New Translation by Daisy Dunn William Collins 176pp £8.99
Venice and the birth of the modern book Aldus Manutius is celebrated as the publisher who transformed book production from a mechanical skill to a liberal art. Aldo Manuzio Il Rinascimento di Venezia Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice, runs to July 31st, 2016 THE MAJOR EXHIBITION at the Gallerie dell’Accademia – the temple of Venetian painting – is dedicated to a man who never lifted a brush. Aldo Manuzio (c.1450-1515), better known in the English-speaking world as Aldus Manutius, was an Italian Renaissance humanist. Born south of Rome, it was as a teacher at princely courts in northern Italy that he began to develop his ideas about the importance of studying Greek as well as Latin. Still, these beliefs hardly marked him out as exceptional. However, a mid-career move to cosmopolitan Venice and a switch to printing allowed him to act on his ideas and resulted in the achievements for which he is celebrated today: more first editions of the classics than any publisher before or since, including much of the Greek canon; formal innovations such as italic type and the pocket-sized octavo volume that unchained books from desks and revolutionised reading. His commitment to excellence and accuracy in layout
and content transformed a mechanical skill into a liberal art. With his books bearing the famous device of a dolphin coiled around an anchor, the Aldine Press earned the admiration of Europe’s greatest luminaries, including Erasmus. Today, Aldus is recognised as the father of the modern book. The catalyst for this exhibition was last year’s 500th anniversary of Aldus’ death, although he is only one of this show’s stars: the other protagonist is La Serenissima
Innovations such as the pocket-sized octavo format unchained books from desks and revolutionised reading herself. It was Venice – with its established printing industry and European mercantile networks, its scholarly community of Greek and other expats and its wealthy and educated patriciate – that provided Aldus with the infrastructure, manpower and ideal audience for his enterprise. It was in Venice that artists – Carpaccio, Giovanni Bellini, Cima da Conegliano, Giorgione, Titian and foreign visitors such as Dürer – responded to many of those same cultural impulses
that inspired Aldus. This is a multimedia exhibition, in which paintings, sculptures and books are displayed in thematic clusters, telling the story of cultural ferment. A Greek grammar, printed by Aldus and corrected by hand in the shop, is displayed alongside the so-called Cleopatra Grimani, an ancient sculpture ‘restored’ by Tullio Lombardo, speaking to a recovery of antiquity that encompassed equally obsessive accuracy and creative reinterpretation; while octavo volumes of the ancient Roman poets illuminated for private patrons testify together with small allegorical and mythological panels by Bellini and Cima to the contemporary domestication of literature and art. The portrait, attributed to Jacometto Veneziano, of the mathematician Luca Pacioli with his patron Guidobaldo da Montefeltro reminds us of Aldus’ attendance at Pacioli’s lectures given in Venice on Euclid and of the ‘divine proportions’ behind the layout of his books and types. The mysterious Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499), the erotic romance-cum-architectural treatise, was Aldus’ typographical tour de force (inset); the curators identify the two artists behind the 172 woodcuts as Benedetto Bordon and the anonymous Master of the canzoniere Grifo. This is an exceptional exhibition and the small size of many exhibits rewards close looking – a book-like experience – and offers a feeling of intimacy. Even some of the most studied masterpieces of the Renaissance appear in a new guise. For example, Giorgione’s Tempesta is treated as part of a discovery not just of landscape but also of countryside; not just the Arcadia embodied by Virgil’s Bucolics but the place of agricultural labour of his Georgics (both published by Aldus). Increasingly inhabitants of the lagoon city were turning away from the sea and towards the countryside, building villas on the Terraferma. One such villa was the Villa Giustinian, of which a 1536 plan is displayed alongside Fra Giocondo’s studies of Roman villas and the edition of the ancient agricultural writers that the scholarly friar published with Aldus in 1514. Sophisticated and accessible, this exhibition displays its imaginative cross-sections of the Venetian Renaissance in ways designed not merely to impress but to stimulate its various audiences. In so doing, it also shows just how much a man who signed his name ‘Aldus Romanus’ was truly Aldus of Venice. Oren Margolis JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 59
Personalities and the Past by Margaret MacMillan Profile Books 270pp £14.99 IN HER LATEST BOOK, based on a series of broadcasts delivered in her native Canada, Margaret MacMillan focuses on individuals who played a pivotal role in the history of their times and others who, more humbly, have left us a vivid chronicle of what they saw and experienced.
