Asia in 500, showing the Hephthalite Khanate at its greatest extent. The peak of Hephthalite power came in 522, with territories from Dzyngaria to northern India, but the empire collapsed quickly after that. In 532 a coalition of Hindu peoples expelled them from India and the Hephthalites disappeared altogether after unsuccessful wars against the Sassanids that took place between 557 and 561.

A nomadic confederation of unknown ethnic and linguistic origins that raided South and Southwest Asia in the fifth century CE, in the process defeating the Persian Sasanian armies in several military confrontations and establishing a large and powerful empire that lasted for more than a century. The Hephthalite Empire was eventually destroyed in a joint military campaign organized by the Western Turk state, based in Central Asia, and the Persian Sasanians.

In the fifth century CE, the southern regions of Central Asia and the eastern provinces of the Persian Sasanian Empire were attacked by nomadic groups called Hephthalites. The ethnic and linguistic origins of the Hephthalites remain unclear. Initially, many scholars regarded the Hephthalites as a branch of the Hun people who invaded and wreaked havoc on Europe under their leader, Attila the Hun (r. ?–453 CE). The proponents of this theory argued that the Hephthalites were most probably from a Tibetan or Turkic ethnic stock. This theory was reinforced by statements from Byzantine historians such as Procopius. In describing the Hephthalites, he wrote that the Hephthalites were of “the stock of the Huns in fact as well as in name; however, they do not mingle with any of the Huns known to us, for they occupy a land neither adjoining nor even very near to them; but their territory lies immediately to the north of Persia. … For they are not nomads like the other Hunnic peoples, but for a long period have been established in a goodly land. … They are the only ones among the Huns to have white bodies and countenances which are not ugly. It is also true that their manner of living is unlike that of their kinsmen, nor do they live a savage life as they do; but they are ruled by one king, and since they possess a lawful constitution, they observe right and justice in their dealings both with another and with their neighbours, in no degree less than the Romans and Persians” (Procopius: I.iii. 2–7).

In 1959, the Japanese scholar Kazuo Enoki utilized Chinese, Greek, and Persian sources to argue that the Hephthalites were a northeastern Iranian people who had originated from Tokharestan, the region formerly known as Bactria that corresponded with the territory of northern Afghanistan. More recently, several scholars have argued that the Hephthalites should be viewed as a heterogeneous tribal confederation, not as a homogenous ethnic and linguistic group.

Beginning in the fifth century CE, the eastern provinces of the Persian Sasanian Empire were invaded by the Hephthalites. The Sasanian monarch Bahram V (r. 421–439 CE) tried to slow down the Hephthalite invaders by building towers to protect the northeastern provinces of his empire from the new invaders. His successors, particularly Yazdegerd II (r. 439–457 CE), spent much of their time on the throne preventing the Hephthalites from entering the northeastern province of Khorasan. One of Yazdegerd’s successors, Peroz (r. 459–484 CE), mobilized his army and fought the Hephthalites several times. In one campaign, he was defeated and captured by the Hephthalites and was forced to pay a substantial ransom for his release. After a second defeat, Peroz was forced to leave his son Kavad as a hostage with the Hephthalites. To avenge the humiliation he had suffered and against the advice of his close advisers, Peroz attacked the Hephthalites again in 484. This time the Sasanian monarch was defeated and killed on the battlefield. The victory over the Sasanian army and the death of the Persian king forced the Sasanian state to sue for peace and agree to pay an annual tribute. The Hephthalites began to interfere in the internal affairs of the Sasanian state and manipulate the civil war between the contenders to the throne in order to expand their own influence. For example, Kavad, who had grown up as a hostage among the Hephthalites, sought their assistance when he was deposed in 496 CE. With support from the Hephthalites, he raised an army and regained his throne in 499. In a series of campaigns from 560 to 563, Kavad’s son and successor, the Sasanian monarch Khosrow I Anushiravan (r. 531–579 CE), defeated the Hephthalites and put an end to their rule. The Persian monarch achieved this victory with significant support and assistance from the Western Turks, who imposed their political and military domination over much of Central Asia. The emperor of the Western Turks, Ishtemi (r. 553–? CE), attacked from the north, capturing Chach (present-day Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan), crossing the Jaxartes River (Syr Darya), and defeating the main Hephthalite army near Bokhara, forcing them to retreat southward. The Sasanian army had, however, occupied much of the southern regions of Central Asia, and the Hephthalites did not have any other alternative but to accept defeat. Squeezed between the Turk Empire to the north and the Persian Sasanians to the south, the Hephthalite state disintegrated. At the height of their power in the late fifth and early sixth centuries, the Hephthalites had ruled a vast empire that incorporated the entire territory of present-day southwestern China and much of present-day Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan. They also penetrated northern India through Gandhara and defeated the Gupta Empire.


Persian king of kings who ruled the Sasanian Empire from 459 to 484 CE. When the Sasanian monarch Yazdegerd II died in 457, a battle for succession erupted between his two sons. At Ray, south of present-day Tehran, the older son, Hormozd, ascended the Sasanian throne, while the younger son, Peroz, fled to the eastern province of Khorasan to raise an army with assistance from the Hephthalites based in Tokharestan (present-day northern Afghanistan). Meanwhile, Denag (Dinak), the mother of Hormozd and Peroz, was ruling the empire from its capital at Ctesiphon, in present-day southern Iraq (Tabari: Tarikh-e Tabari, 2.628). The reign of Hormozd III proved to be short-lived. In 459 Peroz attacked Hormozd and defeated his brother, seizing the Sasanian throne and proclaiming himself the king of kings.

The reign of Peroz began with a devastating drought that lasted for seven years. Rivers, springs, water wells, and underground irrigation systems dried up (Tabari: Tarikh-e Tabari, 6.629). The drought significantly diminished water levels even in the Tigris River. Cattle and other livestock and farm animals perished. Famine spread across the empire, and rural communities began to suffer from starvation. Having secured the throne, Peroz tried to relieve the pain and suffering of his people by temporarily halting collection of taxes by the central government. He also ordered all storehouses and pantries to open their doors and distribute their food reserves among the suffering populace. Peroz threatened that if he ever received news of one single individual dying in a city or a village from starvation, he would punish that community with the full force of the law. The gallant efforts of the Sasanian monarch paid off. According to the historian Tabari, despite enormous hardship and suffering brought about by the drought and famine, with the sole exception of a single village in the province of Fars, no one else suffered (Tabari: Tarikh-e Tabari, 2.629–630). Though he was forced to focus on the devastating impact of the drought and famine on his subjects, Peroz could not ignore the threats posed by internal rebellions and foreign invasions, particularly by nomads penetrating the eastern frontiers of the Sasanian Empire.

The Persian king first led his forces to Albania, which had declared its independence from the Sasanian state. The territory of Albania corresponded with Iranian Arran and the present-day republic of Azerbaijan in the southern Caucasus region north of the Aras River. The Sasanian army suppressed the rebellion. Though he had reestablished Persian rule over the region, Peroz adopted a tolerant policy vis-à-vis the non-Zoroastrian communities, particularly the Armenian and Albanian Christians. He switched his focus from the Caucasus to the empire’s eastern provinces, which had been invaded by the Hephthalites. His campaigns against the Hephthalites brought the Sasanian state to the verge of extinction. The Hephthalites, who were called White Huns, had breached the eastern frontiers of the Sasanian state, particularly Tokharestan (ancient Bactria), which corresponded with today’s northern Afghanistan (Procopius: I.ii.1). The campaigns of Peroz against the Hephthalites, who had supported him in his campaign to seize the Sasanian throne, proved to be disastrous for the Persian monarch and the Sasanian Empire. In the first campaign the Sasanian army suffered a humiliating defeat, and Peroz was captured. The Persian king was released after he agreed to pay a substantial ransom. To avenge the humiliation he had suffered, Peroz attacked the Hephthalites for a second time. Once again the Persian monarch was defeated. This time, he could not pay the heavy ransom demanded from the Hephthalites. As a compromise, he was forced to leave his son Kavad, a daughter, and the chief Zoroastrian priest as hostages with the Hephthalites. But Peroz refused to accept defeat. He therefore organized a third campaign and, against the advice of the members of the Persian nobility at court, attacked the Hephthalites for a third time in 484. Once again, the Sasanian army suffered a humiliating defeat. Peroz and several of his sons were killed on the battlefield (Tabari: Tarikh-e Tabari, 2.628). The entire Sasanian royal harem, including all of the king’s wives and one of his daughters, as well as the chief Zoroastrian priest, were captured by the Hephthalites. The death of the Persian king and the disintegration of his formidable army enabled the Hephthalites to invade and occupy the eastern provinces of the Sasanian Empire. The Sasanians had no other alternative but to sue for peace and agree to pay an annual tribute.

The relegation of the Sasanian Empire from a superpower to a tributary state of the Hephthalite Empire was one of the lowest points in Sasanian history. The growing weakness of the Sasanian central government allowed the powerful members of the Persian nobility to reemerge and interfere in the decision-making process at the royal court. Historical sources mention Zarmehr Sokhra, of the Karen family, who fought the Hephthalites courageously after the death of Peroz on the battlefield and saved the Sasanian army from total annihilation at the hands of the enemy. Mention has also been made of Shapur, a member of the powerful Mehran family, who blamed Peroz for his tyrannical behavior and his refusal to consult the nobility before embarking on adventurous military campaigns. When a son of Peroz, Zarer, attempted to seize the throne after his father’s death, the powerful members of the nobility murdered him and instead installed Balash (Valakhsh), a brother of Peroz, on the throne. Balash, who has been described as a mild-mannered and peace-loving king, displayed his benevolence toward his Christian subjects by allowing them to practice their religion without fear of persecution. Despite his best efforts to restore peace and tranquility in his empire, however, the Sasanian state remained in dire straits. The treasury loomed empty, and the king of kings could not pay the salaries of his troops. Once again Zarmehr Sokhra and Shapur acted as the king makers, deposing Balash and passing the throne to Kavad, “the youngest son of Peroz,” who for a time had been a hostage with the Hephthalites (Procopius: I.iv.34–35).

Further Reading

Frye, R. N. “The Political History of Iran under the Sasanians.” In The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 3(I), edited by Ehsan Yarshater, 116–180. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Litvinsky, B. A. “The Hephthalite Empire.” In History of Civilizations of Central Asia, Vol. III, 138–165. Paris: UNESCO Publishing, 1996.

