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Camels in the front line

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This paper is a short comment on the historical perception of camels in Europe with special regard to Ottoman Turkish occupation in the Carpathian Basin. Regardless of their varied functions ranging from tokens of royal selfrepresentation to mundane beasts of burden or war machinery, these animals always stood out as exotica without ever having been integrated into the local domestic fauna. The documentary and iconographic data cited complement known osteological evidence of camels in the study area.
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Camels in the front line
Author(s): László Bartosiewicz
Source: Anthropozoologica, 49(2):297-302. 2014.
Published By: Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5252/az2014n2a10
URL: http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.5252/az2014n2a10
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297
ANTHROPOZOOLOGICA • 2014 • 49 (2)
© Publications Scientiques du Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris.
MOTS CLÉS
Dromadaire,
chameau bactrian,
Empire Ottoman,
bassin des Carpathes,
artillerie.
KEY WORDS
Dromedary,
Bactrian camel,
Ottoman Empire,
Carpathian Basin,
artillery.
László BARTOSIEWICZ
Institute of Archaeological Sciences Eötvös Loránd University,
Múzeum Krt. 4/B, 1088 Budapest (Hungary)
bartwicz@yahoo.com
Camels in the front line
Bartosiewicz L. 2014. — Camels in the front line. Anthropozoologica 49 (2): 297-302. http://
dx.doi.org/10.5252/az2014n2a10.
ABSTRACT
is paper is a short comment on the historical perception of camels in Eu-
rope with special regard to Ottoman Turkish occupation in the Carpathian
Basin. Regardless of their varied functions ranging from tokens of royal self-
representation to mundane beasts of burden or war machinery, these animals
always stood out as exotica without ever having been integrated into the local
domestic fauna. e documentary and iconographic data cited complement
known osteological evidence of camels in the study area.
RÉSUMÉ
Chameaux sur la ligne de front.
Cet article est une note sur la perception historique du chameau en Europe
avec un regard particulier sur l’occupation turque ottoman dans le bassin des
Carpathes. Indépendamment de leurs diverses fonctions allant du symbole
d’auto-représentation royale à la simple bête de somme ou à la "machine" de
guerre, ces animaux ont toujours été considérés comme exotiques sans jamais
avoir été intégrés à la faune domestique locale. La documentation et l’icono-
graphie complètent les données archéozoologiques connues sur les chameaux
dans la région d’étude.
298 ANTHROPOZOOLOGICA • 2014 • 49 (2)
Bartosiewicz L.
INTRODUCTION
Undemanding, strong and fast, camels can cover
unusually long distances hauling quantities of goods
far more eciently than any other beast of burden.
ese qualities made camels highly appreciated in
warfare and long distance trade within their original
areas of distribution and beyond. As the 14th c. late
Latin name of ancient Greek origin dromedarius used
for one-humped Arabian camels clearly expresses,
these leggy animals were made for ‘running’.
As a result of military expansion by the Roman
Empire, the rst Holocene camel remains in Cen-
tral Europe are known from areas once occupied by
Romans. Some of these animals may have arrived
with merchants’ caravans or were imported for circus
games (Bartosiewicz & Dirjec 2001). However, the
second, better documented wave of camels reaching
Europe with the medieval/post-medieval Ottoman
Turkish occupation seems indicative of military use.
Contemporaneous documentary sources describe
thousands of camels used in the terrestrial transport
of bulk artillery supplies hauled from sea ports to
a redistribution post in Beograd on the Danube,
where weaponry and gunpowder were packed on
boats moving upstream toward the northernmost
tip of the Ottoman Empire (Ágoston 1985: 177)
wedged into Central Europe during the 16th-17th
century (Fig. 1 top). Compared to these records the
osteological evidence of camels remains scarce in
Hungary in spite of the increasing number of camel
bone nds recovered (Daróczi et al. in this volume).
WHERE HAVE ALL THE CAMELS GONE?
