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Leo Frobenius’ Secret Mission in Arabia and Eritrea (1914–1915)

La mission secrète de Leo Frobenius en Arabie et en Érythrée (1914–1915)
Rocío Da Riva et Dario Biocca

Résumés

Cet article est consacré à l’étude de la mission menée par l’ethnologue Leo Frobenius (1873–1938), qui, en 1914–1915 et en tant que membre d’une expédition de recherche allemande, a tenté d’atteindre l’Abyssinie (aujourd’hui l’Éthiopie) à travers l’Anatolie, la Syrie, la Palestine, l’Arabie et l’Érythrée, afin d’assurer la liaison avec la légation allemande isolée à Addis-Abeba, et à répandre la révolution parmi les sujets musulmans de l’Empire britannique en Arabie et en Afrique du Nord. L’expédition, officiellement appelée « quatrième expédition allemande de recherche à l’intérieur de l’Afrique », était en vérité une mission politique organisée un peu au hasard, et soutenue par les services secrets allemands et ottomans. La mission finalement échoué à atteindre ses objectifs stratégiques.

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Notes de la rédaction

Both authors have worked on all parts of this essay. In particular, Prof. Da Riva has authored paragraphs 1 through 4 and Prof. Biocca has authored paragraphs 5 and 6.

Texte intégral

Introduction

  • 1 We would like to thank R. Kuba and P. Steigerwald for their help with the new Frobenius material, a (...)
  • 2 DIAFE VII, see http://www.frobenius-institut.de/das-institut/geschichte/forschungsreisen (web page (...)
  • 3 Braukämper, 1994, p. 561; McMeekin, 2010, p. 143-152.

1In 1914, following the onset of World War I in Europe, acclaimed German ethnologist and archaeologist Leo Frobenius embarked on an expedition to Arabia and Eritrea; although it was said to be a scientific mission it had a secret political and military objective. The aim of this paper is to provide new information on the outcome of the expedition, using hitherto unpublished documents from the Frobenius-Institut (Frankfurt), as well as sources provided by R. Kuba and additional documents from the Italian colonial archives1. Frobenius’ expedition seemed scientific; it was officially named “Vierte Deutsche Inner-Afrikanische Forschungsexpedition” [“Fourth German Inner African Research Expedition”]2. But in truth it was a secret mission codenamed Hiddek, “Die Hauptsache ist, daß England untergeht” [“The main thing is that England is destroyed”]3 intended to launch jihad across North Africa and the Middle East.

  • 4 Kaiser Wilhelm II had handed over responsibility for strategic operations in Europe to his chief mi (...)
  • 5 Scholler, 1980, p. 319. Karl Bosch had been the “commercial specialist” of the 1905 German Special (...)
  • 6 Eshete, 1974, p. 15
  • 7 Recently published material describes aspects of the German community in Addis Ababa on the wake of (...)
  • 8 McKale, War by Revolution, pp. 156ff.
  • 9 Prime Minister Crispi, held responsible for Italy’s demise by both Parliament and public opinion, r (...)
  • 10 Italy formally withdrew from the Triple alliance on 26 April 1915.
  • 11 When the Sanūsī-s conducted operations against British forces in Egypt but also engaged the Italian (...)
  • 12 Scholler, German World War”, p. 305, and 309-310.

2In November 1914, as the Ottoman Empire prepared to engage Russia, Britain and France in open combat, Leo Frobenius presented Kaiser Wilhelm II with a secret plan to lead a mission through Arabia and Eritrea in order to liaise with the isolated German legation in Addis Ababa.4 In 1905, Germany had, through its special envoy, Karl Bosch,5 established a diplomatic legation there and signed a modest commercial treaty to foster German-Ethiopian trade.6 Shortly thereafter, Emperor Menelik fell gravely ill and his wife — and de facto regent — Taytu Betul, insisted on strengthening ties with Germany, regarded as a powerful ally against the European colonies which encircled Ethiopia from all sides. At the outbreak of the world war, the German Minister in charge of the legation in Addis Ababa, von Syburg,7 was assigned two duties: first, to frustrate the efforts of Germany’s enemies in the Horn of Africa and, eventually, to convince the young new ruler of Ethiopia, Lij Iyassu, to enter the war on the side of Germany.8 Both goals were ambitious. Italy’s rule over Eritrea had sparked constant border disputes. Ever since an Italian military expedition suffered a humiliating defeat at Adwa in 1896, tensions had deepened9. In July of 1914, Rome proclaimed its neutrality but declined to cancel the Triple alliance with Berlin and Vienna.10 This ambiguity generated mistrust on all sides: as the German war effort intensified, bilateral issues with Italy needed to be addressed and resolved quickly. Eventually, at Turkey’s request, Germany initiated covert operations in Libya and supplied military equipment to the Sanūsī resistance against the Italian occupation of the Cyrenaica. Tension increased between Rome and Berlin11, but in Addis Ababa von Syburg needed instructions for negotiations with Ethiopia: how far was Germany prepared to commit itself, and what did Berlin have to offer the Negus? The absence of a regular line of communication with Berlin further complicated his task. In 1914, wireless communications were still rudimentary, and the existing stations could not operate at long range. Further, Ethiopia was inaccessible from stations in zones under Turkish or German control. Therefore, the German government was only able to communicate with its legation by irregular means, entrusting ciphered letters to messengers that then had to travel from Berlin to Arabia, cross the Red Sea (controlled by the Allies) and then pass into Ethiopia in disguise through Eritrea (controlled by the Italians).12

  • 13 Aksakal, 2008.
  • 14 After two decades colonial rule, Eritrea and Italy's possessions on the west coast of the Red Sea h (...)
  • 15 Congo (1904–06); Mali, Burkina Faso and Togo (1907–09); Morocco, Algeria and Tunis (1910); Northern (...)

3Frobenius’ mission was to carry mail to the German Legation in Ethiopia, and to persuade the politicians there to support Germany. It was Frobenius who proposed the plan but the organization was the result of a cooperation between Germany and Turkey. These two powers, for different reasons, wanted to weaken the influence of the Entente in Arabia and North East Africa13. The plan was that a group of German agents, well-known archaeologists and ethnologists, would proceed to the Middle East and then to the Red Sea. From the coasts of the Arabian Peninsula, evading British and French patrols, they would reach the Italian port of Maṣawa‘ in Eritrea14 and then continue to Abyssinia; after re-establishing links with the isolated German Legation in Addis Ababa, they were to urge the Sudanese population to rise up in a jihad” against the British. The aim of the mission was not only to further the interests of the Kaiser, but also to strengthen links between the Sublime Porte and the Muslim populations residing in Sudan, Danakil, Somalia and Libya (under British, French and Italian occupation) as well as in Abyssinia. The strategic objective of the operation, in the common interest of Berlin and Constantinople, was an assault on the British-controlled Suez Canal, in an operation that, in the opinion of both powers, would eventually determine the outcome of the war. To divert suspicion, the mission was to appearscientific, like all the previous expeditions that Frobenius had led in sub-Saharan Africa and Sudan15. The danger, of course, was that the team of secret agents, though disguised as “scholars in pursuit of independent research”, would raise fear and distrust.

DIAFE VII: Frobenius’ mission in Arabia and Eritrea 1914–1915

  • 16 Heinrichs, 1998 p. 11. On the Frobenius Institute, see Haberland, 1998. For Frobenius’ contribution (...)
  • 17 Braukämper, 1994, p. 559-560; Braukämper, 2006. On the work of Frobenius in Africa, see Ita, 1972. (...)

4Leo Frobenius (1873–1938) was an ethnologist, an archaeologist, a traveller and an adventurer16. His first expeditions were of an ethnographic nature, but soon he became interested in archaeology and prehistory, while always placing himself at the disposal of his country for political and military missions17. In January 1911, he had gained worldwide recognition when The New York Times published a report from West Africa indicating that he had found “indisputable proofs” of the existence of Plato’s continent of Atlantis. Press agencies got the dispatch and spread the news around the world.

  • 18 During the war, and after the Red Sea expedition, Frobenius spent some months in Rumania as directo (...)
  • 19 Heinrichs, 1998, p. 35.
  • 20 Wk 11 g secr. II 55.
  • 21 Heine, 1980, p. 1.
  • 22 McKale, 1998, p. 46-50 and 62; Schwanitz, 2003; McMeekin, 2010, p. 85-99, 141-152, and 153-229; see (...)
  • 23 Oberhaus, 2006, p. 220+88.

5Then, in the summer of 1914, and despite the fact that Frobenius had no higher education diploma, nor a secondary school degree, he already had a great reputation in Germany as a scholar and expert on African affairs18. He was also considered an exemplary patriot and was a close friend of Kaiser Wilhelm II19. Frobenius volunteered to travel from Istanbul via Medina (although he was finally forced to travel via al-Wajh, as permission to pass through Medina was not granted20) and from Jeddah to al-Qunfudha. From there, he would cross the Red Sea to Eritrea, enter Ethiopia and then continue towards Sudan, where he would organize uprisings to challenge British interests in Suez. On 13 November 1914, Frobenius presented his proposal to the Kaiser personally, which was accepted immediately21. Frobenius’ expedition was just one of the many organized in the context of the so-called “German jihad”22: efforts made during World War I by the German empire to promote revolt in the Muslim territories under French, British, Italian or Russian domination. In this context, numerous explorers, spies, military advisers and political agents from Germany and the Central Powers travelled through the Ottoman Empire and North East Africa, before, during and after the Great War, in many cases with objectives similar to those pursued by Frobenius in 191523. According to British intelligence,

  • 24 British National Archives, Kew, Foreign Office, (FO) 882/2 143-144.

