top of page

84. Latin in Bahrain during 1939 to 1945

JAN. 25, 2024


Pete and Ryan head off to the Persian Gulf to discover Latin in Bahrain during 1930 to 1945. Find out how the British tried to win the hearts and minds of the people of Bahrain, learn about the lawsuit between rival nations that relied on a set of forged documents, and indulge in spot of birdwatching. Veni, Vidi, Podcasti.

In this episode we visit the Kingdom of Bahrain, from the Arabic al-Bahrayn which means "the two seas", although it’s actually an archipelago of islands. It has 33 natural islands and the rest are man made. But mostly the country is centred around Bahrain island which is more than 80% of the land mass.
It’s in n West Asia and has Saudia Arabia and Qatar as neighbours. In fact it is attached to Saudi Arabia courtesy of the King Fahd Causeway, a series of bridges and causeways that stretch for 25 km (15.5 mi).
Bahrain covers 760 square km (290 square miles) which is 0.14% of a France, in other words you would need 726 Bahrains to make a single France, and do you will not be surprised to learn it is the third-smallest nation in Asia after the Maldives and Singapore.
The population is 1.5million people, 80% Islamic, the majority of them Shi’a, with 12% Christian and some others. The official language is Arabic
Bahrain is a partial democracy, with an elected lower house and an appointed upper house, much like the UK. However, the ruler, King Hamad bin Salman Al-Khalifa, has the ability to rule by decree. Not like the UK where nobody expects King Charles to start doling out decrees.
Oddly, it’s only been a kingdom since 2002, when the current King, who was then an Emir, made the change, despite his family, Al-Khalifa havingn been ruling Bahrain since the late 1700s, first in the role of Hakim, then they changed to Emirs. And now they are kings.
The geography is flat and deserty, although a lot of it has been built up into big modern city type landscape. And as you’d expect in a desert place, it can get hot. The shallow seas around Bahrain can heat up to produce very high humidity and summer temperatures can get up to 40 °C (104 °F).
Flag is white on the pole side for about one third, then the flappy side two thirds is in red, but instead of a straight line, the two colors are joined by a zig zag, like someone has cut it with pinking shears. The zig zag actually creates five white triangles representing the pillars of islam
 Shahada (Declaration of Faith)
 Salah (Prayer)
 Zakat (Almsgiving)
 Sawm (Fasting)
 Hajj (Pilgrimage)
The flag looks an awful lot like the flag of Qatar, but the Qatar flag has a darker red, 9 triangles and is longer, so now you know
National anthem is called Bahraynunā or ‘our Bahrain’. It was composed as an instrumental in 1942. You had to just hum along for the first 40 years because lyrics weren’t added until 1985.
The capital city is Manama and the currency is the Dinar
Bahrain facts!
It was the first middle-eastern nation to host a Formula one race back in 2004.
It is also home to no less than 3 Unesco World Heritage sites:
o Dilmun Burial Mounds – burial mounds dating back to between 2200 and 1750 BCE
o Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy – which celebrates the pearl trade and includes some buildings, three pearling beds and a bit of a fort. I don’t know why it isn’t the whole fort.
o Qal’at al-Bahrain – Ancient Harbour and Capital of Dilmun – which is a tell, or a mound or hill made of layers of archaeology – so basically an archaeological site, which in this case is believed to have been continuously occupied from 2300 BC to the today
Bahrain is also home to the Tree of Life. This is a ghaf tree that is found in Bahrain but we’re talking about not just a type of tree, one specific tree. It’s believed to have been planted in 1582, making it over 400 years old, which is nice but not unprecedented. But what’s interesting about it is it is thriving, has green leaves, and has grown to 9.75 meters (32 feet) high, whilst rooted in an area with no obvious source of water – it’s on top of a hill with almost no rainfall and there are no other trees at all found in the area.
So it’s seen as something of a wonder of nature. Some say the tree was once in the Garden of Eden and is mystically kept alive, other say its just got really deep roots, I don’t know, I’m not a tree expert. In any event, 65,000 people a year visit this tree.
One tripadvisor review says “it is sheer magic that a tree had grown and survived for hundreds of years”. But in the interests of balance, another reviewer writes ,“it's literally just a tree and nothing around. It's not fun or anything special”.
But if you do go to Bahrain, don’t forget your scuba gear because it is home to Dive Bahrain, billed as the world’s largest underwater theme park. This covers 100,000 square metres – and includes a sunken Boeing 747 that you can dive down and have a swim around. But don’t forget to secure your own mask before helping others