Procopius. History of Wars, Books I–II. Translated by H. B. Dewing. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Agathias. The Histories. Translated by Joseph D. Frendo. Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 1975.

Procopius. History of the Wars, Books I–II. Translated by H. B. Dewing. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Shahbazi, A. Shapur. “Sasanian Dynasty.” Encyclopaedia Iranica, 2005, http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/sasanian-dynasty.

Tabari. The History of al-Tabarī, Vol. 5, The Sāsānids, the Byzantines, the Lakhmids, and Yemen. Translated by C. E. Bosworth. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.

Tabari. Tarikh-e Tabari, Vol. 2. Translated from Arabic into Persian by Abol Qassem Payandeh. Tehran: Asatir Publications, 1984.


Cuba Invasion

The discovery of offensive missiles in Cuba provided precisely the pretext that the United States would need to launch an invasion of Cuba. The opportunity was passed by. Whatever the views of his military colleagues, Maxwell Taylor hoped to avoid an invasion-an option “we should look at very closely before we get our feet in that deep mud in Cuba.” He could envisage a long commitment, tying down conventional forces in the face of a guerrilla campaign. ExComm spent very little time discussing this option, though its members appreciated that it was implied as soon as serious military action began. It might become a dire necessity, but with the emphasis on dire. By 21 October the planning had come to focus on men being put ashore seven days after air strikes, with as many as 25,000 arriving on the first day, building up to 90,000 over the following week. The preparations were put in train and many units moved to Florida, eventually involving 100,000 army and 40,000 marine combat troops, but hard analysis of the reception occupation troops might have received was lacking. Plans involved 579 tactical aircraft and 183 ships, including 8 aircraft carriers. They assumed an estimated 18,500 American casualties in ten days of combat.

The intelligence on the number of Soviet troops available to fight was inaccurate. Instead of facing only indigenous Cuban troops, American forces would have found themselves confronting Soviet combat units. There were estimated to be just 8,000 Soviet military personnel in Cuba until 22 October, when this was revised upward to 10,000. Two days later the estimates jumped up to 22,000. Soviet sources later claimed that the actual number was twice as high: 41,902 as against 45,000 planned.

An accurate American appreciation of the size of the Soviet combat force, given the political rumblings in the United States and Kennedy’s 4 September warning (which referred to “any organized combat force”), could have precipitated a serious crisis. The U. S. intelligence community had noted the air defense missiles (twenty-four sites with 144 SA-2 missiles), as well as MiG-21 aircraft and over forty Il-28 aircraft, most of which were still in crates at the start of the crisis. They were aware of the Luna missiles and that they were nuclear capable, but they had not discovered the warheads. American casualties could therefore have been much higher, although it was still probable that the Soviet troops would have been overwhelmed by American forces and that the Lunas would have been caught by air strikes. Subsequent occupation would also have been troublesome. This would have required a diversion of resources from the Asian and European theaters at a time when Kennedy assumed that Berlin would be put under siege, and it would have sparked an international outcry. Just after the crisis, reviewing contingency plans for an invasion, Kennedy wrote to McNamara:

Considering the size of the problem, the equipment that is involved on the other side, the Nationalists’ fervor which may be encouraged, it seems to me that we should end up bogged down.

I think that we should keep continually in mind the British in the Boer War, the Russians in the last war with the Finnish and our own experience with the North Koreans.

As with Berlin, it took a real crisis to bring home the full meaning of strategic moves discussed almost casually in military war games, thinktank seminars, and any number of Washington meetings.

OPLAN 312 was the air strike; OPLAN 314 was for a subsequent land invasion; OPLAN 316 was a variant of 314 with less time for the invasion force.

General Taylor summarized the conclusions of the Joint Chiefs. Unless the missiles are defused immediately, the Chiefs recommended implementation on Monday 29th October 1962 of OP Plan 312, i.e. a major air strike, and, seven days later, OP Plan 316, which is the invasion plan.

Status of Readiness for the Cuban Operation (C)

  1. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are glad to report that our Armed Forces are in an optimum posture to execute CINCLANT OPLANS 312-62 (Air Attack in Cuba) and 316-62 (Invasion of Cuba). We are not only ready to take any action you may order in Cuba, we are also in an excellent condition world-wide to counter any Soviet military response to such action. Our status of readiness includes:
  2. SAC is maintaining 1/8 airborne alert and has implemented its force dispersal plan. An increased SIOP generation rate–1,456 aircraft and 355 missiles, including 80 Polaris missiles–is being maintained.
  3. Continental Air Defense Command interceptor forces have occupied their wartime dispersal bases and are partially deployed at increased alert (about 1/3). Special defensive measures have been taken to protect the Southeast, with particular attention to Florida.
  4. Air forces involved in CINCLANT OPLAN 312-62 in daylight hours can respond for selective attack in graduated increments from two to twelve hours, according to the application of force desired.
  5. Amphibious and assault forces are at a high state of readiness, providing a seven-day reaction capability for CINCLANT OPLAN 316-62 following the air strike (CINCLANT OPLAN 312-62), with accelerated introduction of follow-on forces.
  6. All naval units are in a high state of readiness.
  7. In response to your request, we have studied the need for augmentation of forces for CINCLANT OPLAN 316-62 and have concluded that while the forces originally included in the plan are probably adequate, it would be prudent to earmark additional forces as a ready reserve for the operation. Accordingly, we are planning to earmark the 5th Infantry Division, at approximately 20,000 strength including supporting forces, and a combat command (strength 6,800) of the 2nd Armored Division for possible commitment as reserve forces for CINCLANT OPLAN 316-62; but these units will not be moved from home stations until S-day for OPLAN 312-62. Utilization of the increased Army and Marine forces will require an additional 16 transports, 68 cargo ships, and 11 LSTs. The LSTs and 15 transports would come from the Reserve Fleet, would require approximately 45 days to activate and assemble on the east coast, and would cost an estimated $28 million. For the total shipping requirements of the augmented Plan, chartering, requisitioning, and prepositioning of 60 cargo ships must be accomplished well in advance of execution of the Plan. The chartering/requisitioning of the remaining 105 cargo ships would require at least 30 days. The 5th MEB (Marine Expeditionary Brigade), at approximately 9,000 strength, has transited the Panama Canal, is in the Caribbean and has been added to the assault force.
  8. The advanced alert levels, if maintained for a protracted period, can reduce the over-all capability of the force because of maintenance and training short-falls. The current status of alert can be maintained for about 30 more days without adverse effect. After that time we could maintain the following reaction capability:
  9. With forces in present posture (Defense Condition 3)

(1) OPLAN 312-62 (Air Attack in Cuba)–12 hours

(2) OPLAN 316-62 (Invasion of Cuba)–7 days

  1. With forces largely returned to home bases (Defense Condition 5)

(1) OPLAN 312-62–2 days

(2) OPLAN 316-62–10 to 12 days

  1. The Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend staying in the present posture for the immediate future.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

Maxwell D. Taylor

Joint Chiefs of Staff

1 OPLAN 312-62 evolved during the summer and early fall of 1962 as the build up of air-power in Cuba became apparent. The plan entailed the use of 500 tactical fighter aircraft and carrier aircraft in a series of strikes against Cuban offensive weapons. Initial strikes would eliminate SAM sites and associated conventional AA defenses. These strikes would be followed by massive attacks on Cuban hostile aircraft and other offensive weapons including, after their presence was discovered and until they were withdrawn, MRBMs and IRBMs. Subsequent attacks would target troop concentrations, artillery, and armor. (Cuban Crisis, Operational Aspects, December 26, 1962; National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Cuba, High-level Exchange)

2 For a description of CINCLANT OPLAN 316-62, see footnote 1, Document 150.

3 “5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade and its organic shipping excepted.” [Footnote in the source text.]

Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Cuba, General, 11/16/62-11/20/62. Top Secret.

As I have communicated to General Wheeler, through General Clifton, the plans for X seem thin. Considering the size of the problem, the equipment that is involved on the other side, the nationalistic fervor which may be engendered, it seems to me we could end up bogged down.

I think we should keep constantly in mind the British in Boer War, the Russians in the last war with the Finnish and our own experience with the North Koreans. We are keeping, as I understand it, three divisions in reserve. I think we should plan to use them and call up any guard divisions we have available. This may require us to build additional divisions.

John Kennedy

1 The reference to “plans for X” was to CINCLANT OPLAN 316, designed to exploit an unforeseen turn of events in Cuba that offered a worthwhile opportunity for exploitation by the United States. The range of circumstances in which this plan would be implemented ranged from support of a widespread rebellion of the Cuban population to military action to divert Castro from military adventure against Guantanamo. The reaction time for the plan was 5 days. The concept called for airborne assault in the vicinity of Havana by two airborne divisions, followed as quickly as possible by an amphibious assault by the 2nd Marine Division/Wing Team over beaches to the east of Havana. Depending upon the amount of time for build-up, additional forces would be committed incrementally until approximately five full divisions, with necessary supporting troops, would be engaged. This plan was known as “quick reaction plan.” (Cuban Crisis, Operational Aspects, December 26; National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Cuba, High-level Exchange)

Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OASD (C) A Files: FRC 71 A 2896, Cuba 1962 (McNamara’s working papers). Top Secret.


In October 1962 missiles were discovered by way of U-2 flights in the Marxist regime of Fidel Castro. These medium-range missiles had the capability to hit all of the United States (except for parts of the northwest) with nuclear warheads.

It didn’t take much imagination to figure out exactly WHO these missiles belonged to. Soviet ships were shuttling back and forth between the USSR and its newest puppet. And the amount of borscht being served at Cuban cafes simply skyrocketed. Even the CIA couldn’t miss the implications.

There were three options to deal with the Soviet missile threat (four if you count waffling): blockade the island and prevent more missiles from arriving, launch airstrikes to destroy the missiles before they could be used, or launch a land invasion to capture the launch sites. As it was believed that the sites were not yet operational the three options were to be executed in sequence, beginning with the “naval quarantine” of Cuba. An airstrike would be launched once U.S. Army troops were ready to land. Soldiers of the XVIII Airborne Corps would land west of Havana. The invasion plan was named Operational Plan 316.

While the Air Force proceeded to identify targets and stage aircraft and munitions in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, U.S. Army units moved to staging areas in Florida while military hospitals in southern posts were quietly prepared to receive large-scale casualties. Army boat units were moved to Fort Lauderdale and Port Everglades. There was difficulty in finding space for all the soldiers who would be making the amphibious landings, especially since the operation was initially veiled in the fiction that it was a large-scale exercise. Some soldiers of the 1st Armored Division were billeted at a racecourse in Hallandale.

