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100 Years Ago: December 1918

This is the forty-seventh installment in my ongoing set of reviews of National Geographic Magazines as they reach their century mark.

There is only one article in this issue, “The Races of Europe”. It is described within as “a monograph of permanent educational value and ever-recurrent human interest”. It was written by Edwin A. Grosvenor, L.H.D, LL.D., President United Chapters, Phi Beta Kappa, and Recently Professor of Modern Government and International Law in Amherst College. The article has two subtitles, one on the cover (see image above) and the other below the heading on the first page of the article. It reads “The Graphic Epitome of a Never-ceasing Human Drama. The Aspirations, Failures, Achievements, and Conflicts of the Polyglot People of the Most Densely Populated Continent”. The article contains sixty-two black-and-white photographs of which thirty-two are full-page in size.

The article is structured like one of the field guides the Society has produced over the years describing various animals, birds, plants, and even flags. It even has a 20” x 24” supplement map of Europe in 19 colors depicting the “range” of each race. This map is documented on the cover, as are the two full-page sketch maps embedded in the article, a Relief Map of Europe and a Political Map of Germany.

Map courtesy of Philip Riviere

Before the article starts there is a bio of Dr. Grosvenor highlighting his twenty years in Constantinople as Professor of History at Robert College. The books he wrote are listed and some three hundred articles are mentioned. He also translated several works from French and Greek to English.

Before the field guide proper, the article has a rather lengthy introduction touching on several topics including the continent of Europe, it’s geography and history, the concept of race, and the methods used to classify various races.

Europe is small as far as continents go; it is only the size of Canada or Brazil. It’s border with Asia is ill-defined. The Caspian Sea breaks this border into two great stretches, one between the Arctic and the Caspian, and one between the mountains of the Caucasus and the Black Sea. The naming of Europe is lost to history. Maybe its for the goddess Europa, perhaps it comes from the Assyrian word ereb meaning darkness, or setting sun, in distinction from asu meaning rising sun, or Asia.

While less than one-fourteenth the land area of the world, Europe has a population of 450 million. Also, Europeans have populated the Americas and Australia, partitioned and subdued nearly the whole of Africa, and with the exception of China and Japan, they control all Asia and all the islands of all the seas. The author attributes this superiority to Europe being situated in the northern half of the North Temperate Zone. This provide the ideal climate for development. Here, where the air invigorates, man must labor to survive. With the seasonal changes, one must plan ahead, to store food and secure shelter and clothing. Colder climates stunt body and mind, while hotter climes remove the necessity of exertion and induce sloth. The climate of western Europe is determined by the Gulf Stream, the mightiest, most rapid and most beneficent of ocean currents. With no formidable barrier to breezes from the sea, the prevailing winds of Europe, loaded with ocean moisture, spread hundreds of miles inland.

Europe’s coastline is impressive. It is longer than South America’s and Africa’s combined even though they are twice and three times it’s size respectively. This is even more impressive when you consider the fact that Europe is landlocked on its eastern side. Europe’s southern boundary is the Mediterranean Sea. Running east and west for nearly 2,200 miles, it resides in the southern, more genial, part of the Temperate Zone. A succession of great islands follows a line rudely parallel to its general direction. Innumerable other islands dot its main expanse and fringe its shores.

Of all the interconnected seas comprising the Mediterranean, the Aegean was to exert the earliest and most abiding influences. Nowhere else did the ancient world afford a like training school for seamanship. The dwellers of the peninsular shores of Greece and Asia Minor were impelled by circumstance to venture upon, gradually to understand, and finally to master the sea. In the land kingdoms of Egypt, Assyria, Persia, and India the individual was submerged in the mass. But the men who singly or in small groups wrestled with and overcame the sea, the sense of personal independence was born. Classic Greece was a creation of the Mediterranean. Without the Mediterranean there would have been no Rome. Until the sixteenth century the shifting capital of the world was located on one of its three great peninsulas.

