It must have been about the year 230 B.C. that Euthydemus, the Magnesian, murdered Diodotus and usurped his throne. Who Euthydemus was is quite unknown; but no doubt a kingdom with the romantic history of Bactria appealed to the Greek imagination, and attracted many “soldiers of fortune” ready to make a bid for success in the new world which had just been thrown open to them.

The treachery of Euthydemus was palliated, if not justified, by its success. Under him and his successors Bactria not only magnificently vindicated her rights to an independent existence, but launched upon a career of conquest and expansion which paralyzed her rivals, and was destined to spread Hellenic influence more surely and permanently than had been done by the great Macedonian himself. So remarkable is the career of Euthydemus, that later historians forget the existence of Diodotus. “The house of Euthydemus,” says Strabo, “was the first to establish Bactrian independence.” It is possible, indeed, that the weak and vacillating policy of Diodotus particularly towards Bactria’s national and well-hated rival, Parthia, was to a large degree responsible for his murder, which could hardly have taken place without the connivance of at least the great Iranian nobles.

Euthydemus had some years of uneventful prosperity in which to consolidate the empire he had seized before he was challenged to vindicate his right by the ordeal of war. In 223 B.C. Antiochus III., second son of Seleucus Callinicus, succeeded to the throne of Syria. Antiochus has some right to the title of “The Great,” which he assumed. He is one of the few Syrian monarchs for whom we can feel any real respect, combining as he did the personal valour which had become a tradition among the successors of Alexander’s generals with a military talent and a reluctance to waste the resources of his kingdom in interminable petty campaigns, which is only too rare in his predecessors.

It was only in reply to a direct challenge from Parthia that Antiochus interfered at all in what was taking place in the east of his dominions. Artabanus I. (who succeeded Tiridates I. about 214 B.C.), pursuing the policy of aggression which under his predecessors had succeeded so admirably, took advantage of the rebellion of a satrap named Achaeus to advance and occupy Media. This was open defiance, and Antiochus could not ignore it if he would. An arduous campaign followed. Antiochus did not make the mistake of underrating his foe, and Justin even puts his forces at 100,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry. However, the Parthians merely fell back farther and farther into their mountain fastnesses, and at length the dogged courage of Artabanus found its own reward.

The independence for which Parthia had fought so well and so persistently was at last recognized, and Antiochus even condescended to form an alliance with his gallant antagonist, though lesser Media was restored to Syria. Perhaps, however, it was Artabanus who suggested to Antiochus the invasion of the rival State of Bactria, and he may even have lent him troops or promised co-operation. He may have pointed out to Antiochus what was fast becoming apparent, that Bactria, under the peaceful rule of Euthydemus, with its great natural resources, and the advantage of an enterprising Greek to direct its fortunes, was fast becoming a menace to Parthia and Syria alike. Besides, it would be a triumph of diplomacy if Parthia could divert the forces of so dreaded a neighbour against her cherished rival. Whichever way the fortunes of war might veer, Parthia must be the gainer. If Antiochus were successful, the fidelity and assistance of Artabanus might be rewarded by the control of Bactria, and, at the least, Bactrian aggression would be checked for ever. On the other hand, if the Syrian forces were defeated, anarchy would no doubt soon reign once more in Syria, and Parthia would find her opportunity for further expansion once again. Antiochus had an excuse at hand for yielding to the arguments of Artabanus, if indeed we are right in supposing the Syrian monarch to have been influenced in his action by his new ally. Bactria had incurred the enmity of the Seleucids in the reign of the last monarch; the weak and short-sighted policy of Diodotus II. had enabled Parthia to establish her independence, as we have seen, unmolested; and, above all, the Syrian Empire, rich though it was, had been almost exhausted by years of suicidal war and misgovernment, and could ill afford the loss of the most fertile of her provinces, “the glory of Iran,” as it was popularly called. To regain the allegiance of Bactria was a natural ambition.

The expedition against Bactria must have started in the year 209 B.C., perhaps in the early spring. Antiochus chose to attack the country by approaching from the south and striking at the capital.

The campaign has been described by Polybius in the concise vivid style which gives the reader so ready an impression of military operations. Unfortunately, the chapter is an isolated fragment only, and breaks off after a description of the battle with which the campaign opened, leaving all account of the subsequent operations a blank. Of the invasion, however, the ravages of time have spared us a minute account. Antiochus marched along the southern borders of the Arius, the river which rises in the Hindu-Kush, and loses itself, like so many rivers in that region, in the shifting sands and fertile patches just beyond the Tejend Oasis. The invader had of necessity to choose his route in a march upon Bactria, if he wished to avoid the hardships and perils of the Bactrian wastes.

He learnt that the ford6 by which he intended to cross into the enemy’s territory was held in force by the famous Bactrian cavalry, and to attempt to force a passage in the face of these was to court disaster. Knowing, however, that it was a Bactrian custom to withdraw their main army at night, leaving a thin screen of pickets to hold the positions occupied, Antiochus determined on a bold bid for success. Leaving his infantry behind, he advanced swiftly and suddenly with a picked body of cavalry, and attacked, probably at dawn, so unexpectedly, that he carried the passage almost unopposed, driving the pickets back upon the main body. A fierce encounter now took place between the picked horsemen of Iran and Syria. Antiochus, with the recklessness characteristic of the successors of Alexander and his generals, led the charge, and after a hand-to-hand combat, in which he received a sabre-cut in the mouth and lost several teeth, he had the satisfaction of routing the enemy completely. The main Syrian army now came up and crossed the river. Euthydemus appears not to have risked a general engagement, but to have fallen back on his almost impregnable capital. Of the details of the siege we know nothing, but it may be that it is to this blockade that Polybius refers when he says that the “siege of Bactria” was one of the great sieges of history, and a common-place for poet and rhetorician. Time wore on, and still the “City of the Horse” held out. A long absence from home was unsafe for Antiochus, for the Syrian Empire might at any moment break out into one of those incessant rebellions which were the bane of the Seleucid Empire. Both sides, perhaps, were not unready for a compromise, and this was brought about by the good offices of a certain Teleas, a fellow-countryman of Euthydemus, and hence especially suitable for the task. On behalf of the Bactrian prince, he pointed out that it was illogical to cast upon him the blame accruing from the policy of Diodotus II. in forming an alliance with Parthia. In fact, Euthydemus was the enemy of Diodotus, and had merited the gratitude of Antiochus in destroying the “children of those who first rebelled.” A still more cogent argument sufficed to convince the king. The Scythian hordes were on the move, and threatening the borders of the Jaxartes like a storm-cloud. Bactria was the outpost of Hellenic civilization, and on its integrity depended the safety of the Syrian empire; and Euthydemus pointed out that to weaken Bactria would be a fatal step for the cause of Hellas. “Greece would admittedly lapse into barbarism.”

This is the first mention we have of the aggressive attitude of the tribes beyond the Jaxartes; but the problem was evidently not a new one to Euthydemus or to Antiochus. The Seleucid monarch came to the conclusion that it was to his interest to preserve the integrity of this great frontier state, which guarded the roads from India and the north. The terms on which peace was concluded must have caused intense chagrin to the Parthian allies of Antiochus.

An alliance, offensive and defensive, was concluded between the royal houses of Bactria and Syria: this, of course, included the recognition of the claim by Euthydemus to the royal title, which was perhaps granted on condition that he should guard the Scythian frontier (for it was chiefly on this ground that the claim had been put forward); the alliance, moreover, was to be sealed by the betrothal of the young daughter of Antiochus to Demetrius, the gallant prince who had caught the attention of the Seleucid whilst conducting negotiations on behalf of his father in the Syrian camp. Euthydemus may have urged on Antiochus the propriety of recovering that old appanage of Bactria, the satrapy of Paropamisus. The strategic value of the kingdom of Kabul was beyond question; it had been recognized by Alexander, who had placed it in the hands of Oxyartes, who, as we have already seen, probably continued to administer it till, by the weakness or negligence of Seleucus Nicator, it passed back to the hands of Chandragupta Maurya. It was probably in this domain that Antiochus found the Indian princeling Sophagasenas or Subhagasena reigning; who the latter was is quite uncertain. It was conjectured at one time that the name Subhagasena is a title of Jalauka, a son of the great Asoka, who had died in 231 B.C.; but Jalauka himself is a misty personality, of whom we know little besides the vague, though voluminous, stories of Kashmir tradition. Euthydemus, on behalf of whom the expedition was mainly undertaken, was under the obligation by the terms of the treaty to provide the means for its accomplishment. For a third time (the last for many centuries) the tramp of armies from the far west was heard down the long winding defiles of the historic Khyber.

But the expedition does not appear to have been carried out with the thoroughness which Euthydemus would have liked. It was little more than a demonstration in force. Subhagasena appears to have yielded very easily, and consented to the payment of a considerable indemnity and the surrender of elephants. Antiochus had already been overlong absent from Syria, and he hastened home by the Kandahar road, through Arachosia and Carmania. Androsthenes of Cyzicus was left behind to receive the sum owing to the Syrian coffers, and to follow with it later.

Euthydemus figures on several fine coins which have been recovered; he appears on them as a man in the prime of life, with a heavy stern face. The wide area over which his coins are found points to a considerable extension of the Bactrian domains. An attempt was probably made in his life-time to annex those territories which had been ceded to Chandragupta by Seleucus Nicator, and with the break-up of the Maurya kingdom on the death of Asoka this was quite feasible. Doubtless Demetrius took a prominent part in leading his father’s armies, and he may have been associated with him in ruling in the now extensive dominions of Bactria, though it is probably a mistake to attribute the Indian expedition and the foundation of Euthydemia to this reign. It is, of course, unsafe to draw inferences too certainly from coins, but the coins of Euthydemus have been discovered, not only in Bactria and Sogdiana, but in Paropamisus (which may have been put under the suzerainty of Bactria by Antiochus), Arachosia, Drangiana, Margiana, and Aria.

Euthydemus may well have looked back upon his career with pride. By sheer ability he had vindicated his right to the crown he had so violently wrested away. The ablest of the Seleucids had come to punish him as a revolting vassal; before he left, the Bactrian, by his dogged valour, had won that monarch’s respect and friendship. He was lord of a great, fertile, and important realm; his son had already shown promise as a warrior and statesman; and the latter’s wedding with a princess of the proudest of the Hellenic families, whose royal ancestor, the great “Seleucus the Conqueror,” second only to Alexander himself, claimed the God Apollo as his father, was a guarantee of lasting peace and friendship with Syria. The hated Parthians were paralyzed for the time by their rival’s success, and Bactria must have been growing rich in her position at the confluence of the world’s trade routes. Ever since the day when, according to the oft-repeated story, Bindusara sent to request a “supply of wine and a sophist” from his Syrian contemporary, and Chandragupta sent presents of drugs to his father-in-law, the growth of luxury in the Greek world, and the establishment of new cities of the type of Alexandria, must have created a great demand for Indian goods. A further proof of the close ties binding India and the West is found in the fact that, twice at least, Greek ambassadors were in residence at the court of the Mauryas, Megasthenes at the court of Chandragupta, and Deimachus at that of Bindusara.

Frequent as must have been the caravans from Kabul to Bactria, others doubtless arrived from the distant Seres of the north-east, for the then novel commodity of silk was in great demand in the luxurious towns of the new and cosmopolitan Hellenic age, of which Alexandria is so typical. The forum of Bactria must have resembled that of Sagala in Menander’s days, when traders of every creed and tongue crowded the bazaars, and the innumerable shops were loaded with the most heterogeneous articles—muslin and silk, sweetstuffs, spices, drugs, metal work in brass and silver, and jewels of all kinds.25 Small wonder that Euthydemus is regarded as the founder of Bactria. Only one storm-cloud marred the otherwise shining prospect, and that was as yet low down on the distant horizon. The barbarians beyond the Jaxartes were still moving uneasily. About the year 190 B.C. the long and eventful reign of Euthydemus came to an end, and the kingdom passed to a worthy successor in Demetrius. Whether Demetrius had already begun his eastern conquests we do not know, but at some period of his reign Bactria reached the climax of her prosperity. The ancient citadel of the Iranians was the capital of a mighty Empire, as the words of Strabo testify: “The Greeks who occasioned the revolt (i.e., Euthydemus and his family), owing to the fertility and advantages of Bactria, became masters of Ariana and India…. These conquests were achieved partly by Menander and partly by Demetrius, son of Euthydemus…. They overran not only Pattalene, but the kingdoms of Saraostos and Sigerdis, which constitute the remainder of the coast.…They extended their empire as far as the Seres and Phrynoi.” Their object, obviously, was to reach the sea for trading purposes; a similar object led them to secure the highroad into China.

The evidence of the coins of Euthydemus (vide ante) seems to point to the occupation of Aria by that king. Conquests east of Kabul, on the other hand, appear from Strabo’s words to have been the work of Demetrius, probably after his father’s death, though this is not certain. Strabo speaks very vaguely of the extent of the dominions of Demetrius. By Pattalene he appears to mean the kingdom of Sind, the country which was first taken from Musicanus by Alexander the Great. On the west of the Indus, all the country from the Cophen to the mountains appears to have thus belonged to Bactria; east of the Indus, after the annexation of the kingdom of the Delta (Pattalene), it was not a great step to proceed to subdue the neighbouring kingdom of Kathiawar or Surashtra (the Greek Saraostos). What quite is indicated by the “kingdom of Sigerdis” it appears to be impossible to determine. It may have been some minute “kingdom” (i.e., the domain of some petty raja) between Pattala and Surashtra.

