The Shifting Borders of Eastern Europe

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 18th, 2014

History 101

By 1300 the Mongol Golden Horde took all of Kievan Rus

Vladimir Putin took Crimea from Ukraine.  Because he said the people there are more Russian than Ukrainian.  The people there wanted to be a part of Russia instead of Ukraine.  And that the land historically has belonged to Russia.  But that’s not true.  Yes, if you go back in time the land was Russian.  But if you go further back it wasn’t.  In fact the borders of Eastern Europe have changed so much that today’s borders bear little resemblance to what they have been over time.  You can watch 1,000 years of this change play out in a video on Loiter.co (see Watch as 1000 years of European borders change).  We’ll recap some of the changes in century intervals.

In the early 1100s the Western Roman Empire was gone.  In its place was the Holy Roman Empire stretching from central Italy to the North Sea.  Spain was mostly Muslim.  France was taking shape.  The Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire) was still in modern day Turkey, Greece and the Balkans.  Going north there was Hungary.  Then Poland.  And Lithuania.  To the east of these countries was the large expanse of Kievan Rus.  Modern day Ukraine, Belarus and western Russia.  And the Crimea was held by the Turkic Cumans.  But this land would change hands many times in the centuries to come.

By 1200 the Byzantine Empire moved further north into the Balkans.  While the Muslims moved into Byzantine territory from the south.  Hungary, Poland and Lithuania adjusted their borders slightly.  The Holy Roman Empire pushed further west in Europe.  The Cumans pushed into southern Kievan Rus.  While Kievan Rus moved south between the Black and Caspian seas.  By 1300 the Mongol Golden Horde (northwest part of the Mongol Empire) took all of Kievan Rus.  Hungary pushed out her borders while Poland shrank hers.  With East Prussia taking her northern lands.  Lithuania reshaped her borders in part to East Prussia.  The Byzantine Empire was reduced to a small area of the southern Balkans.  The Mongols were in Crimea.

Russia, Prussia and Hungary reduced Poland to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw by 1800

By 1400 the Ottoman Empire had replaced the Byzantines in the Balkans.  Hungary adjusted her borders a little.  East Prussia remained the same.  Poland and Lithuania had joined in a commonwealth and pushed their border south and east.  Into the lands that were once Kievan Rus.  Except for Crimea and the area just north of Crimea.  Pushing the Mongols east.  As the Republic of Novgorod and Muscovy pushed down on the Mongols from the north.  By 1500 the Ottoman Empire pushed further into southern Europe.  Into Hungary.  Crimea.  And Poland-Lithuania.  Which pushed north into East Prussia.  While Russia replaced the Republic of Novgorod and Muscovy and pushed south into Poland-Lithuania.

By 1600 the Ottoman Empire adjusted her northern borders a little.  Poland replaced the Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth.  And pushed her border slightly east into Russia.  Russia pushed her southern border to the Caspian Sea.  Sweden was across the Baltic Sea into modern day Finland and Estonia.  On Russia’s most western border.  By 1700 Hungary had pushed the Ottoman Empire back into the Balkans.  Prussia formed on the Baltic Sea west of Poland.  With East Prussia to the east of Poland on the Baltic Sea.  The Russian Empire pushed west to the Baltic Sea.  Pushing the Swedes out of Estonia and part of Finland.  Russia had also pushed south through Lithuania and pushed deep into Poland.  The Ottoman Empire was still on the northern side of the Black Sea at Russia’s southern border.

By 1800 the Russian Empire had pushed their southern border all the way to the Black Sea.  Pushing the Ottoman Empire back.  The Russians also pushed their southern border further south between the Black and Caspian seas.  They pushed west through modern day Finland to the sea.  They pushed their western border through half of what was Poland.  Hungary pushed north into what was Poland.  Prussia and East Prussia joined together, taking land from Poland on the Baltic Sea.  Russia, Prussia and Hungary left little of Poland.   What was left of her lands became the Grand Duchy of Warsaw.

Vladimir Putin has said one of the Greatest Catastrophes of the 20th Century was the Collapse of the Soviet Union

By 1900 the Ottoman Empire was pushed almost completely out of the Balkans.  Greece and Bulgaria were now on the lands the Ottomans once held.  Russia pushed their southern border between the Black and Caspian seas further into the Ottoman Empire.  Hungary pushed her southern border to Greece and Bulgaria.  And west into Austria (which would later form the Austria-Hungary Empire).  The Germanic states had formed into a greater Germany that stretched from France to Russia.  Absorbing the Grand Duchy of Warsaw.  And even pushing into Russia’s western border.

Then came World War I.  And afterwards the borders of Europe were greatly changed.  The Austria-Hungary Empire was broken into Romania, Yugoslavia, Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.  The eastern half (approximately) of the greater Germany was given to a reconstituted Poland.  With East Prussia bordering Poland on the north and separated from Germany (Hitler’s opening shots in World War II was to recover this lost territory).   To the north of Poland and East Prussia were Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.  Russia was now the Soviet Union with her western border pushed slightly back from where it was before World War I.  Bordering Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Romania in the west.  And pushed back out of Finland.  The Soviet southern border between the Black and Caspian seas was pushed back a little.  And Turkey replaced what was left of the Ottoman Empire.

After World War II the Soviet Union pushed her border through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to the Baltic Sea.  After the Soviet Union fell Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia restored their borders.  And the former lands of the Kievan Rus are now divided between Russia in the north and east.  Belarus between Poland and Russia.  And Ukraine bordering Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova to the west.  The Black Sea to the south.  And Russia to the east.  With Crimea a part of Ukraine.  Well, until recently, that is.  As Russia has recently annexed Crimea.  And may be looking further west.  For this former KGB officer—Vladimir Putin—has said one of the greatest catastrophes of the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Which he began to put back together with his annexation of Crimea.