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In her own words, MacMillan moves ‘from those who changed the course of history ... to the sort of people you might want to have dinner with because they would be so entertaining’. MacMillan, Warden of St Antony’s College, Oxford, is clearly one of the latter: a scholar distinguished by not only the wide range of her interests but also the engaging way in which she communicates them. Previous books include a study of British women in the Raj, works about the outbreak of the First World War and the peace conference that followed and an examination of Nixon’s breakthrough in China. However, her reach extends further: in History’s People we not only encounter such 20th-century leaders as Hitler and Stalin but are also led into worlds as diverse as Mughal India, pre-Colonial Canada and early 20th-century Albania. Some of the figures MacMillan considers, such as Bismarck, Franklin Roosevelt and the
Canadian premier Mackenzie King, were master persuaders while others – monsters like Hitler and Stalin, but also such well-intentioned democrats as Woodrow Wilson and Margaret Thatcher – were characterised by hubris: an unquestioning confidence in what they intended to achieve. Some of those MacMillan considers were more daring than most, prepared to run immense risks if necessary: Churchill and Nixon had a touch of this, as did two more figures with Canadian connections, the press magnate Lord Beaverbrook and the early explorer Samuel de Champlain. Yet others, many of them women, are important to our understanding of history because of their insatiable curiosity: the diarist Elizabeth Simcoe, for example, wife of the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, or the memoirist Fanny Parkes who recorded what she saw of early 19th-century India. As for the ‘observers’, how vivid and evocative, says
MacMillan, are the recorded observations of Babur, the first Mughal emperor or that courageous German-Jewish diarist of Nazism, Victor Klemperer. Margaret MacMillan has given more thought than most to the very nature of history (and is author of what has become a classic on the ways people use and abuse the past). A major theme running through History’s People is the question of how far individuals can ‘make’ history and how far they are its tools. The essays are a treat to read, the personalities leaping off the page. Margaret Thatcher, we are reminded, was nicknamed ‘Attila the Hen’ while Charles Ritchie was ‘an elongated and elegant Canadian diplomat (who) skewers everyone, starting with himself’. Ultimately, says MacMillan, she loves history because it provides such a marvellous combination of enlightenment and fun. So does her new book. Daniel Snowman
The Makers of Indian History Sunil Khilnani’s protagonists surprise, break conventions, defy orthodoxy, change minds, innovate and make history in the process. Would that he had chosen more of India’s powerful, fascinating women.
PROFESSOR KHILNANI is an academic historian, but this book is a more populist take on 2,500 years of India’s history. As a collection of miniature biographies, ranging from the Buddha in the fifth century bc to business tycoon Dhirubha Ambani in the 1990s, this format works remarkably well for a country whose culture and history have been so individualistic and diverse, far more centred around personalities than Confucian China. Khilnani’s choice of people is a balance of the political and the cultural and of India’s mosaic of religions, castes and regions. The one major exception is the abysmally low score of women: only six out of 50, among them the already ubiquitous figures of the Rani of Jhansi (India’s Boudicca) and Indira Gandhi, its woman prime minister. Why not Razia Sultana, the tragic medieval Muslim monarch? Or Noor Jehan, the Mughal empress who ruled her husband and his empire? Or Sarojini Naidu, the charismatic, 20th-century nationalist leader and poetess? Or Nargis, Bollywood’s greatest ever actress? Just a few of India’s powerful, fascinating women.
