February 20, 1280 Divine Wind

For Japan the Kamikaze of the 13th century became a foundational myth. The Divine Wind, a literal act of Divine Providence sweeping the enemy from the seas. It was the stuff of nationhood. Not until the 20th century would Japan be called upon, to again defend her natural borders. The myth of the Divine Wind would prove to be just the thing.

Sometime around the year 84AD, Calgacus of the Caledonian Confederacy in Northern Scotland, described the nature of peace, Roman style. The Pax Romana. “They make a desert and call it peace“.

So it was with the Pax Mongolica, a time when “A maiden bearing a nugget of gold on her head could wander safely throughout the realm.” A time of peace for those who would submit, and pay tribute.

Mongolian horsemen ride in formation during the opening ceremony of the annual Naadam festival in the town of Arvaikheer, some 400 km (250 miles) west of Ulan Bator, July 9, 2006. This year’s festival is bigger than ever, as Mongolia celebrates 800 years since Genghis Khan united the nation. Celebrations around the country will culminate in a national festival in the capital on July 11. REUTERS/Nir Elias (MONGOLIA)

Never mind the pyramid of skulls over there. The Mongol conquests lasted 199 years and killed an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the population, of the entire planet.

Imagine an army of circus riders, equipped with composite bows and a minimum of 60 arrows apiece, capable of hitting a bird in flight.

The Mongol bow was a laminate of horn and tendon around a bamboo core, the “push/pull” of the two materials producing draw weights of 80 to 160 pounds depending on the physical strength of its user. Deadly accurate aimed shots were possible at 200 meters, over twice the length of an NFL football field. Ballistic fire rained down at 500 meters, equivalent to the height of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, plus another football field. Stirrups allowed riders to fire in any direction including to the rear. The feigned retreat was a favored tactic. God help anyone rash enough, to pursue.

The warrior Esungge was the Jim Thorpe or the Michael Jordan of his day, this nephew of Genghis Khan possessed of legendary strength and skill, as an archer. In a 1225 gathering of Mongol dignitaries, Esungge struck a target at 400 meters.

Riders had a minimum of 3-4 small, fast horses, able to transfer mounts in mid-gallop in order to keep them fresh. 

In a day and age when the movement of armies was limited to +/- 30 miles per day, Mongol warriors could cover 100 miles and more.  Even as the first rumors arrived concerning the approach of this horde, there in the distance appeared the guidons of the lead riders. The apocalypse was right outside your door.

First came Börte, the first and favorite wife of Temüjin, kidnapped when her husband was only 19. By raising a force sufficient to enforce his will and accomplishing her rescue, Temüjin proved his military mettle. Next came the civil war which he won, based on two innovations. First, Temüjin promoted people based on merit, rather than family connections. The great Mongol general Jebe steps onto the pages of history not as a favorite, but as the enemy who put an arrow in Temüjin’s neck, at the Battle of the 13 Sides.

The Mongolian actress Khulan Chuluun first came to international notice as Börte in the 2007 Oscar nominated Russian film, Mongol.

Next, the leader of the Mongols welcomed the lower classes among conquered peoples while the wealthy and powerful among them ended up destitute, or dead.

After founding an empire, Temüjin was proclaimed Genghis Khan, an honorary title possible ascending from the Turkic “tengiz” or sea, and Khan, meaning “Supreme Leader”. Genghis Khan, his sons and grandsons went to war on a scale never before seen in human history.

Genghis, went after the dynasty of the western Xia first and then the Jin dynasty, in the north of China. Once considered little more than a nuisance on the outskirts of civilization, the Mongol horde had now subjugated a nation of 25 million.

H/T ancient.eu, original image by bkkbrad

In 25 years the Mongols conquered more territory than Rome had managed to conquer, in 400 years. By the time of Genghis’ death in 1227, the Mongol empire stretched from the Pacific ocean to the Caspian sea. Ten million square miles, equal to the entire African continent. More than all of North America, Central America and all the islands of the Caribbean, combined.

Before he died, Genghis instructed his empire be divided into four Khanates, each to be ruled by one of his four sons: Jochi, Chagatai, Ögedei and Tolui. Genghis was buried in a secret location near the sacred mountain at Burkan Kuldun. Ögedei sacrificed 40 slave girls and 40 horses to lead his father into the next world. In 1228 the kurultai, the political and military council governing ancient Mongol and Turkic politics, elected Ögedei Supreme Leader.

Fun fact: Ögedei was the third son of Genghis, hand selected by the Great Khan to be his successor and Supreme Leader of the Mongol empire. He was also, a drunk. Chastised for his drinking by his brother Chagatai, Ögedei offered to have a supervisor keep an eye on how much he drank, and agreed to keep his consumption to a specified number of cups per day. After that the Great Khan would always drink his favorite sauce, from a very large cup.

Ögedei is credited with creating a system of taxation of the peoples conquered by his father, and establishing the first capital of the Mongol empire, at Karakorum. Later capital cities would include Daidu (Beijing) and Xanadu, whose name would live on in a mediocre 1980 film by the same name, starring Olivia Newton-John.

Somehow I wonder if Kublai Khan would have recognized his summer capital in that film, but now I’m getting ahead of the story.

In 1231, Ögedei launched the first of what would be seven invasions of Goryeo, the ancient proto-state we now know as Korea.

Mongol armies under the Great Khan Ögedei raided west from Afghanistan to Iran, sacking the great cities of the Bulgars and the Rus and reaching as far as Hungary and Poland. Kiev, Krakow, Buda and Pest were all sacked, and looted. The first scouts reached as far as Bohemia and Vienna. The horde was poised to sweep through all Europe when the Great Khan died in 1241, most likely during one of the drinking binges for which the Great Khan was famous.

According to the Law of Yassa, they all turned back for Karakorum and the selection, of a new Khan.

Fun fact: Georgia is one of the oldest Christian nations in the world converting to Christianity in the 4th century following the death of Christ. At the time of the apocalyptic 12th century invasion by Mongols, Georgia was preparing to join the 5th Crusade to retake Jerusalem. Census numbers taken by the Mongols themselves indicated Georgia’s ability to raise 4½ tumens, or 45,000 troops. Today we can only guess at how 45,000 troops may have affected the outcome.

There followed a period of short-lived Khans followed by regents, usually the wives or mothers of past or future khans. The tale of female domination in this world run by men is a story in itself, but now I’m getting ahead of the story. Again.

The 4th Khagan (Supreme ruler) of the Mongol Empire Möngke conquered Iraq and Syria, putting an end to the “Golden Age” of Islam. The death of Möngke Khan in 1259 set off a civil war between two brothers, grandsons of Genghis Khan. Kublai emerged victorious in 1264 over his younger brother Ariq Böke. He went on to subjugate the Song of the south of China, unifying that nation under one rule for the first time since the 9th century.

Kublai Khan, Khagan of the Mongol Empire and self styled emperor of the Yuan dynasty sits atop a throne carried by four elephants in this 18th century engraving. H/T Wikipedia

Korea, ravaged by 39 years of the Mongolian menace with barely a wooden structure left standing, capitulated and became a tributary state. It was the apex of the Mongol empire, a landmass now extending from the Sea of Japan to the shores of Turkmenistan.

In three generations the Mongols now ran the second largest empire in history, second only to that of Great Britain. Nearly 18% of dry land on the entire planet was under Mongol rule when Kublai, the self-styled Yuan emperor, set his sights on Japan.

In 1266 Kublai demanded that Japan too, become a vassal state. He sent emissaries with a letter. It is hard to find more entitlement, more arrogance and more menace, in so few words.

