The Persian Factor I

The Battle of Ganja or Elisavetpol (also Elizabethpol, Yelisavetpol, &c.) took place on 26 September 1826, during the Russo-Persian War of 1826-1828.

Crown prince and commander-in-chief Abbas Mirza had launched a successful campaign in the summer of 1826, which resulted in the recapture of many of the territories that were lost to the Russians by virtue of the Treaty of Gulistan (1813). Noticing the approach of the Iranian army, many of the locals that had recently come under formal Russian jurisdiction, quickly switched sides. Amongst the swiftly recaptured territories by the Iranians were the important cities of Baku, Lankaran and Quba.

Then Russian commander-in-chief in the Caucasus, Aleksey Yermolov, convinced that he had insufficient resources to battle the Iranians, ordered for the withdrawal from Elisavetpol (Ganja), which was thus retaken as well.

Yermolov’s replacement, Ivan Paskevich, now with additional resources, started the counteroffensive. At Ganja, in late September 1826, the Iranian and Russian armies met, and Abbas Mirza and his men were defeated. As a result, the Iranian army was forced to retreat across the Aras river.

The only great schism in Islam – between Sunnis and Shiites which followed the death of the Prophet – led to a prolonged struggle for dominance in the Muslim world between the two branches of the religion. For some four centuries it was possible or even probable that Shia Islam would prevail, and it reached the height of its power in about AD 1000. But first the Seljuk Turks who came to dominate the Islamic heartlands in the eleventh century and then their Ottoman successors four hundred years later were fiercely Sunni. Shiism continued to survive and flourish in Persia and Mesopotamia, but henceforth it constituted a declining minority of the Islamic umma

There is no great doctrinal difference between Sunni and Shiite Islam: they agree on the absolute centrality of the Prophet in the religion and on most of the historical details of his life; there are no major differences in ritual; and on theological matters there is a broad consensus. The division is historical and political. The Shiites believe that the Prophet should have been succeeded by his cousin and son-in-law Ali and that the succession was then reserved for the direct descendants of Muhammad through his daughter Fatima and her husband Ali. The successor, or imam, who was also the infallible interpreter of Islam, was generally nominated by the previous imam from among his sons. Most Shiites believe that there were twelve imams – Ali, his sons Hassan and Hussein, and nine in line of descent from Hussein. The last was Muhammad, born in 873, who disappeared mysteriously or went into occultation. The ‘Twelver’ Shiites, who in the twentieth century form the great majority of Shiites in the world, believe that Imam Muhammad is only hidden and will reappear as the Mahdi or ‘Rightly Guided One’ to restore the golden age. (Another Shiite sect, the Zaydis, is confined to Yemen, while offshoots of Shiism, such as the Druze, Alawites and Ismailis, are numerically small although they may have strong local political importance.)

Shah Ismail I of Persia, who ruled from 1501 to 1524 and founded the Safavid dynasty (1501–1736), established Shiism as the state religion. It is probable that a majority of his subjects were Sunnis, but he skilfully used the new faith to bind his disparate peoples together. Shia Islam became the foundation of a proud and even xenophobic Persian nationalism which still flourishes in the modern age, as for the past four centuries Persia (renamed Iran in 1935) has been the only nation-state of significance in which Shiism is the official religion.

Ismail had wider aspirations for his religion, and when the ardently Sunni Ottoman sultan Selim I persecuted his Shiite subjects, he attempted to come to their aid. His ill-trained troops were no match for the Ottoman Janissaries and he was defeated, but he was able to prevent the Turks from seizing any of his territory and he even held on to the districts of Mosul and Baghdad which he had won in earlier campaigns. He also held off the Sunni Uzbeks in Turkestan to the north-east. Persia was on the defensive, but the menace of Sunni enemies helped the process of welding the nation together.

The struggle between the rival Sunni Ottoman and Shiite Persian Empires lasted more than two centuries along their common frontier which stretched for some 1,500 miles from the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf. The battle for Mesopotamia wavered back and forth and was finally decided in the Ottoman favour only at the end of the seventeenth century. Even then, Mesopotamia was far from secure from Persian attack. Persia’s western frontiers have remained roughly unchanged until the present day.

The need to guard against the hostile Persian presence on the Ottoman Empire’s eastern borders acted as a brake to Turkish western expansion, earning Persia the gratitude of the Christian states of Europe. Equally, the Ottoman Empire served to isolate the Persian Empire from the West.

Except for relatively brief periods of recovery, the Safavid dynasty went into a long secular decline on the death of its founder. The apogee of the dynasty was the reign (1587–1629) of Shah Abbas the Great. With the help of the English adventurer Sir Robert Sherley, he carried out much-needed reforms of his army, establishing an élite cavalry corps which was comparable to the Turkish Janissaries, and his reign was a period when the stuggle went against the Ottomans. He was a capable administrator, and a builder of genius. He made his capital the city of Isfahan, which became one of the masterpieces of Islamic architecture. He fostered trade and industry and, although an ardent Shiite Muslim, encouraged Christian Armenians to inhabit a quarter of the capital. Isfahan grew until his English visitors noted that it rivalled London in size.

When Shah Abbas died, he left his country immeasurably stronger than when he had come to the throne at the age of sixteen. European penetration of the Persian Empire had hardly begun. With the help of the fleet of the British East India Company in the Gulf, he was able to evict the Portuguese, who, a century earlier, in the time of Shah Ismail, had obtained a foothold on the island of Hormuz and on the adjoining mainland. In return for its help, he granted the Company valuable privileges at the port of Bandar Abbas, which was named after him. But British domination of the Gulf still lay well in the future.

Envoys of the European powers to Abbas’s court were politely received but he resisted their suggestions that he form an alliance with them against the Ottoman Turks – Persia’s isolation from the West was the best guarantee of its empire’s integrity.

Abbas left his country one fatal legacy: he instituted the practice, which closely resembled that in the Ottoman court, of immuring the heir apparent and other royal princes in the harem, for purposes of security. The result was that the heir and princes were physically weakened and totally inexperienced in the art of government. His successors were not only cruel and despotic but also incompetent, and the court eunuchs secured excessive power and influence.

In 1709 the Sunni Afghans rose in rebellion, and, repeatedly defeating the badly led Persian forces sent against them, succeeded in capturing Isfahan and forcing the shah to flee. The Afghans controlled only part of the country, and a majority of the people remained loyal to the Safavids.

Persia was in a gravely weakened condition. Tsar Peter the Great of Russia had for long been seeking ways of establishing a trade route to India across the Caspian Sea and beyond. Using as a pretext the attacks on some Russian merchants in northern Persia during a tribal uprising, he invaded the country in 1722. His action alarmed the Ottoman Turks, who now also invaded Persia, to prevent Russia from gaining control over territories on their borders. War between Russia and Turkey was avoided by the settlement of 1724, under which the two powers agreed to partition northern and western Persia between them, leaving the rest to the Afghan usurpers in the centre and the Safavids in the east. Russian pressure was henceforth a permanent feature of Persia’s existence.

In 1729 the Safavids were restored to the throne. However, this was accomplished only with the help of Nadir Quli Beg, a member of the Asfar tribe, who had formerly been a leader of a gang of robbers but turned out to be a brilliant general. In 1736 he deposed the young Shah Abbas III, bringing the Safavid dynasty to an end, and placed himself on the throne with the title of Nadir Shah.

Before he ascended the throne, Nadir Shah’s military skill had already succeeded in forcing both the Ottoman Turks and the Russians to relinquish their conquests. He recaptured Kandahar from the Afghans and thus restored Persia’s previous borders. But this enormously ambitious man was not content with this. He turned eastwards with his armies to invade India, which, under the Mogul dynasty, was sunk in corruption and decline but still vastly wealthy. Bypassing the well-defended Khyber Pass, he defeated the Mogul emperor Mohammed Shah and in March 1739 entered Delhi in triumph. The booty was on a gigantic scale. An Indian historian remarked that ‘the accumulated wealth of 348 years changed owners in a moment.’ One captured item was the Peacock Throne, which Nadir removed to Persia where it served for the coronation of future shahs.

Nadir had succeeded where Alexander the Great had failed. However, he did not attempt to hold India but restored the bulk of Mohammed Shah’s lands to him, while keeping the provinces on the southern banks of the River Indus which had belonged to the Persian Empire of Darius the Great.

His appetite for conquest was still unsatisfied. He turned against the Uzbek states of Turkestan to the north-east and captured Samarkand and Bokhara. He drove into the Caucasus to hold back the advancing Russians. By 1740 he had not only restored and extended the borders of Persia but also established the country as a great military power. However, his genius was purely military; he had no concern with the just and efficient administration of the empire. He was a Persian Bonaparte without a Code Napoléon. Harsh, cruel and suspicious, he came to be hated by his subjects, and in 1747 his murder by a group of his own officers was little mourned. Some fifty years of relative chaos ensued as the throne was disputed between rival claimants. In 1794 Agha Mohammed of the Qajar tribes defeated his enemies and made himself shah. Although a eunuch (he had been made one when taken captive as a youth), he was the founder of the Qajar dynasty, which lasted until 1925. After capturing the city of Tehran he made it his capital. On his assassination in 1797, Agha Mohammed was succeeded by his nephew Fath Ali, who reigned until 1834.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century Persia’s long isolation from the West had come to an end. The Ottoman Empire, which though hostile had acted as a barrier of protection from the West, was in irreversible decline. Britain was in possession of India, and its navy controlled the waters of the Gulf. The Russian Empire was continuing the great colonial expansion eastwards into Asia that had begun under Peter the Great. Throughout the nineteenth century Persia was caught in the pincer-like pressure of these two powers.

However, it was France – and specifically the remarkable ambitions of Napoleon Bonaparte – which was instrumental in bringing Persia into the orbit of European politics. Having failed in his attempt to use Egypt as a springboard for an attack on the British in India, in 1800 Napoleon planned an invasion of India via Afghanistan in alliance with Tsar Paul of Russia. The plan may have been wholly impractical, but it thoroughly alarmed the British rulers of India. It was aborted by the assassination of Tsar Paul in 1801, but the French menace remained. When the advancing Russians annexed two provinces of Georgia and in 1805 declared war on Persia, seizing Derbent and Baku, the Persian shah Fath Ali turned to France for help. By the Franco-Persian Treaty of Finkenstein in 1807, Bonaparte undertook to recover the territories Russia had seized. But Bonaparte almost immediately made peace with Tsar Alexander, and Persia was left to face Russia alone.

By the 1813 Treaty of Golestan, which ended a hopeless war, Persia ceded Georgia, Baku and other territories to Russia. But the struggle was not ended: three frontier districts remained in dispute, and when Russia arbitrarily occupied them in 1827 the shah was compelled by outraged public opinion to declare war. After initial successes, this war also ended in disaster for Persia, mainly because the shah refused to pay his troops during the winter. Under the humiliating Treaty of Torkaman in 1828, Persia not only gave up all claims to Georgia and other territories lost in the earlier war but also paid a heavy indemnity and granted extraterritorial rights (similar to the Ottoman Capitulations) to Russian citizens on Persian soil. This and a simultaneous commercial treaty providing for free trade between Russia and Persia provided the basis for future relations between Persia and other European powers.

Britain’s principal concern in the region in the early nineteenth century was to maintain Afghanistan as a barrier to French and Russian ambitions towards India. In 1800 Britain sent a mission to Persia, the first since the time of King Charles II. Headed by a young Scots officer, Captain Malcolm, it aimed to persuade the shah to bring the ambitious Afghan emir of Kabul under control to counteract any possible designs of the French or Russians and to sign a political and commercial treaty. The mission was successful, but the treaty lapsed in 1807 when Britain refused to provide help against Russian aggression on Persia’s north-western borders. The British interest remained, however, and in 1814 another treaty was signed whereby the shah agreed not to sign treaties or co-operate militarily with countries hostile to Britain; in return, Persia was to receive a subsidy of £150,000 a year which would lapse if Persia engaged in any war of aggression. The subsidy was withdrawn in 1827, when Persia was technically the aggressor in its second disastrous war with Russia.

When Fath Ali died, he was succeeded by his grandson Mohammed Shah (1834–48). The young shah was determined to win fame by recovering some of Persia’s lost territories. He was wise enough to see he could do nothing to stem the Russian colonizing drive through Turkestan which, only temporarily halted by the Crimean War, was pursued relentlessly throughout the mid nineteenth century. Instead, with Russian encouragement, he turned eastwards to try to conquer the province of Herat in north-western Afghanistan and territories beyond. Britain was instantly alarmed. France was no longer a threat to India, but expansionist Russia seemed highly dangerous. The Persian–Russian treaty of 1828 gave the Russians the right to appoint consuls throughout Persian territory. Britain gave help to the Afghan rulers of Herat and exerted pressure on the shah by occupying Kharg Island in the Gulf. Mohammed Shah was forced to abandon his siege of Herat.

Nasir al-Din Shah, who succeeded his father Mohammed in 1848 at the age of seventeen and reigned for forty-eight years, pursued the same policy of attempting to recover territories to the east, with Russian encouragement. Britain protested and imposed a treaty on Persia under which the shah undertook to refrain from any further interference in Afghanistan. When, despite the treaty, in 1856 Nasir al-Din obtained control of Herat through an Afghan nominee, Britain again seized Kharg Island and, near Bushire, landed troops which advanced inland to defeat a strong Persian force. The British then withdrew and sailed up the Shatt al-Arab waterway at the head of the Gulf to capture the port of Mohammereh. Under a treaty concluded in Paris in 1857, Persia then agreed to withdraw from Herat and to recognize the kingdom of Afghanistan.

