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BBC World Histories - 10 2018 - 11 2018

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Has the European Union
been a success?
A brief
of Europe
Beyond the
western front
The forgotten
stories of the
First World War
Historians debate the
continent’s triumphs
and catastrophes
From Vietnam
to Martin
Luther King
How one reporter
captured America’s
20th century
How Columbus’s son built
the largest library in the world
What did the 1968 protests really achieve?
The 1938 Munich Agreement
New seeds
A botanical illustration of a
tulip tree, a species imported to
England from the US in the 17th
century. On page 58, we explore
how the transatlantic exchange
of ideas and plants shaped parks
and gardens in both nations
The idea of European union
has a long, complex and
contested history, one that’s
again come under scrutiny
since the Brexit vote in 2016.
An idealistic industrial and economic postwar collaboration begun as a reaction to the devastation of the
Second World War, the idea of greater and formalised
European integration has attracted both supporters
and critics throughout its existence. Now encompassing a total population of more than 500 million, the
EU is – depending on your view – a supranational
project of unparalleled ambition or an increasingly
outmoded relic of another time and another political
reality. Of course, there are also those who maintain
that the concept was wrongheaded from the very start.
This issue, we asked our expert writers to consider
the forces that have shaped Europe socially and politically over the course of the centuries. In our regular
Big Question slot, a panel of historians tackles a deceptively straightforward question – has the EU been a
success? – covering a surprising amount of thematic
ground in the process. Their responses begin on page
16. And in our Conversation feature (page 72), selfprofessed Eurosceptic Simon Jenkins discusses his new
brief history of the continent with historian Kathleen
Burk. From the events that bound Europe together to
the crises that threatened to tear it apart, it’s a fasci-
nating read. Finally, PE Caquet explores the context of
the signing of the 1938 Munich Agreement – a pivotal
moment that shifted the balance of European power
in the run-up to the cataclysmic conflict of 1939–45
– from the points of view of the British, Czechoslovaks
and Germans. That’s on page 64.
Sometimes it’s necessary to venture beyond Europe
for a clear historical view of the continent. As we near
the centenary of the end of the First World War,
historian and BBC presenter David Olusoga considers
the ways in which the hostilities were truly international in scope, and why that dimension has been overlooked in the public imagination. That’s on page 48.
If you need a break from international wrangling
and the horrors of war, though, you’re in luck: this
issue also features tales of shipwrecks and great libraries, of palaces and gardens,
and of ancient cities perched
high among precipitous
mountains. I hope you enjoy
them. We’ll be back with
our final issue of 2018 on
Wednesday 5 December.
Mat Elton
Editor, BBC World Histories
Together with two regular
titles, the BBC History Magazine
team also produces a bi-weekly
podcast, live events and a range
of special editions exploring
specific topics and periods
Available around
the world, BBC
History Magazine
is published 13
times a year in
print and many
digital editions.
Turn to page 63
for our latest
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Launched in 2016,
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complements BBC
History Magazine
and is published
every two months.
5PAGE 24
British officers
inspect captured
Turkish guns in
(today’s Iraq), March
1917. This issue we
explore First World
War campaigns
beyond the western
front, such as the
clashes between
the Allies and the
Ottoman empire
The Big Question:
Has the EU been a success? ✪
Experts debate the diverse impacts of
Europe’s pan-continental project
The Munich Agreement ✪
Columbus’s son and the
largest library in the world ✪
From shipwreck to ‘universal library’,
the remarkable story of Hernando Colón
Beyond the western front ✪
PE Caquet on the Czechoslovak, British
and German view of the 1938 settlement
Why the First World War was a truly global
conflict – and how that story was forgotten
Plus Ashley Jackson on the key campaigns
The Conversation:
Europe’s highs and lows ✪
Simon Jenkins talks to Kathleen Burk
about his new book on European history
✪ On the
Seeds of change
How cross-fertilisation of ideas transformed
parks and gardens in the US and UK
Expert voices from the world of history
34 Extraordinary People: ‘Arib
al-Ma’muniyya by Chase F Robinson
PE Caquet
36 A Year in Pictures: 1994
In our Perspectives article on page 64, historian
PE Caquet explores the impasse in Czechoslovakia that led to Neville Chamberlain’s infamous
1938 Munich Agreement with Hitler. “The
issues were not merely Sudeten German rights,
but the security of Czechoslovakia and, beyond
that, the very fate of Europe,” he explains.
by Richard Overy
44 Eyewitness: US civil rights movement
and the Vietnam War by Seymour Hersh ✪
98 Museum of the World: Egyptian gold
coffin face by Joann Fletcher
Seymour Hersh
“I always had a streak of not wanting to accept
the diktat of editors,” says Pulitzer Prize-winning
journalist Hersh. On page 44 he recalls 50 years
of reporting on stories such as the Vietnam War,
the civil rights movement and Martin Luther
King, who would “give me a lot of good quotes...
I guess you could call it love at first sight.”
Viewpoints: Richard Vinen on the 1968
protests ✪, Sarah Rainsford on post-Castro
Cuba, and Clive Webb on US attitudes
to human rights
12 History Headlines: Discoveries and
Heidi Maurer
developments in the world of history
As the UK prepares to leave the EU, on page 16
we ask experts including Maurer, fellow in EU
and international organisations at the London
School of Economics and Political Science,
to assess the project. “The EU has not been
successful in convincing its citizens that it is
not just a bunch of institutions,” she says.
14 Inside Story: Michael Scott analyses
China’s fascination with ancient Greece ✪
80 Agenda: The latest events and exhibitions
David Olusoga
Most of the faces shown in photos from the First
World War are white – yet the conflict affected
lives far beyond the battlefields of Europe.
From page 48, historian and BBC broadcaster
David Olusoga writes about the experiences of
people who fought in a conflict that was “global
in a way that previous wars had not been”.
84 In the footsteps of… Edward Lear’s
artistic odyssey across Ottoman Europe
by Jenny Uglow ✪
92 Global City: Cusco, Peru
by Paul Bloomfield
94 Wonders of the World: Meroë, Sudan
Jenny Uglow
Edward Lear, today renowned for his nonsense
verse, was an accomplished landscape painter
who found inspiration on a 1848 journey in
the Balkans. On page 84, Lear’s biographer
Jenny Uglow recounts his experiences of staying
in “ramshackle roadside inns [where] horses
were stabled below ‘the most rotten of garrets’.”
by Paul Bloomfield
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The Briefing
The history behind today’s news
Radical reflections
ity years on from the social and political
unrest of 1968, it’s time to reassess its legacy
around the world
Expert opinions on
historical issues that
touch today’s world
Have your say Share your thoughts
on this issue’s columns by emailing us
he world exploded in 1968.
Early in the year, the Tet
Offensive launched by
the Viet Cong shook the
South Vietnamese government and its
American allies. In China, the Cultural
Revolution was hurtling ahead – though
those in the west who labelled themselves Maoists rarely understood the
violence and repression of the regime
for which they professed admiration.
All of this tied in with protest
movements in Europe and North
America. Sometimes these were fuelled
by opposition to the Vietnam War –
though, paradoxically, protesters
often attacked governments (notably
that of General de Gaulle in France)
that were themselves opposed to US
policy in Vietnam.
Meanwhile, the civil rights
movement in the American south,
and a renewed awareness in West
Germany of the older generation’s
implication in the Nazi past, stoked
youthful discontent.
Protest was often directed at the
traditional left as much as at the right –
the Labour Party in Britain and Lyndon
B Johnson’s Democratic Party in the
United States, but also the orthodox
Communist parties of Europe. Young
radicals looked to smaller Maoist or
Trotskyite groupuscules, and often
admired movements outside Europe.
Protest reached three notable peaks.
In France, student riots and then a largescale strike by the working class (both
provoked partly by discontent on the
tenth anniversary of de Gaulle’s sclerotic
regime) nearly brought the country to
a halt in May. Czechoslovakia enjoyed
a brief ‘Prague Spring’, with popular
support for a reformist government that
seemed to break with the repression of
Soviet-style communism. And in the US,
opponents of the Vietnam War rioted at
the Democratic Convention in August.
Some movements
see themselves as
heirs of 1968. But
1960s protesters
regard their selfstyled successors
with scepticism
In the short term, all of these protest
movements failed. In France, the legislative elections of June 1968 produced
a large majority for the political right.
In Czechoslovakia, reform came to an
end in August when tanks of the Soviet
Union and its Warsaw Pact allies rolled
in. In the US, 1968 finished with a presidential election that brought to power
Richard Nixon – who had used the
phrase ‘silent majority’ to describe those
who opposed vociferous student protest.
In the longer term, things were more
complicated. The radicalisms of 1968
spawned a variety of heirs. In France and
Italy, students and workers had come together in 1968; this fed into many long
strikes during the 1970s. These groups
had been less close in Britain (in 1968,
after all, some workers marched in support of Enoch Powell’s anti-immigration
‘Rivers of Blood’ speech), but sometimes
came together in the 1970s, particularly
during the 1972 miners’ strike.
In the US, things moved in the opposite direction. Workers, or at least the
white male contingent, often resented
the flamboyant dissent of students. In
1970, for instance, a group of construction workers attacked an anti-war
demonstration in New York.
This created a new electorate of bluecollar Republicans who helped elect
Nixon and, in 1980, Ronald Reagan –
a man who as governor of California in
the late 1960s had pretty much defined
himself in opposition to ‘Berkeley’, a
byword for anti-war, civil rights and free
speech protests. Some radicalisms, such
as women’s liberation and the campaign
for gay rights, arose partly from applying
the language of 1968 to new causes and
also, sometimes, from a rebellion against
the machismo that had seemed to characterise male leadership of much of the
protest in 1968.
Of course, the echoes of 1968 continued for a long time, partly because so
many of the participants were young.
Rudi Dutschke, prominent German
student leader of the late 1960s, talked of
a “long march” through society’s institutions; some of his former comrades didn’t
reach the end of this march until the late
1990s. That decade was an era in which
Joschka Fischer, once a stone-throwing
German radical, became foreign minister
of Germany; when Jack Straw, once
head of the National Union of Students,
became home secretary in Tony Blair’s
UK government; and when Bill Clinton,
who spent 1968 in Oxford (while being
careful not to inhale marijuana smoke)
and joined an anti-Vietnam War protest
in London in 1969, was US president.
Today, much of the west is experiencing a new wave of youthful radicalism. You see it in the UK among the
G Viewpoints
Awaiting the new Cuba
Barack Obama’s 2016 visit to Cuba and the end of
the Castro era fuelled expectations of political and
social change– yet such change still seems far away
‘Corbynista’ supporters of Labour Party
leader Jeremy Corbyn, and in France
in the protests – by both students
and workers – against Emmanuel
Macron’s government. But what is the
relationship between this wave and
1968? Certainly, some, especially in
France, see themselves as the heirs to
1968. But the leaders of the 1960s
protests sometimes regard their
self-styled successors with scepticism.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the most
charismatic leader of the Paris students
in 1968, is now (without having
renounced his opinions of 1968)
a supporter of Emmanuel Macron
against what he sees as the conservatism
of those who oppose ‘reform’ of the
French public sector. Asked recently
how his own generation relate to the
young people of today, Cohn-Bendit
pointed out that 1968 is now a long
time ago, and that “in 1968 no one
asked us about 1918”. He also suggested
that the very propensity of young people
today to look backwards to previous
protests hints at the peculiar quality
of their radicalism: it is often rooted
in an attempt to defend or revive the
achievements of the past.
Richard Vinen is
professor of history at
King’s College London
and author of The Long
’68: Radical Protest
and Its Enemies
(Allen Lane, 2018)
f Graham Greene and Carol
Reed were filming Our
Man in Havanaa (1959)
today, its famous rooftop
opening scene would not be at the Hotel
Capri. Six decades on it would more
likely be shot at the Hotel Manzana,
the city’s latest luxury spot. The camera
would swoop across its shimmering infinity pool towards the imposing dome
of the Capitolio, recently recoated with
gold. The lens would then seek out the
nearby statue of Cuba’s independence
hero José Martí (1853–95), scrubbed
spotless and surrounded by flowerbeds
as part of a grand clean-up around this
glamorous hotel that occupies an entire
block on the edge of Old Havana. But
the high-spending Americans this
opulence was aimed at have not poured
onto the island as expected.
A renowned pleasure-seeker, Greene
was first drawn to pre-revolutionary
Havana by its brothels, sex shows and
general seediness. That ‘sin city’ forms
the backdrop to his comic tale of a
hapless spy, which he began writing there
in 1957. Returning as a journalist in
the 1960s, the author found prostitutes
being retrained as seamstresses and taxi
drivers, and students being deployed to
the countryside to spread literacy and the
ideology of Fidel Castro in equal doses.
The Americans were leaving, too.
For years they’d filled Havana’s cabarets,
clubs and casinos, taking short flights to
their tropical playground. One service,
the Tropicana Special,
l even jetted in
passengers just for dinner and a night at
the world-famous show. Those are the
crowds that populate Our Man in Havana. After the revolution they thinned,
then vanished – ultimately barred from
visiting Castro’s Cuba by their own government. Almost 60 years on, Cuba was
poised for their imminent return.
In 2016, with Fidel Castro forced
to take a back seat through ill health,
his brother Raúl met Barack Obama in
Havana and agreed to bury the differences of decades. Celebrities such as
Rihanna and Madonna rushed to visit,
posing in classic cars on broken-down
streets. European tourists followed hot
on their heels, anxious to experience the
city before Americans descended again
en masse to ‘ruin’ the seafront with their
burger bars. (Those idealists spared
little thought for the locals: a lifetime
of shortages and restrictions has made
Cuba a nation of avid consumers.)
The hype surrounding Obama’s
visit was huge. ‘Experts’ pronounced
the approaching end of Castro’s
For years, crowds
of Americans had
filled Havana’s
clubs and casinos.
After the revolution
they thinned, and
then vanished
communism, swept away by an
inevitable tide of Americanisation
from that powerful neighbour to the
north. As with everything else, Cuba’s
government planned to control the flow.
Mass tourism, reintroduced reluctantly
during the economic crisis of the 1990s
that followed the collapse of the Soviet
Union, has become the backbone of the
island’s struggling economy, and the US
is by far the biggest potential market.
Communist Cuba had been preparing
for the influx, revamping and reopening
iconic spots to cash in on those looking
to recapture Havana’s 1950s heyday.
Sloppy Joe’s – where the hero of Our
Man in Havana was recruited in the
toilets – was restored, complete with
polished wooden bar. The once highly
fashionable Hotel Capri, where the stars
of Greene’s film stayed, also reopened
– albeit minus its pre-revolutionary
roulette wheels. The Hotel Manzana
was the latest addition to the scene, with
a designer shopping mall beneath.
But the ‘experts’ hadn’t counted on
Donald Trump. Over two years after
Obama’s visit electrified Havana, his
Decades after
Graham Greene’s
1959 visit, Cuba’s
government is
clinging to the
remains of its
social experiment
successor in the White House now
talks of Cuba as a “brutal regime” and
a security threat. A series of mysterious
sonic attacks, apparently targeting US
diplomats, led to staff being withdrawn
from an embassy that had only just
reopened. Travel restrictions were
reimposed on Americans. Talk of
closer US ties prompting change in
Cuba has once again faded.
Even the end of the Castro era passed
with barely a whimper as Raúl relinquished the presidency to his anointed
successor. Some Cubans hope that their
new leader, Miguel Díaz-Canel, will
push ahead with the social and economic reforms they’re crying out for. But
so far, it has been suggested, the main
impact has been an increase in portion
sizes at Havana’s best-known ice-cream
parlour, Coppelia, after the president
dropped in for a spot check.
An early admirer of Fidel Castro,
Graham Greene jotted in one Havana
diary that he wouldn’t want to see the
revolution grow old. With the American
tidal wave stalled, Cuba’s government is
still clinging to the remains of its social
experiment. Frustrated young Cubans
are giving up and abandoning the island
in droves. But for now, it’s still the faint
neon letters spelling out Viva Fidel!
that light up Havana’s seafront, not the
golden arches of McDonald’s.
Sarah Rainsford
is BBC Moscow correspondent, previously
based in Cuba. Our
Woman in Havana
(Oneworld, 2018)
is her first book
G Viewpoints
America First
(human rights last)?
On the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, the US withdrawal from the UN Human
Rights Council is a retreat from a globalist vision
t was, proclaimed Eleanor
Roosevelt, “the international Magna Carta of
all men everywhere”.
The former First Lady of the United
States made this claim about the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
in an address to the United Nations
General Assembly after it adopted the
UDHR on 10 December 1948.
Conceived in reaction to the
atrocities of the Second World War,
the UDHR is the foundational text of
the modern human rights movement.
Although not legally binding, it
established new international norms
for the protection and promotion of
individual liberties. Its principles are
codified in the constitutions and laws of
90 nations and underpin the mission
statements of many campaign groups
including Amnesty International.
So why, in the year we celebrate the
70th anniversary of the UDHR, are
there such widespread concerns about
its enduring legacy?
Part of the answer is Donald Trump.
His ‘America First’ policy is resulting in
a retreat from the liberal international
order – an order that the United States
was instrumental in creating and
leading since the Second World War.
The president is pursuing a values-free
foreign policy focused on enhancing
his country’s economic and strategic
interests. Human rights seem to have
little place in President Trump’s
transactional approach to foreign
policy, because he sees the United States
as expending huge resources on other
nations with little benefit to itself.
Hence his assertion to the UN General
Assembly that “In America, we do not
seek to impose our way of life on
anyone, but rather to let it shine as an
example for everyone to watch.”
Except for its air strikes against the
Assad regime in Syria, the Trump
administration has otherwise refrained
from intervening in states that commit
serious human rights violations, such as
Saudi Arabia and South Sudan. Indeed,
President Trump has praised authoritarian leaders with abysmal human rights
records, including the Philippines’
president Rodrigo Duterte. Nor did he
prioritise human rights in his summit
Over the seven
decades since the
Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, the United
States has been far
from consistent
in its support of
human rights
meeting with North Korean leader
Kim Jong-un in June.
Contrary to President Trump’s
claims, the United States has also
failed to set a shining example to others.
The controversial travel ban on
predominantly Muslim nations, the
separation of migrant families on the
US-Mexican border, and the president’s
advocacy of torture as a legitimate
instrument of counter-terrorism have
all sparked international concern
and even outrage.
In truth, during the seven decades
since the creation of the UDHR,
the United States has been far from
consistent in its support of human
rights. During the Cold War it refrained
from criticising regimes such as
apartheid South Africa that violated
human rights but were strategic allies
in the struggle against communism.
The United States also resisted
intervention for fear that other
countries would accuse it of hypocrisy
because of the racial discrimination
endured by African-Americans within
its own borders.
Human rights did become a
cornerstone of US foreign policy in
the late 1970s. Following the Vietnam
War, President Jimmy Carter sought
to restore a sense of moral purpose to
American diplomacy, pronouncing
in his inaugural address of 1977 that
“Because we are free, we can never
be indifferent to the fate of freedom
elsewhere.” But even he withheld
criticism of dictators, such as the Shah
American activists
and policymakers
from both political
parties have in the
past provided sustained moral and
political leadership
of Iran, who abused the human rights
of their own citizens but were strategic
allies of the United States.
In the early 21st century, the
administration of George W Bush
demonstrated an especially flagrant
disregard of human rights in its use
of torture and extraordinary rendition
to fight the ‘War on Terror’.
The United States has repeatedly
refused to surrender its national
sovereignty to international human
rights bodies. It took over 37 years to
ratify the UN Genocide Convention
of 1948, and 26 years to sign the
International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights adopted by the UN
General Assembly in 1966.
Moreover, it is the one of only two
UN members – the other being Somalia
– not to ratify the UN Convention of
the Rights of the Child. Although it
has occasionally supported the International Criminal Court in the Hague,
the US has also declined membership
for fear that it would lead to prosecutions of American military officials
for war crimes.
From this perspective, President
Trump’s decision to withdraw the
United States from the UN Human
Rights Council because of its perceived
bias against Israel is no historical
aberration. His administration
nonetheless represents an unprecedented
challenge to the ideals of the UDHR.
Although Washington has been
inconsistent in its advocacy of human
rights, American activists and policymakers from both political parties have
in the past provided sustained moral
and political leadership on the issue.
By not offering even rhetorical
support for human rights, President
Trump is abandoning the internationalist vision of the UDHR, which saw the
United States’ own security and prosperity as reliant on its promotion of freedom
around the world. The 70th anniversary
of the UDHR will therefore be a time to
celebrate the past – but also to ponder an
uncertain future.
Clive Webb is
professor of modern
American history at the
University of Sussex
THE BRIEFING History Headlines
Tusk traders
DNA studies of walrus ivory may reveal why Vikings
settled on the inhospitable island of Greenland.
Researchers found that the vast majority of walrus
ivory used in medieval Europe between 1100 and 1400
originated from Greenland walruses. It’s thought that
Norse settlers on the island relied on the tusk trade
with Europe to obtain key resources; the collapse of
this trade may have contributed to the dissolution of
Norse communities on Greenland by the 15th century.
A plaque carved from walrus
ivory. Norse Greenlanders
held a near monopoly on trade in
this material for over 200 years
Memoir material rediscovered
‘Lost’ sections of Malcolm X’s autobiography have been
sold at auction. The controversial passages – including
a previously unseen 25-page chapter – were cut from
the US human-rights activist’s manuscript before it was
published in the 1960s. Covered in notes, pages reveal
his heated debates over content with collaborator Alex
Haley. The material
was bought by New
York Public Library’s
Schomburg Center
for Research in Black
Culture, where it
will be available
to researchers.
Malcolm X pictured in
1965. ‘Lost’ sections of
his autobiography, cut
from the published
version, have been sold
Devastating drought
Analysis of sediment samples suggests that the collapse of Maya
civilisation was precipitated
by a massive drought.