Cherished by the Mandate of Heaven, the Great Mongol Emperor sends this letter to the King of Japan. The sovereigns of small countries, sharing borders with each other, have for a long time been concerned to communicate with each other and become friendly… Goryeo rendered thanks for my ceasefire and for restoring their land and people when I ascended the throne. Our relation is feudatory like a father and son. We think you already know this…Enter into friendly relations with each other from now on. We think all countries belong to one family. How are we in the right, unless we comprehend this? Nobody would wish to resort to arms.”

The overture was ignored by Shogun Shikken (regent) Hōjō Tokimune and by Emperor Kameyama as was a second, two years later. Subsequent Korean emissaries and Mongol ambassadors weren’t even allowed to land.

The first invasion fleet arrived on Tsushima Island on November 4, 1274. Both sides wildly overestimated the strength of the other. Modern estimates put Japanese defenders at 4,000 to 6,000 over the next few days, the Yuan invading force at roughly 22,000 Mongol, Han, Jurchen and Korean soldiers and another 8,000 Korean sailors.

80 mounted samurai and their retinues stood in the way of that initial landing. The outcome was never in doubt but the small garrison sold their lives dearly. one samurai called Sukesada is said to have cut down 25 invaders in single combat. Results were much the same at Iki Island and Hakata Bay. Gunpowder bombs were hurled at defenders confusing samurai and terrifying horses. Such weapons had never before been seen outside of China but modern shipwreck excavations, have confirmed their existence. Stoneware bombs stuffed with gunpowder and scrap iron.

Defenders retreated to Mizuki, the ancient earthwork moat fort where all expected a final stand, but it never happened.

Back on the ships, three Yuan generals discussed what to do next. Liu Fuxiang, shot in the face by the samurai Shōni Kagesuke, believed the troops were exhausted, and needed to rest. Holdon wanted to press the attack but Hong Dagu agreed with Liu. Most of the invaders left that night, and then it happened. The Divine Wind of Retribution. The Kamikaze.

Portion of the “Mongol Scroll”, Illustrated Account of the Mongol Invasion of Japan.’ Commissioned by Takezaki Suenaga, 1293

The typhoon rising out of the east drove the Yuan fleet, dashing some onto the rocks and sinking others to the bottom. Anyone caught on the beach was executed on the spot save for Song Chinese who were believed to be there, against their will. The Mongol vessels, river craft without keel, struggled to make way. In the end some 200 ships were lost. 14,000 men departing with the invading force, never came home.

The power of the Khan depended on legends of invincibility. Such a defeat could be easily afforded, but not tolerated. There followed a period of intense diplomacy as the Khagan dealt with the troublesome Song. On September 1275, Kublai Khan sent five more emissaries to Kyūshū. These weren’t about to be sent home without an answer and so they received their response. Tokimune had them all beheaded, by sword. Five more came in 1279, with the same result.

Then came the ultimatum from the Great Khan himself. A letter. On February 20, 1281, the Japanese Imperial Court ordered all temples and shrines to pray for victory, in the second Mongol invasion.

It was the largest amphibious invasion in history until the 20th century assault on Normandy. Miles of defensive wall had been built in places, over 9-feet tall. Spikes (left) prevented Mongol vessels from approaching the shore.

A northern fleet departed Korea with 900 ships and 40,000 soldiers. The southern fleet sailed from China with an overwhelming force of 3,500 ships and 100,000 soldiers. The onslaught from Korea arrived in June, once again overwhelming the mid-channel islands at Tsushima and Iki.

This time, the formidable defenses along the shore at Hakata Bay held the invader. Invader and defender fought along the waterline, sometimes In the surf but defenses, held. Fleets of small vessels with a dozen warriors apiece swarmed among the Mongol fleet, setting fires and bringing the fight, to the enemy. These small boats accomplished little militarily but Mongol captains responded, chaining their ships together to better defend themselves.

The southern fleet arrived in August, the combined forces moving east to attack Takashima. For weeks, defenders kept the invader from getting a foothold, but no one can resist such overwhelming numbers. Not for long.

Then as before, came the Divine Wind. The Kamikaze. Unexpected in this early season and shocking in its intensity, the typhoon lashed the western shores of the home islands on August 15. Small Japanese vessels were able to seek shelter. Sturdier Korean ships were able to shelter in open water but, the makeshift Chinese fleet, never had a chance. A third of the northern fleet and over half of the southern, was destroyed. Those lucky enough to make it to land were executed, on the beach. A carpet of bodies and wreckage floated so densely on the surf, it seemed one could walk on water.

Kublai Khan never recovered. Nor did the Mongol empire. With all that manpower, all that wealth at the bottom of the ocean, the Great Khan turned first to corrupt financial advisors and later to gluttony, and alcohol. Military orders became increasingly irrational. Orders for a third invasion of Japan, that never materialized. Invasions of Vietnam and Java turned to debacle. With the deaths of his favorite wife and heir apparent, Kublai withdrew from affairs of government and died in 1294, fat, alcoholic and afflicted by gout.

For Japan the Kamikaze became a foundational myth. The Divine Wind, a literal act of Divine Providence sweeping the enemy from the seas. It was the stuff of nationhood. Not until the 20th century would Japan be called upon, to again defend her natural borders. The myth of the Divine Wind would prove to be just the thing.

USS BUNKER HILL hit by two Kamikazes in 30 seconds on 11 May 1945 off Kyushu. Dead – 372. Wounded – 264. (Navy) NARA FILE #: 080-G-323712 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 980

February 5, 62AD End of the World

There were other signs of what was to come. Tremors. Springs dried up. Fish died and floated on the river Sarno, victims of increased acidification of the water.


On February 5 in the year AD 62, an earthquake estimated at 7.5 on the Richter scale shook the Bay of Naples, spawning a tsunami and leveling much of the coastal Italian towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum and surrounding communities.

pompeii-2

Massive though the damage had been, the region around Mt. Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples had long been a favorite vacation destination for the upper crust of Roman society. Crowds of tourists and slaves bustled in and out of the city’s bath houses, artisans’ shops, taverns and brothels, adding their number to some ten to twenty thousand townspeople.

There were other signs of what was to come. Tremors. Springs dried up. Fish died and floated on the river Sarno, victims of increased acidification of the water.

And yet, these are only “signs”, in hindsight. Pompeiians of 62AD didn’t even have a word for Volcano. That would come much later with the eruption of Mt. Etna. The word is derived from “Vulcan”. The Roman God of fire.

So it was reconstruction began and continued, for the next seventeen years.  Until that day the world, came to an end.

Long dormant and thought to be extinct, nearby Mount Vesuvius had been quiet for hundreds of years.  Historians have long believed Vesuvius erupted on August 24, 79AD but recently discovered graffiti referring to the calends of November more likely put the date, at October 17. 

The day dawned as any other, the first plumes of white smoke appearing, sometime around breakfast. By that afternoon the 4,203-foot stratovolcano was belching fire, propelling a scorching plume of ash, pumice and super-heated volcanic gases so high as to be seen for hundreds of miles.

The Melbourne Museum has created a stunning, eight-minute animation, of the event.

For the next eighteen hours the air was thick with hot, poisonous gases, as volcanic ash rained down with pumice stones the size of baseballs.  No one who stayed behind stood a chance, nor did countless animals, both wild and domestic.

Citizens tried to save themselves using tunics, as makeshift masks. Then came the pyroclastic surge, that ground-hugging pressure wave seen in test films of nuclear explosions.  Gasses and pulverized stone dust raced outward at 400 miles-per-hour in the “base surge” phase carrying gases super-heated to 1000° Fahrenheit. The bodily fluids of anyone left alive at this time burst instantly, into steam.

