Phormio (c. 480–428 b.c.)

The Modern Facsimile trireme Olympias

Athenian admiral recognized for his skillful use of triremes in the early years of the Peloponnesian War. Little is known of the family or early career of Phormio, son of Asopios. By 440 b.c. he appears to have obtained the Athenian military office of strategos, when he shared command of 40 ships sent to reinforce a blockade of the island city-state of Samos, a rebellious member of the Athenian Empire. Some years after the successful siege of Samos, possibly in 437 b.c., Phormio commanded 30 ships on an expedition to the western Greek district of Acarnania and enlisted the Acarnanians as allies of the Athenians. In 432 b.c. he completed the investment of Potidaea, another defiant member of the Athenian alliance. By these actions Phormio helped strengthen the Athenian alliance on the eve of its great war with the Sparta and the Peloponnesian League.

Once the war with Sparta commenced, Phormio played a major role in Athenian naval operations. In 430 b.c. he led 20 Athenian triremes into the Gulf of Corinth and undertook a blockade of the city of Corinth, an important ally of Sparta. In the next year, just outside the gulf, Phormio demonstrated his superior tactical abilities when he decisively defeated a larger Peloponnesian fleet of 47 ships. Shortly after this victory, as he reentered the Gulf to protect his base at Naupactus, Phormio lost 9 of his ships to the Peloponnesian fleet, then reinforced to a total of 77 vessels. With only 11 ships remaining at his disposal, Phormio nevertheless managed to prevent an attack on Naupactus and with a brilliant counterattack dispersed the Peloponnesian fleet. The detailed descriptions of these two engagements by the Athenian historian Thucydides are among the most important sources for modern understanding of ancient Greek naval tactics.

Phormio was a brilliant admiral, endowed with both an innate and harnessed (by 429 BCE, concerning the latter attribute) capacity for adaptive and impromptu tactics in naval combat of his time; a composed and far-sighted man, he discerned the contingent funneling winds and channeled waters in the Gulfs of Patras and Corinth, calculatingly exploiting – and risking – these elements of nature to his advantage. Of course, he couldn’t control the timing that only Mother Nature could, but he could dictate when he was ready to fight immediately upon the arrival of a likely natural element to exploit. The Corinthian transports (the Corinthian commanders were Machaon, Isocrates, and Agatharchidas) were moving west in the Gulf of Corinth to aid the Spartans under Cnemus, who were succeeding on land in Acarnania. Phormio forced them into a clash in the waters of the Gulf of Patras after scouting them as they sailed through the narrow straits between Antirrhion and Rhíon (where since 2004 has existed the world’s largest multi-span cable-stayed bridge!); they saw him, too, and it was hardly foolish for them to deem it unlikely that Phormio would dare attack them with his mere 20 triremes; they numbered in all 47 galleys (often referred to in this context as a ‘Peloponnesian fleet’, which is accurate, just not a ‘Lacedaemonian’ or ‘Spartan fleet’; Phormio would soon handle them, but within a less convincing manner, arguably), and albeit many were laden as transports with inferior crews for more open-water fighting, they could still defend themselves against a smaller quantitative foe of ships arranged for combat, and did had some capable warships for protection on hand. Moreover, the best Corinthians were a match for any other seamen, specific circumstances not withstanding (like a genius attacking them with his ships and adept sailors against their bulky transports). Their conduct reflects pragmatism under the situation, but Phormio’s sagacity and experience availed his terrific crews at the ready to, as stated, utilize the physical environment which could cause contingent obstacles (or assets!), and despite that this was in restricted waters of inlets, he decisively pinned and subsequently attacked them in open enough water; the funneled winds blowing through these straits often significantly influenced the strength and path of the current, thus in turn would create choppy waters, which, naturally, heavier vessels with not highly trained oarsmen (the test applied to them realized such a handicap) are going to be stymied by more so than faster ones with highly trained crews, and – far from a secondary factor – a brilliant captain contriving such precise tactics. The only ‘loose end’ is the brief mention of why these Peloponnesian crewman, mainly out of Corinth, would be so ‘green’.

