1902 Encyclopedia > Guatemala

Guatemala (republic)
Central America

GUATEMALA, or more rarely GITATIMALA, was formerly a captain-generalcy of Spanish America, which included the fifteen provinces of Chiapas, Suchitepeques, Escuintla, Sonsonate, San Salvador, Vera Paz and Peten, Chiquimula, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Totonicapan, Quesaltenango, Solola, Chimaltenango, and Sacatepeques,— or, in other words, the whole of Central America and part of the present territory of Mexico. The name is now restricted to a small part of the area which constitutes an independent republic.

The republic of Guatemala is situated between 13° 42' and 18° N. lat., and between 88° and 93° 5" W. long. Conterminous on the N. with Mexico and Yucatan, it is bounded towards the E. and S.E. by Belize or British Honduras, the Gulf of Honduras, and the republics of Honduras and San Salvador; and towards the S.W. it is washed by the Pacific. The Yucatan frontier is only partially fixed, and though the Mexican frontier was nominally determined as early as 1772, the interpretation of the terms of the agreement is still open to much debate. Towards British Honduras the boundary is fixed by the treaty of April 30, 1858, according to which it runs up the mid-channel of the river Sarstoon to the Gracias a Dios Falls, thence in a right line to Garbutt's Falls on the river Belize, and thence again in a right line due north to the Mexican frontier. The area of Guatemala is estimated at from 40,000 to over 50,000 square miles; an accurate statement is impossible, not only on account of the dubiety of frontier, but from the fact that the surveys are very imperfect. All the maps of the country contain a great deal of hypothetical material, especially in the filling up of the orographical details.

Mountains.—A large proportion of Guatemala may be generally described as mountainous. The main or central chain, which is usually considered a continuation of the Andes, runs in a wavy line from south-east to north-west, keeping on the whole parallel with the Pacific coast at a distance of 40 or 45 miles. Its mean elevation is about 7000 feet, but none of its summits attain to 14,000. Though it forms the main watershed of the country between the Pacific and the Atlantic versant or slope, it is pierced in one or two places by rivers. In the neighbourhood of the capital it bears the name of Sierra de las Nubes; in the north-west it is known as the Sierra Madre; and it enters the Mexican (ex-Guatemalian) state of Chiapas as the mountains of Istatan. A range called the Sierra de Chama, which, however, changes its name frequently from place to place, strikes eastward from the Sierra Madre towards Belize, where it is known as the Cockscomb ; another similar range, the Sierra de Santa Cruz, continues east to Cape Cocoli between the Rio Dulce and the Sarstoon; and a third, the Sierra de las Minas or in its eastern portion Sierra del Mico stretches between the Rio Dulce and the Rio Motagua. Between Honduras and Guatemala the frontier is formed by the Sierra de Copan. There are no real plateaus in Guatemala such as give its character to the Mexican region, the so-called plateaus of Quesaltenango, Pacicia, Guatemala, <fec, being merely broad valleys amid the mountains ; but the general relief of the country is of the most varied description, the mountains descending in all kinds of terraces and underfalls. The number of volcanic summits is very great: Bernouilli gives a list of 14 or 15, and Foledo makes the number no less than 31. The following are those that are decidedly active :—Pacaya, in 14° 21' 30" N. lat. and 90° 44' 34" E. long., on the southern shores of lake Amatitlan, with its cone on the southern slope ; Volcan de Fuego, 12,821 feet in height, in 14° 27' 25" N. lat. and 90° 53' 30" E. long., near Old Guatemala; Atitlan, 11,849 feet in height, in 14° 36' N. lat. and 91° 14' E. long.; Quesaltenango, 9358 feet in height, in 14° 53' 30" N. lat. and 91° 53' 30" E. long.; and Tajumulco, in 15° 9' 58" N. lat. and 92° 6' 7" E. long. The last was observed in eruption by Bernouilli on occasion of the great earthquake of 1863. Like Ques-altenango, which is surrounded by an extensive malpais, it furnishes great supplies of sulphur. More famous, how-ever, than any of these is the Volcan de Agua or Water Volcano, so called because in 1541 it destroyed the city of Old Guatemala by a deluge of water. It is situated in 14° 26' 48" N. lat. and 90° 53' 30" E. long. The statement of Humboldt that it rises above the snow-line is a mistake, for that would be a height of about 14,500 feet, whereas the actual height of the mountain, according to Poggendorffs revision of Captain Hall's trigonometrical measurement, is only 13,108 feet. When Dr Scherzer and Dr Wagner ascended the mountain on August 4, 1854, they found no traces of snow or ice, and though three weeks later a thin coating of snow appeared on the outer slopes of the crater, it was gone again in four days. The source of the great flood of water was probably a crateral lake.1