Pompeii 2
The victims of Mt. Vesuvius’ wrath left their imprints in the ash and rock which would be their tomb.  2,000 years later, remarkably life-like plaster casts, depict the final moments of these unfortunate men, women and children.

The suffocating, poisonous clouds of vapor and rock dust pouring into the city, soon  put and end to all that remained.  Imagine putting your head in a bag of cement, with someone pounding the sides.  Walls collapsed and roofs caved in, burying the dead under fourteen feet or more of ash, rock and dust. Neither Herculaneum, Pompeii nor their surrounding communities would see the light of day, for nearly two thousand years.

dsc_0128

Today we remember the Roman author, naturalist and military commander Gaius Plinius “Pliny’ Secundus for his work Naturalis Historia (Natural History). We see his work in the editorial model of the modern encyclopedia.

With the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum already destroyed, Pliny raced to the port of Stabiae some 4½km to the southwest, to rescue a friend and his family. The sixth and largest pyroclastic surge trapped Pliny’s ship in port, killing the author and everyone in the vicinity. That we have an eyewitness to the event is thanks to two letters written by Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (Pliny the Younger), Pliny’s nephew and a man he had helped to raise, from boyhood.

800px-Destruction_of_Pompeii_and_Herculaneum
Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum

Property owners and thieves returned over time to retrieve such valuables as statues. The words “house dug” can still be found, scrawled on the walls.  And then the place was forgotten, for fifteen hundred years.

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An underground channel was dug in 1562 to redirect waters from the river Samo, when workers ran into city walls.  The architect Domenico Fontana was called in and further excavation revealed any number of paintings and frescoes, but there was a problem.

This stuff was downright pornographic.

According to the Annus Mirabilis written by English poet Philip Larkin, sex wasn’t even until 1963, in the British Isles.

“…So life was never better than
In nineteen sixty-three
(Though just too late for me) –
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP…”

800px-Pompeii_-_Casa_dei_Casti_Amanti_-_Banquet
Pompeian artwork ranges from the merely hedonistic, to the pornographic

The ancients seem to have been rather more uninhibited.   In fact, life in some quarters was nothing if not hedonistic.  Pompeii itself has been described by some, as the “red-light district” of antiquity.  I’m not sure about that, but the erotic art of Pompeii and Herculaneum were WAY too much for counter reformation-era sensibilities. 

The place was quietly covered up and forgotten. For another two hundred years.

Pompeii was first excavated in earnest in 1748 but it took another hundred years for archaeologists’ findings to be organized, cataloged and brought to museums.  In 1863, archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli realized that occasional voids in the ash layer were in fact the long since decomposed bodies of the doomed victims, of Vesuvius.

A technique was developed of injecting plaster.  Today we can see them in excruciating detail, exactly where they fell.  Men, women and children, the dogs, even the fresh-baked bread, left out on the counter to cool.

Roman_fresco_Villa_dei_Misteri_Pompeii_006

Today you can tour the lost city of Pompeii, from the baths to the forum, to the Lupanar Grande, where the prostitutes of Pompeii once “entertained” clients.  Ongoing excavation is all but a race with time, between uncovering what remains, and preserving what is.  Walls surrounding the “House of the Moralist” collapsed in 2010, so-called because its wealthy wine merchant owners posted rules of behavior, for guests to follow: “Do not have lustful expressions and flirtatious eyes for another man’s wife“.

Fun fact: A majority of Ancient Pompeiians had near-perfect teeth due to naturally occurring fluorine and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

There were other signs of what was to come. Tremors. Springs dried up. Fish died and floated on the river Sarno, victims of increased acidification of the water. Heavy rains were blamed for the collapse of the Schola Armatorium in 2010, the House of the Gladiators.  Fierce recriminations have followed and doubt has been cast on local authorities’ abilities, to properly preserve what has become a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Be that as it may, 2,000-year-old buildings do not come along every day.  There is no replacement for antiquity.

January 16, 27BC Republic

“Many Romans themselves put the key turning point in 133 BC. This was the year when a young aristocrat, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, held the office of ‘tribune’ (a junior magistracy which had originally been founded to protect the interests of the common people). As one ancient writer put it, this was when ‘daggers first entered the forum”. – BBC

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 throne. She however, was already pregnant by the war god Mars, destined to give birth, to twins.

Romulus and Remus, by Rubens

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

Later discovered by the shepherd Faustulus, the boys were reared by he and his wife. Much later, the brothers 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 which he modestly called “Rome”, in his own honor.

Except, the whole story, is nonsense. Much like a centurion with a cell phone.

It’s more likely that first three hundred years were a scrap for survival. If anyone had time to write down a serious history, it’s been lost.

Sparse factual material was embellished by later generations with some facts exaggerated or invented outright, while the more embarrassing episodes, were “disappeared”. This early or Regal period is said to be a time of six Kings, benevolent rulers all except for the seventh, a cruel tyrant known as Lucius Tarquinius Superbus.

According to legend, Tarquin was overthrown by public uprising, around 509/510BC. Etruscan civilization, dominant over the Italian peninsula since 900BC, had begun to lose hold. A series of wars would see the ascension of the Latin League (albeit temporarily), at the expense of the Etruscan league. The siege of Veii in 396BC brought the ancient Etruscan city into the Roman orbit.

The last remnants were absorbed in 27BC as Republic morphed into Empire, but now I’m getting ahead of the story.

Rather than restoring the monarchy, the Romans replaced the kingship with two annually elected magistrates, or Consuls. The Republic, was born.

The historian Livy tells us, the first 200 years of Republic was a never ending struggle between two social orders: Patricians and Plebeians. The privileged classes, and the common citizen.

The republic built a governing system of three branches with checks and balances and a strong aversion to the concentration of power.

The executive branch or Consuls (usually two) were primarily Generals, whose job was to lead the republican military in war. In times of national emergency, Rome would appoint a dictator in place of Consuls, a military leader entrusted with supreme command for no more than six months.

The Senate consisted of 300 who served, for life. Primarily an advisory body, the Senate focused mostly on foreign policy but exercised considerable jurisdiction over civil affairs, as the Senate controlled the treasury. At first exclusive to ex-consuls and other members of the Patrician class, the Senate would later open to members of the Plebian class.

Last came the Assemblies, the most democratic branch of Republican government, of which there were four.

Within fifteen years, the crushing debt of endless wars and the excesses of the publicani, the ruthless, usurious contractors hired by the state to collect taxes, brought the Plebeians to open revolt. There was talk of assassinating a Consul. The Plebs seceded in 493BC in much the same way, as a modern labor strike. With the economy ground to a halt, the popular ex-consul Agrippa Menenius was sent to negotiate, resulting in a direct representative of the common man, in the Assembly. This was the Tribune of the Plebs of which there were two, and later ten.

With their physical person sacrosanct, anyone who laid a hand on them was subject to death, the Tribune of the Plebs was uniquely able to propose and veto legislation and to rescue commoners, from the hands of Patrician magistrates. Several important offices opened to the Plebs by the 4th century BC, up to and including that of Consul, and Dictator

The working classes left the city en masse, leaving the wealthy elite, to fend for themselves.

In theory, the Tribune of the Plebs brought representation for the common citizen. In practice, such powers in the hands of demagogues, would bring about the death of the Republic.

By the 5th century, the people of Gaul (modern-day France, parts of Belgium, western Germany and northern Italy) migrated south to the Mediterranean coast. Disaster struck in 390BC as war bands of the Gallic Chieftain Brennus swept out of the north, easily defeating Roman defenses at the river Allia and capturing and sacking much of Rome, itself.

