History of the West

Central European History from Antiquity to the 20th Century

Gallipoli – An Exercise in Futility


“I am not exaggerating one iota when I say that our men feel antagonized towards the Imperial officers. I have heard so many express their fierce resentment.”

Sergeant Joe Gasparich


The Little Drummer Boy – Chapter XXII – The Days of Moloch


… The Western front of 1915 had seen, however, only one half of the British war commitment. A Turkish attack on the Suez Canal, the main artery of British eastern commerce and naval deployment, was mounted from Palestine southward on January 14, 1915. In early February, the Ottomans’ attempt to cross the canal in boats failed in face of the fire of a British and Imperial force under General John Maxwell. The Turks retired to Palestine and were never seen again at the canal.

A small British detachment had been sent at the war’s beginning to protect the English oil interests in Persia and had taken to the Turkish declaration of war in October 1914 by invading Mesopotamia and capturing Basra, the important harbour town. Eventually, the British HQ set its eyes on Baghdad, and one division was sent from Basra up the Tigris River and another one up the Euphrates. The Tigris force met a Turkish detachment, about 10,000 heads strong, at Kut-el-Amara, two-thirds the way to Baghdad and won the subsequent encounter on September 27-28. When the commander,
General Townshend, was ordered to proceed in direction of Baghdad, he demurred, citing supply lines far too long and the loss of over 1,000 casualties in the earlier battle, but obeyed. Outside the ancient town of Ctesiphon, he ran into a superior Turkish force blocking his way and had to retreat after four days of combat. He was back in Kut a week later. The Turks followed and laid siege to the town which was to last until 1916.

But these were sideshows. The main British and Allied offensive against the Turks was to take place at one of history’s famous spots – the Dardanelles or Hellespont. The Dardanelles is the narrow sea lane, fifty kilometres long and at its closest point only a kilometre wide, which connects the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara, which itself joins the Black Sea at the Bosporus strait. The strategic importance of the Dardanelles respectively the Bosporus is obvious: these two points control all traffic between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, and hence access to the oceans. It has always been the object of the powers controlling the Black Sea to command these spots and their hinterland, for they are the bottleneck constraining their ambitions. The Bosporus was, and is, dominated by Byzantium [Constantinople, Istanbul], whose conquest was a Russian dream for centuries; only escalating when the religious component of removing the Muslims from the former seat of the Christian Empire became a secondary motive.

The Battlefield

The Battle of Troy had taken place on the southern, Asian shore of the Dardanelles; on the European side of the straits, near the ancient town of Adrianople [now Edirne, ¶] “fifteen recorded battles had been fought; at the first, in AD 378, Emperor Valens was killed by the Goths, a disaster that caused the collapse of Rome’s empire in the west; at the most recent, in 1913, the Turks had repelled a Bulgarian attempt on Istanbul itself.” (10)

The strategic importance of the straits in 1914 lay in the Allies’ plans to provide war supplies to Russia, but since no land route existed sea lanes had to suffice. There was one, the North Sea-Arctic Sea passage, to the Russian ports of Murmansk or Archangel in the Arctic Ocean respectively the White Sea. But this was a difficult route, prone to adverse weather conditions, with the additional disadvantage that the goods would arrive in a veritable no man’s land, arctic Russia, and would have to be transported over yet another two or three thousand miles to their eventual destinations.

There was a second route, however, through the pleasant Mediterranean Sea to the Black Sea, to Sevastopol, on the Crimean Chersonnese, whence the goods would have a short and convenient rail trip to the Eastern front. The Royal Navy was confident to defend convoys of merchantmen on their way to Sevastopol, with the exception of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, which were in Turkish hands and considered fortified, armed, and dangerous. A sneak attack of a British naval squadron in November 1914, however, found little resistance and was able to damage the defences on the mouth of the straits. Although the squadron failed to penetrate further, the success of the attack much impressed Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty.

After the initial freeze-up of the entrenched front lines in the Western theatre in late 1914, the British government sought other points suitable to attack. Churchill was able to convince Lloyd George, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Kitchener, then-Secretary of State for War, and finally First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher, of the merits of an invasion of the Dardanelles.

Churchill’s ministrations resulted in a two-tiered operational miscellany, a plan, like its inventor’s character, designed to gain the greatest show from the least of assets: naval gunfire, from a squadron of old battleships, would neutralize the Turkish forts at and around the Dardanelles, giving the Allies control of the seaway. The second stage would be a landing of mostly Imperial, i.e. non-English, infantry at the Gallipoli Peninsula itself, the northern pillar of the Dardanelles, whence the land forces were to proceed to capture Constantinople.

The naval bombardment began on February 19 but ran into difficulties soon. After the British raid of the preceding November, the Turks had brought in mobile artillery, heavy howitzers, which completely eluded the British gunners and, with well-aimed fire, frustrated the attempts of the Allied minesweepers to clear the way for the heavy ships. These ships were the new dreadnought “Queen Elizabeth”, the new British battle cruiser “Inflexible” and two older ones, plus twelve British and four French pre-dreadnoughts. After preliminary manoeuvres, the great fleet attack was set for March 18.

It was to become the greatest British naval disaster since a single German mine had sunk the brand-new British battleship “Audacious” in October 1914. The fleet attempted to force the straits: the twenty big ships advancing in three lines, ushered in by minesweepers and orbited by cruisers and destroyers.

At first the armada made apparently irresistible progress. Between 11:30 in the morning and two in the afternoon it advanced nearly a mile, overcoming each fixed and mobile battery as it moved forward. “By 2 p.m. the situation had become very critical,” the Turkish General Staff account reports. “All telephone wires were cut … some of the guns were knocked out, others were left buried … in consequence the fire of the defence had slackened considerably.” Then, suddenly, at two o’clock, the balance of the battle swung the other way. The old French battle cruiser BOUVET, falling back to allow the minesweepers to go forward, suddenly suffered an internal explosion and sank with all hands. A torpedo fired from a fixed tube ashore seemed to the worried fleet commander, Admiral de Robeck, to be the cause. Later it became known that, on the night of March 7, a line of mines had been laid by a small Turkish steamer parallel to the shore and had remained undetected. In the confusion that followed, the minesweepers, manned by civilian crews, began to fall back through the fleet and, as it manoeuvred, the old battleship IRRESISTIBLE was damaged also and fell out of the line. Next OCEAN, another old battleship, also suffered an internal explosion and soon afterwards the French pre-Dreadnought SUFFREN was severely damaged by a plunging shell.

As GAULOIS and INFLEXIBLE, the modern battle cruiser, had been damaged earlier, de Robeck now found himself with a third of his battle fleet out of action. By the end of the day, OCEAN and IRRESISTIBLE had, like BOUVET, sunk, INFLEXIBLE, SUFFREN and GAULOIS were out of action and ALBION, AGAMEMNON, LORD NELSON and CHARLEMAGNE had suffered damage. As darkness fell, de Robeck drew his fleet away. The ten lines of mines laid across the Narrows, numbering 373 in all, remained unswept and most of the shore batteries, though they had shot off all their heavy shell, preserved their guns. (11)

THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY, Pages 619 – 620

With the ships sank Churchill’s naval plan, and the army had to take over. The muster of the available forces yielded five divisions: four on the British side, the 29th Infantry Division, the Royal Naval Division, and the ANZAC Corps [1st Australian and the Australia/New Zealand division,¶] and one on the French side, the Corps Expéditionnaire d’Orient. Allied Intelligence regarding the opponent was poor: the Turkish strength was estimated at 170,000 men in ten divisions when reality allowed Liman von Sanders, the German commander of the Turkish troops, less than half of that number. In
addition, nothing was known of where the Turks would be strong or where they would be weak; hence the choice of the landing zones on the Gallipoli Peninsula was a matter of educated guesses.

The British infantry commander, General Hamilton, entertained thoughts of landing his troops on the southern, the Asian shore, where the plain of Troy would provide accessible beaches and level terrain. But Kitchener nixed the idea, pointing out that the available forces would be too thinly spread in the vastness of Anatolia. It had to be a landing on the northern, the European shore, but here the topography was forbidding, rugged mountains rising steeply from the sea. On forty miles of shore, only one suitable beach was found, opposite the Sari Bair Ridge, and reserved for the ANZAC Corps [whence it got its name, “Anzac Cove”]. The 29th Division would try its luck at Cape Helles itself, the northern tip of the peninsula, where there were some small but serviceable beaches. Here they could also be supported, on three sides, by naval artillery. Meanwhile, the remaining troops would undertake feint attacks: the Royal Naval Division at Bulair, in the Gulf of Saros north of the Gallipoli Peninsula, and the French troops on the southern, Asian tip, at Kum Kale and Yeni Shehr. These positions are depicted on the map below, Allied Invasion Points at Gallipoli.

The operation began on April 25 simultaneously at both places. A landing on a defended shore is a most hazardous military manoeuvre at the best of times, and at Gallipoli, unlike at the Allied landings of the Second World War, there existed no proper landing craft, DUWK’s or other special equipment. Neither had simulations nor rehearsals been possible; one had it to get right the first time. It was perhaps asked too much. For reasons still unclear today, the ANZAC troops landed a mile north of their target, in a wilderness of slopes which, if they could not be taken, would allow the enemy an excellent look down at ANZAC Cove and present the most exciting targets for his artillery.

Heavy German naval artillery at the Dardanelles

Unless the Australians and New Zealanders could reach the crests before the enemy, all their positions, including the beach, would be overlooked, with calamitous effect on subsequent operations. The ANZACs knew the importance of getting high quickly and, after an almost unopposed landing, began climbing the ridges in front of them as fast as their feet could take them. The reason their landing had been unopposed soon, however, became apparent. The enemy were few because the Turks had dismissed the likelihood of a landing in such an inhospitable spot and the landing parties rapidly found that the terrain was as hostile as any defending force. One crest was succeeded by another even higher, gullies were closed by dead ends and the way to the highest point was lost time and again in the difficulty of route-finding.
Organisation dissolved in the thick scrub and steep ravines, which separated group from group and prevented a co-ordinated sweep to the top.
If even some of the 12,000 ashore could have reached the summits of the Sari Bair ridge, two and a half miles above ANZAC cove, they would have been able to look down on the Narrows, and the beginnings of a victory would have been under their hands. Their maximum depth of penetration by early afternoon, however, was only a mile and a half and, at that precipitous point, they began to come under counter-attack by the assembling Turkish defenders. The ANZACs, clinging lost and leaderless to the hillsides, began, as the hot afternoon gave way to grey drizzle, to experience their martyrdom. (12)

THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY, PAGE 622
Archives New Zealand, from Wiki

The British troops landing around Cape Helles made sharply diverging experiences. At the flanks of the Cape, on S beach inside the Dardanelles and X and Y beaches, at the Mediterranean side of the peninsula, the invaders came ashore relatively unopposed and had set up shop soon. At V beach, south of the village Sedd-el-Bahr, and W beach, south-west of it, on the Cape itself, however, the Dublin respectively Lancashire Fusiliers ran into a combination of wire and Turkish machine-gun fire and died in the hundreds. By nightfall, casualties suffered on all beaches amounted to 5,000 men.

What should have alarmed the British commanders – Hamilton of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force
(MEF), Hunter-Weston of the 29th Division, Birdwood of ANZAC – was that the injuries done to their brave and
determined soldiers had been the work of so few of the enemy. MEF’s estimate of the Turkish strength committed to the defence of the Dardanelles had been a gross exaggeration. The number of troops deployed by Liman von Sanders on the Gallipoli peninsula was only a fraction of his force, the rest being dispersed between Bulair and Kum Kale, between Europe and Asia.
The assault area was held by a single division, the 9th, with its infantry deployed in companies all the way down the coast from ANZAC to Cape Helles and beyond. In places there were single platoons of fifty men, in some places fewer men or none: at Y Beach none, at X twelve men, at S a single platoon. Even at ANZAC there was only one company of 200 men, while V and W Beaches were defended by single platoons. The massacre of the Lancashire, Dublin and Munster Fusiliers and the Hampshires had been inflicted by fewer than a hundred desperate men, survivors of the naval bombardment, and killing so that they should not be killed. (13)

THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY, PAGE 622
Anzac, the landing 1915 by George Lambert

Seldom has the importance of holding the high ground been demonstrated more unequivocally than at Gallipoli. After six weeks of battle, the commanding summits of Achi Baba, near Cape Helles, and Chunuk Bair, opposite ANZAC Cove, remained in the hands of the Turks. The high ground allowed them to survey all Allied moves and aim their artillery accordingly. In addition, small but agile Turkish counterstrokes, directed at the local level by Mustafa Kemal, the eventual founder of the modern Turkish nation, thwarted many Allied attacks. Eventually, both sides dug in. The greatest menace for the Allied Expeditionary Corps, however, as it turned out soon, was their commander who seemed not to realize when he was beaten. Instead of withdrawing from the narrow beaches his troops were hanging on, under mounting losses, Hamilton asked for and received reinforcements – seven, if second-line, British infantry divisions, the 2nd Australian Division, the 2nd Mounted Division and another French division. The plan created by his staff envisioned another, far larger landing, at Suvla Bay, just north of ANZAC Cove. As soon as the Suvla Bay landing had gained a foothold, the Australians and New Zealanders should break out of ANZAC Cove northwards and link up with the new arrivals.

Only small beaches existed for the landings, and little cover was available …

The landings at Suvla Bay, beginning on August 7, were little opposed at first, but the invaders inexplicably failed to occupy the coastal heights as soon as possible. Mustafa Kemal, meanwhile being in charge of the northern front, recognized the fatal failure and immediately dispatched troops and artillery to the heights east of Suvla Bay, to the Sari Bair Ridge and the controlling peaks of Chunuk Bair and Tekke Tepe. The heights and their Turkish defenders withstood all Allied attempts and, eventually, as at Cape Helles and ANZAC Cove, both attackers and defenders dug in, adding a third stalemate to the two preceding ones.

Hamilton was relieved of his command on October 15 and his substitute, General Monro advised the War Office that withdrawal was the only viable solution left. He was given permission for a complete evacuation on December 3 and managed a very orderly and safe withdrawal that only added three casualties to the approximately 275,000 the Gallipoli campaign had cost the Allied armies already. Turkish losses, never properly established, may have been in the neighbourhood of 300,000. The misadventure precipitated Churchill’s resignation and failed to open the supply route for Russia. Turkey remains in control of the Dardanelles until this day.

The New Year brought reorientation to the thoughts and plans of the belligerents’ general staffs. Yet in 1916 the costly nonsense of the Gallipoli campaign was replaced by the gross slaughter of Verdun.


Please check the amazing article “Gallipoli – Letters from Hell” in the New Zealand Herald

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

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Breakthrough in the East 1915

German artillery at Przemysl

In February 1915, the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes had driven the Russian Tenth Army through the Forest of Augustow off German terrain, but when 8th and the new 10th German Army faced counterattacks by the newly established Russian Twelfth Army, they stopped the pursuit into the Russian plain and established a security perimeter around East Prussia, which was not to be re-breached in this war. Hindenburg and Ludendorff, who now were in charge of the Eastern theatre [as “Ober Ost“, High Command East, ¶], planned a renewed campaign, this time in the southern part of the Eastern front, but their requests for troop allocations were regularly curtailed by Falkenhayn, who feared to weaken the Western front by withdrawing troops from it. When at last a plan for a renewed offensive in Galicia was agreed on, it was based on a strategic concept by Hötzendorf, who also brought lots of Austrian troops to the venture, and a tactical design by Falkenhayn, not upon the plans of Hindenburg and Ludendorff. Why?

Emperor William II meeting Field Marshal von Mackensen

It was, again, the chimaera of Cannae, the double-encirclement battle that had infected OberOst’s plans.

The plan for the offensive was Falkenhayn’s, who entrusted its execution to Mackensen, victor in the East Prussian battles of 1914. Ludendorff and Hindenburg would have preferred not to prepare a breakthrough in the centre but to launch a double envelopment of the Russians from the Baltic and Carpathian fronts; like Schlieffen, they disfavoured “ordinary victories”, which led only to Russian withdrawal to lines further east,
and argued for cutting off the enemy from the great spaces of the Tsar’s empire by a manoeuvre of
encirclement. Though exercising command in the east, they were, however, subordinate to Falkenhayn, whose fear was that their encirclement plans would require withdrawals of troops from the west on a scale dangerously weakening the German front there, and so overruled them. Moreover, the Ludendorff-Hindenburg plan placed reliance upon Austrian participation which the continuing decline in quality of the Habsburg forces, Falkenhayn believed made unrealistic. (7)

THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY, Page 613
Deployment at Gorlice

The part of the Galician front chosen for the offensive was only about thirty kilometres wide, between the medium-sized town of Tarnów, fifty kilometres east of Cracow, and Gorlice, a village south-east south of it. The Cracow front was still defended by the Russian Third Army, composed of fourteen infantry and five cavalry divisions, which were, however, low on stock and ammunitions. Opposite of them, Falkenhayn constituted a new 11th German Army, commanded by Mackensen, which he supplied with some of the best divisions still available, 1st and 2nd Guard and the regular IDs 19 and 20. An Austrian army protected the flanks. On the Russian side, the Tarnow-Gorlice perimeter was defended only by two infantry divisions of average quality, the 9th and the 31st, whose defensive abilities were seriously curtailed by a lack of artillery shells. It turned out later that the commanders of the great Russian border forts of Kovno, Grodno, Ivangorod (Deblin) and Brest-Litovsk had hoarded shells in gargantuan quantities, many millions, but had found it wise to inform neither STAVKA nor their own field formations about their hidden treasures.

The Tarnow-Gorlice Offensive and the subsequent breakthrough …

This weak opposing force could not withstand long Mackensen’s concentrated hail of steel – emanating from 2,228 guns of all calibres. The preparatory bombardment began, against the customs, on the evening of May 1st, and the Russian trenches proved vulnerable. The next days’ infantry attack, at first light, passed through the enemy lines without encountering much resistance, and within the next 48 hours rolled up the secondary and tertiary Russian trench lines, breaking into open country on May 4th. The Russian flanks collapsed, and after three days 140,000 prisoners were counted. Ten days later, Mackensen’s 11th Army had recovered most of the territory Conrad von Hötzendorf had lost in the early calamities of winter 1914: the southern pincer of 11th Army had reached Przemysl and the northern one Lodz.

THE GORLICE-TARNÓW OFFENSIVE, MAY-SEPTEMBER 1915 Column of German troops advancing to the forward area near Gorlice while Austro-Hungarian transport moving in the opposite direction. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205081749

After the mad dash of the first days, the attack was continued through the open Polish plain. On August 4, Mackensen entered Warsaw and within the next six weeks, 11th Army conquered the four famous frontier fortresses guarding the old Russian-Polish border, Kovno, Grodno, Novogeorgievsk and Brest-Litovsk. The POW count rose to 325,000 and the Russians lost three thousand pieces of artillery.

Russian Prisoners of War

The map above depicts the main thrusts of the Central Powers Spring-Summer offensive of 1915, which developed from the initial breakthrough between Tarnow and Gorlice. The Russian High Command realized that, for the time being, given the condition of the army and her supply situation, nothing but a concentric retreat would enable the re-establishment of a new front in the future. By retreating from the huge Polish salient they shortened their supply lines and lengthened those of the Germans. This was a very reasonable strategy and worked out well enough. Ludendorff was able to claim a final success in September when he conquered Vilnius, the capital city of former Lithuania, but the onset of the “Rasputitsa”, the liquefaction of all surfaces under the torrential autumn rains, stopped the movements of all combatants. A new front line established itself, by fiat of transportational paralysis, in an almost straight north-south line from Riga via the Dvina and the Pripet Rivers, a hundred miles east of Brest-Litovsk, to Ternopol and Czernowitz at the Romanian border. North of the Pripet, and its impassable marshes, the front would hold until the end of 1917, and in the south until June 1916.


(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

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Germany 1918 to 1923

Demonstration in Berlin

It is well understood today that the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 defined the momentum of world politics and history long beyond its theoretical end in 1918. Without the First War, there would not have been a Second, or the Cold War – until the fateful and mostly happy days of 1989.

Street fighting in Berlin 1919

The fulcrum of the war was Germany and this little reader collects our main articles on German history in the years 1918 to 1923, from the final days of the war to the German revolution of 1919/19, the Peace Treaty of Versailles (so fateful for the future) and the subsequent developments in Germany up to the Hitler Putsch of 1923 and its aftermath.


The German Spring Offensives of 1918


Woodrow Wilson and the Fourteen Points


The Road to the Armistice and the Last Day of the War


Revolution in Germany and the End of the Monarchy


The Treaty of Versailles


The Kapp – Putsch of 1920 (German version, please use translator button on page, English version soon)


The Beer Hall Putsch of 1923


Trial and Detention of Adolf Hitler and the Putschists


[Many references in the articles above point to quotations respectively historical works referenced in the author’s main work “The Little Drummer Boy”, therefore here links to the Appendices: Quotations and Bibliography.]

