Travel in Turkey – Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya, is one of the most impressive landmarks of the world, and a major stop on any visit to Istanbul.  Over 1500 years old, it combines art & architecture of Byzantine and Islamic artists.

Download royalty free images of Hagia Sophia Hagia Sophia at night
Hagia Sophia at night

Santa Sophia possesses the power essential to any of the man-made Wonders of the World that I have seen, which is the power to sweep aside all preparations made in your mind, and to hit you amidships with an original force which makes you stop and stare.  Venice’s Grand Canal does that, and the Taj Mahal and the skyline of Manhattan seen from Central Park; and so does Santa Sophia.  First there is the hint of vast internal space glimpsed between massy columns, the effect of its magnitude broadening upon you as you advance under shadows in the half-domes like clouds, under gilt like dingy sunlight, until you are far from shore in the midst of the place, exposed to the total blow it deals you.  Reverberant, multitudinous , the crowds with their many-echoing voices pay homage to the building itself, prayers of Muslim and Christian alike arising into those dim muttering domes lie the smoke of incense mounting into the cranium of an indifferent god. Thereafter the building’s presence up there on the skyline dominating the city – knowledge of what those domes contain every time I look up and see them there – has made me feel that I have identified the genius of the place, much as you feel that Vesuvius brooding above Naples is that city’s genius loci.

Journey to Kars – Philip Glazebrook

Travel in Turkey – Istanbul

When we visit Istanbul, we try to stay in the Sultanahmet area since it’s in easy walking distance of many major attractions, including the Grand Bazaar. And  Hagia Sophia is a short walk towards the Golden Horn, while nearby is the sprawling complex of the Topkapi palace which takes a day in itself.  Topkapi host everything from the sultan’s harem, Mohammed’s sword, jeweled clothing of the sultans,to the famous Topkapi jewels and the kitchens that fed thousands of Janissaries.  And that doesn’t include time for the separate museums on its ground such as the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Middle Eastern Countries. Splendid imperial mosques include the Blue Mosque, the Suleymanie, and Hagia Sophia. Vivaldi played in the background as we toured the enormous Basilica cisterns.

Sultan Ahmet Camii ( Blue Mosque ) glows in early evening light
Sultan Ahmet Camii ( Blue Mosque ) glows in early evening light
Galata Tower originally built as a fire watchtower in Istanbul, Turkey
Galata Tower originally built as a fire watchtower in Istanbul, Turkey
Head of Medusa as column decoration
Head of Medusa as column decoration
Ancient columns in water

Ancient columns in water

Sometimes magnificent works of art are preserved by a quirk of fate. An Ottoman pasha had the mosaics of St. Saviour whitewashed, and they were only recovered in the 20th century. These mosaics and frescoes of the Chorae  Church form one of the visual highlights of any tour. If you’re interested in calligraphy, you’ll want to visit the small museum devoted to this artform near Bayezit.

In addition to the imperial mosques, many exquisite, smaller mosques are scattered thru the city, and display incredible Iznik tiles and other decoration.

In the Taksim area, Gezi Park was quiet on our most recent visit. There was a small protest near Galatasaray, but the police presence was much larger. Several dozen police and a water cannonvehicle nearby. A hundred yards up the road, a similar detachment of riot police; repeated several times all the way back to Taksim Square itself where there were more police and tanker trucks to re-supply the water cannon. Luckily the day ended peacefully.

Book – Gore Vidal – Inventing a Nation

American Revolution comes to life

The broadside was a common form of media during the American Revolutio.  Inventing a Nation is such a broadside – a compact melange of anecdotal history, contemporary commentary and unabashed partisan rhetoric — in other words, a great read! Vidal surveys the period from 1776 to 1800, concentrating on the personalities and writings of Hamilton, Adams, Washington, & Jefferson. Along the way, he contrasts 18th century politics and political philosophy with 21st century politics. Other times he’s satisfied with the quick jab, as when he quotes Adams’ view of the newly arrived French minister as a comparison with “our first unelected president”:

John Adams had known Genet’s family in France: he had also known the boy himself. Politely, he received the fiery minister and then wrapped him round with Adamsian analysis of the graveyard sort: “A youth totally destitute of all experience in popular government, popular assemblies, or conventions of any kind: very little accustomed to reflect upon his own or his fellow creatures’ hearts; wholly ignorant of the law of nature and nations . . . ” Adams did grant him “a declamatory style. . . a flitting, fluttering imagination, an ardor in his temper, and a civil deportment.” Thus two centuries ago the witty French had sent us an archetypal personality whose American avatar would one’ day be placed in Washington’s by now rickety chair.

But Vidal’s slyness is only a cover for his real subject — the creation of a government that could hold democracy at bay without the trappings of a monarchy. The book is not much longer than an old-style New Yorker series, and he summarizes major events like the constitutional convention to provide details of the men involved, as seen by themselves and their peers. Early on he shows the prescience of many of the founders:

At eighty-one Franklin was too feeble to address the convention on its handiwork, and so a friend read for him the following words: “I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such: because I think a General Government necessary for us, and there is no Form of Government but what may be a Blessing to the People if well-administred; and I believe farther that this is likely to be well administred for a Course of Years and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall become so corrupted as to need Despotic Government, being incapable of any other. Now, two centuries and sixteen years later, Franklin’s blunt dark prophecy has come true: popular corruption has indeed given birth to that Despotic Government which he foresaw as inevitable at our birth. Unsurprisingly, a third edition of the admirable Benjamin Franklin: His Lift As He Wrote It, by Esmon Wright, is now on sale (Harvard University Press, 1996) with’ significantly-inevitably?, Franklin’s somber prediction cut out, thus silencing our only great ancestral voice to predict Enron et seq., not to mention November 2000, and, following that, des­potism whose traditional activity, war, now hedges us all around” No wonder that so many academic histories of our republic and its origins tend to gaze fixedly upon the sunny aspects of a history growing ever darker. No wonder they choose to disregard the wise, eerily prescient voice of the authentic Franklin in favor of the jolly fat ventriloquist of common lore, with his simple maxims for simple folk; to ignore his key to our earthly political invention in favor of that lesser key which he attached to a kite in order to attract heavenly fire.

