Volume 4 Issue 2 CONTENTS


Balázs Lázár

Turkish Captives in Hungary during Austria’s Last Turkish War (1788–91)


During the last Turkish war of the Habsburg Monarchy (1788–91), several hundred Ottoman soldiers were taken prisoner by the Habsburg army and accommodated in Hungarian fortresses. Numerous rules and orders were issued by Joseph II regarding the treatment of these prisoners. These rules represent interesting mixes of the new ideas of the Enlightenment and old habits. According to these regulations, the captured Turks were given the status of prisoner of war and were provided with regular supplies. The study also examines the circumstances of the capture, the lives, and often the deaths of the Turkish prisoners in Hungary, as well as the exchanges of prisoners, which began only slowly but eventually resulted in their release. The fate of the Austrian prisoners in Turkish captivity is also briefly discussed. The paper was completed exclusively on the basis of primary sources.

Keywords: Austro–Turkish War (1788–91), prisoners of war, treatment of captives, exchanges of prisoners, Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Hungary



Until recently, the fate of captives and prisoners of war was one of the most neglected chapters of the military history.1 Interest in this topic, however, has grown considerably, parallel with the evolution of new approaches, e. g. “the new military history” or John Keegan’s novel perspective of the common soldier. These current trends in military history also have evinced significantly more interest in the fate of noncombatants and other “minor characters” of the conflicts than previous histories of “the warlords.” Inspired by a vague notion, this study examines the question of Turkish prisoners held captive in Hungary during the Turkish War of Joseph II, a topic that in the end proved more interesting than one might first have assumed, and also by and large has been ignored in the secondary literature.2 In the historiography, prisoners are usually presented only as a data, in spite of the fact that there is a wealth of sources on which scholars could draw. I found valuable and essentially untouched archival materials on the Turkish prisoners of war in the Military Archive in Budapest, where the documents of the Hungarian General Commando (the territorial organization of the Habsburg military administration, the “outstretched arm” of the Aulic War Council) is preserved. Not surprisingly, the other rich source, one is tempted to use the word “goldmine,” is the archival material of the Aulic War Council in the Kriegsarchiv Vienna. The so-called Lacy-reforms from 1766 established an unparalleled bureaucracy, and the records that were kept provide researchers with a vast array of sources. This raw material of the Habsburg military administration is especially useful if one is interested in going beyond the traditional themes of military history, as in this particular case, which concerns the treatment with prisoners. For example, the thorough Habsburg bureaucracy recorded the names, the ranks, the ages and the origins of thousands of Turkish prisoners in muster rolls, so we have a precise overview of the contemporary Ottoman army in the Balkans.

In addition, one can glean significant data concerning the army and the state of the enlightened absolutisms at work. The fates of the Turkish prisoners suggest a rigid, slow system that was, however, not without humanity. This state was headed by a restless but also very demanding ruler, Joseph II. His short but usually comprehensive and sometimes sarcastic notes on the files may well reveal more about his personality than the hundreds of studies that have been written on him, whether apologetic or condemning. His decisions in concrete cases show the limits of his “enlightened” thinking.

This study is concerned first and foremost with the Ottoman prisoners in Austrian captivity and in the area of Hungary.3 Did they enjoy the same treatment as their Western counterparts? Was their status as prisoners of war acknowledged at all? What sort of rules applied to them? How could the Austrian military bureaucracy solve the potential problems of supplying hundreds of people from another religion and culture with shelter and sustenance, however minimal? How did their captivity come to an end?

First, I am going to summarize the contemporary norms and practices regarding prisoners of war in Europe. Then, I will describe the rules issued by Joseph II in the course of this war. I also discuss the circumstances under which the masses of prisoners were taken, the details of their transportation, accommodation and supply in Hungary, and the problems that arose concerning the maintenance of watch over them and numerous events, such as outbreaks of unrest and escapes. I also touch briefly on the conditions under which the Austrian soldiers in Ottoman captivity lived, since their fates were intertwined with those of the captured Turks during the exchange processes. The development of these processes proved to be rather interesting, and many useful sources are available, so the question of prisoner exchange is one of the focal points of my study.

Captivity in the Eighteenth Century

It is difficult to find a comprehensive work regarding the unwritten law of captivity before the age of formal international conventions and the Great War. Although the “ransom-culture” of the Middle Ages4 and the Early Modern Period5 have met with some interest among historians, the Age of Enlightenment (what one might also refer to as the Napoleonic period) was rather neglected from this point of view, apart from some cursory comments in standard works and some focused studies.6 The rough outlines of the system, however, can be drawn. As a result of the evolution of standing armies after the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) and the limited wars of the eighteenth century, warfare tended to show a “milder” face. The armies were paid, fed and clothed in a more regular way than they had been during the long and brutal Thirty Years War. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when wars were already being fought by professional mercenary armies, it was common practice to press captured mercenaries into the service of their captor. It was almost daily routine during the Thirty Years War, although this custom had gradually disappeared by the end of the seventeenth century, parallel with the evolution of the new standing armies, though as late as 1756, Frederick the Great attempted to press the whole encircled and captured Saxon army into the Prussian army. In the eighteenth century, however, the exchange of prisoners became common practice and even the primary practice when dealing with soldiers who had been taken captive. Before or during a campaign, the opposing commanders (or even rulers) concluded an official agreement, the so called cartel, which regulated the quotas and set the terms. Moreover, committees were formed to supervise the process and overcome the difficulties. These committees consisted of officers and commissaries from both parties. The basic rule of the exchange was reciprocity, but sometimes it proved to be impossible: generally one belligerent had more prisoners than the other, or one had captured more officers etc. To address these differences, various kinds of quotas were established. For example, one sergeant “counted” as two privates and a lieutenant as twelve; a colonel was worth as much as 48 men.7 The old habits of ransoming were still alive in an altered form: a prisoner in the middle of the eighteenth century could hope that his state would agree to pay the ransom, knowing, however, that this sum might be deducted from his future pay.8 For a captured high-ranking general one could ask a huge prize. During the Seven Years War (1756–63), in the conflicts between Prussia and Austria a Field-Marshall could be ransomed for 15,000 Gulden or exchanged for 3,000 privates.9

The fates of the prisoners were also determined by the circumstances of their captivity. This period was famous for sophisticated siege warfare. When a commander and the garrison of a besieged fortress had fulfilled their duty but nonetheless been compelled to capitulate, their performances were usually acknowledged in the document of the capitulation, which might even grant them free leave with or without arms. Sometimes they had to give their word not to fight for a year or so. If captivity was nevertheless unavoidable, in such documents the circumstances of the arrest―especially for officers who had been captured―were also regulated.

As armies and warfare evolved, international law began to put down modest roots. In 1625, Hugo Grotius had stated, “[i]t has long been a maxim, universally received among the powers of Christendom, that prisoners of war cannot be made slaves, so as to be sold, or compelled to the hardships and labor attached to slavery.”10 Grotius’ thesis was widely known throughout Europe by the Age of Enlightenment.

This protection, though based on moral, unwritten law and habits, obviously did not apply to the Turkish prisoners during the wars of liberation at the end of the seventeenth century. On the contrary, the captured Turks could be freely bought and sold. The Ottomans and mostly their tributaries, the Crimean Tartars, also made a huge profit from the ransoms that were paid by Christians to free prisoners.11 The Peace of Karlowitz (1699) marked the end of this practice. The 12th point of the treaty declared that all prisoners should be mutually released.12 The Treaty of Passarowitz, which restored the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary (1718), included this stipulation, but when an enemy of the Sultan had been less successful, the Porte showed little interest in returning prisoners who had already been sold. After the Treaty of Belgrade (1739), the difference between the fates of the Russian and the Austrian prisoners was striking. The former were released relatively quickly without ransom, and sometimes the Porte even bought back them from private hands in order to release them. Of the Austrian prisoners, the state-owned galley rowers were released, but others were enslaved until as late as the 1750s, and Austrian diplomats and monks from the Trinitarian Order continued to pay ransom for them. The explanation for this different approach is simple. The Russians had scored considerable successes during the war, taking thousands of Turkish prisoners, but the Austrians had mostly suffered setbacks.13

After almost half a century of peace, a new war threatened to break out in the Danube Valley. In accordance with the Russo–Austrian treaty of 1781, Joseph II—rather unwillingly—had to declare war on the Ottomans after a Turkish “aggression” against Russia in August 1787, though as historians have persuasively argued, the Sultan was continuously provoked by the Russians. The Czarina, motivated by the Polish precedent, had ambitious plans for the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire, and Joseph felt that he had to keep peace with the Russians (who he felt were likely to win), although Vienna had had good relations with Constantinople since the 1740s. But at the beginning of February 1788, war was formerly declared. The Austrians had a very cautious operation plan whereby six army or independent corps were to be deployed along the Turkish border. The main army (under Field-Marshall Lacy), concentrated around Zimony (Zemun, in Serbia), tried to capture Belgrade, while the corps of Slavonia and Croatia invaded Bosnia from the valleys of the Una and Sava Rivers. On the other side of the Danube River, a corps covered the Banat. A weak corps protected Transylvania, while the army of Prince Friedrich Josias of Sachsen-Coburg, in cooperation with the Russians, operated from Galicia and Bukovina in the direction of Moldau and later Wallachia.14

Rules regarding Prisoners

As in almost every walk of life, Joseph II was not satisfied with the traditions, habits and unwritten laws of the past in the case of the captured Turks. The problems with regard to Turkish prisoners first came up in a report from Bukovina. On March 5, 1788, Prince Coburg put a question to the Aulic War Council in Vienna (Wiener Hofkriegsrat). Coburg wanted to know what kind of provisions were due to the recently captured Ottomans. How much money should be spent on food and accommodation? Should bread be issued in kind or in cash? Field-Marshall Graf Andreas Hadik, President of the War Council, faced the task of finding solutions to this problem. Hadik wrote a note to Emperor Joseph II on March 20, 1788 in which he declared, “searching in the old files of the previous war in the archive, we could find no specific information about this question [that of providing sustenance and lodging for Turkish prisoners].” Some scattered information was be found, however, according to which the high-ranking Turkish prisoners were simply to be exchanged for captured Christians as soon as possible. One could also claim a significant sum of money (Ranzionirungs Geld), as much as 100 Ducats or more. The “temporary” costs of these persons were covered by the Court Chamber (the main financial organ of the empire), and these expanses were to be added to the ransom. The common Ottoman soldiers were nevertheless delivered to imperial officers as servant, handed over to galley, or assigned other compulsory labor.15

All in all, Hadik had not found satisfactory solutions from the past regarding provisions for and treatment of the Ottoman prisoners. He asked for a resolution to this problem from the sovereign. In the end, it was Joseph who had to make the decision, which he composed immediately on Hadik’s note. Interestingly, this new regulation was a mix of the mentality of the Enlightenment and the habits of the past. According to the imperial resolution, four categories were established, to which the captured Ottoman soldiers were to be assigned. The main principle of this categorization was the religion of the person captured. In the case of a Muslim prisoner, he should receive a supply of 4 Kreuzers daily in cash, together with one ordinary portion (one pound) of bread. These conditions were the same in the case of Prussians who had been captured (during the war of 1778–79) and French prisoners taken five years later.16

At the same time, a Christian who was an Ottoman subject and had taken up arms against the Imperial troops was to be pressed into the army. These people were sent to distant garrisons on the other side of the empire in order to ensure that they would not be able to escape. If a prisoner were found unfit for military service, he was to be assigned some kind of “public work.” The Emperor cautioned captors to be watchful, “because the Ottomans dress the Christians just as they dress the Turks, so one must inspect them closely [i. e. medically to determine whether the prisoner had been circumcised or not].”

Christians who were not Ottoman subjects17 but had fought against the Imperial troops fell into the third category. They were to be interrogated as to their names and the details concerning their families and then sent to lifelong ship-hauling, the same fate as suffered by notorious criminals. Finally, Joseph ordered captured deserters (former Austrian soldiers) who had been captured were to be court-martialled immediately.18

There were also questions regarding the status of and provisions for captured Turkish officers.19 After a short hesitation, the Emperor acknowledged their status as if they were European “guests.” The commander of the Main Army, the pedant and hard-working Field Marshall Moritz Lacy, soon compiled a comprehensive breakdown of the ranks in the Ottoman Army and made a proposal concerning provisions for the captured officers. The highest rank on Lacy’s list was the Bin baschi, “commander of a detached corps,” who would receive 24 florins every month, just like a Janissary Aga or a Sipahi Aga, though no one would receive more than one portion of bread daily. Joseph accepted the proposal on April 30 in the camp at Zimony.20

One additional question remained to be addressed. What if one of the Muslim prisoners wanted to convert to the Christian faith? According to an imperial resolution, which was transmitted by an order from Hadik to the General Commando in Buda, if somebody “of his own will” declared his intention to convert, he had to be furnished with the necessary requisites and then released as a free man. His freedom, however, would not last not long. If the proselyte proved fit for military service, he was to be drafted immediately. Were he deemed unfit for military service, the “new citizen” would be settled far from the border and would be allowed to earn a living.21 Thus converting the faith meant becoming the subject of the Hungarian king just like centuries earlier.22

Very few prisoners actually chose to convert during their relatively short period of imprisonment, although the Austrian bureaucracy probably registered every case. It is also not surprising that captives, who were accommodated in the crowded fortress of Munkács (Mukacseve, Ukraine), where health conditions were hardly optimal, were perfectly willing to convert to Roman Catholicism if it meant getting out of the prison in the fortress.23

Falling into Captivity

The first large group of Turkish prisoners was captured in the siege of Szabács (Šabac, Serbia). This small, desolate fortress next to the river Sava River was in key position for every movement against Belgrade. Joseph himself conducted the siege, which started on April 20. The bombardment began immediately and in the early morning of April 24, the Austrian infantry made an assault against a breach. After having put up fierce resistance, the defenders were compelled to withdraw to the small inner fortress. Finally, on April 26, the garrison of Szabács capitulated.24 The Austrians captured three Turkish senior officers (a Janissary Aga and two other commanders: Achi Akbar and Achi Ibrahim), 33 officers, 32 non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and 617 privates. In the fortress there were 13 Greek-Christians (three merchants and 10 servants, “Knechte”) and five Jews.

In the terms of capitulation, the bellicose Joseph acknowledged the gallant and “soldier-like” behaviour of the Turkish defenders. Some officers were allowed to leave temporally on parole to take care of their families. The officers were allowed to wear their swords and keep their horses. The prisoners were transported to the Fortress of Pétervárad (Petrovaradin, Serbia) and later taken to Arad, Szeged and Károlyváros (Karlovac, Croatia) “at the cost of the state,” as Joseph emphasized to Chancellor Kaunitz.25 Ultimately the prisoners from Szabács were accommodated in Szeged (in the barracks of the so called Invaliden Commando) and the fortress of Arad. The former was designated for the officers and the latter for the NCOs and commoners.

In the case of the Christians and Jews who were captured in Szabács, their captors did not deliver the daily portion of bread, but rather gave them on the 4 Kreuzers they had been promised. In the case of Muslim prisoners, however, the regulations that had been set by Joseph and Lacy were followed.26

The Imperial generosity after the capitulation of Szabács soon caused problems. On July 4, Field-Marshall Lacy informed the Hungarian General Commando that the prisoners who had been released on parole had failed to return, so their comrades (i. e. their bailsmen), whom “they had left behind perfidiously,” had to put in irons, accommodated in the casemates and assigned to compulsory labor. They were allowed only to write one (and only one) letter regarding what had befallen them. Naturally their swords and knives were taken away and their horses were sold if their masters were unable to cover the costs of their sustenance. Other problems must have arisen, because Lacy reminded the commanders of Szeged and Arad of their responsibility regarding the excesses and misdeeds of the Turkish prisoners. The Field-Marshall finally demanded that not only the names of the deceased prisoners but also the causes of their deaths be reported to the Main Army Headquarters.27 Later in the autumn of 1788 Joseph strictly forbade all form of release on parole, and no requests for parole were allowed either, “because the Turkish prisoners are supplied everything that they need.”28

The second and third batch of prisoners was sent by Field-Marshall Gedeon Loudon, commander of the corps in Croatia and Slavonia. The little fortress of Dubica (Dubica, Bosnia and Herzegovina) at the river Una was encircled and later besieged from the middle of April. Having taken over command, Loudon had immediately started the bombardment on Dubica on August 18, 1788. The defenders soon were compelled to surrender. The Turkish commander tried to convince Loudon to grant the garrison free leave, but he rejected their entreaties and the 414 Ottoman soldiers29 were taken prisoner, although like Joseph at Szabács, in the terms of capitulation Loudon acknowledged their courage and endurance: “Dubica is now just a heap of stone and the disgusting smell of dead bodies and horses and cattle carcasses within make it hard to believe that the garrison was able to defend it for so long.”30 The officers were allowed the keep their sabers, and Loudon promised to take care of the wounded and sick Turkish soldiers in hospitals. The women and children who were found in Dubica were sent to inner Bosnia.31 The Turkish prisoners from Dubica were escorted to Gradisca (Nova Gradiška, Croatia) in Slavonia, where they remained until at least September 3, and then some time were taken to Hungary. We know only scattered details of their fates after this because of the sources.32 One transport was taken to the small but famous fortress of Szigetvár.33 The other half of them may have been escorted to Győr.

The next victim of the energetic and aggressive Loudon was the fortress of Novi (Novi Bosanski in Bosnia and Herzegovina), which was also situated near the Una River. The defenders again put up significant resistance and the first storming of the walls, which took place on September 21, was repulsed. The Austrian artillery nevertheless continued the siege and within a week the little fortress had been completely ruined. On October 3, the garrison capitulated.34 In Novi, Loudon took 590 Ottoman soldiers prisoner (566 Turks and 24 Vlachs).35 The question of their accommodation, however, created difficulties because of the deteriorating military situation. Taking advantage of the slowness and hesitation of the Austrian main army, which had been delayed near Belgrade, the Turks won the initiative. They had crossed the Danube River at Vidin and pushed back the Austrian army corps. Accompanied by 20,000 soldiers, Joseph rushed to defend the border at the Banat. At the end of September, his army was almost encircled by the enemy and Joseph ordered a withdrawal. At Karánsebes (Caransebeş, Romania) on the night of September 21, this movement changed to panic. The army retreated as far as Lugos (Lugoj, Romania). The imperial high command had good reason to fear the invasion of Banat, Transylvania or even southern Hungary.

In the middle of August, Joseph ordered that the prisoners be transported deeper into Hungary, specifically to Nagyvárad (Oradea, Romania). He also got the casern of Nagyvárad made suitable to provide lodging for the prisoners. Joseph also directed that “prisoners, who must do compulsory labor, should be treated the same way in Nagyvárad as they are in Arad and Szeged.”36 Nevertheless, until mid-autumn this order was only partially executed.

At the beginning of November 1788, the prisoners from Novi were sent to Arad and Szeged, so the initial fear of a Turkish invasion had already faded. The prisoners of Szabács must have been in Arad and Szeged already, because both places were described as “overcrowded,” like Szigetvár. Joseph finally decided that the prisoners from Novi had to be accommodated somewhere in northeastern Hungary, and Huszt (Khust, Ukraine), Szolnok, Ungvár (Uzhhorod, Ukraine), and Munkács were raised as possible destinations.37 In the end, most of them were taken to the fortress (and prison) of Munkács.

The Fate of the Prisoners in Hungary

The first Turkish prisoners of war (at the beginning only eight men) were held captive in the Fortress of Arad (Arad, Romania). In a short time, problems arose concerning provisions for them. On April 8, General Vinzenz Barco, the commanding general in Hungary, reported from Buda to Vienna on the problems faced by the fortress commandant of Arad. Except for bread, the Turkish prisoners were not willing to eat anything that had been touched by Christian hands, so he had had to supply them with firewood so that they would be able to cook themselves. Furthermore, the Turks had wanted to eat warm meals twice a day. Barco and the commandant of Arad sought a “highest resolution” on this question before more prisoners arrived. On April 17, the War Council sent an order according to which, apart from the daily one pound of bread and 4 Kreuzers, nothing should be given to the Turks.38 Interestingly, when there were several hundred prisoners in Arad and other places, Joseph changed his mind. On May 10, the emperor permitted the fortress commandant to supply them with firewood, but the Turks had to be satisfied with the “ordinary” portion and cook together.39

The issue of providing accommodation for the Turkish prisoners also caused headaches for the military and civil officials of the fortresses and municipalities. In Győr, at the end of 1788, the first suggestion regarding accommodation for these 500 men40 was to designate the empty college building of the suppressed Jesuit order for this purpose. This project failed because of the poor condition of the building. Finally, the decision was made to use the newly built casern to house the Turkish prisoners, but one company of Austrian soldiers which had guarded the prisoners had to take lodging in private domiciles in the city.41

At the beginning, the prisoners enjoyed “too much freedom” in Győr, as the War Council put it. Some Turks were allowed to go out into the city and walk the streets with lit pipes hanging from their mouths and wearing their sabers at their sides. Keeping their swords was the orderly privileges of the Turkish officers, granted by the document of capitulation of Dubica, but the private Turks also carried long knives with them, according to the complaints. The emperor forbade these practices and ordered that the Turks not leave the casern and that any and all knives be taken from the privates and only given back temporally when they were needed to “slice the meat.”42

The long winter and the crowded conditions in the casern soon took their toll. On February 10, 1789, the commander of the Lacy regiment reported to the Hungarian General Commando that 34 Turks (of the 610 prisoners) had died of some “extraordinary diseases,” despite the efforts of the regiment’s medical staff. The command therefore requested that no more prisoners be sent to Győr and that a military hospital be established near the city. In answer, the General Commando praised the regiment’s command for its efforts and offered the reassurance that no more prisoners would be sent to Győr, but rejected the idea of establishing a hospital.43

The presence of the prisoners in Győr raised other problems. The city was situated on the main communication road of the Danube River valley, so Joseph found it problematic to station numerous captured enemies there. On March 26, 1789 Hadik (according to the emperor’s note) instructed the Hungarian General Commando to take the prisoners to the fortress of Lipótvár (Leopoldov, Slovakia) in the northwest of Hungary.44 Hadik also ordered the expansion of the available building in order to accommodate possible transports in the future. Arrangements had to be made to provide lodging not only for the prisoners, but also for the soldiers (generally invalids) who would stand guard. In the case of Lipótvár, the nearby city of Nagyszombat (Trnava, Slovakia) was designated to accommodate the guards.

The order of Hadik was executed rather slowly indeed. The General Commando had had one group of prisoners transferred to Székesfehérvár earlier in April. On May 6, the Aulic Council made its resolution clear. The emperor again ordered the immediate transfer of all of the prisoners to Lipótvár.45 Consequently, several hundred Turks made a long detour to Székesfehérvár on their way to Lipótvár.

In Szigetvár, the responsible guard unit was compelled to report “great unrest” among the 266 Turkish prisoners from Dubica, who had demanded more freedoms.46 The cause of this unrest their loss of the right to go into the town from the fortress. It was Joseph who had prohibited this, not only for the Turks in Győr but for every prisoner of war in Hungary. The former commanders of the garrison, including three agas, submitted a written complaint to the emperor in which they quoted the promises they had received from Loudon at the capitulation of Dubica. Joseph, however, insisted that every Turkish prisoner was to be given the same treatment. Besides, as the order of the Aulic War Council to Szigetvár stated: “We have to make it clear to these agas that prisoners in our hands are treated more humanely than prisoners on the other side, so they had better stay calm.” In the same letter, the War Council ordered the guard in Szigetvár through the General Commando to take strict measures if necessary in order to prevent further unrest.47

In Munkács, in addition to the small rooms of the fortress, houses in the small town were also requisitioned for this purpose, so the General Commando had to engage in lengthy correspondence with the County of Bereg and its vicecomes. According to a November 4 report to the General Commando (Munkács), the fortress of Munkács and the neighboring Palanka casern could accommodate only 345 prisoners and a guard of 120 men, not the required 645 prisoners and 283 men. The rest had to be billeted in the domiciles of burghers until the necessary renovations of the fortress and the casern were completed.48

Within six months, however, it became clear that Munkács was not suitable for the accommodation of hundreds of prisoners. As had been the case in Győr, epidemics broke out, and the “awkwardness of having these people watched over by invalid soldiers and the resulting concerns about desertion” prompted the President of the War Council to propose a move to the casern in Kassa (Kosice, Slovakia) and to keep Munkács in reserve should 150 new prisoners arrive.49 Joseph agreed to the transfer, but he ordered that, in addition to Munkács, other places in Hungary be prepared to accommodate future transports. The move to Kassa took place at the end of June.50

One of the best indicators concerning the conditions under which these prisoners lived is their mortality rate. Despite the regular supply of provisions, the mortality rate was high according to any kind of modern standard. From September 1, 1788 to December 31, 1789, it was seven percent (of 281 prisoners, 20 died) in Szigetvár. In Lipótvár this figure was 5.5 percent (31 of 560), but in the case of Kassa the losses were enormous: 21 percent (168 of 791).51 Later, one could include the casualties of the infamous prison of Munkács, where unfortunate prisoners spent several months. The high mortality rate, however, was caused by conditions at the time, not by punishment or negligence.

“The Most Important Duty” – Guarding the Prisoners

The old and neglected buildings were not simply uncomfortable and unhealthy, they also raised serious security questions. The other problem was the composition of the guards who were responsible for watching the prisoners. The superannuated soldiers of the different Invaliden Commandos and the members of second-rate troop units like the garrison regiments and the staff-regiment were not always up to the task. However they received full pay while serving as guards.

On the night of November 8, 1788, four Turkish prisoners escaped from the Palanka casern. They managed to hide in the forests for several months. The commander of the fortress received a strict rebuke from the General Commando because of “his carelessness in his most important duty, which is guarding these prisoners.”52

There were other prison breaks too, of which the emperor demanded immediate and accurate account. On September 30, 1788, the General Commando reported to the Aulic War Council that two Turks had escaped from Lipótvár. They had not gotten far and were soon caught and brought back by the peasants. The fugitives were held under arrest until the emperor decided their fates. In his note about the case, as regards the punishment Hadik reminded Joseph of two other precedents: captured deserters from Zamość (see below) had had to do compulsory labor in chains, which were also worn in the night. First of all, “without any lengthy inquiry” they received “a certain number of strokes with the stick because that is the habit in this kind of case, which is very common in wars.” Hadik obviously regarded these as cases of desertion. In Munkács, the fugitives, who had already been captured and condemned to compulsory labor (digging entrenchments), had contemplated another plot to escape, so the final sentence in their case was ship-hauling, and they were each assigned to one of four different sites distant from one another. Hadik then asked for a resolution in the case of the fugitives, assuring the emperor that the question of who bore responsibility for the prison break in Lipótvár would be examined by the General Commando. The imperial resolution was short: “they are sentenced to ship-hauling.”53

All in all, guarding the Turkish prisoners was not a rewarding task. On 24, February 1789, all of the 31 Turks in the Galician fortress of Zamość (today Poland) managed to escape with the help of a soldier they had bribed, a private from the 1st Garrison Regiment. The latter was court-martialed and executed, but the garrison-commandant, Major Marquis de Torres, was also sentenced to a 14-day arrest according to the order of Joseph because “he did not personally take care of the gate key.” Torres also had to pay the calculated ransom for the 31 fugitives. The commanding general of Galicia also received a slight rebuke, because Zamość was deemed a bad choice as a place to hold prisoners, since it is situated too close to the border.54

At the beginning of the war, Joseph and his military advisors might have expected a “flood of prisoners” following the Austrian successes. This did not come to pass. Four years later, however, Munkács, Arad, Szeged and some other places in the Kingdom of Hungary nonetheless had to accommodate thousands of prisoners. These prisoners, however, were not faithful Muslims, but rather enthusiastic French patriots or even Jacobins.55

Exchange of Prisoners

On October 27, from Zimony Joseph replied to an enquiry by Loudon:

“The proposal [made by the Turks] concerning the exchange of prisoners can be made, but not as the Turks have envisioned, i.e. not one for one, which would mean one officer for one private and vice versa. This exchange must only be made such that officers are exchanged for officers or, according to the circumstances and the rank of the officer, 3, 6, 9 or more privates [should be given] for one officer.”56

Joseph then designated the commander of the Austrian troops in Beschania to supervise the exchange of prisoners, and he had Loudon suggest to the Turks that the Pasha of Belgrade be the person responsible for the exchanges on the Turkish side.

However, a larger and centrally organized exchange of prisoners did not actually take place for one year. The cause of this delay must have been the “forgetfulness” of the prisoners of Szabács, Novi and Dubica who had been released on parole. Not one of them returned to the Austrians. The punishments that were inflicted on their comrades and bailsmen were to no avail. The exchange might have been complicated or hindered by the inconsistency of Turkish customs concerning prisoners, which I will discuss later. Briefly, there were simply not enough Austrian prisoners of war at the same time and same places (near the frontline and not in the distant Constantinople) to provide a basis for negotiations.

Along the Croat and Slavonic Militärgrenz (Military Border), low-scale exchanges might have been quite common, but these cases effected exclusively Grenzers and generally only involved a small number of men. The Turks and the Grenzers often had prisoners on hand because of the endless raids on both sides of the cordon. Nevertheless, cattle, oxen, and horses always represented a far more valuable target.57 Sometimes, this kind of affair was similar to kidnapping and blackmailing. Sources suggest that once it even came to pass that marauding Turks captured the wife of a Grenzer in the district of Brod. They demanded not only one Turkish prisoner for the women, but also 45 florins. The transaction was concluded, but the poor family of the Grenzer had not been able to pay the ransom, so the money was finally paid from the cash register of the Broder canton. This rather trivial case had come before the Emperor in the form of a note from the President of the War Council. Joseph had been angry: “It is nonsense that we exchanged a soldier for a woman and that, in addition, 10 Ducats was also paid. The man who arranged this ransom without preliminary consent has to pay the 10 Ducats. The War Council will have to see to it.” 58

In the end, the first step towards a regular prisoner exchange was taken by the Turks. The beg of Ostrožac (Bosnia), Mustafa Besirevich, wrote a proposal on August 21, 1789 to his “Dearest Neighbor,” Vice-Colonel Matthias Rukavina, commander of the Oguliner Border Regiment, about a “general prisoner exchange” and in particular about the possibility of exchanging a captured Grenzer officer (Lieutenant Phillipovich) for a certain Mustafa Cserich Beg, who was himself the brother of the Beg of Ostrožac. As the letter revealed, earlier Rukavina had made an offer to ransom Phillipovich for cash, but the Beg realized he had an opportunity to get back his brother. This personal bias was a significant help to the cause of the exchange, but first the Beg had to remedy the problems concerning Turks of Novi and Dubica who had been released on parole but who had not returned.59 The Beg suggested in his letter to Rukavina that if the proposed exchange were to be successful, the “perfidious” Turks, about 30 people, would hardly go back. Rather, they would probably buy and send home Christian prisoners to secure their release once and for all. If the exchange were not to take place, the Beg was willing to turn to the Grand Vizier to ask for his assistance.60

Put simply, under the pretext of a “general exchange” the Beg of Ostrožac wanted to get back his brother. His proposal, however, may have met with Vienna’s interest because providing sustenance and accommodation for more than 1,500 prisoners in Hungary alone would have represented a significant burden to the state. So Joseph willingly permitted the “general exchange” as soon as he got some compensation (albeit in the form of faint guarantees) for the missing Turks of Novi and Dubica. The proposal of the Beg of Ostrožac also suggests that earlier some of the border guards (Grenzers) had broken the pledges (“good faith”) that they had made to the Turks promising that they would return shortly with the ransom. Some of them had simply fled. The emperor agreed to release one Turkish prisoner for every Austrian soldier who had been released by the Turks after having pledged to return shortly with his ransom but who had then broken his word and never returned. Joseph also permitted Field Marshall-lieutenant Christoph Wallisch, commander of the Croatian corps who was in charge of taking some of the prisoners from Hungary to Croatia, to ease the approaching exchanges. He ordered, however, that he give specific details concerning accomodation and provisions, since “they [the Turkish prisoners] do not have the same freedoms as are allowed for prisoners on their side.”61

Almost one month before the final imperial decision on August 5, 1789, Wallisch established an Exchange Committee (Rancionirung Comission) under the command of a Grenz officer colonel (who later that year became a general), Daniel Peharnik. The Committee stipulated first and foremost that for the 30 Turkish prisoners who had been released on parole but who had not returned a suitable number of Austrian prisoners should be released in compensation. Furthermore, instead of strict rules, Colonel Peharnik enjoyed a wide scope of authority to judge in every case with regards to how many Turkish privates he should exchange for an Austrian officer or NCO (or vice versa). The committee would have no say regarding cases in which the process of ransoming had already began. For example, for Capitan Siegenfeld from the Licca Grenz Regiment the emperor had already approved a “ransom of 100 pound in gold and 66 gulden in Taller.” A site in Bosnia, Bashina Luca near Dresnik (Drežnik Grad, Croatia), was designated for the exchanges as Rancionirungs Platz. Colonel Peharnik would have to arrive at an agreement with the enemy about the conditions of the process; for example how strong should the Austrian and Turkish escort be? The committee would have to be sure that “[o]n the days of the exchange process in the area of Dresnik there will be no hostilities or fights, neither from the Turkish side nor from our side, but all will remain quiet, peaceful and friendly.”

So as of the autumn of 1789, the permanent and organized exchanges had begun. At the end of September, Lieutenant Phillipovich was successfully exchanged for the Bosnian beg mentioned below. Maybe to show their goodwill, on October 8 and 14 ten Grenzers (all private solders) were released by the enemy for the 30 frequently mentioned Turks from Novi. 62

Nevertheless, Austrian prisoners who had been captured by the Turks somewhere other than the area of Bosnia and the neighboring Military Border seem not to have been considered in the discussions regarding prisoner exchanges. In Constantinople in the infamous slave-house Bagno, 17 Austrian officers and 458 NCOs and privates were lingering in misery in the autumn of 1789.63 The president of the War Council at the time made a logical proposal with regards to trying to exchange them for Turkish prisoners in Austrian hands. Hadik was also encouraged by the recent exchanges at the Croatian border.64 However, in his reply Joseph summarized the problem concerning the issue of their possible exchange, removing the question from the agenda at the same time:

“The prisoners in Bagno are the propriety of the Sultan and there is no use in having the French ambassador in Constantinople65 to set them free anymore. Every person who was captured from our forces by the Bosnians belongs to his captor and the Sultan has nothing to do with it, thus the Porte does not care about Turks who have been captured by our forces either. Under such circumstances, the prisoners in Bagno may have nothing to hope of from the proposal of the War Council and for the time being there are no further steps to be taken with regards to the question of these prisoners.”66 It was therefore also clear to the emperor that the Bosnians must have been interested only in their compatriots, so there was only hope for the exchange of prisoners who had belonged to the garrisons of Novi and Dubica.

The fortunes of war following the capture of Belgrade67 (on 8 October 1789) by Loudon and the Russo-Austrian successes in Moldau and Wallachia had turned to the favor of Vienna and Saint Petersburg. In 1790, operations were conducted primarily in the valley of Morava and on the Lower Danube River, but on a lower scale. Meanwhile, in Vienna Joseph II died on February 20 of a pulmonary illness, with which he had been infected in the camp during the campaign of 1788. He left his brother Leopold II an exhausted state in the throes of revolt. Leopold’s most vital task was making peace with the Porte before Prussia backstabbed the monarchy. On July 27, 1790, an agreement was signed with Prussia in which Austria promised peace with the Ottomans on the basis of the status quo ante.68 The war-weary parties concluded an armistice in Giurgevo (Giurgiu, Romania) on September 23, 1790. Then, in Svistov (Svishtov, Bulgaria) a long peace-conference began. During the Austro-Turkish negotiations, Russia continued the war with the Porte, ignoring external pressure from other European powers.

As I have shown, the exchange of prisoners began in the autumn of 1789 and by February 1790 almost all of the prisoners from Novi and Dubica had been released in the abovementioned site in Bosnia.69 In return, the Austrians got back men from the Border regiments who had been captured, but for the time being no one from Constantinople, as Joseph had foreseen.

On June 17, 1790, Chancellor Kaunitz made an interesting proposal to the “Apostolic King” Leopold.70 Kaunitz had spotted in the muster-role one qadi and three imams among the prisoners of Szabács, who were being held in Kassa, and two imams in the prison of Beszterce (Bistrița, Romania). To make gestures to the Turks and at the same time to attempt to ease the sufferings of the Austrian captivities in Constantinople, the Chancellor suggested releasing these six non-combatants without any compensation. According Kaunitz, this gesture would also facilitate the task of Baron Peter Herbert, the Austrian envoy to the Porte, who was working hard to organize the peace conference at the time. The king approved the proposal.71 The War Council ordered the Hungarian and the Transylvanian General Commando to release the “literates” and escort them to the cordon between the two armies in Serbia and in Wallachia.72

The very few sources available indicate that as of the conclusion of the armistice on September 23, there were efforts to exchange the Austrian prisoners in Constantinople for the Turks held primarily in Hungary and Transylvania. There were hopes that the exchange would include the enslaved peasants taken during the war by the Turks. The new president of the Aulic War Council, Cavalry-General Ferdinand von Tige, ordered the commander of the main army in Belgrade, Field-Marshall Michael von Wallis, who also had been recently appointed, that he had to take the necessary steps to ensure the return of the Grenzer families, who had been taken during the Turkish raids on Banat and southern Transylvania in the autumn of 1788.73

After the conclusion of the armistice and even before the opening of the peace conference in Svistov, the parties might have wanted to solve the problem of the prisoners. On September 29, 1790, the War Council demanded from the General Commando the “most accurate” account of the Turkish prisoners of war staying in Hungary because of the forthcoming “official prisoner exchange.”74 On October 4, the commander of the Main Army, Field Marshall Wallis, informed the General Commando from Belgrade that according to Baron Herbert, the exchange of prisoners had to take place before the opening of peace conference, so he had to receive the accounts concerning the prisoners as soon as possible. Wallis asked for two separate accounts, one for the Christians and one for the Muslims. He also asked for a list of the Turkish women and children in captivity.75

On December 1, Wallis, acting on a suggestion of Field Marshall-lieutenant Enzenberg, reported to the War Council from Belgrade that the focal point of the prisoner exchange would be moved from the Croatian border to Ruschuk (Ruse, Bulgaria), so Wallis suggested that a certain major, Count Strassoldo, serve as head of the newly appointed exchange commission.76

Wallis, however, waited for the Turks to take the initial step. When he received information according to which a batch of released Austrian prisoners (7 officers and 93 privates) had arrived in Ruschuk from Constantinople, he immediately (on January 10, 1790) asked the General Commando to send 300 prisoners from Kassa to Temesvár (Timişoara, Romania), because there were not enough prisoners in Transylvania and Galicia to release in exchange. Buda forwarded the order to the Invalid Commando in Kassa that day.77 As Wallis indicated in his report, the Turks transported the Austrian officers by horse and the common prisoners by carts to the exchange site. In the name of reciprocity, the Austrians were also expected to move their prisoners from Kassa to the border by the same means of transportation.78

The withdrawal of the Turkish prisoners from Hungary and other parts of the Habsburg Monarchy, however, lasted for months. According to the report of the exchange commission, from January 10, 1791 to March 29 of the same year, 1,238 Turks were handed over to the Turkish commissar, Mohamed Emin, in six stages. In return, the kaiserlich-königliche army received only 18 officers and 538 NCOs and privates from the slave house in Constantinople. The exchanges took place in Giurgevo (opposite Ruschuk on the northern part of the Danube River) and around Vidin.79

The peace was finally signed in Sistova on August 4, 1791, but the real winner of the war had been Russia, which had gained Crimea once for all, and, with it, dominance over the Black Sea, in the peace of Jassy, which was signed on January 9, 1792. The last Turkish war of Austria, which caused so much death, suffering and destruction, ended with very few results. Belgrade and Wallachia had to be handed back to the Ottomans. Only the town of Orşova and two small strips on the Croatian frontier were ceded to Austria at the price of at least 30,000-40,000 soldiers lost (most of whom had succumbed to disease, like emperor Joseph II himself) and thousands more civilians killed, forced to flee, impoverished or even enslaved.80


To respond to the questions raised in the introduction, Joseph II, who strove for uniformity in every respect, granted the captured Turks soldiers prisoner-of-war status. Indeed he was rather ahead of his time. In the first convention of Geneva (1864), the rights of the prisoners of war were recognized by the majority of military powers. These rights were roughly similar to those prescribed by Joseph for Turkish prisoners of war some three generations earlier. As I have shown, captives were given regular supplies and enjoyed almost similar portions in kind and in cash as an Austrian common soldier in peacetime. They could also keep their money and personal belongings. The sick and wounded Turks were looked after in military hospitals, although these lazarettos were known by the Austrian soldiers themselves as places to be avoided at all cost. Joseph acknowledged the status of the enemy officers, too. Captives were permitted to write letters home, although translated summaries of these letters made it as far as the writing desk of the emperor in Vienna. In January 1789, Joseph finally prohibited correspondence by prisoners.81

On the other hand Joseph was not willing to grant Christians who served in the Ottoman army the status of prisoner of war. They were treated as mercenaries, not “legal” combatants, so the logical step was to press them into the Austrian army. This method also suited well the practices of the embryonic mass-armies, which suffered from a constant deficiency of manpower. It was, however, always emphasized that this measure only applied to Christians who had actually taken arms against the Austrian troops, and not to servants or other auxiliaries. By that time, the non-Muslim elements of the Ottoman Army consisted of mainly peasants, who had been forced to dig trenches, transport materials, and other serve auxiliary functions. This meant that most of the captured Christians fell in the non-combatant category and only a few of them were forced into the Austrian army. One other possible reason for this distinction may have lain in the efforts Joseph had previously made to prompt Orthodox Christian Serbs and Romanians to rise up and rebel against the Ottoman yoke.82

Methodically, however, it would be fairer to compare the Austrian conduct with regards to captives to the conduct of the two other belligerents, the Ottomans and the Russians. In this context, the measures taken by the Austrian army were remarkably humane. In some cases, neither the Turks nor the Russians bothered to take prisoners at all. Cossacks on the Russian side and Tartars on the Ottoman side were famous for their cruelty. There were countless examples of brutality. The Russians under Prince Potemkin massacred the Turkish garrison of the Fortress of Ochakov during the final assault on the night of December 16, 1788. During the capture of Ismail, the other Russian commander, Suvorov, had his troops to kill everyone in the fortress on December 10, 1790. 4,000 enemy soldiers were massacred in a few hours. 83

Europeans believed that the Turks generally killed and beheaded their Christian prisoners on the spot because their officers would reward them for every decapitated head. Many memoires and official reports mention this habit, which may not have been simply “barbarism,” brutality or religious fanaticism. A certain Prussian officer, J. E. G. Hayne, explained the Turkish “barbarity” by religious hatred, and, most importantly, lack of discipline. Hayne contended that European troops were also inclined to commit such acts when, after a bloody and chaotic fight, discipline and the control of the officers had been shaken, as happened during and after the final assault on Buda in 1686. The Turkish commanders might also have used this as a means of compensating their men for the lost ransoms, since otherwise the soldiers would have been busying themselves with their prisoners instead of doing their military duty. 84

If someone nevertheless survived the first minutes of captivity, then came the real ordeals. On September 21, 1788, 822 Austrian soldiers of the Austrian rearguard at Karánsebes were taken prisoner, among them a young Hungarian first-lieutenant, György Görgey.85 His vivid account provides a clear picture of their suffering on the long death march to Constantinople. In the end of the 822 men, only 125 prisoners arrived to the capital alive. The rest perished because of inadequate supplies and bad treatment during the 70-day march. Those who were no longer able to walk were killed immediately. Their heads were chopped off and their bodies were left to rot. The heads were shown as trophies, while “our companions severed the ears of the dead to account for the prisoners.”86 Nevertheless, Görgey also witness some humane conduct and saw examples of kindness by the captors, but usually they were simply either unable or unwilling to organize the provision of sustenance and accommodation for several hundred men. It was also embarrassing for the Turkish commanders that instead of the promised 4,000 prisoners, they only had 125 to show to the people of Constantinople.

In this context, one can understand the angry words of Joseph in reply to the protest of the Turks held in Szigetvár: “We have to make it clear to these agas that prisoners in our hands are treated more humanely than prisoners on the other side, so they had better stay calm.”87


Archival Sources

Österreichisches Staatsarchiv (Vienna), Haus- Hof und Staatsarchiv, Kriegsarchiv. Zentralstelle, Wiener Hofkriegsrat, Hauptreihe.

HM Hadtörténelmi Levéltár, Budapest [War History Archives, Budapest] Documents of the k. k. General Commando in Ungarn.


Acsády, Ignácz. “A karloviczi béke története 1699” [The History of the Peace of Karlowitz]. Értekezések a történelmi tudományok köréből 18. Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1899. 

Aksan, Virgina H. Ottoman Wars 1700–1870. An Empire Besieged. London: Pearson Education, 2007.

Beer, Adolf, ed. Joseph II.: Leopold II. und Kaunitz. Ihr Briefwechsel. Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1873.

Creveld, Martin van. The Transformation of War. New York: The Free Press, 1991.

Criste, Oskar. Kriege unter Kaiser Josef II. Vienna: Seidel, 1904.

Dávid, Géza, and Pál Fodor Ed. Ransom Slavery along the Ottoman Borders. Leiden: Brill., 2007.

Duffy, Christopher. Sieben Jahre Krieg. 1756–1763. Die Armee Maria Theresias. Vienna: Heeresgeschichtliches Museum–Militärwissenschaftliches Institut, 2003.

Görgey, Albert. “Görgey György kapitány jelentése ezredéhez török fogságából” [Report of Captain György Görgey to his Regiment from Turkish Captivity]. Hadtörténelmi Közlemények 15 (1914): 639–43.

Gyalókay, Jenő. „Šabac vára 1787-88-ban” [The Fortress of Šabac in 1787–88]. Hadtörténelmi Közlemények 25 (1924): 205–19.

Hayne, J. E. G. Abhandlung über die Kriegskunst der Türken. Vienna: Trattnern, 1788.

Hochedlinger, Michael. Austria’s War of Emergence. 1683–1797. London: Longman, 2003.

Kahraman Şakul. “What happened to Pouqueville’s Frenchmen? Ottoman Treatment of the French Prisoners during the War of the Second Coalition (1798–1802).” Turkish Historical Review 3 (2012): 168–95.

Lenkefi Ferenc. Kakas a kasban. Francia hadifoglyok Magyarországon az első koalíciós háború idején [Cockerel in the Stomach: French Prisoners of War in Hungary during the First War of Coalition]. 1793–1797. Budapest: Petit Real, 2000.

Mayer, Matthew Z. Joseph II and the Campaign of 1788 against the Ottoman Turks. Master’s Thesis, McGill University, 1997.

Smid, Stefan. Der Spanische Erbfolgekrieg. Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 2011.

Smiley, Will. “Let Whose People Go? Subjecthood, Sovereignty, Liberation, and Legalism in Eighteenth-Century Russo–Ottoman Relations.” Turkish Historical Review 3 (2012): 196–228.

Smiley, Will. “The Meanings of Conversion: Treaty Law, State Knowledge, and Religious Identity among Russian Captives in the Eighteenth-Century Ottoman Empire.” The International History Review 34 (2012): 1–22.

