Stalin in the Russian Civil War

On May 17, 1919, Stalin arrived in Petrograd with full powers to organize the defenses of the region against attack by General N. N. Yudenich’s army, which was advancing from the northwest. Remaining in Moscow, Lenin maintained control over the Revolutionary War Council and had direct contact with all the fronts. To Stalin in Petrograd, he sent a stream of telegrams, harrying, advising, demanding information. In a telegram on May 20, he expressed the hope “that the general mobilization of Petersburgers will result in offensive operations and not just sitting about in barracks.”

Lenin was disturbed by the speed of Yudenich’s advance. He mistrusted the commanders and the troops of the Red Army in the region. On May 27, he warned Stalin to assume treachery, and as an explanation of defeat or other failure, treachery was to become a phobia in the party. Stalin responded promptly. The Cheka was unleashed and soon claimed to have uncovered a conspiracy among employees of the Swiss, Italian, and Danish consulates. Stalin reported to Lenin that a counterrevolutionary plot in support of the Whites had been crushed and that the Cheka was investigating further. In a message to Lenin, dated June 4, 1919, he wrote: “I am sending you a document from the Swiss. It is evident from the document that not only the chief of staff of the Seventh Army works for the Whites . . . but also the entire staff of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic. . . . It is now up to the Central Committee to draw the necessary inferences. Will it have the courage to do it?”

Stalin himself did not escape criticism. An old Bolshevik hostile to the Tsaritsyn group, A. I. Okulov, who was the political member of the West Front Military Council, complained to the Central Committee that due to Stalin’s actions the Seventh Army was being detached from the West Front, which was under the command of D. N. Nadezhny, a former tsarist corps commander, and that it should be restored to his command. Lenin asked Stalin to comment. “My profound conviction,” he replied, “is: 1, Nadezhny is not a commander. He is incapable of commanding. He will end up by losing the Western Front; 2, workers like Okulov who incite the specialists against our kommissars, who are sufficiently discouraged anyway, are harmful, because they debilitate the vital core of our army.” Okulov was removed from his post.

Following the repulse of the White advance on Petrograd in June, Stalin was appointed to be the political member of the Military Council of the West Front, and a new commander replaced Nadezhny.

On the East Front, disagreements erupted between Vatsetis, the commander in chief, and S. S. Kamenev, the commander of the front. Trotsky supported Vatsetis, whom he had appointed, and he showed hostility toward Kamenev. On one occasion in Simbirsk, Trotsky, dressed in black leather uniform, like his personal escort, and armed with a pistol, burst into Kamenev’s office and excitedly threatened him. Later, at the instigation of Vatsetis, Trotsky summarily dismissed him.

Kamenev was liked and respected. The Military Council of the East Front formally protested to Lenin. Kamenev himself went to Moscow to put his case. On May 15, 1919, he was interviewed by Lenin, who was impressed and told him to return to his command. Lenin was usually careful and diplomatic in his dealings with his closest associates, and in overruling Trotsky publicly, he was expressing his strongest disapproval. He had been losing confidence in Trotsky’s judgment and was increasingly impatient of his bombastic behavior. He also had no high opinion of Vatsetis, who, like Trotsky, had antagonized military as well as political workers.

The climax came in July 1919. Kamenev had worked out a plan for a further advance eastward into Siberia. Vatsetis vetoed the plan. The East Front Military Council again protested to Lenin. Two meetings of the Central Committee considered the evidence and decided against Vatsetis. At a meeting on July 3, the committee reviewed and endorsed its decision. Trotsky in a fury, his pride affronted, declared that he would resign all his offices, but the committee rejected his resignation. It was decided further that Kamenev should be appointed commander in chief. Vatsetis was arrested, investigated for suspected treason, released, and subsequently given an appointment as a military instructor.

The Central Committee also reorganized the Revolutionary War Council, limiting its membership to six. Trotsky was included, but the other five members were not his supporters. He could no longer dominate the council and get his way. Deeply offended, Trotsky remained at the South Front for the rest of the summer. The Revolutionary War Council functioned directly under Lenin’s control, and more harmoniously.

Trotsky subsequently held Stalin responsible for this major reverse in his military standing. He maintained that Stalin’s antagonism toward Vatsetis was well known and that he had supported the East Front Military Council as a means of striking at Trotsky himself. It was a reflection of Trotsky’s egocentricity that he had to interpret Stalin’s actions in terms of hostility toward himself. In this conflict, however, Stalin’s views were those of Lenin and the other members of the Central Committee, and his overriding concern was the victory of the Red Army.

By the end of June 1919, A. Denikin controlled the whole of the Don region and his army continued its rapid advance. His forces had first spread across the Ukraine and south Russia and then they had pressed northward. In Moscow, Lenin became increasingly anxious about the defense of the city. Kamenev, the commander in chief, had prepared a plan, concentrating strong Red forces to make a flank attack from the east. A second plan, prepared earlier by Vatsetis, and which Trotsky subsequently claimed as his own work, proposed that the armies of the South Front strike due south against Denikin’s forces. The Central Committee had approved Kamenev’s plan.

The Red Army’s flank attack failed completely to halt the White advance. Disturbed by this failure, Kamenev reviewed his strategy and recommended that, while maintaining pressure on the enemy from the east, strong forces of reserves should be concentrated south of Moscow. The response of Lenin and the Central Committee was a striking expression of their confidence in Kamenev. He was told “not to consider himself bound by his former recommendations or by any previous decisions of the Central Committee” and that he had “full powers as a military specialist to take whatever measures he thought fit.”

On September 27, 1919, the Central Committee approved the plan to post strong reserves south of Moscow. It decided also to send Stalin to take charge of the South Front. This was a severe rebuff to Trotsky, who had been there during the months of disaster. For a short period, Stalin and Trotsky were both at the headquarters of the South Front, but apparently, they did not quarrel openly.

On October 11, 1919, Yudenich launched a surprise attack on Petrograd, and the Red Army began to fall back in disorder. Lenin considered that the city should be abandoned, for he would allow nothing to weaken the defenses of Moscow. On October 15, however, the Politburo sent Trotsky to take charge of the defenses of Petrograd. He rallied the troops and reorganized the defenses of the city, and Petrograd did not fall. Later he was to complain bitterly that in official records, Stalin had merged the first and second campaigns of Yudenich into one and “the famous defence of Petrograd is represented as Stalin’s handiwork.”

Soon after arriving at the South Front headquarters, Stalin reported to Lenin and set out the action he proposed. He criticized Kamenev for holding to his original strategy. He argued that they must “change this plan, already discredited in practice, replacing it with a major attack on Rostov from the Voronezh area by way of Kharkov and the Donets Basin.” He set out cogently his reasons and closed his report with the comment that “without this change in strategy, my work . . . will be senseless, criminal, and superfluous, giving me the right, indeed obliging me, to go off anywhere, even to the devil, but not to stay at the South Front.”

During the six months from October 1919 to March 1920, while Stalin was at the South Front headquarters and, as he boasted later, “without the presence of Comrade Trotsky,” the Red Army succeeded in crushing the White forces. Denikin had advanced headlong, exhausting his men, and leaving himself exposed to attack in the rear. His troops were driven from Orel on October 20, 1919, and from Voronezh four days later; the morale of his force collapsed. He himself lost the confidence of his officers and the support of his Cossack allies. Early in April 1920, after nominating General Peter Wrangel as his successor, he escaped into Turkey.

In the advance of the South Front’s armies against Denikin’s armies, Budënny played a conspicuous role. He was a swaggering cavalryman, brave and energetic, but limited in ability. He was tireless in pressing for the formation of a cavalry army under his command. Stalin welcomed the idea of massed Red Cavalry, but Trotsky at first opposed it. He mistrusted the Cossacks, who would be the main source of cavalrymen and who were more in sympathy with the White than the Red cause. With Stalin’s support, Budënny’s proposal was adopted, at least nominally. Trotsky changed his mind about massed cavalry and issued his proclamation “Proletarians to Horse!” Budënny and his Red Cavalry became one of the romantic legends of the Civil War.

By early January 1920, Budënny had led his cavalry to the shores of the Sea of Azov. The South Front was then divided into the Southwest Front, under Egorov’s command operating against the Whites in the Crimea, and the Southeast Front, commanded by V. I. Shorin and including Budënny’s Cavalry Army, which was renamed the Caucasian Front.

Shorin had been an officer in the tsarist army, but although nearly fifty years old at the time of the Revolution, he had never risen above the rank of captain. High command had come to him as to many others, because no one else was available in the revolutionary camp at the time. He was disliked by Budënny and Voroshilov, who schemed to have him dismissed. Stalin supported them, and was said by Budënny to have told Ordzhonikidze, recently appointed the political member of the Caucasian Front, that Shorin was to be dismissed “for adopting an attitude of mistrust and enmity toward the cavalry army.” M. N. Tukhachevsky, a former second lieutenant of the Semenovsky Guards Regiment, then in his twenties, who was later designated to succeed Shorin, was to find that Budënny and Voroshilov were unruly and undisciplined but to be handled with care because they had influential protection.

Early in February 1920, Budënny’s Red Cavalry suffered a severe defeat by the Cossacks. This reverse, indicating lack of discipline and poor leadership, disturbed Lenin. He at once sent a telegram to Stalin, signed by Trotsky, too, appointing him to the Caucasian Front to resolve whatever problems had led to the defeat. The telegram also directed him to make a journey to front headquarters to concert further action with Shorin and to transfer troops from the Southwest Front to his command.

Stalin was evidently tired and unwell. His reply was cantankerous. He stated that visits by individuals were in his view wholly unnecessary, adding that “I am not entirely well and ask the Central Committee not to insist on the journey.” He commented further that “Budënny and Ordzhonikidze consider. . . Shorin to be the reason for our failures.” He prevaricated over the transfer of troops to the Caucasian Front. When Lenin sent him instructions to effect the transfer without further delay, he replied crossly that it was a matter for the High Command to ensure the reinforcement of the front. Unlike the staff of the High Command, who were all in good health, he was ill and overburdened. Apparently, he felt that he had been in the south long enough and that he had completed his task there. Finally, on March 23, 1920, he returned to Moscow.

Stalin was allowed only a short respite. On May 26, 1920, he was ordered to join the Southwest Front. He was in Kharkov on the following day. The Red Army’s position in the south had become critical. Wrangel, who had succeeded Denikin, had restored morale and discipline among the White forces in the Crimea. He was building up the Volunteer Army to a strength of 20,000 men, supported by 10,000 Cossacks. His forces presented a severe challenge from the south.

At this time, the Poles attacked from the west, seizing Kiev and storming over the Dnieper. Their objective was to conquer Belorussia and western Ukraine, vast territories which they had lost to Moscow in the seventeenth century. The Poles were, however, wary of any alliance with the Whites, recognizing that they would hardly accept such a loss of territory to Russia’s traditional Polish enemy. The Poles were also on guard against the Soviet regime. Trotsky had publicly threatened to invade Poland as soon as the Whites had been defeated in the south.

Attacked in the south, where Wrangel made early gains, and in the west, the Red Army found itself under severe pressure. The Central Committee approved the High Command’s plan that the West Front, now commanded by Tukhachevsky, should attack in northern Belorussia to compel the Poles to move troops away from the Southwest Front. It meant giving priority to the expulsion of the Poles. Egorov, commanding the Southwest Front, and his officers disagreed with this strategy. It was for this reason that Stalin was hurriedly dispatched to his headquarters.

Within a few days of his arrival, Stalin had visited the Crimean Front and reported to Lenin. The situation gave rise to great anxiety. He had replaced the commander of the Thirteenth Army. He requested two divisions to reinforce the Southwest Front, for Egorov’s initial offensive against the Poles had failed. Lenin in his reply firmly reminded him to copy all communications on military matters to Trotsky, the kommissar for War. He also repeated the Central Committee decision that the Southwest Front should not yet embark on any offensive in the Crimea. Stalin at once protested against the refusal to send two further divisions and stressed the danger posed by Wrangel to the south. Lenin was not to be moved, however, and he confirmed the original plan.

Kamenev’s order on June 2, 1920, was that the Cavalry Army should attack the Polish positions and seek to outflank them south of Kiev. Egorov and Stalin apparently amended the line of attack in passing the order to Budënny. The effect of this change cannot be judged. The Red Cavalry attacked, forcing the Polish forces south of the Pripet Marshes to retreat hurriedly. To the north Tukhachevsky’s West Front opened its offensive early in July 1920, again compelling the Poles to fall back. By the end of the month, the Red Army had advanced across the frontier into northern Poland. A provisional Polish government was set up under the chairmanship of Dzerzhinsky. Tukhachevsky’s four armies were drawn up on the Vistula, and the capture of Warsaw seemed imminent.

