Russian Empires and the Multi-ethnic States of Early Modern History

In the Russian and Turkic Central Steppes, the transition from the late Mongol dynastic formation and its successor empires witnessed a conflict between a Muscovy centered empire that culminated in the rise of Ivan IV, the Terrible, (r. 1533-1584) and consolidated itself into an early modern state formation under Tsar Peter the Great.  The reign and transition from the Mongol invasion and establishment of its empire in the Southern Central Asian Steppelands and interaction, defeat and absorption encompassed a period of nearly 500 years.  The impact and place of non-Christians in this period has been summarized (Khodarkovsky 2006) while the multi-ethnic nature of these empires and states has received much needed attention (Kappeler 2001).  Kappeler’s The Russian Empire: A Multi-Ethnic History (2001) in particular is a revelation for it situates the presence of multi-ethnic groups and peoples throughout early modern and modern Russian and Central Asian history as intertwined.  Kappeler also notes that early attempts at an inclusive history, while incomplete, were mostly ignored or overlooked.  These earlier works included Boris Nolde, La Formation de l’Empire russe (1952-53) and Emanuel Sarkisyanz, Geschichte der orientalischen Völker Rußlands  (1961). Continue reading

German Culture and Society 1600 – 1750

At the beginning of the 17th century, theology, law, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, and music were favored subjects of interest.  An exemplary German astronomer of this period was Johann Kepler. German intellectual life was integrated into the needs of the court, the princes and competing interests of  the Catholic Church, which still held strong influence in Bavaria and Southern Germany, and the Lutheran areas where the local princes variously supported research into mathematics, medicine, science and military arts. In the aftermath of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) Prussia was reorganized along the lines of this pre-war configurations of principalities and aristocratic privileges of the landed elite.  Prussian rivalry over the Baltic trade led to episodic wars through the later 17th century and into the Seven Years War.

By the early 18th century we find the establishment of numerous academies of science and humanities that were dependent on court sponsorship and were held tothe preferences of the court. and emperor.   For more go to this page on this blog.

Joseph Needham (1900-1995) On Chinese Science, Culture and History

In a 1947 Conway Memorial Lecture in London, Joseph Needham, the physician and scholar of the history of Chinese science and technology,  changed the title of his talk from Science, Mysticism, and Ethics in Chinese Thought to the more bold and broader title Science and Society in Ancient China[1].  In addition to establishing his medical career and practice, Needham devoted much of his life in an undertaking of the study of ancient and pre-modern Chinese science and technology.  The result of that dedication have resulted in his now famous encyclopedic series that has grown into 9 or more volumes and that has been continued after his death.  The lecture is significant not only for its timing, for it was delivered only months before the Chinese Revolution thrust away the nationalist rule of Kuomintang government.  More importantly, Needham put forth the intriguing and major question facing scholars of Chinese and Western European civilizations:  why didn’t China invent modern science and technology?  After all, Needham noted, China had advanced far beyond its Western counterparts in most areas of science and technology from ancient times through the medieval periods.  Its advances in chemistry, agriculture and medicine held landmark advances and was credited with the key transfer of knowledge in numerous inventions and discoveries, including gunpowder, that led to the ultimate development of modern science, mathematics and technology in the early modern and industrial revolutions of Europe and the Americas.  Further, why was it that capitalism, the Renaissance, and industrial revolution was an invention of the West?

What Needham realized was that one needed to understand the underlying social structure and organization that fostered scientific and cultural development. Out of this social organization came the major products we associate with Chinese technology, including paper making, book making, block printing, the magnetic compass and navigation, and gunpowder. Indeed, the more Needham studied this phenomenon, the more he came to question why modern science and technology did not orginate in China.  To a certain extent the origins of Chinese civilization arose from its river basins and agriculture based around the Yellow River.  While this was not dissimilar to the river basin and delta societies of the Nile in Egypt, the Indus in India and the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia.  In China, the working of metal crafts and trades, particularly bronze gave a durable metal that could be poured and molded into vessels of ceremonial and utilitarian purpose, and could be used for weapons, both offensive and defensive.  Yet was seemed unique in China was the relative insularity of the Yellow Basin from its Middle Eastern and Western counterparts.  While some Western diplomatic and very limited commercial diplomacy and tentative trade contacts were made with China, for the most part China developed in relative isolation.

In this early period we find some of the earliest poems of Shih Ching, and ancient folk songs that attribute qualities of peasant life and dances at agricultural festival seasons in the Spring and Fall.  These poems and songs enabled mating between young men and women.  It out of this milieu that we find a literature of wise sayings of wondering or semi-reclusive Taoist hermits, that are encountered by the wise sage and philosopher Confucius. Needham notes these were Taoist hermits who withdrew from society to contemplate nature, that are found in the collected writings of Tao Teh Ching, The Classic of the Virtue of the Way.  Needham rightly notes that this forms one of the earliest attempts at scientific enquiry that would become more systematic as it meets the more bureaucratic organization and rationale of the Confucian elite society.

By the 2nd century BCE we find references to philosophers and alchemists who promise the elusive elixir of the philosopher’s stone and the ability of changing or making precious gold vessels that yield a drink of immortality.  It is about this time as well that the ascendance of the power of the feminine takes prominence, for nature is in Taoist thought has a feminine mystique and quality. This Taoist strain is in marked juxtaposition to the emphatic masculine emphasis of Confucian thought and society that is organized around the rise of the bureaucratic state and order.

The stories of Chuangtze on nature and the King of Wei who encounters a butcher who has solved how to cut up a bullock in merely three strokes of his cleaver, when others require fifteen.  The butcher claims it is his knowledge of The Way, and the lifelong study of nature that allows him this insight.  What we find Needham argues is a disputation between the Taoist Way and the Confucian system.  The former is the more philosophical and contemplative on the nature world, the latter is more systematic and based on rationale and codification of rules. There is a class difference emerging in the two systems of thought.  The Confucians write and rule without performing manual labor, while Taoism appealed to the artisan and workman whose knowledge of manual labor and the natural and material world required a markedly different philosophy.  Hence in some Taoist decrees, we find the admonition “Banish wisdom, discard knowledge,” as an attack on Confucianism. Needham then offers an original insight that suggests the Taoists sought a return to a traditional society that preempted the rise of the feudal order and state, with its military aristocracy of warriors and lords and Confucian bureaucratic elite. Over time, Needham suggests Taoism became the basis of oppositional philosophies that opposed the state.  Those in exile or out of favor could turn to Taoist practice and doctrine as a way of countering the official stance of the state.

