Battle at Sea. 1836.
Auguste Mayer (1805-1890).
SOil on canvas, 105 cm x 162 cm.
ALPATA is named after the Seminole wordfor I T. rn.
a journal of history
VOLUME VI SPRING 2009
A Publication of the University of Florida
PHI ALPHA THETA I gamma eta chapter
managing editors Roger Smith, Graduate
Mary Lester, Undergraduate
editors Anuradha Pandey
faculty advisor Dr. Jack E. Davis, Associate Professor ofHistory
sponsor University of Florida
Dr. Joseph Spillane, Chair
designer Jane Dominguez
Christopher Bonura is a senior majoring in history and classical studies. This
summer, he intends to study abroad in Moravia and participate in an archeological
summer school program. After his return and graduation, he plans to continue his
education in late antique history in graduate school.
Sarah McNamara is a senior double majoring in history and Spanish. She is
interested in American history, focusing on immigration, cultural development,
public and oral history. After graduating she intends to continue extending her
research and attend graduate school for history.
Kay Witkiewicz is a junior majoring in history. This summer, he received a
University Scholar grant to research German-American political activism and the
rise of the Republican Party in mid-nineteenth century St. Louis. In the fall, he
will begin graduate classes for the 4/1 Master of Arts program at the University of
Lynsey Wood is a history major currently studying on exchange from Lancaster
University in the UK. Her interests include the British monarchy, particularly
the reigning queens of England, and the intricacies of death-culture throughout
European history. She will graduate next year and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in history
and go on to teach. She is also interested in fiction writing.
iv ] ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
David Dry is a first year student in the Department of History 4/1 program. His
area of research is early medieval Europe, with an emphasis on Merovingian Gaul.
Edward Grodin is a junior majoring in history and minoring in European Union
studies. He is currently working on his honors thesis concerning the persecution of
Italian Jews under Mussolini. After graduation, he plans to attend law school with
a focus on international law.
Juan Hernandez is a senior majoring in history and minoring in Jewish studies. His
research interest focuses on the Latin American experience in the modern state of
Israel. He plans to travel to Israel to improve his language skills and study the case
migration and assimilation.
Mary Lester is a junior majoring in history and anthropology and minoring in
Spanish literature. She recently received a University Scholars grant to continue
thesis work on Arian/Catholic religious conflict in Visigothic Iberia. She plans
on continuing her studies with the eventual goal of earning a Ph.D. in history and
becoming a college professor.
Michal Meyer is finishing her dissertation on the making of science for public
consumption in nineteenth-century Britain. The title of her dissertation is
"Speaking for Nature: Mary Somerville and the Science of Empire."
Parker Pflaum is a senior double majoring in history and Chinese and minoring
in anthropology and geography. He was recently awarded a Chinese government
scholarship to study Chinese at a P.R.C. university for a year. He plans on applying
to modern Chinese history Ph.D. programs with the eventual goal of becoming a
Melanie Quintos is a first-year masters student in the Department of History
studying the early Middle Ages. She is at an advanced level in French and German,
and is currently studying Russian and modern Greek. These languages will help her
complete her thesis on Constantine-Cyril and Methodius' mission to Khazaria.
Zack Smith is a senior majoring in history and political science. After graduating
this spring, he intends to continue his studies here at the University of Florida by
pursuing a master's degree in political science with a specialization in campaign
ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ V
THE COLONIAL ATLANTIC WORLD:
AN OCEAN OF EXCHANGE
Introduction .................................................................................. ................................ 2
The Birth of Goliath: The Origins of Atlantic World Historiography.................. 4
Economics in the Atlantic World.................................. ......................... 7
Michelle Lea Dissman
The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Study................................................... 10
The Interactions ofAtlantic Religions.......................... ......................... 13
Redefining Native Americans in the Atlantic World............................................. 16
Institutional Support for Atlantic World History .................................................. 19
The Future of A tlantic H istory............................................... ................................ 21
Moving Into America: The Role of Mobility in the
Americanization of Ybor City's Latino Community................................. 24
Lebensraum in the East: The Nazi Use of Volksdeutsche
as Administrative Tools in Poland, 1939-1943.................................................. 37
Defending the Old Gods: Pagan Responses to
Imperial Persecution in the Reign of Theodosius I...................................... ............ 47
'Memento Mori' A Death Obsession in
Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe?........................ .......... ............... 68
vi ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
Kevin Alan Brook.Jews ofKhazaria. Lanham, Mar.: Rowman &
Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2nd ed. 2006........................................................... 82
Reviewed by Melanie Quintos
Jean Dangler. Making Difference in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia.
South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005....................................... 85
Reviewed by Mary Lester
James Delbourgo. A MostAmazing Scene of Wonders: Electricity
ST '". .. ... .'in Early America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
U university Press, 2006.................................... ................................................ 88
Reviewed by MichalMeyer
Timothy J. Henderson. A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and its War with the
United States. New York: Hill and Wang, 2007.................................... ............. .. 91
Reviewed by Juan Hernandez
Jurgen Herbst. Requiemfor a German Past: A Boy,'. 1 1 .
Nazis. 2002. Reprint, Paw Prints, 2008.......................... ........ ................. 93
Reviewed by Edward Grodin
Gerald M. Magliocca.AndrewJackson and the Constitution: The Rise
andFall of Generational Regimes. Lawrence, Kan.: University Press of
K an., 2007.................................................. ......................................................... 95
Reviewed by Zack Smith
Martin Martin Palmer. TheJesus Sutras: R, .. '. Lost Scrolls
ofTaoist Christianity. New York: The Ballantine Publishing Group, 2001....... 98
Reviewed by Parker Pflaum
Michael P. Speidel. Ancient Germanic Warriors: Warrior Styles from
Trajan's Column to Icelandic Sagas. London: Routledge Press, 2004.................. 101
Reviewed by Christopher Bonura
Barbara Yorke. The Conversion ofBritain: R. '. Politics and Society
in Britain c.600-800. Harlow, England: Pearson/Longman, 2006.................. 104
Reviewed by DavidDry
Subm mission G guidelines .......................................................... ......................... 106
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ vii
viii ] ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
THE COLONIAL ATLANTIC WORLD:
AN OCEAN OF EXCHANGE
ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 1
Over the last thirty years, the field of Atlantic history has exploded,
emphasizing the complex network of exchange between the four continents
bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Although the field of study covers several centuries
and events ranging from Columbus's first voyage to the modern Cold War,
the colonial chapter of Atlantic history remains the richest to date. The field's
geographic reach has enhanced scholars' ability to evaluate the struggle over
dominium and imperium that engaged the colonizers and the colonized for
hundreds of years. Colonialists, therefore, have tended to focus on the imperial
endeavors of France, Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal to understand the
historical consequences of the multilateral exchange of culture, goods, religious
beliefs, labor, and biologies between Europe, Africa, and the Americas.
In the fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, navigation
of the Atlantic Ocean was the key to establishing overseas empires, raising capital
for the mother country, and spreading imperial influence by encouraging European
settlement and political control. Following the Mediterranean model of French
historian Fernand Braudel, Atlantic World scholars conceptualize history around
geography rather than political boundaries, forming one mode of inquiry around
transatlantic migrations that precipitated intercontinental cultural exchanges and
shaped the political, social, economic, and natural landscapes in the New World
as the Atlantic enabled intercontinental migrations.' Europeans who undertook
the voyage across the sea brought with them a range of ideas as they sought to
1. For information about Atlantic history and Braudel's influence on it, see John Thornton, Africa
and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800, 2d., (Cambridge, New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1998), 1-2.
2 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
COLONIAL ATLANTIC: INTRODUCTION Angela Zombek
replicate European society in the New World. The Atlantic, in fact, operated as a
highway that facilitated not only the spread of ideas and people, including millions
from Africa to the New World, but also biological organisms (including plants,
animals, and disease). This dispersion of ideas, people, and biologies contributed
to the loss of both human lives and imperial control overseas, particularly in the
French and British empires in North America in the latter part of the eighteenth
One of the many benefits of examining the colonial period through the lens
of the Atlantic World and transatlantic connections is that such an interpretation
fosters comparative investigations of colonial dynamics and encourages analysis
of problems that were common to more than one settlement.2 Additionally,
this transnational inquiry has inspired scholars to consider the role of enslaved
Africans and Native Americans in the making of the Atlantic World. For many
generations, scholars, as historian John Thornton notes, have predominantly
depicted the Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the Atlantic World from a
"European perspective."3 In recent years, scholars have shifted their focus of
inquiry from Anglo-Europeans who operated slave ships and oversaw African
slave labor to Africans and the slaves themselves, thereby revealing the experiences
of Africans in their homeland during the slave trade and chronicling the brutality
of the institution of slavery. This approach is fruitful since it questions the idea,
largely the product of scholars detailing a Eurocentric narrative of slavery, that
Anglo-European slave captors and owners completely controlled the power
dynamics of slavery. Africans not only dictated the parameters of the slave trade
in Africa, but their criticisms of political power in African society also reveal the
many complexities inherent within that culture and challenge the notion that
European cultural, political, and economic superiority enabled domination of the
Overall, the study of Atlantic history has flourished over the past few
decades. Many prominent scholars and institutions continue to open new avenues
of inquiry and support further study of the Atlantic World. For all of its advances,
however, the study of Atlantic history is relatively new compared with the fields it
incorporates, leading one to ask how the field originated and grew so quickly in so
2. Nicholas Canny, "Writing Atlantic History; or Reconfiguring the History of Colonial British
America," in TheJournal of American History 86, no. 3, The Nation and Beyond: Transnational
Perspectives on United States History: A Special Issue. (Dec., 1999): 1108.
3. Thornton,Africa andAfricans, 2.
ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 3
THE BIRTH OF GOLIATH:
THE ORIGINS OF ATLANTIC
For students beginning their investigation of the Atlantic World, a typical
question emerges: when did the Atlantic World actually originate? Taken as a
historical inquiry, the question could be reworded: at what point does the Atlantic
become a useful unit of historical analysis? Scholars' responses to the question
would vary considerably. Some might argue for 1492, the year when Columbus
arrived in the Caribbean. Others would suggest a date more than a century
earlier, pointing to the colonization of the Canary Islands by the Portuguese.
Still others would pinpoint the Atlantic World's "birthday" somewhere in
between, maybe when various Europeans began exploring the West African coast
and interacting with its native peoples. If, however, the question is interpreted
historiographically-as a query into the birth of the Atlantic World as a field-it
would instigate far less dispute. In fact, with a few exceptions, a consensus exists
regarding the origins ofAtlantic World historiography.
The political context of the two world wars of the twentieth century greatly
influenced the development of the "Atlantic" concept. Motivated by realpolitik,
American interventionists on the verge of World War I and pro-Allied writers
before and during World War II emphasized the Atlantic connections between
Western Europe and the Americas. In the wake of World War II and with the
escalation of the Cold War, the term Atlantic became a buzzword for international
geopolitics and cultural identities. Whether embedded in terms such as NATO or
emblazoned on new publications such as The Atlantic Community Quarterly, the
4 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
COLONIAL ATLANTIC: THE BIRTH OF GOLIATH I Michael Schoeppner
Atlantic Ocean as a historical concept appeared to transform from a partition
separating Europe from the Americas to a superhighway uniting the continents.
Keeping in mind this political environment, many early Atlantic histories in
the mid-twentieth century focused on the birth and expansion of democracy,
the diffusion of Christianity, and the persistence of specific legal concepts and
institutions. In other words, as Bernard Bailyn has put it, these histories expressed
the Atlantic foundations of "Judeo-Christianity, Roman law, and Greek
Yet the political and social reality of the World Wars and subsequent Cold
War was hardly the sole motivating factor in looking to the Atlantic as a unit
of analysis. Forces operating within the academy and unrelated to contemporary
geopolitics were bringing the Atlantic Ocean into historical focus. One of those
forces materialized in the 1960s with the scholarship of Philip Curtin, who sought
to illustrate and quantify the African slave trade to the Americas. In so doing,
Curtin's The Atlantic Slave Trade and the works that emerged in its wake placed
the Atlantic at the center ofthe narrative.5 It was perhaps Curtin-in downplaying
national borders to highlight the vastness of the slave trade network-that
motivated students of empire and colonization to look beyond national frames
of references and consider the interwoven histories of various colonizers and the
colonized. Similarly, in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, economic historians
of the French, British, and Spanish empires (to take a few examples) began to
discover that local merchants on the peripheries of empire realized profits not on a
unilateral trade with their respective metropoles, but upon "an unstable, flexible,
multilateral geometry of trade." 6 Environmental histories, starting with Alfred
Crosby's The Columbian Exchange, similarly disregarded national boundaries in
examining the biological barter precipitated by transatlantic travel.7 By focusing
on the sea change in ecology resulting from Atlantic exchanges, Crosby not
only advanced the Atlantic World paradigm but also launched the new field of
In the wake of these studies a self-conscious, "Atlantic" historiography began
to emerge. Thanks in no small part to the program in Atlantic History, Culture
4. Bernard Bailyn, Atlantic History: Concept and Contours (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
5. Philip D. Curtin, TheAtlantic Slave Trade:A Census (Madison, Wise.: University of Wisconsin
6. Bailyn,Atlantic History, 47.
7. Alfred Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of1492 (Westport,
Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Company, 1972).
ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 5
COLONIAL ATLANTIC: THE BIRTH OF GOLIATH I Michael Schoeppner
and Society at Johns Hopkins University and the work of its key contributors
Sydney Mintz and Jack Greene, the field experienced a steady expansion in the
1980s. By the mid-1990s, Atlantic World historiography grew dramatically,
culminating with the creation of Harvard University's International Seminar on
the History of the Atlantic World in 1995.8 As a result of new scholarly interest,
institutional support (such as that found at Johns Hopkins and Harvard), and
geopolitical contexts, the Atlantic World has evolved into its own historical
subfield. Many universities now offer graduate degrees in Atlantic History.
Journals have appeared dedicated specifically to the field, and publishers have
created books series on the subject.9 Atlantic historians who teach, research, and
publish are in high demand.
From these origins, Atlantic history has firmly established itself in the
American academy. It is left to be seen how the field fares in the new millennium
and whether it fosters new foci of historical inquiry around other ocean systems.
8. For a brief historiographical essay of the acceleration of the Atlantic World paradigm in the eighties
and nineties, see Ian Steele, "Exploding Colonial American History: Amerindian, Atlantic, and
Global Perspectives," Reviews in American History 26, no. 1 (1998): 70-95; Nicholas Canny,
"Writing Atlantic History: Or, Reconfiguring the History of Colonial British America,"Journalof
American History 86, no. 3 (1999): pages unknown.
9. Allison Games, "Atlantic History: Definitions, C I lII .... Opportunities," American Historical
Review 111, no 3 (2006): 741-757.
6 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
ECONOMICS IN THE ATLANTIC WORLD
Michelle Lea Dissman
One of the greatest connective factors of the Atlantic World and one of the
field's most studied disciplines is the intertwined economies of the peoples
around the ocean's rim. The economic aspects of the Atlantic World clearly
stand as an example of the vast, fast-paced expansion of markets throughout
the colonial era as European nations scrambled for colonies, supply sources, and
more. As European nations planted various colonies throughout the Atlantic
World, these markets continued to develop, and transatlantic trade became an
overwhelmingly dominant feature in colonial economies. Crucial to the growth
of trade and colonial economies were several different industries that grew from
the raw material and agricultural resources available to the growing European
colonies; among these were the sugar and rum industries and, subsequently, the
development of the mass plantation system.
Once European powers began to organize colonies in the Atlantic, the sugar
industry started to emerge as a global influence, especially in the British island
colonies of Barbados and Jamaica. The sugar industry and its subsequent slave
trade developed so quickly that societal structures lagged behind in their own
development.10 Manufacturing of sugar began in the 1630s in Barbados, and
continued to grow with some periods of decline before recovering in the 1720s
through to the American Revolution." These island colonies became trade
societies with their products destined for exportation, and the focus within these
10. Susan Dwyer Amussen, Caribbean Exchanges: Slavery and the Transformation ofEnglish Society,
1640-1700 (Chapel Hill: University ofNorth Carolina Press, 2007), 7.
11. John J. McCusker, "The Economy of the British West Indies 1763-1790:Growth, Stagnation, or
Decline?," in Essays in the Economic History ofthe Atlantic World (New York: Routledge, 1997),
ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 7
COLONIAL ATLANTIC: ECONOMICS | Michelle Lea Dissman
British colonies would quickly turn towards sugar production as British investors
and speculators arrived to try for personal fortunes. Susan Dwyer Amussen
argues in her Caribbean Exchanges: Slavery and Transformation off '. Society,
1640-1700 that to achieve economic prosperity from sugar, the immigrants from
Britain had to struggle to adapt to a new economic colonial system that included
plantation slavery, to which the British were not accustomed.
This new economic system, Amussen argues, was plagued with difficulties
for the newly arriving British investors. Difficulties included the struggle to learn
the basics of organizing and operating a plantation for profit, especially since
many immigrants did not wish to stay in the islands. The desire to return home
ensured that "the traffic between the West Indies and England was two-way,
with many men spending some years in Jamaica or Barbados and then returning
to England."12 However, despite British inexperience with plantation-style
colonization, the islands of Barbados and Jamaica would turn profitable fairly
quickly, especially as the demand for sugar at home in Britain continued to grow.
The sugar trade was not the only trade that emerged within the Atlantic
World. The Caribbean rum trade, prompted by a demand for alcohol in the
colonies, grew out of the sugar trade to play an important role as it expanded
throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.1 Frederick H. Smith states
in Caribbean Rum: A Social and Economic History that the "inter-Caribbean
rum trade created exchange networks that brought together disparate New
World colonies, and the internal rum trade created links between diverse social
groups."14 At first, "despite its growth, the early Caribbean rum trade remained at
the margins of the Atlantic World and failed to fully penetrate the huge alcohol
markets of Europe."1 By the beginning of the eighteenth century, however,
mercantilist policies opened intercontinental avenues to the rum trade.16 In the
British West Indies, production continued throughout the 1770s and 1780s to
produce anywhere from approximately 4.6 million to 6.4 million gallons of rum a
year with large amounts going to England, the United States, and to a somewhat
lesser extent Canada.1 Interestingly, various European colonial powers treated
this growing trade differently: Britain promoted the trade of its Caribbean rum,
12. Amussen, 7.
13. Frederick H. Smith, Caribbean Rum: A Social and Economic History (Gainesville: University
Press of Florida, 2005), 6.
14. Smith, 6.
15. Smith, 6.
16. Smith, 94.
17. McCusker, 322.
8 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
COLONIAL ATLANTIC: ECONOMICS I Michelle Lea Dissman
even providing it with a growing home market as well, while Spain and France
sought to limit and restrict its circulation until the outbreak of the Seven Years
War." These changes and the growth of the rum trade itself aided in the spread
of its influence. By the end of the eighteenth century the Atlantic rum trade had
markets in the Americas, Europe, and in West Africa.
Throughout the Atlantic World, new industries developed after colonization
by European powers, including two principle industries-sugar and rum. These
industries and others, such as the tobacco trade, resulted in a realignment of
economic influence and material resources throughout the globe. However, none
of these economic changes and production innovations would have been possible
without the creation of a system of large-scale plantation agriculture and the
inception of a massive slave trade to put labor in those fields.
18. Smith, 94.
ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 9
THE ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE: A STUDY
P ost-World War II scholarly interest in the Atlantic slave trade grew
exponentially following Philip Curtin's 1969 landmark study The Atlantic
Slave Trade: A Census.9 After completing an earlier in-depth study on Jamaican
society and economy in the eighteenth century, Curtin identified a "South
Atlantic System" that brought the "two distinct though intertwined cultures
and economies" of Africa and Europe together on the island.20 Curtin's census
of slave trade activities inspired several subsequent investigations of slaving
voyages, culminating in the 1999 publication of the extraordinary database The
Transatlantic Slave Trade on CD-ROM.21 In this database, about 27,233 slaving
voyages are recorded with various details, such as ports of departure and arrival,
slave numbers and mortality rates, and names of ships and captains.2 With this
remarkable collection of information, scholars can more easily track trading links
across the Atlantic that bring the international aspects of the slave trade to light.
Although the 1999 database contained a wealth of information on British
and North American voyages, it was severely lacking in data on Portuguese
and Spanish slaving voyages and the extensive role of Brazil in the slave trade.23
Scholars addressed both of these data gaps in a 2005 revision of the Transatlantic
Slave Trade database, which reveals the Iberian domination of the slave trade
19. David Eltis and David Richardson, "A New Assessment of the Transatlantic Slave Trade," in
Extending the Frontiers: Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Database, ed. David Eltis and
David Richardson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 2-3.
20. Bernard Bailyn,Atlantic History: Concept and Contours (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Press, 2005), 32.
21. Bailyn, 133.
22. Eltis and Richardson, 5,9.
23. Eltis and Richardson, 6.
10 ] ALPATA: journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
COLONIAL ATLANTIC: SLAVE TRADE | Mary Lester
until the seventeenth century. Although the Spanish were the first to transport
slaves across the Atlantic, the Portuguese came to control the slave trade between
Africa and the Spanish Americas.24 Northern European traffic to the Caribbean
eventually surpassed the earlier Iberian hold on the slave trade, as the Dutch and
the British gained new footholds in the slaving industry.25 Great Britain and the
Netherlands conducted much of the known later slave voyages, and historians
have also speculated on French activities in the trade: although the French were
not as active in the trade as other nations, a number of French slave ships sailed to
Spanish and French territories.26
As the study of the transatlantic slave trade emerged with the growing field
of Atlantic history, it became one of the crucial connections between the Atlantic
societies of Europe, Africa, and the Americas. In some areas of Africa, internal
politics were intimately linked to the slave trade; for example, in western Sudan,
slave raids were fundamental in the formation ofprecolonial states.27 External and
local forces shaped the slave trade in other areas, such as Angola, bringing African
affairs, European trade, and the American markets into a close relationship.28 Even
North America had a small, active part in the trade until 1836; based out of New
England, small slaving companies brought Africans from the Gold Coast and
Angola to settlements as varied as the British Caribbean and South Carolina.29
The massive slave trade across the Atlantic not only created political and
cultural links between Africa, Europe, and America, but it was also an integrative
link in Atlantic economy for centuries. Aside from the economic implications
of the trade itself, the slave trade "reflects commodity trade patterns" across the
Atlantic World.30 Fluctuations in the demand for American tobacco and the
decline of the indentured-servant system intensified or decreased the demand for
unfree laborers;31 slave traders even used Salvadorian tobacco to buy slaves in the
Bight of Benin, introducing a cyclical link between the slave trade and the tobacco
24. Eltis and Richardson, 13.
25. Eltis and Richardson, 21-24.
26.James Pritchard, DavidEltis, and David Richardson, l I.. ....i .. Ithe French Slave Trade
to the Evolution of the French Atlantic World before 1716," in Extending the Frontiers: Essays on
the New Transatlantic Slave Database, 205-206.
