Laputan Logic
Friday, May 16, 2003
  How the Balkans got balkanized

Written in 1993 at the height of the conflict in Bosnia, this paper by E. A. Hammel nicely summarises the demographic history of the Balkans and how it became so, well, really really complicated.

Demography and the Origins of the Yugoslav Civil War

What did this migrational process do to ethnic identification and its cultural symbols? The three primary elements of ethnic identification in the Balkans are kinship, language, and religion. They are not neatly related. Ethnic identification is summarized in labels, such as Serb, Croat, Muslim -- these especially in the context of the Civil War. Kinship is reckoned shallowly and rather bilaterally among most Muslims, deeply and more patrilineally among Orthdox, and something in between among Catholics. It was not difficult to record genealogies 14 generations deep in upland Serbia and Montenegro as recently as the 1960s but hard to do so more than 3 generations deep among Bosnian Muslims. Thus, the efficacy of kinship in defining ethnic groups varies. Especially among the Orthodox, consciousness of kinship ties to populations in areas of origin is strong.

Language is a tricky criterion. The Slavic speakers are sharply distinct from Albanians, Hungarians, Germans, Turks, Greeks and others. However, a large proportion of the local population in any area through which a major linguistic boundary runs are bilingual. Among the Slavic speakers, linguistic differentiation is gradual, in a dialect continuum from northwest to southeast; the Slavic languages have differentiated less than the Germanic or Romance languages, and mutual intelligibility is quite high. Only minute attention to dialect detail makes ethnic symbolization possible. This dialect continuum has been segmented by internationally imposed political boundaries and the centralizing efforts of core states, and the intellectuals of such states have sometimes been busy erecting linguisting boundaries to serve nationalist interests. In general, the linguistic divisions are based on the particular word we gloss as the interrogative pronoun, "what?" (sto, ca, kaj), and the rendering of the unstable "jat'" vowel of Late Common Slavic as "i", "ije" or "je", or "e". Even these isoglosses are not neatly distributed. Without going into detail, I note that the northwest shift of Slavs fleeing the Turks drove a wedge of Montenegrin and Herzegovinian dialect up through Bosnia into Croatia-Slavonia, separating speakers who had once formed a band running across Bosnia and Slavonia from the Adriatic to the Drava.

Religion is the most public and the most commonly invoked criterion of ethnicity. The religious history of the region is complicated. The Slavs were Christianized in the 10th Century by the efforts of the SS Cyril and Methodius, Macedonian monks who developed two alphabets for the translation of the Scripture into what we now know as Old Church Slavonic, a dialect very close to Old Common Slavic. They began their work with the central Slavs in Moravia, where German monks had failed before them. The essentially protestant nature of their linguistic efforts was a thorn in the side of Rome and a symbol of the emerging schism in the Church, which was formalized within little more than a century. The original alphabet, the Glagolithic, persisted in Dalmatia and Bosnia where it came to have a regional symbolic quality, replaced by Latinic in the Catholic church and by Cyrillic, the second of the two alphabets, in the Orthodox. In Dalmatia Glagolithic was used in the Protestant Reformation. The quality of political separatism evinced in the Reformation was manifested more exotically in the Bogumil heresy in Bosnia from about the 11th to the 15th Centuries. Bogumilism, a dualistic Manichean Christianity, originated in Bulgaria in the 10th Century in an Orthodox context and spread throughout the Balkans, and may have been ancestral (or at least fraternal) to the Albigensian heresy in France and the Paterene heresy in Italy as well. It was extirpated in mediaeval Serbia by Emperor Stefan Dusan who vacillated between Rome and Byzantium, finally accepting the latter, but flourished in Bosnia where it provided a neutral ground between the two contending churches that symbolized the Eastern and Western Roman Empires. It is claimed to have been popular first among the peasantry and then adopted by the Bosnian nobility. With the arrival of the Turks, all of the Bogumils seem to have converted to Islam, led perhaps by the nobility who were able to preserve their feudal privileges by becoming vassals of the Sultan. Islam, like Bogumilism, afforded a refuge from both contending Christian empires.[7]

