Malta and the Order

Aleccio, Matteo Perez d’; The Siege of Malta: Siege and Bombardment of Saint Elmo, 27 May 1565; National Maritime Museum;

This island state is strategically located in the middle of the Mediterranean. As such, it was successively part of several ancient Mediterranean empires, including the Phoenician, Greek (ancient and Byzantine), Carthaginian, Roman, and Arab. The Normans conquered Malta in the late 11th century. It was a base for Christian armies and pilgrims heading for the ‘‘Holy Land’’ during the Crusades. When the Crusaders lost Jerusalem, and then Acre, the defeated Hospitallers retreated to Cyprus, then Rhodes. Eight years after Rhodes fell to the Ottomans (1522), Charles V resettled the Hospitallers on Malta, where they were known as the ‘‘Knights of Malta.’’ From 1564 to 1565, some 9,000 knights and retainers resisted a siege by 20,000 of Suleiman I’s assault troops, later doubled to 40,000. The fortress of St. Elmo fell but Valletta held out until disease and hunger wore down the Ottomans. Most of the defenders were also killed, with just 500 or so knights surviving. In later decades the Maltese Knights lived as pirates operating slave galleys. Styling themselves ‘‘Armies of the Religion on the Sea’’ they preyed on Muslim trade and cut Muslim throats under banners of the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist, and the famous red cross of their Order. They even acquired three island colonies in the Caribbean (Tortuga, St. Barthélemy, and St. Croix). The Grand Master was made a prince of the Empire in 1607 and in 1630 he gained rank in Rome equivalent to a Cardinal Deacon. The Knights remained in Malta until expelled by Napoleon in 1798 as he stopped off on the way to Alexandria.

Treaty of Osnabrück, (October 24, 1648).

The second of the major treaties of the Peace of Westphalia which, together with the Treaty of Münster signed on the same day, brought peace to Germany and most of Europe and ended the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648). Osnabrück was a heavily detailed agreement which resolved hundreds of long-standing religious and territorial disputes within Germany. For instance, it clarified the legal standing of the Protestant branch—Johannitterorden—of the Knights of St. John, as distinct from the still-Catholic Order of Malta, and returned five commanderies to the Maltese. More generally, it clarified the titles and claims of various German princes and bishops, reformed the election provisions of the constitution of the Holy Roman Empire, and confirmed as sovereign some 300 political entities in greater Germany. In that it carried forward recognition of the German Estates agreed in the Imperial Diet at Regensburg in 1641. It also granted Sweden an indemnity of five million Taler that was crucial to Sweden agreeing to withdraw its unpaid army from Germany.

Map of the monastic state of the Teutonic Knights 1466

‘‘Domus hospitalis sanctae Mariae Teutonicorum’’ (‘‘Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St. Mary of the Teutons’’). An order of hospitaller knights set up in 1127 in Jerusalem. In 1198 they were transformed into a Military Order (‘‘Ritter des Deutschordens’’) after the failed Third Crusade. They had three classes of brethren: knights, priests, and sergeants. All were required to be of German birth and noble blood. Some of their hospitals admitted nursing women. On their shields and chests the Teutonic Knights bore the Crusader symbol of the order: the black and silver ‘‘Iron Cross’’ that ordained, in both senses, German warriors and military equipment into the 21st century. Their fighting doctrine was, ‘‘Who fights the Order, fights Jesus Christ!’’ Their rallying cry was, ‘‘Gott mit Uns!’’ (‘‘God is with us!’’). They slept with their swords, initially their only permitted possession, practiced self-flagellation and extreme fasting and monkish devotions, and kept silent in camp and on the march. Many wore mail directly against their flesh to mortify it. They were at their worst Christian Taliban: gruesome holy warriors who welcomed martyrdom, willing killers for ‘‘The Christ.’’

Out of the Ashes

Unable to compete with other Military Orders in Syria, the Teutonic Knights fought in Armenia instead. In 1210 nearly the whole order was killed, leaving just 20 knights. Hermann von Salza essentially refounded the order in 1226, aided by Emperor Friedrich II (‘‘Barbarossa’’). They were given lands in Sicily and eastern Europe, a transaction approved by the pope in the Golden Bull of Rimini (1223). They now wore white tunics, an honor granted over the strong objection of the rival Knights Templar. They fought in behalf of the Hungarian king in Transylvania before moving into Prussia, which the Knights in the Service of God in Prussia had failed to conquer. The first two Knights of the order settled in Prussia in 1229; the next year 20 more arrived, along with 200 sergeants. The Brethren thereafter acted as commanders and officers in larger armies of converted Prussians who served them as auxiliaries. In battle the Knights were the panzer tip of a crusading invasion of the pagan lands of the Baltic. They ravaged and conquered Courland and Prussia and parts of Poland and western Russia, waging ruthless campaigns against ‘‘the northern Saracens.’’ They settled in conquered lands as the new aristocracy, enserfing native populations. Their own vassalage shifted among the Empire, the king of Poland, and distant but powerless popes. The legacy of the ‘‘Drang nach Osten’’ (‘‘Drive to the East’’) of the ‘‘Sword Brethren’’ was the Christianization and enfeoffment of Prussia by force of arms and merciless war with Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, and Muscovy. The northern crusades, especially the long forest-ambush campaigns of the 14th century against animist Lithuanians, were among the most ferocious of the entire Middle Ages.

The military tools of the Brethren were advanced and powerful crossbows, mailed heavy cavalry, stone watchtowers and fortress fastnesses, huge torsion artillery (catapults and counterpoise trebuchets), and cogs that could carry 500 troops, which gave them mobile striking power along the Baltic coast. Their early opponents had almost none of these weapons. When Knights charged native infantry (‘‘Pruzzes’’) armed only with bows and axes, the panic and slaughter was terrible. The Brethren united with the Livonian Order, also comprised of German knights, from 1237 to 1525. To their new Ordensstaat (1238), the Sword Brothers brought German and Dutch colonists and peasants to secure the land, completing the most successful and brutal military colonization of the Middle Ages. Baltic cities within the Ordensstaat were permitted to join the Hanse, as did the Hochmeister.

The Brethren also fought constant border wars with Poland-Lithuania, a large condominium that dominated most of eastern Europe and western Russia. They were defeated by a Mongol horde at Liegnitz (April 1241), but thereafter held and expanded their territory. By 1250 the Lithuanians had adapted to new weapons and mounted tactics and under a new leader, Mindaugus, invaded the Ordensstaat. In 1254 some 60,000 Germans and Bohemians mobilized to rescue the Knights. Over the next two decades they faced war with Lithuania and a 13-year peasant revolt in Prussia, the ‘‘Great Apostasy.’’ By the late 1270s they were triumphant in the Baltic.

In 1291 the last resistance to the Muslim assault on Outremer collapsed and the German Hospital in Acre was lost. In 1309 the Order’s Grand Commandery was moved to Marienburg (Malbork) on the Vistula and its ties to the Holy Land faded into legend and dim memory. Marriage to natives was still forbidden because so many remained pagan and hostile: in 1343 peasants in Estonia rebelled and slaughtered 1,800 Germans in Reval. The Brethren hence had a narrow recruitment base: they boasted fewer than 500 full knights supported by 3,200 retainers, just under 6,000 sergeants, fewer than 2,000 garrison militia from six large towns, and 1,500 poor-quality conscripts who were peasant-tenants of various abbeys under control of the Brethren. The Order was reinforced by knights from across Europe when successive popes preached a new Baltic crusade against pagan Lithuania; many came for the blood sport. This was key, as Prussia’s population was savaged by the Black Death and Crusaders from Germany grew scarce after Lithuanians converted to Christianity. Still, between 1345 and 1377, over 100 expeditions were launched by the Brethren into Lithuania. To make up the shortfall in German recruits, baptized Prussians and Slavs were recruited from 1400, and large numbers of Czech mercenaries were hired whenever the Brethren fought.

The reforms did not help: the Teutonic Knights were beaten decisively and with huge losses by a Polish-Lithuanian army at Tannenberg ( July 15, 1410). That ended their Baltic crusade and accelerated a terminal military decline. Lands lay fallow, commanderies remained empty, castles were deserted. The Poles then raided into Prussia, but after the losses suffered at Tannenberg the Knights were loathe to offer battle. A full-scale Polish invasion occurred in 1422 and forced the Knights to cede territory. In 1440 the Preussische Bund was founded in opposition to the extant privileges of the Order. The end of political and military dominance by the Brethren came with the War of the Cities (1454–1466). The Knights fought well against the Poles at Chojnice (September 18, 1454), but the size of armies deployed by Poland and the Bund told against the Teutons and their mercenaries. Nor could the Brethren rely on their traditional Czech allies: Hussite armies, too, raided deep into the Ordensstaat. In 1455 virtually all Livonian knights were wiped out. When the purse of the remaining Brethren turned over empty, unpaid mercenaries handed over the capital and fortress of Marienburg to the Poles without even a token fight. The Teutonic Knights were reduced, humiliated, and split by the Second Treaty of Torun (1466). In 1498 they regained a measure of independence when they elected as Hochmeister the brother of Friedrich of Saxony, who renounced homage to Poland and demanded the return of ‘‘Royal Prussia.’’ From 1498 to 1503 the Order fought with Muscovy, surprisingly holding its own against a more numerous foe. In 1519 the Knights attacked Poland, burning and raiding along the frontier but avoiding set-piece battles.

What finally defeated the Order was the same thing that had led to its founding: an argument about God. In 1523 Martin Luther wrote to Hochmeister Albrecht of Brandenburg. They met at the Imperial Diet in 1524 and Albrecht converted to Luther’s views, as had the bishop of Straslund and many Brethren. The original Livonian Order broke away as a result of Albrecht’s conversion. (Catholic remnants survived in Germany until 1809, but only as a landless and powerless ceremonial shell.) On April 8, 1525, Albrecht signed the Treaty of Cracow converting Prussia into a hereditary duchy under the Polish monarchy. The last significant military action of the Brethren was to support Charles V during his war with the Schmalkaldic League (1546–1547). The Order lost its rich Venetian commandery in 1595, the same year 100 knights made a last crusade against the Ottomans in Hungary. In 1618 the Duchy of Prussia passed to the Hohenzollerns and the last knights became Prussian officers. In 1618 the Duchy of Prussia passed to the Hohenzollerns and the last knights became Prussian officers. In 1695 the Order itself was remade into a regiment, the ‘‘Hoch und Deutschmeister’’ of the Austrian Army. A key result of the slippage of the hold of the Teutonic Knights on the eastern Baltic was a rise in commercial and military competition for the succession to the Ordensstaat among Poland and Sweden, and later, also Russia.