Vaníček, František. Specialgeschichte der Militärgrenze. III. Band. Vienna: Kaiserlich-Königliche Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1875.

1 I would like to express my gratitude to Dr. Ferenc Lenkefi (War Archive in Budapest) and to Dr. György Domokos (Österreichisches Staatsarchiv, Kriegsarchiv, Vienna) for their indispensable help during my researches.

2 The standard literature on the Turkish war: Oskar Criste, Kriege unter Kaiser Josef II (Vienna: Seidel, 1904). This book, however, was interrupted by the death of Joseph II on February 20, 1790, despite the fact that the operations lasted for almost another half year. During the nineteenth century, in the Austrian military journal (Streffleurs Österreichische Militärische Zeitschrift) the history of the operations by theatres and corps were worked out in detail in several studies, but the authors, being soldiers, focused mainly on the strategic and tactical consequences of the events. The American historian Matthew Z. Mayer, in his two unpublished works Joseph II and the campaign of the 1788 against the Ottoman Turks (Master’s Thesis McGill University, 1997) and Joseph II and the Austro-Ottoman War 1788–1791 (PhD diss., Cambridge University, 2002) covered the whole war based on the documents of the Kriegsarchiv in Vienna, but he concentrated mainly on the performance of Joseph II as a military leader. For a short summary, see Michael Hochedlinger, Austria’s War of Emergence, 1683–1797 (London: Pearson Education, 2003), 376–98, and for a more recent account, Derek Beales, Joseph II. Against the World 1780–1790, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 555–86. With regards to the Ottomans, see Virgina H. Aksan, Ottoman Wars 1700–1870. An Empire Besieged (London: Pearson Education, 2007), 160–79.

3 During the war, captured Ottoman soldiers and other subjects of the Sultan (e. g. Ypsilanti, the Prince of the Ottoman vassal state, Moldau, was interned in Brünn) were also accommodated for a shorter or longer period of time in the other provinces of the Kingdom of Hungary: Transylvania, Croatia, Slavonia, and in other parts of the empire, Galicia and occupied Wallachia. They were present in these places in small numbers, so I make only infrequent mention of them.

4 E. g. Rémy Ambühl, Prisoners of War in the Hundred Years War. Ransom Culture in the Late Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

5 On the practices of the “classic” Turkish age on the Hungarian frontier and in the Balkans with regards to captivity see Géza Dávid and Pál Fodor, eds., Ransom Slavery along the Ottoman Borders (Leiden: Brill, 2007).

6 Christopher Duffy, The military experience in the Age of Reason (London: Routledge and Kegan, 1987), 257–58; Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War (New York: The Free Press, 1991), 66–72; Lutz Voigtländer, Die preußischen Kriegsgefangenen der Reichsarmee. 1760–1763 (Duisburg: Gilles & Francke, 1995).

7 Stefan Smid, Der Spanische Erbfolgekrieg (Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 2011), 159–61.

8 Creveld, The Transformation of War, 69.

9 Christopher Duffy, Sieben Jahre Krieg. 1756–1763. Die Armee Maria Theresias (Vienna: Heeresgeschichtliches Museum–Militärwissenschaftliches Institut, 2003), 177.

10 On the laws of war and peace (accessed January 28, 2015), http://www.constitution.org/gro/djbp_307.htm.

11 Will Smiley, “Let Whose People Go? Subjecthood, Sovereignty, Liberation, and Legalism in Eighteenth-Century Russo–Ottoman Relations,” Turkish Historical Review 3 (2012): 201.

12 Acsády Ignácz, A karloviczi béke története 1699, Értekezések a történelmi tudományok köréből 18 (Budapest: Magyar Tudományos Akadémia, 1899), 348.

13 Will Smiley, “The Meanings of Conversion: Treaty Law, State Knowledge, and Religious Identity among Russian Captives in the Eighteenth-Century Ottoman Empire,” The International History Review 34 (2012): 3–4.

14 Hochedlinger, Austria’s War, 382–84.

15 Österreichisches Staatsarchiv (Vienna), Haus- Hof und Staatsarchiv, Kriegsarchiv. Wiener Hofkriegsrat, Hauptreihe [hereafter KA HKR] 1788-33-1 (i.e. year of the creation of the document/number of the archival rubric /serial number of the document).

16 Lenkefi Ferenc, Kakas a kasban. Francia hadifoglyok Magyarországon az első koalíciós háború idején, 1793–1797 (Budapest: Petit Real, 2000), 41.

17 Several European (mainly French) mercenaries served in the Ottoman Army as artillerymen or military engineers.

18 It was transmitted to the troops by an order of the Aulic War Council dated April 11, 1788. KA HKR 1788-33-1.

19 The question came up after the report of the Croatian Corps after the affair of Dresnik, where two Agas had been captured and the Aulic War Council was inquired about their supply (Lacy’s note to the emperor. KA HKR 1788-33-5.).

20 Ibid.

21 Hadik’s order to the Hungarian General Commando. Vienna, September 4, 1788. HM Hadtörténelmi Levéltár (Budapest), Magyarországi Főhadparancsnokság – General Commando in Ungarn (hereafter G. C.) 1788-36-68. (i.e. year of the creation of the document/number of the archival rubric /serial number of the document).

22 Géza Pálffy, “Ransom slavery along the Ottoman-Hungarian frontier in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,” in Ransom Slavery along the Ottoman Borders, ed. Géza Dávid and Pál Fodor (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 54.

23 On January 4, 1789, the Invalid Commando from Munkács reported to Buda about a newly converted prisoner, who nevertheless soon died. G. C. Department I [hereafter Dep.] 70 Book, number of registration [hereafter no.] 1789-488.

24 Jenő Gyalókay, „Šabac vára 1787–88-ban,” Hadtörténelmi Közlemények 25 (1924): 205–19.

25 Adolf Beer, ed., Joseph II.: Leopold II. und Kaunitz. Ihr Briefwechsel (Vienna: Wilhelm Braumüller, 1873), 289.

26 Field-Marshall Lacy’s order to the Banatian and the Hungarian General Commando. Zimony, on 1 May. G. C. 1788-36-10.

27 Janissary Aga Mehmed and Kadi Ibrahim were exempted from punishment because of their services maintaining order and administration; furthermore, they had not been the guarantors of their comrades who had been released on parole. G. C. 1788-33-36. Zimony, on July 4. The General Commando forwarded the orders to Arad and Szeged on July 9.

28 Hadik to the Hungarian General Commando, Vienna, October 13. 1788-33-124.

29 Precisely 2 Beys, 18 Agas, 24 Barjaktars (Standard-bearer), 4 Chehajas (Adjutant), 34 Odobashas (Sergeant), 19 Chauses (Corporals) and 313 Prostis (Commoners). Five Turks were allowed to stay back on Parole to escort the women and children. The Turkish commander was responsible for their return. 45 soldiers were wounded or sick and there were eight Christians in service of the Ottomans: two servants and six soldiers (Loudon’s report to Joseph. Dubica, August 27. KA HKR 1788-33-42).

30 Ibid.

31 Criste, Kriege 167–68.

32 The bulk of the archival material of the Aulic War Council was ruthlessly discarded after 1815. Many of the documents of the Hungarian General Commando were also damaged or destroyed during the Second World War.

33 During the siege of this fortress in 1566, the Ottoman ruler, Sultan Suleiman I. the “Great” died. The fortress is also famous for the heroic assault led by the Hungarian national hero, Miklós Zrínyi, during the same campaign.

34 Criste, Kriege 168–69.

35 Including the commander of the fortress, Pasha Agi [sic!] Mehmed, and 7 Agas. KA HKR 1788-33-65.

36 Pancsova, (Pančevo, Serbia) on 16 August 1788. HL G. C. 1788-36-59. The order of the emperor was transmitted by the General Commando to Szeged, Arad and Nagyvárad on August 20. 1788.

37 Lacy to the General Commando. Zimony, on November 6, 1788. KA HKR 1788-33-60.

38 KA HKR 1788-33-2. Vienna, April 17.

39 Hadik’s order to General Commando,Vienna, May 10. G. C. 1788-36-15. I found no other hint in the sources about the religious activity of the Muslim prisoners.

40 This figure is from a report of the Lacy regiment’s command. HL G. C. Dep. I Book 70. No. 1789-16.

41 HL G. C. Dep. I. Book 70. no. 1789-168.

42 Dated in Vienna on January 31, 1789. KA HL 1789-33-7.

43 HL G. C. Dep. I. Book 70. No. 1789-1214.

44 For this purpose, the name of the former Franciscan cloister in Dejte (Dechtice, Slovakia) next to Nagyszombat was also mentioned, in which 400 prisoners would have been accommodated. The costs of the renovation finally deterred the General Commando from the project. The little fortress of Trencsén (Trenčín, Slovakia) was also a candidate, but the high water in the river Vág (Waag) made transport to it impossible. (Report of the Hungarian General Commando to the War Council, Buda, April 18, 1789. KA HKR 1789-33-50).

45 KA HKR 1789-33-55.

46 Report of the General Commando to the War Council in enclosure the complaint letter of the Turks dated April 30, 1789, Buda. KA HKR 1789-33-54.

47 Vienna, May 6, 1789. KA HKR 1789-33-54.

48 HL G. C. 1788-16-1346.

49 Vienna, June 3, 1789. KA HKR 1789-33-78.

50 On June 27, the Invalid Commando in Kassa reported to the General Commando on the arrival and accommodation of the Turkish prisoners. They were being lodged in the casern and the nearby building of a former monastery. HL G. C. I. Dep. Book 71. No. 1789-5137.

51 According to the total account on the Turkish prisoners of war. KA HKR 1790-33-132.

52 HL G. C. I. Dep. Book 70. No. 1788-276.

53 Hadik’s note dated October 8, Vienna. KA HKR 1789-33-154.

54 The imperial manuscript dated March 20, 1789, from Vienna, KA HKR 1788-33-32.

55 On the French prisoner in Hungary between 1793–1797 See Lenkefi, Kakas a kasban.

56 KA HKR 1788-33-61.

57 František Vaníček: Specialgeschichte der Militärgrenze, vol. 3 (Vienna: Kaiserlich-Königliche Hof- und Staatsdruckerei, 1875), 402–04.

58 Vienna, on May 4, 1789. KA HKR 1789-33-59.

59 These missing prisoners from Sabać, did not come up in this case. Maybe these people were hopelessly out of the way for a Bosnian Beg.

60 Reports of the commander of the corps in Croatia (Field Marshal lieutenant Wallisch) to Emperor Joseph (Sluin, on 25 August 1789). KA HKR 1789-33-145.

61 The imperial decision was made on the basis of the note of the Feldzeugmester Wallis, vice president of the Aulic War Council. Vienna, on September 30, 1789. KA HKR 1789-33-145.

62 Report of General Major Peharnik dated October 16, 1789, Sluin.

63 Report of two prisoners of war, Franz Scholderer and György Feleki, captains (both from the Second Border Regiment of Seckler) from Constantinople on September 5 and 7. KA HKR 1789-33-175.

64 Note of Hadik to the Emperor. Vienna, October 31. KA HKR 1789-33-175.

65 The French emissaries (in this case count Marie-Gabriel Choiseul-Gouffier) in Constantinople were traditionally the protectors of the western Christians, especially the Catholics in the Ottoman Empire.

66 KA HKR 1789-33-175.

67 Belgrade’s garrison of 8,000 men was granted a free pass.

68 Hochedlinger, Austria’s War, 393.

69 KA HKR 1790-33-132.

70 He was elected Holy Roman Emperor in October 1790.

71 KA HKR 1790-33-132.

72 Vienna, June 20. KA HKR 1790-33-132.

73 Vienna, October 24. KA HKR 1790-33-238. This loss was estimated at 36,000 civilians, including many thousands who were abducted by the marauding Turks (Hochedlinger, Austria’s war, 384). In this case, at the beginning of January 1791 the Bosnian Turks offered 24 captured women and children for exchange. In response to the note of Tige, Lepold rejected the exchange, stating that a man should not be exchanged for a woman. Only Turkish women or children who had been captured should be exchanged for a woman, or some money as a ransom (Vienna, January 8, 1791. KA HKR 1791-33-5).

74 HL G. C. I. Dep. Book 76. No 1790-7231.

75 Ibid. No.

76 KA HKR 1790-33-252.

77 HL G. C. I. Dep. Book 77. No. 1791-283.

78 Order of the War Council to the General Commando. Vienna, January 15. KA HKR 1791-33-9.

79 The Turks, however, could not hand over the 32 Austrian prisoners, who had been drafted to the Ottoman Fleet. Report of major count Johann von Strassoldo, head of the exchange commission. Bucharest, May 11, 1791. KA HKR 1790-33-252.

80 The total sum can be estimated as high as 80 000. See Mayer, Joseph II 68. The fate of the former, as captured Austrian soldiers, merits further research.

81 On January 31, 1789, the Hungarian General Commando forwarded to the Aulic Council 11 letters from the Turks who being held in Győr at the time. KA HKR 1789-33-17.

82 See the mission of Bishop Joanovic. Vaníček, Specialgeschichte, vol. 3, 365-68.

83 Aksan, Ottoman Wars, 165–67.

84 Hayne, J. E. G. Abhandlung über die Kriegskunst der Türken (Vienna: Trattnern, 1788), 12–13.

85 Görgey Albert: “Görgey György kapitány jelentése ezredéhez török fogságából,” Hadtörténelmi Közlemények 15 (1914): 642.

86 Ibid., 652.

87 Vienna, May 6, 1789. KA HKR 1789-33-54.

Volume 4 Issue 2 CONTENTS


Domagoj Madunić

Taming Mars: Customs, Rituals and Ceremonies in the Siege Operations in Dalmatia during the War for Crete (1645–69)


The main question of this study is how seventeenth-century European societies attempted to regulate the conduct of warfare. It deals with a peculiar aspect of seventeenth-century siege warfare, namely the customs, ceremonies and rituals that regulated various aspects of a siege, such as the observation of truces and immunities, the negotiation of surrenders, the treatment of prisoners etc. So far, most historians dealing with Early Modern siege warfare have been more concerned with its technical and operational aspects: the digging of trenches, the development of various elements of fortifications, wastage rates of combatants, hardships brought about by lack of food and epidemics, and so on, than they have been with these “decorative elements” of engagement. Nevertheless, these activities, although usually without any obvious operational military value, provided a medium for a discourse between the besieger and besieged and thus, as I argue, played an important role in the final outcome of a siege. Through descriptive analyses of three cases, each dealing with one siege operation in the Dalmatian theater of operations during the War for Crete (1645–69), this inquiry provides an account of customs, rituals, ceremonies and rules of “proper” conduct of a siege, with particular emphasis on the most critical part of a siege: the surrender of a fortified site.


Keywords: Republic of Venice, Dalmatia, Ottoman Empire, military history, War for Crete, siege warfare.



The main general question of this study is how seventeenth-century European societies attempted to restrain and regulate the conduct of warfare. As the title says, this study deals with a peculiar aspect of the seventeenth-century siege warfare, namely the customs, ceremonies and rituals that regulated various aspects of the siege, such as observing truces and immunities, negotiation of surrenders, treatment of prisoners etc. In its scope, my inquiry is limited to the siege operations conducted in Dalmatia during the longest war ever fought by the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire, the war known as the War for Crete (1645–69).

In an attempt to somehow regulate the chaos and destruction or to at least create some appearance of control over the violent forces of war, societies have always striven to define rules for proper conduct and behavior during war and develop a set of mechanisms in order to ensure that these rules are actually obeyed. Over the centuries, these mechanisms have evolved, and a few have become widely accepted customs. Some of them survived throughout the centuries and are even today widely recognized and used, of which, probably the most well-known is the practice of waving the white flag as a sign that one is ready to lay down one’s weapons and began parleys. By the middle of the seventeenth century, “siege warfare in Europe was waged within the framework of a number of restraints and rules which were derived from civil and canon law and the code of medieval chivalry.”1 The restraints and rules manifested themselves during the siege operations as the collection of customs, ceremonies and rituals which were more or less respected across European battlefields.

So far, most historians dealing with Early Modern siege warfare have been more concerned with its technical and operational aspects: the digging of trenches, the development of various elements of fortifications, wastage rates of combatants, hardships brought about by lack of food and epidemics, and so on, than with these “decorative elements” of engagement.2 Rituals and ceremonies involved in siege warfare have mainly received significant coverage in works dealing with the development and codification of European laws of war in general, as is the case with Geoffrey Parker’s “European Laws of War” or Randall Lesaffer’s “Siege warfare in the Early Modern Age,” or in studies focusing on a single conflict, for example works by Barbara Donagan on the English Civil War.3 Nevertheless, these activities, although usually without any obvious operational military value, by providing a medium for a discourse between the besieger and besieged, as this paper argues, played important role in the final outcome of a siege. Through descriptive analyses of three cases, each dealing with one siege operation in the Dalmatian theater of operations, this inquiry provides an account of customs, rituals, ceremonies and rules of “proper” conduct of the siege, with special emphasis on the most critical part of the siege: the surrender of a fortified site.

Legal Context: Seventeenth-Century Laws of War

As Barbara Donagan pointed out, by the middle of the seventeenth century (1) natural law or the law of nations, (2) international laws of war, and (3) military law provided a sort of framework for codes of conduct and behavior, which were intended to institutionalize and put some constraints on the conduct of warfare between states. Of these three, the first two were international and rather general in nature, with slight local variations concerning the laws of war, while military law regulated the conduct of one particular army for which its articles were written and publicly announced.4 However, this vague constellation left the borderline between legitimate and illegitimate conduct in armed conflict very unclear. It was not considered legitimate to sack a town that had formally surrendered, but it was not illegitimate to sack it if it refused the call to surrender. Killing noncombatants, especially the weak and harmless, those who could do no harm, was nominally prohibited, since it was considered to be against Christian morality. Similarly, widely recognized conventions of the laws of war also implied protection and mercy for prisoners of war. However, Early Modern European conflicts abounded with examples of atrocities, when civilians and prisoners were declared (by authorities) a potential risk or liability and consequently eliminated under the pretext of military necessity. For the soldiers of the sixteenth and seventeenth century the doctrine of the obedience to the authorities in command trumped any moral or ethic reservations they could have. The prominent sixteenth-century Spanish soldier Francisco Valdés accurately summarized departure from Christian ethics by the practitioners of the art of war, who were subject to the imperative of obedience to their superiors, when he wrote: “The day man picks up his pike to become a soldier is the day he ceases to be Christian.”5

Furthermore, at the time, no international organization or agency existed that could enforce the application of the laws of war or punish offenders. Responsibility for their enforcement was solely in the domain of the army commander and his superiors. Apart from acquiring a bad reputation and losing honor, all of which in the end could lead to disgrace and destroy a commander’s professional carrier,6 the only immediate effective mechanism that could be used against an offender was a threat of retaliation by the other side.7 Only military law was backed by coercive mechanisms that could be used to enforce it. However, the problem with military law was that it was totally dependent on the willingness of one side to apply it, and in particular to apply it to its own members. The role of military law was not to protect and enforce some “high moral ground” or ethical principles (such as the protection of civilians, the weak and the harmless), but rather to maintain discipline within the army and prevent the disruption of social order by unruly soldiers.8

The majority of the researchers in the field agree that of all the social, legal, political and cultural factors involved, what most effectively promoted restraint in the conduct of warfare in Early Modern Europe was the self-interest of professional soldiers and their instinct for self-preservation. In protracted warfare fought by two equally strong sides, both parties very quickly discovered the advantages of maintaining “honorable” standards and practices. Honoring surrenders, sparing the wounded, and respecting the flags of truce and envoys all reduced the chaos of conflict and significantly increased personal chances of survival.9 In that regard, it is not surprising that one of the main characteristics of seventeenth-century laws of war was their professional character. They were intended to be shared primarily by the combatants and granted “as soldiers to one another.”10 As Barbara Donagan concludes, “The primary function of the laws of war by the seventeenth century was as a kind of contractual etiquette of belligerence. They provided each party with a framework of expectations as to the conduct of others, and as a kind of contract, written and unwritten, into which they would enter.”11

Since the days of the destruction of Jericho by the Israelites, siege operations have counted as one of the most ferocious and bloodiest aspects of armed conflict. Siege can be successfully brought to an end by an attacking force either by storming the fortress or by compelling the defenders to surrender. Seen from the perspective of the defenders, the difference between the two was that of life and death. Defenders willing to fight till the end, waiting until the last moment, when fortifications had been breached, were usually denied any quarters and were put to the sword without mercy, or if they were lucky they were taken as prisoners in order to be ransomed later or sold as slaves. On the other hand, a commander who would surrender the entrusted fortification at the first sight of an enemy risked the wrath of his prince. Since not all of the princes were as courteous as the French kings and provided their commanders with more or less clear instructions regulating their behavior in this matter, the surrender of an entrusted fortress or town turned out to be very dangerous and slippery ground for fortress commanders.12 In this regard, both the Most Serene Republic and the Grand Signor of the Turks were almost equally unforgiving to commanders whom they judged incompetent and cowardly. In short, when there was a clear sign that no relief force would arrive in the near future, the key to survival for the defending commander lay in timely surrender, neither too soon, because of reasons previously mentioned, nor too late, lest the commander and those with whom he fought faced the even deadlier and more imminent danger of enraged attackers.

Seventeenth-century laws of war recognized two types of surrender: yielding to mercy and honorable surrender. In the case of yielding to mercy, no guarantees were given, and the decision to slay all, none or some of prisoners lay solely in the hands of a victorious commander. In the case of honorable surrender, depending on the outcome of negotiations defenders were granted life, freedom and the right of passage, protection from plunder, beating and wounding, the right to carry limited amounts of personal properties, and similar favorable terms. According to the widely accepted laws of war, if the town had rejected the call to surrender, it was permissible for the attacker to punish it. The longer the town offered resistance, the more sever the punishment would be, until the point in the siege was reached which allowed attackers to slay all prisoners (combatants and non-combatants alike). According to customary practices of early modern warfare, attackers should offer defenders two chances for surrender; the first one upon the encirclement of a town when the artillery pieces were brought up and the second when the breach was made in the walls. In the case of the first, defenders had rather good chances of negotiating favorable terms of honorable surrender. However, once the walls had been breached, everything depended on the negotiating skill of the defending commander and operative restraints of the attacking force, but in general the more siege was prolonged the harsher were the terms of surrender.13

Seen from the perspective of a besieging force commander, capture of the fortress by its surrender was a highly favorable outcome. Not only did it represent the safest and least costly way of successfully concluding the engagement, there were also long term benefits. A commander with a good reputation, one who was known to keep his word and who had proven himself capable of controlling his troops and preventing them from committing atrocities once the defenders had laid down their weapons, could expect others, when faced with overwhelming superior force, to follow this path and offer their surrender more easily and with less hesitation. In a prolonged campaign mainly composed of series of sieges, as was the case with the majority of seventeenth-century campaigns, the question of balance between clemency on the one hand and strict enforcement of the rules of war on the other (which allowed attackers to slay all the defenders after certain point in a siege) was of crucial importance. Obviously, exercise of this right was a two edged sword. Certainly, it could provide short-term benefits. By making an example of a single enemy stronghold, an army commander could have reasonable hopes that others would be intimidated and would lose courage and the will to fight when faced with the threat of such brutality. On the other hand, it could also easily backfire and produce the reverse effect. If convinced that surrender was not an option, defenders would be left with no other choice but to fight to the last man.14

The question of how this legal/customary framework actually work in practice brings us to the topic of the siege operations in Dalmatia during the War for Crete.

Historical Setting: Venetian Dalmatia and the Eyalet of Bosnia

When the war broke out in 1645, the Ottoman–Venetian frontier in Dalmatia had been unchanged for more than 70 years. Although the period from the end of the Cyprus War up to 1645 could not be called peace in the strict sense of word (due primarily to the relentless pirate activity of Uskoks of Senj, subjects of the Austrian Habsburgs, which was the main cause of strains in relations between Venice and the Ottomans), nevertheless the two empires were at least ready to cohabit and restrain from any major military incidents.15 Seen from the military point of view, in case of a renewal of hostilities all the numbers favored the Ottoman side. After more than a century of a conflict, due to wars, hunger, plague and loss of the larger part of its territory, by the middle of the seventeenth century Dalmatia had been reduced to a thin strip of land with no more than 75,000 inhabitants.16 Equally small were the Venetian forces charged with the defense of this strategically important province. In the pre-war years they counted no more than 2,250 infantry and 370 cavalry.17 On the opposite side stood the forces of the Bosnian eyalet, one of the largest Ottoman provinces in the European part of the empire. The number of sipahis who could be mobilized from this province amounts to ca. 8,000.18 Furthermore, from the 1580’s on, the Ottomans began to organize their border territories facing the Republic of Venice and the Habsburg Empire as a sort of military frontier area.19 Defters for this border zone from the year 1643 recorded ca. 15,000 salaried troops stationed as garrisons in border fortresses, and of those 2,950 were deployed in the sandjaks of Klis and Lika, which directly faced Venetian Dalmatia.20

When the war started in 1645, the Dalmatian theater of operations was peaceful throughout the entire first year. No major incursions were undertaken by either side in the conflict, and trade between Sarajevo and the Venetian port of Split remained uninterrupted. Venetian extraordinary governor in Dalmatia Nicolò Dolfin called the situation “war without war.”21 Both the Bosnian land-holding elite and the merchant community were convinced that conflict would be resolved quickly and without major confrontation in their part of the world. Unfortunately this was not to be the case. When in summer of 1646, after long preparations, the forces of the Bosnian pasha crossed the Dinaric mountains that divide Dalmatia from its hinterland, hostilities started for real, and they would continue for the next 24 years.22

Two types of warfare were dominant in the Dalmatian theater of operations during this war: 1) siege operations by regular forces and 2) raiding activities, performed by Venetian irregulars (Morlacchi) or in the case of the Ottomans, by cavalry raiding parties. In the course of an entire war only two major engagements were fought in the open field. The first one took place in 1648, when the Venetian forces besieging the fortress of Klis defeated the forces of the Bosnian pasha coming to relieve the siege. The second took place in 1654, when the Ottoman forces relieved the besieged fortress of Knin and in the open field routed the Venetian army, inflicting heavy casualties. Seen from the operational point of view, this was a rather repetitive war. Military operations closely followed the change of seasons. The script for an entire war could be summed up as follows: in early spring, when the Dinaric mountain passes were still closed by snow and two Dalmatian sandjaks were practically cut-off from the rest of the Empire, the Venetian army would enter the field, destroying and conquering as many Ottoman strongholds as possible. With the coming of summer, the army of the Bosnian pasha would descend from the north and Venetian forces would fall back behind the walls of Dalmatian coastal towns. After 1654, when the Ottomans fully regained the initiative in this battlefield, the Venetian regular forces ceased their incursions into the Ottoman lands completely and left the task of harassing of the enemy entirely to their irregular forces, units of the so called Morlacchi, former Ottoman Christian subjects who had defected to the Venetian side in the first years of the war.23

During the spring offensives of 1647 and 1648, the Venetian forces achieved their greatest successes, capturing all major Ottoman strongholds south of the Dinaric mountains. Three siege operations from these campaigns, each of which ended with the surrender of the Ottoman garrison, serve as the focal case studies for this paper.

The Capture of Zemunik and Novigrad (March, 1647)

Il s(igno).re Dio miracolosamente operando, ha fatto posso dir un pigmeo gigante, …

(Governor-general Lunardo Foscolo, April 1647, after the capture of the strongholds of Zemunik, Islam and Novigrad)24

The first case of this paper deals with the capture by the Venetian forces of the town of Zemunik (Zemonico) in March 1647. Zemunik was the seat of the sanjak-bey, and it functioned as an Ottoman forward base threatening the Venetian provincial capital of Zadar (Zara). The town’s fortifications, though strong, had not been improved with modern bastions and were outdated by the time of the war for Crete, unable to resist concentrated artillery fire. However, the town was well provisioned with stocks of food, arms and ammunition and defended by a strong garrison commanded personally by sanjak Halil-bey. Halil-bey was one of the most powerful Ottoman notables on this frontier. He was the lord of Vrana (a prosperous Ottoman stronghold in the vicinity of Zadar) who in the decades before the war had been the most prominent member of the party of Ottoman frontier lords hostile to the Venetian Republic and advocating its expulsion from Dalmatia.25 Conquest of this Ottoman stronghold in March 1647 was the first major Venetian success in Dalmatia in the war and represented a sort of the turning point, since from that moment on it was Venetian forces that were mainly on the offensive for the next seven years.

The Venetian campaign started on March 14, 1647, when the force of 4,000 foot and 600 horse left Zadar carrying a battery of three siege guns. According to Venetian estimates, in addition to the town garrison of 1,700 men, Halil-bey could also count on some 6,000 local sipahis. However, the Venetian commander’s bold move paid off. Upon seeing the Venetian force approaching, Halil-bey dispatched his son Durak-bey with instructions to assemble as large a force of regional sipahis as possible and bring them to his aid. But fortune favored the Republic, and Durak-bey and his entourage ran into a unit of Venetian light cavalry scouting the countryside and were killed in a short encounter. With Durak-bey’s death, any chance of quick relief perished. So far, the plan had worked perfectly, and the Ottomans were completely caught off guard. Venetian forces quickly captured a town suburb (borgho) most of the inhabitants of which had scattered to the surrounding countryside. The town was swiftly encircled and Venetian guns began to bombard its walls. After two days of bitter fighting and several repulsed assaults, the town walls were finally breached by artillery fire and the defenders were forced to retreat to the inner line of the town defenses. At this point, the commander in charge of the Venetian forces, Marc’ Antonio Pisani, the governor-general of the cavalry (Provveditore Generale della Cavalleria), sent his envoys to the defenders with the call to surrender and a stern warning that if they failed to yield, no mercy would be shown. The Venetian envoys were also instructed to inform the defenders of the death of Durak-bey.26

With the prospect of the timely arrival of a relief force gone, panic struck the remaining defenders, and not even the sternest measures taken by the Halil-bey, who slayed a few of the loudest, could maintain discipline. Facing open rebellion in his ranks, Halil-bey agreed to let all who wished to do so leave. Soon, the majority of the defenders and civilians, some 500 souls, 200 of which were able-bodied men, came to terms with the Venetian commander. General Pisani allowed them to leave the town, but only with their lives, refusing to allow them to take any personal possessions or arms. Additionally, the defenders were forced to hand over six hostages, who were to be taken to Zadar for a period of one month. On the other hand, Halil-bey remained resolute not to yield to the Venetians, and he retreated to the town castle (castelo) with 200 of his most faithful guards.27 Though Ottoman refugees did leave the town unhindered and headed toward Ottoman-held territory, they were ambushed by a group of Venetian soldiers who were convinced that they were carrying valuables. Upon hearing of this, the Venetian general personally intervened in order to protect the Ottoman refugees and reestablish discipline among the troops by putting some of the offenders to death. Furthermore, in order to prevent any further similar incident, general Pisani dispatched a unit of reliable cavalry to escort the refugees to the safety.28

After resisting for two more days without any hope of relief, Halil-bey finally decided to give up, and by waving the white flag he signaled to the besiegers that he was ready to begin parleys. Halil-bey offered to surrender the fortress of Zemunik under the following terms: (1) safe passage for himself and his companions and (2) the right to leave the fortress with personal possessions and armaments. These conditions were rejected by the Venetian commander, who was not willing to grant the defenders the honor of leaving the fortress with their arms and personal property, but was only ready to spare them their lives and freedom. General Pisani also demanded that the fortress be given up intact, and in good order and in order to ensure that these conditions would be met, Halil-bey and twelve aghas were to accompany him to Zara as hostages for a period of one month. In the end, Halil-bey agreed to the Venetian terms and requested that the general send him his personal ring as a guarantee of his word. Upon receiving it, the sanjak-bey surrendered to the Venetians and ceremonially handed over the keys of the city. Halil-bey, although regarded as one of the most ferocious enemies of the Republic, was treated well and escorted to Zadar in the company of the nephew of the Venetian general Pisani.29

Yet misfortune continued to befall the old sanjak-bey, and one more unexpected event sealed his fate. After the defenders laid down their arms, permission was given to the troops to plunder the town. However, not all of the Ottoman defenders surrendered with their commander. A few dozen hid in the caverns below the fortress in order to avoid being captured. Eventually, when the Venetian troops began looting the town they were discovered and in the ensuing combat some were killed, but most of them were taken as prisoners, with the exception of captured Christian renegades, who were promptly executed. Unfortunately for Halil-bey and his companions, the Republic used this incident as an excuse in order to avoid releasing him. Halil-bey was accused of “breach of contract,” and the terms of his surrender were declared void and not binding for the Republic. Accordingly, all 108 captured defenders were sentenced to gloomy and deadly service aboard the Venetian galleys, while the fate of sanjak Halil-bey and the twelve hostages remained undecided for some time.30

At the beginning of the April, governor-general Lunardo Foscolo, governor of the province and commander in chief of all of the Venetian forces in Dalmatia, urged the Senate to come to a decision concerning the fate of this enemy of the Republic, warning that he could not stay in Zadar, where he: “sempre sarà pietra di scandalo, cagione de mali.”31 The Senate was divided on the question of which course of action to take with regard to Halil-bey. A few days later, governor-general Foscolo, who was rather alarmed, wrote to his superiors that rumors had reached the province according to which the question of Halil-bey’s execution was being discussed in the Senate, including the exact names of the senators in favor and against this decision, warning that the circulation of such rumors was highly perilous.32 But reason prevailed, and on March 30, 1647, the Senate ordered governor-general Foscolo to release the Ottoman hostages after the expiration of the agreed period, though Halil-bey was to be sent to Venice with the first available galley.33 In spite of Halil-bey’s reputation as a vicious enemy of the Republic, he was not maltreated. On April 21, 1647 the Senate ordered this “Turco di gran auttorità, e stima à Confini di Zara” to be transferred to the castello in Brescia, where he was to be guarded “con le sicurrezza dovuta”. The Senate also ordered that he be given a moderate monthly stipend, “onde riceva ogni honesto trattamento”.34 Thus it came to pass that the old sanjak-bey spent the last years of his life imprisoned in Brescia, until he died in 1656.

A similar course of events transpired two weeks later with the recapture of Novigrad. The fortress port of Novigrad (Novegradi), which had been captured the previous year (1646) by the army of the Bosnian pasha, was the northernmost fortified port in the Adriatic in Ottoman hands. Governor-general Foscolo, encouraged by the successful progress of the campaign (with the sanjak-bey and several prominent Ottoman leaders in his hands and the local Ottoman forces in disarray), decided to press forward and attempt to recover this strategically important stronghold. After a short respite and a chance to resupply his troops, Foscolo dispatched a force of 3,000 foot and 700 horse overland north to Novigrad, while he personally proceeded at the head of the naval squadron, which consisted of four galleys and a dozen smaller warships. Though the initial Venetian attempts to storm the fortress were repelled with heavy casualties, on the third day of the siege (March 31 1647), combined bombardment from land and sea opened a breach in the walls. At that point, the defenders, aware that no relief force was coming to their aid, decided to start negotiations with the aim of surrendering the fortress.35

The Ottomans requested to be granted a so-called “honorable surrender” meaning to be allowed to leave with their arms and possessions, yet this time, due to the heavier casualties, the Venetian commander turned out to be less forthcoming. The governor-general demanded an unconditional surrender and was willing to grant the defenders only their lives. In expectation of the imminent Venetian assault, the remaining defenders, 90 in number, conceded and surrendered the fortress to the Venetian forces.36 Governor-general Lunardo Foscolo proved to be a man of his word, and in spite of the complaints of the angry Venetian troops, who demanded that the Ottomans be cut to the pieces, he personally intervened and ensured secure transfer of prisoners to the galleys. Moreover, Foscolo also continued to demonstrate consistency in his treatment of captured Ottoman notables. Though all male able-bodied Ottoman prisoners were chained to the galley benches according to the standard Venetian practice to serve as oarsmen, an exception was made for the eight captured aghas, who were exempt from this.37

The Siege of Klis (March, 1648)

The last case this paper concerns with is the most famous of Lunardo Foscolo victories: the capture of the fortress of Klis (Clissa) in March, 1648. Klis was a strong and famous fortress overlooking the Venetian port-town of Split and the seat of the sandjak-bey. Because of its excellent position atop the ridge, it enjoyed the reputation of being impregnable. Due to its fame, the siege and subsequent capture of the fortress by Venetian forces were described in detail in several contemporary chronicles and reports from various Venetian officials in Dalmatia.38 In short, after a two-week siege, five repelled Venetian assaults, and the defeat of the force of Bosnian Pasha (who came to provide relief for the Ottomans), on March 30, 1648, the defenders raised the white flag to signal that they were ready to open negotiations. Accordingly, an Ottoman delegation of five men came out of the fortress and was received by the Venetian commander, governor-general Foscolo. According to Venetian chronicles, the Ottomans first demanded that in exchange for surrendering the fortress in undamaged condition with all the artillery and ammunition they were to be given the same terms “that Christians have previously given to the Turks, in accordance with the customs of warfare at this frontier,”39 meaning that combatants and civilians alike be allowed to leave the fortress carrying arms and their personal possessions. In spite of the good rhetorical figures used by the Ottoman envoys and allusions to Christian morality and mercy, these terms were rejected by governor-general Foscolo, who replied that if such a proposal had been made on time, when the Ottomans had been in a more advantageous position, they would have found him more forthcoming than now, when the fortress had been destroyed, the relief force of Bosnian pasha routed, and the Ottomans left with little or no remedy for their situation. With this answer governor-general dismissed the Ottoman envoys and broke the negotiations for the day.40

The negotiations continued the next day, and the Venetians remained persistent in their willingness to accept only an unconditional surrender, assuring the Ottoman leaders that they should have no fear, that everyone would be treated well and according to his position and rank. In turn, the Ottomans replied that they did not see why the same favorable and honorable conditions of buona guerra that had been given to the Venetians during the siege of the fortress of Canea at Crete should not be granted to them, since the status of Klis was in no way lower than that of Canea.41 After an entire day of dramatic negotiations which almost ended in failure, since the sandjak-bey was unwilling to give up his request to be allowed to leave the fortress bearing arms, the Ottoman negotiators finally yielded and agreed to surrender the fortress under the following terms:42


1. all the defenders together with their families would be allowed to leave the fortress freely but without any arms, horses or baggage;

2. the defenders would be escorted to safety by the Venetian forces;

3. all Christians or any other Ottoman subjects who were willing to stay and accept the Serene Republic as their new lord would be able to do so without any hindrance from anyone;

4. all Christian slaves imprisoned at the time in the fortress would without any exception be handed over;

5. the Ottoman side would return 12 distinguished Venetians who were being held as prisoners;

6. the Ottomans would provide six hostages (including the brother of the sanjak-bey) to ensure safe handover of the fortress and return of the requested Christian prisoners, after which they were to be set free.


When all the terms had been agreed upon, general Foscolo sent his personal envoys to the sandjak-bey bearing his own ring, to be given to the sanjak-bey as a symbolic guarantee that he would uphold his part of the bargain. Upon receiving the envoys and the ring, the sandjak-bey in turn confirmed his agreement with the terms of surrender and gave the envoys two silver decorated handjars. With this ceremony, negotiations were formally finished and the surrender was scheduled for the morning of March 31, 1648. At the appointed time everything was ready for the investment ceremony, general Foscolo arranged his troops in two columns along the road leading from the fortress as a sort of an honor guard, and the defenders began leaving the fortress in the procession.43 But again, one unpredictable incident almost turned the entire event into a wholesale bloodbath.

Among the first to leave the fortress was Ahmet-agha Barjaković, a well-known Ottoman sipahi who allegedly, upon seeing some of the Venetian irregulars from Poljica (Poglizza), a region that had recently changed sides and gone over to the Venetians, called them traitors to the Sultan and threatened that due punishment would catch up with them. Enraged both by his behavior and what they thought were too generous terms of surrender, Venetian irregulars attacked and killed Barjaković and his family. After this first shedding of blood a wholesale attack on the Ottomans began. What followed were scenes of atrocities that could match the most brutal moments of the Thirty Years War. A contemporary, Dalmatian historian Franjo Difnik (Francesco Difnico), recorded the behavior of the Venetian troops with open disgust, stating that they took children away from their mothers’ breasts and from the hands of their unfortunate fathers and noting how the corpses of murdered Turks were opened with inhuman brutality and greed and searched for hidden money and jewels. Difnik concludes his description of the incident with the following gruesome description: “Some enjoyed skinning the bodies of dead Turks and using their skin as tracks or belts. Rape was also committed, without any concern for age or gender, and all in all, no act of mindlessness was missing.”44

By the time order and discipline had been restored, some 200 defenders had perished. The sanjak-bey and his entourage were saved only by the personal intervention of the Governor-general, who approached him with great embarrassment and in distress. In the presence of the sanjak-bey and other Ottoman dignitaries, Foscolo publicly proclaimed that all Ottomans taken as slaves by private persons must be set free and prohibited any further attacks under the threat of capital punishment. All in all, Foscolo reported to his superiors that he had “accarezzando in tanto il Sangiacco, et ben trattengolo, quanto so è posso, per farli conoscer il dispiacere grande che si ha dell’ accidente.”45 Furthermore, in order to compensate at least partially for the damages this incident had had on his personal reputation and that of the Republic as well and ensure that no further harm would come to the Ottomans, the Venetian general ordered the surviving Ottomans to be transferred to the galleys and transported by sea to the Ottoman-held territories, providing them with enough food for the duration of voyage, for all of which he obtained written expression of gratitude from the sanjak-bey.46

However, this was not the last breach of the terms of surrender. On the night after the surrender, Jusuf-bey Filipović, one of the Ottoman hostages, fled the Venetian camp. When this was discovered in the morning, the sandjak-bey of Klis rather chivalrously offered himself as a substitute for the missing hostage. Governor-general Foscolo gracefully accepted this proposal and left for Zadar aboard the galley in the company of six Ottoman notables, who were to be detained there until all Christian prisoners specified in the articles of surrender had been handed over.47 As it turned out, this took quite a long time. Due to the experiences of previous campaigns, governor-general Foscolo was well aware of the negative effects on the Ottoman military capabilities of having in Venetian captivity prominent Ottoman frontier lords, and he chose the Christian prisoners who were to be returned with great care. In order to keep Ottoman hostages in Venetian hands for as long as possible without however giving rise to any possibility of an accusation of breach of faith, Foscolo named several Christian prisoners whom he knew had been imprisoned in Constantinople and who would therefore require considerable time to be found and brought to Dalmatia.48

Closing Remarks: How to Surrender a Fortress Successfully

The series of vignettes presented so far allow us to reconstruct how in the Ottoman–Venetian context an ideal case of the surrender of a fortified place in the mid seventeenth century would look. First, by waving the white flag defenders would signal that they were ready to begin parleys (as took place at Klis, Zemunik, and Novigrad). Then delegations from both sides would meet and work out the terms of the surrender. When both commanders had agreed upon these terms, the general of a besieging force would send envoys bearing his ring or some other similar personal item. The item served as a symbol confirming that the envoys were speaking in the general’s name and also as a guarantee that the general would keep his word. Then, hostages would be exchanged by both sides, and in cases of major military engagement in which persons of the higher ranks were present the envoys would receive gifts. In the end, the attacker would be invested as the new lord of the fortress by ceremonial handover of its keys. Finally, in a case in which the defenders were granted safe conduct, they would be escorted to the border and when all the terms of surrender had been fulfilled the hostages would be released.

As can be deduced from the cases discussed above, even if the right moment to surrender the fortress was chosen, the process itself was neither simple nor straightforward. On the contrary, the act of opening the gates, leaving the protection of the fortress and surrendering oneself to the mercy of one’s enemy represented the most critical moment of the siege for the defenders.49 Of the three cases presented in this study, only one (Novigrad) ended without any major incidents, while both the surrender of Klis and the surrender of Zemunik involved attacks on the surrendering Ottomans. It would be wrong to attribute these outcomes to the personal incompetence of the Venetian commanders, or to their negligence. They were the product of the heterogeneous character of Early Modern European armies, which consisted of multinational mercenary units, as well as their loose command structure, which limited the command and control that European seventeenth-century commanders could exercise over them. These factors produced an environment in which the interests of the commander-in-chief of the besieging force (a member of the Venetian administration in Dalmatia and as such a representative of the interests of the state) were not always same as those of his subordinates: mercenary colonels, captains, or at the lowest level the ordinary soldiers, for whom war was in the first place a business enterprise and who almost always put their financial interests above anything else.50 This was essentially what occurred at the siege of Zemunik, where in direct breach of the warranted safe conduct, the defenders were still attacked and robbed by a faction of the Venetian army eager to put its hands on additional plunder. A similar incident took place in the wake of the exit of the Ottoman defenders from the fortress of Klis. Though this time the attack was started by Venetian irregulars, it still had damaging consequences for the Venetian war effort. For the commanding Venetian general, Lunardo Foscolo, in addition to the stain it put on his personal reputation and possible accusations of incompetence by his superiors, the most frustrating consequence of this incident was the plunder of the fortress granaries by Venetian soldiers, who exploited the breakdown of order and discipline, leaving him without these much needed provisions.51

Functioning within these operational limitations, Venetian field commanders followed all customary practices of siege conduct employed on European battlefields at the time. At the start of the siege, defenders were called on to surrender. Then, even at a later stage of an engagement, if requested quarters were granted, and if no “obstinate resistance” was met, defenders were usually given an opportunity to surrender under favorable conditions, as was the case, for example, with the sieges of Zemunik (1647), Klis (1648) and Risan (1649). In most cases (but still with a few exceptions, for example the case of the aforementioned “perfidious” Halil-bey), the terms of surrender on which the two parties had agreed were upheld by both sides, within the limits of their abilities. In their reports to the Senate, the governor-generals in Dalmatia often stressed the need to keep their word and honor the terms upon which they had agreed. In this, governor-general Foscolo was not exceptional. Other Venetian governor-generals also stuck to this policy. For example, after the surrender of the small Ottoman fortress of Zadvarje/Duare (1652), governor-general Girolamo Foscarini personally attended to the protection of the 200 defenders, to whom safe conduct was granted, from the Venetian irregulars (Morlacchi), who aimed to kill and rob them. In his letter to the Senate governor-general Foscarini felt the need to assure his superiors that “I know very well that good faith should be practiced at all times and with everyone, even if they are barbarians and infidels.”52

Like the Early Modern diplomatic practices, in accordance with which the utmost attention was devoted to the question of etiquette and upholding the honor and status of a particular prince, military affairs also demanded similar attention for ceremonial matters. In a diplomatic ceremony a diplomat, an envoy, represented a prince who was not present. On the battlefield this was the role of an army commander. The conduct of an army under his command directly reflected on the reputation and status of the sovereign under whose banner it fought. Every Early Modern army commander was well aware of this fact, and special attention was paid to questions of etiquette, status and honor. As illustrated by the cases above, Venetian commanders did not hesitate to impose capital punishment on soldiers who attacked the Ottomans once they had surrendered. The prisoners were considered to be under the protection of a commanding general, and any harm done to them not only represented a breach of articles of war, but also reflected on both the commander’s personal honor and that of the prince he served. Moreover, the conduct of Mehmet sanjak-bey of Klis, who offered himself as a substitute for Filipović-bey (one of the designated hostages who had fled the Venetian camp) aptly demonstrates that the principle of upholding a pledge, which had consequences for one’s personal honor in case of a breach, was one shared by both sides in this conflict.