Besides these kingdoms on the coast, we have evidence to confirm the opinion that a considerable portion of the Panjab fell into the hands of Demetrius as well. It is usual to ascribe to him the foundation of the town of Euthydemia, which he named after his father, according to a not uncommon practice. Euthydemia became the capital of the Bactrian kingdom east of the Indus, and under its Indian name, Sagala, grew to be a flourishing city of great wealth and magnitude. The question of the identity of Sagala (or Sakala) is a matter of dispute. It is now held that it is not to be confused with the “Sangala” razed to the ground by Alexander; and modern authorities identify it with either Shorkot, near the modern Jhang, not far from the confluence of the Acesines and Hydraotes, or Sialkot, further north, near Lahore, and not far from the head waters of the Acesines. Later on we shall see that Menander was born “near Alexandria,” “200 leagues from Sagala,” and this would certainly point to Sialkot rather than Shorkot, if “Alexandria” is the town at the “junction of the Acesines and Indus” mentioned by Arrian (Anab., VI. 5). It is difficult to believe that the Bactrians had any permanent hold on the country up to the Chinese borderland. Perhaps all that Strabo means is that all the territory up to the great emporium on the extreme west of Serike—i.e., Tashkurghan in Sarikol, was under Bactrian influence, and, perhaps for commercial reasons, was protected by their troops from the raids of Sakas and other nomadic marauders.

The coins of Demetrius illustrate the history of his reign in an interesting manner. Like his father, he seems to have adopted the god Hercules as his patron deity, and Hercules figures upon the coins of Euthydemus and Demetrius, very much as the thundering Zeus figures on those of the Diodoti, or the Dioscuri on the coinage of Demetrius’s antagonist and successor, the pro-Syrian Eucratides. These coins were doubtless issued for circulation in Bactria proper, like the famous and striking specimen which Gardner reproduces, on which a figure, almost certainly to be identified as the Bactrian Anahid, appears, clad as she is described in the Zend-Avesta.

For use in his domains beyond the Paropamisus, Demetrius issued a series of coins of a more suitable character, remarkable alike for their workmanship and as representing the earliest attempt at that amalgamation of Greek technique and Indian form, which is one of the most striking features of the coinage of the Indo-Bactrian dynasties. To this series we may safely assign the silver coins which represent the King as an Indian raja, wearing an elephant helmet, and those bearing an elephant’s head; these coins are, it must be observed, purely Greek in standard and pattern, and are probably earlier than the series of square coins, where an attempt at compromise between Greek and Indian methods first appears.

It seems probable that Demetrius divided his Indian possessions into minor principalities for greater convenience of government. A system of satrapies, or small feudal states, appears to have been the only form of administration found possible by the invaders of India, whether Scythian, Parthian, or Greek. It was, indeed, the form of government most adapted to the eastern temperament. From time to time the influence of some master mind had consolidated a great empire in India; but the bonds had always been purely artificial, liable to dissolution on the appearance of a weak or incapable ruler. It had become apparent on the death of Asoka how little even the great Mauryas had succeeded in introducing elements of cohesion into their vast and heterogeneous realms.

The small satrapy appears to have been the natural political unit in India, as the city state was in Greece. However, Demetrius did not arrive at a satisfactory solution of the problem of simultaneously governing two distant and diverse kingdoms. Perhaps his continued absence in India aroused the jealousy of the Græco-Iranian kingdom in the north; it may be that the inhabitants of Bactria looked upon Sagala with jealous eyes, as a new and alien capital; at any rate, the absence of Demetrius gave ample opportunity for a rival to establish himself securely in Bactria before the arrival of troops from the far south to overthrow him.

The rival who did this was one Eucratides. Who he was, or what may have been his motive, we can only infer from his coins in a somewhat conjectural fashion; one thing, however, seems more or less plain, that he was connected in some way to the royal house of Seleucus. In his sympathies, and probably by birth, he is distinctly closely bound up with the reigning dynasty in Syria.

Justin implies that he seized the throne about the time of the accession of Mithradates I. in Parthia—i.e., about 174 B.C., or a little earlier. We may suppose that Demetrius was engaged in his Indian conquests and the administrative and other problems they entailed, and either had no leisure to attend to what was happening in Bactria, or did not feel himself strong enough to march against so powerful a rival until his power in the south was sufficiently consolidated. Meanwhile Eucratides was pursuing a vigorous policy in the north, not always with the success he deserved. Enemies were springing up in all directions to menace Bactria, and Eucratides had to vindicate his right to the throne he had claimed. The first and most formidable rival was Mithradates I. Mithradates appears to have succeeded with the special mission of counteracting Bactrian influence, for Phraates, his brother, had left the throne to him in preference to his numerous sons, as the ablest successor, and one most likely to continue the great mission of extending Parthian dominion in the east, the progress of which had been thwarted since 206 B.C., when Antiochus the Great had raised her rival to the position of ally and equal. The continual threats of aggression from the Parthians, the ever-increasing pressure on the frontier, which caused various wars (perhaps not of great magnitude, but harassing, as a foretaste of what was to come) on the Sogdian frontier, and a campaign—against whom we are not informed—in Drangiana, made the life of Eucratides anything but peaceful. The struggle with the monarch he had dispossessed, moreover, was coming, and Eucratides went to meet it with great spirit. At one time the fortunes of war seemed to have definitely turned against him; by a final effort Demetrius, with the huge force of 60,000 men, caught and besieged his rival, whose army by some means had sunk to only 300 men. By a marvellous combination of skill and good-fortune, Eucratides cut his way out after a siege, which (if we are to believe the only authority upon the incident) lasted five months, and this proved to be the turning-point in the war. Soon after the Indian dominions of Demetrius fell into the hands of Eucratides, and the once powerful Demetrius either perished or was deposed about the year 160 B.C.

If, as is just possible, Eucratides was really the grandson of his royal opponent,39 the great disparity between their ages would account for the ease with which that once doughty leader allowed himself to be defeated by a handful of desperate men, whom he had conquered with a vastly superior force; it would also save the historian from the necessity of condemning Justin’s whole account of these incidents as exaggerated and inaccurate—always a pre-eminently unscientific proceeding in the case of an uncontroverted statement. The victory over Demetrius is probably commemorated in the fine coins reproduced by Gardner, which represent, in a most spirited fashion, “the great twin brethren,” with their lances at the charge, waving the palms of victory. These were evidently struck for use in Bactria; for use in the provinces beyond the Hindu-Kush very probably he struck a series of coins, where the blending of Greek and Indian art is illustrated in a curious manner, bearing the goddess Nikê, holding a wreath on the obverse, and a Pali inscription on the reverse, in Kharoshthi characters. The coins are bronze and square, this being another instance in which the Indian shape replaces the Greek circular coin.

It is extremely interesting to notice the manner in which the Greek temperament adapts itself to changed conditions. Eucratides gives himself the title of “Maharaja” (which he translates by the Greek ΜΕΓΑΛΟϒ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ) in his Indian domains; in Bactria, however, he appears as the leader of the Greek, as opposed to the Iranian section of the populace. By birth and leanings it seems evident that Eucratides was thoroughly Greek. His coins betray his pride of birth; the distinctive figure on nearly all his Bactrian issues is a representation of the Dioscuri, mounted; they were the patron saints of the Seleucids, and under the rule of the “son of Laodice,” took the same place on his coinage as Zeus, the thunder-god, did on the coins of the Diodoti. One of the most striking features of Bactria is the utter predominance of everything Greek in its history. The coins are essentially Greek, the rulers are certainly so. The Iranian population never seems to have had any voice at all in the government, though we must remember that Greek was the language of commerce and civilization in Western Asia, and we are apt to be easily misled by the fact that Greek names, coinage, and language were exclusively used. In Parthia, for instance, we know that national feeling was utterly anti-Hellenic, and yet Greek appears to have been the language generally used for commercial and public purposes. Perhaps it was his partiality for Greek customs and his pride in his Seleucid blood that brought about the downfall of Eucratides.

While returning from India, Justin tells us, he was murdered by his own son, who had shared the throne with him, and who, far from concealing the murder, declared that he had killed “not a parent, but a public enemy,” and brutally drove his chariot through the dead monarch’s blood, and ordered his body to be cast out unburied (circa 156 B.C.). Thus perished one of the most remarkable of the many really great, though obscure, monarchs of the Bactrian Empire. A splendid coin, figured by Gardner in his catalogue, enables us to form a very good idea of the appearance of the king—a proud, determined man, wearing the Kausia, diademed with crest, and the bull’s horn at the side. On the reverse, significantly, are figured the Dioscuri, charging with long lances and waving the palms of victory. The delineation of the steeds is worthy of the highest traditions of Greek Art. The title of ‘the Great’ appears on the coin, ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΜΕΓΑΛΟϒ ΕϒΚΡΑΤΙΔΟϒ. The name of the parricide who thus foully deprived his father of his life and throne is not recorded. Some authorities have identified him with Heliocles, who is supposed by them to have headed a native reaction, fomented either by his father’s Hellenizing tendencies, or by his inactive policy against Mithridates. Mithradates, we know, took the satrapies of “Aspionus and Turiva” from Eucratides, and it is possible that this caused dissatisfaction at the policy of the Bactrian monarch. There is, however, some reason to suppose that the parricide’s name was Apollodotus, who may have been led by the supposed patriotic character of his deed to assume the titles of ΣΩΤНΡ, ΝΙΚНΦΟΡΟΣ, and ΜΕΓΑΣ, which we find on his coins. It is supposed that Heliocles avenged his father’s murder and secured the throne, probably putting his brother to death; some have thought that this is indicated by the title “ΔΙΚΑΙΟΣ,” which appears on his coins. It is probable, however, that the title of the “Just” is of Buddhist origin, but this point may be more appropriately discussed later on.

Apollodotus seems to have enjoyed a very brief reign, and Heliocles probably succeeded in 156 B.C. With him the rule of the Greeks in Bactria comes to an end; the Bactrian princes were forced to transfer their empire to their capital beyond the Hindu-Kush. The murder of Eucratides was worse than a crime—it was a blunder. The death of the one man capable of saving the situation rendered resistance useless, and the country was still further enfeebled by the rise of a number of princelings or satraps, who were necessary for the government, as we have seen, of the immensely increased Bactrian territory, but who were always inclined, on the removal of a strong hand, to assert their independence. The semi-independent character of these petty rajas is shown by the style of the inscriptions upon their coins.


The Battle for Dominion over the Baltic Sea

Swedish arquebusier. Thirty Years War

A Swedish officer of the Thirty Years War

Swedish pikemen and matchlock arqubusiers in the thick of battle under the command of King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, Thirty Years War

During the seventeenth century, Stockholm underwent major urbanization that transformed the Swedish capital into a metropolis befitting an ambitious monarchy. In 1632, Swedish politicians harbored qualms about inviting the other European monarchs to attend the funeral of King Gustavus Adolphus. Stockholm was a rather scruffy little town at the time, but by mid-century, the city had been redesigned and laid out along geometric lines. In addition, the towns of Norrmalm and Södermalm had been built up as well. The central administration that was created in 1634 needed new buildings for its growing personnel, while the enlargement of the country’s fleet required wharves, docks, and workshops. The merchants’ quarter of Skeppsbron was founded to accommodate Sweden’s growing copper and iron exports. Although Stockholm was not the largest city in the Baltic region, its attractiveness as a residential, administrative, and mercantile city drew inhabitants from the rest of the region and beyond. Between 1620 and 1668, the city quadrupled its population to 40,000. According to Schering Rosenhane, the governor of Stockholm, 443 foreigners were actually given citizenship rights. In addition, migrants from Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland, France, and Russia were attracted by the abundance of work. The most successful, such as the Dutchmen Louis De Geer (1587–1652) and Jakob Momma (1625–1678), demonstrated their status by building palaces outside the city in Södermalm, while the city center, apart from the noble palaces, came to be dominated in part by functional buildings in the Dutch style. Calvinist Sunday services, generally forbidden in a Lutheran state, regularly drew 200 parishioners.

Sweden played a key role in several theaters of war in the Baltic during the seventeenth century.2 It was a major player in the Thirty Years’ War, first in northern Germany and then in large parts of the Holy Roman Empire, and also in Poland, and Livonia. In addition, the rivalry between Denmark and Sweden led to persistent skirmishing over Scania and Seeland. In the end, Sweden achieved dominion over the Baltic, which Denmark had long exerted as a result of its control of the Øresund. Sweden benefited from its effective war fleet, which was largely captained by sailors from the Netherlands.3 The country also boasted an oversized army and a network of more than 100 fortresses.

In northern Germany, the battles of the Thirty Years’ War were waged mainly in Mecklenburg and Pomerania. Danish ambitions in northern Germany were the original reason the Holy Roman Emperor had sent his troops northward, fresh from their success in Bohemia, in 1624. Danish king Christian IV, whose mother Sophie came from the ducal House of Mecklenburg, and whose brother Ulrich served as the administrator of the Bishopric of Schwerin, attempted to control the mouths of the Elbe and Weser Rivers. With the emperor threatening, Christian, as duke of Holstein and colonel of the Lower Saxon Circle, formed a defensive alliance with Mecklenburg dukes Adolf Frederick I of Schwerin (1588–1658) and John Albert II of Güstrow (1590–1636), both of whom were relatives.

The ensuing battle at Lutter am Barenberge, in 1626, was a defeat for Christian, and it cleared the way for imperial troops to control northern areas. While Christian extricated himself from this debacle at the Treaty of Lübeck (1629), without losing too much territory, Adolf Frederick and John Albert were less fortunate. They were deposed by the emperor, and Albrecht von Wallenstein (1583–1634) was first given their territory as a pledge and then received Mecklenburg as a fiefdom. Wallenstein attempted to reform the territorial administration and to limit the participation and influence of the estates. Among other things, he introduced the “contribution,” a permanent tax to finance the army. Wallenstein’s ambitions as “General of the Oceanic and Baltic Seas” were not limited to Mecklenburg. His larger intention was to play a major role in the region by building up the imperial Baltic fleet and revitalizing the Hanseatic League. This provoked Gustavus Adolphus, who had already successfully enforced his claims against Poland, both in Livonia and at the mouth of the Vistula.

