The Black Warriors of Europe
Photos by Wikipedia Users Kastelanka Praha, Gampe, Palickap, and Petr Vilgus
In the Central Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic stands a trio of guardian statues.
Each wields a shield on the left arm and poses with a clenched fist, ready to strike at the enemy.
On their backs, they carry a quiver full of arrows.
A coat hangs over the right shoulder, fastened by a belt.
Their outfits are completed by feather skirts and headbands.
Their faces are animated with expressions of courage and confidence.
It is obvious that these are Black Africans.
But why are three Black men standing there in the middle of Europe so far from the African continent?
Location of the Czech Republic (dark green)
in Europe (green & dark grey) and in the European Union (green)
Graphic by Wikipedia User NuclearVacuum
The statues are located in front of an old building next to the Church of St. James the Greater in the town of Kounice.
The Origins of Kounice Castle
The building, Kounice Castle, dates back to the early 16th century.
On the town's website, the history is explained as follows:
The present two-storey building of the castle is located on the site of a former fortress, which probably had a medieval origin. The oldest mention of the fortress in the land plates is from 1554, when the estate of Kounice was owned by Jířík [Anglocized as George] Wachtl of Pantenov.
It continues to say that a series of renovations were undertaken on the original building, starting with George in 1567 and ending in 1593 with his son Joachym. The governor of the Kingdom of Bohemia, Jan [John] Rudolf Trčka of Lípa, did further work from 1612 until the time of his death in 1634.
Having been associated with the politician-tuned-outlaw Albrecht [Albert] Wenzel Eusebius von Waldstein (1583-1634), his properties, including the castle, were confiscated by the government. For the next ten years, the castle was under the management of the King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand III (1608-1657).
The family of a Count Arnošt [Arnold] Ferdinand Leopold de Suys is known to have lived there in the second half of the century.
After this time, the ownership of Kounice Castle was transferred to the Morzins.
Who were the Morzins?
The Morzins were a Czech noble family from Northern Italy.
Research by Helena Milerová, a student at the University of Pardubice in Prague, reveals that the Morzins were descended from a man identified as "Anselm Knight of Mohr," who lived in the first half of the 16th century.
Coat of arms of the Morzins
Graphic by Wikipedia User VitVit
The Morzins were originally a military family, which served in the imperial army of the Habsburgs, another family that ruled Spain during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Rudolf Morzin (?-1646) was the most distinguished of all. He served with future governor of Bohemia, Baltasar Marradas (1560-1638), and famed army commander Albrecht von Wallenstein (1583-1634) under Ferdinand II (1578-1637), who was then ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. He also served with the emperor's son and successor Ferdinand III. Rudolf attained the very senior rank of Field Marshall, which was above Colonel and General. Ferdinand II personally wrote him a letter thanking him for his heroic bravery in battle against the Swedish army.
Shield of the Left Guardian Statue
Photo by Waymarking User ToRo61
In medieval times, and as we do today, soldiers went to war wearing symbols of their nation on flags and on their "uniforms." Those who were most victorious in battle returned with honors. Some were awarded their own special symbol called a coat of arms.
That coat of arms became the symbol of their family and each of their descendants was entitled to use this symbol in their honor.
Citing the Biographical Encyclopedia of the Empire of Austria by Constantin von Wurzbach (1818-1893), Milerová wrote that before Anselm, 'the original ancestral sign [of the Morzin family] was only the Moor.'
After successfully defending the Austrian city of Graz against the Ottoman Turks, Anselm was promoted in rank, his coat of arms received an update (a silver wall was added and the shield was 'quartered' or separated into four parts), and he changed his surname to "von Morzin."
During this time, Turkey, where the Ottoman Empire was based, had a majority Muslim population. The Holy Roman Empire, which had spread across Western and Central Europe, was fighting against the Ottoman Empire. As these groups were inspired by two different religions and sought to spread their beliefs in the lands that they conquered, these wars were referred to as crusades ("holy" wars).
