Posts Tagged ‘Dagobert’

Why You Shouldn’t Hurt Genghis Khan’s Feelings

Posted in General on January 19th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

 If you have never heard of the Khwarezmian Empire, that was Genghis Khan’s intention and the measure of his success.  Yet, in the early 13th century Khwarezmia was the greatest nation in the Islamic World, a Persian empire that encompassed modern Iran, Afghanistan,Turkmenistan and several of the other ‘stans.  To put it in our own parochial context, this empire was equal to one third the size of the United States–yes–including Alaska.

 Its Shah was Ala ad-Din Muhammad II.  (We’ll call him Muhammad because–as he demonstrated–he wasn’t an Al type of guy.) Although the Mongol Empire extended to the northern border of his empire, the Shah dismissed any threat posed by Genghis Khan.  After all, the Mongols were thousands of miles away fighting in China.  (Although the Mongols consistently won, conquering an empire of 120 million people is a full-time job for even the most ruthless Horde).  Furthermore, the Shah had an army twice as large as the Khan’s, so he felt no need to be diplomatic when an Mongol embassy called upon him in 1219.  A Mongol caravan had been seized by a Persian governor, and the Khan’s representatives demanded the punishment of the felonious official.  The Shah’s response was to have the Mongols’ translator beheaded.  That effectively ended the conversation and started a war. 

Genghis Khan suddenly decided that massacring the Chinese had become monotonous, and the Persians offered an interesting alternative.  Although at the other end of Asia, the Horde could move at a routine pace of 80 miles a day.  Modern armies would find that a challenge.  It was also winter in Siberia but that never was a deterrent to the Mongols.  With 200,000 horsemen under his command, Genghis Khan was on his way to Khwarezmia. 

The Shah belately realized what he had done, and he prepared his empire for the Mongol onslaught.  He stationed nearly half of his army on the northern border, along the Syr Darya River.  However, a thinly spread army was not much a deterrent against the best cavalry in history.  In February 1220 a Mongol force of 20,000 men crossed the eastern end of the river, outflanking the Persian defenses there.  As the Shah’s main army marched to meet that threat, a larger Mongol force forded the western end of the river.  Caught between the river and the Mongols, the enveloped Persian line collapsed…and the Mongols were not taking prisoners. 

The two Mongol forces united and moved toward the great city of Bukhara.  Now the Shah could anticipate the invaders’ objective, and he met them with an army of 200,000 men.  In fact, the Mongols had maneuvered him into a trap.  A third Mongol force, personally led by Genghis Khan, had moved through a desert and evaded Persian attention, taking the circuitous route to Bukhara.  The Shah thought that he was facing the entire Horde only to discover 50,000 Mongol horsemen behind him.  Surprise!  Most of the Shah’s army died on that battlefield.  Some of the troops did find sanctuary behind the walls of Bukhara.  It was a short respite; the Mongols took Bukhara and massacred the population.  Not much of a Shah now, Mohammed did manage to escape but spent the remainder of his wretched life on the run from Mongols.  He died a year later of disease and exhaustion.   

The great Khwarezmian Empire dissolved in a campaign that lasted less than six months.  Although always ruthless, Genghis Khan was especially vindictive; the great cities of the empire–Bukhara, Samarkand, Herat, Merv and Urgench–were destroyed.  You have never heard of Merv and Urgench because the destruction was that thorough.  (Shiraz and Kabul survived by prompt and groveling surrenders. The cities still suffered pillage and rape, but not leveling and extermination.)  A town in northern Iran became so crowded with refugees from the Mongols that it grew to some prominence: Tehran.

While the Khwarezmian Empire is not remembered, Genghis Khan’s visit there is.  It still is studied in military science as the inspiration and prototype of modern mechanized warfare.  Blitzkrieg should be a Mongolian word. 

p.s.  Today marks the death of King Dagobert I:

Your RDA of Medieval Plumbing

Posted in On This Day on January 19th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 5 Comments

This is a real advertisement:


“A throwback to the medieval era of knights, castles and fairy tale romance, this throne toilet with French Merovingian style (8th century) is highlighted by hand painted earthenware accessories (Musset poem, ashtray…). Its high-profile seat back with a gothic-arch top and full armrests give the toilet a majestic appearance. Inscribed on the seat back is a poem by the French poet, Alfred de Musset. The musical chime “Le Bon Roi Dagobert”, with a voice reciting the Musset poem, starts when you raise the lid and a bell is coupled with the flush, making a visit to the bathroom an unforgettable experience.” Made from an Ash tree, it’s protected by three layers of polyurethane. Comes with candle holder and ashtray. Priced at or above $9000

Medieval plumbing is an oxymoron and why would a “fashionable” toilet be named for a seventh century Frankish king? You’d think that the Byzantine Emperors or the Caliphs might have had more impressive thrones, but King Dagobert I apparently set the standard for royal assizes.

Although Dagobert (603-639) would seem like the name of a bad pizzeria, the king was actually one of the more formidable French rulers of the Dark Ages. When he died–this day in 639–he had managed to hold the throne and actually rule for five years. Few of his ancestors could make that claim, and none of his descendants could. Dagobert was almost an only child, so he only had one sibling and a nephew to eliminate to gain complete control of France.

Being king of all the Franks was an achievement in itself; he certainly would never have imagined himself the namesake of a toilet. Indeed, he probably never imagine the idea of a toilet. True, the Romans had them although not with ashtrays; but the running water had been shut off some two centuries earlier. In Dagobert’s lifetime, the ultimate accolade for a Frankish warlord would be getting a bolt of silk from Constantinople. From the Frankish perspective, it was pure status; from the Byzantine perspective, it was the equivalent of a Christmas card for the help.

Perhaps the toilet was a more sincere tribute.