Rivers.—-Guatemala is richly watered. On the western side of the sierras the versant is short, and the streams, while very numerous, are consequently small and rapid; but on the eastern side a number of the rivers attain a very considerable development. The Motagua, whose principal head stream is called the Rio Grande, has a course of about 250 miles, and is navigable to within 90 miles of the capital, which is situated on one of its confluents the Rio de las Vacas. It forms a delta on the south of the Gulf of Honduras. Of similar importance is the Polochic, which is about 180 miles in length, and navigable about 20 miles above the river-port of Telemau. Before reaching the Golfo Amatico it passes through the Izabal Lake and the Golfete Dulce. A vast number of streams, among which are the Chisoy, the Guadalupe, the Rio de la Pasion, unite to form the Usumacinta, wdiose noble current passes along the Mexican frontier, and flowing on through Chiapas and Tabasco, falls into the bay of Campeachy. The Chiapas follows a similar course.

Lakes.—There are several extensive lakes in Guatemala. The Lake of Peten or Laguna de Flores, in the centre of the department of Peten, is an irregular basin about 27 miles long, with an extreme breadth of 13. In an island in the western portion stands Flores the capital of the department, well known to American antiquaries for the number of ancient idols which have been recovered from its soil. On the shore of the lake is the stalactite cave of Jobitsinal, of great local celebrity; and in its depths, accord-ing to the popular legend, may still be discerned the stone image of a horse that belonged to Cortes. The Lake of Izabal, already mentioned as the terminus of the Polochic river, is about 36 miles long, and would be of considerable value as a harbour if the bar at the mouth of the Rio Dulce did not prevent the upward passage of seafaring vessels. As a contrast the Lake of Atitlan is a land-locked basin encompassed with lofty mountains and possessing no visible outlet for its waters, which are replenished by numer-ous streams. It is about 18 miles long, with a maximum breadth of 9 or 10 miles, and it lies about 5300 feet above the sea-level. " On its banks," says Mr Boddam Whetham, " stand eleven villages, whose situations are so varied that their climates and productions are those of the cold, the temperate, and the tropical regions, and whose inhabitants speak different dialects." About 8 or 9 miles south of the capital lies the Lake of Amatitlan, with the town of the same name at its western extremity. It lies about 3980 feet above the sea, and has a length of 9 miles and a breadth of about 3. On the borders of San Salvador and Guatemala there is the lake of Guija, about 20 miles long and 12 broad, at a height of 2100 feet above the sea. It is connected by the river Ostuma with the Lake of Ayarza which lies about 1000 feet higher at the foot of the Andes. The large lakes, according to Dollfus, are not of crateral origin.

Geology and Mines.—The best and indeed the only elaborate account of the geology of the country is given by Dollfus and Montserrat, who were members of the great French expedition for the exploration of the Mexican region. According to these savants, who, however, confess that their studies are only provisional, the basis rock is the granite which, along with trachytes and porphyries of very various character, intermingled with and overlaid by directly volcanic products, constitutes the great band of the Sierra Madre. From the main ridge towards the Atlantic there is a rich development of mica schists and calcareous formations of sedimentary origin and probably Jurassic age, while the versant of the Pacific is almost covered with modern allu-vium washed down along the rapid slopes. Mastodont and elephant remains have been discovered in the tuffs. The country as a whole may be said to owe its shape to the porphyries. Though some of the strata are essentially metal liferous, Guatemala possesses few mines of importance. During the Spanish rule about 40 million pesos of silver were obtained at Alotepeque in Chiquimula; and the works are still carried on, though with poorer results. Lead is found extensively in Huehuetenango and Verapaz; beds of excellent coal exist in Izabal; marble is quarried at San Juan in Guatemala, and on the Rio Hondo in Zacapa; and litho-graphic stone is met with in the last-mentioned department.