The sack of Rome doesn’t seem to have been the disaster, described in Roman legend. Little archeological evidence exists to support the idea of a sustained sack and burning of the city. Very possibly, Brennus and his band were headed south to sign on as mercenaries, in service to Dionysius of Syracuse.

Maybe all they wanted was the sort of plunder easily carried away. Like the gold they were paid to get out of town which they happily did, following a 7-month siege.

There followed forty years of hard fighting in Latium and Etruria to restore the power of Rome. Be that as it may, the Gallic bogey man would live on in the Roman psyche.

The Latin war of 340-338BC ended in victory for the Republic, placing Rome in control of central Italy. The next three decades saw the conquest and colonization of the Samnites to the north and the Greek principalities, to the south. By 275BC, Rome was master of all Italy.

Meanwhile, a child was born in Carthage some 1,500 miles to the south, who would rock the Roman world. His name was Hamilcar Barca.

The 3rd century BC was a time of endless military campaign for the Roman Republic, no fewer than 68 of them.

Outward expansion inevitably brought the Republic into conflict with the other major Mediterranean power of the age, the ancient Phoenician seafaring civilization long since settled in north Africa, called Carthage.

Hamilcar Barca was a great general in the first of three wars between Rome and Carthage, the longest continuous conflict and the greatest naval war, of antiquity. The 1st Punic War went badly for Carthage and ended on harsh terms, including the loss of that famous navy. Hamilcar died in 228BC most likely drowning in the Jucar River but he lived on in a way, in the form of the Roman’s worst nightmare – Hamilcar’s sons sworn to eternal hate for Rome, Hasdrubal, Mago and possibly the greatest field commander in history, the general Hannibal.

In 218BC, Hannibal crossed into hostile Gaul at the head of 38,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry, and 37 war elephants. His crossing of the Alps that winter is one of the great feats of military history, costing almost half of his force before entering Italy that December.

The first of several major battles took place on December 18, 218BC, on the banks of the Trebia River. The army of Hannibal was near invincible, defeating Roman legions in one major engagement after another. Trebia, Lake Trasimene, Cannae: where Hannibal annihilated nearly down to the man, the largest Roman army, ever assembled. For sixteen years, Hannibal’s Carthaginians were virtually unbeatable, devastating the Italian countryside as Rome drafted one army after another only to see them crushed, yet again. Meanwhile, Carthage itself was politically divided. Hannibal never did receive any significant support from home. In the end, he had to leave Italy to defend his homeland in North Africa.

Hannibal was soundly defeated by his own tactics on October 19, 202BC at the Battle of Zama, ending the second Punic war under humiliating terms for Carthage.

By the 1st century BC, Roman power all but encircled the Mediterranean, from modern-day Spain to Syria, from Normandy to North Africa.

Such diverse, conquered peoples proved ever more difficult to govern as troops were stationed literally everywhere, ready to use force, if necessary. In Rome itself, citizens suffered under a government that always seemed to be looking, elsewhere. Roman made goods and produce became ever more expensive as locals found themselves unable to compete, with the provinces. Many migrated to the city where, increasingly, those in public service sought to placate the masses with handouts, and lavish entertainments.

In the late first and early second centuries (AD), the Roman poet Juvenal spoke of the period in his Satires, of a population no longer dedicated to the sacred birthright of public service, of civic engagement, preferring instead panem et circenses. Bread and circuses.

In the end, the Republic died by its own hand, a victim of internal politics.

In the middle years of the Republic, legionaries were required to serve out entire campaigns, regardless of length. Larger homesteads could always count on the labor of slaves while smaller farms were left in the hands of wives and children. These often went bankrupt, properties bought cheaply by an increasingly wealthy and avaricious, upper class.

According to Plutarch, “[W]hen Tiberius on his way to Numantia passed through Etruria and found the country almost depopulated and its husbandmen and shepherds imported barbarian slaves, he first conceived the policy which was to be the source of countless ills to himself and to his brother.”

Tiberius and his brother were the Gracchus brothers, important populist politicians of the late Republic. Tiberius, a hero of the 3rd Punic war, instituted reforms redistributing lands, back to the poor. Tiberius became a hero to the poorer classes and hated by the wealthy, so much so that he and 300 supporters were beaten to death with stones and clubs, in 132BC.

The Senate attempted to placate the Plebs by enforcing Gracchus’ land reforms but, ten years later, Tiberius’ younger brother and heir to his populist politics Gaius, would share the fate of his brother.

The Gracchi were gone but the animus between Populares and Optimates, had never been greater.

The first of several civil wars began in 88BC with a struggle for power between two men.

Elected Consul an unprecedented seven times, Gaius Marius implemented military reforms, transforming the loyalty of the soldiery from the republic, to their commander. Lucius Cornelius Sulla was the ambitious son of a Patrician family.

Outmaneuvered by Marius for supreme command of the 1st war against King Mithradates of Pontus (eastern Turkey), Sulla gathered his allies and marched under arms, against Rome. It was an unprecedented act of hostility duplicated by Marius himself and his allies, on Sulla’s return to Pontus. The murderous “reforms” of Marius and his Populares paled in comparison to the second return of Sulla and his Optimates.

Imagine finding your name on a list published by your government, knowing that meant you were “proscribed”. Whosoever of your fellow citizens who found and killed you, was entitled to your worldly possessions. The names of as many 4,700 “enemies of the state” were nailed to the wall of the Roman Forum during the “proscriptions” of the Dictator Sulla.

Forty years later, a General’s marching on Rome at the head of an army was still an act of war, though hardly “unprecedented”. With the words “the die is cast”, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon river on January 10, 49BC, igniting another civil war. Caesar emerged victorious in early 44BC to be appointed, “Dictator for Life”. The very idea was an affront to traditional Roman sensibilities. Caesar was murdered by a cabal of Senators on March 15. The “Ides of March“.

Caesar’s killers believed they were saving the Republic but their actions, had the opposite effect. The assassination sparked a period of civil war and political instability from which Octavian, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, emerged victorious over Marc Antony and his Greek princess ally turned Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra.

Octavian was crowned the first emperor of Rome on January 16, 27BC and given the honorific title, “Augustus”. The Republic was dead. The era of Empire, had begun.

December 12, 1985 Silent Witness

Perhaps those on board were thinking about Christmas. Enjoying time with friends and loved ones, after a long deployment. There is no way to know. 256 passengers and crew had only seconds to live.

On November 9, 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat of Egypt announced that he would travel to Israel, to speak before the Knesset. The announcement was startling. Egypt and Israel had been in a state of war, since 1948.

On September 17, 1978, President Sadat met with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at the White House, to sign a pair of agreements. These were the Camp David accords, negotiated in secret over 12 days at the Presidential country retreat, in Maryland. A year later, the two signed the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty, mediated by US President Jimmy Carter.

Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat would jointly receive the Nobel Prize for their groundbreaking efforts to achieve peace, between the two nations.

President Sadat was assassinated for his role in the negotiations, by members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

According to the terms of the 1979 treaty, a Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) peacekeeping force was deployed to the vicinity of the Sinai peninsula where it remains, to this day.

The McDonnell Douglas DC-8 departed Cairo, Egypt at 20:35 Greenwich Mean Time on Wednesday, December 11, 1985. This was Arrow Air Flight 1285, an international charter flight returning with 248 military personnel, following a six-month deployment with the MFO.

The flight was the first of three legs, scheduled for refueling stops in Cologne and Gander International Airport, then on to a final destination at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home of the “Screaming Eagles” of the United States Army 101st Airborne Division.

