Indian Ocean, Island Nations, Maldives

Maldives – Beautiful Banknotes

The Republic of Maldives brings to us Beauty.  Enjoy!

Maldives banknote, front, 5 Rufiyaa

Cowrie Shells

Cowrie shells, illustrated left, were used as an early currency in Maldives.  An article on the use of Cowrie shells as money can be found here.


Cocoanut Palms are the national tree on the Maldives.  They grow in abundance throughout the islands.  A strange tale of their history is told here.





The ship, the Kalhu’oh’fummi, was used by three brothers, Muhanmed Thakurufaanu and Ali and Hassan, in the liberation of the Maldives in the 16th century.

In 1558 the Portuguese established a small garrison in the Maldives and tried to impose Christianity on the locals.

The Portuguese rule was cruel, described in an Arabic chronicle as ‘‘a time when intolerable enormities were committed by the invading infidels, a time when the sea grew red with Maldivian blood, a time when people were sunk in despair…’’
In 1573, a leader arose, Muhammad Thakurufaanu Al-Azam and his two brothers to organize a revolt.

To bring an end to this, Muhammad Thakurufaanu, left the Maldive Islands for Maliku, an island about 440 miles north of Maldives, and now known as Minicoy.  There the three brothers built their ship and returned to Maldives determined to liberate their people.

It is said that he three brothers landed on a different island every night.  They fought the Portuguese during the darkness and set sail again into the ocean before daybreak. The Portuguese garrison had fixed a day for the forcible conversion of inhabitants to Christianity.  The brothers landed on that island, Male, the night before.  During the night they defeated that garrison and gained independence for their country, ending fifteen years of colonial rule.

The date is celebrated now as National Day.  In 2018, National Day is occurs on November 9.  The date varies with the Islamic calendar.

Maldives banknote, back, 5 Rufiyaa

Fishing scenes illustrate the back of this banknote.  As said by former a President, “Fishing is the lifeblood of our nation, it is inborn. From the soil on which we live, to the sea around us, it remains an integral part of our existence. Fishing, and our country and its people, [are] one and shall remain inseparable forever.”

The traditional fishing vessel is the “Dhivehi Odi”.  It resembles the dhow, a traditional Arabian sailing ship.  It is handcrafted in the islands from coconut timber.


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Haiti – The Slave Who Defeated Napoleon

Haiti banknote, featuring Toussaint Louverture, hero of the Haitian Revolution

Toussaint Louverture is a hero of Haiti’s independence.  He’s been called “the Slave who Defeated Napoleon”, in a fine article here.

Haiti was second state in the Americas to gain independence.  Haiti’s revolution against France began in 1791, just 8 years after the end of its northern neighbor’s war for independence.

The Haitian Revolution was essentially a slave revolt.  It consisted of a series of conflicts, from 1791 through 1804.  It consisted of shifting alliances of Haitian slaves, and conflicts with colonists and French and British troops.  During its course, slavery was abolished; and, in 1804, national independence was secured.   It has been considered the most successful slave revolt in history, and the only one leading to the founding of an independent state.


Haiti’s present day population is, almost entirely, descended from African slaves.  The indigenous population was reduced to about 30,000 souls, within 2 decades following the island’s 1492 sighting by Columbus, due to European diseases, and, the brutal working conditions imposed by the Spaniards in their rapid exploitation of the island’s gold resources.  By the end of the 1500s, during which French pirates began to firmly entrench themselves in the territory, the indigenous peoples had virtually vanished.

As permanent settlements and plantations began to develop on the island, colonial landowners began importing slaves from Africa.  In the mid 1600s, the French West Indies Corporation took control of the area, and in 1697, the region was formally ceded to France from Spain.  As the sugar industry flourished, so did the slave importation industry, or, it should be said, as the slave industry flourished, so did the sugar industry.  There were about 5,000 slaves by the end of the 1600s.  By the end of the 1700s, when the revolution began, there were about 500,000 slaves. 

The colony’s population and economic output grew rapidly during the 1700s.  It became France’s most prosperous New World possession, exporting sugar and smaller amounts of coffee, cacao, indigo, and cotton. By the 1780s nearly two-thirds of France’s foreign investments were based on Saint-Domingue, Franc’s name for the island, and the number of stopovers by oceangoing vessels sometimes exceeded 700 per year.  In 1789, the year the French Revolution began, the Haitian Revolution began two years later.


detail from banknote

Toussaint began as a slave, was partially educated by his godfather, and then self educated in the Greek philosophers, Machiavelli, and especially the writings of the French Enlightenment.  The French Revolution, with its calls for liberty and equality, influenced Toussaint.  He was a renowned horseman and became a leader in the Haitian battles.  By 1793, he had adopted the surname Louverture, from the French word meaning “opening” or “the one who opened the way”.  A standard explanation is that it refers to his ability to create openings in battle, and it is sometimes attributed to French commissioner Polverel’s exclamation: “That man makes an opening everywhere”.