The samples, obtained
from mineral crystals
in a lake in Mexico’s
Yucatán region, have
been used to calculate
historic weather conditions, revealing that
rainfall in the region fell
by up to 70% around 1,000
years ago, coinciding with the
abandonment of major Mayan cities in
the area. This appears to support existing
theories suggesting that extreme weather
was a key factor in the dispersal and
decline in power of the Maya.
Sunken submarine
An Italian submarine accidentally
sunk by a British vessel during
the First World War has been
discovered off the coast of the island
of Capraia, between Italy and Corsica.
All 14 crew members lost their lives when
the submarine was attacked in March
1917 after being mistaken for a German
U-boat. The wreck was discovered at a
depth of around 400 metres (1,300ft)
during an Italian naval exercise.
The Italian submarine Alberto
Guglielmotti, mistakenly sunk
during the First World War
Nomadic hoard
A hoard of around 3,000 golden and precious objects dating back
2,800 years has been discovered in a burial mound in a remote
mountain range of east Kazakhstan. The grave site is believed
to belong to two high-status members of the nomadic Saka
people, who travelled across the Eurasian steppe and were
known for their metalworking skills. The haul includes chains,
plates, bells, intricate jewellery and decorative golden animals.
Golden treasure
found in Kazakhstan
is believed to have
been made around
2,800 years ago
Niche interests
An archaeological dig in Cologne’s city
centre has uncovered Germany’s oldest
known library, which may have housed up
to 20,000 ancient scrolls. Archaeologists
initially believed that the “spectacular”
second-century AD Roman remains were
that of a public assembly hall, but were
puzzled to find small niches in the walls. After
comparisons with other ancient buildings, they
now believe that the site was a library, and that
the niches were cupboards used to hold scrolls.
Breadcrumb trail
Crumbs found in a fire pit in Jordan’s Black
Desert are the world’s oldest evidence of bread.
Radiocarbon dating revealed them to be over
14,000 years old, showing that breadmaking
predated the advent of agriculture in the area
by several thousand years. The crumbs are
thought to have come from an unleavened flatbread.
According to archaeologist Dr Tobias Richter,
they are “charred… the sort of thing you might
find at the bottom of your toaster at home”.
Ancient bread
found in a fire
pit in Jordan
may have been
used to hold
meat – making
it potentially
the oldest
sandwich in
the world
G Inside Story
The culture
of ancient
Greece is
a source of
in China. Michael Scott
explores Chinese
perceptions of links
between seemingly
very different cultures
Michael Scott is an author, broadcaster and
professor of classics and ancient history at the
University of Warwick. His new BBC Two
series, Ancient Invisible Cities: Cairo, Istanbul
and Athens, is airing now
Why China
fell in love with
ancient Greece
I have been in and out of
China this year to work with
a number of universities on
my twin research interests: ancient
Greece and ancient global history. Over
recent months I have visited Shanghai
and Hangzhou in the south, Beijing,
and the cities of Changchun and Harbin
in the less-visited north-east of China.
And one thing that surprised me more
than everything else on these visits was a
particular fascination in China with the
cultures of the ancient Mediterranean,
particularly with the ancient Greeks.
When I landed in Beijing, a curious
picture greeted me – one of the airport’s
official artworks in arrivals. Under the
banner headline ‘Cultural Gateway –
Beautiful Beijing’ was an image of
Chinese artists feverishly painting
ancient Greek sculptures: the winged
Nike, several Caryatids and an athletic
victor. The photo of the artists at work
(at the China Central Academy of Fine
Arts) was taken, the poster explains, by
a Turk. This seems to communicate
a dual message: first, China is comfortable studying and learning from these
ancient masterpieces created by
communities far away in both time and
distance; and second, China represents
a cosmopolitan melting pot of cultures
that transcends current (east/west)
political differences.
This interest in the ancient
Mediterranean is not confined to art.
In Changchun I was working with the
Institute for the History of Ancient
Civilisations (IHAC), set up in 1984
as China’s first research institute for the
study of the ancient Mediterranean and
surrounding cultures. Academics there
study Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and
Assyrians. The Institute was set up
because, as the story is told there, one
academic managed to convince the
political and administrative rule-makers
that the study of these cultures was
worthwhile for China, and as such had
to be done properly – by Chinese
academics proficient in Latin and Greek,
and so able to study the key ancient texts
in the original.
More than 100 academics studying
the ancient Mediterranean are now
employed in various Chinese universities, and there’s a range of publications
on ancient Mediterranean topics as well
as the international Journal of Ancient
Civilisationss published by the IHAC in
Changchun. China also hosts international conferences and seminars focused
on Mediterranean antiquity, often
involving comparisons with ancient
Chinese history and literature.
The popularity of the ancient
Mediterranean in China and the value
the Chinese currently perceive in its
study is, I think, twofold. On the one
hand, there is a belief that ancient
Greece and Rome, in particular,
together represent the fount of western
civilisation. To understand the west, and
particularly the results of China’s
encounters with the west over past
centuries, requires an understanding of
western origins – of the Greeks and
Romans. On the other hand, I think
also that 21st-century China feels an
affinity with these ancient cultures.
In the west, though we attribute the
origins of democracy to ancient Greece,
we often feel more affinity with Rome.
It was the Roman model of government
that inspired the founding fathers in
America, and the Romans left a physical
imprint (not to mention a mental one)
on the landscape of most of Europe. But
though the Roman empire and Chinese
Han empire existed concurrently and
traded indirectly via the Silk Roads, the
Chinese feel a greater cultural affinity
with the ancient Greeks.
It might seem odd to imagine
Communist China empathising with
the culture that gave birth to democracy.
But Chinese interest and emphasis is on
the strong (to western tastes, stifling)
community spirit that existed within the
ancient Greek polis community. That
society gave equal political voice to all
male citizens, but also demanded that
everyone place the importance of the
community over the individual – an idea
that chimes with the political ethos of
China in the 21st century. And at the
same time as seeing an affinity in the
political and community outlook of
ancient Greece, China recognises its
reputation for poetry, philosophy, music
and other cultural achievements –
arenas in which China is also rightly
proud of its contributions.
Far from being different worlds on
opposite sides of the planet, there is
a sense in China that there are more
similarities than differences between
the ancient Greeks and the Chinese.
That perception of similarity has led to
concerted attempts to bridge the physical distance between them – attempts
welcomed by the Greek government,
not least as it looks to develop fresh
tourism markets. In 2014, the first direct
flight between Athens and Shanghai
was launched. Universities in Greece
and China are signing co-operation
agreements. Large-scale glossy volumes
are being published in China, making
accessible the artistic and architectural
treasures of ancient Greece – a notable
example being The Museum and Ancient
Visitors file past a huge statue of
Zeus in a casino in the special
autonomous republic of Macau.
Interest in ancient Greek culture
is burgeoning in China
It might seem odd to
imagine Communist
China empathising
with the culture
that gave birth to
democracy. But its
emphasis is on the
community spirit
Greek Civilization, published in 2016 by
Beijing University Press with contributions from academics around the globe.
And it seems that the wider Chinese
public are responding. Recent exhibitions at the Acropolis Museum and the
Shanghai Museum each displayed
objects loaned from its opposite number
representing its respective culture; the
ancient Greece exhibit in Shanghai was
a sell-out success. No doubt this is just
a sign of things to come as China seeks
to engage with, analyse and, to some
extent, absorb the story and culture
of the ancient Greeks.
Has the
been a
Turn to page 72
for a discussion on
Europe between
Simon Jenkins and
Kathleen Burk
Europe’s ambitious postwar project is considered by some to
have been a triumph, ensuring peace and steadying economies
across the continent – yet it is decried by others as a bureaucratic
nightmare. As the UK scrabbles to prepare for Brexit in 2019,
eight experts assess the achievements and failings of the EU
The Big Question: Has the European Union been a success?
Denise Dunne
John Gillingham
“The EU is imperfect –
but will go down in history
as one of Europe’s most
creative experiments in
community building”
“It is administratively
paralysed, and facing
either sudden or prolonged
internal collapse”
The EU is the culmination of a process
of co-operation that began in 1952
with the establishment of the European
Coal and Steel Community (ECSC),
which aimed to make war between its
members “not merely unthinkable, but
materially impossible”. Though Europe
has not been free from war since, there
has not been an armed conflict between
member states since the foundation of the EU – a remarkable
achievement, given the history of savage conflict in the first
half of the 20th century. Maintaining peace among members
through economic partnership remains the EU’s primary
purpose. The fact so many people are either unaware of this,
choose to overlook it, or take peace for granted, is indicative
of how successful it has been in fulfilling its primary purpose.
Since 1952, the integration process has meandered
forward. Treaties negotiated between 1957 and 2009 provide
the legal scaffolding for the EU’s institutions, with their
unique DNA of supranationalism and intergovernmentalism.
The deepening of interdependence through treaties has been
accompanied by enlargement to 28 members with a combined population of over 512 million. Member states reap the
benefits of free movement of people, goods, services and capital, and 19 share a common currency, the euro. EU citizens
can live, study or work anywhere in Europe, and their rights
are enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Yet almost every achievement can be critiqued. Arguably,
economic and monetary union is incomplete and unfair. The
EU can’t speak with one voice on foreign policy and defence
issues. Its institutions and decision-making procedures baffle
the public and seem permanently in need of reform. The EU
is imperfect – but will go down in history as one of Europe’s
most creative experiments in peaceful community building.
The EU evolves in response to challenges, albeit slowly.
It grapples with the politics of design – what the treaties aspire
to – versus the politics of crisis management. We cannot be
complacent about challenges it confronts – Brexit, the migration crisis, a militarily assertive Russia. But the EU has proven
adept at crisis management, which accounts for its survival.
On balance, to date the achievements outweigh the deficits.
Denise Dunne is a lecturer in history at Maynooth University, Ireland
Although a powerful inspiration to the
generation of Europeans desperate for an
alternative to the bitter national rivalries
that led to the Second World War, the EU
has had its day. Undemocratic to the core,
its extravagant claims, policy failures and
inability to reform have together undermined its functional credibility, made it
a drag on progress and turned it into a
source of division and conflict. The institution is thus largely
irrelevant to the immense challenges Europe faces today.
The public rejection of that farcical overreach of the 1990s
– the attempt of Brussels to impose a grotesque so-called
constitution on the EU’s member states – put paid to hopes
of a future European political federation. Worse yet, the
ill-conceived single currency project has plunged the continent into a decade of anaemic growth at a time of rapid
advance elsewhere in the world. Within the region, it has
aggravated class and generational divisions, as well as set north
against south and west against east. Unsurprisingly, the EU
therefore lacks both a democratic mandate and a vision of the
future. It is, in fact, administratively paralysed, and facing
either sudden or prolonged internal collapse.
The world is now entering a period of economic and political upheaval that invites comparison to the industrial revolution of the 18th century. Its motor is technological change
driven by the IT giants of Silicon Valley and, increasingly,
China. The broad contours of tomorrow’s Europe’s will be
determined by the competitive interplay of these transPacific forces and their national governments.
The outcome of such a contestation cannot, of course,
be predicted, but will entail, in some manner, the creation of
a new, global version of corporate capitalism featuring close
interdependent relationships – be they amicable or hostile,
beneficial or otherwise – between international producers
and their governments, as well as between the governments
themselves. The stakes in this contest are epochal: they involve
a choice between the world of Orwell’s 1984 or, at the opposite
extreme, an era of unprecedented opportunity, personal freedom and abundance. Its proclamations and protests notwithstanding, the EU will be a bystander to the now unfolding
drama. Europe’s fate is in other hands.
John Gillingham is professor of history at the University
of Missouri-St Louis
Heidi Maurer
“The EU has been a success
in ensuring cooperation
between member states –
but less so in integrating
European peoples”
Farmers protest pension reforms at the Greek parliament in 2016.
Greece has seen many such demonstrations against EU-imposed
austerity measures since the start of the financial crisis in 2008
Refugees from Carpatho-Ukraine flee Hungarian troops in 1939.
“There has not been an armed conflict between member states
since the foundation of the EU,” observes Denise Dunne
The EU has mostly been a success. The
European Economic Community, formed
in 1957, aimed to foster economic cooperation between members. The main tool
proposed for this purpose was a common
market in which there would be free movement of goods, services, capital and people.
Despite this economic focus, at that
time European integration already
entailed a political purpose: “to lay the foundations of an
ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe”. This aim
for political integration between European states, but also
between their peoples, was taken to a new level in the Treaty
on European Union, signed in Maastricht in 1992.
The EU has been a success in ensuring cooperation
between its member states. Its institutions facilitate diplomatic negotiations in a rule-based and efficient manner. The high
intensity of this exchange is unprecedented in international
affairs: in 2017, there were 92 meeting days for ministers of
the 28 member states, and 3,000 working party meetings, in
addition to regular exchanges between presidents and prime
ministers. Those meetings provide a unique environment
in which to share experiences and to agree on joint policy
responses. Nevertheless, the EU can make decisions and shape
policies only if it has the required authority, and if member
states agree.
The EU has been less successful in fostering integration
between European peoples. Yet despite the 2005 rejection
of the draft constitutional treaty, initiatives further seek to
enhance the ownership and identification of citizens with the
EU. Today, European citizens care more and know more about
the EU, and thus also increasingly critique and contest it.
However, the biggest challenge for the EU is its set-up: the
treaty specifies when and how the EU can act (if member states
and the European Parliament agree), which does not always
overlap with what citizens demand (for example, a Europe that
also provides social policies next to economic affairs). As a
consequence, the EU has not been successful in convincing its
citizens that it is not just a bunch of institutions, but that the
EU is its member states – and, most importantly, its citizens.
Heidi Maurer is fellow in EU and international organisations at the
London School of Economics and Political Science
The Big Question: Has the European Union been a success?
Harold James
Olivette Otele
“The EU’s great historic
success has been overshadowed by a discussion
cast in rather narrow
economic terms”
“Africans are prisoners in
their own countries because
of the EU’s approach to
economic migration”
Europe has always been a site of political
and institutional experimentation, and its
current experiment has been a remarkable success (in contrast with the disastrous ventures of the first half of the 20th
century). Its pre-modern existence, with
a proliferation of multiple and competing
states or political entities, presented a
stark contrast with the imperial systems
that dominated the centre and east of the Eurasian landmass.
In very recent times, European integration created a
postmodern view of the state, moving away from modern
concepts of clearly defined sovereignty to offer a superior
contrast to the classically modern state, or super-state,
offered in particular by the course of American history.
The success of this vision of Europe has to do with values,
with a commitment to diversity and tolerance, to a diversity
of cultures and religions and heritages, rather than with
specific, narrowly defined outcomes.
Europe historically was a site of bitterly contested and
continually shifting frontiers. By contrast, the core units of
the states on the western and eastern geographic fringes of
Europe – England and Russia, at the heart of the United
Kingdom and the Russian Federation – have had much
more continuity, and in consequence may not see the need
for a European solution to the problem of sovereignty as
clearly as central Europeans.
The modern European problem is that its great historic
success has been overshadowed by a discussion cast in rather
narrow economic terms. It is an easy exercise to contrast the
high aspirations of the founding treaties of the European
Union, and their emphasis on “ever closer union”, with the
rather mixed record of European practice.
The first objective set out in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty was “to promote economic and social progress which is
balanced and sustainable”, but European economic growth has
been disappointing and unbalanced: the credit boom to peripheral Europe before 2008 was not sustainable, and collapsed
with disastrous consequences. The challenge today is to fix the
economic issues while preserving the profound vision.
Harold James is Claude and Lore Kelly Professor in European Studies
at Princeton University
The integration of new states and the adoption of the euro exacerbated political and
economic problems, and led to social unrest. Far-right movements have risen with
unemployment in Greece and economic
turmoil in Italy, where minority discrimination and anti-immigrant sentiment are
also increasing. That trend is noticeable in
Germany and France, too.
In part, these issues are related to colonial actions and more
recent EU policies towards neighbouring regions, notably
Africa. The European response to its ‘migrant crisis’ has been to
enlarge borders beyond the Mediterranean. Measures taken by
the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) have
made many Africans prisoners in their own countries because of
the EU’s approach to economic migration. The EU Emergency
Trust Fund For Africa aims to tackle the root cause of migration
and help vulnerable populations, but has focused on tightening
border controls outside the EU by providing funds to a few
African countries. In July 2018, 55 millions euros were given
to the Maghreb region (especially Morocco and Tunisia, seen,
with Libya, as part of the ‘North Africa Window’). The EU is responding to so-called emergency situations rather than working
with countries that are not transit states. Young people continue
to risk their lives on dangerous new routes north into Europe.
Meanwhile, no sustainable economic and educational
measures have been put in place in central and west Africa.
The EU’s approach to them is a significant factor contributing
to the problems facing these countries. Though research and
innovation projects provide opportunities for African and
European researchers to collaborate, their impact on the vast
majority of the population in the continent remains limited.
As to the future, changes in the EU must be sustainable. On
28 July, French president Emmanuel Macron stated that the EU
will soon have to function within three circles. The first would
comprise treaties with superpowers such as Russia. The second
would be close to the current membership, focusing on freedom
of movement and a commitment to research and innovation.
The third circle would be the “core of the reactor”, according to
Macron – essentially the eurozone, with countries that adhere to
a fully integrated labour market and real social convergence.
The EU needs those internal changes. It must also re-think
its neo-colonial economic and migratory approaches.
Olivette Otele is reader in history at Bath Spa University
Dozens of people pack a boat heading north from Libya to Italy in 2014. Large numbers continue to risk their lives crossing the
Mediterranean, many fleeing persecution or conflict in places such as Syria or Africa, in part because “the EU is responding to
so-called emergency situations rather than working with countries that are not transit states”, says Olivette Otele
The Big Question: Has the European Union been a success?
Alejandro Quiroga
“In the 2000s, the
eastern enlargement of
the EU was a successful
project of economic and
political expansion”
Alejandro Quiroga is reader in Spanish history at
Newcastle University
A Croat soldier defends the city of Šibenik in September 1991 during the
Croatian War of Independence. EU military cooperation did not lead to
effective intervention in the Balkan conflicts of the early 1990s
The level of success of the European
Union has to be measured against
the different goals set over time.
The founding fathers of the European
Coal and Steel Community (1952)
and the European Economic Community (1957) aimed to secure peace
among member states, promote
capitalism and consolidate liberal
nation-states in the midst of the Cold War. By the late
1980s, the initial objectives of the European project
had been fully met, while the Soviet bloc began to crumble.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, new objectives were
set. Gaining control of the emerging capitalist markets
in former communist countries and consolidating liberal
democracies in eastern Europe became the priorities of the
European Community. In the 2000s, the eastern enlargement of the EU was a successful project of economic and
political expansion.
The new historical circumstances also allowed further
economic and political integration. The 1992 Maastricht
Treaty included a social charter, increased foreign policy,
military and judicial cooperation, and laid the foundations
of the single currency. The euro became legal tender in
12 countries in 2002, but cooperation in military and
foreign policy did not extend to effective intervention in
the 1990s wars in Yugoslavia.
The 2008 financial crisis led to a redefinition of the
EU goals. Austerity, bailouts of banks and direct economic
interventions in member states have been implemented in
the past decade, prioritising economic performance over
social justice. In this context of crisis, the EU values of
equality and solidarity have also been challenged by the rise
of the nationalist right and the growth of xenophobia all
over Europe. This threat, of which Brexit is just one
manifestation, is a real menace because it undermines some
of the main principles of the common European project.
From a long-term perspective, there is no doubt that the
EU has been a success. Yet historical achievements do not
necessarily ensure success in the near future.
French foreign minister Robert Schuman signs the 1951 treaty
creating the European Coal and Steel Community – forerunner to
the EU, and a project he described as “a leap into the unknown”
Katja Seidel
Jane Lewis
“During the postwar
era, being a federalist
was the norm rather
than the exception”
“The EU remains a giant
experiment built on rigid
institutions which, in the
eyes of its critics, are
destined to fail”
Brussels’ Eurocrats are easy targets on
which to blame all the wrongs of the
EU. They are often seen as conspiring
to hatch bureaucratic regulations that
enforce conformity between member
states, and as attacking expressions of
national culture with the aim of creating
some kind of impersonal European
super-state. Alarm at the appointment of
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker epitomised such fears, because Juncker is close to an ideological
conviction that is thought by some, in particular in the UK,
to be out of place in today’s EU: federalism.
During the period of postwar reconstruction and the
early years of European integration, being a federalist was the
norm rather than the exception, both among politicians and
Commission staff. Walter Hallstein, the first Commission
president of the European Economic Community (EEC;
the predecessor of the EU) from 1958 to 1967, was an ardent
federalist. For Hallstein, European integration – leading
eventually to a European federal state – was the solution to the
continent’s many ailments: excessive nationalism, divisiveness,
economic particularism and the threat of the continent vanishing into political and economic obscurity following the rise
of two superpowers – the United States and the Soviet Union.
As a law professor, one of the most talented of his generation, Hallstein was an advocate of integration through law;
he saw the EEC as a community founded upon law. Through
its treaty and the legislation derived from it, the EEC was an
emerging autonomous legal order that was entwined with and
complemented those of the member states. A strong institutional system with firm and binding rules, this legal order was
necessary to pave the way for a stable, peaceful and economically prosperous Europe – something that had not been
achieved in the past by blood and iron. A European legal order
was thus the way to maintain peace and democracy in Europe.
The EU has been a success, but remains a work in progress.
The way it functions is complicated and lacks transparency. It
will need to reform, particularly because both it and the idea of
the peace project have never been under more threat. With the
wave of nationalism and populism sweeping the continent, we
face an unprecedented challenge to democracy and the rule of
law in the EU – not to mention to the idea of a federal Europe.
