June 2, 1763 Pontiac’s War

Benjamin Franklin may have had the last word on the collectivist nonsense which afflicts to this day, when he asked “If an Indian injures me, does it follow that I may revenge that Injury on all Indians?”

The Seven Years War, experienced in the American Colonies as the French and Indian War, ended in 1763 with France ceding vast swaths of territory to the British.

Unlike their English counterparts, the French had cultivated friendships with their Indian allies.  Many had married native women and been adopted into tribes.  There were annual gifts of blankets, firearms and other European manufactured goods.  The British under North American Governor-General Lord Jeffrey Amherst ceased such gifts, treating indigenous populations with contempt as English fortifications were built and settlers moved into traditional native lands.

The first grumblings among the tribes coalesced around a native visionary known only as the “Delaware Prophet”, who preached for a return to traditional ways and a rejection of the British.  The cause was taken up by the Ottawa chieftain Pontiac (c.1720-1769).  A powerful speaker, Pontiac’s message resonated with the Delaware, Seneca, Chippewa, Miami, Potawotomi and Huron, among others.  The full-scale uprising known as “Pontiac’s Rebellion” broke out in May, 1763.

Pontiac's_warIndigenous nations of the time divided more along ethnic and linguistic rather than political lines, so there was no monolithic policy among the tribes.  At least one British fort was taken with profuse apologies by the Indians, who explained that it was the other nations making them do it.

The brutality of the period was anything but one-sided.  The British “gift” of smallpox-infected blankets wasn’t the first instance of biological warfare in history, but this may be one of the nastier ones.

The siege of Fort Detroit beginning on May 7 was ultimately unsuccessful, but a series of attacks on smaller fortifications beginning two weeks later would all result in Indian victories. The fifth and largest of these fortifications, Fort Michilimackinac in present-day Mackinaw City, Michigan, was the largest such fort, and it was taken by surprise.

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Siege of Fort Detroit

Local Ojibwas staged a game of baaga’adowe on June 2, (an early form of lacrosse), with the visiting Sauks in front of the fort.

Native American stickball had many variations, but the object was to hit a stake or other object with a “ball”. The ball was a stone wrapped in leather, handled with one or sometimes two sticks. There could be up to several hundred contestants to a team, and the defenders could employ any means they could think of to get at the ball, including hacking, slashing or any form of physical assault. Lacerations and broken bones were commonplace.  It wasn’t unheard of that stickball players died on the field. The defending team could likewise employ any method they liked to keep the opposing team off of the ball carrier.  The game took place on a field that could range from 500 yards to several miles.

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Soldiers at Fort Michilimackinac enjoyed the game, as they had on earlier occasions. When the ball was hit through the open gate, both teams rushed in as native women handed out weapons previously smuggled into the fort. Fifteen of the 35-man garrison were killed in the ensuing struggle.  Five others were tortured to death.

Three more forts were taken in a second wave of attacks, when survivors took to the shelter of Fort Pitt, in Western Pennsylvania.

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Here’s when the chapter is written, about the smallpox blankets.  The episode has taken on aspects of legend and remains the subject for debate, to this day.

Smallpox had broken out at this time, among the besieged garrison at Fort Pitt.  At a June 24 parlay, Captain Simeon Ecuyer, a 22-year veteran Swiss mercenary in the British service, gave besieging Lenape warriors several items taken from smallpox patients.  Ecuyer wrote that “We gave them two blankets and a handkerchief out of the smallpox hospital”. Captain William Trent of the garrison militia later wrote in his journal: “I hope it will have the desired effect.”

This appears to be the only documented case of such a tactic, but the stratagem was by no means disapproved. The use of smallpox infected items was discussed in positive terms between Amherst and another Swiss mercenary, Colonel Henry Bouquet, but the siege at Fort Pitt was ended by more conventional means.

Hudson-bay-blankets-vintageSome sixty to eighty Ohio valley Indians died of the disease following the Fort Pitt episode, but the outbreak appears isolated.  Meanwhile, Indian warriors had looted clothing from some 2,000 outlying settlers they had killed or abducted.

Six years earlier, native Americans ignored terms of surrender negotiated between their French allies and English at Fort McHenry in upstate New York, and broke into the garrison hospital, killing and scalping a number of patients.  At least some of these were suffering from smallpox.  The episode reportedly touched off an outbreak among native populations.

The siege of Fort Pitt culminated in a bloody fight on August 5, when an incoming relief force of some 500 troops met the Indian besieging force at the bloody Battle of Bushy Run.