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

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Americana – The Band’s “Rock of Ages”

An introduction to a timeless treasure …

Art is the expression of the human condition – literature, painting and music have formed the human diary since the dawn of civilisation. From small to large, from a tiny aspect to a great form, in its premier emanations, art speaks to us directly, explaining individual or common experiences – sometimes rising to evoke in us a picture of the past that is the perfect personification of the artist’s intention and at the same time a symbol as well as an explanation.

Every work of art, by its nature, must be a condensation of the aspects the artist wants to address. The greatest works of art we do know, however, are characterized that in addition to the glimpse of the time and place it was created, they speak to us in greater words, talk about the basic motives and inescapable complications of the human condition – of love and hate, loneliness and identity, war and peace, joy and sorrow.

That is why the great works of art – the Odyssey, Shakespeare’s Dramas, Goethe’s Faust, Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, the incomparable genius of Mozart, the Nine Symphonies of Beethoven, Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Therese, the Pieta and Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, the paintings of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Vermeer, speak of more than what they contain at first sight – they personify our human life, the dreariness of existence, the hope of salvation, sometimes the glory of a perfect moment in time and space.

In this blog entry, however, we will talk of popular music – by its nature, in general, a more ephemeral form of art. Disregarding the much less common instrumentals, we are talking here of songs – “Lieder” in German – one of the oldest forms of human art. Songs have been sung at all times, from the neolithic hunter to the labourer on pyramids, from the troubadour of the Middle Ages to the soldier marching to battle, but the form really took off with the invention of polyphony, which allowed greater harmonic expansion and advanced accompaniment.

Although the exact origins of polyphony in the Western church traditions are unknown, the treatises Musica enchiriadis and Scolica enchiriadis, both dating from c. 900, are usually considered the oldest extant written examples of polyphony. These treatises provided examples of two-voice note-against-note embellishments of chants using parallel octaves, fifths, and fourths. Rather than being fixed works, they indicated ways of improvising polyphony during performance. The Winchester Troper, from c. 1000, is the oldest extant example of notated polyphony for chant performance, although the notation does not indicate precise pitch levels or durations

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyphony

The development of the Hammerklavier or Fortepiano, an early form of piano, gave the singer(s) a polyphonic instrument to accompany him, her or them, which, contrary to the harpsichord or “Cembalo”, was able of a dynamic range of notes, muted or loud, and of sustained notes, and was much louder than the guitar and could reach a greater auditorium. Soon this was picked up by great composers, starting in Germany and Austria with Mozart and Beethoven, and brought to an early prime by Franz Schubert.

The beginnings of this tradition are seen in the songs of Mozart and Beethoven, but it was with Schubert that a new balance was found between words and music, a new expression of the sense of the words in and through the music. Schubert wrote over 600 songs, some of them in sequences or song cycles that relate an adventure of the soul rather than the body. The tradition was continued by Schumann, Brahms, and Hugo Wolf, and on into the 20th century by Strauss, Mahler, and Pfitzner. Composers of atonal music, such as Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, also composed lieder. The lied tradition is closely linked with the German language, but there are parallels elsewhere, notably in France, with the mélodies of such composers as Berlioz, Fauré, Debussy, and Francis Poulenc, and in Russia, with the songs of Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff in particular. England too had a flowering of song, more closely associated, however, with folk songs than with art songs, as represented by Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, Ivor Gurney, and Gerald Finzi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lied

This gave rise to the art song, mostly written by professional composers. Yet, naturally, traditionals and folk songs complemented the repertoire of the singer since times immemorial. Work songs, military songs, farm songs, children songs and love songs were sung in every society. Often, well-known melodies were underlaid with new texts, something that, in the spread of Christianity, regularly happened to church songs.

Standard European-style polyphony, however, experienced an important and popular amelioration by the influx of African slaves, who were prominent in the southern parts of the USA. Their traditional African tribal songs did not follow European harmonics or Major and Minor Scales – indeed, they tended to use slightly different pitches than European music allowed, not following the diatonic steps. These were soon called “Blue Notes”. English and Irish folk music had known them before, but then, who knew?

The blue notes are usually said to be the lowered third, lowered fifth, and lowered seventh scale degrees. The lowered fifth is also known as the raised fourth. Though the blues scale has “an inherent minor tonality, it is commonly ‘forced’ over major-key chord changes, resulting in a distinctively dissonant conflict of tonalities”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_note

Blue notes were quickly employed outside the black community by songwriters and composers looking for new sounds, especially in the more rural areas of the South and the West, where the origins lay of what would become known as the “Blues” and later “Country” and “Western” music.

Local music, as opposed to the expensive use of orchestras, which remained typical for western “Classical” Music, was performed with whatever was at hand, guitars, the saloon piano, military drums and especially reed and wind instruments, flutes, trumpets, trombones and the like, who were cheaper, transportable and easy-to-use.

And then it all came together, especially in New Orleans, amidst the catastrophe of the Great War, in a blend of African and European musical sensibilities. They called it “Jazz”.

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. … It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. … New Orleans jazz began in the early 1910s, combining earlier brass-band marches, French quadrilles, biguine, ragtime and blues with collective polyphonic improvisation. In the 1930s, heavily arranged dance-oriented swing big bands, Kansas City jazz, a hard-swinging, bluesy, improvisational style and Gypsy jazz (a style that emphasized musette waltzes) were the prominent styles. Bebop emerged in the 1940s, shifting jazz from danceable popular music toward a more challenging “musician’s music” which was played at faster tempos and used more chord-based improvisation. Cool jazz developed near the end of the 1940s, introducing calmer, smoother sounds and long, linear melodic lines.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jazz

“Jazz” became the original music style of the USA, although it was soon playing all over the world. Broadly, it covered everything including deeply intense black blues emotion, cheesy white dance music, film and love songs, ragtime piano players and the lonesome cowboy strumming his guitar, and, because Jazz never accepted stylistic borders or European rigidity of composition practises, eventually all the various elements interacted and fertilized each other. The role of improvisation was rediscovered and allowed the player to escape the strictures of note for note reproduction of another man’s work.

But then something happened, and it happened to the guitar – in its various forms and predecessors one of the oldest musical instruments known to man. These chordophones had a long history indeed, reaching back to Homer’s times. The “Kithara” (Greek) appears four times in the Bible, and stringed instruments are known since the Hittites and Babylonians, in Europe mostly as “lutes” and “ouds”. The form and structure of the modern guitar then arose around 1850 in Spain, usually credited to Spanish master guitar maker Antonio Torres Jurado.

Versatile and polyphonic as the guitar was, it had a drawback – it was simply not very loud. Although the old masters had written for it, or adapted older works, it remained an instrument for the intimate setting. Jazz had important guitarists from the get-go, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery; yet they fought constant losing battles with the sheer wall of sound of brass and drums.

That is until Wisconsin-born Lester William Polsfuss – later known as Les Paul – set out to change music forever. He had been a great fan and friend of Django Reinhardt and began to tinker.

Paul was dissatisfied with acoustic-electric guitars and began experimenting at his apartment in Queens, New York with a few designs of his own. Famously, he created several versions of “The Log”, which was a length of common 4×4 lumber with a bridge, neck, strings, and pickup attached. For the sake of appearance, he attached the body of an Epiphone hollow-body guitar sawn lengthwise with The Log in the middle. This solved his two main problems: feedback, as the acoustic body no longer resonated with the amplified sound, and sustain, as the energy of the strings was not dissipated in generating sound through the guitar body. These instruments were constantly being improved and modified over the years, and Paul continued to use them in his recordings long after the development of his eponymous Gibson model.
In 1945, Richard D. Bourgerie made an electric guitar pickup and amplifier for professional guitar player George Barnes. Bourgerie worked through World War II at Howard Radio Company making electronic equipment for the American military. Barnes showed the result to Les Paul, who arranged for Bourgerie to have one made for him.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Paul

Another tinkerer named Leo Fender was much on the same road and around the end of the 1940s, the basic ideas of the solid-body electric guitar, powered by a pickup and amplifier took shape enough that prototypes emerged. In 1950, Fender presented his “Esquire” model – which later evolved into the famous “Telecaster” guitar, the icon of Bruce Springsteen and Keith Richards. It was followed from 1954 on by the possibly even more iconic Stratocaster, played by Jimi Hendrix and Richie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Rainbow.

Les Paul meanwhile, after some ups and downs, finally found success with the Gibson guitar company, for which he designed the model that was graced with his name, the Les Paul Guitar, one of the iconic instruments of Rock n’ Roll – made famous by Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend and Slash.

With the help of amplifiers, the modern electric solid-body guitar is as loud as desired, and the clever use of amplifiers – feedback, overdrive, sustain – and electronic effects – wah-wah, flanger, echo, fuzz-box, delays – created sounds never heard before. The genius of Jimi Hendrix revolutionized the sounds of Rock n’ Roll.

And Rock n’ Roll began in the USA from the late 1940s to the early 1950s from

… musical styles such as gospel, jump blues, jazz, boogie woogie, and rhythm and blues, and country music. While elements of what was to become rock and roll can be heard in blues records from the 1920s and in country records of the 1930s, the genre did not acquire its name until 1954.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_and_roll

While no single “first” rock and roll record can be identified, as elements like a simplified blues scheme, the first power chords, distorted electric guitar solos with warm overtones created by small valve amplifiers, call and response structures, verse, bridge and chorus distinctions and a heavy beat were used to various effect in records from the late 1940s on, Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” is still recognizable as probably the first of what we call today “rock” records – in particular, the remarkable guitar opening riff and the hammering beat. The song is still ranked in the Top Ten on Rolling Stone‘s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time

One of the early stars of Canadian Rock n’ Roll was Arkansas-born Ronnie Hawkins (“The Hawk”), a key player in the rock scene of Toronto in the early 1960s. He formed his own backing band, “The Hawks”, and toured with them throughout Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. Hawkins also owned and operated the Rockwood Club in Fayetteville, where some of rock and roll‘s earliest pioneers came to play, including Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Conway Twitty. The drummer of the Hawks’ first line-up was the barely eighteen-years-old Arkansas boy Mark Lavon “Levon” Helm. In 1961, he met Canadian bass player Rick Danko at a recording session for Lennie Breau.

In the fall of 1961, Hawkins hired – for the second line up of the Hawks -guitarist Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, and the keyboard men Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson, all of them Canadians from south-western Ontario. This second line-up gigged through 1963 until it broke up in 1964. The former Hawks then performed initially as the Levon Helm Sextet, then as the Canadian Squires and finally as Levon and the Hawks and played in nearly every beer bar in northern America. A planned collaboration with bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson in 1965 failed because of the blues singer’s death. But then destiny intervened.

In August 1965, Mary Martin, an assistant to Bob Dylan‘s manager Albert Grossman, heard the music of the group, then known as Levon and the Hawks. Grossman introduced the band’s music to Dylan, who was impressed. The group was performing at Tony Mart’s, a popular club in Somers Point, New Jersey, and Grossman’s office called the club to speak with Levon and the group about touring with Dylan.
Helm was not happy to be backing a “strummer” but reluctantly agreed, and the band became Dylan’s backup group for a tour beginning in September. The tour, however, became too much for Helm, who departed in November. Through May 1966, Dylan and the remaining foursome (together with pick-up drummers, including the actor and musician Mickey Jones) travelled across America, Australia, and Europe. After the final shows in England, Dylan retreated to his new home in Woodstock, New York, and the Hawks joined him there shortly thereafter

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Danko
Bob Dylan and the Band live 1974

In this summer of 1966 or a bit later, Rick Danko found the pink house on Parnassus Lane in Saugerties, New York, which became known as Big Pink. Between June and October 1967, everybody met there and Bob Dylan and the band recorded what was later to become famous as the Basement Tapes. Yet these songs were only published, much later, in 1975, because Dylan – after his 1966 motorcycle accident – went upon an extensive period of recovery and wasn’t seen in public until 1971’s George Harrison‘s Concert for Bangladesh.

The Basement Tapes

Yet these songs were only published, much later, in 1975, because Dylan – after his 1966 motorcycle accident – went upon an extensive period of recovery and wasn’t seen in public until 1971’s George Harrison‘s Concert for Bangladesh.

The Basement Tapes thus on ice, Levon returned to the group in October and from January to March 1968 they recorded the first album of their own, naming themselves simply “The Band”, which was released later in 1968 on Capitol Records.

The album – “Music from Big Pink” – sold only mediocre, but was critically acclaimed by music press and musicians alike worldwide. In Rolling Stone, Al Kooper gave it a rave review, and Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd praised it wholeheartedly. The single “The Weight” earned popularity on account of its inclusion on “Easy Rider“. In 2003, the album was ranked number 34 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list. No other band was more reported on ever in Rolling Stone Magazine, not even the Beatles, and perhaps no other band has a comparable internet archive – see http://theband.hiof.no/

The complete “Music from Big Pink” on YouTube

It was strange music, far away from the flashy sound of the sixties, the experiments of the Beatles or Jimi Hendrix, laid back – some called it boring – old-fashioned, unpretentious, the sound you might hear in your local beer bar from an amateur band. But then it stuck – the old-fashioned songs had their own, unobtrusive way of growing on you – the odd line that seemed familiar, proverbs and adages you might have heard in childhood from your mom or grandfather, allusions on the Bible and Sunday preachings, striking and funny observations, remembrances of your high school sweetheart – in their unobtrusive way, the music formed a picture of the past, of growing up in rural, white America. Glimpses of family life, love and sorrow, war and peace, the all-encompassing microcosm that, in the end, forms a human life.

We carried you in our arms on Independence Day
And now you’d throw us all aside and put us all away
Oh, what dear daughter ‘neath the sun could treat a father so?
To wait upon him hand and foot and always tell him “No”

The band, “Tears of Rage” from “Music from Big pink”

Ten years ago, on a cool dark night
There was someone killed ‘neath the town hall light
There were few at the scene, and they all did agree
That the man who ran looked a lot like me

The judge said “Son, what is your alibi?
If you were somewhere else, then you won’t have to die”
I spoke not a word, although it meant my life
I had been in the arms of my best friend’s wife

She walks these hills in a long black veil
She visits my grave where the night winds wail
Nobody knows, no, and nobody sees
Nobody knows but me

the Band “long black veil” from “Music from Big Pink”

“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, “All You Need is Love” or “Purple Haze” was one thing, but here was real life, brutal, sad, hard work, disappointment and frustration, glimpses of luck overshadowed by clouds – everyone could relate to it. And then there was … “The Weight”.

I pulled in to Nazareth
Was feeling ’bout half past dead
I just need some place
Where I can lay my head
“Hey, mister, can you tell me
Where a man might find a bed?”
He just grinned and shook my hand
And “No” was all he said

the band, “The weight”, from “Music from big pink”

The single sold OK but not great, but everybody heard the song on “Easy Rider” – a strange amalgamation of scenes reminding of biblical allegories, western life similes and plain nonsense, wide-open spaces for interpretation. And indeed, dozens of books have discussed this magic potion. Peter Viney, one of the great writers and historians of Rock and Roll, devoted much of his time to the analysis of the Band’s great songs, and here is his introduction on “The Weight”: http://theband.hiof.no/articles/the_weight_viney.html

Peters Viney’s Music Blog

Robbie Robertson:
(Buñuel) did so many films on the impossibility of sainthood. People trying to be good in ‘Viridiana’ and ‘Nazarin’, people trying to do their thing. In ‘The Weight’ it’s the same thing. People like Buñuel would make films that had these religious connotations to them but it wasn’t necessarily a religious meaning. In Buñuel there were these people trying to be good and it’s impossible to be good. In ‘The Weight’ it was this very simple thing. Someone says, ‘Listen, would you do me this favour? When you get there will you say “hello” to somebody or will you give somebody this or will you pick up one of these for me? Oh? You’re going to Nazareth, that’s where the Martin guitar factory is. Do me a favour when you’re there.’ This is what it’s all about. So the guy goes and one thing leads to another and it’s like ‘Holy Shit, what’s this turned into? I’ve only come here to say “hello” for somebody and I’ve got myself in this incredible predicament.’ It was very Buñuelish to me at the time.

Peter Viney:

The Weight has been painting pictures for me for over thirty-five years now; it’s an intensely visual song, and my pictures aren’t of anywhere in Pennsylvania. My Nazareth is a dusty western town sometime in the late 19th century. Neighbouring towns might be called Jerusalem or Babylon … or Jericho (which was a deliberate reference in the Band’s comeback album title in 1993). Carmen and the devil are strutting their stuff in red silk dresses, fringed with black cat fur, along a wooden sidewalk. Chester is the town character straight out of the TV series Gunsmoke which was set in Dodge City in the 1880s. Gunsmoke ran from 1955 to 1975 and was the archetypal TV western. Chester Goode was the name of the deputy marshal in the series who spent his time limping rapidly along the dusty main street dragging his ramrod-stiff gammy leg. In the TV series, Chester had a catch-phrase. As he limped after the town marshal, Matt Dillon, he used to shout out ‘Marshall Dillon!’, ‘Marshall Dillon!’ (Marshall Dylan! Marshall Dylan?). Carmen might be the programme’s Miss Kitty, who owned the Longbranch Saloon – a tart with a heart. Old Luke’s another town character (not from the TV series this time) whose rockin’ chair ain’t goin’ nowhere, as he puffs his pipe waiting on the judgement day. The Cannonball steams into the station, a great cow-catcher across the front. Pure Americana…

http://theband.hiof.no/articles/the_weight_viney.html

Yet one year later, they upped the ante, and published in 1969 a very low-key album in a brown cover without a title except for their name, knows simply as “The Band” or “The Brown Album”.

Music from Big Pink had been a fine, even superior debut; The Band was their masterpiece. Robbie Robertson’s songwriting had grown by leaps and bounds. As players, all five musicians had reached a completely new level of ensemble cohesion. The sum was very much greater than the parts, and the parts were as good as any that existed. The album’s single, “Up on Cripple Creek,” became the Band’s first and only Top 30 release. It was one of several songs on the album that had an “old-timey” feel. Other highlights on this masterpiece include “Rag Mama Rag,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and “King Harvest.”
Rob Bowman, All-Music Guide

http://theband.hiof.no/albums/the_band.html

“The Band” (The Brown Album) on YouTube

Perhaps no other work of art, with the possible exception of “Gone with the Wind” (in spite of its thematic and historic limitations) has embodied the rural (white) American existence so closely – the blueprints of the American way of life: Go west, young man [“Across the Great Divide” and “When You Awake”] – the road and the longing for a home [Up On Cripple Creek” and “Whispering Pines”] – an old man’s memories [“Rockin’ Chair”] – farming and unions, the drudge of the weather and false promises [“King Harvest (has surely come)”] – snapshots of life, joy and sorrow, the human condition.

But even on this panoply of genuine Americana, two songs stand out – one that everybody knows, yet the other remains virtually unknown. We start with the famous one – “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” …

Virgil Caine is the name and I served on the Danville train
‘Til Stoneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again
In the winter of ’65, we were hungry, just barely alive
By May the tenth, Richmond had fell
It’s a time I remember, oh so well

Back with my wife in Tennessee
When one day she called to me
“Virgil, quick, come see, there goes Robert E. Lee”
Now I don’t mind choppin’ wood
And I don’t care if the money’s no good
Ya take what ya need and ya leave the rest
But they should never have taken the very best

Like my father before me, I will work the land
And like my brother above me, who took a rebel stand
He was just eighteen, proud and brave
But a Yankee laid him in his grave
I swear by the mud below my feet
You can’t raise a Caine back up when he’s in defeat

[Chorus]
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the people were singing
They went, “La, la, la”

THe band, “the night they drove old dixie down”

Ralph Gleason
Nothing I have read … has brought home the overwhelming human sense of history that this song does. The only thing I can relate it to at all is ‘The Red Badge of Courage’. It’s a remarkable song, the rhythmic structure, the voice of Levon and the bass line with the drum accents and then the heavy close harmony of Levon, Richard and Rick in the theme, make it seem impossible that this isn’t some traditional material handed down from father to son straight from that winter of 1865 to today. It has that ring of truth and the whole aura of authenticity.
[Ralph Gleason, original review in Rolling Stone (US edition only) October 1969]

http://theband.hiof.no/articles/dixie_viney.html

Jonathan Taplin (quoted by Robert Palmer)
It was May and they’d just finished it the night before. They said it’d come out fast and hard and clean. It was just the most moving experience I’d had for, God, I don’t know how long. Because for me, being a Northern liberal kid who’d been involved in the Civil Rights movement and had a whole attitude towards the South, well I loved the music but I didn’t understand where white Southerners were coming from. And to have it all in just three and a half minutes, the sense of dignity and place and tradition, all those things … Well, the next day after I’d recovered, I went to Robbie and asked him, “How did that come out of you?” And he just said that being with Levon so long in his life and being in that place at that time … It was so inside him that he wanted to write the song right at Levon, to let him know how much those things meant to him.
[Quoted in Robert Palmer “A Portrait of The Band As Young Hawks”, Rolling Stone, 1 June 1978]

http://theband.hiof.no/articles/dixie_viney.html

Chet Flippo
The fact that (Dixie) was written by a Canadian – Robbie – is all the more telling. Looking in from outside he could see more than most already inside just looking around.

