When we last saw our heroes in the “war” part of War and Peace, they were hightailing it east, away from the victorious French, in the autumn of 1805, hoping to meet up with the reinforcements coming from Russia before Napoleon could trap and destroy them as he had the hapless Austrians. As the Battle of Austerlitz approached, I decided I wanted to know more about the history, so I sent off for 1805: Austerlitz: Napoleon and the Destruction of the Third Coalition by Robert Goetz. He goes into more detail about the exact disposition of the various battalions and squadrons than I really need, but that’s OK—I take what I need and leave the rest, and he describes the changes in fortune and resultant switches in strategy very well, starting with the collapse of the Peace of Amiens and Napoleon’s lightning-fast conversion of the Army of the Ocean Coasts (intended for an invasion of England) into the Grande Armée, which crossed the Rhine and surrounded Mack at Ulm before he knew what was happening.

My main complaint is one that would seem trivial to the vast majority of readers: insufficient explanation of place names. As longtime LH readers know, I love alternate geographical names (see, for instance, here and here, and compare this annoyed post), and it doesn’t bother me that the author uses the old German names of the places his armies march through (mostly now replaced by Slavic ones), since those were the ones used at the time and in the vast majority of histories. It would be silly to talk about the Battle of Slavkov, and similarly it makes sense to use Pressburg for what’s now Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia) and Laibach for Ljubljana (the capital of Slovenia).

But the names should be matched with their modern equivalents somewhere, either in an appendix or in the index. In the first place, not everyone is aware of the fact that the names are now changed, and a reader might get frustrated trying to use a modern map to follow the action. And even those, like me, who are on top of the issue can be confused. At the start of Chapter 3, talking about the situation after Kutuzov had managed to join up with his reinforcements and Napoleon had halted his advance at the city of Brünn (now Brno), he says that the Austrian Army of Italy under Archduke Charles and the remnants of Archduke John’s Army of Tyrolia, both marching east, “converged at Marburg.” Poring over the map, I could see no Marburg, but I knew there was a German city of that name; when I looked it up, however, I discovered it was far in the northwest, in Hesse, and couldn’t possibly be the intended location. Fortunately, the Wikipedia entry mentioned a disambiguation page, and that pointed me to Maribor in Slovenia, whose German name is Marburg an der Drau (“on the Drava”). This made perfect geographical sense, and (muttering) I added it to the map. But the reader should not be forced to jump through hoops; the first time the town is mentioned, it should be “Marburg (now Maribor).”

Incidentally, the most famous feature of Brünn (Brno) in the nineteenth century was its old castle, used by the Habsburg emperors as a place to stash political prisoners like pesky Italian nationalists; it’s where Emperor Francis put the unfortunate General Mack until he decided Mack’s surrender at Ulm was the result of stupidity rather than treason. It was a byword for dread dungeons in Austria, much as the Bastille was in France. Its name? Spielberg (now Špilberk). I wonder if Steven knows?


  1. Of course, in the twentieth century Brünn (still so named) was most famous as the place where Gregor Mendel discovered and published the theory of mutations that led to the modern synthesis in biology.

  2. John Emerson says

    You know what pisses me off? The Germans call the 1410 battle the Battle of Tannenburg, whereas the Poles call i the Battle of Grunwald. So why don’t the stupid Poles call it by a Polish name, if they don’t like “Tannenburg”?
    Or maybe they do. Have my sources lied to me?

  3. Grunwald and Tannenberg are two different villages. Tannenberg is called Stębark in Polish. Grunwald is Grunwald in Polish and Žalgiris in Lithuanian. I vaguely remember someone in Krzyzacy (either the book or the movie) referring to Grunwald in Polish as “Zielone pole” or something like that, but as far as my sources go, Grunwald is the Polish name for Grunwald.

  4. And of course, there’s Łodwigowo / Ludwigsdorf, the third as the third vertice of the battlefield triangle. I don’t think anyone refers to the battle as the Battle of Ludwigsdorf, though…

  5. Vertex, goddamit, vertex. Proofread, bul.

  6. Wikipedia English & German also mention Zielone Pole.

  7. I had a math teacher who said “verticee”. Maybe “parenthesee” as well, but probably not “Chinee”. And of course “cherry” and “pea”.