History of Bahrain
Let’s go Ab initio – that is to say, “from the beginning”.
In 2000BCE there seems to have been a settlement or civilisation known as Dilmun or Telmun in the area of Bahrain, Kuwait and Eastern Saudi Arabia. These are the people who established their cities thinking ‘this would be an excellent future World Heritage sites’.
Dilmun was an empire that seems to have been located in the Persian Gulf, on a trade route between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley civilisation. So right from antiquity it was a crossroads, a transit point and a trade hub. Today we can even see the remains of a temple known as the Barbar Temple from around 3,000 to 2,000 BCE.
In fact some say Bahrain was such an important trading centre for the Sumerians, it became known as a sacred place and may have even been the inspiration of the story of the garden of Eden.
But where there are riches, there are people who want to take them and Dilmun from about 1500 BCE came under the rule of various foreign empires
o First the Sealand dynasty
o Then the Kassite dynasty (both Babylonian)
o Later the Assyrians
o Then the Achaemenid Empire, aka the Persians
 Then the Greeks moved in – under Alexander the Great’s admiral Nearchus
Around then the area became referred to as Tylos and had a reputation as a centre for the pearl trade, at least according to Roman Author Pliny the Elder.
Christianity arrived in around the 3rd or 4th century CE in particular Nestorian Christianity. To help you understand that, I’ll just clarify that“Nestorian Christology promotes the concept of a prosopic union of two persons in Jesus Christ”. So, that’s cleared up then.
In 629 apparently the prophet Mohammed wrote to the leaders of Bahrain and said ‘I’ve just invented Islam, how do you fancy converting and they said ‘alright’. . Actually Wikipedia tells me the real first contact between Mohammed and Bahrain was when he planned an attack on the area’s Banu Salim tribe for plotting to attack Medina, but maybe it was the threat of attack and his nice letter working together.
From there Christians and Muslims rubbed along together for a few hundred years.
In 899 an Islamic sect called the Qarmatians, set up shop in Bahrain to create a utopian society. They are most notable for the time in 930CE when they sacked Mecca and stole the sacred Black Stone back to Bahrain, where it remained for 22 years.
Then one day the stone was given back. It was wrapped in a sack and chucked into the Great Mosque of Kufa in Iraq, with a note saying "By command we took it, and by command, we have brought it back." It seems that someone might have paid a big ransom
The Qarmatians were soon enough overthrown then a variety of owner-occupiers moved into the area as empires ebbed and flowed.
Until 1521 when to mix things up, the Portuguese arrived/invaded and ruled for 80 years, until they were driven out by Iranians aka Persians.
This led to another couple of hundred years of Iranian rule with a couple of pauses for invasions from nearby Oman.
In 1860 the British arrived, eager to offer ahem, protection. Bahrain tried to get support from the Iranians or the Ottomans but didn’t so they signed a treaty with Britain. To give a sense of the one sidedness of this, the next treaty in 1868 said that the ruler could not dispose of any of his territories except to the United Kingdom and could not enter into relationships with any foreign government without British consent.
Some of the people of Bahrain were not so keen on these terms and conditions and there were uprisings against British rule. In 1911, a group of Bahraini merchants demanded restrictions on British influence. Britain thought about it, then arrested the group’s leaders and exiled them to India.
During this period, as a side note, the pearl diving industry was growing at quite a pace. But by 1932, nobody cared about pearls any more because instead they found… oil!
In the 1930s, Bahrain Airport was developed, and shortly after that the Bahrain Maritime Airport was established, for flying boats and seaplanes, which I only mention because I know you, Ryan, love a seaplane.
In 1939, World War 2 and our time period, Bahrain joined in on the side of the British, unsurprisingly.
But after World War 2 anti-British sentiment was on the rise and as we’ve seen in so many other places the drive for independence took off.
On 15 August 1971 Bahrain declared independence, although they did sign a treaty of friendship with the United Kingdom. It also joined the Arab League and the United Nations that same year.
Oil money kept the place going for a while but they didn’t let it run everything – they chose to diversity their economy. In 1970s when war in Lebanon made Beirut, the previous financial centre of the region, unstable, Bahrain was there to pick up the pieces, becoming a substantial financial centre.
There was a failed Islamic coup in 1979 and a popular uprising between 1994 and 1999 where the unlikely alliance of leftists, liberals and Islamists joined forces to demand more democracy. These died down in 1999 when Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa became the Emir of Bahrain. He started elections for parliament, gave women the vote, and released political prisoners.
It’s not an ongoing good news story though. By 2011 protests that were part of the broader Arab Spring protests in the region were suppressed with violence.
And in 2021 Amnesty International said "Ten years after Bahrain's popular uprising, systemic injustice has intensified”.
But who knows what the future holds, Bahrains own future plan known BNSP 2050 places an emphasis on diversifying the economy to reduce dependency on oil, education, sustainable growth and has aggressive targets for renewable energy adoption, water conservation, and sustainable waste management.
So, here’s hoping that the bright future they see for themselves, is one shared with all the people of Bahrain.