The 101st Airborne and 82nd Airborne Divisions were prepared for their jump into Cuba. The 101st was to seize control of beaches around Mariel Beach while the 82nd took key airfields in the path of the 1st Armored Division, which would be landing at Mariel. Once Havana was cut off and/or secured with the help of Marines slated to land east of the city, the tanks of the 1st Armored would roll straight to the missile sites and take them out… taking care to treat anyone with a Boris Badinoff accent with the utmost respect.

In the end the Soviets blinked. Faced with a simple statement that a missile attack against the United States from Cuba would be treated as an attack from Soviet territory itself and that the United States would retaliate in kind, Khruschev backed down. So long as Cuba was not invaded the missiles would be dismantled and sent back home. The Soviet ships taking them back to the Motherland were even obliging enough to uncover the missiles loaded on the decks so that U.S. recon aircraft could photograph and confirm their departure.

Before the Army units were sent back to their home stations there was a parade of sorts, with President Kennedy personally travelling to the many staging areas where soldiers were had prepared to storm Cuba. Today the invasion plan is largely forgotten, but had World War III started the opening move would have been to take out the USSR’s advanced missile base in the Western Hemisphere.

Africa – The Ultimate Frontier I

Europeans living in the Early Modern era were ignorant of Africa because they not only considered it peripheral to their interests, but because they were acquainted only with the continent’s outer margins. Europeans who had made it to China, to India, to the Ottoman Empire, were amazed by the rich and colourful cultures there, by the power of the rulers, and the self-confidence of their people; and they had eagerly brought back art and foods from their visits. Their response to Africa was very different; they found the native costumes, dwellings, and weaponry of the coastal peoples exotic but unimpressive. Had the Europeans not feared the tropical diseases, the unfamiliar jungles and dangerous animals, and the heat, they might have learned more, and been more impressed, but the African coastline lacked convenient harbours and the interior could not be penetrated by simply sailing up the great rivers; hence, they knew little even about the great Songhai Empire in the Niger Valley. Timbuktu became a synonym for an incredibly exotic place that no one could reach. Many attribute this lack of interest to racism, but ethnocentrism might be a better word. Certainly that word would be less confrontational and less judgmental.

Europeans did eventually confront Africa, but in ways very different from their earlier encounters with the New World or the Ancient East.

North Africa

Africa was a huge continent with much variety. There were rainforests, deserts, mountains, lakes, lots of insects, and people of every height and colour imaginable. And the native peoples had not always remained in the homelands of their ancestors, but migrated, sometimes slowly, occasionally very quickly, either to escape troubles or to find better lands. Scholars tell us that colonial boundaries were irrational, but that it would have been impossible to draw better ones, because nomads and farmers were not strictly separated; and some tribes had welcomed refugees to settle on their poorest land. Understanding this is particularly important in following the story of Muslims penetrating into Black Africa from the desert, and Christians pressuring the same peoples from the coasts.

The peoples of the Mediterranean and northwestern coastlands were not black, but a combination of native peoples (Berbers being the generic term to describe their languages and cultures) and Arabs. Europeans lumped all these people together as Moors, a term not used often today because of its lack of precision and because its Greek root means ‘dark’. The darkness came partly from the intense sun, partly from the importation of black slaves, and partly from the looks that the Moors cast at Europeans.

Buying (or taking) black slaves over the past millennium had darkened the complexion of parts of the population, but the Ottomans who ruled the northern coastland were also importing white slaves—like the Circassians taken by Turks, or the Poles and Russians rounded up by Tatars, or Irish and Icelanders captured by Barbary pirates. The slaves came from diverse lands, some from the Caucasus Mountains, some from European borderlands or a few from distant islands, but others were prisoners-of-war or captured sailors; an ever large number came from raids on the Spanish and Italian coasts, so many that in the 1600s white slaves employed in raising sugar, rice and other crops in North Africa may have outnumbered the black slaves in North America. Sometimes the Ottomans made these prisoners into elite warriors, favouring them over natives because it was possible to punish or even execute them without offending relatives. Also, time out of mind Christian warriors had hired themselves out as mercenaries, often as personal bodyguards to Muslim rulers of the coastal states. Having no interest in the complicated politics, they could be trusted to concentrate on safeguarding their employer.

The thinly populated Barbary Coast (modern Algeria and Libya) was dotted with ports that flourished from trade and piracy, activities that were occasionally difficult to tell apart; and from time immemorial their captains had yielded to the temptation to capture ships belonging to European competitors. Crusaders had attempted to eliminate Islamic corsairs as a threat to Christian shipping and Italian and Spanish coastal towns; of course, they attacked Muslim ships and raided coastal towns, too. Each side claimed to be acting in self-defence or in retaliation, or to be performing great feats of arms as champions of their respective religions.

Around 1500 two great warriors from one Muslim family changed the conflict from small scale warfare to a struggle involving all the major powers of the Mediterranean. Aruj (c1474-1518) was the elder brother, the emir of a small principality in Algeria. His father had been a Janissary (hence, most likely, of Balkan ancestry) stationed on the Greek island of Lesbos and his mother had been the widow of a Greek priest. When he was a young man he had been captured by the Knights of Malta and made into a galley slave—one of the worst fates possible since it meant a short lifetime of hard labour chained to a rowing bench, often exposed to the hot sun. After being ransomed, he took his revenge by attacking Christian vessels. His fleet was no larger than twelve galleys, but his captains struck hard at Spanish commerce and upset Spanish military operations against the French—once he captured a ship with hundreds of troops on board, presumably making all of them into slaves. Having a flaming red beard, he was called Barbarossa, a name that his brother Khizr inherited after Aruj’s death in spite of not sharing that characteristic. Little more is known of the first Barbarossa other than his dying in battle while opposing a Spanish/Berber army led by Charles V (1500-58), the King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor who was conquering many of the cities along the Algerian coast.

Khizr (Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha, 1478-1546), who at the time he met Suleiman the Great (Sultan 1520-66) commanded no more than 800 Ottoman soldiers, nevertheless received instructions to build a great navy. He completed this so quickly that he was given command. Soon he was famed even among his enemies—the legendary Genoese admiral Andrea Doria (1466-1560) called him ‘the Great Corsair’. What made Barbarossa so dangerous was that the French king provided him bases in France that he could use to attack Charles V’s lines of communication with Italy. Before Barbarossa retired to the comforts of Istanbul, he had made the Ottoman navy supreme across vast stretches of the Mediterranean Sea.

After the natural death of the aged Suleiman on campaign in 1566, while moving up the Danube toward Vienna, his successors stayed away from battlefields. Instead, they entrusted command to their grand viziers, who were experienced administrators and commanders. The sultans limited their activities to what they did best—harem politics and watching their grand viziers for signs of excessive ambition. Many of the grand viziers were technically slaves, taken in boyhood from their Christian parents and trained in their future duties—the best being selected for the most important duties. This gave the Ottoman sultans more talented commanders than Christian monarchs who gave out military positions only to high-born nobles.

It seemed, according to the dramatic narrative of Roger Crowley, Empires of the Sea, that by 1571 a divided Christendom could not expect to defeat the magnificent forces of the Ottoman grand vizier, Lala Mustafa Pasha (1500-80) who had the great advantage of being able to give orders and expect them to be obeyed. Catholic Europe was led by a hyper-cautious Philip II of Spain (1527-98), who could not forget the naval disaster at Djerba in 1560; Venetians remembered equally vividly the 1537 battle of Preveza, where the Holy League had tried to challenge Barbarossa—they blamed the defeat on Andrea Doria’s refusal to come to their aid. Christian disunity had almost led to the fall of Malta in 1565—a siege of epic proportions—and made it impossible for Venice to hold Nicosia and Famagusta on Cyprus in 1571. The only good result from the eight-month defence of Famagusta, in the Christians’ eyes, was that it cost the Ottomans 80,000 men they would have had only months later at the battle of Lepanto.

That famous victory reestablished European naval prestige briefly. The collision of two gigantic fleets—that of the Holy League (200 galleys and six large hybrid galleys/sailing vessels) being slightly smaller than the Ottoman force, but having more cannon—developed into an infantry battle on water, with the Christians having more men wearing armour and using firearms. One of the Ottoman squadrons was led by an Italian convert to Islam—Uluj Ali (1519-87), born Giovanni Dionigi Galeni in southern Italy. Captured by Barbarossa and, like many of his fellows, offered the choice between ordinary slavery and becoming a rich pirate, he chose to convert. Among the few Muslim commanders to survive the disaster, he was welcomed in Istanbul for returning safely with the giant banner of the Knights of Malta that he had taken from their flagship. Subsequently he became pasha of Algiers, then admiral of the Ottoman fleet.

The Ottoman sultan quickly replaced the lost ships, then ordered them to push cautiously westward along the coast, driving the Spanish from Algeria, deposing their native Muslim allies, and reaching almost to Morocco. This was the end of Christian hopes to conquer these coasts and the beginning of Ottoman rule.


The same weakness that made Algeria vulnerable to attack allowed the Portuguese to capture ports in Morocco—Ceuta in 1415, Tangiers in 1471, and smaller cities in the early 1500s. Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) had seen Morocco as a jumping off point for explorations that would lead to the gold fields of Ghana. However, the heavy ships of the Mediterranean were unsuited to ocean travel, and their large crews consumed too many supplies. This problem was overcome by using a lighter sailing vessel, the caravel, which adopted the lateen sail used by Arab sailors; later this was combined with the well-known square sail to produce fully-rigged vessels that could withstand almost any storm. The next delay was caused by sailors’ fears of unknown shores and winds—sailing south along the African coast was no problem, since Prince Henry’s ships had a tail wind, but coming home against those same winds was testing. Nevertheless, in 1481 the Portuguese were able to build a fortress at Elmina in Ghana that Christopher Columbus visited shortly afterward; this post was profitable for both buyer and seller because it cut out the Muslim middlemen.

Moroccans, meanwhile, were experiencing Ottoman pressure from Algeria. Fortunately for them, they understood European weaponry well, a knowledge they applied effectively against the Turks. It was more difficult to resist the Portuguese aggression that began in 1576, because the Portuguese were not operating at the end of a long supply line. The new sultan, Abu Marwan Abd al-Malik, had just returned from exile to seize the throne, and his counterpart was Sebastian I (Dom Sebastião, 1554-78), an inbred, obstinate, gifted and ambitious young man.

