History of the West - Blog - Historia Occidentalis

Central European History from Antiquity to the 20th Century

Month: January 2019

Julia the Elder – the Julio-Claudian Game of Thrones

In many respects it is surprising that Hollywood has not yet identified the story of Julia the Elder (30 October 39 BC – AD 14), sole child of Emperor Augustus, and the House of the Julians as the subject of a production which easily might rival “Game of Thrones” or similar TV tomes.

Her family entanglements alone were manifold: she was not only (1) the sole child and daughter of the Emperor Augustus, but (2) the stepsister and second wife (yes!) of the Emperor Tiberius, also the (3) maternal grandmother of the Emperor Caligula and Empress Agrippina the Younger; she also was (4) grandmother-in-law of the Emperor Claudius, and last not least (5) maternal great-grandmother of the Emperor Nero.

Like other famous women of antiquity, Cleopatra or Theodora, the light she was painted in by her contemporary historians is fluctuating between invective and accolade. We must keep in mind though that invective, in particular of sexual nature, was par for the course in ancient politicising – especially in the Roman Empire which was characterised by public exhortations of virtue and chastity (countless laws were passed to fortify the public morals) , but in reality was but one big brothel – as pretty much all contemporary sources agree.

Her mother was Augustus’ second wife Scribonia, but as the Emperor had divorced her (to add insult to injury Augustus remarried on the day Julia was born), she grew up with her then-stepmother Livia.

It would appear that her father emphasised a good, if strict, education, and all sources agree on Julia’s knowledge of literature and culture. As it would be expected, at the age of 14, in 25 BC, she was married to a political favourite among Augustus’ assistants, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, who, alas, died of an epidemic two years later.

His death in no respect came unwelcome to Marcellus’ great rival and second lieutenant to Augustus, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa , who proceeded – two years later – to inherit Julia. And here it gets complicated from the start. Although the marriage resulted in five children, rumours of Julia’s lax interpretation of the holy vows began immediately. Not only did she apparently begin a long time affair with a certain Sempronius Gracchus (who was later banned for the affair by Augustus and, it seems, executed by Tiberius after his becoming emperor in AD 14), but, so it was widely rumoured, developed a passion for the selfsame Tiberius, who was indeed her stepbrother by adoption.

Yet in 12 BCE, Agrippa suddenly expired as well, and Augustus, after the loss of the second heir presumptive quickly married off his daughter – after an only perfunctory period of mourning – to the next in line, Tiberius, in 11 BCE.

Yet the marriage seemed to have been blighted from the start. Nonwithstanding Julia’s earlier infatuation with Tiberius, he had since married Vipsania Agrippina, a daughter of  Marcus Agrippa, and was reported to be very fond of her. Yet by Imperial command a divorce and subsequent remarriage to Julia could not be circumvented. The union, however, produced no offspring and after a few years the non-lovers separated.

Now we get to the part where the story gets juicy. Nonwithstanding the rumours of her earlier infidelities (of which, at least in the case of Sempronius, the whole Empire was reasonably aware), in AD 2, she was actually arrested on her father’s orders for adultery and treason. But Augustus found himself in a bind he had created himself.

In 18 BC, he has passed, among some other bills sponsoring the moral superiority of the Roman race, the “Lex Iulia de adulteriis, which not only punished adultery with banishment, in which the two perpetrators were to be banned on two different islands and their property could be partially confiscated, but allowed fathers to kill guilty daughters and their lovers, if they could lay hands on them, and husbands, depending on the circumstances of the crime, to kill the culprits and required to divorce the wives. The responsibility for punishing a daughter lay with the paterfamilias, hence, in the present case, Augustus himself.

Now the Emperor had to prosecute the daughter, which he did. As Tiberius was absent from the capital, Augustus sent her a letter in his name, asserting that Julia had actually schemed against his life in addition to the sexual crimes and declared the marriage null and void.

Julia was sent to banishment on the tiny island of Pandateria (today’s Ventotene) , then a manless and wineless (for she was fond of wine) barren spot in the Tyrrhenian Sea. She was forbidden to receive visitors and spent her last years solely in the presence of her mother, who shared the exile. Later, two of her children were exiled as well, for various other offenses.

Augustus moved her back to the mainland after five years and granted her a small allowance, favours who were been taken away when her former husband, Tiberius, became Emperor in AD 14. She died in the same year – probably starved to death, a favourite method of Imperial providence.

Why was Augustus so harsh – harsher, actually, than the law prescribed? He was entitled to do whatever he saw fit – he might simply have ignored the whole affair. Clearly he did it for matters of state and his own image as self-proclaimed moral renovator of the Empire. The suspicion of modern historians is that there is, however, a greater context to observe – an offensive against the tendency of Roman women of the late Republic to emancipate themselves from the tight male reign they were held in. Like Sulla, Octavian was an arch-conservative and as some historians have assumed, may have followed no lesser target than to establish himself as the moral paterfamilias of the whole Empire – as the absolute authority.

What about Julia’s alleged behaviour in the first place? Various ancient historians have criticised her sexual behaviour. For reasons of convenience. I will cite here the respective Wikipedia summary ( which I not usually do):

‘Marcus Velleius Paterculus describes her as “tainted by luxury or lust”, listing among her lovers Iullus Antonius, Quintius Crispinus, Appius Claudius, Sempronius Gracchus, and Cornelius Scipio. Seneca the Younger refers to “adulterers admitted in droves”; Pliny the Elder calls her an “exemplum licentiae” . Dio Cassius mentions “revels and drinking parties by night in the Forum and even upon the Rostra“. Seneca tells us that the Rostra was the place where “her father had proposed a law against adultery”, and yet now she had chosen the place for her “debaucheries”. Seneca specifically mentions prostitution: “laying aside the role of adulteress, she there [in the Forum] sold her favours, and sought the right to every indulgence with even an unknown paramour.” Modern historians discredit these representations as exaggerating Julia’s behaviour.

Macrobius provides invaluable details of her witticisms and personality. Among the sassy ripostes he attributes to her is a retort to people’s surprise that all her children all resembled Agrippa – “I take on a passenger only when the ship’s hold is full.” On her character, he writes that Julia was extensively celebrated for her amiable, empathetic nature and studiousness despite her profligacy; “She was abusing her standing as fortune’s darling, and her father’s, though in other respects she gained a great deal of credit for her love of literature and extensive learning… and her kindness, fellow-feeling, and lack of cruelty.’

