The Empire. Between dispute and nostalgia

by Emanuel Plopeanu (Volume editor) Gabriel Stelian Manea (Volume editor) Metin Omer (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 280 Pages

Table Of Content

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Emanuel Plopeanu, Gabriel Stelian Manea and Metin Omer (eds.)

The Empire.
Between Dispute and Nostalgia

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The publication of the book was funded by Association for Intercultural Dialogue and Historical Studies "Intermarium", Constanța, Romania.

ISBN 978-3-631-84088-7 (Print)

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E-ISBN 978-3-631-84303-1 (EPUB)

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DOI 10.3726/ 17891

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The Editors

Emanuel Plopeanu is an associate professor, PhD, at the “Ovidius” University of Constant,a, Faculty of History and Political Science. His areas of interest include United States policy towards the South-East Europe in the 20th century and Romanian-Turkish relations in the 20th century.

Gabriel Stelian Manea is a lecturer, PhD, at the “Ovidius” University of Constant,a, Faculty of History and Political Science. His areas of interest include the relationship between the church and communist regimes, spiritual and cultural anti-communist dissent, and the history of the Romanian Orthodox Church during the communist period.

Metin Omer is a researcher at the Institute of Science, Culture and Spirituality at “Ovidius” University of Constant,a, Romania. His current areas of research include the historical evolution of Turkish and Tatar communities from Romania, especially after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and Romanian-Turkish relations.

Emanuel Plopeanu, Gabriel Stelian Manea and Metin Omer (eds.)

The Empire. Between Dispute and Nostalgia

The book examines how different imperial models of diplomacy, administration, economics, and cultural and religious policies were challenged or, on the contrary, defended during and after the collapse of the Empires that promoted them. It provides an overview from multiple perspectives of the imperial phenomenon in all its dimensions, and the studies published in this volume address broad chronological segments and geographical areas relevant to the imperial idea.

This edition of the eBook can be cited. To enable this we have marked the start and end of a page. In cases where a word straddles a page break, the marker is placed inside the word at exactly the same position as in the physical book. This means that occasionally a word might be bifurcated by this marker.

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Cătălin Pavel

Ubique Victor. Triumphus, Christianity and the Ritualization of Imperial Continuity

Ovidiu Cristea

The “Clash” of Empires: The Habsburgs, the Ottomans, Safavid Persia and the Anti-Ottoman Projects in a Diplomatic Episode of 1547

Ileana Căzan

Beyond the Ottoman Empire – Past’s Hegemonies and Rising Powers; Venice and Habsburgs in the 16th Century

Emanuel Plopeanu

The Empire That Never Was: Ali Kemal’s Fetret (Interregnum) and the Vision of a Westernised Ottoman Empire

Radu Tudorancea

Foreigners and Foreign Menace (as Perceived) in Romanian Society During First World War. A Few Considerations

Daniel Citirigă

My Dear Cousin”: The Diplomacy of the Romanian Royal House at the Imperial Courts in the Eve of World War One

Georgiana Țăranu

Imperial Nostalgia and Contestation: N. Iorga and the Paradoxes of a Romanian Nationalist

Bogdan Popa

A Book as Wedding Gift: Nicolae Iorga, the 1921 Romanian-Greek Royal Weddings, and the Paths of Knowledge Exchange

Zorann Petrovici

Spain after the Empire. Between Nostalgia and the Future

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Adrian-Alexandru Herța

Erroneous Calculations on the Ruins of Empires: The Failure of the Proportional Representation Method in Central and Southern Europe in the 1920s

Florin Anghel

Borderland’s Country: South Dobruja. Imperial Nostalgias on the Edge of the National Ideal (1913–1940)

Metin Omer

From Allies to the Undesirable: The Refuge of the Crimean Tatars to Romania During World War Two

Gabriel Stelian Manea

The End of a Communist Imperial Illusion. The First Visit of Pope John Paul II in Poland. 1979

Mioara Anton

The Ghost of Imperialism. The Anti-Western Propaganda in the Last Years of Ceaușescu’s Regime

Simion Gheorghiu

Withdrawal of the Soviet Empire: System Crisis or International Crisis?

Ion Popa

Communist/Post-Communist Official Remembrance of the Local Involvement in the Holocaust: A Comparison Between Poland and Romania

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One hundred years have passed since the collapse of four empires considered intolerant, little or not at all adapted to modernity, lacking vision in regional and European politics. However, the peace treaties negotiated and signed in the City of Lights buried only the matter of the Empire, not the concept. For a hundred years humanity has experienced new imperial formulas, some pretentiously named, as in the case of the Third Reich, others transformed as a result of internal pressures, such as the dissolution of the British Empire. In the first case, the temptation of the empire was irresistible, but necessary to legitimize a repressive and dehumanizing political elite.

The concept also becomes applicable in the absence of material features: territory, borders, administration. The forced link between the metropolis and the territories – sovereign and independent, apparently – receives the same definition, and the “Soviet Empire” is the best reference in this regard. This case is atypical from another point of view. Throughout history, the formation of empires started from a centre, from a metropolis that could display and impose the highest political, economic, cultural standards and models in the controlled territory. Rome, Constantinople, London were, for their empires, the guiding light, they were on the highest peaks of the civilization of their time and in this way, they could justify the imperial claims. Moscow, on the other hand, cannot claim the same for the ideological “empire” it has built exclusively through force and terror. The imperial control of the Soviets had no civilizational legitimacy since the Soviet Union had no economic, technological or other ascendancy over the countries that had become satellites.

In compensation, for ideological reasons, or a superficial or subjective knowledge of history, the “empire” is applied in situations where it is not possible to speak of a military, political, ideological constraint. For instance, the “American Empire” syntagma, that often circulated in historical or political literature, demonstrates this new use of the concept. The debate is ongoing, with pros and cons, much more authoritative being those that show that the United States could, but failed, become an “empire” in the classical sense of this concept. In the above case, the perception is fundamental: of the immediate facts, ←7 | 8→invoked by the followers of the theory of an “American Empire”, or of the profound realities, from the American society and the societies apparently subject to “Americanization”.

In its exact definition (state, geopolitical), empire is one of the oldest and longest-lived forms of organization. This state structure traverses five millennia of history. We find it with the beginning of written history and until 1918. Today, the number of states defined in this way is extremely small, which demonstrates the lack of relevance of this political model. Globalization and contemporary terminology have imposed the term “empire” outside its real, state, and geopolitical sphere. Expressions such as “imperious”, “imperial”, “empire of the moment”, “empire of events”, “empire of today” are used, in the sense of pressure, coming from an overwhelming, imposing, unforgiving, exceptional force that imposes (or justifies) rational or irrational reactions, from the individual to the political.

However, the concept is still used metaphorically, as shown above, in the American case. New type “empires,” such as the Soviet one, have also disappeared through the self-destruction of the metropolis and the dissolution of ties with other states, the latter eager to integrate into multilateral economic or security organizations.

The end of the Empire political formula does not end the debates about its historical significance. As long as the debates are part of a rigorous historical or political research, they are welcomed. Over time, even in these researches, nostalgia or admiration has appeared, in addition to contestation. In this volume, we concluded that the imperial phenomenon produced an evident polarization among historians, politicians or intellectuals, some challenging it and others manifesting an obvious or more discreet nostalgia. The authors of the studies included here highlighted the political, territorial or conflictual realities of some empires, dealt with the collapse and post-imperial evolutions from an ideological point of view. They also analysed issues related to the symbolism of empires and the intellectual and cultural attraction that those empires exercised.

The authors of the included studies greeted the message conveyed by the title of this volume by addressing topics of wide diversity revolving around the central issue. The authors’ contributions cover the evolution or dissolution of various imperial formulas from antiquity to the present, being arranged chronologically within the volume.

Empires have been the source of political symbols that have crossed centuries and millennia, being constantly reevaluated, enriched and revalued on every occasion or historical moment. Cătălin Pavel presents us the forms and symbolism that the Roman ceremony of triumph has embodied over time.

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Ovidiu Cristea refers to the “diplomatic tools” of empires in a study that addresses the relations between the three rival empires, Habsburg, Ottoman and Safavid, in the context of negotiations for an alliance between the first two, in the mid-16th century.

In a study on the relations between the Ottomans, Habsburgs and Venetians in the 16th century, Ileana Căzan shows us that one of the most important “weapons” of empires was diplomacy, in all its facets (secret agents, spies, intrigues).

Emanuel Plopeanu presents the biography of a still-controversial character, Ali Kemal, journalist, writer, politician. The study analyses the novel Fetret, which, a decade before the beginning of the reformist policies of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, presents the most radical projection of a Westernized future of the Ottoman Empire.

In his study, Radu Tudorancea starts from the observations of several Romanian personalities and refers to some key moments to show how the perception of the “foreigner” in Romanian society evolved during neutrality and immediately after Romania enters into the First World War.

A demonstration of how, around the First World War, diplomacy meant cultivating family or personal ties to achieve political goals is provided by Daniel Citirigă in a text that explores the close contacts that members of the Royal Family of Romania had with the Royal Families from St. Petersburg, Berlin and London.

Georgiana Țăranu captures the two dimensions of the volume that of contestation and nostalgia, in her discussion of one of Romania’s most important modern historians, Nicolae Iorga, and his paradoxical approaches towards the idea of empire. On the one hand, as a historian, he was an admirer of imperial polities, in their premodern forms – as the author defines them – while on the other hand, as a key figure of Romanian nationalism, he condemned modern empires for having altered the basic tenets of the imperial concept.

Bogdan Popa proposed a very interesting investigation of how the publication and dissemination of Romanian books abroad could be, in the 20s, a form of cultural exchanges and diplomacy. The author started from a work signed by N. Iorga, published on the occasion of matrimonial events of the Royal Families of Greece and Romania.

Very interesting and with a unique note is the study of Zorann Petrovici, who followed how Spain tried to reinvent itself and redefine its geopolitical and economic priorities, after the loss of the colonial empire, focusing on Africa and the new states of Latin America in the early 20th century.

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Amid the collapse of empires at the end of the First World War, many Central and Southern European states went through a process of restructuring their electoral systems, adopting the proportional formula. Adrian-Alexandru Herța managed an in-depth theoretical analysis of these transformations and the effects they produced.

Imperial nostalgia is the central theme of Florin Anghel’s study, which explains why, despite the efforts of personalities such as Queen Maria, South Dobrogea remained, throughout the interwar period, for Romanian society, an exotic and incomprehensible borderland.

The refuge of Crimean Tatars in Romania, located between two “empires of evil”, the Soviet and the Nazi, during World War II, is the subject of Metin Omer’s study which uses in addition to unpublished archival documents, interviews with survivors of the moment.

The study proposed by Gabriel Stelian Manea is an attempt to show that the whole political-ideological, institutional, mental and security scaffolding that the Soviet Union and, in this case, communist Poland, have built for decades, could be shaken, on the one hand by the visit of Pope John Paul II, and on the other hand by the still deeply religious feelings of the Poles.

Mioara Anton offers us a rigorous analysis of the anti-Western propaganda of the communist regime in Romania and its effects at the end of the ‘80s, starting from the official newspaper of the Romanian Communist Party, Scânteia.

The collapse of an ideological empire, first of all, the Soviet one, is analysed in the study of Simion Gheorghiu, who tries to inventory the structural causes that led to the collapse of the entire system conceived, organized and coordinated by the Soviets in the second half of the 80s.

Ion Popa offers us a meticulous and current comparative analysis of how the representations about the Holocaust differ fundamentally in Poland and Romania, managing to draw a line between these two models, from which the official recognition of involvement in the Holocaust by Romania seems to be a correct way of approaching the topic.

This is the fourth volume that appears under the auspices of the Association for Intercultural Dialogue and Historical Studies INTERMARIUM. We would like to thank our colleagues from the Association for their scientific contributions and for their moral and material support. We also benefited from a serious material support from Banca Comercială Română – BCR (Romanian Commercial Bank), whom we thank for their involvement.

The coordinators of this volume are grateful and indebted to the contributors for the valuable studies they have proposed and which have given substance to the editorial project. We hope that this book will be useful to academics, ←10 | 11→students, and all those who want to understand the role and influence of empires over the centuries.

Emanuel Plopeanu
Gabriel Stelian Manea
Metin Omer
September 18, 2020

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Cătălin Pavel*

Ubique Victor. Triumphus, Christianity and the Ritualization of Imperial Continuity

Abstract: Arguably, every empire spins a complex web of political symbolism, embedded in all state rituals, re-enacted on every available social stage, and enriched according to each and all historical developments. My chapter endeavours to illustrate this by probing into the avatars of the Roman ceremony of the triumph in Late Roman, Byzantine, and Early Medieval times. As the notion and substance of empires change, cultural heritage is carried over and harnessed for new propaganda goals, fine-tuned according to religious and social demands. The triumphus is thus replicated in a new political environment, catering to the needs of novel imperial agendas. State rituals such as the funeral, the apotheosis, and the adventus, incorporate and appropriate old triumphal elements. By charting the way a liturgie civique becomes a Sieghaftigkeit ritual and ultimately a form of trans-or post-imperial legitimacy, I will attempt to show that behind any imperial nostalgia lurks the pragmatic need for articulating control and negotiating identities. This said, the imperial discourse on nostalgia can run the whole gamut from jingoistic exaltation to submissive heritage management. From the Flavian triumph in Rome to Clovis’ return to Tours, the Christianized triumph of John Troglita in Carthage, and the victories of quasi-Biblical attire celebrated by post-imperial kings after 600AD, the present chapter will recast rituals of continuity as the “political arm” of nostalgia.

Keywords: Roman triumph, paganism, ritual, political celebrations

For over a century and a half now, scholars have debated the triumph as the most complex state ceremony in the Roman antiquity, emphasizing its political and religious dimensions and the fact that the two are mutually constitutive.1 ←13 | 14→Far from receding into the background, the topic is now more alive than ever, with a plethora of articles and monographs being published after 2000. They range from the publication of archaeological material, such as Pompey’s trophy in the Pyrenees and Augustus’ in Nicopolis, to broader philological and anthropological investigations2. Particularly since the 90s, the political implications of the triumph have been framed ever more convincingly in a paradigm of performance, highlighting the ceremony’s social impact on spectators as well as its propagandistic interactions with the urban fabric, as an important basis for its political agency.

For Roman generals, the triumph has always been instrumental in the quest for glory. Once awarded, it hardly ever failed to secure, at least temporarily, glory for the individual who represented the state.3 It was often posited that the will for glory was the very motor of Roman imperialism.4 But, as a German scholar writes, “[g]loria kann es nur dort geben, wo zwei Faktoren vorhanden sind: ein Anerkannter und ein Anerkennendes”5 (gloria can only exist there, where two factors are present: someone to be acknowledged and someone to acknowledge). It is indeed worth reminding that glory is only conceivable where an Actor interacts with Spectators, with the triumphator, and with Urbs. Gloria belongs ←14 | 15→to the human agent,6 since the god does not require ovations. The triumphator is on a stage, before spectators seen as “responsive participants”7, and this political show is censed to become the centre of collective memory. The gloria of the triumphator is then reflected back on the community, being redistributed between citizens-spectators. Ultimately, the triumph, in Nicolet’s view a “great civil liturgy”, presents the citizens with the image of their own glory.8 On triumph day, every citizen is a triumphator. R. Brilliant has emphasized how spectators experience vicariously the exaltation of the triumphator.9

The triumph is not a ritual that takes place huis clos. For it, people are gathering in the Circus Maximus,10 in Basilica Aemilia, on the steps of temples, along the triumphal route, and particularly in the Forum, where stadium seating were installed ahead of time.11 Carmina triumfalia are composed well ahead of time and circulated amongst the audience,12 and the triumph is complemented by ludi magni and pompa circensis. Of course, to our ancient sources, the triumph is not primarily a show13, but a means to offer thanks to the gods, to purify the army and so on (v. infra). But the latter only partly ←15 | 16→explain the importance of the public to the triumph. The purely military and religious ceremony becomes gradually “un vaste spectacle, parfois bouffon”.14 The triumph is “calculated to inspire a large crowd with mass emotion and excitement.”15 In turn, Marshall recasts the triumph as a “supreme opportunity for political and national showmanship”16, and Brilliant describes it as “[the] most celebratory moment of vivid self-realization [...] an artfully confected opportunity to display martial power and to enjoy, simultaneously, the sensations it aroused among the spectators”.17 The triumph is a deeply-rooted social phenomenon.18 Technically, military victory has prevented Roman citizens from being enslaved by the enemy, therefore the connection citizen-general can be construed along the lines of the relationship client-patron.19 Pivotal in this ideological conception of victory is the figure of the Saviour, and this is first shown by Sylla, whom the exiles brought to the triumph call “father and saviour”.20 Importantly, not just the triumph, but other ceremonies ←16 | 17→as well, especially funerals, make it possible for the crowd to meet its Saviour, a meeting wherein, due to Hellenistic influences, one can easily recognize the epiphany of a god in front of the devouts.21 At the end of the Republic, the triumph is already the most political of religious festivals, and, on the day(s) of the triumph, Rome was not a mere city, but an institution.