King Sebastian was very aware that his captains were easily establishing trading posts along the African and Brazilian coasts and that his governors had repelled challenges to their domination of the Indian trade; in short, his captains seemed invincible. In contrast, Morocco appeared to be weak. A successful crusade there would bring Morocco over to Christianity (or at least make Portuguese exploitation possible) and open central Africa to European trade.

Under normal circumstances not even a prince as active and intellectually curious as Sebastian would have dared think so extravagantly, but he had come into possession of a rival to the Sultan, Abu Abdallah. The presence of Abdallah in his army, and a supposedly weak Abd al-Malik on the other side caused the battle of Alcazarquivir (Alcácer Quibir) to be known as the Battle of the Three Kings.

There was an important back story to the campaign. Abdallah al-Ghalib Billah (1517-74) had become Sultan in 1557 after his father was assassinated by Barbarossa’s son on Ottoman orders. Immediately he had consolidated power by eliminating possible rivals—that is, killing his brothers. This practice was well-known in Islamic states because harems produced numbers of ambitious sons whose only hope to rule, or even do anything in life, was to lead a successful rebellion. However, he failed to capture Abd al-Malik, who had fled to Algeria and become a soldier for the Ottoman governor. When al-Ghalib Billah died, leaving power to a son, Abu Abdallah, instead of to a surviving brother—as custom required—Abd al-Malik raised a mercenary army from his Ottoman troops and seized power. When Abu Abdallah asked the Portuguese king for mercenary troops to recover his kingdom, Sebastian agreed to provide them, but only on the condition that he lead the army himself and share in the benefits of victory. Sebastian began to assemble his army in 1578, borrowing men from the king of Spain. Though Philip II subsequently signed a peace treaty with the Ottomans, the young Portuguese monarch pressed on. Sebastian believed that he had the resources to prevail, most importantly because of 2,000 Italians employed by Thomas Stukley (1525-78).

Stukley—a former pirate, mercenary, and possibly an illegitimate son of Henry VIII—was just the man for such a wild-eyed project. His original plan had been to land in Ireland, raise volunteers, then overthrow Queen Elizabeth. Stukley’s career as an adventurer had begun during the reign of Queen Mary, when he had fought in the army she had sent to the Spanish Netherlands to support of her husband, Philip II. After Mary’s death he entered the retinue of Lord Dudley, one of Queen Elizabeth’s favourites, serving occasionally as a pirate. His activities in Scotland and Ireland are worthy of a novelist’s talents, but it was his proposal to Philip II to overthrow Elizabeth and restore Catholicism to England that is best known. He was distracted by the battle at Lepanto, where he fought with distinction, then his plans to invade Ireland and England were delayed by the competing ambitions of more exalted personalities. It was only in 1578 that the Pope gave him 2,000 men for the Irish enterprise. It was not difficult to divert these men to the Moroccan expedition.

Stukley’s men were well-equipped with muskets, and they had far more self-confidence than the situation warranted—they counted on a mass formation of pikemen to fend off the expected cavalry attack, then to push forward and break the enemy’s infantry, which would have been shot to pieces by the musketeers. In addition, Sebastian had the usual assortment of German and Spanish mercenaries, but the bulk of the 23,000 Europeans in the royal army were Portuguese, the best his nation could raise. Awkwardly, the king could not bring many horses on his ships, but he had good European infantry and the horsemen raised by his Muslim ally, Abu Abdallah. Surely this army was sufficient to conquer any kingdom along the Atlantic or Mediterranean coast of Africa. This was especially true if their opponent was, as rumour had it, mortally ill.

Abd al-Malik had about 100,000 men, some of whom were anti-Christian fanatics, descendants of Moors expelled from Spain after 1492. The two armies faced each other across a small river, the Christian-Muslim forces drawn up in a European-style formation, infantry in the centre, relying on their firearms to sweep the enemy away. It is not clear why Sebastian stood on the defensive, but that may have been the best choice considering the terrain and the unexpected numbers of horsemen in the opposing army. Sebastian commanded the Christian cavalry on one wing, with Abu Abdallah commanding the Muslim cavalry on the other. Abd al-Malik ignored the infantry, while using his superior numbers to surround Abu Abdallah, then closed in for hand-to-hand fighting. The Portuguese king led his horsemen forward, but disappeared quickly (his body was never found); Abu Abdallah was killed at some unknown point. Stukley commanded the centre of the line, which was holding out well until his legs were torn off by a cannonball. After that order broke down. His men found themselves fighting for their lives, flight impossible. When both kings and about a third of their men were dead, the rest of the army, perhaps 15,000 men, surrendered. Only perhaps a hundred fugitives made it to the coast alive; the rest of the Europeans became slaves.

Abd al-Malik had died, too, though no one had noticed immediately. The exertion of combat had been too much for him. He was succeeded by his imprisoned brother, Ahmad I al-Mansur (1549-1603).

The leaderless Portuguese kingdom collapsed, Philip II of Spain moving in to make himself king. It would not be the last time that Europeans attempted to establish footholds on the Moroccan coast, but there would be no serious effort to conquer the entire state until the nineteenth century.

Africa – The Ultimate Frontier II

Battle at Ksar el Kebir, depicting the encirclement of the Portuguese army on the left. The Battle of Alcácer Quibir  was fought in northern Morocco, near the town of Ksar-el-Kebir (variant spellings: Ksar El Kebir, Alcácer-Quivir, Alcazarquivir, Alcassar, etc.) and Larache, on 4 August 1578. The combatants were the army of the deposed Moroccan Sultan Abu Abdallah Mohammed II, with his ally, the King of Portugal Sebastian I, against a large Moroccan army nominally under the new Sultan of Morocco (and uncle of Abu Abdallah Mohammed II) Abd Al-Malik I.

Morocco and Songhai

The new Sultan of Morocco reflected carefully on the lessons of the battle of Alcazarquivir. His councillors were still confident in the superiority of their traditional weapons and tactics, but he had been impressed by the effectiveness of the Christian infantry. Al-Mansur imagined how the European weapons could be employed in the lightly populated centre of the continent, where the Songhai state had been recently shaken by civil war. Moreover, Moroccan trade with Songhai was being undermined by European merchants on the coast. Ships could carry so much merchandise that the Christians could undercut the prices of Islamic merchants, who had to pack their wares across the Sahara; and in the case of weapons, the Muslims would not sell them to their enemies at all.

Al-Mansur’s informants led him to believe that Songhai would not be able to respond effectively to a well-planned invasion. In late 1590, a dozen years after becoming sultan, he announced to his council that he was sending an army of 3,000-4,000 troops and thousands of pack animals and their handlers on a four-month march across 1,000 miles of desert to the Songhai capital at Timbuktu. His commander was Judar Pasha, a European-born slave and eunuch; the goal was to acquire access to the gold mines and salt, so that he could pay for the European commodities his subjects desired—this had become increasingly difficult now that Portugal’s Brazilian plantations were selling sugar cheaper than his subjects could. His force was outnumbered, but it included Turkish mercenaries and Christian bodyguards, matchlocks and cannon. The language of command was Spanish, a reflection of the importance of Iberian mercenaries in the campaign.

The Songhai Empire had been important since the early 1400s, stretching along the Niger River from the cataracts near the sea north and west for a thousand miles to distant gold fields. Its wealth came from trade, selling gold, ivory, salt and human beings across the desert to Morocco and to the Mediterranean coast. Fervently Islamic in faith, its orientation was northward. To the south lay forests, disease and paganism; it was much safer for Songhai warriors to stay in the drier but healthy regions of the Upper Niger River Valley, where the pasture land was more extensive than it is today.

The Songhai rulers were generally, but not consistently, tolerant toward the pagan practices of the southern people; as long as those peoples were divided, they were no danger, but could be exploited easily and cheaply. One ruler, Askia Muhammed I (reigned 1493-1528) had made the pilgrimage to Mecca with 500 cavalry and 1,000 infantry, establishing Songhai’s reputation for being fabulously exotic and rich. This legendary wealth had attracted al-Mansur’s attention, first for gold, then for salt—the exchange was often equal weight of one for the other.

Most of all, the sultan saw that the Songhai state was weak. Dynastic quarrels followed the death of each king; brutal efforts at imposing Islamic customs were resented both by desert nomads and farmers of the bush, all of whom believed in magic and who carefully treasured memories of past outrages. Vassal chiefs knew that their predecessors had been slain, their sons gelded and their daughters sold into slavery; and merchants resented the taxes. The royal processions were splendid and the king’s army made a brave display, but Moroccan merchants could see that the Songhai Empire was a case of the least weak ruling the weaker.

The harem system had always encouraged jealousy and fear, and when the last great sultan died in 1582, the multiplication of potential heirs had reached its logical (and disastrous) outcome—civil war.

The Invasion

In late 1590 al-Mansur’s hold on Morocco was at last secure. He had warded off European and Ottoman challenges, then expanded his kingdom into the interior, seizing some of the valuable salt mines that were central to Saharan trade. Overseas trade with Ireland, England and even Italy was prospering, and his enemies were involved in desperate wars on distant frontiers. It was an opportunity to break free of his financial troubles, those caused by the need to pay his mercenaries, by seizing the salt and gold of the African interior. Of course, his councillors were all against the expedition—it was a long journey over one of the more formidable deserts in the world, with almost no pastures and only a handful of water holes—and those were capable of supporting only small parties. He rejected this advice, heaping scorn on their caution and pointing out the advantages that gunpowder weapons and good cavalry had over men armed only with spears and bows. The numbers had to be small, he agreed, in order to cross the desert successfully, but if the troops were good, they could prevail. Conducting a siege without great cannons would be difficult, but the enemy, not knowing what they were up against, would probably come out to fight rather than watch their country ravaged.

The losses on the march must have been appalling, so it would have been wise for the Songhai king to have marched out to meet the Morrocans before they had recovered from their desert ordeal, but he did not; even his orders to fill in the wells had apparently not reached the nomad Tuareg chiefs—or they had disobeyed. Had that elemental step been taken, the Moroccan army might had died in the desert. However, the Tuaregs were Berbers; though they had little love for Arabs, they were always reluctant to take orders from anyone.