In terms of etiquette, ceremony and status, probably the most remarkable thing is the role played during the negotiations by the granting of permission to leave the fortress bearing arms. In almost all of the cases the first set of terms put forward by the defenders included the request that they be allowed to leave the fortress armed. The value of this request was purely symbolic and psychological, since, armed or not, once out of the protection of their fortifications the defenders had virtually no chance to put up any struggle against the numerically superior attackers. To be allowed to leave the fortress armed was considered an act of honor and respect, and one not granted easily, since the concession of this kind made to the enemy was perceived as a decrease in the value of the victory that had been won. The case of the siege of Klis serves as a very good illustration of the importance of this term for both sides. The Ottoman commander, sanjak-bey Mehmet, refused to give up on this demand until the very last moment, risking the breakdown of negotiations and Venetian general assault, which would almost certainly have resulted in a wholesale bloodbath once the attackers breached the walls. However, while governor-general Foscolo appeared to be in a more favorable position, his troops had endured almost a month of the hardships of the siege and bad weather, with casualties numbering hundreds of dead and wounded, were already reaching the limits of their obedience. Thus, the outcome of an assault with an anticipated high rate of casualties and fought by such troops against resolved defenders without any choice but to fight to the last man was far from being a sure thing. Yet, both sides were willing to put everything at stake merely to achieve this purely symbolic victory. In the end, Foscolo got the upper hand and the defenders submitted to all of his demands, but the story has an interesting epilogue that deserves to be mentioned.

A few weeks after the capture of Klis, in April 1648, a pamphlet entitled “Vittoria ottenuta dalle Armi Feliciss.(i)me della Ser.(enissi)ma Republica. Nell’ impresa dell’ inespugabile fortezza di Clisa,” began to circulate in Venice. When some of the copies reached governor-general Foscolo in Dalmatia, he promptly, with great displeasure, wrote to the Senate, stating “Si è veduto alla stampa qui una narrativa dell’ accaduto, et stabilito nell’ acquisto di Clissa, che essendo quasi tutto lontana dal vero il raconto pregiudicando all’ essenza delle conclusioni, et che avantaggiano indebitamente, et contro il vero, il partito di turchi.” Foscolo asked the Senate to ban the pamphlet immediately, since it falsely claimed that the Ottoman defenders had been allowed to leave the fortress bearing their arms, while in reality, Foscolo reminded his superiors, they had left with only their lives and freedom.53

One more question peculiar to the cases examined in this paper needs to be addressed: did the fact that the participants in the conflict (the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire) came from different sides of the religious divide (Islam and Christianity) in any way influence the rules of engagement?54 While at the middle of the seventeenth century the Ottomans were still considered by the majority of Europeans as the “other,” i.e. an enemy, they had nevertheless become an integral part of the European state system.55 The arguments presented so far show or at least support the proposition that the acceptance and integration of the Ottomans went further than the acknowledgment of their membership in the European state system of power. As we have seen, codes of conduct of warfare respected by European Christian states were both applied to and accepted by the Ottoman forces. Captured Ottoman commanders were treated with the dignity and respect befitting any Christian commander, while the social status and ranks of the Ottoman prisoners were equally respected, with persons of higher social status protected and given better treatment than others. For example, when in March 1647 the defenders of the fortress of Novigrad were forced to an unconditional surrender, the entire garrison, 137 men in total, was sent to Venetian galleys with the exception of the eight aghas, who were spared this fate and were instead taken to Zara as prisoners. There was a similar case in 1649, when the Ottoman fortress of Risan in the bay of Kotor surrendered after a twenty-day siege. While the aghas where allowed to leave with both their arms and baggage, all the others were granted only their lives and personal freedom.56 Additionally, acts of civility and courtesies, such as offers of personal protection, the issue of letters of gratitude for good treatment and the exchange of gifts (in this case rings, handjars or kaftans) common among the European commanders were also part of the interactions between Ottoman and Venetian commanders.

However, this study is in no way intended to imply that this was a benign war, far from it. The Dalmatian theater of operations was not lacking in brutality and atrocities. As was mentioned, two dominant modes of warfare in this war were siege operations and guerrilla raids, both of which fall into the category of military activities that are by definition hard to control and restrain. Guerrilla warfare by its very nature is a dirty business. The targets are not combatants, but rather resources that support an opponent’s military infrastructure, in this case civilians on both sides of the frontier. On the other hand, Early Modern siege operations were notorious because of the hardships suffered both by besieger and besieged, and consequently their high cost in human lives. After enduring weeks or months of trench warfare, bad weather, diseases and high casualty rates, Early Modern commanders had great difficulty imposing strict discipline and control over badly paid troops once they were inside the fortified place. What I do intend to suggest is that the cases discussed above do not offer evidence of excessive acts of violence or atrocities the motives of which could be ascribed solely to religious enmity. Rather, the incidents did not fall far from contemporary European practices and were products of the nature of Early Modern warfare and the limits of the control seventeenth-century military commanders could exercise over their forces.


Archival Sources

Archivio di Stato di Venezia

Senato Mar

Senato Rettori

Senato, Dispacci, Provveditori da Terra e da Mar



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1 Christopher Duffy, Siege Warfare: The Fortress in the Early Modern World 1494–1660 (London: Routledge, 1979), 249.

2 Such is for example the case with the previously quoted study “Siege Warfare: The Fortress in the Early Modern World” by Christopher Duffy.

3 See: Barbara Donagan, “Codes and Conduct in the English Civil War,” Past and Present 118 (1988): 65–95; Barbara Donagan, War in England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 125–213; Geoffrey Parker, “Early Modern Europe,” in Laws of War, ed. Michael Howard, Georg J. Andreopoulos, and Mark R. Shulman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994): 40–58; Randall Lesaffer, “Siege Warfare in the Early Modern Age: A Study on the Customary Laws of War,” in The Nature of Customary Law Legal, Historical and Philosophical Perspectives, ed. Amanda Perreau-Saussine and James B. Murphy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 176–202.

4 Donagan, “Codes and Conduct, 74.

5 Quoted in Parker, “Early Modern Europe, 44.

6 Probably the most famous contemporary seventeenth-century example is that of Johan Tserclaes, count of Tilly (1559–1632), commander of the Imperial forces which in May 1631 captured and devastated the Protestant town of Magdeburg. In the carnage that followed capture of the town almost two-thirds of its population perished. This infamous event became known as the “sack of Magdeburg,” and was extensively used for propaganda purposes by the emperor’s enemies, blackening the otherwise impeccable reputation of count Tilly as a military commander. Geoffrey Parker, ed., The Thirty Years’ War (London–New York: Routledge, 2006), 88–89; Peter H. Wilson, The Thirty Years War: Europe’s Tragedy (Cambridge: Harward University Press, 2009), 471.

7 Parker, “Early Modern Europe,” 55.

8 Donagan, “Codes and Conduct, 76.

9 Parker, “Early Modern Europe,” 41–42, 51–53.

10 Ibid., 42.

11 Donagan, “Codes and Conduct, 78.

12 During the rule of Luis XIII, fortress commanders were forbidden to surrender the fortress until the breach was made and several assaults had been repulsed, while in the days of Louis XIV, the number of repelled assaults was set at one. See John A. Lynn II. “The Other Side of Victory: Honorable surrender during the Wars of Louis XIV” in The Projection and Limitations of Imperial Powers, 1618–1850, ed. Frederick C. Schneid (Leiden: Brill Publishing, 2012), 60–61.

13 Parker, “Early Modern Europe,” 48; Lesaffer, “Siege Warfare in the Early Modern Age,” 177–80.

14 The Duke of Alba’s treatment of rebel towns in the Netherlands in 1572, a so-called “strategy of selective brutality,” represents one such example of a campaign of terror that backfired. Instead of furthering the suppression of a rebellion, it stiffened rebels’ resolve to resist and resulted in its spread. Geoffrey Parker, The Grand Strategy of Philip II (New Haven–London: Yale University Press, 1998), 127–28.

15 For a sound overview of the problems created by uskoks for the Venetian Republic see: Wendy C. Bracewell, The Uskoks of Senj: Piracy, Banditry, and Holy War in the Sixteenth-century Adriatic (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992); For the Ottoman point of view compare: Suraiya N. Faroqhi, “The Venetian presence in the Ottoman Empire, 1600–30,” in The Ottoman Empire and the World Economy, ed. Huri İslamoğlu-İnan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 314–17. See also: Tea Mayhew, Dalmatia between Ottoman and Venetian Rule. Contado di Zara 1645–1718 (Rome: Viella, 2008), 25–29; Gligor Stanojević, Jugoslovenske zemlje u mletačko turskim ratovima XVI–XVIII vijeka (Belgrade: Izdanje istorijskog instituta, 1970), 77–116, 168–85.

16 In August 1644, Giouanni Battista Grimani, governor-general in Dalmatia and Albania, at the end of his service (1641–1644) reported to the Collegio that Dalmatia counted no more than 75,000 souls, of which only 21,000 were able bodied men. Relazione di Giouanni Battista Grimani Ritornato Provveditor General di Dalmatia et Albania di 10 Agosto 1644. Published in Grga Novak, Mletačka uputstva i izvještaji: od 1621–1671 godine, vol. 7 (Zagreb: n.p., 1972), 181 (Henceforth: Mletačka uputstva i izvještaji 7).

17 Ibid., 188–238.

18 According to the summary timar inspection undertaken in 1631, the eyalet of Bosnia counted 150 kiliç ziamet and 1793 kiliç timar. Based on the calculation which assumes an average of 2.5 armed retainers (jebelu) accompanying each timar sipahi, and 10 for every zaim, this would put the potential military strength of timariot forces in Bosnia at approximately 7,925 men. Figures taken from: Murphey Rhoads, Ottoman Warfare, 1500–1700 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999), 40–41.

19 Adem Handžić, “O organizaciji krajine bosanskog ejaleta u XVII stoljeću,” in Vasa Čubrilović, ed. Vojne krajine u Jugoslovenskim zemljama u novom veku do karlovačkog mira 1699 (Belgrade: SANU, 1989), 77–91. The most comprehensive study of this institution remains the pioneering work of: Hamdija Kreševljaković, Kapetanije u Bosni i Hercegovini (Sarajevo: Svjetlost, 1980); See also: Nenad Moačanin, Turska Hrvatska: Hrvati pod vlašću Osmanskog Carstva do 1791 (Zagreb: Matica Hrvatska, 1999), 30–34.

20 According to a summary report of this zone from 1616, the total number of men in garrisons was 10,107. The estimate of ca. 15,000 given above is based on available data from 1643 for four central sandjaks: Krka, Lika, Bihać and Bosnia, which shows an increase in garrison sizes of 50 percent in comparison with the size of garrisons in 1616. See: Adem Handžić, O organizaciji krajine bosanskog ejaleta u XVII stoljeću, 89; and Fehim Spaho Đ., “Organizacija vojne krajine u sanđacima Klis i Krka u XVII stoljeću,” in Vojne krajine u Jugoslovenskim zemljama u novom veku do karlovačkog mira 1699, ed. Vasa Čubrilović (Belgrade: SANU, 1989), 108; Compare also: Kornelija Jurin-Starčević, “Vojne snage Kliškog i Krčko-Ličkog sandžaka pred Kandijski rat – osmanska vojska plaćenika,” in Zbornik Mire Kolar-Dmimitrijević, ed. Damir Agičić (Zagreb: FF Press, 2003), 79–93.

21 Feruccio Sassi, “Le Campagne di Dalmazia durante la Guerra di Candia (1645–1648),” Archivio Veneto 20 (1937): 229.

22 For an overview of the military operations in the Adriatic theater of operations during the War for Crete see: Sassi, “Le Campagne di Dalmazia” (henceforth: Sassi I); Idem, “Le Campagne di Dalmazia durante la Guerra di Candia (1645–1648),” Archivio Veneto 21 (1937): 60–100 (henceforth: Sassi II); Josip Vrandečić, Borba za Jadran u ranom novom vijeku: Mletačko–osmanski ratovi u venecijanskoj nuncijaturi 1524–1797 (Split: Filozofski fakultet u Splitu, 2013) (henceforth: Borba za Jadran); Gligor Stanojević, “Dalmacija u doba kandijskog rata,” Vesnik vojnog muzeja 5, no. 2 (1958): 93–182; Idem, Jugoslovenske zemlje u mletačko turskim ratovima, 186–300; Tea Mayhew, Dalmatia between Ottoman and Venetian Rule, 29–48; Radovan Samarđić, Kandijski rat (1645–1669), vol. 3 no. 1, ed. Radovan Samarđić (Belgrade: Srpska književna zadruga, 1993), 336–424; Marko Jačov, Le guerre Veneto–Turche del XVII secolo in Dalmatia (Venice: Società dalmata di storia patria, 1991), 9–145; Giuseppe Praga, History of Dalmatia (Pisa: Giardini, 1993), 188–92; Karlo Kosor, “Drniška Krajina za turskog vladanja,” in Povijest Drniške Krajine, ed. Ante Čavka (Split: n.p., 1995), 103–79.

23 For more on the Morlacchi, and their role in the Venetian defensive strategy see: Domagoj Madunić, “Capi di Morlacchi: Venetian Military Policies During the War for Crete (1645–1669) and the Formation of the Morlacchi Elite,” in Türkenkriege und Adelskultur in Ostmitteleuropa vom 16. bis zum 18. Jahrhundert, ed. Robert Born and Sabine Jagodzinski (Leipzig: GWZO, 2013), 29, 20.

24 Archivio Stato di Venetia (ASVe), Senato, Dispacci, Provveditori da terra e da mar (PTM). b.(usta) 464. n(umer)o. 231. (Zara, 13. Aprile 1647).

25 For more on Halil-bey and this well-known and influential family see: Seid M. Traljić, “Vrana i njezini gospodari u doba turske vladavine,” Radovi JAZU Zadar 18 (1971): 343–75.

26 Contemporary Dalmatian historian, Franjo Difnik/Divnić (Francesco Difnico), provides a very detailed and reliable description of the events of this operation. See: Franjo Difnik, Povijest Kandijskog rata u Dalmaciji (Split: Splitski književni krug, 1986), 114–20. A rather reliable and accurate contemporary description also can be found in: Vicko Solitro, Documenti Storici sull’ Istria e la Dalmazia, vol. 1 (Venice: n.p., 1844), 313–31. Compare also: Josip Vrandečić, Borba za Jadran, 64–67. Governor-general Lunardo Foscolo provides an account of these events in his letters to the Senate: ASVe, Senato, PTM. b. 464. num. 219 (Zara, 18. Marzo 1647); num. 220 (Zara, 20 Marzo 1647); num. 222 (Zara, 22. Marzo 1647).

27 ASVe, Senato, PTM. b. 464. num. 220 (Zara, 20. Marzo 1647).

28 Franjo Difnik, Povijest Kandijskog rata u Dalmaciji, 120; Vicko Solitro, Documenti Storici, 325–26.

29 Franjo Difnik, Povijest Kandijskog rata u Dalmaciji, 120–21; Vicko Solitro, Documenti Storici, 326–27.

30 Franjo Difnik, Povijest Kandijskog rata u Dalmaciji, 121; Vicko Solitro, Documenti Storici, 327–28. ASVe, Senato, PTM. b. 464. num. 220 (Zara, 20. Marzo 1647) attachments to the letter of two reports by Marc’ Antonio Pisani, both dated 20. Marzo 1647: Lettere scritte dall Ill.mo s.r Prov.re Gnal della Cav.ria Pisani.

31 ASVe, Senato, PTM. b. 464. num. 228 (Zara, 7. Aprile 1647).

32 Ibid. num. 231 (Zara, 13. Aprile 1647); Josip Vrandečić, Borba za Jadran, 68.

33 ASVe, Senato Rettori, R(egistro)-18, f. 63r-64v; ASVe, Senato, PTM. b. 464. num. 232 (Zara, 14. Aprile 1647).

34 Ibid. 82r.

35 For an overview of this Venetian operation see: Franjo Difnik, Povijest Kandijskog rata u Dalmaciji, 122–23, 126–27. Josip Vrandečić, Borba za Jadran, 66–67. For Foscolo’s reports on the capture of Novigrad see: ASVe, Senato, PTM. b. 464. num. 226 (Novegradi, 31. Marzo 1647).

36 Ibid.

37 Ibid. num. 228 (Zara, 7. Aprile 1647).

38 See: Franjo Difnik, Povijest Kandijskog rata, 175–97; Girolamo Brusoni, Historia dell’ ultima guerra tra Veneziani e Turchi (Venice: n.p., 1673), 163–78; Vicko Solitro, Documenti storici, 273–90; For an overview of entire campaign to capture Klis see: Josip Vrandečić, Borba za Jadran, 81–85; Sassi II., 84–86.

39 Franjo Difnik, Povijest Kandijskog rata, 185; Girolamo Brusoni, Historia dell’ ultima guerra, 185; For Foscolo’s report on the capture of Klis see: ASVe, Senato, PTM. b. 466. num. 386. (Di Galea Salona, 1. Aprile 1648).

40 A rephrased version of: Li fu da me risposto, che si à qualche chiamata fattali in tempo, havessero voluto parlare, anco in stato di qualche vantaggio, si sarebberi ritrovati, ma hora che la Piazza era distrutta, rotto il Bassa col soccorso, et che non haveva rimedio il loro male, non potendo resister, non eran più in tempo di ottenir quanto chiedevano, … ASVe, Senato, PTM. b. 466. num. 386. (Di Galea Salona, 1. Aprile 1648).

41 Franjo Difnik, Povijest Kandijskog rata, 186–87; Vicko Solitro, Documenti Storici, 283–85.

42 In his letter to the Senate governor-general Foscolo summed up the conditions of the surrender as follows: Le conditioni furono che tutti uscissero libere le vite, senz’ Armi, et senza Bagaglio, et che sei di loro principali restassero d’ostaggio, fin tanto, che seguisse la liberatione del Conte Capra, Capitan Gandussi, et altri fatti priggioni sotto Clissa in tempo dell’ assedio di Sebenico, et il Capitan Bartolazzi, arrestato nella ricupera di Duari, con altri al numero di dodici, compresi alcuni, che si ritrovano in Constantinopoli per più allungare la rilassatione di questi, et non provarli contrarij, la prossima Campagna. Conditioni, per mio riverentissimo senso le più decorose, e le più avvantaggiose per l’Ecc.me Vostre che bramar si potessero, in un impresa ardua et dificile com’ è questa; ASVe, Senato, PTM. b. 466. num. 386. (Di Galea Salona, 1. Aprile 1648); The more detailed and elaborated articles presented above are taken for Franjo Difnik, a very well-informed contemporary Dalmatian chronicler. See Franjo Difnik, Povijest Kandijskog rata, 187–88.

43 Ibid., 188.

44 Ibid., 189., 1.

45 ASVe, Senato, PTM. b. 466. num. 386. (Di Galea Salona, 1. Aprile 1648).

46 Ibid. num. 389. (Di Galea Salona, 7. Aprile 1648) and also the attachment to the letter: Scrittura con Turchi di Clissa.

47 Franjo Difnik, Povijest Kandijskog rata, 190–91.

48 ASVe, Senato, PTM, b. 466. num. 389. (Di Galea Salona, 7. Aprile 1648.)

49 Vivid first hand account providing excellent insight into perspectives, fears and dilemmas of the Ottoman defenders facing this situation, can be found in the famous autobiographical work by Osman Agha of Temesvár (Timişoara), in his description of surrender of fortress of Lipova to the Habsburg forces in 1687, when he fell into his long lasting captivity. Ekrem Čaušević, ed., Autobiografija Osman-age Temišvarskog (Zagreb: Srednja Europa, 2004), 8–11.

50 For more on the character of the Early Modern European armies and a rather elaborate discussion concerning the relationship between the Early Modern states and their armed forces see: David Parrot, Business of War: Military Enterprise and Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

51 ASVe, Senato, PTM. b. 466. num. 389. (Di Galea Salona, 7. Aprile 1648.)

52 ASV, Senato, PTM. b. 472. num. 91. (Almissa, 24. Febrario 1651. m.v.).

53 ASVe, Senato, PTM. b. 466. num. 394 (Zara, 28. Aprile 1648) and attachment: Relatione di Clisa gia Stampa.

54 For an overview of the role religion played in conduct of wars in the European context see: David J. Brim, “Conflict, Religion, and Ideology,” in European Warfare, 1350–1750, ed. Frank Tallet and D. J. Brim (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 278–99.

55 For an overview of this historical process see: Thomas Naff, “The Ottoman Empire and the European States System,” in The Expansion of International Society, ed. Hedley Bull and Adam Watson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), 143–69.

56 Franjo Difnik, Povijest Kandijskog rata, 212. Gligor Stanojević, Jugoslovenske zemlje, 212.

Volume 4 Issue 2 CONTENTS


Cristina Bravo Lozano

Madrid as Vienna, Besieged and Saved.

The ceremonial and political dimensions of the royal cavalcade to Atocha (1683)*


This paper focuses on the festive practices in the Spanish court and the diplomatic problems of etiquette and personal position in the planta of the procession that emerged in relation to both the Count of Mansfeld, imperial ambassador, and the Cardinal-Nuncio Savo Mellini. It also examines the opposition of the royal authorities to any kind of “innovation,” in the ceremony, the different interpretations of the image of Carlos II, and the political discourse of this public cavalcade to the Royal Convent of Our Lady of Atocha. The ceremonies were used to celebrate and elevate the position of this king, who had not taken part in the victorious siege of Vienna. An analysis of the celebratory representations allows one to establish an interpretative framework in which to consider the political functions of the rituals surrounding concerning the triumph of the allied Christian armies over the Turks. The symbolic language of the festivities, which included visual images, the meaning-laden choreography of the events, and the composition of works of imaginative literature, was intended to emphasize the majesty of the Spanish monarch, his devotion to the Christian faith, and the tremendous debt of thanks he was, implicitly, due.


Keywords: cavalcade, diplomacy, ceremonial, Ottomans, Madrid, Vienna, Carlos II, Count of Mansfeld, Savo Mellini.


From the Turkish camp, in the very tent of the defeated Vizier Kara Mustafa, the king of Poland Jan III Sobieski announced to the Marquis of Grana, General Governor of Low Countries, that his victory was the opposite of a departure “in silence” or “disappointing unjustly to the common people of Christianity.” On September 12 1683, the coordinated military intervention of the imperial, Polish and Lorraine armies forced the Ottoman army and Hungarian rebels to abandon the siege of Vienna.1 The newsletters disseminated word of the liberation of the city to all European monarchies and republics. The shared success was celebrated with luminaries, religious processions and various forms of rejoicing.

This singular triumph meant the retreat of the Sublime Porte from the Austrian territories in the face of determined action by the allied powers. The aid to the imperial capital, begun earlier in the summer of that year, served as an incentive to intensify the joint military interventions against the Turks. With the liberation of one of the main threatened bastions, the Christian princes started to recover territories and consolidate this geostrategic space. The religious significance and subsequent political implications of this success strengthened the emperor’s authority as defender of the Catholic faith in Central Europe and the Balkans. One of the repercussions of this was that Leopold’s prestige eclipsed that of Carlos II: the emperor now stood as the secular sword of Catholicism, while the Spanish monarch represented the main branch of the House of Habsburg, the dynasty to which both sovereigns belonged.

The public procession of the Spanish king through the streets of Madrid to the convent of Atocha was a majestic event the function of which was to reinforce the political discourse of the monarchy. This paper offers an analysis of the ritual and courtly ceremonial programs that were used by the parties to commemorate the Turkish retreat from Vienna. Thus, they are studied the effects and the diplomatic interests of the participants in this most solemn cavalcade as reflected in the controversies over etiquette generated by the Count of Mansfeld, imperial ambassador, and the Cardinal-Nuncio Savo Mellini. The examination of baroque language and the symbolism of the iconographic program stress the celebrative messages and the ideals they advanced. These symbolic expressions were intended to reinforce specific meanings of the Carolinian crown at the delicate moment of conjuncture of 1683.

“De este menguante, no es fácil que sus Lunas tengan creciente.” Reception of the News and the First Manifestations of Celebration

The gazette Nuevas ordinarias de los sucesos del Norte published the extraordinary news from Flanders, together with two other letters sent by the aforementioned Polish king. It communicated the Christian triumph to Pope Innocent XI, accompanied by the captured Ottoman banner, and the Venetian doge.2 In the Spanish court, there was an avid interest in the news and a public expectation for further information about the course of events. As of September 1683, a range of notices about the progress of the campaign was received. Thus, an enormous amount of information emerged in the proliferation of “true” accounts of events, the regular publication of newsletters and a panegyric literature dedicated to the siege which extolled the glorious actions of the Christian heroes.3 The void left by La Gazeta ordinaria de Madrid, which had been discontinued after the death of Juan José of Austria, created a demand for other “media outlets” and channels of information providing news on a variety of political topics and developments in European conflicts.4 In a number of different editions, the Nuevas ordinarias set out the events of the Austro–Turkish war in great detail. These accounts constituted a sort of proto-war journalism in the last decades of the seventeenth century.5

Yet, paradoxically, as the advances of the Christian flag against the Crescent Moon became known, the Spanish monarchy found itself at a crossroads. Carlos II was the “Catholic king” and a member of a dynasty committed to a religious cause. As such, he might have been thought of as destined to take part in the “crusade” of his time. However, the military realities in the Southern Low Countries, threatened by the expansionist designs of Louis XIV, limited his capacity for maneuver to purely symbolic participation.6 Under these conditions, the contribution of Spain to this confessional counteroffensive was limited by the resilience of the “Flanders wall” and the necessity of sending soldiers to defend it. Thus, Carlos II could only contribute with a pecuniary assistance of 125,000 escudos to the supply of materials, the maintenance of allied troops, and saying of prayers and masses for Christian success.7

After the siege, and despite the military circumstances and the perennial shortages affecting the royal finances, the Madrid court enthusiastically partook in the celebrations and demonstrations of delight that were held in the main European cities. The first festivities occurred on October 2, following the arrival of the Burgundian Jean-Claude Prudhomme, who announced the victory to the king. This cavalry captain had previously been sent by the Marquis of Grana to the imperial army with the aim of informing him of the “end-point of the battle.” By informal arrangement, this initiative by the General Governor provided an almost immediate account of events, faster than the postal service. According to different accounts, the messenger returned to Flanders the very night of the liberation of the city. Without delay, the marquis sent him on, with the imperial news, from Brussels to Madrid.8 Upon arrival, this extraordinary emissary met the Duke of Medinaceli, the king’s first minister. Afterwards, he was dispatched to the king, who was returning from a journey to the countryside.9

The notice of the lifting of the siege of Vienna spread like wildfire through courtly circles. On receipt of the happy news, Carlos II went in search of his two queens, Maria Luisa of Orleans and Mariana of Austria, who now resided in the convent of Atocha. During this time, the palatine rooms and the royal antechambers were filled by “lords and the nobility, who out of curiosity and the desire to assure themselves of the truth of the news, had gathered together without having actually been eligible for any congratulatory office.” The news also quickly spread to the streets, where no one seemed inclined to follow custom and wait for the official announcement. With an outpouring of festive pleasure, information regarding the success was received with great joy and praise. The climate of opinion had been created in the course of the previous weeks by the reports and newsletters that had been printed, which had fed popular clamor. Many subjects expressed their joy by running to ring village church bells and disseminating news to the adjoining settlements. Balconies and windows were suddenly lit up by torches and candles as mute voices made manifest the “faith, glory and indisputable conviction found in the hearts of Spaniards.” Bonfires were lit in the squares, sometimes fueled with belongings taken from neighbors who destroyed their own “possessions as they leapt into the night.” Fireworks were set off and shotguns were fired into the air, so that “Madrid seemed Vienna, besieged and saved.”10

These first demonstrations of delight, which lasted for some three days, were not echoed in the royal households. The absence of any public sign of festivity and the retreat of the royalty after the initial celebrations in the palace gave an indication of the official stance. Without any discussion of the news carried by Prudhomme, the desire for royal prudence complied with the customary practice of waiting for the imperial gentlemen or a letter with the formal announcement of the news from Austria. This decision silenced courtiers and contained the enthusiasm of the people of Madrid, despite the fact that the missive sent by Leopold I was intercepted at Bayonne.11 Twenty-one days later, the much anticipated letter was finally received in the king’s palace. Immediately, Carlos II commanded three days of official celebrations and festival bonfires, beginning on Saturday 6 of November, and announced a royal cavalcade through the streets of Madrid, to be held on Monday 8.12



Ceremonial Controversies Surrounding the Ritual Accompaniment: Diplomacy, Planta and Etiquette

The traditional style of the Madrid court for demonstrations of religious fervor to commemorate the triumphs of the House of Habsburg decreed that the Spanish monarch would proceed through the streets before the public to the Convent of Atocha.13 The organization of the ceremony represented a solemn ritual for the monarchy, centered around Carlos II and his pleiad of ministers and palace courtiers, a combination of royal power and sacred values, and accompanied by the singing of the Te Deum hymn. The Viennese celebration aimed to strengthen the image of the sovereign through the political and religious elements expressed in the royal cavalcade. The triumph thus was reconfigured and claimed as his own or, alternatively, as one belonging to a shared Habsburg dynastic identity and mission. It emerged as a favorable opportunity to undermine or at least counterbalance the popularity that Leopold I had won as he had come to be seen as the leader of Christendom and also to stress Spanish preeminence and the links between the branches of the Habsburg House.14 The projection of Carolinian magnificence would transform this splendid parade into a spectacle with which to express symbolically the majesty of the Spanish king to his subjects and, indeed, the other European representatives.

The procession on horseback portrayed the court system as a baroque theater.15 As a commemorative festival it was conceived as open to popular participation. This was a way for the monarchy to legitimate and integrate in the same celebration the different members of the body politic and the public of Madrid. As part of an extensive itinerary, the cavalcade would pass by distinguished spaces which underlined the attendance of the people.16 This deliberate rejection of the concept of a hidden majesty, an idea expressed by the monarchs in a number of ceremonies celebrated in the Royal Chapel, was intended to reinforce the authority of the sovereign through an extraordinary occasion of collective festivity.17

During the ritual, the exaltation of royal dignity and the political meaning of the festival were made explicit in its arrangement around Carlos II, who emerged as the central axis of the cavalcade.18 The ceremonial traditions and the rigidity of palace etiquette determined the forms and order of the courtly accompaniment and the duration of the procession. The component parts were arranged according to their hierarchy and social position.19 This ritual codification of prestige meant that the planta of the entourage (the specific order of the participants, which was regulated by the code governing such ceremonies) gave symbolic and public expression to the hierarchy of the various political circles.20 In a culture which valued appearance, in which the place that someone held in the royal parade represented a definite sign of socio-political status and personal distinction, it was necessary to have strict and clear regulations in order to prevent any controversy over protocol.21

These rules and the royal decisions, which enabled ambassadors of chapel to convene, did not prevent bitter disagreements, which began with a remonstrance from the Cardinal-Nuncio Savo Mellini, the Count of Mansfeld, ambassador of the emperor, and the French envoy, the Count of the Vauguyon. These complaints concerned their position in the entourage, which they saw as an affront to their prerogatives and standing. Taking the disputes over the cavalcade of 1678 on occasion of the surrender of Messina as the basis for their arguments (the first time that Carlos II had been seen on horseback in public), the foreign ministers found cause to justify their complaints about their respective locations in the planta.

As of his consecration as cardinal, the nunciature of Savo Mellini encountered a variety of problems over ceremony and etiquette in the royal celebrations.22 The interest provoked by his diplomatic participation worried the nuncio with respect to his place and influence in any intervention and the “custom” that he would be expected to enforce. Moved only by the aim of clarifying his position, he requested that he be shown the plans for the entourage. He warned his court intermediary and the chief chamberlain of the Queen Mother, the Marquis of Astorga, that the planners of the ceremony should consider not only his status as a representative of the pope, but also his high ecclesiastical position.23 He thus attempted to prevent the appearance of the “irregularities” which had obliged the monarch to order that in the future, in the course of festivities involving a royal procession on horseback the ambassadors should form a separate body.24 In similar terms, but in conversation with the conductor of ambassadors Juan de Idiáquez Isasi, Mansfeld also asked to be shown the planta. However, Idiáquez was unable to give it to him, stating it was not yet available and he could not provide it without a royal order to do so.25 Apart from this, there was no controversy regarding the order of the carriages of the ambassadors in respect to that of Juan José of Austria, as had been the case in Messina during a previous dispute over precedence.26 Rather, the complaints came up in relation to the coach of chamber and of the monarch himself. As the Constable of Castile, Íñigo Melchor Fernández de Velasco y Guzmán, put it, the carriages “form an inseparable body and all of them [must] go for the service of his royal person and all are necessary.”

Given these arguments over the cavalcade, the council of State discussed the qualms presented by the nuncio and Mansfeld, to which were added the complaints presented by Vauguyon, the French ambassador. The counselors were unanimous in their refusal to show them the planta. The Constable contended that it brought “demasiada y poco decorosa satisfacción”. It was a matter that belonged properly to the royal household and any novelty in the matter was regarded as a potential source of conflict. Etiquette had to be defended. For his part, the Marquis of Astorga fully understood the intentions of Mellini, which had been communicated to him in an informal conversation when the news of Vienna had arrived. Deeming it dangerous to trust Mellini on account of his well-known shrewdness, the aristocrat recognized that the nuncio only would yield if his coach proceeded directly behind that of the king. However, the other foreign ministers, in particular Mansfeld, argued that the cardinal-nuncio should serve as the voice of everybody on account of his double condition as prince of the church and representative of the papacy. Vincenzo Gonzaga added, after having spoken with the imperial ambassador, that he was not very convinced he should be behind the cardinal. Considering these observations, the Count of Oropesa concluded that their places should be explained to them in detail and that they should know the rank afforded to their rivals, “with whom they compete so that they do not fail to understand this in the procession.”27

While the decisions of the counsellors were pending, Mellini offered an explanation to cardinal Alderano Cybo, secretary of pontifical State, of how he had conducted himself in the matter. He had adopted two parallel approaches to negotiation. On the one hand, he raised his complaint with Astorga; and, in turn, he discussed the matter with both Cardinal Primate Luis Fernández de Portocarrero and Mansfeld, deciding “that they would have to undertake these offices separately.” The Frenchman Vauguyon joined them in this. He was interested in finding out about discussions over the planta. Likewise, it seems that the nuncio sounded out Portocarrero and proposed a prospective agreement to him. The concurrence of both cardinals in the religious functions caused certain problems concerning the question of their precedence.28 Mellini noted that the archbishop of Toledo was recovering from an illness at the time and contended that he should be excused from participation in the ceremony. Instead, he suggested that he be entrusted to preside over the ceremonies to be held in Atocha. In view of the difficulties, the Castilian cardinal decided to exempt himself, and he retired to the country. Thus, the nuncio remained as the only candidate to celebrate the Te Deum. The veiled suggestions of the secretary of the royal chamber, Sebastián de Vivanco, persuaded him to recommend an improvised solution, “it being fitting that I take part, or at least that I represent the [papacy], because any other solution would be an insult to His Holiness.”

For the reasons set out above, another problem emerged: the position of Juan Gaspar Enríquez de Cabrera y Sandoval, Admiral of Castile and master of the king’s horse, and the constable of Castile, chief chamberlain. In his own words, the pontifical legate explained the negative response to the counselors as an indication of the fact that they did not want to “go against these principal lords.”29 However, in the Council of State the question of the royal procession and the respective places of each of the participants within it were again discussed. This debate concerned a plan that had been drawn up. It was decided not to show this draft proposal to the ambassadors (Fig. 1).30

At the same time, the location of the offices of the house was not set down. In order not to spend more time on the question, the recommendation of the ministers was to announce it to the ambassadors individually. Sticking to etiquette, they were allocated the same places that they would have had in a procession on foot, while the members of the royal household took up their positions according to their posts and their length of service. The carriages would form an indivisible body, following those of cardinals and ambassadors, in compliance with their rank of precedence. To follow any other plan, the Admiral argued, “would be to risk casting into doubt what they know or what they want to give to understand that they do not know.”31

Another delicate point, and cause of diplomatic discontent, was the entry and mounting of horses in the palace hall. According to the etiquette of 1650, in this part of the palace only the horse of the king and the mount of the master of king’s horse could enter.32 This rule was clearly codified in the court ceremonial regulations. A discussion was begun in the Council on how to respond to their proposals about the planta. In order to “have less reasons for controversy,” it was convenient to do this in writing. Thus, in his resolution, the sovereign determined that


the cardinals have to enjoy the same place in this royal procession that they have held in those on foot and the ambassadors are going to adopt the position that rightly befalls them behind my royal person in an equal queue. To the master of the king’s horse and chief chamberlain I have given commands concerning what they should do [in this matter]. The coaches of my person and family have to form a body and proceed united, without interruption, and these must be followed by the cardinals and ambassadors, to whom we should respond with news of my resolution in the form that the Council believes best, anticipating that in the hall of the palace there should be no more horses than those by my royal person and the mount of my horse master, as is the style and as etiquette decrees.33


Astorga, Gonzaga and the Marquis of Balbases transmitted this decision to the nuncio, the imperial ambassador and the French minister.34 The strict, narrow margins of the order did not make these representatives particularly happy, and they vented their doubts regarding it, according to the historical records of the nunciature.35 Both Mellini and Mansfeld responded by exhorting the Council and Carlos II to examine the planta “set out in [the] paper of [a] geographer.” These responses revealed their particular interests in the function, as well as their concerns about the nature of the plans and their disregard for historical precedents, as they understood them.

The cardinal analyzed how, if his position was the same as in processions on foot, he should have to move just a step behind the royal person. With the difficulties already encountered and the handful of changes made by the king in their favor, he proposed that he himself celebrate the mass in Atocha. This would be a role in line with both his ecclesiastical status and diplomatic character. His informal influence in the court was made evident on November 4 on the occasion of the festival held in El Retiro to celebrate the king’s saint day. Mellini dealt with the royal officials hoping to secure the right to celebrate the liturgy of thanksgiving. After representing his case to the Duke of Medinaceli, he “thanked him for sending the file and for responding to me that I could celebrate this function and that the Lord Patriarch would be sent to invite me.”36 With this decision, which was formally communicated by Antonio de Benavides, the dispute with the cardinal-nuncio was resolved without damage to his prerogatives.37

For his part, Mansfeld justified his decision to request the planta “for a fixed and reliable rule” regarding how he was to conduct himself. He wanted to know his position and to understand those of the other of ministers, “so the difference of the others would alter the meaning of mine.” He also made clear his disagreement with his being granted only limited access to the palace hall and presented a certified document belonging to one of his predecessors, dated 1657. It indicated how the legates led their horses “very close to the place where the king mounts his horse” and that they alighted next to the door of Atocha, not in the street, as the courtiers did.38 This testimony acquired more weight in an incisive discourse. The determination to “maintain the representation of the emperor, your uncle and my lord,” in his prerogatives and the fact that Leopold I was one of the leaders of the siege of Vienna led the ambassador to remind the Spanish how “everything results in the grandeur and greater glory of His Majesty [Carlos II].”39

Referred again to the Council of State, the problem was resolved by the king and the ministerial organism did not permit any more discussion. The counselors rejected the validity of the records, which indeed had remained unknown to them until then. Moreover, the Constable stressed how Mellini and Mansfeld were wrong in their proposals, not Vauguyon, who had not made any other contention on this matter. In his vote, he made no effort to disguise his annoyance: “the matters of the royal house belong only to the knowledge of the bureo and deliberations of Your Majesty, which he has ordered be viewed in the Council to remove any doubt and keep them recognized with this honor.” Considering the etiquette, the other ministers agreed with him, and they proposed to Carlos II that it was not necessary to add anything to the existing decrees so as not to provoke new pretensions, since “there [would be] nothing worse than to halt the plan that has been established by [submitting it to] the judgement of nobodies,” meaning figures with no say on the matter.40 Taking into consideration the prospective problems, they thus decided that the cavalcade would be celebrated without the assistance of the cardinals and ambassadors and thus without them having to bother with any alterations in these matters, as the Admiral observed. Having renounced his prerogative of master of the king’s horse in favor of Medinaceli, he proposed that a new planta be fixed for the future.41

Carlos II was convinced by this reasoning, so the arguments over the procession were concluded. No additions were made and the royal opposition to any alteration was communicated to the ambassadors.42 The aristocratic and diplomatic ethos having been questioned, Mellini, Mansfeld and Vauguyon felt that their place in the planta somewhat undermined their status, as did the order of the coaches and the entry into the hall. However, the validity of the etiquette and the stylized ceremonial praxis in the Spanish court was of more significance than the complaints of the European ministers who had been invited to the function. Their presence at the festivities was not required, although they gave more luster to a ritual in which the main actor was to be the “victorious” Carlos II on horseback.

Although Mansfeld eventually declined to participate in the procession, he considered his absence enough to repair the damage that he felt had been done to his diplomatic standing. On the morning of Sunday 7, he made his public entry in Madrid. From the old residence of the imperial legates, the minister traveled to the Buen Retiro, where he had his official audience with Carlos II. The accounts tell of how the count was received according to the royal protocol, “with signs of his true love for the august blood of the lord [Leopold I] whom he represented.”43 The intervention of Vauguyon in the dispute was indirect and circumstantial, following the endeavors of the imperial representative and the nuncio to put more pressure on the king. In the last moment, however, he decided to excuse himself from the celebration and, apparently, he attributed the failed diplomatic initiative to the separate negotiations undertaken by Mellini, which meant that the ambassadors did not act as united body.44 However, in the letter with which he informed Louis XIV of the organization of the cavalcade, he admitted that did not involve himself decisively in the diplomatic debates because he had not taken part in the negotiations from the outset and he lacked orders from Paris on how to conduct himself in this matter.45 Unlike his colleagues, Mellini believed that it was beneath him to officiate over the religious function in Atocha, so “one hour before the start of the cavalcade, he passed through all the streets through which the [royal entourage] had to pass, accompanied by a large entourage.”46

Riding to Atocha: Iconography and Ostentation of Austrian Maiestas

With certain wit, the poet José Pérez de Montoro described the courtly feast of that Monday in one of his works. He observed that, “from Madrid they tell, how they went / to Atocha with elegance, / giving thanks for the triumph, carrying / calzas atacadas / and in this applause / men went without them / very atacados.”47 The absence of cardinals and the refusal of the diplomatic corps to participate in the cavalcade deprived the ceremony of much of its splendor and caused great consternation in the court.48 At two o’clock, six bugles and kettledrums announced the emergence of the royal entourage, as etiquette dictated.49 Together with his cohort of courtiers, Carlos II, dressed in a rich embroidered garment “in the usual custom,” began his parade with gallantry and vigor. He left the royal palace on a magnificent Andalusian mount named Quijarudo.50 With great pomp, he was accompanied by the Duke of Medinaceli, master of the king’s horse, on his right hand side and the Constable of Castile, chief chamberlain, to his left. They rode a short distance behind the king. The prime equerry, Pedro de Leyva, count of Baños, proceeded on foot and close to the person of the king.51 In his delineation of the royal outing, Bernardo de Robles, a servant of Queen Mariana, defined it as a “circular table,” meaning the royal entourage was composed of the Spanish and German guards, two majors of House and Court (Juan Antonio de León and Manuel de Arce), gentlemen of the Royal Bedroom and de la Boca, three secretaries of State (Joseph de Veitia, Crispín González Botello and Manuel Francisco de Lira, who held a prestigious position in the ceremonial space that, until then, had been occupied only by an aristocratic elite), Grandees of Spain according to their position within this hierarchy, and others lords and nobles of the first rank.52 Following the planta, a number of “carriages of respect” accompanied the sumptuously decorated royal coach and its symbolic portrayal of the “Sun of Spain,” the lions of the monarchy and both of the crowns which Carlos wore, the first denoting his status as king of Spain and the second his title of “emperor of America”.53

This spectacle of the court coincided with the feast day of the Santi Quattro Coronati. Thus, the exaltation of Christian unity found physical expression in the representation of the four tiaras: the pontifical tiara of Innocent XI, the imperial tiara “who has played the greatest role in this scourge”; the Polish tiara was located at the exit to the Plaza Mayor and alluded to in the portrait of Jan III Sobieski; and the Spanish tiara, “column of the faith.”54 Though he had not actually taken part in the campaign, the representative culture and rhetoric of the images lauded Carlos II as the “victorious” king, thus explicitly including him as a protagonist in these narratives. The visual reading of gestures and the court system were intended to legitimize his authority and strengthen his political position in Europe. For instance, over the main door of the church of El Salvador linen representations of Felipe IV, Mariana of Austria, Carlos II and Maria Luisa of Orleans were hung, and on the door of the Atocha’s college the portrait of the Virgin, “patron saint of the monarchy,” was placed. It was guarded by a representation of the pope and the monarchs of Spain at the time.55

The politicization of this laudatory feast was also intended to win the hearts of the king’s subjects.56 The intervention of the highest courtly circles in the plans for the festivities was designed to direct the popular jubilation in favor of the dynasty and its prestige. The active and noisy participation of the people in the royal functions was accompanied by joyous demonstrations and reverential allusions to the monarch.57 According to the accounts, the streets echoed with harmonies, the sounds of oboes, and the applause and the cheers of subjects, “who were keen to see such a great monarch, their king and natural lord; [these people] were not few in number and filled many streets, and they were not averse to [running around] to catch a second glimpse of His Catholic Majesty, even if this made them hot and sweaty.”58

With this opulent display of courtly representative culture, the streets and squares of the city were embellished in a manner that harmonized well with baroque decorative models. The attraction of this sensationalist iconographic program was clear in the draperies and images hung from balconies and illuminated with torches. In the palace’s square, “tapestries depicting the battles of the unconquered Carlos V were displayed.” This was a series of representations depicting his campaign in Tunis, a powerful reminder of the operations of the king-emperor against the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean and an event that was intimately related to the first siege of Vienna of 1529.59 The palace of Mariana of Austria was also covered for this function with “an intense light of gold.” According to the plans, the royal parade would stop in front of this spectacularly-adorned building. From one of its balconies, the queen mother and the Queen Maria Luisa waited to review Carlos II on horseback, “tribulando both their hearts before the eyes of Carlos, which defeated the soul.”60 Accounts also described how the church of Saint Mary of Almudena resembled a sky, and the square of the Villa was a paradise of taffetas and tapestries.61

The spectacular nature of the ornamental program that decorated the royal route was accompanied by “inventions of fire” of the merchants of the Gate of Guadalajara and the castle and pyrotechnic machines of the Tower of Santa Cruz which, in addition to being adorned with banners and flags, boasted a statue of the Hungarian “rebel” Thököly that was set aflame in the night. The following day the same procedure was repeated with a portrayal of the vizier, who went up in flames in Postas street.62 These events were accompanied by temporary constructions, such as the hill of flowers provided by the council and the town gaol, where a number of prisoners were released as a result of the general pardon issued by the king to commemorate the success.63 Musical compositions, dances and theatrical pieces were performed on different stages across the city. To this end, platforms were erected in specific places where entertainment was arranged for the crowds while they awaited the arrival of the king. The rhetoric of these representative tools and cultural mechanisms was used by the royal court as a means of persuasion. They stressed the imago of the prince and his deep religious zeal. They extolled the virtues of the Pietas, and Habsburg devotion to the Christian faith was highlighted along the route of the cavalcade.64

The destination of the entourage was the convent of Atocha, the traditional center of public devotion and a point of reference in the ideology of Spanish sovereigns for the expression of their dynastic and religious values.65 Within this festive milieu, the courtly ritual of thanksgiving was displayed in the Te Deum, the central feature of these festivities. Intoned by Mellini and accompanied by musicians of the Royal Chapel, this hymn conferred even greater solemnity to the liturgical celebration. The armed uprising of Vienna, the grandeur of the dynasty and the political power of Carlos II were all celebrated with prayer, music, fervor, and pomp. After the ceremony had come to a close, the king came back to the palace following the same itinerary. In line with royal instructions, these festivities, with their clearly structured temporal and spiritual dimensions, concluded with bonfires and fireworks in the palace square.66

Publishing and Court Epithets on the “Great Lion of Spain”

In his prologue to El sitio de Viena, Pedro de Arce referred to the popular acclaim in Madrid for the success of the allied armies. He also described some aspects of the cavalcade of November 8. In a dialogue, he used three anonymous characters to express how “Everybody comes to the Palace, then the king goes out to the chapel, / because it begins with the worship / his religious happiness. / Other.- He is also going about the streets / to be at the front of the day / that the Sun should illuminate the hills, / just as he inspires hearts. / Another.- Go out, and we will see him on horseback, / which is the required outcome, / that he who was born to the throne / holds the success of the See.”67

On December 22 (coincidentally the queen mother’s birthday), the companies of Manuel Vallejo and Fracisca Bezón, la Bezona, presented this play in the Golden Chamber of the Royal Alcazar.68 The use of the theater as an expression of power and a reflection of the political society was recognized. Arce himself must clearly be interpreted in the context of these mechanisms.69 Author of a variety of literary plays and publications, knight of Santiago, councilor of Madrid and aposentador of House and Court, he was designated to write a festive comedy dedicated to Mariana of Austria.70 The historical nature of a celebrative play, composed ex professo and set in the present-day, determined its contents and final form. It commemorates Christian triumphs that had happened only two months earlier and provided the title of the composition. Given the proximity of the events discussed by characters both historical and fictional, the comedy was developed around three journeys and was accompanied by a prologue, two one-act farces and a dance ending in a feast. Reproducing the events that taken place in Vienna in great detail upon the stage, the play was performed over the course of two days, and the playwright was widely praised for his great success in framing the narrative.71

The storyline had an obvious propagandistic orientation, with the aim of showering praise on the royal figure. The author relates the imperial and Polish campaign in detail, using an epic tone and presenting the narrative as if it were a chronicle and also making use of the gazettes and letters that had arrived from Austria.72 In a panegyric and theatrical language, he involves Carlos II in the final triumph, including him in an allegorical manner as the character of Spain. In the prologue, Arce tries to link the Carolinian court to the events in Vienna and thereby demonstrate the centrality of the Catholic Monarchy in the defense of religion and the exercise of political authority. Despite his exiguous contribution to the war effort, Spain assumed the role of victor, sharing it with Germany. In the praises showered upon these figures, the playwright conferred upon the Spanish monarch a pivotal (purely metaphorical) role, and the writer even raised Carlos II to the same level as Leopold I. It underlined and reinforced the dynastic identification and the general projection of the Habsburgs as guarantors of Christianity. Thus, referring to the royal Household in an encomiastic manner, the Fame character asks itself: “Generous Spain? / Great Germany? My care does not like to find them together / because they are two united souls.”73

The link between the Spanish and imperial branches of the family was one of the distinctive aspects of the Madrid celebrations. The reasoning for the assimilation (or appropriation) of the achievements of the Austrian Habsburgs was imagined in the allegorical artistic representations that played out after 1683. In the anonymous painting La victoria de los aliados contra los turcos en Viena, a portrait of the actors who took part in the siege of Vienna, one discerns the figure of Carlos II (Fig. 2). According to the inscriptions, the king is the man wearing black, in the Spanish fashion, and kneeling in front of the Pope. Thus, following the traditional iconography of triumphs, he is portrayed as monarch victorious, presenting the Turkish capitulations to Innocent XI in place of the emperor, the Polish king or the Duke of Lorraine, also included in the scene but in secondary positions.

