100 Years Ago: February 1921
This is the seventy-third installment in a series of reviews of National Geographic Magazines as they reach the one-hundredth anniversary of their publication.
The first item documented on the cover of this month’s issue is the “Special Map Supplement: The New Europe”. This map supplement is “tipped-in” (glued) to the inside front cover at two small spots near the spine. The map could be unfolded and refolded while still attached to the magazine, but the spots where it was glued allowed for easy detachment. It was the member’s choice. The map’s size was listed on the cover as 30x33 inches, and unfolded was about 24 “pages” (6 across by 4 down). The map was printed on a very thin, semitransparent paper stock, almost like onion paper.
Map courtesy of Philip Riviere
The first article in this month’s issue is entitled “Czechoslovakia, Key-Land to Central Europe”. It was written by Maynard Owen Williams, author of “Russia’s Orphan Races”, “The Descendants of Confucius”, “Syria, The Land Link of History’s Chain”, “Between Massacres in Van”, and other articles. The article contains forty-five black-and-white photographs, of which sixteen are full-page in size. The article also contains a sketch map of Czechoslovakia on page 156. The sketch map is referenced in the second article as well.
Sketch map courtesy of Philip Riviere
With the overthrow of the old order in Europe, Czechoslovakia was, in 1921, a free land. It was in America where its plans for freedom were developed, and where its Declaration of Independence was written. In success or failure, that key-land to central Europe was of key interest to America and to the world. Prague, the capital, was one of the most interesting of the world’s cities, and its charms had appeal to the author. He was there for a river festival. On a platform on one of the islands that dotted the Moldau, or Vltava, River, a spirited performance was given. Searchlights shone from the shores while steamers and smaller boats that crowded the river were shadowy hulks magnified by their reflections. Hundreds of whirling dancers in snowy skirts waved bright handkerchiefs. The searchlights were then pointed above the Royal Palace, then lowered, so that the sharp spires of St. Vitus leaped upward to spear the haze’ and the palace stood out like a silver casket against a leaden sky. A favorite view of Prague was from a hideous view-tower on the Petrin. From its top one could see the Bohemian forest on the Bavarian frontier, and the other low ranges that enclosed the great plain of Bohemia. The author did not like that view; St. Vitus was partially hidden behind hills and the city looked deceptively flat. He felt a better view was from the view-tower on the grounds of Schonborn Palace. That eighteenth century edifice was the American Minister to Czechoslovakia in 1921. From that lower vantage point, the city’s ragged skyline was more evident. Mr. Williams thought that it was Prague’s chief charm.
The author compared the celebrations in Prague after independence to a colorful rainbow after a storm. People, or Sokols (Falcons), gathered from all parts of the new republic for the Seventh Sokol Congress. Fresh-faced maids, wearing the gay costumes of their race, grouped themselves about the base of the monument to Huss, which stood in the old town square. Participants and spectators came by the hundreds of thousands. Sokols came from Chicago, and other parts of America, with supplies of food, for, without help from the outside, the people would have starved. Miles of crowded railcars dumped their colorful loads in Prague and then rushed away to bring more joyous souls. Most of the visitors had never seen their capital. Eager patriots of all ages massed about every museum, public building, and point of vantage. A diversity of color was furnished by the innumerable costumes. The streets were moving bands of the brightest hues. The great avenue, Vaclavske Namesti, was a sea of surging shapes, moving in a formless mass, until the grand parade arranged it into regular patterns. That noble street, two hundred feet wide and a half mile long, had seen many parades. It was there that womenfolk greeted their volunteers returning from war. There, too, the funeral flames were burned in honor of those who gave their lives for their country’s cause.
But the parade the author witnessed was a joyous event, with twelve thousand men, and an equal number of women, moving like some orchestra whose music was attuned to eye instead of ear. From both ends of the great stadium there poured in broad streams of womanhood, their red caps and white waists formed an animated strawberry shortcake on a platter formed by their short blue skirts and black hose. They filled the stadium and then moved in unison. Twelve thousand women bowed their scarlet caps and the whole field flushed red. They turned and their warm faces dissolved into white. They bent over and the white and red were lost to a sea of blue. A similar effect was produced by the fawn costumes of the men. Their bright red shirts burst into flame as their coats were thrown back and red-clad arms were spread. Then it was hidden behind the soft tint of a young deer, hiding from a foe. So perfect was the precision that the author could not believe that those men came from all across the country. The action of twenty-four thousand feet was so synchronized that their movement on the sand of the stadium sounded like the hiss of a serpent. So graceful was the general effect that the author was surprised to find how awkward some of the individuals were. As an example of perfect training and organization, nothing in the world compared with the great mass drills of the men and women Sokols.
Prague was essentially a city for the pedestrian wanderer. A sightseeing bus would have chased away the charm. The Czechs who emigrated to Cleveland ought to have felt at home, for Prague was a city of arcades. Some of those were low-arched passages; others were great open halls, their plate-glass walls covered with posters and pierced by entrances to moving-picture shows and cabarets. Hair-dressers’ windows were full of cheap perfume at high prices. No modern arcade in Prague was complete without a postage-stamp dealer or two. Their windows were pockmarked with treasures for the philatelist. In one arcade there was a coin-operated “Automat”. As popular as cancelled postage stamps were in Prague, the favorite art production was an American-made thousand-crown note. It had not been counterfeited like its hundred-crown brothers. Counterfeit money did not seem to bother anyone, the holder least of all. The Czech crown could buy three or four Austrian crowns. Inflation had rendered money next to worthless. Where it retained a hint of value – say 2.75% - purchases still ran into hundreds of thousands.
Having resisted the determined forces of Germanization, Prague was now yielding to the more insidious faults of her friends. America was represented by the American bar and jazz music, Great Britain by Scotch Whiskey, and France by lotteries and cabarets. Relief efforts were still necessary to prevent real suffering throughout the land. The author frowned upon such urban merriment as counterproductive, to say the least. Liberty was a heady wine. Mr. Williams regretted leaving that charming medieval town turned capital to visit the real citizens of Czechoslovakia in their small cities and country homes. A tedious night journey by train brought him to the little Junction of Uherske Hradiste, between Bisenzo and Hollein. Rather than wait for a local train, the author rented an antiquated Victoria carriage pulled by an old gray mare hitched to one side of a two-horse pole. The driver was dressed in an old gray suit and a derby. He eagerly helped with the author’s heavy bags. The country road was quiet in the early morning sun. On each side were harvest fields. An occasional wagon moved slowly by, and peasant women, carrying heavy loads, passed silently along, barefoot. Cattle and geese made way for the author’s “chariot”. Out across a broad field, cut into alternate stripes of harvest russet and vegetable green, a combined thresher and baler was at work. He talked to the women doing most of the work on the threshing crew, and then went on to a modest motel in the town he was headed. In the farther corner of the court rose a cathedral, before which knelt a colorful mass of women in prayer.
The native dress of Czechoslovakia was a never-ending delight to the author. He tried to figure out which costume was Moravian, which was Bohemian, which was Slovakian, and which was Silesian; but the array was so bewildering to him that he gave up. Each town had its peculiar style, and each person had their own individual taste. The men of Uherske Hradiste wore high boots, wide white trousers, and a shirt embroidered at the wrists and neck. A panel of dark material hung down in front of a sash of red and black. The vest was thickly braided. The round-topped hat was circled by a hat-band, all black. The women ran the whole gamut of color. The women’s shoes were stout, high cut, and topped with patent leather trim. Their stockings were for protection as well as for display, some with small square design. The skirts were plain black, with no trimming except a line of embroidery. They were heavily plaited and were hung above a surprising number of petticoats. The waist-length jacket had an applique design of hand-made lace. The head-dress and the apron were gay in tone. Some of the Slavic head shawls were neat white cotton with red polka dots or a dark gray design. Others were shiny white silk, embroidered with light tints. Still others were cut plush, with heavy knotted fringe. The fringe scarf added to the Slavic girl’s beauty. When a few hundred gaily-colored aprons – bright green, gold, yellow with silver inlay pink, blue, cerise – were displayed in one moving picture, it was beauty in motion, no matter how pretty the girls were.
