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.

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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?

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“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.

March 1, 1692 The Conduct of Public Affairs for Private Advantage

“Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage”. – Ambrose Bierce

On this day in 1692, three residents of Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were charged with the illegal practice of witchcraft.  Twelve-year-old Abigail Williams and ten-year-old Elizabeth Parris were ill with some unknown sickness, and accused the trio of biting and pinching the girls, and poking them with knitting needles.

Massachusetts Governor William Phips established “Courts of Oyer and Terminer” (to hear and determine) to hear the charges.  Sarah Goode, Sarah Osborne, and an Indian slave from Barbados named Tituba, being the first so accused.  Five men and fourteen women were hanged as witches over the following seven months.  As many as 17 more died in the tiny, freezing stone compartments which then passed for jail cells.

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H/T The Crucible. Accused

According to the law of the time, the accused were required to enter a plea.  Guilty or not guilty.  Without such a plea, there could be no trial.  On March 19, 72-year-old Martha Corey was arrested for witchcraft.  Martha’s husband, 81-year-old Giles Cory, was so caught up in the hysteria as to join in the accusations against his wife.  Until he himself was accused.

Martha Corey: “I, sir, am innocent to a witch. I know not what a witch is”.
Judge Hathorne: “If you know not what a witch is, how do you know you are not one?” ~ The Crucible

Corey refused to plead, so he was subjected to the “peine forte et dure”  (French:  “hard and forceful punishment”).  Stripped naked and placed under a board, Corey was tied spread-eagle on is back, his arms and legs secured, by cords.  Stones of increasing size were heaped on top, to extract his plea.  This torture went on for two days, the man given nothing but the “worst bread” on day one, and “standing” water, the following day.

Knowing his possessions would be forfeit to his tormentor in the event of conviction, Corey’s only response was “more weight”.

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Giles Corey’s persecutor was Essex County High Sheriff George Corwin, he who signed warrants for the arrest and execution of those condemned of witchcraft.  It was he who (conveniently) received the belongings, of those so condemned.  In the end, Corwin himself was standing atop the pile of stones, shoving Corey’s tongue back into his mouth, with a cane.

The end came on Monday September 19, around noon.  One witness remembered the old farmer’s last words:  “Damn you. I curse you and Salem!”  Martha Corey was hanged, three days later.

Politics: A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage”. – Ambrose Bierce

Even then, George Corwin came after Corey’s adult children, to extort money from the Corey farm.  What a guy.  In 1710, Corey’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband John Moulton filed a lawsuit, seeking damages.  Elizabeth’s statement to the court said, “After our father’s death the sheriff threatened to seize our father’s estate and for fear we complied with him and paid him eleven pound six shillings in money.”

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The hideous nature of Giles Corey’s death did much to cool the ardor, for the persecution of witches.  Governor Phips dissolved the Courts of Oyer and Terminer a month later, around the time his own wife was accused of witchcraft.

Afterward

This George Corwin character must have been some 14-carat SOB but, he would get what he had coming, in the end.  Four years after the witchcraft hysteria of 1692, the High Sheriff died of an apparent heart attack, at the age of 30.  Salem resident Phillip English was accused in the earlier madness, when Corwin seized his property.  English put a lien on the corpse and delayed its burial, until he could be reimbursed.   The lien was eventually satisfied, and the debt paid back.  How long George Corwin was left to rot, is unknown to this writer.

Sometime in the 1830s, the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne added the “W” to his name, distancing himself from his twice-great grandfather and Salem witch trial judge, John Hathorne.  It didn’t do a lick of good for the poor collection of oddballs and outcasts who would not survive the witchcraft hysteria of 1692.

Page break

For three hundred years, nineteen innocents were believed to have been hanged on Gallows Hill.  You can visit Gallows Hill Park if you like, in modern-day Salem.  Today it’s more of a skate park, than historic site.  In 2016, the Gallows Hill Project of Salem State University determined the place to have been Proctor’s Ledge, not Gallows Hill.  It’s an interesting story in itself, for those inclined to read more.  Salem State’s story, is linked above.

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

February 13, 1961 A Prehistoric Spark Plug

Winston Churchill once quipped “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on”.  Guess he got that right.

Sometime around Easter Sunday, 1900, Captain Dimitrios Kondos set sail from the island of Symi. Kondos and a team of Greek sponge divers worked their way through the Peloponnese, across the Aegean en route to the rich fishing grounds off the coast of North Africa. The team was stopped and waiting for favorable winds off the Greek Island of Antikythera, when some of the divers thought they’d have a look around.

