I’m once again reading Abulafia’s The Great Sea (see this post), and I’ve run across an unfamiliar use of a familiar word: “The Danes, Norwegians and Swedes, fat from the proceeds of their northern trade, made their appearance off the coasts of North Africa, in the Barbary ‘regencies’ (so called because their rulers, variously known as deys, beys and bashaws, or pashas, were nominally the deputies of the Ottoman sultan.” I checked the OED (entry updated December 2009), and here’s the relevant sense, with quotations:

4. A town, city, or other territory forming part of a kingdom or empire and governed by a person or body of people in whom authority has been vested by the ruler of the kingdom or empire. Now chiefly hist.

1656 N. Stephens Plain Calculation Name & Number of Beast v. 102 The scope of this Scripture is concerning the Division of the Fourth Kingdom into Ten Regencies or Divisions at one time.
1667 Milton Paradise Lost v. 748 Regions they pass’d, the mightie Regencies of Seraphim and Potentates and Thrones.
1780 Ann. Reg. 5 The territory appertaining to the regency of Burghausen.
1788 tr. M. Chenier Present State Morocco I. i. i. 2 Tremecen..which was formerly subject to Morocco, having been conquered by the Turks of Algiers, is now a part of the territories of that Regency.
1817 T. S. Raffles Hist. Java I. iii. 142 The rice fields of a regency are divided among the whole of the population.
1838 Sparks’ Biogr. IX. vii. 245 The Bashaw gave permission to the American agent to leave the Regency.
1914 Times 9 Aug. 2/6 There is a small army of occupation in the Regency of Tunis.
1977 Arab Times 13 Nov. 4/8 Twelve people have died and 98 others have been hospitalised for cholera in the south Sulawesi regency of Selayar.
1979 Libya: Country Study (ed. 3) i. 19 The Ottoman Maghrib was formally divided into three regencies—at Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli.
2000 J. Azema Libya Handbk. 259 Military councils..were formed to administer the Barbary regencies, as the Ottoman provinces on the North African coast were known.

Also, I love the phrase “deys, beys and bashaws.” (Apparently, only Algiers and Tripoli had a dey; the word is from Turkish dāī, now writtin dayı, ‘maternal uncle’.)


  1. Dmitry Prokofyev says

    You do of course remember the last phrase of Gogol’s Diary of a Madman:
    А знаете ли, что у алжирского дея под самым носом шишка?

  2. Ah yes, of course! A very apposite quotation.

  3. J. W. Brewer says

    It’s kinda/sorta the same concept as the Spanish colonies in the New World being divided into chunks like (as conventionally named in Anglophone historical sources) the Viceroyalty of New Spain, the Viceroyalty of Peru, etc., each of which had a fellow on the scene supposedly governing as a substitute for the real monarch overseas.

  4. “And you know that the Algerian activities under the nose bump?” Say what?

  5. Despite not being a monarchy, Indonesia still has sub-provincial administrative divisions which are called regencies (kabupaten).

  6. Claude Field’s translation: “And do you know that the Bey [sic] of Algiers has a wart under his nose?” God knows why he went with “Bey.”

  7. Wikipedia uses the word deylicate for the position of, or the institution of having, a dey. Which to me sounds like the sort of word you make up as a child when you first run into dey in a book somewhere. It’s not in the OED (which lists deyship), but there are 4700 ghits.

    The OED also tells us that that while the dey was at first simply the commander of the janissaries in Algiers, in 1710 the dey of the day seized supreme power from the pasha (civilian leader). Properly, the dey of Tripoli was a pasha, but was given the title of dey by courtesy. There were, however, deys in Tunis in the 17C.

    Beys were originally governors rather than viceroys. However, eventually it became a title not necessarily connected with specific offices.

  8. You clearly didn’t memorize enough Milton when young 🙂

  9. @John Cowan: I’m not sure what distinction you are drawing between a governor and viceroy. The OED has, for “viceroy”:

    1. One who acts as the governor of a country, province, etc., in the name and by the authority of the supreme ruler; a vice-king.

  10. J. W. Brewer says

    “Khedive” as used by the close-to-autonomous-in-practice rulers of Egypt late in its nominally-Ottoman period is often translated “viceroy.” I think the situation in the Barbary territories was that the particular degree of autonomy the particular local rulers had could not simply be inferred from the general Ottoman usage of bey or pasha or what have you, but was sort of particular to the circumstances, with “regent” being an outsiders’ gloss of what was going on functionally.

    For another example, post-WWI Hungary was a kingdom without a king (because the Powers wouldn’t let a Hapsburg on the throne and there was neither a consensus as to an acceptable alternative monarch nor a consensus in favor of making the regime formally republican), ruled by Admiral (and the country was also landlocked . . .) Horthy as Regent. Much more convenient than being regent in the name of an actually-existing monarch who might one day want to actually exercise the powers of the office.