Pomerania had more or less accepted its fate without putting up a fight and had been occupied by imperial troops in 1627, and this was one of the reasons why Sweden intervened in northern Germany. Only the city of Stralsund had defended itself, first with Danish and then with Swedish assistance. After an armistice was concluded between Sweden and Poland, with French intercession, the Swedish army, in 1630, landed on the island of Usedom near Peenemünde and relatively quickly occupied Pomerania and parts of Mecklenburg. The Swedes advanced rapidly to the south, where they encountered imperial troops. Although Gustavus Adolphus was killed at the Battle of Lützen (1632), the Swedes came away with a victory. In the hands of Lord High Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna (1583–1654), to whom newly crowned queen Christina (1626–1689) had entrusted the affairs of state, the army was transformed into an effective instrument of power. Oxenstierna’s hegemonic pretensions in Germany collapsed only when Sweden and her allies were defeated at the Battle of Nördlingen, in 1634.4 Once Sweden’s fortunes had changed, imperial troops exploited the power vacuum to plunder in the north between 1637 and 1639, and again in 1643. In addition, quartering and feeding Swedish and imperial troops was economically disastrous to the region, and population losses due to disease and death were one consequence.

In the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, Sweden was given dominion over the mouths of the Elbe and Weser Rivers (the Bishoprics of Bremen and Verden). In Mecklenburg, the Swedes received Wismar, Poel, and Neukloster, and in Western Pomerania the cities of Stettin, Greifswald, and Stralsund, including the islands of Rügen, Usedom, and Wolin. Brandenburg was forced to make do with the Bishoprics of Minden and Halberstadt, though it was given to expect Magdeburg after the death of the present archbishop, which it received in 1680. Brandenburg also received parts of Eastern Pomerania and the Bishopric of Cammin, acquiring Bütow and Lauenburg from Poland in 1657. Pomerania, Sweden’s most important territory in the Holy Roman Empire, increasingly became an object of contention as it was claimed by both old and new enemies in Poland and Brandenburg. Starting in 1675, for example, Brandenburg waged war against Sweden and conquered Swedish Pomerania, but then it was unable to consolidate its victory in the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1679.

Swedish intervention in the Thirty Years’ War had been made possible by the Truce of Altmark (1629), which had been brokered by France to allow its Swedish ally to take up positions against the emperor. This truce put a temporary halt to skirmishes between Sweden and Poland in Livonia and the southern Baltic coast. King Gustavus Adolphus conquered Riga in 1621, a feat that his father, Charles IX (1550–1611), had repeatedly attempted but without success. In 1617, he signed the Treaty of Stolbovo with the newly elected czar Michael I of Russia (1596–1645), who ceded East Karelia and Ingria to Sweden. After annexing Riga, Sweden also occupied Dorpat in 1625, which gave it a major say in the political life of Estonia and Livonia.

In the Truce of Altmark, which was in effect for five years, Poland was forced to renounce parts of Livonia. At the same time, Sweden was given control over the mouth of the Vistula, which gave it a portion of the customs duties in Danzig. Sweden imposed levies on other Baltic ports as well, which overall proved crucial to financing the Swedish military. However, Swedish control of the Vistula led to a decrease in Polish grain exports. Nor was Sweden able to secure an alliance with Russia against Poland.

For a time, the Nobles’ Republic of Poland-Lithuania was able to maintain its position in the face of Swedish expansion, although Polish king Władysław IV (1595–1648) had to renounce the Polish house of Vasa’s claims to the Swedish throne.5 The uprising by the Zaporozhian Cossacks in the 1640s under Bohdan Khmelnytsky (ca. 1595–1657) led to the loss of Polish-Lithuanian territories east of the Dnieper River, which then came under Russian protection. In 1654, Smolensk fell into Russian hands as well. At about the same time, the new Swedish king Charles X Gustav (1622–1660) from the House of Palatinate-Zweibrücken renewed hostilities with Poland. His goal was to control the entire Baltic coast from Stettin to Riga. To counter that, the Swedish armies swept across the Oder into Poland from the west, while a Baltic army advanced on Lithuania from Riga. Polish king John II Casimir (1609–1672) fled, and the Swedish king considered ways he himself might assume the Polish crown. In this situation, both Sweden and Poland cast about for new allies. One potential ally was Frederick William of Brandenburg (1620–1688), who was able to negotiate sovereignty over the Duchy of Prussia in exchange for his support of Sweden. However, when the war began to favor Poland, he switched sides and had his former lord reconfirm his sovereignty over Prussia. At the same time, Russia, under Czar Alexis (1629–1676), used this unsettled situation to conquer parts of Livonia while also laying siege to Riga.

In the 1645 Treaty of Brömsebro, Sweden had received the islands of Gotland and Ösel, the Norwegian provinces of Jämtland and Härjedalen, and Halland (pledged for thirty years)—and her ships were no longer required to pay tolls through the Øresund.6 The new king Frederick III of Denmark (1609–1670), however, thought he saw a potential benefit to the Swedish hostilities in Poland: he might be able to regain territories previously lost to Sweden and perhaps even take his past objectives, Bremen and Verden, away from them as well.

But in the winter of 1657, the Swedes opened up another front and conquered Seeland, which they reached by way of the Baltic, which had frozen over. And in a truce in February 1658, which culminated in the Treaty of Roskilde, Denmark was forced to cede Scania, Blekinge, Halland, Bornholm, Bohus, and Trondheim to Sweden. But when Sweden resumed its acts of war, conquered Kronborg and laid siege to Copenhagen, the Netherlands could no longer countenance Swedish dominance in the area and sent a replacement fleet to relieve Copenhagen. It was only a matter of time before this stalemate would force a peace. In the Treaty of Copenhagen, Trondheim and Bornholm were returned to Denmark, but the eastern Danish provinces remained in Swedish hands.7 Poland, Sweden, and Brandenburg reached a settlement in the Treaty of Oliva, in May 1660, with John Casimir renouncing his claims to Livonia and to the Swedish crown, while all parties recognized the sovereignty of Brandenburg over the Duchy of Prussia. In 1661, Sweden and Russia agreed to the restoration of the status quo, while Poland ceded Smolensk and adjacent territories to Russia in the Treaty of Andrusovo in 1667. Sweden had achieved dominion over the Baltic Sea, while Poland and Denmark were the big losers, both territorially and politically.

Khubilai Khan, Tibet, and the Yüan Dynasty

Chinggis retired to Mongolia in 1223. He now turned his attention to the Tanguts, who had failed to send their warriors to join the campaign against the Khwarizmians in 1218, as they had promised to do as vassals of the Mongols. The Tanguts had also withdrawn their troops from the campaign against Chin in 1222, and when Chinggis sent envoys to them warning them to mend their ways and keep to the terms of the treaty, they reviled him. Although Chinggis died before the completion of this campaign, the Tangut realm was conquered in 1227. It was fully incorporated into the Mongol Empire and became one of its most important appanages or fiefdoms. One reason it was important is the fact that the Tangut Empire had developed a culture that was as refined as China’s and in some ways similar to it, but nevertheless distinctively non-Chinese (and also non-Jurchen Chin). Although the Mongols had of necessity to rely upon the Chinese for help in ruling Chinese territory under their control, they generally distrusted and disliked the Chinese and were much more inclined toward fellow Central Eurasians, especially in matters connected with religion and state organization.

Chinggis had four sons, three of whom survived him. His son Ögedei (r. 1229–1241) succeeded him as Great Khan. The Mongols continued their attacks on the Jurchen and in 1234 overthrew the Chin Dynasty. At the same time, Ögedei organized a great campaign into the west. Earlier, while campaigning against the Khwârizmshâh, the Mongols had passed through southern Russia. They now set out to completely subdue it as the inheritance of Batu, son of Chinggis’s eldest son Jochi, who had died before his father in 1227. Along with Batu as the nominal commander went Ögedei’s son Güyük, Tolui’s son Möngke, and Sübedei, the Mongols’ most brilliant general. In 1236 the Mongols attacked the Finno-Ugric and Turkic peoples of the Volga-Kama region, then the Russians to their northwest, taking Vladimir (east of Moscow) in 1238 and Kiev in 1240, subjugating the region by 1241. Sübedei continued the campaign further west into Poland and eastern Germany, where he defeated the Polish and German forces of Duke Henry of Silesia at Liegnitz and, turning south, the Hungarians and Austrians, before returning to Hungary to spend the winter. But Great Khan Ögedei died in December of that year, and the Mongols withdrew as soon as they learned about it.

Batu remained in the West with a large force. He made his capital at Saray on the lower Volga River and controlled all of western Central Eurasia from the Black Sea and northern Caucasus up to Muscovy and east through the Volga-Kama region. Many of his forces settled at Kazan, not far from the old city of Bulghâr, where they soon shifted to the language of the majority ethnic group in the army, Kipchak Turkic, which came to be known as Tatar. The realm of what was later to be called the Golden Horde soon became de facto independent, but Batu remained committed to his grandfather’s vision of a Mongol world empire and participated fully in the governance of the empire and in imperial military campaigns.

After the short reign of Ögedei’s son Güyük (r. 1246–1248), a power struggle ended with the succession of Tolui’s son Möngke (r. 1251–1259), who became the next Great Khan. He organized a massive campaign to establish firm Mongol control over the lands of Central Asia and the Near East and generally to push the limits of the Mongol Empire toward the sunset. Möngke’s brother Hülegü, commanding the imperial forces, set out in 1253. In 1256 they attacked and destroyed the Assassins, the Ismâ’îlî order that had long terrorized the Islamic world from their base in the Elburz Mountains of northern Iran. By 1257 the Mongols had taken Alamut, the Assassins’ main fortress, and their leader, who was executed by order of Möngke himself. The Mongols then proceeded into Iraq and in 1258 attacked Baghdad. The caliph refused to surrender, despite the reasonable Mongol offer and explanation of what would happen if he resisted. The city was put under siege and eventually succumbed. An estimated 200,000 people were killed in the sack of the city, and the caliph too was put to death.

The Mongols proceeded westward into Mamluk Syria and were making good progress until news reached them about Möngke’s death and Hülegü withdrew with most of the imperial forces. The Mamluks attacked the remaining Mongols and crushed them in the Battle of ‘Ayn Jalût, in Galilee, on September 6, 1260. This was the first setback for the Mongols in Southwestern Asia.

Nevertheless, Hülegü soon returned, and the Mongols succeeded in establishing their power over most of the Near East. They eventually made their home encampment in northwestern Iran near Tabriz, where there were good pasturelands. Hülegü founded the Il-Khanate, which ruled over Iraq, Iran, and some of the neighboring territories; warred periodically with the northerly Golden Horde and with the Central Asian Chaghatai Horde, the successors of Chinggis’s son Chaghatai; and extended his influence as far as Tibet.

Tolui’s inheritance included the former Tangut realm. Under Ögedei, his second son Köden (Godan, d. 1253/1260), who was assigned Tangut as his appanage, was responsible for the nearly bloodless subjugation of Tibet. In 1240 Köden sent a small force into Tibet under Dorda Darkhan. The Tibetan monasteries evidently resisted it; two were attacked and damaged, and some monks are said to have been killed. The Mongols eventually withdrew, having been told to contact the leading cleric in Tibet, Saskya Panḍita (d. 1251). Köden sent a letter to him in 1244 summoning him to the Mongol camp. In 1246 the elderly monk arrived in Liang-chou, having sent ahead his two nephews, ‘Phagspa (Blogros Rgyal-mtshan, 1235–1280)25 and Phyag-na-rdorje (d. 1267). In 1247 the Tibetans surrendered to the Mongols. Saskya Pandita was appointed viceroy of Tibet under the Mongols and Phyag-na-rdorje was married to Köden’s daughter to seal the treaty. After the death of Saskya Panḍita in 1251, the Mongols sent another expedition, under a certain Khoridai, who restored their control in Central Tibet in 1252–1253.26 Köden, who because of his chronic illness—for which he had been treated by Saskya Panḍita—had been passed over for the throne in favor of his elder brother Güyük, seems to have been dead by this time.

Khubilai (b. September 23, 1215, r. 1260/1272-February 18, 1284) was one of the sons of Tolui. He married Chabi, a fervent Buddhist. When their first son was born in 1240, they gave him the Tibetan Buddhist name Dorji (Tibetan rdorje ‘vajra; thunderbolt’). Already by 1242 Khubilai had begun assembling Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist teachers at his appanage in Hsing-chou, in Hopei. With the accession of his brother Möngke as Great Khan in 1251, Khubilai was in direct line to succeed to the throne. His brother appointed him to several other appanages in North China, greatly strengthening Khubilai’s power and making him effectively the Mongol viceroy over this rich, populous region. In 1253 Khubilai called for ‘Phagspa and his brother to be sent to him. They arrived and were well received by the Mongol prince. He left shortly afterward in command of an imperial campaign to conquer the Kingdom of Ta-li (in what is now Yunnan Province) as a preliminary flanking movement before invading the large and aggressive Sung Dynasty, which had been repeatedly attacking Mongol territory to its north.

After a year’s preparation, Khubilai’s forces, with Sübedei’s son Uriyangkhadai as general in chief, set out late in 1253. Before attacking the Ta-li forces, he sent envoys to them with an ultimatum demanding their surrender and assuring their safety if they did. When they responded by executing the envoys, the Mongols attacked and defeated them, forcing them to retreat to their capital. The Mongols notified the people of the city that they would be spared if they surrendered. They did so, and Khubilai then took the city, establishing Mongol power over Ta-li with a minimum of bloodshed. General Uriyangkhadai continued the Mongol campaign in the southwest with considerable success, eventually marching southeast to Annam (the area of modern northern Vietnam) by 1257, where however the Mongols suffered from the heat and insects. When the ruler offered to send tribute to the Mongols, Uriyangkhadai withdrew.

In 1256 Khubilai, who had returned to his appanage after the victory in Ta-li, began work on a summer capital, K’ai-p’ing (renamed Shang-tu ‘Xanadu’ in 1263). It was about ten days’ journey north of Chung-tu (Peking) in an area with both agricultural and pasture lands. In 1258, after Khubilai answered accusations made against him by conspirators at court, his brother put him in command of one of the four wings of the army in his new campaign against the Sung. In 1258 the invasion was launched, with Möngke himself leading the campaign in Szechuan, while Khubilai attacked southward from his appanage in the east.