The triumph has been considered to have a Roman origin by Gagé,22 for whom, the Etruscan influence notwithstanding, the indigenous Latin elements are by far dominant. A similar position was expressed by Torelli, who identified the origin of the archaic triumph in the amburbium of Salian priests. The festival equus october, held on the day of Capitoline games was, in Torelli’s view, a celebration of the archaic triumph, although only the Etruscan influence added proper triumphal elements in the festival: “nell’abito purpureo dei salii, nel rituale del loro ritorno con l’incendio delle armi tolte al nemico, e nel percorso da loro compiuto danzando tra foro e Capitolium (con l’ingresso al tigillum sororium?) si cela la forma piu arcaica del trionfo, obliterata poi dalla celebrazione di ottobre.” (in the purple garment of the salii, in the ritual of their return with the burning of the weapons taken from the enemy, as well as in the itinerary they followed dancing between the forum and the Capitolium (while passing through the tigillum sororium?) is concealed the most archaic form of the triumph, eventually blotted out by the celebration from October).23 However, it is probably pointless to speak of triumphs before the end of the 4th c. BCE, when the first honorary statues are being raised, as cogently argued by J. Rüpke24.

Iuppiter is the god whom a whole tradition regards as playing the central role in the triumph. In 1978 Erika Simon has argued, however, that the cult of Apollo actually had a much stronger impact on the crystallization of the triumph as ←17 | 18→we know it.25 A temple for Apollo existed in Rome since 449 BCE, and possibly was the heir of a temple from the Rome of the Tarquins. The Senate deliberated in that very area26 and its interior frieze was decorated with a triumph. Most importantly, the temple on Campus Martius marked the beginning of the triumphal procession. This procession, therefore, connected the temple of Iuppiter (whose insignia the triumphator was wearing) with the temple of Apollo, whose laurel branch crowned the participants. Coins with Apollo and the inscription triumpus are well documented.

For Köves-Zulauf,27 before it became a Roman institution, the triumph was a Dionysian pageant. By shifting the focus from Mars and Iuppiter to Dionysos and Apollo, Köves-Zulauf and Erika Simon have brought to the fore a polemic already kindled by Wallisch28: “in der Gegenüberstellung Dionysos - Juppiter liegt die römische Form des Triumphs” (in the juxtaposition Dionysus – Iuppiter lies the Roman form of the triumph). The ancient tradition Diodorus – Plinius Maior – Solinus – Macrobius sees in Dionysus the inventor of the triumph, and late Roman mosaics remind one of how embedded was the image of a victorious Dionysus in the triumphal iconography.

Jörg Rüpke29 proposes that the triumph ought to be discussed along the following lines.

1. As a Kriegsbeendigungsritus, the ritual whereby one puts an end to war. It was performed after a decisive victory, which resulted in pax and made it possible to bring the army back to Rome (deportatio) for the ceremony. On the day of the triumph, the enemy leaders were executed, symbolically ending the war, and the next day the imperium granted to the triumphator expired. The general offered the victory to Iuppiter by laying the laurel in the Capitoline temple (laurea in Capitolium lata is pars pro toto for “to triumph”,30 and so is laurum ←18 | 19→deponere.31)

2. As an Einzugsritus, an entry ritual, as seen already in the formula used to request a triumph: ut ob rem bene ac feliciter gestam dis immortalibus honos habeatur sibique triumphanti urbem invehi liceat32. The returning general brought victory – now embodied by him – to the city. The soldiers entered Rome for the first time since the war broke out. In later times, it was the emperor who returned, in an adventus inevitably equated with a victory.

3. As an Imperator-zentrierter Ritus, exalting the virtues of the general, whose felicitas brings about the victory.33 A lex de imperio, voted by the comitia tributa, was a prerequirement for the triumph. The general is, metaphorically, above citizens, above consuls34, above soldiers – and, physically, before the god.

Other approaches emphasize different functions of the triumph, seeing it as a purification ritual. “[U] rsprünglich stellte dieser Zug”, writes Burck, “einen Reinigungsakt dar, der das von Blut und Kriegsunheil befleckte Heer entsühnen sollte” (Initially this pageant represented an act of purification, supposed to cleanse the army of the stains of blood and the tragedy of war).35 The lustration of the army is also, according to Simon,36 the original purpose of the triumph, and the laurel crowns and the passage through Porta Triumphalis were meant precisely for that – Iuppiter received a pure army from Apollo. For most researchers though, the triumph fulfills a mix of functions, and they need not be as competing as they might appear to be. Lemosse lists purification along with others: “un rite de retour, rite de passage et de purification, avec action de grâces en exécution des promesses faites au dieu souverain lors du départ en guerre.”37 ←19 | 20→So does Bonfante Warren, for whom the purification ritual later becomes a ceremony for honouring the general and his troops.

The triumph can certainly be seen on some level as a fulfilling a vow made to the gods. For Beseler, the triumps represents a voti solutio.38 To judge from many passages in Titus Livius, the triumph is a sacred rite.39 When requesting a triumph, the same formula was used as for a supplicatio: quod bene ac feliciter rem publicam administrarit. The key prerequirement for being awarded a triumph was initially not the imperium, but auspicium, the right to consult the gods on the day of the battle. Since upon the Capitolium the general fulfils his votum (war booty is designated as merita Liv. 45 39 11), the right to triumph is conditioned by the right to consult the gods himself, which implicitly limits the triumph to dictators, consuls and praetors, the only ones entitled to auspicia maiores. Ever since R. Laqueur, the triumph can be interpreted not just as a right, but as an obligation of the magistrate, even if later the triumph becomes a celebration of the victorious general. Finally, for Dumézil, the triumph is “la plus éclatante manifestation de l’entente du dieu et du peuple. Par son succès, lui même fruit de son voeu, le général est devenu le débiteur de Juppiter. Il s’acquitte, à la tête de son armée.”40

Such contradictions will never be reconciled, nor should they – the triumph is a versatile ritual, very responsive to historical circumstances, and able to accommodate various religious and political pressures. It is indeed likely that the ground for the divinization of Roman political figures was prepared by the unusual statute bestowed on the general during the triumph. Essentially, consecratio41 and particularly funus imperatorium42 incorporate plenty of triumphal elements. ←20 | 21→In Christian times, the adventus becomes an actual substitute for the triumph. They all resort to music, actors, pompa, satire elements, crowns, passage under triumphal arches, banquets, and games43. All of them incorporate in their narrative the urban landscape, with its historical allusions and propagandistic content. A. Brelich and recently N. Norman have explored the parallels between triumph, funeral, and apotheosis, suggesting that the triumphators “designed routes to suit their purposes, passing by the triumphal monuments erected by their ancestors and bypassing those erected by their enemies”44.

I will attempt to sum up here the complex roles that the triumph played in the life of the ancient city of Rome. It honours the gods and thanks them, validating the relationship between the human community and the gods who protect it. The victorious general is, in turn, rewarded by being exalted above the civic and military body like never before. He, however, transfers ipso facto to the city his felicitas/δύναμις/mana, a guarantee of future luck and prosperity. By purifying the army, the triumph returns it to the civic body, from which the abnormal experience of war had severed it. The ceremony also reaffirms the continuity of the citizenry, saved from potential slavery, and the integrity of the city’s boundaries. In so doing, the triumph is the ultimate expression of collective solidarity as well as a means to control this solidarity. As the ceremony par excellence, the triumph is a time for common jubilation, the supreme form of gregariousness, and a solemn and at the same time informal opportunity to pledge allegiance to the city. The triumph provides an environment for social bonding, both at a grassroots level and in a top-down perspective that is among the citizens and non-citizens in the capital, of various ethnical and social backgrounds as well as between the emperor/triumphator/patron and subject/citizen/client. It also sublimates violence and metabolizes it in a controlled environment. Like some other public shows, the triumph, which delivers reports on the war and stages it in artistic forms, offers the plebs a vicarious participation in the war – and sets up the basis for political communication. The triumph also is the ultimate visualization of gloria, founding myth of Roman society, assisting in the confluence of social subjective satisfaction and political objective goals. It is a multimedia event (movement, songs, applause, olfactory stimuli, tableaux vivants). Grafting ←21 | 22→this performative dimension on religious and military institutions is arguably a typical Roman endeavour. The show must be seen against a whole set of financial gratifications, from the enrichment of the aerarium, to the congiaria and cena triumphalis. It is an opportunity for the city to admire itself reflected in the victorious army and to directly experience alterity as embodied in the prisoners and captive enemy leaders, who are ritually executed. That way, the anonymous plebeian partakes of the felicitas/δύναμις of the triumphator and reconnects with the Urbs, both in what it stands for, and in what it stands against. The triumph is a lieu de mémoire where a universal conflict is staged, upon which both the stage (the background of monuments against which the parade takes place) and the outer world (e.g., foreign booty, prisoners) contribute to the show, and the meanings of both are thereby enriched. The triumph also retains its function as circumambulatio/amburbium, walking around the city, re-enacting an archaic route that protects the city and symbolizes urban permanence. It activates Rome’s sacred topography as the pageant integrates historical monuments and their significance in a totalizing discourse on identity, reaffirming the integrity of the social fabric, the global character of the Urbs, and its continuity within a century-long tradition.45

A question that naturally springs to mind is when have such triumphs ceased to be celebrated.46 A vast array of historical moments have been selected as candidates for witnessing the very last Roman triumph. The choice of criteria is here paramount: what does, after all, a “last triumph” entail? One technicality that has attracted those following in the steps of Edward Gibbon concerns the religious dimension of the triumph: a pompa triumphalis with an offering brought to Iuppiter was last seen with Diocletian, in 303. In the 4th century, the pagan dimension of the triumph was gradually neutralized.47 The times of Justinian offer a number of intriguing examples of potential “last” triumphs, and scholars have often focused on the reign of this emperor who indeed breathed new life in the ancient ceremony. The triumph of Belisarios in Constantinople (533/534), for example, after the victory against the Vandals, was seen already by Procopius ←22 | 23→on a continuum with ancient triumphs, but with one major difference: Belisarios walked from his palace to the Hippodrome, where Justinian received him. It was, in any case, the first time in six centuries when someone other than the emperor had triumphed (or at least enjoyed a triumphant adventus in the Hippodrome). Justinian was an expert in triumphing vicariously, through his generals. Even the mosaic in the vestibule of the imperial palace (as known now from Procopius’ description) showed him in a triumphal adventus which had become not an arrival, but a mere manifestation of presence. Even the emperor’s funeral, as recounted by Corippus, was conceived of as a triumph. M. McCormick48 and particularly S. MacCormack49, have shown how the adventus carried a lot of triumphal elements into Christian times. Already the panegyric of 307, on Constantine and Maximian, deliberately confounded the substance of triumph and adventus. With Constantine, the entry in the city became a true triumphal ceremony, one that, as seen on his Arch, no longer associated the emperor with Iuppiter and Hercules (as during the Tetrarchy), but with Sol-Apollo. Claudian’s panegyric of 404 AD described Honorius’ adventus as restoring the majesty of the city, and in Themistius’ later oration on Constantius, the emperor’s entry in Rome of 357 was, inevitably, a triumph (although Ammianus’ account of this entry rightly has reservations about triumphal connotations in the context of civil war). Perhaps the last triumph – before the celebration became a sort of carnival – was staged by Narses in 554, after his victory over the Ostrogothic king Totila. The last Roman triumph would in this situation have to be ascribed, as some have noted sarcastically, to a general of Justinian, who was an Armenian eunuch, with an army consisting mainly of Huns, Lombards, Gepids, and Heruli.

Another attractive avenue of investigation is to ascertain when the triumph truly absorbed Christian elements, and posit that once the triumph was Christianized, it became a thoroughly different ceremony. A recent view50 is that no actual Christianization of the triumph can actually be detected before the triumph of John Troglita in Carthage (546 AD), when the general entered the church with his soldiers and prayed. It was the only triumph to ever have a church as its finish line. In any case, the Christianization of the triumph is clearly a matter of degree. Before John Troglita, Eusebius discussed Constantine’s victory and ←23 | 24→adventus in Christian terms, and likened the emperor’s victory over Maxentius to that of Moses over the Egyptians51. Gregory Nazianzen and St. Ambrose had linked Constantinople to Jerusalem through a newly devised Christian rhetoric52. Paleo-Christian art incorporated pagan triumphal imagery from the 4th c. onwards, and churches were decorated with Christ as triumphator, enthroned and flanked by apostles as a sort of imperial guard53. On the other hand, the first triumphal parade to incorporate a public visit to a Christian shrine came from late in the reign of Justinian, marking the withdrawal of the Kotrigurs from Constantinople in 559 – the first sign of the Christianization of triumphs in Constantinople. Moreover, the first integration of liturgical practices into imperial victory parades based on the triumph is attested perhaps only in the first half of the 7th century, under Heraclius54. For Pfeilschifter nevertheless55, Christianity did accept pagan public celebrations and only here and there diplomatically dulled their pagan implications, without attempting to eradicate or reshape them.

G. Halsall noted that the triumph as a ritual of victory remained central for some “post-imperial kings”, but was nevertheless Christianized in the early medieval world56. After the Justinianic wars, in any case after 600 AD, the choreography of the triumph became anchored in the imagery of the Old Testament. Gregory and John of Biclar notably describe 6th c. AD celebrations of victory as if belonging to Old Testament kings.

By now, clearly, the triumph can no longer extoll a mortal ruler, but ought to be a mere thanksgiving to (the Christian) God. To some extent, however, even in such post-Roman avatars of the triumph, we cannot fail to note that the ceremony at least partly remained what it used to be in Roman times: “a ritualized play,” acting as “an instrument of […] self-definition”, a performance defining “spectators, humans and gods as Romans”57. Of course, here, the notion ←24 | 25→of Roman-ness is conveniently manipulated as an accolade no matter how non-Roman the participants were from an ethnical point of view.

Paradoxically, in pre-Reformation times, the church took possession of the triumph, while the ceremony’s pagan background remained only too recognizable. Examples are the triumphal entry of Pope Gregory XI into Rome on January 17, 1377, as described by Gregorovius, or that of Aeneas Piccolomini, Pope Pius II, for whom our sources record a magnificus triumphus when entering Mantua in the spring of 1495. Also paradoxical is to realize that even early Christian narratives seem to hark back to triumphal imagery, because of unexpected triumphal elements in e.g. Mark (15:16–32)58 and Revelation (19: 11–16).59

As Michael McCormick pointed out more than 30 years ago, newly formed states in post-Roman Western Europe during the 5th– 7th centuries constantly resorted to Roman victory ideology. The Vandal Huneric (d. 484) and the Ostrogoth Theoderic (d. 526) are but two of many examples. The Visigoths articulated their profectio belli ceremony on the Roman triumph, while steeping it in the Wisdom of Solomon from the Old Testament. The tradition of public celebrations replete with symbolism of victory lived on. Just like any late Roman emperor would have done, Theudebert I of Austrasia held races in the circus at Arles when taking over Provence in the 530s.

Frankish Clovis’ (d. 511) procession through Tours in 507 also embodies a significant amount of triumphal elements.60 His return to Tours after the victory at Vouillé included, according to the narrative of Gregory, a procession, a distribution of coins, and an acclamation. Clovis was even called consul aut augustus, and P. Halsall recently inclined to believe this was not just an exaggeration of the written sources; after all, his contemporary Theoderic of Italy saw to it that contemporary inscriptions would celebrate him as gloriosissimus adque inclytus rex […] victor et triumfator semper augustus. The memory of the triumph still haunts Isidore in the early 7th century, even if the bishop of Seville does not actively apply it to anything he had witnessed himself. Later, Charlemagne himself is proclaimed victor ac triumphator, nothing unusual given the way his ←25 | 26→court perpetuated the ideology of victory, and how his palace complex at Aachen borrowed motifs from Roman imperial architecture.

Art from these centuries corroborates this. We need not resort to the Valdinievole plate showing the Lombard king Agilulf (555–616) receiving the submission of barbarian enemies and flanked by winged victories, since doubt has recently been cast over the authenticity of this piece. Nevertheless, in a 6th-century bronze buckle plate from Meursault in Burgundy, analysed by Halsall, we do see the triumphator riding in his chariot. A beast or a defeated enemy cowers under the horses’ hooves, while the victor apparently carries a standard and is attended by a winged victory.61

There were many times both during the Republic and in the Late Roman times when the triumphs were seen as debased by frequent use62. To the early medieval world, they are still tremendously important.


