April 20, 1453 Fall of Constantinople

The loss of Constantinople severed trade routes with Asia, forcing European powers to seek out water routes. Forty years later, Ferdinand and Isabella would discuss such a voyage of exploration with the Italian navigator, Christopher Columbus.

ConstantinopleFounded by Byzas, son of the Greek King Nisos circa 657BC, the earliest days of Byzantium are clouded by legend.  Located on the easternmost peninsula where Europe becomes Asia, the city is surrounded on three sides, by water.

Besieged and all but destroyed by Rome in 196AD, the city soon regained the wealth and status it had formerly enjoyed as a center of trade.  The Roman Emperor Constantine established a second residence at Byzantium in 330, which was later renamed Constantinople, in his honor.  What had been a fishing village a thousand years earlier was now the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire, and would remain so for another thousand years.Theodosian walls

Emperor Theodosius built a set of walls around the landward side of the city in the 5th century.  Avars, Arabs, Rus and Bulgars would all come up against the Theodosian Walls, which were all but impregnable to the siege apparatus of the era.  Until the age of gunpowder.

Seige of Constantinople21-year-old Mehmed II began the final siege of Constantinople on April 6, 1453.  Commanding 120,000 attackers with an estimated 126 ships, Ottoman forces faced 7,000 to 12,000 Christian defenders with 26 ships, defending almost 3½ miles of land wall and another 9 miles of sea wall facing the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn.

Byzantine commander Constantine XI sent out a plea for reinforcements to Pope Nicholas V, who agreed to seek help despite centuries of animosity between the Eastern and Western Churches.   France and England were enmeshed in a hundred-years’ war at the time, Spain had a Reconquista to tend to.  The German Principalities were fighting each other.  No significant assistance ever appeared.

Giovanni Giustiniani arrived with 700 Genoese and Greek soldiers in January 1453, and was placed in command of the land walls.  Three Genoese galleys and a Byzantine blockade runner fought their way through the Ottoman blockading fleet on April 20th.  There would be no more help after that.

On land, Mehmed’s forces encircled the network of trenches, parapets and walls which made up the Theodosian defenses. At sea, he placed his forces on either side of the Bosporus, effectively cutting off the Black Sea and encircling the city on three sides.

A huge chain across the northern harbor, the “Golden Horn”, was all that kept Constantinople open on that side.

Huge siege cannon used in the final assaultMehmed placed his cannon into positions facing the wall. The largest, the monster “Basilica” was 27′ long, weighed 18 tons, and required a team of 60 oxen and 400 men to move it. It had a diameter of 30″, large enough for a grown man to crawl inside.  Its 150lb powder charge was capable of hurling a half-ton stone ball a distance of over a mile. While the weapon did catastrophic damage to the city walls, it took over three hours to reset after firing, and frantic efforts by the defenders were able to repair much of the damage between shots.

Fall-of-constantinople-1453. 1Serbian Sappers dug tunnels under the city, intending to undermine and blow out the walls, but Christian counter-miners broke into the tunnels and attacked them with swords, axes and Greek fire, an early form of napalm.

Unable to breach the chain, Mehmed ordered his ships portaged across dry land on greased logs, enabling them to enter the harbor and attack via the Golden Horn.  Burning vessels called “fire ships” were launched against them without success, requiring Constantine to spread out his already thin forces to defend multiple sides.

Holding a council of war with his advisors on May 26th, Mehmed ordered a massive assault carried out on the night of the 28th-29th, after a period of rest and prayer.

Mehmed’s poorly equipped, inferior “auxiliary” soldiers launched just after midnight. Fall of Constantinople, 1 These were the cannon fodder, their purpose to wear down the defenders in preparation for attacks by professional soldiers, the Bashi-Bazouks.  Then came the Janissaries, Christian slave warriors raised from childhood to be the elite of the Ottoman army,   Attackers stormed the walls by the tens of thousands, while Ottoman ships pounded the city from the harbor.