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Byzantine Empire, Bosporus, Silk Road, Dutch East India Company, English East India Company, Tea Act and Opium Wars

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 11th, 2014

History 101

(Originally published May 15th, 2012)

To encourage Risk Takers to Travel Halfway around the World Mercantile States granted Monopoly Charters

The modern world began because Europeans had a penchant for silk and spices.  Something they enjoyed during Roman times.  When the Romans ruled the world.  And the Mediterranean Sea was nothing more than a Roman lake.  But when the empire stopped conquering new lands and sending the spoils of war home they had to turn to other means to pay for the cost of empire.  Taxes.  To pay for the Roman government and their public spending.  And the Roman legions.  This excessive government spending led to the fall of the western half of the empire.  But the eastern half lived on for another 1,000 years or so.  Why?  Because the capital of the Byzantine Empire was Constantinople.  On the Bosporus.  Trade crossroads of the world.

This city was so rich everybody wanted to conquer it.  So they could have all those riches.  For everything that came along the Silk Road from China crossed into Europe at the Bosporus.  Soon Muslims fought Christians in the Holy lands.  Then more Christians came.  The Crusaders.  Those who didn’t die went back to Europe with some of those Chinese luxuries.  Spices.  Silk.  Porcelain.  Etc.  Sparking a renewed interest in these finer things in Europe.  Especially the spices.  For European cooking was horribly bland at the time.  The Ottoman Turks eventually took Constantinople.  Renamed it Istanbul.  And controlled that lucrative trade.  Making those much sought after Asian goods rather expensive in Europe.  Which they had no choice but to pay.  Because if you wanted those luxuries you had to go through Istanbul.  Until the Portuguese sailed around Africa and found a direct route to those cherished goods, that is.

It was the Commercial Revolution.  A new age of international trade.  A trade even more profitable than what the Ottoman Turks controlled.  Because big ocean-going vessels can carry more cargo than anything coming over land on the Silk Road.  And these new European maritime powers wanted that wealth.  And the power it would provide.  To encourage risk takers to get into those wooden ships and travel halfway around the world they granted monopoly charters.  The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was one of the largest.  And one of the wealthiest.  But this was not your typical company.  The VOC established overseas colonies.  It waged war.  Established treaties.  Even coined its own money.  Because of this thousands of VOC ships stuffed full of valuable cargoes sailed to Antwerp and Amsterdam, making the Dutch very wealthy.  And powerful.

The Tea Act allowed the Company to Ship their Tea Directly to America and exempted them from any Duties

Of course the Dutch weren’t the only ones doing this.  They had competition.  Portugal.  Spain.  France.  And England.  Who would bump into each other numerous times fighting for control of this trade.  And those colonies.  The English and the Dutch would fight 4 wars.  Which is how Dutch-founded Manhattan became part of the British Empire and, subsequently, one of America’s greatest cities.  The English East India Company gave the VOC a run for its money.  Parliament even passed legislation to give the English a monopoly on all trade with their American colonies.  The Navigation Acts.  Which stated that all trade to and from America had to be on English ships.  And all trade had to go through an English port.  Where the ships were unloaded and the cargoes inspected.  And taxed.  Then they could reload their cargoes and continue on their journey.  All tenets of mercantilism.  This kept the lower-priced Dutch goods out of America.  And prevented the Americans from selling to the Dutch directly for higher prices.  So it shut down the Dutch from all American trade (except for a prosperous black market). And brought in some lucrative tax revenue for England.  While extending shipping times and increasing prices for the Americans.  Which they were not happy about in the least.

The English East India Company (the Company) was similar in structure to the VOC.  And soon made the Indian subcontinent a wholly owned subsidiary of the Company.  But it wasn’t cheap.  Waging war was costly.  As was managing those conquered territories (something the Romans had also learned).  Then a famine in Bengal in 1770 claimed about one-third of the local population.  Making laborers more scarce.  And more expensive.  All at a time when the sales of their imported goods were falling in Europe.  There were warehouses full of unsold Chinese tea that they couldn’t sell.  Making for a bad time for the Company.

Higher costs and lower sales spelled trouble.  And that’s what the Company had a lot of.  Trouble.  So the Company turned to Parliament for help.  And Parliament helped.  By allowing the Company to ship their tea directly to America without having to unload it in a British port.  Or pay a duty on that tea.  Which would greatly reduce their costs.  And allow them to sell it in America cheaper than they did before.  So Parliament passed the Tea Act in 1773.  Making life better for all involved.  But the Tea Act left in place another tax in the previous Townshend Acts.  Which was a bigger problem than getting cheaper tea (which they could get on the black market from the Dutch).  These taxes on the British subjects in America were unconstitutional.  Because there were no Americans sitting in Parliament.  This was taxation without representation.  A much bigger issue than cheap tea.  So they threw that first ‘cheap’ tea into Boston Harbor.  The Boston Tea Party being a major step towards war with the mother country.  And American independence.

Britain became the Lone Superpower after Abandoning their Protectionist Mercantile Policies and Adopting Free Trade

The American Revolutionary War was not the only headache the British got from their mercantile policies.  Part of those policies required maintaining a positive balance of trade.  So there was always a net inflow of bullion into the mother country.  That’s why raw materials shipped into Britain from America.  And finished goods shipped out to America.  Finished goods are more valuable than raw materials.  So the Americans had to make up for this balance of trade in bullion.  Resulting in a net inflow of bullion into the mother country.  Very simple.  As long as you can manufacture higher valued goods that other people want to buy.

And this is the problem they ran into with the Chinese.  For though the British wanted those Chinese spices, silk and porcelain the Chinese didn’t want anything the British manufactured.  Which meant Britain had to pay for those luxuries with bullion.  Including all that Chinese tea they craved.  Which resulted in a net outflow of bullion to the Chinese.  The British fixed this problem by finding the one thing that the Chinese people wanted.  Indian opium.  Grown in Bengal.  Of course, this turned a lot of Chinese into opium addicts.  The addiction problem was so bad that the Chinese banned opium.  But the British were able to smuggle it in.  They sold so much of it that they used the proceeds to buy their tea.  Thus reversing the bullion flow.