Thucydides mentions the ‘rough water’ (ἐν κλύδωνι, in the History of the Peloponnesian War, Book 2.84.3) which bedeviled the Corinthian and their allied crews in the Gulf of Patras before Phormio moved in to take them out; the action presumably took place just west of Rhíon (modern Rio) and north of Pátra (modern Patras), both of which are located on the southern shore, and south of Antirrhion (modern Antirrio). The Athenian trophy was placed at Rhíon; the Corinthians and Co. had formed a circle with prows outwards, hence precluding Phormio to penetrate any gaps in their arranged order (the diekplous tactic of ‘crossing the Ts’ – viz., the maneuver which consisted in forcing a way through the enemy’s line and attacking the broadside or stern of his ships), but he moved round and round them until the morning wind rose before he launched his decisive attack. Both acts of nature and Athenian seamanship consequently creating a condition nearly impossible for the Peloponnesian vessels to maintain their defensive order, and, added to that, Phormio’s precision of maneuver before he actually attacked compelled them to compress themselves into an increasingly narrower space, hence exacerbating that handicap. At the right time (not too soon nor too late, the best he could calculate) he assailed them, winning a smashing victory. Absolutely sublime, albeit such conduct entails risk: if they had attacked outwards with their own sense of correct timing, he could have been dealt trouble upon his flanks by the ‘five best sailors’ who were issued to strike out at ‘at a moment’s notice and strengthen any point threatened by the enemy’ (Thucydides, Book 2.83.5). But whatever the acute details of action and conduct, Phormio was too fast (context alert: the ‘rough water’ didn’t allow him to attack with full stability, either) and decisive for them. They don’t make ’em like that often. Boy, they could have used him in 415 BCE!

After leading a second expedition into Acarnania from Naupactus during the winter of 429–428 b.c., Phormio returned to Athens. In 428 b.c. Phormio was unavailable for another command. This may be attributed either to his illness or death, possibly from the plague that ravaged Athens, or to his loss of civic rights following a judgment against him in the examination to which Athenian commanders were normally subject at the expiration of their commands.

Hornblower, Simon. A Commentary on Thucydides. Vol. 1. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1991.
Kagan, Donald. The Archidamian War. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1974.
Morrison, John S., John F. Coates, and N. Boris Rankov. The Athenian Trireme. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. Various editions.

Soviet PoW and Polish and Soviet Civilians – The Holocaust?

Of the 5,700,000 Soviet soldiers who surrendered to the Germans during World War II, more than 3,000,000 were either shot shortly after capture, starved to death in prisoner of war camps, gassed in extermination camps, or worked to death in concentration camps. They are usually ignored in books about the Holocaust because at the time they were not targeted for total extermination. Those who offer explicit or implicit arguments for including them among the victims of the Holocaust, such as Bohdan Wytwycky in The Other Holocaust and Christian Streit and Jürgen Förster in The Policies of Genocide, point out that the appallingly high losses among Soviet prisoners of war were racially determined. The Germans did not usually mistreat prisoners from other Allied countries, but in the Nazi view Soviet prisoners were Slavic “subhumans” who had no right to live. Moreover, young Slavs of reproductive and fighting age were dangerous obstacles to resettling Eastern Europe with Germans. Hence it is reasonable to conclude that all of them were destined to be killed or else sterilized so that their kind would disappear.


Slavic civilians, ordinary citizens of Poland and the Soviet Union in particular, were held no higher in Nazi racial ideology. Millions were forced to work for the Germans under frequently murderous conditions. Their natural leaders, such as teachers, professors, lawyers, clergymen, and politicians, were ruthlessly exterminated by the Germans. Others perished in massive German reprisals against various forms of resistance. Three million Poles (10 percent of the population) and 19,000,000 Soviet citizens (11 percent of the population) died at the hands of the Germans. Because these deaths were far more selective than was the case with Jews, Gypsies, and the handicapped, it is possible to place them in a different category. Those who would exclude them from the Holocaust emphasize that the Germans did not plan to kill all the Slavs. On the contrary, Germany considered the Slavs of Slovakia and Croatia as valuable allies, not candidates for extermination. Complicating the issue is the difficulty of distinguishing racially motivated killings of Poles and Soviet citizens from those that resulted directly or indirectly from German military actions. Bohdan Wytwycky has estimated that nearly one-fourth of the Soviet civilian deaths were racially motivated, namely, those of 3,000,000 Ukrainians and 1,500,000 Belarusans.

