July 10, 1040 Death and Taxes

Tax revolts are nothing new.  Neither are the many and sometimes novel ways that politicians have concocted to fleece those of us who pay their bills.

In the age of Edward the Confessor somewhere in the English midlands, there lay the Kingdom of Mercia. It was 1040 or thereabouts and Leofric, Earl of Mercia, had a problem. Leofric was the kind of ruler who never saw a tax he didn’t like, his latest the “Heregeld”, a tax to pay for the King’s bodyguard.  The Earl’s wife  Godgyfu had other ideas, her name in the Olde English, signifying “Gift of God”.  Today, we call her “Godiva”.

Take pity on the people of Coventry, Godiva said, they are suffering under all this oppressive taxation.

Lady Godiva

A guy can only take so much, even if he IS an Earl. Tired of his wife’s entreaties, Leofric agreed to repeal the tax on one condition; that Godiva ride a horse through the streets of town, dressed only in her birthday suit.  Lady Godiva took him at his word.  She issued a proclamation requiring all townspeople to stay indoors and shut their windows, so it was she took her famous ride through Coventry.

The story probably isn’t true, any more than the one about Tom, the guy who drilled a hole in his door so he could watch and lost his sight at what he saw.  But a thousand years later, we still use the term “Peeping Tom”.

Tax revolts are nothing new.  Neither are the many and sometimes novel ways that politicians have concocted to fleece those of us who pay their bills.

isOn December 31, 1695, King William III decreed a 2 shilling tax on each house in the land. Never one to miss an opportunity to “stick-it-to-the-rich”, there was an extra tax on every window over ten, a tax which would last for another 156 years.

It must have been a money maker, because the governments of France, Spain and Scotland followed suit. To this day, you can see homes where owners have bricked up windows, preferring darkness to the payment of yet another tax.

singelIn Holland, they used to tax the frontage of a home, the wider your house the more you paid. If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, narrow houses rise several stories, with hooks over windows almost as wide as the building itself. These are used to haul furniture up from the outside, since the stairways are too narrow. The narrowest home in Amsterdam can be found at Singel #7, the house itself barely wider than its own front door.

You can find the same thing in the poorer quarters of New Orleans, where the “shotgun single”, a home so narrow you can fire a shotgun in the front door and pellets will go out the back, and the “Camelback” (second story out back) are the architectural remnants of long-dead taxation policy.

Charles_Marville,_Urinoir_en_ardoise_à_3_stalles,_Chaussée_du_Maine,_ca._1865The Roman Emperor Vespasian who ruled from 69 to 79AD, levied a tax on public toilets. When Vespasian’s son, the future Emperor Titus wrinkled his nose, the old man held a coin under the boy’s nose. “Pecunia non olet”, he said.  “Money does not stink”.  2,000 years later, the name remains inseparable from public urinals. In France, the er…pissoir… is called vespasiennes, in Italy vespasiani.  If you need to piss in Romania you could go to the vespasiene.  History fails to record the inevitable push-back on Vespasian’s toilet tax, but I’m sure that ancient Romans had to look where they walked.

benfranklinEnvironmentalist types in Venice, Italy have been pushing a tax on tourism, claiming the city’s facing “an irreversible environmental catastrophe as the subsequent increase in water transport has caused the level of the lagoon bed to drop over time”. Deputy mayor Sandro Simionato said that “This tax is a new and important opportunity for the city,” explaining that it will “help finance tourism”, among other things. So, the problem borne of too much tourism is going to be fixed by a tax to help finance tourism.  I think. Or maybe it’s all just another money grab.

cig-tax-revenueAs of December 2015, state and territory tax rates on cigarettes ranged from 17¢ per pack in Missouri to $4.35 in New York, on top of federal, local, county, municipal and local Boy Scout council taxes (kidding).  Philip Morris reports that taxes run 56.6% on average, per pack. Not surprisingly, tax rates make a vast difference in where and how people buy cigarettes.  There is a tiny Indian reservation on Long Island, measuring a few miles square and home to a few hundred people. Tax rates are close to zero there, on a pack of butts.  Until recent changes in tax law, the tiny reservation was selling 100 million cartons per year.

If all those taxes are supposed to encourage people to quit smoking, I wonder what income taxes are supposed to do?

131228122048-exp-why-icebreakers-get-stuck-00001601-story-topBack in 2013, EU politicians were discussing a way of taxing livestock flatulence, as a means of curbing “Global Warming”.  At that time there was an Australian ice breaker, making its way to Antarctica to free the Chinese ice breaker that got stuck in the ice trying to free the Russian ship full of environmentalist types.  They were all there to view the effects of “Global Warming”, until they got stuck in the ice.

Honest.  I wouldn’t kid you about a thing like that.

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June 16, 1980 The Blues Brothers

Dan Ackroyd tells a story about long days of rehearsals on the SNL set. An exhausted John Belushi would wander off and let himself into the house of a friend or a stranger, scrounging around for food before falling asleep in the house, unable to be found for the next day’s work. These outings were the inspiration for the SNL horror-spoof sketch “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave”.