Literary works were also composed in which Carlos II was directly involved in the events of the victory over the Turks. His participation, indeed, was stressed in the introductory and contextual parts of different accounts presented in the public cavalcade.74 Laureate and immortal, the House of Habsburg was represented bearing the cross against the Sublime Porte. The contributions of the Polish army, to which this event “will give sacred renown,” and the Lorraine troops were not forgotten. Pride of place goes to the imperial eagle, which, having flown from its nest, wanted to search for another globe “because it would achieve this in two worlds.” With this poetry, Bernardo de Robles alluded to the dynastic unity between the branches of the House of Habsburg. In his discursive outline of the events, the author praised the pious figure of Carlos II, who would be remembered by History, while he congratulated the king’s uncle Leopold “in public festive digressions.” Thus, the unconquerable Habsburgs were presented and their successes were trumpeted.

The reputation of this lineage, which had been chosen by God (as a range of other prints clearly suggested), came from the long service of its members “eulogizing the faith and defending the Church against both Heretics and Turks.” The victory of the emperor and the allied powers in Vienna had prompted the Catholic king to emphasize the assistance he had allegedly given, since it was a military conflict with extremely pronounced political and religious connotations. In allegorical terms, “when the empire was more distraught, [the great lion of Spain] win not consolation but rather the applause of Fame.”75 The Spanish king had provided neither material means nor soldiers, but rather had been able, merely with the power his religious zeal and the claws of his faith, to finish off the Ottoman enemies and deal them a mortal blow. The heightened panegyric of the anonymous author of this Verdadera y nueva relación drove him to recreate an apparent confrontation that allowed him to locate the Habsburg of Madrid among the array of heroes, and this decision can be seen as a reply to the logical process of extolling Leopold’s virtues in works published across Europe.76

In the symbolic discourse about the royal emblem, a metaphorical mention of Carlos II as “our Spanish sun” in Salida en publico invites us think about the usefulness of iconographic language in shaping political reality in this period (Fig. 3).77 The wars of Louis XIV, le Roi Soleil, can be understood in relation to his policies of territorial expansion across the continent.78 His advance in the north and up to the Lombard wall increased his hegemonic position to the detriment of the interests of the Spanish monarchy. The war of Luxemburg and the French threat that hung over the southern Low Countries conditioned the Carolinian participation on the Austrian front. However, the refusal of the Bourbon monarch to become an ally of the emperor, Poland and Lorraine or to provide any kind of support for their counteroffensive against the Ottoman Empire contrasted with his pontifical title of the Most Christian King.79 His decisions led to the neutrality of France, an ambiguous posture towards an enemy of Europe that earned Louis XIV the name “the most Christian Turk,” as had happened with Francis I and his alliance with Suleiman the Magnificent in the 1530s and 1540s. This name was coined by anti-Bourbon pamphleteers and seriously undermined the image of the French Sun King.80

The political use of such epithets was a crucial element in influencing public opinion regarding the absence of the Catholic king from one of the main campaigns undertaken in defense of Christendom. At the same time, some elements of this court propaganda set critics against Louis XIV at the beginning of a new period of conflict, the Guerre des Réunions. Nevertheless, the power of words and their aesthetic purpose made the different celebrations a spectacle of political and religious dimensions “that exceeded in many circumstances the Roman triumphs.”81 Salida en publico concludes with the following sonnet:


To the dawn of Atocha lit up, / to the queen sovereign of Heaven, / Carlos, king and Sun (with human form) / to give thanks ventured out (happy outing!) / With happy soul and pure goodwill, / august nobility, between Christian loyalty, / for the fright and terror of the Ottoman, / Victory acclaimed with united glory. / In plain black with reddish hairs, strong Atlas, / of confidences and tormented enthusiasms, / so relieved that it is enjoyed / another invincible and inimitable Alexander, / to whom the Crescents their death provide / anticipate without defense, in their care.82



The celebrations of thanksgiving for the end of the siege of Vienna were shaped by the paradigm of the baroque festival in the Madrid court. With its traits and idiosyncrasies, it became one of the most distinctive and memorable courtly spectacles in the history of the Spanish monarchy. The political significance and religious connotations of the Te Deum celebrated in Atocha were proportional to the “media” interest that preceded the war against the Ottoman Turks. News, notices, periodical gazettes, accounts and panegyrics circulated in great numbers in the royal city. Attention focused on the siege of the imperial capital, awaking political concern and the curiosity of private readers of these concise snippets of news. Its spectacular emergence in the late months of 1683 caused an informational phenomenon that increased its impact on public opinion with the campaigns of Hungary and the capture of Buda three years later.

With a ceremonial program heavily shaped by the etiquette of the court, the function, form or method of the eventual festivities corresponded to established models inherited from previous decades. In essence, the public image of the king did not differ from images projected at other times. The significance of the celebrative model transcended the palatine cannons of behavior and the rules of protocol. The effective application of these regulations did not prevent it from causing a diplomatic controversy over different aspects of its codification, however. The pretensions of the Cardinal-Nuncio Savo Mellini, the Count of Mansfeld, and the French Count of the Vauguyon reaffirmed the validity of the style and the cultural uses of the court. Planta, coaches and palace hall offered vindications, cited examples based upon precedent, or offered documentary proof of the validity of their claims. In each case, personal aspirations and the aspirations of respective embassies were set out. On the one hand, the nuncio avoided the problem of precedence with the Cardinal Portocarrero and he acquired a pontifical office by own petition as an honor for which he seemed to have negotiated since the beginning of the dispute. Mansfeld, for his part, referred to the rhetoric of the House of Austria as a means of preserving his prerogatives and participating in a festivity the basic purpose of which was, after all, to commemorate the success of His Caesarean Majesty. Remembering his absence, and trying to prevent any further inconvenience during the preparations for the Buda cavalcade, he warned that “for being so dissonant that in this function, [and] most exposed to the view of the world, [this ceremony] lacks a clear representation of the emperor.”83 The case of the Bourbon envoy was more peripheral, and his offices did not have the presence or significance of the others, principally due to the relatively low level of commitment of Louis XIV to the Austro–Turkish war and Vauguyon’s limited interest in the matters under discussion. Considering the respective positions of these ambassadors as a form of currency in political influence, the Council of State did not accept any of their judgments. In many discussions during the preparations for the celebrations the ministerial organism referred back to the established etiquette and traditional thinking, focusing on the exaltation of the majesty of Carlos II and therefore recasting the victory over the Turks as a shared triumph that belonged to the armies of Spain.

The spectacular stages, machines and ornaments that decorated the street of the villa therefore constituted a laudatory iconographic program set out in strategic public spaces. The sensationalist and sumptuous array extolled the magnificence of the king, strengthened the dynastic element and values, and thereby underlined the gratitude due to Carlos II for having defended Christendom. The second public procession of the monarch on horseback highlighted the political dimension of a ceremony with religious connotations that transcended the sacred rituals to offer different interpretations of the original success: the defense of Vienna. They each betrayed one basic intention: to celebrate the victory of the dynasty, and with the mediation of power to strengthen the image of the Spanish sovereign and his authority as the head of the main branch of the House of Habsburg in a Europe that was applauding the “unconquered” Leopold in Vienna. The courtly theatrical effects of the accounts represented an attempt to attenuate the increasing influence of Vienna and re-equilibrate the political reality by presenting Carlos II as the triumphant Catholic king and victorious Habsburg.


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1 The details of the military operations that led to the liberation of Vienna have long been the object of historiographical interest. Current works include John Stoye, The Siege of Vienna. The Last Great Trial between Cross and Crescent (New York: Pegasus Books, 2000); and Johannes Sachslehner, Anno 1683. Die Türken vor Wien (Vienna: Pichler Verlag, 2011).

2 Nuevas ordinarias de los sucesos del Norte, September 16, 1683 (Madrid: Bernardo de Villa Diego, 1683).

3 Javier Díaz, “El Mediterráneo en guerra: Relaciones y gacetas españolas sobre la guerra contra los turcos en la década de 1680,” in España y el mundo Mediterráneo a través de las Relaciones de Sucesos (1500–1750), ed. Pierre Civil, François Crémoux, and Jacobo Sanz (Salamanca: Universidad de Salamanca, 2008), 131–40.

4 From the presses of Madrid, San Sebastián, Sevilla, Zaragoza, Valencia and Barcelona came gazettes and regular accounts which notified readers of the siege of Vienna in detail. On the prints of the Condal capital on the siege, see Montserrat Guiu, “La defensa d’Àustria i les guerres d’Hongria a la publicistica catalana,” Pedralbes. Revista d’historia moderna 4 (1984): 363–87.

5 On the circulation of news in seventeenth-century Spain, see Fernando Bouza, Corre manuscrito. Una historia cultural del Siglo de Oro (Madrid: Marcial Pons, 2002); and Roger Chartier and Carmen Espejo, eds., La aparición del periodismo en Europa. Comunicación y propaganda en el Barroco (Madrid: Marcial Pons, 2012).

6 Bertrand Jeanmougin, Louis XIV à la conquête des Pays-Bas espagnols: La guerre oubliée, 1678–1684 (Paris: Economica, 2005); and Charles-Edouard Levillain, Vaincre Louis XIV. Angleterre, Hollande, France. Histoire d’une relation triangulaire (1665–1688) (Seyssel: Champ Vallon, 2010).

7 On Spanish intervention in the wars against the Ottoman Empire, see Rubén González, “La última cruzada: España en la guerra de la Liga Santa (1683–1699),” in Tiempo de cambios. Guerra, diplomacia y política internacional de la Monarquía Hispánica, Porfirio Sanz, ed. (Madrid: Actas, 2012), 221–48: 226–32.

8 ASV, Arch. Nunz. Madrid, 1, f. 306r. Account of the royal cavalcade to Atocha in celebration of the end of the siege of Vienna. S. l., s. f., 1683.

9 In recognition of services rendered, Carlos II conferred upon captain Prudhomme the office of treasurer of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Notices of Madrid, October 28, 1683. Recüeil des nouvelles ordinaires et extraordinaires (Paris: du Bureau d’Adresse, 1683), 644; and Fortuné Koller, Au service de la Toison d’or (Les officiers) (Dison: Imprimerie G. Lelotte, 1971), 101.

10 Salida en público, a caballo, del rey nuestro señor don Carlos II (Madrid: Lucas Antonio de Bedmar y Baldivia, 1683), s. fol.

11 ASV, Segr. St. Spagna, 160, f. 1157r. Savo Mellini to Alderano Cybo. Madrid, October 21, 1683. Miguel-Ángel Ochoa, Historia de la diplomacia española (Madrid: Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, 2006), 147.

12 ASV, Segr. St. Spagna, 160, f. 1197r. Savo Mellini to Alderano Cybo. Madrid, November 4, 1683; and Salida en público, s. fol.

13 María José del Río, Madrid, urbs regia. La capital ceremonial de la monarquía católica (Madrid: Marcial Pons, 2000), 184. The singularity of the convent of Atocha’s ceremonies has been analyzed in José Jurado et al., “Espacio urbano y propaganda política: las ceremonias públicas de la monarquía y Nuestra Señora de Atocha,” in Madrid en la época moderna: espacio, sociedad y cultura, ed. Santos Madrazo and Virgilio Pinto (Madrid: Casa de Velázquez, 1991), 219–57.

14 On the figure of Leopold I, see John Philip Spielman, Leopold I of Austria (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1977); Linda and Marsha Frey, A question of empire: Leopold I and the War of Spanish Succession, 1701–1705 (New York: East European Monographs, 1983); Jean Bérenger, Léopold Ier (1640–1705): foundateur de la puissance autrichienne (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2004); and Jan Griesbach, Kaiser Leopold I und die Wiener Monarchie bis zum Ausbruch des Spanischen Erbfolgekrieges (Leipzig: Grin, 2005). For a global vision of the House of Habsburg, see Adam Wandruszka, Das Haus Habsburg. Die Geschichte einer europäischen Dynastie (Vienna: Verlag für Geschichte und Politik, 1956); and Jean Bérenger, Histoire de l’empire des Habsbourg, 1273–1918 (Paris: Fayard, 1990).

15 In the case of Vienna, this idea has been analyzed in Karl Rudolf and Ferdinand Oppl, España y Austria (Madrid: Cátedra, 1997).

16 María José del Río, “Cofrades y vecinos. Los sonidos particulares del Madrid Barroco,” in Música y cultura urbana en la Edad Moderna, ed. Andrea Bombi, Juan J. Carreras, and Miguel Ángel Marín (Valencia: Universidad de Valencia, 2005), 255–56.

17 Antonio Álvarez-Ossorio, “Ceremonial de la Majestad y protesta aristocrática. La Capilla Real en la Corte de Carlos II,” in La Real Capilla de palacio en la época de los Austrias. Corte, ceremonia y música, ed. Juan J. Carreras and Bernardo García (Madrid: Fundación Carlos de Amberes, 2001), 355–65; and Jorge Fernández-Santos, “Ostensio regis: la ‘Real Cortina’ como espacio y manifestación del poder soberano de los Austrias españoles,” Potestas: Religión, poder y monarquía. Revista del Grupo Europeo de Investigación Histórica 4 (2011): 167–210.

18 María José del Río, “El ritual en la corte de los Austrias,” in La fiesta cortesana en la época de los Austrias, ed. María Luisa Lobato and Bernardo García (Valladolid: Junta de Castilla y León, 2003), 22–23; and Fernando Bouza, “El rey a escena. Mirada y hechura de la fiesta en la génesis del efímero moderno,” Espacio, Tiempo y Forma. Serie IV: Historia Moderna 10 (1997): 33–52: 35–45.

19 On the court ceremonies, see Hubert Ch. Ehalt, La corte di Vienna tra Sei e Settecento (Rome: Bulzoni, 1984 [first edition in German, 1980]), 159–77. A historiographic revision of this subject in Pablo Vázquez, El espacio del poder. La corte en la historiografía modernista española y Europea (Valladolid: Universidad de Valladolid, 2005), 249–57.

20 Bernardo García, “Las fiestas de corte en los espacios del valido,” in La fiesta cortesana en la época de los Austrias, ed. María Luisa Lobato and Bernardo García (Valladolid: Junta de Castilla y León, 2003), 52.

21 This phenomenon was not exclusive to Madrid. In the vice-regal courts, the public processions were a reflection of the society, its hierarchical order and the conflicts of precedence. On the case of Naples, see Gabriel Guarino, Representing the king’s splendour: Communication and reception of symbolic forms of power in viceregal Naples (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010).

22 Cristina Bravo, “A berretta for the Nuncio. Roman diplomacy, court ceremony and royal favour in the Madrid of Carlos II,” in The Transition in Europe between XVII and XVIII centuries. Perspectives and case studies, ed. Antonio Álvarez-Ossorio, Cinzia Cremonini, and Elena Riva (Milan: FrancoAngeli, 2015), forthcoming.

23 ASV, Arch. Nunz. Madrid, 1, ff. 296r-297r. Savo Mellini to the Marquis of Atorga. Madrid, October 14, 1683.

24 AGS, E, leg. 3924. Carlos II to the Constable of Castile. Madrid, July 12, 1678. This order was reiterated almost a year after, with the addition of the accompaniment of the coaches and their preferences. AGS, E, leg. 3924. Carlos II to the Constable of Castile. Madrid, June 5, 1679. The notification of the royal resolution to the nuncio Mellini , after he had discussed what had happened with the cavalcade of Messina, can be found in ASV, Segr. St. Spagna, 160, f. 290r. Madrid, June 20, 1679.

25 Miguel Gómez, “El espía mayor y el conductor de embajadores,Boletín de la Real Academia de la Historia 119 (1946): 317–39, 337.

26 On the quarrel of the nuncio Mellini in the parade of Messina and the disputes with Juan José de Austria and the Constable, see José María Marqués, Entre Madrid y Roma. La nunciatura española en 1675,” Anthologica Annua 26–27 (1979–1980): 543.

27 AGS, E, leg. 3924. Consult of the Council of State. Madrid, October 18, 1683. Ochoa, Historia de la diplomacia, 147.

28 Bravo, “A berretta for the nuncio,” forthcoming.

29 ASV, Segr. St. Spagna, 160, ff. 1157r-1161r. Savo Mellini to Alderano Cybo. Madrid, October 21, 1683.

30 The drawing of the planta made for this thanksgiving kept the essence and ordination determined by the etiquette of 1650. Certain modifications were introduced in the old “Planta of the accompaniment.” AHN, Cód., L. 1496, ff. 264v-265v. Etiquetas generales que han de observar los criados de la casa de Su Majestad en el uso y ejercicio de sus oficios. Madrid, March 22, 1650.

31 AGS, E, leg. 3924. Consult of the Council of State. Madrid, October 27, 1683.

32 AHN, Cód., L. 1496, ff. 257v-258r. Etiquetas. Madrid, March 22, 1650.

33 AGS, E, leg. 3924. Consult of the Council of State and resolution of Carlos II. Madrid, October 29, 1683. Cfr. Teresa Zapata, La entrada en la Corte de María Luisa de Orleáns. Arte y fiesta en el Madrid de Carlos II (Madrid: Fundación de Apoyo a la Historia del Arte Hispánico, 2000), 210–11.

34 The draft of letter to the Marquis of Astorga, Vincenzo Gonzaga and the Marquis of the Balbases can be found in AGS, E, leg. 3069. Madrid, November 2, 1683. Manuel Francisco de Lira informed each of them of it by letter. ASV, Segr. St. Spagna, 160, f. 1236r. Manuel Francisco de Lira to Vincenzo Gonzaga. Madrid, November 2, 1683. The letter of the Marquis of Astorga to the nuncio Mellini can be found in ASV, Arch. Nunz. Madrid, 1, ff. 296rv. Madrid, November 3, 1683. In the case of the French ambassador, Vauguyon speaks about the letter of Balbases in Alfred Morel-Fatio, ed., Recueil des instructions données aux ambassadeurs et ministres de France depuis les traités de Westphalie jusqu’à la Révolution Française, vol. 11 (Paris: Germer Daillére et Cie., 1894), 331.

35 AGS, E, leg. 3924. Savo Mellini to the Marquis of Astorga.

36 ASV, Segr. St. Spagna, 160, ff. 1197r-1199r. Savo Mellini to Alderano Cybo. Madrid, November 4, 1683. Marqués, “La Santa Sede,” 544–45.

37 Together with the official communication of the Patriarch Benavides, “who is the one who should deal with this,” the Marquis of Astorga got the news to the nuncio quickly. ASV, Arch. Nunz. Madrid, 1, f. 304r. The Marquis of Astorga to Savo Mellini. Madrid, November 7, 1683. Deferential with the conferred honor, Mellini transmitted his gratitude to the marquis and, by extension, to the king. AGS, E, leg. 3069. Savo Mellini to the Marquis of Astorga. Madrid, November 7, 1683. In addition, the Spanish agent in Rome, Francisco Bernardo de Quirós, was informed that the decision to “charge the cardinal with the task of doing what has to be done in that church was in response to his request” in the papal court. AGS, E, leg. 3069. Carlos II to Francisco Bernardo de Quirós. Buen Retiro, November 11, 1683.

38 AGS, E, leg. 3924. Copy of the order carried in the cavalcade of King Felipe IV to Atocha on the occasion of the birth of Prince Felipe Próspero. Madrid, December 6, 1657.

39 AGS, E, leg. 3924. Memorial of the Count of Mansfeld. Madrid, November 5, 1683.

40 As a result of the verbal vehemence, the Constable planned to communicate to the emperor the changes that his ambassador sought to introduce and to inform him that Carlos II was in no mood to concede. AGS, E, leg. 3924. Consult of the Council of State. Madrid, November 6, 1683.

41 AGS, E, leg. 3924. Consult of the Council of State. Madrid, November 6, 1683.

42 AGS, E, leg. 3069. Manuel Francisco de Lira to the Marquis of Astorga and Vincenzo Gonzaga. Madrid, November 6, 1683. ASV, Arch. Nunz. Madrid, 1, f. 302r. The Marquis of Astorga to Savo Mellini. Madrid, November 7, 1683.

43 Salida en público, s. fol. After the public entry and the first royal audience, Mansfeld could expose what happened regarding the accompaniment of her son to the Queen Mother Mariana of Austria, sister of the emperor. ASV, Arch. Nunz. Madrid, 1, ff. 310rv. Account of the royal cavalcade to Atocha in celebration of the end of siege of Vienna. S. l., s. f., 1683.

44 ASV, Segr. St. Spagna, 160, ff. 1266v-1627r. Savo Mellini to Alderano Cybo. Madrid, November 18, 1683.

45 Morel-Fatio, Recueil des instructions, 332; and Marqués, “La Santa Sede,” 545.

46 Morel-Fatio, Recueil des instructions, 332.

47 José Pérez de Montoro, Obras póstumas. Líricas sagradas (Madrid: Antonio Marín, 1736), 179.

48 ASV, Arch. Nunz. Madrid, 1, f. 310r. Account of the royal cavalcade to Atocha in celebration of the end of the siege of Vienna. S. l., s. f., 1683.

49 AHN, Cód., L. 1496, f. 257r. Etiquetas. Madrid, March 22, 1650. Gabriel Maura, Vida y reinado de Carlos II, (Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1990), 288; and Recüeil des nouvelles, 667.

50 Verdadera y nueva relación de la real salida, que hizo en público nuestro gran monarca Carlos II (Madrid: n. p., 1683); ASV, Segr. St. Spagna, 160, f. 1321r. Notices of Madrid. Madrid, November 11, 1683.

51 Salida en público, s. fol.

52 Bernardo de Robles, Breve delineación de la gran salida de nuestro soberano monarca (Madrid: Imprenta Real, 1683), s. fol.

53 Salida en público, s. fol. The title of “emperor of America” in reference to Carlos II did not have any strict juridical validity nor factual relevance. His symbolic identification by contemporary authors, such as José de Barzia y Zambrana, is an example of the uses of laudatory language to exalt him at historical conjunctures that were complex and important to the monarchy. In this sense, and according to the prominence of Emperor Leopold, such elements would reinforce the authority of the king of Spain, whose power and territorial jurisdiction extended (allegedly) beyond the limits of Europe to America. On the political and ceremonial significance of the carriages and coaches, see Alejandro López, Poder, lujo y conflicto en la corte de los Austrias. Coches, carrozas y sillas de mano, 1550–1700 (Madrid: Polifemo, 2007).

54 Breve delineación, s. fol.

55 Salida en público, s. fol. and Verdadera y nueva, s. fol.

56 Bernardo García, “‘Ganar los corazones y obligar los vecinos.’ Estrategias de pacificación de los Países Bajos (1604–1610),” in España y las 17 provincias de los Países Bajos: una revisión historiográfica (XVI–XVIII), ed. Ana Crespo and Manuel Herrero, vol. 1 (Córdoba: Universidad de Córdoba, 2002), 137–66.

57 Río, “Cofrades y vecinos,” 255–56.

58 Verdadera y nueva, s. fol.

59 On the representation of the Carlos V’s campaigns in a series of engravings, see Bart Rosier, “The Victories of Charles V: A Series of prints by Maarten van Heemskerck, 1555–56,” Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 20, no. 1 (1990–1991): 24–38. The inclusion of these visual elements shows the classical roots of the triumph and the memory of the king-emperor. Thomas Dandelet, The Renaissance of Empire in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

60 Robles, Breve delineación, s. fol.

61 Verdadera y nueva, s. fol.

62 Salida en público, s. fol.

63 On the general pardon issued to the gaols of Madrid in 1683, see María Inmaculada Rodríguez, El perdón real en Castilla (Salamanca: Universidad de Salamanca, 1971), 259.

64 On the Pietas Austriaca, see Antonio Álvarez-Ossorio, “Virtud coronada: Carlos II y la piedad de la Casa de Austria,” in Política, religión e inquisición en la España moderna: homenaje a Joaquín Pérez Villanueva, ed. Pablo Fernández, José Martínez and Virgilio Pinto (Madrid: Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 1996), 29–58; Idem, “La piedad de Carlos II,” in Carlos II. El rey y su entorno cortesano, ed. Luis Ribot (Madrid: Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica, 2009), 141–65; and Elisabeth Garms-Cornides, “Pietas Austriaca-Heiligenverehrung und Fronleichnamsprozession,” 300 Jahre Karl VI. (1711–1740). Spuren der Herrschaft des ‘letzten’ Habsburgers (Vienna: Generaldirektion des Österreichischen Staatsarchivs, 2011), 185–97.

65 Río, Madrid, Urbs, 184–85; and Jeffrey Schrader, La Virgen de Atocha. Los Austrias y las imágenes milagrosas (Madrid: Área de las Artes del Ayuntamiento de Madrid, 2006).

66 On November 24, 1683, the town of Madrid vowed to celebrate for the next century the feast of the Holy Name of Mary as a gesture of thanksgiving for the victory over the Turks. Diario de Madrid de 13 de septiembre de 1789 (Madrid: Hilario Santos, 1789), 1021; and Carmen Rubio, “La calle de Atocha,” Anales del Instituto de Estudios Madrileños 9 (1973): 94–95.

67 Pedro de Arce, La comedia de El sitio de Viena (Madrid: Francisco Sanz, 1684).

68 María Luisa Lobato, “Miradas de mujer: María Luisa de Orléans,” in Teatro y poder en la época de Carlos II. Fiestas en torno a reyes y virreyes, ed. Judith Farré Vidal, ed. (Madrid: Iberoamericana, 2007), 32. The play was rehearsed in the palace on December 27 and January 30, 1684 in the Corral of Prince without the actors of the company of Manuel Vallejo. The plays are included in John E. Varey and N. D. Shergold, Teatros y comedias en Madrid, 1666–1687. Estudio y documentos (London: Tamesis, 1974), 184.

69 On the court theater in the baroque feast during the reign of Carlos II, see María Luisa Lobato, “Literatura dramática y fiestas reales en la España de los últimos Austrias,” in La fiesta cortesana, 251–71; Judith Farré, “Consideraciones generales acerca de la dramaturgia y el espectáculo del elogio en el teatro cortesano del Siglo de Oro,” in Ibid., 273–92; Carmen Sanz, Pedagogía de Reyes. El teatro palaciego en el reinado de Carlos II (Madrid: Real Academia de la Historia, 2006); and Farré Vidal, Teatro y poder.

70 González, “La última cruzada,” 244.

71 Sanz, Pedagogía de Reyes, 123–27.

72 The role of Jan III Sobieski in the festive comedy of Arce is analyzed in Florian Smieja, “King Jan III Sobieski in Pedro de Arce’s El sitio de Viena,” Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos 7, no. 3 (1983): 407–12.

73 Arce, El sitio de Viena, 6.

74 The accounts of the public procession of Carlos II to Atocha in 1683 are contained in Pedro Roca and Jenaro Alenda y Mira, Relaciones de solemnidades y fiestas públicas de España, vol. 1 (Madrid: Sucesores de Rivadeneyra, 1903), 430–31.

75 On the symbolic representation of Carlos II as a lion and this image as a symbol of the royal virtues of the Spanish monarchy, see Víctor Mínguez, “Leo fortis, rex fortis. El león y la monarquía hispánica,” in El imperio sublevado. Monarquía y naciones en España e Hispanoamérica, ed. Víctor Mínguez and Manuel Chust (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2004), 57–94; and Idem, La invención de Carlos II. Apoteosis simbólica de la Casa de Austria (Madrid: Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica, 2013), 127–42.

76 Verdadera y nueva, s. fol.

77 Salida en público, s. fol. The adoption of the Sun as an emblem of the Spanish monarchy and its different uses are explored in Víctor Mínguez, Los reyes solares. Iconografía astral de la monarquía hispánica (Castellón: Universidad Jaume I, 2001).

78 John A. Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV, 1667–1714 (London: Longman, 1999).

79 José Pérez de Montoro, in one of his four-line stanzas, contrasts Louis XIV, who did not take part in the operations of the allied armies, with the other Christian leaders: Whereas the French king had “an ill arm,” the other Christian princes, “for this war / extended their hands and gave / from their purses.” Pérez de Montoro, Obras, 178–79.

80 In the 1680s, there was no Franco–Turkish alliance in the strict sense, but the failure of Louis XIV to provide support for the emperor in Vienna was evident, see Peter Burke, La fabricación de Luis XIV (Madrid: Nerea, 1995), 131–32 and 137–38.

81 Salida en público, s. fol.

82 Ibid., s. fol.

83 AGS, E, leg. 3928. Consult of the Council of State. Madrid, October 8, 1686. The diplomatic controversy concerning etiquette was a ceremonial precedent for the cavalcade of Buda of 1686, for which the Viennese model was observed and the details that had been discussed three years earlier were heeded. Bravo, “Celebrando Buda,” 354–71.

* This study was undertaken within the framework of the program Juan de la Cierva-Formación (FJCI-2014-21225) and the project of the Dirección General de Investigación del Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad, Gobierno de corte y sociedad política: continuidad y cambio en el gobierno de la Monarquía de España en Europa en torno a la Guerra de Sucesión (1665–1725) (HAR2012-31189). It has also benefited from help from the project of the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD), Die Kunst der guten Regierung in der Spanischen Monarchie (Projekt 57050251). I must thank Phillip Williams for the English translation of this paper and Luis Tercero for his suggestions. For additional perspectives and ideas on Buda’s cavalcade, see Cristina Bravo, “Celebrando Buda. Fiestas áulicas y discurso político en las cortes de Madrid y Londres,” published in Vísperas de Sucesión. Europa y la Monarquía de Carlos II, ed. Bernardo García and Antonio Álvarez-Ossorio (Madrid: Fundación Carlos de Amberes, 2015), 354–71.

Abbreviations: AGS (Archivo General de Simancas, Simancas), E (Estado); AHN (Archivo Histórico Nacional, Madrid), Cód. (Códices); and ASV (Archivio Segreto Vaticano, Vatican City), Arch. Nunz. Madrid (Archivio della Nunziatura di Madrid) and Segr. St. Spagna (Segreteria di Stato. Spagna).

Fig. 1 AGS, MPD, 7, 161. Diagram of the cavalcade that accompanied the king on the day of his public procession. Madrid, s. f., October 1683.


Fig. 2 Anonymus, Alegoría de la victoria contra los turcos en el asedio de Viena de 1683. Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas, Madrid.


Fig. 3 Pedro de Obregón, Carlos II y su madre ante el Alcázar. Engraving to illustrate the work Nudrición Real, of Pedro González de Salcedo (Madrid: Bernardo de Villa-Diego, 1671).

pdfVolume 3 Issue 2 CONTENTS

Krzysztof Brzechczyn

The Reliability of “Files” and Collaboration with the Security Service (SB) in Poland: An Attempt at a Methodological Analysis

Over the course of the last decade, the disclosure in Poland of information regarding the secret collaboration of public figures with the Security Services (SB) has triggered emotional discussions on the reliability of the archival records stored in the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN). Analysis of these discussions enables one to draw a distinction between two opposing views. According to the first, documents stored in the archives of the IPN are incomplete and devoid of accurate information. According to the second, documents produced by the repressive apparatus of the communist state constitute a new type of historical source and contain reliable information.

However, these discussions concerning the reliability of “files” lack methodological rigor and precision. I consider the reliability of the “files” in the light of Gerard Labuda and Jerzy Topolski’s concepts of historical sources. According to this analysis, the “files” do not constitute a new type of historical source requiring a radical rethinking of existing classifications and new interpretive methods. However, one precondition of an adequate interpretation is the acknowledgment of the purpose for which they were created and the functions they played in the communist state. The repressive apparatus collected, selected and stored information on society if they considered this information useful in the maintenance of political control over society. Ignorance of or failure to acknowledge this specific social praxis (and its different forms: manipulation, disintegration, misinformation, etc.) performed by the secret political police is one of the reasons for methodical and heuristic errors committed by historians: the uncritical application of the vision of social life and processes presented in these sources for the construction of the historical narrative.

Keywords: adaptive interpretation, reliability of the historical sources, Gerard Labuda, Jerzy Topolski, surveillance, Security Service, secret political police

The Issue of the Reliability of “Files” for the First Time: An Analysis of an Example

After 2000, as the Institute of National Remembrance (hereinafter the “IPN”) commenced its activity, sources pertaining to or compiled by the communist apparatus of repression became widely available to researchers who study the history of Poland in 1944–1989. However, as soon as some of the findings of research conducted on the basis of archival records of the IPN were published, some journalists, ordinary people and professional historians rejected the historiographical credibility of the documentation created by the Security Service (SB) and its related authorities in the times of the People’s Republic of Poland (PRL).

A symptomatic opinion was expressed by Antoni Pawlak, an oppositional activist, poet and journalist, at the panel discussion arranged at the Chamber Scene of the “Polski” Theatre in Wrocław:

There is something that as we lived in the 1970s, 1980s and earlier—the times the fundamental rule of which (the rule around which our lives were organized) was a lie—books, press, yearly books, economic reports—I do not understand how we can claim that the only base of truth was the Security Service. It boggles my mind.1

More systematic charges were formulated by Karol Modzelewski, nota bene a prominent historian of the Middle Ages, who claimed that the minimal usefulness of these sources to historians was a result of, first, the incompleteness of the source database.

General Kiszczak and his people were the sole masters of the files for as long as six months and they already knew that they would have to hand over the ministry, together with those documents, to their political opponents. From the very beginning it was naive to believe that they left anything in the files that was not appropriate to be read.2

Second, he emphasized the minimal reliability of the archival documents, “In the mind of a person who would seek to conjure the truth about the agency on the basis of unreliable remnants of documentation experience and logic has been replaced with wishes.”3

On the other hand, historians and researchers who used the archival records of the IPN generally believe that this type of archival resource, which is essential to the study of the recent history of Poland, is quite reliable. Joanna Siedlecka, who researched the lives of writers living in the People’s Republic of Poland, made the following observation:

There is a huge and priceless knowledge about writers. After all, the Security Service left us the priceless material. Thanks to it, we know what Herbert said at an author’s meeting in Pcim or in Rzeszów because detailed notes were taken. In my opinion, there are documents, the reliability of which simply cannot be challenged.4

Those who support the use of the resources compiled by the apparatus of repression of the People’s Republic of Poland insist on the usefulness of these materials to scholars of the apparatus of repression itself and those parts of the past that were of interest to the authorities and the police forces.5 In this context, it is stated, inter alia, that it is possible to reconstruct details of many significant events of the political history of the People’s Republic of Poland,6 the history of the opposition and of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union “Solidarność,”7 and the process of making decisions by authorities of the People’s Republic of Poland.8

This opinion regarding the relatively high reliability of the sources is associated with a warning against a specific vision of the world represented by their authors:

…these archival records have a specific nature (my italics K.B.) that reflects the activity of the Security Service. Therefore, the knowledge included in the documentation made by the communist security apparatus is neither a complete nor a reliable image of the People’s Republic of Poland, but rather constitutes only a glimpse at the reality of the People’s Republic of Poland from the perspective of the interests of the Security Service.9

On the other hand, according to Paweł Piotrowski, “We have to realize that this documentation was created for a specific purpose and portrays the image of the world that the authors saw or wanted to see.”10

The issue of the reliability of the Security Service’s sources was broadly discussed by Adam Leszczyński, who in a chapter of a book published in 2006 and entitled “How Did the Authorities Themselves Lie: The Documentation of the Security Service and of the Polish United Workers’ Party as a Source on the History of the ‘Solidarność’ Trade Union” makes the following assessment:

The reliability of the written sources created by various institutions of the government and of the party, from the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) to the Security Service, leaves a lot to be desired. Since they distort the reality that they try to describe both at the factual level (their authors frequently and intentionally lie) and at the level of interpretation, they are saturated not only with gobbledygook, but also with a specific type of the party’s glimpse of reality.11

Leszczyński refers to the case of the death of the miner Jan Siminiak at the Civic Militia (MO) station in May 1981. In the “Details on Circumstances” cited by the author, the Security Service reported his death as an accident, “At the Civic Militia station, J. Siminiak fought with a Civic Militia officer, fell, and hit his head against the bench. The doctor declared him dead.”12

Leszczyński comments on this description in the following way:

It is impossible to state whether the audience of this report really believed this odd explanation (...). In view of this report, the death of Siminiak was a regrettable accident that befell a habitual drunk and troublemaker (...). It is worth emphasizing that the “Details on Circumstances” is an internal and top-secret document, but a Security Service officer was unable to make a less unilateral description of the event. He provided exactly the same version propagated by the State’s papers, radio and television.13

The document became the basis for a broad assessment of materials made by the Security Service.

This complies with the norm observed by numerous researchers: the Security Service’s documents almost never make mention of any acts committed by their officers that infringed on the law of the People’s Republic of Poland, such as beating or harassing people who were politically inconvenient. These drastic methods are passed over in silence, and when impossible, they are presented in a way that shows the officers in the best light, even if the entire story seems ridiculous.14

The document is criticized in terms of the postulated ideal historical source that includes any and all information on the topic that has captured the researcher’s interest: supports a “proper” interpretation (i.e. an interpretation that conforms with the researcher’s objectives) and contains no evasive or misleading statements. These expectations are not met by any of the sources created by the Security Service, or by other institutions. Leszczyński himself remarks on this, noting that the documents of the Security Service and the Polish United Workers’ Party exaggerated differences in the internal views of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union “Solidarność,” whereas trade union documents omitted any mention of these internal divisions.15

If the contentions contained in a source are knowing lies (as is indicated by the title of the chapter) made to superiors by subordinates, clearly they cannot be regarded as reliable. However, whether or not these statements can be regarded as knowing lies has not been established. A statement can be characterized as a lie when it does not conform to the known details, the person who made the statement was aware of this inconsistency, and he or she intended to mislead the person to whom the statement was addressed. Leszczyński does not support his conjecture with any arguments based on the source data. Yet in order to substantiate the claim that the statements in question were deliberate lies, it would be necessary to prove that the authors of the report on the Siminiak case were aware of inconsistencies with the facts and intended to mislead their superiors. In order to do this, it would be necessary to identify the authors of the report.

In addition, the following sentence is vague, “the Security Service’s documents almost never make mention of any acts committed by officers of the Security Service that infringed on the law of the People’s Republic of Poland, such as beating or harassing people who were politically inconvenient.” It is not clear how the expression “almost never” should be interpreted. Is it a general quantifier or an existential one?

The “Details on Circumstances” cited by Leszczyński was a document made in the Office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (hence strictly speaking it was not made by the Security Service, as Leszczyński claims) on the basis of daily reports sent from individual voivodeships and departments of the Ministry, e.g. the Civic Militia, Border Defense Troops (WOP), etc. The key role in the presentation of information was played by a group of people (the so-called distribution list) to whom the reports were sent. If information was addressed to people holding the most prominent positions in the country (a list that came to several dozen names), it referred to general matters. For example, a schedule entitled “Assessments of Establishing the Citizens’ Committee with Lech Wałęsa,” which contained opinions of the “Fighting Solidarity” organization and the Liberal-Democratic Party “Independence,” was addressed to 44 people in the country, including Alfred Miodowicz, whose son Konstanty was an opposition activist of the Freedom and Peace Movement.16 The “Daily Information” was permanently scheduled with the “Events with the Participation of the Civic Militia Officers,” which generally contained information on violations of the law by employees of the Ministry and members of the uniformed services. This schedule was usually addressed to one person in the State, Władysław Pożoga or Czesław Kiszczak (at least in the late 1980s). It seems (although this would be a matter for further research since Leszczyński omits this question) that the document was addressed to a larger group of people, and hence it contained a description of the event on the basis of generally available information. Schedules exclusively addressed to the Minister of Internal Affairs contained information on crimes (or suspicions regarding the commission of a committing crime) committed by the officers of the ministry.

Example 1: On the 5th day of this month, at around 1:00 a.m., the Provincial Office of Internal Affairs in Leszno was informed of a burglary of a shop run by citizen Kuczkowska in B. Chrobrego Street. A tracker dog led officers to the flat, where Paweł Stefański, age 20, was caught. In the flat the officers found the loot (jackets). The arrested was drunk. It turned out that he was a private of the 6th Company of the Operating Battalion of the Motorized Reserves of the Civic Militia (ZOMO) in Poznań (1st year of service) and was on holiday. He confessed that he had broken into the shop.17

This following description was included in the “Information on the Present Operational-Political Situation” sent on 20 May, 1982 from Poznań to Warsaw.

Example 2: On 18 May of this year in the hospital in Lutycka Street, a 19-year-old named Piotr Majchrzak, a student of the Secondary Technical School of Gardening in Poznań, died. The mother of the deceased, Teresa Majchrzak, a teacher in kindergarten no. 39, claims that his death resulted from him having been beaten by officers of the Motorized Reserves of the Civic Militia on the 12 May at 12:00 p.m. in Fredry Street near the church. She managed to find witnesses to the incident who claim that the Civic Militia patrol stopped him when he was running towards tram no. 8, which was arriving at the time. They claim that there was a heated exchange between the officers and P. Majchrzak. The officers allegedly clubbed him. The witnesses claim that P. Majchrzak defended himself with karate (he was a member of the “Feniks” karate club). When he lost his consciousness, the officers called the ambulance, which took him to hospital. The witnesses spoke with Majchrzak’s mother and warned that they would not present their version of the event because they were afraid of possible repressions.18

The Security Service’s documents also contain information on the “harassment of people who were politically inconvenient,” or at least information on plans to do so.

Example 3: In the “Tram Driver” operational verification the following actions were planned to be taken against Jan Lutter, vice-chairman of the Inter-Enterprise Founding Committee “Solidarność” of the Greater Poland Region in 1980: 3) A relevant false story will be used to talk with selected individuals (...) in order to learn more about a figurehead, his/her contacts (...) and learn about his/her interests, weaknesses and tendencies (...). 6) Check the figurehead in the following available records: the Personal Data Office, general registry, Passport Department, criminal record, Traffic Department, Sobering Station (...) 7) Examine the figurehead’s family, his/her past, places of residence and employment in order to determine his or her motives and learn more about his/her personality (...). 9) Use “B” to examine further (...) and document his/her possible hostile activity or situations that discredit him/her (...). 10) By using any and all possible operational measures and possibilities and any and all possible materials that discredit the figurehead, his/her position, among other things, in the workplace and place of residence will be weakened and his/her possible hostile activity will be neutralized.19

These plans and deeds of the Security Service, plans and deeds that could result in violence against or endangering the life of the people targeted, were enigmatically called “disintegrating actions,” “destructive,” “harasser,” or “special actions” according to a “separate plan” or an “annex to such plans,” but such plans could never be made in writing, or if made in writing, they were destroyed.20

The Issue of the Reliability of “Files” for the Second Time, in Light of Jerzy Topolski’s Concept of the Dynamic Historical Source

Opponents in the debate regarding the “low” or “high” reliability of the archival records of the apparatus of repression adopt several common assumptions. They implicitly assume that the reliability of documents is a constant property of historical sources and this property is independent of the problem under discussion or the research questions posed. I contend that this assumption is unfounded. According to Topolski’s concept of the dynamic historical source, “a historical source is (...) any and all sources of historical cognition (direct and indirect), i.e. all information (including theory and information) on the social past, irrespective of its place, together with its communication (channel of communication).”21 Moreover, Topolski differentiates between a potential source and an effective one. He claims that the potential source is everything on the basis of which a historian is able to gain knowledge of the past, whereas the effective source is the group of information that is actually used by a historian.