In Merv, the author saw the havoc of modern commerce had wrought on the Oriental rug industry. [See: “Russia’s Orphan Races”, October 1918, National Geographic.] The same thing was happening with the peasant costumes of Czechoslovakia. Aniline dyes were being substituted for vegetable colors, which were softer when new, and faded into mellow tones no chemical dye could duplicate. Factories were calling the women from the farms. City girls and foreigners had a great liking for peasant costumes, which resulted in a market for, not only the products of months of loving labor, but also hurried works, devoid of imagination and machine-like in its mediocrity. The value of a fine costume ran into thousands of crowns, thus a market for the cheaper ones. The result was deplorable. Hideous color combinations displayed and machine-made ribbons used in place of better ornament had the wearer playing dress-up but lack the dignity of when they were worn by the real peasants. A peasant would wear soft leather boots and heavy stockings, a city girl, high-heeled slippers and the sheerest silk hose; modest became scornful. Even from tiny Slovak villages, young girls left for the cities. They hadn’t the time or the energy for delicate needle-work; and their small savings from their wages weren’t enough to buy splendid costumes like their mothers wore. More and more, they wore white wide-brimmed hats, white dresses, and white stockings and slippers. Charm was maintained, but all individuality was lost. Mr. Williams feared that soon one could only see a real peasant’s dress in a museum.
The author crossed harvest fields to photograph scenes of peasant life only to be addressed in the accents of Cleveland and Youngstown. It was convenient for him to whisked about the country in a Czech-made motor car whose chauffeur spoke three languages. He entered the huge Skoda works with resentment at the monotony of the buildings, but was pleased to find that former munitions factory now producing automobiles and printing presses, a kind of sword to plowshare meets pen being mightier. The River Vag (Waag) alone could drive dynamos to make Slovakia the dwelling-place of light, and there were many more streams rushing to the sea. In Prague, they spoke of Slovakia as a New Yorker spoke of Idaho, or Arizona. To the Czechs, Slovakia was the wild and wooly East End of the republic; its intricately engraved egg-shells and bright pottery were as exotic as Navajo art was to the man from Fourth Avenue. Yet even here cosmopolitanism was felt; robbing beauty spots of their distinctive character the same time it was broadening their horizons. The author described in detail a scene in a long dining-hall at a mountain resort in the High Tatra, in the heart of Slovakia. The Slovaks were largely illiterate, but their ignorance was deliberate. Forced by Magyars to learn a hated tongue or go untaught, the Slovaks chose the latter. The author met a Sloak who had refused to study under the Hapsburg regime, but when he was able to go to America, he learned English readily.
The author respected the Czechs for what they had done; he loved the Slovaks for what they were. Kindly, hospitable, simple-souled, religious, true Slavs in faults and virtues, the Slovaks represented the conservative element of the new republic. Few of them were trained for leadership, but their presence bade well for the republic. They were the common people. Slovakia was a vast museum of folk art. Songs passed down for centuries had a haunting quality, mirroring the soul of the people. Stamping boots and voluminous skirts whirled in picturesque dances. Pottery with native design decorated the walls of many “best rooms” in Slovak villages. The product of Slovak needles ranked among the most beautiful embroideries and laces in the world. To the Slovaks, religion was very real and intimate. One of the distinctive Slovak villages was Cataj. The tinted walls of the houses had a darker color for some distance from the ground, with a narrow line of scrubbed brick bordering the foundation. Not only were the outer walls of several colors, with windows lined in contrasting tints, but the older women of the village had painted designs on the walls of their kitchens. The women of Czechoslovakia produced eloquent embroideries, kept their men in spotless white costumes, and lovingly provided their infants with stiff white ruffs. They were true homemakers, but they also had political privileges – they could vote, and they used the privilege. In the June 1919 elections, 2,746,641 women cast ballots compared to 2,302,916 men. Thirteen of the 302 members of the House of Deputies were women and three of the 150 Senators.
The author was the guest of the mayor of Cataj and his barefoot wife and mother. He had the privilege of examining the house. One wall of the guest room was a mass of pottery and the opposite wall was obscured by a pile of bedding. A long red bench was made in 1856 and bore the picture of Adam and Eve, and the serpent. That well-known trio were found in every home, for Adam and Eve were held as the patron saints of marriage. The mayor showed the author his harvest crown, a seasonal tribute from the people. It was constructed of the choicest stalks of grain and a beautiful piece of carved wood which dated to 1714. After returning to a spotless room in Prague after weeks of toilsome travel, the author heard that a festival was to take place in Slovak town Turciansky Sv. Martin, nestled at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, near the romantic valley of the Vag. The author was torn between the comforts of Prague and the thoughts of the sleepy little town, and of the lovely valley of the Vag, with ruined castles jutting up from grain-clad hills. He thought of pleasant riverside villages overflowing with playing children. So, he slipped away from Golden Prague, again, for the homely charm of Slovakia. Turciansky Sv. Martin was a different place. Up and down the street, he saw the citizens digging the sod out from between the cobbles and sweeping the whole town until it was the picture of cleanliness. Every train was bringing in its quota of visitors. Many were forced to sleep in barns. The gathering was not the festival the author expected to find. It was a conference of the intelligentsia of Slovakia. It was not a carefree holiday, but the endless speeches of cultural leaders.
There were many reasons for the author to feel at home – the restaurant-keeper at the junction station wore an American suit; the first sight as he entered the Slovak Museum was the Stars and Stripes (the second was a picture of the college professor with which he was traveling); and when he sought to buy some Slovak sweets, he was offered some American chocolate. A Slovak pianist from Chicago introduced himself to Mr. Williams, and several others came up to tell him of their time in “the States”. Half a dozen American YMCA girls added charm to the event, and the author shared a room with two YMCA workers. They were there to help the soldiers and civilians of Czechoslovakia. The meeting was for those who were trying to raise Slovakia to a higher plane without robbing it of its culture. An excellent orchestra played several spirited numbers. The next evening there was a Slovak drama, somewhat melodramatic. The author was surprised to find a community that could entertain itself so well with its own productions. They did not need to use a vaudeville agency or a film exchange. The town was alive with color and movement. The national costumes were worn by many of the women and young girls. Most of those women were town-bred, and unaccustomed to the costumes they wore. Each woman had chosen from an array of dresses the one that would accentuate her charm. Mr. Williams had gone to that little Slovak town to rest. When he retired at midnight, the orchestra was still going strong. At 5:00 in the morning the porter knocked to announce that the author’s train was due. The orchestra was still playing and the auditorium was still full of swirling dancers.
When the Czech divorce from Austria was recognized by the great powers, the first thing the little country did was to go back to its maiden names – Karlsbad became Karlovy Vary; and Marienbad became Mariansky Lanze. The foreign traveler had the choice of using a German time-table which stopped at towns which, on paper, he knew, but once leaving the train had no clue where he was; or he could use a Czech time-table full of place-names of which he had never heard. Upon arriving in Prague, the author hired a German-speaking cabbie and started on a round of official calls, which were expected of all visitors. After what seemed an eternity, he started back to the station for his luggage. He asked the cabbie to take him to the “Franz-Josephs Bahnholf”. The cabbie scolded him and said the author wanted to go to Wilson Station. Towns all over Czechoslovakia had bridges, parks, squares, and streets named after the American President. The Czechs were generous and hospitable to the point of endangering one’s digestion and sobriety, but they were very stingy with vowels. The town with the German name, Brunn, became Brno. The Czech assumed that an “e”, an “I”, and a “u” conveyed the same sound impression, so why should he spell it Berno, Birno, or Burno. The Czech prided himself that his language was phonetic. The author then explained how “cop” would be pronounced “sop” by a Czech but by placing an accent (v) over the “c” it became “chop”. Czech was pronounced “check”. The problem wasn’t pronunciation, it was the fact that they had changed. The capital of Slovakia was “Poszony”, “Pressburg”, or “Bratislava” depending on to whom one spoke.