We must see the whole picture within the background of the incessant succession conflicts that were legendary during the Julio-Claudian dynasty. The early Empire was notably different from later forms of dynastic inheritance that the concept of primogeniture did not exist and adoption was a common and entirely legal and accepted alternative in succession issues. Neither existed a legally prescribed formula how to bequeath the Imperial succession. Since neither Augustus, Caligula or Nero fathered a legitimate son, adoption became the common way for the respective Emperor to manage his succession in the desired route.

Hence positive selection – usually adoption – and negative selection – murder by poison or execution for treason – competed in a certain balance of which every member of the court was only too accurately aware of. Because so few plain opportunities of genuine succession occurred – normal father-son or grandfather-grandson relations – it was almost normal behaviour of the family members to contemplate the murder of the heirs apparent to advance the chances of their own offspring, lovers or favourites.

In addition, the return to the Republic was never legally excluded – and always remained a bane to the Imperial family – hence the successively rising power of the magistri militum, who by the fifth century did reign in reality by using tame puppet Emperors.

Whether Julia played the succession game in earnest or became simply the victim of a gambit by her father, we do not know. Some historians have advanced the thesis that Julia supported a group of nobles who intended to replace Tiberius as heir apparent with Julius Antonius, who, as son of Marc Anthony, might have been a more popular candidate for Augustus’ succession. He had been a praetor before, and also proconsul for Asia.

The drawback of the theory is that Julius Antonius’ succession would have disadvantaged Julia’s own sons Gaius and Lucius Caesar, who had already been adopted by their grandfather Augustus and did have their own place in the pyramid of succession.

It remains a toss-up what the real reasons were for Julia’s downfall – Augustus certainly was a straight-laced sourpuss but a canny politician. What remains of Julia’s proverbial quick-wittedness remains the above-mentioned explanation she gave why all her children resembled Agrippa – her then-husband – so much, despite her alleged promiscuity.

“I take on a passenger only when the ship’s hold is full.” [Macrobius, Saturnalia, Book II, 5:9.)  

(© John Vincent Palatine 2019)

 

Sex and Poison in Ancient Rome

Messalina - painting by Joaquin Sorolla
Messalina – painting by Joaquin Sorolla

This post may endanger the continued existence of civilisation … we advocate utmost caution.

Poppea brings the Head of Octavia to Nero, by G. Muzzioli (1876)

Unbelievably, a most irresponsible internet website professing the noble purview of teaching the Latin language, has not shrunk from itemizing a list of female Roman scandals of the most heinous sort, menacing the eternal sanctity of holy matrimony and human decency. Sexual perversion, treason and poisoning are only a few example of their human fallacies. Beware!

Henryk Siemiradzkis – The Flame of Christendom

We include the following links with the urgent admonition to block them wholesale and forever – for the sake of morality and perhaps your eternal soul.

https://blogs.transparent.com/latin/the-top-ten-scandalous-women-of-ancient-romepart-i/

https://blogs.transparent.com/latin/the-top-ten-scandalous-women-of-ancient-rome-part-ii/

https://blogs.transparent.com/latin/the-top-ten-scandalous-women-in-ancient-romefinale/

The Death of Messalina by Georges Antoine Rochegrosse

Theodora

Empress Theodora - painting by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant
Empress Theodora – painting by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant

Very little is factually known about Theodora, but the juicy stories of Procopius of Caesarea have secured her the attention of everybody who bears an interest in history or gossip. On the other hand, a grateful Orthodox Church has turned her into sainthood – whatever the truth, it is a darn good yarn – great copy, they would call it in New York.

She was probably born around AD 500. Procopius relates that her father Acacius was a bear-tamer in the employ of the “Green“, one of the circus parties, and her mother most probably some artist or acrobat. When the husband died, she was left destitute with three young children (Theodora and her two young sisters) to care for, and sought to obtain a livelihood at the circus with the Green party, on behalf of her deceased husband.

Her pleadings ignored by the Green, she found support with the competition, the Blue, of whom she and subsequently her daughter Theodora became fervent supporters. That in itself might not have mattered much in the greater scheme of Byzantinian life, had Theodora not been crowned Empress of the Realm by dint of her marriage in 527 to Emperor Justinian I, who himself had been a fan of the Blue for life.

The importance of the circus factions derived from the fact that these groups – far exceeding the scope of circus games – had become social, almost political gatherings. In the early days of the Republic, there had been four teams – the Red, White, Green and Blue. Yet at the time of Justinian, the Green had long since absorbed the Red, as the Blue had swallowed the White.

Various historians have advanced particulars in which the two great factions presumably differed outside of the racetrack. The Green have been labeled supporters of monophysitism – of which Theodora was a confessor – and, perhaps, the party of the small people, while the Blue professed the truth of orthodoxy and were murmured to be backed by the rich – which did not sound unlikely given that the Emperor was a fervent supporter of the Blue.

Other views have doubted this view by pointing out that the passions of the games alone were quite sufficient to cause havoc on the grandest scales one might imagine. It is reported that in AD 501 the Green ambushed the competition right in the capital’s amphitheatre and slaughtered three thousand of the Blue. Four years later the defection from the Blue and subsequent win of a race in Antiochia of the Green charioteer Porphyrius caused a public riot.

Be this as it may, in January 532 the kettle boiled over. Emanating from a stupid affair in 531 in which a minor riot had killed a few members of both parties, two of the last perpetrators to be hanged in early 532 – one Green and one Blue – escaped from custody and took refuge in a church, which was soon beleaguered by an angry mob.

Justinian found himself in a somewhat awkward situation. Another round of the eternal peace negotiations with the Persians was underfoot, and the equally perpetual angriness of the people over the suffocating taxes the fiscus of the treasurer, John of Cappadocia, exerted from the populace had reached an apex. To take pressure out of the situation which threatened to destroy the public peace, Justinian sponsored a 24 races day on January 13, to calm the ruffled feathers of the capital’s population.

It seems fairly clear that he intended to distract the crowds’ attention with the certain divisiveness of the show, but soon the partisan chants for the two parties gave way to emanations of popular discontent clearly addressed at the highest authority; both factions, Green and Blue alike, clamoured for the Emperor’s mercy for the two murderers until at length a unified cheer of “Nika!” (‘Victory!’, or ‘Conquer!’) arose, the populace rose from their seats and the astonished emperor suddenly realized he faced overthrow.

Scheming senators had long used the reckless tax hikes of the Imperial fiscus to foment discontent among the people. The irate multitudes laid the palace under siege – subsequent fires destroved much of the city in the next five days, even the Hagia Sophia. On January 19th, the crowds installed Hypatius, consul of the year 500 and nephew of the former emperor Anastasius on the Imperial throne.

Enter the famous story in which Justinian, considering flight, is humiliated by the iron will of Theodora, who emboldens the Imperial household with the winged words that she, herself, would not want to survive the loss of the crown, for “royal purple” she said, “makes for the noblest shroud.”