The Persian Factor II

In the 1870s and 1880s, Russia completed its conquest of central Asia and bordered Persia on the north-east as well as the north. The 1,200 miles of common frontier stretched from Mount Ararat and around the Caspian Sea to the borders of Afghanistan. Given its weakness, Persia’s only means of resisting Russian pressure was to seek Britain’s backing, and this required the granting of a series of concessions to British commercial interests.

Throughout the nineteenth century the Persian shahs ruled as despots with little restraint on their personal power. Only the nomadic tribes – about a quarter of the population, who inhabited the mountain ranges along Persia’s eastern and western borders – retained a sense of independence, regarding the monarchy with some disdain. The great majority of the rest of the population consisted of illiterate peasant farmers living close to subsistence level in small mud villages. Although legally free, in practice they were tied to the land. Most of the landlords (who measured their wealth by the number of villages they owned) were absentees, living in the larger cities and leaving the management of their villages in the hands of an agent. Despite their wealth and power over the peasantry, they did not form a cohesive feudal class which was capable of challenging the absolutism of the throne, and, as the ultimate owners of the land, the shahs did not hesitate to confiscate an individual landlord’s property when they were in need of funds.

There was no European type of bourgeoisie or professional class. In Shiite Persia, the religious hierarchy, made up of mullahs, with a better-educated upper class of mujtahids, learned in Islamic law, was much larger than its equivalent, the ulama, in Sunni Islam. But, despite its influence with the people, it rarely chose to defy the authority of the throne. The nearest equivalent to a middle class was formed by the bazaaris or merchants, who ranged from itinerant pedlars to wealthy exporters of the carpets and textiles which were virtually Persia’s only manufactured goods. However, their lack of cohesion meant that their political influence was very limited.

The most serious challenge to the shahs came from the leaders of religious sects. In the 1840s a rebellion broke out led by the Agha Khan, spiritual head of the Ismailis, and then another by the Babi movement, created by Mirza Ali Mohammed, son of a Shiraz merchant, who after making the pilgrimage to Mecca declared himself to be the bab (gateway) to the divine truth. His movement spread and became so strong that in 1850 Nasir al-Din Shah was obliged to have him executed. Two years later a Babi attempt to assassinate the shah led to the fierce persecution of the sect, and most of the survivors fled the country. However, an offshoot of the Babis – the Bahais – continued. This never threatened the shahs but was still held in suspicion.

The closest equivalent to a reform movement in nineteenth-century Persia was instituted by Mirza Taqi Khan, the capable and honest vizier appointed by the young Nasir al-Din when he came to the throne. Impressed by the Tanzimat reforms in Ottoman Turkey, he persuaded the shah to reorganize the armed forces and ensure that they were properly paid and to end the sale of titles and offices and various other abuses. He was also responsible for the founding of the École Polytechnique or Dar al-Fanun in Tehran and the first Persian newspaper. But the reforms were short-lived. The shah’s formidable mother persuaded him that Taqi Khan was becoming too powerful, and Nasir al-Din ordered his execution.

Despite his occasional acts of cruelty the shah was generally a humane ruler, but his liberal and reformist inclinations, which had been encouraged by Taqi Khan, did not last. He was affected by the failure of the constitutional movement in Ottoman Turkey and Abdul Hamid II’s speedy reversion to autocratic rule in 1878. In the last years of his reign he ruled as despotically as any of his predecessors. His greatest achievement was to establish security throughout the empire. There was some very limited modernization in the form of paved roads and the electric telegraph (installed by the IndoEuropean Telegraph Company, acting on behalf of the British government of India to serve its imperial interests). The Dar al-Fanun in Tehran taught science and engineering on modern lines, and there was a modest growth in the publishing of newspapers and books. In general, however, the systems of administration, education and justice (which applied both Islamic and customary pre-Islamic law) remained on medieval lines. The shah enjoyed travelling to Europe but prevented the Persian upper class from educating their children abroad, in case they should be infected with Western ideas.

The shah and his court were extravagant and demanding. To protect the throne, he maintained substantial armed forces which, although ill-paid, corrupt and inefficient, were costly. Since there was so little economic growth or development, and the returns from the sale of government offices were limited, state revenues were minimal. The shah therefore had recourse to the granting of concessions to foreign interests. The most remarkable of these was the concession awarded to Baron Julius de Reuter, a naturalized British subject, in 1873. Covering all Persia, this gave the Baron a seventy-year monopoly on the construction and operation of all Persian railroads and streetcars and on the exploitation of all mineral resources and government forests, including all uncultivated lands; an option on all future enterprises connected with the construction of roads, telegraphs, mills, factories, workshops and public works of every kind; and the right to collect all Persian customs duties for twenty-five years. In return, de Reuter was to pay the Persian government 20 per cent of the railway profits and 15 per cent of those from other sources. Lord Curzon commented that this represented ‘the most complete and extraordinary surrender of the entire industrial resources of a kingdom into foreign hands that has probably ever been dreamt of, much less accomplished in history’.

The shah naïvely believed that he had both ensured some revenues and delegated his country’s economic regeneration to Britain. Russia’s furious reaction forced him to cancel the concession, but in 1899 British pressure forced him to grant a more limited concession which enabled de Reuter to establish the Imperial Bank of Persia, with the right to issue its own banknotes, and to search for oil.

Largely because of his willingness to mortgage the country’s resources in this way, Nasir al-Din lost popularity in his later years and a liberal reformist movement began to emerge. Although Persia was much more isolated from the West than Ottoman Turkey, there was some penetration of Western ideas and methods via the foreign military missions, consular and bank officials and the Christian missionaries who were permitted to found schools and hospitals. The reform movement had a more potent stimulus from another source – the reformer and preacher of pan-Islamic ideals Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. The shah was attracted by al-Afghani’s writings in his Paris exile and in 1886 he invited him to Persia, where he became an honoured member of the Royal Council. However, he soon began to preach subversive and revolutionary ideas – to the alarm of the shah and his ministers – and, when in 1890 he led the popular denunciation of the granting of a tobacco concession to a British group, he was deported from Persia. His movement survived, and in 1896 one of his disciples assassinated Nasir al-Din.

The reform movement gathered strength during the reign of Nasir al-Din’s weak and ailing son Muzaffar al-Din, who exceeded his father in extravagance. A new reformist leader was Malkom Khan, the Persian ambassador in London, who campaigned against the shah’s chief minister. When dismissed, he published a newspaper Qanun (‘Law’) calling for a fixed code of laws and the assembly of a parliament. Although banned in Persia, the paper nevertheless had a wide circulation in the country.

In 1903 the shah appointed his able but ultra-reactionary son-in-law Prince Ayn-u-Dula to assume control of government affairs. His actions provoked further opposition, and matters came to a head in 1905. A group of merchants, outraged by the extravagance and corruption of the court and the country’s increased indebtedness which had led the government to introduce an onerous new customs tariff, took best or sanctuary in a Tehran mosque, in accordance with an ancient custom, in order to voice their protests. They were joined by some prominent mullahs. When the shah promised to meet some of their demands but then prevaricated and intensified the repression, a larger group combining many of the country’s notables – merchants, bankers and clerics – took best in the grounds of the British legation to persist with their demand for the introduction of a legal code and also, for the first time, a constitution. In October 1906, now in desperately bad health, the shah complied – with extreme reluctance. A Majlis or parliament was convened which drafted a Fundamental Law of the constitution.

The Constitutional Revolution, as it is known, received the support of virtually the whole nation and was a milestone in Persian history. Subsequent shahs attempted to reverse it, but none was wholly successful and some form of constitutional and representative government has survived to the present day.

The constitutionalists received some inspiration from the attempt by their Russian counterparts in 1905 to end the autocratic role of the tsar. A different kind of stimulus came from the Russo-Japanese War of the same year, in which for the first time a modernizing Asian state defeated one of the great European powers. (This was also an inspiration for the Egyptian nationalist leader Mustafa Kamel in the same period.) However, with its blend of the secular and clerical, the reform movement had a strongly Persian character.

Muzaffar al-Din was succeeded in 1907 by his son Mohammed Ali, who reigned for only two years, amid continuing unrest. Like his father, he repeatedly promised to accept reforms only then to ignore them. At one point he bombarded the Majlis, which he had attempted unsuccessfully to dissolve, and killed or wounded many deputies. This led to a serious uprising in Tabriz which his troops were unable to quell. Russian troops intervened, ostensibly to protect Russian nationals. The nationalist forces gathered strength and marched on Tehran. Unable to resist, the shah took refuge in the Russian legation. As he went into exile in Russia, the Majlis decided that his 11-year-old son Ahmed Mirza should succeed him.

Popular feeling had been stirred up not only by the shah’s action but also by the Anglo-Russian agreement of August 1907, which was designed to settle all outstanding differences concerning Persia and Afghanistan between Russia and Britain. The two powers were already expecting the coming struggle with imperial Germany, in which there were strong chances that Ottoman Turkey would be Germany’s ally. In effect the agreement divided Persia into Russian and British spheres of interest, with Russia taking the north and centre, Britain the south-east, and the south-west remaining a ‘neutral’ zone. Persian opinion was dismayed and angry when the agreement was made known. Britain especially had been thought to have sympathized with the constitutionalist revolution. The European powers’ wider strategic interests did not concern the Persians: Russia and Britain were henceforth regarded as the two imperial powers which sought to destroy Persia’s independence.

Britain might be said to have had the worst of the 1907 agreement, because south-eastern Persia consists mainly of desert. However, British interests in Persia were about to receive a powerful boost. De Reuter had abandoned his mineral concession after two years, having failed to find oil, but in 1901 Shah Muzaffar al-Din granted an Englishman, William Knox D’Arcy, a sixty-year petroleum and gas concession covering the whole of the Persian Empire. The British government had lobbied strongly in D’Arcy’s favour through the legation in Tehran, and the Persian grand vizier, who had been won over, successfully kept the deal secret from the Russians until it was signed.

D’Arcy looked for oil for several years without success, until his funds were nearly exhausted and he began to look around the world for new investors. At this point the British Admiralty intervened. The First Sea Lord, the dynamic and independent-minded Admiral John Fisher, had long ago determined that the British navy should convert its ships from the use of coal to oil. This, he reckoned, would increase its fighting capacity by 50 per cent. But 90 per cent of the world’s oil was then produced in the United States and Russia, and the rest was already covered by concessions. The world market was dominated by Standard Oil and Royal Dutch Shell. It was urgently necessary to find an independent source under British control. In 1905 the Admiralty persuaded the British Burmah Oil Company to link up with D’Arcy and provide new funds. In 1908 D’Arcy’s engineers, at the point of abandoning the search in despair, drilled into one of the world’s largest oilfields at Masjid-i-Sulaiman in south-western Persia. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company was formed, and shares were sold to an enthusiastic public.

There were still difficulties. The oilfields were situated not in the British sphere of influence but in the neutral zone. The semi-independent Arab shaikh of Mohammereh regarded the area as his territory. Marauding tribes threatened the pipeline needed to export the oil to the Gulf. Accordingly Britain signed an agreement recognizing the shaikh and his successors as the lawful rulers of Mohammereh in return for an annual rental. The shaikh undertook to protect the oil installations.

In 1911 the young Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty in Britain’s Liberal government, and a huge and expensive three-year development programme for the navy was launched. In addition to Persia’s vital strategic significance for the British Empire, Persian oil was of crucial military importance. In June 1914, just two months before the outbreak of the First World War, Churchill presented the House of Commons with an agreement under which Anglo-Persian would guarantee oil supplies for twenty years while the British government would buy a controlling interest in the company (later the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and ultimately British Petroleum) for £2.2 million. Despite a few members’ misgivings that this would provoke the Russians and further weaken the Persian government, the agreement was overwhelmingly approved. Churchill later estimated that the investment brought savings of £40 million and paid for the gigantic expansion of the British navy without any cost to the British taxpayer.

With the 11-year-old Ahmed Mirza on the throne, Persia’s internal situation became more chaotic. The victorious nationalists split into two parties – revolutionaries and moderates. The Russians sent troops to Kazvin in Tehran province, against British protests, on the familiar pretext of protecting their nationals. The lack of administrative experience of the new regime showed the urgent need of foreign advisers but, since neither Britain nor Russia would agree to the appointment of the other’s nationals, it was necessary to look elsewhere for these. Belgians were placed in charge of the customs. An appeal was made to the United States, and President Taft recommended an experienced lawyer and civil servant William Shuster, who in 1911 was placed in charge of Persia’s finances with full powers for a three-year period. Although the United States was in no way an imperial power in the Middle East at that period, the Russians vigorously protested, and persisted with their opposition to the point of threatening to occupy Tehran. The regent Nasir al-Mulk thereupon carried out a coup d’état, dissolved the Majlis and acceded to the Russian demands by expelling Shuster and his colleagues in January 1912. Shuster’s efforts had just begun to show results, but the country was now left in even greater confusion.

Protests from the US government and liberal opinion in Britain were in vain – the need to accommodate Russia in the face of the expected war with Germany was paramount for Britain’s Liberal government. When the war did break out and Turkey allied itself with Germany, the Turkish threat to Russian territory and to the oilfields in the south caused Russia and Britain to occupy part of Persia in spite of its declaration of neutrality.

THE EMPEROR’S DIE-HARDS I

Publius Tutilius, son of Publius, of the Olufentina tribe and veteran aquilifer of Legio V, overseer of the veterans, was twice-rewarded by the emperor. He was born in [43 BC] and died in [AD 29]. For himself and for his son Publius Atecinx and his daughter Deminca, and for Andoblato and Gnata, son and daughter of Publius by his will he ordered this done.

The tombstone from Milan, dated to AD 29, of a legionary veteran who led other veterans into his seventies.