As Pfeilschifter rightly notes63, “der Verzicht auf Siegesrituale war in der Antike undenkbar” (“abandoning victory rituals was inconceivable in Antiquity”). In post-imperial times, the triumph remained a medium of political communication for which one can apply T. Itgenshorst’s concept of Sieghaftigkeit64, to be equated with “potential for victory”. This is indeed paramount – the emperor ←26 | 27→cannot share the quality of victoriousness with anyone else. Gagé’s concept of the “theology of imperial victory” still holds. The notion of perennial victory is essential in the post-Roman world for many centuries, both in the east and the west. There is no Rome without a triumph, no triumph without Rome. Triumphal celebrations of Byzantine and medieval date attempt to reconnect with the glory of the Empire, its complex tradition, and intercultural influences. They use whatever urban spaces are left as stages for power, and remain identity-shaping spectacles of political legitimization and creation of a sacred space. This despite the fact that, from a moment on, the source of their sacredness is no longer the pagan pantheon. Granted, imitatio imperii is not the only rationale for celebrations of victory – but it is at the forefront at their agendas. The connotations of imperial continuity, in a remote or obliquely reasserted fashion, never actually disappear from post-Roman triumphs, neither in the West, in Visigothic Spain or the Frankish kingdom or the Carolingian court, nor in the Eastern Empire, despite changes with Constantine, Theodosius, Justinian and all the way into the iconoclastic period. When in 763 Constantine V celebrated a triumph over the Bulgarians, all Christian connotations were absent. Quite to the contrary, the ceremony was a purely late antique one. In the 13th century, Frederick II Hohenstaufen ushered in a new era of triumphal symbolism. His triumphal gate in Capua (1233–1240), with imposing tufa towers is echoed by the golden coins he minted, the augustales, showing him wearing the laurel crown and paludamentum, the obverse carrying the aquila and the title Imperator Caesar Augustus. Back in the 4th century, the title Ubique Victor was common on coinage. Italy remains a privileged realm for the survival of triumphal imagery in arts, from Petrarch’s Tuscan I trionfi to Titian’s Christ in a triumphal chariot. Mantegna even endeavours to paint a series showing the triumphs of Caesar (with Trajan’s column inadvertently in the background) for the Gonzaga palace of Mantua. The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (1806–1808) built in Paris by Napoleon is just one of the modern avatars of an extremely enduring triumphal symbolism created by the Romans. Napoleon placed on this arch the bronze horses from San Marco, returned after Waterloo to Venice. In Venice, they had been brought by the Crusaders from the Hippodrome in Constantinople. In Constantinople, they had in turn arrived from some Severan quadriga monument in Rome. The continuity of material culture clearly underlies a continuity of ideas.

* “Ovidius” University of Constanța, Romania.

1 The most important general texts on the Roman triumph are E. Pais, Fasti triumphales populi romani, A. Nardecchia, Rome, 1920; W. Ehlers, s.v. Triumphus, Pauly–Wissowa Realencyclopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft 1939, p. 493–511; A. Degrassi, Inscriptiones Italiae XIII, 1, Libreria dello Stato, Rome, 1947; H. S. Versnel, Triumphus, an Inquiry into the Origin, Development and Meaning of the Roman Triumph, Brill, Leiden, 1970; L. Bonfante Warren, Roman Triumphs and Etruscan Kings: the Changing Face of the Triumph, in “Journal of Roman Studies”, 60, 1970, p. 49–66; and E. Künzl, Der römische Triumph - Siegesfeiern im antiken Rom, Beck, Munich, 1988.

2 For the imperial triumph, which concerns us here, H. S. Versnel, Red (herring?) Comments on a New Theory Concerning the Origin of the Triumph, in “Numen” 53, 2006, p. 290–326; J. Rüpke, Triumphator and Ancestor Rituals: Between Symbolic Anthropology and Magic, in “Numen”, 53, 2006, p. 251–289; H. Krasser et al. (eds.), Triplici invectus triumpho: Der römische Triumph in augusteischer Zeit, Steiner, Stuttgart, 2008; D. Favro, C. Johanson, Death in Motion, Funeral Processions in the Roman Forum, in “JSAH” 69, 1, 2010, p. 12–37; K. Zachos, The Tropaeum of the Sea-Battle of Actium at Nikopolis, in “Journal of Roman Archaeology”, 16 (2003), p. 65–92; E. Stein-Hölkeskamp, K.-J. Hölkeskamp, (eds.) Erinnerungsorte der Antike. Die römische Welt, C. H. Beck, Munich, 2006 (esp. p. 258–277); M. Beard, The Roman Triumph, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2007.

3 A. J. Marshall, Symbols and Showmanship in Roman Public Life: the Fasces, in “Phoenix” 38, 1984, p. 126.

4 As argued by W. V. Harris, War and Imperialism in Republican Rome, 32770 B.C., Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1979, p. 26–27, against the notion of “defensive imperialism” originally proposed by Mommsen and picked up by Frank, Holleaux, Badian, and Walbank. Thirst for glory as an endemic moral disease in Rome: Cic. Marc. 25 gloriae avidissimus, Sall. Cat. 7, 3 cupido gloriae.

5 U. Knoche, Der römische Ruhmesgedanke, in “Philologus” 89, 1934, p. 102.

6 The Christian Gloria Dei is an altogether different notion. U. Knoche op.cit., p. 103 only finds one pre-Christian passage, namely in Ovid (Met. 1, 469), where Amor’s glory is meant.

7 R. Brilliant, Let the Trumpets Roar: The Roman Triumph, in B. Bergmann and C. Kondoleon (eds.), The Art of Ancient Spectacle, Yale University Press, Washington, 1999, p. 221–230.

8 “[Sa] signification collective et sociale ressortit largement (...) à une double ostentation: celle de la cité qui s’admire dans son armée victorieuse, celle du triomphateur qui s’offre a cette admiration”. C. Nicolet, Le métier de citoyen dans la Rome republicaine, Gallimard, 1976, p. 467.

9 Ibidem, p. 471. Nicolet sees the triumphator as “isolé du corps civique et exalté audessus de lui.” Similarly, E. Burck, Drei Grundwerte der römischen Lebensordnung, in “Gymnasium”, 58, 1951, p. 168.

10 For F. Coarelli, La porta trionfale e la via dei trionfi, in “Dialoghi di Archeologia”, 1, 1968, p. 61, the passage through Circus Maximus is the most important of all moments of the ceremony.

11 Plut. Aem. Paul. 32, cf. Tac. Ann. 14, 13, 2.

12 I. Borzsak, Laus Caesaris, ein Epigrammenzyklus auf Claudius’ britannischen Triumphzug, “Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae” 35, 1994, p. 119. J. Melmoux, (“L’empereur Claude et la finium imperii propagatio: l’exemple breton”, in: Coll Latomus 209, 1990, p. 171) who discusses Laus Cl., believes this poem to have been written for being read in public during the triumph of Claudius. Improvised songs are well attested, carmina incondita Liv. 4, 20, 2.

13 But note Cic. Verr. pulcherrimum spectaculum ...esse.

14 C. Nicolet op.cit., p. 469.

15 J. B. Campbell, The Emperor and the Roman Army 31 B. C.-A.D. 235, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1984, p. 134.

16 A. J. Marshall, op. cit., 1984, p. 126; cf. p 125, “the triumph qua spectacle is an object of valid historical inquiry”. Similarly, V. Tandoi, Il trionfo di Claudio sulla Britannia e il suo cantore, in “Studi Italiani di Filologia Classica” 34, 1962, p. 83–129, 137–168, the triumph is a “spettacolo che diverta [e] impressioni le masse”. R. Beacham, Spectacle and Entertainments of Early Imperial Rome, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1999, p. 16–25, 38–41.

17 R. Brilliant, op. cit., p. 224. Similarly, for W. Ehlers, op. cit., p. 495 the triumph “ist in historischer Zeit in erster Linie eine Ehrung des siegreichen Feldherrn und eine Schaustellung (my italics) des errungenen Sieges” ([the triumph] is, in historical times, above all, a distinction honouring the victorious general and a display of the victory won). See Polyb. 6, 15, 8.

18 J. Gagé, Les clientèles triomphales de la république romaine, in “Revue Historique”, 81, 1957, p. 1–31 has highlighted the importance of the triumph for the citizenry, which is not taken into account by J. F. Gardner, Being a Roman Citizen, Routledge, London and New York, 1993. According to C. Nicolet op. cit., p. 471, ”le lien civique entre le citoyen et la cité tend a disparaître au profit d’une allégeance directe entre un homme et une masse qui voit en lui son sauveur personnel.”

19 After his army is saved by Fabius Maximus, Minucius Rufus addresses Fabius as “father”, and his soldiers call Fabius’ soldiers “patrons” (Liv. 22, 30, 2, cf. 30, 45, 4 for 201 BCE.). Also in Livius (34, 52, 10) for 196 BCE Hannibal’s former Roman prisoners, who had been sold in Greece, now follow the triumphal pageant of Flamininus as liberti, with shaven skulls.

20 Plut. Sylla 34.

21 For funerals, e.g. J. C. Richard, Les funérailles de Trajan et le triomphe sur les parthes, in “Revue des Études Latines”, 44, 1966, p. 351–362 and D. Favro and C. Johanson op. cit. For the relationship between funus and triumphus, A. Brelich, Trionfo e morte, in “Studi e materiali di storia delle religioni” 14, 1938, p. 189–193, H. S. Versnel, Triumphus, an Inquiry into the Origin, Development and Meaning of the Roman Triumph, Brill, Leiden, 1970, p. 117 sq., A.-M. Taisne, Le thème du triomphe dans la poèsie et lart sous les Flaviens, in “Latomus” 32, 1973, p. 502.

22 J. Gagé, La Némésis de Camille et les superstitions étrusques de la porta Raudusculana: à propos des origines de la porta triumphalis, in “Revue des études latines” 50, 1972, p. 111–138.

23 M. Torelli, Riti di passaggio maschili di Roma arcaica, in “Mélanges de l’École Française de Rome – Antiquité” 102–1, 1990, p. 105.

24 J. Rüpke op. cit.; contra, H. S. Versnel, op. cit. (2006), p. 290–326.

25 E. Simon, Apollo in Rom, in “Jahrbuch des deutschen archäologischen Instituts”, 93, 1978, p. 210–227, particularly p. 213–215.

26 Liv. 3, 63, 7.

27 T. Köves-Zulauf, Die Worte des Sklaven an den Triumphator, in “Antike und Abendland”, 44, 1998, p. 78–82.

28 E. Wallisch, Name und Herkunft des römischen Triumphes, in “Philologus” 98, 1954, p. 245.

29 J. Rüpke, Domi militiae - die religiöse Konstruktion des Krieges in Rom, Stuttgart, F. Steiner, 1990, p. 225; R. Develin, Tradition and the Development of Triumphal Regulations in Rome, in “Klio”, 60, 1978, p. 429–438.

30 E.g. Suet. Nero 13, Cic. Pis., 58.

31 E.g. Mon. Anc. 4, Plin. Nat.Hist. 15, Dio 55, 5, 1–3. Cf. Rüpke op. cit., who then at p. 235 discusses litterae laureatae (the letters announcing victory to the Senate), laureatus exercitus, and coronam lauream in gremio Iovis deponere.

32 Liv. 38, 44, 9 and 39, 4, 2.

33 J. Gagé, La théologie de la victoire impériale, in “Revue Historique”, 171, 1933, p. 3 speaks of the infallible felicitas of the leader, from whom, ever since Sylla and Pompey, universal success is expected.

34 Plut. Quaest. Rom. 80 mentions the absence of consuls from the cena triumphalis, cf. H. S. Versnel, op. cit., p. 391.

35 E. Burck, op.cit., p. 167.

36 E. Simon, Die Götter der Römer, Hirmer, Darmstadt, 1990, p. 28 sqq.

37 M. Lemosse, Les éléments techniques de lancien triomphe romain et le problème de son origine, in “ANRW”, 1, 2, 1972, p. 448. For him, the triumph was originally “une rentrée dans la cité sous l’égide de Juppiter, de l’armée purifiée qui rend grâces pour la protection demandée lors des vota et obtenue pendant les combats.”

38 Similarly I. Scott Ryberg, Rites of the State Religion in Roman Art, 1955, p. 141: “merely a special form of the payment of vows”.

39 In Liv. 39, 4, 6 the triumph is characterized as meritus debitusque, and from Liv. 45, 39, 9 it is apparent that the city owes the triumph to the gods, Liv. 41, 6, 4, mentions honouring the gods, not the general. Many passages in Ab Urbe Condita (26, 21, 3; 28, 9, 7–9; 39, 4, 2; 38, 48, 16) underline – specifically in the formal request to triumph lodged by a candidate – that the triumph will honour the immortal gods, and Livius even mentions (38, 38, 13) that denying a triumph could be read as an insult brought to the gods and not only the general.

40 G. Dumézil, Rituels indo-européens à Rome, Paris, 1954, p. 285.

41 E.g. the apotheosis of Pertinax, Herod. 4, 2, Dio 74, 4–5

42 A. Brelich, 1938, p. 193 writes: “è specialmente il ‘funus imperatorium’ che ha larghe analogie col corteo trionfale”, and underlines “la vasta corrispondenza fra l’ideologia trionfale e funeraria”. The cenotaph of the Sergii in Pola, as well as the funerary monument of the Gavii in Verona are arches; the triumphal arch of Titus has been seen (by Lehmann-Hartleben) as a funerary monument. Favro, Johansson op. cit. and more generally on arches F. S. Kleiner, The Study of Roman Triumphal and Honorary Arches 50 Years after Kähler, in “JRA”, 2., 1989, p. 195–206.

43 Tac. Ann.: 1, 8 ut porta triumphali duceretur funus (about Augustus’ funerary pageant).

44 N. J. Norman, Imperial Triumph and Apotheosis: the Arch of Titus in Rome, in D. B. Counts, A. S.Tuck, (edd.), “Koine, Mediterranean Studies in Honor of R. Ross Holloway”, Oxford, 2009, p. 43.

45 The position is attested by one inscription, but unfortunately we know nothing about what it entailed, Y. LeBohec, L’armée romaine sous le Haut-Empire, 1998, 2nd ed., Paris, p. 240 and 256–258.

46 E. Künzl op. cit., p. 134–140; R. Payne, The Roman Triumph, London, 1962; S. MacCormack, op.cit., 1981; M. Beard op. cit., p. 324–326; R. Pfeilschifter, Der römische Triumph und das Christentum, in F. Goldbeck and J. Wienand (eds.), Der römische Triumph in Prinzipat und Spätantike, Berlin, 2017, p. 455–486.

47 This precise word is used by e.g. McCormick and Pfeilschifter.

48 M. McCormick, Eternal Victory - Triumphal Rulership in Late Antiquity, Byzantium, and the Early Medieval West, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1986.

49 S. MacCormack, Art and Ceremony in Late Antiquity, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1981, p. 32–41, 72–77.

50 R. Pfeilschifter, op.cit.

51 S. MacCormack, op. cit., p. 32–41, 72–77, 145–155.

52 Ibidem.

53 E. Künzl, op.cit., p. 134–138.

54 M. McCormick, op. cit.

55 R. Pfeilschifter, op. cit., p. 467.

56 G. R. W. Halsall, The Decline and Fall of the Ancient Triumph, in F. Goldbeck and J. Wienand (eds.), Der römische Triumph in Prinzipat und Spätantike, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin and New York, 2017, p. 555–568.

57 I. Östenberg, Staging the World: Spoils, Captives, and Representations in the Roman Triumphal Procession, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2009, p. 14 and 262.

58 T. E. Schmidt, Mark 15.16–32: The Crucifixion Narrative and the Roman Triumphal Procession, in “New Testament Studies”, 41, 1995, p. 1–18.

59 D. Aune, Revelation 1722, Nashville, 1998, p. 1050–1052.

60 M. McCormick, Clovis at Tours, Byzantine Public Ritual and the Origins of Medieval Ruler Symbolism, in E. Chrysos, A. Schwarcz (eds.), Das Reich und die Barbaren, Böhlau Verlag, Vienna, 1989, p. 155–180; I. N. Wood, Gregory of Tours and Clovis, in “Revue Belge de Philologie et Histoire”, 63, 1985, p. 249–272; W. M. Daly, Clovis: How Barbaric, How Pagan? in “Speculum”, 69, 1994, p. 619–664.

61 G. R. W. Halsall, op. cit.; R. Poulain, La plaque mérovingienne de Meursault, arron-dissement de Beaune (Côte d’Or), in “Bulletin de Musées de Dijon”, 5, 1999, p. 55–58. Clearly we can no longer apply complex iconographic analyses to artefacts like these, as in A. McKay, Non enarrabile textum? The Shield of Aeneas and the Triple Triumph of 29 B. C., in H. P. Stahl (ed.), Vergils Aeneid: Augustan Epic and Political Context, The Classical Press of Wales, 1998, p. 199–218. The urban environment shrinks, so the importance of the urban context in classical triumph wanes. See D. Favro, The Street Triumphant: The Urban Impact of Roman Triumphal Parades, in Z. Çelik et al. (eds.), Streets of the World. Critical Perspectives on Public Space, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1994, p. 151–164, R. T. Scott, The Triple Arch of Augustus and the Roman Triumph, in “JRA” 13, 2000, p. 183–191. The ideological underpinnings of the ceremony remained at any rate similar.