Katja Seidel is senior lecturer in history at the University of Westminster
In 1950, when the French foreign minister,
Robert Schuman, announced a coal and
steel pact between France and Germany,
Le Monde dubbed it “une initiative
revolutionnaire”. Schuman more guardedly
described the project as “a leap into the
unknown”. Yet it undoubtedly succeeded
in its first overarching aim. Clearly, coal
and steel were crucial to rebuilding
Europe’s smashed cities and economies, but the drive to
establish peace was always the uppermost consideration.
Even before two world wars provided urgent momentum,
the concept of a democratic union of European states had
been advanced (by everyone from America’s founding fathers
to the radicals of the 1840s) as the optimum defence against
tyrants and of fostering trade and wider prosperity.
Dismissed by many as utopian, the EU has, on the whole,
delivered. For all its flaws, it remains the most ambitious model
yet seen of the pooling of national sovereignty in pursuit of
a common good. And, whether by accident or design, it has
coincided with an unparalleled period of peace and prosperity
among its members. For all that, the EU remains a giant experiment built on rigid institutions which, in the eyes of its critics,
are destined to fail. We don’t know if it will be possible to rejig
the edifice to resolve the perceived ‘democratic deficit’ of a governing structure dominated by an unelected (and some would
say autocratic) Commission. Or whether the euro – a common
currency that was supposed to unite – will succeed in fracturing the union further by placing impossible economic burdens
on member states. There is also an argument, first advanced
by the philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill in
the 1860s, that the drive towards unity threatens the historical
diversity that has always been Europe’s chief strength, leading
to what he called a crippling state of “stationariness”.
Some recognise that malaise now. “In the 1940s, the
European leaders had a clear sense of direction. Right now,
they mostly want to avoid trouble,” observed the veteran US
secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, recently. The EU is still a
half-built house. It will need more pragmatic, fluid leadership
to shore up its foundations.
Jane Lewis is city editor for The Week and the author of All You Need
to Know: The European Union (Connell, 2018)
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The universal library
the ECLIPSE and the
In which a celestial almanac saved Christopher
Columbus and his stranded crew from starvation
– and inspired his son, Hernando, to build
a unique doomsday vault of books
By Edward Wilson-Lee
Saved by science
An 18th-century engraving
depicts the reactions of
indigenous Taíno inhabitants of
Jamaica to the lunar eclipse on
29 February 1504. Christopher
Columbus’s prediction of the event
saved his and his crew’s lives
The universal library
On 29 February 1504, Hernando Colón – then 15 years
old – had been living on a shipwreck off the northern
coast of Jamaica for eight months and five days. Though
the main deck of the ship was submerged at high tide,
the cabin in which he slept on the raised deck was safe
from the waves – and also from the Taíno inhabitants
on the shore, who had grown increasingly weary of
the presence of these strange intruders. The Spanish
explorers had initially been able to trade copper bells
and glass beads for the local cassava bread, but the
Taíno people’s taste for these trinkets had long since
been exhausted, and the Spaniards’ supplies of food
were dwindling fast.
Luckily for Hernando, he shared the cabin with one of
the greatest magicians the world had known: his father.
Cristóbal Colón, as he was called in Spanish, had risen
from humble beginnings as a weaver’s son to become one
of the best-known seafaring adventurers in history, with
titles and a fortune beyond the dreams of most. Today,
he’s widely known as Christopher Columbus.
Father and son had set out two years previously from
Cádiz with four ships, intent on discovering a route to
Cathay (China), which had also been Columbus’s goal
in 1492. But that passage remained elusive, and as they
coasted past what’s now Panama that fleet of four vessels
dwindled to two, ravaged by woodworm and hurricanes.
The survivors sailed north for Hispaniola (the island now
divided between Haiti and Dominican Republic), centre
of Spanish operations in the Caribbean, but the remaining ships were so riddled with holes – like a honeycomb,
as Hernando later wrote – that Columbus was forced to
order the ships run aground off Jamaica before they sank.
After eight months living on the wrecks, with no sign
of a rescue party, the situation looked bleak. But Columbus
was in possession of a magic book – a pamphlet written by
astronomer Abraham Zacuto, one of the many Spanish Jews
who had been expelled from Spain in 1493. The Almanach
Perpetuum included an extraordinarily precise timetable for
future lunar eclipses extending several decades – and one
was predicted for that very evening.
Columbus summoned Taíno chieftains from tribes in
the surrounding area, telling them that his god was a
vengeful one who, that very evening, would swallow the
moon as a warning to the Taíno against their continued
refusal to trade with the ships. It was a bold gamble: after
nearly two difficult years since sailing from Spain, he could
not have been wholly certain of the date.
Yet Columbus’s luck held and, as Hernando later recalled,
a howl of fear rose from the islanders as the setting sun
revealed the face of the moon being rapidly obscured.
Terrified, the Taíno were convinced of Columbus’s claims,
and gave the Spanish additional food – enough to last them
until their rescue from Jamaica four months later.
There were many aspects of this episode that must have
stuck in Hernando’s mind in later life, not least the sight of
his father reduced to using parlour tricks to save his hide in
this most desperate of straits, and the fact that such tricks
actually worked. But one pivotal point that must have struck
him was the immense advantage conferred by this simple
printed pamphlet – a flimsy and inexpensive product, but
one that bestowed on its possessor extraordinary power.
It was precisely this kind of ephemeral product of the
printing press that Hernando was to put at the centre of his
own life’s ambition: a universal library that would encapsulate the world of knowledge just as his father’s intended
circumnavigation was supposed to encircle the globe.
Over the course of his 35 remaining years, Hernando
turned his hand to many things: he proposed a circumnavi-
The almanac carried
by Columbus was a
flimsy and inexpensive
product, but bestowed
on its possessor
extraordinary power
Renaissance bibliomaniac
Hernando Colón, portrayed
in a 16th-century Spanish oil
painting. Having experienced the
power of books during his voyage
with his father, Christopher
Columbus’s younger son became
driven by the idea of creating
a searchable, comprehensive
repository of information
The universal library
gation of the globe to finish what his father had begun;
he served as a diplomat and cartographer as Spain and
Portugal plotted to carve up the world between them;
he started a dictionary and a cosmographical encyclopaedia of Spain; and he may have established the earliest
botanical garden in Europe. But from the beginning his
greatest passion was books. He took with him four
chests containing 238 of them when he returned to the
New World in 1509. And later, living in Rome during
the age of Leonardo and Raphael, he began to acquire
them in such numbers as to suggest the beginnings of
a larger ambition.
In many respects, Hernando preferred the shadows
to the glare of fame, lingering in the background even
in the biography he wrote of his father. Yet through
that book he became central to how history was to
remember Christopher Columbus and think of the
voyages he undertook.
We can recreate Hernando’s world in resplendent
detail through the obsessive lists he made describing
everything around him. This tendency to record the
minutiae, making lists of everything he saw – on
occasion taking inventories of his rooms, even down to
bits of string and balls of wax – also enables us to follow
the course of his project in extraordinary detail.
Importantly, for every book he bought from the
age of 21 onwards, he noted the place, date and cost
of purchase, as well as where and when he read the
book, and whether he’d ever met the author. This
enables us to follow a bibliomaniac of Renaissance
Europe in ways that would be unimaginable without his
catalogues. A vast number of the books he bought and
listed in his catalogues have since disappeared entirely;
we know about these only from his detailed lists.
Hernando’s lust for books was not unique among
the men of his day. His age witnessed the birth of
many great libraries, from the Biblioteca Laurenziana
(Laurentian Library) in Florence – with its reading
room designed by Michelangelo – to Oxford’s Bodleian
Library. What set Hernando’s library apart, however,
was its openness to absolutely everything that was
available in the marketplace of books, reflecting his
ambition to collect it all.
Most of his fellow Renaissance bibliomaniacs were
scouring ancient monasteries in hopes of finding lost
Roman and Greek works buried among the manuscripts. Hernando, meanwhile, saw that the printing
press was changing the way information flowed around
the world, enabling vast numbers of titles to be quickly
and cheaply produced and distributed. Much like the
engineers of search algorithms today, Hernando believed
that whoever was able to collect, sort, and distil this flood of
information would have a tool of extraordinary power. So,
whereas the Bodleian famously closed its doors to cheap
printed materials such as the plays of Shakespeare and
Marlowe, Hernando’s library absorbed everything – from
recipe books and bawdy ballads to books of law, medicine
and philosophy.
The collection grew so rapidly that by 1526 Hernando
could no longer hope to store his library in chests. That year
he began to build an immense villa in the Italianate style on
the banks of the river Guadalquivir in Seville. Like many
Renaissance humanists (including the English statesman
and author Sir Thomas More, who that same year began
construction on his house in Chelsea), Hernando chose to
build his home and library outside the city walls. This
allowed him both to participate in the busy life of the city
and to retire at other times into the tranquil surroundings
of a garden for reading and contemplation.
Though the building was destroyed in the 17th century,
contemporary images and descriptions give us some sense of
what it looked like. With a front spanning about 60 metres,
and nearly 24 metres deep, the edifice comprised a series of
cube-shaped rooms spread over two floors. Extensive landscaping provided a view across to his father’s resting place
at the Monastery of Santa María de las Cuevas, as well as to
allow for an extensive garden of astonishing variety.
One of Hernando’s
inventions was the
wall-mounted case
for vertical storage of
books – or, as we would
call it, a bookshelf
Though Hernando would have found models for this
kind of suburban library in the works of ancient writers
such as Cicero, what he was attempting was on an entirely
different scale. Contemporary descriptions suggest that
the garden may have had as many as 5,000 trees, some
possibly imported from the New World to provide local
samples of exotic life. As for the library itself, collecting
on this scale brought challenges. One of Hernando’s
inventions to deal with the extraordinary number of books
he had accrued would be familiar to readers today: the
wall-mounted case for vertical storage of books – or, as
we would call it, a bookshelf.
Previous collections had largely been stored in chests
or simply stacked on tables or in cupboards, and were
small enough that a librarian with a decent memory could
remember the location of each book, and pull them out
without tipping over the other ones. However, as Hernando’s collection ballooned towards its final extent, numbering some 15,000–20,000 books, new measures were
required. These modern bookshelves, first built for
Hernando’s library and then appearing in the royal Escorial
Library in Madrid (the oldest ones surviving today),
allowed the weight of the books to be displaced onto the
walls, and the spines to be labelled so that the books could
be ordered and easily retrieved.
Storing the books was one problem, but navigating
them was wholly another. The sheer quantity of books
threatened to make the library unmanageable, because
within any given category – ‘histories’, for example, or
‘authors whose names begin with an M’ – there were still
a vast number of titles. Hernando experimented with many
different ways of ordering his library, discovering in each
its advantages and shortcomings.
During the last 13 years of his life, Hernando raced
to finish the building and put instructions in place for the
library’s organisation and perpetual growth, contending
with a rising tide of books and his declining health.
He was driven by a fear that his failure might mean
the loss of this treasure trove of knowledge and culture.
Like many others of the period, Hernando lived in the
shadow cast by the classical culture of Greece and
Rome, and was acutely aware of the fact that the vast
majority of the writings of the ancients had been lost
during the thousand intervening years.
Hernando’s library, then, had to be a doomsday
vault, safeguarding Renaissance culture from the
oblivion that had been visited upon the classical world.
But it must also be a living organism, capable of feeding
Spain’s empire with information and providing an
authoritative answer to each question, resolving – he
hoped – many of the religious and political controversies that wracked the public sphere during his lifetime.
The system he designed – with its elaborate and bizarre
combinations of cages to protect the books, and its
widely distributed catalogues that would allow everyone
Celestial knowledge
Dates for future lunar eclipses, predicted in the Calendar (1482) by
Renaissance mathematician and astronomer Regiomontanus.
Columbus used a celestial almanac containing similar information
The universal library
An illustration from the Civitates
orbis terrarum (1572–1617)
shows Hernando’s house
(La Casa de Colon) in Seville.
Though his library in this house
was a masterpiece of design, it
was neglected and largely lost
over the following centuries
The house Hernando built
to draw upon the riches of the library – was a response to
these contending urges to share and yet protect.
Perhaps the spectre that loomed largest for Hernando
was that of the great Library of Alexandria, the most famous
librarian of which, Eratosthenes, was a geographer like
Hernando. (Eratosthenes had produced one of the most
widely used estimates of the earth’s circumference using
astronomical measurements with which Hernando would
have been intimately familiar from his work as a mapmaker.)
But the library at Alexandria, which had gathered together
the thought of the ancient Mediterranean world, had
disappeared in its entirety, destroyed – it was believed –
either by fire or by invading armies. It left only an ideal
to which to aspire, and a warning about the potential fate
of such ambitious projects.
How, then, was Hernando to recreate this lost wonder of
the ancient world, and to ensure that his library not only
absorbed the new products of the printing press but also
stayed secure against the threat of destruction and oblivion?
His final scheme for the library, with its book-cages and
intricate rules for the use of the collection – intended to
allow readers to access the collection but never steal from
it – was a masterpiece of design, created to bring the
knowledge of the world to Seville, sort it in ways that
would make it useable, and hold it there for ever.
Yet this masterpiece could not guard against an uncaring
age that had not yet recognised how the world had changed.
Hernando lived at
an event horizon of
information: the
amount of printed
material was spiralling out of control
Over the following centuries, the library dwindled to
a fraction of its original size through neglect. Spurned,
ignored and locked away in an attic in Seville Cathedral
for hundreds of years, a small but crucial portion of this
library – about a quarter of the books, and almost all the
catalogues – nevertheless survived (and survives today in
the cathedral library), waiting for an age more able to
appreciate its wonders.
The legacy of this library was a complex one.
Hernando lived, in a sense, at the event horizon of
printed information. Though during his youth a library
of everything might have been possible, the amount of
printed material was quickly spiralling beyond anyone’s
ability to control. The ages that followed spoke in grand
terms about their universal libraries and knowledge
projects, but in reality these were often much more
modest affairs, kept under control by strictly limiting
what was deemed worthy of inclusion in the library.
A project to rival the ambition of Hernando’s would
have to await the arrival of digitised books, optical
character recognition and machine reading, enabling
computers to achieve what humans never could. Even
then, the extraordinary Google Books project foundered
at an early stage, mired in arguments over intellectual
property and the future of how thought would be paid
for. Hernando’s quest, and the eventual fate of his
library, holds many
lessons for our own
Edward Wilson-Lee is
information age, with
a fellow of Sidney Sussex College,
its rapidly expanding
Cambridge. His latest book is
networks and quickly
The Catalogue of Shipwrecked
disappearing products
Books: Young Columbus and the
– lessons that we are
Quest for a Universal Library
only just beginning
(William Collins, 2018)
to learn.
‘Arib al-Ma’muniyya (c797–c890)
Coveted by caliphs, lauded by the elite, censured by the pious: Chase F Robinson
presents a medieval Iraqi slave whose artistry and erudition won her emancipation
never saw a more
beautiful or refined
woman than ‘Arib,” one
authority on music
opined, “nor one who
sang, played music, wrote poetry or
played chess so well.”
Part Elizabeth Taylor, part Amy
Winehouse, ‘Arib al-Ma’muniyya was
the most famous (and infamous) of the
qiyan, female slave performers of the
urban elite of Iraq. Muslim societies
produced many elite women, who
sometimes held very public positions,
most notably the queens of 17th-century
Aceh. Yet none confounded the social
and gender categories typically ascribed
to Islamic civilisation more than ‘Arib.
‘Arib’s birth date is usually given
as 797, during the reign of the great
Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid
(reigned 786–809). She claimed high
birth, but it’s not clear if she was born
to a legal union; certainly, she was sold
into slavery early in life. In most Middle
Eastern societies, slavery typically involved domestic service to urban households, rather than agricultural labour on
rural estates or the like.
For ‘Arib, it entailed service for
the social and economic elite, and her
education was tailored for this market.
It began in Baghdad, at the time rapidly
becoming one of the world’s most prosperous cities, and continued in Basra,
southern Iraq.
Not only was ‘Arib literate at a time
when few could read and write, she
also acquired the arcane knowledge
and skills of courtly life: she could ride,
compose poetry and prose, sing, and
play several instruments, along with
backgammon and chess. Such skills
made her attractive in the most rarefied
circles, and increased the value of her
services to her owner – and, with her
eventual manumission, to herself.
News of her talents reached Baghdad
while she was in her teens, and by about
810 she was connected with the caliph,
al-Amin. His successor, al-Ma’mun
(r813–33), paid 50,000 dirhams for
‘Arib. That sum was remarkable: in the
ninth century, a skilled labourer would
earn no more than 20 dirhams per
month. Slave-singers had become a
popular feature in the permissive culture
of Baghdad’s elite, exemplifying the
libertinism sheltered from public view
by palace walls. Hidden in plain sight,
these women moved in and out of
private spaces, attracting as much
fascination as opprobrium.
Al-Ma’mun was the second of a string
of caliphs who enjoyed ‘Arib’s company
and talents; one, al-Mutawakkil (reigned
847–61), paid 100,000 dirhams for her.
Female slaves, especially those hired for
entertainment, were “badges of conspicuous consumption”, as Julia Bray,
scholar of Arabic literature, put it.
By her own account, ‘Arib had sexual
relations with eight caliphs, and narrated
episodes of her sexual history; to those
listening in Baghdad and Samarra, she
was as coarse as she was refined. Several
accounts portray ‘Arib as a master of
musical traditions and styles, and an
arbiter of taste. She is credited with
writing some 1,000 songs.
A public figure in the private realm
of elite households and ruling courts, as
quick-witted as she was erudite, ‘Arib
frequented salons and performances,
and oscillated between paramours and
partners, leaving the pathetic entreaties
of spurned lovers in her wake. Her
writings reflect her tumultuous love life:
“As for the lover he went away
In spite of and against my will.
I erred in being separated from one
For whom I have found no substitute.
Because of his absence from my sight.
I have become tired of life.”
[Translated by Fuad Caswell]
Abu Nuwas (died 814), the leading
poet of the day, was both an observer
of and participant in this elite culture,
and his verses about another slave girl
capture something of its ambivalence:
“She demonstrates piety outwardly
to God’s people / Then meets me with
coquetry and a smile.
I went to her heart to complain [about
her] / But wasn’t alone – there was a
queue for a mile.”
[Translated by Philip Kennedy]
When ‘Arib died, apparently in her
nineties, she was a woman of considerable wealth who had much earlier secured
free status. Both her career and her life
had been a performance, balancing elite
culture with middlebrow entertainment,
and a story of vertiginous social mobility
realised through education, talent and
insouciant ambition. By definition,
celebrities belong to the public; because
she belonged to high society as a whole,
she belonged to no one but herself. Born
a slave, she found a freedom enjoyed by
few men or women of her time.
Chase F Robinson is distinguished professor
of history at the City University of New York,
and author of Islamic Civilization in Thirty Lives:
The First 1,000 Years (Thames & Hudson, 2016)
Style and substance
In an era when few learned to read and write, ‘Arib al-Ma’muniyya’s
education provided a springboard for a performing career that took
her to the highest levels of medieval Iraqi society, including affairs
with caliphs, where she was sharp enough to leverage her influence
and artistic talents to bring her both wealth and freedom from slavery
A year in pictures: 1994
Memorial to massacre
A crude graveyard marks the site of a
massacre of Tutsi refugees in a technical
institute in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali,
on 11 April 1994 – one of the first
incidents in a four-month campaign
of ethnic slaughter. Belgian troops of
the UN mission had initially guarded
the Tutsi taking refuge here, but
were ordered to help evacuate white
foreigners elsewhere, abandoning the
refugees to attack by Hutu soldiers
and militia. Around 2,000 Tutsi
were murdered that day, cut down by
grenades, machine guns, bayonets and
machetes. After it became clear that
UN troops would not protect the Tutsi,
the massacres spread across the country,
evolving into a genocide in which an
estimated 800,000 died.
Conflict and
tunnels and toasts
As ethnic conflict flared in Rwanda
and Bosnia, England welcomed
women priests and better links with
Europe. Richard Overy explores a
year that marked the end of an era
in Korea and the start of a new
chapter in South Africa
A year in pictures: 1994
Africa dominated
City under siege
A woman hurries across Heroes’ Square in Sarajevo during the
siege of the Bosnian capital by Bosnian Serb forces during the
long civil war in the former Yugoslav republic. During the siege
from 1992 to 1996, 13,952 military personnel and civilians were
killed in the city. After the collapse of communist Yugoslavia in
1990, elections had resulted in a coalition government for the new
Muslim-dominated state of Bosnia and Herzegovina – a situation
opposed by Bosnian Serbs, who wanted to create their own
Serb republic. The subsequent conflict between Bosnian Serbs,
Muslim Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats was marked by torture,
rape and other war crimes. In August 1994, Nato began air strikes
against Serb positions that targeted civilian areas of Sarajevo.
headlines worldwide in 1994, for
reasons both good and bad.
Between April and July in
Rwanda, a large number of the
country’s majority Hutu people
launched a genocidal assault
against the Tutsi, a substantial
ethnic minority group in the
small landlocked African state.
During four months blighted by
mass murder, rape and torture,
an estimated 800,000 Tutsi and
moderate Hutu were slaughtered.
Tensions between the two peoples,
which had simmered since
independence in 1962, erupted
into violence after the Hutu
president, Juvénal Habyarimana,
was assassinated on 6 April. The
killings began the following day and
ended only when the Tutsi-backed
Rwandan Patriotic Front captured
the country, driving thousands of
Hutu to flee to neighbouring states.
No effort was made by the
international community, nor
the United Nations forces present
in Rwanda, to stem the killing.
However, the genocide was one
factor prompting the establishment
some years later of the International
Criminal Court, where the
perpetrators of such acts could be
tried and punished.
While the Rwandan genocide
was underway, the long period
of white rule in South Africa was
coming to an end. On 27 April,
the African National Congress
won an overwhelming majority
in the country’s first multi-racial
parliamentary elections. ANC leader
Nelson Mandela, freed in 1990 after
27 years in jail, was inaugurated as
president on 10 May. He established
a multi-racial Government of
National Unity in an attempt to
avoid the kind of bloodshed seen
that year not only in Rwanda but
also in conflicts in Northern Ireland,
the former Yugoslavia and, from
December onwards, the Russian
republic of Chechnya.
