Nu History Podcast – Episode 5: Late Medieval Kings and Kingmakers

Here’s another podcast for you!

In this episode we talk to Alex Brondarbit, Academic Analyst in the division of Academic Affairs at University of California, and author of two books on late Medieval nobility, power and advancement. We discuss his recent work particularly around English kings and power brokers. We also talk about the experience of getting history books written and published in this day and age.

You can listen through Spotify below, or head to Anchor for links to follow on Apple, Google and wherever else you get your podcasts.

Nu History Podcast – Episode 4: Beowulf and the Anglo Saxons

The fourth episode of our podcast is here!

For this episode Lilly and Alex are joined by Elton, a historian and “nerd guy about Beowulf” (his own words), who is here to talk about some of his recent work and projects, mostly relating to Beowulf of course!

You can listen through Spotify below, or head to Anchor for links to follow on Apple, Google and wherever else you get your podcasts.

Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain- Formation of New France

As many of you will know Canada and parts of the United States have historical ties to France. Today, Canada recognises French as an official language along with English and the recognised native languages of Chipewyann, Cree, Gwitch’ in, Inuinnqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey and the Dogrib language. This post will explain the formation of New France which will detail Jacques Cartier’s exploration of the St Lawrence River and Samuel de Champlain’s charting of the St Lawrence. This in turn was a stepping stone to the area that is today known as Quebec in Canada. Although this post will focus on the foundations of New France that became Quebec, other places like Acadia, Louisiana and much of the interior of North America formed part of New France. By 1750, New France stretched from Quebec right down to the Bayous of Louisiana.

Cartier’s voyage occurred during the ‘Age of Discovery’ in the fifteenth century. Take the term as you will, it nevertheless was a time when a number of European nations started to explore other territories, notably in the Americas. The prominent nations at the time were; Spain, Portugal, Britain, the Netherlands and France. Cartier was born in St. Malo, the Duchy of Brittany. In 1534, by this time the Duchy of Brittany was amalgamated to the Kingdom of France. King Francis I commissioned Cartier to find a route to Asia so France can prosper from the wealthy Asian markets. However, Cartier had come across the area that is now known today as Newfoundland, the Gaspe Peninsula and other maritime lands near the opening of the St Lawrence River. Cartier and his men who sailed with him first made contact with a native population in the Chaleur Bay and some Iroquoian peoples around the Gaspe Peninsula. The Iroquoian peoples here should not be confused with the Iroquoians that were further south, in the area that is now New York. This contact was said to have not been hostile and some trading occurred, albeit the contact was not for very long. It was on the first voyage that Cartier took two Iroquoian captives with him to France and it was they who revealed the names of the land on that first voyage, ‘Honguedo’ and that the land allegedly featured areas of immense wealth.


In 1535 Cartier returned for his second voyage. However after travelling further up the St Lawrence River this time, Cartier and his men made contact with more Iroquoians living close to the river. The settlements were at Stadacona (now Quebec City) and Hochelaga (now Montreal). Cartier could not sail past Hochelaga as numerous rapids allowed him to go no further. Cartier much preferred the site of Hochelaga than Stadacona as he commented that Hochelaga seemed more appeasing. However, the area did not attract a lot of attention at this point for permanent settlement. Cartier returned to Stadacona before returning to France. However Cartier and his men were unable to due to adverse weather conditions. They had to remain in Stadacona for the winter. Again there was no track of hostility when Cartier and his men stayed during the winter of 1535-1536 before returning to France. Cartier and his men spent their time to strengthen their fleet, collect wood and combat a break out of scurvy. However when Cartier and his men were ready to leave in the spring of 1536 the Iroquoians became unhappy when Cartier decided to take a chief back to France.

Cartier returned for a third voyage, however this voyage was not as successful at least for him on a personal level. Cartier was replaced by a French Huguenot by the name of Jean Francois de la Roque de Roberval, who led that expedition. The goal of this voyage however changed considerably from the other two, whereby the goal was to find an alternative route to Asia. The purpose of this voyage was to find suitable land, full of the necessary resources to make a permanent settlement. Although Cartier did not lead the expedition, he did have permission by Jean Francois to sail before him as he wanted to wait for supplies to be ready for the voyage. Cartier decided to settle on an area further on from Stadacona. The area is a little west to Quebec City today and is now incorporated under the city. The area in question is Cap-Rouge. In addition to Cap-Rouge another area close to it was settled in and fortified to protect French interests. This area was called Charlesbourg-Royal. The land had proven to be successful as food crops like cabbage and root vegetables did grow and harvests were carried out. This proved that it was feasible to farm and grow food. By this time Cartier became interested in an Iroquoian legend from what he had been told during his second voyage. The legend in essence is about somewhere further north there was place full of gold and furs, named Saguenay. During the third voyage he wanted to go out and search for it. However, Cartier was prevented from doing so due to adverse weather conditions and he never came across it. Cartier was not the last person to go looking for it. Many men did try to find it but to no avail. It is unclear just how much truth there is to this legend, if it was misunderstood by Cartier and the French or that the specific Iroquoians who told the legend wanted the French to embrace it and travel further away from their lands. Nevertheless, what we do know is Iroquoian peoples relied in oral history as a way to pass down their stories and traditions for other generations. Before the coined term the ‘Age of Discovery’, Norsemen were the first known Europeans to land in North America. After all they established a settlement by the name of Vinland for a short time. Could it be that this was the origin of the legend? It may very well be, but one thing is for sure was that this was a legend that stuck with the French, particularly Cartier who wanted to set sail to find it. It soon became apparent that Cartier’s time on the North American continent would be short lived, failing to find the legend of Saguenay and failing to protect French fortifications from Iroquoians discontent prompted him to depart for St Malo, whereby he would spend the remainder of his life.