From the reign of Augustus on, if a Roman soldier lived long enough to retire he was able to enjoy a remarkable package of privileges and rewards so long as he was honourably discharged at the end of his term of service (honesta missio). Men who had reached this point were discharged on 7 January, but this was probably arranged only on alternate years because of the logistics involved. However, a wounded soldier who was no longer able to serve could still be awarded another form of honourable discharge (missio causaria), but from Caracalla’s reign on (211–17) the benefits were reduced. If he had disgraced himself he was dishonourably discharged and lost any rights to retirement grants (missio ignominiosa).

Many soldiers did not make it to retirement at all. One estimate suggests that around a third of men who enlisted at twenty had died by the age of forty-five, another that as many as half had expired by then, but such figures are hardly surprising in the general context of any pre-modern society. The principal difference is that a Roman soldier in the days of the emperors had better reasons than most to look forward to surviving his term of service. A soldier who survived to retirement, however, might receive not only a gift of money or land, the praemium militia, but also various entitlements called together an emeritum, which made him an emeritus. Emeritus meant someone who had earned his status through merit. They included for example exemption from any obligation to civic duties and tolls. Domitian proclaimed in 94 that veterans be free from liability for ‘all public taxes and tolls [vectigalia]’. A Latin copy of the proclamation, written on a wooden tablet on the occasion of the discharge of veterans from Legio X Fretensis, was found at the Fayum in Egypt. It had been made by one of the veterans, Marcus Valerius Quadratus, who noted where the original stone inscription was displayed in Alexandria.

In Egypt in 103 the veteran Lucius Cornelius Antas produced his evidence of service and honourable discharge to a government official so that his right to exemption from the poll tax could be recorded. Diocletian and Maximianus confirmed exemption from public duties for veterans who had been honourably discharged. Taken together, all these awards were supposed to set a retired soldier up for civilian life, though exactly what he received depended on how long he had served and in which part of the army, as well as the date he retired, since some emperors added extra privileges. However, veterans were not exempt from taxes on inheritance, or from property taxes, and were also obliged to contribute to the upkeep of roads.

Veteran soldiers in general, however, proved to be one of the most valuable resources, not only for the Roman army but also for all of Roman society.

VETERANS DURING THE REPUBLIC

The position had been very different in the Republic when there was no standing army. In those days, soldiers were ordinary citizens fulfilling their duty to the state perhaps only for one campaign. In theory they went home to their farms and businesses after the war had finished, hoping to find their affairs as they had left them. That often turned out not to be the case, but the state had no further obligation. Some carried on in the army, fighting for example in the disastrous Battle of Lake Trasimene. When the consul Gaius Flaminius was killed by the Insubrian horseman Ducarius at the height of the battle, it was veterans who gathered round his body and prevented Ducarius from despoiling it by blocking him with their shields.

One of the risks was that veterans would turn into dangerous bands of bitter landless men once the fighting was over. This had been a principal concern of the reforming tribune of the plebs Tiberius Gracchus in 133 BC. He had seen how veterans returned home to discover their land had been stolen by wealthy senators and absorbed into their vast estates, and was badly worried by the destabilizing effect this was having on Roman society.

A veteran of the army in the Republic was therefore usually thrown back on his own resources, despite the initiative taken after 107 BC by Gaius Marius to set aside some funds for his men when they retired. We know little about Republican veterans as individuals because in those days the habit of producing funerary inscriptions was far less well-established (at least, very few survive). However, there are some interesting cases of men who overcame the challenges of being discharged and became successful, or notorious. In 63 BC a former centurion called Gaius Manlius became involved in the senator Sergius Catalina’s conspiracy to topple the consuls. Manlius had served under Sulla and gained much military experience, but he was corrupt and had made a great deal of money out of his time in the army. By 63 BC he had spent it all and was eager for an opportunity to make more. Manlius was an extreme example, but he illustrated well the importance of providing for veterans if they were not to become outlaws.

Another rare instance of a known veteran from the Republic was Lucius Orbilius Pupillus. He came from Benevento in Campania and was born about 113 BC. His name preserves his origins; pupillus means ‘orphan’. His parents were murdered by family enemies, though the reason is unknown. His first job was as a public servant, assisting the magistrates, a post that shows he was educated and literate. Around the time of the Social War, when Rome fought its Italian allies, he joined the army, serving as a cornicularius in Macedonia, and then moved on to a cavalry unit. As a cornicularius Pupillus was working in a supervisory administrative role, and clearly using his education.

Pupillus served out his term with the army and then retired to Benevento where he had to forge a living. He took the opportunity to go back to studying, something he had forgone since childhood. Pupillus worked a teacher from then on, moving to Rome in 63 BC to continue the job. He made little money but built up quite a reputation for being bad-tempered and beating the children he taught, earning the nickname ‘The Flogger’. On one occasion, when giving evidence in court, he was asked by the lawyer Varro Murena, a hunchback, what he did for a living. He answered, ‘I move hunchbacks from the sun into the shadows.’ The phrase seems to have been a metaphor for suggesting he moved mediocrities out of the limelight, presumably by exposing their shortcomings.

Orbilius Pupillus seems to have been disgruntled about his teaching experience. He wrote a book about the unpleasantness visited on teachers ‘by indifferent or selfish parents’. He was commemorated in Benevento with a statue near the capitol, which depicted him accompanied by two book boxes and dressed in the manner of a Greek.

That he had served in the army was an important part of the esteem in which Pupillus was held but he had had to make his own way afterwards. Gaius Nasennius was ‘first centurion with the eighth cohort’ of an unspecified legion during the war fought in Crete in 68–67 BC. Crete had been supplying mercenaries to support Mithridates VI against Rome, and also serving as a pirate base. Nasennius returned to his private affairs after the war. He became wealthy in the city of Suessa (modern Sessa Aurunca in Campania), possibly with the assistance of booty or some sort of ad hoc grant when he left the army unless like Manlius (above), he had made money as a soldier. Nasennius subsequently supported the tyrannicides Brutus and Cassius following the assassination of Caesar in March 44 BC. In the early summer of 43 BC he asked Cicero to recommend him to Brutus for a position of some sort (Nasennius was surely too old to fight by then). We have no idea why Nasennius felt able to approach Cicero, but he was not alone in doing so. Cicero wrote Brutus a letter and made much of Nasennius’ personal qualities and wealth. His military service was a key part of Cicero’s endorsement. However, late in 43 BC Cicero was executed on Antony and Octavian’s orders as they pursued their own ambitions and revenge for Caesar’s death, completely defeating Brutus and Cassius at Philippi in 42 BC. Suessa became a military colony at some point in the next few years, settled by veterans from Octavian’s army (see below). Nasennius had backed the wrong side, though nothing is known of the personal consequences for him or his family.

Of course, one solution for an experienced soldier was to reenlist. In the late Republic there were plenty of opportunities. In the latter stages of Caesar’s war in Gaul, Legio XI had proved itself to be an exceptionally promising unit after eight campaigning seasons. But Caesar’s VII, VIII and VIIII legions, made up of veterans, still outclassed them when it came to courage and experience. One veteran of those days returned to his hometown and set his family on a path to history. In 48 BC, when Caesar defeated his arch-rival Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalus, among Pompey’s soldiers was a man called Titus Flavius Petro from Rieti in Perugia, about 70 miles (112 km) from Rome, who had served either as a centurion or as a volunteer veteran, an evocatus. After he fled from the battlefield and made his way home, Caesar had the magnanimity to offer men like him a pardon and an honourable discharge. Flavius Petro thereafter became a ‘collector of monies’. His son Sabinus also became a tax collector, working in Asia. Sabinus in turn had two sons, Sabinus and Vespasian; the latter was to become emperor in 69.

Quintus Annaeus Balbus was fifty-three when he died, his tombstone describing him as having been a ‘soldier of Legio V’ who had been decorated twice. By the time of his death he was a duumvir at Thuburnica in what is now northern Tunisia, a position that must mean he had been given money and opportunity when discharged as a veteran. The form of the text suggests a late Republican date and thus he may have been one of Caesar’s recruits when the legion was raised from non-citizens in Transalpine Gaul in 51 BC. The legion was serving in Africa by 47 BC by which time the men had all been made Roman citizens, and was called veterana legio quinta ‘the veteran Fifth legion’.

AUGUSTUS’ PROVISIONS FOR VETERANS

The prospects for veterans started to change and become more reliable once the wars of the late Republic came to an end. The answer to dealing with veterans for a Roman general was to settle conquered territory and money on them. Octavian, after he became emperor as Augustus, bragged that he had ended up with about ‘half a million Roman citizens who had sworn the military oath to me’. Following his victory over Antony at Actium in 31 BC he had no need of an army of such size. Indeed, he had to get rid of most of it so that he could claim to have restored the Republic and brought peace. He said that he had settled 300,000 veterans ‘in colonies or sent them back to their home towns . . . and to all of them I gave land or money as a reward for their military service’. Augustus did not do this all at once. The first 120,000 men were paid off in 29 BC, the others at later dates in his reign.

Perhaps among them were two men of Legio XI, a legion founded by Julius Caesar and which served Octavian throughout the period 42–31 BC. The two were exceptional instances of soldiers who had fought for Octavian at the Battle of Actium. One, Marcus Billienus, was so proud of being ‘in the naval battle’ that he took the cognomen Actiacus, becoming Marcus Billienus Actiacus, as if a British or American veteran had added ‘Trafalgar’ or ‘Midway’ to his name. After Billienus retired from military service he settled in the colony of Este in north-eastern Italy, where he rose to be elected as a decurion in the town council. He was not the only man to adopt the name: Quintus Coelius Actiacus, who also served in Legio XI, must have been at Actium too, because like Billienus he too was settled at Este.

Augustus paid out 600 million sestertii to buy land for retired soldiers in Italy, and a further 260 million for land in the provinces. He boasted that ‘in the recollection of contemporaries I was the first and only person to have done this’ – meaning that his predecessors who had founded colonies had not actually paid out any money to do so. He added a further 400 million sestertii to the amount allocated to soldiers who were discharged. In 29 BC Augustus paid out 1,000 sestertii to every veteran already settled in a colony, using the war booty he had amassed to cover the cost.

Dealing with veterans was obviously an expensive commitment, but an essential one.

It took time to develop and regularize such a system of payments, insofar as anything was ever regularized in the Roman army. There was also a vested interest for the state in delaying discharge, since a shortage of troops at a crucial moment would be hard to make good with new recruits. However, one of the reasons the Rhine garrison mutinied in AD 14 was because the veterans had not been released and had been forced to stay on. Some of the older soldiers were still serving more than 30 years after enlisting. Promises had to be made that anyone who had served 20 years would be discharged.

Tiberius, Augustus’ stepson and successor, was notoriously mean, although his reputation was in large part created by Roman historians who took any opportunity to criticize him. Suetonius said that Tiberius ‘carried out discharges of veterans rarely, waiting to seize the money when they expired, dying of old age’. Nero, on the other hand, established a colony for praetorian veterans at Anzio, forcing the richest of the primi pili centurions to move there too. However, later in his reign his extravagance had reached such astronomical heights that he had to suspend retirement grants to veterans, as well as pay to the serving soldiers. This was a disastrous decision which benefited his rival Galba.

Nonetheless, in the centuries that followed hundreds of thousands of retired Roman soldiers went back to their communities, stayed near the fort where they had been stationed, or settled in new lands. They took with them their retirement grants and the skills they had gained. So long, that is, as they had been honourably discharged. Soldiers who had been dishonourably discharged, or had been discharged on medical grounds, were not entitled to any of these privileges.

Not all soldiers wanted to leave the army. Some like Publius Tutilius of Legio V, who appears at the start of this chapter, stayed on in the army, providing invaluable experience – or at least he would certainly have thought so. He stayed perhaps 30 or more extra years, finishing up under Tiberius as a curator in command of other veterans still with the legion. They were probably organized into a wing of their own attached to Legio V.

DIPLOMA

Retired auxiliaries and members of the fleets had, in relative terms, a great deal more to look forward to than legionaries. For the most part auxiliaries had had to wait until their term of service was up to become Roman citizens. This changed when Caracalla made all free men of the Roman world into Roman citizens in 212. Until then the award of citizenship had been one of the greatest incentives for the majority of auxiliaries to serve. Some auxiliary units were made Roman citizens as a special honour to reward achievement, although some of the more irregular units had no such entitlement.

When an auxiliary soldier was honourably discharged, usually as one of a group, his name and details were inscribed on a bronze tablet in Rome, a place many had probably never visited and probably never would visit, on a wall at the back of the temple of the deified Augustus. (The temple is long lost, but is thought to have been in a valley below the Capitoline Hill at the north-west end of the forum.) However, there seems to have been a specialist industry that would supply copies of the discharge as personal souvenirs, along with the details of the emperor, the units, the province involved and the date. Made on bronze plates, many have survived though they are often badly damaged and incomplete. These records of soldiers’ discharge reflect the importance of written evidence in the Roman military world, providing the proof of a soldier’s legal status and that of his family. Today the plates are known as diplomas (Latin plural is diplomata), but the ancient name for them is lost. An oddity is that they are only known for praetorians and auxiliaries, including members of the fleet. Legionaries neither received nor commissioned such copies.

Praetorian discharges were also commemorated in inscriptions displayed on the wall at the temple of the deified Augustus, close to a statue of Minerva. Surviving diplomas record that a distinctive formula was applied to praetorians. No such diploma from a date before the mid-70s is known, but it is unlikely that the special form of address had changed. On 2 December 76 a member of the Praetorian Guard called Lucius Ennius Ferox was given his honourable discharge by Vespasian. In the recorded text, found at Tomi in Moesia Inferior, the emperor addressed the praetorian directly, referring to his ‘courageous and loyal performance of military service’ in ‘my Praetorian Guard’. He was commemorated for having done his duty. This emphasized the close personal relationship that was supposed to exist between the emperor and his praetorians, and reflected the oath these soldiers had taken.

