Julian Apostate

Julian had survived because he was so young (only six when the previous Emperor Constantine died), and he appeared unambitious and insignificant; he professed Christianity, but he had fallen in love with the culture of Athens and was a pagan at heart. In 355, as Constantius himself was preparing for war against Sapor, Julian was sent to Gaul as caesar to fight the Franks. (Julian’s chief of staff was picked personally by Constantius.) Julian quickly assumed command and won some victories, but the raids continued. The Alamanni-after a succession of successful raids and skirmishes, after driving even Julian behind walls, after seeing Roman cooperation break down in a futile attempt to coordinate a converging movement on the Alamanni-decided on a major campaign in Gaul under their king, Chnodomarius [Chnodomar]. Julian was ready to fight, and the two sides met at the battle of Strasbourg [Argentoratum] (A. D. 357).

The Roman army had to march about twenty miles. It set out at dawn, the foot soldiers in the middle, their flanks guarded by cavalry squadrons including cataphracts and archers (“a formidable kind of armed men”). After eight hours marching, they reached the vicinity of the enemy camp and Julian suggested to the troops that they prepare a fortified camp wherein they could rest, refresh themselves, and prepare to attack the next dawn. The soldiers “gnashed their teeth, clashed their spears on their shields,” and demanded that Julian lead them immediately against the enemy. Julian’s Praetorian prefect also urged him to attack while they had all the Alamanni fixed in one location and reminded him of “the hot tempers of the soldiers which could turn them so easily to riot.” A standard bearer cried out, “Advance, Caesar, luckiest of all men!”

The Romans advanced slowly, and when they came in sight of the Alamanni, they formed up in a close-packed wedge formation, and the Alamanni also formed up in wedges. The Alamanni put all their cavalry opposite the Roman cavalry on the Roman right. As the cataphracts had the advantage over the Alamanni cavalry because they wore mail armor and their hands were free while the Alamanni had to hold reins and shield in one hand and spear in the other, the Alamanni reinforced their cavalry with skirmishers and light infantry. The Alamanni had dug trenches on their right from which to spring ambushes, but the Romans expected trickery and halted on the edge of the trenches and waited to see what would happen.

Julian, protected by a bodyguard of 200 men and identified by a dragon banner, rode back and forth calling upon his men to restore Rome’s majesty; the Alamanni called upon their leaders to dismount and share the fortunes of the common soldier. King Chnodomarius [Chnodomar], a gigantic, muscular man, was the first to dismount, and the other princes followed his example. Then the trumpets blared, the two sides hurled their spears at each other, and the Alamanni charged. “The Alamanni, their long hair streaming, their eyes blazing with madness, made a terrifying sight.”

The two sides, densely packed, pushed each other back and forth, and clouds of dust obscured the field. Then the Roman cavalry commander was wounded and the Roman cavalry withdrew; Julian rushed to the spot to stop the retreat, but the cavalry and Julian were out of the battle long enough for the Alamanni to force their way into the Roman formation. There they were checked momentarily by Julian’s German troops before they broke through to the center of the army, where the Roman master of troops commanded a special unit. The two sides hacked at each other, the Romans sheltered behind their phalanx of shields, the Alamanni gone beserk, trying to break the formation and shouting war cries above the shrieks and moans of the wounded and dying. The Romans stabbed at the unprotected sides of the Alamanni, until they broke the impetus of their charge and forced them to turn and run.

The Romans pursued them to the banks of the Rhine and struck them until their swords were dulled, their spears broken, and then they stood on the banks of the river and threw javelins at them. The Alamanni who had preserved their shields in their flight used them as miniature rafts to take them to the other side. Chnodomarius surrendered and was sent to Rome where he died of old age. The Romans estimated that the Alamanni had numbered about 35,000 and that they themselves had been outnumbered three to one. They acknowledged 247 dead.

Julian’s Germans were so valuable to him that he learned their language. One of the commanders in his subsequent campaign against the Persians was Vadomarius, who had been king of an Alamannic canton. As king, Vadomarius led raids into Roman territory (in 352-353), his own territory had been raided in retaliation, and he had concluded a peace treaty with the Romans. Under the cover of the peace treaty, even as he accepted the local Roman commander’s invitations to banquets, he continued to raid Roman territory. Roman patience ran out, Vadomarius was arrested while he was attending a banquet, and he was sent to Spain. (His son succeeded him as king.) During Julian’s campaign in the east, Vadomarius was the “leader of the Phoenicians,” and under Julian’s successor, Valens, he conducted the siege of Nicaea and successfully commanded troops against the Persian King Sapor II in 371. This German king was at home in the Roman world, at least as that world was represented by the army, and he was a trusted commander, although his loyalty was pledged to the emperor and the army, not to the abstract entity Rome.

In 359, the Persians captured the important Roman frontier post of Amida, and the following year two other Roman outposts fell. Constantius was obliged to return to Antioch and prepare for war. Since 357, and Constantius’ march on the Danube, Julian had effectively been the sole representative of imperial authority in the western provinces, a responsibility to which he adapted himself with remarkable élan. In an impressive series of campaigns, Julian had driven the marauding barbarians from northern Gaul, and shown the strength of Roman arms beyond the Rhine. At the same time, he had reorganized the collection of taxes in Gaul to the benefit of both fisc and subjects alike. Julian was proving himself to be not only a brave general, but an efficient and equitable administrator.

Julian’s success in Gaul appears to have caused Constantius some consternation. Accordingly, in early 360, the emperor sent orders that a considerable portion of Julian’s army be moved eastwards for the purposes of the Persian war. To Julian this must have seemed like a deliberate attempt to undermine his position. Julian’s army was soon to head east in numbers that Constantius may not initially have expected. For, in February 360, Julian’s troops proclaimed him Augustus. Constantius refused to countenance any diminution of his own authority, and in 361 Julian and his army began the long march east to settle the question of the imperial title by force of arms. Constantius in turn withdrew from Antioch, ‘eager as always’, Ammianus records, ‘to meet the challenge of civil war head on’. As he and his army advanced through Cilicia, however, Constantius fell victim to a fever that claimed his life. The late emperor’s advisers agreed to acknowledge Julian as supreme lord of the Roman world, and two officers set off to invite him ‘to come without delay and take possession of the East, which was ready to obey him’. Julian hastened to Constantinople.

Julian’s reign was to last little more than eighteen months. Yet, to contemporaries, as to modern scholars, his period of rule was to be of lasting fascination. On the death of his uncle he chose to reveal publicly what had long been known to a circle of close intimates, namely that, during his studies first in Nicomedia in 351, and subsequently at Ephesus, he had cast aside the God of Constantine, and instead embraced the mysteries of Neoplatonic paganism. Once in Constantinople, Julian declared religious toleration, removed the privileges enjoyed by the Christian Church and clergy, and ordered a revival of worship at the pagan temples of the cities of the empire.

Julian sought to present this declaration as restoring to the Roman world the publicly sanctioned worship of the gods who had granted Rome her past success. Yet it is important to realize the extent to which, even to many non-Christians, Julian’s paganism seemed a strange and possibly alienating amalgam. Julian had been raised a Christian: his paganism had something of the quality of a foreign tongue, one eagerly acquired, but alien to the ear of a native speaker. Julian was a devotee of a highly intellectualized form of paganism that took a metaphorical approach to the myths and legends of Graeco-Roman tradition. Whilst the cults of individual deities were to be nurtured, the ultimate purpose of these cults was to lead one to a clearer appreciation of the single divine principle embodied in what Julian described as ‘the creator … the common father and king of all peoples’.

This intellectualism, infused with a monotheistic tendency that had long been evident within late paganism, might well have appealed to members of the empire’s educated elite. Yet Julian’s high-mindedness went hand-in-hand with a taste for the spectacular, the sacrificial, and the magical, a taste which many members of this self-same elite would have regarded as rather vulgar. Thus Ammianus remarks that Julian was ‘superstitious rather than genuinely observant of the rites of religion, and he sacrificed innumerable victims regardless of expense’. It was not just the accession of Christian emperors that had led provincial pagans to allow the civic temples and their associated cults to fall into desuetude. It was also, to some extent, the result of a lack of interest in overtly public and highly costly displays of pagan religiosity on the part of well-born pagans themselves.

If Julian’s religious inclinations ran counter to much contemporary feeling, so too did certain of his secular aims. In essence, Julian’s policies reveal a determination to roll back the Diocletianic and Constantinian revolution. The court was reduced both in scale and splendour. The emperor was to revert to the role of chief magistrate, rather than overlord, of the Roman world. The central government was gradually to be retrenched, and the administration of the empire was once more to devolve upon the self-governance of the city councils. Such conservative ambitions may have seemed praiseworthy to some. But the chance to escape burdensome civic duties, to advance oneself through the offices of central government, to experience and partake in the extravagance of the court, had opened up opportunities to members of the new imperial aristocracy which they would have been loath to lose.

It is thus perhaps no surprise that, as Julian headed off from Constantinople to Antioch in 362, he found himself distinctly underwhelmed by the enthusiasm his secular and religious policies were eliciting amongst the cities through which he passed. This was to culminate with Julian’s spectacular falling out with the citizenry of Antioch. There, Julian’s lavish sacrifices to mark the feast of Adonis at a time when the city was suffering from a food shortage, combined with the emperor’s own botched attempts to relieve the city’s hunger, annoyed Christian and pagan alike. This left the emperor vulnerable to a public lampooning that made a deep impression on him. Upon his return to the region, Julian declared, he would make Tarsus, not Antioch, his home.

Julian’s journey east in 362, however, suggests that he was aware of the difficulties he faced in realizing his ambitions. For his aim appears to have been to do what Roman emperors had long done to unite the Greek-speaking cities of the East behind them: to launch a campaign against the Hellenic world’s traditional enemy—the empire of Persia. In 363, with an army of 65,000 men, Julian crossed into Persian territory, and, in a series of spectacular victories recorded for us by the first-hand testimony of Ammianus Marcellinus, came within reach of the capital of the shahs at Ctesiphon. Within sight of the city’s defenders, Julian presided over a set of athletic celebrations and games. A brilliant victory seemed within his grasp, one that would demonstrate the superiority of his religion. However, it soon dawned on Julian and his advisers that the city was, to all intents and purposes, impregnable. As the Christian Gregory of Nazianzus declared, ‘from this point on, like sand slipping from beneath his feet, or a great storm bursting upon a ship, things began to go black for him’.

It was at this point that Julian made his fatal error. He decided that, rather than retreating the way he had come, he would burn the ships that his army had used to traverse the Euphrates and its tributaries, and instead strike further into Persian territory. As it did so, Julian’s increasingly demoralized army found itself deprived of supplies and subjected to raids and ambushes. During one such attack, on 26 June, the emperor himself was struck down by a spear that passed through his ribs. Julian was carried to his tent where he died the same evening, professing satisfaction, according to Ammianus, that he had at least suffered a virtuous death in battle rather than ‘through secret conspiracy’. Others were less sure: it was rumoured that the emperor had in fact been struck down by one of his own Christian troops.

Medieval Scotland: Kings and Bishops I

Church and State

The political changes that led to the foundation of medieval Scotland at the end of the first millennium began several centuries earlier. Gaelicisation of the Picts, for example, was not so much a ninth-century event as a process of interaction and assimilation which accelerated under the mac Ailpín kings. In a similar way, the shaping of today’s Anglo-Scottish border was not a one-off occurrence, represented by the formal cession of Lothian in 1018, but rather a later phase in a lengthy sequence of political relationships dating back to the sixth century. One important aspect of these relationships was the evolution of small kingdoms into larger hegemonies and, ultimately, into what we might call ‘proto-states’. By c.1000, both Alba in the North and Wessex-dominated England in the South were large kingdoms displaying some of the key attributes of statehood. Both were already starting to exhibit the kind of organisational sophistication seen in contemporary France and Germany, most notably in the delegation of royal authority to provincial stewards such as earls and mormaers. Neither tenth-century England nor contemporary Alba were true states in the modern bureaucratic sense, but nor were they simple political units of the type classified by anthropologists as ‘chiefdoms’. Both kingdoms had indeed evolved to become ‘complex chiefdoms’ moving confidently towards statehood. In this, their rulers benefited from close ties with the ecclesiastical elite – the abbots and bishops of major churches and monasteries – whose expertise in matters of administration and communication made them indispensable advisers to ambitious kings. We see an example of this increasingly symbiotic relationship between ‘Church and state’, between high priest and monarch, in a chronicle entry for 906. In that year, a great gathering of the elite of Alba took place at Scone, presided over by Constantine mac Áeda with Cellach the bishop of St Andrews at his side. Here, we may note the key role played in its proceedings by a senior cleric, no less than the chief bishop of the kingdom. As we saw in the cases of Columba and Adomnán, and as we shall see again direct intervention by ecclesiastical figures in the policies of kings was by no means a ninth-century innovation.

Priests and Kings

The renowned Adomnán, abbot of Iona and promulgator of the Law of Innocents, died in 704 at the venerable age of seventy-seven. In spite of all his great achievements, the conversion of his monks to the customs of Rome eluded him to the last. His passing was followed a year later by that of his friend and pupil, the scholarly King Aldfrith of Northumbria, whose young son Osred succeeded to the throne. In Osred’s time the most influential religious figure in the northern English realm was Ceolfrith, abbot of the dual monastery at Wearmouth-Jarrow where Bede was then a senior monk. Ceolfrith had close connections with the Gaelic churches: he had conversed with Adomnán during the latter’s visits to Northumbria; he was a friend of Ecgbert, the Bernician cleric who dwelt among the Irish; and his own brother Cynefrith had served as a monk in Ireland. Ceolfrith was known throughout many lands as a man of great piety and as a staunch advocate of conformity with ‘Roman’ ecclesiastical practices. When the Pictish king Nechtan, son of Derile, decided to bring the churches of his realm into line, he sought Ceolfrith’s advice and assistance.