The introduction now shifts to the challenges of the classification of race. In discussing the races of Europe, we take two things for granted: (1) that all Europeans are descended from one original stock; (2) that the remote ancestors of the present inhabitants of Europe came from Asia. While neither has been absolutely proven, learned opinion inclines more and more to recognition of their truth.

A race is a great division of mankind, having in common certain distinguishing peculiarities and thus forming a comprehensive class, apparently derived from a distinct primitive source. Classification of the 1.7 million human beings who populate the earth may seem easy, but every attempt at classification has shown it to be a most difficult and perplexing task. Most classifications, especially of minor races, have not been comprehensive or have involved contradictions.

Many methods have been used to define race. The color of the skin, the color and direction of the eyes, the color and texture of the hair, some anatomical characteristic such as the aspect of the nose or the length of limbs in proportion to the trunk, peculiarities of various parts of the skeleton or thickness of the skull, capacity of the cranium as measured by the quantity of sand or shot required to fill it, the horizontal circumference of the skull, the angle made by the intersection of the axis of the face with the angle of the skull (commonly called the facial angle), the cephalic index, the relative length, breath, and height of the skull, have been among the tests employed to determine race. Language has generally been an inseparable part of the test and often the final decision has been based on it.

Research in the accuracy of these tests has shown how impossible it is to indicate essential differences among the sons of men. Efforts to resolve the mass of humanity into its component parts have had as principle result the finding out how homogenous mankind is. Nevertheless, in each of those tests there is a certain degree of truth and of applicability. The most recent and at present the most popular is the cephalic index. It is the figures that express the ratio of the greatest breath to the greatest length of the skull, the later being taken as one hundred. If the proportion is above 80 to 100, the term is brachycephalic, short-headed, and hence round-headed. If below 80 to 100, it is dolichocephalic, or long-headed.

The number of major races varies depending on to which study you subscribe. The Bible has three, Japhetic, Semitic, and Hamitic. Cuvier also counts three, Caucasian, Mongol, and Negro. Pickering came up with eleven while Desmoulins found sixteen. In 1781, Dr. Blumenbach, the father of anthropology, named the five races agreed to at present. They are Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, American, and Malay.

Since only two of these races are prominent in Europe, Caucasian and Mongolian, they are the only ones covered in this monograph. The races are further divided into branches or groups, distinguished by difference in language and by minor physical peculiarities. The Caucasian race has two main divisions: the Indo-European (Japhetic) and the Syro-Arab (Semitic). The Indo-European includes eight branches or groups. They are: in Asia, the Aryans (Hindu), the Persians, and the Armenians; in Europe, the Greeks, Latins, Celts, Teutons, or Germans, and Slavs. Common usage treats these groups as races, i.e. the Celtic race or the Slavic race.

The great majority of people in Europe are from the Indo-European family. About one-in-fifteen are Finno-Ugrians and Turks, members of the Ural-Altaic branch of the Mongolian race. All the rest, except the Jews, Maltese, and Saracens (all Syro-Arab), and possibly the Basques are of Indo-European stock.

Map Courtesy of Philip Riviere

The geography of Europe determined the migration of the races. The Alps, the backbone of the continent. While the Pyrenees and rugged Scandinavia stand apart, all other mountain ranges are spurs of the Alps. The river valleys, especially the Danube, were, and still are, migration paths. The mountain ranges are natural borders separating many of the races. The mountains also partition different climates.

North of the Alps is a great plain. At the beginning of the Christian era that plain was covered in forest. It and Scandinavia were populated almost exclusively by Teutons. To the east there is even a larger plain, Sarmatia, populated by Slavs. The Alps, northern Italy, a part of Spain, France, and the British Isles were inhabited by Celts. South of the Alps are the Greeks and Latins, sometimes combined as Greco-Latins.

