John Churchill and Turenne

Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne.

John Churchill.

Early in 1673 King Charles II had to summon his Parliament to ask it for money to fight the Dutch War. He found it in a predictably curmudgeonly frame of mind. The war and the French alliance were unpopular, and the Declaration of Indulgence, which Charles had issued by virtue of his royal prerogative, was seen (perfectly rightly, in view of what we now know of the Treaty of Dover) to be giving encouragement to Roman Catholics. Although Parliament was prepared to grant him funds for the war, it did so at the price of his withdrawal of the Declaration of Indulgence and, even worse from the royal standpoint, passed the Test Act. The Corporation Act of 1671 had already prescribed that all members of corporations, besides taking the Oath of Supremacy, were to take communion according to the rites of the Church of England. The Test Act compelled all office-holders, military or civil, to ‘declare that I do believe that there is not any transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper’, and to take Anglican communion within three months. In 1678 the Act was extended, compelling all peers and MPs to make a declaration against transubstantiation and invocation of saints.

The Duke of York was an early casualty, and resigned all his offices. Prince Rupert headed the commission which took on his work as lord high admiral, and was already at sea with the fleet. He had failed to defeat the Dutch in two clashes in the Schoonevelt, and on 11 August his Allied fleet had the worst of a two-day battle against de Ruyter off Texel. Rupert had never much liked the French alliance, and lost little time in telling his countrymen what they already believed: that the French were useless at sea. Admiral d’Estrées had let him down, and the spectacle of d’Estrées blaming failure on his own second in command (who, in the great tradition of punishing the poorly-connected guiltless, was promptly clapped into the Bastille) made matters worse. The alliance was dead on its feet, but it was not until early 1674 that peace was made, although its terms allowed British troops who were serving as French-paid auxiliaries to remain on the Continent.

While all this was in progress the cabal fragmented, and by the end of the year Charles’s new chief minister was his lord treasurer, Sir Thomas Osborne, known to posterity, by the title he soon acquired, as the Earl of Danby. Parliament, irritated by James’s marriage to Mary of Modena, a Roman Catholic princess, and by the news of his conversion to Catholicism, debated a Bill for securing the Protestant religion by preventing any royal prince from marrying a Catholic without its consent. That summer Charles prorogued it, declaring that he would rather be a poor king than no king, and relying on the attentive Danby to improve his finances.

Charles had sent 6,000 men to France after the outbreak of the Dutch War, and after the conclusion of peace in 1674 much of this force remained in France, now under French pay and command, and connected with Britain only through recruiting. Its plight was made even more bizarre by the fact that the old Anglo-Dutch brigade in Dutch service, its members formally summoned back by Charles in 1672, was still soldiering on, with many of its British-born officers and men having become naturalised Dutchmen. There were awkward scenes in Brussels in 1679 when officers of the Anglo-Dutch brigade tried to find recruits amongst the British battalions that were then leaving for home after their stint in French service.

The British brigade sent to France in 1672 was commanded by the Duke of Monmouth, commissioned as a French lieutenant general, but, much as he enjoyed diverting scrambles like the siege of Maastricht, he exercised no overall command, for the regiments of his brigade were spread out across the Flanders and Rhine fronts. His colonels were, in consequence, very powerful men, and Robert Scott of the Royal English Regiment held his own courts-martial, appointed officers as he pleased, and happily swindled officers and men of their pay. Amalgamations and reductions were frequent, and in early 1674 Bevil Skelton’s Regiment was merged with the Earl of Peterborough’s Regiment to emerge as the 1st Battalion of the Royal English Regiment. On 19 March 1674 a newsletter from Paris announced:

Lord Peterborough’s Regiment, now in France, is to be broken up and some companies of it joined to the companies that went out of the Guards last summer, and to be incorporated into one regiment, and to remain there for the present under the command of Captain Churchill, son of Sir Winston.

His colonelcy, of course, was French, and his English rank did not begin to catch up for almost another year, when he became lieutenant colonel of the Duke of York’s Regiment.

Much of the British brigade was destined to serve on France’s eastern borders against the German coalition forces of the Emperor Leopold I and the Elector of Brandenburg, whose entry into what had begun as a Dutch war reflected the way in which it was tilting out of Louis’ control. The French army on this front was commanded by Marshal Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne, vicomte de Turenne. Turenne was arguably the greatest captain of his age, and might have done even better during this war had it not been for his long-standing quarrel with the marquis de Louvois, Louis’ formidable war minister.

When Field Marshal Lord Wolseley wrote his biography of Marlborough more than a century ago, he concluded that Turenne had been ‘tutor in war’ to the young Jack Churchill. We know that Turenne called him ‘the handsome Englishman’. There is also a story, widely repeated though without a reliable primary source to back it up, that, when a French colonel was forced back from a position, Turenne bet that Churchill, with fewer men under his command, would retake it: he won his money.

On 16 June 1674 Turenne fought the emperor’s army at Sinsheim, roughly midway between Philippsburg on the Rhine and Heilbronn on the Neckar. Both sides were roughly equal in numbers, and the Imperialists were strongly posted behind the River Breusch, on a slab of high ground. Turenne managed to turn both enemy flanks by making good use of unpromising terrain, getting his men onto the plateau by ‘a narrow defile on one side and a steep climb on the other’. Even French sources suggest that it was the disciplined fire of the British infantry that checked the counterattacks of Imperialist cuirassiers. The careful historian C.T. Atkinson noted that Churchill’s regiment was not present at the battle, but it is clear that both Churchill and his fellow colonel, George Hamilton of the Irish Regiment, accompanied Lord George Douglas, who had been sent off to reconnoitre with 1,500 musketeers and six light guns.

Serving as a volunteer, with no formal command responsibility, Churchill would have had the opportunity to see just how Turenne went about his business, and the French army, at around 25,000 men, was small enough for a well-mounted observer to follow its movements closely. The essence of Turenne’s success at Sinsheim was his swift reading of the ground to see what chance it gave him to get at the enemy, and the routes he selected had not been identified by the Imperialists as likely avenues of approach. The French commemorative medal for the battle bore the words Vis et Celeritas (vigour and speed), which might so easily have been Churchill’s own watchwords.

By the time that Turenne had moved south to fight the battle of Ensheim, on 4 October 1674, in weather which worsened from drizzle to a downpour, Churchill’s regiment was indeed present with the main French army. The fight hinged on possession of a little wood on the Imperialist left, eventually carried by the French, though with great bloodshed. Churchill’s men fought their way through it, overran a battery, and cleared the Imperialist infantry from ‘a very good ditch’ which they then occupied, obeying the orders of ‘M. de Vaubrun, one of our lieutenant generals’ to hold that ground and advance no further. ‘I durst not brag too much of our victory,’ wrote our young colonel, ‘but it is certain that they left the field as soon as we. We have three of their cannon, several of their colours and some prisoners.’ Louis de Duras (later Earl of Feversham) commanded a troop of Life Guards at that battle, and was eventually to assume command of the British brigade. He declared that ‘No one in the world could have done better than Mr Churchill could have done and M de Turenne is indeed very well pleased with all our nation,’ and Turenne’s official dispatch paid handsome tribute to Churchill and his men. In his report to Monmouth, Churchill recorded the loss of eleven of his twenty-two officers, but added that Monmouth’s own regiment of horse had fared far worse, losing its lieutenant colonel and almost all its officers killed or wounded, as well as half the troopers and several standards. He was anything but an uncritical admirer of Turenne’s, though, and admitted that ‘half our foot was posted so that they did not fight at all’.

On 5 January 1675 Turenne won the battle that decided the campaign. He pulled back from the Rhine near Haguenau, and allowed many of his officers (including Louis de Duras) to take leave in Paris, giving the impression that he had ended the campaign, for armies usually slunk into winter quarters in October and emerged from their hibernation in April. But in fact he swung in a long fish-hook march round the Vosges, through Epinal and the Belfort gap, to find his opponents relaxed in their winter quarters near Colmar – and what better place to relax, with so much of the golden bitter-sweet Gewürztraminer conveniently to hand? Although the Imperialists managed to rally and face him at Turckheim, he kept them pinned to their position by frontal pressure before sending an outflanking force through the rough country on their left. Turenne took the village of Turckheim after a stiff tussle in which British musketry proved decisive, and went on to drive his opponents from Alsace. In July that year Turenne was killed by a cannonball, a loss that France could ill afford.

The campaign certainly showed Churchill the crueller side of war. In the summer of 1674 Turenne’s men ravaged the Palatinate as they marched through it. This was done partly to obtain supplies and partly to prevent the Imperialists from obtaining them, but also, as Turenne told the Elector Palatine, who complained about the sufferings of his people, because the local populace attacked stragglers and isolated groups, murdering soldiers with the most appalling cruelty. Turenne’s harsh treatment of the Palatinate was not on the same scale as the deliberate destruction of the whole area seven years later, on the specific orders of Louis XIV, but even so the damage was frightful. Archdeacon Coxe quotes a letter written to Churchill from Metz in 1711 in which the widow Saint-Just thanks him because ‘The troops who came and burnt everything around my land at Mezeray in the plain spared my estate, saying that they were so ordered by high authority.’

If there had been any doubts about where John Churchill stood in royal favour, his campaigning under Turenne resolved them. His English lieutenant colonelcy had materialised in early 1675, and three years later he was appointed colonel of one of the regiments of foot to be raised, not this time to support the French, but to help defend the Dutch: the realignment of English foreign policy was now complete. There is, though, no evidence that Churchill’s new regiment was ever actually formed. His colonelcy (carefully dated a day after that of George Legge, who was to be Pepys’s master on the Tangier mission) was simply a device to ensure that John Churchill had ‘precedence and pay equivalent to the very important work he was now called upon to discharge’. He had reached a key break in his career, and was striding out to bridge the narrow gap between soldiering and diplomacy: the young cavalier had come of age.

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Tilly and the evolution of tactics

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Contemporary painting showing the Battle of White Mountain (1620), where Imperial-Spanish forces under Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly won a decisive victory.

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Count Tilly on a portrait by Anthony van Dyck.

Count Jean Tserclaes Tilly (1559–1632) was another outstanding product of Jesuit training. First seeing service in Spain, the Walloon learnt the art of war from the age of 15, serving under the Duke of Parma in his war against the Dutch. In 1610, he was appointed commander of the forces of the Catholic League, established in 1609 as a loose alliance of Catholic principalities and minor states. Like Wallenstein, Tilly brought in important reforms, especially from his experience of the formidable Spanish infantry. Nicknamed the ‘monk of war’, he soon proved to be a highly capable organiser of infantry tactics, which were quickly adopted by Ferdinand’s troops.