Christian defenses finally began to falter, as Giustiniani was badly wounded and taken to the rear. Constantine too was under heavy pressure, leading the defense of the Lycus Valley to the south. When Ottomans found the Kerkoporta gate to the north open, they surged into the city, opening additional gates.  Fanning out, Ottoman soldiers moved through Constantinople, killing at will.

hagia-sophia
Hagia Sofia

When Emperor Justinian finished construction in 537, the Hagia Sofia was the largest Christian cathedral in the world, remaining so for almost 1,000 years. Now Christian civilians in their thousands fled to the massive dome, barricading themselves inside where they prayed.

The Venetian surgeon Nicolò Barbaro wrote that “all through the day the Turks made a great slaughter of Christians through the city”.  At last, the massive bronze doors of the Hagia Sofia were breached, and the Turks began to divide up civilians according to their value at the slave market. Thousands of civilians were killed and 30,000 either enslaved or deported.

In the weeks that followed, Pope Nicholas V called for an immediate crusade to recover the city, but none stepped forward to lead the effort. It was a turning point in Western history.  Many see the Fall of Constantinople as the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. The loss of Constantinople severed European trade routes with Asia, forcing European powers to seek out water routes.

Forty years later, Ferdinand and Isabella would discuss such a voyage of exploration with the Italian navigator, Christopher Columbus.

Christian artifacts and artworks were removed or plastered over as churches were converted into mosques.  Mehmed II became “Mehmed the Conqueror”, his greatest conquest “Kostantiniyye”, the name morphing to “Islambol” by the 18th century, meaning “City of Islam” or “Full of Islam”.  Today, the former seat of the Byzantine Empire is the 7th largest city on the planet, by population.  Istanbul.

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Hagia Sofia, Interior

 

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March 18, 37 AD Little Boots

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

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

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

Vatican_Piazza_San_Pietro_ObeliskOn this day in the year 37, the Roman Senate annulled the will of the Emperor Tiberius, proclaiming 24 year old Caligula, Emperor. After years of purges and treason trials, Caligula’s ascension to the throne was seen as a welcome breath of fresh air. His first two years were relatively peaceful and prosperous.

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

Caligula suffered a protracted and severe illness in 39, hovering between life and death for over a month. It may or may not have had anything to do with his subsequent behavior, but the man who emerged from that illness was widely believed to be insane.

Caligula performed a spectacular stunt by ordering a temporary floating bridge to be built, Caligula, Incitatususing ships as pontoons, stretching for over two miles from the resort of Baiae to the neighboring port of Puteoli. Though he could not swim, he rode his favorite horse, Incitatus, across the bridge, wearing the breastplate of Alexander the Great. The act was in defiance of a prediction by Tiberius’ soothsayer Thrasyllus of Mendes, that Caligula had “no more chance of becoming emperor than of riding a horse across the Bay of Baiae”.

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

Caligula’s eccentricities became terrifying and erratic. He regularly made senators run alongside his chariot.  He’d order executions on a whim. Caligula once had an entire crowd section at the Roman Games thrown into the arena, to be eaten alive by wild animals. He said he was bored. Caligula

Caligula began to appear in public, dressed as various gods and demigods:  Hercules, Mercury, Venus and Apollo.  He’d refer to himself as a god when meeting with politicians. He built temples for the worship of himself, where the heads of statues were replaced by his own likeness.

Later stories of wanton hedonism, cruelty, and sexual depravity are probably exaggerated, but none seem to be without a grain of truth. Caligula was murdered by his own Praetorian guard in the year 41, after fewer than five years in power.

Most historians dismiss the floating bridge story as a myth, since no archaeological evidence has ever surfaced.  Caligula’s two “pleasure barges”, extracted from the bottom of Lake Nemi in the 1920s and 30s, are a different story.   Measuring 230′ and 240′ respectively, their lavish furnishings included marble décor, mosaic floors, statuary and gilded copper roofs.  One wreck carried a lead pipe, bearing the inscription “Property of Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus”.  Allied bombing resulted in a fire in 1944, in which both of these archaeological treasures, were lost.Caligula, Pleasure Barges

March 17, 432 Saint Patrick’s Day

Interestingly, Patrick is listed among the 10,000 or so Roman Catholic Saints, although it seems he was never actually canonized by a pope.