The German dream is, and has been for a long time, to arouse all Mohammedans in every part of the world against their occupying powers. Von Oppenheim is in Syria at the present moment [November 1915], and creatures like him elsewhere, are spreading Pan-Islamist propaganda”24.

  • 25 Moritz’s objectives and itinerary were very similar to DIAFE VII’s: he left Damascus disguised as a (...)
  • 26 Musil “speaks very good Arabic and looks like a Bedouin” FO 371/1971 161. Musil was entrusted with (...)
  • 27 McKale, 1998, p. 51, 59f., 62, 172ff., 214f.; see also Taboada, 2004, 119f.
  • 28 McKale, 1998, p. 63. Hilgendorff was assumed to be carrying ammunition and explosives from Syria to (...)
  • 29 FO 371/1971 140.
  • 30 McKale, 1998, pp. 87ff.
  • 31 Wk 11 g secr. IV 109.

6Among the political missions and agents operating for Germany, some as unusual and eccentric as Frobenius, mention should be made of Bernhard Moritz,25 Alois Musil,26 Max Roloff, Friedrich Kressenstein, Carl Raswan, von Holz, Kermelich, Stotzingen and Neufeld.27 Germany also organized a number of unsuccessful military missions to the Near East and North Africa, the most bizarre of these was directed by Navy Lieutenant Hilgendorf who set out, in October 1914, to reach Egypt via Damascus, Petra and Palestine with a party of German colonists disguised as an Arab comedy troupe!28 The mission failed, and yet the German government attempted to dispatch one more improbable “film troupe” to the Tibesti. The Foreign Office kept a close watch on these people: British diplomats reported any suspicious movement of German and Austrian citizens in the Ottoman Empire, and its files contain many documents outlining a variety of German missions undertaken in the Ottoman domains between 1914 and 191529. Dr Theodor Weber, chief dragoman at the German Embassy at that time, warned Ambassador von Wangenheim against multiple missions and agents travelling through the Ottoman Empire.30 Eventually, even the Turks grew tired of the number of German agents in their territory, in particular once they had had the honour of meeting Regierungsrat (Privy Councillor to the Imperial Government, see below) Frobenius. Ambassador Von Wangenheim filed a report to the German Foreign Office on 6 July 1915: “The Turkish government has become extremely sensitive by our various expeditions, especially that of Frobenius has earned the biggest mistrust”31.

The expedition: preparation, financing, and the issue of titles

  • 32 Wk 11 g secr. I 116.
  • 33 Wk 11 g secr. I 49.
  • 34 Kistenfeger, 1914-1915.
  • 35 Heine, 1980, p. 1f; Braukämper, 1994, p. 557. See also La Tribuna dated 9 April 1915, LF 626: Wk 11 (...)
  • 36 Some details on the equipment can be found in a letter from the Frobenius legacy in the archives of (...)

7During November 1914, Frobenius made preparations for the expedition32. On 17 November, just four days after the mission had been approved, one of its members, Robert Türstig, a former government official for German hospitals in Istanbul and an experienced photographer (see below) prepared his professional equipment — nineteen packs, which was declared as hospital material33. In fact, according to Hieronymus Kistenfeger, another member of the expedition (see below), they transported no less than eighty packs34. Most of the equipment for the expedition had been bought or supplied in Germany then transported to Constantinople35, while some of it was gathered in Rumania36.

  • 37 Braukämper, 1994, p. 556.
  • 38 In the final accounts of the expedition, Frobenius claimed to have received 95,758.92 marks, and to (...)
  • 39 Frobenius had hoped to counteract British “food propaganda” supplying rice to the Arabian coastal a (...)
  • 40 Wk 11 g secr. IV 77.

8Frobenius had received generous funding from the German Government for his enterprise (60,000 gold marks)37 of which 2,250.50 was left unspent at the end of the mission38. In the report concerning these payments, we learn that the money (in various currencies: piastres, Maria Theresa Thaler, Marks, and Lira) was spent on rice for al-Qunfudha39, weapons and ammunition, the mission of officers Hauschild, Kleinert and Schulz in Maṣawa‘, travel expenses, diverse payments in Arabia, payment to the couriers sent to East Africa, and so on40.

  • 41 Wk 11 g secr. I 76.
  • 42 The title was awarded on 4 December 1914 (Wk 11 g secr. IV 14). Frobenius signed most of his report (...)
  • 43 Wk 11 g secr. I 100, dated 14 December 1914, see also ibid. 83.
  • 44 Braukämper, 1994, p. 556.
  • 45 Eshete, 1974, p. 12. A plenipotentiary Minister corresponds to ‛Ambassador’.
  • 46 Von Wangenheim could not conceal his irritation at Frobenius’ impatience regarding the request for (...)
  • 47 Braukämper, 1994, p. 556.
  • 48 Wk 11 g secr. III 108.
  • 49 Von Wangenheim to von Bethmann-Hollweg (02 May 1915; Wk 11 g secr. IV 29).
  • 50 Braukämper, 1994, p. 557.
  • 51 Wk 11 g secr. I 66.
  • 52 Wk 11 g secr. III 70.

9A pressing issue of the mission was the question of titles. Much to his delight, Frobenius was granted a series of titles and appointments upon undertaking the mission41: the German emperor awarded him the title of Kaiserlicher Geheimer Regierungsrat [Imperial Privy Council]42, abbreviated to Geheimrat43. He was also appointed “Resident of Darfur”44; and, as leader of the mission, the Ottomans named him “Plenipotentiary of His Imperial Ottoman Majesty in Arabia”45. In addition, he was entitled to add Pasha to his Arabic alias “Abdul Kerim”, following the suggestion of von Wangenheim, who believed that a Turkish title would facilitate Frobenius’ passage through Arabia46; and the Turkish authorities also allowed him to use Pasha outside the Ottoman territory47. On March 23, 1915, in his report from Asmara, Frobenius maintained that the use of the title was a practical necessity, since he was empowered by the Ottomans to deal with the Abyssinian government; but he added that in Abyssinia he would use his Christian name48. However, his insistence on being awarded titles, openly criticized by ambassadors von Bülow and von Wangenheim49, contributed in part to the failure of the mission. In Maṣawa‘ his use of the fictitious rank of military captain raised the suspicions of the Italians, who had learned a bitter lesson from the covert operations conducted in Libya by Otto Mannesmann50. The importance attached by Frobenius to his titles is also apparent in a document sent by von Wangenheim to the German Foreign Office on 27 November 1914, from which we learn that Frobenius had asked the German government to give him some “[Prussian] Orders of the Crown of Third and Fourth class” and many “small orders of merit” to distribute among the leaders of Arabia in the name of the Kaiser, in order to promote friendly relations and to encourage them to join the anti-British cause51. After the expulsion from Maṣawa‘, and once in Rome, Frobenius also wished to receive an Italian order for his mission, which prompted von Bülow to mischievously call him “Frobenius Pascha Exzellenz”, as this was the title used by Frobenius during his stay in the Italian capital52.

Members of the mission

  • 53 FO 371/2227 264.
  • 54 Eshete, 1974, p. 12-13.
  • 55 Braukämper, 1994, p. 556-557. This source is probably FO 371/2349 60548.

10The full list of participants became a key issue for the French, British and Italian authorities when Frobenius and his men were eventually expelled from Maṣawa‘53. However, it is difficult to establish the names of all the expedition members as the five different sources provide different lists. The most comprehensive list is the one provided by historian Andreas Eshete, who counts seventeen expedition members54, probably using the same sources as Braukämper since the names on both lists match55. Of these seventeen members, five were categorized as Europeans and the rest as Turks and Arabs (most of them cited on the list as being “gardeners of Jaffa”, probably because there were recruited there, but the reason for the attributed profession of “gardener” is unknown):

  • 56 Passarge’s complex figure and is analysed in depth in Biocca, 2010, p. 32, 43.

Europeans: 1. Leo Frobenius, Head of the Mission; 2. Alberto (Albrecht) Martius; 3. Roberto (Robert) Türstig of the Red Cross; 4. Gierolamo (Hieronymus) Kistenfeger of the German Foreign Office; 5. (Mario) Passarge, interpreter56.

Turks and Arabs: 6. Salomon(e) Hall, Turkish subject (actually he was a German citizen!), interpreter, resident in Addis Ababa; 7. Sa’id Muhammad, Turkish subject living in Constantinople; 8. El Baraka Hajj ‘Abd al-Qadir, gardener living in Jaffa; 9. Hamajir Hamid, gardener of Jaffa; 10. Muhammad Salim, gardener of Jaffa; 11. ‘Umar ‘Ali, a trader of Jaffa; 12. ‘Abd el-Rahman Muhammad, gardener of Jaffa; 13. Da’ad Dahman, gardener of Jaffa; 14. ‘Umar Hassan, gardener of Jaffa; 15. Laqder Bikassim, gardener of Jaffa; 16. Muhammad ‘Abd al-Salam, gardener of Jaffa; 17. Hasan ‘Ali, gardener of Jaffa; and Ghebremariam Waldenussie”.

  • 57 The scholar Heinrich Scholler offers a different list and refers to a document from the Italian “Mi (...)