Although Cartier’s time on the North American continent was short lived, a man by the name of Samuel de Champlain was not. By the time Champlain crossed the Atlantic in 1603, trade was a more lucrative prospect. This idea in trade increased when Iroquoian tribes contracted European diseases and many of them left their riverside villages. This allowed a fur trade in the area to flourish. Champlain’s voyage in 1603 was to chart the St. Lawrence River even further as a way to help trade by King Henry IV of France. On a second voyage returning with Pierre Dugua Mons who led the expedition further north. Champlain was asked by Dugua to find a winter settlement. Port Royal, which is today situated in Nova Scotia was the site founded. This site became the start of a new colony, Acadia. This was a particularly potent point for New France as Champlain founded a settlement that was not on the St. Lawrence River. This was a good base for further exploration on the coast. In 1608 Champlain founded a new settlement, where the modern day Vieux-Quebec is. This site consolidated French claim to the area and was used as a base to help stimulate trading endeavours, regarding furs. It was from this point that Iroquoian contact was not relied upon. Many of the St Lawrence Iroquoians had died from European disease or through skirmishes. The Huron people were perceived by Champlain to be the primary suppliers, this proved effective for the French as they had gained an ally but not so much for other tribes known as the Five Nations that intensified discord between them. In addition to the founding of Quebec City, Champlain also settled on an island in the middle of the St Lawrence River. This area was to become Montreal and it was to be used for the same purpose as the previous settlement, for the furs trade further upstream. This settlement was called La Place Royale and later Ville Marie. This three tiered system appeared to work very well with fur traders as the extra site inland enabled them to acquire more territory for the trade to send back to France. By the mid-1600s as a result of the trading, this created a new identity, the Metis. This occurred as many European traders took native wives as a way to bridge the gap between the two distinct cultures. The wives would generally help with any cultural, language or lifestyle concerns. Eventually as the Metis children grew up they were able to interpret for fur traders and become traders themselves as a way to maximise production.

In spite of the fur trade, Ville Marie was unable to attract a considerable numbers of colonists. Most of them came to the area to start up Roman Catholic missions in the hope to convert the native population. Frequent raids occurred in the area from tribes, this offers one explanation as for why other would be colonists from France did not want to come. For those who were there, for many if the attacks persisted this was a sign to leave Ville Marie for Quebec upstream. By the turn of the century however, these raids stopped and this attracted more colonists to come to the area of Ville Marie. This happened because a missionary order under the name of the, Sulpician order convinced some of the native population to move away from Ville Marie to mission villages called Kahnewake and Kanesatake, which became reserves.

All in all this was the foundation for New France and other areas were established under French territory south of the continent. Although this vast area was lost by the French, the Francophone culture remains in the province of Quebec, Canada. Saint Pierre and Miquelon (near Newfoundland) is the only area that remains that was a part of New France, now a French overseas territory.

T. E. Lawrence of Arabia

Thomas Edward Lawrence, or more commonly referred to as T. E. Lawrence or Lawrence of Arabia, as made famous later in the twentieth century by the 1962 film starring Peter O’ Toole. He was a man of many interests and experiences. This post will provide a biographical account of his life but with a particular focus on his involvement during the First World War, the Arab Revolt as part of the First World War specials. Lawrence was born out-of-wedlock in Tremadog, Wales to Sir Thomas Chapman and Sarah Junner on 16th August 1888. The family lived under the name Lawrence and the young Lawrence went on to study History at Jesus College, Oxford. After graduating with a First Class Honours, Lawrence became an archaeologist and worked in the Middle East on various excavations and became acquainted with David George Hogarth and Leonard Woolley, leading archaeologists of the day.

Shortly before the outbreak of the First World War in January 1914, Lawrence undertook a survey of the Negev desert, now modern-day southern Israel. Surveying the area of the desert was of high importance against the Ottoman army if they wanted to invade in the event of war looming but it was also done for archaeological research. However considering the circumstances at the time, it was useful intelligence to have as it would strengthen any onslaught against the Ottomans, who were allies of the German Empire.

As tensions rose the First World War was declared. However Lawrence did not straight away enlist in the British Army. So how did he become immortalised figure that we know as Lawrence of Arabia? Lawrence certainly had a great deal of knowledge about the Middle East and travelled extensively in the area including; Aqaba, the Levant, Mesopotamia and Petra. Intelligence staff were aware of this and upon his formal enlistment they placed him in Cairo. In 1916 the Arab Revolt began on the 5th June and formally declared on 8th June by Sherif Hussain bin Ali. The aim of the revolt was to cease the Ottoman influence in the Middle East and secure independence from them in order to create a single Arab unified state. However, Sherif Hussain bin Ali was rather to have said that it was to do more with the dissatisfaction of the Young Turks. The Young Turks was a political movement that wanted to replace the Ottoman Empire’s absolute monarchy with a constitutional government and by stating that they violated the sacred tenets of Islam. The group became synonymous with discord throughout the early twentieth century which include; the Balkan Wars and the Armenian Genocide. The British dispatched a number of officials to help with revolt along with the French.