When Möngke died of fever outside Chungking (Chongqing) in Szechuan (August 11, 1259), the campaign against the Sung came to a halt. Arik Böke, his youngest brother, who had been left in Karakorum to guard the homelands, began assembling his forces to contest the succession. Hülegü halted his campaign in Syria and hurried home to support Khubilai at the great khuriltai, but Arik Böke too had substantial support and sent forces to attack Khubilai’s appanage. When Khubilai finally reached his capital at K’ai-p’ing, a khuriltai was assembled in May 1260, and Khubilai was elected Great Khan. The decision was vehemently opposed by Arik Böke, who had powerful adherents—including Berke, the successor of Batu, and Alghu, ruler of the Chaghatai Khanate in Central Asia. They proclaimed him Great Khan in June 1260, and civil war broke out. Khubilai outmaneuvered Arik Böke at every turn, despite the latter’s many supporters. Alghu broke with him in 1262, and in the following year Arik Böke surrendered to Khubilai. The civil war was over. In 1266 Khubilai began building a new winter capital, Ta-tu ‘great capital’, slightly northeast of the old city of Chung-tu (the site of modern Peking), moving the power base of the Great Khanate further into China and solidifying his control there.

After spending the next few years settling affairs within the Great Khanate, Khubilai returned to the Sung problem. First he sent an embassy to the Sung (May 1260) to propose a peaceful solution. But the chancellor of Sung detained the envoys and sent his forces to attack the Mongols (August 1260). After Khubilai retaliated in early 1261, the Sung invaded three times in 1262. The Chinese also refused to release Khubilai’s envoys. Finally, the Mongols attacked the Sung in force, defeating them soundly in Szechuan early in 1265 and following with a full-scale invasion in 1268. The war with the Sung was not an easy matter. Mongol victory came only in 1276, when the Sung empress dowager surrendered and handed over the imperial seal and regalia. In 1279 the last resistance ended.

The new Chinese-style Yüan Dynasty officially began on Chinese New Year’s Day, January 18, 1272. Despite the orthodox procedures followed in the establishment of the dynasty, and in much of the structure of the administration, the new government was very clearly Mongol. Unlike their Jurchen predecessors in North China, the Mongols generally did not trust the Chinese. Khubilai himself did have many important Chinese advisers, but his successors put Mongols, Central Asian Muslims, Tibetans, Tanguts, or other non-Chinese in all key administrative positions. The Great Khanate continued to exist, and included Mongolia and Tibet as major constituent parts that were recognized as not being Chinese. While in many respects Yüan China was integrated into the Mongol Empire, the Great Khanate continued to be the larger unit. The two were not equated with each other.

One of the most important events of Mongol history took place at this time. The early Mongols had already come under the influence of various world religions, and some of the nation’s constituent peoples had converted, at least theoretically, to one of them—for example, the Naiman and Kereit had converted, at least nominally, to Nestorian Christianity, and the Mongols of Khubilai’s generation were already becoming Buddhists under Uighur and, especially, Tibetan tutelage. But, on the whole, the Mongols had remained pagan and for long were suspicious of all organized religions. The early European travelers’ accounts note how much the Mongols relied on their soothsayers in all things. But by the time of Marco Polo, the Mongols of the Great Khanate had unofficially, but enthusiastically, adopted Buddhism, mostly of the Tibetan variety. With its idea of the dharmarâja or ‘religious king’, the religion provided legitimation for Khubilai’s rule and also gave the Mongols access to a great body of learning and wisdom that was not Chinese.

When Khubilai decided he wanted to have a unified “Mongol” script for all the languages of the Mongol Empire, he appointed to the commission the Tibetan Buddhist leader ‘Phagspa, who was his National Preceptor and the viceroy of Tibet. The new script, based on the Tibetan alphabet (but written vertically like Chinese script and Uighur-Mongol script), was promulgated as the official writing system in 1269. Known today as ‘Phagspa Script, it is in effect the world’s first multilingual transcription system. Examples of it are preserved in several languages from around the Mongol Empire, including Chinese, and it is thought that the script influenced the later creation of the Korean Han’gul writing system. ‘Phagspa was also in charge of other intellectual projects, including the compilation of a great comparative catalogue of the Chinese and Tibetan Buddhist canons, the respective compendia of translations of sacred texts from Sanskrit.

Tanker War 2.0 and Beyond

Given the United States’ inability to abandon its hostilities with Iran over their nuclear weapons arsenal, it seems unlikely that the new Tanker War will be ameliorated any time soon. Going forward, Washington will have to make ready plans to diminish Iranian oil production by targeting its hostilities toward Kharg Island and other oil-producing spots. This will, of course, create complications for U.S. foreign policy. But, there seems little hope of a peaceful settlement at this point, considering that Iran will not abandon its push for nuclear weapons.

The new Tanker War, then, is just the beginning. At the same time, unless Saudi Arabia and the Israelis are willing to take the point in this new campaign against Iran, the United States will have to fight the Tanker War 2.0 tit-for-tat, just as the Iranians are. We must never forget that the Iranians will not abandon their quest for nuclear arms and we in the West simply cannot allow for them to acquire these nuclear capabilities. Therefore, one can anticipate the global price of oil to continue to increase–despite what many of the so-called “experts” claim. This will mean that Russia will become more belligerent over time with the West. Ultimately, though, the United States must do what it can–along with its regional allies–to deny Iran the potential to use nuclear arms against U.S. allies, such as Israel and the Sunni Arab states.

One thing is clear: the Iran threat is not going away anytime soon and will only worsen as the years go on.

Iran’s Response to Britain’s Tanker Seizure – July 15 2019

Recent Iranian rhetoric and actions point to further retaliation, but taking that route may lead to the same strategic miscalculations and international intervention that cost the country so dearly in the 1980s.

On July 4, British Royal Marines took control of the Grace 1, a fully laden Panamanian-flagged super tanker suspected of carrying crude oil from Iran to Syria’s Baniyas refinery in defiance of European Union sanctions against the Assad regime. They used a helicopter to board the 330-meter, 300,000-ton ship in the middle of the night. Iran’s reaction reveals much about its potential response options against Western interests—and the limitations thereof.


Tehran reacted angrily to the seizure, with President Hassan Rouhani and other civilian and military officials threatening to respond in kind at the Strait of Hormuz if the tanker was not released promptly. Some even called for banning British vessels from the strait altogether, while the Iranian parliament introduced legislation that could lead to a tolling system for ships of certain nationalities—an unlawful discriminatory measure.

On July 8, Defense Minister Amir Hatami called the seizure an act of piracy. A day later, Armed Forces General Staff chairman Mohammad Bagheri promised to retaliate at the right time and place, and in line with the “direct, transparent, and brave” operation that shot down an American drone on June 20. He also reiterated Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s strategy of “no to negotiations, and no to war,” describing it as “active resistance” and implying that Iran’s armed forces have been directed to unmistakably demonstrate their deterrent power. Another proponent of open-ended resistance is Gen. Hossein Salami, who advocated the notion for years and is now in a position to implement it as head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). On June 18, he stated that victory is closer than ever because that the enemy is tired and reluctant.

Iran made good on its threat of active resistance on July 10, when five IRGC speedboats attempted to stop the tanker British Heritage while it was transiting the outbound section of a traffic separation zone that lies mostly in Iran’s Persian Gulf waters leading to the Strait of Hormuz. Although the effort was thwarted by a shadowing British warship operating out of Bahrain, there are other British tankers in the Fujairah anchorage and elsewhere that are still vulnerable to sabotage operations.


The IRGC believes it holds a distinct geographical advantage in carrying out this strategy. From its point of view, Iran dominates the northern and eastern portions of the Persian Gulf and the entire Strait of Hormuz, one of the busiest shipping routes in the world with as many as fifteen oil tankers passing through every day (including three to four super tankers).

Tehran also believes that its actions are legally permissible. The regime claims control over maritime traffic through Iranian waters and includes the Strait of Hormuz in this definition, despite it being designated as an international strait under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Although Iran is a conditional signatory to UNCLOS, it never ratified the document, and its own maritime law does not recognize international straits. Under Article 24 of UNCLOS, a coastal state can temporarily suspend innocent passage in specific areas of its territorial seas for security reasons, but not in a discriminatory fashion against specific states. More important, this provision does not apply to international straits (paragraph 2 of Article 45).


Iran has not yet responded to British overtures for releasing Grace 1 in exchange for promises that it will not head for Syria. Apparently, Tehran does not want to establish that precedent.

Following the IRGC’s failed intercept of the British Heritage and London’s decision to arrest the Indian captain and chief officer of the Grace 1, Iran can be expected to take further action, even amid diplomatic outreach efforts such as Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s visit to New York this week. A more forceful attempt at seizing a British-linked ship would be the first option, but Iran might decide to launch covert operations against such vessels as well, or even against British business assets and support services in the region’s energy market. For example, BP currently has major investments in Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, while Saudi Aramco recently rewarded another British company with co-development rights in the Marjan offshore oil field (notably, Iran owns part of this field).

Tehran might also ask its Houthi friends in Yemen to harass commercial shipping in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, using both Iranian-supplied equipment and intelligence gained using the Saviz floating armory ship anchored north of the strait. There is precedent for such operations: last year, IRGC general Nasser Shabani claimed that Iran had ordered the July 24 Houthi attack against a Saudi super tanker, possibly using an explosive-laden boat.

Meanwhile, senior cleric Kazem Sedighi threatened the British with a “powerful slap” on July 12; he then reminded his listeners how Iranian missiles landed near American frontline positions in Syria’s Deir al-Zour province last October. If the IRGC aims to fulfill this prophecy, it could fire ballistic or cruise missiles near HMS Jufair, the British Royal Navy base in northeast Bahrain. It might also release sea mines or suspicious-looking objects in waters approaching the base.

The specific forces involved in such operations would vary depending on location, since the IRGC Navy has five districts in the Persian Gulf. A potential ship seizure would most likely occur at the western approaches to the Strait of Hormuz, which lies within the IRGCN’s 5th District (as in the latest case). This area is home to an elite unit called the Aba-Abdullah Special Operations Brigade (aka Sepah Navy Special Force, or SNSF), commanded by Sadegh Amooie. They operate out of Faror Island, located twenty-four kilometers from the Iranian coast, 200 kilometers from the center of the Strait of Hormuz, and 138 kilometers from Dubai. This was the unit that landed on the mockup of a U.S. aircraft carrier in dramatic fashion during the 2015 Great Prophet 9 naval exercise.

The IRGC could also use one or two of its five naval Mi-171 helicopters to land a boarding party on a targeted tanker similar to how the British seized the Grace 1. Given their lack of night flying capability, they would almost certainly conduct any such operation in daylight, probably during the cooler early morning hours.

Whatever happens next, the failed British Heritage operation indicates that Tehran and the IRGC may not be concerned about catalyzing the formation of a Western-led coalition to protect regional shipping. Although this would be in line with the regime’s behavior during the 1980s, such a posture ignores the historical lessons from that period.

Prior to Operation Earnest Will in 1987, Tehran escalated the situation in the Persian Gulf by ordering the IRGCN to confront Western navies there amid the Iran-Iraq War. This decision backfired, giving Western governments justification for deeper involvement. Iran’s shipping attacks had little effect on the “Tanker War,” the protracted conflict with Iraq, or global oil markets. They did, however, escalate the confrontation with Western military forces, culminating in a major naval defeat at the hands of the U.S. Navy in 1988. Iran will arguably be much better prepared and equipped this time around, and able to inflict more short-term costs on Western countries and their allies, but the end result might not be very different.


To deter Iran from escalation, various actors should maintain a strong multinational naval presence in the area and empower it to intervene on behalf of freedom of navigation in the region’s strategic waterways. Such protective measures should include strengthening defenses against cruise and ballistic missiles, as well as hardening critical infrastructure against Iranian cyberattacks. Officials should also urge Iran to take concrete steps (including legislative) toward recognizing the Strait of Hormuz as an international strait.

Perhaps most important, Iranian leaders should be made to understand that taking a belligerent stance in these vital waterways would seriously harm their own economy and national interests, as happened in the late 1980s when attacks on nonbelligerent shipping contributed to internationalization of the conflict with Iraq. The IRGC is attempting to depict these historical deeds as instrumental to strategic success, and Western countries are understandably bracing for further tanker attacks, perhaps involving greater damage. Yet those past deeds were in fact very costly at a time when Iran’s most important national interests were at stake, and that would no doubt be the case again today.

Farzin Nadimi is an associate fellow with The Washington Institute, specializing in the security and defense affairs of Iran and the Gulf region.


The Frankish king Charlemagne was a devout Catholic who maintained a close relationship with the papacy throughout his life. In 772, when Pope Adrian I was threatened by invaders, the king rushed to Rome to provide assistance. Shown here, the pope asks Charlemagne for help at a meeting near Rome.

Charles Martel had achieved much more than merely defeating a large-scale Islamic raid by his victory north of Poitiers in AD 732. Prince Eudes of Aquitaine was now his vassal while the powerful bishops of Burgundy were mere satellites of the Frankish Kingdom. But instead of taking military advantage of his new position, Charles Martel acted with moderation, forming local alliances with the Burgundians as he tried to extend Frankish control down the Rhone Valley. Only two years later in AD 734, however, the Frankish representatives were expelled from Lyon and the Burgundian ‘sub-kingdom’ reasserted its independence. The death of Eudes of Aquitaine early the following year, and the succession of his more assertive son Hunald, meant that Charles could not immediately punish the Burgundian ‘rebellion’ Instead he launched a campaign against Prince Hunald of Aquitaine before, in autumn AD 737, he again arrested the ‘unreliable’ bishops of Orleans and Auxerre as a prelude to the reconquest of Burgundy. Such problem s closer to home meant that the affairs of Islamic al-Andalus hardly concerned Charles Martel at all.

The impact of the Poitiers campaign on Aquitaine was much more serious, despite the Christian victory. The year AD 732 had witnessed Prince Eudes’ first major defeat and had prevented him from becoming a serious rival to Charles Martel. To paraphrase the renowned medieval historian Henri Pirenne, without Abd al-Rahman crushing Eudes, Charlemagne’s rise as ruler of the greater part of Western Europe would not have been possible.