Climate.—Except in the marshy lagoons along the Pacific, which are inhabited by groups of fishers and salt-gatherers, the climate of Guatemala is considered a healthy one. The peculiar relief of the country gives rise to a large amount of local differences in the matter of heat and cold; but the whole may be rudely divided into a tropical or low-lying region, a temperate or middle region, and a cold or elevated region. The tropical region, or tierra caliente, extends from the level of the sea to an elevation of about 1300 feet; the temperate, or tierra templada, from 1300 to 4900 feet; and the cold, or tierrafria, from 4900 to 8200 feet. Fortunately for the future of Guatemala the templada is by far the most extensive. In the caliente the rainy season lasts four months. During that period the south-west wind prevails, and is often tempestuous like the Cordonazo de San Francisco, or " flagellation of St Francis," on the coast of Mexico; during the dry season the north wind is the most usual. The rainy season lengthens as we ascend to the templada: the Boca Costa district indeed has a rainy season of seven months, from May to November, and the dry season is not completely dry. Higher still, in the tierra fria, the rain lasts five months, from May to October, and the dry season is quite worthy of the name. At Guatemala, the only place where meteorological observations have been made through a long series of years, the minimum thermo-meter readings varied from 41° to 45° Fahr. in the five years 1859 to 1863, and the maximum from 84° to 87°,

The hottest months are April and May. In the summer, or rainy season, the morning has usually a clear sky ; about 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon the clouds begin to gather in great cumulus masses ; suddenly the lightning hashes out and the rain crashes down ; and by evening the sky is clear and starry. In the middle of the rainy season there is often a pause of two or three weeks. At Guatemala the mean annual rainfall for the five years 1859 to 1863 was 54 inches; at Boca Costa it is upwards of 78 inches.

Animals.—The fauna of Guatemala is more closely connected with the fauna of South than with that of North America. As the country is a small one, and its limits are purely conventional, there are comparatively few species that it can claim as peculiarly its own. It is almost entirely free from the presence of animals that are dangerous to man. Of the eat tribe it possesses the jaguar (Felis onza), popularly called the tiger; the cuguar (Felis concolor), popularly called the lion; the tigrillo (Felis tigrina), which is some-times kept tame ; and four other species. Several species of mon-keys (Mycetes and Ateles) are sufficiently numerous in the warm coast region. The Mexican deer (Cervus mexicanus) has a wide range both in the lowlands and highlands. Besides the tapir there are two pigs, the marrano de monte (Sus torquatus) and the jabali or javali (Sus labiatus javali). The Edentata are represented by a species of armadillo, the " oso colmenero " or honey-bear (Myrme-cophaga tamandas) and the Myrmecophaga didactyla; and among the rodents may be mentioned, besides rats, hares, and rabbits, the fruit-eating cotorra and tepescuinte (Dasyprocta agidi and Ccelo-genys paca), and the troublesome Geomys mcxicana. The Hydro-choerus capybara is common in all the larger streams. Much annoy-ance is caused to the agriculturist by the little marsupial called the tacuacine, or the Didelphys careinora, its allied species. The bats are so numerous that villages have sometimes had to bo left to their undisputed occupancy. For the bird collector there is a rich harvest in Guatemala. As the seasons change it is visited by a great variety of birds of passage, and it possesses a great many resident species besides. In the city of Coban there are several families which live by preparing bird-skins for sale and export (Bernouilli). From forty to fifty species of birds of prey are already known ; among which it is sufficient to mention Corogyps atratus, the commonest of the vultures, which acts as a universal scavenger, the Cathartes aura, the beautiful Polyborus vulgaris, and the king of the vultures (Sarcorhamplius papa). Neither the condor of the southern continent nor the great eagles of the northern are known in Guatemala. Of the great passerine order there are upwards of 400 species, including 36 species of humming-birds, 13 of wood-peckers, and 8 of the trogons. One of this last genus, the quetzal, quijal, or quesal (Trogon resplendens) is of special note, not only from the fact that its yellow tail-feathers, 2 feet long, were formerly worn as insignia by the Indian princes, but because it has been adopted as the emblematical figure on the national arms of Guate-mala. The gallinaceous order is well represented, and comprises several peculiar species, as the pavo de cacho, and the Peten turkey (Meleagris oeellata), which has a bronze sheen on its plumage ; and the palmipeds, it is almost needless to add, are unusually numerous in a country so richly furnished with lagoons and rivers and lakes.