This manner of apprehending the concept of the historical source implies that its reliability is relative, id est it is affected by the research question actually posed by the historian. The same source may be relatively highly reliable in the case of one research question and less reliable in the case of another. It is worth citing Topolski again:

Therefore, one of the keys that shapes the mechanism of the use or interpretation of source information (in other words, the study of a source) is the research question to which the source is supposed to provide an answer. Without such a question, the source does not tell a historian anything. It remains silent, even if a historian is able to read it. By posing these questions, obviously structured by the historian’s knowledge, which expands beyond the individual source under scrutiny (and the entire methodological consciousness), the historian preliminary models the reality that is the subject of his/her research.22

To characterize the information structure of the source, Topolski used the notion apparatus of Jerzy Kmita’s theory of a sign.23 The Polish philosopher of logic and history assumed that a sign is an activity or a product of human activity that is a result of the intentional communication of a given state of affairs. In addition to signs, there are symptoms that can be divided into humanistic and natural. Humanistic symptoms are human activities or products that are not intentionally created for the purpose of communication by their creator. For example, smoke coming from the chimney means that people are at home and they are making a meal, but this message is not the intentional outcome of the dwellers.

Topolski distinguished three layers of the source information structure. A surface layer of the information structure of the source is a collection of “information that may be extracted from it in the simplest way, id est it is clear without posing questions other than the questions directly included in this collection of information.”24 This refers to the most fundamental questions, such as what, who, where or when. A sign layer of the information structure of the historical source means the possibly intended purpose of the information originally communicated. In contrast, a symptom layer of the information structure contains the possible pieces of information that were not intended to communicate directly with their audience. These pieces of information may reveal the author’s worldview, his/her vision of the social world, or hidden assumptions regarding the political, cultural and economical situation.

Example 4: After October 1956 the Communist party toughened the policy towards the Catholic Church. One of the symptoms of this was the decree of the Ministry of Education of August 1958 that provided for removing crosses from school classes in all schools in Poland. This decision was met with protests of parents and children. In the Zielona Góra voivodeship, such protests were held from 31 August to 15 September 1958 in several dozen rural schools.25 The daily information on protests signed by lieutenant colonel Bolesław Galczewski, 1st security deputy of the commander of the Voivodeship Civic Militia Station, was sent to colonel Marian Janica, a deputy of the director of the Office of the Minister of Internal Affairs. This information included a detailed description of protests in individual places and harsh criticism of the authorities: “what October gave us, September will take,” “we demand religion in schools, we demand crosses, we are not in captivity, Gomułka does not govern himself,” “Poland is a Russian colony,” “What are you doing with this Poland: a Russian republic?” “Gomułka made it but he will be removed as well,” “Crosses were in schools in the time of Hitler, Stalin and Beirut, and now you are removing them.” These statements explicitly show that the conflict was politicized and the protesters’ demands to restore crosses in schools changed into criticism of Gomułka, the system, and Poland’s dependence on the Soviet Union. However, in a collective report of 17 September, 1958 to the Office of the Minister of Internal Affairs lieutenant colonel Galczewski omitted mention of the size of the protest and claimed that, “by analyzing the Catholic clergy, it is said that priests do not officially partake in conflicts arising in individual gatherings. In addition, outside churches the clergy clearly does not stir up people to manifest and protest against the secularization of schools. (...) We still do not have any indications of any reactionaries who have become active because all previous conflicts in the rural areas involved mostly fanatics and women. Moreover, these conflicts are not clearly hostile because these protests are frequently limited to demands to restore religion and crosses in schools.”26

By posing the question of who protested against the removal of the crosses and also where and how, we come to the surface layer of the information structure of the source, id est the aforesaid report. By posing a question regarding what the 1st security deputy of the commander of the Provincial Civic Militia Station in Zielona Góra wished to communicate in his report to the Director of the Office of the Minister of Internal Affairs by omitting mention of the political dimensions of the protests, we come to the sign layer of the information structure of the source. Further on, by posing a question regarding why the 1st security deputy of the commander of the Voivodeship Civic Militia Station in Zielona Góra emphasized that the protesters “were mainly women” (although 3 out of 8 of the people arrested people were men), we come to the symptom layer of the information structure.

One can formulate a preliminary hypothesis that the report omitted the political aspects of the protests in order to communicate to the Office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Warsaw that the author of the report was in complete control of his territory. On the other hand, the emphasis of the key role of women in the protests might be a symptom of the belief (hypothetically) shared by the author and his superiors that the proper places for women were the private and religious spheres, hence the collective participation of women in the protests proved the non-political character of the acts.27

The Content of “Files” According to Topolski’s Source Classification

In order to determine more precisely the specificity of the secret collaborator’s denunciation and other operational files, it is necessary to have a more general system of classifying the sources. Topolski accepts the conventional division of historical documents into direct and indirect sources. This division is based on the assumption that direct sources should “directly” reflect the past reality, whereas indirect sources should do it through an informant. This informant can take many forms, such as a chronicler or a diary keeper who informs a historian about a certain fragment of the past reality. The use of indirect sources requires the study of their authenticity and reliability or their internal criticism. As for direct sources, there are no such informants because the direct sources themselves are elements of the historical reality. In this case, only the authenticity of the sources is examined.28 Differences between both types of sources are shown in the following table:29


Direct sources

Indirect sources

(1) direct cognition

(2) no intermediary

(3) no need to examine their reliability (authenticity must be examined)

indirect cognition

presence of an intermediary

necessity of examining the reliability of the informant


Another way of classifying sources is according to the division between addressed sources and non-addressed sources. The mode of division here is based on the existence of information that directly links the participants of the communication process (type: addressor–information channel–audience), in this case between a source author and a historian (or another recipient). This division does not refer to the material aspect of sources (information carrier), but only to information included in sources.30 Topolski claims that “addressed sources are directly intended as forms of communication, whereas non-addressed sources are not.”31 The intention of communicating information implies that addressed sources contain an element of persuasion that is addressed to the audience, whereas the source itself includes the interpretation of information that it carries.32 According to Topolski, this means that, “A historian who wishes to extract information from such sources must have his own interpretation, i.e. he or she interprets the interpretation already included in the source. The examination of the reliability of the informant, that is to say, whether or not he tells the truth in a given situation (…) is not enough here.”33 In order to extract information on facts from this type of source, a historian must strip the source of its rhetorical, persuasive and interpretative elements.

The addressed sources can be classified into certain categories, depending on whether or not they are addressed to: (1) an audience that is contemporaneous with the source author (e.g. letters, reports, announcements); (2) posterity (funerary inscriptions, documents on a person’s rights); (3) historians (numerous memoirs are kept for this purpose, occasional publications, etc.).34

By combining these two classifications, we obtain the following typology of sources:


Intended or not intended to convey information

Existence or non-existence of the informant




Indirect addressed

(article published in a daily paper)

Indirect non-addressed

(intimate diary)


Direct addressed

(Egyptian pyramid)

Direct non-addressed

(scaffolding after the pyramid)


In terms of the source classification developed by Topolski, it is possible to detect what the secret collaborator’s denunciations mean: they are indirect addressed sources. The specific nature of this type of source is its narrative structure, which is comprised of informative, rhetoric, and ideological-theoretical layers.35 The ideological-theoretical layer covers the interpretation and/or the explanation of facts presented by the source author. This narrative aspect controls the remaining rhetorical and informative layers as well. This control aims to select and hierarchize information carried by the historical source and adequately to apply rhetorical clues that are intended to convince a potential reader of the document to interpret the reality presented by the author (authors) of the source. This interpreter is the historian, who uses knowledge obtained from other sources and various heuristic procedures to strip the source of the theoretical-ideological and rhetorical layers and obtains information regarding relevant historical facts. Therefore, the so-called source optics comprising, among other things, a specific vision of the world and humankind, is not the specificity of the secret collaborator’s denunciations or documents of the Security Service, but rather a general feature of any and all indirect addressed sources.

The secret collaborator’s denunciation as an indirect addressed source is included in category (1), which means that it is addressed to an audience that is contemporaneous with the source (information) author. Hence, I have determined the nearest type to which the secret collaborator’s denunciation belongs. Now, I am going to identify the specific differences of the collaborator’s denunciation. In order to do this, I have to expand Topolski’s classification. I divide indirect addressed sources into sources addressed unlimitedly and limitedly.

An article in a daily newspaper is available to all people who know a given language. However, papers in Studia Logica, for example, are in principle available to everyone who completes a form and orders this journal in a relevant library, but it is doubtful whether these articles are equally comprehensible by everyone. The mode of distributing the source of information constitutes another means of limiting the audience. The state documents classified as “top secret” do not distinguish themselves by their sophisticated terminology (they need to be understood by democratically elected authorities), but access to them is strictly restricted.

In the extreme case of a source that is only addressed to its creator (e.g. a personal memoir) represents a non-addressed source. In this case, it is better to replace the dichotomous division (addressed and non-addressed sources) with a gradable division, depending on the number of persons in the audience to which the source (according to its author’s intentions) is addressed.

Thus we arrive at an understanding of another aspect of the secret collaborator’s denunciation: this is the indirect addressed source addressed to a limited audience. A secret collaborator of the Security Service who made a denunciation, whether handwritten or not, was convinced that his or her cooperation with the Security Service would remain secret and the authorship of the denunciation would remain anonymous to strangers and more specifically to anyone to whom he or she was close or was tied. In an extreme case, the secret collaborator could even be convinced that the information was exclusively provided to the Security Service officer to whom he or she reported. The distinctly outlined group of recipients affected the source language and posed problems with regards to reading the source information (decoding). Topolski distinguished the informant’s ethnic language code, epochal language code (terminological), psychological code and graphical code. The language in the Security Service’s documents pertains to the terminological code: a specific language that needs to be understood and decoded.36 This, however, is not only peculiar to the police denunciation, but a characteristic of all the indirect addressed sources, whether limited or not, including the explicit or implicit ideological vision of the world of its creators.

The question is whether such considerations mean anything concerning the reliability of the denunciation itself and other materials based on it and made by the Security Service. Is an anonymous opinion on Smith expressed by a person who was convinced that Smith would never know its content more reliable than an official opinion on Smith expressed by a person who was aware of the fact that Smith may learn its content?37 It seems that it is impossible to provide general answers to this question. Understanding that Smith will not learn the content of the denunciation of him may affect the conveyance of both misleading information, gossip, and unverified hearsay and reliable information. On the other hand, the possibility of misleading the Security Service by the secret collaborators was limited. As a rule, in a given social environment the Security Service used more than one Security Serviceman. This enabled them to verify the reliability and utility of the information that the agents provided.

The Role of “Files” in the Political Enslavement Practice

Gerard Labuda says that a historical source is

…any psychophysical or social relic that, as a product of human labor and at the same time an object that participates in the development of social life, acquires through this participation the capacity to reflect that development. Because of these properties (i.e. being a product of labor and having the capacity to reflect phenomena), a source is a means of cognition that enables us scientifically to reconstruct social development in all its manifestations.38

Since, according to this concept, “sources are a result of the action of the entire historical process,”39 they should reflect all its fundamental elements, including economic, social, political, and cultural.40 A given historical source should reflect those aspects of the historical process that are the most actively involved in its creation “with particular distinctness.” According to the directive provided by Labuda, “in order to understand the role of a document, an analysis conducted with respect to the historical sphere that contributed to its creation is of fundamental significance.”41

Information collected by the Security Service was used for a certain type of social practice: the political enslavement and enforcement of social control over the whole society. Therefore, the process of recruiting personal sources of information and the collection and selection of knowledge obtained through these sources did not constitute the aim in and of itself. Rather, these processes were used to achieve a certain social practice: the control of individual social milieus. It is worth noting that the forms and methods of this control changed over time. In the early period of the People’s Republic of Poland, open forms of repression were used, including the liquidation of independent civic social environments, whereas in the late period of the People’s Republic of Poland other means were used, as described by Filip Musiał:

not repression, but manipulation, not arrests, but inspiration and disintegration were the fundamental weapons in the Security Service officers’ fight at the close of the People’s Republic of Poland. Therefore, with regards to the activities of the Security Service, a benchmark of success was not the liquidation of a given form or circle of opposition, but rather the acquisition of control over it, either in whole or in part, or the successful dismantling of it. In simple terms, it would be necessary to consider the change that took place in operations of the Security Service as consisting in a shift away from functioning as the “punishing arm” of the Party in the 1940s and 1950s and becoming a specific demiurge whose basic task was to hold all aces behind the scenes on the stage of the Polish opposition in the 1980s. One of the tools that allowed the Security Service to perform these acts was the logistic and informative advantage that resulted from the operation of the informant network. This perspective arises from an analysis of changes in the operational work: we will be able to examine the Security Service’s real effectiveness only on the basis of practical cases, games and combinations.42

It seems that the instructions of the Security Service’s operational work to which Filip Musiał refers were somehow delayed in recording the change that took place in the manner in which social life was controlled in the mid-1970s.43 The core criterion of the recruitment process of the secret collaborators, who operated in various social circles, was first and foremost the ability to exert effective control over them, and not to have broad knowledge of them.

Example 5: A work schedule for the 4th Section of the 3rd Department of the Regional Internal Affairs Office in Wrocław made a plan regarding personal sources of information recruitment consisting of recruiting two secret collaborators in the literary circle, one secret collaborator in the fine arts circle, two secret collaborators in the theatre circle, two secret collaborators in the music circle and two secret collaborators in the culture promotion circle. The section’s work schedule did not, however, stipulate the recruitment of secret collaborators in the Wrocław filmmakers’ circle because there were already as many as eight secret collaborators operating in that sphere, which justified the decision: “since the group of filmmakers and people dealing with the production and distribution of films is flooded with personal sources of information who sufficiently control this circle, new recruitments are not scheduled for this year.”44

As the operational documents of the Security Service demonstrate, there was nothing in which this organization was not interested. The assessments of works by Ryszard Krynicki, which were done, along with similar operations, as part of the “Renegat,” “Sosna” and “Lingwista” operating inquiries, offer telling examples.45

Example 6: Ryszard Krynicki’s political poetry from the early 1970s aroused drew the attention of the Security Service to the poet himself and hence it had to acquaint itself with his poems. In February 1973 the 3rd Department of the Regional Committee of the Civic Militia in Krakow, where Krynicki studied, decided to have an “operating talk” with the poet. In order to prepare for that talk, the Security Service officer who was in charge of the case asked the 3rd Department of the Regional Committee of the Civic Militia in Katowice (previously the poet had lived in the Katowice voivodeship) to describe the poet. The “Opinion,” dated 30 January, 1973 read as follows: “The local literary circle considers Ryszard Krynicki one of the best followers of the ‘poetic linguistic school, the spiritual father of which was Karpowicz, and this fact was, among other things, depicted in two books of poetry (Pęd pogoni, pęd ucieczki, published in 1968, and Akt Urodzenia, published in 1969. Thanks to these books, he was accepted as a member of the Polish Writers Association in June 1971 [...] However, Krynicki’s opinions can be determined primarily by his poems published in the “Odra” monthly, No 10/71, and the “Poezja” monthly, No 12/71, which can be read as anti-party and unmoral.46 The application for the operating talk held on 1 March, 1973 contains much stronger characteristics of Krynicki’s poetry, which “are mainly depicted in political poems that strike our reality in a anti-party and unmoral way. In March 1972, he wrote the poem ‘Podróź pośmiertna,’ a lampoon ridiculing the present reality, which he wanted to publish in the press.”47 The survey records concerning Krynicki include the following description of his poetry: “He writes poems that hostilely ridicule the present reality and alliance with the Soviet Union. Some of them, the poems, are published abroad, e.g. by the Poets’ and Painters’ Publishing House in London.”48

Further assessments of Krynicki’s works were made by Security Service officers from Poznań, to where he moved. The “Information on Ryszard Krynicki” addressed to the Chief of the 3rd Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, dated 28 February, 1974, specifies that poems by Krynicki are “imbued with hatred towards the system, the social and political relationships in the People’s Republic of Poland, and the party apparatus and the Ministry of Internal Affairs.”49 The “Notice on poet Ryszard Krynicki,” dated 12 March, 1974 states that the poet, “through his works protests, criticizes, expresses his pessimism, and negates all undeniable achievements of our reality.”50 These assessments are repeated and amplified in the “Notice on inspection of the ‘Renegat’ operating inquiry,” dated 30 September, 1974, which states that poems by Krynicki “are imbued with furious hatred towards the system, social and political relationships in the People’s Republic of Poland, the party apparatus, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Soviet Union.”51

It is noteworthy that expressions repeated in the first part of the opinion such as “can” and “can be read” may be interpreted as a sign of hesitation on the part of the Security Service officers regarding how to qualify the Krynicki case: opposition features in his poems are a display of poetical extravagance or an intentionally chosen political attitude. Further assessments of poems by Krynicki do not express these doubts, and the assessors accused the poet of being extremely hostile towards the system: showing “furious” hatred towards the system, the party, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Soviet Union.

Can these opinions be interesting and useful for a historian of Polish literature or a literary critic? No, or at most with qualifications. However, this is not because of the primitivism of the analyses (or at least this is not the key factor), but rather because of the established objective. In general, two types of interpretation are used in the humanities: historical and adaptive.52 Interpretations aim to establish the meaning of a literary work, which is usually regarded as the product of the intentional activity of the author of the work. If the interpretation reveals the purpose of the author of the piece of literature, then it pertains to the historical interpretation. In this case, we ask what the author had in mind (what he wished to achieve) when writing this poem and not another. In turn, when the interpreter attributes a specific meaning to the work based on the socio-cultural background of the author, i.e. his or her voice is interpreted as the expression of certain group interests and thus an expression of an objective adapted by a certain group, then this interpretation is called adaptive. Normally, this is the dividing line between the task of a historian of literature who does historical interpretation and that of a literary critic who performs adaptive interpretation.

If this division is applied, then the analysis on Krynicki’s poetry conducted by the Security Service would be rather similar to the adaptive interpretation.53 Their aim was not to seek aesthetical or axiological values of his poems, but to reply to the question as to whether and to what extent they constitute a threat to the system of the People’s Republic of Poland. The prepared plan for an operating talk included a question about the possible directions of Krynicki’s poems and their aims. During his interrogation, the poet replied to this question and said that he wrote love poetry, but his reply was not approved by a Security Service interlocutor because, as the officer stated, further analyses of his poetry did not follow that path. The Security Service’s analysis is useful in a reconstruction of the following: whether and to what extent Krynicki’s poetry represented a threat to the service’s control over social life in the People’s Republic of Poland. The analyses of poetry were only intended to meet this objective.


Conclusions: From the Source Optics to the Historian’s Optics: Methodological Remarks

As a result of the massive introduction of sources once produced by the apparatus of repression into scientific circulation following the establishment of the IPN, historians who had access to those sources were tempted to commit “seven deadly file sins” as described by Włodzimierz Suleja, director of the IPN, Wrocław Branch.54 The discovery and initial scientific circulation of sources which were hitherto unknown and which in principle allowed historians to challenge previous historiographical findings led to pride. Pride was accompanied by greed, expressed by the willingness to introduce “into scientific circulation newer and newer documents, miscellaneous documents, or articles without proper consideration of critical analysis or skills-based processing.”55 There was a certain gluttony in the handling of topics for which a historian is unprepared in terms of his or her skills. This sin was complemented by sloth, i.e. reluctance on the part of the historian to verify findings by consulting sources and the historiography. The formal findings were accompanied by wrath, expressed by giving moral evaluations that undermined the reliability of the findings. When these findings were not accepted by historians, this was met with envy: though wearing a prosecutor’s gown, the historian, subjected to scientific criticism, was forced to prove and still verify his or her findings. This is why, according to Włodzimierz Suleja, history became a field of science subjected to the sin of lust, “scientists take actions to meet political orders so as to use random and partial findings in the utilitarian and short-term power play.”56

It may be true that it is difficult to find a historian who had literally committed the aforementioned “deadly file sins,” but this does not mean that Włodzimierz Suleja’s description is completely groundless. If it is considered as an ideal type of the research attitude, this description more or less accurately summarizes the practice of the empirical historians. It is worth wondering what the origin of this practice is and whether it is an escalating phenomenon.

It seems that one of the reasons behind the commission of these deadly sins is the failure to adhere to the standard rules adopted in the interpretation of historical sources (internal and external criticism, establishment of a list of questions, the use of contextual knowledge, including historiographical findings, etc.). The failure to adhere to these rules in the use of these sources results in the uncritical acceptance of a mode of perceiving the social world as presented exactly by these sources: details concerning facts, the global interpretation of events and processes, the failure to contrast information included in these sources with information drawn from other types of sources and contextual knowledge.

These failures are neither necessarily inscribed in the sources gathered in the IPN nor are they the outcome of a lack of methodological rigor. The IPN’s archival records are not defective, whatever their opponents may claim. They are neither worse nor better than sources that have been collected in other archival records. Nor do they constitute a fundamentally new type of source that requires the profound rethinking of conventional classifications of sources. Their only novelty is that they must be understood in terms of their content because they shed light on the backstage of political power: the mechanisms with which the control and surveillance of society was maintained on a massive scale.

The transgressions specified by Włodzimierz Suleja, which have been committed by historians from and outside of the IPN, were intensified through the circulation of new content-based types of sources on a massive scale. First, heuristic rules of interpretation did not develop because as of yet they have been unable to do so. Second, this novelty effect led to the emergence of the erroneous belief according to which the introduction of the sources made by the apparatus of repression of the People’s Republic of Poland into circulation within the historiography is in and of itself enough to foment a historiographical revolution. In this respect, Sławomir Cenckiewicz’s statement from 2005 is characteristic, “in light of more and more unrestricted access to a new type of source, namely documents of the Security Service, most of the previous studies [about Solidarity – K.B.] (made before 2000) should be considered incomplete, insufficient, outdated or simply unreliable.”57

The revolution in historiography, however, is not only a result of the discovery of new types of sources, but needs also to be associated with new interpretations of these sources and a separate explanation of previously known historical facts. In addition, only a relevant accumulation of historiographical works stimulates methodological reflection on the mode of using the sources, construction of the historiographical narration and explanatory rules. The critical discussion between historians and researchers representing other fields of the sciences and having various theoretical opinions also plays an important role.58

One can find hope for the future in the growing number of works that were written over the course of the past ten years concerning criticism of the sources held by the Institute of National Remembrance,59 and to a lesser extent the methodological and theoretical reflections that have been raised.60 As Włodzimierz Suleja observes:

The security services’ materials are specific sources that yield exceptionally little when processed on a critical and analytical basis. To read this symbolic file, it is not enough only to have standard equipment without essential knowledge of the government structure, its people, directions and techniques of operational actions. It is true that as a rule the Security Service did not forge its documents. This however does not mean that the information included in these documents is the truest truth. But if the researcher, irrespective of his or her field of expertise or experience, does not have any knowledge of the present objectives of the ministry (these objectives have changed) or the system of values professed in this environment (real, not declared, even during meeting of the POP), if he or she does not break this hermetic language code, this specific kind of the Security Service newspeak, then the researcher will fail.61


Archival Sources

AIPN = Biuro Udostępniania i Archiwizacji Dokumentów Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej [Archives of the Institute of National Remembrance], Poznan.

AIPN Po 06/215/14/1, 8. Informacja dot.[ycząca] aktualnej sytuacji operacyjno-politycznej [Information on the Present Operational-Political Situation].

AIPN Po 08/923,115. Informacja dotycząca Ryszarda Krynickiego [Information on Ryszard Krynicki].

AIPN Po 060/44/55, vol. 85, 110. Informacja nr 61/58, 17 IX 1958 [Information no. 61/58, 17 IX 1958].

AIPN Po 08/923, 200. Kwestionariusz ewidencyjny [The Survey Record].

AIPN Po 08/923, 194. Notatka dotycząca literata Krynickiego Ryszarda [Notice on Poet Ryszard Krynicki].

AIPN Po 08/923, 271. Notatka z kontroli operacyjnego rozpracowania kryptonim „Renegat”, 30 IX 1974 [Notice on the Inspection of the Renegat Operating Inquiry, 30 IX 1974].

AIPN Po 08/923, 227. Wniosek o przeprowadzenie rozmowy operacyjnej z obywatelem Krynickim Ryszardem, 24 II 1973 [The Application for the Operation Talk with Citizen, Ryszard Krynicki, February 24, 1973].

AIPN Po 08/923, 212. Opinia [Opinion].

Biuro Udostępniania i Archiwizacji Dokumentów Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej [Archives of the Institute of National Remembrance], Wroclaw.

AIPN Wr, 054/960, vol. 8, 58–79, mps. Plan pracy Sekcji IV Wydziału III WUSW we Wrocławiu [The Action Plan of the 4th Section of 3rd Department of the Provincial Internal Affairs Office in Wrocław in 1989].

Biuro Udostępniania i Archiwizacji Dokumentów Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej [Archives of the Institute of National Remembrance], Central, Warsaw.

AIPN, BU 1585/2301, 48. Ważniejsze wydarzenia z udziałem funkcjonariuszy MO. Załącznik do informacji dziennej, 1989-01-05 [More Important Events with Participation of the Civic Militia Officers: An Appendix to Daily Information 1989-01-05].

AIPN, BU 185n/16, 97. Informacja sytuacyjna [The Situational Information].

AIPN, BU 1585/2301, 47. Oceny powołania Komitetu Obywatelskiego przy Lechu Wałęsie. Załącznik do informacji dziennej. Załącznik do informacji dziennej 1989-01-05 [Assessments of Establishing the Citizens’ Committee with Lech Wałęsa. An Appendix to Daily Information 1989-01-05].


“Ankieta historyczna” [Historical Questionnaire]. Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość 1, no. 3 (2003): 23–50.

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Bednarek, Jerzy, and Paweł Perzyna, ed. W kręgu teczek. Z badań nad zasobem i funkcjami archiwum Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej [In the Circle of the Files: On Research on Resources and Functions of Archives of the Institute of National Remembrance]. Łódź–Toruń: Adam Marszałek, 2007.

Błaszczyk, Tomasz, Krzysztof Brzechczyn, Daniel Ciunajcis, and Michał Kierzkowski, eds. Uwikłania historiografii. Między ideologizacją dziejów a obiektywizmem badawczym [Entanglements of Historiography: Between Ideologization of the Past and Objectivism in Research]. Poznań: IPN, 2011.

Brzechczyn, Krzysztof. “Twórczość Ryszarda Krynickiego w dokumentach SB” [The Work of Ryszard Krynicki in Documents of SB]. Niezależna Gazeta Polska, October 5, 2007, 7–8.

Brzechczyn, Krzysztof. “Protesty przeciwko zdejmowaniu krzyży w szkołach województwa zielonogórskiego w sierpniu-wrześniu 1958 roku” [Protests against Removal of Crosses from Schools of Zielona Góra Voivodeship in August and September, 1958]. In Kultura i społeczeństwo na Środkowym Nadodrzu w XIX i XX wieku [Culture and Society in Środkowe Nadodrze in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries], edited by Przemysław Bartkowiak and Dawid Kotlarek, 234–43. Zielona Góra: Pro Libris, 2008.

Brzechczyn, Krzysztof, ed. Obrazy PRL. O konceptualizacji realnego socjalizmu w Polsce [Pictures of the People’s Republic of Poland: On the Conceptualization of Real Socialism in Poland]. Poznań: IPN, 2008.

Brzechczyn, Krzysztof, ed. Oblicza komunistycznego zniewolenia. Między nauką a literaturą [The Faces of Communist Enslavement: Between Science and Literature]. Poznań: IPN, 2009.

Bułhak, Władysław, Andrzej Chojnowski, Grzegorz Majchrzak, Zbigniew Nawrocki, and Tadeusz Ruzikowski. “Co kryją teczki? O tajnych współpracownikach bezpieki” [What Do the Folders Hide? A Discussion on the Secret Agents of the Security z Andrzejem Chojnowskim]. Biuletyn Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej 3 (2005): 19–20.

Cenckiewicz, Sławomir. “Znaczenie archiwaliów służb specjalnych PRL w studiach nad dziejami NSZZ ‘Solidarność” [The Significance of the Archives of Special Services on the People’s Republic of Poland in the Studies on the NSZZ Solidarność]. In „Solidarność” w imieniu narodu i obywateli [Solidariność on Behalf of the Nation and Citizens], edited by Marek Latoszek, 217–39. Krakow: Arcana, 2005.

Kamiński, Łukasz. “Lingua securitas” [The Language of the Security Service] In Wokół teczek bezpieki. Zagadnienia metodologiczno-źródłoznawcze, edited by Filip Musiał, 393–98. Krakow: IPN, 2006.

Kamiński, Łukasz. “Władza wobec opozycji 1976–1989” [The Attitude of the Authorities towards Opposition, 1976–1989]. Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość 1, no. 4 (2003): 9–32.

Kmita, Jerzy. Wykłady z logiki i metodologii nauk [The Lectures on Logics and the Methodology of the Sciences]. Warsaw: PWN, 1973.

Labuda, Gerard. “Próba nowej systematyki i nowej interpretacji źródeł historycznych” [An Attempt at a New Systematics and New Interpretation of Historical Sources]. Studia Źródłoznawcze 1 (1957): 3–207.

Leszczyński, Adam. Anatomia protestu. Strajki robotnicze w Olsztynie, Sosnowcu i Żyrardowie, sierpień-listopad 1981 [Anatomy of Protest: Workers Strikes in Olsztyn, Sosnowiec and Żyrardów, August – November 1981]. Warsaw: Trio, 2006.

Malinowska, Ewa. “Niekobieca Solidarność” [Unwomanly Solidarność]. In „Solidarność” w imieniu narodu i obywatel, edited by Marek Latoszek, 152–96. Krakow: Arcana, 2005.

Modzelewski, Karol. “Dyktatura ciemniaków” [Dictatorship of Fools]. Gazeta Wyborcza, September 4, 1992, 12.

Musiał, Filip, ed. Osobowe źródła informacji – zagadnienia metodologiczno-źródłoznawcze [Personal Sources of Information: Methodological and Source Studies Issues]. Krakow: Societas Vistulana, 2008.

Musiał, Filip. Podręcznik bezpieki. Teoria pracy operacyjnej Służby Bezpieczeństwa w świetle wydawnictw resortowych Ministerstwa Spraw Wewnętrznych PRL [Textbook of the Security Service: Theory of the Operational Work in the Light of Publications of the Ministry of Internal Affairs]. Krakow: IPN, 2007.

Musiał, Filip, ed. Wokół teczek bezpieki – zagadnienia metodologiczno-źródłoznawcze [Around the Files of Security Service: Methodological and Source Studies Issues]. Krakow: IPN, 2006.

Musiał, Filip. “Zamiast wprowadzenia: archiwalia komunistycznego aparatu represji” [In Lieu of an Introduction: Archives of the Communist Apparatus of Repression]. In Wokół teczek bezpieki-zagadnienia metodologiczno-źródłoznawcze, edited by Filip Musiał, 38–56. Krakow: IPN, 2006.

Nowak, Leszek. “O interpretacji adaptacyjnej” [On Adaptive Interpretation]. In Sztuka i jej poznawanie, [Art and Its Recognition], edited by Janusz Grad and Teresa Kostyro, 230–45. Poznań: Bogucki 2008.

Nowak, Leszek. “Remarks on the Christian Model of Man and the Nature of Interpretation.” Social Theory and Practice 15 (1989): 107–17.

Nowinowski, Sławomir M., Jan Pomorski, Rafał Stobiecki, eds. Pamięć i polityka historyczna. Doświadczenia Polski i jej sąsiadów [Memory and Historical Policy: Experiences of Poland and Its Neighbours]. Łódź: IPN, 2008.

“Opozycja w działaniach władz PRL. Dyskusja z udziałem Antoniego Dudka, Jerzego Eislera, Andrzeja Friszke, Henryka Głębockiego, Łukasza Kamińskiego i Grzegorza Waligóry” [Opposition in the Activity of the Authorities of the People’s Republic of Poland: Discussion with Antoni Dudek, Jerzy Eisler, Andrzej Friszke, Henryk Głębocki, Łukasz Kamiński, and Grzegorz Waligóra]. Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość 1, no. 4 (2003): 33–67.

Paczkowski, Andrzej. “Archiwa aparatu bezpieczeństwa PRL jako źródło: co już zrobiono, co można zbadać” [Archives of the Security Apparatus of the People’s Republic of Poland as a Historical Source: What Has Been Already Done, What Can be Investigated]. Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość 1, no. 3 (2003): 9–21.

Paczkowski, Andrzej. “Bardzo krótki słownik wywiadu” [A Very Short Dictionary of the Intelligence Service]. In Wokół teczek bezpieki – zagadnienia metodologiczno-źródłoznawcze, edited by Filip Musiał, 399–404. Krakow: IPN, 2006.

Piotrowski, Paweł. “Metodologia badania dokumentów dotyczących ‘Solidarności’ wytworzonych przez Służbę Bezpieczeństwa” [The Methodology of Research on Documents Concerning Solidarność Produced by the Security Service]. In Wielkopolska “Solidarność” w materiałach aparatu represji (1980–1989) [Solidarność in Wielkopolska in the Documents of the Apparatus of Repression], edited by Waldemat Handke,11–16. Poznań: IPN, 2006.

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Suleja, Włodzimierz. “Miejsce Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej w badaniach nad dziejami PRL” [The Place of the Institute of National Remembrance in Research on the History of the People’s Republics of Poland]. Dzieje Najnowsze 42, no. 3 (2010): 81–112.

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Zwiernik, Przemysław. “Rozkaz: rozbić podziemie. Działania Służby Bezpieczeństwa wobec poznańskiej opozycji” [Order: Defeat the Underground. The Activity of the Security Service with Regards to the Poznań Oppostion]. Głos Wielkopolski, 9 January, 2007.

1 “Artyści i SB. Aparat bezpieczeństwa wobec środowisk twórczych. Dyskusja panelowa – 19 kwietnia 2007,” in Artyści a Służba Bezpieczeństwa. Aparat bezpieczeństwa wobec środowisk twórczych, ed. Robert Klementowski and Sebastian Ligarski (Wrocław: IPN, 2008), 220.

2 Karol Modzelewski, “Dyktatura ciemniaków,” Gazeta Wyborcza, September 4, 1992: 12.

3 Modzelewski, “Dyktatura ciemniaków,” 12.

4 “Artyści i SB,” 224.

5 Andrzej Paczkowski, “Archiwa aparatu bezpieczeństwa PRL jako źródło: co już zrobiono, co można zbadać,” Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość 1, no. 3 (2003): 11; Paczkowski’s article details topics the reliable study of which requires documents of the apparatus of repression which were exceptionally valuable; they cover almost all fields of private and public life in the People’s Republic of Poland, Paczkowski, “Archiwa,” 20–21.

6 Andrzej Grajewski, “Ankieta historyczna,” Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość 1, no. 3 (2003): 36.

7 Sławomir Cenckiewicz, “Znaczenie archiwaliów służb specjalnych PRL w studiach nad dziejami NSZZ ‘Solidarność,’” in “Solidarność” w imieniu narodu i obywateli, ed. Marek Latoszek (Krakow: Arcana, 2005), 218, 220.

8 Andrzej Chojnowski’s opinion in the discussion: “Co kryją teczki? O tajnych współpracownikach bezpieki z Andrzejem Chojnowskim, Grzegorzem Majchrzakiem, Zbigniewem Nawrockim i Tadeuszem Ruzikowskim rozmawia Władysław Bułhak,” Biuletyn IPN 3 (2005): 19–20.

9 Filip Musiał, “Zamiast wprowadzenia: archiwalia komunistycznego aparatu represji,” in Wokół teczek bezpieki-zagadnienia metodologiczno-źródłoznawcze, ed. Filip Musiał (Krakow: IPN, 2006), 56.

10 Paweł Piotrowski, “Metodologia badania dokumentów dotyczących “Solidarności” wytworzonych przez Służbę Bezpieczeństwa,” in Wielkopolska ’Solidarność’ w materiałach aparatu represji (1980–1989), ed. Waldemat Handke (Poznań: IPN, 2006), 13.

11 Adam Leszczyński, Anatomia protestu. Strajki robotnicze w Olsztynie, Sosnowcu i Żyrardowie, sierpień-listopad 1981 (Warsaw: Trio, 2006), 39.

12 Informacja sytuacyjna, IPN, BU 185n/16, 97 quoted in Leszczyński, Anatomia protestu, 40.

13 Leszczyński, Anatomia protestu, 40.

14 Ibid., 40–41.

15 Ibid., 51–54.

16 Oceny powołania Komitetu Obywatelskiego przy Lechu Wałęsie. Załącznik do informacji dziennej, 1989-01-05, IPN, BU 1585/2301, 47.

17 Ważniejsze wydarzenia z udziałem funkcjonariuszy MO. Załącznik do informacji dziennej, 1989-01-05, IPN, BU 1585/2301, 48.

18 Informacja dot.[ycząca] aktualnej sytuacji operacyjno-politycznej. IPN Po 06/215/14/1, 8.

19 Przemysław Zwiernik, “Rozpracowanie Motorniczego,” Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość 1, no. 4 (2003): 347–49.

20 This remark was made by Przemysław Zwiernik, who describes how, as part of “the operating action plan of the Security Service of the Provincial Civic Militia Station in Poznań, aimed at working out and liquidating the existing underground structures of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union ‘Solidarność in Poznań,’ made in August 1982,” an “annex” was added to the plan in which “special operating care” (an expression used by the Security Service) was applied to father Tomasz Alexiewicz and father Honoriusz Stanisław Kowalczyk. The “annex” to the operating action plan has not yet been found. It is worth mentioning that father Honoriusz died in a car accident the circumstances of which remained shrouded in mystery in April 1983; see: Przemysław Zwiernik, “Rozkaz: rozbić podziemie. Działania Służby Bezpieczeństwa wobec poznańskiej opozycji,” Głos Wielkopolski, January 9, 2007.

21 Jerzy Topolski, Metodologia historii (Warsaw: PWN, 1984), 324.

22 Jerzy Topolski, Teoria wiedzy historycznej (Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 1983), 257.

23 Jerzy Kmita, Wykłady z logiki i metodologii nauk (Warsaw: PWN, 1973), 32–33, 210–11.

24 Topolski, Teoria, 263.

25 For further details, see: Krzysztof Brzechczyn, “Protesty przeciwko zdejmowaniu krzyży w szkołach województwa zielonogórskiego w sierpniu-wrześniu 1958 roku,” in Kultura i społeczeństwo na Środkowym Nadodrzu w XIX i XX wieku, ed. Przemysław Bartkowiak and Dawid Kotlarek (Zielona Góra: Pro Libris, 2008), 234–43.

26 Informacja nr 61/58, 17 IX 1958, IPN Po 060/44/55, vol. 85, 110.

27 It is worth citing opinions of female members of the Solidarity underground movement involved in publishing the Tygodnik Mazowsze, “(...) the Security Service didn’t take us for granted. It didn’t cross their mind that a woman, when it’s dark, won’t be afraid of going across the park or along the cemetery. The stereotype that a woman is less intelligent and won’t be part of the underground movement or have operational concepts, find a radio station, or lead this movement (...) in this case it acted for our benefit.” “We had the feeling that we were living in a ‘macho’ state and hence men were caught much more easily, whereas women were beyond all suspicion.”; Ewa Malinowska, “Niekobieca Solidarność,” in “Solidarność,” 141.

28 Topolski, Metodologia, 329.; Idem, Teoria, 260.

29 Idem, Metodologia, 329.

30 Idem, Teoria, 260.

31 Ibid., 260.

32 Idem, Jak się pisze i rozumie historię. Tajemnice narracji historycznej (Warsaw: Rytm, 1996), 340.

33 Ibid., 341.

34 Idem, Teoria, 260.

35 Idem, Jak się pisze, 346.

36 Łukasz Kamiński, “Lingua securitas,” in Wokół teczek bezpieki. Zagadnienia metodologiczno-źródłoznawcze, ed. Filip Musiał (Krakow: IPN, 2006), 393–98; Andrzej Paczkowski, “Bardzo krótki słownik wywiadu,” in Wokół teczek bezpieki, 399–404; Filip Musiał, Podręcznik bezpieki. Teoria pracy operacyjnej Służby Bezpieczeństwa w świetle wydawnictw resortowych Ministerstwa Spraw Wewnętrznych PRL (Krakow: IPN, 2007), 325–52.

37 Although a secret collaborator might often have thought that the information he or she passed on was solely for the consumption of the officer to whom he or she reported, about 20 to 30 people in the Ministry had knowledge of the secret collaborator’s registration and access to his or her denunciations; Z. Nawrocki, statements in the discussion: “Co kryją teczki?” Biuletyn IPN 3 (2005): 15–16.

38 Gerard Labuda, “Próba nowej systematyki i nowej interpretacji źródeł historycznych,” Studia Źródłoznawcze 1 (1957): 22; in another version of his definition, Labuda referred to the historical source as “a product of (…) natural and social processes.” (Ibid., 22).

39 Ibid., 24.

40 Ibid., 23, 27.

41 Ibid., 33.

42 Ibid., 323.

43 Łukasz Kamiński, “Władza wobec opozycji 1976–1989,” Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość 1, no. 4 (2003): 9–32, and “Opozycja w działaniach władz PRL. Dyskusja z udziałem Antoniego Dudka, Jerzego Eislera, Andrzeja Friszke, Henryka Głębockiego, Łukasza Kamińskiego i Grzegorza Waligóry,” Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość 1, no. 4 (2003): 33–67.

44 Plan pracy Sekcji IV Wydziału III WUSW we Wrocławiu, AIPN Wr, 054/960, vol. 8. 78, mps.

45 For further details, see Krzysztof Brzechczyn, “Twórczość Ryszarda Krynickiego w dokumentach SB,” Niezależna Gazeta Polska (October 5, 2007): 7–8.

46 Opinia, AIPN Po 08/923, 212.

47 Wniosek o przeprowadzenie rozmowy operacyjnej z obywatelem Krynickim Ryszardem, 24 II 1973, AIPN Po 08/923, 227.

48 Kwestionariusz ewidencyjny, AIPN Po 08/923, 200.

49 Informacja dotycząca Ryszarda Krynickiego, AIPN Po 08/923, 115.

50 Notatka dotycząca literata Krynickiego Ryszarda, AIPN Po 08/923, 194.

51 Notatka z kontroli operacyjnego rozpracowania kryptonim “Renegat”, 30 IX 1974, AIPN Po 08/923, 271.

52 Leszek Nowak, “Remarks on the Christian Model of Man and the Nature of Interpretation,” Social Theory and Practice 15 (1989): 107–17. Leszek Nowak, “O interpretacji adaptacyjnej,” in Sztuka i jej poznawanie, ed. Janusz Grad and Teresa Kostyrko (Poznań: Bogucki 2008), 230–42.

53 Both types of interpretation are considered correct provided that they comply with some conditions: they contain no self-contradictions, they cover the entire text, etc. These criteria were not met by the interpretation of poetry included in the Security Service activity and focused on one issue, threats to the stabilization of political power in the People’s Republic of Poland.

54 Włodzimierz Suleja, “Złudny czar teczek, czyli ‘teczkowe grzechy główne,’” in Od Piłsudskiego do Wałęsy. Studia z dziejów Polski w XX wieku, ed. Krzysztof Persak, Antoni Dudek, Andrzej Friszke, Łukasz Kamiński, Paweł Machcewicz, Piotr Osęka, Paweł Sowiński, Dariusz Stola, Marcin Zaremba (Warsaw: IPN/ISP PAN, 2008), 512–16. The global assessment of the historiographical output of the IPN, see: Włodzimierz Suleja, “Miejsce Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej w badaniach nad dziejami PRL,” Dzieje Najnowsze 3 (2010): 81–112.

55 Suleja, “Złudny czar,” 513. Cf. Jerzy Eisler’s opinion in: “Ankieta historyczna,” Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość 1, no. 3 (2003): 29.

56 Suleja, “Złudny,” 514.

57 Cenckiewicz, “Znaczenie archiwaliów,” 218. it is also noteworthy that in the aforesaid article this historian contended that the only obstacles that impeded the use of sources made by the apparatus of repression of the People’s Republic of Poland were the incompleteness and disorder of archival records maintained by the IPN.

58 For example, a journalist of a large daily paper critically evaluated the scientific output of a regional IPN branch in a large city and considered it too “conservative” because employees of the Public Education Regional Office of the Institute of National Remembrance (OBEP IPN) revealed too few security secret collaborators in comparison with other branches. About disputes on the history of the People’s Republic of Poland, see: Rafał Stobiecki, Historiografia PRL. Ani dobra, ani mądra, ani piękna… ale skomplikowana (Warsaw: Trio, 2007), 299–345.

59 The following works merit mention in this context: Filip Musiał, ed., Wokół teczek bezpieki – zagadnienia metodologiczno-źródłoznawcze (Krakow: IPN, 2006); Filip Musiał, Podręcznik bezpieki. Teoria pracy operacyjnej Służby Bezpieczeństwa w świetle wydawnictw resortowych Ministerstwa Spraw Wewnętrznych PRL (Krakow: IPN, 2007); J. Bednarek, P. Perzyna, ed., W kręgu teczek. Z badań nad zasobem i funkcjami archiwum Instytutu Pamięci Narodowej (Łódź–Toruń: Adam Marszałek, 2007); Filip Musiał, ed. Osobowe źródła informacji - zagadnienia metodologiczno-źródłoznawcze (Krakow: Societas Vistulana, 2008). Critically, on the methodological output of IPN, see: Piotr Witek, “Historyk wobec metodologii,” Pamięć i Sprawiedliwość 2 (2012): 79–102.

60 The following works merit mention in this context: Krzysztof Brzechczyn, ed., Oblicza komunistycznego zniewolenia. Między nauką a literaturą (Poznań: IPN, 2009); Krzysztof Brzechczyn, ed., Obrazy PRL. O konceptualizacji realnego socjalizmu w Polsce (Poznań: IPN, 2008); Sławomir M. Nowinowski, Jan Pomorski, Rafał Stobiecki, eds., Pamięć i polityka historyczna. Doświadczenia Polski i jej sąsiadów (Łódź: IPN, 2008), Tomasz Błaszczyk, Krzysztof Brzechczyn, Daniel Ciunajcis, Michał Kierzkowski, eds., Uwikłania historiografii. Między ideologizacją dziejów a obiektywizmem badawczym (Poznań: IPN, 2011).

61 Suleja, “Złudny,” 513.

pdfVolume 3 Issue 2 CONTENTS

Maja Gori

Fabricating Identity from Ancient Shards: Memory Construction and Cultural Appropriation in the New Macedonian Question1

“Every age has the renaissance of antiquity it deserves”
Aby Warburg

In the Republic of Macedonia, the use of archaeology to support the construction of national identity is a relatively new phenomenon, but it has been steadily growing since the declaration of independence in 1991. In sharp contrast to the nation­building process of the Greeks, Serbians, and Bulgarians, whose main ideological components were drawn from a “glorious past,” Macedonian nationalism in the mid-twentieth century looked to an equally “glorious future.” This paper analyzes the construction of popular archaeology in the Republic of Macedonia, and particularly the creative mechanisms driving it, its relation with the national and international academic world, its spread to a public of non-specialists through new media, its reception by society and its political utilization in constructing the national identity.