These three dimensions of ethnicity: kinship, language, and religion, crosscut. Cvijic notes Catholic populations whose ancestry lies in Orthodox areas and who maintain kinship ties with families who are Orthodox. There are Catholic Serbs in Dubrovnik who celebrate that distinctively Orthodox feast of the household saint called the slava. The Catholic inhabitants of Konavlje south of Dubrovnik refer to the Orthodox as od stare ruke (of the old hand), suggesting their own prior membership in the faith.[8] There were at one time some Protestant Slavs, principally in Slovenia, to some extent in Dalmatia, but most of all in Slavonia under the Turks where there was no interference from Catholic bishops, but the Counter-Reformation erased them from the local religious map. There are Albanians of all three faiths: Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim. Hungarians and Germans in the region are either Catholic or Protestant. Religion thus does not define ethnicity across major language divisions; no Catholic Croat claims common ethnicity with a Catholic Hungarian. On the other hand religion divides language communities into endogamous subsets, some of which are taken as identifiable ethnic groups. For example, Catholic and Muslim Albanians recognize that they are Albanians, but of different faiths. On the other hand, Catholic and Orthodox Slavs do not recognize common ethnicity; no Croat peasant claims co-ethnicity with Serb peasants, and neither with Muslim Slavs, even if they speak virtually identical dialects.[9]

Out of this kaleidoscope emerge the politically relevant ethnic groups that we see opposed in the Balkans today and quintessentially in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While the elements of kinship, language, and religion are the symbolic characteristics of ethnic membership, they fail to define the ethnic groups in any consistent or historical way. Croats, Serbs, and Muslim Slavs in Bosnia speak dialects that are only narrowly distinguishable. The dialect of the Bosnian Serbs is closer to that of most of the Croats of the region than it is to the Serbian of the core of Serbia. Similarly, the dialect of most Bosnian Croats is closer to that of the Serbs of the region than it is to that of the Croats of northern Dalmatia or the core of Croatia. The symbol that they use to differentiate themselves is religion, but religion fails in that task outside the region (for example with the Catholic Serbs of Dubrovnik).

These contending ethnic groups are clusters of symbols that are the detritus of imperial history and that are currently mobilized by political organizers to make impermeable boundaries where such boundaries did not exist before. It is not a new process. Under the Austrians, the Slavs of the Military Border were originally thought of all as Vlachs, whether Catholic or Orthodox; only later under their most Catholic majesties was there pressure to make the boundary of religion at least as wide as that of the State. Exactly that homogenizing instinct to achieve a congruence of political borders and symbolic qualities led Franjo Tudjman[10] and the Croatian Democratic Party to strip the krajina Serbs of their cultural distinctiveness and privileges, granted to them by the Communist Party as a way to prevent the rise of mini-nation states. The attempt to limit symbolic expression had the same result it did under Maria Theresa and Joseph II -- armed rebellion. This ethnic cleansing of a resident population is now met by ethnic cleansing of territories through the mechanisms of terror and expulsion as Serbia seeks to extend its boundaries to match the old Ottoman ones in Bosnia. Serbia is not above the first strategy, either, as it limits the use of Albanian in official and educational discourse, bent on completion of the slavicization of Illyrians that resulted in much of Montenegro.[11] [more]


So what planet was this "Sir John Mandeville" guy from anyway?

Easy answer, this one1:

This is the Hereford Mappamundi (i.e. Map of the World) which dates from around 1290. To help you get your bearings, here is a somewhat inaccurate (but helpful nonetheless) simplified sketch of the map which annotates most of the important features.

The Mappamundi is a remarkably beautiful and rare glimpse into the medieval mindset and its view of the world. It is the largest map of its kind (54 x 64 inches) to have survived and resides at Hereford Cathedral in England just as it has done for the past 700 years. The map depicts the world as a flat disk with East at the top and it shows all of the features of the (then) known world, including Africa, India and China. Paradise is depicted somewhere east of India and the Holy Land with its important sites expanding to fill the middle of the map and Jerusalem at its centre.

