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

March 7, AD321 The Colossus of Nero

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

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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

A story comes down to us from two thousand years.  A 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.

No fewer than 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 to having no witnesses.

Cassius Dio and Suetonius ask us to believe, each in their turn, that Nero secretly sent guys out to burn the city, or, openly did so and watched from the tower of Maecenas while singing and playing the lyre, or, the fire was started by an obscure religious sect called “Christians”, or, Nero sent his guys out after all, but sang and played his lyre from a private stage or, the fire started by accident while Nero was away at Antium, rushing back 35 miles to help the now-homeless people of Rome.nero_fiddled_while_rome_burnedBe 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.  Second, Nero used the excuse of the fire to go after Christians, having many of them arrested and executed. Third, the Domus Aurea (“Golden Palace”) and surrounding “Pleasure Gardens” emperor Nero built on the ruins, would be the death of him.

Over the next three years, 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 completing the dome of the main dining room.  Slaves cranked an ingenious mechanism causing the ceiling to revolve like the heavens, as rose petals fluttered to the floor and atomized perfume spritzed on the assembled diners.

Suetonius described the complex as “ruinously prodigal”.  Nero himself would say nothing further on the palace’s 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 was the Colossus Neronis, the Colossus of Nero, a giant gilded bronze statue…of himself.  Sources describe the thing as standing between 99′ and 121′ tall, roughly equivalent to the distance from the feet to the crown, of the Statue of Liberty.

With all of Italy “thoroughly exhausted by contributions of money” and “the provinces ruined”, the Emperor himself was universally hated.  In June 68, a runner arrived to inform the emperor.  He’d been tried in absentia and declared an enemy of the Roman people, sentenced to be returned to the Forum, and beaten to death.

Preparing himself for suicide, Nero paced up and down, muttering “Qualis artifex pereo”.  “What an artist dies in me”.   In the end, Nero was unable to take his own life.  He forced his private secretary Epaphroditos, to do the deed.

Ironically, Nero’s demise may have been unnecessary.  Notwithstanding the sentence of death, this was the end of Julio-Claudian dynasty.  The Senate was reluctant to put an end to a deified bloodline, even in the form of such a reviled individual.  Frantic negotiations were ongoing even as the emperor lay dying, to at least keep the man around, until he could produce an heir.

Nero’s days of being put out to stud, were never meant to be.  For his successors, the  profligate spending and outrageous lifestyle was a severe embarrassment.  Within a decade, the palace and surrounding complex was stripped of its marble, jewels, and ivory embellishments.domus_aurea_tour-tSa-1479X424Within 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.

And still, the Colossus of Nero 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 late 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 the death of Commodus, and so it remained.800px-RomeConstantine'sArch03The 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”.\

Constantine’s day of rest remains all these 2,000 years later but the colossus of the Unconquered Sun, is gone.  Where the thing went, nobody knows.  The last known reference in antiquity dates back to the Calendar of 354, the earliest illuminated manuscript containing full page illustrations.

Saint Bede of northumbria
Saint Bede of northumbria

Nero’s Colossus may have been destroyed during the Sack of Rome, in 410.  Perhaps it toppled in one of a series of 5th century earthquakes, the metal collected for scrap.

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“.

Nothing remains of the Colossus of Nero, save for the foundations of a pedestal at the second location, near the ruins of the Colosseum.

January 30, 1948 Know no Evil

The Confucian maxim may have crossed from China to Japan with a Tendai-Buddhist legend, sometime around the 8th century.  Up to this time, the story had nothing to do with monkeys.

The Analects of Confucius is a written record of the sayings of the philosopher and his contemporaries, compiled between 475 and 221BC.

51lq39pOWaLIn it, a follower called Yen Yüan asked the Master about perfect virtue.

Confucius answered, “To subdue one’s self and return to propriety, is perfect virtue. If a man can for one day subdue himself and return to propriety, all under heaven will ascribe perfect virtue to him”.

I beg to ask the steps of that process”, asked the student. Confucius replied, “Look not at what is contrary to propriety. Listen not to what is contrary to propriety. Speak not what is contrary to propriety. Make no movement which is contrary to propriety”.

Even in the age of Confucius, this was an ancient idea.  Zarathrusta, also known as Zoroaster is in some respects the father of the world’s first monotheistic religion. It was sometime around 1200BC when Zoroaster taught his followers on the high Iranian Plateau “Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta”.  Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.

