Old Place Names Quiz Answers

Bohemia = Prague and environs, Czech Republic.  This area was redistricted shortly after WWII, so that “Bohemia” ceased to have legal standing. 1

Byzantium / Constantinople = Istanbul, Turkey.  The ancient Greeks founded Byzantium in the -1st millennium.  Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire there in the 1st millennium.  Finally, in the 2nd millennium, Ottomans conquered it and renamed it Istanbul.

Dalmatia = It’s still called Dalmatia, though it’s now part of Croatia.

The Forbidden City = Central Beijing, China.  The Forbidden City was only a small part of Beijing, and served as the imperial palace.  The Ming – Qing emperors (15th – 20th centuries) lived here along with family, administrators, support staff, and guards.

Leningrad = St. Petersburg, Russia.  The name St. Petersburg goes back to 1703, when Peter the Great founded the city.  It was only known as Leningrad from 1924 – 1991, a period that included the well-known siege and battle of WWII.

New Amsterdam = New York City.  New York was Holland’s largest American colony, and New Amsterdam was founded in Manhattan in 1624.  The British captured it in 1664 and renamed it New York in honor of the campaign’s patron, the Duke of York. 2

The Ottoman Empire = The “Middle East”; Turkey, Arabia, Northern Africa, Eastern Europe, the Levant.  Named for the Ottoman family, who originated in central Turkey.  This was the last Islamic empire, defeated in WWI.  Its rapid colonization and decolonization by France and Great Britain, and the creation of Israel in its former territories, set off the chaos that still disturbs the region.

Persia = Iran.  Iran always called itself Iran, while Persia was the exonym (what outsiders such as Alexander the Great called it).  In 1935, the Iranian government asked outsiders to use the name “Iran” too.  Iranian expatriates (at least in Los Angeles) now call themselves “Persian”, for reasons unclear.  When I ask Iranian-Americans about it, many of them believe that Iranians historically called themselves Persian, which is not true.  Some seem to use the term “Persian” as a euphemism, since Iran has been very unpopular in the US for decades.

Prussia = Overlapped with present-day Germany and Poland.  It was one of many kingdoms in the Holy Roman Empire. At times, other kingdoms impinged on its territory so seriously that Prussia was cut into two separate regions.  Prussia was the most powerful state in unified Germany until WWI.    Its last capital was Berlin.

Sheba = Not known exactly.  Somewhere around the Horn of Africa or the Arabian Peninsula.  (Some say Ethiopia, others Yemen).

Siam = Thailand.  The name “Thai” as an ethnic group dates back to medieval times and means “free people”.  In 1939, dictator Phibun renamed the country “Thailand”, meaning “Land of the free” to emphasize that his country had never been colonized.  3

Tenochtitlan = Mexico City.  The Mexica people were the ruling elite of the Aztec Empire.  They founded the city of Tenochtitlan and others nearby.  After the Spanish destroyed and rebuilt the city in the 16th century, they renamed it Mexico after the people they had displaced.

Atlantis = This is a trick question; Atlantis is fictional!  Plato made up Atlantis as an enemy of Athens, in order to write on themes of government and war. 4  He described it as an island in the Atlantic Ocean; after it fell out of favor with the gods, it sank into the ocean and was “lost”.

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