27. Andrew Hubbell, "A View of the Slave Trade from the Margin: Souroudougou in the Late
Nineteenth-Century Slave Trade of the Niger Bend," TheJournal of African History 42, no. 1
28. Roquinaldo Ferrerira, "The Supression of the Slave Trade and Slave Departures from Angola,
1830s-1860s," in Extending the Frontiers: Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Database, 314.
29. Eltis and Richardson, 28.
30. Eltis and Richardson, 19.
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 11
COLONIAL ATLANTIC: SLAVE TRADE | Mary Lester
industry.32 Similarly, the explosion of the sugar and coffee industries led to more
slaving voyages and brought Africans to South America and the Caribbean.
In the relatively new field of Atlantic history, the slave trade is unique in its
ability to both bind and separate, to destroy and create. The arrival of Africans
in the New World uprooted hundreds of thousands of people and affected
several African societies, yet led to cultural mixing and an entirely new culture
in the New World. Although its very definition was separating people from their
homeland and dislocating millions, the slave trade managed to unite ordinary
Atlantic citizens in a common, ocean-wide society. From an African chieftain to
a New England shipbuilder, from a Dutch merchantman to a Cuban plantation
owner, from a kidnapped slave to an English woman stirring sugar into her tea,
the slave trade is inextricably linked to the story of the Atlantic World.
32. Alexandre Vieira Ribeiro, "The Transatlantic Slave Trade to Bahia, 1582-1851," in Extending the
Frontiers: Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Database, 142.
12 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
THE INTERACTIONS OF
The slave trade facilitated the spread of several European and African
religions spread across the Atlantic and the development of new blended
forms of faith and worship. Three main branches of the religious dissemination
included Catholicism in colonial Spanish America, Protestant Christianity in
British North America and the Caribbean, and African religions in both Spanish
and British America. Despite the seeming sweep of Christianity throughout
the Atlantic, the faith was never unchallenged or adopted uniformly; in fact,
Christianity rarely emerged in the Atlantic World unchanged from its contact
with other cultures. The British and Spanish were two of the main powers on
the Atlantic stage, and each undertook very different strategies for dealing with
religion in their respective territories. The Spanish tried to achieve homogeneity
by requiring settlers and Native Americans to adhere to Catholicism, but Spanish
conversion efforts yielded poor results. By contrast, denominational diversity
characterized the English colonies in North America. The arrival of Africans to
the New World led to the mixing of African religions and Christianity, and both
came out exceptionally transformed.33
Throughout the English presence in the Atlantic World, the English,
Scottish, and Irish states all supported different Christian traditions. The
variety of religious interpretations found in the three kingdoms was eventually
transplanted to the English colonies, which in turn became even more religiously
diverse than the metropole, prompting demands for the separation of church and
33. Carla Gardina Pestana, "Religion," in The British Atlantic World 1500-1800, eds. David
Armitage and MichaelJ. Braddick (New York: Palgrave. I ....Ill.. _,8 81.
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 13
COLONIAL ATLANTIC: INTERACTIONS OF REGIONS | Anuradha Pandey
state in response to English Anglican hegemony. In particular, the Pilgrims and
Puritans and their desire for freedom from persecution have a special place in
the myth of American exceptionalism. The English colonies were not religiously
homogenous, and the imposition of a single faith would have required the English
state to expend a vast amount of resources and actively support the transfer of the
Anglican institution to colonies, as Spain did for Catholicism.34
The English assumption that metropolitan institutions, such as the Church
of England, would be recreated in the colonies met disappointment. The British
did not transplant Anglican hierarchy to North America until the revolutionary
years. The entire institution took two centuries to transplant, and enforced
conformity was even then only successful in seventeenth-century New England.
The failure of the English state to make its colonies Anglican was proof that the
metropolitan was not the most effective agent for creating a state church in North
Historians disagree on whether the driving force behind English imperialism
was Protestantism, though a distinctly anti-Catholic presence existed.3 The
English neither undertook concerted efforts to convert the natives as the Spanish
had, nor were they successful in unseating Catholic Spain from its dominant
religious position in the Americas.7 The Spanish empire's efforts to convert
natives largely failed, but it converted many more at least in name than did the
British Empire. Indeed, the Jesuits were willing to reinterpret Native American
beliefs in the context of Catholicism, while prostelyzing Protestants instead
wanted to replace native beliefs entirely and without compromise. The Spanish
understood that conversion would not completely eradicate native religious
traditions and that in the process Christianity itself had to be reinterpreted in the
New World context. The desire to replace indigenous beliefs proved ineffective
for the Protestants when it came to Africans as well. Though the campaign to
convert Africans met with more success, Protestant Christianity was transformed
in the process.3"
When it comes to African religion, most scholars have tended to focus on slave
conversion without giving sufficient attention to the fact that African conversion
34. Pestana, 70-71.
35. Pestana, 72.
36. David Armitage, The Ideological Origins ofthe British Empire, Ideas in context, 59 (Cambridge,
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
37. Armitage, The Ideological Origins ofthe British Empire, 73-79.
38. Armitage, The Ideological Origins oftheBritish Empire, 81.
14 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
COLONIAL ATLANTIC: INTERACTIONS OF REGIONS Anuradha Pandey
actually began in Africa.39 Many slaves converted to Christianity before leaving
Africa, and catechists helped integrate Christianity and African cosmologies in
the New World.40 Though historians have often assumed that slaves adapted
their religions to Christianity, the case was in fact the opposite. Furthermore,
numerous African religions fell together in the New World, and necessity arose to
create a new cosmology based on these varied traditions in addition to adopting
Christian beliefs. Africans created new cosmologies to fit their specific needs in
the slavery context.4
Religion in the Atlantic World cannot be well captured in such a small space,
but the thread that weaves through the study of religion in the New World is
that no tradition crossed the Atlantic fully intact. And what of the recipients of
these transplanted faiths and the targets of these conversions efforts? The louder
European narratives have traditionally muffled those of Native Americans, but
new scholarship has brought greater balance to the decibel distribution.
39.John Thornton,Afr ,.. .:oftheAtlantic World, 1500-1800 (Cambridge,
New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 254.
40. Thornton., 262.
41. Thornton, 263.
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 15
REDEFINING NATIVE AMERICANS
IN THE ATLANTIC WORLD
The Atlantic World narrative reflects a tale of unparalleled social diversity.
To the arriving Europeans the land seemed virgin, untouched, and managed
by innocents pleading for civilization; however, beneath the mask of European
dominance lay a continent of highly developed societies willing to benefit
politically and economically from the new arrivals. Relation and cooperation
with native groups presented a conflict between Native and European society, for
each considered itself superior. Eurocentric scholars have traditionally seen Native
American cultures as passive in the development of the Americas. Yet in a New
World of cultural redefinition, the seemingly vacant continent became the grand
stage of ethnic contradictions.
Today, Atlantic World historians have shattered the stereotypical ideas
of separate "red" and "white" histories.42 Instead, a more complex cultural
"conversation" has replacedthe limitations oftraditionalcolonial study.3 Historian
T. H. Breen opens this idea in his 1983 article "Creative Adaptations: Peoples
and Cultures." Breen describes the cultural collision of the New World as the
"tale of human creativity," while criticizing scholars who ignored the interaction
between Native Americans and Europeans to favor one group, or tell solely one
static history. 44 Breen particularly highlights how Native Americans adapted to
their changing environments by keeping some traditions, and modifying others.
42. T. H. Breen, "Creative Adaptations: Peoples and Cultures," in The Atlantic World in the Age of
Empire, ed. Thomas Benjamin, Timothy Hall and David Rutherford (Boston, Mass.: Houghton
Mifflin Company, 2001), 57.
43. Breen, 59-60.
44. Breen, 57.
16 ] ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
COLONIAL ATLANTIC: REDEFINING NATIVE AMERICANS I Sarah McNamara
In "Creative Adaptations", Breen depicts a new understanding of the complexity
of the relationships that shaped the New World.
The glorified "conquests" of the Atlantic World create an interesting
narrative of cultural interactions. Historian Thomas Benjamin reexamines this
familiar history with a more inclusive point of view. In his 2001 study of the
"conquest of Yucatan," Benjamin explains the conquest as a war truly between
two opposing Mayan tribes.45 His piece "Alliances and Conquests" destroys the
idea of preconceived Spanish superiority and reveals a new complexity to the
traditional "conquest" history. Also concerning Spanish-American relations,
Ramon A. Gutierrez addresses the cultural exchange between the Franciscans in
the modern-day southwestern United States, while David J. Weber investigates
how both the Spanish and Native Americans independently employed the mission
system to their own advantage. According to these studies, the missions became
not only a place of supposed Christianization, but also a political and military
refuge for weakened tribes seeking protection.
One of the most notable effects of early cross-cultural encounters involves
the idea of race. In American society, the simple idea of race has managed to
subjugate, enslave, and limit millions of people through ethnic classification
and Eurocentric ideas of cultural, or "racial," superiority. However, an often-
overlooked topic in Atlantic history is Native American slavery. In her article
"Enslavement of Indians in Early America," Joyce E. Chaplin explains that Native
subjugation is so easily forgotten because numbers tend to prioritize interest
toward the millions of Africans who were enslaved over the thousands of Native
Americans who were enslaved.46 While the numbers may not be as daunting, in
enslaving Native Americans Europeans advanced notions of inequality and the
continuation of "the other" in terms of ethnic classifications.47 Chaplin believes
that recognizing this event reveals the "tensions between slavery and freedom" in
American history, and the enduring effects of racial subordination.48
When Europeans discovered the American continent, they not only found
a world new to them, but "made the Americas a New World for the Indians
45. Thomas Benjamin, "Alliances and Conquests," in The Atlantic World in the Age ofEmpire, 82-
46. Joyce E. Chaplin," Enslavement of Indians in Early America: Captivity without the Narrative,"
in The Creation of the British Atlantic World, ed. Elizabeth Mancke and Carole Shammas,
(Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2005), 45.
47. Chaplin, 50-51.
48. Chaplin, 45.
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 17
COLONIAL ATLANTIC: REDEFINING NATIVE AMERICANS I Sarah McNamara
who lived [t]here."9 The modern study of the Atlantic World acknowledges the
duality of these first encounters. Today, historians have embarked on a quest to
incorporate past cultural conversations into a more comprehensive history of
the Atlantic World. From this intricate narrative of cross-cultural interactions
emerges a more clear view of American societies today in the context of their true
49. Benjamin, 56.
18 ] ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT FOR
ATLANTIC WORLD HISTORY
S ince its emergence in the 1970s, the field of Atlantic World history in the
United States continues to advance with strong academic support. Research
in the above fields of economics, religion, and Native history would not have
been possible without the efforts of various institutions throughout the United
States. In the last thirty years, universities and other academic organizations
in the country have fostered the growth of a field of study that encompasses
subjects originating long before the twentieth century. The increasing number
of doctorate degrees awarded in Atlantic World studies by universities, such as
Duke, Princeton, Columbia, and Michigan, among many others, exemplifies the
growing popularity of the field.o5
Perhaps Harvard University, encouraged by the work of Bernard Bailyn,
has done more to advance the field than any other institution. Bailyn began the
International Seminar on the History of the Atlantic World in 1995, a program
Matthew Smith of Miami University has hailed as the field's most distinguished,
saying the "schools that devote special attention to the historical study of the
Atlantic now flourish as far afield as Sydney and Liverpool, but the most rarified
concentration ofAtlanticists is the Atlantic History Seminar."51
The seminar, which meets for ten to twelve days in August, varies its theme
every year. The participants in the seminar must be recent recipients of the PhD
50. Dissertations in Atlantic History, "Dissertation Abstracts," International Seminar on the
History of the Atlantic World, http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~atlantic/dissabs.html, Accessed 20
51. World History Connected, "Baffled by the Doldrum? Teaching the Atlantic in World History,"
http://worldhistoryconnected.press.uiuc.edu/5.3/smith.html, Accessed 20 January 2009.
ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 19
COLONIAL ATLANTIC: INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT | Stephanie Schroeder
or currently seeking advanced degrees. Additionally, Harvard hosts each semester
weekend workshops open to anyone in academia." Due to the seminar's success,
the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has recently renewed funding for the program
through June 2010. In addition to hosting the yearly seminars, the Harvard
program produces a newsletter and maintains a website that contains a vast listing
of dissertation abstracts and recent publications in the study of Atlantic World
history. The seminar also sponsors short-term grants to "encourage comparative
research in Atlantic History topics."53
The support of several prestigious academic institutions has helped propel
Atlantic history into the spotlight as a fast growing field of study. Several
universities, including the University of Florida, are currently supporting Atlantic
scholars with graduate student funding, library collections, lecture series, and
endowed professorships, and are creating new programs to introduce students to
the wonderfully complex Atlantic World and facilitate new research on a variety
of unexplored topics. With such a fast-growing area of study, some academics
are divided as to the benefits and drawbacks of such a method of looking at
history. However successful a new historical field might be, academic support and
opposition must always be weighed and balanced when considering a new method
52. About the Seminar, International Seminar on the History of the Atlantic World, http://www.
fas.harvard.edu/~atlantic/aboutsem.html, accessed 20 January 2009.
53. About the Seminar, International Seminar on the History of the Atlantic World, http://www.
fas.harvard.edu/~atlantic/aboutsem.html, accessed 20 January 2009.
20 ] ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
THE FUTURE OF ATLANTIC HISTORY
The arm of history is very long indeed. The desire to be remembered is
seemingly engrained into the core of human nature, as generation after
generation has left behind artifacts and accounts, allowing historians to study
the stories of people from thousands of years ago. Out of this bounty, historians
have created different, more manageable-areas of study. Geography, gender, or race
limit some scopes, while others, such as Atlantic World history, have the potential
to blend cultures and ethnicities from across the globe. Examining a multitude of
topics, including trade, religion, the exchange of cultures and traditions, and the
role of imperialism, the connections that have yet to be discovered and bridges to
be built by Atlantic World historians seem virtually limitless. Compared with
other fields, the Atlantic World is a fairly new arena; yet its ascent in the world
of history has been swift, with university graduate programs spouting up all
over the globe alongside international conferences and textbooks.5 The field's
ability to link the people of Europe, North America, Africa, and South America
through the activities on this one ocean makes its continued ascending popularity
undeniable. It is not just a history of one country, but a unique history ofthe entire
But a new field of studymust overcome initial suspicion and criticism to secure
its future, and the study of the Atlantic World is no different. The main criticism
against the Atlantic World perspective is that it asks no original questions but
simply addresses the old ones from a new perspective. To secure its own future,
Atlantic World history must prove that it is not just a more politically correct
54. David Armitage and MichaelJ. Braddick, The British Atlantic World, 1500-1800 (New York:
Palgrave Macmillian Publishing, 2002), 11.
ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 21
COLONIAL ATLANTIC: THE FUTURE OF ATLANTIC HISTORY I Meghan Nash
way of studying imperialism.5 Other observers counter that, far from being
redundant, Atlantic World history reaches too far, daring to rewrite the accepted
histories of several prominent nations. Historian Jack P. Greene explains that "the
idea of an Atlantic world has always been at odds with the much older and more
deeply entrenched conception of the past...for re-conceiving the entire historical
landscape in which [events] occurred."56 This is perhaps the greatest hurtle facing
Atlantic World historians-finding a way to interject their discoveries into the
However, the number ofAtlantic World supporters far outstrips the number
of its critics. After all, Atlantic World history offers an indispensable alternative
to the Eurocentric emphasis of earlier scholarship. Ian Steele eloquently
demonstrates the inclusive reach of Atlantic history, and highlights the new,
close attention paid to the normally overlooked influences of the Caribbean,
Latin, and Native American societies on the Atlantic economy.57 In examining
detailed studies on large empires, such as the British empire, Steele points out the
usefulness of an "Atlantic" perspective in determining the impact of events in
Britain on Amerindians and colonists on the one hand and that of events in the
New World on Britain on the other.5" Atlantic World history has the power to
create a historical connection between all nations and through its multidirectional
approach carries the possibility of spurring the creation of more historical fields
The future ofAtlantic World studies appears to be bright. Granted, criticisms
exist, and most likely the future will bring more, but what field of study has not
been criticized at one time or another? The doors that Atlantic World historians
have opened and the discoveries they have made portend the field's continuing
influence in the academy. For centuries, the Atlantic Ocean has been the great
geographic confluence between four continents. Within its vastness, historians
for generations to come will find limitless opportunities for scholarship.
55. Armitage and Braddick, 13.
56. Elizabeth Mancke and Carole Shammas, The Creation ofthe British Atlantic World (Baltimore:
John Hopkins University Press, 2005).
57. Ian Steele, "Exploding Colonial American History: Amerindian, Atlantic, and Global
Perspectives," Reviews in American History 26, no. 1 (Mar. 1998): 75.
58. Steele, 79
22 ] ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 23
MOVING INTO AMERICA:
THE ROLE OF MOBILITY IN THE
AMERICANIZATION OF YBOR
CITY'S LATINO COMMUNITY
INTRODUCTION: TRACING CUBAN BREAD CRUMBS
On a typical Florida afternoon in 1924, the hot, sticky, humid air of Ybor
City became laced with the sweet aroma of rising yeast and freshly baked
bread. As the cigar workers trudged to their casitas for afternoon lunch, each
found a two-foot-long-loaf of Cuban bread tactlessly slammed onto the iron nail
hammered next to every door.1 In this small annex ofTampa, four bread companies
ruthlessly competed in the Cuban bread market. The Pardell, Ferlita, More, and
Two Brothers bakeries all went to extreme lengths to intimidate the competition.2
The black-and-white pages La Gaceta were decorated with underhanded
advertisement campaigns, an endless round of price wars found a boundless battle
ground in the promising rhetoric of bakery owners, and even homemade bombs
were strategically placed in the soot-stained brick ovens of competing bakeries. At
that moment, Cesar Marcos Medina, owner of the Two Brothers Bakery, waved
his white flag and surrendered in the war of Cuban bread. Instead, he decided to
produce a new product-American bread.3 "You can't do that: you're a Cuban
and a Spaniard," the stunned public told Medina. However, rather than accepting
1. Cesar Marcos Medina, interviewed by Gary Mormino, May 22, 1984, Samuel Proctor Oral
History Program, Page 9, University of Florida, http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/UFDC/UFDC.aspx
?g=spohp&m=hd2&i=3521&td=Ybor+=City (accessed March 1, 2008)
2. Medina interview.
3. Medina interview.
24 ] ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
MOVING INTO AMERICA S Sarah McNamara
a stagnant position in the established norms ofYbor's Latino community, Cesar
Marcos Medina replied with staunch determinism, "Yea, well this Cuban is going
to make American bread."4
What the Latino community perceived as an irrational and unnatural
decision evolved into a multi-million-dollar business for Medina. His American
bread gained great popularity with the changing attitudes of the Ybor Latino
youth. The American bread represented acceptance into a new culture and new
world. The long, stiff Cuban loaves were no longer what the children wanted to
take to school, and they each longed for the white, square sandwiches just like
those of their American classmates.5
While unanticipated by Cesar Medina, the production of his American
loaf was one step toward the Americanization of the Ybor Latino community.
Americanization is a phenomenon that affects immigrant populations in
the United States. Host communities pressure immigrants to assimilate into
one Anglo identity, leaving behind many of their rich traditions and cultural
associations. Originally, the Ybor community resisted this pressure by uniting
under one Latino identity.6 However, with each new American-born generation,
Ybor's Old World traditions and independent identities became increasingly
harder to defend against the threatening influence of Americanization.
The Americanization ofYbor City and its Latino residents is a topic that past
historians have acknowledged, but not exclusively investigated. Nancy Hewitt's
analysis of women's activism in Ybor City paints a picture of an immigrant
community where women revolutionarily redefined themselves and their positions
in an American context. Also, Gary Mormino and George Pozzetta investigate
the effects of "class, culture and community" on the Italian population of Ybor.
Hewitt, Mormino, and Pozzetta all characterize Ybor as a cultural hot spot, prone
to change and redefinition. Yet while each author focuses on this idea of change
that allowed Americanization, none of these previous analyses specifically explain
the direct causes and effects of Americanization on the Ybor City community.
Ybor City was not a melting pot of Old World cultures. The Latino identity
ofYbor City was comprised of a complex tapestry of Spanish, Cuban, and Italian
threads all woven together by the pattern of a common immigrant experience.
The result of this unity was a community rooted in tradition and distinctly Ybor.
4. Medina interview.
5. Medina interview.
6. Gary Mormino and George Pozzetta, The Immigrant World ofYbor City (Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 1998), 322.
ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 25
HOW TO MAKE ANAMERICAN S Sarah McNamara
However, the one thing Ybor Latinos could not control was the imminent effect
ofAmerican society on their southern community. Mobility exposed Ybor's tight
Latino enclave to the prospects of the entire Anglo Tampa society. Through new
developments in transportation, busing, and education and the onset of World
War II, the once isolated community became subject to the ideals of American
success, American identity and the American Dream.
Today Ybor City is a shadow of its past. The old smells, sounds, and spirits
only live on in the legends of their former glory. Gayla Jamison describes, "Most
of Ybor exists only in the memories of those who lived here."7 The majority of this
research is based on just that, the stories of Ybor told by those who lived there.
Because the study of the Latino community is a relatively recent endeavor, endless
resources of previous investigation do not yet exist. However, when following the
history of Americanization, what better way to understand the process than to
draw analyses from the oral histories of those who were Americanized? While
it is necessary to account for romantic exaggerations and reinvented memories,
common experiences and themes all connect the modernization of mobility to the
transformation of the Latino identity.
THE BEGINNINGS OF THE WORLD'S CIGAR CAPITOL
Prior to the late 1920s and early 1930s, Ybor City and its residents remained
segregated from Tampa society. Anglo Tampa's ethnic and racial prejudices
created a "we" versus "them" attitude.8 Yet while the City of Tampa economically
benefited from industrialization and the Ybor workforce, the Anglo mentality in
which immigrant citizens were regarded as second rate left Ybor an uninterrupted
enclave of Italian, Spanish, and Cuban traditions. Originally, these cultures
existed and flourished independently of each other. However, stronger than the
bonds of the mother country was the solidarity of the working class.9 The first-
generation immigrants docked at the port of Tampa with hope for a new life and
job security, a hope realized by the local cigar industry.
The cigar industry was the economic core of Ybor City.10 The sweet smell
of the finest Habana tobacco filled the air and stained the hands of the artisans
who stripped, stuffed, molded, and bound the delicate leaves into a work of
7. Living in America: One Hundred Years of Ybor City, directed and produced by Gayla Jamison, 55
minutes, New York, NY: Filmakers Library, 1987.