On 29 August 1793 he made his famous declaration of Camp Turel to the blacks of St Domingue:
Brothers and friends, I am Toussaint Louverture; perhaps my name has made itself known to you. I have undertaken vengeance. I want Liberty and Equality to reign in St Domingue. I am working to make that happen. Unite yourselves to us, brothers and fight with us for the same cause.

Motto: In Union is Strength, detail from back of banknote

Your very humble and obedient servant, Toussaint Louverture,


detail from back of banknote, Phrygian Cap – symbol of liberty, mounted above a Royal Palm.

He gave nominal allegiance to France while pursuing his own political and military designs, initially seeking better lives for slaves, but soon afterwards seeking full abolition and independence.  As the French revolution raged on, slavery was abolished by French decree, but was resisted by the French island colonists.  Continuing revolts were led by Tourissant and, in May 1801, he had had become “governor-general for life.” With the conclusion of the French Revolution, Napoléon Bonaparte came to power and attempted to regain control over the colony including the reinstitution of slavery.   Toussaint continued the resistance, and, by 1803, Napoleon, preoccupied with Europe, was ready to surrender Haiti.  Napoleon and Toussaint agreed to terms of peace; Napoleon agreeing to recognize Haitian independence and Toussaint agreeing to retire from public life.  But Napoleon betrayed him, captured him and had him executed in exile in 1803.  Others continued the struggle, and Haiti achieved independence the following year, 1804.


From Wikipedia, more here:

“On August 29, 1954, the Haitian ambassador to France, Léon Thébaud, inaugurated a stone cross memorial for Toussaint Louverture at the foot of the fort. Years afterward, the French government ceremoniously presented a shovelful of soil from the grounds of Fort-de-Joux to the Haitian government as a symbolic transfer of Toussaint Louverture’s remains. An inscription in his memory, installed in 1998, can be found on the wall of the Panthéon in Paris, inscribed with the following description:

Combattant de la liberté, artisan de l’abolition de l’esclavage, héros haïtien mort déporté au Fort-de-Joux en 1803.
(Combatant for liberty, artisan of the abolition of slavery, Haitian hero died in deportation at Fort-de-Joux in 1803.)

Toussaint Louverture influenced John Brown to invade Harpers Ferry. John Brown and his band captured citizens, and for a small time the federal armory and arsenal. Brown’s goal was that the local slave population would join the raid. But things did not go as planned. He was eventually captured and put on trial, and was hanged on December 2, 1859. Brown and his band of brothers shows the devotion to the violent tactics of the Haitian Revolution. During the 19th century African Americans used Toussaint Louverture as an example of how to reach freedom.”

A interesting graphic, illustrating the magnitude of the slavery of the era, can be found illustrated here, an interactive designed and built by Andrew Kahn, and published in Slate Magazine.


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Mainland Southeast Asia - Indochina, Southeast Asia, Vietnam

Vietnam – The Ghost of Ho Chi Minh

“…we request of the United States as guardians and champions of World Justice to take a decisive step in support of our independence…. our goal is full independence and full cooperation with the UNITED STATES. We will do our best to make this independence and cooperation profitable to the whole world.”  So closed Ho Chi Minh’s letter to U.S. President Harry S. Truman upon the conclusion of WWII.  It was not his first respectful correspondence with a US president.

Ho Chi Minh, detail from front of 1988 banknote, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh’s father traveled throughout the countryside as a teacher in the late 1800s when his homeland, Vietnam, was a colony of France.  He saw the poor and the very poor, and the contrasting comfortable lives of the French elite infuriated him.  He began to question the right of France to rule Vietnam and became a passionate nationalist.  By the time his son, Ho, born in 1890, was a teenager, he too was adopting his father’s view that Vietnam had a right to independently govern itself.

As the 19th century gave way to the 20th century, much of the colonial world was enamored with the marvelous rise of the United States.  For much of the 19th century, the United States had been isolationist in its foreign policy and protectionist in its economic policy.  Anti-colonialists easily associated Europe with imperialism, without education in the writings of Lenin and others of the time.  As stated by Raymond Aron, French philosopher, political scientist, and journalist, the daily experience of colonies consisted of “the exploitation of raw materials without any attempt to create local industry; the destruction of native crafts and the stunted growth of industrial development that resulted from the influx of European goods; high interest rates on loans; ownership of major businesses by foreign capitalists’.  But America was different. Here was a nation that had been a colony like themselves but had gained independence.  Here was a nation that was enjoying fantastic growth among the world of nations!  Here was a nation that was anti-imperial, the opposite of the colonializing countries of Europe!  Why cannot this be the same for us?