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Battle of Bushy Run, August 5, 1763

All the while, Delaware and Shawnee war bands raided deep into Pennsylvania territory. Panicked settlers fled eastward, as unknown numbers of men, women and children were killed or taken captive.   The “Paxton Boys”, a group of Scots-Irish frontiersman from the modern-day Harrisburg area,  murdered some twenty Conestoga, a mostly Christian band of subsistence hunters and farmers who had nothing whatever to do with the fighting.

Many of these peaceful Indians fled east to Philadelphia for protection.  Several hundred Paxton residents marched on the city in January, 1764.

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1841 lithograph depicts the massacre of Conestoga Indians by the “Paxton Boys”, in December 1763

The presence of British troops and Philadelphia militia prevented further violence, as Benjamin Franklin met with leaders of the two sides to negotiate an end to the crisis. Mr. Franklin may have had the last word on the collectivist nonsense which afflicts to this day, when he asked “If an Indian injures me, does it follow that I may revenge that Injury on all Indians?”

Pontiac’s Rebellion ended in a draw, in 1765.  The savagery inflicted on both sides meant that segregation and not interaction, would characterize relations between Indians and whites.

1_2929243The British Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763, drew a line between the British colonies and Indian lands, creating a vast Indian Reserve stretching from the Appalachians to the Mississippi River and from Florida to Newfoundland. For the Indian Nations, this was the first time that a multi-tribal effort had been launched against British expansion, the first time such an effort had not ended in defeat.

The British government had hoped through such a proclamation to avoid conflicts like Pontiac’s Rebellion, but the decree had the effect of alienating colonists against the Crown.

For native Americans, the terrible smallpox epidemic of 1837 – ’38 all but wiped out the Mandan and decimated the Arikara and Hidatsa, Missouri River bands who farmed corn, beans & squash and hunted buffalo only as a sideline.  Estimates of the number killed in the epidemic range from 17,200 to an implausible high of 150,000, merging with the blanket episode of seventy-five years earlier and spawning a narrative of deliberate white genocide against indigenous Americans.

Smaller bands of isolated plains Indians were less hard hit, tipping the balance and forever altering the world’s ideas of what American Indians, looked like.  Works Progress Administration murals from the 1930s depict Pilgrims interacting with coastal tribesmen, wearing Sioux war bonnets and war shirts decorated with glass beads. No Lenape, Wampanoag, Pokanoket or Nauset of the time would have so much as recognized such an outfit, let alone dress that way.

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May 1, B.C.62 Ladies Night

Scandal broke out on this day in 62BC, when the aforementioned meathead, the politician Publius Clodius Pulcher, dressed as a woman and sneaked into the festival for the Bona Dea, bent on seducing Caesar’s wife, Pompeia.

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To this day, we know her only as Feminea Dea (“The Women’s Goddess”)

The etymology website etymonline.com defines “pulchritude” as (n.) – “beauty,” c. 1400, from Latin pulchritudo “beauty, excellence, attractiveness”.

The word has fallen out of everyday usage, and the website indicates origin unknown.  Possibly, the term comes down to us from an individual, who may have been the greatest maniac if not the dumbest man, in Roman antiquity.  Either that, or a man so bull-headedly determined to get what he wanted, that he deserves to be remembered as one of the great Meatheads, of history.

In ancient Rome, women partook of a festival, strictly forbidden to Roman men.  So stringent was this line of demarcation that only women were permitted even to know the name of the deity, to whom the festival was dedicated.  For everyone else she was simply the “Good Goddess”. The Bona Dea.

The first of two annual festivals of the Bona Dea was held during the winter, at the Aventine Temple. The second rite took place every May, hosted by the wife of the current Pontifex Maximus and attended by an elite group of Roman matrons, female attendants and vestal virgins.

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Publius Clodius Pulcher

Eighteen years before the end of the Republic, the Pontifex Maximus was Julius Caesar. Scandal broke out on this day in 62BC, when the aforementioned meathead, the politician Publius Clodius Pulcher, dressed as a woman and sneaked into the festival for the Bona Dea, bent on seducing Caesar’s wife, Pompeia.

I’m not even sure how that was supposed to work but, of all the women in Rome, this guy set his sights on the wife of Julius Caesar.

Apparently, ol’ Pulcher was insufficiently pulchritudinous. He was found out and thrown out.  Thus vitiated, the rites of the Bona Dea were rendered null and void, necessitating repetition by the Vestals.  Meanwhile, the desecration of such rites carried a sentence of death.  The legal wrangling went on for two years.

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Pompeia, Granddaughter of Sulla, 2nd Wife of Caesar

In the end, Clodius was acquitted, a fact which Cicero put down to fixed juries and back-room dealings.  Pulcher’s populist politics would one day transform Clodius into “One of the most innovative urban politicians in Western history”.  His transvestite dalliance with the Bona Dea provided arch-rival Cicero with verbal ammunition, for years.