8. Mormino and Pozzetta, 322.
9. Mormino and Pozzetta, 320.
10. Mormino and Pozzetta, 5, 175.
26 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
MOVING INTO AMERICA S Sarah McNamara
art. Cigar workers took pride in their position and production. A hierarchy of
prestige was associated with each step of the cigar making process. From the
lowly ,. ., . . to the honored selector, there was always the opportunity for
mobility within the ranks of production regardless of sex, race, or age.1
Spaniards, Cubans, Italians, both men and women, worked side by side in
the cigar factories. In an immigrant community composed of distinct cultural
traditions, the nonexistence of a division of labor tied these individually unique
cultures into one distinct Latino identity. The factories became the great mediators
of pre-existing tensions and differences amongst the ethnic groups. Thus, with
a New World identity independent of Old World expectations, Ybor's diverse
workforce formed an unexpected community inside these economic institutions.
While the cigar industry shaped Ybor City's economic backbone, the mutual
aid society embodied the community's spirit. Grandiose structures reminiscent
of Old World architecture reflected the culture each society represented. Roman
columns, Sevillan arches, Galician tile work, and Cuban patios characterized the
uniqueness of each ethnicity. The development of mutual aid societies was not
particular to Ybor City. These institutions were the continuation of a European
system brought to the United States by Latino immigrants.12
Four distinct societies represented the Latino community-Centro Espanol,
Centro Asturiano, Circulo Cubano, and L'Unione Italiana.'3 The members of
these societies paid weekly dues to cover building maintenance, medical care,
worker's compensation, burial, and social activities. Membership in these societies
was absolutely crucial to the residents ofYbor. In the event of illness or injury, the
mutual aid system dictated where the patient was treated. Language and social-
cultural barriers would have prevented Latinos from effectively interacting with
the Anglo-Tampa hospital system.14 Therefore, the mutual aid society became an
irreplaceable life line to Ybor residents, and one of the first examples of socialized
On Friday evenings as the sun set on Ybor City, the vibrant melodies of
traditional music streamed from each society. Formal dances were a weekly affair
11. Mormino and Pozzetta, 317. Despalilladores were those workers who stripped the stems from
tobacco leaves, a much lower position when compared with the selectores who rolled the finished
12.Wastfall, L. Glenn. Research Studyfor theDevelopmentof the Ybor City StateMuseum (Tallahassee:
Division of Archives, History and Records Management, Bureau of Historic Sites and Properties,
13. Westfall, 93-99.
14. Ferdie Pacheco, Ybor City Chronicles (Gainesville:University Press of Florida,1994), 43.
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 27
MOVING INTO AMERICA I Sarah McNamara
for the residents of Ybor.15 Couples delicately danced the waltz, quickly spun to
the lively pasodoble, and always maintained proper distance from their partner.16
Following the tradition of Old World courtship, busy aunts and watchful mothers
closely trailed their young ladies at every social event.17 On weeknights, the
societies served as the local men's clubs.'8 The fanciful ballrooms overflowed with
clouds of thick white cigar smoke and the clicking of delicate ivory dominoes. The
sounds of deep bellows of laughter and forceful political debates characterized
the colorful agenda of these nightly meetings.19 The mutual aid societies provided
more than medical security-they celebrated traditions while defining the new
Latino community in Ybor City.
The residents of Ybor City shared a common livelihood. Each member was
reliant on the other, a sense of community and interdependency defined the
Latino community. As Angelo Cacciatore explains, "all people were close, 'cause
we were poor; when you're poor you stick together."20 This idea of unity allowed
Ybor to develop into one community of ethnic diversity. Ybor City's Latino
residents found cohesion in the commonality of immigrant circumstances.
Clustered housing characterized the physical layout of the Ybor City.21 The
neighborhood was like an endless sea of shotgun homes, painted plain white and
built within an arm's reach of each other. Philip Spoto remembers that "doors were
kept open and everyone was welcome."22 The neighborhood was as social as the
mutual aid society. People sat on their front porches and talked for hours.23 While
this sense of nostalgia may be interpreted as a romantic memory. it emanates a
sense of unity and trust that existed within Ybor City.
The Ybor community was not a wealthy community. Fathers, mothers, and
children all worked together to support the family. However, in an era of national
16. Domenico Giunta, interviewed by Gary Mormino, Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Page
30, UniversityofFlorida, http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/UFDC/UFDC = I .,= I .
i=3499&td=Ybor (accessed March 28, 2008).
17. Giunta interview, 30.
21. Mormino and Pozzetta, 235.
22. Phillip Spoto, interviewed by Gary Mormino, June 30,1979. Quoted in The Immigrant World
of Ybor City, 319.
23. Nelson Palermo, interviewed by Gary Mormino, Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Pages
6-9, University of Florida, http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/UFDC/UFDC.aspx?g=spohp&m=hd9J&
i=3476&td=Ybor (accessed April 15, 2008).
28 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
MOVING INTO AMERICA S Sarah McNamara
economic decline, Ybor City was not left untouched by the Great Depression.24
Relying on their communitarian roots, the entire community stood together to
help support those hurt by the tough economic times. The more comfortable
residents, those who owned pharmacies, bodegas, and restaurants, often extended
a line of "credit" to their clients in need.25 Most store owners never expected to be
repaid. However, in a city of Latinos, characterized by male machismo and Old
World pride, the term "credit" made charity acceptable.26
Ybor City represented a mosaic of cultures bound together by a common
Latino identity. It was an immigrant neighborhood united by a common
experience of prejudice, industry, and social structures. Spaniards, Cubans,
and Italians found stability and community in the unlikely streets of Ybor. To
these first residents, Ybor City was more than grand brick structures and ornate
wrought iron. It was a place of unity, hope, and autonomy. It was Ybor.
THE FIRST STEPS TOWARDS MOBILITY:
ANNEXATION, TROLLEYS AND THE AUTOMOBILE
The City of Tampa annexed Ybor City on June 2, 1887.2 Since 1885, Ybor
City had brought new forms of industry and economic prosperity to
Hillsborough County. The city of Tampa was an Anglo-American community,
based on small neighborhood connections and devoid of independent industry.
By incorporating the mighty immigrant workforce into the legal definition of
"Tampa," the city was able to claim industrialization and reap the benefits of
the cigar factories.28 While connected in name, the two communities remained
independent and distinct. Tampa residents saw Ybor Latinos as mobsters and
mafia bosses, and thus allowed Ybor City to retain its name.29 When discussing
union strikes and gambling, the Anglos called the area Ybor; but if the topics
concerned economic prosperity and modernization, they called it Tampa.30
However, an independent coexistence would not continue into the twentieth
century. Tampa's infrastructure eventually reached Ybor City before World War
I, connecting the two cities by a common vehicle, the Tampa-trolley.
26. Pacheco, 32.
27. Westfall, 49.
28. Westfall, 49.
29. Westfall, 49.
30. Westfall, 49.
ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 29
MOVING INTO AMERICA I Sarah McNamara
Tampa's electric streetcars connected all areas of the city. The steel tracks
stretched from the inner city to downtown, from Victorian Hyde Park to the
factories of Ybor. The yellow wooden chariots left no neighborhood untouched
or culture unrecognized.31 The cost of transportation was a nickel a ride,32 and the
relative affordability of the trolleys allowed the once isolated Latino community
to move beyond their economic limits, and discover the city of Tampa.
The American-born Ybor generation was the first to travel the trolley's
tracks into areas ofAnglo Tampa. Sulfur Springs, the Tampa Theatre, and Ballast
Point became popular hangouts for Latino and Anglo youth alike.33 Mutual aid
society picnics, sporting competitions, entertainment and American interactions
characterized each of these areas. With a sense of American nationality masked
by a Latino culture, the young bilingual Ybor generation began to desegregate
polarized Tampa. The Anglo community did not welcome this new movement.
Signs reading "No Dogos!" which meant "no Italians, no Spaniards, no Cubans,
nothing" were posted at Sulfur Springs.34 Joe Maniscalco remembers reacting
defensively to such acts of racism. "We are American, as good as you are!" the
Latino boys would yell, forcefully asserting their American nationalistic pride
through their thick Spanish accents.35
Young Latinos saw themselves as equal to their Anglo neighbors. American-
born and bilingual, the identity of this generation was a mixture of Old World
Ybor traditions and the individualism of their new American nationality. They
took pride in their American birth and felt entitled to the same benefits as their
Anglo counterparts. Movement and transportation forced the Tampa community
to interact with the young Latinos. While reactions of racism did not stop the
Latinos from experiencing traditionally Anglo activities, it did leave them with
a sense of an identity crisis. This second generation felt the pressure to accept
American values and assimilate into a "white" society. Therefore, while the Ybor
youth ended every night surrounded by the familiarity of their cultural haven,
they slowly began to accept the American world that surrounded their immigrant
33. Joe Maniscalco, interviewed by Gary Mormino, April 3, 1980, Samuel Proctor Oral History
Program, Page 31, University of Florida, http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/UFDC/UFDC.aspx?g=spo
hp&m=hd2&i=3475&td=Ybor (accessedApril 13, 2008).
34. Maniscalco interview, 32.
35. Maniscalco interview, 31.
30 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
MOVING INTO AMERICA S Sarah McNamara
Henry Ford's Model-T reshaped America and Ybor City as well. As the
automobile became more affordable and gained popularity, the streets of Ybor
City began to hum and clank with the sounds of cranking engines. While a single
Ybor family unit could not afford to buy a vehicle, the entire extended family
could.36 The family car did not belong to one person, but belonged to the group.
As families and neighbors shared the convenience of technological advances, the
car allowed families to move quickly outside of Ybor and experience the Anglo
world they had previously avoided.
The car allowed a freedom of movement that the trolley system could not
offer.3 Families were no longer restricted to the hours of public transportation.38
Latinos were able to stay out longer to visit friends and family in other areas of
Tampa, and their world became much larger than their safe cultural enclave in
Ybor City. This opportunity quickly led to the expansion of the family unit and
neighborhoods like West Tampa and Tampa Heights saw an increase in Latino
populations.9 These areas boasted the same red brick streets and Latino flair, but
instead of the cramped casitas ofYbor city, slightly larger lots and bungalow homes
characterized these neighborhoods. The sons and daughters of the original Ybor
immigrants began to move outside the tiny streets of Ybor. While the extended
family still maintained a strong relationship, American ideals were difficult to
Originally, the attachment to tradition made Ybor resist change at all cost.
However, American ideals of success and the new accessibility of this prospect
put a premium on a culture very different from their own. By the late 1930s the
Ybor cigar industry had begun to fade. Cesar Marcos Medina remembers the
rise of restaurants, stores, and banks all run by Latino residents.40 These Ybor
Latinos were able to find economic prosperity beyond the walls of the brick cigar
factories. More professional jobs gave the residents a sense of upward mobility and
self-assurance. Anglo families started to travel into Ybor City to eat a meal on
the famed Seventh Avenue (La Avenida Septima) and enjoy an evening of "ethnic
flare." For the first time Ybor became a commodity and the Latino residents
were ready to sell their culture. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed men and women started
36. Pacheco, 117-118.
37. Giunta interview, 40.
38. Giunta interview, 40.
39. Westfall, 49.
40. Medina interview, 14-17.
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 31
MOVING INTO AMERICA I Sarah McNamara
eating at restaurants like the Tropicana and Columbia, bringing in new profits
and leaving behind their American influence.
Ybor City had thrived in its isolation, but after the emergence of widespread
transportation, Ybor City would never be the same. Interactions with the Anglo
Tampa left the younger generation to question their place in modern society, while
the dependable industrial community began to spread and professionalize. The
development of the trolley system and the availability of the family vehicle left an
unforgettable American imprint on the identity of the Latino community.
EDUCATION AND THE
MOVEMENT OF AMERICAN IDEALS
In Ybor City education was not a right but a privilege. Sending children to
school resulted in a smaller family income and more economic hardship.41
Parents were forced to make an important decision: send the children to school
with the hope of future opportunities, or send them straight to the cigar factories
to join the workforce.4" Supporting a familyin Ybor often included every extended
family member.43 Ybor's residents dreamed of the opportunity to educate their
children. Many saved money to send their eldest sons to college, and sacrificed
for the hope of a brighter future. However, the fortunate few who received an
education entered a distinct public school system. From the education system in
Hillsborough County, the Ybor youth learned more than basic curriculum-they
learned what it meant to be American.44
All Latino children attended Ybor Elementary.45 The first day of school
would have been a shocking experience. Most of the Latino children did not speak
English and few teachers spoke Spanish. 46 "They didn't understand the kids at all,"
Zoila Salas remembers while describing the Anglo Tampan Teachers.47 A typical
41. Mormino and Pozzetta, 287.
42. Mormino and Pozzetta, 272.
43. Mormino and Pozzetta, 272.
44. Sara and Glara Wohl, interviewed by Gary Mormino, February 1, 1974, Samuel Proctor Oral
History Program, Pages 3-4, 41-42, University of Florida, http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/UFDC/
UFDC.aspx?g=spohp&m=hd2&i=3622&td=Ybor (accessed Febrary 25, 2008).
45. Short Wilson, interviewed by Gary Mormino, Febrary 1, 1974, Samuel Proctor Oral History
Program, Pages 3-4, University of Florida, http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/UFDC/UFDC.aspx?g=s
pohp&m=hd5J&i=3633&td=Ybor (accessed February 25, 2008).
46. Wilson, 7.
47. Zoila Salas, interviewed by Gary Mormino, February 1, 1974, Samuel Proctor Oral History
Archive, Page 34, University of Florida, http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/UFDC/UFDC.aspx?g=spo
hp&ts=Ybor&b=UF00006479&v=00001 (accessed Febrary 25, 2008).
32 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
MOVING INTO AMERICA S Sarah McNamara
school day was divided into two halves. The first half was spent in a traditional
classroom, while the second was spent in "Chart" class. Sara and Glara Wohl,
both former teachers, defined "Chart" as "Americanization courses."48 According
to these former teachers, the goal of Ybor Elementary was to Americanize the
young Latino generation. Teachers taught the students English, but focused on
helping them "change their customs so that they could integrate and assimilate
into the new way of doing things."49 Latino children could not speak Spanish at
school, and if Spanish was spoken the child was either ignored or punished. Inside
Ybor Elementary the Latino culture was not welcome.
Ybor Elementary was an American institution. As Tampa became larger in
population but more integrated through transportation the Latino "problem"
became more apparent. Focusing on the Americanization of the younger
generation, teachers were able to develop a sense of American identity in the Ybor
youth at an early age. As the 1930s began, the young Ybor generation desired a life
different than that of their parents.o5 They did not associate themselves with the
Old World traditions, but rather embraced the newness ofAmerican ideals.
High school moved Ybor children out of their safe cultural enclave and
into mainstream Tampa society. The Latino population was split between two
institutions, Jefferson High School and Hillsborough High School.51 Beautiful
gothic, brick buildings characterized the exterior ofthese schools. However, inside
the picturesque structures was a mixed population and struggle for acceptance.
For the first time Ybor students were integrated into the Anglo community.52
Following the example of their peers, the Latino students continued their
American education. At this stage, rather than learning how to be American, they
participated in American society. Like their Anglo peers, Latinos said the Pledge
of Allegiance, spoke in English and participated in the active school culture.53
The sounds of Spanish words and bilingual conversations did not fill the halls
of Hillsborough County's public high schools.54 Instead, the sounds of fluent
English spoken with fading Spanish accents streamed throughout the classrooms
and across the schools' patios. While the Latino students still returned nightly
48. Sarah and Glara Wohl interview, 41.
49. Sara and Glara Wohl interview, 41.
50. Sara and Glara Wohl interview, 40.
51. Bob Martinez, interviewed by Gary Mormino, March 23, 1999, Samuel Proctor Oral History
Archive, Pages 5-6, University of Florida, http://www.uflib.ufl.edu/UFDC/UFDC.aspx?g=sp
ohp&ts=Ybor&b=UF00005615&v=00001 (accessed February 25, 2008).
52. Martinez interview, 6.
53. Wilson interview, 8.
54. Wilson interview, 9.
ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 33
MOVING INTO AMERICA I Sarah McNamara
to Ybor City, their community was no longer dictated by Old World traditions.
Living American by day and Latino by night, this young generation was trapped
between two worlds that did not translate.
For many Latino boys, a college education was a dream that World War II
made a reality.55 The 1930s were a dark time for Ybor. As the cigar factories slowly
closed their doors and disappeared, the once steady economic heartbeat of Ybor
City began to slow.6 Step by step, Ybor's once vibrant community was fading into
the background of the Tampa Bay area. There was little opportunity left in the
small industrial town, but World War II presented the chance to leave the Latino
community, experience the world, and go to college.57 For young men, joining the
armed forces became a popular alternative to manual labor. Ybor's sons packed
their bags and went to Europe. To Europeans Ybor's Latino soldiers were no
different than the blonde-haired, blue-eyed men who fought beside them. For the
first time these Latino men became ambassadors of American freedom and the
When Ybor City's Latino soldiers returned to the United States, they began
a new life in search of their American Dream. Changed by new perspectives of a
world with boundless opportunities, the young men found promise behind the
walls of American universities. Many enrolled at the University of Tampa, staying
close to home and remaining active in their Latino communities.58 However,
many did not, and several veterans of the Second World War enrolled in colleges
across the state, including the University of Florida and the University ofMiami.59
Most of these men studied free professions like education, medicine, law and
accounting. This allowed them to pursue economic prosperity while maintaining
control over their employment conditions.
Education moved America into Ybor City, and Ybor city into America.
The influence of American success, American ideals and the American Dream
changed the identities of the younger generations, encouraging them to follow
paths different from those of their parents. The Americanization of Ybor City
and its residents did not create a group of clones unaware of their heritage. It
created a group whose identity was neither fully American nor fully Latino. They
were Latino-Americans, and living examples of the immigrant American cycle.
55. Giunta interview, 41.
56. R.S. Boggs, "Ybor City, Florida," South Atlantic Bulletin 3, no.2 (October 1937): 1,8.
57. Mormino and Pozzetta, 300.
58. Bob Martinez, 7.
59. Pacheco, 42.
34 ] ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
MOVING INTO AMERICA S Sarah McNamara
AMERICANIZATION AND THE END OF AN ERA
O n a cool southern morning in 1937, the Southern AtlanticBulletin published
an article titled, Ybor City: The Largest Spanish Speaking Settlement in the
Southeastern United States.60 Written by linguist R.S. Boggs, the article did not
acknowledge the cultural diversity and unlikely community ofYbor City. Instead,
it focused on the Americanization of the small community.61 Boggs believed that
in 1937 the youngest generation of Ybor Latinos was at the optimal stage to
begin the process of Americanization.62 "The community seems to be losing its
Spanish cultural tradition even more rapidly than its Spanish language," Boggs
explained.63 The professor from North Carolina went on to predict that in two
generations the descendants of these Ybor residents would neither speak Spanish,
nor follow the Latino cultural traditions.64 They would be Americans.
Characterized today by new buildings, chic boutiques, and stylish restaurants,
the once vibrant neighborhood is little more than a shopping center in disguise.
The grand centros that once filled the city with vibrant culture and unforgettable
traditions now sit in disrepair and neglect. In place of the endless sea of white
casitas, a new interstate highway now stands, an interstate where Ybor's tight
knit community once flourished. R.S. Boggs was correct in his 1937 prediction
of Ybor's fate. The last generations of rich cultural enclaves have now assimilated
into mainstream Tampa. Ybor City and its Latino residents could not escape the
mobilization of Anglo-American ideals from entering their unique community.
In short, they could not escape America.
The Americanization of Ybor and its residents was not an overnight
phenomenon. It was a gradual process over fifty years and included numerous
factors causing the Latino residents to identify with a new culture. While
movement and mobility played large roles in the Americanization of this southern
community, other political and social structures subjugated the Latino residents
to American culture in different ways. Prejudice and the idea of racial inferiority
are reoccurring themes in America's immigrant communities. Southern political
and social institutions like the Black Codes, Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan
undoubtedly had an effect on the Americanization ofYbor's Latino residents. In
60. Boggs, 7.
61. Boggs, 7.
62. Boggs, 7-8.
63. Boggs, 8.
64. Boggs, 8.
ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 35
MOVING INTO AMERICA I Sarah McNamara
Anglo Tampa the reformist attitude was active during the early twentieth century.
Anglo women saw it as their mission to help Americanize the helpless Latino
children of Ybor. Tampa is "politically southern and industrially northern."65
However, to fully understand its "unique Spanish atmosphere," the social and
political institutions that pressured Ybor City in the early twentieth century
should be included in the dialogue the community's Americanization.66
Spaniards, Cubans, and Italians came to Ybor for the cigar factories and
left the memory of an unforgettable community. While traditional music no
longer streams from the mutual aid societies and the fresh, sweet aroma of Cuban
tobacco has left the air, the memory of Ybor lives on through the traditions and
feel of Tampa today.
65. Mormino and Pozzetta, 43.
66. Mormino and Pozzetta, 43.
36 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
LEBENSRAUM IN THE EAST:
THE NAZI USE OF VOLKSDEUTSCHE
AS ADMINISTRATIVE TOOLS
IN POLAND, 1939-1943
C T he Poland of the Treaty of Versailles shall never rise again!" Adolf Hitler
proclaimed in his speech to the Reichstag on October 6, 1939.1 In fact,
Nazi foreign policy toward Poland during World War II not only sought to
restore its territorial losses incurred after World War I, but also to occupy even
more of the country. Even before Germany lost provinces such as PoznAn, most
of West Prussia, and parts of Upper Silesia (including its coalmines) via the
Treaty of Versailles, the nation had been pushing for territorial expansion into
Eastern Europe.2 Almost one year into World War I, in July 1915, 1,347 German
intellectuals called upon Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg to conquer Poland and
transform it into an agrarian buffer zone against Russia.3 This decree proposed the
settlement and cultivation of fertile lands in order to establish German autarky
as a means of preserving its racial and cultural heritage against the Slavic threat
from the East.4 Similarly, the Nazi Party Program of 1920 demanded the union
of all Germans living in and outside of the Reich to form a Greater Germany
1. Max Domarus,Hitler. Speeches andProclamations, 1932-1945. VolumeIII: The Years 1939to 1940,
trans. Chris Wilcox (Wauconda, Illinois: Bolchuzy-Carducci Publishers Inc., 1997), 1944.
2. Felix Gilbert and David Large, The End ofthe European Era: 1890 to the Present, Fifth Edition
(New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002), 167.
Another key loss for Germany was the port city of Danzig, which the Treaty of Versailles declared
a free city and placed under the supervision of the League of Nations.
3. Dietrich Eichholtz, "Der 'Generalplan Ost': Ober eine Ausgeburt Imperialistische Denkart und
Politik (Mit Dokumenten),"Jahrbuchfur Geschichte (1982): 254.
4. Eichholtz, 255.
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 37
LEBENSRAUMIN THE EAST I Kay Witkiewicz
in conjunction with establishing a proper living space, or Lebensraum, for the
Focused primarily on Eastern Europe, the Nazi quest forLebensraum and the
uniting of all Germanic people into a Greater German Reich were complementary
endeavors. Of the 7 million Volksdeutsche-"people whose 'language and culture
had German origins' but who did not hold German citizenship"6-who were
dispersed throughout Eastern Europe post-World War I, about 1,190,000 lived in
Poland.7 Much of that population was concentrated in Western Poland, especially
in the provinces Germany surrendered as part of the Versailles settlement. These
regions, most prominently the Warthegau in Western Prussia, represented an
agricultural breadbasket and a base for further eastward expansion. Furthermore,
control of these Polish parts would both create Lebensraum and unite more
Germanic people with the Reich and advance the Nazi goal of achieving
KI ra rfn,, 'i r itr, the physical and cultural securing of the already occupied area
by means of German settlement.