Again and again, commentators have pointed to the novelty of expressing a Southern point of view about the Civil War. In 1969 a negative view of the traditional South dominated among young Americans. The South brought images of the Civil Rights struggle, the death of Medgar Evers, corrupt politicians like Huey Long and LBJ, the assassination of Kennedy in Dallas, the murder of Martin Luther King, fiery Ku Klux Klan crosses. Even today, Southern voices are deliberately avoided on most tapes and programs used for teaching American English to foreigners, or for reading the national news, and there is still a degree of antipathy in the North. Robbie has mentioned his love affair with the South. His distance – the fact that he was Canadian – helped. The British, for example, have always held a blinkered, romantic view of the Southern states. Maybe this was bolstered by Gone With The Wind, Maybe it dates back to the Civil War itself, when the British government gave covert support to the Confederacy, inspired by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. This was somewhat odd, as the British Empire had banned slavery thirty years earlier, and in industrial districts workers identified with the Northern cause. The British ruling class identified with “Southern aristocrats”. Politics are about taking the main chance, and it’s fair to say that the British government of 1861 to 1865 was far from adverse to a possible break-up of the Union, principally on the grounds of self-interest. France felt much the same, and was stirring the shit in Mexico throughout the Civil War. Napoleon III suggested to Britain that they jointly recognize the CSA. Then the French made Maximilian their puppet Emperor of Mexico. He got shot. Spain was messing in Santo Domingo with similar intentions. A positive image of the South was considerably less surprising in Britain and France, and as a result in Canada, too. [Chet Flippo, liner notes to the ‘Across The Great divide” box set.]

http://theband.hiof.no/articles/dixie_viney.html

Many fans and critics have seen the song as an illumination, or an invitation to see the other side – perhaps for the first time. The chorus strikingly contrasts southern anger, sadness and feeling of loss with the joyous reaction of the winner – the Yankees. History and feelings of the civil war depicted in three sad and glorious minutes – we hear you, Shakespeare.

There is an amazing article on genius.com on how the civil war shaped country music – link.

While being a stroke of genius, which the song undoubtedly represents, some, including the present author, argue that another, almost forgotten song, may stand on a comparable level. It evokes in vivid pictures the other great story of the South – involuntary servitude – slavery and serfdom – or does it? It bears the title “The Unfaithful Servant”,

Unfaithful servant, I hear you’re leavin’ soon in the mornin’
What did you do to the lady, that she’s gonna have to send you away?
Unfaithful servant, you don’t have to say you’re sorry
If you done it just for the spite, or did you do it just for the glory?
Like a stranger you turned your back
Left your keep and gone to pack
But bear in mind who’s to blame for all the shame
She really cared
The time she spared
And the home you shared


Unfaithful servant, I can hear the whistle blowin’
Yes, that train is a-comin’ and soon you’ll be a-goin’
Need us not bow our heads, for we won’t be complainin’
Life has been good to us all, even when that sky is rainin’
To take it like a grain of salt
Is all I can do and it’s no one’s fault
It makes no diff’rence if we fade away
It’s just as it was
And it’s much to cold for me to stay


Goodbye to that country home, so long, lady I have known
Farewell to my other side, I’d best just take it in stride
Unfaithful servant, you’ll learn to find your place
I can see it in your smile, and, yes, I can see it in your face
The mem’ries will linger on
But the good old days, they’re all gone
Oh, lonesome servant, can’t you see
We’re still one and the same
Just you and me

the band, “The unfaithful servant”

Now, this is wide to interpretation, but after some hundreds of interviews, Robbie Robertson has finally made clear that, yes, it is about a Mistress (with a capital M) and a servant, so a lot of speculation on the exact relations and lots of sexual innuendoes has been put to rest.

Peter Viney has a lot to say about it:

The song is brilliant at generating assumptions. Let’s ask some questions. Try answering them without pondering too hard. I’ve used the word ‘screwing’ which has rather mechanical connotations, but some people are offended by Anglo-Saxon four-letter words, and ‘making love’ sounds like romantic fiction, and ‘having intercourse’ like a medical textbook. If you don’t like the term try not to let it get in the way.

Let your picture of the song bring out your answers, but do it quickly:

  • Where does it take place?
  • When does it take place?
  • Is the servant male or female?
  • Is there a sexual element in the relationship?
  • If so, is the servant screwing or being screwed? (i.e. the instigator or the recipient)
  • Is the relationship with the ‘lady’ or with the narrator?
  • Is the narrator a separate entity to the servant?
  • What’s the transgression?

I would think most people could give off the cuff answers. If I’d done it fast a while ago, without referring to the lyrics I’d have answered:

  • Rural area. Large house. Mansion with white portico, somewhere in the south.
  • Not recently. Train whistles are blowing. So post Civil War (probably). I’d think Faulkner. 1920s to 1940s.
  • Male (?)
  • Yes
  • Screwing
  • the lady
  • yes
  • The servant had a relationship and told tales, bringing shame.

Then look at the lyrics or give it a listen. This is what I come up with.

  • Absolutely no textual or musical evidence for the south. Try seeing a wooden Gothic mansion in rural New England. Or an isolated farmhouse in the west, with the hired hand being sent packing. It still works just as well. I think people tend to see it as the south because it leads so beautifully into King Harvest. It could also be that the blowsiness of the horns conjure up a steamy Southern atmosphere.
  • A writer using a modern setting might choose a Greyhound bus in preference to a train. Trains will take you back as far as the Civil War. I still think I’m right about the early 20th century. I’d dismiss the idea that it takes place very early on. It’s a servant who goes and packs and leaves. This rules out either a slave, or an indentured servant.
  • Zero evidence for a male servant either. Barney Hoskyns says ‘his mistress’ but the servant could be female. In which case the relationship between the servant (who comes in on Goodbye to that country home, Farewell to a lady I have known… ) and the narrator is the sexual one. Say the servant was a ladies maid, and that the shame was an affair with the narrator? What she did to the lady was betray her trust. There is a deep link between the narrator and the servant: Let us not bow our heads, for we won’t be complaining … note that, us / our / we. And it makes no difference if we fade away. The intriguing end is That we’re still one and the same, just you and me which might indicate one voice in two aspects, or might mean that narrator and servant are now a couple. If the servant is female, then it’s the narrator who is also the “unfaithful” one, in the ‘infidelity’ sense. They are both unfaithful servants, they are one and the same.

The narrator is also involved with the lady; he is a lover, husband or son which means that he and the servant are retreating together, and in spite of the regrets he sings I can see it in your smile, which would be a knowing, conspiratorial smile. [http://theband.hiof.no/articles/unfaithful_servant_viney.html]

Yet it all might be very different, as Pat Brennan argues:

A Robbie Robertson songbook published with a ton of his input claims the song is written in the voice of a “master bidding goodbye to the servant with whom he’s had an affair’. So this makes the narrator the master, and the servant someone who has offended the mistress, by having an affair with the master. Pat’s quote indicates that the servant IS female, cuts out son/brother/ lover as possibilities (and answers most of the questions). After reading this quote (when I thought I’d finished) I had to go back and remove several maybe’s, might’s and possibly’s!

  • Even if you persist with a male servant, he may or may not have been screwing the lady. unfaithful can mean betraying trust in a general sense, or in a more limited sense refer to sexual infidelity. I don’t read it in the limited sense. The implication is general I’m sure, though that does not rule out a specific sexual transgression. A lady I have known could be “known” as in the bible. Or it could simply mean that the lady was not a remote figure, but a friend who shared her home. In any case, we don’t know who is the instigator, the lady or the servant. The lady is in the position of power over a male servant (Come here, young man …). A female servant would have had a relationship with the narrator. In both cases, there is a figure who holds power, and one who is exploited.
  • Already answered above. It could, of course, be both. Or either. Helpful.
  • You can argue this one. Danko sings the whole thing. Given The Band’s taste for switching voices, you’d have expected them to bring in Richard for the first person section. They don’t. I’m trying not to be crass, many songwriters have switched narrative voices within a song without changing vocalists. It’s just that The Band were heavily into switching at this time. The servant could be addressing herself/himself in the third person elsewhere, and switching to first-person here. Then “We’re still one and the same” becomes a knowing audio “wink” to the listener. Or if the narrator and the servant are in a sexual relationship, they are joined both physically and in their intent.
  • Theft? (and why not?) Screwing the lady’s husband/lover/brother/son and being caught? Or boasting about it? Screwing the lady and telling all and sundry? I think we’re seeing the same concerns which surfaced in The Rumor, those of gossip, saying too much, and thus betrayal. The servant was in a trusted position. The servant lived in the house and held keys (or even the main keys). They shared a home. A home, not a house. The sin and the shame would be the result of airing whatever was going on to public view. This is clear in the line or did you do it just for the glory? The glory was boasting about it, telling all.

In the end, it’s an enigma (what an easy let out). Whatever, Robertson’s sense of time lends the story of this particular eternal triangle a sense of dignity and regret. Compare a headline like ‘Rock star screws babysitter’ or ‘Rock star has affair with cleaner’ which would be an inevitably sordid modern-day version! [http://theband.hiof.no/articles/unfaithful_servant_viney.html]

What if the whole thing is a lesbian affair? Who knows …

Is “The Band”, as Barney Hoskyns argued, in its thematic tightness and historical congruity perhaps a “concept album”? If it was, Unfaithful Servant stands out like an almost film-like scene …

Peter Viney on Barney Hoskyns:
If The Band as a ‘concept album’ can be said to take place in or around some imaginary country town, then The Unfaithful Servant is definitely set in the ‘mansion on the hill’, a Southern household of the kind Robbie had read about in the plays of Tennessee Williams. … the overall effect was pure American Gothic.
I’d never thought of The Band as a concept album (whether in Hoskyns inverted commas or not) nor that it took place in one imaginary town, but The Unfaithful Servant does conjure up the mansion, not necessarily on the hill, which is as much a feature of Faulkner as of Tennessee Williams. Williams’ plays had been made into films (e.g. Cat On a Hot Tin Roof ) and Robbie talks about his passion for the movies predating his passion for books at the age of 19 (Robbie mentions Faulkner, Steinbeck and Hemingway as his reading matter in one interview and Tennessee Williams in another). Whatever, we all know this classic story setting, ‘The Big House’ which runs through American folklore from Faulkner through Gone With The Wind to more recent 1990s manifestations like the movie Driving Miss Daisy or John Berendt’s non-fiction novel Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil. It has been cited as a further Civil War period song, but there’s no internal evidence. Williams and Faulkner are 20th century manifestations that fit just as well. Melodically it harks back to Tears of Rage with a similar sense of nameless guilt in the lyrics. There is also a similarity with It Makes No Difference – similar in the way that say Elton John’s or Randy Newman’s songs are immediately recognizable as their compositions. There’s a lyric link too: “Makes no difference if we fade away … “(The Unfaithful Servant) – “It makes no difference, night or day, The shadow never seems to fade away” (It Makes No Difference).

theband.hiof.no/articles/unfaithful_servant_viney.html

Concept album or (rather) not, “The Band” remains one of the great albums of Rock music.

The album includes many of the Band’s best-known and critically acclaimed songs, including “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down“, which Rolling Stone named the 245th greatest song of all time (in the updated version, it was the 249th greatest song of all time). In 2003, the album was ranked number 45 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time, maintaining the rating in a 2012 revised list.[16] In 1998 Q magazine readers voted The Band the 76th greatest album of all time. Time magazine included it in their unranked 2006 list of the 100 greatest albums. Robert Christgau, having been disappointed with the Band’s debut, had expected to dislike the record and even planned a column for the Village Voice to “castigate” their follow-up. Upon hearing the record, however, he declared it better than Abbey Road, which had been released four days following, writing that the Band’s LP is an “A-plus record if I’ve ever rated one.” He ranked it as the fourth best album of the year in his ballot for Jazz & Pop magazine’s annual critics poll. The album was later included in his “Basic Record Library” of 1950s and 1960s recordings, published in Christgau’s Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Band_(album)

1970 the Band released their third album, “Stage Fright“, which sold well and in 1971 “Cahoots“, which drew mixed receptions. Arguably, the intensity of the second album was impossible to reignite. Yet their true metier was the road, playing live, which they had done extensively whether the records sold or not, and booked a residency at the New York City Academy of Music for the last week of 1971, culminating in a New Year’s Eve performance. The nights of December 28 through 31 were recorded and 17 songs released on the live double album “Rock of Ages” (10 additional songs including a guest performance of Bob Dylan were published as bonus tracks in a 2000 reissue).

“Rock of Ages” complete on YouTube

Robbie Robertson had commissioned New Orleans songwriter and arranger Allen Toussaint to compose horn charts for their recent singleLife Is a Carnival” from the album Cahoots, and decided to have Toussaint write special charts for a five-man horn section to augment the group on their upcoming concerts. Charts written by Toussaint in New Orleans were in luggage lost at the airport, and a new set was composed in a cabin near Robertson’s house in Woodstock. Robertson selected eleven songs to receive horn charts, and all are included on the released album. The horns do not play on “Get Up Jake”, “Stage Fright“, “This Wheel’s on Fire“, “The Weight“, “The Shape I’m In“, and “The Genetic Method.” Selections on the bonus disc also do not feature horn arrangements, although the horn section added spontaneous flourishes to “Down in the Flood” and “Rolling Stone.” The repertoire consisted of material from all four of The Band’s studio albums up to that point, and one new original song, “Get Up Jake”, which were framed on the album by covers of the 1964 Motown hit singleBaby Don’t You Do It” by Marvin Gaye, and “(I Don’t Want to Hang Up) My Rock and Roll Shoes”, the b-side of Chuck Willis’ final single.

Rock_of_Ages_(The_Band_album)

The (relatively) weaker songs of the last two studio albums were eliminated, and the result forms one of the great live albums of rock music. Such albums notoriously get short shrift and the cold shoulder by critics, but there is perhaps no better possibility to delve live into the magic of old-time Americana than “Rock of Ages”. Try it!

(© John Vincent Palatine 2019)

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The Treaty of Versailles

The signing of the Treaty of Versailles, John C. Johansen (1876–1964)

Related Post on the last chapter of the war: Objects in the Rear Mirror are Closer than they Appear [including PDF]


The Full Text of the Treaty of Versailles [PDF]


Video by France 24 with English Subtitles


What do we have to keep in mind, in the recapitulation, about the peculiarities of the Great War’s gestation? We may remind ourselves that neither politicians nor generals realized the sheer dimension of the disaster they unleashed. They understood that it was to be a huge war, but they still thought essentially in the dimensions of 1812 and 1870, big wars, to be sure, especially that of 1812, and destined to become even bigger by conscription, but that Napoleon’s Grande Armée of 1812 would easily be outsized by a factor of ten or fifteen and that ten million fatalities would eventually be counted nobody dared to suggest in 1914.

It was exactly because of the enormity of the conflagration that an intensive discussion was to ensue over the responsibility for its outbreak, the issue of “war guilt”. This topic remains intensively argued to this day, but in 1919, as we will see, it was quickly institutionalized by way of individual peace treaties, which tended to reflect the noble motives of the victors that so favourably contrasted to the evil schemes of the losers. As it was to be expected, the victors liked the results very much, the losers much less.

It took not much political savvy to doubt the usefulness of the blame game and the reparation demands which resulted – and would be so catastrophically exploited by Hitler’s propaganda – Marshal Foch himself famously called the
Treaty of Versailles not peace but a “twenty-year armistice”, and was not far off: twenty years, nine months and nineteen days after the First World War had ended, the Second broke out. In retrospect, the motivations were simple – territorial demands, economic interests, and underlying psychological malaises, and in each case, the result – the decision for war – was a mixture of at least two of these elements.

France sought to regain Alsace-Lorraine – the defeat of 1871 had literally stunned the nation, and, perhaps even more urgently, she sought to renew the national unity that had been torn asunder by the Dreyfus affair. The Great War would provide the illusion of such unity for the time being – l’union sacrée, proclaimed by Poincaré in parliament on August 4 – yet that France could not truly regain this indivisibility proved itself for the worse in 1940 when the French Right opted rather to suffer German occupation than to allow a Second Commune. But since the country had succeeded since 1904 “to convince leading members of the Liberal government in London that France’s security was a British national interest,” (150) she was assured not only of the assistance of the greatest land power, Russia, in the impending war, but could also count on the support of the biggest sea power. A repeat of 1871 seemed to be out of the question.

Great Britain’s policy remained – obviously – the perpetuation of divide et impera, the prolongation of the concert-of-powers system that prevented the rise of a continental hegemony. It was a lucky happenstance, perhaps, that this coincided with a certain interest in the weakening of Germany’s industry as a competitor in global trade. England had no stated territorial interests, although she would be suspiciously quick in accepting, after the war, as “mandates” from the League of Nations the former German colonies of Namibia and Tanzania. A discussion remains whether Edward Grey’s, the British Foreign Secretary, three principal moves that ended in England joining the war, of whose acuity he seemed to have been well aware, were results of his bumbling or cunning. In his memoirs, Grey wrote: “I remember saying more than once, to colleagues inside or outside the Cabinet that it did not matter whether the decision was to go to war or to demand conditions from Germany. Conditions meant war just as surely as a declaration of war. Respect for the neutrality of Belgium must be one of the conditions, and this Germany would not respect.” (151) [FN 32] This argument can be made, of course, only in hindsight.

[FN 32] Albertini remarks: “This shows that Grey knew beforehand what would be the outcome of his three moves. The first was that of 31 July when though the situation was beyond repair [sic] he asked Paris and Berlin to ‘engage to respect the neutrality of Belgium so long as no other power violates it’. The second was on 1 August, when with Cabinet consent he warned Germany that ‘if there were a violation of the neutrality of Belgium by one combatant while the other respected it, it would be extremely difficult to restrain public feeling in this country.'”

Austria-Hungary’s motivations were almost entirely psychological – the Danube Monarchy dreaded Slavic nationalism as well as Hungarian separatism, had no concept for the integration of the numerous ethnic minorities, and was in shocking internal disorder – parliament had to be dissolved in 1907, and she essentially became a military dictatorship during the war. Only a great victory promised hope for the future – provided that it was possible at all to preserve “Kaiser Franz Joseph’s unique but anachronistic inheritance” – the breaking apart of which the European equilibrium could not – and did not – survive. (152)

Russia was in a similar political situation – the attempted revolution of 1905 was in no way forgotten – as the future was to tell – and any influx of patriotism the war was to bring figured hugely in her political computations, but her leadership had a truly strategic and territorial vision. To gain control of the Straits and hence access to the Aegean, Adriatic and the rest of the Mediterranean Seas would not only multiply her economical opportunities but also extend the influence of her navy – the budget of which since 1913 exceeded that of Germany – to the coasts of the Balkan and Asia Minor – the resurrection of an [Orthodox] Christian Byzantine Empire would reverse the progress of Islam into Europe.


Related Posts on the last phase of the war and the armistice negotiations:

Woodrow Wilson’s Whiplash – The Fourteen Points

The Vanity of Black Jack Pershing


But one day all was over, and in Spring and Summer 1919 the delegations of the belligerents met in Paris to conclude the peace treaties. The most important of these – with Germany – was to be signed in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, where on January 18, 1871, the victorious Germans had proclaimed the Second Empire.

Since all nations except the United States were completely exhausted from the war, everybody looked upon President Woodrow Wilson as Arbiter (and Saviour) Mundi, as the cartoonists were quick to notice.

In anticipation of the victorious conclusion of the war – through American supplies and troops – European politicians, pros and amateurs alike, had drawn up maps for the future. Most of those had as a common element the partitioning of Germany – a sort of time travel back to 1789 – as to disarm the German menace for all time. They all looked somewhat like this:

This specimen may date from before 1917 – the breakdown of Russia is not anticipated, therefore no Poland, and really nobody has an idea what to do with the western Balkans (Black lines are the borders of 1914)
Woodrow Wilson partook in amateur geostrategy as well – a Map from 1920

On the historical assessment of what finally transpired in the Treaty, there is a useful introduction on Wikipedia and, of course, stacks of literature – hence this post will not deal with details. A tentative agreement seems to form that the peace conditions were not as harsh as later German, especially Nazi German, propaganda made them out – which of course did not help in 1939.

