Saturday, April 19, 2014

Wealth Prattle

I came across a piece of Baby Boom Babble in the Business Section of the New York Times today. On the lead page is this headline: “Taking a Job Out of the Financial Equation.” The continuation of the story on page B5 says, even more wordily, “Planning Your Life After You Take a Job Out of the Financial Equation.”  This is a cultural…something. The meaning of these headlines is not hard to grasp—although the sentences are long for a lead. “Preparing for Retirement” would do. The many words, therefore are intended to signal—what exactly? Some kind of exaltation? The personal importance of the reader? The story isn’t aimed at Everyman. “Financial Equation” has a much grander sound than “Income.” “Taking a Job Out” suggests that we can also, quite at choice, “Put a Job Into” that high-falutin’ equation. Having a job or not having one is, of course, a life-style choice—for the wealthy. It did not surprise me, therefore, that the story is illustrated with the picture of a quite young-looking 64-year old who “hired a life planner before she retired.” Right on. To hire or not to hire. A life planner. That is the question.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Other Great Institution: The HRE

Present consensus appears to be that the Holy Roman Empire (HRE) extended in time from the coronation of Otto I, Duke of Saxony, as Emperor of the Romans, in 962, to the dissolution of the HRE by Francis II, emperor of Austria, in 1806, after his defeat in the Battle of Austerlitz by Napoleon. In this view the Carolingian empire is labeled as a “forerunner.”

I prefer another version I found in the 1956 Encyclopedia Britannica, “Empire.” That version sees the HRE as beginning with Charlemagne, whose coronation took place in 800. The HRE is there seen in large part as an institution that existed in parallel with the papacy for 1007 years and was seen, by the popes, as the secular counterpart to the sacred rule of the Church.

Another way to put that is to say that the HRE was an ideal, expressed as an institution, an institution that only gave this ideal a very modest embodiment. For secular rulers the title of emperor was either a well-deserved honorific the reality of which they more or less already possessed, or a title that gave them titular rights to influence realms they did not really control. In a practical sense it was a tool by which the papacy could motivate rulers to defend an often threatened papacy.

In any case Voltaire’s famous quip, calling the HRE “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire” is quite accurate. In that sense the HRE much resembles every other projected idealization that humanity has tried but has not quite succeeded in making real.

To illustrate this. The Carolingian was a genuine empire only while Charles I ruled it. Thereafter it fell apart physically. And the realm that came into being with the election of Otto I might be labeled the United States of Germany. Otto controlled some but not all German duchies—and, at his elevation, became King of Italy. The Emperor’s powers were always quite limited; the states that made up the later HRE had quite real sovereignty of their own—much more so than the states of the USA. But the Emperor had moral suasion, so long as he was firmly on the job, which was not always the case. After 911 the Office itself became elective, the electors being kings and dukes.

I present above a complete list of Holy Roman Emperors treating HRE as a singular phenomenon. I’ve marked the periods in which no Holy Roman Emperor ruled at all. The major dynasties that held this office are marked in different colors. Most worthy of note is that the longest period without an Emperor (37 years) came between what was left of the disintegrating Carolingian legacy and the coronation of a Germanic Emperor Otto. That gap would seem to justify the dualistic view—but only if we viewed the HRE as a genuine, coherent political-military power, which it was not.

Worth noting further is that the other gaps that appear do so at times when one dynastic power waned before a new one managed to take hold. The sway of these dynasties also ensured that the electors continued to stick with a successful house while its power lasted. And other emperors that surfaced briefly were often selected for practical reasons. Two such were Louis the Blind, ruler of Provence, right next door to Italy in France, and Berengar of Friuli, a region just north of Venice and Trieste. I show an inset map of Friuli, showing how small Berngar’s real base was in actuality—but well-placed to hold off the Magyars. Both men, indeed, were honored with the title in attempts to recruit and to incentivize them to fight Magyar invasions from the East. When you cannot endow people with real authority, sometimes a title is useful.

Another way to view the HRE is using a lens from the future—how the major nations of Europe were formed. Charlemagne actually controlled the future France, Germany, Austria, and half of Italy. The empire under his grandchildren was split in three parts (see map) at the Treaty of Verdun in 843, with the future border between France and Germany already set as the Rhine (in the earlier Oaths of Strasbourg, 842). Until the Ottonian dynasty took over, Holy Roman Emperors came from the green and orange regions, thus from France or Italy. Thereafter fragmentation and weakness in the West—Norman invasions and Magyar incursions—shifted stability to Germany, specifically the ruling power of Saxony, as shown in the next map.


The solid black lines above indicate the extent of Otto’s realm in 972, thus ten years after his coronation. The HRE still controls significant elements of France. The following series of maps next shows the evolution of the HRE over time, the marked areas shown overlapping modern boundaries.




Note the successive changes, particularly in the west and south, as French power gradually works its way all the way to the Rhine, as the Nordic emperors lose Italy, and the Holy Roman Empire becomes, eventually, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The thought also occurs, staring at these maps, that the slowly shrinking extent of the HRE represents the inverse of Europe’s gradually establishing coherent and stable nation states—with the HRE remaining, well past the date of its dissolution, a realm of competing duchies and principalities. The actual formation of a coherent German state had to await Bismarck and the year 1871—which takes us way, way past the end of the Middle Ages.

Two closing notes. The careful reader of the table will note that dates of some individuals overlap. The explanation is that such individuals co-ruled with their predecessor—having been elected while the predecessor still held power and, while doing so, could ensure his own succession.

The French-German divide was first symbolically marked when two grandsons of Charlemagne, Charles the Bald who ruled West Francia and Louis the German, ruler of East Francia, pledged allegiance against their brother, Lothair who, ruling Middle Francia, which also included the papal states, claimed overall dominion over them. He was, after all, the Holy Roman Emperor. (For the layout of their realms, see the second map shown in this post.) The documents were prepared in Old French and Old German, and each brother swore in his own language. Medieval Latin was also used to record the oath, perhaps to make them official. The oatha were sworn in Strasbourg in 842 and they set the Rhine as the border between the two brothers’ respective claims to dominance. Prophetic, that, although much sand had to run through the clocks before it was realized.