62 E. Fraenkel, Plautinisches im Plautus, Berlin, 1922; C. Pavel, Pervolgatum est – nil moror. Triumful roman, ceremonie a cetății”, in “Studii Clasice”, 46, 2010 [2012], p. 53–86; D. Vera, La polemica contro labuso imperiale del trionfo: rapporti fra ideologia, economia e propaganda nel basso impero, in “Rivista storica dell’Antichità”, 10, 1980, p. 89–132.

63 R. Pfeilschifter, op. cit., p. 417.

64 T. Itgenshorst, Tota illa pompa. Der Triumph in der römischen Republik, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, 2005.

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Ovidiu Cristea*

The “Clash” of Empires: The Habsburgs, the Ottomans, Safavid Persia and the Anti-Ottoman Projects in a Diplomatic Episode of 1547

Abstract: The starting point of the chapter is a dialogue between the grand vizier, Rüstem Pasha, and the Habsburgs’ ambassador Gerhard Veltwyck. According to the Ottoman dignitary, one of the Habsburgs’ emissary, the Polish nobleman Hieronymus Laski, claimed that his master had sealed a treaty with the Shah of Persia, Tahmasp I, both monarchs being prepared to launch an offensive aimed to invade the Ottoman territories like the waves of the sea (inonderiano () la Turchia como un mare). The chapter underlines how the topic of the alliance between Christendom and Safavid Persia shaped the negotiation between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs in 1545–1547 and how both camps used such a topic as a diplomatic tool. From such perspective, the metaphor attributed by the grand vizier, Rüstem Pasha to Hieronymus Laski seems more an attempt to see what was known in Christendom about the Shah of Persia and his military might than an expression of fear provoked by such collusion.

Keywords: Ottoman Empire, Habsburgs, Safavid Persia, anti-ottoman projects, diplomacy, Gerhard Veltwyck

During the Later Middle Ages, the idea of an alliance between Christian and Muslim enemies of the Ottoman Empire was a commonplace of many crusading projects. The basic plan was quite simple: it aimed to disperse and to weaken the Ottoman forces by compelling them to fight simultaneously on different and distant fronts in Europe and Asia.

In the 16th century, this strategic design already had a long history. The illusion of an alliance with the Mongols was the backbone for many projects aimed at the recovery of the Holy Land in the 13th century1, while the emergence of ←29 | 30→Timur Lenk at the end of the 14th century reinforced the belief in an alliance between the Western crusaders and an Oriental ruler. However, despite some diplomatic contacts, the project mentioned above was never put into practice. Despite Bayezid I’s crushing defeat at Ankara (1402)2 and the subsequent serious crisis of the Ottoman Empire, there were no significant crusading actions during the internal strife between Bayezid’s sons.3

In the following period the European powers tried, in turn, to establish diplomatic contacts with the Karamanid emirate4, with the Ak Koyunlu lord, Uzun Hassan5 or with the Safavid Persia6. Eventually, such contacts were made but, ←30 | 31→despite a common enemy, there were no common actions against the Ottomans nor existed a common strategy. One reason consisted of Western powers’ limited interest which aimed to create only a diversion without assuming concrete obligations7. Even when serious efforts were made to sign an alliance and to coordinate the military actions, the long-distance and the different strategic goals of the presumptive allies made the cooperation impossible.8

Finally, everything was reduced to an exchange of embassies, gifts and declarations of goodwill. Sometimes there were also serious suspicions about the genuine character of an embassy coming from East which explain the cold reception and the equivocal response of the European courts.9

Nevertheless, the quest for a Muslim ally was not abandoned during the 16th and 17th centuries. On several occasions, the Western monarchs searched for an alliance with an Oriental enemy of the Ottomans hoping to diminish the pressure on their borders. One should ask, however, how the Ottomans reacted to such a potential threat. Were they aware of such diplomatic contacts between their European and Asian enemies? Moreover, if the answer is an affirmative one, where they tried to undermine such negotiations?

The response is not an easy one. We know that the Ottomans were well informed about the events occurred in the Christendom as in other corners of the world10. However, their reaction to various diplomatic endeavours is less clear. In many cases our knowledge depends significantly on Western sources’ ←31 | 32→perspective11 which sometimes may distort, overemphasise or even misunderstand the Ottoman reactions. From a methodological point of view, the doubts and the reserves about the accuracy and the reliability of the Venetian relazioni may be applied to any other category of documents. In many cases we do not know if a source understood the Ottomans’ reactions properly, intentions or projects12. Furthermore, in several cases, the sources mirror the Christian powers’ apprehensions, perspective or strategy than the Ottoman ones. For instance, when in 1580 a Safavid embassy arrived in Venice, the messenger, Xwaje Mohammad, was secretly received in the private apartments of the doge not in a public audience13. Moreover, the doge Niccolò da Ponte refused to give an official reply to the embassy. He argued that due to a possible interception by the Ottomans, an official letter from the Venetian government would be a potential threat for the messenger on his way back home14. In fact, the Venetians were afraid that their contact with the Safavids would be acknowledged by the Ottomans which, at that time, were involved in a war with Persia. A diplomatic contact, with a hostile power – Safavid Persia –, during a period of peace between Venice and the Ottoman Empire, could have been easily interpreted by the Porte as an unfriendly gesture.

Later, in 1601, a Safavid embassy in Europe whose members were Hoseyn-Ali Xan Bayat and the Englishman Anthony Sherley received a cold reception at the European courts. Venice refused to allow Sherley entrance in the lagoon15, while in Prague the embassy raised many suspicions and was received by the emperor Rudolph II after a long delay. All these examples point to the issue of communication between the potential allies doubled, in the Venetian case, by an ←32 | 33→excessive caution. The fear that the Ottomans may be informed by the reception of the Safavid envoy was not without reason. In 1601, for instance, the Ottomans were puzzled by the presence of the Englishman Anthony Sherley among the Persian embassy. Embarrassed, the English ambassador in Istanbul, Henry Lello, explained to the grand vizier that Sherley was “an exile” from England, but it is hard to know if the Ottomans accepted the excuse16.

The extreme caution to receive the Oriental embassies suggests that only in cases of war with the Porte the Christian rulers show interest in an alliance with Persia. Furthermore, even in these moments, the Western powers aimed mostly to create a diversion for the Ottomans not to establish a military collaboration which implied well-coordinated actions. It was the case not only for the Persian emissaries sent in Europe but also to the European possessions in Asia. For instance, in 1510 an embassy of Shah Ismail was received in Goa by the Portuguese admiral, Alfonso of Albuquerque, and the diplomatic contact was renewed in 1513 and 1515. Each time the openings were made by the Safavids which proposed a joint military action against the Ottomans and commercial privileges for the merchants. As Jean Louis Bacqué Grammont already pointed out, the negotiations failed to achieve concrete results17. In every occasion, the message seemed to fall on deaf ears18 and the only gesture of benevolence towards the Persians was the gift consisting of two small canons and six arquebuses.

The Habsburgs’ case is quite similar19. As in the episode mentioned above of 1601, the diplomatic contacts were irregular and submitted to all sorts of issues. In 1525, for example, the Maronite Peter of Lebanon needed no less than ←33 | 34→seven years to bring letters for the Shah of Persia to the court of Charles V. What chances could have an alliance between the Habsburgs and Safavids on these conditions? At the time when Peter eventually arrived, the sender – Shah Ismail – was already dead and the proposed joint action against the Ottomans should have taken place in 151920! Even worse, the letter was not signed or sealed, which cast serious doubts on the content.

However, the Safavid mission received a reply despite all these suspicions raised by the message. In 1529 the knight Hospitaller, Jean de Balby, was sent to Persia with the answer of the emperor for nostre treschier et tresame frere21.

Although Charles V supported the idea of a joint attack against the common enemy he underlined that was unable to launch an offensive too soon. The emperor argued that the conflict with France and the complicate situation in Italy compelled him to postpone any project against the Sultan22. Once again, the project of an alliance with Persia remained only a theoretical one.

The idea of a doubled and synchronised attack against the Ottomans appeared once again on 20 February 1547 in a report of Gerhard Veltwyck23, the Habsburgs’ ambassador in Istanbul. The document is important because it shed ←34 | 35→some insights on how the alliance with Persia was used as a diplomatic weapon during the negotiations with the Porte. The report resumes a dialogue between Veltwyck and the grand vizier Rüstem Pasha related to an episode occurred before. According to Veltwyck, the Ottoman dignitary expressed his displeasure about a previous ambassador of the Habsburgs, the Polish noblemen Hieronymus Laski, who tried to negotiate a peace in 154024. During the audience at the Porte, Laski made an act of bravado stating that if the Sultan refuses to yield Buda to Ferdinand I, than the emperor Charles V and the sovereign of Persia will invade Ottoman Empire from two sides “flooding” the Sultan’s territories like the waves of a sea: Perche – disse (i.e. Rüstem Pasha) – lui (i.e. Laski) vene a bravare qua, dicendo che se non dessimo Buda in man dil Re de’Romani, l’Imperator faria calar il Sophy con tutto il suo campo et lui veneria in Hongeria con tutto il potere della Christianità – et inonderiano tutti doi la Turchia como un mare).

No wonder that the threat was considered as an insult and triggered the Ottomans’ anger. Laski was in danger to lose not only his privileges as an ambassador but also his nose and ears25. It seems that, eventually, Rüstem Pasha convinced the Sultan only to chase off the emissary without any other punishment. Despite the lack of serious consequences, the episode deserves, nevertheless, attention. It reveals not only a wrong way to negotiate in Istanbul but also suggests some insights on how the Ottomans perceived Hieronymus Laski’s alleged menace26.

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If one takes for granted Laski’s threat, the Ottoman Empire seemed to be an easy prey in the face of a double attack launched together by the Habsburgs and by the Safavids. Laski’s supposed assertion also suggests that the Habsburgs were not only able to attack the heartland of the rival empire but also skilfully enough to compel the Safavids to act according to their will. One may ask if such projection was realistic or, on the contrary, the result of miscalculation?

As Veltwyck’s report suggests, there were little facts to support the plan of a Habsburg-Safavid joint attack against Suleyman the Magnificent. However, Veltwyck was in a difficult position as Rüstem Pasha used the weapon of dissimulation and seemed to consider the threat as “real”. The ambassador could not afford to doubt the grand vizier words and was forced to initiate an already compromised peace mission. However, he adapted to the situation quickly and effectively. Not only he refused to be intimidated by Rüstem’s stratagem but cleverly used the “Laski incident” to adopt a different strategy.27 He avoided to ←36 | 37→provoke his partners of negotiation but also took care to avoid a too humble attitude. For instance, when the situation of Hungary was, once again, discussed and the Ottomans argued that Hungary is a realm too large to be granted to Ferdinand I, Veltwyck answered that Hungary was quite small comparing with Suleyman the Magnificent’s possessions.28 Subsequently, when the Ottoman dignitaries claimed that Hungary belonged to the Sultan as a territory conquered by the sword, Veltwyck replied that Ferdinand I was chosen by the Kingdom’s subjects and that in the Christian world, jus electivum prevails on jus belli.

The dialogue, as the Habsburgs’ ambassador relates it, illustrates two different perspectives, grounded in two different cultures and systems of laws. There were also two different diplomatic strategies. Rüstem Pasha adopted, as usual, an intransigent attitude29 considering any concessions from the Ottoman side as a sign of weakness. By contrast, Gerhard Veltwyck chose a flexible approach aimed to determine the Ottomans to sign the peace treaty as favourable as possible for the Habsburgs. “I am not here to quarrel” said Veltwyck during the negotiations “but to solve the litigations and to sign the peace”30. His tactics was to convince his partners of dialogue that his final terms were better than the previous Ottoman ones.31

Ironically the two strategies had, in a certain sense, a similar goal. Like the Habsburgs, the Ottomans were eager to sign a peace which would enable them to focus on the Oriental frontiers of the empire. Although Rüstem Pasha angrily rejected Laski’s alleged menace, the Safavid threat was quite serious for the ←37 | 38→Ottomans. On 2 January 1546, Veltwyck was informed that a large Safavid army was in Basra. The news seemed to be favourable in the context of the diplomatic talks, but the ambassador was aware that the information itself did not change his missions’ objectives or the methods he has to employ.

In his report, he underlined that the negotiations should be pursued without further provocations, despite the presumed Ottoman difficulties at the Persian frontier. In these circumstances, Veltwyck mentioned how the grand vizier tried to check, once again, the Habsburgs’ goodwill. After a short introduction dedicated to the Sultan’s recent hunt and on the customs at Charles V court, Rüstem Pasha passed on the Persian issue. More precisely, Rüstem wanted to figure what kind of knowledge had the Christian world about Persia.

The question addressed to Veltwyck was a double-edged sword. It aimed to sound ambassadors’ information but maybe also to test his reaction. In contrast with the alleged boldness of Laski, Gerhard Veltwyck’s answer was cautious. He replied that only the Christian merchants had specific knowledge about Persia, but, due to the long distances and dangers of the travel, nobody was able to provide accurate information about the military power of the Shah. Indirectly, Veltwyck intended to convince the grand vizier that his masters had no interest towards the Safavids. However, Rüstem Pasha pursued the dialogue. He contradicted Veltwyck, stating that according to the French ambassador, Gabriel of Luetz, baron d’Aramon, the Habsburgs had detailed and accurate information about the Persian sovereign. The vizier also mentioned Laski’s “bravado” in support of the idea of a firm contact between the Habsburgs and the Safavids. Indirectly Rüstem Pasha suggested that Veltwyck reply was a diplomatic lie aimed to cover the real intentions of Ferdinand I and Charles V. Such stratagem was frequently used by Rüstem Pasha during the negotiations with Christian ambassadors. The vizier used his position of authority as no one could dare to contest the accuracy of his statements.32 He also tried to exploit the rivalry and the distrust ←38 | 39→between Western powers.33 In March 1548, for instance, in a dialogue with other Habsburg ambassador, Giovanni Maria Malvezzi, Rüstem Pasha used the information received from the French ambassador, Michel of Codignac, according to which the Habsburgs sent firearms to the Persians. As a reply Malvezzi asked on what road the weapons could have been send towards a distant destination. Satisfied by the answer, the grand vizier concluded that the French used to say many things, but few of them were trustworthy.34

In 1546, as in the case of Malvezzi in 1548, Rüstem Pasha settled a diplomatic trap. Nevertheless, Veltwyck escaped it and refused to accept the grand vizier’ innuendos. He stated ironically that the French seem to be better informed than himself, the Habsburgs’ representative, about his masters’ intentions and that the Laski’s words were not necessarily truthful but a simple act of overconfidence. Veltwyck’s answer used irony (to discredit in a subtle manner the source of information) and reason to convince the Ottomans that there were no serious proof to support the idea of an alliance between his masters and the Safavid Persia. As in Malvezzi’s case, Rüstem Pasha seemed to accept the answer. Seizing the opportunity, Veltwyck provided further arguments in his support. He acknowledged that in the past, there were some contacts between the Habsburgs and the Safavids35 but which never ended in an alliance. He added that the Syrian sent to the imperial court was more a spy than an ambassador able to negotiate a treaty. Moreover, the only matter discussed concerned some Christian monasteries located in the Safavid territory.

Furthermore, Veltwyck argued that Charles V put his trust only in his forces, that his master never tried to conclude an alliance with the Safavids (in his respect the ambassador mentioned that his masters never took profit when the Ottomans were involved in a war with Persia) and, last but not least, that his sovereign will never break a peace treaty even if the Persian lord gathers 100.000 troops36.

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Eventually, Rüstem pasha seemed to accept Veltwyck’s explanations. He confirmed that Laski’s words could not be taken at their face value because other evidence contradicts them. For instance, the claim that the Habsburgs sent craftsmen to Persia to help the Shah to build firearms had no support in the grand vizier’s views. Eventually, he seemed to be convinced by the Habsburgs’ willingness for peace and adopted a more conciliatory attitude.

The episode ended successfully for Veltwyck, but his diplomatic victory was fragile. His report insisted on the difficulty of the negotiations and the incertitude concerning the peace. His position was undermined not only by the French ambassador but also by the intrigues and struggle for power in the Ottoman divan and the political events. The news concerning the Persian war preparations, on the rivalry between France and the Habsburgs or on religious upheaval provoked by the Lutheranism were attentively followed in Istanbul as they have a direct impact on Ottoman-Habsburg negotiations.

In this context was the alliance with Persia an asset in the Habsburgs’ negotiation with the Porte? Veltwyck’s report mirrors a complex situation. Rüstem Pasha was irritated by a fictional warning but play the role of someone threatened by his enemies. By distorting a previous diplomatic contact occurred seven years (!) before Veltwyck’s embassy, the grand vizier tried to understand how consistent the collaboration between the Habsburgs and the Safavids was. He inquired Veltwyck on the issue using a wide range of diplomatic weapons. However, Veltwyck seemed to be aware of grand vizier ruses37. He adopted a cautious and pragmatic approach aimed not to doubt Rüstem’s sayings but to discredit his informants or his allegations.

