March 21, 1905 Eugenics

Some 30 states had passed legislation by the height of the eugenics movement, legalizing the involuntary sterilization of individuals considered “unfit” for reproduction. All told, some 60,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized in state-sanctioned procedures.

In 380BC, Plato described a system of state-controlled human breeding in his Socratic dialogue “The Republic”, intended to create a “guardian class” over his ideal society.

In the 19th century, Francis Galton studied the theories of his cousin Charles Darwin on the evolution of species, applying them to a system of selective breeding intended to bring better human beings into the world.  He called it his theory of “Eugenics”.

Eugenics gained worldwide respectability in the early 20th century, when countries from Brazil to Japan adopted policies regarding the involuntary sterilization of certain mental patients.

“Better Babies” competitions sprang up at state fairs across the United States, where babies were measured, weighed, and “judged”, like livestock.  By the 20s, these events evolved into “Fitter Family” competitions.Better babies Certificate

One of the leaders of the eugenics movement was the pacifist and Stanford University professor, David Starr Jordan.  After writing several books on the subject, Jordan became a founding member of the Eugenics Committee of the American Breeders Association.  The upper class of America was being eroded by the lower class, he said.  Careful, selective breeding would be required to preserve the nation’s “upper crust”.

MargaretSanger
Margaret Sanger

Margaret Higgins Sanger believed that birth control should be compulsory for “unfit” women who “recklessly perpetuated their damaged genetic stock by irresponsibly breeding more children in an already overpopulated world.”

An early advocate for birth control, Sanger has her supporters to this day, including former Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. “I admire Margaret Sanger enormously”, Clinton said.  “Her courage, her tenacity, her vision…”  Time Magazine points out that “Sanger opened the first birth-control clinic in the United States”, describing her as “An advocate for women’s reproductive rights who was also a vocal eugenics enthusiast…”

Detractors have described Sanger as a “thoroughgoing racist”, citing her own words in What Every Girl Should Know, published in 1910:  “In all fish and reptiles where there is no great brain development, there is also no conscious sexual control. The lower down in the scale of human development we go the less sexual control we find. It is said that the aboriginal Australian, the lowest known species of the human family, just a step higher than the chimpanzee in brain development, has so little sexual control that police authority alone prevents him from obtaining sexual satisfaction on the streets”.

Admire or detest the woman as you prefer, Sanger’s work established organizations that later evolved into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Around the world, eugenics policies took the form of involuntarily terminated pregnancies, compulsory sterilization, euthanasia, and even mass extermination.

Madison Grant, the New York lawyer known for his work in developing the discipline of wildlife management, was a leader in the eugenics movement, once receiving an approving fan letter from none other than Adolf Hitler.Eugenics Propaganda

Public policy and academic types conducted three international eugenics conferences to advance their ideas.  The first such conference was held in Great Britain in 1912, followed by two more in 1921 and again in 1932, both in New York City.  Colleges and universities offered eugenics as an academic discipline, delving into the ethical and public policy considerations of eliminating the “degenerate” and “unfit”.

In Pennsylvania, 270 involuntary sterilizations were performed without benefit of law, between 1892 and 1931.  On March 21, 1905, the Pennsylvania legislature passed “An Act for the Prevention of Idiocy”, requiring that every institution in the state entrusted with the care of “ idiots and imbecile children”, be staffed by at least one skilled surgeon, whose duty it was to perform surgical sterilization.  The bill was vetoed by then-Governor Samuel Pennypacker, only to return in 1911, 1913, 1915, 1917, 1919, and in 1921.

By the height of the movement, some 30 states had passed eugenics legislation, legalizing the involuntary sterilization of individuals considered “unfit” for reproduction. All told, some 60,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized in state-sanctioned procedures.

California forced Charlie Follett to undergo a vasectomy in 1945 at the age of 15, when Follett found himself abandoned by alcoholic parents.   He was only one of some 20,000 Californians forced to undergo such a procedure.

Vermont passed a sterilization law in 1931, aimed at what then-University of Vermont zoology professor Henry Perkins called the “rural degeneracy problem.”  An untold number of “defectives” were forced to undergo involuntary sterilization, including Abenakis and French-Canadian immigrants.VA-Eugenic-Sterilization-Law-Upheld

Indiana passed the first eugenic sterilization law in 1907, but it was legally flawed.  To remedy the situation, the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) of the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Station for Experimental Evolution crafted a eugenics statute, adopted by the Commonwealth of Virginia as a state statute in 1924.

