The Bantu Expansion

Since we are still with migrations and the movement of people, I decided to get stuck in Africa for another blog update. Today I will speak about the Bantu expansion. Now I did not know about this until I actually had a look around, so due to my lack of knowledge of the subject, this may be one of my more technical updates. Nevertheless, I hope you find it informative and as interesting as I did.

In general terms the Bantu expansion is considered the first formative event in Africa. This migration took place due to the movement of Bantu language speakers which some experts believe to have lasted for thousands of years, so it was a long process and developed at various stages. The evidence that we have for this migration are mainly linguistic. This associates the branch of Niger-Congo Bantu dialect expanding along the areas of modern-day Cameroon and Nigeria around 3000 years ago. Once this synergy commenced, the Bantu proceeded with their expansion towards the eastern and southern territories within the African continent. The expansion reached central Angola c.500 BC. Then the direction of the flow of people seems to have changed towards the Great Lakes, with strong settlements by 500 AD. Furthermore, by c.300 AD Bantu speakers occupied most of Africa south from the Sahara. It is worth mentioning that this migratory tendency has been identified to be not self-conscious, or rather not entirely intentional, but rather circumstantial. This is suggested due to the somewhat erratic yet natural wave of expansion; always moving into areas which were not properly occupied.

Some scholars support the idea that there was a re-boot of the Bantu expansion some centuries later: between the 1200s and 1600s. This is the period when the Bantu speaking people of the Great Lakes area consolidated power and asserted their influence in neighboring lands due to an increase of population, producing more specialised labour and strengthening their military power. Thus, the seat of their rule formed at Zimbawe. Moreover, some experts contemplate the elongation of the Bantu expansion further into the modern period, supporting that the rise of the Zulu empire in the 18th and 19th centuries was related to the original migration process – but perhaps this is too much of a stretch, and I am personally not convinced of this fact.

The reasons for the movement area still uncertain, and they vary depending on who you may ask. It was traditionally understood that the Bantu migrated in order to conquer new lands and expand their area of influence. Nevertheless, linguists believe that the migration may actually be related to a societal change regarding agricultural developments, considering that there is evidence in the language development suggesting that the people in South Africa changed from being hunter-gatherers to farming communities with the arrival of the Bantu to this area. Archaeologists have supported the genesis of this expansion due to agricultural developments as well as the perfection of iron work and subsequent increase of trading activities. However, this does not add up with the linguistic evidence found in correlation to the migratory movements towards the south. According to Hambert, the early Bantu migrations could not be connected with the use and improvement iron technology as there are no words in the language that reflect these were used within society. Therefore Hambert believes the lack of words proves the lack of resource work, or at least to a meaningful degree. Instead, current research looks towards the rise and use of cereal crops as a possible determining factor for the expansion process.

Nevertheless, there is an incredible and fundamental issue regarding research on this subject and a coherent historiographical record for this subject which affects most pre-modern African history. This is the struggle to find relevant archaeological finds, or at least to gather a record substantial enough from were to extrapolate ideas and theorise what is supported by the practice. Moreover, there are plenty of chronological issues in what relates coherence due to the lack of written records produced by the Bantu, fact that only changed in recent centuries with the modernisation of the African communities due to European influence and intervention. That is the reason why the linguistic evidence are crucial in this study, as they are the only source that seems to have paced itself in a way that is at least identifiable to linguists and anthropologists.

So, if you are looking for an exciting, open field to get into, perhaps you should consider African studies and the Bantu cultures.

A Brief Overview of Indian Migration and Diaspora in Africa

The Indian diaspora in Africa has seen a number of fluctuating migrations in the last two centuries. The majority of Indians came to Africa as indentured servants to the British. The use of indentured servants became particularly popular in the 19th century after the abolition of slavery, as the next cheapest form of labour. 32,000 Indians were brought to East Africa in 1896 to build the Ugandan Railway. Once the railway was complete in 1901, after the deaths of 2500 labourers in the five years it took to construct, many settled in the various countries of East Africa and had their families join them. The migrants settled into local communities and began to work in the middling professions of these communities such as shopkeepers, artisans and doctors. This mirrors their position racially in the race system of African countries under colonial rule from the British. Whites occupied the most privileged position within the system, with Indians along with other Asians considered inferior to their white oppressors. However they did generally occupy a more privileged position than the Africans whose countries they lived in. It has been suggested that this position was generally accepted due to the fact that Indians found themselves able to flourish commercially, something that would not be afforded to them back in India due to being considered on the lowest rung, racially.