This is a work of cosmology as much as a cartography. It is an attempt to explain the world as well as to depict its features. It was made in a time when the general population was "uneducated and very provincial. In the Hereford map they could revel in this pictorial description of the outside world, which taught natural history, classical legends, explained the winds and reinforced their religious beliefs."

The Hereford Mappamundi


This "continent" forms the upper, eastern portion, of the map; actually consuming more than half as it encompasses the 'world-center' Jerusalem. The letters A. S. I. A., in red, are hard to locate being widely separated, placed vertically from the Garden of Eden to Jerusalem. During the Middle Ages, when clerics were engaged in rediscovering and annotating the writings of their predecessors, certain additions and alterations were made to the then existent Roman maps. The practice of placing the East at the top was acceptable to the Church, owing to the special sanctity attached to that quarter, and, Paradise, shown here as an island, was inserted at this point. On the Hereford map there is a drawing of Adam, Eve and the serpent, and below to the right, the expulsion from the Garden. These same Churchmen, in accordance with scriptural texts, placed Jerusalem in the center of the world: This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are around her (Ezekiel V:5). They also wished to show as much detail in the Holy Land as possible, consequently the area allotted to Palestine was disproportionately enlarged. Palestine on this map, as well as other parts of the map, have a number of Biblical places and incidents inserted, i.e., a pictorial crucifixion outside a walled-Jerusalem; the track of the people of Isreal from Egypt across the Red Sea to Jericho; the Ark on Arrat in the Armenian mountains; the granaries of Joseph (Joseph's Barns) as the pyramids were considered to be; the very conspicuous Tower of Babel; Moses on Mount Sinai receiving the tablets; Lot's wife; and the river Jordan flowing through to the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea, where Sodom and Gomorrah lie submerged. Some of these details of the Holy Land were taken from itineraries made for the use of pilgrims.

On the right of Palestine is Egypt, which is included in ASIA. Here the Nile and its delta is shown, along with the sphinx and the pyramids. Cairo is misnamed Babylon, and Alexandria is depicted with its lighthouse. On the left of Palestine is Asia Minor, between the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea, along with Troy, Laodicea, Antioch, and Noah's Ark..

The actual Babylon stands conspicuously in the middle as a multi-storied city. An enigmatic creature, perhaps the spirit of evil, protrudes from one side, the Tower of Babel is near at hand, the Euphrates River flows into the city and out the other side. A long description gives details of the origin of this city with mighty walls and 100 gates. Above Babylon is India in gold letters, a country of mountains and rivers, dragons, giants and pygmies, and strange beasts and birds. Above India is the Garden of Eden with four rivers flowing from it which submerge (to prevent men from finding their way back to Paradise) to reappear as the legendary sources of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates which are shown flowing south to the Persian Gulf; the river Ganges which is shown flowing east forming a delta before reaching the ocean, and the Nile. To the left of India, in northwest Asia, across mountain ranges which may represent the Himalayas, are the Chinese, called Seres, with a reference to their silk as an article of export. To the right of India is Arabia, the Red Sea and Persian Gulf extending to the ocean enclosing the island of Ceylon at the base.

In the Middle Ages scholars were also greatly interested in the exploits of Alexander the Great who became legendary, therefore a number of drawings and inscriptions in Asia are associated with him: i.e., five bell-tents, the central one with a cross, rising from an altar-style base on the boundary between Asia and Africa; a gateway with opened doors at the end of an eight-mile mountain pass, representing the Caspian Gates through which Alexander was said to have passed on his way north; the city of Choolissima, conventionally drawn, capital of the land of Magog, taken by Alexander after a long siege; two islands in the northern ocean, Miopar and Mirabilis, appeased by presents and entreaties; the island of Terraconta inhabited by intractable cannibalistic Turks "from the stock of Gog and Magog" ; and finally the battlemented wall with which he imprisoned "the accursed descendants of Cain". Below this area is the land of the Scythian races. Obviously knowledge of this part of the world was very limited and the space was thus filled with dramatic pictures.