Both the author and the professor with whom he was travelling wanted to see primitive conditions; so, they went up to what was variously known as Ruthenia, Rusinia, and Podkarpatska Rus. They chased the ultimate frontier of civilization at forty miles an hour in the governor’s motor car. The author felt that they should have been on foot, or on a little burro. But they got to conditions so primitive that six human beings and four cattle, not to count the pigs and poultry, lived in a single-room house. The governor of Podkarpatska Rus (Ruthenia), which was an autonomous part of Czechoslovakia, was a Pittsburgh lawyer and an American citizen. The little capital was called Uzhorod (Ungvar). The author found the people densely ignorant and miserably poor. That fact did not prevent the collection at church from being remarkably generous. Two women wore buttons of the Third Liberty Loan as jewelry. The men used to go down into the Hungarian plains to work and there get bread for their families; but political barriers had been erected where before there was a thoroughfare. Pastoral Slovakia was to industrial Bohemia what the Scotch highlands were to the midlands of England. But the uncouth Slovakian shepherd was a polished gentleman compared to the mountaineer of Podkarpatska Rus. Long economically dependent on the Hungarian plains, there were almost twice as much land under cultivation as the previous one, and the governor hoped that they would soon be able to feed themselves. Food had been obtained in exchange for timber, but now Ruthenians were being encouraged to start furniture and paper factories. Foremen in the region were now Ruthenians where before they were Hungarian. In spite of all the optimism, the author saw difficult times ahead for Ruthenia due to the new borders.
The author felt many Americans thought the European boundary squabbles were petty; but he reminded them of the time when Ohio and Michigan mobilized their militias over the question of their boundary line. Propaganda bureaus were doing their best to perpetuate hate, but with a paper shortage in all of central Europe, old enemies were beginning to fraternize. Austria-Hungary had been a patchwork of peoples, but the same was true to a lesser degree of every state from the Baltic to the Aegean. It would be difficult for the newly formed governments to function without upsetting someone. However, Mr. Williams felt the biggest dangers central Europe faced were more economic than political. The boundary that stuck up like a sore thumb to the casual traveler was even more irksome to the peoples concerned. The author resented the many hours it took to get permission to take his American movies out of Czechoslovakia. He was used to the open road and hated to find that somebody, be he friend or foe, had closed it. When the Czech soldiers, early in the war, refused to fight the battles of their oppressors and deserted to the enemy by companies, they established a precedent for military sabotage. This deeply affected the whole question of imperialism and subject nationalities throughout the world. This voluntary surrender of the Czechs rang the death knell for militarism of the Prussian type.
Czechoslovakia was a vast relief map of romance, a treasure-house of art, and a flowerbed of interesting people in rainbow costumes. But romance was lighter on the stomach than food, and what the little country was now trying to do was to put itself upon a sound economic basis. Czechoslovakia had enough glory to go around. Her task was to divide that glory a little more equally, so that the soldier would have more than his uniform, and the now-freed farmer would take pride in being a citizen of a fine, free race. For three centuries, Bohemian nationalism, fearfully oppressed, cherished the memory of a national defeat at White Mountain. While the Czechs felt oppression from the north, the Slovaks were being exploited from the south. As they faced their foes, they drew near to each other. Slowly steaming up the charming Moldau, with a military band playing on the upper deck, the author looked out and saw a picture of rare grace. Two peasant girls, hearing the music, dropped their rakes and started dancing along the bank. When the music stopped, they wave and wished everyone success, a sentiment the author had for all of Czechoslovakia.
At the bottom of the last page of the first article, there is an announcement stating that the Index for the July-December 1920 Volume (Volume XXXVIII) was ready. It would be mailed to members upon request.
The second article is entitled “The New Map of Europe *” and was written by Ralph A. Graves. It has the subtitle “Showing the Boundaries Established by the Peace Conference at Paris and by Subsequent Decisions of the Supreme Council of the Allied and Associated Powers”. The article contains eighteen black-and-white photographs, of which six are full-page in size. The asterisk in the article’s title references a footnote stating that copies of the New Map of Europe (30 x 33 inches), with index may be obtained from the headquarters of the National Geographic Society for $1.00 (paper), and $1.50 mounted on linen. This was only the second Map Index published by the Society; the first being the May 1917, the Western Theater of War. Before the article’s start there is an italicized editorial paragraph explaining that, for ease of use, the original place names were kept instead of the new name given them by their new nation-states – Prague instead of the Czech Praha, Warsaw instead of the Polish Warszawa, Vilna instead of the Lithuanian Vilnius, Danzig instead of the Polish Gdansk, and Fiume instead of the Slavik Rieka. The Map Index cover is shown below:
The new map of Europe was born of the treaties of peace with the vanquished Central Powers. Those treaties – at Versailles with Germany and Hungary, at St. Germain with Austria, at Neuilly with Bulgaria, and at Sevres with Turkey – erected new boundary lines between countries with conflicting economic interest, racial distinctions, and rival traditions. How long those new boundaries lasted depended on the wisdom of the statesmen leading those countries into peacetime. In the December 1918 National Geographic article, “The Races of Europe”, Dr. Edwin A Grosvenor wrote of the then forthcoming peace conferences: “For the first time in human experience, the effort is being made by victors after a great war to trace new frontiers in accordance with racial aspirations and affinities of the peoples involved. Because of the impossibility of defining exactly the limits of race, many heart-burnings are inevitable in the new adjustment of European boundaries.” The results of the peace conferences are represented in the Map of Europe in this issue. There is a second footnote on the first page of the article suggesting that the members compare the Society’s Map of the Races of Europe from the December 1918 National Geographic to the new Map of Europe to compare how well racial lines were respected, and stating that copies of the Races of Europe map were available from the Society for 50 cents (paper), and $1.00 (linen).
The world entertained no delusions as to the inflexible permanence of the agreed-to map of Europe. Dr. Grosvenor felt that even though Europe was much older, the people were new to democracy, and he saw them as childlike. Some of the new nations were not infants, but were sovereign stats which were experiencing a national rebirth. Among those, the most conspicuous example was Poland. Others, like Jugo-Slavia, Czechoslovakia, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were received for the first time into the society of civilized states. The map showed the story of Germany’s territorial loss. Lost were the 5,600 square miles and 2,000,000 inhabitants of Alsace and Lorraine. Also gone was the great Saar Valley coal field. In fifteen years, there would be a plebiscite to decide to whether to stay under control of the League of Nation, become part of France, or revert back to Germany. Belgium acquired the tiny area known as Moresnet and the district containing the small towns of Eupen and Malmedy. Surrendered to Poland was a territory equal in area to South Carolina. To grant Poland access to the sea, the Baltic seaport of Danzig became the “Free City of Danzig, under the protection of the League of Nations. The Memel district, to the northeast of East Prussia, was entrusted to the Allies pending a final settlement. In addition to the Saar Valley, the treaty designated six areas for plebiscites to determine their eventual ownership – two in East Prussia (Marienwerder and Allenstein), Northern Schleswig, Southern Schleswig, Holstein, and Upper Silesia. All of those plebiscites had been held save that in Upper Silesia. All voted to rejoin Germany except Northern Schleswig, which voted to join Denmark. In addition to territory lost, Germany consented to military occupation of her territory west of the Rhine to continue for fifteen years. On the map it is designated “Zone of Allied Occupation”. The Kiel Canal was thrown open to the merchant shipping of all nations; its battlements were dismantled at German expense.
By the Treaty of St. Germain (signed June 4, 1920), the Dual Monarchy of Austria Hungary passed into history. From its wreckage emerged the Republics of Austria, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, while large areas once controlled by the Hapsburgs passed under the sovereignty of the kings of Italy, Rumania, and Jugo-Slavia. Before the war, the Dual Monarchy boasted an area of 260,000 square miles and a population of 50,000,000. The area of Austria proper was 134,000 square miles, with a population of 29,000,000. After the treaty, Austria’s area was only 32,000, with a population of 6,500,000. By its loss of Transylvania (22,000 sq. mi., 3,000,000 pop.) to Rumania; of Croatia, Slavonia, Dalmatia, and portions of Banat to Jugo-Slavia; and of Slovakia (25,000 sq. mi., 3,500,000 pop.) to Czechoslovakia, Hungary was reduced from 125,000 square miles to just 36,000, and its population dropped from 20,000,000 to 8,000.000. By the Peace Treaty of Neuilly (signed November 27, 1919), Bulgaria sustained a smaller loss of territory – to Greece went Bulgarian Thrace, and to Jugo-Slavia a strip of territory and two fragments. The area of Bulgaria before the war was 43,000 square miles, with a population of 4,750,000. The new boundaries gave the kingdom 41,000 square miles.