Lawrence was sent to the Arabian Hejaz in October 1916 to work alongside the Hashemite forces. Later on during the war Lawrence fought under the command of Emir Faisal who was the son of the Hashemite leader and Emir of Mecca, Hussain ibn Ali al-Hashimi. Populist and sensationalist accounts often embellish Lawrence as the sole Allied presence from Britain and France. It was accounts from an American writer and traveller that certainly made the wider public aware of Lawrence and what he did in the Middle East to help secure Arab independence. However Lawrence himself also helped his own experiences in the Arab Revolt by writing an autobiographical account during 1916-1918.

Lawrence was considered to be a brilliant tactician and could liaise with the Arab troops really well. Guerrilla warfare was what Lawrence, Emir Faisal and the Arab troops conducted against the Ottomans and it was Lawrence who was said to have convinced Emir Faisal that attacking Aqaba was more likely to result in a win than trying to raid Medina. Lawrence seeing as their position was weak to attack Medina at that point, decided on Aqaba and had successfully required the support of his comrades. These irregular attacks against the Ottomans proved to be highly effective. When these skirmishes occurred it hit Ottoman communications and supply routes really hard. In 1917 Lawrence was involved in the Battle of Aqaba, a port on the southern coast of Jordan. The battle itself was not a great obstacle as such it was in actual fact obtained fairly easily in the sense that it was not a stronghold for the Ottomans. Aqaba at this time was a small coastal village and Lawrence demonstrated his strategic mentality through convincing the Ottomans that they were going to attack Damascus rather than Aqaba at this point. Lawrence went even so far to go solo by raiding The Arab troops who did lose their lives was mainly down to environmental factors, like scorpion bites than actual battle fatalities. The march to battle was on land from the Nefud desert. This was the first major victory that the Arabs had over the Ottomans as they withdrew from Aqaba. Considering beforehand that a previous raid on Medina was unsuccessful, the capture of Aqaba was vital as Aqaba now had access to the Red Sea to Egypt. After the capture of Aqaba this enabled the territory to be under the rule of Prince Faisal and be known as the Kingdom of Hejaz. The success of this battle was not without concern as Ottoman troops stationed nearby and made threats to recapture Aqaba and outside the city skirmishes ensued. Nevertheless nothing actually happened in Aqaba itself, considering that security was stepped up. Arab reinforcements and the British forces made their presence known to the Ottomans in Aqaba. As time went on the Arab revolt spread north and reached the areas of Damascus and Aleppo in Syria.

There have been reasons to suggest that he did receive help and that they have been linked to Gertrude Bell’s reports in the Middle East. Like Lawrence, Bell too travelled to the Middle East extensively after completing her University studies. It has been argued that from these accounts, Lawrence was able to successfully occupy the Hejaz over the Turkish defence. Although it may be an indirect influence, the claim was still made. However, it is important to recognise that Lawrence was an integral tool for the success of Aqaba and helping to provide a rallying force to the Arabs who wanted independence from the Ottoman Empire. After the events of Aqaba, Aleppo and Damascus, Lawrence still stood by with his comrades and sought for their independence at the London and Paris Peace Conferences. Self-rule was not granted and that these areas were granted under a French and a British protectorate. Syria (French) and Mesopotamia (British).

Aside from his endeavours in the Middle East, the question regarding Lawrence’s sexuality was and still is a major topic for discussion. Living and working in a time when homosexuality was excluded and frowned upon by society, it has been suggested that he was engaged in a relationship with Selim Ahmed. These suggestions had arisen mainly because of a dedication poem at the start of Lawrence’s personal account of his time in the Middle East, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. However, that is a far stretch and a bold statement, considering it is reliant on the information provided that the poem was dedicated to S. A. It is more probable to think S. A stands for a friend he met whilst there or Arab men and women as a whole. Other claims regarding Lawrence’s sexuality have not ended there. There are further suggestions to state that he was asexual or that he was a masochist. However there has been no solid evidence to confirm this, only the odd statement that he found the experience of being beaten pleasurable and that his friends reckoned he was asexual. It is likely that we will never know.


The English Civil War, an Introduction to the social and political impact

Welcome one and all to a blog post evaluating the Civil war during the 17th century.  Now I assume many of us have heard of Cromwell and Charles I.  One argued to be a tyrannical King and the other apparently the bringer of freedom.  Well both of these judges of character can be easily debated to be the other way round.  Cromwell has much to answer to, I sometimes think him of a genocidal maniac, but perhaps that is too extreme.  Whatever your opinion of him, he is all we talk about regarding the parliamentarians.  Charles however, decided to rule without parliament and tried to rule absolutely, which at the time was unpopular, above all, he appeared to be a Catholic.  Catholics were deemed to be oppressors and loyal only to the Pope, something that many thought would oppress their freedom and rights.  However, Charles is all we really hear about when discussing the Cavaliers (men who sided with the King).  Therefore this post will discuss the social and political impacts of the war, without spending my focus on either Cromwell or Charles!  So lets begin, welcome to the English revolution!

Socially, the Civil war saw 13% of the British population die, either in battle or by diseases that appeared due to the warfare that was happening throughout the nation.  This is a staggering amount of people, considering in relation the First World War saw 3%.  The impacts it would have on communities was devastating, people’s homes destroyed, men needed for farming, now gone, and of course the rise of disease, families were also torn apart, brother against brother, son against father.  The consequences of the war would also change people’s lives.  Military districts were established, and laws passed that closed theatres and of course as we well know, banning Christmas.  Perhaps one of the biggest changes was the establishment of the New Model Army, but this is a term we must be careful using, considering most of this army was still conscripted like the Royalists, they were just better trained and given a stable wage.  This army would allow the King in the future of parliament to control the nation, by force, by the threat of violence.  Perhaps also one may argue that the creation of this army allowed men of different counties to mix, to help solidify the image of being English.  But did much actually change?  Well not really, the war didn’t really affect people’s direct lives, once the war was won/lost, people returned home and carried on with their day-to-day lives, Catholics had to go into hiding, and the Protestants enjoyed a time of risen attendances, but generally people didn’t see much change.  After all, Cromwell would become basically a King in all by name, ruling through the army in which he controlled.  He fought wars with other Protestant states for economic reasons, the same as Charles II would.  After Cromwell’s death, the King was reinstated and life returned to as normal, with a monarch and his parliament.  The thousands of death that happened previously were all for nought.