Suggested Reading: E. Christiansen, The Northern Crusades: The Baltic and the Catholic Frontier, 1100–1525 (1980); Desmond Seward, Monks of War: The Military Religious Orders (1972; 1995).



Brother Cadfael’s England


As impressive and meritorious as the complete Ellis Peters/ Edith Pargeter literary legacy is, it is the Cadfaelien novels that most arrest our attention, a tapestry formed from the warp of power politics some eight hundred years past but as modern as yesterday and the woof of emotions, temperaments, and ambitions of characters as human as members of one’s own family. The overriding political situation throughout the chronicles is the English Civil War, a war between cousins for the succession to the throne. While Henry I of England was still king, his barons swore fealty to Empress Maud, Henry’s daughter, as successor to the throne. When Henry died in 1135, however, Count Stephen, Maud’s cousin whom Henry had reared and knighted, seized the throne and had himself crowned as king, even though as late as 1131 and again in 1133 he too had sworn fealty to Maud. Maud’s partisans believed that she as Henry’s only living child should be queen and that it was right to stand by her faithfully. They were particularly angered that the barons who had sworn fealty to Maud took Stephen’s seizure of the throne meekly and forgot their oaths. On the opposing side, there were many lords, as Cadfael himself summarizes, “‘who would say, better a man for overlord than a woman. And if a man, why, Stephen was as near as any to the throne. He is King William’s [William the Conqueror’s] grandchild, just as Maud is.'” This statement is Cadfael’s summarizing only, not a statement of agreement.

On the death of a king, law was lost. When the king died, the peace died with him. Only on the accession of a new sovereign did law return. Knights fled back to their castles in fear of losing them. It was a question of saving what you could at a time when order was suspended. On receiving the news of King Henry’s death his nephew, Stephen, count of Blois, left France and sailed to England quickly. He rode to London with his knightly followers, and the citizens acclaimed him as their king according to ancient custom. Whereupon he rode to Winchester and claimed the treasury.

As the son of Henry’s sister, Stephen had for a long time been associated with the royal court. He was, after all, the grandson of William the Conqueror. Clearly he considered himself to be Henry’s protégé and, in the absence of any legitimate royal sons, perhaps his natural heir. He persuaded many of the leaders of the kingdom that this was so. One person needed no persuasion. His brother, Henry, was bishop of Winchester. It may even have been he who prompted Stephen’s decision to claim the throne. He entrusted his brother with the keys of the treasury and, three weeks after the death of the king, on 22 December 1135, Stephen was crowned in Westminster Abbey.

The magnates had sworn fealty to the king’s daughter, Matilda, but in truth many of them had no wish to be governed by a woman. No queen had ever ruled in England, and in any case Matilda was known to be of imperious temperament. It was reported with much relief that, on his deathbed, Henry had disinherited his daughter in favour of his nephew. The report may not have been true, but it was highly convenient.

So Stephen was set for a fair start. He was not treated as a usurper, but as an anointed king. He also had the immense advantage of a well-stocked treasury, amassed through Henry I’s prudence in years of peace. The money allowed him to recruit large numbers of mercenary troops with which to defend his lands in France and the northern frontier with Scotland. The king of Scotland, David, claimed the counties of Northumberland, Cumberland and Westmorland as part of his sovereign territory; he was inclined to demonstrate the fact by marching south. At the battle of the Standard in 1138, named after the fact that the banners of three English saints were carried to the scene of combat, Stephen’s army under the leadership of northern lords defeated the Scots. A chronicler, John of Worcester, rejoiced that ‘we were victorious’; the use of the first person plural here is significant. The English were coming together.

But the money began to run out. Stephen had been too generous for his own good. A poor king is a luckless king. He debased the currency, to pay for his troops, but of course the price of goods rose ever higher as a result. Then, in the autumn of 1139, Matilda arrived to claim her country. In her company was her bastard half-brother, Robert, whom the late king had ennobled as earl of Gloucester. This was a war between cousins that became also a civil war. Matilda was strong in the west, particularly around Gloucester and Bristol, while Stephen was dominant in the south-east. In the midlands and in the north, neither party was pre-eminent. In those regions the local magnates were the natural rulers.

The instinct of the Anglo-Norman lords was for battle; like the salamander, they lived in fire. William I had realized that, and had ruled them like a tyrant. He had said that his lords were ‘eager for rebellion, ready for tumults and for every kind of crime’. They needed to be yoked and held down. Norman kings had to be strong in order to survive. But Stephen was not strong. By all accounts he was affable and amiable, easy to approach and easier to persuade. More damning still, he was lenient towards his enemies. There could be no greater contrast with the kings who had preceded him. He surrendered to the pope the power of appointing abbots and bishops; he also agreed that the bishops should wield power ‘over ecclesiastical persons’. At a stroke the prerogative of kings was diminished. He struck bargains with his great lords that rendered him merely the first among equals.

The barons knew well enough that loyalty and discipline had been undermined by the arrival of Matilda. Here was a welcome opportunity to extend their power. Their castles were further strengthened, and became the centres of marauding soldiers. For the next sixteen years, neither peace nor justice was enjoyed. Private wars were conducted between magnates under the pretence of attachment to Stephen or Matilda. Skirmishes and sieges, raids and ambushes, were perpetrated by the armies of the two rivals. Churches were ransacked, and farms were pillaged. Battles between towns, as well as between barons, took place. The men of Gloucester, supporting Matilda, marched upon Worcester and attempted to put the town to the torch. They also took prisoners, leashing them together like dogs, while most of the people of Worcester took refuge with their belongings in the cathedral.

A brief chronology of warfare can be given. The arrival of Matilda in England had not created any overwhelming enthusiasm for her rule; the barons of the west largely supported her, but her principal ally was still her bastard half-brother. Robert of Gloucester became the leader of her army of mercenaries. Her second husband, Geoffrey of Anjou, was detained by wars of his own.

After her landing at Arundel in 1139 numerous small battles erupted in the western counties, such as Somerset and Cornwall, with castles being taken and recaptured. Sporadic fighting continued in the following year, with incidents occurring in regions as various as Bristol and the Isle of Ely, but without any definite victory or defeat. The great lords of England were confronted with a situation of insidious civil war without precedent in English history; some took advantage of the chaos, while others were no doubt anxious and dispirited. Stephen was widely regarded as the consecrated king, and there seems to have been no great popular support for Matilda’s title; even her supporters were instructed to style her by the essentially feudal name of domina, or ‘lady’, rather than queen. Stephen himself was possessed of remarkable stamina, moving across the country almost continually, but his progress was abruptly curtailed when he was captured at Lincoln in the beginning of February 1141.

He was taken prisoner and confined to a dungeon in Bristol; a few weeks later, Matilda was hailed as ‘lady of England’. She was never crowned. Nevertheless this was a disturbing moment for those who believed in the sacral role of kingship. No king of England had ever before been imprisoned in his own country. Matilda herself became more vociferous and imperious in her triumph, demanding money and tribute from those whom she believed to be her defeated adversaries. She was admitted into London reluctantly, its citizens having been enthusiastic supporters of Stephen, but she proceeded to alienate the Londoners still further by angrily asking for money. A few days after her arrival in the city, the bells of the churches were rung and a mob descended on a banquet at Westminster where she was about to dine. She took horse and rode precipitately to Oxford. It was one of her many fortunate escapes. On one occasion she retreated from the castle at Devizes in the guise of a corpse; she was wrapped in linen cerecloth, and tied by ropes to a bier. Subsequently she was besieged in the castle at Oxford on a winter’s night; she dressed in white, and was thus camouflaged against the snow as she made her way down the frozen Thames to Wallingford.

Despite Stephen’s capture his army, under the nominal command of his wife, took the field. Matilda retreated further and further west. Many of her supporters fled for their lives. But Robert of Gloucester was captured in the same year as Stephen. He was the unofficial leader of Matilda’s forces, and it seemed only natural that he should be freed in exchange for the king. So Stephen was released and reunited with his kingdom. There resumed the deadly game of chess, with knights and castles being lost or regained. War continued for twelve more years.

Some parts of the country suffered more than others. A monk of Winchester describes the effects of famine, with villagers eating the flesh of dogs and horses. Another monk, from the abbey at Peterborough, reports in some detail the depredations of the lords of the castles; they taxed the villages in their domains to such an extent that the villagers all fled leaving their fields and cottages behind. Yet the actual incidents of violence were local and specific.

This short period has been called ‘the Anarchy’, when Christ and his saints slept, but that is to underestimate or altogether ignore the underlying strength of the country. The administrative order of the nation, built over many hundreds of years, remained broadly intact. The walls of most of the towns were fortified in this period, but urban activity continued as before. It is even more surprising, perhaps, that in the years of Stephen’s rule more abbeys were built and founded than at any other period in English history. The Cistercians continued to flourish. The tower of Tewkesbury Abbey and the choir of Peterborough Cathedral were completed in the years of warfare.

War itself was not incessant. All hostilities were suspended in the penitential seasons of Lent and Advent. While Matilda’s mercenaries and the Anglo-Norman barons fought one another, the English people for the most part went about their business. Of course there were casualties and victims of civil war, adumbrated by the monks of Peterborough and Winchester, but there is no need to draw a picture of universal woe and desolation. It is perhaps worth recording that in the years of ‘the Anarchy’, the umbrella was introduced into England. It has outlived cathedrals and palaces.