Artistic streak
Benefits Supervisor Resting, painted in 1994
by the artist Lucian Freud (1922–2011),
grandson of the famous psychoanalyst
Sigmund. Freud pioneered an original and
uncompromising style of representation
of the human body, with all its flaws, and
became one of the most distinguished
British artists of his generation. The model,
government official Sue Tilley, posed for
three other works; the four together became
the iconic examples of Freud’s portraiture.
Smile of confidence
Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi
smiles as the Senate debates a vote of
confidence in his government on 17 May,
weeks after his right-wing coalition won the
1994 general election. His government lasted
until December, when the coalition fell apart.
However, Berlusconi won further elections
and headed the government three more times
for a total of nine years – an Italian record.
Despite numerous attempts to indict him on
fraud and corruption charges, he dominated
Italian politics for over 20 years.
A year in pictures: 1994
Service update
Reverend Angela BernersWilson, the first woman
ordained as a priest in the
Church of England, leads
communion on 13 March
1994. She was one of 32
women ordained in Bristol
Cathedral the previous day,
two years after the General
Synod of the Church of
England approved the
ordination of women despite
strong resistance from some
Anglicans. The first woman
Anglican bishop was finally
appointed 20 years later.
A crowd celebrates outside City
Hall in Pretoria during the
speech made by Nelson Mandela
(1918–2013) after he took the oath
to become South Africa’s first black
president on 9 May 1994. Mandela
had spent 27 years in prison before
President FW de Klerk decided
to release him in 1990. After four
years of preparation, Mandela
swept to power in the country’s
first fully democratic elections in
April 1994, bringing to an end
over four decades of white rule
under the harsh apartheid system.
Nelson’s victory
Clash in the Caucasus
Russian T-72 tanks advance on the Chechen capital,
Grozny, in December 1994. Following the dissolution
of the Soviet Union in 1991, the former ChechenIngush republic split, and in 1993 Chechnya declared
independence from Russia. In December 1994 the
Russian army moved on Grozny, expecting quick
success; instead it became bogged down in a long,
costly and bloody struggle lasting nearly two years,
with the loss of an estimated 100,000 lives.
To Russia, with love
American president Bill Clinton and his wife
Hillary toast Russian president Boris Yeltsin
on 14 January 1994 during a summit at the
Kremlin in Moscow. This was one of a series
of regular meetings between the two leaders,
who hoped to improve the relationship between
Russia and the United States to a level beyond
the wary encounters of the Cold War era. At
this meeting they agreed to work together to
facilitate the removal of nuclear weapons from
Ukraine and to target their own weapons away
from each other and allied countries. The US
also promised a US$100 million investment
fund for the privatisation of Russian state firms.
A year in pictures: 1994
Police patrol cars chase a white
Ford Bronco along Freeway 91
in California on 17 June 1994
as former American football
superstar OJ Simpson sat
in the back, holding a gun
to his own head, while his
friend Al Cowlings drove the
car. Simpson was wanted for
questioning in connection
with the murder of his ex-wife
Nicole and her male friend.
The chase was watched live
by an estimated 95 million
American television viewers.
Simpson was arrested and
charged later that day but
was acquitted 15 months later
in one of the most-publicised
trials of the century.
Chasing OJ
Death of a leader
Thousands of mourners in North
Korean capital Pyongyang lament
the demise of their ‘Great Leader’,
communist dictator Kim Il-sung,
who died on 8 July 1994, aged
82, after a heart attack. Kim,
Supreme Leader of the Democratic
People’s Republic of Korea since
the division of the peninsula in
1948, had developed a remarkable
cult of personality. After his death
the government ordered ten days
of mourning and, on the day of the
funeral, 17 July, a three-minute
silence across the country. His
embalmed body, displayed in a
glass coffin in a public mausoleum
at the Kumsusan Palace of the
Sun, can be viewed to this day.
Tunnel triumph
Queen Elizabeth II joins French president
François Mitterand at a ceremony in Calais
on 6 May to mark the inauguration of the
Channel Tunnel connecting Britain with
France. Work on the tunnel had begun in
1987, but ran well over schedule and came in
some 80% over budget. The tunnel, which
runs under the sea for over 23 of its 31.4 miles
between Folkestone and Coquelles, has cut
rail travel time between London and Paris
to just two hours 16 minutes.
A dark hero for dark times
A young girl in a red coat – the only colour
in the majority of the film – is pictured in
a still from the Second World War drama
Schindler’s List, which in 1994 won the
coveted Oscar for best picture, along with
many other awards. Directed and coproduced by Steven Spielberg, the film was
based on Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark,
a historical novel about German-Czech
businessman Oskar Schindler, who rescued
about 1,000 Jews from the Holocaust
through his business. Spielberg also funded a
major oral history project collecting accounts
from the survivors of the Nazi genocide.
Richard Overy
is professor of history
at the University
of Exeter, and
editor of The Times
Complete History of
the World (William
Collins, 2015)
Changing times
Crowds march through the streets of Chicago to
hear Martin Luther King speak at the Illinois Rally
for Civil Rights on 21 June 1964. “The fact that
[King] was standing up and doing something about
institutional racism terrified many white people,”
recalls Seymour Hersh, then a young Associated
Press journalist. “They thought it would lead to
violence, or to black people taking their jobs.”
Eyewitness: Reporting America’s 20th century
Seymour Hersh recalls his career as a
journalist covering the political and social
stories that defined 20th-century America
Born in 1937, Seymour Hersh began his career as a journalist
in Chicago in the late 1950s. Across the ensuing half-century
he reported on major episodes in US history, including the
evolution of the civil rights movement, military atrocities
in the Vietnam War and, in 2004, the torture by US personnel
of detainees in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. His writing has
appeared in leading publications such as The New Yorker and
The New York Times, and has been recognised with awards
including the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting.
“There were rules for
reporting crime in
Chicago. You did not
report on cops killing
black people, which
happened a lot”
My parents came to the United States from eastern
Europe, Jewish immigrants – that’s a very bad word these
days, but I can assure you they weren’t in any gangs – and they
didn’t communicate much. Neither of them spoke much
about what led them to come to the US.
My father got cancer when I was 15, and I took over the
running of the family business, a cleaning store in Chicago’s
black ghetto, until I was 22. That experience meant that
I knew the African-American world well and had some empathy for the fact that, if your colour was ‘wrong’ in the 1950s,
there was nowhere to go. Things are still bad for black people
in the United States now, but nothing like they were then.
Eyewitness: Reporting America’s 20th century
Eventually, after dropping out of law school because
I hated it, I got a job in 1959 as a street reporter for
City News. It was a crime newspaper agency, set up in
1890, that later reported on the heyday of gangsters such as
John Dillinger in the 1920s and 1930s. That was a period
during which newspapers and radio stations simply couldn’t
cover all of the crime that was being committed in Chicago.
We covered the police and the courts, and I worked on the
street as a reporter. That’s when I first fell in love with the
newspaper business.
There were strict rules on reporting crime in Chicago
in the early 1960s. You did not report on cops killing black
Martin Luther King in 1964.
He fed quotes to Seymour Hersh,
who recalled: “I used to get great
stories from him. I guess you
could call it love at first sight”
A US soldier throws fuel onto a burning
~ Lai Massacre on
house during the My
16 March 1968. American troops killed
504 Vietnamese villagers during the
massacre, including 182 women –
17 of them pregnant – and 173 children
Seymour Hersh in
1970, the year after he
reported the massacre of
Vietnamese civilians at
~ Lai by US troops. This
work was recognised
with the Pulitzer Prize for
International Reporting
people, which happened a lot, and you did not report on
cops taking care of the mafia. I learned two things about
reporting in that period – the first about tyranny, the second
about self-censorship, which is all over my profession.
As an example, I heard a cop radio in the fact that he had
shot a black suspect as he fled. I ran down to the underground
parking lot of the police headquarters to talk to the cop about
what had happened. As I was walking towards his car, he got
out and started talking to one of his friends, who was also
a policeman. He said: “Nah, I told the nigger he was okay,
told him to beat it – and then I shot him.”
When I called the story in to my editor at City News,
he said to forget about it – it would just be my word against
the cop’s – and if I pushed it, I’d have to be moved out of that
station. Eventually I left and, in 1963, became a correspondent for the Associated Press news agency.
This was the period during which the civil rights activist
Martin Luther King led marches in Chicago. The fact that
he was standing up and doing something about institutional
racism terrified many white people: they thought it would lead
to violence, or to black people taking their jobs. People threw
stones at him, but he kept on walking even though he was
frightened. There’d be news conferences where we’d be so
worried that somebody was going to hit him in the head
with a stone. He’d finish the conference, and because I was
the guy from the Associated Press – at that time you had
the AP in every newspaper around America – he’d give me
a look, crook his finger at me, and I’d know to wait for ten
minutes before dutifully following him around the corner.
He’d give me a lot of good quotes – something that he hadn’t
said previously. I used to get great stories from him. I guess you
could call it love at first sight.
After about six to eight months at the Associated Press,
my job was simply to come to work and find something to
write about every day. I didn’t have to edit stories; I didn’t
have to work on a particular ‘desk’. I owned the city! I wrote
about civil rights, I wrote about the Vietnam War – which by
then had been going on for a decade – and, eventually, they
transferred me to Washington to cover the Pentagon.
I soon got into a lot of trouble there because I felt my job
was not to let people such as Secretary of Defense Robert
McNamara dictate our policy as journalists. Our job was to
go beyond. I was new to the Pentagon, new to Washington,
and I was just cheeky. For instance, I phoned up the vice
president, Hubert Humphrey, when he was at home in Minnesota for Christmas in 1965. He’d had a few drinks, and
talked about a peace agreement with the North Vietnamese.
That was particularly amazing because nobody else was even
talking about anything like it at that time.
Even though I’d been assigned to cover the Pentagon,
I had been reading up a lot about the Vietnam War. By this
US Army Lieutenant William Calley (right) with
a defence attorney during his 1970 trial for the
mass murder of Vietnamese civilians at Son My
Though dozens of soldiers were involved, Calley
was the only officer convicted for his role
accept the diktat of editors! So, in 1967 I left to become
a freelance journalist.
In the fall of 1969, I got a phone call tipping me off
that a GI was being court-martialled for killing civilians
in South Vietnam the previous year. Even though there
was not much to go on, and no public mention of the scale
of the massacre the source spoke about, I thought it was
worth following up on because other people wouldn’t. Once
I got the story – and that’s a story in itself – I just worked
my head off.
Despite reports that just one young officer, Lieutenant
William Calley, did all the killing, in the village of Son My in
Quang Ngãi Province, I still couldn’t make sense of it.
I tracked Calley down, indirectly via his lawyer, along with
other people in the unit who had shot and killed people and
admitted to it. In total, hundreds of people had been killed in
what became known in the west as the My Lai Massacre.
Once I’d done all that, I thought the story was in good
shape, but nobody wanted it. I couldn’t get anyone to buy the
story, so eventually I gave it to a news service. I wrote five
stories in five weeks, won various prizes, and convinced the
public I had something to say.
time, various church groups had started to write about the
underside of the war, talking to kids coming back from
fighting, that kind of thing. So I began writing critically
about it – began nipping at McNamara’s heels. That didn’t Today, the fact that the media underestimates Donald
go down too well. Eventually I was reassigned to write about Trump as president worries me. He knocked down 16
social issues, which are fine – but the move came as something candidates during the nominations, ended two presidential
dynasties – the Bushes and the Clintons
of a message to me.
– and all with no political experience. That’s
The managing editor of the AP, para pretty amazing feat. He tweets stupid, riticularly, didn’t like what I was doing, and Seymour Hersh is an investigative
diculous things, but the press are caught up
thought I was taking a stand against the journalist and political writer. His
following that. They let him lead them by the
war. I tried to explain to him that the only autobiography, Reporter: A Memoir
nose. Just publishing everything he says is
stance against the war was that it was crazy. is out now, published by Allen Lane.
a stupid way to run a newspaper business.
I always had a streak of not wanting to Interview by Matt Elton
Modern views of the First World
War largely focus on the battles in
western Europe. As the centenary of
the end of the conflict approaches,
David Olusoga shines a light on
forgotten clashes in distant lands,
and on the extensive contributions
of Africans and Asians
Turn to page 56 for
an overview of the
various theatres of
war outside
1 Cossacks attached to the
5th Siberian Rifle Division of
the Imperial Russian Army in
Poland, July 1916. The Tsar’s
diverse force also included
Muslims from the Caucasus
and men of Mongol origin
2 A Senegalese soldier hits
a Turkish soldier of the Ottoman
empire in a 1915 French cartoon.
Tirailleurs Sénégalais, from the
French colonies in west Africa,
fought at Gallipoli
3 German officers recruiting
in c1914 in Togoland, where the
first shot was fired by a British
soldier in the First World War
4 A camel trooper of the
British Indian Army in Baghdad,
1915. At the time of the war,
the volunteer army numbered
240,000 men
Global First World War
In the moment that
London declared war on
Germany, the peoples of
countless territories of
the empire also found
themselves at war
n the early hours of 5 August 1914, the CS [cable
ship] Alertt arrived at the Varne Bank in the English
Channel. Dropping grappling hooks, her British
crew dredged up the five underwater telegraph
cables umbilically linking Germany with France,
Spain, the Azores and, ultimately, the United States.
Having hauled up the cables, the men severed
them with hatchets, one by one. During the operation the Alertt was approached by a flotilla of French
destroyers, one of which signalled: “What are you doing?” When
the Alert’s captain replied: “Cutting German cables”, the cheers
of the French sailors could be heard ringing across the water.
This was the first British offensive against Germany and her
allies, undertaken just hours after Britain had declared war at
11pm on 4 August. Neither the army nor the navy were involved.
Instead, the task was tackled by a rather less glamorous branch
describe this specific conflict until long after the fighting was
of the ‘services’: the Alertt was owned and operated by the British
over. Yet with each passing month, that German phrase proved
General Post Office. That this almost mundane action was the
to be the most accurate and appropriate.
first of the war might seem surprising. But it’s only one of many
The First World War was global in a way that previous wars
aspects of the conflict that have faded into the margins of general
had not been. Not only were battles fought in Africa, Asia and
consciousness – not least the truly global scope of the war.
the Middle East, and naval engagements across the world’s
Seven days after the Alert’ss endeavour, on 12 August, the first
oceans, but men (and some women) from every continent were
land engagement of the First World War took place, and the first
drawn into Europe to fight in the trenches, to labour in the
shot was fired by a member of the British forces – but not in Eumilitarised zones behind the lines, and to populate the factories
rope. On the same day that forts surrounding the Belgian city
that fed the great war machine of the Entente Powers. The
of Liège were bombarded by the German 420mm super-heavy
French led the way in this, but the British were not far behind.
howitzer nicknamed ‘Big Bertha’, Regimental Sergeant Major
Involving India in Europe
Alhaji Grunshi – a Muslim African who served in the British
Just four days after Britain declared war, the cabinet at DownWest African Frontier Force – levelled his rifle and fired at the
ing Street made the decision to deploy units of the British Indienemy. Far from the battlefields of Europe, Grunshi was part of
an Army in the European theatre of operations. This move was
the force then invading the German colony of Togoland (roughwithout precedent in the history of the empire but was deemed
ly speaking, modern Togo). It was not until ten days later, on
essential, given the scale of the enemy force that had crossed the
22 August 1914, that Edward Thomas of the 4th Irish Dragoon
German border and surged into France. At 240,000 men, the
Guards became the first British-born soldier to fire his rifle in
British Indian Army was the largest volunteer army in the world
anger. Both Grunshi and Thomas survived the war.
– larger by far than the British Expeditionary Force, which
In the weeks and months that followed, the conflict became
numbered a mere 70,000 soldiers.
ever more global. That was arguably inevitable in a
He fired first
By early October 1914, the first of those Indians
war that pitted empires against one another. France,
Regimental Sergeant Major
Germany, Britain and even ‘little’ Belgium had Alhaji Grunshi of the Gold had landed in France. By 22 October they were in
combat in northern France and Belgium, plugging
vast colonial holdings, while both Russia and AusCoast Regiment of the
tria-Hungary were huge realms of a different sort British Army, who fired the gaps in what was rapidly becoming the western
– multi-ethnic continental empires. In the moment first shot of the war in Africa front. In the ports and railway stations through
which they had passed on their way north, they had
London declared war on Germany and her allies, the
met west Africans and north Africans – soldiers of the
peoples of India, Nigeria, distant islands in the Pacific and
French empire – who by October were engaged in simicountless other territories of the sprawling empire – their
larly desperate operations in other sectors of the line.
names obscure to the average Briton – also found themIn geographic as well as demographic terms, the scope
selves at war. The same was true for the millions of Afriand scale of the conflict was breathtaking. As well as
can and Asian subjects of the French colonial empire.
Brussels, Liège and Antwerp, Jerusalem and Baghdad
The British dubbed this conflict the ‘Great War’,
fell to invading armies. At one point in 1918, it looked
and at first the French concurred, calling it La Grande
as if Venice might fall to the armies of Austria-Hungary.
Guerre. The term Weltkriegg (World War) was first coined
The fighting had begun with Alhaji Grunshi in
in Germany in 1904, but wasn’t widely used to
Dig for victory
Soldiers of the British Indian Army,
newly arrived at a holding camp in
Marseilles in autumn 1914, carry
entrenching tools. By 22 October, Indian
troops were in combat on the western
front in northern France and Belgium
Men (and some women)
from every continent
were drawn into
Europe to fight in the
trenches, to labour in the
militarised zones and to
populate the factories
Global First World War
Eastern allies
A British officer stands alongside two of his
Japanese counterparts in 1914 in Tsingtao
(now Qingdao). Japanese troops played a key
role in the capture of that strategic German
concession in north-east China
Carrying it forward
Native ‘carriers’ at work in Togoland,
c1914. In east Africa in particular, some
two million Africans served as soldiers or
‘carriers’ during a protracted campaign
that lasted until the very end of the war
Africa, but after Ottoman Turkey declared
Lorraine. The Austro-Hungarian army was
not just war but holy Jihad in autumn 1914,
led largely by German-speaking Austrians
it spilled over into the Middle East. In Asia,
but among the rank and file were Poles,
Britain’s ally Japan reasserted its place among
Ukrainians, Romanians, Czechs, ethnic Italworld powers by playing a key role in the
ians, Magyars, Croats, Serbs and Bosnians.
capture of the German territory of Tsingtao
The Russian army they confronted was just as
(Qingdao) in China. In the South Pacific, the
diverse. As well as ethnic Russians, there were
scattered island colonies, coaling stations and
Ukrainians, Latvians, Estonians, Armenians,
strategic outposts assembled by Germany in the
Finns, Poles, Jews and ethnic Germans, Muslims
19th century were invaded. German New Guinea
from the Caucasus and men of Mongol origin from
Last surrender
was taken by Australian forces in September 1914,
the far east of the Tsar’s vast empire. In short, the
General Paul von Lettoweffectively snuffing out German dreams of a colo- Vorbeck, leader of the German conflict transplanted countless people from their
east African force, was the
nial empire and naval presence in the Pacific.
home lands to fight and work in distant theatres.
In Africa, all four of Germany’s colonies –
surrender in November 1918
On the margins of memory
German South-West Africa (modern Namibia),
The human impact of the conflict was, then,
German East Africa (roughly modern Tanzaenormous. So how is it that, a century later, and
nia), Kamerun (roughly, Cameroon) and Togoeven after four years of centenary remembrance, our image
land (roughly, Togo) – were invaded and captured by British,
of the war often fails to take in the scale and the internationFrench, Belgian and South African forces, though the ‘British’
al nature of the conflict? In our historical imagination, the
force included Indian troops and Africans from across the conFirst World War has come to be remembered as an essentially
tinent. After German troops in German East Africa repelled
European feud (at least until the entry of the United States) –
an invasion of British and Indian forces, a war of hit-and-run
a war dominated by the western front. The conflict in Africa is
lasted until 1918, these soldiers living off the land (with deada footnote, at best. The costly struggle fought against Ottoman
ly consequences for the Africans they encountered). In that
forces in Mesopotamia – in which three-quarters of a million
protracted campaign, around millions of Africans served as
Indians served as soldiers and labourers, fighting on battlefields
soldiers or ‘carriers’ – carrying the supplies of the rival forces
to which British forces would return in our own times – is set
vast distances to remote battlefields.
firmly on the margins of popular memory.
Strangers in a strange land
As the historian David Reynolds has observed, the powerIn many of these conflicts, ‘native’ troops found themselves
ful poetry of a few dozen European officers has misshaped
thousands of miles from home. To take on the rag-tag German
our understanding of a war in which more Britons died than
East African force led by the famous General Paul von Lettowin any other conflict. The work of those poets, for all their
Vorbeck, the British gathered troops of the Gold Coast Regivisceral language and illuminating observations, has had the
ment (from what’s now Ghana), four regiments of the West
effect of narrowing further the aperture through which we
African Frontier Force from Nigeria, and the King’s African
view this vast struggle.