The verdict of the ages was quite unfair to Pompeia.  Nothing more substantial than gossip and rumor ever implicated her in the Bona Dea scandal.

Her husband, one of the most ambitious politicians of the era, divorced her anyway, claiming that “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion”.

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April 21, BC753 The Founding of Rome

Romulus and Remus founded a town on the site of their salvation, the traditional date being April 21, 753BC. Romulus later murdered his brother after some petty quarrel, making himself sole ruler of the settlement. He modestly called the place “Rome”, after himself.

According to legend, Romulus and Remus were the sons of Rhea Silvia, the daughter of King Numitor of Alba Longa, a mythical city located in the Alban Hills southeast of what would become Rome.  Numitor was deposed by his younger brother Amulius, who forced Rhea to become a vestal virgin so that she would not give birth to rival claimants to his title. However, Rhea was already pregnant by the war god Mars, and destined to give birth to Romulus and Remus.

Romulus and Remus, by Rubens

Learning of the birth, Amulius ordered the infants drowned in the Tiber river but, the pair survived, washing ashore at the foot of the Palatine hill where the two were suckled by a she-wolf.

download (84)Later discovered by Faustulus, the boys were reared by the shepherd and his wife. Much later, the twins became leaders of a band of young shepherd warriors. On learning their true identity, the twins attacked Alba Longa, killed King Amulius, and restored their grandfather to the throne.

Romulus and Remus founded a town on the site of their salvation, the traditional date being April 21, 753BC. Romulus later murdered his brother after some petty quarrel, making himself sole ruler of the settlement. He modestly called it “Rome”, after himself.

No new town would last long without women, so Romulus invited the neighboring Sabines to a festival, where he kidnapped their women. A war ensued, but the Sabine women persuaded the Sabine men away from seizing the place. They drew up a peace treaty, merging the two communities under the joint rule of Romulus and the Sabine king, Titus Tatius.

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The Romulus and Remus mythology developed in the 4th century BC, the exact date of the founding set by the Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro, in the first century BC.

There would be six more kings of Rome, the last three believed to be Etruscan. The Roman Republic was formed around 509 BC, and ended around the time of the murder of Julius Caesar in 44BC.

The Roman Imperial period which emerged would later split in two, ending in the final dissolution of the Western Roman Empire on September 4, 476, when Romulus Augustus, the last Emperor of the Western Empire, was deposed by the Germanic chieftain, Odoacer.

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The Eastern Empire, originally known as Byzantium, would last for another thousand years. The end came on May 29, 1453, when the capital city of Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, who came to call the city “Istanbul”.

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Constantinople
If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

April 6, 1933 New Beer’s Eve

The night before Prohibition was repealed, April 6, 1933, beer lovers lined up at the doors of their favorite public houses, waiting for their first legal beer in thirteen years. 

Given the right combination of sugars, almost any cereal will undergo simple fermentation, due to the presence of wild yeasts in the air.  It seems likely that our cave-dwelling ancestors experienced their first beer, as the result of this process.

Starch dusted stones were found with the remains of doum-palm and chamomile in the 18,000-year old Wadi Kubbaniya in upper Egypt.  While it’s difficult to confirm, University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern says, “it’s very likely they were making beer there”.

Chemical analysis of pottery shards date the earliest barley beer to 3400BC, in the Zagros Mountains of Iran.

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Tacitus maligned the bitter brew of Germanic barbarians.  Wine seemed better suited to the sensibilities of the Roman palate.  Nevertheless, the letters of Roman cavalry commanders from the Roman Britain period, c. 97-103 AD, include requests for more “cerevisia“, for the legionaries.

In North and South America, native peoples brewed fermented beverages from local ingredients, including agave sap, the first spring tips of the spruce tree, and maize.

Pilgrims left the Netherlands city of Leiden in 1620, hoping not for the frozen, rocky soil of New England, but for rich farmland and a congenial climate in the New World.   Lookouts spotted the wind-swept shores of Cape Cod on November 9, 1620, and may have kept going, had there been enough beer.  One Mayflower passenger wrote in his diary: “We could not now take time for further search… our victuals being much spent, especially our beer…

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Prior to the the drum roaster’s invention in 1817, malt was typically dried over wood, charcoal, or straw fires, leaving a smoky quality which would seem foreign to the modern beer drinker.  William Harrison wrote in his “Description of England” in 1577, “For the wood-dried malt, when it is brewed, beside that the drink is higher of colour, it doth hurt and annoy the head of him that is not used thereto, because of the smoke“.