This continent is located in the lower portion of the map on the right. Strangely the name EUROPE in great gold letters stretches down the length of Africa, similarly Europe is labelled AFRICA. It should be noted that the extremities of Africa and Europe are correctly given in small writing, terminus Africe and terminus Europe. The most conspicuous feature in Africa is the blue band of the Nile running parallel with the ocean. The river begins as a lake near Mount Hesperus and apparently ends as a lake, but it submerges to reappear as the Lower Nile, forming Africa's eastern boundary. Behind the blue band of the river is a grim array of grotesque figures to indicate the existence of primitive peoples. On the north the continent is bounded by the Mediterranean, with cities along the coastline, notably Carthage facing its rival Rome across Sicily. Mons Mercurii opposite Crete is Cape Bon. It is clear that Africa has been drawn from information collected from maps and itineraries of the Roman Empire prior to 600 A.D. Consequently the Roman provinces are delineated, Libya, Tripolitania, Numidia, and Mauritania. The Atlas Mountains are shown forming a single peak. The ocean is dotted with islands, including the Canaries, Madeira and Teneriffe are called the Fortunate Islands, an allusion to their temperate climate.


When we turn to this area of the Hereford map we would expect to find some evidence of more contemporary 13th century knowledge and geographic accuracy than was seen in Africa or Asia, and, to some limited extent, this theory is true. By the 13th century trade and commerce were well developed, and travel throughout Europe was relatively easy. However this type of 'word-of-mouth' information is slow to be collected and eventually reflected on maps. Scholars, such as G.R. Crone, believe there to be about a two century lag between the actual circulating knowledge of the world and the geographical content on the Hereford map. Europe is not easily recognizable since actual coastlines are disregarded in this highly stylized format and the river systems seem to dominate. The Danube, Rhine, and Rhone are accurately shown rising in the Alps and flowing to their respective mouths. The Iberian and Italian peninsulas are not represented as such. Beginning with Spain, at the bottom-center, the Pyrenees form a line running north and south, with many rivers and towns displayed. Italy is merely a bulge between the Mediterranean and the Adriatic; the Alps are fairly accurate, with towns in the area being chiefly derived from the Antonine Itinerary. Rome is honored by a popular hexameter, Roma caput mundi tenet orbis frena rotundi [Rome, the head, holds the reins of the world].

Greece has its Mt. Olympus and such cities as Athens and Corinth; the Delphic oracle, misnamed Delos, is represented by a hideous head. Macedonia, Thrace, and Bulgaria are also shown in this area.

France, with the bordering regions of Holland and Belgium is called Gallia, and includes all of the land between the Rhine and the Pyrenees. Paris, owing to its famous university, has one of the most imposing castellated buildings on the entire map. Unfortunately, though, the area of France has been defaced by indelible scratching and scribbling, probably done at a time when anti-French feelings ran high in England. The Rhine, Moselle, Seine, and Loire are incorrectly given a general north-south direction, consequently displacing some sixty towns that occur near them.

Norway and Sweden are shown as a peninsula, divided by an arm of the sea, though their size and position are misrepresented. Norway, alone, is named, and there is a strange figure which seems to depict a man on snow skis, with an inscription, roughly translated, he runs on skis. There is only a vague conception of the form of the Baltic Sea. Germany is equally obscure and vague, Upper Germany is noted as being occupied by Slavic people, and Lower Germany has a note, this is Saxony. The principle rivers, the Rhine, Vistula, Ems, Weser, and Elbe are given, and the towns included are Bremen, Hamburg, Magdeburg, and Prague. North of the Danube is Dacia with a note, this is Russia, and a picture of a bear. The river Don forms the boundary between Europe and Asia.