Khilnani’s incarnations are chronological, reflecting the continuities and contrasts of a subcontinent evolving from its classical Hindu and Buddhist past, through the Muslim kingdoms of the early modern period, into the British Raj and the emergence of a modern national identity. The qualities which Khilnani most
Like the best after-dinner speeches, they leave you informed, entertained, amused, wanting to hear more admires in his protagonists are their capacity to surprise, break conventions, defy orthodoxy, change minds, innovate and make history in the process. These themes recur throughout the myriad lives, giving them meaning and purpose. The Buddha and Mahavira, founders of major religions, are obvious choices and Khilnani adds little to their extant biographies. Less predictable are figures such as Panini, the fourth-
century bc Sanskritist, whose linguistic codes laid the foundations of India’s success at computer software; the political theorist Kautilya, anticipating Machiavelli by more than a millennium; and Aryabhata, the fifth-century mathematicianastronomer who, long before Copernicus or Galileo, discovered that the Earth rotates on its axis. Khilnani has little time for the muscular, organised Hinduism which, he tells us, arose in response to Muslim and Christian proselytising. His own Hinduism is a religion ‘of early morning doubts’, which embraces Muslims such as the ill-fated Mughal crown prince Dara Shikoh, executed by his Islamist brother Aurangzeb, and the British orientalist Sir William Jones, both inspired by a passion for India’s classical, Sanskrit language and heritage. Khilnani’s treatment of modern India’s national leaders acknowledges that they were as much the children of the Raj as its opponents. We hear about the Anglicism of Raja Ram Mohun Roy, who welcomed British education and social reforms in the mid-19th century. Then there
are the contradictory thoughts of Swami Vivekananda, ‘dallying between Kali and Kant’, who embodied Hindu nationalism, but recommended beef-eating. More recently, we get the anglicised Dalit leader, B.R. Ambedkar, cooperating with the Raj against Mahatma Gandhi’s populist campaigns. Conspicuous by his absence is independent India’s Harrow and Cambridge-educated first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, possibly because Khilnani has yet to produce his long-awaited mega-biography of him. This book is best in its portrayal of artists and cultural leaders. We hear about the medieval anti-Brahmin poet Basava, who was admired by Ted Hughes. Then there’s the singer-saint Mirabai, whose erotic hymns to Krishna are still among India’s most popular concert repertoire. We hear why Rembrandt admired Mughal minatures and how British orientalists rediscovered the Sanskrit Shakespeare, Kalidasa. Most intriguing of all is the legacy of the Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore. His dislike of cultural nationalism and of Gandhian civil disobedience made him unpopular in some Indian circles, while many in the West, including Bertrand Russell, found his writings a bit vacuous. But Khilnani reminds us of his gigantic role in promoting the libertarian ideals of the Bengali Renaissance and credits him with inspiring 21st-century battles for individual freedom, including the ongoing campaign for gay rights. The art of the miniaturist has thrived in India for many centuries and Khilnani’s incarnations are its literary equivalent. What they lack in historical rigour, they make up for in intelligence, wit, originality and elegance. Like the best after-dinner speeches, they leave you informed, entertained, amused and wanting to hear more, especially about some of the unsung makers of Indian history. Zareer Masani Incarnations: India in 50 Lives by Sunil Khilnani Allen Lane 636pp £30 JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 61
Tracing Scotland’s Revolutionary Impulse Laura A.M. Stewart deftly explores the roles of revolution and reaction in the political and social history of mid-17th century Scotland.
THE IMPERIAL PROJECT of the Anglo-Scots Union, established under one Stewart lineage in 1603, was barely one and a half monarchs old when periodic outbursts of unrest turned into fullblown revolutionary convulsions. In England, Oliver Cromwell emerged from middling Cambridgeshire gentry with chief propagandist John Milton in tow to enact revolution, regicide and republic. In Ireland, the Confederate Wars of 1641 onwards opened a new and bloody chapter in a country long scarred by conflict. Meanwhile, in Scotland, there manifested a singular type of revolutionary upheaval, culminating in the appearance of a document in 1638 entitled the Scottish National Covenant. According to Laura A.M. Stewart in her Rethinking the Scottish Revolution: Covenanted Scotland, 1637-1651, the Covenant was ‘one of the most controversial documents in Scotland’s history … explicitly intended to be national in scope and binding in all perpetuity’. Fittingly for such a tract, the Covenant sparked over a decade of political, social, cultural and religious upheaval. Stewart takes the 62 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
reader through the era, exploring events leading to the Covenant’s publication, the government it initiated and its consequences for Scotland at home and abroad. What emerges is a picture of the Covenanter movement as a multi-faceted and complex civic endeavour, with roots going back to the Reformation of 1560 and beyond. Beginning with an ex-