Lenin was carried away by the vision of the Red Army in Warsaw and of a communist Poland giving its full support to the revolutionary movement. He felt acutely the isolation of Russia, which with all its internal problems was bearing the socialist banner alone. This vision was shared by many within the party and gave rise to a wave of enthusiasm, as members rallied to the cry “Onwards to Warsaw!” But there were realists, Stalin foremost among them, who saw the dangers of this policy. In June 1920, he wrote that “the rear of the Polish forces is homogeneous and nationally united. Its dominant mood is ‘the feeling for their native land.’ . . . The class conflicts have not reached the strength needed to break through the sense of national unity.” It was a clear warning against accepting Lenin’s facile belief that the Polish proletariat was ready for revolution.

The Politburo had, however, decided on its policy of conquering Poland in spite of the opposition expressed by Stalin and others. Stalin had hurriedly rejoined the Southwest Front which covered the southern part of the Polish lines and was at the same time on guard against Wrangel in the south. The Politburo now decided to form a special front against Wrangel under Stalin’s direction. A major part of the forces of the Southwest Front would be transferred to Tukhachevsky’s Western Front for the advance on Warsaw, and the remaining forces would form Stalin’s special front. Angered by these instructions from the Politburo, Stalin replied churlishly that the Politburo should not be concerning itself with such details. Lenin was taken aback and asked for an explanation of his opposition. In his reply, Stalin set out the organizational difficulties which the instructions entailed. Lenin was impressed by his appreciation of the situation and allowed the Southwest Front to retain its previous commitments; only three of its armies were to be transferred to the Western Front.

The basic problem was that Tukhachevsky’s Western Front was separated by more than 300 miles of the Pripet Marshes from the Southwest Front. Communications and the prompt transfer of forces over such distances were further complicated by the absence of a strong central command. Trotsky and the Supreme War Council were ignored. Kamenev, the commander in chief, issued directives but could not enforce them. The Politburo and, in particular, Lenin, acting independently, tried to resolve conflicts, but could not be sure that their instructions would be observed. Moreover, Lenin’s instructions conflicted on occasions with plans of the commander in chief. Thus Kamenev confirmed that Tukhachevsky should outflank Warsaw from the north and west and take the city by August 12, 1920. This left the large Lublin gap unprotected between the Russian forces and the Pripet Marshes. At this time, Wrangel was moving with some success, posing a threat that alarmed Lenin. On August 11, he instructed Stalin to break off operations against the Poles at Lvov and to embark on an immediate offensive to destroy Wrangel’s army and seize the Crimea. On the same day, Kamenev ordered the Southwest Front to send “as large a force as possible toward Lublin to assist Tukhachevsky’s left flank.”

At this time, it was believed that the Red Army had already won the battle for Warsaw. Stalin and Egorov were planning to send their cavalry not to Lublin, but to the Crimea, and they ignored Kamenev’s instructions. On August 13, Kamenev sent orders that both the Twelfth and First Cavalry armies would be transferred to the command of the Western Front on the following day. Egorov felt he had to comply. But Stalin refused to sign the order and sent a telegram angrily reproaching the commander in chief for trying to destroy the Southwest Front.

Tukhachevsky’s advance had been progressing slowly. But on August 16, the Poles counterattacked, concentrating on the Lublin gap, and within a few days, they had shattered the West Front. On August 19, the Politburo, including Stalin, met in Moscow, still unaware that the Poles were on the point of routing Tukhachevsky’s armies. The Politburo, “having heard the military reports of Comrades Trotsky and Stalin,” decided that the main concentration of forces should now be directed to the recovery of the Crimea.

Responsibility for the disaster was angrily debated then and later. Lenin abstained from blaming anyone, but it is clear that he himself and all the participants bore part of the blame. Lenin had been carried away by hopes of a Polish revolution and seriously miscalculated the strength of Polish resistance. Kamenev and Tukhachevsky must bear the military responsibility since they neglected to ensure protection of their flanks before advancing. Moreover, even if Stalin and Egorov had responded promptly to orders to transfer troops from their front to fill the Lublin gap, it is doubtful whether such troops could have arrived in time and in fighting condition to have withstood the Polish onslaught.

Stalin’s concern to maintain the strength of the Southwest Front was understandable. It was facing the Polish forces at Lvov, Wrangel’s army to the south, and the possibility of Romanian intervention. All were serious threats, which were causing Lenin and the Politburo anxiety, and the wisdom of detaching any of its armies to reinforce the Western Front was questionable. Rightly or wrongly, however, Stalin was undoubtedly guilty of insubordination, as on other occasions in the Civil War when he was sure that he was right. But there was also an inevitability in the defeat of the Red Army. The troops were near exhaustion. They had fought heroically on Russian soil. Now they encountered the Poles, who were defending their capital and homeland against their traditional Russian enemy, and they fought with desperate bravery.

By the close of 1920, the Civil War had ended. Wrangel, his volunteer army greatly outnumbered by the Red forces in the south, suffered a disastrous defeat. His army disintegrated, as had Kolchak’s army in Siberia some months earlier. But the Whites had been doomed to failure from the start.

Lenin and his government had been able to raise the Red Army to a strength of more than 5 million men and to ensure the supply of basic munitions. There had been failures of organization, conflicts between commanders and kommissars, and frequent confusion among the headquarters of the fronts, the High Command, and the party Central Committee in Moscow. The new Soviet leaders and the Red Army were able to rise above these obstacles, and united and fired by revolutionary zeal, they triumphed.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to penetrate the endemic confusion of the Red Army’s operations in this period and the miasma of suspicions, vicious antagonisms, and conflicting claims – many of them made later – in order to evaluate the contribution of the individual Soviet leaders to the triumph. Lenin had been in command throughout the war. He had closely followed each operation and had sent out orders, usually in the name of the Central Committee, but they were his orders. He had handled troublesome personalities, especially Stalin and Trotsky, with tact and firmness. All had accepted his supreme leadership. It was, indeed, during the years after the Revolution, and particularly during the Civil War, that he revealed greatness as a leader.

Trotsky’s prestige had greatly diminished by the end of the war. The failure of his negotiations with the Germans and the forced acceptance of the disastrous terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk had damaged his reputation. He had resigned as kommissar for Foreign Affairs and become kommissar for War. In the early months of the Civil War, he had blazed across the sky like a comet. He had laid the foundations of the Red Army. A small vibrant figure in black leather uniform, he was gallant and ludicrous at the same time. At every opportunity, he harangued the troops. He was a fine orator, and very conscious of this talent. Often, as in Sviyazhsk in August 1918, his dramatic words and presence raised the morale of disheartened men, just as his ruthless punishments restored discipline. But he greatly overrated the power of his theatrical performances. Budënny wrote that to ordinary, often illiterate, soldiers he could be a strange figure with his waving arms and spate of words, most of which they did not understand. At times, his exhortations stirred them to anger. Moreover, as Lenin came to recognize, he was readily carried away by his own words, losing touch with the realities of the situation. He was also unsound in his appointments to positions of command. His stubborn support for Vatsetis had been an example. At the start of the war, Trotsky had exercised wide independent authority; by the time of the Polish War, he was to be found in Moscow and directly under Lenin’s control.

Increasingly, Lenin had come to rely on Stalin, who was in most things the antithesis of Trotsky. He rarely addressed the troops or meetings of any kind, but when he did, he spoke in simple terms. He was the realist, who coldly assessed men and situations, and was usually sound in his conclusions. He remained calm and self-possessed. He was difficult only in his antagonisms toward certain people and when his advice was rejected. While demanding that others obey orders, he himself did not hesitate on occasions to be insubordinate, for he readily set his judgment above that of others. But he learned, too, that in war, a supreme commander, exercising unquestioned authority, was essential to victory. He never forgot this lesson.

In November 1919, Trotsky and Stalin were awarded the new Order of the Red Banner. The award to Stalin was “for his services in the defense of Petrograd and for his self-sacrificing work at the South Front.” The two awards were an indication that at the time, Lenin and the Central Committee considered both men equally valuable.

In later years, when seeking every pretext to denigrate Stalin, Trotsky wrote contemptuously of his role in the Civil War. It is clear, however, from contemporary sources, including Trotsky’s papers, that he had then rated Stalin high as a military organizer. In times of crisis when party interests and the revolutionary cause transcended personal rivalries, he turned to him. During the Polish War, for example, when anxious about an attack by Wrangel from the Crimea, Trotsky recommended that “Comrade Stalin should be charged with forming a new military council with Egorov or Frunze as commander by agreement between the Commander-in-Chief and Comrade Stalin.” On other occasions, he made or supported similar proposals to send Stalin to resolve crucial problems at the fronts. Like Lenin and other members of the Central Committee, he had come to value Stalin’s abilities.

Stalin emerged from the Civil War and the Polish War with a greatly enhanced reputation. He had made mistakes but so, too, had others. To the people generally, he was still not well known. He was rarely in the public eye and, unlike Trotsky, he did not court publicity. Within the party, he was known as the quiet and incisive man of action, a leader of decision and authority. In the immense task facing the government, of reorganizing the country after the years of war and revolution, he was clearly a man who would bear special responsibilities.

The experience of the Civil War made a profound impact on Stalin. It broadened his knowledge of himself and his abilities. For the first time, he had responsibility on a vast scale, and he found that he could carry it and, indeed, was stimulated by it. But this self-knowledge came in conditions of complete brutalization. He had witnessed the bread war when villages and whole towns were wiped out in the struggle to ensure grain deliveries to the north. He had been schooled in the principle that the party’s purposes must be pursued, no matter what the cost in human lives. Now he had seen people massacred in thousands in the struggle for the survival of the party and its government. The experience implanted more deeply in him that inhumanity which was to mark his exercise of power.

Maximinus Thrax

The first emperor to rise from the ranks of the army was Maximinus Thrax (the Thracian) [Julius Verus Maximinus, Gaius]. Maximinus is not in fact recorded as Thrax before the Epitome de Caesaribus (written c. ad 395). As Syme observes, however, it is quite likely that he did come from one of the Thracian provinces, if not Thracia itself then Moesia Inferior. His father Micea was a Goth, his mother Ababa an Alan. He knew no Greek. He entered the army, serving in the cavalry before attracting attention because of his size, hence receiving a post in the bodyguard of Emperor Septimius Severus and positions of honor under Caracalla. Called “Thrax” because of his origins, Maximinus despised Elagabalus but served as a tribune in the government and was greeted with joy by the new emperor, Severus Alexander, who gave him command of the recruits from Pannonia serving on the Rhine.

He possessed enormous strength, but other qualities were presumably in evidence to allow him to reach officer status and go on to the command of a legion in Egypt. When Severus Alexander mounted his expedition to the Rhine in A D 235, Maximinus was in command of recruits from Pannonia. His military record ensured that when the young emperor was assassinated, the troops declared for him, but not unanimously.

Severus was quickly despatched, his memory condemned, and his council of advisers dismissed. Establishment resistance (two successive military revolts centred on the consulars C. Petronius Magnus and Titius Quartinus) was too late and too feeble. In the meantime, and certainly before the last week of March 235, the Roman senate formally recognized Maximinus. Eighteen years after the usurpation of Macrinus, the purple had once more passed to an equestrian. However, it must again be emphasized that, despite his success, Maximinus was an outsider; unlike Macrinus, he had not attained the rank of praetorian prefect. His unusual position helps explain his subsequent actions.

Some of the eastern soldiers were loyal to Severus Alexander, and some of the senatorial officers did not wish him well, but after eradicating all his immediate opponents, Maximinus remained emperor for another three years, campaigning successfully in Germany beyond the Rhine, finishing off what his predecessor had started. Preoccupied with these military necessities, Maximinus did not find time to go to Rome to strengthen his position. The Senate had confirmed him as emperor, but not with good grace, and a series of revolts and attempts at usurpation broke out.

The assassination (in March AD 235) and replacement of Severus Alexander by a tough career soldier from Thrace, Maximinus Thrax (r. AD 235-38), was a stark reminder that the empire needed emperors who knew the army. An equestrian outside the ruling clique, Maximinus had exploited the opportunities of the Severan army to gain numerous senior appointments.

