giraffe fever (1826)
From: Muhammad Ali of Egypt
To: Charles X of France
A Sudanese giraffe nicknamed “La Belle Africaine” was sent by the Ottoman Empire to discourage French support for Greek independence. The gift failed to achieve this goal, but the animal became a celebrity in her own right: within six months 600,000 people had visited her in the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, where they could also buy giraffe-shaped souvenir soaps and cookies.
you call that a gift? (c. 1350 bc)
From: Ashur-uballit of Assyria
To: Akhenaten of Egypt
Hoping to assert Assyria’s equal standing with Egypt, Ashur-uballit sent Akhenaten a chariot, two horses, and a lapis lazuli bead. Egypt sent gold in return, but Ashur-uballit complained that it was not enough to cover the cost of sending his messengers.
panda diplomacy (2005)
In an attempt to smooth over past threats of military force, China offered two pandas; Taiwanese president Chen Shuibian called them a “Trojan horse” and a “ploy” in 2005. Three years later, once relations had thawed, Taiwan spent $10 million preparing a habitat at the Taipei Zoo for Tuan Tuan and Yuan Yuan. The pair produced a cub in 2013.
spoils of war (1756)
From: Nipissing Indians
To: Marquis de Montcalm
Thankful to receive reinforcements two years into the French and Indian War, the Nipissing presented Montcalm, a French army general, with a young English female prisoner of war. Montcalm reciprocated with the standard price for such a captive: forty silver ecus, plus an additional sum to demonstrate how honored he was by the lavish gesture.
cherry picks (1912)
To: United States
As a symbol of friendship, Japan sent 3,000 cherry trees to beautify the Potomac tidal basin. The United States has commemorated the gift with a cherry blossom festival every year since 1935, with the exception of the six years following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
the caliph’s only elephant (802)
From: Harun al-Rashid, Abbasid caliph
To: Charlemagne, king of the Franks
To demonstrate the might of the Abbasids, Harun al-Rashid sent Charlemagne an elephant named Abul-Abbas. Rumors spread that Abul-Abbas had been the only elephant in Baghdad, leading the Franks to misinterpret the gift as a symbol of the caliph’s deference to Carolingian power.