Dan Aykroyd developed his musical talents during the late fifties and early sixties at an Ottowa club called Le Hibou, (French for ‘the owl’).  “I actually jammed behind Muddy Waters”, he once said.  “S. P. Leary left the drum kit one night, and Muddy said ‘anybody out there play drums?  I don’t have a drummer.’ And I walked on stage and we started, I don’t know, Little Red Rooster, something. He said ‘keep that beat going, you make Muddy feel good.’

Eric Idle of Monty Python once guest hosted, for Saturday Night Live.  Idle paid the greatest tribute to Aykroyd’s comedic talent, saying he was “the only member of the SNL cast capable of being a Python”.

John Belushi joined The Second City comedy troupe in 1971, playing off-Broadway in “National Lampoon’s Lemmings”. He played The National Lampoon Radio Hour from 1973 to 1975, a half-hour comedy program syndicated on over 600 stations.

Belushi appeared from 1973 to 1975 on The National Lampoon Radio Hour, along with future SNL regulars Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. A number of their radio segments went on to become SNL sketches in the show’s first couple seasons.SNL-original-castDan Ackroyd tells a story about long days of rehearsals on the SNL set. An exhausted John Belushi would wander off and let himself into the house of a friend or a stranger, scrounging around for food before falling asleep in the house, unable to be found for the next day’s work. These outings were the inspiration for the SNL horror-spoof sketch “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave”.

Lead vocalist “Joliet Jake” Blues (John Belushi) and harmonica player/backing vocalist Elwood Blues (Dan Aykroyd) had their musical debut on January 17, 1976 in a comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live. “The Blues Brothers” appeared twice more on SNL sketches, both in 1978, before releasing their first album that same year: Briefcase Full of Blues.the-blues-brothers-57e6837c76b1dThe Blues Brothers film premiered in Chicago on this day in 1980, four days before general release. Set in the windy city and sprawling across the Midwest, the musical/comedy film tells the story of a paroled convict and his brother, and their mission to save the Catholic orphanage in which they were raised from foreclosure. The Blues Brothers’ “Mission from God” needs to raise $5,000 to pay the orphanage’s property tax bill. To do so, the pair sets out to reignite their old R&B band, pursued by the police and wrecking 103 cars along the way, a world record for that time.

While filming one of the night scenes, Belushi disappeared and couldn’t be found. Looking around, Dan Ackroyd found a single house with the lights on and knocked on the door. Before he could ask, the homeowner smiled and said “You’re here for John Belushi, aren’t you?” The man told his visitor that Belushi had entered the house, asked if he could have a glass of milk and a sandwich, and crashed on their couch.

To some, John Belushi may have been a real-life Thing that Wouldn’t Leave. To Dan Ackroyd, the man would always be “America’s Guest”.

John Belushi died in his hotel room on March 5, 1982 of a “Speedball”, a combined injection of heroin and cocaine. The cause of death was originally ruled accidental overdose, but Catherine Evelyn Smith was extradited and tried on first degree murder charges after her National Enquirer interview, in which she admitted giving Belushi the shot. A plea bargain reduced the charge to involuntary manslaughter.  She served fifteen months in prison.

Belushi’s wife Judith arranged for a traditional Orthodox Christian funeral in which he was interred, twice. The first was in Abel’s Hill Cemetery in the Chilmark section of Martha’s Vineyard.  A classic New England slate tombstone complete with skull and crossbones, marks the location. The inscription reads, “I may be gone but Rock and Roll lives on.”belushi-funeral-service“Fans” repeatedly felt the need to desecrate the grave.  The body was removed at Mrs. Belushi’s request and reburied in an undisclosed location.  An unmarked tombstone in an undisclosed location marks the final burial location, where the man can at last rest in peace.

John Belushi is remembered on the family marker at his mother’s grave at Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois. The stone reads, “HE GAVE US LAUGHTER”.

June 15, 1864 A Living Memorial

This is no lifeless “garden of stone”.  The final resting place for over 400,000 honored dead is itself a living memorial, combining tens of thousands of native and exotic plants in a unique blending of landscapes, combined with formal and informal gardens.

As the Civil War ground on to a fourth dreadful year, the church yards and burial plots of the formerly United states strained under the weight of carnage, produced by the cataclysm of war.

The 37th Congress declared the former home of Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee and Robert Edward Lee forfeit for non-payment of tax, the Mansion on the hill and surrounding grounds auctioned to the Federal government.  P1010272_0003_003One day, the United States Supreme Court would rule the act an unlawful taking and compensate Lee family descendants, but that must be a story for another day. As 1863 drew to a close, the property was destined to become the nation’s most hallowed ground and known to posterity, as Arlington National Cemetery.

The first military interment on the Custis-Lee property was that of Private William Henry Christman of the 67th Pennsylvania Infantry, laid to rest on May 13, 1864.  On June 15, the War Department officially set aside 200 acres, for use as a cemetery.

CathyAnd yet, this is no lifeless “garden of stone”.  The final resting place for over 400,000 honored dead is itself a living memorial, combining tens of thousands of native and exotic plants in a unique blending of landscapes, combined with formal and informal gardens.

