Webster’s Dictionary defines the word anachronism as an error in chronology especially : a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other.
In the subject of history it is important to understand that the names of places weren’t always what they are. When we look at a map today we see names of countries and cities that are familiar to us. The cities of London, Vienna, Tunis, and Marseilles…the countries of France, Turkey, the United Kingdom, etc.
The names of all of the above, plus many, many more, have all changed throughout history. While being totally specific when discussing general history may be a bit overboard, it is important to understand what places were called in the time period one is discussing. We want to avoid anachronisms when discussing history.
Below I will discuss a few anachronistic mistakes that I have encountered:
TURKEY – Turkey is a country that is a “bridge” from Europe to the Middle East (another misunderstood term btw…) This area has been occupied and or governed by many different cultures over thousands of years, including Hittites, Lydians, Greeks, Romans, and eventually Turks.
The Turks come from the Asian steppe. Original “Turks” probably came from the area of modern-day Turkmenistan. The Turks were only one of numerous tribes to come from the Asian steppe. The problem stems from calling the place Turkey when speaking about cultures prior to the invasion of the Turks, who came in large numbers in the 11th century, famously establishing themselves in the west by beating a Byzantine force at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071.
There were no Turks in what we call Turkey prior to the invasion of the Turks. And speaking of Turkey…..
ISTANBUL – If you have a date in Constantinople she’ll be waiting in Istanbul…. So goes the song. Modern-day Istanbul has had a name change or two. It was originally a Greek city named Byzantium, which is where the word Byzantine, as in Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire) comes from. Byzantium was later renamed Constantinople by the Roman Emperor and huge figure in Christianity Constantine in the 4th Century A.D. Over 1000 years later Constantinople was sacked by the spreading Muslim Ottoman Empire under Mehmet II (the Conqueror) in 1453 who officially named the city Istanbul. These three names are only the most well-known of the several others that this city has ben known as.
NEW YORK – Even old New York, was once New Amsterdam, why they changed it I can’t say – people must like it better that way…. OK, I promise, nor more of that song.
Yes, New York used to be named New Amsterdam. The Dutch and English were rivals on the seas during the 17th Century. The English eventually took control of the entire eastern portion of the modern-day USA and kicked the Dutch out during one of the Anglo-Dutch wars. The Dutch basically held the area along the Hudson River, which flows south to NYC. The name “New York” comes from York in England. The Duke of York at the time of the naming was the future King James II.
As far as “Dutch ” culture goes, Harlem, in northern NYC, is a Dutch name, just add another “a” as in Haarlem. The “Pennsylvania Dutch” are not Dutch at all. They are German. “Dutch” was just a mispronunciation of “Deutsch” (doy-ch), which simply means “German” in the German language.
LONDON – London is somewhat simple. It was called “Londinium” by the Romans who founded it. If you remember, the Romans took control of the British Isles in the mid-first century A.D.
ENGLAND – SCOTLAND – WHALES – UNITED KINGDOM – These names often are synonymous with each other. This post would be incredibly long if I went into all of this. Just remember that the different areas in the modern-day United Kingdom all have their own separate histories. The United Kingdom, or UK, is a relatively modern term encompassing England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. This stems from the Acts of Union in 1707 (which did not include N. Ireland at the time.) This is where we get the “British flag” as many call it, or the “Union Jack.” Refer to my previous post “The Layers of British History to 1066” if none of this rings a bell.
I could go on all day. Hundreds of places have changed. I didn’t even mention hundreds of Greek cities in Europe. I didn’t even mention that “Greek” comes form a Latin term or that “Latin” comes from Latium, which was where Rome was founded. “Rome” comes from Romulus, one of the legendary founders of Rome…… It really never ends, trust me….
When you read about history you will notice the names of places change. It is really fun to understand the ancient and modern connections. The point is, if you understand what some major places used to be called, you will understand history much better. The best way to explain something is to use the term “modern-day.” For instance, you can say that the Greek culture spread all along the western coast of modern-day Turkey.
The map below is of Roman Britain, or the modern-day United Kingdom and northwest continental Europe.