Fortunately for the Moroccans, the Songhai had not read Kenneth Chase’s analysis in Firearms of the difficulties that armies face in a desert. The demands for water, food and fodder were so great that infantry usually had to turn back after two days, cavalry after only one. Had the army been supplied with camels, it would have done better, but it appears that the Moroccans were counting on using their horses in battle. The Moroccans must have been very relieved not to have to fight for each watering place along the march, but they probably did not worry about poison—nomads were not suicidal.

Judar Pasha’s army met the Songhai host in March 1591 in the short and violent battle of Tondibi. The mercenaries had been greatly outnumbered, but their enemies lacked the will to fight. The Songhai king drove a herd of cattle at the northerners, but volleys of infantry weapons and cannon frightened the cattle, causing them to charge back through the king’s forces, after which there was little organised resistance. Judar Pasha allowed his men to sack the cities and towns, after which he reestablished order and made himself governor, ruling from Timbuktu.

The victors were disappointed to discover that the fabled cities were collections of mud buildings, and that the gold had been taken away or hidden; worse, the gold fields were still far away, deep in Black Africa to the west. In Gao, the first city captured, the invaders found a Portuguese cannon that the Songhai warriors had not known how to use, a crucifix and a statue of the Virgin Mary. It was a fitting symbolism of Songhai military backwardness.

However, the Songhai king had survived the battle. From a safe distance he tried to pay the invaders to leave, but they refused—the gold he offered made them more eager to stay, not less. Nevertheless, the mercenaries saw little reason in holding onto their conquest, True, Timbuktu had an impressive mosque, learned scholars and some evidence of wealth, but the mercenaries had no use for places of worship or books, and they were forbidden to loot. Their numbers had been quickly reduced by illness, and the Songhai ruler continued to resist from his southern strongholds. Reinforcements were slow to arrive, and of the few sent, most were killed by Tuareg nomads. Meanwhile, chaos reigned—the king was removed by a brother, the peoples subject to the Songahi rose in revolt, and the mercenaries began to loot, rape and murder.

Judar Pasha’s discouraging report on local conditions resulted in his assignment to a much lesser post, governor of Gao. His successor was Mahmud ibn-Zarqun, a eunuch, the son of a Christian. He stripped the houses of doors and doorposts to build two ships, then set off downstream to eliminate the last Songhai forces. A stroke of luck then came his way—civil war broke out among the Songhai. The new king had ordered his brothers castrated, whereupon they had joined the Moroccan invader. This allowed Mahmud to easily scatter the remnants of the Songhai army, after which he invited the king to a conference and murdered him.

That ended resistance in the north, but desperate Songhai in the south turned to one of the late king’s brothers, Askia Nuh, who withdrew into the bush country, even into the coastal forest, where he proved himself a gifted guerilla commander. Aksia Nuh established bases in the swampy south and the rugged north where cannons and horses could not be used; and where malaria weakened the invading troops. Because the mercenaries’ atrocities had by now appalled everyone, Askia Nuh was able to make common cause with ancient Songhai adversaries, while Mahmud found it impossible to exploit their many ancient animosities; as a result, Moroccan efforts to reach the gold fields failed. Meanwhile, the collapse of the Songhai had tempted every brigand in the desert to attack the caravans, so that trade with Morocco became more dangerous. Mahmud requested reinforcements, which arrived in 1593.

Victorious. Now What?

The decisive moment in the campaign may have been Mahmud sending one of his captains with 300 musketeers back to Timbuktu to protect it against raiders. The officer apologised to local leaders for past misdeeds and promised to keep his men in barracks after dark. The policy worked—open resistance ended, trade revived and exiles returned. He then led his men north against the desert raiders and, with local help, destroyed the worst of the bandits. More reinforcements allowed him to crush a dangerous insurrection in an outlying city whose inhabitants had more passion than political acumen.

This was not a policy that pleased Mahmud ibn-Zarqun, whose own efforts to pacify the south had failed. Wanting to take revenge on his enemies, not placate them, he began to massacre Timbuktu’s leading families. Many who were not slain were loaded with chains and driven across the Sahara to Morocco. When news of this reached the Moroccan king, he ordered Mahmud removed from command. Mahmud, however, had already been killed in a fight against black pagans before his replacement arrived in 1595. Askia Nuh received Mahmud’s head with satisfaction, presumably pleased by the proof that bows and arrows could defeat firearms. But that had no immediate effect on the war; Nuh retreated to his stronghold at Dendi, while a brother, Sulaiman, was put on the throne in Timbuktu as a puppet of the occupation army.

Clearly, the distant Moroccan sultan had misjudged the situation, and he was to continue to do so. This was easily done, perhaps inevitably, considering the inadequacy of information available to him. His effort to divide duties among his commanders provoked a civil war until finally Judar Pasha suggested that the army decide which of them should rule. After Judar Pasha’s election, he poisoned his rival and then made all the appropriate gestures of loyalty and subordination to the sultan. In 1599 Judar Pasha returned home, rich with gold, slaves and exotic wares, ready to enjoy life in every respect except the founding of a dynasty.

The new Arma state was ruled by the army. Some soldiers had been Christian prisoners-of-war, others had been simple mercenaries; there were also Moors whose ancestors had fled Spain after the Reconquista, and Berber tribesmen. Most married local women, and when some tried to restrict alliances to their own races, reality struck home: where would they get women? That was the origin of a mixed race elite who eventually came to speak the language of their mothers and subjects. Since the army controlled the state, the reigns of the distant Moroccan sultans, which were often short anyway, made no difference. Civil war and rebellions prevented the Arma from becoming a powerful empire, but they had no dangerous rivals to threaten their existence.

Not even the weapons that Europeans supplied to coastal peoples threatened the northerners’ vast state. As Chase noted in Firearms, a Global History, the savannah south of the Sahara was ideal cavalry country except that its diseases were deadly to horses—more so even than to Europeans, it seems, who could at least go indoors to escape the tsetse fly. And without cavalry to force infantry into tight formations, firearms were less than fully effective. The obvious strategy for Europeans and Arma alike was to recruit light infantry from the weaker tribes, relying on them to do most of the fighting, while the heavy troops guarded the baggage and artillery.

Edward Bovill notes in The Golden Trade of the Moors that by 1660 the Arma were so weak that Timbuktu had fallen to pagan enemies. Arising from the chaos was a black military force, the Bokhari, who became important in Moroccan affairs. They, like the white mercenaries, had no local connections and were, therefore, preferred as bodyguards to Berbers or Arabs. As for the politics of the Arma lands, it was complicated beyond any hope of summarising or reading with enjoyment or edification.

Slavery Supports the State

Al-Mansur had profited immediately from his conquests, but over the long term his invasion disrupted trade and pilgrimages, thus making his gains transitory and his losses heavy. His successors were not tempted to become involved in the politics of the interior, except to buy slaves who could be employed as bodyguards and elite troops. Trained in western methods and having no stake in local politics, their loyalty to their employers could be trusted; many were eunuchs, which limited their vices to those which disturbed the public least.

Although the Moroccan sultan had expected that conquering the Songhai kingdom would increase the slave trade across the western Sahara, it shifted to the coast, where tribes hostile to the new Muslim state were now selling prisoners-of-war to Europeans.

The practice of slave-raiding tore central Africa apart for many generations to come, but it mattered little to Moroccan sultans and their supporters how many villages were destroyed and how many perished during the long march north. Everyone was in the business of procuring and selling slaves.


This state lay to the west of Lake Chad, across the eastern caravan trail leading from the Niger River valley to Tripoli. Most of the inhabitants were farmers, but many were herders—an arrangement that worked to mutual satisfaction throughout much of the African interior until the Darfur crisis of 2003 revealed that the complicated mixture of races and religions had been placed under intolerable pressure by population growth and the encroachment of the desert on arable lands. This was not new, however—the conflict between nomad and farmer was a part of African history from time immemorial, most recently contributing to the 1984 genocide in Rwanda. Centuries before the Darfur crisis the danger of raids from the desert required farmers and artisans to live in walled towns, the fortifications made of unimposing but effective mud bricks.

Bornu had been just beyond the reach of the Songhai armies. Its horsemen collected slaves from the savannahs and jungles to the south, some prisoners being ransomed to their families and more kept for local use (some as soldiers). Everyone owned two or three slaves, often as concubines, some as eunuchs; one king acquired so much gold that he could make golden chains for his dogs. Since it was illegal to enslave Muslims, most prisoners were pagans. The best captives, mostly women and children, had long been herded north to the international market operated by Arabs, and to the west, to the kingdom of Songhai. Eastward from Bornu the road led to the savannah of Darfur, where it split into the ‘forty day road’ across the desert to Upper Egypt and the road to Sudan and the Indian Ocean. The horsemen who made the raids believed that they had no choice in the matter—they were always desperate for more mounts, and they could buy them only from Arabs who wanted slaves.

In contrast, neighbouring Arabs tended to ride camels because the tsetse fly multiplied during the rainy season, making horse raising impossible, and transporting fodder was expensive. The Bornu warriors, however, knew that horses were better than camels for war in the grasslands to the south. They used camels, but only reluctantly.

The most important warrior-king, Idris Alooma (reigned 1571-1603), conquered all the surrounding savannah with mercenary warriors, employing exceptional brutality. Once having pacified his state, however, he encouraged commerce, culture and education; he crushed banditry, required his subjects to live by Islamic law, and built mosques through the country. The high point of his reign was his impressive visit to Mecca via Tripoli and Egypt. In the course of his travels, he became aware of firearms. Purchasing some, he had Ottoman mercenaries train his palace guard in their use. In 1636 one of his successors obtained fifteen young Christians armed with muskets. These proved so effective that he soon acquired more. Details, alas, are totally lacking.

Similarly, we know little about the settlements the rulers established along the pilgrimage route toward Mecca. The journey took pilgrims through some of the most inhospitable regions on earth, so it made sense to have places where they could obtain food and water and could rest. This also served as a route for slaves, but only for small numbers. Therefore, the slave traders seems to have concentrated on specialised classes of humans—eunuchs, dwarfs, concubines, and artisans. Since runaways stood little chance of escape, care had to be taken only to prevent suicides among slaves driven almost insane by heat and exhaustion.



Die Brücke (The Bridge) is a West German war film directed by Austrian filmmaker Bernhard Wicki. Based on an actual event fictionalized by Gregor Dorfmeister in a 1958 novel of the same title, the film tells the story of a small squad of German teenagers who assume the futile task of defending a bridge against the Allies in the closing days of World War II in Europe.