Eudes had accepted his new position as Charles’ vassal, but his successors Hunald I, Waifer and Hunald II did not. As a result Aquitaine would remain the Franks’ bitterest enemy within what eventually became France. In fact the Aquitainians resisted repeated Frankish invasions, most of which penetrated only a short distance to plunder and besiege fortresses. Eventually, however, the much greater military potential of the Franks triumphed, Hunald II was defeated and Lupus, prince of the Gascons’ as he was known in Frankish sources, handed over his lands to Charlemagne.

The Muslim presence in Septimania was, of course, a factor in this struggle and Prince Waifer is said to have unsuccessfully attacked Narbonne, perhaps in AD 749 when a famine in al-Andalus was expected to have weakened its Muslim garrison. Eventually the Franks rather than the Aquitainians overthrew Umayyad rule in Septimania in AD 759, their success and occupation of Narbonne making Waifer feel even more vulnerable now that he was almost surrounded by hostile Frankish forces.

The long-term impact of the Poitiers campaign upon northern France, the Low Countries and Western Germany is harder to decipher. Nevertheless, this victory would eventually enable Charles Martel’s Carolingian successors to dominate the entire region, attracting further support as success bred success. Before that, the death of Charles Martel in AD 741 once again fragmented the Frankish Kingdom with his eldest son Carloman becoming mayor of the palace in Austrasia, Alemannia and Thuringia, while his younger son Pepin the Short became mayor in Neustria, Burgundy and Provence. Yet this was temporary and Pepin soon emerged as the sole, if still only nominal, ruler of the Franks.

It has been suggested that Charles Martel’s campaigns were conservative and defensive whereas those of Pepin became expansionist and aggressive, Pepin’s wars against the Muslims in Septimania being the best known. Even so, Pepin’s wars in Italy would eventually prove more important for the course of European history. What Charles Martel and the Carolingians gained from their various successes against the Muslims was huge international prestige. This they skilfully used in their dealings with the papacy, not least as an excuse to interfere in Italian affairs.

The impact of Abd al-Rahman al-Ghafiqi’s defeat in AD 732 had a much more profound impact upon those northern regions of the Iberian Peninsula that were either under only nominal Umayyad authority or were already effectively independent. Here the indigenous Christian population was encouraged by the Muslim defeat and some rose in rebellion. Nevertheless the new Umayyad wall, Abd al-Malik, reacted swiftly with military campaigns in Catalonia, Aragon and Navarre where he subdued the lowland Basques in AD 733. Farther west and south, in the Duero Valley and what is now Galicia, the superficially Muslim Berbers who had settled these regions similarly rose in revolt of AD 740 or 741 Although this was not a direct result of the Muslim defeat in Gaul, the events of AD 732 had weakened Muslim authority and undermined Arab prestige. A more immediate cause is likely to have been Berber sympathy with the current Berber revolt in North Africa. Whatever the motivation, it reportedly resulted in Andalusian Berber forces marching against Toledo, Cordoba and even Ceuta on the northern tip of Morocco, thus gravely weakening an already tenuous Islamic military hold upon what is now north-western and northern Spain. One of the leaders of the Berber revolt within the Iberian Peninsula was Kulan al-Yahudi whose name indicates that he was of Jewish Berber origin or even, perhaps, still an adherent of Judaism. He is said to have attempted to drive the Arabs from al-Andalus but, with the failure of his coup, most of the Jewi sh Berbers who had accompanied the Islamic conquest of the Iberian Peninsula appear to have returned to North Africa, many settling in the Temesma area.

These developments enabled King Alfonso I of Asturias to take over large areas. Despite many myths associated with this earliest phase of the so-called ‘Reconquista , it is highly unlikely that these events made much difference to the indigenous population for whom it was merely a change of rulers. The 8th century AD would also see the still small Christian kingdom of Asturias making an almost total break with its pre-Islamic, Visigothic past and begin evolving into something new and strongly influenced by the emerging culture of Islamic al-Andalus.

Java Wars: Rise of Singosari and the Mongol Invasion

Indonesian troops were known for their fierce attack and disregard for their own safety. The use of the spear and blades dominated Indonesian warfare. A statue in Alor, Indonesia, shows a warrior with a light spear and long wooden shield. From the start of the 13th century many of the troops armed with bows, spears and blowguns also carried a kerambit. The kerambit had a unique curved blade shape that symbolised a “tiger claw”.

The Buginese and Makasar people from South Sulawesi region were known as tough sailors, mercenaries and fearless warriors. Artwork shows them armed with swords and javelins. A drawing of a Papuan warrior shows him with a light spear and shield that reaches from the feet to the neck. A drawing of a West Kalimantan warrior has him with a kris and smaller shield.

Indonesia has never known a standardized appearance of its warriors. Malukunese, as did most Indonesians, wore little to the battlefield and only carried long or small round shields for protection. Malukunese warriors favored a parang sawalaku. Its blade is as heavy and as wide as an English broad sword, with a long wooden end. The length of the entire thing is similar to a falchion’s.

Kris blades date back to the 600s in Malaysia, Indonesia and the southern Philippines. The blade of a kris is of asymmetric form, with the blade wider on one side than the other. The blade can be either straight or with an uneven number of waves. The most remarkable feature is the pattern on the surface of the blade.

Skirmishers are assumed to be armed with a mixture of blow-pipes and other missile weapons, and assorted bladed hand-to-hand weapons. We treat the mixture as Javelins, Light Spear. Cavalry and elephants were unavailable in some areas.

The Mongols must have felt invincible after establishing an empire from Hungary to Korea. But the conquest of the Southern Song in 1279 turned out to be their last real success. As adroit as they were on land, the Mongols could not master the sea, and for conquering the river-filled lands of Southeast Asia-not to mention the Indonesian archipelago- naval expertise was paramount. In addition, the jungles (and war elephants) blunted the Mongols’ main strength, their cavalry, and exposed them to all manner of deadly diseases and parasites. Initially, the Mongols had some success against Annam in 1253, but a force of five thousand, sent against Champa in 1281, stalled and was finally defeated at Siming in 1285. At the famous Battle of Bach Dang in 1288, an Annam-Dai Viet alliance inflicted a massive defeat on the Mongols, although subsequently, to avoid trouble, Annam and Champa paid tribute to Yuan. Burma fell more easily in 1287, although not without resistance. Lan Na, in northern Thailand, resisted successfully in 1301.


In 1222, a commoner named Ken Angrok took control of Tumapel and proceeded to bring all of the kingdom of Kediri under his control, defeating its king in the Battle of Ganter later that same year. Thus began the Singosari Kingdom of Java.

Kertanagara (r. 1268-1292) was the last king of Singosari. He greatly expanded the kingdom, conquering many of the neighboring kingdoms. He also formed an alliance with the Champa, a kingdom on the mainland of Southeast Asia. The alliance was designed to help protect both kingdoms from the impending threat of the Mongols under the Yuan Dynasty leadership of Kublai Khan. The Mongols had already invaded Dai Viet in 1257, and it seemed likely that they would return and redouble their efforts in Southeast Asia. In 1289, a Mongol envoy arrived and demanded tribute; but Kertanagara not only refused to grant tribute, he also branded the ambassador’s face. Unsurprisingly, this sparked a Mongol invasion.


Kertanagara was assassinated in 1292, shortly before the Mongols invaded. The Mongol fleet arrived in spring 1293. They found Singosari in a state of civil war. Kertanagara s son-in-law, Raden Wijaya, was fighting against Jayakatwang of Kediri, Kertanagara s assassinator. Unable to defeat two opponents, Vijaya cleverly sent word to the Mongols that he would submit to their overlordship, and thereby gained a strong ally in the Mongol army, who marched on Kediri and soundly defeated Jayakatwang’s forces. Wijaya, however, still held the principles of his late father, and quickly turned on the Mongol force, ambushing them. Weakened by travel, disease, the unfamiliar tropical climate, and their recent battles, the Mongol’s could not withstand the assault, and eventually returned home.

After the Mongols departed, Wijaya established a new kingdom, called Majapahit, which would go on to become one of the most prosperous Hindu kingdoms in Indonesia.


Several factors slowed and prevented Mongol progress in Southeast Asia. Despite their remarkable adaptability to a number of terrains and circumstances, the Mongols were not particularly adept at naval expeditions. In 1288, for example, they were famously defeated by Annam and Dai Viet at the Battle of Bach Dang, where their fleet was sunk. But Southeast Asia provided many more challenges that would prove decisive. Perhaps most significant was the climate. The Mongols were not accustomed to the hot and humid weather. In addition to the severe discomfort this caused, it also made the Mongols more susceptible to new diseases, which spread quickly and weakened the armies’ fighting capabilities. Combining the challenges of fighting on rivers or at sea, the confrontations with war elephants, and the climate and disease, the Mongols could not sustain the power they had used to dominate the rest of their empire.

The Battle of Bạch Đằng

The Island of Java

The island of Java had been split into two kingdoms, Kediri and Janggala, since the eleventh century. Dominated by its Sumatran neighbor, Srivijaya, and Srivijaya’s successor state, Malayu, the eastern Javanese kingdom of Janggala began its emergence in the thirteenth century when a commoner, Ken Angrok, usurped the throne at the capital, Tumapel, in 1222. Almost immediately he set about conquering Kediri, succeeding later that year at the Battle of Ganter. The kingdom of Singosari had been born.


Singosari’s greatest king was also its last. Kertanagara (r. 1268- 92) solidified his control over Java, sent conquering armies to Jambi (1275), Bali (1284), and Malayu (1286), and cemented an alliance with Champa in an effort to strengthen his position against the Mongol Yuan Dynasty. At the time, Kublai Khan of Yuan (r. 1260-94) was intent on expanding his territory: in 1257, the first invasion of Dai Viet began. Kertanagara was wary of Kublai Khan but nonetheless resolute; when a Yuan envoy arrived in Tumapel in 1289, demanding tribute, Kertanagara refused to pay, branding the envoy’s face-an unforgivable insult-and turning him out of the country. The king did not live to see the fruit of his actions-a Mongol invasion-because his vassal, Jayakatwang of Kediri, assassinated him in 1292.

The Mongol Invasion

A large Mongol fleet set out from Quanzhou in the latter part of 1292, arriving the following spring in northeastern Java, near modern Rembang. Half the army began to march overland while the rest stayed aboard ship and sailed for Surabaya, the rendezvous point. Meanwhile, Kertanagara’s son-in-law, Raden Wijaya (or Vijaya), had engaged Jayakatwang in battle. The civil war, raging in the south, left the invading Mongols unopposed. Cleverly, Wijaya sent envoys to the Mongol forces and convinced them that, as rightful ruler, he would submit to Mongol overlordship; he thus turned his natural enemies into powerful allies. From Surabaya the Mongols marched on Majapahit, then on to Daha (modern Kediri), where they crushed the last of Jayakatwang’s rebellion. His throne secure, Wijaya showed his true colors, and-thanks to the months the Mongols spent suffering from unfamiliar diseases and the intense heat of the Javanese jungle-it took only one successful ambush on his part to send the Mongols fleeing for home.

Raden Wijaya (also known as Nararya Sangramawijaya, regnal name Kertarajasa Jayawardhana), Raden Vijaya, (reigned 1293–1309) was a Javanese King, the founder and the first monarch of Majapahit empire.

Wijaya established a new kingdom, Majapahit, operating from a new capital of the same name. Considered the pinnacle of Hindu Indonesia at its height in the mid-fourteenth century, Wijaya’s kingdom included territory from Malaysia to western New Guinea.

Egypt 1915 – A Rolls-Royce Triumph

One of the Duke of Westminster’s Rolls-Royce armoured cars at Solium, April 1916

Rolls-Royce Armoured Car 1914

If, for the moment, the Turkish narrow-gauge system seemed secure from British interference, the same could not be said of the standard-gauge, which passed within a few miles of the coast as it rounded the Gulf of Alexandretta (Iskenderun), sending a branch line down into Alexandretta itself. If the main line could be cut this would effectively sever the Palestine Front’s major supply artery and simultaneously compromise the logistics of the Turkish armies serving in Mesopotamia as well. In December 1914 an Allied naval squadron did considerable damage to the branch line and even occupied Alexandretta for a short period. This success led to plans being drafted for the permanent occupation of Alexandretta and the destruction of the main line. Unfortunately, these were shelved, initially because the Dardanelles operation held a higher priority and latterly because, after the traumatic failure at Gallipoli, the risks involved in further landings on the Turkish coast were not politically acceptable. Had the effort been made the entire course of the war in the Middle East could well have been very different, for during the winter of 1914/15 the Turks sustained a disastrous series of reverses in the Caucasus, culminating in a Russian invasion of Asia Minor from the north-east. The fact remains that it was not and this in itself made some kind of initiative by the Turks against the Suez Canal inevitable.

Obviously the scope and duration of the operation could only be limited and what was contemplated amounted to little more than a large-scale raid which would cause damage to installations and possibly block the Canal with sunken ships. Even so, the objectives set were vague and the possibility of Allied warships being integrated into the Canal defence scheme seems to have been largely discounted.

The troops detailed for the operation were Djemal Bey’s VIII Corps, accompanied by a team of German advisers under Colonel Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein. By the middle of January 1915 the corps was ready to leave Beersheba and embark on its crossing of the Sinai, from which the British had withdrawn the previous autumn. The coastal route was avoided, as this would have brought the marching columns within range of naval gunfire. The inland route, though hot and arid in summer, was now quite passable, as heavy winter rains had filled pools and cisterns along the way. Even so, 5,000 water-carrying camels were still required to prevent thirst from becoming an acute problem.

The advance had been expected by the British and its progress was reported by Nieuport seaplanes flying off the Canal. The defenders, therefore, had plenty of time in which to set their house in order. On 3 February the Turks launched a series of uncoordinated attacks along a wide front and were defeated in detail by a storm of fire from Allied warships and British positions on the west bank. The majority of assault boats launched were riddled and sunk; only three managed to cross the Canal and their occupants were all quickly killed or captured. Djemal retired slowly to Beersheba, having sustained 2,000 casualties, approximately 10 per cent of his strength. British casualties amounted to only 163.

