Alexander Lives!

(This piece is being published again in order that the participants at my talk on alternative history can read the full text on the alternate Alexander; a new post will take its place in a week or so.  The names in bold type are historical characters; for clarity the Greeks are given their original royal cognomina, though they do not apply in this history. Alexander’s son, born after his death, was named Alexander [IV]; here is named Philip [III].)

Our boy in fighting trim

Our boy in fighting trim

 

……..Once the fever had passed, Alexander’s first act was to order the construction in Babylon of a massive new temple of Marduk, whom he believed had saved his life. He then dispatched Craterus to take over the governorship of Macedon and Greece from the aging Antipater and made further arrangements for the training of 20,000 Persian youths brought west by Peucestas. The already planned expedition to circumnavigate Arabia then got underway, with the King accompanying the fleet, which would keep the land forces supplied. But the heat was debilitating, especially for the army, and it rapidly became more difficult to gather food and even water. Reaching the point where the Arabian Peninsula turns south and west and getting a better idea of just how big Arabia was, Alexander created a smaller squadron of ships, provided them with all the supplies that could be spared and sent them on. He meanwhile led the remaining forces back to Babylon, a march that many said outdid the Gedrosia in hardship.

Babylon

Babylon

Alexander and Craterus in their younger days

Alexander and Craterus in their younger days

Roxane and with her son Philip

Roxane and with her son Philip

Back in the capital the King was pleased to discover that his Bactrian wife, Roxane, had delivered a boy, whom he named Philip after his father, to the delight of the older Macedonian veterans, who were unenthusiastic about Alexander’s Asian ways. He attended to the administration of the Empire and the training of the new Greco-Persian units, one of those Asian programs so disliked by his soldiers. Towards the end of the year he traveled to the Phoenician coast to inspect the new fleet being assembled in the Mediterranean, then spent the winter in Alexandria, indulging himself in ordering new temples built around the Hellenic world, including a splendid monument to his father in the ancestral Temenid royal burial grounds in Aegae.

The royal tombs at Aegae

The royal tombs at Aegae

In the spring of 322 Alexander got word that his tutor, Aristotle, had died, and he ordered a period of mourning throughout the Greek world. He also dispatched a squadron of ships south in the Red Sea to meet the expedition coming from the east and spent most of the year mustering forces and supplies for a march west along the African coast. The Greek cities in Sicily, which had congratulated him on his return from the east, were now beginning to make dire predictions of what threats would emerge should the Carthaginians seize the entire island and consolidate their position there. The King, who had always wanted to bring all the Greeks into the Empire, agreed and began preparations for an expedition against Carthage. Meanwhile, Craterus was compelled to take an army north to deal with the Paeonian tribes that had renewed their traditional raiding south into Macedon.

Alexandria (Egypt)

Alexandria (Egypt)

The African army began its march westwards in the spring of 321. The coastal towns of Cyrene had submitted to Alexander when he entered Egypt a decade earlier, but the heat and constant need to feed and water his forces without devastating the area’s inhabitants meant fairly slow progress. At the site of modern Benghazi the King left a force to build yet another Alexandria and continued westward along the coast with the bulk of the army and navy, driving into the territory of tribes nominally allied to Carthage. Sandstorms and constant harassment by the desert tribes, who seemed to spring out of nowhere, slowed progress greatly, however, and with growing supply problems Alexander decided to turn back and winter at the new Alexandria Kyrenaea. The western desert had proved a much greater challenge than the Sinai had back in 332.

During the winter the King learned that the fleet sent around Arabia had sailed up the Red Sea to Egypt, and he ordered that bases be established along the route to facilitate trade. He had been sending out mounted units to reconnoiter the African coast, especially regarding water supplies, and contact the tribes along the route. With the treasure of the old Persian Empire at his disposal buying the Libyans away from Carthage was easily done, and when the army was ready to march in the spring, he sent to the Punic capital demanding an alliance and the evacuation of their troops from Sicily. Their answer, delivered a few weeks later, was a surprise raid on Alexander’s fleet, during which his transports suffered heavy damage and his Phoenician crews revealed an extreme reluctance to attack their Punic cousins.

A rooky trireme going into battle with its mast still up

A rooky trireme going into battle with its masts still up

Triremes under sail

Triremes under sail

Sending the Phoenicians back to Alexandria with instructions that new crews and more warships and transports were to join him as soon as possible, Alexander characteristically moved quickly, trusting his new Libyan allies to provide information about the enemy and the land. By summer’s end he had reached Lepcis Magna, well into Carthaginian territory. The extremes of heat and cold had once more taken a toll on his army, and he decided to rest here where supplies were plentiful and await the reinforcements coming by sea. Soon enough the Carthaginian navy reappeared, this time in greater numbers, and Alexander was forced to beach his supply vessels and guard them with troops while his outnumbered and out rowed warships were so roughly handled that they were soon fleeing and heading for the shore. The enemy fleet departed, and the next day the King sent the surviving naval units east to meet the reinforcements and continued the march to Carthage. Despite the naval defeat morale was high, since the men knew that if the King could take an army though the Hindu Kush, he could certainly traverse this region.

A week’s march from Carthage his way was blocked by the enemy army at Bararus. The force was larger than his and composed of Libyans and mercenaries, most of them veterans from the Carthage’s Sicilian campaigns, and cavalry from Numidia. Ptolemy Soter suggested that the King simply buy the army from its Carthaginian leaders, but he replied “I will not purchase a victory.” While some of the King’s newly raised units performed poorly and his smaller cavalry force had a time of it with the Numidians, his Macedonians and Greeks broke through the enemy center, at which point the Numidians fled and the subject and mercenary infantry surrendered. Alexander promptly hired the mercenaries and gave the Libyans the option, eagerly taken, of joining his army.

Ptolemy Soter

Ptolemy Soter

Within a month Carthage and the other Punic towns had surrendered. Knowing that he could not yet deal with their navy, Alexander had offered terms that left the Carthaginians in possession of their emporia, excepting in Sicily, and their commercial empire, but they were bound in an alliance. They in turn supplied ships to transport Alexander’s disabled troops east and to find his long overdue fleet, which in fact had turned back due to storms. He meanwhile continued west to accept the surrender and alliance of the Numidian king, who agreed to supply cavalry to the King’s army. Taken once more by his pothos, his “longing,” which had compelled him to cross the Danube and the Gedrosia desert, Alexander wished to continue on to the Pillars of Heracles, named after his ancestor, but Ptolemy and the other Companions managed to convince him that after three years on the march he needed to return to the heart of the Empire.

The Pillars of Heracles

The Pillars of Heracles

In 317 Alexander was back in Babylon, once more replacing failed governors, as he had in 324 upon his return from the east. Later in the year he returned to Pella for the first time in seventeen years, there to meet his mother, Olympias, and host massive banquets celebrating the Macedonian achievement. He also celebrated by taking a small army into Illyria, which had been conspiring with the Dardani to invade northern Macedon. Completely surprised, the Illyrians were easily defeated, and the King established a chain of fortresses to watch over them. The following year he took a larger force north and was joined by several Thracian tribes eager to benefit from the campaign against the Dardani and Triballi, who were duly crushed and scattered. More territory was awarded to the Thracians, and Alexander settled old veterans in a new city on the Danube, Alexandria Istria.

Ruins of Pella

Ruins of Pella

Ruins of Pella

Ruins of Pella

The Queen Mother Olympias

The Queen Mother Olympias

The King decided in 315 to begin preparing an expedition to settle affairs in Sicily, where the removal of the Carthaginian menace had led to a destructive free-for-all among the Greek cities, Syracuse leading the way as the strongest player. A new fleet was ordered from the Phoenicians and the Athenians, who were reminded of the humiliation they had suffered at the hands of Syracuse a century earlier during the Sicilian expedition, and Alexander himself attended to training a younger generation of Macedonians and Greeks. Late in the year, however, word of trouble in India finally reached the west. An Indian adventurer, Chandragupta, having established himself along the Ganges, had engineered revolts in the northern Indus valley and was pressing Alexander’s one time foe and now ally Porus. Engaged in the preparations for Sicily, Alexander dispatched his Companion Seleucus Nicator with a largely Asiatic force with a strong contingent of Greek mercenaries.

Seleucus Nicator

Seleucus Nicator

Porus surrendering to Alexander

Porus surrendering to Alexander back in the day

Chandragupta

Chandragupta

Having intimidated the Italian Greek cities of Tarentum, Croton and Rhegium into alliance, in 314 Alexander, recovered from another bout of malaria, invaded Sicily, where Syracuse under the tyrant Agathocles had formed a coalition of Sicilian cities to resist the invasion. By 312 he had defeated several Greek armies and gained the entire island except Syracuse, which was put under siege. It took almost a year to take the city, after which Alexander organized the Sicilian cities into a confederation similar to that of the Greek cities in Asia Minor. Now, most all the Greeks, except those in Italy, were under Macedonian control, and Alexander began planning an incursion into Italy, where the fledgling Roman Republic was still dealing with the Samnites in the central highlands. Alexander of course saw this as another step in his dream of reaching the Pillars of Heracles.