Keywords: Macedonia, national identity, archeology, modernity


On May 18, 2009, two-hundred2 classical scholars sent a letter to the President Barack Obama of the United States asking his intervention in what is today known as the “new Macedonian question”:

Dear President Obama,

We, the undersigned scholars of Graeco-Roman antiquity, respectfully request that you intervene to clean up some of the historical debris left in southeast Europe by the previous U.S. administration.

The letter proceeds to substantiate its signatories’ cause with items of evidence obtained from ancient sources. The closing sentence calls for the direct intervention of Barack Obama in the matter:

We call upon you, Mr. President, to help—in whatever ways you deem appropriate—the government in Skopje to understand that it cannot build a national identity at the expense of historic truth. Our common international society cannot survive when history is ignored, much less when history is fabricated.3

This paper analyzes the creative mechanisms that stand behind the construction of the archaeological discourse in the new Macedonian question through a comparative analysis of Greece and the Republic of Macedonia.4 In particular, it explores the scientific community’s role in national identity, aiming to demonstrate that the use and appropriation of archaeological heritage is a complex and articulated process, which is conditioned by more than political agents alone, at both the national and international levels. There is a complicated dialectic between archaeology intended as science, its popularization, the influence exerted by different interest groups, and the different cultural policies of the states involved.

Old and New Macedonian Questions

What is Macedonia? Can Macedonia be considered as a nation? The Macedonian question arose when the European powers signed the treaties of San Stefano (March 1878) and Berlin (July 1878) to resolve the nineteenth-century power vacuum in the Balkans following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. These established new political and territorial borders.5 Many ethnic groups embraced the Western idea of the nation-state and its concomitant secular identity to replace the Ottoman millet system, which granted collective rights to members of confessional groups.6 It is worth remembering that the term “Macedonia” was almost unknown within the Ottoman Empire. Western travelers, cartographers, and politicians, however, regularly used it to refer to the region after the Renaissance, and it was re-adopted for local use by the Greeks in the early nineteenth century.7

Following the First and the Second Balkan Wars (1912–13), most of the broader Macedonian territory was divided between Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia. In 1918, after the First World War, the territory of the modern Macedonian state became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In 1944, with the victory of the Partisans over the Bulgarians and the Germans in sight, mass support for the new Partisan movement triggered off a nation-building process. The mobilization efforts and mass responses led to the constitution of the Macedonian republic within the Social Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The Communist Party provided the basic preconditions for the “Macedonization” of part of Vardarska Banovina encompassing the whole of today’s Republic of Macedonia, southern parts of Southern and Eastern Serbia and south-eastern parts of Kosovo. It did so by mobilizing large segments of society through political, ideological and national claims that relied mainly on the language as the most important means of identity construction.8

Heritage and archaeology did not become an important element within the Macedonian nationalist discourse until the 1970s. Archaeology first came to prominence after the drafting of the 1974 Constitution, which articulated the importance of a specifically ethnic Macedonian identity. In the decades that followed, political and historiographical controversies over Macedonia colored the relationship of SFR Yugoslavia with its neighbors.9 In particular, different constructions of the ethnogenesis and formation of the South Slavs in the Macedonian region from prehistoric times until the present were made by political propagandists and professional historians in Athens, Belgrade, Sofia, Thessaloniki, and other places. These arguments diverged so fundamentally as to be mutually incompatible.10

At the same time as a Macedonian nationalist archaeology was emerging, Greek national archaeology also began to take more interest in the subject of Macedonia.11 The sensational finds at the excavation of the Great Tumulus at Vergina in 1977 attracted considerable attention and raised the profile of the Macedonian dynasties of Philip II and Alexander within the Greek nationalist discourse.12

The significance of archaeology in the nationalist discourse of Macedonia became even greater after the collapse of Yugoslavia and the establishment of an independent Macedonian state in 1991. This gave rise to a new Macedonian question. Once again, Bulgaria and Greece challenged the legitimacy of Macedonian nationhood, although Bulgaria, unlike Greece, recognized the Republic of Macedonia.13 In Greek protests, Alexander the Great was deployed as a kind of “super-Greek”14 hero against what was regarded as the theft of Greece’s heritage by non-Greek people. The Macedonian king became the symbol of the Greek historical argument summed up in the slogan “Macedonia is Greek, was Greek, and always will be Greek.”

Some scholars see the new Macedonian question as a resurgence of the old one.15 The role of archaeology and heritage in this new contemporary phase, however, is far greater than it was previously. Indeed, archaeology is absolutely central to the political debates surrounding contemporary Macedonian identity, both within and outside the borders of the independent Republic of Macedonia.

At international political level, a particularly important focus point is the continuing dispute over the name of the new state. The name “Macedonia” is contested between the Republic of Macedonia and the Greek region of Macedonia. Most other countries continue to use the official name FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) to designate the independent post-1991 state, although the name Republic of Macedonia is being used always more frequently in journalism, sport, etc. The debate has particularly come to the fore since the mid-2000s as a result of accession talks between the Republic of Macedonia, the EU, and NATO. A vocal campaign was launched on the Greek side, making conscious use of archaeology and heritage, with local and international academics joining politicians to support Greece’s claims. The Republic of Macedonia has similarly mobilized archaeology and heritage to pursue a policy of “antiquization”.

Archaeology is also significant in the construction of narratives of national unity and cohesion in the Republic of Macedonia. Despite remaining at peace through the Yugoslav wars, the country was seriously destabilized by the conflict in Kosovo, and there was a subsequent armed clash between Albanians and the Macedonian police in the Albanian-populated areas of the country. The Albanian minority in the Republic of Macedonia represents a substantial 35 percent of the population.16 Albanian demands in Macedonia range from greater use of the Albanian language in higher education to the secession of regions with high Albanian population. Noteworthy is the increasing importance of Muslim religious affiliation as an identity-marker in the Albanian community, in opposition to the mainstream Macedonian identity, which, although currently constructed primarily on the basis of the archaeological discourse focusing on antiquity and Alexander the Great, also draws on the Orthodox religion.

Archaeology, National Identity, and Modernity

There has been substantial research into the relationship between archaeology and nationalism. Early research into the topic explored the interaction between archaeology and the state. The groundbreaking 1995 volume edited by Kohl and Fawcett demonstrated beyond doubt that archaeology is a politicized discipline.17 The book focuses on the influence of nationalism on professional standards of behavior and research traditions within the discipline.18 One of its arguments is that the misuse of archaeological evidence can be avoided by following scholarly standards19 and that it is absurd to assert that there are no empirical limits to the manner in which archaeologists can responsibly interpret their data.20

An opposite point of view on the relation of nationalism to archaeology is expressed by M. Diaz-Andreu and T. Champion.21 They argue that there is no such thing as non-political, value-free archaeology. Archaeologists have underestimated the relationship between nationalism and archaeology. Nationalism stimulated the very creation of archaeology as a science and has informed the organization and infrastructure of archaeological knowledge. The relation is based on the concept of the nation conceived as the natural unit of a human group which by its very nature has the right to constitute a political entity. Diaz-Andreu and Champion argue that the simple existence of nations implies the existence of a past which should be known and propagated, converting de facto the production of nation’s history into a patriotic duty.22

Y. Hamilakis, following Thomas’ reflection on archaeology and modernity,23 refines Champion and Diaz’s positions, arguing that the study of the link between archaeology and nationalism is not a study of the abuse of the first by the second but of the development of a device of modernity; and that archaeology as an autonomous discipline serves the needs of the most powerful ideology of that modernity, i.e. the nation-state.24 Hamilakis criticizes Kohl and Fawcett’s objectivist position, which sees nationalist readings of the past as distortions from an objective truth and uses concepts like “metahistory” and “usable past” to refer to those segments of history and archaeology that are selectively assembled by modern individuals to weave narratives that support specific political goals.25 He asserts that archaeology has to be viewed as cultural product rather than as the pursuit of truth. The diversity of readings of the past should be seen as a phenomenon which can function as a mirror for the self-reflexive critical reexamination of the discipline as a whole.26 In criticizing the positivist approach, Hamilakis argues that in the attempt to condemn an ideology of exclusion, new boundaries are reproduced by constructing the knowing subject, the holder of objectified knowledge who condemns the irrational “other”, “orientalizing” thus the producers and the followers of nationalist myths set against the rational and scientific “West”.27

In the modernist view, archaeology are believed to have the potential to reveal profound truths below the surface concerning the origin and history of current nation states.28 Significant concepts like appropriation29 and authenticity30 can be then used to examine the relation of archaeology to identity-building through a constructivist approach, based on Foucault’s argument that the “will to truth” is the major system of exclusion that forges discourse which ends to exert a sort of pressure and something like a power of constraint on other discourses. [...] What is at stake in the will to truth, in the will to utter this “true” discourse, if not desire and power?31

In the “Western world,” archaeologists perceive themselves as officially entitled by society at large to use archaeological material as resource for understanding the cultural past in pursuit of the truth. Nicholas and Wyle argue that in their combined roles of scientists and self-identified stewards of the past, archaeologists have long enjoyed considerable privilege of access and authority in determining how archaeological materials should be used, by whom and for what purposes.32

Indeed, Nicholas and Wyle’s argument demonstrates that archaeology as a discipline is inherently a practice of cultural appropriation, at least in a significant majority of the contexts where it has become established as a professional research enterprise.33 Even if scholars play an important role in articulating archaeological narratives, however, they have far less control over the patterns of appropriation than they commonly assume.34 The vision of the past that emerges in analyzing the dynamic nature of appropriation of the past as an intentional process whose mechanism affects social change is that uses of the past have to be considered as pointers to competing visions of the future at both individual and group levels.35 Scientific archaeology also adopts such a vision.

Parallel—and apparently opposite—to the concept and mechanisms of appropriation is the move toward a global (and globalized) archaeology.36 The debate on the notion of appropriation and ownership, the role of a globalized scientific archaeology and the impact of archaeological projects on local communities occupy an important place in the relation of archaeology and politics.37 National archaeology and heritage are under pressure through cultural processes of internationalization and globalization and both archaeology and other types of heritage are increasingly regarded as a legacy not of an eternal human experience, but of a certain type of European modernity.38 The phenomenon of globalization and the paradox of monuments being simultaneously of national and global significance39—at least for the Western imagination—are also symptoms of dynamic change in the Western conception of cultural heritage. This conception, however, is rooted in the revival of antiquity that characterized the eighteenth-century Age of Enlightenment and continued into the nineteenth century, latterly competing with Romanticism.

Memory Constructions in Greece

There is abundant literature devoted to the analysis of archaeology and national identity in Greece. Greece may be considered the European paradigm-state of those cultural and political practices where the construction of national identity had massive recourse to the archaeological narrative.40 One of the traits of Greek national identity-building is the relation between global and local cultural dynamics. This has characterized the modern Greek state and its identity construction from its very beginnings. Following Hamilakis, one can distinguish different sets of Hellenisms: the “new Hellenism,” which was imported into Greece in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth-centuries, and what Hamilakis calls the “Indigenous Hellenism,” the appropriation of Western Hellenism by local societies in Greece in the mid to late nineteenth century and its recasting as a novel and quasi-religious form of imagining time and place, past and present, of producing and reproducing national identities.41 One of the symbols of this global/local identity process is the Parthenon, which holds a double significance as a national and universal monument. Another example of the double status of ancient Greece as local and global lieu de memoire is the holding of the first Olympic games of the modern era in Greece in 1896. The modern Olympic Games were conceived as the revival of the ancient games, linking ancient history and classical topoi to modern Greece. That event projected Greece into international modernity as the legitimate heir of the classical world,42 conceived as the cradle of western culture. This image was proposed again in the opening ceremony of the Olympic games in 2004, when emphasis on continuity (though with a certain antique bias), a celebration of the all-time classic Greek ideal (albeit in its consummation through art), an allusion to some of the eternal Greek values—such as democracy, the theatre or Christian faith—[were] all suitably packaged for worldwide broadcast and PG audiences throughout [...].43

It is not only in popular depictions of antiquity where modern Greece is represented as the legitimate heir of classical Greece. The website www.macedonia-evidence.org can be regarded as a good example of how this image is also deeply rooted in academia. This website, which is promoted by scholars who support the Greek nationalist position on the new Macedonian question, presents the ancient Macedonians as Greeks, and links ancient and modern Greece through an unbroken line of racial and cultural continuity, concluding that only modern Greeks have the right to identify themselves as Macedonians. The use of the name “Macedonia” is conceived as an act of plagiarism against the Greek people, and by calling themselves “Macedonians” the Slavs are “stealing” a Greek name and “falsifying” Greek history.44 The website features the letter to President Obama quoted in the introduction. It claims that the recognition of the Republic of Macedonia not only abrogated geographic and historic fact, but it also has unleashed a dangerous epidemic of historical revisionism, of which the most obvious symptom is the misappropriation by the government in Skopje of the most famous of Macedonians, Alexander the Great.

The letter goes on to argue that: [...] Macedonia and Macedonian Greeks have been located for at least 2,500 years just where the modern Greek province of Macedonia is. Exactly this same relationship is true for Attica and Athenian Greeks, Argos and Argive Greeks, Corinth and Corinthian Greeks, etc. [...] Alexander the Great was thoroughly and indisputably Greek. [...] Alexander the Great was Greek, not Slavic, and Slavs and their language were nowhere near Alexander or his homeland until 1000 years later. This brings us back to the geographic area known in antiquity as Paionia. Why would the people who live there now call themselves Macedonians and their land Macedonia? Why would they abduct a completely Greek figure and make him their national hero?45

MajaGoriFIG 1 Peter Ec fmt

Figure 1: Peter Economides’ “rebranding” campaign to help Greece overcoming economic crisis.

Together with documents selected from ancient sources, the letter to President Obama is available both in digital and hardcopy to a larger non-specialist public, with the title “Macedonia-Evidence”. As underlined by Frank Holt in the prologue of the book, featured on the home page of the site, “At the very least, Mr. Presidents and Madam Secretaries and Peoples of the World, please consider carefully the contents of this book and the credentials of those who have contributed to it.”46

Several scholars responded positively to the plea of Stephen G. Miller, the author of the letter to Obama, and signed it. Among the negative reactions was a short response paper by Andreas Willi. In a counter-answer, Miller concludes with a bitter criticism of Willi’s positions, arguing that “[these] statements are [...] a real threat to the fundamentals of our profession as classical scholars. If historical integrity is not important to our society, then neither are we.”47

Another—but different—case of direct involvement of the scholarship in the “new Macedonian question” is described by Danforth, who was invited as speaker at the First International Congress on Macedonian Studies held in 1988 at La Trobe University in Melbourne. He described the symposium as “a thinly veiled attempt to provide academic legitimacy to the Greek nationalist position on what is generally known as ‘the Macedonian question’.”48

The congress, which was advertised in a Greek Macedonian diaspora publication in clear political terms, attracted to its opening ceremony a huge number of Slav Macedonian demonstrators carrying signs reading pro-Macedonian slogans.49

What is relevant to the topic discussed here is not the validity of the scientific conclusions proposed by the scholars, but their voluntary or involuntary commitment to present political issues. Indeed, it is clear that the position expressed by a significant proportion of Western scholars on the new Macedonian question concerns present Greek and Macedonian identities rather than ancient ones.

MajaGoriFIG 2 fmt

Figure 2: Porta Macedonia on Pella Square in Skopje.

On the other hand, cultural policies carried on by the Greek state and the insistence on identifying modern Greece with classical Greece, appropriating an origin so distant in time, are efforts which show how much concern there is to justify the contemporary existence of the state of Greece and its place in the Western World. Indeed, the Greek state has played a fundamental role in national identity construction since the nineteenth century, promoting archaeology above all else as identity-building tool.

This is evident, for example, from an analysis of the narratives of the past reflected in the new Acropolis Museum. These narratives are clearly driven by an ambitious ideological agenda for the nation’s past.50 The new Acropolis Museum complements the national classicization project still in progress on the Acropolis and acts as its counterpart in a game of mirrors between the past and the present. The modern Greek state, through the systematic creation of “virtual ruins” such as the Parthenon and the other monuments on the Athenian Acropolis, is attempting the “instrumentalisation of its Classical heritage for the edification of its citizens as well as its visitors.”51 This is achieved through the kind of classicist agenda as was pursued in the Western world in the nineteenth century. Dimitri Planzos expresses robust criticism of the new Acropolis Museum, which “ends up being a representation of what modernity ought to look like, or in fact a parody of what modernity actually is.”52

The promotion of national narratives of the past in the new Polycentric Museum of Aigai is of particular relevance to the new Macedonian question. Great effort was put into having Aigai (Vergina), the ancient first capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia, adopted on the World Heritage List.53 Significantly, the site was inscribed in 1996, a few years after the outbreak of the name issue with the then newly born Republic of Macedonia. In the website of the new Polycentric Museum of Aigai, “the royal capital of Macedon,” one can find a wonderful and comprehensive set of information on Ancient Macedonia.54 Reinforcing the symbolic importance of Aigai-Vergina in the new Macedonian question is the identification of one of the “royal tombs” in the Great Tumulus as the tomb of Philip II, who conquered all the Greek cities, paving the way for his son Alexander and the expansion of the Hellenistic world.

The presentation of the palace of Aigai “together with the Parthenon” as being “the most significant building of classical Greece” constructs a powerful ideological link between what the present idea of Hellenic identity sees as the two capital cities representative of both ancient and modern Greekness, Aigai and Athens.55 The website conveys the spectacular archaeological findings and the museum displays through visual and verbal language that leaves no doubt of the ideology underlying this great narrative of the past.

Memory Constructions in ex-Yugoslavia and the Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)

Archaeology and its role in identity construction and political discourse have been the subject of much less analysis in ex-Yugoslavia than they have been in Greece. Some work on the new Macedonian question and the utilization of ancient Macedonian heritage and ancient Macedonian symbols has been published in recent years,56 but very little of this deals with the issues from a Macedonian perspective.57

In the early 1990s, when many citizens of ex-Yugoslavia perceived the contrast between the accelerating political integration of the European Union and the violent broke up of Yugoslavia in the subsequent war, which culminated in the dreadful “ethnic cleansing”, archaeologists again became interested in the relation of their subject with nationalism, ethnicity, and identity. Competing versions of ethnic and cultural identities were at the basis of competing claims for territorial sovereignty in the Yugoslav conflict. Cultural heritage was presented as evidence of those claims. From the middle of the 1990s, there was a steady proliferation of books and papers devoted to these topics.58 Interestingly, in discussing the significance of the concept of identity and its application to the past, the authors frequently mention the Yugoslav wars as an emblematic example, but never go into depth on ex-Yugoslavia itself. For example, in the work of P. Graves-Brown, S. Jones, and C. Gamble59 ex-Yugoslavia appears throughout the volume as a reference for archaeology and identity issues, mainly in relation to nationalist discourses, ethnicity, and xenophobia,60 but no chapter deals specifically with the topic.

Together with Marxist and Soviet approaches, archaeology in ex-Yugoslavia was strongly influenced by the “German School,” a colloquialism which can be used to group different approaches to archaeology in use in German-speaking countries. The Austrian influences which dominated archaeology and antiquities in the western Balkans in the nineteenth century gave way to the imposition of German archaeological scientific standards in the twentieth. This is clearly shown by Predrag Novaković, who has analyzed the background of more than 90% of all archaeologists or archaeological professionals working in western Balkans in the period 1870–1945 to determine who was most influential. Before World War II the striking majority of scholars active in what would become Yugoslavia graduated or received their PhDs in Austrian or German universities. With some simplification, it can be argued that the focus of the “German” approach to archaeology was on two major units of observation: the artifact itself and culture as a particular assemblage of artifacts in time and space, implying a particular socio-cultural (frequently ethnic or ethnic-like) grouping of peoples. Priority was given to those aspects of the archaeological past which were perceived as instrumental for explaining national history and ethnogenesis, or the ethnic history of a specific territory.61 Even though Yugoslavian archaeology distanced itself from the most extreme theories of the German culture-history approach, the “German School” played an important role in influencing archaeological research.62

The Yugoslav regime supported and promoted archaeology as an instrument for emancipating the Yugoslav nations and promoting the achievements of the new society. It adopted a Marxist approach to archaeology. In this way, the interpretative framework of ethnogenesis in use in Yugoslav archaeology resulted from a mixture of pre-war “German” culture-history and Marxist and Soviet approaches, blended with local backgrounds. For example, “Illyrians” were seen as macro-ethnic group made up of heterogeneous and culturally loosely linked tribes inhabiting Roman Illyricum, whose unification into a single ethnos was prevented by the Roman occupation completed in the early first century CE. The Illyrian past was set up as a parallel with the ideology of socialist federal Yugoslavia, “pervaded by brotherhood-and-unity” and made up of different but akin nations bound by a joint political structure.63 Regional and political issues and conflicts, such as the Serbian–Albanian conflict over Kosovo, were similarly projected into the past through the debate over the ethnic origins of the Dardanians, a people who inhabited the area in antiquity.64 However, the early medieval Slavic period, rather than the Iron Age, represented the focal point for archaeological investigation in Yugoslavia, as well as for its nation building policy.65

The deconstruction of the Illyrians and of other archaeological discourses which had been shaped by Yugoslav ideology began when the geo-political frame of Yugoslavia started to dissolve in 1970. The decentralized constitution of 1974 and the subsequent disintegration of a compact Yugoslavian identity favored the rise of nationalism in the 1980s.66 In some cases, the academic community participated actively in the creation of the nationalist agendas and contributed to the development of new collective identities which would serve what was understood as the “interest of the nation.”67 One such case was the backing of Milošević’s nationalistic policy by the Serbian Academy of Science and Arts.68

As a member of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Macedonia was regarded as marginal to the archaeological discourse in Yugoslavian ethnogenesis, which concentrated on more central areas. Indeed, the use of archaeology to support national identity construction in the Republic of Macedonia is a relatively new phenomenon, but it has steadily increased since the declaration of independence in 1991. In sharp contrast to the nation­building process of the Greeks, Serbians, and Bulgarians, whose main ideological components were drawn from a “glorious past,” Macedonian nationalism in the mid-twentieth century looked to an equally “glorious future.”69 Only after independence was the birth date of the Macedonian nation moved back from the foundation of IMRO and the 1903 Ilinden uprising to the fourth century BCE. The emphasis on Alexander the Great as the father of the modern Macedonian nation started to be widely used following the victory of VMRO DPMNE in the 2006 general election.70

A few years after the 1991 declaration of independence, the Iron Age origins of the Macedonians began to make a strong appearance in scientific literature, thanks largely to the scholarly work of D. Mitrevski.71 An ethnogenetic and historical interpretation of the Iron Age material culture led E. Petrova to recognize that the Bryges, an ancient ethnos poorly studied by the international academic world, were the direct ancestors of the Paeonians, who were in turn identified as the direct ancestors of the Macedonians.72 It is indicative that in the second volume of Civilizacii na počvata na Makedonija,73 the Hellenistic and Roman periods are completely absent, while pre-protohistory and the Middle Ages are thoroughly covered. Scholarly attention to the fifth and fourth centuries BCE has rapidly increased in the last decade, resulting in the increasing preference for the Hellenistic period as the golden age74 of the present Macedonian nation.

The Skopje 2014 campaign was launched by the government of the Republic of Macedonia in 2010. This is aimed at giving the city of Skopje a classical style through the construction of new public and governmental buildings. Skopje city center has been adorned with a large number of statues of which the most important is undoubtedly the impressive Vojn na Konj (warrior on a horse), which occupies the ideological and physical center of Ploštad Makedonija (Macedonia square). The old Muzej na Makedonija (Museum of Macedonia) located in the heart of the Stara Čarsija, the old city, has been relocated in a new neoclassical building specifically built on the northern shore of the Vardar River, opposed to Ploštad Makedonija.

The government’s antiquization policy, however, does not seem to enjoy the direct support of Macedonian archaeologists and historians, with some significant exceptions. Research conducted by the Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities of the Skopje University led by K. Kolozova shows that archaeologists, together with other professionals of different disciplines, express a strongly negative opinion on the Skopje 2014 project and the antiquization campaign.75

Although the Hellenistic period occupies a prominent part in the nationalistic discourse, there are new excavations and projects to appraise the archaeological heritage as a whole. As well as the new archaeological Museum in Skopje, the last decade has seen the establishment of several new archaeological open-air museums in key sites of the country. The most significant of these, or at least the newest and largest, are Tumba Madžari near Skopje, and Ohrid, where an entire pile-dwelling settlement has been completely reconstructed.

Tumba Madžari is an outstanding Early Neolithic site located in the Gazi Baba municipality of Skopje. There have been several exceptional findings since the first archaeological excavations directed by Vojslav Sanev in 1978. Walking through the open-air museum one can dive into a 8,000-year-old world in four fully-equipped reconstructions of prehistoric huts, where everyday scenes are recreated with life-size mannequins. Throughout the website of Tumba Madžari open-air museum it is stressed that “the settlement of Tumba Madžari is the protogenic core of today’s Skopje.”76 It is significant that the “Great Mother,” the terracotta idol which has made Tumba Madžari famous to a worldwide community of specialists, is represented on the frieze decorating Porta Macedonia, a triumphal arch located on Pella Square in Skopje.

The Museum on Water, which opened at Ohrid on December 8, 2008, lies in the suggestive Bay of the Bones and features a reconstruction of a settlement from the Iron and Bronze ages. It is advertised as “a place where the visitors will be able to travel back in time.” The political importance of the new museum lies in the valuable archeological and scientific data significant for the functioning of the ethno-genesis, and the beginnings of the formation and recognition of the tribes in ethnical sense [...], between 1200 and 700 BC [the Bryges] left for Asia Minor, forming the state of Phrygia, which is very important for us because in a certain way, we are ethnically connected with them.77

Open-air museums, excavations, exhibitions, monuments, and architectural structures connected to antiquity and archaeological heritage are contributing to the shaping of a contemporary Macedonian ideal and physical landscape in assumed continuity with an ancient past, and to bolstering the connection to the land. Open-air museums welcome schoolchildren and the general public and host various activities for bringing people together. Thanks to their powerful “affective”78 influence these re-enactments serve as a means for visitors to became part of the millenary Macedonian history. By experiencing a full immersion in an open-air museum, the visitor gets a feeling of authentic and long-lasting emotional connection to the site even if she has been there only for few hours.79 This cultural policy, which makes abundant use of archaeological discourse and historicist arguments to construct and foster Macedonian identity, is one of the main causes for the embitterment of the conflict on Macedonian identity at international political level.

Museums and archaeological excavations are widely promoted trough the Internet. According to the ITU (International Telecommunication Union), the United Nations agency for information and communication technologies, the internet is used by 51 percent of the population in the Republic of Macedonia, and is therefore an information channel capable of reaching a wide domestic audience.80 It can also be argued that Macedonian nationalism focusing on the past has grown almost in parallel with the spread of new technologies and new media in the country.

Appropriations of the Past

The following points emerge from the examples discussed here:

– The physicality of archaeology gives an added sense of material reality to the feelings of belonging and continuity that underlie national identity constructions. Archaeological heritage and its display are used to provide tangible proofs of the past and are conceived and interpreted as physical representations of the concept of national identity. However, this use of archaeology by nation-states coexists with approaches to archaeological heritage that point toward shared heritage and “global culture.” Global culture should be conceived less as an alleged homogenizing process and more in terms of the variety and diversity of popular and local discourses.81

– In both Greece and the Republic of Macedonia, the work of archaeologists and scholars concerned with antiquity actively contributes to the creation of identities. The ideal connection of present-day to ancient Greece through the modern conception of antiquity is present in more than just national narratives and popular archaeology. It is also vividly present in the imagination of many scholars as lieu de memoire. This type of Hellenism revives the Romantic idea of Greece as the idealized and preferred locus for academic research and may be regarded as the direct legacy of what Hamilakis has defined as new Hellenism.

Arjun Appadurai’s work on issues of globalization and the relationship between modernity and tradition82 reflects on the role of archaeology and its connections to modernity. In an interview on the topic of archaeology and its relation to nationalism he argues that:

Professional archaeology is intimately tied to state institutions, national institutions and the ruling political party; [...] even the question of how archaeology could enter the space of conversation reminded us that archaeology is a key site through which the apparatus of nations can reflect the politics of remembering.

He continues affirming that “in so far as archaeology professionally remains very closely tied in many countries to [...] ‘producing the people’ it remains a critical player in the economy of remembering and forgetting.”83

As contributors to “producing the people” and instruments of soft power,84 archaeology and archaeologists play a crucial role in cultural diplomacy and in policies reflecting visions of heritage which derive from specific political visions and historical conditions.

Just like economic development, archaeology needs to be sustainable85 and not “predatory,”86 and to be capable of exploring different ways of claiming origins without excluding. In the new Macedonian question, the search for origins has direct repercussions for domestic and foreign policy in the states involved. The past has an ambivalent meaning in the western Balkans today: the past and its material traces are the favorite locus for violent fights and preferred symbols of identity struggles,87 but the study and preservation of the past are also used by the European Union, through the support of archaeological projects in the new states, to endorse the culture of peace and mutual understanding.88 Are these goals really achievable when academics are first of all supporting a “predatory” claim for origins, as in the case of the new Macedonian question?

Considering that the study of classics is declining in the Western world, it may be that scholars “reclaiming” antiquity in the new Macedonian question are actually reclaiming their own importance and their role in society.89 To regain its place in the contemporary cultural debate, archaeology—like the other branches of the humanities concerned with antiquity—needs an engagement with the present, first of all by acknowledging the political significance of antiquity in present Western societies and thus rejecting the modernist ideal of the archaeologist as a scientist who stands apart from the array of evidence and its political context and offers a definitive interpretation.90 Nonetheless, looking at the influence of the modernist approach to archaeology and antiquity on the new Macedonian question, one may question if the “postmodern turn” really has produced a change within the discipline in this sense.91 A major result of the postmodern critique in archaeology seems to be a further expansion of the scope of the discipline and its role in society, but this expansion seems to have involved only some aspects of the discipline and has overlooked others. Using Friedman’s words, one can argue that the act of identification of the person (the classicist) in a higher project (the pursuit of historical truth) is an act of pure existential authenticity, a “consumption of identity canalized by a negotiation between self-definition and the array of possibilities offered by the capitalist market.”92

The economic recession that started in the late 2000s put the humanities under greater pressure than ever to justify their existence to administrators, policy makers, students, and parents.93 Reclaiming archaeology from modernism, and insisting that all aspects of practice are imbued with power and politics,94 may represent an important step to move toward new ways of engagement with the past and the present.



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1 This article stems from my research fellowship in the Historisches Seminar–Arbeitsbereich Osteuropäische Geschichte at the Johannes-Gutenberg University of Mainz. I am extremely grateful to the Thyssen Stiftung for financing this position and to Hans-Christian Maner for his support, comments, and contributions. Great thanks must also go to Filippo Carlà for his help and advice. I am also grateful to the anonymous peer reviewer, who contributed to improve the quality of this paper. This paper is dedicated to the memory of Prof. James Waltson who passed away on Monday May 12, 2014.

2 The number of subscribers on March 24, 2014 reached 374.

3 My italics. The letter was published in 2009 on the site http://macedonia-evidence.org/obama-letter.html, accessed May 27, 2014, and in hardcopy in 2011. The book is available from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Macedonia-Evidence-Color-Version-Graeco-Roman-doccumentation/dp/1453732349, accessed May 27, 2014.

4 The Republic of Macedonia is referred within the UN as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM), pending a resolution to the dispute about the country’s name.

5 For general accounts of the Macedonian issue see, among others: Loring M. Danforth, The Macedonian Conflict: Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995) and Victor Roudometof, Collective Memory, National Identity and Ethnic Conflict: Greece, Bulgaria, and the Macedonian Question (Westport: Praeger, 2002).

6 Macedonia was part of the “Rum millet.” See Fikret Adanir, Die Makedonische Frage. Ihre Entstehung und Entwicklung bis 1908 (Wiesbaden: F. Steiner Verlag, 1979).

7 Kyril Drezov, “Macedonian Identity: An Overview of the Major Claims,” in The New Macedonian Question, ed. James Pettifer (New York: Palgrave, 2001), 55. For an analysis of the dynamics and the political rather than ethnic or cultural character of Greek identity in late nineteenth-century Macedonia and the concept of Macedonian “national mobility,” see Giorgos Agelopoulos, “Greek National Identity in Late Nineteenth – Early Twentieth-Century Macedonia,” Balkan Studies 36, no. 2 (1995): 247–63.

8 Stephan Troebst, Das makedonische Jahrhundert. Von den Anfängen der nationalrevolutionäre Bewegung zum Abkommen von Ohrid 1893–2001 (Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 2007), 241–48.

9 Stephan Troebst, Die bulgarisch–jugoslawische Kontroverse um Makedonien 1967–1982 (Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1983).

10 Troebst, Das makedonische Jahrhundert, 409–24.

11 For a critique of the relation between the modern and ancient Macedonian notions of Hellenic ethnic identity, see Karen Stoppie, “The Macedonians before the Death of Alexander the Great: A People in the Shadow of the Hellenic Ethnos,” in Constructions of Greek Past: Identity and Historical Consciousness from Antiquity to the Present, ed. Hero Hokwerda (Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 2003), 47–62.

12 Kostas Kotsakis, “The Past is Ours: Images of Greek Macedonia,” in Archaeology Under Fire: Nationalism, Politics and Heritage in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, ed. Linn Meskell (London: Routledge, 1998), 68–86.

13 Milena Mahon, “The Macedonian Question in Bulgaria,” Nations and Nationalism 4, no. 3 (1998): 389–407; Danforth, The Macedonian Conflict.

14 Kees Klok, “History and the Conflict over the Name Macedonia (1990–1995): Constructing and Using Historical Interpretation,” in Constructions of Greek Past, 64.

15 Troebst, Das makedonische Jahrhundert, 371.

16 Troebst, Das makedonische Jahrhundert, 363–72; Athanasios Moulakis, “The Controversial Ethnogenesis of Macedonia,” European Political Science 9 (2010): 495–510.

17 Philip L. Kohl and Clare Fawcett, ed., Nationalism, Politics and the Practice of Archaeology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

18 Neil A. Silberman, “Promised Lands and Chosen Peoples: The Politics and Poetics of Archaeological Narratives,” in Nationalism, Politics and the Practice of Archaeology, 250, original emphasis.

19 Ibid., 249–62.

20 Bruce Trigger, “Romanticism, Nationalism and Archaeology,” in Nationalism, Politics and the Practice of Archaeology, 263–79.

21 Margerita Diaz-Andreu and Timothy Champion, ed., Nationalism and Archaeology in Europe (London: UCL press, 1996).

22 Diaz-Andreu and Champion, ed., Nationalism and Archaeology in Europe, 3. The same approach is maintained in Margerita Diaz-Andreu, A World History of Nineteenth-Century Archaeology: Nationalism, Colonialism and the Past (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

23 Julian Thomas, Archaeology and Modernity (London: Routledge, 2004).

24 Yannis Hamilakis, The Nation and Its Ruins: Antiquity, Archaeology, and National Imagination in Greece (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 14.

25 K. S. Brown and Yannis Hamilakis, ed. The Usable Past: Greek Metahistories (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2003).

26 Yannis Hamilakis, “Through the Looking Glass: Nationalism, Archaeology and the Politics of Identity,” Antiquity 60 (1996): 977.

27 Hamilakis, “Through the Looking Glass,” 978.

28 Cornelius Holtorf and Graham Fairclough, “The New Heritage and Re-shapings of the Past,” in Reclaiming Archaeology Beyond the Tropes of Modernity, ed. Alfredo González-Ruibal (London–New York: Routledge, 2013), 197.

29 James O. Young, ed., Ethics of Cultural Appropriation (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012); esp. George P. Nicholas and Alison Wylie, “Archaeological Finds: Legacies of Appropriation, Modes of Response,” 11–34.

30 Cornelius Holtorf, “On Pastness: A Reconsideration of Materiality in Archaeological Object Authenticity,” Anthropological Quarterly 86 (2013): 427–44.

31 Michel Foucault, “The Order of Discourse,” in Untying the Text: A Post Structuralist Reader, ed. Robert Young (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), 56.

32 Nicholas and Wylie, “Archaeological Finds,” 14.

33 Ibid., 12.

34 Ibid., 27.

35 Lynn S. Dodd and Ran Boytner, “Filtering the Past: Archaeology, Politics and Change,” in Controlling the Past, Owing the Future: The Political Uses of Archaeology in the Middle East, ed. Ran Boytner, Lynn S. Dodd, and Bradley J. Parker (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2010), 1–26.

36 On the contradiction between UNESCO’s universalist cultural policies and the importance of the nation states within the same organization see Maja Gori, “The Stones of Contention: The Role of Archaeological Heritage in Israeli–Palestinian conflict,” Archaeologies: The Journal of the World Archaeological Congress 9 (2013): 213–29.

37 Ian Hodder, “Sustainable Time Travel: Toward a Global Politics of the Past,” in The Politics of Archaeology and Identity in a Global Context, ed. Susan Kane (Boston: Archaeological Institute of America, 2003), 139–47.

38 Holtorf and Fairclough, “The New Heritage,” 197; Arjun Appadurai, “The Globalization of Archaeology and Heritage,” Journal of Social Archaeology 1, no. 1 (2001): 35–49.

39 Hamilakis, The Nation and Its Ruins.

40 Among others: John Boardman, The Archaeology of Nostalgia: How the Greeks Re-created Their Mythical Past (London: Thames & Hudson, 2002); Hokwerda, ed., Constructions of Greek Past; Argyro Loukaki, Living Ruins, Value Conflicts: Heritage, Culture and Identity (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008); Hamilakis, The Nation and Its Ruins; Dimitris Damaskos and Dimitris Plantzos, eds., A Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece (Athens: Mouseio Benaki, 2008); Roderick Beaton and David Ricks, eds., The Making of Modern Greece: Nationalism, Romanticism, and The Uses of the Past (1797–1896) (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009).

41 Yannis Hamilakis, “Lives in Ruins: Antiquities and National Imagination in Modern Greece,” in The Politics of Archaeology and Identity, 51–78.

42 Vittorio Vidotto, L’invenzione delle città capitali. Archeologia e spazi pubblici ad Atene e Roma. http://dev.dsmc.uniroma1.it/dprs/sites/default/files/464.html, 2006, accessed May 27, 2014.

43 Dimitris Plantzos, “Archaeology and Hellenic Identity, 1896–2004: The Frustrated Vision,” in A Singular Antiquity, 11.

44 Loring M. Danforth, “Ancient Macedonia, Alexander the Great and the Star or Sun of Vergina: National Symbols and the Conflict between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia,” in A Companion to Ancient Macedonia, ed. Joseph Roisman and Ian Vorthington (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 576.

45 http://macedonia-evidence.org/obama-letter.html, accessed May 27, 2014.

46 My italics. http://macedonia-evidence.org/obama-letter.html, accessed May 27, 2014.

47 My italics. http://macedonia-evidence.org/willi-on-macedonia-response.html, accessed May 27, 2014.

48 Danforth, “Ancient Macedonia,” 591.

49 Ibid.,” 589–91.

50 Christina Ntaflou, “The New Acropolis Museum and the Dynamics of National Museum Development in Greece,” in Great Narratives of the Past: Traditions and Revisions in National Museum, ed. Dominique Poulot, Felicity Bodenstein, and José María Lanzarote Guiral (Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2012), 98, http://www.ep.liu.se/ecp_home/index.en.aspx?issue=078, accessed May 27, 2014.

51 Dimitris Plantzos, “Behold the Raking Geison: The New Acropolis Museum and its Context-free Archaeologies,” Antiquity 85 (2011): 615.

52 Ibid., 624, emphasis in the original.

53 http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/780, accessed May 27, 2014.

54 http://www.aigai.gr/en, accessed May 27, 2014.

56 Kostas Kotsakis, “The Past is Ours: Images of Greek Macedonia,” in Archaeology Under Fire: Nationalism, Politics and Heritage in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, ed. Linn Meskell (London: Routledge, 1998), 68–86; Hamilakis, The Nation and Its Ruins, 130–31.

57 K.S. Brown, “Seeing Stars: Character and Identity in the Landscapes of Modern Macedonia,” Antiquity 68 (1994): 784–96; Kees Klok, “History and the Conflict over the Name ‘Macedonia’ (1900–1995): Constructing and Using Historical Interpretation,” in Constructions of Greek Past, 63–67.

58 Among the others see Brown and Hamilakis, eds., The Usable Past; Kane, ed., The Politics of Archaeology; Diaz-Andreu, A World History of Nineteenth-Century Archaeology; Timothy Insoll, ed., The Archaeology of Identities (London: Routledge, 2007).

59 Paul Graves-Brown, Siân Jones, and Christopher Gamble, eds., Cultural Identity and Archaeology: The Construction of European Communities (London: Routledge, 1996).

60 Siân Jones and Paul Graves-Brown, “Introduction: Archaeology and Cultural Identity in Europe,” in Cultural Identity and Archaeology, 3.

61 Predrag Novaković, “The ‘German School’ and its Influence on the National Archaeologies of the Western Balkans,” in SCRIPTA in honorem Bojan Djurić, ed. Branka Migotti (Ljubljana: Zavod za varstvo kulturne dediščine Slovenije, 2012), 51–72.

62 Božidar Slapšak, “Entangled Histories in South-East Europe: Memory and Archaeology,” in Multiple Antiquities – Multiple Modernities, ed. Gábor Klaniczay, Michael Werner, and Ottó Gecser (Frankfurt: Campus, 2011), 419.

63 Danijel Dzino, “Deconstructing ‘Illyrians’: Zeitgeist, Changing Perceptions and the Identity of Peoples from Ancient Illyricum,” Croatian Studies Review 5 (2008): 45.

64 Slapšak, “Entangled Histories in South-East Europe,” 416.

65 Ibid., 414–15.

66 Dzino, “Deconstructing ‘Illyrians’,” 45.

67 Ibid., 426.

68 See for example Nikola Tasić, Arheološko blago Kosova I Metohije, Od eneolita do ranog srednjeg veka (Belgrade: Srpska Akademija nauka I umetnosti Muzej u Prištini, 1998).

69 Troebst, Das makedonische Jahrhundert, 257.

70 The Vnatrešna makedonska revolucionerna organizacija – Demokratska partija za makedonsko nacionalno edinstvo (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity), simplified as VMRO-DPMNE, is the leading party in the Republic of Macedonia. VMRO-DPMNE is a Christian-democratic right-oriented party whose “Antiquization” policy has been widely criticized for its nationalist aims.

71 Dragi Mitrevski, Protoistoriskite zaednici vo Makedonija. Preku pogrebuvanjeto i pogrebnite manifestacii (Skopje: Kulturno-istorisko nasledstvo na Republika Makedonija, 1997).

72 Eleonora Petrova, Brigite na centralniot Balkan vo II i I milenium pred n.e. (Skopje: Muzej na Makedonija, 1996).

73 Georgi Stardelov, ed., Civilizacii na počvata na Makedonija. Prilozi za istražuvanjeto na istorijata na kulturata na počvata na Makedonija (Skopje: Makedonska Akademija na Naukite i Umetnostite, 1995).

74 Anthony D. Smith, The Ethnic Origins of Nations (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), 191–200.

75 http://www.isshs.edu.mk/index.php?newsinfo=77, accessed May 27, 2014.

76 http://www.tumbamadzari.org.mk/en/the-site/the-site.php, accessed May 27, 2014.

77 http://uzkn.gov.mk/muzej_en.html, accessed May 27, 2014.

78 On the affective turn, i.e. the collapsing of temporalities and an emphasis on affect, individual experience and daily life rather than historical events, structures and processes, see Vanessa Agnew, “History’s Affective Turn: Historical Reenactment and its Work in the Present,” Rethinking History 11, no. 3 (2007): 299–312.

79 For an example of the strong link to the land constructed by participating in an excavation, see the example of Masada in Gori, “The Stones of Contention,” 219–20.

80 On the use of the Internet by political parties in Macedonia see Sali Emruli and Miroslav Bača, “Internet and Political Communication – Macedonian Case,” International Journal of Computer Science Issues 8, no. 3 (2011): 154–63.

81 Mike Featherstone, “Global Culture: An Introduction,” in Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization and Modernity, ed. Mike Featherstone (London: Sage, 1990), 1–14.

82 Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).

83 Idem, “The Globalization of Archaeology and Heritage,” 37.

84 Christina Luke and Morag M. Kersel, U.S. Cultural Diplomacy and Archaeology: Soft Power, Hard Heritage (New York: Routledge, 2013).

85 Hodder, “Sustainable Time Travel,” 139–47; Maja Gori, “Who are the Illyrians? The Use and Abuse of Archaeology in the Construction of National and Trans-National Identities in the Southwestern Balkans,” in Archaeology and the (De) Construction of National and Supra-National Polities, ed. Catalin N. Popa and Russel Ó Ríagáin, Archaeological Review from Cambridge 27, no. 2 (2012): 81.

86 Appadurai, “The Globalization of Archaeology and Heritage,” 44. “So one of my big concerns now is why certain identities, which are parts of pairs or sets which have been in some form of workable juxtaposition at a certain point in time, become predatory. Why does one of them, or sometimes both, become animated by the idea that there is only room for one of them? When and under what circumstances does this happen?”

87 On Kosovo, see for example Andrew Herscher and András Riedlmayer, “Monument and Crime: The Destruction of Historic Architecture in Kosovo,” Grey Room 01 (2000): 108–22.

88 Claske Vos, “Negotiating Serbia’s Europeanness: On The Formation and Appropriation of European Heritage Policy in Serbia,” History and Anthropology 22, no. 2 (2011): 221–42.

89 The political importance of scholars in the new Macedonian question is acknowledged in Kyriacos D. Kentrotis, “The Macedonian Question as Presented in the German Press (1990–1994),” Balkan Studies 36, no. 2 (1995): 321, 324.

90 Martin Hall, “Milieux de mémoire” in Reclaiming Archaeology: Beyond the Tropes of Modernity, ed. Alfredo González-Ruibal (London: Routledge, 2013), 356.

91 Friedrik Fahlander, “Are We There Yet? Archaeology and the Postmodern in the New Millennium,” Current Swedish Archaeology 20 (2012): 109–29.

92 Jonathan Friedman “Being in the World: Globalization and Localization,” in Global Culture, 314.

93 Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (New York: Encounter Books, 2001).

94 Hall, “Milieux de mémoire.” 

pdfVolume 3 Issue 2 CONTENTS

Zsolt K. Horváth

The Metapolitics of Reality: Documentary Film, Social Science Research and Cognitive Realism in Twentieth-Century Hungary1

The article explores how, given the absence of a proper public sphere, twentieth-century Hungarian social research began to use the notion of “reality” in populist socio-reports, the documentary films of the 1970s, and sociological debates. These discussions all shared the assumption that contemporary political elites ignored the “real” conditions of society. Thus it was the duty of social research (socio-reports or sociology proper) to reveal these facts in a manner that was free of ideology. Whereas in North America and Western Europe during the 1960s and 1970s the notion of a directly accessible “reality” had been thrown into question, in Hungary scholarship insisted on this kind of cognitive realism because of social and political reasons. As they argued, “reality” was to be interpreted not as a universal epistemological category, but according to particular terms of the sociology of knowledge. This article explores how the detection of “reality” and “facts” became an ethical vocation within these interrogatory frameworks.