In the afterword Vidal pushes the point home, starting from his discussion of the Alien & Sedition Acts, progenitors of the Patriot Act, he follows Jefferson’s careful defense of civil rights with his orchestration of the states counterattack that resulted in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions

In a sense Jefferson had made his case in the first Kentucky Resolution from which Breckinridge had eliminated the core
argument “where powers are assumed [by the Federal government] which have not been delegated [in the Constitution], a nullification of the act is the rightful remedy: that every State has a natural right in cases not within the compact. . . to nullify of their own authority all assumptions of powers by others within their own limits.” Thus Jefferson in 1798 had spoken in favor of the principle of nullification. But the first resolution asked for no more than a general sense of the States that the two Federalist Acts were unconstitutional.

Jefferson had to act cautiously, for, even as Vice President, his mere criticism of the acts of Adams & Hamilton could be a violation of the Sedition Act. [Not so different from today’s Bush supporters who declare any dissent being aid and comfort to the enemy.] In this case, the ultimate confrontation was avoided by Jefferson’s electoral defeat of Adams and immediate
suspension of the 2 acts. But nullification remained an inflammatory concept lurking within the Constitution; exploding in the Civil War 2 generations later. Today, Vidal sees it as perhaps the last defense of the states when the Federal Executive abrogates power.

I’ve only traced here one of several threads Vidal ties to contemporary issues. Others include Hamilton’s creation of the financial system, and Marshall’s bold construction of judicial review. Shortness doesn’t prevent Vidal from presenting many arguments that are vital to today’s national politics. Conservatives’ knee-jerk reactions in reviews are amusing since much of the discussion in the book is of ideas any true conservative should hold as core values!

  • Washington’s Crossing – a Review  An invading force gets bogged down while fighting an insurgency.
    While it could be ripped from today’s headlines, this is actually a book about the American Revolution. This is an impressive work on many levels.
  • History as a Work in Progress History is always a subjective process and the best we can hope is that historians tell us what their particular biases are
  • Best History Book Reviews
  • Download royalty free images of History
  • American Presidents Trivia Game From Zachary to Abe and back from Adams to Wilson, how much do you know about our American Presidents? US Presidents Trivia — challenging for any ability or knowledge level.

Book – The Afghan Campaign – Into the Valley of Bones

Author : Steven Pressfield

A Macedonians soldier’s account of the long war fought by Alexander the Great’s Army in Afghanistan covering the last years of Alexander’s campaigns in Afghanistan, trying to quell insurgencies and tribal warfare. The book is told from the point of view of a ‘Mack’, one of Alexander’s veteran Macedonians.  But it could just as easily been written by Sebastian Junger in ‘War’ describing how little things have changed more than 2000 years later.

On the Afghan tribes:

It is impossible to dislike these fellows. I find myself envying their proud, free life. Labor is unknown to them. Their ponies graze on sweet grass in summer, dry fodder when the passes close. Their wives and sisters weave their garments, prepare their dal and ghee. Families shelter in stone houses, ownership of which they recite back twenty generations, whose only removable parts are the wooden doors and roofs (in case of evacuation due to feuds). Every kin-group holds two residences, summer and winter. If a rival clan raids, the khels drive them out through superior local knowledge. Should an alien power enter in force, as Cyrus in the past or Alexander now, the tribes withdraw to loftier fastnesses, sending to wider spheres of kinsmen until they assemble the necessary numbers; then they strike.

The Afghan Warrior Code:

Nangwali is the Afghan warrior code. Its tenets are nang, honor; badal, revenge; and melmastia, hospitality. Tor, “black,” covers all matters concerning the virtue of women. An affront to a sister or wife’s honor can be made spin, “white,” by no means short of death. Blood feuds, the brothers tell me, start over zar, zan, and zamin: money, women, and land.

In cases of badal, vengeance is taken by father or son. In tor, it’s the husband, except in the case of unmarried women; then all males of the family may not rest until justice has been exacted. The code of nangwali forbids theft, rape, adultery, and false witness; it prosecutes cowardice, abandonment of parents or children, and usury. The code prescribes rites for births and death, armistices, reparations, prayer, almsgiving, and all other passages of life. Poverty is no crime. Reverence for elders is the cardinal virtue, succeeded by indispensable. They crave above all to win back his love. Alexander, of course, is exquisitely attuned to this and knows how to exploit it for all it is worth. Now he adds a further element to set the country on its ear.