Politically, we see the only time in British history, where there is no monarch, in a way we see a revolution.  Yes England has revolted many a time, just because it isn’t called one in name, doesn’t mean it is not one!  But the issue is, the civil war did not change much, Cromwell was basically a King, and Charles II returned and took revenge on all those who signed his father’s death warrant.  England had returned to what it what.  In fact, under the Cavalier’s, people who supported the King, it could be argued that they were more progressive than the parliamentarians.  Now I don’t like using the word progressive, it’s a word too often used today, but, what I mean here is that people like Cavendish, the 1st Duke of Newcastle was one of the greatest horse riders in Europe and updated the art of dressage, making it fairer on the horse and therefore was an advocate of animal protection.  Cavendish also allowed his wife to dabble in education, he allowed his daughters to write plays and poetry, which were performed to the King.  Even if some of their practices were questionable, the royalists and Charles II brought stability and continuity, something that the nation craved.

If you are looking for a more important and influential part of British history, may I point you no further than to 1689, and the Glorious revolution!  This saw the Dutch William of Orange and his English wide Mary become joint King and Queen of England, and certainly was a big turning point in English history!  It was really the last time England was ever properly invaded and conquered and saw a Catholic monarch deposed, replaced by Protestants.  The reign and decline of James II is one that could have its own blog post, but in brief, he wasn’t well liked by parliament!

The civil war shows the distaste of Catholics at the time, but also shows the desire of freedom of worship; the King should not impose his beliefs on the nation.  The war however, changed little, perhaps it added a larger resentment to Catholicism, which in turn created a them and us mentality, and further cemented the English identity, one that still is there today, but it wasn’t until the Bill of rights, the glorious revolution of 1689, where we would see change in politics in Britain.  It saw the end to the Anglo-Dutch wars, but it took power from the King, and gave more to parliament, in fact it was probably what the parliamentarians wanted all long.

I would like to end this post however, referring to the picture at the top of this blog post, this is a monument to those who died at the Battle of Naseby, it shows that there can be and has been remembrance of the deaths during the time period, however, there are no names of course!  However, the deaths of the civil war are largely ignored and seen as statistics, perhaps we should focus more on the lives of these men!

Pre-Roman Portuguese Tribes

New year, new challenges, therefore the W.U Hstry team started the month with posts outside of their comfort zone. Now, I am the oldest member, and I’ve written about a lot of stuff from all periods and various topics, so establishing what is outside of my comfort zone was tough. So, I did a deep analysis of my strengths and limitations as a historian, the things that interest me and the things I have ignored for long. And I came to the conclusion that, as someone who was born in the Iberian Peninsula, I had shown not much interest for this geographical area. More importantly, I had been ignoring all of Portugal! I’ve been in Portugal and found it a very eclectic and lovely visit, so the least I could do was gain some knowledge about its lost past. Hence, here I bring you a post (map included, beware!) of the pre-Roman people of Portugal and their geographical distribution.




The knowledge we have about these people comes mainly from classical sources, such as the Roman authors speaking about the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. They mainly report 3 groups of people, the Lusitanians, the Gallaeci, and the Conii. However, it has been established by historians and archaeologists that the group identified as Gallaeci would have been nothing more but the amalgamation of the various Celtic tribes inhabiting the area known as Lusitania. Moreover, there is evidence of smaller communities and ethnic distributed all over the area of modern-day Portugal which are most of the time ignored or undervalued. This, I think is unfair, therefore I have developed the above map, with the little information we have about these people and the areas they occupied. In the following lines, I will provide you with a general outline of the details we know about them in terms of occupation and culture. This is not remotely the most accurate map ever, nor do I claim to be the best cartographer, but at least it helps as a visual tool to locate the people, you know in case your Portuguese geography is as atrophied as mine.


Starting with the tribes at the north, and in close contact with the frontier at Galicia, we find 6 main groups. Represented in violet, we have the Leuni. We know that they were of Celtic origin and occupied the area between the river Lima and Minho- and that’s about it. In the area adjacent lived the Limici (dark green on the map), in the swap terrains around the Lima river. Lim in Latin relates to swap, which justifies their name and association with this area. In addition, it seems that these people are descendent of the Liguri, one of the oldest ethnic groups known in the Lusiatia area. The Quaquerni follow (yellow), being the Celtiberian tribe located in the mountains where the rivers Cavado and Tamega begin. We have found evidence that support the survival of these people up to the Suevi invasion. The forth tribe is the Tamagani (dark blue in the map). They lived in the current counties of Verin and Chaves, in the Alto Tras-os-Montes region and were probably of Celtic roots. In turquoise is highlighted the area occupied by the Equesos, whose name suggest the cult of the horse-EQVV in Latin- and this links them with the Celts. They also seemed to have lasted up until the Suevi invasion and even throughout their reign. The 6th and final tribe of the north, painted orange, is that of the Interamici, whose origins are unknown. They stretched through the limits with the Spanish autonomic regions of Zamora and Ourense.