One singular change was wrought by the intermittent warfare. The king no longer trusted the centralized bureaucracy established by Henry I, and he arrested its leading members in the persons of the bishops of Salisbury, Ely and Lincoln. He may have believed that they had secretly taken the side of Matilda and Robert of Gloucester. He also captured their castles; in this world bishops owned castles, too. Then in difficult and unusual circumstances, by instinct or design, he reversed the policy of the former king and devolved much of his power. He created earls as leaders for most of the counties; they were charged with political and military administration of their territories, and represented the king in all but name. There is in other words nothing inevitable in the growth of the English state; what can be proposed can also be reversed. That is why, on his accession, Henry II determined that he would return to the principles of his grandfather. He was a strong king, and therefore a centralist.

In 1147, at the age of fourteen, he had come to England as Henry of Anjou. He commanded a small army of mercenaries, ready to fight for Matilda’s claim, but he did not materially benefit his mother. He was defeated at Cricklade, by the Thames, and in a characteristic act of generosity Stephen himself helped him to return to Normandy. In the final years of the conflict it was apparent to everyone that Stephen was the victor, but it was also agreed that Henry of Anjou was his natural and inevitable successor. The magnates of the land were now largely supporting his claims.

So with the aid and entreaty of prominent churchmen, an agreement was drawn up at Winchester in 1153; it was settled that Stephen would reign, but that he would recognize Henry as his heir. Henry gave homage to Stephen, and Stephen swore an oath to maintain Henry as son and successor. The custody of the important castles – Wallingford, Oxford, Windsor, Winchester and the Tower – was secured, and the pact was witnessed by the leading barons on both sides of the dispute. Matilda retired to Rouen, where she devoted her remaining years to charitable works. Sixteen years of largely futile struggle had finally been resolved. The fighting was worse than useless. It had solved nothing. It had proved nothing. In that sense, it is emblematic of most medieval conflict. It is hard to resist the suspicion that kings and princes engaged in warfare for its own sake. That was what they were supposed to do.

Stephen had sworn that he would never be a dethroned king, and indeed that fate was averted. Yet he did not enjoy his unchallenged royalty for very long. He began the process of restoring social order but, less than a year after the signing of the treaty at Winchester, he succumbed to some intestinal infection; he died in the Augustinian priory at Dover on 25 October 1154. It is possible that he was carried off by poison. There would have been many longing for his death and the rule of a young king, including the young king himself. The life and death of monarchs can be stark and dangerous.

The Mongol Invasion of Hungary

Andrew II died on 21 September 1235. Two years earlier he had lost his second wife, Yolande de Courtenay, sister of Robert and Baldwin II, Latin emperors of Constantinople. Although nearing sixty, he contracted a third marriage with Beatrice, the young daughter of the marquis of Este. Upon Andrew’s death, the widow, who was already pregnant, considered it advisable to flee the country, and it was abroad that she gave birth to a son, Stephen, father of Andrew III, the last king of the dynasty.

Béla IV (1235–1270) had already become known for his conservative views. Between 1228 and 1231, as a younger king, he had taken serious measures to reverse his father’s ‘useless and superfluous perpetual grants’; but at that time his father had often prevented his decisions from being put into effect. Now, as king, he began his reign by expelling or imprisoning his father’s principal counsellors and confiscating their estates. Palatine Denis, who was held to be more responsible than anyone else for what had happened during Andrew II’s reign, was blinded. Béla also made efforts to restore the kingdom to the state it had been during the time of his revered grandfather. As a first step he ordered that the barons should henceforth stand during meetings of the royal council, having their seats burnt as a symbolic act. He also ordered that all those with grievances should submit these, by written petition, to the office of the judge royal in order that their cases might be examined. Only the most important cases would be placed before the council. However, Béla’s foremost aim was to put an end to the dissolution of the kingdom’s castle organisation, so he ordered a careful census of what remained of it and, in order to swell the dangerously diminished stock of royal estates, he resorted once again to the rescinding of his father’s land grants. All these measures bore witness to the king’s determination to interpret royal power as being almost absolute; and, indeed, they seemed to reinforce royal authority for a short time. The Italian Rogerius, canon of Oradea and later archbishop of Split, an astute contemporary who described in his Carmen miserabile the story of the Mongol invasion, was of another opinion. He thought that Béla’s actions had provoked ‘hatred’ between the king and his subjects, leading to a level of tension that he saw as the main reason for the catastrophe that was to follow.

It was at this time that the mysterious ‘eastern’ Hungarians became involved for a moment in the history of their western relatives. In the tenth century it was still recalled that the Hungarians had been cut into two by the attack of the Pechenegs in about 895 and that one part of them had remained in the East. This episode seems later to have been forgotten, and the existence of these distant relatives only became known again via the conversion of Cumania. Prompted by hints provided by a missionary, a Friar Julian and three other Dominicans left for the East in 1235 in order to find the lost Hungarians. Following the instruction of the chronicles, the Dominicans looked for them first in ‘Scythia’, that is, around the sea of Azov, but the eastern Hungarians were finally found in Bashkiria, along the River Volga, in a land called Magna Hungaria by Friar Julian. By the time he encountered them, all his companions had died. It was there that Julian realised the danger posed by the Mongol expansion, and as soon as he had arrived home he informed his king of it. In 1237 a new mission was dispatched, this time with the aim of converting the pagan Hungarians, but it had to stop at Suzdal, for in the meantime Khan Batu’s troops had begun their westward movement and had swept away the Hungarians’ eastern relatives for ever.

Mongol pressure led to the first migration of the Cumans into Hungary. In 1237 Prince Kuthen asked for his people’s admission, promising that they would become good Hungarian subjects and adopt the Roman Catholic faith. Regarding the Cumans as potentially useful allies against the Mongols, as well as against his own subjects, Béla settled them on the Great Plain, but their arrival only deepened the crisis in Hungary. The king was overwhelmed with complaints that the Cumans had violated women and disregarded property rights. There was little he could do to prevent these transgressions, but was nevertheless accused of bias in favour of ‘his Cumans’.

In the meantime the Mongols arrived on the scene. Kiev fell in December 1240 and in the spring of 1241 the Mongol armies set out for Hungary. The right wing crossed Poland and, having defeated Henry, duke of Silesia at Legnica on 9 April, invaded the kingdom of Hungary from the north. The left wing pushed through the passes of the Carpathians from the south. The main army, led by Batu in person, aimed the very heart of the kingdom. On 12 March they broke through the defensive works of the pass of Vorota and defeated Palatine Denis Tomaj. Five days later Vác was plundered by their vanguard.

Few realised the seriousness of the danger. While the royal army was gathering near Pest and the Mongols were advancing with a speed that only nomadic horsemen could attain, a riot broke out against the Cumans who were accused of complicity with the enemy. The crowd slaughtered Kuthen and his retinue, while his enraged people left the royal camp and marched away, doing as much damage as they could. Nevertheless, even without the Cumans, the Mongols still thought that the Hungarian army outnumbered them. Béla confidently marched eastwards and met Batu near Muhi on the River Sajó. It was there that took place the battle which was to be greatest military catastrophe experienced by medieval Hungary prior to 1526.

The Hungarian troops took position on the plain, surrounded by their carts. According to Batu, they ‘closed themselves in a narrow pen in the manner of sheep’, which made effective defence impossible. By dawn the Mongols had crossed the river above and below the Hungarian camp, encircled it and killed by archery all those who could not escape. The very best of the Hungarian army perished, including the palatine, the judge royal and both archbishops along with other bishops and barons. Béla’s brother, Coloman, was severely wounded and died soon after in Slavonia. Although the Mongols did their best to catch him, Béla managed to escape, and a number of nobles were later rewarded for helping him with fresh horses. He asked Frederick of Austria for help, but the duke preferred to take advantage of the situation and forced Béla to cede three counties. From Austria the king fled to Slavonia, and continued to send letters to the West asking for help. But all was in vain, for Gregory IX and Frederick II, whose support he might have hoped for, were heavily engaged in fighting each other.

In fact the help could not have arrived in time, for the Mongol storm subsided as quickly as it had arrived. In the beginning of 1242 the invaders crossed the frozen Danube and took Esztergom with the exception of the castle. They chased Béla as far as Trogir in Dalmatia, but did not have time to lay siege to the city. The news came that the Great Khan, Ögödey, had died at the end of 1241, and Batu wanted to be present at the election of his successor. In March the Mongol army withdrew from the country, killing and taking thousands of captives en route. ‘In this year’, noted an Austrian annalist under the year 1241, ‘the kingdom of Hungary, which had existed for 350 years, was destroyed by the army of the Tatars.


The destruction caused by the Mongols during the course of a single year is hardly imaginable. They carried off thousands of captives, and what they left behind was vividly described by Rogerius, who had been a captive of theirs but managed to escape with some of his companions. For a week they wandered in Transylvania from village to village ‘without meeting anyone’, guided by church towers and living on roots. When they finally arrived in Alba Iulia ‘they found nothing but the corpses and skulls of those slaughtered by the invaders’. The spectacle must have been the same wherever the enemy had passed, and even many decades later villages throughout the kingdom were found to have been uninhabited ‘since the time of the Mongols’. The fields could not be tilled while the enemy was there and the unburied corpses caused the spread of epidemics. Consequently, there followed in 1243 a horrible famine, which ‘took more victims than the pagans before’, according to an Austrian contemporary.

The number of casualties has been disputed, but there is no doubt that the invasion led to something of a demographic catastrophe. Some scholars put the loss, probably with exaggeration, at about 50 per cent of the population (Gy. Györffy), but even the most prudent estimates do not go below 15 or 20 per cent (J. Szücs). The disaster can certainly be compared to the Black Death, which was to strike the West a century later, and its consequences were of the same importance. The trauma caused by the Mongol attack itself prompted a series of comprehensive political reforms, but its indirect social effects were even more significant. Strange as it may seem, the cataclysm speeded up the process of transformation that had begun in the reign of Andrew II. The next few decades saw spectacular changes that transformed the general outlook and social structure of the kingdom profoundly and enduringly.