Ho became educated and well-traveled, visiting The United States and Europe and socializing with other anti-colonials.  All the while he nurtured his desire for an independent Vietnam.


Woodrow Wilson, an academic who had served but 2 years in politics, as Governor of New York, was elected President of the United States in 1912.  World War I commenced in Europe in 1914 while he was in office, and he pursued a strict policy of neutrality while nevertheless preparing America for the possibility of war, instituting the draft, and building up the US war making machinery.  His 2nd presidential campaign in 1916, on the slogan “He kept us out of war”, was successful by a slim majority.  The first year of his second term as President, he brought the United States into the war with the slogan “to make the world safe for democracy”.

Wilson closed his address to Congress seeking the declaration of war, “Our object…is to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power….We are glad…to fight…for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included: for the right of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy….We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make.”

So reluctant was America for war, so unentangled was America in the politics of Europe and its colonizing history, so remarkable was America’s rise to prominence after its own colonial past, America became the beacon to all the world of colonies as to what could be.  Wilson increased and refined his rhetorical annunciations, towards the rights of self-determination for all peoples, during, and through the end of the war.  And by the time of the Paris Peace Conference, for which he proposed “A League of Nations”, passions were inflamed for independence worldwide.  Woodrow Wilson had become the rock star of the era, an icon to independence minded peoples worldwide.


Ho Chi Minh was in Paris at the time of the Peace accords.  Colonials everywhere were aflame with passion for liberation from the colonizers.  On behalf of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh crafted an appeal for support for independence, to president Wilson.  The story is told that he rented a new suit and prepared assiduously for an audience with recitations from the American declaration of independence.  In what has been termed by historians as a lost “Wilsonian Moment”, Ho Chi Minh was ignored, and so was his country.  His frail appearance and demeanor may have led many to mis-appreciate and underestimate him.

And so were many other petitioners ignored in that conference, which mainly addressed Europe’s problems.  A disillusioned Ho Chi Minh, as well as others, began to seek out relationships with advocates of Leninism.  It is thought by many that such overtures were less out of genuine interest in communism, than in seeking the support of other powerful nations for their own independence movements.  Ho Chi Minh fell in with the communists in France, not because of an attraction to communism, but because of a passion for patriotism. He knew he needed help for his country and he was determined to get it.


Decades later, upon the close of WWII, Ho Chi Minh wrote Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence.  It included many of the ideals in America’s own declaration, one and three-quarter’s centuries before.  Five months after that war, Ho wrote to President Truman the words at the beginning of this post, while France was scrambling to reassert their colonial domination over Vietnam.

Ho’s entreaty was, once again, ignored by a US president.  France began to fight the Vietnamese in earnest to reassert their control over that little land on the other side of the globe.  The Vietnamese Army fought the French.  Mostly armed with machetes and muskets against France’s WW2 armaments, smoking out French positions with straw bundled with chili pepper, and using suicide weapons against French artillery, they waged war their for independence.

Ho Chi Minh, detail from front of 1988 banknote, Vietnam

After fighting the French for several years, Ho decided to negotiate a truce. According to journalist Bernard Fall, the meeting with French negotiators took place at a mud hut with a thatched roof.  No doubt, Ho Chi Minh conducted the meeting in perfect French.  As reported in Wikipedia here, “Inside they found a long table with chairs and were surprised to discover in one corner of the room a silver ice bucket containing ice and a bottle of good Champagne which should have indicated that Ho expected the negotiations to succeed. One demand by the French was the return to French custody of a number of Japanese military officers (who had been helping the Vietnamese armed forces by training them in the use of weapons of Japanese origin), in order for them to stand trial for war crimes committed during World War II. Ho replied that the Japanese officers were allies and friends whom he could not betray. Then he walked out, to seven more years of war.”

A few years later, the US took over the war against Vietnam.  Following the Joe McCarthy era, but still propelled by fear of communism, and supported a tidy “domino theory”, the US sent hundreds of thousands of troops into that war, losing more than fifty thousand dead, before retreating in defeat in the 1970s.


Ho Chi Minh died in 1969.  As the North Vietnamese marched south in 1975, uniting Vietnam, the spirit of Ho Chi Minh marched with them.  He was free from the shackles of this mortal body, and his people were free from the shackles of colonialism.


Front, 1988, 500 dong, Vietnam, featuring Ho Chi Minh
Back, 1988, 500 dong, featuring scenes from Port Haiphong.