Rifles recruited in Sudan, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Ethiopia and
Even events we understand as international, occurring beyond
Nyasaland (Malawi). These soldiers, drawn from the Yoruba,
the western front, were often far more international than we have
Ibo, Hausa, Ashanti, Fante and Grunshi ethnic groups, left
come to imagine them. The Gallipoli campaign was not simply a
their homelands to fight in east and south Africa. Though on
clash between the forces of Ottoman Turkey on one side and the
the continent of their birth, they were as displaced and disorienAnzacs on the other. It was a struggle involving an Anglo-French
tated as any British soldier in the sands of Mesopotamia or the
force in which British troops outnumbered Anzacs. The French,
trenches of Gallipoli.
for their part, fielded north Africans and units of Tirailleurs Sénégalais from the French colonies in west Africa. Within the ranks
Even the list of combatant nations involved in the war fails to
of the Anzacs were Māori, and in the British columns were volfully convey the range of peoples and ethnicities who took part.
unteers of the Jewish Legion. Supporting the front line were men
Consider the theatre of operations in eastern Europe, so often obdrawn from across the Middle East and beyond.
scured by our focus on the western front; here, between 1914 and
The truly panoramic scale of the war is revealed only when we
1917, another complex and ethnically diverse conflict raged. The
look beyond familiar theatres at moments that have been almost
German army – and, even more so, the forces of their Austrocompletely forgotten rather than merely misremembered. One
Hungarian allies – was, in a different way, as multi-ethnic as the
such was Britain’s campaign in Egypt’s Western Desert against
armies of Britain and France.
the Senussi sect, a Sufi religious order in Libya. The Senussi were
Within the ranks of the Kaiser’s army were Poles, Serbs, Lithfunded and armed by German and Ottoman agents who sought
uanians, Danes from Schleswig, and Frenchmen from Alsace-
Global First World War
After the deluge
Arab men prepare
a site for a camp
for British Indian
troops after flooding in
Mesopotamia, January
1917. Three-quarters
of a million Indians
served as soldiers and
labourers in the Middle
East theatre
Indian troops in Marseilles in the
early weeks of the war. A journalist
for The Times reported seeing
“Punjab coolies sitting on their heels
round the thin smoke of a wood fire
on which the chapattis are baking”
Home cooking
The idea of the war
as a great panorama,
involving peoples of
innumerable ethnicities
and races, was apparent
to many at the time
to inspire them to march against British interests under the authority of the Ottoman-issued Jihad. The campaign against the
Senussi (1915–17) was well reported at the time, in part because
of the exploits of Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster and
commander of the Light Armoured Car Brigade, a unit equipped
with six bulletproof Rolls-Royce vehicles armed with machine
guns. Today, this campaign is obscure in the extreme. Equally
forgotten are operations undertaken against the forces of Ali
Dinar, sultan of Darfur, now in western Sudan.
Yet the idea of the war as a great panorama, spreading across
the world and involving peoples of innumerable ethnicities and
races, was apparent to many at the time – even celebrated. At
the end of 1917, The Times of London dispatched one of its
correspondents to the militarised zones behind the western
front to report on the men. His account – what journalists today would call a ‘colour piece’ – ran under the headline ‘An
Army of Labour, Workers from Distant Shores’.
“It is strange to drive for an hour or two along the winding roads
past the quiet villages… and to come suddenly upon a scene that
carries you half the world away from the clouded northern skies and
the Channel mists. Perhaps it may be a group of Punjab coolies sitting on their heels round the thin smoke of a wood fire on which the
chapattis are baking; perhaps a squad of Chinamen in blue or terra-cotta blouses and flat hats, hauling logs or loading trucks always
with that inscrutable smile of the Far East upon their smooth yellow
faces; perhaps a party of sturdy negroes or Kaffirs, singing and chattering as they march back from their work for the midday rest and
meal: perhaps some squat and swarthy Nagas with their long black
hair bunched fantastically above their bullet heads, gazing in childlike wonderment at a train of great Army lorries grinding by… It is
like a cinema show for the village children, who will dream of it, one
fancies when they are old, and remember how men came from Asia
and Africa to work for France in her dire need under the English.”
The Times journalist believed that the people of northern
France would remember the international, multiracial army
of labourers and auxiliaries they had seen in their towns and
villages as a brief and exotic aberration. Yet within the lifetimes
of those who were children in 1914–18, most of the great cities
of western Europe thronged with populations that, in their
ethnic make-up and diversity, more resembled the rear zones of
the western front than they did Paris and London in 1914.
The art of war
The global nature of the conflict was also recognised by French
artists Pierre Carrier-Belleuse and Auguste François-Marie
Gorguet who, in the aftermath of the first battle of the Marne in
September 1914, embarked upon one of the most ambitious artistic projects of all time. Working throughout the war, they
produced the monumental circular panorama Panthéon de la
Guerre – believed at the time to be the largest painting ever created, now largely lost. At nearly 14 metres high and with a
122.5-metre circumference, it featured 6,000 life-size portraits
of the heroes of the war. Although it inevitably focused on French
involvement, the artists made a determined effort to depict the
war as a global conflict, including images of political leaders,
generals, combatants and auxiliaries from across the globe.
The vast painting showed a contingent of north African
Goumiers, among the more exotic of the French colonial units.
Often favouring political leaders over ordinary soldiers, within the British section of the painting it depicted Indian maharajas who had helped recruit soldiers and labourers from their
principalities. The leaders of Republican China also appeared,
alongside the now-defunct flag of that disappeared state. The
Panthéon would have been even more representative had it not
been for the decision made in 1917 to make space to record
American participation. Lamentably, this meant painting over
the section featuring people from Asia, including Chinese labourers – 130,000 of whom worked for the Allies in France and
Belgium. Among the Asian figures that did survive this purge
were representatives of the Siamese Expeditionary Force. The
tiny contingent sent by the King of Thailand included a number of trained pilots and surgeons – evidence of the technological leaps his nation was attempting to make.
Fittingly for a global conflict, the First World War came to
an end on one of its more remote battlefields, thousands of miles
away from the western front. On 14 November 1918, a local
magistrate approached German
forces gathered by the Chambeshi river (now in north-east David Olusoga is an
Zambia). He was carrying both a award-winning historian,
white flag and news that an ar- BBC broadcaster and author
mistice had been signed. General of Black and British: A Forgotten
Lettow-Vorbeck became the last History (Macmillan, 2016)
German commander of that war
to surrender – but not before he DISCOVER MORE
had led his men on a four-year- The BBC is showing a raft of
long ‘dark safari’ that had cost programmes commemorating
the end of the First World War.
the lives of hundreds of thou- For details, see
sands of Africans.
Global First World War
Campaigns across continents
Ashley Jackson highlights seven theatres of the ‘Great War’ outside Europe
British soldiers
pictured at the Sphinx
in Giza during the
campaign in Egypt,
April 1918
and Persia
All in for oil
An Australian soldier
carries a wounded comrade
to hospital at Gallipoli, 1915
Deadlock in the
In 1915 the British government
sanctioned an attempt to
split the Ottoman empire
with an attack on the Gallipoli
peninsula. By capturing the
Dardanelles Strait and Constantinople, and securing sea
communications with Russia,
it was hoped the deadlock on
the western front might be
broken, hastening the end of
the war; instead it ended in a
bloody stalemate. As Allied
forces (including troops
from Australasia, Britain
and France) tried to advance
inland, Turkish troops pushed
them back to the sea. The British offensive of August 1915
failed dismally, and the Ottoman empire won its only major
victory of the war. Fighting
in the near east and eastern
Mediterranean created a need
for labour, pack animals, food,
timber and hospital facilities,
drawing in people and resources from places such as
Cyprus, Egypt and Malta.
Emaciated Indian soldiers
of the British imperial army
after the 21-week siege of
Kut in Mesopotamia (now
Iraq), April 1916
and Palestine
Divide and conquer
East Africa
Distraction from
the western front
A 1915 Ottoman attempt to
take the Suez Canal and disrupt British lines of communication sparked a campaign
in the Sinai; in 1917, fighting
spread to Palestine. The
British and French secretly
agreed to partition the Ottoman empire, formalised in the
1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement.
Allied attempts to topple Ottoman rule across the Middle
East involved men such as
TE Lawrence fomenting local
rebellion. The Central Powers
also sponsored uprisings,
leading to campaigns in
unlikely places such as Darfur,
and against unlikely opponents such as the Senussi of
Libya, who attacked Egypt via
its Western Desert. On the
way to capturing Jerusalem,
British imperial forces fought
at battlefields including Gaza
and Nazareth, but the decisive
moment came with Allied
victory at the battle of Megiddo
in September 1918.
German-led indigenous troops
from German East Africa
(what’s now Burundi, Rwanda
and mainland Tanzania) tied
down forces from the British
and Belgian empires, fighting
the length and breadth of
east and central Africa. The
campaign opened with the
battle of Tanga (2–5 November
1914), where a British attempt
to conquer German East Africa
was decisively defeated. The
Germans aimed to keep
Allied forces tied up far
from the western front.
Actions involved hundreds of thousands
of African military
porters as well
as European,
African and Indian
troops, and featured
land battles, fatal
diseases, gunships
on the Great Lakes,
and naval action in
the Rufiji delta and
at Zanzibar.
An African soldier serving with German forces
After the Ottoman empire
entered the war in October
1914, it clashed with the Allies
in a lengthy campaign in
Mesopotamia (modern-day
Iraq). This spilled into Persia
(Iran), which was nominally
independent, though the
Russians were entrenched
in Persian Azerbaijan, while
the British were dominant in
the south. Having established
a bridgehead at Basra, the
British, determined to protect
oil sources, pushed northwest along the Euphrates and
Tigris rivers. British imperial
troops suffered a major defeat
at Kut, surrendering on
29 April 1916 after a 21-week
siege. Regrouping, the British
captured Baghdad in March
1917, pushing on to Kirkuk and,
in November 1918, Mosul.
Ashley Jackson is professor of
imperial and military history at
King’s College London, and editor
of The British Empire and the First
World War (Routledge, 2015)
German prisoners of war
captured in Togoland in 1915
are marched through Sierra
Leone, at that time a British
crown colony
West and
South-West Africa
Clashes between
The first shot of the war was
fired in Togoland as the Allies
swept the Germans out of their
west African colonies, intent
on conquering the scattered
German empire and denying
the enemy bases from which
it could raid the sea lanes.
German South-West Africa
(now Namibia) was invaded by
land and sea by South African
forces acting on behalf of the
British empire. These troops
entered the capital, Windhoek,
in May 1915, and fought several clashes against German
forces, winning the decisive
battle at Otavi on 1 July 1915.
German sailors on a lifeboat
after their ship, SMS Emden, was
attacked by HMAS Sydney off
the Cocos Islands in the Indian
Ocean on 9 November 1914
Naval actions
in the Pacific, the
Indian Ocean and
the Yellow Sea
Atacking Allied
trade routes
Germany’s East Asia Squadron was designed to wreak
havoc on the Allies’ global
trade, forcing them to scatter
their superior naval resources. Commanded by Admiral
Maximilian von Spee, the
squadron’s base at Tsingtao
(now Qingdao) in China was
besieged by British and
Japanese forces in October
and November 1914, but most
of his ships were elsewhere.
One of his cruisers, SMS
Emden, embarked on a
successful campaign against
Allied shipping in the Indian
Ocean before being destroyed
by HMAS Sydney off the Cocos
Islands on 9 November 1914.
The remainder of von Spee’s
squadron won a victory over
the British Royal Navy off
Coronel on the coast of Chile
on 1 November 1914, though
it was soon all but wiped out
at the battle of the Falkland
Islands on 8 December.
Japanese soldiers attack German
positions in Jiaozhou, China, 1914
Pacific islands
Hiting Germany’s
eastern empire
Allied powers moved quickly
to dismantle Germany’s
empire in the Pacific. Britain
encouraged Australia and
New Zealand to take action,
and Japan took the opportunity
to develop its growing imperial
portfolio. German authorities
in Samoa surrendered to New
Zealand forces in August 1914;
German New Guinea, including
the Bismarck Archipelago,
was taken by the Australians
after the battle of Bita Paka on
11 September 1914; and the
Japanese occupied the
Mariana, Caroline and
Marshall Islands.
Seeds of change
As British colonies took root in North America, a new kind of ‘special
relationship’ between the continents blossomed. Richard Bisgrove
explores five key eras of horticultural exchange that cultivated
revolutionary ideas in gardening, agriculture and public landscapes
1 Taking plants
to America…
An aerial view of
Central Park in Manhattan,
New York, one of many parks
and gardens to benefit
from the transatlantic
cross-pollination of ideas
England’s first involvements with the
New World were in the nature of a
persistent fly trying to settle on a human
nose and meeting constant rebuff. After
several failed attempts to establish a colony on Roanoke Island, off what’s now
North Carolina, in 1607 the Virginia
Company of London sent a party to
establish the colony of Virginia, arriving
at what became James Fort on 4 May.
These early settlers took with them
tools, seeds, plants and books with the
intention of establishing small pockets of
English life on the edges of a vast, alien,
hostile land – free, they hoped, from the
religious and economic strictures that
had forced them to flee Europe. Poorly
equipped, poorly qualified to survive
in the new environment, and with food
supplies severely diminished after their
voyage was delayed, at least 60 of the 104
members of the party died during their
first summer in the New World.
Captain John Smith, a driving force
in the establishment of the first permanent English colony at Jamestown, had
demanded that the Company in London
send useful people to populate the colony
– a policy that ensured its survival. Even
so, a combination of Native American
unrest, threats from other European settlers and bad weather resulted in the loss
of around 80% of the new inhabitants
over the ‘starving winter’ of 1609–10.
Yet, only five years later, Smith was
able to write in his Description of New
England of “sandy cliffes and cliffes of
rock, both which we saw so planted with
Gardens and Cornefields”. He “made a
Garden upon the top of a Rocky Ile… in
May, that grew so well, as it served us for
Sallets [salads] in June and July”.
In 1620, the Pilgrim Fathers landed
in Plymouth,
Native Americans eat maize in
a c1500 image. They also aided
and, having faced
westerners growing the crop
early hazards and
with support from
Native Americans,
learned to grow
and use American
corn (maize) to
support themselves.
The Reverend
Francis Higginson,
who arrived in Salem, Massachusetts in
1629, recorded an “abundance” of grass
and corn, claiming “Our Governor hath
store of green pease... as good as ever
I eat in England”. There were “turnips,
parsnips and carrots bigger and sweeter
… Herbs and fruits galore”.
Transatlantic gardening
2 …and American
species to England
3 Garden designs
head west…
Britain’s new horticultural openmindedness was not matched in
politics. A succession of ill-conceived
policies imposed on the American
colonies by the British crown and
parliament led to growing resentment
and, ultimately, to the War of
Independence (1775–83).
With George Washington installed
as the first president of a fledgling
United States of America, secretary of
state Thomas Jefferson was dispatched
to Paris to represent the new government in France. Jefferson, a passionate
builder and gardener, admired French
culture but much preferred English
gardens. So in April 1786, taking
advantage of a request from his friend
John Adams to join him in negotiations with a truculent English
government, he began a tour of
English gardens.
at Hatfield to replace the old Tudor
edifice, and naturally wanted a spectacular garden to match. In 1624, Tradescant
became gardener to George Villiers,
1st Duke of Buckingham, and in 1630
he was engaged by King Charles I.
Tradescant spent many hours at
London’s docks, talking to ships’
captains and acquiring from them seeds
and ‘rarities’, both on behalf of his
employers and to furnish his own
cabinet of curiosities in Lambeth, on
the outskirts of London. During his
lifetime, his reputation as a gardener
and collector of plants was unparalleled.
His friend John Parkinson, botanist to
Charles I, made many references to
plants from America introduced to
Britain by Tradescant, including
A shagbark hickory tree in
shagbark hickory and black walnut.
autumn. This species was
On the elder Tradescant’s death in
among those introduced to
Britain from North America
1638, he was succeeded as gardener to
during the 17th century
the king by his son – a role that proved
increasingly hazardous as civil war
loomed. The younger John made several
trips to Virginia, where he spent much
of his time exploring and collecting
plants, living at times off the land like
Despite the religious and political
a Native American. Among the many
turmoil that afflicted post-Elizabethan
plants he introduced to the Lambeth
England, the nation’s wealth grew – and
nursery were the Virginia snakeweed,
much of that wealth was invested in
the tulip tree and the red maple.
remodelling or building great houses
These were the first trickles of what
and their gardens. So as the first settlers
became a steady stream of introductions
arrived in the New World, the prospect
from America, thanks to a transatlantic
of new plants for English gardens
trade arrangement between Quakers
aroused much excitement. What
John Bartram (1699–1777) in Pennsylseemed to those intrepid settlers
vania and Peter Collinson (1694–1768)
a threatening wilderness
in England to supply seeds
represented a nursery of
to a network of well-to-do
exciting exotics for those
subscribers. The rapid
remaining safely at home.
growth of interest in
A stream of particularly
American plants was
notable New World plants
paralleled closely by
were introduced to
dramatic changes in the
England’s gardens by the
English gardens for which
father-and-son Tradescant
those plants were destined.
duo – confusingly, both
Formal, French inspired
named John. The elder
gardens were rejected in
John (born c1570) worked
favour of a naturalistic,
for several illustrious
‘liberal’ landscape style
employers including
epitomised by the work
The black walnut, depicted in
Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of
of English landscape
a botanical drawing. John
Salisbury, who from 1611
gardener Lancelot
Tradescant introduced this
American tree to England
built a splendid new palace
‘Capability’ Brown.
Jefferson’s copious notes on gardens
including Capability Brown’s
masterpiece at Blenheim in Oxfordshire, and those at Chiswick, Painshill,
Woburn, Stowe, Hampton Court,
Kew, Claremont and neighbouring
Esher Place, were laced with equal
praise and criticism. Of Chiswick, he
wrote: “A garden of about six acres…
the octagon dome has an ill effect,
both within and without: the garden
shows still too much of art. An obelisk
of very ill effect; another in the middle
of a pond useless.” Esher Place,
however, clearly made a favourable
impression: “Clumps of trees [the
result of Brown’s planting], the clumps
on each hand balance finely – a most
lovely mixture of concave and convex.”
The most exciting revelation, though,
was that this English garden he
admired so much – despite his disdain
for the Englishmen he was dealing
with – was full of American plants,
thanks to the activities of John
Bartram in Philadelphia.
Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.
Thomas Jefferson visited the
estate’s gardens in 1786, along
with other notable English gardens
An 1859 lithograph of Central
Park, showing its much-lauded
lawns, lakes and promenades
4 …followed
by public parks
Washington and Jefferson saw the
America of the future as a country of
farmers, rooted in the soil, in contrast
with the grime of English cities and the
unruly mobs of France. Yet as the 19th
century advanced, America also became
industrialised and the more fortunate
members of society moved out of the
cities into elegant suburban villas.
Advice on the design of these villas’
gardens came from Andrew Jackson
Downing (1815–52) who, by his early
twenties, was already a respected figure
in the horticultural community. He
sought to mediate between the “howling
wilderness” of nature and the “wilderness of bricks” of cities, where he
campaigned for the provision of public
parks. He died in a steamship accident
before his ideas were fully developed,
but by that time he had introduced his
English partner, architect Calvert Vaux,
to the young American farmer and
journalist Frederick Law Olmsted. It
was to prove a fruitful relationship.
In 1850, Olmsted set out on a sixmonth tour of Europe, the first part
of which he recorded in his Walks and
Talks of an American Farmer in England
(1852). Soon after landing in Liverpool,
he crossed the Mersey to explore the new
town of Birkenhead. When he stopped
at a baker’s shop to buy breakfast, the
baker, recognising a foreign visitor,
asked him if he had seen “our park”;
Olmsted sought out the park where,
as his journal records, he admired its
design and construction. When it began
to rain, he took shelter on one of the
covered bridges, alongside gentlefolk in
their finery mingling with poor women
selling milk to earn a few pennies.
Having seen the baker’s pride in ‘his’
park, and the mix of all layers of society
in the shelter, Olmsted wrote that “in
democratic America there was nothing
to be thought of as comparable with
this People’s Garden”. Like Downing,
Olmsted sought to foster “that mixture
of aesthetic values, cleanliness, and sense
of propriety that not only marked the
gentry but served as an important means
of moving from a state of barbarism to
one of civilisation”. Birkenhead showed
how this might be achieved.
Five years later, the Commissioners of
New York City decided to create a park
in the centre of Manhattan – at that
time, on the northern edge of the city –
and launched a competition to find the
best design. Olmsted (already appointed
superintendent of the proposed park)
and Vaux submitted an anonymous proposal that won the competition. Encompassing formal promenades, meandering
lakes, a huge open lawn for recreation
and a wilder ramble to the north, the
park was an immediate success.
That success led to commissions
across the US: the park system for Buffalo in New York State; the ‘Emerald
Necklace’ of parks around Boston;
Stanford University campus in California; and dozens more. Olmsted coined
the term ‘landscape architecture’ to
describe his work, and was the founding father of the American Society of
Landscape Architects.
5 Return
to the wild
As the 20th century approached, both
the United States and the UK became
increasingly post-industrial societies,
with growing populations devouring
the ‘natural’ (in large part, agricultural)
landscape. As ‘nature’ disappeared
and an ever-more-mobile populace
recognised these threats to the natural
world, the desire to protect it grew.
Increasingly routine crossing of the
Atlantic helped facilitate shared ideas
and experiences, not just between the
US and Britain but also from across
Europe. Nature began to displace
the elaborate horticulture of the high
Victorian garden. The fiercest critic of
Victorian bedding was Irish gardener and journalist William Robinson
(1838–1935); the spectacular natural
landscapes he encountered during travels
across America inspired his influential
book The Wild Garden (1870).
In 1884, Jens Jensen emigrated from
Denmark to Chicago, where he found
employment as a labourer in the West
Park system. He replaced the failed
Decked stepping stones lead
across a wildlife pond in a
natural-looking garden created
by Dutch designer Mien Ruys.
Her work contributed to evolving
ideas about the relationship
between gardening and ecology
planting of exotics with more decorative native prairie species, and in 1888
planted an ‘American Garden’. Meanwhile, in Europe, garden designers such
as Mien Ruys of the Netherlands and
the Germans Karl Foerster and Richard
Hansen absorbed ideas from the new
science of ecology to create beautiful,
resilient and low-maintenance gardens.
On both sides of the Atlantic, a desire
to replace lost natural phenomena
sparked a series of larger-scale projects.