However, the senatorial aristocracy could not agree to this particular appointment, and, after an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation, they managed to face the army down. The subsequent run of emperors – the three Gordiani, Decius, Trebonianus Gallus, Valerianus and Gallienus – was one of ‘gentlemen officers’. Yet their military misfortunes would finally destroy the prestige of the Augustan system, leaving military rule as the only alternative. Maximinus, the Thracian soldier of obscure birth and exclusively military experience, had set the trend whereby the army called the shots, putting forward their own commanders as new emperors.

Maximinus did not follow the usual practice of successful usurpers by moving to Rome, but chose to continue the German campaign. He may, of course, have simply wanted to consolidate his standing with the army. On the other hand, that he remained three full years on the northern frontier suggests that it was an acute awareness of his political vulnerability that caused him to stay away from the capital, where senatorial power and regard for the late Severan regime were strong. Maximinus crossed the Rhine south of Mainz after midsummer 235; he traversed the Agri Decumates before engaging the enemy: there was no fighting on Roman territory, and no surrender of the southern limes. Having compelled the Germans he encountered to negotiate peace, he moved south to spend the winter of 235/6 in Raetia, possibly at Regensburg. In 236, having campaigned against the Germans from Regensburg, he moved eastward to the middle Danube, where he fought against free Dacians and Sarmatians. The move necessitated the transfer of his headquarters, probably to Sirmium. In the same year, 236 (perhaps in early spring, on the anniversary of his own accession), Maximinus designated his son, C. Iulius Verus Maximus, as his Caesar and formal successor. Maximinus passed the two following winters, 236/7 and 237/8, in Sirmium. The campaigning season of 237 saw him in action once again against Sarmatians and Dacians; that of 238 was intended to be used for a major expedition against the Germans.

Though all appeared to be going well, Maximinus was by now running into serious trouble. He might even eventually have experienced problems in his chosen role of conqueror of foreign enemies. The expedition planned for 238 may have been in response to the first major Gothic attack on the Graeco-Roman world (against the Black Sea cities of Olbia and Tyras); and the Persians were again threatening the east: in 236 king Ardashir had raided Mesopotamia and taken Nisibis and Carrhae, possibly Rhesaina, and perhaps Singara. However, it was domestic unrest that proved to be Maximinus’ undoing. Maximinus lived frugally, was disinclined to pay tribute to Rome’s enemies and, while not miserly with his troops, was no spendthrift in respect of pay and donatives. On the other hand, his constant warfare led to a significant increase in state spending which had to be met from taxation. Maximinus tightened up the collection of standard taxes and demanded extraordinary payments from rich and poor alike. Money and materials were not the only things he asked for: the levying of recruits may also have occasioned resentment. Though he became unpopular, and was branded the enemy of the well-to-do, with the right support at the centre of his empire he should still have been able to survive. It was his political weakness that allowed matters to get out of hand.

Maximinus, therefore, ought still to have been able to deal with the situation without trouble. Pupienus, Balbinus and Gordian III were for the most part, like the two Gordiani, dependent on raw conscripts and local youth militias. Against these Maximinus could throw a large, battle-hardened army and, in response to the news of the defection of Rome to Gordian I, he was already on his way. However, his judgement continued to fail him. He seems to have decided on a Blitzkrieg that would take him quickly to Rome, but he did not take into account the difficulties of deploying an army towards the end of an Alpine winter, and he found it hard to cope with the guerilla tactics employed by the defenders of northern Italy. His columns came to a halt when the city of Aquileia – important not only as a major communications centre, but now also as a repository of badly needed supplies – closed its gates to him. Instead of taking a reduced force and pushing on to Rome, Maximinus allowed his anger to get the better of him, and settled down to besiege the city. This gave Pupienus the opportunity to move north to Ravenna to co-ordinate opposition. However, the outlook for Maximinus’ foes remained uncertain. Pupienus’ troops were of doubtful quality; and the potential for division between the three leaders of the newly established regime remained great: even before Pupienus had departed from Rome there was street-fighting between the mob and the praetorian troops, possibly inspired by the Gordianic faction. Maximinus should still have been able to emerge victorious, but his excessive insistence on effort and discipline caused increasing disaffection among his hungry, tired and now demoralized troops. After about four weeks, around early June 238, Maximinus’ army mutinied, slew him and his son, and went over to Pupienus, Balbinus and Gordian III.

Maximinus Thrax had Parthian cataphracts, being mercenaries, deserters, or prisoners of war conscripted into the army, and in 238 a large force of Germanic cavalry, Gothic foederati or, more accurately mercenaries obviously hired during his Danubian war, followed him to Italy. However, foreign federate forces and hired or mobilized symmarchiarii, fellow-combatants, always fought in the wars of the empire. There were many auxiliaries in his force. The irregulars were notably conspicuous amongst them. Moors, extensively used by the Roman army over the years, were there in force. They had served Rome well in the Rhine campaigns and their leader in the 2nd century ad, Lusius Quietus, whose career is noted above, had gone on to become a consul. Now they were an integral part of Maximinus’ new invasion of Italy.

Alongside these irregulars were other units, regiments whose appearance spoke of distant cultures and frontiers. There were oriental archers with reflex bows. Cataphract cavalry, of the type Roman soldiers jokingly termed clibanarii or `oven-men’ on account of their extensive armour, were seen in flesh and metal for the first time on Italian soil. 40 If the armies of the Severans had seemed alien, that of Maximinus must have seemed still more so. Yet within these forces even more revolutionary changes were taking place. These changes again testify to the Roman tendency to incorporate men and ideas from elsewhere.

As Maximinus began his invasion of Italy, events in Africa were reaching a horrific climax. The legionary legate in Numidia remained loyal to the Danubian emperor. His forces slaughtered the Senate-backed contender, Gordian, and his son at Carthage. Then they vented their fury on the civilian population, slaughtering not only the landowners who had backed Gordian but many more besides. A couple of key points emerge from this gory tale. The first is that in the richly networked world of the Roman Empire the original uprising, with its resentments against high taxes and its strong local leadership, could never simply be a regional revolt. The disturbance had profound implications, both in terms of the reason for the taxes, the financing of distant wars, and in terms of senatorial politics. The second lesson comes from the bloodletting itself. Shaw sees it as notable that an army that had been stationed in Africa for so long could turn on the civilian population in this way. 43 Even after generations of service in the provinces, the military community was still first and foremost at the service of the emperor. It might bring, through its recruitment and through its families, many provincials ever closer into the orbit of Roman power, but its relationship with local populations was always ultimately secondary to its interdependence on imperial power.

Maximinus Thrax (235-238), on his march on Rome, had made an all-out effort to take the city with his capable and ingenious Pannonian troops:

The soldiers . . . remained out of range of the arrows and took up stations around the entire circuit of the wall by cohorts and legions, each unit investing the section it was ordered to hold. . . . The soldiers kept the city under continuous siege. . . . They brought up every type of siege machinery and attacked the wall with all the power they could muster, leaving untried nothing of the art of siege warfare. . . . They launched numerous assaults virtually every day, and the entire army held the city encircled as if in a net, but the Aquileians fought back determinedly, showing real enthusiasm for war.

Before the gates of Aquileia, where travelers descending the Alps meet the via Annia and enter the network of roads that leads to Rome. There in 238 ce civil war was averted, through an exercise of economic power on the part of a city, in the face of an emperor and his army. Maximinus the Thracian had been acclaimed emperor by his army three years earlier, after he assassinated his predecessor, Severus Alexander; but the Senate did not recognize his elevation and eventually put forward its own candidates and attempted to field its own army. Maximinus marched on Italy, but without, one might say, divine foresight: he departed Sirmium in such haste that he neglected to send the customary advance notice requesting provision, and he had to gather it en route (Herodian 7.8.10-11). He encountered serious difficulty as soon as he reached Italy: the population of Emona had abandoned their city, burning whatever supplies they could not carry, and his army went hungry (Herodian 8.1.4-5). Aquileia therefore assumed even greater importance for the provisioning of his army, but its population closed their gates against him. Maximinus, unwilling, or perhaps unable, to advance without supplies, while leaving a large, hostile city as his back, undertook a siege. His army began to starve, murdered Maximinus and his son, and reconciled with the Senate and its emperor, Gordian III.

The events that encompassed the ruin of Maximinus, and the narratives by which we know them, thus subvert, even as they illustrate, those easy attempts to equate power with force, and to locate its origins in law, violence, or wealth, that lie at the heart of most construals of what Gibbon called “the system of imperial government.” For if it was not the Senate but Aquileia that undid Maximinus, and not by force but flight, as it were, that it did so, neither did Aquileia choose its ruler. That power it ceded all the time: to the army when it chose Maximinus, to the Senate when it chose Gordian, and to the imperial system, when it accepted and with its money supported government by whatsoever Roman held the throne.

Maximinus Thrax: From Common Soldier to Emperor of Rome by Paul N. Pearson (Author)

Pavel Ivanovich Batov, (1897–1985)

Soviet Army general who served with the Bryansk Front and in the Battle of Kursk, among many other engagements. Born on June 1, 1897, in the village of Filisovo in the Rybinsk region of Yaroslavl Province, Russia, Pavel Batov entered the army in 1915 during World War I and fought on the Russo-German front. He won two St. George crosses and was wounded in combat in 1917. On his recovery, he was assigned to the noncommissioned officer (NCO) school in Petrograd, where he became a convert to Bolshevism.

Batov joined the Red Army in August 1918 and fought in the Russian Civil War. Between 1926 and 1927, he attended the Vystrel Officers’ School. On graduation, he took command of a battalion of the 1st Moscow Proletarian Rifle Division. He served with this division for nearly nine years, commanding its 3rd Rifle Regiment in 1933. In 1936 and 1937, he served as an adviser to the Republican side in the 1936–1939 Spanish Civil War and was twice wounded.

Promoted to brigade commander on his return to the Soviet Union in December 1937, Batov took command of the X Rifle Corps. In early 1938, he assumed command of the III Rifle Corps. At the same time, he served on a special commission to recommend the restructuring of Red Army mechanized and motorized forces. The commission’s report, approved in November 1939, unwisely recommended abolishing the army’s 4 tank corps and replacing them with 15 smaller motorized divisions.

Batov’s III Corps of four divisions participated in the September 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland and in the February–March 1940 phase of the Soviet invasion of Finland. His service in Finland earned him promotion to lieutenant general in June 1940, and soon thereafter, he was named deputy commander of the Transcaucas Military District. In June 1941, Batov was summoned to Moscow and given command of the IX Separate Rifle Corps in the Crimea. No sooner had he taken up his post then the Germans invaded the Soviet Union.

In October 1941, Batov became deputy commander of the Fifty-First Special Army. From January to February 1942, he commanded the Third Army of the Bryansk Front, and from February to October 1942, he was deputy front commander. He then headed the Fourth Tank Army, the redesignated Sixty-Fifth Army, in the Stalingrad area.

Pavel Ivanovich Batov, commanded the Soviet 65th Army through 1942-3, was assigned to this post as the battle for Stalingrad reached its peak. The evolution of 65th Army shows many of the reasons for the improvements in the Red Army as a whole. Originally raised as 28th Reserve Army in early 1942, it was prematurely committed to the disastrous attempt by Semyon Timoshenko to recapture Kharkov that spring. The German counter-attack that destroyed much of Timoshenko’s forces threw 28th Army back to the Don, where its staff was ordered to hand over their units to neighbouring armies and to start the formation of 4th Tank Army in the Volga valley. When Batov arrived to take command of this army, he was astonished to discover its current tank strength amounted to only four tanks; when he raised this with his superiors, the army was renamed 65th Army.

Unlike the opening months of the war, nearly all of the senior staff officers of Batov’s new army were veterans with experience of staff posts and hard combat behind them. The only exception was the commander of the communications section, Captain Borissov, but his skill in maintaining communications between army headquarters and its constituent divisions earned him high praise, and the constant fighting on the flanks of the great German bulge around Stalingrad ensured that even he too soon became a veteran. When the army was thrown into the great counter-attack that encircled the German 6th Army in Stalingrad, the staff officers were experts at cooperation and coordination.

Following the Soviet victory at Stalingrad in January 1943, Batov fought in the Battle of Kursk (July 5–13, 1943), the crossing of the Dnieper River, and the drive through Belorussia into East Pomerania and across the Oder River. Batov was popular with his men because he was one of the few senior officers who visited the front lines and conversed with the soldiers.

Promoted to colonel general in June 1944, Batov was in the Northern Group of Forces between 1944 and 1948 and was first deputy commanding general of Soviet forces in the occupation of East Germany. Promoted to army general in 1955, he commanded the Carpathian Military District from 1955 and 1958 and participated in suppressing the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Batov commanded the Baltic Military District between 1958 and 1959 and the Southern Group of Forces in 1961 and 1962. He served as chief of staff of Warsaw Pact forces between 1962 and 1965. He then served as inspector general in the Soviet Ministry of Defense until his death in Moscow on April 19, 1985.