At that time, the Picts still largely relied on Columban clergy for spiritual leadership. Some Pictish clerics undoubtedly favoured conformity with the Roman Easter, but no major changes could be implemented without the assent of Iona. The impetus for religious reform in Pictland was thus initiated by Nechtan himself in his role as secular patron of all churches within his kingdom. Indeed, he emerges from the sources as a literate and well-informed monarch with a keen interest in religious matters. His initiative began with a letter to Ceolfrith in which he expressed a desire for information and guidance. The Northumbrian abbot was happy to help and the two men began to correspond. Bede included a copy of Ceolfrith’s first reply to Nechtan in his Ecclesiastical History. The detailed correspondence on spiritual matters ran alongside a foedus pacis, a peace pact drawn up between Picts and Northumbrians to end the simmering tensions still lingering in the wake of Brude’s victory at Dunnichen. Religious correspondence and secular diplomacy thus formed twin strands of a single peacemaking strategy designed to forge political and religious harmony between the two kingdoms. The ensuing negotiations yielded a positive outcome: the peace treaty which Bede described as still being in force when he completed his magnum opus in 731. As well as rejoicing at the cessation of frontier skirmishes, Bede was heartened by the successful religious negotiations in which he himself had undoubtedly played a part. It is likely, for instance, that he served as Ceolfrith’s chief letter-writer as well as providing detailed scriptural references employed by the abbot to bolster his arguments.

On the secular front, the foedus pacis held firm for many years. Hostilities along the Anglo-Pictish border did not break out again until the middle of the century. Meanwhile, among the churches of his kingdom, King Nechtan began a rigorous programme of reform. He soon met stubborn resistance from traditionalists who either rejected the changes or implemented them too slowly for his liking. There might have been additional resentment at such direct royal interference in ecclesiastical affairs. In 716, having become frustrated by the intransigence of anti-reformist clerics, Nechtan ordered them to leave his domains. Like Colman’s refugees from the synod of Whitby five decades earlier, these ecclesiastical rebels – perhaps a mixed group of Picts and Gaels – took the road back to Iona. Their defiance of the king was destined to be short-lived: in 717, Iona finally adopted the Roman Easter and the Petrine tonsure. This momentous change was ushered in by the Englishman Ecgbert after his appointment as Iona’s bishop in 716.

In 724, Nechtan relinquished his crown to enter monastic life. This happened at a time when dynastic strife was simmering among the Pictish royal kindreds and may have been his response to the growing uncertainty. It is equally possible that the decision was not his own but was forced upon him by rivals. The same could perhaps be said of Selbach, king of Cenél Loairn and claimant on the sovereignty of Dál Riata, who had likewise entered a monastery in 723. Since both kings returned to the secular stage as warlords within a few years, their respective sojourns in holy orders were perhaps either half-hearted or involuntary. In 733, Selbach’s son Dungal raided a number of northern Irish monasteries, violating the sanctity of the church on Tory Island by dragging the Pictish prince Brude out of it. At first glance, this looks like a blatant flouting of Adomnán’s Law of Innocents, which sought to protect monks and other non-combatants from the perils of war. However, the Law would only have applied to Dungal and his Cenél Loairn kinsmen if they had lain under the spiritual authority of Iona. Their plundering of Irish monasteries suggests that they did not feel bound by the Law and implies rather that their principal church and centre of worship lay outside the Columban familia. This church was almost certainly Lismore, the island monastery in the Firth of Lorn opposite the royal stronghold of Dunollie. Its abbot appears not to have been a guarantor of the Lex Innocentium in 697.

In the early eighth century, Lismore was not the only non-Columban centre still thriving in the western seaways. Applecross, Eigg and Kingarth all retained their independence of Iona and had sent no delegates to the Synod of Birr. Missionaries from Ireland were, in fact, still arriving on the shores of northern Britain. Some came to preach in peripheral districts where pockets of paganism were most likely to remain. Others sought places of sanctuary away from the cares of the secular world. In the early 700s, three members of a high-ranking Irish family are said to have sailed to Britain in the hope of finding solitude and spiritual fulfilment. These were Kentigerna, the daughter of a king, with her brother Congan and her son Faelan. After establishing a place of peace and contemplation in Strathfillan, in southern Perthshire, the trio went their separate ways. Kentigerna eventually settled on Inchcailloch (‘Isle of the Old Woman’), in Loch Lomond, where she died in 734. The similarity of her name to that of Saint Kentigern has not passed unnoticed, with some historians wondering if the two individuals might be one and the same.

Kentigerna’s death preceded by one year the passing of the Venerable Bede, who died in the monastery at Jarrow where he had spent almost his entire life. The renowned chronicler of Northumbrian Christianity departed at the age of sixty-two, having borne witness to some of the most important events in the spiritual history of his nation. As a contemporary of leading churchmen such as Ceolfrith, Ecgbert and the great Adomnán himself, Bede had seen some of these events at first hand. He was almost certainly present at Jarrow when Adomnán visited Northumbria, and he probably assisted Ceolfrith during the reform of the Pictish churches. Although he played no active role in the reform of Iona, the fact that this had taken place under the guidance of an English bishop gave him great satisfaction. His network of personal contacts was impressive. It included figures whose childhood memories reached back to the beginnings of Christianity in Bernicia and Deira, to the time of Aidan and Paulinus. At the time of his death, southern Scotland still had an English bishopric at Whithorn in Galloway. This would eventually fall out of Northumbrian control but, in the early eighth century, it testified to the English kingdom’s continuing political and ecclesiastical dominance between Clyde and Solway.

Before the Storm

By the middle of the eighth century, most of the native churches of Ireland and northern Britain had embraced reform, thereby rejoining the mainstream of European Christianity. In 768, the clergy of Gwynedd likewise adopted the Roman Easter. It is possible that those of South Wales had already made the change, perhaps copying the example of their Cornish countrymen who seemingly reformed before 700. The churches of the Strathclyde Britons may have followed those of North Wales in the 760s, unless their own acceptance of reform also came earlier. In Pictland, the impact of King Nechtan’s ecclesiastical policies remained graven on the landscape long after his death in 732. Many archaeologists and art historians attribute to his reign the first appearance of upright stone slabs inscribed with ornate crosses on the front face and Pictish motifs on the reverse. The oldest examples were produced in the early eighth century and are therefore contemporary with Nechtan’s reformist agenda. Their appearance coincided with the building of stone churches founded by Pictish royal patronage and dedicated to Saint Peter of Rome. Nechtan himself endowed the first of these churches and, according to Bede, invited Northumbrian masons to build it. Its precise location is unknown, but both Meigle and Aberlemno are plausible candidates: patronage by high-status individuals and a rich sculptural tradition are evident at both sites. A third candidate is Restenneth, now the site of a medieval priory close to the battlefield of Dunnichen. A lost place-name Egglespether (‘St Peter’s Church’) was recorded in later landholding documents relating to the area, but a similar name was also known in the vicinity of Aberlemno. The most northerly site proposed for Nechtan’s earliest stone-built church is Rosemarkie in Easter Ross.

Another Pictish foundation attributed to the eighth-century was Cenrigmonaid, now St Andrews, a site perhaps owing its origin to Nechtan’s successor Óengus, son of Fergus. Here was built the great royal church of St Andrew, dedicated to the Apostle whose bones were supposedly interred there. One version of the St Andrews foundation-legend tells of a monk named Regulus or Rule who, after experiencing a prophetic vision, brought the apostolic relics from Constantinople to Britain. At a place called Kylrimont, more correctly Cenrigmonaid (‘Head of the Royal Hill’), he allegedly met a certain ‘King Hungus’ who granted a portion of land for a church in which the sacred remains could be enshrined. Although the tale is largely fictional, the identification of Hungus as Óengus, son of Fergus, is consistent with other evidence. The Irish annals, for instance, include an entry noting the death of Tuathalan, abbot of Cenrigmonaid, in 747. This is the earliest reference to an ecclesiastical settlement at St Andrews and suggests that Tuathalan was the first abbot of a recently founded monastery. Óengus was the paramount Pictish king in the 740s and perhaps appointed Tuathalan to the abbacy. The corresponding archaeological data likewise seems consistent with this chronology, the oldest sculpture at St Andrews being attibuted to the second half of the eighth century. Foremost among a rich collection of Christian sculpture is a sandstone box-shrine or sarcophagus designed to contain the bones of an important individual. This superb example of Pictish craftsmanship, carved between 750 and 800, was set up in the church as a focus of veneration. The identity of the person whose corporeal remains were interred within it is unknown. Did it once hold the bones of the Apostle Andrew, or those of the mighty Óengus himself? Whatever the true purpose of the sarcophagus, the richness of its carving suggests royal patronage and a close connection between king and clergy. If the chief architect of ‘church and state’ relationships in Pictish territory was Nechtan, son of Derile, then the main beneficiary was a confident, independent religious elite in the time of his successors. The new foundation at St Andrews was home to Pictish monks who were no longer answerable to Iona.

An alternative interpretation of the St Andrews foundation-legend sees the royal patron ‘Hungus’ or Óengus not as Nechtan’s successor but as a namesake who died in 834. This was the Óengus who succeeded his brother Constantine as a Pictish overking in 820. Both siblings may have been involved in the founding or redeveloping of major churches in territory south of the Mounth. Given the presence of an abbot at Cenrigmonaid in the 740s, it seems unlikely that the later Óengus was responsible for its foundation, but he perhaps endowed it with gifts. Constantine, on the other hand, almost certainly founded the Pictish royal church at Dunkeld. This important religious settlement was established beside the River Tay, below the ancient Fort of the Caledonians, on a site now occupied by the medieval cathedral. Here, the modern visitor can observe two sculptured stones, both of which were probably carved in the ninth century. Within a few decades of its foundation, Dunkeld was earmarked as the premier church of the mac Ailpín kings.

South of Pictish territory and across the Firth of Forth lay Lothian, an area still under English rule in the eighth century. Here, the Northumbrian bishops of Lindisfarne held spiritual authority over a population descended largely from Britons but now thoroughly Anglicised. Among the satellite churches of the Lindisfarne diocese was a monastery at Tyninghame on the coast of East Lothian, eight miles north of the Bernician fortress at Dunbar. Tyninghame was founded by Saint Balthere or Baldred, an obscure figure whose Germanic name is suggestive of English origin. During his abbacy he frequently sought solitude on the Bass Rock, a precipitous feature rising out of the sea near the modern resort of North Berwick. He died in 756 and was buried at Tyninghame where, in later times, his tomb became the focus of a major cult. In the eleventh century, around the time of the cession of Lothian to the Scots, his body was disinterred by the Northumbrian priest Alfred, son of Westou, as part of an initiative to gather the remains of long-dead saints for reburial at Durham. This presumably happened around the time of the battle of Carham when the Anglo-Scottish border was finally fixed along the Tweed. At some point thereafter, Scottish ecclesiastical tradition tried to recast Balthere as a pupil of Saint Kentigern of Glasgow, hence the appearance of two ‘Baldreds’ in the documentary record. One of these has a a sixth-century context, the other belongs to the eighth. They are essentially one and the same, although the earlier is plainly an invention.

Medieval Scotland: Kings and Bishops II

The Storm Breaks

The final decade of the eighth century brought the first Viking raids on the British Isles. As worshippers of pagan gods, the Scandinavian warriors gave no immunity to Christian religious settlements and regarded them as soft targets. Isolated monasteries in the Hebrides were particularly vulnerable to seaborne marauders and offered rich pickings. They often possessed items of great value, such as finely decorated chalices and reliquaries, many adorned with gold and silver. Weaponless monks and nuns, armed only with prayer, gave little or no resistance and were easily slaughtered or enslaved. The earliest record of a Gaelic religious settlement being attacked by Vikings appears in the Irish annals under the year 795, when the island of Rathlin between Ulster and Kintyre was pillaged. Seven years later, Iona endured a devastating assault, the first of many, but the surviving monks resumed their vocation and the primary centre of Gaelic Christendom endured. Nevertheless, the era of Iona’s power and influence was drawing to an end. The tiny isle’s exposed location made it an unsuitable home for monks in an age when heathen pirates controlled the surrounding seaways.

Viking attacks intensified as the ninth century dawned. In the raid on Iona in 802 the monastery was burned and it is hard to imagine the great library and scriptorium remaining unscathed. Many precious and irreplaceable books undoubtedly perished, together with other unique objects deemed worthless by the heathen plunderers. The human cost, in terms of murder and enslavement, must have been considerable. At that time, the abbot of the monastery was Cellach, a far-sighted man who perceived that his community now lay in deadly peril. In 804, faced with the inevitability of further raids, he obtained land in Ireland for the building of a new monastery. The chosen site lay forty miles north of Dublin at Ceannanus Mór, a place better known today as Kells, where a church allegedly founded by Columba had existed since the sixth century. Construction of what was to become the new Columban headquarters began, but it was a major project and the work required considerable time to complete. In 806, Iona again endured a brutal assault in which sixty-eight monks were mercilessly slaughtered. By the following year, the work at Kells was completed and some of the brethren came down from the Hebrides to take up residence. Their old home was not, however, abandoned: contemporary notices in the Irish annals suggest that it continued as a residence for part of the community. Modern historians are divided on the question of how many monks remained, but the annalists imply that the leaders of the community, perhaps even Abbot Cellach himself, did not immediately transfer to Kells. After Cellach’s death in 814, his successor Diarmait seems also to have stayed behind, despite the persistent threat of Viking aggression. One violent raid on Iona in 825 claimed the life of Blathmac, an Irish monk and former soldier, whose murder was described in a contemporary poem. This was written within a decade or two of Blathmac’s death and portrays him as a courageous seeker of the bloody ‘red martyrdom’ bestowed by heathen swords. The story of his last hours tells of his foresight of an impending raid and of his resolve to complete his spiritual duties. Having sent many of his companions to safety, he prepared to celebrate mass in the church, even as the fearsome longships approached. When the Scandinavian warriors eventually arrived, demanding to know the whereabouts of the richly adorned tomb and shrine of Columba, they were confronted by a defiant Blathmac. Enraged by his refusal to divulge the tomb’s secret location, they slew him savagely, thereby granting his desire to perish as a ‘red’ martyr. This brutal episode highlights Iona’s unsuitability as a home for the founder’s relics, even when the tomb-shrine or reliquary was hidden in the ground. Columba’s mortal remains were of little interest to a Viking warband, but their preservation was at risk while their repository lay on an isolated Hebridean isle. After further raids in the 840s, a decision was made to remove the precious bones to safety. Centuries of royal burial meant that Iona was also the ancient spiritual home of Cenél nGabráin. Indeed, it may have been regarded by Cináed mac Ailpín himself as the ancestral church of his dynasty, even after he established his main power-base east of Druim Alban. Later tradition shows Cináed playing a key role in the decision to move Columba’s tomb. He is said to have requested that the bones and other relics be divided between the community’s new headquarters in Ireland and his own domains in Perthshire. In 849, when Abbot Indrechtach brought some of the relics to Kells, the rest went eastward to be housed in the mac Ailpín royal church at Dunkeld. A religious house had already been established there by Constantine, son of Fergus, earlier in the ninth century. One tradition attributed its foundation to Cináed, but this is not generally regarded as reliable. It is more likely that Cináed selected Dunkeld for special patronage by his family because it already had a connection with Pictish royalty. He evidently refurbished, expanded or otherwise redeveloped the existing church. In 865, the abbot of Dunkeld was also prim-escop Fortrenn (‘chief bishop of Fortriu’), a title referring to lands north of the Mounth towards the Moray Firth. This looks like a claim by the eccleiastical elite of the mac Ailpín kingdom on a Pictish region that may not have been answerable to their secular patrons at that time. By the end of the century, when the southern Pictish overkingship was held by Cináed’s grandsons, the dynasty’s major seat of spiritual authority had already been transferred to St Andrews.