Despite not being equal to white colonialists, upon independence for some of the former African colonies, some Asian communities were treated similarly. The case for Indians in Kenya and Uganda were particularly difficult, with many in these countries forced to leave. Upon independence in 1963, the Kenyan government gave non-Kenyans two years to take up Kenyan citizenship. However this meant giving up British citizenship which many were reluctant to do. Therefore many did not take up citizenship within the deadline leading to tensions with Kenyans who felt that Kenyan Indians were not loyal to Kenya. This in turn led to discrimination against those without Kenyan citizenship, restricting their economic activity. As a result at the end of the 1960s, many left for Britain feeling they could no longer live in Kenya. Kenyan Indians continued to leave Kenya until the early 1970s. While tensions existed in Uganda from independence due to Asian dominance of the economy, it was not until the 1971 coup that Indians were forced out of Uganda by the dictator Idi Amin. The majority fled to the UK, however some also went to other Western countries such as the US and Canada.

The Indian diaspora still exists in Africa although it is smaller than it was in its heyday. Many remained in areas where there was less tension. In countries such as Uganda, Indians have begun to return to their former homes. This shows the constant fluctuating migrating patterns which have always existed, but in modern society has increased, as did the various empires of modern history.

The Third Crusade – Battles and Treaties

The topic for this month is Migrations, so I have decided to write this post on the Third Crusade. I recently read an article in BBC History concerning Richard Lionheart, which fed my interest in the Crusades, therefore I chose to write about the Third Crusade.

The Third Crusade only spans 3 years, from 1189-1192. It was intended to be partially led by King Henry II of England, but with his death in 1189 King Richard I of England took over, leading the crusade with King Phillip II of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.

The Third Crusade was led against Saladin (Salah ad-Din Yusuf), the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria, the founder of the Ayyubid Dynasty. Saladin was a successful ruler, gaining control over several different countries during his reign.

Richard the Lionheart, the only original Christian leader that survived the Third Crusade, seized Acre from Saladin’s forces in the summer of 1191, one of the largest victories of the crusade. Richard had arrived in Acre in the summer of 1191 after the combined attempts of Phillip II of France and Leopold of Austria (Frederick Barbarossa’s successor) failed to gain control of Acre. Richard automatically took control over the siege, by ordering the construction of siege weapons. Acre was seized 1 month after his arrival, which led to the arguments over the spoils and who they would go to, with Richard throwing down the German standard, insulting Leopold. This insult would come back to bite Richard when Leopold captured Richard in December 1192.

After the battle of Acre Richard decided to travel to the city of Jaffa, which was necessary to control before an attempt on Jerusalem was made. However, Saladin attacked Richard and his forces at Arsuf, 30 miles north of Jaffa. Despite Saladin’s attempts Richard won the battle, while not destroying the Muslim forces completely. Due to this victory Richard was able to seize and control Jaffa, gaining moral for the crusaders and threatening Saladin’s hold on Jerusalem.

In 1189 HRE Frederick Barbarossa answered the call to crusade quickly and was ready to set out for the Holy Land in May 1189 with an army of c.100,000 soldiers, including some 20,000 knights. An army of 2,000 men from the Hungarian prince Géza also went with Barbarossa to the Holy Land. However, Frederick never made it to the Holy Land, on the 18th May 1190 the German army sacked Iconium, the capital of the Sultanate. On 10th June 1190 Frederick’s horse slipped while crossing the Saleph River, throwing him against the rocks, drowning him. After this much of his army returned to Germany, while his son Frederick of Swabia led 5,000 of the men to Antioch. There the emperor’s body was boiled to remove the flesh and his bones were packed to be carried throughout the crusade. His body never made it to the Holy Land, being buried in Acre, after Frederick (his son) gained help from Conrad of Montferrat to gain access to Acre.

The advance on Jerusalem included several different political moves, including failed negotiations between Richard and Saladin’s brother, Al-Adil. On 22nd May a strategic town in Egypt, Darum, fell to the crusaders. The victories of the crusaders was constantly eating away at the morale of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Shortly after the fall of Darum the crusaders’ army advanced on Jerusalem, evening coming into sight of the city, but they were forced to retreat due to a conflict in the leadership.

In July 1192 Saladin’s army lead a surprise attack on Jaffa, recapturing it, however, Saladin lost control of his army due to their anger over the loss of Acre. It is suggested that Saladin even warned the crusaders to shelter in the citadel while he attempted to regain control of the army. Richard led a stealthy naval attack, bringing in 2,000 men to reinforce the crusaders still in the city. Saladin’s army was not prepared for this attack and suffered a complete failure despite superior numbers.

On September 2nd 1192 a strenuous treaty was forged between Richard and Saladin, with the provision that Jerusalem would remain under Muslim control. However, unarmed Christians would be able to travel to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage. One major point of contention in this treaty was the city of Ascalon, however, it was agreed that it would belong to Saladin’s people.

