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GREECE (Northern) / FIRST BALKAN WAR (1912-3): Kriegsshauplatz / Carte de l’Épire et de la Thessalie / Die griechisch-türkischen Grenzgebiete mit Angabe der griechischen Sprachgrenze.



A unique example of Heinrich Kiepert’s very rare map of Thessaly and Epirus, the era’s best general map of the region straddling the Greek-Ottoman border, featuring manuscript additions detailing Greek troop movements against Ottoman positions during the First Balkan War (1912-3).



This is a unique example of the era’s finest general map of Northwestern Greece, featuring manuscript annotations relating to Greece troop movements against the Ottomans during the First Balkan War (1912-3).  The map embraces the traditional regions of Epirus and Thessaly, which are today largely within Greece, with a small part being in Albania.  It is by far and away the most accurate map of the region produced to the time, having been made by Heinrich Kiepert, the period’s foremost authority on the geography of the Ottoman Empire.  Between 1832, when the Kingdom of Greece obtained its independence (but controlling only a minority part of today’s Greece), through to 1912-3, the region depicted was major flashpoint in geopolitics, along the fault line between Greece and the Ottoman Empire.  The First Balkan War was a watershed moment in the history of modern Greece, in that the Greek people assumed sovereignty over of their northern lands for the first time in many centuries.


The map’s scope extends from Corfu, in the northwest, to Thessaloniki, in the northeast, and from Preveza, in the southwest, over to the northern tip of Evia, in the southeast.  It demarcates the borders between Greece (outlined and shaded in Pink) with the Ottoman Empire, as they existed prior to 1913.  The depiction of the region’s varied topography is impressively accurate, although some especially remote areas of the interior remained little known; for instance, some tracts in the north are labeled ‘Terrains inexplorés’.  Generally, however, all major physical features are labeled, as are cities, towns, villages, roads and railways.  Additionally, as described on the legend (lower left), the routes of major foreign travellers who explored the region are marked.  In line with Kiepert’s fascination with languages, most of the places on the map are labeled with both their Greek and Turkish names (transliterated into the Latin alphabet).


Kiepert issued the first edition of the present map in 1871, with updated editions being issued in 1875, 1878, 1880 and 1897.  The present 1897 edition was made during the tense years leading up to the First Balkan War, when the ‘Balkan League’ of Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria defeated the Turks in a short, sharp, conflict, taking almost all of the Ottoman’s European territories, dividing them up amongst themselves.  Greece thus acquired most of the Ottoman territories depicted on the present map.  Notably, the present 1897 edition represented the best general map of the region available during the war, and examples are known to have been employed by the belligerents as strategic aids.


The present example of the map is rendered unique, as it features extensive manuscript additions relating to Greek military expeditions northwards into Ottoman territory, as will be discussed further below.  Importantly, these annotations seem to date from the First Balkan War period.


The First Balkan War (1912-3): Greece Comes into its Own

The First Balkan War (October 1912 to May 1913) was a turning point in the history of the Southern Balkans, and was arguably a more important event for that region than World War I, which overshadows that conflict in popular memory.  By 1912, the Ottoman Empire was ailing, filled with internal decent, led by a lethargic and corrupt elite, and under pressure for virtually all of its neighbours.  The main Christian powers of the Southern Balkans, being Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria, were ancient enemies of the Ottomans and bitterly resented the Turk’s centuries-long occupation of their lands.  By this time, the so-called ‘Balkan League’ believed that they could knock Turkey out of Europe once and for all, restoring to each of themselves their full national territories.

The war was an unmitigated disaster for the Ottomans, who were almost comically unprepared.  The Greeks attacked Ottoman positions from the south, while the Bulgarians and Serbs attacked from the north.  While some Turkish positions held out for some months, most fell like a house of cards, while even the hold-outs were taken without too much trouble.  By the spring of May 1913, the Ottoman Army was in full flight towards Istanbul, and it appeared that the Bulgarians might even be able to take that great city, which would have been one of the most shocking events in modern European military history.  However, before that happened, the Turks sued for peace.  The Ottomans ceded virtually all of their European territories, save a small point of land behind Istanbul.

With specific reference to the war in Epirus and Thessaly, as showcased on the present map, the Greek Army made rapid and impressive progress taking much of the territory in the first two months of the war (October-November 1912).  However, the Greeks had to wait until February 1913 to take the key city of Ionnanina.

It should be noted that during the Second Balkan War (1913), Bulgaria, upset with its settlement from the first war, rashly attacked all of its neighbours.  Following this war, Greece and Serbia seized territory at Bulgaria’s expense, and in the chaos that ensued, the Ottomans took back Eastern Thrace from Bulgaria.  While the aftermath of World War I (1914-8) had a profound impact upon the political fate upon the territories in the Southeastern Aegean, further north, Greece simply managed to take Bulgaria’s section of the Western Thrace, while Turkey retained Eastern Thrace.


