So there’s always kinda been a thing about how Game of Thrones is basically European history with dragons. I know Season 8 has been getting a lot of flak for moving so far away from those really basic roots, so in the lead-up to the show’s finale on Monday, I thought it’d be fun to just pull out a little bit of European history, just to show you how Game of Thrones-y it really is. Let me tell you a little bit about Russia.
Back in the early 19th century, Russia was having a pretty good time. Tsar Nicholas beat the shit out of a bunch of different countries, taking Azerbaijan and Georgia from the Persians in 1813, and east Armenia in 1828. And Tsar Nicholas is kinda looking around, and kinda wondering who he can beat up next, and he goes, yeah, more Muslims. He arbitrarily declares himself the protector of all of the Christians in Turkey, and in the interests of protecting those Christians, is compelled (by himself) to invade the Ottoman Empire. So he rocks in and sinks Turkey’s fleet in the Black Sea.
And now here’s the thing about Russia: nobody in Europe wants them to be part of the club. The Ottoman Empire might be ruled by Muslims, but Europe doesn’t mind too much: it’s a useful buffer state to keep out Russia out. So after Nicholas burns the Ottoman fleet, Europe cusses a little and steps in. They beat up Nicholas and chuck him back into Russia – but that’s not quite enough. Britain and France decide they need to teach Russia a lesson. So they invade Crimea, which is the part of Russia bordering the Black Sea. There’s four years of war, the Charge of the Light Brigade, Florence Nightingale, and in 1856, the war is resolved in favour of the British-French-Ottoman alliance. There’s a treaty, signed in Paris, where the Black Sea is demilitarized, and the Ottoman empire is included in Europe’s little club. Russia is still not invited.
Twenty years later, there’s a bunch of little countries ruled by the Ottoman empire who kinda want to be independent. They start a whole bunch of ruckus, and the Ottoman empire beats the shit out of them, murdering 12,000 civilians in Bulgaria in 1876. Everyone’s like ‘oh no!’, because those awful Muslims are out murdering good Christian people. And Russia’s like ‘OH NO’ really loudly and decides to start a war, because it’s still hacked off about the Crimea, and it wants to try and get into Europe again. So in 1877 it invades the Ottoman empire again, and, once again, all of Europe is like ‘Russia fuck off fuck’s sake.’ Britain actually threatens to declare a massive war on Russia if they capture Constantinople – because, again, nobody wants Russia in Europe. Eventually there’s a peace treaty, and Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro all get independence, and Bulgaria becomes an independent principality, which means it’s kind of its own country, but still ultimately under the control of the Ottoman empire.
So the Ottoman empire lost the war, and it lost a bunch of its territory. But at the same time, Russia also kinda lost. It was trying to break into Europe, and it pretty successfully beat up the Ottoman empire, but now there were a bunch of new little states that were all looking pretty healthy and were still very definitely blocking Russia’s way in. So Russia’s not pumped about how things turned out.
Fast forward another thirty years, to 1908. The Ottoman empire has been looking a bit sickly, and they have a bit of an internal revolution. It achieves nothing, but while they’re distracted, Bulgaria grabs the opportunity to make itself fully independent. Meanwhile, Austria-Hungary has kinda been squatting in Bosnia since that peace treaty in 1878, and they decide to formally annex Bosnia while the Bulgarians are making their independence – can’t have the Bosnians getting ideas! Unfortunately, Serbia’s kinda been hyping Bosnia up about the whole independence thing. You know where this is going: in 1914, a dumb nineteen-year-old Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip shot and killed Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Austria-Hungary gets fucked off at Serbia for winding up the Bosnians. They declare war. Russia steps in to support Serbia. Germany steps in to defend the Austro-Hungarians. World War One begins.
By 1917, people are getting pretty sick of the war. Tsar Nicholas (no, not the earlier one – that was his great grandfather) ends up abdicating, because all the Russians are getting fucked off at him. Russia gets a temporary government, and Germany decides that it’d be funny to ship in some exiled political dissidents to try and make things worse – because they’re still at war with the Russians, right. So they grab this guy called Lenin, who was hanging out in Switzerland, and send him into Russia, where he takes over and agrees to end the war with Germany. Even though that eastern front gets shut down, Germany still loses the war in 1918. Europe blames Germany for everything, the French being especially fueled by some grudge over this other war from fifty years ago, and so they pile Germany up with bullshit obligations to cripple it further. Churchill is a bit worried that if Germany is weakened, it’ll be easier for Russia to get into Europe. Nobody listens.
It’s now 1920, and Germany is beyond fucked. Under Lenin, Soviet Russia decides to quietly invade Poland. They’re still trying to get into Europe. Poland somehow defeats Russia at the Battle of Warsaw, and Russia goes off to sulk. 1939. Germany sidles up to Russia and offers them a route into Europe if they’ll assume non-belligerence while Germany fucks up everybody else. Russia agrees, and signs the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on August 23rd. Nine days later, Germany invades western Poland, starting World War Two. Sixteen days after that, Russia invades eastern Poland, as per the terms of their agreement. It looks like Russia is finally getting in. Nazi Germany spends the next two years fucking up Europe, while the Russians just chill. Hitler does invade Russia in 1941, but by 1945 the war is over. Just like last time, Germany was on the losing end. And, just like last time, Russia was still looking for gain. Everybody else was horrified by the full extent of the Holocaust. Yes, said Stalin, wrapping himself around Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Albania, Yugoslavia, and East Germany. Very terrible indeed.
So that’s my first little venture into the history books. I’m reading Simon Jenkins’ Short History of Europe at the moment, and it’s really just staggering how much nonsense infighting and grudge-holding went on in there. It made me think of Thrones, and – yeah, with the finale out on Monday, I thought I’d chuck out this cheeky wee extra post. I’ve mentioned before that I’m hoping to move into a history project for Phase 2 of the theology half of the blog, so I’m just trying to get started on some background reading. Anyway – normal service resumes from here. Thanks for indulging me.