John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (1340-1399)

The Battle of Najera
John of Gaunt receiving the keys of Bayonne

JOHN OF GAUNT, DUKE OF LANCASTER, fourth son of Edward III and Queen Philippa, was born in March 1340 at Ghent, whence his name. On the 29th of September 1342 he was made Earl of Richmond; as a child he was present at the sea fight with the Spaniards in August 1350, but his first military service was in 1355, when he was knighted. On the 19th of May 1359 he married his cousin Blanche, daughter and ultimately sole heiress of Henry, Duke of Lancaster. In her right he became Earl of Lancaster in 1361, and next year was created Duke. His marriage made him the greatest lord in England, but for some time he took no prominent part in public affairs. 

In 1366 he joined his eldest brother, Edward the Black Prince, in Aquitaine, and in the year after led a strong contingent to share in the campaign in support of Pedro the Cruel of Castile. With this began the connexion with Spain, which was to have so great an influence on his after-life. John fought in the van at Najera on the 3rd of April 1367, when the English victory restored Pedro to his throne. He returned home at the end of the year. Pedro proved false to his English allies, and was finally overthrown and killed by his rival, Henry of Trastamara, in 1369. The disastrous Spanish enterprise led directly to renewed war between France and England. In August 1369 John had command of an army which invaded northern France without success. In the following year he went again to Aquitaine, and was present with the Black Prince at the sack of Limoges. Edward’s health was broken down, and he soon after went home, leaving John as his lieutenant. 

For a year John maintained the war at his own cost, but whilst in Aquitaine a greater prospect was opened to him. The Duchess Blanche had died in the autumn of 1369 and now John married Constance (d.1394), the elder daughter of Pedro the Cruel, and in her right assumed the title of King of Castile and Leon. For sixteen years the pursuit of his kingdom was the chief object of John’s ambition. No doubt he hoped to achieve his end, when he commanded the great army which invaded France in 1373. But the French would not give battle, and though John marched from Calais right through Champagne, Burgundy and Auvergne, it was with disastrous results; only a shattered remnant of the host reached Bordeaux.

The Spanish scheme had to wait, and when John got back to England he was soon absorbed in domestic politics. The king was prematurely old, the Black Prince’s health was broken. John, in spite of the unpopularity of his ill-success, was forced into the foremost place. As head of the court party he had to bear the brunt of the attack on the administration made by the Good Parliament in 1376. It was not perhaps altogether just, and John was embittered by reflections on his loyalty. As soon as the parliament was dissolved he had its proceedings reversed, and next year secured a more subservient assembly. 

There came, however, a new development. The duke’s politics were opposed by the chief ecclesiastics, and in resisting them he had made use of Wycliffe. With Wycliffe’s religious opinions he had no sympathy. Nevertheless when the bishops arraigned the reformer for heresy John would not abandon him. The conflict over the trial led to a violent quarrel with the Londoners, and a riot in the city during which John was in danger of his life from the angry citizens. The situation was entirely altered by the death of Edward III on the 21st of June. Though his enemies had accused him of aiming at the throne, John was without any taint of disloyalty. In his nephew’s interests he accepted a compromise, disclaimed before parliament the truth of the malicious rumours against him, and was reconciled formally with his opponents. 

Though he took his proper place in the ceremonies at Richard II‘s coronation, he showed a tactful moderation by withdrawing for a time from any share in the government. However, in the summer of 1378, he commanded in an attack on St Malo, which through no fault of his failed. To add to this misfortune, during his absence some of his supporters violated the sanctuary at Westminster. He vindicated himself somewhat bitterly in a parliament at Gloucester, but still avoiding a prominent part in the government, accepted the command on the Scottish border. He was there engaged when his palace of the Savoy in London was burnt during the peasants’ revolt in June 1381. Wild reports that even the government had declared him a traitor made him seek refuge in Scotland. Richard had, however, denounced the calumnies, and at once recalled his uncle.

John’s self-restraint had strengthened his position, and he began again to think of his Spanish scheme. He urged its undertaking in parliament in 1382, but nearer troubles were more urgent, and John himself was wanted on the Scottish border. There he sought to arrange peace, but against his will was forced into an unfortunate campaign in 1384. His ill-success renewed his unpopularity, and the court favourites of Richard II intrigued against him. They were probably responsible for the allegation, made by a Carmelite, called Latemar, that John was conspiring against his nephew. Though Richard at first believed it, the matter was disposed of by the friar’s death. However, the court party soon after concocted a fresh plot for the duke’s destruction; John boldly denounced his traducers, and the quarrel was appeased by the intervention of the king’s mother [see Joan of Kent]. The intrigue still continued, and broke out again during the Scottish campaign in 1385. John was not the man to be forced into treason to his family, but the impossibility of the position at home made his foreign ambitions more feasible.

The victory of John of Portugal over the king of Castile at Aljubarrota, won with English help, offered an opportunity. In July 1386 John left England with a strong force to win his Spanish throne. He landed at Corunna, and during the autumn conquered Galicia. Juan, who had succeeded his father Henry as King of Castile, offered a compromise by marriage. John of Gaunt refused, hoping for greater success with the help of the King of Portugal, who now married the duke’s eldest daughter Philippa. In the spring the allies invaded Castile. They could achieve no success, and sickness ruined the English army. The conquests of the previous year were lost, and when Juan renewed his offers, John of Gaunt agreed to surrender his claims to his daughter by Constance of Castile, who was to marry Juan’s heir. After some delay the peace was concluded at Bayonne in 1388. 

The next eighteen months were spent by John as lieutenant of Aquitaine, and it was not till November 1389 that he returned to England. By his absence he had avoided implication in the troubles at home. Richard, still insecure of his own position, welcomed his uncle, and early in the following year marked his favour by creating him Duke of Aquitaine. John on his part was glad to support the king’s government; during four years he exercised his influence in favour of pacification at home, and abroad was chiefly responsible for the conclusion of a truce with France. Then in 1395 he went to take up the government of his duchy; thanks chiefly to his lavish expenditure his administration was not unsuccessful, but the Gascons had from the first objected to government except by the crown, and secured his recall within less than a year. 

The Ilkhanate: Mongol Rule in Medieval Western Asia, 1256–1335

Despite enduring years of adverse and highly critical propaganda and entrenched negative attitudes from both the scholarly world and the general public, the Mongols and successors of Chinggis Khan have continued to hold the world’s rapt attention and interest. However, the Chinggisids have in recent years and especially since 2001 and the publication of Thomas Allsen’s Culture and Conquest, benefited from a spreading positive re-evaluation by the academic community and revisionist researchers, which amounts to a fresh assessment of the Chinggisid domination of western Asia. It is now acknowledged that they enjoyed a constructive, generally positive relationship with much of the Muslim world. Relations with Iran were particularly strong, so much so that it was Iranians who invited Hulegu and the Chinggisid army to come to the west in 1254 and who actively cooperated in the establishment of the Ilkhanate. The state of Iran had ceased to exist after the Arab invasion of the region in the 7th century, and in its place, Greater Iran became a collection of often warring statelets: Azerbaijan, Khorasan, Fars, Iraq al-Arab, Iraq al-‘Ajam, Sistan, and Jabal, to name a few. After Hulegu crossed the Oxus, c. 1254, he revived the idea of Iran, and the Ilkhanate essentially became the basis for what eventually became the modern state of Iran.

From 1220 to 1254 Iran had existed in a state of anarchy, loosely under the control of Chinggisid military governors. Iran’s city-states were peripheral to an empire to which they paid taxes but from which they derived few advantages nor enjoyed any of the benefits to which their taxes should have entitled them. The delegation sent from Qazvin to Mongke’s coronation requested the Great Khan to send a prince of the blood to rule Iran and to replace the inept military governor. The delegation wanted Iran to be absorbed by the empire so that the country could benefit from joining a global community and a global market. Chinggis Khan had initiated the world’s first experience of globalization, and Iran wanted to be part of that experience. The Ilkhanate (1258–1335) was a Persian renaissance and established Iranians once again as key regional players. Although the ruling family remained ethnically Mongol, the government was multiethnic, and the country was multicultural. In 1295, when the seventh Ilkhan, Ghazan, ascended the throne and announced his submission to Islam, his act signified the union of Turk and Tajik, of “steppe and sown,” of Iran and Turan, of Persian, Chinese and Turkish cultures, and the coronation of a king of and for all Iranians. It was immaterial whether his conversion was sincere or just politically astute. What was important was his proclamation of becoming a legitimate Iranian king duty bound to serve all his people, whether Turk or Tajik, and that his reign was hailed as the start of a golden age, as well as being a high point of relations with the Yuan regime in the east. The Mongols never left Iran, but simply assimilated.

Figure 1. The Ilkhanate 1256–1335.

When the Muslim population of eastern Turkestan first became aware, c. 1216, of the Chinggisid armies massing on their eastern border and of their commander, Jebe Noyan, they experienced a flood of relief and gratitude, and they thanked God for his mercy and his love. “The arrow of [their] prayer hit the target of answer and acceptance.” The Muslims of the most north-easterly region of the Dar al-Islam knew then “the existence of [the Mongols] to be one of the mercies of the Lord and one of the bounties of divine grace.” They rejoiced that “the recitation of the takbir and the azan” would be permitted, that “each should abide by his own religion and follow his own creed,” and that the only price to be levied on the faithful of eastern Turkestan was the surrender to Jebe Noyan of the head of their oppressor and tormentor, the Naiman prince Kuchlug, who had dared to defy Chinggis Khan. The Muslims and other peoples of eastern Turkestan, which had formerly been under the sovereignty of the Qara Khitai, welcomed their Mongol liberators and, in 1218, willingly became the first Muslim province of the Chinggisid Empire. Subsequently, when Chinggis Khan chose to negotiate and exchange embassies with his new neighbor the Khwarazmshah rather than tread the path of warfare and hostility, his ambassadors were his new subjects, Muslim traders who now proudly represented the Great Khan’s interests as their own and proudly bore the Great Khan’s insignia as their own. The Khwarazmshah knew that the danger that now faced him was not merely the military might of an eastern warlord but the attraction of his subjects to an alternative leader and a replacement to his own sorry rule.

Chinggis Khan has for many years been presented as a blight on the Muslim world. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth, as a more recent biography of the Great Khan and other current studies recognize. Though his initial overture to the Khwarazmshah, c. 1218, turned into a prolonged and bloody tale of destruction and mayhem, when the Great Khan’s grandson, Hulegu, returned to the region, in 1254 after three decades of anarchy and confusion, he was welcomed as a king and a liberator. Hulegu recreated Iran as a fully functioning polity for the first time since the Iranian state along with the Sassanian ruling dynasty were destroyed by the Arab invasions of the 7th century, flying a Muslim flag. In 1258, Hulegu Khan established the Ilkhanate (1258–1335) and finally ended Arab hegemony over the Iranian plateau. He created a state that ruled the lands between the Oxus River and the Tigris-Euphrates valley, which has persisted until the present day.

The Khwarazmshah

The clash between the Khwarazmshah and the armies of Chinggis Khan is too well-known to need repeating in detail here. The Khwarazmshahs, former vassals and iqtadars of the Great Saljuqs (1055–1194), filled the political and military vacuum that had been left after the decline of the Saljuqs, especially following the death of Sanjar in 1157. In the process they alienated the Sunni caliph in Baghdad and their own Sunni ulema. So deep was the estrangement between Tekish Khwarazmshah (d. 1200) and al-Nasir (r. 1180–1225) that the caliph formed an unprecedented alliance with the infidel Qara Khitai state of eastern Turkestan, made up of exiles from northern China. Their liberal religious attitudes and their adoption of the appellation “The Wall” in reference to their role as protectors of the Dar al-Islam’s eastern borders against the “barbarians” beyond not only made the Qara Khitai acceptable allies but accounts for their inclusion in Persian Mirror for Princes as paradigms of virtue and justice. The Turko-Mongol Qara Khitai, forced into exile from their lands in northern China by the Jurchens, c. 1120, had arrived in Turkestan and were confronted by the Saljuq sultan Sanjar (r. 1084–1158). The sultan was defeated at the Battle of Qatwan in 1141, but the Khitans did not press their victory and instead.

They were soon sucked into the intrigues and chicaneries of the region, but in ‘Ala al-Din Mohammad Khwarazmshah, a master of guile and sophistry, the Khitans had met their match. It was ‘Ala al-Din Mohammad Khwarazmshah who intrigued with the exiled Naiman prince Kuchluq against the Qara Khitai. Those machinations resulted in Kuchluq’s successful coup d’état and the replacement of the tolerant and popular rule of the Qara Khitai with Kuchluq’s brutal reign of terror and oppression.

With Kuchluq gone and eastern Turkestan the freshest province of Chinggis Khan’s growing empire, the Muslim merchants of the region enthusiastically approached the Khwarazmshah on behalf of their new Chinggisid master and proffered a rich array of goods and products with which they hoped to trade. The Khwarazmshah’s suicidal response, conveniently blaming his underlings for the murders of not only the first envoys but also of the second embassy carrying a personal message of goodwill and cooperation from the Great Khan himself, resulted in the tidal wave of destruction and annihilation that engulfed western Turkestan and northern Iran. Chinggis Khan reluctantly unleashed his armies in revenge for the deliberate and aggressive actions of ‘Ala al-Din Mohammad Khwarazmshah. “I am the Punishment of God,” he told the grandees of Bokhara, and he made it plain that it was the actions of their king that had resulted in this mayhem. Intriguingly, Sufi accounts of this avalanche of destruction sweeping through the region claim that the Sufi shaykh Najm al-Din, dressed in white robes, had led the savage armies of the Mongol hordes in divine judgment on the reign of the Khwarazmshahs.7 There was little resistance, and the defeated generals and soldiers were only too happy to surrender and join the Chinggisid revolution that was now sweeping Asia.