Corruption through Money

The wealth that has poured into Afghanistan with the army of Macedon has deformed the economy of the entire region. In the city market, a pear costs five times what it used to. The locals can’t pay. Meanwhile, a second economy has sprung up-the camp economy, the economy inside the Macedonian gates, where the pear may still cost five times its original price, but at least a man can afford it. The natives face the choice of starvation or submission to this new economy, either as suppliers or servants, both of which occupations are abhorrent to Afghan pride. Worse still, the aikas system lures their young women. Soldiers reckon every currency of seduction that can nail them dish, fig, cooch. Now they have a new plum to dangle: marriage. The native patriarchs seek to lock up their daughters. But the draw of the Mack camp is irresistible, for money, adventure, novelty, romance, and now even the prospect of acquiring a husband. For by no means are these invaders unappealing. Mack regiments parade, awash with youthful captains and Flag Sergeants, horseback and afoot, made swashbucking by the brass of their tunics and the dazzle of their glittering arms. Maids slip from midnight windows to consummate trysts in the arms of their ardent, hazel-eyed lovers. When delegations of city fathers appeal to Alexander for assistance in curbing this traffic, he makes all the right noises but takes care to do nothing. He wants the girls infiltrating. His object is to weaken, even sever, the bonds of family, clan, and tribe. He prosecutes this deliberately

Books – Alexander the Great

Steven Pressfield

  • The Virtues of War – Alexander’s story thru his own eyes.
  • The Afghan Campaign-A Macedonian solider’s account of the last years of the long war fought by Alexander’s Army in Afghanistan, trying to quell insurgencies and tribal warfare

Mary Renault’s Alexander Trilogy  holds up to a second reading after 40 years – her story is of the young boy who first takes control of a kingdom, Fire From Heaven.  He discovers the divinity deep within him. In the second book, victories come easily as he conquers ever eastwards, and the story is told by his servant/lover, Bagoas, The Persian Boy. Then, Alexander’s death is expanded from the previous book, the successors, Ptolemy, Seleucus and Antiochus, begin their political and military takeovers  in Funeral Games, shattering Alexander’s empire.

Freya Stark – Alexander’s Path

  • “Eighty percent of Afghans today live in the same exact landscape Alexander the Great must have beheld when he sacked Balkh in 327 B.C., and Genghis Khan when he sacked it again in 1221: walls of straw and mud, half-gnawed away by weather and age; hand-sown fields tilled by doubled-over farmers in unbleached robes with knobbly, wooden tools. Most have no electricity. No clean water. No paved roads. No doctors nearby…” Foreign Affairs, 4/28/2010 

 

In the Graveyard of Empires: America’s War in Afghanistan. By Seth G. Jones. presents the war in its historical context, beginning with Alexander the Great and the proven ability of Afghans to bring down strong empires

More on

Books – Timelines & Atlases

CHRONOS : Interactive Online Historical Timelines

The Times Atlas of World History;

Geoffrey Barraclough, Geoffrey Parker; Hardcover If you’re only going to get one history reference book, THIS IS IT! I’d highly recommend the hardcover version, since you’re going to use this book often. My copy always has post -it notes scattered throughout, and you can’t pick this book up without finding something new. The maps are excellent and innovative, with an excellent index. Besides using this volume for my researches for Chrono’s: Windows in Time, I keep it handy when reading historical novels or other works of history. Invariably it can illustrate and expand on those other books. This is the best single volume reference atlas I own.

Other recommended atlases covering specific time periods:

The following represent a variety of excellent sourcebooks for world history and geography.

 

Book – Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell

 

Orwell’s War in Spain

George Orwell gives a close up view of the attempt to set up anarchist and socialist governments during the 1930’s in civil war-torn Spain

Fragmentation of the Left in the Spanish Civil War

The danger was quite simple and intelligible. It was the antagonism between those who wished the revolution to go forward and those who wished to check or prevent it – ultimately, between Anarchists and Communists….
Given this alignment of forces there was bound to be trouble.”
Such is Orwell’s succinct analysis of the problems facing those who would resist Franco’s right wing coup in Spain in 1936.

Opposed to the Franco-led Fascists (supported by Germany and Italy) was the Popular Front, “in essential an alliance of enemies“. Further complicating the mix was the emerging fact that in Spain, “on the Government [ie, anti-fascist] side the Communists stood not upon the extreme Left, but upon the extreme Right. ” Orwell justifies this counter-intuitive claim with a detailed discussion, summarized by noting that the International Communist movement at this time had forsaken the goal of world revolution to chase the chimera of the completion of a revolution in the USSR. This Stalinist position (including alliances with capitalist democracies at the expense of workers and unions) caused Trotsky and others to seek other venues. Recently, the formerly Maoist (nee ‘Trotskyite’) rulers of China similarly shifted from totalitarian extreme left to authoritarian right (socialist ideals sacrificed to entrepreneurial capitalism, without significant political liberty.) [Compare similar ideas presented in China Wakes -The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power – Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn]

 

Why the Communists dominated

The Communists focused on winning the war no matter what –without collectivization that would alienate the peasants, or worker control of industry that would push the middle classes into Franco’s arms. Their stated goal was parliamentary
democracy, with strong central government, and a fully militarized government under central, unified command. The POUM position was that such talk was just another name for capitalism, and ultimately the same as fascism. Their alternative was worker control, with workers militias and police forces “If the workers do not control the armed forces, the armed forces will control the workers”. The Anarchists (actually a multitude of parties) had comprised in even considering this alliance, but insisted on direct `control over industry by workers, “government by local committees and resistance to all forms of centralized authoritarianism” Orwell’s summary of this bewildering political situation is “Communist emphasis is always on centralism and efficiency, the Anarchist’s on liberty and equality”. Combining forces seemed like a reasonable solution for the duration, “But in the early period, when the revolutionary parties seemed to have the game in their hands, this was impossible. Between the Anarchists and the Socialists there were ancient jealousies, the POUM, as Marxists, were sceptical of Anarchism, while from the pure Anarchist standpoint, the ‘Trotskyism’ of the POUM was not much preferable to the ‘Stalinism’ of the Communists.”