Richard returned from the Holy Land on 9th October 1192. The Third Crusade over.

The Great Human Migration

I have being given the task of opening our month of Migrations. So I thought it was only fitting to start with the perhaps most important in a global scale, and genesis of all migrations. This, of course, relates to the moment where our ancestors decided to part from Africa and adventure themselves into the wider world wound 80.000 years ago-some say 70.000/60.0000. This subject has been highly documented, so my post aims to be a general summary of these events. The great thing and that fascinates me about this topic and period in general, is that, even though we have a fair amount of details and records on this, more and more things keep cropping up re-writing what was already known. Anyway, let’s get on to it.

The great migration meant in many ways the world conquest of the Homo Sapiens. I say this because, effectively, by the time this period ends and the Homo Sapiens has settled outside of Africa, the rest of hominid species are in decline, or even extinct. There is still a lot of controversy around the interaction between the Homo Sapiens and the Neanderthal-extinction?integration?reproduction?- but effectively they lost power and were eclipsed by the arrival of the new human kind. This also applies for hominids settled in the Far East, such as reminiscence of Homo Erectus, and similar small bipeds such as those investigated in the island of Flores (Indonesia). One of the main ways scientists have been able to trace this migration process and the routes followed by the people is thanks to DNA- particularly the research on mitochondrial DNA, which traces the matrilinear line to its origins.

However the reasons why the Homo Sapiens left the African continent are still unknown, although many experts suggest it to be related to a climate change or a change in the circumstances and characteristics of their environment. The usual suspect for this fact is conventionally interpreted as the last wave of cold weather produced by the Ice Age. Once the weather became more stable and warmer, Homo Sapiens grew in number again and were in need of new homes- This is like I said, the generally establish theory. It is understood that the movement of people was directed towards the East first, and then to the West. The migration towards the American continent would have taken place around 20.000 to 15.000 years ago, and it would have launched from the Asian continent. Finally, it is assumed that the islands of the Pacific would have been the last points of colonization. The Genographic Project has a very useful diagram about this:

https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/human-journey/

Needless to say that the movement and arrival of the Homo Sapiens to every corner of the world meant drastic changes took place. Now there were new tools and materials being used, and finer craftsmanship allowing for better devices for survival such as better hunting equipment. New ecosystems, which potentially would have remained untouched up until that moment where not being exploited.

Nevertheless, the details of how this migration happen are still a minefield amongst scientists and archaeologists. Different theories try to understand how this incredible movement of people happened. The most supported theory is that the migration trajectory was following the coastal lines, making use of their new tools. However, there are contenders that say this well may have happened through mainland, following river courses and other natural paths. In other cases, such as the migration towards Australia, the routes taken were many and from different points of the Asian continent. It is also suggested that here the Homo Sapiens did interact and more likely than not interbreed with already settled species- not only Neanderthal, but Homo Erectus and Denisovans. Other theories debate if the one group known as Homo Sapiens originated in Africa and then spread, or if they left Africa as a proto-Homo Sapiens and the geographical variations originated. Similar issues occur when surveying the first modern humans in the American continent, and although not enough evidence have been found to prove otherwise, find in the On Your Knees Cave suggest that the occupation of America may have started as early as 40.000 years ago, and before the so-called Clovis hunters crossed through the Bering straight.

The study of migrations is always difficult. It is never straight forward and hardly ever impossible to point the finger out to the first individual in the movement and the direction it took, or the reasons why. I think this first great migration of all set the principle for many more to come throughout history. Moreover, I think it helps us understand that migratory processes take a while, being this thousands of years or decades. And we may never find the answers to all of the questions. However, I hope this highlights that me movement of humans is inherited in our nation, not only a 20th or 21st century occurrence, and that in many ways it is unstoppable. If geographic and physical boundaries didn’t stop ill equip early humans to trespass continents, imagined national borders will not stop the movement of people, regardless of the nature of this migration.

World War One: Fortresses, with a focus on Przemyśl

It can be hard to imagine that during an age of artillery, tanks, machine guns and aircraft that fortresses were still being used.  In fact the fortresses of the 20th century were deadly, Verdun, a line of fortifications that cost hundreds of thousands of lives to take, or Przemyśl, a fortress town being attacked by the Russians who used to old method of starving the defenders.  So this blog post will focus on these two examples, to give a flavour of the impact of fortresses and their importance in WW1.  The majority of the post does focus on Przemyśl, I hope you enjoy the read!