Chinggis Khan ordered the generals Jebe Noyan and Subodai Noyan to hunt down the Khwarazmshah and to conduct a reconnaissance of the Caucasus. The sultan had slunk off to Abaskun, a small island in the Caspian Sea, where he owned a castle.8 The generals left him there to die slowly from pleurisy while they continued their reconnaissance trip, an episode that ensured the Mongols a global association with barbarity, blood lust, cruelty, and ruthless brutality, a reputation they encouraged and sought as a tactic of war. The mere mention of their name was now enough to spread widespread panic and sometimes mass surrender, and tales of their supposed atrocities began to filter into the nightmares of Europe. In fact, after this notorious reconnaissance trip, the strategies and techniques of the Chinggisid forces continued to evolve and develop into more sophisticated and political practices, but this reputation for brutality became fixed and defining.


Following the traumatic assault on the kingdom of the Khwarazmshah, the whole region was left with a military commander charged with collecting taxes and preventing sedition directed against the Great Khans. Iran’s city-states pledged loyalty, and governors and basqaqs (shahnas, daraghuchis) were appointed. The region became a buffer zone, a forgotten peripheral province, where armies clashed, bandits ruled the highways, and people dreamed of better days. A succession of military governors reflected political machinations elsewhere in the empire, though in the mosques Friday prayers were often offered to Batu, the khan of the Golden Horde. The city-states of the Iranian plateau had not been united in a single polity since the Sassanian Empire had collapsed in the face of the Arab conquests of the 7th century. Their Arab masters had discouraged the idea of a Persian or Iranian identity and had emphasized regional independence. Iran as a single state had disappeared, and instead provincial autonomy gave rise to mini-states, city-states, and provinces, such as Khorasan, Sistan, Jibal, Azerbaijan, Fars, and Mazandaran. The region became ungovernable and a playground for warring armies, highway men, and outlaws. The Isma’ilis, from their impregnable and unassailable castles, dominated the area from Qohestan and the Elburz mountains, and they were able to terrorize the cities and the intercity highways with their fanatical followers, who often infiltrated the courts of the regional rulers, and their bands of armed raiders. Their strength lay in their propaganda, but this rumored power worked for both the Isma’ilis and their enemies. Exaggerations of their power and threat served their own ends but also the interests of their enemies, the Sunni establishment.

Locked behind their city walls, Iran’s various warlords continued to pay homage and lip service to the Great Khan far away in the East, at the same time often pledging loyalty and seeking legitimacy and recognition from the caliph in Baghdad. In Kirman, Hajib Baraq (d. 1234) swore allegiance to the Qa’an and was rewarded with the title Qutlugh Khan, but at the same time he insisted on his Muslim credentials and received recognition from Baghdad as the Qutlugh Sultan. In Herat after an adventurous and active youth spent campaigning in the marchlands of the east with the young Mongol princes who were part of a new generation of Chinggisid elite, Shams al-Din Kart (r. 1245–1278) was rewarded with the governorship of the city and its hinterlands, which covered much of Khorasan. In Kurdistan, Badr al-Din Lu’lu (d. 1259) pledged his support for the khans and his reverence for the caliph, but neither afforded him the security he needed. Likewise, in the province of Fars where the Salghurids ruled and other scattered cities and isolated strongholds local elites assimilated and were absorbed by young Turko-Mongol lords and noyat (pl. noyan, politico-military leaders). In Qazvin, a city that because of its vicinity to the Isma’ili headquarters of Alamut had suffered particularly harshly from punitive raids and attacks on its merchants, the ruling elite had decided that the anarchy the country had descended into could not continue, especially when they saw that lawlessness and misrule ceased once the mighty Oxus was crossed and the lands under the writ of the Great Khan were entered.After the horrors of the 1220s and the compulsory population movements, when families and even whole villages were forced into migration and exile, came three decades of hardship and dreadful disruption. Eventually, word began to filter back, and the stories were often encouraging. Merchants and travelers brought tales of Persians finding success and prosperity. They told stories of the sons of those emigrants achieving positions of power and influence, and the contrast with the sorry state of their homeland became obvious. The powerful Iftikhariyan family had been awarded a mandate to rule the services they had rendered the Mongol princes who had stayed in the region. They had provided tutors and schooling for the four Toluid princes in particular, and when Mongke Khan, one of their former charges, seized the Chinggisid throne, they knew that the time was fortuitous and extremely opportune. When the coronation of the Great Khan Mongke was announced, the notables of Qazvin appointed a high-ranking delegation to petition the khan to enact change.

Qazvini Envoy

Hamdullah Mustawfi Qazvini, the historian, government official, and descendant of the Qadi (Islamic legislator) of Qazvin, the leader of the delegation that went to Qaraqorum from Qazvin, c. 1252, has recorded in detail the petition that was delivered to Mongke and the reaction of the new Qa’an to their words.

O illustrious and magnanimous Qa’an, we do not speak of a bridge made of stone (nagūyim pol az sang), or brick, nor a bridge of chains. I want a bridge of justice (khwaham pol az dad) over that river, for where there is justice, the world is prosperous. He who comes over the river Amu Darya finds the Qa’an’s justice, and on this side of the river there is justice and a path. On that side of the river, the world is evil, and some people become prosperous through injustice. When one passes over the river into the land of Iran, the world is full of injustice, enmity and oppression.

The eloquent speaker continues with a tirade against the inept military governor, Baiju Noyan, who is accused of failing to provide protection against the reign of terror that the loyal residents of Qazvin have been forced to endure from the Isma’ilis. The Qadi of Qazvin then follows with a plea to the farr (majesty, grandeur) of the Qa’an to provide guidance and security and to extend the reach of his justice and peace, and on the prompting of Mongke, he chooses Hulegu as the most suitable man in that august company to lead an army to Iran,

This account is revealing for its very sympathetic portrayal of Mongke but also for the unusual public criticism and rebuke of a leading Mongol officer and high official, and it is indicative of the politics being played in the history books. Baiju Noyan was considered Batu’s appointee, and therefore Mustawfi is foreshadowing the post-Batu split between the House of Tolui and the House of Jochi.

Though widely reported, the Qazvini delegation’s request for military aid against the heterodox Isma’ilis is usually emphasized. Mustawfi, no doubt with insider knowledge, provides far more detail on the embassy and underlines the request for the appointment of a prince. Mongke had, of course, already decided to dispatch Qubilai to the east to complete the conquest of China and to send Hulegu west to consolidate his hold on the Islamic world, but Mustawfi demonstrates the Chinggisids’ diplomatic and political dexterity in attracting and co-opting allies. Hulegu’s march on the west was always controversial because Iran had already been unofficially claimed by the Jochids. Chinggis Khan had reputedly awarded the Golden Horde all the lands in the west “where Tatar hoof had trod,” and many of the daraghuchis and military governors owed their allegiance to Batu. Rashid al-Din reported that Mongke had sent his brother Hulegu off on his mission advising that his true purpose be kept secret until it became a fait accompli. Baiju was Batu’s man, and Rashid al-Din, despite praising Baiju’s actions in Baghdad, includes an account of his being upbraided by Hulegu for slothfulness and records his execution as hostilities broke out between the Jochids and Hulegu’s forces a few years after Batu’s death, in 1255.

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Palestine under the Umayyads and the Arab Tribes

FOR ALL THAT ISLAM was meant to transcend the ancient tribal loyalties of the Arabs, the tribes still survived, and with them tribal jealousies and feuds. Moreover, rivalry between the tribes and their component clans and families went right to the very heart of the caliphate. In 656 insurgent Arab troops murdered Uthman, the third caliph, who was a member of the powerful Umayyad family of Mecca. Ali put himself forward as the natural inheritor of the caliphate, basing his claim on his marriage to Mohammed’s daughter Fatima, as well as on his considerable religious learning. But Ali was opposed by Aisha – Mohammed’s favourite wife and the daughter of Abu Bakr, the first caliph – along with many of Mohammed’s surviving companions, the very people who had stirred up the murderous rebellion against Uthman. Ali took to arms and won his first battle, but opposition against him only hardened when he dismissed many of those whom Uthman had appointed. Among these was Muawiya, Uthman’s nephew and governor of Syria, who demanded vengeance for his uncle’s murder. In 657 Ali and Muawiya met in battle at Siffin, near Raqqa, on the Euphrates, which ended in negotiations that weakened Ali’s position and ultimately led to his assassination by a disaffected follower in 661. Muawiya’s brother had commanded the Arab tribes that conquered much of Palestine and Syria; they subsequently gave their loyalty to Muawiya as governor of Syria and received many rewards from him, and now they were his power base when Muawiya was acclaimed caliph in Jerusalem, made Damascus his capital and established the Umayyad dynasty as masters of the growing Arab empire.

After consolidating his authority, Muawiya turned his attention to new wars of territorial expansion with their rewards of plunder, expropriation and taxation, and which also had the benefit of diverting tribal frictions into struggles for the faith. Attacks against the Byzantine Empire were resumed. Arab armies ravaged Asia Minor nearly every summer, Cyprus and the Aegean islands were laid waste, and in 670 an Umayyad fleet landed at Cyzicus, on the Sea of Marmara, from where the Arabs launched annual summer sieges of Constantinople for seven years. Under the energetic resistance of the emperor Constantine IV the city repelled the Arab attacks. The most potent weapon in the Byzantine armoury was Greek Fire, a secret compound of sulphur, naphtha and quicklime which burst into flames on impact with enemy ships and could burn even under water, the invention of a Christian Syrian refugee. Eventually the Byzantines drove the Arab army out of Asia Minor and forced Muawiya into paying a tribute in return for a negotiated peace. Not for the last time a Byzantine victory saved not only themselves but all Europe from Muslim domination.

But elsewhere the Umayyads had greater success. In North Africa the last outpost of Byzantine rule in the region of Carthage was destroyed by the Arabs in 667. The resistance of the Berbers, who were Christians, to the Arab armies was repaid with terrible raids and devastation. Those who eventually submitted to Islam became part of the further expansion of the Muslim armies towards the Atlantic, while the more Latinised population of North Africa, heirs of a classical and Christian civilisation that had produced such figures as the theologian Augustine of Hippo, author of The Confessions and The City of God, and himself of Berber origin,1 emigrated to Italy and Gaul.

The wave of Muslim expansion was checked by the outbreak of prolonged and savage warfare between the Arab tribes. In 684 Ibn al-Zubayr, the nephew of Aisha and the grandson through his mother of the first caliph, Abu Bakr, rejected the Umayyad claim to the caliphate and declared himself caliph at Mecca, winning the support of tribes in Arabia and those occupying Egypt and Mesopotamia and, most worrying of all, even some in Palestine and Syria. A battle at Marj Rahit, east of Damascus, secured Syria for the Umayyads in that same year, but the wider struggle was inherited by Abd al-Malik, who succeeded to the Umayyad caliphate in 685, and was decided only in 692 with the defeat of al-Zubayr at Mecca.

Abd al-Malik countered these disorders not only on the battlefield but also with a variety of administrative measures aimed at asserting the unity of the empire, the authority of his caliphate and the supremacy of Islam. In the years following their conquests the Arabs could not have administered Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia or Egypt, and most importantly could not have collected taxes, without the services of experienced officials drawn from the local populations, which meant leaving Christian officials at their posts, just as Zoroastrians were left in place in Persia. In Syria and Palestine the language of administration had been Greek, while the everyday language of the population was Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Middle East for over a thousand years. The administration of Egypt was carried on in Greek by its native Christian population, the Copts (from ‘Aegyptos’, the Greek for Egypt), whose demotic language, Coptic, had evolved from ancient Egyptian; they also continued to manage the country’s vital irrigation system. But now Abd al-Malik made Arabic the mandatory language of government affairs throughout his empire. Likewise the coinage, which had continued to bear Christian and Zoroastrian symbols, was replaced by redesigned pieces inscribed in Arabic with the Profession of Faith (‘There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet’). The message of Muslim domination was perfectly suited to the system, for the economy was predominantly monetary and depended on exactions from the conquered people who paid their taxes in coin. Very few Arabs were productive settlers on the land, an activity they despised; a few were great landlords who used native tenants to cultivate their estates; but generally they were nomadic tribesmen, soldiers or officials, all of whom lived off thejizya (or poll tax) and the kharaj (or land tax) paid by the occupied peoples in return for the protection of their lives and property and for the right to practise their own religion. Because the jizyaand the kharaj could be imposed only on non-Muslims, the Arabs had little interest in making converts to Islam, a contributory reason why Syria, Palestine and Egypt would remain overwhelmingly Christian for centuries to come.