One example of how these rivalries frustrated an effective opposition to the Fascists:

.. the Russian arms were supplied via the Communist Party, and the parties allied to them, who saw to it that as few as possible got to their political opponents. …by proclaiming a non-revolutionary policy the Communists were able to gather in all those whom the extremists h ad scared. It was easy, for instance, to rally the wealthier peasants against the collectivization policy of the Anarchists. … The war was essentially a triangular struggle. The fight against Franco had to continue, but the simultaneous aim of the Government was to recover such power as remained in the hands of the trade unions. It was done by .. a policy of pin pricks…There was no general and obvious counterrevolutionary move.. The workers could always be brought to heel by an argument that is almost too obvious to need stating: ‘Unless you do this, that and the other we shall lose the war’.”

 

 

Spanish Civil War & the Cold War

Modern parallels, from the arguments made during the cold war to modern appeals by the Democratic party to its leftward elements and other progressives– ‘work with us or get something worse’. Or, in his descriptions of the Communist crack down on the other Leftist factions after the 1937 Barcelona street fighting, a comparison of the broad and unchecked abuses of a police force which has no worries about habeas corpus — why worry about producing evidence at a trial when it can merely arrest or ‘disappear’ opponents without any legal representation or outside communication.

But this book is also a very personal one, written less than a year after these events took place, Orwell paints indelible images of life in the muddy trenches, and even the moment when he is shot in the throat:

Roughly speaking it was the sensation of being at the centre of an explosion. There seemed to be a loud bang and a blinding flash of light all round me, and I felt a tremendous shock, such as you get from an electric terminal; with it a sense of utter weakness, a feeling of being stricken and shrivelled up to nothing. The sand-bags in front of me receded into the immense distance… I knew immediately that I was hit, but because of the seeming bang and flash I thought it was a rifle nearby that had gone off accidentally and shot me. All this happened in a space much less than a second. The next moment my knees crumpled up and I was falling, my head hitting the ground with a violent bang, which, to my relief, did not hurt. I had a numb, dazed feeling, a consciousness of being very badly hurt, but no pain in the ordinary sense.”

 

Book – Byzantium – John Julius Norwich

Final assault and the fall of Constantinople in 1453
This is a trilogy consisting of:

      • Byzantium – The Early Centuries
      • Byzantium – The Apogee
      • Byzantium – The Decline and Fall

There’s also an abridged version, in one volume, but I  find it difficult to consider missing out on so much. Norwich writes for the lay reader, but relies heavily on primary sources, often with intriguing quotes.  Despite the potential for dry history, he instead presents a lively and fascinating account of the millennium of Byzantine history, starting with Constantine and ending with the Ottoman conquest. Beginning with a quote from W.E.H. Lecky, 1869,

  • Of that Byzantine empire the universal verdict of history is that it constitutes, without a single exception, the most thoroughly base and despicable form that civilisation has yet assumed.. …The history of the Empire is a monotonous story of the intrigues of priests, eunuchs and women, of poisonings, of conspiracies, of uniform ingratitude of perpetual fratricides.”, he comments, “This somewhat startling diatribe… although to modern ears it is perhaps not quite so effective as the author meant it to be — his last sentence makes Byzantine history sound not so much monotonous as distinctly entertaining — the fact remains that, for the past 200 years and more, what used to be known as the Later Roman Empire has had an atrocious press.  “

 

Norwich proceeds to prove that point in 3 volumes of readable history filled with tales both heroic and despicable.

The footnotes are as intriguing as the main text. After describing how

  • the soldiers everywhere proclaimed that they would accept on none but Constantine’s sons, reigning jointly.  With Crispus dead, that left the three sons born to Fausta; the Caesar in Gaul Constantine II, the Caesar in the East Constantius, and the Caesar in Italy Constans”,

he footnotes

  • The distressing lack of imagination shown by Constantine in the naming of his
    children has caused much confusion among past historians, to say nothing of
    their readers.  The latter can take comfort in the knowledge that it lasts
    for a single generation only — which, in a history such as this, is soon over

His style is brisk and interlocking, writing on the broader European history, he’ll follow one thread for several years, then return to the main branch and continue on.  The current year under discussion is always in the upper right corner of the page, making it easier to follow the twists and turns of the plot.   The book is so well written that one can easily jump in anywhere and pick up the flow.

One of the major benefits of this leisurely treatment is the ability to correct historic misunderstandings and mistakes.  The first and most interesting is his emphasis on the fact that the ‘barbarian’ invasions of the 4th and 5th centuries were almost always led by christianized tribes (Goths, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Visigoths) looking for a land to settle their people.
And in many cases, these were not invasions, but uprisings and revolts of peoples who had been promised land and security by the emperor(s) and then been ignored.  The case of Alaric is of particular interest — history books typically spend a paragraph at best and describe him as an invading brute, whose invasion of Italy is stopped only by a courageous pope.   In fact, Alaric and his Visigoths had been alllied with the Roman Empire for some years, and it was only after they had been continually denied their promised lands that Alaric invaded.  (He was opposed by the Vandal Stilicho who led the Imperial forces. Another interesting view is the ‘fall’ of the Roman Empire (western) in 476. The last Western emperor, Romulus Augustulus abdicated in favor of Odoacer, whose goal was to continue to rule as a subject of the Eastern Emperor. Rather than a major turning point in history, Norwich explains

  • it is also undeniable that most people in Italy at the time, watching the young ex-emperor settle himself into his comfortable Campanian villa, would have been astounded to learn that they were living through one of the great
    watersheds of European history.  For nearly a century now that had grown used to seeing barbarian generals at the seat of power.  There had been Arbogast the Frank, then Stilicho the Vandal, then Aetius — who, though a
    Roman, was almost certainly of Germanic origin on this father’s side — then Ricimer the Suevian.  Was the Scyrian Odoacer, they might have asked so very different from these? 