By the Treaty of Sevres (not yet signed), the “Sick Man of Europe” was now dead. “Turkey in Europe” was scarcely more than a name – a small tract of land west of Constantinople. The Dardanelles, the Bosporus, and the Sea of Marmora became “The Zone of the Straits” governed by an Interallied commission. The Gallipoli Peninsula was set aside as a cemetery for the Allies who fell there. Greece received Turkish Thrace, southwest of Constantinople. Even more dramatic, the Ottoman Empire was dismembered in Asia. One autonomous and four independent states were created, and all Turkish interests in Egypt were renounced. The independent states were Syria, Mesopotamia, Armenia, and the Arab Kingdom of Hedjaz. The autonomous State of Kurdistan comprised and area east of the Euphrates and south of Armenia. The territorial adjustments in Asia Minor would be more comprehensively show in The Geographic’s Map of Asia (28 x 36 inches) to be issued May 1921. The Allies have provided access to the sea for Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Bulgaria. The Turkish islands of the Aegean passed to Greece. An area of Asia Minor surrounding Smyrna would be administered by Greece for five year, when a plebiscite will decide the territories fate. The twelve islands of the “Dodecanese”, off the southwest coast of Asia Minor, were ceded to Italy, who, in turn, ceded all by one (Rhodes) to Greece. Rhodes would remain under Italian rule for fifteen years, at the end of which time a plebiscite would be held; but if, in the meantime, Great Britain decides to relinquish Cyprus to Greece, Rhodes likewise was to be surrendered.
The Map of Europe has also changed due to the collapse of the Russian Empire. The Republic of Finland was created when the autonomous grand-duchy declare independence in December 1917. It became a republic on June 14, 1919. The three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, fragments of a disintegrating Russia, declared their independence – Estonia and Lithuania in February 1918, and Latvia in November of the same year. All three had been recognized by most of the European powers, but not by the U. S.; their borders were yet to be defined. “The Three Partitions of Poland” was an example of the “Old Order” – where people and homelands were treated as chattels by kings and princes [See: “Partitioned Poland”, National Geographic, January 1915]. Under the “New Order”, arising from the war, Poland was the first sovereign State to be recreated. The Republic of Poland, with its ancient capital, Warsaw, derived its territory from three powers. From Germany, Poland acquired parts of Posen, West Prussia, East Prussia, and Silesia; from Austria-Hungary most of Galicia and a part of Bukowina; and from Russia all of Russian Poland. The eastern boundary was ill-defined due to chaos in Russia. A line of Polish civil administration was approved in 1919. By its boundary Poland held sway over 100,000 square miles. Subsequently, after bitter warfare, an armistice was signed between the Poland and the Bolsheviks. The “Polish-Bolshevik Armistice Line of October 12, 1920” added an additional 40,000 square miles to Polish territory. Poland’s main outlet to the sea was the Free City of Danzig. The plebiscite area of Eastern Galicia was included was included as Polish since it would be under Polish administration for a period of 25 years.
Extending like a giant wedge nearly 600 miles long and only 150 at its widest, the new Republic of Czechoslovakia stretched from eastern Germany to northwestern Rumania – a corridor nation of central Europe (See previous article). It was comprised of three closely related groups – the Czechs, the Moravians, and the Slovaks. The Czechs (Bohemians) to the west, were girded by mountains which separated them from the Germans. They were joined to the Slovakians, whose home was to the south of the Carpathian Mountains, by the land of the Moravians. Moravia formed a gap through which passed the great central European route between the Adriatic and the Baltic. By developing its waterways, despite being landlocked, Czechoslovakia would have access to three seas – the Black Sea via the Danube, the Baltic via the Oder, and the North Sea via the Elbe. There was a proposed canal connecting Pressburg on the Danube to Prerau on the Oder, and that waterway would be linked, by canal, to Pardubitz on the Elbe. Bohemia and Moravia were the most important industrial regions of the old Austria-Hungary Empire, and Slovakia was a rich agricultural land. Of its people, 5,000,000 were Bohemian, 3,000,000 were Slovaks, 2,000,000 were Moravian, and 2,500,000 were German.
Going south from Czechoslovakia across the twin-born republics of Austria and Hungary, one travelled to the Jugo (South)-Slav Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, among which the Serbs were the most numerous. The borders of Jugo-Slavia had been a problem since the first sessions of the Peace Conference in Paris. An agreement was reached by the Italians and Jugo-Slavs on November 12, 1920 adjusting all differences; a “sore boundary” had been obviated. The disposition of the seaport of Fiume was also decided in the agreement. The city was the only developed port which Jugo-Slavia could use. Similar to Danzig, it was made the “Free State of Fiume”. An Italian soldier-poet took possession of Fiume on September 17, 1919, and wanted Italy to annex it. The Allies opposed that. The Dalmatian coast was made part of Jugo-Slavia with the exception of the town of Zara and the islands of Cherso and Lagosta, which were allotted to Italy. Jugo-Slavia was affected by more treaties since the war than any other State. From Austria she acquired Carniola and Dalmatia; from Hungary, Croatia, Slavonia, and part of Banat; from Bulgaria, three small areas including Tsaribrod and Strumitsa. Austria and Hungary jointly surrendered Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, the former Kingdom of Montenegro was absorbed. The former Kingdom of Serbia was not so much absorbed, rather it “expanded” to include Jugo-Slavia. The former king of Serbia, Peter I, became the king of the new country with its capital still being Belgrade. The new State was three times the size of pre-war Serbia, and had a population of 14,500,000, more than three times Serbia’s population.
Italy had desired to establish a protectorate over Albania; but that policy was abandoned. Italy retained the island of Saseno, at the entrance to the Gulf of Avlona. In addition to the Adriatic islands gain, Italy also claimed the Trentino region, Gorizia and the Istrian peninsula, together with the great seaport or Trieste, giving Italy control of the Gulf of Venice. The area gained by Italy was between 15,000 and 18,000 square miles, and nearly 2,000,000 inhabitants. In addition, Italy was administering the island of Rhodes for fifteen years, and was given the small island of Kastelorizo, near Kekova Bay (Asia Minor) through the Turkish Treaty. Greece grew significantly, with the addition of Thrace and numerous Aegean islands. It also ruled the port of Smyrna, until a plebiscite which would decide its fate. Rumania recovered the fertile province of Bessarabia from Russia; Bukowina, Transylvania, and parts of Banat from Austria; and other provinces from Hungary. Rumania had an area equal to Austria, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia combined, with a population of 17,000,000. [See: “Rumania and Its Rubicon”, National Geographic, September 1916; “Rumania, the Pivotal State”, National Geographic, October 1915; and “Rumania and Her ambitions”, National Geographic, October 1913.] Across the Dniester River was the nascent republic of the Ukraine. The territorial limits were only vaguely indicated. Its area was estimated to be around 200,000 square miles, with a population of 30,000,000. Ukraine propagandists claimed it was 330.000 square miles, with 45,000,000 citizens. [See: “The Ukraine, Past and Present”, National Geographic, August 1918.]
Drawing and accepting the new borders was just the first step. Still to be done was the great task of constructive organization. Many of the new states had less experience at governing than the thirteen colonies had in 1776. Many lacked the machinery of government – customs posts, postal systems, mints, etc. Developing a sound fiscal system was one of the most difficult problems. Credit must be reestablished both home and abroad before any of those new nations could make substantial progress. Even the election machinery still needed to be developed. On restored countries, the problems were just as great as those of the new states. Poland had not self-governed for over a century, while the Czechs hadn’t rule themselves for nearly three hundred years. How many of these new states will last, none could prophesize.
The third article this month is entitled “The Whirlpool of the Balkans” and was written by George Higgins Moses, U. S. Senator from New Hampshire, formerly Minister to Greece and Montenegro, Author of several articles including “Greece and Montenegro” and “Greece of Today”. The article contains fifteen black-and-white photographs, four of which are full-page in size.
