Saturday, August 8, 2015

23 July 1793: Fall of the Mainz Republic (you haven't heard of it?)

You haven't heard of this? Neither had I, at first.

When I was a student at the University of Wisconsin, I was a history major, but I had the de facto equivalent of minors in French and German literature, with undergraduate and later graduate course work in both.

I was--although I considered myself reasonably well-educated for a midwestern yokel--struck by the title of a book by one of my German professors, Jost HermandVon Mainz nach Weimar (1793-1919) Studien zur deutschen Literatur (From Mainz to Weimar (1793-1919) Studies on German Literature). I of course understood the reference to the founding of the Weimar Republic. But Mainz? What was it doing in a history of German literature and democracy? As far as I knew it: the site of some great medieval edifices and home to Gutenberg. What was it doing here?

As I soon learned, it was the "first republic on German soil," proclaimed by local revolutionaries (under the auspices of French forces) on March 18, 1793, and extinguished in the summer of 1793. (And I don't think I would have learned that even if I had taken a formal course on the French Revolution rather than just "read around" in that literature on my own.) The fall of Mainz, along with the assassination of Marat and other setbacks, was one of the factors that prompted the introduction of the so-called "Terror."

Here, a depiction of the Liberty Tree erected by German revolutionaries:

Hand-colored engraving:
"Depiction of the Liberty Tree and the pikes, planted
at Mainz on 13 January 1793.
[at left:] Scale: 1 inch to 6 feet." Actual size of image: 3 x 5 inches)
Rituals and symbols were important, and the new iconography of the Revolution appeared even in the more mundane domain of the economy. Prussian Coalition forces besieged the city beginning on 31 March, and in early May, when it became clear that the crisis was going to continue, the French created special siege money:

Some examples of coins and currency over on the tumblr.

More on the Mainz Republic and its significance.

No comments: