The First, Second and Third Reich

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 1st, 2014

History 101

The Holy Roman Empire was the First German Reich

At the height of the Roman Empire the Mediterranean Sea was a Roman Lake.  For the Romans controlled all the land around the Mediterranean Sea.  As the Roman Empire controlled most of the civilized world.  From Africa to Britain.  From Spain to the Middle East.  And its presence in Europe would shape Europe and the world we know today.  But before the Romans could shape our world the barbarians had to destroy theirs.

The northern frontier of the Roman Empire ran along the Rhine and Danube rivers.  West of the Rhine and south of the Danube was the civilized Roman Empire.  On the other side of those rivers were the Ostrogoths, the Visogoths and the Vandals.  Barbarians.  Germanic people.  Who would sweep down (along with the Huns from Central Asia) and conquer the Western Roman Empire.  With a Germanic chieftain, Odoacer, deposing the last Roman emperor in the West.  Romulus Augustus.

After about 3 centuries Charlemagne, King of the Franks (Germanic tribes in and around modern day France), would unify Western Europe.  In a Christian kingdom.  Pleasing Pope Leo III.  Who went on to crown Charlemagne emperor of the Roman Empire.  But after he died his empire broke apart.  Meanwhile to the east Otto I was unifying the Germanic tribes into a single kingdom.  A German empire that stretched from northern Italy to the North and Baltic seas.  Encompassing a huge swathe of Central Europe (including but not limited to modern day Germany, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Switzerland, France (eastern lands), Italy and Poland).  A Christian empire.  Pleasing Pope John XII.  Who crowned Otto emperor.  And the First Reich (the first German empire) became the Holy Roman Empire.

Winning the Franco-Prussian War ushered in the Second German Reich

The First Reich would last for about 850 years.  Coming to an end in 1806 when the last Holy Roman Emperor, Francis II, abdicated after fighting and losing to Napoleon.  Who reorganize it into the German Confederation.  And reduced the First Reich to a French satellite.  Up until this time there were two large powers in the Reich vying for power.  Austria in the south.  And Prussia in the north.  Otto von Bismarck was a Prussian.  And Prussia was a militaristic nation.  That believed less in diplomacy and more in power.  And Bismarck would use force to unite the German states into a Prussian-dominated Germany.  While getting rid of its rival.  Austria.

War followed.  The Austro-Prussian War (1866) ended the German Confederation.  Prussia replaced the German Confederation with North German Confederation that excluded Austria.  This confederation included much of the northern lands of the First Reich.  To sooth the feelings between the north (led by Prussia) and the south (led by Austria) Bismarck made the French declare war on Prussia.  And when they did the southern German states sided with Prussia.  The Prussians and Germans moved quickly into northern France.  And after a long siege of Paris the Germans won the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871).  They took back a lot of lands lost to France.  Including Alsace-Lorraine.  Much to the chagrin of the French.  And unified the German states into a German Empire.  The Second Reich.

The German Empire industrialized.  Greatly increasing its economic and military might.  Shifting the balance of power in Europe.  Germany was now the most powerful nation in Europe.  Which concerned the other powers of Europe.  So they began to enter treaties with each other.  Such that if Germany attacked one nation another nation (or nations) would declare war on Germany.  To provide a deterrent against German aggression.  And rebalance the balance of power in Europe.  But then Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, traveled to Sarajevo.  Where Gavrilo Princip assassinated him.  Pushing the first domino in a sting of dominos to fall as all of Europe honored their treaties.

The Third Reich was the Largest and Shortest-Lived German Reich

Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia.  In support of Austria-Hungary Germany invaded Belgium and Luxembourg on their way to France.  Causing the United Kingdom to declare war on Germany.  In support of Serbia Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary.  Allying with France and the United Kingdom.  The Ottoman Empire declared war on Russia.  Then nation after nation joined a side and entered the war.  Even the United States.  By the time it was all over some 16 million people were dead.  As were the Russian, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and German empires.  The map of Europe changed.  And the Second Reich was over.  Having lasted 47 years.  Large chunks of the Second Reich were taken away.  Including Alsace-Lorraine.  And much of Prussia.  Which was restored to Poland.  Which infuriated a lot of Germans.  Especially one German war veteran in particular.  A corporal.  Adolf Hitler.

