Vanished Kingdoms – Sabaudia

Sabaudia is the next chapter in Norman Davies‘ Vanished Kingdoms.  Sabaudia, like Burgundia, is another area on the ‘seam’ between France and the central European regions of Germany and Italy.  Later it became known as ‘Savoy’.

As a mountain region, it was safer against the growth of France than its neighbors, but could not expand in that direction.  Across the Alps, however, with time it took control of the plains region of Piedmont. Playing both sides for gain in the wars of the wars of the period was a major means of growth.

One treasured gain was the Kingdom of Sicily, which promoted the Prince of Savoy to the big time as an actual King.  Holding the region was tougher, so in the next peace treaty Savoy swapped Sicily for Sardinia and kept the King part.  It was in this form that in the 19th century Sardinia became the focus of Italian unification, which was achieved in the

Kingdom of Sardinia map

Kingdom of Sardinia map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

mid-century.  Ironically, one thing that was traded away on the road to being King of Italy was the district of Savoy itself, which was dealt to France along with Nice in the process.

The heyday of the King of Italy did not last long – after defeat in World War II the kingship was scrapped entirely.  The family had played one side in a war against the other one too many times.

Vanished Kingdoms – Borussia

So where exactly is “Borussia”. In this chapter of Norman Davies‘ Vanished Kingdoms, he visits a little isolated fragment of Russia on the Baltic Coast centered on the city of Kaliningrad.

A thousand or so years ago, this was one of the last pagan areas in Europe, something that didn’t sit well with the neighbors.  Finally the order of the Teutonic Knights were given a free hand there in exchange for converting the heathen.  They had just been ejected from the Holy Land by the Arabs and were looking for a new place to rule.  This seemed ideal.  And how hard could a primitive tribe called the Prussai be?

Well, not easy, but eventually they made it work.  The area began to center around the city of Konigsberg.  Having given the area away, the nearby Poles began to regret the generosity, not merely because the Knights were bad neighbors and raided their lands. They also lay across the route to the coast, with only a narrow corridor at the mouth of the Vistula resting between this new district of Prussia and Brandenburg to the west.  Matters became worse when the two joined into one ‘dual state’ in 1308.  From then on it was a tussle for centuries as to which would come out on top – Poland or Brandenburg-Prussia.

By the 1700s, the answer was Prussia.  The state partitioned Poland with Austria and Russia, and began to extend into more of central Germany.  Prussia began to be identified more with Berlin than Konigsberg.  After World War I, when Poland was granted the Polish Corridor to give access to the Baltic, the district was called “East Prussia” as if it were an add-on instead of the center.   With the defeat in World War II even this was divided between the neighbor states and the vanishment was complete.

Vanished Kingdoms – Byzantion

This chapter in Norman Davies‘ book on states that have vanished from the European scene is an amazingly ironic one, I presume unintentionally.  The thesis of the chapter is that the Byzantine Empire gets a short shrift from Historians.  Davies demonstrates this by giving it short shrift in his book.

The state, that lasted from the 300s AD to 1453 AD, gets about 20 pages.  Tolosa, a state that was crushed by the Franks after living a hundred years or so, gets about the same.

But at least Tolosa gets to be discussed.  Byzantium’s chapter is about how historians refuse to give it credit for its accomplishments – as a historian doesn’t discuss them again.  He rails at Gibbon for dismissing the dynasties in a long chapter – as he works past them without any mention at all.  And he is disdainful of Enlightenment historians and their anti-Christian bias, while in the next sentence writing off Theodosius I as a “Ceasaro-papist”.

Not that I know what the hell that means, but since at the time there was no powerful Pope in Rome, and Bishop Ambrose of Milan famously made Theodosius do public penance for wrongdoing, this seems to be the pot calling the kettle black to me.

Then while decrying the absence of knowledge of later Byzantine history as he skips over it, he does have time to describe who got jobs recently in university teaching about it, and the chats they had with the hired workmen about it.

Byzantium may be the greatest of the Vanished Kingdoms as he writes.  It is certainly absent from this chapter.