Every week, 80 to 100 military service members, veterans and their loved ones go to their final rest in Arlington National Cemetery.  Not one of them goes alone. Since 1948, a volunteer with the “Arlington Ladies” attends each and every one of them, 365 days a year, seven days a week.

Thousands of native and exotic trees representing 325 varieties and species fill the landscape with color.  The first and last impression of the visitor is that of beauty, and a sense of peace.

Birdseyeviewofcemetery_0Three of these trees are Virginia state champions and one is state co-champion, including the Royal Paulownia, (Paulownia tomentosa) at the top of this page.  State champion trees are those having the greatest height, crown spread and trunk circumference, for their species.

Take a single species of tree, for instance, the eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), of which 165 specimens live at Arlington. Each tree stands 10′ to 30′ tall, with pink and purple flowers emerging directly from bark and branches in early April. Five-inch wide, heart shaped leaves emerge later in the spring. At first a glossy purple, by summer they have turned to green and pods have begun to grow.  Like pea pods, they grow green to reddish during the early months, later turning to black before falling off. In late winter, there is no more striking contrast with a fresh fall of snow.eastern-redbud-spring-pink-mark-vandykeThe cemetery also has 24 Chinese Redbuds, a strain native to central China. These are only two of Arlington’s hundreds of varieties of flowering trees.

Some 8500 trees dot the 624 acres of Arlington 140 of which, are memorial trees.  Nearly 200 are removed every year and another 240, planted.  Every tree in the place will be pruned at least once, every four years.

Bring your walking shoes, and you’ll have to leave your pooch, behind.  In 2013, cemetery authorities permitted bicycles on a specified route between 8:00 a.m. and 6:45 p.m., from April 1 to September 30.  Today, be prepared to walk. Effective October 26, 2016, policy prohibits bicycles on Cemetery grounds, without a family pass.  “As there are no bike paths on the cemetery grounds, mixing cyclists with pedestrians and vehicles creates a safety hazard”.WeepingHiganCherryThe Cemetery’s horticulture division recently installed 297 tree labels, identifying many of the cemetery’s noteworthy specimens. Thirty-six of them form a right angle along Farragut & Wilson Drive, lending a sense of history as each is a direct descendant of a famous ancestor, each a living memorial to recipients of the Medal of Honor.

Picture2Ancestors of these “tree descendants” include the Cottonwood of Delta Colorado, which shaded the peace meetings between settlers and Ute tribes in 1879. The Sweetgum of the Westmoreland, Virginia home of four generations of the Lee family, including Richard Henry and Francis “Lightfoot” Lee.  The only brothers to have signed the Declaration of Independence. The great Charter Oak of Connecticut is represented there, a specimen sprouted sometime in the 12th or 13th century. There is the American Sycamore descended from a “witness tree” at Gettysburg. There is the Red Maple from Walden Woods, outside of Boston, and the Sycamore Maple, witness to George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware.

Other tree ancestors include the Water Oak next to the Brown Chapel African Methodist Church in Selma, where Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “We Shall Overcome” speech, before setting out on the 50-mile march to Montgomery.  The George Washington American Holly was grown from seeds gathered at Mount Vernon. Helen Keller climbed the 100-year-old Water Oak, as a child.  The Overcup Oak descends from a tree which shaded the birthplace of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

The River Birch near the amphitheater and dedicated May 8, 1932, stands in silent tribute to the nameless mother of the unknown soldier.

For years, the 624-acre grounds at Arlington have been a living memorial.  Some of the most beautiful gardens you are ever going to see, the work is performed by a full-time staff of three Master Gardeners and a small army of contractors. In 2013, Arlington received official accreditation as a level II arboretum by the Morton Register of Arboreta.

A living memorial taking its place on the nation’s most comprehensive list of arboreta and public gardens and designated the Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Arboretum.

This story is dedicated to Norman Franklin Long, whose service in the “War to End All Wars” earned him eternal rest in our nation’s most hallowed ground.   A man who left us the night my brother and his namesake, was born.  A man for whom I will always be that little boy, fishing by his side.   Sleep sweet, Grampa.norman-franklin-long

 

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 27, 1940 The Miracle of Dunkirk

The first full day of the evacuation was May 27,  7,669 were evacuated.  By day 9 a total of 338,226 soldiers had been rescued from the beach.  The “Miracle of Dunkirk” would remain the largest such waterborne evacuation in history, until the Great boat lift of September 11, 2001.

The Nazi conquest of Europe began with the Sudetenland in 1938, the border districts of Bohemia, Moravia, and German speaking parts of Czechoslovakia. Within two years, every major power on the European mainland was either neutral, or under Nazi occupation.

The island nation of Great Britain alone escaped occupation, but its armed forces were shattered and defenseless in the face of the German war machine.dunkirk evacuationIn May of 1940 the British Expeditionary Force and what remained of French forces occupied a sliver of land along the English Channel. Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt called a halt of the German armored advance on May 24, while Hermann Göring urged Hitler to stop the ground assault, let the Luftwaffe finish the destruction of Allied forces. On the other side of the channel, Admiralty officials combed every boatyard they could find for boats to ferry their people off of the beach.