Not the finest hour in the British Empire.  The Chinese and the British would go on to fight a couple of wars over this opium trade.  The Opium Wars.  Which the British did all right in.  Even gaining Hong Kong in the bargain.  They didn’t build any long-lasting love with the Chinese people.  But Hong Kong turned out pretty nice under the British.  Especially after they abandoned their protectionist mercantile policies and adopted free trade.  Which made the British the lone superpower for about a century as they modernized the world by leading the way in the Industrial Revolution.  And the Chinese in Hong Kong were very happy indeed to be there when the communists took over the mainland.  And caused a famine or two.  For they lived comfortably.  In a state founded on mercantilism.  That achieved its greatest prosperity during the free trade of capitalism that followed Britain’s mercantile ways.

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Ukraine

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 4th, 2014

History 101

Ukraine is a Nation with Farmland so Fertile it earned the Moniker the ‘Breadbasket of Europe’

All roads may have led to Rome.  But all rivers led to Byzantium.  The city Constantine the Great of the Roman Empire turned into Constantinople.  Modern day Istanbul.  The great city on the Bosporus.  One-time trade crossroads of the world.  Where East met West.  And Europe met Asia.  Where goods from the Far East traveling on the Silk Road passed through on their way to Europe.  And where grain grown in the fertile river valleys of Eastern Europe passed through to feed the great empires.

Rivers created civilizations.  For they provided fertile farmland in their valleys.  And the rivers provided avenues for trade.  Which is why our great cities first appeared on rivers.  Like Kiev.  The Ukrainian capital.  On the Dnieper River.  Which flows from Smolensk through Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.  Emptying into the Black Sea.  Along with the Danube.  The Don.  And via a short portage from the Don, trade flowed to the Black Sea on the Volga, too.  (But the waters flowed into the Caspian Sea.)  And across the Black Sea lay Constantinople.  One-time trade crossroads of the world.

Ukraine is a nation with a lot of fertile farmland.  It is so fertile that it earned the moniker the ‘breadbasket of Europe’.  Making Ukraine some very valuable real estate.  Because of their grain production.  And the access the Dnieper River provided.  Opening trade between Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople.  Providing Ukraine with a lot of north-south movement via the Dnieper.  As well as a lot of east-west movement via land between the Germanic tribes to the west.  And the Turkic people to the east.

To improve Relations with the Rus’ the Byzantine Patriarch converted the Rus’ and the Slavs to Christianity

Kiev was a crossroads.  Varangians (i.e., Vikings) moved south from Scandinavia.  The Greeks from Byzantine moved north.  As they did they bumped into the indigenous Slavs.  And the Khazars (one of those Turkic people).  Kiev was geographically in the Khazar Empire.  But the Varangians ruled Kiev.  As it was on their trade route with the Greeks in Constantinople.  It was the Varangians who ruled Kiev during the Golden Age (11th to early 12th centuries).  Which saw the rise of Kievan Rus’.  Which in time and much change gave us modern day Russia.

As the Rus’ expanded south they encroached on Khazar territory.  The Khazars allied with the Byzantine Empire and fought against the Persians and Arabs.  Who wanted that rich crossroads.  Constantinople.  As did the Rus’.  So there were all kinds of war with all kinds of people.  Which wasn’t good for trade.  So the Byzantines established a division of their empire on the Crimean peninsula on the northern shore of the Black Sea.  Near the mouth of the Dnieper.  The Theme of Cherson.  To ward off those raids by the Rus’.  And to protect the grain coming to Constantinople from the breadbasket of Europe.  The Theme of Cherson became the center of Black Sea commerce.

But to improve relations with the Rus’ the Byzantine Patriarch Photius sent emissaries to convert the Rus’ and the Slavs to Christianity.  In 863 brothers Cyril and Methodius headed north.  They could speak the Slavonic language.  Which was then only a spoken language.  They created an alphabet for them.  The Glagolitic alphabet.  Which became the Cyrillic alphabet.  And gave them a written language.  Translated scripture so they could read it.  And extended the Greek culture of the Byzantine Empire to these lands.  As well as Orthodox Christianity.  Which is why today many of the lands radiating out from the rivers flowing to the Black Sea are Orthodox Christian (Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, etc.).

Russian Migration into Ukraine helped make her less Ukrainian and more Russian

Kiev was one of the largest cities in the world.  Then came the invasions.  First from the Asian steppes to the east.  The Pechenegs in 968.  And then the Mongols in 1240.  Who completely destroyed Kiev.  Then the Lithuanians from the north (1320s).  Then the Crimean Tatars sacked and burned Kiev (1482).  Then Kiev passed to Poland (1569).  Then the Russians took it over.  In the 18th and 19th centuries the city was full of Russian soldiers.  And ecclesiastical authorities.  From the Russian Orthodox Church.  Making the Ukrainian people more Russian.  Some Ukrainians tried to change that in the 1840s but Russia put a stop to that.

The Russian Empire kept pushing south.  For they wanted a warm-water port.  Which they could have on the Black Sea.  All they had to do was fight through the Ukrainians.  Which they did.  By this time the Muslim Ottoman Turks had long conquered the Christian Byzantine Empire.  Which left the Ottomans open to Russian aggression once the Russians took Ukraine.  Of course, if the Russians conquered the Ottoman Empire that would give Russia open access to the Mediterranean Sea.  Where they could threaten the British Empire holdings.  Also, the Russians could free their fellow Orthodox Christians from Muslim rule.

This aggression exploded into one of the bloodiest wars in history.  The Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856).  Much like the American Civil War the technology was well ahead of the tactics.  The Russian Empire took on the French Empire, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia.  Russia lost.  And she lost what she most coveted.  That warm-water port.  But that didn’t last for long.  Changes elsewhere allowed Russia to reject portions of the peace treaty that ended that war.  And built a navy she operated out of the Black Sea port of Sevastopol (first founded in 1783 by Rear Admiral Thomas Mackenzie then fortified by Catherine the Great in 1784).  On the Crimea peninsula.  And the Russians have been there ever since.