In the US, the rapid expansion of cities
and the even more rapid expansion of
intensive farming to feed a growing
urban population threatened to
eliminate the native prairies – largely
treeless plains typically dominated
by tall grasses. Research on prairie
restoration began at the University of
Wisconsin in 1965 with work to protect
key remaining fragments, propagate
prairie plants and create new prairie
communities in the botanic gardens
of the Midwest.
In England in the late 1970s, Terry
Wells researched methods of selecting
and establishing wild flowers and,
particularly, recreating wildflower
meadows. Recognising that over 90% of
Britain’s meadows had been lost since
1945, Wells showed how naturalistic,
biodiverse plant communities might be
created in the public domain – in, for
example, new motorway verges – and
in private gardens.
For millennia, gardeners have sought
to recreate paradise on Earth. The close
horticultural links forged between the
US and Britain have demonstrated the
wisdom of sharing and collaborating;
those links continue today through
professional avenues such as international conferences and among amateurs
across the internet. Hopefully, this spirit
of collaboration and improvement will
be adopted by the world’s politicians to
help bring that paradise to fruition.
Richard Bisgrove is a garden historian and
consultant, and author of Gardening Across
the Pond: Anglo-American Exchanges from
the Settlers in Virginia to Prairie Gardens in
Englandd (Pimpernel Press, 2018)
Transatlantic gardening
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Czechoslovakia’s fate
hangs in the balance
Eighty years ago, in September 1938, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain met
Nazi führer Adolf Hitler in Bavaria in an attempt to ensure “peace for our time” – or so
he thought. PE Caquet explores the events leading up to the Munich Agreement from
the points of view of Britain, Germany and Czechoslovakia, Hitler’s immediate target
Significantly, Czechoslovakia was home
to a substantial German-speaking
minority. Hitler observed that this
community, mostly distributed along
border areas known as the Sudetenland,
could be leveraged to make territorial
demands on the country and eventually
dismember it.
At the beginning of 1938, Hitler
made a speech proclaiming himself
the protector of all Germans living in
two neighbouring states, Austria and
Czechoslovakia. In March he invaded
and annexed Austria but, even at
that point, Nazi dignitaries reassured
Prague of their peaceful intentions
towards Czechoslovakia.
Behind the scenes, though, the
Nazis possessed a useful pawn: Konrad
Henlein, leader of the Sudetendeutsche
Partei (Sudeten German Party, SdP) that
answered to Berlin. Henlein demanded
that the Czechoslovak government hand
him control of the Sudetenland. The
Czechoslovaks knew they could rely on
their allies if directly attacked, but the
French and British preferred to see the
situation defused through negotiation.
Talks during the summer went
nowhere, because the Germans were
only looking to establish a justification
for invasion. During a tense few weeks
in September, British prime minister
Neville Chamberlain visited Hitler in his
Bavarian redoubt at Berchtesgaden and
in the spa town of Bad Godesberg. But
peaceful solutions proved elusive, and on
each occasion Hitler upped his demands.
France and Czechoslovakia mobilised
for war, each calling up more than a
million men. Meanwhile Londoners
began digging trenches in Hyde Park in
anticipation of German air raids.
Then, at the end of September 1938,
hours before his last ultimatum was due
to expire, Hitler called the representatives
of Britain, France and Italy to Munich
for a conference. There,
British preconceptions
and misunderstandings
Over the
following pages
left Czechoslovakia
explore British,
prey to the
German and
depredations of
the Nazi dictator.
As the 1930s progressed, so did
Adolf Hitler’s plans for European
domination – but Czechoslovakia
stood in the way. It possessed a
well-equipped army, it was a French
and Soviet ally, and it barred the
road to the resources of southeastern Europe. At a November 1937
general-staff meeting, the Nazi
leader decided that the barrier of
Czechoslovakia must be removed.
Armed Sudeten Germans march through the Czech
town of Haslo in late September 1938, greeted with
Nazi salutes by German-speaking residents. While
Chamberlain negotiated with Hitler in September 1938,
the Sudeten German Party was fomenting rebellion
among Czechoslovakia’s German-speaking population
“Chamberlain did not believe
that Hitler had aggressive aims”
n 28 and 29 April 1938,
Neville Chamberlain
and his foreign secretary,
Lord Halifax, received
their French counterparts
Édouard Daladier and Georges Bonnet
in London. Britain was not an ally of
Czechoslovakia, but Downing Street
feared that if France were dragged into
a war with Germany, Britain would
inevitably become involved. Halifax
revealed these fears to his visitors.
Neither France nor Britain was ready
for war. Sentiments in Germany and
neighbouring states were volatile,
and the smallest incident could spark
a conflict in which France would be
treaty-bound to intervene.
Aerial warfare had made significant
strides since the First World War, and it
was widely believed that bomber forces
posed a deadly threat to civilian populations and infrastructure. Former prime
minister Stanley Baldwin voiced this fear
in 1932: “The bomber will always get
through”. The Luftwaffe had been portrayed as invincible by its commander-inchief Hermann Göring as well as by
Hitler and observers such as Charles
Lindbergh. Actually, though, it was far
from war-ready, whereas the British,
French and, indeed, Czechoslovak forces
included good numbers of airworthy
planes. Yet the legend had spread that
Nazi Germany was capable of delivering
a knockout blow to London or Paris.
Daladier was sceptical, as he made
clear to Halifax. Air power had yet to
force an outcome in the Spanish Civil
War, for example. The French premier
warned instead that the German dictator must be stopped while there was
time. He even mentioned Hitler’s book,
Mein Kampff as proof of the führer’s
world-dominating ambitions. Neither
he nor Bonnet, though, were prepared to
risk war without British participation.
There were also more fundamental
differences of interpretation. Chamberlain disagreed that Hitler had aggressive
aims, instead believing that the Nazis
merely chafed at encirclement, and that
the führer was genuinely concerned
about the treatment of Germans in
neighbouring states.
British guilt over the economic
impact on Germany of the 1919 Treaty
of Versailles had been growing ever since
economist John Maynard Keynes had denounced its reparations clause. Throughout 1938, Hitler deftly played on that
guilt, asking why self-determination
was afforded to the Czechs and Slovaks
but not to the Sudeten Germans. To observers of Nazi tactics, this rang hollow.
Hitler, after all, had invaded Austria to
pre-empt a free and fair vote on the very
question of unification with Germany.
Minority rights were nonexistent in
the Third Reich, unlike in democratic
Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain, though
– along with Halifax and the British
ambassador in Prague, Basil Newton –
believed that, if sufficient pressure could
be put on the Czechoslovak government
to come to an amicable agreement with
the Sudeten German leader Konrad Henlein, the whole problem would go away.
Nazi allegiance
Throughout the spring and summer of
1938, Newton called on Edvard Beneš,
president of Czechoslovakia, to check
on progress, urging greater compliance
with the SdP. At his party congress
in April, Henlein openly proclaimed
his allegiance to Nazism. A group of
paramilitaries disguised as a ‘security
service’ had been smuggling weapons
into Czechoslovakia from Germany,
and in June they terrorised voters into
supporting them at municipal elections.
None of this was perceptible to Newton
or Halifax; Henlein looked only as if he
had a growing proportion of the Sudeten
German community behind him.
In cabinet, Chamberlain complained
that Beneš was dragging his feet. At
the beginning of August he despatched
a long-time political associate, Walter
Runciman, to Czechoslovakia to act
as a mediator. There he fell victim to
the same Sudeten German Party tactics
that had fooled Newton. Henlein was
not negotiating in earnest but, rather,
created the impression that the situation was intractable and the fault of the
Czechs. Back in London, Runciman
advocated ‘self-determination’ –
a handover of the Sudetenland.
At the annual Nazi Party rally in
Nuremberg, Hitler threatened war if he
did not obtain satisfaction. His troops
had been mobilising throughout the
summer, and any further delay risked
pushing operations into the cold season.
Before Runciman had even completed his
mission, Chamberlain decided he must
take over personally. On 15 September, at
Berchtesgaden, he promised Hitler that
he would convince the Czechoslovaks to
detach the Sudetenland. On 23 September, in Bad Godesberg, he announced
that an international commission would
delineate all areas with a majority of
native German speakers for transfer to
the Reich. But this was not enough for
Hitler: he wanted a transfer within five
days, controlled not by international
observers but by his own armies. Neither
the Czechoslovaks nor the French
were likely to agree to that.
Dictator’s deception
Adolf Hitler with Neville Chamberlain in Berchtesgaden in September 1938, during
one of their meetings to discuss the situation in Czechoslovakia. Rather than
recognising Hitler’s far-reaching military ambitions for Europe, Chamberlain
believed the Nazi leader was concerned only about the treatment of his fellow
Germans – an error of judgment that left Czechoslovakia defenceless
“German commanders responded
with scepticism to the führer’s plans”
s far as German decisionmaking was concerned,
the relevant perspective
was ultimately that of
one man: Adolf Hitler.
In November 1937, Hitler had divulged
to his general staff his intention to
destroy Czechoslovakia in the near
future. In April 1938, he had ordered
the finalisation of Case Green, the army
plan for the country’s invasion. During
the summer, Germany had performed
a gradual general mobilisation in
preparation for an attack scheduled to
begin on 1 October.
Hitler’s intentions were straightforward: he planned to go to war unless
he was given exactly what he wanted.
If this turned into a world war, so be
it, as he told Chamberlain in their
Berchtesgaden interview.
The perspective of the German
generals, notably, was quite different.
In 1937, the commanders-in-chief of
the armed forces had responded with
scepticism to the führer’s disclosure
of his intentions.
In the spring and summer of 1938,
General Ludwig Beck – who, as chief of
the general staff of the German army,
was the officer in charge of strategy –
wrote a succession of memos warning
against the planned attack. Through
Walther von Brauchitsch, commanderin-chief of the army, he tried to get
Hitler to change his mind. Such an
attack would put Germany at war with
a coalition of stronger powers, Beck
argued. The Czechoslovaks would fight
to the end, exacting a heavy price on the
Wehrmacht. As to France, he observed
that Germany did not possess numbers
of men or equipment to defeat it until
later in 1939 or 1940, at least.
Faced with this attitude, in August
Hitler replaced Beck with General
Franz Halder. Yet this new appointment
panicked at the prospect of the looming
war, and promptly set in motion a plot
to overthrow Hitler should he activate
Plan Green.
Not one of Beck, Halder or
Brauchitsch, nor even the more junior
officers whom Hitler harangued behind
the back of their superiors, believed in a
winning strategy. German rearmament,
having only got into full swing after
conscription had been reintroduced in
1935, remained too far from completion.
The Germany army was short of
conscripted men, NCOs and officers. Its
tank force was a work in progress, with
the heavier panzers not developed beyond
the prototype stage. Ammunition and
fuel reserves were good for a few months
at best. Raw materials for war production
were lacking. Given these factors, the
German generals did not see how, in
a war beginning in 1938, they could beat
France and Czechoslovakia, let alone a
coalition also involving Britain and the
Soviet Union.
Sudeten ‘self-determination’
It is also worth asking what the
perspective was of the Sudeten Germans
themselves. Were they actually in
favour of the ‘self-determination’ Hitler
was demanding on their behalf? These
inhabitants called themselves German,
and were called German by others, but
neither they nor their forbears had ever
been citizens of Germany. Their home
was the old Kingdom of Bohemia,
where their ancestors had, over many
years, mixed with the Czech-speaking
population. Indeed, SdP leader Konrad
Henlein’s mother herself had been born
Hedvika Anna Augusta Dvořáčková –
a typically Czech surname.
By 1938, the SdP was no doubt very
popular among the Sudeten Germans.
This, though, was not necessarily an
indication of support for German
annexation. The SdP did well in
municipal polls held that spring, but
these polls were conducted amid a
campaign of widespread intimidation.
Most opponents pulled their lists
rather than risk violence from the SdP’s
paramilitaries. In the prevailing context
of war and annexation rumours, many
Sudeten Germans probably lined up
behind Henlein merely to be on the
safe side if the incorporation into Nazi
Germany did happen.
In the last free and fair vote, the
parliamentary elections of 1935, the
SdP had obtained over 60% of German
ballots. Even so, these votes were not
necessarily all votes for secession. As
a piece in the German nationalist
Deutsche Zeitung Bohemiaa noted,
Henlein’s programme at the time had
“declared with noteworthy insistence
the loyalty and law-abidingness of the
Sudeten German people”. It had been
a programme for improvement within
the Czechoslovak state, not a blueprint
for an Anschluss. Sudeten Germans
included numerous social democrats
and communists who opposed Henlein.
Even among his supporters, many
were uncomfortable with being
forced to join the Reich.
In addition, a quarter of the
population of the Sudetenland was
Czech. Even supposing that every
SdP vote cast in 1935 had been a vote
for secession, that would still total
only 45–50% of all voters – less
than a majority.
On track for war?
Armoured vehicles are produced for the German army at a factory in
Nuremberg in 1937. Senior officers believed that – despite propaganda to
the contrary and Hitler’s wishes – in 1938 Germany’s military hardware,
personnel and related resources were insufficient to ensure victory for
the Wehrmacht over Czechoslovakia and its ally France
“Czechoslovaks had a long history of
survival in the face of encroachment”
ydney Morrell, a journalist
with Czechoslovak sympathies, worried in the Daily
Expresss that they were unskilled at selling their side of
the story. With their complicated historical arguments, he feared, the Czechoslovaks were outclassed by Henlein. “They
put too much faith in the truth… ‘The
truth prevails’ was their country’s motto.”
Czechoslovak foreign minister Kamil
Krofta instructed his ambassadors to
warn the world, and especially the French
and British, that Hitler’s ambitions did
not stop at the Sudetenland. Henlein
was but a tool in the Nazi leader’s plans
for the region. Beneš gave interviews
to foreign journalists, and interacted
ceaselessly with the ambassadorial corps
to put across Czechoslovak realities. As
soon as Runciman arrived, the Czechoslovak president invited him to a private
talk and explained that the issues at stake
were not merely Sudeten German minority rights, which were already broad,
but the security of Czechoslovakia – and,
beyond that, the very fate of Europe.
With a long history of survival in the
face of encroachment, the Czechoslovaks
had no illusions about Hitler’s aims. The
police were well aware that Henlein and
his party were funded from Berlin. Any
doubts were dispelled by the German
refugees who, fleeing the concentration
camps, had moved to Czechoslovakia and
now lived in their midst. Czechoslovakia
had no choice, in any case, but to oppose
Hitler: ceding the areas he claimed meant
moving the German border to just 25
miles from Prague. Militarily, the country was studded with a web of bunkers
and pillboxes from which its armies expected to fight a defensive war, but almost
all of these were in the Sudetenland.
The idea of a Nazi enclave in the democratically run Czechoslovak Republic
made no sense, but Beneš and Krofta
needed to be seen to negotiate to retain
French and British support. Halifax and
Newton regularly threatened that, if it
came to war, Czechoslovakia would lose
the Sudetenland even after victory had
been achieved. They were unable to see
that this could make no impression on
their interlocutors, who knew they were
fighting for their very survival.
It finally dawned on the Czechoslovaks that their nominal partners were
preparing for a peace that sacrificed
them. On 19 September, Newton and
his French counterpart Victor de Lacroix induced Beneš to accept the plan
mooted by Chamberlain at Berchtesgaden. When the news broke the next
day, crowds thronged the streets and the
government fell. Beneš authorised general mobilisation orders: the armies rolled
into place and the air force dispersed in
anticipation of a surprise attack. Briefly,
it seemed that war would come. Though
they knew it would bring great hardship,
the Czechoslovaks were ready, relieved
that surrender had been avoided.
Days later, Hitler called the Munich
Conference for 29 September. He sent no
invitation to Prague.
Aftermath of the Munich Conference
The Munich Conference lasted less than
a day. Only low-level Czechoslovak
representatives were asked to attend, and
even they were not admitted to the
proceedings but were confined to the
British delegation’s hotel. From the
outset, Chamberlain and Daladier
conceded that the Sudetenland should be
handed over to the Reich. Occupation
was to begin a mere 24 hours after the
conference ended. Within 10 days, the
German army was to occupy a swathe of
territory that had been part of the old
Kingdom of Bohemia for many centuries.
Czechoslovakia lost a third of its territory
and population, and an even larger share
of its heavy industry and power plants.
All of its fortification barrier was gone,
making it indefensible.
Panicking refugees numbering in the
tens of thousands poured into railway
stations: Czechs, Jews, democratic
Germans who knew they were a target.
Many were forced to leave home within
hours, abandoning all belongings. Some
were shot at by Henlein’s paramilitaries,
or were seized and deported to concentration camps. Within weeks, Gestapo officers had spread throughout the annexed
areas. In November, the Kristallnacht
pogroms swept through the Sudetenland. The Czechoslovaks attempted to
sell their now useless weapons stockpiles,
but their French and British partners
only dithered and there were no buyers.
The Munich Agreement had been the
final milestone in appeasement: the fatal
policy of bowing to the German and Italian dictators. Reneging on the treaty only
six months later, in March 1939 Hitler
ordered his troops to march on Prague
and take over the rest of the country.
On his return from Munich,
Chamberlain had waved a piece of paper
signed by Hitler, and proclaimed that
what had been achieved was “peace for
our time”. After 12 months, that time was
over. On 3 September, two days after the
Nazis invaded Poland, Britain and France
declared war on Germany.
PE Caquet is a historian and author of The
Bell of Treason: The 1938 Munich Agreement in
Czechoslovakiaa (Profile Books, 2018)
Refugees from the Reich
A Czech woman holds her grandchild in Prague’s Masaryk Stadium, which housed thousands
of refugees forced from their homes during the German annexation of the Sudetenland in
1938. Many were forced to abandon their possessions as they fled the approaching
German forces; some were shot at by paramilitaries, or were seized and deported to
concentration camps
Books, exhibitions, films and more
“The EU is dysfunctional,
and I’ve always been a
sceptic. But it’s all we have”
Simon Jenkins’ new book, A Short History of Europe, offers a concise
overview of the successes and failures of the continent across centuries.
He met fellow historian Kathleen Burk to discuss these highs and lows
CULTURE The Conversation
“There’s no real reason
that Europe should be
a separate continent
from Asia”
history’ of Europe?
Simon Jenkins: Because I didn’t have time to write a long
one! But it’s also because I don’t regard myself as – and I’m
careful here – a ‘serious’ historian. I’m a popular historian –
a journalist by background. When I did the first book in this
series [2011’s A Short History of England], I was fascinated to see
if there were actually any virtues in such a book being short.
It came to seem to me that the exercise of editing and
excision, of leaving things out, was a serious activity in a
history of any sort. That’s different to, say, the [20th-century
British historian] Lewis Namier approach, in which you put
everything in, leaving the reader to do the editing and decide
what’s important. I do also think that shortness is a virtue in
itself in this day and age, when people like things brief. I can
see why short books sell.
The development of Europe, since it began two millennia ago,
has been dominated by the struggle over land. This relentlessness fascinates me: it was peculiarly violent, and that violence
was the dominant factor in people’s lives.
I was also fascinated by the efforts that Europe has made
over the past two or three hundred years to stop being violent.
Europe achieved this extraordinary supremacy over the world
– European empires dominated two-thirds of the globe at one
point – before blowing it all in the horrors of the 20th century.
Out of those horrors came this quest for some sort of union,
which we’re in the middle of now, and it’s through that
apparent triumph over the history of violence and horrors
that Europe is, in a sense, achieving some sort of atonement.
You could argue, though, that one of the reasons Europe was
so peaceful in the 19th century was that its nations simply
directed their violence elsewhere, couldn’t you?
You write that yours is “a conventional history”, based
Yes, and you’d be right. There are all kinds of ways in which we
on power and led by great men – and, of course, the odd
suppress, overcome and cope with violence: nation-building,
woman. Why write it this way? Was it because your intended
diplomacy, and so on. But the fact is that, in the 19th century,
market would easily recognise and accept such an approach?
European states became very powerful and technologically
Yes. When you use the word ‘history’, people think of kings,
more advanced than others elsewhere – and were therefore
battles, and dates, and they do so for a good
in a position to conquer them. I’m not a defender
Frederick II (the Great)
reason. As in a newspaper, history is mostly about
of empire, but there was nothing we did to other
of Prussia, painted when
those things, along with diseases and divorces. So crown prince in 1736 – one people that could be compared to what we did to
of many young leaders who ourselves in the Thirty Years’ War – or, for that
it does appeal to people.
wars of conquest, matter, the First or Second World War. Europe’s
But, much more importantly, I’m trying to tell
notes Simon Jenkins
the story of Europe, which is a political entity. It’s
capacity for violence against itself was supreme.
not a geographical entity, really: there’s no real
reason why Europe should be a separate continent
You write about the teenagers in the ancient and
from Asia, for instance, other than the nature of
medieval worlds who went out and fought wars because
territorial aggrandisement and the politics of land.
they saw it as a great thing to do. You could perhaps say
I believe – and this is possibly controversial – that
– albeit not entirely seriously – that there has been more
all history begins with politics, and with the battle
peace of late because statesmen have become older.
over land and who should occupy it.
Yes, I do think that. I hadn’t realised until
I wrote this book that they had all been young.
A key theme of your book seems to be that
I suddenly thought: “yet another war caused by
people are inherently violent. How did you
a 21-year-old”. Alexander I, Edward III,
come to reach that view?
Alexander the Great, Frederick the
Kathleen Burk: Why did you decide to write a ‘short
Pope Urban II at Cluny Abbey,
France, pictured in a
12th-century illustration.
The popes had “a remarkable
ability, through the power of
faith, to take over from the
Roman empire and provide
a sort of glue for barbarian
Europe”, says Simon Jenkins
Great… they were all young men. They became most
belligerent when the hormones were jangling and they were
getting up, showing off and being virile young men. I do find it
to be a curious feature of Europe’s history – and it’s related, of
course, to kingship. People tended to die young, and therefore
their sons were even younger when they took power.