Smoky flavor didn’t trouble the true aficionado of the age.  When the Meux Brewery casks let go in 1814 spilling nearly 400,000 gallons onto the street, hundreds of Britons hurried to scoop it up in pots and pans.  Some even lapped it up off of the street, doggy-style.

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1,389 were trampled to death and another 1,300 injured in a stampede for the suds, when someone thought the beer had run out at the coronation of Czar Nicholas II, in 1896.

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The 18th amendment, better known as “prohibition”, went into effect at midnight, January 16, 1920. For thirteen years it was illegal to import, export, transport or sell liquor, wine or beer in the United States.

Portable stills went on sale within a week, and organized smuggling was quick to follow. California grape growers increased acreage by over 700% over the first five years, selling dry blocks of grapes as “bricks of rhine” or “blocks of port”. The mayor of New York City sent instructions on wine making, to his constituents.

Smuggling operations became widespread, as cars were souped up to outrun “the law”. This would lead to competitive car racing, beginning first on the streets and back roads and later moving to dedicated race tracks.  It’s why we have NASCAR, today.

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Organized crime became vastly more powerful due to the influx of enormous sums of cash.  The corruption of public officials was a national scandal.

Gaining convictions for breaking a law that everyone hated became increasingly difficult. There were over 7,000 prohibition related arrests in New York alone between 1921 and 1923.  Only 27 resulted in convictions.

download (65)Finally, even John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a lifelong teetotaler who contributed $350,000 to the Anti-Saloon League, had to announce his support for repeal.

It’s difficult to compare rates of alcohol consumption before and during prohibition.  If death by cirrhosis of the liver is any indication, alcohol consumption never decreased by more than 10 to 20 per cent.

FDR signed the Cullen–Harrison Act into law on March 22, 1933, commenting “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”  The law went effect on April 7, allowing Americans to buy, sell and drink beer containing up to 3.2% alcohol.

A team of draft horses hauled a wagon up Pennsylvania Avenue, delivering a case of beer to the White House – the first public appearance of the Budweiser Clydesdales.

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“Dry” leaders tried to prohibit consumption of alcohol on military bases in 1941, but military authorities claimed it was good for morale. Brewers were required to allocate 15% of total annual production to be used by the armed forces. So essential were beer manufacturers to the war effort, that teamsters were ordered to end a labor strike against Minneapolis breweries.  Near the end of WWII, the army made plans to operate recaptured French breweries, to ensure adequate supplies for the troops.

18 states continued prohibition at the state level after the national repeal, the last state finally dropping it in 1966. Almost 2/3rds of all states adopted some form of local option, enabling residents of political subdivisions to vote for or against local prohibition.  Some counties remain dry to this day.  Ironically, Lynchburg County, Tennessee, home to the Jack Daniel distillery, is one such dry county.

Beer toastThe night before Roosevelt’s law went into effect, April 6, 1933, beer lovers lined up at the doors of their favorite public houses, waiting for their first legal beer in thirteen years.  A million and a half barrels of the stuff were consumed the following day, a date remembered today as “National Beer Day”.

So it is that, from that day to this, April 6 is celebrated as “New Beer’s Eve”.  Sláinte.

For every wound, a balm.
For every sorrow, cheer. 
For every storm, a calm.
For every thirst, a beer. – Irish toast, author unknown

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March 18, 37 AD Little Boots

Around the year AD 14 or 15, the youngest son of the Roman war hero Germanicus found himself growing up around the Legions. As a boy of just two or three, little Gaius Caesar accompanied his father on campaigns in the north of Germania. Centurions were amused to see the boy dressed in miniature soldier’s uniform, including the boots, the “Caligae”, and the segmented Roman body armor – the “Lorica Segmentata”.

Around the year AD 14 or 15, the youngest son of the Roman war hero Germanicus found himself growing up around the Legions. As a boy of just two or three, little Gaius Caesar accompanied his father on campaigns in the north of Germania. Centurions were amused to see the boy dressed in miniature soldier’s uniform, including the boots, the “Caligae“, and the segmented Roman body armor – the “Lorica Segmentata”.

Soldiers of the Legions called him “Little Boots”, after the tiny soldier’s boots the boy liked to wear in camp.  In Latin, “Caligula“.  He’s said to have hated the name, but it stuck.

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The Roman historian Suetonius writes that Germanicus was poisoned on the orders of Emperor Tiberius, who viewed the general as a political rival. Caligula’s mother Agrippina was denied permission to remarry, for the same reason. Agrippina was later exiled, as were her sons Drusus and Nero, while Caligula was remanded to the island of Capri and the personal custody of Tiberius, himself.