Bialer, Seweryn, ed. Stalin and His Generals: Soviet Military Memoirs of World War II. New York: Pegasus, 1969.

Glantz, David. “Pavel Ivanovich Batov.” In Stalin’s Generals, edited by Harold Shukman, 35–43. New York: Grove, 1993.

Conrad II (ca. 990-June 4,1039)

Conrad II, 12th-century stained glass depiction, Strasbourg Cathedral

The first monarch of the new royal dynasty of the Salians, Conrad (Konrad) II was born circa 990 to Heinrich, son of Duke Otto of Carinthia and grandson of Duke Conrad of Lotharingia (d. 955). After his fathers death, he was raised by his grandfather and uncle Conrad until he was taken into the episcopal household of Bishop Burchard of Worms (1000—d. 1025), supposedly because of ill-treatment at the hands of his relatives. In 1016, he married Gisela (d. 1043), daughter of Hermann II of Bavaria, thereby allying himself with one of the noblest families in the Reich (empire). The future king Henry III was born to the couple one year later in 1017.

When King Henry II died childless early in 1024, the nobility of the Reich was presented with the opportunity to elect a new monarch and ruling house. The royal election, recounted in unusual detail by the royal biographer and chaplain Wipo, was held at Kamba on the Rhine on September 4, 1024. Chosen over his rival and cousin Conrad the Younger (d. 1039), Conrad II was consecrated and crowned king by Archbishop Aribo of Mainz on September 8.

Once crowned king, Conrad had to make his kingship, his royal presentia, felt throughout his realm by establishing the personal bonds with local ecclesiastics, monasteries, and nobles that were the true guarantees of his kingship’s power and stability. Furthermore, he had to gain the support of the Saxons and the members of the Lotharingian nobility who had not consented to his election. Therefore, following the tradition of his Ottonian predecessors, he devoted the next fifteen months to a royal iter (journey) that enabled him to meet and negotiate with nobles from Lotharingia to Saxony as well as those in Alemannia, Bavaria, Franconia, and Swabia.

In February 1026, Conrad assembled an army of thousands of armored knights for an expedition into Italy, including troops commanded by both Archbishop Aribo of Mainz and Archbishop Pilgrim of Cologne. Conrad’s army marched south, besieging Pavia, but the city walls blocked the attackers.

Conrad II, circa 990 – 4.6.1039, Holy Roman Emperor 26.3.1027 – 4.6.1039, full length, crowned by archbishop Aribo of Mainz and archbishop Pilgrim of Cologne, miniature, 1st half 11th century,

With his rule thus consolidated by late 1025, Conrad embarked upon an expedition to Italy that lasted from the spring of 1026 until early summer of 1027. There he reestablished his authority over such rebellious cities of northern Italy as Pavia and Ravenna and broke down the opposition to royal rule within the Italian nobility through a combination of diplomacy and military might. Crowned Roman emperor by Pope John XIX (1024—1032) on Easter (March 26) of 1027 with King Cnut of England and Denmark and King Rudolf III of Burgundy in attendance, Conrad then headed south into Apulia, where he reestablished nominal German sovereignty over the Lombard princes and attempted to secure the frontier with Byzantine southern Italy.

Back in Germany, Conrad pondered the future of the dynasty, At Regensburg in June of 1027, he elevated his son Henry as duke of Bavaria and, on Easter of 1028, had him crowned king at Aachen with the consent of the princes of the Reich. The death in 1033 of King Rudolf III enabled the Salian monarch to expand his hegemony by incorporating the kingdom of Burgundy into the Reich. Around 1034, after his earlier bid for a marriage alliance with Byzantium had failed, Conrad turned to Denmark for a bride for his son; Henry III married King Cnut’s (1017–1035) daughter Kunigunde in 1036. With the deaths of the reigning dukes of Swabia and Carinthia in 1038 and 1039 respectively, Conrad invested Henry III with those duchies, thereby giving him a unique position of power in the three southernmost duchies of the German Reich.

Despite the extent of his power, Conrad II faced several internal rebellions and significant foreign challenges during his reign. Just two years after Conrad’s election, a group of conspirators led by his rival Conrad the Younger rebelled during the king ‘s first expedition to Italy. After an initial show of loyalty, the king’s stepson Duke Ernst II of Swabia later joined this rebellion; he persisted in his opposition to Conrad, despite brief returns to grace and appointments to office, until he was killed in August of 1030.

In 1036 Conrad journeyed again to Lombardy to settle widespread disputes between subvassals and their lay and ecclesiastical overlords over the security of the subvassals’ legal status and rights. After overcoming the resistance of the Italian episcopate and their attempt to introduce Count Odo of Champagne (995–1037) as king, Conrad finally settled the dispute in favor of the subvassals with his decree Constitutio de feudis of 1037, which represented a major departure from the earlier, proepiscopal policies of his Ottonian predecessors.

On his eastern frontiers, Conrad responded to the repeated political challenges posed by Poland, Bohemia, and Hungary through a combination of military might, alliances with neighboring princes, territorial exchanges, and diplomacy, designed essentially to maintain the status quo rather than expand German hegemony.

Perhaps the most debated aspect today of Conrad’s kingship is his ecclesiastical policy. Earlier scholarship stressed the secularity of Conrad II’s reign and the king’s calculated development and exploitation of the Reichskirche (imperial church) to achieve secular political aims. More recent studies, however, while not ignoring Conrad’s political and economic reliance on ecclesiastical and monastic structures, have offered a more balanced assessment that highlights Conrad’s personal association with leading monastic reformers of his time, including Odilo of Cluny, William of Dijon, and Poppo of Stablo; his efforts to further their reforms; his swift change in policy after a unique case of simony reported by Wipo; and his support of reformers such as Bruno of Egisheim, the future Pope Leo IX. Finally, they argue that, although Conrad undoubtedly saw himself as the head of the imperial Church, this position of leadership remained, in his mind, a religious as well as a secular office, an attitude certainly manifested by his son Henry III.

Dying on June 4, 1039, Conrad II was laid to rest by Empress Gisela and King Henry III in the cathedral of Speyer.


Boshof, Egon. Die Salier, 3rd ed. Stuttgart and Berlin: Kohlhammer, 1995, pp. 33–91.

Die Urkunden Conrads II., ed. Harry Bresslau and P. Kehr. Munich: Monumenta Germaniae Historica, 1909; rpt. 1980.

Hoffmann, Hartmut. Monchskönig und “rex idiota”. Studien zur Kirchenpolitik Heinrichs II. und Conrads II. Hannover: Hahn, 1995.

Morrison, K.F. “The Deeds of Conrad II.” In Imperial Lives and Letters of the Eleventh Century, ed. Theodor E.Mommsen and Karl F.Morrison. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962.

Trillmich, Werner. Kaiser Conrad II. und seine Zeit, ed. Otto Bardong. Bonn: Europa Union Verlag, 1991.

Wipo. Gesta Chuonradi, ed. Harry Bresslau. Hannover: Hahn, 1878; rpt. 1993.


“Empire” (Reich) is a term used throughout the German Middle Ages to refer to various political constellations. To the inner circle at Charlemagne’s court in 800, his adoption of the title “emperor” gave expression to the fact that he was more than just the king of the Franks, or king of the Lombards; with the exception of Anglo-Saxon England and Christian Spain, every Christian area of the Latin West was subject to him, and many non-Christian areas to the east recognized his suzerainty. There was to some large degree a correspondence between his realm and Latin Christendom.

Very quickly, however, the relationship between theory and practice changed. With the Treaty of Verdun (843), the idea of an ecumenical empire gave way to a more limited one. Lothar I received the title of emperor along with the Middle Kingdom, but when his lands were subdivided in 855, the imperial title went to his son Louis II as ruler of Italy. In short, the significance of the imperial title contracted almost to the point of meaninglessness.

In theory, however, the imperial title implied a claim to the disputed lands of the Middle Kingdom, and by the early tenth century it was a hotly contested prize. The winner in this go-around was the German king Otto I, who, in 962, assumed the imperial title, signifying the union of Germany, Italy, and Lorraine. His concept of empire, and the realities as well, looked back to Lothar I far more than to Charlemagne for its model. For the next three centuries, the term Reich had reference to this area, in which Germany exercised hegemony over the other two regions. Maintaining some substance for the theory required considerable effort, however, and from time to time German rulers ignored the imperial dimensions of their office, focusing on matters north of the Alps.

Otto I and Otto II both appeared as plain imperator augustus (noble emperor), but Otto III’s chancery used the more pretentious imperator Romanorum (emperor of the Roman Empire). Though the Capetian kings of France were anxious to live on good terms with the empire, they were never prepared to admit to being imperial vassals. When Emperor Henry II and King Robert the Pious met on the banks of the Meuse in August 1023, they did so as equals; similarly, when Henry III and the French King Henry I met at Ivois in 1056, they did so on terms of equality. Henry III saw his imperial role not so much in territorial terms as in his obligation to purify and reinvigorate the papacy, the other universal head of the respublica Christiana (Christian republic). He did, however, object to the use of the title Hispaniae imperator (Hispanic emperor), which the Spanish king, Ferdinand the Great of Castile, had adopted after a great victory over the Moors.

German emperors often sought legitimization of their title and claims by marrying into the Byzantine imperial family. Otto II was the only one to do so, though appropriate spouses had been sought for both Otto III and Henry III. The securing of the hand of Isabella/Yolande of Brienne, heiress to the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem, by Frederick II of Staufen in 1223, gave a similar boost to the pretentions of the leader of the Christian world.

The accession of Frederick Barbarossa in 1152 brought a change in his attitude toward Italy, over what had prevailed for some time. In correspondence with the Byzantine emperor of Constantinople, he declared that the kings of Europe were constantly sending ambassadors to his court, to show their respect and obedience, and to offer oaths of loyalty and hostages. His chancery spoke disdainfully of the kinglets, or reguli (little kings), in at least one instance meaning thereby the kings of France, England, and Denmark who were reges provinciales (provincial kings). John of Salisbury waxed indignant over the implications of such claims for the king of France, but in the historian Rahewin’s continuation of the Gesta Friderici (The Deeds of Frederick), we find a letter of Henry II of England that (although disputed) is made to say to Barbarossa: “We offer you our kingdom and all the lands under our dominion, we hand them over to your power, so that you may dispose of them as seems good to you, and so that your imperial will may be accomplished in all things.” According to the English chronicler Hovedon, England’s independence was compromised beyond that expressed in Henry’s letter when Richard I, “by the advice of his mother Eleanor stripped himself of the kingdom of England and delivered it over to the emperor as lord of the world,” a reference to the enforced homage of Richard to Barbarossa’s son Henry VI in 1193.

Frederick Barbarossa found his plans for a reinvigorated empire challenged not only by the rising power of the Italian cities but by the theocratic pretensions of Pope Hadrian IV. To counter papal claims that the emperor held the empire as a “benefice conferred by the pope,” Frederick declared that he held his kingdom and his empire from God alone. To buttress this argument, his chancery began to use the adjective sacrum (holy) or sanctissimum (most holy) in connection with the empire in 1157, contrasting it with sacra ecclesia (Holy Church). Several years later, Frederick secured the canonization of Charlemagne, who, in effect, became the patron saint of the empire; the beatification of Charles the Great symbolized the rebirth of the empire yet again under Frederick’s rule.

Henry VI of Hohenstaufen’s accession in 1190, and his abortive attempt to effect a union of the kingdom of Sicily with the empire, marked a decided departure from earlier imperial policy. Henry’s son, Frederick II, in turn abandoned Germany in large measure, though there were still those who promoted the twelfth-century Staufen notion of the universal empire. At the Fourth Lateran (Papal) Council in 1215, Archbishop Siegfried II of Mainz, as arch-chancellor of the empire, objected to the announcement by Pope Innocent III that King John of England had surrendered his realm to the papacy and received it back as a fief during his efforts at reconciliation with Rome; the archbishop’s protest that the empire exercised suzerainty over the regnum Angliae (rule of Anglia) was rejected.