What is Latin? It’s a language. The language of the Romans.
More specifically it originates in the area of Latium (now known as Lazio), around Rome.
It belongs to the Italic branch of the Indo European languages. It’s also a dead language. But being a dead language doesn’t mean it never gets used or nobody speaks it, it merely means there are no native speakers of the language.
It’s also, in fact, it is the official language of the Holy See, which is basically the Vatican City, although technically there’s a difference, in any event you will know it as home to such celebrities such as the pope.
Latin was also for centuries a kind of international currency language, the language of diplomacy and the language of science. And it still has influence today, we find latin in all sort of places, including
o Medicine – “get me 20ml of curall, stat”. The stat from statim, the latin for immediately
o Law – phrases such as caveat emptor – buyer beware, habeaus corpus “you should have the body” and so on
o And oddly, it’s also used in Design –latin is used to give the look of text on a it of graphic design without distracting with content – that’s the famous lorem ipsum est
 Which is text derived from the 1st-century BCE philosopher Cicero
So not dead language so much as an undead language.

Bahrain 1939 to 1945
So Ryan, why do we have 1939 to 1945 as a category? The second world war of course/
So what did Bahrain do in World War 2? I delved confidently into the archives to find the pivotal role Bahrain played. And it goes like this
o Bahrain was on the side of the Allies, being a British protectorate
o On 19 October 1940, four Italian SM.82s bombers bombed Bahrain targeting these facilities.
o They did minimal damage
o The end
But undeterred, I looked to my Latin Ryan and the first Latin I considered was: Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori – it is good and honourable to die for your country.
This is most well known thanks to the first bit being the title of a first world war poem by Wilfred Owen in which the poet witnessed the effect of a gas attack and he watches a young man die horribly.
Owen compares the horrible, brutal reality to the noble and high-minded rhetoric of patriotic propaganda
“If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
So that’s a long way of saying, Ryan, in our first section, we’re going to be talking about Propaganda. Side note Propaganda itself is also a modern Latin word, from propagare, meaning 'to spread' or 'to propagate' in other words, to spread information favourable to you.
And in Bahrain in World War Two propaganda was very important. Britain was running the show, as it were, but they weren’t necessarily all that popular in the area. And the war offered the people of Bahrain the chance to see ‘the boss class’ as it were, get a bit of a beating.
And the Germans saw the opportunity. In the region the Germans broadcast Arabic-language radio stations, seven days a week.
These broadcasts presented Germany as a friend of Islam and a supporter of anti-imperialist movements opposed to the British Empire.
And people were listening. In fact British Political Agent, Hugh Weightman reported in 1940 “a large crowd gathers to hear the German news” and adds that the slogans ‘Long live Hitler’ and ‘Right is with Germany’ had been chalked on walls in the town.
This was obviously a concern for the British government.
They banned listening to German and Japanese radio stations from, but they also countered with a number of types of propaganda of their own, including The Alphabet of War, with an illustrated entry for each letter of the Arabic alphabet such as portraying C for Corruption in which the Nazis are portrayed as degenerate, alcohol-sodden sinners. Which, to be honest, sounds more like us, but you get what they were trying to do.
There were also radio broadcasts on BBC Arabic radio, the BBC's first foreign-language station.
And in Bahrain they also had their own newspaper Al Bahrain, which was controlled by the British. And it as while researching this when I came across a really interesting document.
It was in the Qatar national Library and was entitled Administration Reports of the Persian Gulf, 1939 to 1944'.
It was 600 pages of, amongst other things, weekly reports by the Political Agent for Bahrain, a man named Bertram Thomas, who reported on what the local people were thinking and feeling about the war.
Now there is a great deal of ‘this week, same as last week’ in there, but it included some interesting insights as to how the British sought to influence opinion and I’m going to share a few with you.
It makes mention of the ruling against spreading propaganda, “Any person who spreads news or makes statements by speech or in writing which are likely to cause public feeling against the Allies or who circulates propaganda from German, Italian or Japanese sources will be liable to punishment not exceeding six month rigorous imprisonment and/or a fine.
They obviously used a mobile cinema to show propaganda films. He notes “In Bahrain we have a 35mm projector with separate engine and separate transformer capable of being transported by launch or car.”
It was a lot more than cinema though, he observes “The mechanics of publicity have a common basis. A major function of Cairo headquarters office is to produce and distribute to publicity centres Arabic material of all kinds – films, articles, talks, photographs, posters etc. “
He also notes that Bahrain is ahead of the game, not just relying on the BBC but having its own station. He describes Bahrain as “a pioneer among publicity centres in the possession of its own broadcasting station”.
Propaganda is not all about technology though, Thomas writes “There is one instrument which is indigenous to Arabia – the Majlis. It is perfectly adapted, for propaganda purposes, and has a disproportionate importance in societies such as ours with roots in a patriarchal culture and where opinion is fashioned by the few.”