Elias Stadiatis descended some 150-feet, and quickly signaled that he wanted to come back up.  Stadiatis told a wild tale about a rocky bottom, strewn with the rotting corpses and men and horses. Dozens of them.

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Greek sponge divers

The effects of nitrogen narcosis were well understood by this time, that lethally narcotic-like state of drunkenness where deep divers have been known to hand regulators, to fish. Captain Kondos was convinced that Stadiatis was drunk on nitrogen. He donned the canvas suit and brass helmet, and went down to look for himself.

The divers had discovered a 1st-century (BC) shipwreck, a treasure trove of statuary: four marble horses, and thirty-six stone statues including Hercules, Ulysses, Diomedes, Hermes and Apollo.

The most astonishing find from the wreck was a complex clock-like mechanism, believed to be built around 100-200BC and vastly more sophisticated than anything known to have come from antiquity. In more recent years, computer x-ray tomography and high resolution surface scanning have revealed the enormous sophistication of the “Antikythera mechanism“, an analog computer comprising some 37 exquisitely precise gear wheels, enabling the device to follow the moon and sun through the full cycle of the zodiac.

The thing can even recreate the variable velocity of the moon, as the body speeds up through its perigee, and slows through the apogee.

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Antikythera mechanism, recreation

What those Greek sponge divers had discovered was an Out-of-Place Artifact, (OOPArt), an object which called into question, our understanding of what has come before.  OOPArts are artifacts of historical, archaeological, or paleontological interest, evincing a more advanced technology than known to have existed at the time, or even a human (or at least intelligent) hand at a time and place, where none are known to exist.

OOPArts run the gamut from the genuinely surprising to risible hoaxes to the favorites of cryptozoologists, UFOologists, paranormal enthusiasts and proponents of ancient astronaut theories.  Some turn out to be objects of mistaken interpretation, based on little more than wishful thinking.

The Iron Pillar outside the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque in Delhi is believed to date from the fifth century Gupta monarchs of India.  Standing 23-feet, 8-inches and weighing in at 13,000-pounds, the thing is almost entirely free of rust, demonstrating a level of metallurgical proficiency, surprising for the time.

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The “London Hammer” was found in June 1934 near London Texas. It’s a common enough object, except is seems to be embedded, in 400 million year-old rock. Geologist J.R. Cole explains the conundrum:

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London Hammer

“The stone is real, and it looks impressive to someone unfamiliar with geological processes. How could a modern artifact be stuck in Ordovician rock? The answer is that the concretion itself is not Ordovician. Minerals in solution can harden around an intrusive object dropped in a crack or simply left on the ground if the source rock (in this case, reportedly Ordovician) is chemically soluble”.

“Young Earth Creationist” Carl Baugh has other ideas, claiming the object to be a “monumental pre-flood discovery”. You can see the London Hammer and decide for yourself, at the Creation Evidence Museum, in Glen Rose Texas.

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USNS Eltanin photo, 1964

The “Eltanin Antennae” was photographed by the cargo-carrying icebreaker and oceanographic research vessel USNS Eltanin in 1964.  Located on the sea floor off the Antarctic coast, the object lies under 12,808 feet of water.

To many, the object is clearly the result of intelligent life, even extra-terrestrials.  Author Brad Steiger has called it“an astonishing piece of machinery… very much like the cross between a TV antenna and a telemetry antenna“.

Other authorities have identified the object as Chondrocladia concrescens, an unusual carnivorous sponge.

Artist Karl Weingärtner created a mobile phone-style clay tablet for a museum display in 2012, complete with cuneiform script, keypad. Weingärtner posted a photo to his Facebook account, to help sell his art. Some wag dubbed the thing “BabyloNokia”, and it was off to the races. The “Conspiracy Club” website ran the image with the caption: “800-Year-Old Mobile Phone Found In Austria? Check This Out.”

Babylonokia

For the editors at UFO Sighting Daily, the BabyloNokia was proof positive that ancient astronauts had been here. Not to be outdone, the British tabloid Daily Express ran with Weingärtner’s image, claiming the object dated to the 13th century, BC.

Winston Churchill once quipped “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on“.  Guess he got that right.

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A large geode, lined with Amethyst crystals

Wallace Lane, Virginia Maxey and Mike Mikesell liked to prospect for geodes, near the California town of Olancha.