Hitler ordered his Panzer groups to resume their advance on May 26, while a National Day of Prayer was declared at Westminster Abbey. That night Winston Churchill ordered “Operation Dynamo”. One of the most miraculous evacuations in military history had begun from the beaches of Dunkirk.dunkirk-evacuation.-1-june-1940-troop-positions.-operation-dynamo.-hmso-1953-map-[2]-272563-pThe battered remnants of the French 1st Army fought a desperate delaying action against the advancing Germans. They were 40,000 men against seven full divisions, 3 of them armored. They held out until May 31 when, having run out of food and ammunition, the last 35,000 finally surrendered. Meanwhile, a hastily assembled fleet of 933 vessels large and small began to withdraw the broken army from the beaches.

Larger ships were boarded from piers, while thousands waded into the surf and waited in shoulder deep water for smaller vessels. They came from everywhere: merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure craft, lifeboats and tugs. The smallest among them was the 14’7″ fishing boat “Tamzine”, now in the Imperial War Museum.Dunkirk EvacuationA thousand copies of navigational charts helped organize shipping in and out of Dunkirk, as buoys were laid around Goodwin Sands to prevent stranding. Abandoned vehicles were driven into the water at low tide, weighted down with sand bags and connected by wooden planks, forming makeshift jetties.

The first full day of the evacuation was May 27,  7,669 were evacuated.  By day 9 a total of 338,226 soldiers had been rescued from the beach.  The “Miracle of Dunkirk” would remain the largest such waterborne evacuation in history, until the Great boat lift of September 11, 2001.dunkirk1It all came to an end on June 4. Most of the light equipment and virtually all the heavy stuff had to be left behind, just to get what remained of the allied armies out alive. But now, with the United States still the better part of a year away from entering the war, the allies had a fighting force that would live to fight on. Winston Churchill delivered a speech that night to the House of Commons, calling the events in France “a colossal military disaster”. “[T]he whole root and core and brain of the British Army”, he said, had been stranded at Dunkirk and seemed about to perish or be captured. In his “We shall fight on the beaches” speech of June 4, Churchill hailed the rescue as a “miracle of deliverance”.dunkirk_marqueeOn the home front, thousands of volunteers signed up for a “stay behind” mission in the weeks that followed. With “Operation Sea Lion” all but imminent, the German invasion of Great Britain, their mission was to go underground and to disrupt and destabilize the invaders in any way they could. They were to be part of the Home guard, a guerrilla force reportedly vetted by a senior Police Chief so secret, that he was to be assassinated in case of invasion to prevent membership in the units from being revealed.

Participants of these auxiliaries were not allowed to tell their families, what they were doing or where they were. Bob Millard, who passed in 2014 at the age of 91, said they were given 3 weeks’ rations, and that many were issued suicide pills in case of capture.  Some 400-500 elaborately concealed underground “operational bases” are believed to have been built, from which Home Guard units were to carry out the arts of guerrilla warfare including unarmed combat, demolition, sabotage and even assassination.

Left, Operational base, reconstruction at Parham Airfield Museum. Right, Auxiliary Units, Operational Base, emergency exit. H/T Wikipedia

Even Josephine, Millard’s wife of 67 years, didn’t know a thing about it until the auxiliaries’ reunion in 1994. “You just didn’t talk about it, really”, he said. “As far as my family were aware I was still in the Home Guard. It was all very hush hush. After the war, it was water under the bridge”.

The word “Cenotaph” literally translates as “Empty Tomb”, in Greek. Every year since 1919 and always taking place on the Sunday closest to the 11th day of the 11th month, the Cenotaph at Whitehall is the site of a remembrance service, commemorating British and Commonwealth servicemen and women who died in 20th century conflicts. Since WWII, the march on the Cenotaph includes members of the Home Guard and the “Bevin Boys”, the 18-25 year old males conscripted to serve in England’s coal mines. In 2013, the last surviving auxiliers joined their colleagues, proudly marching past the Cenotaph for the very first time.

2E3BB40600000578-3308996-image-a-222_1446983695741Historians from the Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team (CART) had been trying to do this for years.

CART founder Tom Sykes said: “After over 70 years of silence, the veterans of the Auxiliary Units and Special Duties Section, now more than ever, deserve to get the official recognition that has for so long been lacking. ‘They were, in this country’s hour of need, willing to give up everything, families, friends and ultimately their lives in order to give us a fighting chance of surviving”.

May 26, 1941 Avenging Brother

On this day in 1941, Sergeant Clive Hulme learned of the death of his brother Harold, also fighting in the battle for Crete.  The life expectancy for German snipers was about to become noticeably shorter. 

Throughout the history of armed conflict, men who have endured combat together have formed a special bond.  Prior to the David vs. Goliath battle at Agincourt, Henry V spoke of “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers“.   The men who fought the “War to end all wars” spoke not of God and Country, but of the man to his left and right.  What then does it look like, when the man you’re fighting for is literally your own brother?

Hellenic forces enjoyed early success when fascist Italy invaded Greece on October 28, 1940, the Greek army driving the intruder into neighboring Albania in the first Allied land victory of the second World War.