The infantry at this stage still consisted of pikemen and musketeers. The pikemen wore armour and carried a pike, which at that time was between 15 and 18 feet long, made of ash with a sharp metal point. Their officers carried shorter pikes with coloured ribbons. The musketeers were a kind of light infantry with a light metal helmet, later replaced by a felt hat. The heavy musket they carried needed to be rested on a wooden pole with an iron fork to be fired. The ‘ammunition’ was contained variously in a bandolier, a flask of gunpowder and a brass bottle of combustible material, the so-called Zundkraut as well as a leather bag containing small metal balls. A small bottle of oil was also carried to ensure that the ‘alchemy’ required to fire the weapon functioned smoothly. This was far from straightforward. A hint of the complexity of firing this primitive musket is given by the fact that ninety-nine separate commands were needed to fire and reload the weapon.

A further forty-one commands existed for dealing with the musket at other times. As this suggests, the need to increase the rate of fire and simplify the munitions were priorities for all commanders throughout the Thirty Years War. These problems would only be solved with the advent of the Swedes, who entered the fray against the Habsburg in 1630. They had a modern solution to many of these problems: the introduction of small cartridges wrapped in paper.

The only tactical unit at this time was the company, which was deployed in a large square made up usually of between 15 and 20 companies. This formation was 50 men deep with its flanks protected by 10 rows of musketeers. Despite much practice at marching to form such elaborate formations as the so-called ‘Cross of Burgundy’ or ‘Eight-pointed Star’, it takes little imagination to realise that manoeuvring in such formations was virtually impossible. The idea of marching to a single beat of the drum had still to be widely introduced and cohesive movement was only possible by extended rank.

Where Tilly proved so successful in organising infantry tactics, Wallenstein proved no less formidable in handling cavalry. Cavalry like infantry were divided into heavy and light. The heavy cavalry were cuirassiers and lancers, both armoured down to their boots. In addition to their main weapon, lancers were also armed with a sword and two pistols, symbols of their privileged status as bodyguards to the commanders in the field. The cuirassiers carried the heavy straight sabre or ‘pallasch’, which was designed to cut as well as thrust.

The horsed ‘carabiniers’ were organised as light cavalry as their only armour was a metal helmet and a light breastplate. Equipped with a shorter musket and 18 cartridges, these horsemen also carried pistols and a short sword. The dragoons were also equipped with a short musket and were indeed originally horsed musketeers. As the barrels of their muskets were often decorated with a dragon, they became known as dragoons. Deployed as advance guard cavalry they carried an axe with which, in theory, they could batter down doors and gates.

To these conventional groupings Wallenstein added new elements. An important part of the horsed advance guard was the ‘ungrischen Hussaren’, or Hungarian hussars. Together with the Croats they formed the irregular elements of the army who could be deployed to plunder and terrorise their opponents as well as perform scouting and reconnaissance.

The origin of the term ‘hussar’ to this day is a source of debate. The word most likely stems from the Slavic Gursar or Gusar. Other theories link the word to the German Herumstreifender or Corsaren; this last with its imagery of piracy perhaps being nearer to the truth than many a Hungarian would care to admit. Famous for giving their enemies no quarter, they became the nucleus of what would become the finest light cavalry in the world.

As with the infantry, the cavalry were grouped into companies. Often these were called Cornetten and hence the title of the junior officer of each such company was ‘Cornet’. As these were formed into a square, the custom arose to call four of these companies a ‘squadron’ from the Italian quadra, meaning square. In theory every cavalry regiment consisted of ten companies each of a hundred riders but in reality no cavalry regiment had more than 500 men.

Drill of these formations was aimed at disordering infantry by charging the last 60 paces at the enemy’s pikemen or cavalry. There was to be no firing from the saddle until the cavalry could ‘see the white in the eye of the foe’ (‘Weiss im Aug des Feindt sehen thut’). Led by such Imperial officers as Gottfried Pappenheim, famous for his many wounds and refusal to be impressed by titles, or the redoubtable Johann Sporck, a giant of a man with hair like bronze, perhaps the most feared cavalry general of his time, the Imperial cavalry was trained in shock tactics relying on aggression and surprise to demoralise their opponents.

The artillery remained a strict caste apart. Each unit of artillery was in theory organised to have 24 guns of different calibre. Mortars and other guns were added to each unit. Every gun had as its team a lieutenant and eleven gunners. These were supported by the so-called Schanzbauern or Pioneers, who were organised into units as large as 300 under an officer of the rank of Captain. The unit had its own flag made of silk which displayed as its badge a shovel and its men were also skilled carpenters able to strengthen bridges, not just demolish them.

Imperialist versus rebel

Such an army for all its appearance was not in any way comparable to the armies of later years. There was no obvious way of telling one army from another. As any army advanced across the ravaged plains of Germany during the horrors of the Thirty Years War, it was accompanied by bands of irregulars, bandits and marauders, including spies and other n’er-do-wells who plundered the local landscape like locusts.

Armies learnt to distinguish each other by what would in modern parlance be called ‘call signs’. At Breitenfeld in 1631, a battle which threw into sharp relief the energy and skill of the Swedes under their king, Gustavus Adolphus, the Imperialists under Tilly shouted ‘Jesus-Maria’ as they fought while the Swedes used the phrase: ‘God with us’. As battles were fought and won, it became the custom to reward the officers and men with financial gifts. Thus after Lutzen, General Breuner was given 10,000 gulden while the brave Colloredo regiment was awarded collectively 9,200 gulden.

The names of the Imperial officers came from two sources. The aristocrats who had preferred to convert to Catholicism took full advantage of the political support Ferdinand offered them. Many of the names we encounter here for the first time will pop up again and again in our story: Khevenhueller, Trauttmannsdorff, Liechtenstein, Forgách, Eggenberg and Althan (these last two left behind them world-class works of architecture to commemorate their position and wealth: Schloss Eggenberg, on the outskirts of Graz, and Vranov – Schloss Frein – in Moravia). Then came a group whose careers were made in the long Turkish wars. These included not only Ferdinand’s enemies Thurn, Hohenlohe, Schlick and Mansfeld, but a large number of his most important military commanders from Wallenstein downwards.

By 1620, Ferdinand was ready to move on to the attack. He now had no fewer than five separate armies with which to renew the offensive. Dampierre held Vienna with 5,000 men. Bucquoy was advancing along the Wachau with 21,000; from Upper Austria, the Duke of Bavaria, Maximilian, advanced alongside Tilly with 21,000, while a Spanish army invaded the Lower Palatinate. The previously Protestant lands of Lower Austria and Upper Austria were cleared of the rebels and more than sixty Protestant noblemen fled to Retz with their families. Half of these would be proclaimed outlaws. Both provinces had been recovered for Ferdinand and the Church with barely a shot being fired.

As the armies advanced into Lusatia and Moravia, the irregular forces of the Emperor began to introduce a far more brutal and indiscriminate warfare. Plundering, rape and other atrocities became widespread, especially among the Cossacks sent by the Polish Queen who was Ferdinand’s sister. On the rebels’ side Hungarian irregulars proved no less capable of atrocities and had in Ferdinand’s own words ‘subjected the prisoners to unheard of torture …’ killing pregnant women and throwing babies on to fires. Ferdinand would later note: ‘So badly have the enemy behaved that one cannot recall whether such terror was the prerogative of the Turk.’

These acts of cruelty set the tone for much of what occurred later. On 7 November 1620 Maximilian and Tilly finally reached the outskirts of Prague where they faced the new rebel commander, Prince Christian of Anhalt, who had taken up a potentially strong defensive position exploiting the advantage of the so-called White Mountain, in reality more of a hill, a few miles to the west of Prague.

Anhalt’s forces consisted of about 20,000 men of whom half were cavalry. Some 5,000 of these were Hungarian light cavalry. His artillery consisted of only a few guns. The entrenching tools to convert his position into something more formidable never arrived. Thus was the stage set for destruction of the Bohemian rebels. The Imperial forces were superior in artillery, but more importantly in morale. The commanders were divided on what they should do next and it was only when an image of the Madonna whose eyes had been burnt out by Calvinist iconoclasts was brandished in front of Wallenstein’s ally Bucquoy that he suddenly ordered the attack.

Anhalt deployed his cavalry but they made no impact on the Imperial horsemen and they fled after an initial skirmish. The Bohemian foot followed rapidly and even the feared Moravian infantry dissolved when Tilly appeared in front of them. The Battle of the White Mountain was over by early afternoon. The Imperial forces had suffered barely 600 casualties and the rebels more than 2,000 but what turned this skirmish into a decisive victory was Tilly’s determination to keep up the momentum against a demoralised enemy. Prague, despite its fortifications, surrendered as rebel morale everywhere collapsed. Frederick joined the fugitives streaming out of the city to the east, leaving his crown behind him along with the hopes of a Protestant Europe. As the Czech historian Josef Pekař rightly observed, the Battle of the White Mountain was the clash between the German and Roman worlds and the Roman world won. Had the German world won, Bohemia would have rapidly been absorbed by Protestant Germany and Czech culture would have ceased to exist.

For Protestantism, with the departure of the Winter King and his wife into exile in Holland, the tide of history which had seemed to run in the direction of the new faith in the sixteenth century now appeared to have turned irrevocably. Increasingly perceived as divisive, unhistorical and radical, Protestantism unsettled those who feared anarchy and extremism. The population of Prague sought refuge in the old certainties and comfortable verities of the Catholic Church and within a year the Jesuits had made the city into a bulwark of the Counter-Reformation.

As Professor R.J.W. Evans has pointed out, the demoralised forces of the new faith had little reply to the intellectual and practical solutions of the Society of Jesus. Those who sought refuge in the occult and Rosicrucian view of the world were ‘qualified at best only for passive resistance to the attacks of the Counter-Reformation’.

Moreover not only did Ferdinand’s personal piety inspire his subjects through the widespread dissemination of the Virtutes Ferdinandi II penned by his Jesuit confessor Lamormaini, but the international flavour of the new orders, like Ferdinand’s army, was a powerful intellectual weapon. At the opening of the Jesuit University of Graz the inaugural addresses had been given in eighteen languages. When Ignatius Loyola had founded the Society of Jesus in 1540 he had from the beginning conceived it as a ‘military’ formation led by a ‘general’ who expected unhesitating obedience and the highest intellectual and spiritual formation among his recruits. These principles guided Ferdinand’s vision of his army. The offensive of the intellect was supported by more practical steps. In 1621, all of the ringleaders of the Bohemian rebels were executed on Ferdinand’s orders in the Old Town Square in Prague.