Procedurewise, negotiations started on January 18, 1919 (48 years after 1871). While at times over 50 commissions worked on details, the important decisions were made by the “Big Four” Committee, consisting of Prime Minister of France Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of Italy Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Lloyd George, and President of the United States Woodrow Wilson, who met in 145 closed sessions. Russia was not invited, on account of their separate Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany, and Germany excluded.

The Big Four, Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Orlando and Wilson

The signing ceremony was held in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles on June 28, 1919, the fifth anniversary of the Sarajevo Affair, the assassination of Francis Ferdinand.


Related Post: The Prince and the Pauper (Sarajevo 1914)


As one would surmise, the German delegation was quite unhappy about the proposed treaty. Minister-President Philipp Scheidemann and his cabinet, the first German postwar government, resigned in opposition to the treaty on June 20, 1919. He was replaced by Gustav Bauer. The decisiveness of the hesitant German government was much improved when the Allies issued an ultimatum stating that Germany would have to accept the treaty or face an invasion of Allied forces across the Rhine within 24 hours. On June 23, Bauer relented and sent his plenipotentiaries.

German delegates in Versailles: Professor Walther Schücking, Reichspostminister Johannes Giesberts, Justice Minister Otto Landsberg, Foreign Minister Ulrich Graf von Brockdorff-Rantzau, Prussian State President Robert Leinert, and financial advisor Carl Melchior.

The place of the signing was, as mentioned, fraught with history. The German National Assembly voted for the treaty by 237 to 138, and the result was wired to Clemenceau just hours before the deadline. German foreign minister Hermann Müller and colonial minister Johannes Bell travelled to Versailles to sign the treaty on behalf of Germany. The treaty was signed on 28 June 1919 and ratified by the Weimar National Assembly on 9 July by a vote of 209 to 116. (see Wiki)

The Hall of Mirrors
The delegations gather …
… as do the spectators.
Some seating arrangements were complex …
… to provide the necessary room …
… others less complex.
The Signing of the Treaty of Peace at Versailles, 28 June 1919 by Joseph Finnemore, 1919
Cover of the British Version

The eventual territorial changes are depicted below:


(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

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The Trial and Detention of Adolf Hitler in 1924


Preceding Post: The Beer Hall Putsch

Videos: US – Video from 1945 (no sound) / German Clip


In the early afternoon of November 9, 1923, the Nazis‘ wannabe-putsch had miserably failed at the Odeonsplatz in Munich under the guns of the Bavarian police. Adolf Hitler had dislocated his left arm as he fell on the pavement. Walter Schulze, head of the Munich SA Medical Unit, led him to Max-Joseph Platz, where they mounted Hitler’s old Selve 6/20 and fled southbound.

Selve 6/20 Model

After some errant manoeuvring, the car finally drove to Uffing at the Staffelsee Lake, to the house of the foreign press chief of the NSDAP, Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstängl. The landlord was not at home – he had not been on Odeonsplatz, but on a special mission in Munich’s Neuhausen district and was picked up by Heinrich Hoffmann, the party photographer, and brought to his apartment, whence he planned his escape to Austria.

In Uffing, the refugees were taken care of by Putzi’s wife Helene Hanfstaengl, but the idyll did not last long – on Sunday, 11 November in the afternoon, the criminal police appeared and seized Hitler. He was first taken to Weilheim, the county seat, from where the magistrate examining the case transferred him to the custody of the state prison at Landsberg am Lech, where he arrived Monday at 11 o’clock.

The trial of Ludendorff, Hitler and the other defendants began on the morning of February 26, 1924, in the Munich Central Infantry School at Blutenburgstraße. 368 witnesses were heard in total. Lots of correspondents from all over the world and hundreds of spectators crowded the hall. Two battalions of police sealed the Mars- and Blutenburgstraße off with barbed wire and Spanish riders.

During the days of the trial at the Bavarian Peoples’ Court – established in violation of the Weimar Constitution and therefore actually illegal (the Reichsgericht at Leipzig – outside of Bavaria – would have been the proper court), he was housed in the local prison at Stadelheim in Munich.

The trial of Hitler et al. lasted from February 26 to April 1, 1924.

The Defendants: Heinz Pernet (Ludendorff’s son-in-law), Dr Friedrich WeberWilhelm Frick (Chief of the Munich Criminal Police), Hermann Kriebel, General Ludendorff, Hitler, Wilhelm Brückner (Leader of the SA München), Ernst Röhm, and Robert Wagner (Aide-de-Camp of Ludendorff)

The website of the Austrian historian Kurt Bauer features the statements of Hitler before the court (PDF link in German).

Hitler (x) before the Court
Proclamation of the Sentence, drawing by Otto. D. Franz
Ludendorff, who was acquitted, leaves the Court

The trial never lost the character of a horse trade. Right at the beginning, the three lay judges Leonhard Beck (born May 6, 1867 in Schwandorn), Philipp Hermann (born October 21, 1865 in Nuremberg, † January 10, 1930 in Munich) and Christian Zimmerman told the court that they would agree to possible convictions only on the condition that any sentences would be suspended. To prevent the immediate disintegration of the trial and subsequent referral to the proper court in Leipzig, the court had to accept.

Newspaper Extra, April 1, 1924, at 10 a.m.

The Judgement in the German Original

Ludendorff was acquitted and Hitler, Weber, Kriebel and Pöhner sentenced to a minimum sentence of five years of “Festungshaft” imprisonment and fines of 200 gold marks. Since pre-trial detention counted towards the time of incarceration, Frick, Röhm, Wagner and Brückner were immediately released on probation.

The term “Festungshaft” meant, according to the Reich Penal Code of 1871, imprisonment without compulsory labour and was a special provision for capital crimes on the occasion of duels or political crimes, in which “honourable reasons” were assumed – in contrast to greed, jealousy or other “lower” motives.

A few days after the end of the trial, Hitler, Herrmann Kriebel and Dr Friedrich Weber returned to Landsberg prison. The only other inmate in custody was the murderer of former Bavarian minister-president Kurt Eisner, Anton Count von Arco auf Valley, but he was released on probation on April 13, 1924, and pardoned in 1927. He had already been evicted from his old cell # 7, which Hitler took over.

Landsberg Prison, the main entrance
Hitler’s Cell, no. 7

Hitler, Dr Weber, Kriebel, Emil Maurice and Rudolf Hess, who arrived in May, were brought to five cells that formed a separate wing of the building, where a common day room was available as well. The men met there almost every day for social gatherings.

A rather interesting point of view was first published on December 19, 2015, in an article by Sven Felix Kellerhoff, Chief Editor of the Department of History of the German newspaper “Die Welt“. Prisoners of the “Festungshaft” category had the privilege of self-sufficiency (at their own expense) and hence the judicial guard Franz Hemmrich, who was responsible for their orders, noted in the second half of 1924:

Hitler, Maurice, Kriebel, Hess and Dr Weber

Notable was his consumption of butter (34 kilograms), sugar (45 kilograms), eggs (515 pieces), potatoes (50 kilograms) and lemons (88 pieces). Otherwise, Hitler also ordered noodles (black and white vermicelli, spaghetti, macaroni), peas (one kilogram), onions (2.5 kilograms), rice (3.5 kilograms), salad oil, vinegar essence, soup cubes, coffee beans (5 pounds), condensed milk (one can), vanilla and cinnamon (50 grams).

Other purchases, however, shattered the image of the teetotaller, that Hitler claimed all his life in public:

More interesting, however, is what Hitler ordered in addition: beer. 62 bottles in July, 47 in August, 60 in September and 47 were delivered in October. For November, there are hardly any entries while 34 bottles accrued in December until one week before Christmas. These were half-litre bottles; thus, Hitler drank an average of just under a litre a day. That the beer was actually intended for him, can be concluded from the fact that Hemmrich noted specifically, if occasionally one of the then three daily bottles was intended for Hitler’s friend Emil Maurice, later SS-member No. 2.

It may, therefore, be concluded that a circle of merry men knew how to spend the days of their imprisonment in a rather liberal fashion. Of Hitler’s literary work on his book “Four and a half years of a fight against falsehood, stupidity and cowardice” – whose bulky title he later renamed “Mein Kampf” on the advice of a publisher –  party legend claimed later, that the author dictated the text to Rudolf Hess freewheelingly in the style of an ingenious rhetorician, but recent findings indicate that he probably typed the text himself on the old portable typewriter which can be clearly seen in cell picture # 2.

The treatment given to Hitler and his fellow prisoners regarding visits was, however, truly extraordinary. The director, senior government councillor Otto Leybold, described the men as “nationally-minded men” and for that reason authorized the admission of visitors far beyond the normal level. Until his release, Hitler received no fewer than 330 visits. The Historical Lexicon of Bavaria relates:

In addition to lawyer Lorenz Roder, the most frequent visitors were Berlin piano manufacturers Edwin Bechstein(1859-1934) and his wife Helene, Erich Ludendorff, Max Amann (Hitler’s war sergeant, 1891-1957), and Hermione Hoffmann.

Since the beginning of April, Kriebel and Dr Weber enjoyed the privilege of “receiving visits of their closest relatives without surveillance,” which extended to members of their sprawling families. From his own family environment, Hitler was visited only by his half-sister Angela Franziska Raubal from Vienna and her minor children Leo (1906-1977) and Angela Maria, called “Geli” (1908-1931). They were allowed to speak to their half-brother and/or uncle on 17 June and 14 July 1924 for a period of just under three and four hours, respectively, without supervision. In addition, Leybold had approved that Hitler was allowed to conduct confidential discussions with political friends regularly without the presence of a prison guard.

One probably will not err in characterizing the conditions of detention as rather mimicking a men’s pension than a prison. The inmates reckoned with their release on probation after serving the minimum detention period of nine months, estimating their release approximately on October 1, 1924. To their detriment, the Munich prosecutor found out that the prisoners had established smuggling of their correspondence, which torpedoed the earliest release date. Director Leybold was then asked for a written recommendation, which turned out quite surprisingly positive (here the German PDF of the document from a transcript in the Bavarian State Archives). After this hymn of praise – which allows us a few insights into the thoughts of the good Mr Leybold – their release on probation on 20 December 1924 was only a matter of form.

December 20, 1924, after release

Many relevant documents relating to Hitler’s detention were considered lost for years until they were offered for sale in July 2010; an action prevented, however, by the State of Bavaria, by seizure.

Inmate Hitler on the warden’s list – healthy, 175 cm height, 77 kg weight
A visiting card by Ludendorff and various other documents

As it was to be expected, after 1933 the Nazis made Hitler’s cell and prison a national shrine – with much fanfare and millions of postcards; a “place of pilgrimage to the German youth” – in the words of Reich Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach – where the hard time of the leader was to be honoured and kept in awe. [PDF in German by Manfred Deiler with pics] The city of Landsberg eventually crowned the adulation; in 1937 she declared the room the “National Sanctuary Hitler Cell”.

Obviously, the US military government after 1945 wanted to erase the whole haunting affair as quickly as possible – and to make it clear to everyone where the madness had ultimately led, executed between 248 and 308 war criminals there (depending on the source), including Oswald Pohl, Head of the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt, Otto Ohlendorf, commander of Einsatzgruppe D and Paul Blobel, the butcher of Babi Yar.

Graves of the War Criminals

(© John Vincent Palatine 2019 – The pictures from Landsberg were provided, if not in the public domain, by the European Holocaust Memorial Landsberg, Foundation e.V. [English version] and especially from the archive of Manfred Deilers. Thank you very much!)

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The Flights of Fancy – Adolf Hitler in School

Lambach Monastery and Church today, frontal view

Preceding post: Children of the Lesser Men


After Alois Jr., the eldest child, had left the apparently not so cosy household of the Hitler family, the freedom the elder son now enjoyed came at a high price for the younger, Adolf, who became the foremost recipient of the father’s pedagogic exercises. It was around this time that Alois Sr. conceded defeat in the agricultural campaign at Hafeld and sold the underperforming farm in the hope of finding a more congenial life in the small town of Lambach, about six miles or ten kilometres away. The family’s first residence there, the Leingartner Inn, was situated on the opposite side of the town’s dominant architectural feature, the old Benedictine monastery.

Leingartner Inn

Lambach had a quite modern primary school in which Adolf did well. In the school year of 1897/98, he scored the best mark, a “1”, in a dozen subjects. He also participated in the monastery’s boys’ choir, where he, probably for the first time in his life, saw a swastika. The depiction was part of a previous abbot’s coat of arms, a huge specimen of which was fastened to the stone arch over the abbey’s entrance, which the boys had to pass under on the way to choir practice. The monastery, dating from the eleventh century, was known for well-preserved frescoes and paintings by medieval masters. The second architectural highlight of the town was the Paura Church, which featured a triangular design, with three altars, gates and towers.

The school was located just aside of the monastery, and the busy church calendar with its many festivities strongly attracted the youngster. He was fascinated with the monks and priests, the celebrations, and the abbot’s presidency over the ceremonial community, the memories of which never left him. In Mein Kampf, he reminisced:

“Again and again I enjoyed the best possibility of intoxicating myself with the solemn splendour of the dazzling festivals of the church. It seemed to me perfectly natural to regard the abbot as the highest and more desirable ideal, just as my father regarded the village priest as his ideal.” (10)

Whether Alois Hitler, habitually championing the causes of sexual liberation and, perhaps, alcoholic intoxication, still regarded priests as ideals may be doubted. But since he had been raised in the bosom of the Catholic Church, he paid his respects, at least to a degree, and visited services on Easter, Christmas and on August 18, the Emperor’s birthday.

One thing his son clearly kept in mind was the swastika he had discovered on the abbot’s coat of arms. The original bearer of the coat, Abbot Theoderich von Hagen, had been the prior of the monastery in the middle of the preceding century, and the swastika symbol was not only featured on his coat but was found at many places in the structure as an element of decoration. The swastika, also known as the equilateral cross or crux gammata, is an attribute of prosperity and good fortune, widely used by cultures ancient as well as modern. The word is derived from Sanskrit swastika, meaning “conducive to well-being“. It was a favourite symbol on ancient Mesopotamian coins and appears frequently in medieval Christian, especially Byzantine, art, where it is known as the gammadion cross. It is also found in South and Central America, used by the Maya, and in North America among the Navajo and related tribes.[1]

Hakenkreuz at Lambach

The German word for swastika is “Hakenkreuz”, the ‘Hooked Cross’. In the case of the venerable abbot, it was perhaps a pun on his name, for in German his name Hagen, and Haken, the hook, are pronounced almost identically.

Lambach, however, was not the kind of town to stop Alois’ wanderlust, and in the late fall of 1898, he bought a small house in the town of Leonding, a south-western suburb of Linz. The house stood opposite the church, was not too big but had a nice garden, about one-half acre in size, abutting the cemetery wall. Leonding housed perhaps three thousand souls, but its proximity to Linz made it a somewhat livelier place than the number of inhabitants alone might suggest.

The Hitler family house at Leonding (Wiki)

[More Pictures of the house and Leonding in the blog of Mark Felton, PhD]

Adolf and Angela had to change school again, for the third time in four years, but Adolf did well at the small school in Leonding. Yet the family atmosphere apparently did not change much, for better or worse, and Paula reported that her brother remained the chief target the father’s temper tantrums were directed at. She remarked:

“It was him who challenged my father to extreme hardness and who got his sound thrashing every day. He was a scrubby little rogue, and all attempts of my father to thrash him for his rudeness and to cause him to love the profession of an official of the state were in vain.

How often, on the other hand, did my mother caress him and try to obtain with her kindness, where the father could not succeed with harshness.” (11)

Thus, if the sister blamed the father’s violence, she also attested to her brother’s being a “scrubby little rogue”, which we may take as a hint that the father’s educational manoeuvres were not entirely unwarranted.

The famous picture of Adolf Hitler in the fourth grade of primary school in Leonding (1899), presiding on top of the class …

The first two years in Leonding passed by, and Alois seemed to adjust better to the lifestyle of a retiree. He worked in the garden mornings for an hour or two, visited his beloved bees, and then proceeded to pay his dues at one of the inns, for a glass of wine. In the afternoon the schedule repeated itself; the Gasthaus session, however, was finished punctually at the time for dinner at home.

An important witness for this time is the mayor of Leonding, Josef Mayrhofer. He portrayed Klara as a most friendly and nicely dressed woman and explicitly stated that he never saw or heard of Alois beating the children, although he often enough threatened them with the whip. The truth may, as so often, lie somewhere in the middle, for corporeal punishment was widely accepted in this age.

Out of the blue, on February 2, 1900, Edmund, six years old, died of the measles. There are indications that the sudden death of his little brother shocked Adolf to the core, and may have contributed to the school problems which began soon thereafter. It seems that no other event in his young life had a comparable impact on Adolf. His scholarly success diminished dramatically, and problems with his discipline escalated.

Our photograph right, taken in the fall of 1900, in the first grade of the Unterrealschule, the Junior Technical High School in Linz, depicts a strangely mutated child: the boy faces the camera morosely, sullenly sulking, mumpish and dumpish, as if a flame had gone out. During primary school, he had always been near the academic top of the class but now his scholastic efforts and consequently his achievements dropped quickly. By his own account, his personal yearnings for academic laurels were diminished by the sudden discovery of a talent he had been unaware of yet: that of drawing.

Yet after school hours, if not drawing, he remained the lively leader of the pack, in all probability neither worse nor better than a typical schoolboy. Since his family had moved to four different locations within the first few years of his life and had thus provided him with an intimate knowledge of faraway places, he became the indispensable authority in all foreign matters. We can imagine him natter to his chums for hours, as he did later to his dinner guests.

He always found topics to talk about. All through his life, the observations agree, he was buried in books and this habit had begun early. He read all the time, and if the latest tome he had ingested was one of James Fenimore Cooper’s, he felt like Natty Bumppo, alias Hawk-Eye or Leatherstocking; if the last volume had been one of Karl May’s adventures, he was Old Shatterhand or Winnetou, chief of the Apache. Young boys have read adventure books and built fortresses in the woods since the dawn of time, and young Adolf was initially no exception. All boys pass through the heroic age, and so they should, but in young Adolf’s case, a deviation of the norm occurred. Juvenile obsessions diminish into the background of half-forgotten childhood memories when the ascent of puberty shifts priorities; when girls, cars and beer replace the heroes of the past. For Adolf, however, some childhood dreams persisted, like his veneration for the books of Karl May.

Karl May

Virtually unknown outside of the German-speaking people, Karl May was the son of a poor family from the Erzgebirge, the Ore Mountains, the low mountain ridge separating Saxony and Bohemia. The son of a weaver, he became an elementary school teacher before a conflict with the law, a conviction for petty theft, sent him for seven years to prison. Upon his release in 1874, he embarked on a career as a writer. He started out with short stories, which eventually grew larger and were serialized; like Alexandre Dumas’s “The Count of Monte Christo” had found success in France. May soon graduated to full-length novels, chiefly fictitious traveller’s tales.

While he eventually wrote about almost every corner of the globe, most of the stories concentrate upon his and a bunch of trusty sidekicks’ fictional adventures in the Wild West of the USA and Mexico of the 1860s and 1870s respectively the Ottoman Empire’s Balkan, Arabian and Turkish provinces. His alter ego was, in the case of the Wild West, “Old Shatterhand”, a trapper, surveyor and know-it-all, and in the East, “Kara Ben Nemsi”, a mixture between Sir Henry Morton Stanley and jack-of-all-­parades. In the 1960s a few of his tomes were turned into movies, featuring second-tier Hollywood stars like Stewart Grainger or Lex Barker in hilarious German-Italian co-productions, with Yugoslavian extras playing the assorted Indian braves.

In the German-speaking countries around the turn of the century, Karl May became an improbable success and a veritable household name. A whole printing house was dedicated solely to his oeuvre, followed by a museum. An open-air theatre was built to give dramatizations of his yarns, and the movies are a staple of weekend-afternoon child pacification. Total sales of his works exceed 100 million copies.

Most of his seventy novels and story collections follow unpretentious recipes. Mr May, as trapper Old Shatterhand, accompanied by his friend and blood-brother Winnetou, chief of the Apache Indians, encounters a party of strangers somewhere on the prairie, who, for the one or other reason, arouse his suspicion. After parting from their company, the heroes return, clandestinely, at night, and listen in on the fishy characters’ fireside chat, hidden by the bushes that grow handily around the suspects’ fireplace. The evildoers invariably engage in a lengthy and detailed discussion of their criminal enterprise, but, armed with the knowledge of their plan, our friends are able to thwart the heinous plot, as the laws of suspense prescribe, in the last minute. They save the prospective victims from bodily and/or financial harm and, at the end of the tale, ride together into the sunset.