We do not know who then plotted the way out of the crisis, but the steel will of the Empress may well have played a role. The plot was based on the special talents of the generals Belisarius and Mundus, and the thespian and rhetoric skill of the eunuch Narses. It may not surprise anyone that the plan hatched was based on the metals of Imperial splendour – gold and iron.

Narses was sent, with a bag full of gold as heavy as he could carry, to the hippodrom to bribe or persuade the leaders of the Blue. He may have argued that Hypatius was a follower of the Green, while Justinian was and had always been their man, a Blue. We do not know what did the trick in the end – words or money – but when the Blue suddenly left the hippodrome and the troops of Belisar and Mundus moved in, killing every Green they could lay hands on, the rebellion was over. About 30,000 are said to have been slaughtered.

The outcome was fortitious in the sense that Justinian now had no problem to have Hypatius executed and all senators he suspected of having supported the revolt exiled and their fortunes confiscated – thereinafter his reign was never in doubt again, neither the political leverage of Theodora.

She was certainly of low birth, no matter what we think of the pornographic epithets she regularly receives in Procopius’ “Secret History“. Justinian himself, of whom we know much more, was quite a no-nonsense man, hence we may legitimately doubt inhowfar the erotic entanglements of Theodora indeed had the effect Procopius ascertains – but of course we do not know.

What seems more likely is – given the sultry athmospheres of oriental Imperial courts – that the Empress employed her interpersonal abilities in the perennial fights for influence amongst the court advisors.


It was rumoured that in her youth she had worked together with her sister Komito in a number of the better brothels of the capital, and later travelled with – adult entertainment groups, one might say – through Asia minor and Africa before she arrived – around AD 520 – in Constantinople, where she made the acquaintance of a Mr. Petrus Sabbatius, who was the nephew of Justin I, who two years ago had met the good fortune of being crowned Emperor of the Romans. Two or three years later she married Justinian – as Mr. Sabbatius now was called, being heir apparent to the empire – an act which necessitated the enactment of a special legal act of dispensation from the general proscription of senators marrying – hm – actresses.

We must keep in mind that invective writings for political purposes were par for the course in antiquity, one of the more famous examples or victims being Julia the Elder, sole child of Emperor Augustus, who stood accused of serial adutery, even prostitution, by half a dozen Roman historians. Lust and wickedness are ascribed to Theodora in great detail by the quill of Procopius – as Tom Holland relates (In the Shadow of the Sword, Doubleday Books 2012, ISBN 978-0-385-53135-1, pp. 188-9):

Even her bitterest critics – of whom there were many – grudgingly acknowledged that Theodora, consort and beloved of the emperor, was a woman of exceptional abilities. Shrewd, far-sighted and bold, she ranked, in the opinion of Justinian’s cattier critics, as more of a man than her husband ever did.

Rumour had it that at the height of the deadly riots of 532, Constantinople ablaze and Justinian twitchily contemplating flight, she stiffened the imperial backbone by declaring, with a magnificent show of haughtiness, that “purple makes for an excellent shroud.” ( supra)

Steel of this order, in a woman, was unsettling enough to the Roman elite; but even more so were the origins of the empress. Theodora, like an exotic bloom sustained by dung, had her roots, so it was darkly whispered, deep in filth. Dancer, actress and stand-up comic, she had also – long before puberty – been honing on slaves and the destitute a career even more scandalous.

Her vagina, it was said, might just as well have been in her face; and, indeed, such was the use to which she put all three of her orifices that “she would often complain that she did not have orifices in her nipples as well.” The gang-bang had never been held that could wear her out. Most notorious of all had been her trademark floor-show, which had seen her lie on her back, have her genitals sprinkled with grain, and then wait for geese to pick the seeds off one by one with their beaks. Such were the talents, so her critics sneered, that had won for her the besotted devotion of the master of the world. Yet, this sorely underestimated both husband and wife.

She had been promoted to “Augusta” and co-Emperor by her husband in AD 532 at the for Justinian most beneficial occasion of his own ascent to Emperor following his uncle’s death.

It is certain that until her death in AD 548 she remained her husband’s closest advisor, together with but far outshining Belisarius, Narses, and John of Cappadocia. About the relations of Belisarius and his wife Antonina, who was a dear friend of Theodora and was rumoured to be second only to the empress in carnal knowledge, Procopius also has to relate much.

As mentioned above, Theodora was a monophysite and hence the minority, which still exists in some Oriental Orthodox Churches, received protection as long as she lived.

The present author’s modesty prevents him from quoting directly the more juicy passages of Procopius’s scandalous defamations. Whosoever feels the need for further expedition into the salacious world of the “Secret History” may do so – at his/her own peril – hcheck out the blog entry on Procopius.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2019, Paintings, except where noted, by
Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant)

On Writing History

Clio - The Muse of History in Jan Vermeer's famous allegory
Clio – The Muse of History in Jan Vermeer’s famous allegory

This is a short introduction to the main instruments the aspiring writer of history in the English language (or, rather, any writer) should be familiar with – ideally, have on his desk at all times.

Why not simply use Wikipedia, many would ask? There are indeed a few drawbacks. One is that without a personal basis of general knowledge, the prospective author cannot truly judge whether what the Wiki article says is holy writ or questionable. There are many issues which are hotly discussed – but Wiki always feels it must present a “middle” point of view, which, however may be tainted because the Wiki editors themselves, who are as fallible as the next pope, cannot get everything “right” – naturally – because “rightness” does not exist in our field.

A second factor in favour of these old-fashioned “encyclopedia” type of books is that we find ourselves leafing through them, scrolling and browsing, which we seldom do on Wiki. While I browse through Wiki an hour or more every day using the “Random Article” button, I am aware that not everybody has the time or inclination to do so. Naturally, the useful habit again depends somewhat on the extent of your basic knowledge of wordly, historical, geographical and intellectual affairs – for the greater they are, the more sense you can make of the new information you are confronted with by simply browsing through.

Since the writing of history demands different qualities than the description of fictitious events, we need to build on a foundation of our own life experience and the underlying facts of the subject – or at least reasonable likelyhood.

In your romance, action or detective story you may invent persons or localities, give them the characteristics you feel necessary for the plot, kill them when they served their function or let them suffer every fate you see fit. Not so in our field.

History - by Frederick Dielman (1896)
History – by Frederick Dielman (1896)

In addition, history is subject to both official and inofficial peer review – for you will find out in a hurry that if your presentation, deductions and conclusions are debatable, you will realize, and be told, that you have may engaged, willingly or not, in propaganda – which is an entirely different field.