On the other side of Europe, Iceland, the Faeroes, and Ultima Tile are shown grouped together north of Norway, perhaps because the restricting circular limits of the map did not permit them to be shown at a more correct distance. As can be seen, beyond the perimeter of the former Roman rule, the detail and accuracy is rather lacking. What contemporary knowledge the map does display of this area comes from the 11th century writer Adam of Bremen.

The British Isles are drawn on a larger scale than the neighboring parts of the continent, and this representation is of special interest on account of its early date. With the exception of four maps drawn by Matthew Paris, about 1250 (Slide #225), this is the earliest medieval attempt at a detailed map of these islands to have survived. The appearance of this portion of the Hereford map, in particular the narrow form of the English Channel and North Sea, strongly suggest that an existing map of the British Isles (probably not Matthew Paris') has been fitted into the general framework of this world map by cutting out a segment of the main land mass of Europe. This would explain the distortion of the coastline, particularly in southeast England, and perhaps also the complete omission of East Anglia. The circular shape of the map, again, no doubt accounts for the curved outlines of western Scotland and Ireland.

On the Hereford map, the areas retain their Latin names, Britannia insula and Hibernia, Scotia, Wallia, and Cornubia, and are neatly divided, usually by rivers, into compartments, North and South Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, England, and Scotland. Cathedral cities such as Durham, Lincoln, Hereford, and Canterbury are displayed; castles and towers such as London, Conway, Caernarvon, Dover, and Edinburgh, and the mountains of Snowdon and Grampians are just some of the exceptional detail included admist these special isles.


1 - of course, being fixed firmly at the centre of the Universe in those days, technically the world couldn't have be called a planet.  
  Okay, false alarm

Neither a bang nor even a whimper. Blogging will resume in just a moment. 

Thursday, May 15, 2003
  Did I mention that the world was going to end today?

Good night, everybody.  

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Sir John Mandeville was an Early-Renaissance writer of travel tales, similar in style and content to his near-contemporary, Marco Polo. But history has judged the two quite differently: whereas Marco Polo has become a household word, synonymous with bold explorations, Mandeville has been largely forgotten. It was not always so.

During his lifetime, and for a couple of centuries afterwards, Mandeville was the more famous of the two. A copy of Mandeville - but not Polo - was in the possession of Leonardo da Vinci. More telling, about 300 manuscripts (hand-written copies) of Mandeville survive, compared to only about 70 of Polo.

So what accounts for these reversals of fortune?

Mandeville wrote his book about 1356, or shortly thereafter. Its original tile was "The Voyages and Travels of Sir John Mandeville, Knight," but is now generally known as "Travels of Sir John Mandeville." Polo's book, originally titled, "Descriptions of the World," came out about 1300. Whereas Mandeville wrote his book himself, Polo used the services of a professional writer, Rusticello, who based the book on Polo's notebooks. (Mandeville is the better written.) Standards of what constitutes a historical/geographic work have greatly changed since Polo/Mandeville's time. Both books -- but especially Mandeville -- contain a fascinating pastiche of facts (often distorted), impressions, opinions - and utterly fantastic claims. Reading these today, one is left with the bewildering impression of a farrago of National Geographic and supermarket tabloids. [more]

You can read his entire book online. In this excerpt, he describes some of the weirdos that you'd be likely to meet if you sailed to the islands of Indonesia.

The king of this isle is a full great lord and a mighty, and hath under him fifty-four great isles that give tribute to him. And in everych of these isles is a king crowned; and all be obeissant to that king. And he hath in those isles many diverse folk.

In one of these isles be folk of great stature, as giants. And they be hideous for to look upon. And they have but one eye, and that is in the middle of the front. And they eat nothing but raw flesh and raw fish.

And in another isle toward the south dwell folk of foul stature and of cursed kind that have no heads. And their eyen be in their shoulders.

And in another isle be folk that have the face all flat, all plain, without nose and without mouth. But they have two small holes, all round, instead of their eyes, and their mouth is plat also without lips.

And in another isle be folk of foul fashion and shape that have the lip above the mouth so great, that when they sleep in the sun they cover all the face with that lip.