Moving a bit further down we encounter five new tribes that dominated the area. First, in sky blue, are the Seurbi, another Celtic tribe settle between the river Cavado and Lima. There is even some indication that their area of influence may have stretched up to the Minho river, being therefore in close contact with the Leuni and Limici. Next down are the Bracari, (red). They settled around the modern city of Braga, and extended their influence across the rivers Tamega and Cavados. They were a bellicose tribe, in fact their women are well-know for being involved in warfare. In addition, archaeological evidence found in Braga suggest that this group worshiped the Celtic deity Nabia, goddess of waters and rivers.  Their neighbors  were the Paesuri, a tribe akin and dependent to the Lusitanians. They occupied a large area between the Douro and Vouga rivers, from the north to the center of Portugal. They founded the city of Talabriga, which is supposed to be located nearby modern Aveiro, although this is contested by several scholars. The forth tribe is that of the Nemetati (brown), a Celtic tribe settled around the area of Modim, by the river Douro and down to the valley of the Ave. Their origins remount to the union of two other ethnic groups: the neneus and the heteus, who supposedly descended from the people of the Efrain mountains. It seems that this tribe was in close contact, and was potentially allied to the Bracari. Finally, the last tribe occupying this area is the Luancos, whose name was given by Ptolemy. Their power base spread between the river Tamega and Tua. This tribe was also associated with hunting, and it is supposed that their name had some association with the lynx.

As we move further down into Portugal, one can appreciate that the Southern pre-Roman tribes seemed to have a better defined area of occupation- the reasons for this? I am yet to discover them. Perhaps it is due to their proximity with the Mediterranean colonists and traders which allowed a better recording of their culture. So right at the Atlantic verge of Portugal, in the region known as Algarve, we have the Conii or Cynetes (light blue). Their culture was acknowledged by the Romans due to their alliance during the Roman conquest of Iberia, and indeed they are mentioned by Polibius, Avienus and Herodotus. Their ethnic origins are still unknown, although everything seems to point to an Indo-European pre-Celtic past, and they seem to have occupied this area as far back at the 8th century B.C. Their main city was Conistorgis, which was destroyed by the Lusitanians during the time of the conquest due to their ties with the invaders. Above the Conii, the Celtici (pink) amassed a vast area of influence. Located in what today is the Alentejo region, the Celtici were another conglomerate of  Celtic people. They included minor tribes with key communities and settlements in Lacobriga, Caepiana, Braetolaeum, Mirobriga, Arcobriga, Meribriga, Cataleucus, Turres, Albae and Arandis.


And finally we have the middle of Portugal occupied mainly by the Lusitanians- represented by the black polygon in the map. But before we move on to the main Portuguese tribe, lets give a quick mention to the Tapoli. The Tapoli (purple) were also a Celtic tribe who were akin to the Lusitanians, therefore their close share of geographical space. They were smaller in numbers, and settled mainly on the north of the Tagus river, around the frontier between Spain and Portugal. Nevertheless, it seems that this ethnic group was wiped out by the Romans during the occupation of the Peninsula. Now I have spent the last thousand words or so mentioning the Lusitanians here and there, so I think it is time for an explanation. They were the most prominent Celtic tribe settled in Portugal. Their area of influence spread across the area of Castelo Bronco (in the map they are represented by the big black polygon). From the Roman authors we understand that their power didn’t reach the Atlantic shore, and this has been backed up by the archaeological record. It is likely that they established themselves in this area around the 6th Century BC, however their ethnic background is still disputed. Even though as far as we are concerned they belong in the Celtic group, there are scholars who believe they may actually be pre-Celtic as some recent findings in the Iberian Peninsula point to this- some writing examples which suggest an older Indo-European tradition.


There are abundant material about the culture of this people. We know that their main deity was Ares, usually called Ares Lusitani to differentiate him from the classical God of War. The Lusitanian Ares was the god of horses, a very popular deity amongst the Celts. There was also a strong worship of Ataecina, especially in the south. She was the goddess of fertility, rebirth, nature and medicine as well as the moon. Moreover, the Lusitanians also worshiped Nabia, like many of the other tribes, and Endovelicus, god of public health and safety. It seems that his cult prevailed well after the Roman conquest of Iberia, up to the 5th Century, when Christianity started acquiring weight and importance in the territory. Some other sociocultural aspects of this people were the use of wool clothes and items such as bracelets and necklaces similar to those of the rest of Iberian/Celtic tribes. Furthermore, scholars support the idea that the Lusitanians were monogamous, lived in squared stone houses, and were boat builders. These boats appear to have been made with lumber or even leather. In addition, the classical authors described them as being well versed at guerrilla warfare. An example of this is what the Roman troops had to face when invading Portugal and confronting Viriato, one of the most famous Lusitanian leaders. One of their weapons of predilection was the falcata, always popular amongst the Celts. Nevertheless, the power of Rome was not something to be taken lightly. War between the Lusitanians and many of the other ancient Portuguese people against the Romans began around 193BC, from there on the Romanisation process became a relentless and persistent changing force in the culture and identity of the Iberian Peninsula, and so many of these old ancestors perished while others struggled to survive in a world similar, yet different from what they used to know.


