Triplex Confinium.

I’m in the middle of reading The Struggle for the Eurasian Borderlands: From the Rise of Early Modern Empires to the End of the First World War, by Alfred J. Rieber; it’s very dense and very informative, and I’m learning all sorts of things I didn’t know. Herewith a few of LH interest:

1) Triplex Confinium is one of the best toponyms I’ve ever seen; it’s an early modern term for the region where Romania, Hungary and Serbia come together [actually the Venetian Republic, the Ottoman Empire, and the Habsburg Monarchy, as J.W. Brewer points out in the comments], and it means ‘triple border’ in Latin.

2) We all know about the Vlachs (I posted about them in the very early days of LH), but I did not know that the Venetians called them Morlacchi (per Wikipedia, Morlachs) and that “the Catholic Vlachs were called Bunjevichi” (p. 304).

3) I knew the Ionian Islands were not part of independent Greece until 1864, but I did not know that from 1800 to 1807 they were under joint Russian and Ottoman rule as the Septinsular Republic! (Rieber calls it the Republic of the Seven Islands, perhaps for poetic effect.) The idea of the Romanov and Ottoman empires, which fought wars every couple of decades for centuries, joining in even so short-lived a venture is astonishing to me. And from a footnote in that part of the book I learned about Avgusta Stanislavskaya’s Русско-английские отношения и проблемы Средиземноморья (1798-1807), which Rieber thinks very highly of and which it turns out is available as a pdf download here, in case anyone else is interested.


  1. “Rieber calls it the Republic of the Seven Islands, perhaps for poetic effect.”

    Or as a literal translation from Russian, “Республика Семи Островов”.

  2. This has just made my day! Ουαλοί and Βλάχοι–one and the same thing (well, at least etymologically)!!!! I wouldn’t have guessed in a thousand years. That’s what makes this site so great. I can’t wait to tell a colleague who takes pride in his Vlach roots and regrets not paying more attention to his grandfather when he was trying to teach him the lingo. Unbelievable!

  3. David Marjanović says

    and it means ‘triple border’ in Latin

    More literally “triplet of borders”.

  4. In the farthest north of Sweden, where the Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish frontiers meet, you will find treriksröset (the three country stone).

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    Googling for other uses of the phrase gets you statements like “Research on the so-called ‘triple frontier area’ (Triplex Confinium) between the Venetian Republic, the Ottoman Empire, and the Habsburg Monarchy has been performed within the framework of a multinational and interdisciplinary project …” That seems like a different locale than the Serbian/Romanian/Hungarian point mentioned in the OP — maybe not *all* that far away as the crow flies, but far enough away to have materially different local cultural/political dynamics.

  6. Oh, that Venetian/Ottoman/Habsburg sense is the one used in the book — I lazily copied the other from a Romanian Wikipedia article because I was lazy.

    Or as a literal translation from Russian, “Республика Семи Островов”.

    That’s doubtless what it is; thanks.

  7. Apparently an even more easterly candidate for the location (quite a ways from historically Venetian territory but also not too close to Serbian) was used historically, per a quick glance into 19th century texts available on google books. So, eg.

    “La ligne frontière entre la Hongrie et la Roumanie partant du triplex confinium entre la Bucovine, la Hongrie et la Roumanie …”

    “Unsere Trachytzone dehnt sich bis an das triplex confinium zwischen der Bucovina, Siebenbürgen und Moldau aus . . .”

    “Years ago some of our eccentric countrymen used to find a strange pleasure in standing on a triplex confinium near a wretched village of Moldavia — namely, the boundaries of the three empires of Turkey, Russia, and Austria . . .”

  8. After liberation from French occupation, the Republic was renamed and became

    Which sounds even more awesome…

  9. January First-of-May says

    Looks like “triplex confinium” was, as expected from the literal meaning, a relatively generic term for national tripoints (at least, in south-eastern Europe), and didn’t really refer to any specific one in particular.

    That, or it used to unambiguously refer to the Venetian-Habsburg-Ottoman tripoint area, and then got adopted for other geographically nearby tripoints after the 18th century.

  10. I suspect the latter is the case, since I believe the term was first used in the peace treaty of Karlowitz in 1699.

  11. J.W. Brewer says

    From documents like this,, it sounds like while the phrase may date back to 1699, the current scholarly use dates only to the 1990’s, and may have originated as a convenient way of trying promote historical inquiry in rather bitterly contested post-Yugoslav territory from a point of view that was neither Serbocentric nor Croatocentric nor Bosniakentrik [sp?] etc.

  12. Interesting!

  13. J.W. Brewer says

    Prior to the Yugoslav dissolution, one can find the term being used super-generically as international law and/or cartographic jargon, as in this example from 1974: “There are many instances, however, where the boundaries of three (or even four) states meet at a nodal point, which is called a triple point or _triplex confinium_. [NB: italicized in original.] Thirteen such nodal points exist in South America, about fifty-one in Africa” etc etc.