Until the intervention of Nazi Germany and her Bulgarian ally.

german-invasion-greece-april-1941-008
German occupation of Greece

British commonwealth troops moved from Libya on orders from Winston Churchill proved too little, too late. The Greek capital at Athens fell on April, 27. Greece suffered axis occupation for the rest of the war, with devastating results. Some 80% of Greek industry was destroyed along with 90 percent of ports, roads, bridges and other infrastructure. 40,000 civilians died of starvation, in Athens alone. Tens of thousands more died in Nazi reprisals, or at the hands of Nazi collaborators.

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Airborne invasion of Crete

Fearful of losing the strategically important island of Crete, Prime minister Winston Churchill sent a telegram to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff General Sir John Dill: “To lose Crete because we had not sufficient bulk of forces there would be a crime.”

By the end of April, the Royal Navy evacuated 57,000 troops to Crete, largest of the islands comprising the modern Greek state.   They’d been sent to bolster the Cretan garrison until the arrival of fresh forces, but this was a spent force.  Most had lost heavy equipment in the hasty evacuation.  Many were unarmed, altogether.

German_troops_board_a_Junkers_52_for_Crete
German mountain troops board a Junkers Ju 52 for Crete, 20 May 1941, H/T Wikipedia

Occupied at this time with operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s surprise invasion of his erstwhile Soviet ally, German Army command had little desire to go after Crete.   Eager to redeem themselves following the failure to destroy an all-but prostrate adversary during the Battle of Britain, Luftwaffe High Command was a different story.

Hitler recognized the strategic importance of Crete, both to the air war in the eastern Mediterranean and for the protection of the Axis southern flank.

By the time of the German invasion, Allied forces were reduced to 42,000 on Crete of which only 15,000, were combat ready.  New Zealand Army Major-General Bernard Freyberg in command of these troops, requested evacuation of 10,000 who had “little or no employment other than getting into trouble with the civil population“.

Once again it was too little, to late.  The first mainly airborne invasion in military history and the only such German operation of WW2 began on May 20, 1941.

The Luftwaffe sent 280 long-range bombers, 150 dive-bombers, 180 fighters and 40 reconnaissance aircraft into the attack, along with 530 transport aircraft and 100 gliders.

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Sgt. Clive Hulme

The allied garrison was soon outnumbered and fighting for their lives.  Recognizing that the battle was lost, leadership in London instructed Freyberg to abandon the island, on May 27.

The “Victoria Cross” is the highest accolade in the British system of military honors, equivalent to the American Medal of Honor.  Sergeant Clive Hulme of the New Zealand 2nd Division was part of that fighting withdrawal.  He was 30 years old at the time of the battle for Crete where his actions, earned him the Victoria Cross.  Let Sergeant Hulme’s citation, tell his story:

“On ground overlooking Malene Aerodrome on 20th and 21st May [Sergeant Hulme] personally led parties of his men from the area held by the forward position and destroyed enemy organised parties who had established themselves out in front of our position, from which they brought heavy rifle, machine-gun and mortar fire to bear on our defensive posts. Numerous snipers in the area were dealt with by Serjeant Hulme personally; 130 dead were counted here. On 22nd, 23rd and 24th May, Serjeant Hulme was continuously going out alone or with one or two men and destroying enemy snipers. On 25th May, when Serjeant Hulme had rejoined his Battalion, this unit counter-attacked Galatas Village. The attack was partially held up by a large party of the enemy holding the school, from which they were inflicting heavy casualties on our troops. Serjeant Hulme went forward alone, threw grenades into the school and so disorganised the defence, that the counter-attack was able to proceed successfully.”

On this day in 1941, Sergeant Clive Hulme learned of the death of his brother Harold, also fighting in the battle for Crete.  The life expectancy for German snipers was about to become noticeably shorter.  Again, from Hulme’s VC citation:

On Tuesday, 27th May, when our troops were holding a defensive line in Suda Bay during the final retirement, five enemy snipers had worked into position on the hillside overlooking the flank of the Battalion line. Serjeant Hulme volunteered to deal with the situation, and stalked and killed the snipers in turn. He continued similar work successfully through the day.  On 28th May at Stylos, when an enemy heavy mortar was severely bombing a very important ridge held by the Battalion rearguard troops, inflicting severe casualties, Serjeant Hulme, on his own initiative, penetrated the enemy lines, killed the mortar crew of four…From the enemy mortar position he then worked to the left flank and killed three snipers who were causing concern to the rearguard. This made his score of enemy snipers 33 stalked and shot.  Shortly afterwards Serjeant Hulme was severely wounded in the shoulder while stalking another sniper. When ordered to the rear, in spite of his wound, he directed traffic under fire and organised stragglers of various units into section groups.”

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Clive Hulme’s medals

The man took out 33 German snipers by himself in 8 days and still assisted in the withdrawal, after being shot badly enough to put him out for the rest of the war.

Some guys are not to be trifled with.