Stewart provides a narrative that is broad in scope and rich in scholarly detail ploration of ‘People, Politics, and Publics’ and moving through indepth surveys of the Covenant’s reception on a parish-by-parish basis before considering the functioning of the Covenanted government, the author provides a narrative that is broad in scope and rich in scholarly detail. The book begins with an examination of the nature of ‘public participation’ in the movement. As recent political polling has demonstrated, capturing the public mood is no easy task and
such difficulties are multiplied exponentially by the various fogs of history. Stewart is careful to assert that the notion of the Scottish Revolution as a class war waged by democratically minded multitudes against a tyrannical elite is overly simplistic. The framework of modern democracy was largely absent from 16th- and 17th-century Scotland. Instead, the Covenanters’ ‘culture of dissent’ manifested itself in demonstrations of civic protest (the ‘glorious organes’ in the Chapel Royal, Holyroodhouse were dismantled in a ‘careful and orderly manner’), the production of localised petitions and proclamations in defiance of monarchical decrees and the growing dissemination of anti-Episcopalian tracts from continental printing presses. If its emergence was characterised by a variety of historical events with a tinge of the folk-heroic – the aperçu of the female servant throwing a stool at the clerics of St Giles’ Church as they attempted to impose a new Prayer Book devised in the London court is a touchstone of Scottish Protestant folklore – the Covenanting government was
marked by one of the humdrum affairs of governance: taxation. However, even in this there was a degree of the iconoclastic: according to Stewart, the Covenanted government brought in new reforms, meaning it was ‘able to introduce a new system of taxation that for the first time in decades, perhaps centuries, was capable of reflecting in some measure real economic activity’. Such fiscal organisation was rendered vital by the government’s most substantial move: the signing of a treaty in 1643 entitled The Solemn League and Covenant. The articulation of religious autonomy in Scotland, it had far-reaching implications: in exchange for support for their ongoing colonialist project across the Irish Sea, as well as reinforcement during the English Civil War, the English parliamentarians granted the Scottish presbytery preservation from broader church reform. Yet it drew Scotland into the tumult of civil wars in England and Ireland and ultimately led to its downfall, first under Cromwell and then the restored monarchy under Charles II. The complex strands of revolution and reaction are deftly teased out by Stewart. However, the book’s last section, which explores the legacy of the Covenanters for modern Scottish consciousness and identity, is its most interesting. Here, Stewart skilfully shows how the legacy of the Covenanters and their perceived traits – radical, Protestant, democratic, universalist, anti-authoritarian, republican – have been appropriated by differing groups from the Glorious Revolution to the present day. Such appropriations reflect the central role of the revolutionary impulse within the Covenanting movement and, more broadly, within the political and social history of Scotland, both in its success and its failure. Patrick J. Murray Rethinking the Scottish Revolution: Covenanted Scotland, 1637-1651 by Laura A.M. Stewart Oxford University Press 336pp £65
EXHIBITION Sydney Cockerell, confided to his biographer after retirement: ‘I often wished I’d got a machine-gun mounted at the The Fitzwilliam Museum houses an extraordinary collection and top of the stairs to mow down the people has a lustrous reputation. It also has an intriguing history. who tried to make me accept second-rate and third-rate objects.’ Yet, it is generally accepted that Cockerell was the museum’s did the museum begin a programme of outreach to children, schools and adult learners most influential director, who rescued it The Fitzwilliam Museum from congested mediocrity and established (although the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Trumpington St, Cambridge its lustrous reputation. ‘Cockerell’s impact dates from 1909). In 1966, the director www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk on the Fitzwilliam is impossible to overresponsible for the manuscripts exhibition, state’, writes Burn. None of his successors after being criticised by the Cambridge as director has questioned the truth of student journal Varsity for the museum’s IN 1966, to mark its sesquicentenary, the Cockerell’s assertion: ‘I found it a pigsty: I falling attendance figures, defiantly reFitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge held a turned it into a palace.’ sponded: ‘I don’t care if an undergraduate special exhibition of more than 100 of its According to Burn, persistent own illuminated manuscripts, understaffing by Cambridge which were at the heart of the Granite lid of the University (unlike the Ashmolean collection of its founder, Vissarcophagus of Museum at Oxford), tensions count Fitzwilliam (1745-1816). Rameses III surrounding its responsibilities to ‘It was very favourably reviewed (d.1155 bc) Cambridge students and faculty and attracted big crowds’, notes versus the public and controversy the current keeper of antiquities, about the place of archaeologiLucilla Burn, in her well-illuscal objects in a predominantly trated, admirably thorough but fine art collection have recurred thoroughly readable study, The throughout the Fitzwilliam’s Fitzwilliam Museum: A History, history. published for its bicentenary, Consider the story of the along with an elegant, handmassive carved and inscribed sized guide book to the museum, granite lid of the sarcophagus of lavishly illustrated with fold-out Rameses III, presented to the unifloor plans and masterpieces, versity by the excavator Giovanni which accompanies a small Belzoni in 1823: the very year of exhibition on the museum’s the decipherment of the Egyptian history currently on display in hieroglyphs. In 1954, the Louvre its Octagon. Perhaps the success Museum proposed to unite this lid of the 1966 exhibition explains with its box, held at the Louvre, why the Fitzwilliam has arranged in exchange for a stone statue of another major manuscript exhibithe Egyptian goddess Sekhmet. tion for the second half of 2016, The Fitzwilliam’s honorary Colour: The Art and Science of keeper of Egyptian antiquities Illuminated Manuscripts. This will supported the Louvre’s proposal, display 150 of its manuscripts, as did the Fitzwilliam’s direcranging from the prayer books of tor, partly because the lid was European royalty and merchants damaged and took up so much to local treasures, such as the space. But the exchange was Macclesfield Psalter, and from an Cockerell was the museum’s most strongly opposed by some of the alchemical scroll to the ABC of a museum’s syndics (trustees) and five-year-old princess. influential director ... ‘I found it a it went nowhere. Then in 1967, Much has changed at the pigsty: I turned it into a palace’ under a new director, the keeper museum, and in the museum of antiquities ‘triumphantly and world generally, since 1966, as dramatically resolved the issue of space by spends three years here without setting Burn vividly documents. Not until 1967 foot in the place: what I want is a nucleus did the Fitzwilliam agree to lend to an standing the lid up vertically in the centre of people who take a real interest in the exhibition abroad, whereas in 2013-14 it of the smaller Egyptian gallery’, notes Burn, lent more than 120 items to over 50 venues museum and come here often.’ No museum ‘where it remains today’: testimony to the director today could espouse such frank in 12 countries. Until as late as 1969 some variety, quality and intriguing history of the elitism – for better or worse. of its key galleries lacked electric lighting. Fitzwilliam’s undoubtedly extraordinary More trenchantly still, the Fitzwilliam’s Only in 1975 was a centre for conservation collections. longest-serving director (1908-37), Sir established. Only from the 1980s onwards Andrew Robinson
Celebrating the Fitzwilliam at 200
JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 63
by Thomas Bell Haus Books 463pp £17.99 HIGH IN THE Himalayas there is a parasitic fungus that grows out of the body of small caterpillars and is worth more than its weight in gold. Today, harvesting these mushrooms is bringing much needed cash into Nepal and is part of the country’s new political economy, most palpably so in its capital city, Kathmandu
64 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
The old has never really been revered in the city, we are told by Thomas Bell in Kathmandu. This is why old structures have historically been smashed and spliced into new buildings. In his impressive debut book Bell traces the layers of Kathmandu’s past through to the present, from the remains of old doorways and windows, temples and palaces, statues and carved inscriptions. Most readers would think of Nepal as a peaceful, poor country, especially after the horrifying earthquake of 2015. But, Bell shows, life in Kathmandu has steadily become increasingly restless. Frustrated with monarchical rule, Maoists were engaged in a prolonged, bitter civil war that spilled out of Kathmandu and into the countryside. In 2008, after experiments with establishing a constitutional monarchy, Nepal finally transitioned from the Hindu kingdom established by Prithvi Narayan Shah in the
mid-18th century to a secular republic. The Maoists won the majority of parliamentary seats and formed an uneasy coalition government, but inter-party bickering has led repeatedly to coalitions falling and having to be reconstituted. Woven through the book is the history of this infighting, the conversations and encounters behind the news stories that the author, as a foreign correspondent in Nepal, relayed back to readers of the Daily Telegraph and the Economist. These appear as a series of vignettes, sandwiched between episodes from the journals of the East India Company officers, British residents and western travellers in Kathmandu from the late 18th century onwards. Nepal was not a site commonly connected to the intrigues and proxy wars of the Cold War. Yet, Nepal’s neutrality and its geostrategic location meant that funds poured in from the USSR, the US, China and elsewhere. In more recent
