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18 August 2019


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Great podcast! However, there might be a small mistake when you said that Napoleon took the Capital city of Moscow. I always thought that St Petersburg was the Capital of the Russian Empire from 1703-1917.

Samuel Conner

Completely off topic-but when will there be a new product sales effort/fundraiser? I am late to the party, and would love to get my hands on a large size "Gentleman Johnny's Party Train" t-shirt.


Great episode! Totally worth the week off. Did I understand that you and your family have settled into a farm in Illinois? How is that going?

Corbin Supak

would this fictional composite text file be a new book in the works?

Gregory W Levitsky

Mike! MIKE! Moscow was not the capital of Russia, at least it was not where the government worked. Napoleon made the strategic decision to hit Moscow as Russia's *ancient* capital and the country's beating heart. Hitting St. Petersburg, which was highly defensible and had little farmable land around it, would have been an even bigger disaster than Moscow, especially because turning away toward St. Petersburg would mean turning his back on the strategically retreating Russian army, which would then be able to harass him all the way north.

Otherwise, another EXCELLENT episode. Thank you!


I want to know how big that hypothetical Word file would be. I've got a file of cut-and-paste text from a 12-year-old, 14,000-post, history/geography-focused flickr account that's running just shy of two million words. I can't imagine all the text from Revolutions would be anything less.


I hope you briefly bring up the Feodor Kuzmich legend in the next episode. It's just too fitting for Alexander.

Konstantinos XI Monomachos

So let me just list all the ERRORS so far in this series in order from most to least important (it's a shame none have been corrected yet):

-Moscow was not the capital of Russia in 1812.

-Peter III was Paul's father, his supposed bastardy is discredited by historians and more recent genetic evidence.

-"Tsarevich" doesn't mean "heir", it refers to any son of a tsar (just as a "tsarevna" is any daughter of a tsar). The heirs at that point in history were called "tsesarevich" (or "tsesarevna"), which is a related word, but not the same.

-Important error of omission: Peter the Great westernized the royal titles - calling himself Emperor ("Imperator"). "Tsar" was only used informally from Peter to Nicholas II - though Western historians seem to ignore this altogether.

-Alexander Herzen's name is pronounced "Gertsen" ("g" as in "get"), not "Kirtsen".

Konstantinos XI Monomachos


-Moscow burned as Napoleon entered it, not after he left it. It's generally agreed that Russian authorities or volunteers started it on purpose, though it's not know for certain and there could have been multiple/accidental causes. Most of Moscow was destroyed, but since most people had fled, Napoleon still had enough housing for his soldiers.

-Barclay de Tolly's name is pronounced "TOH-li" or "TAW-lee", not "Toll-LAY".


I don't see how the Emperor thing is an emission that was specifically said in the last episode. And every western historian I have read on Peter the Great mentions this.


I do think you're mischaracterizing the French position at Tilsit. Napoleon didn't refrain from harsh terms just to flatter Alexander, he refrained from harsh terms because the French army wasn't on Russian soil and it would have been, at the very least, far more trouble than it was worth to try to change that.


One thing I noted with the invasion was that there was a strong theme of "beating back the Tatar/Cossack hordes in defense of European civilization" to Napoleonic propaganda in 1812. This was entirely in keeping with French Enlightenment philosophe views of Russia as a country: European royal family and European-pretending ruling classes keeping the vulgar semi-Asiatic serf masses in line through coercive methods.

(It's not a wholly inaccurate picture-I think many upper-class Russians throughout the 1800s would agree with Napoleon's comment that if you scratch the Russian, you would get a Tatar! It's the same attitude that Dostoevsky parodied so brilliantly in his depictions of bourgeois Russian society and its alienation from its own country in favor of Western imported ideas. Still, there's no denying the underlying cultural/racial contempt the French held Russia in, which partly led to the distinctly brutal nature of that particular front: and that for neither the first nor last time in Russia's history, this led to fatal underestimation of what an invasion of Russia would be like on the part of the invaders.

Also, one other interesting throw-off comment: Napoleon was usually not an aggressor, despite the picture he gets in popular culture. It's ironic that the only two conflicts he actually was the aggressor in would be the failed ones, the ones that would lead to his undoing-the Spanish ulcer and the invasion of Russia. Everything else, the ones he brilliantly succeeded in, people declared war on him, not the other way around.)

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