 

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 24, 1973 The Real-Life “Dexter”

To search on the term “Serial killers with the highest known victim count” is to be rewarded with the knowledge that the top 32 serial killers of the modern era, are responsible for a proven list of 1,661 victims and a possible count, several times that number. 

On October 1, 2006, the premium television network Showtime broadcast the premier episode of the crime mystery drama, Dexter.  Set in Miami, the series tells the story of Dexter Morgan played by actor Michael C. Hall.  Hall’s character is a forensic technician, working for the fictional Miami Metro Police Department and specializing in crime scene analysis based on splatter patterns.  Splatter patterns of blood and tissue.

In his off-hours, Dexter’s an avenging angel.  A serial killer, who preys on other serial killers.  Dexter’s after the bad guys, murderers who for one reason or the other, slipped through the system.  The program ran for nearly five years.  The series finale broadcast on September 22, 2013 drew the largest audience in Showtime history.b28117ea-41bc-47fe-93ef-f82a1f31717bTo search on the term “Serial killers with the highest known victim count” is to be rewarded with the knowledge that the top 32 serial killers of the modern era, are responsible for a proven list of 1,661 victims and a probable count, several times that number.

Digging down on the list reveals a depressing similarity between the thirty men and two women on the roster.  Victims are overwhelmingly represented among the weaker members of society, the women, and children, and the elderly.  Mostly, but not entirely so.  Number 6 on the list is the Brazilian serial killer Pedro Rodrigues Filho, as close to a real-life Dexter as you’re likely to get.

Known as “Pedrinho Matador” (Killer Petey), Filho came out of the womb with head injuries, the result of a savage beating his mother received, at the hands of his father.RodriguesFilho says he first wanted to kill at age 13, when he tried to push an older cousin into a sugar cane press.  His first victim came a year later.  Filho murdered the deputy mayor of Santa Rita do Sapucaí with a shotgun in front of city hall, for firing his father from the school where he worked as security guard.  It was claimed the elder Filho, was stealing food.  Pedro then killed the guard whom he believed to be the real thief.

He fled to Mogi das Cruzes, São Paulo where he took up robbing and killing, among the members of local drug gangs. There he met and fell in love with one Maria Aparecida Olympia. The couple lived together until Maria, herself pregnant with his child, was murdered by drug gangs. Filho went on a tear after that, torturing and killing gang members in the effort to find her killer.

In the end, the gang leader responsible was betrayed by his ex-wife.  Pedro paid the man a visit, during a wedding party.  When it was over there were seven dead and sixteen wounded.

By this time, Pedro‘s father was in prison for the machete-murder of his wife, Pedro’s mother. Visiting his father in prison, he stabbed the man 22 times before cutting his heart out and eating a piece, before tossing the thing away.

Killer Petey was arrested for the first time on this day in 1973.  Handcuffed and thrown in the back with an accused rapist, the other man was dead before the squad car reached the station.

Filho was sentenced to 128 years for his crimes.

The brutality within Brazilian prisons is shocking even by the standards of hardened criminals.  They are overcrowded hellholes ruled over by gangs and drug dealers where gruesome murders are a daily occurrence.  Inmates are often given keys to their own cells, so terrified are their jailers, of entering those dark and filthy hallways.  Video may be found of inmates playing “football” with decapitated heads.  Gang fights are vicious and deadly and yet even here, Pedrinho Matador racked up his greatest body count. pedro-rodrigues-filhoHe was once attacked by five gang members before killing three by himself and chasing off, the other two.  Brazilian law dictates a maximum of 30 years.  By the time he got out the Brazilian Dexter had killed another 47.

After spending most of his adult life in prison, Filho describes himself as a changed man.  Pedrinho Matador is proven to have killed 71 and claims 100+, all of whom are themselves murderers, rapists or those who he felt, did him wrong.  He converted to Christianity in 2018 and now has a YouTube channel where he warns troubled youth, of the dangers of a life of crime.Killer Petey

May 23, 1928 Wreck of the Airship Italia

The little fox terrier Titina would accompany Captain Nobile on his every mission. This time she resisted, with everything a little dog could muster.  Maybe it was a premonition, and maybe not.  For the first time Nobile ignored the little dog’s behavior and picked her up, to bring her on board.

The semi-rigid airship Italia departed from Milan on April 15, 1928, headed for the Arctic.  Italia carried some 17,000 pounds of fuel and supplies, a crew of 13, two journalists, three scientists and an expedition mascot.

A favorite of the rising Fascist party in Italy, Captain Umberto Nobile was never far from his beloved dog, a little Fox Terrier he called Titina.

Before each mission, Nobile would pay close attention to the mood and demeanor of the terrier.  Some said even more so, than to that of his men.

Titina would accompany Nobile on his every mission but this time she resisted, with everything a little dog could muster.  Maybe it was a premonition, and maybe not.  For the first time Nobile ignored the little dog’s behavior and picked her up, to bring her on board.ItaliaTwo years earlier, the Norge (“NOR-gay”) had demonstrated that such an airship, could reach the north pole.  This time they were coming back, for further exploration.

italia mapThe first of five planned sorties began on May 11, before turning back only eight hours later in near-blizzard conditions.  The second trip took place in virtually perfect weather conditions with unlimited visibility.  The craft covered 4,000 km (2,500 miles), setting the stage for the third and final trip.