Swedish Empire-18th century Decline

Welcome to my post of the fall of the Swedish Empire.  This is a rather large subject, so I will focus on one particular aspect; the battle of Poltava and the death of Charles XII.  You may be aware that I have already posted about the rise of this magnificent empire.  Now I give a simple introduction into its fall.  We know (if you read my last post) that Sweden has risen from the 17th century.  Particularly the Thirty Years War, in which Sweden had crushed most European armies and had under the guidance of King Gustav II faced armies double, triple its size and still won.  The Swedes dominated Europe, they were the strongest and they were the most feared.  However by the early 18th century, Sweden hits a period of decline.  The main reason was that King Charles XII was killed whilst fighting in Denmark.  So by the middle of the 18th century, Sweden was declining, and Russia has risen.

So why was Charles such an important figure?  Well he was the last great leader Sweden had.  After he died, the country had to sue for peace with a variety of nations as it had no one to continue the fight.  Charles had defeated the armies of each of the nations with relatively ease, at the age of 17, he had defeated the Russians.  He was extremely smart, however his decision to invade Russia, was probably not one of his best ones!  At least he did not have the example or Napoleon and Hitler to follow, so I think we can grant him some more slack!  His army would have made it to Moscow, however, so some stupid reason, he changed direction and headed towards the Ukraine, believing there was to be an uprising in which they could help.  This uprising failed, and it left the Swedes very vulnerable, and at Poltava they met their defeat.  20,000 men died, whilst Charles had fled.  Remember that 20,000 men is a huge number and something that as time goes on, the loss seems unimportant.  Sweden was not a huge country with a massive population, therefore 20,000 men gone, would have been felt.  This huge defeat ensured that Sweden was left weak and its faith shaken.  After all, the Carolean troops believed God was on their side and that their king was a messenger from God, how could they lose?  A good song to listen to that covers the battle of Poltava is Sabaton’s Poltava.  The song shows the hopelessness of the battle.

Well Charles XII managed to return to Sweden, after a lengthy spell in the Ottoman Empire, meaning that Sweden was left without a King.  This was not too much of a problem as Sweden had a strong government and was not an absolute monarch.  Nonetheless, Charles returned and soon decided that he would invade Denmark; it is here where he was killed.  Either by a friendly bullet, or by an enemy, no one really knows.  Waiting for a cool Archaeologist to figure that one out still!  I think it will be one of things that will always be contested.  Still what matters is that his death leads Sweden to crumble.  The invasion fails, and Sweden has to give up land.  Russia also takes land off Sweden after its victories.  The gains made by Gustav Adolphus were suddenly gone in 100 years.  Was it king Charles fault?  Yes and no.  He was a great tactician and won many victories, but going so far into Russia wasn’t the smartest of ideas.  If he had gone straight for Moscow, then maybe it would be different, and Sweden would still be a great power! His lust for war caused his death and after he fell at a young age, Sweden crumbled.  So he is partly to blame, but other countries were getting stronger and were far richer than Sweden.  It would not have been able to compete with countries like Britain.  Sweden has never really fallen since its break from Denmark and Norway, but it never recovered from the death of Charles XII in the 18th century.

Sweden was on its own, both Norway and Denmark were both anti-Swedish, they were seen as lesser people, particularly as they were seen as worse sailors.  The rivalry in the Scandinavian region would lead to constant warring.  Sweden was also against Poland, whom it had been at war with a century beforehand.  Sweden was also fighting Russia, again this was due to territorial gains, both Finland and Estonia were fought over.  Now when looking at whom Sweden was fighting against, it can be seen that they are fighting a war on many different fronts.  It different have the manpower to ensure victory.  Nonetheless, I reckon, from Charles XII personality, he would have continued fighting, if he had lived.  Who knows, if he had lived and continued his wars, maybe Sweden would be in a different situation now, maybe it would not have remained neutral in WW2, as its history would have been different.  I’m not a fan of what if history.  But still, it shows you how important Charles was to Sweden.  A matter of war or peace!

Sweden made its mark on Europe quickly and swiftly, but it soon fell, with a bang.  It is safe to say that it was at war on all sides, and victory in such a war would have been impressive.  Nonetheless, Sweden was never conquered by anyone (It is very, very hard to get to Stockholm!).  It keeps its independence, but what it does do is loose the fear it once held, it loses its land, its pride.  Sweden has fallen, Russia has risen.  Peter the Great had successfully beaten Sweden; he had made his own mark on Europe.  The 18th century leads the way for new great powers such as Austria, Russia and Britain to make their mark.  The old powers, of Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands were going, fallen from grace.

Ghost from war past: The Portrait by Aaron Copland

A man with a strong personality is that one who, commissioned in a time of war to make a musical portrait of a fellow countryman decides that he wants to depict Wal Whitman, a famous peacemaker. That the man ended up working on a portrait of Abraham Lincoln reflects not only the seriousness of times but also the awareness and tactfulness of the same man, being able to let down his own pet idea for what was considered a better option for that particular moment in time, an inspiring piece of art in time of need. The fact that the piece itself is a black swan in classical music, and a moving mix of folklore, History, voice and music, a true avant-la-lettre multimedia artwork speaks of the genius that man was. The name of the man was Aaron Copland.

Now, you probably do not know the name. Never heard of it, don’t you? That is the problem with classical music: take a good central-European name and everyone would think “yes, I kind of know that one”. But US nationals are far more related in the public’s imagination with rock (and pop) than classical when it comes to music. Nevertheless, Aaron Copland is considered one of the (if not “the”) best US composers, and was even called “the Dean of American composers”, and his works, specially those of the 1930’s and 40’s, are fundamental in defining a true “American” style of composition, distinctive in its openness and accessibility. The use of popular tunes is another trademark, as in A Lincoln portrait and, as is the case with the use of spoken recitations of the depicted’s own words, while it was not original, Copland took it to new heights.