Majli is an Arabic term meaning "sitting room" and it refers to a types of gathering among common interest groups, sort of like a lecture or discussion club.
They also talk about the messaging to take, observing “Many Arabs know that a German victory would mean an end to all Arab national aspirations and they are undoubtedly eager that Britain should not be beaten – at least not too badly. “ adding “It follows that the exposure of German racial philosophy, designs upon the Arab world and ‘new order’ must continue.
And someone asks Thomas if they, “Should not appeal more strongly to the religious sentiments of those of our Arab friends who realise that the issues which we defend are akin to the spirit of Islam, while those represented by the Axis are incompatible with it.”
Which of course is exactly what the Germans were saying as well.
Of course credibility is important in Propaganda and you have to be careful what you say. Thomas notes ““Experience shows that it is profitable to rub in Axis untruthfulness. But assertions of Axis hatred and hypocrisy, coming from us, are less convincing.”
So the lesson there is I guess it’s hard talk about freedom when you’re all but the colonial power to a country.
And the Axis had their own credulity problems. On the bombing of Bahrain that I mentioned at the start, when he says, “The untruthfulness of Axis broadcasting was beautifully illustrated in Bahrain last year following an abortive Italian air raid here… The Italian account of the damage to the local oil field was a travesty of the truth – the bombs fell wide whilst he ships alleged to have been sunk in the harbour were known to the local Arab seafarers to have had no existence. These claims provided the Arabs with a yard stick for measuring Axis news elsewhere and at other times.”
Eventually Bertram Thomas is told he has been given a new assignment and we run out of reports on his work and even before the reports run out they go from typewritten to hand written which, though it gave a nice sense of the personal, was pretty darn difficult to read.
All in all, it was a lovely read and I would have liked to have more time to go through the documents.
But I will leave you with one final thought, which is to be careful how effective your propaganda is
Britain did a good job convincing people in the area that Britain were on the side of freedom and self-expression.
So much so, that in 1948, a British official in the Arabian Gulf bemoaned how the effort had increased the local people’s knowledge of the world’s problems, “particularly of the rights of small nations and the independence of Arab nations” which was causing them to also raise questions about Britain’s dominant position in the region.
The Hawar Islands
Ok Ryan, we mentioned that the law was another area in which latin is frequently used. For example Pacta Sunt Servanda – agreements must be kept.
And this applies to international agreements as much as those between individuals.
The Hawar islands is an archipelago of 16 small desert islands and islets between Qatar and Bahrain, but substantially closer to Qatar about 2km than they are to Bahrain, which is about 20km away.
Since 1935 both Bahrain and Qatar had laid claim to these islands and bickered back and forth about who would keep them.
Then, in 1939 in our time period, the British made a ruling. The British Resident in Manama, the capital city of Bahrain, ruled that Hawar Islands belonged to Bahrain.
So 1939 was an Annus mirabilis – A fantastic year for Bahrain, but an Annus horribilis for Qatar.
Still, this at least managed to establish a Status quo for a while.
And so it rumbled uneventfully on. That was until 1980, when exploration of the seabed in the area revealed potentially significant oil and gas resources. And wouldn’t you know it, right about now Qatar remembered how unhappy it was with the original ruling and the dispute flared up again.
Things escalated so badly in 1986 both countries were on the brink of armed conflict over the matter.
So, the countries decided to go court – the International Court of Justice.
This in itself was apparently relatively unusual for an Arabic country because they had a culture based on the Islamic notion of arbitration and mutual agreement being superior to court rulings being imposed. Although western law does have a term for that too - Assentio mentium – The meeting of minds, aka mutual assent.
So, off to court they went. And this is where I found an excellent passive aggressive statement to the court from the representatives of Bahrain sent in 1999.
It said “Qatar has not submitted any non-forged evidence that supports its claim of sovereignty over the Hawar Islands “
Well, I had to find out about this non forged business.
So I went to the book “Fraudulent evidence before Public International Tribunals” which said “The courts judgement makes no reference to the fact that Qatars memorial largely based its case for the Hawars and Zubarah on eighty two fabricated documents… The ‘Documents’ in the Qatar Memorial that are cited in this chapter were later withdrawn and are no longer annexed to the Qatar Memorial accessible on the ICJ webpage.
But then, brilliantly it adds “They have been collected in a multivolume set published by Bahrain.”
So I don’t know exactly what went down, but it sure looks like Qatar submitted a bunch of dodgy documents.
So it’s hardly surprising that the court eventually found mostly in favour of Bahrain, in large part thanks to the original ruling, in 1939 in Bahrain.
And that settled the matter because, Pacta Sunt Servanda – agreements must be kept.
But there is a nice postscript to this story - partly because of all this dispute, there was relatively little development on and around the islands for a long time.
As a result the islands are in relatively pristine condition. And that’s handy because the islands now support one of the world's largest concentrations of the somewhat endangered bird the Socotra Cormorant, which gives a lovely happy ending.