This famous event reminded me of a visit once to Strasbourg. I was stationed near there as a soldier of the U.S. Army. I went to see a popular movie one evening. Two teenage girls in front of me, waiting in line, had a lively dialogue, one speaking German, the other French. At one point they switched languages quite spontaneously, quite unaware of the fact that they were doing so. What comes around goes around. I bet that it’s still happening…
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Image credits:

Timeline of HRE: dates and names largely from Encyclopedia Britannica.
Map of Friuli: Google Maps.
Three-fold division of Carolingian Empire: Robert Sewel (link).
Otto's Realm in 972: Wikipedia (link).
Images of HRE over time: Wikipedia (link).

Middle Ages Posts:

From Attila to Osman
Plagues: The Other Invaders

Eighty-Seven Years of Solitude

Marking the death of Gabriel García Márquez yesterday at age eighty-seven. Monique gave me his One Hundred Years of Solitude long ago as a birthday gift, and I was caught up in its mysterious web like millions of others. It is one of those great classics that refuses to be pinned down, not least by its author. Wikipedia, in its article on Márquez, quotes him about it: “Most critics don’t realize that a novel like One Hundred Years of Solitude is a bit of a joke, full of signals to close friends; and so, with some pre-ordained right to pontificate, they take on the responsibility of decoding the book and risk making terrible fools of themselves.” Sometimes great books simply happen, for whatever reason. Some books are wonderful mirrors in which the invisible reflects back something of reality yet no one’s able to say how. Of complications with pneumonia—the old man’s friend.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Plagues: The Other Invaders

Pandemics were a major aspect of life in the Middle Ages. They left in their train regions and cities sometimes robbed of half of more of all their people. We might also call these plagues invasions, analogous to those by Turkic hordes, the subject of the last post in this series. Most plagues also appeared travelling from East to West from as far away as China following the Silk Road. I use the plural in my title because two major pandemics marked the Middle Ages—541-750 and 1346-1353—but these were trailed by others. The plural is also appropriate in that the cause of these mass die-offs was a bacterium called Yerisinia pestis which, like the barbarians themselves, was (and still is) divided into different tribes. We have the tribes Bubonic, Septicemic, Pneumonic, Pharyngeal, Meningial, and the miscellaneous “Other,” the smaller tribes. The majors are associated with (1) lymph glands (and bulbous swellings), (2) circulation problems, (3) lung failure, (4) a kind of tonsillitis, and (5) meningitis (brain and spinal column). The “Other” category affects the skin and people may recover; they may also recover from the pharyngeal version of the plague.

The premature deaths caused in the Middle Ages by Y. pestis far outnumber the deaths caused by either Germanic, Turkic, or Ugric invaders, but such is the nature of history, focused as it tends to be on political and military power, that we learn about the Other Invaders in more or less footnote fashion: they “contributed” to trouble rather than, as in actuality, being the most potent problems society had had to face and on a scale no barbarian war band could even dream of imposing. With that in mind, let me here present a picture of the Plagues—and what they meant in the context of the rise of Western Culture.

My first and summary graphic provides a broad view. It simply shows the medieval centuries in which either pandemics or major outbreaks devastated the European and Near-Eastern lands. We see here that in the eleven centuries of the medieval period, five centuries were marked by plagues—at the beginning and at the end. The white space in the center first inaugurates and then unveils the High Middle Ages, the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. Next I present a timeline:


The shaded area is that of the Middle Ages (476-1453). I start this list in BC times because plagues were not a unique medieval phenomenon, of course. They devastated regions all over the world. I include the Plague of Athens which may well have been a pandemic; Pericles died of that plague. It coincided with the Peloponnesian war and we hear something about it from Thucydides. That plague (traditionally thought to have been bubonic) killed a third of the people of Athens and then spread from Athens to the entire Mediterranean region. The Antonine Plague, associated with Emperor Antoninus Pius and the Plague of Cyprian, named after St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, who wrote about it, are assigned to smallpox, but the cause is not unambiguously known. In Cyprian’s time Claudius II ruled Rome —and also had the easier job of dealing with the Alamanni and the Goths; he, however, succumbed to the plague; it took his life in 270. At the plague’s peak, 250-266, it was said to be taking 5,000 people a day in Rome (Wikipedia). Such numbers, however, are at best cloudy. If the peak was 17 years in duration, that rate would yield a total population loss of 31 million in a city alone that had an estimated population of 1 million in 200 AD. Such, however, is the historical reporting—there is little under it beyond scattered statements of contemporary witnesses.

The Plague of Justinian is reported narrowly(541-542), meaning its effect on Constantinople alone, as well as widely (541-750), as a pandemic that extended over most of the Mediterranean basin. Here again we meet that same number: 5,000 dying daily in Constantinople; the City then had roughly a population of roughly 450,000. Another and more reasonable estimate is that the city lost 40 percent of its population or 90,000. Spreading from Constantinople, the disease is said to have reduced the population of the imperial realm by 25 percent overall. The map shows its extent:

It is worth noting that Y. pestis kills two in three of those infected in the span of about four days. One of those infected had been Emperor Justinian himself, but he had survived. This plague began six years into the Gothic War (which was launched in 535); the war ended in 554; the plague lasted until 750, although it had ended in Constantinople much earlier. The pandemic indubitably affected Justinian’s efforts to restore the Western Empire—by weakening that effort—so that the Lombards soon claimed again what Justinian’s general, Belisarius, had managed to return to Byzantium.

The greatest calamity to visit the Medieval World was the Black Death. It lasted for eight years and covered all of Europe (see the following map). It killed an estimated 75 million and half of each European population that it touched. My source for that is a Reuters story (link), which, however, fails to give a reference to its source which, in the story, is “according to some estimates.” I’ve looked all over and find 200 million deaths as the highest estimate (BBC). Take your choice. The plague came from Asia and speculation has it that it was carried by black rats in ships infested by rat fleas. I show the image of such a flea here; it is huge compared to the disease that it carries. Y. pestis is the dark mass inside it made up of millions of bacteria. If the carriers were rats, it would explain episodic outbreaks of the plague in the centuries that followed, well into the times of the Renaissance; I did not track the disease beyond that period.