Born Patricius (Latin) or Pádraig (Modern Irish Gaelic), “Patrick” was a late fifth century Roman subject living in Great Britain. Kidnapped at the age of 16 and brought to Ireland, he was enslaved for 6 years before escaping.  He later returned to Ireland as an ordained priest, to minister to Irish Christians, and to convert others to Christianity.  Patrick would go on to become Bishop of all Ireland, and one of their primary Patron Saints.

Interestingly, Patrick is listed among the 10,000 or so Roman Catholic Saints, although it seems he was never actually canonized by a pope.

Saint PatrickSaint Patrick’s Day is observed on March 17, the date generally agreed to correspond with the date of his enslavement in 432, and with his death in 460. The date is celebrated in Ireland as both a liturgical and non-liturgical holiday, where in some diocese it is both a solemnity and a holy day of obligation. Outside of Ireland, the day has become a general celebration of all things Irish.

The legend that St. Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland likely springs from his work in converting the pagans of his day, many of whom wore snake tattoos on their arms. This idea is supported by a Gallic coin of the time, which carries on its face the Druidic snake.

Be that as it may, today Ireland has no snakes, a trait that it has in common with Antarctica, New Zealand, Iceland, and Greenland.

Another legend involves a walking stick of ash, which Patrick carried with him wherever he went. He would thrust this stick into the ground wherever he was evangelizing. At the place now known as Aspatria, (ash of Patrick), the message took so long to get through to the people there that the stick took root.

The shamrock which came to symbolize the day was seen as sacred by many in pre-MedievalMonkChristian Ireland, with its green color evoking rebirth and eternal life. The three leaves symbolize the “triple goddess” of ancient Ireland. Patrick is said to have taught the Irish about the Holy Trinity, using the three leaves of the shamrock to illustrate the Christian teaching of three persons in one God:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Most of the rest of Europe would suffer barbarian invasion from the fifth century onward, plunging into what are known today as “The Dark Ages”.  Almost alone, cloistered monks in the monasteries of Ireland, spiritual descendants of St. Patrick, acted as repository for Christian civilization, at a time when such advancement was almost extinguished elsewhere. It’s been said of this period that the Irish saved civilization. Who knows, they may have done just that. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

March 15, 44BC Ides of March

Here’s where the story becomes Really interesting. The last words “Et tu Brute” were put in his mouth by Shakespeare, 1,643 years after the fact.

The history of Rome may be drawn into two parts, the Republic and the Imperium. Since 509BC and the overthrow of the Monarchy, the Republic operated based on 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, best remembered for its long line of Emperors.

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 anyone thus proscribed.

Proscriptions

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 they 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.

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

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

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

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.

first_triumvirateThe partnership was doomed to fail, given the egos and animosities of the three. Crassus was killed in 52BC as Pompey became increasingly hostile to his co-ruler, who was 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 him to resign his command and disband the army, or become an enemy of the state.  Everyone knew what it meant when Caesar crossed the Rubicon River at the head of that army, in 49BC. It meant Civil War. To this day, to “Cross the Rubicon” means to take a step which cannot be reversed.

Caesar emerged victorious, declaring himself Dictator for Life, 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.

According to Plutarch, Julius Caesar arrived at the Senate on March 15, 44BC. Tillius IdesOfMarchKnife640Cimber 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 Caesar, “Why, this is violence!” Casca pulled a dagger and stabbed at the dictator’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 fatal.

Here’s where the story becomes Really interesting. The last words “Et tu Brute” were put in the Dictator’s mouth by Shakespeare, 1,643 years after the fact. No eyewitness account of his assassination survives today, though a more contemporary source recorded the Greek words “Kai su, teknon?” as Brutus plunged the dagger in. “You too, my child?”

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

March 13, 1942 US Canine Corps

It’s K-9 Veteran’s Day. March 13, 2017. I could tell you no other story today, half as fitting as this.