Blathmac’s violent death epitomises the vulnerability of holy men and women in the Viking period, but not every ‘red martyrdom’ came on the point of a Scandinavian sword. Another member of the Columban brethren, no less a figure than Abbot Indrechtach, was slain while on a pilgrimage to Rome in 854. His assailants were not pagan Vikings but Englishmen, a band of robbers whose religious affiliation was presumably Christian. They slew him during his overland passage through the southern regions of Britain. It seems highly unlikely that they were unaware of his identity or profession. Nevertheless, we are left in no doubt that the principal danger to ecclesiastical personnel and property came from Viking pirates rather than from English brigands. This must have been especially true in the period before the Scandinavian colonies began to embrace Christianity. Iona thus remained vulnerable throughout the entire ninth century, although its value as a source of booty may have waned if precious artefacts were moved to Kells or Dunkeld. Later tradition claimed that the island’s ancient burial ground continued to serve as a resting-place for abbots and kings. Both Cináed and his brother Domnall were supposedly interred there, as too were their sons and grandsons. How far these traditions reflect ninth-century fact rather than twelfth-century fiction is unclear, but they are increasingly doubted by historians. Giric, the presumed mentor of Eochaid, son of Rhun, was one of the rulers allegedly buried on Iona after his death in 889. In spite of the mystery surrounding his origins, he emerges as a figure of some importance in contemporary religious developments, at least according to one tradition which asserts that ‘he was the first to give liberty to the Scottish Church, which was in servitude up to that time, after the custom and fashion of the Picts’. This curious statement seems to imply that Giric freed the clergy from a burden formerly imposed upon them by Pictish secular authority. It could be a veiled reference to a repeal of the reforms introduced by Nechtan, son of Derile, by royal decree in the early eighth century. Perhaps, as some historians suggest, Nechtan introduced a tax obligation which diverted substantial church revenues to his treasury? If this was indeed the ‘servitude’ ended by Giric, its removal may have brought the Pictish churches into line with those on the western side of Druim Alban, in the Argyll homelands of the Scots.

The Church in Alba

By the end of the ninth century, some Scandinavian communities around the isles and shorelands of northern Britain were starting to adopt Christianity. Intermarriage with Scots and Picts, or with Britons and Anglo-Saxons, paved the way for a rejection of pagan gods by sons and daughters of mixed parentage. Even the fearsome armies of Viking Dublin now included Norse-Irish warriors of hybrid ancestry and Christian belief. There was, however, no mass conversion of warriors and colonists, nor did the warlords of Orkney and the Hebridean isles invite missionaries from Kells or Dunkeld or St Andrews to preach the Word among their people. The decline of paganism among the Scandinavian settlers was therefore a random process driven by individual choice and kinship. It was neither imposed nor actively encouraged by their political leaders, but nor does it seem to have been forcefully discouraged.

The principal churches of the mac Ailpín dynasty lay at Dunkeld and St Andrews. Both places enjoyed the patronage of kings and each served as the primary ceremonial centre for a saintly cult. At Dunkeld, a shrine containing Columba’s bones was venerated with honour by Cináed and his successors, while at St Andrews the alleged relics of the eponymous Apostle sanctified a major royal monastery. Other places rose to prominence in regional contexts, but Dunkeld and St Andrews retained their special importance as the main royal churches for the early kings of Alba. In the tenth century, St Andrews became a centre of the Culdees or Céli Dé (‘clients of God’), a movement of religious reformers which had its roots in Ireland. The Céli Dé sought a return to traditional monastic values of ascetism and discipline. They held strong views on the roles of monks, abbots and bishops within the ecclesiastical and secular communities. Their ideas began to appear in southern Irish monasteries in the eighth century and from there permeated the Columban familia, reaching Iona before 800 and Dunkeld by c.850. It is even possible that Dunkeld was founded on Céli Dé principles.

The tenth century saw the development of an additional role for Columba as a spiritual standard-bearer in time of war. This role was not without precedent: three hundred years earlier, the Northumbrian king Oswald had received the saint’s blessing in a dream on the eve of his decisive battle against Cadwallon. In the last century of the first millennium, Columba’s role in warfare evolved into something more tangible. Not only did the soldiers of Alba invoke his name in prayers for victory, they also carried his staff or crozier when they marched into battle. This holy totem was borne in the front rank and became known as Cathbuaid (‘Battle Triumph’). In peacetime it was probably kept at Dunkeld with other relics, but, unfortunately, it has not survived. Other items associated with Columba seem to have conferred less protection from hostile foes. In 920, a Scandinavian force attacked and devastated Kells, the Irish headquarters of the familia, where some of the founder’s remains were enshrined. During the onslaught, many monks were wantonly slain as they prayed in the church. Dunkeld, too, suffered similar outrages during the same century, as in 903 when it was caught up in a Norse raid.

Attacks on the churches and monasteries of northern Britain continued to the end of the millennium, despite the adoption of Christianity by some Scandinavian colonies. In the Hebrides there were many folk of mixed blood – descendants of early Norse colonists who had intermarried with local natives – who turned their backs on paganism. Others stayed fiercely loyal to the old beliefs and continued to maintain a callous disregard for Christian sites. At Tyninghame in 941, the church founded by Saint Balthere was plundered and burned by Olaf Gothfrithsson of Dublin. More puzzling, and perhaps more shocking to contemporaries, were acts of violence directed at holy places by Christian allies of the heathens. An example of this type of sacrilege was the plundering of Kells in 969 by a Viking force accompanied by Irishmen from Leinster who, we may presume, were men of Christian birth. Equally disturbing, at least to modern eyes, is a reference to a battle in 965 where Abbot Donnchad of Dunkeld was listed among the casualties. The event in question occurred at the unidentified ‘Ridge of Crup’ where the rival mac Ailpín princes Dub and Cuilén contested the kingship of Alba. Whether or not Abbot Donnchad took part in the fighting is unknown, but the fact that he perished on the battlefield suggests that he was no passive bystander. Indeed, we may note that military service by clergymen was not unheard of in this period, in spite of Adomnán’s prohibitive Law.

Aside from the risk of robbery and destruction, the churches of Alba continued to fulfil their spiritual role. The reforms traditionally ascribed to King Giric in the late ninth century were presumably still in place at the dawn of the tenth. Further changes were implemented by Constantine mac Áeda, grandson of Cináed mac Ailpín, in the early years of his reign. In 906, at Scone in Perthshire, Constantine summoned the great assembly. Here, the secular and religious elites of Alba gathered to witness a royal pronouncement on ecclesiastical matters. At Constantine’s side stood Cellach, bishop of St Andrews, taking the role of high priest of the kingdom. Together, these two decreed that ‘the laws and disciplines of the faith and the rights in churches and gospels should be kept in conformity with the Scots’. The venue for the ceremony was Moot Hill, a man-made mound whose focus was the revered Stone of Destiny. It seems likely that the event marked a change in the relationship between the mac Ailpín dynasty and the senior clergy of Alba. Perhaps Constantine used the occasion to grant greater autonomy to the bishops? Something significant certainly occurred, even if the precise context cannot now be recovered.

During Constantine’s reign a young nobleman called Catroe embarked on a remarkable religious career that began in Perthshire and ended in France. Catroe was born around 900, at the start of Constantine’s kingship, among a wealthy Gaelic-speaking family. His mother might have been a Briton connected to the royal house of Strathclyde. Whatever her origin, she and Catroe’s father were devoted to the memory of Columba and probably worshipped at the saint’s shrine in Dunkeld. They gave their son into the keeping of Saint Bean, an obscure figure holding ecclesiastical rank either at Dunkeld or at another Perthshire monastery. Under Bean’s guidance Catroe trained as a monk and, after studying in Ireland, returned to Alba to instruct his mentor’s other pupils. At around forty years of age, c.941, Catroe grew restless and felt a strong urge to embark on a pilgrimage. His journey took him first to a church dedicated to Saint Brigit, perhaps at the old Pictish monastery at Abernethy, where he met King Constantine. From there he travelled south under royal protection to Strathclyde, where he stayed as a guest of King Dyfnwal, described as his kinsman. The Clyde Britons escorted Catroe on the next stage of his pilgrimage, bringing him to their border with Anglo-Scandinavian Northumbria at a place called Loida which may have been on the River Lowther near Penrith. From there he journeyed east to York before turning south and eventually reaching the royal palace of Wessex at Winchester. The West Saxon king Edmund instructed no less a personage than the archbishop of Canterbury to arrange Catroe’s safe passage across the English Channel. On the European mainland, various high-ranking members of the Frankish secular and religious elites offered patronage to the Scottish pilgrim, whose piety and austerity won him many admirers. He was eventually chosen as abbot of the great cathedral at Metz, close to the centres of eastern Frankish imperial power. It was while travelling back there from a visit to the court of the Empress Adelaide in 971 that he died. In later times, his tomb at Metz became a place of veneration and he was accorded the honour of sainthood.

Catroe was in the early stages of his Continental career when Constantine mac Áeda exchanged the rich trappings of royalty for the robes of a cleric. Racked by age and infirmity, and after a forty-year reign, the king of Alba abdicated to spend his remaining days as abbot of St Andrews. The religious community there included many Céli Dé and it was these reformist brethren whom the old warrior-king now found himself leading. He was not the only tenth-century ruler to relinquish earthly authority in the twilight of life. In 965, the Irish prince Áed, a son of King Maelmithid of Brega, journeyed as a pilgrim to St Andrews and died there. Ten years later, a rather longer voyage of penitence was made by Dyfnwal, the king of Strathclyde who had given hospitality to Catroe. Like his kinsman and erstwhile guest, Dyfnwal embarked on a pilgrimage, but he died en route to Rome. He had already transferred the Clyde kingship to his son Malcolm, with whom he had hauled the oars of King Edgar’s boat on the River Dee in 973.

Dyfnwal’s fellow-pilgrims among the powerful men of the time generally chose destinations closer to home, such as St Andrews or Iona. In the late tenth century, the old Hebridean home of the Columban monks still held an allure for penitents opting out from the world of secular politics. One of its more unusual pilgrims was Olaf Cuaran, the archetypal Viking warlord. He arrived on Iona as an old man after relinquishing the throne of Dublin in 980. In the place where his heathen countrymen had inflicted so much distress he lived out his final years as a pious Christian convert, perhaps even being interred in the ancient burial ground. By then, of course, the role of the old monastery was dwindling. It was still occupied by monks and still ruled by an abbot, but the headship of the Columban familia had already passed to men based at Irish churches such as Kells and Armagh. In 986, an unidentified abbot of Iona was slain by Vikings while celebrating Christmas on the island with his brethren. He was not, however, the head of the wider familia, for the symbolic title comarba Coluim Cille (‘successor of Columba’) was at that time held by a contemporary whose own violent death at heathen hands occurred in Dublin.

Acts of destruction at holy sites remained a hallmark of Viking raids until Norway, Denmark and the overseas Scandinavian colonies adopted the Christian faith. The slow process of conversion began in the ninth century and continued to the end of the tenth, not attaining its final goal until Iceland adopted Christianity around the year 1000. Among the settlements in northern Britain, those on Orkney were converted after the baptism of Earl Sigurd in 995 on the orders of the Norwegian king Olaf Tryggvasson. Olaf subsequently encouraged the people of Shetland and the Faeroe Islands to abandon paganism, thereby bringing the outer Scandinavian colonies into the Christian fold. By then, most of the Viking lordships in the western seaways were already moving along the same path, under the guidance of Irish and Scottish missionaries. The age of the heathen marauder was almost over.

The Abwehr and the RSHA against the NKVD, NKGB and ‘SMERSH’

‘SMERSH’ and counterintelligence personnel. Two of which are practicing choke holds.

The Russians, who had been waging total war since November 1941, immediately reacted to the increased activities of the Abwehr and the RSHA against the USSR. But this response was only to increase the number of agencies combatting German spies and saboteurs. On 14 April 1943, in addition to NKVD – the main Soviet security service – the People’s Commissariat of State Security (NKGB) was formed. The responsibilities of the new department included: intelligence against other countries, the fight against enemy intelligence, and the protection of the Communist authorities. Commissioner of State Security 1st Rank Vsevolod Merkulov was appointed its chief. He was a former officer of the Russian Imperial Army, who after the revolution joined the Bolsheviks. Merkulov worked for many years in the Soviet secret police and was a close associate of Lavrenti Beria – People’s Commissar (Minister) of Internal Affairs and Stalin’s chief executioner between 1938 and 1953.

However, Soviet paranoia did not end there. Stalin, who was terrified of German spies and doubted the quality of the work of his security services, continued to produce new, but equally ineffective, agencies. On 19 April 1943 the secret decree of the Soviet government on ‘The Basis of the Management of Special Departments of the NKVD’ established another special body of the Main Directorate of Counterintelligence to deal with agents and spies, ‘SMERSH’ (from smert schpionam – ‘death to spies’) of the people’s Commissariat of Defence of the USSR. Its chief was Commissioner of State Security 2nd Rank Viktor Abakumov. He began his career as a packer and worked for a long time in the Soviet trade system. However, soon his life changed dramatically and from knocking nails into wooden boxes, he moved on to knocking confessions out of all sorts of ‘spies’ and ‘traitors’. Joining the Communist Party, in 1932 Abakumov joined the OGPU (Main Political Administration) from where he went to work in the NKVD. But at first, his career in the secret police had gone badly. In 1934, Abakumov was discovered to have used the secret apartments of the NKVD to meet with his numerous mistresses. After that Abakumov was ‘exiled’ to work in the Main Directorate of Concentration Camps (GULAG). During the Great Terror of 1937–8 many vacancies were formed in the central office of the NKVD (most of Stalin’s executioners, responsible for the repression of millions of Soviet citizens, were also accused of treason and executed), after which Viktor Abakumov’s carreer abruptly took an upturn. The new chief of the NKVD, Lavrenti Beria, found in him a faithful companion and colleague. Beria also successfully combined the sadistic work of Stalin’s chief executioner with debauchery, using his post to flirt with numerous mistresses, preferring underage girls.