  8. Apparently Maribor, despite being economically post-industrial and poor in the same manner as Sheffield or Flint, Michigan, is a lovely place to visit. It still has the old town centre, which the Nazis didn’t destroy, wanting as they did to re-integrate the place into Austria.
    (Am off to Slovenia for three days tomorrow morning to catch up with an internet friend, just Ljubljana and environs, and maybe a bit of Klagenfurt, since that’s where my plane lands. I can’t wait. 🙂

  9. Crown, A. J.P. says

    Has anyone been to Austerlitz?

  10. A.J.P.,
    sure, field trip three or four years ago.

  11. Has it got the touristic paraphernalia battlefield sites in the U.S. do, with visitor centers and maps and guides showing you around and the historic roads and buildings carefully preserved?

  12. Crown, A. J.P. says

    Yeah. What Language asked.

  13. John Emerson says

    And dorky overweight reenactors wearing period costumes?

  14. Kári Tulinius says

    Thanks for linking to the the Peaches in Cluj post. The comment thread was quite something. After reading it I really want to go travel around Transylvania (keeping to marked trails, of course, so as to avoid falling foul of the Master’s robots).

  15. That is my favorite LH thread ever; I link to it on any excuse.

  16. For Borodino, Philippe-Paul de Ségur’s History of the Expedition to Russia in 1812 is an interesting backdrop to Tostoy’s depiction of the battle and aftermath.

  17. Has it got the touristic paraphernalia battlefield sites in the U.S. do…?
    It did back then and I’m told that the business is booming, so there must be a lot of new stuff.
    And dorky overweight reenactors wearing period costumes?
    Definitely, though most of them are neither dorky, nor overweight, but rather semiprofessionals. It’s more of a offshoot of tourist industry.
    All the overweight dorks in our parts (with the possible exception of yours truly) are into medieval stuff, what they call ‘historical fencing’.

  18. Norman Davies history of Breslau (Wrocław) discusses how the name of the city changed over the centuries. He also includes a handy cross-reference of German and Polish names for cities in the Silesian region.

  19. Crown, A. J.P. says

    Does anyone know if there are reenactments of the battle of the White Mountain? I can’t find anything on Google.

  20. Crown, A. J.P. says

    Never mind. I hadn’t looked in a couple of years, but it turns out there are quite a lot of pictures (hideous ones) nowadays.

  21. Speaking of names <cue derailing of thread> …
    On Mars the Spirit rover (designed for ninety days operations, now running in its fourth year) is slowly, slowly taking images for another big panorama: the Bonestell Panorama.
    It is named for the famed space artistChesley Bonestell.
    But how is that pronounced?! Bone-stell as one would expect? I keep wanting to Frenchify it: Buh-NEST-ell. Or even more Frenchificated: Buh-nestle.
    Oh, wise and benevolent Hat, what dost thine books convey on the matter?

  22. It’s BON-ǝ-stell: three syllables, stress on first.

  23. Thank you. I love the blagosphere. That will certainly make reading the Emily Lakdawalla’s reports easier – I’m easily distracted …
    I wrote to Mark Liberman about the lovely new temporal adverbs the scientists and bloggers covering the Phoenix mission have taken to using, but it prolly didn’t interest him.

  24. Crown, A. J.P. says

    How about this for a coincidence:
    Bonestell studied architecture at Columbia University.
    So did I.
    A crater on Mars …(is)… named after him.
    I recently became King of Mars, and am planning at some point to name a crater after myself.

  25. Will there be an opening for a Minister of Languages and Linguistics, or (failing that) a court jester? I always liked those hats with the pointy extensions and the bells.

  26. Crown, A. J.P. says

    Minister? Secretary of State for Languages & Jesting, I think. The Department will have responsibility for the Linguistics Office (in my basement), and I’m thinking of putting in someone senior from Language Log to run it and set up some Martian languages. Log language is one possibility, as is Hat language, of course. You will be designing your own uniforms, but they must be very practical, because they have to function properly on the great trek.
    I’m trying to keep a bit quiet about everything for the next year or so. I became King of Mars on August 1, 2008, and nobody has questioned my authority so far. I’m no galactic lawyer, but I’m thinking it’s a similar situation to footpaths: when it’s been like this for a while nobody will be allowed to interfere. Under my rule public access to the planet Mars is assured, though I may fiddle about with its name.

  27. King Arthur says

    As Secretary of State for Languages & Jesting, feel free to make any suggestions. So should anyone else who wants a position. My wife tells me that absolute rule is still on the cards, but I can’t see it happening.

  28. David Marjanović says

    Spielberg (literally “play mountain”, but I doubt that’s the etymology) is a common place name; for example there’s a medieval castle ruin called Spielberg in Styria.

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