11While two other lists only differ slightly from those provided by Eshete and Braukämper57, Kistenfeger’s diary contains a different list. The entry for 24 December 1914, written when the party left Constantinople, presents men, most of whom bear both military” titles and Arabic or Turkish names:

  • 58 Meemun was a special envoy from the Turkish government whose mission it was to help Frobenius reach (...)
  • 59 These men were actually Moroccan prisoners of war who disguised themselves as pilgrims on their way (...)
  • 60 Kistenfeger, 1914, p. 4.

Teilnehmer [members]: G[e]h[eimer] R[egierungsra]t Frobenius [...], Abdel Kerim Pasha, General; Martius, Raschid Bey, Major; Dr. Berghausen, Major; (Sherif) Seid Meemun, Leutenant58; Ki, Mohammed Efendi, Oberleutenant (Kistenfeger?); 2 türkische Ordonanzen; 12 Araber, deutsche Kriegsgefangene59, (darunter 1 Unteroff[izier]); 1 Boy, Hassan v[on] d[er] Woerman[?] Linie. Zum ganzen 19 Mann”. 60

  • 61 Kistenfeger, 1914, p. 40. Photo: Frobenius Institut FoK007_005-8010.

12Of course, as the list was written before the expedition reached Jaffa, Hieronymus Kistenfeger makes no mention of Salomon Hall, Sami Bey or Mario Passarge, who joined the expedition at a later date, or of the many “gardeners” from Jaffa. Robert Türstig is not mentioned either, as he had set off with the equipment before the others and was waiting for them at Bozanti. The exact point at which Passarge joined the expedition is unclear, but on 1 January 1915 he was with the group as he appears in a photograph taken at a Turkish railway station, north of Aleppo61.

  • 62 Frobenius, 1916a, p. 98. These were the men officially engaged with Frobenius on the expedition, ac (...)

13Finally, in his report of the mission, Frobenius mentions only the following members: “My European companions were Mr. Albrecht Martius, Mr. Robert Türstig, Mr. Hieronymus Kistenfeger and Dr. Mario Passarge”62. He also mentions “Sherif Meemun” (Maymūn) as one of the most important members of the expedition, but omits any reference to Salomon Hall. Nor does Frobenius mention any of the other non-European participants.

  • 63 McKale, 1998, p. 62.
  • 64 Wk 11 g secr. II 127-128.
  • 65 On the Italian conquest of Fizzān see Baldinetti, 2010.

14The absence of Sami Bey from these lists is surprising: he was one of the most important members of the mission (as the Ottoman political leader of the mission), although he never reached Africa. Bekir Sami Bey (1879–1934) had been governor of the Ottoman province of Fizzān (Libya), and would subsequently be Turkish Foreign Minister in 1920 and 1921, participating in the London negotiations after the war. A keen diplomat and experienced politician, by 1914 he was already a very well-known figure in Europe and the Middle East63. Frobenius and Sami did not get on well; as a civil servant, Sami was not, in Frobenius’ eyes, the person best suited to undertake a military task. Frobenius tried unsuccessfully to persuade the German government not to appoint Sami as the leading man on the Arabic coast, proposing Mukhtār Bey Sulḥ from Aleppo instead64. Warned by Mario Passarge, a German citizen raised in Rome and well acquainted with Italian diplomats, Frobenius also feared that the authorities in Eritrea may become suspicious: Sami Bey had been the Governor of Fizzān and was well known to Italian colonial officers.65

  • 66 McKale, 1998, 54. German ambassador von Wangenheim raised no objections, for “he did not intend to (...)
  • 67 Wk 11 g secr. II 55-56.
  • 68 Wk 11 g secr. II IV 1. Löytved also paid Hall the sum of 800 marks a month, of which 200 marks went (...)

15More surprising is the absence of mention of Hall. At approximately the same time as Frobenius was organizing his expedition, Hall’s mission was also under preparation. Friedrich Salomon Hall, a German citizen of Abyssinian origin, former tutor to Lij Iyassu, the designated Emperor of Ethiopia, had also volunteered for the task of convincing the Abyssinian government to join the Central Powers. At the outset Hall’s expedition was to be conducted independently from Frobenius’ mission, but following the suggestion of Julius Löytved-Hardegg, the German Consul in Damascus, the two undertakings merged and the “agents” travelled together66. Thus, a document dated 20 January 1915 sent from the German Embassy in Istanbul to Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg states: “Hall is travelling with Frobenius to Abyssinia. Frobenius and Hall have decided, in agreement with Consul Löytved, to merge their respective missions into one”. According to this document, Löytved-Hardegg did not consider Hall suitable to lead a diplomatic mission, but believed that his expertise and knowledge of the peoples and places of Abyssinia would be of invaluable help to Frobenius67. We cannot determine whether Salomon Hall was satisfied with the imposed arrangements, but whatever the case, his financial reward was quite generous: he received 653.90 marks on his return to Jerusalem68.

  • 69 Wk 11 g secr., III 144-145.
  • 70 McKale, 1998, 55.
  • 71 Idem, p. 58.

16In any case, during the course of the trip, the relations between Frobenius and his companions deteriorated rapidly. Upon his arrival in Jaffa on 2 April 2015, Hall stormed into the consulate to complain about Frobenius’ behaviour, blaming him for the failure of their mission69. Hall claimed that Frobenius had not respected the agreement they had reached in Damascus in the presence of the German Consul Löytved-Hardegg. He also accused Frobenius of cheating him, forcing him to continue with the mission to Maṣawa‘. According to Hall, his task had been to accompany Frobenius to the Arabian coast and from there to proceed alone into Africa, as he was the only one supposed to enter Abyssinia; but Frobenius had insisted on accompanying him with his men, thus jeopardizing Salomon Hall’s enterprise. Hall also mentioned the uneasy relationship between Frobenius and Sami Bey, on the one hand, and Sa‛īd Maymūn, on the other70. In one of his reports, the German Ambassador in Constantinople, Hans von Wangenheim gives the German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg further details about Frobenius’ tyrannical treatment of his companions, that many of the Arabs had deserted him in al-Qunfudha, and that Sami, unable to tolerate him any longer, had also abandoned him there71.

Itinerary and first stages of the journey

  • 72 J. Nr. 6385, in LF 625. Before setting out, Frobenius sent a very detailed report of the political (...)
  • 73 Wk 11 g secr. II 22. The subsequent development of the mission shows that von Bülow received few de (...)

17On the eve of their departure from Constantinople (the official starting point of the mission), Frobenius received news that the German Embassy had sent confirmation of the mission to the Sublime Porte72. At the same time, the German Special envoy to Rome Bernhard von Bülow, whose mission was to maintain Italy’s neutrality, contacted Hans von Wangenheim, German Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, seeking information about the expedition, in case the Italian Minister of Colonies made enquiries about Frobenius73.

  • 74 See La Tribuna 8 April 1915 (copy Wk 11 g secr. III 126).
  • 75 Eshete, 1974, p. 13 considers Berlin the starting point.
  • 76 Frobenius, 1915, p. 7.
  • 77 On the railway, see Bickel, 2003.

18In the words of Frobenius, it took them some ten weeks to reach Asmara74, but according to Eshete, they needed four months (Fig. 1)75. Frobenius and Martius left from Berlin, the others joining them later at various junctures. The mission passed through Austria, Rumania, Bulgaria and Turkey, and reached Constantinople on 21 November 191476. Frobenius and his companions spent about a month in Constantinople, making the final preparations for the expedition and organizing the political aspects of the mission with the German embassy and the Turkish government. They left Constantinople on 24 December, and this can be considered the official starting point of the expedition. From Constantinople, Frobenius and Martius travelled by train (CFOA - Chemins de Fer Ottomans d’Anatolie, and CIOB - Chemin de Fer Impérial Ottoman de Baghdad) via Aleppo to Damascus. As the railway line was incomplete in many places, various stages had to be reached by carts and camels along mountain tracks77. This added considerably to the length of their journey, as at each break in the line they had to load and unload equipment, carts, and camels on and off the trains.

  • 78 Kistenfeger, 1914–1915, p. 51, 57. Hotel Victoria, owned by Aḥmad ‘Izzat al-‘Abd, was the largest i (...)
  • 79 FO 371/2227 279.
  • 80 Wk 11 g secr. II 49.
  • 81 Passarge had reached Syria using an Italian (counterfeit) passport (Biocca, 2010, p. 43).
  • 82 Rodd to the Foreign Office dated 9 April 1915, FO 371/2227 279.
  • 83 FO 195/2459 379; FO 195/2460 4242.

19On the evening of 5 January they arrived in Damascus, where they took lodgings at the sumptuous Hotel Victoria78, and declared that they were just “taking a bag to the German Legation” in Addis Ababa79. Frobenius filed the first of his many reports to the Foreign Office, a long and tedious narrative full of anecdotes80. They spent several days in Damascus, buying provisions and sorting out administrative problems including obtaining a passport for Passarge, signed by German Consul Löytved-Hardegg on 11 January81. The Germans also found time to relax and to go to the theatre, where they attended a “dramatic” performance entitled ‛The fall of Antwerp’ by a Turkish poet. Frobenius described how the audience was, “convulsed with laughter at every mention of the activities of the British Fleet”82. According to British intelligence, Damascus was a centre of anti-British publications at the outbreak of the war83.