All these agencies (the NKVD, NKGB and SMERSH) did not have clearly defined areas of responsibility and, like the Abwehr and the RSHA, actively competed with each other. A consequence of strengthening the security services was even greater surveillance over the population. The Russian ‘leader’ Stalin, like all dictators, was very afraid of his own people, but he was also afraid of his own executioners. Therefore, he fully encouraged rivalry and enmity between them, thus ensuring his dominance and awareness of the tricks of the main executioners.

The Soviet security services sought to detain German agents ‘in hot pursuit’, that is, on the first day after landing. Every day of freedom increased chances of the saboteurs vanishing among the population, moving around the huge country. Rapid captures could be achieved only with the help of a properly-developed system of monitoring the terrain and airspace, and the rapid transmission of information. If the delivery of the next group remained unnoticed and its members could not be caught in the days that followed, some of the agents would manage to escape.

Next, we will give the most interesting examples of delivery of spies into the Soviet rear in 1943. Of course, the authors have information only about the German agents who were caught.

In January, in the Saratov region a group of soldiers who had undergone special training at the Breitenfurt intelligence school was neutralized. The members of the group, disguised as Soviet air force personnel, were to conduct reconnaissance of the aviation industry and energy facilities. Two radio sets, small arms, grenades, several sets of false documents and a large amount of money were captured with them. In the same region three months later, another specialized sabotage group was detained. Its participants had graduated from the Warsaw intelligence school and were assigned to collect information about the movement of military equipment by rail, paying special attention to the products of the Saratov aviation plant (where Yak-1 fighters were produced) and sabotage. From these two cases, the Russian security services concluded that German intelligence was showing great interest in aviation plant No. 292 in Saratov.

On 8 January a group of six Abwehr agents were delivered to the town of Novouzensk, 90km north-east of the Pallasovka railway station. They had a mission to monitor rail movements and to carry out sabotage. The next day one of the agents gave himself up to the local authorities and told them about his ‘colleagues’. The local istrebitelnij battalion conducted a mass round-up, during which all agents were arrested. Weapons, equipment and radio sets were seized.

It should also be noted that the German saboteurs had the indirect assistance of local thugs. In the midst of decisive battles on the Eastern Front, the social and criminal situation in the Volga region was difficult. The main focus of crime was the Stalingrad region. The ruined city and its environs were infested with criminals of all kinds, who armed themselves with weapons scavenged from the battlefields. In the first half of 1943 alone, in the Stalingrad region 18 gangs with a total of 916 members were eliminated, and more than 2,000 bandits and deserters were arrested, who had been responsible for terrorist acts, attacks on NKVD workers, soldiers and commanders of NKVD troops, and the looting of collective farms and state enterprises.

Another unexpected destabilizing factor was the German soldiers and their voluntary helpers (Ost Hilfswillige) trapped far behind Soviet lines without any help from the Abwehr or the SD. Although most of the soldiers of the German Sixth Army surrendered during the first days of February, some of them continued to hide out in Stalingrad and its suburbs in the following months. Despite regular raids, many of them managed to ‘live’ in the city for a long time, helped by the impassable rubble, piles of ruins and many surviving dugouts and shelters. In July 1943, six months after the surrender of Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, a major operation carried out by the NKVD in the Stalingrad region resulted in the capture of a large number of German soldiers and officers and the usual criminals, from whom were confiscated almost 500 rifles, 25 machine guns, 14 assault rifles, 9 anti-tank guns and many other weapons. Some Wehrmacht soldiers and especially the Russian volunteers managed to avoid captivity by hiding in neighbouring regions. For example, in July, NKVD officers by chance arrested I.F. Shapkin, who previously served in the Wehrmacht (Sixth Army). He had lived for four months pretending to be deaf and dumb in the village of Ivanovka in the Saratov region.

In a letter of 17 June 1943 the Stalingrad regional office of the Communist Party announced to all the party organizations of the region that ‘the Enemy intensified its delivering to the Stalingrad region of parachutists, intelligence officers, radio operators, saboteurs and other agents for intelligence and subversive activities in our rear.’ In September, in the Ilovaysky district of the Stalingrad region, members of an enemy intelligence group voluntarily surrendered to the local authorities. The former saboteurs announced that another group that had been delivered together with them through the front line into the Balandinskaya district of the Saratov region also wanted to surrender.

Groups of agents were also delivered to neighbouring regions. The delivery of agents of different profiles to the neighbouring regions was actively carried out. In June, the istrebitelnij battalion of the Krasnoyarsk district in the Astrakhan region arrested five German agents who had been assigned to conduct reconnaissance of the movement of military units and equipment. During the arrest they seized machine guns, a radio set, maps and a large sum of Soviet money. In the same month in the Astrakhan region a group of five agents voluntarily handed over their weapons and reported another six-strong group near Lake Baskunchak. In October, in the vicinity of Astrakhan an intelligence group of five people was delivered, headed by a German military intelligence officer. They were to contact the bandits operating in the area. In addition, they were to collect intelligence on the deployment and movement of military units.

In June two agents landed near Penza oblast. In the morning, the drop of saboteurs from the plane was noticed by local residents and reported to the NKVD. Istrebitelnij battalions and militia officers were sent to the landing site. That morning a man in the uniform of a major of State Security entered the Kameshkirskijj District Office of the NKVD. He introduced himself to the duty officer as an employee of the ‘Regional Department’ and demanded a horse to search for parachutists. The attendant knew that the search was indeed underway. The arrival of such a senior figure of the ‘Regional Office’ in this backwater seemed suspicious to him. Came on foot all the way from Penza?! And only here, apparently tired after many kilometres of hiking, decided to continue the journey on horseback? This conversation also seemed suspicious to the duty officer. So he asked the major to wait, and then ran to fetch the militia.

In this episode, the police officer was taking a risk. If the stranger was indeed a major in State Security, it could have dangerous consequences. In the Soviet Union, ordinary citizens and rank-and-file militiamen were terrified of security personnel. The German intelligence services exploited this, putting agents in the frightening form of NKVD officers. On his arrest this ‘major’ was indignant and threatened trouble, but then admitted that he was a spy. On the third day after the delivery of the saboteurs, the local istrebitelnij battalion arrested a second agent, dressed in the uniform of a captain in the Red Army. As usual in such cases, the agent had a radio set with him, a large amount of Soviet money and false documents in the name of Rupasov.

Late on the night of 7 September, the VNOS post in the village of Bolschaya Dmitrovka in the Shiroko-Kurmyshsky district reported to the divisional area air defence headquarters in Saratov that a suspicious aircraft had been spotted. The headquarters of the istrebitelnij battalions immediately sent all his troops to search for the possible landing sites of parachutists in a 100km radius of the specified locality. Many hours of searching through forests and meadows soon yielded results, and several German agents were arrested. They were former soldiers of the Red Army, recruited after being captured. All of them were dressed in the uniform of Soviet pilots. When they were searched, several radio sets, large amounts of genuine money, and a wide range of fake stamps, seals, fake party and military documents, orders, medals and weapons were found.

Under interrogation, the spies confessed that they were to sabotage aircraft at airfields, and to identify the locations of reserve aviation regiments around Balanda, Rtischevo and Atkarsk. As it turned out, from March to September 1943 they had been trained at German intelligence schools near Warsaw and Königsberg. On 3 September they were taken to Zaporozhye, where on 7 September, the group took off in an He-111 in the direction of Saratov and at 23.00 were dropped near the village of Dmitrovka. According to the testimony of the agents, it was found that the same aircraft delivered two more agents near the village of Krasny Yar in the Stalingrad region, who were arrested on 9 September by the NKVD.

In November the Saratov NKVD district office received a report from the village of Talovsky in the Novouzenskiy district that a German agent had turned himself in at the collective farm office, saying that five other spies had been dropped from a plane in the area. Immediately the alarm was raised with the istrebitelnij battalion, which began to search the area, with the result that on the same day two German saboteurs were detained in the village of Kurilovka, and cargo parachutes were found in the fields. The next day two parachutists were arrested to the north-east of the town of Novouzensk, and another in the village of Novo-Repinskoy.

In the central regions of the Soviet Union, the struggle between Stalin’s security services and German spies was also in full swing. For example, on 14 May a German agent was arrested in the city of Yaroslavl. A former commander of a platoon in the Red Army, he had graduated from the Warsaw intelligence school. After his arrest he worked under the control of counterintelligence and regularly reported to the Germans about his alleged ‘work’. The next day another graduate of the Warsaw school was arrested in the neighbouring town of Rybinsk, and also worked for the NKVD. In October, in the Poshekhonsky district of Yaroslavl oblast two German agents, Kuthysov and Nikitin, were dropped, who were soon detained by the NKGB.

On 13 July, the German spy Alexander Kryzhanovsky was arrested in the Bogorodsky district, located south-west of Gorky. He was a typical double agent. Back in 1941, he was recruited by the Germans and sent to the city of Krasnodar (Kuban), where he surrendered to the NKVD. Russian counterintelligence turned Kryzhanovsky and sent him on a mission back to the Germans. But there he modestly kept silent about his ‘failure’, and reported on his mission. Throughout 1942, the agent remained in the German rear, then enrolled in the Warsaw intelligence school and graduated with honours. On 12 July Kryzhanovsky, with false documents in the name of Tkachenko, was delivered from Smolensk to the Gorky region. But the region at that time was not a ‘safe haven’. The Luftwaffe’s massive air attacks on Gorky had just ended, and the activities of the security services and istrebitelnij battalions had been greatly intensified. Kryzhanovsky was quickly caught shortly after landing, then convicted and shot.

On the night of 24/25 August 1943, a group of six agents was delivered to the area of Sergach, a large railway junction located 125km south-east of Gorky. One of them broke his leg during the landing. Four, S.M. Chechetkin, I.I. Anichin, V.T. Popov and B.M. Papushenko, surrendered to the NKVD. The fifth, by the name of Zabolotny, did not want to surrender to the authorities and managed to escape.

This delivery is interesting because after landing the members of the group were to split up and go to different regions of the huge country, which explains why they were landed near a major railway junction. The agents revealed that the group had several tasks. Yershov, Anichin and Zabolotny had to go to the Urals, and then to settle in the city of Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg), to collect information about the local tank factories and other industries evacuated there from Moscow and Leningrad in 1941. The mission also included gathering information on the mood of the local population, the location of airfields and transport operations. Chechetkin and Popov were to go to Sarapul (a city in Udmurtia on the banks of the Kama river) to collect intelligence about local factories. Papushenko alone had to go to Gorky, where he had to collect information about tank production at the GAZ automobile plant and the Krasnoye Sormovo shipyard (which also produced T-34 tanks). The agent was instructed to find out whether specialists from England and the United States were working at these factories.

Another group of three agents was arrested in the Semenovsky district of the Gorky region on the night of 9/10 October. The two agents had a mission to settle in Gorky and collect information about the military factories, transportation by rail between Moscow and Gorky and fortifications in the region. The third agent was to go to Kirov and ‘work’ there.

Similarly, there was a ‘career’ resident of the Crimean city of Yevpatoria 21-year-old Vladimir Sidorenko. At the very beginning of the war, on 3 July 1941, he was captured and then sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. After about a year, in May 1942 he expressed a desire to serve the Germans and agreed to become a spy. After that Sidorenko was sent to Berlin, then to the Warsaw and Königsberg intelligence schools of the Abwehr, where he was extensively trained as a ‘scout-radio operator for industrial facilities’. October 1st 1943 was the turning-point for Sidorenko. Being a particularly capable agent, he received a whole range of responsible missions from his ‘handlers’. He had to collect information about what enterprises were in the Gorky region, paying special attention to aviation plant No. 21 (which produced LaGG-3 and La-5 fighters). He was also instructed to find out the extent of the damage caused to the Gorky plant by the Luftwaffe air raids, whether there was enough electric power for the population and the state of its morale. Other than that, the lone agent had a mission to find out whether there was an agreement for American aircraft to be manufactured in the Soviet Union.

To fulfil this complex mission, the agent was provided with a radio set, false documents and 45,000 roubles (equivalent to thirty-seven times the monthly salary of a professor or fifty times that of a worker in an armaments factory). On the night of 19/20 October Sidorenko was flown from Pleskau (Pskov) to the Gorokhovetsky district of the Ivanovo region. After landing, the agent hitchhiked to Gorky and found accommodation. But he didn’t manage to begin his mission because on 6 November he was arrested.

In this case, the reason for the failure was neither the unreliability of the agent (he was not going to give himself up to the NKVD), nor a bad cover story, nor that someone noticed the flight of a German aircraft. All this was carried out in perfect secrecy. The reason for Sidorenko’s capture turned out to be Soviet spies embedded in the Abwehr itself! They had passed on full information about the agent and his intended missions. Unlike most of his colleagues recruited by the Germans, Sidorenko lived up to the expectations of his ‘masters’. He refused to cooperate with Soviet intelligence. Soon the agent was transported to Moscow, where he was executed.


Hetman of Zaporizhian Host


(c. 1639-1709), Hetman (Cossack military leader) of Left-Bank Ukraine, 1687 to 1708.

Hetman Ivan Mazepa was raised in Poland and educated in the West, returning to Ukraine in 1663 to enter the service of the Polish-sponsored hetman Peter Doroshenko during the turbulent period of Ukrainian history known as the Ruin. In 1674 he transferred his allegiance to the Moscow-appointed hetman Ivan Samoilovich, whom he replaced when the latter fell from favor during Russia’s campaign against the Crimean Tatars in 1687. He owed his promotion partly to the patronage of Prince Vasily Golitsyn.

In the 1680s to 1700s Mazepa remained loyal to Russia. In 1700 he became one of the first recipients of Peter I’s new Order of St. Andrew. But he did not regard himself as permanently bound, as he governed in princely style and conducted a semi-independent foreign policy. In 1704, during the Great Northern War against Sweden, he occupied part of right-bank (Polish) Ukraine with Peter I’s permission. However, Mazepa was under constant pressure at home to defend Cossack rights and to allay fears about Cossack regiments being reorganized on European lines. The final straw seems to have been Peter’s failure to defend Ukraine against a possible attack by the Swedish-sponsored king of Poland, Stanislas Leszczynski. Mazepa clearly believed that his obligations to the tsar were at an end: “We, having voluntarily acquiesced to the authority of his Tsarist Majesty for the sake of the unified Eastern Faith, now, being a free people, wish to withdraw, with expressions of our gratitude for the tsar’s protection and not wishing to raise our hands in the shedding of Christian blood” (Subtelny).