At 04:28 on May 23, 1928, the airship Italia departed on her final voyage.

Strong tailwinds aided the passage as Italia traveled north along the Greenland coast, arriving at the north pole only 19 hours after departing Spitzbergen.

Though wind conditions prevented scientists from descending onto the ice sheet, the midnight arrival was itself, a victory.  Nobile dropped an Italian flag at the pole and a cross, personally given him by the Pope.  Jubilant radio messages were sent as the triumphant crew polished off a bottle of cognac, in celebration.

Trouble began almost immediately, as the tailwinds that brought them to the pole were now strong headwinds heading south to King’s Bay. Fuel consumption was doubled as the airship struggled to make headway.  After 24 hours, they were only halfway back.

A cascade of events took place on the morning of the 25th, causing Italia to be tail-heavy and falling at a rate of two feet per second. Captain Nobile ordered Chief technician Natale Cecion to dump ballast chain, but the steep deck angle complicated the task. Seconds later, the airship hit the jagged ice below, smashing the control cabin and spilling ten crew members and a Fox Terrier, onto the ice.

“The wide 50-meter-long red strip of aniline paint that had seeped from the spherical containers the airship’s crew used for measuring altitude resembled a bloodstained trail left by an injured beast”. – Czechoslovakian physicist, Frantisek Behounek

With a broken leg and feeling as though his intestines were damaged beyond repair, Captain Nobile thought to himself, at least he wouldn’t have to witness the prolonged death agonies, of his comrades.  Senior Cecione likewise suffered a broken leg.  Engine operator Vincenzo Pomella was already dead.

Now relieved of the gondola’s weight, the envelope of the ship began to rise with a gaping tear where the control cabin used to be.

What followed was a pure act of selfless heroism, a remarkable display of calm under the most extreme sort of pressure. As the airship italia-crashfloated away, Chief Engineer Ettore Arduino threw everything he could get his hands on, down to the men on the ice. These were supplies intended for the descent to the pole, but they were now the only thing that stood between life and death.

Arduino himself and the rest of the crew drifted away with the now helpless airship.

Ten men and a dog were stranded on the drifting ice pack.

Those who were able to  do so immediately set about, searching for supplies.  They scavenged across the ice and found a radio, and jury-rigged a mast from crash debris.  A tent was set up and dyed a bright red, using that same aniline paint.

A colt revolver was found along with a box of cartridges.  Five days later, Swedish meteorologist Finn Malmgren would use it to kill a polar bear, adding considerably to their food supplies.

The aftermath of the Italia disaster is a story in itself, a rescue unfolding over nearly two months and involving six countries, 18 vessels, 21 aircraft and 1,500 men.  Many would-be rescuers became stranded themselves or vanished into the arctic, never to be seen again.  Rescue operations were brought to a halt with seventeen dead, between Italia’s crew and her rescuers.

Roald Amundsen
Raould Amundsen

The famous polar explorer Raould Amundsen, the man who first reached the pole in 1926, disappeared on June 18 while on a rescue mission with Norwegian pilot Leif Dietrichson, French pilot René Guilbaud, and a three-man French crew.

The American woman Bess Magids, engaged to be married to Amundsen, was already on the way to Norway, for the wedding that would never take place.

Rescue expeditions were launched from Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Norway, Soviet Russia, Sweden and the United States.

Forty-nine days would come and go, before the last of the crash survivors and stranded would-be rescuers, would be found.  The red tent was relocated several times to avoid getting wet, on the shrinking ice pack

Umberto Nobile was a subject of scorn, for allowing himself to be rescued before his men.  And for bringing Titina, thus elevating the life of the dog over the lives of his men.   Titina herself was sick with scurvy when rescued from the ice and went to a dentist, to have several teeth removed.  Rumor has it that Nobile had them replaced, with gold teeth.

The fate of the journalist, the three mechanics and the scientist who drifted away on the Airship Italia remains a mystery, to this day.

May 22, 1176 Assassin

Sabbah would order the elimination of rivals, usually up close, with the dagger.  From religious figures to politicians and generals, assassinations were preferably performed in broad daylight, in as public a manner as possible. It was important that no one miss the intended message.

For the Islamic world, the 11th century was a time of political instability.  The Fatimid Caliphate, claiming to descend from Fatima, daughter of Muhammad, was established in 909.  By this time quartered in Cairo, the Ismaili Shia caliphate was in sharp decline by 1090, destined to disappear within the next 100 years, eclipsed by the Abbasid Caliphate of An-Nasir Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, better known to anyone familiar with the story of Richard Lionheart, as Saladin.sm_1c5fec69910767eb2024ea4a2f868b96To the east lay the Great Seljuk Empire, the Turko-Persian, Sunni Muslim state established in 1037 and stretching from the former Sassanid domains of modern-day Iran and Iraq to the Hindu Kush.  An “appanage” or “family federation” state, the Seljuk empire was itself in flux after a series of succession contests, destined to disappear altogether in 1194.

