Oct 022014
 

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On this date in 52 BCE the head of the combined Gallic forces, Vercingetorix, surrendered to Julius Caesar following the siege and battle of Alesia, thus ending the Gallic wars and vastly extending the Roman Empire. Normally I do not like to celebrate wars in this blog and do so only if they are of major historical significance. This war, like all others, took countless lives and exhibited barbaric cruelty. In that respect there is nothing to celebrate. So I will mark the date rather than celebrate it.

The Battle of Alesia or Siege of Alesia took place in September/October 52 BCE around the Gallic oppidum of Alesia, a major town and hill fort of the Mandubii tribe. It was fought by an army of the Roman Republic commanded by Julius Caesar, aided by cavalry commanders Mark Antony, Titus Labienus and Gaius Trebonius, against a confederation of Gallic tribes united under the leadership of Vercingetorix of the Arverni. It was the last major engagement between Gauls and Romans, marking the turning point of the Gallic Wars in favor of Rome. The Siege of Alesia is considered one of Caesar’s greatest military achievements and a classic example of siege warfare and investment (surrounding a location with fortifications). The battle of Alesia can safely be described as marking the end of Celtic dominance in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Northern Italy.

The battle site was probably atop Mont Auxois, above modern Alise-Sainte-Reine in France, but this location, some have argued, does not fit Caesar’s description of the battle. A number of alternatives have been proposed over time, among which only Chaux-des-Crotenay (in Jura in modern France) remains a challenger today.

At one point in the battle the Romans were outnumbered by the Gauls by four to one. The event is described by several contemporary authors, including Caesar himself in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico. After the Roman victory, Gaul (very roughly modern France) was subdued and became a Roman province. The refusal of the Roman senate to allow Caesar the honor of a triumph for his victory in the Gallic Wars eventually led, in part, to the Roman Civil War of 49–45 BCE which gave Caesar absolute power in Rome. This, in turn, led to his assassination which paved the way for Augustus, his adopted son, to become emperor. Following on from this was a massive expansion of the empire which was to last nearly 500 years. So, there was a domino effect that reverberated throughout Europe, and parts of Asia, beginning with victory for Caesar at Alesia.

The battle site was probably atop Mont Auxois, above modern Alise-Sainte-Reine in France, but this location, some have argued, does not fit Caesar’s description of the battle. A number of alternatives have been proposed over time, among which only Chaux-des-Crotenay (in Jura in modern France) remains a challenger today.

Julius Caesar had been in Gaul since 58 BCE. At the end of their consular year it was customary for consuls, Rome’s highest elected officials, to be appointed proconsul by the Roman Senate and assume governorship of one of Rome’s provinces. Following his first consulship in 59 BCE, Caesar engineered his own appointment of Cisalpine Gaul (the region between the Alps, the Apennines and the Adriatic – modern-day Northern Italy), and Transalpine Gaul (“Gaul beyond the Alps” – modern-day Switzerland and Alpine France). Although the proconsular term of office is normally one year, Caesar was able to secure his post in Gaul for an unprecedented ten years. With a proconsular Imperium, he had absolute authority within these provinces and had defeated through an initially unsuccessful campaign, the Celtic tribes of Northern Italy (Insubres, Boii, Taurini, Venetii).

One by one Caesar defeated Gallic (Continental Celts) tribes such as the Helvetii, the Belgae, and the Nervii, and secured a pledge of alliance from many others. The ongoing success of the Gallic Wars brought an enormous amount of wealth to the Republic in spoils of war and in new lands to tax. Caesar himself became very rich since, as general, he benefited from the sale of war prisoners. But success and fame also brought enemies. The First Triumvirate, a political (although informal) alliance with Pompey and Crassus, came to an end in 54 BCE, with the deaths of Julia (Caesar’s daughter and Pompey’s wife) in childbirth and Crassus in the battle of Carrhae. Without this political connexion with Pompey, men dedicated to the Republic like Cato the Younger started a political campaign against Caesar, arousing suspicion and accusing him of wanting to overthrow the Republic and become King of Rome.