Please note, on this map, that the coloration does not indicate the intensity of the pandemic by depth of color. The colors mark chronological spread.

A note on the eventual conquest of Y. pestis. It took until 1897 to test an effective plague vaccine. It was tried and found to be effective by Waldemar Haffekin, a Russian bacteriologist who, working in India, discovered the method. Haffekin, whose name does not sound Russian, came from a Russian Jewish family. Streptomycin, the first of several antibiotics that came to be used later, dates to 1943.

The consequences of the plagues can only be summed up by making some gestures. I’ll focus on the Black Death, the better-documented of the two great pandemics. Depopulation was a significant issue—but, paradoxically, it helped in a way by reducing the number who had to be fed. During the reign of Yerisinia, the Little Ice Age was marching forward in time and would reach its peak about a century later. The Great Famine (1315-1317), due to extremely rainy weather, short summers, and exhaustion of arable land with the technology of the time had come before the plague. Depopulation weakened the feudal system in that labor shortages appeared and paid labor, versus owned labor, became more common. Serf labor was tied to the soil—so long as the serf wanted to work it. When serfs died, they could not be replaced, as in Roman times, by buying new ones. You had to pay someone. The religious consciousness of Europe was decisively weakened. Why did God permit this massive and clearly random dying—not least of its clergy? The Church lost standing. A sense of cynicism, largely absent before, rose to pave the ways toward the Renaissance. In yet other segments of the population the plague intensified the religious feeling and drove it to extremes, witness the heretical Flaggelant movement which combined extreme religious forms with hostility to Church authority; the movement predated the Black Death but culminated at its peak. Jewish persecutions flared up as the mob-mind sought someone to blame. And so on to the Renaissance and beyond, both to its cure and modernity. The Black Death was a game changer.

Another observation that doing this brief research suggested to Brigitte, and I concurr, is how the human mind, by and large, always has its attention focused on the survivors, and even more narrowly, on what humans can control. The Hitlers of the world are long remembered, the Dr. Haffekins of the world are rapidly forgotten. Some of the greatest and most influential events, those caused by Mother Nature, are rapidly forgotten again. As soon as it is over, the last disaster, mass shooting, or whatever, we’re back to guessing who’ll run for president two or three years from now.

Y. pestis is almost gone today—although still some 200 people die of it annualy, here and there. But is the “invisible Goth,” in a larger sense, still at the door of modern humanity? Waiting? I have looked back and noted—sparing the details, not least medieval art showing the infected—what it could do. Now a look forward. A good while back now, probably in the year of its publication, 1994, Brigitte bought a copy of The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance. It is a massive book by Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize Winner for Explanatory Journalism. That quite excellent work provides a rather dark projection of the future—certainly as dark as the picture I’ve presented looking back. And just this morning, knowing what I’m working on, Brigitte handed me a brief article in today’s New York Times titled, “Zombies in the Garden, Killing Themselves Slowly.” Should such a protein manage major inroads, we may be facing the Great Famine again. The story reports on a protein that takes over crop plants and causes them to do its will. It rides on tiny insects, leaf hoppers, and causes what one biologist in the story, Saskia A. Hogenhout, calls “a living death for the plant.” Should such a protein manage major inroads, we may be facing the Great Famine again. The Goth is still there. Vigilance is still advised. If we’re not careful, the Middle Ages may dawn once again and, in the future, some other scribe will have to rise to the challenge of sorting its chaos…

Image credits:

Plague of Justinian: University of California, Irvine (link)
Image of flea carrying Y. pestis: Wikipedia (link)
Black Death map: Wikipedia (link)

Middle Ages Posts:

Saturday, April 12, 2014

From Attila to Osman: Sorting the Nomads

Attila the Hun ushered in the Middle Ages and that period ended when another Turkic tribe, the Ottomans, captured Constantinople. I began this series with Attila; then, going in a circle roughly south, west, north, and east again, I’ve once more reached region where Attila had had his base, thus Danubian basin, also the Carpathian basin, anciently Pannonia; these days that area is Hungary. In the last post on matters secular, concerning Charlemagne, I noted that he conquered a peoples called the Avars who were living there then. Who were these folk? Where did they come from? Is Avar another name for the Hungarians, the Magyars? And where, come to think of it, do those two names come from? Well, lets sort them all out, from A to O.

Let me first summarize this history as broadly as possible. In the period just before and a little after the Middle Ages, several major nomadic invasions of Western Europe took place mostly by Turkic-speaking peoples who had originated, or came directly from Mongolia moving to the west. These were Huns, Avars, Magyars, the Mongols of Genghis Khan, and finally the Osmanli, another Turkic group, whose name, mangled by the westerners, gave us the Ottomans. Of these only the majority of the Magyars, roughly seven of ten tribes, spoke Ugric rather than Turkic; the other three joined with them were of Turkic origin.

The map shows the prevalence today of the Turkic language. Most of the invasions we’re talking about were from the blue regions in the center of the map, usually to the West but rarely ever managing to get much past Hungary and the Balkans. To be sure, invading salients did, temporarily, penetrate deeper, but they were rarely more than extensive raids.

The invaders were nomadic, herding peoples. They lacked the institutional structures and habits that characterized those they attacked; the latter were agricultural peoples centered on towns and cities and accustomed for centuries to a highly organized—or, in the darkest times, reorganizing—realms with more or less stable borders. The Turkic invasions therefore represent the gradual absorption of a major segment of the Eurasian population into what might be called civilization—although the nomadic life-style is still more or less alive, if dying, in Mongolia and other fringe regions in that part of the world.

Some part, anyway, of the invasions recounted here, most particularly those of Genghis Khan, have been traced back to climate change, that change noted to have taken place in the near-deserts of northern Eurasia where tree-ring studies show a rain-rich period; it may have lifted population numbers (see this article in the National Geographic, link). At the same time, the invaders’ failure to completely overrun the much more humid and rainy reaches of Western Europe also owed something to water. Evidently the famed bow of the nomads was a composite made of horn, bamboo, and animal sinew bound together with animal glue. The glue deteriorated when becoming moist or in high humidity. I have this tidbit from Wikipedia (link).