Into the gap stepped the “Old Man of the Mountain”, Hassan-i Sabbah, and his fanatically loyal, secret sect of “Nizari Ismaili” followers, the Assassins.1_Nq3vtxWf1nYQJt2zT4gn7wThe name derives from the Arabic “Hashashin”, meaning “those faithful to the foundation”. Marco Polo reported a story that the old man of the mountain got such fervent loyalty from his young followers, by drugging and leading them to a “paradise” of earthly delights, to which only he could bring them back. The story is probably apocryphal, there is little evidence that hashish was ever used by the Assassins’ sect. Sabbah’s followers believed him to be divine, personally selected by Allah. The man didn’t need to drug his “Fida’i” (self-sacrificing agents).  He was infallible in their eyes, his every whim to be obeyed, as the literal Word of God.

The mountain fortification of Alamut in northern Persia was probably impervious to defeat by military means, but not to the two-years long campaign of stealth and pretend friendship practiced by Sabbah and his followers. In 1090, Alamut fell in a virtually bloodless takeover, becoming the headquarters of the Nizari Ismaili state.alamut-castleWhy Sabbah would have founded such an order is unclear, if not in pursuit of his own personal and political goals. By the time of the first Crusade, 1095-1099, the Old Man of the Mountain found himself pitted against rival Muslims and invading Christian forces, alike.

Sabbah would order the elimination of rivals, usually up close, with the dagger.  From religious figures to politicians and generals, assassinations were preferably performed in broad daylight, in as public a manner as possible. It was important that no one miss the intended message.

Though the “Fida’in” occupied the lowest rank of the order, great care was devoted to their education and training. Possessed of all the physical prowess of youth, the individual Assassin was also intelligent and well-read, highly trained in combat tactics, the art of disguise and the skills of the expert horseman. All the necessary traits, for anyone who would penetrate enemy territory, insinuate himself into their ranks, and murder the unsuspecting victim who had come to trust him.ASSASSINSSometimes, a credible threat of assassination did as much an actual killing. When the new Seljuk Sultan Ahmad Sanjar rebuffed Hashashin diplomatic overtures in 1097, he awoke one morning to find a dagger stuck into the ground, next to his bed. A messenger arrived sometime later from the Old Man of the Mountain. “Did I not wish the sultan well” he said, “that the dagger which was struck in the hard ground would have been planted on your soft breast?” The tactic worked nicely. For the rest of his days, Sanjar was happy to allow the Hashashin to collect tolls from travelers in his realm. The Sultan even provided them with a pension, collected from the inhabitants of the lands they occupied.

The great Saladin himself was not safe from these people.  The Muslim military leader awoke on this day in 1176 to find a note resting on his breast, along with a poisoned cake.  The message was clear. Sultan of all Egypt and Syria though he was, Saladin made an alliance with the rebel sect. There would be no more such attempts on his life.the-crusades-22-638Conrad of Montferrat was elected King of Jerusalem in 1192, though he would never be crowned. Stabbed at least twice by a pair of Hashashin on April 28, on the way home, the Kurdish historian and biographer wrote “[T]he Frankish marquis, the ruler of Tyre, and the greatest devil of all the Franks, Conrad of Montferrat — God damn him! — was killed.”

In the 200+ years of its existence, the Assassins occupied scores of mountain redoubts, though Alamut would remain its principle quarters.

It’s impossible to know how many of the hundreds of political assassinations of this period, were attributable to the followers of Hassan-i Sabbah. Without a doubt, their fearsome reputation ascribed more political murder to the sect, than they were actually responsible for.

The Fida’in of Hassan-i Sabbah were some of the most feared killers of the middle ages. Scary as they were, there came a time when the Order of the Assassins tangled with someone far scarier, than even themselves.Al_Gazi_the_assassin_by_hunqwertThe Grand Master of the Assassins dispatched his killers to Karakorum in the early 1250s, to murder the grandson of Genghis Khan, the Great Khan of the “Golden Horde”, Möngke. It was a Bad idea.

The Nestorian Christian ally of the Mongol Empire Kitbuqa Noyan, was ordered to destroy several Hashashin fortresses in 1253. Möngke’s brother Hulagu rode out at the head of the largest Mongol army ever seen in 1255, with no fewer than 1,000 Chinese engineer squads. Their orders were to treat those who submitted with kindness, and to utterly destroy those who opposed them.

That they did. Rukn al-Dīn Khurshāh, fifth and final Imam who ruled at Alamut, submitted after four days of preliminary bombardment. Mongol forces under the command of Hulagu Khan entered and destroyed the Hashshashin stronghold at Alamut Castle on December 15, 1256.591db11cb4831eaddd0ec6b0858997b1-baghdad-islamHulagu went on to subjugate the 5+ million Lurs people of western and southwestern Iran, the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad, the Ayyubid state of Damascus, and the Bahri Mamluke Sultanate of Egypt. Mongol and Muslim accounts alike, agree that the Caliph of Baghdad was rolled up in a Persian rug, whereupon the horsemen of Hulagu rode over him.  Mongols believed that the earth was offended if touched by royal blood.

Some guys are not to be trifled with.