For variety, evil Indian tribes may be replaced by Arabian criminals or Turkish gangsters. Books like those of Karl May have, of course, fired puerile imagination for centuries; in literate societies, they are an indispensable part of the male coming of age. In Hitler’s case, however, Karl May’s novels continued to form a part of his reality all through his life, he was unable to outgrow them. By his words, and the reports of his staff, he read the complete seventy novels at least four times in his life. He found time in his first year as chancellor of Germany, in 1933, to read them once again. His ideas of tactics and in particular of military intelligence were partly formed by his favourite literature; he did, in fact, more than once encourage his generals to read Karl May. One may hope they found enough bushes around their opponents’ campfires, for cover.

A quite linear way led young Adolf’s sense of adventure from the Wild West to the military. He admitted that when he found, by accident, a few illustrated magazines depicting the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 in the attic, he became an instant fan of the patriotic struggle. At this time, it was official Austrian policy to ignore the events of these years: first, because their army’s defeat at Königgrätz in 1866 by the Prussians still rankled, second, because Austria had played no part in the success of 1870/71, and, third, because the Austrian government was unwilling to acknowledge German efficiency in general, and the more so because it contrasted so unfavourably to its own bumbling ways. Adolf himself admitted that:

“It was not long before the great historic struggle had become my greatest inner experience. From then on, I became more and more enthusiastic about everything that was in any way connected with the war, or, for that matter, with soldiering.” (13)

The fascination with all things military that was to remain with him all his life had begun. The neighbours in Leonding were used to see Adolf and his associates playing war all day and night, the boy with the characteristic forelock urging on the action.

The year that had begun so baneful with Edmund’s death brought more trouble to Adolf in the fall. In September 1900, he had transferred to the Unterrealschule in Linz. Comparable to a junior technical high school, it was a four-year school with an impetus on science, mathematics and modern languages, preparing its students for careers in the modern industry fields of engineering, design and production. It was a feeder school for industry and trade, not for aspiring university students. For those pupils, Austria, like Germany, had the Gymnasium, in which the prospective earners of academic degrees were treated to a classical curriculum that included Latin and Greek. The Realschule did not offer ancient languages or courses in philosophy; it taught practical subjects to the children of the lesser men.

How it felt in general to be a student in a contemporary Austrian school we are being told by Stefan Zweig, who remembers his days in a gymnasium in Vienna.

It was not that our Austrian schools were bad in themselves. On the contrary, after a hundred years of experience, the curriculum had been carefully worked out and, had it been transmitted with any inspiration, could have been the basis for a fruitful and fairly universal education.

But because of their accurate arrangement and their dry formulary our lessons were frightfully barren and lifeless, a cold teaching apparatus which never adapted itself to the individual, but automatically registered the grades, “good”, “sufficient” and “insufficient”, depending on how far we complied with the “requirements” of the curriculum.

It was exactly this lack of human affection, this empty impersonality and the barracks-like quality of our surrounding, that unconsciously embittered us. We had to learn our lessons and were examined on what we learned. For eight years no teacher asked us even once what we personally wished to learn, and that encouraging stimulus, for which every young person secretly longs, was totally lacking. (14)

It was the normal procedure of the age that the father of the student chose in which type of institution to enrol his offspring after he or she finished elementary school, and, not surprisingly, Alois chose the more practically oriented Realschule over the more cerebral Gymnasium for his son; perhaps in the hope that its more utilitarian education would improve, at length, the boy’s willingness to pursue the career of a civil servant.

The virtues of the civil service were proverbial in the Hitler household. It was necessary that one child should be prepared for the bureaucracy, almost as noble sons once were destined for army and Church. Yet, when the actual decision had to be made, the old man ran into unexpected resistance.                A serious conflict erupted between father and son because the boy refused to cooperate in Alois’ plans. He claimed that he had no interest in an official’s life; nothing his father could propose, through either commands or blandishments, succeeded in changing his stand. The struggle between father and son gradually became more serious. Alois became increasingly bitter and intransigent. And Adolf’s whole manner of life was profoundly changed.

During the years in Realschule (1900-1905), he emerged as a solitary, resentful, and uncooperative youth who sullenly went through the motions at home and failed in school. After compiling an excellent record in Volksschule, he slipped from one mediocre term to another, either failing completely (1900-1901) or barely skating by. The whole experience deeply affected his later development. It barred his way to higher education and left him with a full measure of unhappy confusion and resentment about himself, his family and his future. (15)

Most of the school reports of these years have been preserved. They are somewhat confusing to the outsider, hence here a link to a useful summary.

To be continued …


(10) Hitler, Adolf, Mein Kampf [German Edition], Eher Verlag, Munich 1924, p.4

(11) Toland, John, Adolf Hitler, Anchor Books 1992, ISBN 0-385-42053-6 (pbk.), p. 12

(13) Hitler, Adolf, Mein Kampf, Houghton Mifflin 1942, p. 6

(14) Zweig, Stefan, The World of Yesterday, T & L Constable, Edinburgh, 4th Ed., 1947, p. 34

(15) Smith, Bradley F., Adolf Hitler – Family, Childhood and Youth, Hoover Institution Press 1979, ISBN 0-8179-1622-9 (pbk.), p. 70 – 71

[1] See the relevant article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.


(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

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Rome – The Republic

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Rise and Fall

Video: Rise of the Roman Republic

Video: The Unification of Italy


Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento
(Hae tibi erunt artes), pacique imponere morem,
Parcere subiectis et debellare superbos.

You, Roman, make your task
to rule the nations by your government
(these shall be your skills),
impose upon them peace and order,
spare those who have submitted
and pacify the arrogant.

VirgilAeneid”, Bk. 6, L. 847


Until the third century BC, the people living in the north and middle of the European continent – mostly Celts and Germans – appeared on the political map of the known world only by proxy: by virtue of the trade undertaken by the seafaring people, whose commercial and military interests then centred upon the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Of pivotal importance to this age were the great ports, for they not only provided safe havens from the volatility of the sea but served as commercial hubs or, should the need arise, as gathering points for the men-of-war.

Expansion of the Celts

The principal harbours of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea were then among the greatest and most busy towns of the age: Athens and its harbour Piraeus, Ephesos and Miletus in western Anatolia, the ports of Rhodos, Cyprus and Crete, Sidon and Tyrus in Palestine, Trapezos and Chersonesos in the Black Sea, and always Alexandria Egypta, with her famous lighthouse and the greatest library of the world: these were the naval and thus political heavyweights of the period. At this time, the Levant and Northern Africa were far more fertile than they are today: the fabulous wheat harvests along the Mediterranean Africa coast and Sicily provided for many centuries most of the grain that fed southern and western Europe, her coastal cities and hinterlands.

From the sixth to the fourth century BC, the Greek and Phoenician town states around the Eastern Mediterranean Sea engaged in a rapid colonial expansion westward. Among many smaller settlements and ports, towns as famous as Massilia, today’s Marseille, Neapolis, i.e. the “New Town“, today’s Naples, and Gades, today’s Cadiz, were founded at this time. One Phoenician community settled near today’s town of Tunis at the African coast, vis-a-vis from Sicily, and from this promontory began the economic exploration of the West, of Spain, Italy and southern France. In these lesser-known parts of the Mediterranean Sea, large profits beckoned.

Mars and Rhea Silvia by Peter Paul Rubens
Twins and a she-wolf

From the fifth century BC onward, Carthage, as the new settlement became known, established herself as the dominant trading force in the western parts of the Mediterranean Sea by founding new colonies that extended as far as the Atlantic coast, and the Iberian Peninsula was thus linked with the consumers of Greece, Syria and Egypt. In the third century BC, however, her ongoing expansion into the Italian markets was checked by an indigenous opponent, the young city-state of Rome. We know little of Rome’s actual, as opposed to legendary, origins, although archaeological work recently begun on Palatine Hill may soon deliver clues. The primary saga of Rome’s establishment, however, is a well-known tale which draws on various popular elements of foundation myths – two of them, actually, and somewhat intermingled. The first story is about the twins Romulus and Remus, sons of the war god Mars and the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silva, who were abandoned after birth but found, floating down the Tiber River in a basket, by a she-wolf that nursed them to boyhood. They were subsequently adopted by a shepherd and his family, and, in the year 753 BC founded a small settlement on the Palatine Hill, overlooking the Tiber River, and in the distance, perhaps five leagues away, the blue waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Cavalier d’ Arpino – Discovery of the She-Wolf nursing Romulus and Remus

[FN1] As usual, the elements of the myth do not truly fit and are of little original quality (Floating basket, anyone? See Moses and Osiris). By definition, a virgin should not give birth, and why a god and such an honourable lady did not have the pocket change to rear twins properly, must be left to the reader’s imagination. Legend says it was because of an evil prophecy – which promptly came true.

Aeneas killing Turnus

A somewhat different account tells the story that the twins descend from a visit of the heroic Aeneas of Troy on the shores of the Tiber, who arrived after a somewhat complicated journey from the cinders of his home town and a stopover in the arms of Dido (at Carthage) in middle Italy and thus bestowed a claim of noble ancestry to the fledgeling village. He married a certain Lavinia after killing her boyfriend Turnus and eventually becomes the ancestor of the twins (see Wiki)

The Meeting of Dido and Aeneas, by Sir Lawrence Lama Tadema
Building the Walls of Rome – Copperplate

At any rate, peace in the hamlet foundered soon, by virtue of some unexplained family business which led to the murder of Remus by Romulus, as in Cain and Abel. Soon after the ordeal, Romulus was able to welcome new blood. To improve the population count, Romulus declared a zone between the two summits of near-by Capitoline Hill a habitat for fugitives; and it may tell us something about law and order in early Roman history that Romulus soon found numerous prospective citizens; men ejected from their tribes for various offences.

Sabine Hills

While it seemed that crime was as popular and profitable career then as it is today, and Romulus experienced few problems in attracting new associates, it was female company that proved a rare occurrence on the settlement’s campfires and many lecherous thoughts were addressed at the misty hills belonging to the tribe of the Sabines, who were known for an abundance of female members. Given the criminal backgrounds of many of the new Roman citizens, it was no surprise that a solution to the problem was found only within the confines of war; when battle raged in Rome between the Romans and the Sabines, the women brought it to a close. Livy writes:

“[The women], from the outrage on whom the war originated, with hair dishevelled and garments rent, the timidity of their sex being overcome by such dreadful scenes, had the courage to throw themselves amid the flying weapons, and making a rush across, to part the incensed armies, and assuage their fury; imploring their fathers on the one side, their husbands on the other, “that as fathers-in-law and sons-in-law they would not contaminate each other with impious blood, nor stain their offspring with parricide, the one their grandchildren, the other their children. If you are dissatisfied with the affinity between you, if with our marriages, turn your resentment against us; we are the cause of war, we of wounds and of bloodshed to our husbands and parents. It were better that we perish than live widowed or fatherless without one or other of you.”  Livy, Ab urbe condita 1.13

Jacques-Louis David painted the happy end of the story, when the women intervene to reconcile the warring parties (1799) Louvre, Paris

Together with the poaching of any girl they chanced upon in the woods or the coastline, adult entertainment was finally secured and the procreative challenge solved.

A Roman Feast, by Roberto Bompiani (1821 – 1908)

Rome’s early days as a kingdom are shrouded in the veils of oral tradition, because no records exist and only a few inscriptions remain. It is believed that the spot was initially chosen because of a ford, where the river could be crossed, and the hills provided an easily defensible position. What appears to be different from the usual kingdoms around is that the king did not reign because of his descent from a royal family or a god but by authority through the use of imperium, formally granted to the king by the Comitia Curiata with the passing of the Lex curiata de imperio at the beginning of each king’s reign.

[FN1] see Wiki: “The traditional version of Roman history, which has come down to us principally through Livy (64 or 59 BC-AD 12 or 17), Plutarch (46–120), and Dionysius of Halicarnassus (c. 60 BC – after 7 BC), recounts that a series of seven kings ruled the settlement in Rome’s first centuries. The traditional chronology, as codified by Varro (116 BC – 27 BC), allows 243 years for their combined reigns, an average of almost 35 years. Since the work of Barthold Georg Niebuhr, modern scholarship has generally discounted this schema. The Gauls destroyed many of Rome’s historical records when they sacked the city after the Battle of the Allia in 390 BC (according to Varro; according to Polybius, the battle occurred in 387/6), and what remained eventually fell prey to time or to theft. With no contemporary records of the kingdom surviving, all accounts of the Roman kings must be carefully questioned.”

Etruscan Culture
Former Etruscan walled town Civita di Bagnoregio

Around 500 BC, the town state began to change its political organization from a run-of-the-mill monarchy – with kings good or bad – to a republican oligarchy. This was due, it seems, to the influence of the Etruscans, a peculiar people whose pale of settlement reached from Rome north-westward to the vicinity of Pisa, and whose culture displayed no similarity to any of their neighbours, except, perhaps, for the fact that they used an alphabet traceable to the Greek.

The Ancient Quarters of Rome
The head of this bust, the “Capitoline Brutus“, from the Capitoline Museums is traditionally identified as a portrait of Brutus

Myth holds that four men, led by Lucius Junius Brutus, and including Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, Publius Valerius Poplicola, and Spurius Lucretius Tricipitinus incited a revolution that deposed and expelled the seventh and last king Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and his family from Rome in 509 BC, after the king’s son Sextus Tarquinius had raped the lovely Lucretia, who promptly committed suicide. Brutus and Collatinus then became the first consuls of Rome, which subsequently developed her own intricate form of political government (see Detour One below).

Italy around 400 BC
Triumph of Furius Camillus by Francesco Salviati

The Etruscans were either destroyed or assimilated by the Romans in the third century BC, yet it appears that their laws were an early influence on the first Roman laws, which were written, the legend goes, on twelve clay tablets sometime around 450 BC. With the Roman conquest of the principal Etruscan town of Veii in 396 BC under the leadership of Marcus Furius Camillus [FN1], their culture vanished, and the same year is commonly accepted as the beginning of the Roman expansion. Incorporating Etruscan and other local customs and fashion, the Roman state developed its own cultural identity. In the pictures below, we present a few scenes of typical Roman life.

[FN1] Marcus Furius Camillus is said to have been elected dictator five times, was granted four triumphs and received the honorific “Second Founder of Rome”.

Shopping at the Forum
The Vintage Festival, by Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema
Taberna in Ostia Antica – A sort of Roman McDonalds
A garden party …
Triclinum from Pompeii – Roman Dining Room
A bath, also from Pompeii
A Rug Merchant in Ancient Rome by Eduardo Ettore Forti
Cesare Mariani – The Mask Seller, A Roman Street Scene, 1875

The following years generated fair amounts of local hostilities, which were somewhat amplified in 387 BC by a roving Celtic tribe, the Senones, led by their chieftain Brennus southbound from Gallia Cisalpina. At that time, the population of the wide valley of the Po River was Celtic as well, and forays along the coasts were not uncommon. King Brennus’s men plundered their way southward to Rome, which they sacked: with the exception of the top of Capitoline Hill, whose sleeping sentries were alerted, in the nick of time, by the chatter of a handful of geese. The attack on the hill and its gold cache was thus deflected, although the Senones took everything that moved and left for further adventures. The geese, since then, enjoyed a protected habitat on Rome’s principal hill, fed well by grateful citizens – only to be slaughtered and cooked at the next holiday, perhaps. Sic transit gloria mundi.

He got the girls but not the gold – “Brennus and His Share of the Spoils” also known as “Spoils of the Battle” by Paul Joseph Jamin

After the Senones had vanished, local warfare was speedily reinstated and concentrated upon the Samnites, Rome’s south-eastern neighbours. It took three campaigns to subdue them [343 -290 BC], and as soon as that was over, the nasty surprises continued in the person of Pyrrhus, a general and subsequent King of Epirus. The issue at hand was the Adriatic and southern part of the Mediterranean Sea, especially the status of Tarentum [282 -272 BC]. At the eventual conclusion of these Pyrrhic Wars, the victorious republic extended her tenure over the whole Italian boot: from Ariminum, today’s Rimini, in the north-east, where the northern piedmont of the Apennines mountains meets the Adriatic Sea, to Regium, at the tip of the boot. These conquests more than tripled the size of the Roman territory, and the increasing trade volume on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea brought the republic at length into contact, and soon into conflict, with the established naval superpower of the time – Ancient Carthage.

Dido building Carthage, or The Rise of the Carthaginian Empire is an oil on canvas painting by J. M. W. Turner.
Carthaginian Possessions in grey

Around the year 250 BC, the Phoenician (=Punic) sphere of dominance comprised the African coast from the Great Syrte of Lybia all the way to today’s Moroccan coast; the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and the Baleares and Spain from the Ebro River in the north-east to the Rock of Gibraltar, and even a few colonies on the Atlantic Ocean, Gades, today’s Cadiz, being the most important of them (see map, areas in grey).

Carthage was the most important port in the western Mediterranean

The conflict between Rome and Carthage first centred on the island of Sicily, fabulously wealthy then, and in the long run scattered skirmishes turned into open warfare. For the first time in her history, Rome had to fight a naval war, and it took a few attempts to get things right. It helped that around 260 BC an unknown Roman engineer conceived a mechanism that enabled Roman infantry, the pride of the nation, to participate in sea battles (in which the Phoenicians were reported to be masters). A plank (called “corvus”,`raven´) that could be lowered onto an enemy ship allowed Roman legionaries to enter the opposing vessel and fight the way they were used to, on foot, with spear and sword. In 260 BC, the Battle of Mylae, north-west of Messina, brought Rome her first naval victory.

Corvus

A second victory, at the Ecnomos promontory in 256 BC, allowed a Roman expeditionary force in the strength of four legions to set foot on the African continent. Their advance on Carthage was checked, however, by a hastily collected force of Punic mercenaries in an action near today’s Tunis, and the mauled Roman legions, which suffered from logistic problems to boot, did not have the strength to continue the campaign and were quickly forced to return. This tactical success, however, could not save the island of Sicily for Carthage, which became the first Roman “provincia” in 241 BC.

An uneasy truce ensued but lasting peace was out of the question, given the awareness of both sides that only the winner would continue to harvest the fruits of trade. In 227 BC Rome acquired the islands of Sardinia and Corsica from a weakened Carthage; at this time the Romans began to call the Mediterranean Sea “mare nostrum“, our sea.

By 219 BC a new generation of Punic soldiers, more familiar with land warfare than their fathers had been, was ready to renew hostilities. One specific young officer showed great promise in all things military and was entrusted with the command over the whole Punic army in the twenty-fifth year of his life. As the qualities of a man are often best judged by his enemies, we shall contemplate what Titus Livius, his Roman adversary, wrote about Hannibal:

The old soldiers fancied they saw Hamilcar [his father] in his youth given back to them; the same bright look, the same fire in his eye, the same trick of countenance and features. But soon he proved that to be his father’s son was not his highest recommendation. Never was one and the same spirit more skilful to meet opposition, to obey or to command. …

He entered danger with the greatest mettle, he comported himself in danger with the greatest unconcern. By no difficulties could his body be tired, his ardour dampened. Heat and cold he suffered with equal endurance; the amount of his food and drink was gauged by natural needs and not by pleasure. The time of waking and sleeping depended not on the distinction of day and night.

What time was left from business he devoted to rest, and this was not brought on by either a soft couch or by quiet. Many have often seen him, covered by a short field cloak, lying on the ground betwixt the outposts and sentinels of the soldiers. His clothing in no wise distinguished him from his fellows; his weapons and horses attracted everyone’s eye. He was by long odds the best rider, the best marcher. He went into battle the first; he came out of it the last. He served three years under Hasdrubal’s supreme command, and left nothing unobserved which he who desires to become a great captain ought to see and do.” (1)

Legend has it that Hannibal’s father Hamilcar had obliged the son to swear by oath to remain at all times an enemy of Rome. Under the son’s command, Carthage decided to carry the war to the opponent’s own turf, and the gold of the state was liberally spent on the equipment of a fresh army. Carthage opened the second round of hostilities by attacking and seizing Saguntum, a Spanish town that was an ally of Rome, and the Roman senate consequently declared war [Second Punic War, 218 – 201 BC]. Hannibal now faced the strategic choice whether to attack Rome by land or by sea.

The invasion of a defended coast from the sea is one of the most difficult military manoeuvres, and since Hannibal could not ignore how quickly and efficiently the Romans had adapted to naval warfare, he judged the invasion of Italy from the sea an enterprise doomed to fail. The only other way to reach the enemy on his own turf was by land, through Spain and France; a route fraught with the obstacles of the Pyrenees and the Alps. The advantage of the strenuous approach, however, was of tactical nature: it promised surprise, the most cherished of military commodities.