The answer is that he was — though for one reason only.  He had refused to accept a Western Emperor.  In the past those Emperors may have been little more than puppets; nevertheless they bore the title of Augustus, and as such they were both a symbol and a constant reminder of the imperial authority.  Without them, that authority was soon forgotten.  Odoacer had request the rank of Patrician; but the title that he preferred to use was Rex. In less than sixty years, Italy would be so far lost as to need a full-scale reconquest by Justinian.  I would be two and a quarter centuries before another Emperor appeared in the West; when he died, his capital would be in Germany rather than in Italy, and he would be a rival rather than a colleague — not a Roman but a Frank.

It’s always difficult for modern readers to fully understand any previous culture, and for the Byzantine case, Norwich spends extra time trying to convey a sense of the importance of religion in every day affairs.  Many of the political arguments revolved around the propagation and extermination of various heresies.  Despite the attempts of various councils convened by the Emperors, heresies such as the Arian, Nestorian and monophysite continued to prosper.  What’s particularly interesting is that the history is not a simple progression of orthodox emperors and allied
clergy fighting a successful battle against heterodox opinion.  Rather it’s a much more complex situation in which Arian or monophysite ideas would control the state and church for long periods.  Only after the fact can one look back to see the emergence of the orthodox.   Splits between east and west were also common, but sometimes even comical:

In 482, the Emperor Zeno’s attempt to

  • heal the breach by means of a circular letter known as the Henoticon, had proved spectacularly unsuccessful.  It had sought to paper over the differences .. and, like all such compromises, it had aroused the implacable hostility of both sides.  Most outraged of all were Pope Simplicius in Rome and his successor Felix III, whose anger was still further increased by the appointment to the Patriarchate of Alexandria, with the bless of both Zeno and Acacius, of one Paul the Stammerer, a cleric whose utterances, when comprehensible at all, were violently monophysite in character. At a synod held in Rome in 484, Pope Felix had gone so far as to excommunicate the
    Patriarch of Constantinople — a sentence which, in default of any orthodox ecclesiastic courageous enough to pronounce it, had been transcribed on to a piece of parchment and pinned to the back of Acacius’s cope during a service in St. Sophia, when he was not looking, whereat the Patriarch, discovering it a few moments later, instantly excommunicated him back, thereby not only placing the see of Constantinople on the same hierarchical level as that of Rome but simultaneously confirming and open schism between the two churches that was to last for the next thirty-five years.

The Byzantium trilogy contains a good index, and excellent tables of the emperors, and family trees for the often confusing lineages. The maps are adequate, but as so often happens, fail to contain many of the important place names contained in the text. Luckily there are many excellent historical atlases available as complements.  While expensive ($45 each in hard cover), Byzantium is well worth the price.

Other links:

Books about Turkey

Byzantine Ruins

Book – King Hereafter – Retelling MacBeth

In Dunnett’s unique retelling of the Macbeth story  most resemblance to Shakespeare’s ‘Scottish Play’ is purely incidental. Like the re-visioning of the Arthur tales by Bernard Cornwell, Mary Stewart,  and many others, the
barebones of what we think we know of the story become mere background whispers. Here, the death of Duncan occurs as a minor tremor in the plot. Instead, we’re dropped into the tightly wound world of medieval politics, trade and family feuding so familiar from Dunnett’s two historical fiction series – the Niccolo and Lymond books.

Once again, her hero is an underestimated young man, bright and adept in both trade and politics. This time the setting is the northern portion of Great Britain, the Orkneys and Scandinavia at the height of the Viking successor empires. They squabble to control Denmark and England culminating, after this narrative, in 1066 and all that. Tight, intricate
plotting is her trademark, and once more, allegiances and kingdoms bloom, thrive and then are shattered in the course of a paragraph. And there are the expected setpieces – races along the oars of speeding Viking longships, and ice skate
races in the wintry Orkneys. The only downside is that this is a standalone tale, with no sequels. Never light reading, Dunnett is at the top of my list of historical novelists.

Among the other ideas she incorporates are the  concepts of the pre-capitalist, pre-mercantilist kingdoms [in Philip Bobbitt’s terms, Princely states rather than Kingly states as described in The Shield of Achilles, ] where the ‘monarch’ might actually hold little land. His power relied on holding together an amalgam of territories that had no natural borders. Instead ties of tribal nature still held, while the mechanism was held together by new economic concepts like cash money:

Nowadays, money was something all men had need of. The church required it, to pay armies to push the Saracens back in the Mediterranean; to fight off the heathenish tribes of the Baltic; to establish churches and send her missions
abroad. Kings required it, to bribe their enemies and to pay their friends for services rendered where land was wanting or inappropriate; to hire fleets with, and foreign fighting-men; to buy the luxuries that their status demanded.