World War I ended in an armistice.  Meaning that no one surrendered.  But the American entry into the war pretty much meant that the Germans were going to lose.  All the nations had long grown weary of the war.  But here was a fresh nation that could field fresh troops against Germany.  Which was exhausted.  It had nothing left.  Which gave the Allies the upper hand in the peace that followed.  And it was a bitter peace for the Germans.  Who were singled out as the sole responsible party for the war.  Well, one thing led to another and Adolf Hitler inaugurated the Third Reich.  And he set about retrieving all that lost German territory.  He annexed Austria.  The Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia.  Then he took the rest of Czechoslovakia.  A country that conveniently ran along the southern border of Poland.  And then he kicked off World War II.

The Third Reich invaded Poland.  Norway.  The Low Countries.  France.  And the Soviet Union (the former Russian Empire).  Reclaiming all lost German lands.  Including Alsace-Lorraine.  And unifying them once again.  Even adding on to them.  Through the use of force.  The Prussian way.  The Third Reich was the largest German Reich yet.  But it was the shortest lived Reich.  Lasting only 12 years.  By the time World War II was over some 70 million people were dead.  Making the Third Reich the bloodiest Reich.  The Allies helped to rebuild West Germany (East Germany was behind the Iron Curtain) to keep her out of the Soviet Sphere.  To give it a thriving free market economy.  And prosperity.  By providing full employment.  Which also helped to prevent gangs of unemployed young men from getting nationalistic fervor.  Again.  West Germany integrated into the west.  Away from the Soviets.  And away from her Prussian past.

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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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War of the Spanish Succession, War of the Austrian Succession, Diplomatic Revolution , Seven Years’ War, Royal Proclamation and Quebec Act

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 16th, 2012

Politics 101

The French lost most of their colonial possessions to Great Britain in the Seven Years’ War

The 18th century started off with a bang.  And it banged all the way through the century.  Starting with the War of the Spanish Succession from 1701-1714.  At issue was the Spanish throne.  The last Spanish Habsburg, Charles II of Spain, died in 1700.  Leaving the throne without an heir.  And France was very interested in occupying it.  But the British weren’t too keen on Catholic France controlling so much of Europe.  The rest of Europe that wasn’t Spanish or French wasn’t all that enthusiastic about the idea, either.  For France and Spain, both Catholic, at this time were the two European superpowers.  And a union between the French and the Spanish would alter the ‘balance of power’.  A term entering the political discourse at this time.  So there was war.  There’s a lot more details to this war as one would expect in a war that lasted over a decade.  But in the end there was no French and Spanish union.  The Spanish lost territory in Italy and the Netherlands to Austria.  And Spanish Gibraltar became British.  As did parts of French North America.  Also, when Queen Anne died in Great Britain with no male heir, the Brits plucked one from German Hanover.  Over on the continent.  George I.  For his mum was the daughter of James I.  Which gave her Stuart blood.  And she was a Protestant.  Making George a Protestant.  Very important and necessary for a British ruler.  George I ascended the throne of Great Britain in 1714.  Creating a personal union between the British and German states (two separate kingdoms ruled by the same king).