Passengers departed the aircraft while refueling in Newfoundland, as the flight engineer conducted his external inspection. Then came the new air crew of eight, after which passengers re-boarded the aircraft. Arrow Air Flight 1285 achieved flight velocity at 10:15 on December 12, 167 KIAS (“Knots-Indicated Air Speed”) and accelerating.

Perhaps those on board were thinking about Christmas. Enjoying time with friends and loved ones, after a long deployment. There is no way to know. 256 passengers and crew had only seconds to live.

Airspeed reached 172 KIAS and then began to drop, the aircraft crossing the Trans-Canada Highway some 900-feet from the runway and beginning to descend. Witnesses on the highway below reported seeing a bright light, emanating from inside of the aircraft. Seconds later, flight 1285 crashed some 3,500-feet from departure, breaking apart and striking an unoccupied building near Gander lake, before bursting into flames.

Of 248 servicemen, all but twelve were members of 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), mostly from the 3d Battalion, 502nd Infantry.  Eleven others were from other Force Command units.  One was an agent with the Criminal Investigations Command (CID).  It was the deadliest air accident to occur on Canadian soil and the United States Army’s single deadliest air crash, in peacetime.  There were no survivors.

Hours later, an anonymous caller phoned a French news agency in Beirut, claiming responsibility on behalf of Islamic Jihad, a wing of Ḥizbu ‘llāh, a Shi’a Islamist political party and militant group based in Lebanon.

Canadian and Pentagon government authorities dismissed the claim.

The nine-member Canadian Aviation Safety Board (CASB) investigated the crash and issued a report, over the signature of five members:

“The Canadian Aviation Safety Board was unable to determine the exact sequence of events which led to this accident. The Board believes, however, that the weight of evidence supports the conclusion that, shortly after lift-off, the aircraft experienced an increase in drag and reduction in lift which resulted in a stall at low altitude from which recovery was not possible. The most probable cause of the stall was determined to be ice contamination on the leading edge and upper surface of the wing. Other possible factors such as a loss of thrust from the number four engine and inappropriate take-off reference speeds may have compounded the effects of the contamination”.

A five-to-four decision.

The CASB minority reported that the accident could have been caused by an onboard explosion of unknown origin prior to impact. Autopsies revealed that some soldiers had inhaled smoke before death, a finding hardly consistent with ice on the wings. Minority member Les Filotas testified before a US Congressional committee, that it was impossible for a thin layer of ice to bring down the aircraft.

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Memorial service at Dover AFB, December 6, 1985

There were changes in de-icing procedures, but little confidence in the CASB’s official report.  The Canadian government disbanded the board five years later, replacing it with an independent, multi-modal investigative agency – the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

The cause of the crash of Arrow Air flight 1285 remains officially, uncertain. Filotas went on to write a book if you’re interested in learning more.

“…Les Filotas, one of the minority who disputed the ice theory, gives a fully-documented insider’s account of the infamous investigation – and of the collapse of a long historical struggle to rid the investigation of aviation accidents of bureaucratic and political entanglements.” – book review, Amazon.com

A memorial was erected at the crash site overlooking Gander Lake, a “Silent Witness”, designed by Kentucky artist, Steve Shields.  That’s it, at the top of this page.

A stone memorial was erected at Fort Campbell, the Gander Memorial bearing the names of the 248, slain.  The scar in the earth is easily seen from the ground as well as from satellite and remains, to this day.

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Feature image, top of page:  “Silent Witness” by Kentucky artist Steve Shields. Arrow Air Flight 1285 memorial at Gander Lake, with a DC-8 taking off in the background. H/T wikipedia

Afterward

Canadian teenager Janice Johnson wanted to find a way to honor the fallen from flight 1285. “I wanted these Families to know that we as Canadians cared.

Johnson (now Nikkel) came up with $20 earned from babysitting, and a letter to the Toronto Star.  Nikkel’s letter sparked an international campaign, resulting in 256 Canadian sugar maple trees in 1986, a living memorial to the fallen soldiers and crew, of flight 1285.

“Janice Johnston Nikkel attended the first Gander memorial dedication when she was only 15 and returned for the new dedication at Fort Campbell on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019”. Hat tip, the Leaf Chronicle

What most any Canadian could have told you. Kentucky had to learn the hard way. 20-f00t spacing isn’t enough room, for a grove of sugar maples.

Thirty-two years later, the Gander Memorial grove became crowded and overgrown, most of the trees, no longer viable. The old memorial closed in 2018, to be replaced a year later. Eight of the original trees were transplanted to a better, more visible site and a fresh batch of Canadian sugar maples, added in.

Local woodworkers transformed those original trees into pens, bowls and vases, to be presented to family members of Task Force 3-502nd at dedication ceremonies for the new memorial grove on December 12, 2019.

The old grove is empty now but across the street, 40-foot intervals ensure that 256 Canadian Maples live on in silent witness. A living memorial to the most deadly air disaster on Canadian soil. The largest single-incident loss of life in the storied history, of the 10st Airborne.

November 14, 1902 Silly Old Bear

The piece went on to describe the medical afflictions, common to Brunus Edwardii. Clearly satire, the Veterinary Association’s article was overwhelmingly popular, save for the usual curmudgeonly contingent who seem to experience life as one never-ending complaint, in search of a target.

Theodore Roosevelt was in Mississippi in November 1902, helping local authorities settle a border dispute with Louisiana. There was some downtime on the 14th, and Governor Andrew Longino invited the President and a few dignitaries on a bear hunt.

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Holt Collier

The hunt was a high profile affair, attended by a number of reporters and led by a former slave and Confederate Cavalryman, the famous bear tracker Holt Collier:  a man who had killed more bears than Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, combined.

Real history is so much more interesting than the political and pop culture varieties, isn’t it?.

Late that afternoon, Collier and his tracking dogs cornered a large female black bear. Roosevelt hadn’t “bagged” one yet, and Collier bugled for the President to join him. He would have ordinarily shot the bear when it killed one of his dogs, but Collier wanted the president to get this one. He busted the bear over the head with his rifle, hard enough to bend the barrel, and tied the poor beast to a willow tree.

TR-teddy_ear

Roosevelt declined to shoot the beast. He said it was “unsportsmanlike” to shoot a bound and wounded animal. Instead, he ordered the bear put down, putting an end to its pain.

The Washington Post ran an editorial cartoon by Clifford K. Berryman. “Drawing the Line in Mississippi” depicted both the state line dispute and the hunting incident. Berryman first drew the animal as a large, fierce killer, but later redrew the bear, turning the creature into a cute, cuddly little cub bear.

Morris Michtom owned a small novelty and candy store in Brooklyn, New York at that time. Michtom’s wife Rose had been making toy bears for sale in their store, when Morris sent one of them to Roosevelt, asking permission to call it “Teddy’s Bear”. Roosevelt detested that nickname, but he said yes. Michtom’s bear became so popular that he went on to start what would become the Ideal Toy Company.

In 1972, the weekly journal of the British veterinary profession, the Veterinary Record, ran an article in their April 1st edition. The piece described the diseases common to “Brunus Edwardii”, a species “commonly kept in homes in the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe and North America”. The article reported that “Pet ownership surveys have shown that 63.8% of households are inhabited by one or more of these animals, and there is a statistically significant relationship between their population and the number of children in a household”.

Brunus Edwardii

The piece went on to describe the medical afflictions, common to Brunus Edwardii.  Clearly satire, the Veterinary Association’s article was overwhelmingly popular, save for the usual curmudgeonly contingent who seem to experience life as one never-ending complaint, in search of a target.