  11. Brett: As JWB notes, titles don’t necessarily match facts on the ground, but the distinction I had in mind was that a viceroy normally has full royal/imperial authority except for its geographical limitation, whereas a governor normally does not: there are things he has to pass up the chain. The US inherited the title “governor” from its colonial past, but each governor is the chief executive of the state government, so they are closer to viceroys.

  12. As Lazar implies, the use of regency/regent for Indonesian kabupaten/bupati is anomalous – it’s an holdover from the Dutch colonial era (“regentschap”) that’s stayed in use presumably because kabupaten looks forbiddingly weird to the Western general reader or sub-editor. The translation as “regency” for the modern administrative unit is informal only, and may be on the decline: Western specialists are far more likely to use kabupaten. “District” is a possible alternative, but that gets messy because in the specialist literature there’s an informal convention that district is used for the administrative sub-level below kabupaten.

    The context in which the Dutch started using “regentschap” in Indonesia was as defined by the OED. The authority of the 17th century Mataram kingdom in inland central Java was exercised through bupati (regents) in much of the Mataram realm. When the Dutch started their incremental takeover of Java in the early 17th century, they began by forcing Mataram to agree that some of the regents on the northern coast of Java would be subordinate to both Mataram and the VOC. Eventually Mataram was squeezed out and the regents acted solely on behalf of the VOC. Once the Dutch gained more territory and ran out of Mataram-appointed regents, they would appoint regents themselves (sometimes in complete ignorance of social and political structures in the new regentschap, with predictable square peg/round hole consequences). When they took over the other islands of Indonesia they used the same system, with the Javanese terms kabupaten/bupati applied everywhere in the Dutch East Indies except for some regions where an hereditary local ruler was allowed to remain in place. Modern Indonesia has retained the terms even though they’re Javanese, not Malay-Indonesian.

  13. Sir JCass says

    “The territory controlled by the regency of Tripoli approximated northern Libya today, stretching some sixteen hundred kilometers (one thousand miles) along the coast from the border with Tunisia in the west to Tobruk in the east. After 1565, the Ottomans governed Libya through a pasha appointed by the sultan in Istanbul. The pasha was dependent upon the janissaries, an elite military caste stationed in Libya in support of Ottoman rule. Once an effective military force generally stationed at the center of Ottoman armies, the janissaries by the eighteenth century had evolved into a self-governing military guild, subject to its own laws, and protected by the divan, a local council of senior officers.

    “With mutinies commonplace in the far-flung provinces of the vast Ottoman Empire, the janissaries generally remained loyal to whomever paid them the most. In 1611, local chiefs staged a successful coup d’état in which they forced the pasha to appoint their leader , Suleiman Safar, head of government. Thereafter, Safar and his successors retained the title dey or local chief; and occasionally, the dey was also designated pasha. The regency was autonomous in internal affairs, even though succession to power often involved intrigue and violence, but remained dependent on the sultan for fresh recruits to the janissary corps. In addition to advising the pasha , the sultan also allowed the divan considerable autonomy in matters of taxation and foreign policy.”

    Ronald Bruce St John Libya: From Colony to Revolution

  14. David Marjanović says

    Horthy as Regent

    Rendered in German as Reichsverweser, which is quite funny from a modern point of view because verwesen means “to rot”.

  15. Things went from weird to weirder in wartime Hungary:

    Hungary, mentioned earlier in connection with the troublesome question of Eichmann’s conscience, was constitutionally a kingdom without a king. The country, though without access to the sea and possessing neither navy nor merchant fleet, was ruled — or, rather, held in trust for the nonexistent king — by an admiral, Regent or Reichsverweser Nikolaus von Horthy. The only visible sign of royalty was an abundance of Hofräte, councilors to the nonexistent court. Once upon a time, the Holy Roman Emperor had been King of Hungary, and more recently, after 1806, the kaiserlichkonigliche Monarchie on the Danube had been precariously held together by the Hapsburgs, who were emperors (Kaiser) of Austria and kings of Hungary. In 1918, the Hapsburg Empire had been dissolved into Successor States, and Austria was now a republic, hoping for Anschluss, for union with Germany. Otto von Hapsburg was in exile, and he would never have been accepted as King of Hungary by the fiercely nationalistic Magyars; an authentically Hungarian royalty, on the other hand, did not even exist as a historical memory. So what Hungary was, in terms of recognized forms of government, only Admiral Horthy knew.