But the beating the Russians took led Tsar Alexander II to free the serfs.  And try to advance the backward Russia to be more like the advanced nations that had beaten her.  But it was too late.  For this marked the beginning of the end for Tsarist Russia.  The war left her in great debt.  So much debt that Russia sold Alaska to the United States.  While creating social unrest that would eventually lead to the October Revolution.  And the Soviet Union.  All the while Russian migration into Ukraine continued.  Making Ukraine less Ukrainian and more Russian.  With the Russian language taking over in Kiev and other large Ukrainian cities.  Pushing the Ukrainian language and culture to the country.  Leading to a divided Ukraine.  Under the boot of the Soviet regime.  Until the collapse of the Soviet Union.  When Ukraine finally got her independence.  Which Russian president and former KGB officer of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin, is now currently taking away.

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Trade, Colonization, South Africa and Apartheid

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 10th, 2013

History 101

Alexander Spread the Advanced Greek Civilization from the Mediterranean to the Indus River Valley

The first civilizations grew up on the great rivers.  The Nile.  The Tigris and Euphrates.  The Indus.  And the Yangtze.  For the river was the source of life.  The flooding of its banks produced the rich black earth that gave us farming.  They helped us irrigate land further from the banks.  And they allowed the spread of civilizations.  For these rivers provided our first means of transporting people and cargo.  Allowing food and goods to travel between settlements.  This cross-pollination of settlements of different people and resources flowered into the great civilizations of the world.

The Chinese civilizations along the Yangtze grew in isolation from the rest of the world due to the geography at first.  Then, later, by choice.  The other three great civilizations came into contact with each other.  The Egyptians on the Nile spread east and made contact with the Sumerians of the Tigris and Euphrates.  Who were in contact with the Harappan of the Indus River valley.  These civilizations traded with each other.  And fought with each other.  As their civilizations flourished they attracted the attention of envious neighbors.  Who wanted what they had.  And conquered them.

Wars pushed boundaries back and forth.  Civilizations rose and fell.  One of the last great empires of the ancient world, the Persian Empire, bumped into a new rising power.  Athens.  Which was conquered by a Greek-trained king from the north in Macedonia.  Whose son, Alexander, went on to conquer the known world.  Spreading the advanced Greek civilization from the Mediterranean world to the Indus River valley.  Creating a Greek-speaking world steeped in science and philosophy.  Creating a greater Hellenistic civilization out of the lands Alexander conquered.  The shared Greek culture allowing an explosion of trade and commerce.

In Time the English and the Dutch would Bump Heads in South Africa

The Romans adopted Greek knowledge and used it for great engineering projects.  Roads, aqueducts, ships, weapons of war, etc.  Soon the Roman Empire displaced the Hellenistic civilization and spread even further.  Ironically, it was the cost of empire that began the fall of the Roman Empire.  High taxes to fund a huge army on the frontier and to pay for a massive bureaucratic state.  Including welfare programs.  The empire first collapsed in the West.  It lasted another 1,000 years in the East as the Byzantine Empire.  With its capital in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey).  Named by the Roman Empire Constantine the Great.  Who helped turned the Roman Empire Christian.

Constantinople was the center of the world.  It was where East met West.  Where Europe met Asia.  All trade from the East went through Constantinople on its way to the West.  For the Silk Road passed through Constantinople.  Making it a very rich city.  As it controlled trade.  After the fall of the Western Roman Empire the great Italian city-states rose.  Venice, Milan, Florence, Genoa, Pisa, Siena, Lucca and Cremona.  With their merchant banking they controlled the Mediterranean trade.  Until the Muslims conquered Constantinople.  Which is when the center of economic power moved north to Europe.  Thanks to advances in navigation that allowed ships to sail around Africa to the East.  Bypassing the Muslim-held Constantinople.

It was the Age of Discovery.  And the great European powers discovered new lands full of valuable resources.  The Portuguese and the Spanish lead the way.  And were soon followed by the Dutch.  And the English.  These nations established colonies around the world.  And, in time, the English and the Dutch would bump heads in South Africa.  Where they discovered gold.  Leading to a century of conflict between the British Empire and the Dutch settlers.  Known as Boers.  During the Napoleonic Wars the British defeated the Boers in Cape Colony in 1806.  And officially took possession of the colony in 1814.  Then it was Britain’s turn to send settlers to the region.  As a prosperous colony at the southern tip of Africa would come in handy for the empire that controlled the trade routes with the most powerful navy in the world.

Mandela Languished in Jail in part because of his Being a Communist

The Boers resented British rule.  And they didn’t like their abolishing slavery.  So they moved north.  Establishing two Boer independent republics.  The discovery of diamonds and more gold would make the region the richest and most powerful in southern Africa.  There was only one problem.  They didn’t have the manpower.  Or an industrial base.  Which led to another wave of immigration.  Mostly from Britain.  Which soon outnumbered the Boers.  Tensions led to the two Boer Wars.  The second one being the longest, costliest and bloodiest war the British fought in the century following the Napoleonic Wars.  With the British ultimately winning the African territories from the Boers in 1902.

The contested areas were all absorbed into the British Empire in 1910 as the Union of South Africa.  And became independent of the British Empire in 1931.  As the foreign powers fought over the African lands they pushed aside the native blacks.  And segregated them.  In 1948 the National Party rose to power.  And began to make segregation law.  The official beginning of apartheid.  Where the whites lived in a first-world nation (which they built with their capital along with black labor).  While the blacks lived in third-world conditions.  The African National Congress (ANC) fought apartheid.  Which was good.  But the ANC was a communist organization during the height of the Cold War.  Which did not make it a friend of the Western World.  Nor was Nelson Mandela.  Who was a communist.  Mandela co-founded the militant wing of the ANC in 1961.  Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).  Which planned a campaign of sabotage against the apartheid government.  Landing Mandela in jail for 27 years.