Did I mention, the thing was published on April Fool’s Day?

One such curmudgeon was the humorless A. Noel Smith, a zany funster if there ever was one to be sure, who sniffed, “I have been practising veterinary medicine for the past 12 years or more “across the pond” and my Veterinary Records arrive a month or more late. However, I still open them with interest and read what is going on “at home”. April 1st’s edition thoroughly soured my interest. How three members holding sets of impressive degrees can waste their time writing such garbage in a journal that is the official publication of the B.V.A. is beyond my comprehension, as is your effrontery to publish it under “Clinical Papers”.

I bet that guy would be a hoot to have a beer with.

November 14, 1902 Teddy Bear

For the record,”Brunus Edwardii”, is latin for Edward Brown. The internet dictionary etymologyonline.com explains the origins of “Brown” as, among other things, Dutch, for  “Bruin”.

Edward Bruin. Hmmm. Edward Bear.  Author A.A. Milne’s proper name, for Winnie-the-Pooh. That silly old bear.

May 28, 585BC Battle of the eclipse

Dating the historical events of antiquity with any kind of accuracy can be problematic, but not this one.  The “solar clock” can be run backward as well as forward.  Thanks to Herodotus, it’s possible to calculate the date with precision.   May 28 is one of the cardinal dates from which other dates in antiquity, may be calculated. 

On this day in 585BC, ancient precursors of the Iranian and Turkish people squared off for battle, along the banks of the River Halys in Asia minor.  They were the Indo-Iranian Medes inhabiting the west and north-west of modern Iran, and the Indo-European Lydians inhabiting the west of modern Turkey.  The two sides had been at war for 15 years

Sometime during the battle, the sky began to darken.  It wasn’t long before the sun was obliterated, altogether.   Stunned and terrified, the armies ceased fighting and laid down their weapons.Dating the historical events of antiquity with any kind of accuracy can be problematic, but not this one.  The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that the mathematician and astronomer Thales of Miletus predicted the eclipse in a year when the Medians and the Lydians were at war.    The “solar clock” can be run backward as well as forward.  Thanks to Herodotus, it’s possible to calculate the date with precision.   May 28 is one of the cardinal dates from which other dates in antiquity, may be calculated.

Interestingly, this is believed to be the first solar eclipse to be successfully predicted.

It wasn’t the first recorded eclipse of the sun, just the first to be foretold. Two Chinese astrologers lost their heads back in the 22nd or 23rd century BC, for failing to predict one.  Clay tablets from the Babylonian period record an eclipse in Ugarit in 1375 BC. Other records report solar eclipses which “turned day into night” in 1063 and 763 BC.

Eclipse of ThalesPredicting a solar eclipse isn’t the same as predicting an eclipse of the moon.  The calculations are far more difficult. When the moon passes through the shadow of the sun, the event can be seen over half the planet, the total eclipse phase lasting over an hour. In a solar eclipse, the shadow of the moon occupies only a narrow path.  The total eclipse phase at any given point, lasts only about 7½ minutes.

The method used by Thales to make his prediction is unknown. There is no record of the ancient Greeks predicting any further eclipses. It’s possible that he borrowed his methods from Egyptian astrologers, using their techniques of land measurement (geo-metry in Greek), later codified by Euclid and loved by 8th graders, the world over.unnamed-2Be that as it may, for the first time in history a full eclipse of the sun had been predicted beforehand.  The Battle of Halys marked the first time in history, that a war was ended when day turned to night.  Aylattes, King of Lydia and Cyaxares, King of the Medes, put down their weapons and declared a truce and their armies, followed suit.  With help from the kings of Cilicia and Babylon, the two sides negotiated a more permanent treaty.

To seal the bargain, Alyattes’ daughter Aryenis married Cyaxares’ son Astyages.  The Halys River, now known as the River Kızılırmak, was to become the border between the two peoples.

May 25, 61 Boudicca

Apoplectic with rage and determined to avenge her family, Boudicca was not a woman to be trifled with. She led the Iceni, the Trinovantes and others among the Celtic, pre-Roman peoples of Britain, in a full-scale, bloody revolt.

The “Pax Romana” (“Roman Peace”) refers to a period between the 1st and 2nd century AD, when the force of Roman arms subdued most everyone who stood against it. Historians speak in terms of Great Empire. For most, the mountains of dead become cold statistics, themselves dead and bereft of human experience. There is no quantifying the mass of human misery left in the wake of such a regime. The conquered peoples of the time, who would tell you a different tale. Sometime circa 84AD, Calgacus of the Caledonian Confederacy in Northern Scotland, described the Pax Romana: “They make a desert and call it peace“.

paxIn the Roman imagination, Britain was a faraway and exotic place, a misty, forested land inhabited by fierce, blue painted warriors.

Caesar himself invaded the place in 55BC and again in 54 with little to show for it.  100 years later, the Roman empire stretched from the beaches of modern-day Normandy to Asia, from the Sahara desert to the northern Rhineland.   In 9AD, the destruction of three legions led by Publius Quinctilius Varus in the Teutoberg forest served as a sharp reminder.  That was about as much as even the Roman empire, could handle.

display-2255Militarily, there was no reason to attack the British home isles.  The channel itself formed as fine a protector of the western flank, as could be hoped for.

Even so, the assassination of the mad emperor Caligula in 41 and the ascension to the Royal Purple of a minor member of the Claudian family, led to strong resistance in the Roman senate.   If he was to survive, emperor Claudius had to prove himself worthy.  The Roman culture of antiquity revered nothing so much as military conquest and what could be better, than the glorious subjugation of Britannia.   So it was, Claudius set about to invade Britain in the year 43.

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20,000 citizen-legionaries and another 20,000 auxiliaries recruited from the wild fringes of the empire, had their work cut out subjugating the iron age hill fortifications, of the British interior.  Wales would prove all but impenetrable behind the anti-Roman front erected by the Welsh tribes following Prince Caratacus.

Before achieving the defeat of the west, the invader had to contend with a force which came closer than any other, to throwing the Italians out of the place, altogether.  A threat in the person of Queen Boudicca, of the Iceni people.

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Boudicca (a.k.a. Boudica, Boudicea, Boadicea, Buddug) reigned over the Iceni tribe of East Anglia, co-ruler with her husband, Prasutagus. A nominally independent kingdom and ally of the Romans, King Prasutagus believed himself the protector of his people when he willed the kingdom jointly, to his two daughters and to the Roman emperor. Prasutagus lived a long and prosperous life but, when he died, that all changed.

With the arrogance of unchecked and unlimited power, emperor Nero moved to take what was His. Prasutagus’ will was ignored and his kingdom annexed and all his property, forfeit.  Financiers from the Roman statesman Seneca to emperor Nero himself called in their loans but worst of all, Queen Boudicca was publicly flogged, her two daughters, raped.

s-960230fdc4350d3f3c28bb087385c273e4311848Apoplectic with rage and determined to avenge her family, Boudicca was not a woman to be trifled with. She led the Iceni, the Trinovantes and others among the Celtic, pre-Roman peoples of Britain, in a full-scale, bloody revolt.

Emperor Claudius himself had once overseen the invasion of Camulodunum in what is now Colchester, in Essex.  Then a Roman province and home to the only classical-style temple in Britain, in British eyes the thing was arx aeternae dominationis (“stronghold of everlasting domination”).

tumblr_nblk7dxpGw1rwjpnyo2_1280For the Celtic peoples, the hour of payback had arrived.  For the seizure of lands to provide estates for Roman veterans to their own forced labor in building the Temple of Claudius to the sudden recall of loans and destruction of estates and properties.  The Roman historian Tacitus writes of the last stand at the Temple of Claudius: “In the attack everything was broken down and burnt. The temple where the soldiers had congregated was besieged for two days and then sacked“.