At some point in 1707 or 1708, Mazepa made a secret agreement to help Charles XII of Sweden invade Russia and to establish a Swedish protectorate over Ukraine. In October 1708 he fled to Charles’s side. Alexander Menshikov responded by storming and burning the hetman’s headquarters at Baturin, a drastic action which deprived both Mazepa and the Swedes of men and supplies. Mazepa brought only 3,000 to 4,000 men to aid the Swedes, who were defeated at Poltava in July 1709. Mazepa fled with Charles to Turkey and died there.

Peter I regarded the defection of his “loyal subject” as a personal insult. Mazepa was “a new Judas,” whom he (unjustly) accused of plans to hand over Orthodox monasteries and churches to the Catholics and Uniates. In his absence, Mazepa was excommunicated, and his effigy was stripped of the St. Andrew cross and hanged. He remains a controversial figure in Ukraine, while elsewhere he is best known from romanticized versions of his life in fiction and opera.


The Cossack Hetmanate, which survived under the suzerainty of the Muscovite tsars only on the Left Bank of the Dnieper, served as a construction site for a number of nation-building projects. One of them, closely associated with the name “Ukraine” and a view of the Hetmanate as a distinct Cossack polity and fatherland, became the foundation for the development of modern Ukrainian identity. Another, associated with the official Russian name of the Hetmanate, “Little Russia,” laid the basis for what would later become known as “Little Russianism,” the tradition of treating Ukraine as “Lesser Russia” and the Ukrainians as part of a larger Russian nation.

Both intellectual traditions coexisted in the Hetmanate before the last major Cossack revolt, led by Hetman Ivan Mazepa in 1708. Mazepa’s revolt targeted Muscovy and the official founder of the Russian Empire, Tsar Peter I. It ended in defeat as the Russians overcame the Swedish army, which Charles XII led into Ukraine. The Battle of Poltava in 1709 profoundly changed the fate of the Cossack Hetmanate and Ukraine as a whole. The loss for Charles was a double loss for Mazepa and his vision of Ukraine as an entity separate from Russia. In subsequent years, the Little Russian interpretation of Ukrainian history and culture as closely linked to Russia would become dominant in the official discourse of the Hetmanate. The idea of Ukraine as a separate polity, fatherland, and indeed nation did not disappear entirely but shifted out of the center of Ukrainian discourse for more than a century.

In the last decades of the seventeenth century, the Muscovites kept Left-Bank Ukraine under their control thanks not only to their superior military force but also because they turned out to be much more flexible than their competitors. While the tsars used the election of every new hetman to whittle away at the rights and privileges given to the Hetmanate under Bohdan Khmelnytsky, they also knew when to relent. In 1669, in the midst of the revolt led by Petro Doroshenko, Moscow agreed to return to conditions close to those granted to Khmelnytsky. It did so at a time when the Poles were reducing the much less substantial body of Cossack privileges in effect on their side of the river. The result was not hard to predict. The Left Bank attracted new settlers from the Cossack lands under Polish rule and kept growing economically, while the Right Bank turned into a virtual desert. The tsars allowed their Cossacks more rights, but they also got to keep them as subjects.

In relatively short order, the Left-Bank economic expansion led to the economic and cultural revival of Kyiv. Classes resumed at the Kyivan College. The professors who had fled the city in the 1650s now welcomed a new generation of students. New subjects were taught, new poetry written, and new plays performed. Ukrainian baroque literature, initiated in the early seventeenth century by Meletii Smotrytsky, reached its peak in the writings of poets such as Ivan Velychkovsky and in the prose of Lazar Baranovych, a former professor at the college who became archbishop of Chernihiv. His student Simeon Polotsky brought the Kyiv baroque literary style to Moscow, where he helped lay the foundations for the emergence of Russian secular literature. The introduction of Kyivan texts, practices, and ideas into Muscovy in the second half of the seventeenth century would cause a split in that country’s Orthodox Church. While the tsar and the patriarch backed Peter Mohyla–style reforms, conservatives rebelled and united around the leaders of the Old Belief. It was no accident that the name applied to them by the official church, raskol’niki, or schismatics, came from Ukraine.

But cultural influence flowed in both directions. While Kyivan clerics brought Western cultural models from Ukraine to Muscovy, they also borrowed from the arsenal of Muscovite political ideology. Key to that ideology was the notion of the Orthodox tsar as the linchpin of a new political and religious universe. The Orthodox intellectuals of the commonwealth, long without a king of their own, embraced the opportunity to enter an idealized Orthodox world inspired by the Byzantine vision of symphony between an autocratic ruler and the one true church. In the end, however, practical considerations outweighed idealism. As early as the 1620s, the newly consecrated Orthodox bishops, hard pressed by Warsaw, had turned to Muscovy as a source of support and a possible place of exile. The desire for the tsar’s protection only increased after the Pereiaslav agreement (1654) and reached its peak after the Truce of Andrusovo (1667), which divided Cossack Ukraine in half.

According to the conditions of the truce, Kyiv, located on the Right Bank of the Dnieper, was supposed to become a Polish possession after a two-year grace period. But the prospect of submitting once again to the rule of a Catholic king terrified the Kyivan clergy. They summoned all the powers of persuasive rhetoric they had acquired at the Kyivan College and the Jesuit schools of Europe to convince the tsar that the city of Kyiv should stay under his control. They succeeded only too well. Inokentii Gizel, the archimandrite of the Kyivan Cave Monastery and one of the leading figures in the campaign to “persuade the tsar,” wanted to keep Kyiv under tsarist rule while maintaining the independence of the Kyiv metropolitanate. Things worked out otherwise. In the 1670s, the tsar retained his control over the city, but in the next decade Muscovite officials and their supporters in Ukraine succeeded in transferring the Kyiv metropolitanate from the jurisdiction of Constantinople to that of Moscow. The transfer took place in 1685, and so the Kyivan clergy received the tsar’s protection at the cost of their independence.

The battles over the fate of Kyiv gave birth to one of the most influential texts of the premodern Russian Empire, the first printed “textbook” of Rus’ history, published at the Cave Monastery under Gizel’s supervision. The book had a long, baroque title: Synopsis, or a Brief Compendium of Various Chronicles About the Origin of the Slavo-Rossian Nation and the First Princes of the Divinely Protected City of Kyiv and the Life of the Holy, Pious Grand Prince of Kyiv and All Rus’, the First Autocrat, Volodymyr. It appeared in 1674, when Kyiv was preparing for an Ottoman attack and the Poles were demanding it back from Muscovy. In the Synopsis, Kyiv figured as the first capital of the Muscovite tsars and the birthplace of Muscovite Orthodoxy—a city that simply could not be abandoned to infidels or Catholics. References to the Slavo-Rossian nation, which, according to the authors of the Synopsis, united Muscovy and the Cossack Hetmanate in one political body, further supported this argument. This was the foundation of the myth still accepted by most Russians today about the Kyivan origins of their nation. In the seventeenth century, however, the Muscovite elites were not yet thinking in terms of national affinity. Russian empire builders would fully appreciate the innovation of the Kyivan monks, who treated the inhabitants of Muscovy and Ukraine as one nation, only in the nineteenth century.

The crisis caused by the partition of Ukraine between Muscovy and Poland forced not only the Kyivan clergy but also the Cossack officer stratum to come up with a new model of identity. The Cossack elite no longer had to defer to the clergy in that regard: the Kyivan College listed among its alumni not only priests and bishops but also Cossack officers, including a number of hetmans. If the clergy could not envision their homeland without an Orthodox tsar, the Cossack officers needed no tsar at all. They pledged their allegiance to a common Cossack “fatherland” embracing both sides of the Dnieper.

Until 1663, when the first de facto partition of Ukraine took place, the Cossack officers used the term “fatherland” to refer either to the entire commonwealth or to the Kingdom of Poland. At the time of the Union of Hadiach (1658), they were lured back to the suzerainty of the Polish king by appeals to return to their Polish fatherland. But things changed after the partition. First one hetman and then another began to argue in their circular letters or universals for the unity of their Ukrainian fatherland—the Hetmanate on both sides of the river. After the Truce of Andrusovo all of them, including Petro Doroshenko and Yurii Khmelnytsky, referred to the interests of the Ukrainian fatherland as their supreme object of loyalty, superseding any other allegiances or commitments. The Cossack fatherland was more than the Zaporozhian Host—a much more traditional object of Cossack loyalty. It included not just the Cossack Host but also the territory and inhabitants of the Hetmanate. They called that fatherland Ukraine. After 1667, the Cossacks began to refer to it as Ukraine on both sides of the Dnieper.

The last Cossack hetman who tried to unite the Left and Right Banks under his rule was Ivan Mazepa (1639–1709). The banknotes of independent Ukraine depict only two of all the Ukrainian hetmans. The first is Bohdan Khmelnytsky, whose image appears on the five-hryvnia note, and the second is Ivan Mazepa, depicted on the ten-hryvnia bill. Mazepa is arguably better known outside Ukraine, especially in the West, than Khmelnytsky: Voltaire, Lord Byron, Aleksandr Pushkin, and Victor Hugo all wrote about Mazepa’s life and exploits. He came to figure in European operas and North American theatrical shows, gaining literary and cultural fame as both a ruler and a lover under the French spelling of his name—Mazeppa. During Mazepa’s hetmancy the notions of fatherland, Ukraine, and Little Russia became contested once again. The outcome of Mazepa’s rule was the formation of a new type of Little Russian identity.

Mazepa ruled the Hetmanate longer than any of his predecessors, for more than two decades (1687–1709), and died a natural death. That was an achievement in its own right. Two of his predecessors had been either killed or executed. The two hetmans who ruled immediately before Mazepa were accused of “treason,” arrested by Muscovite voevodas, and sent to Siberia. Members of their families were also persecuted. To lose the hetman’s office, personal freedom, or life itself, one did not have to conspire against the tsar or try to join the Poles, Ottomans, or Swedes. It was enough to fall out of favor with the Moscow courtiers.

Mazepa’s life trajectory reflected the general fate of Cossackdom in the last decades of the seventeenth century. A native of Left-Bank Ukraine, the future hetman came from a noble Orthodox family. Educated at the Kyiv Mohyla College and a Jesuit school in Warsaw, he studied the craft of artillery in western Europe. After coming back, the young Mazepa began his diplomatic and military career at the court of the Polish king. He later joined Hetman Petro Doroshenko, but the Zaporozhian Cossacks allied with Muscovy captured him. According to the story first related to western European readers by Voltaire and then repeated by others, Mazepa ended up with the Zaporozhians as a result of an affair that turned catastrophic. He allegedly became the lover of the young wife of a prominent Polish official who, upon learning of this, ordered that Mazepa be stripped naked and bound to a horse that was released into the wild steppes. According to that story, Zaporozhian Cossacks found Mazepa half dead and nursed him back to health. Whatever the truth of the story, the Zaporozhians certainly gave a boost to Mazepa’s career with the Cossacks. They sent their catch to Hetman Ivan Samoilovych, who enlisted the highly educated and well-traveled officer into his service.

Mazepa was part of a large group of Cossack notables, rank-and-file Cossacks, townsfolk, and peasants who migrated from the Right Bank to the Russian-controlled Left Bank of Ukraine in the last decades of the seventeenth century. The political stability of the region, coupled with the relatively broad autonomy granted to the Hetmanate by the tsars, helped revive the economy and cultural life, which, as in the times of Peter Mohyla, centered on Kyiv, the metropolitan see, the Cave Monastery, and the Kyivan College. After assuming the hetmancy, Mazepa did his best to promote the continuing economic revival of the Hetmanate and the flourishing of its religious and cultural life.


The Battle of Poltava (8 July 1709) was the decisive victory of Peter the Great (Peter I of Russia) over the Swedish Empire forces under Field Marshal Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld, in one of the battles of the Great Northern War.

It was the beginning of the Swedish Empire’s decline as a European great power, while the Tsardom of Russia took its place as the leading nation of north-eastern Europe. The battle also bears major importance in Ukrainian national history, as Hetman of Zaporizhian Host Ivan Mazepa sided with the Swedes, seeking to create an uprising in Ukraine against the tsardom.

Hetman Mazepa commissioned the restoration of churches that had fallen into disrepair during the long Cossack wars. Among them was the St. Sophia Cathedral, first restored by Mohyla, as well as the Dormition Cathedral and the Holy Trinity Church in the Cave Monastery—all parts of the architectural legacy of the Kyivan Rus’ era. He also commissioned the construction of new churches, including the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God in the Cave Monastery and numerous churches in Kyiv and in his capital, the town of Baturyn in the northeastern corner of the Hetmanate, close to the Muscovite border. Most of the churches outside the Cave Monastery did not survive the 1930s: demolition crews destroyed them one after another as the Bolsheviks tried to turn Kyiv into a truly socialist capital. But those within the monastery built by Mazepa, as well as part of its walls, still stand and attest not only to the generosity but also to the wealth of the hetman. It was the first commissioning of new buildings in Kyiv since Mohyla. The style of the architectural monuments of that era became known as Cossack or Mazepa baroque.

Unlike any previous hetman, Mazepa was able to concentrate in his hands both economic and political power. This was due to the unprecedented support he was getting from the very top of the imperial pyramid. Tsar Peter I considered Mazepa his loyal servant. During Peter’s contest for power with his half-sister, Princess Sofia, Mazepa took the side of the future tsar. Subsequently, Peter made him the first recipient of the Order of St. Andrew, a prestigious award created by the tsar himself. When the Cossack officers complained to the tsar about their hetman and customarily accused him of treason, Peter sent the denunciations back to Mazepa, contrary to the well-established tradition of Muscovite rulers using such denunciations to undermine the Cossack hetmans. Peter showed even more trust in Mazepa by allowing him to execute his accusers among the ranks of the Cossack elite.

The Peter-Mazepa alliance came to a sudden end in the autumn of 1708, at the height of the Great Northern War (1700–1721) fought by Muscovy and Sweden, assisted by their respective allies, in the Baltics. At the start of the war, Sweden appeared to have the upper hand. After defeating Muscovy’s ally Augustus the Strong of Poland and forcing him to step down, the young and ambitious king of Sweden, Charles XII, began his march on Moscow. Peter was in retreat, using scorched-earth tactics to slow his enemy’s advance.

