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What was that Eastern Question?

Turkey was known by the unfriendly sobriquet of ‘The Sick Man of Europe’ during most of the 19th century; the Eastern Question is a collective term for the problems in south-eastern Europe accelerated and exacerbated by the weakness of the Ottoman Turkish Empire; certainly also by animosities of its successors. We shall divide these contentious problems into three principal groups, which tended to overlap, mainly in the 1860s and 70s.

Group A: neighbouring large empires try to benefit themselves at the expense of Turkey:

Russia encroached on the Ottoman Empire through the wars of Catherine the Great (1768 – 74; 1787 – 92), in which she secured the Crimea, and obtained rights in the Danubian Principalities, plus recognition rights for the Orthodox Church in Constantinople (now Istanbul), by treaty in 1774. Russia had fought an indecisive war with Turkey (1806-12) and intervening (or rather interfering) on behalf of Greece in 1828, advancing across the Balkan mountains and imposing the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829. A general desire across Europe to anticipate and if possible avoid the disintegration of the Empire led directly to the Crimean War (q.v.). It must be remembered by students that war in the Crimea meant direct military confrontation between the two great Victorian powers, Britain and Russia, and it might, had it been treated more seriously, have led to a European war. The choice by both sides of commanders who should have been contentedly smoking a pipe by grazing sheep in some meadow, reflecting on past glories ensured only a minor conflagration, though far too many common soldiers died miles from home.

 One of the British commanders had constantly to be reminded that he was fighting the Russians, not the French – as he thought. This might have been because he had fought at Waterloo in 1815.

   Russia increased pressure on Turkey in the 1870s and pushed on to reach the suburbs of Constantinople by 1878, though this action was stopped by the (abortive) Treaty of San Stéfano. Nothing stopped (or stops) Russian expansionism however, and the tendency was revived under Izvolski in the period 1807-10, winning both British and French recognition in the Constantinople Agreements of 1915 – thought these were of course made invalid by the Bolshevik Revolution (q.v.). Austria meanwhile was not uninterested in acquisition of the western Balkans, and achieved success by the occuopation of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1878. She annexed the provinces in 1908, ensuring that Austria, not Turkey would be troubled hereafter by national hostility. International diplomacy was then, as it now, shaky when it came to possibly negative future results of what seemed to be a good idea at the time. In this case, hatred of the Austrians in Bosnia-Herzogina (q.v.) helped greatly to cause the First World War.

Group B: Attempts to prevent disintegration of the Ottoman Empire:

Both Austria (Metternich’s work) and Russia tried to preserve the Empire, for reasons of their own, but the principal rôle of protector was usually reserved for Britain, at least until 1897. Britain tried to prevent Russia getting hold of the important naval base at Oczacov even as early as 1792. Except during the Greek War of Independence, Britain opposed Russia throughout the nineteenth century; she helped Turkey militarily in the Crimean War and applied diplomatic pressure in 1878, seeking to prevent Russian domination of the Straits by the Convention of 1841 closing the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus to foreign warships in time of peace. Meanwhile, Britain tried to persuade the Turks to reform their own repressive governmental methods. Turkey did not like this, and during the visit of the Kaiser (Wilhelm II) to Constantinople in 1898, she began seeking aid and from Germany more than Britain. Germany was delighted and provided important railway and commercial concessions, while she got military instructors in return and actually became Germany’s ally in 1914. See Laurence of Arabia and other articles (q.v.) in

Group C: The rise of independent national states:

In what are called the Middle Ages the Turks had conquered all the then nations in the Balkans. But they became a constant headache for the Ottoman Empire, as they have been a headache ever since. The first of these nationalities subjected to foreign rule were the Serbs who revolted in 1804 and then again in 1815 (the year of Waterloo).

Greece then aroused international sympathy in the War of Independence (1821-30) a war in which incidentally the English poet Lord Byron died (of illness), gaining posthumous Greek ascendance to their gallery of Heroes. Rumania received aid from the French after the Crimean War, until their independence was gained in 1878. Three year earlier in 1875 the Bulgarians rose in revolt, eventually securing recognition as an autonomous united principality in 1886. Formal independence followed in October, 1908. The great mass of the Balkan peoples combined against Turkey in the Balkan War of 1812, resulting in a notable enlargement of Serbia and Greece, and the creation of an independent Albania (q.v.). But, and there is always a ‘but’ a bitter rivalry arose between Serbia and Bulgaria, and they fought each other in the Great War.