The Confucian maxim may have crossed from China to Japan with a Tendai-Buddhist legend, sometime around the 8th century.  Up to this time, the story had nothing to do with monkeys.3_wise_monkeys_by_yannickbouchard-d5mdz46In medieval Japanese, mi-zaru, kika-zaru, and iwa-zaru translate as “don’t see, don’t hear, and don’t speak”, –zaru being an archaic negative verb conjugation and pronounced similarly to “saru”, the word for monkey.

The visual play on words then, depicts Iwazaru covering his mouth, Kikazaru covering his ears and Mizaru covering his eyes.

Though it’s unusual to see him anymore, there is a fourth monkey.  Shizaru is generally depicted with his arms crossed or covering his privates, his name variously translated as “do no evil”, or “know no evil”.Four-wise-monkeys-wooden-sculptureThe first known depiction of the “Three Mystic Apes” appears over the doors of the Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō, Japan, carved sometime in the 17th century. Tōshō-gūMohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a Hindu lawyer, a member of the merchant caste from coastal Gujarat, in western India. Today he is known by the honorific “Mahatma”, from Gandhithe Sanskrit meaning “high-souled”, or “venerable”.

Ghandi is recognized as the Father of modern India, who brought Independence to his nation through non-violent protest. Mohandas Gandhi lived a life of poverty and simplicity, owning almost no material possessions at the time of his assassination at the hands of Hindu nationalist Nathuram Vinayak Godse on January 30, 1948.

Beside the clothes on his back, Gandhi owned a tin cup and a spoon, a pair of sandals, his spectacles and a set of three carved monkeys.  A reminder to the high-souled one to hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil.

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Ghandi’s Monkeys

January 18, 532 Nika Riot

Modern sport has seen its share of fan passion rising to violence, but the worst “futbol hooligan” pales into docility, compared with the crowd come to watch the chariot races. Imagine the worst fan violence of the modern era combined with aspects of street gangs and political organizations, each faction holding positions on the issues of the day and attempting to sway public policy by shouting slogans, between races.  

Chariots go back to the earliest days of the Roman Republic, coming down from the ancient Greeks by way of the Etruscan empire. The mythical abduction of the Sabine women was carried out, while the Sabine men watched a chariot race. While Romans never used them as weapons of war, chariots were used in triumphal processions, pulled by teams of horses, tigers or dogs, even ostriches.

What the Greeks regarded as an opportunity for talented amateurs to rise within their chosen sport, the Romans saw as entertainment. A class of professional drivers rose to meet the demand.

roman-chariot-raceLook up the Highest Paid Athlete of All Time and you’ll be rewarded with the knowledge that Michael Jordan amassed career earnings of $1.85 Billion, according to Forbes Magazine.  Steve Forbes and Michael Jordan alike may be surprised to know.  Spanish driver Gaius Appuleius Diocles amassed an astonishing 35,863,120 sesterces, equivalent to $15 Billion, today.  Not bad for a man whose name suggests he probably began as a slave, freed by a guy named Gaius Appuleius.

The Hippodrome of the Byzantine era (from the Greek Hippos: Horse and Dromos: Path, or Way) was already the center of sport and social activity in 324.  That was the year Emperor Constantine moved the seat of the Roman Empire east to Byzantium, calling the place, Nova Roma. New Rome.  The name failed to catch on and the city came to be known as Constantinople.

f285a884c132221b7abbb5958de2452dThe age of Constantine saw enormous expansion of the city which bore his name, including enlargement of the Hippodrome to an impressive 1,476-feet long by 427-feet wide with a seating capacity of 100,000.  By way of comparison, the Empire State Building is 1,454-feet from sidewalk to the very tip of the spire.  Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, home of Super Bowl LIII, has a rated capacity of 71,000 spectators.

There were four teams or “factions” (factiones), distinguished by the color of their uniform: Red, Blue, Green and White, and echoed by the colors worn by their fans.  Twelve chariots would enter each race, three from each faction. Golden-tipped dolphins were tipped over, to count the laps. Each race ran seven.f9fb0a187c6e429d1e9b2c84e723043bA raised median called a spina ran down the center, adorned with stone statuary and obelisks. Ganging up to drive opposing handlers into the stone median or the stands, whipping opponents and even hauling them out of their chariots was not only permitted, but encouraged.