Crossing the Alps

The newly assembled Punic army, including not only the standard infantry and cavalry units but a corps of thirty-seven elephants as well, set out for Italy in 219 BC. The first part of the exercise was the easiest and most comfortable, with the exception of a little mal de mer it brought on for the landlubbers: by ship from Carthage to Mastia [later called “Carthago Nova”, today’s Cartagena]. There the land campaign began. For the greater part following the coastlines, Hannibal’s forces marched over 1,000 miles, or 1,600 kilometres, to their destination. Having hugged the seashore as far as Narbonne in southern France, they changed direction at the Rhone River, which they followed northwards. When they reached the confluence of Rhone and Isere, they branched out eastwards and passed today’s Grenoble and Frejus in traversing the French Alps, touching Italian soil when they descended into the valley of the Po near today’s Torino.

Hannibal, by Francisco Goya
‘Hannibal Crossing the Alps on an Elephant,’ a painting by Nicolas Poussin.

Alas, the exercise proved costly: of the 60,000 troops that had left Mastia, only 26,000 were left to greet Italia; more than half of the horses and sixteen of the precious elephants had perished in the journey. Nevertheless, Fortuna was on Hannibal’s side: when he descended the Alps with his damaged force, he encountered a congregation of Celtic tribes who had their own bill to square with Rome and Hannibal was able to add about fifteen thousand Gauls to the common cause. Surprise was fully achieved. The Roman legions were protecting the beaches of Sicily from Punic invasion, not the rocks of the Alps, and had to be rushed north at best speed. Their hectic advance led them straight into an ambush Hannibal had laid at the Trebia River (218 BC), north-east of Genova, and the Romans were soundly beaten. This victory and the advance of winter, in which campaigning was impossible, permitted the Punic army and their allies to rest, re-equip themselves and stock up supplies, and allowed their commander a thorough planning of the next engagement.

In the spring of 217 BC, a well-replenished Punic/Gallic force began its drive towards Rome. Around the halfway mark of the march, near Lake Trasimene (217 BC), they encountered another hastily approaching Roman army, and a second ambush drove the legions into disarray and retreat. The second defeat in a row astonished the Senate and People of Rome, who had been too long accustomed to hear good news only from the battlefields. Recognizing the qualities of their opponent, caution was urged and obeyed. A reorganization of the available forces resulted in the establishment of a new army in the strength of fourteen legions; altogether over 70,000 men, the largest armed body Rome had ever sent into the field. The command over the forces of the republic was entrusted to the patrician senator Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, who was in addition appointed to the office of “dictator“, which gave him not only unlimited “Imperium”, the power of command, for six months, but also indemnified him, a priori, from any legal consequences of his actions or omissions.

The Gaul Ducar decapitates Flaminus at the Battle of Lake Trasimene by Joseph-Noël Sylvestre

Fabius advanced cautiously, being informed by his spies of his opponent’s every move, up to a point where his vanguard could barely see the Punic outposts, yet he was sure that their advancement would be reported to Hannibal. At this point, he ordered the legions to stop for the day and erect the standard fortified overnight camp, almost in sight of the enemy. Fabius’s lieutenants, aware that they outnumbered the opposition, recommended various plans of attack for the coming day, which were all denied.

Since it had been the habit of Roman armies for centuries to attack the enemy once contact was established, and Hannibal was aware of this fact, Fabius’s unorthodox behaviour baffled the Punic captain. He decided to break up his own position and move a few miles away, there to reorganize his army for the battle he expected for the next day. But the battle never materialized: Fabius shadowed Hannibal’s every move, but anytime the Punic army proceeded to leave camp and close ranks in anticipation of battle, the Roman legions moved a few miles away and built another god-damn camp. It was very frustrating. The same thing happened the next day and the day after. For weeks and months, the game proceeded, and Fabius acquired the not so glorious nickname of “Cunctator“, the “Hesitater”. While his “Fabian” tactics, as they are still called today, did not earn him a victory, he did not suffer defeat, either.

Consequently, nothing much happened in the next six months, and when his imperium ran out, Fabius handed the control of the legions to his successors, the chief magistrates of the year 216 BC, consuls Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro. These men and their lieutenants, aware of the fact that they commanded the finest army Rome had ever fielded and that they vastly outnumbered the invaders, were only too cognizant of the glory that the successful delivery of the country from Punic evil would entail. Subsequently, they set out to chase Hannibal down and to compel him to battle. Rumour had it that the Punic army was somewhere near the southern Adriatic coast, and the legions began their approach. Hannibal was indeed discovered in Apulia, about fifty miles north of the “spur” of the Italian boot, in the vicinity of a small town called Cannae.

Cannae

A few days after his spies had informed him about the strength and commanders of the Romans, Hannibal ordered his troops to deploy and the day of confrontation dawned. He arranged his outnumbered force in a slight crescent, but placing his cavalry, a few lightly armed but swift foot-soldiers and the few remaining elephants at the flanks of the arc. When the Roman infantry, perhaps amused over this silly arrangement, formed a wedge and struck right into the heart of Hannibal’s position, the Phoenician centre retreated, which further inspired the attackers’ confidence. When the full weight of the Roman attack was poised upon the midst of the Punic line, Hannibal ordered his centre to retreat a bit more, which drew the Romans further in. When the legions were thus fixed in the midst of his infantry, he ordered the flanks to proceed forward-inward and trapped the whole Roman army in a double encirclement.

Initial Deployments
Destruction

In the subsequent slaughter, tens of thousands of legionaries expired on the field of Cannae and only a very modest fraction of the great army, less than ten thousand souls, made it back to Rome to report. Livy wrote, “Forty-five thousand and five hundred foot, two thousand seven hundred horse, there being an equal number of citizens and allies, are said to have been slain.” As a result of these losses, Rome could not deploy forces big enough to challenge Hannibal for years to come, simply because there were not enough men of the required age and possessions left. At this time only propertied Roman citizens, who had to pay for their own weapons, armour and supplies, served in the legions. Most of these men were now buried at Cannae.

The Death of Aemilius Paullus at Cannae by John Trumbull, 1773
Hannibal, by Giovanni Batista Tiepolo

“Never when the city was in safety was there so great a panic and confusion within the walls of Rome. I shall, therefore, shrink from the task, and not attempt to relate what in describing I must make less than the reality. The consul and his army having been lost at the Trasimenus the year before, it was not one wound upon another which was announced, but a multiplied disaster, the loss of two consular armies, together with the two consuls: and that now there was neither any Roman camp, nor general nor soldiery: that Apulia and Samnium, and now almost the whole of Italy, were in the possession of Hannibal. No other nation surely would not have been overwhelmed by such an accumulation of misfortune.” –  Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, xxii.54, on the Roman Senate’s reaction to the defeat.

Theodore Ayrault Dodge wrote:

Few battles of ancient times are more marked by ability… than the battle of Cannae. The position was such as to place every advantage on Hannibal’s side. The manner in which the far from perfect Hispanic and Gallic foot was advanced in a wedge in echelon… was first held there and then withdrawn step by step, until it had the reached the converse position… is a simple masterpiece of battle tactics. The advance at the proper moment of the African infantry, and its wheel right and left upon the flanks of the disordered and crowded Roman legionaries, is far beyond praise. The whole battle, from the Carthaginian standpoint, is a consummate piece of art, having no superior, few equal, examples in the history of war.” (1a)

Hence, Rome could not afford to go back to the offensive for more than a decade and was restricted to employ defensive measures, denying Hannibal reinforcements and supplies from Carthage. This worked to a degree, and for the next thirteen years, 216 to 203 BC, the Punic army meandered around the Italian countryside, without any opportunity to strike a decisive blow at the enemy. Rome’s defensive policy bore its first tender fruit when an expeditionary corps was able to reconquer Sicily, the important grain source, and a second detail wiped out the Punic towns in Spain. The latter force was commanded by the young Publius Cornelius Scipio.

Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus

A scion of the noble Cornelius family, Scipio had joined the military at an early age and soon distinguished himself in battle. At the scandalous age of only twenty-six years, [FN2] in 210 BC, he was given the command in Spain, which he conquered and turned into a Roman province. He was elected consul in 205 BC, at the age of thirty-one, and developed a plan to circumvent Hannibal by attacking Carthage directly. He invaded Africa successfully via Sicily and was able to beat a small Punic corps in the Second Battle of Tunis, 203 BC. As a consequence of the Roman threat to Carthage, Hannibal was recalled in the same year with the remnants of his force and ordered to prepare for a showdown with the Roman wunderkind.

[FN2] Military command in the early Roman republic was a prerogative of the consuls, who were mostly in their forties or older and had already collected military and political experience in other public offices.

Movements before Zama

The subsequent Battle of Zama, about a hundred miles south-west of Carthage, decided the Second Punic War. The Roman prodigy revealed that he had learned from his predecessors’ mistakes at Cannae, and used an enveloping manoeuvre of his own design to defeat the enemy. Hannibal had to flee Africa and spent the rest of his life in Grecian and Asian exile. Carthage capitulated and was forced to accept a choking peace in which they had to cede Spain and lost all ships, merchantmen as well as men-of-war, to confiscation. Reparations were fixed at 10,000 gold talents, more than 100,000 kilograms, or seventy times the amount of the world’s annual gold production.

Battle of Zama, by H. P. Motte,
… and by Cornelius Cort

Between the Second and the Third Punic wars, another issue had to be solved. In 190 BC, inroads into Greece by Antiochus III the Great of the Seleucid Empire were stopped by the Romans led by the consul Lucius Cornelius Scipio and the Roman ally Eumenes II of Pergamum at the Battle of Magnesia and the Seleucids ceased to be a danger. Different had been the case with the other of Alexander’s successor states, Macedon, whose King Philip V of Macedon set out to conquer the rest of Greece by 200 BC, an undertaking that Rome, allied with Pergamon and Rhodes, cut short in the Second Macedonian War.

In 179 Philip died. His talented and ambitious son, Perseus, took the throne and showed a renewed interest in conquering Greece. With her Greek allies facing a major new threat, Rome declared war on Macedonia again, starting the Third Macedonian War. Perseus initially had some success against the Romans. However, Rome responded by sending a stronger army. This second consular army decisively defeated the Macedonians at the Battle of Pydna in 168 and the Macedonians duly capitulated, ending the war.

Convinced now that the Greeks (and therefore the rest of the region) would not have peace if left alone, Rome decided to establish its first permanent foothold in the Greek world, and divided the Kingdom of Macedonia into four client republics. Yet, Macedonian agitation continued. The Fourth Macedonian War, 150 to 148 BC, was fought against a Macedonian pretender to the throne who was again destabilizing Greece by trying to re-establish the old kingdom. The Romans swiftly defeated the Macedonians at the Second battle of Pydna.

The Achaean League chose this moment to fight Rome but was swiftly defeated. In 146 (the same year as the destruction of Carthage), Corinth was besieged and destroyed in the Battle of Corinth (146 BC), which led to the league’s surrender. After nearly a century of constant crisis management in Greece, which always led back to internal instability and war when she withdrew, Rome decided to divide Macedonia into two new Roman provinces, Achaea and Macedonia.

Conquest of Greece (172–146 BC) , see Wiki

The protracted Iberian, Grecian and Punic wars changed the economy, and hence the whole society, of the winner. Scipio’s successes had added two provinces to the realm, Nearer and Further Spain, which proved particularly valuable for the copious amounts of metals yielded by its mines; copper and silver in particular. The two new provinces were to be governed by praetors, magistrates ranked just below the consuls, of which an additional two had to be elected each year just for this purpose. Four, with the Grecian provinces.

Another huge economic side effect was the expansion of Roman slavery. It had been fuelled since the beginning of the Roman expansion by the taking of prisoners of war, who were enslaved wholesale. Antiquity considered slavery a normal form of human existence. A discussion of this subject is planned for a separate post – here a few classic paintings by Jean-Léon Gérôme on the subject:

The extended war had also necessitated the establishment of a proper arms industry, something Rome had not possessed at a time when every legionary’s equipment was custom-made. The new weapons industry largely depended upon slave labour, which for the first time amounted to a majority of the Roman workforce. Slave labour was also the economic foundation of the newly evolving latifundiae, huge farms which, in theory, belonged to the Roman people as a whole but were in fact let to patrician families for negligible rents under an absentee ownership system. Although Carthage’s days as a competition for Rome were over, its spectre provided a useful bane for fear-mongering Roman politicians. A case in point was Cato the Censor, one of the most obnoxious men of Roman history, if we believe the historians.

Marcus Porcius Cato

Marcus Porcius Cato [234-149 BC], known as the “Elder Cato” or “Cato the Censor”, became a prominent Roman politician against all odds. He had served in the Second Punic War under Scipio, and, by marrying a rich and noble if ugly daughter of good family, qualified for the Senate despite his inferior pedigree. During his youth and adolescence, he had been dreadfully lampooned by the status- and ancestry-conscious sons of Roman nobles because of his rural origins: his family were farmers at Arpinum, a small town south-east of Rome known for its cheese but not much else.

He made up for these frustrations by dedicating much of his later career as a censor to retaliation against his former tormentors. The office of censor invested the holder with the authority to let state contracts for building or tax farming, a duty in which corruption was hard to avoid. But it was the second duty of the censor on which Cato had cast a longing eye: the censor controlled access to and membership in the Senate. There was a means test which required every senatorial candidate to show a minimum fortune of a million sesterces or an equitable area of farmland, and a senator who once fell short of the minimum for any reason could be evicted from the august body – although senators gravitated to fiscal, if not political, solidarity and it rarely occurred that they allowed one of their own to be disqualified. But the censor could also dismiss a senator upon a showing of unacceptable moral conduct, and nobody was truly surprised when Cato declared practically all conduct ethically unbecoming. He hounded the arch-aristocratic Cornelius family relentlessly, and when he was able to ruin Scipio’s brother Asiagenus, the hero was said to have died of a broken heart.

Except for his terrorizing the nobility, Cato’s main contribution to the political debates was an undying hatred of Carthage – or perhaps of mankind in general – which he promoted by invariably ending his senatorial sermons with the phrase “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam” [‘In addition, I think that Carthage should be destroyed.’]. He trampled on everybody’s nerves like an ancient hybrid of Rush Limbaugh and Ralph Nader until the Senate in 147 BC resolved to destroy Carthage.

The subsequent “Third Punic War” was little more than a completely unnecessary slaughter of a defenceless people. Carthage had never recovered from the Second War and was no threat to anybody save for Cato’s hysterics and the jealousy of another member of the Cornelius family, a grandnephew of the hero of Zama, who saw in a third campaign a risk-free opportunity to crown himself with military glory.

The Punic Wars – Overview

His full adult name was Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Numantinus, and his name told much of his biography. He was born in 185 BC as a son of Lucius Aemilianus Paullus, a famous general and statesman, and adopted into the Scipio branch of the Cornelius clan. Like his granduncle, he was elected consul while technically being underage, in 147 BC, and was entrusted with the command against Carthage, whose defenceless people he massacred and buildings he razed in 146 BC. For this heroic act, he received the additional cognomen of “Africanus”, i.e. conqueror of Africa. He was re-elected to the consulship in 134 BC and convinced the Senate to send him to one more campaign. The adversary, or perhaps the victim, was the Spanish town of Numantia, the last former ally of Carthage. The town had resisted Roman attacks for over fifty years, but after a siege of eight months, Scipio’s army breached the walls, and the disgraceful spectacle of Carthage was repeated. Scipio had the males killed without exception and the females sold into slavery, and subsequently received another cognomen, that of Numantinus, destroyer of Numantia.

J. M. W. Turner’s The Decline of the Carthaginian Empire, 1817
Scipio Aemilianus before the ruins of Carthage in 146 BC

Such a man could not avoid making enemies, even in his family. When his brother-in-law, the famous tribune Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus attempted to introduce a land bill in the senate – see below – which would give impoverished veterans a small piece of land to retire on at the end of their service, Scipio turned out his most bitter opponent. When Gracchus was found dead soon thereafter, Scipio could not dispel suspicion, and when he suddenly died in 129 BC, aged only forty-six, his wife, Tiberius Gracchus’s sister, was believed to have poisoned him.

While the political and social structures of the republic had been relatively stable in the centuries between 500 and 130 BC, the following hundred years, until 30 BC, brought great social change amid geographical expansion and, in the end, beheld the replacement of senatorial rule by the principate of Augustus and his successors. Because many institutions, designations and customs of the Roman Republic and early Empire were to exercise influence on political models of the next two thousand years, they shall be briefly reviewed before we proceed.


Detour One: (Separate Blog Entry): https://jvpalatine.com/a-funny-thing-happened-on-the-way-to-the-forum/ Political Procedures of the Roman Republic


Detour Two: (Separate Blog Entry): https://jvpalatine.com/the-power-of-command/ Potestas, Auctoritas and Imperium – Forms of Command


In addition to the politics described in the two posts above, another application of the Roman sense of organization could be observed in the realm of the military. A large part of Alexander’s temporary military superiority had resulted from his innovative use and the tactical flexibility of the Macedonian “phalanx“, an originally Greek form of infantry deployment. The fighters of a phalanx formed a compact body with overlapping shields, from which long spears protruded. The regulative genius of the Romans invented a similar formation but went a step further; they created a unit, the legion, which included all the men, instruments, and supplies to fight a war on its own, and became the predecessor of the modern “division“.

A legion was composed, as far as active soldiers were concerned, of ten “cohorts“, each cohort consisting of six “centuries“, which numbered, confusingly, eighty men, not a hundred. One cohort thus accounted for 480 men (6 x 80), and a legion of ten cohorts hence totalled 4,800 combatants. It employed, however, also non-combatants: artisans, smiths, engineers, cooks, medics and the like in a strength of about 1,200 heads as well as an artillery unit but not, surprisingly, much cavalry. Rome never deployed as much cavalry as other nations did, mindful of the supply problem; Caesar, for example, in his conquest of Gallia, used German cavalry, not Roman riders. If there was a cavalry unit attached to a legion, it was fielded by allies and had its own tactical command.

The decisive geostrategic factors which counted for much of Rome’s military superiority, however, were the roads, which had been built with military necessities in mind. They ran as straight as possible over bridges, passes and tunnels. Roman infantry was used to a daily march of about sixteen miles or twenty-five kilometres but could make forty kilometres a day in a pinch. The legions hence enjoyed the advantage of the “inner lines” more often than not; they could move troops and thus project force in a province or at a border faster than the enemy could.

Last not least, education mattered. While Rome was never given to inventing much philosophy and scholarship and never made schooling a legal obligation, it appropriated Greek culture and spread it over the western parts of the known world, which had never experienced the Grecification of the East that Alexander’s empire had provided. The sons of the better Roman families were schooled by Greek pedagogues who delivered a two-step education: the first part was called the trivium [“the three ways”], and taught the foundations of what Rome considered civilized human intercourse: grammar, rhetoric and logic, and the successful candidate would be awarded the character of a bacchalaureatus, a bachelor’s degree. The trivium exists until today in the sense that basic knowledge is held to be “trivial“; it should be known to everybody who claims an education.

Relief found in Neumagen near Trier, a teacher with three discipuli (180-185 AD)

The second part of the curriculum was composed of the quadrivium [“the four ways”] and consisted of the study and mastery of arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy and astrology, which were a single field of study then. Upon completion of the studies, the pupil would be awarded a degree of magister artium, master of the arts. The teachings of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle were studied in Rome, Athens and Alexandria for centuries, until the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I decreed the closing of all academies in AD 529. The advent of a new religion, Christianity, caused the replacement of education with dogma, and Edward Gibbon angrily noted that “in the revolution of ten centuries [AD 500 — 1500], not a single discovery was made to exalt the dignity or promote the happiness of mankind. Not a single idea has been added to the speculative systems of antiquity, and a succession of patient disciples became in their turn the dogmatic teachers of the next servile generation.” (2)

Indeed, not only intellectual stimulation decreased with the eventual triumph of Christian doctrine, so did progress in general. With the exception of Alexandria, Rome was unsurpassed in her infrastructure and remained for centuries the best-organized community on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Her houses were built, two thousand years ago, with concrete as their principal material, and apartment blocks called “insulae” (islands), reaching heights of up to a hundred feet. Aqueducts carried fresh water from the mountains into the city, which had an underground sewer system and offered dozens of communal bathhouses and public latrines on major street corners.

The markets of Rome offered goods as varied as spices from Taprobane, today’s Sri Lanka, rugs from Persia, amber from Germania or sheep wool from Britannia. Roman banks used cheques and money transfers, sold communal obligations, and leased or financed goods on credit very much like today. It was said that Julius Caesar’s good friend Marcus Licinius Crassus, immortalized in the English language as the godfather of the word “crass”, employed fifty scribes alone to tally his possessions. In many respects, the achievements of the Imperial Roman civilization would not be surpassed until the second half of the nineteenth century.


Detour Three: (Separate Blog Entry): https://jvpalatine.com/heist-of-the-millennium/ One adventurous patrician proconsul, Quintus Servilius Caepio (Consul 106 BCE), loses more men than had perished at Cannae after he had stolen more gold in Gallia than Rome ever had in her treasury.