As Abd al-Malik Arabised and Islamised his administration, so he also turned to dominating the religious landscape of Jerusalem with the construction, starting in 688, of the Dome of the Rock atop the Temple Mount. Recent archaeological excavations suggest that the Dome of the Rock was the centrepiece of an ambitious plan to redevelop the eastern part of Jerusalem. The exterior of the Dome of the Rock is in the form of an octagon, its four portals facing the cardinal points and giving access to a domed circular interior enclosing the rocky outcrop like a shrine. Archaeologists think that the Dome of the Rock was meant as a tetrapylon, a four-gated monumental structure common in Roman and Byzantine cities, in this case marking the crossroads of a new Muslim city centred on the Temple Mount, while a new mosque, replacing the wooden structure built by Umar at the southern end of the Temple Mount, was part of this plan.2

As for the religious significance of the works atop the Temple Mount, early Muslim writers give various accounts. According to Ahmad al-Yaqubi, a Muslim chronicler and geographer writing two hundred years after these events, the rebellion of al-Zubayr was the spur to Abd al-Malik to build an alternative shrine of pilgrimage at Jerusalem, and certainly the Dome of the Rock, with its inner and outer ambulatories, suggests that it may have been intended to rival the Kaaba at Mecca, where walking round the shrine is part of the ritual. It follows from this argument that the Umayyads wanted to glorify their power base in Syria and Palestine at the expense of Mecca and Arabia, and certainly they devoted a great deal of effort and expense to glorifying Damascus and even more to exalting Jerusalem. But in the view of Mohammed ibn Ahmed Muqaddasi, a tenth-century Arab geographer born in Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock was built to put the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the shade: ‘Abd al-Malik, noting the greatness of the Dome of the Kumamah and its magnificence, was moved lest it should dazzle the minds of the Muslims, and hence erected, above the Rock, the Dome which now is seen there.’3 Early Islam was haunted by the fear that its adherents would abandon their faith for the attractions of Christianity, and such was the need to depreciate the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, or the Anastasis as it is called in Greek, meaning the Resurrection, that the Muslims deliberately corrupted the Arabic for ‘Resurrection’, which is Kayamah (al-qiyamah), and commonly called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre the Kumamah (al-qumamah), or ‘the Dunghill’,4 as Muqaddasi has done in his description.

But there was the even greater need for the caliphs to impress their Christian subjects. When criticised for his shameless imitation of the Byzantine emperors, the first Umayyad caliph, Muawiya, had retorted that ‘Damascus was full of Greeks and that none would believe in his power if he did not behave and look like an emperor’.5 Not surprisingly, Abd al-Malik made a point of building the Dome of the Rock along familiar Christian lines, his borrowing so complete that it has been called ‘a purely Byzantine work’.6One obvious model for the Dome of the Rock was the ‘Dunghill’ itself, the Anastasis, the domed rotunda of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; the dimensions of its inner circle of piers and columns and their alternating pattern are exactly reproduced in the Dome of the Rock. Other Byzantine churches too were of this circular type, among them the church of St Simeon Stylites in northern Syria, the church of San Vitale in Ravenna, and interestingly the church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, built round the spot identified by tradition as where Jesus ascended into heaven, leaving his footprint in the rock, where it can still be seen today – just as Muslim tradition later claimed that the rock beneath the Dome of the Rock bears the footprint of Mohammed from the time he was taken by the angel Gabriel for a glimpse of heaven during the Night Journey.

The tradition of the Night Journey tells of the isra, the journey itself, and the miraj, meaning ‘the ascent’. According to the account, when Mohammed was still at Mecca, and before the Hegira to Medina, he was miraculously conveyed by the angel Gabriel to the site of the Furthest Mosque (al-masjid al-aqsa) in Jerusalem, where he encountered various prophets before ascending from the Temple Mount through successive heavens until finally entering into the presence of God himself. But nothing in the Koran identifies the Furthest Mosque with the Temple Mount, nor is there any mention of Jerusalem: ‘Glory be to Him, who carried His servant by night from the Holy Mosque to the Further Mosque the precincts of which We have blessed that We might show him some of Our signs.’7 The Holy Mosque means the Kaaba at Mecca, but nothing in the Koran indicates the location of the Further Mosque – with some arguing that the Further Mosque most certainly refers not to Jerusalem but to the mosque which at that time was furthest from Mecca: that is, the mosque at Medina.8 Moreover the Koranic verse is about the journey but says nothing about an ascent, for which there are traditions that Mohammed ascended to heaven from the roof of his own house in Mecca, not from Jerusalem.9

The earliest source for the story of the Night Journey is Mohammed’s biographer Mohammed Ibn Ishaq, who died in about 767, although his original work is lost and survives only in various later edited versions, most notably that of Abdul-Malik Ibn Hisham, who died in about 833. What is more, Ibn Ishaq may never have written down his biography, so that what reached Ibn Hisham and others was an oral version. In other words, something like one or two centuries had passed since the death of Mohammed before the first known appearance of the story of the Night Journey. Had the tradition of Mohammed’s journey to Jerusalem and his ascent from there to heaven already been in place when Abd al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock, one would expect it to be commemorated among the shrine’s many inscriptions, yet the inscriptions make no mention of the Night Journey at all. Instead, the evidence suggests that the tradition of the Night Journey and its connection with Jerusalem arose some time after the construction of the Dome of the Rock, and that the tradition specifically connecting the isra and miraj with the Dome of the Rock is very much later still and was ‘perhaps not fully established until Mamluk times’10 – that is, after Saladin and the demise of his dynasty. In fact, far from commemorating the Night Journey, the Dome of the Rock seems to have generated the tradition.

Abd al-Malik himself announced his purpose in building his shrine atop the Temple Mount, leaving no doubt over its meaning or date. In what is the earliest surviving written Islamic text, his founder’s dedication was inscribed in gold mosaic along the arcade inside the Dome of the Rock. ‘This dome was built by the servant of God, Abd al-Malik Ibn Marwan, the Prince of the Believers, in the year 72’ – that being the year since the Hegira and corresponding to AD 691 or 692 – ‘May God accept it and be pleased with him. Amen.’ Then, borrowing from the Koran, the inscription continues with an emphatic warning to Christians and their belief in Christ and the Trinity:

        People of the Book, do not transgress the bounds of your religion. Speak nothing but the truth about God. The Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, was no more than God’s apostle and His Word which he cast to Mary: a spirit from Him. So believe in God and his apostles and do not say: ‘Three’. Forebear, and it shall be better for you. God is but one God. God forbid that he should have a son! His is all that the heavens and the earth contain. God is the all-sufficient protector.11

Muqaddasi would write proudly in the tenth century: ‘At dawn, when the light of the sun first strikes the dome and the drum catches the rays, then is this edifice a marvellous sight to behold, and one such that in all of Islam I have not seen the equal; neither have I heard tell of anything built in pagan times that could rival in grace this Dome of the Rock.’12 By its location on the site of the Temple the Dome of the Rock announced that Judaism had been succeeded by the prophet of Islam just as its inscription and the magnificence of its architecture announced the triumph and dominance of Islam over the Christian East. As Abd al-Malik intended, the building acted like a magnet, attracting visitors from the expanding Muslim world who conferred a sense of Islamic veneration on the Mount. Chroniclers and Koranic commentators also made their contribution by elaborating an entire tradition of the Night Journey round the Dome of the Rock and also the nearby Aqsa mosque, completed in 715 but only much later acquiring its name, ‘the Furthest’, which linked it to the Koranic verse.13 So began the process of sanctification that over the coming centuries would turn Jerusalem, after Mecca and Medina, into the third most holy city in Islam.

By the time Abd al-Malik died, in 705, he had succeeded in imposing order on the Arab tribes and had concentrated yet further powers in the caliphate; and during the reign of his son Walid the wars of aggression in the name of Islam were resumed, raising the Umayyads to the high point of their power. In the East, the Arabs advanced beyond the Oxus into Central Asia, where they captured Bukhara and Samarkand in 715 and first encountered the Turks. Another army crossed the Indus and invaded Sind, beginning the long process of Islamisation in India. In North Africa the Arabs reached the Atlantic and in 711 crossed via Gibraltar into Spain, and within a decade they stood at the foot of the Pyrenees and occupied Languedoc.

The jihad against the great Christian enemy, the Byzantine Empire, began again, starting with seasonal raids into Asia Minor. Under Walid’s successor Sulaiman a massive combined naval and land force beleaguered Constantinople in 717–18. But the city did not fall, nor Asia Minor, that indispensable reservoir of men and resources, thanks to Heraclius, who a century earlier had created a system of defence in depth that would preserve the empire’s heartland for another four hundred years. He had organised Asia Minor into ‘themes’ – that is, regions in which inheritable land was given in exchange for hereditary military service – and the system proved successful: except in the border areas south of the Taurus mountains round Tarsus and eastwards round Edessa (present-day Urfa), Arab raids almost never led to Arab occupation. Defended by its farmer-soldiers, Byzantine Asia Minor maintained the continuity of its Graeco-Roman traditions and protected Europe long enough for it to reorganise after the barbarian invasions and the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West.

The commander of one of these themes in Asia Minor was Leo, who had been born in northern Syria. In 716 he fought a rearguard campaign from the Taurus mountains to the Sea of Marmara against the invading Arab army, arriving at Constantinople in time to impose himself as emperor and to stock the city’s granaries and arsenals in anticipation of the siege to come. Before the invention of gunpowder, Constantinople was impregnable as long as it could be supplied by sea. By daring sea and land sallies Leo III wore out the Arab army and hurled Greek fire at the Arab fleet – or rather a fleet constructed and manned by Syrians and Egyptians, as the Arabs had little knowledge of seafaring14 – and finally inflicted such a disaster upon the besiegers that out of the 2,560 galleys and the 200,000 men directed against Constantinople, only 5 galleys and no more than 30,000 men returned to Syria. The event has been compared to the failed Persian invasion of ancient Greece and Leo compared to Miltiades, the victor at Marathon.

In Western Europe an echo of the Byzantine victory came fourteen years later, in 732, during the caliphate of Hisham, when the Arab armies, after advancing deep into France from Spain, were hammered by Charles Martel between Poitiers and Tours, only 160 miles short of the English Channel. Charles Martel then went on to clear the Muslims from southern France, in the process establishing the Franks as the dominant people in Western Europe; his grandson Charlemagne laid the foundations for the Holy Roman Empire and was the first European leader to join the Reconquista against the Muslims in Spain.

These defeats brought Umayyad internal problems to a head. The cost of the expeditions had been enormous and was not recovered by tributes and taxes from newly conquered peoples. At Constantinople the complete destruction of the Umayyad fleet and army deprived the caliphate of the military basis of its power and undermined the perception of the Arabs as a legitimate ruling elite.

During this first century of Islam the terms Muslim and Arab were all but synonymous. To be an Arab was to be an Arabic-speaking, desert-dwelling tribesman, a nomad or of nomadic ancestry, which is the meaning of ‘Bedouin’, whose life centred on the camel. Some Arabs had become townsmen and engaged in trade, just as Mohammed had been a merchant, but their tribal relationships remained. These Arabs were now conquerors, members of the ruling class and recipients of its privileges, which included regular pensions as well as a share in the booty from newly conquered lands. Neither settlers nor farmers, they were a military aristocracy who lived deliberately apart from native populations and whose only obligation was to fight for their religion, the organising faith that justified their dominance and made them masters of an empire.

But somewhat disconcertingly to the Umayyad leadership, Islam began to attract converts, mostly to escape the oppressive restrictions imposed on non-Muslims. Such was the identity, however, between being a Muslim and an Arab that would-be converts had to be adopted as clients of an Arab tribe, at the same time severing themselves from their previous social, economic and national connections. Even then the Arabs treated these converts, mawali, as their social and economic inferiors. For an Arab woman to marry a convert brought shame upon her family; converts could serve in the army only as infantry and received less pay than Arabs; and mawalis who settled round the ansari, the Arab garrison towns, where they served as artisans and the like, were periodically driven away. Furthermore they were still subject to the same poll tax imposed on non-Muslims. But themawalis were becoming increasingly conscious of their growing numbers, their political and military importance, their cultural superiority – and now they were demanding social and economic equality with the Arabs.

Following the Constantinople disaster, the caliph Umar II tried to appease rising discontent by decreeing that converts were exempt from the jizya and that they should receive equal soldier’s pay. But the effect was to reduce the revenue coming into the treasury, and the shortfall was made up by treating the non-Muslim population, the dhimmis, all the more severely. Umar II is usually credited with formalising decrees determining the legal and social position of dhimmis. The basic position was that dhimmis were the People of the Book – that is, Christians and Jews whose prophets handed down the message that in its essence and its perfected form was recorded in the Koran. Therefore a certain tolerance and protection were owed to these people, to whom the Koran promised that the Muslims would not fight them on condition that they paid the jizya, a form of tribute. Christians and Jews stood outside the community; they were not allowed to carry weapons, or to bear witness against Muslims in courts of law, or to marry Muslim women. Adhimmi who attempted to convert a Muslim to his own religion paid with his life, as did any Muslim who apostasised. But a Muslim who killed a Christian or a Jew was subject not to the death penalty, only to a fine at most. Dhimmis had to be submissive and consider themselves inferior to Muslims and act and dress accordingly; they could not resemble Muslims in their clothing or the way they wore their hair. Christians and Jews were free to practise their religion, but in a subdued manner so as not to disturb Muslims; festivals and public expressions of faith were curtailed. They were not allowed to build new churches or synagogues, or to keep them in repair. If a place of worship was damaged or destroyed for any reason – earthquake, fire or mob action – it could not be rebuilt. After a time Zoroastrians of Persia and pagan Berbers of North Africa were also accepted as People of the Book. But no toleration was extended to those who were not People of the Book; to them the choice was Islam or the sword.