So is speculation. On Facebook, there are “History” groups who specialize in this exercise – military history mainly, in which there occurs a lot of discussion what would have happened if general X had ordered army Y to move to Z and so forth. Quite interesting at times – but somewhat off the mark unless it serves the inquiry why the general made the decision the specified way and not any other. The “What if?” scenario can be fascinating, but we must recall it is not history.

But now to the sine-qua-non list:

This list enumerates the standard books in print form – many similar compilations are to be found for free in the internet and may function as replacements. However, most of the works mentioned are to be found easily at very little cost ( I acquired mine usually under $ 5) at sellers of used books and their acquisition is strongly suggested. Here’s a link to a comparison of the best online shops for used books.

In order of importance:

I. ROGET’s INTERNATIONAL THESAURUS 7th Edition or newer, Collins Reference (HarperCollins Publishers) ISBN 978-0-06-171523-5 (thumb-indexed)

Indispensable.

II. OXFORD DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS 7th Edition or newer, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-9237717-3,

History comes alive in winged words …

III. WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE – COMPLETE WORKS – The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Modern Library, New York (Random House modernlibrary.com) , ISBN 978-0-679-64295-4,

The cradle of Modern English …

IV. DICTIONARY OF FOREIGN WORDS AND PHRASES 2nd Edition or newer, Oxford University Press, Andrew Delahunty (Ed.), ISBN 978-0-19-954368-7,

Nix speaking Frencho, nay?

V. LATIN CONCISE DICTIONARY – HarperResource, ISBN 0-06-053690-X,

… with Supplements on Roman History and Culture …

VI. OXFORD DICTIONARY OF ALLUSIONS, Second Edition or newer, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-860919-3,

Jehoshabeath – who?

VII. THE READER’S COMPANION TO WORLD LITERATURE, Second Edition or newer, Signet Classics, ISBN 978-0-451-52841-4,

Basic info about the masterpieces of writing in one small collection …

VIII. THE AMERICAN HERITAGE ABBREVIATIONS DICTIONARY, Third Edition or newer, Houghton Mifflin Company, ISBN 0-618-62123-7,

Especially useful for scientific texts with abbreviations galore …

The Writer's Desk - Unicorns Optional
The Writer’s Desk – Unicorns Optional

ADDENDUM: A LIST OF THE FUNDAMENTAL WORKS OF HISTORY EVERY WRITER SHOULD BE AWARE OF – with a slight Anglo-American bias:

ListMuse

(© John Vincent Palatine 2019)

The Road to War – from the files of Luigi Albertini – Part I

Europe after the Franco-German War of 1870/71
Europe after the Franco-German War of 1870/71

From “The Little Drummer Boy“, Chapter XIII:

A MURDER OF CROWS

The presumption stealthily asserted itself that if the actors’ hats had gaudy green ostrich feathers on them, then their thoughts and motivations probably did too. (Christopher Clark, on the perception of pre-1914 politics.)

Unlike the precipitate causes of the Second World War, the antecedents of the First and their interpretation remains the topic of a lively historic discussion. But before we dare to enter the abyss, we must remind ourselves of four instances in which the pre-1914 world was much different from today, and we must keep these conditions in mind when we review what happened.

I. To wage war was considered the natural privilege of a state, part of its governmental discretion. Smaller wars before the 1870s, say, the Prusso-Danish War of 1864, had essentially been the last “cabinet wars”, undertaken with limited resources to achieve specific political objectives. But the more technical and economic development allowed increases in army size and firepower, the more such changes aggravated the indeterminable risks – “the fog of war” – as Clausewitz had famously called it – and this uncertainty ensured that after 1871 a relatively long period of peace graced much of the European continent. Even men who could reasonably be accused of having advocated war in July 1914 did so without an idea of the sheer magnitude of the catastrophe they invoked. The odium that two world wars were to inflict on the idea of war itself, it’s now increasingly doubtful legitimacy, did not exist in 1914.

II. Just as war was perceived as a simple, prosaic government option, the leadership of its armed forces was expected to be prepared for it. Every nation had copied the system of the Prussian and later German General Staff, and all these staffs were called upon to develop plans for every possible contingency; indeed, not to plan for a likely scenario would be tantamount to treason.

III. Due to erroneous lessons drawn from the Crimean War of 1856 by generals worldwide, the dogma prevailing at European military academies in the years prior to 1914 embraced the superiority of attack; the French general staff called it “offensive à outrance”, and it became the principle underlying its catastrophic Plan XVII. In addition, the inbred conservatism of cavalry officers – noble to a man – led to the establishment of additional cavalry units in all armies right up to the eve of the war, which had two significant drawbacks: not only took cavalry an exceptional and inevitable drain on the chronically overburdened supply system, for one cavalry division of 4,000 men and twelve guns needed as many daily supply trains (forty) as an infantry division of 16,000 men and fifty-four guns, (1) but the invention of the machine-gun had punched the death ticket for cavalry attacks, who came to resemble mass suicide. Yet this was, of course, not realized until the occurrence of the first battles. But the reliance on attack would also guarantee, it was surmised, that the decisive battle and its unavoidable destruction would take place on the enemy’s soil, and, with luck, might disable some of his war industry – as it happened when Germany occupied the ten north-eastern French departments for much of 1914 to 1918 and thus took out approximately 70% of the pre-war French iron industry.

IV. The second half of the nineteenth century was the age of thriving imperialism, and all great powers attempted to partake in or project “world power” [1] Colonization was, in Rudyard Kipling’s words, the “white man’s burden”.

[1] In 1961, Professor Fritz Fischer of Hamburg University published “Griff nach der Weltmacht” (which translates as ‘A Grip for World Power’ but was titled in its 1967 English translation “Germany’s Aims in the First World War”). The book unveils the abyss of a German conspiracy for world supremacy, which apparently was undertaken by all sorts of influential people, from generals to newspaper owners, by their dreaming up nasty plans for world domination after they had won the war.
The introduction by Hajo Holborn of Yale argues that Germany strove to become “a ‘world power’, equal to Britain and Russia, and that her citizens “displayed a shocking disregard for the rights of other nations, especially of the small states.” (5) While examples for these assertions can be found without difficulty, they seem to be beside the point: all these arguments can be reciprocated by “to quoque”; for why should Germany not strive to world power if Great Britain, France, the United States or Russia did? In regards to the freedom of other nations, Indians, Boers or Chinese could teach lessons about British concern for their rights and Cubans or Philippines comment on American charity. One may speculate what kind of social order Tsarist Russia or the Ottomans of Turkey would have imposed over conquered territories. Mutatis mutandis, none of these German plans ever saw the lights of factuality, while French revanchism ran rampant after 1918 and in its inflexibility much aided the demise of the German Republic and the rise of the Third Reich. What Griff nach der Weltmacht provided was an ex post facto argument that Germany’s sinister plans justified the war; that the victors saved humanity from eternal Teutonic overlordship. This is pure utilitarianism, entelechial adjudication a posteriori, and thus of little significance in this investigation.