It was the racetrack, or circus and the sport of chariot racing, that truly put the Fanatic in Fans. There are tales of poisoned horses and drivers. Lead tablets and amulets inscribed with curses, spiked through with nails and thrown from the stands. One such curse read:

I call upon you, oh demon, whoever you are, to ask that from this hour, from this day, from this moment, you torture and kill the horses of the green and white factions and that you kill and crush completely the drivers Calrice, Felix, Primulus, and Romanus, and that you leave not a breath in their bodies.

Racing chariots were as light as possible and extremely flimsy, to increase speed. With no suspension, even a bump could throw a driver into the path of oncoming teams. Clogs were built into lattice floors, to hold the driver’s feet. Teams of two (biga), three (triga) and four (quadriga) horses were common, but teams as large as six were not unheard of.

Though rare, ten-horse teams were known to take the field.

While Greek drivers held the reins in their hands, Roman charioteers wrapped them around the waist. Unsurprisingly, any driver thrown out would be dragged to death or trampled, unless able to cut himself free.

Crashes were frequent and spectacular, often killing or maiming driver and horse alike. Such wrecks were called naufragia, a Latin word translating as ”shipwreck”.  As many as forty chariots crashed in one catastrophic pile-up, near Delphi.ba90ba114005e082444846ca7ff751f7Modern sport has seen its share of fan passion rising to violence, but the worst “futbol hooligan” pales into docility, compared with the crowd come to watch the chariot races. Imagine the worst fan violence of the modern era combined with aspects of street gangs and political organizations, each faction holding positions on the issues of the day and attempting to sway public policy by shouting slogans, between races.

Distinctions between politics and sport, all but disappeared.  Emperor Vitellius, a fan of the Blue faction, had citizens put to death in the year 69 for talking trash about his team. Ten years later, one fan threw himself on the funeral pyre of his favorite driver.

In 531, fans of the Blues and Greens were arrested for murder, following riots which broke out during a chariot race. The killers were sentenced to death and most were executed but two, escaped. On January 10, 532, the two men one Blue and one Green had taken refuge in a church, surrounded by an angry mob.

Emperor Justinian, a supporter of the Blues, was beset with problems. The war in the east was not going well with the Persians and at home, rampant corruption and public fury over confiscatory tax policy.  Now this.  Justinian resorted to that time honored technique to pacify the turbulent masses.  Bread and Circuses.  He announced a chariot race.

Bad idea.

It was a tense and angry crowd that arrived at the Hippodrome on January 13.  By race #22 chants of “Blue” and “Green” were changed to angry shouts, directed at the Emperor.  “Nίκα! Nίκα! Nίκα! (“Nika” translating as “Win!” “Victory!” or “Conquer!”).

Fury boiled over and anarchy turned to Riot.  The Royal Palace was laid siege over the next five days and the city, laid waste.  Even the magnificent Hagia Sofia, the foremost church in Constantinople, was destroyed.

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Now a mosque in Istanbul, the beautiful Hagia Sofia was destroyed during the Nika riots of 532 and later rebuilt, by Emperor Justinian.

Rioters proclaimed the Senator Flavius Hypatius as their new Emperor and demanded the dismissal of key advisers.  Soon Justinian himself prepared to flee for his life.  He surely would have done so if not for his wife, the formidable Empress Theodora.

“Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss”, she declared. “Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as empress.  Who is born into the light of day must sooner or later die; and how could an Emperor ever allow himself to be a fugitive.”

The avenue of escape lay open to the Emperor but Theodora’s words, cut deep.  Not to be deterred, the Empress closed the door on escape.  “Royalty is a fine burial shroud” she said.  “The Royal color Purple makes a fine winding sheet.”

Dwzr7yJUUAEA9MYWith spine thus restored, Justinian formulated a plan.  The popular eunuch Narses was sent with a bag of gold, into the lion’s den.  Small and slight of build, unarmed but for those coins, Narses entered the Hippodrome and went directly to the Blue section.  On this day in 562 Hypatius was in the very act of coronation when the eunuch spoke.  Narses reminded the Blues that Hypatius was a Green while Justinian himself, supported their team.

Gold was distributed among the Blues and the trap was sprung.  As Blue team supporters streamed out of the Hippodrome, Imperial troops led by the Generals Belisarius and Mundus fell upon the crowd, killing some 30,000 Blue and Green alike.jerusalem-distrThus ends one of the great “backfires” in political history.  Senator Hypatius was put to the sword and those who had supported the pretender, sent into exile.  Justinian I would rule another 33 years, rebuilding Constantinople, muzzling the Senatorial Class which had caused him such grief and reconquering lost territories, in Italy.