  The last (or so the politicians thought) phase of the by now traditional Eastern Question came about because Mustapha Kemal (Turkish leader) tried to save at least the nucleus of a Turkish national state after the great defeat in 1918. Perhaps the Eastern Question was finally solved in the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, but many historians doubt it.

Roman law, Roman religion & Romance Languages

The Romans believed in law, and tried to live by it, frequently failing when political necessities seemed more important, or integral to the purpose. Roman Law developed (in Rome) for around one hundred years before the birth of Christ, and continued after his death to circa. 220 AD.

Nevertheless, more centuries were needed before the Emperor Justinian (justly named: 482-565) codified it in his Corpus Juris Civilis which we translate as ‘Body of Civil Law’. Then, a long time after lawless Germanic bands had destroyed Rome itself and the remnants of its Empire (q.v.) Roman law emerged again in the 11th century as a popular subject for study in Italian universities. (more…)

The EU? Nothing but a big bully

In Greece the 1967 coup d’état drove King Constantine of the Hellenes and his family first to Rome, and then the comparatively Arcadian peace of London, where his British royal cousins took him in. He was all right, but Greece was not. A regiment of crypto-socialist colonels threw out the Greek monarchy. It became known as ‘The Regime of the Colonels’. The fragile monarchy itself was abolished in 1973.

A civilian republic was set up in 1974. In the 1981 general election Andreas Papandreu was the first real socialist to become Prime Minister, and he was in office until 1989, which gave plenty of time and licence to politicians, bankers and other members of the ruling classes to establish themselves in the seats of power and privilege they craved. (more…)

By | 2012-05-30T10:02:29+00:00 May 30th, 2012|Greek History, Today, US History|0 Comments

Three Roman Emperors: Hadrian, Tiberius & Julian

A rather imaginative impression of Tiberius /

A rather imaginative impression of Tiberius /

Publius Aelius Hadrianus was born just seventy-six years after the birth of Christ, his birthplace Spain, or what was then the Iberian Peninsula. Member of a patrician family, he was actually the ward of the Emperor Trajan. As Emperor he was a cultivated admirer of Greek civilization and tradition, which helped him unify and consolidate Rome’s enormous Empire. As a poet and writer he was prolific and talented, and his study of the science of architecture produced theories and practices which have endured. (more…)

Holocaust – the comments

Hundreds of comments have been posted on General-History following publication last year of the article on The Holocaust. Some comments are learnéd, some are not. Many are openly anti-Semitic. A few show sympathy with the victims. Some question the figures quoted. Anyone can find out the figures for themselves simply by making enquiries in any office of records in any of the countries I am about to list, or simply asking for statistics in Tel Aviv. For those commentarists who claim the Holocaust did not actually happen one feels sorry for those who must endure life near them. (more…)

The Battenbergs and Mountbattens

Prince Louis of Battenberg /

Prince Louis of Battenberg /

With Prince Philip heading for his century, the Battenberg/Mountbatten dynasty is well worth examining. Who were they? Why were they related to everybody? How did a penniless, sharp-witted and seriously good-looking youth collar the future queen of England? (more…)

The Great Millennium Mistake

I owe this to Simon Raven. In one of his works he speaks of the legend of Cape Tainarus in Greece. There is a dreaded cave there, dreaded because the dead emerge from this cave on the last night of every thousand years. They fly off across the many-sounding sea to Cytherea (an island of Aphrodite the Goddess of Love, now called Kithira). Here they are given the singular gift of real bodies, with which they can make love to whomever they choose for the single hour between 11 pm and midnight.

After the witching hour strikes, they revert merely to being shadows and are bound to return to their accustomed abode (grave, tomb, mausoleum etc.) as the last stroke of twelve brings in The New Year, the New Century and the new Millennium.

Now it seems that the first time this rare anniversary happened in the Christian Era was the year 1000 A.D. There were Christians in Cytherea who knew of this legend from their pagan records. They were naturally worried lest they be seduced or raped by these ghosts with only too human bodies. Aphrodite forgotten and the Church authorities now dominant, they locked their doors and barred themselves into their house, blocking all cracks in the boards with quick-drying clay.