One observer spoke well of Caligula during this period, saying “Never was there a better servant or a worse master.” Suetonius believed the boy to be vicious and cruel, a natural actor who suppressed his hatred for the man responsible for the death of his family.  The historian writes that, when Tiberius brought Caligula to Capri, it was to “… prove the ruin of himself and of all men, and that he was rearing a viper for the Roman people and a Phaethon for the world.”

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The Fall of Phaeton, by Sebastiano Ricci

Phaethon, according to Greek mythology, was the child of the sun God Helios. As a boy, Phaethon was permitted to drive the sun chariot for a day, but couldn’t control the horses. With the earth in danger of being burned by the runaway sun, the God Zeus was forced to strike the chariot with a thunderbolt, killing the boy in the process.

Suetonius appears not to have been a fan.

When Tiberius died on March 16 AD 37, many believed his passing to have been hastened by a pillow, in the hands of the Praetorian Guard Commander Naevius Sutorius Macro.  Tiberius’ estate and titles were left to Caligula and Tiberius’ own grandson, Tiberius Gemellus.

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Busts of Caligulas Parents, Germanicus (left) and Agrippina the Elder

On this day in the year 37, the Roman Senate annulled the will of the Emperor Tiberius, proclaiming 24-year-old Caligula, Emperor. After years of purges and treason trials, Caligula’s ascension to the throne was a welcome breath of fresh air.  The son of the war hero Germanicus was in charge.  What could go wrong.  All of Rome erupted in paroxysms of joy, proclaiming Caligula to be the first emperor Ever, admired by “all the world, from the rising to the setting sun”.

160,000 animals were sacrificed in three months of public jubilation.  The Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria described the first seven months as “completely blissful”.

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Map of the Roman Empire and neighboring states during the reign of Gaius Caligula (37-41 AD).

Caligula’s first two years were relatively peaceful and prosperous.  The Emperor provided lavish gladiatorial games for the entertainment of the people, and abolished the sales tax.  He granted bonuses to the military and destroyed Tiberius’ papers, declaring the treason trials of his hated predecessor a thing of the past.  Too late for his own family, Caligula recalled those who had been sent into exile.  The bones of  his mother and brothers, were deposited in the tomb of Augustus.

The obelisk at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, originally erected in Alexandria in BC 30-28, was transported to Rome and erected in the year AD 40, where it stands to this day.  The “Piazza San Pietro Obelisk” is the only such monument to have survived from Roman times.

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Piazza San Pietro Obelisk

In AD39, Caligula suffered a severe and prolonged illness, in which he hovered between life and death for over a month. It may or may not have had anything to do with his subsequent behavior, but the man who emerged from that illness was widely believed to be insane.

The Emperor performed a spectacular stunt by ordering a temporary floating bridge to be built, using ships as pontoons, stretching for over two miles from the resort of Baiae (pronounced BAY-eye) to the neighboring port of Puteoli. Though Caligula could not swim, he rode his favorite horse, Incitatus, across the bridge, wearing the breastplate of Alexander the Great.  Tiberius’ soothsayer Thrasyllus of Mendes predicted that Caligula had “no more chance of becoming emperor than of riding a horse across the Bay of Baiae”.  Little Boots, had proven otherwise.

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In case you’re wondering, Incitatus was the same horse whom Caligula appointed as priest, and planned to make a Consul of Rome, the top elected official of the Roman government.

In time, what seemed like mere eccentricities became terrifying and erratic. Caligula regularly made senators run alongside his chariot.  He’d order executions on a whim – common man or foreign dignitary – it didn’t matter.  At the Roman games, he once had an entire crowd section thrown into the arena, to be eaten alive by wild animals.  He said he was bored.

Caligula began to appear in public, dressed as various Gods and demigods:  Hercules, Mercury, Venus and Apollo.  He wished to be worshipped as “Neos Helios” – the New Sun.  He’d refer to himself as a God when meeting with politicians. He built temples for the worship of himself, where the heads of statues were replaced by his own likeness.

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Death of Caligula at the hands of his own Praetorian Guard

Later stories of wanton hedonism, cruelty, and sexual depravity may be exaggerated, but none seem to be without a grain of truth.  Roman politics often associated poor government policy, with insanity and sexual perversity.

Little Boots was murdered by his own Praetorian Guard in AD 41, like his predecessor Julius Caesar, stabbed thirty times in a conspiracy led by a man named Cassius. Stricken with grief and outraged by the murder, Caligula’s Germanic guard turned the scene into a bloodbath in a raging assault against conspirators, Senators and innocent bystanders, alike.

Most historians dismiss the floating bridge story as a myth.  No archaeological evidence has ever surfaced, to prove the story true.  Caligula’s two “pleasure barges”, extracted from the bottom of Lake Nemi, are a different story.