Arab Syria (Bilad al-Sham) and its provinces under the Abbasid Caliphate in the 9th century



Hitler’s utopias crumbled upon contact with the Soviet Union, but they were refashioned rather than rejected. He was the Leader, and his henchmen owed their positions to their ability to divine and realize his will. When that will met resistance, as on the eastern front in the second half of 1941, the task of men such as Göring, Himmler, and Heydrich was to rearrange Hitler’s ideas such that Hitler’s genius was affirmed—along with their own positions in the Nazi regime. The utopias in summer 1941 had been four: a lightning victory that would destroy the Soviet Union in weeks; a Hunger Plan that would starve thirty million people in months; a Final Solution that would eliminate European Jews after the war; and a Generalplan Ost that would make of the western Soviet Union a German colony. Six months after Operation Barbarossa was launched, Hitler had reformulated the war aims such that the physical extermination of the Jews became the priority. By then, his closest associates had taken the ideological and administrative initiatives necessary to realize such a wish.

No lightning victory came. Although millions of Soviet citizens were starved, the Hunger Plan proved impossible. Generalplan Ost, or any variant of postwar colonization plans, would have to wait. As these utopias waned, political futures depended upon the extraction of what was feasible from the fantasies. Göring, Himmler, and Heydrich scrambled amidst the moving ruins, claiming what they could. Göring, charged with economics and the Hunger Plan, fared worst. Regarded as “the second man in the Reich” and as Hitler’s successor, Göring remained immensely prominent in Germany, but played an ever smaller role in the East. As economics became less a matter of grand planning for the postwar period and more a matter of improvising to continue the war, Göring lost his leading position to Albert Speer. Unlike Göring, Heydrich and Himmler were able to turn the unfavorable battlefield situation to their advantage, by reformulating the Final Solution so that it could be carried out during a war that was not going according to plan. They understood that the war was becoming, as Hitler began to say in August 1941, a “war against the Jews.”

Himmler and Heydrich saw the elimination of the Jews as their task. On 31 July 1941 Heydrich secured the formal authority from Göring to formulate the Final Solution. This still involved the coordination of prior deportation schemes with Heydrich’s plan of working the Jews to death in the conquered Soviet East. By November 1941, when Heydrich tried to schedule a meeting at Wannsee to coordinate the Final Solution, he still had such a vision in mind. Jews who could not work would be made to disappear. Jews capable of physical labor would work somewhere in the conquered Soviet Union until they died. Heydrich represented a broad consensus in the German government, though his was not an especially timely plan. The Ministry for the East, which oversaw the civilian occupation authorities established in September, took for granted that the Jews would disappear. Its head, Alfred Rosenberg, spoke in November of the “biological eradication of Jewry in Europe.” This would be achieved by sending the Jews across the Ural Mountains, Europe’s eastern boundary. But by November 1941 a certain vagueness had descended upon Heydrich’s vision of enslavement and deportation, since Germany had not destroyed the Soviet Union and Stalin still controlled the vast majority of its territory.

While Heydrich made bureaucratic arrangements in Berlin, it was Himmler who most ably extracted the practical and the prestigious from Hitler’s utopian thinking. From the Hunger Plan he took the categories of surplus populations and useless eaters, and would offer the Jews as the people from whom calories could be spared. From the lightning victory he extracted the four Einsatzgruppen. Their task had been to kill Soviet elites in order to hasten the Soviet collapse. Their first mission had not been to kill all Jews as such. The Einsatzgruppen had no such order when the invasion began, and their numbers were too small. But they had experience killing civilians, and they could find local help, and they could be reinforced. From Generalplan Ost, Himmler extracted the battalions of Order Police and thousands of local collaborators, whose preliminary assignment was to help control the conquered Soviet Union. Instead they provided the manpower that allowed the Germans to carry out truly massive shootings of Jews beginning in August 1941. These institutions, supported by the Wehrmacht and its Field Police, allowed the Germans to murder about a million Jews east of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line by the end of the year.

Himmler succeeded because he grasped extremes of the Nazi utopias that operated within Hitler’s mind, even as Hitler’s will faced the most determined resistance from the world outside. Himmler made the Final Solution more radical, by bringing it forward from the postwar period to the war itself, and by showing (after the failure of four previous deportation schemes) how it could be achieved: by the mass shooting of Jewish civilians. His prestige suffered little from the failures of the lightning victory and the Hunger Plan, which were the responsibility of the Wehrmacht and the economic authorities. Even as he moved the Final Solution into the realm of the realizable, he still nurtured the dream of the Generalplan Ost, Hitler’s “Garden of Eden.” He continued to order revisions of the plan, and arranged an experimental deportation in the Lublin district of the General Government, and would, as opportunities presented themselves, urge Hitler to raze cities.

In the summer and autumn of 1941, Himmler ignored what was impossible, pondered what was most glorious, and did what could be done: kill the Jews east of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line, in occupied eastern Poland, the Baltic States, and the Soviet Union. Aided by this realization of Nazi doctrine during the months when German power was challenged, Himmler and the SS would come to overshadow civilian and military authorities in the occupied Soviet Union, and in the German empire. As Himmler put it, “the East belongs to the SS.”

The East, until very recently, had belonged to the NKVD. One secret of Himmler’s success was that he was able to exploit the legacy of Soviet power in the places where it had most recently been installed.

In the first lands that German soldiers reached in Operation Barbarossa, they were the war’s second occupier. The first German gains in summer 1941 were the territories Germans had granted to the Soviets by the Treaty on Borders and Friendship of September 1939: what had been eastern Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, annexed in the meantime to the Soviet Union. In other words, in Operation Barbarossa German troops first entered lands that had been independent states through 1939 or 1940, and only then entered the prewar Soviet Union. Their Romanian ally meanwhile conquered the territories that it had lost to the Soviet Union in 1940.

The double occupation, first Soviet, then German, made the experience of the inhabitants of these lands all the more complicated and dangerous. A single occupation can fracture a society for generations; double occupation is even more painful and divisive. It created risks and temptations that were unknown in the West. The departure of one foreign ruler meant nothing more than the arrival of another. When foreign troops left, people had to reckon not with peace but with the policies of the next occupier. They had to deal with the consequences of their own previous commitments under one occupier when the next one came; or make choices under one occupation while anticipating another. For different groups, these alternations could have different meanings. Gentile Lithuanians (for example) could experience the departure of the Soviets in 1941 as a liberation; Jews could not see the arrival of the Germans that way.

Lithuania had already undergone two major transformations by the time that German troops arrived in late June 1941. Lithuania, while still an independent state, had appeared to benefit from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939. The Treaty on Borders and Friendship of September 1939 had granted Lithuania to the Soviets, but Lithuanians had no way of knowing that. What the Lithuanian leadership perceived that month was something else: Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union destroyed Poland, which throughout the interwar period had been Lithuania’s adversary. The Lithuanian government had considered Vilnius, a city in interwar Poland, as its capital. Lithuania, without taking part in any hostilities in September 1939, gained Polish lands for itself. In October 1939, the Soviet Union granted Lithuania Vilnius and the surrounding regions (2,750 square miles, 457,500 people). The price of Vilnius and other formerly Polish territories was basing rights for Soviet soldiers.

Then, just half a year after Lithuania had been enlarged thanks to Stalin, it was conquered by its seeming Soviet benefactor. In June 1940 Stalin seized control of Lithuania and the other Baltic States, Latvia and Estonia, and hastily incorporated them into the Soviet Union. After this annexation, the Soviet Union deported about twenty-one thousand people from Lithuania, including many Lithuanian elites. A Lithuanian prime minister and a Lithuanian foreign minister were among the exiled thousands. Some Lithuanian political and military leaders escaped the Gulag by fleeing to Germany. These were often people with some prior connections in Berlin, and always people embittered by their experience with Soviet aggression. The Germans favored the right-wing nationalists among the Lithuanian émigrés, and trained some of them to take part in the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Thus when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Lithuania occupied a unique position. It had profited from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; then it had been conquered by the Soviets; now it would be occupied by the Germans. After the ruthless year of Soviet occupation, many Lithuanians welcomed this change; few Lithuanian Jews were among them. Two hundred thousand Jews lived in Lithuania in June 1941 (about the same number as in Germany). The Germans arrived in Lithuania with their handpicked nationalist Lithuanians and encountered local people who were willing to believe, or to act as if they believed, that Jews were responsible for Soviet repressions. The Soviet deportations had taken place that very month, and the NKVD had shot Lithuanians in prisons just a few days before the Germans arrived. The Lithuanian diplomat Kazys Škirpa, who returned with the Germans, used this suffering in his radio broadcasts to spur mobs to murder. Some 2,500 Jews were killed by Lithuanians in bloody pogroms in early July.

As a result of trained collaboration and local assistance, German killers had all the help that they needed in Lithuania. The initial guidelines for killing Jews in certain positions were quickly exceeded by Einsatzgruppe A and the local collaborators it enlisted. Einsatzgruppe A had followed Army Group North into Lithuania. Einsatzkommando 3 of Einsatzgruppe A, responsible for the major Lithuanian city of Kaunas, had as many helpers as it needed. Einsatzkommando 3 numbered only 139 personnel, including secretaries and drivers, of which there were forty-four. In the weeks and months to come, Germans drove Lithuanians to killing sites around the city of Kaunas. By 4 July 1941 Lithuanian units were killing Jews under German supervision and orders. As early as 1 December Einsatzkommando 2 considered the Jewish problem in Lithuania resolved. It could report the killing of 133,346 persons, of whom some 114,856 were Jews. Despite Škirpa’s wishes, none of this served any Lithuanian political purpose. After he tried to declare an independent Lithuanian state, he was placed under house arrest.

The city of Vilnius had been the northeastern metropolitan center of independent Poland and briefly the capital of independent and Soviet Lithuania. But throughout all of these vicissitudes, and indeed for the previous half-millennium, Vilnius had been something else: a center of Jewish civilization, known as the Jerusalem of the North. Some seventy thousand Jews lived in the city when the war began. Whereas the rest of Lithuania and the other Baltic States were covered by Einsatzgruppe A, the Vilnius area (along with Soviet Belarus) fell to Einsatzgruppe B. The unit assigned to kill the Vilnius Jews was its Einsatzkommando 9. Here the shooting took place at the Ponary Forest, just beyond the city. By 23 July 1941 the Germans had assembled a Lithuanian auxiliary, which marched columns of Jews to Ponary. There, groups of twelve to twenty people at a time were taken to the edge of a pit, where they had to hand over valuables and clothes. Their gold teeth were removed by force. Some 72,000 Jews from Vilnius and elsewhere (and about eight thousand non-Jewish Poles and Lithuanians) were shot at Ponary.

Ita Straż was one of the very few survivors among the Jews of Vilnius. She was pulled by Lithuanian policemen to a pit that was already full of corpses. Nineteen years old at the time, she thought: “This is the end. And what have I seen of life?” The shots missed her, but she fell from fear into the pit. She was then covered by the corpses of the people who came after. Someone marched over the pile and fired downward, to make sure that everyone was dead. A bullet hit her hand, but she made no sound. She crept away later: “I was barefoot. I walked and walked over corpses. There seemed to be no end to it.”13

Neighboring Latvia, too, had been annexed by the Soviet Union just one year before the German invasion. Some twenty-one thousand Latvian citizens (many of them Latvian Jews) were deported by the Soviets, just weeks before the Germans arrived. The NKVD shot Latvian prisoners as the Wehrmacht approached Riga. The Germans’ main collaborator here was Viktor Arajs, a Latvian nationalist (German on his mother’s side) who happened to know the translator that German police forces brought to Riga. He was allowed to form the Arajs Commando, which in early July 1941 burned Jews alive in a Riga synagogue. As the Germans organized mass killings, they took care to choose Latvian shooters from among those whose families had suffered under Soviet rule. In July, under the supervision of Einsatzgruppe A commanders, the Arajs Commando marched Riga Jews to the nearby Bikernieki Forest and shot them. The Germans first carried out a “demonstration shooting,” and then had the Arajs Commando do much of the rest. With the assistance of such Latvians, the Germans were able to kill at least 69,750 of the country’s 80,000 Jews by the end of 1941.

Two photos (combined, cropped, and reduced in resolution) from July 1941 showing a massacre in progress at Ponary

In the third Baltic State, Estonia, the sense of humiliation after the Soviet occupation was just as great as in Lithuania and Latvia, if not greater. Unlike Vilnius and Riga, Tallinn had not even partially mobilized its army before surrendering to the Soviets in 1940. It had yielded to Soviet demands before the other Baltic States, thus precluding any sort of Baltic diplomatic solidarity. The Soviets had deported some 11,200 Estonians, including most of the political leadership. In Estonia, too, Einsatzgruppe A found more than enough local collaborators. Estonians who had resisted the Soviets in the forests now joined a Self-Defense Commando under the guidance of the Germans. Estonians who had collaborated with the Soviets also joined, in an effort to restore their reputations.