That September, Superintendent of the ‘Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded’ Dr. Albert Sidney Priddy, filed a petition to sterilize Carrie Buck, an 18-year-old patient at his institution whom he claimed to be “incorrigible”.  A “genetic threat to society”.  Buck’s 52 year old mother had a record of prostitution and immorality, Priddy claimed, and the child to whom Buck gave birth in the institution further proved the point.

Buck’s guardian brought her case to court, arguing that the law violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment.  After losing in district court, the case was appealed to the Amherst County Circuit Court, the Virginia Supreme Court, and finally the United States Supreme Court.Carrie-Buck-and-Emma-Buck-1924

Dr. Priddy died along the way, Dr. John Hendren Bell taking his place.  SCOTUS decided the “Buck vs Bell” case on May 2, 1927, ruling in an 8–1 decision that Buck, her mother, and daughter Vivian, were all “feeble-minded” and “promiscuous.”

In the majority ruling, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., wrote:  “”It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind…. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

It was later revealed that Carrie Buck had been raped by a member of the Dobbs family, the foster family who had taken her in and later had her committed.  To save their family “honor”.  No matter.  Buck was compelled to undergo tubal ligation, and later paroled to become a domestic worker with a family in Bland, Virginia.  Buck’s daughter Vivian, was adopted by this same Dobbs family.

HolmesQuoteBuckvBelIn a later examination of Vivian, ERO field worker Dr. Arthur Estabrook pronounced her “feeble minded” saying that she “showed backwardness”, supporting the “three generations” theory expressed in the SCOTUS opinion.

The child died from complications of measles in 1932, after only two years in school.  Dr. Estabrook failed to explain in his report, how she seemed to do well for those two years, nor did he explain how she came to be listed on her school’s honor roll, in April 1931.

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March 20 1870 Der Löwe von Afrika

When then-Chancellor Hitler offered him an ambassadorship to the Court of St. James in 1935, von Lettow-Vorbeck told Hitler to go “f**k himself.” Describing the interview afterward, his nephew explained “That’s right, except that I don’t think he put it that politely.”

Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck was born into minor Prussian Nobility on this day in 1870. Joining the Corps of Cadets as a teenager, Lettow-Vorbeck worked his way up the German Imperial Army chain of command, becoming a general by the time of WWI.

lettowvorbeckportraitStationed in German East Africa and knowing that his sector would be little more than a side show in the greater war effort, Lettow-Vorbeck determined to tie up as many of his adversaries as possible.

With a force which never exceeded 14,000 (3,000 Germans and 11,000 Askari warriors), the “Lion of Africa” tied up as many as 300,000 British, Belgian, and Portuguese troops, who wore themselves out in the pursuit.

Like the much better known Lawrence of Arabia, Lettow-Vorbeck became a master of guerilla warfare. He never lost a single battle, though it was not unheard of for combatants to break and flee a charging elephant or rhinoceros.

To his adversaries, disease and parasites were often more dangerous than enemy soldiers. In one month (July, 1916) Allied non-battle casualties ran 31 to 1 compared with battle casualties.

In 1956, Brazilian scientists attempted to cross African honey bees with indigenous varieties, in order to produce an insect better suited to the South American tropics.  Today, we call the results of these failed experiments “Africanized” or “killer” bees.

At one point in the battle of Tanga (November 7-8, 1914), a British landing force and their Sepoy allies were routed and driven back to the sea by millions of African bees, disturbed by rifle and machine gun fire. There’s a story about one British radioman who held to his station, directing the evacuation from the beach while being stung to death by thousands of angry bees. He would be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for “gallantry under aerial attack”.
Deutsch-Ostafrika, Askari im Kampf

Of all German commanders in WWI, “der Löwe von Afrika” – the Lion of Africa alone remained undefeated in the field.  The only German commander to successfully invade imperial British soil during the Great War.

Lettow-Vorbeck developed a deep distrust of the upstart Adolf Hitler. When then-Chancellor Hitler offered him an ambassadorship to the Court of St. James in 1935, Lettow-Vorbeck told Hitler to go “f**k himself.” Describing the interview afterward, his nephew explained “That’s right, except that I don’t think he put it that politely.”

After such a blunt refusal, Lettow-Vorbeck was kept under continual surveillance by the Nazi regime. His home and office were searched, his person subject to constant harassment. The Lion of Africa was destitute by the end of WWII. His sons both killed serving in the Wehrmacht, his home in Bremen destroyed by Allied bombs.