Keywords: social research, sociology, social report, documentary film, Eastern Europe, epistemology, sociology of knowledge, ethical vocation


Nullius in verba. The Royal Society of London, established in 1660, adopted this motto (an adaptation of a quote from Horace) to express the learned society’s view that knowledge must be based on empirical research and rational cognition rather than an appeal to authority and a humble trust in someone’s words. Bacon held that science must be based on purely empirical methods, therefore: hypotheses non fingo. Science, in this case natural science, “has condemned for centuries any view expressing merely personal faith. By contrast, science itself is often viewed even now as being founded on solid facts.”2 The social sciences, which emerged, evolved, and became professionalized in the nineteenth century and which do not limit themselves to hard data and facts, may be an awkward fit for the above motto for two reasons. First, the disciplines emerging at the time suffered from an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the natural sciences and their remarkable achievements, which had made substantial contributions to the technological conditions of modernity. Second, the subject of the social sciences seemed for a long time too directly accessible, tangible and therefore subject to influence (by direct or indirect interests). The Royal Society has always been independent of government, and its motto signals an unqualified disregard for and even rejection of dependence and commitment: their only commitment is to the search for objective, scientific truth.

Clearly, the social sciences and humanities have always lacked this type of independence, and this has been of great consequence, not only for the sociology of science, but also for epistemology. In the case of history, most markedly in the countries in which its nineteenth-century professionalization was the most rapid (Germany) or the most expansive (France), this process was thoroughly intertwined with the cultivation of a cohesive idea of the nation state and, in the latter case, the creation of a new elite of the Third Republic, a cohort of intellectuals who supported the republican government.3 However, what looked like an advantage in the nineteenth century became a serious loss of moral and scientific credibility after the then unprecedented devastation caused by World War I. This was particularly the case for history, which had supplied much of the fodder for the cultural logic of nationalism, the ideology under the banner of which so many had marched into battle. War in this case needs to be understood not only in the context of eventual history, but rather in the longue durée of intellectual history, more or less the way Jan Patočka came to view it much later: “a vast event conducted by people, yet growing larger than humanity,” “a cosmic occurrence.”4 In a famous essay written roughly around the time in question, Paul Valéry makes a point of making the following harsh comment:

History is the most dangerous concoction the chemistry of the mind has produced. Its properties are well known. It sets people dreaming, intoxicates them, engenders false memories, exaggerates their reflexes, keeps old wounds open, torments their leisure, inspires them with megalomania or persecution complex, and makes nations bitter, proud, insufferable and vain.5

Valéry thereby radically redraws the relationship between science and the surrounding world, as he claims that this discipline is inexorably a social practice as well, so the knowledge it creates is related to power through the binding force of identity-shaping memory. The very science that, in the spirit of its scientific function and calling, busied itself throughout the nineteenth century with the establishment of “the” methodology (the identification and critical analysis of written documents, etc.) suddenly became an “accomplice” in the devastation of the World War in the eyes of critical intellectuals on account of the social functions it had played. This moral culpability, of course, raises the question of humble trust in words once again and assigns the sphere of cognition as the sole appropriate domain of the sciences.

Over the course of the past several decades, however, the achievements of the social sciences have not been particularly encouraging with regards to the noble challenge of “nullius in verba.” The trends in intellectual inquiry that took hold in the decades following World War II, particularly structuralism and various other schools in its wake, have posed countless challenges to Western empirical social sciences that they have not been entirely able to surmount: the linguistic turn, cultural turn, epistemology, etc. Of these, the most complex issue was the often vexing yet in many ways productive emphasis on epistemological perspective. In history, the earliest experiments in this respect took place in France led first and foremost by Paul Veyne and Michel de Certeau among others. In contrast with the American Hayden White, these two French historians critiqued the profession from the perspective of the historian’s practice of empirical work and its crisis (Veyne’s period was antiquity, while de Certeau studied seventeenth-century ecclesiastic history and mysticism). Moreover their historical-critical work went far beyond a merely linguistic, narrative critique of history as a discipline.6 A Jesuit with a Marxist background, de Certeau was one of the first to probe reality and fiction as irreconcilably distinct qualities for the discipline of history.7 From the vantage point of the current Western scientific canon, the significance of the interrogation of concepts such as fact, reality, fiction, and narrative may not seem immensely significant, but in the 1970s these propositions were enough to upset the discipline of history, a discipline that, according to Gérard Noiriel, was always in crisis.8 It was essentially a questioning of the former naïve attitude in history according to which reality could be taken for granted as something “out there,” a given that the historian accesses through the discovery and analysis of original sources and documents. Epistemological critique countered this by the proposition that reality, including the reality of the past, is not given and accessible in any such direct way, for while we are studying it through contemporary documents, we are also extracting, selecting, and editing it. In other words, the shift consisted in the historian’s constructive relationship to the past, which required a distinction between “data” found and identified, and “facts” selected and analyzed. History has thus given up the positivist legacy of the illusory recapturing of past reality as it really happened (wie es eigentlich gewesen ist).

However, the relationship between general public opinion, critical reflection, and the practices of the social sciences obviously cannot be described solely on the basis of Western European and American experiences, especially because these experiences are contingent on the context in which they occur and in which their practice is regulated. The political system, the public sphere, and the conditions of the practices of scientific inquiry are interrelated concepts, and it is no wonder that, given the remarkably tumultuous and discontinuous twentieth-century history of Eastern Europe, the cognitive role of the social sciences and especially history in the region was severely limited. Following the political transition, when new generations attempted to bring the new post-Structuralist, text-centered, interpretive etc. theories to the region, the older generation tended to respond with a blanket rejection. This rejection was motivated not by an exaggerated skepticism regarding the content of “recent” theories, but rather by the conviction that after the political transition one could finally “speak one’s mind.” Researchers no longer had to subordinate their ideas to official ideologies, so why would one need these obscurely worded new theories? Reality, in the primary and somewhat naïve sense of the word, is there, waiting to be discovered without any constraint from political goals and administrative or bureaucratic obstacles. The days of tricky metapolitics were over, so why use a critical metalanguage?

It would be incorrect to draw the tempting conclusion that Hungarian social sciences are eo ipso rigid and thus unable to adopt trends from elsewhere. This is merely a symptom, the real causes of which lie in the deep structure of Hungarian political and academic culture, namely the way in which the structure of the concept of the public sphere was shifting in relation to the powers that be. In order for this investigation to be truly productive, it has to engage with the concept of reality in the form of a conceptual history (Begriffsgeschichte). According to Reinhart Koselleck, any study of the social history of cultural forms and practices has to take account of changes in the linguistic-conceptual universe used to refer to a constantly changing social reality. If the world around us is constantly changing, so are the linguistic elements and their corresponding meanings and connotations, and the study of the two in their interrelatedness can open up new avenues of knowledge.9 I propose that by placing the word “reality” (along with the entire system of references to it) into the conceptual plane of the Hungarian history of ideas, one can yield insights into the function of documentary film and its place in the history of ideas. Moreover, this will also yield insights, in the long term, into the recurring efforts and workshops outside the realm of the social sciences that are devoted to discovering reality. This is all the more crucial because, as Wolf Lepenies pointed out in his analysis of British, French, and German examples, literature, film, and journalism (one would do well to update this list with new media today) play as vital a role in a society’s self-representations, as does scientific discourse.10 Ultimately, one could ask the remarkably simple yet acute question: if there was in fact some social science thinking in Hungary, why were its workshops outside the spheres of the social sciences that had reality, fact-finding, and the discovery of reality (whether on paper or celluloid) as their rallying cries?

Critical Social Research and the Idea of Reality

This is actually a product of the relationship between the political plane and those wielding power on the one hand and a (theoretically) independent field of scientific inquiry subject only to the goal of cognition. Dénes Némedi astutely observed that despite the quick, if sporadic, reception of the social sciences in eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century Hungary, there is no history of Hungarian sociology in any proper sense (not even a history of the social sciences for that matter), because there was no cohesive, continuous social research in Hungary. In this part of Europe, these forms of learning have had an episodic structure. Though various experiments provisionally have served this function, they lack cohesion and a continuity of persons, institutions, and content. The thoroughly modern program of social research was not merely belated, but as a result of its belatedness it took a rather peculiar shape from the moment of its inception, as the journal Huszadik Század [Twentieth Century] and its social science studies were taking an initially tacit and veiled but then increasingly outspoken political stance.11 “Sociology! This was the word,” wrote Oszkár Jászi in 1910, “that synthesized our endeavors: our faith in the glorious power of natural sciences, a social science research built on this power, and a politics for the benefit of the people developed on this foundation,” a credo that signals the Eastern-European specificity of their calling by articulating a commitment to the avowedly political goals of cognition.12

Although it became impossible to pursue serious sociological inquiry after 1918–1919 in the wake of failed revolutions and the subsequent emigration of those involved in radical politics and progressive sciences, sociology did find a new forum in sociography, a path between empirical social research and literature, where it could once again speak of social reality, even if its specific subjects were perhaps different from the interests of Huszadik Század. This brought a discovery and new prominence of the “people,” a time of the exploration and empirical study of a populist thematics. Despite representing a heterogeneous assortment of genres, tones, and methodologies, populist sociography emerged as a sort of master narrative, and it covered a multitude of problems specific to peasants and sharecroppers (the tendency to have a single child, emigration, postwar sects, and life on the Hungarian plain). To sum up, the challenge of discovering reality compensates for the lack of professional sociology and an appropriate public sphere by finding a genre outside institutionalized science. This genre, sociography, attempted to be both “scientific” (methodical, systematic) and something more, namely a representative of the voiceless (the “people”), whose living conditions these sociographers set out to improve therapeutically by giving them voice. Their zeal is once again animated by the watchword of social reality to be discovered and revealed. As Miklós Lackó points out, youths in the 1930s were disenchanted with grand ideas for saving the world. Their attitudes were informed by “a common sense that could be reconciled with conservatism, a demand for realism that could accommodate the diversity of modern thought, and on the basis of the former, a demand for reforms.” According to many, including Imre Kovács, Gyula Szekfű, and István Bibó, it was this demand for and sense of reality that became a key motivating force in the ideas and deeds of this generation.13

The empirical discovery and study of social conditions was of great interest not only to the interwar generation; the “attraction of reality”14 (to quote Ernő Gondos) had a hold on those born in the interwar years as well. Their efforts were pooled in the people’s college movement established in 1939 (Bolyai College until 1942, subsequently Györffy College) and expanded after World War II. This existed under the name Nékosz (National Association of People’s Colleges) until 1949.15 Granted, youth movements had previously played their part in the empirical study of reality (the Scout movement, Pro Christo Students, etc.), but the people’s colleges were something new in that they gave an organizational framework to this inquiry as a specific program, and in fact made knowledge of the country a cornerstone of their pedagogy. For lack of space, instead of an exposition and evaluation of Nékosz’s collective experience, communality, social responsibility, support for the gifted, and important role in fostering social mobility, I will merely note that the issue of reality was fundamental to its pedagogical theory. Ferenc Pataki has identified the greatest virtue of the people’s colleges as “their ability to transform” postwar social dynamism and actions aimed at changing society into a “pedagogical movement and educational practice: they were able to ride the wave of social changes, and they were also able translate them into everyday acts of pedagogical practice.”16 This is why the one-time secretary of Nékosz (later an esteemed psychologist) gave his edited book the emphatic title A valóság pedagógiája [The Pedagogy of Reality], noting that “the pedagogy of changing reality” would have been an even more fitting title, as the movement was driven not only by the desire to discover but also to change reality. The National Pedagogical Conference held on 3-6 January, 1947, as part of which both political leaders (László Rajk, József Révai, Ferenc Erdei, József Darvas, and Péter Veres) and professionals (Ferenc Mérei and Ernő Béki) lauded the movement’s role in social politics and its community building and psychological aspirations, was a milestone in the process of the movement’s institutionalization and in the consolidation of its pedagogy.17 Ferenc Mérei, who played an important role in both politics and pedagogy between 1945–1950, expressed the following view of pedagogical realism in a letter he wrote as director of the National Institute of Pedagogy to Árpád Kiss:

What I gather from your words is that you understand it as the need to adapt previously gained experience and knowledge to the given reality. What I mean by this is rather […] the need to mine the given reality. To this you retort by asking why should one rediscover what others have discovered before. My response is that this is not about ignoring knowledge and experience gained by others, but rather that instead of adapting that knowledge to my reality, it has to be measured against my reality. […] You become doubtful when a given experience contradicts old wise men, whereas I deferentially move said wise men into the museum and follow the thread of the given experience. Naturally, all of this gains its meaning from concrete matters. I do believe that, no doubt through many errors and corrections, our people’s colleges will bring about the realization of an educational system and methodology that both you and I can only attempt to imagine today.18

Mérei’s letter is worth quoting at length because it demonstrates an active, formative concept of reality. In this sense, social reality is both an inherited tradition and something that can be shaped by its tension with a present ready for action. Whether intentionally or not, this brings one back to the 1920s avant-garde notion, expressed most succinctly perhaps by Andor Németh, “reality is not a concept: if you want to get closer to it, you need to touch it, you need to act.”19 This attitude posits social reality not as a final, fossilized moment, but a process that can be shaped.

Why did this active attitude to the concept of reality change, and why did social scientists settle with a more traditional, positivist, nineteenth-century notion in the 1960s and 1970s? The claim to shape reality is not an intellectual pastime in a vacuum, as this claim is surrounded by all the norms of the surrounding political, social world. In brief, Mérei’s notion of “active experience” (which goes back to Andor Németh) or the attempts of the “bright winds” of the people’s college movement to overturn the world can operate if and only if the conditions for action are established. These conditions, however, are not guaranteed unless there is a positive public sphere in which aims, plans, and ambitions can be debated and considered. As I previously noted, the lack of a public sphere is a structural characteristic of modern Hungarian political culture, and the period between 1949 and 1956 shows an exceptionally grave deficit in this respect. Though there was no “democratic” turn after the failed uprising of 1956. Melinda Kalmár has rightly shown that the legitimacy-deficient Kádár regime, which rose to power under the shadow of Soviet weapons, made the establishment of a “simulated public sphere” one of its key strategic goals.20 This peculiar, characteristically Kádár-style contrivance served both to condemn the prior fundamental ideological repression of public discourse and to enable the controlled normalization of slightly freer speech. Over the course of a few decades, public sphere became clearly segmented, and this segmentation became a phenomenon. It included the first plane, which was the official, the semi-official plane, and the hidden, samizdat plane. This indirectly created a half public, half hidden plane on which certain particularly important problems that were concealed and repressed in the first public sphere could still be debated.

This is why Tibor Kuczi could write in the introduction to Valóság ’70 (Reality ’70) that the public sphere sprang forth after 1989 “fully armed” and began to operate in a self-evident manner. If this was indeed the case, he speculates, the public sphere must have had not only forums, media, and places, but also a language, even if this type of publicity (as proven by several examples) tended to “overlay” itself on the concept of the private. In his analysis of the content of the journal Valóság, Attila Becskeházi shows that sociological interpretation meant reality to the users of its language, a reality “distorted,” “concealed,” “falsified,” and “silenced” by ideology. This interpretation was popular because of its emphasis on an alternative understanding and structure of reality. […] So much so […] that the sociological literature of the 1970s rarely includes reflections on its constructive nature. The reality created as a result of sociological interpretation gains credibility not simply by opposing the other [that is ideology], but by revealing a completely different Hungary through the language it uses.21

The realities suggested by official ideology and revealed by social science research were therefore incommensurable. The latter had a surplus that was a consequence not only of its scientific nature, but also its moral stance as a commitment to truth undistorted by ideological clichés. It is a wonderful paradox that such a notion of ideology vs. reality tacitly brings one back to the young Marx’s notion that what one must oppose to ideology is reality as a practice. (This changes with the publication of Capital, partly under Engels’s influence, and ideology will be opposed by science rather than reality.) To put it differently, the critique of ideology, like the reversed image in a camera obscura, results in a species of cognitive realism, insofar as it attempts to turn the Hegelian system upside down.22

Documentary Film

In one of his essays, Ferenc Hammer offers a detailed analysis of the intellectual environment in which, the stylistic and generic diversity of their compositions notwithstanding, the documentary efforts of the Balázs Béla Studio were connected with social science efforts to discover reality. The Studio, an avant-garde, leftist group of artists with a program of social emancipation, played a crucial role in twentieth-century film in Hungary, often in opposition to official socialism during the 1960s and 1980s. To quote Clifford Geertz, documentary film is a “blurred genre.”23 Its definition is vague and ambivalent even with respect to its relationship to reality, not to mention the fraught issues of fiction, emplotment, and other methodological and stylistic characteristics, not to mention rhetoric and metaphor.24 What documentary films do have in common is the emphatic social energy and usefulness, Geertz’s “being there,” a commitment to a professionally and ethically authentic “being there, being present.”25 Responding to a question about the documentary film’s function, Judit Ember affirms this, saying “we must answer in speech, in writing, and on film too, so as to leave some kind of imprint to our children and grandchildren of how we lived and thought and how we imagined how we were living and thinking.”26 Sociologist Ágnes Losonczi identifies the same attitude in the center of Ember’s oeuvre:

What makes her work so important? You have to see and hear her talk and ask questions. You have to know her exceptional skill in establishing relationships, see how she addresses people, watch how they begin to speak sincerely to her and only to her. Her attention opens up fearfully guarded, ossified memories, loosens the speaker’s tongue, and that exceptional relationship that marks a true documentary filmmaker is being formed.27

Gábor Bódy states in his Filmiskola [Film School] that “film is one mode of thinking, which can emerge in a variety of social functions.”28 These functions can include business, art, journalism, popular science, science (sociology, psychology), and they can also be documentation, history, and research. One could say that the documentary film’s relationship to reality (like that of sociology earlier on) is important not so much because of its epistemology or rhetoric as it is because of its functional, pragmatic, and even ethical aspects; its creative relationship within social thought.

One finds all the keywords of the notion of direct cognition, on which cognitive realism rests, in a conversation between Gyula Gazdag, Ferenc Grünwalsky, László Mihályfy and György Szomjas entitled A társadalmi folyamatok láthatóvá tétele [Making Social Processes Visible]. They assert that the processes of reality are graspable “as they are positioned in the structure.”

What documentary film means to us is not a style, not a method of expression, but the visual cognition of reality. […] Our aim is to make reality “play,” that is expose itself in the film […] We have false views of simple facts of reality. The facts themselves are in principle known, but what is unknown is their visual face, which is objective in the manner of data.29

The noble idea of reality playing, i. e. exposing itself, and thereby making itself accessible to the “objective” camera, is probably laughable to the contemporary reader in the wake of the umpteenth epistemological turn of the social sciences. However, if one views the past without the glasses of our present-day omniscience and instead tries to reconstruct the aim of documentarism to discover reality in a more long term context, one can once again reveal the distinctive historical-structural characteristics of cognitive realism.

When directors Ferenc Grünwalsky, Dezső Magyar, László Mihályfy, György Pintér, and István Sipos and writers Árpád Ajtony, Gábor Bódy, Péter Dobai, and Csaba Kardos, the authors of the manifesto Szociológiai filmcsoportot! [For a Sociological Film Group!] say, if only parenthetically, that “we want to reinvent the wheel,” they seem to be tacitly referring to the sociographic tradition of discovering reality outlined above.30 They identify a “field of research” (a telling phrase!), mention the problem of Hungarian villages and small towns, inadequate knowledge of facts, the terms “information aggregator, data collector,” and the method of participatory observation, all of which underscores the primary objective of direct cognition of social reality, to which all formal experiments in the category of “artistic cognition” are secondary. “Collectors provide the studios with the systematically categorized factual material either in raw, unprocessed form or in the form of ‘literary short story’ or sociography,” they say, while emphasizing that processing is collective and requires collaboration with researchers.31 It appears, therefore, that “sociological” or rather sociographic filmmaking, while never explicitly positioning itself as heir to this particular tradition, fits well into the long-term historical structure of Hungarian social studies. Furthermore, it accomplishes the almost obvious medial shift that replaces pen and paper with “camera-pen” and celluloid in the discovery of reality. Of course, the camera’s supplanting of pen and paper was not without consequence; in fact, this is the theoretical juncture where the paths of documentarism proper and the formal experimentation of feature films begin to diverge. One side involves an ethical commitment, which compels the discovery of an unknown reality concealed by ideology to compensate for the lack of a “positive public sphere.”32 Film and documentary film have indeed played an important, if not exclusive, role in debates regarding certain highly significant social issues. Although the documentary filmmaking of the 1960s and 1970s can hardly be equated in terms of their formal language, one can justifiably make the claim that both typically attempted to answer questions neglected by history and sociology that could not be broached in other ways. It was at this time that the notion according to which the camera simply replicates the world began to take hold (a notion that persists to this day, despite its shaky foundations). In the words of Gábor Bódy:

Many looked to sociology and a new type of documentarism, from which they expected direct social effectiveness. This did not eliminate all doubts: what is the relationship between a “reality” addressed by the camera with untroubled informality and the sequence of images rolling on the big or small screen?33

Clearly, one of the forces driving the greater demand for documentariness was people’s acute loss of trust in the version of reality depicted in the information-deprived world of the official, first public sphere of socialism.34 Documentary films no doubt had a significant ethical role in revealing particular problems and showing that this concealed reality in fact existed. This, however, seems to have somewhat simplified the epistemological relationship between camera and reality. The latter is amply illustrated by the claim that documentary film allegedly had no raison d’être after the political transition: what was the point of its existence now that “everything could be said?”35 If revealing particular problems of the present or past is no longer a matter of conflict, does the documentary commitment of a filmmaker make any sense? If one’s relationship to reality were indeed so simple, the political transition and a democratic public sphere theoretically would have made the documentary film genre pointless. With the benefit of twenty years of hindsight, one can clearly see this has not been the case.36

As I mentioned in the introduction, this type of realism in the discipline of history has undergone substantial changes in Western Europe since the early 1970s. A (historical) document is no longer regarded as an unproblematic representation of reality, but is seen rather as part of a selective account of it, informed by a particular value structure and power status. Similarly, the frames photographed by the cinematographer and projected onto the big or small screen (after having been edited) represent not reality, but rather a set of moving images of reality selected by the director and cinematographer. This composition includes an imprint of the creators’ political, cultural, ethical and aesthetic attitudes, and the images are often determined by the camera. Its relationship to reality is by no means merely that of a recording. On the contrary, it is highly constitutive. This sheds light on the meaning of Gábor Bódy’s statement according to which “‘documentary film’ is the philosophy of film.” Documentary film illuminates the complex intellectual relationship between the author and external reality, a relationship that the author maintains through his or her work.37 The epistemological level and ethical commitment are not necessarily tied to each other, something made abundantly clear by the divergent paths of Hungarian documentary and feature films from the early 1980s after their near symbiosis in terms of film language. While the former “increasingly made use of historical interviews,” according to András Bálint Kovács, “new feature films give center stage to the creation of subtle narrative and visual effects.”38 The most fitting example is the later film theory and feature film oeuvre of Bódy, who earlier had been a signatory of the manifesto For a Sociological Film Group!. He became the most effective representative of the deconstructive approach to the former linear, realist relationship between film and reality.

Up to this point, in this discussion of the conceptual history of reality my emphasis has been on documentary films with sociological and social history ambitions. It is also worth examining “historical” documentaries and their notions of reality and the manners in which it can be revealed and presented. If one tries to establish ideal types in the kinds of relationships with reality fostered by historical documentaries, again a number of significant differences emerge. Though it may seem paradoxical at first glance, methodologically it is Péter Forgács’s experimental documentary series Privát Magyarország [Private Hungary], inspired by Gábor Bódy’s experiment Privát történelem [Private History; 1978], that is the closest to a classic historical method because he uses contemporary documents. Granted, it is a rather significant difference that while historians rely primarily on written records (“traces” in the terminology of Charles-Victor Langlois and Charles Seignobos) in their work, Forgács works with amateur and archival newsreel footage, in other words moving images. His work, however, is significantly distinct from fundamentally interview-based “historical documentary films” (also based on the notion of direct cognition) that record the perspective of the present through the social relationships of remembrance.39 Instead of relying on traces, Forgács prefers to learn of the past directly, from the narratives of participants. This is obviously not a qualitative difference, but rather one of cognition, which is nevertheless a highly significant difference in the process of constructing historical reality. Forgács tends to use visual documents as “traces,” even if his visual rhetoric and attribution are exciting precisely because of his constitutive use of the material. His work is always based on accurate research (archives, interviews, etc.), and the phase of execution is naturally governed by artistic goals.

Presented as experimental documentary in 1998 and in 2005 as a multimedia exhibition at the Ludwig Museum, The Danube Exodus shows captain Nándor Andrásovits’s amateur film footage taken at the turn of the 1930s and 1940s. On his ship named “Erzsébet Királyné” [Queen Consort Elizabeth], footage from 1939 records the emigration of Jews escaping from Austria after the Anschluss and from Tiso’s Slovakia. The destination is Palestine. The trip will take them down on Danube and through the Black Sea. One year later, the Soviet Union occupies Bessarabia following the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact, as a result of which German settlers of this region have to leave for the territory of the Third Reich. They travel upstream on the Danube until they reach Zimony (today Zemun in Serbia, it is part of the city of Belgrade), and eventually captain Andrásovits’s ship, the “Erzsébet Királyné” delivers them. History is presented on a human scale, while in the background the clashes between the great powers create the context. The footage records the experiences from the perspectives of fugitives escaping downstream and upstream on the Danube, i. e. the everyday lives at the time of Austrian, Slovakian, and Hungarian Jews and German citizens.

As mentioned above, the methodology of Péter Forgács’s documentary film differs from the traditional procedure significantly, in as much as he makes use of contemporary traces, i. e. amateur footage and contemporary photographs, and re-contextualizes them (vis-à-vis the so-called historical documentary that constructs the notion of history retrospectively on the basis of interviews). Forgács’s artistic approach, which is based on pictorial thinking, fundamentally differs from the conventional writing of history. It turns the principle of source criticism, which is dear to traditional historiography, up-side-down using the footage as a document on the one hand and as the object of pictorial rhetoric on the other.40 What is decisive about the film as a conventional historical narrative is that it really happened, while as a visual composition it freely uses found footage, sorts it out, repeats various episodes, modulates, i. e. attributes meaning to the document. These two different uses of historical document create the duality of the series. In preparing the film, the director conducts interviews and selects archival documents. In other words, he pursues regular scientific work preceding the fictionalizing phase of the documents. This is why the play with pictures is not a “simple play,” not the result of daring chance, but deliberate pictorial attribution: enhancement and accentuation, and in the case of Forgács, it is often the deceleration of footage.41 Beyond this, the pieces of the series Privát Magyarország communicate on many levels: the meaning is produced by the found footage, the inscription and the voiceover narration, but at the same time the filmic atmosphere is conjured by the musical inter-medium. Generally, captions of the pictures of The Danube Exodus provide the necessary historical background knowledge, while the voice-over narration (mostly the voice of the well-known actor Andor Lukáts) creates an impression of authenticity and the repetitive music by Tibor Szemző conjures the emotional atmosphere. Doubtlessly, Forgács’s use of documents differs from the manner in which traditional historians would treat sources. Nonetheless, his composition remains very historical in the sense of Siegfried Kracauer’s notion of the multiscopic level of historical understanding. The German philosopher recommends the cognitive and reality producing techniques of motion pictures to historians, that is to say the alternate usage of close-ups and long shots.42

Nowadays, of course, historians also use oral sources (oral history, narrative interviews, etc.), but let us not forget that what appeared self-evident in documentary films (including the “historical” subcategory), namely someone recounting an event, a moment, or his or her own life, was not recognized as legitimate scientific practice in Western Europe until as late as the 1970s.43 The legitimacy of this form of historical narrative was, in fact, undermined by the tacit acceptance of “nullius in verba” in the scientific tradition, which regarded all verbal communications as steeped in ambitions and power interests and therefore as something to be minimized in the interests of scientific objectivity.44 In Hungary, however, a high-minded ideal of science was far from the sole motivation for documentary filmmakers. They were motivated once again by the conditions of the public sphere outlined above. This is why the Holocaust, the Don catastrophe (the losses of the Second Hungarian Army on the Russian front in World War II), virtually any detail of the 1956 uprising, or the labor camps established in the Rákosi era were all off limits for discussion in front of a wider audience.45 The beginning of oral history research and the recording of documentary films was thus not merely a means of disclosing reality and representing a past previously repressed in the official public sphere; it became a moral mission to retrieve the memory of the repressed past for the future. “The guarantee for his [the interviewee – editor] sincerity,” says Gyula Kozák of this ambiguous situation, “is that he has promised to tell everything he knows’ (ha ha!) at the beginning of the conversation, and I accepted—what else could I have done? —that everything will be as much as he deems fit.”46


In the construction of historical knowledge and reality, these epistemological problems are very real. The same difficulties plagued “talking heads” type documentaries as well, and before the political transition the only way of testing the veracity of a statement was to ask several people the same question whenever possible (and this is hardly a reassuring method). There is, however, a major difference between the audiences of the two: the video interview, which constitutes a form of oral history, remains in the status of document (accessible to researchers in the archives), whereas the documentary film is a product made for a prospective broader public sphere (even if the film about the uprising in 1956 could not be screened until 1988). It is something that is usually considered not to be shown in its raw, unedited, dramatically unstructured form.47 After the political transition, when new social science ideas and trends trickled into Hungary and the deficiencies of the public sphere were corrected, sociologists and historians were quick to criticize unquestioning faith in the credibility of oral history and documentary film. It seems symptomatic of the encounter between documentary film and critical theories that, of all possible works, sociologist András Kovács picked Judit Ember’s Menedékjog [Right of Asylum; 1988] as an example to demonstrate how cognitive realism is eroded by the constitutive social process of remembrance. Focusing on the factual inconsistencies between individual interviews and adapting Frederic Bartlett’s theory, Kovács proved that instead of reconstructing the reality of the past, oral narrative constructs it. The reality of the past comes to exist for historical thought through the narrative.48

It would not be appropriate, however, to apply retroactively the currently fashionable critical trends as the sole acceptable ones on the basis of which to assess excellent documentary works and oeuvres. This is not my point. What I have tried to show is that sociography and documentary film shared a motivation: a demand for reality and realism in thinking about Hungarian society and history, driven in part by the structural lack of a positive public sphere and in part by the tension of social (and social history) traumas. This problem was not restricted to state socialism, but was present in the long term of Hungarian political culture. “Rebellious” sociography attempted to reveal a set of repressed problems, much like the documentaries of the 1970s, with their sociological and social history ambitions, and the historical documentaries of the 1980s strived to record distorted, concealed fates and events for the future in order to prevent their planned erasure from cultural memory. In this context, Judit Ember’s documentaries, which represent attempts to salvage the silent tradition of the crushed 1956 uprising, resonate perfectly with Imre Kovács’s Néma forradalom [Silent Revolution], which explores the subject of emigration and the single child phenomenon. In this cross section of conceptual history, one can see that the concept of reality is not constant and absolute; at times the system of references to it and the dynamic relationship with it can tell us more about the period in question than any number of archival documents. Ever since Karl Mannheim introduced his concept of incongruence, we know that individuals relate to social reality not merely through participation, but also through the desire to be separate, to be incompatible.49 If one is willing to consider cognitive realism as a morally motivated act aimed at counterbalancing and pressuring official ideology, a genre- and medium-blind group language of intellectuals unwilling to fit in, then the changing status of reality is suddenly not an epistemological issue, but one of the sociology of science. In the Hungarian history of thought, the constant, emphatic reference to the direct (i.e. non-ideological) cognition of empirical reality could well be construed as a symbolic act, after Geertz and Kenneth Burke, which however cannot help but be saturated by tropes, like all public discourse.50 Recognizing this trope-laden rhetoric of reality, one can grasp the morally charged moments of value creation that aimed to counterbalance political distortion and silencing at any given time. In this sense the status of reality is political. The language and methodology of the revelation of reality was emphatically empirical precisely because reality had to be above any suspicion of ideology; this is why it never became a counter-ideology. The aspiration towards an objectivity above political interests made this pursuit of “reality” a metapolitics (to borrow Miklós Lackó’s term) that consciously ignored and rejected ideological distortions.


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Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára [National Archives of Hungary], fond XXVI. I–1–b, box 1, unit 2. Mérei Ferenc levele Kiss Árpádnak [Ferenc Mérei’s Letter to Árpád Kiss] (May 24, 1948).


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Ricœur, Paul. L’idéologie et l’utopie. Paris: Seuil, 1997.

Ruby, Jay. “Az antropológiai filmkészítés. Néhány megjegyzés és a lehetséges jövő” [Making Anthropological Film: A Few Observations and the Possible Future]. In A valóság filmjei. Tanulmányok az antropológiai filmről és filmkatalógus [The Films of Reality: Studies on Anthropological Film and a Film Catalogue], edited by János Domokos, 75–82. Budapest: Dialektus, 2004.

Saád, József. “Magyar szociológia-történet: minek a története? Vázlat a magyar társadalomtani–szociológiai gondolkodás 1945 előtti történetéről” [History of Hungarian Sociology: The History of What? A Sketch of the History of Social and Sociological Thought in Hungary before 1945]. Replika 23–24 (1996): 161–71.

Seignobos, Charles. La méthode historique appliquée aux sciences socials. Paris: Alcan, 1901.

“Szociológiai filmcsoportot!” [Let’s Make a Sociological Filmgroup!]. Filmkultúra 5, no. 3 (1969). Reprinted in Balázs Béla Stúdió, 1961–1981. Dokumentumok a 20 éves Balázs Béla Stúdió történetéből, 10–11. Pécs: Ifjúsági Ház–BBS, 1982.

Takács, Erzsébet. “Egy vita története. A szociológusok és történészek viszonya a fin-de-siècle Franciaországában” [The History of a Debate: The Relationship of Sociologists and Historians in fin–de-siècle France]. Korall 19–20 (2005): 5–36.

Tarr, Béla. “‘Jelenné tenni a múltat…’” [“To Make the Past Present…”]. In Az Ember-lépték. Ember Judit portréja [The Human Scale. The Portrait of Judit Ember], ed. Vince Zalán, 185–92. Budapest: Osiris–Kodolányi János Főiskola, 2003.

Thompson, Paul. The Voice of the Past: Oral History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Topits, Judit M. Üzemi baleset. Történetek a Kádár-korszak tájékoztatáspolitikájáról [A Factory Accident: Stories on the Politics of Information in the Kádár-period]. Budapest: 1956-os Intézet, 2003.

Udvarnoky, Virág. “Történelem és emlékezet dokumentumfilmben. Hortobágy, Kistarcsa, Recsk” [History and Memory in Documentary Film: Hortobágy, Kistarcsa, Recsk]. Metropolis 8, no. 2 (2004): 50–56.

Udvarnoky, Virág, ed. “‘Elbeszélt történelem’-dosszié” [“History Narrated”: A Dossier]. Replika 58 (2007).

Valéry, Paul. “A történelemről (1931)” [On History]. In A történelem anyaga. Francia történelemfilozófia a XX. században [The Matter of History: French Philosophy of History in the Twentieth Century], edited by Ádám Takács, 23–25. Budapest: L’Harmattan–Atelier, 2004.

Valéry, Paul. Reflections on the World Today. Translated by Francis Scarfe. London: Thames and Hudson, 1951.

Vasák, Benedek Balázs. “Határesetek: beszélgetés Forgács Péterrel” [Borderline: An Interview with Péter Forgács]. Metropolis 3 (Summer 1999): 108–28.

Varga, Balázs. “A magyar dokumentumfilm rendszerváltása – a magyar dokumentumfilm a rendszerváltás után” [The Transformations of Hungarian Documentary Film – Hungarian Documentary Film after the Changes of 1989]. Metropolis 8, no. 2 (2004): 8–36.

Veyne, Paul. Comment on écrit l’histoire. Paris: Seuil, 1971.


Translated by Katalin Orbán


1 This text was commissioned and first published in BBS 50. A Balázs Béla Stúdió 50 éve (BBS 50. The 50 Years of the Balázs Béla Studio), ed. Gábor Gelencsér (Budapest: Műcsarnok, 2009). It was supported by Magyar Mozgókép Közalapítvány (Motion Picture Public Foundation of Hungary), Nemzeti Kulturális Alap (National Cultural Fund of Hungary), Magyar Nemzeti Filmarchívum (Hungarian National Movie Archives), Országos Rádió és Televízió Testület (Hungarian National Radio and Television Authority) and the ERSTE Foundation and was published in parallel with the exhibition Other Voices, Other Rooms – Attempt(s) at Reconstruction. 50 years of Balázs Béla Stúdió, Műcsarnok, Budapest, 2009. The translation was supported by the ERSTE Foundation.

2 Károly Polányi, “A tudomány: megfigyelés és hit,” Polanyiana 7, no. 1–2 (1998): 65. English translations of quotations are by Katalin Orbán, unless otherwise noted.

3 Cf. Georg G. Iggers, Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge (Hanover–London: Wesleyan University Press, 1997), 23–35; Gérard Noiriel, A történetírás “válsága” (Budapest: Napvilág, 2001), 77–78.

4 Jan Patočka, “Eretnek esszék a történelem filozófiájáról (1990),” in Mi a cseh? Esszék és tanulmányok, ed. Ivan Chvatík (Pozsony: Kalligram, 1996), 349.

5 Paul Valéry, “A történelemről (1931),” in A történelem anyaga. Francia történelemfilozófia a XX. században, ed. Ádám Takács (Budapest: L’Harmattan–Atelier, 2004), 23. English translation from Paul Valéry, Reflections on the World Today, trans. Francis Scarfe (London: Thames and Hudson, 1951), 36.

6 See Paul Veyne, Comment on écrit l’histoire (Paris: Seuil, 1971); Michel de Certeau, L’écriture de l’histoire (Paris: Gallimard, 1975).

7 Michel de Certeau, “L’histoire, science et fiction,” in Histoire et psychanalyse entre science et fiction (Paris: Gallimard, 1987), 53–84.

8 See also Gábor Gyáni, “A történetírás fogalmi alapjairól: tény, magyarázat, elbeszélés,” in Bevezetés a társadalomtörténetbe: hagyományok, irányzatok, módszerek, ed. Zsombor Bódy and József Ö. Kovács (Budapest: Osiris, 2003), 11–53.

9 See Reinhart Koselleck, “Sozialgeschichte und Begriffsgeschichte,” in Sozialgeschichte in Deutschland, ed. Wolfgang Schieder and Volker Sellin, vol. 1 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986), 89–109.

10 Wolf Lepenies, Die drei Kulturen. Soziologie zwischen Literatur und Wissenschaft (Munich: Hanser, 1985).

11 Dénes Némedi, A népi szociográfia, 1930–1938 (Budapest: Gondolat, 1985), 9–35; József Saád, “Magyar szociológia-történet: minek a története? Vázlat a magyar társadalomtani-szociológiai gondolkodás 1945 előtti történetéről,” Replika 23–24 (1996): 161–71.

12 Jászi is quoted in György Litván, “Bevezetés,” in A szociológia első magyar műhelye: a Huszadik Század köre, ed. György Litván and László Szűcs, vol. 1 (Budapest: Gondolat, 1973), 5. See also György Litván, ed., Magyar munkásszociográfiák, 1888–1945 (Budapest: Kossuth, 1974).

13 Cf. Miklós Lackó, Korszellem és tudomány, 1910–1945 (Budapest: Gondolat, 1988), 330.

14 Ernő Gondos, ed., A valóság vonzásában, vols. 1–2 (Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1963).

15 See Ferenc Erdei, A falukutatástól a népi kollégiumokig (Budapest: Múzsák, 1985).

16 Ferenc Pataki, “Bevezető,” in A valóság pedagógiája. Közösségi nevelés a népi kollégiumokban, ed. Ferenc Pataki (Budapest: Tankönyvkiadó, 1974), 12. The journal founded by the movement in 1945 was also entitled Valóság (Reality).

17 A Népi Kollégiumok Országos Szövetsége első országos nevelésügyi konferenciájának programja, 1947. január 3–9. Politikatörténeti és Szakszervezeti Levéltár (Archive of the Institute of Political History), 302 f. 1/ 221. See also Ferenc Pataki, A Nékosz-legenda (Budapest: Osiris, 2005), 277.

18 Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára (National Archives of Hungary) XXVI–I–1–b, 1. d., 2. tétel (Ferenc Mérei’s letter to Árpád Kiss, May 24, 1948).

19 See Andor Németh, “Kommentár (1926),” in A szélén behajtva. Válogatott írások, ed. Pál Réz (Budapest: Magvető, 1973), 177.

20 Cf. Melinda Kalmár, Ennivaló és hozomány. A kora kádárizmus ideológiája (Budapest: Magvető, 1998), 64 passim.

21 Tibor Kuczi and Attila Becskeházi, Valóság ’70. Szociológia, ideológia, közbeszéd. Szociológia és társadalomdiskurzus (Budapest: Scientia Humana, 1992), 119.

22 Cf. Paul Ricœur, L’idéologie et l’utopie (Paris: Seuil, 1997), 16–17.

23 Clifford Geertz, “Blurred Genres: The Refiguration of Social Thought,” in Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 19–35.

24 A detailed analysis of the relationships between documentary film, feature film and documentarism as a style can be found in Gábor Gelencsér, A Titanic zenekara. Stílusok és irányzatok a hetvenes évek magyar filmművészetében (Budapest: Osiris, 2002), 199–276.

25 Clifford Geertz, “Being There: Anthropology and the Scene of Writing,” in Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), 1–24.

26 Béla Tarr, “‘Jelenné tenni a múltat…,’” in Az Ember-lépték. Ember Judit portréja, ed. Vince Zalán (Budapest: Osiris–Kodolányi János Főiskola, 2003), 187.

27 Ágnes Losonczi, “Az igazat, csakis az igazat… s a teljes igazat vallja,” in Az Ember-lépték, 7.

28 Gábor Bódy, Filmiskola, ed. Miklós Peternák (Budapest: Palatinus, 1998), 25. (My emphasis – Zs. K. H.)

29 “A társadalmi folyamatok láthatóvá tétele. Beszélgetés a Balázs Béla Stúdió vezetőségével,” Filmkultúra 7, no. 5 (1971). Reprinted in Balázs Béla Stúdió, 1961–1981. Dokumentumok a 20 éves Balázs Béla Stúdió történetéből (Pécs: Ifjúsági Ház – BBS, 1982), 12–13.

30 Classic sociography flourished (once again) in the 1970s and 1980s: it suffices to mention the work of György Berkovits, Sándor Tar, Zsolt Csalog, János Kőbányai or Miklós Haraszti. A good overview of sociography’s relationship with sociophotography is offered in the Special Issue Peremhelyzetek–Szociográfiák of Budapesti Negyed 35–36 (Spring–Summer 2002), ed. György Németh.

31 “Szociológiai filmcsoportot!,” Filmkultúra 5, no. 3 (1969). Reprinted in Balázs Béla Stúdió, 1961–1981, 10–11. A telling difference emerged in the debate on anthropological filmmaking in 1970s. Its concerns were far more theoretical than those of Hungarian writings in the same period. Jay Ruby suggests that anthropological filmmaking never involved this type of epistemological realism. Its practitioners had to be as well versed in major issues of ethnology as in the technical aspects of filmmaking and the theoretical aspects of image construction. See Jay Ruby, “Az antropológiai filmkészítés. Néhány megjegyzés és a lehetséges jövő,” in A valóság filmjei. Tanulmányok az antropológiai filmről és filmkatalógus, ed. János Domokos (Budapest: Dialektus, 2004), 75–82.

32 On the concepts of a positive and negative public sphere, see Alain Cottereau, “‘Esprit public’ et capacité de juger. La stabilisation d’un espace public en France aux lendemains de la Révolution,” in Pouvoir et légitimité. Figures de l’espace public, ed. Alain Cottereau and Paul Ladrière (Paris: EHESS, 1992), 239–73.

33 Gábor Bódy, “A kinematográfia kreatív nyelve,” in Végtelen kép. Bódy Gábor írásai, ed. Miklós Peternák (Budapest: Pesti Szalon, 1996), 266.

34 The documentary Üzemi baleset (Factory Accident) wittily demonstrates how the withholding of certain news items considered strategic mobilized the imagination of Hungarian society, which was able to imagine a sensational background behind the most banal occurrence (Judit M. Topits, Üzemi baleset. Történetek a Kádár-korszak tájékoztatáspolitikájáról [Budapest: 1956-os Intézet, 2003[).

35 See Ágnes Losonczi, “Történelmi sasszék,” Filmvilág 36, no. 8 (1993): 4–7.

36 Although 1989/1990 was undoubtedly a watershed in the status of documentary film, the transformation of the conditions cannot be fully explained by the question of the public sphere alone. For more detail, see Balázs Varga, “A magyar dokumentumfilm rendszerváltása – a magyar dokumentumfilm a rendszerváltás után,” Metropolis 8, no. 2 (2004): 8–36.

37 Gábor Bódy, “Hol a ‘valóság’? A dokumentumfilm metodikai útvonalaihoz (1977),” in Végtelen kép, 57. According to Bódy’s interpretation, documentary filmmaking after the 1970s can be divided into three trends: situationist, escalationist, and analytical.

38 Bálint András Kovács, “A játékfilm esete a dokumentumfilmmel,” Filmvilág 36, no. 12 (1993): 13. See also Yvette Bíró, Profán mitológia. A film és a mágikus gondolkodás (Budapest: Magvető, 1990), 166–67.

39 See Charles-Victor Langlois and Charles Seignobos, Introduction aux études historiques (1898) (Paris: Kimé, 1992); Charles Seignobos, La méthode historique appliquée aux sciences sociales (Paris: Alcan, 1901). On their role, see Erzsébet Takács, “Egy vita története. A szociológusok és történészek viszonya a fin-de-siècle Franciaországában,” Korall 19–20 (2005): 5–36.

40 See the website of the research project: http://www.danube-exodus.hu/index.php3, accessed June 11, 2014.

41 Cf. Balázs Benedek Vasák, “Határesetek: beszélgetés Forgács Péterrel,” Metropolis 3 (Summer 1999): 127. See also Bence Nánay, “Rendet, rendet, műrendet!,” Filmvilág 47, no. 4 (2014): 26.

42 Siegrfried Kracauer, History: the Last Things before the Last (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969).

43 Cf. Paul Thompson, The Voice of the Past: Oral History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978). Oral history has an extensive literature in Hungarian as well; Virág Udvarnoky has edited a special journal issue surveying these findings. See Replika 58 (2007). “Elbeszélt történelem”-dosszié. Another overview is Éva Kovács, “Az élettörténeti emlékezet helye az emlékezetkutatásban,” in Tükörszilánkok. Kádár-korszakok a személyes emlékezetben, ed. Éva Kovács (Budapest: MTA Szociológiai Intézet–1956-os Intézet, 2008), 9–40.

44 François Hartog sees historical cognition based on orality and direct experience as a revival of the antique tradition of historiography. See Hartog, “L’œil de l’histoiren et la voix de l’histoire,” in Évidence de l’histoire. Ce que voient les historiens (Paris: EHESS, 2005), 135–51.