The praetorian was granted the right of marriage to any woman, and regardless of her status their children would be Roman citizens. This privilege was only conferred once; subsequent wives and children would not be eligible. In another praetorian discharge diploma also found in Moesia Inferior and dated 7 January 228, in the reign of Severus Alexander, Marcus Aurelius Secundus of Cohors I Praetoria was commended for his loyal service and awarded these marriage rights. It is odd that the existing wives of auxiliaries were allowed the same rights as the wives of praetorians, but the praetorian entitlement may have been based on the assumption that such men would only have been living with Italian women who were Roman citizens. Until c. 140 existing children were included, but not thereafter. The terms for veterans of the fleet were much the same, except that their existing children were still admitted to the citizenship, though they had eventually to prove their wives were the mothers of the children.

On 19 January 103, in the reign of Trajan, auxiliary soldiers who had served 25 years were discharged in Britain from four cavalry regiments and eleven cohorts during the governorship of Lucius Neratius Marcellus. The auxiliaries (apart from one cavalry regiment whose men had already received the award) were awarded citizenship for themselves, their children and their descendants. If they were already married those marriages became legal, and a first marriage after discharge would also be legal. All this information is recorded on a diploma made for Reburrus, son of Severus, who had risen to the position of decurion in Ala I Pannoniorum Tampiana. The diploma added the key certification at the end which read ‘copied from the bronze tablet set up at Rome behind the temple of the deified Augustus, near (the statue of) Minerva’. Reburrus’ diploma, which is well preserved, must have been an extremely important possession which validated his status in retirement. However, it was found in a field near the village of Malpas in Cheshire, Britain, in 1812, about 12 miles (20 km) south of the legionary fortress of Legio XX at Chester. The find spot makes it possible Reburrus had settled somewhere in the vicinity of a legion to which the regiment had once been attached, quite possibly during Agricola’s campaign into Scotland between c. 78 and 84.

Diplomas also turn up in such incongruous locations that Reburrus may have had no connection with Chester at all, though he was undoubtedly in Britain in 103. Another possibility, but one that is impossible to prove, is that there was a market for militaria such as diplomas both in antiquity and in more recent times, in the same way that medals from the First and Second World Wars are enthusiastically traded today. Moreover, the metal was recyclable in antiquity. One fragment that turned up in Cirencester had been cut down from a diploma into a small circle of bronze. It probably came from a local antiquarian’s collection, but the Roman metalworker who used it to make a disc had probably acquired it as scrap bronze. Another diploma, found at the city of Volubilis (capital of Mauretania) in Morocco, had also been cut down to serve as a lid.

Why legionaries’ formal discharge was not recorded in the same way is unknown, unless there was no legal aspect of their status or rights that needed confirming. Not all legionaries were satisfied with this. On 22 January 150 the legate of Syria, Villius Cadus, was sent a special request by 22 Egyptian members of Legio X Fretensis. They had begun their military careers in the fleet at Misenum in Italy but Hadrian had transferred them to the legion, a move that would have required making them Roman citizens. Their careers over, they wanted to return home to Egypt with written proof that they were legionary veterans. Lucius Petronius Saturninus composed the petition on behalf of his fellows, and it was written out by a man called Pomponius. When Villius Cadus received it he endorsed it as requested, including the lines:

Legionary veterans do not normally receive a written document. However, you want it to be made known to the prefect of Egypt that you have been discharged from your military oath by me on the orders of our emperor [Antoninus Pius]. I will give you your bonus and written document.

THE EMPEROR’S DIE-HARDS II

VETERANS IN THE CIVILIAN WORLD

Veterans might return to their old homes, settle near the forts where they had served or move to a colony – unless of course they chose to re-enlist. For a state that had virtually no other means of asserting and exerting its power over the general population other than through the army, colonies of veterans were a vital resource. They created settlements where thousands of trained and experienced men, loyal to the Roman state, could act as a military reserve. A rebellion by the Salassi tribe in north-western Italy provided Augustus with the opportunity to do just that. Once the revolt had been crushed, land was seized to settle veterans from his Praetorian Guard. The new city was named Augusta Praetoria Salassorum (Aosta), and local men of military age were cleared out by being sold into slavery. In Britain following the invasion of 43 a new colony at Colchester was established in 47 after Legio XX was sent out to campaign in the west, showing that it was an early priority. The archaeological remains have revealed that the colonists made use of the fortress’s lay-out and some of its buildings as they converted the site into the beginnings of a fully-fledged Roman town in a remote province.

Lucius Poblicius of the Roman Teretina tribe was a veteran of Legio V Alaudae, based at Xanten, which disappeared from history by the late first or early second century AD. His exceptionally impressive first-century tomb showcased the status he must have reached in the veteran community in the city he knew as Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippensium (Cologne), where he was buried. A substantial podium with pilasters contained Poblicius’ cremated remains and those of his children, his wives and his freedmen, while statues of Poblicius and family members stood on the podium between four Corinthian columns which supported an elegant tapering roof flanked by sphinxes.

Other veterans attained similarly high status in the civilian world. Lucius Silius Maximus was a veteran of Legio I Adiutrix at Alba Julia in Dacia. After retiring he moved to the canabae of the fortress where he served as a magistrate in the civilian settlement, ‘the first’ said to have done so. His new job represented an early stage in the settlement’s history. It would later earn formal incorporation under Marcus Aurelius. A dedication by Marcus Lucilius Philoctemon records that he was a senior civic magistrate, duumvir, of Alba Julia. Having been honourably discharged from service with Legio V Macedonica, Gaius Valerius Pudens likewise moved a short distance to the legion’s fortress canabae at Iglitza on the Danube, where in 138 he was serving as one of the settlement’s magistrates alongside colleagues who were civilians but may also have been veterans. Pudens must have done well to have fulfilled the necessary property qualification for civic office – whatever that was in this location. The text recorded an unspecified building given by Pudens, his senior magistrate colleague Marcus Ulpius Leontius, and the settlement’s aedile Aelius Tucce to the veterans and citizens of the canabae. The structure was dedicated to Hadrian, sick at the time and approaching death, but who of course had also served in Legio V Macedonica as tribune during its time in Moesia Inferior. Perhaps Pudens and the emperor were known to each other because Hadrian, who was said to have had a remarkable memory, ‘even knew the names of the veterans whom he had discharged at various times’.

At Capua a veteran called Lucius Antistius Campanus was honoured by the magistrates of the city when he died. He was ‘an excellent man’, they said, who had completed his military service ‘during hard and dangerous campaigns’ in their testimonial. Exactly when he retired is unknown but he seems to have earned the admiration of both Caesar and Augustus; most likely he served under Caesar in the mid-40s BC and under Augustus into the 20s BC. He was then settled by Augustus at Capua and perhaps lived into his eighties, since one restoration of the text suggests that his death came after 14 when Augustus died and was deified. Antistius Campanus, said the dedication, had generously spent his own money on various local causes ‘for everyone’s benefit’, rather than only that of his own family, as well as working hard for the community even though he was getting on in years. He almost certainly served in all the civic magistracies. The senior civic duoviri magistrates voted that his body be carried from the forum to the place of cremation, and that a gilt statue be erected to commemorate him and record the decree by the town council in his favour. Finally, they voted that he be buried in a suitable plot by the Via Appia, the road that led to Rome from Capua. Antistius Campanus of course did benefit his family. In 13 BC his son of the same name was serving as one of the duoviri at Capua and participating in the dedication of a temple of Jupiter and the Lares.

Many veterans established families and futures like Antistius Campanus. Others were not so lucky. Gaius Aeresius Saenus, a veteran of Legio VI Victrix at York, commissioned a tombstone for his family and, in anticipation of his own demise, himself. This grieving man had said farewell to his wife Flavia Augustina, who expired aged thirty-nine years, seven months and eleven days, his son Saenius Augustinus who had survived only one year and three days, and a daughter whose name is lost but who lived for one year, nine months and five days. Flavia Augustina, like so many mothers of that time, had experienced the tragedy of losing two infant children. The tombstone, however, was not a bespoke piece. The family is depicted with the parents standing behind their children, but the latter figures are more appropriate to a son and daughter of around eight and six years respectively. It was clearly purchased ‘off the shelf’ and an appropriate inscription inserted in the blank space.

Not all soldiers were impressed by the prospect of retiring to a colony in the provinces. Some found they were not even allowed to. According to the mutineer Percennius, who had worked up the troops over their grievances in Pannonia after the death of Augustus in AD 14, there were still men serving after 30 or even 40 years. Even if such a man managed to get out of the army, Percennius said, he was liable to find himself being offered a parcel of land in ‘waterlogged swamps’ or on ‘uncultivated mountainsides’. This cannot have been entirely true. Inscriptions from all round the Empire show that retired legionaries could and did retire to colonies in Italy, or in pleasant locations out in the provinces. These provincial colonies were often in towns close to their former forts, or which had replaced the fort when the legion moved on. Not surprisingly the settled veterans often took up with local women, especially as once discharged they could contract a legally valid union that gave their wives and the children all the normal privileges that went with marriage to a Roman citizen. Tacitus describes the German inhabitants of the colony at Cologne, referring to how they had intermarried with the first colonists and become ‘allied’ with them.

One veteran who settled far from home was Gaius Julius Calenus. A veteran of Legio VI Victrix, based at York. He came from Lyon in Gaul but evidently decided not to return there when he was discharged, probably because he had a family in Britain. Julius Calenus settled in the colony at Lincoln, 80 miles (130 km) to the south and founded in the late first century AD, where he must have been given a grant of land. His daughter Julia Sempronia set up her father’s tombstone there. Lincoln’s modern name of course preserves the settlement’s Roman name Lindum Colonia. Gaius Cornelius Verus came from Tortona in Italy. By the time he was discharged from the army he was a legionary with Legio II Adiutrix, which was based in Budapest. He decided to settle in Colonia Ulpia Traiana Poetovio (Ptuj), a colony in Pannonia established by Trajan in 103, where he had been awarded a ‘double grant of land’, perhaps because his job in the legion already earned him double pay. His tombstone says that he was serving as clerk to the governor of the province. However, he did not live long enough to enjoy his retirement. He died at the age of fifty and was buried at Ptuj.

The trades and skills acquired in military service probably, and sometimes definitely, lay behind a veteran’s choice of post-army career. Vitalinus Felix, a veteran of Legio I Minervia, lived long enough to retire and chose to settle, not in or near the legion’s base in Bonn, but in Lyon in Gaul with his wife Julia Nice and their son Vitalinius Felicissimus. Described as a ‘wise and faithful man’, Vitalinus Felix set up in business as ‘a trader in the pottery craft’. He died aged fifty-eight years, five months and five days. His choice of trade is an interesting one. Traders in pottery (negotiatores cretarii, literally ‘traders of pots’) were often, as so many men involved in commercial enterprises were freedmen. Vitalinus Felix had perhaps learned to manufacture or deal with pottery while serving in the legion – the army had vast needs for ceramics. On the other hand, Lyon was a major Roman city and trading centre. It lies around 90 miles (143 km) from the massive red-slip samian-ware potteries of Lezoux, whose products dominated tableware in the Western Empire in the second century. Vitalinus Felix may therefore have been an entrepreneur who shipped local pottery to markets further afield.

Gaius Gentilius Victor definitely stuck with what he knew. After retirement from Legio XXII Primigenia he worked during the reign of Commodus in the late second century as a dealer in swords (negotatior gladiarius) at Mainz, the legion’s base.

Nothing else resembling either of these inscriptions is known, but it is certain that many other veterans built second careers. Julius Demetrius once served with Cohors III Augusta Thracum and settled in a village near the unit’s base at Sachare in Mesopotamia. He is recorded there in 227 as having purchased for 175 denarii a plot of land elsewhere in the area with fruit trees and 600 vine-stumps by a vineyard, perhaps both for pleasure and as a source of income. The transaction was witnessed by several serving soldiers. Another veteran had to act on behalf of the vendor, Otarnaeus, who was illiterate, illustrating how much better educated soldiers and ex-soldiers could be than the civilian population.

More often, veteran praetorians would return to their homes. This must have been even more likely to happen once praetorians were recruited from the whole army, as happened under Severus from 193. Sextus Quinctilius Seneca was a veteran of Cohors III Praetoria when he made a dedication to Jupiter on the island of Rab in Dalmatia (Croatia).44 Gaius Terentius Mercator, veteran of Cohors III Praetoria, expired at Como, where he was buried according to the instructions in his will.45 Gaius Carantius Verecundus, a veteran of Cohors VII Praetoria in Flavian times, was buried by his freedmen at Riati in Italy.

The Roman military veteran Nonius Datus continued to work as an engineer after his military service, attached to Legio III Augusta in North Africa. When the townsfolk of Saldae in the province of Mauretania Caesariensis got into difficulty with the tunnel they had been digging to bring a mountain water supply to their city – the two digging parties, which consisted of military personnel, had made a mistake in surveying the hill and ended up missing each other – Nonius Datus was called in to help them solve the problem. It was not at all surprising to find an old soldier stepping in like this; indeed he had to be called back several times to keep the project on track. Roman military veterans pop up all over the Roman Empire in numerous contexts that reflect the skills they had learned when in the army.

The unusually named Eltaominus had served as an architectus with Ala Vettonum, a cavalry unit sufficiently distinguished to have been awarded Roman citizenship in service. The Ala is attested at various locations in Britain, including Binchester where Eltaominus’ altar was found. Eltaominus described himself as an emeritus (‘veteran’) on a dedication to Fortuna Redux (‘the Home-Bringer’). He had perhaps been away on a trip and had returned to the fort, where he presumably lived in the vicus.