  • 84 Interview given to La Tribuna 9 April 1915, Wk 11 g secr. III 126.
  • 85 Wk 11 g secr. II 55.
  • 86 La Tribuna, 9 April 1915, op. cit.
  • 87 Eshete, 1974, p. 12.
  • 88 Wk 11 g secr. II 26.

20In Damascus, the European team was complete; and Frobenius himself considered that the mission actually began there84. On 20 January 1915, the German Embassy informed von Bethmann-Hollweg that Frobenius, travelling under the name of “Abdul Karim Pasha”, had already left Damascus and intended to take “the Hijaz Railway to reach the station Al ‘Ula, and from there try to reach the Red Sea and Al Qunfidhah”85. Frobenius and his men resumed their journey to Jaffa (Palestine) on the Ḥijāz Railway. Frobenius would later boast about this in his interviews to Italian newspapers86. Most of the Arab members of the expedition were recruited in Jaffa87, and it was probably also there that Sami and Hall, the two members imposed by the Ottomans, joined the mission88.

The expedition crossing Arabia

  • 89 Billi, the numerous tribe with headquarters in Wejh [...]. Their paramount Sheikh, Suleiman Rifada (...)
  • 90 Wk 11 g secr. II 95.
  • 91 Wk 11 g secr. III 126.
  • 92 See Lawrence, 1962, p. 135-136 and 169.
  • 93 Wk 11 g secr. III 83.
  • 94 Dhaw is a generic term used to describe different types of vessel which vary in their size and shap (...)

21They continued along the Ḥijāz Railroad from Jaffa to al-‘Ulā, arriving there on 15 January (Fig. 2). They left the railway that continued to the south and pushed on by camel through the desert towards al-Wajh on the Red Sea (Fig. 3). Between al-‘Ulā and al-Wajh, the expedition was led by Sulaymān Pasha, Shaykh of the Billī Bedouins (Figs 4 and 5)89. Frobenius proposed Sulaymān for the Order of the Crown, third Class, and promised his son Ibrāhīm a medal of the Order of the Crown90. The expedition also passed the monuments of Madā’in Ṣāliḥ91. Al-Wajh had a Turkish garrison and was considered a highly strategic point for controlling the railway and the cities of Medina and Mecca92. From al-Wajh, Frobenius sent four men to al-Quṣayr in order to gather information on the situation in the area93. Frobenius and his men boarded a small dhaw94 in al-Wajh on 24 January that took them along the coast to al-Qunfudha. The written and graphic material preserved in the Frobenius Institute confirms that the mission boarded the ship there (Fig. 6). The expedition passed through Yanbu‘ al-Baḥr and Jeddah.

  • 95 Wk 11 g secr. II 123ff.
  • 96 Taboada, 2004, p. 118.
  • 97 McMeekin, 2010, p. 147-148; FO 882/15 p. 10.
  • 98 Wk 11 g secr. II 126-128.
  • 99 See McMeekin, 2010, p. 147; McKale, 1998, p. 38, 61-64.
  • 100 Regierungsrat Hermann Kersting (b. 1863) was a German diplomat, doctor and colonial officer. (http: (...)

22While sailing to al-Qunfudha, Frobenius sent a report to Berlin via Damascus in which he described the political conditions in some of the Arabian regions through which he had travelled95. He also reported the apparent weakness of the Turkish authorities, adding that their unpopularity was attributable to the Tripolitanian origins of the government officials. He believed that the region’s poverty problem (a cause of tension between the Arabs and their rulers) could be resolved by sending food to the Arabian Peninsula. The coast of the Ḥijāz was particularly vulnerable, the region being still nominally under Ottoman rule whereas Egypt and India were under British control. The British blockade of Ottoman ports, and thus the interruption of food shipments and money from India and Egypt caused widespread hunger. Stemming the flow of pilgrims from territories controlled by France or Britain was even more disruptive to the economy96. According to Frobenius the British had already turned the situation to their advantage by sending food to the Arabs in an attempt to win their support97. Frobenius considered the establishment of a “patrolling intellectual leadership” along the coast of Arabia to be absolutely necessary because, in his opinion, Turkey lacked able personnel in the region, and Germany could send “a corresponding capable man98. He warned against the appointment of Geheimrat Bernhard Moritz to such a position,99 and proposed Regierungsrat Hermann Kersting as the best person for the task; he added that the fact Kersting spoke neither Arabic nor Turkish was of no importance, since he could always turn to interpreters for help100.

Fig. 1. Map of the itinerary.

Fig. 1. Map of the itinerary.

Fig. 2. Al ‘Ula: unloading the expedition equipment.

Fig. 2. Al ‘Ula: unloading the expedition equipment.

(FoA 07-8024)

Fig. 3. Between Al ‘Ula and Medain Salih: remains of statues.

Fig. 3. Between Al ‘Ula and Medain Salih: remains of statues.

(FoA 07-8039)

Fig. 4. Between Al ‘Ula and Al Wajh: Billi Bedouins.

Fig. 4. Between Al ‘Ula and Al Wajh: Billi Bedouins.

(FoA 07-8050)

Fig. 5. Between Al ‘Ula and Al Wajh: a rest under the shade.

Fig. 5. Between Al ‘Ula and Al Wajh: a rest under the shade.

(FoA 07-8057)

Fig. 6. Harbour of Al Wajh: the expedition dhaw.

Fig. 6. Harbour of Al Wajh: the expedition dhaw.

(FoA 07-8068)

  • 101 Wk 11 g secr. II 128.

23After more than two weeks, they arrived in al-Qunfudha on 7 February. Sami had been taken ill, and had to stay behind with his wife and his men. Frobenius gave him 150 lira, instead of the 200 promised, claiming that Sami would receive the remaining 50 on reaching Constantinople, “so his [Sami’s] interest in his duties, which were badly shaken in recent times, would not wear out. Besides, he [Sami] had agreed [...)”]101.This is a further indication of the deteriorating relationship between Sami Bey and Frobenius.

  • 102 Passarge, 1915, p. 15. Raw hides were not considered contraband in September 1914, but this situati (...)

24In al-Qunfudha, they abandoned their small boats and boarded a sanbūk, on which they proceeded to cross the Red Sea bound for Maṣawa‘ on 13 February. At the time, British, French and Italian ships were patrolling the Red Sea, so the travellers had to remain hidden. They disguised themselves as smugglers of animal hides; since it was forbidden to export hides outside Turkish territory, this would give the impression that they were flouting Turkish laws102.

  • 103 Wk 11 g secr. II 118ff.
  • 104 Bericht VIII: Wk 11 g secr. III 78ff.
  • 105 Wk 11 g secr. III 86.
  • 106 La Tribuna 9 April 1915; Wk 11 g secr. III 126 (copy in LF 626).

25So far the journey had been largely uneventful, but things were to change rapidly. According to Frobenius, “secret agents” had informed the British of the presence of the Germans from a telegraph station in Jeddah, and the political nature of the expedition was presumably revealed to the British at that moment. The expedition was now stopped on several occasions, first by the British armed merchant-cruiser Empress of Russia at the Farasān islands, then by the French Desaix and, finally, by two British vessels near al-Ḥudayda103. Frobenius later sent his eighth report from Asmara dated 23 March 1915 informing Berlin of the presence of several ships in the Canal of Maṣawa‘, including the Desaix, the Kamschatka, the Queen (sic) of Russia, the Queen (sic) of India, and two 20,000-tonne warships104. He ironically speaks of the ships as “Fleet offer in our honour105. He would later repeat the same list to Italian journalists in Rome adding that the ships were pursuing them “to catch us! But here we are!”106.

  • 107 Wk 11 g secr. II 119.

26On 13 February they saw a warship sailing towards them on the horizon. Indeed, the French armoured cruiser Desaix stopped them, and crewmembers were sent to inspect the sanbūk. According to Frobenius, the French consul in al-Ḥudayda was also on board the Desaix acting as an interpreter107. Frobenius and his men were hidden in a narrow hold and escaped the notice of the French. We possess a magnificent account of the particulars of Frobenius’ hiding place thanks to the British ambassador to Rome, Rennell Rodd, who wrote to the Foreign Office in the following terms:

  • 108 FO 371/22227 275.

The examination [of the British and French warships in the Red Sea] cannot have been very exhaustive, as the European members of the mission concealed themselves under the deck boards and thus remained undetected”108.

27Rodd went on to provide further details of the hiding place:

  • 109 FO 371/2227 280, dated 9 April 1915. Unfortunately we do not know how Rodd discovered the details o (...)

They concealed themselves in a corner of the hold, used, apparently, for the same purpose as the ‛Sanitary Tank’ in a more civilized vessel, having reached this unromantic hiding-place through a hole, the uses of which it is difficult to describe in polite language. From a crack in the wall of their retreat the Germans were able to observe the visit and departure of the French Officer. The Captain of the dhow availed himself of the opportunity to sell some picture post-cards”.109

  • 110 Wk 11 g secr. II 118-19. Other descriptions of the encounter are contained in the personal diary of (...)
  • 111 FO 371/2227 275.
  • 112 Wk 11 g secr. III 86. Other descriptions of the encounter with the French ship are contained in the (...)