The Habsburg’s ambassador considered the alliance with Persia only as a diversion which should have been handled carefully. Both Veltwyck and his successor, Giovanni Maria Malvezzi, shared this view. Their mentions of the Ottoman-Safavid conflict are brief and with not much information. It is true, both of them included in their reports news about the conflict between the Ottomans and the Safavids but without further details38. For instance, the siege of fortress Van is ←40 | 41→mentioned seven times in the reports written by Malvezzi between 19 June 1550 and 8 April 1551 but without many insights on the military event39. Such scarcity was not the consequence of a lack of interest but more probably related with the continuous surveillance of the Habsburgs’ ambassadors by the Ottomans authorities40. However, despite their limited ability to gather information, Veltwyck and Malvezzi seemed rather sceptical about the usefulness of an alliance with Sofi. They considered the “Safavid question” only a favourable circumstance for finishing the negotiations41 and obtaining better conditions. Charles V seemed to share this view. In his orders remitted to Malvezzi on 11 June 1551, the emperor instructed his representative to underline that the Habsburgs respected the peace sealed in 1547 despite the Ottomans’ difficulties in the war with the Safavids and the hostile naval actions led by Dorgut Turgut reis in the Mediterranean42.

The conclusion of the episode related by Veltwyck is quite predictable. While the alliance with Persia was an objective of any projected war against the Ottoman Empire, all the attempts ended in a simple exchange of diplomatic gifts and messages. The idea to attack the Ottomans at the same time from Europe and Asia reflected by the alleged Laski’s words – inonderiano tutti doi la Turchia como un mare – was quite simple and corresponded to a major strategic goal: to compel the Ottomans to fight on different fronts. Nevertheless, it was difficult to put into practice, and the Western sovereigns seem to have been aware of the challenges raised by the alliance with Persia.

For the episode of 1547 the topic of the alliance between Habsburgs and the Safavids as is mirrored by Veltwyck’s reports speak more about the diplomatic strategies used during the negotiations than the military project itself. For the Habsburgs, the Persian issue was at most a favourable circumstance which could have led to a quick signing of the peace with the Porte, while ←41 | 42→for the Ottomans it was an indicator about Charles V intentions on short and medium-term and on the knowledge gathered by the Christian world about their Oriental arch-rival.

The episodes also show that in contrast with the first Habsburgs’ missions at the Porte, Veltwyck, and subsequently Malvezzi were skilled diplomats able to properly understand the Ottomans’ diplomatic game and to dodge Rüstem Pasha’s ruses43.

* “N. Iorga” History Institute, Romanian Academy, Bucharest.

1 Sylvia Schein, Gesta Dei per Mongolos 1300. The Genesis of a Non-Event, in “English Historical Review”, 94, 1979, p. 805–819; Peter Jackson, The Crisis in the Holy Land in 1260, in “English Historical Review”, 95, 1980, p. 481–513 focuses on the “failed” alliance between the Mongols and the Christians during Hülagu’s invasion in Syria.

2 Maria Matilda Alexandrescu Dersca Bulgaru, La campagne de Timur en Anatolie (1402), Monitorul oficial şi imprimeriile statului imprimeria naţională, Bucarest, 1942, especially p. 38–40 for the diplomatic contacts between Western powers and Timur.

3 See for instance Șerban Papacostea, La Valachie et la crise de structure de l’Empire Ottoman (14021413), in “Revue Roumaine d’Histoire”, 25, 1986, p. 23–33 an excellent though neglected article in the Western historiography; a key moment in the Ottoman relations with the West in the aftermath of the battle of Ankara was the treaty of 1403 see Maria Matilda Alexandrescu Dersca Bulgaru, La campagne, p. 105–108; cf. George T. Dennis, The Byzantine–Turkish Treaty of 1403, in “Orientalia Christiana Periodica”, 33, 1967, p. 72–88; recently Dimitris Kastritsis, The Sons of Bayezid: Empire building and Representation in the Ottoman Civil War of 14021413, Brill, 2007, p. 50–58; Nevra Necipoğlu, Byzantium between the Ottomans and the Latins. Politics and Society in Late Empire, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

4 György Szekely, La Caramanie anatolienne dans les projets antiottomans à deux fronts, in vol. Oriente e Occidente tra Medioevo ed età moderna. Studi in onore di Geo Pistarino, a cura di Laura Baletto, vol. II, G. Brigati Editore, Genova, 1997, p. 1187–1197; Gabor Agoston, Karamania, the anti-ottoman Christian diplomacy and the non-existing Hungarian-Karamanid diplomatic relations of 1428, in “Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientarum Hungaricae”, 48, 1995, 3, p. 267–274.

5 John E. Woods, The Aqquyunlu. Clan, Confederation, Empire, The University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, 1999, p. 114; Kenneth M. Setton, The Papacy and the Levant (12041571). II. The Fifteenth Century, The American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1978, p. 272. For the Venetian diplomatic relations with Persia see Giorgio Rota, Venetian attempts at forging an alliance with Persia and the crusade in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, in Norman Housley (ed.), The Crusade in the Fifteenth Century. Converging and Competing Cultures, Routledge, London-New York, 2017, p. 120–132 (especially p. 124–125, where the author underlines that the two “natural allies” had divergent political agendas).

6 Giorgio Rota, Safavid Envoys in Venice, in Ralph Kauz, Giorgio Rota, Jan Paul Niederkorn (eds.), Diplomatisches Zeremoniell in Europa und im Mittleren Osten in der frühen Neuzeit, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Viena, 2009, p. 213–249.

7 See, for instance, the example from 1415 quoted Gabor Agoston, Karamania, p. 269. The Venetian emissary sent to Karamanoğlu Mehmed beg was instructed to avoid to make any promises but, nevertheless, to strengthen his hope.

8 It was the case of the Venetian expedition which in 1472 conquered Candeloro and Sattalia. The strategic goal was to support the emir of Karamania and Ak Koyunlu forces in Asia Minor. While the Venetian forces achieved their objectives, Uzun Hassan’s army failed to join them see Enrico Cornet, Le guerre dei Veneti nell’Asia 14701474. Documenti cavati dall’archivio di Frari in Venezia, Tendler & Comp., Vienna, 1856, p. 45; cf. Kenneth M. Setton, The Papacy and the Levant (12041571), II, p. 271–313.

9 Giorgio Rota, Real, Fake or Megalomaniacs? Three Suspicious Ambassadors 14501600, in Miriam Eliav-Feldon and Tamar Herzig (eds.), Dissimulation and Deceit in Early Modern Europe, Palgrave MacMillan, 2015, p. 165–183.

10 The bibliography of the topic acknowledged a spectacular development in the last years see Emrah Safa Gürkan, Espionage in the 16th century Mediterranean: Secret Diplomacy, Mediterranean Go-betweens and the Ottoman-Habsburg Rivalry, Ph. D., Washington DC, 2012, passim, available on https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/557617), accessed on 14.09.2019.

11 On this topic see Suraiya Faroqhi, The Ottoman Empire and the World Around İt, I. B. Tauris, London-New York, 2004, p. 42–43. For the misinterpretation see also the examples analysed by G. Rota, Venetian attempts, p. 121.

12 See for instance an episode related to the “War of Cyprus” analysed by Noel Malcolm, Agents of Empire. Knights, Corsairs, Jesuits and Spies in the Sixteenth Century Mediterranean World, Oxford University Press, 2015, p. 107–108.

13 G. Rota, Safavid Envoys, p. 219.

14 Ibidem, p. 221.

15 This is the reason invoked by the Venetian government which was usually accepted by the historians. However, G. Rota, Safavid Envoys, p. 223–224, suggests that the refusal should be connected with the pressure exercised by the Papacy and by the Habsburgs to convince Serenissima to join the Holy League. Both solutions could be taken into consideration. For Anthony Sherley’s mission in service of the Persian sovereign see Franz Babinger, Sherleiana I. Sir Anthony Sherley persische Botschaftsreise (15991601) II. Sir Anthony Sherley’s marokkanische Sendung (16051606), Berlin, 1932.

16 On the contrary it seemed that the episode tensioned the already strain relations between England and the Porte. One of the main reasons were the actions of English corsairs in the Mediterranean see Calendar of State Papers, IX, doc. 950 (English corsairs), p. 440 ff. and doc. 959 (news in Istanbul about the Persian embassy) p. 446.

17 Jean-Louis Bacqué-Grammont, Les Ottomans, les Safavides et leurs voisins. Contribution à l’histoire des relations internationales dans l’Orient islamique de 1514 à 1524, Nederlands Historisch-Achaeologisch Instituut, Istanbul, 1987, p. 128. For the Portuguese perception of Safavid Iran see João Teles e Cunha, The Eye of the Beholder: the Creation of a Portuguese Discourse on Safavid Iran, in Rudi Mathee and Jorge Flores (eds.), Portugal, the Persian Gulf and Safavid Persia, Peeters, p. 11–50 (especially p. 17 for the encounter between Albuquerque and the Safavid envoys). Albuquerque intended to respond to Safavid embassy but his messenger died in Hormuz (ibidem, n. 29).

18 Jean-Louis Bacqué-Grammont, Les Ottomans, les Safavides, p. 133.

19 For the contacts during the reign of Shah Abbas see Nagy Pienaru, La Porte ottomane et la Mer Noire. Un projet pontique du Shah Abbas, in “Studia et Documenta Turcologica”, II, 2014, p. 183–194.

20 Correspondenz des Kaiser Karl V, I (1513–1532), ed. Karl Lanz, Ed. F. A. Brockhaus, I, Leipzig, 1844, p. 294: “contenans, que voulsissions dung commung accord ennvahir le Turcq, et que a ce fussions prestz pour le mois davril suigant (sic) la date desdictes lectres (sic), desia passe a la reception dicelles que nous tindrent en doubte, pour ce mesmement quelles auoient este si longuemenent en chemin, et nestoient signees ne scelles, et encoires qui nous survint lors nouuelles tresdeplaisantes, que ledict seigneur roj fast trespasse.” An analysis of the suspicions raised by Oriental ambassadors in Europe was made by v. Giorgio Rota, Real, Fake or Megalomaniacs?, p. 165–183. The study includes the cases of Lodovico da Bologna, Anthony Sherley and Hakob Margarian.

21 Correspondenz des Kaiser Karl V, I (1513–1532), p. 293–296.

22 The reply is consonant with the one gave to the Hungarian envoys in 1521. The emperor explained at that time that only when the dispute with Francis I will be settled the Habsburgs could focus on the Turkish menace see Gabor Ágoston, Ottoman and Habsburg Military Affairs in the age of Süleyman the Magnificent, in Pál Fodor (ed.), The Battle for Central Europe. The Siege of Szigetvár and the Death of Süleyman the Magnificent and Nicholas Zrínyi (1566), Brill, Leiden and New York, 2019, p. 287–307.

23 For his diplomatic career see Veltwyck v. Bart Severi, “Denari in loco delle terre”. Imperial Envoy Gerard Veltwyck and Habsburg Policy towards the Ottoman Empire, in “Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae”, 54, 2001, 2–3, p. 211–256; Idem, Diplomats from the Low Countries in Istanbul: Astuteness, Pragmatism and Professionalization in Habsburg-Ottoman Diplomacy of the Sixteenth Century, consulted on https://www.academia.edu/14632123/Diplomats_from_the_Low_Countries_in_Istanbul_Astuteness_Pragmatism_and_Professionalization_in_Habsburg-Ottoman_Diplomacy_of_the_Sixteenth_Century, accessed on 29.01.2016.

24 There is no chronological indication in the document related to the Laski’s statement. However, there is only one possibility, his mission in Istanbul in 1540. Due to the strained relations between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans, Laski was placed in a dark and humid place (locum fetidum et tenebrosum) without any windows see Tagebuch des Hieronymus Laski während seiner zweite Gesandschaft bei Sultan Suleymans I. in Urkunden und Aktenstücke zur Geschichte der Verhältnisse zwischen Österreich, Ungern und der Pforte im XVI. und XVII. Jahrhunderte aus Archiven und Bibliotheken. Gesandschaft König Ferdinands I. An Sultan Suleyman I. 15361537, Wien, 1842, p. 35 and 40; Bart Severi, “Denari in loco delle terre”, p. 215.

25 It should be mentioned that Laski was not deprived of diplomatic skill. He was able to sign the peace treaty between John Zapolya and the Ottoman in 1528 despite de unfavourable context, and the initial hostility of the viziers see Gabor Barta, La Route qui mène à Istanbul 15261528, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1994, p. 73–85; Kenneth M. Setton, The Papacy and the Levant III. The Sixteenth Century to the Reign of Julius III, Philadelphia, 1984, p. 252.

26 In his “Journal”, Laski mentions the Persian issue but in a completely different way. According to his own words, the episode occurred during the seventh day of his mission when he was received in divan by the viziers. Among other issues, he was interrogated at a certain point about the diplomatic contacts between the Habsburgs and the Safavids (Tagebuch des Hieronymus Laski, p. 10). According to Laski’s version the plan of invading the Ottoman Empire was suggested by a Persian emissary at the court of Charles V and not by the Polish noblemen: “Et dixi unum qui supra annum venit, venisse primum ad Regem Portugaliae et deinde ad Caesarem per quem nuctiabat Persa. Quomodo imperator Turcarum, sub absentia sua, quando erat in Horossan, venisset contra illum et accepisset sibi Thebres, adiutoribus Regibus Syruan et Gylan. Et significabat quomodo Imperatorem expulit, Thebresque recuperavit, Bombardasque ademit, multos Turcos occidit sed plures captivavit et agebat pro confederation cum Portugaliae Rege et Cesare, et optabat sibi dari pixides et municiones: et data sunt omnia quae postulabat. Alius vero iste ultimus, venit declaratum quomodo Persa accepit Syruan, et Gylan Regna, sitque in summa amicicia Geczy Bassae et Chuthen Han, qui est maximus Tartarorum Han. Dicebatque Persam babere instructissimum exercitum et invasurum ditionem Turcarum, habereque intelligentiam cum praecipuis Turcis, qui ad eum deficient et cupere ut noster Caesar cum reliquis Christianis principibus arma capiat et a sua parte Imperatorem invadat. Offerebatque se cum Caesare facturum confederationem, ac perpetuum foedus contra Turcas, ea conditione ut Caesar nostra Europa potiatur et Persa Asia” (my emphasis). According to the ambassador the viziers laughed at the end of his answer. If Laski’s relation is accurate, his threat against the Ottomans was never pronounced, and the version presented by Rüstem Pasha to Veltwyck may be understand as a diplomatic stratagem aimed to test the latter.

27 Austro-Turcica 15411552. Diplomatische Akten des habsburgischen Gesandtschaftsverkehrs mit der Hohen Pforte im Zeitalter Süleymans des Prachtigen, bearbeitet von Srecko M. Dzaja unter Mitarbeitet von Günther Weiss, R. Oldenbourg Verlag, München, 1995, doc. 41, p. 131–150.

28 Austro-Turcica 15411552, p. 132: “Io li disse che mi pareva molto piccolo rispetto alle altre gran parte dil Regno”. The answer is ambiguous because it is not clear what empire Veltwyck is referring to. If we consider the logic of the text, it would be the territory subject to the Sultan, but the reverse can also be valid. However, for what we are interested in, more important is the negative response of the ambassador.

29 See Muhammet Zahit Atçıl, State and Government in the Mid-Sixteenth Century Ottoman Empire: the Grand Vizierates of Rüstem Pasha (15441561), Ph. D. University of Chicago, 2015 consulted on https://www.academia.edu/6617807/State_and_Government_in_the_Mid_Sixteenth_Century_Ottoman_Empire_The_Grand_Vizierates_of_Rüstem_Pasha_1544_1561_, accessed on 16.01.2016. For the 1545–1547 negotiations see mostly p. 59–76. Cf. Paula Sutter Fichtner, Terror and Toleration. The Habsburg Empire Confronts Islam 15261850, Reaktion Books, London, 2008, p. 38 who underlined that the Grand vizier used to interrupt the dialogue and to speak rashly if he disagreed with the foreign ambassador received in audience.

30 Austro-Turcica 15411552: “io non era venuto per disputare qua ma per concludere la pace et veder se si potesse far cesare tutte le querele.”

31 Ibidem, p. 133: “acciò che, quando io calasse, li paresino più dolce le mie offerte.”

32 An exception could be considered an episode in which was involved Giovanni Maria Malvezzi. In 1551 the Ottomans brought in front of him a number of “Habsburgs soldiers” accused of robbery in Ottoman territory. Malvezzi rejected the accusation saying that the robbers were not Habsburgs’ subjects. Eventually Rüstem Pasha acknowledged that Malvezzi was right. See Austro-Turcica, doc. 215, p. 565–566; the episode is analysed by Paula Sutter Fichtner, Terror and Toleration, p. 37; cf. An incident in which a Polish emissary was thrown out from the divan see Austro-Turcica, doc. 189, p. 503 and the comments of Ovidiu Cristea, Puterea cuvintelor. Știri și război în secolele XV-XVI, Editura Cetatea de Scaun, Târgoviște, 2014, p. 27.

33 Bart Severi, Diplomats from the Low Countries, p. 5 mentions a later episode when Mehmed Sokollu tried to provoke animosity between two ambassadors of the Habsburgs: the catholic Karel Rijm and the protestant David Ungnad.