The Transdanubian region where the invaders spent only a couple of months was relatively spared, but the Great Plain, which had borne the Mongol presence for a whole year, was devastated. Archaeological excavations have shown that in the region of Orosháza, east of Szeged, 31 out of 43 villages disappeared for ever. In the immediate outskirts of Cegléd, eight ruined churches were in later centuries to serve as reminders of the villages that must once have stood around them. In the late Middle Ages many deserted places still bore the name of a patron saint, showing that they had been inhabited in earlier times. It has been demonstrated that medieval place names ending with the word egyház (‘church’, as in the names of the modern towns Nyíregyháza and Kiskunfélegyháza) also referred to an abandoned church. Obviously not all the deserted localities should be attributed to the Mongol destruction. The abandonment of settlements must have been as common in Hungary as elsewhere in Europe, and the apparent disappearance of many villages that had been mentioned before 1241 was probably due to a change of name. Nevertheless, it is clear that the consequences of the Mongol invasion were grave indeed. It is a significant fact that all of the 40 Hungarian monasteries that are known to have disappeared at this time lay in the area that was affected by the invaders, 35 being on the Great Plain and the remainder in the adjacent part of Fejér county.

The profound transformation in the network of settlements on the Great Plain should be seen, on the whole, as a consequence of the Mongol invasion. Even today this part of Hungary is characterised by towns and large villages, with each having an extensive area belonging to it, while a dense network of much smaller settlements is more typical elsewhere. The lands belonging to the abandoned settlements on the Great Plain were taken over by the survivors and used as pastures. In this way, the general destruction in the thirteenth century can be seen as a prerequisite for the spectacular boom in horse and cattle breeding in the following period.

No less fatal for the whole of eastern Hungary was the simultaneous collapse of eastern European commerce. An initial blow had been dealt by the sack of Constantinople in 1204, for as a consequence the main commercial route that led through the Balkans lost its importance. Flourishing towns like Bač and Kovin, which had hitherto lived off the trade along this route, soon declined to the status of insignificant villages. However, the final blow was brought about by the Mongol destruction of Kiev in 1240.

It seems that, until that date, eastern Hungary had been a flourishing region. It was not, of course, more civilised than the western half of the kingdom, but it had certainly developed dynamically. Among the evidence for this are thousands of pennies of Friesach dating from Andrew II’s reign that have been found along the route leading to Kiev, but not elsewhere. They were probably buried at the time of the Mongol attack. The earliest known royal privilege that contained liberties for a community of peasant settlers was granted in 1201 by King Emeric to Walloons who came to the royal forest of Sárospatak. The village they founded, later to be called Olaszi (now Bodrogolaszi), lay along the route towards Kiev. The earliest urban privilege we know of was accorded by Andrew II in 1230 to the German ‘guests’ (hospites) of Satu Mare. The fact that Galicia remained a target of Hungarian foreign policy until about the same time was probably not unrelated to its economic importance. The route to Galicia led through the passes of the north-eastern Carpathians, so the king and his court must have been frequent visitors to the region. After the destruction of Kiev, commerce with the East virtually ceased to exist and the region quickly became marginalised, from the economic as well as the political point of view. Užhorod, a ‘great and flourishing town’ in the time of Idrisi, was not to recover from the blow until modern times. The same could be said of many other centres in the region, which henceforth would experience a royal visit no more than once a century.


The military defeat brought about a radical change in Béla IV’s political outlook. In the first place, it clearly indicated the necessity of constructing strong fortresses. Many of the early earth and timber castles had probably been abandoned by the time of the invasion, while those still in use were destroyed by the invaders. Apart from the walled cities of Esztergom and Székesfehérvár, there were only a few fortified monasteries and stone castles that were able to resist the Mongols. The most spectacular change of the years following the invasion was, therefore, the rapid spread of stone-built castles.

Béla completely abandoned the old principle according to which the erection and administration of fortresses was a royal prerogative. Immediately after the Mongols had left the country he initiated a large-scale programme with the aim of adopting the type of stone castle that had already become common in the West. The policy of lavish land-grants was renewed. Béla, as he himself put it, was prompted by his royal office ‘not to reduce but to enlarge’ his grants. Both the castle-building programme and the creation of a knightly army were dependent on the lords receiving huge parcels of land, from the revenues of which they could construct and maintain castles. The king himself began such construction on the royal demesne, and simultaneously permitted others to do the same on their own estates. The first known authorisation for a private person to build a castle was issued in 1247, and by the time of Béla’s death about a hundred new fortifications stood throughout the kingdom, ready to face a new invasion. They were held by bishops, lay lords, as well as the king and the queen.

The most important new castles lay mainly in the royal forests and were erected by the king himself. Good examples are Spišský hrad and Šarišský hrad. The castle of Visegrád, perched on a hill above the great bend of the Danube north of Budapest, was built by Queen Mary to be the centre of the forest of Pilis. The fortifications erected by nobles, often called ‘towers’, were more modest constructions. They normally consisted of a massive tower, sometimes supplemented by a palace and a chapel, and surrounded by a stone wall, the whole site occupying no more than an acre. During the first decades they were usually built on inaccessible peaks, often in a remote mountain region, clearly indicating that they were intended to serve not as residences but as refuges for the owner and his family in case of danger. The outcome of the programme set in motion by Béla and continued by his immediate successors can still be seen. All over the Carpathian basin there are hundreds of castles great and small, often rebuilt or enlarged later and now lying mostly in ruins, that have nuclei dating back to the second half of the thirteenth century.

Another military implication of the invasion was that there was a pressing need to modernise the army. The bulk of the king’s army continued to consist of the castle warriors serving as light cavalry. Although they were unable to afford more than the traditional leather armour, the king tried to increase their number and modernise their equipment. From the 1240s onwards he began to grant small parcels of land in the uninhabited royal forests upon the condition that the grantees equipped a certain number of heavily armoured cavalrymen for the royal army. It was the descendants of these settlers who, by the end of the Middle Ages, had come to form the lesser nobility of the basin of Turc and of the district of the ‘ten-lanced’ (decemlanceatus) nobles of Spis. The king also wanted to increase the number of heavily armoured Western-style knights, and proved to be as generous as his father had been in distributing enormous landed estates among his barons and followers.

In view of the Mongol menace, mounted archers skilled in nomadic warfare were also needed. This military element had hitherto been furnished by the Székely and the Pechenegs, but after the invasion the role of the latter was taken over by the Cumans, whom Béla managed to lure back into his kingdom in 1246. In order to bind them closely to his dynasty, he made his eldest son marry Elisabeth, the daughter of the Cuman prince. He assigned them a territory of their own in those regions of the Great Plain that had recently become uninhabited. One of their groups, later called ‘Major Cumans’, settled east of Szolnok, while the ‘Minor Cumans’ occupied the sandy area between the Danube and the Tisza. It might have been about the same time that a group of nomadic Alans, called jász in Hungarian and, for an unknown reason, Philistines in some Latin sources, also appeared in Hungary. In the early fourteenth century they were allotted a district of their own in Heves county, in the region now called Jászság.

The extensive pastures that the Cumans and Alans found on the Great Plain enabled them to pursue their traditional nomadic life for some time, but within two or three centuries they had become assimilated into the surrounding population. By then their temporary nomadic ‘dwellings’ (descensus) had been transformed into villages, and they had also abandoned their original languages. That of the Cumans, a Turkic language, left no written traces, while that of the Alans is represented by a list of 38 Iranian words scrawled on the back of a legal document from 1422. Both the Cumans and the Alans were directly subjected to the king and, like the Székely or the castle warriors, were expected to perform unlimited military service. Their constant presence in the Hungarian army in all of its wars gave it a peculiarly exotic flavour.



The Army of the Two Sicilies was the land forces of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, whose armed forces also included a navy. It was in existence from 1734 to 1861. It was also known as the Royal Army of His Majesty the King of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Reale esercito di Sua Maestà il Re del Regno delle Due Sicilie), the Bourbon Army (Esercito Borbonico) or the Neapolitan Army (Esercito Napoletano). Later many ex soldiers of this army joined Italian Royal Army.


Garibaldi was diverted from the escapade in Nice by news of a revolt in Sicily and pressure from a number of patriotic colleagues who begged him to lead an expedition in its support. In early April a Mazzinian plot in Palermo, which was quickly suppressed, had touched off a wider rebellion in the interior: bands of hostile and impoverished peasants spread across the island, killing or ejecting policemen and tax collectors and eliminating all form of local government. Many educated Sicilians approved of the rebellion against the Bourbons but were nervous of the other aims of an essentially social uprising. A few of them wanted independence and a few others hoped for union with the rest of Italy; Francesco Crispi, a lawyer and a future Italian prime minister, opted for union partly because he considered his fellow islanders incapable of ruling themselves. Most Sicilians were autonomists, however, who would have been content with a revival of the 1812 constitution and the distant sovereignty of the Bourbons. Their dislike of Naples was more vivid than their desire to join Italy.

Garibaldi was delighted by the tidings from Sicily and enthusiastic about the idea of an expedition there. He was an idealistic man with a simplistic ideology. Italy must be free and united, and its enemies – principally the pope, the Bourbons and the Austrians – must be overthrown. Although originally a republican, he now realized that the national cause was only likely to succeed under the leadership of Victor Emanuel.

The Sicilian uprising seemed to be faltering in mid-April, when Bourbon forces regained control of the coastal regions. Garibaldi was disheartened by the news and vacillated over his impending expedition. He had criticized Mazzini for irresponsible adventures and he did not wish to emulate Carlo Pisacane, the socialist patriot whose followers had been annihilated after landing three years earlier on the Neapolitan coast. Another problem was munitions. Garibaldi’s lieutenants had gone off to collect the money, arms and volunteers that were always available for any enterprise commanded by himself, but Azeglio, now the Governor of Milan, blocked a consignment of modern British rifles. ‘We could declare war on Naples,’ wrote the former prime minister, ‘but not have a diplomatic representative there and send rifles to the Sicilians.’14

At the end of the month, after further dispiriting news from Sicily, Garibaldi called the expedition off, but two days later, apparently convinced by Crispi that the rebellion was still active, decided to go ahead after all. As soon as one of his lieutenants had seized two steamships in the harbour of Genoa, he dressed himself up in the outfit he had picked up in South America – red shirt, pale poncho and silk handkerchief – and set off with his ‘Thousand’ volunteers across the Tyrrhenian Sea, a voyage that propelled him and them into legend and into comparisons with the ‘three hundred’ soldiers of Leonidas, the Spartan king who had held the pass of Thermopylae against the Persian army in 480 BC. It was indeed an heroic enterprise but it was also, incontrovertibly, illegal. Apart from stealing the two ships, Garibaldi was making an unprovoked attack on a recognized state with which his country, Piedmont-Sardinia, was not at war. History may have forgiven him for the deed, but it was an act of piracy all the same.