This 1988 banknote features Ho Chi Minh.  Indeed all Vietnamese banknotes, through at least the 2003 issue, feature Ho Chi Minh, the father of Vietnamese independence.




The text of Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence can be read here, and will be seen to closely follow that by America 150 years earlier. Read September 2, 1945 in the square in Hanoi, it announced to the world Vietnam’s independence.

The February 16, 1946 letter to president Truman can be read here and the follow up urgent telegram to Harry Truman on February 28 1946 can be seen here.


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Central America, Honduras

Honduras – The Republic of Central America


The Battle of Trinity Valley, conceived and commanded by General Francisco Morazan, which turned the tide for Honduras.


General José Francisco Morazán Quezada (1792 – 15 September 1842) President of Honduras (1827-1830), President of Central American Federation (1830-1834); (1835-1838)

Franciso Morazon’s fortune changed in a single day, and with that, the future of Honduras and the Republic of Central America.  Perhaps the greatest and most far-sighted leader of the short-lived Republic, Morazán rose to prominence on November 11, 1827.  It was Thursday morning, and the sun rose upon Trinity Valley, near Ojojona, in the heart of the south-central region of Honduras which would soon bear his name.

The year was 1827, and it began in national consternation.  Dictatorial decrees announced by Federal President Manuel José Arce were felt throughout Central America and were leading to the overthrow of the government of Honduras.  To that end, General Justin Milla was given command of the 2nd battalion of Federal troops and crossed the border into Honduras.

On January 19, 1827 lieutenant general Milla invaded the village of “Los Llanos” of Santa Rosa, which he took with little resistance. On April 4, 1827 General Milla attacked the capital city of Comayagua, where Francisco Morazán was leading some of the defenders. Milla relentlessly assaulted the Honduran troops with heavy fire, was soon victorious, and set fire to the capital.  On May 9, the President of Honduras was taken prisoner.  On May 10, the government capitulated.

In the summer of that same year, Morazán was captured and imprisoned in Ojojona for 23 days until he escaped.  He was a young man and only recently experienced as a captain, under orders, in battle.  Having been in battles won and battles loss, he learned how men moved and how men fought.  His active mind utilized those 23 days to survey the valley, creekbeds, commanding hilltops and routes of approach in that region.  Having escaped prison, he knew his enemy’s desire would bring him to Morazán; and he would be ready.

He traveled to nearby leaders of the resistance, and, in evidence of their faith in this young man, they he entrusted an additional 135 fighters and arms to Morazán.

Map of Honduras showing Tegucigalpa, the Ojojona territory, and La Trinidad.

General Justo Milla by this time was hunting the rebels throughout the territory.  Having heard that Morazán was in southern Honduras, Milla rapidly closed in, moving his troops to Tegucigalpa where he established his headquarters, and sought for battle.  Morazán, knowing Milla’s movements, moved northward to Sabanagrande, 25 miles south of Milla’s army in Tegucigalpa, with his old haunt, Ojono and the valley of the Trinity, between them, just 3 miles north.

On the eve of the inevitable battle, Morazan drew up a battle strategy and presented it to his commander, General Diaz.  So impressed was the General with the plan that, he not only adopted it, but he entrusted command of the battle to Francisco Morazan.  Francisco was determined that he would not fail.

The Plan of Battle, Red A is Pacheco, Red B is Diaz, Red C is Morazán. Blue is General Justin Milla.

The plan divided their troops into three assault teams of 150 men each, with three smaller teams held in reserve.  The first team would be led by colonel Diaz, would face Milla’s full army in the streets.  The second, under General Morazán, would circle unseen northeastward around the hill caraengo to meet the flank of the enemy.  The third, under colonel Pacheco, would crawl up the creekbed in concealment until they reached a path, known to Morazán, that led across to the Valley of the Trinity.  There they would descend upon the enemy’s rear.  The plan was well received by all.   Command in hand, Morazán issued the final orders.  Wednesday night, under cover of darkness, they moved into position, and waited for the day.

Thursday morning at dawn the enemy, marching southward, began its descent into the fateful valley, precisely along Morazán’s anticipated route.  At 9am Milla’s army of 1000 was confronted by Diaz’s army of 150 in the streets below them.

We might imagine the confidence of Milla and his men, as they descended into the valley of the trinity to the town below to confront their enemy once again.  By this time, they had many victories behind them.  And we might imagine the disdain Milla felt as he looked upon the small force arrayed in the streets below him.

As he approached he would discern his opposition was only about an eighth of his size.  He might have let out a laugh and joked a little with his officers.  But too, he may have wondered for a moment why they didn’t flee.  But pehaps by this time he had given up wondering anymore why these people would continue to resist him.  But Diaz didn’t flee, nor did he fire, but waited, for so were his orders, and his confidence was elsewhere.  He relied not upon size of his army, but the passion of his cause, and the plan and strategy of their leader.