It was typical of Ferdinand II that while these ‘Bohemian martyrs’ were brought to the gallows, the Habsburg went on a pilgrimage to the great Marian shrine of Mariazell in his native Styria specifically to pray for their souls. In the years that followed, prayer and sword moved in perfect counterpoint for the Habsburg cause. If Ferdinand was the spearhead of spiritual revival, on the battlefield the corresponding military reawakening was to be organised by Wallenstein.

Wallenstein stood out from the newly minted nobility around Ferdinand because of his logistical skills, which he deployed with unrivalled expertise despite his physical disabilities. Plagued by gout which often forced him to be carried by litter, Wallenstein ceaselessly instructed his subordinates to organise his affairs to the last detail. Agriculture was virtually collectivised under his control to ensure that every crop and animal was nurtured efficiently to supply his armies. A fortunate second marriage to the daughter of Count Harrach, one of Ferdinand’s principal advisers, brought him yet more support at court. In April 1625, Ferdinand agreed to Wallenstein raising 6,000 horsemen and nearly 20,000 foot soldiers. Wallenstein’s force gave the Emperor freedom of manoeuvre. He now had formidable forces to counterbalance the armies of the Catholic League led by Tilly, who always showed signs of answering in the first instance to his Bavarian masters rather than to the Emperor Ferdinand.

Some Carthaginian Generals

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Hannibal Barca (247 – c. 181 BC) at Cannae. Much has been said about the Battle of Cannae – an encounter which had resulted in the highest loss of human life in a single day in any battle recorded in history. In terms of sheer numbers, the bloody day probably accounted for over 40,000 Roman deaths (the figure is put at 55,000 by Livy; and 70,000 by Polybius), which equated to about 80 percent of the Roman army fielded in the battle! To put things into perspective, the worst day in the history of the British Army usually pertains to the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, where they lost around 20,000 men. But the male population of Rome in 216 BC is estimated to be around 400,000 (thus the Battle of Cannae possibly took away around 1/10th – 1/20th of Roman male population, considering there were also allied Italic casualties), while Britain had a population of around 41,608,791 (41 million) at the beginning of 1901, with half of them expected to be males. However objectively beyond just baleful numbers, the encounter in itself was a set-piece triumph for Hannibal, with the general’s strategy even dictating the very choice of the battlefield itself.
Cannae and its ruined citadel had long been used as a food magazine by the Romans with provisions for grain oil and other crucial items. Hannibal knew about this supply scope, and willfully made his army march towards Cannae (in June, 216 BC) for over 120 km from their original winter quarters at Gerunium. Interestingly, the camp of the Carthaginian army was just set above verdant agricultural fields with ripening crops – which could provide easy foraging to the snugly quartered troops. In other words, the chosen location and its advantages surely drummed up the morale of these soldiers, while strengthening their resolve and dedication for their commander. However at the same time, there was a more cunning side to Hannibal’s choice of Cannae – (possibly) unbeknownst to his army. That is because Rome was still dependent on the grain grown in native Italy (while seeking alternative grain supplies from Sicily), especially from the region of Apulia where Cannae was located. Simply put, the choice of Cannae was an intentional ploy to provoke the Romans to give direct battle – as opposed to the Fabian strategy of delaying. This once again alludes to Hannibal’s confidence and craftiness when it came to military affairs and logistics.

Hamilcar Barca (c. 275–228 BC) – Leader of the Barcid family and father of Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Mago. He was father-in-law to Hasdrubal the Fair. Barca means ‘thunderbolt’.

Hannibal (died 238 BC) – Took part in the Mercenary War between Carthage and rebel mercenaries. Not be confused with the more famous Hannibal Barca, son of Hamilcar Barca. During the Mercenary War, he took over from Hanno II the Great as a commander of the Carthaginian army. During the siege of Tunis, he was captured in a night raid and crucified, along with other high-ranking Carthaginians.

Hasdrubal the Fair (c. 270 BC–221 BC) – Governor in Iberia after Hamilcar Barca’s death and founder of Cartagena. He was the brother-in-law of Hannibal and son-in-law of Hamilcar Barca.

Adherbal (died 230 BC) – The admiral of the Carthaginian fleet during the First Punic War. He defeated Publius Claudius Pulcher in the Battle of Drepana in 249 BC.

Hanno II the Great (fl. third century BC) – Leader of the faction in Carthage opposed to continuing the war against Rome and opposed by Hamilcar Barca. He is blamed for preventing reinforcements reaching Hamilcar’s son Hannibal after his victory at the Battle of Cannae. Hanno stood down the Carthaginian navy in 244 BC, crucially allowing Rome time to rebuild its navy and finally defeat Carthage. After the Second Punic War, Hanno withheld payment to his Berber mercenaries, who revolted; Hanno took control of the Carthaginian army in order to defeat them, but he failed and returned the army to the control of Hamilcar. The two joined together to crush the rebels in 238 BC. After the defeat of Carthage at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC, he was among the ambassadors at the peace talks with the Romans.

Hannibal Barca (247 – c. 181 BC) – Son of Hamilcar Barca and generally considered one of the greatest military commanders in history. After the defeat of Carthage, Hannibal took refuge with Prusias I of Bithynia, who was at war with Rome’s ally, King Eumenes II of Pergamon. Hannibal served Prusias and on one occasion had large pots filled with poisonous snakes thrown into Eumenes’ ships. Under pressure from the Romans, Prusias gave him up, but Hannibal took poison at Libyssa on the Sea of Marmara; Hannibal had long carried the poison about with him in a ring. He left behind a letter that read, ‘Let us relieve the Romans from the anxiety they have so long experienced, since they think it tries their patience too much to wait for an old man’s death.’

Hasdrubal II (245–207 BC) – Hamilcar Barca’s second son and the brother of the famous general Hannibal, and of Mago. When Hannibal crossed the Alps to Italy in 218 BC, Hasdrubal was left in command of Hispania. For the next six years, he would be embroiled in fighting against the brothers Gnaeus and Publius Cornelius Scipio. In 207 BC, he was trounced at the Battle of the Metaurus, where he was killed. His corpse was beheaded, the head put in a sack and thrown into Hannibal’s camp.

Mago (243–203 BC) – Third son of Hamilcar Barca, he was influential in the Second Punic War, with commands in Hispania, Gallia Cisalpina and Italy. He excelled himself at Lake Trasimene and Cannae. Mago lives on with us to this day: on Menorca he founded the city today called Port Mahon, which has given its name to the sauce known as mayonnaise.

Hasdrubal Gisco (died 202 BC) – Fought against Rome in Hispania and North Africa during the Second Punic War. Livy describes him as ‘the best and most distinguished general this war produced after the three sons of Hamilcar.’¹ Elsewhere, Livy quotes Fabius Maximus, who described Hasdrubal as ‘a general who showed his speed chiefly in retreat.’² He was an able diplomat and raised three large armies, in Iberia and in Africa, after heavy defeats.

Hasdrubal Beotarch – A general during the Third Punic War. Hasdrubal was in command at the Siege of Carthage in 146 BC, where he was defeated by Scipio Aemilianus and lost the war to the Romans. According to Polybius, Hasdrubal’s wife and two sons hurled themselves into a burning temple on news of the defeat and Hasdrubal’s surrender to the Romans. He was taken to Rome and paraded at Scipio’s triumph, but was later allowed to live in Italy.

Hanno – Son of Hannibal, and a general during the First Punic War (264 to 241 BC). Hanno was sent to relieve Hannibal Gisco who was holed up under siege at Agrigentum. Hanno concentrated his troops at Heraclea Minoa and captured the Roman supply base at Herbesos. He duped the Romans when he ordered his Numidian cavalry to attack the Roman cavalry and then feign retreat. The Romans pursued the Numidians as they retreated, only to find themselves face-to-face with the main Carthaginian column, which inflicted heavy casualties. The siege lasted several months before the Romans won the day and forced Hanno to retreat.

Rommel and Kluge

 

Among the higher German brass in the field commands, it was assumed that the senior marshal’s successor as theater commander would be the proven and widely admired Rommel. Instead, Rundstedt’s replacement was Field Marshal Guenther von Kluge, a Prussian, who had only recently recovered from an automobile accident on the eastern front. Kluge had proved his mettle as a top-level commander in the 1940 French campaign. (It was as a subordinate of Kluge in 1940 that Rommel had led his ”Ghost” Division in its epic thrust to the English Channel.) Later he had been supreme commander of the Central Army Group in Russia.

Kluge was a serious, cold-eyed, energetic man who was quick to grasp a situation, courageous, unsparing of himself, remorseless in extracting the last ounce of effort from his underlings, but, in all, a bit of a peacock. While not enamored of Hitler, he felt indebted to him, perhaps swayed by a sense of being obligated for the special honors and JPGts he had accepted from him.

The overlord dared not supplant the popular Desert Fox. This would have been too much of a jolt for the German citizenry, whose confidence in Hitler’s military acumen was waning rapidly despite Goebbel’s constant assurances of the Führer’s omniscience. Rommel’s removal would have been interpreted as an admission of military bankruptcy and the cult of the Führer as “the greatest general of all times” (which had come into being after the successful campaigns in Poland, Norway, France, and the Balkans) would have been diminished.

Rommel had viewed Rundstedt as an officer with many capabilities but now so old (he was approaching seventy) he had one foot in the grave. He had felt hindered by him, and when he was replaced Rommel had mixed feeling. The two had been in agreement on the political situation and on the overall conduct of the war. What Rommel saw in the old man was an eminent strategist, an expert in using the tools of war, but at the same time a man whose creative drive had been replaced by a sarcastic indifference, who was too tired for modern-day battle and so rarely left his command post.

In taking leave of his staff, the embittered old warrior swore never to accept another command. Yet, only weeks later, after the failure of the July 20 attempt on Hitler’s life, he, along with Keitel, accepted membership on the “Court of Honor,” which cashiered 1,200 officers, including 250 of the General Staff Corps and many of his fellow generals, for suspected complicity in the conspiracy. These degraded officers were then passed on to the “People’s Court.” Here they were usually sentenced to hanging, and their families, after first paying the cost of the execution, were sent to concentration camps.

This part of Rundstedt’s career has been charitably described by one of his associates as “the result of the physical and spiritual deterioration of an old man after five years of hard war and bitter experiences.”

Over dinner one evening with Speidel and his wife, Ruth, we discussed at considerable length Rundstedt’s membership on the Court of Honor. Mrs. Speidel had a similar forgiving view of Rundstedt, whereas her husband’s was harsher and less absolving.