    The less jargony synonym these days seems to be The former trip. conf. referenced in one of my prior comments (where the Ottoman, Habsburg, and Romanov domains converged prior to 1877) is now entirely within Ukrainian territory, in or near the city presently known as Новоселиця/Novoselytsia, a few miles away from the present location of the border with Romania.

  14. Posts like this make me think of James Reid Parker’s The Archimandrite’s Niece. In a good way, I mean.

  15. “The Archimandrite’s Niece. By author James Reid Parker, appeared in the February 08, 1941 issue.” The bit I can read at the New Yorker site begins: “Mrs. Herbert Krafts, a client of the law firm of Forbes, Hathaway, Bryan & Devore, sent a Balkan lady to see Mr. Devore. The lady wanted to find the whereabouts of her uncle Cyrus who had strayed into Croatia-Slavonia.”

  16. Then there’s the Three Farthing Stone, which stands in the Shire to mark the tripoint of the Westfarthing, Eastfarthing, and Southfarthing (the Northfarthing doesn’t reach far enough south to create a quadripoint). Sam released the last of Galadriel’s gift of earth from her garden at this point, which may have been responsible for the unprecedentedly rich harvest of the following year (“proper fourteen-twenty, that was!”)

  17. I read it in a collection, “50 American Short Stories” or some such, which appears when you Google it, and is not hard to find in libraries. It’s a send-up of Balkan complexity (and of comically exotic Slavic women.) It’s worth looking up, for silliness sake if nothing else.

  18. Trond Engen says

    You’ve sent me on a tour around the steppes. I don’t know when I’ll be back.

  19. Posts like this make me think of James Reid Parker’s The Archimandrite’s Niece. In a good way, I mean.

    It is a charming little story, I have to say!

  20. Absolutely delightful, and I thank you for sharing the link! What astonished me, I must say, is the fact that the magazine had Serbo-Croatian accents available in 1941 (e.g., Prebičević). And in case anyone is curious, as I was, the Puniša Račić story is not invented.

  21. It wouldn’t have worked as well without the accents.

  22. Sure, but magazines don’t acquire entire typefaces to make one story work better.

  23. For many years the magazine used a custom Caslon font. After all, if you are going to print coöperate, you might as well go whole hog on the diacritics. And it’s not as if foundries didn’t know how to make them, even in the linguistically benighted U.S. — after all, foreign-language newspapers were a thing for decades.

    The headline font is another matter. It was designed by Rea Irvin, the magazine’s first art director and creator of Eustace Tilley. The digital version is directly redrawn from the print magazine. There are imitations out there, but typographic critics seem to think they’re pretty weak.

  24. The word Vlach (Vlah, plural: Vlasi; Dalmatian dialects: Vlaj, Vlaji) is used in Croatian for the “other”, usually the inland and the more (traditionally) pastoral populations as opposed to the urbanised coastal inhabitants. So, the inhabitants of the islands, who are largely speakers of the various čakavian dialects, label the mainland folk as Vlaji (these largely speak štokavian dialects). Those in mainland coastal towns label those in the hinterland (Zagora) as Vlasi or Vlaji. These, in turn, label the Croatians over the border in Hercegovina as Vlasi. Historically, the term Vlah has pejorative overtones, so it would not normally be used as a self-identifier. However, the Vlasi themselves also have labels to “return the compliment”. So, the Hercegovina Croats call the Dalmatian Croats “Šperci”. The mainlanders, in turn call the islanders “Boduli.” I don’t’ know the etymology of those two terms.

    The usage of “Morlaci” seems to have disappeared with the Venetian Republic.

    Re triplex confinium, there was a conference in Graz about this in December 1998:

  25. -Morlaci


    Yes, indeed.

    “In choosing the name “Morlocks”, Wells may have been inspired by the Morlachs – an ethnic group in the Balkans which attracted the attention of West and Central European travelers and writers, including famous ones such as Johann Gottfried Herder and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and who were described and depicted in various writings as an archetype of “primitive people”, “backwardness”, “barbarism” and the like.”

    “The word Morlach is derived from Italian Morlacco and Latin Morlachus or Murlachus, being cognate to Greek Μαυροβλάχοι Maurovlachoi, meaning “Black Vlachs” (from Greek μαύρο mauro meaning “dark”, “black”).”

  26. Great heavens, that’s interesting — both the Morlocks/Morlachs connection and the etymology of Morlacco!

  27. The other famous tripoint was the “Dreikaisereck” between Germany, Austria and Russia. Lasted from 1871 to 1918 (technically).

    “In 1907, the German authorities had a 22 m (72 ft)-high Bismarck tower erected on the Przemsza shore according to the standard Götterdämmerung design by Wilhelm Kreis”, and the tripoint would get well over 3000 tourists a year. Today the spot is just an overgrown river bank in Myslowice, Poland.

  28. Interestingly, the last name Vlah is also common in some regions of Croatia and Slovenia (usually as Lah in Slovenia). People in Istria who are descendants of refugees from the south – they were settled 400 years ago or so – are traditionally called Vlahi, they speak a different dialect from the rest.

  29. David Eddyshaw says

    The book is certainly interesting, but (at least in Kindle form) is in desperate need of Hat’s attention in his professional capacity.

