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The Prussian Octopus

  • Publisher: H & C Graham Ltd, Lithographers, London (Printers & Publishers)
  • Date: 1915-16
  • Dimensions: Image: 49.9 x 34.4 cms / Sheet: 53.3 x 38cms.


1915 British propaganda broadsheet: the twin German & Austro-Hungarian Octopuses, symbols of age-old territorial aggrandizement

About this piece:

The Prussian Octopus

Printed colours. Some light verso reinforcements to old creases & folds. Old pin holes to upper left and right corners in blank margins.

Since Fred W. Rose’s famous 1877 Serio-Comic War Map of Europe, in which Russia had been portrayed as an aggressively expansionist giant octopus, the much-maligned cephalopod had become an established satirical symbol of subversive extra-territorial meddling & covert imperialism. However with the approach of World War One, it was a symbolic identity increasingly ascribed by British & French propagandists to the Hohenzollern Germany of Kaiser Wilhelm II rather than to their new ally, the Romanov Russia of Tsar Nikolaus II.

London printers, H & C Graham Ltd, published this rare and engaging portrayal of the two Prussian and Austro-Hungarian octopuses in late 1915 or early 1916. The explicit aim of map is clear: to show how Germany and Austro-Hungary had both carried through a pre-meditated policy of grasping territorial expansion & aggrandizement, not only since the outbreak of the War, but historically through past decades & centuries, a pattern which the map’s author traces back as far as the early 18th Century, to the Prussia of Frederick the Great. As the text in the upper panel notes with sharp irony:

“We do not threaten small nations,” declared the German Chancellor on December 10th, 1915: “we do not wage the war which has been forced upon us in order to subjugate foreign peoples, but for the protection of our life and freedom.” The pictorial map is a commentary on his words. It shows how Prussia has stolen one province after another from her neighbours and, like a baleful octopus, is still stretching out her tentacles to grasp further acquisitions. The territories included in the original Kingdom of Prussia are marked [dark grey]. The territories since absorbed to negotiation, force, or fraud are marked [light grey].

The map appears to have also been disseminated in several allied and neutral countries in Europe & foreign language editions in both Italian and Swedish are also known. The map may have also provided the inspiration for Maurice Neumont’s subsequent French propaganda poster of December 1917.