10 Countries That No Longer Exist
Five hundred years ago, in November of 1519, Hernan Cortez arrived in what is now Mexico and began a long, slow process of conquering the region for Spain.
Thirty years ago, in November of 1989, socialism collapsed in East Germany, revealing to the free West what had already been expected and suspected.
In honor of both momentous events, here are 10 Countries That No Longer Exist:
10 - Novgorod Republic (1100 - 1500 AD). Stretching, at its height, from what is now Finland to the Ural Mountains, the Novgorod Republic lasted for almost four centuries and produced some of the finest culture in European history. The republic broke away from Kiev’s empire in the late 1130s and formed a republic where political power was shared by merchants, aristocratic landowners, proto-guilds, archbishops, and council-appointed princes. Novgorod’s population drew from Slavic cultures, of course, but also from neighboring Scandinavian, German, and, to the east, mountainous Uraltic cultures, and as a result grew wealthy relative to its neighbors. (Novgorod’s neighbors included mostly hostile Russian principalities but also the Hanseatic League and several Scandinavian kingdoms.) The republic’s decline and eventual fall coincided with Moscow’s rise from a city-state to an empire. Novgorod tried to implement an alliance with the Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth after several years of expensive warfare against Moscow, but it was too little, too late: Moscow’s empire began to call itself Russia and it was ascendant.
9- Southern Song Empire (1127 - 1279 AD). If the Southern Song Empire is known at all, it is primarily as being the last major Chinese polity to resist the Mongol conquest of the region. Prior to fighting the Mongol hordes and their Yuan dynasty, the Southern Song dynasty lorded over most of China proper and was considered to be, simply, the Song Empire. A vicious war with the usurping Jin dynasty pushed the Song south of the Huai River, and the Song became the Southern Song. The Jin dynasty was ruled by Manchurians, an ethnic group very different from the Han who controlled the Song dynasty, and as a result the Southern Song continued to exert enormous soft power on its militarily stronger rivals to the north since much of China is peopled by the Han. When the Mongols invaded China, the Southern Song Empire was quick to ally itself with the Mongols and crush the Jin dynasty. Once the Mongol-Song alliance destroyed the Manchurians, though, the former allies turned against one another. The Southern Song seized several cities that lay to the north of the Huai River, and continued to exert its cultural soft power on yet another non-Han dynasty claiming to rule China (the Mongol-created Yuan dynasty). It took the Mongols 20 years to conquer the Southern Song Empire.
8 - Fante Confederacy (1500s - 1874 AD). The Fante are an ethnic group in West Africa (mostly in present-day Ghana) that dominated the coasts of the region for centuries. While most Fante states were small and monarchical for most periods of time, these petty states were not above forming confederacies if or when the need arose. The arrival of the British and the Dutch, as well as the growth of an inland confederacy dominated by the Fante’s long-hated rivals, the Asante, all but guaranteed a lasting confederacy of Fante kingdoms. The confederacy became permanent in the early 1800s and soon allied itself with the British Empire, due mostly to a long-standing hatred of the Dutch (the Dutch had been in West Africa for centuries by the time the 1800s rolled around). Naturally, the Asante and the Dutch were allies. The fact that the British came out on top in what is now Ghana meant that the Fante got special treatment when it came to doling out land and administrative positions throughout the Gold Coast, and by the time the British left Ghana in 1959 the Fante were by far the richest (and most loathed) ethnic group in the country.
7 - Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria (1772-1918). Located in what is now Poland and Ukraine, the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria was created out of thin air by Habsburg statesmen to serve as a puppet state and buffer zone between the Austrian Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth after the First Partition of Poland. Galicia and Lodomeria never gained full sovereignty, and ethnic tensions eventually turned into nationalist tensions (see Ludwig von Mises’ Nation, State, and Economy), but Galicia and Lodomeria was also a hotbed of experimentation in the realm of governance under an imperial domain. The Austrian Empire’s best and brightest political theorists and statesmen spilled considerable ink grappling with constitutional theory and geopolitical realities due in large part to challenges from Galicia and Lodomeria. The kingdom disappeared along with its Austro-Hungarian overlords in 1918.
6 - Vajji Republic (700 - 400 BCE). Part of the well-respected Mahajanapada, Vajji was one of the world’s earliest republics. Oligarchic in nature, this republic has become shrouded in legend. Buddha himself, for example, is said to have modelled his monasteries on Vajji’s aristocratic republicanism. And a princess from Vajji is said to have married the eventual founder of the Mauryan Empire, Chandragupta Maurya, who went on to conquer much of South Asia and whose empire laid the cultural groundwork for “India” as we know it today. The Mahajanapada was itself a confederacy of sorts, a consortium of sixteen nations - governed as republics or monarchies - spread throughout what is now northeastern India. Buddhism arose within the Mahajanapada, Jainism underwent a revival, and Hindu scholarship flourished, too.
5 - Hanseatic League (1358-1862). Probably the most famous “country” on this list, the Hanseatic League was a consortium of polities that banded together to form a trading zone free from tariffs and a mutual protection pact in the middle of the Middle Ages. Membership was fluid, and rivals were many, but the Hanseatic League flourished for centuries. It crushed a fledgling Danish Empire, got beaten by a Dutch republic, and played kingmaker in an English civil war. The brutality of the wars and chaos spurred by the Protestant Reformation wore the League down to a nub, and its last official assembly (in 1669) was attended by only nine members. Three city-states - Lübeck (which was the de facto capital of the league), Hamburg, and Bremen - continued to claim Hansa membership until they became a part of the German Empire in 1862.