My focus here will be on Hungary. That land, certainly its eastern extent, the Puszta or Great Hungarian Plain, most resembles the lands all of these invaders called home: great dry flatlands. Arriving in the Puszta, they felt at home again and usually set up their Western Headquarters. The Ottomans also, at their western-most extent, occupied that part of Hungary for 173 years. I’ve covered Attila in my first posting in this series (see link below). Therefore I will begin with the Avars. The timeline I’m providing here will guide us. Note that I have shaded the portion of this history that fall into the Middle Ages. The Ottoman’s held on to Hungary until the seventeenth century—but their empire lasted until the early twentieth. They left behind the relatively small region of Turkey—as the Hungarians still hold a much smaller central region of what had been the Greater Hungary (Nagy Magyarország, as I was taught in grade school).

The Avars. Much like Attila’s Huns before them, the Avars came from the region of the Pontic-Caspian steppe, thus roughly today’s Kazakhstan and Russia. (The Pontic here refers to the ancient name of the Black Sea, Pontus Euxinus, hospitable sea.) Much like the Huns before them, the Avars moved west under the pressure of a successfully expanding Turkish nation (let’s call it) known as the Göktürk Khaganate (derived from khagan or ruler). As the Avars came, they displaced the Germanic Gepids who, in turn had been allies of Attila, who, in his turn, had displaced the Goths who’d occupied Pannonia before his time. Endless this chain of human action to overcome and to be in turn displaced. The two images I show are the origins of the Avars and then the realm they had established for themselves when, colliding with Charlemagne, they were conquered in turn and the region of Pannonia became quite depopulated.

They were enabled to enter by the Byzantine Empire because that empire was always willing to grant lands to potential mercenaries on their borders. Furthermore, the Avars were seeking rich pastural lands, which the Puszta provided. The map shows them at their largest extent. By Charlemagne’s time they had been pushed back so that the Danube had become their border, but their intrigues with Bavaria eventually led to their own downfall.

The name of these people derives from the concept of “superiority,” “elevation,” “height.” Thus they thought of themselves as rulers. History, indeed life itself, teaches that such aspirations, taken too literally, are of brief duration.

The Magyars. Let me sort out the name first. The word  Magyar comes from Hungarian. In other languages Hungarian has a Turkic etymology, deriving from onogur, which simply means ten tribes; others talk of ten arrows. The O got changed into a U; in German the word is Ungar to this day. The leading H first appears in Medieval Latin. As for the Hungarians own name for themselves, it appears to have at one time been the name of a leading family spelled Megyer.

As noted earlier, ten tribes formed the Magyar group that inherited the Land of the Avars; of these three were Turkic-speaking tribes, the Kavars.  As any Hungarian can tell you, and I am one, communicating with the world is a major challenge, even with those who belong to the Finn-Ugric language group. Hence it does not surprise me that a Turkic name came to be attached to the Magyars very early.

The Hungarians originated in a small triangle formed in northern Russia by the Pechora river (it flows into the Arctic) and the Urals to the west of it. By the ninth century, parts of these peoples had come much further south. They were neighbors of the Pechenegs, another Turkic aggregation which then dominated the Pontic-Caspian Steppe. Under pressure they moved west and became mercenaries to the Byzantine empire in that realm’s efforts to hold off Bulgar incursions from the north. From there they moved into the Carpathian basin under Árpád, their overlord. They overcame the scattered peoples still left in depopulated Pannonia; the Hungarian tribes settled to the west, the Kavars to the east of the Tisza river which forms the western border of the Great Plains. Árpád defeated the German armies sent to block his advance (907).

From that time forward, the Magyars, behaving in accustomed nomadic/Hunnish style, launched numerous raids into Europe to acquire loot and slaves. They reached as far north as Denmark (915), as far West as Aquitaine in France (913, 934, 954), as far southwest as Spain (942), as far South as Italy (922, 947), and in all of these cases making their way through the German states. These forays were always both brief and not terribly destructive. They came to an end, finally, when Otto I—he who re-founded the Holy Roman Empire—defeated them decisively in the battle of Lechfeld (near Augsburg in Bavaria) in 955. Thereafter the Hungarians settled down—their own territories still intact, and began a process of aligning themselves to the European system by diplomacy and the acceptance of a feudal culture.

Those Carolingians, we might say here. Charlemagne dealt with the Avars. His very distant relative, Otto I, stopped the Magyars. In 975, Árpád’s grandson, Géza, accepted Catholicism after creating order from the chaos Otto’s victory had caused and Hungary entered the HRE by submitting to Otto II. The maps show the origin of the Ugric-speaking peoples (above), the extent of Hungary’s sway, and the raids launched by the Magyars on Western Europe between 908-955 (below). Note here the similar shape of the Magyar and Avar kingdoms.



Add caption
The Mongols. Although the name of Genghis Khan still reverberates in the European collective memory as persistently as does Hitler’s, most of the great terror wrought in the world by that rather
formidable conqueror was felt in the far and central east of Eurasia. Genghis Kahn came close to capturing Constantinople and overran a piece of the Byzantine Empire, but as for Europe, they only ravaged two counties, those where Brigitte and I were born, Poland and Hungary. I can show this using two maps. The first shows the major salients of Genghis Khan’s incursions, of which the only arrow that touches Europe is the one to the bottom left.

The second map shows the extent of the Mongol Empire created by Genghis Khan and his successor, Kublai Khan. Note that the Poland and Hungary were battle-grounds but were not incorporated into the Mongol Empire. Both countries were overrun and devastated, but the war lasted about a year. Suddenly the Mongol armies retreated.

By the time these armies entered Hungary and Poland in 1241, Genghis Khan had already been dead for fifteen years, the Mongols then under this son, Ögedei Khan. That ruler, however, died in the Spring of 1242. The general commanding the forces in Europe, Batu Khan, aspired to election as rule of the empire. Hence he immediately set out to return to Karakorum in Mongolia to be a participant in the process of naming a successor. The distance from, say, Budapest to Karakorum using modern roads is 4,650 miles. Batu had a ways to go—and catching a flight was not then an option.