I was also fascinated by the fact that, when each war came
to an end, any so-called peace tended to last two generations
– for 50 or 60 years – before the next war would come along,
almost like clockwork. That suggests to me that the inclination
toward violence has a lot to do with the memory of horror and
the memory of war, not just a matter of how politics works.
How important were wars in the development of Europe
throughout its history?
As Frederick the Great said, the nature of power is to want to
expand. Europe had very confined borders, lots of people, and
growing populations that rubbed up against each other. All of
this meant that nations ended up fighting.
I was very careful to not be Anglocentric in writing this
book, but it was difficult in some senses because Britain’s
history in Europe is very different from that of other countries.
I believe that’s because we are an island, and therefore don’t rub
up against our neighbours in the same way as other nations do.
The wars that Britain has fought in Europe since the 17th
century were, on the whole, accidental wars in which we were
almost mercenaries for other people, rather than wars of
aggrandisement. Non-intervention in Europe has been pretty
close to an ideology in British foreign policy through history.
How do you fit the papacy into this story?
One of the problems with writing a short history of Europe is
that you end up with lots of easy villains: the late Roman emperors, for instance, or the French monarchy, who made what
might be called wrong decisions for something like 300 years.
But then I came to the popes. Whatever one thinks of
Catholicism, their capacity for causing suffering and getting
things wrong was extraordinary. Yet they did have a remarkable ability, through the power of faith, to take over from the
Roman empire and provide a sort of glue for barbarian Europe.
The papacy provided discipline and gave people a sense of
loyalty, secular as well as religious, to a cause. The papacy was
a remarkable phenomenon up until the 13th century, when
various megalomanic popes lost the plot.
Continuing with the idea of religion as a glue, how much
emphasis would you put on the growth of Islam as a factor
that caused Europe to coalesce?
Before writing this book, I hadn’t really realised the completeness of the Islamic incursion around the Mediterranean in
the eighth century. Almost none of their conquests reverted
to Christianity, and they penetrated right through almost to
Vienna and up through Spain and into France. They were relatively tolerant – they did not demand that people changed their
religion or burned Christians – and they were very successful.
North Africa and the Levant converted to Islam.
The consequence was that Christendom shrank by about a
third. Islam was very important to European history, because it
defined Europe. It was after that incursion that Europe decided
it no longer included the eastern or southern Mediterranean.
Why do you think Islam was less violent than Christianity?
Do you think that’s one of the reasons why it was a bit more
permanently successful?
I don’t know the answer to that; all religions change over
time, of course, not least Christianity. But, certainly, the early
incursions were tolerant. When they arrived in Damascus, for
instance, Muslims shared the church with Christians. They
were not interested in conquering faith. The result was that the
Coptic Christians in Egypt, for example, loved the Muslims,
who told them they could worship as they wished, whereas the
church in Constantinople was endlessly excommunicating
them and decrying them as dissidents and heretics.
You refer to the “growth of authoritarian populism”. Does
this have a history in Europe, or is it a recent phenomenon?
European states that emerged in the 16th and 17th centuries
were used to having kings. Kings were useful, because they
CULTURE The Conversation
An ornately decorated
dome in the Great Mosque
in Córdoba (begun 784), one
of the wonders of Moorish
architecture in Spain.
“Islam was very important
to European history,” says
Simon Jenkins, “because
it defined Europe”
The siege of Bautzen, then in
Bohemia, by Saxon troops in
1620 during the Thirty Years’
War. This far-reaching
conflict felled governments
and led to large-scale
starvation, unrest and the
deaths of one-third of the
population of Europe
“A greater proportion of the
population died in the Thirty
Years’ War than in the wars
of the 20th century”
were a fount of identity and loyalty, and because they defended
you against your enemies. People became congenitally attuned
to having strong leaders: you saw it strongly, I’m afraid, in the
attitudes of even British people to Mussolini and Hitler in the
1930s. The idea of a strong leader had tremendous appeal.
Even today, when we are supposedly conditioned and
programmed to prefer some kind of democracy, the concept of
the strong leader comes to the fore when democracy seems to
be erring, or failing, or not delivering as promised. What I’m
more puzzled by is why it appears to be so much stronger in
eastern Europe than western Europe. Slavs seem to have a
natural tendency to seek a strong leader,
whereas the British, French and Germans
seem to be more sceptical. When someone
in those countries gets too much power,
the people tend to turn against them.
Do you think that’s also programmed
into Russian DNA? Were they so tired
of being invaded by various hordes that
they decided – or their leaders decided
– that what a disparate, large and
threatened empire such as Russia needed
was a strong leader?
It was certainly programmed into the
DNA of Russia’s leaders, yes. It was very
explicit: rulers including Peter the Great
and Catherine the Great all stated that the
rationalism of figures such as [French
enlightenment thinker] Voltaire, and
possibly even democracy, was fine – but
not for Russia. It was so big, as they saw it,
that it needed a strong leader and strong
central government.
You suggest that all of the aspects we
have discussed – including the role of
violence and the formation of the nation
state – brought the continent of Europe
close to self-destruction in the 20th century. Yet a greater
proportion of the population died in the Thirty Years’
War between 1618 and 1648 than in the wars of the 20th
century. So why give pride of place to that recent century
rather than to the 17th?
The Thirty Years’ War was so horrific because it was at the end
of the Middle Ages; when government collapsed, there were
huge numbers of deaths from starvation, people went marauding, and so on. So I think the parallel is not very helpful.
Just why the wars of the 20th century were so cataclysmic is
a much more difficult question to answer. Some people say it’s
the nature of the weaponry: in the First
World War it was almost impossible for a
land army to win, because machine guns
were so effective. In the Second World
War you had air power, which was useful
up to a point but whose massive destructiveness was wilful and meaningless.
The other problem in the Second World
War was that you had two very powerful
dictatorial regimes that were able to
mobilise reasonably modern economies to
the purpose of war, so that conflict just
“Persian empires
had to fight itself out until it was finished
– across a bigger scale, and a much wider
were very powerful
territory, than the Thirty Years’ War.
right through to the
rise of Islam, and
were always knocking
on Europe’s door. Had
they overwhelmed
the Greeks, it would
have led to a very
different Europe”
Hear more of Jenkins and Burk’s
discussion on our biweekly podcast
You cite the great treaties of Europe –
Augsburg, Westphalia, Utrecht, Vienna,
Versailles – and say that they kept the
peace for only two generations. Why
should current arrangements prove any
more durable?
That’s a very good question! A pessimist
would say they think they won’t, and an
optimist would say they hope they do.
So we’re back to faith, are we?
Well, it’s not entirely faith. If there’s any
CULTURE The Conversation
Simon Jenkins:
“Britain has always
gone in and out of
Europe: we engage, we
disengage, we have
nothing to do with it,
and then we find we
have a noble reason to
get involved again”
duty incumbent upon a historian, it’s to try to work out if
during which the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 as a time of
anything can be learned from history. I do think it’s possible to
unbelievable optimism. Between 1990 and 2000 history was at
discern, in the point I make about the recurring pattern of two
an end, liberal democracy had triumphed; all these things were
generations of peace, the aversions that lead people to rely on
being said – but we didn’t notice, sitting at the eastern border
diplomacy more than they did before.
of Europe, an utterly humiliated major nuclear power: Russia.
My mother, who was a student at the end of the interwar
And we did humiliate them, and we did drive Nato’s boundary
period and very politically active on the left, always said that no eastward into what they regarded as their territory. That was a
one would ever understand how people approached diplomacy
very dangerous thing to do, and I believe that if anything goes
between the wars. She said that it’s impossible to imagine,
wrong in my lifetime it will be caused by that decision.
when all you could remember was the First World War, why
anyone would do it again. When [British prime minister]
What are your thoughts on the future of Europe?
Neville Chamberlain came back from meeting Adolf Hitler in
I’ve always been a sceptic of the EU. I was not in favour of
1938, 90% of the nation were cheering him on, because everyBritain joining, because I think it’s a dysfunctional, ill-formed,
one feared another war and he’d apparently stopped it. Six
protectionist body that is not serving the interests of Europe
months later the situation was very different, but at that point
well. That’s my scepticism.
in time the horror of war was foremost in people’s minds.
My positivity about it is based on the fact that it’s all we’ve
How far you can see that echoed in modern diplomatic
got. Looking at the break-up of Yugoslavia [in the early 1990s],
relations between states, I’m not sure. All I know is that on the
I wonder if it may have been possible to stop the violence if the
few occasions since the Second World
EU had been more engaged. So I have
War when things became very dangerfaith in unions: they are our only
ous, largely due to the incompetence or
defence against the resumption of war.
age of Russian leaders during the Cold
That’s why, over the centuries,
War, we pulled back from the brink.
Britain has been sucked back in to
Simon Jenkins
I think that’s because people were so
European interventions designed to
is a journalist and author.
horrified by the prospect of a nuclear
avoid open conflict – most conspicuousA Short History of Europe:
exchange that they couldn’t bring
ly in the 18th-century War of Spanish
From Pericles to Putin
themselves to instigate whatever process
Succession, but also against Napoleon
will be published by
was necessary to precipitate it.
and again against Hitler. In my mind,
Viking in November
We survived those crises, and others
those have been noble interventions by
since – even the approach of hot war
Britain in a good cause: that of a sort
along parts of the Russian border. I can’t
of united Europe. These were genuine
Kathleen Burk
believe that the sequence of events necesattempts by good people to find peace.
is a historian and
sary to produce another war on anything
Britain has always gone in and out
like the scale of the last one will happen.
of Europe: we engage, we disengage,
is The Lion and the Eagle:
But perhaps that’s an act of faith!
we have nothing to do with Europe
The Interaction of the
and then we find we have a noble reason
British and American
But we are two generations on now...
to get involved again, or we’re sucked
Empires, 1783–1972
The big mistakes are not always the ones
back in. We’re part of European culture,
(Bloomsbury, 2018)
you think they were. I remember the era
and we can’t avoid that.
Kathleen Burk: “You
could argue that one
of the reasons Europe
was so peaceful in
the 19th century
was that its nations
simply directed their
violence elsewhere”
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This striking image depicts a vast
sunspot – a temporary darkening
on the surface of the sun – that
dwarfed the Earth. It was painted
by Scottish artist and engineer
James Nasmyth, who observed it
in July 1860, based on sketches
made at his telescope. It’s among
the items on display at a new exhibition that chronicles humanity’s
changing perceptions of our closest
star, from ancient solar creation
myths to later scientific efforts
to analyse this huge astral body.
Featuring artefacts from locations
including China, Denmark and
the polar north, the collection will
be displayed at London’s Science
Museum this autumn before heading to Manchester next summer.
The Sun: Living with our Star, from
6 October at the Science Museum, London
One of the major figures behind the
Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann lived
under an assumed identity following
the Second World War, escaping to
Argentina in 1950. Despite attempts
by so-called ‘Nazi hunters’ and
members of Israel’s secret service
to track him down, he lived free in
Buenos Aires until his capture in 1960.
The story of these efforts is the subject
of a new film starring Star Wars
actor Oscar Isaac as Mossad agent
Peter Malkin, and Sir Ben Kingsley
as Eichmann, who was tried in Israel
and executed for crimes against
humanity two years later.
, from 14 September (UK),
other release dates vary
Jeanne Mammen’s 1930
painting Brüderstrasse,
depicting women working
as prostitutes, is among
the paintings in a new
exhibition depicting life
in Weimar Germany
Although the phrase ‘magic realism’
is now associated with Latin American
literature, it was first used by German
photographer and art critic Franz Roh in
1925 to describe a style mixing realistic
detail with a celebration of the fantastical and dreamlike. It’s this meaning of
the term that lends its name to a new
exhibition at Tate Modern, chronicling
the art of the Weimar Republic.
Both elements of that definition
emerge strongly through the collection:
Berlin street scenes are juxtaposed with
vibrantly hued landscapes and intricate,
off-kilter portraits. When the Nazis
seized power in 1933, they labelled this
art ‘degenerate’, launching a mocking
exhibition of its form and skill. Viewed
here in their own right, the pieces reflect
the new ways of living in the years after
the end of the First World War, the
wider political economic instability of
the period, and a fervent anti-militarism.
Among featured works are those by
leading names including Otto Dix and
Max Beckmann, many of whose careers
were cut short by the rise of Nazism. If
you can’t make it to the exhibition, look
out for the companion book featuring
highlights chosen by its curators.
Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany,
1919-33, until 14 July 2019
at Tate Modern, London
A 14th-century relief
of Armenian prince Amir
Hasan hunting, from
a new exhibition charting
the nation’s history
Nestled between Turkey, Georgia, Iran and Azerbaijan, Armenia
has a long and tumultuous history scarred by invasion and
bloodshed. Yet it’s a history that, as a new exhibition at New
York’s Met Museum shows, also yielded beautiful, often intricate,
works of art. Artefacts dating as far back as the fourth century
AD reflect the country’s importance in international trade, its
Christian piety and, above all, its distinctive national identity.
Armenia! from 22 September at The Met Fifth Avenue, New York City
E Agenda
Six books for autumn
As always, a bumper crop of global history books
will appear on shelves in the final months of the
year. Here’s our pick of titles to look out for
Europe, 1950–2017
by Ian Kershaw
Allen Lane, 704
pages, £30, out now
This woven leopard, part of an exhibition about
global dissent, hints at criticism aimed at the
dictator of the Democratic Republic of Congo
A graffiti-daubed brick from ancient
Babylonia; a 16th-century salt cellar
suggesting Catholic ideas at a time
when its worship was banned; a piece
of fabric (pictured) emblazoned with
the phrase “the skin of the leopard
is beautiful, but inside is war”, perhaps
serving as veiled criticism of the younglooking yet brutal Congolese dictator
Mobutu Sese Seko. These objects,
all representing individual acts of
defiance, feature in a new exhibition
at London’s British Museum exploring
themes of rebellion and dissent.
Curated by Ian Hislop, editor of
Private Eye magazine, it’s a celebration
of subversion and satire – some brazen,
some understated – throughout history
and around the world.
I Object: Ian Hislop’s Search for Dissent, from
6 September at The British Museum, London
Master storyteller
Ian Kershaw turns
his attention to the
innovations and
insecurities of the
post-Second World
War era, as politics and technology led to
increasing integration but also nationalist
sentiment and financial instability. Sequel
to his 2015 book To Hell and Back: Europe,
1914-1949, this is a truly epic account.
Rome: Eternal
by Ferdinand
Head of Zeus, 648
pages, £30, Sept
comprising a
series of vignettes
are in vogue, and
here the format is
applied to the city of Rome. From its
ancient foundation to the Second World
War, via Gauls, ghettos and gladiators, its
22 chapters focus on themes of individuals, myths and beliefs.
The Kremlin
by David Reynolds
and Vladimir
Yale, 660 pages,
£25, October
Featuring some
of the hundreds of
letters exchanged
by Stalin, Churchill
and Roosevelt during the Second World
War alongside trenchant commentary and
analysis, this British-Russian collaboration offers valuable insights into both the
conflict and the minds of three of the key
leaders of the period.
An Epic Tragedy,
by Max Hastings
William Collins,
752 pages, £30,
Another big book
from one of
history’s big
authors, this
weighty study of the conflict in Vietnam
draws on both new archival research and
oral testimony. It also drives home just
how much the Vietnamese lost in
decades of brutal, drawn-out war.
Gandhi 1914–1948
by Ramachandra
Allen Lane, 1,152
pages, £40, Sept
This new biography
charts the years
following Gandhi’s
departure from
England for India,
where he led the
nation to independence from British rule.
Mixing character study with social and
political history, it’s another expansive
book from the author of India after Gandhi.
The Jamestown
by Jennifer Potter
Atlantic, 384 pages,
£20, October
What do you do
when your brand
new colony has all
the men and land
it needs, but not
enough women?
The solution of the Virginia Company in
the 1600s was to advertise for wives –
making a tidy profit on the women who
journeyed across the Atlantic to start
new lives. Their experiences form the
centrepiece of a remarkable story.
Stories and sights from global history
In the footsteps of…
Edward Lear’s
journey through
Ottoman Europe
In the mid-19th century, the nonsense poet
and landscape painter set out along the ancient
Via Egnatia across the Ottoman-ruled lands of
northern Greece and Albania. Jenny Uglow
retraces his peregrinations
The Church of St John the
Theologian in Ohrid, Macedonia.
Lear proclaimed of his visit: “Of
many days passed in many lands,
in wandering amid noble scenery,
I can recall none more variously
delightful and impressive”
JOURNEYS In the footsteps of Edward Lear’s journey through Ottoman Europe
A macaw, painted by
Edward Lear c1831.
His parrot illustrations
brought him renown at
a young age
The only open route out of the city
led to the west, and Lear adapted his
itinerary accordingly. He plotted a route
west along the ancient Via Egnatia – the
Roman road, originally constructed in
the second century BC, that linked
Byzantium with Rome via Thessaloniki
and the Adriatic ports of Durázzo (now
Durrës, Albania) and Brindisi (Italy), on
the Appian Way. He did not know how
far west he might get, instead being
resigned to “put yourself, as a predestinarian might say, calmly into the
dice-box of small events, and be shaken
out whenever circumstances may ordain:
only go, and as soon as you can”.
Lear’s journey was pioneering; in the
journal of his travels published in 1851,
he noted that “of parts of Acroceraunia...
and of scenes in the neighbourhood of
Akhridha... the Author believes himself
to be the only Englishman who has
published any account”.
Unlikely explorer
At the age of 36, Lear was an unlikely
explorer. He had made his name as a
natural-history painter in his teens and,
though his first Book of Nonsense
had been published in 1846
(anonymously), his ambition
was to be a landscape
painter. Having lived
in Rome since 1837,
he roamed the
remoter regions of the
Abruzzi, Calabria and
Sicily, and in 1848 he
was driven from Italy by the
threat of revolution.
In the Ottoman realm,
though, he faced a more
hostile landscape.
Autumn was coming,
and he knew neither Æ
Lear shared a deck with a Turkish harem
“who covered the floor with a diversity
of robes, pink, blue, chocolate and amber”
Edward Lear:
Painter and poet
Edward Lear (1812–88) was born in
Holloway, London. His father was a
stockbroker but in 1816 defaulted on the
London Stock Exchange. The family was
forced to leave home, and Edward was
largely brought up by his much older
sister Ann. Chronically short-sighted
and suffering from bronchitis, asthma
and epilepsy, he went to school for only
a few miserable months. He did, though,
learn artistic skills from his sisters.
In 1830 Lear drew parrots in the
recently opened London Zoo. His brilliant
pictures, published in Illustrations of the
Family of Psittacidae, or Parrots (1832), won
immediate acclaim. At the age of just 18
he was elected to the Linnean Society,
and illustrated the works of naturalists
including renowned ornithologist John
Gould. Over the next few years he drew the
menagerie of Edward Smith Stanley, Earl
of Derby and president of the Zoological
Society of London, at his Knowsley estate
near Liverpool, where Lear also began
writing limericks for the children in the
nursery. In 1846 he was persuaded to
publish them in A Book of Nonsense, initially attributed to ‘Derry down Derry’.
In 1837, Lear moved to Rome in hope
of recovering his health, and lived abroad
for most of the rest of his life. His friends
included the pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt, who influenced Lear’s
landscape paintings, and the poet Alfred
Tennyson and his wife Emily. Lear found
success with his lithographs and travel
writing, and during the 1850s his paintings
appeared in major exhibitions. As well as
his journeys through Greece and Albania,
he travelled widely in Italy and also visited India, Egypt and the Levant.
Long troubled by physical and mental
ill-health, Lear died in San Remo, Italy,
on 29 January 1888.
n 9 September 1848,
Edward Lear sailed from
Constantinople to Salonica
(the port city today called
Thessaloniki, in what’s now north-east
Greece). Aboard the Austrian steamer
Ferdinando he shared the deck with the
Austrian consul’s family and a Turkish
harem “who entirely cover the floor with
a diversity of robes, pink, blue, chocolate
and amber; pea, sea, olive, bottle, pale,
and dark green”; when they rose, they
“moved like a bed of tulips in a breeze”.
As the ship chugged away from the
Ottoman capital, he watched the “towers
of wonderful Stamboul first pale and distinct in the light of the rising moon, and
then glittering and lessening on the calm
horizon” as they faded into the distance.
If that image seems romantic, Lear’s
subsequent travels were far grittier. He
had set out from his home in Italy earlier
that year, sailing via Malta to Corfu
and southern Greece. From Salonica
he planned to explore ancient sites in
Ottoman-ruled Macedonia (now
northern Greece) with a friend, Charles
Church, who had departed already for
the monasteries of Mount Athos.
But on arriving in Salonica, Lear’s
plans were thrown into disarray
by an outbreak
of cholera: the
monks had barred
access to the
Athos peninsula
and the way south
was blocked by
a cordon sanitaire
of closed villages.
2 October 1848
Lear bemoans heav y rain that
hinders drawing in Skódra,
since “nothing in the world
could be more picturesque
than the ferry and its capoted
29 September 1848
Lear is happy to leave
Tirana, “quitting its
horrible khan” with
its “pigsty dormitor y”
20 September 1848
The traveller admires
the “picturesque
streets” of Akhridha
mber 18
17 Septe es in Monastír,
Lear arr admires
where he dingly
the “exce e” bazaars
13 September 1848
Lear rides west from
Salonica with his
‘dragoman’ Giorgio
26 September 1848
While sketching at
Elbasán, Lear is assailed
by a ‘Dervish’ who
shouts “Shaitán scroo!”
– “The Devil draws!”
23 October 1848
Lear is woken before
dawn in Dukádhes by “the
most piercing screams”
– the wailing lament of a
newly widowed woman
31 October 1848
At Tepeléne, Lear is disappointed
to find “a dreary, blank scene of
desolation” where the domain of
the great Ottoman ruler
Ali Pasha once stood
12 November 1848
Lear sails from Préveza
to Lefkada, ending his first
sojourn in Ottoman Europe
JOURNEYS In the footsteps of Edward Lear’s journey through Ottoman Europe
the language nor the customs. However,
he hired as “dragoman, cook, valet,
interpreter and guide” Giorgio, a man
from Smyrna (modern Izmir) who spoke
ten languages.