For a time, Vorbeck lived on food packages from British Intelligence Officer Richard Meinertzhagen and South African Field Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts, two of his former adversaries in the East Africa campaign.  It was a token of the respect these two had, for a man who had once been their enemy.

ReminiscencesIn 1964, the year Lettow-Vorbeck died, the Bundestag voted to give back pay to former African warriors who had fought with German forces in WWI. Some 350 elderly Ascaris showed up. A few could produce certificates given them back in 1918, some had scraps of old uniforms.  Precious few could prove their former service to the German Empire.

The German banker who had brought the money had an idea. As each man stepped forward, he was handed a broom and ordered to perform the German manual of arms. Not one man failed the test.

Lettow-Vorbeck formed a lifelong friendship during his time in Africa, with the Danish author Karen Blixen, best known by her pen name Isak Dinesen, author of “Out of Africa”. Years later, Blixen recalled, “He belonged to the olden days, and I have never met another German who has given me so strong an impression of what Imperial Germany was and stood for”.

March 19, 1956 Skunked

For those of us who rooted for the New England Patriots during the losing years, the 1986 Super Bowl XX was the worst moment ever. We all had our “Berry da Bears” shirts on. Life was good when New England took the earliest lead in Super Bowl history, with a field goal at 1:19. After that, the room got quiet. Real quiet.

The term “Blowout” was first applied to sports in 1965, to describe a 40-minute inning in which the St. Louis Cardinals scored seven unearned runs in a 12-2 victory over the Milwaukee Braves. Over time, there have been plenty games that deserve that description.

– Russia’s 1976 Olympic victory over Japan in men’s basketball, 129-63.
– The St. Francis College Fighting Saints 1996 baseball season run record of 71-1.
– Secretariat’s 1973 Belmont Stakes victory, of 31 lengths.

The most lopsided college football game ever was in 1916, when Georgia Tech rushed for 1,650 yards and didn’t allow a single first down by Cumberland College. Final score, 222-0.GA Tech v Cumberland

In 1927, Kansas City’s Haven High School beat Sylvia High 256-0. In a record-setting season of blowouts, the 1901 Michigan Wolverines football team defeated all opponents by a combined score of 550-0.

In 1940, Chicago Bears coach George Halas showed his players newspaper clippings, in which the Washington Redskins’ owner called Bears players “crybabies and quitters” after losing 7-3 in regular season. Chicago went on to beat Washington 73-0 in post-season, in a game so lopsided it had to be finished with practice balls. Chicago had kicked them all into the stands, kicking extra points.

The Chicago Colts of the National League defeated Louisville, 36-7 in 1897. The modern Major League Baseball record for margin of victory was set in 2007, when the Texas Rangers defeated the Baltimore Orioles, 30-3. Those 30 runs are also a modern-era record for runs scored in a nine-inning MLB game by one team.

On this day in 1956, the Minnesota Lakers scored one of the most lopsided round ball victories ever over the St. Louis Hawks, 133-75. The blowout was second only to the 1991 Cleveland Cavaliers victory over the Miami Heat, 148-80.Cavs meme

In 2009, Dallas’ Christian Covenant High School girls basketball skunked Dallas Academy, 100-0. The victory was widely condemned: Dallas Academy, a school for students with learning disabilities, had a team of eight out of an entire student body population of 20 girls, yet Covenant continued a full-court press with three-point shots well after taking a halftime lead of 59-0. Covenant’s administration called for a forfeit of its own win, calling it “shameful and an embarrassment.” The coach was fired after he declined to apologize.

Three players have won PGA Tour matches by 16 strokes: J.D. Edgar at the 1919 Canadian Open; Joe Kirkwood, Sr., at the 1924 Corpus Christi Open; and Bobby Locke at the 1948 Chicago Victory National Championship. Tiger Woods has the largest margin of victory in the modern era, with a 15-stroke win at the 2000 U.S. Open.

The Detroit Red Wings beat the New York Rangers 15-0 in 1944, but some of the worst sports disasters ever, have been in international hockey. The 2007 Slovakia women’s team defeated Bulgaria 82-0 in a 2010 Winter Olympics qualifying tournament.  At the 1998 Asia-Oceania Junior Championships, South Korea skunked Thailand 92-0. South Korean forward Donghwan Song scored 31 goals, by himself.