Since scholars can’t agree on how many races there are, it is not surprising that they have found it still harder to specify distinctive characteristics of the various subdivisions or minor races. A peculiar trait can be described only in general terms, never exact, merely approaching exactness. The Celts are medium height, stocky, round head, broad face, gray or hazel eyes, broad nose, light complexion, and light brown hair. The Teutons have longer heads, longer faces, narrower noses, lighter hair, blue eyes, and are taller. Slavs are a mixed bag; dark and light complexion, tall and short, red, yellow and black bearded, the Slav in physical characteristic is the most cosmopolitan of men. The Greco-Latins are as Huxley describes “the dark whites”. They are active and demonstrative, the teachers of mankind.
In the year 117 the Roman Empire attained its largest extent. Beyond its northern frontiers in that northern plain the Teutons and Slav were incessantly fighting with each other. With their constant moving, these semi-nomadic people cannot be pinned to any location except in the most general terms. Then in the fourth century, the Huns invaded from the east.

The Huns are a Finno-Altaic people who had long been located in the great Asiatic plain beyond the Caspian. Upon crossing the Volga, the Huns forced the Alans, a formidable people of mixed blood, to join them. The Goths occupied the next region. Visi-Goths or Western Goths and Ostro-Goths or Eastern Goths had joined making the mightiest power in Europe outside of Rome. When the Huns invaded, the Ostro-Goths submitted while the Visi-Goths fled south to the Eastern Roman Empire, of which Constantinople was the newly founded capital.

The Huns stayed for half a century in the center of Europe with Buda, along the Danube, as their capital. Buda along with Pest on the other side of the river is still the capital of Hungary. Attila, King of the Huns, resumed the conquest. His 700,000-man army comprising of Huns and subjugated races was met on the rolling plains of eastern France by Aetius, “the last Roman general” with everything the tottering Western Roman Empire could muster. This is rightly reckoned one of the decisive battles of the world. Attila was defeated and died soon after. The Huns dispersed. Some stayed in Hungary, some settled in the Dobrudja, and some went back east whence they came.

For centuries after the Huns, everywhere, from Scandinavia to North Africa, displaced populations crowded upon one another. Celts, Slavs, Teutons, Huns, and Romans mixed and were lost in wild confusion. A few years after the battle, Odoacer, chief of the German Heruli and of other allied tribes, forced the last emperor of Rome to abdicate. With the Huns gone and Rome defeated, the Teutons were ready to conquer western Europe. In just 50 years, by 526, that conquest was for the most part complete. Britain was not yet taken, but it had solid settlements by Jutes, Saxons, and Angles. The few exceptions are the Celts in Armorica, Brittany, Ireland, and Scotland, the even fewer Basques in the Pyrenees, and the Greeks of the Balkan Peninsula protected by Constantinople. With those few exceptions, all of Europe west of the Vistula and Dneister rivers, from Norway and Sweden to the Mediterranean rules by German kings.

The strongest of these kingdoms were the Ostro-Goths in Italy and the Visi-Goths in Spain. One ruled from Sicily to the Danube; the other from southern Spain to the Loire. The Goths had become Christian in the fourth century, long before any other Teutonic people. This was accomplished not by the sword or by royal decree, but through the preaching of Ulfilas, their great apostle. In Italy the Ostro-Goths were displaced by the Teutonic Lombards and the Hunnic Avars. In Spain the Visi-Goths were overthrown by the Arab invasion.

The story of the Goths is an example of what was happening throughout the former Roman Empire. States great and small would rise and fall, with chiefs and followers being absorbed into the native population. Every political division was a crucible of ever-shifting size wherein races were fused. The period of invasion ended with the Norman conquest of England in 1066. The Celts, however, continued to bravely resist while being pushed farther to the wall.

In the east, the Slavs began being noticed in the sixth century, occupying land which the Teutons had left vacant or at times engaging in attacks. In 862 the Slavs of Novgorod sent a message to the Varangians, a tribe of Northmen: “Our country is great and fertile, but everything is in disorder. Come to govern us and rule over us.” This was the birth of the Russian Empire. It is an example of the lack of self-reliance or of initiative capacity which appears to be a characteristic of the Slavs. While dependence upon some helping hand has been detrimental, the Slavs as a whole show the highest fertility among the people of Europe.

The Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire fell in 1453 with the invasion of the Turks. While the Huns invasion was brief and infused into the veins of worn-out races their own virile blood, the Turkish invasion is unrelieved by a single mitigating fact.

Most of the invasions by land, and all the invasions by sea were done solely by men. These invasions left a more enduring result than ones where the families accompanied the invaders. With their families, the men tended to stay away from the conquered as a distinctive class. The single man formed ties among the conquered and therefore was identified with the community. The essential fact is that after the barbaric invasions there exists no such thing as a mixed race. Racial purity is a figment of the imagination.

With this universal intermixing of mankind in Europe all racial characteristics were blended, confused, or lost. Therefore, no physical test or combination of such tests has yet been found practical or possible to apply. Because of these facts, language now forms the basis of ethnic distinction. Language is not an infallible guide. Sometimes misleading, sometimes difficult, and sometimes contradictory, language has no rivals in comprehensive accuracy. It was a common racial language, despite local difference, that distinguished Celts, Teutons, and Slavs from one another.

The importance of the races of Europe, at this time, has never been greater. With the end of the war the Old Order is gone and a new Europe is dawning. The races of Europe are now in agitation as intense as that which they were convulsed by the Huns fifteen centuries ago. No one alive today will see this new Europe as it will take several generations to work itself out. The new Europe will have a better foundation, “Right is the Sovereign of the World” as opposed to that of the Old Order, force and force alone.

The intro article ends with a brief explanation of the map supplement. The map shows, pictorially, the principal facts regarding the distribution of the peoples of Europe and their relationships, based on the researches of Deniker, Hrdlicka, and others. Racial boundaries differ from political boundaries of provinces and States. The latter are definite and exact, determined often on mathematical lines. The former are always indefinite and elusive. The field guide’s description of the races starts in the farthest east and works westward ending in the British Isles.

The following is a list of races in the field guide including Race Name, Family, Map Color, and Short Quote from the Description Text.

The Races of the Russian Dominion:

The Great Russians, Slavic, Dark Green, “Some of the best examples of the Caucasian type”

The Ukrainians, Slavic, Green, “More warlike then their northern brethren”

The White Russians, Slavic, Light Green, “Derive their name from their pale faces”

The Cossacks, Slavic, Brownish Green, “Always restless but always faithful to the Tsar”

The Races of the Baltic Provinces:

The Esths (Estonians), Finno-Ugrian, Light Purple, “Their enforced Christianity crushed their spirit”

The Letts, Balto-Slavic, Yellow Green, “One of three cognate tribes, distinct from any other in Europe”

The Lithuanians, Balto-Slavic, Yellow Green, “Lithuanian is the most important language in Europe”

The Finno-Ugrians:

The Finns, Finno-Ugrian, Light Purple, “The Finns are short, have flat faces, round heads”

The Lapps, Finno-Ugrian, Light Purple, “They are dwarfed in body and mind”

The Peoples of the Caucasus:

The Armenians, Iranian, Hashed White, “They claim to be the oldest people in the world”

The Tatars, Turko-Tatar, Purple, “remnants from the baleful Empire of the Golden Horde”

The Rumanians (Romanians): Latin, Light Tan, “A people compact and homogenous”

The Races of the Balkan Peninsula:

The Ottoman Turks, Turko-Tatar, Dark Purple, “The Turk in general is merciless in victory”

The Albanians, Greek, Dark Brown, “The Albanians show remarkable racial tenacity”

The Greeks, Greek, Brown, “A subject people since their conquest by the Romans”

The Bulgarians, Finno-Ugrian, Dark Purple, “They derive their name from the river Volga”

The Serbians, Slavic, Pale Green, “A trustworthy, steadfast, self-reliant people”

The Montenegrins, Slavic, Pale Green, “The Montenegrins… are the incarnation of heroism”


The Bosnians, Slavic, Pale Green, “The Bosnians… are Serbians and Croats”

The Helvats, Slavic, Pale Green, “Herzegovinians… are Serbians and Croats”

The Croats, Slavic, Pale Green, “Long intimately connected with Serbians”