The East embodied mystery. Whether viewed as a whole, as the cradle of the race and the source of human history, or in portions – the Far, the Middle, and the Near East – divided for diplomatic convenience, the East had a shadowy and elusive element. Across the whole expanse, from the Euphrates to the Adriatic, had swept the successive tides of racial supremacy – Aryan, Hellenic, Slavic, Latin, and Teutonic. The chief chapters of history of the East had been written in blood. There were stories of theft, pillage, and murder. The strong ruled by force. The Near East was to the Western world more elusive and legendary than the Orient. “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” sang Kipling; but in the Near East met they did, though they never mingled. Life there was a curious kaleidoscope of Europe and the Orient, of antiquity and modernity. It was difficult to assign exact territorial limits to the Near East. As for the Balkans, few Americans knew whether they were mountains or canned goods. The Near East the stretch territory from the head of the Adriatic, down the Dalmatian coast, across the Aegean to the Bosporus. To the north the grim Carpathians towered. There dwelt a dozen races, with their own costumes and customs, speaking a score of languages and owning half as many religious faiths. They would cooperate when facing a common threat, but never for long. The most obvious characteristic of the Near East was the tangle of tongues. That probably contributed the most to the separation of peoples. In many quarters, there was a divided allegiance based on race, religion, or national policy.
Trieste, for example, remained Italian in spirit, and had been since the days of the Doges of Venice. One could still trace the progress of Frankish power from the Lido to the Marmora. The author had sailed the Adriatic several times and was always impressed, and saddened, by the sight of the sturdy, still functional remains of Venetian occupation along the coast. Those marks of Venetian glory arose on every hand as one journeyed eastward. Along the Dalmatian coast, at Cattaro, throughout the Ionian Isles, crowning the sheer heights at Corinth, guarding the gateway to Crete, and all through the blue Aegean were the frowning battlements with which Venice defended her possessions. They were captured and used successively by different assailants. For instance, at Cattaro, the Turk, the Montenegrin, and the Austrian had, from time to time, occupied the massive works of the Gibraltar of the Adriatic. At Corfu, Greek recruits were housed in barracks behind the stern barrier of Lovcen. A hundred miles inland in Montenegro stood Spuz, a conical mountain capped by a Venetian fortress. It was taken from the Turks during the Russo-Turkish War. The author got an account of the event by the royal captor, Nicholas, as they journeyed together by auto to the King’s villa at Nikshich. Along the Dalmatian coast, the author saw many remnants of an earlier and even greater Latin supremacy in that land of changing allegiance. There, the Romans built strong outposts. In 1921, they were among the best-preserved examples of Rome’s art and architecture. The coliseum at Pola was a majestic pile, while at Spalato the temple and baths, built by Diocletian, were still extant and being used by the locals as public buildings. Diocletian was born in that region. Before the Montenegrins came to the Land of the Black Mountains, Roman structures adorned the great emperor’s birthplace.
The extreme north of the Near East became Austria by the Treaty of Berlin in 1878; and the yoke of Hapsburgs sat all too heavy upon the mingled races who peopled those shores. Those people had many alien rulers, but none more hated than Franz Joseph. The visible symbol of his power was never absent from view, beginning with the huge naval arsenal ad docks at Pola and ending with the frowning casemates which pierced the hills at Cattaro, where the mountainside literally bristled with canons. The town was Italian in aspect, Austrian in allegiance, but Serb in feeling. There the Austrian extension to the south was halted from reaching the shores of autonomous Albania by the narrow coastline of King Nicholas of Montenegro, a wild and turbulent expanse of naked hills, characterized as Savage Europe. And savage it was. Its grim landscape shocked the eye with its sense of utter desolation – a wild, turbulent ocean of rock, rising and sinking in angry, gray waves. Yet amid those barren surroundings had dwelt, for 500 years, an unconquerable people. To preserve their liberty, they fled to those impenetrable hills after the final overthrow of ancient Serb glory on the fatal field of Kosovo. In memory of that disaster, the hat of the Montenegrin bore a band of black. At the outbreak of the World War, Montenegro was ruled by Nicholas I. For fifty years he had maintained the ascendancy of the Petrovitch dynasty; had twice double the area and population of his realm; had granted his subjects a constitution, a ministry, and a parliament; and yet remained the final source of authority.
That part of Jugo-Slavia which constituted the Kingdom of Serbia before the war was the most fertile of all the Balkan States. In addition, it possessed water-power and mineral deposits of large value. It was a land of no large fortunes and of no abject poverty, owing to a system of land ownership which assured every peasant his homestead. It was a land of no large cities, except those populous Macedonian town captured in the Balkan Wars. It was filled, instead, with numerous small and industrious farming villages. Through Serbia swept the main artery of travel to the East, the Orient Express. It passed through Nish, the ancient Serb capital, and runs to Bulgaria and Constantinople on one side, and through Macedonia to Saloniki on the other. Alone among the Balkan States, Serbia achieved her independence unaided. Greece owed her freedom from the Turks to the Allied fleet at Navarino, and Bulgaria and Rumania owed theirs to the Russo-Turkish War. Serbia won her freedom under the leadership of her own chieftain – Black George, the swineherd. The author was impressed by the Serbs, as well as the French, for their defense of their respective homelands during the war. It was the spirit of nationality expressed in blood, tongue, and religious faith.
For centuries, Macedonian soil had endured the waves of successive racial domination. The first great name that emerged was Philip under whom Macedonia and Bulgaria were merged. That union fell when his son, Alexander the Great died. It left a legacy of racial rivalry between Greek and Slav that still persisted. The great Serb hero, Stephen Dushan, ruled an empire almost as great as Alexander’s in that part of the world. The question whether Macedonia was Greek, Serb, or Bulgarian, while not settled, was put off by the Turkish Conquest. They cruelly ruled for 500 years. The Ottoman tyrant was dispossessed in 1912, but the Balkan Allies soon after fought a blundering and criminal war. Macedonia’s plains were fertile, its hill filled with ore or underlaid by oil, its cities populous, and its ports important. Saloniki, its chief city, was a center of activity since time out of mind. It stands at the head of the Aegean Sea. Behind it was a territory of great, untouched richness that, free of Turkish tyranny, should become busy and prosperous. Saloniki was now in Greek hands, as it long had been in race. The city had been sealed to them with blood. King George I of Greece was assassinated there in 1913. Like all large towns of the region, Saloniki’s population was a varied one. A large population of Spanish Jews lived there, having fled the inquisition. [See: “Saloniki”, National Geographic, September 1916].
East of Saloniki, the Chalcidicean Peninsula spread down into the waters of the Aegean. On it were found some of the most interesting of the world’s monastic institutions – the famous monasteries of Mount Athos. [See: The Monasteries of Mount Athos”, National Geographic, September 1916]. The monks exercised both a civil and an ecclesiastic dominion over the area. They had many quaint regulations – one being that no woman shall ever set foot upon the monastic possessions. Imagine their consternation when the Queen of the Greeks proposed a visit after the fall of Saloniki. Mount Athos was among the richest of the world’s monastic establishments. Not only from revenues and the fertility of its estates, but in its rare library of manuscripts. Few of them had been opened to the scrutiny of scholars. The orthodox monasteries of the Near East had played an important role in the history of that region. Their origins were shrouded in mystery, but place in the affections of the people was clear. It was within those cloistered walls that the Christian faith was kept alive through that long night of Turkish rule in the Balkans. There, too, were maintained the tongue of whatever races the pious brothers claimed. In whatever way the Greeks, Serbs, and Bulgars differed, they were united in veneration for the church as an institution.
Balkan monasteries were a part of the finest traditions of the Near East. The beautiful cloisters of the Metropolitan Monastery at Cetinje were a venerated sanctuary dating back a half a millennium. It stood upon the spot where Ivan the Black established his seat of government after fleeing the Turks, and where he set up the first Slavic printing press in the world. Often besieged, it once was captured by the Turk, but was soon retaken. Once the monastery was blown up by the monks, who perished with their book instead of being captured by the Turks. The present structure only dated to the eighteenth century. Its quaint clock tower and shaded cloisters made it look much older. There, were buried the Vladikas, or prince-bishops, who ruled the land with a combination of church and state. There were also cannons found there, captured from the Turks. The monastery at Cetinje had a page from the first Gospel issued from the famous printing press (whose type were later melted down for bullets). Above the monastery rose the Tower of the Skulls, the old citadel of the monkish defenders. The monasteries of Greece had a varied fortune. Some of them grew wealthy only to be taken over by the government. The American and British schools of archeology at Athens stood on ground sequestered from a nearby monastery. But others, like the famous shrine at Kalavrita, set high in the hills overlooking the Gulf of Corinth, were held in continued favor. It was at Kalavrita that the Greek War of Independence began. The tattered banner, which Archbishop Germanus took to war, was displayed there as the sacred war banner of Hellenism. Another well-known shrine in Greece was that at Meteora. There, giant needles of rock were capped by extensive buildings. Visitors ascended by rickety ladders or by means of a net drawn up by a primitive windlass.