    The transliteration of Russian names is all over the place. “Shi’a” is always written “Shi’ia.”

    The Hidden Imam is described as “osculated.” This is presumably the doctrine of some very esoteric Shi’a sect …

  30. Heh. Yes, unfortunately that’s par for the course these days — to such an extent that my reaction has dwindled over the years from rage to mere baffled resentment.

  31. David Eddyshaw says

    He’s also pretty careless on details, something which can’t all be attributed to his publisher being too much of a cheapskate to employ a proofreader. One example among rather too many:

    “In 1841, Sir Charles Napier occupied Sind, dispatching his witty telegram ‘I have Sind'”

    which is

    (a) pointless without the detail that the supposed telegram was in Latin and (b) a myth anyway

    This comes a few pages after a “meaning-of-tingo”-level assertion that “Kazakh” actually means “free as a bird.”

    He’s managed (though not for that reason) to convince me that all these Eurasian empires were actually really very different from one another, and that attempts to find non-trivial parallels between their histories and problems are misguided special pleading … which, I suppose, actually is a significant achievement, as it implies he *has* conveyed a lot of useful information, even if you disagree with his central thesis.

    Like Tacitus on Tiberius (si parva licet componere magnis.)

  32. David Eddyshaw says

    I’m probably being rather unfair; on reflection, I think that’s because the parts about Iran and the Ottomans kept reminding me of Marshall Hodgson, who was better at this than practically anyone, let alone someone who would never claim to be a particular specialist in Islamic history.

    It’s probably like foolishly failing to appreciate Wilkie Collins just because he’s not Charles Dickens.

    I see Rieber is primarily an expert in Russian history; that perhaps accounts for the very odd transliteration scheme for Russian, which may be not so much erratic, as I supposed, but simply non-standard. Maybe it even *is* (some) standard, and I was just too ignorant to know …

  33. It’s a standard, but not one I like. And yeah, he’s a Russia specialist, so you can trust him more on that.

  34. slawkenbergius says

    FWIW I found the parts of Rieber dealing with my own professional expertise (Russia-China) to be packed with errors. It has not been well-received in the field.

  35. Huh! Sorry to hear that. Can you mention a particularly salient error so I can recalibrate whatever mistaken impressions I received?

  36. ISO 9 is one of those strange international standards that perfectly achieves its purpose, which is to transliterate 1:1 between any text in a Cyrillic alphabet and the Roman alphabet with various diacritics, such that one can read the Roman and reconstruct the Cyrillic exactly. AND YET EVERYONE HATES IT, YES THEY DOES. Why this should be I, along with Tom Brown, cannot tell.

  37. slawkenbergius says

    Take this paragraph on the treaty of Kiakhta: (beginning “Following Peter’s”)

    1) The Russians did not make territorial concessions in this treaty–it merely formalized a de facto existing border
    2) The other frontier market was Tsurukhaitu, not Nerchinsk
    3) It was not “three caravans directly to Beijing,” it was one caravan every three years (as opposed to every year)
    4) By the time the Qing destroyed the Junghars in 1755-57, Galdan had been dead for a decade (the succession struggle was part of the crisis); the text cited is a document collection cited without volume number, the pages in the relevant volume begin in the middle of a document and end in the middle of a different one; the documents chronologically match what he is saying but the content does not support his claim at all.
    5) The church (mission) had been in place for decades; Kiakhta provided for a mission *with students*
    6) The following paragraph is a bunch of outdated nonsense.


  38. Yikes! I’m glad I asked.

  39. slawkenbergius says

    It’s so bad I would actually discourage people from reading it, because even if you are aware of its faults it’s liable to leave you with ineradicable mistaken impressions. There’s no way to bracket out the bad stuff.

  40. slawkenbergius says

    Actually, I take back the part about the citation–he’s referencing a book with the same author and a similar title to the document collection, but which I haven’t read. I strongly doubt Gurevich is as confused about the Junghar question as Rieber is, though–and anyway, it’s hard to imagine what Kangxi could have been doing in “mid-century” given that he died five years before the Treaty of Kiakhta was even signed. This is “undergraduate regurgitating poorly remembered lecture on final exam” stuff, not scholarship.

    (Also, why use scare quotes for a simple translation of мирный договор “peace treaty”? Odd choice for a Russianist.)

  41. slawkenbergius says

    Okay, just for the record, I tracked down the other Gurevich book which contains the passage he’s citing. This section refers not to Kiakhta or “midcentury,” but the year 1690 (i.e. immediately after Nerchinsk). In this instance Galdan Boshughtu (not Tseren) has just invaded Mongolia, attacked a Qing army, and asked for supplementary forces from Russia, and Kangxi has just warned a Russian courier in Beijing that sending Galdan the army he asks for would be a violation of the peace agreement they had just signed. Which is…..true, and obvious (just as the United States bombing the Russians in Syria would be an act of war). But it doesn’t have anything to do with the context he wants to invoke here.

  42. Well, shit. Thanks for going the extra mile and nailing down the coffin lid!


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