Vanished Kingdoms – Aragon

This is latest chapter in Norman Davies‘ Vanished Kingdoms, about forgotten states in Europe.  Aragon is at least somewhat more familiar from the Christopher Columbus tale.  Its origins go back for centuries before that.

When the Moslems conquered Spain and drove on into France, most if not all of the original political rules were tossed aside.  Turned back at the battle of Tours, the Moslem tide receded and was pushed back.  By the time of Charlemagne in 800 AD, they had been pushed over the Pyrenees   Under lesser rulers this could not be sustained, and soon the mountain region gained its independence from both states and several tiny mountain states formed in this contested region.

With time Moslem power continued to wane and these border states expanded south.  Aragon did as well, and then unified with the County of Barcelona to reach the coast.  It basically covered current Catalonia, plus a smidgen of France north of the mountains.

Squeezed out of facing the Moslems, expansion began overseas. First the Balearic Islands were taken, then Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, Southern Italy and parts of Greece were taken into this naval empire.  But by the 1450s, attention began to shift to Spanish unification and then to the New World, and the island empire began to fall away.  This got even worse as the Hapsburgs took over Spain and most of Europe and in the reaction other nations began to detach these parts, and Aragon descended into just another province in Spain.  Even when resentment led to revolts, it was called Catalan rather than Aragonese.

Vanished Kingdoms – Burgundia

This was an interesting chapter, because this kingdom is a pretty plastic concept that has moved around over the centuries in the ‘seam’ between France and Germany, from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. When these areas were strong, they were absorbed, but in other periods some pretty significant districts and kingdoms appeared.

In the end Norman Davies comes up with fifteen distinct “Burgundy”s:

  1. The First Burgundian Kingdom in Gaul (410-436).  Destroyed by Attila the Hun at Aetius‘ bidding which has been preserved in Germanic Nibelung saga.
  2. The Second Burgundian Kingdom (451-534).  Set up by Aetius after defeating Attila in Gaul.  A player in the fall of the West, conquered by the Franks.
  3. Frankish Burgundy (590-734)
  4. The French Duchy of Burgundy (843-1384)
  5. The Kingdom of Lower Burgundy (879-933)
  6. The Kingdom of Upper Burgundy (888-933)
  7. The united Kingdom of the Two Burgundies (933-1032)
  8. The County-Palatinate of Burgundy (1000-1678)
  9. The Imperial Kingdom of Burgundy (1032-?)
  10. The Imperial Duchy of Lesser Burgundy (1127-1218)
  11. The Imperial Landgravate of Burgundy (1127+)
  12. The united “States of Burgundy” (1384-1477)
  13. The French Province of Burgundy – Bourgogne (1477-1791)
  14. The Imperial Burgundian Circle (1548-1795)
  15. The French Region of Bourgogne (1982-present)

Some of these were major historical players.  In the Hundred Years War, the Duchy and County were unified and joined the English, nearly breaking France entirely.  When Joan of Arc brought a French resurgence, the moment was gone.

While the political fortunes of these states waxed and finally waned, it is interesting how for fifteen hundred years the concept of “Burgundy” has risen again when given the chance.


Medieval Civilisation – Jacques LeGoff

I finished one of my “walkabout” books – books I read while walking to lunch / at lunch / out to dinner.  It went pretty quickly, even when taken in small doses.

The book is less a book about the geopolitics of Europe in this age, or military events, than it is a social and psychological view of Middle Age man and his view of himself, his place in the world, and the relationship of the classes and social groups.  This said, it still held my interest, and I could use some more information about what went on. This era is not my strong point by any stretch.

I also appreciated that it looked at the world then through its own prism rather than slapping a Marxist or modern worldview on and papering over any bulges or cracks in the picture made.

It’s another in the line of good history books I’ve gotten through the Folio Society. The problem is, the supply is starting to run a little thin. They are leather-bound, with a form-fitting sleeve, and look nice on the shelf.  So far I don’t think I’ve had an awful volume. Thinking it over, the sequel to “Origins of WWII” by AJP Taylor was probably the most lacking. The Origins book was good.