But to some degree, colonization was a game, a show; while the gold and diamonds of the Cape provinces and the copper, ores and minerals from the Ugandan mines unquestionably were great economic boons for Great Britain, and other possessions could at least serve as strategic bases or coaling stations, there were just as many places which were useless, or, worse, a drain on resources. Most of the German possessions fell into this category. Yet psychological contemplations counted just as much, sometimes more, than profit or strategy. There was a theory that many statesmen subscribed to; the thesis that the riches of the globe would ultimately divided between a very small number of contenders. The British Secretary of State for the Colonies and pro-German Liberal Unionist Joseph Chamberlain believed that “the tendency of the time is to throw all power into the hands of the greater empires, and the minor kingdoms – those which are non- progressive – seem to fall into a secondary and subordinate place ….” (2) The French politician Darcy opined that “… those who do not advance go backwards and who goes back goes under.” (3)

Because of her fragile inner condition, Germany depended, in a sense, on success in her foreign policy, which included some more exotic colonialist adventures. Paul Kennedy observed:

There remained the danger that failure to achieve diplomatic or territorial successes would affect the delicate internal politics of Wilhelmine Germany, whose Junker elite worried about the (relative) decline of the agricultural interest, the rise of organised labour, and the growing influence of Social Democracy in a period of industrial boom.

It was true that after 1897 the pursuit of Weltpolitik was motivated to a considerable extent by the calculation that this would be politically popular and divert attention from Germany’s domestic-political fissures.

But the regime in Berlin always ran the dual risk that if it backed down from a confrontation with a “foreign Jupiter” [2], German nationalist opinion might revile and denounce the Kaiser and his aides; whereas, if the country became engaged in an all-out war, it was not clear whether the natural patriotism of the masses of workers, soldiers, and sailors would outweigh their dislike of the archconservative Prusso-German state.  While some observers felt that a war would unite the nation behind the emperor, others feared it would further strain the German socio-political fabric. (4)

[2] Here Kennedy relates to a famous speech of Bernhard von Bülow, then Foreign Minister, who complained in 1899: “We cannot allow any foreign power, any foreign Jupiter to tell us: ‘What can be done? The world is already partitioned.'”

Yet at the same time, Kennedy argues, the overall vexations of Germany were not too dissimilar from those experienced by other nations, for all of them, whether more liberal England or more authoritative Russia, felt the need for the establishment – and retention – of a “place in the sun”, which ought to deflect the public attention from the increasing social conflicts of the industrial age.

It has been argued by many historians that imperial Germany was a “special case,” following a ‘Sonderweg’ (“special path”), which would one day culminate in the excesses of National Socialism. Viewed solely in terms of political culture and rhetoric around 1900, this is a hard claim to detect:

Russian and Austrian anti-Semitism was at least as strong as German [the French Dreyfus affair might compete as well, ¶], French chauvinism as marked as the German, Japan’s sense of cultural uniqueness and destiny as broadly held as Germany’s. Each of these powers examined here was “special,” and in the age of imperialism was all too eager to assert its specialness. (7) [3]

[3] Paul Kennedy adds: “In this age of the ‘new imperialism,’ similar calls [as in Germany] could be heard in every other Great Power; as Gilbert Murray wickedly observed in 1900, each country seemed to be asserting, ‘We are the pick and flower of nations … above all things qualified for governing others.'” (9)

The psychological factors of the ongoing imperialist competition, however, were of a nature that the governments in question could not simply mollify by a new treaty with power X or the establishment of one more army corps. They had a life of their own, and in retrospect it would seem that what the continental powers crucially lacked were reliable crisis- control mechanisms.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19 – To Be Continued – Edited from original text here, footnotes and bibliography here)

We know what to do – Why don’t we do it? The Quality of Life

Top and Bottom Cities of the World
Top and Bottom Cities of the World

Homo sapiens is a cooperative group species. The collaboration centers on the provision of the basics, food and shelter, but extends to qualities surpassing the basic needs of existence.

Other such species, famously ants or bees, share the basic collaboratve efforts of providing the basics, they build homes and organize their society to provide the food necessary to guarantee the survival of the species – but nothing more.

Others, mostly mammals, live in social groups, but by the pecularities of their living space, do not need to build homes – elephants, wolves, apes, horses and the like. Their building abilities are impeded for the lack of fingers and thumbs (yes, the elephants’ trunks, and apes’ dexterity) but more by the lack of abstract intelligence. They are perfectly able to perform all the necessary acts to ensure the survival of the species (unless we kill them, of course) – but nothing that transcends biological necessity.

Homo sapies has developed a brain able of deductive reasoning, has the body structure to create most anything he sets his mind to and, given Occam’s Razor, we should expect that similar experiences would lead to similar solutions to intraspecies problems.

Thus it works in the scientific process, who was invented by deductive reasoning to great success. After myriads of years to figure out how to build a flying machine, we have figured it out by discarding all the models that did not work, until we arrived at a solution which does.

Why is so little of this process apparent in the organsation of our societies. Giving first things first, the needs of human societies are rather similar than different. Most people would agree that a preferable organisation of society rest on relatively few desiderata:

It should, simply for reasons of effectiveness, strive to utilize all available intellectual abilities of the members. Such abilities can come to fruition only if the circumstances of living for the prospective assistants in society-building are as conducive as they can be. 

Every child which does not learn to read and write is a poor candidate for the next step in human development. Everybody who dies unnecessarily – that is, not from medical reasons – is a poor candidate for the enlargement of knowledge or experience. 

That is, the desired forms of organization must reflect these basic requirements. Practical deductions from this insight should be derived with little effort and can of course be tested – one civilisation may flourish because of A,B and C, another may fail because of D,E, and F.

We have mentioned the basic requirements of food, shelter and health. Next come, logically, the fundamentals that support cooperation, that is, the collaboration of groups.

Groups must live in proximity of each other to function cooperatively, hence we build towns. A town whose inner workings provide better services and connectivity than the competition simply has a better mathematical chance of prosperity – because talents will hear about it and move there.

This is why we build roads, schools, found and extend services, from police, banks, fire brigades, parks, hotels, airports and the like. These basic ideas are pretty much standard and publicly accepted – but – why do they work in A-Town but not in B-Town? 