Bulgaria loomed large in Balkan History. In one generation of freedom, she made incredible progress, crowned by her achievements in the First Balkan War. It was downhill from there, culminating in the Bulgar King casting his lot with the Teutonic Allies in the World War. The history of Bulgaria differed little from that of her sister Balkan States; the successive chapters were written in blood. Herodotus, the father of history, was the first to notice the wild Thracian and Illyrian tribes that inhabited Bulgaria. He wrote: “If they were only ruled by one man, and could only agree among themselves, they would be the greatest of all nations.” Those ancient Bulgars were doubtless of another strain than those who now claim the name, and who are purely Slav – more so than the Russians even. It was difficult to say when the Slavs arrived in the region. They had been there for more than a thousand years, spreading out and covering the territory from the Euxine to the Adriatic. The Bulgars embraced Christianity early on; and religion had highly colored the politics of Bulgaria. Gibbons, in a famous passage, remarked: “the glory of the Bulgarians was confined to a narrow scope both of time and of place”. That was true in the remote past, when the Emperor gave to the Bulgars their golden age, and in current times. It took forty years to go from a state of servitude to a place of power and prosperity; and only eight years, from the end of the First Balkan War, to again being a shorn and shattered nation. Because she was closest to the on-marching Turks, Bulgaria was the first to fall under Ottoman dominion. Turkish supremacy in Bulgaria, lasted from the fifteenth century until well into the nineteenth. It was the gloomiest epoch of that nation’s annals. Had it not been for the priests and the brigands, the thread of Bulgarian national life would had been destroyed. In their mountain fastnesses, that strange combination of the monk and the marauder kept alive the national feeling.
The brigands of the Balkans had ever been the popular heroes. In Serbia, they were known as Haiduks; in Bulgaria as Haidutin; and in Greece as Klephts. The most famous of the Klephts were Marco Bozzaris and, later, Kolokotronis. Like Robin Hood, the Balkan brigands were always represented as the protectors of the poor and the weak, the friend of all Christians, and the ruthless scourge of the Ottoman oppressor. Thousands of legends and song had grown out of their exploits. Unfortunately, they not only fought against their common foe, but they also wage war amongst themselves. Of all the agencies which contributed to Bulgarian independence, the brigands were by far the most continuously active. The long centuries of Turkish misrule were constantly broken by a series of abortive revolts, which were suppressed with increasing cruelty. That led to the brutal massacres of 1875, which inspired Mr. Gladstone to the famous Midlothian campaign, and brought on the Russo-Turkish War. That war was ended by the Treaty of San Stefano. It was meant to create a big Bulgaria, but thanks to British influence the Congress of Berlin was held, and a little Bulgaria was born. A lowly place it was, but the Bulgarians set out to make it better. Within one generation, Bulgaria had become a modern nation. Except for her humiliating war with her one-time allies, and her subsequent espousal of pan-Germanism, Bulgaria’s advance had been constant, and remarkable in the face of grave obstacles.
Three monarchs had sat upon her throne. Under the first, the Bulgarian army reached the gates of Belgrade; under the second, they reached the outer defenses of Constantinople; and under the third, Bulgaria had again begun the slow march upward. Sofia was the capital; Philippopolis, the largest city; Varna, the chief port, and Tirnovo, the ancient seat of government. There were also many smaller towns, small centers in their own right. The country possessed great wheat fields, extensive forests, and rich mines. The Bulgarians have utilized their resources and have been inventive. A unique product was the attar of roses. The world’s supply came from southern Bulgaria, and the landed peasants of that region had been enriched beyond their wildest dreams. Before the defeat of the Central Powers, training for the Bulgarian army began at boyhood. The army was designed by Russia to cooperate with Russian forces. It was maintained by the people, at great cost, through taxes. With the army disbanded, the Bulgarian people were rid of that burdensome expense.
Rumania was in, but not of, the Balkan States. Claiming a Roman origin, speaking a Latin tongue, and ruled in her formative days by a German king, the kingdom had nothing in common with her neighbors except a formal adherence to the Orthodox faith. Rumania, like Argentina, was a land where fortunes had been made quickly; it was unfashionable to live within ones means; and society had a gayer tone. Bucharest, the capital, vaulted itself as the Paris of the Near East. Other Rumanian cities had grown rapidly. Sinaia, in the Carpathian foothills, was the summer capital. Hotels and villas surrounded the King’s palace. The court, diplomates, and the rich fled there to avoid Bucharest’s intolerable summer heat. On the shores of the Black Sea, at the mouth of the Danube, and elsewhere were other charming resorts; but Rumania, as a whole, was a vast wheat field, the granary of the Near East. Thanks to Rumania, many mouths were fed from Constanza to Cattaro.
Greece was the land of song and story, the birthplace of modern history, the cradle of philosophy, and the home of art and architecture. To separate the life of modern Greece from the splendors of its classic or Byzantine days was not easy, and the Greeks were the first to resent it. They deemed themselves the direct descendance of classic days. Whether their land was ruled by a Roman emperor, a Frankish duke, a Venetian bailli, or a Turkish pasha, the thread of Hellenic existence had remained unbroken. The monasteries preserved their religion, their tongue, and their traditions. Mothers taught their children Greek heritage and history. In many aspects, Greek life remained unchanged from classic times. Modern Athens, to be sure, was a brilliant capital, the Paris of Levant. In less than a hundred years, since being liberated from Turkish rule, Athens has grown from a handful of hovels to a city of wide and gay streets, dotted with parks, and adorned with handsome public buildings. Those included the University, the National Library, the Academy of Science, and the Stadium. In the midst of that modernity stood the remains of the golden days of Athens. The focus was the Acropolis, with its Parthenon. The classic Temple of Theseus was the best preserved of all the ancient monuments. There were signs of Roman rule including the Stoa of Hadrian. The early Christian was represented by the many frescos upon the walls of nearly all classic structures. St. Theodore was a beautiful little Byzantine church. There were few traces of Turkish days except the bazars. The marks of Venetian occupation were set deep. Corfu was as much Italian as either Venice or Naples, and many Latin battlement fortresses were in use at many island seaports.
As of old, the Greeks swarmed the seas. The Piraeus was one of the most crowded of Mediterranean ports. The Greek merchant marine had grown its fleet from year to year. The Corinthian Canal was a useful route between the Ionian and the Aegean Seas. The Greeks were essentially towns people – made so out of necessity in Turkish days. One-tenth of the population was found in Athens and the Piraeus. The drain of emigration from the rural districts had been enormous, “a grave national hemorrhage”. The upside of emigration had been the large sums of money sent back to the country, especially from America. While Athens and a few large towns had modernized, the county life of Greece was as it had been for ages. Within a two-hour drive from Athens, the author saw peasants plowing their fields with crooked sticks as they had since the days of Homer. Shepherds still tended their flocks, and there were more goats in Greece than Greeks. In Thessaly, they still used solid wheeled carts, like those from the days of Jason. The coarse shaggy stuffs the peasants wore were still woven on hand looms. Every public square in Greece had a fountain, just as in olden times. Greece was a land of much sunshine, and life was followed much in the open. The family oven was found in the courtyard. The fuel for the cooking were twigs brought from the countryside in huge loads on little donkeys. Market day brought the community together, and were occasions of much gaiety. Numerous feast days were observed, and fasting was also frequent. On feast days there was always dancing; the most famous being at Megara during Easter week. Megara prided itself in being pure Hellenic in the midst of the Albanian flood which once overran the Attic Plain. It was once a famous marriage mart during Easter dance season, but, as the maidens sighed, the men had gone off to America. At Megara, the native costume was seen at its best. It was rarely worn in Athens and other cities.