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The Pleasure Barges of Caligula (inset, Bronze Medusa)

Locals had long known of the presence of a wreck at around 60-ft. deep in the extinct volcano-turned Lake, some twenty-five miles from Rome.  Occasionally, fishermen and treasure hunters would use grappling hooks, to bring up souvenirs.

The Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini had heard of the legend, and ordered the lake drained.  One wreck turned out to be two in 1927 when, for the first time in 2,000 years, the “pleasure barges” of Emperor Caligula saw the light of day.

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Benito Mussolini attends the inauguration “Il Museo delle Navi Romane” – the Museum of Nemi.

Dubbed Prima nave (the 1st ship) and Seconda nave, the former measured 230-ft., the latter 240.  The lavish furnishings included hot and cold running water, cedar planking with jewel encrusted prows, vessels of gold and silver and bathrooms of alabaster and bronze.  There were hand-operated bilge pumps and a platform rotating on ball bearings:  perhaps to rotate a great statue, or maybe it was a deck crane, for loading supplies.  There were glass mosaics in the floors and marble décor, stone statuary and gilded copper roofs.  One wreck bore a lead pipe, bearing the inscription “Property of Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus”.

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Brass rings recovered in 1895, were fitted to the ends of cantilevered beams that supported each rowing position on the seconda nave. H/T Wikimedia for this image, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9949784

On the night of May 31, 1944, US army shells hit the museum, causing little apparent damage but forcing a German artillery unit, to move.  Two hours later, smoke was seen coming from the windows.  The concrete shell of the Nemi Museum was spared by the fire.  The two priceless archaeological artifacts housed inside, were destroyed.  Official reports blamed German sabotage.  German newspaper editorials blamed Allied bombing.

During the retreat through Italy, German soldiers burned some 80,000 books and manuscripts of the Royal Society of Naples, out of spite. It’s easy to believe they torched the two Nemi Ships, as well.  Like Emperor Caligula himself 2,000 years before, the Italian dictator Mussolini died by violence, at the hands of his own countrymen.

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“The remains of the hull of one of Caligula’s two “pleasure barges” recovered from Lake Nemi. Workers in the foreground give an indication of scale”. H/T, Wikipedia for this image
If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

 

March 15, 44BC  The Ides of March

The Roman calendar tracked the phases of the moon (or tried to), and didn’t count the days from first to last. Instead, Romans counted backward from three fixed points: the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Kalends (1st of the following month).

The history of Rome may be drawn into two parts, the Republic and the Imperium. Since the overthrow of the Monarchy in 509BC, the Republic operated based on a separation of powers, checks and balances, and a strong aversion to the concentration of power. Except in times of national emergency, no single individual could wield absolute power over his fellow citizens.

A series of civil wars and other events changed that in the 1st century, BC.  The Republic was dead by the 30s BC, leaving Imperial Rome in its wake, a period best remembered for its long line of Emperors.

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Proscriptions of Sulla

Gaius Julius Caesar was born into this chaos, a son of the prestigious Julian Clan. In 82BC, the 18-year-old Caesar survived the “proscriptions” of the Dictator Sulla, in which the names of as many as 4,700 “enemies of the state” were nailed to the wall of the Roman Forum. Any proscribed man was immediately stripped of citizenship and all its protections. Anyone killing a proscribed man was entitled to keep part of his estate, the rest going to the government.  Rewards were paid for information leading to the death of anyone thus proscribed.

At the age of 25, Caesar was kidnapped and held for ransom by Cilician pirates, a group which may be described as the Isis of its time. Caesar laughed on learning that his ransom was set at only 20 talents of silver, and demanded his kidnappers hold out for 50.  He would yell at this band of killers for talking too loud while he was trying to sleep. He’d write poetry and read it to them, calling them “savages” if they were insufficiently appreciative of his work.

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For 38 days, Caesar joined in their games and exercises.  As if he were their leader, instead of their prisoner.  Caesar promised these pirates that he would come back and crucify them all, and he said it with a smile.

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The pirates thought it uproariously funny, but Caesar was as good as his word. The fifty talents were raised, and the captive was released.  He made good on his promise, raising a force sufficient to enforce his will and bringing his former captors to Rome.  There he had them all crucified, but not without a moment of kindness.  Caesar style.  He slit their throats, ending the ordeal of crucifixion by hours, if not days.

Caesar lost his hair at an early age, about which he seems to have been self-conscious. It’s probably why we see him depicted with the wreath on his head, but baldness didn’t seem to bother the women in his life.