Wealthy estates were confiscated outright and races were suspended for a period of five years.  None were left to stand against this Emperor for a long and fruitful reign.

May 1, 62BC The Scandal of the Bona Dea

The word “Pulchritude” has fallen out of everyday usage. 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, as to be remembered as one of the great Meatheads, in all of history.

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

The word has fallen out of everyday usage.  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, as to be remembered as one of the great Meatheads, in all of history.

the-bona-dea-_ara_pacis

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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Lo scandalo della bona dea, H/T studiarapido.it

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 Bona Dea festival bent on seducing Pompeia, the wife of Caesar himself.

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.

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Apparently, ol’ Pulcher was insufficiently pulchritudinous. He was found out and thrown out and, thus vitiated, the rites of the Bona Dea were rendered null and void, necessitating repetition by the Vestal Virgins.  Meanwhile, to have desecrated the sanctity of such rites as the Bona Dea was to have offended the city and the Gods, under pain of death.  A trial ensued and the legal wrangling went on, for two years.

In the end, Clodius was acquitted, a fact Cicero put down to fixed juries and back-room deals.  The Greek biographer and essayist Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus better known as Plutarch, writes that jurors handed in deliberately illegible verdicts, “in order that they might neither risk their lives with the populace by condemning him, nor get a bad name among the nobility by acquitting him“.  Talk about Profiles in Courage.

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Hat tip crayonmaniac.deviantart.com, for this image

Pulcher’s populist brand of politics would transform the politician into “One of the most innovative urban politicians in Western history” and, one day, get him killed at the hands of a political opponent. The man’s transvestite dalliance with the Bona Dea provided arch-rival Marcus Tullius Cicero with verbal ammunition, for years to come.

Interestingly, Cicero’s problem with Pulcher may have been more than just, political.  Clodius Pulcher had once prosecuted one Fabia, a Vestal Virgin, on charges of incest. Fabia’s half-sister Terentia was mightily offended at the proceedings, and her husband just happened to be Cicero himself. I wonder how it sounded to come home to That, every night.

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 yet her husband divorced her, immediately.

Plutarch writes, in The Life of Caesar:

“Caesar divorced Pompeia at once, but when he was summoned to testify at the trial, he said he knew nothing about the matters with which Clodius was charged.  His statement appeared strange, and the prosecutor therefore asked, “Why, then, didst thou divorce thy wife?” “Because,” said Caesar, “I thought my wife ought not even to be under suspicion.””

 

A Trivial Matter
To search on “average age in ancient Rome” is to be rewarded with the number, 35.  While mathematically correct (maybe), the fact is misleading.  Fully half of Roman children died before age ten.  Roman men joined the military at age 17 and a distressingly high number of Roman women, died in childbirth.  Karen Cokayne writes in Experiencing Old Age in Ancient Rome, that “From around the first century B.C. onwards, the age of 60 or 65 was commonly mentioned as the threshold of old age.” Should a person make sixty, (s)he had at least an average chance of living to seventy, and beyond. H/T revealedrome.com

April 21, 2019 The Easter Bunny

Many of the secular symbols associated with Easter trace back to the pagan goddess of spring and the dawn, Ēostre or Ostara, from the Old English Ēastre. History fades into mythology in the pre-Christian usage and accounts differ, but this Teutonic deity was frequently depicted with eggs symbolizing the rebirth of Spring.  And rabbits.

In Christian tradition, Jesus of Nazareth was crucified on Good Friday, arising from the dead two days later to reveal himself to his disciples, before finally ascending to heaven.

So where did the Easter Bunny come from?

Madonna-of-the-Rabbit-by-Titian
“Titian’s painting The Madonna of the Rabbit depicts this relationship. Mary holds the rabbit in the foreground, signifying both her virginity and fertility. The rabbit is white to convey her purity and innocence.” H/T Ancient-Origins.net

Many of the secular symbols associated with Easter trace back to the pagan goddess of spring and the dawn, Ēostre or Ostara, from the Old English Ēastre. History fades into mythology in the pre-Christian usage and accounts differ, but this Teutonic deity was frequently depicted with eggs symbolizing the rebirth of Spring.  And rabbits.

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Hat tip Ancient-Origins.net for this image

It’s small wonder that the latter symbolized fertility.  A female Hare, called a “Jill” has a 42-day gestation period, and is capable of conceiving while still pregnant.  Kriss Kringle and an egg laying Easter Hare called “Osterhase” or “Oschter Haws” came to America in the 1700s, with German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. Children would make nests of clothing and blankets, in which the creature could lay its colored eggs. This is the origin of the Easter basket.