In the Fayum in Egypt in the early second century AD a veteran called Lucius Bellienus Gemellus made a living as a farmer in retirement. Thanks to the survival of some of his personal archive, a surprising amount is known about his everyday life. Gemellus was a networker who knew the value of keeping local officials on side, so he made sure to send them gifts. He also participated in religious ceremonies. On 6 November 110, for example, he wrote to an agent with instructions to ‘buy us some presents for the Isis festival for the persons we are accustomed to send [them] to, especially the strategoi’. Another document of 110, written to his son Sabinus, records that he wanted olives and fish sent to a man called Elouras who had recently been made deputy to the strategos Erasus, and cabbages sent to Erasus who was about to celebrate the festival of Harpocrates. These and other documents from the archive paint a picture of a veteran thoroughly involved with local life, managing it all almost as if he was still in the army with its love of bureaucracy and records.

Gemellus seems to have been happy, if busy, but a former soldier could all too easily turn into a disgruntled old man. Gaius Julius Apollinarius  lived at Karanis in Egypt between 169 and 172 after his military service in Cohors I Apamenorum. He had established himself as a well-to-do landowner, buying and selling land there even while he was still in the army, as well as acquiring an unofficial wife. But in retirement he was furious that the five-year exemption from compulsory public services (such as acting as a tax collector) for veterans had been overturned when a demand came for him to perform those services after only two years. This was not even supposed to happen to the native population, or so the furious Apollinarius moaned; he expected the rules to be even more strictly observed when it came to someone like himself. In the year 172 he sent off his petition to the strategos, explaining that he wanted to be able to take care of his property ‘since I am an old man on my own’.

SIGNING ON AGAIN

Some soldiers were unable to resist the temptation to sign up again. When they did so they were called evocati Augusti, ‘men recalled to arms by the emperor’. Such men were absolutely essential to the Roman army’s ability to fulfil its duties. While he was governor of Germania Superior, Galba made as much use of veterans as he did of soldiers still in service. By training them all at the same pace he pushed them into such good condition that he was able to hold back any barbarian incursions.

Gaius Vedennius Moderatus came from Anzio in Italy. He served in Legio XVI Gallica for ten years, doing well enough to be rewarded with a transfer to Cohors VIIII Praetoria probably in 69. He retired having clocked up a further eight years’ service in the Guard, but was promptly recalled to sign on for another 23 years under Vespasian and Domitian as a reservist architectus armamentarius with specialist artillery skills, probably because he was regarded as indispensable. No doubt Moderatus had acquired his invaluable experience with artillery after Legio XVI Gallica threw in its lot with Vitellius during the Civil War, so his transfer to the Praetorian Guard may have come about as a result of Vitellius’ policy of allowing his soldiers to choose which section of the army they wished to serve in. Soldiers who so wished were allowed to join the Guard ‘however worthless’ they were, but in Moderatus’ case he may already have proved his worth.

Moderatus’ military service thus extended to over 40 years, during which time he was decorated by both Vespasian and Domitian. He must have been well into his sixties when he died, early in the reign of Trajan. His tombstone advertises his special skills by, for example, depicting on one side a ballista. Moderatus was unusual. He stayed with the Guard for an exceptionally long time and presumably reached the point where the idea of leaving was beyond his ability to contemplate. As an interesting aside, a bronze plate has been found from a catapult used in one or other of the battles at Bedriacum in 69. The embossed plate was fitted to the front of the catapult with a hole for the bolt to pass through. Above the hole is the name of the legion, in this case Legio IIII Macedonica, while on either side are a pair of military standards bearing bulls, the legion’s emblem, and the names of the consuls for 45 in the reign of Claudius, the governor of Germania Superior, Gaius Vibius Rufinus, and the centurion Gaius Horatius, who was princeps praetorii, ‘centurion in charge of the headquarters’. The veteran catapult was thus well over two decades old at the time of the battle and was still in service.

Remaining in the army was potentially dangerous. Aulus Sentius, from Arrezo, was a veteran of Legio XI sometime in the first century AD. He ‘was killed in the territory of the Varvarini in a small field by the river Titus at Long Rock [in Dalmatia]’, evidently while still serving in the front line.

Veterans of course had skills that could be useful in other contexts than the battlefield. When Otho wanted his dead rival Galba’s praetorian prefect Cornelius Laco killed – the hapless Laco had been under the impression that he was to be exiled to an island – he commissioned a loyal veteran to go and murder him. Nymphidius Lupus on the other hand was used in a more positive way. He rose to the heights of being primus pilus in Legio III Gallica, where he knew Pliny the Younger around the year 81 when the latter was a military tribune in the same legion. ‘From then on I began to develop a special regard for his friendship’, wrote Pliny to Trajan, and the two evidently stayed on excellent terms thereafter. When Pliny became governor of Bithynia he wrote to Lupus and asked him to give up his retirement and join him as a sort of adviser. When Lupus agreed, Pliny wrote to Trajan to ask for promotion for Lupus’ son by way of repayment.

PROMOTION BY HEROISM

Tiberius Claudius Maximus did well during his time in the army in the late first and early second century, but apparently not so well that anyone else could be bothered to record the fact. Therefore he commemorated himself. As a veteran he commissioned an inscription found at Philippi that documented his time in Legio VII Claudia. Having been a quaestor equitum, a title which is otherwise unknown and probably meant he was in charge of the treasury of the legion’s cavalry, he then served in the legate’s mounted bodyguard before being made a vexillarius of the cavalry in the legion. Decorated for his feats in Domitian’s Dacian War, he fought in Trajan’s Dacian and Parthian wars where he served as a duplicarius in Ala II Pannoniorum before being promoted to decurio for – so he claimed – capturing the Dacian king Decebalus and bringing his head to Trajan. The claim is spurious, because Decebalus had already taken his own life; but it is plausible that Claudius Maximus found the body, severed the head and took it to the emperor. He continued to serve after his official term of service was up, and finally received his honourable discharge as a voluntarius in the army of Mesopotamia under Terentius Scaurianus.

BAD LUCK

Not all soldiers retired from the army to enjoy life. At some point before the mid-first century BC one veteran, whose name is unknown, came home to find that his father had been falsely told that he had died. The father had named other heirs in his will as a result and had himself then expired. The soldier therefore found he had nothing, while his father’s friends, who had been the beneficiaries, shut him out in spite of the personal sacrifice he had made fighting for the Roman state. Forced to pursue a legal campaign in the forum at Rome, he eventually won his case by a unanimous vote and was restored to his family estate.

Another veteran whose retirement went disastrously wrong was Claudius Pacatus. Pacatus had risen to the ranks of the centurionate by the time he was discharged in the late first century. Unfortunately, it was discovered in 93 that he was a slave and had evidently managed to conceal the fact when he enlisted. Domitian, acting in his capacity as censor, ordered that Pacatus be returned to his former master.

Even those who made it into retirement did not necessarily live long enough to make the most of their freedom from duty. Gaius Julius Decuminus, who served with Legio II Augusta at Caerleon, died when he was only forty-five. He was by then a veteran of the legion and had remained close to its base but evidently did not live long to enjoy the privileges of his status. His anonymous wife was left to organize his funeral.

Wherever a Roman soldier came from, and wherever he served, the experience stayed with him for life. For some men it proved impossible to let the army go, especially if retirement meant unfamiliarity and a loss of contact with old comrades. Normally, veterans were settled in colonies drawn from their old units. In 61 under Nero, however, the colonies at Tarento and Anzio in Italy were peopled by veterans drawn randomly from bases all over the Empire. The idea was that they would make good a decline in the local populations; but the scheme fell flat when most of the veterans, faced with other men they had never seen before, slunk off back to the frontier provinces where they had served. Some even abandoned wives and children in the colonies, preferring a retirement near their old bases where the sight, sound and smell of the Roman army made them feel at home. Once a soldier, always a soldier.

Antimaterial Rifle

South African DENEL 20X110HS NTW-20 Rifle procured for evaluation in the United States

The antimaterial (antimateriél or equipment) rifle is the successor to the antitank rifle of World War I and early World War II. Essentially a large-caliber, high-velocity rifle firing special armor-piercing ammunition, it is designed to operate against enemy equipment, such as thin-skinned and lightly armored vehicles. The weapon can also be used for long-range sniping. Antimaterial rifles are often favored by special operations military units.

The offensive use of anti-materiel rifles or special application scoped rifles (SASR) is termed hard target interdiction (HTI) by the United States military.

Anti-materiel rifles can also be used in non-offensive roles – for example, for safely destroying unexploded ordnance

The U. S. Army Browning M2 .50-caliber machine gun, which can be fired single shot as a sniper rifle, fits in this category. The Austrian Steyr 25mm antimaterial rifle, with a claimed effective range of 1.2 miles, features both a muzzle brake and a hydropneumatic sleeve to lessen recoil. The weapon has a bipod and can be broken down for ease of transport by its crew. Among other such weapons is the South African Denel NTW-20. This 20mm bolt-action rifle features a 3-round side-mounted box magazine. There is also a 14.5mm model. To reduce recoil, the NTW-20 utilizes a hydraulic double-action damper along with a double baffle muzzle brake.

The British will tell you to beware wily, Dutch-African farmers with rifles.

Among other such weapons are the U. S. Armalite AR50 and Barrett M82A1, both of which fire the 12.7mm NATO (.50-caliber) round; the British Accuracy International AW50F, firing the 12.7mm NATO (.50-caliber) round; the Hungarian Gerpard M1(B) and M2(B) 12.7mm rifles, which with changed barrel can also fire the .50-caliber round; and the Russian KSVK 12.7mm rifle.

NameCountry of originYearCaliber
Steyr IWS 2000 Austria198015.2×169mm proprietary Steyr APFSDS
Steyr HS .50 Austria2004.50 BMG
.460 Steyr
Istiglal Azerbaijan200814.5×114mm
AMR-2 China200012.7×108mm (.50 Russian)
JQ China12.7×108mm (.50 Russian)
JS 12.7 China12.7×108mm (.50 Russian)
LR2A China12.7×108mm (.50 Russian)
Zijiang M99 China200512.7×108mm (.50 Russian)
.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
W03 China12.7×108mm (.50 Russian)
RT-20 Croatia199320x110mm Hispano
Mambi AMR Cuba198114.5×114mm
CZW-127 Czech Republic.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
12.7×108mm (.50 Russian)
Falcon Czech Republic1998.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
12.7×108mm (.50 Russian)
PGM Hecate II France1993.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
PDSHP Georgia201414.5×114mm
Satevari MSWP Georgia2015.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
DSR-Precision GmbH DSR-50 Germany2003.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
Mauser 1918 T-Gewehr German Empire191813.2mm TuF
Gepárd anti-materiel rifles Hungary1987.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO),
12.7×108mm (.50 Russian),
14.5×114mm Russian
Vidhwansak India200512.7×108mm (.50 Russian)
14.5×114mm
20×82mm
Pindad SPR-2 and SPR-3 Indonesia2007.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO) on SPR-2, 7.62 NATO on SPR-3
Shaher Iran201214.5×114mm (.57 Russian)
MAS-2 Myanmar2017.50 BMG
Tor Poland2005.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
KSVK Russia199712.7×108mm (.50 Russian)
OSV-96 Russia199012.7×108mm (.50 Russian)
Zastava M93 Black Arrow Serbia1998.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO) or
12.7×108mm (.50 Russian)
Denel NTW-20 South Africa199814.5×114mm Russian (NTW 14.5)
20×82mm (NTW 20)
20×110mm Hispano (NTW 20)
Truvelo SR-20[9] South Africa14.5×114mm
20×82mm
20×110mm Hispano
SAN 511 (formerly OM 50 Nemesis)  Switzerland.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
Solothurn S-18/1000  Switzerland193920x138mmB
MKEK MAM-15 Turkey.50 BMG (12.7x99mm NATO)
Accuracy International AS50 United Kingdom2007.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
Accuracy International AW50 United Kingdom2000.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
Accuracy International AX50 United Kingdom2010.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
Barrett M82A1/M107 United States1989.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
Barrett M90 United States1990.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
Barrett M95 United States1995.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
Barrett M99 United States1999.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
.416 Barrett
Barrett XM500 United States2006.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
Barrett XM109 United States200425×59mm
Anzio 20mm rifle United States20x102mm Vulcan
Serbu Firearms BFG-50a United States.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
.510 DTC Europ
Windrunner M96 United States2001.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
.510 DTC Europ
Leader 50 A1 United States2012.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
Iver Johnson AMAC-1500 United States1981.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
McMillan Tac-50 United States2000.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
Desert Tech HTI United States2012.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
AK-50 United States2015.50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)

Further Reading Gander, Terry J. Anti-Tank Weapons. Marlborough, UK: Crowood, 2000. Hogg, I. V., and J. Weeks. Browning M2 Heavy Machine Gun. London: PRC Publishing, 1999. Hogg, I. V., and J. Weeks. Military Small Arms of the Twentieth Century. New York: Hippocrene, 1994.

THE BATTLE OF VOUILLÉ

BATTLE VOUILLE POITIERS 507 CLOVIS GOTHS DIEULOIS

Ethnic and administrative organization of Western Europe around AD500

The Birth of France

Date Spring, 507

Location Vouillé, 15km (9 miles) north-west of Poitiers, Aquitaine

THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The most important historical development of the fifth century in western Europe was the emergence of the Germanic kingdoms, which had already absorbed the former western provinces of the Western Roman Empire. The main groups that can be identified were the Western Goths (Visigoths), who dominated south-west Gaul and Spain, the Burgundians in the upper Rhone valley, the Salian Franks who were emerging in northern and central Gaul, and the eastern Goths (Ostrogoths), based in Pannonia through the third quarter of the century, who were to take control of Italy at the end of the fifth century.