times, the flow of aid monies has continued but without tangible results, which Bell attributes to aid agencies’ techno-bureaucratism and aid workers’ unfamiliarity with the peculiarities and particularities of the country. At times, the tone is unsympathetic, cutting, the language a little crude. The author’s ire for destruction and death is understandable but the ways in which Nepali customs and traditions are described as backward or irrational is surprising in light of the author’s love for the country (and his Newari wife) and occasionally makes for uncomfortable reading. This is, perhaps, precisely the point; to make sense of the horrors for himself and also to relate that which he could not commit to copy as a journalist in a foreign land. A book full of feeling, it provides personality and narrative texture to complement other works on the history and politics of Nepal. Jagjeet Lally
A People’s History of Mao’s Revolution Frank Dikötter asks how and why Maoism came to be buried at the end of the most drawn-out of all mass campaigns: the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. WHEN MAO ZEDONG died, he was not buried, but displayed in a glass sarcophagus. Next, people across the country, from party leaders to villagers, ‘buried Maoism’. With this, Frank Dikötter ends the introduction and opens the third volume of his trilogy on the People’s Republic of China, which takes the reader from the Seven Thousand Cadres Conference in 1962 to the death of the ‘Great Teacher, Great Leader, Great Supreme Commander, and Great Helmsman’ Mao in September 1976. This final volume asks how and why Maoism came to be buried at the end of the most drawn-out of all mass campaigns: the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. And it finds its main protagonists in the people, at large and individually. With elite politics and conflicts as the starting point, this ‘people’s history’ of the Cultural Revolution traces how such politics and conflicts affected individuals, how people were mo-
bilised and how they responded across a selection of China’s many and diverse provinces. Familiar narratives structure the book. From the formation of the Red Guards to the Campaign to Smash the Four Olds, the Shanghai Commune, the Mao Cult, the involvement of the People’s
Frank Dikötter’s accessible people’s history succeeds in linking national and elite histories with personal experiences and human drama Liberation Army, the sent-down youth, the affair surrounding Lin Biao and his death and the rise and fall of Mao’s wife Jiang Qing and her closest allies. Examples from archival and party-internal documents, interviews and a series of English language
memoirs of Cultural Revolution survivors and participants then show what these famous moments on the Cultural Revolution’s political timeline meant to ‘ordinary people’. Many of these ordinary people remain anonymous. Their histories and fates are often conveyed through statistics rather than personal trajectories, local contexts and particular backgrounds. They are offset by quite a few published English language memoirs of selected individuals, including Jung Chang, the author of Wild Swans. These are colourful, though less ordinary. In the end, the book compels readers to reassess the early 1970s not as a phase of uniformity but as one in which human agency at the grassroots laid the foundations for the economic and social changes commonly associated with Deng Xiaoping and his post-1978 reforms. For beyond sartorial uniformity there were no seas of blue or green ants. People reorganised local economic networks, black markets thrived, some land was privately cultivated, religious activity flourished and plenty of people were listening to foreign radio and reading banned books. For years after the end of the Mao Era, the country’s flea markets were treasure troves of discarded archival documents, handwritten diaries, personal letters and other memorabilia that told a rich history of this extraordinary decade. Together with the knowledge of contemporaries, they made possible a wealth of new studies that vastly extended and complicated what we thought we knew. Dikötter’s accessible people’s history succeeds in linking national and elite histories with personal experiences and human drama. Still buried under the weight of the Cultural Revolution’s political timeline lie more personal histories, ready to be told in future years. Jennifer Altehenger
CONTRIBUTORS Jennifer Altehenger is Lecturer in Contemporary Chinese History at King’s College London. William Fitzgerald is Professor of Latin Literature and Language at King’s College London and author of How to Read a Latin Poem: If You Can’t Read Latin Yet (Oxford, 2013). Bridget Heal is a Senior Lecturer in the School of History at the University of St Andrews and Director of the Reformation Studies Institute. Matthew Leigh is Professor of Classical Languages and Literatures at the University of Oxford. Jagjeet Lally is a Lecturer in the History of Early Modern and Modern India at University College London. Oren Margolis is a Departmental Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Oxford and author of The Politics of Culture in Quattrocento Europe: René d’Anjou in Italy (Oxford, 2016). Zareer Masani is the biographer of Indira Gandhi and more recently of the Whig historian-statesman Lord Macaulay (Bodley Head, 2013). Patrick J. Murray is a Researcher at the College of Arts, University of Glasgow. Andrew Robinson has written many books on the arts and sciences, most recently, EarthShattering Events: Earthquakes, Nations and Civilization (Thames & Hudson, 2016). Daniel Snowman is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London.