100 BC

As briefly mentioned above, civil strife began to plague Rome from 130 BC on, concentrating on the relations between rich and poor. The trouble had begun with the Gracchi brothers, relatives of the Cornelius clan. Their ancestry was as patriotic and famous as it could be: their mother Cornelia was the daughter of Scipio Africanus, the hero of Zama, and Aemilia Paulla, sister of the conqueror of Greece; their father was Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, consul in 177 and 163 BC and censor in 169 BC. Their sons, however, displayed shockingly plebeian tendencies. The elder, Tiberius, stood for and was elected a tribune of the plebs in 133 BC; he brought in a law to change the way Rome handled the ager publicus, the lands taken from enemies after defeat, which were legally the property of all Roman citizens. In contravention of the law, affluent senators had established a hold on these areas, which they rented for little money from the censor and added to their latifundiae, the great farms that operated on slave labour. Tiberius Gracchus brought a law in the Comitia Plebis that would parcel out these lands to veterans or even the poor. The aristocrats were convinced that he had gone mad, communist, or both, and when he tried, against the custom, to run for a second term of tribuneship, a gang of senators behaving badly clubbed him to death on the steps of the senate house.

The Gracchi by Eugene Guillaume

His brother Gaius, ten years younger, successfully ran for the tribuneship ten years later, in 123 BC. He was not only willing to give his brother’s land law another try; he had his mind set on a comprehensive reform of the Roman commonwealth. His proposals envisioned free grain for the poor, a reform of military service, public works, a new judicial system, Roman citizenship for the allies and tax reform. It was a challenging program, and the patricians, who felt their power threatened, pulled out all the stops they had, legal or illegal, to ward off the reforms. Gaius, like his brother, had to run for the tribuneship again, in 122 BC, but unlike Tiberius, he did get re-elected and continued the reform package. The senators had figured him out by then, and in his third campaign defeated him by handing out unprecedented bribes. As soon as they began to dismantle his laws, Gracchus tried to putsch, was defeated, and committed suicide. All his reforms were then recalled.

Gaius Gracchus

Yet it proved impossible to push the toothpaste back in the tube. Twenty years later, Lucius Appuleius Saturninus, another three-time tribune elected in 103, 100 and 99 BC, reintroduced Gracchian ideas to the legislative debate and associated himself early with Gaius Marius over the question of securing land for Marius’s veteran legionaries. At the end of 100 BC, insufficient grain harvests in Sicily and Africa caused widespread famine around the Mediterranean coasts and public uproar in Rome. Saturninus used the riotous assemblies to run for tribune yet again and was elected. He swiftly passed a grain law in the Comitia Plebis, which entitled the plebeians to receive free grain from the state.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix

The problem with the law was that absolutely no grain was to be had, free or not free, and the treasure refused to pay for no grain. Saturninus blamed the situation, as one would expect, on a senatorial conspiracy; the Senate struck back and accused him of treason. Saturninus’ demise was similar to the death of Tiberius Gracchus, delivered by another gang of young patricians led by one Lucius Cornelius Sulla: they lured Saturninus and his sycophants into the senate house, locked them in, climbed on top of it and killed their opponents with a rain of tiles from the roof. This stopped the land law for a while.

Yet the social issues refused to die, and because war was to occur too frequently in the next decades, the problem of reorganizing and rewarding the legions only gained in importance. Soon it centred on the persons of Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who led opposing factions of the citizenry through the next thirty years, from 108 to 78 BC – which brought the defeat of Germanic invasions, some further extensions of Roman possessions and the first extensive Roman civil war. In a wider context, the eighty years from 110 to 30 BC induced the change from Republic to Principate and Empire.

Early Germanic Invasions, Cimbri and Teutones, until the battles of Aquae Sextiae (103 BC) and Vercellae (102 BC)

Gaius Marius [157-68 BC] was a hayseed from Arpinum, which we have encountered above as the town of good cheese and birthplace of the Elder Cato. His status as homo novo, a “new man”, in ancestry-worshipping Rome initially relegated him, despite his wealth, to a place in the legions, where he had a career solid enough to carry him to one year’s service as a praetor. His further ambitions were, however, checked by his most undignified pedigree until he, most probably in return for a financial consideration, was allowed to marry a patrician Julia of the Caesares branch. [FN2] The Julii Caesares were one of the oldest families in town: they traced their ancestry back to the kings of Alba Longa, a town even older than Rome, ten miles to the south. They had that streak of stubborn dignity that does not bid well for financial success: relying on the income of their small agricultural possessions, they could not compete in the bribing race for political offices. The patriarch of the mostly blond-haired family was thus assured of a seat in the Senate, but the family had not produced a consul since the fourth century BC; offices were simply too expensive.

[FN2] Julia (c. 130 BC – 69 BC, aunt of Julius Caesar) was a daughter of Gaius Julius Caesar II (praetor-grandfather of Caesar) and Marcia (daughter of praetor Quintus Marcius Rex). She was a sister of Gaius Julius Caesar III (the father of Julius Caesar) and Sextus Julius Caesar III, consul in 91 BC. At about 110 BC she married Gaius Marius; as a result, she is sometimes referred to as Julia Maria. They had a son, Gaius Marius the Younger. According to Plutarch, it was by marrying her, a patrician woman, that the upstart Marius got the snobbish attention of the Roman Senate and launched his political career. Julia is remembered as a virtuous woman devoted to her husband and their only child. Her reputation alone permitted her to keep her status, even after Sulla‘s persecutions against Marius himself and his allies. Julia died in 69 BC and received a devoted funeral eulogy from her nephew Julius Caesar. (See Wiki)

After a so-so career, Marius received the province of Further Spain (Hispania Ulterior) to govern in 114 BC, where he killed off a few brigands and returned to Rome, his already considerable fortunes miraculously augmented. A few years later, in 109 BC, he was sent as a senior legate to the assistance of then-consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus in his campaign against Jugurtha. Mr Jugurtha was a Numidian, i.e. Berber troublemaker, and the inefficient campaign of Metellus failed to neutralize him for a few years. Marius won the consulship in 107 BC, returned to Africa, and with the aid of his young quaestor Sulla eventually defeated Jugurtha. Competition and finally civil war between these two men, Marius and Sulla, was to determine Rome’s fate for the next thirty years.

Yet Marius perceived Rome’s underlying military problem. The traditional system was based on property requirements for those citizens eligible to serve in the legions, of whom, in an age of increasing economic inequality, fewer and fewer were to be found. [FN3] On the other hand, tens of thousands of Rome’s poor were ineligible.

Thus, Marius came up with the concept of the probably first professional standing army, paid by the state and thoroughly trained. Details please see Wiki – Marian Reforms. The drawback of the reforms, however, was that the legions lost their character as free men fighting for the Republic – they became dependent on their general. The loyalty of the legions shifted away from the Roman state and towards the generals who led the army, as soldiers now had a direct financial incentive to support their generals’ ambitions.

Video: The Marian Reforms

Yet the unbelievable stupidity of Quintus Servilius Caepio and his loss of 80,000 men at Arausio threw the state, only two years later (105 BC) into another existential crisis (see Detour Three, above) and the panicked Republic, quite unconstitutionally but not unprecedented (see Quintus Fabius Maximus), elected Marius in absentia to a second consulship in 104 BC.

Teutones attacking

The first order of business for Marius was to take care of the Germanic threat in Gallia and Gallia Cisalpina. After their decisive victory at Arausio, the Cimbri and Teutones had migrated in different directions and eventually split up. Marius was tasked to rebuild the Gallic legions, more or less from scratch. By disregarding the property requirements and building on his recent glory of the successful Jugurthan war, he succeeded in gathering about 30,000 Romans and 40,000 Italian auxiliaries near the town of Aquae Sextiae, today’s Aix-en-Provence near Marseille, and re-establishing the military defence of the province. His former quaestor Sulla accompanied him as his principal legate, indicating that, at this time, their relation was untroubled. While the danger remained, Marius was reelected to the consulship in 103 and 102 BC (with Quintus Lutatius Catulus).

In the summer of 102 BC, about a quarter-million Germans – Teutones and Ambrones – led by their king Teutobod, had crossed the Durance river, east of where it entered the Rhône. Marius’ men shadowed them, and after a few days of manoeuvring, a battle ensued near Aquae Sextiae, which the new legions won decisively. Only about 17,000 Germans survived to be sold into slavery. The famous instance of the slaughter occurred when, as Roman historians recorded, 300 of the captured women committed mass suicide, which passed into Roman legends of Germanic heroism (cf Jerome, letter cxxiii.8, 409 AD:

By the conditions of the surrender three hundred of their married women were to be handed over to the Romans. When the Teuton matrons heard of this stipulation they first begged the consul that they might be set apart to minister in the temples of Ceres and Venus; and then when they failed to obtain their request and were removed by the lictors, they slew their little children and next morning were all found dead in each other’s arms having strangled themselves in the night.

The Teutonic Women kill their children and commit suicide, by Heinrich Leutemann

That Marius donated the proceeds of the slavery sale to his men and officers, instead of keeping it to himself- to which he was entitled to – only made him the more popular.

In the following summer of 101 BC, the Cimbri finally arrived as well, in Gallia Cisalpina. Most likely, they followed the river Adige after having crossed the Brenner Pass, instead of somewhat illogically turning back west to the modern Vercelli; this way, the location of the battle would be in the modern Polesine instead, possibly near modern Rovigo. It is said that more than 100,000 warriors under the command of the Cimbric king Boiorix descended into the Valley of the Padus (the Po River), where they were met by Marius, who was assisted (or hindered, some said), by his co-consul Quintus Lutatius Catulus.

The outcome of the Battle of Vercellae was never in doubt and the legions had another slaughter-fest. The Cimbri were virtually wiped out and the Germanic threat on the northern border ceased to exist. A grateful Marius granted Roman citizenship to his Italian allies, for which he was criticized, but what could be done? Revoke?

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, The Battle of Vercellae
The Defeat of the Cimbri, by Alexandre Gabriel Décamps
Gaius Marius’ victory over the Cimbri by Francesco Saverio Altamura at the Civic Museum of Foggia

(1) (1a) Theodore Ayrault Dodge., Hannibal, Barnes & Noble 2005, ISBN 0-7607-6896-X (pbk.), p. 120, pp. 378 – 379

(2) Gibbon, Edward, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Modern Library 2003-5, First Citation: Mass Market Edition 2005, Second Citation: 4th Edition 2003-4, ISBN 0-6896-X (pbk.), p. 1174 [1001]


To Be Continued – Sulla and the Social War

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

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Barbarians at the Gate

Raphael’s The Meeting between Pope Leo I, the Great and Attila depicts Leo, escorted by Saint Peter and Saint Paul, meeting with the Hun king outside Rome

And from your city do not
Wholly banish fear,
For what man living, free from fear,
Will still be just?


Aeschylus “The Eumenides“, L. 698


Deos fortioribus adesse.
The Gods are on the side of the stronger.


Tacitus “Histories“, Bk. 4, Ch. 17


Peoples do not, and neither do nations, come into being in a year or two, much less on a single day. Neither do languages and cultures. Consequently, one cannot point to a definitive date on which the natives living north and east of the great rivers of the Danube, Elbe and Rhine became “Germans”. The word “German” itself was not commonly used until, at around AD 100, the Roman historian Tacitus employed the term in a book and thus became godfather to the eventual nation.

The first peoples relevant to this account, who were populating the western and northern reaches of the continent while Rome was still a city-state, were the Celts, or Gauls. Leaving their indigenous settlements in the western heart of Europe around today’s Belgium and central France in the fourth century BC, they migrated for the better part of the next two hundred years over great parts of the continent, the neighbouring isles, and in particular to the south and east: following the Danube river into what are today Austria, Hungary, Serbia and Romania.

Others went north and over the sea. The Celtic colonization of the British Isles and the petty kingdoms they subsequently established are best known to us by the literary influence they extended on the legend, and perhaps the deeds, of King Arthur, the sword Excalibur and the Knights of the Round Table. Written down by Sir Thomas Malory in the fourteenth century and titled “Le Mort D’Arthur”, the tale has become a part of Western culture. T.E. White’s “The Once And Future King” is perhaps the most charming rendering of the epos.

The farthest branches of the Celtic migration expanded as far as Spain, northern Italy and Greece; a few fragments made it as far as Anatolia, then called “Asia Minor”. There they founded the Kingdom of Galatia, with Ankyra [Latin “Ancyra”, today’s Ankara] as its capital, which eventually became a client kingdom of Rome. After frequent clashes between Romans and Celts in the third and second centuries BC, the recurrences of conflict diminished, and subsequent improvement of neighbourly relations eventually gave rise to the spread of Roman civilization into Gallia Transalpina, Gaul on the further side of the Alps. Today’s Provence became the province of Gallia Narbonensis and its great ports of Massilia and Narbo, today’s Marseille and Narbonne, traded goods from near and far. Over a period of roughly a century, a number of adjacent Celtic tribes were introduced to the Roman fold, initially awarded the status of allies, and later that of citizens of Rome.

In 58 BC, Gaius Julius Caesar arrived in “Gallia Comata” (‘long-haired Gaul’), the northern and western unromanized parts of the land, with ten legions, and within seven years transformed all of today’s France, Belgium and the Upper Netherlands into Roman provinces. While he did have temporary problems with the particularly wild tribes of the Belgians, he was aware that the real danger for Rome lurked on the eastern, the far bank of the Rhine; a land where a wholly different and far more ferocious congregation of barbarians skulked in the forests, longing for the riches of civilization. Caution was advisable.

Germanic warriors as depicted in Philipp Clüver’s Germania Antiqua 1616

Caesar knew as much about these wild tribes as it was possible to know at this time, as told by his great-uncle Gaius Marius. Not since the days of Hannibal had the Roman Republic faced an adversary able to threaten her very existence; the “German” danger, however, commanded vigilance and preparedness. This was particularly true after the debacle of Arausio, in which Quintus Servilius Caepio had managed to lose the complete Roman army; that the German throng had not proceeded straight into Italy had been pure luck. For reasons unknown, the victorious German tribes had undertaken various detours, first into Spain, then back to northern Gallia, reaching the beaches of Normandy in the summer of 103 BC, but were back, in the fall of the next year, less than fifty miles from Arausio, at Aquae Sextae, today’s Aix-en-Provence.


Related Post: The Heist of the Millennium – The Gold of Tolosa and the Catastrophe of the Battle of Arausio 105 BC


Migrations of the Cimbri and Teutones

This time, however, a welcoming committee was ready, commanded by the former hayseed from Arpinum, Gaius Marius, and his newly formed army of “head count” soldiers. That these impoverished fellows would primarily depend on their general for their retirement was a foregone conclusion Marius did not forget for a second and planned his long-term goals accordingly: upon leaving service, his veterans would receive a bit of real estate and a small pension; the veteran might farm a bit, have sons, enjoy the sun, and, if need be, visit Rome and vote for his good friend, the general.

AD 410 – The Visigoths sack Rome

At Aquae Sextae, Marius found out that he was confronted with the Teutones only, who had split from the other tribes and were on their way along the Tyrrhenian Coast to Genova. Marius did not hesitate and led the legions to a complete victory over the disorganized enemy, and about 30,000 women and children who survived their men, fathers and suicide were sold on the slave markets of Massilia, the proceeds going, by tradition, to the general alone.

The wives of the Teutones kill their children and commit suicide to escape capture and subsequent slavery at the Battle of Aquae Sextiae, by Heinrich Leutemann

A year later and with the help, or, as some said, despite the hindrance of his co-consul Quintus Lutatius Catulus Caesar, Marius repeated the success of Aquae Sextiae against the second half of the original German horde, the Cimbri. They were coming down from the slopes of the Alps, which they had crossed by way of the Brenner pass and were on the descent into the riches of the Po Valley when they were checked by Marius’s legions before they could rest or gather supplies. At Vercellae, near today’s Rovigo, the legions won another victory and Marius’s purse pocketed the proceeds from the sale of another 20,000 women and children to the slave markets of Rome [101 BC].

Gaius Marius’ victory over the Cimbri by Francesco Saverio Altamura

Yet victory did not always smile upon the legions. Less luck than Marius had had fell upon Proconsul Gaius Varus and his three legions a little over a century later (AD 9). He had been dispatched to Germany by Emperor Augustus in return for a few border violations and a couple of plundered villages. The expedition crossed the Rhine and pursued the malefactors into the lands of the Cherusci, around the Weser River, somewhere in the vicinity of today’s town of Bielefeld.
The Cherusci were commanded by Arminius, a man who had served in the legions and was familiar with their tactics. He laid an ambush in a particularly dense forest which the legions had to traverse, thereby creating a scenario in which he hoped the biggest advantage of the legions, mutual support in a tight formation, would be nullified. The forest split the legions into small groups: not a single man survived. Varus and his men disappeared without a trace, an occurrence unprecedented in the annals of the legions. Rome concluded that the German danger merited unprecedented attention and decided upon the eventual fortification of the border. Jared Diamond comments on the early relations of Romans and barbarians as follows:

Battle at the Teutoburg Forest
Italian Map of the Battle
The Forest
Attack of the German warriors, by Otto Albert Koch

All but a few historical societies have been geographically close enough to some other societies to have at least some contact with them. Relations with neighbouring societies may be intermittently or chronically hostile. A society may be able to hold off its enemies as long as it is strong, only to succumb when it becomes weakened for any reason, including environmental damage. The proximate cause of the collapse will then be military conquest, but the ultimate cause – the factor whose change led to the collapse – will have been the factor that caused the weakening. Hence, collapses for ecological or other reasons often masquerade as military defeats. The most familiar debate about such possible masquerading involves the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Rome became increasingly beset by barbarian invasions, with the conventional date for the Empire’s fall being taken somewhat arbitrarily as A.D. 476, the year in which the last emperor of the West was deposed. However, even before the rise of the Roman Empire, there had been “barbarian” tribes who lived in northern Europe or central Asia beyond the borders of “civilized” Mediterranean Europe, and who periodically attacked civilized Europe (as well as civilized China and India). For over a thousand years, Rome successfully held off the barbarians, for instance slaughtering a large invading force of Cimbri and Teutones bent on conquering northern Italy at the Battle of Campi Raudii [i.e. Vercellae] in 101 B.C.

Eventually, it was the barbarians rather than the Romans who won the battles: what was the fundamental reason for that shift in fortune? Was it because of changes in the barbarians themselves, such that they became more numerous or better organized, acquired better weapons or more horses, or profited from the climate change in the central Asian steppes? In that case, we would say that barbarians really could be identified as the fundamental cause of Rome’s fall. Or was it instead that the same old unchanged barbarians were always waiting on the Roman Empire’s frontiers, and that they couldn’t prevail until Rome became weakened by some combination of economic, political, environmental, and other problems? In that case, we would blame Rome’s fall on its own problems, with the barbarians just providing the coup de grace. This question continues to be debated. (1)

The rise of a threat beyond the banks of Rhine and Danube persuaded the Roman historian Tacitus to investigate the barbarians. Soon he found himself in need of a general classification of the tribes who lived north and east of the rivers, in a land that was covered to ninety per cent by swamps and forests. He christened them “Germani, after a tribe who lived close to the Rhine near Bonna, today’s Bonn, the former capital of West Germany, in his book “De Origine et Situ Germanorum” [“About the Origins and Places of the Germans”], published in AD 98.
Tacitus never saw the land and the people he described: he relied on the words of mouth, perhaps of soldiers who had served there or perhaps on talking to the one or other Latin-speaking German he could find in Rome. Yet by virtue of his one being the only book on the subject, it received attention for centuries to come. He compared, not unfriendly, the simple virtues of the Germani, their sense of family, braveness and honour, but also their impressive vices, a certain predilection for rape, pillage and slaughter, with the decadence prevailing in Imperial Rome. He was the first author to describe the customs of the Germani extensively; earlier contact reports had been restricted to a syllabus of the battle and a count of limbs and bodies. As we have seen, the military results were mixed: Marius won, Varus lost, and the protracted campaigns of Drusus, Tiberius and Germanicus during the principate of Augustus [ca. 12 BC-AD 16] ended indeterminate.