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Caesar seems to have been quite the ladies’ man, having a son with none other than Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. One story has him being handed a note while speaking at the Senate. Caesar’s arch rival Cato (the younger) demanded to know the contents of the letter, loudly accusing him of complicity in the “Catiline Conspiracy” to overthrow the government. At last Caesar relented, reading out loud what turned out to be a love letter – a graphic one – written to him by Cato’s own half-sister Servilia Caepionis.

agrippinaCaesar rose through the ranks, organizing a coalition of three to rule the Republic. It was the first such “Triumvirate”, combining the popular general Pompey “The Great”, Crassus, the wealthiest man in all of Rome, and the rising young general and politician, Julius Caesar himself.

The partnership was doomed to fail, given the egos and animosities of the three. Crassus was killed on campaign in 52BC as Pompey became increasingly hostile to his co-ruler, then on campaign in Gaul.  A string of military successes against Celtic and native Germanic tribes caused Caesar’s popularity to soar, posing a threat to the power of the Senate and to Pompey himself.

The Senate ordered Caesar to resign his command and disband the army, or become an enemy of the state.  Everyone knew what it meant when Caesar crossed the Rubicon River at the head of that army, in 49BC. It meant Civil War. To this day, to “Cross the Rubicon” means to take a step which cannot be reversed.

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Shortly before his assassination in BC 44, Caesar was named dictator perpetuo rei publicae constituendae, the first time such a title had ever been made permanent. Nothing was more repugnant to traditional Roman sensibilities, than the idea of a dictator for life.   Caesar’s days were numbered.

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“Lupercalia Incident”, February, BC 44.

In BC 44, Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) was elected co-consul with Caesar, the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic.  During the festival of Lupercalia, Antony twice attempted to place the laurel wreath on Caesar’s head, twice to be rejected.  “The people give this to you though me” Antony said, as the stunned crowd stood silent.  Twice, Caesar removed the crown, saying “Jupiter alone of the Romans is King.”

Many believed the episode to have been a “trial balloon”, engineered to assess the public’s reaction.

A month earlier, the soothsayer Spurinna had “predicted the future by examining the internal organs of sacrificial animals.” Spurinna said that Caesar’s life “might come to a bad end,” warning that “his life would be in danger for the next 30 days.”

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The Roman calendar tracked the phases of the moon (or tried to), and didn’t count the days from first to last. Instead, Romans counted backward from three fixed points: the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Kalends (1st of the following month).

According to Plutarch, Julius Caesar arrived at the Senate on March 15, 44BC. Tillius Cimber presented him with a petition, as Senators crowded around. Cimber grabbed the Emperor’s shoulders and pulled down his tunic. “Ista quidem vis est!” said the Dictator for Life, “Why, this is violence!” Casca pulled a dagger and stabbed at Caesar’s neck. Caesar turned and caught him by the arm. “Casca, you villain, what are you doing?” Frightened, the Senator shouted “Help, brother!” in Greek “adelphe, boethei!” In seconds the entire group was striking at the dictator. Caesar attempted to get away but, blinded by his own blood, he tripped and fell. The men continued stabbing at him as he lay defenseless on the steps of the portico. According to Eutropius, 60 men participated in the assassination. Caesar was stabbed 23 times, though only one wound would prove fatal.

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Here’s where the story becomes Really interesting. Like the warning to “Beware the Ides of March”, Caesar’s last words, “Et tu Brute” were first introduced by William Shakespeare, 1,643 years after the fact. No eyewitness account of the assassination survives today, though a more contemporary source recorded the Greek words “Kai su, teknon?” as Brutus plunged the dagger in. “And you, my child?”

Marcus Junius Brutus (the younger) was the son of the same Servilia Caepionis, above. Brutus was 41 at the time of the assassination, Caesar 56. It is unlikely though not impossible, that Brutus killed his father that day. The affair between Brutus’ mother and Caesar, had carried on for years.

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Military campaigns of the General Caesar
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March 7, AD321 The Unconquered Sun

On March 7, AD321, Constantine I “The Great” decreed Dies Solis – Day of the Sun or “Sun-day”:  “On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed”.

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The cithara or kithara (Greek: κιθάρα, kithāra, Latin: cithara) was an ancient Greek musical instrument in the lyra family of instruments

For two thousand years, a popular story has told the tale of Emperor Nero, playing the fiddle while Rome burned. Far be it for me to leap to the defense of a man who ordered the murder of his own wife and mother, except in the name of historical accuracy. The viol class of musical instruments, to which the fiddle belongs, didn’t come along until the 11th century. If Nero played anything it was probably a Cithara, a heavy wooden instrument with four to seven strings.

At least five versions come down to us about the Great Fire of 64AD, and the Emperor’s role in it. The Roman historian Tacitus tells us that Nero sang about the fall of Troy while the city burned, but admits there were no witnesses.