Where the Mongols touched Europe, they were overwhelming. But the experience of defeat taught the Hungarians and Poles a lesson. In both realms fortified centers, like castles, were only present in border regions. Once the Mongols got past these, they had a free hand. After Batu Khan’s withdrawal, a castle-building boom began. And both realms had just time enough to fortify. The Mongols returned again in the 1280s; Kublai Khan had since ascended to the Mongol throne. Each Mongol attack was promptly and decisively defeated, and the Mongols would not again return. Technology, we might say. Technology.

The Ottomans. Let me bring this post to a close by at least mentioning the Ottomans. They were the last of the Turkic invaders. For them a partial conquest of Hungary was on the point of their extreme extension. They came from the south, some seventy-four years after capturing Constantinople and thus officially ending the Middle Ages. I’ll say no more than that because I want to speak much more extensively of the Ottomans in a later post toward the end of this series. The little more that I would say here is that the Ottomans, while certainly from the same roots, both geographically as well culturally, as the earlier invaders, had learned many lessons from the successes and failures of their predecessors. They built an empire that later coincided with that of the Byzantine. And they held on to it to just about the time that Brigitte and I were born.
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Images from Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica:

Turkic Languages
Pontic-Caspian Steppe
Avar Domain
Urals
Hungarian Domain
Hungarian Raids
Mongol Routes of Invasion
Mongol Empire*

*This map used to be on Wikipedia but has, since my earlier posting, been removed.

Middle Ages Posts:

Women in  the Middle Ages

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Women in the Middle Ages

When I set out to write this post, I was surprised at the dearth of female figures in the early Medieval period—thus up to about the year 900 in the secular realm and only touching on times to the Renaissance when I was summarizing the papacy. This comes about because the word medieval seems to mean the High Medieval to most compilers of lists, thus 1001-1300, and, furthermore, they omit the Byzantine half of that period. What came before the year 1000 was the Dark Ages to my informants. Many lists, therefore, begin with Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose life blossomed in a time beyond the range of years I intended to cover. From her time forward, we see a thickening of famous females. Well, herewith a small corrective.

To be sure, one might say that women are always more than half of all the people but they are, at best, only a tenth of history. Such is the nature of a patriarchal culture—which is the only one we really know. Visibility is always defined as secular prowess in politics and war. The highly visible women, if one digs down a bit, are invariably associated with good news—the spread of peace, harmony, order, health, and religion.



Above I present a list of prominent women, beginning with Saint Lucy, about whom I wrote in an earlier post on the Middle Ages, and ending with Saint Catherine of Sienna, principally because I mentioned her in my post on the Papacy. She was instrumental in ending the Avignon Papacy. I mention one Saint Teresa of whom few have ever heard—with a nod about the more famous who were to follow her: Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) and Saint Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897), the Little Flower.

The color-coding I am using is meant to indicate, roughly, the kind of influence each prominent woman exercised. Blue is religious, the tan secular. The Empress Irene bridges two categories. She was the actual ruler of the Byzantine realm, but she is remembered best for convening the Second Council of Nicaea in which the veneration of icons, prohibited in the Byzantine realm, was once more permitted. The pink color marks two women who were both very rich, powerful in their own right, and rather popular. They were what we would call celebrities; more on them later.

Of the three items left white, the first is a marker to indicate that the womenfolk of barbarian tribes, in this case British, were likely to take part in wars with sword in hand. Of the other two Ende was an artist and not really famous until our day when feminism, I think, discovered her. But she has a place on the list to indicate that women also excelled in a famously monkish art, illumination. Trota of Salerno was also a doctor, but not of the Church. She shares this distinction—as practitioner and as a writer, with Hildegard of Bingen.A brief word, in sequence of time, about each.

Saint Lucy predates the Middle Ages but became, during that time, a highly revered saint. The posting on her is here.

Saint Clotilde’s fame comes from the very important event of her conversion of her husband, Clovis, the most prominent figure in the Merovingian Dynasty, to Catholicism. Women perceived the need for religious unity more keenly then men, with perhaps Charlemagne as an exception. Clotilde is perhaps the first queen who engaged in this unification effort—but not the last.

Theodora is perhaps the most famous name on this list. In the view of many historians, she was de facto co-ruler (some say the real ruler) of the Byzantine Empire under its most famous emperor, Justinian. She came from the bottom, you say, having been an actress. The conflict between East and West and competing forms of Christianity probably contributed to nasty claims that she had been a prostitute; whatever the truth of that, and we must be cautious here, she was certainly a theatrical celebrity, on the scope of a Marilyn Monroe, before she reached her exalted heights. Note here that she was a Miaphysite Christian (Jesus had two natures united as one); she was converted around her 20th year. In her later life she was an able promoter of the Orthodox form of Christianity, and she is a saint in the Greek Orthodox Church.

Amalasuntha was a Goth, the daughter of that people’s most formidable emperor, Theodoric the Great. She illustrates the role of women—then and also now (thinking now of Indira Gandhi) who carried on a famed tradition. She ruled the Ostrogothic kingdom (Italy, parts of France, parts of the Balkans). Her orientation was strongly Roman rather than Christian. Like many ruler she was eventually deposed and murdered in her bath, Had she been Christian, she’d surely now be a saint as well.

Aelia Sophia, ruled Byzantium alone for a period of four years—but she did so during the temporary insanity of her husband, Justinian II, therefore she is called a regent. Her interests were economic and, during her own and her husbands reign, she effectively ran the Byzantine treasury—and all matters linked to that, including banking, loans, taxes, and more.

Saint Berta belongs to those who converted barbarian tribes to Christianity, here summarized (I’m quoting others) as having converted her husband and hence the Kent region. Her influence on the spread of Christianity in England, however, was much more complex.