Here we come to these imponderabilities which lie in the organisational underbelly – those principles of social engineering, which lay principally in the field we call “politics”. The word itself naturally comes from Greek “polis”, which simply means “town”.

We may take a small detour here on the development of town structures. Towns existed at all times, but many of the most important changes on the road to the development to the modern world occurred in Middle Europe and were based on the evolution of the “rights” of towns – that is, in the first place, a certain legal independence of the town and its magistrates, which, in Western culture, began mostly in the Roman Empire – a recognition of their growing importance amongst the declining significance of agricultural concerns – and was greatly enhanced by the change in the social status of their inhabitants.

Some of the basic occurrences in the downfall of Rome were the widespread abandonment of agricultural land from about AD 200 – indeed, the granting of settlement of Roman emperors to Germanic tribes in the fourth century AD was much eased by the fact that wide provinces of the Empire had fallen into agricultural disrepair – the ruin of the public taxation system which at length robbed the Empire of the means to finance the legions and led on the way to the Middle Ages to the replacement of the standing army of citizens of the Republic to the transfer of defense to the knights of the landed gentry – climate problems as the bad mid-350s and deforestation – changes which led to the weakening of the Empire and its subsequent demise.

Whereby – the “Fall of the Empire” must be taken with many pounds of salt. Many Roman structures remained – the Ostrogothic realm of Theodoric was for practical reasons virtually indistiguishable from Imperial times, and – in general – we must not confuse the maps in an historical atlas with our modern interpretation. That land X is marked blue and Y red did not mean that for the greatest part of the population their life was any different. Borders were often spurious, and the only difference farmers and villagers noticed after a regime-change was the new taxman.

But what changed in the Italian and German parts of the new Frankish – later “German” Reich was the legal status of the townsman. All antique societies kept slaves – although it took Mauretania until 2007 to outlaw it. Contrary to the sandal movies, most slaves were indigenous residents – while estimates differ, most scholars agree that, e.g. in Rome, probably only 5% of slaves were of foreign origin.

Yet slaves could be purchased and used only by a moneyed society, and cash fell into disuse in the Middle Ages and hence out of custom. The greatest percentage of Europeans in the early Middle Ages were sharecroppers, whose situation was slightly different from area to area. These serfs were, in Germany, called “leibeigen”. In general, they had to live on the grounds of the liege-lord, and pay him a share of all they produced – up to 50%. They were his legal subjects – in some areas up to the death penalty for the theft of a chicken – could marry only with the lord’s permission. A certain number of days each year (their number was up to the lord and not limited) they had to provide free labour and/or services.

When the circulation of money revived, these services could, of course, replaced with coin. Smart farmers early found ways the lessen the burden by earning money – which could be made far easier in towns. Many farmers established their residency, so they could, preferentially around religious institutions, where the monks were somewhat refrained by Christian charity and conditions better, or around smaller castles, where their promise of military aid might similarly lead to a social improvement, and slowly towns developed around these places. In addition, if they could not be found, the lord’s rights could not be claimed.

Thus it slowly became legal custom that a serf who escaped the authority of his lord for one year and one day by living in a town, became a townsman, lost his obligations and could not be forced back. Naturally, everybody who could did so.

The economic importance of towns rose greatly with the onset of the Renaissance (craftsmen and service providers) and even more at the onset of industrialisation, and serfdom was gradually given up, except in rural areas.

Especially the ruin of agriculture after the Seven Years’ War (sometimes called French and Indian War in the USA and UK) and the studies and experiments of Hans Graf von Rantzau (who proved that leaseholds were more profitable for the lord than serfdom) lead to the legal abolishment of serdom in the years after 1800 – first in Braunschweig AD 1433 , in Bavaria 1783, last in Hannover 1833. The Russian delay (not before 1861 and then not effective) was one big factor for the following revolutions.

 Industrialisation made towns the economic locomotives of the new age, and a rural exodus took off. 

Growth of Cities
Growth of Cities

Procopius – The Secret History

Mosaic - Acsibed to show Procopius of Caesarea
Mosaic – Ascribed to show Procopius of Caesarea

The PDF – File linked to this post represents the Gutenberg edition of the “Secret History” of Procopius, in the version of THE ATHENIAN SOCIETY of MDCCCXCVI, including an introduction and footnotes, edited and corrected to modern English spelling bv John Vincent Palatine.

The original file is here as link (NB: Blocked in Germany for reasons unclear, German readers please use VPN).

In this context, you might also check the post on Theodora.

Edward Gibbon (1737 – 1794)

Portrait of Edward Gibbon (1737-94) c.1779 (oil on canvas) by Reynolds, Sir Joshua (1723-92)
Portrait of Edward Gibbon (1737-94) c.1779

Few historians indeed have been the subject of ongoing discussion as Edward Gibbon continues to be.

The subject of the work that was to earn him eternal fame – The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – was by itself uncontroversial enough – hundreds of volumes had been written about the decay of Rome (fewer of that of Constantinople …) but the majority of them were deriving from modern, that is, Christian times.

The masters of antiquity had written without the benefit of a Christian education or indoctrination, and therefore the powers-to-be of the historical establishment of 18th Century England considered them of secondary importance – unaware of the glorious gospel the Lord of the Universe had brought to the progeny of Adam and uninformed of the noble achievements of British royalty.

While the Renaissance had pretty much gnawed away most middle-age certitudes of biblical teaching through Gutenberg’s invention and Luther’s and Calvin’s arguments, this was still a time in which the moral authority of the Anglican respectively Catholic Church went largely unquestioned.

Thus it came to quite a shock when the 1776 publication of Volume I of the “History” and even more Volume II and III in 1781 clearly and unequivocally identified a Semitic-originated Abrahamic religion, Christianity, as the third culprit in the decay of the great Empire. The main factor was, in Gibbon’s analysis, barbarian invasions, which, however, succeeded mainly because of a gradual loss of “civic virtue” among the citizens (by ‘civic virtue’, Gibbon referred to support of the common people for the government, which he saw presently as the strength of Great Britain):

The story of its ruin is simple and obvious; and, instead of inquiring why the Roman empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it had subsisted so long. The victorious legions, who, in distant wars, acquired the vices of strangers and mercenaries, first oppressed the freedom of the republic, and afterwards violated the majesty of the purple. The emperors, anxious for their personal safety and the public peace, were reduced to the base expedient of corrupting the discipline which rendered them alike formidable to their sovereign and to the enemy; the vigour of the military government was relaxed, and finally dissolved, by the partial institutions of Constantine; and the Roman world was overwhelmed by a deluge of Barbarians.” [The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 38 “General Observations on the Fall of the Roman Empire in the West“]