So let’s start with Przemyśl, owned by the Austria-Hungarian Empire, however when sieged it was in enemy territory.  When the Russians won the battle of Galacia in 1914, the Austrians were pushed back, with only Przemyśl standing, defiant in the face of the Russian foe.  There were around thirty miles of trenches, which surrounded the fortress town, including the famous barbed wire, which would entangle a man and kill him.  The garrison of this fortress was an incredible 127,000.  May I hasten to remind you that Winchester’s population is less than 40,000, so that’s three times the city where I study!  The foe, however, were the Russians, who strangely did not outnumber the defenders (this is quite unexpected, it is often thought the attacker needs to outnumber a defender 3:1, which probably explains the Russian generals decision to starve out, rather than to directly attack).

The town was to be sieged twice, the first time, the Russians launching an assault and loosing around 40,000 men, that is an incredible number, however the attack was repulsed and a relief force sent by the Germans managed to puncture through and escort the civilians out, leaving the Austrian army, mixed of different nationalities, left to defend to the town.

The Second siege would start in October 31, 1914, with the German army being pushed pack after the defeat at the battle of the Vistula River.  The Second siege was to be one of starvation and waiting for the defenders.  The relief efforts made by the Germans and Austrians were all to fail.  With heavy artillery, the defenses of the fortress were destroyed and the trenches overran, the Austrian army destroyed anything that would have been useful to the Russians and once an attempted breakout had been stopped, they surrendered on March 22 1915.  They had little choice.

There was once instance of when, a force of 30,000 Hungarian troops, starving, perhaps emboldened by hunger, marched out from the forts which they were garrison in a desperate attempt to raid the Russian food base at Mosciska, 20 miles away.  Their route led them past the strongest of all the Russian artillery positions.  The 30,000 men were annihilated by a bombardment of shells, machine-gun fire and rifle bullets.  It is hard to imagine that out of 30,000 troops, only 4,000 would return, with the rest killed or captured, it was a suicidal mission, nonetheless, people were desperate.

So let us move on to the fortresses at Verdun.  The area immediately around Verdun contained twenty major forts and forty smaller ones that had historically protected the eastern border of France.  They were upgraded in the early part of the 20th century.  The assault was part of the German strategy to bleed France White.  It was believed that the French would not surrender at Verdun, they could not allow these forts to fall. It was a matter of national prestige and dignity, losing them would have led to great humiliation.  The Germans believed that the French would fight to the last man at Verdun, which in turn would mean that the French would lose so many men that the battle would change the course of the war.

In the attempt to control Verdun and its fortresses, over a quarter of a million men lost their lives.  It proved to be unbreakable, the French held.  The figures at the start of the battle were one million German troops against 200,000 defenders.  Again this would seem normal, as the attacker has to outnumber the defender if assaulting directly.  However by the end, Of the 330 infantry regiments of the French army, 259 eventually fought at Verdun.  Did you know the Battle of the Somme was an attempt to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun.  That was its main purpose.

In the end Verdun was to be a bloodbath, with neither side making many gains, and the body count just rising.  The German army did manage to take a few forts, however, as soon as the Somme commenced, it was impractical for the Germans to continue, they couldn’t afford to just through men at forts.

Therefore fortresses were important in WW1 .  They were of course modernized, with the original 19th century fortresses inadequate for the task, with technology, deep tunnels and trenches being added.  They could withstand a certain amount of artillery fire and in some cases appeared impregnable.  The only way to defeat them appeared to be either starve them out or just hope they run out of men before you do.  Like most of WWI, it was attrition that won you the battle.

The Southampton Maritime Festival – 2014

I have had an extremely busy summer. One of the most rewarding things I did this summer was participate as a volunteer in the Southampton Maritime Festival. I learnt about it through the University website and I attended a training session, where I learnt exactly how it had been organised to celebrate the long and fascinating maritime history of Southampton

As its name suggests, the festival commemorates the maritime history of Southampton, with particular reference to its role in the First and Second World War. Naturally, most of the attractions were nautically themed including period-based entertainments, music from local talents, as well as popular band Kingsland Road, and a number of presentations were hosted, discussing the contemporary challenges mariners currently face.

There was also a number of rides that I suspected had been loaned from a nearby theme park, and even some period buses. There was also a second-hand bookstall, where I purchased an entertaining historical fiction novel on the Napoleonic Wars. Overall, the festival felt like a cross between an early twentieth century fun fair, and a nautical themed theme park, and I hope one day to return as a visitor.

The boats themselves included the Tenacious, the Caronia and the HMS Medusa. All of these represented the nautical ages of history, the Tenacious is a recreated wooden sailing ship, the Caronia was one of the ships used in the Dunkirk evacuations, and the Medusa was used during the D-Day landings.

As a volunteer, we were encouraged to dress up in costumes from around the World War periods, and I did exactly that. Since only the Royal Navy permitted beards, and since I had no desire to shave off the work of many months, for the sake of historical accuracy I accordingly purchased a sailor suit that can be seen in the picture below.