A geode is a hollow stone formation,  containing a secondary lining of crystals or mineral matter.  Geodes form slowly, over geologic time.  There’s no way of knowing what’s inside, until it’s broken or cut, apart.

On this day in 1961, the trio discovered the “Coso Artifact”, a geode containing an unusual object.  A Champion spark plug.

A reader wrote to Desert Magazine, claiming a trained geologist had dated the thing, at 500,000 years old.  The identity of the “trained geologist”, went unsaid.

A number of Pseudoscientific theories arose, to explain the object:

• The spark plug was evidence of an ancient, advanced civilization, possibly proof of the long lost city of Atlantis, itself.
• Prehistoric extraterrestrial visitors came to Earth. How such creatures came to possess a “Champion” spark plug, went unanswered.
• Human time-travelers from the future had left or lost the spark plug, thus proving their visit to the past.

The answer it seems, was more prosaic.  Researchers determined with help from the Spark Plug Collectors of America (who knew?), that this was a 1920s-era Champion spark plug, widely used in the engines of Model T and Model A Fords. The “geode” wasn’t that at all, but the accretion of iron and other minerals, produced as the object rusted in the ground.

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Geologists from the University of Washington Earth and Space Science department were invited to inspect the thing again, just last year. Scientists confirmed the opinion that this was a 1920s-vintage plug but, I don’t know.

Sounds to me like someone’s still betting on the 500,000-year version of the story.

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

February 7, 138AD The Highest Paid Athlete, in History (It’s Not who you Think)

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 wreck, near Delphi.

For we who are New England sports fans, the Smug™ yet lies heavy on the air, following back to back World Championships for the Boston Red Sox, and New England Patriots.  Having worked for the latter organization forty years ago when the team couldn’t get a game on TV, I have to tell you.  This is a lot more fun.

Another banner year
Most will find this graphic braggadocious, if not obnoxious.  A Chicago Cubs fan, will understand.

The winners of Superbowl LII received $112,000 each for winning the Big Game.  Losing players were paid $56,000, apiece.  Not bad for a single day’s work, but it raises an interesting  question.  Who is the highest paid athlete, of all time?

On December 13, 2017 Forbes Magazine answers as follows:

“The Highest-Paid Athletes of All-Time”

1. Michael Jordan Career earnings: $1.85 billion (2017 dollars)
2. Tiger Woods: $1.7 billion
3. Arnold Palmer: $1.4 billion
4. Jack Nicklaus Career earnings: $1.2 billion
5. Michael Schumacher: $1 billion
6. Phil Mickelson: $815 million
7. (tie) Kobe Bryant: $800 million
7. (tie) David Beckham: $800 million
9. Floyd Mayweather: $785 million
10. Shaquille O’Neal: $735 million

Seems Forbes missed one guy who earned nearly half-again, as the top ten.  Combined.

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The earliest chariots came around some 4,000 years ago, with the invention of the spoke-wheel. As a weapon of war, the use of these open, two-wheeled carriages came to a peak in 1300BC, around the Battle of Kadesh. Chariots lost their military importance as horses were bred to become bigger and stronger, able to carry a rider in the control position. The vehicle was gone as a weapon of war by the 1st century AD, but chariot races remained popular in Byzantine times, until the 6th century.

Chariot_spreadChariots 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, dogs, tigers and even ostriches.

It was the racetrack, the circus,  where the sport of chariot racing put the Fanatic in fans.  None greater, than the Circus Maximus.

What the Greeks saw as an opportunity for talented amateurs to rise within their chosen sport, the Romans regarded as entertainment.  A class of professional drivers, rose to meet the demand.  There were four teams or “factions” (factiones), distinguished by the color of their outfit:  Red, Blue, Green and White.

666a2787d4e5f542a91e5218309cc586Modern sport has seen its share of fan passion rising to violence, but the worst “soccer hooligan” fades to docility, compared with the crowd come to watch the chariot races.  In the year 69, Emperor Vitellius had commoners put to death for talking trash about the Blue faction.  Ten years later, a fan threw himself on the funeral pyre, of his favorite driver.  The week-long outbreak of violence known as the Nika Riots of 532 cost the lives of some 30,000 spectators.  It all started, over a chariot race.

Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, home of Super Bowl LIII, has a rated capacity of 71,000 spectators, expandable to 75,000.  The Circus Maximus measured 2,037-feet long by 387-feet wide and seated as many as a quarter-million.  Come race day, the city was all but deserted.