Agathocles the tyrant

Agathocles the tyrant

Ruins of Syracuse

Ruins of Syracuse

Late in 311, however, the King learned that Seleucus had been unable to stop Chandragupta, whose forces were pressing Porus and threatening to seize the passes west into Afghanistan. Alexander determined, with no little enthusiasm, that it was time for him to return to India. The Macedonian-Greek forces destined for Italy instead moved to Babylon, where they were joined by newly raised Asiatic troops. The army spent the winter of 309/308 in Ecbatana, where Alexander discovered that the Scythians had poured across the Jaxartes and were plundering Sogdiania and Bactria. In the spring the King moved into these provinces and after months of pursuit finally drove the major Scythian force into a battle, where it was annihilated. He wintered in Kabul, where he was joined by Seleucus and the remnants of his army and informed that Porus had sided with Chandragupta. In 307 Alexander moved east, dividing the army into three contingents, as he had done almost two decades before. Debouching into the north Indus watershed, he once again faced Porus, who was once again defeated. This time, however, the Indian prince was sent west under guard, and the area was placed under the control of Seleucus, who was left with a substantial garrison of Greek mercenaries.

Once more Alexander built a flotilla and proceeded down the Indus, meeting Chandragupta’s huge army not far south of Porus’ kingdom. Thinking wistfully of the battles against the last Persian king, Darius III, the King took on an Indian army at least twice the size of his own and as at Gaugamela won a crushing victory. And once again the leader escaped, fleeing eastward. Alexander repeated his journey down the Indus, reestablishing garrisons in the major towns, and then followed the route west taken by Craterus years before. In 304 he was back in Babylon, where the news was uniformly bad.

He learned that two years earlier Antipater’s son Cassander had procured the assassination of Craterus and proclaimed Philip Arrhidaeus, the halfwit son of Alexander’s father, king of Macedon, asserting his pure Macedonian blood in contrast to Alexander’s son, who was only one quarter Macedonian. The King’s most able governor in Asia Minor, Antigonus Monopthalmos, had promptly marshaled his forces and marched on Europe, where he defeated and killed Cassander in a particularly bloody battle and having little choice, had the pathetic figure of Arrhidaeus executed. The King’s position in Macedon had been restored, but his long absence in the east and the coup in Macedon had led to the revolt of Syracuse and Carthage, which had regained its Sicilian fortress of Lilybaeum.

Antipater

Antipater

Cassander

Cassander

Philip Arrhidaeus

Philip Arrhidaeus

Antigonus Monopthalmos

Antigonus Monopthalmos

 

Alexander immediately moved to Pella, where he found that Cassander had executed his mother, Olympias. Overwhelmed by grief and anger dwarfing that following the death of Hephaestion in 324, Alexander killed everyone even remotely associated with Cassander and then took an army northeast to slaughter every barbarian he could lay his hands on. In 299 he invaded Sicily a second time, this time accompanied by his son, and after another siege captured Syracuse again in 298, this time to make the streets run with blood, seemingly a sacrifice to his mother. Carthage was next, and while an army marched from Alexandria, the King landed his Sicilian army to the west of Utica, his warships, led by the Rhodians, fending off attacks by the Punic navy. A Carthaginian army of Greek and Italian mercenaries was easily defeated, and united with the force from Alexandria, he besieged the Punic capital. It took the almost two years to take the city, and the final assault would be long remembered, as Alexander was treated to a stiff dose of Semitic fury. The devastated city was settled with Greeks and renamed Alexandria Hesperia.

Ruins of Carthage

Ruins of Carthage

It was now 295 and Alexander returned to Babylon to spend two years dealing with administrative problems and inspecting the new facilities being built at the head of the Persian Gulf. In 292 he dispatched his son Philip to occupy Kolchis and the southeastern shore of the Black Sea, while he traveled to Alexandria to attend to affairs in the “second capital.” The following year he again prepared for the invasion of southern Italy, moving his fleet and army to Epirus. He assembled a force of some 35,000 infantry and 3000 cavalry while making contact with the Samnites, the Greek cities in the south and the Gallic tribes settled in the Po valley. In 290 the expedition crossed the Adriatic with no opposition and landed at Tarentum, which had agreed to an alliance on the promise of new territory. Other Greek cities joined, seeking aid against the local Italic tribes, the Lucanians and Bruttians, and the King and received word that the Senones and Boii were preparing to cross the Appenines, but chastised by the just concluded war with Rome, very few Samnite communities revolted. The fleet went on to Messana to ferry a Sicilian Greek army to the mainland.

The Senate meanwhile had been negotiating with the Lucanians and Bruttians, offering them new lands to be taken from their traditional Greek foes, while Samnite loyalty was buttressed with promises of land in Apulia. Two legions and allies under the consul P. Cornelius Rufinus were sent north to overawe the Etruscan towns and join a Ligurian army hoping to acquire land from the Senones. His colleague, M’. Curius Dentatus, raced south along the Appian Way with two more legions, picking up some Samnite units along the way. A fifth, understrength legion was hastily raised and sent south along the coast to make contact with the Lucanians.

Dentatus telling the Samnites to shoved it

Dentatus telling the Samnites to shove it

In the north Rufinus marched to Arretium, which was being besieged by an army of Senones, which was obliterated in a set battle outside the city walls. Intimidated, the Boii hesitated, only to be overrun by the Ligurians moving east into their lands. Establishing a few key garrisons and leaving the Ligurians to sort things out, Rufinus headed back south. Almost 500 miles to the south the King moved his army to Thurii to confront a Lucanian horde converging on that city and defeated it with ease at the Battle of the Sybaris River, leading the major Bruttian tribes to open negotiations with him. Using his mercenaries as garrison troops and taking the meager forces of his Italian Greek allies, Alexander then began the march up the recently extended Appian Way, awed by the Roman engineering. To his surprise he learned that Dentatus had already passed Maleventum on his way to the Roman colony of Venusia. Leaving his Greek allies to straggle, he undertook the kind of forced march that had surprised Thebes forty-five years earlier, but he himself was surprised to find Dentatus and his army encamped south of the city. Never had he encountered a foe who could move as fast as he. Further surprise came when the consul refused to withdraw into the city though outnumbered by as much as a third. The resulting Battle of Venusia was a victory for Alexander, but while the legions could make little headway against his phalanx, they seriously cut up his Greek infantry before being flanked by his cavalry. Dentatus lost his life, and less than half his men made it into Venusia, which refused to surrender. With winter coming on the King returned to Tarentum and sent his son back to Macedon to gather more troops.

Venusia

Venusia

Via Appia

Via Appia

Appian Way

Appian Way

The following year Alexander sent the Sicilians up the western coast, while he again traveled the Appian Way, his army augmented by replacements from the east. Harassed constantly by bands of Lucanians, the Greeks met the now reinforced legion from Rome near Paestum and despite the presence of Macedonian officers were roughly handled and headed back south. The defenses of Venusia had been strengthened, and leaving a covering force, the King marched on Maleventum, where a gate was betrayed and the Roman garrison massacred. Continuing towards Capua, Alexander ran into three legions under the consul M. Valerius Maximus Corvinus, and the Battle of Caudium was fought. This time the Senate had dispatched all the cavalry they could find, but though holding out longer and actually damaging the phalanx, the Romans were sent reeling back to Capua, which the King prepared to besiege. The Senate began discussing negotiation, but the blindold censor Appius Claudius Caecus shamed them with his outrage that they dare talk peace while an enemy was still on Roman soil.

Appius Claudius chastising the Senate

Appius Claudius chastising the Senate

Maleventum

Maleventum

Caudium

Caudium

Meanwhile, Alexander discovered that the other consul, Q. Caedicius Noctua, was approaching Venusia with two legions from Apulia, and abandoning the siege of Capua, he rushed south to deal with the threat to his communications, passing Venusia before Noctua arrived. With his army damaged by two major battles, facing yet another Roman force and worse, learning of troubles in Asia, he made the hardest decision of his impetuous life and sent envoys to Rome. Exhausted, the Romans agreed to stay out of Sicily in return for the King’s evacuation of Italy. Alexander returned to Macedon, and the following year on his way through Thrace he succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 68.

Roman legions vs. Macedonian phalanx

Roman legions vs. Macedonian phalanx

The world held its breath, and Philip III succeeded his father as ruler of the oikoumene, the Greek-speaking world. The body was taken to Aegae, where the tribute of an Empire reaching from Numidia to India was spent to inter Macedon’s greatest king. Across this vast landscape Macedonian soldiers wept as they received the news of his death and consoled themselves with the thought that he was now a god, looking down upon them from the heights of Olympus. The greatest hero since Achilles was dead.

But not everyone grieved, and the new King was immediately faced with revolts from Sicily to the far east. Philip sent Antigonus’ son Demetrius Poliorcetes to deal with Sicily, while he moved east to deal with revolts by his governors in Media and Bactria and reached the Iranian plateau in 285. Media was easily pacified, but there he encountered Greek troops fleeing the occupation of the Indus valley by Chandragupta and learned that Seleucus had been killed. The King made a momentous decision and sent envoys to recognize Chandragupta’s conquest and Bactrian independence, deciding to withdraw the frontiers of the Empire west to a line from the Caspian Gates south along the eastern border of Persis. Seleucus’ son Antiochus Soter, was made viceroy of the entire Persian heartland.