Henceforth, following the Nazi takeover of Poland in September 1939, the
and socially stable German living space through the strategic resettlement and
voluntary, physical employment of Volksdeutsche. Correspondingly, Volksdeutsche
were not only passive numbers and figures in the theoretical planning of the
settlement of Poland and subsequently acquired Eastern territory, but also active
participants in the Nazi expansion ofLebensraum. Throughout this process, Nazi
racial policy played a key role in preserving the German character of the regions
by sorting out the population into various different levels of ethnic acceptability.
Anticipating further annexations in the East, the plans for the administration
of Poland foreshadowed a general plan of systematically populating conquered
Eastern European territories.
5. Dieter Kuntz and Benjamin Sax, Inside Hitler's Germany: A Documentary History ofLife in the
Third Reich (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath and Company, 1992), 72.
6. Doris L. Bergen, "The Nazi Concept of'Volksdeutsche' and the Exacerbation ofAnti-Semitism in
Eastern Europe, 1939-45,"JournalofContemporary History 29 (1994), 569.
In the author's opinion, Bergen gives the most comprehensive definition of Volksdeutsche.
7. Wilhelm Winkler, Statistisches Handbuch der europaischen Nationalitaten (Vienna, Leipzig:
Wilhelm Braumiiller, 1931) and Deutschtum in aller Welt: I Tabellen
(Vienna: Verlag Franz Deuticke, 1938) cited in Valdis O. Lumans, "The Military Obligations of
the Volksdeutsche in Eastern Europe toward the Third Reich," East European Quarterly 23 no.
3 (1989), 321.
Czechoslovakia had the largest ethnic German population with 3,318,445.
38 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
LEBENSRAUMIN THE EAST Kay Witkiewicz
First known as the Biiro Kursell, the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle (VoMi), as it
was referred to by March 1936, was the central administrative office of all matters
pertaining to ethnic Germans.8 Located in Berlin and led by Schutzstaffel (SS)
man Werner Lorenz since January 1, 1937, VoMi spread its influence through
regional branches abroad.9 While the organization was originally commissioned
as a National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) office, the decree of July
2, 1938 granted the organization state authority as well.o1 As such, VoMi wielded
control over the VDA (VereinfiAr das Deutschtum im Ausland), a private interest
group founded in 1881; since 1908, the VDA sought to preserve and reinforce
German culture in areas outside the Reich, especially by establishing German
schools." Additionally, VoMi was also responsible for the disbursement of funds
to ethnic Germans engaged in Volkstumsarbeit, any pro-German activity with
the goal of strengthening the German character of a region and its people.12 One
of VoMi's main tasks was balancing the relationship between Volksdeutsche, the
Reich, and the particular foreign states in which the ethnic Germans resided,
while another crucial assignment was to physically examine and resettle people
claiming to be of German origin.13 Given these responsibilities, the Volksdeutsche
Mittelstelle integrated both the administrative and the racial aspects of Nazi
foreign policy in the East.
The VoMi's leadership structure further influenced the combination of
administrative and racial components into foreign policy. As Reichsfiihrer SS,
Heinrich Himmler was in charge of all SS activity, and thus automatically the
superior officer to Werner Lorenz. Indeed, Himmler appointed himself "Reich
Commissioner for the Strengthening of Germandom" (RKFDV) backed by a
retroactive official Fiihrer decree of October 7, 1939.14 Himmler's responsibilities
clearly reinforced the racial undertones of his title: return Volksdeutsche to the
Reich; settle the conquered lands with ethnic Germans; and eliminate undesirable
components of the German Volk." The Germanization of Poland relied on a "new
8. Valdis O. Lumans, Himmler'sAuxiliaries: The VolksdeutscheMittelstelle and the German National
Minorities ofEurope, 1933-1945 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1993),
9. Lumans, 41 and 147.
11. Lumans, 25 and 63.
12. Lumans, 67.
13. Lumans, 75 and 190.
14. Lumans, 134.
ALPATA: journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 39
LEBENSRAUMIN THE EAST I Kay Witkiewicz
ordering of ethnographic relations" achieved by resettling Volksdeutsche in place
of Poles and Jews.16
The so-called Long-Term Plan for the Resettlement in the Eastern Provinces
of 1939 was to implement this shuffle of ethnic populations in the East. Crafted
by the Reich Security Head Office (RSHA) of which Heinrich Himmler was
the ultimate leader, the Fernplan was the first of its kind to combine racially
discriminating and ethnic German administrative policies.17 Its main purpose
was to outline the systematic deportation of all undesirables from the German-
incorporated territories in the east.'8 However, this long-term plan also contained
several short-term goals. Much more regional in character, these smaller plans
consequently required less time for completion, and focused on smaller sub-
populations. For example, the Warthegau Nahplan provided for the deportation
of 80,000 Jewish and non-Jewish Poles in exchange for the settlement of 40,000
Baltic Germans over the first sixteen days of December 1939.19
Still, the overall goal of the Fernplan for all of Poland was to achieve a clear
division between Germanized settlers and undesirable Poles and Jews in order to
secure the purity of the newly established German Volk in the East by deterring
racial intermixing.20 In doing so, the plan would concur with Hitler's demands for
the administration of Poland, namely the establishment of a secure Reich border,
the expansion of Lebensraum, and the regulation of the Jewish problem.21
A Nazi-organized census scheduled for December 17, 1939, was the first step
in realizing the Fernplan. After completion of the census, all Jews and members
of the Polish intelligentsia between the ages of twelve and fifty-four were to be
deported either to work camps or the General Government (GG).22 The General
Government constituted a central Polish region with about 14 million inhabitants,
16. Domarus, Hitler. Speeches and Proclamations, 1932-1945. Volume III: The Years 1939 to 1940,
17. Karl Heinz Roth, "'Generalplan Ost' und der Mord an den Juden: Der 'Fernplan der
L ..' l ..... in den Ostprovinzen' aus dem Reichssicherheitshauptamt vom November 1939,"
ZeitschriftfiirSozialgeschichte des 20. und21.Jahrhunderts 2 (1997), 54-5.
Reinhard Heydrich was the official director of the RSHA, but Himmler had the ultimate authority,
especially since his appointment as RKFDV.
18. Phillip T. Rutherford, Prelude to the Final Solution: The Nazi Program for Deporting Ethnic
Poles, 1939-1941 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007), 86.
19. Rutherford, 57.
20.Angelika Ebbinghaus and Karl Heinz Roth, "Vorlaufer des 'Generalplans Ost.' Eine
Dokumentation fiber Theodor Schieders Polendenkschrift vom 7. Oktober 1939," Zeitschriftfiir
Sozialgeschichte des 20. und21. Jahrhunderts (1992), 73.
21. Domarus, Hitler. Speeches and Proclamations, 1932-1945. Volume III: The Years 1939 to 1940,
22. Roth, 54.
40 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
LEBENSRAUMIN THE EAST Kay Witkiewicz
the vast majority of whom were of Polish descent,2 yet the Nazi governor-general
Hans Frank, an ethnic German, led the administration.24 Since the Reich was in
dire need of agrarian labor-an expected 1.7 million seasonal workers for 1940
alone-only those Poles not usable in the Reich or the Eastern territories were
sent to the GG.25 Additionally, the Fernplan called for all Volksdeutsche to aid
in the economic build-up of the new territories, both in regard to agriculture
and industry.26 Most importantly, though, two general notions stood out in
these strategies: settlement by as purely German a population as possible and
the continued goal of K/./,ra;, r''ri.;,,. in order to safeguard the inroads of
Unfortunately for officials on the ground, the Fernplan's simplistic
proscriptions for determining race did not correspond to the heterogeneity
of local populations. Determining who was German and who was not became
quite subjective, as generations of intermixing made drawing accurate racial lines
impossible. Despite the Nazi census of December 1939, the SS was still unable
to distinguish between Poles and Germans by May 1940.2 In fact, the SS had
underestimated the size of the population strata. In spite of German racial origins,
manyfailed to uphold German culture, and even surrendered the German language
in the process.28 Furthermore, not nearly enough Volksdeutsche were available
to replace the Polish and Jewish elements that were to be removed.29 Thus, to
bridge this numerical gap, by Himmler's authority, the Deutsche Volksliste (DVL)
became the evaluation tool for determining official ethnic German status, and
consequently Reich citizenship, in the conquered territories by March 1941.30
The DVL was a systematic assessment that assigned racial qualifications
to the populace as a means to expand Nazi-controlled influence in Poland and
the rest of Eastern Europe. A DVL mandate also required applicants to fill
out and personally return questionnaires to their local VoMi office, where an
executive committee of Volksdeutsche and Reichsdeutsche (German-born citizens
of the Reich) already settled in the area determined their ultimate status as
23. Roth, 64.
24. Deutsches Auslandswissenschaftliches Institut, Dokumente der Deutschen Politik: Das Werden
des Reiches, 1939, Teil 2 (Berlin: Junker und Diinnhaupt Verlag, 1940), 671.
25. Roth, 65, 67, 69.
26. Ebbinghaus and Roth, 89.
27. Meldungen aus dem Reich: Diegeheimen Lageberichte des Sicherheitsdienstes der SS, 1938-1945,
Band4(Herrsching:ManfredPawlakV., ,I ..1 l Ir 1984), 1104.
28. Meldungen aus dem Reich.
29. Roth, "'Generalplan Ost' und der Mord an den Juden," 66.
30. Lumans, Himmler'sAuxiliaries, 198.
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 41
LEBENSRAUMIN THE EAST I Kay Witkiewicz
ethnic Germans.31 Official guidelines stipulated that applicants had to fill out
questionnaires for multiple family members excluding children under the age of
15 and elderly, fragile people.32 This family profiling helped preserve the Nazi
ideal of the agrarian family unit that was to be successfully resettled on farms in
the occupied territory.
The executive committee categorized families according to five groups. Those
in Group A actively defended and endorsed the German Volk and its cultural
heritage, while Group B was made up of family units who merely preserved their
Germanness.33 Group C constituted people of German origin who despite having
ties to Poles, such as through marriage, remained assets to the VK/ ',1 i,. i.Ait
the German community of blood, heritage, and cultural unity.34 Groups D and E
included families of German origin who did not preserve their heritage, and, in
the case of Group E, even expressed sentiments of Polish nationalism.35 Any unit
qualifying for either Group A or B received Reich citizenship, while the committee
issued all members of Groups A, B, and C ID cards ascertaining their belonging to
the DVL.36 Furthermore, officials allowed Groups A and B to remain in the East,
along with some members of Group C, while they sent less desirable members of
Group C to the Reich to be Germanized.37 Groups D and E faced deportation to
work camps or the General Government.38
The broad and arbitrary definitions of who classified as Volksdeutsche and
who did not served the Nazi regime in expanding their power base in the East
at the expense of "their own ideological principles of Germanness."39 Certainly
race was still a factor, as evidenced by the official instructions to only hand
out questionnaires to people who did not blatantly appear to be Polish.40 Later
concessions that identifying racial signs (Rassenmerkmale) were unreliable,
however, contradicted the mandate, as many Poles, especially from the Poznin
31. Deutsches Auslandswissenschaftliches Institut, Dokumente derDeutschen Politik: Das Werden
des Reiches, 1939, Teil 2 (Berlin: Junker und Diinnhaupt Verlag, 1940), 619.
32. Dokumente der Deutschen Politik, 621.
33. Dokumente derDeutschen Politik, 620.
34. Dokumente derDeutschen Politik
35. Dokumente der Deutschen Politik
36. Dokumente der Deutschen Politik
37. Lumans, Himmler'sAuxiliaries, 198-99.
38. Valdis O. Lumans, "A Reassessment of Volksdeutsche and Jews in the Volhynia-Galicia-Narew
Resettlement," in The Impact of Nazism: New Perspectives on the Third Reich and its Legacy, eds.
Alan Steinweis and Daniel Rogers (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003), 94.
39. Bergen, "The Nazi Concept of'Volksdeutsche,'" 574.
40. Deutsches Auslandswissenschaftliches Institut, Dokumente derDeutschen Politik, 621.
42 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
LEBENSRAUMIN THE EAST Kay Witkiewicz
region, represented the ideal Nordic type.41 Although speaking German was
evidence ofbelonging to the V.NI/ '-, c. i, if i. many Poles, having been instructed
in German schools, were also fluent in the tongue.42 Then again, attendance at
Polish schools did not preclude Germanness worthy of the DVL, while a German
school education did not guarantee Volksdeutsche status.43 For example, if there
were no German schools in the area, circumstance dictated that German children
had to attend Polish schools, where they naturally learned and spoke Polish, even
though parents and kin could still cultivate the children's German language
and heritage at home.44 In such a case, these children and their parents could be
categorized in either one of the first three groups according to the DVL.
Ultimately, for many aspiring Volksdeutsche, the "the easiest way to prove
themselves good Germans was to prove themselves good Nazis."45 One way to do
so was to comply with Nazi assignments based on DVL classification. This usually
affected only the families in Groups A and B since their racial and occupational
backgrounds were more likely to comply with Nazi standards of working either
in the East or in the Reich. The DVL distinguished between O-cases, the "elite
ofresettlers" who relocated to the Warthegau as farmers, and the A-cases, which
offered greater technical skills better utilized in Reich industry.46 However, the
DVL judged both cases first and foremost on the criteria of racial quality, and
then political and cultural reliability because the Volksdeutsche colonization of the
territories continued to idealize the prospect of securing a racially pure extension
of Germandom in the East.47
Still, the practical benefits of remaining in the East could not be denied. After
all, the Volksdeutsche were the primary beneficiaries of the Nazi reorganization
policy, as they would inherit the farms and possessions of the Jews and Poles driven
out.48 Eradication of the undesirables automatically meant the promotion of the
ethnic German elements in the areas. Furthermore, the material associations
attached to these anti-Semitic policies in the Eastern provinces promoted
41. Dokumente derDeutschen Politik, 622.
42. Dokumente derDeutschen Politik.
43. Dokumente derDeutschen Politik, 623.
44. Dokumente derDeutschen Politik, 621.
45. Bergen, "The Nazi Concept of'Volksdeutsche,'" 574.
46. Lumans, "A Reassessment of Volksdeutsche and Jews," in The Impact of Nazism, eds. Steinweis
and Rogers, 94.
47. Lumans,Himmler'sAuxiliaries, 191.
48. Bergen, "The Nazi Concept of'Volksdeutsche,'" 570.
ALPATA: journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 43
LEBENSRAUMIN THE EAST I Kay Witkiewicz
continued enforcement of the racial policy, since the ethnic Germans' gain of
possessions relied on endorsing the Nazi point of view.49
The tangible benefits of expanding and securing the Lebensraum of the Volk
automatically encouraged discriminatory practices. In fact, the Nazis could hardly
supply the ethnic German population, leading to the redistribution of clothing
and other loot taken from concentration camp prisoners in Operation Reinhard
towards the end of the war.50 Indeed, Doris Bergen even suggests that Nazi officials
could use the arbitrary definition of who constituted the Volksdeutsche as a tool of
conservation, for as supplies became scarce, the officials could simply deny more
people material benefits.5
Oftentimes being a good Nazi also meant joining the local Selbstschutz, a
police organization modeled on the S S that secured the immediate neighborhood.52
Starting out as an auxiliary police force of all men who could prove their adherence
to the Reich-most often through political membership cards of parties favorable
or similar to the Nazis-the Selbstschutz eventually turned into an extension of the
SS because its duties fell under the authority of the RKFDV Heinrich Himmler.5
Composed of male volunteers between the ages of seventeen and forty-five, the
Selbstschutz was a paramilitary organization armed with weapons confiscated
from the Polish enemy, and led by SS Fiihrers in groups of one hundred in every
With few formal duties, the local organizations were involved in various roles,
from directing traffic to executingJews and Poles.55 Even though their tasks came
at the discretion of the local leader, the Selbstschutz was primarily engaged in the
protection of German property, including the securing of former possessions of
undesirables.56 Scholars can surmise that these groups were organized to protect
the ethnic German population from Polish and Jewish hostilities, as well as
against the overwhelming presence of Poles and Jews in the General Government.
Indeed, one of the responsibilities of the Selbstschutz was to raise and strengthen
49. Bergen, 572.
50. Lumans, "A Reassessment of Volksdeutsche and Jews," in The Impact of Nazism, eds. Steinweis
and Rogers, 96.
51. Doris L. Bergen, "The Volksdeutsche of Eastern Europe and the Collapse of the Nazi Empire,
1944-1945," in The Impact of Nazism: New Perspectives on the Third Reich and its Legacy, 107.
52. Christian Jansen and Arno Weckbecker, Der "Volksdeutsche Selbstschutz" in Polen 1939/40
(Miinchen: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1992),42.
53. Jansen and Weckbecker, 56-7.
54. Jansen and Weckbecker, 52.
55.Jansen and Weckbecker, 85.
56.Jansen and Weckbecker, 84.
44 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
LEBENSRAUMIN THE EAST Kay Witkiewicz
the self-confidence and courage of the Volksdeutsche.7 This hints at a practical
employment as well as an ideological employment of this voluntary force, likely in
part to ensure the physical security and the preservation of the German character
of the settled regions.
Organization within the Selbstschutz itself was a microcosm of the overall
Nazi racial and administrative guidelines for the whole of the conquered
Eastern European lands. Mandatory physical exams used racial features to create
differentiated divisions with the paramilitary groups. As such, only the racially
desirable of List A were eligible to integrate into official SS units, while the less
racially acceptable of List B served police purposes, and those of List C were merely
fit for the regular German army.5s Himmler fully endorsed these strict distinctions,
and saw the SS as the epitome of the Aryan ideal: strong, fearless, imposing men
of Nordic complexion and stature. Himmler even advocated preferential living
conditions and treatment in school for blond, blue-eyed children in the General
Membership in the Selbstschutz also decreed certain benefits. Among the
perks, possession ofa Selbstschutz ID guaranteed free use of the public railway and
less strict racial scrutinizing of one's family.60 Also, membership appeared to be
widespread and relatively easy to achieve once the racial examination was passed,
as more eager volunteers quickly replaced any discharged ones. In fact, even the
racial qualifications necessary to attain List A status were at least readily met
in West Prussia and Danzig, where eighty percent of those meeting the general
qualifications joined the Selbstschutz, and half of whom belonged to the highest
rank.61 The Selbstschutz was the epitome of Volksdeutsche, or at least those deemed
desirable, actively engaging in the reorganization and resettlement of the annexed
On a much broader level, by 1940, the Generalplan Ost (GPO) formulated
the policies applied to the Polish regions for the continued settlement of Poland
and the general settlement of any further Eastern lands. Devised by the RSHA,
the GPO provided for an increase of 3.4 million Germans in the East within
57. Jansen and Weckbecker, 82.
58.Jansen and Weckbecker, 59.
59. Vom Generalplan Ost2 1 Czeslaw Madajczyk et al. (Miinchen: K.G.
60. Jansen and Weckbecker, Der "Volksdeutsche Selbstschutz," 59.
61. Jansen and Weckbecker, 61.
ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 45
LEBENSRAUMIN THE EAST I Kay Witkiewicz
thirty years in order to bring the total German population to 4.5 million.62
Consequently, the plan demanded the removal of 3.4 million Poles.63 Poland
was the testing ground for the management of future territorial acquisitions, and
two different concepts inherent in the GPO formalized the types of exploitation
already begun in the country. I, ..... referred to the establishment of a
plunder economy in which the land and industry of the annexed regions would be
utilized to the maximum benefit of the Reich.64 In the already occupied regions
of Poland, this procedure was evident especially in the Volksdeutsche takeover of
former Polish farms. The second notion was that ofKolonisierung, the permanent
German settlement of the acquired area.65 The VolksdeutscheMittelstelle had been
in charge of that matter in Poland immediately since the surrender of Warsaw.
Above all, the GPO shared the widespread deportation of undesirables and the
resettlement of agrarian Germans with the previous plans.66 In many ways, the
Generalplan Ost was an umbrella strategy that represented an extension of the
Polish Fernplan in both time required for completion and territorial scope.
The procedures enacted in Poland at the outset of the war systematically
defined Nazi foreign policy towards the whole of Eastern Europe. Focused on the
physical removal of undesirable Polish and Jewish elements and the subsequent
replacement with ethnically acceptable Germans, the VolksdeutscheMittelstelle, in
conjunction with the measures dictated by the DVL, was in charge of resettlement.
While the genetic and cultural mingling of Poles, Jews, and ethnic Germans made
racial classification problematic, the preservation of a strong German heritage in
the conquered territories remained a priority. Aside from the theoretical aspect of
settlement, Volksdeutsche actively participated in the removal of undesirables and
the securing of the already inhabited areas by joining the local Selbstschutz. Given
the tangible benefits of following the racial and administrative Nazi party lines
in the East, Volksdeutsche had material incentives to continue their engagement
in the reorganization process. The ethnic Germans were the key to expanding
Lebensraum and consolidating a Germanized Eastern Europe.
62. Dietrich Eichholtz, "Der 'Generalplan Ost': Uber eine Ausgeburt Imperialistischer Denkart und
Politik (Mit Dokumenten),"Jahrbuchfiir Geschichte (1982), 225.
63. Vom Generalplan OstZ .1 CzeslawMadajczyket al. (Miinchen: K.G.
Sour Verlag, 1994), 3.
64. Eichholtz, "Der 'Generalplan Ost,' 221.
66. Eichholtz, 239.
46 ] ALPATA: journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
DEFENDING THE OLD GODS:
PAGAN RESPONSES TO IMPERIAL
PERSECUTION IN THE REIGN
OF THEODOSIUS I
n the sweltering afternoon of a Mediterranean summer, a group of
archeologists made an unexpected discovery in the town of Ostia, about
fifteen miles southwest of Rome. In this place, once the main port of the Eternal
City, they unearthed a massive temple dedicated to the worship of Hercules.
Although the discovery was important in itself, at least one member of the
excavation team found a small inscription found with the temple that made an
even greater impact.'
It was the summer of 1938 and Herbert Bloch, a Jew from Berlin, had
joined the archeological team after graduating from the University of Rome. He
had come to Italy not only to study, but also to escape the Nazism of his native
country. Yet that very month, the Italian fascist government under pressure
from Germany issued its own anti-Semitic laws that would soon convince Bloch
to leave for the United States.2
But the importance of the inscription he found would stay with him, even as
he emigrated from Europe. The inscription was a simple statement, asserting only
1. Details of the excavation are in Herbert Bloch, "A New Document of the Last Pagan Revival in the
West, 393-394 A.D.," The Harvard TheologicalReview 38, no. 4 (October 1945): 199-203.