The history of war dogs is as old as history itself.  The war-dogdogs of King Alyattes of Lydia killed some of his Cimmerian adversaries and routed the rest around 600BC, permanently driving the invader from Asia Minor in the earliest known use of war dogs in battle.

King Molossus of Epirus, grandson of the mighty Achilles, used a large, powerfully built breed specifically trained for battle. Today, “molosser” describes a body type more than any specific breed.  Modern molossers include the Mastiff, Bernese Mountain Dog, Newfoundland and Saint Bernard.

Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians often used dogs as sentries or on patrol. In late antiquity, Xerxes I, the Persian King who faced the Spartan King Leonidas across the pass at Thermopylae, was accompanied by a pack of Indian hounds.

Attila the Hun went to war with a pack of hounds, as did the Spanish Conquistadors of the 1500s.

Sallie statue
Sallie’s likeness rests at the foot of a statue in Gettysburg, looking out for the spirits of “her boys” for all eternity

A Staffordshire Bull Terrier named Sallie “joined up” in 1861, serving the rest of the Civil War with the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.  At Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Spotsylvania, Sallie would take her position alongside the colors, barking ferociously at the adversary.

Abraham Lincoln spotted Sallie from a reviewing stand in 1863, and tipped his hat.

Sallie was killed at Hatcher’s Run in February 1865.  Several of “her” men laid down their arms then and there to bury her, despite being under Confederate fire.

messengerdog
WWI Messenger Dog

Dogs performed a variety of roles in WWI, from ratters in the trenches, to sentries, scouts and runners. “Mercy” dogs were trained to seek out the wounded on the battlefield, carrying medical supplies with which the stricken could treat themselves.

Sometimes, these dogs simply provided the comfort of another living soul, so that the gravely wounded should not die alone.

By the end of the “Great War”, France, Great Britain and Belgium had at least 20,000 dogs on the battlefield, Imperial Germany over 30,000. Some sources report that over a million dogs served over the course of the war.

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Lee Duncan & Rin Tin Tin

The famous Rin Tin Tin canine movie star of the 1920s was rescued as a puppy, from the bombed out remains of a German Army kennel, in 1917. (Read more about him, Here).

GHQ of the American Expeditionary Force recommended using dogs as sentries, messengers and draft animals in the spring of 1918, however the war was over before US forces put together any kind of a War Dog program.

America’s first war dog, “Sgt. Stubby”, went “Over There” by accident, serving 18 months on the Western Front before coming home to a well-earned retirement.

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Sgt. Stubby

On March 13, 1942, the Quartermaster Corps began training dogs for the US Army “K-9 Corps.” In the beginning, the owners of healthy dogs were encouraged to “loan” their dogs to the Quartermaster Corps, where they were trained for service with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

The program initially accepted over 30 breeds of dog, but the list soon narrowed to German Shepherds, Belgian Sheep Dogs, Doberman Pinschers, Collies, Siberian Huskies, Malamutes and Eskimo Dogs.

WWII-era Military Working Dogs (MWDs) served on sentry, scout and patrol missions, in addition to performing messenger and mine-detection work. The keen senses of scout dogs saved countless lives, by alerting to the approach of enemy forces, incoming fire, and hidden booby traps & mines.

ChipsThe most famous MWD of WWII was “Chips”, a German Shepherd assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division in Italy. Trained as a sentry dog, Chips broke away from his handler and attacked an enemy machine gun nest. Wounded in the process, his singed fur demonstrated the point-blank fire with which the enemy fought back.  To no avail.  Chips single-handedly forced the surrender of the entire gun crew.

Chips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart, the honors later revoked due to an Army policy against the commendation of animals. It makes me wonder if the author of such a policy ever saw service beyond his own desk.

Of the 549 dogs who returned from service in WWII, all but four were able to return to civilian life.

Over 500 dogs died on the battlefields of Vietnam, of injuries, illnesses, and combat wounds. 10,000 servicemen served as dog handlers during the war, with an estimated 4,000 Military Working Dogs.  261 handlers paid the ultimate price.  K9 units are estimated to have saved over 10,000 human lives.