Antiochus Soter

Antiochus Soter

Demetrius

Demetrius Poliorcetes

Back in Babylon in 283 Philip decided to move the capital to Alexandria and ordered the Old Royal Road west of Babylon refurbished and a spur built south to Egypt. With the Empire momentarily at peace he turned to domestic activities, especially Hellenization, and began a program of encouraging poorer Greeks to settle in western Asia, particularly Syria-Palestine and along the route to Babylon. Because of continued Macedonian resistance, his father’s experiment with joint Greco-Iranian units was abandoned, and Asian troops were henceforth used almost exclusively in the east. Despite calls by his more aggressive generals to revive the Italian campaign, the King decided to postpone it in favor of more consolidation. Then suddenly he was dead, killed when thrown from his horse in 280.

The heir, Alexander IV, was still in his early teens, and Ptolemy Philadelphos, son of the Alexander’s Companion of the same name, was established as Regent. Until his death in 262 Ptolemy continued to advise the King, even after he achieved his majority, but Alexander was not cut from the same cloth as his predecessors and fell into a life of indolence, the court filling with sycophants. The administration of the Empire fell upon the shoulders of its governors and viceroys, who began passing their power on to their own sons. Revolts, all stirred by Greek and Macedonian adventurers, were successfully suppressed with little direction from Alexandria. In 263 the viceroy in Macedon, Demetrius’ son Antigonus Gonatus, having spent the later 260s smashing Gauls on both sides of the Danube, foolishly decided to expand his power by “liberating” the Greek cities in Italy, which had by now fallen under Roman control. Experienced only in fighting barbarians, however, his poorly led army was twice defeated by the Roman legions, and the enterprise was abandoned. Intimidated by the Macedonian fleet in the Adriatic, Rome was content with repelling the invasion, but was now clearly eyeing Sicily, whose garrisons were beefed up by Antigonus.

Antigonus Gonatus

Antigonus Gonatus

Ptolemy Philadelphos

Ptolemy Philadelphos

Alexander died in 248 and was succeeded by his son Perdiccas III, who after three years of incompetent rule was assassinated, perhaps by his younger brother, who succeeded him as Philip IV. Philip is generally considered the last of the great Temenid kings, and during his long reign the Empire was as united as it ever would be. While he confirmed the position of many of the governors inherited from his brother, he attempted to regain control of the offices, fearing any long tenure of power could provide a dangerous local power base. Unfortunately, that was already the case in Macedon and Babylonia, and for all his ruthlessness Philip hesitated plunging the Empire into civil war and tolerated the powerful Antigonid and Seleucid families. He signed a treaty with Rome delineating spheres of influence: Spain and Gaul, where the Romans already had colonies, would be off limits to the Empire, and while both parties were free to send raids into the area north of the Alps and the Adriatic, neither could establish any permanent facilities. Apart from punishing various barbarians off the northern and eastern frontiers and an expedition up the Nile, he refrained from serious military operations and oddly, patronized the arts.

Incredibly, Philip ruled until 199, dying at the age of 80, still loved and feared by his subjects. He had outlived all his sons, and a nephew took the throne as Alexander V. Trouble began almost immediately. In Pella Philip, grandson of Antigonus Gonatus, contested the succession, asserting that the Macedonian troops did not accept Alexander, and in 198 he began moving forces into Asia Minor, replacing the local governors with his own men. Alexander mustered what forces he could and moved north to bar the Cilician Gates, summoning Antiochus Megas, great great grandson of Seleucus, from the east, where he was embroiled with the troublesome Parthians. Fortunately for the King, whose hastily collected forces would have serious trouble facing Philip, the Illyrians, quiet for several generations, poured into Macedon and more threatening, Syracuse was said to have appealed to Rome for liberation from the Macedonian yoke. Leaving what forces he could, Philip rushed back west and sent his fleet back from the Aegean to Sicily to block any attempt by the Romans to cross to the island.

Antiochus Megas

Antiochus Megas

Philip

Philip

Coming west, Antiochus affirmed his loyalty to the King, if only to see the rival Antigonids crushed, and 197 was spent clearing Asia Minor and raising new troops. The following year Alexander invaded Europe, while Antiochus returned to the east to deal with a Parthian invasion of Media through the Caspian Gates. The Illyrians had been subdued, but now outmatched by the King, Philip retreated into the Macedonian highlands and offered the Gauls land in Thrace if they aided his cause. This caused the Thracian tribes to enthusiastically support the King, and soon Philip’s Macedonians were deserting in ever increasing numbers. He fled to Italy and sought asylum with the Romans.

Alexander spent two more years in the ancestral homeland and the lands to the north, repairing the damage done by Philip and executing every member of the Antigonid family he could get his hands on. In early 193 came news of a usurper in Alexandria claiming to be a surviving son of King Philip and raising an army, his funds most likely supplied by Antiochus, now surnamed Parthicus. The following year the King easily defeated the usurper, who had been unable to secure Gaza and had remained in the Delta, but he was killed in the battle under suspicious circumstances. Alexander’s youngest son, still a boy, was proclaimed King as Alexander VI by the Macedonians in the army, while his eldest brother, serving as viceroy in Pella, was elevated as Philip V by his Macedonians and immediately began collecting an army. With a promise of autonomy he recruited Alexandria Hesperia and Numidia to his side, raised troops in Sicily and sent several delegations to the Parthians.

Antiochus collected his forces from his eastern frontier and marched toward Anatolia, while Philip secured the Ionian cities and cleared the Cilician Gates. Remembering the destruction of Carthage, the Phoenician cities declared for Antiochus, who had reached the upper Euphrates by 190. But the grand battle never materialized. From east and west came the news: the Parthians were swarming into Media and the Romans had invaded Sicily. Antiochus agreed to recognize Philip as the true King, and Philip in turn formally ceded all the territory east of the Euphrates to Antiochus and guaranteed his right to recruit from the Greek cities. King Antiochus I returned home to face the Parthians, the Phoenician cities submitted and Philip’s boy king brother was dead by the time his men reached Alexandria. Philip took his army back to Macedon, where he confirmed that the Romans, never very good at siege craft, were bogged down before the walls of Syracuse. Ignoring the lessons of a century earlier, he began assembling in Macedon forces from all over the Empire and demanded that Rome evacuate Sicily or face war. Delighted with being presented a casus belli and opportunity to deal with the threat across the Adriatic, the Romans declared war.

The invasion came in 187, after Rome spent the previous year securing its position in Sicily and dealing with problems in the Po valley. A new Roman fleet with new boarding tactics cleared the way across the Adriatic, and four legions were shipped to Greece. It took the Romans almost three years to break into Macedon, and there they met Philip at Dion in the biggest battle ever fought: P. Claudius Pulcher and L. Porcius Licinus led more than 40,000 men against Philip’s 55,000. By nightfall Philip and his Companions lay dead on the field, along with perhaps 25,000 Greeks and Romans. The King’s eldest son, now Alexander VI, fled with his remaining troops to Anatolia, where a number of revolts had erupted. The Romans declared the Greeks free and placed the exiled Philip on the Macedonian throne. The Empire had lost the homeland and all its European possessions.

The dynasty began a downward spiral. Alexander was assassinated in 183 while on campaign in Cappadocia, to be followed by Alexander VII, Perdiccas IV and Alexander VIII in scarcely two decades. Although the Romans kept Philip and his successor Perseus on a short leash during this period, a Gallic invasion of Anatolia and internal revolts, some prompted by Rome, were chipping away at the Empire. Adding to the troubles were the Seleucids, who seized control of Syria-Palestine when they were finally driven from Mesopotamia by the Parthians. By the middle of the century the Alexandrine Empire, once stretching from Numidia to the Indus, had been reduced to Lower Egypt, Cyrene and the fortress of Gaza and under the child King Philip VI was being governed by a constantly scheming coterie of advisors. Prematurely aged from his sybaritic life, Philip died suddenly in 132 and a nephew was elevated as Alexander XII. Within the year he was dead, the victim of a coup launched by a Sicilian Greek mercenary, who promptly proclaimed himself Sosistratus I, ruler of Egypt. The ancient Temenid dynasty was at an end.

Perseus

Perseus

In the century following the demise of Alexander the Great’s Empire the Romans slowly moved into the lands of the oikoumene, ending the second Antigonid dynasty in Macedon when its kings refused to stop meddling in Greece and then occupying Anatolia and Syria in order to prevent the Parthians from doing so. Thus, the Romans became rulers of the Hellenic world, and while the Alexandrine Empire had disappeared, the work of the Temenid kings in Hellenizing Anatolia, Syria-Palestine and Lower Egypt remained. The urban centers and even some of the rural populations of these regions were thoroughly Greek; even the curious and obstinate Judeans, having lost the most fanatic zealots of their invisible god in a failed revolt, were Hellenized. The Romans would preserve this inheritance for another half millennium and pass it on to Europe.