On 13 September, bearing a Teskeré
(provincial passport), he set out from
Salonica on horseback. Following a
Soorudjí (post-boy), who sported a
“jacket with strange sky-blue embroideries, a short kilt, and other arrangements
highly artistical”, Lear rode into a world
of birds: “Countless kestrels hovering in
the air or rocking on tall thistles;
hoopoes, rollers, myriads of jackdaws,
great broad-winged falcons soaring
above, and beautiful grey-headed ones
sitting composedly close to the roadside
as we passed.”
His first proper stop, after four days’
ride, was Monastír (modern-day Bitola,
today in the country of Macedonia), a
thriving barrack town notable for its
“exceedingly handsome” bazaars and
cosmopolitan population. The nearby
ruins of the original city, called Heraclea
Lyncestis and founded by Philip II of
Macedon (Alexander the Great’s father),
were still to be excavated at the time of
Lear’s visit. Even so, “Interest and beauty
in profusion, O ye artists! Are to be found
in the city of Monastír,” Lear wrote –
though his attempts to draw here were
interrupted by crowds who mobbed him,
one man wrenching away his book with
the admonition “Yok, Yok! ” (No, no!)
From Monastír he travelled west
across high, snowy ridges and deep
chasms. I drove across these mountains
many years ago, along dusty tracks
flanked on one side by cliffs, on the
other by precipices. We had a hairraising encounter with bandits, but also
met kindness: at one mountain-top
village a sheep was slaughtered for our
supper. Today, this road is a proper
highway – free from bandits! – but its
wild beauty still astonishes travellers.
Descending first past Peupli
(probably Lake Prespa), he ascended
“up the steepest of heights, climbing it by
People who saw Lear
drawing rushed into
houses, slamming
the doors behind
them; boys whistled
through their fingers
a constantly winding staircase-road”
then continued to the waterfront fortress
of Akhridha (modern Ohrid), another
historic town conquered by Philip II and,
later, Romans. Lear was thrilled by the
“exquisite street scenes”, the shimmering
lake, the beech trees on the heights, the
men in their brightly coloured furtrimmed coats. However, his joy was
tempered by an outburst of “Shaitán! ”
(Devil!) yelled by a shepherd who
encountered Lear sketching the castle.
Frightful paths
Winding next along “frightful paths at
the edge of clay precipices and chasms”
and crossing the formidable river
Skumbi (Shkumbin) to Elbasán, Lear
entered the ancient Illyria, the country
of the Gheghes people, and now part of
Albania. (Gheg is one of the two major
Albanian dialects; the official language is
based on the other dialect, Tosk, spoken
south of the Shkumbin.)
He was determined to sketch as he
went, but Albania – part of the Ottoman
empire since the 15th century – was, like
the places he’d already visited on this
journey, a Muslim country. The Prophet
decreed that those who make images of
living creatures would be punished for
imitating the creation of Allah. So it was
that among the olive groves of Elbasán,
people who saw Lear drawing rushed
into houses, slamming the doors behind
them; boys whistled through their fingers like “the butcher-boys in England”.
The idea of sketching while a great
crowd whistled was so absurd, Lear
wrote, that he could not help laughing,
“an impulse the Gheghes seemed to
sympathise with, as one and all shrieked
with delight, and the ramparts resounded with hilarious merriment. Alas! This
was of no long duration, for one of those
tiresome Dervishes – in whom, with
their green turbans, Elbasán is rich –
soon came up, and yelled “Shaitán scroo!
Shaitán! ” [The devil draws!] in my ears
with all his force; seizing my book also,
with an awful frown.”
The hostility he encountered was not
merely religious. “We will not be written
down,” people insisted – perhaps Lear
was a Russian spy, sent to take notes so
that the sultan could sell them to the
Russian emperor? Russian ambitions in
the Balkans were already the subject of
rumour, even five years before the start
of the Crimean War. And the Gheghes
were already suffering in the aftermath
of rebellions, brutally repressed, against
Turkish rule in preceding years. The
atmosphere, Lear thought, was like the
lanes of the tanners and butchers in
the bazaar: “dogs, blood, and carcasses
filling up the whole street and sickening
one’s very heart”.
Though he carried a letter of introduction from the sultan, Lear preferred
to stay in khans rather than with the
local nobles. In these ramshackle roadside inns, horses were stabled below and
travellers slept in a gallery above; human
accommodation varied from clean and
simple to “the most rotten of garrets”, as
Lear described his next stop at Tirana:
“O khan of Tirana! Rats, mice,
cockroaches, and all lesser vermin were
there. Huge flimsy cobwebs, hanging in
festoons above my head; big frizzly
moths, bustling into my eyes and face,
for the holes representing windows I
could close but imperfectly with sacks
and baggage.” Peering through a chink
in the wall, he observed a “maniac
dervish... performing the most wonderful evolutions and gyrations”.
As he headed north, beyond Króia
(Krujë), the autumn deluge arrived: “It is
half past four A.M. and torrents of rain
are falling.” Fed by the deluge, the river
Lear’s sketch of Monastír
(now Bitola, today in the
country of Macedonia), a
thriving barrack town he
lauded for its “exceedingly
handsome” bazaars
An early 19th-century
illustration of Albanians.
Lear noted that Albanian
Gheghes women wore “a
magnificence of costume
almost beyond belief”
The restored walls of
the fortress of Ohrid,
developed by Tsar
Samuel of Bulgaria
around the end of the
10th century. Lear
recalled “the fortress,
towering over all the
town of Akhridha and
commanding an equally
good view of lake,
plain, and mountain”
A minaret dominates the
Albanian town of Krujë
(Króia) in the rugged region
north of Tirana. Lear passed
en route to Lake Skadar, on
the border with Montenegro
JOURNEYS In the footsteps of Edward Lear’s journey through Ottoman Europe
foamed beneath the bridge at Skódra
(Shkodër, near the modern border with
Montenegro), a trading port on Lake
Skódra (Skadar) where the merchants
spoke Venetian dialect as well as Greek
and Turkish, and which had a substantial
Christian population, though both
Christian and Muslim women were
veiled. Lear was fascinated, noting that,
beneath their veils, Gheghes women
wore “a magnificence of costume almost
beyond belief”.
In Skódra the mood was dark, as
an Italian friar explained: “vendette,
nasconderie, sospetti, incendie” – revenge,
intrigue, suspicions, incendiaries. In 1848,
when all Europe was convulsed with
revolutionary fever, anti-Turkish feelings
ran high. Turning south, Lear traversed
the coastal plain stretching from the
peninsula of Durázzo (Durrës) to the bay
of Avlóna. Here he hired a local to steer
him over the crags of Acroceraunia, north
and across the water from Corfu (where he
later lived for several years). Beyond the
mountains, in the region of Khimára
(Himarë), lay a hidden gulf, “shut out as
it stood by iron walls of mountain,
surrounded by sternest features of savage
scenery, rock and chasm, precipice and
torrent, a more fearful prospect and more
chilling to the very blood I never beheld”.
A frantic harmony
In the khan of Dukádhes (Dukat),
‘gipsy’ music rose to a frantic harmony.
Next morning Lear woke to a piercing
scream – a lament for a murdered local
Lear woke to a piercing scream – a lament for
a murdered man, taken up by wives, sisters,
daughters, echoing through the mountains
Jenny Uglow is a
writer and editor. Her
latest book is Mr Lear:
A Life of Art and
Nonsense (Faber &
Faber, 2017)
The 18th-century Mesi Bridge
near Shkodër (known as
Skódra at the time of Lear’s
visit), the northernmost point
of his Albanian wanderings
man, taken up by wives, daughters and
sisters, echoing through the mountains.
“Daybreak and wailing; wailing at night,
wailing at morn. Shrieks and Khimára
will ever be united in my memory.”
Lear was jolted, too, by the sight of
women carrying heavy burdens up the
mountains, while their men walked.
He was told that there were no mules in
Khimára and “although certainly far inferior to mules, [women] are really better
than asses, or even horses”. Everywhere,
he found degrees of violence. The Khimáriots had never recovered from the
ravages of the regional Ottoman rule Ali
Pasha, the ‘Lion of Yannina’, two generations earlier. Byron, Lear’s hero, had
met Ali in his “marble-paved pavilion”
at Tepeléne (Tepelenë) in 1809, seduced
by the glamour while recognising his
brutalities. But now, as Lear wrote: “The
poet is no more; the host is beheaded,
and his family nearly extinct; the palace
is burned, and levelled with the ground.”
He found this empty palace the most
affecting place he had seen on his travels.
Through cold November rain, Lear
trekked back to Yannina (Ioannina)
and then down to the coast at Préveza to
take a boat to Lefkada. The following
spring he returned, heading east through
the rugged region of Epirus to Mount
Olympus, and then wandered slowly
back to Corfu.
In his Journal of a Landscape Painter
in Albania, &c (1851), Lear described
Albania’s soaring ranges and busy
towns, its people, costumes and song
– but he wrote also of the defiance of
tyranny. In a time of revolutions,
Albania had shown him that the
violence of despots would never be
forgotten, nor
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Noodles: a history
How the stringy, starchy staple
evolved to underpin empires
Africa’s golden age
Explore the continent during its medieval
heyday of trade, culture and art
A year in pictures: 1967
War in the Middle East, peace
(and love and music) at Monterey and
the world’s first heart transplant
Never miss an issue – turn to page 24
to subscribe today
Global City Cusco Peru
of the
This spectacular city
high in the Peruvian
Andes boasts a
fascinating fusion of
pre-Columbian and
Spanish colonial
heritage. Paul
Bloomfield explores
Cusco, epicentre of
the Incan empire
Paul Bloomfield
is a travel and
heritage writer
tand in Cusco’s central
square and the city’s contradictory nature quickly becomes clear. In the Plaza de
Armas, graced by huge Spanish churches
and colonial arcades, you’ll encounter
colourfully clad indigenous women leading baby alpacas around a bronze statue
of the empire-building Inca Pachacutec
(reigned 1438–c1471). This square was
– in a larger form – the heart of the Incan
capital founded, according to legend, by
Manco Cápac in the 12th century at the
qosq’o (navel) of the world.
You’ll see overlapping layers of the
city’s history in the Catedral dominating
the plaza’s north-eastern side. Like other
colonial structures, it was built (from
1559) on the site of an earlier Incan monument – Kiswarkancha, palace of the
Inca Viracocha – using cut stones
pilfered from the fortress of Sacsayhuamán to the north of the city. Behind its
Baroque exterior hang paintings by
indigenous artists of the Cusco School,
blending European styles with local
elements – spot the roast cuy (guinea
pig) in Marcos Zapata’s Last Supper.
To see the most striking colonial
larceny, stroll south-east from Plaza de
Armas along Loreto and onto Pampa de
Castillo, lined with simple restaurants
serving typical local fare – this is the
place to try cuy, chicharones (crispy fried
pork chunks), trucha (trout) or lomo
saltado (stir-fried beef loin). Beyond
stands the church and convent of Santo
Domingo, built on Qorikancha, a major
Incan complex. Its Temple of the Sun
was reputedly the wealthiest in Tawantinsuyu, the vast Incan empire that once
stretched from Colombia to Chile.
Beyond a Baroque facade, excavated
remains give a sense of the complex’s
scale; according to the early 17th-century
chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega, the
temple walls were clad with 700 solid
gold sheets. The Spanish reputedly took
three months to melt down all the gold
they stripped from Inca sites here.
The Museo Histórico Regional offers
insights into the natural and cultural
history of the surrounding area, but also
an introduction to the life of Garcilaso
de la Vega, whose house this was. Born
in 1539 during the conquest to a Spanish
man and an Inca noblewoman, ‘El Inca’
wrote one of the most influential
chronicles, the Comentarios Reales de los
Incas, which covered both the history
of the Incas (based on stories told by his
mother’s family) and the conquest.
The Baroque facades of the
Catedral and La Compañía
(right) loom over Incan
emperor Pachacutec in
Cusco’s Plaza de Armas
For more detailed exploration of
Incan history, visit the Museo Inka,
housed in one of Cusco’s finest colonial
mansions. The Palacio del Almirante
(Admiral’s Palace) is packed with a
slightly dusty but extensive collection of
metalwork, pottery, dioramas, costumes, maps and paintings.
Probably the most impressive aspects
of Incan technology were employed in
construction, notably in the Qhapaq
Ñan – the Andean road system stretching some 20,000 miles – and the mortarfree stonework used in building sites such
as Machu Picchu. Look for the astonishing 12-sided stone on Calle Hatun
Rumiyoq, north-east of the Catedral.
Of course, Peruvian history didn’t
start with the Inca. The Museo de Arte
The walls of the
Temple of the Sun
at Qorikancha were
reputedly clad with
700 solid gold sheets
Precolombino, housed in another
beautiful colonial courtyard building,
explores decorative arts spanning over
2,500 years; explanations of the
symbolism in jewellery are particularly
fascinating – look for the spondylus
shells and spiral motifs that remain
significant to Andean peoples today.
Finally, climb to the huge fortress
of Sacsayhuamán (‘Satisfied Falcon’)
overlooking the old city. This bastion,
established by the Killke people around
AD 1100, was vastly expanded by the
Inca and played a key role in the Spanish
conquest. It was here in 1536, three years
after Inca emperor Atahualpa was killed
by Francisco Pizarro’s Conquistadors,
that his rebellious half-brother Manco
Inca made a stand. After victory by the
outnumbered Spanish forces, ending any
serious resistance to their occupation,
the fortress was razed, its stones serving
as an unofficial quarry for the colonial
rebuilding of Cusco. Today the Inca’s
Quechua-speaking descendants celebrate
Inti Raymi, the Sun Festival, at Saysayhuamán on winter solstice each June.
Plaza de Armas
Stand beneath the bronze statue of
empire-building Inca Pachacutec and
admire the colonial gems surrounding the
central square
Striking Baroque monument begun in
1559; inside, it boasts fine paintings of
the Cusco School
Remains of the Inca Temple of the Sun
within the later colonial church and
convent of Santo Domingo
Museo Histórico Regional
Learn about Andean history in the
house of influential 17th-century
chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega
5 Museo Inka
Explore the Admiral’s Palace and its
extensive displays on Incan history
and culture
Twelve-sided stone
Marvel at fine Incan stonework in the wall
flanking Calle Hatun Rumiyoq
Museo de Arte Precolombino
Discover pre-colonial symbolism and
decorative arts dating back over 3,000
years in a colonial courtyard mansion
8 Sacsayhuamán
Climb to the mighty hilltop fortress
where Manco Inca attempted to hold off
the Spanish Conquistadors
JOURNEYS Wonders of the World
Wonders of the World
Meroë Sudan
Tombs amid the dunes
Dozens of pyramids stud the desert at
Meroë, 150 miles north-east of Khartoum.
No more than 30m high, Sudan’s steepsided tombs were built for the elite of the
kingdom of Kush, which emerged around
the eighth century BC, its capital at Napata
(modern Karima). Dominating the trade
route between Egypt and central Africa,
Kush grew in wealth and power, and in
the early seventh century BC, Qore (King)
Taharqa ruled Egypt as well as Nubia
(now northern Sudan). Later that century
Assyrians drove the Kushites from Egypt,
and around 592 BC an Egyptian-sponsored
expedition sacked Napata. The capital
then transferred south to Meroë where,
from around the third century, some 30
kings and eight queens were interred.
More than 200 steep-sided
pyramids loom in the Sudanese
desert, resting places of the
so-called ‘black pharaohs’ of Kush.
Paul Bloomfield explores the
tombs and temples of Meroë
JOURNEYS Wonders of the World
Palace, temple or menagerie?
Stone columns etched with superb
carvings rise among the ruins of the vast
complex at Musawwarat es Sufra, south
of the necropolis. This enormous site
dates from at least the seventh century BC
but the remains now visible are largely
from the Meroitic period after c270 BC.
There’s a fine temple dedicated to the
lion-headed god Apedemak, but the site
is dominated by the 55,000-square-metre
Great Enclosure, the purpose of which is
still debated. Might it have been a temple
or pilgrimage site, palace, hospital,
college, hunting lodge or, as many
carvings might suggest, a place
where elephants were trained?
Royal regalia
This gold bracelet was looted from the
pyramid of Kandake (Queen) Amanishakheto (reigned from c10 BC) by Italian tomb
robber Giuseppe Ferlini in 1834. Her finely
worked jewellery, displaying Hellenistic
influences, is now held in Egyptian museums in Munich and Berlin. The Kushites
had access to iron and gold, and were
expert metalworkers; Meroë has been
described as the ‘Birmingham of Africa’.
Mane attraction
The lion-headed god Apedemak, shown in
a carved relief frieze at the Lion Temple at
Naqa, a complex of sanctuaries south of
the necropolis. This temple, built around
AD 50, is dedicated to the important
indigenous god believed by the Kushites to
be the companion of Isis. In Egypt, Isis was
considered the sister and wife of Osiris,
god of the underworld.
Animal avenue
A phalanx of carved stone rams guard
the inner Temple of Amun at Naqa. This
precinct, believed to have been built
around AD 50, is dedicated to the
Kushite’s chief creator god Amun
(‘The Hidden’). After centuries of
interaction, the religious pantheons of
Kush and Egypt overlapped: the much
earlier and larger Temple of Karnak at
Thebes (Luxor) – which also boasts an
avenue of rams – was dedicated to Amun.
Cultural cross-fertilisation
A decorated stone lintel tops the entrance to the Hathor Chapel at Naqa. This
shrine was formerly known as the Roman
Kiosk, reflecting stylistic influences that
also included Egyptian and Greek. At the
time this chapel was built, around AD 50,
Egypt had been ruled by the Hellenistic
Ptolemaic dynasty for nearly three
centuries before being annexed by the
Romans, who began to make incursions
into Kush in the late first century BC.
Reading the script
This tablet is etched with the Meroitic
script. Though its 23 characters have been
deciphered, the Kushite language is still
largely a mystery – one reason why little
is known about the kingdom’s history. We
do know that Kush waned from the third
century AD, possibly a knock-on effect of
the decline of the Roman empire. It was
dealt a terminal blow around AD 320–350
when forces of King Aeizanes of Axum
(now in Ethiopia) attacked Meroë.
Paul Bloomfield is a travel and heritage writer
and photographer, co-author of Lonely Planet’s
Where to Go When (Lonely Planet, 2016)
Global history’s finest objects, curated by experts
“The gold of the face represented
the life-giving sun as the ultimate
symbol of daily resurrection”
Gold coffin face
Created by: unknown
craftsperson, c1400 BC
Now at: Museum of Wigan
Life, Wigan
Chosen by: Joann Fletcher
This gilded face portrays a wealthy
Egyptian woman. Though her name is
unknown, the style dates her to the early
14th century BC, corresponding to Egypt’s
18th dynasty – a golden age when Egypt
was at the height of its power, presided
over by its greatest pharaohs. These
rulers’ minor wives and offspring could
number several hundred, and this may
be the face of one such woman.
Her gold skin exudes the wealth of the
era in which she was created, while her
eyes of calcite and obsidian stare back
at the viewer, and her slight smile belies
the fact this was once part of her coffin.
This cuts to the heart of ancient Egyptian
culture, which faced death confident
in the knowledge that it was simply a
transition into another state of existence.
The deceased, Egyptians believed,
passed into the care of afterlife deities
far removed from the ‘grim reaper’
familiar in western cultures. They
were instead welcomed into the warm
embrace of maternal goddess Hathor,
‘the Golden One’, daughter of the sun god.
The same symbolism is also found
in the specifically 18th-dynasty colour
palette of gold and black. Gold represented the life-giving sun as the ultimate
symbol of daily resurrection, while
black was the colour of new life, based on
the Nile mud that made possible annual
harvests in an otherwise desert landscape. For me, her face encapsulates
ancient Egypt in a single, stunning object.
This piece came to light in 2014,
when Wigan Council staff rediscovered
a collection of artefacts once owned
by Wigan-born lawyer Sir John Scott
(1841–1904). In 1871 ill health forced him
to relocate to a warmer climate – first
the French Riviera then Egypt, where
he was appointed a judge in the court of
appeal in 1874. He soon became known
as ‘Scott the Just’ because he tackled
corruption, made the law accessible to
all and recommended the abolition of
torture, slavery and unpaid work on
behalf of the state (all three of which
had, by that time, been around for
almost 5,000 years).
In 1890, Scott was appointed judicial
adviser to Egypt’s Turkish ruler Tewfiq
Pasha. He had also developed an interest
in antiquities, and often visited the Cairo
Museum when it was still housed in the
palace of former ruler Ismail Pasha in
the Giza district of the city. After one
such visit he noted that “it was such a
relief to get away from the present world
and move life back 4,000 years”. At that
time, the museum actively sold off its
‘excess stock’, and Scott began to acquire
antiquities. Retiring in 1898, Scott
returned to England, where he died.
After his wife Leonora died in 1924,
their son donated his parents’ antiquities
to the people of Wigan.
Our ancient lady therefore really has
two histories. She was created at a time
when Egypt was the world’s leading superpower, and she was later acquired by
someone who did a huge amount for the
Egyptian people. She’s a true superstar,
dazzling both visitors to the Museum of
Wigan Life and those who saw her in my
recent TV series Immortal Egypt (shown
originally on BBC2, and on BBC Four
earlier this year). I for one feel honoured
to know her.
Joann Fletcher is honorary visiting professor
of archaeology at the University of York, and
archaeology advisor to the Museum of Wigan
Life. Her latest book is The Story of Egypt
(Hodder & Stoughton, 2015)
The war from above
An aerial photograph showing the town
of Kut, 100 miles south of Baghdad,
during the Siege of Kut in the First
World War. On page 48, David Olusoga
chronicles the impact of the conflict on
countries and peoples across the globe
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