Camels seem underrepresented in the osteological
record. ey were the largest-ever domesticates in
Europe, therefore their robust bones would not be
missed even by hand-collection. It is rather the chances
than techniques of recovery that work against nding
greater numbers of camel remains. Camels reproduce
slowly and take a lot of skill and time to train. As high
value transport animals and mounts they are seldom
exploited as a primary source of meat. Consequently,
the carcasses of dead camels must have been disposed
o at peripheral areas including roadsides and bat-
tleelds. Such marginal locations are investigated at
best during rescue excavations, but rarely targeted by
planned archaeological projects in Hungary. Camel
nds thus usually represent coincidental overlaps be-
tween relatively high frequencies of camel deaths and
areas of intensive archaeological rescue work such as
the vicinity of the Buda Castle. In planned excava-
tions, most Ottoman Period camel remains originate
from sites associated with military activity both within
and alongside the boundary of the Ottoman Empire
(Fig. 1, bottom). To date, no Ottoman Period camel
remains have been reported from Serbia south of
modern-day Hungary where the archaeological study
of this relatively late period is rare (Sonja Vuković,
personal communication).
DIVERSE PERCEPTIONS
During the Middle Ages camels were regarded high
status exotica in Europe, important in the self-repre-
sentation of royalty. When crusaders led by Frederic
Barbarossa passed through Hungary in 1189, King
Béla III presumably presented them – among oth-
ers – three camels (Bökönyi 1974: 228). Bökönyi
(1969) also discovered the heads of two camels in
the late 14th c. Vienna Illustrated Chronicle where
these animals are shown as mounts for conquering
‘Hunnic’/Hungarian warriors wearing caftans. Camels
have always had a fearsome reputation in combat.
Cyrus the Great of Persia rearranged pack camels
from his baggage train into the rst recorded camel
corps in history. According to Herodotus (Historiae
I: 80) when deployed by Cyrus in the 546 BC battle
of Sardis, camels scared enemy horses sealing the fate
of the forces of Croesus. It is the smell of the camel
that is believed to alarm horses. e rst visual im-
pression must have been likewise shocking on enemy
soldiers who had not encountered ‘camelry’ before.
Even without the surprise eect, however, warriors
mounted on camels must have been formidable ad-
versaries to infantry in all periods. After the decisive
1571 defeat of the Ottoman eet by the Holy League
in the naval engagement at Lepanto along the western
coast of Greece the public in the victorious West be-
gan looking toward the Ottoman Empire with more
299
Camels in the frontline
ANTHROPOZOOLOGICA • 2014 • 49 (2)
curiosity than fearful awe. e Venetian edition of
Nicolo de’ Nicolay’s illustrated journal from Turkey
(Nicolay 1580) inspired a number of artists such as
Jacopo Ligozzi who took the idea of genre pictures
from the book and added characteristic animals as
attributes to the people in ‘Turkish’ costumes in order
to accentuate their ethnic identities. us in one of
Ligozzi’s magnicent tempera paintings from around
the turn of the 16th-17th c. an Ottoman soldier is
depicted in the company of a graceful, unharnessed
dromedary. Dromedaries, widely distributed in the
Eastern Mediterranean region, seem to have occurred
with greater probability in the Carpathian Basin than
two-humped Bactrian camels. e ancient country
of Bactria (Balkh province in Northern Afghanistan)
was spread between the Hindu Kush Mountains and
the Oxus River way beyond the eastern borders of
the Ottoman Empire. It was not, however the sole
area of origin of two-humped wild camels native
to arid regions of continental climate toward the
northeast in China.
CAMELS AT WAR
During the 160 years of Ottoman Turkish military
presence in the Carpathian Basin the sight of camels
must have become commonplace for western sol-
diers who regularly engaged the army of the Sublime
Porte on several fronts. is is clearly articulated in
Fig. 1. — Top: Areas of the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean Basin around the end of the 16th century. The Carpathian Basin
shown in the bottom map is marked by framing. Bottom: Camel bone nds in Hungary (black dots) in relation to places in Serbia
(gray dots) mentioned in the text. Abbreviations: 1, Diósgyo˝ r-Castle; 2, Budapest-Pesti Barnabás str. 1; 3, Budapest-Kacsa str. 15-23;
4, Budapest-Lovas str. 41; 5, Buda-Castle; 6, Buda Castle-Teleki Palace; 7, Szekszárd-Palánk; 8, Bajcsa-vár; Be, Beograd, B, Batocˇina.