Mandela languished in jail in part because of his being a communist.  For they didn’t want what happened in Southern Rhodesia to happen in South Africa.  Alignment with the Soviet Union.  And bloody civil war.  This is what they feared if the ANC/MK rose to power under the charismatic Mandela.  Civil war in South Africa fueled by the Soviet Union to aid in their war with the West.  As it turned out, though, Mandela was more like Abraham Lincoln when he emerged from jail.  Who told his generals that once the American Civil War was over there was to be no reprisals or retaliation against the South.  For once the war was over they would move on together as Americans.  Both North and South.  Which made the peace that followed much easier on the South.  Allowing the nation to heal her wounds more quickly than if there had been a period of bloody purges and reprisals.  And this is the gift Mandela gave to South Africa.  Allowing the nation to move forward after apartheid without bloody purges or reprisals.  Which is why South Africa went on to become one of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) economies.  While another former member of the British Empire in Africa, Southern Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe), suffers corruption, poverty, human rights abuses and one of the lowest life expectancy in the world.  Because Mandela spoke of peace and reconciliation when released from prison.  Not vengeance.  Like they did in Zimbabwe.

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Constantinople, Byzantine Empire, Ottoman Empire, the New World, Tobacco and Slavery

Posted by PITHOCRATES - July 16th, 2013

History 101

With the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 Islam spread Unchecked into Christian Lands

Constantine the Great moved the capital of the Roman Empire to a place on the Bosporus.  Where the ancient city of Byzantium once sat.  Where Asia met Europe.  Where the Mediterranean Sea met the Black Sea.  And the great rivers beyond.  The Danube.  Dnieper.  And the Don.  Constantine named his new city Constantinople.  And made it a jewel.  With great Christian churches.  To celebrate his new conversion to Christianity.  Which started following the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.  Where on the eve of battle Constantine and his soldiers had a vision of the Christian God.  Promising them victory if they placed His symbol on their shields.  Which they did.  And they won.

Constantine spared no expense in his new city.  Which was easy to do because it was a very wealthy city.  For the greatest trade routes went through the Bosporus.  Which is why when the western half of the Roman Empire fell the eastern half, or the Byzantine Empire, carried on for another thousand years.  Give or take.  As it thrived on that trade pouring through it.  Especially from the Far East.  Along the Silk Road.  Which peaked during the Byzantine Empire.  Bringing the exotic goods of the Far East west.  From silk to porcelain to spices.  Which flowed unhindered to Christian Europe while the Christians still controlled the Byzantine Empire.

But all good things must come to an end.  Thanks to the Seljuk Turks.  And the rise of the Ottoman Empire.  Islam had united the Arab people.  And with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453 Islam spread unchecked into Christian lands.  Up through the Balkans into southern Europe.  Lands they would contest for time and again.  Making for some bitter Christian-Muslim animosity that continues into modern times.  But more crucially at the time was the loss of control over that trade from the Far East.  Making those goods not as reasonably priced as they once were.  Which proved to be quite the problem.  As the European Christians had grown quite fond of them.  Luckily for them, they could do something about that.  Thanks to all of those wars they fought with the Muslims.  The Crusades.  Which brought back a lot of Greek books of science that were collecting dust in some of the old great Greek cities all around the Mediterranean.  Founded during the Hellenistic period.  Which came before the Roman Empire.  Thanks to a fellow by the name of Alexander the Great.  Who spread Greek learning throughout the known world after he conquered it.

Christopher Columbus sailed West to establish Far East Trade without going through Muslim-Controlled Constantinople

From those books the Europeans were able to become better sailors.  On ships that could catch the wind and navigate their way great distances.  Portugal and Spain led the way.  Prince Henry (1394-1460), the Navigator, trained navigators in Portugal.  His students pushed further and further down the African coast until Bartholomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope (1486).  Vasco de Gama would round the Cape of Good Hope and sail up the eastern coast of Africa all the way to India (1498).  Pedro Álvares Cabral was heading south to round the Cape of Good Hope in (1500).  Swung out too far west.  And ran into Brazil in South America.

Spain then financed the voyages of Christopher Columbus.  Who had read that the earth was round.  And wanted to prove it.  As well as spread Christianity.  Columbus wanted to find a way west to the Far East.  Sure it was just beyond the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean.  After a voyage longer than his near mutinous crew expected they finally landed on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas (1492).  Thinking he found an ocean passage to the Far East.  Around the Muslim controlled land route.  He would later understand that he had found the New World.  Which we would be calling Columbia.  Had his dispatches beat a Florentine passenger’s on a Portuguese ship who wrote about what he saw.  Amerigo Vespucci.  Which is why there is not a North Columbia, a Central Columbia and a South Columbia.  Instead, there is a North America, a Central America and a South America.

With Columbus’ success Spain financed others.  Vasco Núñez Balboa.  Who crossed the Isthmus of Panama and reached the Pacific Ocean (1513).  Ferdinand Magellan.  Who sailed around South America through the Straits of Magellan and into the Pacific Ocean.  Sailing on to the Far East.  And back home.  Being the first to circumnavigate the globe (1519-1522).  Hernán Cortés.  Who conquered the brutal Aztec regime in Mexico (1521).  Eventually the Spanish would bring great riches of gold and silver back to the Old World.  Meanwhile France financed Jacques Cartier in his attempt to find a Northwest Passage to the Pacific.  Who sailed up the St. Lawrence River to Montreal (1534).  Then Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec (1608).  Where they established a lucrative fur trade with the native Indians.

Cultivating Tobacco took Large Tracts of Farmland which required more Laborers that they had in the Colonies

Queen Elizabeth of England financed Walter Raleigh.  Who explored the coast of North America (1584).  Looking for a place to settle a colony.  On a subsequent voyage he brought 100 settlers with him.  And settled a colony at Roanoke, North Carolina (1585).  Which became the Lost Colony of Roanoke (1591).  The Virginia Company of London, a joint-stock company, would have better luck.  They raised financing by selling stock shares to investors who would share in any profits of the colony.  Christopher Newport led a voyage that established the first permanent English settlement in the New World.  At Jamestown (1607).