45 See, for example, Virág Udvarnoky, “Történelem és emlékezet dokumentumfilmben. Hortobágy, Kistarcsa, Recsk,” Metropolis 8, no. 2 (2004): 50–56.; László Eörsi, “Dokumentumfilmek ’56 (1988–2003). Dokumentumfilmek a szabadság bűvöletében,” Metropolis 8, no. 2 (2004): 40–49.

46 Gyula Kozák, “(M)oral history: a szociológus nyomorúsága,” Beszélő 2, no. 2 (1997): 64. An overview of Hungarian oral archives is found in András Lénárt, “‘Történetgyűjtés.’ Oral history archívumok Magyarországon,” Aetas, 22, no. 2 (2007): 5–30.

47 Dramaturgical attribution in Judit Ember’s film Pócspetri (1982) is highlighted in Pál Czirják, “Elbeszéléskényszer, dokumentumfilm és a történeti emlékezet konstruálása. Adalékok a történelmi dokumentumfilm és az oral history módszertani összevetéséhez,” Replika 58 (2007): 91–119.

48 András Kovács, “Szóról szóra,” BUKSZ 4 (Spring 1992): 88–94.

49 Károly Mannheim, Ideológia és utópia (Budapest: Atlantisz, 1996). In English: Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge, trans. from the German by Louis Wirth and Edward Shils (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1936).

50 Clifford Geertz, “Ideology as a Cultural System,” in The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 193–233.

pdfVolume 3 Issue 2 CONTENTS

Péter Apor

Spectacular History: Photography, Film and Exhibitions in Representations of the Hungarian Soviet Republic after 1956

The article explores the implications of communist representations of history as it relates to representation and evidence in historical theory. It investigates the attempts of the party historians to establish a historical connection between the “counterrevolutions” of 1919 and 1956: as they argued, the counterrevolution that had been born in 1919 and ruled the country until 1945 and, subsequently, been forced “underground” by the Soviet Red Army and the new communist power, was able to “resurrect itself” once again in 1956. It examines how they attempted to authenticate this historical abstraction through various historical, mostly visual, records: photography, film and exhibitions. The article argues that an unusual attitude towards evidence prevailed in these historical works. Although communist historians boasted of referring to an abundance of original source material, their narrative frames of representation proved to be fictitious: sources were selected not in order to draw conclusions regarding historical processes, but instead to illustrate various pre-figured abstract constructions of history. The aim of this method was to maintain the separation of the empirical source base and the philosophical-theological imagination surrounding the meanings of history in order to unbind the latter from evidence and tie it to political ideologies and commitments.

Keywords: communist historiography, visual representation, authenticity


What makes abstract historical interpretations authentic? What types of techniques, evidence and procedures come to the fore in establishing the authenticity, realism or credibility of various historical representations? What is the role of the historian in producing and making these means available? The following article discusses a special case connected to these broader questions. It examines how communist historical-ideologists, propagandists and historians proper used various visual representations, photographs, films and museum exhibitions as evidence for their historical narrative based on the alleged continuity of the “counterrevolutions” in 1919 following the fall of Béla Kun’s Hungarian Soviet Republic and in 1956 following the anti-Stalinist uprising that overthrew the Rákosi dictatorship. The article explores those intellectual and political contexts prevailing in János Kádár’s post-1956 restoration régime that caused the creators of communist history to believe in the authenticity of their abstract historical construction.1

The problem of evidence and proof present in the historiography of communist historical writings is due to a remarkably significant extent to typical rather than specific ideological and intellectual backgrounds. During the Cold War, non-communist interpreters of communist historical production were largely interested in deconstructing and dismantling scholarship on the past by authors from Eastern Bloc states that critical historiography had with some justification—though probably too easily—disqualified as falsification and ideological distortion of evidence; consequently it had very little stake in conducting analysis of the modes of dealing with original documents and authentic historical records. As a consequence, this tendency of scholarship could not make sense of the admiration of original historical documents that was so typical of most of official historical production during the period of Eastern European communist dictatorship.2 Contrary to the mainstream Cold War inquiries, post-1989 analyses tend to regard communist historiography predominantly as a means of constructing narrative legitimacy. In this perspective, the association of modes of emplotment and generic structures with political and cultural implications seems sufficient to understand the characteristics of communist historical representation. As a consequence, these interpretations risk equating the production of communist historical propaganda with normal historical scholarship and therefore hardly provide any means of carrying out a critical assessment of the ways and extent to which ideological historiography deviates from proper historical investigation.3 This article suggests a different path and examines a case in which the appropriation of original historical records, the burden of proof and authenticity played an important role. Through demonstration of the mode of visual narrative emplotment, its moral implications and political context, I will seek to answer how the ideological prescriptions shaped the use and function of evidence in these representations. As a conclusion, I will argue that the eventual failure of party historians to establish a proper evidential paradigm rendered their narrative pre-figurations ineffective and their moral-political implications inauthentic.4

Revelations of Photography

The crucial component of the Kádárist myth of political legitimacy was the argument that the revolt in 1956 had represented a “counterrevolution” aimed at overthrowing the popular democracy established in Hungary, restoring capitalist exploitation, leading the country to colonial dependence on Western imperialism and restoring counterrevolutionary White Terror against all democratic and anti-Fascist forces, particularly the communists. Interpretations of the 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic became the crucial and decisive factor in transforming the anti-Stalinist insurrection in October 1956 into a genuine counterrevolution in communist terms. For communists the most shocking occurrence of 1956 was the siege of the Budapest party headquarters on Köztársaság tér (“Republic Square”), where the insurgents mercilessly massacred captured defenders of the building. The communists realized that these radicals had been present as an element of the rebellion from the very beginning, claiming that they had, in fact, organized the uprising and following the occupation of the party headquarters had openly called for the restoration of capitalist dictatorship and the annihilation of the defenders of the communist régime.5 The conclusion that the massacre of communists must be interpreted as a sign of counterrevolution was confirmed by the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919, when paramilitaries who called themselves counterrevolutionaries and who aimed to restore the pre-1914 social and political order persecuted, tortured and executed communists, leftists and Jews. For party leaders the two events were strikingly similar. From the communist perspective, the revolution in October 1956 was none other than the revival of the White Terror that took place following the collapse of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, the second coming of the counterrevolutionaries of 1919.

In this respect, the history of the Kádár era is that of a constant historiographical project focused on the documentation of the counterrevolution and its transformation into an intelligible narrative. The new communist government presented its official interpretation of the 1956 revolution in the so-called “White Books.” This series of five volumes was prepared by the government Information Office in 1956–58 with the purpose of publishing evidence on the “counterrevolutionary nature” of the events that had taken place in Hungary in the fall of 1956. The series was aimed at a broad public: the second edition in 1958 was planned to number 100,000 copies.6 The evidence included photographs of the lynching of party members and security officers, alleged biographies of participants linking them to the interwar élite and reports about atrocities or capitalist political programs that were supposedly taken from documents of post-1956 trials. The level of evidence, in reality, was rather uneven: photos documented real events, but they were not immune to various techniques of manipulation and many of the reports were distorted and in some cases simply fictitious. The first volume was issued in December 1956, shortly after the suppression of the revolution.

The evidence that the White Books accumulated soon after the end of the armed revolt contained a large number of photographs among the numerous testimonies and articles. A sizable proportion of them were shot by Western reporters who were in Budapest during the revolution and were published in leading journals such as Time, Life, Paris Match or Der Spiegel.7 The photos, which generally followed the generic features of photographic war documentation, concentrated on the crowd, violence, armed groups and the ruins of the city. These photographic images played a great role in constructing for the Western public a revolution, meaning a collective social deed, out of the events of October and November 1956.8 The way in which the communist observers who compiled the history of the counterrevolution regarded this documentation is eloquently reflected by the first volume of the White Books.9 What dominates the volume even at first sight is the terrifying spectacle of physical violence. Photographs of bodies, beaten, tortured, executed and dismembered, appear one after another. Undoubtedly, one which depicts a young member of the communist political police stripped to the waist and hanged upside down has become one of the most telling.10 The gaze of the viewer is drawn immediately to the body situated in the vertical axis of the photograph, occupying it completely from top to bottom. Subsequently one notices the figures standing in the background of the illustration. A few people are watching the victim, while others are talking to each other or paying attention to something outside the frame. The chief element of the story is clearly the tortured and hanged body. The event the photograph wants portray is not the action of lynching, but rather the result, frozen in time: the dismembered body. The cruelty that is made impersonal and atemporal in this way is transformed into a depiction of the barbarity concealed in the depths of human soul, but which on this horrific occasion has erupted onto the surface.

The image of the corpses of fallen political-police officers laid down in a row inflicts similar effects on the observer.11 No other human figure can be seen besides the dead, so the cause of death remains hidden. The subject is not human activity in this case, only its outcome. The photography that depicts the corpses of the executed in a perspectival point of view evokes the image of parallels leading to infinity: the viewer can imagine this spectacle of the dead to continue beyond the frame. The photo represents the impersonal nature of mass devastation and murderous cruelty. The stories told by the images attempt to depict violence in an abstract, allegorical manner, as illustrated by the photograph of a group assaulting a woman lying on the ground.12 The gaze of the viewer is drawn to the center by the white blouse of the woman, which stands out of the gray-black background. Thus the viewer first encounters the fact of cruelty: the woman’s body is surrounded by legs kicking her and hands twisting her arms. The image nonetheless remains impersonal: the faces of neither the woman nor the attackers are visible. In fact, the members of the group committing the atrocity appear below the waist, merely as a mass of bodily appendages directly carrying out the violence. At the same time, the composition is loaded with symbolic meaning related to gender: the woman’s white dress evokes concepts of defenseless innocence, whereas the darkly dressed male figures surrounding her represent images of the untamed violence hidden in man. The spectacle of pure cruelty dominates the publication: within its 62 pages, the thin volume features 27 photographs of corpses, executions and other atrocities. Any logic among the photographs besides repetition is hard to detect: each illustration depicts a new instance of cruelty. The recurrent images of violence strengthen the impression of a flood of arbitrary mercilessness; the purposeless, unhindered violence evokes the notion of uncivilized barbarity. The crowd, raging wildly, showed no mercy and “bestially dismembered” its victims: one of the photographs shows a naked upper body with its head and arms removed.13

Following the June 1958 trial of Imre Nagy, who served as prime minister during the 1956 revolution, the shocking photographs of the bloodbath on Republic Square published in the first volume of the White Books come into a peculiar relationship with images of other anti-communist violence. The fifth volume of the White Books, which aimed to prove the guilt of the former prime minister, published a few such images. The first examples are placed on adjoining pages: the first page contains photographs from 1919, the second from 1956.14 The photos from 1919 depict when “one of the leaders from the district of Tab was hanged in the main street of the village after the downfall of the Soviet Republic in 1919” and when “White Terrorist officers executed a peasant on the outskirts of the village of Kőröshegy.” The photos taken in 1956 show when “the counterrevolutionaries carried off József Stefkó, a border-guard lieutenant who was lying ill in the hospital, and beat him to death then hanged him upside down.” The photographs taken in 1919 focus on hanged victims placed in the vertical axis of the composition. Framing the images one can see counterrevolutionary officers either posing proudly by their victim or carefully observing the result of their activity. Both compositions thus emphasize the cold, merciless character of the counterrevolutionaries. The picture from 1956, placed next to the earlier ones, creates the impression of similarity by the commensurable composition, highlighting the hanged person in its vertical axis. The center of the image is likewise juxtaposed by a raging crowd, thereby highlighting the contrast between the defenseless victim and the cruel counterrevolutionaries.

The second examples are printed on one page: the upper one depicts the “Communists of Szekszárd in 1919,” who are “awaiting the fatal bullets of Horthy’s White Terrorists with their hands bound behind their back,” whereas the photograph below shows when “the counterrevolutionary bandits shot the surrendered soldiers from behind on Republic Square in October 1956.” Whereas the first photograph focuses on the victims of the forthcoming execution, the second one places the executioners at its center. Nonetheless, the differing compositions have a similar visual effect. The first image shows those awaiting execution—depicted as average ordinary people from all classes of society—in two rows, silently and calmly awaiting death. These two rows occupy the entire photograph, the depicted individuals facing the viewer with no visible sign of the firing squad. This photo thereby manages to emphasize the unarmed, non-violent, defenseless state of the victims, giving also an impression of innocence. The second image taken in 1956 places a group of armed insurgents on the right-hand half of the composition, while the other half is occupied by two figures: a body lying on the ground, apparently dead, and a person seemingly trying to move away with his hands held up and showing his back to the group of insurgents. The gesture of this figure creates the impression that the armed group has already shot the surrendered combatants, which, as in the previous photograph, builds its visual message on the contrast of innocence and mercilessness.15

The photos in the White Books are not illustrations—that is to say, they are not additions to or the direct representations of events described in the texts. They are presented independently, in themselves, even for themselves. Their role is to mediate the allegedly purified reality. Photography was endowed with the particular concept of objectivity during the second half of the nineteenth century. During these years, scientists started to look for methods of observation that could be made independent of the subjective points of view determined by individual value judgment, faith or conviction, and were able to record the phenomena of the world in their pure reality. The mechanical recording of data appeared free of the fallibility of the human subject: machines do not tire, they are able to work continually without breaks and they do not make moral decisions and aesthetic judgments. Images recorded by photographic machines became the authentic representations of reality, free of subjective intervention and independent of human individuality. Photography, hence, is taken as the unquestioned evidence of objective reality: the imprint of truth beyond the human limits of perception.16 Photographs are thus believed to be able to reveal those aspects of reality that sometimes remain hidden from human eyes.17 The similarity of the violence revealed something essential about historical continuity for the communist editors.

The cruel, bloodthirsty White Terror in 1956 was preceded by the White Terror of Horthy and his associates. Fascists allied with criminals, former village leaders, gendarme officers, Horthy officers and Arrow Cross men attempted to attack the freedom of the Hungarian people and many brave sons of the Hungarian people. Although they felt in 1956 that they were just at the very beginning, the supporters of the fallen Horthy regime could not restrain themselves and tried to “imitate” 1919 with open White Terror.18

Communist observers thus claimed that the images of similar violence revealed an unbroken historical continuity ranging from 1919 to 1956, as if one could foresee on the photos taken after the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic what would occur in 1956.19 The impressive photos taken as evidence of reality, free of human subjectivity, suggested the inherent homogeneity of the counterrevolution and, thereby, blurred and diminished its actual historical transformation from the White Terror through consolidation, crisis and war, to its eventual collapse and the coming to power of the Arrow Cross. In this context, a strange but largely forgotten history of 1919 obtained new relevance.

History on Propaganda Films

The physical connection between images of 1919 and 1956 directly contributed to the emergence of a genre that represented history in a particular visual way, which was turned into continuous flow of images mostly due to military propaganda movies. The Political Department of the Hungarian People’s Army regularly ordered propaganda films to boost the ethos of military duty by the means of evoking patriotic traditions throughout the entire socialist period. The canonical scheme of these films was the historical tableau that depicted in recurrent chapters the freedom fights of the Hungarian people, such as the peasant rebellion of 1514, Rákóczi’s insurrection in 1703, the war for independence in 1848–49, the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919 and the victory of Soviet troops in 1945. This concept of history, which was most of all the visual display of Aladár Mód’s history book 400 év küzdelem az önálló Magyarországért (400 Years of Struggle for an Independent Hungary),20 was easily recognizable in works recorded after 1956. The message of the film Szabadságharcos elődeink (“Our Freedom Fighter Predecessors”) from 1958 was to highlight German imperialism as the main threat against Hungarian freedom. The directors contrasted this menace with the longing for freedom of the people which they supported by showing recurrent episodes of freedom fights. The film focused on the crucial role the people played in these struggles, which it intended to illustrate from historical costume dramas and mass spectacles taken from documentaries recorded in 1919 and 1945.21

This tradition was continued by the film titled Az eskü (“The Oath”), which was shot in 1962.22 This work is a feature film about the oaths taken by an army unit. The main character in the movie is a captain who has to take over the duty of managing the procedure due to the abrupt departure of his superior. After the commander leaves the barracks, the captain is left to meditate alone in the commander’s office. The camera centers on the officer’s face from a close distance, emphasizing his concentration and his uncertainty about what to say to the troops. The camera moves slowly around the captain, suggesting his state of mind, while the audience hears his thoughts: should he talk about his own life, his childhood, about the bitterness of day labor and privation? The camera then shows the captain from behind, positioning him in the bottom right of the frame, whereas the gaze of the audience is attracted to the portrait of Lenin fixed in the top left. The visual relationship of the soldier turning to Lenin and the Bolshevik leader looking down on the officer evokes the image of the believer asking for help from the source of knowledge.

During this scene, the captain meditates on the importance of the oath for a soldier left to his own devices. The significance of the oath is confirmed by his own example: in the next cut the officer remembers his personal experiences from October 1956. His task was to deliver a freight train to a barracks, however it seems impossible due to the railway workers’ strike. Meanwhile, armed “counterrevolutionaries” gather around the train. While the main character negotiates with the railway workers, the armed men try to get a hold of the train’s load. Nonetheless, the soldiers guarding the wagons defend the train, following the command of their oath, even in the absence of their actual commander.

Memories from 1956 provide the moment of enlightenment: in one stroke they elucidate the meaning of the oath—to be faithful to the idea—while at the same time they also reveal the sense of Hungarian history—a continuous struggle between the tyranny of the masters and the oppressed people. The retrospective of 1956 evokes, one after the other, the memories of the historical past. The scene of 1956, by the means of a quick cut, imitating the rhythm of abruptly flashing memories, is followed by a series of graphics from the well-known Hungarian Communist artist Gyula Derkovits depicting György Dózsa, leader of the great peasant revolt in 1514. The film generates the impression of a story occurring in time by the means of images merging into each other and panning the camera within individual frames. The captain’s interpretive commentary—as if it is the voice of the person who is remembering —qualifies this visual movement as instances of the antagonism between master and peasant. The process of recollection connects the individual historical events: following the meditation of the officer the spectator learns that Dózsa’s downfall in reality represented an alarm signal for Rákóczi’s cavalry (anti-Habsburg rebels in the early eighteenth century). The scene depicting Rákóczi’s war of independence emphasizes the common descent of the rebels, their reluctance to fight in the service of noble commanders and enthusiasm in the camp for the popular leader Bottyán.

By evoking these memories of history, the captain draws the conclusion that the Hungarian Jacobin conspirators (a small republican conspiracy influenced by the French revolution), although they followed Rákóczi’s rebels in the series of popular freedom fights, made one step forward and pursued this struggle for the republic. Memories of Habsburg oppression follow the execution of the Jacobins in the film. Historical scenes depict the sufferings of the people, then the revolutionary crowd in Pest taking an oath of freedom in 1848. The Hungarian Soviet Republic appears in the film as a chapter in these popular freedom fights. Images evoking the event show a popular festival, thus emphasizing the joy felt by the proclamation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which are succeeded by images of battle and speeches exhorting the people to fight. The part that represents the dictatorship of the proletariat corresponds to the tension reflecting the state of mind of the captain: the scene continues with a quick cut to the officer stepping up to the speaker’s platform. The period subsequent to the Hungarian Soviet Republic appears as the age of darkness and suffering in the film. The images depicting the Horthy era show the execution of two captive men accompanied by gendarmes. The captain’s voice, occupying position of narrator, calls attention to the idea that during this dark age the power of the people was defended by the communists, who then guaranteed its victory after the Second World War. The concluding message of the film is that it is the task of future generations to defend this power.

Az eskü consists of long scenes and a limited number of cuts: the slow, relaxed tempo of nostalgic recollection provides the rhythm of the film. The captain’s role as narrator renders the contemporary perspective of 1956 in order to guarantee the abstract historical framework for memories. The practice of the film in evoking the past apparently follows the method of the historian: following the gathering of data concerning the event under scrutiny, the interpretation of the entire occurrence begins. The apparent purpose of historical investigation is Marxist analysis: to investigate the meaning of history in general based on individual events. The documentary-like moving pictures are meant to guarantee the authenticity of the historical account. These frames provide recognizably distinct spectacles to the visual settings of the overall story: whereas the scenes showing the hesitation of the captain are based on fluid shots typical of the 1960s and a relatively low-key acting performance, the images evoking the past consist of fragmented shots which bring the archaic impressions and expressive acting style to the foreground. Clearly, the film is designed for impact, as if the past has been reconstructed from contemporary sources, like a documentary. In fact, the authorities encouraged the production of films on the period that applied documentary techniques.

The guiding light of the 1963 historical documentary film Elárult ország (“Country Betrayed”), which aimed to depict the political élite of the interwar Horthy administration, is provided by portraits of Regent Miklós Horthy and Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös situated next to each other.23 The narrator explains these images, calling Gömbös the catalyst for the German imperial alliance who subsequently led the country into disaster. Following an abrupt cut, the film continues with Mihály Francia Kiss’s trial in 1957. The appearance of this judicial process secures the function of 1956, similarly to Az eskü, as the point of departure for historical reconstruction and the fixing of the fall of the 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic as the turning point in history. The historical conception is similar as well: according to the film, the Hungarian ruling classes had been pursuing opportunistic policies due to their fear of the people since 1849, which resulted in the service to German imperialism.

The Hungarian Soviet Republic was depicted as a significant episode of this historical struggle conceived in terms of social conflicts. The documentary titled Landler Jenő: A forradalom jogásza (“Jenő Landler: The Lawyer of the Revolution”) attempted to render this statement plausible.24 The work represents Landler’s activity in the labor movement, the culmination of which was his rise to the command of the Hungarian Red Army in 1919, using various photographs instead of contemporary moving images. The film is composed of slowly panning camera movements, which imitate the slow, contemplating gaze of an observer immersed in the surrounding social world. The movement of the camera represents the meticulous scrutiny of society, making it clear that the represented historical processes are to be understood as the result of various social components. According to the film, this societal surrounding is marked by tension and social conflict, illustrated by images of light and darkness. The documentary describes the story of society hastening into revolution by means of photographs depicting striking and demonstrating crowds, making the Hungarian Soviet Republic tangible as a social revolution.

The film Elárult ország tries to integrate this narrow historical interpretation into a broader context. The work clearly meets the formal criterion for documentaries to use cuts from various contemporary films. The logic of the visual display evokes the perspective of an objective observer, thereby putting the cinematic documents forward as evidence for investigation.25 The shaping of the Austro–Hungarian and German militarist political alliance is represented by images of military inspection and units from the end of the nineteenth century. The filmmakers believe they have detected the real purpose of war, depicted by images of cavalry troops put into action against workers on strike. This method is featured throughout the entire documentary: images of formal dances and hunting excursions representing the luxurious lifestyle and irresponsible behavior of the political élite and ruling classes are juxtaposed by visual displays of privation and oppression. Shots taken of birth and death registers, intended to demonstrate mortality by means of evoking the concepts of archives and statistics, reinforce the aura of documentary-like historical authenticity.

At first sight, there is nothing extraordinary in this practice. As if communist propagandist-historians are interested in the same questions as every other historian: how was the state of his or her point of view formed? What were the historical processes that led to the conditions of the present?26 Communists saw their present determined by the conflict of revolution and counterrevolution. Historians hence behaved as if they were searching for the historical origins of this struggle, believing that they had discovered its archetypal event in the history of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. In order to find answers to the question, partisan scholars imitated the method of investigation: they pretended to look for sources that would answer their questions and might reveal the secrets of the past. During their investigation these propagandist-historians acted as if they had been exploiting their sources as clues: based upon these clues researchers pretended to deduce what past occurrences the remnants reflected, creating the impression that it had been the reading of evidence that shaped the narrative.

The ideological framing of the narratives, however, confined historical sources to a curious role in representations of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. The editing techniques of Elárult ország are marked by rapid shifts of sharply cut frames, which make the profound encounter and working with the presented documents barely possible. In fact, by applying this method the film specifically attempts to hinder a comprehensive and profound understanding of history. The short, rapidly changing images and simple narration following this rhythm are aimed at stirring emotions: contrapuntal frames quickly follow each other, leading the audience towards emotional identification with the oppressed. The film is ostensibly a documentary, though is in fact a propaganda work, the primary goal of which is the deconstruction of critical distance from the message, suppressing the voice of contradictory evidence. The real purpose of the procession of images is actually nothing less than to justify emotional proximity and to simultaneously suspend critical distance.

Elárult ország tells the story of the interwar period by means of corresponding frames on Hungarian politics and German military preparations succeeding one another, which makes it possible to represent these historical events, otherwise lacking sufficient narrative explanation, as being parallel occurrences. A typical example of this practice is the quick, sharp cuts between scenes that depict recordings of the Nuremberg NS Party days and Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös of Hungary in national-style festive costume. The Hungarian foreign policy of the 1930s thereby entered into a direct relationship with the goals of Nazi politics without any particular explanation or justification. Another scene that juxtaposes the Hungarian rearmament program of the 1930s with the German–Austrian Anschluß plays a similar role. Corresponding parallel images, thus, integrate contemporary Hungarian politics into the context of German imperial expansion without any profound historical investigation. Images edited next to each other in these Hungarian military propaganda films summon a sense of affinity and elicit particular historical associations. The similarity of spectacle connects the historical events, persons and data depicted by these pictures, while the temporal succession of moving images transforms them into a narrative.

The spectacle of this historical continuity features the memorial exhibition opened on the 40th anniversary of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, which was organized by the Trade Union of Railway Workers. The workers wanted to install a genuine historical exhibition representing the past by means of original documents. According to this intention, clearly visible on preserved photographs, some boards did not simply show copies of contemporary historical sources, but the actual documents themselves stuck to the boards in their physical entirety. The volume titled The Establishment of Organizations, which describes the history of the railway workers’ trade unions in between the wars, was put on display to be opened and browsed through by the visitors (Fig. 1).

This direct encounter with the traces of the past, however, concealed the fact that, rather than being an accurate descriptive explanation, the sequence of the display defined the nature of the relationship among these historical documents. The exposition made its objects available for the public in a montage-like arrangement (Fig. 2). Documents of the counterrevolution following the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic can be seen on a background made of graphical works of art. This background is dominated by a gallows tree and the figures of a gendarme and a village notary grasping a whip. These iconic images attempt to establish the existence of a deeper, profound historical continuity, though remains barely explicated. The inscription “Year 1932,” visible on boards representing the history of the interwar period, is succeeded by an image of the German imperial eagle, and the visual series is completed by a depiction of a Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross armband. The portrait of Hitler situated above the series of images, in turn, appears to reveal the essence of the power dominating the events in reality.27 The exhibition in this way actually represented the historical allegory of counterrevolution, of downfall and continuity replacing genuine historical explanation.

A Look at the Evidence

Apparently, historical representations of the Hungarian Soviet Republic that followed the party line put very little emphasis on the establishment of critical relationships between historical evidence and narrative claims regarding the past. Documentary films commissioned by the authorities in general were not interested in creating particular indexical relationships with reality, where images mediate the authentic sense of being there and of direct experience by means of accurate references to the represented actions and events.28 In a similar vein, historical works in printed media seem to disregard the traditional function of the footnote as a method of critical reflection on the sources of knowledge on the past. Historians ordinarily are expected to go to the archives, dig up sources and reveal their findings, together with the process of investigation, to the public. Hungarian communist-party historians ignored the fact that footnotes does not simply claim that the evidence exists, but also prove that the historian was there, meeting and working with the records, and has drawn conclusions from the direct experience with them. These works on 1919 had no concern for turning footnotes into tools for demonstrating the outcomes of obligatory critical work and testifying to the ability of the historian.29 All these expectations, however, place a peculiar status of uncertainty upon the historian: he or she is required to reach conclusions, make claims and arguments, end the narrative and construct the ending of the plot structure together with its broader moral, political and cultural implications after meticulous engagement with the evidence. Since no pool of sources is entire and no interpretations are final, there is always a certain level of uncertainty in the historian’s work. Historians are inherently dependent on the contingent collection of archives and the uncertainty of evidence. Historical authenticity rests on the certainty of uncertainty: an accurate description of inaccuracy and absences of evidence and a sincere declaration of the reasons why a particular interpretation is preferred. The intention of demonstrating evidence in these historical representations was not to reflect uncertainty by answering questions: on the contrary, the use of historical records was aimed at illustration of the given certainty of abstract prescribed statements on the past.

In fact, the manipulation of historical authenticity is detectable behind the appearance of authentic historical representation: the evocation of the past in works which call themselves historical documentaries aims to create effects similar to those in historical costume dramas. Obviously, the majority of historical scenes represented by moving images could not be produced according to original documents. In Az eskü, the peasant rebellion of 1514 is depicted by art graphics, while the Rákóczi insurrection of 1703–11 and the war for independence in 1848–49 are shown by frames from a feature film produced in the 1950s.30 The proclamation of the Hungarian Soviet Republic and the struggles of the Red Army are illustrated by contemporary documentary shots; however, the fall of the dictatorship is depicted by images from a feature film. Historical feature film, however, is a particular genre: it represents the events of the past overwhelmingly via individual fates and trajectories. Individual deeds stand in the focus of historical processes, while social conflicts and ruptures are conceived through individual mental and emotional reactions.31 Historical dramas do not present historical evidence for the spectators in order to drive them to consider, come to terms with and perform interpretive work with these proofs. The ability of historical feature films is to encourage emotional identification with abstract, positively depicted forces and values symbolized by the events of the past by means of establishing particular relationships to individual characters.

It is as if the construction of narratives about the past, namely historical interpretation, was the result of an imagination independent of reading the sources. Apparently, historians willing to meet the official expectations of the party considered historical research to be the value- and interpretation-free activity of selecting and collecting facts from an unprocessed historical field that had nothing to do with genuine historical understanding. As if evidence could automatically establish, by the mere virtue of its existence, a relationship with reality. As if historical evidence constituted a positive store of facts, independent of and unchanged by the interpreter, but which was at the historian’s disposal to be selected freely according to the needs of demonstration.32

The most important criterion determining the authenticity of historical interpretations, as György Lukács claims in his treatise on the historical novel published in Russian in 1937 and in Hungarian in 1947, is that they are able to represent the tendencies of development shaping the present. The Marxist philosopher expects historical novels to demonstrate how society developed into its contemporary form and which historical processes determined its contemporary state:

Without a felt relationship to the present, a portrayal of history is impossible. But this relationship, in the case of really great historical art, does not consist in alluding to contemporary events, but in bringing the past to life as the prehistory of the present, in giving poetic life to those historical, social and human forces which, in the course of a long evolution, have made our present-day life what it is and as we experience it.33

Lukács believes that precisely because the purpose of historical representations is to detect processes leading to the present, many historically relevant tendencies reveal themselves only for the retrospective gaze into the past. Numerous components of the historical development remained hidden for contemporaries, which, nonetheless, became recognizable for succeeding observers. Lukács, however, is searching for more than the relevance of historical explorations as tools to understand the present. The Marxist philosopher is arguing that since the genuine essence of historical reality is made of those processes which lead towards the present, this reality becomes accessible through an adequate assessment of the present. The appropriate understanding of the historical process is dependent on the correct moral-political commitment and cultural-ideological consciousness of the observer-interpreter of the past. The purpose of authentic historical representation, thus, is to document the process of historical necessity as understood retrospectively:

Measured against this authentic reproduction of the real components of historical necessity, it matters little whether individual details, individual facts are historically correct or not. […] Detail is only a means for achieving the historical faithfulness here described, for making concretely clear the historical necessity of a concrete situation.34

To be a faithful representation of reality, one must depict the hidden essence of things, the theory of socialist realism teaches. As its philosophy claims, the hidden, but real essence and meaning of History or Reality reveals itself in its typical manifestations. However, to recognize and understand the typical, one must practice a certain form of self-discipline: one must learn not to trust his or her eyes, since the eyes, according to socialist realist criticism, reflect only objects as they visibly appear, but tell little about the truly important factors of human consciousness and cognition, which is accessible only by thought. For the philosophy of socialist realism, the visible observable qualities of objects—facts—are only part of the truth, more precisely, these are raw material which genuine representation must learn to use and even use creatively in order to discern the inessential and the typical. But how to establish what is important and what is not? The typical, according to the theory of socialist realism, is not marked by its regular appearance or majority. The typical is rather the crucial process which is just emerging to determine the further course and meaning of History. Therefore, reality is to be recognized not by considering the visible and the observable, but by contemplating the yet invisible and hidden. A certain element of prediction and fortune-telling is involved in this process, which could make faithful representation impossible if there was no guiding light in seeing the future. If it is the political center, the party that shapes the future, launches the processes to emerge and defines what the typical is, then true representation must understand, depict and follow political visions and objectives.35


Propagandist-historians regarded the form of historical representation that they constructed as having incorporated evidence into a comprehensive and comprehensible narrative, and thus they saw it as being capable of supporting their political project, effectively representing the “truth” of communism.36 Communist propagandist-historians seemed to consider the authenticity of historical accounts to be the result of the success of representing cultural-philosophical concepts by means of various forms of art. The artificial division of the interpretation of sources and the creative narrative process had convinced them that the validity and credibility of historical interpretation was bound to coherent narratives embedded in a cultural context of narrative tradition. Communist authorities shaping the politics of history tended to believe that the credibility of historical representations was grounded if they acquired meaning as narratives. The validity of historical interpretation was well-founded if it was related to a culturally accessible set of narratives. They expected readers to perceive the correspondence between narrative forms and genres, whereas the form of the particular historical account was to remind them of those kinds of story structures which generally were already available in society.37

Nonetheless, the effectiveness of the abstract history of the Hungarian Soviet Republic remained deeply doubtful. Instead of accurate references to particular individual phenomena, these works referred to general moral and cultural positions in order to draw (political) lessons and provide judgment. As a consequence of this use of evidence to invoke moral judgment, political commitment or ideological notions, the abstract narrative of the Hungarian Soviet Republic was conceived as it really was: a means to cover and conceal the fact that the communist fighters of 1919 had directly or indirectly contributed to the suffering of those people who were opponents or obstructions to their program of political and social transformation.38 These representations of the past appeared to be tools of a particular “rhetoric against the evidence”: the rhetorical means of suppressing evidence.39 Communist representations of the Hungarian Soviet Republic represented no evidential paradigm, no mode of reading the evidence, but realized an artistic modality: fiction that transformed the evocation of reality into aesthetic quality to reflect abstract world views, moral structures or ideological constructions. The mode of uploading evidence into prefigured narrative constructs made the representations of the Hungarian Soviet Republic appear as they really were: fictions exploiting original documents to illustrate the abstract fictive concept of the counterrevolution.


Archival Sources

Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár Országos Levéltára (MNL OL – National Archives of Hungary). Records of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party. Secretariat M-KS 288. fond 7/2. ő.e.

Historical Photographic Records of the Hungarian National Museum 48. ME/II/B, Box: Culture: Exhibitions 1957–1962. Registry no.: 59.523, 59.524, 59.525.

Open Society Archives (OSA)

Az eskü [The Oath], 1962. Collection of military propaganda films of the Museum of Military History. HL 10038. OSA VHS no. 39.

Elárult ország [Country Betrayed], 1963, dir.: László Bokor. Collection of military propaganda films of the Museum of Military History. HL 3058–3060. OSA VHS no. 64.

Landler Jenő: A forradalom jogásza [Jenő Landler: Lawyer of the Revolution], dir.: János Lestár. Collection of military propaganda films of the Museum of Military History. HL 3204–3205. OSA VHS no. 66.

Szabadságharcos elődeink [Our Freedom Fighter Predecessors] (1958). Collection of military propaganda films of the Museum of Military History. HL 10010. OSA VHS no. 66.



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Horváth, Sándor, “Kollektív erőszak és városi térhasználat 1956-ban: forradalmi terek elbeszélése” [Collective Violence and Uses of Urban Space in 1956: Narrating Revolutionary Spaces]. Múltunk 51, no. 4 (2006): 268–89.

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Jay, Martin. “Of Plots, Witnesses, and Judgements.” In Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the ‘Final Solution’, edited by Saul Friedlander, 91–107. Cambridge, MA–London: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Keep, John, ed. Contemporary History in the Soviet Mirror. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964.

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Nagy Imre és bűntársai ellenforradalmi összeesküvése (Fehér könyv [White Books]) Vol. 5 [The Counterrevolutionary Conspiracy of Imre Nagy and His Fellow Criminals]. Published by the Information Bureau of the Council of Ministers of the People’s Republic of Hungary, n.d.

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White, Hayden. “Interpretation in History.” In Tropics of Discourse, 51–80. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978.

White, Hayden. “The Politics of Historical Interpretation: Discipline and De-Sublimation.” In The Content of the Form, 58–83. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

White, Hayden. “The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory.” In The Content of the Form, 26–57. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

1 Recently there has been a growing interest in the problems of material and textual evidence and in the possibility of proving historical representations, particularly as the use of visual means is concerned. The problem is aptly illustrated in Suzanne Marchand and Elizabeth Lunbeck, eds., Proof and Persuasion: Essays on Authority, Objectivity and Evidence (Princeton–Brepolis: Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies, 1996).

2 Matthew P. Gallagher, The Soviet History of World War II: Myths, Memories, and Realities (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1976); John Keep, ed., Contemporary History in the Soviet Mirror (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964); Nancy Whittier Heer, Politics and History in the Soviet Union (Cambridge, MA–London: MIT Press, 1971); Michael J. Rura, Reinterpretation of History as a Method of Furthering Communism in Rumania: A Study in Comparative Historiography (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1961); Samuel H. Barron and Nancy W. Heer, eds., Windows on the Russian Past: Essays on Soviet Historiography since Stalin (Columbus: American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, 1977).

3 Georg Iggers, Konrad Jarausch, Matthias Middel, and Martin Sabrow, eds., Die DDR-Geschichtswissenschaft als Forschungsproblem (Munich: Oldenbourg, 1998); Konrad Jarausch and Martin Sabrow, eds., Die historische Meistererzählung: Deutungslinien der deutschen Nationalgeschichte nach 1945 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2002); Rainer Eckert and Bernd Faulenbach, eds., Halbherziger Revisionismus: Zum Postkommunistischen Geschichtsbild (Munich–Landberg am Lech: Olzog–Aktuell GmbH, 1996), esp. 11–23, 69–82; Joachim Hösler, Die Sowjetische Geschichtswissenschaft 1953 bis 1991: Studien zur Methodologie und Organisationsgeschichte (Munich: Sagner, 1995).

4 From various perspectives, numerous authors have argued for incorporating the practice of research back into the description of historical creative work: Paul Ricoeur, “Histoire et rhétorique,” Diogène 168 (October–December 1994): 9–26. See also David Carr, “Die Realität der Geschichte,“ in Historische Sinnbildung, ed. Klaus E. Müller and Jörn Rüsen (Hamburg: Rowohlt Tb., 1997), 309–28.

5 The standard book on this subject is Ervin Hollós and Vera Lajtai, Köztársaság tér 1956 (Budapest: Kossuth, 1974). A standard communist interpretation of 1956 is János Berecz, Ellenforradalom tollal és fegyverrel. 1956 (Budapest: Kossuth, 1969), although this book provides a somewhat different perspective and presents the revolution of 1956 as a maneuver of Western imperialism.

6 Decision of the party secretariat, 15, March 15, 1958, MNL OL M-KS 288.f. 7/2. ő.e.

7 István Rév, Retroactive Justice: Prehistory of Post-Communism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 246–47.

8 Sándor Horváth, “Kollektív erőszak és városi térhasználat 1956-ban: forradalmi terek elbeszélése,” Múltunk 51, no. 4 (2006): 281.

9 Seeing, like reading, has its own historicity and is itself a sociocultural product as well. On the historical methodology of examining the act of “seeing,” see Randolph Starn, “Seeing Culture in a Room for a Renaissance Prince,” in The New Cultural History, ed. Lynn Hunt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 205–32; Reinhart Koselleck, “Modernity and the Planes of Historicity,” in Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time (Cambridge, MA–London: Harvard University Press, 1985), 3–20; Carlo Ginzburg, “Distance and Perspective: Two Metaphors,” in Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance (New York: Verso, 2001), 139–56. A general methodological introduction is provided by Peter Burke, Eyewitnessing: The Uses of Images as Historical Evidence (London: Reaktion Books, 2001).

10 Ellenforradalmi erők a magyar októberi eseményekben, (Fehér Könyv) vol. 1 (Published by the Information Bureau of the Council of Ministers of the People’s Republic of Hungary. n. d.), 14.

11 Ibid, 21.

12 Ibid, 13.

13 Ibid, 17. The inscription reads: “A victim whose corpse was bestially dismembered.”

14 Ibid, vol. 5, 170–71.

15 Ibid, vol. 5, 172.

16 Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, “The Image of Objectivity,” Representations 40 (Fall 1992): 81–128. For the emergence of photography as means of accurate and cheap recording, see John Tagg, The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993). The myth of images made without the touch of human hands as manifestations of the ultimate truth, however, arguably looks back on a longer tradition: “In the Christian tradition this power to produce the visible without any manual technique is attributed to the direct imprint of God on cloth.” See Marie José Mondzain, “The Holy Shroud: How Invisible Hands Weave the Undecidable,” in Iconoclash: Beyond the Image Wars in Science, Religion and Art, ed. Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (Karlsruhe–Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 324.

17 Thus, the photographs of the Shroud of Turin taken by Secondo Pia in 1898 revealed that the brownish traces on the cloth, hardly perceptible to the eye, showed on the photonegative the positive image of a male body. Peter Geimer, “Searching for Something: On Photographic Revelations” in Iconoclash, 143–45.

18 Nagy Imre és bűntársai ellenforradalmi összeesküvése (Fehér könyv), vol. 5. (Published by the Information Bureau of the Council of Ministers of the People’s Republic of Hungary. n. d.), 139.

19 According to Georges Didi-Huberman, photography was regarded as evidence of events to come. The photographic process, which was more sensitive than human eyes, could detect deep features of the object that foreshadowed future events, e.g., the symptoms of future mental illness in a photo of the insane, the crime to be committed in a portrait of the criminal. See Didi-Huberman, Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpétrière (Cambridge, MA–London: MIT Press, 2003), 33.

20 Aladár Mód, 400 év küzdelem az önálló Magyarországért (Budapest: Szikra, 1951).

21 Collection of military propaganda films of the Museum of Military History. HL 10010. OSA VHS no. 66.

22 Az eskü (The Oath), 1962. Collection of military propaganda films of the Museum of Military History. HL 10038. OSA VHS no. 39. The following book provided profound assistance in reading cinematic language: James Monaco, How to Read a Film: The World of Movies, Media and Multimedia: Language, History, Theory (New York–Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

23 Elárult ország [Country Betrayed], 1963, dir. László Bokor. Collection of military propaganda films of the Museum of Military History. HL 3058–3060. OSA VHS no. 64.

24 Landler Jenő: A forradalom jogásza [Jenő Landler: Lawyer of the Revolution], dir. János Lestár. Collection of military propaganda films of the Museum of Military History. HL 3204–3205. OSA VHS no. 66.

25 Bill Nichols, Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary (Bloomington–Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991), 18–29.

26 The importance of the questions of the historian in shaping the plot and the narrative has been argued by various scholars with many different backgrounds and interests, e.g., Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, vols. 1–3 (Chicago–London: University of Chicago Press, 1984–85), esp. 52–87. See also Ricoeur’s “Narrative Time,” Critical Inquiry 7, no. 1 (1980): 169–90.; and “The Narrative Function,” in idem, Hermeneutics and The Human Sciences (Cambridge–Paris: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 274–96. This last piece is basically a summary of the three volumes. See also Christopher R. Browning, “German Memory, Judicial Interrogation, and Historical Reconstruction in Writing Perpetrator History from Postwar Testimony,” in Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the ‘Final Solution,’ ed. Saul Friedlander (Cambridge, MA–London: Harvard University Press, 1992), 31; and also the early piece by Hayden White, “The Burden of History,” History and Theory 5 (1966): 111–34.

27 Historical Photographic Records of the Hungarian National Museum 48. ME/II/B, Box: Culture: Exhibitions 1957–1962. Registry no.: 59.523.

28 Nichols, Representing Reality, 108–18.

29 Anthony Grafton, “The Footnote from de Thou to Ranke,” History and Theory 33 (December 1994): 53–76; Carlo Ginzburg, “Just One Witness,” in Probing the Limits of Representation, 96.

30 1848 was represented by images taken from the well-known historical drama Föltámadott a tenger [The Whole Sea Has Revolted].

31 Natalie Zemon Davis, Slaves on Screen, Film and Historical Vision (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000); Robert A. Rosenstone, History on Film/Film on History (Harlem–London: Pearson Education, 2006), 15, 38–48; Leger Grindon, Shadows on the Past: Studies in the Historical Fiction Film (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994).

32 On the distinction of narrative interpretation and positive factual historical data in contemporary historical theory, see Martin Jay, “Of Plots, Witnesses, and Judgements,” in Probing the Limits of Representation, 91–107; Chris Lorenz, “Can Histories Be True?” History and Theory 37, no. 3 (1998): 287–309.

33 Georg Lukacs, The Historical Novel (Boston: Beacon Press, 1963), 53.

34 Ibid. 59.

35 Boris Groys, The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship, and Beyond (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 50–54.

36 Hayden White assumes that the truth of historical interpretations can be measured according to the effectiveness with which these are able to support various political projects that enhance the security of communities: “The Politics of Historical Interpretation: Discipline and De-Sublimation,” in The Content of the Form (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), 58–83.

37 Narrativist historical theory describes genuine historical interpretation as an activity of relating accounts on the past to narrative traditions: Hayden White, “Interpretation in History,” in Tropics of Discourse (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), 51–80; Louis O. Mink, “Narrative Form as a Cognitive Instrument,” in The Writing of History, ed. Robert H. Canary and Henry Kozicki (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978), 143–4. Departing from this point, Hayden White calls the narrative account an inherently figurative account that endows real events with meaning by poetic means: “The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory,” in The Content of The Form, 26–57; Frank R. Ankersmit, “Six Theses on Narrativist Philosophy of History,” in History and Tropology (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 40–41.

38 Communist paramilitaries executed several hundred people for “counterrevolutionary” activity. Exact details will probably never be available. Péter Gosztonyi, A magyar Golgota (Budapest: Heltai Gáspár Kft., 1993), 24–30; Péter Konok, “Az erőszak kérdései 1919–1920-ban. Vörösterror–fehérterror,” Múltunk 55, no. 3 (2010): 72–91; István I. Mócsy, The Effects of World War I (New York: Social Science Monographs, 1983), 99, 102; Nicholas Nagy-Talavera, The Green Shirts and the Others: A History of Fascism in Hungary and Rumania (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1970), 24–25. The source of statistics is usually the following two books, which are equally overstated and imprecise: Albert Váry, A vörös uralom áldozatai Magyarországon (Budapest: Légrády, 1922); and Vilmos Böhm, Két forradalom tüzében (Munich: Népszava, 1923).

39 Carlo Ginzburg, History, Rhetoric and Proof (Hanover, NH–London: University Press of New England, 1999), 5.

Figure 1: The Establishment of Organizations. Historical Photographic Records of the Hungarian National Museum 48. ME/II/B, Culture - Exhibitions 1957–1962, Registry no. 59. 525.

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Figure 2: The Exhibition of Railworkers’ Union for the 40th Anniversary of the First Hungarian Soviet Republic. Historical Photographic Records of the Hungarian National Museum 48. ME/II/B, Culture - Exhibitions 1957–1962, Registry no. 59. 524.

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