Rosbach’s tour de force – an engraved commemoration of Eugene of Savoy at the siege of Belgrade

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

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