34 Austro-Turcica 15411552, doc. 72, p. 224.

35 Veltwyck’s revelation was probably well pondered. He considered that the Ottomans had some information in this respect from the French ambassador. Veltwyck’s openness was a weapon to gain Rüstem Pasha’s confidence and to annihilate the assumed French counteractions. See Austro-Turcica, p. 136.

36 Ibidem, p. 136.

37 For Veltwyck’s mission in Constantinople and his way to deal with the Ottoman diplomacy see Ileana Căzan, Habsburgi și otomani la linia Dunării. Tratate și negocieri de pace 15261576, Editura Oscar Print, București, 2000, p. 176–177. For Habsburgs’ emissaries perceptions of the Ottoman customs see Paula Sutter Fichtner, Terror and Toleration, p. 36; cf. Bart Severi, Diplomats from the Low Countries, p. 8 who underscores the fact that the Habsburgs’ ambassadors needed some time to understand the dragomans’ duplicity.

38 For a succinct presentation of the Ottoman-Safavid conflict see Andrew J. Newman, Safavid Iran. Rebirth of a Persian Empire, I. B. Tauris, London-New York, 2009, p. 27–28. For the reign of Tahmasp I the book of Rhoads Murphey, Ottoman Warfare 15001700, UCL Press, London, 1999 mentions only the treaty of Amasia (May 1555).

39 Austro-Turcica, doc. 187, p. 495; doc. 194, p. 516; doc. 199, p. 528; doc. 201, p. 533; doc. 203, p. 538; doc. 215, p. 566; 217, p. 571.

40 Austro-Turcica, doc. 184, p. 477; doc. 187, p. 496; doc. 189, p. 502: Malvezzi mentioned that he was almost imprisoned (assai serrato).

41 Bart Severi, “Denari in loco delle terre”, p. 216.

42 Austro-Turcica, doc. 232, p. 598: “exortando al Turco con las razones que para ello hay, a que guarde la tregua, pues de n.ra partenon se le ha dado causa de romperla, y que quiera considerar lo que se diria si haviendosela nos guardado en tiempo que el stava tan embarcado en lo de Persia viniesse a romperla en favor de un tan mal hombre como es Dragut.

43 See Ileana Căzan, Condițiile istorice ale stabilirii contactelor habsburgo-otomane, in Eadem, Imaginea Imperiului Otoman în viziunea lumii germane în secolul al XVI-lea, Editura Dorul, Aalborg, 2001, p. 35–56 (especially p. 42–43 for the events of 1545–1547); Ileana Căzan, Habsburgi și otomani la linia Dunării..., p. 162–183; for the irritation provoked by the embassy of Janos Hoberdanecz and Sigismund Weischselberger in 1528 see Mahmut Halef Cevrioğlu, Janos Hoberdanecz’s embassy to Constantinople, CIEPO 22, Uluslararası Osmanlı Öncesi ve Osmanlı Çalıșmaları Komitesi, II, Trabzon, 2018, p. 403–414.

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Ileana Căzan*

Beyond the Ottoman Empire – Past’s Hegemonies and Rising Powers; Venice and Habsburgs in the 16th Century

Abstract: The “Byzantine legacy” of the Ottoman Empire, acquired with the conquest of Constantinople, included a massive Venetian presence in the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. The colony of Pera continued its existence peacefully, and the Venetian bailiff became a permanent ambassador of the Venetian Republic to the Sublime Porte and thus the first diplomatic representative of a Christian European power in Istanbul.

In the moment in which the Ottoman expansion has reached its peak, as tricontinental and naval power, the Venetian hegemony was seriously threatened. At the end of the 15th century, a part of its marine possessions were lost. The access to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea became more and more difficult when the Ottomans succeeded in controlling the Straits and to close the Black Sea. In order to survive in the area, Venice chose to use the weapons, but all the more so the negotiations and the “informative” war. Thus for another two centuries, it defended, headstrongness, with all the available means, a hegemony that seemed to be seriously questioned.

Thus, Venice tried to defend its past hegemony around this centre of power, confronting the Habsburgs in what became, in all but name, a real “cold war”, a game of diplomacy played by secret agents and spies, with intrigues and rumours aimed at portraying the House of Austria as the arch-enemy of the Ottoman Empire. Such a psychological warfare could not be fought continuously, and the rivals experienced short episodes of collaboration, during which Venice played the role of a “turntable” for information flowing from the Ottoman Empire towards the Christian powers.

We can state that Venice managed to effectively defend its hegemony in the first half of the 16th century, while the Habsburgs set the grounds for their future presence in the capital of the Ottoman Empire, where the first Austrian embassy was opened in 1547. The House of Austria gained more through propaganda and espionage than on the battlefield. If Venice was the result of its actions, the Austrian Empire shall rise through patience, expectation and delay.

Keywords: Venice, Habsburg Empire, Ottoman Empire, hegemony, intelligence services, diplomacy

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During the 16th century, Venice has remained a great European power, with a marine empire which was strongly consolidated for four centuries, through coherent actions that unyieldingly defended the interests of the Serenissima in Italy and Levant.

The “Byzantine legacy” of the Ottoman Empire, acquired with the conquest of Constantinople, included a massive Venetian presence in the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. The colony of Pera continued its existence peacefully, and the Venetian bailiff became a permanent ambassador of the Venetian Republic to the Sublime Porte and thus the first diplomatic representative of a Christian European power in Istanbul.

In the moment in which the Ottoman expansion has reached its peak, as tricontinental and naval power, the Venetian hegemony was seriously threatened. At the end of the 15th century, a part of its marine possessions were lost. The access to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea became more and more difficult when the Ottomans succeeded in controlling the Straits and to close the Black Sea. In order to survive in the area, Venice chose to use the weapons, but all the more so the negotiations and the “informative” war. Thus for another two centuries, it defended, headstrongness, with all the available means, a hegemony that seemed to be seriously questioned.

For the 16th century we cannot speak about the fall of the Venetian glory, but the East-Central and South-Eastern Europe had changed its political configuration, because of the ascension of the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires, which confronted the Serenissima with enormous challenges.

The conflict between Venice and the Holy Roman Empire started at the end of the 15th century with the “Italian wars” (1494) and the struggle for control of the Italian peninsula.

During the 16th century, the conflict will expand from Italy into the Ottoman Empire, the stake being this time the maintenance or gain of privileged positions within the Ottoman court. Just as the Ottoman Empire was highly interested in Venice’s presence, Serenissima had also developed an information system concerning the Levant and Constantinople’s events.1

The Ottoman Empire was, in that moment, an unmatchable centre of power which could not be neutralized, at least not militarily. Nevertheless, the Holy ←44 | 45→Roman Empire, who became synonymous with the House of Austria and the Habsburg dynasty, made several attempts, through Charles Quint and Ferdinand of Austria, to legitimize its presence in Central-Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and to negotiate a possible condominium over the disputed area with the Sultan, sometimes on warlike terms.

Thus, Venice tried to defend its past hegemony around this centre of power, confronting the Habsburgs in what became, in all but name, a real “cold war”, a game of diplomacy played by secret agents and spies, with intrigues and rumours aimed at portraying the House of Austria as the arch-enemy of the Ottoman Empire. Such a psychological warfare could not be fought continuously, and the rivals experienced short episodes of collaboration, during which Venice played the role of a “turntable” for information flowing from the Ottoman Empire towards the Christian powers.

In the Middle Ages, the news was a luxury merchandise2 and the Venetians had fully exploited this situation, being the first who had permanent embassies in the Ottoman Empire and the first who used the press to spread the information, through the famous avissi. They also offered the organizational pattern of a fast delivery system and the diplomatic agencies. As the primary source and channel for news transmission, Venice could also manipulate opinions and provoke situations of crisis, being as well a faithful mirror of the events witnessed by its emissaries.3

Starting with the rulership of the emperor Maximilian I (1508–1519)4 the diplomacy of the House of Austria was organized after the Venetian model. The efficiency of the ambassadors’ activity was strengthened and sometimes even supplied by a network of secret agents, who often had successes where the material or military means were insufficient.5

During the first decades of the 16th century, the Habsburgs had the widest network of permanent embassies in Europe, but towards the end of his life Maximilian I has reduced quite drastically the expenses caused by these representations and closed all the imperial embassies.6 His successors, Charles V and Ferdinand of ←45 | 46→Austria, resumed the diplomatic activity auspiciously, the latter giving a greater importance to the embassy from Venice and trying hard to establish permanent diplomatic relations with the Ottoman Empire.7 Venice’s open hostility towards the Habsburgs and the influence that the bailiffs had in Constantinople determined Ferdinand of Austria to follow the evolution of the events closely, using direct Venetian information, but equally bribing the embassy’s personnel from Constantinople in order to find out what the Venetians and the Ottomans were truly up to.8

Charles the Quint needed all these subterfuges because in 1530 Venice refused to offer complete information regarding the situation from the Ottoman Empire, under the pretext of a plenary gathering of the “Council of the 10”9. The other interested powers had received this information without any further formalities. Moreover, we have to mention that the Venetians informed the Turks about all the Habsburgs’ movements, to obtain the Sultan’s benevolence.10

The hostility between the two Christian powers was a well-known fact in those times. In 1527, Petru Rareş, the prince of Moldavia, considered it was his duty to prevent Ferdinand of Austria, through his emissary, the Chancellor Teodor, not to trust the Venetians, because they have “a deal with the Turks”11. The Moldavian prince was not mistaken, because in 1526, after the victory from Mohács, the Venetian ambassadors at Constantinople were congratulating the Sultan for his great success, encouraging him to obtain further victories12. Only in 1533, when ←46 | 47→between the Habsburgs and the Ottoman Empire had been perfected a five-year truce, and the King of the Transdanubian Hungary, Ioan Zápolya, was perceived as being wholly subdued to the Sultan, the Venetians began to fear that the Turks might reach rapidly to Friuli, through Carintia and Carniolia. This is the reason why they began to offer, in time, correct information also to the Habsburgs, to keep their attention alert to a possible Ottoman campaign in the area. Moreover, in 1552, the Venetian Luiggi Bassano represented Ferdinand of Austria in the diplomatic negotiations.13 In this context, we will place Alosio Gritti’s actions in Hungary in 1530–1534.

A first explanation of the Venetian-Habsburg tensions, upon which we shall not insist here, resides in the competition for the control over the Italian peninsula, started with the “Italian wars” and exacerbated by the brutal action of Charles V who, in 1527, didn’t spare the Papal state which was allied with Venice. The fears of Venice towards the House of Austria, which held the imperial crown and the Spanish crown, were entitled.

From here also derived another stake, the economical one, which was not at all secondary in the existence of the Serenissima, for which the commerce in the Mediterranean and Levant was essential. Given the fact that Venice was conducting a fierce fight to keep the spice market that was dominated by the Portuguese, who had found an easier way to the Indian Ocean, through South Africa, any new economic positions in South-East Europe were welcome for the Serenissima. The opening of commercial routes on dryland, using the traditional roads, from the Danube towards Central Europe, of the merchants from the Magyar realm, was a priority.

One of these actions belonged to Aloisio Gritti, natural son of the Dodge and favourite of the Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha, named in 1530 Governor of Hungary. Gritti has never wanted the crown of Hungary and the Romanian principalities for his sons, but his presence in Hungary, as a decisional factor, had trespassed the interests of the Fugger bankers, the main financiers of the imperial elections from 1519. From here derived backstage and political manoeuvres which degenerated in a general animosity against the Sultan’s envoy.14

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The ascension of the bankers from Augsburg intertwined with that of the House of Austria. Maximilian I facilitated the undertaking of the copper deposits from Elsass, Sundgau and Schwatz, whose exploitation was licensed for reasonable fees. In exchange, the Fuggers offered the emperor ever-growing sums of money, in order to finance the broad politics that Maximilian I wished to display, involving himself on a military plan in the “Italian wars” or organizing expensive ceremonies, like the so-called family congress in 1515.15 This is how they got to eliminate the bankers Haller from Tirol and to control the exploitation of the non-ferrous metals – copper, silver and mercury – necessary for the issuance of coins in Central Europe. The power of the bankers from Augsburg was to grow exponentially with Charles the Quintus’ election, as emperor (1519), an occasion to contract new huge debts. As money was always an issue for the Austrian Habsburgs, the payment was the concession of the mines from Unterinnthal (Tirol), Banská Bistriça (Slovacia), Almaden (Spain)16, and so the Fuggers owned the coin production in the area.

In 1526 when Ferdinand of Austria decided to claim the throne of Hungary and Bohemia, the money came from the same source. The reward promised to the Fuggers was the license over the salt mines from Transylvania.17 On this field were about to collide the interests of the German bankers with those of Gritti, who equally represented Venice.

In the same year, 1526, Aloisio Gritti offered to Ioan Zápolya, contra-candidate to the throne of Hungary, Venetian capital to enlist Italian mercenaries against the Habsburgs. In exchange he wished to undertake the mine exploitation and the copper foundries from superior Hungary, like the salt mines from ←48 | 49→Transylvania (promised by Ferdinand to the Fugerrs).18 Ieronim Laski, named in 1529, by Zápolya, Voyvode of Transylvania and owner of vast possessions in the realm, interrupted the commercial circuit organized by the Fuggers. They were occluded by confiscating the castle of Orawa, which controlled the access path towards Central Europe. The first beneficiaries were the Venetians, because of Aloisio Gritti’s presence at the wheel of Hungary, as governor and treasurer.

In four years Aloisio Gritti managed to arise so many dissatisfactions, that his tragic end, in 1534, didn’t come as a surprise. The Magyar nobles hated him for the taxes and for the material advantages he received from Zápolya19. In the same time, the princes of Wallachia and Moldavia (Vlad Vintilă and Petru Rareş) suspected that he wanted to remove them from the thrones.20 Moreover, Petru Rareş spread malicious rumours concerning Gritti, in order to stop Habsburgs, in 1534, to conclude the peace with Ottomans, a peace which would have left Moldavia alone before the Ottoman expansion.

In 1533–1534 it seemed that the Venetian nobleman was the ideal person for creating a harmony between the Venetian, Ottoman and Habsburg interests and he received the mission to trace, on the field, the razor edge between the possessions of Zápolya and Ferdinand of Austria. At 4 July 1533, Süleyman informed Ferdinand that he commanded to “the honourable amongst the princes of the Christian faith, Aloisi Gritti, high counsellor of King John and governor of Hungary, and from the part of the blissful imperial Porte our protector in that country” to mediate the peace discussions and to make “by his decision understanding between you regarding the boundaries”21.

Like so many times in the past, between Ferdinand and his brother, Charles Vth, there wasn’t such a good communication, nor common points of view concerning the anti-Ottoman politics. It so happens that in 1533 the imperial admiral Andrea Doria, with Genovese origins, attacked the Ottomans in the Aegean Sea. ←49 | 50→Gritti and the Venetians themselves were suspected at Constantinople that they might know and encourage the actions of the Christian fleet.

On this background, Gritti was detained at Constantinople unexpectedly long, despite the departure order given by the Sultan at the 4 July 1533. His departure towards Hungary was to take place almost a year later, on 18 June 1534. During this entire period, the Venetians tried to display their entire good faith towards the Ottoman side. The letters of the Venetian ambassador at Constantinople, from August to September 1533, were intercepted by Charles the Vth’s agents, translated in Spanish and sent to the emperor. From these letters resulted that after the fights from the Mediterranean for the fortresses Coron and Patras, were mobilized infantry troops from Anatolia and Moreea. Ibrahim-Pasha had been called back in Syria to take action against the Christians, while Lys Gritti had the task of continuing the discussions with Ferdinand for Hungary.22 Pleading for the Venetians’ good faith, Gritti’s brother, Georgio (Jorge in the text), was to depart with four galleys, which were to be put at Ayas-Pasha’s disposition, to participate at the siege of the fortress Coron.23 The animosity between the Ottomans and the Venetians had been sorted out also through these proofs of solicitude, all the more so after what has happened during the summer, when the ships of the Serenissima had been restrained by the Turks and the merchants taken prisoners. On September 13, 1533, this incident was cleared, the Ottomans being convinced that the Venetians weren’t helping Doria. As a consequence, the ships and the merchants received the permission to return in their country.24

In October 1533, Ibrahim Pasha, to whom the Habsburgs have managed to gain his benevolence, has been sent at Alep. In the capital of the Ottoman Empire, his place was covered by the second Vizier, Ayas Pasha, who wasn’t at all familiarized with the vast network of political interests that had been constructed by Alosisio Gritti who, from the summer of 1533, had become favourable to the House of Austria. The negotiations proved to be arduous, and the animosity of some high Ottoman dignitaries against Gritti started to show off. This could have been the moment in which the Venetian decided to play “the card of Vienna”25, useful in the case of a failure in the Ottoman Empire, a failure of which Gritti started to be ←50 | 51→more and more aware, seeing the intrigues sewn by the great defterdar, Mahmud Pasha. The report sent by Vespasiano Zara to Ferdinand on March 5, 1534, and Scepper’s information from April–May 1534 shows that these two had informed Gritti, as a person who could be trusted to be faithful to the House of Austria, about the emperor’s grandiose plans of organizing a crusade, through which to fight the Turks off the Mediterranean and the Balkans.26

During all this time, the Papal official at Ferdinand of Austria’s court, Paolo Vergerio, wasn’t at all pleased with a possible peace with the Ottoman Empire27, which he didn’t consider to be “a good thing”. In January 1534 Vergerio wrote to the Pope that he doubted that “a character with Gritti’s importance and greatness” would go over such a long road only to establish some borders, a task for “a small executor” and added that he believed that the “eternal peace”, demanded by Ferdinand, “is already done this time” and that it would serve only the interests of the “King of the Romans” and not those of Christendom.