Though the Americas were not the Far East it was a vast landmass with inexhaustible resources.  And endless tracts of fertile soil.  The possibilities were endless.  The marriage of John Rolfe to Pocahontas (1614) provided an uneasy peace between the settlers and their Indian neighbors.  Then Rolfe figured out how to cure tobacco (1612).  Something the English began smoking after Columbus observed the Cubans sticking burning rolls of tobacco in a nostril.  The English refined smoking with a pipe.  And they really enjoyed it.  Importing vast quantities from the Spanish colonies in America.  Thanks to Rolfe, though, the English could produce their own tobacco.  Once they worked out a few problems.

Cultivating tobacco took large tracts of farmland.  But to put large tracts of farmland into production you needed laborers.  And in 1612 Virginia there just weren’t a lot of colonists living there yet.  The demand for labor far outstripped the supply.  So they tried to satisfy that demand with indentured servants.  Preferably from Europe.  Even criminals from English jails.  As well as from Africa.  Who worked in bondage during their indentures.  Then went free.  Until around the 1660s.  When things changed.  Starting in the southern colonies.  Where slavery became hereditary.  For Africans, at least.  Like it was in the Old World.  Where peasants and serfs were bonded to the land.  Once a slave.  Always a slave.  And if your parent was a slave so were you.  Like it was in ancient Athens.  At the end of the Western Roman Empire.  And in the Muslim world.

Muslim didn’t only enslave Christians.  They also established slave markets with African slave traders.  Who opened their markets to the Portuguese, the Spanish, the French and the English.  To help them meet that soaring demand for labor during the early days of the New World colonies.  When there were so few colonists.  Who found their way to the New World in the first place because of the Muslim conquest of Constantinople.  Which sent the Europeans to the seas to find a western way to the Far East.  And when they did they discovered the New World.  Creating the largest market ever for African slaves.  And the greatest convulsions in the New World as they struggled to end slavery in the Americas.

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Byzantine Empire, Bosporus, Silk Road, Dutch East India Company, English East India Company, Tea Act and Opium Wars

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 15th, 2012

History 101

To encourage Risk Takers to Travel Halfway around the World Mercantile States granted Monopoly Charters

The modern world began because Europeans had a penchant for silk and spices.  Something they enjoyed during Roman times.  When the Romans ruled the world.  And the Mediterranean Sea was nothing more than a Roman lake.  But when the empire stopped conquering new lands and sending the spoils of war home they had to turn to other means to pay for the cost of empire.  Taxes.  To pay for the Roman government and their public spending.  And the Roman legions.  This excessive government spending led to the fall of the western half of the empire.  But the eastern half lived on for another 1,000 years or so.  Why?  Because the capital of the Byzantine Empire was Constantinople.  On the Bosporus.  Trade crossroads of the world.

This city was so rich everybody wanted to conquer it.  So they could have all those riches.  For everything that came along the Silk Road from China crossed into Europe at the Bosporus.  Soon Muslims fought Christians in the Holy lands.  Then more Christians came.  The Crusaders.  Those who didn’t die went back to Europe with some of those Chinese luxuries.  Spices.  Silk.  Porcelain.  Etc.  Sparking a renewed interest in these finer things in Europe.  Especially the spices.  For European cooking was horribly bland at the time.  The Ottoman Turks eventually took Constantinople.  Renamed it Istanbul.  And controlled that lucrative trade.  Making those much sought after Asian goods rather expensive in Europe.  Which they had no choice but to pay.  Because if you wanted those luxuries you had to go through Istanbul.  Until the Portuguese sailed around Africa and found a direct route to those cherished goods, that is.

It was the Commercial Revolution.  A new age of international trade.  A trade even more profitable than what the Ottoman Turks controlled.  Because big ocean-going vessels can carry more cargo than anything coming over land on the Silk Road.  And these new European maritime powers wanted that wealth.  And the power it would provide.  To encourage risk takers to get into those wooden ships and travel halfway around the world they granted monopoly charters.  The Dutch East India Company (VOC) was one of the largest.  And one of the wealthiest.  But this was not your typical company.  The VOC established overseas colonies.  It waged war.  Established treaties.  Even coined its own money.  Because of this thousands of VOC ships stuffed full of valuable cargoes sailed to Antwerp and Amsterdam, making the Dutch very wealthy.  And powerful.

The Tea Act allowed the Company to Ship their Tea Directly to America and exempted them from any Duties

Of course the Dutch weren’t the only ones doing this.  They had competition.  Portugal.  Spain.  France.  And England.  Who would bump into each other numerous times fighting for control of this trade.  And those colonies.  The English and the Dutch would fight 4 wars.  Which is how Dutch-founded Manhattan became part of the British Empire and, subsequently, one of America’s greatest cities.  The English East India Company gave the VOC a run for its money.  Parliament even passed legislation to give the English a monopoly on all trade with their American colonies.  The Navigation Acts.  Which stated that all trade to and from America had to be on English ships.  And all trade had to go through an English port.  Where the ships were unloaded and the cargoes inspected.  And taxed.  Then they could reload their cargoes and continue on their journey.  All tenets of mercantilism.  This kept the lower-priced Dutch goods out of America.  And prevented the Americans from selling to the Dutch directly for higher prices.  So it shut down the Dutch from all American trade (except for a prosperous black market). And brought in some lucrative tax revenue for England.  While extending shipping times and increasing prices for the Americans.  Which they were not happy about in the least.

The English East India Company (the Company) was similar in structure to the VOC.  And soon made the Indian subcontinent a wholly owned subsidiary of the Company.  But it wasn’t cheap.  Waging war was costly.  As was managing those conquered territories (something the Romans had also learned).  Then a famine in Bengal in 1770 claimed about one-third of the local population.  Making laborers more scarce.  And more expensive.  All at a time when the sales of their imported goods were falling in Europe.  There were warehouses full of unsold Chinese tea that they couldn’t sell.  Making for a bad time for the Company.

