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World War I Centennial: Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece Declare War

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The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere.

With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in 2014, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 40th installment in the series. (See all entries here.)

World War I Centennial: Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece Declare War


Turkish cavalry detailed to defend Constantinople.

Ten days after Montenegro declared war on the Ottoman Empire, the rest of the Balkan League piled on, with simultaneous declarations of war by Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece, which ultimately sent some 750,000 troops across the borders to seize Turkish territory in Europe.

The war on land was divided into three main theatres. To the northwest, the Serbs and Montenegrins both invaded the Sanjak of Novi Bazar, the narrow strip of Turkish territory separating their two kingdoms, while a separate Montenegrin force marched south towards the important city of Scutari near the Adriatic Sea, in what is now Albania. In the central theatre, Serbian, Greek, and Bulgarian troops converged on Macedonia, the main object of the war. Further east, Bulgarian troops headed south into the Ottoman territory of Thrace, hoping to capture the ancient city of Adrianople (Edirne) and maybe even Constantinople itself. Meanwhile at sea, the Greek navy closed in on Turkish-controlled islands in the Aegean Sea and attempted to blockade the Ottoman Empire’s European and Asiatic coastlines.

While the Turkish armies only numbered around 335,000, or less than half the forces of the Balkan League arrayed against them, contemporary observers thought the Turks’ chances were pretty good, as they enjoyed several advantages: Geographically, they held a central position and could choose their battlefields, and the Ottoman administration had also instituted military reforms intended to bring the Turkish armies up to European standards.

But in the end these advantages were either squandered or canceled out by other factors. The Turks had only embarked on their far-sighted reforms in 1911, meaning they were nowhere near complete—in fact, the Turkish armies may have been more disorganized as a result. They also failed to take advantage of their central position by concentrating their forces; instead, they spread their armies out, allowing the forces of the Balkan League to defeat them one at a time. Worst of all, by deciding to boldly take the offensive in Macedonia, the Turkish commander-in-chief, Nazim Pasha, gave up the defensive advantage including choice of battlefields.

To be fair, the Turks faced additional challenges. The Slavic inhabitants of the contested regions tended to be sympathetic to the invaders and hostile to their Turkish rulers, meaning the Turks had to contend with guerrilla warfare by their own subject populations in addition to the forces of the Balkan League. (Of course, the Turks’ earlier atrocities against Slavic Christians were at least partly to blame for the animosity.)

But the first and biggest mistake, as noted, was Nazim Pasha’s decision to immediately bring the fight to the invading armies, which resulted in disaster when ill-prepared and only partially mobilized Turkish forces confronted the Serbs at Kumanovo on October 23 and 24, and the Bulgarians in the simultaneous battle of Kirk Kilisse, October 22-24.

See previous installment, next installment, or all entries.

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Courtesy of Freeman's
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History
For Sale: More Than 150 Items of Victorian Mourning Art, Clothing, and Jewelry
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Courtesy of Freeman's

Funeral fashion hasn't always been reserved for memorial services, judging from a massive memento mori auction that's being billed as perhaps the largest collection of mourning art ever offered for sale. Spotted by Atlas Obscura and sponsored by Philadelphia-based Freeman’s auction house, the online sale—which kicks off on Wednesday, November 15—features more than 150 works from a renowned private collection, ranging from clothing and jewelry to artworks.

During the Victorian era, people paid tribute to their loved ones by wearing black mourning garb and symbolic accessories. (The latter often featured jet or real locks of hair, according to a 2008 article published in the academic journal Omega.) They also commissioned death-themed artworks and objects, including paintings, as exhibited by Angus Trumble's 2007 book Love & Death: Art in the Age of Queen Victoria.

These items have long since fallen out of fashion, but some historic preservationists amassed their own macabre private collections. Anita Schorsch, who’s arguably the most famous collector of memento mori, used her historic treasures to launch the Museum of Mourning Art back in 1990. Located in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, the museum is—as its name suggests—the only institution in the nation devoted exclusively to mourning art. The museum has been closed since Schorsch's death in 2015, and the items featured in Freeman's auction are from her collection.

Check out some of its memento mori below, or view the online catalogue here.

Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Hairwork choker, 19th century-mori, from the Collection of Irvin and Anita Schorsch
Courtesy OF Freeman's


Hairwork shroud pin, 19th century, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Gold, enamel and pearl "Stuart crystal" mourning slide, made in late 17th century England and part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Group of 19th century ladies and gentleman's mourning costumes, from the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's


18th century iron and brass cemetery padlock from London, England, part of the Collection of Irvin & Anita Schorsch
Courtesy of Freeman's

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017
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History
Abraham Lincoln Letter About Slavery Could Fetch $700,000 at Auction
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Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

The Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, in which future president Abraham Lincoln spent seven debates discussing the issue of slavery with incumbent U.S. senator Stephen Douglas, paved the way for Lincoln’s eventual ascent to the presidency. Now part of that history can be yours, as the AP reports.

A signed letter from Lincoln to his friend Henry Asbury dated July 31, 1858 explores the “Freeport Question” he would later pose to Douglas during the debates, forcing the senator to publicly choose between two contrasting views related to slavery’s expansion in U.S. territories: whether it should be up to the people or the courts to decide where slavery was legal. (Douglas supported the popular choice argument, but that position was directly counter to the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision.)

The first page of a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Henry Asbury
Christie's Images Ltd. 2017

In the letter, Lincoln was responding to advice Asbury had sent him on preparing for his next debate with Douglas. Asbury essentially framed the Freeport Question for the politician. In his reply, Lincoln wrote that it was a great question, but would be difficult to get Douglas to answer:

"You shall have hard work to get him directly to the point whether a territorial Legislature has or has not the power to exclude slavery. But if you succeed in bringing him to it, though he will be compelled to say it possesses no such power; he will instantly take ground that slavery can not actually exist in the territories, unless the people desire it, and so give it protective territorial legislation."

Asbury's influence didn't end with the debates. A founder of Illinois's Republican Party, he was the first to suggest that Lincoln should run for president in 1860, and secured him the support of the local party.

The letter, valued at $500,000 to $700,000, is up for sale as part of a books and manuscripts auction that Christie’s will hold on December 5.

[h/t Associated Press]

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