Irene, usually referred to as Irene of Athens, was Empress in her own right, but ruling in the name of her infant son. Like Theodora, she too is a Greek Orthodox saint. Her fame comes from the reversal of the iconoclastic movement which had taken root in the East, reversed during a council of the church that she convened.

Ende. Very little is known of this woman. I include her because she fits the period and appears in the Dictionary of Women Artists published in 1997 in which the first artist featured, chronologically, is Ende—the second is Hildegard of Bingen who also, I might add, made a name for herself as a composer.

Matilda of Flanders is, perhaps, wrongly colored in my chart—as a celebrity. She certainly was one. She also ruled the Duchy of Normandy while her husband, William, was busy conquering England. When he was done, she became Queen of England as well but preferred to live, most of the time, in Normandy; there she continued to rule and to manage and nurture her many church related foundations.

Saint Hildegard. In that she is one of my favorite saints, you can read about her extensively on this blog, most extensively here (“Sibyl of the Rhine”) and here (“Doctor of the Church”). She became a Doctor of the Church just recently, you might say, in October of 2012. Of all the women on this list she is the most accomplished—as a foundress of convents, mystic, preacher, writer, composer, artist, and medical writer.

Trota of Salerno. Salerno is in southern Italy, a city that calls itself Hippocratica Civitas or the City of Hoppocritus, the famous healer. Trota, about whom almost nothing beyond her famous book De Curis Mulierum, thus Of the Healing of Women, was just doing her thing in the city of healing—and, to oblige a future blogger, she concentrated on—women.

Eleanor of Aquitaine, late in her life, became the Duchess of Aquitaine but only after having been Queen consort of France and of England. That word consort means that she shared his honors and titles, not his powers. She was married to King Louis VI but got “divorced,” you might say, because she could not bear a son. Pope Eugene III at first vetoed the annulment of her marriage. After Eleanor produced another daughter, and the lawyers got busy, an annulment was granted after all, based on consanguinity; the lawyers found a relationship between her and King Louis at the fourth degree, thus back in the days of the great grandparents. She was granted her own lands back in this process, i.e., Aquitaine. She next married the Duke of Normandy who later became King Henry II of England. She had ten children in total, of which five of eight were sons, two of them future kings. Just those many children would earn Eleanor, in my eyes, a place on this list…

Teresa of Portugal deserves her place here because she was both a queen and after the annulment of her marriage (she was married to her first cousin) she became a nun. She was also an early but lesser-known Saint Teresa. She founded a Benedictine monastery after returning to Portugal from Léon, where she had been queen. Léon is in Northern Spain. Later she transformed the monastery into a Cistercian convent for 300 nuns: looking out of the women…

Saint Catherine of Sienna’s mother, at birth called Lapa Piagetti, perhaps deserves this place on the list. She gave birth to 25 children in her life. Catherine and her twin sister, Giovanna, were premature births when Lapa had reached her fortieth year; they were Numbers 23 and 24. Giovanna died. But two years later Lapa gave birth again, to a daughter, whom she also named Giovanna. Catherine is the patron of (among others) Italy, miscarriages, sexual temptation, sickness, and nurses—all matters she had learned about in childhood. Yet she had also time to write extensively, her most famous work being The Dialogue of Divine Providence. She too is a Doctor of the Church—and she, too, earned that title quite late in history, in 1970. Even the Papacy is hearing the song of feminism…
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Images in order with Wikipedia link:

Clotilde
Theodora
Amalasuntha
Matilda of Flanders
Hildegard of Bingen
Eleanor of Aquitaine
Teresa of Portugal
Catherine of Sienna

Middle Ages Posts:

Charlemagne and the Quest for Order

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Charlemagne and the Quest for Order

Long ago now, while reading about the Ottoman empire, I came across a potent observation, probably by Arnold Toynbee. It was to the effect that great empires initially expand only to make order. Problems at their borders cause them to invade. The idea of creating an empire is never the actual motive of any given campaign. At later stages of an ever-enlarging entity, the idea of a “calling,” as it were, a call to greatness, tends to posses at least a part of each leading elite. In our own case Manifest Destiny, arising in the nineteenth century, was such an idea, still alive in the notion of American Exceptionalism.

All this came to mind again as I was contemplating the rise of various “empires” during the Middle Ages, e.g., the Visigothic, Gothic, and Vandal early, the Carolingian and the Holy Roman a little later. When one looks at the details, what becomes visible is brutal warfare on what looks to us like small scale. Barbarian raids and plunder incite countering responses which, succeeding, swallow up small regions that, today, would take less than a morning to drive across. Each such effort prominently features the egos of individuals; yet, the more successful of these warriors, at their infrequent moments of leisure, dream of empire.

The best remembered of these barbarian warriors was Charles I. He represents the last of the famous Frankish conquerors; he formed the largest empire, so-called, but he was also an agent in a three-fold process. The political aspect of that process was the expansion of the Franks, first under the Merovingian and then under the Carolingian dynasties, until the Franks under him ruled what is today France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, half of Italy, and Austria. The process is nicely illustrated in the following map; I’ve shown it before but it deserves another look in this context:


The political process, one of consolidation, was accompanied by an ideological consolidation, the conversion of the barbarians to Christianity. The first convert was the Merovingian Clovis (466-511). Pepin the Short (714-768) formed a lasting alliance with the Papacy. Charlemagne, his son, continued that process by converting the last holdouts to Christianity; he also continued to protect the Church, and, in his maturity engaged in high-handed reforms of ecclesiastical arrangements—but he was the Protector General of Catholicism, and his initiatives did not arouse much resistance. Finally, under the Carolingians, of whom the first was Charles Martel (688-741), Charlemagne’s grandfather, there appeared an administrative process of consolidation as well marked by various kinds of reforms. The Carolingians first appeared on the stage of history as administrators serving kings, the so-called Mayors of the Palace—until they seized the highest power for themselves. Charlemagne was the most skillful and ambitious of them. His reforms and arrangements lasted much longer than his realm and included monetary, accounting, educational, ecclesiastic, and legal arrangements. The last of these, in fact, laid the groundwork for what later came to be called feudalism. Under Charles both counts (hence our “counties”) and dukes were appointed. And if they had no land to support them, it was granted to them. I am most struck by Charles’ educational initiative, launched in 787. He called for the establishment of schools by every parish and monastic establishment: the Birth of Catholic Education. I went to high school under Benedictine nuns…

Obviously helped by great vigor and intelligence, Charlemagne also lived longer than such usually did. Clovis died at 45, Charles Martel at 54, Pepin the Short at 54, but Charlemagne lasted to a ripe age, 71-72 years of age (his birth date is in some dispute).