Southampton
(From left to right, me and my sister.)

My duties as a volunteer included directing cars to parking spaces, telling guests that arrived at the station where to find the bus that would take them there and selling guides to the event. The event itself was all things considered a success. The highlight was unquestionably the dramatic flyover of two World War II planes, a Hurricane and a Spitfire.

As an event, the Southampton Maritime Festival is one of the most interesting I have ever attended. The experience itself I valued, and I hope that it continues to interest its visitors in the maritime history of Southampton.

Women in Renaissance Portraiture

In the past, it seems to have been more common for demonology to be associated with women. This can be seen in the later Medieval period where women were seen as more prone to witchcraft than men. This is based on traditional beliefs of what was perceived as basic female nature, much of it being seen in Christianity. Trials of witchcraft promoted discussions of gender and influenced the visual arts, and in Renaissance graphic art, particularly in northern Europe, female sorcery was a popular theme.

However, Renaissance portraits of women generally intended to convey beauty and the social role of women instead. Portraits of men generally emphasized their social, political, or professional role, and these portraits were often stereotypically masculine. The function of portraits of male leaders was focussed on politics and their ideal portraits often served as some sort of ambassador of their status during their absence. This shows that men were defined by attributes of profession and social status. But female portraiture in Italian Renaissance art was not meant to be a direct representation of the individual. The purposes of most female portraiture include commemorative works, donor portraits, and images of ideal beauty. When used as a commemorative portrait, lineage and wealth were seen as the most important. Women were often painted in honour of marriage, shown by the age and costume of many subjects of portraits. Other than at the time of marriage, women were rarely seen on display as publicity was necessary to legitimize marriage during the period, and men wished to display wealth and prestige.

Many depictions of women were also seen in religious paintings as donors. In Northern Italian courts, donors were portrayed in finery to publicly advertise their wealth. In other courts of Italy, this practice was frowned upon, and female donors were pictured in dark attire with heads covered in white cloth. The costume of a woman in portrait marked their parental and marital identity, and because costume and jewellery conveyed such a large amount of information, artists often focused on the wardrobe as much as the woman, who was considered to be a piece of property herself anyway.

As said before, the women pictured in the portraits of the Italian Renaissance were not often portrayed as specific individuals but as generally ideal women who shared similar facial features with the subject of the portrait. Examples of desired physical traits include a high, round forehead, plucked eyebrows, blond hair, fair skin, rosy cheeks, red lips, white teeth and dark eyes. This is shown in many portraits where they may memorialize different individual women, the images appear to differ only slightly, with many showing equal proportion and perfect symmetry in addition to the other features mentioned. In addition to physical beauty, women were expected to uphold the high moral standards of the time. The virtuous qualities most patrons and artists aimed to portray include humility, piety, charity, obedience, and chastity. The Italian phrase virtutem forma decorat, or ‘beauty adorns virtue,’ shows the common belief in Italian Renaissance society that ideal moral characteristics must be present for women to possess physical beauty, and therefore it was considered that outward appearance was a reflection of inner beauty.

A Visigoth Interview: Daniel Gómez Aragonés

I met Daniel some years ago, as my parents were living in Toledo (Spain). He happened to frequent their workplace, and moreover, it would seem we were involved in the same Spanish medieval history magazine! What are the chances? Yet, it happened, and by chance I got to meet a formidable Spanish scholar, who is madly in love with the Visigoths! Daniel’s enthusiasm for the Visigoth culture is fueled with passion, and the fantastic atmosphere from where he lives: Toledo, the ancient Spanish capital. So I dared asked him if he would be so kind of sharing his research and true love with us and- although I had to do some translation- here it is. I hope you enjoy it!!!

Tell us about your Research

I was already interested in the Visigoth Hispanic past by the time I stated university and, in fact, as soon as I finished my degree, I started working towards my PhD in this period of history. So, I began my work for the DEA diploma (diploma of advanced studies) regarding the Visigoth and neo-Visigoth movement in Toledo from the 16th to the 17th Centuries, so I could investigate the actual image there was of the culture of Visigoth Toledo a thousand years after its apogee. This involved working with a lot of historiographical material and the earliest type of local histories produced in Toledo regarding every aspect that had anything to do with its culture, religion, identity and ideology. At the same time I started working in some of my first articles and sharing my knowledge about my specialty.

Once my DEA was approved, I jumped into my thesis, however this is currently work in progress-actually more in stand-by than anything else, as I was given the chance to publish my first book! This one was more focused on the actual Visigoths from a military and political point of view. And once I thought I was done with the book and could get back to the thesis, turns out that the editorial decided they wanted a second book, and then a third book…And so on and so forth until today, where I am in means of producing said third volume. All of this work is on the political/military subject- I do feel pretty confident about it and I do actually enjoy working on this area and sharing it with other people this distant but otherwise deeply fascinating time period. I am of the opinion that the dissemination of history is extremely important and necessary nowadays, so i have decided to follow this path, to provide exceptional and quality research for the public as well as good historiographical work.