What is also unique in Chinese society and history is the nearly complete absence of slaves, particularly captives of war or peoples of conquered nations.  What may have contributed to that choice may also have been the efficiency of Chinese agriculture and manual labor techniques.  These included the invention of the breast harness for horses that was superior to the Mesopotamian and ancient and medieval European throat and girth harness that restricted the animal’s pulling power and maneuverability.  By contrast the Chinese breast-strap harness with its curved side harness allowed greater mobility and pulling power for the horse and was invented at the beginning of the Han Dynasty in the 2nd century BCE, some 600 to 800 years before its arrival in Europe, where it shows up between 600 and 1000 CE.

Needham concluded his lecture by noting the need for more comparative and in-depth studies of Chinese and other civilizations.  In 1947, Needham was still compiling his great project and over the next half-century and more this encyclopedic endeavor has grown into separate volumes on chemistry, medicine, the manual arts, biology and pharmacy, among other fields.

Over the next half century, Needham’s project expanded and grew from his personal initiative and dedication into a major collaborative international project between 1954 with the publication of his first volume up through the final volume on medicine Volume 6.3 that appeared shortly after his death, and subsequent volumes that have begun and appeared posthumously in an ongoing endeavor that is a tribute to his life and scholarship.  In one of these volumes on medicine, Volume 6.6, the editor Nate Silvin noted that Lu and Needham had discovered records of the existence of modern immunology for small pox emerged in China between 1500 and 1600 CE, some 100-200 years before its arrival in Turkey and Europe[2].  Thus Needham and his colleagues were extending their project and more importantly the continuing development toward modern medicine and science itself into the early modern period.  This suggest how much Needham had changed and expanded beyond the ancient and medieval periodization of this his initial lecture in 1947.   Certainly points of fusion between Western science and Chinese science occurred at various points and especially in areas of mathematics, astronomy, botany and medicine, including the role of hygiene and sanitation.


Needham, Joseph. Science and Civilization in China:  Biology and Biological Technology.  Vol. 6 Biology and Biological Technology; Part VI Medicine, Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

———. Science and Society in Ancient China. Conway Memorial Lecture.  London: Watts & Co., 1947.

[1] Joseph Needham, Science and Society in Ancient China, Conway Memorial Lecture (London: Watts & Co., 1947).

[2] Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China:  Biology and Biological Technology, vol. 6 Biology and Biological Technology; Part VI Medicine (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

The Rise of Literary and Aesthetic Criticism in Asian History 250-600 CE

Chinese Classical Literature and the Social Position of Criticism

In this part of my World History blog I am moving away from early modern history to highlight more examples of how the Rise of the West and Western Civilization are given too much credit for the invention of culture, philosophy, science and so on. Now it is certainly true that Roman literature and history became intertextual by the Augustinian period of the late 1st c. BCE to early 1st c. CE.  This means that history writing and literature were intertwined, written histories took on rhetorical styles just as Ovid’s epic The Aenid, commissioned by the emperor Augustus, referenced Roman historical myths and legends (Conte 1999).  Comparisons of early classical Chinese and Greek literature is also worth considering as introduced in this video lecture by Professor Robert Oxnam and Stephen Owen on the Book of Songs.

Chinese literature provides a number of the earliest works of literary criticism.  A principal example is Liu Xie (Hsieh) The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons, written in the early 6th century CE (Hsieh 2015).  Liu Hsieh (465-522 CE) was a Chinese monk and literary critic who wrote from the Ting-lin Monastery in Southern China during the Liang Dynasty (Hsieh, XXXV).  Liu’s preference for classical forms arose from his intensive scholarship of an earlier body of literary criticism produced in the 3rd century Han Dynasty as well as the chronicles of Sima Qian (145-80 BCE) (Department of Asian Art 2000).

Liu Xie (Hsieh) compiled his works on literary criticism during a prosperous period for the Southern Chinese Liang Dynasty.  Some of his writing appeared for the court of  the Emperor Wudi (r. 502–49), who was a scholar and Buddhist and sent an emissary monk Song Yuan to India to collect texts on the origins of Buddhism (Metropolitan Museum of Art 2001). More recent studies on Lieu Xie offer appreciations of the depths of literary technique and analysis (Cai 2010).

Indian Literature and Historical Epics

Among the most developed in length of narrative and in chronological literature are the literary epics from the Indian subcontinent.  Sheldon Pollock’s study of the origins and development of Sanskrit literature as both an administrative language and as an ideology is a pioneering work (Pollock 2006). The rise of the Veda and Vedic literature dates to the end of the BCE period and among its successors, is the Mahābharāta historical epic of conquest and battle and the later Rāmāyana literature and other texts based on the Sanskrit language and writing system introduced by the landowning elite and their court society who dominated power (Pollock, 78).

Several studies note that before the codification of laws, the warrior class or caste developed their sense of ideology and ethics from stories and epics (McGrath 2004).

Early and Middle Persian Literature and History

A third source of early literary criticism is found in Western Asia and particularly in Iranian literature where a pre-Islamic secular literature arose in the late Sassanid period that flourished in the interim period of the breakup of the Roman Empire into a Greek dominated Byzantine dynasty and its Western based Latin dynasty and empire.  In around the year 600 CE we find the Kārnāmak-I Artakshēr-I Pāpakān (Book of the Deeds of Aradashir, son of Pāpak (Klíma 1968, 44).  The history informs us of the origins of the Sassanians, for it begins with the story of the son of a common shepherd Sāsān who rises from the ranks of a common soldier to become the future Sassanian king and founder of the Sassanid Dynasty. This early literature is symptomatic of a landlord and pastoral based court society that demands epics of loyalty and a privileged monopoly of knowledge held by the court.