The new Bishop of Cytherea remained outside all night armed with Cross and crozier so as to exorcise any randy spirit that might appear before they changed from larval to carnal and thus be capable of lustful outrage. Came the morn, and the brave bishop reported that no naughty reventants had turned up! It was thankfully assumed that Goddess Aphrodite had lost her powers since Christianity had triumphed. There would not be any infernal, amorous invaders, and in any case none were due to come for another thousand years.

On the following New Year’s Eve, the people carried on with their usual binge excesses, dancing in the streets, stuffing themselves with rich foods, only to be caught unawares and seriously molested by swarms of over-sexed cadavers, who managed to ‘have relations’ as the better class of newspapers say, with almost every human being on the island between 11 p.m. and midnight! What had happened? Why was this terrific orgy a year late?

What had gone wrong was that the Cythereans had made the silly mistake of thinking that the new millennium started, and the old ended at the beginning of 1000. Now we know that they only start and end with the arrival of 1001, when the year 1000, last of the old millennium is waved goodbye. So the Cythereans had shut themselves up to no purpose a year early, and were wandering about unprepared when the crunch came.

Now what was to be done about the women and girls who had been impregnated by the visitors? Or about the babies they would bear nine months later? It seems the dead could not be bothered with condoms. The older people had behaved without decorum too. They had not had any sexual entertainment for years, and had been accosted equally by the over-sexed spirits, who in any case had not enough time to discriminate. The venerables greatly enjoyed the discovery that they were up to it after all. Worse, they wouldn’t leave their far more appetising juniors alone – the spirits were hard put to fend the ancients off!

One wonders if the inhabitants of Cytherea made the same mistake at the onset of the years 2000 and 2001? They may have got their dates right twelve years ago, though, or maybe their intelligent authorities preferred to get it wrong accidentally on purpose. After all, such a divertissement could become an every- thousand-year tourist attraction.

By | 2012-01-22T18:03:40+00:00 January 22nd, 2012|Greek History, Humour, World History|0 Comments

Palmerston and Canning

Lord Palmerston /

Lord Palmerston /

Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston was born in 1784. George Canning was born in 1770. Neither man saw much point in the other, and the difference of fourteen years in their age did not prevent them from internecine conflict. (more…)

The Olympic Games

Wrestling, one of the original Olympic games /

Wrestling, one of the original Olympic games /

The London 2012 Olympics draw nearer. Several private persons and many corporations will become infinitely richer by the no doubt spectacular ending. Others may well be filing for bankruptcy. Mayor of London Boris Johnson will achieve either more splendour or some derision depending on the results of his and Lord Sebastian Coe’s organisation.

The Olympics are supposed to be a world festival of sports inspired by the ancient Greek games held at Olympia in Greece until their prohibition in 393 AD. Our modern version owes its existence to a Frenchman, the Baron de Coubertin. He conceived a super-championship for amateur sportsmen and athletes to be held every four years. (more…)

The last of Alexander the Great

Colin Farrell (Alexander) & Jared Leto (Hephaistion) in a scene from the movie Alexander the Great by Oliver Stone

Colin Farrell (Alexander) & Jared Leto (Hephaistion) in a scene from the movie Alexander the Great by Oliver Stone

On a stifling June day in Babylon, 2334 years ago, Alexander of Macedon died. He had been to a party the night before, but left well before the end – unusual for this extraordinary man, who had conquered most of the known world in his twenties. He had a bath after the party, in a bath house near his swimming pool, and spent the rest of the night there. In the morning he already had a high fever. A terrible sickness was advancing, and he knew it. He ordered all his generals and chief officers to be brought to him, and the lesser ones gathered outside his door. But he discovered he could not talk to them. A man of lesser physique and lower powers of resistance would have developed pneumonia earlier. It appears that it had spread from the damaged areas of his lungs into the scar tissues on the numerous wounds he had on the front of his body. There were none on his back. In fact he had what modern doctors would diagnose as pleurisy. (more…)

By | 2011-06-09T10:05:44+00:00 June 9th, 2011|Greek History|0 Comments
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