The Neapolitan king, Francesco II, did not at first take the expedition seriously. To him it seemed another adventure in the manner of Pisacane and the Bandiera brothers, a raid by a rabble of revolutionaries who would easily be defeated, despite the support of local rebels, by his troops on the island. Yet Garibaldi was a successful and charismatic guerrilla leader who enjoyed other advantages as well. King Ferdinand had died the previous year at Caserta after a reign of twenty-nine years, and his son, nicknamed Franceschiello, was young, timid and inexperienced. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies had few allies except Austria, which was no longer in a position to help, and it had broken off diplomatic relations with Britain and France following their governments’ denunciations of Ferdinand’s ‘despotism’. The current Napoleon was unsympathetic to the Bourbons because he wanted their throne for his cousin Murat, and the British disliked them because Gladstone had convinced his colleagues that they presided over a uniquely awful regime. The hostility of France and Britain was fatal to the Bourbons because those nations had the means to decide whether ships might or might not reach their destinations in the Mediterranean. Had they wished to do so, their navies could have prevented Garibaldi from landing in Sicily in May and from crossing to Calabria in August.

While the expedition enjoyed the support of the small number of southern patriots, it also had backing, equivocal and confusing though this often was, from inside the Piedmontese establishment. Even those who opposed it did so halfheartedly. Cavour tried to dissuade the Thousand from embarking but he did not threaten force to deter them. Later he dispatched the Piedmontese navy to intercept the stolen ships, to prevent reinforcements from reaching Sicily and to delay Garibaldi’s crossing of the Straits of Messina. But the navy’s failure to achieve any of these objectives was not entirely the fault of the commander, the inept Count of Persano. Without some degree of official connivance, it is difficult to see how steamships could have been seized in Piedmont’s principal port, how the expedition could have managed to reach its destinations, and how so many soldiers ‘on leave’ from the Piedmontese army could have enlisted with the volunteers.

Garibaldi was lucky with his landing at Marsala on Sicily’s west coast on 11 May. The Bourbon garrison had just marched off to Trapani, and Neapolitan ships protecting the town had just sailed off to the south; later, when one of these vessels returned, it delayed firing at the red-shirted volunteers who were in the process of disembarking for fear of hitting two British ships in the harbour. The garibaldini had expected a welcome from islanders pining for liberation and were thus surprised to find a complete absence of enthusiasm for their arrival; also disconcerting was the invisibility of the revolt they had come to support. A few days later, however, the Thousand defeated a badly led Neapolitan force at Calatafimi and attracted a small number of Sicilians to their ranks. After the battle Garibaldi marched eastwards, capturing Palermo in June and Milazzo in July, landing on the Calabrian mainland in August and reaching Naples in September, four months after he had set forth from the Ligurian coast. In Palermo, where he established a government with himself as interim dictator and Crispi a secretary of state, he demonstrated his radical zeal by abolishing the grist tax and promising land reform for the peasants. Yet he could not go as far as he wished in this direction since he could not afford to alienate those landowners whose support was crucial for the achievement of political union with the north.

Although Garibaldi displayed courage and military skill in his campaign, the heroics were not quite on the scale that legend suggests. He did not defeat the 25,000 Neapolitan troops on the island with the thousand men he had arrived with at Marsala; over the summer, reinforcements from the north brought his own forces to more than 21,000. Nor was outrageous valour always required to overcome an enemy that, while well equipped, was poorly commanded and widely scattered. The young king was encumbered both with octogenarian ministers and with septuagenarian generals, one of whom had fought at Waterloo. These officers were not only old but also cowardly, incompetent and in some cases treacherous. At Calatafimi the Bourbon forces were positioned on a hilltop, inflicting casualties on the garibaldini attacking up the slope, when they were inexplicably ordered to retreat. One general foolishly suggested a truce which allowed Garibaldi to re-arm and take control of Palermo, another withdrew his troops unnecessarily from Catania to Messina, and officers from both the army and the navy deserted and took bribes. Some of these individuals were subsequently sent to the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, where the guilty ones were lightly demoted.

In Calabria Garibaldi found the opposition even feebler than in Sicily. Although the Neapolitan generals had 16,000 soldiers in the toe of Italy, they put up little resistance and sometimes submitted without firing a shot; one battalion surrendered to six wandering garibaldini who had got lost. Reggio was handed over with hardly a fight, and so was Cosenza. In Naples the minister for war announced in the mornings that he was departing for Calabria to defeat Garibaldi but then changed his mind in the afternoons because he considered his presence in the capital was essential to prevent disorder. Well did he and the other generals deserve a dismissive line in Richard Strauss’s opera, Der Rosenkavalier: when the Marschallin thinks she is about to be surprised with her lover, she decides to confront her husband, the field marshal: ‘Ich bin kein napolitanischer General: wo ich steh’ steh’ ich.’ (‘I am not a Neapolitan general: where I stand I stand.’)

On 7 September Garibaldi entered Naples by train, in advance of his army, where he was welcomed by Bourbon officials: the minister of police had already sycophantically told him that the city was waiting ‘with the greatest impatience … to greet the redeemer of Italy and to place in his hands the power and destiny of the state’. King Francesco had left the city the previous day, intending to carry on the war from Gaeta, the coastal fortress town near the border with the Papal States in the north. For all his limitations, he was a conscientious and honourable monarch who realized that a siege of Italy’s largest and most densely populated city would cause terrible carnage. But he did not shirk or run away like the dukes of central Italy had done a year before. He left garrisons in the castles of Naples and marched out, leaving nearly all his money and his personal possessions in his capital. He expected to return.

In the north of the kingdom the Bourbon army was transformed. Loyal regiments from Naples and other provinces of the mainland fought valiantly and were victorious in several skirmishes against the redshirts near Capua. Yet once again the generalship was defective, too slow, too cautious, too lacking in imagination. An urgent and vigorous counter-attack might have defeated the smaller enemy force; but when the advance eventually came, Garibaldi halted it on the River Volturno, a dogged defensive action in which he lost more men than his opponents. Even then the Neapolitans might have remained undefeated if the contest had been limited to themselves and the volunteers.

As soon as Cavour realized that Garibaldi would conquer Sicily, he was eager to annex the island to Piedmont. He had always detested home-grown revolutionaries more than he disliked Bourbons and Austrians, and the last thing he wanted was to see Sicily and possibly Naples in the hands of democrats and other radicals. Once the redshirts had reached Palermo, he therefore sent his representative, La Farina, who arrived in early June with posters proclaiming ‘We want annexation’. It was a strange appointment because La Farina was an insensitive individual and a well-known antagonist of both Garibaldi and Crispi. So much of his time in Sicily was spent intriguing and causing friction among members of the new government that after a month Garibaldi had him arrested and sent back north.

In Naples Cavour chose to employ a tactic similar to that which La Farina had failed with the previous year in the Po Valley: arranging a ‘spontaneous’ uprising in the city – and doing so before Garibaldi arrived. He duly sent Persano to the Bay of Naples with money in his pockets to bribe officials, and soldiers hidden on his ships ready to rush to the aid of the conspirators on land. In the city the Piedmontese ambassador duly gave the signal for revolt but, as so often with these Cavourian schemes, nothing happened. The Neapolitans were sensibly waiting to see which side was likely to win before committing themselves to the conflict.


Few Europeans mourned the fall of the Bourbons. Nor did later Neapolitans greatly regret the passing of a dynasty that had provided them with five kings over a century and a quarter – longer than the rule of either the Tudors or the Stuarts in England. Sentimental attachment was subdued perhaps by distant memories of earlier dynasties and by the presence of so many monuments of previous ages. The family had indeed produced no outstanding monarch but nor – despite what propaganda said – had it supplied a very bad one. In any case, was the general standard any lower than those of their cousins in Spain, the Savoia in Piedmont or the Hanoverians in Great Britain? The victors and their international supporters claimed that the Bourbon exit was an inevitable episode on the road to Italian unity, a necessary consequence of a war of liberation, the conflict having been simply a logical stage in the process of nation-building, a way of absorbing natural national territory – as Wessex had ingested Mercia or France had taken in Provence. Few people outside the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies saw it for what it ultimately was, a war of expansion conducted by one Italian state against another. The unusual feature of the contest was that it was a three-sided one, two sides playing the recognized parts of protagonist (the garibaldini) and antagonist (the Bourbons) while the third (the Piedmontese) took on a more subtle role, pretending to be a friend of the others but in reality being the enemy (and eventual conqueror) of both.

Moral and historical justifications for the conquest of Naples are perplexing. According to G. M. Trevelyan, the doyen of British eulogists of the Risorgimento, unification was necessary because of ‘the utter failure of the Neapolitans to maintain their own freedom when left to themselves in 1848’. Yet other people have failed in similar fashion without needing or deserving conquest. Another argument, still favoured by certain Neapolitan historians, is that the rapid collapse of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1860 proved that it was rotten and required elimination. Again, other regimes have collapsed before a sudden onslaught only to be resuscitated later by their allies. A distinguished historian of Naples, an elderly man whose great-grandparents were all Neapolitans, insists that his country could not have become a modern nation by itself after 1860, that it needed the partnership of Piedmont to give it the apparatus of a modern state. His argument does not convince. Piedmont was undoubtedly a richer and more liberal state than the Two Sicilies in 1860, but for most of the eighteenth century Naples had possessed a more enlightened regime than Turin, and only a generation before union it had had more industry and more progressive codes of law. The belief that Naples, unlike other countries in western Europe, was incapable of evolving by itself is simply illogical, an example of that southern inferiority complex which was engendered by the triumphalism of the Risorgimento and reinforced by much subsequent talk, northern and condescending, about ‘the southern question’ and ‘the problem of the mezzogiorno’.