Fresh from the Führer’s headquarters at Berchtesgaden, where Hitler had told him, “Rundstedt and Rommel are just dawdling along,” and had blamed the disaster in the West on the omissions and commissions of the pair, a cocky Kluge visited Rommel at La Roche Guyon on the afternoon of July 5 for orientation. A robust, aggressive individual, confident that Rommel’s pessimism was unwarranted and that he could turn the situation around, Kluge began sharply with, “Rommel, it is time you learned to listen!”

“You are talking to a field marshal!” shouted Rommel, enraged, jumping to his feet. “I demand an explanation of that remark! I have equal rank with you and I am responsible to the Führer for my decisions!”

The conversation took on such a tempestuous character that General Speidel and the other officers present were ordered to leave the room. It lasted an hour, with Rommel interrupting Kluge’s diatribe with suggestions that he withhold judgment until he had seen for himself the situation and the needed countermeasures.

In fairness to the new theater commander, it must be understood that Rommel’s realistic assessment of the war situation and his messages prodding the Führer to face the consequences of defeat on the battlefield had not endeared him to Hitler and his sycophants, who viewed the Swabian as too popular, too independent, ofttimes disobedient, and now defeatist. This characterization they had conveyed to Kluge. Later in the day, still under the influence of the Führer’s aerie talk, Kluge expressed incredulity as Rommel portrayed German impotence in the face of Allied power. “I think you view the situation too pessimistically,” he said. “I shall visit the front myself tomorrow.”

“Do so,” said Rommel, “but be careful. Enemy planes patrol the roads continuously.”

“Oh, they won’t bother me,” said Kluge deprecatingly. “I won’t even get out of the car.”

“I warn you,” repeated Rommel, “be careful. Whenever I go up forward I keep my hand on the door release, ready to jump out. I have to dive into a ditch ten or fifteen times, and I don’t permit the presence of my driver or the accompanying officers to embarrass me.”

The conference ended in a satisfactory working arrangement, their responsibilities defined, although the Swabian resented Kluge’s refusal to discuss the all-important question of how to save Germany from destruction. He knew through confidential sources that Kluge had been in touch for years with forces opposing Hitler. The two parted with chilly formality.

In Kluge, known to the troops as “der kluge Hans” (cunning Hans), Rommel recognized the schooled and polished General Staff officer, a type for which he had an aversion. Kluge, for his part, saw in Rommel an unsophisticated officer who did not come up to the General Staff standards of a field marshal.

Beginning the next day, following an itinerary prepared by Rommel’s staff, Kluge went on a two-day tour of inspections and talked with the troops and field commanders. A convert returned.

“How many times did you get out of the car?” asked Rommel.

“Twenty!” exclaimed the chastened Kluge. “And I find your description of the situation much nearer the truth than the Führer’s!” He apologized to Rommel for his original remarks, excusing his behavior on the grounds that Hitler and Keitel had misled him. This they had done in Russia, too, he said.

Kluge’s opinion of Rommel steadily heightened in the next weeks and the two men, different as they were in background and method, approached a unanimity in outlook.

The substitution of Kluge for Rundstedt did little to curtail the success of the Western Powers, who during the next ten days rapidly pushed deeper into France and seized more bases for their planes. They bombarded the railroads funneling into the combat area so heavily and repeatedly that a one-day trip now took a week. To reinforce the first half million men he had landed, Eisenhower shuttled over another half million. Supplies he had safely ferried over the Channel by now totalled a million tons. To move them to the troops and to keep the troops moving, he had landed 30,000 vehicles. With every passing day the efficiency and scope of the liquidation of the Teutonic legions increased.

While the German Seventh Army was bleeding to death in Normandy, the Fifteenth Army sat stoically guarding the coast of the Pas de Calais. The High Command dared not send it to the rescue. German Intelligence was imbued with the idée fixe that the Normandy invasion was only a diversionary effort, that the main assault was yet to come, and that when it did, it would be directed against the Pas de Calais. An invasion here offered the Allies a minimum of water travel, a maximum of air coverage and, once established, the most direct route to the heart of Germany.

This illusion was carefully nurtured by the Allies with dummy ships in the Thames and on the Dover coast, plus dummy camps in East Anglia and more than usual bombing of the Fifteenth Army preserve. Luftwaffe scouting did little to correct the catastrophic Nazi analysis of Eisenhower’s intentions. “Already by May 15,” said Speidel, “Allied air supremacy was so absolute that not once after that date could one of our reconnaissance planes penetrate the island defenses to get a suitable strip of photographs of the English harbors.”

Rommel’s letters are evidence that he, too, misinterpreted the Allied intentions. Four days after the initial landings he wrote: “It will probably soon start at another point.” A week later he still thought so: “We expect the next assault, perhaps on an even greater scale, at another point within the next few days.” And several weeks later, as he lay wounded in the hospital, he still thought there was a likelihood of such an attack. Intelligence available to him placed thirty to thirty-five divisions still in England. He guessed the site for the second assault as the eastern edge of Calais.

On July 8 Montgomery assaulted Caen, a key city in the German plan of defense, after first striking the enemy with an air attack by 500 heavy bombers. The next day troops of the British Second Army occupied all of the town north and west of the Orne River. On the 10th Maltot fell, promising to snare the Nazis between Orne and Odon. Seeing nothing but a long series of disasters ahead, Rommel discussed the situation with Kluge. “We have lost the war in the West,” he said. “It must be brought to an end.”

Kluge agreed.

At this time the Military Governor of France, General Stuelpnagel, who wanted the marshal to take independent action to end the war, sent a staff officer, Dr. Caesar von Hofacker, to see Rommel for a definitive analysis of the conditions on the front. So that plans could be synchronized, this was to be reported to Colonel General Ludwig Beck, the Army faction’s conspiracy leader in Berlin, and to Colonel Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, the man who was eventually to place the bomb beneath Hitler’s map table.

On July 12 Kluge came to La Roche Guyon for another discussion of the military situation. Kluge asked Rommel how long the front could be held, with the fighting units being whittled down and no reserves in support. The Fox suggested that the corps and division commanders be asked their opinions and those opinions be forwarded to Hitler with an ultimatum. Kluge agreed with the suggestion and said he would take these reports into account in making his final decision.

Rommel dispatched Speidel to see Stuelpnagel in Paris, advise him of the talks with Kluge, and promise him that he would take action no matter what Kluge’s decision was. During the next three days Rommel visited the front and held frank discussions with the commanders, returning with assurances that the troops and officers of all ranks trusted his leadership and would follow him.

In discussions Rommel and Speidel had had before the invasion had begun, they were in accord that it might be possible to save Germany by ending the war in the West through an armistice, contacting Eisenhower directly or through Sir Samuel Hoare, the British ambassador in Madrid, or through Vatican or Swiss emissaries. “We envisioned withdrawing the German forces behind the West Wall and holding the German front in the East,” Speidel told me. “Rommel and Kluge were also in accord on this on July 12.”

Returning from the front on July 15, the marshal discussed his findings with Speidel. He directed him to draft a special report for Hitler. This report, in effect an ultimatum, was sent as a radio message. It said that the situation on the invasion front had so developed, as Rommel had repeatedly warned orally and in writing, that the front could be held fourteen days or at most three weeks. Then it was to be expected that the enemy would break through south of the Seine with the primary aim of winning the Paris area and cutting off Brittany. There were no more reserves of any of the three arms available, it continued, and the bloody losses now amounted to 28 generals, 354 fieldgrade officers and 250,000 men, who could be replaced only by 30,000 convalescents. It could be determined with almost mathematical exactness where and when the front would fall apart. The result of the enemy’s steadily increasing potential and the simultaneous decrease in the German potential had to be given the weightiest consideration.

“After reading the draft,” said Speidel, “Rommel scribbled the concluding sentence himself. ‘I must inform you, my Führer,’ he wrote, ‘that you must immediately accept the political consequences. Rommel, Field Marshal.’ But before we sent it off, we thought it best to delete the word ‘political.’ This would have been a red flag to Hitler and we would have been showered with a flurry of ridiculous orders. We decided ‘consequences’ could be read to include both military and political matters.

“At this point Rommel said to me, ‘I am giving Hitler this last chance before we negotiate ourselves.'”

The message was transmitted to Hitler via Kluge. Before sending it on Kluge added a sentence: “I agree with all Rommel’s conclusions.”

To my observation that the original message would be an interesting historical document, Speidel replied, “Yes. Unfortunately my wife had to burn it when I was arrested.”

That evening, after the dispatch of the message, Rommel discussed with his naval aide, Vice Admiral Friedrich Ruge, and Speidel his expectations of the conditions of peace. They would be tough, he was sure, and he expected little sympathy from the Allies, but he hoped for understanding. In preparation for discussions he had selected a commission to be made up of Speidel, Ruge, Stuelpnagel, Hofacker, and Generals Geyr von Schweppenburg and Gerd von Schwerin.

There was no answer to this message the next day and at dawn on the following, July 17, Rommel left his headquarters in his Horch to once more discuss the alarming developments with his corps and division commanders. During the night and the prior two days, the Allies had staged a big attack that had been halted only by throwing in the last reserves. Now the Germans were trying desperately to hold the line from the mouth of the Orne River to Colombes, then to the southeast edge of Caen, then to Caumont and Saint Lo-Lessay.

By 4:00 P.M. the marshal had concluded his last conference and departed from the headquarters of General Sepp Dietrich’s 1st Panzer Corps, heading for his own command post. Speidel had telephoned that the situation at Caen looked threatening, and since noon Allied air activity had greatly increased. The roads were full of burning vehicles. Fighter-bombers patrolled the main highways, forcing traffic to take secondary dirt roads. On dirt roads the dust a car raised soon betrayed its presence.

Around 6:00 Rommel’s car reached the vicinity of Livarot, where more freshly burning vehicles were piled up. For four hours British and American flyers had been strafing all traffic leading into the city. Just outside Livarot the car branched off onto a side road in order to skirt the city and connect with the main road again two miles before Vimoutiers. Suddenly the air observer shouted the alarm. Banking toward the car were three planes that Rommel later told his son and Speidel were American but which the British have always maintained were RAF aircraft.

The driver was ordered to head full speed for a tree-bordered road 300 yards away and to seek concealment there. Before the sanctuary could be reached, bursts from the lead plane riddled the Horch. One shot shattered the driver’s left shoulder and arm and punctured his lung. He lost control of the vehicle. It hit a tree stump on the right side of the road, ricocheted off the tree, careened into a ditch on the other side of the road, and flipped over.

Rommel, thrown out of the car at the first impact, suffered a crushing blow to the left temple and cheekbone that caused a quadruple fracture of the skull and immediate unconsciousness. Twenty yards down the road from where he lay was the entrance to an estate named, ironically, like his old opponent, “Montgomery.”