Before this time, the armies of the Holy Roman Empire fought another group of Muslims from North Africa, who they referred to as the Moors. The Ottoman Empire stretched across North Africa and some of the people from this region were recruited into their army.
Even after this time, Africans were counted among their ranks.
The MET's caption for this portrait of a Black soldier identifies that the French artist, Gérôme (1824–1904), traveled to the Near East in the Spring of 1868, and it was his experiences in places like Egypt and Turkey which inspired his contributions to the development of the Oriental genre of painting in Europe.
Gérôme popularized the theme of the bashi-bazouk, or Turkish mercenary soldier.
Historian Gerald M. Ackerman (1928-2016), who is remembered as an expert on 19th century French art, wrote about what he called the "Black Bashi-Bazouk" in his book The Life and Work of Jean-Léon Gérôme (1986):
Bashi-Bazouks were irregular Turkish troops of the Ottoman Empire. They were not paid for their services, but lived from plunder, and were especially feared for their ferocity.
According to research by Beninese historian Dieudonne Gnammankou, there were thousands of African soldiers in the Ottoman army.*** 44,000 were sent to Hungary in 1717, among which were 20,000 "Ethiopians." 21,000 African infantrymen were sent to fight in Venice that same year, 7,000 of them being "Ethiopians." Egyptians and Brazilians were also identified as part of the African legions.
The placement of the Moors on the Morzin family's coat of arms is in keeping with a tradition long established in European heraldry. As the Christians deposed the Muslims, their own power and influence was increased. Veterans were granted noble status. That these men had proven themselves capable of conquering such fierce and formidable foes as the Moors and the Turks was a point of great pride for future generations.
All across the empire, the name Morzin was synonymous with hero.
The Morzins adopted Kounice Castle as their palace. The castle is flanked by a church on the right side. A brewery and a malt house stand towards the rear. These structures were the foundations of political, spiritual, and economic prosperity for the Morzin family and for the people of Kounice.
Jan Rudolf, the Earl of Morzin (1641-1702), acquired the property in 1693.
He had a fence wall with three gates built around the perimeter, restored a moat, and planted a garden.
Rudolf willed Kounice Castle to his second wife. Upon his untimely death the year after their marriage, the land and building were valued at 30,000 gold and she received this money in annual installments of 150 gold in addition to 'a car with six draft horses.'
Rudolf's son, Václav, the Count of Morzin (1675-1737), fought against the Turks under Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736).
After his brother's death, he took over the Morzin estate and went to work on expansion projects, including some farms in Kounice. Václav, or Wenceslas, as he was called, added a Baroque-style clock tower and a lantern roof above the entrance of the castle.
At the same time these renovations were taking place during the years 1718 and 1719, he had the sandstone statues carved by the prominent Czech sculptor Ferdinand Maximilian Brokoff (1688-1731). They were modeled after the bound Moors on the family crest.
These Moorish knights are ranked among the finest works of Brokoff's career. The originals were taken to the National Gallery and replaced with replicas in 1969.
Václav commissioned the construction of another more famous palace in Prague, which now serves as the headquarters for the Romanian embassy.
I profiled the Morzin Palace in my first article on the history of the Moors in Europe. At the base of that building are two giant statues of chained Moors holding up the balcony - a contrast to the archers roaming Kounice Castle.
What these works by the same artist have in common, if anything, is the apparent, and perhaps intentional, effect of intimidation on the viewer.
Europe was rife with stories of the savages among the Moors and the ruthless Africans who accompanied the Turks. In Brokoff, we have evidence that this reputation persisted in Prague and in Kounice.
Unlike Gérôme, Brokoff does not humanize his subjects.
Brokoff lived briefly in Vienna, but he spent the majority of his life in the Czech Kingdom. If he never encountered an African himself, his works were shaped by the descriptions of those who had (the Ottomans reached as far as Vienna in 1683 during the Great Turkish War**) and whose primary context was a traumatic one.