After the death of the Roman general Aetius, the victor of Chalons (Catalaunian Plains) in 454, imperial power in Gaul rapidly disintegrated. The emergence of the Kingdom of Soissons in northern Gaul (later, Naustria) as a Roman remnant state under Aegidius, a former magister militum of Roman Gaul appointed by Emperor Majorian (reigned 457-461) before his murder in 461, increased the chaos of contemporary Gaul, as he maintained his power against Franks to his east and Visigoths to his south; his son Syagrius succeeded his father to the rule of Soissons in 465.

After the middle of the fifth century, the king of the Salian Franks, Childeric (ruled 457-481), became a major power in northern Gaul, and his victories against the Visigoths, Saxons and Alemanni established the basis of the Salian-Frankish State in northern Gaul. He further supported Aegidius in the latter’s victory against the Visigoths at Orléans in 463. But it was Childeric’s son Clovis (ruled 481-511) who would go on to unite most of Gaul north of the Loire.

By 481, the major geo-political clash in western Europe would be between the three peoples that were competing for predominance in the territory of Aquitaine: the Visigoths in south-western Gaul, the Burgundians in the south-east, and the Franks north of the Loire. Clovis, who had succeeded his father as leader of the Salian Franks of Tournai in 481, gradually brought under his control the territories between the Loire and the Somme; by around 486 he had defeated Syagrius and effectively dissolved the Kingdom of Soissons. This victory provided Clovis with a strongly fortified base – Soissons, a substantial arms factory, and the Roman units that had served Syagrius and were being integrated into his following.

After he gained full control of Neustria (the territories under the former Kingdom of Soissons, between the Loire and the Somme), Clovis turned his attention against a small group of Thuringians in eastern Gaul, just north of the Burgundians, winning a battle in 491. It was quickly becoming apparent that Clovis’ expansionist strategy was directed against the Burgundians and the Alamans of the Upper and Middle Rhine. Eventually, he won the Battle of Tolbiac in 496, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Cologne, against an Alamanni invasion of Austrasia and the Lower Rhine.

Although the exact nature of the battle remains obscured in legend, according to Gregory of Tours, Clovis adopted his wife Clotilda’s Orthodox (that is, Nicene) Christian faith, having undergone some sort of a religious experience during the battle. Or perhaps it was mere diplomatic manoeuvring that pushed the Frankish king to denounce his pagan past, which always entailed the danger of losing him the support of his pagan followers; historians have emphasized a letter sent by Remigius, the bishop of Rheims who eventually baptised Clovis, in which he pointed out to the Frankish King that `he would find it advantageous to have the support of the Gallo-Roman church.’

The later 490s saw a series of poorly attested Frankish attacks upon Visigoth Aquitania, which were boosted by an alliance with the Arborychi (`Armoricans’) from modern-day Brittany who, probably, provided Clovis improved access to the Visigothic kingdom south of the Loire. But the Visigoths eventually repelled the Frankish attacks, with Gregory of Tours reporting a sixty-day siege of Nantes, at the mouth of the Loire, by the Franks led by Clovis himself; he was put to flight by the Visigoths. The latter also regained control of Tours, on the south bank of the Loire, and Bordeaux – the capital city of Aquitaine – by 505; these cities had been captured by the Franks in the previous decade in what seems to historians to have been more of a raid than a campaign of conquest.

Around 500, Clovis made the unwise decision to be drawn into the Burgundian civil war on the side of the Burgundian king Godegisel. The latter’s defeat was a political and diplomatic setback for Clovis, with Frankish captives sent `in exile, to Toulouse, to King Alaric’, while the Visigoths, who had supported Godegisel’s rival Gundobad, even gained control over Avignon for their troubles. Nevertheless, Clovis continued to have designs on Aquitania. He planned to improve his standing in western Europe by strengthening his alliance with other Germanic leaders; thus he married his sister Audefleda to the ambitious Ostrogothic king Theoderic.

It has been argued that the Battle of Vouillé was the opening military encounter of a campaign to destroy the Visigothic kingdom in Aquitaine and to conquer the southwestern region of Gaul. Bachrach, however, has raised serious doubts as to whether this military campaign was the initiative of the Frankish king. He speculates that:

… an imperial policy intended to strengthen the position of the Franks, now Nicene Christians with the support of the episcopal hierarchy in the north against the Arian Visigoths and Ostrogoths, surely would have been attractive to [Byzantine] Emperor Anastasius.

In fact, the primary sources report of Emperor Anastasius’ envoys who met with Clovis, probably at his capital in Paris, and promises were made by both sides. 2 The role of the Nicene bishops in Aquitaine, who worked as mediators between Paris and Constantinople to support the cause of the Roman-Christian king of the Franks against the Arian Visigoths, should also be considered a strong possibility, although the sources are silent on this issue.

In 506, the year before the battle, Clovis agreed a non-aggression pact with the Visigoth king Alaric, after a meeting on an island in the middle of the River Loire – the symbolic border between the two kingdoms. And it is probably at this time that Alaric handed over to Clovis the fortress cities of Nantes, Angers, Tours and Orléans, which controlled the lower Loire valley with its immense agricultural and commercial importance; people in the aforementioned cities were Roman-Catholic Christians who despised, or even hated, the Arian Visigoths.

However, we will never know whether the two leaders negotiated in good faith, or if this was a ruse perpetrated by Clovis to throw off the Visigoth king from his real intention of invading Aquitaine. Finally, the Frankish king arranged for a military alliance with the Burgundian king, Gundobad, which involved Burgundian troops mounting operations against various Visigoth cities and strongholds in the south-east, perhaps acting as a `shield’ army to intercept a possible Ostrogoth invasion by Theoderic to support his son-in-law, Alaric.

THE PRELUDE TO THE BATTLE

In February or early March 507, Clovis issued orders throughout the regnum Francorum for the mobilization of the army. Shortly after, in early spring, he crossed the Loire into Aquitaine. Clovis’ campaign strategy was to invade Visigoth-controlled Aquitaine and move south as fast as possible, hoping, no doubt, that he would be welcomed by the Catholic Gallo-Roman socio-political élite of the region, who opposed Visigoth domination. Some historians have added that Clovis probably believed that he could integrate the militia levies of the fortified cities of Aquitaine into his army.

On the other hand, it is clear from the History of Gregory of Tours that Alaric’s strategy was reactive, ordering his troops to concentrate at Poitiers to intercept the invading Franks. It also points out the fact that the Visigoth king had intelligence about the invasion early enough to allow him to order his units drawn from the civitates of Aquitaine and Auvergne, to concentrate at the strongly fortified city of Poitiers, some 100km (60 miles) south of the Loire.

Poitier’s importance lay in its strategic location at the junction of old Roman roads going north to south, and the crossing of a navigable river. As would be the case twenty-two centuries later, when Charles Martel invaded Aquitaine to intercept a Muslim campaigning army, the River Vienne was a major obstacle to overcome – especially in April, a period when the early spring rains and the melting snows had swollen the river. Poitiers was also the site of an important religious centre, the late Roman basilica of St-Hilaire, which would be restored and adorned with golden mosaics and precious relics by Clovis shortly after his victory.

After fording the Vienne where wild animals were seen crossing it, Clovis placed his encampment in the environs of Vouillé to the north-west of Poitiers, at a place where the distance between his army and the city of Poitiers was about 15 kilometres (9 miles). He had sent his scouts the day before the battle to find out about the whereabouts of the Visigoth army, thus having ample time to position his soldiers on a field of battle of his own choice.

THE OPPOSING FORCES

Weapons

There is very little evidence of what might be thought of as typically `barbarian’ equipment, because there was very little standardization among, or even within, the various tribal armies that had infiltrated the empire in the fourth and fifth centuries. The only exception is the francisca, a Frankish throwing axe that had an average weight of 1 to 2kg, the wooden handle measuring some 40cm in length, and the iron head some 18cm.

Similarities between `barbarian’ and Roman weapons in post-Roman Europe came as a direct result not only of the enormous cultural and economic influence of the empire beyond its frontiers for many centuries, but also because of the vast quantities of manufactured arms and armour in the local fabricae that supplied the `barbarians’ who fought with/for the Romans. In fact, the arms utilized by the late Roman army remained the basic weapons of fighting men in the period up to and through the rule of Charlemagne (ruled 768-814).

Soldiers fighting on foot largely used the short sword and the spear. As it is to be expected for this early period, there was no standardization in spear design, and archaeological findings point to the conclusion that each smith produced his own style and size of spearhead, with no official guidelines. A possible exception was the Frankish angon, a throwing spear that resembled a Roman pilum and was modified (in the seventh century) by three points attached at the end of the shaft where the iron staff was fixed, and were turned backwards like hooks to get stuck on an enemy warrior’s shield and put it out of use.

Numerous `barbarian’ gravesites point to the assumption that the Germanic peoples in pre-Carolingian Europe were carrying both long swords (75-100cm long, 6cm in width) and short ones (40cm long, 4cm in width), both straight and twoedged, and the scramasax – a long (20cm) dagger used by peoples in northern Europe (Vikings, Saxons, Franks), either as a primary edged weapon or as a side arm. Probably the most common weapon of the period, however, was the spear, which varied enormously in shape and size. Mounted troops carried the lance and long sword, although most mounted fighting men had short swords as well.

The most basic defensive armament would have been the wooden shield, either round or convex, and some 80-90cm in diameter. Manuscript illuminations support the idea that helmets between the late fifth to seventh centuries were commonly of a type called Spangenhelme, where the bowl of the helmet was made of several parts, held together by reinforcing clasps, which covered the joins. Contemporary written sources imply that metallic armour (both mail and lamellar) was also common, though far from universal.

Where metallic armour was not available, warriors probably made use of boiled leather or padded protection. Nobles also owned a helmet, usually produced from a single sheet of iron, and chain mail body armour, both lavishly decorated and similar in construction to late Roman military equipment.

Military Forces

Alaric’s military forces were composed of an unknown number of both Visigoths and Gallo-Romans. The former were the descendants of the victorious armies that had defeated Attila and the Huns fifty-six years earlier; the more affluent who were able to support a horse and armour were fighting as cavalry, while the poorer levies were conscripted to fight on foot, with either a spear or a bow.

The majority of the campaigning army, however, was largely composed of the local Gallo-Roman levies, who lacked both horses and sophisticated military equipment because of the low level of the minimum wealth requirement. Finally, there was a rather small élite of well-armed and well-trained mounted troops among the men serving in these armies, who were the household troops of the Gallo-Roman aristocrats.

Clovis’ forces were also drawn from a wide variety of sources, although again, their exact numbers are not known. These were mainly troops from the military household of the king and his aristocrats, a group of élite warriors of either Frankish or Gallo-Roman descent, or foreign mercenaries from neighbouring countries. Other sources that contributed to the early Merovingian army were the landholders of military lands who owed military service, and the regular troops from the late Roman institution of the laeti – defeated enemy troops who were settled in Roman territory and owed hereditary military service to the late Roman state.

THE BATTLE

There are no surviving eyewitness accounts of the battle, hence there is no way to ascertain the battle deployment of either of the armies, or the ratio between mounted and foot soldiers. Nevertheless, Gregory of Tours recounts that the battle promptly opened with the ordinary exchanges of missiles – arrows and probably lances as well, thus firmly conforming to the Roman battle practices that had been in place for many centuries. This was followed by a mounted charge by the Visigoths against the Frankish phalanx of foot soldiers, who held their ground despite the ferocity of the attack, reminiscent of the Visigoth mounted charge at Chalons fifty years earlier.

Our sources do not give any more details on the course of the battle, or the tactics employed by the two opposing armies. However, there is a reference in Gregory of Tour’s History of a possible feigned retreat conducted by the Visigoth cavalry in the face of the Frankish phalanx, apparently in an attempt to break their solid formation. This effort failed. Regrettably, Gregory is silent about what followed the Visigoths’ retreat, and he notes simply that `king Clovis won the victory by God’s aid’. This comment could very well mean that Clovis counter-attacked with a cavalry unit he may have kept in reserve, but this is mere speculation.

The end result was a complete victory for the Franks after Alaric was killed in the final stage of the battle; tradition has it that Clovis was directly responsible for Alaric’s death.

CONCLUSIONS

Following the successful outcome of the battle, the Frankish king swept south to take the Gothic-ruled cities of the northern, central and western Aquitaine (Gallia Aquitania), including the fortress city of Bordeaux. The Visigoth capital at Toulouse in south-eastern Aquitaine (Gallia Narbonensis) was also captured, along with the royal treasure, while Clovis’ Burgundian allies took Narbonne. Further Frankish advances to the south and east, both along Carcassonne and Arles, failed because of the intervention of the Ostrogothic king, Theodoric, who shortly thereafter captured both Narbonne and Toulouse. It would be another two centuries before the Franks gained access to the Mediterranean Sea.

When Clovis returned to Tours in spring 508 to celebrate his triumph, he received both the patriciate and the honorary consulate by Emperor Anastasius. These honours qualified Clovis to serve as an imperial governor in southern Gaul, while recognizing his de facto status as king in the northern half of Gaul. He had won a decisive victory at Vouillé against another emerging superpower of the age, a victory that settled once and for all the future of continental Gaul. King Alaric was killed, and his army was in tatters and unable to withstand the further conquest of Aquitaine. The future history of Gaul was to be written not by the Goths but by the Franks, who also gave it a new name: France.