Such destructive measures exacerbated the old grievances of the Cossack elites, pushing them away from Peter and toward Charles. The Cossack colonels had complained for years to Mazepa about Peter’s use of Cossack regiments outside the Hetmanate, especially to dig canals in and around St. Petersburg, the future capital of the Russian Empire, which the tsar had founded in 1702. There the Cossacks died like flies from cold and disease. Moreover, Peter’s introduction of new taxes and administrative reforms threatened to turn the Hetmanate into a regular province of the Muscovite state, not its privileged enclave. All that, argued the colonels, violated the protectorate agreement concluded by Bohdan Khmelnytsky with Muscovy.

Mazepa corresponded with the Polish allies of Charles XII and explored his foreign-policy options but refused to act. Only when the Swedish king decided to make a detour to Ukraine on his way to Moscow, and the tsar refused to help with any troops—Mazepa was supposed to defend the Hetmanate on his own and burn the towns and villages in Charles’s path—did the hetman yield to the demands of the colonels and switch sides. Muscovy was not performing its primary function—the defense of the Hetmanate—under the numerous agreements with the Cossack hetmans. It was time to think of another option even in Left-Bank Ukraine. The Cossack officers began to study the conditions of the fifty-year-old Union of Hadiach. In November 1708, with a group of trusted courtiers and a small detachment of Cossacks, Mazepa left his capital of Baturyn and joined the advancing army of Charles XII.

For the sake of secrecy, Mazepa conducted no anti-Peter agitation in the Hetmanate before his sudden departure from Baturyn. That was a prudent decision with regard to Mazepa’s personal security, but it was a major problem for the revolt. Upon learning of Mazepa’s defection, Peter sent a corps to Ukraine under the command of his right-hand man, Aleksandr Menshikov, but no Cossack forces had been mobilized to stop him. The Muscovite troops were able to take the hetman’s capital of Baturyn by surprise, seizing military supplies and provisions that Mazepa had prepared for his own army and the Swedes. Even more damaging was the effect of the capture of Baturyn on Ukrainian society in general. Menshikov not only took the town but also ordered the massacre of its population. More than 10,000 defenders and citizens of Baturyn, including women and children, died at the hands of their captors. Archaeologists working there today (Baturyn is a major tourist attraction as well as an excavation site) keep finding skeletons of those who perished. Menshikov’s message was loud and clear: the tsar would not tolerate defections.

The battle for the loyalty of the Cossacks and the inhabitants of the Hetmanate had begun. It was carried on mainly through proclamations issued by Peter, to which Mazepa responded in kind. The so-called war of manifestos lasted from the fall of 1708 to the spring of 1709. The tsar accused Mazepa of treason, calling him a Judas and even ordering that a mock order of St. Judas be prepared for awarding to Mazepa once he was captured. Mazepa rejected the accusations. Like Vyhovsky before him, he regarded relations between the tsar and the hetman as contractual. As far as he was concerned, the tsar had violated the Cossack rights and freedoms guaranteed to Bohdan Khmelnytsky and his successors. His loyalty, argued the hetman, was not to the sovereign but to the Cossack Host and the Ukrainian fatherland. Mazepa also pledged his loyalty to his nation. “Moscow, that is, the Great Russian nation, has always been hateful to our Little Russian nation; in its malicious intentions it has long resolved to drive our nation to perdition,” wrote Mazepa in December 1708.

The war of manifestos, along with the decisive actions of the Muscovite troops and the election of a new hetman on Peter’s orders, caused another split in Mazepa’s ranks. Terrified by the prospect of retributions, the Cossack colonels who had earlier pressured Mazepa to rebel failed to bring their troops to him. Many joined the Muscovite side. There was little support for Mazepa on the part of rank-and-file Cossacks, townspeople, and peasants. The populace preferred the Orthodox tsar over the Catholic, Muslim, or, in this case, Protestant ruler. When the time came for a showdown between Charles and Peter, there were more Cossacks on the Muscovite side than on the Swedish one.

In early July 1709, a Swedish corps of 25,000 faced a Muscovite army twice as large in the fields near the city of Poltava. Cossacks fought on both sides as auxiliaries—a reflection not only of the fact that their loyalty was suspect but also that they were no match for regular European armies: the once formidable Cossack fighting force was a thing of the past. Between 3,000 and 7,000 Cossacks backed Mazepa and the Swedes; at least three times as many flocked to the Muscovite side. The enemy’s numerical superiority was never an issue for Charles XII, who had defeated much more numerous Russian and Polish forces in the past. But this battle was different. A winter spent in hostile territory had weakened his army. Charles XII, who usually led his troops into battle in person, had been wounded a few days earlier and delegated his duties not to one commander but to a number of officers, creating confusion in the Swedish ranks at the time of the battle.

The outcome was a decisive victory for Muscovite arms. Charles XII and Mazepa had to flee Ukraine and seek refuge in Ottoman Moldavia. Ivan Mazepa died in exile in the Moldavian town of Bender in the fall of 1709. It took Charles five years to get back to his kingdom. Historians often consider the Battle of Poltava a turning point in the Great Northern War. By a strange turn of fate, the military conflict for control of the Baltics was decided on a Ukrainian battleground, undermining Sweden’s hegemony in northern Europe and launching Russia on its career as a great European power. But the consequences of Poltava were nowhere as dramatic as in the lands where the battle was fought.

The Muscovite victory opened a new stage in relations between the Kyivan clergy and the tsarist authorities. In the fall of 1708, the tsar had forced the metropolitan of Kyiv to condemn Mazepa as a traitor and declare an anathema against him. After the battle, the rector of the Kyivan College, Teofan Prokopovych, who had earlier compared Mazepa to Prince Volodymyr, delivered a long sermon before the tsar condemning his former benefactor. What Mazepa would have considered treason was a declaration of loyalty in Peter’s eyes. Prokopovych would later become the chief ideologue of Peter’s reforms. He would support the tsar’s drive for absolute power and develop an argument for his right to pass on his throne outside the normal line of succession from father to son: Peter tried his only male heir for treason and caused his death in imprisonment. Prokopovych was the primary author of the Spiritual Regulation, which replaced patriarchal rule in the Orthodox Church with the rule of the Holy Synod, chaired by a secular official. He was also behind the idea of calling Peter the “father of the fatherland,” a new designation brought to Muscovy by Prokopovych and other Kyivan clerics. They had earlier used it to glorify Mazepa.

The spectacular imperial career of Teofan Prokopovych reflected a larger phenomenon—the recruitment into the imperial service of westernized alumni of the Kyivan College, whom Peter needed to reform Muscovite church culture and society along Western lines. Dozens and later hundreds of alumni of the Kyivan College moved to Muscovy and made their careers there. They assumed positions ranging from acting head of the Orthodox Church to bishop and military chaplain. One of the Kyivans, Metropolitan Dymytrii Tuptalo of Rostov, was even raised to sainthood for his struggle against the Old Belief. They helped Peter not only to westernize Muscovy but also to turn it into a modern polity by promoting the idea of a new Russian fatherland and, indeed, a new Russian nation, of which Ukrainians or Little Russians were considered an integral part.

If Peter’s policies intended to strengthen his authoritarian rule and centralize state institutions offered new and exciting opportunities to ecclesiastical leaders, they were nothing short of a disaster for the Cossack officers. Mazepa’s defection added urgency to the tsar’s desire to integrate the Hetmanate into the institutional and administrative structures of the empire. A Russian resident now supervised the new hetman, Ivan Skoropadsky. His capital was moved closer to the Muscovite border, from the destroyed Baturyn to the town of Hlukhiv. Muscovite troops were stationed in the Hetmanate on a permanent basis. Family members of Cossack officers who had followed Mazepa into exile were arrested and their properties confiscated. More followed once the Northern War ended with a Muscovite victory in 1721. Tsar Peter changed the name of the Tsardom of Muscovy to the Russian Empire and had himself proclaimed its first emperor. In the following year, the tsar used the death of Skoropadsky to liquidate the office of hetman altogether. He placed the Hetmanate under the jurisdiction of the so-called Little Russian College, led by an imperial officer appointed by Peter. The Cossacks protested and sent a delegation to St. Petersburg to fight for their rights—to no avail. The tsar ordered the arrest of the leader of the Cossack opposition, Colonel Pavlo Polubotok, who would die in a cell of the St. Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg.

Mazepa had gambled and lost. So did the state he tried to protect. We do not know what the fate of the Hetmanate might have been if Charles XII had not been wounded before the battle and the Cossacks had supported Mazepa in larger numbers. We can say, however, what kind of country Mazepa’s successors wanted to build and live in. Our knowledge comes from a document called Pacta et conditiones presented to Pylyp Orlyk, the hetman elected by the Cossack exiles in Moldavia after Mazepa’s death. Needless to say, they did not recognize Skoropadsky, elected on Peter’s orders, as their legitimate leader. The Pacta, known in Ukraine today as the Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk, is often regarded as the country’s first constitution, adopted, many say with pride, even before the American one. In reality, the closest parallel to the Pacta would be the conditions on which the Polish Diets elected their kings. The document tried to limit the hetman’s powers by guaranteeing the rights of the Cossack officers and the rank-and-file Cossacks, especially the Zaporozhians, many of whom had followed Mazepa into exile.

The Pacta presented a unique vision of the Hetmanate’s past, present, and future. The Cossack officers gathered around Orlyk, who had been Mazepa’s general chancellor, traced their origins not to Kyiv and Prince Volodymyr—a foundational myth already claimed by Kyivan supporters of the tsar—but to the Khazars, who were among the nomadic predecessors of Kyivan Rus’. The argument was linguistic rather than historical, and, while laughable today, it was quite solid by the standards of early modern philology: “Cossack” and “Khazar” sounded quite similar, if not identical, in Ukrainian. At stake was a claim to the existence of a Cossack nation separate and independent from that of Moscow. Orlyk and his officers described it as Cossack, Ruthenian, or Little Russian, depending on circumstances. Most of Orlyk’s ideas remained unknown or unclaimed by his compatriots. At home, in Ukraine, the Cossacks were fighting hard to preserve whatever was left of their autonomy.

The Cossacks in the Hetmanate regarded the death of Peter I in February 1725, a few weeks after the demise of the imprisoned Cossack colonel Polubotok, as divine punishment for the tsar’s mistreatment of them. They also viewed it as an opportunity to recover some of the privileges usurped by the tsar. The restoration of the office of hetman topped the Cossack agenda. In 1727 the Cossack officers achieved their goal by electing one of Peter’s early opponents, Colonel Danylo Apostol, to the newly reinstated hetmancy. They celebrated this restoration of one of the privileges given to Bohdan Khmelnytsky by rediscovering a portrait of the old hetman and reviving his cult not only as the liberator of Ukraine from Polish oppression but also as a guarantor of Cossack rights and freedoms. In his new incarnation, Khmelnytsky became the symbol of the Hetmanate elite’s Little Russian identity, which entailed the preservation of special status and particular rights in return for political loyalty.

What exactly was that new identity? It was a rough-and-ready amalgam of the pro-Russian rhetoric of the clergy and the autonomist aspirations of the Cossack officer class. The main distinguishing feature of the Little Russian idea was loyalty to the Russian tsars. At the same time, Little Russian identity stressed the rights and privileges of the Cossack nation within the empire. The Little Russia of the Cossack elite remained limited to Left-Bank Ukraine, distinct in political, social, and cultural terms from the Belarusian territories to the north and the Ukrainian lands west of the Dnieper. The DNA of the new polity and identity bore clear markers of earlier nation-building projects. The Cossack texts of the period (the early eighteenth century saw the appearance of a new literary phenomenon, Cossack historical writing) used such terms as Rus’/Ruthenia, Little Russia, and Ukraine interchangeably. There was logic in such usage, as the terms reflected closely interconnected political entities and related identities.

In defining the relationship between these terms and the phenomena they represented, the best analogy is a nesting doll. The biggest doll would be the Little Russian identity of the post-Poltava era; within it would be the doll of the Cossack Ukrainian fatherland on both banks of the Dnieper; and inside that would be the doll of the Rus’ or Ruthenian identity of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. At its core, Little Russian identity preserved the memory of the old commonwealth Rus’ and the more recent Cossack Ukraine. No one could know, in the aftermath of the Battle of Poltava, that it was only a matter of time before the Ukrainian core emerged from the shell of the Little Russian doll and reclaimed the territories once owned or coveted by the Cossacks of the past.

The Fall of Jerusalem I

Now that the Allied pursuit of the Turks up the Plain of Philistra had come to a natural end, General Allenby had to decide his next step. His original plan, after Jaffa had been captured, was to suspend further operations until his supply lines and communications had caught up with the rapid British advance. He wanted to ensure he was in a position to sustain his whole army at the front without difficulty before moving on. Units also needed to be restored to full strength and the troops given a period of rest after two weeks of hard campaigning when water and rations had been in short supply. As Private Blunt of the London Regiment commented: ‘Owing to casualties the battalion is now only just over half strength. Everyone seems just beat and worn out. I am as weak as a kitten, feeling done up all over. My face is covered in septic sores and my feet are all blistered.’

However, powerful political and military pressures suggested that the immediate suspension of offensive operations would be unwise. In the end there was no more than a day’s break in operations (on 17 November) before Allenby decided to press on to Jerusalem. In ordering an immediate renewal of hostilities the British would be able to take advantage of the fact that the Turkish Seventh Army would have had no time to regroup after its long retreat and its troops would be tired and demoralized. Its new base in the Judean hills was potentially strong but there would have been no opportunity to organize proper defences. Allenby was concerned that ‘if we had given the Turks time to organize a defence we should never have stormed the heights.’

At the same time, Allenby believed that it should be possible to contain the Turkish Eighth Army on the coastal plain while this new advance to Jerusalem took place. He accepted that there was, however, a risk of a Turkish counter-attack at Jaffa and Ludd. He was also aware that the War Cabinet had expressed concern at the risk of operating in the rugged and difficult terrain that separated the Allies from their goal of Jerusalem and, given that Allied troops were tired and their ranks depleted after the Gaza campaign, had advised extreme caution. As well as the hazard of winter rains that were due at any moment and could make a difficult route impassable, he was reminded of the possibility that a substantial part of his force could be withdrawn early in 1918 to meet manpower demands on the Western Front. Lloyd George’s earlier requirement that Jerusalem be captured before Christmas 1917 had been tempered by a recognition of the potentially dangerous circumstances in which Allenby’s troops now found themselves.