Herewith a timeline:



I’ve highlighted in yellow the wars or conflict in which Charles was the leader. It turns out that each of these conflicts began with a provocation by the other side:

·         The Aquitanian campaign was caused by an insurrection.
·         The Lombard war was caused by invasions of the Papal States by the Lombard king.
·         The Saxon war was initially caused by a Saxon invasion of Francia.
·         The invasion of Spain was at Charlemagne’s initiative and represents the belief that the Moors wished to come under his protection. He failed to take the city and, on his return, lost his baggage train to Basque raiders.
·         The Bavarian conquest was caused by its duke’s formation of an alliance with the Avars.
·         The Slavic war were instigated by attacks on Charlemagne’s allies, the Abodriti (Slavs in Northern Germany).
·         The Avar campaign was occasioned by an Avar invasion of Bavaria.

Not that the urge to conquer was not already present somewhere in Charles’ mind, as in the case of the Spanish campaign. He pictured himself, as his power grew to be the champion of Christianity—and forcible conversion of pagan populations to Christianity did not cause him any kind of qualms. On the whole, however, the Carolingian empire grew, as probably all empires actually do, by a kind of reflex of self-defense, by a determination to keep order, which reflex or determination by a strong power tends always to increase its territory and its influence.

Now some notes to the Timeline. Carloman I was Charlemagne’s younger brother. Upon Pepin’s death, in conformity with Frankish custom, Francia was split between Charles and Carloman. This custom caused consolidated realms to fall apart, alas. The Carolingian empire held together until 840, outlasting Charles’ own death by 27 years, only because, at his death, Charles only had one surviving son, Louis the Pious. After Louis’ death the Holy Roman Empire fell apart—to be reconstituted, but now with a Germanic focus, by Otto I who was himself a direct descendant of Charlemagne.

The map I show here is the Francia split in two at Pepin’s death.  The green is Carloman, the yellow Charles. Bavaria, which the legend in French labels as under Frankish influence, was so influenced because Charlemagne’s first wife, Desiderata, was the daughter of the Lombard King, Desiderius; and Duke Tassilo III, ruler of Bavaria, was married to another daughter of the Lombard King, Liutperga. Charles entered his marriage in order to secure his own flanks. His link to Lombardy worried the Church but need not. The Church was concerned because Lombardy overlay the Papal States. After the Carloman’s death and the unification of Francia, Charles put that marriage aside and married a Swabian countess, Hildegard. Tassilo III’s later agitations—and attempt to ally himself with the Avars—were in part caused by the acrimony caused by Charles’ “divorce.” This provides some feel, at a lower detail than mere maps and reforms can provide, for the flavor of those times. The Papacy did not object either to the “divorce” or, later, to Charles’ conquest of the Lombards… The next king of the Carolingian empire, Louis the Pious was the fourth child (of nine) of Hildegard and Charles. We were then a long ways from today—literally: Today I saw a full-page ad in the New York Times titled “Abortion is not a crime. It’s a right.”

The legacy of Charlemagne, who formed an empire, was really the modern nation state, its centralized administration, and various institutions of which feudalism has passed away but universal education still remains in place. The future states of France and Germany, the two big foot-prints of Europe, were formed under Charlemagne and then his great great great great grandson Otto I. The unification of Italy had to away the nineteenth century and Guiseppe Garibaldi.
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Image credits: French Denier showing image of Charlemagne; the inscription is KAROLUS IMP AUG, thus Karolus Imperator Augustus; you’d never know that this was not a Roman—and Map of the Carolingian Empire at Charles’ death: both from Wikipedia (link). Map of Francia split between Charles and Carloman I: Bossier Aim (link).

Middle Ages Posts:

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Court’s Logic on Campaign Contributions

In the case of McCutchem et al vs Federal Election Commission, a case decided last Wednesday, the Supreme Court, voting 5-4, decided that upper limits to contributions violate the Constitution’s First Amendment.

Let’s look at the limits first. Here I quote from the McCutchem decision’s summary (link):

The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA), as amended by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), imposes two types of limits on campaign contributions. Base limits restrict how much money a donor may contribute to a particular candidate or committee while aggregate limits restrict how much money a donor may contribute in total to all candidates or committees.

Two limits are involved here, base and aggregate or cap. The base specifies the maximum that may be contributed by an individual to a candidate or a political committee in every two-year election cycle:

Note here that contributions to candidates are per election; thus if the candidate runs in a primary and then, having won it, runs for office, he/she can receive a total of $5,200. Note further that if money given to a committee is “earmarked” by the donor for a candidate, the amount earmarked affects the total that may be given to the candidate directly. The second cap applies to all party committees thus making the absolute aggregate $123,200. Note last that McCutchem does not address super PACs made possible by Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission; these may have unlimited donations but must spend their money without reference to candidates or parties.

Shaun McCutchem et al sued the Government and claimed that the aggregate violated the First Amendment by limiting McCutchem’s free expression as guaranteed by that amendment. He accepted the base as legitimate. This distinction is important because the Court constrained itself to deal only with the constitutionality of the aggregate, and did not address the constitutionality of the base. The court’s argument, however, declaring the imposition of an aggregate unconstitutional would also at least appear to invalidate the imposition of a base. It was simply that the Court did not address the base. Not surprisingly, McCutchem is now viewed in the media as handwriting on the wall. Next time around, someone will sue attacking the base. The court will then, presumably, lift the last limitation on campaign contributions using exactly the same arguments it used to remove the aggregate.

The distinction here is important, further, because the Government (as Federal Election Commission), regards both the base and the aggregate as functional aspects of the same object, thus to keep election contributions from corrupting politics. Thus if you remove one of the limits, you weaken if not destroy the outcome.

