CAREFUL WITH THAT AXE, EUGENE (part two)…

CAREFUL WITH THAT AXE, EUGENE (part two)…

Rosbach's tour de force - an engraved commemoration of Eugene of Savoy at the siege of Belgrade


So, hopefully you are now familiar with the basic timeline and context for the production of Rosbach’s skillfully engraved pokals – how does this information relate to our specific example ? Well, the first thing to be said is that unlike other pieces which are more definitely attributable to him, our piece is not signed. Therefore it can only be said to be “after the school of Rosbach” rather than definitively cut by his own hand. It does however share many of the characteristics of authenticated and signed specimens, including the fact that – taking the Dresden bombardment and dueling pieces in to account – Rosbach was no stranger to producing articles based on episodes of military endeavour.

The next significant point to note is that our piece does not feature its original lid, Although undoubtedly of contemporary provenance, the decorative features on both parts are not identical and even the casual observer will note that the lid seems to be made of material which has the appearance of being clearer than that of the body; the lack of uniform crizzling across both parts would also mitigate against the probability of them having remained in inseparable union for nearly 300 years. That is not to say, of course, that the lid was not made specifically to replace a lost original at some point rather than the pair simply being the result of a fortuitous later marriage between two matched pieces, and it is still a worthy complement to the body.

Now – to the design, and the relevance of its content. Let us start with the engraved text – Latin, of course:

Nec cursum sistunt montes nec julia fortis; Sic redit ad dominum, quod fuit ante suum

Verbatim translations result in little more than an incoherent jumble – modern linguistic software fails to take in to account nuance and the subtleties of classical form, and even if read with a scholarly understanding of Latin usage as it was during the early 18th century, there is no wholly unambiguous version which becomes immediately apparent.

Our best guess is presently:

And the mountains did not stop the attack, nor brave Julia;
Thus was returned to the lord that which was previously his.

The second part of the phrase is the key to identifying the episode illustrated on the glass, and as such throws light on the first section, so let us consider them in reverse order in order to better make sense of their story.

Now, as luck would have it, the habit of striking commemorative coins and medals is not restricted to modern day petroleum companies at the time of major international football tournaments. It has been a popular method of commemorating events for centuries, to the extent that several different medals may be struck at around the same time, all referencing the same historical landmark. During our search for and understanding of the Latin inscription, it became apparent that there is a collection of at least three such celebratory items - all catalogued in the arcane journals of numismatic endeavour - which were to point us in the right direction. The first of these bears the second half of our Latin legend in its entirety, and additional inscriptions demonstrate that it was struck on the occasion of the signing of the Peace of Passarowitz in 1718 – a treaty that brought an end to a prolonged period of Ottoman Turkish incursions in to south-eastern Europe, and as a result of them having suffered a catastrophic defeat on the banks of the Danube – at Belgrade. As a result, contested lands across the Balkan peninsula were restored to the control of the Holy Roman Empire – and hence “thus was returned to the lord that which was previously his”. Another medal from the same timeframe shows Charles VI, the Holy Roman Emperor on one side, a stylised representation of Belgrade on the reverse, and the motto “victory at Belgrade will give peace” along with supplicant Turks offering olive branches.

The third medal was to prove conclusive; again it shows Charles VI with suitably heroic adornments, and a note referencing “an eagle seen casting lighting as much on Belgrade as on the camp of the Turks”. Now, refer to our images of Rosbach’s pokal and what do we see in the skies above the city but a substantial and triumphant bird of prey – an eagle, one might submit, with some degree of certainty. The eagle was, of course, the heraldic emblem of the Habsburg Monarchy, from where the largest percentage of troops who took the field against the Turks were drawn. Yet again, we have mention made of Belgrade – and a swift search through contemporary pictorial records finally turned up the etching shown below. This contemporary image by Giovanni Antonelli of Venetia shows the aftermath of the 1717 siege of the city with the defeated Turks filing out under the watchful eye of the army of Prince Eugene of Savoy, the victorious commander. Note both the array of the troops in the image, and the representation of the city with its spires, turrets, circular towers, walls and triangular bastions – it’s surely the source for the simplified version that appears on Rosbach’s glass ?

With the subject matter of the engraving now hopefully established to your satisfaction, time to return to the first part of the inscription on the pokal and the mention of “brave Julia” and the mountains. In the years prior to the decisive action at Belgrade, the army of the Ottoman Turks under Devlet II Giray Khan had been making mincemeat of Tzar Peter the Great’s Russian forces to the East, culminating in a conclusive victory at the Battle of the River Stănileşti, and for six years they had been inexorably expanding their power base westwards from the Black Sea, across Moldavia and Wallachia (now southern Romania) as far as the Adriatic coast. Their grand plan was far more ambitious – conquest of Austria, the Italian city states, the Habsburg dominions, and ultimately the whole of Europe. They were thwarted in no small way, however, by the physical barrier to northward progress presented by the mass of the Dinaric, Carpathian and Balkan mountains, which became known as “Antemurale Christianitatis” - The Wall of Christianity - acting as an indomitable bulwark which inhibited the Turks’ expansive stratagems.

That said, as we have already noted, although northward progress by the yeni-Byzantine hordes was constantly frustrated, they were able to move with impunity across the east/west axis of the Danubian plain, rendering traditional fortifications on its extremities a virtual irrelevance when it came to impeding their manoeuvers. It is to this somewhat paradoxical passive/aggressive role of the mountains and their citadels that the first line of the Latin couplet refers – they did not diminish the potency or threaten the stability of the Turkish occupation, but they remained undaunted, and still had a part to play in the great scheme of things as it was to play out.

Alba Iulia was an historically significant and ancient city in the mountains to the east of Belgrade, one of a chain of similar fortified settlements and physical impediments in the Carpathians which constituted the delineating boundary along the northernmost extent of the sphere of Ottoman operations. Although never actually invested by siege, Alba Iulia remained a thorn in the side of the Turks and, as such, it can very well be said - though not to have actively interceded in any actions - to have remained steadfast and unflinching as, albeit metaphorically, did the mountains themselves. Ultimately, of course, the mere presence of these monolithic sentries and obdurate fastnesses was to play an integral part in the downfall of the invaders, by impelling them to push west and eventually to being forced to confront the Habsburg armies at Belgrade, where it fell to Prince Eugene and his desperate victory on the banks of the Danube over the combined forces of San Mustafa Pasha and Grand Vizier Haci Halil Pasha to bring down the bloody curtain on the machinations of the Turks once and for all.

Anyway – with that, I’m awa’ to polish my 1978 Esso Archie Gemmil and Alan Rough coins - and to spill those oh so familiar and bitter tears of regret once again – bloody Peruvians…

here's a link to all of the other pokals that are currently listed on our site (part one has the link to the Belgrade pokal itself).


For more articles about glass in a historical context, see the following links:


A Regency wedding ale glass - love, criminality, deportation and death

A moulded Regency wine bottle with links to the Irish gentry, and medieval battles

A porcelain castor rest which links Hartlepool to Napoleon's military nadir

Exotic spirits and liquors from the 18th and 19th centuries

Some traditional, alternative uses for ales and beer

A Georgian tumbler cognate to letchery, murder, execution and dissection !

The invasion of Europe by Ottoman Turks is dashed against The Wall of Christianity (part one)

Competitive pineapple growing - passtime of the idle rich

Glassware on the apothecary's shelves in the 18th century

Lynn glass - an enduring puzzle solved ?

Sedition and religion come together in an engraved wine glass from 1750








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