Twelve chariots would enter each race, three from each faction.  Golden-tipped dolphins were tipped over, to count the laps.  Each race ran seven.

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A 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, it was encouraged.

Tales of poisoned horses and drivers were not unheard of.  Lead tablets and amulets were inscribed with curses, spiked through with nails and thrown from the stands.  One such curse reads:

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.

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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 it was 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 wreck, near Delphi.

Roman Chariot Race

It is often said to “Beware the old man in a land where men die young“.  The Roman countryside was dotted with the graves of twenty-year old chariot drivers.  Yet, on this day in 138, the Spanish driver Gaius Appuleius Diocles was only midway through a 24-year career, spanning 4,257 races.     He won 1,462 of them and placed in another 1,438.

Diocles wasn’t the “winningest” driver in Rome, though he did own an extremely rare ducenarius, a horse which had won at least 200 races.  Flavius Scorpus scored 2,048 victories before being killed in a wreck at the age of twenty-seven.   Pompeius Muscosus won 3,559.  Diocles was the master of the “come from behind” victory.  Crowds loved it.  In his 24 years, Diocles went from White to Green to Red factions amassing an impressive 35,863,120 sesterces, over the course of a long career.

It was enough to keep the entire city of Rome in grain for a year, equivalent to $15 Billion, today.  Not bad for a guy whose name indicates he probably started out a slave, freed by a guy named Gaius Appuleius.

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

January 28, 1942 The Mighty 8th Air force

On this seventy-seventh birthday of the Mighty 8th Air Force, we can all thank a teacher, that we are able to read this story. We can thank a Veteran, that we can read it in English.

The Nazi conquest of Europe began with the Sudetenland in 1938, the border districts of Bohemia, Moravia, and German speaking parts of Czechoslovakia.

The invasion of Poland brought France and Great Britain in on the side of their ally, in 1939.  Ground forces of the United Kingdom were shattered the following year, along with those of her French, Indian, Moroccan, Belgian, Canadian and Dutch allies.

The hastily assembled fleet of 933 vessels large and small were all that stood between salvation, and unmitigated disaster.  338,226 soldiers were rescued from the beaches of France.  Defeated, all but disarmed yet still unbeaten, these would live to fight another day.

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Dunkirk

In 1940, every major power on the European mainland was either neutral, or under Nazi occupation.  The island nation of Great Britain stood alone and unconquered, defiant in the face of the Nazi war machine.  In Germany, street decorations were prepared for victory parades, as plans were laid for “Operation Sea Lion”, the planned invasion of Great Britain and final destruction of the British Isles.

After the allied armies were hurled from the beaches of Dunkirk, Hitler seemed to feel he had little to do but “mop up”.   Luftwaffe commander-in-chief Hermann Göring convinced Der Fuhrer that aircraft alone could do the job.

Hitler approved, and turned his attention to the surprise attack on his “ally” to the East. The “Battle of Britain” had begun.

Two days in August 1940 saw 3,275 sorties against the British home isles, with only 120 aircraft lost to the German side.  A single Junkers 88 or Heinkel 111 bomber carried 5,510-pounds of bombs.

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The wrath of the Luftwaffe was spent by the end of October, Operation sea Lion postponed again and again.  Great Britain would fight on alone, but for the shattered remnants of formerly allied powers, for another year and one-half.  Prime Minister Winston Churchill captured the spirit of the period as only he could, when he said: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.

Battle of Britain

Hitler would turn his his back and launch “Operation Barbarossa” in June, 1941.  The surprise invasion of the Soviet Union.

Under the terms of the tripartite pact with Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany was obliged to render aid in the event that either ally was attacked. On December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on the US naval anchorage at Pearl Harbor, Ambassador Hiroshi Ōshima came to German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, looking for  a commitment of support.

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Crewman, Mighty 8th

Ribbentrop balked.  With their ally having been the aggressor, Germany was under no obligation to intervene.  Adolf Hitler thought otherwise. Hitler detested Roosevelt, and thought it was just a matter of time before the two powers were at war. He might as well beat the American President to the punch.

At 9:30am Washington time on December 11, German Chargé d’Affaires Hans Thomsen handed a note to American Secretary of State Cordell Hull. For the second time in the diplomatic history of the United States and Germany, the two nations were in a state of war.