Clement VII and the sack of Rome

Giulio de’ Medici, who finally emerged as Pope Clement VII in November 1523, was not only a tried administrator but a prelate hardened by much experience of armed conflict. As a youth in 1497 he had taken part in an attempt to restore the family to power in Florence; indeed, Guicciardini, commenting on this, remarked that he was more suited to arms than to the priesthood. He entered the crusading Order of Knights Hospitaller of St John, and joined the household of his cousin, Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici, accompanying him – and unlike him, avoiding capture – at the Battle of Ravenna in 1512. After Giovanni’s accession as Leo X Giulio was promoted to the cardinalate and office of Vice-Chancellor, and – as already mentioned – served as papal legate to the army in the campaign against Francis I in Lombardy in 1515 and in the war of Urbino. He took part in crusade planning in 1517 and in the Marche campaign in 1520, and was again legate to the army in the war in Lombardy in 1521. He continued to be active under Adrian VI, and in April 1522 was credited with defeating an attempted Bentivoglio coup at Bologna. The English ambassador at Rome reported (quoted here in his own words with archaic spelling),

Cardinal de Medicis, as legat of the said citie, made soche provision… that, the armye being within, with the aid of the peple issued out and slewe diverse of ther enemys…and put the whole [French and Bentivoglio] armye to flight so that the said Citie by the wisdom and diligence of the said Cardinall is savid for the Churche.

Yet after he became pope in November 1523 Giulio was for ever stamped – thanks to contemporary writers such as Guicciardini and Giovio, who observed him closely – with the reputation of timidity and vacillation. This was the pope who in May 1527 would have to face the sack of Rome, the gravest, most terrifying and humiliating challenge of armed force faced by any pope throughout the whole history of the papal monarchy, worse than in 1084, 1112, 1303, 1413, 1494 or indeed 1798 or 1870.

It could be argued that Clement lacked several of the indispensable qualities to be an effective Renaissance pope, and could do little about it. Of these essentials, he lacked first large resources of money. Second he lacked an aspiring and dependable son, nephew or other close male relative anxious to make a career in the Church or the papal state. His second cousin Giovanni Salviati, on whom Leo had conferred the red hat in 1517, was to prove quite able as a diplomatist, but he was probably too Florentine and parentally dominated to be potentially a Machiavellian new prince. It is worth noting, however, that Machiavelli had sent him a copy of his Art of War, about which the young cardinal wrote appreciatively in September 1521, assuring the author that the defects in organisation of modern armies, including the army of the Church, could be overcome by adopting his precepts. Another second cousin, Ippolito, who would become a cardinal in 1529, was altogether too young and too headstrong to fill the role of a prince within the papal state, and even he yearned in preference for power in Florence. Third, and most important of all Clement’s deficiencies, the second Medici pope lacked fortuna.

This third deficiency was most evident from the course of war in Italy in 1524–25 between the forces of Charles V and Francis I. Having at first continued cautiously to support the imperial cause, Clement, much influenced by Gianmatteo Giberti, his former secretary now promoted to a major post (‘datarius’) in the papal chancery, wavered and switched to France. How can this fatal step be explained? The Pope had of course pro-French tendencies going far back in his career, and may have been dazzled by Francis I’s successes in Lombardy in the autumn of 1524. He may even have had hopes, in spite of its dangers, about the foolhardy expedition to the south of James Stuart, Duke of Albany, or at least wanted to avoid exposing Rome to any threat from Albany’s large army. If only that adamant Swiss, Cardinal Schiner, had still been around, maybe Clement would have been dissuaded from switching to France, but Schiner had died at Rome in December 1522, a year before his former partner in anti-French campaigns became pope. An official agreement was signed with Francis in January 1525, but the timing could not have been worse, on account of the sensational defeat and capture of Francis in the Battle of Pavia at the end of February. This left Clement, by a stroke of extraordinarily bad luck, in a position of weakness from which it would take long to recover. Giberti, falling back on the argument that it was all a miraculous demonstration of God’s will, encouraged the cardinal legate, Giovanni Salviati, to send a note of congratulation to Charles V and express the Pope’s hope that peace would follow, that this was what he had always desired. In fact, a treaty negotiated with the Emperor and signed on his behalf by Lannoy, viceroy of Naples, seemed to give Clement almost all he could want. It included the guaranteed integrity of the papal state, with Reggio and Rubiera, which had been seized again by Alfonso d’Este during the long papal vacancy in autumn 1523, handed back, and Francesco II Sforza accepted as Duke of Milan. Unfortunately for Clement, nothing was done to implement this treaty.

After the Peace of Madrid, in January 1526, when Francis I was released from captivity, and in turn proceeded to break the terms that had been agreed, Clement again needed to act decisively. In a long letter or harangue addressed to him in March Guicciardini reproached him for not being as firm and astute as he had been as a cardinal, and insisted that decisive action could still save the situation and ‘liberate the Apostolic See and Italy from this atrocious and disgraceful servitude’. The Pope should act boldly, Guicciardini complained; for instance, he should retake Reggio ‘or play some trick on Cardinal Pompeo Colonna’, who was certainly the most aggressive, pro-imperial and ambitious member of the Sacred College. He (Clement) could yet emerge as ‘the most glorious pope in two hundred years’.

For brief periods Clement appeared to muster some strength. The signing in May 1526 of the Holy League of Cognac with Francis I, an avowedly aggressive alliance, seemed to signify a new beginning. In a letter of self-justification sent to the Emperor in June 1526 the Pope was emphatic that Charles should withdraw from Italy, reproaching him for the non-fulfilment of treaty obligations and his violations of papal territory including Parma, and his forcing Clement to seek other allies and to take arms in self-defence. In July Guicciardini, now commissary general of the papal army, saw that immediate action was imperative: a rapid move to capture Milan had every chance of victory over the unpaid, unprepared, numerically inferior imperial forces in Lombardy. That this did not happen seems to have been mainly the fault of the Duke of Urbino, who first hesitated because the Swiss troops had not arrived, and then, having made in July several unsuccessful attempts to attack Milan, retreated; in August and September he lost more time, in spite of receiving French reinforcements, by carrying on the fairly pointless siege of Cremona, then held by imperial forces.

Perhaps it would have made a difference if Clement VII had appointed a resolute cardinal legate to the army and applied himself with furious vigour, as Julius II would have done, to rallying the coalition and insisting on action. The blame, it has to be repeated, falls on the Duke of Urbino, that same Francesco Maria della Rovere who had failed his uncle Julius II in 1511 and been ousted from Urbino by Leo X, only to be reinstated in his dukedom under Adrian VI and – in spite of his known resentment against the Medici for the way they had treated him – reappointed Captain of the Church by Clement. Meanwhile, as well as losing the military initiative, Clement received a crushing reply to his ‘justification’, aimed at depriving him also of the moral high ground. This reply, handed to Castiglione on 18 September 1526, took the argument back to fundamentals, even playing the Lutheran card. The Pope, the Emperor insisted, had drawn the sword that Christ ordered Peter to put up. It was beyond belief for the vicar of Christ to acquire worldly possessions at the cost of even one drop of human blood. No one was coming to attack the Holy See, so there was no need of weapons or troops.

As for Guicciardini’s suggestion to play a clever trick on Cardinal Pompeo Colonna, Clement was instead the victim of an outrageous demonstration by that overpowerful dissident, who in spite of the above assurance did come to attack the Holy See, and moreover did so in the Emperor’s name. Pompeo had nearly been elected pope himself in 1523 but was finally persuaded to switch his votes (rather reminiscent of Ascanio Sforza in 1492) in exchange for the vice-chancellorship and other compensations; his fury at Clement’s desertion of the Emperor in 1525 and signing later of the League of Cognac led him to call an armed march on Rome by the Colonna and their supporters in September 1526. Here was a cardinal – not only that, but the Vice-Chancellor of the Church, head of the whole machinery of papal government – declaring war on the Pope: it was one of the most bizarre and anarchic episodes in a long trend of violent behaviour on the part of a secularised minority in the Sacred College. According to Paolo Giovio, whose biography of Pompeo was highly partisan and stressed his love of family and military honour, 8000 knights and 3000 infantry commanded by Pompeo’s brother were involved in this expedition, with artillery drawn by buffaloes and men, helped at difficult points by Pompeo himself.63 When they reached Rome the cardinal shut himself up in his palace, leaving his followers do as much damage as they could, looting and terrifying the inhabitants of Rome, though they did not succeed in laying hands on Clement.

The Pope took his revenge on the Colonna in November 1526 with a punitive campaign worthy of Alexander VI, demolishing their fortresses and devastating their lands. According to the papal bull condemning Pompeo, which was published in February 1527, the latter’s purpose had been to seize Clement, alive or dead, and to rule as pope in his place, apparently without election by his peers, or any other of the normal formalities. It is hard to imagine how on earth Pompeo can have justified to his conscience and his confessor this treasonable presumption, or justified using force in a manner more calculated to endanger than defend the Church. Though formally deprived of his cardinalate and other offices, he was not punished for long. In fact, he was soon needed to intercede on Clement’s behalf with much more fanatical enemies than himself, and give refuge to fellow cardinals and others in danger.

Meanwhile in September 1526 the Job-like Clement had also had to bear the shock of the Turkish victory at Mohács in Hungary, and news of the loss to Christendom of that country. Like Adrian and Leo before him when such tidings of disaster arrived, Clement declared that he himself would take part in a military expedition and as vicar of Christ was prepared to lay down his life. It was no clearer than the avowals of previous popes, whether he meant by this simply to be ready for martyrdom, or was prepared even to fall in combat. A war-planning council of five cardinals was set up, but it is fairly clear that the Pope’s distractions in Italy, quite apart from his shortage of money, meant that nothing would be done.

Worse than the Colonna raid was to come in the spring of 1527, with the League of Cognac coalition not only continuing to do nothing, but even failing to protect Rome from the mainly Spanish army advancing under the Duke of Bourbon’s command and the horde of Lutheran ‘landsknechts’ under George von Frundsberg. The latter were mercenary foot soldiers, first raised by the Emperor Maximilian in the early years of the century from the south German lowlands. Less disciplined than the Alpine Swiss on whom they were supposedly modelled, landsknechts were a brutal new phenomenon in European warfare. Armed with huge pikes and swords, swaggering in feathered hats and slashed breeches, inspired by Lutheran slogans but furious for want of food and wages, Frundsberg’s undisciplined troops were a terrifying prospect for Rome, even if the Spaniards, demoralised after Bourbon’s death, proved to be equally brutal and avaricious.

For all his military experience, Clement did not strike a heroic pose as he cowered in the Castel Sant’Angelo amid the horrors of the sack and the passive experience of hearing and watching Spanish sappers undermining it; one correspondent in Rome wrote in horrified anticipation of seeing ‘a pope and a whole flock of cardinals blown into the air by fire’. Most of the cardinals, those not with the Pope in the safety of the castle, fared much worse in the terrible months of May and June 1527, suffering torture and mockery to extort from them money and valuables, not only from the landsknechts but also from the Spanish captains whom some had paid handsomely for protection. Few offered physical resistance, in spite of their well-stocked armouries, guards and military retainers. An exception may have been Cardinal Giovanni Piccolomini, who probably considered himself untouchable, having a solidly pro-imperial and pro-German family background from his great uncle Pius II onwards. Nevertheless, according to one of the most reliable accounts – a letter of Cardinal Scaramuccia Trivulzio of Como to his secretary, sent later from Civitavecchia – Piccolomini suffered twice over. After he had bought off the Spaniards, the cardinal’s palace was then assaulted by landsknechts. Since the latter were said to have kept up the attack for four hours before the cardinal surrendered, it sounds as though there was counter-fire from within, and the dead piled up on both sides. Cardinal Piccolomini was paraded through the streets, bareheaded and in a shabby garment, kicked and punched and forced to make another ransom payment, before gaining refuge with Cardinal Pompeo Colonna.

In December 1527 Clement eventually bought his escape to Orvieto, and by then could again pin some hope on relief by the forces of the League of Cognac. For a French army, led by Odette de Foix, Vicomte de Lautrec, had gained much success in Lombardy and Emilia; early in 1528 it advanced down the Adriatic coast; it won many more victories before laying siege to Naples in April. There Lautrec was deadlocked. The city, defended by imperial forces, was still holding out in August when Lautrec himself died of disease; the remnants of his army had to withdraw northwards. Once again fortuna had been cruel to the Pope. Or had the papacy met its deserts as the victim of military force, hoist by its own petard after itself sponsoring so much war and slaughter?

The debate about the sack of Rome – whether it represented scandalous sacrilege and disaster or a providential judgement of God on a corrupted body – was only just beginning. One writer in the court of Charles V, Erasmus’s friend Juan de Valdés, made a pretty clear case for the latter point of view, in a polemical dialogue that attacked the whole concept of papal war and deplored all the horrors it had perpetrated. The protagonist, called Lactancio, is answered by an apologetic archdeacon, who uses the old argument of necessary defence of the Church; at one point he concedes, ‘I agree that all those things are very cruel, but the people of Italy would look down on a pope who didn’t wage war. They would think it a great insult if a single inch of Church land were lost.’

Whether or not there was any truth in the fictitious archdeacon’s assertion, it is paradoxical that, relatively soon after Clement VII’s return to Rome in October 1528 and reconciliation with Charles V in the Treaty of Barcelona (29 June 1529), the Pope seems to have recovered more purpose than he had shown for years. Charles, not without a tinge of remorse for what had happened, now stood as guarantor of both the papal lands in Italy and of a Medici principate in Florence, to replace the popular republic that had been set up there in 1527. After the successful imperial siege of Florence (1529–30) and final overthrowal of the republic, Clement endeavoured to take a strong line with cities in the papal state that had again tried to throw off papal rule during the period of crisis. Ancona was one example. On the strength of allegations that Ancona was threatened by Turkish naval attack – allegations strongly denied by the city’s own ambassadors – he sent a force to take it in 1532, suppressed the ancient civic constitution and appointed as cardinal legate and governor Benedetto Accolti. Archbishop of Ravenna and a papal secretary since 1523, Accolti had been made a cardinal in 1527, and commanded a troop of 4000 Spanish infantry in the siege of Florence. At Ancona he supervised the building of a new fortress complete with its own gun foundry, and his government was reputedly so oppressive that he was eventually removed and put on trial under Clement’s successor. His interests appear to be neatly expressed by the inventory of his possessions, drawn up after his arrest in 1535, where scarcely any devotional objects, books or works of art are listed (one of the few exceptions was a portrait of Julius II), but several swords and daggers and six or seven handguns.