On February 18, 1534, the Apostolic nuncio changed his opinion about the peace with the Ottomans and Gritti’s involvement was seen as a positive fact, “because with Christ’s help it might be useful and would make some peace and bring good amongst the Christians”28. Vergerio’s enthusiasm became so big, that he offered to Ferdinand to leave, in person, incognito, at Constantinople to negotiate “with the Venetian”29, and on March 13, the Apostolic nuncio announced with great joy that Gritti was to come personally to conduct negotiations with “all the high powers of Christendom”, having special empowerments from the Sultan. He was also the one who informed about the fact that Gritti’s mission wasn’t seen with good eyes by the high Ottoman dignitaries, who started to plot against him, which was why he “could lose a lot of the honour he enjoyed in the eyes of the great sultan”30.

The good terms between Venice Dodge’s son and the Habsburgs can also be argued by the demarches that Gritti made in the spring of 1534 in favour of Cornelius Scepper, the ambassador of Ferdinand of Austria. The latter was practically arrested in his establishment from Constantinople, on April 26, 1534, ←51 | 52→and only the Venetian’s insistence brought his liberation and an audience to the Sultan.31

As a consequence, losing the fortress Coron by the emperor Charles Vth was regarded with suspicion by the papal emissaries, who considered that was not a defeat, but a free surrender, which was hiding an exchange32 – the recognition of the “legitimate rights” in Hungary and Transylvania. On May 25, 1534, the Apostolic nuncio at Venice, Girolamo Aleandro, informed Clement the VIIth that the surrender of the Coron fortress “has surely been made based on an agreement between the emperor and the aforementioned Turk”33.

If we consider the tensed situation with which Aloisio Gritti was dealing at the Porte, followed by the ever-growing hate of the defterdar Mahmud Celebi, and the antipathy of the great dragoman, Yunis Beg, who went to the length of calling the Venetian filio meretricis or iste canis34, we can conclude that the too many political interests at which the Dodge’s son was part have caused the tragic end for him and his sons, murdered at Mediaş in September 1534.35

The one who fully profited of the rumour according to which Gritti was aiming to install a personal rule for his family in Hungary and the Romanian Principalities was Petru Rareş. Starting with 1536 the prince of Moldavia used the Venetian way to communicate with the emperor and to ask for help against the Turks. He too was to become a victim of the malicious rumours and intrigues constructed, this time, at the papal Curia.

In 1536 Dionisie della Vechia, a secret agent of the emperor, took from Venice the coded letter sent by Petru Rareş by means of bishop Vasile “the patriarch of Serbia”. In the text was asked for medical aid, to “the well-known doctor Froim ←52 | 53→from Venice”36, regarding the sufferance that the prince endured for three years at his right ear. The payment promised to the “doctor” was 3.000 golden coins. Bishop Vasile also brought with his the decodification of the letter: the sickness of the right ear was the Ottoman danger that was continually growing for three years. Doctor Froim was no other than the emperor, and the 3.000 gold coins were 30.000 soldiers that the prince was willing to put at the disposal of the imperial army, should it intervene against the Ottomans.

Indeed, in 1538 Charles Vth managed to pass over the many animosities and conflicts appeared during the “Italian wars” and created a Holy League, at which took part his old enemies: the papacy, Venice and he signed, with France, the peace, from Nice. Nevertheless, the aid offered by Petru Rareş was disregarded for the simple reason that the prince didn’t inspire confidence. The King of Poland, Sigismund I, whom Charles wanted as an ally in the anti-Ottoman crusade, was for a long time in conflict with Moldavia and the Habsburgs’ insistences for a conciliation of Petru Rareş hadn’t paid off.

On March 6, 1538, the Apostolic nuncio at Prague, Morone, recorded the rumours he heard about the Moldavian prince, considered as he was as the Turks’ man and an instrument through which the Ottomans sought to stop the expansion of the Holy League.

Et si suspica ch’il Moldavo sia fomentato dal Thurco quale essendo in pace o treuga con il re de Polonia [...] per questa via indirecta cerca di farlo molestare se con questa occasione fusse in proposito e per qulache via si potesse reduire li predetti re, cioe el padre et figliolo di Polonia, in la presente Liga37.

Therefore, the repeated supplications of Della Vecchia were only answered by the emperor in March 1538, saying he had not received any letter. Against all information coming from Venice and Ragusa, the crusader land army waited for the Ottoman offensive in the wrong place: Upper Hungary. Instead, the Turks attacked the weakest link of the front, Moldavia, left alone against an army of 100.000, according to a Venetian assessment38. The outcome of the 1538 conflict ←53 | 54→was against the Christians: Moldavia was attacked, and Petru Rareş was forced to flee in Transylvania. The allied fleet was defeated at Preveza. All those interested in the anti-Ottoman front were fearful about the situation of Moldavia and were relieved to learn that the country only received a new voivode and was not transformed into an Ottoman province. This time also information was provided by the Venetians. The Habsburgs had also managed to organize a reliable network of informers and agents, through which they obtained direct information from within the Ottoman Empire, whenever the Venetian or French diplomacies refused to grant them that.

Conclusively, we can state that Venice managed to effectively defend its hegemony in the first half of the 16th century, while the Habsburgs set the grounds for their future presence in the capital of the Ottoman Empire, where the first Austrian embassy was opened in 1547. The House of Austria gained more through propaganda and espionage than on the battlefield. If Venice was the result of its actions, the Austrian Empire shall rise through patience, expectation and delay.

* “N. Iorga” History Institute, Romanian Academy, Bucharest.

1 Ioan Aurel Pop, 16th century Venetian bailiff’s reports on realities in the Ottoman Empire, in Sorin Şipoş, Gabriel Moisa, Dan Octavian Cepraga, Mircea Brie, Teodor Mateoc (eds.), From Peripheries to Center. The image of Europe at the Eastern Border of Europe, Romanian Academy Center for Transylvanian Studies, Cluj-Napoca, 2014, p. 61.

2 Ovidiu Cristea, Ştirea – „marfă de lux”. Mărturii veneţiene din primele decenii ale secolului al XVI-lea, in “Revista istorică”, no. 3–4/2003, p. 195.

3 For how the information is transmitted or manipulated see Idem, Puterea cuvintelor, Editura Cetatea de Scaun, Târgovişte, 2015.

4 Chosen “Kings of the Romans” in 1486.

5 Ileana Căzan, Habsburgi şi otomani la linia Dunării. Tratate şi negocieri de pace 15261576, Editura Oscar Print, Bucureşti, 2000, p. 98–99.

6 Bertold Picard, Das Gesandschaftswessen Ostmitteleuropas in der Frühen Neuzeit. Beiträge zur Geschichte der Diplomatie in der Ersten Hälfte des 16. Jahrhunderts nach den Aufzeichungen des Freiherrn Siegmund von Herberstein, in “Wiener Archiv für Geschichte des Sloventums und Osteuropas”, Bd. 41/1967, p. 96–97.

7 The first permanent embassy was established in the capital of the Ottoman Empire in 1547 and was to function until 1552. After a pause of 10 years, the diplomatic relations between the two empires became normal.

8 The most famous case of spy for the House of Austria was Mihail Černovič, the translator of the Venetian bailiff at Constantinople. See Ileana Căzan, Diplomaţia secretă a Casei de Austria şi activitatea lui Mihail Cernovič, 15561563, in “Revista istorică”, 2006, no. 1–4, p. 153–166.

9 J. Žontar, Der Kundschafterdienst und der Diplomatie der Österreichischen Habsburger in Kampf gegen die Türken im 16. Jahrhundert, Ljubljana, 1973, p. 191–192.

10 In 1491 Bayazid the IInd had banished the bailiff, considering him a spy. The Venetian representance reopened after the Sultan’s death, in 1512, in the person of Andreea Gritti, the future Dodge (1523–1538).

11 A. Veress, Fontes rerum Transylvanicarum, vol. II, Kolozsvár, 1913, p. 150–152.

12 G. Rázsó, Buda, Viena e Venezia: i probleme militari e politici de rapporto tra Europa e i Turchi (15211532), in Rapporti veneto-ungheresi all’epoca del Rinascimento, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1975, p. 174.

13 K. Benda, L’absolutisme et la résistance des ordres au XVIe siècle dans les états de la Maison d’Autriche, in ”Studia Historica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae”, Budapest, 1975, p. 164

14 Ileana Căzan, Aloisio Gritti entre les Habsbourgs et les Ottomans (15331534), in “Historical Yearbook”, vol. VII, 2010, p. 107–116.

15 We are referring to the ceremony of the double engagement between the families Habsburg and Jagiello, through which Ferdinand was engaged to Ana Jagiello, the daughter of the Hungarian King, Vladislav II, and Louis, the heir to the throne of Hungary engaged to Maria of Habsburg. At this event also participated the King of Poland Sigismund I Jagiello, and numerous other guests from the European princes. With this occasion, Jakob Fugger (the Elder) accompanied the emperor, in order to watch over the imperial symbols – the crown of “Charlemagne”, the “unicorn” horn, the crucifer globe and the cross which kept a fragment from the Saviour’s cross – symbols which were pledged to the bankers for financing the event.

16 H. Benedikt, Monarchie der Gegensätze. Österrreich Weg durch die Neuzeit, Ullstein, Wien, 1947, p. 21–25.

17 G. Gündisch, Die Siebenbürgische Unternehmung der Fugger 15281531, Monitorul Oficial. Imprimeria Naţională, București, 1941, p. 4–6, 10, 20. See also A. Decei, Aloisio Gritti în slujba lui Soliman Kanunî, după unele documente turceşti inedite (15331534), in “SMIM”, vol. VII, Bucureşti, 1974, p. 105–107.

18 H. Kellenbenz, Zur Problematik Ostpolitik Karl’s V. Die Westeuropäischen Verbindungen. Jan Zápolya und Hyeronimus Laski zu Beginn der dressiger Jahre des 16. Jahrhundert, in Karl V. Der Kaiser und seine Zeit, Köln, Graz, Böhlau, 1960, p. 124–125.

19 It suffices to mention the most ardent opposers Tamás Nádasdy, Emeric Czibak and Stephen Mailath. Among the reasons for dissatisfaction was also the arbitrary nomination of his son, Antonio, in 1530 (at only 13 years old) in the money-making function of bishop of Agria (Eger-Erlau).

20 The rumour was spread by Ieronim Laski, who passed of the Habsburgs side in 1533.

21 Urkunden und Aktenstüke yur Geschichte des Verhältnisse zwischen Österreich, Ungarn und der Pforte im XVI. und XVII. Jahrhunderte, (1533–1534), Wien, 1858, p. 47.

22 Arhivele Naționale ale Românei (ANR – National Archives of Romania), Fund Turcica, R. 338, c. 79–80.

23 Nuntiature di Venezia (12 marzo 153314 agosto 1535), Rome, 1958, vol. I, p. 89. Letter of the Apostolic nuncio at Venice, Girolamo Aleandro, to the Pope, 29 July 1533.

24 Ibidem, see also ANR, loc.cit., R. 338, c. 80.

25 Béla Köpeczi (coord.) Histoire de la Transylvanie, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1992, p. 243.

26 ANR, loc.cit., R. 338, c. 333–334, see also Tibor Simány, Erschuf des Reich Ferdinand von Habsburg, Wien, 1987, p. 251–252.

27 Nuntiaturberichte …, vol. I, p. 127–128.

28 Ibidem, p. 183–184.

29 Ibidem, p. 191, letter from 11 March 1534.

30 Ibidem, p. 193–194.

31 Cristina Feneşan, Jean Louis Baqué Gramont, Notes et autres documents sur Aloisio Gritti et les Pays Roumaines, in “Anatolia Moderna/Yeni Anadolu”, vol. III, Paris, f.a, p. 92–93.

32 Nuntiaturberichte…, p. 228.

33 Nuntiature di Venezia, p. 222–232.

34 A. Decei, op.cit., p. 118–120.

35 The facts counter the fact that Gritti wanted the throne of Hungary and the Romanian Principalities. In his last encounter with Ferdinand’s ambassadors, he said that he would “rather perish like a dog”, than become King of Hungary and his sons “voyvodes of the Romanian countries”. Ferenc Szakálly, Lodovico Gritti in Hungary, 15291534. A historical insight into the beginnings of turco-habsburgian rivalry, Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1995, p. 19.

36 Alexandu Ciorănescu, Documente privitoare la istoria românilor culese din arhivele din Simancas, Monitorul Oficial Imprimeria Naţională, București, 1940, p. 17–19.

37 Nuntiaturberichte, II, p. 256–257. “We guess that the Moldavian had an agreement with Sultan, which having /at his turn/ a peace or truce with the Polish King [...] and in this devious way / Rareș/tries to give him some troubles. In this occasion discussed to keep away the both Polish kings, father and son, from the Holy League.”

38 Venetianische Depeschen vom Kaiserhofe (Dispacci di Germania), vol. I, Vienna, 1889, p. 65.

←54 | 55→

Emanuel Plopeanu*

The Empire That Never Was: Ali Kemal’s Fetret (Interregnum) and the Vision of a Westernised Ottoman Empire

Abstract: Ali Kemal (1868–1922), man of letters, journalist, politician, minister of education and internal affairs for a short time, is present in academic papers, biographies and journal articles until our days. His celebrity is not only a consequence of his intellectual profile. His personal life also contributes to this celebrity. He is the grand-grandfather of the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. This bloodline leads many Western journalists (mainly British, but not exclusively) to the Ali Kemal’s life research and, soon enough, referrings to Fetret (Interregnum), appeared. Fetret is the most westernised vision of the Ottoman Empire, written and published before World War I (1911–1913). As regarding Turkey, there are academic papers dedicated to our character, especially as a writer and poet and after 1990s as a journalist and politician (Fetret was translated in Modern Turkish only in 2003). The other family line of Ali Kemal, the Turkish one, contributed, by his son and grandson, to the better understanding of the complexity of Ali Kemal personality.

Keywords: Ali Kemal, Fetret (Interregnum), Ottoman Empire, Westernisation, British Model

Ali Kemal – A Life on the Edge between Europe and the Ottoman Empire

The life (and death) of Ali Kemal are nothing more than extraordinary, and his destiny reverberate until our days. Today, his fame is based not only on his intellectual and political profile, but also on the bloodline which connect him with United Kingdom politician, member of Conservatory Party, former Mayor of London and, since, July 24th, 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Ali Kemal was Boris Johnson’s great-grandfather. As British journalists (and not only) search for Boris Johnson’s past and family, this bloodline was underlined and portraits of Ali Kemal’s life, career, literary works, personality and death were made. Here’s one of them: “Ali Kemal worked as a spy for the Sultan, as a deeply unpopular interior minister in the cabinet controlled by British occupying forces, as a manager of a ←55 | 56→bankrupt Egyptian farm and as an outspoken columnist, editor and poet. He lived in exile in Europe and Egypt for much of his adult life, dodging arrest and assassination attempts on sporadic return visits to Istanbul. By the age of fifty-four, he had accrued an English wife, a Turkish wife, three children, huge gambling debts, several prison spells and a legacy of unfashionable political diatribes”1. “He was reckless to a fault”, said Sinan Kuneralp2, “but also incredibly brave”3. However, not only the journals are involved here. Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley (grandson of Ali Kemal), made the efforts of connecting Ali Kemal’s British and Turkish families, through his ties with Zeki Kuneralp, after the first encounter between half-brothers (Zeki Kuneralp and Wilfred Johnson), which took place in 1964, when the Turkish diplomat arrived in London, as Turkish ambassador there. In his first biographical volume, Stanley Johnson titled one of the chapters: “Strictly speaking, I ought to be a Turk”4. Boris Johnson himself made a documentary trip in Turkey, for finding more about his grand-grandfather and meeting5.