Early Warfare in Mesopotamia




By 4000 BCE most researchers believe Sumerian polities had fully formed warfare replete with military systems including fortifications, logistics, armies, special weapons and armor production, and specialized military units such as infantry and heavy chariots with command and control by specialized leadership.

In the Early Dynastic (ED) period (2900-2350 BCE) armed conflict arose generally from competition between settled states for land and water or by nomad raiders. Expeditions abroad to obtain commodities not available locally might also need armed protection or aggressive “sales tactics”-hence, for example, the fortifications around the Uruk-period settlement at Habuba Kabira and the military threats uttered by Enmerkar of Uruk against the distant state of Aratta. Unequivocal evidence of armed conflict in Mesopotamia comes in the late fourth millennium BCE, with artwork on seals depicting fights between men armed with spears and bows, and bound prisoners. During the earlier third millennium (ED period) cities, often housing the bulk of their state’s population, began erecting walls for defense as well as for territorial demarcation and prestige. Excavation has confirmed the slightly later literary descriptions of Uruk’s city walls: a circuit 5.9 miles (9.5 kilometers) long and 13-16 feet (4-5 meters) thick built of typical ED plano-convex bricks enclosed an area of 2.12 square miles (550 hectares). At least two city gates with rectangular towers have been traced, and the wall may have had as many as 900 semicircular towers. Similar towers have been found in the strong walls around Tell Agrab on the Diyala.

The epic tale of conflict between Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, and his one-time benefactor and overlord, Agga, king of Kish, climaxes when Agga’s forces besiege Uruk and Gilgamesh defeats and captures Agga, possibly after a pitched battle. Sieges in the ED period were often decided by force of arms in attacks and sallies rather than by attrition during long investments. However, attempts might be made to break into a fortified settlement using scaling ladders, and defenses began to be enhanced with a glacis.

The walls of captured cities were broken down, partly to humiliate their citizens. Booty and prisoners were taken, and much of the city might be sacked. Some of the spoils of war went by custom to the king and some to the god of the victorious city in his temple. Stone bowls found in the Ekur temple in Nippur bear inscriptions showing they were booty from King Rimush’s Elamite wars. Such inscriptions were an important part of the offering, demonstrating to both the god and the people that the king had fulfilled the god’s intention in prosecuting war and benefiting his people. Inscriptions quickly grew in length and substance from their terse early-third-millennium beginnings, and by the first millennium, royal inscriptions gave a long and detailed, although often exaggerated and inaccurate, account of the campaign, serving both as justification to the god and propaganda to the people. The form, style, phraseology, and content of inscriptions were dictated by tradition.

In conflicts between Sumerian city-states the victor usually respected the integrity of a defeated city’s temples: outrage at King Lugalzagesi’s failure to do so is forcefully expressed in the inscriptions of his enemy, Uru-inim-gina of Lagash. In contrast, attacks by outsiders- nomads of the Syrian Desert and Zagros Mountains, such as the Amorites and Guti, and foreign states, particularly Elam-were ruthless and spared nothing and no one. Sumerian distress at the devastation wreaked by their attacks- the noble buildings destroyed or infested by the enemy, the Felds laid waste, the people slain or taken into captivity-is poured out in a series of lamentations describing the sack of great cities like Akkad, Ur, and Nippur.

ED art vividly captures the citizen armies of the period. “The Standard of Ur” and “The Stele of Vultures” depict foot soldiers armed with spears or pole-mounted axes, their heads protected by leather or felt helmets. A force of heavy infantry carrying large rectangular shields marches in a solid and impenetrable phalanx bristling with couched spears, behind a king armed with a dagger. Maces and throwing sticks were also used as weapons at this time. The leaders ride in ponderous war-carts with four solid wheels, drawn by donkeys or mules. These were used mainly for transport to the battlefield and in pursuit of retreating enemy forces, and as a vantage point from which the leader could see and be seen, to direct his forces and impress friend and foe. The dead of the opposing army lie beneath the wheels of the carts or are heaped up in a communal burial mound, while the living are marched off into slavery, their hands tied behind them, or are held in a net by the god whose approval of the victors’ just cause had precipitated the con? ict and ensured its successful outcome. Later wars by larger states enjoyed the support of the war goddess Ishtar (Inanna), Nergal (Erra), god of strife, and the storm god Adad (Ishkur). Defeat, and even more terribly, the loss of the king in battle, betokened the withdrawal of divine favor.

Troops also included archers and soldiers armed with slings and ovoid stones, probably mainly recruited among the hunters and fishermen of the south. An inscribed object from the ED period at the site of Mari shows a bowman shooting from behind a wicker screen held by a spearman: this combination of archer and shield-bearer continued down the ages in Mesopotamian armies. The later-third-millennium development of the composite bow revolutionized warfare. Constructed as a sandwich of three contrasting materials, wood glued between a horn inner layer (to resist compression) and a sinew outer layer (for elasticity), it had a far greater penetration and range (around 575 feet or 175 meters) than the conventional bow. The composite bow benefited both attackers and defenders, enabling a wider area to be covered from the walls and troops on the ground to shoot defenders with more success.


This text is best known from manuscripts dated almost 700 years after the end of the Early Dynastic period. The author assumes that there was only one legitimate divinely appointed ruler for any one period of time and that political hegemony was restricted to a limited number of city states. “After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridug. In Eridug, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28800 years. Alalgar ruled for 36000 years. 2 kings; they ruled for 64800 years. Then Eridug fell and the kingship was taken to Bad-tibira. . .. Then the flood swept over. After the flood had swept over, and the kingship had descended from heaven, the kingship was in Kish. In Kish, Gushur became king; he ruled for 1200 years. . .. Then Kish was defeated and the kingship was taken to E-ana. In E-ana, Mesh-kiag-gasher, the son of Utu, became lord and king; he ruled for 324 years. Mesh-ki-aj-gasher entered the sea and disappeared. Enmerkar, the son of Mesh-ki-ag-gasher, the king of Uruk, became king; he ruled for 420 years. 745 are the years of the dynasty of Mesh-ki-ag-gasher . . .; he ruled for 5 + x years. Lugalbanda, the shepherd, ruled for 1200 years. Dumuzid, the fsherman whose city was Kuara, ruled for 100 years. He captured Enme-barage-si single-handed. Gilgamesh, whose father was a phantom (?), the lord of Kulaba, ruled for 126 years. Ur-Nungal, the son of Gilgamesh, ruled for 30 years. Udul-kalama, the son of UrNungal, ruled for 15 years. La-ba’shum ruled for 9 years. En-nun-tarah-ana ruled for 8 years. Mesh-he, the smith, ruled for 36 years. Til-kug (?) . . . ruled for 6 years. Lugal-kitun (?) ruled for 36 (or 420) years. 12 kings; they ruled for 2310 years. Then Uruk was defeated and the kingship was taken to Ur.”

Bibliography Anglim, Simon, et al. Fighting Techniques of the Ancient World. 3000 BC-AD 500. Equipment, Combat Skills and Tactics. London: Greenhill Books, 2002. Chapman, Rupert. “Weapons and Warfare.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East, vol. 5, edited by Eric M. Meyers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. Dalley, Stephanie. “Ancient Mesopotamian Military Organization.” In Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, edited by Jack M. Sasson. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000. Nissen, Hans J. “The City Wall of Uruk.” In Man, Settlement and Urbanism. edited by Peter Ucko, Ruth Tringham, and Geoffrey W. Dimbleby. London: Duckworth, 1972.


The period between AD 900 and the Spanish arrival in 1519 is known as the Post-Classic. It was characterized by renewed population growth, extensive commercial development, and the rise of the most powerful city-states yet seen in Mesoamerica. During this period, two city-states, Tula and later Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire, dominated central Mexico. As was the case with the earlier periods, the onset of the Post-Classic occurred gradually and varied by location.

For an extended period after the fall of Teotihuacan there was a power vacuum in central Mexico. As historian Enrique Florescano noted, “Wars pitting everyone against everyone else characterized that turbulent epoch.” Several small city-states, such as Xochicalco in the modern state of Morelos and El Tajín in Veracruz arose to fill this power vacuum.

After AD 900, the Toltec rose to dominance in central Mexico. The Toltec looked back to their first great ruler, Topiltzin, who was born in the first half of the tenth century. He was responsible for moving the Toltec capital to Tula, located fifty miles northwest of where Mexico City stands today. At its peak between AD 950 and 1150, the city had a population of 30,000–40,000 and covered 5.4 square miles. There the Toltec constructed an impressive formal plaza flanked by ball courts, altars, and pyramids topped by temples. From Tula, the Toltecs dominated central Mexico for two centuries. Toltec influence extended as far north as present-day Arizona and New Mexico and as far south as Yucatán.

In Tula, military artistic motifs outnumbered religious ones. There were abundant images of both the ubiquitous Quetzalcoatl and of his enemy Tezcatlipoca (the Smoking Mirror). Toltec astronomers developed a superb calendar. Within the city there was a sizable community of artisans specializing in the production of pottery vessels, figurines, and obsidian blades. Their skill was reflected by the fact that the word “Toltec” was used in the Nahuatl language to mean artist. Farmers working irrigated, terraced fields supported these workers.

Around AD 1175, a combination of drought, famine, and war led to the fall of Tula. All the evidence points to a sudden, overwhelming cataclysm. Ceremonial walls were burned to the ground. Soon the city was deserted.