Meanwhile, in 1202 Innocent III in the decretal Per Venerabilem had declared that the king of France was emperor within his own realm, “cum rex superiorem in temporalibus minime recognoscat”—he recognized no temporal superior. The epithet Augustus given to Philip II by his biographer and retained by history is a sharp reflection of his attitude to the imperial daydreams, and the collapse of the Hohenstaufen after 1250 placed the question of empire in the forefront of European politics. Pierre Dubois and John of Jandun maintained that the French king was the natural successor to the imperial dignity of the Hohenstaufen, and in fact the integrity of the western boundary of the empire began to erode toward the end of the century. Rudolf of Hapsburg was less interested in perpetuating the imperial ideas than in establishing an hereditary monarchy. It was during his reign that the lands of the bishopric of Toul west of the Meuse fell into French hands (1291), while in 1297 the French established control over the entire bishopric of Metz. But even in the fourteenth century there were still political theorists in France who recognized a certain validity to the emperor’s claims of universal overlordship.

From 962 onward the rulers of Germany were, either actually or potentially, emperors. Only Otto II was consecrated emperor in his father’s lifetime, and even then he had been king for some years before his imperial coronation. Otto III and Henry II did not become emperor until 996 and 1014, respectively, in each case more than a decade after they had succeeded to the throne. Conrad II was crowned in Rome in 1027 after a gap of only three years; his son Henry III waited seven years before crossing the Alps and receiving imperial coronation in 1046. Elected in 1212 and crowned at Aachen in 1215, Frederick II did not receive imperial consecration until November 1220. In short, the imperial crown could not simply be assumed; it had to be received from the pope at Rome.

This factor helps explain the frequent bitter struggles that went on between certain German monarchs and the papacy. Many German rulers made do with the title rex Romanorum, indicating that although they had been duly elected king, they had not yet received imperial coronation. Only in the fourteenth century did the German electors challenge this practice, and by then the imperial dignity was much less preoccupied with Italy than with Central Europe. Meeting at Rhens on the Rhine in July 1338, the German estates declared that the imperial dignity was held directly of God, and that a king elected by the majority was the legitimate ruler, entitled from the day of his election to exercise his functions without papal consent or confirmation. This was reaffirmed in the Golden Bull that Charles IV published in 1356.

The concept of the Holy Roman Empire—the full term appears first in 1254—lasted in one form or another until 1806, but a second empire was created in 1870–1871, to be followed by a third Reich in the early twentieth century. As a symbol of overlordship, the term emperor was also taken over by Napoléon in 1804, whose imperial coronation at the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was clearly influenced by that of Charlemagne on Christmas Day, 800, at Rome.


Barraclough, Geoffrey. The Medieval Empire: Idea and Reality. London: G.Phillip, 1950, rpt. 1964.

Bryce, James. The Holy Roman Empire. New York: Macmillan, 1903, rpt. 1961.

Ficker, Julius. Deutsches Königthum und Kaiserthum. Innsbruck: Wagner, 1862.

Fichtenau, Heinrich. The Carolingian Empire, trans. Peter Munz. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995.

Koch, Walter. Die Reichskanzlei in den Jahren 1167 bis 1174. Publicationen der historischen Kommission der österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaft, Phil.hist. Klasse, Denkschriften, 115. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademien der Wissenschaften, 1973.

Leyser, Karl. Medieval Germany and Its Neighbors, 900–1250. London: Hambledon, 1982.

Michael, Wolfgang. Die Formen des unmittelbaren Verkehrs zwischen den deutschen Kaisern und souveränen Fürsten vornehmlich in X., XI. und XII. Jahrhundert. Hamburg: Voß, 1888.

Schramm, Percy Ernst. Kaiser, Rom und Renovatio. 2 vols.; rpt. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1962.

Struve, Tilman. “Kaisertum und Romgedanke in salischer Zeit.” Deutsches Archiv 44 (1988): 424–454.

Jean Bart, (1650-1702)

The most famous of the French privateers, Jean Bart (1650-1702), made his name as a daring commerce raider, before being created a Chevalier and joining the French Navy. While commerce destruction proved indecisive in the face of Anglo-Dutch sea control and insurance markets, it was nevertheless an effective cheap naval policy for a nation unable to fight for command of the sea.

Dunkirk Dunquerque Defenses – 1700

Privateer and French navy commodore. Born on 21 October 1650 in Dunkerque, Jean Bart as a teenager served in the Dutch navy under Michiel de Ruyter, where he learned the art of naval techniques and privateering. Later his knowledge of the Dutch coastline enhanced his skill as an independent privateer.

On the outbreak of the 1672-1674 First Anglo-Dutch War, Bart became a privateer for the French, probably hoping to feast on the more lucrative Dutch shipping. As captain of the small privateer Serpente, he fought six battles and captured 81 prizes, and he came to the attention of French Naval Minister Jean Baptiste Colbert. Although first denied a commission because of his social origin, Bart won a lieutenancy in 1679.

After further service against pirates off the coast of Portugal, Bart was promoted to commander in 1686 and received command of the frigate Railleuse. At the start of the 1688-1697 War of the League of Augsburg, while commanding a squadron guarding merchant vessels heading to Brest, Bart was captured and taken to Portsmouth. Escaping prison, he returned to France to command the Alcyon at the 30 June 1690 Battle of Beachy Head under Admiral Anne-Hilarion de Cotentin, Comte de Tourville. At the June 1693 Battle of Lagos, he sank seven enemy vessels. In June 1694, while commanding a six-ship squadron, Bart surprised a similar sized Dutch force escorting a grain convoy. He captured two Dutch warships along with a large number of grain ships and took his prizes to Dunkerque to help feed famine-ravaged France. The French government ennobled him for this action.

Bart then provided advice on the land fortifications around Dunkerque and defended the city against English attacks led by John Benbow in 1695-1696. Bart managed to run Benbow’s blockade of Dunkerque in May 1696 and seized additional prizes off the Dogger Bank. In 1697 King Louis XIV promoted him to commodore for his services to France. By the end of the war, Bart had accounted for victories over 30 enemy ships and the capture of 200 merchant ships. In 1697 Bart slipped through an English blockade to deliver the Prince de Conti, a candidate for the Polish throne, to Danzig.

At the end of the war Bart retired to Dunkerque. He died there on 27 April 1702. Bart proved himself an enterprising commander and he remains one of France’s greatest naval heroes.

Many anecdotes tell of the courage and bluntness of the 2.04 m tall, uncultivated sailor, who became a popular hero of the French Navy. He captured a total of 386 ships and also sank or burned a great number more. The town of Dunkirk has honoured his memory by erecting a statue and by naming a public square after him. During the carnival of Dunkirk, held every year the Sunday before Holy Tuesday, local people knee all together in front of his statue and sing the Cantate à Jean Bart. Jean Bart is viewed by the inhabitants of Dunkirk as a local hero.


Stalin and Barbarossa

During 1940, relations between the Soviet Union and Germany remained formally correct, but were increasingly strained. Hitler had strong misgivings about the Russians being so near to the Romanian oil fields. Stalin was alarmed by reports of German troops in Finland and of German designs on the Balkans. The ten-year pact between Germany, Italy, and Japan, signed in Berlin on September 27, 1940, and excluding Soviet Russia, added to his anxieties.

On November 12, on the invitation of Ribbentrop, Molotov arrived in Berlin to discuss “a long-term delimitation of interests.” He found that Hitler was concerned only with the division of the British Empire between the Soviet Union and the Axis powers. Molotov showed no interest and infuriated Hitler by firing question after question at him and demanding specific answers about German intentions in Finland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Hitler was not accustomed to interrogation of this kind, and he was antagonized by the rocklike obstinacy of the Soviet minister. As early as the summer of 1940, he had started thinking about the invasion of Russia, but this meeting with the persistent and imperturbable Molotov probably influenced him in deciding finally to launch Operation Barbarossa.

The façade of cordial relations was maintained in the first months of 1941. But tension was mounting. In March, Bulgaria joined the Axis; Yugoslavia also agreed to join. On March 27, however, a revolt in Yugoslavia against the pro-German policy resulted in the formation of a new government which looked to Moscow. Stalin was quick to sign a pact of friendship and nonaggression with the new Yugoslav regime but could do nothing when German forces invaded the country and Belgrade was mercilessly bombed.

On May 5, in the Kremlin, Stalin addressed several hundred young officers, newly graduated from the military academies. He emphasized the importance of modernization and re-equipment in building up the power of the Red Army. He went on to warn them that the situation was grave and a German attack in the near future could not be ruled out. He told them bluntly that the Red Army was not yet strong enough to smash the Germans easily; it suffered from shortages of modern tanks, aircraft, and other equipment, and its troops were still under training. The Soviet government by diplomacy and other means was striving to delay the Germans until autumn when the approach of winter would postpone any attack until 1942. If Soviet tactics succeeded, then the war with Nazi Germany would come almost inevitably in 1942, but valuable months would have been gained. The period “from now until August” was the most dangerous.

This meeting was followed by a series of desperate attempts to appease Hitler. Friendly economic and diplomatic gestures were made. Painful efforts to avoid even the semblance of provocation were continued. On June 14, 1941, TASS, the Soviet news agency, issued a communiqué emphasizing friendly relations with Germany, which was “unswervingly observing the conditions of the Soviet-German Non-aggression Pact, just as the U.S.S.R. is doing” and denying rumors, emanating from London, of an “early war between the two countries.” Berlin ignored these gestures. Hitler had already made his decision.

The tension in the Kremlin became unbearable during these weeks of waiting. Stalin felt the strain. He was irascible, and reports on relations with Germany could only be submitted to him “in fear and trepidation.” He had concentrated “all his thoughts and deeds” on averting war in 1941; he was confident, but not positive, that he would succeed. In the midst of the conflicting intelligence reports and rumors, he was deeply uneasy. The German chief of staff had issued on February 15, 1941, a special “Directive for Misinforming the Enemy” to provide cover for Operation Barbarossa. False information was leaked that German troop movements in the east were part of the “greatest misinformation manoeuvre in history, designed to distract attention from final preparations for the invasion of England.”

Stalin was undoubtedly influenced by this misinformation. He did not believe, however, that in the last resort, Hitler would depart from the traditions of Bismarck’s Ostpolitik, requiring that Germany should avoid military involvement in Russia while engaged in the west. At the same time, he had an exaggerated conception of the power and influence of the German generals even to the extent of believing that, contrary to Hitler’s specific instructions, they were trying to precipitate war against Russia.

Among members of the Politburo and the Soviet High Command, the firm opinion was that war would be averted in 1941. Zhdanov held that Germany was taken up with war against Britain and incapable of fighting on two fronts. On March 20, 1941, General Filipp Golikov, head of military intelligence, submitted to Stalin a report on German troop concentration in the borderlands, but expressed the opinion that the information must have originated from the British and German intelligence services. Early in May, Kuznetsov sent a similar report to Stalin, giving information received from the Soviet naval attaché in Berlin on the imminence of war. Like Golikov, he nullified the value of the report by adding that in his opinion, the information was false and planted by some foreign agency.

Early in April 1941, Churchill sent a personal message to Stalin, warning him of German troop movements and the imminence of attack on the Soviet Union. This was followed by an urgent warning given to the Soviet ambassador in London on June 18. Reports from the Soviet Embassy in Berlin and from Dr. Richard Sorge, the brilliant Soviet spy in Japan, gave the exact date of the German invasion.

Stalin regarded these reports with skepticism. He remained deeply mistrustful of Britain. There was, it seems, no limit to the perfidy of which he believed Britain capable. He was convinced that Britain and the United States were doing everything possible to incite Hitler to attack Russia and that Britain, in particular, saw a German campaign in the east as the one way to save itself from catastrophe. He believed that the British government had recently held secret talks with Nazi officials, seeking to reach an agreement at the expense of Russia. The solo flight of Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, to Scotland on May 10–11, 1941, intensified his suspicions of British secret diplomacy.

On the evening of June 21, Zhukov learned by telephone from Kiev that a German sergeant major had crossed to the Soviet lines and informed the Soviet commander that the German forces would attack at dawn on the following morning.

Zhukov at once telephoned Stalin and Timoshenko. Stalin summoned them to the Kremlin. He received them alone and heard Zhukov’s report.

“But perhaps the German generals sent this deserter to provoke a conflict,” was his first response.

“No, we think the deserter is telling the truth,” they replied.

Members of the Politburo arrived. He asked for their opinions, but there was no response.

Timoshenko produced a draft directive, alerting all commands. But Stalin had not given up hope that it might be a false alarm. He had the directive redrafted and finally approved its dispatch. It ordered all units on the fronts of the Leningrad, Baltic, Western, Kiev, and Odessa military districts to come to immediate readiness for a possible sudden German attack. Transmission of the directive was completed by 0030 hours on June 22, 1941. At 0400 hours, the invasion began.