So Why the Visigoths?

That’s an excellent question Lillian, and even though some may consider it rude to answer a question with yet another question, I say to you: and why not?! Certainly, this is something a lot of people ask me and have asked in the past when we have been in open discussions, interviews or forums, and my answer is always the same. I am quite fond of epic history (yes, epic), and I quickly found myself all tangled up with everything linked with the Visigoths. So I decided this was going to be my path- Plus, living in Toledo, it seemed natural to pursue this route. After all, it was during the Visigoth period that the pillars of the nation were settled, and I believe in these turbulent times we live in, it is important to know where we come from; return to the roots, to our identity and historic ancestry.

Now, tells us about your book success!

Well, I am obviously very, very happy with the success of my first two books. The first book was only published in 2013 under the title “La invasión bizantina de Hispania 533-625. El Reino Visigodo frente a la expasión imperial” (Ed. Almena) – trans. as The Byzantine invasion of Hispania 533-625. The Visigoth Kingdom against the imperial expansion- and then in 2014 I published “El esplendor del Reino Visigodo de Toledo” (Ed. Covarrubias) – trans. as The Splendour of the Visigoth Kingdom of Toledo. I am always thrilled when I get word that someone has read any of them, as I am aware they talk about subjects not entirely familiar to most. However, my exciting and entertaining way of approaching the time frame is helping to remove this barrier. In addition, the great reception of these two volumes has contributed to further dissemination as I have taken part in radio programs, press publications, all sorts, even activities such as tourism routes in Toledo and surroundings. Now, I am working hard on the third book, which I hope will be just as good as the other two, and I hope the audience enjoys just as much or even more. More importantly, I hope the readers will get my enthusiasm and will get imbued with a deep desire for historic knowledge.

What can you tell us about the current state of this field and its historiography in Spain, as well as in Europe?? I am ware, like you said, that it is not a particularly popular subject.

Hmmm, that is a tricky question. In case you didn’t know, the Visigoth period has suffered, and I think still suffers, from an acute stigma within Spanish culture. I think this is mainly due to the educational system in Spain, and how polarised history is within this system. Effectively, the Goth and Visigoth period of Spanish history is barely mentioned in school texts books, nor even in high-school or college, were the knowledge should be in more depth. And this is very sad, considering that many of the aspects that built our society, sparked from the Visigoth period. On the other hand, we do count with some of the best experts in the subject, such as Garcia Moreno, or Orlandis whose works are simply spectacular. However, in Europe the period of Migration after the fall of the Roman Empire is in good shape. There is a lot of work invested in the Germanic tribes. I think as we are finally moving away from the concept of the Dark Ages, we are eventually obtaining good results regarding this area- although with and after a lot of work and effort, that goes without mention. It is true however, that little by little this discipline is become more widely available in Spain, not only from an academic point of view, but for the everyday consumer too. But there is a lot of work to do, especially in what regards the education of our own youngsters, and within my area of influence- the dissemination press. There is still a long road ahead of the Visigoth Hispania, to put it back in the books and on the spotlight it so well deserves. Therefore, I’ll take this opportunity to invite everyone to have a look and get into our long but interesting Visigoth king list!

Thanks a lot for this opportunity and for your attention.

A Visigoth Hug!

We would like to thank Daniel for a fantastic interview and the best of luck with his next book!!!

Social Structure of Feudal Japan

I have always liked Japanese history. I think like many others I was attracted by the samurai and ninja stories as well as the beautiful architecture and the charm of the pagodas. And I am sure many of you are familiar with these warriors and other members of society such as geisha and courtesans due to movies, and novels popularising their image. However, I always have the feeling that because of this, we miss the wider picture and we tend to forget that there was more to their society than just samurai and geisha to the sociopolitical and economic structure of Japan. Moreover, this is a system that remained untouched for a long time- various centuries- and that i would like to explore with you today. Traditionally speaking, the feudal period in Japanese history spreads between the years 1185 and 1603. During this time,  Japanese society was structured in different layers or strata, in what may resemble the classic pyramidal division. However, I would like to point out that, although it is like that for the most part, this system does not fully apply (I will explain why). Nevertheless, and like in the case of most societies at this time in Europe and elsewhere in the world, the nobility comprised around 12% of the population. The overall stratification goes as follows:

The Emperor

The Japanese emperor was considered to be of divine origin. Generally speaking, the emperor did not care much for the political or economic issues of the nation. In fact he acted more like a figure-head while the Shogun actually  ruled the country and controlled the land. Nevertheless the emperor was still the head religious figure of Japanese society, and his court would have counted with both Buddhist and Shinto priests.