This alone many contemporaries might have swallowed, but the last quarto of Volume I (Chapters XV and XVI) contained a very controversial passage, which brought Gibbon the epithet of “paganist”:

As the happiness of a future life is the great object of religion, we may hear without surprise or scandal that the introduction, or at least the abuse of Christianity, had some influence on the decline and fall of the Roman empire. The clergy successfully preached the doctrines of patience and pusillanimity; the active virtues of society were discouraged; and the last remains of military spirit were buried in the cloister: a large portion of public and private wealth was consecrated to the specious demands of charity and devotion; and the soldiers’ pay was lavished on the useless multitudes of both sexes who could only plead the merits of abstinence and chastity. Faith, zeal, curiosity, and more earthly passions of malice and ambition, kindled the flame of theological discord; the church, and even the state, were distracted by religious factions, whose conflicts were sometimes bloody and always implacable; the attention of the emperors was diverted from camps to synods; the Roman world was oppressed by a new species of tyranny; and the persecuted sects became the secret enemies of their country. Yet party-spirit, however pernicious or absurd, is a principle of union as well as of dissension. The bishops, from eighteen hundred pulpits, inculcated the duty of passive obedience to a lawful and orthodox sovereign; their frequent assemblies and perpetual correspondence maintained the communion of distant churches; and the benevolent temper of the Gospel was strengthened, though confirmed, by the spiritual alliance of the Catholics. The sacred indolence of the monks was devoutly embraced by a servile and effeminate age; but if superstition had not afforded a decent retreat, the same vices would have tempted the unworthy Romans to desert, from baser motives, the standard of the republic. Religious precepts are easily obeyed which indulge and sanctify the natural inclinations of their votaries; but the pure and genuine influence of Christianity may be traced in its beneficial, though imperfect, effects on the barbarian proselytes of the North. If the decline of the Roman empire was hastened by the conversion of Constantine, his victorious religion broke the violence of the fall, and mollified the ferocious temper of the conquerors.

That is to say that, basically, that the Christian religion had corrupted and emasculated the people of the empire – yet, “Thank God”, one is tempted to comment – had also curtailed the rampancy of the barabarians who at length accepted the gospel as their own.

Worse it might look to the devout follower of Christ, that Gibbon favourably compared the tolerance of pagan societies and the wisdom of their rulers (i.e. Roman emperors before AD 300 as well) with the inflexibility of Christian (or Muslim, for that matter) doctrine and their historic predilection to internecine aggression (which clearly was critique on a few British kings as well, say Edward VIII):

The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosophers as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.

Another most unsavoury blow to the holiness and spirituality of the Church was found in the scandalous fact that Gibbon dared to judge the multitudinous reports on Christian martyrdom as self-serving fabrications – deriving from secondary sources which could not stand independent verification. That is – he said – they might simply be fictitious – Christian propaganda.

Worse, for that part of Christian persecution which could reasonably be assumed to have some actual basis in history, Gibbon pointed out that it was not based on religious or spiritual issues, but on the Romans’ practice of state religion – the Roman state did not care what one believed – and the importance that was placed on the rather perfunctory sacrifices the ordinary citizen was required to perform.

The Caesarian sacrifice was not a matter of religion or belief – it was the demonstration of loyalty to the empire – and who refused was not an unbeliever – he, the Christian, was presumably a terrorist.

While Gibbon mostly (and perhaps wisely) refrained from too obvious commentaries on various Biblical stories or to discuss the vagaries of Jewish prophets and Christian evangelicals, he did not hold back on the – in his opinion – secular origin and intellectual burglary of the Quran and the holy earthly recipient. In a famous passage he relates the story of the Seven Sleepers (which everybody knew since more than two hundred years) and comments:

This popular tale, which Mahomet might learn when he drove his camels to the fairs of Syria, is introduced, as a divine revelation, into the Quran.

Gibbon’ s presentation of Muhammad’s life again reflects on the holy prophet’s secular and very practical approach to life who, he thinks, …

… in his private conduct … indulged the appetites of a man, and abused the claims of a prophet. A special revelation dispensed him from the laws which he had imposed on his nation: the female sex, without reserve, was abandoned to his desires; and this singular prerogative excited the envy, rather than the scandal, the veneration, rather than the envy, of the devout Mussulmans.

Gibbon clearly had an issue with the Prophet’s dispensations of the common laws and his followers’ emancipation of the sexes, or, rather, the absence of it. Even the terror of Muslim hell could not entirely daunt him, yet neither could the pleasures of Muslim paradise entirely convince him:

The doom of the infidels is common: the measure of their guilt and punishment is determined by the degree of evidence which they have rejected, by the magnitude of the errors which they have entertained: the eternal mansions of the Christians, the Jews, the Sabians, the Magians, and idolaters, are sunk below each other in the abyss; and the lowest hell is reserved for the faithless hypocrites who have assumed the mask of religion. After the greater part of mankind has been condemned for their opinions, the true believers only will be judged by their actions.

The good and evil of each Mussulman will be accurately weighed in a real or allegorical balance; and a singular mode of compensation will be allowed for the payment of injuries: the aggressor will refund an equivalent of his own good actions, for the benefit of the person whom he has wronged; and if he should be destitute of any moral property, the weight of his sins will be loaded with an adequate share of the demerits of the sufferer. According as the shares of guilt or virtue shall preponderate, the sentence will be pronounced, and all, without distinction, will pass over the sharp and perilous bridge of the abyss; but the innocent, treading in the footsteps of Mahomet, will gloriously enter the gates of paradise, while the guilty will fall into the first and mildest of the seven hells.

The term of expiation will vary from nine hundred to seven thousand years; but the prophet has judiciously promised, that all his disciples, whatever may be their sins, shall be saved, by their own faith and his intercession from eternal damnation. It is not surprising that superstition should act most powerfully on the fears of her votaries, since the human fancy can paint with more energy the misery than the bliss of a future life. With the two simple elements of darkness and fire, we create a sensation of pain, which may be aggravated to an infinite degree by the idea of endless duration.

But the same idea operates with an opposite effect on the continuity of pleasure; and too much of our present enjoyments is obtained from the relief, or the comparison, of evil. It is natural enough that an Arabian prophet should dwell with rapture on the groves, the fountains, and the rivers of paradise; but instead of inspiring the blessed inhabitants with a liberal taste for harmony and science, conversation and friendship, he idly celebrates the pearls and diamonds, the robes of silk, palaces of marble, dishes of gold, rich wines, artificial dainties, numerous attendants, and the whole train of sensual and costly luxury, which becomes insipid to the owner, even in the short period of this mortal life.