And since not every country could make money or, having made it, could protect the place where it was kept, a trade in money was always there: money that did not go rotten or stink or require great ships to carry it backwards and forwards, or fail altogether if the weather was bad or some tribe of ignorant savages wiped out the seed and the growers. Money which grew of its own accord: in Exeter, in Alston, in the Hertz mountains where the Emperor Henry had made his new’palace

 

Free Online Trivia Games

Play:

Halls of Fame

More online games

Book – Newt Gingrich’s Gettysburg

 

What if Lee Won at Gettysburg?

Artillery firing, during Civil War battle reenactment Confederate soldiers advance, Civil War battle reenactment

A counterfactual history trilogy of the Civil War battle of Gettysburg and its aftermath consisting of:

  • Gettysburg
  • Grant Comes East
  • Never Call Retreat

The first volume covers the battle of Gettysburg, though with strategic maneuvers beyond anything contemplated by the actual participants. Like any successful counterfactual history, the authors are careful in their initial changes – in fact, most readers will not even be aware of the changes the authors introduce in the battle up to the end of the first day’s fighting. But by this point enough small changes have already occurred to allow Lee to produce a strategic masterstroke on a par with Jackson’s Chancellorsville march. From here the story rapidly diverges from what we know as history, but never beyond possibility, and it’s amusing to see various participants like Sykes, Sickles, Joshua Chamberlain and others perform in this parallel universe.
The battles scenes are excellent and provide a closeup look at the experience of individual soldiers. We witness how the opposing sides would arrange unofficial truces when the battles end. You’ll probably suspect that the climactic battle of the second book won’t resolve everything since there’s still that third volume! But that never subtracts from the tension & suspense of these books. Great
historical fiction – my only regret is that Gingrich didn’t start writing novels earlier, rather than spending so much time fighting other battles in Congress.
One small annoyance is the tendency of the authors to put anachronistic quotes in the mouths of their actors. The most prominent one was during a race between the armies towards the coast in which a general remarks “let the man on the farthest edge of the flanking troops touch the sea with his sleeve” – a statement actually made 50 years later in World War I by a German general during their flanking attack through Belgium. There are several more of these pillaged pedantries scattered thru the books, but their effect, fortunately, is minimal. One last quibble is why, (from laziness or publication schedule?) they chose to title the last book ‘Never Call Retreat’ – a title previously used by one of the masters of  Civil War history, Bruce Catton.

Even Lee can seem banal when words are put into his mouth:

“We turn this back into a battle of maneuver, gentlemen, the thing we have always done best, the thing that our opponents have never mastered. But let me say it before all of you quite clearly. I am not seeking a half victory. By abandoning this field, some will see that as an admission of defeat, something we have never yet done, completely abandon a field. In so doing we return to a war of maneuver. We cut their line of supply while at the same time continuing to secure our own line of supply by moving our wagon trains back down to Green­castle. The ultimate goal must be to force the Army of the Potomac into territory that we choose and then fight a battle to finish this once and for all”

He looked carefully at each one in turn. “That is what I will expect from you, what our country expects from all of us, and nothing less is acceptable.
We are here to win not just a battle.”

He paused for a moment.

“We are here to win a war.”

Gingrich is better in describing the details of Civil War close combat:

“… along that terrible, invisible line that seems to appear on a battlefront, a line that not even the brav­est will pass, knowing that to take but one more step forward is death.

Some were demoralized, clutching the ground; others, in shock, were cradling wounded, dying, and dead comrades. Most settled down to the grim task at hand. Raising rifles, taking aim up the slope, firing, grounding muskets, reloading and firing again.

In the coldest sense of military logic, this battered line was the shield, the soak off, having taken the first position and now stalling in front of the second. Their job was simply to absorb the blows, to die, to inflict some death upon those dug in until the second and third lines came up, still relatively unscathed, to push the attack closer in.

And so across the next ten minutes they gave everything they had, these volunteers turned professionals, the pride of the Army of the Potomac, the pride of the Republic. Thousands of acts of courage were committed, none to be recorded except in the memories of those who were there, the greatest courage of all simply to stand on the volley line, to fire, to reload, and all the time the litany chant in the background… “Pour it in to them. Close on the colors, boys. Pour it into them!”

Two hundred yards to the rear, the next assault wave reached the outh bank of the flood plain, their officers ordering a halt, letting the men catch their breath for a few minutes, to gulp down some water, while forward their comrades died.

Atop the crest the Confederate forces blazed away, some of the men, acknowledged sharpshooters, calling for others to load, to pass their guns up, making sure that every shot counted, though in the still air, now laced again by showers, the smoke quickly built to a hanging cloud of fog.

Men were falling in the trenches, though not near as many as down on the open slope. Rifle balls smacked into the loosely piled dirt, spraying the men; shots when they hit tended to strike arms raised while ramming or, far more deadly, in the chest or face.

A growing line of dead and wounded lay directly behind the trench, dragged out of the way so as to not be trampled under.