4 - Deseret (1847-96). Officially, this country was only in existence from 1849 to 1850, but unofficially the State of Deseret operated as an independent polity from the arrival of Mormon refugees in the Great Salt Lake region in 1847 to the driving in of the last spike of the first transcontinental railroad, near Salt Lake City, in 1869 (a small faction continued to push for the idea of Deseret well into the 1890s). In 1849 the Mormons pitched Deseret to Washington. Brigham Young wanted the state to encompass most of the territory that was taken from Mexico in the Mexican-American War (which, you’ll remember, ended in 1848). Remarkably, Zachary Taylor took the ambitious proposal very seriously. He sent diplomats to Salt Lake City to try and negotiate a new state that would combine California and Deseret into a single entity. In the slavery-sanctioning South and in California, where a constitutional convention was underway, Deseret was a hot topic. The Compromise of 1850 officially ended the State of Deseret by incorporating it into the Utah Territory and naming Brigham Young its governor, but a shadow government continued to run the actual affairs of the territory well into the 1890s. Deseret continued to operate alternative financial, legal, military, and diplomatic institutions after the 1850 compromise, just in case Washington broke its word, which was not uncommon back then (some things never change), or came to a decision the Mormon Church did not agree with. When Utah was admitted as a state into the federal union, Deseret still continued to operate alternative institutions. Deseret’s independent institutions would not completely submit to Washington’s oversight until World War II, when a war economy and a wave of “patriotic” fervor swept over most corners the republic, including the Mormon ones.
3 - Lanfang Republic (1777-1884). Founded by imported Chinese laborers who had banded together to form a type of worker’s union (kongsi), Lanfang was a corporatist democracy that is often considered by specialists to be a forefather of today’s Chinese corporate democracies: Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Nestled along the coast of Borneo, Lanfang and other kongsi republics were formed in response to the brutal working conditions created by sultans of petty states in Southeast Asia. These sultans did not have the power to compel their own people to work the mines and spice farms in their lands, so they reached out to China for workers. These workers were not mere slaves or indentured servants, though; they were free to bound together and form labor unions and corporate boards of governance, which they did with the help of mainland Chinese polities, and eventually grew powerful enough to establish sovereign political units. Lanfang was a contemporary of the United States, and, like its Anglo-American cousin, was not a democracy with universal suffrage. There was, however, much more freedom in Lanfang than there was in neighboring sultanates or, indeed, mainland China. Lanfang’s experiment in democracy was ended by the Dutch Empire in 1884. Its aristocracy was crushed and forced to either flee to mainland China or disperse to other parts of the Dutch East Indies.
2 - Tlaxcala Republic (1348-1821). Like many medieval republics throughout the world, Tlaxcala was oligarchic rather than democratic. When the Spaniards arrived in the early 16th century, the Tlaxcaltec fought them in a few brief, bloody skirmishes before both sides realized they’d make better friends than enemies. An alliance between the Spanish monarchy and the Tlaxcalan republic was formed, and together they conquered the Aztec Triple Alliance. This alliance came with benefits for Tlaxcaltecs other than simply defeating their hated enemy. The republic was incorporated into New Spain but it was relatively autonomous and its oligarchy remained intact for several centuries after the Conquest. Tlaxcalans had gun and land rights throughout New Spain, too. Tlaxcaltecs fought side-by-side with Spaniards against Mayas in southern Mexico and Guatemala, and against Comanches to the north in what is now Texas and New Mexico. With every new conquest of territory for Spain, high-ranking Tlaxcaltec soldiers were granted latifundias rivaling those given to Spanish conquistadors. Tlaxcala lost complete autonomy after the Mexican War of Independence in 1821. The autonomous republic was incorporated into Mexico first as a territory and finally, in 1856, as a state in the Mexican federal union. Tlaxcala’s legacy as an independent, indigenous republic has been vulgarly shoved into the dustbin of history by left-leaning nationalist historians hellbent on centering Mexico’s history around the Aztec Triple Alliance.
1 - Khanate of Khiva (1511-1920). Located in one of the rougher neighborhoods of the world, the Khanate of Khiva controlled an area that, at several points in time, encompassed the entire Aral Sea and much of the Caspian Sea’s southeastern shoreline. Prior to the mid-19th century, the Khanate’s main enemies were the Persians and the neighboring Khanate of Bukhara. In the 1740s, Persia succumbed to a bloody dynastic dispute that lasted for decades, and in the 1780s Bukhara began a violent transformation into an emirate. This gave Khiva room to breathe and the Khanate flourished, so much so that the polity became a central focus for Moscow and London during the Great Game. Russia had been sending troops against Khiva since the 1600s, but most of the campaigns were unsuccessful. It wasn’t until 1873 that the khanate succumbed to Russian imperial expansion. Khiva’s territory was reduced (Russia gave some of this territory to already-conquered Bokhara as a reward for staying out of the Khiva Campaign) but it also retained much of its autonomy by agreeing to let Moscow conduct foreign affairs in its name and permit Russians to settle the area. After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Khiva, now a protectorate, succumbed to internal unrest and the last khan, a puppet but still a khan, abdicated and a People’s Soviet Republic was proclaimed. The now-extinct khanate was further divided when Soviet central planners created the Uzbek SSR and the Turkmen SSR in 1924, which sliced Khiva’s old protectorate territory right down the middle. The following decades of socialist experimentation completely obliterated any remnants of the khanate.
Honorable mention: The People’s Republic of Antarctica. Nah, just kidding, this is the title of an excellent novel written by John Calvin Batchelor in 1983. John has a radio show nowadays. It’s almost as good as his books.
Have a good weekend.