Estonians greeted the Germans as liberators, and in return the Germans regarded Estonians as racially superior not only to the Jews but to the other Baltic peoples. Jews in Estonia were very few. Estonians from the Self-Defense Commando killed all 963 Estonian Jews who could be found, at German orders. In Estonia the murders and pogroms continued without the Jews. About five thousand non-Jewish Estonians were killed for their ostensible collaboration with the Soviet regime.

Map of the Holocaust in occupied Poland during World War II. The outline shows the borders of the Second Polish Republic at the time of the Nazi-German-and-Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 with demarcation line between the two invading armies marked in red. Internal boundaries show the administrative divisions of occupied territories imposed by Nazi Germany when the Final Solution was set in motion during and after Operation Barbarossa of 1941.
This map shows all Nazi German extermination camps (or death camps), as well as prominent concentration, labour and prison camps, major pre-WW2 Polish cities with the new Jewish ghettos set up by Nazi Germany, major deportation routes, and major massacre sites.
1. Extermination camps – marked with white skulls in black squares – are six dedicated facilities used for the mass gassings of prisoners, but all camps and ghettos took a toll of many, many lives.
2. Concentration camps – marked with black squares – feature only the most notorious forced-labor camps, prison camps & transit camps.
3. Sites of mass shootings into remote ravines – marked with white skulls – include Bronna Góra, Ponary and others. They were utilized during the ‘Holocaust by bullets’.
4. Destruction ghettos – marked with Yellow stars in red circles – existed in most Polish cities. Only a selection is shown.
5. Major deportation routes travelled by the Holocaust trains are marked with RosyBrown arrows.
6. Most camps & ghettos which are not well known have been excluded for clarity.
7. District borders are at the height of Axis domination (1942).
8. Regions have German designations (e.g. “Ostland”), with the country name denoted in uppercase letters, e.g. LITHUANIA, CZECHOSLOVAKIA, or in parenthesis below the German occupational designation, e.g. (POLAND).

East of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line, the Germans encountered the fresh traces of Soviet statebuilding as they began to build their own empire. The signs were even starker in what had been eastern Poland than in the Baltics. Whereas Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania had been incorporated by the Soviet Union a year before the German invasion, in June 1940, eastern Poland had been annexed by the Soviets nine months before that, in September 1939. Here the Germans found evidence of a social transformation. Industry had been nationalized, some farms had been collectivized, and a native elite had been all but destroyed. The Soviets had deported more than three hundred thousand Polish citizens and shot tens of thousands more. The German invasion prompted the NKVD to shoot some 9,817 imprisoned Polish citizens rather than allow them to fall into German hands. The Germans arrived in the western Soviet Union in summer 1941 to find NKVD prisons full of fresh corpses. These had to be cleared out before the Germans could use them for their own purposes.

Soviet mass murder provided the Germans with an occasion for propaganda. The Nazi line was that suffering under the Soviets was the fault of the Jews, and it found some resonance. With or without German agitation, many people in interwar Europe associated the Jews with communism. Interwar communist parties had in fact been heavily Jewish, especially in their leaderships, a fact upon which much of the press throughout Europe had commented for twenty years. Right-wing parties confused the issue by arguing that since many communists were Jews therefore many Jews were communists. These are very different propositions; the latter one was never true anywhere. Jews were blamed even before the war for the failings of national states; after the war began and national states collapsed during the Soviet or German invasion, the temptation for such scapegoating was all the greater. Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Poles had lost not only the independent states made for their nations but their status and local authority. They had surrendered all of this, in many cases, without putting up much of a fight. Nazi propaganda thus had a double appeal: it was no shame to lose to the Soviet communists, since they were backed by a powerful worldwide Jewish conspiracy; but since the Jews were ultimately to blame for communism, it was right to kill them now.

In an arc that extended southward from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, the last week of June and the first weeks of July 1941 brought violence against Jews. In Lithuania and Latvia, where the Germans could bring local nationalists with them, and could pose at least for a moment as a liberator of whole states, the resonance of propaganda was greater and local participation more notable. In some important places in what had been eastern Poland, such as Białystok, the Germans carried out large-scale killings with their own forces, thereby setting a kind of example. Białystok, just east of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line, had been a city in northeastern Poland, then in Soviet Belarus. Immediately after it was taken by the Wehrmacht on 27 June, Order Police Battalion 309 began to plunder and kill civilians. German policemen killed about three hundred Jews and left the bodies lying around the city. Then they drove several hundred more Jews into the synagogue and set it on fire, shooting those who tried to escape. In the two weeks that followed, local Poles took part in some thirty pogroms in the Białystok region. Meanwhile, Himmler journeyed to Białystok, where he gave instructions that Jews were to be treated as partisans. The Order Police took a thousand Jewish men from Białystok to its outskirts and shot them between 8 and 11 July.18

Further south in what had been eastern Poland, in regions where Ukrainians were a majority, Germans appealed to Ukrainian nationalism. Here the Germans blamed the Jews for Soviet oppression of Ukrainians. In Kremenets, where more than a hundred prisoners were found murdered, some 130 Jews were killed in a pogrom. In Lutsk, where some 2,800 prisoners were found machine-gunned, the Germans killed two thousand Jews, and called this revenge for the wrongs done to Ukrainians by Jewish communists. In Lviv, where about 2,500 prisoners were found dead in the NKVD prison, Einsatzgruppe C and local militia organized a pogrom that lasted for days. The Germans presented these people as Ukrainian victims of Jewish secret policemen: in fact, some of the victims were Poles and Jews (and most of the secret policemen were probably Russians and Ukrainians). The diary of a man belonging to another of the Einsatzgruppen recorded the scene on 5 July 1941: “Hundreds of Jews are running down the street with faces covered with blood, holes in their heads, and eyes hanging out.” In the first few days of the war, local militias, with and without various kinds of German aid and encouragement, killed and instigated others to kill about 19,655 Jews in pogroms.

Political calculation and local suffering do not entirely explain the participation in these pogroms. Violence against Jews served to bring the Germans and elements of the local non-Jewish population closer together. Anger was directed, as the Germans wished, toward the Jews, rather than against collaborators with the Soviet regime as such. People who reacted to the Germans’ urging knew that they were pleasing their new masters, whether or not they believed that the Jews were responsible for their own woes. By their actions they were confirming the Nazi worldview. The act of killing Jews as revenge for NKVD executions confirmed the Nazi understanding of the Soviet Union as a Jewish state. Violence against Jews also allowed local Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Poles who had themselves cooperated with the Soviet regime to escape any such taint. The idea that only Jews served communists was convenient not just for the occupiers but for some of the occupied as well.

Yet this psychic nazification would have been much more difficult without the palpable evidence of Soviet atrocities. The pogroms took place where the Soviets had recently arrived and where Soviet power was recently installed, where for the previous months Soviet organs of coercion had organized arrests, executions, and deportations. They were a joint production, a Nazi edition of a Soviet text.

The encounter with Soviet violence east of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line served the SS, and its leaders. Himmler and Heydrich had always maintained that life was a clash of ideologies, and that traditional European understandings of the rule of law had to give way to the ruthless violence needed to destroy the racial and ideological enemy in the East. The traditional enforcers of German law, the police, had to become “ideological soldiers.” Thus before the war Himmler and Heydrich had purged the ranks of the police of men deemed unreliable, encouraged policemen to join the SS, and placed the SS and the Security Police (Order Police plus Gestapo) under a single structure of command. Their goal was to create a unified force dedicated to preemptive racial warfare. By the time of the invasion of the Soviet Union, about a third of German policemen with officer rank belonged to the SS, and about two thirds belonged to the National Socialist party.

The German surprise attack had caught the NKVD off guard, and made the East appear to be a domain of lawlessness primed for a new German order. The NKVD, usually discreet, had been revealed as the murderer of prisoners. Germans broke through the levels of mystification, secrecy, and dissimulation that had covered the (far greater) Soviet crimes of 1937-1938 and 1930-1933. The Germans (along with their allies) were the only power ever to penetrate the territory of the Soviet Union in this way, and so the only people in a position to present such direct evidence of Stalinist murder. Because it was the Germans who discovered these crimes, the prison murders were politics before they were history. Fact used as propaganda is all but impossible to disentangle from the politics of its original transmission.

Because of the visible record of Soviet violence, German forces of order could present themselves as undoing Soviet crimes even as they engaged in crimes of their own. In light of their indoctrination, what Germans found in the doubly occupied lands made a certain kind of sense to them. It seemed to be a confirmation of what they had been trained and prepared to see: Soviet criminality, supposedly steered by and for the benefit of Jews. Soviet atrocities would help German SS-men, policemen, and soldiers justify to themselves the policies to which they were soon summoned: the murder of Jewish women and children. Yet the prison shootings, significant as they were to the local people who suffered Soviet criminality, were for Nazi leaders rather catalyst than cause.

In July 1941, Himmler was eager to show his master Hitler that he was attuned to the darker side of National Socialism, and ready to pursue policies of absolute ruthlessness. His SS and police were in competition for authority in the new eastern colonies with military and civilian occupation authorities. He was also in a personal contest for Hitler’s favor with Göring, whose plans for economic expansion lost credibility as the war preceded. Himmler would demonstrate that shooting was easier than starvation, deportation, and slavery. As Reich Commissar for the Strengthening of Germandom, Himmler’s authority as chief of racial affairs extended only to conquered Poland, not to the conquered Soviet Union. But as German forces moved into the prewar Soviet Union, Himmler behaved as if it did, using his power as head of the police and the SS to begin a policy of racial transformation that depended upon mortal violence.

In July 1941, Himmler traveled personally throughout the western Soviet Union to pass on the new line: Jewish women and children should be killed along with Jewish men. The forces on the ground reacted immediately. Einsatzgruppe C, which had followed Army Group South into Ukraine, had been slower than Einsatzgruppe A (the Baltic States) and Einsatzgruppe B (Vilnius and Belarus) to undertake mass shootings of Jews as such. But then, at Himmler’s instigation, Einsatzgruppe C killed some sixty thousand Jews in August and September. These were organized shootings, not pogroms. Indeed, Einsatzkommando 5 of Einsatzgruppe C complained on 21 July that a pogrom by local Ukrainians and German soldiers hindered them from shooting the Jews of Uman. In the next two days, however, Einsatzkommando did shoot about 1,400 Uman Jews (sparing a few Jewish women who were to take gravestones from the Jewish cemetery and use them to build a road). Einsatzkommando of Einsatzgruppe C seems not to have killed women and children until a personal inspection by Himmler.

Last Stand

During his inspection of the battlefield, Benteen decided that there was no pattern to how the more than two hundred bodies of Custer’s battalion were positioned. “I arrived at the conclusion then that I have now,” he testified two and a half years later, “that it was a rout, a panic, till the last man was killed. There was no line on the battlefield; you can take a handful of corn and scatter it over the floor and make just such lines.” Today many of the descendants of the warriors who fought in the battle believe the rout started at the river.

According to these Native accounts, Custer’s portion of the battle began with a charge down Medicine Tail Coulee to the Little Bighorn. The troopers had started to cross the river when the warriors concealed on the west bank opened fire. The grandmother of Sylvester Knows Gun, a northern Cheyenne, was there. The troopers were led, she told her grandson, by an officer in a buckskin coat, and he was “the first one to get hit.” As the officer slumped in his saddle, three soldiers quickly converged around the horse of their wounded leader. “They got one on each side of him,” she said, “and the other one got in front of him, and grabbed the horse’s reins . . . , and they quickly turned around and went back across the river.” Sylvester Knows Gun maintained that this was Custer and that he was dead by the time he reached Last Stand Hill.

The wounding, if not death, of Custer at the early stages of the battle would explain much. Suddenly leaderless, the battalion dissolved in panic. According to Sylvester Knows Gun, the battle was over in just twenty minutes.

There is evidence, however, that Custer was very much alive by the time he reached Last Stand Hill. Unlike almost all the other weapons fired that day, Custer’s Remington sporting rifle used brass instead of copper cartridge casings, and a pile of these distinctive casings was found near his body. There is also evidence that Custer’s battalion, instead of being on the defensive almost from the start, remained on the offensive for almost two hours before it succumbed to the rapid disintegration described by Sylvester Knows Gun and others.

It may very well be that the warriors’ descendants have it right. But given the evidence found on and in the ground, along with the recorded testimony of many of the battle participants, it seems likely that Custer lived long enough to try to repeat his success at the Washita by capturing the village’s women and children. What follows is a necessarily speculative account of how this desperate attempt to secure hostages ultimately led to Custer’s Last Stand.

Runs the Enemy had just helped drive Reno’s battalion across the river on the afternoon of June 25. He was returning to the village when he saw two Indians up on the ridge to the right, each one waving a blanket. They were shouting, he remembered, that “the genuine stuff was coming.”

He immediately crossed the river and rode to the top of the hill. He couldn’t believe what he saw: troopers, many more troopers than he and the others had just chased to the bluffs behind them. “They seemed to fill the whole hill,” he said. “It looked as if there were thousands of them, and I thought we would surely be beaten.” In the valley to the north, in precisely the same direction the troopers were riding, were thousands of noncombatants, some of them moving down the river toward a hollow beside a small creek, others gathered at the edge of the hills to the west, but all within easy reach of a swiftly moving regiment of cavalry. While Runs the Enemy and the others had been battling the first group of soldiers, this other, larger group of washichus had found a way around them and were now about to capture their women and children.