    Behind the delusions of royal grandeur was an inherited feudal structure, with greater misery among the landless peasants and greater luxury among the few aristocratic families who literally owned the country than anywhere else in these poverty-stricken territories, the homeland of Europe’s stepchildren. It was this background of unsolved social questions and general backwardness that gave Budapest society its specific flavor, as though Hungarians were a group of illusionists who had fed so long on self-deception that they had lost any sense of incongruity. Early in the thirties, under the influence of Italian Fascism, they had produced a strong Fascist movement, the so-called Arrow Cross men, and in 1938 they followed Italy by passing their first anti-Jewish legislation; despite the strong influence of the Catholic Church in the country, the rulings applied to baptized Jews who had been converted after 1919, and even those converted before that date were included three years later.

    And yet, when an all-inclusive anti-Semitism, based on race, had become official government policy, eleven Jews continued to sit in the upper chamber of the Parliament, and Hungary was the only Axis country to send Jewish troops — a hundred and thirty thousand of them, in auxiliary service, but in Hungarian uniform — to the Eastern front. The explanation of these inconsistencies is that the Hungarians, their official policy notwithstanding, were even more emphatic than other countries in distinguishing between native Jews and Ostjuden, between the “Magyarized” Jews of “Trianon Hungary” (established, like the other Successor States, by the Treaty of Trianon) and those of recently annexed territories. Hungary’s sovereignty was respected by the Nazi government until March, 1944, with the result that for Jews the country became an island of safety in “an ocean of destruction.”


    On the very evening of their arrival, Eichmann and his men invited the Jewish leaders to a conference, to persuade them to form a Jewish Council, through which they could issue their orders and to which they would give, in return, absolute jurisdiction over all Jews in Hungary. This was no easy trick at this moment and in that place. It was a time when, in the words of the Papal Nuncio, “the whole world knew what deportation meant in practice”; in Budapest, moreover, the Jews had “had a unique opportunity to follow the fate of European Jewry. We knew very well about the work of the Einsatzgruppen. We knew more than was necessary about Auschwitz,” as Dr. Kastner was to testify at Nuremberg.

    Clearly, more than Eichmann’s allegedly “hypnotic powers” was needed to convince anyone that the Nazis would recognize the sacred distinction between “Magyarized” and Eastern Jews; self-deception had to have been developed to a high art to allow Hungarian Jewish leaders to believe at this moment that “it can’t happen here” — “How can they send the Jews of Hungary outside Hungary?” — and to keep believing it even when the realities contradicted this belief every day of the week. How this was achieved came to light in one of the most remarkable non sequiturs uttered on the witness stand [at Eichmann’s trial]: the future members of the Central Jewish Committee (as the Jewish Council was called in Hungary) had heard from neighboring Slovakia that Wisliceny, who was now negotiating with them, accepted money readily, and they also knew that despite all bribes he “had deported all the Jews in Slovakia….” From which Mr. Freudiger concluded: “I understood that it was necessary to find ways and means to establish relationships with Wisliceny.”

    Eichmann’s cleverest trick in these difficult negotiations was to see to it that he and his men acted as though they were corrupt. The president of the Jewish community, Hofrat Samuel Stern, a member of Horthy’s Privy Council, was treated with exquisite courtesy and agreed to be head of the Jewish Council. He and the other members of the Council felt reassured when they were asked to supply typewriters and mirrors, women’s lingerie and eau de cologne, original Watteaus and eight pianos — even though seven of these were gracefully returned by Hauptsturmführer [Captain] Novak, who remarked, “But, gentlemen, I don’t want to open a piano store. I only want to play the piano.” Eichmann himself visited the Jewish Library and the Jewish Museum, and assured everybody that all measures would be temporary.

    And corruption, first simulated as a trick, soon turned out to be real enough, though it did not take the form the Jews had hoped. Nowhere else did Jews spend so much money without any results whatever. In the words of the strange Mr. Kastner, “A Jew who trembles for his life and that of his family loses all sense of money.” (Sic!) This was confirmed during the trial through testimony given by Philip von Freudiger, mentioned above, as well as through the testimony of Joel Brand, who had represented a rival Jewish body in Hungary, the Zionist Relief and Rescue Committee. Krumey received no less than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars from Freudiger in April, 1944, and the Rescue Committee paid twenty thousand dollars merely for the privilege of meeting with Wisliceny and some men of the S.S. Counterintelligence service.

    At this meeting, each of those present received an additional tip of a thousand dollars, and Wisliceny brought up again the so-called Europe Plan, which he had proposed in vain in 1942 and according to which Himmler supposedly would be prepared to spare all Jews except those in Poland for a ransom of two or three million dollars. On the strength of this proposal, which had been shelved long before, the Jews now started paying installments to Wisliceny.