Principal Germanic Movements 750 BC – 1 AD

After a few invasive campaigns, the Romans confined themselves to defensive measures along the Limes, a fortified line of earthworks, moats and watchtowers that protected the area between the Danube, Rhine and Moenus [today’s Main] Rivers. The final offensives into German territory were undertaken by Emperor Marcus Antonius Aurelius [AD 161-180]. The Germani, however, turned out a rather undistinguished tribe; after they crossed the Rhine in the direction of central France they disappeared in the mists of the past; no one knows what happened to the original Germani. Tacitus was intrigued by the strange political customs of the Germani as outlined by Edward Gibbon:

Some tribes, however, on the coast of the Baltic, acknowledged the authority of kings, though without relinquishing the rights of man, but in the far greater part of Germany, the form of government was a democracy, tempered, indeed, and controlled, not so much by general and positive laws as by the occasional ascendant of birth or valour, of eloquence or superstition. Civil governments, in their first institution, are voluntary associations for mutual defence. To obtain the desired end, it is absolutely necessary that each individual should conceive himself obligated to submit his private opinions and actions to the judgement of the greater number of his associates. The German tribes were contented with this rude but liberal outline of political society. … The assembly of the warriors of the tribe was convened at stated seasons, or on sudden emergencies. The trial of public offences, the election of magistrates, and the great business of peace and war were determined by its independent voice. … For the Germans always met in arms, and it was constantly to be dreaded lest an irregular multitude, inflamed with faction and strong liquor, should use those arms to enforce as well as to declare their furious resolves. (2)

Rome faced the problem that these tribes accepted no higher authority, knew no superior body that could arrange a truce or binding peace, nor declare general war, for that matter, and thus Emperor Domitian at around AD 80 came up with the idea to erect a wall between civilization and wilderness along those borders that were not naturally defended by a river. The line of what would become the Limes originated near the Danube’s northernmost point at Castra Regina, today’s Regensburg in Bavaria, then zigzagged through south-western Germany until it met the Main river, then zigzagged a bit more, over the heights of the Taunus Hills, and ultimately reached the Rhine at Bonna. A few miles ahead, down the river, another extensive Roman settlement was founded, Colonia Claudia, today’s Cologne.

The most decisive change of Roman organization relevant to the fate of the German tribes occurred when, as a reaction to the great migration beginning in the fourth century AD, Emperor Diocletian restructured the administration of the Empire. From now on, the state was not to be ruled by a single man but four. He had associated three colleagues in the exercise of the supreme power; and as he was convinced that the abilities of a single man were inadequate to the public defence, he considered the joint administration of four princes not as a temporary expedient but as a fundamental law of the constitution. It was his intention that the two elder princes should be distinguished by the use of the diadem [the Greek equivalent to a crown] and the title of Augusti, that, as affection or esteem might direct their choice, they should regularly call to their assistance two subordinate colleagues; and that the Caesars, rising in their turn to the first rank, should supply an uninterrupted succession of emperors.

The empire was divided into four parts. The East and Italy were the most honourable, the Danube and the Rhine the most laborious stations. The former claimed the presence of the Augusti; the latter were entrusted to the administration of the Caesars. The strength of the legions was in the hand of the four partners of sovereignty, and the despair of successfully vanquishing four formidable rivals might intimidate the ambition of an aspiring general. In their civil government, the emperors were supposed to exercise the undivided power of the monarch, and their edicts,
inscribed with their joint names, were received in all the provinces as promulgated by their mutual councils and authority. Notwithstanding these precautions, the political union of the Roman world was gradually dissolved, and a principle of division was introduced which, in the course of a few years, occasioned the perpetual separation of the Eastern and the Western Empires. (3)

GERMANS AT THE ROMAN BORDER AROUND AD 100, ACCORDING TO TACITUS – AS IT IS EASY TO SEE, THE MAIN BORDER RUNS ALONG THE RHINE AND DANUBE RIVERS.
Governmental Division of the Empire under Diocletian

As far as the German tribes were concerned, the most direct result of the reform was that, from now on, Roman policies affecting them were not formulated in distant Rome any more but in the new residence of the Western Caesar in Augusta Treverorum, today’s Trier at the Moselle River, only fifty miles west of the Rhine, or in Constantinople or Antiochia. This fostered particularism and diminished the already weakened unity of Roman executive coordination. The preponderance of military power went to the two most threatened borders along the Rhine and Danube and the Asian border in the provinces of Syria and Cappadocia facing the Parthians. This, in turn, gave the local commanders power that increased with the number of the legions under their personal control. Many of the usurpers of the Imperial purple in the second to fourth century AD were generals from border provinces who claimed their imperial purple through the strength of their legions.


(1) Diamond, Jared, Collapse, Penguin Books 2005, 0-14-30.3655-6, p.13

(2) (3) Gibbon, Edward, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Modern Library, First Citation: Mass Market Edition 2005 Second Citation: 4th Edition 2003-4, ISBN 0-345-47884-3, pp. 157 (135); 243 (207)


Related Post: The End of the Legions – Gothic Invasions and the Economic Breakdown of the West


(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

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Children of the Lesser Men


Preceding Blog Entry: In Austria Before the War – Adolf Hitler’s Parents


Gnothi Seauton
(Know Thyself)

The Oracle of Delphi

And love’s the noblest frailty of the mind.
John Dryden “The Indian Emperor”, Act 2, Sc. 2


The Youth of Adolf Hitler

Our protagonist thus enters the stage and a few remarks are in order. There is little in the available sources regarding Hitler’s childhood and adolescence that has not been subjugated to interpretative efforts in the furtherance of the one or other psychological or political theory. Ian Kershaw observed that …

The historical record of Adolf’s early years is very sparse. His own account in Mein Kampf is inaccurate in detail and coloured in interpretation. Post-war recollections of family and acquaintances have to be treated with care and are at times as dubious as the attempts during the Third Reich itself to glorify the childhood of the future Führer. For the formative period so important to psychologists and “psycho-historians”, the fact has to be faced that there is little to go on which is not retrospective guesswork. (1)

That the early familiar environment, the experiences of youth and adolescence, are of paramount importance in the gestation of the adult mind is a commonplace, yet even in regard to the basics of Adolf Hitler’s family life a lot of speculation remains. Ian Kershaw, for example, arrives at a more critical judgement of his father Alois Hitler than many earlier biographers did – the question of course is what would he have expected from an Austrian Customs officer in the age of nationalism?

Klara and Alois Hitler Sr.

Family life, was, however, less than harmonious and happy. Alois was an archetypal provincial civil servant – pompous, status-proud, strict, humourless, frugal, pedantically punctual, and devoted to duty. He was regarded with respect by the local community. But both at work and at home, he had a bad temper which could flare up quite unpredictably. … He took little interest in bringing up his family and was happier outside rather than inside the family home. (2)

Our knowledge of early Hitler family affairs experienced an unexpected amelioration when Anton Joachimsthaler published 1989 in Munich his work “Correction of a Biography – Adolf Hitler 1908-1920”. [FN1] He presented many previously unknown or hard-to-find documents, unearthed police files, personal letters, paintings and drawings, photographs of Hitler’s war and post-war friends, their activities and much more. Of particular importance are military documents of the immediate post-war period, which suggest that Hitler developed his political convictions not, as he claimed in “Mein Kampf” and some historians have incautiously taken for granted, in Vienna before the war but in post-war Munich, and second, that his initial political sympathies in this era may have belonged to the Social Democrats. These interesting discoveries will be discussed in their proper context.

[FN1] Original Title: “Korrektur einer Biographie – Adolf Hitler 1908-1920”. In 2000, he presented an extended version, “Hitler’s Weg begann in München” [‘Hitler’s Path began in Munich’], that provided additional documentation. See Bibliography for details.

Most of Joachimsthaler’s findings relate to Hitler’s period before and after WW I in Munich, but some are relevant to his earlier life. Anton Joachimsthaler published, for example, the Legalisirungs-Protocoll of Alois Hitler discussed in the preceding chapter, and there will be a few more references to his work before we follow Adolf Hitler to Munich.

At this point in our account, Baby Adolf is being baptized, two days after he entered this world, by Father Ignaz Probst in the Catholic Church of Braunau. His name was given as Adolfus Hitler and is so recorded on the birth certificate. The family resumed life in the Gasthaus Pommer, comfortably, as far as we know. It seems that Klara, who has been promoted from chambermaid to nurse, from nurse to mistress, and from mistress to wife, acquainted herself well. At first, she had continued to address her husband as “uncle”, and remained shy for a time; but eventually, she found contentment in her homely duties, her devotion to the elder children Alois Jr. and Angela, and the care for the younger ones that arrived at regular intervals. The early deaths of her first three children, however, caused a crisis in the household, and Klara required some time to overcome the successive tragedies. She did not become pregnant for two years after Otto had died, only a few days after his birth, in the autumn of 1887.

The Braunau Customs Station, Alois Hitler’s place of work.

Alois’ life revolved around the usual quarters very much: the Customs station at the river bank, the inns, and the beehives that were his hobby since childhood. He continued his work in good standing and was promoted again in 1892 when Adolf was three years old. The family moved to his next duty station, Passau, fifty miles downriver.

Passau in 1892

The change of residence was to exert a profound influence upon young Adolf. Braunau was a provincial, sleepy border town, which had only provided a tiny footnote to German history. During the Napoleonic wars, the book trader Johannes Palm was executed in Braunau by French troops, for having written a pamphlet critical of the French emperor. The tract was titled “Germany in the Hour of her Deepest Humiliation”; Napoleon took umbrage, and the author was fusilladed. The execution remained a fixture of German nationalist complaints and was remembered with a vengeance in 1870/71.

The former Imperial town and Episcopal see Passau was of a different calibre. In the Middle Ages, the Prince-Bishop of Passau had ruled over the important market, bishopric and county at the confluence of the Inn and Danube Rivers; splendid churches, castles and palaces bore witness to the glory days of the town. Although Passau was on the German bank of the river and border, the Austrian Customs inspection was located, by the mutual disposition of the respective governments, on German territory, where, by a favourable happenstance, the inns closed an hour later at night.

Yet for the family in general, and Alois in particular, the change of posting seems not to have been entirely welcome. Alois had lived seventeen years in Braunau, where he had buried two wives and had developed affection for the small town. There was also the fact that in Braunau he was necessarily a bigger fish than in the much larger Customs office in Passau, and, in addition, the position in Passau was a provisional appointment only, subject to confirmation by his superiors.

It was perhaps only for the youngest member of the family, Adolf, three and a half years old, that the new town was an unmitigated success; he was in the impressionable age in which a child leaves home for the first time and is unfailingly altered by the first impressions of the new environment, the sight of the buildings, the sound of the language.
For the rest of his life, Adolf Hitler would speak the distinctive dialect of Lower Bavaria that was spoken in Passau. He insisted later that, from his time in Passau onwards, he had always felt more German than Austrian, and the old town’s cultural and historic pedigree certainly provided a different impression than sleepy Braunau. In all probability, he spent two carefree years in Passau.

When he was almost five years old, his mother gave birth to another son, Edmund. Only a week later, the father, obviously having satisfied the expectations of his peers, was promoted and transferred again: from the provisional appointment at the German border to a new post in Linz, the provincial capital. Because of little Edmund, the rest of the family remained in Passau for another year, which gave Adolf, freed from paternal supervision, lots of opportunities to roam about town. He enjoyed twelve months of freedom, and it was perhaps in this picturesque town, that commanded buildings in Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance style galore, that his lifelong interest in architecture awoke. Since he was not yet in school, time was on his side.

In addition, he had his mother for himself when his elder siblings were at school. Not only the Freudian faction of psychologists has commented at length upon Hitler’s devotion to his mother and hostility versus his father. Hitler was aware of his feelings and never thought of hiding them. All sources agree that he carried photographs of his mother at all times, until the last days of his life. In the cauldron of the final Russian attack on Berlin in April 1945, more than fifty years later, a framed photograph of his mother was the sole decoration of his bunker bedroom. Of his father, he spoke with fury or contempt.

As one would expect, it has been argued that a fixation on his mother as the unattainable ideal of womanhood destroyed his future relations to women; that he would subconsciously compare every other woman to his mother and consequently find them all wanting. A related theory held that he, unable to overcome this frustration, would develop homosexual tendencies. This theory perhaps confuses his friendship with Erich Röhm and the latter’s predilection for young and slim SA men with authenticity; anyway, no facts support the meretricious, not meritorious, theory. Hitler’s adult love life, as far as it will surface in this account, was less determined by his actual feelings for the young ladies themselves but his functions as revolutionary, party leader, chancellor and warlord that took up most of his time. Hitler met many women, and some were his mistresses, one of whom he married, in the end. Most, however, are best described as his “fans”, ardent supporters of his cause and person, socialites like Winifred Wagner, Unity Mitford or Helene Hanfstängl, who did him many favours and introduced him to the salons of the “better society”. He did go through a somewhat tragic love affair later in his life, which will be discussed in its proper place. Manifestly true is the observation that he was able to mobilize German women in his support as they had supported no other politician before him, but, then again, we don’t know how much of this support was based on erotic or maternal instincts. But the female vote was one of the pillars of his eventual success.

When the family followed the father to Linz in 1895, Adolf’s carefree life drew to a close. His father practised education by the standards of authoritative Austria and based his pedagogy on the cane – as it was the custom of the age. His stern character clashed easily and regularly with the imperfections he was wont to observe in the conduct of his two sons. From the spring of 1895 on, after Alois had decided to retire from His Majesty’s Customs Service, and spent most of his time at the family home, he had even more opportunity to correct the comportment of the children and hence father and sons collided even more often. Alois then bought a farm about thirty miles or fifty kilometres south-west of Linz, in the small village of Hafeld in the community of Fischlham near Lambach in Upper Austria. (3)

Rauschergut

Hafeld was a tiny hamlet of about two dozen houses and harboured perhaps a hundred souls. If one remembers the hilly settings of “The Sound of Music”, one has a good impression of how the settlement must have looked like. A sub-alpine village high on a crest, between trees, orchards and meadows, accommodated the nine acres of Alois’ farm on a gentle ascension. The house, called the “Rauschergut” was pretty and substantial, laid out on a slight slope; split-level, Californians would call it, and featured a small apple orchard, stables for the cows and horses, and that great prerequisite for kids´ play on a farm, a hayloft. A rivulet completed the picture.

Fischlham Church

Yet there was one problem. Alois was a farmer by heart; he was an ardent beekeeper, loved the physical side of farming and the husbandry of animals. But he lacked a green thumb, or, perhaps, the soil wasn’t good. One theory has advanced that his retirement from public service was less than voluntary, but, again, nothing in the record supports such an allegation. He retired with full pension rights, and there is nothing to conclude that he was anything but a well-respected man; no indication that the move to Hafeld might have had ulterior motives. Yet another factor compromised the idyll for his younger son: life handed Adolf a new challenge by his enrolment in elementary school.

From September 1895 on, Adolf and Angela were scheduled to visit the tiny Volksschule, the primary school, in the village of Fischlham, three miles away. For the first time in his life, Adolf was separated from his mother and the village children, who had been his playmates. Adolf and Angela had to walk to school and back every day, about one hour in fine weather, much longer in winter. Due to the diminutive size of the population it served, the school in Fischlham was divided into two summary classes only, one for the boys and one for the girls.

The school (more pictures here)

One of the teachers, Herr Mittermaier, remembered the children in general, as pupils of the school, and Adolf in particular, because he was one of his students. He could clearly remember, he said, many decades later, that both of them kept the contents of their knapsacks in “exemplary order”, and that Adolf was “mentally very much alert, obedient, but lively.” (4)

In the first year, Adolf earned the highest marks for deportment, something he was not truly known for later. In “Mein Kampf”, he remembered:

“It was during these times that the first ideas formed in my breast. All that playing around in the open, the long way to school and my companionship with the rugged boys sometimes caused my mother grief and suffering, but that did not prevent me from being the opposite of a stay-at-home boy. And while I had hardly any thoughts of a future career at this time, I definitely had no sympathy for the direction my father’s career had taken. I imagine that even my talent for speaking in public came about through the more or less savage arguments that I often had with my school buddies. I had become a little ringleader and learned quite easily and well at school, but in other respects, I became quite difficult to handle.” (5)

Indeed, this passage seems to have been written straight from the heart. If true, it might evidence that, even as a boy, he was able to relate and defend his own ideas. What all sources agree on is that he was the ringleader at play, whether it was Cowboys and Indians or Boers versus Englishmen, a boy terror with a fast mouth, and busy with mischief. To Alois Jr., Hafeld proved a rough environment. The closeness of village life led to frequent arguments with his father. Alois Sr. worked long hours every day, but the barren soil rendered most of his labours fruitless and caused him frustration that all too readily turned to anger. In addition, Klara had given birth to little Paula in the fall of 1898, and the household now comprised five children. The distress over the farm may not have much improved the father’s patience.

Since he had given up his profession, Alois was very much of a presence on the farm and in the village, looming over his family with stern and unforgiving authority. As far as physical punishments are concerned, the sources disagree. The sons both complained about the beatings the father supposedly provided, Adolf remarked, “with a hippopotamus whip.” (6) On the other hand, Adolf’s future warden and burgomaster of Leonding, Josef Mayrhofer, who knew the family well, claimed that Alois’ bark was worse than his bite. We must keep here in mind that beatings, in liberal amounts and with frequent repetition, were deemed a disciplinarian’s panacea, instilling morale, obedience and character.

Alois Jr. alleged that the punishments happened on an irregular schedule, independent of cause and effect, which, if it were true, would indicate that alcohol played a role. Sometimes, he said, there were beatings for Adolf as well, or the dog, and he alleged that, on occasion, Klara also fell victim to her husband’s grim. If such scenes truly happened, they may have had strong psychological implications for young Adolf. Alois Jr. characterized his father as follows:

“He was imperious and quick to anger from childhood onward and would not listen to anyone. My stepmother always took his part. He would get the craziest notions and get away with it. If he didn’t have his way, he got very angry. … He had no friends, took to no one and could be very heartless. He could fly into a rage over every triviality.” (7)

Alois Jr.

Yet the elder son kept his own opinions, and was in the habit of defending them, and “after fierce fights with his father, fourteen-year-old Alois Jr. left the home in Hafeld and was disinherited.” (8) The family house, however, did not remain the only place where Alois Jr. found trouble. Four years later, in the year 1900, he was arrested, convicted of theft and sentenced to five months in jail. He received another such sentence later, this time for eight months. Like his possible grandfather Johann Georg Hiedler, he became a vagrant and earned meagre wages as a waiter in various countries: from Austria to Germany, from Germany to France, and from France, in 1909, to Ireland. Dublin, however, could not hold him any longer than other towns had, and the following year, 1910, finds him in Liverpool, where he became the proprietor of a small restaurant.

It was in this town that he married the buxom Irish lass Elizabeth Dowling, who bore him a son whom he named William Patrick. In early 1924, Alois Jr. went back to Germany, albeit without his family whom he, perhaps, considered an unnecessary burden. He resettled in Hamburg, but the old Hanseatic town got the better of him: a second marriage, undertaken without a prior divorce from Elizabeth, sent him to prison again, for bigamy, six months this time.

Paula Hitler

After his half-brother Adolf’s career had taken off in 1933, Alois materialized in Berlin, where he opened a bar and restaurant on the Wittenbergplatz, near the heart of the city’s nightlife. His eventual clientele, most of them Nazis, SS or SA officers, knew exactly what his family relations were. Although it could never be determined exactly whether these excellent connections now helped or not, the customers of Café Alois believed in them and the establishment was a success. Alois survived the war and his brother, but the prominence of the family name may have got a bit too close to him, or perhaps some of his former wives were on the hunt for outstanding alimony payments: at any rate, Alois Jr. changed his name to Hans Hiller and disappeared from history, although he lived until 1956. Adolf’s younger sister Paula was a quiet and docile girl. She never appeared in the limelight, never married, and lived in obscurity until her death in 1960.

The urge to change places frequently, Alois Jr. had certainly acquired from his father. His friend August Kubizek remembered what Adolf had told him about the family’s movements:

During his [Alois Sr.] period of service in Braunau, there are recorded twelve changes of address; probably there were more. During the two years in Passau, he moved house twice. Soon after his retirement, he moved from Linz to Hafeld, from there to Lambach – first in the Leingarner Inn, then to the mill of the Schweigbach Forge, that is to say, two changes in one year – then to Leonding. When I first met Adolf he remembered seven removals and had been to five different schools. (9)


(1) (2) Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1889 – 1936: Hubris, W.W. Norton & Company 2000, ISBN 0-393-32035-9 (pbk.), p. 11

(3) (8) Hamann, Brigitte, Hitler’s Vienna, 1st Ed. Oxford UP 1999, Tauris Parks 2010, ISBN 978-1-84885-277-8 (pbk.), p.8, 8

(4) (6) (7) Toland, John, Adolf Hitler, Anchor Books 1992, ISBN 0-385-42053-6 (pbk.), p. 8,9,9

(5) Hitler, Adolf, Mein Kampf [German Edition], Eher Verlag, Munich 1924, p.3

(9) Kubizek, August, The Young Hitler I Knew, Arcade Books 2011, ISBN 978-1-61145-058-3 (pbk.), p. 54


To Be Continued: Schooldays in Lambach, Leonding and Linz

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

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