He rushed down to the encampment where the Lakota warriors returning from the battle with Reno’s battalion had started to gather. “I looked into their eyes,” he remembered, “and they looked different—they were filled with fear.” At that moment Sitting Bull appeared. Riding a buckskin horse back and forth, he addressed the warriors along the river’s edge. “A bird, when it is on its nest, spreads its wings to cover the nest and eggs and protect them,” Sitting Bull said. “It cannot use its wings for defense, but it can cackle and try to drive away the enemy. We are here to protect our wives and children, and we must not let the soldiers get them. Make a brave fight!”

As the warriors splashed across the river and climbed into the hills, Sitting Bull and his nephew One Bull headed down the valley. They must prepare the women and children to move quickly. As Sitting Bull admitted to a newspaper reporter a year and a half later, “[W]e thought we were whipped.”

In the vicinity of a hill topped by a circular hollow that was later named for his brother-in-law Lieutenant James Calhoun, Custer convened his final conference with the officers of his battalion. The Left Wing had just returned from its trip to the river. The Right Wing had marched up from a ridge to the south where it had been waiting for the imminent arrival of Frederick Benteen. The white-haired captain and his battalion were still nowhere in sight, but Custer could take solace in knowing that even though Benteen had dawdled at the Washita, he had come through splendidly in the end.

Ever since the Crow’s Nest, Custer had been pushing as hard as he possibly could. His scouts had told him it was a big village, but they had also told him the Indians were on the run. So he had divided his command rather than let the Indians slip away. To send Benteen off to the left was one thing; to veer suddenly to the right and climb to the bluffs while Reno charged a village of unconfirmed size was quite another. That had been a mistake, he could now see, but there was still a way to win this battle. If he could cross the river to the north and secure hostages, he’d have the key to victory. But to accomplish this, he needed more men.

Given the large size of the village, the prudent thing to do was to backtrack to Reno and Benteen and reunite the regiment. But to do that was to give up any hope of securing hostages. The only option, to Custer’s mind, was to prepare for a decisive thrust to the north. As Captain Myles Keogh and the Right Wing continued to wait for Benteen, he and Yates’s Left Wing would scout out a ford. The plan required Custer to divide his already divided command once again, but only temporarily. Even before he’d found the crossing, Keogh and Benteen should be on their way to join him for the attack.

The risks, of course, were considerable. But Custer’s all-or-nothing approach was not new. At the Washita, he might have attacked the huge village to the east if the scout Ben Clark had not talked him out of it. As recently as the Yellowstone campaign of 1873, Custer had launched into a much larger force of well-armed Lakota warriors and might have been wiped out if not for the arrival of General Stanley’s artillery. Soon after that engagement, Captain Yates had been sitting on a log with two other officers. “Gentlemen,” one of them said, “it is only a question of time until Custer will get us into a hole from which we will not escape.”

The Crow interpreter and scout Mitch Boyer had never served with Custer prior to this campaign. He had undoubtedly heard of the general’s reputation for aggressiveness, but this last-minute push for hostages seems to have struck him as doomed from the start. The other battalions, Boyer told Curley, had been “scared out” and were not about to respond to Custer’s summons. “That man,” Boyer said, “will stop at nothing. He is going to take us right into the village, where there are many more warriors than we are. We have no chance at all.”

Eight years before, at the Battle of the Washita, a scout had somehow managed to persuade Custer to relent. Not this time. Boyer advised Curley to escape to the east before it was too late. For his part, Boyer elected to remain with Custer to the end.

Hindsight makes Custer look like an egomaniacal fool. But as Sitting Bull, Runs the Enemy, and many other Lakota and Cheyenne realized that day, he came frighteningly close to winning the most spectacular victory of his career.

From a distance the surrounding hills of grass and sagebrush seemed to be smooth and rolling; in actuality, they were crisscrossed with hidden coulees, gulches, and ravines. As Custer and the Left Wing marched north and Keogh’s Right Wing awaited Benteen in the vicinity of Calhoun Hill to the south, hundreds of warriors streamed up from the Little Bighorn through this vast, virtually invisible network of dry watercourses.

From earliest childhood, a warrior was taught how to stalk game without being detected, and this was exactly what was happening now. The Cheyenne and Lakota could see the soldiers, Wooden Leg remembered, but “the soldiers could not see our warriors, as they had left their ponies and were crawling in the gullies through the sagebrush.” The Cheyenne Kate Bighead had been at the Washita when Custer had attacked eight years before. After hiding in the brush during Reno’s attack, she was now on a pony, well back from the soldiers on the hill, and not even she could see the warriors creeping toward Keogh’s battalion. The only evidence she could detect of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Indians infiltrating the hills was the many ponies left tied to the sagebrush.

Every now and then one of the warriors leapt up, fired his rifle, and disappeared once again into the grass as he continued to work his way toward the soldiers. Arrows were even more effective in harassing the troopers and especially their horses. The arrow could be launched in a high, arching curve without betraying the location of the warrior with a telltale cloud of black powder smoke. “The arrows falling upon the horses stuck in their backs,” Wooden Leg remembered, “and caused them to go plunging here and there, knocking down the soldiers.”

Some of the warriors grew impatient with the slow creep toward the enemy. Remaining mounted, they rode back and forth in front of the soldiers, inviting them to fire. One of these was Sitting Bull’s nephew White Bull. Leaning over the side of his bareback pony while he clung to the mane with both hands, White Bull set out on a daring bravery run that elicited a crackling shower of carbine fire. There were others, Wooden Leg remembered, who challenged the soldiers to shoot at them. Several times Keogh’s soldiers attempted to check the rising tide of warriors with a volley or two, but for the most part the firing on both sides remained haphazard and ineffective. According to Kate Bighead, this period of “fighting slowly, with not much harm to either side” lasted for close to an hour and a half.

—THE LAST STAND, June 25, 1876—

Battle of the Little Big Horn known as Custer‘s Last Stand.

As anyone who has ridden a horse across the Little Bighorn Battlefield knows, once you are down within the smothering embrace of this grassy landscape, you have no way of knowing what is happening around you. It is quite likely that as the troopers of the Left Wing worked their way north, they found themselves in a surprisingly quiet, self-contained world, almost completely insulated from the growing sense of alarm gripping the officers and men of the Right Wing to the south.

About a mile to the north, Custer, Yates, and the Left Wing found a buffalo trail that led down from the ridge to the river. As they approached the Little Bighorn, a group of young Cheyenne warriors fired on them from the hills behind. Ahead of them, on the south side of a wide loop in the river, was what they were looking for: a ford that provided access to the noncombatants gathered a short distance to the west.

Concealed in the brush beside the river was a group of Cheyenne warriors. As had occurred earlier at Medicine Tail Coulee, the warriors opened fire as soon as the Left Wing approached the river. “[The warriors] hit one horse down there,” Hanging Wolf remembered, “and it bucked off a soldier, but the rest took him along when they retreated north.” As had also been true during Custer’s earlier venture to the river, this was a reconnaissance mission, and the troopers quickly turned back.

Whether it was fired by the Indians stationed at the ford or by those in the hills to the east, one of the warriors’ bullets struck and killed the newspaper reporter Mark Kellogg. Three days later, the reporter’s body, all by itself along the remote reaches of the river, was one of the last to be discovered.

Having found a place to cross the river, Custer and the Left Wing rode up to a nearby ridge, where they awaited the arrival of Keogh and Benteen. They waited for twenty minutes, according to John Stands in Timber, who received his information from Wolf’s Tooth, one of the young Cheyenne warriors who had been following Custer’s command since it left the Right Wing to the south. By this point, Custer must have been seething with impatience and indignation. The collapse of Reno’s battalion had been unfortunate, but it had also prepared the way for a masterstroke to the north—a masterstroke that depended, unfortunately, on the arrival of Benteen. Just as Reno and Benteen were sitting on their hill to the south raging against Custer, Custer and his staff were, no doubt, raging against Reno and Benteen.

After twenty minutes had passed, the soldiers of the Left Wing finally began to retrace their steps. A messenger from Keogh may have alerted Custer to the presence of a potentially overwhelming number of Indians to the south, not to mention the fact that there was no sign of Benteen. Custer could have rejoined Keogh and the Right Wing. Calhoun Hill was the best piece of ground they had so far seen for a defensive stand. But that would have required Custer to give up all hope of attacking the Indians to the north. Instead of rejoining Keogh, Custer redeployed the Left Wing in the vicinity of a flat-topped hill about three-quarters of a mile to the north of the Right Wing. Custer’s battalion was still stretched dangerously thin, but now the two wings were close enough to be consolidated, if necessary, without eliminating entirely the possibility of a final push to the north.

Years later Wolf’s Tooth described how one portion of the Left Wing (probably Yates’s troop) positioned itself with the horses in a basin on the river side of the flat-topped hill while another group of troopers, probably Lieutenant Algernon Smith’s E Company, moved on foot to a ridge to the north. As had been occurring down to the south around Calhoun Hill, warriors had been streaming across the river and working their way up into the hills, and it was now necessary to address the growing threat to the north. Even now, at this late stage, the enemy fire was more of a nuisance than a threat. But that was about to change.

Much as Yates had just done with the Left Wing, Keogh had kept his own I Company, as well as Lieutenant Henry Harrington’s C Company, in reserve in a section of low ground where the horses could be protected from potential attack. He positioned the company of Custer’s brother-in-law Lieutenant James Calhoun around the shallow basin at the top of the rise known today as Calhoun Hill.

It had been an excruciating hour of waiting. They knew the Indians were out there; they just couldn’t see them as the warriors wriggled and squirmed their way through the grassy coulees and ravines. The troopers’ biggest concern was to the southwest. A prominent ridge that overlooked the eastern banks of the Little Bighorn, known today as Greasy Grass Ridge, was brimming with hundreds of warriors, who were beginning to spill over in their direction. Keogh directed Lieutenant Harrington and C Company to charge these Indians and drive them back to the river.

Wooden Leg watched as the forty or so soldiers galloped about five hundred yards toward a group of warriors assembled on a low ridge. As Keogh had hoped, the warriors fled for the safety of a nearby gulch and C Company took the ridge. Initially, the soldiers remained mounted. But as they came to realize that the Indians were, in the words of the Cheyenne Yellow Nose, “not intimidated,” the troopers got off their horses and formed a skirmish line. Some of the warriors later told Sitting Bull how the troopers’ legs trembled when they dismounted from their horses. “They could not stand firmly on their feet,” Sitting Bull told a reporter. “They swayed to and fro . . . like the limbs of cypresses in a great wind. Some of them staggered under the weight of their guns.” The soldiers were certainly exhausted, but they were also trembling with fear.

They soon realized that the warriors who’d fled from the ridge were not the only Indians in the vicinity. “The soldiers evidently supposed [the warriors] were few in number . . . ,” Yellow Nose recalled. “Their mistake was soon apparent as the Indians seemed really to be springing from the ground.” One of the older warriors in the battle was the thirty-seven-year-old Cheyenne Lame White Man. He’d been in a sweat lodge beside the Little Bighorn when Reno’s battalion first attacked. He had not had time to properly dress before he took after Custer’s battalion in the hills to the east. He now sat astride his pony with his loose hair unbraided and just a blanket wrapped around his waist, exhorting the young warriors “to come back and fight.”

“All around,” Wooden Leg remembered, “the Indians began jumping up, running forward, dodging down, jumping up again, down again, all the time going toward the soldiers.” “There were hundreds of warriors,” Kate Bighead recalled, “many more than one might have thought could hide themselves in those small gullies.” The troopers of C Company suddenly realized that they were outnumbered by more than twenty to one.

Book source :The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn


Cartouches of Thutmose III

Thutmose III, everybody agrees, was the greatest warrior Egypt ever produced. He has been compared with Alexander and Napoleon, particularly the latter; for when Thutmose’s mummy was found and examined, the anatomist Grafton Elliot Smith reported that he was a little fellow, slightly over five feet tall—pretty short, even for an ancient Egyptian. This led to the usual psychological cliches about little men and their need to prove their manhood. It wasn’t until fairly recently that someone actually took another look at the mummy and pointed out that the feet were missing. Remeasurements and recalculations resulted in quite a different figure. Thutmose was of average height for an Egyptian—approximately five feet seven inches.

This is a relatively minor point, I suppose, but I mention it because it is further proof of the advantages of revisionism. To claim that Thutmose’s accomplishments were “compensation” for a subconscious sense of inadequacy or frustration is a cheap explanation. He was, as his adult life demonstrates, a man of varied and profound capabilities. Soldier, strategist, statesman, administrator—in each of these roles Thutmose displayed both energy and imagination. To accomplish all he accomplished in one lifetime, he must have been one of those irritating people who sleep only four hours a night and spend their waking hours operating at the highest pitch of efficiency.

It is a pity that physiognomy is not a reliable reflection of character, for while we cannot explain what went on behind Thutmose’s face, we know pretty accurately what he looked like. His is not a handsome face, for its regularity is marred by one outstanding feature. Thutmose III excelled his predecessors in nose as in everything else and bore it as proudly as Cyrano bore his.