The energy of these stalwarts, underpaid and overworked, yet dominating in battle, is captured in stunning detail. Devoid of its original context, Brokoff's Moors appear to us a rare, near-perfect portrayal of the African spirit, but altogether, the Morzin Monstrosities were the perpetuation of an all-too-common stereotype: the reckless, untamable Negro.
Brokoff's works are larger-than-life. They appeal to our sense of fear. They inspire a feeling of awe. For years, they commanded unconditional respect for the Counts of Morzin.
The Morzins were known for their love of music.
Classical composer Joseph Haydn's (1732-1809) first full-time employer was an Austrian aristocrat of the Morzin lineage - either Ferdinand Maximilian or his son Karl Joseph. As the Kapellmeister (director of the orchestra), Haydn dedicated up to the first fifteen of his symphonies to this count.
He would go on to work for wealthier elites. His own name would be associated with other great musicians as well, most notably, in the role of a mentor to Mozart and a tutor to Beethoven.
Count Wenzel, too, had an orchestra, for which the famous Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) served as the maestro di cappella (music director). This band was referred to as 'the most excellent in all of the Czech Kingdom.'
According to research by Dr. Václav Kapsa from the Institute of Art History of the Academy of Sciences in the Czech Republic, Vivaldi dedicated his collection of violin concertos, Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione op. 8, to Count Wenzel. Wenceslas was also one of the first persons for whom Vivaldi's most famous violin concert series, The Four Seasons, was dedicated and performed. As a matter of fact, they were so close, it is noted that Antonio Vivaldi sent some of his musical compositions to Count Wenzel. Vivaldi also served as the Morzins' official music teacher in Italy.
In 1760, František Xaver Morzin sold Kounice Castle to the Princess of Liechtenstein, Maria Theresia of Savoy (1694-1772) in order to settle some debts, thus, ending the Morzins' claim to the property.
It stayed in the new family for several decades, the inheritance of one prince after another. The Liechtenstein nobility lived there from time to time throughout the latter half of the 19th century until it was acquired by the municipal government of Kounice in 1924.
Kounice After The Morzins
by Johann Venuto, after Pucherna
(Source: Austrian National Library)
Postcard Photos of Kounice Castle
West Facade of the Chateau
Photographer: A. Podlipny
Source: Cesty a památky (Roads and Monuments)
A school operated out of the castle for some time in the mid-20th century.
From 1963 onwards, the structure of Kounice Castle and Count Wenzel's farm buildings fell into disrepair.
Most of the visible damage to the castle itself was caused by a great fire in 1990. The building was then requisitioned by the government in 2003 and has since found a new owner with plans to convert the property into 'a complex of luxury apartments with sports and recreational facilities.'
Photos of the east side, the rear and the courtyard by Wikipedia User Gampe
These pictures show the condition of the property in 2004.
So far, nothing has been done in the way of construction.
But faithful as ever, the African warriors continue to guard the scorched shell of Kounice Castle - a testament to the glory of the Moors and the legacy of the Morzins.
The drone footage below shows the major historical landmarks in the town of Kounice, including Kounice Castle and the Church of Saint James the Greater across the street. The video is a compilation of shots made by photographer Jan Kubka in March 2017 for the popular Czech TV Program Toulavá Kamera (Wandering Camera) and for the local government.
You can still grab a beer at Kounický Brewery today. (P.S.: They Deliver!)
For more pictures of Kounice, check out the town's official website here:
For more on the history of the Moors in Europe and to see other statues associated with the Moors, check out these articles below:
Scientific Researcher, Independent Historian, and Co-Founder of Black Research Central
*an earlier version of his article suggested that Brokoff never ventured outside of the "Czech Republic." Actually, he traveled to Vienna, Austria (less than 30 miles south of Czech) and to Silesia, Poland (which overlaps from the northeast into Czech). Both of these lands were once part of the Czech Kingdom. **The Turks had, in fact, invaded Central Europe in great numbers ***and they brought Africans with them. The statues of the Moors were made soon after the Austro-Turkish War in which upwards of 12% of the Turkish combatants were from Africa.
The article has been updated to reflect these items.
Black Research Central
When Negritude Meets Pettitude.