2. Information on Bloch's life are from Emma Stickgold, "Herbert Bloch; classics expert taught
at Harvard 40 years," (October 3 2006), ,rr I. r .. ... ... 1. 1../obituaries/
articles/2006/10/03/herbert blochclassicsexperttaughtatharvard 40 years/ (accessed
December 28, 2008).
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 47
DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
The Roman Empire in the Reign of Theodosius I (378-395)
that one Numerius Proiectus had renovated the temple of Hercules in the year
of Theodosius, Arcadius, and Eugenius (393 AD).3 What made this discovery
groundbreaking, however, was that it provided evidence that a major pagan temple
had been renovated two years after the Christian Roman Emperor supposedly
closed all the sites of pagan worship.
Bloch, after joining the faculty of Harvard University, began to research
the circumstances behind the renovation of this temple. The article he published
as a result, "A New Document of the Last Pagan Revival in the West," changed
modern understandings of religion in the late fourth century Roman Empire. He
demonstrated that despite what Christian church historians had often insinuated,
paganism was not a defunct religion that simply rolled over at the orders of the
Christian government. In a world vaguely similar to Bloch's, a world in which
religious persecution was being enforced upon Europe by discriminatory laws and
state violence, he believed he had caught a glimpse, in the short reign of Emperor
Eugenius, of the persecuted minority rising up in defense of their religion.4
3. The inscription, pieced together, read: DOMINIS NOSTRIS THEODOSIO ARCADIO
ETEVGENIO PIIS FELICIBVS TOTO ORBE VICTORIBVS SEMPER
AVGGG NVMERIVS PROIECTVS V C PRAEF ANN CELLAM HERCVLIS
4. Paganism was not really a unified religion but a mosaic of different beliefs. The only shared concept
was a polytheistic or henotheistic worldview. However, for convenience, this paper will refer to
paganism with the term ill be taken to encompass followers of religious beliefs
outside ofeitherJudaism , I., r...
48 ] ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
As a careful study reveals, the pagan reaction to Christianization in Italy
was not the only such response in the last decade or so of the fourth century.
Though historians like Bloch have studied specific instances of pagan reactions,
there have been few major treatments of the aggregate of such reactions. The
aim of this investigation will be to provide one. Since religious violence between
pagans and Christians went back generations with both sides desecrating each
other's holy sites, the focus of this study will be pagan reactions to persecution
specifically enacted by the imperial government, which began under Emperor
Theodosius I.5 Such examples can be found in both the elite and local pagan
responses to attempts to demolish their temples in the eastern provinces
(specifically the Serapeum of Alexandria) and perhaps, in the reign of Eugenius,
with an open attempt at regaining control of the political machinery of the
A clear view of these events is difficult to synthesize, for any understanding
relies mostly on sources that contradict each other in trying to prove their
respective points. Many of the Christian primary sources are church histories,
such as those of Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Sozomon, Socrates Scholasticus, and
Rufinus of Aquileia, and portray the elimination of paganism as the natural,
preordained triumph of the Church. Others, such as Augustine's De civitate
Dei and Orosius' Historiarum Adversum Paganos Libri VII, sought to discredit
paganism in the history of the Roman Empire. The pagan sources, such as
Libanius, Zosimus, and Eunapius, are just as severe in their biases, and are
characterized by firm opposition to Christianization. To attempt to supplement
these ancient historians, this investigation will make extensive use of the
Theodosian Code, a compilation of Roman law completed in 438, allowing
trends and changes in the law to be tracked and dated.
5. Constantius II (337-361) had passed anti-pagan laws (The Theodosian Code andNovels and the
Sirmondian Constitutions, ed. and transl. Clyde Pharr (London: Oxford University Press, 1952),
3.10.4-6), but Emperor Julian (361-363) reversed these laws. After the reign of Julian, "evil
magic" and blood sacrifices were banned, but a general mood of mutual toleration pervaded until
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 49
DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
THEODOSIUS AND HIS LAWS
As the last ruler to control both halves of the Roman Empire, by this time
generally divided between East and West, and the emperor who oversaw
the triumph of Nicene Catholic Christianity,6 the Spanish-born Theodosius
I was famed both for his piety and his aggressive suppression of heresies.7 In
February of 380, he issued a law making the Nicene faith the official religion of
the Roman Empire and the only formally accepted faith:
We command that those persons who follow this
rule shall embrace the name of Catholic Christians.
The rest, however, whom We judge demented and
insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas,
their meeting places shall not receive the name of
churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine
vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our
Indeed, since the start ofhis reign in 378, Theodosius had ordered repressive
measures against heretical groups, even commanding members of certain sects
be hunted down and executed.9 In a heavily-governed society like the later
Roman Empire, religious violence was the rule rather than the exception; the
earlier pagan persecution of Christians serves as a reminder that in the late
antique Roman world, religious tolerance was expected even less than it was
given.10 Though Theodosius symbolized this age of religious compulsion, it was,
however, not until 391 that he turned his aim toward suppressing traditional
pagan cults that enjoyed great popularity with the Senate and army."
On February 24, 391, Theodosius launched the first volley in his legislative
attack on paganism. His law, preserved in the legal code of his grandson and
6. i. I ... . r. .. 11 r. ofthe Christian creedsetforthbythe Council ofNicea, namely
that Christ was "of the same substance" as God. In 381, Theodosius convoked the Council of
Constantinople, the Second Great Ecumenical Council, which upheld this position and declared
heretic all who opposed it.
7. For the details of Theodosius'life, see Stephen Williams and Gerard Friell, Theodosius, the Empire
atBay (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994).
8. C.Th., 16.1.2.
9. C.Th., 16.5.9.
10. Peter Brown, Authority and the Sacred. (New York: University of Cambridge Press, 1995), 43-
11. Indeed, Theodosius had even promoted pagans, such as Symmachus and Tatianus, to high
50 ] ALPATA: journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
namesake, prohibited pagan sacrifices and entry into temples.12 This edict was
followed up by another, harsher one later that year: "No person shall be granted
the right to perform sacrifices; no person shall go around the temples; no person
shall revere the shrines. All persons shall recognize that they are excluded from
profane entrance into temples by the opposition of Our law."13
Nonetheless, even before Theodosius issued these laws, paganism was
already on the defensive, especially in the eastern half of the empire. While earlier
attempts at suppressing paganism are not so clearly attested to in the law codes,
imperial agents, acting at least in Theodosius's name, were actively waging war
on paganism. In 384, the Emperor's praefectus praetorio Orientis,14 Maternus
Cynegius, was already engaged in such a campaign against paganism.'5
CYNEGIUS, THE TEMPLES OF THE
EAST, AND THE PAGAN ELITE
During his tenure in the eastern part of the Empire, Cynegius enlisted
the aid of local monks in a quest to demolish pagan temples in his
jurisdiction.16 The archeological record suggests Cynegius's campaign and
future tours of destruction, as far fewer remnants of pagan temples survive in
Syria than churches despite the much shorter period of Christian rule over the
region.1 However, the degree to which the destruction of temples was a private
affair led by Cynegius outside his official capacity is uncertain, as is Theodosius's
approval or encouragement in the matter.
The Christian historian Theodoret, for one, claims that Theodosius
personally ordered the destruction of the temples, stating, "Now the right
faithful emperor diverted his energies to resistingpaganism, and published edicts
12. C.Th., 16.10.10.
13. C.Th, 16.10.11.
14. Praetorian Prefect (regional administrator) of the East, a jurisdiction that covered Thrace, Asia
Minor, Syria, and Egypt.
15.John Matthews, "A Pious Supporter of Theodosius I, Maternus Cynegius andhis Family,"Journal
of Theological Studies 18, no. 2 (1967): 440,445-446.
16.John Matthews, WesternAristocraciesandtheImperialCourt,A.D. 364-425 (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1975), 140.
17. Garth Fowden, "Bishops and Temples in the Eastern Roman Empire A. D. 320-435,"Journalof
TheologicalStudies 29 (1978): 68.
ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 51
DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
in which he ordered the shrines of the idols to be destroyed."18 He also claims
that Bishop Marcellus of Apamea carried out the destruction of the Temple of
Zeus in his city with the support of officials sent by Theodosius.19 Zosimus, a
pagan writer and general critic of the Christianization of the Empire, agreed
with Theodoret even though he wrote from a different point of view than the
church historian, writing that "[Theodosius] gave instructions to Cynegius, the
prefect of his court, whom he had sent into Egypt in order to prohibit there all
worship of the gods, and to shut up their temples ... In this Cynegius obeyed
his commands: he effectively closed up the doors of the temples throughout the
east, Egypt, and Alexandria, and prohibited all ancient sacrifices and customary
The veracity of the claims of Theodoret and Zosimus, however, are open
to question.21 Theodoret wanted to portray Theodosius as the heroic destroyer
of paganism, while Zosimus intended to depict the emperor as a Christian
fanatic. The sources are vague as to whether Theodosius actually ordered the
destruction of temples, authorized only specific instances of temple demolition,
or merely turned a blind eye to the individual initiatives of Cynegius and the
monks.2 Libanius, a cultured and educated pagan from Antioch who witnessed
the temple destruction first hand, certainly did not believe that Theodosius had
ordered the attacks.23 He dedicated an oration to Theodosius addressing the
perceived illegality of the temple demolition. In his view, the destruction was
the fault of the monks, who were usurping Imperial authority:
"This black-robed tribe...these people, sire, while
the law yet stays in force, hasten to the temples
with sticks and stones and bars of iron, and in some
cases, disdaining these, with hands and feet. Then
18. Theodoret, Historia Ecclesiastica, transl. Blomfield Jackson, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace,
Nicene andPost-Nicene Fathers, vol. III (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994): 5.21.
19. Theodoret,HistoriaEcclesiastica, 5.21. The officials and their soldiers are portrayed as ineffectual,
and Marcellus has to undermine the temples foundations (and fight a demon in the process), but
Theodoret was very much trying to show that Marcellus was the hero of the story.
20. Zosimus, Historia nova, ed. and transl. James J. Buchanan and Harold T. Davis (San Antonio,
Texas: Trinity University Press, 1967), 4.37.
21. David Rohrbacher, The Historians of Late Antiquity (New York: Routledge Press, 2002), 278-
22. Fowden, "Bishops and Temples in the Eastern Roman Empire A. D. 320-435," 65.
23. Michael Gaddis, There is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ (Berkley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 2005), 210-211.
52 ] ALPATA: journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
utter desolation follows, with the stripping of roofs,
demolition ofwalls, the tearing down of statues and
overthrow of altars, and the priests must either keep
quiet or die. After demolishing one, they scurry
to another, and to a third, and trophy is piled on
trophy, in contravention of the law."24
In Libanius's mind, only Theodosius had the right to order the destruction
of the temples, claiming that "If, Sire, you commend and command such
actions, we will put up with them, not without sorrow, but we will show that we
have been schooled in obedience."25 In the writings of Eunapius, a pagan Greek
philosopher who was also a witness to the events, the outrage is also directed
not at imperial officials, but at monks. "For in those days," Eunapius wrote,
looking back on the prefecture of Cynegius, "every man who wore a black robe
and consented to behave in unseemly fashion in public, possessed the power of
The reaction of Libanius, Eunapius, and their fellow upper-class pagans
was not so much outrage at the desecration of their holy sites, but rather at
the desecration at the hands of social inferiors who lacked the authority to do
so.2 More importantly, the monks, as men of low social status,28 provided an
acceptable outlet at which the pagans could direct their anger. In fact, when
Libanius briefly mentions Cynegius, he redirects the blame for the prefect's
actions, claiming that Cynegius was merely a slave of "his wife's whims."29
Hence, by blaming social inferiors, rural monks and meddling women, the
pagan intellectuals avoided the hazardous prospect of appearing to criticize the
Emperor.30 As historian Peter Brown points out, "the grass-roots violence of the
24. Libanius, "Pro Templis," in Libanius, Selected Works, vol. II, transl. A. F. Norman (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1977), 30.8-9.
25. Libanius, "Pro Templis," in Libanius, Selected Works, 30.55.
26. Eunapius, Hisotiarum fragment, ed. and transl. R.C. Blockley, The Fragmentary Classicising
Historians ofthe Later Roman Empire, vol. II (Liverpool, England: Francis Cairns Press, 1983),
27. Brown, The Authority and the Sacred, 51.
28. Libanius, in "Pro Templis," 30.48, says that the monks are nothing more than runaway
29. Libanius,"Pro Templis," 30.46.
30. Indeed, in,"Pro Templis," 30.26, Libanius actually offers Theodosius advice in converting the
S .. r that the Emperor would only make pagans cling more fiercely to their religion
by destroying their temples.
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 53
DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
monks was probably less important than the controlled violence ofTheodosius's
determination to be finished with paganism. But it was violence of which one
was still free to talk."31
LOCAL PAGAN RESPONSES IN THE EAST
The overzealously Christian term of Cynegius seems to have spurred a
backlash in the Roman world, even on the part of Emperor Theodosius.
After Cynegius suddenly died in 388, Theodosius appointed a pagan named
Tatianus as the new prefect;32 perhaps the speeches and complaints of Libanius
finally had some effect, for two years later, Theodosius issued a law restricting
monks to the desert and away from the towns and cities.3
Yet this new peace between Christians and pagans was short-lived.
Tatianus's high position made him the victim of court jealousies, and Zosimus's
history describes a coup d'6tat that ousted Tatianus and replaced him with
the Christian Magister Ojj. .. .. ... Rufinus.34 In a short time the law banning
monks from cities was reversed along with the general climate of pagan
toleration in the East.3 Violence broke out as monks and bishops once again
targeted the temples for destruction. The historian Sozomen reports that
pagans throughout the East fought to defend their temples, and often resorted
to physical violence. In Apamea, the city's pagans armed the local peasants and
burned Bishop Marcellus to death, the same bishop who destroyed the Temple of
Zeus supposedly on Theodosius's orders.36 The peasants had captured Marcellus
while the bishop was away from his bodyguard as these soldiers were ransacking
a temple; the fact that the bishop was guarded by soldiers hints that he may
31. Brown, The Authority and the Sacred, 51.
1,i 1,,-, I. ..r 1. aI Imperial i, I Theodosius (Chapel Hill: University
of North Carolina Press, 2006), 236, and Gaddis, There is No Crime for Those Who Have Christ,
33. C.Th., 16.3.1.
34. Zosimus, Historia nova, ed. and transl. Ronald T. Ridley (Canberra, Australia: Australian
Association for Byzantine Studies, 1982), 4.52. To distinguish him from the historian Rufinus,
from this point the Magister i .r ..... i.. r Rufinus will be referred to as Flavius
35. C.Th., 16.3.2. For the religious climate, see Gaddis, There is No Crime for Those Who Have
36. Sozomen, Historia Ecclesiastica, transl. Chester D. Hartranft, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers,
54 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
indeed have been acting with government approval.37 As with the attacks on
temples under Cynegius, however, the degree to which the imperial government
was involved in these matters cannot be clearly ascertained from the primary
sources. It is perhaps more likely that in the vast majority of cases, the pagans
were responding to local, private attempts at temple destruction.
During this period of temple destruction, however, Theodosius began to
pass his severe anti-pagan legislation. In 391, the temples were officially closed
and sacrifices outlawed. The next year, Theodosius addressed an even stricter
law to Flavius Rufinus in his role as the new Praetorian Prefect of the East, which
essentially banned all practices with even remotelypagan associations.38 This last
law is problematic for historians: though it made sweeping prohibitions against
everything from the burning of incense to the private veneration of household
gods,39 and declared animal sacrifices high treason punishable by death, the
primary sources make virtually no mention of this draconian law. The sources
also do not indicate any immediate pagan response to the decree. Why were
there no bitter complaints over the law in the pagan sources like Zosimus, or
gloating in the Christian histories?40 Perhaps the reason that the sources largely
ignore this law is that even more important events soon surpassed these legal
Around this time, Christians were about to strike the most symbolic of
all blows against pagans in Alexandria.41 The city was home to a long pagan
tradition, with nearly 2,400 shrines or temples spread out across the city's five
37. Fowden, "Bishops and Temples in the Eastern Roman Empire A. D. 320-435," 66-67.
38. C.Th., 16.10.12.
39. C. Th. Williams and ...II r ... the impact this law must have had, go so far as to say that the
modern equivalent would be to outlaw Easter eggs, Christmas trees, and Halloween pumpkins
(pg. 123), all of which have innocuous roots in paganism.
40. Malcolm ......r .. ... ~ ImperialPolicy from Julian to Theodosius, 246-247 argues that
the law was actually intended to target the pagan Tatianus and his sympathizers. Thus, since
everyone recognized that it solely targeted Tatianus andhis faction in the government, which had
been expelled anyway, it received little attention. However, such an understanding of the law is
unsatisfying. The law targeted everyone, "whether he is powerful by the lot of birth or is humble
in lineage," (C.Th., 16.10.12) throughout the Empire.
41. The actual dating of the destruction of the Serapeum is difficult to place since there are
no specific references to the year in the sources. The date is variously assigned to 389, 391
(McMullen, Christianity and Paganism, 2), and 392. I am here inclined to follow Johannes
Hahn, in "The Conversion of the Cult Statues: The Destruction of the Serapeum in 392 A.D.
and the Transformation of Alexandria into a 'Christ-Loving' City," From Temple to Church: The
Destruction and Renewal ofLocal Cultic Topography in Late Antiquity (London/Boston: Brill,
2008), 340-244, since his evidence, comments made by Jerome, seem most convincing.
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DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
districts.4 The greatest symbol of the city's pagan history was the Serapeum, a
temple dedicated to the Hellenistic-Egyptian god Serapis and described by the
well-traveled historian Ammianus Marcellinus as second only to Rome's Capitol
among the most magnificent sights in the world.43 Theophilus, the bishop of the
city, however, had taken it upon himself to cleanse his see of all sites of pagan
worship. According to the primary sources, Emperor Theodosius either ordered
the destruction of the temples,44 or simply granted the bishop permission to
convert them into churches.45 It is unlikely that Bishop Theophlius, who had
much to gain from looting pagan temples,46 needed explicit orders from the
imperial government. Yet the Emperor issued a law in 391 reiterating the ban on
pagan worship that was specifically addressed to Evagrius and Romanus,47 the
civil and military governors of Egypt whom Eunapius portrayed as prominently
involved in the temple destruction.4" Therefore, it seems likely that at least some
communication between Theophilus and Constantinople took place.
Imperial support or not, the bishop's first targets were the Mithraeum and
Temple of Dionysius. Having destroyed them, he led a procession through the
city, mocking the pagans by carrying the broken phalli of the gods. Enraged
pagans responded by attacking the Christian procession, and fighting erupted
in the streets. The scene grew very violent very quickly, and a number of people
were killed.49 As a result, many pagans fled the city, fearing imperial retribution.
42. Hahn, "The Conversion of the Cult Statues," 336-337.
43. Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum, transl. Walter Hamilton, The Later Roman Empire
(AD 354-378) (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 22.16.12.
44. Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica, transl. A.C. Zenos, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. II,
45. Sozomen, Historia Ecclesiastica, 7.15 and Rufinus, Historia Ecclesiastica, transl. William Henry
Fremantle, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. III, 11.22.
46. Hahn, in "The Conversion of the Cult Statues," 354-355, discusses the enormous riches the
Church of Alexandria attained as a result of Theophilus' seizing of pagan temple assets.
47. C.Th., 16.10.11.
48. Eunapius,Hisotiarumfragmenta, 9.56. Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica, 5.16 also alludes to their
involvement, though he does not name them.
49. This is the general sense of events from the sources, though they do not agree on all aspects.
According to Rufinus, the pagans rioted because their hidden lairs where they committed crimes
had been discovered, but this seems like merely anti-pagan propaganda. Sozomen claims that the
riot was a premeditated ambush, but this also seems unlikely, especially considering the volatile
mood of the city, with violence ready to explode any minute. Socrates, who describes the display of
the phalli and subsequent riot, is likely the most accurate source, as two of his teachers, Halladius
andAmmonius, were pagans who had taken part in the violence, andhe bases his version of events
on what they told him.
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DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
Others under the leadership of a philosopher named Olympius reacted by
storming the Serapeum and barricading themselves inside.50
The Serapeum was more than a temple: it was a massive complex built on a
sort of acropolis high above the city, giving the pagans a very defensible position.
According to Sozomen, the pagans had captured a number of Christians, and in
their makeshift fortress forced these Christians to perform pagan rituals. If the
Christians refused, the pagans tortured or killed them." While a bitterly violent
reaction such as this may have been perpetrated in revenge for the destruction
of the temples, this may also just be further Christian propaganda aimed at
dehumanizing the pagans and transforming the Christians into martyrs.52
With the pagans pent up in the Serapeum, the situation reached a stalemate.
Regardless of whether he was involved in the situation before, at this point
Theodosius stepped into the fray. He sent an imperial decree to the city, and,
according to some accounts, the pagans and Christians declared a truce during
which all parties met to hear the reading of the decree. Theodosius granted a
pardon to the pagans, but ordered the Serapeum destroyed. A mob aided by
monks and imperial troops made its way to the Serapeum. As Olympius and the
other pagans fled, Theophilus and his followers smashed the statue of the god
and utterly destroyed the temple complex.5
Thus, though they originally responded to Theophilus with violence, the
reaction of the pagan community of Alexandria ultimately backfired, and they
subsequently lost their religious places and perhaps even their jobs,54 thereby
leaving manywith no option but to permanently depart from the city. According
to Johannes Hahn, "The revolt of the pagan community, whether deliberately
provoked or spontaneous, was used by the Bishop of Alexandria and his allies
50. Socrates, who, again, had the most reliable source for these events, does not mention the storming
of the Serapeum. In his account, it seems that the Serapeum was already destroyed when the
street violence broke out. However, Rufinus and Sozomen both put great emphasis on the pagan
occupation of the Serapeum, so it probably is based in some fact.
51. Sozomen, HistoriaEcclesiastica, 7.15.
52. Rohrbacher, The Historians of LateAntiquity, 279-80. Gaddis, in There is No Crimefor Those
Who Have Christ, 95, however, does believe Sozomen's claims.
53. Sozomen, Historia Ecclesiastica, 7.15, Rufinus, Historia Ecclesiastica, 2.23, and Theodoret,
54. Alan Cameron, "Palladas and Christian Polemic,"JournalofRoman Studies 55 (1965a): 26-28.
According to Socrates, the pagan rioters were mostly professors, and it seems that the teaching of
classics may have been banned, at least temporarily, in Alexandria afterwards.
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DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
in the imperial bureaucracy to destroy the infrastructure of the entire pagan
community and destroy its cultic base in the city permanently."55
According to Sozomen, when the Nile failed to flood at its normal time
that year and threatened Egypt with famine, the pagans cynically hoped that
this disaster would show the power of their outraged gods. When the Nile did
flood, later but more plentifully than usual, the pagans were deprived of any
sort of victory. In what may be fact, or simply a worn out Christian topos, most
of the remaining pagans of the city are said to have reacted by converting to
Christianity en masse.56
LITERARY REACTIONS TO THE SERAPEUM
Before Theophilus and his monks even harmed the Serapeum, pagans were
already worrying about the fate of such a magnificent symbol of paganism
in the face of Christian hostility. Libanius, in his oration to Theodosius,
mentioned the Serapeum and singled it out among all others as a temple he
prayed would not be harmed.5" While Libanius's reaction to its destruction does
not survive, a number of educated elites expressed their despair at the symbolic
Christian victory in Alexandria.