At last, General Milla gave the orders to fire, and the battle began.  He would be confident, and perhaps relocate to a position to give him a good view of the battle as it unfolded as he expected.  With the first gunshots ringing in the air, he might have been surprised, or at least, impressed, by the valiance of the defense.  Why didn’t they disperse?  Why didn’t they run?  But the first sound of gunshot, terrifying to any man in battle, was nevertheless a welcomed sound to Diaz’s men; for it was the strategic signal, a signal given by none other then the enemy, for Morazán’s troops to commence their final maneuvers to address their enemy’s right flank.

With those first shots singing in the morning air, we might imagine Morazan’s words to his 150 crouched beyond the hill, just within sight of their enemy’s unguarded flank.  “Gentlemen.  This is Your moment.  This is Our battle.  We have a Plan.  Our brothers are relying upon us.  Our wives and children our relying upon us.  Our country and our commonwealth is relying upon us.  The future is Yours!  To the Battle!”  Following Morazán’s valiant lead, and driven by his determination, the 150 devoured the final yards along their appointed path and assaulted the flank of the enemy.

The flank was unguarded, and Morazán’s 150 were upon their enemy before they knew it.  Gunshots rang out at that deadly range; and the enemy fell.  Milla would be startled hearing unexpected battle on his left flank.   Who were these defenders?  What was inspiring their defense?  Could they not see they were outnumbered?  Don’t they know who we are?  Wheeling to his left, it’s possible that his arrogance would support his initial confidence; but he’d curse the necessity of redistributing his troops in the midst of the battle to meet this surprise on his flank, and his army would question his leadership.

Diaz in the streets below would first see the smoke ascending from new gunfire on the right flank of his enemy; and he’d know his brothers had engaged the battle.  Next he’d hear the new gunshots from afar, and notice the enemy before him, looking round about in fear.  Then he’d observe the rippling disarray in their formations as Milla barked out new orders and Milla’s troops realigned to face the new threat.   Diaz moved his 150 confidently up the street, pressing the battle into the valley of the trinity.

The fighting was furious.  Milla was rushing to and fro, redirecting his troops, and barking orders to his surprised host.  Morazán’s 150 violently pressed their advantage upon the collapsing flank; and Diaz relentlessly pressed the front line of battle up into the valley.

And just as Milla’s army was finding its hasty defensive positions in this unexpected two front war, suddenly, gunshots erupted to their rear.  Pacheco’s 150 arrived on the scene.

We can imagine the scene before Pacheco as his men completed their path to the valley.  The enemy was below them, his brethren beyond them and to the left of them, and his enemy was fully engaged in that two front battle and completely unprotected in their rear.  With a mighty shout and 150 guns blazing they descended into that valley, the Valley of the Trinity.

For five hours that battle raged.  For five hours Milla’s army defended their precarious positions with dwindling numbers.  For five hours,  Morazan, Pacheo and Diaz pressed their victorious strategy, until the enemy broke, and died, in that valley of death.

By 3:00 that afternoon, it was over.  Milla and few of his officers survived and fled the scene of battle, leaving behind troves of munitions, supplies and official documents.  Justin Milla was completely defeated.  Morazán’s plan succeeded beyond conception, achieving the destruction of the enemy, and the restoration of respect for the State of Honduras and the victory of the Patriots against tyranny.

Statue of General Francisco Morazán, near the scene of the Battle of Trinidad

General Morazán went on to Tegucigalpa and took it on November 12th.  On the 26th of the same month, he reached the capital Comayagua, made a triumphal entrance, and was proclaimed the head of State of Honduras.  


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Yugoslavia – The Days of Hyperinflation


500 BILLION Dinars, The largest nominated banknote ever issued in Yugoslavia. 1993

The number on this banknote is Five Hundred Billion.

That is 500 x 1000 x 1000 x 1000; that is, 500, 000, 000, 000.

It is one half trillion, a number I never even heard of in relation to money in the United States until the Crash of 2008.

But this was Yugoslavia, and it was 1993.

Back side of 500 Billion Dinar banknote. Issued by Yugoslavia in 1993. Withdrawn after 3 months.


My daughter’s language tutor who lived in Yugoslavia at the time, related the following story.  Inflation was so bad that she would run to the store to cash her paycheck and buy groceries as by the morning the value would be so much less.

An article by Thayer Watkins, PHD, relates many stories of the people who lived through, what he calls, the worst episode of Hyperinflation in history.  I wish he was correct on this.  Follow the tags in this website and consider some of the other episodes of hyperinflation our world has suffered.