The German forces, comprising 3 million troops in 162 divisions with 3,400 tanks and 7,000 guns, advanced in three groups: the north group toward Leningrad, the center group toward Moscow, and the south group into the Ukraine. The sixteen months that followed were for the Germans, a period of immense gains; for the Russians, they were months of disastrous defeats and horrifying casualties and devastation.

By dawn on June 22, 1941, Timoshenko, Zhukov, and his deputy chief of the general staff, Vatutin, were receiving frantic communications from front commanders. All reported air attacks and requested orders. Timoshenko told Zhukov to telephone Stalin.

Stalin heard his report and proposal to order troops to retaliate. There was a long silence during which Zhukov could hear the sound of his breathing on the line. Then Stalin ordered him and Timoshenko to come to the Kremlin and to tell Poskrebyshev to summon the members of the Politburo.

At 4:30 a.m., all were assembled in Stalin’s office. He stood by the table, his face white, with an unlit pipe in his hand. He was visibly shaken.

Molotov hastened into the room from a meeting with the German ambassador. He reported that Germany had declared war.

Stalin sank into his chair and sat in silence. This was one of the most shattering moments in his whole life. He had used every means at his disposal to avert this war. He had desperately willed it to be delayed at least until the following spring. He thought he had succeeded, but he had failed. Armaments were beginning to flow to the armed forces from the defense industries, and the intensive training programs were bringing daily improvements in discipline and efficiency. Six months would have made a vast difference.

Stalin knew he had made a tragic miscalculation. The Politburo and senior military commanders, with all of whom he had discussed his decisions, had shared his views. But they were dominated by him and conscious of his intellectual superiority and his supreme authority. He was honest enough to recognize that it was wholly his responsibility. He had misjudged Hitler’s intentions. Soviet Russia was threatened now with a holocaust which could sweep away the communist regime and all that it had achieved.

It was later alleged that on this evening or during the following weeks when news of terrible defeats were reaching him, his nerve snapped and he surrendered to black despair. Khrushchev stated that about this time, Stalin thought the end had come. He exclaimed: “All Lenin created, we have lost for ever!” After this outburst, he did nothing “for a long time”; he returned to active leadership only after a Politburo deputation pleaded with him to resume command. But Khrushchev’s allegations are not supported by others who were at his side. In fact, Stalin had never been more in command than during these critical days when all seemed lost.

At the dawn meeting on June 22, Stalin came out of his brooding silence to authorize Directive No. 2, calling on all military districts to attack the invaders. The order was unrealistic. The Red Army was falling back in confusion. The breakdown in communications was posing acute problems. Moscow lost touch with the forces to the north of the Pripet and with other commands.

About 1:00 p.m. on June 22, Stalin telephoned Zhukov and said that, since front commanders lacked combat experience and were confused, the Politburo was sending him to the Southwest Front as the representative of the Stavka. Khrushchev would join him there. Shaposhnikov and Grigory Kulik were going to the West Front. In reply to Zhukov’s query as to who would manage the general staff at this critical time, Stalin answered tersely, “Leave Vatutin in your place. Don’t lose time! We’ll get along somehow!” He flew at once to Kiev and, joined by Khrushchev, traveled by car to Ternopol, where Mikhail Kirponos, the front commander, had his command post. Already on the first day of the war, Stalin was following Lenin’s practice in the Civil War of sending trusted personal representatives to critical areas. For him, it was not only a matter of keeping direct contact with the front and a watchful eye on unproven commanders but also a demonstration of his presence.

Shattered by the German onslaught, the Red forces fell back. Directive No. 3, sent by Stalin on the night of June 22, ordering the Southwest, the West, and the Northwest Fronts to attack, was utterly impracticable. The situation was confused, and information was not reaching Moscow. Stalin himself had no conception of the speed of the German advance or the chaos in the Red Army positions.

On June 26, Stalin phoned Zhukov in Ternopol, ordering him to return to the general headquarters at once. The enemy was approaching Minsk, and Dimitry Pavlov, commanding the West Front, had evidently lost control. Kulik had disappeared and Shaposhnikov was ill. On June 28, Russian troops surrendered Minsk, the capital of Belorussia. German troops carried out a savage massacre of the inhabitants and destroyed most of the city.

Twice on June 29, Stalin came to the general headquarters. He was in a black mood and reacted violently to the chaotic situation on the West Front. Zhukov conferred by telegraph with General Pavlov, but it was clear that the situation was hopeless. The next day, Stalin ordered Zhukov to summon Pavlov to Moscow. On his arrival, Zhukov hardly recognized him; he had changed so much in the eight days of the war. Pavlov was removed from his command, and with other generals from this front, he was put on trial. All were shot.

Stalin held them responsible for the destruction of the West Front. He attached special importance to this front against which he believed the Germans would deliver their main assault. But they were, in fact, victims of the war and specifically of his own miscalculations. The most serious mistake was that the troops were not deployed in depth along the extensive western frontier with the result that the German armored divisions, advancing at speed, were able to outflank and encircle strategic positions.

The court-martial and execution of Pavlov and his senior staff also had the effect of undermining the confidence of the troops and of the people in the army’s commanders. Many doubted the allegations of their treachery and feared a new purge was being planned. This fear was increased by the decree of the presidium of the Supreme Soviet on July 16, 1941, restoring the powers of the military kommissars. Stalin was quick to realize, however, that by this drastic action, he had not stiffened morale as he had intended but had aggravated the critical uneasiness within the Red Army at a time when cool and stubborn resistance was needed. He did not repeat this mistake. In future, commanders who failed were demoted, or they simply disappeared, and their fate remained secret.

The need to set up military and civil command structures had been overlooked in the preparations for war. Stalin had been concentrating on the defense industries and the equipping and training of the armed forces. He personally disliked time-consuming committee work and, since all major matters came to the Politburo and finally to him for decision, he may have thought he could dispense with supreme command organs. The outbreak of war had shown at once that many responsibilities had to be delegated.

Early on June 22, 1941, Timoshenko had submitted a draft plan to set up a high command with Stalin as commander in chief. Before signing the decree on the following day, Stalin redrafted it, naming Timoshenko as supreme commander and establishing a general headquarters of the high command, which consisted of a council of war with Timoshenko as chairman and a membership of Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov, Budënny, Zhukov, and Kuznetsov. This arrangement, according to Zhukov, complicated the command, for there were in effect, two commanders in chief, Timoshenko de jure and Stalin de facto. The general headquarters took the title of Stavka, which had been used for the tsarist supreme military headquarters. Stalin’s Stavka did not, however, have the same large support staff, but was at first merely a group of advisers.

The general headquarters’ orders and instructions were discussed and agreed in Stalin’s study in the Kremlin. It was a large, light, austerely furnished room, paneled in stained oak, with a long table, covered in green cloth. Portraits of Marx, Engels, and Lenin hung on the walls, and portraits of eighteenth-century military heroes Alexander Suvorov and Mikhail Kutuzov joined them later in the war. Stalin’s desk, covered with maps and papers, was to one side. Poskrebyshev’s office adjoined the study and next to it was a small room, occupied by security guards. Behind the study were a lounge and signal room with all the equipment used by Poskrebyshev to connect Stalin with the front commanders. This was the main communications center. Stalin’s office and sometimes the dacha at Kuntsevo served as the supreme headquarters of the Soviet armed forces throughout the war.

On June 30, the State Defense Committee (GKO) was set up. It was the supreme organ, and its orders were executed by the Council of People’s Kommissars through the machinery of the kommissariats. The Stavka, responsible for the conduct of military affairs, was renamed the Stavka of the Supreme Command. Its council now comprised Stalin as chairman, and Molotov, Timoshenko, Voroshilov, Budënny, Shaposhnikov, and Zhukov as its members. On July 19, 1941, Stalin became kommissar for defense, and on August 8, 1941, he was appointed Supreme commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the U.S.S.R.

One of the first and most important directives of the State Defense Council (GKO), issued on July 4, was to transfer industries to the east. The evacuation of 1,523 industrial units, many of them enormous, including 1,360 major armament plants, was a tremendous undertaking and in human terms, a heroic achievement. But the dismantling and removal of these industries brought an immediate drop in production. Armament shortages were acute in the autumn of 1941 and spring of 1942. By the summer, production was reviving rapidly.

In the first fury of invasion, Stalin had been taken up with the collapse of the Soviet defenses, the organization of the high command, and resisting the invader. For a short time, he forgot the people and the need to invoke their fighting spirit and strengthen their morale. The nation was shaken and bewildered by the sudden devastating invasion. They had believed the Red Army would never permit an enemy onto Russian soil. Stalin himself was in some degree a victim of this propaganda. Although he knew better than anyone the weaknesses of the Red Army, he had not accepted in his heart that an invader could cross the frontiers. He had approved the Draft Field Regulations in 1939, which enshrined the themes that “the Soviet Union will meet any enemy attack by a smashing blow with all the might of its armed forces” and that “the military activity of the Red Army will aim at the complete destruction of the enemy and the achievement of a decisive victory at a small cost of blood.” This confidence had been shattered, and he knew that it was vital to rally the Russian people for the bitter ordeal ahead of them.

On July 3, twelve days after the invasion, Stalin broadcast to the nation. It was a historic speech, devoid of rhetoric, which appealed to the national pride of the people and to the sturdy Russian instinct to defend their homeland. He spoke as friend and leader, and it was this assurance that they had been waiting for. Russians everywhere and especially in the armed forces felt, as they listened, an “enormous enthusiasm and patriotic uplift.” General Ivan Fedyuninsky, who was to play a distinguished role on several fronts, wrote: “We suddenly seemed to feel much stronger.”

“Comrades, citizens, brothers and sisters, fighters of our army and navy! I am speaking to you, my friends,” were Stalin’s opening words. They differed strikingly from his usual form of address, and at once united them with him. Then, with a profound instinct for the mood and needs of the people, he described their predicament, and every word burned with his own implacable will to victory

At points, Stalin exaggerated and excused, but he did not obscure the truth. “Although the enemy’s finest divisions and the finest units of his air force have already been smashed and have gone to their death on the field of battle, the enemy continues to push forward.” The Soviet-German Pact had been designed to give peace or at least delay the war, but Hitler had perfidiously broken their agreement and had attacked with the advantage of surprise. He would not benefit for long.

Using simple concrete language, he brought home to the people what the war would mean for them. “The enemy is cruel and implacable. He is out to seize our lands, watered by the sweat of our brows, to seize our grain and oil, secured by the labour of our hands. He is out to restore the rule of the landlords, to restore tsarism . . . to germanize [the peoples of the Soviet Union] to turn them into the slaves of the German princes and barons.”

He told them bluntly that they were locked in a life-and-death struggle with a vile enemy and that they must be ruthless, utterly ruthless, in beating him. They must eradicate the chaos and panic in the rear of the lines. Then he stressed in detail the scorched-earth policy which they must follow. “In case of a forced retreat . . . all rolling stock must be evacuated, the enemy must not be left a single engine, a single railway car, a single pound of grain or gallon of fuel. The collective farmers must drive all their cattle and turn over their grain to the safe keeping of the authorities for transportation to the rear. All valuable property, including metals, grain and fuel, that cannot be withdrawn, must be destroyed without fail. . . . In areas occupied by the enemy, guerrillas, mounted and on foot, must be formed; sabotage groups must be organized to combat the enemy, to foment guerrilla warfare everywhere, blow up bridges and roads, damage telephone and telegraph lines, set fire to forests, stores and transport. In occupied regions, conditions must be made unbearable for the enemy and all his accomplices. They must be hounded and annihilated at every step, and all their measures frustrated.”

He expressed gratitude for the “historic utterance,” made by Churchill in a prompt broadcast on the evening of June 22 when he declared: “We shall give whatever help we can to Russia and the Russian people.” Stalin went on to speak of Napoleon’s invasion and of Russia’s victory over the French, adding that Hitler was no more invincible than Napoleon had been. Then as now, the Russian people were fighting “a national patriotic war,” and they were fighting for the freedom of all peoples. He called upon the Russians “to rally round the party of Lenin and Stalin.”

Hans-Joachim “Jochen” Marseille

Marseille was one of the most unusual of Hitler’s junior commanders. Constable and Toliver wrote that he “was an anachronism. He was a knight born a few centuries too late, a beatnik born 15 years too soon.”16 A unique cross between a relentless killing machine and a hippie, Marseille had a brief career that was one of the most exciting and interesting in the history of the Wehrmacht—both on and off the battlefield.