There are two species of alligator, one in the Pacific and the other in the Atlantic versant. Snakes are met with in great variety, but only about a fourth of the species are venomous, and even the bite of the rattlesnake is said to be less deadly than in the north. The Crotaliis horridus is one of the most common. Five species of salamanders are known, 9 of the frogs, and 5 of the toads. Fourteen species of fish have been found in Lake Peten, 7 in Lake Amatitlan, 13 in the river Motagua, 10 in the Polochic, and 13 in the Usumacinta.

The general character of the country induces a rich profusion of insect life. Of the Coleoptera, the Camelicorns, the Longicorns, the Curculionids, and the Chrysomelines are said to be best repre-sented, and of the Lepidoptera the prevalent genera are—Ageronia, Papilio, Heliconia, Sphynx, and Bombyx. There are five species of bees, and the European honey-bee, known as aveja de Castilla or bee of Castile, has been naturalized. Ants are common, and may sometimes be seen marching in a column 3 or 4 miles long. Mos-quitoes unfortunately are in several districts equally abundant.

Most of the domestic animals of Guatemala—the horse, the ox, the goat, the sheep, the pig, the dog, the rabbit, the common fowl, the peacock, and the pigeon—are of European origin, and are popu-larly grouped together as animates de Castilla. Horses are small ' but excellent. Cattle are largely imported from Soconusco and Honduras. The favourite swine is the black. Singing-birds are commonly kept in the Guatemalian houses, and the species most sought after are the sensontle, the guarda-barranco (Myiadestes obscurus), the pitureal, and the caraban. The last of these is as good as a watch-dog, as ' ' no stranger can enter the yard without being greeted by its shrill cries. "

Industrial Produce.—As may be judged from the description of the configuration of the country and its climate the natural produc-tions of Guatemala are sufficiently varied. Foledo gives a list of upwards of 100 kinds of timber trees. Maize and haricot beans (frijol), which form the main sustenance of the people, are grown in all the departments, and in some places there are two harvests a year. Bice and wheat are less extensively distributed. For the foreign trade the coffee plant is the most important product. While in 1859 the whole export was only 390 cwt., by 1876 it had increased to upwards of 185,200 cwt. Meanwhile the cultivation of indigo (añil or jiquilite) and cochineal, which were formerly the principal sources of wealth, is losing ground. Cocoa is most cultivated in the north-west ; the nibs are used as small change throughout the country. Good tobacco is grown, but the quantity is small. Sugar is rising into favour. Vanilla, chile, aloes, agave, rhubarb, ipeca-cuanha, castor oil, scammony, and colocynth are all obtained in the country. The absence of capitalists is one of the chief hindrances to the development of industry and trade.

Political Divisions.—The following table from Foledo exhibits the 20 departments into which the republic of Guatemala is divided, their estimated areas, their respective capitals, their popu-lation, and the population of the capitals. Altogether the republic contains 10 cities, 22 towns, 304 townships, and 1794 hamlets, &c.

== TABLE ==

Administration.—The constitution of Guatemala is republican and representative. The council of state consists of 24 members elected by the house of representatives, which consists of 52 mem-bers elected by the people. The parliamentary period, and the term of office for the president, who is the head of the executive, is four years. The revenue, which in 1874 amounted to 2,601,000 dollars or £520,000, is mainly derived from import duties, domains, and monopolies; a large part of the expenditure, 2,542,600 dollars or £508,520, is occasioned by the army, which has a nominal strength of 3000, besides a militia of 13,000. The public debt, including the English loan of £500,000 raised in 1859, amounted in 1875 to 4,363,227 dollars or £872,645.

Religion and Education.—The national religion is the Boman Catholic, but there is absolute toleration of other creeds. The Government pays a regular subvention to the church. In the 17 vicariates into which the country is divided there are 111 parishes. Since the rise of the liberal government great progress has been made in educational matters. In 1871 there were 253 schools, with 6130 male and 1944 female pupils ; by 1874 the schools had increased to 541, the male pupils to 14,216, and the female to 6312.