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Over there lies the long way to Victory. Songs for soldiering.

I can easily recall one happy childhood memory related to the school and, more particularly, to my English lessons. I went to the Jesuits school in my hometown, and there the Principal acted also as teacher of English. He was a well-humuored man, keen on cycling and other sports, and very enthusiastic about the English language, its teaching and its importance for the future (being a Spaniard, the knowledge of other languages has usually been regarded even with some suspicion). To encourage the young learners, Padre Fermín will open every lesson with a song. The ritual began when he opened the door, and we started to sing, standing. By the time he reached his seat the brief music was almost finished and so, in due order, we sat ourselves. The favourite song, the one we use to sing as if marching to find our future, was “It’s a long way to Tipperary” or better said, its chorus (I’m afraid our English was even worse at that time and that was all our little minds were able to learn by heart). Little we knew that particular song had been sung while marching to meet their future by many a young man, not so young as we were then, but young enough. And the future of many of them was a grave with no name in a foreign land. We may had not felt as happy if we had possessed that knowledge.

The fact is that WWI was consider a just and necessary war by lots of otherwise peaceful citizens. Volunteering was rife at the outbreak of war, and young men of almost every nation involved in the conflict join the rank and file with enthusiasm and, I daresay, in many cases with joy. Come to that, war was the epitome of manhood, courage, heroism, sacrifice, patriotism…(Most of us think otherwise these days, but now is now, and then was then). And with the joy of joining their fellow countrymen and engage the enemies in combat (and obviously defeat them; no one joins a fight to lose it) came the songs. After all singing is an obvious expression of joy (also of sorrow, but we are still at the outbreak of war, sorrow will come later, with pain and grief, and different songs) and those happy fellows who were to evict the “Hun” from Belgium, or to recover the lost Fatherland or whatever their sacred mission it was, had the need to express their feelings about King, Country, themselves and the enemy.

“It’s a long way to Tipperary” was one of the favourites within the BEF, as was “Keep the homes fires burning”. For the Germans it was “Die Wacht am Rhein” and for the French “Sambre et Meuse”. The Americans were still far away, but they will have their own song in “Over there”. But there are some subtle differences between what each ones were singing, reflections on the different approaches to war in each country.

For instance, both the French and German songs are military marches, while the English were popular tunes, more related with home than with the front. And the American was an engaging tune suitable for attracting recruits to a not really well-known conflict. “Over there” was also made for the occasion, and “It’s a long way…” was quite new at the time, been written in 1912. But the continental songs were older, both dating from the 19th. And both are far more warlike than their companions here.

Both the French and German songs are set against a long story of confrontation and territorial claims from either side of the river Rhine. “Die wacht”calls (roars like thunderbolt says the song) for someone “to defend the German Rhine”. But the Fatherland may rest at ease, because every German wants to be in The Watch and so no enemy will enter the shore “Solang ein Tropfen Blut noch glüht”; as long as a drop of blood (German, of course) still glows. Come the time of WWI a new stanza was added, the seventh, which goes as this:

So führe uns, du bist bewährt;

So lead us, you are approved 

In Gottvertrau’n greif’ zu dem Schwert!

With trust in God, grab the sword!

Hoch Wilhelm! Nieder mit der Brut!

Hail Wilhelm! Down with all that brood!

Und tilg’ die Schmach mit Feindesblut!

Erase the shame with foes’ blood!

Apparently this stanza was frequently used as propaganda in postcards and the likes during the war. Charming. Note the reference to Kaiser Wilhelm and the usual need of washing past offenses with the enemies’ blood. The enemies quite clear being the French. Not coincidentally the song was allegedly written in the wake of French Prime Minister Thiers claiming that the French border should be anchored in the Rhine river. Fittingly, the musical arrangement gained momentum and popularity in successive Sängerfest (choral competitions closely associated with German culture) thus competing as a kind of substitute national anthem with the nowadays official Deutschlandlied.

Following suit, “Sambre et Meuse” was composed shortly after the Franco-Prussian war and the crushing defeat suffered by the French army. The real name is, in fact, “The Regiment of Sambre et Meuse” and is begins with the verse “Tous ces fiers enfants de la Gaule”: All these proud children of Gaul…another call to all the nation to unite against the common enemy. In the chorus we can find another statement not to be taken lightly:

           Cherchant la route glorieuse                      Seeking the path of glory

Qui l’a conduit à l’immortalité                   That led them to immortality

One could say that those paths of glory usually led to death not immortality. But again, there is the call to arms, the urge to rally against the enemy, the soldiers refusing to retreat, surrounded, fighting til the last man, against all odds. And when the last man is taken prisoner, but better to be a captive he kills himself. Le Héros se donna la mort.

With all these appeals to death, sacrifice and bloodshed,on both sides the outcome of the war could well have been forecasted since that was the mood of the combatants, at least at the first stages. Later on, soldiers resorted to other songs, not so referring to slaughter and bravery, but to longing, fear and loathing.

“Tipperary”, in the other hand, was a popular tune adopted by units of an army away from home, with a sense of duty and of a certain faith “in the justice of our cause”, but filled with men that, given the opportunity after the first bouts of enthusiasm, would surely have preferred to be back at home, sipping their tea. It is humorous and light. No blood, no guns. Just a couple of commoners trying to outsmart the other, and a town far away where there is someone dear. Probably the exact feeling of almost every Tommy. And there were reports of this song sung by units as they arrive to France, even before they got engaged in combat. Maybe they were having second thoughts about their mission.