He was born in Berlin-Charlottenburg on December 13, 1919, the descendant of French refugees who fled to Brandenburg because of their Lutheran religion. Hans-Joachim was the son of Siegfried Marseille, a World War I pilot and a police colonel in the interwar years who would later rise to the rank of major general in Hitler’s army before being killed in action near Novoselki on the Russian Front on January 29, 1944. Jochen’s father and mother permanently separated when he was a small child, which may partially explain the son’s lifelong aversion to military ideas, attitudes, and appearance, including the dress code. He did love flying, however, which is why he enlisted in the Luftwaffe at the age of 18.

Marseille began flight training in November 1938, and showed great ability as an aviator, even though he was reckless and collected several reprimands for stunt flying in training aircraft and for other minor offenses. Even so, Master Sergeant Marseille was posted to Second Lieutenant Johannes “Macki” Steinhoff’s squadron of the 52nd Fighter Wing (JG 52). Here he did quite poorly. Marseille claimed seven kills during the Battle of Britain, but only three were confirmed—indicating poor flying discipline, since he was so far separated from his comrades that there were no witnesses to confirm his claims. Marseille did, in fact, have a lone-wolf attitude. He was himself shot down or had to crash-land because he ran out of fuel at least four times (some sources say as many as six), but each time he managed to get his crippled Me-109 as far as the French coast before he bailed out or bellied into a beach or field. Meanwhile, his personnel file bulged with negative reports concerning his unmilitary behavior, his long hair, and/or his overly casual, bad attitude. Indeed, Marseille was more a lover than a fighter during this period. He was very good looking and had a manner that women seemed to find irresistible. Marseille, for his part, made no attempt to resist the females, who were attracted to him like a magnet. A genuine playboy, he would sometimes be so exhausted from a night of lovemaking with one or more women that he could not fly the next day.

Although Lieutenant Steinhoff showed great patience in dealing with this immature young man, the situation did not improve with the passage of time, and eventually the lieutenant had enough. “Marseille was extremely handsome,” he recalled years later. “He was a gifted pilot and fighter—but he was unreliable. He had girlfriends everywhere, and they kept him so busy that he was sometimes so worn out he had to be grounded. His sometimes irresponsible way of conducting his duties was the main reason I fired him. But he had irresistible charm.”

Steinhoff went on to become a general and commander of the West German Air Force; Marseille returned to Germany in disgrace. In January 1941, however, the Luftwaffe Personnel Office assigned him to I Group, 27th Fighter Wing, which was the best move it could possibly have made, for I/JG 27 was earmarked to reinforce the battered Italian Air Force (the Regia Aeronautica) in Libya.

In North Africa, Hans-Joachim Marseille came into his own as a fighter pilot. Here, in the Luftwaffe’s desert bases, there were no women to distract him and he was patiently tutored by a true expert: Major (later Major General) Edmund Neumann, the group commander. Before long, Marseille proved to be probably the best aerial marksman in the air force. He would sometimes return to base with as many as six kills and less than half his ammunition expended. In fact, he averaged only 15 bullets per kill—an amazing statistic! As a result, he was commissioned second lieutenant in 1941 (despite his personnel file) and, in December, was decorated with the German Cross in Gold by Field Marshal Kesselring. He had 33 victories at the time.

The handsome and sophisticated young officer from Berlin was extremely popular in the Third Reich, which idolized heroes of his type. Naturally Goebbels’s propaganda ministry took full advantage of his story to bolster morale on the German home front, and Marseille received fan mail by the bagful—especially from women. Some of them were quite hysterical, others quite explicit—some with accompanying photographs. He was dubbed the African Eagle and the Star of Africa by the Italians, who were also crazy about him. Mussolini, for example, awarded him the Italian Gold Medal for Bravery, a decoration not even granted to Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox. (But then, Marseille never told Mussolini what he thought of him; Rommel did.)

Meanwhile, Jochen Marseille was awarded the Knight’s Cross following his 48th victory on February 24, 1942. That April he was promoted to first lieutenant and in June was made commander of the 3rd Squadron of JG 27. However, he was still too impetuous and individualistic to be a good squadron commander. His tactics were still those of the lone wolf, as was his entire outlook on life. His tent, for example, resembled a cross between Paris and something out of The Arabian Nights. Once he was visited by Lieutenant General Adolf Galland, the general of the fighter arm. After a few libations, Galland asked for directions to the latrine. Marseille handed him a shovel and told him to walk exactly 20 paces in a certain direction. Galland was surprised, but did as he was told. The next day, the amazed general found that Marseille had erected a small monument, complete with a sign and the date, to certify for future pilgrims that the general of fighters had indeed answered the “call of nature” on this particular spot.

In the wider theater, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel began his summer offensive of 1942 on May 31, determined that it would be decisive, one way or the other. Flying in support of it, Marseille attacked the Curtiss Kittyhawks of the South African Number 5 Squadron over Gazala on June 3. He shot down six of them in 11 minutes. Three days later he was awarded the Oak Leaves for achieving 75 victories. The fighting in North Africa was so intense, however, that he scored his 100th kill only 11 days later (on June 17), when he shot down 10 opponents—6 of which he cut down in only seven minutes! The next day he was promoted to captain and sent on leave to Germany, where Hitler decorated him with the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. Although he naturally enjoyed his leave (one wonders how many fan letters he answered), by now even Hans-Joachim Marseille was beginning to show the strain of the relentless air war over the harsh desert of North Africa, and he looked tired and drained.

Marseille rejoined JG 27 at Sidi Barrani on August 23. By this time Rommel’s advance had been halted at El Alamein, and stalemate was setting in on the North African Front. The Desert Fox decided to make one more effort to break the deadlock—an advance that led to the Battle of Alam Halfa Ridge. Marseille and his squadron flew in support of this advance, and on September 1 he made history by downing 17 British aircraft in one day—a record against the RAF that still stands. (Only Luftwaffe Major Emil Lang shot down more airplanes on a single day, when he claimed 18 victories against the Red Air Force.) Captain Marseille, however, did no celebrating. He slept very little that night but lay in bed with his eyes wide open. He got up very early the next morning, sweating profusely. During September he did not have a single day’s rest—there was too much RAF activity for that. This did not affect his performance behind the controls, however. “His fast reaction is incredible,” Heinz Joachim Nowarra wrote. “He knows automatically what are his opponent’s intentions, which he counters. He is absolutely sure that his burst of fire is lethal and attacks the next aircraft without waiting to observe results. Thus he is able to take every opportunity to shoot down one plane after the other.”

Marseille reached his peak in September 1942, when he shot down the incredible total of 61 British airplanes in a single month. He had shot down more British aircraft than anyone else in history, including Baron von Richthofen. In the middle of the month, Field Marshal Rommel summoned him to Panzer Army Afrika Headquarters and thanked him for his efforts. It was the only time they ever met. Meanwhile, in Rastenburg, Adolf Hitler awarded him the Diamonds to his Knight’s Cross, Germany’s highest combat decoration at that time, and an investiture ceremony was planned for later that year. By September 30 he had 158 victories against the British or their Western allies. That morning he led a sweep over the Cairo area but did not make contact with the enemy. On the way back, his cockpit suddenly filled with black smoke. Marseille was soon suffocating, but he kept on flying until he was over Axis lines. Near El Alamein, he dumped his canopy and bailed out, but, weakened by near-asphyxiation and probably nearly blinded by the smoke, he undoubtedly failed to notice that his airplane was in a shallow dive. Traveling at 400 miles an hour, he was caught in the airplane’s slipstream and hurled into the tail fin, a blow that probably killed him. In any event, as his horrified comrades watched, he fell to the desert floor. His parachute never opened.

His body was found four miles south of Sidi Abdel Raman and was buried on the spot. Captain Hans-Joachim Marseille had crammed a great deal of living into the short span allotted to him. Had he lived another two months he would have reached his 23rd birthday.

Alexander the Great’s Legacy II

How “Great” Was Alexander?

For all practical purposes Alexander’s empire died with Alexander. His only brother was feeble-minded, and his only heir was a baby. Neither was in any position to assert authority. But practical considerations aside, Alexander moved quickly to become a symbol of conquest. He gave a semblance of legitimacy to anyone who might desire conquest, regardless of how inherently wrong that conquest might be. He was a pioneer in bringing Europe and Asia together into discourse and commerce.

It appears as though he did this empirically, administering the Persian Empire peacefully while he moved beyond its borders into India. Perhaps he would have undertaken some systematic reorganization of his empire, stretching all the way from Macedonia to northern India, but he did not have time to do this.

Alexander’s effort to create a world state and empire were less successful. Within a decade of his death, his kingdom, loosely organized as it was, split apart. His successors, who were his generals, carved out territories for themselves. Cassander took Macedonia; Seleucid took most of Asia Minor, Syria, Iraq, and Iran; Ptolemy took over Egypt. In Egypt Ptolemy—who wrote an account of Alexander’s military campaigns— established a dynasty that endured until 30 BC, ending only with the defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra by Julius Caesar’s grandnephew Octavius (later Augustus Caesar) at the Battle of Actium.

Experts on Alexander’s life are divided on some issues concerning events, and how to separate fact from legend. A man such as Alexander obviously is going to be the stuff of legends; it is inevitable. As was the case with both the Greek and the Roman aristocrats, Alexander was, by our standards, a cruel man. His army suffered 50 percent mortality. The mayhem he inflicted on his enemies in battle reached catastrophic proportions. A safe estimate is that half a million soldiers and sailors were wiped out among his enemies. The losses in his own armed forces during a decade of battle were in the neighborhood of 25,000. Eventually he could not rely on reinforcements from Macedonia (it had been stripped clean) or even on southern Greek mercenaries. At the time of his death at least 40 percent of his army consisted of Persian soldiers.

In addition to this mayhem against military forces, Alexander sold probably 500,000 people, at least half of them women and children, into slavery. This was the common fate of defeated cities in Greek and Roman times. It was the law of war. If a city fell, especially if it dared to resist, the inhabitants were sold into slavery. It had been that way for Alexander’s father, Philip, and it was the same for Alexander, but on a grander scale.

Alexander was hard not only on his enemies. His treatment of his own generals and other officials was draconian. His best general, Parmenion, was executed or assassinated at Alexander’s behest because Alexander became suspicious of Parmenion’s complicity in a plot involving the general’s son. There exist stories regarding the removal and execution of courtiers and officials for what seem to us fully pardonable offenses. The two Persian officers who had killed their emperor were themselves hunted down and murdered in turn—Alexander said he was the emperor’s successor and sought revenge on his killers. Alexander murdered one of his best friends and drinking companions by his own hand after the latter had taunted and annoyed him. At least in this case, Alexander is said to have shown great remorse.

Like most men of his time, Alexander considered life cheap. He made his way across Asia trailing blood. Charity and mercy were not behavioral qualities of the gods of ancient Greece, nor was Alexander inclined in that direction. Besides this lack of divine models, Alexander had a very quick temper: Anyone who crossed him he sought to cut down immediately.

At the other side of the moral ledger, Alexander was a very brave man. He personally led his troops and amazed even his enemies with his almost superhuman feats. He suffered at least four major wounds, coming close to death on two occasions. He shared rations with his soldiers, and at times of water scarcity in the army he refused sustenance. We are told that Alexander did not condone rape, but looting was intermittently allowed in addition to his soldiers’ very high pay. One story is told that on the final march through the Makran, one of his soldiers found some good water and brought it personally to Alexander in his helmet. Alexander thanked him but then dumped it on the ground, saying that if his men could not have water, neither would he.

He led his soldiers across deserts and over mountains, into places no one else would dare go. Coming up against elephants for the first time in northern India, he was in no way fearful, but plunged ahead as he had always done.

Also, Alexander was lavish in rewarding his soldiers and sailors, especially those who had accompanied him initially from Greece.

Alexander was very courageous and a charismatic leader of men, but was he a great general? The resounding answer has been yes. In fact, a recent book makes him out to have been a model corporate executive:

The life and personality of Alexander were highly complex… . These distinct beads in the necklace of Alexander’s life are posited around real issues we confront today: How do we develop and train professionals? How do we think about basic issues in strategy such as where, when, and how to compete? How do we handle leadership transitions? How do leaders assert authority in their “First Hundred Days”? Why do leaders single out myths? What are the many styles of leadership a single person can possess in this] quiver and which to choose where and when? How should we be thinking about convergence of cultures and divergence of social mores as we seek to expand the footprint of our influence? How does one think about what to carry and what not to carry on a campaign? What role does strategic deception play in competitive situations? Why is a leader’s legacy such a delicately balanced equation that often totters on the verge of falling off a pedestal? These are the questions we focus on as we study the life of Alexander.