The response in pagan literature is unambiguous. Shortly after the
destruction of the Serapeum, the pagan poet Palladas of Alexandria wrote "Are
we not dead and living only in appearance, we Hellenes (i.e. pagans), fallen on
disaster, likening life to a dream, if we continue to live while our way of life
is gone?"'" Eunapius, another pagan contemporary of the events, responded to
the destruction of the great temple with equal despair. In his account, he used
classical myth to relate the situation to that of the gods. Eunapius portrayed the
Christians as the giants in their attack on Mt. Olympus, with Theophilus as the
giant leader Eurymedon.59 The story is an earthly retelling of the gods' most
desperate struggle, but one in which the gods are overthrown and the world cast
into an age of darkness and chaos, where "an unseemly gloom would hold sway
over the fairest things on earth."60
55. Hahn, "The Conversion of the Cult Statues," 350.
56. Sozomen, HistoriaEcclesiastica, 7.20.
57. Libanius, "Pro Templis," 30.44.
58. Cameron, "Palladas and Christian Polemic," 27.
59. Eunapius, Historiafragmenta, 9.56. The mention of Eurymedon is a reference to the Odyssey vii.
59: Etpuvsovro;, 06 7rco' 7 tEFpeotgt rL rftTVtav criXEt)Ev.
60. Eunapius, The Lives of the Sophists, transl. Wilmer Cave Wright, The Loeb Classical Library
(Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1952), 418.
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DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
The defeat of the pagans was just as decisive in the Christian accounts, but
for them it was also a cause for celebration. The destruction of the Serapeum
represented the annihilation of paganism, and Rufinus's account of the events
concludes with Theodosius raising his hands toward heaven and proclaiming
"vetustus error extinctus est," that is "an ancient error has been annihilated."61
Rufinus paired this triumph with the Emperor's second great victory over
paganism, his defeat of the usurper Eugenius.
EUGENIUS AND THE WEST
Theodosius's imperial conflict with the western emperor Eugenius served
as the backdrop against which possibly the last pagan response to the
Christianizing attempts of Theodosius took place. Unfortunately for historians,
the reign of Eugenius is controversial. Since the publication of Bloch's article
concerning the pagan revival, scholars have generally considered Eugenius's
reign as the environment in which a short-lived pagan renaissance took place.62
But in recent years the consensus has shifted,63 and it is necessary to examine
Eugenius's reign in greater detail before any conclusions are drawn.
Eugenius came to power under unique circumstances. In May of 392,
Valentinian II, whom Theodosius had installed in Gaul as the nominal ruler of
the West, was found dead at his residence in Vienne. Conflicting reports of foul
play and suicide abounded.64 Suspicion fell on Arbogastes, theMagisterMilitium
of the West,65 who was also a Frankish barbarian and a pagan. Arbogastes had
worked his way up the ranks of the Roman army, but his nationality kept him
from claiming the purple himself, so he installed Eugenius, his longtime friend
61. Rufinus,Historia Ecclesiastica, transl. William Henry Fremantle, 11.30.
62. Bloch, "A New Document of the Last Pagan Revival of the West, 393-394 A.D." This sentiment
is echoed in Matthews, "The Historical Setting of the 'Carmen Contra Paganos,'" Historia:
Zeitschrift fiir Alte Geschichte 19, no. 4 (November 1970): 464-479.
6 . i 11 .....r rial I i 'Theodosius, publishedveryrecently
(2008). Other recent research, such as Neil McLynn's Ambrose ofMilan Church and Court in a
Christian Capital(Berkley/Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994), and in the work of
J. J. O'Donnell, also has greatly minimized the emphasis of pagan revival in their accounts of the
usurpation o0 .....
64. Arbogastes is saidto beValentinian's killer in both Zosimus 4.58, Orosius,HistoriarumAdversum
Paganos Libri VII, transl. RoyJ. Deferrari, The Fathers ofthe Church, vol. L (Washington, D.C.:
Catholic University of America Press, 1964), 7.35, and Philostorgius, Historia Ecclesiastica, ed.
and transl. Philip R. Amidon, S. J. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007), XI.1. Both
Sozomen (VII.22) and Augustine (De civitate Dei, transl. Demetrias B. Zema and Gerald G.
Walsh, The Fathers ofthe Church, vol. VIII (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America
Press, 1950), 5.26), though stridently Christian and supporters of Theodosius, nonetheless say the
cause ofValentinian's death was uncertain.
65. Equivalent to commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the western half of the empire.
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DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
and a midlevel bureaucrat, as Emperor.66 Yet, though the relationship between
the pagan Arbogastes and the Christian Valentinian II had not been smooth,67
Arbogastes seemed completely unprepared for the death of Valentinian and
hesitated for two months before he raised Eugenius, who was in fact a Christian,68
to the purple.69 And even after Arbogastes proclaimed Eugenius emperor, their
new regime still made no major move.
At the beginning of his reign, Eugenius denied a request from a senatorial
embassy for the return of the Altar of Victory. Erected in the senate house by
Caesar Augustus, this Altar opened sessions of the senate for over four hundred
years as the burning of incense at the religious symbol preceded governmental
business. In 382, however, the Christian government removed it, despite pleas
from senators, such as the famous third relatio of Q. Aurelius Symmachus.70
Since then, the shrine had come to symbolize the cause of the pagan senators of
Rome, and by denying their request, Eugenius showed his continued allegiance
to Theodosius and his policies. Eugenius even issued coins in both his own and
Theodosius's name and sent embassies to Constantinople to gain Theodosius's
approval.71 Theodosius at first only stalled in responding to Eugenius, and was
likely weighing his options. His intentions, however, slowly became clear: he
ignored Eugenius's authority and unilaterally appointed the next year's western
Consul. Then, in January of 393, he proclaimed his son Augustus of the West.
Civil war seemed inevitable.72
This is the point in Eugenius's reign when the sources indicate that a pagan
revival took place. With no support from the East, the new Western regime's
allies were scarce and Eugenius desperately needed support. The senators of
66. A. H. M. Jones, J. R. Martindale and J. Morris, The Prosopography ofthe Later Roman Empire,
vol. I (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971), 95-96, 293.
67. Zosimus, Historia nova, 4.53.
68. Sozomen claims that he was a phony Christian. The majority of primary sources, however, are
either silent about his religion or assert that he was indeed a Christian. Philostorgius, XI.1, is a
notable exception, and claims that .......... was a pagan. However, this would make Ambrose's
Ep. ex. 10 (Maur. 57), ed. and transl. J. H.W. G. Liebeschuetz,Ambrose of Milan: PoliticalLetters
and Speeches (Liverpool, England: Liverpool University Press, 2005), 216-218, a letter addressed
to .. .. . .
69. On the unpreparedness of Arbogastes, see Williams and Friell, Theodosius, the Empire at Bay,
70. For more on the Altar of Victory Controversy, see Christina Sogno, Q. Aurelius Symmachus,
(Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 2006), 44-46, and McLynn, Ambrose of
71. Matthews, Western Aristocracies and the Imperial Court, 239-241.
72. Williams and Friell, Theodosius, the Empire at Bay, 130.
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DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
Rome, many of whom clung to the pagan ways of their illustrious ancestors,
provided an untapped source for such support.73 Theodosius's recent anti-
pagan laws had likely alienated noble pagans even further from a regime that
had always been highly Christian in its rhetoric. In addition, the senate was
still reeling from the removal of its Altar of Victory. Thus, it was not Eugenius
and Arbogastes who wanted to fight Theodosius's attempts at Christianization;
they merely wanted to keep their fragile grip on power. The pagan senators of
Rome, having seen the removal of their altar, their traditional cults deprived of
state funding, and new legal restrictions placed on the practice of ceremonies,
ultimately led the revival. If Eugenius would grant them an environment of
religious freedom, they could forge a relationship of mutual benefit.74
Eugenius and Arbogastes crossed the Alps in early 393 and took up
residence in Milan. They quickly began to successfully curry favor with the
senatorial elite; Eugenius surrounded himself in an administration of pagans.
Symmachus, the former leader of the senate's pagan faction, remained wary and
purposely aloof after seeing his career damaged by collusion with the previous
usurper Magnus Maximus four years earlier. Yet even he still exchanged gifts
and pleasantries with the new regime.7 But it was the Praetorian Prefect of
Italy, Virius Nicomachus Flavianus, who ultimately became the new head of
the pagan faction. The Western regime also appointed Flavianus's son prefectus
urbi romae, and gave high offices to other pagans such as Numerius Proiectus.
Eugenius finally restored the Altar of Victory, and Flavianus traveled to Rome
where he took part in ostentatious pagan ceremonies.76
According to a poem written a few decades later, pagans refurbished temples
in Rome, celebrated the festivals of Attis and Cybele along with the Floralia
(a pagan festival of flowers), and held the Megalensian games and festivities
dedicated to Isis, all presumably under Flavianus's direction. The poem that
attests to these events, however, is a contentious piece of evidence called the
Carmen Contra Paganos. It is considered a poem of inferior quality and,
73. Matthews, Western Aristocracies and the Imperial Court, 241-243. By this time, according to
Betrand Langon in Rome in LateAntiquity, transl. Antonia Nevill (New York: Routledge, 2000),
71-72, the senate was split about equally between pagans and Christians. However, Symmachus
and his pagan faction are the most vocal and active senators in the surviving sources.
74. Williams and Friell, Theodosius, the Empire atBay, 133.
75. Matthews, Western Aristocracies and the Imperial Court, 243 -244.
76. Matthews, 237-243.
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DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
unfortunately, ambiguous setting, describing the reinstitution of pagan worship
under a despised prefectus urbi romae.77 Since 1870, when the classicist Theodor
Mommsen identified the unnamed Prefect with Nicomachus Flavianus, his
theory has remained popular.'" However, the true subject of the poem is still a
matter of much debate.79
Nonetheless, the Carmen is not the only evidence that Flavianus
sponsored a pagan revival. The Christian Prudentius, describing Theodosius's
Christianizing endeavors in contrast to the obstinate paganism of Symmachus
and other senators, complained, "I thought that Rome, once sickwith pagan vice,
had purged herself by now of old disease and that no trace had remained since
our good prince [Theodosius] had eased her grievous pains by healing laws. But
since the plague [of paganism], of late revived, torments the sons of Romulus,
we must beg God's help."so In addition, Bloch's inscription from the temple at
Ostia provides some archeological evidence of a pagan reaction under Eugenius
and coincides with the mention in the Carmen of pagan temple renovation in
Rome.81 With heavy imperial penalties for merely entering temples, it seems
hard to imagine that the renovation of such a temple could have been carried
out without some new form of toleration. Indeed, it is hard to deny that a pagan
cultural renaissance took place in Rome in the years leading up to and during
the reign of Eugenius. Macrobius in his fifth century work, the Saturnalia,
celebrated many of the pagans whom Eugenius and Arbogastes gave office to or
with whom they corresponded, as the last great generation of pagans.82
77. Matthews, "The Historical Setting of the 'Carmen Contra Paganos,' 467-477.
78. Mommsen's analysis is found in his article "Carmen Codicis Parisini, 8084," Hermes 4 (1870).
Ten years later, Thomas Hodgkin, in Italy and Her Invaders, vol. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1885), pg. 562-564, follows Mommsen's view. This sentiment is echoed, three-quarters of a
centurylater, in Bloch, "A New Document of the Last Pagan Revival of the West, 393-394 A.D.,"
231-2 ..r. .. I ,r r again, is the strongest proponent ofthis interpretation in
79. Errington in "Roman Imperial Theodosius" 253 and Neil McLynn inAmbrose
oJ. .I 165. Both dispute the idea that the poem's subject is Flavianus.
80. Prudentius, "Contra Symmachum," The Poems ofPrudentius vol II, transl. Sister M. Clement
Eagan (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1965), 116.
81. Bloch, "A New Document of the Last Pagan Revival of the West," 216. For discussion of the
Carmen's description of the renovation of temples, see Matthews, "The Historical Setting of the
'Carmen Contra Paganos,'" 467-469.
82. Clifford Ando, "The Palladium and the Pentateuch: Towards a Sacred Topography of the Later
Roman Empire," Phoenix 55, no. 3/4 (Autumn-Winter 2001): 389.
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DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
Under Eugenius, however, state sponsorship of paganism was not
reinstituted. Ambrose of Milan accused Eugenius of instead laundering money
through the pagan nobles by means of personal gifts in order to fund the cults.83
Nonetheless, Eugenius did make a clear concession to the pagan faction by
proclaiming Flavianus Consul for 394. Around this time, Flavianus probably
spread a propagandistic claim of an oracle predicting that the ordained lifespan
of Christianity would come to an end 365 years after the death of Christ (and
thus around the time of Eugenius's usurpation) in an possible attempt to further
emphasize the religious character of the impending conflict with Theodosius.84
As Theodosius's army approached Italy, Flavianus and Arbogastes supposedly
boasted that when they returned victorious from their campaign they would
stable their horses in Milan's cathedral and conscript the clergy into the
The pagans had come to match Theodosius in vitriolic rhetoric. This
reactionary pagan movement, however, did not last long. On September 5, 394,
the two rival Emperors and their armies met at the Frigidus River, the modern
Wipatch in Slovenia. After two days of hard fighting, Theodosius emerged
victorious and completely wiped out the armies of Eugenius and Arbogastes.
Flavianus and Arbogastes committed suicide while Eugenius was captured and
THE RUIN OF PAGANISM
The religious biases of the primary sources are most evident in accounts of
this battle, allowing for a more subtle examination of whether Eugenius's
reign was as pagan in character as Bloch asserted. Zosimus and his main source
Eunapius, both of whom never associate Eugenius in any way with paganism,
remain consistent and portray the battle simply as one between two rival
emperors. In their accounts, an eclipse darkened the battle, which, after a day
83. Ambrose, Ep. ex. 10 (Maur. 57), ed. and transl. J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz, Ambrose ofMilan,
216-218. It should be noted that McLynn, in his study on Ambrose of Milan, disagrees with this
interpretation of Ambrose's letter, and claims that Ambrose was criticizing ......... for giving
the pagan aristocrats gifts in the first place, and not what the gifts were used for.
84. Sozomen,HistoriaEcclesiastica, VII.21. Matthews, Western Aristocracies andtheImperial Court,
245, and Bloch, "A New Document of the Last Pagan Revival," 233, attribute it to Flavianus.
85. Paulinus of Milan, Vita S. Ambrosii, transl. Boniface Ramsay, Ambrose (London: Routledge
Press, 1997), 208 (31).
86. Matthews, Western Aristocracies and the Imperial Court, 246-247.
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DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
of fighting, yielded no victor." Then, while Eugenius's forces were sleeping,
Theodosius and his army fell upon and slaughtered them.88 Having no love
of the zealously Christian Theodosius, the pagan writers did not depict his
victory as entirely honorable, but they were completely silent about any religious
motivations on either side. Eunapius and Zosimus, however, were both pagans,
and were unlikely to want to identify the disgraced traitors Eugenius and
Arbogastes with their cause."9
The Christian authors, on the other hand, were anxious to connect
Eugenius with paganism and claim a victory for the Christian God. According
to Theodoret's account, Eugenius's army fought under the banner of Hercules
and Jupiter, and Saint Augustine's writings on the battle echo this. Augustine's
account also mentions that Flavianus set up a massive statue of Jupiter hurling
thunderbolts made of gold over the battlefield and that the victorious followers
of Theodosius later pillaged the impressive statue.90 Common also to all such
Christian accounts is the idea that God directly intervened to deliver a victory
for Theodosius. After a disastrous first day of battle, Theodosius was said to
have prayed for divine aid,91 and Theodoret reported that John the Baptist and
Philip the Apostle visited the Eastern Emperor in a dream to lift his spirits and
promise him victory.92
The Christian historians went much farther than the pagans in associating
the Theodosian victory at the Frigidus with divine intervention. Sozomen,
Rufinus, Orosius, and Theodoret all describe the appearance of the bora wind,
a fairly common occurrence in the region but a decisive aspect of the battle, as a
sort of deus ex machine:93
A violent wind blew right in the faces of the foe, and
diverted their arrows and javelins and spears....The
87. This version of events is highly questionable, especially considering that no solar eclipses, full or
partial, are calculated to have occurred in the entirety of year 394. See Ridley's commentary in
Zosimus, Historia nova, ed. and transl. Ronald T. Ridley, pg. 96, n.151.
88. Zosimus, Historia nova, 4.58.
89. Though a last heroic stand for paganism would seem romantic and more appealing for some
modern historians (c.f Camille Jullian, Histoire dela Gaule, 1926), to ancient pagans, for whom
the power of the gods was revealed in their aid to human followers, the association of paganism
with a defeated regime could only be a source of embarrassment.
90. Augustine, De Civ. Dei, 5.26.
91. Orosius, Historiarum Adversum Paganos, 7.35, and Sozomen Historia Ecclesiastica, 7.24.
92. Theodoret, Historia Ecclesiastica, 5.24.
93. Rohrbacher, The Historians ofLateAntiquity, 286-287.
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DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
imperial forces on the other hand did not receive
the slightest injury from the storm, and vigorously
attacked and slew the foe. The vanquished then
recognized the divine help given to their conquerors,
flung away their arms, and begged the emperor for
Mention of this divine wind goes back to the most immediate source for
the battle, a panegyric for the Christian Emperor written by the pagan poet
Claudian.95 However, later sources seized upon it as a miracle that showed God's
support for the campaign against Eugenius and Arbogastes.
Nevertheless, just as the pagan authors may be too anxious to disassociate
Eugenius's regime with paganism, the Christian authors may be too eager to
find a connection. Recent scholars such as R. Malcolm Errington have dismissed
any such connection, and Errington goes so far as to even dismiss the bora
event, claiming that it is just some imaginative poetry written by Claudian and
imitated by later sources.96 He concludes, "the civil war between Theodosius
and Eugenius dressed up as a battle between Christianity and paganism has
nothing to do with history. For the religious history of the era, the war is simply
Yet there are some problems with dismissing any associations of Eugenius
with paganism during the civil war. Errington claims that the banners of the
pagan gods which Eugenius's army carried were likely nothing more than the
standards of the Herculiani and loviani, the two most senior legions, which
bore the names of the respective gods.98 Nevertheless, detachments of both
legions existed in both armies,99 and if such banners were no longer in use under
94. Theodoret, Historia Ecclesiastica, transl. BlomfieldJackson, 5.25.
95. Claudian, I .. .. ... de Tertio Consulatu Honorii Augusti," (December 24, 2004), http://
penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/L/Roman/Texts/Claudian/De III Consulatu Honorii*.html
(accessed December 28, 2008). Augustine, for one, in De Civ. Dei, 5.26, claims that Claudian
was a pagan.
96. .... r ImperialPolicyfromJulian to Theodosius, 255-257.
97.......r a ImperialPolicyfromJulian to Theodosius, 257-258.
98 ......r ImperialPolicyfromJulian to Theodosius.
99. See the Notitia Dignitatum, http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/notitia.html (accessed December
28, 2008), see troop roles for the Magister Militium Praesentalis of the East and the Magister
Peditum of the West.
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Theodosius,10o the use of the traditional standards must have been restored by
Eugenius in a clear concession to the pagan faction. It is also hard to explain
away Augustine's Jupiter statues, especially since he claims that his information
came directly from conversations with some veterans of the battle.101 Perhaps
most importantly, the bora is a real phenomenon that occurs in the Wippatch
region,102 and there is no good reason to believe that Claudian or Theodoret
simply made it up or that these two men, from Egypt and Syria respectively,
somehow knew about this rare local meteorological phenomenon in the Julian
The most likely interpretation of the evidence is that, under Eugenius,
there was indeed a pagan revival led by Flavianus in response to Theodosius's
edicts. But Eugenius was no Emperor Julian: his toleration of the pagan revival
was a purely political move aimed at securing allies among Rome's senatorial
elite. After all, being at war with perhaps the most piously Christian emperor
yet to wear the purple paludamentum, it was only natural that Eugenius would
reach out to the pagan elite, the party with the most to lose from Theodosius's
continued hegemony over the West.
Nonetheless, in Eugenius and his administration, Theodosius defeated the
last holdout of pagan resistance during his reign. The senate quickly capitulated
to the Eastern Emperor and its Altar of Victory was removed, never to be seen
again, while the temples of Rome were permanently closed.103 Theodosius did
not have much time to celebrate his decisive victory, for he died in January
of 395. Yet, if it were Theodosius's goal to inflict a mortal wound on Roman
paganism, he accomplished it. While Theodosius's sons would continue the
campaign against the temples and emperors would continue to pass anti-pagan
laws up to time ofJustinian,104 Theodosius's reign was the crucial period when
traditional paganism and the various cults were turned from ancient tradition
to crimes of Ise majesty. As Edward Gibbon wrote, "The ruin of Paganism, in
100. A safe assumption considering the preeminence of the cross as his battle standard in Theodoret,
Historia Ecclesiastica, 5.24.
101. Augusinus,De Civ. Dei, 5.26.
102. Hodgkin, Italy andHerInvaders, 575-576. Hodgkin talks of eight Austiran cavalrymen, in his
own lifetime, who were killed when they were caught traveling in the region and the winds of the
bora whipped up around them.
103. Langon, Rome in LateAntiquity, 21, 93-94.
104. C.Th., 16.10.16. i 1.r.i, i. ..... r paganism, see CodexJustinianus, 1.11.9-10.
66 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
DEFENDING THE OLD GODS I Christopher Bonura
the age ofTheodosius, is perhaps the only example of the total extirpation of any
ancient and popular superstition; and may therefore deserve to be considered, as
a singular event in the history of the human mind."105
Yet, it would be wrong to assume, as historians such as Edward Gibbon
have, that there was no resistance to the laws ofTheodosius. Pagans did respond,
but the nature such resistance is often muddled by problems in historiography,
and in the end this resistance was too little too late. Despite the various forms
of pagan resistance, temples throughout the Empire were nonetheless closed
down, the famous Serapeum of Alexandria and the city's pagan community
were destroyed, and the resistance of the religiously reactionary Roman senate
was broken. Paganism was crushed, and even the pagans had accepted that it
was irreversible: it was time for submission, and in many cases, conversion.106
Thus, the experience of Palladas of Alexandria at the end of the fourth
century was characteristic of the age. Coming upon the statue of a god, broken
and overturned at an Egyptian crossroad, the poet was overcome with despair.