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Ukraine – The Age of the Cossacks, 17th Century

The Cossacks in Ukrainian history are remembered in the two Ukrainian banknotes on this page.

Portrait of Bohdan Khmelnytsky (1595 – 1657), Hetman of Ukrainian Cossacks . Coat of arms of Bogdan Khmelnitsky. Tryzub, the national coat of arms of Ukraine. Stylised grivna from the times of Kievan Rus’ as registration device.
Front: Portrait of Ivan Mazepa (1639 – 1709), Hetman of Ukrainian Cossacks . Coat of arms of Ivan Mazepa. Tryzub, the national coat of arms of Ukraine. Stylised grivna from the times of Kievan Rus’ as registration device. Signature: Sergiy G. Arbuzov (Golova – Governor, Dec. 2010 – Dec. 2012).

The Ukrainian steppes were dominated by two countries in 16th through 19th century European History.  But between these two, for a hundred years, the Cossacks stood up and made a bid for independence.


17th century – Extent of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, extending from Baltic Sea almost to Black Sea, overlaid of contemporary political map.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, spanning from the Baltic Sea in the North, to the Black Sea in the South, was one of the largest countries of 16th and 17th century Europe.  It controlled over 400, 000 square miles, and almost all of the territory of present day Ukraine.

19th century – extent of Russian Empire in 1880 (shaded area) overlaid over contemporary political map. Ukraine is outlined.

The 18th and 19th century Russian Empire grew to be the third largest empire in history.  It also controlled essentially all the territory of modern Ukraine.

The 17th century declaration of an independent state on Ukrainian territory by the Cossacks, marked the beginning of the end of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  And the 17th century signing of the Pereiaslav Treaty of 1654 marked the end of Ukrainian independence, and the beginning of the subsummation of Ukrainian territory under the growing empire of Russia.

But, for a hundred years, the Cossacks formed Ukrainian history.  This is celebrated in the banknotes on this page.

Bohdan Khmelnytsky

Bohdan Khmelnytsky, detail from front of banknote.

Bohdan Khmelnytsky owned a modest estate in Subotiv, and lived there with his wife and children.  A powerful local magnate tried to seize his estate and Khmelnytsky resisted, writing numerous letters to various representatives of the Polish crown, who could, or would do nothing.    The magnate invaded his estate twice causing significant property damage, and, badly beating his son.  Finally Bohdan Khmelnytsky was evicted from his own land.

Although the crown showed little interest, Bohdan Khmelnytsky found great interest among his fellow Cossacks.  Traveling from one Cossack regiment to another, he found simmering unrest and great support. They had been restless for years, and Bohdan was to prove to be a gifted leader.

In a short time, unrest led to uprising, and uprising led to battles, and battles led to victories, and victories led to a decree of independence from the Polish crown.

Before I was fighting for the insults and injustice caused to me, now I will fight for our Orthodox faith. And all people will help me in that all the way to Lublin and Krakow, and I won’t back off from the people as they are our right hand.” – Khmelnytsky

From Wikipedia:

“At Christmas in 1648, Khmelnytsky made a triumphant entry into Kiev, where he was hailed as “the Moses, saviour, redeemer, and liberator of the people from Polish captivity… the illustrious ruler of Rus.” [citation needed] The Patriarch of Jerusalem Paiseus, who was visiting Kiev at this time, referred to Khmelnytsky as the Prince of Rus, the head of an independent Ukrainian state, according to contemporaries….
“After the period of initial military successes, the state-building process began. His leadership was demonstrated in all areas of state-building: military, administration, finance, economics and culture. Khmelnytsky made the Zaporozhian (Cossack) Host the supreme power in the new Ukrainian state and unified all the spheres of Ukrainian society under his authority. Khmelnytsky built a new government system and developed military and civilian administration.”

But he feared that the new state’s military strength was not enough to secure their position.  Seeking an ally, Khmelnytsky reached out to the Ottoman’s unsuccessfully, and then, reluctantly, to the growing Russian state.   The subsequent treaty with the Tsar in 1654 would be much disputed ever after. The Treaty of Pereyaslav would subsequently be interpreted by many as a military alliance, but by Russia, as a suzerainty, a complete incorporation of Ukraine into the Empire of Russia.

Left Bank, Right Bank Ukraine, and “The Ruin”

Right Bank Ukraine 17th century. (Image from Wikipedia)
Left Bank Ukraine, 17th century. (Image from Wikipedia)

Khmelnytsky, charismatic and influential leader though he was, established no rules of succession.  Upon his death the region fell into civil strife which lasted for thirty years until the rise of Ivan Mazepa.  This time period is called “The Ruin” in Ukrainian history.  It was during this time that Ukraine became to be known as Left Bank Ukraine and Right Bank Ukraine, in reference the Dnieper River as one looked downstream towards the Black Sea.

