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Interpreting the Evidence

Berlin-Baghdad Railway

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    Global History and Geography
    World War I

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:


  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Berlin-Baghdad Railway, 1917 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
The proposed Berlin-Baghdad Railway, 1917.

Historical Context
The Berlin-Baghdad Railway was a joint German-Ottoman construction project undertaken in the early 20th Century, in the lead up to the First World War. For the Germans, it would provide a pathway in which German industrial goods could reach their eastern colonies without needing to use the British-controlled Suez Canal, thus making them a viable competitor for British goods, as well as circumvent a majority of the United Kingdom's territorial holdings and fleet positions, making German trade less susceptible to British disruption. For the Ottomans, it would provide a method in which the Ottoman government could reassert more control over its Arab-populated regions, which by the early 20th Century were slipping away. Included within that goal was Egypt, which the British had taken complete control of outright. In order to better protect the Berlin-Baghdad Railway from possible naval bombardment (such as from the British Navy), it was to be built as inland as possible while still reaching important destinations. As a result, it was a great deal more expensive than it could have otherwise been, as this decision necessitated the boring of tunnels and scaling of mountain ranges.
By 1915, the Berlin-Baghdad Railway was 300 miles short of completion.
At first, the British were not concerned with the construction of the Berlin-Baghdad Railway, as they possessed a number of trade deals with German companies, and it would also open the markets of the Middle East to British goods. As Anglo-German relations soured, however, the British government saw the potential security risks. The Berlin-Baghdad Railway would give German companies and – if Germany and the Ottoman Empire became allies (which they did in mid-1914) – German soldiers could seize the area's newly-discovered oil fields, which at the time were either British-controlled or untapped. German goods could compete more easily with British goods in the world market, undermining British economic supremacy. The Ottomans could attempt to retake Egypt from British control and shut down the Suez Canal, cutting off British trade.

Essential Question
How does geography impact a country's history?

Check for Understanding
Explain the strategic benefits of the Berlin-Baghdad Railway using evidence from the map and your knowledge of world history.

Historical Challenges
What did the British do, once the First World War began, in order to help neutralize the threat that the Berlin-Baghdad Railway posed?

Interdisciplinary Connections
Science: What were the geographic and geological obstacles that the Berlin-Baghdad Railway needed to overcome? How were they overcome?