Those who would include Polish and Soviet civilian losses in the Holocaust include Bohdan Wytwycky in The Other Holocaust, Richard C. Lukas in The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Rule, 1939–1944, and Ihor Kamenetsky in Secret Nazi Plans for Eastern Europe. These scholars point out that the deaths were a direct result of Nazi contempt for the “subhuman” Slavs. They note that the “racially valuable” peoples of Western European countries like France and the Netherlands were not treated anywhere near as badly. Moreover, Nazi plans for the ethnic cleansing and German colonization of Poland and parts of the Soviet Union suggest that a victorious Germany might well have raised the level of genocide against the civilian populations of those areas to even more appalling proportions. Slovakia and Croatia did not figure as victims in Hitler’s plans to secure Lebensraum, and their Slavic populations could be spared. In A World At Arms: A Global History of World War II, Gerhard Weinberg suggests that experiments done on concentration camp inmates to perfect methods of mass sterilization probably were chiefly aimed at keeping Slavs alive to perform slave labor in the short term while assuring their long-term disappearance.

Foundation gives voice to Nazi-era forced laborers

Many forced laborers became pariahs once they returned to their home countries.

The Remembrance, Responsibility and Future Foundation no longer pays out compensation to victims of Nazi forced labor in 2007. But it hasn’t stopped working to publicize the former forced workers’ suffering.

The Remembrance, Responsibility and Future Foundation (EVZ) began paying compensation to victims of Nazi forced labor in 2000. Funded by the German government and about 6,500 German companies, EVZ paid 4.4 billion euros ($5.7 billion) to 1.7 million former forced workers over seven years.
When payments ended in 2007 – and with them EVZ’s original mission – the organization faced the challenge of redefining itself.
Part of a European culture of remembrance
For EVZ board member Guenter Saathoff there was no question that the group should continue to exist.
“Considering the 13 million people who were brought to Germany as forced workers, you have to recognize that forced labor was a European occurrence,” Saathoff told Deutsche Welle.
“It must be a permanently anchored and fundamental element of the history of wrongdoing in a European culture of remembrance,” he added.
The EZB has holdings of about 400 million euros, which it has used to fund over 2,100 projects, including a program called “Europeans for Peace.” So far over 100,000 young people from 28 countries have participated in the program aimed to help victims of anti-Semitism and right-wing extremism.
Labeled traitors to the fatherland
Still of particular importance to the foundation are projects that support former forced laborers and their families through local initiatives. One such project in eastern Europe encourages dialogue about the once-taboo topic of forced labor. The dialogues initiated by the program give long-needed acknowledgement to the “other” victims of Nazism, according to Saathoff.
“Under Stalin many returning forced laborers were seen as traitors to the fatherland,” Saathoff said, adding that many of them lived as pariahs within their societies.
“This project attempts to give those people a voice again in their communities, and we also want to encourage the communities to give the victims their attention, so intergenerational dialog and local initiatives are at the center of our efforts,” he said.
Jewish Museum exhibition
Berlin’s Jewish Museum is set to host a large exhibition on Nazi-era forced labor beginning this September with the EVZ’s financial support.
One of the exhibition planners, Jens-Christian Wagner, explained that the exhibition will show “when and how Germans had to decide what position to take on forced labor.”
Wagner, who is also the director of the Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp Memorial, added that the exhibition will “use the frame of forced labor to tell the social history of Nazism, the history of a social order that was ideologically anchored in extreme racism.”
He said the exhibition is not simply a “commission” by the EVZ but will critically examine both at forced labor and at compensation paid to victims by the EVZ.
To that end, Wagner said the exhibition will also “consider the Italian military detainee or the Soviet prisoner of war, who were denied compensation and humanitarian aid, but who, of course – in the eyes of historians – were also forced workers.”
An injury to justice

Wagner said it would have been impossible to make the distribution of compensation absolutely fair. He said this “injury to justice” is yet another result of Germany’s coming to terms with Nazi forced labor.
The exhibition will move to Warsaw in 2011, with further stations planned in Russia to mark the 70th anniversary of Germany’s 1941 attack on the Soviet Union.
Author: Marcel Fürstenau (dl) 
Editor: Sean Sinico

Spain 1820s

The execution of Torrijos, by Antonio Gisbert Perez. Ferdinand VII, after his restoration as absolute monarch in 1823, took repressive measures against the liberal forces in his country.