The Dalmatians, Slavic, Pale Green, “The last of Slavs to embrace Christianity”

The Slovenes, Slavic, Pale Green, “In habits and purpose they are in sharp contrast to the Croats”

The Slavonians, Slavic, Pale Green, “People who have appropriated the ethnic name of their race”


The Czechs: Slavic, Light Green, “Bohemia, Czech in Slavic, derives its name from the Boii”

The Moravians, Slavic, Light Green, “Occupy a plateau of the size of Massachusetts”

The Slovaks, Slavic, Light Green, “They are a peaceful, primitive people”

The Ruthenians: Slavic, Green, “The name given by the Austrians to such of their subjects”

The Magyars: Finno-Ugrian, Purple, “Dominant race in Hungary and the real founders of the kingdom”

The Poles: Slav, Light Green, “the Poles are numerically the most important of the Slavs”

The Jews: Semitic, None, “Judaism has owed the possibility of existence in a foreign country”

The Gypsies: Indo-European, None, “Believed to have come from Egypt, the English name is Gypsies”

The Germans: Teuton, Red, “Germans have occupied the same territory from a period (before Christ)”

Map Courtesy of Philip Riviere

The Bavarians, Teuton, Red, “Racially the most composite people of Germany (Slav, Celt, & Teuton)”

The Prussians, Balto-Slavic, Yellow Green, “Derive their name from the Borussi, kindred of the Letts”

The Slavic Tribes in Germany, Slavic, None, “have almost entirely been absorbed into the population”

The Scandinavians: Teuton, Pale Red, “The Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes are intimately related”

The Dutch: Teuton, Pale Red, “This name (was) formerly comprehensive of all the Germans”

The Swiss: Latin/Celtic, Brown, “They are descendants of the Latinized Celtic Helvetii”

The Italians: Latin, Light Brown, “The Italians are the most composite people”

The Maltese, Semitic, “Maltese (is) now recognized as a Phoenician dialect”

The Races of the Iberian Peninsula:

The Portuguese, Latin, Light Brown, “The Portuguese have always been a warlike and proud people”

The Spanish, Latin, Light Brown, “No other people have incarnated a national tragedy so prolonged”

The French: Latin, Pale Brown, “Have the most distinctive personality of any people of Europe”

The Bretons, Celtic, Yellow, “Their rugged peninsula was formerly called Armorica”

The Basques. Pre-Aryan, Blue, “Eskuara, a language utterly apart from any other language of Europe”

The Belgians:

The Walloons, Latin, Pale Brown, “They speak French and have a strong attachment to France”

The Flemings, Teuton, Pale Red, “They speak Flemish, a German dialect”

The Irish: Celtic, Yellow, “The Irish belong to the Gaelic branch of the Celtic family”

The British:

The Welsh, Celtic, Yellow, “They constitute the Brythonic group, or one-half of the Celtic family”

The Scotch, Celtic, Yellow, “The Scotch in general are thrifty, cautious, and frugal”

The English, Teuton, Dark Red, “Norman and Saxon and Dane are we (Tennyson)”

The last page of the field guide (534) has a family tree of the races of Europe on one half. It is a diagram showing the relationships of the peoples of Europe. The other half of the page has an index to the races of Europe with alphabetized race names with page numbers of their descriptions.

Following the article is a brief description of the supplement map. This two-page addendum is entitled “Our Map of the Races of Europe” and has no photos or other figures. It describes how color is used with shades showing the racial affinities of distinctive groups. Hatch-work is used to show where races intermingle. The four main Indo-European, or Aryan, branches are shown by the colors brown for the Greco-Latin, yellow for the Celts, red for the Teutons, and Green for the Slavs. The Pre-Aryan Caucasian people, the Basques, are shown in blue. Purple is used for the races of Mongolian descent.

Throughout the introduction and field guide, footnotes reference articles in previous National Geographic Magazines on various races and other topics. This addendum ends with a list of further National Geographic articles on race, anthropology, and archeology.

Tom Wilson

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