The monopoly of the court begins to change with the rise of the merchant trade tales that surround the court but which through their hero’s adventure encounters a wider swath of society and geography.  In this genre a number of interesting literary forms of lasting value were either derived from India and passed through Iranian storytelling and eventually into the Arabic A Thousand and One Nights and the tales of Sheherezade.  The origin may have come from stories known as Hazār Afsāna (a thousand tales) that tell the story of a vizier and his servant girl (Klíma, 54). A number of other old Persian/Iranian/Sassanid literary works survive only through their translation and adaption into later Arabic literature and chronicles, including the 10th century Iranian poet Firdausi, who came from the dehqan class of Iranian landowners that likely descended from the same class that dominated the Sassanid dynasty.  Firdausi’s classic text the Shāh-nāma thus collects oral histories that date back to the landowning class’ tales and sagas from the Sassanid Dynasty and attempts to provide a dynastic interpretation that was deemed relevant to a 10th century Samanid Muslim dynasty (Dabashi 2012).  Other texts from Central Asia attest to the fusion of Buddhist and Christian Manichean traditions and texts, that include fragmentary epics of the Bodhisatva legend (Klíma 1968).



Cai, Zong-Qi. 2010. “Evolving Practices of Guan and Liu Xie’s Theory of Literary Interpretation.” In Interpretation and Literature in Early Medieval China, by Yuet-Keung Lo and Alan K. L. Chan, edited by edited by Yuet-Keung Lo, and Alan K. L. Chan, State University of New York Press, 2010. ProQuest Ebook Central,, 103-132. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Conte, Gian Biaggio. 1999. Latin Literature: A History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Dabashi, Hamid. 2012. The World of Persian Literary Humanism. Harvard University Press. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Department of Asian Art. 2000. Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–220 A.D.)”. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000. Accessed November 26, 2016. (October 2000).

Hsieh, Liu. 2015. The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons. Translated by Vincent Yu-Chung Shih. New York: New York Review of Books.

Klíma, Otakar. 1968. “Avesta, Ancient Persian and Middle Persian.” In History of Iranian Literature, by Jan Rypka, 34-65. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Company.

McGrath, Kevin. 2004. Sanskrit Hero: Karna in Epic Mahabharata. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers.

Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2001. China, 500–1000 A.D. October. Accessed November 26, 2016.

Pollock, Sheldon. 2006. The Language of the Gods in the World of Men. Berkeley: University of California Press.




1873-1914 Empires and War

The entire period from about 1873 to the end of World War may be seen as a nearly continuous series of regional wars of European and American Empire expansion.  It came at great cost to indigenous populations and nations that were subjugated into the modern World System in this phase of empire building. Following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the two European powers turned attention again to expanding their positions and holdings overseas, primarily in Africa and Asia where these two continental powers were seeking to carve out a position relative to the British Empire, the limited positions of the Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish.  Another period of nearly continuous international conflict, war and crisis may be seen between 1873 and 1919 (Wallerstein 2011). This period includes the subjugation of the American continent by the United States after the Civil War, and the division of Africa after the Congress of Berlin with resulting invasions and colonization of the African continent and violent battles and wars, the Zulu Wars and resistance to the British in 1875; the Mahdist State and revolt in the Sudan in 1885 up to its final defeat and dismantling after the Battle of Omdurman in 1898. These are only a partial list of these continental-wide conflicts.

Historians differ and spend a great deal of time on discussing the nuances of specific diplomatic incidents that precipitated the crisis that ultimately caused World War I.  If on one takes a longer and more comparative view of how competing empires create violent and invasive wars, then this period is better understood (Reinhard 2016).The American position during this period is one of reconsolidation of their continental system and of Reconstruction following the American Civil War.  The continental wars of expansion witness multiple incidents of atrocities against Native Americans in almost all of the Western territories and states.  The brief but poignant victory of the Plains Indians tribes against General George Armstrong Custer and the defeat of his 7th Cavalry forces at Little Big Horn in 1876.


Figure 1 Map of American-Indian Wars 1860-90. Source Wikipedia

The Battle of Little Big Horn was along with the Battle of Isandlwana in South Africa in 1875 against the British, among the few and last examples of successful indigenous military resistance against the industrialized armies of the modern European and American empire states.  Thereafter, it is no surprise that the white settler colonists and the military apparatus of empire racialize their wars and force removal and isolation of tribes into contained encamped and unproductive lands. An example of the overwhelming resort to industrialized weapons of destruction is the introduction of the Maxim Gun at the Battle of Omdurman which enabled the British to destroy the forces of the Mahdist State on the shores of the Nile in the Sudan.  The British in part chose to launch this attack to show their strength in the Sudan region after a small reconnaissance force of French troops had crossed Chad and entered the border desert region of Western Sudan at Fashoda, in the so-called Fashoda Incident.  But the main objective of the British in the Sudan was to expand their hold on African territory from Egypt to the Sudan and with the subsequent outbreak of the two Angl0-Boer Wars, 1880-81 and again in 1899-1902, of British extension of power down the East Coast of Africa.


Figure 2 Map of East Africa in 1898. Source Wikipedia

In the years immediately preceding World War I, the Spanish, French, Italians and Germans launched repeated attacks and wholesale invasions of African territories and states.  This included the nearly simultaneous seizure in 1911 of Morocco by France and of Libya by Italy.  The latter campaign took the Italians a full decade and resistance to their occupation was not put down until the 1920s and a deliberate campaign of concentration camps, deportation and starvation of the Libyan population (Ahmida 2008).  The 1911 French map of Africa shows the division of the entire continent in the aftermath of the recent takeover of Morocco and Italy.


Figure 3 French Map of Africa in 1911. Source:  Wikipedia

The period from 1898 to 1909 also witnessed military conflicts in the Eastern Pacific, where in 1898 the United States launched the Spanish-American War with its dual invasion of Cuba and the Philippines, taking two of Spain’s remaining colonial possessions.