And in another isle there be little folk, as dwarfs. And they be two so much as the pigmies. And they have no mouth; but instead of their mouth they have a little round hole, and when they shall eat or drink, they take through a pipe or a pen or such a thing, and suck it in, for they have no tongue; and therefore they speak not, but they make a manner of hissing as an adder doth, and they make signs one to another as monks do, by the which every of them understandeth other.

And in another isle be folk that have great ears and long, that hang down to their knees.

And in another isle be folk that have horses' feet. And they be strong and mighty, and swift runners; for they take wild beasts with running, and eat them.

And in another isle be folk that go upon their hands and their feet as beasts. And they be all skinned and feathered, and they will leap as lightly into trees, and from tree to tree, as it were squirrels or apes.

And in another isle be folk that be both man and woman, and they have kind; of that one and of that other. And they have but one pap on the one side, and on that other none. And they have members of generation of man and woman, and they use both when they list, once that one, and another time that other. And they get children, when they use the member of man; and they bear children, when they use the member of woman.

And in another isle be folk that go always upon their knees full marvellously. And at every pace that they go, it seemeth that they would fall. And they have in every foot eight toes.

Many other diverse folk of diverse natures be there in other isles about, of the which it were too long to tell, and therefore I pass over shortly.

Okay, so he might have got a few of the details a bit wrong but at least he knew, even back in 1356, that the world was round (please take note American high school teachers).

And after, go men to Belgrade, and enter into the land of Bougiers; and there pass men a bridge of stone that is upon the river of Marrok. And men pass through the land of Pyncemartz and come to Greece to the city of Nye, and to the city of Fynepape, and after to the city of Dandrenoble, and after to Constantinople, that was wont to be clept Bezanzon. And there dwelleth commonly the Emperor of Greece. And there is the most fair church and the most noble of all the world; and it is of Saint Sophie. And before that church is the image of Justinian the emperor, covered with gold, and he sitteth upon an horse y-crowned. And he was wont to hold a round apple of gold in his hand: but it is fallen out thereof. And men say there, that it is a token that the emperor hath lost a great part of his lands and of his lordships; for he was wont to be Emperor of Roumania and of Greece, of all Asia the less, and of the land of Syria, of the land of Judea in the which is Jerusalem, and of the land of Egypt, of Persia, and of Arabia. But he hath lost all but Greece; and that land he holds all only. And men would many times put the apple into the image's hand again, but it will not hold it. This apple betokeneth the lordship that he had over all the world, that is round. And the tother hand he lifteth up against the East, in token to menace the misdoers. This image stands upon a pillar of marble at Constantinople.

The central scene shows a Bible story from the Old Testament: Caleb and Joshua are bringing grapes back to Moses from the 'Promised Land' - a sign that there was a rich, fertile land awaiting the Hebrew tribes that had fled from Egypt. The couple are flanked on either side by strange figures known as blemyahs.
Fanciful. Preposterous. Absurd.

October 06, 2002 / October 13, 2002 / October 20, 2002 / October 27, 2002 / November 03, 2002 / November 10, 2002 / November 17, 2002 / November 24, 2002 / December 01, 2002 / December 08, 2002 / December 15, 2002 / December 22, 2002 / December 29, 2002 / January 05, 2003 / January 12, 2003 / January 19, 2003 / January 26, 2003 / February 02, 2003 / February 09, 2003 / February 16, 2003 / March 02, 2003 / March 09, 2003 / March 16, 2003 / March 23, 2003 / March 30, 2003 / April 13, 2003 / April 20, 2003 / April 27, 2003 / May 04, 2003 / May 11, 2003 / May 18, 2003 / May 25, 2003 / June 01, 2003 / June 08, 2003 / June 15, 2003 / June 22, 2003 / June 29, 2003 / July 06, 2003 / July 13, 2003 / July 20, 2003 / July 27, 2003 / August 03, 2003 / August 31, 2003 / September 07, 2003 / September 21, 2003 / September 28, 2003 / October 05, 2003 / October 19, 2003 /

Powered by Blogger