The instruments of liberal revolution in Spain and Portugal were the secret societies (whose successful activities from 1815 to 1820 account for the obsessive concern of Iberian clericals with freemasonry) and the pronunciamiento, an officers’ revolt based on the crude political theory that the general will of the nation, when vitiated by a monarch’s evil counsellors or corrupt parliamentary institutions, was to be sought in the officer corps. The pronunciamiento was to develop a rigid form, with a consistent weakness: fear of discovery of elaborate negotiations meant that most pronunciamientos went off at half cock. This was balanced by the inefficiency of government detection and detention: Quiroga, the chosen leader in 1820, was allowed complete freedom to conspire from prison. A ramshackle despotism encouraged revolutionary irresponsibility. The early pronunciamientos in Spain and Portugal merely produced martyrs, Gomes Freire d’Andrade in Portugal and Lacy, the symbol of Catalan liberalism. Civilian support was limited though increasing, and the rank and file were indifferent to their officers’ liberalism. If there was a vast masonic, civil conspiracy in 1817, it came to nothing. Why did the Cadiz revolution of 1820 succeed, led, as it was, by young officers and inexperienced civil hotheads after the higher officers and the notables of Cadiz masonry had been frightened by O’Donnell’s betrayal of the ‘respectable’ conspiracy of 1819? What gave the revolution its strength was ‘the repugnance of the rank and file against embarking for America’, which, for the first time, gave sergeants and soldiers a direct interest in revolution. The British consul believed that revolt ‘would die a natural death’; it triumphed through the feebleness of a government which could not collect a force to fight it. In March the revolution spread to the great towns of Saragossa, Corufia and Barcelona. General Ballesteros and O’Donnell deserted to the revolution; the king was forced to accept the constitution of 1812 (which Riego had adopted on the spur of the moment), not by the force of public opinion expressed in demonstrations in Madrid but because he had lost control of the army.

The revolution of 1820-3 set the programme and procedures of Iberian liberalism and that of its enemies. In Spain, 1812 had been a dress rehearsal in exceptional circumstances; in Portugal, the revolution of 1808 had failed to materialise. The new party groupings of the 1820 revolution were permanent. Liberalism both in Spain and Portugal was divided into moderate and exalted wings.

The strength of the Exaltados lay in the provincial extremism of the Juntas, which ruled Spain until June-July, and in the revolutionary army of Riego. Thus emerged the mechanism of revolution: on its military side the army coup; on its civilian side, the take-over by local Juntas whose extreme claims, particularly in Galicia and the south, constituted a federal structure where sovereign Juntas, controlling the new Urban Militia, communicated directly with each other. Though these enthusiasts had made the revolution, they did not share the definitive distribution of higher patronage. The government, composed of men of 1812, regarded the new revolutionaries as ‘poor folk’. In the capital the Exaltados could produce mob pressure which may be seen less as the emergence of an underworld terror depicted by Galdos than as the ebullience of the fiesta. From the ministry’s endeavour to regain control of the army and from the use of the Madrid mob by the Exaltados in defence of Riego’s army dates the split in patriot unity that was to paralyse the revolution (September 1821). The Exaltados were weak in a capital of satisfied job-seekers: the government impotent in the provinces. This dualism was to define revolutionary politics until 1874.

The exiles of the ministry of ‘gaol birds’ (March 1820) sought to control the committee stage of the revolution, enshrined in the Juntas and the clubs, and to satisfy the king by a conservative revision of the constitution of 1812. In exile, men like Martinez de la Rosa had been converted to a belief in a limited franchise, a second chamber and a strong executive. The amnestied Afrancesados, the ablest single group in politics, would have been their natural allies but for the doubtfully patriotic past which cut them off from office, leaving them the professional critics of the regime. The moderate programme could only succeed with the loyal support of the king: instead the court plotted against any constitution to the point of allying itself with the Exaltados. The great weakness of the revolution was that the constitution could not do without a king whose sole aim was to destroy it.