Everything that could be taken up was smashed, the population slaughtered and the city burnt to the ground.  A relief army rushing to the assistance of Camulodunum was itself destroyed, before ever reaching the town.

The archaeological record backs it all up.  The “Boudican destruction layer” forms a thick deposit of ash, human bones, shattered buildings, smashed pottery, furniture and glasswork at Camulodunum, Verulamium (St Albans) and Londinium (London).  An estimated 70,000-80,000 Romans and British citizens were slaughtered and many tortured, within the smoking ruins of the three cities.

Nero himself contemplated removing his entire force from the British home islands as Governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus gathered his forces to strike back.

Sometime in 60 or 61, the precise date is unknown and this one is as good as any, the decisive battle for British if not western history was fought between Celtic followers of the warrior queen Boudicca, and the most powerful military on the planet.

Roman Shield WallOutnumbered 23 to 1, the 10,000 strong Roman legion was battle hardened, well-equipped and disciplined, facing off against a mob of nearly a quarter-million unarmored, poorly disciplined individuals.

Suetonius chose the ground carefully for the fight we remember today, as the battle of Watling Street. Backed into a narrow gorge with thick forests protecting his sides, Suetonius enemy was made to approach across an open plain, narrowing in the front so as to nullify numerical advantage. Like the Germanic chieftains Boiorix of the Cimbri and Ariovistus of the Suebi before their own battles against Gaius Marius and Julius Caesar, Boudicca’s forces arrayed their wagons in a tight circle to the rear, the better for family to watch what was about to happen.  It was a deadly trap they had laid for themselves, should things go wrong.

FilmWhat must it look like, when 230,000 screaming warriors charge a fixed force of 10,000 disciplined soldiers.  First came the Pila, the Roman javelins tearing into the tightly packed front, of the adversary.  Then the Legion advanced, shields out front with the short swords, the long swords and farm implements of the Celts unable to move in the crush of humanity.  The wedge formation advanced unbroken, slaughtering all who came before it as a scythe before the grass.  The turning and the attempt to flee, only to be boxed in by their own tightly packed crescent formed wagon train.

Street-680,000 of Boudicca’s men lay dead before the slaughter was ended, against 400 dead Romans.  Queen Boudicca poisoned herself according to Tacitus, Cassius Dio claims she became ill.

Romans never did subdue the wild tribes to the north, the Scots, the Picts and the Scoti (modern Irish).  By 122, Hadrian had begun construction on a wall.

Boudicca’s gone now but her name lives on. On this day in 1972, the cruise ship Royal Viking Sky launched from drydock at the Wärtsilä Hietalahti shipyard in Helsinki, Finland.  In 2005, the thousand passenger liner was sold to Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines and renamed MV Boudicca.  She remains active, to this day.

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MV Boudicca in Talinn Estonia, in 2013

May 13, 1916 The Lafayette Escadrille

Long before the American entry in 1917, individual sympathies brought Americans into the war to fight for Britain and France. They traveled to Europe to fight the Axis Powers joining the Foreign Legion, the Flying Corps or, like Ernest Hemingway, the Ambulance Service.

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Norman Prince

Knowing his father would not approve, Norman Prince of Beverly Massachusetts concealed his flight training.  Using the name George Manor,  Norman earned his wings in 1911 in the Quincy, Massachusetts neighborhood of Squantum.

A fluent French speaker with a family estate in Pau, France, Norman sailed in January 1915, to join the French war effort.

The earliest vestiges of the American Hospital of Paris and what would become the American Ambulance Field Service can be found five years earlier, in 1906. Long before the American entry in 1917, individual sympathies brought Americans into the war to fight for Britain and France. They traveled to Europe to fight the Axis Powers joining the Foreign Legion, the Flying Corps or, like Ernest Hemingway, the Ambulance Service.

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Squadron Insignia pin

After 1915, American pilots volunteered for multiple “Escadrille” – flight squadrons of the French Air Service, the Aéronautique Militaire.

The March 7, 1918 Harvard Alumni Bulletin would give Norman Prince full credit for persuading the French government to form all-American flying squadrons.

Prince would not live to see the article, in print.

Sergeant Norman Prince caught a landing wheel on a telegraph wire after a bombing run on October 12, 1916, sustaining massive injuries when his plane flipped over and crashed.  He was promoted to sous (2nd) lieutenant on his death bed and awarded the Legion of Honor.  He died three days later, at the age of 29.

William Thaw II of Pittsburgh was the first pilot to fly up New York’s East River under all four bridges, the first American engaged in aerial combat in the war.

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Lt. Col. William Thaw II with lion cub mascots Whiskey and Soda

Thaw pooled his money with three other pilots to purchase a male lion cub, the first of two such mascots kept by the Escadrille.  He bought the lion from a Brazilian dentist for 500 francs and bought a dog ticket, walking the lion onto the train on a leash.

Explanations that this was an “African dog” proved less than persuasive, and the pair was thrown off the train.  “Whiskey” would have to ride to his new home in a cage, stuck in cargo.

captain_georges_thenault_and_fram_1917 (1)A female lion, “Soda”, was purchased sometime later.  The lions were destined to spend their adult years in a Paris zoo but both remembered from whence they had come.  Both animals recognized William Thaw on a later visit to the zoo, rolling onto their backs in expectation of a good belly rub.

French Lieutenant Colonel Georges Thenault owned a “splendid police dog” named Fram who was the best of friends with Whiskey, though he learned to keep to himself at dinner time.

Originally authorized on March 21, 1916 as the Escadrille Américaine (Escadrille N.124), American pilots wore French uniforms and flew French aircraft.  Nevertheless, Germany was dismayed at the existence of such a unit and complained that the neutral United States appeared to be aligning with France.

Lafayette EscadrilleEscadrille N.124 changed its name in December 1916, adopting that of a French hero of the American Revolution.  Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette.

Five French officers commanded a core group of 38 American volunteers, supported by all-French mechanics and ground crew.  Rounding out the Escadrille were the unit mascots, the African lions Whiskey and Soda.

This early in aviation history, flying duty was hazardous to say the least.  Planes were flimsy and plagued with mechanical difficulties. Machine guns jammed and other parts failed when they were needed most.  There were countless wounds in addition to fatal injuries. At least one man actually asked to be sent back to the trenches, where he felt safer.

Kiffin Rockwell "In American Escadrille "movie" picture May 1916"
Kiffin Rockwell

The first major action of the Escadrille Américaine took place at the Battle of Verdun on May 13, 1916.

Kiffin Rockwell of Newport Tennessee became the first American to shoot down an enemy aircraft on May 18, later losing his own life when he was shot down by the gunner in a German Albatross observation plane on September 23. French born American citizen Raoul Lufbery became the squadron’s first Ace with 5 confirmed kills, and went on to be the highest scoring flying ace in the unit with 17 confirmed victories. He was killed on May 19, 1918 when his Nieuport 28 flipped over while he attempted to clear a jam in his machine gun.

The unit sustained its first fatality on June 24, 1916 when Victor Chapman was attacked by German flying ace Leutnant Kurt Wintgens, north of Douaumont.  Chapman was carrying oranges at the time, intended for his buddy Clyde Balsley, who was in hospital recuperating from an earlier incident.

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Edmond Genet

Ossining, New York native Edmond Genet was a bit of a celebrity among American expats, as the second-great grandson of Edmond-Charles Genêt, of the Founding-era Citizen Genêt Affair.  Genet sailed for France at the end of January 1915, joining the French Foreign Legion, and finally the Lafayette Escadrille on January 22, 1917.