Ottoman Empire
500 km
100 km
48°
16° 24°
1
3
4
5, 6 2
7
8
Be
B
45°
Transylvania
Hungarian Kingdom
Ottoman Empire
300 ANTHROPOZOOLOGICA • 2014 • 49 (2)
Bartosiewicz L.
an illustrated account describing how a fearsome war
machine was ridiculed in combat. e 1688 battle of
Batočina south of Beograd (Serbia, g. 1, bottom) took
place shortly after the 1686 re-capturing of Buda in
Hungary. Ottoman forces faced the army of the Holy
Roman Empire. According to count Luigi Fernando
Marsigli, a polymath and military engineer himself,
during the battle Ottoman artillerymen came up
with an innovation, in what seems like the rst ever
attempt to create mobile light artillery. e solution
Marsigli described could have become possible only
using large and steadfast camels. e Turks mounted
a cannon on either side of the animal, each calibrated
to re 3 pound (1.36kg) cannonballs. e cannons
were operated by a soldier sitting behind the hump
(Fig. 2). However, when this solution had proven
impossible in practice the new artillery units had to
be hastily withdrawn from the frontline. As one of
the camels was too slow to retreat its leg was cut. e
eeing Turkish artillerymen could not even retrieve the
cannons which ended up in the hands of the Christian
forces. According to Marsigli, this ‘insane idea’ of the
Ottoman military had looked ridiculous already at the
onset, long before the concept of mounted artillery
failed. It remains a question how gunpowder and the
three pound cannon balls could have been supplied
Fig. 2. — Marsigli’s illustration of a war camel: A, one of the cannons symmetrically mounted on the animal, B, iron fork upon which
the cannon was hung; C, iron frame to which the forks were fastened, D, Turkish artilleryman; E, Strapping by which the soldier could
lift or lower the butt ends of the barrels (Marsigli 1932).
301
Camels in the frontline
ANTHROPOZOOLOGICA • 2014 • 49 (2)
eciently enough in combat to keep these rapid artil-
lery units operational, as their chief strength would
have been speed in comparison with ordinary cannons
that had to be towed. It is also noteworthy that the
drawing in Marsigli’s book published posthumously
again shows a dromedary.
In addition to this episode, the general unpopu-
larity of camels may also be surmised among the
local, non-Turkish peoples in conquered areas.
Bulgaria was invaded by the Ottoman Empire as
early as 1365 and was reunied as the independ-
ent Kingdom of Bulgaria only in 1908. In spite
of over ve centuries of Ottoman Turkish rule,
however, a single camel was listed in the royal zoo
in the early 20th century. Even that individual did
not descend from local stock: it was acquired as
war booty during the 1913 Balkan Wars in which
the joint armies of the Balkan states overcame the
numerically inferior and strategically weakened
Ottoman army (Szilády 1930: 356). is incident
illustrates the important role camels played in
warfare until quite recently. Moreover the abrupt
disappearance of camels also shows that in spite
of their half-millennium presence in the Balkans
they symbolized ‘otherness’ if not suppression in
the eyes of locals and were thus doomed to per-
ish along with the dwindling Ottoman Empire.