But the peace didn’t last.  Because another Habsburg died.  The last male Austrian Hapsburg.  Charles VI.  Before he died, fearing he may have no sons to inherit his throne, he issued an edict.  The Pragmatic Sanction of 1713.  Which said in the absence of a Habsburg son a Habsburg daughter, his daughter, could inherit the throne.  Most of the German states accepted the edict.  Problem solved.  Until Charles died.  And his daughter, Maria Theresa, ascended the throne.  Then the European states went to war.  The War of the Austrian Succession from 1740-1748.  Because some said that Maria Theresa was ineligible to inherit the Hapsburg throne.  But what they really wanted was a chance to alter the balance of power now that the Habsburg line was extinct.  For the Austrian Habsburgs were a major power.  And whoever succeeded to that throne would control a large part of Europe.  Something Prussia (a rising German state) was interested in.  As were the French.  And the Spanish (primarily to win back what it lost in the War of Spanish Succession).   Who joined together.  With the threat of a French/Spanish super state again the British jumped in to prevent that.  And joined in on the Habsburg side.  Who at the time was stronger than the rising Prussian state.  And a better balance to French power and ambition.  Especially with Hanover being so close to the French border.  After 8 years of war not a whole lot changed in the balance of power.  Except that Prussia appeared to be now a more formidable threat than Austria.  Which the Diplomatic Revolution of 1756 addressed.  By a changing of sides.  The France-Prussia alliance versus the Great Britain-Austria alliance became the France-Austria alliance versus the Great Britain-Prussia alliance.  Which made for a long and lasting peace.

Until hostilities flared up again later that year.  In the Seven Years’ War from 1756 – 1763.  This was a big one.  A world war.  Over the balance of power.  In Europe.  And other parts of the world.  Especially where colonial interests clashed.  Where they were generating lucrative trade.  And the British were bumping into the French almost everywhere they went.  In North America.  As the British expanded their colonies west from the Atlantic into the river valleys the French claimed.  In the Caribbean.  In coastal Africa.  In the Philippines.  In India.  In the end Britain’s Royal Navy and their alliance with Prussia led them to victory.  The Prussian armies of Frederick the Great held their own in Europe and freed the British Army for service elsewhere.  The Royal Navy ruled the seas.  And moved the British Army at will.  Where they prosecuted and won the colonial battles.  At the close of hostilities the French lost most of their colonial possessions to Great Britain.  And Spain lost Florida.  The British extended their control in North America to all lands east of the Mississippi River.  Spain ended up with the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi River.  But the mighty Spanish empire was now in decline.  France wasn’t looking that much better.  France and Spain also lost most of their naval power.  Which elevated Great Britain to true empire status.

To Help bring the Catholic in the Province of Quebec under British Rule the British passed the Quebec Act

The British did well in the Seven Years’ War.  They won large parts of the world.  And paid a pretty price to do it.  Almost bankrupted them.  This despite the previous efforts of William Pitt the Elder.  The British Secretary of State who built a great and prosperous colonial empire.  The British Empire.  Before the war.  And added greatly to it during the war.  But conquering is one thing.  Governing is another.  And, as it turns out, governing is as expensive as conquering.

British North America required a little political finesse.  For the Protestant British now governed Catholic French Quebec.  And they had to step lightly with the Indian Nations.  Who were allied with the French.  Agreeing to halt further westward expansion.  Via the Royal Proclamation of 1763.  To avoid hostilities on the frontier. 

To help bring the Catholic in the Province of Quebec under British rule the British passed the Quebec Act of 1774.  This act extended Quebec territory to include most of the Midwest states bordering the Great lakes.   The oath of allegiance to the British Crown no longer included a reference to Protestantism.  It protected Catholicism in the Province of Quebec.  And it allowed the use of French civil law in some instances over English common law. 

Great Britain would fight a Civil War in British North America before the Century was Out

None of this went over well with the British North Americans.  After defeating the French all eyes looked west.  And they did not like this Royal Proclamation interfering with their business.  And these fiercely loyal and proud Britons were also devoutly Protestant.  Many fought in the war to get the Catholic French out of their country.  And this protection of Catholicism in their Protestant backyard was nothing short of an insult.  But worse of all were the taxes.  To pay for a century of war against the French that only some of which was fought in North America. 

Great Britain’s money woes would continue.  For they would be fighting another war before the century was out.  This one a civil war in British North America.  Another costly 8 years of war.  That would not end as well for them as the previous war.  Worse, it would cause a Revolution in France.  Brought about in part due to the near bankruptcy of France from all of her wars.  And alliances.  Bringing about yet another war with the French for the British before the century was out.

The century started out with a war to contain French expansion and Catholicism.  And the century would end with great successes in that endeavor.  With the decline of the French and Spanish empires the world was safe from Catholicism.  But France and Great Britain would fight on.  Into the next century.

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