Half a world away, one man went to bed to sleep the “sleep of the saved and thankful”.

“Silly people, and there were many, not only in enemy countries, might discount the force of the United States… But I had studied the American Civil War, fought out to the last desperate inch. American blood flowed in my veins. I thought of a remark which Edward Grey had made to me more than thirty years before—that the United States is like ‘a gigantic boiler’. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.  Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful”. – Prime Minister Winston Churchill

8thaf-shoulder-patch48 days later, at Hunter Field in Savannah, Georgia, the Eighth Bomber Command was activated as part of the United States Army Air Forces. It was January 28, 1942.

The 8th was intended to support operation “Super Gymnast”, the invasion of what was then French North Africa.  Super Gymnast was canceled in April.  By May, the 8th Bomber Command had moved headquarters to a former girls’ school in High Wycombe, England, from where it conducted the strategic bombing campaign against Nazi Germany.

thndbrdRe-designated the Eighth Air Force on February 22, 1944, at its peak the “Mighty Eighth” could dispatch over 2,000 four engine bombers and more than 1,000 fighters on a single mission. 350,000 people served in the 8th Air Force during the war in Europe, with 200,000 at its peak in 1944.

By 1945, the Wehrmacht could tell itself a new joke:  “When we see a silver plane, it’s American. A black plane, it’s British. When we see no plane, it’s German”.  American aviation paid a heavy price for this little bit of black humor.

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Half of US Army Air Force casualties in World War II were suffered by the 8th, over 47,000 casualties, with more than 26,000 killed. By war’s end, 8th Air Force personnel were awarded 17 Medals of Honor, 220 Distinguished Service Crosses, and 442,000 Air Medals. There were 261 fighter aces in the 8th, 31 of whom scored 15 or more confirmed kills.  305 gunners were also recognized, as aces.

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Following the allied victory in Europe, 8th AF Headquarters was reassigned to Sakugawa (Kadena Airfield), Okinawa, under the command of Lieutenant General James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle.  Tasked with organizing and training new bomber groups for the planned invasion of Japan, the 8th received its first B-29 Superfortress on August 8.  Seven days later, the atomic bomb had ended the war in the Pacific.

With the onset of the jet age and the “Cold War” at it height, the 8th Air Force moved to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts on June 13, 1955, the second of three Numbered Air Force groups of the newly constituted Strategic Air Command (SAC).

Since that time, the Mighty 8th has been called on to perform combat missions from Southeast Asia to the Middle East to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, flying out of its current headquarters at Barksdale Air Force Base, in Louisiana.

If you’re ever in Savannah, do yourself a favor and pay a visit to the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force (http://www.mightyeighth.org/). Not only will you experience an incredible story well told, but you will meet some 90+ year old veterans who walk as straight and tall today as they did, seventy years ago.

Happy Birthday, Mighty Eighth.

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

February 5, AD 62, The lost City of Pompeii

Most were killed where they stood in the pyroclastic surge, that ground-hugging pressure wave seen in test films of nuclear explosions.  Gasses and pulverized stone dust race outward at 400 MPH in the “base surge” phase, super-heated to 1000° Fahrenheit, instantaneously converting all bodily fluids, to steam.

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 and Herculaneum, and surrounding communities.

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, with crowds of tourists and slaves adding to some ten to twenty thousand townspeople, bustling in and out of the city’s bath houses, artisans’ shops, taverns and brothels.

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Reconstruction began almost immediately and continued for the next seventeen years.  Until that day, the world came to an end.

Long dormant and believed extinct, nearby Mount Vesuvius had been quiet for hundreds of years.  The mountain erupted on August 24 in the year 79,  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.

Most were killed where they stood in the pyroclastic surge, that ground-hugging pressure wave seen in test films of nuclear explosions.  Gasses and pulverized stone dust race outward at 400 MPH in the “base surge” phase, super-heated to 1000° Fahrenheit, instantaneously converting all bodily fluids, to steam.

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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.

For those left alive, 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.

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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 his 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.

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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.

According to the Annus Mirabilis written by English poet Philip Larkin, sex was invented in the British Isles, in 1963.

“…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…”

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Pompeian artwork ranges from the merely hedonistic, to the pornographic

The ancients seem to have been somewhat less, “uptight”.   Life in Pompeii was nothing if not hedonistic.  The place 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 cataloged, and brought to museums.  In 1863, archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli realized that occasional voids in the ash layer were left by 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.

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“.

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.

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