Genet had left while on leave from the US Navy, and was therefore classified as a deserter. The decision weighed heavily on him.  Edmond Genet was shot down and killed by anti-aircraft artillery on April 17, eleven days after the American declaration of war, officially making him the first American fatality in the War to end all Wars.  The war department sent his family a letter after his death, stating that his service was considered in all respects, honorable.

38 American pilots passed through the Lafayette Escadrille, “the Valiant 38”, eleven of whom were either killed in action or died later as the result of wounds received.  The unit flew for the French Air Service until the US’ entry into the war, when it passed into the 103rd Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Force.

Raoul Lufbery
Raoul Lufbery

The Lafayette Escadrille is often confused with the much larger Lafayette Flying Corps, and the movie “Flyboys” adds to the confusion.  The Flying Corps was different from the Escadrille, the former coming about as the result of widespread interest in the exploits of the latter.  American volunteers were assigned individually or in groups of two or three to fly in various French Aviation units, but, prior to US entry into the war.  The Lafayette Escadrille was the only one to serve as a single organization.

All told, 267 American volunteers applied to serve in the Lafayette Flying Corps, credited with downing 199 German planes at the cost of 19 wounded, 15 captured, 11 dead of illness or accident, and 51 killed in action.

April 5, 1614 Pocahontas

Pocahontas was a pet name, variously translated as “playful one” “my favorite daughter” or “little wanton”. Early in life, she bore the secret name “Matoaka” meaning, “Bright Stream Between the Hills”. Later she was known as “Amonute” which, to the best of my knowledge, has never been translated.

In 1607, approximately 100 English colonists settled along the James River in Tidewater-area Virginia.  They called their little settlement “Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World.  One of the colonists, John Smith, was exploring the Chickahominy River that December, when he and two others were captured by Powhatan warriors.  The Powhatan Confederacy of the Tsenacommacah comprised roughly 30 Algonquin speaking tribes, led by Paramount Chief Wahunsonacock.

Pocahontas-saves-Smith-NE-Chromo-1870.jpegSmith’s two companions were killed.  John Smith himself was transported to the principle village of Werowocomoco, and brought before the Chief of the Powhatan.  His head was forced onto a large stone as a warrior raised a club to bash out his brains. Pocahontas, the favorite daughter of Wahunsonacock, rushed in and placed her head on top of his, stopping the execution.

Whether it actually happened this way has been debated for centuries. One theory describes the event as an elaborate adoption ceremony, though Smith himself wouldn’t have known it at the time. Afterward, Powhatan told Smith he would “forever esteem him as his son Nantaquoud”.

The year of Pocahontas’ birth is uncertain.  In the Spring of 1608, Smith described her as “a child of tenne years old”. At the time, Powhatans were commonly given multiple names, some secret and known only a select few. Names would change for important occasions, different names carrying different meanings depending on context.

download (49)Pocahontas was a pet name, variously translated as “playful one” “my favorite daughter” or “little wanton”. Early in life, she bore the secret name “Matoaka” meaning, “Bright Stream Between the Hills”. Later she was known as “Amonute” which, to the best of my knowledge, has never been translated.

The “Starving Time”, the winter of 1609-1610, killed all but 60 of the 204 settlers then in Jamestown. Survivors were about to abandon the place when the Baron De La Warr, also known as Delaware, arrived in June with new supplies and new settlers. The settlement was rebuilt.  One of the new arrivals, John Rolfe, became the first tobacco planter in the area.

Pocahontas was a frequent visitor at this time.  English Captain Samuel Argall took her hostage in the spring of 1613, hoping it would help him negotiate a permanent peace with her father.

Pocahontas was treated as a guest rather than a prisoner and encouraged to learn English customs. She converted to Christianity and was baptized, Lady Rebecca.  Powhatan eventually agreed to terms for her release, but by then she’d fallen in love with John Rolfe.  The two were married on April 5, 1614, with the blessing of Chief Powhatan and the governor of Virginia.

The marriage ensured peace between the Jamestown settlers and the Powhatan Confederacy for several years. Pocahontas gave birth to Thomas, the couple’s first child, in 1615. The couple sailed to England the following year, where she proved popular with English gentry. The couple was preparing to sail back to Virginia in March 1617 when Pocahontas sickened and died, of unknown causes.  She was twenty-one years old.

Some historians believe Pocahontas suffered from an upper respiratory condition, possibly pneumonia.  Others believe she died from dysentery.  The favorite daughter of Paramount Chieftain Powhatan of the Attanoughkomouck is buried at the parish church of St. George in Gravesend, in England.

John Rolfe returned to Virginia and died in an Indian attack, in 1622. Following his education in England, Thomas Rolfe returned to Virginia to become a prominent citizen.  Some of the socially prominent and wealthy destined to become America’s own gentry, the “First Families of Virginia”, trace their lineage through Thomas Rolfe to Pocahontas.

PocahontasGlouc-Stat2Later descendants of the “Indian Princess” include Glenn Strange, the actor who played Frankenstein in three Universal films during the 1940s and the character Sam Noonan, the popular bartender in the CBS series, “Gunsmoke”.  Astronomer Percival Lowell is a direct descendant of Pocahontas, as are Las Vegas performer Wayne Newton and former First Lady Edith Wilson, whom some describe as the first female President of the United States. But that must be a story for another day.

At a recent event honoring Native American code talkers, President Donald Trump revived his pet nickname for Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has claimed Native American ancestry but has thus far, embarrassingly proven but 1/1,024th.

Predictably, Washington Post editorial writers were incensed: “Trump’s repeated reference to “Pocahontas” is racist first of all because it’s intended as a pejorative. Trump does not like Warren. It’s also racist because it seizes on a stereotypical Native American name to refer to an entire race — like calling an Asian man “Jackie Chan” or a black man “Frederick Douglass” (one of the president’s favorites). Worse yet, Trump is mushing together his tribes: At an event to honor Navajo heroes, he used the name of a Powhatan woman to disparage a senator who claimed Cherokee ancestry“.

Matoaka, also known as Amonute, daughter of the Paramount Chieftain Powhatan of the Attanoughkomouck who called her “Pocahontas” would be surprised I imagine, to learn that the Washington Post regards her name as a racial slur.

March 15, BC44 The Ides of March

Shortly before his assassination in BC 44, Caesar was named dictator perpetuo rei publicae constituendae, (English: “dictator in perpetuity”).  It was 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.

The history of Rome may be drawn in 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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The 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 man thus proscribed 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 the 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.caesar (1)For 38 days, the young Caesar joined in games and exercises, with these bloodthirsty killers.  As if he were their leader, instead of their prisoner.  All the while, he promised these pirates.  He would come back to 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 by 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.julius-caesarjpg (1)He seems to have been a ladies’ man, fathering 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.

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Servilia’s History, portrayed by Lindsay Duncan

Caesar 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.  2,000 years later, to “Cross the Rubicon” still means to take a major step, which cannot be reversed.GW227H209Shortly before his assassination in BC 44, Caesar was named dictator perpetuo rei publicae constituendae, (English: “dictator in perpetuity”).  It was 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 being 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.”1024px-Museo_del_Teatro_Romano_de_Caesaraugusta.43The 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 was enough to prove fatal.1024px-vincenzo_camuccini_-_la_morte_di_cesare-1Here’s where the story becomes Really interesting. Like the apocryphal 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 own father that day. The affair between Brutus’ mother and Caesar, had carried on for years.cropped-Ides_Of_March_by_veraukoion-e1426081847809