Another major conflict was the Russo-Japan War of 1905, in which the defeat of Russian forces in coastal Manchuria and Korea signaled Japan’s entry as a major industrialized nation with a modern naval force capable of defeating European forces.  This war followed the earlier First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 in which Japanese forces defeated Chinese forces and forced their surrender of territory in Korea, in which both sides had vied for support and alliance with the Korean Joseon dynasty.

China and the division of its major seaports and of Peking itself into foreign occupied zones led to the complex coalition of indigenous resistance known as the Boxer Rebellion or the Yihequan Movement that waged armed struggle against the foreign powers occupation between 1898 and 1901.  The image below is a Chinese rendering of the combined attacks in June 1900 on the port of Tianjin of Boxer forces that included Muslim Chinese under the command of Dong Fuxiang.  The rebellion was put down by the military superiority of the Eight Nation Alliance of occupying forces and which were housed together in the Foreign Legation section in Peking.  These were the forces of occupying troops of Russia, Japan, the United States, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Italy, France, Germany and Britain.  After the uprising was put down, thousands of Chinese rebels were executed, many be public beheadings as punishment ostensibly in retaliation for earlier attacks and massacres on the foreign populations, Christian missionaries and their followers.  The effect of the defeat led to the Chinese Revolution of 1911 (The Xinhia Revolution) that overthrew the Qing Dynasty and established the Republic of China and a new form of nationalism in both political and cultural thought.


Figure 4 Attack on foreign naval forces at Tienjin in June 1900 by combined Chinese forces


Ahmida, Ali. 2008. “From Tribe to Class: The Origins and Politics of Resistance in Colonial Libya.” Africa: Rivista trimestrale di studi e documentazione dell’Istituto italiano per l’Africae l’Oriente 63 (2): 297-310.

Reinhard, Wolfgang. 2016. Die Unterverfung der Welt: Globalgeschichte der Europäischen Expansion 1415-2015 (The Subjugation of the World: Global History of the European Expansion 1415-2015). Munich: Verlag C.H. Beck.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. 2011. The Modern World System IV. Berkeley: University of California Press.

German Counter-Reformation in Munich

While most accounts of the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic project of opposing the Protestant Reformation center on Italy or the Spanish Habsburg Empire, I suggest this misses the concerted and immediate response of the Catholic nobility in Southern Germany, who undertook the first pronounced cultural reaction against the Reformation in its architectural projects in its main cathedral churches.  Of all the German Catholic Counter-Reformation building projects, the double domed addition to  Frauenkirche cathedral in Munich represents the most immediate and direct example of a reply to the Lutheran Reformation.  The two domed towers were constructed and completed in 1524, just three years after Luther had been excommunicated.  It was also constructed as a statement of the Catholic Princes and clergy just as raging Peasant Wars were to break out in other parts of Germany.  Bavaria remained one of the few regions where the power of the Catholic princes were able to suppress the Reformation sentiments of the local military order of the knights. The main structure of the Frauenkirche was begun in the 12th century with significant additions built in the middle of the 15th century.  The symbolism and raising of the two towers signified the Catholic presence amid the new Reformation.  Its two domes curiously styled after the shape of the Muslim Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem symbolized a return to the unified campaign of the Crusades of the late 12th and 13th centuries.


The Frauenkirche in Munich with the two domes added in 1524 (Source of image Wikipedia)

The interior of the Frauenkirche reveals the elaborate symbolism and hierarchy of standing and prestige of the Catholic nobility of Bavaria. With its side altars paid for by patronage of the nobility and aristocracy and its elaborate tomb structures for several emperors, it symbolizes the stance of German Catholic aristocracy and clergy against the Lutheran rebellion and its nobility in rival German cities.


The elaborate reconstruction and re-dedication of the tomb of an emperor who had died more than two centuries prior reflected the needs of the Catholic aristocracy and its nobility to express their power and position in the Bavarian capital of a divided Germany.  The cenotaph and tomb borrows heavily from Italian Renaissance and Mannerist sculptural cenotaphs found in Rome.  It is marked by the full-standing sword bearing figure of the Emperor himself facing to the North in the direction of the Lutheran Reformation cities and territories.  Above and around the tomb are figures of Roman laurel wreath crowned emperors and goddesses who remind us of the title of Louis IV as the Holy Roman Emperor of a united Christendom. The symolism of the Roman dressed laurel crowned figures above the cenotaph’s structure, beckon the power of Rome, ancient and contemporary and the attempt to signify the continuity of both the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire.  Beside the tomb are two knighted figures in full armor, a direct link to the role of the ritter or German knight in Bavarian and German court culture. It unequivocally restates the power of the aristocracy and princes over the formerly rebellious German knights who in the early 1520s had atttempted to create support and sentiment for the Reformation.  Their defeat is implicit in the symbolism of the raised sword of the Catholic emperor facing in the direction of the rebellious new Protestant north. The context of the so-called Munich Scandal in which Lutheran brought pressure against various orders of the Catholic clergy, including that of the Jesuit Order.  In 1571 a number of Lutherans accused the Jesuits in Munich of castrating boys who were being instructed for holy orders (Cloulas 1989, 324).  In the 1570s the reintroduction of the Tridentine Mass and special commissions for liturgical music to accompany it were being reinstated in Bavaraian Catholic churches and cathedrals, and the cult of Mary (Crook 1994, 63, 74).

Within the tomb structure and invisible to the modern tourist visitor is a surviving portrait relief of Louis IV that was carved in red marble and set on his gravestone.  This carved relief from around 1468 provides a view of the late pre-Reformation view of the emperor, for as it was also carved several hundred years after the death of its namesake, it portrays the ruler as a Catholic ruler whose dress and crown would not be easily distinguishable from an archbishop or the Pope himself.