The Shogun

These were the effective rulers of medieval Japan. The Shogun were military leaders  with political and economic power that they exercised on behalf- or instead of- the emperor. However they still had to undertake the ceremony of being appointed by the emperor as a way to acquire legitimacy. Their title seems to have been hereditary in characters, and their seat of power was known as the bakufu (tent office/government- referring to their role in the military and capability to rule). There were two main shogunate during this period, the Kamakura shogunate (1192-1333) and the Ashikaga shogunate (1336-1573).

The Daimyo

There have being acknowledged around 260 Daimyo in this period. They were court nobles with large domains, although sometimes they have been understood as warlords. They were directly subordinated to the Shogun and possessed economic and military power. Furthermore, the Daimyo had the right to collect ichimangoku (salaries) from the lands they owned and that were transferred within the family, as these were hereditary holdings.

The Samurai

This is perhaps the caste better known to us all. The Samurai formed around 10% of the total population of feudal Japan. They work at the service of the Daimyo, to whom they owed obedience and loyalty to their masters and followed the strict path of the Bushido. The violation of the Bushido code would end with the life of the Samurai by the ritual of Seppuku . Nevertheless, the samurai also had some privileges such as the having their family lineage traced by a surname, or a coat of arms. Perhaps, the more important of these benefits was that they could carry weapons. As an interesting note,  it also seems that some women may have been allowed to serve as samurai, but always under the leadership of a man.

The not so privileged population

The lower strata of the Japanese feudal society was formed by craftsmen, farmers and villagers. Experts have suggested that there was some sort of hierarchy amongst the peasantry, meaning further classification and stratification. In this way, farmers would traditionally be at the top due to their economic contribution. Nevertheless, there was a difference in ranking between farmers who own their land and those who did not. Farmers would be followed by craftsmen and artisans due to their production value- they also had their own reserved area in the city that secluded them from the lower merchants and other classes. Interestingly, merchants seem to have been appreciated the least- this seems to be because within the social philosophy and mind of feudal Japan, influenced by Confucian ideals, they were seeing as parasites, making profit from other people’s work. Moreover, there was a social class even below of the vast majority of society.

That was the place occupied by the ronin. A ronin was a wandering, master-less samurai, who was considered an outcast and lived in the fringes of society. Generally, these would have been people with a previous military background, mainly samurai who had been dishonoured, therefore cast aside. Due to their privileged-and-lost status, many of these men became hired swords and mercenaries, some even criminals in an attempt to seek revenge for their disgrace. However, their position as outcasts was mainly perceived and attributed by the Daimyo.

 

In addition, there were people who lived in the peripheries of society and had their own strata depending on their origins or role within society. This collective was formed by the so-called Ainu. The  Ainu are an ethnic minority in Japan (and some areas of Russia). Many of them were discriminated and even used as slaves. However it seems that those employed in industries that had a social taboo could also be included as living in the margin of society. Finally, it has to be considered that prostitutes, courtesans and geisha, also were independent to the pyramidal system. Regardless of their position in the entertainment, company or pleasure industries, these people were ranked depending on their skill and beauty.

 

As an afterword it is worth mentioning that moving into the Edo period, this social order continued in a very similar fashion. In fact, it would not be until the Meiji Restoration that these social hierarchy changed, mainly due to the disappearance or diminishing of the military ranks. However, most of these traditions and structures prevailed in the Japanese mind until the Occupation period, and some argue are still reminiscent nowadays.

The real 300: Historical films and the Battle of Thermopylae explained!

So I was sitting down with my friend a few weeks ago and we were watching the film 300 Spartans, I was pointing out why the film was so good, and why I hate the excuse of a film that is 300.  The thought occurred to me to share with you, the reader about the actual battle, and though I focus on the Early Modern to the Modern period in history, I can hopefully show you that I do like the Classics too!  By the way, this blog contains spoilers of both the original 300 Spartans and the newer 300 films.  So if you don’t want to know about these films, then do not read on!

So let’s go through some basic facts, was there just 300 Spartans at Thermopylae?  No, in fact there would have been several thousand Greeks, with the Spartans at the head of the force, the original film shows this well, noticing the Thespians at the battle, and the greatly important part that they played.  Because let’s face it, the Spartans were good fighters, but no general would be stupid enough to turn away fresh troops, the Thespians offered around 700 , eager troops ready to fight, they would have been respected, especially at a battle where death was likely.  The several thousand Greek troops would have held the pass (there was no stupidly steep cliff like we see in the modern film!) until a local resident, most likely a sheep herder (not a hunchback, seriously I don’t get why change these things) showed the Persians a way round the pass of Thermopylae, this betrayal meant that the 300 Spartans, the 700 Thespians, and 400 others would act as the regard whilst the rest of the army escaped to the main army being assembled just before Corinth.