In the winter of 54–53 BCE, the previously pacified Eburones, commanded by Ambiorix, rebelled against the Roman occupation and destroyed the Fourteenth legion under the command of Quintus Titurius Sabinus in a carefully planned ambush. This was a major blow to Caesar’s strategy for Gaul, since he had now lost about a quarter of his troops, and the political situation in Rome deprived him of receiving reinforcements. The Eburone rebellion was the first clear Roman defeat in Gaul and inspired widespread national sentiments and revolution. It took almost a year, but Caesar managed to regain control of Gaul and pacify the tribes. However, the unrest in Gaul was not over. The Gallic tribes had realized that only united could they achieve independence from Rome. A general council was summoned at Bibracte through initiative of the Aedui, once Caesar’s loyal supporters. Only the Remi and the Lingones preferred to keep their alliance with Rome. The council declared Vercingetorix, of the Arverni, commander of the united Gallic armies.

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Caesar was then camped for the winter in Cisalpine Gaul, unaware of the alliance made against him. The first sign of trouble came from the Carnutes who killed all Roman settlers in the city of Cenabum (modern Orléans). This outbreak of violence was followed by the slaughtering of all Roman citizens, merchants and settlers in the major Gallic cities. On hearing this news, Caesar rallied his army in haste and crossed the Alps, still buried in snow, into central Gaul. This was accomplished in record time and Caesar was able to surprise the Gallic tribes. He split his forces, sending four legions with Titus Labienus to fight the Senones and the Parisii in the North while Caesar himself set out in pursuit of Vercingetorix with six legions and his allied Germanic cavalry. The two armies met at the hill fort of Gergovia, where Vercingetorix held a strong defensive position. Caesar was forced to retreat to avoid utter defeat, after suffering heavy losses. In the summer of 52 BCE, several engagements were fought between cavalries, with Caesar succeeding in scattering the Gallic army. Vercingetorix decided that the timing was not right to engage in a major pitched battle and regrouped in the Mandubii fort of Alesia.

Alesia was a hill-top fort surrounded by river valleys, with strong defensive features. As a frontal assault would have been hopeless, Caesar decided upon a siege, hoping to force surrender by starvation. Considering that about 80,000 men were garrisoned in Alesia, together with the local civilian population, this would not have taken long. To guarantee a perfect blockade, Caesar ordered the construction of an encircling set of fortifications, called a circumvallation, around Alesia. The details of this engineering work are known from Caesar’s Commentaries. About 18 kilometers of 4 meter high fortifications were constructed in about three weeks. This line was followed inwards by two four-and-a-half meter wide ditches, also four-and-a-half meters deep. The one nearest to the fortification was filled with water from the surrounding rivers. These fortifications were supplemented with mantraps and deep holes in front of the ditches, and regularly spaced watch towers equipped with Roman artillery.

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Vercingetorix’s cavalry often raided the construction works attempting to prevent full enclosure. The Roman auxiliary cavalry kept the raiders at bay, however. After about two weeks of work, a detachment of Gallic cavalry managed to escape through an unfinished section. Anticipating that a relief force would now be sent, Caesar ordered the construction of a second line of fortifications, the contravallation, facing outward and encircling his army between it and the first set of walls. The second line was identical to the first in design and extended for 21 kilometers, including four cavalry camps. This set of fortifications would protect the Roman army when the relief Gallic forces arrived: they were now besiegers and preparing to be besieged.

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At this time, the living conditions in Alesia were worsening. With 80,000 soldiers and the local population, too many people were crowded inside the plateau competing for too little food. The Mandubii decided to expel the women and children from the citadel, hoping to save food for the fighters and hoping that Caesar would open a breach to let them go. This would also be an opportunity for breaching the Roman lines. But Caesar issued orders that nothing should be done for these civilians and the women and children were left to starve in the no man’s land between the city walls and the circumvallation. The cruel fate of their kin added to the general loss of morale inside the walls. Vercingetorix was fighting to keep spirits high, but faced the threat of surrender by some of his men. However, the relief force arrived in this desperate hour, strengthening the resolve of the besieged to resist and fight another day.

At the end of September the Gauls, commanded by Commius, attempted to break in by attacking Caesar’s contravallation wall. Vercingetorix ordered a simultaneous attack from the inside. None of the attempts were successful and by sunset the fighting had ended. On the next day, the Gallic attack was under the cover of night. This time they met with greater success and Caesar was forced to abandon some sections of his fortification lines. Only the swift response of the cavalry commanded by Antony and Gaius Trebonius saved the situation. The inner wall was also attacked, but the presence of trenches, which Vercingetorix’s men had to fill, delayed them enough to prevent surprise. By this time, the condition of the Roman army was also weak. Themselves besieged, food had started to be rationed and the men were near physical exhaustion.