Ivan Mazepa

Portrait of Ivan Mazepa (1639 – 1709)

Ivan Mazepa, a Zaporozhian Cossack, arose to lead the Cossacks thirty years after the death of Khmelnytsky.  During the intervening period, known as “The Ruin”, many of the advances under Khmelnytsky were dismantled.  Mazepa, one of Europe’s largest landowners, Built churches throughout Ukraine, founded printing houses and schools, and expanded the primary educational institution of Ukraine to nourish 2000 students, the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

In the later years of his rule, Russia increasing sent the Cossacks to far off fields of battle, leaving their Ukrainian homeland unprotected.  Mazepa considered this a breach in the treaty with Russia.  When the Tsar of Russia refused to send defensive support when the Polish king threatened to attack the Cossacks homeland, Mazepa made his fateful decision.   Mazepa effectively switch sides and allied with the Poles who were marching with the Swedes towards Ukraine.  He was hoping to bring Ukraine under control of Sweden, which, in a separate treaty, had promised independence to Ukraine.  Russia won the battle against Poland and Swededn the following year effectively destroying Mazepa’s hopes.   Ukraine was under the control of Russia.





Bohdan Khmelnytsky changed his world, and altered the course of history; and much controversy surrounds his memory.
In much of Ukraine he is celebrated is a national hero. His statue is in Kiev and a city and a region are named after him. But he is also criticized for the treaty with Russia which some consider disastrous for the history of Ukraine.
Khmelnytsky is a celebrated as a hero in Russia, as he was in the Soviet Union. Russian history stress their interpretation of the treaty as expressing Khmelnytsky’s desire to reunify Ukraine with Russia.
Poland views Bohdan Khmelnytsky in a very poor light, as his rebellion proved to mark the end of their golden age.
The Khmelnytsky uprising is viewd by Israel as one of the most traumatic events in Jewish history. History has it that he used Jews as scapegoats and sought to eradicate Jews from the Ukraine. Khmelnytsky’s rebels associated with him murdered tens of thousands of Jews between 1648 and 1656.

Ivan Mazepa is regarded as a traitor in Soviet and Russian history.  Among Ukrainian’s the remembrance is mixed.  During Perestroika, many documents came to light that portrayed Mazepa differently. Since Ukraine’s recent 1991 independence, Mazepa has been proclaimed a national hero. He is considered the first Cossack leader to take a stand against the Tsar who had failed to abide by the Treaty of Pereyaslav. This view however is disputed by pro-Russian Ukrainians; and Ukraine has been repeatedly condemned by Russia Ukraine for its celebration of Ivan Mazepa.


Central America, Guatemala

Guatemala – The Republic of Central America 1821-1840

Back side of 20 quetzals banknote from Guatemala, featuring “The Signing of The Declaration of Independence”.
Front of 20 quetzals banknote of Guatemala, featuring Mariano Galvez, chief of state for the State of Guatemala.

The images on the front and back of this Guatemalan banknote constitute “bookends” for the short-lived, two decade, Republic of Central America, 1821 to 1840.  The images also symbolize the elements of its early demise.  Numerous attempts to reconstitute the union have been attempted ever since, but none have succeeded since that first, promising, optimistic moment….


Detail from back of 20 quetzals banknote of Guatemala.

The signing of “The Act of Independence of Central America” is memorialized in the painting to the left.  With this document, independence was proclaimed for the Captaincy General of Guatemala, as it was called under the Spanish Empire for three centuries.  The date was September 15, 1821.  The constituting States were Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

For two years they aligned with newly independent Mexico, and then on July 1, 1823 the Congress of Central America declared absolute independence from Spain, Mexico, and any other foreign nation, and established a republican system of government.

The next fifteen years were marked by strife between competing conservative and liberal elements within the union, including civil war.  The union dissolved when Nicaragua first seceded in 1838, followed by Honduras and Costa Rica, and finally El Salvador in 1841.


Enlarged detail from back of 20 quetzals banknote of Guatemala.

Mariano de Aycinena y Piñol, seated in the image on the left, was a conservative politician.  He served as Governor of Guatemala during the first decade of Central American unity.  As an influential Guatemalan merchant, Mariano was a leader of the Guatemalan independence movement from Spain, and one of the signers of The Act.  The meeting was chaired by Gabino Gaínza.  The text of the Act itself was written by Honduran intellectual and politician José Cecilio del Valle and signed by representatives of the various Central American provinces. The meeting was held at the National Palace in Guatemala City, the site of which is now Centennial Park.