Aztec legends told of their coming from a place to the northwest of the Valley of Mexico known as Aztlan. Upon their arrival in the valley early in the twelfth century, this band of hunter-gatherers was scorned by more sophisticated agriculturists, such as the Colhuacan. For a short period, the Aztecs cultivated the lands of the Colhuacan as serfs. In 1323, the Aztecs’ overlords provided one of their princesses to an Aztec chief as a bride. The Aztecs, rather than performing the anticipated marriage ceremony, sacrificed her in hopes she would become a war goddess. The enraged Colhuacan then expelled the Aztecs from their land. The Aztecs withdrew to an isolated, marshy area. There, according to their lore, in the year 1325, they founded the city of Tenochtitlan on the present site of Mexico City.

An Aztec legend recounts that an eagle perched on a prickly-pear cactus, eating a snake, indicated the place where the Aztecs were to found Tenochtitlan. Today the Mexican flag and coat of arms depict this eagle.

The Aztecs constructed Tenochtitlan on roughly five square miles of land reclaimed from Lake Texcoco, which surrounded their capital. Its population reached as many as 250,000, making it larger than any city in Europe, except perhaps Naples and Constantinople, and four times the size of Seville. Only the cities of China, unknown to Spaniards and Aztecs alike, exceeded its population. Sophisticated systems provided food, trade goods, and potable water to the city’s population.

The difficulty of hauling grain in societies lacking wheeled vehicles and draught animals imposed size limits on Mesoamerican cities. Tenochtitlan could escape these limits since large cargo canoes, which came from distant waterfronts, provisioned the city with grain and other produce.

In 1519, Tenochtitlan was the largest city that had ever existed in the New World. Its size and grandeur reflected its status as an imperial capital, and its large buildings made a statement about the might and control of its rulers, thus legitimizing and contributing to their power. In laying out the city, planners consciously adopted the model of Tula, since Tula and the Toltec practices served as the source of Aztec political and social legitimacy.

With the exception of Tenochtitlan, most Aztec cities were not large. The second largest, Texcoco, had a population of 25,000. Secondary cities served as ceremonial centers of the Aztec territorial division known as the altepetl. Temples soared high above the plazas of these cities. The altepetl was the political unit responsible for collecting tribute from the villages and rural people within its boundaries. This tribute would then be distributed to the local elite and to Tenochtitlan. The altepetl also organized manpower in time of war and for construction projects. A hereditary leader known as a tlatoani, or speaker, headed each altepetl. Residents of each altepetl considered themselves a separate people from those elsewhere, even though all were Aztecs.

By 1465, the Aztecs had the entire Valley of Mexico under their control. During the next half-century, the Aztecs extended their control across 140,000 square miles stretching from modern Querétaro and Guanajuato in the north to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the south. Divine sanction and generations of military triumphs bolstered Aztec confidence.

Generally the Aztecs did not establish permanent garrisons in conquered territory. Merchants, known as pochteca, and tax collectors, known as calpixtli, were usually the only Aztec presence among the conquered. Recurrent bloody, punitive expeditions prevented disaffected subjects from challenging Aztec suzerainty or failing to supply demanded tribute. On the eve of the Spanish conquest, the Aztec empire constituted a massive agglomeration of 38 provinces, embracing a range of cultural and linguistic traditions.

The Aztecs instituted a form of tributary despotism. They would rule conquered lands indirectly, leaving indigenous leaders and nobles in place, but subordinating them to the Aztec hierarchy. The tribute Aztec subjects sent to Tenochtitlan annually included 7,000 tons of corn, 4,000 tons each of beans, chia seed, and amaranth, and 2,000,000 cotton cloaks. The Aztecs also received as tribute shields, feather headdresses, and luxury products, such as amber, that were unobtainable in the central highlands. As a result of this tribute, as well as the Aztecs’ well developed trading networks, the main Aztec market at Tlatelolco offered consumers pottery, chocolate, vanilla, copper, all sorts of clothing, cooked and unprepared food, gold, silver, jade, turquoise, feather products, and even slaves. Spaniard Bernal Díaz del Castillo visited the market, where 60,000 gathered daily, and expressed astonishment at “the number of people and the quantity of merchandise that it contained, and at the good order and control that was maintained, for we had never seen such a thing before.”

As was the case with other Mesoamerican civilizations, the Aztec empire was highly stratified socially. Most of the population were peasant farmers. They were responsible not only for their sustenance, but for providing tribute and labor for public works. The Aztec state then organized the redistribution of goods and labor on a massive scale, thus allowing the highly inegalitarian consumption by the nobility, which constituted roughly 5 percent of the population. Presiding over the Aztecs was an emperor who was selected from the nobility. Rather than having rigid rules of male primogeniture, as European monarchies of the time did, the top Aztec elite selected the royal family member they felt was most qualified. The last Aztec emperor to be selected before the Spanish arrival was Montezuma, who assumed the throne in 1502.

Human sacrifice formed a salient characteristic of Aztec society. The Aztecs claimed that human sacrifices propitiated the god Huitzilopochtli (Humming Bird of the South) and thus prevented the destruction of the earth and the sun for a fifth time. Aztec belief held that humans had existed in four previous worlds and that all had perished when these worlds were destroyed. To reintroduce humans to the fifth world, Quetzalcoatl made a perilous journey to steal human bones from Mictlantecuhtli, the lord of the underworld. The gods then gave life to the bones by shedding blood on them.

Modern scholars have yet to reach consensus on why Aztec sacrifice played such an important role. The threat of being sacrificed might have intimidated conquered subjects. Some modern scholars have attributed such frequent human sacrifice to the need for animal protein in a society lacking cattle. (Victims were eaten after the sacrifice.) Others maintain that sufficient protein existed and that sacrifice served to reduce the population. Aztec sacrificial practices were used by the Spanish to justify the Conquest. However, as archeologist Robert J. Sharer commented, “Before we decry practices such as human sacrifice, we should remember that Europeans of 500 years ago burned people alive in the name of religion and submitted ‘heretics’ to an array of tortures and protracted executions.”

The Aztecs perfected one of the most productive agricultural systems ever devised—the chinampa. Chinampas were artificial islands, located near lakeshores, which measured from fifteen to thirty feet in width and up to 300 feet in length. Aztecs grew crops in soil piled on these islands. Lake water penetrated the entire chinampa, moistening roots. Mud scooped up from the lake bottom and night soil brought from Tenochtitlan by canoe maintained fertility. Eventually chinampas covered 25,000 acres in the Valley of Mexico. Chinampa-produced food facilitated the rapid expansion of the Aztec empire.

Chinampas formed part of the rich lacustrine culture that developed in the Valley of Mexico. Lakefront villages relied heavily on the abundant fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and 109 aquatic bird species that inhabited the 252 square miles of lakes in the Valley of Mexico. Canoes facilitated communication between villages and with Tenochtitlan. These canoes could transport a ton of grain, roughly ten times what the Spanish-introduced mule could carry.

The charismatic megacivilizations, such as the Maya and the Aztec, only covered limited areas of present-day Mexico and only dominated their area of influence for relatively short periods. In addition, there were innumerable other ethnic groups. They adapted themselves to the widely varying environments in which they found themselves. Most lacked the attributes of civilization—social classes, states, and hieratic religion. They accumulated knowledge concerning a variety of terrestrial and aquatic species that furnished them with food, fibers, raw materials, and medicines. Many such people lived in the deserts of northern Mexico. Even though they did not have a rich material culture, what they did have—projectile points, scrapers, milling stones, baskets, and mats—has been well preserved in desert caves.

Even though the Aztec empire was truncated by the Conquest, Mesoamerica’s ethnic diversity continued under Spanish rule, providing continuity to the area. This diversity is indicated by more than 100 distinct indigenous languages surviving until at least the end of the nineteenth century. Of these surviving languages, Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, presently has the largest number of speakers. Due to Aztec influence over Mesoamerica, Nahuatl loan words are found in many of Mexico’s indigenous languages, and many Nahuatl place names are still used. Nahuatl loan words that have made their way into English include ocelot, coyote, tomato, chocolate, tamale, and avocado.

What Faced NATO in East Germany?

1953 – Demonstrations and riots in East Berlin – Soviet occupation Troops go into action against civilians.

On 9 July 1945, the Group of Soviet Occupation Forces Germany (GSOFG) was formed from elements of the 1st and 2nd Belorussian fronts, becoming an Army of Occupation. These occupation forces were subsequently maintained at close to wartime levels, soon considerably outnumbering the combined Western forces facing them. In 1949 they were renamed the ‘Group of Soviet Forces in Germany’ (GSFG), which remained in being until 1 June 1989 when they became the Western Group of Forces (WGF) as the Soviet hold on Eastern Europe began to unravel. This formation stayed in Germany until 1994 when the total withdrawal of Russian forces was completed. These forces were huge, supplemented until 1990 by the GDR’s own military services.

At the height of the Cold War, GSFG could muster 21 Tank and Motor Rifle (armoured infantry) Divisions grouped into 5 armies and a single front that each possessed its own subordinate units. In total they consisted of nearly 500,000 personnel with some 6,100 Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), 8,000 armoured vehicles, 4,300 artillery pieces which included 600 multiple rocket launchers and 200 surface-to-surface missile systems, 1,200 air defence systems (including surface-to-air missile systems), 310 attack helicopters and 350 transport and utility helicopters. The 24 (later 16) Tactical Air Army provided fixed-wing air support to GSFG. Helicopter units were usually subordinated to the relevant Army-level formation, except for one regiment that was a front-level asset. The Tactical Air Army possessed around 610 fighter aircraft, 320 fighter-bombers, 50 attack and 120 transport helicopters.

The huge Soviet presence was supplemented by the GDR’s forces, consisting of the East German Army – the National Volksarmee (NVA). The NVA had six Tank and Motor Rifle Divisions grouped into two Military Districts (MD) and the Ministry of National Defence (MND), each of which had directly subordinate units of its own. There were also five reserve Motor Rifle Divisions. These forces consisted of 180,000 personnel and operated around 2,700 MBTs, 5,400 armoured vehicles, 1,700 artillery pieces (including 200 multi-barrel-rocket-launchers (MBRL)) and 700 air defence systems, including SAM systems. There were also some 40 attack and 110 transport helicopters. The East German Air Force consisted of two Air Divisions and could muster around 450 fighter aircraft, 90 fighter-bombers, 50 attack and 120 transport helicopters. The East German Navy was composed of three flotillas based on the Baltic coast. It was predominantly a coastal force but did have a considerable amphibious warfare capability plus three squadrons of helicopters.

