Readers reminded of long-forgotten countries
Published: Sunday, January 22, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 10:59 a.m.
You may never have heard of the "Kingdom of the Rock," though for half a millennium it dominated a sizable piece of Scotland. It centered on two fortified hills that overlook the River Clyde at Dumbarton ("Camp of the Britons"), near today's Glasgow.
In his new book, "Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations," British historian Norman Davies names "Kingdom of the Rock" among 15 Eurasian countries he cites by unfamiliar titles such as "Litva" and "Rusyn." They illustrate the dedication of his book to "those whom historians tend to forget."
His theme: All governments disappear or lose power in time.
History buffs will find much to admire in the book's 830 pages. Davies includes 74 maps, direct quotations and poems. Some of the verse is patriotic doggerel in a variety of languages, with translations in English that mock supernationalist silliness.
The 15 countries vary in importance.
Ukraine eventually absorbed "Rusyn," better known as Carpatho-Ukraine. Its independence lasted just one March day during the upheaval of Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939.
Poland was tied to Lithuania for centuries, a European force that Davies calls "Litva." Its neighbors separated them and devoured Poland three times in the 1700s. Contradicting Davies' theme of countries' disappearance, Poland was resurrected twice, after World Wars I and II.
Occasionally, Davies misses a chance to exploit the light touch.
King Dagobert made Paris the capital of "Neustria" after the Roman empire fell. He inspired a satirical song that may have been written more than a thousand years after his reign. Roughly translated, it begins: "Good King Dagobert (the lout!) Put his pants on inside out ..."
The king's spiritual adviser responds, starting a ridiculous dialogue about proper royal dress. Davies doesn't quote further. Some writers think the satirist wrote at the time of the French Revolution in the 1790s, ridiculing monarchs and priests.
If so, the satirical point has changed. The words have a catchy tune and the political song has become a nursery rhyme.