Dionysius’ Early Career Up to the Battle of Gela (405)

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Dionysius, son of Hermocritus, was born c. 430, and the controversy that surrounds him begins with his ancestry. Sources describe him either as the scion of a respected family or as a man of an undistinguished origins who started his career as a lowly scribe. Like Themistocles, he may have belonged to the ruling class but not to its top ranks. His first taste of war probably came in his teens, when the Athenians tried and failed to capture Syracuse in 415–413, but nothing is known about his role then. His first recorded military experience was in 406 at Acragas (Agrigentum) during the so-called First Carthaginian War (407–405). The Carthaginians had renewed their large-scale military operations in the island in 409. They put Acragas in western Sicily under siege in 406, and Syracuse came to its rescue with large infantry and cavalry forces. In spite of an initial victory and their subsequent harassment of the enemy with their cavalry, the Syracusans were unable to save Acragas. Dionysius is said to have shown exceptional courage in the campaign, although it is unknown under what circumstances. Personal valor would also characterize him later as a commander of troops.

Dionysius rose to power in 406–405, but his ascendance tells nothing about his style of command as distinct from his artful politics. He charged his fellow generals with corruption and treason, accusations that found fertile ground in the Syracusans’ expectation of a Carthaginian attack and disappointment with the city’s military leadership. Dionysius was elected as supreme general (strategos autokrator), which perhaps remained his official title throughout his reign. Now and later, he used the conflict with Carthage to justify his rule, presenting himself as the only man who could win it. Among his first measures was to double the payment of the mercenaries, who had shown that their loyalty depended on timely payment, and to increase their numbers with additional men and exiles. To secure the city of Leontini, north of Syracuse, he called on Syracusans under forty years old to muster there, each with thirty days’ provisions. The city was a Syracusan outpost full of political exiles and non-Syracusans, and lay potentially on Carthage’s warpath. At home, Dionysius obtained a bodyguard of 600–1,000 men, whom he selected and armed, and appointed his own officers to the Syracusan armed forces. One source presents these and similar actions as designed to create a personal cadre loyal to Dionysius and his tyranny. He was certainly looking to strengthen his position, but all his measures also made good military sense in preparation for a campaign against Carthage. His army would fight a very large and well-financed force, and Dionysius needed all the men, provisions, and good will he could get.

Indeed, the Carthaginians had done very well up to this point. Under their aging general, Hannibal (an ancestor of his more famous namesake), and his co-commander Himilco, they had destroyed Himera in the north and Selinus in the south, and had later captured Acragas in spite of substantial Syracusan help and even an initial defeat (above). In 406, Carthage reinforced its invading army with 120,000 infantry and cavalry (according to one account), or 300,000 men (according to another). Both figures appear inflated; modern estimates reduce the size of the entire force to 60,000, and that of the army that soon marched on Gela to 45,000. The sources report the origins of the new recruits, but not their capacities. Their use elsewhere suggests that the mercenaries from the Balearic Islands excelled as slingers, and those from Iberia served as infantrymen, while recruits and allies from North Africa joined the infantry and the cavalry. Carthage also sent 1,000 transport ships and ninety triremes, fifteen of which were destroyed by a Syracusan navy at the start of the invasion.

Around the spring of 405, a Carthaginian army led by Himilco (now in sole command after Hannibal’s death) marched to southern Sicily against Gela, a close ally of Syracuse. Gela was built on a ridge near the shore. It was bounded to the east by the River Gela, whose outlet to the sea served the city’s port, and by a fertile plain and the Gattano River (modern name) to its west. It appears that the Carthaginians arrived without their ships, whose absence, perhaps due to the lack of a safe anchorage, proved costly later. Historian Diodorus suggests that Himilco and his army set up camp on the river Gela, but this location cannot be reconciled with the movements and actions of Dionysius’ forces in their later attack, which makes a site on the River Gattano more likely. The Carthaginian camp stretched from the sea inland and was defended by a trench and a wooden palisade.

Soon after arriving, the Carthaginians raided the territory around the city all the way to Camarina and tried to breach the western city walls with rams. The Gelans defended themselves successfully by rebuilding portions of the wall and by attacking marauding units in the countryside. Their hopes of salvation rested, however, on the arrival of Dionysius and his army. Dionysius probably now presented himself as an all-Greek champion against the common Carthaginian enemy, if he had not done so earlier. It was a role that he continued to foreground, sincerely or opportunistically, throughout his career. When he arrived at Gela—he was later charged, perhaps unjustly, with procrastination—his army included Italian and Sicilian Greeks in addition to Syracusan recruits and his mercenaries. Altogether, he commanded 50,000 or 30,000 infantrymen, 1,000 cavalrymen, and fifty cataphract ships, a type of vessel whose top deck and screens sheltered the rowers. The year before he took power, a Syracusan army that went to help Acragas included 30,000 soldiers, 5,000 cavalrymen, and thirty triremes. Dionysius’ army, if 30,000 strong, had the same number of infantry, more ships, and fewer cavalrymen. Perhaps he was unable to recruit more cavalrymen, who came from the well-to-do class that opposed him and would later rebel against him. In any case, the man who cried foul against the previous leaders of the war, especially in Acragas, seems not to have enlarged the army, and would also lead his troops to defeat.

Dionysius camped by the sea, probably near Gela’s port. For the first twenty days, he attacked the enemy’s lines of supply, having probably gotten the idea while serving in the Syracusan expedition to save Acragas the year before. There the general Daphnaeus had almost managed to starve the Carthaginians by cutting off their supplies with his cavalry, and only a Carthaginian seizure of Syracusan ships carrying provisions to Acragas reversed the situation, eventually leading to the evacuation of the city by its residents. Dionysius also sent out light-armed troops, cavalry, and ships to disrupt the Carthaginian lines of supplies by land and sea. The tactic carried little risk, but it also failed to achieve the success of Daphnaeus or to move the enemy to ease its pressure on Gela. Dionysius then opted for a frontal attack on the Carthaginian camp that resembled the tactics of the Athenian general Demosthenes in its originality, ambition, and execution—and which failed for much the same reasons as Demosthenes’. Dionysius devised no fewer than four simultaneous prong attacks. Diodorus reports that he divided his infantry into three divisions: he told one, made up of Sicilian Greeks, to march to the enemy camp keeping the city to its left; the second, made up of Italian Greeks, was to go there along the shore with the city on their right. He was to take a mercenary group through the city towards where the Carthaginian siege engines were. His cavalry was to cross the River Gattano and overrun the plain, joining the fighting if successful or shelter battle refuges in case of a loss. His marines aboard the ships were to attack the camp as soon as the Italian Greeks (his second column) launched theirs.

Dionysius could not or would not meet the Carthaginians in a pitched battle, because of his smaller force and his preference for other modes of combat, which we shall see again later. His plan aimed to overcome three main challenges: the enemy’ superiority in numbers, its occupation of a well-protected camp, and the presence of additional enemy forces around Gela’s walls. Accordingly, he split his army into four separate attacking units, in the hope that by keeping the Carthaginians busy in different places, he would create confusion and reduce Himilco’s ability to send aid where it was needed. He also believed that a Syracusan victory in one place would have a rolling effect elsewhere because the victorious troops could join the fighting where it was successful, undecided, or difficult. It was an ambitious plan that showed a readiness to take risks and an urgent need to win.

The most problematical aspect of Dionysius’ plan was its dependence on successful synchronization and coordination of the different units. These included hoplites, light infantry, cavalry, and marines, who were spread over different locations. The plan’s originality lay in dividing rather than concentrating his power. It called for assigning separate key missions to seconds in command, whom the sources leave anonymous, and on whose success Dionysius relied for victory. A multi-pronged attack also meant that he had to give up direct control of the entire battle. Instead, he settled for leading his mercenaries through the city in a surprise attack on the Carthaginian siege engines, probably near the western walls and gate. It was arguably the least difficult assignment in the plan.

At first, success smiled on the attackers. The Syracusan ships charged the unprotected part of the enemy camp on the beach and landed marines and probably other crewmembers. Himilco must now have sorely regretted his lack of ships to oppose the landing. The Carthaginians rushed to meet the disembarking soldiers, weakening the camp’s line of defense and allowing the contingent of Italian Greeks, who must have hurried their march along the shoreline, to overcome the depleted enemy forces and enter the southern part of the camp. It was a short-lived victory, however, because the Carthaginians had enough soldiers of high quality to recover quickly. Himilco sent a large force led by Iberian and Campanian troops against the Italian Greeks, who were now pressed between a trench in front of the camp and an acute angle of the palisade. There was no help in sight. The Syracusans who had disembarked from the ships could not join them, probably because the enemy did not allow it. (Their hold on the beach was precarious anyway.) The Sicilian Greeks, who marched behind or on the ridge of Gela to the right of the city and into the plain, did well against their Libyan opponents and penetrated the northern part of the camp. They were even joined by many Gelans, and Dionysius’ cavalry surely helped the effort by engaging enemy forces on the plain. Yet even these units could not come to the rescue of the Italian Greeks, because they arrived at their destination late and were busy fighting their opponents. Dionysius could provide no assistance either. He got stuck in the streets of Gela (he should have known better, having been there before), and even if he completed the mission of destroying the Carthaginian siege engines, it was too late to do anything else. Some of the Gelans tried to help the Italian Greeks, but, fearing for their walls, they would not venture beyond them. One thousand Italian Greeks fell, and the rest fled to the city under the protection of arrows that the ships’ crews shot at their pursuers. Their escape freed the Campanians, Iberians, and other enemy combatants to return and help the Libyans against the Sicilian Greeks, who also retreated to Gela, after losing 600 men. The Syracusan cavalry, whose role was auxiliary to begin with, also fled to the city for shelter.

The defeat was not heavy or even inevitable. Yet it took a great deal of youthful daring and optimism to assume that a coordinated attack of four separate forces could succeed despite the delicacy of their interdependence. A win at one point could not be sustained without a decisive victory at, and help from, another, and the whole scheme required, not just simultaneous attacks and good communication, but also an enemy who would become flustered and despondent. None of this happened. Dionysius underestimated the Carthaginians’ ability to recover from a setback and to use reserves effectively (as they did earlier in 409 in a campaign against Himera). An anecdote related to the earlier battle of Acragas is illuminating. It tells how the Syracusan general Daphnaeus on the right wing of his phalanx heard a commotion on his left wing where the Italian Greeks were fighting. He hurried there, saw them losing, and ran back to the Syracusans on the right to tell them falsely that the Italians were winning. The message energized his soldiers, who went on to defeat the enemy. Even if the story is suspect, it highlights the importance of commander’s presence at the scene of the fighting. But Dionysius was stuck in town.