Finally, there has long been speculation about the course of Western history had Alexander the Great conquered Rome. The destruction of Roman power would certainly have left Hellenism dominant in the Mediterranean, but there is little reason to believe, given the history of the post-Alexander III oikoumene, that a Greek Mediterranean could produce the long-term stability that allowed the Roman Republic/Empire to establish classical civilization so well in western Europe that its core could survive the devastation of the barbarian migrations. And in any case, it was essentially Hellenic civilization that was passed on by Rome.

What a guy!

What a guy!

Dying for History: Khaled al-Asa’ad

Khaled al-Asa'ad Hero

                           Khaled al-Asa’ad
                                     Hero

The city of Palmyra is at least 4000 years old and has survived the Assyrians, the wars between Rome and the Persian Empire, the Arab conquest, the Seljuk Turks and the Mongols. Now it is being destroyed by a group of stateless barbarians, ostensibly in the name of their twisted god, but in fact as a public relations program. These buildings are part of the human heritage, and they simply cannot be replaced. That the ISIS scum have been staging mass executions in the theater at Palmyra is horrific enough, but once again, these treasures, these stone messages from worlds long gone are irreplaceable. They are far more worth dying for than a flag.

Palmyra  street

                    Palmyra street

Palmyra theater

                 Palmyra theater

Palmyra

                                    Palmyra

Such was seemingly the conclusion reached by Khaled al-Asa’ad, an archeologist specializing in Palmyra and custodian of the site for forty years before his retirement. When ISIS approached Palmyra/Tadmur in May, he refused all calls for him to flee, and in August he and his son and successor at the site, Walid, were detained by the dogs who call themselves Muslims. Even under torture this magnificent 81 year old man refused to reveal where some of the treasures of Palmyra had been hidden, and on August 18 he was publically beheaded and hung from a lamppost. What has happened to his son is as yet unknown, but thirteen other employees of the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums have been murdered.

Would I die to defend the Parthenon? I don’t know.

In May the ISIS infidels destroyed the tomb of Mohammed bin Ali, a descendant of the Prophet’s cousin, and the shrine of Nazir Abu Bahaeddine, a prominent 16th century sufi. In June they destroyed the two millennia old Lion of Al-Lat, which had been reconstructed and placed before the Palmyra Museum, and in August they blew up the Temple of Baalshamin, which dated back to the time of the Emperor Hadrian. Never before have I wanted a group of people to suffer in ways rejected by a truly civilized society. Such brings me down to their level, but I don’t care. There is a difference: they all have blood on their hands and I do not. If I could believe in the existence of evil, ISIS would be it.

Pure evil at work

Pure evil at work

The Lion of Al-Lat

              The Lion of Al-Lat

Temple of Baalshamin

           Temple of Baalshamin

And the world does nothing. The United States was at the very least midwife to the birth of this monstrosity, but with no taste for yet another war can do little but hurl death from the heavens and squander even more money on Baghdad, trapped by the now obsolete notion that Iraq is in fact a state. My country would better serve the world by aiding the millions of refugees created by the assault on Saddam’s Iraq. The countries most threatened by the plague of ISIS – Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states – are willing to do very little, disinclined to fight fellow Sunnis, no matter how disgusting, and thus aid Iran or in the case of Turkey more interested in blowing up Kurds. Perhaps if the ISIS terrorists attacked Mecca…

Meanwhile, Khaled al-Asa’ad is dead, sacrificing himself defending the beautiful city to which he had dedicated his life. After a lifetime in academe I cannot say that I have encountered many scholar-heroes.

 

 

Bush Redux

Repeating a now ubiquitous Republican assertion, Jeb Bush recently claimed that President Obama was responsible for ISIS because he pulled American troops out of Iraq too quickly. This is nonsense for two reasons. First and more obvious, it was his brother President George Bush (or more correctly, the undead who manipulated him) who invaded Iraq for no compelling reason and eliminated a stable and secular regime that was holding Iraq together. Yes, Sadam Hussein was a brutal dictator, but when has that ever got in the way of American foreign policy? We supported him during his ineffective war against revolutionary Iran, and he was a Sunni, like all our hillbilly friends in the Gulf. Baghdad was one of the places where Saudi princes went to get a drink or a woman. And he was a priority target for al-Qaeda, second only to the Saudi royal family.

Saddam

Saddam

Jeb

Jeb

W

W

As everyone except Vice President Dick Cheney now knows, Saddam was absolutely no threat to the United States, and we entered what passes for a major war these days with no casus belli. We in effect waged a war of aggression and were forced to come up with some nonsense about Iraq violating the terms of the Gulf War armistice. Why we did this is not at all clear to me, but Bush’s neocon advisors seemed to have some new program for the Middle East. I expect the generals, the military contractors and the Israelis were all whispering in the President’s ear.

 

Incompetence prevailed during the course of the war, and the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, should have been prosecuted. Crushing Saddam’s military was efficiently done – we do have an excellent military – but everything else, especially in the postwar period, betrayed a criminal lack of planning and an unbelievable lack of understanding of Iraq. It did not take a towering intelligence to see that disbanding the Iraqi army and firing every single administrator, bureaucrat and teacher because they were members the Ba’ath Party would leave Iraq without its state infrastructure. Ignoring warnings, the administration supported as Prime Minister and our man in Iraq Nouri al-Maliki, who quickly emerged as a Shiite tyrant, disaffecting the Sunni minority and completely ruining the American-trained (and paid for) Iraqi army, whose best Sunni officers are now working for ISIS. Unwilling to fight for the oppressive government in Baghdad, the well-armed Sunni tribesmen stood aside as ISIS seized town after town in western Iraq.

"Screw the Sunnis."

“Screw the Sunnis.”

"I am Death."

“I am Death.”

"Known unknowns and unknown unknowns"

“Known unknowns and unknown unknowns”

Second, it was impossible to reach a Status of Forces Agreement with Baghdad. Iraqis in general wanted US forces out of their country, and the government resisted granting the US military and its contractors the extensive immunity from local prosecution desired by Washington. Consequently, if we stayed, we would be an occupying army, which some Iraqis were convinced was already the case. And a majority of Americans supported withdrawal, sick of this costly war that did not seem to be serving any national interests beyond transferring tax revenues to companies like Haliburton.

 

To be sure, Obama (though more likely his military and intelligence people) might have taken notice of the rise of ISIS sooner, but the prime reason for the appearance of ISIS was the power vacuum and incompetent “democratic” government created in the wake of America’s unjustified and illegal invasion of Iraq. And that was your brother’s administration, Jeb, not Barack Obama’s. The Syrian civil war played a role of course, but it was the regime change and disbanding of the Iraqi army that opened the door to the Caliphate of Doom. Had that ruthless bastard Sadam still been around, who knows what might have happened?

Some of the major beneficiaries of the Iraq War:

"Thanks for all the military equipment, infidel dogs."

“Thanks for all the military equipment, infidel dogs.”

"Hey, we made money."

“Hey, we made money.”

"Ready to kill!"

“Ready to kill!”

Candidate Bush should know all this of course. For all his statements about being “his own man,” 19 of his 21 foreign policy advisors previously worked for his brother and/or his father. This fun group includes some fairly unsavory characters, behind the scenes professionals who never seem to lack for a job no matter how much they screw up. At the top of the list is the infamous and disgusting Paul Wolfowitz, Bush II’s Deputy Secretary of Defense, who created an office in the Pentagon to push for an invasion of Iraq, deliberately delivering false information to the media and government and obscuring the skepticism of the intelligence community. Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley also ignored warnings from the CIA and FBI, allowing Bush to make false claims; he was subsequently rewarded with promotion to National Security Advisor. And how about Meghan O’Sullivan, perhaps the top advisor to Paul Bremer, the man now recognized for his utter incompetence as the Imperial Viceroy of Iraq.

"No Ba'athists, no army and if you don't like the constitution I wrote, you can shove it."

Bremer “No Ba’athists, no army and if you don’t like the constitution I wrote, you can shove it.”

"We are the world."

Wolfowitz “We are the world.”

"You can rely on me."

Hadley “You can rely on me.”

So, much of the team that brought us the Iraq war is presumably working on how to deal with ISIS. This should be good.

 

Incidentally, allow me to throw in a telling statistic that puts the whole War on Terror in perspective. Between 9/11 and now 74 Americans (exclusive of the military) have been killed by people identified as terrorists; in that same period 150,000 Americans have been murdered with firearms. I suppose one way to look at this is that the War on Terror is working.

For Sale: Slightly Used Country; Needs Work

(Well, I certainly hope macho dentist Walter “Small Dick” Palmer is returned to Zimbabwe to enjoy a few years in one of their prisons or better, shot.)

 

The non-American readers out there may be a bit in the dark concerning the government of the United States, inasmuch as it is virtually unique among the great powers. (Well, in addition to electing some truly stupid people to office.)  Unlike the parliamentary systems in Europe, where the actual head of government, the Prime Minister (or Chancellor), is elected by the members of the assembly, the parliament, the US has a presidential system, in which the head of government (who is also head of state), the President, is elected by the people (well, more or less). The Prime Minister generally remains in power so long as he holds the support of the parliament, either through his party or coalition of parties, whereas the American President serves a fixed term of four years and can be reelected once. There are many variations on these two basic systems, but the result is that the US has a representative democracy very different from those organized along parliamentary lines.