Higher costs and lower sales spelled trouble.  And that’s what the Company had a lot of.  Trouble.  So the Company turned to Parliament for help.  And Parliament helped.  By allowing the Company to ship their tea directly to America without having to unload it in a British port.  Or pay a duty on that tea.  Which would greatly reduce their costs.  And allow them to sell it in America cheaper than they did before.  So Parliament passed the Tea Act in 1773.  Making life better for all involved.  But the Tea Act left in place another tax in the previous Townshend Acts.  Which was a bigger problem than getting cheaper tea (which they could get on the black market from the Dutch).  These taxes on the British subjects in America were unconstitutional.  Because there were no Americans sitting in Parliament.  This was taxation without representation.  A much bigger issue than cheap tea.  So they threw that first ‘cheap’ tea into Boston Harbor.  The Boston Tea Party being a major step towards war with the mother country.  And American independence.

Britain became the Lone Superpower after Abandoning their Protectionist Mercantile Policies and Adopting Free Trade

The American Revolutionary War was not the only headache the British got from their mercantile policies.  Part of those policies required maintaining a positive balance of trade.  So there was always a net inflow of bullion into the mother country.  That’s why raw materials shipped into Britain from America.  And finished goods shipped out to America.  Finished goods are more valuable than raw materials.  So the Americans had to make up for this balance of trade in bullion.  Resulting in a net inflow of bullion into the mother country.  Very simple.  As long as you can manufacture higher valued goods that other people want to buy.

And this is the problem they ran into with the Chinese.  For though the British wanted those Chinese spices, silk and porcelain the Chinese didn’t want anything the British manufactured.  Which meant Britain had to pay for those luxuries with bullion.  Including all that Chinese tea they craved.  Which resulted in a net outflow of bullion to the Chinese.  The British fixed this problem by finding the one thing that the Chinese people wanted.  Indian opium.  Grown in Bengal.  Of course, this turned a lot of Chinese into opium addicts.  The addiction problem was so bad that the Chinese banned opium.  But the British were able to smuggle it in.  They sold so much of it that they used the proceeds to buy their tea.  Thus reversing the bullion flow.

Not the finest hour in the British Empire.  The Chinese and the British would go on to fight a couple of wars over this opium trade.  The Opium Wars.  Which the British did all right in.  Even gaining Hong Kong in the bargain.  They didn’t build any long-lasting love with the Chinese people.  But Hong Kong turned out pretty nice under the British.  Especially after they abandoned their protectionist mercantile policies and adopted free trade.  Which made the British the lone superpower for about a century as they modernized the world by leading the way in the Industrial Revolution.  And the Chinese in Hong Kong were very happy indeed to be there when the communists took over the mainland.  And caused a famine or two.  For they lived comfortably.  In a state founded on mercantilism.  That achieved its greatest prosperity during the free trade of capitalism that followed Britain’s mercantile ways.

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Chinese Trade, Constantinople, Compass, Stirrup, Gunpowder, Cannon, Renaissance, Enlightenment and Gunboat Diplomacy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 18th, 2012

Technology 101

The Ottoman Turks used the new Cannon to Breach the Great Stone Walls of Constantinople

China was a mysterious and distant place.  It was about as far away from Europe you could get.  But the things that came from there were intoxicating.  Caravans working the Silk Road brought things west.  To Constantinople.  And to northern Europe.  Silk.  Porcelain.  And those eastern spices.  If you were interested in having the finer things in life you bought them from China.

Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire.  The eastern part of the Roman Empire that survived through the Middle Ages.  Constantinople sat on the Bosporus.  The trade crossroads of the world.  Where Europe met Asia.  Where the Black Sea (and the rivers of Eastern Europe and Russia) met the Mediterranean Sea.  Where Christianity met Islam.  Where Catholicism met Christian Orthodoxy.  Not only a city of great wealth but of strategic importance.  And coveted by everyone who didn’t have it.

China also invented paper, the compass, the stirrup, the ship rudder and moveable-type printing.  And they were pretty good at map making, too.  Things that Europeans used to great success.  Including another Chinese invention.  Gunpowder.  But the Europeans weren’t the only ones using these inventions.  The Seljuk Turks made good use of the stirrup.  Riding out of central Asia.  Whose archers were able to stand in their stirrups while at full gallop and bring down a withering and accurate fire upon their enemies.  Who went on to conquer much of the Byzantine lands.  Except Constantinople.  Whose thick stone walls were impervious to the archer’s arrow.  But the Ottoman Turks were able to break down those thick walls with another Chinese invention.  Gunpowder.  Used in cannons to hurl great projectiles into the stone walls of Constantinople.  Breaching them.  Allowing them to finally conquer the great city in 1453.  When Constantinople became Istanbul.

The Renaissance and the Enlightenment bloomed in Italy

When the Western Roman Empire fell the Byzantine Empire retained some portions of it.  Including what grew into the Italian city-states.  Tied into the Byzantine economy they grew wealthy from that Asian trade.  Many of those coveted Chinese goods that made it to Europe went through them.  It was their wealth that led them out of the Dark Ages.  Kicked off the Italian Renaissance.  And rekindled an interest in the ancient Greek texts and the knowledge they contained.  The chancellor of Florence invited a scholar from Constantinople to Florence to teach their students Greek.  To help these students read the old Greek texts.  More scholars followed after the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople.

The flourishing trade helped to create the banking industry.  Aided by their development of double-entry bookkeeping that the Italians invented.  The Italian city-states were making money.  Which made good use of that Chinese paper.  To account for all the money they were making from those Chinese luxuries.  Made a lot of rich men.  Who indulged in the arts.  Renaissance art bloomed in Italy.  As did the Enlightenment.  From all that Greek learning the Italians gained from those Greek texts.  And it flowered from Italy throughout Europe.