CONCLUSIONS
Camels in the former area of the Ottoman Empire
in the Carpathian Basin are typically represented
by chance nds usually recovered from military
contexts. While no contemporaneous camel re-
mains are known from modern-day Serbia, written
sources refer to the common military use of camels
in that region as well. In spite of their advantages
as powerful beasts of burden, however, camels have
not been permanently adopted into the domestic
fauna of Europe. Part of the resentment may have
stemmed from the negative connotation these
animals attained representing oppressive forces
for over a century. Camels retained more prestige
and strategic importance in military operations
in their natural habitat, the arid regions outside
Europe. For example Ottoman camel corps were
deployed during the First Suez Oensive of World
War I aimed at taking or destroying the Suez Canal
defended by the British in 1915 (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3. — Dromedaries in the 1st Camel Regiment of the Ottoman army at Beersheba during World War I (Source: American Colony
Jerusalem/Wikimedia Commons).
302 ANTHROPOZOOLOGICA • 2014 • 49 (2)
Bartosiewicz L.
Acknowledgements
Grateful thanks are due to Gyöngyi Kovács who
directed my attention to Marsigli’s work. e editors
of this volume, Marjan Mashkour and Mark Beech
are also thanked for having made the publication
of this short contribution possible.
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Rescue excavations recovered a skeleton that resurrect the contemporary dramatic history of Austria in the 17th century as troops besieged Vienna in the second Osmanic-Habsburg war. Unique for Central Europe is the evidence of a completely preserved camel skeleton uncovered in a large refuse pit. The male individual of slender stature indicates a few but characteristic pathological changes revealing not a beast of burden but probably a valuable riding animal. Anatomical and morphometrical analyses suggest a hybrid confirmed by the ancient DNA analyses resulting in the presence of a dromedary in the maternal and a Bactrian camel in the paternal line.
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This article explores the so far little explored animal dimension of the significant social, economic, and ecological transformations that occurred in Western Anatolia in the late Ottoman Empire. It focuses on how the use of the hybrid, one-humped “Turcoman” camel transformed the way in which trade and transport operated in the region. In light of Ottoman, Turkish, and European sources, it suggests that the camel was a visible yet often underestimated actor in the incorporation of Western Anatolia into global markets and integrating the camel as important history-shaping actor into the historical narrative allows us to better grasp the complex relationships that existed between humans, nature, and technology and to change the way we think about the Ottoman Empire.
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Camels were not native to Europe during the Holocene and were evidently imported by conquering peoples. The discovery of camel bones at two sites in Slovenia is an important contribution to understanding the distribution and function of these animals during the Roman Imperial Period. Should some Bactrian camels have reached the Roman provinces at all, they were most likely to have arrived with long-distance civilian trade from Central Asia. Diachronic changes in geographical distribution must also be reckoned with, since domestic camels with their great mobility, were taken far beyond their home ranges. Bones of Bactrian camel, however, would be more likely to indicate civilian movements than standard military use, given the extensive oriental trade contacts of the Roman Empire.
1732. -Stato militare dell'Impero Ottomano, incremento e decremento del medesimo. II. Haya-Amsterdam
  • L F Marsigli
MarsigLi L. F. 1732. -Stato militare dell'Impero Ottomano, incremento e decremento del medesimo. II. Haya-Amsterdam.
Az oszmán tüzérség és a magyarországi várharcok egy kiadatlan 17. századi török krónika alapján [Ottoman artillery and sieges in Hungary on the basis of an unpublished 17th century Turkish chronicle
  • Ágoston G
Ágoston g. 1985.-Az oszmán tüzérség és a magyarországi várharcok egy kiadatlan 17. századi török krónika alapján [Ottoman artillery and sieges in Hungary on the basis of an unpublished 17th century Turkish chronicle]. in Bodó s. & szaBó J. (eds), Magyar és török végvárak 16631684 [Hungarian and Turkish forts 1663-1684].
— A tevék történetéből [From the history of camels]
  • Szilády Z
sziLÁdy z. 1930. — A tevék történetéből [From the history of camels], Természettudományi Közlöny 62 (11-12) : 347-356. Submitted on January 2012; accepted on April 2012.
1732.-Stato militare dell'Impero Ottomano, incremento e decremento del medesimo
  • L F Marsigli
MarsigLi L. F. 1732.-Stato militare dell'Impero Ottomano, incremento e decremento del medesimo. II. Haya-Amsterdam.