Cassius Dio and Suetonius ask us to believe, in their turn, that Nero a) secretly sent guys out to burn the city, b) openly did so and watched from the tower of Maecenas while singing and playing the lyre, c) the fire was started by an obscure religious sect called “Christians”, d) Nero sent his guys out after all, but sang and played his lyre from a private stage and e) the fire started by accident while Nero was thirty-five miles away at Antium, and the emperor rushed back to help the now-homeless people of Rome.

images (26)Be that as it may, three things are certain. First, The fire burned for six days, utterly destroying three of the 14 districts of Rome, and severely damaging seven others.  Next, Nero used the excuse of the fire to go after the Christians, having many of them arrested and executed. Last, the Domus Aurea (“Golden Palace”) and surrounding “Pleasure Gardens” which the emperor built on the ruins, would be the death of Emperor Nero.

Between AD65 and 68, Emperor Nero built a vast palace complex over an area of more than 200 acres, linking existing buildings on the Palatine Hill with the Gardens of Maecenas and other imperial properties on the Esquiline hills, and adding a grand colonnaded approach and vestibule surrounding an artificial lake.

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Reconstruction of the Domus Aurea, of Nero

One of the Great Wonders of antiquity, Nero’s “Golden house” was ruinously expensive, 300 rooms of dazzling white marble with pools in the floors and fountains splashing in corridors. There were jewel-encrusted walls and ivory clad columns.  An enormous vaulted ceiling lay underneath the dome of the main dining room, with an ingenious mechanism cranked by slaves, making the ceiling revolve like the heavens, as  rose petals dropped and perfume was sprayed on assembled diners.

Suetonius described the complex as “ruinously prodigal”. Nero himself would say nothing further on the palace’ dedication, save to say that he “had at last begun to live like a human being”.

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Artist’s rendering of the Colossus of Nero holds a rudder on the globe, symbolizing his dominion over land and sea.

At the center of it all, Nero built his Colossus Neronis, a giant gilded bronze statue – of himself.  Sources place the thing at 98′ to 121′ tall, roughly equal to the statue of liberty, from her feet to her crown.

With all of Italy “thoroughly exhausted by contributions of money” and “the provinces ruined”, the Emperor himself was roundly hated.  In June AD68, Nero learned that he’d been tried in absentia, and condemned to death as an enemy of the Roman people. Preparing himself for suicide, Nero muttered “Qualis artifex pereo” (“What an artist dies in me”).

Nero’s profligacy was a severe embarrassment to his successors.  Within a decade, the palace and its complex was stripped of its marble, jewels, and ivory embellishments.

Within forty years, most of the grounds were filled with earth and built over, replaced by the Baths of Titus, and the Temple of Venus and Rome. Vespasian drained the lake and built the Flavian Amphitheatre, but Nero’s Colossus, lived on.

In 69, Emperor Vespasian added a sun-ray crown and renamed the thing Colossus Solis, a dedication to the Roman sun god Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”), patron of the legions and official Sun God of the later Roman Empire.

Around 128, Emperor Hadrian moved the statue from the Domus Aurea to just outside of the Colosseum, with a little help from the architect Decrianus, and 24 elephants. Emperor Commodus removed the head and replaced it with a likeness of his own, but the head was restored after Commodus’ death, and so it remained.

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The Arch of Constantine, the last and largest of the Triumphal Arches of Rome and dedicated in AD315, was carefully positioned to align with Sol Invictus, so that the Colossus formed the dominant backdrop when approaching the Colosseum via the main arch.

Six years later, March 7, AD321, Constantine I “The Great” decreed Dies Solis – Day of the Sun or “Sun-day” – as the Roman day of rest (Codex Justinianus 3.12.2):  “On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits because it often happens that another day is not suitable for grain-sowing or vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost”.\

2000 years later Constantine’s day of rest remains, but the colossus of the Unconquered Sun is gone. The last known reference in antiquity dates back to the Calendar of 354, the earliest illuminated manuscript containing full page illustrations.

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Saint Bede of northumbria

It may have been destroyed during the Sack of Rome in 410, or perhaps it toppled in one of a series of 5th century earthquakes, its metal scavenged. There is evidence that Sol Invictus outlived the western Roman Empire and survived into the early middle ages. Bede the Venerable, an English monk from the monastery of St. Peter in Northumbria, wrote sometime circa 672–735: “As long as the Colossus stands, Rome will stand, when the Colossus falls, Rome will also fall, when Rome falls, so falls the world“.

Today, nothing remains of the Colossus of Nero, save for the foundations of its pedestal at the second location, near the ruins of the Colosseum.

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