As a matter of fact, Alexander would not have made a good modern corporate executive. He was too headstrong, too impetuous, too intuitive. He was a general, a military leader. He judiciously managed his regiments, knowing when to engage in frontal assaults and when to use flanking movements. Again he was similar to Napoleon, except that Alexander always personally led his army from its front rank.

It was in the skillful use of infantry that Alexander’s armies excelled. This was the key to Alexander’s success—the skill and discipline of his infantry and the wielding otsarissas. It required a great deal of training and much discipline to make these long pikes effective. The Romans later would use their infantry in much the same way and conquer the world.

One of the first accounts honoring Alexander after his death comes from a Roman source of a supposed conversation between Scipio Africanus (who destroyed Carthage) and Hannibal in Ephesus. Africanus asked who Hannibal thought had been the greatest general, and Hannibal replied that it was King Alexander of Macedon, because with a small force he had defeated armies of immense proportions and penetrated to the ends of the earth, which human beings had never expected to visit.

The Romans were the first to honor Alexander by imitation. Bosworth tells us:

Pompey, whose very name (Magnus) evoked the Macedonian conqueror, notoriously modelled himself upon Alexander from his boyhood, adopted Alexander’s mannerisms and patently saw himself recreating his conquests in the east. The same applied to Trajan, who sacrificed to Alexander in Babylon, and in conscious imitation, sailed down the Euphrates to the ocean, reporting in his dispatches that he had gone further than the Macedonian king. With Caracalla imitation became a mania, to the extent that he recreated a phalanx of Pompey’s opponent Julius Caesar was often compared to Alexander, first by Plutarch, and later by others. Although Caesar’s conquests were more political in nature, he used Alexander’s mixture of infantry and cavalry to great advantage. A story is told that once when Caesar was in Spain and at leisure, he was reading a history of Alexander. He was lost in thought and then burst into tears. When his companions asked him what was wrong, he answered, “Do you not think it is a matter for sorrow that while Alexander, at my age, was already king of so many peoples, I have as yet achieved no brilliant success?”

Mark Antony could not have avoided thinking of Alexander as he married the last of the Ptolemaic pharaohs, Cleopatra. He named his son, fathered on her, Alexander. Octavius (Augustus Caesar) visited Alexander’s grave after he defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra and entered Alexandria as a hero. Caligula supposedly removed Alexander’s armor from his tomb and wore it for state occasions.

Truth to tell, however, Alexander was fortunate against his enemy—the Persian emperor, Darius III, was a reluctant soldier. He fled from the field of the two great battles that Alexander fought against him, disheartening and dismaying his troops. Darius was slow to react when Alexander conquered Asia Minor and Egypt, and encountered the great Alexandrian threat only along the eastern frontier of Asia Minor. He could have put in the field an army of at least 100,000 but never did so. Darius III eschewed a scorched-earth policy that would have left Alexander’s troops very hungry. He failed to protect his vast treasury in Babylon and Persepolis, allowing it to fall into Alexander’s hands.

With a relatively small army, although highly disciplined and for the time well armed, Alexander showed that he was a superb field commander who could maximize his resources. Against the Romans the result possibly would have been different. In fact, the famous Roman historian Livy, writing in the late first century BC, was positive that Alexander could not have defeated the Romans. He declared:

“{At] the outset I do not deny that Alexander was an outstanding leader. His reputation, however, was boosted by the fact that he was acting alone, and also that he died in his youth as his career was taking flight and when he had experienced no reversal of fortune.”

He goes on to say that the Roman Senate and its generals would have been much harder to defeat than was the effete Darius. Italy would have been a different proposition completely. Because success changed him, Livy goes on to say, Alexander would have come to Italy more a Darius than an Alexander, and brought an army that had forgotten Macedon and was already lapsing into Persian ways. Alexander had a violent temper, killed many of his friends while in the throes of drunkenness, and made ridiculous exaggerations about his parentage. A young man would have had no success against a nation already seasoned by 400 years of warfare. It is not difficult to see where Livy’s sympathies lay.

It is one of the ironies of ancient history that a writer who lived five hundred years after Alexander should be regarded as a trustworthy and well-informed source, while a contemporary of Alexander should be regarded as “better at oratory than history” (Cicero’s comment) and as an untrustworthy romantic fantasist. The former writer was Arrian, who wrote in Asia Minor in the mid—second century AD. The latter biographer is Cleitarchus, who wrote around 310 BC and produced a work twelve volumes long, of which only fragments survive. Cleitarchus wrote most of his work in Egypt. He never met Alexander or accompanied him on military campaigns, but he was, after all, a contemporary. So much for the distinction between “original sources” and “secondary sources.”

Arrian’s work is a pastiche of many fragmentary sources, none of which have survived in undiluted or complete form, with the exception of Plutarch. Arrian insists that he had all the accounts of Alexander laid out before him and could pick and choose what was reliable. In case you wonder why nearly all the biographies of Alexander are fragmentary, it is because of the Roman school system. Certain ancient accounts were deemed classic, were used in the schools, and were widely available. Others were buried under the sands of time.

Arrian’s major interest and competence were in military history. He made use of Callisthenes, who was Alexander’s private historiographer and a nephew of Aristotle. Callisthenes’s long and very detailed account, highly favorable to Alexander, ends abruptly in 327 BC, when Callisthenes was executed for complicity in a plot against his employer.

Another writer who accompanied Alexander for the entire duration of his campaigns was the Macedonian general Ptolemy, who composed a multivolume work that was available to Arrian. Ptolemy, after Alexander’s death, became the founder of a dynasty that held the throne of the pharaohs for nearly three hundred years. He also hijacked much of the correspondence and other documents of Alexander’s reign.

Among other writers consulted by Arrian were Astrolobus, an officer who served in Alexander’s army; and Nearchus, an admiral who is believed to have exaggerated his own importance. The geographer Strabo, Curtius, and Diodorus tried to write substantial biographies, but only small fragments of these are available to us. All these writers as funneled through Arrian can be said to make up the “courtly tradition,” the sober canon of Alexandrian studies.

The contemporary writer who founded the “vulgate,” or popular tradition, was Cleitarchus. Much of his work survives, although he tells us many dubious and romantic stories. He pays attention to Alexander’s sex life, which is more than was done by the hard-bitten veteran soldiers who wrote Alexander’s early biographies. Cleitarchus stands at the beginning of a long line of romance writers on Alexander who reached their apogee in the thirteenth century AD. By then we read fantasized tales such as the one about Alexander exploring the sea in a glass submarine.

Leaning toward the classical equivalent of the courtly tradition, but with an eye to the vulgate version, is Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. Plutarch was a professional writer who wrote around AD ioo. Paralleling Alexander and Julius Caesar, Plutarch takes pains to draw Alexander’s character, and his is a finished, sophisticated work. The text of Plutarch’s life of Alexander is (for once) fully extant.

Modern scholars are in sharp disagreement about the authenticity of The Royal Journals, an official diary of the king’s reign, or presumed to be such. For the most part the entries are sparse as well as fragmentary, although statistics regarding the size of Alexander’s army have been much mulled over. The Royal Journals, however, contain long, graphic accounts of Alexander’s death.

The modern biographies are five in number: W W Tarn (1948); Robin Lane Fox (1973); N. G. L. Hammond (1980); A. B. Bosworth (1977); and Peter Green (1991). Tarn is notorious for claiming that Alexander was not a homosexual and that the king clearly propounded the brotherhood of man, an ideal derived from the Stoic philosophers. This was a cosmopolitan ideal in which ethnic separatism would give way to the social and cultural bringing together of Asia and Europe.

Every biographer since has claimed that this thesis is an anachronism or at least much overdrawn.

Bosworth and Hammond are good on military and administrative matters, although no modern biographer has seen fit to give the modern equivalents for the place-names along Alexander’s route of conquest. It turns out that half of Alexander’s fighting occurred in present-day Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan.

This leaves Fox and Green, who have written the best— although quite different—profiles of Alexander. Fox wrote a prose epic. In Fox’s view Alexander could do no wrong until he began to deteriorate in his last year. Fox’s biography of Alexander is immensely detailed. Green is much more subdued and well balanced. All things considered, his is probably the best modern biography. But you must not miss the fun of reading Fox’s Homeric epic, showered with prizes when it was first published. The fascination and awe with which Alexander was held are well communicated by Fox.

Curiously, two heavily illustrated books were published that aim to trace the complete route of Alexander’s campaigns, one by Fox in 1980, and another by Michael Wood in 1997. Two books on the subject are redundant. One reads much about the authors’ enduring scorching deserts, freezing mountains, cars breaking down, and sharing the humble food of tribesmen— who are, of course, always kind, peaceful, and generous. Fox’s book covering this painful trail was subsidized by a foundation grant. Wood is not an academic, but that does not mean he is not a scholar. He was subsidized by the BBC, which went along for the ride and filmed In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great for a BBC production with Wood as anchor and producer.

It is unfortunate that Fox and Wood could not find each other on the island of England and combine forces. Fox’s book is sharp on art; Wood’s book is more anthropological in nature, but both trace substantially the same fearsome journey. After reading Fox and Wood it is hard to avoid the impression that Alexander was half mad to follow these obscure and perilous routes.

If you take out a map of Central Asia and follow Alexander’s route through Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, it is evident that Alexander could have avoided some of the mountainous and desert routes he traversed with his army. It seems that Alexander undertook this very arduous journey through these lands because he wanted to test himself as a great military leader who could journey to the end of the earth as well as establish an empire. It was a trial for his soldiers, too— whether they would follow him up cold mountains and through hot deserts. He saw the trip as more of an expedition than a conquest.

The impact of Alexander on the Mediterranean world has always been a subject for debate. A century after his death, Hellenistic Greek (koine) had replaced Aramaic as the international language of merchants, government officials, and intellectuals.

Even though under his successors the empire had split into three parts, Alexander’s perpetual founding of cities named Alexandria in Egypt and Central Asia played a role in this Greek impact.

The populations of these outposts were Greek and Macedonian veterans buttressed by a polyglot merchant class. The only one of these seven Alexandrias that became a large and thriving city was the one in Egypt, which exceeded by far the old Egyptian capital of Memphis. In terms of both linguistic and economic interchange, the other Alexandrias had but a modest role to play.

Though Athens and Sparta remained independent, both city-states were much enfeebled and fell easy prey to Rome’s rising power. Rome also conquered Egypt and Asia Minor. Yet something lingered from Alexander’s effort at political unification. Bringing various parts of the Mediterranean world together set the policy and model for Rome. In a way the Rome of the Caesars was a continuation of Alexander’s effort to create a world state.

To what extent the successor states to Alexander’s were hellenized—that is, received the imprint of Greek culture—is a matter of dispute. On a positive note, one can point to a mastery of koine by an elite of higher government officials and merchants. As late as the Roman imperial era, wealthy Romans constantly kept a Greek slave, their paedogogus, so that their children were bilingual in both Greek and Latin. Greek nursemaids ensured that the babies learned Greek even before Latin. One can point also to the spread of Greek sculpture and painting to every corner of the states ruled by Alexander’s successors.

The ubiquity of Greek philosophy, especially Stoicism, among the aristocratic and intellectual classes indicates a cultural valorization occurring among the elite. Stoicism prescribed the joining of the human mind with the rational ordering of nature. In practice this meant not falling prey to passion and violence but holding oneself in restraint and calmness so as to be able to understand the rationality of the universe.

Yet according to Peter Green in From Alexander to Actium (1990), Alexander’s effort to bridge Asia and Europe had only modest success. Linguistically, only a very small part of the population in Egypt and Asia learned Greek. These were bureaucrats and wealthy merchants. Cleopatra VII {the Cleopatra) was the only ruler of Egypt after Alexander’s conquest who could converse in demotic (colloquial) Egyptian. Green compares the British impact on India and the post-Alexandrian Hellenic impact on Asia and Egypt and sees in both a very narrow band of smug elitists.

This view probably does a disservice to both hellenization and anglicization. After all, this narrow ribbon of uppermiddle-class society was important in India, Asia, and Egypt, even though they comprised a very small part of the population. Green deems these classes of bureaucrats and merchants to be “boot-lickers” who greedily sought wealth and power, but this does not seem a judicious assessment of their social value, whether in Hellenistic society or postcolonial India.

Green has another point to make. It was the Romans, rather than Alexander and his Hellenistic successors, who did more to integrate the Mediterranean world. But it was Alexander, vague as his ideals and policies were, who initially broke down the isolation of Egypt-Asia from the Greek world. Even if the Greeks’ own appreciation for cultural colonialism was modest, Alexander’s achievements were a major step in that development.