The four Border Guard (Grenz Truppen) commands were in essence another Military District but without heavy armour and self-propelled artillery. The Border Guard had around 47,000 personnel and besides small arms they also operated some obsolescent armoured vehicles and artillery pieces.

The Soviets and East Germans occupied nearly 900 installations at some 400 locations in the GDR. These included over 55 airfields and 150 major training areas and ranges. About 40 per cent of these locations lay either directly beneath or adjacent to (up to 20 miles outside) the Corridors and BCZ. There were also other locations that could be seen from the air along the Baltic Coast of the GDR and near the German–Czechoslovakian border. The installations in the GDR that could be viewed from the Corridors, BCZ and their immediate environs are listed in the appendix. Beyond any doubt this was an intelligence ‘target rich environment’ and for the next forty years both sides conducted an intelligence battle across the IGB using all means at their disposal.
Intelligence Resources

Both sides possessed a formidable array of assets in Germany to acquire the intelligence sought by national governments, military staffs and Germany-based commands. The Western Allies’ assets included HUMINT: the division of Germany presented many opportunities for HUMINT exploitation. West Germans could travel to visit families in the GDR, although reciprocal trips were not possible. Such movements of people provided one source of information. Civilian employees of the Allied forces were required to report any visits to the GDR and on their return were usually debriefed by military or civil security authorities. There was also a constant flow of refugees from the East as well as defectors and controlled sources (spies).

A key and very successful resource was the unique presence of the Allied Military Liaison Missions (AMLMs) created after Allied occupation of Germany by the wartime Allies.

Allied Military Liaison Missions

Because the GDR was diplomatically unrecognised, there were no Western military attachés based there. Their nearest equivalents were the three Allied Military Liaison Missions (AMLMs), which were far more valuable. Established in 1946 and 1947 under individual agreements between the respective Western Commanders-in-Chief and the Soviet Commander-in-Chief, they were accredited with a quasi-diplomatic status. The British Mission’s full title was the British Commanders’-in-Chief Mission to the Soviet forces in Germany, mercifully shortened to ‘BRIXMIS’ or ‘The Mission’. The British, Americans and French had Mission Houses in Potsdam, also the home of the Soviet military headquarters until it moved to Zossen-Wünsdorf. The houses were where all Mission touring activity started and generally finished. Although the Mission houses were ‘sovereign’ territory, like an embassy, the locally employed East German staff reported the comings and goings at the houses. Mission members’ activities, both official and personal, were closely monitored and reported, and communications were believed to have been monitored and intercepted and were accordingly regarded as insecure. The AMLMs’ close proximity to Berlin meant that they also maintained HQs co-located with their own national headquarters in West Berlin, which gave them much more security, freedom and flexibility.
Reciprocal Soviet Military Liaison Missions were located in each of the three Western Zones. The Soviet presence in the British Zone was known as ‘the Soviet Commander-in-Chief’s Military Liaison Mission to the Commander-in-Chief British Army of the Rhine’, shortened to ‘SOXMIS’. During its existence SOXMIS was located in Bad Salzuflen, Lübbecke and Bünde in special compounds but these were never sufficiently close to the GDR for them to have a separate HQ like the Allies in Berlin, so they were always rather more isolated in their operations.

BRIXMIS’s primary official purpose was, according to the agreements, to maintain liason between the staff of the two Commanders-in-Chief and their military governments in the Zones to prevent incidents or events escalating to higher levels. Although emphasis quickly shifted onto intelligence collection the liaison function remained a core task throughout the Mission’s existence. Because of this liaison function, and some of the personal relationships created, serious incidents, including the detention of Mission staff, could often be resolved without involving respective Commanders-in-Chief, diplomats or politicians.

BRIXMIS’s intelligence collection included military and civil targets. To carry out these intelligence-gathering tasks BRIXMIS personnel were always unarmed, in working, not combat, uniform, and ‘toured’ throughout the GDR in specially marked military cars. They compiled visual, written and photographic reports on the activities they observed. Up to thirty-one British military personnel, referred to as being ‘on pass’, could be accredited to the GSFG Headquarters as being with BRIXMIS at any one time. They had relative freedom of movement within the GDR and their vehicles were regarded as being ‘sovereign’ territory and, in theory at least, inviolable. However, access was far from unfettered. The Missions were forbidden from penetrating designated ‘Permanent Restricted Areas’ (PRA), which theoretically placed the area out of bounds. Unsurprisingly, PRAs protected the high-value intelligence targets, including many of the Soviet and East German garrisons, airfields, major logistics facilities and training areas. PRAs were detailed on published maps. There were also designated Temporary Restricted Area (TRA) that were time limited, usually created to cover major military exercises or troop movements, often linking PRAs together. Unofficial ‘Mission Restricted’ signs, planted in the German countryside, were generally ignored by the Missions because they had no agreed official status and frequently became treasured souvenirs for Mission members. All these restrictions nevertheless inhibited Mission activities. However, the Soviets managed the imposition of PRAs and TRAs carefully because overuse ran the risk of provoking tit-for-tat restrictions on the Soviet Missions in the FRG.

The Missions deployed into the GDR every day, including Christmas Day, to observe activities, equipment and personnel. They recorded details, took photographs and sometimes returned with items of equipment and even, on a few occasions, pieces of ordnance. They had to be experts in military equipment recognition, learn Russian or German to a required standard and develop good photographic and later video skills. The aim was to get as close as possible to the opposition by stealth or using bluster and trickery to obtain the information they sought. For many Mission personnel this posting was often regarded retrospectively as a highlight in their military careers. Some experienced difficulty in returning to ‘regular’ soldiering afterwards. It was certainly a high-stress posting for many. In the early 1980s, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when East–West relations were particularly sour, Mission work became particularly dangerous. During this time there were two fatalities. Adjutant Chef Mariotti of the MMFL was killed in a deliberately engineered traffic accident in 1984, and in 1985 Major Nicholson of United States Military Liaison Mission (USMLM) was shot and killed by a Soviet guard close to a military installation at Ludwigslust. Throughout the Missions’ existence there were many incidents of Soviet and East German forces causing physical injury to Mission members by administering beatings if they compromised an observation point, or during the detention of a ‘Tour’.

The Mission’s exploits were truly remarkable and are too numerous to describe in detail, though mention of a few of their intelligence ‘scoops’ gives an idea of what they achieved.
In 1966, BRIXMIS personnel liaised with Soviet military personnel who were trying to access the wreckage of a Yak-28 Firebar aircraft that had crashed into the British part of the Havelsee Lake in Berlin. Officially this meant keeping the Soviets away from the crash site until it and the crew’s bodies could be recovered and returned by British forces. Unofficially, they were co-ordinating the underwater removal of parts, including its then state-of-the-art radar, which were quickly spirited away to the UK for scientific examination. BRIXMIS successfully managed to stop the incident from becoming anything more than a very tense stand-off and illustrates BRIXMIS’s liaison function in an exemplary fashion.

BRIXMIS members were expected to use their initiative and daring to gather intelligence. One Tour came upon a stationary train carrying BMP-2 armoured infantry combat vehicles (AICVs). A ‘current priority intelligence requirement’ was to discover the main armaments’ calibre. A Tour member sneaked onto the train and pushed an apple into the weapon’s muzzle before the train moved off, or he was shot at by a Soviet sentry. In 1987 the British Army tactic of ‘acquisition’ came into play when a Tour ‘acquired’ a sample of Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) – ‘it came off in me and Sir’ – removed from a stationary Soviet T-80 MBT when no one was close by. At the time the composition and operation of ERA was a very high priority technical intelligence target.

The BCZ also gave BRIXMIS the opportunity to use the RAF Gatow-based Chipmunk aircraft for airborne observation and photography. There are several books about BRIXMIS and its operations that give comprehensive insights into their activities and modus operandi and they are highly recommended. They include works by Tony Geraghty, Steve Gibson and Major General Peter Williams.

SIGINT: British, French and US forces engaged in significant SIGINT collection activities in Germany and Berlin. They utilised a network of ground-based listening posts, overlooking GDR territory. British airborne SIGINT assets operated peripheral flights mainly from the UK, where the necessary infrastructure existed to process the information collected. The French airborne effort originally flew from Germany before switching to Metz-Frescaty in 1966 when France withdrew from NATO. They too maintained ground-based listening stations. The US effort was largest of all with a major network of monitoring facilities and air assets. Most US airborne SIGINT assets were located in Germany, but they were frequently detached for periods of temporary duty across continental Europe from 1946 until 1974. From then most operations were undertaken by UK-based aircraft.

PHOTINT/IMINT: The existence of the Corridors and BCZ gave the Allies a unique situation that could be used to their advantage for the collection of PHOTINT/IMINT. The Corridors were internationally agreed and controlled airspace. Its rules allowed access to Berlin for some of the Western Allies’ military and civilian aircraft. Aircraft using the Corridors and BCZ belonged to units on the published ORBAT and generally carried unit markings, flown by uniformed crews in airspace they were perfectly entitled to use. Whilst the risks to manned overflights of Soviet territory grew, Corridors and BCZ flights could be executed at comparatively low physical and political risk.

Being able to fly close along the IGB and through an important portion of East German airspace along the Corridors and around Berlin meant airborne intelligence gathering was an irresistible activity. All three Allies mounted their own airborne intelligence-gathering operations of varying scale and scope. The technical aspects of mounting equipment in a suitable aircraft and flying the missions could be difficult enough, but they were relatively straightforward when compared to the sensitive political risks attached to such activities elsewhere. To be at their most effective these flights required proper preparation, co-ordination and integration into the normal transport and training traffic going about its lawful occasions in the Corridors and BCZ.

Thus the stage was set for the execution of some of the most audacious ICFs of the Cold War that provided almost daily surveillance of installations in the GDR.