War dog memorial Univ. Tenn.
War dog memorial, University of Tennessee

It’s only a guess, but, having an MWD handler in the family, I believe I’m right:  hell would freeze before any handler walked away from his dog. The military bureaucracy, is another matter. The vast majority of MWDs were left behind during the Vietnam era. Only about 200 dogs survived the war to be assigned to other bases. The remaining dogs were either euthanized or left behind as “surplus equipment”.

In 2011, a Belgian Malinois named “Cairo” accompanied the Navy SEAL “Neptune Spear” operation that took out Osama bin Laden.

Today there are about 2,500 dogs in active service.  Approximately 700 deployed overseas. The American Humane Association estimates that each MWD saves an average 150-200 human lives over the course of its career.

Nate & Zino
Nate & Zino

NPR’s “Here & Now” broadcast an excellent segment out of their Boston affiliate WBUR in 2014, when our son-in-law Nate was reunited with “Zino”, the Tactical Explosives Detection Dog (TEDD) with whom he served in Afghanistan.

Their story ends well, but that isn’t always the case. Many have been left behind, no longer qualified to travel on military transport after being “retired” on foreign soil.

In 2015, Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced language in their respective bodies, mandating that MWDs be returned to American soil upon retirement, and that their handlers and/or handlers’ families be given first right of adoption.

LoBiondo’s & McCaskill’s language became law on November 25, when the President signed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It’s a small step in recognizing what we owe to those who have stepped up in defense of our nation, both two legged and four.

Boston’s NPR Station WBUR broadcast a segment on Nate & Zino’s reunion, if you’re interested in listening to it.  It’s a great story.

 http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/03/21/soldier-dog-reunion 

February 14, 269 Valentine’s Day

Legend has it that Valentinus befriended his jailers’ daughter, at one point miraculously restoring the blind girl’s sight. He is said to have penned a farewell note to her shortly before his execution, signing it “From Your Valentine.”

In 269, Roman Emperor Claudius II Gothicus was having trouble recruiting for his legions. To many he was “Claudius the Cruel” which may have had something to do with his problem, but that’s not how he saw it.claudius-gothicus

That Roman men were refusing to join his legions could only mean that they were too devoted to their wives and families, Claudius’ solution was to ban engagements and marriages.

Valentinus was a Roman priest at this time.  He wanted no part of such a silly decree. Valentinus continued to carry out marriages in secret until it was discovered, when he was dragged before the Prefect to answer for his crimes.

This Emperor of barbarian birth came to like his prisoner, for whom things could have gone much better, but for one critical mistake. Valentinus tried to convert the pagan Emperor to Christianity.

owe-marriage-to-saint-valentineHe was condemned to be beaten to death with clubs and beheaded, the sentence carried out on February 14, 269.

Legend has it that Valentinus befriended his jailers’ daughter, at one point miraculously restoring the blind girl’s sight. He is said to have penned a farewell note to her shortly before his execution, signing it “From Your Valentine.”

2,000-year-old history is necessarily clouded by legend, and there are different versions of this tale.  It’s possible that the Valentinus story never happened at all. Little or no evidence exists suggesting romantic celebrations on February 14, until Geoffrey Chaucer’s 1375 “Parliament of Foules,” in which the poet describes February 14 as a day when birds come together to find a mate: “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day, Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate”.

Yet, there is concrete archaeological proof that Valentinus lived, and Pope Gelasius decreed February 14th to be a celebration to honor his martyrdom, in 496.
The date is also significant of the pagan festival of Lupercalia, carried out from February lupercalia-large13-15 in honor of the goddess Februata Juno. Greek historian Plutarch described the occasion as follows: “Lupercalia, [when] many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.”

There are, in fact, about a dozen St. Valentines, the most recently beatified being St. Valentine Berrio-Ochoa, a Dominican friar who served as bishop of Vietnam until his beheading in 1861. There was even a Pope Valentine, who served about 40 days, sometime around 827AD.