But all was not good.  As these city-states grew great and wealthy they became targets for their rivals.  And plunged them into a series of wars that consumed more wealth than the city-states created.  Wars they fought with hired mercenaries.  Which Venice and Florence financed with some of the first government bonds.  But their days were numbered.  Because others wanted that wealth.  And they wanted to find a way to get to those Chinese goods without going through the Ottoman Turks.  And they soon found it.

It was the Europeans’ Turn to Build Empires Thanks to their Taste for Chinese Luxuries and Technology

With the Turks in Istanbul and the Italians in the Mediterranean, the Portuguese, the Spanish and the Dutch looked for a direct sea route to China.  With the English close behind.  With modern ocean-going ships.  Employing a lot of that Chinese technology.  Including the compass.  And that gunpowder.  Taking them to the source of those Chinese goods.  Soon the Europeans moved in.  And began to dictate their own terms.  Cutting out the Italians.  And the Turks.  It was the end of the great Italian city-states.  The days of the great warships had arrived.  Ships bristling with decks of cannon.  Introducing the era of gunboat diplomacy.

It was the Europeans’ turn to build empires.  Thanks to their taste for Chinese luxuries.  And an insatiable appetite to use the latest in technology to help them get what they wanted.  Their dominance would last centuries.  Until the latest in technology took warfare to such heights that it plunged continents into war.  The Great War was so devastating that it wiped out a generation of people.  Bankrupted those European empires.  Destroyed the Ottoman Empire.  And left the European nations impoverished.  But they would recover.  And then do it all over again.  Only worse.  For World War II demoted the Great War to World War I.  Which turned out not to be the war to end all wars after all.

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The Line of Diocletian, the Byzantine Empire, Italian City-States, Banking, Usury and the Protestant Reformation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 3rd, 2012

History 101

Europe began to Awake from its Slumber of the Dark Ages in about 1300 Italy

Once upon a time the only lending was to help someone in need.  Such as someone with a poor harvest to survive the winter.  We did it out of the goodness of our hearts to help others in need.  So to charge interest for a loan like this would have been cruel.  Taking advantage of someone’s misfortune wasn’t the Christian thing to do.  Or the Jewish.  Or the Muslim.  That’s why no one then charged interest for loaning money.  You just didn’t kick a person when he or she was down.  And if you did you could expect some swift justice from the religious authorities.  As well as the state.

Rome was once the center of the civilized world.  All roads led to Rome, after all.  Then Diocletian split the Empire into two in 285.  Along the Line of Diocletian.  Into East (Greek) and West (Latin). The West included Rome and fell around 486, ushering in the European Dark Ages.  Meanwhile the Eastern half, the Byzantine Empire, carried on.  And skipped the Dark Ages.  Its capital was Constantinople (named in 330) .  Formerly Byzantium.  Modern day Istanbul.  Where all Asian overland trade routes led to.  This city of Emperor Constantine.  His city.  Who reunited East and West.  And adopted Christianity as the Empire’s new religion (381).  Located at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, trade flourished and made the Byzantine Empire rich.  And long lasting.  Until weakened by the Venetian-financed Fourth Crusade (1202–1204).  (The Latin Christians’ attack on the Greek Christians was fallout from the Great Schism of 1054 where Christianity split between Latin Catholic and Greek Orthodox).  And then falling to the Ottomans in 1453.

Europe began to awake from its slumber in about 1300 Italy.  Great city-states arose.  Genoa.  Pisa.  And Venice.  Like those early Greek city-states.  Great ports of international trade.  Rising into trade empires with the decline of the Byzantine Empire.  Where these Italian merchants bought and sold all of those Asian goods.  Putting great commercial fleets to sea to bring those Asian goods into Genoa, Pisa and Venice.  Getting rich.  But to make money they had to have money.  Because in the international trade game you had to first buy what you sold.  Which included the cost of those great merchant fleets.  And how did they pay for all of this?  They borrowed money from a new institution called banking.

That Europe that Slumbered during the Dark Ages Arose to Rule International Trade

Modern finance was born in Italy.  Everything that makes the commercial economy work today goes back to these Italian city-states.  From international banking and foreign exchange markets to insurance to the very bookkeeping that kept track of profits and losses.  It is here we see the first joint-stock company to finance and diversify the risk of commercial shipping.  London would use the joint-stock company to later finance the British East India Company.  And Amsterdam the Dutch East India company.  Where the Dutch and the English sent ships across oceans in search of trade.  Thanks to their mastery of celestial navigation.  And brought back a fortune in trade.  Putting the great Italian city-states out of business.  For their direct sea routes were far more profitable than the overland routes.  Because the holds of their ships could hold far more than any overland caravan could.

The Catholic opposition to usury (charging interest to borrow money) opened the new banking industry to the oppressed Jews in the European/Christian cities.  For it was one of the few things the Christian rulers let the Jews do.  Which they did.  Even though it was technically against their religion.  And they did it well.  For they had an early monopoly.  Thanks to that same Catholic Church.  Then came another schism in the Christian church.  The Protestant Reformation.  Where, among other things, Protestants said the Old Testament did not bind them to all rules that the Jews had to follow.  Then John Calvin took it a step further and said commercial loans could charge interest.  And, well, the rest is banking history.

Europe was then the dominant region of the world.  That region that slumbered during the Dark Ages arose to rule international trade.  Thanks to their navigational abilities.  And their banking centers.  Which financed their trade.  And the great things to come.

The Enlightenment led to the Modern World, Limited Government, the Industrial Revolution and Beyond

With the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the rise of the Italian city-states, Greek thinkers left the Byzantine Empire and went West.  To those rich Italian city-states.  Bringing with them great books of Greek knowledge.  The intellectual remnants of the Roman Empire.  Translated them.  And massed produced them on the new printing press.  And kicked off the Enlightenment.  Which then spread throughout Europe.

The Enlightenment led to the modern world.  From limited government.  To the Industrial Revolution.  And beyond.  All thanks to those Italian city-states.  International trade.  And banking.

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