So now we have learnt that the Spartans weren’t alone, and that the Thespians fought just as bravely along with the other Greeks, we can start to see why some films do need to be historically accurate, otherwise, as has happened here, people and nations will be forgotten to history, there deaths ignored for the basis of entertainment.

The Spartans would have to wear armour, not like in the film, where they seem to wear as little as possible, that would be incredibly stupid, and would probably mean they would have been cut to ribbons rather quickly.  The Spartans were great fighters, but they weren’t dumb, they knew they needed armour and thus they wore decent armour.  Also the Spartans and the Greeks would have fought in battle formations, and would not go off on their own fighting, their tactics was to be a unit, forming phalanxes, with their spears meaning it was hard to get in close quarters with them.  The moves they use in the new 300 film are just stupid and over the top, if that had happened, then the Spartans and their fellow Greeks would have lost the battle of the first day.

It is also most likely that the Spartans would have brought javelin men with them, or at least they would have been present in the army of the Greeks, these would have been an added bonus to the Greek defensive.  Yet they are not in the film, which doesn’t surprise me I guess.

The Greeks would have used a large variety of tactics to benefit them in the battle.  On the first day, The Greeks fought in front of the Phocian wall (made of stone and not human bodies, I mean please the thought of that is just sickening, why would the Spartans do that?), at the narrowest part of the pass, in a strategic attempt to use as few soldiers at one time as possible.  This allowed them to use the full strength of the phalanx.  This meant that the Greeks would have formed a wall of overlapping shields (most likely circular shaped) and spears protruding out from the sides of the shields.  A highly effective wall wouldn’t you say?  The Spartans and their fellow Greeks also fought against the elite troops of Xerxes (who wasn’t a 10ft giant or whatever the film portrays him to be), they would not do any better than our beloved Spartans, whom apparently used a tactic of feigning retreat, and then turning and killing the enemy troops when they ran after the Spartans.  This meant that the immortals were out of formation and disjoined, making it easier to cut them down.

On the Second day, the Greeks held again, this made Xerxes ponder if he should go home.  He in fact was close to issuing the order to his men to withdraw, but with the sheep herder offering his allegiance, Xerxes sent the immortals around the back of the Greek troops.

On the third day, the Phocians who were guarding the pass, encountered the Persians, they fled to a nearby hill to make a final stand, however they were soon to be bypassed, and the Persians went straight to encircle the Greek army, nonetheless, the Phocians managed to get a runner to the Spartan King Leonidas.  With this encirclement happening, Leonidas ordered most of the Greek army to flee , whilst he stood with his bodyguard and the other Greeks, around 1000 in total to act as a rearguard.  This action allowed the others to flee safely.  This time, the Greeks were not going to defend, instead they attacked, unlike the film 300, Leonidas is one of the first to die, which led his bodyguard to surround his body and claim it back from the Persians.  The Spartans and Greeks then tried to flee, especially the Spartans as their job was to protect the Kings body, this was their sole job.  They were however surrounded, and were killed by arrows, rather quickly one can imagine, they would not surrender, as it was not the Spartan away (the first time Spartans troops surrendered wouldn’t be for a considerable time after, which brought complete shame to the state).  They died with their King.  As the prophecy stated that a King of Sparta would have to die, or Sparta would be engulfed in flame, his sacrifice, along with the other Greeks certainly delayed Xerxes, and killed a lot of his men (some sources say 20,000).

 

To conclude, the Persians didn’t have weird monstrous creatures, and neither was Xerxes a giant.  It was a battle between men, with a huge number of casualties.  It’s amazing that we can twist history so much for entertainment, whilst forgetting thousands of men died at the battle, which, in a way tarnishes their memory in the modern day portrayal.  History has become docile to the fact that these men lived and breathed like us, we threat statistics of deaths in war as just numbers, something that we can compare, rather than actually appreciate the amount of individuals who have lost their lives.  The film 300, to me glorifies violence, as do many films in today’s society, something which we need to be careful of, didn’t we do the same before World War One?  I am a firm believer in films and historical accuracy, sure history can be stretched and such, but when you change it as much as 300 or other films, I do wonder what is the point of historians, we might as well make up anything and say yeah that is what happened.  This post is dedicated to all of those who died in the battle of Thermopylae, both Persian and Greek who died for their King, and for freedom of their state.  They say that films show more about the time they were made, than what they actual portray, I do wonder what the future will think about us when they see things such as 300.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,013 other followers