The defeat decided Gela’s fate. As much as the Gelans (and even Dionysius, who could ill afford failing in his first lead command) may have wished to offer another battle, the unanimous opinion in his war council was that he should retreat. He organized a mass evacuation of the city by night, under a ruse designed to convince the enemy that he was still in the city. The trick was probably superfluous, because the Carthaginians must have been happy to take and despoil Gela without a fight. Ancient and modern critics have argued that Dionysius should have offered a more stubborn resistance and that he erred in evacuating Gela and then Camarina, whose people he told to move to Syracuse. But the later desertion of his Italian Greek allies suggests the defeat undermined his authority over the coalition army that he needed for a fight over both cities. Besides, Syracuse with its walls, army, and navy offered a better chance of withstanding the Carthaginian offensive.

Dionysius’ defeat and the unpopular evacuations of Gela and Camarina encouraged members of the Syracusan cavalry to rebel against him. They burst into his house and gang-raped his wife, who subsequently killed herself. Dionysius rushed back to the city and, with the help of his bodyguard and mercenaries, put down the revolt ruthlessly. What saved him and Syracuse, however, was a recurrent plague in the Carthaginians’ camp, which killed half their men. Cutting his losses, Himilco signed a peace treaty with Dionysius that confirmed Carthaginian control over western Sicily, allowed refugees from the cities Carthage had conquered to return as autonomous but tribute-paying residents, and arranged for the exchange of prisoners and captured ships. Dionysius was recognized, at least de facto, as the ruler of Syracuse. For some contemporary observers, the treaty begot or confirmed the idea that he used Carthage and the fear of it to become the lord of Syracuse and later of Sicily.

The Legacy of the Danubian Emperors

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Some of the most prominent of the so-called “Illyrian” Emperors (from left to right):
Aurelian, Diocletian, Constantine, Valentinian, Valens, Gratian & Justinian.

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Permanent damage caused during the third century

Notwithstanding the revulsion with which his name was held by later Roman writers, the emperor Gallienus had at least managed to prevent the complete disintegration of the Roman Empire. He had personally taken the field to withstand barbarian attacks, even though he had not been able to prevent the secession of large parts of the empire from his rule, and his reputation has been largely restored by modern historians.

Yet it had taken the actions of three super-human Danubian generals to stem the tide of anarchy, civil strife and barbarian invasions, each personally leading battle-hardened legions recruited predominantly from the Balkan areas.

Claudius had smashed the Gothic barbarians thoroughly when their ravages seemed to be unstoppable, but his premature death by plague had prevented him from following up his success.

Aurelian had similarly crushed all barbarian intruders and reunited the entire empire under his rule. He had also set in motion the economic reforms needed to restore the devastated Roman economy.

Probus, Aurelian’s loyal general and later emperor in his own right, had maintained his reputation as a destroyer of barbarians while also consolidating the fragile, newly restored empire. He had in addition perhaps settled an honourable peace with Persia.

These three rulers truly deserved the title of ‘Restorer of the World’ (awarded formally only to Aurelian and Probus) and their actions had checked serious barbarian incursions for decades. They had fostered a climate of stability, so important for the restoration of economic confidence, creating the background in which the administrative skills of Diocletian, also a Danubian general, could flourish.

Looking back, it can be seen that the Roman army staff, many of whom were fervent Roman patriots, had decided that they had had enough of incompetent rule by those without proper military training. After watching Gallienus’ inability to restore the empire, senior generals had arranged for his murder and replaced him with one of their own number, Claudius. After Claudius’ premature death from plague, the army ignored his self-appointed successor, his inexperienced brother Quintillus, and appointed Aurelian. Quintillus committed suicide.

When Aurelian was murdered by treachery, the army negotiated for at least two months for an acceptable substitute, Tacitus. Tacitus died, again against the army’s wishes, and again a self-appointed family member, Florian, was deserted in favour of the talented general Probus. After the latter was murdered, the army appeared to accept the self-appointed Carus, a lawyer who dealt competently with the Persians but, after his early death, both of Carus’ sons were eliminated in favour of the general Diocletian. Diocletian would attempt to ensure a proper succession of capable military appointees through the Tetrarchy system. Considering the extraordinary achievements of all the army appointees, it would appear that the army staff’s decision to select the emperors was correct.

Yet even our three supermen could not undo all the damage caused by the chaos of the mid-third century.

1. Poor discipline of the Roman legions

It had become very difficult for even an Aurelian or a Probus to impose strict discipline on the troops, and the latter had lost his life in the attempt. The army was now drawn primarily from the provinces and from the barbarians, so it had little commitment to the concept of supporting Rome. Few Italians, still fewer Romans, now served with the legions. The loyalty of the troops was generally bought with large handouts.

The new emperor Diocletian would be the first of some two dozen of his predecessors – and that tally excludes pretenders to the purple – to have died of natural old age since Septimius Severus 100 years previously. Indeed, if we except the premature death from plague of Claudius in 270, and the doubtful causes of death of Tacitus, Carus and Numerian, Diocletian was the first of these two dozen not to have died violently. However, Diocletian found it necessary to make a huge increase in the size of the Roman army, perhaps by as much as 50 per cent, and this inevitably led to a fresh decline in the standard of the recruits. The Latin historian Aurelius Victor, writing in 360, showed strong antipathy towards the contemporary Roman army, which he blamed for most of the troubles of his and recent times.

In passing, we find that the cavalry formations formed by Gallienus had been returned to the border legions by the time of Diocletian. In later years, Aurelian’s elite light Dalmatian and Moorish cavalry no longer serve as part of the emperor’s main mobile army, but have been stationed on the Danube and Euphrates frontiers. The originator of this change is unknown. Ultimately, the Roman clibanarii (heavy-armoured cavalry) were a flop. The armour was far too stiff for manoeuvrability, was also far too hot for use against the similarly attired Persians, and a mass cavalry charge could be countered easily by tripping up the horses or by slashing at the animal. The unseated rider could scarcely move! The named units of clibanarii known to have existed at the end of the fourth century are believed to have comprised lightly armoured cavalry units only.

2. Failure to eliminate enemies

Whenever a band of barbarians invaded, it was only rarely eliminated completely as an enemy. For example, the invasions by the Alamanni, the Juthungi, the Sarmatians/Vandals and the Goths were recurring disasters that seemed always to be contained by the most temporary of measures – frequently simply by relieving the barbarians of their booty and escorting them out of Roman territory. It was only when Aurelian carried the fight back into Gothic lands in 272 that the wars with those Goths were terminated for a generation. The difficulty was that it was always too dangerous to an emperor to permit a general to have sufficient forces for punitive actions, while the main mobile army under the emperor’s direct command was forever scuttling from one crisis to another.

3. Economic crisis

The need to fund the army had caused heavy taxation and the gross debasement of the coinage, resulting in severe inflation. This phenomenon was well recognized, but little understood at the time. It left an economic legacy that would baffle even Diocletian.

The discovery in later ages of many coin hoards buried during the third century reveals the general insecurity of the times and the need to store the few old coins, with a high proportion of silver or gold, which still possessed real intrinsic value. However, hoarding tended to make everyone less well off, by restricting the free circulation of precious metals.

Even the number of costly burial inscriptions fell steeply during this period of disorder, as evidenced by surviving examples. The trend was not reversed until the accession of Diocletian.

4. Loss of rights

The Romans had for centuries understood that in national emergencies it was necessary to appoint a dictator who would take severe steps as he thought appropriate – and for which he could not later be held accountable – but military necessity had turned every emperor into an outright dictator with the absolute right to pass laws, make civil and military appointments and command armies. Thus the old Roman spirit of seeking public office for personal honour and public benefit had all but died out. The Senate itself was largely abandoned by those qualified to sit in it, as it possessed virtually no real power. Moreover, the fiction by which the emperor referred to himself as Princeps (leading citizen) was vanishing. The emperor had become a sovereign in all but name, and it is now customary to refer to the empire during and after the time of Diocletian as a ‘Dominate’ (ruled by a lord) where previously it had been a ‘Principate’.

5. Walled cities

Another sign of the insecurity of the times was the number of towns and cities that now possessed their own surrounding walls for defence. Rome herself had to be similarly protected during Aurelian’s reign. The walls were built as quickly as possible from any materials that lay to hand; even tombstones were employed as part of the basic structure. The new walls enclosed generally a smaller area than the original town. This may have been for convenience in building the fortifications, but also reflected a steep decline in the Roman population. The smaller cities were cramped, and had no room for large monuments. The construction of an inner city wall at Athens has already been described.

6. Population decline

The population of the Roman world had fallen markedly as a natural consequence of the catastrophes of the third century. Wars, an endemic plague that had lasted for twenty years, causing at one point 7,000 deaths each day at Rome, and general insecurity, which has long been known to reduce birth rates, had all taken their toll. One interesting by-product from the disturbances in Gaul was that many wealthy landowners sold up their estates and fled to the relatively safer province of Britain, where they established the large villas whose remains survive to this day.

7. Collapse of agriculture and of trade

The lands had been ravaged and the population killed or fled. Inevitably there were fewer lands under cultivation, fewer farm hands and fewer mouths to feed. One solution to the shortage of unskilled agricultural labour was to ask cities to send out their idle occupants. The luxury of bread and circuses for the unemployed could no longer be afforded by most towns. Equally, there were fewer markets in which to sell goods. Manufacturers found that their distant markets were inaccessible, due to dangerous communications, or the local people too poor to afford the wares. The glass and pottery industries are known to have been very hard hit in the mid-third century.

The consequence was that the emperors themselves had increasingly to sponsor their own industries, particularly for military goods, and this created unfair competition for any would-be entrepreneurs trying to start their own businesses.

8. Loss of skills

The most intractable problem was the loss of basic skills. The armies themselves had lost large numbers of men in the interminable civil wars, although there was an increasing tendency for the legions on both sides to count their numbers first and for the weaker to murder their own emperor before he led them into a hopeless battle. Worse still was the loss of skilled artisans who had died or been killed, and simply could not be replaced.

The advanced Greek sciences and philosophies virtually dried up in the mid-third century. The last great exponent of pagan philosophy, the Egyptian-Greek Plotinus (205–270), who taught at Rome from 245 after an apprenticeship in Alexandria, produced late in life several books intended to explain the workings of the universe and especially to explain the concept of evil. The writer Porphyry, who was his pupil, attempted to popularize the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus, but it soon fell into disuse. The cultured emperor Gallienus, however, had been much impressed by the philosopher’s work.