Lieutenant-General Sir John Maxwell, the Commander-in-Chief Egypt, was naturally satisfied with the outcome of the engagement but made no attempt to pursue Djemal and remained sensitive regarding the prospect of a further Turkish offensive. His anxieties were aggravated by the incessant demands of the Dardanelles, which had reduced the garrison of Egypt to a dangerously low level, by the wave of anti-British feeling which was sweeping the country, and by the growing belligerence of the Senussi across the frontier in Libya. There was little doubt that the Senussi were preparing to extend their activities beyond the guerrilla war they were waging against the Italians, for along the largely deserted coastline of Italy’s newest colony German U-boats came and went more or less as they pleased, landing small arms, machine guns, mountain artillery, ammunition and Turkish instructors. By the autumn of 1915 the merest spark was required to explode Senussi antipathy into outright hostilities against the British.

That spark was provided, unwittingly if not unwillingly, by Lieutenant-Commander Waldemar Kophamel, the commander of U-35, on 5 November 1915. Kophamel, who was to survive the war as Germany’s sixth highest-scoring submarine ace with 190,000 tons of Allied shipping to his credit, was an officer who somehow managed to preserve his sense of chivalry despite the growing brutalism of total war, and the previous day he had arrived in the little harbour of Bardia brazenly towing two schooners loaded with munitions for the Senussi. Next morning he set off on his return journey to Turkey but five miles out in the Gulf of Solium he sighted the smoke of a twin-funnelled vessel and dived.

The ship was HMS Tara, under the command of Captain R. S. Gwatkin-Williams, RN. In peacetime her owners had been the London and North Western Railway Company and she had operated as SS Hibernia on the run between Holyhead and Dublin. On the outbreak of war she had been requisitioned by the Admiralty, armed with three sixpounder guns, and became an armed boarding vessel. Now, she was engaged on a routine visit to the frontier post of Solium.

Kophamel quickly brought U-35 into an attacking position and fired a single torpedo, which struck Tara amidships. The British ship began settling at once and launched her boats. Kophamel surfaced among these and towed them back into Bardia, taking some of the survivors on to his own deck. Having handed over his prisoners to the senior Turkish officer present, he resumed his journey the following day, sinking one Egyptian gunboat and severely damaging another at Solium, then adding a horse transport to his score on the way home.

The British authorities in Egypt at once sent an envoy to the Senussi to negotiate the release of Tara’s survivors. At first the Grand Senussi, Said Ahmed, denied all knowledge of the affair. Under pressure, he admitted that the prisoners were being held at an undisclosed location, but declined to hand them over as they had been left in his care as hostages by the Turks. He was, in fact, under the influence of two Turkish senior officers by now, Nuri Bey, the brother of Enver Pasha, and Ja’far Pasha, who had received his training from the German Army. These two had arrived with gifts of gold and a flattering letter from the Sultan himself. They pointed out that the Turkish army had not only defeated the Gallipoli landing but was also doing extremely well in Mesopotamia, and that in view of recent events in the Gulf of Solium the claim of the Royal Navy to rule the waves was obviously no longer valid. An invasion of Egypt, they argued, would bring about the collapse of the weakened British, particularly if the large number of Senussi supporters in Egypt rose against them. Said Ahmed was convinced and gave orders for his troops to march.

During the night of 17 November the Solium garrison beat off an attack, and was then brought out by steamer. Sidi Barrani was attacked on the 18th and held, although many of the Egyptian coastguards deserted to the enemy. The remainder marched along the coast to Mersa Matruh spreading alarm and despondency.

In Cairo, Maxwell was seriously alarmed by the invasion and the Egyptian desertions, knowing that the despatch of troops to fight the Senussi would leave very little in reserve with which to mount counter-insurgency operations, should the need arise. Nonetheless, a number of Territorial infantry battalions and Yeomanry cavalry regiments were assembled under Major-General A. Wallace and designated Western Frontier Force. Wallace fought a number of costly holding actions west of Mersa Matruh, and these succeeded in containing the Senussi advance. As the position stabilized, his strength was augmented by South African and New Zealand infantry, as well as troops recently returned from Gallipoli.

Wallace’s command also included the first British armoured unit to serve in the Western Desert, the Emergency Squadron Royal Naval Air Service Armoured Car Division. As its name implies, this was formed hastily in November from Nos 3 and 4 Armoured Car Squadrons, elements of which had taken part in the Gallipoli fighting. It was equipped with Rolls-Royce armoured cars based on the Alpine chassis, with a fourspeed gearbox and a strengthened back axle. The body was sheathed in armour plate, leaving a small carrying platform at the rear, and an Admiralty pattern turret mounting a Vickers-Maxim machine gun was fitted over the main body of the vehicle. Comfort there was none, the driver sitting on a pile of small square mats, his back supported by an adjustable sling. Only the smallest men could operate efficiently in the cramped turret, which one contemporary account refers to as `the cylinder’.

The Emergency Squadron saw little fighting, largely because the winter rains had turned the going into a quagmire, much as they did in the same area after the Second Battle of Alamein, 27 years later. However, by January 1916 the squadron had acquired considerable desert experience and, having been relieved by the Duke of Westminster’s armoured car brigade (formerly No 2 Squadron RNAS Armoured Car Division), was sent up the Nile to Upper Egypt where Senussi bands were threatening the security of the west bank of the river, having occupied the oases of El Kharga, Dakhala, Farafra and Baharia. In due course its cars, and those of its personnel who wished, were transferred to the Army, as was the case with every naval armoured car unit, with the notable exception of one which continued to pursue an adventurous career in Russia.

The Duke of Westminster’s unit, having seen active service in Flanders, had already made the change and consisted of three batteries of four Rolls-Royce armoured cars and a small headquarters, supported by an echelon of Model T Ford tenders. Its morale was high, the Duke having selected his officers and men with care, the majority, including Second-Lieutenant Griggs, his own jockey, coming from cavalry and yeomanry regiments, with a leavening of professional motor drivers and mechanics.

In January, air reconnaissance revealed that the Senussi were occupying an entrenched camp at Halazin, 22 miles south of Mersa Matruh, and Wallace decided to eject them. A move by the cavalry to isolate the camp was foiled by a counter-attack led by Ja’far, but the Senussi fled when their trenches were stormed by the infantry. The battle was fought in atrocious conditions, the wounded having to be carried by hand across several miles of sodden ground, while the troops were compelled to spend the night without blankets or shelter of any kind, exposed to the wind and rain.

Wallace’s health had begun to deteriorate, and on 10 January he was relieved by Major-General W. E. Peyton. The Western Frontier Force was now in a much stronger position and Maxwell ordered it to take the offensive and recapture Solium, allocating 2,000 transport camels for its support. A forward base was established at Unjaila and when aircraft reported that the main Senussi camp was located at a place called Agagya some way to the south-east of Sidi Barrani Peyton led out a column to deal with it, consisting of two battalions from Brigadier-General Lukin’s South African infantry brigade, the Dorset Yeomanry, one squadron of the Buckinghamshire Yeomanry, a Royal Horse Artillery battery and four of the Duke’s armoured cars.

By the evening of the 24th the column was within eight miles of Agagya. Peyton decided to rest his men throughout the following day and attack on the 26th. The Senussi, 1,500 strong and supported by artillery and machine guns, were holding a ridge five miles north of their camp and brought the infantry under fire as soon as they were within range. Ja’far again attempted a counter-attack but this was defeated by a reserve which Peyton had retained for the purpose. The South Africans then fought their way forward on to the ridge and through the enemy position. After several hours of hard fighting the Senussi began to pull out, watched closely by Lieutenant-Colonel Souter, commanding the Dorset Yeomanry, from the British right flank. Once he was certain that the enemy were clear of their trenches he set his regiment in motion. At once machine-gun fire from the rearguard began to cut swathes through the ranks of his troopers, but the gap closed steadily and the lines of galloping horsemen swept into the mass of the enemy, cutting down 300 of them and pursuing the rest across the desert. At the critical moment Souter’s horse was shot dead beneath him and he almost landed on top of Ja’far, who was promptly taken prisoner. Ja’far, himself wounded, acknowledged that the yeomanry’s charge had been devastating, but commented that it had been made contrary to the normal usages of war. The Dorsets’ casualties amounted to 58 out of 184 men taking part, but the loss of 85 horses effectively reduced the regiment’s strength by half. For the armoured cars, Agagya had been a disappointing battle, their part being confined to providing machine gun support from ground mountings when they became bogged in soft sand.

Sidi Barrani was occupied on 28 February and on 9 March Peyton resumed his advance on Solium. Lukin’s brigade and the cavalry were to advance along the coast to Buq Buq and then swing inland to climb the coastal escarpment near Augarin Wells. The Duke’s armoured cars would head south from Sidi Barrani and climb the escarpment by way of a pass which, it was thought, might just be passable for motor vehicles, although the last wheels to make the journey had probably been Roman. It was a struggle, but all the cars made it, some having to be man-handled over the difficult stretches as they flogged their way upwards with boiling radiators.

Next day they picked their difficult passage along the edge of the escarpment, trying to keep in visual touch with the troops on the coastal plain below. After they had covered 14 miles the Duke ordered a halt and opened heliograph communication with Lukin. The news conveyed by the distant winking light was far from good.


The cars continued on their way and some miles further on the first South Africans came scrambling up the escarpment, desperate for water, many with their tongues hanging out; one, a former bank manager, willingly offered £50 for a drink. There was little that the crews could do for them. Their spare water tanks had already been drained by the greedy radiators, and apart from what little remained in the men’s water bottles, the only other sources lay within the radiators themselves or the machine guns’ cooling jackets, and to touch either of these had been declared a court martial offence.

Early next morning the cars discovered a source of water which enabled the advance to continue. On 14 March Peyton’s force reached Halfaya Pass, and from there marched the remaining three miles to Solium, which the enemy had abandoned. Once again the Union Flag was hoisted over the little white fort, but Peyton was not satisfied with having evened the score; he wished if possible to complete the destruction of the Senussi field army and when aircraft reported a large enemy camp at Bir Wair he instructed the Duke to take his armoured cars and act with such aggression as the situation demanded.

Bir Wair technically lay in Italian territory, but since the Italians themselves were unwilling or unable to do anything about the Senussi, little embarrassment was felt, especially since Italy had become the United Kingdom’s ally the previous year. Across the frontier the going was found to be excellent and the cars were able to maintain a high average speed. At Bir Wair the Senussi camp fires were still burning but the enemy had pulled off to the west and the armoured cars caught up with them at a well called Bir Azeiz.

The Senussi had established themselves in a rocky position fronted by some rough going and opened up on the cars with mountain artillery and machine guns. The cars fanned out and went straight for them, machine guns chattering. Inside, conditions quickly began to deteriorate as the heat of the racing engines added to that of the sun, while choking fumes from the machine gun turned the atmosphere blue. The noise level within the vehicles was almost intolerable, being a compound of their own machine gun fire, rounds striking the armour plate, the roar of the engine and the shouts of commanders as they ordered the drivers to change direction. One driver at least suffered the added torment of hot cartridge cases falling on to his bare neck and into his shirt, where they burned his back. The cars concentrated their fire on the enemy gunners, whose own rounds were badly ranged and exploded beyond their moving targets. When the gun crews, mostly Turks, began going down around their weapons the whole Senussi army suddenly broke and ran. Hundreds were killed or wounded during the ensuing pursuit; among the fugitives was Nuri Bey, who narrowly escaped capture.

The Duke’s men spent the night near the battlefield and returned to Solium the following morning with their prisoners and booty-three 4-inch guns, nine machine-guns, an assortment of small arms and 250,000 rounds of ammunition. Their own casualties amounted to one or two very slightly wounded, almost certainly as a result of bulletsplash penetrating the visors and interior flaking of the armour under impact, and some vehicle tyres punctured. The engagement at Bir Wair, though small in scale, marked a major turning point in the history of desert warfare, for a mere 34 men, protected by armour plate and possessing the superior mobility conferred by the internal combustion engine, had routed an entire army. In recognition of the fact, Peyton had the unit paraded in front of the fort and thanked it personally for its invaluable services.

Meanwhile, there was still no news of Tara’s survivors. No one knew whether they were alive or dead and none of the prisoners could give any information. Quite possibly they would never have been heard of again had not a letter written by Captain Gwatkin-Williams, the ship’s commander, been discovered in a house in Solium. The letter had been addressed to the commander of the British garrison, but it had been delivered during the period of Senussi occupation; it gave the prisoners’ location as El Hakkim Abbyat, or Bir Hacheim.

In Arabic Bir means well, or more specifically an underground cistern. The desert is dotted with Birs, but at that period no maps existed of the interior and none of the inhabitants of Solium had any idea where Bir Hacheim might be located. The prisoners taken at Bir Azeiz were questioned and at length an elderly man named Ali confessed that in his youth he had tended stock there. Bir Hacheim, he said, was five days’ journey by camel from Solium, and he would be prepared to act as guide.

The Duke of Westminster at once volunteered his armoured cars to lead a rescue attempt. A column was quickly assembled, including Ford tenders and motor ambulances, a total of 45 vehicles including the armoured cars. It left Solium at 01:00 on 17 March and proceeded through the darkness along the track leading through Bir Wair to Tobruk. Leaving two of their number to act as rearguard to the column, the armoured cars led the advance, with the tenders, loaded with spare petrol, water and provisions, following behind. A short halt was made at first light for breakfast and then the march resumed.

After 50 miles had been covered Ali spotted a camel caravan moving along a parallel course to the south. A diversion was made and the caravan intercepted by the armoured cars. It was found to be carrying supplies for the Senussi and these were confiscated, the drivers captured and the camels shot. This took more time than had been bargained for and it was almost noon when the column started off again. The route took them ever westward with no further instructions from Ali save to continue in the same direction. The interpreter pointed out testily to the old man that motor vehicles were unlike camels and had to be fed regularly, but Ali steadfastly maintained that this was the way to Bir Hacheim.