Toward the end of World War II Manfred Gregor Dorfmeister turned 16, so he was inducted into the Volkssturm (People’s Army) in his hometown of Bad Tölz, Bavaria, a resort hamlet about 30 miles south of Munich. On 1 May 1945—the day after Hitler’s suicide and a week before Germany’s surrender—Dorfmeister and four other 16-year-old draftees were ordered to defend a bridge in the forest 12 miles south of town. The next day American tanks spearheading an advance by the U.S. 141st Infantry Regiment (36th Infantry Division) approached the bridge. The Americans were fired upon by the Volkssturm boys. The lead tank was knocked out and a crewman badly, perhaps fatally, wounded. In the ensuing firefight, two of the five German boys were killed while Dorfmeister and the other two survivors of the skirmish fled back to Bad Tölz through the woods. When they arrived in town a few hours later, they were ordered by two Feldjägers (military policemen) to man a machine-gun nest and defend Tölzer Isar Bridge. After the Feldjägers left, Dorfmeister opted to go home, but his two comrades stayed to fight; they were killed before the town fell to the Americans. Thirteen years later, Dorfmeister, writing under the pseudonym of Manfred Gregor, expressed lingering feelings of guilt and grief by writing Die Brücke [The Bridge] (1958), a fictionalized account of the incident that became a bestseller in West Germany and was translated into 15 languages. Producers Hermann Schwerin and Jochen Schwerin secured the film rights and hired Austrian filmmaker Bernhard Wicki to direct a movie version. Wicki and cowriters Michael Mansfeld and Karl-Wilhelm Vivier wrote the adaptation.


Die Brücke was shot in black and white in the fall of 1958 at Florian-Geyer-Brücke [Florian Geyer Bridge] (demolished in 1991 and replaced in 1995) and at other locations in Cham, Bavaria, a town 150 miles northeast of Bad Tölz. None of the three M24 Chaffee light tanks shown in the movie are real. Because the newly formed Bundeswehr (postwar German Army) still did not have any tanks in 1959, Bernhard Wicki had to have wooden models constructed and then placed on top of truck chassis (the truck wheels can clearly been seen under the body of each “tank”).

Plot Summary

In the final days of World War II, U.S. forces close in on a small Bavarian town. In the town’s school, seven boisterous 16-year-old boys are teasing girls, following the receding battle front on a wall map, and reading love passages from Romeo and Juliet in their English class. Walter Forst (Michael Hinz) is deeply resentful of his arrogant father (Hans Elwenspoek), the local Nazi Party Ortsgruppenleiter (local group leader), who has chosen to send his wife away to a safe location and save himself using the excuse of a Volkssturm meeting. Sigi Bernhard (Günther Hoffmann) refuses to let his mother send him out of town to avoid danger. Karl Horber (Karl Michael Balzer) is infatuated with Barbara (Edeltraut Elsner), his father’s young assistant at the hair salon, and is bewildered once he sees the two meeting romantically. Klaus Hager (Volker Lechtenbrink) does not notice that his classmate, Franziska (Cordula Trantow), has feelings for him. Jürgen Borchert (Frank Glaubrecht), whose father was a German soldier who died in battle, struggles to do justice to his father’s legacy. To their surprise, the young men are assigned to a local army platoon, and they are forced to deploy after only a single day in the barracks. As they prepare to depart, the boys’ teacher asks Fröhlich (Heinz Spitzner), the Kompaniechef (company commander)—a former teacher who has just lost his son in action—to keep them out of the war so they won’t be sacrificed pointlessly. The commander assigns the boys to the defense of a local bridge (slated for demolition anyway), under the command of Cpl. Heilmann (Günter Pfitzmann), a veteran Unteroffizier. The young men hunker down as Heilmann leaves to alert the demolition squad, but on his way, Heilmann is confused for a deserter by a German patrol and goes into a panic. Instead of communicating his purpose, he attempts to flee and is shot by the Feldegendarmerie patrolmen. The boys are thus left on their own, on the bridge, without a way to contact their unit. The boys decide to remain in position until receiving official orders to pull back. At dawn an American fighter plane drops a bomb near the bridge, killing Sigi, who had stubbornly refused to take cover as he had endured endless mockery for what his friends contended was cowardice. The death of their friend stuns the boys as they scramble to set up positions against three American tanks and accompanying troops. Walter uses Panzerfausts to obliterate two of the tanks, but soon overwhelmed, he is killed in action. Karl kills a G.I., but is immediately the victim of intense machine-gun fire. Klaus is unable to cope with Karl’s death and sprints forward into American gunfire. Finally, the last American tank and remaining soldiers do retreat, and Hans and Albert, the only boys still alive, realize that they have temporarily stalled the American advance. A German demolition squadron arrives on the scene, and one of the leading officers chastises the two remaining boys, sarcastically referring to them as “fools” and “fine heroes.” Hans goes mad once he sees that his friends have perished for nothing, and he threatens the German officer. Before the officer can shoot him, Albert fires at Hans instead. Hans dies in a last round of machine-gun fire, and Albert goes home, alone. A single sentence appears before the end credits: “This event occurred on April 27, 1945. It was so unimportant that it was never mentioned in any war communique.”


Released in West Germany on 22 October 1959, Die Brücke won five awards at the 1960 German Film Awards, including Outstanding Feature Film. At the Mar del Plata Film Festival in Argentina in March 1960, Die Brücke beat out 25 other films to win Best Film in International Competition and also won the FIPRESCI Prize (tied with Alfonso Corona Blake’s Verano violento). At the 5th Valladolid International Film Festival in Seminci, Spain (April 1960), the film won the Silver Spike (i.e., second place behind François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows). It also received the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the National Board of Review Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (but lost to Marcel Camus’ Black Orpheus). Not surprisingly, reviews, both contemporary and more recent, continue to heap praise on Die Brücke as an exemplary anti-war film. In the words of Bosley Crowther, “Withal, Herr Wicki has constructed an intense and compelling film, notable for its cinematic sharpness and its concentrated emotional drive” (Crowther, 1961).

Reel History Versus Real History

Though based on a real incident as noted earlier, Die Brücke, both the film and the novel it closely follows, concentrates the action to one bridge, adds two more Volkssturm boys, makes them all classmates and friends, provides backstories to particularize them, and greatly embellishes and complicates the action. All of these fictional elements were added on to the original and rather banal incident in order to attain maximum irony and pathos and to underscore the senseless futility of the boys’ deaths in a war that was long lost and almost over. Decades since its original release, the ersatz tanks and ramping up of melodrama may strike more sophisticated audiences as somewhat jejune, but Die Brücke still works because its anti-war message remains imminently valid. A made-for-German-TV remake of Die Brücke, directed by Wolfgang Panzer, appeared in 2008 but is widely regarded as inferior to the original version.

Galatian Celts

The historical reality of Galatian history and culture as it entered into contact with the hellenized world bore little resemblance to the way they were represented by their enemies. A perspective that comes much closer to this reality than those of the propagandist sources reviewed so far is provided by the local historian, Memnon of Herakleia, who describes how the newcomers were brought across to Asia after they had been exerting pressure on the last city of Europe, Byzantion:

(Nikomedes, king of Bithynia) arranged to bring them across on friendly terms. The terms were: the barbarians would always maintain a friendly attitude toward Nikomedes and his descendants, and without the approval of Nikomedes they would ally with none of those who sent embassies to them, but they would be friends with his friends and enemies to those who were not his friends; and also they would ally with the Byzantines, if by chance there were need, and with the Tians and the Herakleotes and the Chalkedonians and the citizens of Kieros and with some other rulers of peoples. On these terms Nikomedes brought the Galatian hordes into Asia. There were seventeen prominent leaders, and of these the most eminent and chief were Leonnorios and Luturios. At first the crossing of the Galatians to Asia was believed to have led to harm for the inhabitants, but the result proved it to have been to their advantage. For, while the (Seleukid) kings were eager to deprive the cities of democracy, the Galatians especially secured it by opposing those attacking it. (MemnonFGrH 434 F11; trans. Burstein 16, modified)

The first implication of this passage is that the Galatians, far from being a tumultuous horde, were disciplined warrior bands with responsible and effective leaders. This impression, which is also implicit in Pausanias’ account of the invasion of Greece, is fully borne out by detailed analysis of the social organization of the successful and aggressive La Tene cultures of Europe. As these Celtic populations grew and expanded in search of new lands, they formed smaller, specialized bands of warriors, to exert military and diplomatic pressure on target areas, thus forming the advance guard of an aggressive colonial enterprise. The process has many parallels with the formation of new and aggressive Gothic and Germanic groupings on the north frontier of the Roman Empire in the third and fourth centuries AD, and their creation of `barbarian’ kingdoms in the former Roman provinces (Strobel 1996). The actual name Galatai, which seems to derive from a Celtic root which denoted military capacity, was adopted by the Celts themselves to describe these warrior groups (Schmidt 1994). They also provided a formidable resource of fighting men for anyone in search of military reinforcement. Celtic mercenaries had been employed in the Classical world since the early fourth century. Thus in reality their presence was an opportunity, rather than a threat, for the Hellenistic monarchies.

As Memnon reveals, Nikomedes struck a treaty of alliance with the Galatians. The advantages for the king were those which the passage expounds: a fighting force capable of protecting the Greek cities of northern Asia Minor and his own kingdom from the major power in Asia Minor, the Seleukids. The Galatian side of the bargain, which was doubtless spelled out in the original treaty, becomes clear in the narrative which follows: they took a major share of the war booty, but above all they obtained their primary objective, land for settlement in the central areas of Asia Minor which lay south-east of Bithynia and also formed a buffer against Seleukid territories, namely the new Galatia. The northern parts of central Anatolia in the early third century, after the decline of the Phrygians, had no natural overlords, and contained land of excellent agricultural potential, whose inhabitants could easily be subjected to new masters (Strobel 1996). As its subsequent history showed, the region offered an ideal environment for the creation of a new Celtic state. The Galatians maintained their distinctive cultural and political groupings in central Anatolia for 250 years, before they were incorporated into a Roman province, which even then retained many distinctive marks of Galatian cultural identity. A form of the Celtic language was spoken in the region until the sixth century AD (Mitchell 1993: I. 42-58).

Despite the attempt by Nikomedes to reserve Galatian military assistance for himself, in practice they at once played a significant role in the military calculations of all the Hellenistic monarchies. Galatians served as mercenaries in virtually every major campaign from the 270s until the battle of Actium in 31 (Launey 1949-50). According to Livy, Nikomedes of Bithynia had initially introduced 10,000 Galatian warriors to Asia Minor. The rulers who had made the greatest capital from having defeated them were the first to enlist Galatian contingents to their forces. Antigonos Gonatas, after his victory at Lysimacheia, hired 9000 Galatians to help suppress his Macedonian rival Antipater Etesias. The Seleukid Antiochos Hierax formed an alliance with the Galatians in his rebellious war against his brother Seleukos II, whom he defeated at a battle near Ankyra. The location of the battle is clear evidence for the significance of the Galatian role in this war. Ptolemy II hired a contingent of 4000 Gauls to reinforce his control of Alexandria and the Delta, and grave monuments of Galatian warriors are a feature of the epigraphic record of Egypt. The eastern Anatolian dynasties of Ariobarzanes I in Cappadocia and Mithradates II in the Pontic region used the help of Galatian contingents to repel a Ptolemaic naval incursion into the Black Sea. In 218 BC, five years after the end of the long struggle with the Galatians and Seleukids for control of Lydia and Mysia, Attalos I settled a new Galatian tribe, the Aigosages, in the neighbourhood of Abydos on the Hellespont, doubtless to strengthen his hand in the contest for control of north-west Asia Minor with the Bithynian king Prusias I. Prusias reacted with a pre-emptive strike by destroying the Galatian force a year later (Polyb. 5.77-8, 5.111).

Thus the military activities of the Galatians should only exceptionally be explained as wars or raids undertaken at their own initiative. In the majority of these actions they were serving as major, but subordinate, players in the contests of Hellenistic kings for control of Anatolia (Strobel 1991). The victories of Antigonos Gonatas, Antiochos I, Attalos I and Prusias I demonstrated clearly that they could be decisively defeated by large, well-organized Hellenistic armies, and it would probably have been within the capacity of any of the kings to drive the Galatians definitively from their new settlements and bring an end to the Celtic occupation in Asia Minor, had they chosen to do so. However, they were too useful and important as a source of military manpower for this step to be contemplated, and periodic victories over the Galatians were too important a source of prestige to be neglected.

The Roman defeat of Antiochos III at the battle of Magnesia in 190, and the subsequent treaty of Apameia, which excluded the Seleukids from Anatolia north of the Tauros, and reinforced the authority of the Attalids as the main force in the region, fundamentally redefined power relationships in Asia Minor. Rome was now potentially or actually the strongest player in regional politics, and its capacity for action was underlined immediately after Magnesia by the expedition of Manlius Vulso in 189, who made his way through former Seleukid territory in Karia, Pisidia and Phrygia and ended his campaign with two successful battles against the Galatians in their own territory. The historical tradition about this war, principally derived from a long account in Livy, represents the Galatians as the main target of Manlius’ expedition. The two battles were described as major Roman victories over a deadly foe, although the details suggest that Galatian forces were no match for the legions opposed to them, and the outcome can never have been in any doubt. This tradition doubtless began with Manlius himself, who sought to gain maximum prestige and recognition for having destroyed another source of `Gallic terror’. However, this Roman triumph over the Galatians was in fact exploited for propaganda reasons just as surely as the earlier victories of Hellenistic kings had been. Moreover, a close look at the details of the campaign has shown that its real aim was not to extirpate the Galatians, but to harry and put pressure on remaining Seleukid forces in Asia Minor, as Roman negotiators thrashed out the uncompromising terms of the treaty of Apameia (Grainger 1995b).

In fact at least until the middle of the second century the Galatians remained what they had been before, a significant but subordinate player in the power struggles of the region. Although they clearly fell within the Pergamene sphere of influence and authority, they remained an independent force. They formed alliances with the kings of Bithynia and of the Pontic region, in their continuing wars with the Attalids. There are hints that this was not to the dislike of the Romans who preferred not to intervene in these regional wars and were happy that the competing forces balanced one another. Equilibrium was preserved until the next major alignment of political forces was initiated by the creation of the Roman province of Asia out of the former Pergamene kingdom after 133, and the steady growth of the power in the Pontic region under Mithradates V and Rome’s great enemy, Mithradates VI Eupator.

Spain: Tradition and Enlightenment II

Manuel Godoy

The apparent indifference of many of the top people of Spain to the arts and sciences is reflected in the scant production of much that was memorable. Valencia’s university, long strong in science, benefited from Philip V’s temporary closure of Catalan universities. The medical research of Andres Piquer added to Valencia’s renown and led to improvement in Spanish medical practice. The best known literary figure was a Benedictine professor in Galicia, Padre Benito Feijoo (1676-1764), who wrote critical works about the shortcomings of his countrymen. In music, the Catalan composer Antonio Soler (1729-1783) worked with Domenico Scarlatti in Madrid and headed the choir at the Escorial, where the Bourbons established new royal apartments. The Bourbons also brought opera to Spain, and Spanish composers wrote operas. Architecture had a late Baroque fling with a style named after the brothers Churiguerra, who did the elegant Plaza Mayor of Salamanca. It soon settled into the respectable classicism of the era, as evidenced by the Royal Palace of Madrid. Carlos III imported his chief painters, but he also gave work to a rising Spanish painter, Francisco de Goya, who would prove to be one of the great artists of all time. Under Carlos, Goya began for the royal tapestry factory the Bourbons established in Madrid a series of cartoons that depict scenes of Spanish popular life. The tapestries graced royal apartments; Goya’s cartoons are now in Madrid’s Prado Museum. Commissions from the king introduced Goya to high society, and he painted splendid portraits of the rich, titled, and famous, as well as of the royal family, and circulated in their company.

Beneath a colorful veneer the clash of Enlightenment and Church simmered and took its most dramatic turn with the expulsion and suppression of the Jesuits. In control of secondary education, the Jesuits remained current with developments in philosophy and science but kept them in a religious framework. The Jesuits’ successes earned them the hostility of rival Catholic religious orders and people who believed that Jesuits compromised morality with worldliness. The Jesuits tended to smear any Catholic opponent, including regalists, as “Jansenists.” The papacy had condemned Jansenism, derived from the austere theology of Cornelius Jansen, a seventeenth-century Flemish bishop, and by mideighteenth century, it had become largely confused in politics.

The Jesuits also dominated the Inquisition, which many enlightened ministers found an embarrassment, and they opposed the spread into Spain of freemasonry, which many enlightened ministers found attractive. Freemasonry on the European continent had a decidedly political dimension. In Masonic lodges, differences of creed and social class were suspended, and members talked of the brotherhood of mankind. While Freemasons admitted a Supreme Being, they accepted the validity of many religions. The papacy lost no time in condemning freemasonry for Deism (a belief in God but no single church), immorality, and intent to subvert the true Catholic faith. Among secular rulers, reaction to freemasonry was mixed. While instinctively suspicious of secret societies, many thought freemasonry to be a viable alternative to the power of organized religion as well as a clearinghouse for fresh ideas. In Madrid, the count of Aranda was grand master of the Masonic lodge.

The downfall of the Jesuits began in neighboring Portugal, where the enlightened chief minister, the marquis of Pombal, had them expelled in 1759. In France the Jesuits’ enemies had them expelled in 1764. In Madrid, the Jesuits were made scapegoats for the Esquilache riots of 1766, and the count of Aranda proposed that they be expelled from Spain, too. Aranda had traveled widely, studied military tactics in Prussia, fought in Italy, and met the famous Voltaire, who detested the Jesuits. Aranda arranged an investigation of the Jesuits, which a panel of bishops and councillors hostile to them carried out. As a result, Carlos expelled the Jesuits from Spain in 1767. Aranda then joined with the Bourbon courts of France and the Two Sicilies to pressure the pope to suppress the Jesuit order entirely, which he did in 1773.

Without its Jesuits, the Inquisition investigated the bishops who recommended their expulsion but failed to find sufficient evidence. They also went after Aranda and his colleagues until Carlos III stopped them. Yet he and Aranda both knew that the Inquisition remained popular among ordinary Spaniards and would not abolish it. The days of burning heretics and torture waned as even inquisitors yielded to Enlightenment ideas. Still, a woman was burned as a witch in Seville in 1787, though she was strangled before the fire was lit. The most sensational case involved Pablo Olavide, royal. intendant of the province of Seville. Peruvian born, Clavicle, like Aranda, had met Voltaire and knew the intellectual life of the Parisian salons. In Seville he held salons to discuss new ideas and the arts in his home, which he hung with contemporary French paintings. At the same time, he made vigorous efforts to improve provincial agriculture, which aroused opposition from many landlords, including churchmen. His enemies had him hauled before the Inquisition for the possession of pornographic pictures and forbidden books, for unorthodox ideas, and for interfering with the Church in the management of its lands. The number of witnesses ready to testify against Olavide convinced even the king to let the trial proceed. It was held behind closed doors and resulted in his conviction. Humiliated, forced to wear the sanbenito and dunce cap, Olavide protested that he had not lost his Catholic faith. He was stripped of his offices and confined to a monastery for reeducation. He escaped to France and was lionized by the intellectual set. Not until 1798 was he allowed, at age seventy-three, to return to Spain.

The cases of Olavide and several other intellectuals convicted by the Inquisition chilled but did not stop the spread of the Enlightenment among its small Spanish following. Not only public servants and some of the better educated clergy but also many members of the prosperous middle class continued to seek the latest ideas in the press and periodicals, although they remained wary. Even though religious censorship prevented the publication of Denis Diderot’s French Encyclopedia, lesser encyclopedias that emphasized science and technology and avoided criticism of religion and the Church did appear. However, the prosperity that permitted a few to keep up with new ideas and developments did not extend to the many, whose incomes failed to keep pace with inflation. Envious of the few whose lives seemed ever more dedicated to private fulfillment and pleasure, the many clung to Spain’s old traditions and considered the new ideas disturbing, foreign, atheistic, and potentially dangerous to the God-given order of society.

However disturbing some of their ideas and reforms seemed to many, Carlos and his ministers persisted in what they believed best for Spain. After Aranda went to Paris as ambassador, the counts of Campomanes and Floridablanca and Asturian legal expert Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos emerged as the ministers with the greatest influence over policy. Floridablanca provides a good example of the kind of men who served the eighteenth-century Bourbon kings. Born Jose Monino to a hidalgo family of Murcia, he studied law at Salamanca, proved a successful lawyer, and was brought into government by Esquilache. Jovellanos was arguably the most brilliant of Carlos’s ministers, with the broadest range of knowledge. Though his father wanted him to be a priest, he pursued the study of law with the support of his uncle, a duke. He wrote essays, poetry, dramas, and histories and was active in the royal academies of language and history, founded by the Bourbons to promote scholarship.