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On the next day, October 2, Vercassivellaunus, a cousin of Vercingetorix, launched a massive attack with 60,000 men, focusing on a weakness in the Roman fortifications (the circle in the figure) which Caesar had tried to hide, but had been discovered by the Gauls. The area in question was a zone with natural obstructions where a continuous wall could not be constructed. The attack was made in combination with Vercingetorix’s forces who pressed from every angle of the inner fortification. Caesar trusted the discipline and courage of his men and sent out orders to simply hold the lines. He personally rode throughout the perimeter cheering his legionaries. Labienus’ cavalry was sent to support the defense of the area where the fortification breach was located. With pressure increasing, Caesar was forced to counter-attack the inner offensive and managed to push back Vercingetorix’s men. By this time the section held by Labienus was on the verge of collapse. Caesar decided on a desperate measure and took 13 cavalry cohorts (about 6,000 men) to attack the relief army of 60,000 from the rear. This action surprised both attackers and defenders. Seeing their leader undergoing such risk, Labienus’ men redoubled their efforts and the Gauls soon panicked and tried to retreat. As in other examples of ancient warfare, the disarrayed retreating army was easy prey for the disciplined Roman pursuit. The retreating Gauls were slaughtered, and Caesar in his Commentaries remarks that only the pure exhaustion of his men saved the Gauls from complete annihilation.

In Alesia, Vercingetorix witnessed the defeat of his relief force. Facing both starvation and low morale, he was forced to surrender without a final fight. On the next day, the Gallic leader presented his arms to Julius Caesar, putting an end to the siege of Alesia.

Alesia proved to be the end of generalized and organized resistance to the Roman invasion of Gaul, marking the definitive conquest of the Continental Celtic people by the Roman Republic. After Alesia, Continental Gaul was subdued, becoming a Roman province and was eventually subdivided into several smaller administrative divisions. Not until the third century would another independence movement occur. The garrison of Alesia was taken prisoner as well as the survivors of the relief army. They were either sold into slavery or given as booty to Caesar’s legionaries, except for the members of the Aedui and Arverni tribes, which were released and pardoned to secure the alliance of these important tribes to Rome.

For Caesar, Alesia was an enormous personal success, both militarily and politically. The senate, manipulated by Cato and Pompey, declared 20 days of thanksgiving for this victory, but refused Caesar the honor of celebrating a triumphal parade, the peak of any general’s career. Political tension increased, and two years later, in 50 BCE, Caesar crossed the Rubicon, which precipitated the Roman civil war of 49–45 BCE, which he won. After having been elected consul, for each of the years of the war, and appointed to several temporary dictatorships, he was finally made dictator perpetuus (dictator for life), by the Roman Senate in 44 BC. His ever increasing personal power and honors undermined the tradition-bound republican foundations of Rome, and led to the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire.

Caesar’s cavalry commanders followed different paths. Labienus sided with the Optimates, the conservative aristocratic faction in the civil war, and was killed at the Battle of Munda in 45 BC. Trebonius, one of Caesar’s most trusted lieutenants, was appointed consul, by Caesar, in 45 BC, and was one of the senators involved in Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March (March 15) 44 BC. He was himself murdered a year later. Antony continued to be a faithful supporter of Caesar. He was made Caesar’s second in command, as Master of the Horse, and was left in charge in Italy during much of the civil war. In 44 BC he was elected as Caesar’s consular colleague. After Caesar’s murder, Antony pursued Caesar’s assassins and vied for supreme power with Octavian (later to become Caesar Augustus), first forming an alliance with Octavian (and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus) in the Second Triumvirate, then being defeated by him at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. Along with his ally and lover queen Cleopatra, he fled to Egypt, where they committed suicide the following year.

Vercingetorix was taken prisoner and languished in prison for the next five years while waiting to be exhibited at Caesar’s triumph. As was traditional for such captured and paraded enemy leaders, at the end of the triumphal procession, he was taken to the Tullianum (also known as the Mamertine Prison) where he was said to have been strangled, although he was most likely executed in a Roman dungeon.

I have chosen wild boar stew as the recipe of the day because it is well documented as a Gallic/Celtic favorite. Mostly I remember it from the French cartoon Asterix that parodies the resistance of the Gauls and is a longstanding favorite of mine.

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“Wild” boar is now raised in a number of farms throughout Europe and is reasonably available (frozen via the internet). It is not as gamey as the real thing would have been, but does have a distinctive flavor. Of course wild boar can also be roasted, but it is a tough meat and long slow braising/poaching is preferable I think. This recipe is modified from one on Celtnet:

http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/ancient/fetch-recipe.php?rid=anci-boar-stew

There are many modern recipes for the stew but this one aims to be a rough replica of ancient recipes. The original calls for browning the meat and vegetables which I think would have been unlikely in ancient times.