After about 100 miles had been covered Ali indicated that the column should swing left and head south over the desert. This generated serious doubt as to whether the guide knew his business. Halts were made frequently to verify the position. By. 15:00 the vehicles had travelled over 120 miles since leaving Solium and the Duke, who had by now completely lost faith in Ali, decided that they had gone far enough. The fuel state indicated that the point of no return had been reached and to venture further would simply result in the temporary immobilization of the Western Frontier Force’s armoured element, and most of its motor transport as well. Suddenly the guide shouted that he could see Bir Hacheim. Through his binoculars the Duke observed two small hummocks on the horizon and Ali assured him that the wells lay beneath.

The cars spread out and charged the mounds. Armed men could be seen scurrying about and running off into the desert, evidently taking their families with them. Soon other, horribly emaciated, figures tottered into view, waving and cheering in cracked voices.

`The scene when we got there was one I shall never forget,’ wrote an officer serving with the brigade’s supply tenders. `Numbers of prisoners were crying without any effort to hide their tears while a number of our men found great difficulty in not following suit; I personally had a very big lump in my throat if nothing more! The majority were so weak from dysentery and starvation that they could only just stand, and most were half naked and ravenous.’

Gwatkin-Williams was in slightly better shape than the rest of his crew, although he had escaped once and been recaptured. He had lost six stone in weight and four of his men had died as a result of their privations; for another, the rescue had come just too late. The Senussi had not been deliberately cruel and had, in fact, lived on the same rations as their prisoners, but food was in terribly short supply and the latter had been forced to eke out their meagre diet with desert snails and roots.

 Seized by blind rage, the armoured car crews roared off in pursuit of the guards. Gwatkin-Williams’ pleas for mercy were ignored and neither age nor sex was spared. The only survivors of the massacre were two babies who were brought back with the column. It was a stain on an otherwise perfect operation, deeply and sincerely regretted when calmer thoughts had returned.

The column set off on its return journey to Solium as soon as the released captives had been clothed and fed, reaching Bir Wair, now held by a unit of the Australian Camel Corps, at 23:00. The drivers were exhausted and most collapsed over their wheels the minute they arrived. The Duke had gone ahead to make arrangements for the survivors, who were placed aboard a hospital ship for passage to Alexandria as soon as they reached Solium. The armoured cars remained at Bir Wair for two days until a sand storm blew itself out, but drove up to the fort to the cheers of the infantry and a salute fired by the artillery. Once again, General Peyton congratulated the unit on its remarkable achievement.

Napoleon in Italy I

Napoleon married Josephine on 9 March 1796. Two days later he left Paris for the frontiers of Piedmont, having the previous month been appointed to the command of the Army of Italy. For the overly cynical, this was ‘Barras’s dowry’ – Napoleon’s reward for having relieved the Director of his old mistress. But this is clearly to go too far. The plan of campaign for 1796 for the first time involved an offensive in Italy, and in this theatre of war the Corsican general was the French army’s chief expert: indeed, the few weeks he had spent in the Bureau Topographique had largely been spent in drawing up fresh plans for operations there. Furthermore, although he had gained a substantial victory at Loano on 23-4 November 1795, the current commander of the Army of Italy, General Schérer, was opposed to any further advance. That said, however, Napoleon was eager for a field command. In the first place, as he said himself, ‘A general twenty-five years of age cannot stay for long at the head of an army of the interior.’ Apart from sheer love of glory, his sudden emergence from obscurity had yet to be matched by the respect of many of his fellow generals, some of whom, at least, were now his declared enemies (one such was the equally young and energetic Lazare Hoche, who had just won great renown by pacifying the Vendée and was also another former lover of Rose de Beauharnais). And, though by no means too proud to reject his patronage, Napoleon clearly disliked Barras. He later remarked, ‘Barras . . . had neither the talent of leadership, nor the habit of work . . . Having left the service as a captain, he had never made war, whilst he possessed nothing in the way of military knowledge. Elevated to the Directory by the events of Thermidor and Vendémiaire, he did not have any of the qualities necessary for such a post.’ The feeling was mutual – according to the Director, his protégé was an ‘oily-tongued wheedler’ – but for the time being the alliance persisted and Barras urged his fellow Directors to give Napoleon the Italian command. For a particularly interesting slant on the situation, we may turn to the memoirs of Lavallette, who was soon to become one of Napoleon’s aides-de-camp:

The duties of commander-in-chief in Paris conferred great power on General Bonaparte . . . but soon the government felt annoyed and even humiliated by the yoke imposed on them by the young general. As a matter of fact he only acted on his own initiative, concerning himself with everything, making every decision himself, and only acting as he himself thought best. The activity and wide range of his mind, the domineering quality of his character would not lend themselves to obedience on any matter at all. The Directory still wished to handle the Jacobins with tact; the general ordered the hall in which they met to be closed, and the government only heard that this had been done when it was about to debate the question. The residence in Paris of members of the former nobility appeared to be dangerous. The Directory wanted to expel them, but the general protected them. The government had to yield. He issued regulations, recalled certain generals who had been disgraced, dismissed every impulsive suggestion summarily, ruffled the vanity of all, set all hatreds at defiance, and stigmatized as clumsiness the slow and uncertain policy of the government. And when the Directory made up their minds to protest mildly, he . . . explained his ideas and his plans so clearly and easily, and with such eloquence, that there was no answering him, and two hours afterwards everything he had said was carried out. However, if the Directory was tired of him, General Bonaparte was no less tired of life in Paris, which offered no scope for his ambition, no opportunity for glory such as his genius craved. A long time ago he had made plans for the conquest of Italy. A lengthy period of service with the Army of Nice [sic] had given him the time necessary to mature his schemes, to calculate all difficulty and to weigh all hazards; he applied to the government for the command of that army, for money and for troops. He was appointed commander-in-chief and was given the troops, but only the moderate sum of a hundred thousand crowns. It was with such meagre resources that he was to conquer Italy at the head of an army which had not been paid for six months and was without shoes. But Bonaparte knew his own strength, and, embracing a tremendous future with exhilaration, he bade farewell to the Directory, which watched him go with secret pleasure, happy to be rid of a man whose character mastered them, and whose vast schemes were merely, in the eyes of most of its members, the impulse of a young man full of pride and effrontery.

In March 1796, then, the personal history of Napoleon Bonaparte at last meshed with the march of international relations. Before engaging with the conflict in which he became a combatant, however, it would be advisable to take a step back and survey the picture that has emerged from this discussion of the future emperor’s early years. Let us first be entirely honest. The years from 1769 to 1796 are extremely difficult to chronicle: unpublished primary material is in short supply, while such memoirs that exist, not to mention the recollections of Napoleon himself, are uniformly partisan and in some instances little better than inventions. Nor is this an end to the problem, for much of the material that we have is so ambiguous that it is susceptible to entirely contradictory interpretations. No Napoleon, then, is in the end likely to be anything more than a reflection of the personal inclinations of its creator. Yet it does remain much harder to accept the image of Napoleon the idealist than it does that of Napoleon the opportunist. Whether it was the neglected child born to a mother who had suffered a difficult pregnancy, the scion of a family of inveterate social climbers, the second son engaged in endless rivalry with his elder brother, Joseph, the despised outsider at Brienne, the gawky officer cadet teased by girls as ‘Puss-in-Boots’, the failed Corsican politician, the exiled refugee, the hero of the hour deprived of his rightful glory, the penniless brigadier touting frantically for a post in Paris, the ‘Vendémiaire general’ in debt to the despicable Barras, or the young husband enamoured of a wife who was as ardent as she was grasping – a whole succession of Napoleons conspired to produce a genuinely frightening figure. To use the word ‘megalomaniac’ at this stage would probably be unwise, but all the same what we see is a man filled by loathing of the mob, contemptuous of ideology, obsessed by military glory, convinced that he had a great destiny and determined to rise to the top. Added to this was jealousy of the many generals who had won far more laurels on the battlefield than he had, and, in particular, of General Hoche. ‘It is a fact,’ wrote Barras, ‘that of all the generals Hoche was the one who most absorbed Bonaparte’s thoughts . . . On arriving in Italy he asked all new-comers, “Where is Hoche? What is Hoche doing?”’ It was a dangerous combination. Marmont recalled his first meeting with Napoleon after Vendémiaire, when the new commander radiated ‘extraordinary aplomb’, while being marked by ‘an air of grandeur that I had not noted before’. As to the question of whether he could be kept under control, this seemed doubtful: ‘This man who knew how to command so well could not possibly be destined by Providence to obey.’

Such was the young man who in 1796 found himself at the head of the Army of Italy. What, though, of the conflict, or rather series of conflicts, into which he was now plunged? Let us begin by making one thing very clear. The French Revolutionary Wars were not a struggle between liberty on the one hand and tyranny on the other. As we have seen, indeed, they were not wholly about the French Revolution at all. Of course, this does not mean that ideology played no role in the spread of conflict: on various occasions, it intensified tension. But it was not the chief cause of trouble. The diplomatic history of the 1790s (and indeed, the 1800s) suggests that few of the great powers of Europe had any problems with the concept of peace with France, or even an alliance with her. Nor did the 1790s bring any real change in the aims of the great powers, who in each case pursued goals that would have been comprehensible to rulers of fifty or even a hundred years before. This should not be taken to mean that these goals were fixed. Every state at one time or another had choices to make in terms of their priorities and partners, or felt that it had no option but to sacrifice one goal in favour of another. Much the same was true of the structures within which they operated: the dynamic of international relations in Europe altered very considerably over the course of the eighteenth century, and continued to change after 1789. But until the beginning of the nineteenth century, at least, the general range of those choices remained substantially the same, the implication being, of course, that the French Revolution did not suddenly engage the exclusive attention of every ancien-régime chancellory and ministry of war.

One might with some justice go well beyond this. Not until 1814 did the powers finally set aside their differences and concentrate all their forces and energies in a fight to the finish with Napoleon. For the time being, though, our priority must rather be to examine the age of conflict that formed the eighteenth-century context. For over a hundred years before 1789 there had hardly been a year when the whole of Europe had been at peace. Why this was so is again a question that need not detain us here for too long. However, in brief, for all the monarchies of Europe the battlefield was at one and the same time a gauge of their power and a theatre for their glorification and, by extension, an important means of legitimizing their power at home where they were frequently challenged by feudal aristocracies and powerful religious hierarchies. Meanwhile, war bred more war. To some extent the ever greater demands which it imposed – for the eighteenth century was an age when armies and navies grew steadily bigger and more demanding in terms of their equipment – could be financed by internal reform. Hence the ‘enlightened absolutism’ which was so characteristic of the period from 1750 to 1789 and beyond, not to mention the efforts of both Britain and Spain to exploit their American colonies more effectively. But a variety of problems, including not least the resistance of traditional elites – a factor that could in itself generate armed conflict – meant that there were only limited advantages to be derived from such solutions, and thus it was that most rulers looked at one time or another to territorial gains on their frontiers or the acquisition of fresh colonies. This, of course, implied war in Europe (which given its cost in turn implied territorial gain or at the very least financial compensation). No major state would ever have agreed to relinquish even the smallest province voluntarily and, while the weaker ones could sometimes be overawed into doing so, a unilateral gain for one monarch was not acceptable to any of the others: if, say, Sweden took over Norway, Russia would have expected to take over a slice of Poland. Nor was this an end to the problem. To go to war successfully, it was necessary to possess allies, and allies in turn expected to be paid for their services, either in money or in land. As this set off a fresh chain of demands for compensation, many of the conflicts of the eighteenth century turned into truly continental affairs that drew in states from Portugal to Russia and from Sweden to Sicily. Nor, by the same token, could any peace settlement ever be definitive. Thus, no war was ever fought with the aim of obtaining total victory. Aside from the question of cost, no dynastic monarch would ever have sought to beggar another altogether, if only because the ruler concerned might prove a useful ally in the next crisis. Yet this in turn meant that the loser of any conflict was almost always in a position to seek to overturn the result of one war by seeking victory in another, and so a game that was essentially pointless continued to fascinate and mesmerize.

Many factors, then, conspired to make war endemic in eighteenth-century Europe. However, the pressures that led to conflict were increasing, not least through changes in the structure of international relations. Very, very gradually, foreign policy was moving from being an affair of dynasties to being an affair of nations. This development must not be exaggerated: indeed, it affected only a few states and made limited progress even in them. Yet, for all that, it cannot be completely ignored. In a very vague and general sense it was everywhere understood that there ought to be a connection between foreign policy and the well-being of the subject, but in most cases little more than lip service was paid to the idea, while there was no sense that the populace had a right either to be consulted on the issue of war or peace or to expect concrete benefits in the event of victory. The peoples of Europe were in effect mere pawns to be mobilized or called to endure suffering exactly as their rulers thought fit. Starting in England in the seventeenth century, however, a new pattern began to emerge in that we see the first stirrings of public opinion. As early as the 1620s, for example, Charles I caused outrage among many of his subjects by failing to intervene effectively in favour of the Protestant cause in the Thirty Years War. In this instance, the stimulus was religious, but as the establishment of the American colonies, the penetration of India and Africa and the slave trade brought wealth to Britain, so the issue shifted rather to matters of commerce, the state increasingly being expected to use its power to protect the investments of the oligarchy (and beyond them the well-being of a much broader section of society). In practice, of course, the British state did not need much in the way of urging when it came to defending its colonial possessions and increasing their extent, but it would now find it much harder to back away from doing so. Similar pressures, meanwhile, had been generated in the United Provinces, France and, to a lesser extent, Spain, while elsewhere particular groups had emerged that remained too isolated from the rest of society to deserve the label ‘public opinion’ and yet had a considerable stake in foreign policy (a good example is the Russian nobility’s strong interest in the Baltic trade with Britain).