The Socotra cormorant
When you talk about an animal, you sometime hear them referred to by scientific names, usually two at a time, such as
o Ursus maritimus – the polar bear
o Rattus rattus – believe it or not, the rat
o Corvus splendens – the house crow
o And of course Homo sapiens – humans

This is what’s known as binomial nomenclature and it is a formal system of naming species of living things by giving each a name composed of two parts, both of which use Latin grammatical forms.
Although the words themselves are not always latin – can even be the names of people, used as a way to honour people such as Psephophorus terrypratchetti which is an extinct sea turtle named after Terry Pratchett.
And so let’s talk a little about Phalacrocorax nigrogularis aka the Socotra Cormorant, known locally as the looh, but also known rather splendidly as the Socotra Shag.
These are found, as we discussed on the Hawar Islands where they nest in their thousands.
In fact they form roosting flocks of up to 250,000 birds having been reported, and flocks of up to 25,000 have been found at sea.
The seagrass beds around the Hawar islands are a good place for fishing, which cormorants love.
A Socotra cormorant can dive into the water for fish and stay submerged for up to 3 minutes.
Sadly, it’s an disappearing bird – at least 12 colonies are known to have disappeared since the 1960s. Of the remaining 13 colonies across 9 locations, the Hawar colony is the largest.
And it’s a very cool bird. It’s solid black, although I believe the colour changes a it during the mating season and I can only describe it as looking really dinosaury, so we’ll put some picture up on social media.
They cool themselves by panting, so they always look sort of out of breath and when they running around the colony the look like nothing more than like stretched-out, long armed penguins. And that is an excellent thing.
But, as I say, it’s harder to find them these days, so here’s hoping for a safe future for the Socotra Cormorant, latin name Phalacrocorax nigrogularis which lives on the Hawar Islands, that were declared as belonging to Bahrain in 1939.
That is to say Latin, in Bahrain, between 1939 and 1945
Will Judge Dersley find it Latiny enough? Who knows, all I can say is “nemo iudex in causa sua” – no man shall be a judge in his own

bottom of page