Mariano’s family held a commercial monopoly in Central American during the Spanish colonial era; and Mariano had lobbied heavily for the annexation of Central America to the Mexican Empire, an arrangement which would preserve the family’s economic position and privileges following independence. Allied with the conservative movement, he served as governor of the State of Guatemala within the Central American Federation from 1 March 1827 to 12 April 1829. He was expelled in 1829 after being defeated by Francisco Morazán, a liberal politician and a long-time champion of the Federating movement.  Following exile in the United States, and then Mexico, he returned to Guatemala after the conservatives had returned to power under general Rafael Carrera, but then he retired from public life.



Detail from front of 20 quetzals banknote of Guatemala, featuring “Doctor Mariano Galvez”, chief of state for the State of Guatemala.

Mariano Galvez, picture to the left, was a liberal politician.  He served as the chief of state of Guatemala, during the final decade of the Republic of Central America, having been appointed by Francisco Morazán when Morazán became president of the Republic.

Born in the 1790s, Gálvez was left as an infant in a basket on a doorstep, and subsequently adopted by the wealthy Galvez family. He was well educated, and received a doctor of law at the Royal and Pontifical University of San Carlos Borromeo on December 16, 1819.

In the civil war of 1826, Gálvez joined the Federalists and led a revolutionary movement against the Unitarian government, which hastened the invasion of Guatemala by federalist Francisco Morazán. Gálvez joined Morazán’s forces in Ahuachapán.

After independence from Spain, he sought further liberation of Guatemala from the remaining heavy influences of the catholic church and the aristocracy. In 1829, he was appointed, by Francisco Morazán, as Governor of Guatemala in 1831. He promulgated major innovations in all aspects of the administration.  He promoted public education independent of the church, and established civil marriages and divorce.  He fostered the sciences and the arts, and founded the national library and the national museum.  He promoted citizens rights and the rule of law, guaranteeing freedom of the press, freedom of thought and freedom of assembly.

In February 1835 Galvez was reelected far a second term, during which the Asiatic cholera afflicted the country. The secular clergy persuaded the uneducated people of the interior, many of whom were becoming anxious by the rapidity of reforms under Galvez, that the disease was caused by the poisoning of the springs, by order of the government, and turned the complaints against Galvez into a religious war. Peasant revolts began in 1837, and under chants of “Hurray for the true religion!” and “Down with the heretics!” started growing and spreading. One time friends, including Colonel Manuel Montúfar and Juan de Dios Mayorga. José Francisco Barrundia and Pedro Molina, came to oppose him in the later years of his government after he violently tried to repress the peasant revolt using a scorched earth approach against rural communities.

In February 1838, revolutionary forces, under the conservative Rafael Carrera, entered Guatemala City asking for the Cathedral to be opened to restore order in the catholic communities.  Mariano Gálvez was forced to relinquish power. By 1840, the Republic of Central America was gone.

Gálvez died on March 29, 1862 in Mexico and was buried in the Cemetery of San Fernando. In 1925 his remains were repatriated and today they rest in the old School of Law in Guatemala City.
Universidad Mariano Gálvez de Guatemala, founded in 1966 in Guatemala City, is named after him.



The following is from an article by Christopher Minster:

“Beset on all sides, the Republic of Central America fell apart. The first to officially secede was Nicaragua, on November 5, 1838. Honduras and Costa Rica followed shortly thereafter. In Guatemala, Carrera set himself up as dictator and ruled until his death in 1865. Morazán fled to exile in Colombia in 1840 and the collapse of the republic was complete.

“It is unfortunate for the people of Central America that Morazán and his dream were so soundly defeated by smaller thinkers such as Carrera. Since the republic fractured, the five nations have been repeatedly victimized by foreign powers such as the United States and England who have used force to advance their own economic interests in the region.
“Weak and isolated, the nations of Central America have had little choice but to allow these larger, more powerful nations to bully them around: one example is Great Britain’s meddling in British Honduras (now Belize) and the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua.
“Although much of the blame must rest with these imperialistic foreign powers, we must not forget that Central America has traditionally been its own worst enemy. The small nations have a long and bloody history of bickering, warring, skirmishing and interfering in one another’s business, occasionally even in the name of “reunification.”
“The history of the region has been marked by violence, repression, injustice, racism and terror. Granted, larger nations such as Colombia have also suffered from the same ills, but they have been particularly acute in Central America. Of the five, only Costa Rica has managed to distance itself somewhat from the “Banana Republic” image of a violent backwater.”

Since the demise of the Union, numerous attempts have been made to reunite the various states of Central America.  Enyclopedia Britannica states “about 25 abortive attempts were made to restore the union.” I’ve seen numbers as high as 65 by other authors.


“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?”

Joni Mitchell

For more stories from Central America on this website, click here.