We happen to have unusually detailed records that relate the military exploits of the Conqueror. The basic source is a long inscription called the Annals of Thutmose III. It was recorded on the walls of the temple of Karnak, and there it may be read today by any visitor who can decipher hieroglyphs. The stone-carved inscription was copied from an original, probably written on leather, by a man named Thaneni. In his tomb, Thaneni says proudly that he followed Thutmose III on his campaigns and “recorded the victories which he won in every land, putting them into writing according to the facts.” He was evidently the official army historian or military scribe, and it is to him that we owe the famous tale of the Battle of Megiddo with which the Annals of Karnak begin. But the man who supervised the carving of the copy was a priest, whose chief interest was not in battles but in booty, much of which went to the temple. As the Annals continue, they gradually degenerate into a prosaic list of tributes with only tantalizing hints of battles and brilliant strategies. Fortunately, we have other sources. The most useful is the tomb auto biography of a soldier named Amenemhab, who was second only to the royal warrior himself in valor. Other inscriptions that tell of the exploits of Thutmose the Great have been found at Gebel Barkal in Nubia and at Armant.

In the eighth month of his twenty-second year Thutmose left Tharu, the last Egyptian city on the northeast frontier, at the head of his army. His purpose, “to extend the boundaries of Egypt”—a candid avowal of motive, which is not found in the annals of most conquerors. In fact, the expedition marched to counter the threat mentioned in the preceding chapter, a threat posed by the great confederation of north Syrian states and their princes.

Ten days later Thutmose was at Gaza, a distance of 160 miles, not a bad pace for infantry. The date was significant: exactly twenty-two years earlier, Thutmose had been crowned king of Egypt. He arrived at Gaza on the fourth day of the Egyptian month Pakhons, and he left the city on the fifth day. On the sixteenth day he encamped at Yehem, a town on the southern slopes of the Carmel Mountains.

Thutmose’s goal was the city of Megiddo, in the plain on the northern side of the mountains. Megiddo had been fortified by the allies, who were under the command of the powerful king of Kadesh, because of its important strategic position as well as its reputation as an invincible fortress; it commanded the best road from Egypt to the Euphrates and was a populous city before and after Thutmose III.

Thutmose called his officers together for a council of war. The problem: how to cross the mountain ridge and reach the plain. There were three possible roads. One came out of the mountains north of Megiddo and one skirted the slopes of the city. The third route was the shortest and most direct. But the direct route had one conspicuous disadvantage, which the officers promptly pointed out.

“How can we go upon this narrow road, when it is reported that the enemy is waiting? Must not horse go behind horse, and soldiers and people likewise? Shall our vanguard be fighting while the rear stands in Aruna, unable to fight?”

This makes very good sense militarily. However, as we saw in the story of Kamose, the caution of the royal council is a favorite Egyptian literary device and is intended to contrast with the valor and reckless courage of the king.

“My Majesty will proceed along this road of Aruna,” the king swore, with great oaths. “Let him who will among you go upon those roads of which you speak, and let him who will among you come in the following of My Majesty.”

Naturally everybody followed His Majesty. Evidently courage was a royal attribute more cherished by the Egyptians than good sense. Thutmose only succeeded in this recklessness because his opponents were equally careless—which, to do him justice, he might have counted upon. He himself led the way through the narrow, treacherous pass, up the mountain ridge to the town of Aruna, where he spent the night. Next morning he pushed forward again and, before long, ran into the enemy. As the council had predicted, the rear of the Egyptian army was still in Aruna; but luckily for the Egyptians, the king, in the van, had reached a widening in the pass. Here the exasperated officers once more pleaded for caution.

“Let our victorious lord listen to us this time, and let our lord await the rear of his army and his people!”

This time Thutmose harkened. He waited till the rest of the army caught up with him. The enemy was not in sufficient force to oppose him, so he was then able to press forward and make camp south of Megiddo, on the bank of the brook called Kina.

Heaven knows what the king of Kadesh and his confederates were doing all this time. They might have won the battle if they had had scouts farther along the Aruna road, or had brought up reinforcements in time to deal with Thutmose when he first came out of the pass. Perhaps they assumed that no soldier of any intelligence would venture upon the Aruna road, so narrow and so susceptible to ambush. Or perhaps they counted on the strong walls of Megiddo, for when Thutmose led the chariot charge against them next morning, they broke with scarcely afight. “They fled headlong to Megiddo in terror, abandoning their horses and their chariots of gold and silver, and the people hauled them up into the city, pulling them by their clothing.”

The Egyptians enjoyed low comic touches of this sort, when the joke was on the enemy; the picture of the mighty prince of Kadesh being pulled up over the walls of Megiddo by his shirttails is rather funny. But what happened after that was not so amusing, and Thaneni, the army scribe, is bitter about it.

“Now if only the army of His Majesty had not given their hearts to plundering the belongings of the enemy, they would have captured Megiddo at this moment!” The sight of the abandoned horses (still uncommon and very valuable) and the jeweled equipment of the allies was too much for the Egyptian soldiers. They loyally carried the loot to the king, but Thutmose was not consoled. He urged the army on to victory: “The capture of Megiddo is the capture of a thousand towns!”

So the troops of Egypt had to pay for their greed with a long siege. They cut down the trees near the city and walled it in. The incompetent rebels had not planned to be besieged. They had left the very grain in the fields, and their empty stomachs must have felt even emptier as they looked over the city walls and saw the Egyptians munching the bread made from their crops. Famine finally took its toll; the “wretched Asiatics” came forth suing for peace.

Somehow or other the pièce de résistance of the confederation, the king of Kadesh, had slipped over both sets of walls one dark night and made his getaway; it is hard to imagine how, but he did. Despite this setback, Thutmose showed amazing clemency toward the inhabitants. Naturally, he took most of their property, but he allowed the allied soldiers transport to their distant homes. “Then My Majesty gave them leave to go to their towns. They all went by donkey, so that I might take their horses.”

In his haste to escape, the king of Kadesh had been forced to leave his family behind; either that “fallen one” was not bound by strong ties of familial affection or he relied rather trustingly on Thutmose’s clemency. His hopes were justified. Thutmose took them as hostages but did them no harm. It was safer to be besieged and captured by Thutmose III than by most later European conquerors.

After cleaning out the city of Megiddo, Thutmose took the road again, north to Lebanon. He subdued another confederation of three cities here and built a fortress. The season was growing late; the rains were due. Thutmose turned south toward Egypt, but not without a political stroke no less effective than his military exploits. He had appointed new chiefs for the conquered countries, to supplant the “rebellious” princes. The sons of the new rulers were taken to Egypt by the canny king, whose scribe explains: “Now whosoever of these princes died, His Majesty would cause his son to stand in his place.” The heirs of the Asiatics served as hostages for the loyalty of their fathers; and when they in turn came to rule their vassal cities they had become Egyptian in custom and language and sympathy, identifying themselves with the cultured Egyptians among whom they had been raised from childhood rather than with their own humble subjects. It was a masterstroke, and this is the first recorded instance of its being practiced, though later conquerors found it equally useful.

The city of Thebes was in celebration when the king returned, and Amon had the best cause to rejoice; he got the lion’s share of the plunder. Not only gold and jewels, but also land in conquered Lebanon and in Egypt itself went to the god, with cattle to graze thereon and slaves to tend it.

The following year Thutmose was off again—an easy swing through the conquered territories to check up on the princes he had left in power. The chieftains’ collective memory was good; they poured in with tribute and assurances of undying devotion. There were also gifts from the king of Assyria, then a young nation on the threshold of its later power. The Egyptians blandly recorded these gifts, as they would do with other gifts from more powerful monarchs, as “tribute.” If a wandering Assyrian reached Egypt and was able to read the Karnak inscriptions—an unlikely event—he would hardly be in a position to contradict them. It’s possible that the gifts were reciprocated.

The energetic king had now worked out a schedule to which he would adhere for the rest of his life: half the year in the field, the other half in Thebes, organizing, building, and checking on what had been done in his absence. The army marched from Egypt after the spring harvests, which occurred earlier in that country than elsewhere in the Near East, and arrived in Syria just in time to swoop down on the enemy’s ripening grain. When the rainy season approached, Thutmose turned homeward, reaching Thebes some time in October.

Thutmose devoted his third and fourth campaigns to further consolidation of territory already won. The records of the third campaign at Karnak are rather striking, although they do not note any great battles; instead, the walls depict long rows of plants and animals that were brought back, at the king’s command, from Syria. This suggests a certain degree of intellectual curiosity on the part of Thutmose; we wonder what other subjects engaged his interest. But few records touch upon this attractive trait; conquest was a more dramatic subject for reliefs than was scholarship.

In Thutmose’s early campaigns we may see a leitmotif that emerges more clearly as the years pass. The great adversary at Megiddo, the leader of the allies, was the king of Kadesh. The Egyptians never gave him a name, for reasons which we have explained before, but he was a shrewd and cunning adversary and a constant thorn in Thutmose’s side. We recall that the successful siege of Megiddo did not net this wily bird; he had escaped, leaving his family in Thutmose’s hands. In the next five years Thutmose must have realized that he would eventually have to face and crush Kadesh and its king, but he was no longer the impetuous youth who had led his army through the dangerous pass of Aruna. His fifth campaign dealt with the Phoenician cities of the coast, hitherto unmolested. This move had its place in a larger strategy; Thutmose could not advance northward toward Kadesh with the potential threat of Phoenicia behind him. Cunningly, he avoided the southern coast and struck by sea at the wealthy northern kingdoms of Phoenicia. Two great battles, and the coast was won; the other chieftains sent messages of submission.

Thutmose returned home by sea, the first part of his long-range plans completed. The next campaign was to be against Kadesh itself.

Kadesh was a hard nut to crack, even for Thutmose III. It was entirely surrounded by water, with rivers on two sides and a canal on the third; moats and formidable walls made it perhaps the strongest fortress in all of Syria. Thutmose laid siege to the city. Thanks to the materialistic orientation of the scribe who recorded this campaign, we can’t even be sure whether he conquered it or not. Amenemhab, Thutmose’s trusted officer, was there; but since his memoirs were designed to be carved in his tomb, they naturally concern themselves primarily with the bravery of Amenemhab. We can only conclude that he was not especially brave upon this occasion.

What happened to the adversary, that “fallen one,” of Kadesh? The records are infuriatingly silent on this point. Evidently the king of Kadesh repeated his earlier exploit and got away from the beleaguered city. He was certainly a leading advocate of the “he who fights and runs away” school of thought. We have not heard the last of him yet.

Thutmose regarded Kadesh and not its king as the major goal of this campaign, for he went on to the next stage of what had become a truly ambitious plan. Whether he had dreamed of his final goal from boyhood, or whether he dared envision it as his triumphant army proceeded, almost unopposed, through the highlands, we do not know. It was a dream worthy of a conqueror, and it had precedent. Years before, his grandfather Thutmose I, to whom he owed not only filial respect but the admiration of one fine soldier for another, had led his armies to the banks of the Euphrates—that strange inverted water whose current actually flowed from north to south instead of in the normal, decent manner. The inverted water had now begun to haunt the slumbers of Thutmose III. But between him and the Euphrates lay a sizeable obstacle—not a loosely bound confederation of small city states, but the mighty empire of Mitanni, or Naharin.

The kingdom of Mitanni is still one of the unsolved mysteries of Near Eastern archaeology. To be sure, we know it was there, which could not have been said a century ago. But its capital, known as Wassukanni, has never been found, and its language is still imperfectly understood. Most of what we know of this flourishing country, one of the half-dozen great powers of the second millennium B.C., we know from records of other nations. During the fifteenth century before Christ, a group of alien warriors, trainers, and breeders of horses came down from some unknown homeland in farther Asia and subjugated the indigenous peoples of the area near the Upper Euphrates. They spoke an Indo-European language, these cavalrymen, and the gods they worshiped have been connected with the deities of India—Mitra, Indra, Varuna. At its peak the empire of Naharin extended from the Zagros to the Mediterranean, and from Lake Van to Asshur. Its interests naturally extended to the part of northern Syria that lay near its own borders.

These were the people whom Thutmose III meant to face next. The attack on Mitanni was not out-and-out aggression; the king of that nation had backed the confederation of the chieftains of Syria, which was crushed in the battle of Megiddo. However, it is not likely that Thutmose was worrying about justification.

Before undertaking his greatest battle, Thutmose took every precaution for success. He spent a year making sure that his territories in Syria were under control, and a further year in Egypt making ready. The following year he was on his way.

One little touch displayed during this famous campaign shows Thutmose’s foresight, as well as his self-confidence. In Byblos, on the Phoenician coast, he had ships built of the famous cedar. Loaded on carts drawn by oxen, “they journeyed in front of My Majesty, in order to cross that great river which lies between this foreign country and Naharin.” The river is, of course, the Euphrates, and the poor oxen must have had a time of it, all the way from Phoenicia.

Senzar, Aleppo, Carchemish—one after another the cities of north Syria fell or sent messages of submission. Thutmose’s reputation had evidently preceded him. The king of Naharin fled before him, abandoning his country to fire and the sword. Thutmose crossed the river on his cedar boats and laid waste to Naharin, carry ing its people away captive to Egypt. Upon reaching the river, he erected a stela beside that of his grandfather Thutmose I.