28The Germans also took a picture of the Desaix approaching the sanbūk, and Frobenius gave his version of the affair in his sixth report (Bericht VI) sent to Berlin from Maṣawa‘ on 19 February 1915110, and although he cannot resist adopting a humorous tone in his report, the situation was of the utmost gravity: a group of spies had succeeded in slipping behind the enemy lines and had outwitted the French and British fleets. Rodd lamented the missed opportunity to obtain documents and “other evidence”111. According to Frobenius, the incident had serious consequences for both trade and communications in the Red Sea; from that moment onwards every single Arab and Turkish sanbūk was seized, taken to a harbour under British control and subjected to a thorough search. The merchants operating in these waters were deeply aggrieved by these actions, and British promises of future compensation did not appease them in the slightest. Moreover, once more according to Frobenius, the British used these searches to deter smuggling coffee and tobacco — a highly lucrative activity in Arabia — and this measure gradually turned the Arabs against the British. Thus, Frobenius considered the whole incident with the Desaix as a great success in furthering the political objectives of his mission112.

Arrival in Maawa‘

  • 113 Wk 11 g secr. 11 II 118; FO 371/2227 234.
  • 114 Governor Salvago Raggi and Ambassador Colli di Felizzano were careful not to disclose in writing th (...)
  • 115 Biocca, 2010, p. 35-36.
  • 116 Wk 11 g secr. 11 III 101; ibid., 8-10, 72-74. Tutt seems to have played the role of guide to Froben (...)
  • 117 Wk 11 g secr. II 112. A detailed narrative of the events in Maṣawa‘ is in Biocca, 2010, p. 32-42.

29The mission finally reached Maṣawa‘ on 15 February113. Italian officials gave Frobenius a cold reception. On 2 February Ambassador Giuseppe Colli di Felizzano, from Addis Ababa, had informed Rome that “the Ethiopian government [was] appalled by the German mission and by the damages it may cause to Ethiopia”. Local officials were reportedly grateful that a decision had been made by the government of Eritrea “to expel all of the expedition members without delay.” Successive diplomatic exchanges indicate that Italian (and Ethiopian) authorities knew of Frobenius’ mission well in advance and in detail.114 For quite some time, however, Frobenius was left undisturbed in Maṣawa‘. After the request for transit permits to reach Ethiopia were filed, in order to pass the time Frobenius indulged in social activities, including hunting115, and was invited by Captain J. Tutt, to stay on board of his vessel Christian X (Hamburg-American Packet Company)116. But shortly afterwards a series of problems was set in motion that would hound Frobenius and his men throughout their stay in Maṣawa‘117.

30Commissario Alessandro Allori, chief of Civilian affairs in Maṣawa‘, ordered that all members of the expedition provide additional evidence of their identity and nationality. The Carabinieri also established around-the-clock surveillance of the Christian X, anchored in the city harbour; soon they reported suspicious activities to Commissario Allori. Frobenius had attempted a deceptive move. The Carabinieri learned that a member of the German mission had purchased an Italian flag from a local merchant “so that in their escape from Maṣawa‘ the Germans could disguise themselves”; furthermore, a sailor from Christian X obtained a map of the coastline “from where the mission could reach Abyssinia undetected”. Eventually Commissario Allori was informed by a local chief that a “group of German sailors [had] explored the coastline north of Massawa and inquired about the purchase of mules”. There was evidence to take restrictive measures against the German mission; yet the order to expel Frobenius took additional time. We learn from diplomatic dispatches that the governments of both Ethiopia and Italy agreed on a concerted strategy that would preserve Frobenius’ safety and protect the neutral status of either country.

  • 118 FO 371/2227 225.

31The very presence of Frobenius and his men in Maṣawa‘ jeopardized, in particular, Italy’s fragile neutrality. Being neutral at this point of the war, Italy could not just expel the German mission; the Italian foreign office suggested that the group be escorted on board an Italian boat on condition that Britain and France would collaborate and grant safe conduct for the group118. The negotiations with Paris and London, however, required time. As the days passed, Frobenius grew weary and requested permission to travel to the capital city of Asmara, from where cables could be sent to prince von Bülow. No immediate response came from Rome. Upon receiving Frobenius’ cable, von Bülow asked the Italian government to ensure the delivery of a “postal bag” to the German Legation in Addis Ababa; however, von Bülow made no mention of the transit permits requested by Frobenius. On that same day, Commissario Allori informed Rome that leaflets calling for guerra santa (holy war) had been found in Maṣawa‘ in the possession of two Arab members of the German mission. He stated: “Their true plan [was] unveiled”. The content of the leaflets also reached the Italian Parliament. Fully aware of the diplomatic and political consequences, prince von Bülow finally addressed an urgent cable to the government of Eritrea requesting that Frobenius be assisted in returning to Germany at once. “The very text of the cable”, von Bülow suggested, “should be shown to Geheimrat Frobenius”.

Expulsion from Maawa‘ and Frobenius in Italy

  • 119 FO 371/2227 262.
  • 120 FO 371/2349 60548.
  • 121 FO 371/2227 246ff.
  • 122 FO 371/2227 227f.
  • 123 FO 371/2227 231-232, dated 25 February 1915.

32After more than a month of diplomatic problems, the Germans were finally forced to leave Maṣawa‘ on 26 March119 “under safe conduct from the Italian Colonial authorities, guaranteed by the British and French governments”120. This question of safe conduct had prompted a frenetic exchange of letters and telegrams between the British, French and Italian governments. The simple matter of safe conduct and the names of the German and “Oriental” members of the expedition kept officials at the Foreign Office — and British telegraph lines — busy for many days121. Britain hoped France would adhere to the same policy of safe conduct, and hesitated to issue the order before receiving a response to this effect from Paris122, but Foreign Secretary Grey found it “difficult to refuse such a safe conduct in view of the great service (...) rendered by the Italian Government in stopping this mission which would otherwise have been able to do considerable harm in Abyssinia”123.

  • 124 FO 371/2227 250 and 251, dated 15 March 1915.

33According to a telegram sent to the Foreign Office by Rodd, the Italian Minister of the Colonies also decided to expel the non-Europeans engaged in the mission, and requested safe conduct for them as well. They were sent to Jaffa via Port Said as the Palestinian port was considered a safe enough destination for Hall and for the Arabs and Turks on the mission, but the Italians wanted confirmation from Cairo and Paris124.

  • 125 Wk 11 g secr. III 123.
  • 126 ASMAE Archivio Eritrea: telegram sent from Asmara on 27 March 1915 (Biocca, 2010).
  • 127 FO 371/2227 266. With the exception of the Somali Hassan, whose expulsion from the colony posed som (...)
  • 128 FO 371/2227 275.
  • 129 Wk 11 g secr. III 56.

34In contrast to these frenetic telegrams, Frobenius was unusually laconic on the subject of their trip back to Italy: “The governor handed us our safe conduct”125. Frobenius and his men were forced to leave aboard the Italian postal steamship Adalia, heading for Port Said where they were scheduled to arrive on 31 March126. From there they were to be sent to Naples. The Arab and Turkish members of the mission were sent aboard the Italian steamship Montenegro bound for Jaffa and scheduled to reach Port Said on 1st April127. Sending the non-European members to Jaffa at first seemed very complicated, as there were no direct ships to this port, so the possibility of shipping them to Syria via Italy was also considered128. On 6 April, von Wangenheim informed the German Foreign Office [Auswärtiges Amt] of the arrival of the non-European members of the mission in Jerusalem: “Salomon Hall has arrived with the 9 Mohammedan Prisoners of War”129.

  • 130 Wk 11 g secr. III 116.
  • 131 Wk 11 g secr. III 123; ASMAE Archivio Eritrea, 29 March 1915.
  • 132 Copies of the articles can be found in Wk 11 g secr. III 126.
  • 133 La Tribuna 8 April 1915, Wk 11 g secr. III 126.

35Every precaution was taken to ensure that all the expedition members reached their intended destinations safely and without making contact with people in the ports en route. It was of paramount importance for the Italians to send the Germans directly to Italy, and the Syrians to Jaffa, without their landing in any other country on the way130. All French and British vessels in the area were informed of the passage of the German mission and were given a list of the names of its members. They were transported to Catania and Naples, where Türstig continued the journey back to Germany through Genoa accompanying the equipment, while Frobenius, Martius, Passarge and Kistenfeger went on to Rome, because Frobenius wished to speak with Ambassador von Bülow131. When Frobenius, Martius, Kistenfeger and Passarge arrived in Rome in April 1915, however, they immediately became the toast of the city. With the help of Passarge, who acted as his public relations officer, Frobenius arranged a series of interviews, such as the one published on 9 April 1915 in La Tribuna,132 where he took the opportunity to give a full account of their mission to the Italian press and to deny the political intentions of the mission. In another interview, Passarge claimed unashamedly: “It appears that we have been charged with attempted espionage!”133. He also denied reports that had appeared in the Italian newspapers regarding the military background of the members of the expedition, and accused the Italian press of fabricating the story. He added that it had never been their intention to foster an uprising against Britain and France in North East Africa. When questioned by the journalist about the route they had taken, he did not mention having passed through al-Wajh, and finally, regarding their reasons for staying in Maṣawa‘, Passarge claimed that they had wanted to take the opportunity to get to know the Italian colony better, praising the kindness of the Italian colonial authorities.

36However, the next day (9 April), and in the same newspaper, Frobenius claimed that the main objective of the mission had been to take the post to the German Legation in Addis Ababa, but he admitted that his own personal goal had been somewhat different: “to influence the Arab countries on behalf of the Ottoman government”. For this reason, added Frobenius, he had been appointed “plenipotentiary of his Ottoman imperial majesty in Arabia”. He boasted in the interview that the task had been very easy, thanks to the loyalty and favourable disposition of the Arabs towards the Ottoman government, and he accused the British of acts of intrigue aimed at separating the Arab cause from that of the Ottomans, condemning the Arab population to famine and subsequently trying to “buy” their loyalty with money and provisions. He also claimed that the influence of the British Navy in Arabia had been weakened.