He wrote of how he was struck by the rapid turn of events, at how the once
mighty god had been laid so low: "but at night the god stood by my bed, smiling,
and said; 'Even though I am a god, I have learnt to serve the times."'r0
105. Edward Gibbon, The History ofthe Decline and Fall ofthe Roman Empire, David P. Womersley
(ed.) (London: Allen Lane/The Penguin Press, 1781, 1994), Vol. III, chapter 28, 71.
106. Cameron, "Palladas and Christian Polemic," 30-31.
107. -, 11, ., Jia Palatina, ed. and transl. W. R. Paton, The Greek Anthology (Cambridge:
Loeb Classical Library, 1968), IX. 441.
ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 67
A DEATH OBSESSION IN LATE MEDIEVAL
AND EARLY MODERN EUROPE?
There is a common perception among the public today that those living in
the Middle Ages were a very morbid people. Images of scythe-wielding
skeletons, contorted plague victims and specters of death have all served to paint
a bleak picture of life in late medieval and early modern Europe. It is important to
understand, however, the reasons behind the death-culture of this period, and the
context in which it was born. The men and women of late medieval Europe did
not shy away from death; they embraced it. Their attitude was a practical approach
unique to their time and place in history, and as such is often difficult for the
modern mindset to fully grasp. When examining contemporary attitudes in this
period, we must consider mortality rates and the presence of death in late medieval
Europe, the role of death imagery in religious scripture, the psychological impact
of the Black Death in the late 1340s, the presence of death in medieval art and
literature, beliefs pertaining to sin and the fate of the soul after death, especially
the doctrine of Purgatory, and practices concerning the "art" of dying and the
unique attitude to life which emerged as a result. The death-culture prevalent in
Europe at this time was both a reaction to and an embrace of the uncertainty and
promise, which lingered at the hour of death.
Although historians dispute the exact boundaries, discussions of the late
medieval and early modern period generally begin around the time of the Black
Death in the 1340s and continue well into the eighteenth century, encompassing
the repercussions of the various religious reformations and counter reformations of
68 ] ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
MEMENTO MORI I Lynsey Wood
the early modern period. In fact, many basic institutions and their accompanying
cultural values did not change greatly amongst the masses between the time of the
Black Death of the 1300s and the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s.' In tracing
attitudes towards death throughout the centuries, it is therefore possible to note
as much continuity as change. This makes it difficult to pinpoint an exact break,
as periods tend to overlap and societal interpretations can become too narrow;
conventional periodization can often obscure these continuities. For clarity's sake,
it could be said that this period of analysis starts around 1348 and ends as late as
1750, with care to note the influence of earlier centuries and the echoes of later
ones even into the early twentieth century.
Regardless of the finer details, it is quite accurate to say that general social
attitudes towards death were very different during the late medieval and early
modern period compared with today. Philippe Aries identifies the "tamed death"
of the Middle Ages in contrast to the "forbidden death" of the modern era.2 In late
medieval society death usually occurred in the home, and the deathbed scene was
both a common and communal affair; even young children were familiar with the
idea of death. The real question, it seems, should be how could contemporaries not
have been fixated on death? Death was an ever-present reality, and an obsession
perhaps unavoidable in a society whose average life expectancy was only 32 years
in 1640, and in which nearly a third of children would not survive to reach their
fifteenth birthday.3 The late medieval world was one of famine, disease and daily
hardships. Communities that attended church together would listen to sermons
concerning the grave, and there was even a popular trend for congregations to visit
tombs and graveyards.4 As Elina Gertsman notes, "the medieval cemetery [was]
not necessarily a mournful place... [it was] always busy and often given to worldly
affairs."5 A funeral, in particular, was an extremely elaborate and formal affair
that acted as a catalyst for social interaction much like a village fete.6 In earlier
centuries men such as St. Francis of Assisi preached an attitude towards death,
1. Michael MacDonald and Terence R. Murphy, Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern England
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 8.
2. Philippe Aries, Western Attitudes Toward Death: From .I . to the Present (Baltimore,
Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974), 1, 85.
3. Clare Gittings, Death, Burial and the Individual in Early Modern England (London: Routledge,
4. Christopher D aniell, Death andBurialin MedievalEngland (1066-1550, (London & New York:
Routledge, 1997), 2.
5. Elina Gertsman, "Visual Space and the Practice of Viewing: The Dance of Death at Meslay-le-
Grenet," Religion &theArts 9, issue 1/2 (March 2005): 1.
6. Daniell, 51.
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 69
MEMENTO MORI I Lynsey Wood
which approached joy. "Praised be my Lord," he wrote, "for our sister, the bodily
death."7 In this sense death was God's final gift, something to be glorified rather
than feared; deep mourning had become a contradiction, since the afterlife was
infinitely superior to life on earth. Jesus' resurrection was the ultimate example
In the late medieval world, the terms "Europe" and "Christendom" were
practically interchangeable, and, since the teachings of Christianity centered
around the concept of salvation and the fate of the soul, death-especially that
of Christ himself-was at the core of the late medieval religious experience.8 The
Church as an establishment held great sway over people's lives at this time, and
constantly preached about sin and the afterlife by encouraging meditation upon
death.9 Churches themselves, as well as other buildings such as hospitals, were
covered in scenes of death and martyrdom, the holy but violent deaths of the
saints. Engravings and epitaphs also served to remind man of his own mortality.
In Germany, for example, many tombstones bore the epitaph "Heute mir, morgen
dir," which translates as "Today me, tomorrow thee." Cadaver tombs, which
became fashionable amongst the wealthy in the fifteenth century, even bore
effigies of the decaying body.10 It is wrong, however, to speak of a uniform set of
religious beliefs in this period. Many scholars still debate the concept of medieval
"popular religion," and when it comes to teachings regarding death historians can
identify many contradictions." There is a note of uncertainty pertaining to death
even in the Bible itself; in his first letter to Corinthians, St. Paul asked rather
despondently: "Oh death were be thy sting, oh grave where be thy victory?" Francis
Bacon acknowledged this dilemma in 1625 when he wrote, "men fear death, as
children fear to go in the dark.... It is as natural to die as to be born...."'2
To better understand the death-culture of late medieval society one must
consider the impact of the Black Death of the late 1340s, which historians
estimate to have killed between one-third and two-thirds of Europe's population,
7. Paschal Robinson, trans., The Writings ofSt. Francis ofAssisi (Philadelphia, Penn.: The Dolphin
Press, 1905), 152.
8. Daniell, 8.
9. Daniell, 1-2.
10. Daniell, 63.
11. Jacqueline Simpson, "Repentant Soul or' Ill. ., Corpse? Debatable Apparitions in Medieval
England," Folklore 114, no. 3 (December, 2003): 389.
12. Francis Bacon, "Of Death," in The Essayes or Covnsels, Civill and Morall, of Francis Bacon
(London: Printed by Iohn Haviland for Hanna Barret, 1625), 6.
70 ] ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
MEMENTO MORI I Lynsey Wood
and which is sometimes aptly known as "The Great Mortality."13 The disease
returned to Europe in varying degrees up until the early 1700s, and plague and
the resulting waves of death were a common occurrence in late medieval society.
The psychological impact of the Black Death was devastating. In London
alone, 200 people died every day, enough to fill a single graveyard.1 The disease
destroyed entire families, and local governments and institutions such as hospitals
bought new plots of land out of sheer necessity to be used as mass graves to bury
the number of dead. A lack of real knowledge about what had caused the Black
Death further compounded the effects of the epidemic. A plethora of guesswork
emerged, with everything from miasma (bad air) to planetary conjunctions
blamed for bringing about the disease, and misunderstood causes inevitably led to
ineffective treatments. The general consensus was that the plague was the result of
God's wrath on a sinful human race, and the Church seemed powerless to fight or
explain it; as far as contemporaries were concerned, death was invincible.'5 With no
systemized method in place to collect statistics, contemporaries also exaggerated
the number of dead, which only added to a general sense of despondency. In one
case Boccaccio wrote that 100,000 died of plague in Florence alone, although
this was very much an exaggeration since the entire population of the city was
most certainly about 20,000 less to begin with.16 Plague killed indiscriminately,
regardless of religious or social barriers, and left some areas with hardly anyone
left to care for the sick or bury the dead. "O death!" wrote Gabriele de' Mussi, an
Italian chronicler around 1348, "cruel, bitter, impious death! which thus breaks
the bonds of affection and divides father and mother, brother and sister, son and
wife."1 Such a catastrophic disaster had a devastating effect on all aspects of late
medieval life, and mortality soon became more prominent in the consciousness
and the arts."1
A common phrase at this time was etmorie mur, a Latin phrase meaning "and
we shall all die." Memento mori was another Latin term that is subject to various
interpretations, but roughly translates as "remember you will die." Memento
mori was the name of an expansive genre of artwork, literature and music that
13. Stephane Barry and Norbert Gualde, "The Greatest Epidemic of History," L'Histoire 310 (June
14. Charlton Thomas Lewis and Joseph H.' .' .' rper'sBook ofFacts (1895), 639.
15. Barbara Wertheim Tuchman, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14' Century (New York:
Random House, Inc., 1978) 103.
16. F. Donald Logan, A History ofthe Church in ., ,, (New York: Routledge, 2002), 279.
17. Francis Aidan Gasquet, The Black Death of 1348 and 1349 (London: G. Bell, 1908), 20.
18. Daniell, 175.
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 71
MEMENTO MORI I Lynsey Wood
served to remind every man, woman, and child of their own mortality. In
artwork, vanitas still life paintings often featured symbols of death such as skulls
juxtaposed with artifacts indicating life and earthly existence such as books and
flowers, to represent the ephemeral nature of human existence and concerns.19
Other paintings took a more blunt approach, depicting living persons paired with
skeletons or specters of death; "Earthly Vanity and Divine Salvation", a triptych
painted by Hans Memling around 1485, is divided into three panels, with a naked
woman in the center, admiring her reflection in a hand mirror and flanked by
the figures of death and the Devil. It is an allegorical work, showing the fleeting
nature of beauty and the price of vanity to be paid in the afterlife. Music also
anticipated death and emphasized the importance of a life without sin. The Llibre
Vermell de Montserrat, a fourteenth-century manuscript of music, contains as
its final song a piece entitled "Ad Mortem Festinamus" or "We hasten towards
death." "Death comes quickly and respects no one," preach the lyrics, "Death
destroys everything and takes pity on no one/To death we are hastening, let us
refrain from sinning."20
The most famous creation of this period, however, was the danse macabre,
or "dance of death," an allegory about the all-conquering power of death which
first appeared in Europe in the early 1400s and took its name from the peculiar
contortions of plague victims. Danse macabre was another example of the
memento mori genre, characterized by imagery of skeletons leading mankind in
an inevitable dance towards death; the style appeared not only in painted frescos
and woodcuts but also through plays and dialogues, serving as a warning to both
the mighty and the humble that all men will die without exception. With his
ubiquitous scythe Death was seen as the leveler of society, bringing an end to all
dominions and inequalities. We can identify in danse macabre an early form of
black humour, in which something grotesque and tragic is retold in an absurd
universe.21 A famous example of the genre is "The Triumph of Death," an image
painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder around 1562, which depicts the smoking
wasteland of a society ravaged by the skeletal armies of death. It is not too hard to
see the parallels between this painting and the devastating effects that the Black
Death wrought across Europe. Towards the end of the fifteenth century, death
19. Barbara S. Groseclose, "Vanity and the Artist: Some Still-Life Paintings by William Michael
Harnett,"American ArtJournal 19, no. 1 (Winter, 1987): 53.
20. Anon. 'The Llibre Vermell de Montserrat' (1399).
21. Peter L. Berger, Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience (New York:
Walter de Gruyter, 1997), 117.
72 ] ALPATA: journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
MEMENTO MORI I Lynsey Wood
even began to be interwoven with dark erotica; the paintings of Hans Baldung
Grien, such as "Death and a Woman" (c. 1517), show death raping the living.
Clearly, to late-medieval people "there is no king more terrible than Death."2
Medieval people viewed death as something fearful, but also as something
natural; whilst some believed in an apocalyptic final judgement of the human race,
whichwas both universal and dramatic, others believed in a serene individual death
of the self, attended by the sacraments. The former view was depicted in countless
murals and paintings, most famously in Michelangelo's "The Last Judgement,"
which shows humankind being judged at the second coming of Christ. A requiem
about this day ofjudgement, named the Dies Ira, (Day ofWrath) was also written
for All Soul's Day, a feast celebrated annually on the second day of November. All
Soul's Day was a commemoration of the "faithful departed," which saw the living
praying for the souls of the dead which were not fully cleansed of their past sins
and transgressions, especially through the offering of Mass.23 Similarly, the Feast
of All Saints on the first day of November paid homage to the saints, but it was
also closely associated with death, and both days served to exemplify a sense of
morbidity tied to the approaching winter.24 Through the celebration of Mass at
these feasts, the living and the dead would thus become bonded together.25
However, prayers for the dead were not limited to these two days; the entire
month of November was dedicated to the "faithful departed," and the dead in
general were a matter of daily remembrance. It was common to have a priest
celebrate Mass on the anniversary ofa loved one's death, often known as an "obit."26
Remembrance of and prayers for the dead therefore helped to bring a structure
to the Christian year.27 There were countless methods, such as pilgrimage and
charity, to help departed souls apart from prayer. For the common person, money
could be bequeathed to the local church in exchange for a place on the bede-roll,
which guaranteed that Masses would be said for the man's soul after his death.
Guilds and chantry chapels were an option for the more wealthy, which would
hold prayers for the souls of departed members in exchange for an endowment;
22. Hans Holbein, The Dance ofDeath (G. Bell & Sons, 1892), 9.
23. Charles Herbermann G., The Catholic Encyclopedia: An International Work ofReference on the
Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline, and History ofthe Catholic Church (New York: The Gilmary
Society, 1913), 315.
24. Edward Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005),
25. Daniell, 12.
26. Nicholas Orme,Medieval Children (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003), 117.
27. Daniell, 13.
ALPATA: journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 73
MEMENTO MORI I Lynsey Wood
HenryVII of England himself left 250 to pay for 10,000 Masses in his name after
death.28 All of these measures would ensure a soul's swift release from Purgatory
Purgatory was a waiting room for souls, a median between Heaven and Hell
that acted as a "purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy
ofheaven."29 Dante's epic poem famously depicts Purgatory in the Divine Comedy
as an island-mountain, with seven level terraces representing the seven deadly
sins; at the mountain's summit is the Garden of Eden, the Earthly Paradise, from
which the purged souls may finally ascend to heaven once they have completed
their penance on the mountain's slopes.30 The idea of Purgatory gained much
popularity during the Middle Ages-indeed, it became almost a free-standing
religion in itself, so widespread was its influence and dedicated its adherents-
and this fundamental belief that departed souls needed help in order to ascend to
Heaven soon underpinned many practices concerning the dead. Martin Luther,
meanwhile, referred to Purgatory derisively as "the third place."31 He found no
place for Purgatory in his religious scripture, and sought to emphasize the hope
of heaven instead. "We should pray for ourselves and for all other people," wrote
Luther, "even for our enemies, but not for the souls of the dead."32 From the
sixteenth century onwards, the Protestant Reformation Luther had launched
effectively "closed down" purgatory. The Thirty-Nine Articles (1563), introduced
to Elizabethan England during the English Reformation, helped to affirm this
position by denouncing the "Romish" doctrine of Purgatory as "a fond thing vainly
invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture; but rather repugnant
to the word of God."33 Attitudes towards the dead underwent a significant
upheaval during the Protestant and Catholic Reformations of this century, with
Protestants condemning the Catholic preoccupation with death and the horrors
of Purgatory.34 This led, in turn, to the gradual "desocialization" of death, and the
28. 'Henry VIII: April 1509', Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 1:
1509-1514 (1920), 1-8.
29. Catechism Of The Catholic Church, ed. David Bordwell (Continuum International Publishing
Group, 2002), 235. The Church set out its doctrine on the belief of Purgatory at the Councils of
Florence (1431-1445) and Trent (1545-1563).
30. John Donaldson Sinclair, introduction to The Divine Comedy: Volume 2, Purgatorio, by Dante
Alighieri (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), 13.
31.Jacques Le Goff, The Birth oj i Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), 1.
32. Martin Luther, "Expanded Small Catechism," in Three Reformation catechisms: Catholic,
Anabaptist, Lutheran, ed. Denis Janz (New York: E. Mellen Press, 1982).
33. George Wolfgang Forell, The Protestant Faith (Philadelphia, Penn.: Fortress Press, 1975), 257.
34. Bonnie Effros, Merovingian Mortuary Archaeology and the Making of the Early Middle Ages
(Berkely: University of California Press, 2003), 22.
74 ] ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
MEMENTO MORI I Lynsey Wood
view of Masses, vigils for the dead and elaborate funereal customs as idolatrous.35
However, despite this criticism of Purgatory and the need of Masses for souls, a
preoccupation with death still remained, albeit in a modified form.
Many ghost stories dating from this period were heavily influenced by
the doctrine of Purgatory; in one tale, a man is visited by his recently deceased
mistress at Newton Cross, who asks him to celebrate Masses for her to free her
from her current punishment. The man agrees, and his lover gives him some
of her dark hair, which subsequently turns gold after he keeps his promise and
sells many of his possessions to pay for these prayers. This religious morality tale
ends with the sufficiently transparent line: "Praise be the power of the mass...."36
There were, however, other, more sinister, kinds of apparitions. In his A Treatise
ofGhosts (1588), Father Noel Taillepied spent no less than ninety pages listing the
many different types of haunting, such as ghosts who return to demand burial or
vengeance, omens of death, spirits inhabiting houses, disembodied footsteps and
phantom funerals.3 It is unsurprising then that the period from the late sixteenth
to the early eighteenth century saw a belief in ghosts reach its highest peak.38 Such
folktales acted as a powerful incentive to pray for souls still dwelling in Purgatory,
despite the orthodox religious teaching that the living and the dead could not
converse directly.39 Certainly, the appearance of an apparition remained greatly
feared, as did the horrors of the corpse in its grave and, in turn, death itself.40
However, a belief in ghosts and Requiem Masses seemed to suggest that the fate
of one's soul was somehow negotiable, and uncertainty about death and God's
judgement of an individual's soul remained.
For some, an obsession with death transcended mere superstition and culture
into the practicalities of dying itself, and death thus took on a religious meaning,
concerned more with ceremony and ritual than medicinal treatments. One
contemporary poem titled S -. ofDeath, describing the state of the body when
it neared expiration, was not used for medicinal purposes, but instead became
"powerful moral verses to remind people of death."41 Dying was even presented
as something akin to an art form; certainly, the aspiration of attaining a "good
35. Effros, 23.
36. David Englander, Culture and Beliefin Europe, 1450-1600: An Anthology ofSources (Oxford,
England: Wiley-Blackwell, 1991): 16-17.
37. Gillian Bennett, "Ghost and Witch in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries," Folklore 97,
no. 1 (1986): 8.
38. Bennett, 3.
39. Daniell, 12.
40. Bennett, 5.
41. Daniell, 41-42.
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 75
MEMENTO MORI I Lynsey Wood
death" can be traced back to the hagiographical literature of the early Middle
Ages, which emphasized the holy lives and exemplary Christian deaths of kings,
nobles and churchmen.4 One text in particular whose popularity peaked in the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was the Ars Moriendi, or the "The Art of
Dying," which offered advice to those facing death, both practical and spiritual,
and taught individuals how to "die well" and so reach salvation. Offering a
section of appropriate prayers and etiquette for the deathbed scene, the text also
outlines the five temptations that the dying man will confront-lack of faith,
despair, impatience, pride and avarice-and depicts the spiritual battle between
demons and angels over the dying man's soul in a series of allegorical engravings;
earthly preparation was essential for this final struggle at the moment of death.43
Dating from as early as 1415, the Ars Moriendi texts were written in the context
of the religious turmoil and fear for the immortal soul resulting from the Black
Death pandemic. With fewer clergymen remaining after the plague had struck-
many caught the disease whilst administering late rites at the deathbed-the
dissemination of such literature soon became necessary to administer instructions
to the dying and ensure the salvation of souls. For many contemporaries, death
had become a practical matter akin to everyday chores. Certainly, a preoccupation
with ;. ... : in death has existed since antiquity, as man has strived throughout
history to die in a way fulfilling of a worthy life.44 However, the contradictions in
teachings concerning death in this period are ultimately expressed within the Ars
Moriendi itself; some passages of the text give a sense of hope and clarity to the
dying, while others are inclined to doubt and so despair.45
Death in late medieval society was the moment when the mortal body expired
and the immortal soul left it to join with an incorruptible and sexless immortal
body.46 Although there were variations within Christianity about where exactly
the soul went after death-some believed it went to either Heaven or Hell,
others believed in Purgatory, and still others believed in Abraham's Bosom or
several other types of Limbo, that temporary place where excluded souls, such
as unbaptized children, waited until Christ's ascension into heaven-death itself
was a beginning rather than an end, and life on earth was a transitory stage in
42. Ryszard Groi, "Examples of "Good Death" in AElred of Rievaulx," Cistercian Studies Quarterly
41, issue 4(2006):422.
43.AustraReinis,- ^ ofDying: TheArsMoriendi in the German Reformation (1519
1528),'.. i.. r ,,, i. ,r: PublishingLtd., 2007) 2.
44. Anton. J. L. van Hooff, From Autothanasia to Suicide: Classical Antiquity (New
York: Routledge, 1990), 77.
45. Reinis, 17.
46. Daniell, 1.
76 ] ALPATA: journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
MEMENTO MORI I Lynsey Wood
comparison to the afterlife of the soul.47 As a result there was a widespread fear of
dying an "ugly death," that is, dying without having repented one's sins, such as
a sudden death in battle or from plague. Soldiers would often prepare themselves
for this possibility. Saint Ignatius of Loyola gave an account of his part in the
Battle of Pamplona in 1521, before which he confessed to a fellow soldier and
received the man's confession in turn.48 Confessions of this type, taken in need by
an ordinary person instead of a priest, were never considered sacramental, but they
reflected clearly the fear of dying in sin.49 A set of verses from the Doten danz mit
figure, a German book of woodcuts printed between 1485 and 1492, illustrates
clearly the horror of sudden death: "Console yourself, for you must die," says the
figure of Death to his victim, "There's no more time./Forget your goods, and
come along./Neither prayers nor flattery will save you."50 It is unsurprising, then,
that men and women from all orders of society often sought to die on their own
terms and-more often then is sometimes acknowledged-by their own hand.
Suicide existed in the late medieval world just as it has throughout history,
despite laws outlawing suicide and punishing-post-humously-those who
committed it. In Tudor and Stuart England, suicide was both a civil and religious
crime.51 Through suicide, it seemed that an individual could guarantee themselves
a "happy death" free of sin, but in reality suicide was the worst mortal sin of all, that
of despair. The question of sin, however, was dependent upon the circumstances
in which the suicide occurred (for instance, a voluntary death was considered
sinful, while suicide necessitated by grave illness was usually not). Characterized
as "self-murder," punishments toward suicide cases could include exclusion from
burial in consecrated ground or the confiscation of the property of the deceased.52
In this way, punishments extended to the deceased's family and thus linked the
sins of the dead with the living; an adult male with a household to support could,
through suicide, reduce his family to pauperism.53 That the Church felt the
need to outlaw suicide and dispense such harsh punishments against it not only
47. Daniell, 1-2.
48.St i... r I. ed.J.F.X.O'Conor(NewYork:BenzigerBrothers,
49. St. Ignatius, A Pilgrim'sJourney: The Autobiography oflgnatius ofLoyola, ed. Joseph N. Tylenda,
S.J. (San Francisco, Cal.: Ignatius Press, 2001), 38-9.