Seventy-two Houris, or black-eyed girls, of resplendent beauty, blooming youth, virgin purity, and exquisite sensibility, will be created for the use of the meanest believer; a moment of pleasure will be prolonged to a thousand years; and his faculties will be increased a hundred fold, to render him worthy of his felicity. Notwithstanding a vulgar prejudice, the gates of heaven will be open to both sexes; but Mahomet has not specified the male companions of the female elect, lest he should either alarm the jealousy of their former husbands, or disturb their felicity, by the suspicion of an everlasting marriage.

This image of a carnal paradise has provoked the indignation, perhaps the envy, of the monks: they declaim against the impure religion of Mahomet; and his modest apologists are driven to the poor excuse of figures and allegories. But the sounder and more consistent party adhere without shame, to the literal interpretation of the Koran: useless would be the resurrection of the body, unless it were restored to the possession and exercise of its worthiest faculties; and the union of sensual and intellectual enjoyment is requisite to complete the happiness of the double animal, the perfect man. Yet the joys of the Mahometan paradise will not be confined to the indulgence of luxury and appetite; and the prophet has expressly declared that all meaner happiness will be forgotten and despised by the saints and martyrs, who shall be admitted to the beatitude of the divine vision.

So he makes fun of it, but easy it was indeed. It was a mark of Gibbon that he took liberties with his opinions and judgements that previous historians had not dared. It was held much against him, in the sense that it was unbecoming for a historian – who should be “fair” – if there is such a thing …

The poor Jews did not fare much better – they were called “”a race of fanatics, whose dire and credulous superstition seemed to render them the implacable enemies not only of the Roman government, but also of humankind“.

Thus by our politically correct standards of today, there is much to criticise in Gibbon. But there is much to admire – not the least his audacity of judgement. But perhaps unsurpassed in English history is his sheer dexterity of style, accuracy in diction and – to the everlasting amusement of the disciple – inexhaustible supply of irony, satire and sarcasm. Considering the amazing supply of human folly our contemporaries evidence daily, writing history might as well be fun.

And fun Gibbon is.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2019)

Luigi Albertini (1871 – 1941)

Luigi Albertini
Luigi Albertini

For everybody who is concerned with the causes of the First World War, the research of Luigi Albertini (19 October 1871 – 29 December 1941) , long-time editor of the famous Italian newspaper “Corriere della Sera” is the foundation of factual knowledge per se.

In the words of John Keegan:

The bedrock of all discussion remains L. Albertini’s The Origins of the War of 1914… which provides a detailed chronology of the crisis and excerpts from the most important documents.” [The First World War, ISBN 0-375-70045-5, p.450]

At 2120 pages (in the Enigma-Books Edition pictured above) the work presents not only reproductions of many original documents – diplomatic cables, treaties, memoranda and newspaper articles, Albertini and his German-speaking co-author Luciano Magrini interviewed many of the true protagonists of the drama – from ambassadors, politicians, fellow journalists, university researchers up to a few of the actual conspirators and perpetrators of the Sarajevo assassination and their puppet-masters or svengali.

Although many statements of the involved are – naturally – of self-serving character, they do provide fascinating insights. The lecture of Albertini is the principal homework for every writer aspiring to close in on the difficult subject – one must observe with dismay that some aspriring “historians” refrain from the burden.

The circumstances of the period of his writing were – contingent on the imbalance of available documents (many German and Russiann documents were unavailable due to the revolutions in their homelands, the Austrians, as usually, misplaced a lot, a good portion of others – especially French and Italian ones – proved doctored) to some extent coined by “anti-German” and especially “anti-Austrian” sentiments – quite understandably – but his reasoning is always impeccable and his judgements just – as far as the sources allowed.

Albertini took over the Corriere della Sera in 1900 and in the following 25 years developed it into the most modern, widely read and respected newspaper of Italy. He was sacked by the owners in 1925 due to his anti-Fascist views as a life-long liberal. Between 1914 and 1922 he was a member of the Italian Senate.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2019 – Book Three “Risico” (PDF) of “The Little Drummer Boy” contains in chapters XIII to XVII a 150-page summary of Albertini’s findings.)

Anton Joachimsthaler

Anton Joachimsthaler is the researcher who has done by far the most to furnish us with accurate data about two periods of Adolf Hitler’s life about which we know least – his adolescence and early years before he entered the limelight of being party boss – and his last days at the bunker of the Reichskanzlei in Berlin.

He was born 1930 at Hohenelbe in what was at that time the Sudetenland, formerly a province of Austria-Hungary, then Czechoslovakia, then of Nazi Germany and is now part of the Czech Republic.

By training an electrical engineer, he worked for the Deutsche Bundesbahn from 1956 on and has written extensively about railroad studies – in particular the standard work on Hitler’s planned broad-gauge railway through Europe – with a track width of 3000 millimeters more than twice as wide as the European standard track of 1435 millimeters (“Die Breitspurbahn”, see picture in gallery above).

Together with Brigitte Hamann, he has provided since – by meticulous research – most of the details of Hitler’s early days that we know. In 1989, he published “Korrektur einer Biographie” (‘Correction of a Biography’, Langen Müller Verlag, ISBN 3-7766-1575-3), in which many details were brought to attention for the first time – details about the name change of Hitler’s father Adolf Schicklgruber, for example, and a plethora of facts previously unknown. In agreement with Hamann, he argued most convincingly that Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” story of developing his anti-Semitism in Vienna before the war of 1914 was simply a fairytale for posterity – nothing anti-Semitic has been passed on by Hitler before 1919 in Munich or reported by anyone else.

This he followed up with a much extended version in 2000, named “Hitler’s Weg begann in München 1913 – 1923” (‘Hitler’s Way began in Munich’, F.A. Herbig, München, ISBN 3-7766-2155-9).

In 2003 he published “Hitlers Liste. Ein Dokument persönlicher Beziehungen” (‘Hitler’s List. A document of personal relationships’, München, Verlag Harbig, ISBN 3776623284) – a meticulous report on all know relations Hitler’s to women.

His conclusion is that Hitler never entertained any sexual relation to a woman – a deduction contradicted by Heike Görtemaker, who published in 2011 the most recent major biography of Eva Braun.

In 2004 he followed with “Hitler’s Ende”, a collection of the testimony of fifty witnesses of the dying minutes of the dictator, which was praised by Ian Kershaw as a “meticulous study of the testimony and forensic evidence” as to Hitler’s last days and death” [Kershaw, Ian (2001) [2000]. Hitler, 1936–1945: Nemesis. New York; London: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN978-0-393-32252-1.)

As a publisher, he released 1985 the memoirs of Christa Schroeder, one of Adolf Hitler’s private secretaries.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2019)

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