The Union artillery was again in full play, though aiming in most cases too high out of fear of striking their own battle line in the con­fusion. But enough shots were tearing in to do terrible damage…

 

 

Book – Patrick O’Brian – Jack Aubrey novels

Cochrane – The Life & Exploits of a Fighting Captain – Robert Harvey — Both a complementary addition to the Patrick O’Brian naval series, it stands on its own as the biography of an almost unbelievable naval hero. From single ship actions (in one action, Cochrane fought and defeated a ship more than twice his own ship’s size and firepower); to political missions (Cochrane became the admiral of the emergent navy of the west coast of South America, using his tiny fleet to stop Spain from reinforcing its failing colonies), Harvey writes a compelling story. But the stories take on even more interest when you match them with the adventures of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. Over and over, bits of action or plotting from Cochrane’s life show up in the Aubrey novels (O’Brian openly admitted that he borrowed from Cochrane’s career to build Aubrey’s), and as interesting are where the parallels fail. The descriptions of the stock market swindles and trial are particularly interesting and vivid.

Patrick O’Brian naval series
O’Brian is to the nautical novel what Le Carre is to the spy genre – excelling in their chosen form, while creating literature.  O’Brian combines detailed seamanship with intricate plotting. All the characters develop as  the series progresses, and it’s worth starting the series over  to see how much was foreshadowed in the early books.  The menus, superstitions, medical care, techniques of navigation and rigging all command attention.  Jack Aubrey’s is probably a more typical career than Hornblower’s, and he spends most of the books as a frigate commander or captain. While he takes part in some historical actions, most of the background plots involve the secret war undertaken by Stephen Maturin and his London spymasters.

These novels are  filled with carefully written dialog, often humorous, but ever in the style of the time. The relationships are perfect and filled with tiny details. [e.g., the employment of injured sailors as Jack’s estate workmen, where they keep the home as spit polished and shipshape as any of Jack’s oceangoing homes. ]  Stephen & Jack’s musical diversions are sui generi- a clever yet telling development of friendship under wartime conditions.  The sailing and  action sequences remain the core of this genre and O’Brian never fails – the storms and other trials of Aubrey’s seafaring abilities are ever
novel and retain interest throughout the series.

  • The Commodore
  • Desolation Island
  • The Far Side of the World
  • The Fortune of War
  •  H.M.S. Surprise
  • The Ionian Mission
  • The Letter of Marque
  • Master and Commander
  • The Mauritius Command
  • The Commodore
  • The Fortune of War
  • The Hundred Days

 

Companion books:

Lobscouse & Spotted Dog : Which It’s a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels
Anne Chotzinoff Grossman, et al / Hardcover / Published 1997

Harbors and High Seas: An Atlas and Geographical Guide to the Aubrey-Maturin Novels of Patrick O’Brian

Other Nautical fiction

 

Books – Nautical Fiction

Under the broad heading of nautical fiction, there are tales of the Vikings, and tales of the industrial wars of the 20th century, but by far the most prolific and interesting stories deal with the Napoleonic era of 1790 – 1815 . Few other periods give an author enough scope to develop his character over many novels, and provide enough foes to enable frequent promotions. Curiously, novels about the lower decks, while available, rarely can carry on  beyond a single volume, perhaps because the drama in a ship of war is concentrated in the hands of one man, and the rest of the ship’s community has little room for freely chosen action.  CS Forester’s Hornblower series was long the standard for other authors to approach, and none surpassed it until Patrick O’Brian.In the non series category, there are more to choose from. Known mostly for his land based historical novels of 18th century colonial & revolutionary America, Kenneth Roberts‘ Lively Lady still holds up as a compelling story of privateers in the War of 1812. Rabble in Arms is the story of the greatest hero of the revolution – Benedict Arnold. Nautically this inland saga describes Arnold’s Fabian strategy of building a small fleet on Lake Champlain that fatally delayed Burgoyne’s advance from Canada to the Hudson Valley

The Aubrey series by Patrick O’Brian is easily the best nautical series ever written — far superior to Hornblower, Bolitho and the others. Read them in order, or out of sequence, each is a gem. O’Brian is to the nautical novel what Le Carre is to the spy genre – excelling in their chosen form, while creating literature.  O’Brian combines detailed seamanship with intricate plotting. All the characters develop as  the series progresses, and it’s worth starting the series over  to see how much was foreshadowed in the early books.

C. Northcote Parkinson [of P’s Law], wrote several entertaining novels in this genre, including “Devil to Pay” and “Fireship”

Julian Stockwin‘s tales of Thomas Kydd show the times from the view of a pressed landsman, starting at the bottom. Unfortunately, they lack any compelling interest after the first volume; I started the second but couldn’t get very far into it.

Bernard Cornwell

  • Killer’s Wake –
    Combining thrilling sailing adventure with a mystery set in modern England,
    Cornwell does it again.
  • Sharpe’s Trafalgar – Written after the main books in the series, this prequel describes how Sharpe returned home from India, just in time to run into Nelson’s ultimate Victory.  Sharpe makes an easy adjustment to life at sea and the battle sequences are superb.

    And even more nautical fiction

    Others include

    • Maryatt’s Two Years Before the Mast – the story of sailors on the west
      coast of   California in the early 1800s
    • The Man Without a Country – A homily on why bad language is never
      appropriate. Set during the war of 1812
    • Moby Dick
    • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne
    • Susan Sontag – The Volcano Lover
    • Life of Pi
    • The Nautical Chart – Arturo Perez-Reverte
    • Shadow Divers:
    • Tilman : Eight Sailing/Mountain-Exploration books, omnibus volumes

    Other links:

  • Tall Ships
  • World War II Naval vessels
  • Life of Pi
  • Noah’s Flood
  • The Nautical Chart – Arturo Perez-Reverte
  • Shadow Divers:  The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything
    to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II – history rewoven
  • Tilman : Eight Sailing/Mountain-Exploration books, omnibus volumes

Travel Resources

Cascoly Travel & Tour information for worldwide destinations.