Wild Boar Stew

Ingredients:

1 kg wild boar meat, cubed
4 carrots, coarsely
½ cabbage, coarsely chopped
2 large onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 tbsp thyme leaves
2 tbsp parsley 2 bayleaves
10 juniper berries, crushed
800 ml heather ale or mead
2 tbsp honey
200 g pearl barley

 

Instructions:

The day before cooking, marinate the meat in the ale, juniper berries and herbs by placing them all in a large ziplock bag sealing the top except for a small hole, expelling all the air and then closing completely. Refrigerate overnight.

Empty the meat and marinade into a large pot. Add the honey add pearl barley, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a slow simmer. Skim the surface until it is reasonably clear.

Cover and simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours, or until the meat is tender. By this point the barley starch should have thickened the sauce. In fact you may need to add water along the way if it becomes too thick during the cooking process.

Serve piping hot in bowls with hunks of crusty bread.

Serves 6

Jun 062014
 

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On this date in 1808 Joseph-Napoleon Bonaparte (7 January 1768 – 28 July 1844), the elder brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, was crowned King of Spain (1808–1813, as José I). Joseph somewhat reluctantly left Naples where he had been king of Naples and Sicily and where he was popular, and arrived in Spain where he was very unpopular indeed. Joseph came under heavy fire from his opponents in Spain, who tried to smear his reputation by calling him Pepe Botella for his alleged heavy drinking, an accusation echoed by later Spanish historiography, despite the fact that Joseph was abstemious. His arrival sparked the Spanish revolt against French rule, and the beginning of the Peninsular War. The revolt was about both nationalism and ideology, “a reaction against new institutions and ideas, a movement for loyalty to the old order: to the hereditary crown of the Most Catholic kings, which Napoleon, an excommunicated enemy of the Pope, had put on the head of a Frenchman; to the Catholic Church persecuted by republicans who had desecrated churches, murdered priests, and enforced a “loi des cultes” (separation of church and state); and to local and provincial rights and privileges threatened by an efficiently centralized government.

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King Joseph’s Spanish supporters were called josefinos or afrancesados (the frenchified). During his reign, he ended the Spanish Inquisition, partly because Napoleon was at odds with Pope Pius VII at the time. Despite such efforts to win popularity, Joseph’s foreign birth and support, plus his membership in a Masonic lodge, virtually guaranteed he would never be accepted as legitimate by the bulk of the Spanish people. During Joseph’s rule of Spain, Venezuela declared independence (1810) from Spain, the first nation to do so. The king had virtually no influence over the course of the ongoing Peninsular War: Joseph’s nominal command of French forces in Spain was mostly illusory, as the French commanders theoretically subordinate to King Joseph insisted on checking with Napoleon before carrying out Joseph’s instructions. Joseph was a classic puppet ruler, a token of Bonaparte’s desire to rule Spain by proxy. King Joseph abdicated and returned to France after defeat of the main French forces to the British at the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. He was seen by Bonapartists as the rightful Emperor of the French after the death of Napoleon’s own son Napoleon II in 1832, although he did little to advance his claim.

Spain had been allied with France against the United Kingdom since the Second Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1796. However, after the defeat of the combined Spanish and French fleets by the British at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, cracks began to appear in the alliance, with Spain preparing to invade France from the south after the outbreak of the War of the Fourth Coalition. In 1806 Napoleon was fighting in Prussia, so the Spanish readied the army for an invasion should the Prussians defeat him. Napoleon, however, routed the Prussian army at the Battle of Jena-Auerstaedt and Spain backed down. Yet Spain continued to resent the loss of their fleet at Trafalgar and the fact that they were forced to join Napoleon’s Continental System. Nevertheless, the two allies agreed to partition Portugal, a long-standing British trading partner and ally, and which refused to join the Continental System. Napoleon was fully aware of the disastrous state of Spain’s economy and administration, and its political fragility, and came to believe that it had little value as an ally. He insisted on positioning French troops in Spain to prepare for a French invasion of Portugal, but once this was done, he continued to move additional French troops into Spain without any sign of an advance into Portugal. The presence of French troops on Spanish soil was extremely unpopular in Spain, resulting in the Mutiny of Aranjuez and the abdication of Charles IV of Spain in March, 1808.