1468 portrait of Louis IV by Hans Halder in the tomb at the Frauenkirche in Munich (Source Wikipedia)

p through the end of the 15th century, the relation of the ruling aristocrat to the chief cleric was more or less symbiotic.  A review of illuminated manuscripts hand rendered until the arrival of the printing press revolution of the late 15th century show repetitive scenes of ruling monarchs consulting with their principal archbishops and abbots.

A page from the collections of the Nuremberg Chronicles of the late 15th century German physician shows the impact of writing in German with the continued need for illuminated handpainted scenes that reflected on the hierarchy of the high clergy and rulers at the top, the order of military knights in the middle and the lower aristocracy, and clergy and ladies of the court at the lower level.



Cloulas, Ivan. 1989. The Borgias. Translated by Gilda Roberts. New York: Franklin Watts.

Crook, David. 1994. Orlando di Lasso’s Imitation Magnificats for Counter-Reformation Munich. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Norwich, John Julius. 2011. Absolute Monarchs: a History of the Papacy. New York: Random House.

Schreiber, Fr. Ant. Wilhelm. 1860. Geschichte das bayerischen Herzogs Wilhelm V. des Frommens nach Quellen und Urkunden dargestellt. Munich: Lentner.

Schwaiger, Georg. 1970. “Maria Patrona Bavaria,” In Bavaria Sancta. Zeugen christlichen Glaubens in Bayern, ed. Georg Schwaiger, 28-37. Regensburg: Friedrich Pustet.

Söhner, Leo. 1934.  Die Musik im Münchener Dom Unserer Lieben Frau in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart.Munich: Lenter


The Papacy as State Monarchy 900-1520

This essay considers the consolidation of the Papal States as land territories held by the Church with the Pope acting as a elected monarch selected by the secretive College of Cardinals.  It ends with the rise of Lutheranism and the invasion of Italy by Francis I and the political outfall between France, Spain, the Papacy and the rise of Lutheranism in Germany and beyond.

Prior to the 11th  century the Papacy as an institution remained an institution for promoting Church power and organization (Blumenthal 2008).  It had relied upon the Carolingian Empire and it successors in the emergent Holy Roman Empire for political protection and as a base for promoting its domains through the spread of monasteries, large churches in towns and its close affiliation and integration into court life and culture through the promotion of clergy form the aristocracy to fill the roles of abbots and bishops.  From the eleventh century onward the Church’s interest in territorial possessions and claims of lands of its own now extended beyond the role and function of the monasteries as holders of large estates throughout Western Europe, but increasing the Papacy centered in Rome began to claim and assert its political domain over lands in Italy.  The Papacy became its own state. What provoked this response by the Papacy was an internal crisis caused by differences and attempts at asserting local autonomy by the local clergy and that by 1046 led to a search for extensive reforms.  This was marked by the first Northern Pope Clement II (1046-7) and eventually the reforms of Pope Gregory.
Since the 9th century the Papacy had relied on support and close ties to the main political and military powerhouse in Western Europe, the Frankish rulers and kingdoms and its successors after the breakup of the Carolingian Empire.  With the breakup of the Carolingian Empire into different states and kingdoms, the Papacy forged alliances with the different kingdoms and had to take sides in the sparring of Roman and Italian factions.  This led to the increased pressures of the Roman and Italian rich families to make sure that members of their own families were appointed to the high clerical ranks:  bishops, cardinals with the potential of gaining the papacy.  Papal politics at the end of the 9thcentury were so bad that pope Stephen VII called a synod or assembly of cardinals and bishops and had the body of his predecessor Pope Formosus (1091-96) exhumed, put on trial for condemnation and tossed into the Tiber River (Blumenthal 2008, 9).  Formosus’ crime was his meddling in selecting the successor to the fledgling Holy Roman Empire when he crowned Arnulf, who controlled the armies in Northern Italy, as Emperor over the child Lambert, the presumed successor to deceased Guy III of Spoleto whose power base was in Southern Italy which was under attack by Muslim armies.

Figure 2 Map of Italy c. 1000 showing the division of duchies, the Papal States and divisions between Byzantine territories and the areas of the Holy Holy Roman Empire in the \north.  Sicily was still under Muslim rule at this time.

In the late 10th century we find the first French Pope, Pope Sylvester II (r. 999-1003) who reputedly studied at Arab universities in Cordoba, Seville and in some legends, he also studied at the Qarawiyin mosque university in Fez, in Morocco.  Sylvester is among those credited with introducing Arabic numerals and the decimal system.  Most of the vitriol late issued about Sylvester as a practitioner of sorcery and as one who made pacts with the Devil, are explainable in the context of the rise of the new Tuscan based popes .  A new wave of popes who were from the Tuscan regions of Italy were appointed beginning with Benedict  VIII (r. 1012-24).  These popes restored the interests of the large landholding families of the Tuscan and central regions of Italy and were appointed from these families.  Reforms of prayers were negotiated at synods with the approval the emperor Henry II who insisted on the introduction of the Nicene Creed into the Mass. But when the Nicene Creed include a phrase that the Holy Spirit was descended from the Father and the Son, this reference to Christ or the Son of God, was seen as an inappropriate insertion not found in the original Nicene Creed of the Synods of the 4th Century under the Emperor Augustus.  This filioque controversy over the insertion of the hierarchy of the trinity was a leading factor in creating the divisions and Great Schism of 1054 that formally broke the Church off into two separate churches, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic (Blumenthal 2008, 11).