The extent and standard of art, as measured by sculptures, books and paintings, and of public buildings, declined markedly over this period. There are virtually no original written works excepting novels, most notably the lengthy Aethiopica by the Greek author Heliodorus. There are no useful histories, save those of Dexippus, and no major poets known from the mid-third century. Fragments of the lesser Latin poets Reposianus and Nemesianus have survived from 280–290. The later emperor Constantine the Great would celebrate his victory over Maxentius (312) with a standard triumphal arch in Rome, for which some of the sculptures had to be removed from a second-century monument. Constantine’s arch still stands next to the famous Colosseum. Mosaics remained of good quality, as can be seen even in Britain, and the standard of engravature on Aurelian’s new coins had much improved.

9. Serfdom

Some of the few remaining wealthy landowners within the empire, such as those in the undisturbed provinces of southern Italy and northern Africa, were in the happy position of being able to purchase large chunks of devastated farmland at knockdown prices from those who had fled. At the same time, the later emperors issued many ordinances to force surplus city dwellers onto the land, to which they were bound by other laws that obliged sons to take up the occupations of their fathers.

The embattled emperors depended heavily on land taxes to pay their armies, and connived – by the passage of legislation – at an arrangement with the landowners whereby the freemen, the clients, on the giant new estates were tied to the land, unable to leave. Thus they became serfs in a system recognizable as the forerunner of the medieval feudal system. Another part of the deal between landlord and emperor was that the estates should provide conscripts for the armies, and this burden also fell on the former clients. The net effect of these changes was that the flight from the land had been arrested, areas under cultivation increased – and the clients had become serfs. This section of the Roman community had involuntarily given up its freedom in order to avoid enslavement by the barbarians.

10. Settlement of barbarians within the empire

One solution to make good the population loss in the shattered areas was to settle captured barbarian tribesmen within the areas that they had devastated, providing a robust new workforce and enabling them to make good the damage they had caused. This was always a dubious policy, as was recognized even by contemporary writers. Many tribesmen were glad of the chance to contribute to Roman civilization, with the attendant benefits for themselves, while the Roman army found them a useful source for hardy recruits. However, some of the barbarians went through the motions of settlement before using their new territory as a convenient base from which to plunder their neighbours. The loyalty of the newly settled tribes must always have been uncertain; less so when the new settlers were themselves fleeing from more violent barbarians in their rear.

11. Degeneration of language

While the empire had remained a strong, cohesive unit, its standard of Latin had remained remarkably homogeneous in all the provinces, as evidenced by surviving inscriptions. The invasions of the mid-third century, and the separation of the breakaway Roman empires, caused the degeneration of Latin speech and grammar into regional accents and variations. In later centuries, these variants would form the foundation of the modern Romance (Latin-derived) languages, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.

12. Failure of the pagan religions and philosophy

Worship of the emperor, or of his genius, was never very convincing and adoption of the title of ‘Lord and God’ did not save any of the bearers (Aurelian, Probus and perhaps Carus) from assassination.

Sun worship offered ultimately nothing to humanity struggling under the burdens of barbarian invasions, plague and oppressive taxation. It implied no rules for behaviour and failed to explain the only too obvious struggle between good and evil. Philosophy was also a disappointment; a policy of ascension from the Body to the Soul to the Divine Mind to a godlike state (the ‘One’) by yearning and self-contemplation had little appeal or even challenge. Neither could stand up against the fast-rising movement of Christianity that offered so much more: salvation by Grace and immortality of the soul coupled with strict rules for conduct towards your neighbour and God.

The final legacy

The most enduring achievement of our Danubian supermen may therefore be simply that they allowed the empire to survive; to survive long enough for Christianity to become widespread even among the barbarians and thereby, in Gibbon’s words, ‘[Christianity] broke the violence of the fall [of the Roman Empire], and mollified the ferocious temper of the conquerors.’ Ironically, none of our supermen showed much enthusiasm for Christianity.

Comte de Bonneval in Ottoman Service

boneval

Claude Alexandre, Comte de Bonneval (1675 – 1747, Istanbul.

Ahmed III had reigned for twenty-seven years. Against all expectancy, his nephew remained on the throne for twenty-four. For thirteen months after his accession, foreign envoys looked on Mahmud as a mere puppet of Patrona Halil and his bully boys, rebels who set fire to most of the exquisite palaces and kiosks of the Tulip Years. Their leader grew rich very quickly, as boss of a city-wide protection racket. Momentarily it seemed he might find an even broader field in which to peculate; on 24 November 1731 the Sultan invited Patrona Halil and his chief supporters to come to the palace in order to discuss plans for another Persian War. No such discussion took place. Soon after their arrival in the Topkapi Sarayi, Patrona Halil and his associates were seized, and strangled on the spot. Mahmud could now rule in his own right, entrusting the administration to Grand Viziers sympathetic towards westernizing reform, but more cautious than Damat Ibrahim and less tenacious of office.

Much survived the Patrona Terror, most notably Muteferrika’s printing press. There was even an imperial tulip festival each spring, albeit trimmed down to economy size. Like Ahmed III, Mahmud showed an interest in books and education, at least in his capital city: a small library outside the Mosque of the Conqueror and a primary school attached to the mosque of Ayasofya are still standing. He also completed a project, abandoned in the previous reign, for supplying water piped from outlying reservoirs to Pera, Galata and the northern shore of the Golden Horn; the octagonal water distribution centre (taksim), erected on the Sultan’s orders, is still at the top of Istiklal Caddesi (modern Istanbul’s Regent Street or Rue de Rivoli) and has given its name to Taksim Meydani, which it is tempting to call Istanbul’s Piccadilly Circus.

These projects belong mainly to Mahmud I’s later years, as also does the patronage he extended to the building of Stamboul’s first Baroque mosque, the Nurousmaniye Cami, next to the Bazaar. He had begun his personal rule by giving urgent attention to defects in the methods of tax collection; a new law improving the efficiency of the timar system was issued as early as January 1732. Later in that same year Ibrahim Muteferrika presented the Sultan with a printed edition of his own treatise, some fifty pages long, an inquiry into the science of ruling the nations, Usul ul-hikem fi nizam al-uman. He described the types of government existing in other states, urged the sovereign to relate external policies to the geographical structure of neighbouring lands, and suggested how the Ottomans might learn from the military science and discipline of infidel armies—towards whom Muteferrika dutifully showed a tactful contempt. Mahmud I was impressed; and, like many later Sultans, he turned for advice to a foreign expert. The Comte de Bonneval would, he hoped, modernize the Ottoman army, making it once again the conquering vanguard of Islam.

Claude-Alexandre, Comte de Bonneval, a French general from the Limousin, had every confidence that he could live up to what he assumed to be the Sultan’s expectations. He was fifty-two when in 1727 he entered Ottoman service, having fought for and against Louis XIV and served under Prince Eugene against the Turks before falling out with his commanding general and spending a year in prison. The Venetian Republic had nothing to offer him and so he travelled down to Ragusa (Dubrovnik), crossed into Bosnia, accepted conversion to Islam, and made ready to fight for the Sultan. After a few months observing the Ottoman army, he prepared a memorandum for Mahmud I, explaining how he would create new fighting units of infantry and artillery, to be trained by young hand-picked officers; and how he would restore the Janissaries as an élite fighting force by grouping several orta in the corps into regiments, thus giving officers a regular ladder of promotion on the model of the French and Austrian armies which he already knew so well. Foreign-born military advisers—German, Austrian and Scottish officers, in particular—had played a considerable role in modernizing the Russian army: one in four of Peter the Great’s senior commanders was a non-Russian, and the new guards regiments founded by his successor, Empress Anna, were almost entirely raised and trained by foreigners. To assist him, Bonneval knew he would have three somewhat younger French officers who had converted to Islam, together with some Irish and Scottish soldiers of fortune and, possibly, some Swedes. On paper there seemed no reason why ‘Ahmed’—as Bonneval was now known—should not give the Sultan a fighting force to match the army of his northern neighbour.

The vicissitudes of Bonneval’s career well illustrate the difficulties facing any reformer at the Sultan’s court. In September 1731 the Grand Vizier Topal Osman invited him to modernize a single section of the Sultan’s army, the humbaraciyan or bombardier corps, responsible for making, transporting and firing all explosive weapons (mortar bombs, grenades, mines) on land or aboard a naval vessel. He was provided with a training ground and barracks outside Üsküdar, consulted over the construction of a cannon foundry and musket factory, and asked to draft a memorandum for the Sublime Porte on foreign policy. But six months later Grand Vizier Topal Osman was replaced by an Italian-born convert, Hekimolu Ali, who was so dependent on the conservatively-minded Janissary leaders that he dared not support army reform until he had been in office for some two years. By the autumn of 1734, however, Bonneval was back in grace: on his recommendation a military engineering school was set up in Üsküdar; and in January 1735 he was made a high-ranking dignitary, entitled to two horsetails.

For the last twelve years of his life Claude-Alexandre became Kumbaraci Osman Ahmed Pasha. He could not, however, rely on Mahmud’s continued support. Yet another Grand Vizier came into office in July 1735, and a year later the Pasha was exiled from the capital to Katamonu in northern Anatolia; funds for the bombardiers and the new army institutions were at once cut off. Somehow, in 1740, he slipped back to Üsküdar, but Janissary suspicion and jealousy made certain he never again enjoyed great influence. His grandiose plans for modernizing the army were ignored, although he was allowed to continue running his military engineering school until his death at the age of seventy-two. ‘A man of great talent for war, intelligent and eloquent, charming and gracious’, commented a French envoy; ‘very proud, a lavish spender, extremely debauched and a great philanderer.’

Bonneval’s reforms contributed to the success of Ottoman armies in the sporadic campaigns from 1736 to 1739 against Russia and Austria. Sultan Mahmud’s armies recovered much of Serbia, including Belgrade, and strengthened the Ottoman hold on Bosnia. Throughout Mahmud’s reign the Sublime Porte had to look defensively to the east, as well as to the north and west, for in Persia the ruthless Khan Nadir Afshar seized power and in 1737 was recognized as Shah. Mahmud and Nadir exchanged gifts: an ornate oval throne, plated with gold and adorned with pearls, rubies and diamonds, was presented by the Shah to the Sultan; while Mahmud in return sent to Nadir a golden dagger, with three large emeralds in the hilt beneath another emerald which covered a watch. But despite such costly diplomatic courtesies, Sultan and Shah were at war for most of Nadir’s reign, fighting largely indecisive campaigns in Mesopotamia, although the Persians gained some success in the southern Caucasus. The danger receded with the assassination of Nadir in 1747, an event which enabled the Sultan to recover the golden dagger he had presented. Both gifts are on show in the Topkapi Sarayi treasury, the dagger having (in 1964) featured in Topkapi, a film based upon Eric Ambler’s thriller The Light of Day.