Carlos III remained interested in foreign policy and kept Spain in the company of the great powers when he joined France in 1778 against Great Britain during the War of American Independence. In Paris, Aranda met Benjamin Franklin and John Jay and favored the American cause, though he acknowledged the differences between Spain and the infant republic over Florida and the Mississippi Valley. Unlike Louis XVI of France, Carlos did not recognize or directly ally with the new United States, because of territorial issues and because he did not wish to encourage his own American colonies to seek independence. In Spain there was talk that Spanish America should be divided into three independent kingdoms, each under a younger son of the king, but the most obvious candidates all died young.

In the war the Spanish army and navy failed to recover Gibraltar, despite a bitter siege. The Spaniards did combine with the French to take Minorca, and in the Atlantic the Spanish and French fleets joined to threaten England with invasion, which prevented the English from sending General Charles Cornwallis needed reinforcements and led to his surrender in 1781 at Yorktown. The Spanish navy also found time to bombard Algiers and force its corsairs to forgo further raiding of Spanish commerce and coasts. The Spanish governor of New Orleans defeated the British in the Mississippi Valley, then took Mobile, and proceeded to reconquer Florida. The 1783 Peace of Paris, which recognized the independence of the United States, conceded Florida and Minorca to Spain, although Britain kept Gibraltar. Carlos earlier recovered Uruguay from Portugal but failed to get the Falkland Islands back. Disputes between Spain and the United States over Florida and the Mississippi, valley remained unsettled, despite negotiations in 1785-1786 between Spain’s emissary, Diego de Gardoqui, and John Jay, appointed by Congress to deal with him.

Under Carlos III Spain’s overseas empire reached its greatest extent. In distant Alta, California, Franciscan friars established missions as far north as San Francisco, where a statue of Carlos III, a recent gift from Spain, graces the Embarcadero. To defend California the Spaniards had fewer than 200 soldiers, scattered among the presidios of San Diego, Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Francisco and doing sentry duty at the missions. Unruly California Indians were their chief concern. Only three cannons defended the Golden Gate, although both Great Britain and Russia had interests in the Pacific that potentially menaced California and New Spain.

Aged seventy-two, Carlos III died in December 1788. To Spaniards, his reign in retrospect seemed a second golden age, at least in international prestige, prosperity, and domestic tranquility, if not in literature and the arts. While the reign of his son, Carlos IV, began with good reason for hope, it would end in national calamity and the terrible war that gave the world the word guerrilla.

Carlos IV kept his father’s principal ministers of state, with Floridablanca as chief. Yet during the first year of his reign, revolution erupted in France and threatened the throne of his Bourbon cousin, Louis XVI. News of developments in France caused great stir in Spain and alarmed Floridablanca. Though he favored reform, it was reform from the top directed by an absolute sovereign, not reform promoted by an unruly constitutional legislature. Alarmed by the irreligion of many French revolutionary leaders, the Spanish Church shared Floridablanca’s fears. The French Civil Constitution of the Clergy of 1790 caused many French clergymen to seek refuge in Spain, where they spread horror stories about the revolution. Floridablanca put the Inquisition to the vain task of keeping news of French developments from Spain. Enemies of enlightened reform in Spain linked reformist ideas with revolution, and leading ministers began to waffle. Floridablanca censored new ideas in Spanish periodicals. Campomanes refused to support a minister under attack from the Inquisition, and Jovellanos, who defended the minister, was ordered home to Asturias.

In February 1792, Carlos IV replaced Floridablanca with Aranda, whose connections in Paris seemed helpful to Louis XVI. Aranda restructured Spain’s government around the Council of State, which unfortunately put more power into the hands of the weak-willed king and allowed less independence to ministers. Aranda pursued a friendly policy toward France until events overwhelmed him. In September 1792, France became a republic and put Louis XVI on trial. War had broken out between France and a coalition headed by Austria and Prussia. Carlos IV intervened on behalf of Louis XVI, who was guillotined in January 1793. French propaganda aimed at Spain called for the Cortes to arise, overthrow the Bourbon dynasty, and end the Inquisition. In Spain the most effective response came from the pulpit. Inspired by their priests, most Spaniards saw the brewing conflict as a struggle on behalf of God, fatherland, and king, against a nation of regicides leagued to the devil. Even enlightened Spaniards like Jovellanos were appalled by the spectacle of the Reign of Terror in France. Lingering sympathy for the ideals of the French revolution was reduced to university students, whom the Inquisition hounded.

In March 1793, France declared war on Spain. Spanish troops invaded Languedoc, while French troops occupied two enclaves in the Pyrenees. In 1794 the death of Spanish General Antonio Ricardos and the appearance of more aggressive French commanders led to a French invasion of Catalonia. While French officers spread revolutionary propaganda, French soldiers plundered the countryside and aggravated the hatred already incited by the clergy. French promises of Catalan independence fell on deaf ears. The French invasion of Navarre and the Basque Country met similar popular resistance.

The cost of war was stiff, and in early 1794 Aranda proposed that Spain seek peace. By then Aranda had been supplanted as chief minister by Manuel de Godoy, newly made duke of Alcudia. A handsome, twenty-five-year-old guards officer of rough charm, from a poor but proud hidalgo family of Extremadura, Godoy had become the favorite of the queen, Maria Luisa of Parma, sixteen years his senior. They met when she was still princess of Asturias, her looks not yet faded, and became constant companions and perhaps lovers. The king accepted and genuinely liked Godoy, which caused people to call him “the royal cuckold.” In Godoy’s explanation, Carlos IV and Maria Luisa knew that he was utterly loyal to them. They promoted him to ever higher posts and gradually demoted or eliminated the ministers who had served Carlos III. When Carlos IV rejected Aranda’s proposed peace with France and dismissed him, an uproar followed. Almost everybody-nobles, intellectuals, clergymen, and commoners-clamored for Godoy’s removal.

Peace did not come until the regicide government in Paris fell. By the Treaty of Basel made with the new French government in July 1795, Spain recovered the Pyrenean regions lost but ceded Santo Domingo on Hispaniola, where France already possessed what is today’s Haiti. Carlos bestowed on Godoy the title prince of the Peace and elevated him above all other grandees of Spain. In October, Spain signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo with the United States, represented by minister-extraordinary Thomas Pinckney, that settled differences over Florida and the Mississippi Valley. Spanish Florida’s border was adjusted roughly along the line of the thirty-first parallel. Spain accepted the Mississippi as the western boundary of the United States and permitted Americans free navigation through New Orleans.

The restoration of peace stifled the opposition to Godoy, who now opened negotiations with the French for an alliance. Spain had too many outstanding differences with Great Britain and feared for the future of Bourbon Parma when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded northern Italy. In August 1796, Spain and the French Republic became allies through the Treaty of San Idlefonso. Spain declared war on Britain, for which the price proved to be not o my higher taxes but a British blockade of Spanish commerce. In February 1797, off Cape St. Vincent, the Spanish battle fleet was beaten by a British squadron and the heroics of its Rear Admiral, Horatio Nelson. The English captured Trinidad and in 1798 again seized Minorca. The combined fleets of Spain and France could not match Britain’s, and Spain’s century-long effort to recover the Spanish-American market for Spanish shipping and manufactures collapsed. Under pressure, Carlos IV allowed his colonists to trade legally with neutrals, which benefited the merchant marine of the United States. Great Britain came to dominate the Spanish-American market and encouraged the tendencies of Spain’s colonies to seek independence.

Finding Spain pressed by war and its costs, Godoy sought the assistance of experienced ministers who had served Carlos III, including Jovellanos and his associate Mariano Luis de Urquijo. Jovellanos had refined his economic theories by reading Adam Smith and the French physiocrats, who favored the combination of free enterprise and private property. Smith emphasized commerce and manufacture, whereas the physiocrats held that all wealth came from the soil. Jovellanos drafted a detailed proposal for agrarian reform in Spain that became gospel for future reformers and anathema to the old landowning class. He believed that the system of entail, legitimized in the late Middle Ages, had resulted in the indifferent management of land, since the great clerical and noble landowners ran no risk of losing their estates, however encumbered they became with debt. Jovellanos argued that independent farmers with smaller estates, operating in a free market with its risks and profits, would prove more productive, and all Spain would benefit. Despite stubborn opposition, the needs of war forced the implementation of some of Jovellanos’s ideas to pay off government bonds. The crown appropriated some 10 percent of the Church’s property, sold it to private investors, and compensated the Church with low-paying annuities.

When Godoy fell victim to French intrigue and left court, Jovellanos and Urquijo carried on but were soon overwhelmed by religious issues thought dormant. When the French occupied Rome, in a gesture of charity Carlos IV allowed exiled Spanish Jesuits to return on an individual basis to Spain. They returned with a vengeance, leagued with the Inquisition, and pursued their enemies. They reached the ear of Carlos, who caved in to their demands. In 1798, he forced Jovellanos to resign and retire to Asturias. To placate Pope Pius VII, who negotiated with Napoleon Bonaparte a concordat that restored harmony between France and Rome, Carlos sacrificed Urquijo. Urquijo went to jail, and Jovellanos was sent to prison on Majorca. Rome and the Spanish Church had the upper hand over regalists and reformers.

Carlos recalled Godoy to power. Although his youthful instincts favored reform, Godoy cannily steered a cautious course between reformers and traditionalists. He won a bit of military glory in the brief War of the Oranges (1800-1801) against Portugal, when Carlos made him generalisimo of Spain’s army and began to see himself as Spain’s Napoleon. The war netted Spain the border district of Olivenza, although Carlos refused to annex Portugal from his son-in-law, the prince-regent, as Napoleon urged him to do.

In 1800 concern for another son-in-law, the duke of Parma, caused Carlos to cede Louisiana back to France. Bonaparte had annexed Parma to France but promised to establish an Italian kingdom of Etruria for the duke. Although Bonaparte agreed not to surrender Louisiana to a third party, in 1803 he sold it for hard cash to President Thomas Jefferson of the United States.

In March 1802, Spain and France made peace with Great Britain at Amiens. Spain recovered Minorca but not Trinidad. Peace did not last, and Spain’s renewal of war in December 1804 put an end to a brief recovery of prosperity and resumption of trade with Spanish America. In war, all the conflicting currents that developed during the eighteenth century would come to a violent head.