The Court’s logic here is that the only recognized form of corruption, in its view, is what it calls making quid pro quo contributions. Quid pro quos involve the donor explicitly stating or unambiguously signaling that it expects a certain action on the part of the recipient if the candidate is elected. A donor who only hopes for “access” or “influence” is not deemed to engage in corruption according to the logic of the Court.

The Court’s view of the role of money is expressed in the following (highlights are mine):

The First Amendment “is designed and intended to remove governmental restraints from the arena of public discussion, putting the decision as to what views shall be voiced largely into the hands of each of us, . . . in the belief that no other approach would comport with the premise of individual dignity and choice upon which our political system rests.” Cohen v. California, 403 U. S. 15, 24 (1971). As relevant here, the First Amendment safe­guards an individual’s right to participate in the public debate through political expression and political associa­tion. See Buckley, 424 U. S., at 15. When an individual contributes money to a candidate, he exercises both of those rights: The contribution “serves as a general expres­sion of support for the candidate and his views” and “serves to affiliate a person with a candidate.Id., at 21–22. Those First Amendment rights are important regardless whether the individual is, on the one hand, a “lone pam­phleteer[ ] or street corner orator[ ] in the Tom Paine mold,” or is, on the other, someone who spends “substantial amounts of money in order to communicate [his] political ideas through sophisticated” means.

The above suggests that any limitation of this self-expression through the medium of contributions is contrary to the spirit of the First Amendment (which only speaks of “freedom of speech” and “the right of the people peaceably to assemble”). If a limitation of the aggregate is anti-constitutional then so must be setting base limits.

Wait for the next case. In due time money will flow freely—and the quid pro quo will simply be understood. As if it isn’t already…

Thursday, April 3, 2014

More Notes on Feelings and Emotions

When I asked Google Ngram to chart the phrase “getting in touch with your feelings,” I discovered that use of that phrase began after 1960. I used only part of the phrase because Ngram only permits a maximum of five words in each phrase one submits for comparison. And for contrast I used the word “iPhone”; it seemed to me that that brand name should have quite a rapid spike in these latter days. I got the following result:


This sort of thing—the popularization of concepts derived from psychology—had earlier cause me to speak here about “the Culture of Emotion.” 1960 is very recent, but, as I’ve endeavored to point out (here), the origin of this emphasis on feelings, thus the belief that authenticity is linked to feelings and emotions, dates back to the Enlightenment; for details see that post.

Emotions and feelings are, to be sure, used synonymously. In fact, however, feelings are milder, emotions much stronger. The root of emotion is “movement” and, that movement, is from inside out, thus from the body outward. Emotion always hints at action to come; feelings do not; thus there is a difference. The stronger a feeling becomes the more it looks like an emotion.

I got to wondering about the origin of that phrase, that “getting in touch.” The usual “origin of phrase” web sites did not in the least help me, but I managed, finally to discover something meaningful in a book. The following quote comes from there (link). The text that comes just before this quote points out that affective states, which are linked to the body, are able to influence our state of mind—if for no other reason than that conflicts can arise, e.g., between pleasure in eating and decisions to diet.

But exactly how the emotive or bodily component plays a role in psychotherapy and mental health is open to debate. For Freud, it was a matter of “getting in touch with” primitive childhood fantasies that carry an emotional charge. In other therapies, such as primal therapy (Janov, 1970), it is a matter of getting in touch with a buried reservoir of pain and then expressing and discharging it. In many existential or humanistic approaches, it is a matter of “getting in touch with feelings,” which means being willing to acknowledge and label one’s anger, sadness, or fear.
     Client-centered therapy, based primarily on Gendlin’s theory of experiencing (Gendlin, 1969), has a somewhat different view of the role of the affective component. Experiencing is a broader construct than “emotion.” People are said to experience feelings and to listen to their experience. In the process of experiencing a feeling, it is more important to listen to the experience of the feeling than to the feeling itself.
     [Judith Todd, Arthur C. Bohart, Foundations of Clinical and Counseling Psychology, 2005, p. 200.]

The quote is mildly revealing. I took a glance at Eugene T. Gendlin’s work; he is a philosopher and psychotherapist. Here, for instance, is a link to one of his essays which will serve to link him to my subject (link). Considering his influence and the time when he was most active, it seems that psychology owes that phrase to him, albeit by popularization. The quote also makes clear that the roots of this concern with emotion go straight back to Freud and are derived from Freud’s own ideas of repression; revealing repressed contents of our consciousness appears to have a healing effect, in the context of pathology—and perhaps an enlightening effect if nothing is otherwise wrong.

Words, words, words. In Hume’s day people contrasted reason and passion, in Jane Austen’s (who was born just eight months before Hume died) it was sense and sensibility, in ours it is feeling and cognition. As the words change, something new seems to be happening. The truth is that the underlying references are to very ancient and basic facts about human experience.

I am into Ngrams today, so herewith one contrasting sensibility and emotion. It is well to keep in mind that, in the eighteenth century sensibility meant “emotional consciousness, capacity for higher feelings or refined emotion.” The emphasis is on emotion. Sense by, contrast, meant “mind” to Jane Austen; the meaning of “that which is wise” became attached to this word in the seventeenth century. The emphasis here, we would say today, is on the intellect, the cognitive.


The word sensibility was used more frequently in 1800 than emotion, which is interesting. By 1820 the two words were crossing each other, emotion rising, sensibility sinking. Sensibility no doubt underwent a change as it was perhaps benignly neglected. When we say, these days, that so-and-so acted sensibly, we do not associate emotionality with use of that word. What we mean is that the person acted reasonable.

Another example of the way in which words linked to psychology change, take the following Ngram which charts hysterical and neurotic. Hysterical, as a descriptor, was once closely linked to psychology; it was assumed to be dysfunction of the uterus; by now it has come to mean out-of-control emotionality; neurosis, however, never took as strong a hold in ordinary language and has dropped precipitously since its heyday (it peaked in 1952), a period that corresponded to my own most active years in the world.