Thutmose must have been in his glory as he turned back toward Egypt, conquering a town here and there as he marched. By an ironic touch of fate, he came closest to disaster at the time of his highest triumph; his life was saved only by the prompt action of his devoted follower Amenemhab. This was one of the great moments of the general’s life, and he remembered it vividly even when, as an old man, he sat recounting his deeds to the patient scribe who would supervise their recording for eternity. One of the cities Thutmose scooped in on his way home was called Niy. After the battle of Niy, word got around that there was a herd of elephants in the vicinity, and the king decided to take time out for relaxation. There were 120 beasts in the herd, which the Egyptians hunted, and one of them—“the largest,” according to modest Amenemhab—charged the king. Standing in the water between two rocks, the general placed his body between his king and danger, and cut off the beast’s “hand.” He was rewarded with gold—and changes of clothing. One would hope so, indeed. An elephant in a river can raise considerable surf, and if Amenemhab really did sever its trunk there must have been other stains than those of water on his linen kilt.

We know only this single narrow escape of the king’s, thanks to the “shrivelled soul of the ancient bureaucrat” who recorded the campaigns at Karnak. The epithets are those of Breasted, who goes on to add, bitterly, that the ancient scribe “little dreamed how hungrily future ages would ponder his meagre excerpts.” Of course, Thutmose must have had his share of wounds and danger; he never led his regiment from behind. But the myth of the invincible king, armored in his divinity, is never questioned in the official records.

One might suppose that Thutmose could now safely rest upon his laurels. For ten years he had spent half of his time in the field; he had extended the empire farther than had any king who ever ruled Egypt; and the plunder that poured into the capital at Thebes must have dazzled the eyes of the watching populace. He had enlarged the temples and built new ones, sent caravans to Punt and the Sudan, and received gifts from Babylon and Hatti.

But the conquered lands were too new to subjugation to bear it lightly, and Thutmose had to maintain his empire or give it up. He had another twenty years of life before him, and in that time he fought nine more campaigns. One need not suppose that the task was unpleasant; by inclination and by habit Thutmose may have preferred the life of the camp to that of the courtly halls of Thebes, with their rich decorations of gold and faience—and their tedious round of ceremonial duties. He had his staff, well trained and devoted: Thaneni, the scribe who recorded the exploits of His Majesty; Amenemhab, the trusted general who had saved him from the elephant in Niy; Intef the marshal, a prince of Thinis, who had the king’s apartments in tent or conquered palace ready for him when he arrived at night; Thutiy, the prince and priest and commander of the army, who conquered Joppa by a trick straight out of the Arabian Nights, if we can believe a folktale of a later date. Thutiy’s soldiers entered the city hidden in panniers borne by a train of donkeys—the precursor not only of the Trojan Horse but of Ali Baba. This tale is fiction, but Thutiy is not. His tomb has been found, as well as a beautiful golden dish, bearing his name and titles, which was given to him by Thutmose as a reward for one of his valorous deeds—could it have been the conquest of Joppa?

With such men behind him, Thutmose could venture greatly. And he could do so with his mind at ease about the welfare of the Two Lands, for he had left another trusted servant as vizier, a man named Rekhmire.

Rekhmire’s tomb is one of the showplaces of Thebes today. It lies on the hill of the Sheikh Abd el Gurnah, on the west bank of the Nile, where many of the great nobles of the Empire are buried. The walls of the tomb show us, in brilliant detail, how rich and how sophisticated was the life of a nobleman of that imperial age. The tomb also gives an interesting account of the duties of the vizier. And what duties they were! The vizier was in charge of everything. He was a whole cabinet in himself—secretary of state, receiving embassies and reviewing tribute in the king’s absence; secretary of the treasury, since the chief treasurer reported to him, and he was responsible for taxation; secretary of the interior and of agriculture, supervising the water supply, the plowing, and the canals; attorney general and chief justice; secretary of war, with both army and navy under his control; secretary of labor, for he regularly inspected the royal craftsmen, from cabinetmakers to sculptors. In his spare time the vizier wore several other hats: he was mayor and chief of police of the residence city and was also in charge of the royal messengers and the king’s personal bodyguard. Rekhmire’s tomb inscriptions mention all these functions and others; then, just in case something has been overlooked, the writing adds: “Let every office, from first to last, proceed to the hall of the vizier to take counsel with him.”

The painted walls of the tomb depict Rekhmire in the process of carry ing out many of his onerous duties, which evidently did not take every moment of his time, for there is a spirited scene of a party at the vizier’s home, with wine flowing freely and the guests enjoying its effect. Since his accession to the vizierate was the high point of Rekhmire’s life, it is natural that his formal investiture in office should be the subject of another scene.

Here we see Thutmose III enthroned. Before him stands the new vizier, attentive to the exhortation that the king delivers. It is a sobering speech, which must have had the same import as a solemn oath of office. “Look to the office of the vizier,” Thutmose begins, “and be vigilant over everything that is done in it. Lo, it is the mooring post of the entire land; lo, it is not pleasant at all—no, it is bitter as gall.” Foremost among the responsibilities of the vizier is justice. “The abomination of the god is partiality. So this is the instruction: look upon him whom you know like him whom you do not know, upon him who has access to your person like him who is distant from your house.”

If Rekhmire took his responsibilities seriously, his position as judge must have been the most sobering of all his duties. He was by proxy the dispenser of that justice which is higher than human. The tomb walls show him to us in this awesome task, seated in the hall of justice; before him are forty leather whips, which were the symbols of the discipline he could wield if he chose. For a long time these forty pictured objects were believed to be leather rolls containing a law code that governed the vizier’s decisions; and how Egyptological mouths watered at the prospect of one day finding such rolls! Peculiarly enough, the Egyptians had no such written code of laws. The other peoples of the Near East did; the Code of Hammurabi is the most famous, but there are earlier examples from the same area. Perhaps it was not strange that to the best of our knowledge the Egyptians never developed formal codified law, since the judgment of the god-king and his proxies was, by definition, straight from heaven.

Rekhmire implies that Thutmose kept a close check on the activities of his subordinates; if so, he was satisfied with what he found, for he left Egypt to their administrations half of each year while he carried out his military objectives. Most of the king’s remaining nine campaigns were tours of inspection, gentle reminders to the dynasts in Syria that though they might be far from Egypt geo graphically, they were only days removed from the all-seeing eye and all-powerful arm of the king.

The tenth campaign had to deal with a more serious problem—a resurgence of the king of Naharin and his allies. The battles Thutmose fought on this occasion daunted the proud princes of northern Syria for a good many years. Even on the relatively peaceful inspection tours, Thutmose maintained high standards of efficiency. Harbors were kept permanently supplied and garrisons were trained. “Tribute” continued to pour in, filling the treasuries of king and gods.

Thutmose had outlived Hatshepsut, subdued Mitanni, and conquered an empire; but there was one shadow out of his past which had never been exorcized. Once again, and for the final time, the prince of Kadesh reappears, out of the mists which had shrouded his activities forso long, to stand against the fighting hawk of Egypt. We have not heard of him since the battle of Kadesh, ten years before, when he mysteriously vanished from the beleaguered city. Where he had been, and what he had been up to, we do not know; but now he was ready for his last gamble with fate. He had engaged formidable support—Naharin again, and many of the coastal cities. His chief ally was the city-state of Tunip, to the north of Kadesh. Thutmose had fought in Syria for nineteen years, but if he lost this battle he might lose all that he had won.

The aging king (he must have been in his forties, which was old for that time) was prompt to take up the gage of battle. In the spring of the forty-second year of his reign, Thutmose’s fleet could be seen heading for a harbor on the north coast of Syria. Instead of marching up the river to Kadesh, he had decided to cut her off from her northern ally first. Tunip held him for a time, but he took it eventually, and then led his troops up the Orontes to Kadesh. And here Amenemhab, the old soldier who had cut off the elephant’s trunk, performed his second great deed.

The battle was fiercely fought by both sides. The stakes were tremendous, and the prince of Kadesh knew it. In his last, desperate attempt to turn the tide in his favor, he thought up a trick that was worthy of him: he sent a mare out of the city and had her driven toward the Egyptian army. The chariotry wavered as the stallions yielded to this exciting distraction. The prize of victory hung in the balance; and Amenemhab moved to weigh the scales. Leaping from his chariot, he ran the mare down and killed her. In a gesture of pure panache, he cut off the animal’s tail and presented it to the king. The assault on the city must have followed immediately; in an epic it could not be otherwise, and an epic king would have cried his army on with a great shout of laughter and a flourish of the mare’s tail. Amenemhab, carried away by his success, was first over the walls. Behind him poured the hard-bitten veterans of the Syrian wars. Against such men and such a leader even Kadesh the invincible had no chance. The city fell; and with it fell the last hopes of the Syrian cities for independence.

And what of the prince of Kadesh, who did not know when he was defeated? Once again we may invoke Breasted’s curse on the withered bureaucrat who recorded this campaign only as a list of booty collected. But we can deduce the fate of Thutmose’s archenemy from the silence that followed. Never again, in the ten years that remained to the king, did Syria rebel against her overlord. We cannot imagine such a state of peace and lethargy with the restless spirit of the prince of Kadesh still abroad in the land. The second battle of Kadesh was not a long-drawn-out siege, as the first had been. Thutmose was behind schedule that year, held back by the resistance of Tunip, and he had not time for such niceties. Kadesh was taken by storm, and its prince may not have had the opportunity to repeat his past escapes. Did he die in battle, in the last hopeless fight to save his city when the bronzed troops of Egypt swarmed over the wall; or was he captured by Thutmose and executed, as the greatest rebel of them all? Thutmose’s records do not mention the execution of enemies—who were, in the egocentric Egyptian view, guilty of rebellion and treason. It is, of course, unsafe to conclude from this silence that such executions never took place. Still, we may prefer to think of the prince of Kadesh as perishing in battle. We have a certain sympathy for him. Three times he had fought against the most invincible warrior of his age, the man to whom many of his peers had tamely surrendered without so much as a spear being cast. Megiddo, Kadesh, and Kadesh again…It would be interesting to find, some fine day, the buried records of the lost capital of Naharin, and see what they have to say about their ally of Kadesh. To his own men he was probably a patriot and a hero; to the Egyptians, just another rebel.

Book source Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs: A Popular History of Ancient Egypt


M1 Bazooka

US soldier aiming M1 Bazooka rocket launcher

M1 Bazooka

M1 Bazooka rocket launcher diagram

M9 Bazooka

M9 Bazooka rocket launcher

M9 Bazooka

US soldier aiming M9A1 Bazooka rocket launcher

The M1 anti-tank rocket launcher came into existence in 1942 as an extended range delivery system for new shaped charge anti-tank grenade, developed by US Army. The new hand grenade was effective against current German tanks but was heavy, and its throwing range was dangerously short. Therefore, US Army Lt. Uhl added a small rocket motor to the rear end of the shaped charge AT warhead, and designed a simple tubular launcher to project it with reasonable degree of accuracy. The new AT rocked was officially designated as “Rocket, A.T., M6, 2,36 inch”, and the launcher was designated as “2.36-inch Anti-Tank Rocket launcher M1”. Both were adopted in mid-1942, and by late 1942, a simplified M1A1 launcher was adopted and put into production. The hastily developed M1 rocket launcher and M6 rocket had several serious reliability and safety issues, and by late 1943 US army adopted an improved M6A3 AT rocket and a new M9 rocket launcher. The popular nickname “Bazooka” came from similarity of the launcher tube to the tubular musical instrument of the same name invented and popularized in the 1930s by US comedian Bob Burns.

First operational use of the M1 anti tank rocket launcher by US troops was recorded late in 1942, in Northern Africa. Later M1 and M9 “Bazooka” AT rocket launchers were widely used in both European and Pacific theaters of operation, against enemy armor, field entrenchments and light fortifications, bunkers etc. By the end of the WW2 60mm rockets were considered to be insufficiently effective against most modern medium and heavy tanks, but US troops viewed them as useful light support weapons. M9 bazooka rocket launchers last saw extensive use by US forces during Korean war, but were found to be ineffective against Soviet-made T34 medium tanks.

The historical importance of M1 Bazooka anti tank rocket launcher is that it was the first practical weapon of its type, spurring similar developments first in Germany and then in many other nations.

Normal crew for the M1 and M9 Bazooka anti tank rocket launchers consisted of two men – shooter / operator and loader.

The M6 Anti-Tank rocket was powered by a solid fuel motor which normally burned completely within the launcher tube. Its muzzle velocity was about 80 m/s (265 fps). Rocket motor had electrical ignition system which was constant source of reliability issues, especially in cold or wet climates. Shaped Charge warhead contained about 720 gram (1,6 Lb) of high explosive, and was capable to defeat up to 9-10 cm (3.5” – 4”) of  steel armor. It was stabilized in flight by six fixed tail fins. The M6A3 rocket had improved warhead shape and fins supplemented by cylindrical tail. When fired, the rocket motor creates dangerous backblast zone behind the launcher with maximum depth about 15 meters from the rear end of the launcher. Another one widely issued type of rocket for M1 and M9 bazooka launchers was M7 (M7A1 and M7A3) practice round with inert warhead.

The M1 Bazooka anti tank rocket launcher was built around the steel launching tube (smoothbore barrel), opened at both ends. Rockets were loaded into the barrel from the rear. After loading, rocket had to be connected to the electric firing system by its own wire, which is attached to the contact spring next to the rear end of the barrel. Bazooka rocket launcher was fitted with wooden shoulder stock that has compartments for four D-cell dry batteries – two to power rocket ignition system and two spares. Small signal lamp was fitted to the side of the shoulder stock to test the launching circuit. The pistol grip had simple trigger which closed the ignition circuit when pulled, and weapon initially lacked any manual safeties