Perugia also had to be dealt with. Clement appointed as legate in Umbria his second cousin Ippolito de’ Medici, the bastard son of Giuliano, Duke of Nemours, who had been raised to the purple at the age of eighteen in January 1529. The purpose of his legation was to dispossess Malatesta Baglioni of Perugia, who was then serving the republic of Florence as military commander against the besieging imperial and papal army. Ippolito never went there, and delegated the administration to a series of vice-legates, the first of whom in 1529–30 was Ennio Filonardi, Bishop of Veroli, but the condition of Perugia deteriorated and reached a point of crisis under Clement’s successor.

Ippolito de’ Medici’s opportunity for greater glory came in 1532 when he was sent as papal ambassador to Charles V’s brother Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria and King of Hungary. Ippolito arrived in Ratisbon (modern Regensburg) with a retinue of five prelates, ten secretaries and an armed guard of thirty to forty gentlemen, most of whom were former military captains, and with 5000 ducats in hand with which to enrol troops. His office was extended to that of papal legate to Ferdinand’s army against the Turks in Hungary, and the Venetian ambassador reported on 1 September that he had set off by boat down the Danube accompanied by ten gunners (arquebusieri). Ippolito was described as ‘dressed like Jupiter’ – modified in a subsequent letter to ‘wearing military habit’. Unfortunately, a portrait by Titian showing him in full armour does not survive; Vasari mentions it in his life of the artist as painted at Bologna at the same time as the well-known portrait of the Cardinal in the costume of a Turkish warrior (which it seems unlikely that he was wearing on the above occasion). Ippolito intended to select horses at Vienna and proceed at once to the battlefront, but when he reached the imperial army, which was on full alert, the Turks on the other side of the river made no move. Eventually the campaign was called off and Ippolito was said to have expressed his disappointment with such rage that Ferdinand imprisoned him for a day. The Mantuan agent in Rome, Fabrizio Peregrino, whose graphic and opinionated dispatches will frequently be quoted in the following pages, heard of this episode and commented that Ippolito had wanted madly to play the part of a war captain (‘voleva pazzamente fare il capitano di guerra’). After the papal election in 1534 he quickly left the Apostolic Palace and planned to leave Rome altogether, according to Peregrino, to reduce the expense of maintaining so many military captains and bravi.

Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922)

Greek infantry charge near the River Gediz

Mustafa Kemal’s visit to Çay. From left to right: chief of staff of the Western Front Miralay Asim Bey (Gündüz), commander of the Western Front Mirliva Ismet Pasha (İnönü), unknown, military attaché of the Soviet Russia K.K. Zvonarev, ambassador of Soviet Russia S.I. Aralov, Mustafa Kemal Pasha, ambassador of Azerbaijan SSR Ibrahim Abilov, commander of First Army Mirliva Ali Ihsan Pasha (Sâbis), in the morning of 31 March 1922.

The Greco-Turkish War was a conflict fought in Anatolia between the Kingdom of Greece and the new Turkish Republic in the wake of World War I. The war represented both the final stage of disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the culmination of the Greek “Megali [Great] Idea” of uniting all Greeks in the eastern Mediterranean under a single Greek state. Early Greek successes seemed to offer the prospect of a pan-Hellenic Greek state on both sides of the Aegean, but the Turkish revolutionaries’ military successes of 1921-1922 turned victory into catastrophe, resulting in the collapse of Greek irredentist dreams, large refugee flows, and the destruction of both the Greek communities in Anatolia and Turkish communities in Greece. For the Turkish national movement, on the other hand, the war represented a crucial phase of their war of independence. The negotiations that ended the war also mandated state-organized population exchanges which profoundly changed the cultural and ethnic composition of the region.

Greek politics had been incredibly divided about entering World War I, and Greece only officially joined the Entente near the war’s conclusion. It had been party to discussions among the Allies about the division of the post-war Ottoman Empire, as the Entente powers sought to balance their various and competing claims to Ottoman territory. Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, the Megali Idea’s best-known advocate and the primary architect of Greece’s joining the Entente, pushed very hard at the Paris Peace Conference for a Greek military occupation of western Anatolia, particularly of the city of Smyrna. The British soon came to view this as a preferable outcome to the region falling under Italian control, as Lloyd George and other British officials feared that the Italians, who had originally been promised Smyrna, were more likely to reach an agreement with the Turks. The British and French both hoped to contain or defeat the Turkish nationalists, and they hoped to impose some version of the zonal agreements reached between themselves, Italy, and Greece. Britain in particular hoped to impose a harsh settlement on the Ottomans and prevent the victory of the nationalists without directly committing its own forces (Bloxham 2005: 154-155). The Entente’s “Anglo-Greek policy” aimed to use the Greeks as a proxy army to enforce their will in Anatolia. Entente interest in maintaining a presence in Asia Minor therefore dovetailed with irredentist Greek demands to “liberate” the areas of Anatolia with large Greek minorities, and a Greek expeditionary force landed at Smyrna on May 15, 1919.

Commanded by High Commissioner Aristidis Stergiadis, the Greek force quickly secured Smyrna and the surrounding areas. While the Greek population, a substantial minority (and by Greek reckonings a majority) in Smyrna welcomed the expeditionary force as liberators, much of the Muslim population reacted with fear and revulsion. The deaths of almost 400 Turkish citizens of Smyrna in the initial landings did not bode well for the campaign to come. Indeed, the Greek landings served as one of the primary catalysts of the emerging Turkish nationalist movement under Mustafa Kemal, and many Turks believed that the Greeks intended to exterminate or drive them out of western Anatolia altogether. Nonetheless, the Turkish response was initially weak (with other Allied armies simultaneously occupying Constantinople and other areas of Anatolia), and Greek forces soon pushed outwards from Smyrna in an offensive that had seized Ushak, Panderma, Bursa, and Adrianople by the end of July 1919. Irregular warfare between Turks and the Greek army and between Turks and Anatolian Greeks continued throughout 1919 and 1920, the harshness of Greek occupation doing much to bolster the nationalists’ cause. At the Conference of London of February-March 1921 – an Allied attempt to mediate the conflict in Anatolia – neither the Greeks nor the Turks were willing to compromise, as the former had committed too much to the cause already, and the latter saw the conflict with the Greeks as a struggle for their very existence.

Over a year after the initial Greek landings, the weak government of Sultan Mehmed VI felt compelled on August 10, 1920, to sign the Treaty of Sevres with the Entente. The dreams of Venizelos and other proponents of the Megali Idea seemed to be on the verge of being realized. The supporters of Venizelos “talked excitedly of his having created a Greece of the two continents and of the five seas,” the two continents being Europe and Asia and the five seas being the Mediterranean, the Aegean, the Ionian, the Sea of Marmara, and the Black Sea (Clogg 2002: 95). The aspiration to create Greater Greece, which had led to a military disaster in the previous Greco-Turkish War of 1897, seemed as if it were about to be fulfilled. Two months later, however, King Alexander died, and the election that followed in November turned into an ugly battle between Venizelos’s supporters and those royalists who supported the return of exiled King Constantine (who had been expelled during the National Schism of 1914- 1917). To the astonishment of Venizelos as well as many foreign observers, “Greater Greece’s” main architect was soundly defeated, unable to hold even his own seat in parliament. This result was a clear a sign of the hostility of much of the Greek population toward continued warfare after nearly eight years of constant mobilization. The Anti-Venizelists now formed a majority government, but despite their earlier criticism of the war effort in Asia Minor, it soon became clear that they had no intention of withdrawing from Anatolia. Indeed, they felt strong enough to launch a renewed offensive in January 1921, and both the scale and the violence of the Greco-Turkish War would escalate dramatically in 1921 and 1922.

Greek forces pushed toward Eskisehir, but Turkish nationalist revolutionaries halted their advance at the First Battle of Inönü (January 9-11, 1921). The Turkish army’s defense of Inönü was one of the nationalists’ first military victories, and it did much to bolster the revolutionaries’ legitimacy and in part led to negotiations with the Soviets, resulting in the Treaty of Moscow on March 16, 1921. This agreement secured Turkey’s eastern frontier and allowed the nationalists to concentrate their forces on the invading Greeks. Turkish forces halted the Greeks again at the Second Battle of Inönü (March 26-31, 1921). The Greeks launched yet another offensive that summer, this time seizing Eskisehir on July 17 and reaching the Sakarya River. This push put the Greeks within 80 km of the nationalists’ headquarters at Ankara, but they were unable to advance any further. Both Kemal’s effective leadership and the extreme difficulties of supplying an army spread over such a broad front deep in the interior of Anatolia meant a victory for the Turks at the Battle of the Sakarya River (August 23-September 13, 1921). After holding the line at the Sakarya River through September, the Greeks felt compelled to withdraw to a defensive line just east of Eskisehir and Afyonkarahisar before the onset of winter.

Kemal’s armies consolidated their control over much of Anatolia throughout 1922. Kemal had already secured a French withdrawal from Cilicia on October 20, 1921, and Italy had also renounced its territorial ambitions. Even the British became ever more lukewarm toward continued commitment to the Greek occupation, and by the end of 1921 they were sending neither arms nor financial support to their erstwhile Greek allies. The growing strength of the Turkish nationalists combined with the crumbling commitment of the Great Powers left the Greeks in a highly vulnerable position. By August 26, Kemal felt strong enough to launch a major offensive against the Greek lines, quickly seizing Afyonkarahisar and Bursa. The nationalist army then drove the Greeks back along the rail line to Smyrna. At this point, the Greek army engaged in a scorched-earth policy as it retreated, destroying entire villages and engaging in frequent massacres. Their retreat soon turned into a desperate drive to escape encirclement and annihilation. The advancing Turkish nationalists likewise killed large numbers of Anatolian Christians, creating a massive refugee flow toward Smyrna. Greek forces began their evacuation on September 8, and the Turks finally launched their attack on Smyrna on September 9, 1922. During and after the assault, the Turks killed large numbers of Armenian and Greek civilians, seen as a fifth column that had brought the Greeks into Anatolia. Clogg (2002: 97) states that about 30,000 Greek and Armenian Christians were massacred as the Turkish army and Turkish civilians rampaged through the city. While there is a debate as to who set the fires, the Greek sector of Smyrna was burned to the ground, and Greek soldiers and Anatolian Christian civilians massed on the coast in an attempt to escape the burning wreckage of the city. The frantic evacuation from Smyrna, henceforth known as Izmir, and the events that followed effectively ended both the pan-Hellenic Megali Idea and the more than two-millennia presence of Greek peoples in Asia Minor.

The military debacle in Anatolia was followed by treaty negotiations at Lausanne, Switzerland. There the Allies abandoned the zonal divisions of Asia Minor envisioned by the now defunct Treaty of Sevres. The Treaty of Lausanne (July 24, 1923) recognized Turkey’s current borders (indeed, as Bloxham (2005: 166) points out, it is the only post-war settlement to have survived to the present day) and sought to settle the “demographic” issues that resulted from the Turkish victory. The chaotic and murderous grassroots ethnic cleansing of 1921 and 1922 was to be replaced by a state-sponsored exchange of populations. By Naimark’s (2001: 54) estimate, the treaty aimed to relocate about 350,000 “Turks” and between 1.2 and 1.5 million “Greeks,” both groups defined by their religion rather than their linguistic or cultural identity, in an attempt to create ethnically homogeneous nation-states. As Hirschon (2003: 9) points out, this compulsory population exchange marked a watershed in the history of the eastern Mediterranean. It caused great suffering to those dislocated, but it did seem to create the conditions for more stable relations between Greece and Turkey in the interwar period. The war was nothing short of a catastrophe for the Greeks, and their defeat poisoned post-war politics for decades. For the creators of the new Turkish Republic, on the other hand, the war served as the foundational struggle of their War of Independence. The Treaty of Lausanne may have helped secure better relations between Greece and Turkey, but as Mazower (1999: 41-75) argues, it also served as an ominous precedent for subsequent regimes that sought to solve “ethnic problems” through forced population transfers.

References Bloxham, D. (2005) The Great Game of Genocide: Imperialism, Nationalism, and the Destruction of the Ottoman Armenians. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Clogg, R. (2002) A Concise History of Modern Greece, 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hirschon, R. (Ed.) (2003) Crossing the Aegean: An Appraisal of the 1923 Compulsory Population Exchange between Greece and Turkey. New York: Berghan Books. Mazower, M. (1999) Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century. New York: Knopf. Naimark, N. M. (2001) Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Further Reading Clark, B. (2009) Twice a Stranger: The Mass Expulsions that Forged Modern Greece and Turkey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Fortna, B. C., Katsikas, S., Kamouzis, D., and Konortas, P. (Eds.) (2012) State-Nationalisms in the Ottoman Empire, Greece and Turkey: Orthodox and Muslims, 1830-1945. New York: Routledge. Gingeras, R. (2009) Sorrowful Shores: Violence, Ethnicity, and the End of the Ottoman Empire 1912- 1923. New York: Oxford University Press. Mazower, M. (2002) The Balkans: A Short History. New York: Modern Library. Milton, G. (2008) Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a Christian City in the Islamic World. New York: Basic Books. Panayi, P. and Virdee, P. (Eds.) (2011) Refugees and the End of Empire: Imperial Collapse and Forced Migration in the Twentieth Century. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Smith, M. L. (1998) Ionian Vision: Greece in Asia Minor, 1919-1922. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press