  • 134 Wk 11 g secr. III 62-70.

37These interviews sum up his mission and character. His tactlessness caused his country and its embassy staff much diplomatic trouble. He left Rome on 9 April and managed to cross the Austrian border before 23 May (the day Italy announced its decision to enter the war as an ally of the Entente), and to reach Berlin. He left Italy surprised and deeply offended at having been taken for a spy134. On 24 May, all other citizens of Austria and Germany would be informed of the order from their embassies to leave Italy at once.

Conclusion

  • 135 In 1918 Passarge applied for permission to re-enter Italy together with his family. All but Mario’s (...)
  • 136 In 1924 Antonio Gramsci, Secretary general of the Italian communist party, moved into the comfortab (...)

38Archival documents do not reveal when and how Italian authorities learned of Frobenius’ mission and hidden aims. As Frobenius suspected, British intelligence may have warned officials in Rome. However, since early February 1915 the government of Eritrea appears to have been instructed on the measures to be taken. Mario Passarge may have played an ambiguous role here. Indeed Passarge spoke Italian so well that, by his own admission, he felt loyal to “his two countries, Germany and Italy”135. Passarge was familiar with Italian politics and diplomatic circles; he was also a close friend of Carmine Senise, a high-ranking official in the Italian intelligence agency. Although no written sources prove that Passarge acted as a double agent, we know that he left Rome for Damascus with a counterfeit Italian passport; we also learn that Senise was informed in advance of the “cultural expedition” that his friend was about to join, and that he did not object. In the post-war years, Passarge returned to Rome and he and Senise resumed friendship , the latter eventually becoming chief of Italian police136.

39The failure of Frobenius’ expedition placed Frobenius himself in a very difficult position regarding any future attempts to travel to Africa, with British intelligence services ever suspicious of him. He did not undertake any further expeditions until well into the 1920s, when he travelled to Sudan (1926) and South Africa and India (1928). He continued to travel to Africa until shortly before his death; his last two expeditions took him to Libya (1932 and 1933) but were closely monitored by Italian military intelligence.

40Echoes of the 1915 mission could still be heard in 1926, when Frobenius travelled to Sudan with G. Leisner and the artist F. Sebba137. He wanted to go to Khartoum, but the British refused to allow him because he had not contacted the British authorities, but had instead dealt directly with the Egyptians. In November of that year, the Sudan Agency in Khartoum sent a secret communiqué to the British Resident in Cairo, in which the subject of “Frobenius” came under discussion:

I think the time has come when Mr. Frobenius may definitely be placed on the Black List. I was informed [...] that, during the war, a party composed of Frobenius, Turstig and Charles Neufeld [sic], arrived at Massawa with the object of entering the Sudan via Eritrea and endeavouring to stir up the natives against the Sudan Government”.

  • 138 FO 141/787 19 (document from Foreign Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Embassy and Consul (...)

41The document contains a hand-written addendum at the foot of the page: “Yes, on the black list please”138.

42Among the British reports referring to Frobenius, we find the following comments written at the time of his attempt to travel to Rhodesia and from there to proceed to Tanganyika and the Belgian Congo, in 1927:

  • 139 Colonial Office 822/3/12.

Mr. Frobenius is President of the Institute of Cultural Morphology at Frankfurt and teaches at the University in that town […]. He is not accepted as a scientist and the learned people in Germany consider him an amateur and rather an outsider. His great activity in selling African objects to many European museums has earned him the reputation of being a very shrewd businessman […]. Politically he is not popular in Germany, as he has steadily advocated the point of view that Germany is well out of it by not having any colonies in Africa, as he thinks that his country has neither the money to develop these colonies properly, nor the necessary means for meeting political trouble which he thinks is sure to arise in Africa sooner or later between the blacks and the whites. I asked him about his activities during the War, of which I knew something, and he told me quite openly of certain activities of his in the capacity of Turkish General in the Red Sea and along the Somali Coast […]. [H]is scientific reputation — which is the only reputation left to him — seems to be as second rate as his reputation for decent behaviour”139.

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Bibliographie

ABBREVIATIONS

ACS = Archivio Centrale dello Stato (Roma)
ASMAE = Archivio Storico del Ministero degli Affari Esteri (Roma)
CO = Colonial Office Correspondence
(National Archives, Kew)
FO = Foreign Office Correspondence (National Archives, Kew)
GFM = German War Documents Project, University of Michigan Selection (microfilms preserved at the National Archives, Kew)
LF = Documents from the
Leo Frobenius Nachlass (Frobenius Institut)
Wk 11 g secr. = Documents in the Bundesarchiv, Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amts, Geheime Akten betreff. den Krieg 1914. Der Weltkrieg Nº 11

MANUSCRIPTS FROM THE DIAFE VII FILES (FROBENIUS INSTITUT DER JOHANN WOLFGANG GOETHE-UNIVERSITÄT, FRANKFURT A.M.)

Frobenius L., Notizbuch I, Rote-Meer-Fahrt, 1915, Nachlass L. Frobenius DIAFE VII, unpublished manuscript, 1915 (LF 314).

Kistenfeger H., Notizbuch I (Tagebuch), Rumänien-Türkei IV.1., Nachlass L. Frobenius DIAFE VII, unpublished manuscript 24.12.1914 – 21.1.1915 (LF 317).

Kistenfeger H., Notizbuch II (Tagebuch), Rumänien-Türkei IV.2., Nachlass L. Frobenius DIAFE VII, unpublished manuscript 21.1. – 4.2. 1915 (LF 319).

Passarge M., Reisebericht II, Rote-Meer-Fahrt, 1915, Nachlass L. Frobenius DIAFE VII, unpublished manuscript 8.2.-15.3.1915 (LF 313).

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Moubayed, S. M., Two September Weeks That Saved Damascus in 1918”, Arab Studies Quarterly 37/4 (2015), p. 367-385.

Oberhaus S., “Zum wilden Aufstande entflammen”. Die deutsche Ägyptenpolitik 1914 bis 1918. Ein Beitrag zur Propagandageschichte des Ersten Weltkrieges, Düsseldorf, unpublished dissertation, 2006.

Raouf-Sinno, A., “The Emperor’s visit to the East as Reflected in Contemporary Arabic Journalism”, in H. Sader, T. Sheffler and A. Neuwirth (eds), Baalbek: Images and Documents, 1898-1998, Orient-Institut, Beirut, 1998.

Riesz, J. “Afrikanische Kriegsgefangene in deutschen Lagern während des Ersten Weltkriegs”, in M. Hofmann and R. Morrien (eds), Deutsch-afrikanische Diskurse in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Literatur- und kulturwissenschaftliche Perspektiven, Amsterdamer Beiträge zur neueren Germanistik, Amsterdam, Editions Rodopi, 2012, p. 71-106.

Rogan, E., The Fall of the Ottomans. The Great War in the Middle East, 1914–1920, Allen Lane, 2015.

Rosen, F. “Reviewed work(s): Eine deutsche Gesandtschaft in Abessinien”, Journal of the Royal African Society 7/26 (1908), p. 221.

Scholler H., “German World War I Aims in Ethiopia – the Frobenius-Hall-Mission”, in J. Tubiana (ed.), Modern Ethiopia. From the Accession of Menilek II to the Present. Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies. Nice 19–22 December 1977, Rotterdam, Balkema, 1980, p. 303-326.

Schwanitz W. G., “Djihad ‛Made in Germany’: Der Streit um den Heiligen Krieg 1914–1915”, Sozial Geschichte No. 18, 2003, p. 7-34.

Taboada H. G. H., “El fin de un sistema: el imām Hussein y la Primera Guerra Mundial”, Estudios de Asia y África No. 39/1, 2004, p. 117-138.

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Notes

1 We would like to thank R. Kuba and P. Steigerwald for their help with the new Frobenius material, and M. Strohmeier and Ph. Petriat for their most useful suggestions. Our article is partially based on a previous study (Da Riva, 2009), with some additional information from the archives of the Frobenius Institute. It is also based on documents from ASMAE Archivio Eritrea, b. 730, fasc. “Missione germanica” (Biocca, 2010) and ACS, Ministero dell’Interno, “Ufficio centrale investigativo” (Biocca, 2012). P. Steigerwald and the Frobenius Institut are gratefully acknowledged for providing the graphic material of this article (Fig. 2‑6), and C. Terré for preparing the map of Fig. 1. This paper is based on research conducted under the auspices of the ICREA Academia research Prize of the Generalitat de Catalunya (R. Da Riva).

2 DIAFE VII, see http://www.frobenius-institut.de/das-institut/geschichte/forschungsreisen (web page visited in July 2016).

3 Braukämper, 1994, p. 561; McMeekin, 2010, p. 143-152.

4 Kaiser Wilhelm II had handed over responsibility for strategic operations in Europe to his chief military advisers; however, he remained keen on pursuing covert operations in distant war theatres, to be conducted under his supervision and authority. On his initiatives in WWI see Hull, 1981 (2004), p. 236-266. On Wilhelm’s interest in the “cultural morphology” of Africa and correspondence with Frobenius, see Marchand, 2001, p. 465-473.