A Chancellor

A Chancellor

The President

The President

A Prime Minister

A Prime Minister

One major difference is the essential separation of the executive from the legislative assemblies, the Congress, which means the President and his party may not control the legislative bodies (as is presently the case). Many feel this is something of a virtue, since the two branches can check one another, and given the composition of Congress these days, getting nothing done may not be such a bad thing.
On the other hand, the system lends itself well to an increasingly powerful executive, who does not depend upon the support of the assembly to stay in power, at least for the next four years. He can veto any legislation, and while his veto can be overridden, it takes a two/thirds vote in both houses of Congress, not an easy task. Congress can impeach and throw out the President, but this is extremely difficult: only two Presidents (Andrew Johnson and Bill “I did not have sex with that woman” Clinton) have had Articles of Impeachment passed against them. In both cases the motives were blatantly political, and both were acquitted.

Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton

Andy Johnson

Andy Johnson

Meanwhile, the power of the Presidency has grown steadily, both because of the changing nature of the country and world in the last couple of centuries and because no political institution, particularly an executive, is going to surrender any power if it can help it. And crises like World War II and 9/11 always result in new powers that are virtually never given up – the President can unilaterally send military forces into combat and more recently, execute without trial anyone deemed an enemy, including American citizens. Further, the President can game the system established by the Constitution: Executive Privilege, for example, is routinely abused, and the Executive Order, whose Constitutional basis is vague indeed, allows him to circumvent Congress.
The other big difference is the fixed term, which means loss of popular support has no immediate effect on the incumbent. After the experience of FDR the President was limited to two terms, a wise decision (despite my admiration for Roosevelt), but no such limitation exists for the Congress, and big money, citizen stupidity and the power of incumbency almost guarantee lifetime tenure, especially in the Senate with its six year terms. And regularly scheduled elections mean non-stop campaigning and money-raising.  No country in the history of the world has a campaigning period even remotely as long or expensive as America now does; it is at present more than a year to the general election and the candidates are already out in full force.  Members of the House of Representatives serve only two years, which means these guys are already sniffing out new money and prostituting themselves the moment they are elected. The single most important event in the life of a Congressman is not the vote but the fund raiser.
Along with being familiar with British parliamentary government, the Founding Fathers were also steeped in classical history and looked to Greece and Rome for models of democracy. They rejected the Athenian democracy, in which the assembly had the absolute last word on everything, as too inclined to instability and mob rule and favored the Roman Republic, which was successful over a half millennium. The Republican government was in practice an oligarchy of wealth centered in the Senate, but it was structurally democratic in that the citizens, through their assemblies, elected and legislated. This might actually be a description of the American government, except that the American oligarchy of wealth is not a group within the government but rather individual billionaires and corporations, who are essentially interested in their own concerns. The Roman Senator was of course motivated by enhancing his image and influence, but for four hundred years that came from actually serving the state.

Just right (the Senate did not look like this)

Just right (the Senate did not look like this)

Too democratic

Too democratic

Besides, for all their democratic inclinations the economically successful men who wrote the Constitution did not completely trust the common folk. They knew what had happened to Athens. So, there would be a “people’s” assembly, the House of Representatives, where members would serve only two years, mimicking the amateur assemblies of Athens and Rome and insuring the body reflected the changing ideas of the common folk. The Senate would be more akin to the like-named body in Rome (and not so much the House of Lords), and serving for six years, the Senators would constitute a wiser and more capable group of legislators. (And also a somewhat less than representative body: every state has two Senators regardless of population.)
Further, the President (and Vice President) would not be directly elected by the often uneducated and easily misled people, but by electors selected in some manner by the states, presumably from the pillars of the community. There was apparently also some anticipation that the process would not always produce a clear winner, allowing Congress to make the final decision.
Finally, there was the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, which essentially states that there are areas where even the theoretically sovereign will of the people cannot go – at least without incredible difficulty. This of course limits the power of the people and makes the state less democratic, unlike fifth century Athens, where a majority in the assembly, which any citizen could attend, could pass any law it pleased. Period. Now, that is really putting your faith in the political wisdom of the people. I am, however, unwilling to trust my free speech to religious zealots, politically correct airheads, professional patriots and above all politicians.

The greatest political document ever

The greatest political document ever

Well, a marvelous and incomparable document, but it did not all work out as the Fathers had hoped. Parties rapidly emerged and the growing need for money followed, gradually producing more or less professional politicians (but not necessarily good rulers), even in the so-called people’s House. Gerrymandering, party power and economic clout conspired to make even a seat in the House a potential life-time job, for which one needed to continually campaign. Incidentally, in Republican Rome once the candidates were formally announced – only twenty-four days before the election! – a candidate seeking votes identified himself (as if the huge entourage were not a clue) by wearing an artificially whitened toga; it was candidus (lustrous white), and he was a candidatus.
For reasons not entirely clear to me – the winner takes all rule and the broad ideology of the parties are certainly important – the United States has essentially developed a two-party system. It is extremely difficult to achieve federal and even state office if you do not run as a Democrat or a Republican, and third party challenges seem only to guarantee one or the other of the two major parties wins the White House. This locks out differing ideas, since although there are factions within the major parties, they after all are parties, with a national party line. The parliamentary system provides a venue for new groups to appear and influence decision-making in the legislature, and the need to form coalitions schools the representatives in comprise, which is desperately lacking in the American system.
In the United States it is almost as if the Democratic and Republican parties were part of the governmental structure. They are the only parties to regularly hold state primaries, which are paid for by the taxpayers, even though many of those citizens will not be permitted to vote in them. Further, the two earliest primaries, which attract immense media attention, are in Iowa and New Hampshire, which are primarily rural, white and well off, hardly representative of the country as a whole. And Iowa is apparently packed with Tea Party and Christian screwballs, compelling the Republican Party to make stupidity part of its platform.
In fact, in some ways the United States is a one-party state. True, the underlying ideology of the liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans is different, especially when their less moderate members are considered, so their legislative agendas differ. Yet, the basic concern of the vast majority of the politicians of both parties is getting reelected, which means raising money. There are a few, like Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, whose money comes primarily from the small folk, but this is extremely rare, and most all candidates are going to head for the big teats, which means billionaires and corporations, especially the latter. Granted, George Soros is not going to give serious money to a conservative nor Rupert Murdoch to a liberal, but corporations are not so fussy and will dish it out to anyone who might aid their business environment, which appears to include people in both parties.

Sheldon Adelson - part owner of the Republic Party and Israeli agent

Sheldon Adelson – part owner of the Republic Party and Israeli agent

Koch brothers - majority owners of the Republican Party

Koch brothers – majority owners of the Republican Party

George Soros

George Soros

Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch

The American democracy is being bought and sold every election cycle, while candidates who have accepted millions from this or that individual or business are claiming such does not make them beholden to the donor. Sure, multi-nationals love to throw away money.
How did it come to this? The Fathers created a wonderful document in the Constitution, one that with some revisions has carried the nation through two centuries of dramatic change in the world. They were on the verge of the industrial age and knew serious developments were afoot, but one thing they apparently did not completely fathom was the potential impact of marketing. In the eighteenth century marketing was hanging a sign outside your pub or placing a simple ad in a newspaper; candidates marketed themselves with rallies, speeches and broadsheets. As mass marketing developed in the twentieth century, especially with the advent of radio and television, politicians had no choice but to take advantage of it – and the cost of trying to get elected skyrocketed.
Further, large corporations began emerging in the nineteenth century and businessmen certainly appreciated the advantage of political influence, especially when the government began attempting to regulate them in the late nineteenth century. The development of multinationals has made matters worse, inasmuch as they control huge amounts of wealth and are to a good degree stateless. They consequently have even less reason to be concerned with the interests of any host county, and buying politicians, however self-serving, ignorant or destructive to the country they might be, is now part of doing business. What’s good for General Motors (or Exxon or Goldman-Sachs or Bank of America) is clearly not what’s good for America, but since the Supreme Court decided corporations are “persons” they are entitled to contribute staggering sums of money to candidates who will help them makes America a better place – for shareholders.

Some of the good folks whoPfizer.svg[1] are bringing you America:200px-Boeing-Logo.svg[1]Apple_logo_black.svg[1]250px-Bank_of_America_logo.svg[1]300px-Lockheed_Martin.svg[1]Microsoft_logo_(2012).svg[1]250px-Time_Warner_wordmark.svg[1]Koch_logo.svg[1]Halliburton_logo.svg[1]New_Walmart_Logo.svg[1]ING_Group_N.V._logo.svg[1] Monsanto_logo.svg[1]194px-General_Motors.svg[1]222px-Exxon_Mobil_Logo.svg[1]150px-Goldman_Sachs.svg[1]150px-General_Electric_logo.svg[1]
My mother country is screwed.

Reports from the Front #4: June to July 1915

(Finally. I have found the research for these pieces to be fairly time consuming, so I may have to back off on the detail. It would be nice to comment on other things occasionally.  Incidentally, my Latrodectus Hesperus has disappeared – pity, I got used to seeing her there whenever I went into the utility room.)