←56 | 57→

There are more arguments for Ali Kemal’s celebrity, not only the surprisingly genealogy. Writer, journalist, politician with liberal and pro-European strong views, professor at a famous university from Istanbul, are only some of the features of his personality which bring him into the attention of Turkish historians and literary critics, who published studies, volumes of correspondence and memoirs about our character. And we must not forget that Ali Kemal was, also, a stubborn opponent of the Kemalist Movement and the man who issued, as minister of internal affairs, orders against Mustafa Kemal. Ali Kemal was a supporter of Ottoman monarchy, an admirer of British civilisation and Empire and a very radical one in his opinions: “he was against everything, he was controversial, a contrarian” […] right up to the 1970’s he was viewed as a national traitor. It appears the man was the victim of his obstinacy, having ignored the pleas of friends to jump on the nationalist bandwagon, choosing instead to place his faith in the British”6. Ali Kemal truly believed that society must be strengthened inside social and political order and that, together with the individual progress, are mandatory to be made in accord with reformist principles of Tanzimat7.

Ali Kemal was born in 1868 in Süleymaniye, Istanbul, as Ali Riza, son of Hacı Ahmed Efendi, chief of the merchandisers guild from Balmuncu and of his second wife, originated from Circassia8. He “grew up in a traditional conservative family atmosphere”9 which, as himself acknowledged, served for a rigid conservatism (but not for traditionalism, as quickly we could observe in the novel that is analysed here, Fetret)10. He attended the Gülhane Askerî Rüşdiyesi (Military School of Gülhane), from where he was expelled for inappropriate behaviour, in 1881. He graduated Mekteb-i Mülkiye (School of Political Science) in 1884. He began to publish poetry and the journal “Gülșen”, where he signed as “Ali Kemal” (after Namık Kemal, heavily admired by young Ali Riza)11. During his period of education, Ali Kemal spent over one year in Paris and Geneve where he improved his French. He returned to Istanbul in 1888, after his father died ←57 | 58→and took over the family business, at the same time continuing his studies12. The Western experience strongly impressed Ali Kemal, who begun to transfer his knowledge into Ottoman society. He founded a student association, rapidly monitored by the authorities who arrested him and a few colleagues. After some months of detaining, Ali Kemal and a friend, also a poet, were exiled to Aleppo. It was the beginning of Ali Kemal’s exile experiences, which will mark his maturity and will have a more significant influence on his future families. In Aleppo, he worked in the province administration, subordinated to the Governor (Vali) and taught French literature and language in a high school13. He also taught History and found an opposition group against the Governor and in favour of reforms. During his exile in Aleppo, he also started to learn Arabic14.

After five years in Aleppo, he returned to Istanbul but for a short time. He will leave to Paris, apparently in another exile. In some biographies, his presence there is more controversial. For example, he became collaborator to the journal “Ikdam”, from Istanbul, which, according to one opinion, could not be possible if he proclaimed himself an adept of Young Turks15. Moreover, some suggest that he might be an opponent of them, closer to the Sultan Abdulhamid II and even an informer sending him reports and letters16. Another opinion mentioned that, in Paris, Ali Kemal was a full member of the Young Turks organisation, managing their publications. Given the fact that one of the leaders of the Young Turks left the movement, Ali Kemal also took this decision17. In Paris he graduated, in the same time, Ecolé Libre des Sciences Politiques (1895–1899) and, maybe as a reward for some duties, he was appointed as Secretary 2nd rank of Ottoman Empire Embassy in Bruxelles18.

←58 | 59→

The beginning of the century found Ali Kemal in Egipt, as manager of a farm (in 1900). In the meantime, he established close relations with the Young Turks members in Egipt. He launched the newspaper “Türk” (“which was Ottomanist, despite its title”)19. In 1903 he married Winifred Brun, a young woman which he met in a summer vacation spent in Switzerland one year before20. The young family will return to Cairo, until 1908, when, together with their young daughter Selma, they decided to settle in Istanbul. It seems that Ali Kemal was close to the Sultan Abdulhamid II, in the eve of the July 23th, 1908, Revolution, which lead to the beginning of the Second Constitutional Period21. The new leadership was assured by the Committee for Union and Progress, including that generation of young Turkish officers, “painfully aware of the abyss between their Empire and World Great Powers”22. The revolution was perceived into its all magnitude, as writer Halide Edip remembers: “the motley crowd, the society outlaws, all simmered carried by a sublime emotion, with tears dripping on their dirty faces, shops owners joining them without any fear for their goods. It looks like does not exist neither thieves and criminals anymore [...]. It looks like a Golden Age”23.

Ali Kemal became chief redactor at “Ikdam” and published daily articles about history, politics, education and literature, “in a somewhat didactic but entertaining and very personal style which soon made him one of the most popular journalists of the period”24. Also, he held classes of Diplomatic History ←59 | 60→at the Faculty of Letters from Mekteb-i Mülkiye and enrolled in Fırka-i Ahrar (Liberal Party). In 1909 he ran without success for a parliamentary seat. As a politician, he could be included in the large-spectrum which spread from “devoted monarchists to political elites favouring a decentralised Empire, which competed for influence in Istanbul”25. Ali Kemal represented, of course, the first political tendency. However, he added to this option a very fierce criticism of Committee for Union and Progress. His (and not only his26) criticism (with frequent accusations of bribery, oligarchy tendencies, personal favours), also showed in the lectures offered to the students, led to a harsh press dispute with the members of the Committee for Union and Progress and it is considered, in the Turkish historiography, as one of the “31st March Incident” causes27. A conservative counterrevolution, proclaiming the restoration of Islam and Sharia28, took place on the night of April 12/13, 1909, leading to the abandoning of Istanbul by the Government and Parliament. The Ottoman Army from Rumelia (having Mustafa Kemal chief of Major General Staff) intervened and re-installed the authority of Committee for Union and Progress, after a few days of street shootings in Istanbul29. On its turn, the Committee for Union and Progress forced the Sultan Abdulhamid II’s abdication in favour of his son, Mehmed V.

For Ali Kemal, all this meant a new exile, after hiding in a British friend house, in Istanbul30 and evacuation by the Royal Navy, due to the British citizenship of his wife31. He managed to escape from the urge of Committee for Union ←60 | 61→and Progress32. In Paris, Ali Kemal tried a compromise with the leaders of the Committee for Union and Progress without any success33. Next, Ali Kemal will settle in Bournemouth, near London. In 1909, his son Osman was born, but after only a few weeks, Ali Kemal’s wife passed away. The remaining family – Ali Kemal, Selma and Osman, Margaret Brun, (the mother-in-law) settled in Wimbledon, having a challenging time. Ali Kemal talks about it in a letter to Cavid Bey, minister of finance in the Committee for Union and Progress Government: “It is a grave disaster that seriously weakens my power of endurance especially as it also hurts my national pride vis-à-vis the British”. He asks for 3.000 francs to move to London, expecting the selling of a “small property” in Istanbul. He could repay the loan (with interest) when this transaction is concluded, assured Ali Kemal in this letter. In this situation, “I will come to life at once and remain grateful to you all my life”34.

Ali Kemal did not receive the loan but returned to Istanbul, after the Committee for Union and Progress Government was overthrown, in July 1912. An opportunity for a new life for Ali Kemal. Two years later he married Sabiha Hanım (daughter of an influential figure, Zeki Pasha, the commander of Imperial Arsenal and one of the most influential ministries of Sultan Abdulhamid II) and his second son, Zeki Kuneralp, was born35. He will be one of Turkey’s most successful and best-loved diplomats36 after 1940s but, after his father died in 1922, he lived a long life in exile, together with his mother, in Switzerland. He finished doctoral law studies in his new country. He returned to Turkey after the death of ←61 | 62→Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1938). However, he entered into diplomacy only after the special approval of President Ismet Inönü being still considered as the son of a “traitor”37. He worked intensively on his father’s historical re-evaluation, publishing especially biographies of him38.

In January 1913, a new coup detat brought the Committee for Union and Progress to power. Invariably, Ali Kemal was arrested, but Cemal Bey (future member of the triumvirate which would exercise power in Ottoman Empire, during the Great War, together with Enver Pasha and Talaat Pasha) offered him money to leave the country. Ali Kemal was considered to be dangerous. He will head to Viena, but he will return, in May the same year. This time he remained free, in exchange of the promise that will refrain from politics. Also with the support of Cemal Bey, he published a new journal, “Peyam”, and lived quietly, together with his new family, in Büyükada, until the end of the war. Classical literature and history became his new preoccupations39. As for the journal, in an official Turkish biography, it is acknowledged the importance of the paper, at least for the Ottoman literature. Ali Kemal gathered influential personalities, which published in the Peyam-ı Edebi, the literary supplement of “Peyam”40. To all this, teaching at the university and commercial activities were added41.

After his first wife death Ali Kemal wrote Fetret, a reflection of his life and political views in two volumes of wich we will analyse only the first one42. First ←62 | 63→volume has the year 1911 mentioned at the end of the author’s introduction, but it was published in 1913. His children from the marriage with Winifred Brun remained in Great Britain, in the care of their grandmother, Margaret Brun, in difficult material conditions. Margaret Brun changed the name of Ali Kemal’s son from Osman Kemal to Wilfred Johnson (the maid name of Margaret Brun)43. Wilfred Johnson’s son, Stanley Johnson, writer and politician, British member of European Parliament between 1979 and 1984, is the father of Boris Johnson. Ali Kemal did not see his children ever, although Margaret Johnson wrote a letter to the British delegation at the Peace Conference (1919) asking help for a meeting with Ali Kemal (member of Ottoman delegation) to get some financial support from him. According to this letter, Ali Kemal did not maintain relations with her or his children and did not send them any financial support after his return to Istanbul44. Her initiative came too late, Ali Kemal had already left Paris. However, after his killing, in 1922, when Sabiha Hanım and his son, Zeki Kemal (later Zeki Kuneralp) take the road of exile, they stopped in London and, according to some sources, “shared Ali Kemal’s small inheritance with his British family”45.

After the Mudros Armistice (October 30, 1918), Ali Kemal became active on Ottoman Empire political life, as secretary-general of Hurriyet ve İtilâf Fırkası (Liberty and Entente in which he was a member even since 1911). In the same time, he became chief redactor of “Sabah” and expressed the most severe critics to the Committee for Union and Progress policy during the war46. He also served as a minister of education (since March 4th, 1919) and internal affairs (since May 19th, 1919, the same day of Mustafa Kemal entering in Samsun, the beginning of the Kemalist Movement) in two successive governments led by Damad Ferid Paşa47.

The political vision of Ali Kemal was based on two ideas: the acceptance of Allied occupation and administration with the hope of getting favourable peace terms and the support for British policy and the possibility of a British or American Protectorate for Ottoman Empire. He was among those who founded the League of Wilsonian Principles (in December, 1918) and the Society for Friends of England (in May 1919). Nevertheless, the lack of resistance against European armies (especially Greek one) meant, for the Kemalist Movement, nothing less ←63 | 64→than collaborationism. In turn, Ali Kemal wrote in “Peyam” that Mustafa Kemal Pașa and his movement was nothing more than a rebirth of Committee for Union and Progress ambitions48.

As minister of internal affairs, Ali Kemal issued two orders against Kemalist Movement, on June 18th and 23rd, through which condemned the Mustafa Kemal Pașa’s action and requested his immediate return to Istanbul49. Also, he ordered the local authorities to stop the emerging of armed volunteers and guerrilla groups50. In the last order it was written that this kind of organisations “assume a national and patriotic and anti-Hellenic attitude, but in reality prejudice the government’s effort to obtain acceptable peace terms”51. Moreover, any officer and government official, which took side with the Kemalist Movement was passible of being deferred to the Martial Court52. He resigned three days later. According to an “Associated Press” dispatch from Paris, Ali Kemal decision was based on “strongly nationalist position, with which he could not agree” adopted by his colleague from the Ministry of War53.

Back to journalism, Ali Kemal wrote editorials for “Peyam-i Sabah”, a new journal which united “Peyam” and “Sabah”. He defended the Allied occupation and the collaboration policies of Damad Ferid Paşa Government and Sultan Mehmed V and vigorously blamed the Kemalist movement54. His anti-Kemalist articles and classes lead to protests among his students, which complained “of his irreverence towards religious and nationalist values”55 and, finally, to his exclusion from Darülfünün (today, Istanbul University)56. He will be surnamed “Artin Kemal”, Armenian-sound first name being giving to him as a mockery and a way of sanctioning him for his attitude.

←64 | 65→

His pro-British stance was not, as it seems, only for idealistic reasons. The British reports describe Ali Kemal as “one of the best journalists of Istanbul” although it is stated that his honesty was relative because of his expensive tastes. In 1921, in a British Foreign Office guide of the Turkish Press, “Peyam-i Sabah” was described as “foremost among Opposition organs; hostile to the C.U.P., Ali Kemal (who is a Philippic), at present directing his antagonism against the Forces Nationales, which he looks upon as a revival of the Party”. Moreover, the same journal was described as enjoying a disproportionate amount of advertisement from foreign companies and the Allied administration, suggesting that political links were further cemented by financial support57.

He wrote articles in which, on the one hand, praised the Turkish soldiers’ heroism against European armies but, on the other hand, warn about the “false nationalism and the danger of ignoring world opinion”58. Moreover, his style never changed until September 1922. Under the impact of decisive Nationalist Army victories59 some suggest that “only in his last three articles (8, 9, 10 September), when the Nationalist armies had reached the Aegean, did he admit his error and greeted ‘the great victory of the Turk’ and claimed that ‘the goals had always been the same’ ”60. However, it is not quite true. Ali Kemal admitted that, ever since the beginning of October 1919, as it could be read in an editorial from “Peyam”. He wrote: “From a theoretical point of view, we do not see any basic or important difference between the declarations of the Erzurum and Sivas congresses and the statement which Damad Ferid presented in Paris. The two requests were the same. Because nothing else was possible. What is different is the form, the appearance. Only in application do the Anatolian declarations differ from Damad Ferid, because they are not satisfied with diplomacy, even a little bit, but want to rely on force”61. And these ideas continuously appear in his articles. However, what they have in common, as principles, divide them as to the means to achieve the common goals. Ali Kemal heavily criticised the Kemalists because he believed that the Ottoman state survival lay in the hand of ←65 | 66→the British, and opposing them will produce a worse deal. He designed a whole future for the Ottoman state (and this could also be seen in Fetret, in a more idealistic way, eight years before) which implied: living “only” under the protection of Great Powers62, maintaining the Capitulations and the Public Debt and hoping for better peace terms63. Accommodation, not confrontation, was the solution, and not only with the Great Powers but also inside the Turkish society, between Imperial Government and Kemalist Movement but also between Muslim and non-Muslim minorities: “Should they [the Ottoman communities] be eternally at war, at each other’s throats? Even if we accept such an infernal life, would the civilised world accept it? Since neither they nor we can give up these places, these lands, we need to find the way of accommodation. This way can only be established on the foundation of the Tanzimat, but more widely, and more liberally”64.

If the articles of September 1922 were an attempt of reconciliation, it failed. The Nationalist Government from Ankara, triumphant, demanded that all who collaborate with Allied administration will be judged for treason, in Ankara. However, Istanbul was still under Allied occupation. In these conditions, “[...] one man was chosen as a test case, and this was to be Ali Kemal, as the most prominent representative of the collaborators”65. At the beginning of November 1922, with the complicity of Istanbul chief of Police, close to the Kemalist Movement, Ali Kemal was kidnapped from the Tokatliyan hotel barbershop, from Grand Rue (now Istiklal Street) of Pera. He reached at Izmit where Nureddin Pasha interrogated him. On November 6th, his life came to an end. It was exposed to an angry mob and beaten to death. According to some opinions, “his death was arranged or precipitated by Nureddin Pasha for reasons of personal prestige”66. Moreover, this tragic event led to violent reactions of disapproval, at the highest ←66 | 67→levels of new authorities. Ismet Pasha (Inönü), minister of foreign affairs, in his way to Peace Conference in Lausanne, stopped in Izmit and “publicly showed his strong disapproval of Nureddin Pasha for having ignored the government’s instructions and having taken justice into his own hands”67. Mustafa Kemal himself expressed “disgust” over the tragic faith of Ali Kemal68. However, Ali Kemal was the perfect illustration of the “Old Regime”, which Kemalist Movement stood against: former minister in the Imperial Government, a stubborn opponent of the same movement and Mustafa Kemal, member of the Palace clique, son-in-law of one the highest military officers, educated in France and fluently speaking of French, opposing to the popular culture of Kemalists69.


ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2021 (March)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 280 pp.

Biographical notes

Emanuel Plopeanu (Volume editor) Gabriel Stelian Manea (Volume editor) Metin Omer (Volume editor)

Emanuel Plopeanu is an associate professor, PhD, at the "Ovidius" University of Constant,a, Faculty of History and Political Science. His areas of interest include United States policy towards the South-East Europe in the 20th century and Romanian-Turkish relations in the 20th century. Gabriel Stelian Manea is a lecturer, PhD, at the "Ovidius" University of Constant,a, Faculty of History and Political Science. His areas of interest include the relationship between the church and communist regimes, spiritual and cultural anti-communist dissent, and the history of the Romanian Orthodox Church during the communist period. Metin Omer is a researcher at the Institute of Science, Culture and Spirituality at "Ovidius" University of Constant,a, Romania. His current areas of research include the historical evolution of Turkish and Tatar communities from Romania, especially after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and Romanian-Turkish relations.


Title: The Empire. Between dispute and nostalgia