5 Scholler, 1980, p. 319. Karl Bosch had been the “commercial specialist” of the 1905 German Special Mission to Abyssinia (Rosen, 1908, p. 221).

6 Eshete, 1974, p. 15

7 Recently published material describes aspects of the German community in Addis Ababa on the wake of the Great War that are not especially positive: Ullendorff, 1990, 73-75.

8 McKale, War by Revolution, pp. 156ff.

9 Prime Minister Crispi, held responsible for Italy’s demise by both Parliament and public opinion, resigned. On the battle at Adwa and the ensuing policy towards Ethiopia see Del Boca, 1992 (2014).

10 Italy formally withdrew from the Triple alliance on 26 April 1915.

11 When the Sanūsī-s conducted operations against British forces in Egypt but also engaged the Italians in Libya, Rome dispatched additional troops and withdrew from portions of Fizzān. Angry diplomatic notes were addressed to Berlin, while Ambassador Hans von Flotow strove to persuade his Italian counterparts of “unquestionable German loyalty.” A disturbing episode contributed to exacerbating bilateral relations. Ignoring official diplomatic warnings, the German government authorized special agent Otto Mannessmann to travel to Libya and arrange delivery of additional military aid to Aḥmad Al-Sharīf, chief of the Sanūsī forces positioned along the Egyptian border. Tipped by intelligence reports, Italian port authorities in Trieste seized a German freighter bound for Libya with military equipment destined to Al-Sharīf. Rome demanded that Berlin immediately call off any “act of interference into the peaceful internal affairs of the colony”. The nationalist press also charged Berlin with “deception”; German agents disguised as “experts”, “entrepreneurs” and even “archaeologists” now conspired in a deliberate attempt to drag Italy into war.

12 Scholler, German World War”, p. 305, and 309-310.

13 Aksakal, 2008.

14 After two decades colonial rule, Eritrea and Italy's possessions on the west coast of the Red Sea had gradually extended from the port of Assab to Maṣawa‘, which in 1890 became the capital of the “primitive colony”. On Eritrea and Maṣawa‘, see miran, 2004.

15 Congo (1904–06); Mali, Burkina Faso and Togo (1907–09); Morocco, Algeria and Tunis (1910); Northern Cameroon and the area around the confluence of the rivers Niger and Benue (1910–12); Sudan (1912); and Algeria (1912–14). He founded the German Society for Research in Inner Africa in 1904.

16 Heinrichs, 1998 p. 11. On the Frobenius Institute, see Haberland, 1998. For Frobenius’ contributions to the field of ethnography, see Marchand, 1997 and Jensen, 1938 for his obituary.

17 Braukämper, 1994, p. 559-560; Braukämper, 2006. On the work of Frobenius in Africa, see Ita, 1972. See also Kuba, 2014.

18 During the war, and after the Red Sea expedition, Frobenius spent some months in Rumania as director of a camp of Muslim POWs from North and Central Africa. The Institute for Cultural Morphology (since 1946 the Frobenius Institut), which he founded in Munich in 1920, moved to Frankfurt am Main in 1925 and became part of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität. There, he took up a lectureship in culture and ethnology, and later became honorary professor and director of the Frankfurt Metropolitan Museum of Ethnology.

19 Heinrichs, 1998, p. 35.

20 Wk 11 g secr. II 55.

21 Heine, 1980, p. 1.

22 McKale, 1998, p. 46-50 and 62; Schwanitz, 2003; McMeekin, 2010, p. 85-99, 141-152, and 153-229; see lüdke, 2005, 2015; aksakal, 2011; rogan, 2015.

23 Oberhaus, 2006, p. 220+88.

24 British National Archives, Kew, Foreign Office, (FO) 882/2 143-144.

25 Moritz’s objectives and itinerary were very similar to DIAFE VII’s: he left Damascus disguised as an Arab, with the intention of crossing the Red Sea to reach Sudan (McKale, 1998, p. 62). See also Oberhaus, 2006, p. 166.

26 Musil “speaks very good Arabic and looks like a Bedouin” FO 371/1971 161. Musil was entrusted with the organisation of a “Beduinen-Action” against England with Tschirschky and Mannesmann, and received very generous financing from the Austrian government (Wk 11 g secr. I 17; see also Wk 11 g secr. I 29-31). His expedition, although not as disastrous at DIAFE VII’s, was not an unqualified success (Wk 11 g secr. IV 125).

27 McKale, 1998, p. 51, 59f., 62, 172ff., 214f.; see also Taboada, 2004, 119f.

28 McKale, 1998, p. 63. Hilgendorff was assumed to be carrying ammunition and explosives from Syria to Egypt (FO 371/1971 83-84). See also Martin Strohmeier’s article in this issue.

29 FO 371/1971 140.

30 McKale, 1998, pp. 87ff.

31 Wk 11 g secr. IV 109.

32 Wk 11 g secr. I 116.

33 Wk 11 g secr. I 49.

34 Kistenfeger, 1914-1915.

35 Heine, 1980, p. 1f; Braukämper, 1994, p. 557. See also La Tribuna dated 9 April 1915, LF 626: Wk 11 g secr. III 126 and Wk 11 g secr. I 110. Of their original equipment, three boxes with clothing remained in addition to eight boxes containing “preserves”, which Frobenius gave to the Eritrean Red Cross (Wk 11 g secr. IV 77-78).

36 Some details on the equipment can be found in a letter from the Frobenius legacy in the archives of the Frobenius Institut (LF 858), which was drafted in Bucharest on 18 September, 1917, more than two years after the end of the mission. The letter refers to the return transport of 65 “pieces of equipment of the Privy Councillor Frobenius from his Expedition to Turkey with a list of their contents. The transport was to be sent to Germany and escorted by a sergeant and two soldiers.

37 Braukämper, 1994, p. 556.

38 In the final accounts of the expedition, Frobenius claimed to have received 95,758.92 marks, and to have spent 96,839.09, indicating that 1,080.17 marks remained outstanding. See Wk 11 g secr. IV 73-79.

39 Frobenius had hoped to counteract British “food propaganda” supplying rice to the Arabian coastal areas by boat. Shortly after reaching Maṣawa‘, he made contact with the crews of several German ships that had taken refuge in the port (which was in neutral territory), and he proposed using these ships to transport rice and other foodstuffs to al-Ḥudayda. The food was in fact the cargo of these boats, and he proposed that the Auswärtiges Amt should buy the cargo and deliver it to Arabia. The German Embassy in Constantinople had been informed of the sacks of rice in Maṣawa‘, but Ambassador Wangenheim made it very clear that the Embassy had no intention of taking responsibility for any payments. Frobenius, unable to contact Berlin from Maṣawa‘, failed to receive the sum of 25,000 lire from the Foreign Office that he needed to carry out this enterprise, and the Hamburg-Amerika Line (through Captain Tutt) had to lend him the money. Frobenius’ arguments must have been entirely convincing because the shipping companies did not hesitate to offer him their help. See Wk 11 g secr. 11 III 6, 9, 12, 14, 73. On the issue of the rice, see Da Riva, 2009, p. 84-88.

40 Wk 11 g secr. IV 77.

41 Wk 11 g secr. I 76.

42 The title was awarded on 4 December 1914 (Wk 11 g secr. IV 14). Frobenius signed most of his reports as Kaiserlicher Deutscher Geheimrat as in Wk 11 g secr. IV 26, see also Heine, 1980, p. 2; Heinrichs, 1998, p. 69.

43 Wk 11 g secr. I 100, dated 14 December 1914, see also ibid. 83.

44 Braukämper, 1994, p. 556.

45 Eshete, 1974, p. 12. A plenipotentiary Minister corresponds to ‛Ambassador’.

46 Von Wangenheim could not conceal his irritation at Frobenius’ impatience regarding the request for the title of Pasha (Wk 11 g secr. II 56). In a report sent from Asmara, dated 23 March 1915 (Ibid., III 108), Frobenius complained about the bureaucratic problems which had delayed the official recognition of this title.

47 Braukämper, 1994, p. 556.

48 Wk 11 g secr. III 108.

49 Von Wangenheim to von Bethmann-Hollweg (02 May 1915; Wk 11 g secr. IV 29).

50 Braukämper, 1994, p. 557.

51 Wk 11 g secr. I 66.

52 Wk 11 g secr. III 70.

53 FO 371/2227 264.

54 Eshete, 1974, p. 12-13.

55 Braukämper, 1994, p. 556-557. This source is probably FO 371/2349 60548.

56 Passarge’s complex figure and is analysed in depth in Biocca, 2010, p. 32, 43.

57 The scholar Heinrich Scholler offers a different list and refers to a document from the Italian “Ministero delle Colonie” which contains variants regarding the spelling. See Scholler, 1980, p. 320, his source is probably telegram FO 371/2227 258, sent from Rodd to the Foreign Office on 15 March 1915. The Sudan Intelligence Report March 1915 contains an item entitled “A Special Mission from the German Emperor” and cites the names of five Europeans and thirteen “Orientals”. Some minor variations in the spelling of the names can also be appreciated in this list. See FO 371/2349 60548.

58 Meemun was a special envoy from the Turkish government whose mission it was to help Frobenius reach Addis Ababa (Wk 11 g secr. II 56).

59 These men were actually Moroccan prisoners of war who disguised themselves as pilgrims on their way home crossing the Red Sea (Wk 11 g secr. II 119). On North African prisoners of war, see Kahleyss, 2000; Koller, 2001; Riesz, 2012.