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Charles IV hoped that Napoleon, who by this time had 100,000 troops stationed in Spain, would help him regain the throne. However, Napoleon refused to help Charles, and also refused to recognize his son, Ferdinand VII, as the new king. Instead, he succeeded in pressuring both Charles and Ferdinand to cede the crown to his brother, Joseph. The head of the French forces in Spain, Marshal Joachim Murat, meanwhile pressed for the former Prime Minister of Spain, Manuel de Godoy, whose role in inviting the French forces into Spain had led to the mutiny of Aranjuez, to be set free. The failure of the remaining Spanish government to stand up to Murat caused popular anger. On 2 May 1808, Murat ordered the younger son of Charles IV, the Infante Francisco de Paula, into exile in France, leading to a widespread rebellion in the streets of Madrid.

The Council of Castile, the main organ of central government in Spain under Charles IV, was now in Napoleon’s control. However, due to the popular anger at French rule, it quickly lost authority outside the population centers which were directly French-occupied. To oppose this occupation, former regional governing institutions, such as the Parliament of Aragon and the Board of the Principality of Asturias, resurfaced in parts of Spain; elsewhere, juntas (councils) were created to fill the power vacuum and lead the struggle against French imperial forces. Provincial juntas began to coordinate their actions; regional juntas were formed to oversee the provincial ones. Finally, on 25 September 1808, a single Supreme Junta was established in Aranjuez to serve as the acting resistance government for all of Spain.

Murat established a plan of conquest, sending two large armies to attack pockets of pro-Ferdinand resistance. One army secured the route between Madrid and Vitoria and besieged Zaragoza, Girona, and Valencia. The other, sent south to Andalusia, sacked Córdoba. Instead of proceeding to Cádiz as planned, General Dupont was ordered to march back to Madrid, but was defeated by General Castaños at Bailén on 22 July 1808. This victory encouraged the resistance against the French in several countries elsewhere in Europe. After the battle, King Joseph left Madrid to take refuge in Vitoria. In the autumn of 1808, Napoleon himself entered Spain, entering Madrid on 2 December and returning Joseph to the capital. Meanwhile, a British army entered Spain from Portugal but was forced to retreat to Galicia. In early 1810, the Napoleonic offensive reached the vicinity of Lisbon, but were unable to penetrate the fortified Lines of Torres Vedras.

When Fernando VII left Bayonne, in May 1808, he asked that all institutions co-operate with the French authorities. Accordingly, the Council of Castile assembled in Bayonne, though only 65 of the total 150 members attended. The Assembly ratified the transfer of the Crown to Joseph Bonaparte and adopted with little change a constitutional text drafted by Napoleon. Most of those assembled did not perceive any contradiction between patriotism and collaboration with the new king. Moreover, it was not the first time a foreign dynasty had assumed the Spanish Crown: at the start of the eighteenth century, the House of Bourbon came to Spain from France after the last member of the House of Habsburg, Charles II, died without offspring.

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Joseph Bonaparte promulgated the Statute of Bayonne on July 7, 1808. As a constitutional text, it is a royal charter, because it was not the result of a sovereign act of the nation assembled in Parliament, but a royal edict. The text was imbued with a spirit of reform, in line with the Bonaparte ideals, but adapted to the Spanish culture so as to win the support of the elites of the old regime. It recognized the Catholic religion as the official religion and forbade the exercise of other religions. It did not contain an explicit statement about the separation of powers, but asserted the independence of the judiciary. Executive power lay with the king and his ministers. The courts, in the manner of the old regime, were constituted of the estates of the clergy, the nobility and the people. Except with regard to the budget, its ability to make laws was limiteded by the power of the monarch. In fact, the king was only forced to call Parliament every three years. It contained no explicit references to legal equality of citizens, although it was implicit in the equality in taxation, the abolition of privileges, and equal rights between Spanish and American citizens. The Constitution also recognized the freedom of industry and trade, the abolition of trade privileges and the elimination of internal customs.

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The Constitution established the Cortes Generales, an advisory body composed of the Senate which was formed by the male members of the royal family and 24 members appointed by the king from the nobles and the clergy, and a legislative assembly, with representatives from the estates of the nobility and the clergy. The Constitution established an authoritarian regime that included some enlightened projects, such as the abolition of torture, but preserving the Inquisition.