 

In Westen nichts Neues

Im Westen nichts Neues

 

In June and July of 1915 nothing much was happening on the Western Front: Im Westen nichts Neues. Nothing much beyond a daily death toll from shelling, trench raids and suchlike. But there was plenty of action in the east. At the beginning of June it was decided to continue the Gorlice-Tarnów offensive in Galicia despite the entry of the Italians into the war, and Lemberg was captured on 22 June and the Bug River reached by 13 July. This created a huge Russian salient stretching west to Warsaw, and the next step would be to pinch it off.

 Russian prisoners


Russian prisoners

Bug River

Bug River

Galician offensive

Galician offensive

Further to the south in the Caucasus the Russians launched a new offensive on 19 June and immediately ran into stiff Turkish resistance. Most specifically, on 10 July they attempted to clear the area west of Manzikert, captured earlier, and found themselves outnumbered three to one by the Turks, who promptly counterattacked on 16 July. The Russians evacuated the entire Van region, and on 20 July Turkish forces recaptured Manzikert, site of the monumental victory of the Seljuq Turks over the Byzantine Empire in 1071. Even further to the south the Indian Expeditionary Force was slowly making its way up the Tigris, suffering far more from the heat and disease than Ottoman resistance.

Troops of the Indian Expeditionary Force

Troops of the Indian Expeditionary Force

Area around Manzikert

Area around Manzikert

Lake Van

Lake Van

Off to the west the Italians struck their first blow on 23 June, seeking to force the Austrians from the Isonzo (Soča) River and capture Gorizia, the key to Trieste to the south. The Italians had a three to one edge in troops, but their equipment was inadequate, the morale of the poorly trained recruits was low and their commander, General Count Luigi Cadorna, unpopular. Cadorna understood only one offensive tactic, the frontal assault, which was certainly a questionable approach against the well-fortified Austrians on higher ground. The First Battle of the Isonzo ended on 7 July with minimal Italian gains and 15,000 casualties against 10,000 for the enemy. Receiving reinforcements and more artillery, he tried again on 18 July, and fierce hand-to-hand fighting characterized the Second Battle of the Isonzo, which came to an end on 3 August when both sides ran out of ammunition. The Austrian lines held, though they lost 46,600 men; Cadorna lost 41,000. There would be more.

Isonzo river

Isonzo river

The Isonzo Front

The Isonzo Front

Count Cadorna

Count Luigi “Isonzo” Cadorna

Meanwhile, far to the south an odd naval war was taking place. Crippled by engine problems, the German light cruiser SMS Königsberg hid in the Rufiji River delta, where she was discovered in October 1914. On 5 November three British cruisers cornered the Königsberg, but they were unable to sail up the delta and after firing a few shells they settled for a blockade. By March 1915 the Königsberg was in trouble with shrinking food supplies, low morale and deaths from tropical diseases, but though a German supply ship pretending to be Danish was trapped in Manza Bay and burned, much of the cargo was retrieved and delivered to the Königsberg and German land forces. In June two British monitors towed from Malta arrived at the Rufiji, and aided by spotter aircraft (before they fell apart in the glue-melting heat), they destroyed the Königsberg, which was scuttled by her captain, Commander Max Looff. Salvaging the cruiser’s ten 105-mm guns, the crew ultimately joined

SMS Königsberg scuttled

SMS Königsberg scuttled

Lettow-Vorbeck’s merry band.

One of SMS Königsberg's guns

One of the Königsberg’s guns

The Königsberg

SMS Königsberg

Captain Max Looff

Captain Max Looff

Then there was Lake Tanganyika. At the outbreak of war the Germans had two small warships on the lake, SMS Hedwig von Wissman and SMS Kingani, both in the fifty ton range. They quickly seized control of the lake, sinking a Belgian and a British steamer, and that allowed them to easily send raiding parties into the Belgian Congo and Rhodesia. In February 1915 the Germans launched the 1600 ton SMS Graf von Goetzen, which had been built in Germany in 1913, disassembled and packed into 5000 crates and shipped to Africa. In response the British ordered from England two forty foot motor boats, the Mimi and the Toutou, which were loaded on a freighter and dispatched to Africa on 15 June 1915. Their arrival would set the scene for Hepburn and Bogart in the African Queen.

The Goetzen's 105 mm gun from the Königsberg

The Goetzen’s 105-mm gun from the Königsberg

SMS Graf von  Goetzen

SMS Graf von
Goetzen

Lake Tanganyika

Lake Tanganyika

Finally, the Armenians. As non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire, the Armenians had long suffered discrimination and disabilities, but not until the late nineteenth century did the oppression blossom into widespread violence, as growing Armenian resistance, the proximity of the Russian Empire and Great Power interference brought on a Turkish backlash. While the government deliberately stirred rebellions with harsh measures, Kurdish irregulars were unleashed on the Armenians to essentially do as they pleased. The result was the Hamidian massacres of 1894-96, in which between 100,000 and 300,000 Armenians were killed. But in July 1908 Third Army officers who were members of the progressive Young Turk movement compelled the despised Sultan Abdul Hamid II to establish a constitutional monarchy. All the minorities rejoiced.

Armenians celebrating the Young Turk coup

Armenians celebrating the Young Turk coup

Abdul Hamid II

Abdul Hamid II

Victims in Erzurum 1895

Victims in Erzurum 1895

Early next year there was a counterrevolution, but the government was able to suppress it and depose Hamid in favor of Mehmed V, who would be only a figurehead. During the brief struggle, however, the reactionaries took out their anger on Armenians, and when troops were sent in to quell the massacres, many joined in the looting and killing in Adana province. Anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 Armenians died in the Adana Massacre. The loss of most of the Ottoman territory in Europe as a result of the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) convinced many Turks to focus more attention on the Anatolian heartland, in which region the Armenians were a large minority. Further, a flood of Muslim refugees from Europe washed across the Bosporus, and perhaps 800,000 settled in Armenian areas, where they would play a major role in the slaughter to come.

Christian quarter of Adana

Christian quarter of Adana

Victims in adana

Victims in Adana

On 24 April 1915 some 250 Armenian leaders and intellectuals were arrested, later to be executed or deported, and on 27 May Istanbul ordered the forced deportation of all Armenians, the notorious Temporary Law of Deportation. Granted, many had been aiding the Russians, but old hatreds mattered more, and it quickly became clear that deportation was simply a mechanism for killing Armenians of all ages. The “deportations” were actually death marches, and for those who survived the depredations and attacks there were “concentration” camps, where the inmates were essentially starved to death. The Turks did not operate with the incredible efficiency later displayed by the Third Reich, but the whole operation was a deliberate attempt to exterminate the Armenians. It was in fact witnessed by many of the German officers aiding the Turks, and they were appalled by what they recognized as simply murder on a mass scale. And a century later Turkey still maintains this holocaust never happened.

Hauntingly familiar

Hauntingly familiar

Scenes like this could be seen across Turkey in 1915

Scenes like this could be seen across Turkey in 1915

Some of the victims of 24 April 1915

Some of the victims of 24 April 1915

 

This could be Poland in the 1940s.

This could be Poland in the 1940s.

 

 

 

 

"Deportation"

“Deportation”

 

Reports from the Front #3: Ottomans and Others – August 1914 to May 1915

(This is more work than I anticipated.)

 

All the operations associated with the Ottoman Empire and the German colonies in Africa were certainly peripheral to a victory in Europe; even the campaigns in the Caucasus, while important to the Russians, had little to do with the European war.  But they are part of the Great War, and the campaigns in the Middle East would have an impact on the shape of the post-war

On 2 November the Russians made the first move, sending an army into northeastern Turkey, where they had allies in the form of the Armenians, anxious to escape Turkish oppression.  The offensive petered out by 16 November, and the following day the Ottoman Third Army counterattacked, driving the Russians back with heavy casualties.  By the end of the month the front stabilized some fifteen or so miles into Turkey, but Russian morale was low, while that of the Turks was high.  So high, in fact, that Enver Pasha launched his own offensive towards Sarikamish on 22 December, despite objections from military advisors that the winter conditions would make the campaign extremely difficult.

Kurdish cavalry

Kurdish cavalry

The Caucasus front

The Caucasus front

Well, Enver was a far better politician than general, and the Battle of Sarikamish ended on 17 January, a major Turkish defeat.  The Turks suffered some 60,000 casualties, the Russians half that, many on both sides freezing to death.  Enver gave up generaling and blamed the Armenians for the defeat.  On 20 April the Armenian population of Van, fearing massacre, revolted, and the city was besieged by the Turks until May, by which time the Russians had occupied the province of Van; they entered the city on 23 May.  The Caucasus front was then relatively quiet until late in the year.

Baron Kress von Kressenstein

Baron Kress von Kressenstein

For good reason: the British had begun putting pressure on the Empire’s southern provinces and the Dardanelles, drawing Ottoman troops away from the Caucasus.  In the far south the Turks decided immediately to attack Egypt, which though nominally a part of the Empire, had been occupied by the British since 1882.  On 18 November Baron Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein, one of the clutch of German advisors in Istanbul, was given command of part of the Turkish Fourth Army and began preparations for an advance across Sinai, which the British had evacuated.  Since the coast road to Egypt would mean being shelled by the Royal Navy, Kress von Kressenstein had to take his 20,000 troops through the Sinai desert, which he did with little loss of life, no mean feat.  The Turkish force reached the Canal on 2 February, and the following day the battle proper began.  Some units actually crossed near Ismailia, but 30,000 troops (most of them colonials) and gunboats on the Canal and lakes were too much, and the battle ended on the 4 February with the Ottoman army retreating to Palestine.

Iraq before it was Iraq

Iraq before it was Iraq

The British had meanwhile gone on the offensive, landing a mostly Indian force at Fao on the Shatt-al-Arab in Mesopotamia (Iraq) on 6 November in order to protect the Anglo-Persian Oil Company’s refinery at Abadan, just across the frontier in Iran.  The automobile had arrived and more important, navies were switching from coal to oil, and suddenly the Middle Eastern backwater was emerging as a center of imperial attention.  On 22 November the Indian Expeditionary Force captured Basra (sound familiar, Americans?) and continued up the river to Qurna at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, where after being surrounded the Ottoman force of a thousand men surrendered on 9 December.  The Turks, hard pressed at Gallipoli, did not counterattack until 9 April, when they assaulted the British position at Shaiba, near Basra.  The 14,000 Arab and Kurdish irregulars were easily scattered, but it took the 7000 man British garrison two days to defeat the 4000 regular troops.  London ordered the local commander, Charles Townshend, to continue advancing up the Tigris.

Prince Mubarak of Kuwait

Prince Mubarak of Kuwait

General Charles Townshend

General Charles Townshend

The British successes in lower Mesopotamia, albeit against weak Turkish forces, enhanced their credibility in the Arab world.  Even before the invasion Sheikh Mubarak Al-Sabah, ruler of Kuwait, nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, had sent forces to drive out the small garrisons in southern Mesopotamia, and in return London declared Kuwait an independent state under British “protection.”  Arab nationalism had begun to emerge in the previous century, competing with the Pan-Islamism represented by the Ottoman Empire, but demands on Istanbul were still moderate in the early twentieth century.  The British Foreign Office understood the value of encouraging local insurgencies once the war started, but the great Arab Revolt would not occur until 1916.

Of greater concern for the Empire was the Allied assault on the Dardanelles, the narrow straights that lead from the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara and through the Bosphorus to the Black Sea.  When the Turks entered the war in November, they immediately closed the straights and began to mine them, choking off the major Allied supply route to Russia (the German fleet blocked the Baltic, and Vladivostok might have been the other side of the moon).  Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, suggested forcing the straights with a fleet of obsolete warships that were useless against the German navy, thus risking little for huge rewards: Russia could be supplied by sea, Istanbul could be bombarded and the Bulgarians and Greeks, who hated their one-time Ottoman masters, might enter the war.

Admiral John de Robeck

Admiral John de Robeck

Guess who?

Guess who?

The Dardanelles fleet

The Dardanelles fleet

On 2 January 1915 Russia, dealing with the Ottoman offensive in the Caucasus, asked the Allies to divert Turkish troops by attacking in the Aegean, and the Dardanelles operation was set in motion.  On 19 February the Anglo-French squadron began shelling the forts on both sides of the entrance to the straights and by 25 February had destroyed them and cleared the entrance of mines.  The problem was the mobile artillery batteries, which could evade the naval gunfire and attack the minesweepers, but pressed by Churchill Admiral Sackville Carden planned an all-out attack, claiming that the fleet could be at Istanbul in two weeks.  Because of illness Carden was replaced by Admiral John de Robeck, and on 18 March eighteen old battleships and a supporting cast of lesser vessels headed up the straights towards the “Narrows,” where most of the forts and minefields were.

(An historical note: some fifteen miles past the Narrows on the European side is a small river called Aegospotomi by the Greeks.  It was at this point in the straights in 405 BC that the Spartan Lysander and his Persian-supported Peloponnesian fleet annihilated the last Athenian fleet, bringing about the surrender of Athens the following year and ending the twenty-seven year-long Peloponnesian War.)

The Bouvet

The Bouvet

Naval gunnery was able to destroy communications among the forts and take out some guns, but despite ammunition shortages (it was later learned) Turkish fire continued, and the minesweepers, which were crewed by civilians (!), decided the party was over and left.  The French battleship Bouvet was the first to strike a mine, capsizing with almost all hands lost; two other French battleships were damaged.  Two British battleships were sunk and a third severely damaged, and the fleet retreated to the Aegean.  Some of the captains wanted a second shot at the Turks, but de Robeck and important figures in the Admiralty opposed it, and the operation was abandoned.

HMS Irresistible sinking

HMS Irresistible sinking

The Bouvet sinking

The Bouvet sinking

That left Plan B, an amphibious assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula, which formed the European bank of the Dardanelles, in order to silence the Turkish guns on the northern bank of the straights with troops.  This was a mighty ambitious undertaking, given that no one had ever conducted a landing against opposition with twentieth century weaponry, but the Allies presumed there would be no problem since Turkish soldiers were very poor, a conclusion reached from Turkish losses in the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 and traditional European notions of superiority.  Further, British intelligence underestimated the number of defending troops and had only vague ideas concerning the terrain.

Cape Hellas, Gallipoli

Cape Hellas, Gallipoli

The 78,000 men of the Mediterranean Expedition Force gathered in Egypt, where Imperial troops training for France were organized into the first Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC), which would be forever associated with Gallipoli.  Novel logistical problems and weather prevented the Expedition, under Sir Ian Hamilton, from reaching Gallipoli until late April, during which time the Turks were able to reinforce their positions and prepare defenses.  The Ottoman Fifth Army, some 60,000 men, was put under the command of a German officer, Otto Liman von Sanders, who set up a flexible and mobile defense; one of his division commanders was Mustafa Kemal, later known as Atatürk, who would become the founder of the Turkish Republic.

Mustafa Kemal

Mustafa Kemal

Sir Ian Hamilton

Sir Ian Hamilton

Otto Liman von Sanders

Otto Liman von Sanders

On 25 April the main landing commenced at Cape Hellas on the tip of the peninsula, while the Anzacs went ashore some ten miles up the northern shore near Suvla Bay.  The landings were relatively unopposed, but a swift counterattack by Kemal pinned the Anzacs on the beach.  The main force pushed about two miles inland, but counterattacks drove them back, and by 8 May both fronts were static, replete with the trenches and wire.  The Western Front had been recreated on Gallipoli, and Hamilton had already suffered 20,000 casualties.  Nothing much more would happen until August, leaving the troops to be worn down by heat, disease and Turkish shelling.

In the trenches at Gallipoli

In the trenches at Gallipoli

Gallipoli landing

Gallipoli landing

Off in the west of the Mediterranean the Italians finally got involved.  Italy had in fact been allied to the Central Powers, but was lured away by the Allies with promises of territory, notably the southern Tyrol, taken from the Austrians after the war.  On 23 May Italy declared war against Austria, despite not being really prepared for warfare in the mountainous terrain against well-fortified Austrian positions (though it should be noted Italy entered the Second World War with less and poorer quality artillery that it did the First).  The result would be twelve Battles of the Isonzo River from June 1915 to November 1917.

The Italian front

The Italian front

Meanwhile, Austrian and German foreign possessions were quickly overrun at the outbreak of the war – with the exception of German East Africa (Burundi, Rwanda and part of Tanzania), where the local commander, General Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, would lead the British on a merry chase for the entire war.  To conquer the German territory and stop the raiding into British East Africa (Kenya, Uganda, Zanzibar and part of Tanzania) the British brought in Indian troops for a two pronged attack.  The German garrison was all of 260 colonial troops (Schutztruppe) and 2472 native levies, the Askari, who proceeded to set the pattern for the next four years.  On 3 November 86 mounted Germans and 600 Askaris defeated the northern prong of 1500 Punjabis at the Battle of Kilimanjaro and then raced south to join the Battle of Tanga, where on 4 November Lettow-Vorbeck’s 1000 troops routed the British force of 8000 men.  There would be no easy pickings for the British here, and more than 200,000 Indian and South African troops would be kept busy until the end of the war.

German cavalry at Kilimanjaro

German cavalry at Kilimanjaro

Battle of Tanga

Battle of Tanga

Askaris

Askaris

Genera Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck

Genera Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck

East Africa

East Africa

Finally, two ominous incidents occurred during these first ten months of the war.  On 7 May the German submarine U-20 sank the liner RMS Lusitania (which was carrying small arms munitions), killing 128 Americans, and this, together with the dramatically inflated atrocity stories about Belgium, began swaying American opinion against Germany.  Berlin made the case that a surfaced submarine was easy prey for an armed merchant vessel and had publically warned Americans about traveling to Britain, but in response to a warning from President Woodrow Wilson submarines were directed to steer clear of passenger liners.