Allenby’s revised plans envisaged the creation of a new defensive line in the Plain of Philistra which would serve to protect the main Allied communications to the south. It would be located opposite the recently established Turkish line of defence based on the Nahr el Auja, a river some four miles north-east of Jaffa. This defensive role was allotted to the Anzac Division with support from the 54th Division. The main operation, which involved the bulk of his forces, consisted of an advance eastwards into the Judean hills towards Jerusalem. As Allenby wished to avoid fighting in the vicinity of Jerusalem – with the risk of damage to the holy city and the resulting propaganda advantage that would be handed to the enemy – he planned an encircling movement that would be much more difficult to execute than a direct attack. Once British units were within striking distance of the city they were to advance to the north-east, cutting Turkish communications by pivoting on the right and swinging to the left across the road between Nablus and Jerusalem. As essential supplies dried up, the enemy garrison would be forced to surrender or withdraw.

In these operations, units of XXI Corps were to play a leading part. The 75th Division (which consisted of West Country territorials) would advance up the main road from Jaffa to Jerusalem – the only one in the whole area with a metalled surface – as far as Kuryet el Enab. The 52nd Division (Lowland Scottish) would advance on its immediate left. To the left of the 52nd Division was the Yeomanry Mounted Division, which was ordered to advance on Bireh, ten miles to the north of Jerusalem, via Beit Ur el Foka. It would be joined by the 75th Division which was ordered to turn north-east to Bireh as it approached Jerusalem. The combined force would then cut the Nablus-Jerusalem road. This would disrupt the Turks’ main line of supply and force the enemy to evacuate the city.

The advance eastwards into the hills towards Jerusalem began on 18 November. The Australian Mounted Division was responsible for clearing the enemy from Latron, on the Jaffa–Jerusalem road, before the 75th Division prepared to move off. The Yeomanry Mounted Division began its advance towards Bireh. The two infantry divisions prepared to follow them: the 52nd Division started from Ludd and Ramleh, while the 75th began its advance from a position near Latron. Their move into the Judean hills began on 19 November, the same day that saw the outbreak of the heavy winter rains. The 75th Division advanced through Latron towards the villages of Saris and Kuryet el Enab, where the Turks had damaged the road in several places.

The 52nd Division and the Yeomanry Division had a much more difficult task. They soon found that the routes they had been ordered to follow were no more than unmade tracks that were often steep and difficult for all but mule transport to negotiate; vehicles and guns could go no further and had to be returned to their starting points. As Guy Dawnay described it, the landscape was typically ‘very rough and rugged … Great hills overhanging deep valleys 1,500 or 2,000 feet almost sheer down in many places. Hill villages perched as in Italy on the tops of conical mountains. No roads – or only one, that to Jerusalem.’ The deteriorating weather added to British problems: troops were equipped for the extreme heat of Sinai and Gaza earlier in the year, rather than the cold and wet winter conditions that they now had to face. There was no early relief to the suffering of the rank and file as winter clothing was slow to arrive because of continuing transport bottlenecks.

Despite these constraints, however, some progress was made on the ground and during the course of 19 November the leading brigade of 52nd Division reached Beit Likia, while the Yeomanry advanced to Beit Ur el Tahta. By 20 November, the 75th Division had reached the villages of Saris and Kuryet el Enab. The Turks were strongly entrenched in ridges above these settlements and proved to be difficult to dislodge. The Turkish position at Saris fell during the afternoon but strong resistance was maintained on the ridge at Kuryet el Enab. On this occasion, for once, bad weather came to the aid of the British. Thick fog obscured the view of the Turkish gunners, giving the three British battalions the opportunity to charge the enemy positions without effective challenge. The result was that the entire ridge had been taken by the early evening, thus reopening the road towards Jerusalem. By this point, according to the official history, it was

pretty certain that the enemy meant to defend Jerusalem. Only small rearguard detachments had yet been encountered, and the great difficulty found in dislodging them from positions so admirably suited to their tactics augured ill for the moment drawing nigh when the Turks should be met with in strength.

The advance also continued on other parts of the front line. The 52nd made useful progress, but further to its left the Yeomanry Division was unable to reach Bireh, where it was charged with cutting the vital Nablus road. Instructed to capture Zeitun ridge to the west of Bireh, which was held by a determined enemy force of 3,000 troops and several artillery batteries, the yeomanry was initially unable to dislodge them. (It did in fact take it briefly on 21 November but was soon forced to relinquish it.) At this point for the first time, Falkenhayn’s strategy had been revealed. He left small rearguards to delay the progress of the Allied advance and thus gave the Turkish Seventh Army additional time to organize the defences surrounding Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the 75th Division continued its advance, turning north-east on 21 November towards Bireh and moving across the front of the 52nd Division on its left. The progress of the 75th Division was brought to a rapid halt when it discovered that its route to Bireh was completely blocked at Biddu. Here they encountered the dominating hill of Nebi Samweil, often described as the ‘key to Jerusalem’, which provided uninterrupted views of the city. The hill was taken by the 234th Brigade during the late evening, but the 52nd and 75th Divisions could make no further progress. Their attack on El Jib, the next important height beyond Nebi Samweil, on 22–24 November, was unsuccessful. Without substantial reinforcements, and in the absence of artillery support because of the lack of roads in the area north-west of Jerusalem, it was likely to stay beyond their reach. The Turkish defensive positions were held in strength and could not be dislodged by infantry action alone. General Allenby recognized that there was nothing to be gained by prolonging the fighting and, on 24 November, he ordered it to be broken off. The existing battle line was to be held and consolidated until fresh troops could be brought forward to renew the offensive.

The Turks made a concerted effort to recapture the Nebi Samweil height during the period 27–30 November but they were repulsed. Its defence was a brilliant feat of arms. Some 750 Turkish prisoners were taken during these few days. Fresh British forces now needed to be brought up to replace weary front-line troops who had been campaigning for three weeks in strenuous conditions. The first campaign to capture Jerusalem had stalled in face of the difficult terrain north-west of the capital where the British were unsupported by artillery; the Turks on the other hand had more flexibility because the Jerusalem to Nablus road remained under their control. The British action, however – generally characterized, in the words of the official history, by ‘boldness’ and ‘determination’ – was not entirely without benefit as it had left them in a stronger position than if they had delayed an attack until the Turks had dug themselves in. Allenby was quite clear about the gains that had so far been secured:

The narrow passes from the plain to the plateau of the Judean range have seldom been forced, and have been fatal to many invading armies. Had the attempt not been made at once, or had it been pressed with less determination, the enemy would have had time to reinforce his defences in the passes lower down, and the conquest of the plateau would then have been slow, costly, and precarious. As it was, positions had been won from which the final attack could be prepared and delivered with good prospects of success.

In the meantime, there had been far less action on the coastal plain and it was only on the day that the first Battle of Jerusalem ended, 24 November, that the Anzacs were ordered to advance across the River Auja and establish a bridgehead. The aim was to keep the defending Turkish Eighth Army on its guard and to discourage the possible transfer of troops from the coast to the Jerusalem area. Following a successful action by the New Zealand Mounted Brigade, two battalions of the 54th Division held two small bridgeheads on the northern banks of the wadi for a brief period. The occupation was, however, short-lived as the British infantry was forced to withdraw when the Turks attacked in overwhelming strength on 25 November.

Following this action there was a lull in the fighting on both fronts while the British made preparations for a second attack on Turkish forces in the area. In better weather conditions, existing roads and tracks were improved and new ones constructed to enable heavy and field artillery to be placed in position and ammunition and supplies brought up. The water supply was also developed. The British front-line forces needed both renewal and reinforcement and Allenby decided that the effectiveness of his front-line troops would be enhanced if he were to exchange his forces in the Judean hills with those on the coast. Under these plans XX Corps would leave its coastal bases and move inland, while units of XXI Corps would move in the opposite direction. XX Corps, under Chetwode, assumed its new duties on 28 November.

It was inevitable that the Turks would seek to capitalize on this time of uncertainty and instability. Over the period of a week they launched a series of attacks designed to test the resilience of the British position, in particular exploiting the gap of some five miles that existed between the right of the line in the plain and the left of the force in the hills. Using the ‘shock tactics’ employed by German troops on the Western Front, the Turks achieved a series of short-lived successes at the end of November and early in December. However, as British reinforcements arrived, lost ground was recovered and gaps in the line were soon closed. By 3 December the Turks had abandoned their action.

By 7 December, the exchange of British forces had been completed and XX Corps was prepared to make a second attempt to overcome the Turkish defences that protected Jerusalem. The Turkish Seventh Army, which consisted of some 16,000 troops, remained strongly entrenched in the hills to the west of Jerusalem. However, its morale had been seriously damaged by a succession of setbacks and defeats and it was not clear how much more resistance it would offer before withdrawing. The renewed attack was led by General Chetwode, commander of XX Corps, who adopted a very different plan from that of his predecessor. The original plan, to pivot on the right of the British line with the left swinging across the Nablus road, had entailed crossing rugged country with poor access. It failed because rapid movement had been impossible and wheeled transport, including artillery, could not be deployed. The Turks, on the other hand, could use the Jerusalem–Nablus road to bring up reinforcements quickly to meet any British advance.

As outlined by Chetwode at a conference on 3 December, which was attended by his divisional commanders, the new plan sought to address the weaknesses inherent in the original attack. Chetwode decided to pivot at Nebi Samweil on the left, with his right advancing up the Enab–Jerusalem road and past the western suburbs before cutting the Nablus road immediately to the north of the city. This plan, unlike its predecessor, would enable the British to deploy sufficient artillery against the Turkish defences by using the Jaffa road for this purpose, one of the few routes in the area that had the capacity to handle it. The main attack would be carried out by the 60th and 74th Divisions. To protect their right flank, two brigades of the 53rd Division were to advance up the Hebron road towards Bethlehem, moving round the eastern suburbs of Jerusalem and cutting the city’s road links with Jericho.

During the four days before the attack the main units moved into position. The 10th Division was to operate on a wider front than had originally been envisaged. This gave the 74th Division the opportunity to work in support of the 60th Division at Nebi Samweil. Starting from a point south of the Enab–Jerusalem road, the 60th Division was to advance with its left flank on this road and its right almost touching the Hebron road, making use of the 10th Australian Light Horse Regiment and the Worcestershire Yeomanry to maintain contact with the 53rd Division. The 53rd was expected to be close to the Bethlehem defences before the attack began.

The British advance on Jerusalem began during the night of 7 December when the 179th Brigade of the 60th Division took the high ground south of Ain Karim. Private Wilson, 179th Machine Gun Corps, recorded his movements at the start of the operation:

We are moving tomorrow morning [7 December] for the Jerusalem operations. Apparently the place is to be ours by Sunday … We started off from Enab at nine in the morning … We were ordered to dump our packs, including bivvies and blankets, so we knew we were in for something hefty … we soon discovered why we had dumped our packs. We could never have got through with those burdens on our backs. The distance on the map which we went that night was roughly two miles as the crow flies. Not being crows, however, we had to do the journey as the donkey walks and found it a very different matter. Up hill and down ravine, winding about along ridges, and down precipitous hill paths, the whole way literally strewn with stones and boulders, it took us seven hours without a stop to traverse that two miles, ‘as the crow flies’.

The main attack followed at dawn in conditions that were less than favourable: it was cold, there was persistent heavy rain and visibility was restricted because of mist. These latter two factors slowed the pace of the advance, although the Allies were faced with a less energetic Turkish defence than they had experienced on other occasions since entering Palestine. On the Allied left, however, the 74th Division was delayed by enfilade fire from Turkish positions on Nebi Samweil. The heaviest fighting took place on the front covered by the 60th Division, which eventually prevailed against the enemy, capturing the main Turkish defences west of Jerusalem shortly after dawn. These defences, which in places were carved out of rock, should have been difficult to overcome. However, as Wavell explained, ‘the Londoners [of the 60th Division] attacked with their usual dash, and the Turks defended with less than their usual tenacity’. As a result of the adverse weather conditions, the 60th Division had lost touch with the 53rd Division on its right. With its right flank unprotected, the 60th Division was exposed to attack.

During the course of the afternoon, offensive operations were suspended to enable the British to regroup. According to the same British private, conditions for the advancing troops remained difficult in the hours leading up to the Turkish evacuation of Jerusalem:

Our quarters for the next twenty-four hours were against a ledge of rock surmounted by a stone wall which proved effective cover for shrapnel. This ledge of rock was near the top of the ravine on the side of it opposite the road … All the morning Johnnie kept shelling the road; but his range was inaccurate, and every shell fell into the ravine. Our little mountain guns were also busy speaking back. Towards evening a party was sent down to the village, who brought back water and some most welcome blankets and bits of carpet. Under the wall we kipped for the night, preserving some small warmth beneath these scant coverings … About ten o’clock over came about half a dozen more shells into the ravine. These, had we known it, were Johnnie’s parting shots.

The British had intended to renew their advance towards the Nablus road the next day, but by then it was evident that the city was about to fall into their hands. The impact of the British attack – particularly the apparent loss of their main defences – had been sufficient to convince the Turks that their position was untenable. This was underlined by the fact that panic had spread among several Turkish units after the loss of the defensive works. As explained by Kress, the British secured the city by a ‘lucky chance’:

The capture of a small sector of the Turkish front-line trench by a British patrol on the night of 7 December was magnified by a false report into the loss of the whole of the western defences. Ali Fuad, the commander, having received orders from the army group to withdraw on Jericho in case of the loss of Jerusalem, feared to execute a counter-attack lest he should be unable after it to carry out these orders, and therefore evacuated the holy city forthwith.