 
Head of Medusa

Our specialties: Turkey & Greek Islands 

National Geographic Maps

 
Hercules, Nemrut Dag

Destinations:

United States Travel

National Geographic maps of the United States & Canada

Royalty free images of the United States

CIA World Factbook for United States

 

Canada

CIA World Factbook for Canada

British Columbia
Alberta Nova Scotia
Other
Civil War in Maryland, Pennsylvania, VirginiaNational Parks

Mountains

Goats do Roam
The best way to see Seattle is to leave it…
Acadia – Some less traveled places
American Presidents Trivia Game 
Washington’s Crossing – a Review
Gore Vidal – Inventing a Nation 
Questions of State – American States trivia quiz 
Gettysburg and the Civil War – the Newt Gingrich version
Rogue Nation – American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions
Civil War Battlefields – Manassas Bull Run 
Civil War Trivia Game and Other Fun History Resources 
Gone for Soldiers – the 19th Century Forecast of the Iraqi War 
Kevin Phillips The Cousins Wars 
End of the American Century

Tour Ancient Troy

The Dardanelles has been a strategic water route and an object of conquest throughout history. The city of Troy was placed strategically to dominate the straits, the site for Homer’s epic tales.
Troy Tours

The Dardanelles take their name from Dardanus, the mythical ancestral founder of nearby Troy – He was born, according to our guide, when Zeus was‘naughty’ with Electra, the local king’s daughter.. Also, according to ancient writers, it’s the place where Helle fell from the back of the golden-fleeced ram while passing through the strait on the way to Colchis in the Black Sea, setting the scene for Jason’s quest of the Golden Fleece. Further it’s the setting for the fatal attraction of Hero to Leander, leading to his drowning while trying to swim across to meet her. Such sacrifice, however foolhardy, naturally led later romantic poets to idealize and even try to imitate them.

The Dardanelles has been a strategic water route and an object of conquest throughout history. The city of Troy was placed strategically to dominate the straits, the site for Homer’s epic tales. Then in the 5 BCE the Persian king Xerxes built a pontoon bridge for his army on his invasion of the Greek city states. It was later fought over by Alcibiades in the Peloponnesian War and Alexander used it on his invasion of Asia. A thousand years later the Rumeli Turks crossed here, establishing their first European beachhead, which culminated in the capture of Constantinople a hundred years later. Their castle today benignly observes the European-side ferry landing. In World War I it lured yet another over-confident invader when the British made their landings.

Troy (Troia, or “Wilusa” in the Hittite language) is an ancient settlement located in the province of Canakkale, Turkey. Troy is well-known because the events told in Homer’s epic, “The Iliad”, took place at Troy. The drama of the Trojan War lies at the heart of the Iliad, which is one of two epic poems attributed to Homer. “Trojan” refers to the inhabitants and culture of Troy.

Today Troy is the name of an ancient site, the location of Homeric Troy in Hisarlık, Anatolia, close to the coast in Canakkale province in northwest Turkey. It is also slightly southwest of the Dardanelles near to Mount Ida.
Troyas  has existed for over 4,000 years and is known as a center of ancient civilizations. For many years people believed that it was a city mentioned only in tales and never actually existed until it was re-discovered in the 19th century. Troy (“Truva” or “Troya” in Turkish) is located at Hisarlik hill near the village of Tevfikiye in Canakkale province, where the remains of this once-great city can be visited.

In 1865 an English archaeologist nameed Frank Calvert carried out the first trial excavations at Hisarlık. Later, in 1868, a German businessman, Heinrich Schliemann, began excavating on a much larger scale and at his own expense. From this it was discovered that the city had nine distinct layers and that Homeric Troy was probably what we now call Troy VI. What is left are the remains from the destructive dig carried out by Schliemann.

Today, an international team of German and American archaeologists bring the Troy of the Bronze Age back to life under a sponsored project . A Turkish legal team is work negotiating with Russia and Germany to retrieve stolen Trojan treasures.

The site of Troy was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1998.

A walking tour of Troy is both rewarding and easy; just be sure to bring sun
protection and water, as it can be hot and exposed. Homer immortalized Troy
in his stories of King Priam, Hector, Paris and beautiful Helen.
Archeological excavations have revealed nine separate levels of cities. A
symbolic wooden Trojan horse commemorates the legendary war. There’s more to see here than we were led to expect, though it’s not as dramatic as some other sites. The walls of Troy VI and I are easiest to discern. Then we got a better view of Troy I looking across Schliemann’s Trench, the deep gash early
archaeologists cut thru the midden. Continuing around we passed the ramp and gate of Troy II, then remains of Troy VII and IX, including the Odeon, South Gate. As we returned, we were reminded that this area is still a military
crossroads – overhead, US jet fighters flew back to their Turkish base after
sorties over Kosovo. [1999]

Troy tours include the following:

  • The Odeon
  • Temple of Athena
  • Entrance ramp to Troy II
  • Place of Sacrifice and Altars
  • The Wooden Horse

You can do Gallipoli and Troy as a long day trip from  Istanbul, but it’s much more rewarding to take several days, which then lets you expand to Pergamum. There are good hotels in Cannakale with convenient ferry connections. A guide is highly recommended.

Other links:

What’s New – Book Reviews

Book Reviews – Recent additions & updates

History Resources

CHRONOS : Interactive Online Historical Timelines

History by Time Period

History by Topic

 


Map – 1953 – Historical Map of the United States