So, take your pick. With all those St. Valentines, you can celebrate St. Valentine of Viterbost-valentine-the-legend on November 3, or maybe you’d like to get a head start with St. Valentine of Raetia on January 7. Maybe you’d prefer the only female St. Valentine (Valentina), a virgin martyred in Palestine on July 25, A.D. 308.

The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates St. Valentine twice, first as a church elder on July 6, and again as a martyr on the 30th. That would suit the greeting card companies, but don’t tell them. Once a year is more than enough for some of us to remember.

January 22, 2000 A Hole in the Head

To prove the point, to his own satisfaction if to no one else, Hughes drilled a hole in his own skull on January 6, 1965, using a Black & Decker electric drill

It’s called “Trepanation”, possibly the oldest surgical procedure for which we have archaeological evidence. Trepanation involves drilling or scraping a hole into the human ancient-peruvian-trepanationhead, and seems to have begun sometime in the Neolithic, or “New Stone Age” period. One archaeological dig in France uncovered 120 skulls, 40 of which showed signs of trepanning. Another such skull was recovered from a 5th millennium BC dig in Azerbaijan.  A number of 2nd millennium BC specimens have been unearthed in pre-Colombian Mesoamerica; the area now occupied by the central Mexican highlands through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica.

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Bronze age skull

Hippocrates, the Father of Western Medicine, described the procedure in detail in his treatise “On Injuries of the Head,” written sometime around 400BC. The Roman physician Galen of Pergamon expanded on the procedure some 500 years later. Archaeologists discovered 12½%, of all the skulls in pre-Christian era Magyar (Hungarian) graveyards, to have been trepanned.

The procedure has obvious applications in the treatment of head trauma, though it has been used to treat everything from seizures to migraines to mental disorders. During medieval times, the procedure was used to liberate demons from the heads of the possessed and to cure an assortment of ailments from meningitis to epilepsy.

trepan-posterTrepanation took on airs of pseudo-science, many would say “quackery”, when the Dutch librarian Hugo Bart Huges (Hughes) published “The Mechanism of Brainbloodvolume (‘BBV’)” in 1964. In it, Hughes contends that our brains drained of blood and cerebrospinal fluid when mankind began to walk upright, and that trepanation allows the blood to better flow in and out of the brain, causing a permanent “high”.

To prove the point, to his own satisfaction if to no one else, Hughes drilled a hole in his own skull on January 6, 1965, using a Black & Decker electric drill. He must have thought it proved the point, because he expanded on his theory with “Trepanation: A Cure for Psychosis”, as well as an autobiography, “The Book with the Hole”, published in 1972.

Peter Halvorson, a Hughes follower and director of the International Trepanation Advocacy Group (ITAG), would disagree with that quackery comment. Halvorson trepanned himself with an electric drill in 1972. Today, he explains on his ITAG website (www.trepan.com) that “The hypothesis here at ITAG has been that making an opening in the skull favorably alters movement of blood through the brain and improves brain functions which are more important than ever before in history to adapt to an ever more rapidly changing world”.with-a-drill

On January 22, 2000, Peter Halvorson and Williams Lyons helped drill a hole in a woman’s head for producers of the ABC News program “20/20.” This was in Beryl, Utah, and the television program which ensued, airing on February 10, resulted in criminal charges and arrest warrants for the two men. At the time, the Iron County DA was also considering charges against ABC News reporter Chris Cuomo for aiding in the crime. There is precedent in Utah for such a charge against a reporter. In 1999, KTVX reporter Mary Sawyers (allegedly) provoked a group of Carbon County High School students into using tobacco products for a story on youths and tobacco. Sawyers later stood trial for contributing to the delinquency of a minor in Utah’s 7th District Court of Appeals.

St. Louis neurologist Dr. William Landau wasn’t impressed with Hughes’ brainbloodvolume theory, explaining that “There is no scientific basis for this at all. It’s quackery.” Dr. Robert B. Daroff, Professor of Neurology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, was a little more to the point. “Horseshit,” he said. “Absolute, unequivocal bullshit”.