Berry da BearsFor those of us who rooted for the New England Patriots during the losing years, the 1986 Super Bowl XX was the worst moment ever. We all had our “Berry da Bears” shirts on. Life was good when New England took the earliest lead in Super Bowl history, with a field goal at 1:19.

After that, the room got quiet. Real quiet.  New England was held to -19 yards in the first half.  Game MVP went to a defensive end with the perfect name of Richard Dent, as “Da Bears” set or tied Super Bowl records for sacks (7) and fewest rushing yards allowed (also 7). Final score, 46-10.

It was the most humiliating loss in Super Bowl history, until the Denver Broncos took us out of our misery with a 55-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, in Super Bowl XXIV.

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 16, 1914 The Caillaux Affair

Most of France was riveted by the Caillaux affair in July 1914, ignorant of the European crisis barreling down on them like the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

We heard a lot this past election year, about “Left” and “Right”, “Liberal” and “Conservative”.

The terms have been with us a long time, originating in the early days of the French Revolution. In those days, National Assembly members supportive of the Monarchy sat on the President’s right.  Those favoring the Revolution, on the left. The right side of the seating arrangement began to thin out and disappeared altogether during the “Reign of Terror”, but re-formed with the restoration of the Monarchy, in 1814-1815. By this time, it wasn’t just the “Party of Order” on the right and the “Party of Movement” on the left. Now the terms began to describe nuances in political philosophy, as well.

200 years later, differences between the French left and right of the period, would be recognizable to American political observers of today.

Joseph Caillaux
Joseph Cailloux

Joseph Cailloux (rhymes with “bayou”) was a left wing politician, appointed prime minister of France in 1911. The man was indiscreet in his love life, even for a French politician. Back in 1907, Cailloux had paraded about with a succession of mistresses, finally carrying on with one Henriette Raynouard, while both were married to someone else. They were both divorced by 1911 and that October, Henriette Raynouard became the second Mrs Cailloux.

The right considered Cailloux to be far too accommodating with Germany, with whom many felt war to be all but inevitable. While serving under the administration of President Raymond Poincare in 1913, Cailloux became a vocal opponent of a bill to increase the length of mandatory military service from two years to three, intended to offset the French population disadvantage between France’ 40 million and Germany’s 70 million.

Gaston Calmette
Gaston Calmette

Gaston Calmette, editor of the leading Conservative newspaper Le Figaro, threatened to publicize love letters between the former Prime Minister and his second wife, written while both were still married for the first time. Henriette Cailloux was not amused.

On March 16, 1914, Madame Cailloux took a taxi to the offices of Le Figaro. After being shown into Calmette’s office, the pair spoke only briefly, before Henriette withdrew the Browning .32 automatic, and fired six rounds at the editor. Two missed, but four were more than enough to do the job. Gaston Calmette was dead within six hours.

Henriette_Caillaux
Henriette Cailloux

German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck once said the next great European war would start with “some damn fool thing in the Balkans”.  Though no one realized it at the time, Bismarck got his damn fool thing on June 28, when a Serbian Nationalist assassinated the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne.

The July Crisis of 1914 was a series of diplomatic maneuverings, culminating in the ultimatum from Austria-Hungary to the Kingdom of Serbia. Vienna, with tacit support from Berlin, made plans to punish Serbia for her role in the assassination, while Russia mobilized armies in support of her Slavic ally.

Meanwhile, England and France looked the other way.  In Great Britain, officialdom was focused on yet another home rule crisis concerning Ireland, while all of France was distracted by the “Trial of the Century”.

Think of the OJ trial, only in this case the killer was a former First Lady. This one had everything: Left vs.affairecaillaux_thumb Right, the fall of the powerful, and all the salacious details anyone could ask for. Most of France was riveted by the Caillaux affair in July 1914, ignorant of the European crisis barreling down on them like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Madame Caillaux’s trial for the murder of Gaston Calmette began on July 20.

She was acquitted on July 28, the jury ruling the murder to be a “crime passionnel”.  A crime of passion. That same day, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

In the days that followed, the Czar would begin the mobilization of men and machines that would place Imperial Russia on a war footing. Imperial Germany invaded Belgium, in pursuit of the one-two punch strategy by which they sought first to defeat France, before turning to face the “Russian Steamroller”. England declared war in support of a 75 year old commitment to protect Belgian neutrality, a treaty obligation that German diplomats had dismissed as a “scrap of paper”.

Eleven million military service members and seven million civilians who were alive in July of 1914, would not live to see November 11, 1918.

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.