Revolution in Italy 1820s Part I

General Guglielmo Pepe

The revolution in Naples had military leadership. Although their interests had been safeguarded in 1815, many of Murat’s officers felt that they were being unjustly discriminated against in promotion. The rivalry of Carbonari and Calderari had led almost to civil war in some regions and this focused the soldiers’ sense of grievance. The lodges of the Carbonari formed a link between them and the middling landowners who ran most of the lodges. In so far as they were defined, the aims of the Carbonari were limited monarchy, administrative reform, the continuation of the assault on feudalism and the abandonment of mercantilism. Occasionally there were hints of a more active Carbonarist interest in land-reform. In 1820 the soldiers and Carbonari suddenly came together because of circumstance; in the long run this was a source of weakness but it produced the Neapolitan revolution.

In Naples the repressive measures of the regime reached a climax in May and June 1820. In Spain there had been a successful revolution in January and for the moment it did not look as if the powers were going to intervene there; perhaps, then, there was reason to think they would not intervene if a rising took place in Naples. Spain was also connected with Naples through Ferdinand. He had a claim to the inheritance of the Spanish throne; to maintain his rights there he had taken an oath to maintain the 1812 constitution and, if he could do this in Spain, why could he not also swear to uphold a Neapolitan constitution? On 2 July there was a mutiny in the garrison at Nola, and the local Carbonari supported it. The garrison at Capua joined in the next day and General Guglielmo Pepe assumed the leadership of the rebels. The government soon gave in and promised a constitution on the Spanish model. A new ministry, consisting of former sympathisers with Murat, was set up, but contained no members of the Carbonari; this was important, for the lodges were the only effective popular or semipopular support available to liberals. Pepe was the only real link between the ministry and the Carbonari.

It was not surprising that the Neapolitan revolution should have been followed a week later by a Sicilian separatist rising. Its disorders soon alarmed the possessing classes in the island, which was paralysed during the summer while the revolution was contained by the aristocracy and members of the corporations. The rebels were weakened by the rivalry of Palermo (where the original outbreak had taken place) with Messina, and they finally capitulated in September. When, on 1 October, the new parliament met at Naples it contained no Sicilian deputies. It supported a Carbonarist ministry deluded by the belief that Great Britain would, if necessary, intervene to protect Neapolitan constitutionalism and by confidence in Ferdinand’s word.

Unfortunately, the attitude of Great Britain towards intervention was that it was not objectionable if Austria acted alone. After the preliminary protocol of Troppau, Ferdinand lied himself into being allowed to present the Neapolitan case to the allies and, as soon as he was safely at Genoa on a British cruiser, disavowed all his concessions. He asked formally for assistance at Laibach. The Neapolitan government had been much weakened militarily by the absence of many of their soldiers in Sicily, and morally by the split which now divided the Muratist officers from the Carbonarist politicians. General Pepe was defeated by an Austrian army which on 23 March entered the capital. The restoration had been accomplished quickly and not very bloodily. Afterwards only two liberals were executed although many went into exile. In May an amnesty was offered to all except the original mutineers. The revolution had failed because of the divisions among the revolutionaries themselves, because of the distraction of the Sicilian revolt (which gave its last kick at Messina in March 1821), because of its lack of agreed aims, because of Ferdinand’s duplicity, but above all because the powers acquiesced in the use of the Austrian army against it. Had the revolution succeeded, it might have blocked the way to unification by creating a constitutional state with a particular interest in survival. By failing, it contributed powerfully to the mythology of the risorgimento and to the growing number of exiles. Above all, it clearly associated Austria with the preservation not merely of a divided Italy but of anti-liberal governments. The Austrian army remained at Naples until 1827.

Slave carrack

During the sixteenth century the Portuguese, with their large Brazilian possessions, were dominant in the transatlantic slave trade. Speed at sea was essential, as the mortality rate in the slave hold was very high.
Slave ships would moor in creeks on the West African coast in order to rendezvous with their agents in the grim trade. In turn these agents would acquire slaves inland, often from the winners of tribal conflicts where the losers were sold to the highest bidder. At this time there was no ban on slaving in Europe, but official licences were needed. Many captains did without them, as they were expensive to procure. This fast carrack was typical of the vessels involved in the trade, being longer and slimmer in line than a conventional cargo ship.
Length: 36m (120ft)
Beam: 804m (27ft 6in)
Depth: not known
Displacement: 400t
RIgging: four masts; square-rigged on foremast, others lateen-rigged
Complement: not known
Routes: West Africa to the West Indies and Central America
Cargo: slaves