Hares and rabbits are different species of the same family, like sheep and goats. Until the 18th century, rabbits were called Coneys, after the Latin “cuniculus”. The word has all but disappeared from American English vernacular, its only use today relates to Coney Island, in New York.  It was around that time that the diminutive, fuzzier “bunny” came to replace the Easter Hare.

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The Three Hares – A Curiosity Worth Regarding by Tom Greeves, Sue Andrew and Chris Chapman

More recently, the discovery of a Medieval “Three Hares” motif in a minor cathedral in Devon England led archaeologist and historian Tom Greeves, art history researcher Sue Andrew and documentary photographer Chris Chapman on a trans-continental odyssey, from Great Britain across the Eurasian landmass, to discover the origins of the enigmatic symbol.

The design depicts three hares in a triangle, each possessed of one ear and making in all, six.  The image appears in tapestry, architecture and/or precious objects emanating from at least four of the world’s great faith traditions including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam, cropping up from English cathedrals to Italian monasteries, German synagogues, Iranian metalwork and Russian reliquary caskets to Buddhist cave temples in North West China.

The three hares image may have spread across the 4,000-mile “Spice Road” during the  “Pax Mongolica” period of the 13th and 14th centuries, in which it was said  “A maiden bearing a nugget of gold on her head could wander safely throughout the realm.”

For Greeves, Andrew and Chapman, three decades of work has culminated in The Three Hares, a Curiosity Worth Regarding, a volume I have personally added to my must read list.

Hat tip Three Hares Project 2018 and Chris Chapman photography, to whom these images are copyrighted  http://www.chrischapmanphotography.co.uk

History gives us one tale concerning rabbits having nothing whatever to do with Easter, but it’s  too good not to tell here.

download (34)The story involves no less a figure than Napoleon Bonaparte.  In July 1807, Napoleon had just signed the Treaty of Tilsit, ending the war between the French Empire and Imperial Russia. As a means of celebration, Napoleon suggested a rabbit hunt, and ordered Chief of Staff Alexandre Berthier, to make it happen.

Berthier put together an outdoor luncheon, inviting the highest brass from the French military. Meanwhile, Napoleon’s men ranged far and wide, collecting rabbits for the hunt. As many as 3,000 of them.

Napoleon arrived at one side of a grassy field with his beaters and gun bearers, with all those caged rabbits lined up on the other side. Rabbits and Hares are predictably shy and retiring creatures, but Berthier’s soldiers had found it easier to pilfer domesticated rabbits instead of flushing out the wild variety, and these things were hungry.

The hunt was supposed to begin when all those cages opened but, instead of scattering, a swarm of rabbits thought it was dinner time and pelted straight across the field.

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H/T wearethemighty.com

The most powerful man in the world thought it was funny at first, until all those rabbits started coming up his legs. Coachmen cracked bullwhips and men grabbed sticks.  There was shooting and shouting and pandemonium, everywhere.  Still, the bunny horde came on.

French General and diarist Baron Paul Thiébault was there, let him tell the story:

“The intrepid rabbits turned to the Emperor’s flank, attacked him frantically in the rear, refused to quit their hold, piled themselves up between his legs till they made him stagger, and forced the conqueror of conquerors, fairly exhausted, to retreat and leave them in possession of the field”.

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H/T Warner Bros., Napoleon Bunny-Part

Napoleon retreated to his carriage, but the onslaught, continued. Historian David Chandler picks up the story:

“With a finer understanding of Napoleonic strategy than most of his generals, the rabbit horde divided into two wings and poured around the flanks of the party and headed for the imperial coach.”

The tide of bunnies continued the advance, some even got into the carriage.  The bunny blitz finally ebbed away, only as the Royal Conveyance drove out of sight.

So it is that Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, a General who fought and won more battles than Hannibal Barca, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Frederick the Great, combined, was defeated and driven out of town…

By bunnies.

Featured image, top of page: The Dreihasenfenster (Window of Three Hares), Paderborn Cathedral, Germany. Photo source: Public Domain. H/T ancient-origins.net

 

A Trivial Matter
According to WomansDay.com, Americans are expected to spend over $2 Billion on Cadbury eggs, jelly beans and other Easter candies, this year. Peeps, the number one seller (sorry Cadbury), came out in 1953 when each one was extruded, from a pastry tube. In those days, Peeps took twenty-seven hours to set. These days’ they’re ready to eat in about six minutes.