It was not easy to travel in Greece. The railroad lines were meager, the roads were not good, and the hotels left much to be desired. However, the battlefield of Marathon was easily accessible from Athens. So too was Olympia, with its ruins of the great temple. But the most accessible of all was Delphi, a fitting shrine to an oracle. The seat of Sybil had been identified. The recently deposed Greek Prime Minister, Eleutherios Venizelos, was the most commanding figure in the Hellenic world in 1921. He was clearly the first statesman of the Balkans, and worthy to rank among the world’s ruling geniuses. He was Athenian by blood, Cretan by training, but thoroughly cosmopolitan. He was credited for the Balkan Alliance, which astounded Europe by its successes. Most of those gains in territory and prestige for Greece were codified in the Peace Treaty which the Allies forced the Turks to sign at Sevres. It was at Constantinople that the problems of the Near East had always centered. Thousands thronged the Bridge of Galata. There, twenty races met and clashed. Fanaticism and intrigue played constantly beneath the surface. All the Great Powers of Europe had, for generations, practiced the arts of devious diplomacy. Constantinople was where that the currents which caused the whirlpool of the Balkans had both their origins and their ends. That imperial city, for nearly two thousand years a seat of power, still held the key to commerce for both the East and the West. For strategic and commercial reasons, the author felt that Constantinople should be placed in capable hands. Who could foretell the city’s fate? The fall of Constantinople, five centuries prior, caused the whirlpool of the Balkans. The wise disposition of the city might calm the waters.
The four and final article in this month’s issue is entitled “The Orkneys and Shetlands – A Mysterious Group of Islands”. It was written by Charles S. Olcott. The article contains thirty-three black-and-white photographs, of which fourteen of which are full-page in size. The article stays in Europe and even through it has nothing to do with border changes, it does reference this month’s map supplement “Map of Europe” with regard to the European fishing industry.
The Orkneys had an important role in recent naval history. Admiral Jellicoe sailed from a mysterious base at Kirkwall, in the Orkneys, to support Admiral Beatty in the largest naval conflict in history. Lord Kitchener lost his life near the Orkneys when his ship sank. And when the American mine-sweeping squadron under Rear Admiral Joseph Strauss, USN, cleared the North Sea of its mine barrage, the base of operation was in the Orkneys. [See: “The North Sea Mine Barrage”, National Geographic, February 1919; and “The Removal of the North Sea Mine Barrage”, National Geographic, February 1920.] Few transatlantic passengers could tell the position of the islands on a map; whether they were closer to Iceland or Scotland; whether the Shetlands were the northernmost or southernmost of the group; or whether there were two islands or one hundred and fifty. Unlike common belief, the main industry of the northernmost group was not raising Shetland ponies, but in curing and packing herring. The mystery surrounding the islands and the general lack of knowledge concerning them were both quite consistent with their history. When the Norsemen descended on the Orkneys, they found no foe to contest their coming. Their three-century history of violence and bloodshed on the islands was gathered together in the Orkneyinga Saga. Nowhere in those writings was mentioned a native population. But numerous mounds, brochs (towers), graves, stone implements, and other relics told of the existence of a large population. It was known that missionaries or monks visited the islands to minister the Picts, as the earliest known inhabitants were called.
Solving the mystery of what became of the Picts was a question that could not be answered. They had completely vanished by the eighth century. In 1921, one could walk into a very complete “house” which was there when the Norsemen first arrived more than eleven centuries prior. The mound known as Maeshowe, on the island of Pomona, the mainland of the Orkneys, was a circular, grass-covered mound 90 feet in diameter and 30 feet in height. On one side was a narrow doorway, four feet high. In it, was a passageway, 54 feet long, which led to a room 15 feet square and 13 feet high. The most surprising features of that mound was the size of some of the stones used to build it. One was estimated to weigh eight tons. In an age with no iron tools, no drills, no means of blasting, and no wagon or truck, the Picts were able to quarry, transport, and place such stones without items deemed necessary in modern times. The huge stones which in Egypt formed the pyramids were quarried by the labor of numerous slaves. No such condition existed in the Orkneys. It was possible that Maeshowe was a typical Pict dwelling. It had three lateral chambers, each large enough for two or three people to lie in. On the floor in front of each was a stone of the exact size required to close the opening, but too huge to lift. That fact suggested that the mound may have been intended as a tomb. On the walls were many Runic inscriptions. Most of them translated to little more than graffiti. One inscription was dated to the “lifetime of the blessed earl”. The earl was Rognvald, who led an expedition to Jerusalem in 1152. His exploits were mentioned in the Saga. The sagas also record that the “Orkahaug” (Maeshowe) was the site of a big Yuleday carouse by Earl Howard and his men, while Rognvald was in the Holy Land.
A better form of Pict dwelling was the “broch”, of which seventy had been found in the Orkneys and as many in the Shetlands. The most complete specimen was Mousa, in Shetland. Those “brochs”, or “burghs”, were built of loose stones, without cement or mortar of any kind. The builders constructed chambers within the walls, one row above another, encircling the tower for several stories, connecting the floors with circular stairway or inclined plane. The windows were all on the inside of the tower, the only outside opening was a single low door. Those crude castles or forts served well for defense against an enemy. There were ample sleeping quarters in the numerous chambers within the walls; the circular enclosure accommodated sheep or cattle; and assaults could be repelled from the parapet some fifty or sixty feet above the ground. It was related in the Saga that Erland Ungi decided to elope with Margaret of Athole, the mother of Earl Harold. They fortified themselves in the tower of Mousa, and successfully resisted an assault and then a siege by Harold. Two hundred years before, Mousa was occupied by another runaway couple. In about 900 A.D., a Norseman eloped with a girl whom his father would not permit him to marry. They were wrecked on the island of Mousa, but managed to carry their cargo ashore, and find a ready-made dwelling. They lived there all winter. Excavations seem to indicate that those brochs were built in groups in such a way as to furnish a place of refuge and a means of defense for a large population.
On the southern tip of the mainland of Shetland was a high, rocky promontory called Sumburgh. A lighthouse marked the point and served as a warning to navigators. The tides from two oceans met in the “Roost” of Sumburgh and made a dangerous current. It was there that Sir Walter Scott placed the scene of the shipwreck in “The Pirate”. On the rocky coast stood an old ruined castle called Jarlshof. Scott made it the residence of Basil Mertoun and his son. It was occupied in the sixteenth century by Earl Patrick Steward, who, with his father Earl Robert, cruelly oppressed the islanders for half a century. In 1897 Mr. John Bruce, the owner at that time, discovered evidence of masonry in the mound beneath the Jarlshof, so ancient as to make the sixteenth century castle seem quite modern. Storms had washed away the seaward part of the mound, exposing the ends of the walls. That led to extensive excavation. The remains of a large broch were unearthed, one half of which had been washed away by the sea. Close by were three structures, shaped like beehives, the largest of which was oval in shape, 34 feet long and 19 feet wide, and contained five chambers, one of which was 5½ feet wide at the front and 10½ feet at the rear. Those chambers were built of overlapping stones, gradually closing toward the top and each surmounted with one large stone. At the western edge of the mound a great stone wall was unearthed. It extended back 70 feet and was 10 to 20 feet thick. The position and shape of the wall indicated that it once been a part of a circular wall enclosing the group of buildings of which the broch was the center and largest, and the beehive structures were subsidiary. The whole must have been a fortress of great strength, sufficient to accommodate a large population and an adequate defense for the extreme southern point of the island.
Other interesting relics of that unknown people were found not two miles from the mound of Maeshowe. These were the so-called Stones of Stenness. Separating the Locks of Stenness and Harray was a narrow neck of land, known as the Bridge of Brogar, at the south entrance of which was a huge stone, 18 feet high, popularly called the “Watch Stone”, or “Sentinel”. In the field at the right were the remains of a circle of similar stones, not quite as large as the Watch Stone, in the midst of which was a crude table, or altar, made of three short stones standing on end, and surmounted by a large flat stone or slab. That was the Ring of Stenness, or the Circle of the Moon. Across the bridge, a quarter mile away, was a larger group, the Ring of Brogar, commonly called the Circle of the Sun. It was about 120 yards in diameter and was surrounded by a trench, six feet deep. The stones of this large circle were 8 to 16 feet tall and all were crude and irregular in shape. Fifteen remained standing, although the group originally contained thirty-five or forty. They were covered with unusually long, shaggy lichens. North of the Ring of Stenness had been the famous stone of Odin, which was different from the others chiefly in having a hole through it. It was once the custom of the locals to gather on the first of each new year at the Kirk of Stenness for a celebration which lasted several days. That inspired many of the young people to get married. They would slip away to the Circle of the Moon where the woman knelt and prayed to Odin, after which they went to the Circle of the Sun where the man prayed. They then repaired to the Odin Stone, clasped hands through the hole, and pledged mutual fidelity. Such marriages were binding even after death. If the couple “agreed to disagree”, they had only to go into the kirk and walk out, one by the south door and one by the north, and the tie was dissolved. The Stone of Odin was visited by Sir Walter Scott in 1814, and he made a romantic use of it in “The Pirate”. That same year, a nearby farmer broke it up, with several other stones from the Ring of Stenness, to build a foundation for his cow-house. For that act of vandalism, he was boycotted and driven out of the country. Those monuments were there when the Norsemen landed and were probably at least three centuries old even then. They have stood for 1,400 years. They were quarried with stone implements and set in place by brute force. Their history was shrouded in obscurity. They were a part of the mystery of the islands.