Shah Nadir’s murder came at the start of an unexpected interlude in Ottoman history. Between 1746 and 1768, the Empire was at peace. Never before had twenty-two years passed without war along at least one frontier; and the country was to enjoy no comparable respite until the Kemalist Revolution and the proclamation of a republic. Yet as the Ottoman Empire was essentially a military institution, the ‘long peace’ proved curiously debilitating. Only one Grand Vizier—Koça Mehmed Ragip, in the late 1750s—tried to arrest the decline of effective government; he dispatched troops to stamp out banditry in Rumelia, Anatolia and Syria; and he appointed supervisors to check corruption in the evkaf and ensure that the revenue from religious endowments was applied to pious or charitable work. But despite Ragip’s efforts three familiar abuses soon crept back into the administration: the sale of offices; nepotism; and the taking of bribes. Instead of building on the reforms of the past quarter of a century, the Janissaries sought to put the clock back. Turkish printing virtually ceased, to the great relief of the professional scribes and calligraphers who had feared competition. After Ibrahim Muteferrika’s death in 1745 only two volumes were published in eleven years, and the press thereafter stood idle until 1784 when Sultan Abdulhamid I issued an imperial edict on the need to re-establish Turkish printing. A similar halt was called to all efforts at army or navy reform. Bonneval’s military engineering school only outlived its founder by three years; and almost two decades passed before any further attempt was made to modernize the Ottoman army.

During the ‘long peace’ it is doubtful whether the Sultans or their viziers in Constantinople were fully aware of the extent to which the empire was falling apart. The North African lands, from Libya westwards, were by now no more than nominal vassal states. In 1711 Ahmed III had recognized the hereditary rule of the Qaramanli family in Tripolitania and the Husaynid dynasty as beys of Tunis, as well as accepting the right of local Janissaries to nominate a governor in Algeria who would share power with three provincial beys. In Cairo a rapid succession of Ottoman viceroys had proved ineffectual: Egypt was virtually ‘governed’—a euphemistic verb in this context—by rival Mameluke princes, working sometimes with and sometimes against the resident Janissaries. The chronic civil war permitted Bedouin to encroach on the fertile lands of the Nile delta, gravely hampering cultivation; there was a major famine in Cairo on four occasions during the reign of Egypt’s nominal sovereign, Sultan Ahmed III. The famines were almost as bad in Mesopotamia, where Bedouin incursions brought the desert back to a fertile region on the Tigris north of Baghdad. In Mosul, Baghdad, Aleppo, and Damascus by the middle of the century, the vali was, in effect, a hereditary governor-general, his family forming an embryonic local dynasty safeguarded by a private army. Syria forwarded to Constantinople no more than a quarter of the revenue claimed by the imperial government as tribute money; and other outlying provinces were no better. Even the few imperial duties laid on local governors were sometimes disastrously neglected. The most notorious incident was the failure of local notables who had secured the hereditary governorship of Damascus from the Sultan to protect the pilgrim caravan from attack by Bedouin horsemen on its way to Mecca in 1757; on that occasion the raiders left 20,000 devout Muslims dead, among them a sister of the spineless Sultan, Osman III—who died from apoplexy soon after news of the raid reached his capital.

Osman’s successor, his cousin Mustafa III, much admired Frederick the Great’s generalship; and in 1761 a treaty of friendship with Prussia, sweetened with trade concessions, held out prospects of a new twist to the European alliance system. Unfortunately Mustafa attributed Frederick’s success to the alleged attention given by the king to his astrologers. This misunderstanding of the Prussian way of government led Mustafa to decide that if the stars were said to favour a Sultan’s ambitions, the ‘long peace’ must end. With such calculations helping to shape policy, it is hardly surprising that in October 1768 a war party at court had no difficulty in convincing Mustafa of the need to challenge Catherine the Great’s Russia.

Predictably, after years of military neglect, the Ottomans fared badly. Three Russian squadrons sailed from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. A protest to the Doge for allowing ships from the Baltic to enter the Adriatic at Venice suggests a basic ignorance of Europe’s geography. Naval intelligence was low, too. A curious strategy which used the ships of the fleet as anchored forts in Cesme harbour enabled the Russians to win an easy naval victory and put troops ashore near Smyrna (Izmir). Within a month the Russians gained a striking victory on land, too, when an army moving southwards into Moldavia scattered Ottoman troops at Kagul, on the river Pruth. By early 1772 Empress Catherine’s armies controlled much of the Crimea and all of Moldavia and Wallachia, the heartlands of modern Roumania.

In tactics and strategy, it was a dull war. Until the last months neither belligerent produced a commander who showed tenacity or initiative. ‘The Turks are falling like skittles,’ ran a contemporary Russian saying, ‘but, thank God, our men are standing fast—though headless.’ At last, in the early summer of 1774, a brilliantly executed thrust by the Russian general Alexander Suvorov threatened to carry the war into Bulgaria. Mustafa III had died from a heart attack in the preceding January; the new Sultan—his forty-eight-year-old brother, Abdulhamid I—was a realist. After six years of war, and with Austria threatening support for Russia in the field, the Sublime Porte wanted to end the fighting, if only to provide a respite in which the new Sultan could build up his army and his fleet. On 21 July 1774 peace was concluded at Kuchuk Kainardji, a Bulgarian village south of the Danubian town of Silistria and now known as Kainardzhi.

The Kuchuk Kainardji settlement is historically far more important than the war which preceded it. ‘The stipulations of the treaty are a model of skill by Russia’s diplomats and a rare example of Turkish imbecility,’ reported the Austrian envoy, Franz Thugut. If Abdulhamid I merely wanted a pause between rounds in a long contest, there is no doubt his negotiators served him poorly, since there was about the territorial settlement a sense of finality. Just as the Peace of Karlowitz in 1699 pushed back the frontier of Islam in central Europe, so Kuchuk Kainardji seventy-five years later acknowledged the dwindling of Ottoman power around the northern shore of the Black Sea. The Sultan gave up Ottoman claims to suzerainty over the Crimea and the Tatar steppe land, acknowledging the independence of the Muslim ‘Khanate of the Crimea’ (absorbed in Russia nine years later). At the mouth of the river Dnieper the Turks ceded to Russia a relatively small section of the Black Sea coast which supplemented the cession of the port of Azov. The Russians also acquired the fortresses of Kerch and Yenikale, which controlled the straits linking Azov to the wider waters of the open sea; and, further south, they were accorded special rights in Wallachia and Moldavia (although these ‘Danubian Principalities’ remained within the Ottoman Empire).

These territorial changes were a humiliating recognition of Russia’s new status in a region where the Ottomans had enjoyed two and a half centuries of almost unchallenged mastery. But the Russians gained an even greater concession—freedom for their merchant vessels to trade with the ports of southern Europe and the Levant. For the first time since the Turks secured control of the Straits, the vessels of another country were allowed to trade in the Black Sea and to sail out through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles into the Mediterranean. At the same time, Empress Catherine and her successors were promised the right to maintain a permanent embassy in the Ottoman capital, like the Austrians and the French, and also to establish consulates in every major port of the Sultan’s empire. This concession made it easier for the Russians to send agents to disaffected provinces in south-eastern Europe, notably to Greece.

If, as many writers believe, Franz Thugut was referring to the religious clauses of the settlement rather than to its territorial and commercial aspects, his judgement is open to question. Confusion over their precise character has sprung from inconsistencies between the original versions, in Russian, Turkish and Italian, of the treaty, intensified by later translations into French, the common language of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century diplomacy. It was long assumed that the religious Articles curtailed the rights of the Sultan, thereby hastening the decline of his empire: in reality they enhanced his authority by giving him wider personal responsibilities than any previous treaty had acknowledged. For the first time the Ottoman assertion of universal Islamic leadership received international recognition: Article 3 stipulated that ‘as supreme caliph of the Mohammeddan faith . . . His Sultanian Majesty’ retained spiritual jurisdiction over the Muslim Tatars when they gained political and civic independence. This claim was based upon the totally unsubstantiated tale that in 1517 the Caliphate had been formally transferred from the Abbasids to Sultan Selim I. Although effective jurisdiction over the Tatars survived for less than a decade, Article 3 had a lasting significance, for it confirmed the pontifical status assumed by the Sultans after being girded with the sword upon their accession. Over the following century and a half, respect for the spiritual pretensions of the Ottoman Caliphate increased as the territorial extent of Ottoman sovereignty contracted.

Even more controversial were Articles 7 and 14, relating to Orthodox Christendom. ‘Henceforth Orthodoxy is under Our Imperial Guardianship in the places whence it sprang,’ Empress Catherine proclaimed in a manifesto welcoming the treaty, eight months after it was signed; and many later Russian statesmen—and some Tsarist and French historians—were to insist that the settlement gave a Russian sovereign the right to protect Orthodoxy, its churches and its believers, throughout the Ottoman lands. This extreme interpretation of Kuchuk Kainardji led to the Eastern Crisis of 1853 and thus, indirectly, to the Crimean War. But Article 7 is specific in according ‘firm protection of the Christian faith and its churches’, not to the ruler in Russia, but to ‘the Sublime Porte’. Since the Article does not mention a particular religious denomination, the Sultan would seem to have possessed a protective obligation towards all Christian churches within his empire, not merely the Orthodox; and later Ottoman reformers—Sultans and their ministers—often supported an impartial Muslim-Christian equality of status under the law. The treaty does, however, authorize the building and maintenance of a public ‘Russo-Greek’ church ‘in the street called Beyöglu of the Galata district’ (Article 14). It is to this building that Article 7 refers when it promises that the Sublime Porte will ‘allow ministers of the Russian imperial court to make various representations in all affairs on behalf of the church erected in Constantinople’.

No ‘Russo-Greek’ church was ever built in the ‘street called Beyöglu’. It is still possible to walk down the old ‘Grand Rue de Pera’ and visit three Roman Catholic churches, one nineteenth-century Anglican church, and several former embassy chapels; other Christian religious institutions are mentioned in the older guide books; but there is no evidence that the building proposed by the treaty of Kuchuk Kainardji progressed even as far as a foundation stone. This is hardly surprising; had Russia erected a specific place of worship under the protection of the Sublime Porte, it would have become difficult to assert that the treaty gave ‘ministers of the Russian imperial court’ a generalized right to champion the interests of Orthodox believers in the Empire as a whole. At Kuchuk Kainardji the Ottoman diplomats may have surrendered more lands and more commercial concessions than Abdulhamid I intended. But they were not ‘imbeciles’. Their legalistic minds defined religious rights even down to the naming of a street. They conceded far less than Catherine claimed. Where they failed was in underestimating Russian sharp practice.