A wave of simony, the selling of clerical appointments by the Church to rich families to raise revenue was a practice that was a widespread form of bribery and corruption.  This practice compelled reforms and the increased authority of the Popes who began using Excommunication as a political weapon to keep Emperors in line. Up until the late 10th century some clergy openly married a practice that had to be formally by a Lateran Council in 1049.  Disobedience of Papal authority led to the excommunication of the emperor Henry IV by Gregory VII and later by Henry V by two different popes, Urban II and Paschal in 1102.  (Blumenthal 2008, 15). The most famous of these excommunications was that by Pope Gregory VII of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV in 1077.  Henry IV challenged the Pope’s authority to appoint bishops over those of his own preference in what is known as investiture.  The challenge to investiture from Rome, a challenge to Papal authority led to the emperor’s excommunication. As a sign of the papacy’s importance the emperor was forced to undertake a walk from his palace at Speyer in Germany to the Pope’s palace at Canossa in Italy and to wait for three days outside mostly barefoot and poorly clothed until the Pope let him in to show his obedience to the Church.  This was not the end of the struggle however.  When Henry IV returned to Germany the Pope refused to support him and after a civil war in Germany that contested Henry’s power as emperor he exacted revenge against the Papacy by launching an attack on Rome and forcing the replacement of Gregory as pope with his own choice Clement III, who began a line of emperor affiliated Popes known as the Anti-Popes who would support the Northern European interests against those of Italy.
It was Pope Gregory VII and Pope Urban II who led the ideological push for starting the Crusades that were launched after 1095.

The Political Ascendance of the Papacy in the First Crusades 1095-1298

The motivation for a European invasion of the Middle East to occupy Syria and Palestine and the City of Jeruslaem requires an examination of the material and ideological causes of warfare.  War is an expensive option and in the late 11th century, the success of Seljuk expansion and rule in the Syrian interior and coastal areas, and their domination over the key trade cities of Damascus and their pressure on Constantinople and Cairo placed pressure on European markets.  When the Seljuks took over Jerusalem in the late 11th century they allowed the Christian monasteries and churches to remain.  There is little evidence that the Seljuk Muslims persecuted or desecrated Christian institutions.  Therefor the choice of Pope Urban II in 1095 to proclaim a Crusade or Holy War to be sanctioned by the combined forces and financial support of the Church and the various royal states must be explained on grounds other than the rush to save Christian practice in Jerusalem or the Holy Land.

When Pope Urban II convened a Council of the Church at Clermont, France in 1095 to proclaim a Crusade, he was quickly joined by populist preachers, including Peter the Hermit who preached support among the commoners for the Crusade against the Muslim held city of Jerusalem.  These calls for popular support quickly accelerated and resulted in the pogroms and purges against the Jewish populations in cities along the Rhine River, including Cologne and Mainz.  A first hand account of these purges against the Jewish population comes from a Jewish witness, Soloman Bar Sampson. Sampson revealed how many of these attacks were really used to extort money from the Jewish population.   Most of the participants in the First Crusade were from the north of France, including Pope Urban II.  A great many other Europeans resisted joining this First Crusade, notably the Germans and most Italian seaport cities.  Only Genoa offered support for the campaign, which is itself odd, because its location on the West coast of Italy made preparations by sea that much more difficult.  The Venetians resisted because the Crusades threatened their monopoly trading position as middle merchants between Constantinople and the Levantine cities of the Middle East.

The Crisis of Papal Power and the Rise of Secular Aristocratic Power 1298-1379

The 14th century was indeed a century of crisis on several levels.  In Europe the major political crisis of the century was the struggle between Papal authority and the rise of regional-national kingdoms and empires that resented the centralized authority and domination of the Church in revenue raising and in law.  A second major crisis was the continued spread of the Mongolian Invasions across Central Asia and into the Eastern Europe and Western Asia.  The third crisis was the Black Death or wave of Bubonic Plague that followed the Mongol Invasions from Central Asia and swept across Western Asia, Europe and parts of North Africa, killing about 1/3 of the population.

The call for the legal overthrow of Church based Canon laws written in Latin were of course a famous source of confrontation in the Investiture Crisis between Philip the Fair and Pope Boniface VIII between 1298-1303 (Watt 2008) that led to the Avignon Papacy that featured seven Popes from 1309-76,  supported by the French court and based in Avignon, France (Zutshi 2008) and the Italian elite’s need to retain its own Papacy based in Italy, a crisis known as the Great Schism (Kaminsky 2008).The earlier problems of the church reconciling to increasing pressure to conform to the expanded interests of the laity and the rise of popular mendicant orders that threatened to break away from the centralized authority of Rome, like the Franciscans, is summarized in the New Cambridge Medieval History (Vauchez 2008).

The World System and the Eclipse of Papal State System 1450-1526

During the Papacy of Nicholas V (r. 1449) historians assess that the Papacy enjoyed a period of wider hegemony and support since the disruption of the Great Schism of 1054 (Aubenas 2008, 76).  The costly Crusades had come to a conclusion, with the exception of a final Spanish Christian conquest of the last Muslim principality at Granada.  Pope Nicholas V enjoyed a reputation as a scholar and humanist, in many ways the first Renaissance Pope.  Yet the political position of a Christian based cluster of kingdoms and empires would be unsettled with the spectacular military success of the Ottoman Turks, who already in possession of parts of the Balkans overwhelmed the city of Constantinople in 1453.  With that came the collapse of the Byzantine Empire and complete territorial control over Turkey and increasing territories in the Balkans.  Nicholas V’s successor, the Spanish born Pope Calixtus III (1455-58), the first Borgia pope,  who briefly supported a Papal naval assault against the Turks, an endeavor that soon collapsed in the reality of the real lack of military power against the formidable new Empire of the Ottoman Turks in the East.  Nevertheless the attempt signals the reality of the Papacy as a state of its own and a player in European and Mediterranean power struggles.

After Calixtus III we find a successive dynasty of Borgia family clerics and political figures who influence the Papacy with nepotism.  Machiavelli’s The Prince, may be read in this context. This reflected the ascendance of the powerful Borgia family within Italy and its ability to dominate Papal politics, the College of Cardinals and Central and Northern Italian politics.  Nearly all of the Renaissance period of arts, architecture, and culture as well as military wars, from the Renaissance into the Baroque period of the 17th century were under Borgia dynasty. The Borgia Pope was Alexander VI, the Spanish born prelate, who wrote novels and comedies.  But he was also an absolutist and this centralizing authoritarian tendency provoked resistance.  The successive and self-serving Papacies of Paul II, Sixtus IV, Innocent VIII and Alexander VI (1492-1503) would spur on the famous Republicanism of Florence that included Michelangelo as a famous supporter. The papacy of Paul III (1534-1549) was the most influential for his initiation of reforms that led to the Counter-Reformation, while at the same time his papacy was scandalous for his open marriage and children, and two of his grandsons whom he ordained as Cardinals at the ages of 14 and 16!