The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History by Frank Dikötter Bloomsbury 380pp £25.00 JULY 2016 HISTORY TODAY 65
FromtheArchive In April 2002, Robert Knecht wrote an article in History Today about his quest to find Napoleonic treasure. Now, suspecting the letter which prompted it might be a hoax, he revisits the evidence.
A Napoleonic Hoax ‘WHEN IS A HOAX not a hoax?’ is a question not commonly faced by historians but I encountered it with a vengeance in 1982 when I set out to solve a problem that my grandfather, Joseph Knecht, had encountered in 1904 when he controlled the archives of the French embassy in London. Among many strange objects that landed on his desk was a parcel sent by a bookseller in Erfurt. It contained an 18th-century edition of Latin poems. Concealed in its binding was a letter dated December 13th, 1813 and addressed to ‘Ellen’. It was unsigned but written in English, ostensibly by a high-ranking officer in Napoleon’s army who referred to ‘my horse artillery’ and described the Prussians as being ‘on my heels’. He explains that on October 21st, following the battle of Leipzig, he and his soldiers retired to Jena, where he decided to hide a treasure of gold coins, bars of silver and gold and jewels, looted from a church in Moscow. With the help of some soldiers the treasure was buried in a ravine called Swäbisch Grabe outside the town. Fearing that his retreat was cut off and that he might not see Ellen again, he instructed her to follow a Florentin (his aide-de-camp?), who was about to escape. She was to go with him to Jena, buy the ravine and retrieve the treasure. A sketch on the back of the letter showed the ditch and an oil-mill close by. A search in the French military archives at Vincennes confirmed the existence of Florentin, who was aidede-camp to a Polish general, Krukowiecki, who commanded horse artillery in Napoleon’s army. He had fought at Jena in 1806 and at Leipzig in 1813, after serving in the Russian campaign. Once peace had returned, he was 72 HISTORY TODAY JULY 2016
sent to England by Tsar Alexander I to secure the repatriation of Polish prisoners of war, a task which he was given on account of his command of English. He was accompanied by a Russian captain called Piotr Florentini. In August 1831 Krukowiecki became head of the Polish government. I visited Poland to consult the Krukowiecki family archives but found quite conclusive evidence ruling him out as the author of the letter. Despite this setback, I visited Jena
Is one to conclude that the letter is a complete hoax? If so, who was the target? in order to see the ditch for myself. It turned out to be exactly as described in the letter. I also submitted the letter for forensic examination by a Home Office laboratory, which concluded that the paper and ink were ‘consistent with the date of 1813’. After publication of my article in 2002, Holger Nowak, Director of the Stadtmuseum Göhre in Erfurt, investigated billeting slips showing the presence in Jena of an entire Austrian general staff between October 21st and 23rd, 1813. The French had been forced to retreat after the Austrians had occupied Naumburg on October 19th, barring their retreat along the River Saale to Jena. Thus it seems that our letter-writer could not have been in Jena on October 21st. Pierre Juhel, a French military historian, has raised other doubts about my histoire rocambolesque, my ‘incredible story’. He does not believe that a treasure of such magnitude could have been brought back from Russia, given the fact that the French
had abandoned much of their artillery and had lost or devoured most of their horses. Juhel also invoked a truce signed by Napoleon at Pleiswitz on June 4th, 1813, which led to a cessation of hostilities until August 11th. Why, he asked, did the author of the letter not take advantage of this lull to dump his treasure and contact Ellen? Is one to conclude that the letter is a complete hoax? If so, who was the target? And why, if it was written in or soon after 1813, did it only come to light in 1904? It was presumably discovered by the Erfurt bookseller, who may have acquired the book as part of a library. By 1813 the oil mill near the ditch had become a gasthof much frequented by students of the University of Jena. If our letter were a hoax, could it have been perpetrated by a student hoping to make a fool of some venerable professor living nearby? For all my efforts, the letter, now in the possession of the Stadtmuseum Göhre in Erfurt, remains an enigma. Robert Knecht is Emeritus Professor of French History at the University of Birmingham.
VOLUME 52 ISSUE 4 APR 2002 Read the original piece at historytoday.com/fta