The Manuscript Additions in Focus

The present example of this rare map is rendered unique by its manuscript additions, made in red pen, depicting five different Greek military expeditions thrusting northwards into Ottoman domains.  Many of the key towns around each strike are underlined, likely indicating their importance as military targets.  Each line also features dates beside key towns written Latin script; these dates follow on the heels of the dates upon which the towns fell to the Greek Army in October-November 1912.  Moreover, an annotation in black pen, in the lower-left blank margin, dated ‘17 Oct 1912’, and written in the French language, mentions Bulgaria and Serbia’s involvement in the war.  This all suggests that the manuscript additions were written by a Western European (none of the combatant armies regularly used Latin script) who was perhaps coordinating operations of some kind, closely in the wake of the advance of the Greek Army.  While compete conjecture, this individual could have been a journalist, Red Cross official, or even a spy!

The five strike lines are as follows (from west to east); 1) Shows a hook around the Gulf of Arta into Preveza (dated ‘2 Nov’ [1912]), although this key port city was captured by the Greeks on October 21, 1912; 2) Depicts the strike up from Arta northwards, with the dates ‘27’ and ’29 Oct’, which refers to a thwarted mission to take the key city of Ioannina, further to the north (Ioannina would not be taken by the Greeks until the Battle of Bizani, February 19-21, 1913); 3) Shows a strike northwards from Greek territory through Gravena and Siasista, and then further northwards in the direction of the all-important Sarajevo-Thessaloniki Railway Line, bearing the dates ‘25 Oct’ and ‘30 Oct’ [1912]; 4) Shows the strike from Greek territory northwards to Kozani, bearing the date ’27 [Oct]’, although this strategic city was taken by the Greek Army on October 11, 1912; and finally, 5) Shows a strike northwards through Elassona (with the date ’20 Oct’), Servia (‘25 Oct’) and then up towards Veria (‘29’ [Oct]); one should note that Veria was taken by the Greek Army on October 16, 1912.


Heinrich Kiepert: Foremost Authority on the Geography of the Ottoman Empire

Heinrich Kiepert (1818 – 1899) was a German geographer and historian of unusual intellect and diversity of interests.  Born in Berlin, he grew up in an affluent, culturally sophisticated family, mentored by leading academics and travelling widely.  He studied history, geography and philology at the Humboldt University of Berlin, with a focus on Greece and the Near East.  Early on, he showed great talent as a cartographer and worked closely with a number of commercial mapmakers.  His first major project was assisting Carl Ritter in the production of his Atlas von Hellas und den hellenischen Kolonien (1840).

Kiepert travelled extensively in Greece and Near East between 1841 and 1848, and become a world-renowned expert on Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, in general.  This led him to produce his own cartographic works concerning the Ottoman Empire, including the Karte des osmanischen Reiches in Asien (1844); the Karte von Klein-Asien (1854); the Specialkarte vom Westlichen Kleinasien (1890-2) and his posthumously-published, monumental Karte von Kleinasien meist nach noch nicht oder in kleinstem Massstabe veroffentlichten Aufnahmen in 24 Blatt (1902-6).

Upon his return from the Near East, Kiepert became the head of the Geographisches Institut in Weimar and, in 1854, was appointed a full professor as the University of Berlin.  He maintained a long association with the prominent Berlin map publisher Dietrich Reimer, whose successor, Ernst Vohsen, was responsible for issuing the present map.  Kiepert was a remarkably adept editor of cartographic material, possessing an uncanny ability to select the best and most accurate information out of a variety of conflicting sources, resulting in maps of amazing authority and precision for their time.

Kiepert also produced excellent large-format maps of diverse parts of the world, including Central America, the Near East, the Caucuses and the Mediterranean.

Also notable were Kiepert’s educational works, Lehrbuch der alten Geographie (1877); Leitfaden der alten Geographie (1879); and his enlarged atlas of the ancient world, Formae orbis antiqui (1894).  He also produced many maps for the Baedeker travel guides.


A Note on Rarity

All editions of Kiepert’s Epirus & Thessaly map are very rare on the market.  We are aware of only a single other example of the map (also a 1897 edition) as appearing for sale during the last generation.  Of course, it is important to note that the present example is unique owing to its manuscript additions.


References: Lothar Zögner, Antike Welten, neue Regionen: Heinrich Kiepert, 1818-1899 (Berlin, 1999), no. 526 (p. 130).


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