U-20 (second from left)

U-20 (second from left)

RMS Lusitania

RMS Lusitania

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And on 27 May the Turkish Minster of the Interior ordered all Armenians deported from Ottoman territory, and the killing began.  Yes, President Erdoğan, there was an Armenian Genocide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waterloo and All That

On this day of 18 June two hundred years ago men were dying in their thousands in a corner of the one-time French Empire that is now Belgium, near a town named Waterloo.   Having escaped Elba, Napoleon had landed in France on 1 March and begun raising new armies to face the Seventh Coalition of Britain, Netherlands, Prussia and several German states.  Moving rapidly north, Napoleon drove the Prussians from Charleroi on the Sambre River on 15 March and moved up the Chaleroi-Brussels road, inserting himself between them and the British and their allies.  The following day he defeated the Prussians again at Ligny, while fighting a smaller battle at Quatre-Bras just to the west in order to prevent the British from coming to their aid.  Instead of fleeing east the Prussians retreated north to Wavre, chased by Marshal Emmanuel de Grouchy, and Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, also moved north to take up defensive positions south of Waterloo.  Napoleon met Marshal Michel Ney at Quatre-Bras, and two days later the climactic struggle at Waterloo took place.

Blücher

Blücher

The Boss

The Boss

Grouchy

Grouchy

Wellington

Wellington

220px-Waterloo_Campaign_map-alt3.svg[1]

Wellington had 68,000 troops and 156 guns present, with 50,000 Prussians under Prince Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher just off to the east.  Napoleon brought up 73,000 men and 252 guns, a large proportion of them veterans, whereas many of the best British infantry were still in North America.  Wellington established his line, two and a half miles in length, on the reverse slope of an east-east ridge, and in the open ground before him were three strong points that he fortified and garrisoned.  On his far right was the sturdy country château of Hougoumont, which could be safely resupplied and reinforced by a sunken road.  On the far left was the tiny village of Papelotte, which not only guarded the Allied left flank but covered the road along which Prussian reinforcements would come.  In the center, on either side of the road north, was another walled farmhouse, La Haye Sainte, and a sand pit, into which Wellington placed riflemen.  His line could not be easily attacked or outflanked unless these points, at least Hougoumont or Papelotte, could be taken.

La Haye Sainte

La Haye Sainte

Hougoumont (rebuilt)

Hougoumont (rebuilt)

Battle_of_Waterloo.svg[1]

Sometime between 10:30 and 11:30 AM the French artillery opened up, and an infantry attack was launched against Hougoumont.  Both Napoleon and Wellington apparently saw the château as the key.  The Corsican wanted Wellington to weaken his line feeding in reinforcements, but as it happened the French were also compelled to send in more and more troops.  In the afternoon the château was set afire by French artillery hits, but the chapel survived and was held by the British until the battle ended.

d'Erlon

d’Erlon

At around 1:00 in the afternoon Napoleon launched an infantry attack at the center of Wellington’s line, sending a division of the I Corps under Jean-Baptiste Drouet, comte d’Erlon, against Le Haye Sainte.  The attackers were unable to dislodge the King’s German Legion from the farmhouse, but they surrounded it, and at 1:30 d’Erlon sent his other three divisions against Wellington’s left.  The outnumbered Dutch brigades, the focal point of the attack, were reinforced, but by 2:00 the left of the Allied line was giving way.  Napoleon was winning.

La Haye Sainte

La Haye Sainte

At this moment Wellington’s cavalry commander, Henry Paget, Earl of Uxbridge, personally led a charge of two brigades of heavy cavalry (2000 horse), including the famous Scotts Greys, through the line at the French infantry.  The charge completely disrupted the French assault, but as usual the “charge everything” cavalry went too far and found itself milling around with blown horses in front of the French lines.  They suffered heavy casualties, and a counterattack by French cavalry drove them back.  Nevertheless, the Allied line had been saved, and d’Erlon’s Corps had suffered immense losses.

William of Orange, Dutch commander

William of Orange, Dutch commander

Scotts Greys

Scotts Greys

Uxbridge

Uxbridge

Around 4:00 Ney, who had a much better view of the battlefield than his boss, saw Allied casualties being moved from the center of the battle line and mistakenly assumed the entire army was retreating.  In response he launched a massive cavalry charge, some 9000 horse, but lacking available infantry reserves, he led them off alone.  The British immediately formed squares, and while they suffered from the distant French artillery, they had no problem fending off the repeated French charges.  Wellington had his artillerymen take shelter in the squares, and since the French did not spike the unattended guns, they could dash out and harry the cavalry in between charges.  Getting nowhere, Ney brought up what infantry he could, but he could not break the squares.  Nevertheless, the French infantry finally took La Haye Sainte because the German Legion had exhausted its ammunition.

British squares

British squares

Ney rides.

Ney rides.

Ney

Ney

For all that Ney’s magnificent charge had failed to break the Allies Wellington was still in trouble.  French guns in La Haye Sainte were now taking a heavy toll on his center, and many of the Dutch units were wavering.  A number of his officers were now dead, and caught inside one of the squares, he had a very limited appreciation of the big picture.  Foremost in his mind: where were the Prussians?  “Night or the Prussians must come,” he said.

They were on the way, actually.  Blücher had left his III Corps, 17,000 infantry under Johann Adolf Freiherr von Thielmann, in Wavre to hold up Grouchy and marched westward with the other three corps.  Grouchy’s original orders, necessarily vague, on 17 June were to pursue and harry the Prussians and generally keep them from joining Wellington, but they beat him to Wavre, from which they could march to support the British and Dutch.  Grouchy realized this, and on the morning of the following day he could hear the artillery at Waterloo and was urged by his officers to “march to the sound of the guns.”  But there were no roads between his army and the battlefield fourteen miles away, and he decided to continue to Wavre, eight miles distant along a good road, in order to prevent as many Prussians as possible from joining the battle.

Thielmann

Thielmann

Thinking that Grouchy’s force was much smaller, Thielmann was in the process of sending troops west when he realized he was facing an entire corps.  He could not recall all of them and thus faced 33,765 French with only 15,200 men when Grouchy attacked around 4:00.  The Prussians put up fierce resistance, and while Grouchy took the town and got his army across the Dyle River, it was too late.  At 6:00 he received orders, dispatched almost five hours earlier, to come to Napoleon’s aid, but by 11:00 he had only reached Limal, a short distance from Wavre.  The Battle of Wavre continued until the next morning, when Grouchy finally learned the result of Waterloo.  Thielmann had likely saved the Allied victory.

Meanwhile, back at the main event the long-awaited Prussians were arriving.  By 4:30 IV Corps under Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow was emerging from the Bois de Paris and threatening the French right flank.  Units took positions on the Frichemont heights to protect Papelotte and the Allied left, and Bülow began approaching Plancenoit, from which village he could attack the French flank and rear.  Napoleon sent VI Corps under Georges Mouton, comte de Lobau to meet him, and a fierce battle for Plancenoit developed, compelling him to reinforce Lobau with eight brigades of the Young Guard and two of the Middle/Old Guard.  To the north Hans Ernst Karl, Graf von Zieten’s I Corps was pushing the French back from Papelotte and shoring up Wellington’s left flank, allowing him to move units to his critical center.

Bulow

Bulow

Zieten

Zieten

Lobau

Lobau

Napoleon now had to win the battle before the Prussians completely turned the tide.  At 7:30 he tapped his last reserves and sent five battalions of the Middle Guard and three of the Old Guard at Wellington’s weakened center, hoping to break through and roll up the line.  Ney led the charge, but smashed into the right-center, which was marginally stronger, and after an epic battle the hitherto undefeated Imperial Guard was thrown back.  Wellington ordered a general advance, and the entire army began pursuing the retreating French.  The surviving Guard rallied for a last stand near La Haye Sainte, but were rapidly overwhelmed and retreated further south, during which move they were asked to surrender and of course refused.  Legend has it that their commander, Count Etienne Cambronne, replied “La Garde meurt, elle ne se rend pas!” – “The Guard dies, it does not surrender!”  Heroic, but many believe he instead gave a pithy one word answer: “Merde!”

The Old Guard

The Old Guard

Cambronne

Cambronne

"Merde!"

“Merde!”

The battle and Napoleon’s career were over.  The Hundred Days and Waterloo seize the imagination, but this bit of imperial self-indulgence did not come cheap.  At Waterloo alone the French suffered some 25,000 killed and wounded, the Allies 22,000; almost 20,000 combatants went missing.  It was glorious, but only from a distance – the screams of the wounded and the sight and smell of thousands of dead men and horses could only move a normal person to disgust.

Did this guy survive?

Did this guy survive?

Still, who could resist heroic anecdotes such as the defiance of the Imperial Guard?  Or consider the story of Uxbridge’s leg.  Late in the day the cavalry commander was on his horse next to Wellington when a cannonball hit his leg.  He is believed to have exclaimed “My god, sir, my leg is off!” to which Wellington replied “My god, sir, it is!”  He survived the amputation of his lower right leg (!), commenting that a victory like Waterloo was worth a leg.  Less well known is the fact that the leg, which was buried in the garden of the farmhouse where it was amputated, was later disinterred by the owner and put on display as a tourist attraction.

And if Napoleon had won at Waterloo?  It is difficult to believe history would be significantly different, since the British, Dutch and Germans would simply form another coalition, and France, exhausted by thirteen years of warfare, would have trouble just collecting enough warm bodies.

It might be said the defeat of Napoleon was a defeat for progressivism and a victory for regressive royalty.  There is some to truth to this, but the fact is that royalty was already doomed, and while Revolutionary France was culturally a harbinger of the future, so was Napoleon’s dictatorship, which might strike one as a bit less than progressive.