The punitive use of Inquisitions by these Popes included the persecution and execution of Girolamo Savonarola, the dissident reforming monk from Ferrara, Italy.  Savonarola gave populist sermons in public that attacked the corruption of the Papacy.  Savonarola’s influence grew and he wielded significant power within Florence where his attacks found great support.  His power and influence moved the Papacy to arrest and execute him by burning at the stake in 1498.

Soon however the affairs of the expanded ocean explorations and conquests famously allowed the Papacy an intermediary role in settling the borders of the Latin American conquests between Spain and Portugal in Treaty of Torridellera.  The rise of a form of nationalism arose in the claims of Maximilian in Germany and Louis XII in France signaled a new system of national division within the European continent that foreshadowed the dramatic results after 1520 of Lutheranism in Germany, of Calivinism, and of the creation of the Church of England. The most powerful Pope of this period was the Warrior-Pope Julilus II, who would personally lead his troops in battle and whose personality created multiple conflicts over the design of his tomb with the Republican sympathizer and Michelangelo, the sculptor-architect of his projects (Aubenas 2008, 81).

With the Age of Discovery and the rise of European Maritime Powers and the new ocean going empires of Portugal and Spain, the Italian dominance of the Church and its role came into confrontation with the needs of its major Catholic kingdoms.  As Spain assumed the role of dominant conqueror of the first half of the 16th century, France undertook a more determined position on the continent and toward the Italian Papal State system (Aubenas 2008).  The warring strategies of Julius II and his unrealized attempt to replace the king of France and attack French forces led to his defeats.  As a desperate resort Julius II resorted to a political ploy in calling the Council of Pisa to condemn the French King Louis XII, who relented.  But this temporary state of a truce between Rome and France would soon unravel in the wars between France, Spain and the Italian Papal States, the so-called Italian wars of 1522-1526.  The power of the Church was openly being called into question.  The Spanish Emperor Charles V could claim that Rome received more tax revenues from Germany than the German Emperor Maximilian.  These were harbingers of the reality of calls for changes in church power that would find its message in the 95 Theses of Martin Luther in 1517 and the full-fledged Lutheran Reformation that would be underway by 1522.

As a sign of an uneasy rapprochement with the reality of the Turkish Empire, Pope Leo X’s call for a crusade in 1518-19 was quickly disregarded as even the Papacy itself and certainly the Venetian merchant fleets found it useful to maintain some diplomatic and commercial relations with the Turks and with the newly named capital of Istanbul (Aubenas 2008, 94).


Aubenas, R. 2008. “The Papacy and the Catholic Church.” In The New Cambridge Modern History: The Renaissance 1493-1520, edited by Denys Hay, 76-94. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Blumenthal, Uta-Renate. 2008. The papacy, 1024-1122. Vol. 4, in The New Cambridge Medieval History: c. 1024-c. 1198, edited by Jonathan Riley-Smith and David Luscombe, 8-37. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Kaminsky, Howard. 2008. The Great Schism. Vol. 6, in The New Cambridge Medieval History, edited by Michael Jones, 674-696. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Vauchez, André. 2008. The Church and the laity. Vol. 5, in The New Cambridge Medieval History c. 1198-1300, edited by David Abulafia, 182-203. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Watt, J. A. 2008. The Papacy. Vol. 5, in The New Cambridge Medieval History c. 1198-1300, edited by David Abulafia, 107-163. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Zutshi, P. N.R. 2008. The Avignon papacy. Vol. 6, in The New Cambridge Medieval history c. 1300-c. 1415, edited by Michael Jones, 653-673. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Hegel’s Problem with Non-Western Societies – Part Two – Haiti

The critique of Hegel’s historicism and his racist presumption have been argued persuasively by world and regional historians, including Peter Gran, The Rise of the Rich (Gran 2011, 137)Wang Hui, China from Empire to Nation-State (Hui 2014), and Susan Buck-Morss,Hegel, Haiti and Universal History (Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti and Universal History 2009), and Timothy Brennan, Borrowed Light:  Vico, Hegel and the Colonies (Brennan 2014).  In this essay I will compare the examination of Hegel by Buck-Morss and Brennan as an examination of the problem of colonialism that is notably among Hegel’s most flawed areas of speculation in his Lectures on World History.  Before we compare Buck-Morss and Brennan it is important to note the resonance that Hegel still finds in the area of history, even if in the discipline of history Hegel has been increasingly although as yet incompletely criticized. In philosophy we still find many scholars defending Hegel against his critics, notably Charles Taylor in his study of Hegel and Will Dudley in Hegel and History (2009).

A new paradigm for the study of history, art and literature as world history and as comparative history is necessary. How do we shift from the paradigm of the general and essentialized nature of Hegel and institutionalization in the profession of history, via Leopold Ranke, and a dependence on Eurocentrism, to a meaningful and relevant world history that allows for the comparisons of culture, civilization, nation and society?  One of the ways is to integrate the study of history with that of the arts and literature. One might expect philosophy would be a field that would help but we find it is still a field lodged in Eurocentric or Western Civilization exceptionalism.

Within the field of philosophy there remain recalcitrant defefenders of Hegelian essentialism and universalism.  Notably among these are Dudley, Hegel and History. Most philosophy based studies of Hegel that are kept within the Western/Continental philosophy model avoid a critique of Hegel’s flawed world history and side step any consideration of his Orientalist assumptions that gave rise to other deeply problematic theories, including that of Marx’ Asiatic Mode of Production (AMP).  An example of this Eurocentric philosophical approach is found in Jon Stewart,  Idealism and Existentialism : Hegel and Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century European Philosophy (2010).  A work that shows how to challenge this idealistic approach is Mohamed Salama, Islam, Orientalism and Intellectual History (2011).