The Fall of Jerusalem II

The Turkish retreat from Jerusalem began during the evening of 8 December, not long after the British had suspended operations for the day. The entire city was vacated within a few hours, the Turkish governor being the last official to leave (in a cart commandeered from an American resident). By the early hours of 9 December the city was in the hands of the civic authorities. Public order was largely maintained and only a few isolated examples of looting were reported before the British arrived. Four hundred years of Ottoman occupation had come to an abrupt end. The transfer of power was completed during the course of the day. Early in the morning, the mayor came out of the city carrying a white flag but he had some difficulty in handing the keys over to a representative of the victorious army. Having been refused by some cooks of a London regiment who had lost their way and by several other individuals, he finally succeeded in making contact with the commanding officer of 303 Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (60th Division). Lieutenant-Colonel Bayley described their meeting:

At the top of the hill I came to houses on the outskirts of the town, still no sniping. Suddenly ahead I spotted a white flag and to my utter astonishment it appeared through my glasses that numbers of persons surrounded it and that three were coming towards me … Well, I beckoned the leading one and he came up to me … He said the Turks … had bolted in the night and that the mayor of the town was at the flag … I walked on to him and there he was with three chairs in a row on the road. I sat down with the mayor on one side and his chief of police on the other, when the mayor formally said that he wished to hand over the city to the British authorities as the Turks had fled, so I accepted the city …

While formal arrangements for the handover were being made and the arrival of a British general officer was awaited, Bayley’s troops occupied key buildings, including the post office. In the meantime, as Bayley recorded, ‘I got all my guns up and pointed their muzzles to the north and east over the city just to let them know that the British had arrived’. At around noon, in a short surrender ceremony outside the city gates, the Mayor of Jerusalem handed the city keys over to Major-General Shea, commander of the 60th Division, who accepted them on behalf of Allenby. The first occupying troops arrived later in the day. One of them described their reception:

We entered Jerusalem about four o’clock, our division being the first within the city. The people received us with a heartiness quieted by a real sense of the greatness of the event. They did not shout much, but on their faces there was a great welcome. The departing Turks had looted them as thoroughly as haste would permit, so it is not exactly surprising that their affection for us should be very fresh and strong.

Meanwhile, mopping-up operations continued. During the course of 9 December, Jerusalem was encircled by Allied forces as the key units moved up to secure their final positions. Although most of the Turkish defenders had slipped away under cover of darkness during the previous night, the enemy briefly retained its hold on the nearby Mount of Olives. The 60th Division ejected this enemy rearguard during a brief but fierce engagement on the afternoon of 10 December that cost 70 lives.

On 11 December, two days after the official surrender, General Allenby made his entry into Jerusalem. It was exactly six weeks since he had launched his attack on Beersheba. Emphasizing his respect for Jerusalem as a religious centre – it was sacred to three of the world’s religions – Allenby entered the city on foot, passing through the Jaffa Gate. Accompanied by French and Italian representatives, he was followed by Sir Philip Chetwode, commander of XX Corps, and some of his staff officers. Also present in the procession was T.E. Lawrence, who said that ‘it was impressive in its way – no show but an accompaniment of machine guns & anti-aircraft fire, with aeroplanes circling over us continually. Jerusalem has not been taken for so long: nor has it ever fallen so tamely before.’

Allenby proceeded through the streets towards the citadel, where he read a short proclamation and met various notables. The streets were lined with men of the 60th Division and other units, who according to Guy Dawnay ‘had a touch of colour added to them by the light blue of the French and the cocked hats à la Napoleon of the carabinieri’. The ceremony ended when the procession returned to the Jaffa Gate. Allenby described the event in a letter to his wife:

Today I entered Jerusalem, on foot, with the French and Italian commanders … of the detachments in my army; and the attachés, and a few staff officers. We entered at the Jaffa Gate; and, from the steps of the citadel, hard by, issued a proclamation in many languages to the assembled multitude. Great enthusiasm – real or feigned – was shown. Then I received many notables and heads of all the churches, of which there are many … After this, we reformed our procession and returned to our horses.

The capture of Jerusalem was the logical conclusion of an offensive, designed and launched by Allenby and his staff, that had finally forced open the door to Palestine at the third attempt and then initiated a relatively brief war of movement. The enemy had been driven from the heart of territories it had ruled for centuries in a matter of five weeks (instead of the six months originally estimated by British military planners). The fact that superior British forces were unable to cut off the retreating Turkish forces in their entirety was explained partly by the supply constraints – particularly lack of water – that they had to face. The advance was slowed at various points to enable men and horses to be refreshed; even so, there was a tendency for British forces to outrun their supply lines, which were still under construction. The troops also faced remarkable variations in weather conditions. Almost unbearable heat lasted until late November but within a few days there had been a substantial drop in temperature and the onset of heavy rains.

These factors affected the course of the campaign but not its final outcome. Allenby’s drive and determination had produced a much needed victory for the Allies within the timescale demanded by the British prime minister. This was reflected in reactions to the victory in Allied capitals, where there were public celebrations for the first time since the war began. A War Cabinet telegram summed up the general mood: ‘the capture of Jerusalem … is an event of historic and world-wide significance and has given the greatest pleasure to the British and other Allied peoples.’

Although there is little doubt that, in Wavell’s words, ‘the occupation of Jerusalem itself had no special strategical importance, its moral significance was great’. It was a heavy blow to Turkish prestige, particularly following their expulsion from two other holy places – Mecca and Baghdad – during the course of the war. On the other hand, the victory was not simply a victory for Christian interests. The holy places of Jerusalem were now in the hands of an occupying power that was more likely to adopt an even-handed approach to the varying religious claims on the city.

Beyond the symbolism of the event, the Allied capture of Jerusalem had wider strategic consequences that were to help to determine the subsequent course of the war in the Middle East. One of the intended effects of the Palestine operations was to draw off Turkish reserves destined for other campaigns. The British advance had forced the Turks to deploy troops from other theatres, thus ensuring that the British capture of Baghdad was secure and the progress of the offensive across Mesopotamia could continue unimpeded. The Turkish position in the area was further weakened by the steady progress of the Arab revolt, which was to gain further encouragement from Turkey’s defeat at Jerusalem. Added to this were the heavy losses sustained by the Turks during a campaign which had resulted in the defeat of eleven divisions. In total, the Turks suffered 28,443 casualties compared with the British losses of 18,928 men. In addition, according to Allenby, some 12,000 Turkish troops had been taken prisoner and 100 guns and scores of machine guns had been lost to the British. They had also lost ‘more than 20 aeroplanes and 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition’.

As a result of the Palestine operations, the Turkish army had been split in two, although, as already indicated, their supply lines had not been cut off. One part of the army had retired northwards and had come to a halt on the hills overlooking the plain lying north of Jaffa and Ramleh. This force consisted of five divisions, four of which had been badly shaken in the recent retreat. Opposite the Turks the XXI Corps held a line which started at the Nahr el Auja, three miles north of Jaffa, crossed the Turkish railway from Ludd to Jiljulieh at a point five miles north of Ludd and thence ran in a south-easterly direction to Midieh. Other surviving parts of the enemy force had retired in an easterly direction to Jerusalem, where the remains of six divisions had been concentrated. The British XX Corps, having forced the enemy to evacuate Jerusalem, held a line across the roads leading from Jerusalem to Jericho and Nablus, four miles east and north of the city and then westwards through the hills past Beit Ur el Foka to Suffa. The two wings of the Turkish army were separated by an area dominated by a series of spurs running westwards, with rocky valleys between them. There were no roads capable of taking military vehicles or artillery, ruling out the possibility of a large-scale British operation in the area. The only lateral communication available to the Turks lay some 30 miles to the north.

Various factors, including the continuation of winter weather and the need to develop lines of communication, militated against an early renewal of a full-scale British offensive, although pressure to do so was soon to be applied from London. But before the British could rest for the winter, further action was needed to secure their positions in the Jaffa area and in front of Jerusalem. It was essential in both areas that the distance between the Turkish army and these two key centres was increased. Accordingly the British conducted two separate operations to advance their line, reflecting the fact that the two defending Turkish armies were still isolated from one another. The XX Corps was ordered to move to a line from Beitin to Nalin. This involved an advance on a 12-mile front to a depth of six miles immediately north of Jerusalem. On the left the XXI Corps was to advance to a line running from Kibbeh to El Jelil, which passed through Rantieh, Mulebbis and Sheikh el Ballutah. Once successfully completed, the latter operation would increase the distance of the enemy from Jaffa to eight miles.

The XXI Corps, which formed the British left on the coast, began moving its units into position from 7 December, with the aim of enhancing the security of the port of Jaffa which, now in Allied hands, would become an increasingly important centre for the landing and distribution of military supplies. The three divisions of XXI Corps – 52nd, 54th and 75th – were assembled from left to right and ordered to advance northwards. If they succeeded, they would move the Turkish army well out of artillery range of Jaffa. A major obstacle to the British operation was the River Auja, a significant natural barrier that entered the sea some four miles north of Jaffa. Turkish troops occupied the northern bank of the Auja and controlled the main crossing points, including a ford at the mouth of the river. The Turks were assisted by the fact that all approaches to the river were overlooked from Sheikh Muannis and Khurbet Hadrah. At these places two spurs running from north to south terminated abruptly in a steep slope some 500 yards from the river. However, security was lax and it was decided to take advantage of apparent Turkish shortcomings by launching a surprise attack. The main difficulty lay in concealing the collection and preparation of rafts and bridging material. However, the preparations were completed without attracting the enemy’s attention. Heavy rain fell on 19 and 20 December and raised the water level of the Auja, causing the Turks to believe that there would be no early British attempt to cross it in these conditions.

The operation was in fact timed for the following night and despite the less favourable conditions the 52nd Division crossed the river in three columns without difficulty. The left column, fording the river near its mouth, at this point four feet deep, captured Tell el Rekkeit, 4,000 yards north of the river mouth. The centre and right crossed the river on rafts. They rushed Sheikh Muannis and Khurbet Hadrah at the point of the bayonet. By dawn a line from Khurbet Hadrah to Tell el Rekkeit had been consolidated, and the enemy was deprived of all observation from the north over the valley of the Nahr el Auja. The successful crossing of the river reflected, according to Allenby, ‘great credit on the 52nd (Lowland) Division’. This difficult operation, which required considerable preparation, was complicated by the ‘sodden state of the ground and the swollen state of the river’. Despite these difficulties, the whole of the division had crossed the river during the hours of darkness. Even more remarkable was the fact that the enemy was taken completely by surprise and that ‘all resistance was overcome with the bayonet without a shot being fired’. Over 300 Turkish troops and 10 machine guns were captured during the operation.

Once temporary bridges had been built and the artillery could cross the river, the 52nd Division was ready to move on. On 23 December, the advance continued up the coast for a further five miles as the 52nd and 54th Divisions ejected the enemy from key defensive positions. Supported by British warships, the left of the 52nd Division reached Arsuf, a coastal settlement eight miles north of Jaffa. With the port now safe from further Turkish attack the objective of the operation had been secured. As the British official history described it:

The passage of the Auja has always been regarded as one of the most remarkable feats of the Palestine campaign … its chief merits were its boldness – justifiable against troops known to be sluggish and slack in outpost work and already shaken by defeat – its planning, the skill of the engineers; the promptitude with which unexpected difficulties in the bridging of the river were met; finally, the combined discipline and dash of the infantry which carried out the operation without a shot being fired and won the works on the right bank with the bayonet.

Allenby also planned to strengthen his position in the Jerusalem area, where fighting had effectively been suspended since 12 December. In the words of the British official history, the Turks were ‘breathless after their defeat and hasty withdrawal. The British were not yet ready for the effort which would be needed to win more elbow room round Jerusalem.’ Allenby’s main concern was that the city still lay within easy reach of Turkish artillery, with the attendant risk that the enemy might attempt to recapture it. His response was to plan a renewal of offensive action on 24 December, aiming to reach a line running from Beitin (Bethel) to Nalin. Three divisions were ordered to advance towards it: the 60th Division would advance up the Jerusalem to Nablus road to the ridge on which stood the Turkish defensive line from Bireh to Ramallah. Here they would join with the 74th Division, which was to advance eastwards from Beit Ur el Foka, and together move northwards towards the Bireh–Ramallah line. The 53rd Division on the British right and the 10th Division on the left were ordered to protect the flanks.

These plans, which had already been delayed by bad weather, were postponed again when British intelligence learned from a decoded radio signal that the Turks were planning a counter-attack on Jerusalem. Using troops newly arrived from the north, an attack was to be launched from the north and the east with the aim of recapturing the city. The British responded by ordering the 74th and 10th Divisions on the British left to advance as originally planned. The 53rd and 60th Divisions on the British right were to maintain their defensive positions in the face of a Turkish assault. The enemy operation, launched during the night of 26/27 December, was staged with great determination, but did not amount to much, although it persisted until the afternoon of the second day. The action was focused on Tell el Ful, a hill east of the Nablus road, some three miles north of the city, where the 60th Division successfully resisted a succession of strong Turkish attacks. At only one point did the enemy succeed in reaching the main line of defence. He was driven out at once by local reserves and in all these assaults lost heavily.

Meanwhile, early on 27 December, the 74th and 10th Divisions began their attack and during the day advanced some 4,000 yards on a six-mile front. They made sufficient progress to bring the Turkish counter-attack on Jerusalem to an end. This was the signal to launch, on 28 December, a general British advance which continued for three days. On the right, the 60th Division – supported by the 53rd Division – advanced to El Jib, Er Ram and Rafat, which fell after heavy fighting. Beitunia fell to the 74th Division, while the 10th Division also made progress as it moved eastwards. The Allied advance continued over the next three days until 30 December, when resistance was brought to an end. A front 12 miles wide had been pushed forward to a depth varying from six miles on the right to three miles on the left. This advance had to overcome not only a determined and obstinate resistance but also great natural difficulties before guns could be brought up in support of the infantry. For the Turks the attempt to recapture Jerusalem had been a complete failure and had cost the lives of over 1,000 of their soldiers. In addition, the British took some 750 Turkish prisoners, 24 machine guns and three automatic rifles.

The holy city and the Allied lines surrounding it were now secure and operations were temporarily suspended. But persistent winter rains meant that there was little opportunity for British troops to recuperate in comfort. Nor was there to be any early relief from these adverse conditions: communications and supplies had to be brought up, in line with the rapid northwards advance of the previous few weeks. Any further advance northwards was out of the question for the time being. Besides the construction of new roads and the improvement of communications in the forward areas, stores of supplies and ammunition had to be accumulated – a task made difficult by the distance between the front and the existing railhead at Ramleh, and rendered still more difficult by frequent spells of bad weather. Moreover before a further advance could be made, it would be necessary to drive the enemy across the River Jordan to ensure that the British right flank was fully secure.

British control of the Jordan crossings would have a number of other advantages. Control of the Dead Sea would be obtained; the enemy would be prevented from raiding the area to the west of the Dead Sea; while a point of departure would be gained for further operations eastwards, in conjunction with Arab forces based in Aqaba, aimed at interrupting the enemy’s line of communications to the Hejaz. An operation across the Jordan would almost certainly allow direct contact to be made for the first time with Feisal’s army.