           It’s a long way to Tipperary,

It’s a long way to go,

It’s a long way to Tipperary
To the sweetest girl I know!
Goodbye, Piccadilly,
Farewell, Leicester Square!
It’s a long long way to Tipperary,
But my heart’s right there.
Many of them will lose heart and soul in Mons, Somme, Passchendaele. And now they rest a long way from home, among their comrades, maybe singing Tipperary in the silent language of ghosts. They are still longing for home and their Molly-Os.
Still three years will pass until the US army get into the field. But they will bring their own song with them. One of those fresh, defiant, over-confident songs that so well described American spirit. They have no particular dislike for anyone but, when push comes to shove…well
Send the word, send the word over there
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming
Just in case you are not getting the innuendo, old boy. Over there was written and composed by music hall star George M. Cohan in April 1917 and was used to increase recruiting and sell the US public the view of a short expedition to put an end to the war that Wilson’s administration was favoring. A sort of friendly yet powerful “vini, vidi, vinci”. So the song was for internal consumption, and so there is just the slightest reference to “the Hun”: “Johnny, show the “Hun”you’re a son-of-a-gun”. Again, it sounds more like a little brag than a real threat to a bitter enemy. That was probably the approach most American citizens have to war in Europe: something went wrong absurdly, but the Yanks were coming to put and end to it and everybody would be friends again. It seems that Europeans were quite confused after almost three years of horror to get the point in Yankee counseling; they went over there and their lives were soon severed by machine guns and high explosive. Just like everyone else.
I can recall another happy memory. Me aged 12 or so watching the TV at night. Black and white film. James Cagney, for once, dancing and singing instead of killing people and calling his Ma’. A catchy song called “Over there”. I spent months humming that particular song. Again not knowing as with “Tipperary” the tragedy after the music. Now it seems so unfair that I should have such happy memories associated with songs that also represent the fury and madness of war. That I have so enjoyed what for others could have been a moment of grief. That my happy memories could be somewhat intertwined with other people sad reminiscences. There is just one thing to comfort me: at least I happen to know the lighter, and happier ones. But soldiers in 1914, or 1917 had to get to know all the hatred and bloodshed that was sung in the long marches to the front. I wonder if a tune came to their minds amidst the ghastly sounds of the fight. And which one was it.

The Shortest Lived State

Carpatho-Ukraine is currently seen as one of the shortest lived states, if not the shortest,  having been independent for only one day.  More commonly referred to as Carpathian Ruthenia, it is a small region of Eastern Europe that is currently mostly located in western Ukraine, and has smaller parts in Slovakia, Romania and Poland. It became an autonomous region of Czechoslovakia from 1938 to march 15, 1939 when it declared itself as an independent republic after. It was then returned back to Hungarian control by the next day on March 16 and remained that way until 1944.

To see why this region may have wanted the right to be recognized as an independent state we should look at its culture. The region is mostly populated by, and the origins of the Rusyn people who are also known as Ruthenes and many other variations of the name, they are an Eastern Slavic Ethnic minority and speak their own Slavic language of Rusyn. They are a mostly diasporic ethnic group who are split into two major groups; Pannonian Rusyns, who migrated to the area in and around Serbia, and Carpathian Rusyns who are the ones who stayed in the area of Ukraine and chose not to be known as Ukranian in the early 20th century. Carpatho-Rusyns are the group that is tied to Carpathian Ruthenia, and seeing as they have been unrecognized as an ethnic minority for the better part of the 20th century, it is clear to see why they wanted the independence of their own region.

The aim for Carpathian Ruthenia to achieve at least some level of independence started with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy after World War I, which briefly released their control over the region. Carpathian Ruthenia then became part of the new Hungarian state briefly in 1918-19. However Rusyn immigrants in America called on the American government for help in getting the region its independence, or at least autonomy under a different state. The US government gave them unification with Czechoslovakia as their only option, and Czechoslovak and Romanian forces took control of the area. This action caused Hungarian Communist sympathizers to accuse of war crimes and of the French controlling the whole situation for anti-communist reasons.

Unification with Czechoslovakia brought many changes to the region when it was made into a province of the state and named ‘Sub-Carpathian Rus’. The Czechoslovak government brought the very underdeveloped region up to national standards, sending thousands of teachers, police and other professionals into the region, along with building railways, roads, airports and schools. So for a time, it seemed that the region had chosen the right nation to join. However, it is still debated whether the choice was actually down to the Rusyns at all, or was really decided by the USA and Allies as part of their anti-communist plan at this time.

This situation did not last however. As part of the ‘Munich Agreement’ in November 1938, Nazi Germany had Czechoslovakia give up the southern part of Carpathian Rus, which was then given back to Hungary as part of Germany’s ‘First Vienna Award’. This did cause the remainder of the region to become fully autonomous under Czechoslovakia with a prime minister and autonomous government. But then, on March 15, the Nazis seized Czech lands. Following this Carpathian Ruthenia declared its independence as the Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine. So for one day, this small independent nation existed between Hungary, Romania, Poland and Czechoslovakia.

The following day on March 16 1939, Hungary responded to this by immediately occupying and annexing the country, taking away its newly gained independence. From there, Carpathian Ruthenia once again, the region stayed under Hungarian control until the end of the Second World War when it was captured by the Red Army, and started being given back to Czechoslovakia. However, this work was obstructed so that the region could be given to Soviet Ukraine, eventually settling in its state, unwillingly incorporated into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1946. The region is currently a province within Ukraine today, officially known as ‘Zakarparria Oblast’.