By extension the reliance on the state as a model of analysis has come to dominate the field of International Relations (IR) which assumes the model of the Western history of nation-state and body politics to be a higher stage of development and thus a normative basis of analysis for comparison with the periphery, with failed states and other denominations of the Third World and the Non-West.

The roots of a Hegelian model and assumption of Western Civilization as the basis of rational political theory and as a paradigm for practice in International Relations are not a central part of contemporary writing in IR theory In this discussion I’d like to examine the use of a Hegelian assumption, that it is the Western model of civilization that predominates in history and rational politics, and that all relations are subject to treating other nations as outsiders.  This idea of the outsider is of course quite old in Greek thought, assuming for the moment as classical political scientists and historians do, that Greece is a source of political thought.  The notion of the outsider is found in Herodotus’ history and discussion of Sparta as outside the normative Athenian or Attic central experience.  I take as representative contemporary writers’ dependence on Hegel, Henry Kissinger, Ulrich Beck and Kees van der Pijl (van der Pilj 2007).  At first the extreme differences of these writers seems impossible to compare.  Kissinger is a practitioner and the enforcer of American Cold War era practice, when America arose into the role of the world’s policeman.  Ulrich Beck writes as a sociologist, but whose discussion of globalism I consider to be relevant to practices and theories of IR. Kees Van der Pijl represents the hope of an expansive European openness to the word, whose Atlantic systems approach I suggest is an extension of the Hegelian Western Civilization hypothesis.

Brennan’s critique of Hegel makes a comparative study of European Enlightenment philosophy and history.  By comparing Hegel as a Northern European and Prussian based intellectual with Vico, his Italian contemporary Brennan is able to study two intellectuals from European states that were largely outside of the larger colonial system of exploitation that was shared among the other Western European states:  Portugal, Spain, Holland, England and France. A reading of Brennan allows us to examines Vico’s attempt to criticize colonialism as reflective of the Italian experience of a fragmented nation-state without a systematic colonial structure, in other words the fragmented nature of Italian polities and its regionalism led to its own internal colonization of the Italian South as a subservient or tradition based socio-economic region that was a supply center of foodstuffs to the Northern Italian states.  Brennan notes that Vico was providing a critique of the system of internal colonization found in the material conditions of the regionalism of Italy, and its two islands Sardinia and Sicily that served as a tradition based region to the mixed economy of the agrarian and proto-industrial North (Brennan 2014, 14).   But Brennan’s critique and comparison of Hegel avoids the racist and essentialist doctrine of his idea of world history as stages of development.  Brennan fails to examine Hegel’s reductionist presumptions about Africa and his dismissal of African development.  Instead Brennan returns to Hegel’s idealism as a radical who seeks to end slavery, but in doing so Brennan ignores Hegel’s lack of historical understanding of African history and its varied experiences in all periods of ancient or modern world history.  Brennan assumes Hegel is sympathetic to non-Western sources and indigenous knowledge, but leaves his acceptance of Hegel as a philosophical ideal that is unwarranted in Hegel’s ahistorical approach (Brennan 2014, 86).  Despite his reading of critiques of Hegel’s essentialization about Africa Brennan is unable to escape the philosophical reification of Hegel[1](Bernasconi, Hegel at the Court of the Ashanti 2002) (Bernasconi and Cook 2003).

Susan Buck-Morss’s critique of Hegel’s racism and universal essentialism is more systematic and substantive in both theory and method.  Buck Morss begins to negotiate the border areas between the disciplines of history and philosophy, two disciplines that I argue were not engaged in a discourse with each other.  In so doing she examines claims to universal history of the larger ideas that may supercede the idea of a singular national or empire framework, for example that of the American empire.  Buck-Morss takes up the problem of New World slavery as one such theme that was necessary both for Hegel and for world historians to take up (Buck-Morss, Hegel and Haiti 2000).

Buck Morss takes up Hegel’s approach to a speculative writing on Haiti by noting the influence of his reading in 1803 of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (Buck-Morss, Hegel, Haiti and Universal History 2009, 4).  The first studies of Hegel’s writing on Haiti were taken up by Pierre-Franklin Tavarès (Tavarès 1991).  Hegel was influenced by accounts of the revolt and revolution of the Saint-Domingue slaves led by Toussaint Louverture.  What Buck-Morss demonstrates is that Hegel avoided any clear and systematic review or mention of the successful revolution of slaves that led to the independent state of Haiti that was declared by Louverture’s successor Dessalines.


Bernasconi, Robert. 2002. “Hegel at the Court of the Ashanti.” In Hegel after Derrida, 41-63. London: Routledge.

Bernasconi, Robert, and Sybol Cook. 2003. Race and Racism in Continental Philosophy.Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Brennan, Timothy. 2014. Borrowed Light: Vico, Hegel and the Colonies. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Buck-Morss, Susan. 2000. “Hegel and Haiti.” Critical Inquiry 821-65.

—. 2009. Hegel, Haiti and Universal History. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Dudley, Will. 2009. Hegel and History. State University of New York Press

Gran, Peter. 2011. Rise of the Rich: A New View of World History. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Hui, Wang. 2014. China from Empire to Nation-state. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Salama, Mohammad R. 2011. Islam, Orientalism and Intellectual History. : I.B.Tauris, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Tavarès, Pierre-Franklin. 1991. “La Conception de l’Afrique de hegel comme critique.”Chemins Critiques 2 (2): 153-66.

van der Pilj, Kees. 2007. Nomads, Empires, States : Modes of Foreign Relations and Political Economy. London, GB.: Pluto Press.

[1] Here Brennan cites to but does not fully examine the beginning of a critique of Hegel’s anti-African bias in Bernasconi, “Hegel at the Court of the Ashanti,” in Hegel after Derrida (London: Routledge, 2002 ), 41 – 63

US History 20th Century

Empire and Inequality

World History: 500-1600 C.E.

Empire and Inequality

Muslim and Jewish Culture in the European-Latin Middle Ages

Seeking Knowledge in the Age of Crusades and Empire