Though by no means unimportant, these issues were outweighed by other more pressing matters. Particularly for the eastern powers, there was the issue of the rising costs of their military establishments. As the eighteenth century advanced, so their armies increased: Russia and Prussia more than doubled the size of their armies between 1700 and 1789, with Austria not far behind. What had mattered in the early part of the century had been dynastic prestige and in particular the question of which reigning families should rule the many states that were bedevilled by succession crises. But beginning with Frederick II of Prussia’s invasion of Silesia in 1740 what mattered now was territory. Conquest was essential, and because this was the case all considerations of legality and morality began to go by the board. But so long as all the major states in Europe were playing the same game, it was held (at least by many of their rulers and statesmen) that universal conquest brought with it universal good. The weaker states of the Continent would suffer, certainly, but as none of the great powers would lose out in relation to one another, the net result would be a balance of power that made for general security. To put it another way, conquest was a moral duty from which all would benefit, and war, by extension, an act of benevolence. Nor did war seem especially threatening. In 1789 the standing armies of Europe may have been much bigger than they had been in 1700, but new crops, better transport, improved bureaucracies, more productive fiscal systems, harsher discipline and tighter procedures in the field all ensured that the horrors of the Thirty Years War, in which masses of unpaid men had simply surged from one side of Germany to the other, living off the country and denying the authority of political masters that had lost all ability to pay and supply them, would not be repeated. At the same time, war was also less costly in another sense. Thanks to developments in the art of generalship, it was assumed that battle would be less frequent. Enemy armies would be manoeuvred out of their positions, and their commanders – products of an age of reason – would tamely accept the logic of their position and march away, leaving their opponents to move in unopposed. If battles could largely be avoided, sieges, too, would become less of an endurance test, for it was widely accepted that once a fortress had had its walls breached, its governor would capitulate without further resistance so as to save the lives of both the townsfolk and his men.

But in reality Europe was no more getting safer than she was becoming more civilized. Given that every possible territorial solution that could be worked out for the Continent of Europe was bound to upset one or other of the great powers, continual conquest led not to perpetual peace but rather perpetual war, and therefore produced not security, but insecurity. As the Seven Years War had shown, as the stakes grew ever higher, so rulers with their backs against the wall would habitually resort to battle rather than simply accepting the logic of superior numbers or generalship, just as they would be inclined to put fortress governors under great pressure to resist the enemy to the utmost: this was the conflict that gave rise to the phrase ‘pour encourager les autres’. As the War of the Bavarian Succession had shown, late eighteenth-century regular armies were much less likely than those, say, of the War of the Spanish Succession to be able to pull off the sort of feats of manoeuvre that would have been required to decide the issue of wars without a battle: Marlborough’s march to the Danube in 1704 could never have been replicated seventy years later. And there was certainly no diminution in the sufferings of the civilian population, nor in the damage which an army’s passage could inflict on a district. On the wilder fringes of warfare – the Balkans, the frontiers of the American colonies – torture and massacre were very much the order of the day while large parts of Germany had been devastated by the Seven Years War. The overall picture is a grim one: war may not have been the monster of the seventeenth century, but it was still a savage beast. Many rulers and statesmen were well aware of this reality, and a few even tried to back away from the traditional power game. But in the end they were helpless, for the only weapon they could fall back upon was the same mixture of alliance and armed force that had caused the problem in the first place.

Indeed, the situation was even worse than this suggested. By the mid-s a major conflagration was in the making. Let us begin by considering France. Once mighty, since 1763 she had suffered a series of major catastrophes and humiliations. In the East the first partition of Poland of 1772 gravely weakened her chief allies in Eastern Europe. Stripped of her enormous American territories in the Seven Years War, she had gained a certain degree of revenge by assisting the nascent United States of America in the American War of Independence, only to find that this action had shattered her financial position beyond repair. And finally, without money, Louis XVI was repeatedly humbled, being forced both to accept a profoundly unfavourable commercial treaty by the British and to stand by helplessly while Prussian forces crushed the pro-French regime established by the Dutch revolution of 1785-7. To say that on the eve of the Revolution France was bent on a war that could reverse these disasters would be a wild over-statement – her statesmen were actually pursuing a variety of courses, some of them quite contradictory – but nevertheless this was certainly an option that was being kept open and prepared for. While a massive programme of military reform transformed the army and prepared it for offensive operations, French diplomats sought to bolster the position of Austria – France’s chief ally – by seeking an alliance with Persia that might make Russia think twice about going on the offensive in the West. At the same time, efforts were made to dissuade Vienna from embarking on military adventures in the Balkans and also to build up the Turks against Russia. As for Britain, she too was threatened by French alliances with the rulers of Egypt (in theory, a province of the Ottoman Empire, but in practice a quasi-independent dominion), Oman and Hyderabad.

It was not just France that was threatening to overthrow the status quo, however. Among the eastern powers, too, there were worrying stirrings. In Austria, Joseph II had been engaged in an aggressive attempt to build a powerful, centralized state, but he had run into increasing opposition and was inclined to seek redress not only in plans that would have involved taking over Bavaria in exchange for giving her rulers the Austrian Netherlands (i.e. the western half of present-day Belgium), but in launching an attack on the Ottoman Empire alongside Russia. Also contemplated was a renewed war with Prussia, which had been asking for trouble in recent years by frustrating a series of Austrian attempts to reinforce her position in the Holy Roman Empire, and was also no longer ruled by the mighty Frederick the Great, who had died in 1786. Yet, now under Frederick William II, the Prussians were also on the move. Their gains in the first partition of Poland had been much smaller than those obtained by either Russia or Austria and failed to include a number of key objectives. Still worse, while Russia had gone on to make further gains in the Russo-Turkish war of 1768-74, the War of the Bavarian Succession of 1778 had brought Prussia precisely nothing. In the first place, the means used were to be peaceful ones – like Vienna, Potsdam was quite capable of working out fanciful plans for territorial exchanges and Frederick William II himself was no warlord – but it is clear that there was to be no drawing back. In Sweden there was a situation parallel to that of Austria in that a reformist monarch – in this case Gustav III – had run into serious opposition at home, and wished to reinforce the power of the throne by a flight to the front vis-à-vis Russia. And last but not least there was the Russia of Catherine the Great, which was proving so aggressive in its interpretation of the treaty that had ended the previous war with Turkey that Constantinople was being pushed ever closer towards a counter-stroke.

This is not the place to retell the long and complicated story of the events that followed. In brief the inevitable crisis exploded in August 1787 when Turkey attacked Russia. This in turn provoked a general war in Eastern Europe with Austria and Russia pitched against Turkey, Sweden pitched against Russia, and Denmark pitched against Sweden. By 1790 most of the fighting had died down, but in the midst of the general confusion revolution had broken out in Poland where a reformist faction was anxious to restore her fortunes and build a modern state. Until now, events in France had for the most part been ignored, but in the course of 1791 she too was dragged into the crisis on account of Leopold II of Austria’s desperate attempts to stave off a further round of hostilities and, in particular, a further partition of Poland. There was no desire for war with the French Revolution per se – indeed, in Leopold’s case there was no desire for war at all – but in April 1792 clumsy Austrian tactics combined with political manoeuvrings in France herself initiated the French Revolutionary Wars. Initially, the belligerents were limited to France on the one hand and Austria and Prussia on the other, but within a year events had drawn most of the states of Europe into a great coalition against France. But this was no counter-revolutionary crusade: none of the powers that fought France had any desire to restore the ancien régime as it had existed in 1789, and many either limited their commitment to the struggle or dropped out of it altogether; within a short time of Napoleon taking over the Army of Italy, indeed, Spain was actually fighting on France’s side. For most powers, in fact, the war against the Revolution was either subordinated to long-standing foreign policy aims or waged in accordance with those aims. Thus Russia and Prussia always put the acquisition of territory in Poland (which was completely wiped off the map by two further partitions in 1792 and 1795) before the struggle against France, while in Prussia’s case she only entered the conflict at all because she thought that it would bring her territorial gains in Germany. Austria was still thinking in terms of the ‘Bavarian exchange’. And as for Britain, she went to war to prevent France from taking over the Low Countries, did so all the more willingly because war with Paris offered her a way out of the diplomatic isolation that had made her so vulnerable in the American War of Independence, and for much of the time prosecuted the struggle by means of tactics that gave a further boost to her colonial and maritime superiority. This was not to say that ideology was lacking. No ruler wanted revolution at home – there was, indeed, genuine horror at the events of 1792-4 – and many governments clamped down hard on freedom of debate. At the same time, the defence of the ancien régime or the international order was made use of as a handy means of legitimizing the war effort, just as counter-revolution was employed – most notably, by the British – as a means of stirring up revolt inside France. But engaging in a total war to restore Louis XVIII (Louis XVI’s successor) was quite another matter. A Bourbon on the throne of France might be a good thing in many respects, but in the end it was something that could be sacrificed to expediency, especially as the belligerents were divided as to what ‘restoration’ should actually mean, with the British, at least, advocating some sort of constitutional settlement and others looking to a reconstituted absolutism.

In France the concept of an ideological war was certainly much stronger than elsewhere. In 1791-2 there had been real fears of a counter-revolutionary crusade, while the Brissotins – the radical faction that had championed the cause of war – had accompanied their demands with much talk of sweeping the tyrants from their thrones. But appearances are deceptive. In large part the fears of foreign intervention were a deliberate creation of the Brissotins, for whom war was primarily a political tool designed to consolidate the Revolution and further their personal ambition. And, despite their rhetoric, when France went to war in April 1792, she did so only against Austria. Every effort was made to avoid conflict with Prussia, and get the Prussians to turn on their old enemies. The war the Brissotins got, then, was not at all the one they really wanted. With France hopelessly unprepared for such a struggle – her army was in disarray and the famous Volunteers of 1791 and 1792 a distinctly unreliable weapon – revolutionizing the Continent now gained real importance. But it was not just this: to some extent Brissot and his own followers simply became carried away with their own speech-making and drunk with vainglory; hence the glorious abandon with which they declared war on country after country in early 1793. Yet in the end their crusade amounted to very little. Late 1792 saw France offer to give help to any people who wished to recover their liberty, denounce the principles that lay behind such acts as the partition of Poland, and set up a variety of foreign legions whose task it was to raise the peoples of their home countries in revolt. But there were plenty of clear-sighted realists in Paris who realized that this was hopelessly impractical and unlikely to achieve anything in the way of results. Amongst them was Robespierre, and so practically the first act of the Committee of Public Safety was to make it quite clear that its watchword was France and France alone: amongst those who died under the guillotine in the summer of 1793 were a number of over-enthusiastic foreign revolutionaries. Under the Thermidorian regime and the Directory the pendulum swung back in the direction of aggression, but liberation was now but a word, albeit a useful one that allowed France’s rulers to prove their revolutionary credentials. In Belgium and the left bank of the Rhine, it was code for annexation, and in Holland, where the first of a series of satellite republics were established, a euphemism for political, military and economic exploitation. And if revolution was supported elsewhere, most notably in Ireland, it was clearly little more than a device to weaken and disrupt the enemy. As for the specific goals of French policy, it was clear that many of them fitted in very closely with goals that had been enunciated at one time or another under the ancien régime. Also visible was an intellectual structure that had nothing revolutionary about it at all. At least one member of the Directory – Reubell – saw Belgium and the left bank of the Rhine simply as France’s compensation for the gains made by the eastern powers in Poland. Ideological commitment to expansion was not completely dead: inside the Directory Reubell was challenged by the fiery Larevellière-Lépeaux, who was not only an erstwhile Brissotin, but the deputy who on 19 November 1972 had introduced the decree promising assistance to any people that wished to recover its liberty. But in general the watchword was calculation. Indeed, it is Schroeder’s contention that, under the influence of the prime realist Carnot, the Directory wanted not a continuation of the war, but rather a general peace settlement: so anxious was the ‘architect of victory’ for this outcome, that he was even ready to forsake the Rhine frontier.

If peace was to be obtained, however, at the beginning of 1796 it appeared that it was going to have to be by force of arms, for Austria and Britain – the twin linchpins of opposition to the Republic – were by no means ready to make peace. Although under serious financial pressure, Austria was not yet desperate enough to consider a separate peace. In many ways this made sense: aside from the need to escape impending bankruptcy, by 1796 Austria’s chief war aim was the acquisition of Bavaria in exchange for her territories in the Low Countries, and this, as Schroeder has shown, was more likely to be achieved through a deal with France than by any other means. But in reality, dropping out of the war was impossible. Should peace talks with France fail and Britain find out about Austria’s double-dealing, Vienna could probably bid farewell to both British support for the so-called Bavarian exchange and, more importantly, a large loan she was currently trying to negotiate with London. Nor would a successful deal with France be much help: Austria might rationalize her frontiers in the west, but in doing so she would almost certainly risk war with Prussia and Russia, who were both likely to press for territorial compensation. In the circumstances then, fighting on, which in any case meshed with the personal fear and antipathy felt by the Austrian chancellor, Thugut, for the Revolution, seemed by far the safest option, for it at least locked in the Russians – also theoretically at war with France – into their alliance with Vienna, and thereby protected the gains Austria had made from the recent partitions of Poland and helped dissuade the Prussians from joining France (a real possibility that was certainly pursued by French diplomacy in the wake of Prussia’s signature of a peace treaty with France in 1795). As for Britain, despite growing domestic unrest and the personal desire for peace of the prime minister, William Pitt, she too had no option but to fight on: secret contacts held with France in 1795 having suggested that, Carnot notwithstanding, the Directory would never abandon the Low Countries unless absolutely forced to do so, anything but victory would signal complete humiliation.

So, with neither Britain nor Austria capable of taking the offensive at this point, the initiative lay with France, who could in any case afford to attack given the withdrawal of Prussia and Spain from the First Coalition in 1795. Napoleon naturally wanted to win the war on the Italian front – Barras claims that he bombarded ‘the Directorate and Ministers with demands for men, money and clothing’. This help was not forthcoming, for the Directory intended its main blows against the enemy to be rather a major invasion of Ireland and an offensive in southern Germany. Yet Napoleon still came to the fore. The expedition to Ireland was turned back by a ‘Protestant wind’, and the invasion of Germany defeated by the Austrians. In Italy, however, matters were very different: striking across the frontier from its base at Nice in April

1796, within a few short months Napoleon’s ragged little army – at the beginning of the campaign he had only some 40,000 men, who Marmont describes as ‘dying of hunger and almost without shoes’ – had forced Piedmont, Tuscany, Modena and the Papal States to make peace, overrun northern Italy, and beaten a succession of Austrian armies. With Vienna itself threatened with occupation, the badly shaken Austrians asked for an armistice, and an initial peace settlement was duly signed at Leoben on 18 April 1797.