Population.—Out of the total population of 1,200,000 it is calcu-lated that about 720,000 are Indians, 300,000 Ladinos, and 180,000 wdiites. According to Foledo (1874) the foreigners did not exceed 829,—of whom 191 were Mexicans, 164 Spaniards, 103 Frenchmen, 71 Italians, 64 Germans, and 50 Englishmen. The native popula-tion is naturally of a quiet and inoffensive disposition. Crimes of violence are rare. A certain easy fatalism is the prevailing mood ; but during political excitement it gives way to fanatical outbursts. "Viva la relijion, y mueran los estranjeros" is then the cry. Cock fighting and bull baiting are the favourite amusements.

Roads.—The means of communication between one part of the country and another are very poor. In the whole republic it was calculated that in 1874 there were 1365 miles of carriageable roads, and the number of bridges was stated at 432. But a great propor-tion of the roads, while hardly passable in the dry season, become little better than mitigated swamps in the rainy season; and many jf the bridges are of the slightest construction and in a pitiable state of repair. Nearly a week is the time taken by the ordinary waggons to accomplish the journey from San José to Escuintla, a distance of about 90 miles. According to the terms of a contract with the Government, a railroad between San José and Escuintla was begun in 1875, but it is still uncompleted. The telegraph has been more extensively introduced. In 1874 there were in all ten lines, with 398 miles in operation and 511 in course of construction.

Harbours.—The country is poorly furnished with ports,—Izabal, Santo Tomas, Livingston, Gualan, and Panzos exhausting the list on the Atlantic ; and San José, Barra de los Esclavos, Tecojale, San Geronimo, San Luis, and Champerico that on the Pacific. Izabal, situated in 15° 24' N. lat. and 89° 9' "W". long., is of little use, as it is separated from the sea by the bar of the Bio Dulce. Santo Tomas, in 15° 38' 3" N. lat. and 88° 36' 6" W. long., has a fine position at the southern extremity of the Golfo Amatico, which is at once spacious and well protected. Livingston is at the mouth of the Bio Dulce, in 15° 48' N. lat. and 88° 46' W. long. Gualan is a 'river port in the Motagua, and Panzos lies below Teleman on the Polochic. Of the Pacific ports San José is the most noteworthy as the usual landing-place for strangers on their way to the capital. It is situated in 13° 56' N. lat. and 90° 42' W. long. A fine pier was built in 1868, but vessels have usually to anchor about a mile out, and the roadstead is not very secure. Champerico, opened to foreign trade in 1870, is also a simple roadstead. It is situated in the department of Suchitepequez, in 14° 17' N. lat. and 91° 57' W. long. Istapa, formerly the principal port on the north coast, has been almost abandoned since 1853.

Antiquities.—Though it has no ancient remains so remarkable as those of Copan in Honduras, or Palenque in Chiapas, Guatemala preserves many traces of its earlier inhabitants. A careful summary of what is known in regard to them is given in Bancroft's Native Races of the Pacific States of North America, vol. iv. On the left bank of the Montagua are the ruins of an ancient city visited in 1840 by Mr Catherwood and in 1854 by Dr Scherzer. They resemble the ruins of Copan, and contain mounds, terraces, colossal heads, idols, pillars, and altars. Ruins are also to be seen at Chapulco and Chinamita in the same valley, at Cinaca Mecallo, andat the hacienda of Carrizal about 20 miles north of Guatemala. A few leagues to the west are the ruins of Mexico with a vast cave divided into chambers. An ancient aqueduct is mentioned at Rosario, 8 or 10 miles south of Lake Amatitlan and another at the foot of the Volcan de Fuego. Solóla is said to occupy the site of Tecpan Atitlan; and in the neighbourhood of Tecpan Guatemala are the substructions and debris of Patmamit, the old Cakchiquel capital. Utatlan, the Quiche capital has left near Santa Cruz del Quiche sufficient to con-firm the early Spanish accounts of its greatness. The absence of sculptures is a striking feature. Rude mounds mark the site of Zak.ileu, the chief town of the Mams, near Huehuetenango. At thejunctionof thePacalah with the ChisoyBrasseurdeBourbourg in 1856 found pyramidal mounds and long lines of fortifications. The half-explored country of Petenis reputed to conceal many evidences of its former civilization, and about 40 miles north-east of the lake about a league is occupied by the ruins of Tikal.