During his stay in Vitoria, Joseph Bonaparte had taken important steps to organize the state institutions, including creating an advisory Council of State. The king appointed a government, whose leaders formed an enlightened group which adopted a reform program. The Inquisition was abolished, as was the Council of Castile which was accused of anti-French policy. He decreed the end of feudal rights, the reduction of religious communities and the abolition of internal customs charges. This period saw measures to liberalize trade and agriculture and the creation of a stock exchange in Madrid. The State Council undertook the division of land into 38 provinces.

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As the popular revolt against Joseph Bonaparte spread, many who had initially co-operated with Bonaparte dynasty left their ranks. But there remained numerous Spanish, known as afrancesados, who nurtured his administration and whose very existence gives the Spanish war of independence a civil war character. The afrancesados saw themselves as heirs of enlightened absolutism and saw the arrival of Bonaparte as an opportunity to modernize the country. Many had been a part of government in the reign of Charles IV, for example, François Cabarrus, former head of finance and Mariano Luis de Urquijo, Secretary of State. But there were also writers like playwright Leandro Fernández de Moratín, scholars like Juan Antonio Llorente, the mathematician Alberto Lista, and musicians such as Fernando Sor.

Throughout the war, Joseph Bonaparte tried to exercise full authority as the King of Spain, preserving some autonomy against the designs of his brother Napoleon. In this regard, many afrancesados believed that the only way to maintain national independence was to collaborate with the new dynasty, as the greater the resistance to the French, the greater would be the subordination of Spain to the French imperial army and its war requirements. In fact, the opposite was the case: although in the territory controlled by King Joseph I modern rational administration and institutions replaced the Old Regime, the permanent state of war reinforced the power of the French marshals, barely allowing the civil authorities to act.

The military defeats suffered by the French army forced Joseph I to leave Madrid on two occasions. The king finally left Spain in June 1813, ending the failed stage of enlightened absolutism. Most of Joseph’s supporters (about 10,000 and 12,000) fled to France into exile, along with the retreating French troops after the war. Their property was confiscated. The Allied offensive intensified and culminated in the Battle of Vitoria, which marked the beginning of the end of French occupation and, in December 1813, in the Treaty of Valençay, which provided for the restoration of Ferdinand VII.

The burden of war destroyed the social and economic fabric of Portugal and Spain, and ushered in an era of social turbulence, political instability and economic stagnation. Devastating civil wars between liberal and absolutist factions led by officers trained in the Peninsular War persisted in Iberia until 1850. The cumulative crises and disruptions of invasion, revolution, and restoration led to the independence of most of Spain’s American colonies and the independence of Brazil from Portugal. During Joseph’s rule in Spain, Venezuela declared independence (1810) from Spain, the first nation to do so. Many others followed suit soon after. There is also an ironic twist in that Argentine General José de San Martín fought for Spain in the Peninsular War but then in 1812 sailed to Buenos Aires and began long campaigns to liberate colonies in South America from Spain.

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Since Joseph and Napoleon Bonaparte were from Corsica I though a Corsican recipe would be appropriate. The cuisine of the island is essentially Mediterranean with its own twists. One of these is the heavy use of chestnuts for both savory and sweet dishes. For example chestnut flour is used to make the local version of polenta, and the local flan incorporates chestnuts and brandy (locally produced). The signature cheese of the island is brocciu, a young whey cheese made from ewe’s milk. It too is found in savory and sweet dishes. It can be rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried or used to make the local cheesecake, fiadone. Beignets, combine the two tastes: chestnut flour doughnuts stuffed with cheese.

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The signature dish of the island is civet de sanglier, braised wild boar. It uses local red wine as the base of the sauce.   It is really hard to get wild boar so you’d probably best not try it at home. Substituting beef is all right, but you lose the gamey taste. It does need long slow cooking because the boar meat is very tough. When simmered slowly for hours and hours it eventually yields.

Civet de Sanglier

Ingredients

2 kg of wild boar meat
1.5 liters of full-bodied red wine
2 carrots, peeled and chopped coarsely
2 onions, peeled and diced
1 fennel bulb, diced
6 chestnuts, blanched and peeled
2 cloves garlic
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaf)
salt , pepper

Instructions

Cut the boar meat into chunks. Mix with the vegetables and add the bouquet garni. Cover with red wine and marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

Drain and dry the meat and vegetables, preserving the marinade. Sauté them all together in a large cast iron skillet. Add the marinade and whatever wine is left over. Add the tomato paste.

Bring to a boil, then slow simmer over low heat covered for 3 to 4 hours, or until the meat is tender. If need be, uncover for the last 30 minutes to allow the sauce to reduce and thicken.

Serve with pasta and crusty bread.

Serves 8