The Orkney sagas, told of the adventures of a long line of warlike, murderous earls. They plundered the coasts, burning, killing, and stealing whatever they could. They quarreled among themselves, and ruled as absolute sovereigns as long as their power lasted. They usually died a tragic death. Among those ruthless conquerors two separated from the rest as pious men who were later sainted, St. Magnus and St. Rognvald. Their history, together with that of Swein Asliefson, “the last of the Vikings”, was required reading for all visitors to the Orkneys. It was through them that the island came to possess its greatest monument, the Cathedral of St. Magnus in Kirkwall. Magnus, son of Erlend, and Hakon, son of Paul, became joint earls of the Orkneys in 1103. For a time, the cousins were friendly and peace and prosperity came to the island. But Hakon became jealous of his kinsman and laid a trap for Magnus on the island of Egilsey. It was related that Magnus met fate, facing death with the cheerful courage of a Christian martyr. After that murder, Hakon became a fairly good ruler. His sons succeeded him, but, as usual, quarreled. One day Harold insisted on taking for himself a splendid garment that his mother and sister had made for Paul. It turned out to be poisoned. Harold died and Paul ruled alone. A new claimant arose, a popular young poet named Kali. He obtained from King Sigurd of Norway the grant of one-half the islands. He was permitted to change his name to Rognvald, after a famous Orkney earl. Rognvald’s father was Kol lived in Norway. He tried various schemes to secure his son’s half of the islands. But Paul seemed strong and refused to surrender. At last, Kol hit upon the right solution: Rognvald must pray to St Magnus, who was his mother’s brother and whom the possessions rightfully belonged. Paul had arranged beacons on the islands as signals of the enemy’s approach. The one on Fair Island was to be lit first. The others would be lit when that one was seen. Kol pretended to approach with a great fleet but, when the fires beacons were lit, he retreated. Later, one of his henchmen landed and became friends with the keeper. He found an opportunity to pour water on a freshly built beacon so it would not burn. Then Swein Asliefson, the great Viking, came upon the scene. In a barge, with thirty men, he sailed across the Pentland Firth from Scotland. A hunting party, which included Paul mistook them for merchants and invited them ashore. Swein’s men killed nineteen in the party and seized Paul, carrying him off to Scotland, from where he never returned. Rognvald, having obtained possession of the lands in 1136, proceeded to preform his vow. His father supervised the building of the Cathedral. Rognvald join the crusades in 1151, and recited poetry all the way to Jerusalem. He was murdered in 1158, after ruling for twenty-two years. He was interred in the Cathedral, and was sainted before the end of the century.
The Cathedral of St. Magnus was the showplace of the Orkneys. It was remarkable for its fine state of preservation, despite its age. Melrose Abbey, in Scotland, was founded about the same time (1136), but in 1544 was a ruin, and suffered still further in the Reformation. Dryburgh, built almost simultaneously, shared the same fate. But when reformers were pounding to pieces the fine old abbeys of Scotland, St. Magnus was not only protected by the people of Kirkwall, but was also improved by the addition of some of its finest detail. In 1671, a handsome spire was destroyed by lightning. In 1921, it was a stumpy little tower, marring the attractiveness of the building. The interior had some massive round pillars, seven on each side, in the Norman style. The floors of the nave and aisles were formerly paved with tombstones, the oldest dating to 1582. The tombstones no longer paved the cathedral, but many of them had been set up along the walls. The author enjoyed reading many of the inscriptions. Near by was the Earl’s Palace, built by Patrick Stewart, known as “Black Pate”, the greatest tyrant the islands ever knew. He was even worse than his father, Robert. In 1564, Lord Robert Stewart obtain, through Mary Queen of Scots, a grant for the Orkneys and Shetlands. Because of the conflicting appointment of Gilbert Balfour, Lord Robert was compensated by Being made Abbot of Holyrood. He traded his holy office for the Bishopric of Orkney. When Balfour came to grief due to his loyalty to Queen Mary, Lord Robert took possession of the two groups, church revenues, crown lands, and all. He taxed and enslaved the people for twenty-three years. Upon his death his son, Patrick, took over. The splendid Earl’s Palace, in Kirkwall, was built by forced labor. It was the same way with the Palace of Scalloway, and the palace at Birsay, which was built by his father using the same methods.
Kirkwall was the largest town of the Orkneys. It was the base of the American Navy’s mine-sweeping squadron, which operating in the North Sea in 1919. The town was a quaint place, and was quiet in ordinary times. A narrow, flagstone lane, called Bridge Street, led back from the steamship landing. At the head of this curious thoroughfare was Albert Street, which had the distinction of possessing a single tree. Further on, the street widened into a broad plaza opposite the cathedral. Stromness, the second town in importance, was on the opposite side of the island, and distinctly more picturesque. It stood on the slope of a hill, overlooking a beautiful harbor. Its single street twisted and turned through it for about a mile. The authors car was almost as wide as the street, but since there were no other cars, it wasn’t a problem. Stromness was the home of John Gow, the famous pirate. He was the inspiration for the character, Cleveland, in Sir Walter Scott’s “The Pirate”. Here also lived Bessie Millie, an old hag who sold “favoring winds” to mariners. Scott developed her into the character, Norna of the Fitful Head. The hill behind Stromness gave the author a fine view of the island of Hoy, the highest land in the Orkneys. On one side of the hill stood the Dwarfie Stone, another relic from the past, though not as old as the stones of Stenness. It was a wedgelike stone, 30 feet long and 15 feet wide. It had an opening 3 feet square and seven feet deep. The inner end of the opening widened to make two short beds. It was commonly believed that it was the home of goblins.
So far on his tour of the islands, the author had left unmentioned the largest and most commercial city of the archipelago, Lerwick, the capital of Shetland. He had omitted it to this point due to the fact that its importance was entirely modern. Its place in history was scarcely worth mentioning. It was far more picturesque and imposing than its southern rial, Kirkwall. Until the arrival of the British fleet in the World War, Kirkwall was almost deserted. But Lerwick was the center of a vast fishing industry. From Saturday to Monday, in the season, the harbor was crowded with the modern fishing boats which controlled the herring industry. Lerwick was on high ground with a road running along the shore. It was a narrow street, though wide enough for vehicles to pass. It was much busier than the streets of Kirkwall. Narrow lanes for pedestrians only lead off the main thoroughfare up the slope of the hill. Rope was provided along the buildings to prevent slipping in icy weather. The city had a large fish market, where the boat sold their catch in auction. Lerwick also had a handsome town hall and many well-built churches and dwellings. In summer, when fishing was active, the city bustled and the streets were crowded. But when winter came there was little to do. The women continued their household duties and knitted shawls. The idle fishermen spent much of their time in drinking, card-playing, and other amusements. The author thought of that old rhyme: “Man may work from dawn to the setting of the sun, But a woman’s work is never done.” In midsummer in these high latitudes, the sun rose early and seemed to stay up. Shetland was north of the 60th parallel. But its climate was so modified by the sea that it was neither excessively cold in winter nor warm in the summer. A strong wing blew most of the time, effecting the vegetation. Few trees were found there. The inland scenery was unattractive, but the rugged coast was carved by the sea into fantastic “stacks” and “castles”. They had a wild beauty, with the Old Man of Hoy being an example. As the author sailed away from the islands, he couldn’t help be wonder about that race of men who had long since disappeared. He thought of the fierce men who came later. For centuries the islands enjoyed the peace of obscurity. Then came the march of civilization, and finally the World War. The Shetlands and Orkneys, after ages of turmoil, were taking their vacation.
Note: I just embedded a photo of the Map Index to the map supplement from this issue.