50. Corine Schlief, "The Proper Attitude Toward Death: Windowpanes Designed for the House of
Canon Sixtus Tucher," TheArtBulletin 69, no. 4 (December, 1987): 596.
51. Michael MacDonald, Mystical Bedlam: Madness, Anxiety, and Healing in Seventeenth-century
England(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 132.
52. Alice Seabourne and Gwen Seabourne, "Suicide or accident- .11 1.. II ....... I ':val England,"
BritishJournalofPsychiatry 178 (2001): 42.
53. MacDonald and Murphy, 8.
ALPATA: journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 77
MEMENTO MORI I Lynsey Wood
affirmed the value of life, but it also served to reinforce an obsession regarding
death, and, most especially, the dangers of dying in sin. St. Peter of Luxemburg
committed "sanctimonious" suicide; struck down with a mortal fever, Peter
forced his attendants to scourge him for any perceived faults before he died.54 This
concept of a sinful death even tainted the European witch crazes of the fifteenth,
sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Fire was "a cleansing agent for souls,"
and burning was often the preferred form of execution, since the Church felt it
their duty to save the individual's soul and stop its corruption from spreading to
However, late medieval and early modern Europeans did not focus
solely upon death; there is much evidence that they took every opportunity to
celebrate life as well. Some of the educated exploited the Protestant and Catholic
Reformations of the sixteenth century to reform or abolish popular festivities
such as drinking in alehouses, mystery plays and carnivals-especially the popular
pre-Lent carnivals-which were an opportunity for excess before the fasting and
abstinence of Lent officially began.56 The educated denounced such festivities
as hotbeds of sins such as gluttony, lechery and especially drunkenness, but they
were also an opportunity for Europeans to cast aside the religious teachings
regarding morality and humility towards death and concentrate on enjoyment of
life instead, if only for a short time.57 As well as the partaking of food, drink,
and general celebration, some activities such as dancing acted as an "incitement
to fornication," and so quite literally were celebrations of life.58 Valentine's Day
itself was originally conceived as a celebration of mating, as well as the new light
of Spring, and Europeans still pursued marriage and bore children despite shorter
life expectancies and high infant mortality rates.
On the otherhand, evidence demonstrates that even fundamental celebrations
of life were tinged by a fear of death, and baptism, for example, was necessary
to wash away the original sin of a newborn child; if a child died before baptism
could take place then their soul would be doomed to Limbo.59 The Church was
so concerned of this possibility that if a woman died in childbirth the midwife
54. Alban Butler and Richard Challoner, Lives of Saints (Forgotten Books, 1799), 263.
55. Daniell, 1.
56. Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 1999),
57. Burke, 212.
58. Burke, 212.
59. Bordwell, 283.
78 ] ALPATA: journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
MEMENTO MORI I Lynsey Wood
was supposed to cut her open and remove the baby so that it could be baptized.60
Similarly, some women in Jacobean England took it upon themselves to write
mother's manuals, which they intended to impart motherly and spiritual advice to
their unborn children; Elizabeth Jocelin, who wrote The Mothers Legacie, to her
Vnborne Childe in 1624, seemed to have had a premonition on the matter, for she
died nine days after giving birth to a daughter.61 Likewise, such excess at alehouses
and festivals may have been a way of coping with the hardships of everyday life,
but it was also the result of the subconscious knowledge that every day could easily
be a man's last. Certainly, the motto "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you
may die" was heard frequently during the horrors of the Black Death, but it also
became a philosophy for everyday life in this period, a common justification for
debauchery and excess.62
In truth, late medieval and early modern Europeans were obsessed by death,
and this obsession only grew as the Middle Ages waned. Perhaps, however, people
were as obsessed by death in this period as they have been at any other time in
history; they just had a more noticeable way of demonstrating it. It could be argued
that an obsession still remains to this day, but that the attitudes towards death and
the extent to which society acknowledges it have undergone a complete revolution
over the centuries. In the twenty-first century and beyond, people try very hard
not to confront the reality of death. "We have forgotten how to die," note Michael
MacDonald and Terence Murphy, "and the dying have to struggle as best they can
to invent death."63 Death is seen, above all, as a failure ofmedicine, something to be
hidden away in hospitals and care homes, away from the imagination. Devastating
pandemics and high mortality rates in the western world are now consigned to the
history books. It seems death does not have a place in modern society.
Is this a healthy attitude, however? Death is the inevitable fate of civilization,
common to all peoples throughout history. As a modern society that shrinks
away from the idea of death and considers the subject a taboo, it is hard for us
to understand the mindset of a people who confronted death so frequently in
their everyday lives, who were forced to dwell upon it so strongly and to weave
60. Barbara Hanawalt, Growing Up in MedievalLondon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993),
61. Kristen Poole, ""The Fittest Closet for All Goodness": Authorial Strategies ofJacobean Mothers'
Manuals," Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 35, no. 1, The English Resistance (Winter,
62. William G. Naphy and Andrew Spicer, Plague: Black Death and Pestilence in Europe (Stroud,
Gi .. r., I... !,, ,,, Tempus, 2004),12.
63. MacDonald and Murphy, 1.
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 79
MEMENTO MORI I Lynsey Wood
it so intricately into their culture and society. The Black Death of the 1340s
had an irrevocable effect and devastated communities across Europe, but it
simply exaggerated an already existing familiarity with death within society,
which the church's teachings about the fate of the soul perpetuated; this
familiarity manifested itself in elaborate burial rituals, death-genres and the daily
commemoration of the dead. Theological debates, such as those surrounding
the doctrine of Purgatory, may have modified or downplayed certain aspects of
religious thought, but they also reinforced a continuous dialogue between the
dead and the living. Late medieval and early modern Europeans did not turn a
blind eye to the reality of death; they approached it with a refreshing sense of
practicality and humility. That is not to say, however, that they approached it
without any sense of fear. Eamon Duffy expresses it most eloquently when he
describes late medieval piety as a state of being "half wedded to the things of this
world, yet conscious too of death and what came after death."64
64. Eamon Duffy, The Voices ofMorebath: Reformation and Rebellion In An English. (New
Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001), 70.
80 ] ALPATA: journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 81
KEVIN ALAN BROOK.
JE wS OF KHA ZARIA.
Lanham, Mar.: Rowman & Littlefield
Publishers, Inc. 2nd ed. 2006.
Reviewed by Melanie Quintos ..'.u ,n ......
Khazaria was a ninth and tenth-century Turkic polity situated north of the
Byzantine Empire and south of the land of Rus'. Despite the enormous
reach of Christianity that appeared to be spreading across the world in the
eighth and ninth centuries, the Khazar rulers instead converted to Judaism,
and thus the Jewish empire of Khazaria remains an anomaly in the eyes of
historians. Its curious existence invites scholars such as Kevin Alan Brook to
diligently study this lost people and bring them more fully into the realm of
historical significance. What makes Brook's book distinctive is that it intends
to resolve debates surrounding the ancestry of various groups of present-day
Jews, incorporating recent research that followed the May 1999 conference on
Khazar studies (xii). Brook uses numismatic, linguistic, and genetic material
in pursuit of this goal, and employs the methodological ammunition of the
conference which did much to further scholarly knowledge of the Khazars.
In the second edition of this book (first edition published 1999), Brook
wishes to resolve long-standing debates about the Khazars, particularly the
Khazar component in the ancestry of modern Jews, and the historical moment at
which the Turkic-speaking Khazars merged with the population of the Yiddish-
speaking Jews (xii). Brook argues not only that the conversion to Judaism in the
830s transformed the Khazars into a powerful empire, but that Judaism also
ensured that the linguistic Khazar link to modern Eastern European Jews was
not as definite as he argued in his first edition (235).
The first five chapters of the book read largely as background with little
commentary and acquaint the reader with the Khazars. They also provide the
82 ] ALPATA: journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
BOOK REVIEW.JEWS OFKHIAZARIA I Kevin Alan Brook
vital function of establishing the Khazars as a complex civilization, with its
distinctive towns, its ruling hierarchy, its culture, and its trading links with
people of China, Rus', and the Arabs.
In chapter six, Brook lays out the likelihood a Jewish presence in Khazaria.
He illustrates the hostility towards Jews in the Byzantine Empire based on
forced conversions in the early seventh century. He claims that ecclesiastical
authorities shared this same attitude, and interprets a quote from Photius as
the patriarch's supposed desire to convert the Jews in the Crimea (90). This
alone does not substantiate the church authorities' desire for forced conversion
of the Jews to Christianity (90). Because chapter six depends on the notion
that Jewish persecution in the Byzantine Empire induced them to seek a more
hospitable realm, namely Khazaria (91), Brook is obligated to show evidence of
this supposed oppression. This claim, however, cannot easily be supported by
this single quote from Photius.
Brook's discussion of the actual method of conversion, mainly Roman
Kovalev's numismatic evidence for Khazar conversion, is secondary to the plain
fact that the Khazars did indeed convert to Judaism (79). Brook also claims that
conversion took place at an earlier date than previous scholars. However, it is
puzzling that Brook does not explain how the specificallyJewish Khazar empire
flourished; he writes about how the empire flourished throughout time, but
remains ambiguous as to whether this growth was under Jewish domination.
Chapter ten of Brook's book reveals a nuanced argument that is tempered
by the genetic evidence on the Ashkenazic Jewish side. He concludes from the
recent studies on Y haplotypes in Jewish male ancestry that the Khazar element
does not form a large component of the genetic structure of modern Ashkenazic
Jews (225). Brook also concludes that, because many female Khazar Jews were
initially not Jewish, the genes resemble neighboring non-Jewish Iraqis, Iranians,
and Kurds (225).
Ultimately, Brook stops short of suggesting a seamless continuity between
the modern Eastern European Jews and the Khazars (235). Modern Eastern
European Jews share ancestry with Ashkenazic Jews, and the Khazars become
only possible, neutralized ancestors of the now Yiddish-speaking Eastern
European Jews (234). Through genetic and linguistic evidence, Brook's
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 83
BOOKREVIEW.:JEWS OFKHAZARIA I Kevin Alan Brook
conclusion ends quite differently from his introduction. He not only modifies
his argument about the Ashkenazic Jews from the first edition, but through
careful research, also establishes a break between the medieval Khazars and
modern Eastern European Jews.
One can say that Brook has succeeded in the aims in his book, which
were to cast light on aspects of Khazar culture, to fix the date of conversion to
Judaism confidently in the 830s in light of the material evidence, and to resolve
the debates over the ancestry of the Ashkenazic Jews. This updated, second
edition is a comprehensive work that will be of interest to the general public or
the academic reader interested in Jewish or Khazar studies.
84 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
JEAN DANGLER. MAKING
MAKING DIFFERENCE IN
MEDIEVAL AND EARLY
South Bend, Ind.: University of
Notre Dame Press, 2005.
Reviewed by Mary Lester
identity and the other were never solid concepts in Medieval Iberia, where
existed a kaleidoscope of religions, ethnicities, and gender concepts in the
Muslim and Christian kingdoms. In Making Difference in Medieval and Early
Modern Iberia, Jean Dangler deftly examines unorthodox sources to uncover a
deep conception of identity and difference that pervaded the peninsula. Using
mostly Iberian literature, Dangler successfully juxtaposes a medieval Iberian
concept of differing and contrasting identities with a later, more homogenous
Castilian interpretation; although her arguments could use augmentation, they
are fundamentally sound and intriguing.
In her examination of alterity in medieval Iberia, Dangler introduces two
concepts she feels are key in medieval definitions of identity, namely "multifaceted
subject formation and the embrace of contrasts and the negative" (1). At first glance,
the author's assertion appears simple; it is obvious that many factors contribute to
a person's identity and that contrast is commonly used to define difference. It is
in the subtleties of her argument, however, that Dangler truly makes an impact.
Medieval Iberia's embrace of the contrast and reliance on the negative, or via
negative, sets Iberian society apart from contemporary societies with its unique
approach (19). Dangler breaks the mold in her definition of "multifaceted subject
formation" as well, including subtler factors such as age in her study along with
more obvious identity markers such as religion, gender, and race.
Generally, Dangler's use of the literary evidence is excellent; using Arabic
poetry such as the muwashshah and medical literature about the body, the author
successfully demonstrates that pre-Castilian Iberian society was quite open to
ALPATA: journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 85
BOOK REVIEW: MAKING DIFFERENCE IJean Dangler
difference and evolving identities, noting in particular the free-flowing change in
subjectivity and cross-gender identification in Arabic verse as authors alternatively
adopted male and female voices. Early medical literature followed this trend as
well; in addition to showing concern for both sexes, medieval writers tended
to "fashion sexual differentiation along a continuum of possibility rather than
according to fixed bodily states," a tendency that fits nicely with Dangler's theory
Without doubt, the author's best use of evidence comes from her discussion
on the medieval and early modern portrayals of the monster. It is in the figure of
the monster that her argument for definition through the negative comes to life
and becomes coherent. Using church imagery, cartography, and literature, Dangler
strongly argues for a medieval conception along the lines of Pseudo-Dionysian
thought, which maintained that "the divine could best be known as a paradox"
through the unformed, unfinished creation of monstrous forms (119). Like the
monster links the divine and the profane, images of monsters on the edge of maps
link the known and the unknown, while monsters on church columns welcome
the profane into a holy environment.
Although Dangler makes several excellent points and raises new questions
in her book, her arguments are not perfect. Most of her evidence addresses gender
issues, and revolves around medieval and early modern concepts of gender roles
and mutability. Doubtless the gender aspect of Iberian society was important,
but it is a severe error on Dangler's part not to include more examples of religion,
race, and culture identities in her definition of multifaceted subject formation.
Almost all evaluation of Arabic poetry and medical literature focuses on gender
definition, as well as a good section of the discussion on monsters; it is only in
discussing "cutting poems" that Dangler breaks free of her gender fixation and
argues for a more general positive societal attitude towards revolving meanings
and the negative.
Also, much of Dangler's cited evidence for medieval Iberia comes from Al-
Andalus, with only a few isolated examples from the Christian kingdoms. It is
only in her discussion of medieval medical literature that the author uses several
specific sources from the north; the majority of her medieval primary sources
originate from the Muslim south. Although granted muwashshah and cutting
poetry were largely centered in Al-Andalus, it would only reinforce Dangler's
thesis to incorporate more examples from early Christian kingdoms.
86 ] ALPATA: journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
BOOK REVIEW: MAKING DIFFERENCE Jean Dangler
Overall, Making Difference is an excellent book that reexamines the
complicated concept of medieval identity and contrast. In her study of various
diverse sources, Jean Dangler raises several issues regarding medieval thought and
attitude towards difference that will probably be addressed in the future. Her use
of complex religious thought regarding the negative along with artistic literature
and scientific treatises is new and refreshing. Although Dangler focuses a bit too
much on gender to fully substantiate her wide claims regarding medieval Iberian
society, further research into these fields of medieval discourse will probably
reveal similar patterns regarding more aspects of identity.
ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 87
A MOST AMAZING SCENE
OF WONDERS: ELECTRICITY
Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 2006.
Reviewed by Michal Meyer
Benjamin Franklin and electricity go together like thunder and lightning.
So, it turns out, do politics and electricity, religion and electricity, and even
pornography and electricity. James Delbourgo's survey of electricity and its place
in eighteenth-century America goes beyond traditional intellectual history and
its focus on Franklin to a history of how ordinary Americans thought about and
experienced electricity. Electricity flowed through the emerging nation's cultural
"Franklin's virtues-innate common sense, honest empiricism, secular
practical utility, and civic-minded benevolence-constitute a myth of both the
origins of America and the origins of American science" (3). Delbourgo reaches
beyond the myth to an America that recognized the limits of reason and gave
divine will a place in the world. The American Enlightenment that emerges was
non-elite, fascinated by electrical performances and able to combine lawfulness
and rationality with wonder and mystery. Electricity was thus both a natural force
obeying universal laws and a marvelous force to be personally felt.
Many Americans experienced electricity via itinerant lecturers, whose main
instrument for measuring electricity was the human body. These demonstrations
combined sensation and education, where men such as Ebenezer Kinnersley
invited their audience to hold hands and receive simultaneous shocks. Knowledge
of the movement of electricity was physically felt. Such demonstrations in which
bodies were voluntarily shocked raised the question of who was master and who
servant, an important point in Delbourgo's undermining of the prime place that
88 ] ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
BOOK REVIEW A MOSTAMAZING SCENE OF WONDERS J James D
reason traditionally holds in understandings of Enlightenment. Electricity was
not simply a servant of rational science.
In Europe, rational elites distrusted marvels and wonder, for they might have
overwhelmed the reason ofthe common people and lead them to riot and disorder.
In America, writes Delbourgo, it was the middling sorts, "borgeois consumers,
neither strictly learned nor vulgar, who wrote and spoke about electricity with
utmost rational intent, yet also a persistent sense of mystery, one often explicitly
Men like Cotton Mather preached that God's ways were inscrutable, beyond
the grasp of philosophers. Yet Mather also pursued a serious interest in the
natural world and balanced Puritanism with science, producing a worldview that
incorporated the lawfulness and order of nature as designed by God combined
with wonder at God's works, a kind of approach particularly suited to electricity
and the awe it evoked as well as its place in science. Religiously flavored scientific
disputes did break out, and Delbourgo examines one in which electricity played
a major role. The argument between a Harvard-educated minister and a Harvard
professor centered on scientific explanations of natural events, in this case the
1755 earthquake, in which some thought electricity played a role by upsetting
the earth's natural electrical balance. Such arguments did not pit science against
religion, but served to clarify what was generally understood as a God-imposed
natural order, of which electricity was a part.
Electrical experiences even moved directly into the language of religion.
American evangelicals began to compare the effects of electric shocks to that of a
spiritual awakening. One man described the experience of conversion as "a flash,
the power of God struck me. It seemed like something struck in the top of my
head and then went out through the toes of my feet" (133).
Electricity also proved politically active. "Electricity lent itself readily to
political use because it provided a language of power through which to articulate
the meaning of revolution" (132). Certainly the British worried that knowledge
of nature might prove dangerous, for this was still a time when the social order
was believed to reflect the natural order. The British were deeply suspicious of
democratic science, in which anyone might take part, though independent-minded
Americans rejoiced in the enthusiasm of electricity. The Pennsylvania Gazette
wrote of a General Mifflin that during the War of Independence, by his own
example, he "kindled that flame of military enthusiasm, which, like electricity,
immediately seized the inhabitants of this city" (137).
ALPATA: journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 89
BOOK REVIEW A MOSTAMAZING SCENE OF WONDERS James D
Both cultural historians and historians of science will find much of interest
in this book. Delbourgo's firm grounding of electricity in its time and place allows
him to reorient the experience ofAmerican Enlightenment. As to the pornography,
electricity and sex did mix in peoples' minds. An explicit French watercolor of
Franklin, with an electrostatic generator in the background, linked Franklin's
sexual-electric power to that of his role as progenitor of the new republic. Perhaps
it is impossible to get too far from Franklin when discussing electricity.
90 ] ALPATA: a journal ofhistory, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009
TIMOTHY. HENDERSON. N UI iT
A GLORIOUS DEFEAT: MIEXlC
MEXICO AND ITS WAR WITH
THE UNITED STATES. l
New York: Hill and Wang, 2007. '." .III. MI.
Reviewed by Juan F. Hernandez
In A Glorious Defeat, Timothy J. Henderson examines the complex chain of
developments that characterize the period from 1835 to1848 in Mexican-
American relations. The narrative at times becomes concerned with many details
that instead of explaining events and illuminating the reader only serve to add
to the confusion of characters and the complexity of such intricate development.
However, Henderson is successful in writing about these various interconnected
events and incorporates them into a relatively short book that facilitates one's
understanding of this important period.
The reader is able to observe the dexterity of the author when he presents
careful and detailed accounts of the complicated diplomatic processes that
accompanied military campaigns throughout the whole period, starting with
the outbreak of the Texas Revolution and ending in the last days of the Mexican-
American War. These moments of brilliance are not restricted to his detailed
stories of diplomatic suspense and intrigue; also worthy of praise is Henderson's
ability to offer his audience original suggestions regarding the various events that
followed this interconnection of history. In this fashion, his comments represent
helpful insights that allow the reader to speculate about how and why different
events took their own distinct shape, and in what way they would influence the
future development of this enterprise.
Of particular interest is Henderson's ability to locate and deconstruct the life
of many important figures who affected the course of events during this specific
period. He describes the life of more than ten figures, examining their political
profiles and going well beyond the conventional biographical-factual account.
The analysis of many of these subjects, Mexicans, Americans and even foreign
ALPATA: journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009 [ 91
BOOKREVIEW: A GLORIOUS DEFEAT | Timothy J. Henderson
personalities, allows the reader to easily identify the way in which these historical
processes unfold, and to learn in what way these different-but interconnected-
characters influenced and affected each other when formulating political,
diplomatic or bellicose strategies. Thus, the audience can grasp interesting details
about the lives of many personalities such as Moses Austin and his son Stephen
Austin, General Manuel de Mier y Teran, General Anastasio Bustamante,
President James K. Polk, and Mexico's great caudillo Antonio Lopez de Santa
Anna, inter alia.
After reading this book it becomes evident that the author desires to explain
the historical narrative of these events, but dedicates more attention and care to
the development of affairs in the Mexican side. This is not to say that he forges
an obscure alliance with the Mexican cause; on the contrary, his writing style
combines clarity and neutrality to form a delicate fabric that serves to hold the
historical narrative with all its complex details. The fact that Henderson moves
to the other side of the border and dedicates more attention to the Mexican
perspective represents a plus in his overall handling of the topic. By presenting the
story in this way, the author exposes the North American audience (specifically
that ofthe United States) to a side ofthe storythat has been neglected in classrooms
and in the entire official and unofficial national narrative.
When moving towards the end of his piece, Henderson skillfully organizes
the answers to some of the questions that come to one's head after finishing the
book. In what way did the Texas affair influence future developments in the civil
order of both countries? What did this war mean for Hispanic settlers that lived
in Texas before the U.S annexation? What did this war mean for Negroes and
Native Americans that inhabited the territory what became part of the United
States? What was the main repercussion ofthis war for Mexico? The author moves
to offer a short but concise set of answers that enlighten the mind of the reader
and serve to connect missed facts and bits ofhistorical knowledge together, in this
way consolidating a more complete and comprehensive understanding of history.
92 ] ALPATA: a journal of history, VOLUME VI, SPRING 2009