    Moreoever, when it was a question of serious negotiations — over the amount of money that might buy an exit permit, over the Europe Plan, over the exchange of lives for trucks — not only Eichmann but everybody concerned: Wisliceny, Becher, the gentlemen of the Counterintelligence service whom Joel Brand used to meet every morning in a coffee house, turned to the Zionists as a matter of course. The reason for this was that the Relief and Rescue Committee possessed the required international connections and could more easily produce foreign currency, whereas the members of the Jewish Council had nothing behind them but the more than dubious protection of Regent Horthy.

    It also became clear that the Zionist functionaries in Hungary had received greater privileges than the usual temporary immunity to arrest and deportation granted the members of the Jewish Council. The Zionists were free to come and go practically as they pleased, they were exempt from wearing the yellow star, they received permits to visit concentration camps in Hungary, and, somewhat later, Dr. Kastner, the original founder of the Relief and Rescue Committee, could even travel about Nazi Germany without any identification papers showing he was a Jew.


    The whole [deportation] operation in Hungary lasted less than two months and came to a sudden stop at the beginning of July [1944]. Thanks chiefly to the Zionists, it had been better publicized than any other phase of the Jewish catastrophe, and Horthy had been deluged with protests from neutral countries and from the Vatican. The Papal Nuncio, though, deemed it appropriate to explain that the Vatican’s protest did not spring “from a false sense of compassion” — a phrase that is likely to be a lasting monument to what the continued dealings with, and the desire to compromise with, the men who preached the gospel of “ruthless toughness” had done to the mentality of the highest dignitaries of the Church.

    Sweden once more led the way with regard to practical measures, by distributing entry permits, and Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal followed her example, so that finally about thirty-three thousand Jews were living in special houses in Budapest under the protection of neutral countries. The Allies had received and made public a list of seventy men whom they knew to be the chief culprits, and Roosevelt had sent an ultimatum threatening that “Hungary’s fate will not be like any other civilized nation… unless the deportations are stopped.” The point was driven home by an unusually heavy air raid on Budapest on July 2.

    Thus pressed from all sides, Horthy gave the order to stop the deportations, and one of the most damning pieces of evidence against Eichmann was the rather obvious fact that he had not obeyed “the old fool’s” order but, in mid-July, deported another fifteen hundred Jews who were at hand in a concentration camp near Budapest. To prevent the Jewish officials from informing Horthy, he assembled the members of the two representative bodies in his office, where Dr. Hunsche detained them, on various pretexts, until he learned that the train had left Hungarian territory. Eichmann remembered nothing of this episode in Jerusalem, and although the judges were “convinced that the accused remembers his victory over Horthy very well,” this is doubtful, since to Eichmann Horthy was not such a great personage.

    —Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, “XII: Deportations from Central Europe — Hungary and Slovakia”

    Finland was likewise a kingdom without a king from the fall of the Tsars until 1919, when the present republic was proclaimed.

  16. Rendered in German as Reichsverweser, which is quite funny from a modern point of view because verwesen means “to rot”.

    How does that work? What was the original meaning?

  17. From what I can make out, we are dealing with two independent OHG verbs wesan: one cognate with wither, which gives the meaning ‘rot’, and the other the old copula that now supplies the preterite forms of sein (with s/r alternation). So a Verweser is one who ‘is in the place of’ someone.

  18. David Marjanović says

    The only visible sign of royalty was an abundance of Hofräte, councilors to the nonexistent court.

    Hofrat and Wirklicher Hofrat “real councilor to the court” are still titles in Austria. They’re acquired automatically after some time in certain government jobs, though.

    two independent OHG verbs wesan: one cognate with wither

    Wait, how does that work phonologically?

    I rather suspect the extreme polysemy of German verb prefixes. Ver- can mean “through and through, to completeness” (like its Latin cognate per-), and it can mean overdoing that till things go wrong, “mis-“. Apply the first sense to “be”, and Reichsverweser makes some amount of sense (especially if you compare verbleiben “stay behind”, “[I] remain[, as always, your humble servant etc.]”); apply the second sense to “be”, and you get “rot”.

  19. David: Here’s the link to the etymology. I tried pasting the HTML text, but I don’t think it worked.

  20. David Marjanović says

    Oh, so there’s OHG wesan “be” and wesanēn, which roughly meant “wither” but isn’t said to be cognate with it.

  21. Lars Mathiesen says

    Danish has visne purportedly cognate to OE wisnian. ODS and Hellström claim derivation from adj vissen (cp MHG wesel) while the Bokmål dictionary says the latter is the participle of the first.

    (The other wesen is være with the Verner alternation ruthlessly levelled).

    Hellström also notes that wither belongs with weather and (ver)wittern.

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