60 Kistenfeger, 1914, p. 4.

61 Kistenfeger, 1914, p. 40. Photo: Frobenius Institut FoK007_005-8010.

62 Frobenius, 1916a, p. 98. These were the men officially engaged with Frobenius on the expedition, according to the archives of the DIAFE VII (Haberland, 1998, p. 37).

63 McKale, 1998, p. 62.

64 Wk 11 g secr. II 127-128.

65 On the Italian conquest of Fizzān see Baldinetti, 2010.

66 McKale, 1998, 54. German ambassador von Wangenheim raised no objections, for “he did not intend to obstruct the progress of the mission” (Wk 11 g secr. II 56).

67 Wk 11 g secr. II 55-56.

68 Wk 11 g secr. II IV 1. Löytved also paid Hall the sum of 800 marks a month, of which 200 marks went to Hall’s wife in Lausanne. See Wk 11 g secr. II 54.

69 Wk 11 g secr., III 144-145.

70 McKale, 1998, 55.

71 Idem, p. 58.

72 J. Nr. 6385, in LF 625. Before setting out, Frobenius sent a very detailed report of the political situation in the Ottoman Empire. See Wk 11 g secr. II 4.

73 Wk 11 g secr. II 22. The subsequent development of the mission shows that von Bülow received few details about the expedition, as British intelligence would also discover (FO 371/2227 274).

74 See La Tribuna 8 April 1915 (copy Wk 11 g secr. III 126).

75 Eshete, 1974, p. 13 considers Berlin the starting point.

76 Frobenius, 1915, p. 7.

77 On the railway, see Bickel, 2003.

78 Kistenfeger, 1914–1915, p. 51, 57. Hotel Victoria, owned by Aḥmad ‘Izzat al-‘Abd, was the largest in Damascus, see Moubayed, 2006, p. 95-97. The German Emperor had been a notable guest during his visit to Damascus in 1898, see Raouf-Sinno, 1998. On the hotel and Lawrence, see Anderson, 2013; Moubayed, 2015.

79 FO 371/2227 279.

80 Wk 11 g secr. II 49.

81 Passarge had reached Syria using an Italian (counterfeit) passport (Biocca, 2010, p. 43).

82 Rodd to the Foreign Office dated 9 April 1915, FO 371/2227 279.

83 FO 195/2459 379; FO 195/2460 4242.

84 Interview given to La Tribuna 9 April 1915, Wk 11 g secr. III 126.

85 Wk 11 g secr. II 55.

86 La Tribuna, 9 April 1915, op. cit.

87 Eshete, 1974, p. 12.

88 Wk 11 g secr. II 26.

89 Billi, the numerous tribe with headquarters in Wejh [...]. Their paramount Sheikh, Suleiman Rifada, was temporizing, being really hostile [to Feisal]; for the Turks had made him Pasha and decorated him [...]” (Lawrence, 1962, p. 119.). Lawrence called Sulaymān “our old nuisance of El Wejh” (ibid, p. 389).

90 Wk 11 g secr. II 95.

91 Wk 11 g secr. III 126.

92 See Lawrence, 1962, p. 135-136 and 169.

93 Wk 11 g secr. III 83.

94 Dhaw is a generic term used to describe different types of vessel which vary in their size and shape, it refers to lateen-rigged sailing vessels, with a raised poop, a raked stem, and one or two masts. They are used along the coasts of the Indian Ocean: from Mozambique to Philippines (J. Aznar, Museu Marítim of Barcelona, personal communication).

95 Wk 11 g secr. II 123ff.

96 Taboada, 2004, p. 118.

97 McMeekin, 2010, p. 147-148; FO 882/15 p. 10.

98 Wk 11 g secr. II 126-128.

99 See McMeekin, 2010, p. 147; McKale, 1998, p. 38, 61-64.

100 Regierungsrat Hermann Kersting (b. 1863) was a German diplomat, doctor and colonial officer. (http://www.ub.bildarchiv-dkg.uni-frankfurt.de/Bildprojekt/Lexikon/Standardframeseite.php?suche=Kersting+, web page visited in April 2016).

101 Wk 11 g secr. II 128.

102 Passarge, 1915, p. 15. Raw hides were not considered contraband in September 1914, but this situation changed with the outbreak of the war. See FO 882/15 p. 291.

103 Wk 11 g secr. II 118ff.

104 Bericht VIII: Wk 11 g secr. III 78ff.

105 Wk 11 g secr. III 86.

106 La Tribuna 9 April 1915; Wk 11 g secr. III 126 (copy in LF 626).

107 Wk 11 g secr. II 119.

108 FO 371/22227 275.

109 FO 371/2227 280, dated 9 April 1915. Unfortunately we do not know how Rodd discovered the details of the hiding place.

110 Wk 11 g secr. II 118-19. Other descriptions of the encounter are contained in the personal diary of Mario Passarge (Passarge, 1915), and in the report written by Captain Tutt, Wk 11 g secr. III 8-9.

111 FO 371/2227 275.

112 Wk 11 g secr. III 86. Other descriptions of the encounter with the French ship are contained in the personal diary of Mario Passarge (Reisebericht II), where events of 13 February are recorded.

113 Wk 11 g secr. 11 II 118; FO 371/2227 234.

114 Governor Salvago Raggi and Ambassador Colli di Felizzano were careful not to disclose in writing the source of the information acquired on Frobenius (Biocca, 2010, p. 35)

115 Biocca, 2010, p. 35-36.

116 Wk 11 g secr. 11 III 101; ibid., 8-10, 72-74. Tutt seems to have played the role of guide to Frobenius and his colleagues; he even took them to Asmara to meet the Governor (Ibid., 10).

117 Wk 11 g secr. II 112. A detailed narrative of the events in Maṣawa‘ is in Biocca, 2010, p. 32-42.

118 FO 371/2227 225.

119 FO 371/2227 262.

120 FO 371/2349 60548.

121 FO 371/2227 246ff.

122 FO 371/2227 227f.

123 FO 371/2227 231-232, dated 25 February 1915.

124 FO 371/2227 250 and 251, dated 15 March 1915.

125 Wk 11 g secr. III 123.

126 ASMAE Archivio Eritrea: telegram sent from Asmara on 27 March 1915 (Biocca, 2010).

127 FO 371/2227 266. With the exception of the Somali Hassan, whose expulsion from the colony posed some diplomatic problems (Biocca, 2010, p. 41).

128 FO 371/2227 275.

129 Wk 11 g secr. III 56.

130 Wk 11 g secr. III 116.

131 Wk 11 g secr. III 123; ASMAE Archivio Eritrea, 29 March 1915.

132 Copies of the articles can be found in Wk 11 g secr. III 126.

133 La Tribuna 8 April 1915, Wk 11 g secr. III 126.

134 Wk 11 g secr. III 62-70.

135 In 1918 Passarge applied for permission to re-enter Italy together with his family. All but Mario’s brother Willibald were allowed to establish their residence in Rome. Records of the interviews and other related documents are in Acs, Ufficio centrale investigativo, b. 46, fasc.: “Passarge Giorgio.”

136 In 1924 Antonio Gramsci, Secretary general of the Italian communist party, moved into the comfortable home of the Passarges in Rome and lived there until November 1926, when he was arrested. Mario Passarge left Rome for Berlin in 1934 to take up a position within “NW7”, the intelligence office of I.G. Farben. Thereafter Passarge and Senise exchanged letters and met in Rome several times until September 1943, when Senise was arrested and deported to Dachau. In the records of Italian Polizia politica (Ufficio centrale investigativo) Passarge is formally labeled: “German spy” (Biocca, 2012)

137 DIAFE VIII. See http://www.frobenius-institut.de/das-institut/geschichte/forschungsreisen (web page visited July 2016).

138 FO 141/787 19 (document from Foreign Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Embassy and Consulates, Egypt: General Correspondence).

139 Colonial Office 822/3/12.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. Map of the itinerary.
URL http://cy.revues.org/docannexe/image/3099/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 352k
Titre Fig. 2. Al ‘Ula: unloading the expedition equipment.
Crédits (FoA 07-8024)
URL http://cy.revues.org/docannexe/image/3099/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 720k
Titre Fig. 3. Between Al ‘Ula and Medain Salih: remains of statues.
Crédits (FoA 07-8039)
URL http://cy.revues.org/docannexe/image/3099/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 864k
Titre Fig. 4. Between Al ‘Ula and Al Wajh: Billi Bedouins.
Crédits (FoA 07-8050)
URL http://cy.revues.org/docannexe/image/3099/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 660k
Titre Fig. 5. Between Al ‘Ula and Al Wajh: a rest under the shade.
Crédits (FoA 07-8057)
URL http://cy.revues.org/docannexe/image/3099/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 776k
Titre Fig. 6. Harbour of Al Wajh: the expedition dhaw.
Crédits (FoA 07-8068)
URL http://cy.revues.org/docannexe/image/3099/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 484k
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Référence électronique

Rocío Da Riva et Dario Biocca, « Leo Frobenius’ Secret Mission in Arabia and Eritrea (1914–1915) », Arabian Humanities [En ligne], 6 | 2016, mis en ligne le 26 septembre 2016, consulté le 24 septembre 2017. URL : http://cy.revues.org/3099 ; DOI : 10.4000/cy.3099

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Auteurs

Rocío Da Riva

University of Barcelona

Dario Biocca

University of Perugia

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