History.—In 1820 Guatemala began to shake off the Spanish yoke, and in 1822-23 it supported the Mexican patriot Iturbide. A confederation of the Central American states was effected in 1824, slavery was abolished, and a democratic constitution was established. On the assassination of the vice-president Flores in 1827 the San-Salvadorians marched against the city of Guatemala ; and though they were repulsed then they returned in 1829, and after a severe battle established their general Morazan as president. Guatemala recovered its independence under Carrera, who in 1851 defeated the Hondurians and Salvadorians at La Arada, near Chiquimula, and was recognized as the pacificator of the republic. In 1851 the new con-stitution still in force was promulgated, and Carrera was appointed president till 1856, a dignity which was afterwards in 1854 bestowed upon him for life. His rivalry with Barrios, president of Salvador, resulted in open war in 1863. In the battle of Coatepeque the Guatemalians suffered a severe defeat, which was followed by a truce. Honduras now joined with San Salvador, and Nicaragua and Costa Rica with Guatemala. The contest was finally settled in favour of Carrera, who besieged and occupied the San Salvador capital, and made himself dominant also in Honduras and Nicaragua. During the rest of his rule, which lasted till his death in April 1865, he con-tinued to act in concert with the clerical party, and endeavoured to maintain friendly relations with the Jiuropean Governments. Carrera's successor was General Cerna, who had been recommended by him for election. In *Qie struggle between Spain and Chili Guatemala maintained a strict neutrality. The liberal party began to rise in influence about 1870, and in May 1871 Cerna was deposed by Granados. The archbishop of Guatemala and the Jesuits were driven into exile as intriguers in the interests of the clerical party ; and General Barrios having been chosen president in 1872 the order was declared extinct and its property confiscated. All cities except those on the frontier of Chiapas, San Salvador, and Honduras, were opened to foreign commerce. An alliance was formed with San Salvador for offence and defence. In 1876 Barrios invited repre-sentatives from the other Central American republics to meet at Guatemala to deliberate on their amalgamation ; but the com-mission separated amid a clash of arms, and war was soon raging between Guatemala, San Salvador, and Honduras. Guatemala was enabled by her superior resources to come forth victorious from the conflict.

Besides the numerous works of Brasseur de Bourbourg and Squier, who have devoted so much attention to Central America, see the interesting narrative of Thomas Gage, the English missionary ; Juarros, Compendio de la historia de Guatemala, 1808-1818, 2 vols, (new ed., 1857), which in Bailly's English trans-lation (Lnml., 1823) long formed the chief authority; Larrazabal, Apuntamientos sobre la agricultura y commercio del reyno de Guatemala, N. Guat., 1811 ; Obert, Mém statistique de Vêtat de Guatemala, Brussels, 1840; Ximenez, Las historias del origen de los Indios de Guatemala, Vienna, 1857; Gavarrete, Catecismo de Geografía de la repub. de Guatemala, 18G0 (republished by the Sociedad económica); Alfred de Valois, Mexique, Havana, et Guatemala, Paris, 1862; Orozco y Berra, Geografía de las linguas y Carta etnográfica de Mexico, Mexico, 1866; Mechlin & Warren, Report of a Journey from Belize to the City of Guatemala, Belize, 1872; Foledo, Geografía de Centro America, Guatemala, 1874; Laferriere, De Paris a Guatemala, ,Parîs, 1S77. The most valuable maps of Guatemala are Van der Gehucht's Mapa general, Ac. (New York, 1859), Bourgeois and i-'eusier's appended to Toledo's Geografía (1874), and Au's (Hamburg, 1876). The last is perhaps the best. A geological map is given by Dollfus and Montserrat. "(II. A. W.)


The question is argued at length in Boletin de la Sociedad de Geografia Mexicana, 1875.

See Wagner, Wissenschaftlichen Reisen im tropischen Amerika.

See Across Central America, 1877, p. 103.
Voy. glol. dans les rlpubliqnes de Gnafeviala et <Swi Srilrnder, \ Paris, 1868.

See Dollfus, Voy. giol., and "Versuch einer Wissenschaft!. Be-
The naturalists who have done most for Guatemalian exploration are Salvin, Morelet, Sumichrast, Bocourt, Salle, and Bernouilli.

Compare Bastian, Reisen, &c, Berlin, 1878.

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