December 3

bayezid-selim

The birth of Bayezid II

In 1453, Mehmet the Conqueror took Constantinople for the Ottoman Turks, thus ending the Christian Roman Empire. Mehmet spent the rest of his life consolidating his gains by expanding into Europe and turning Constantinople into a glorious new capital for his regime. At the early age of forty-nine he died very suddenly; suspicions fell on a poisoner acting for his oldest son Bayezid, born on this day in 1447.

Bayezid claimed the throne but had to deal with the opposition of his brother Çem (or Jem). It was customary for a new sultan to murder all of his brothers and half-brothers so Çem fled to the Knights of St John, fierce enemies of the Turks; the Knights sent Çem to the pope who accepted a bribe from Bayezid to keep him locked up and not interfering in his rule.

Bayezid had a successful reign, warring against the Persians on his eastern border, mopping up more Christian territory, and taking advantage of the Spanish expulsion of their Jewish population. Bayezid sent Turkish ships to Spain to take on Jews wishing to migrate to Ottoman territory, laughing at the folly of Ferdinand and Isabella. “You venture to call Ferdinand a wise ruler,” he said to his courtiers, “he who has impoverished his own country and enriched mine!” Ironically, the pope held the same opinion and welcomed Jewish refugees into his Italian holdings.

Ottoman politics were often a blood sport. Late in life, Bayezid faced revolts by two of his sons. He defeated the rebellion of Ahmet but was deposed in 1512 by his son Selim (later known to history as “the Grim”). He died shortly thereafter and is buried in Istanbul.

November 8

vlad-the-impaler

1431

The birth of Vlad III, aka Vlad the Impaler, aka Vlad Drakul, aka Dracula, prince of Wallachia. Though known in folklore for his extreme cruelty and for his inspiration for Bram Stoker’s literary villain, Vlad is renowned in the Balkans for his defence of Christian lands against Turkish Islamic expansion. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman emperor Mehmet the Conqueror attempted to complete the Muslim conquest of southeastern Europe. Vlad refused to acknowledge Turkish overlordship or pay the jizya tax imposed on Christian subjects. His armies inflicted a number of defeats on the Turks before he died in battle in 1476.

October 28

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1886 Dedication of the Statue of Liberty

To celebrate the centenary of American independence, and to mark their own contribution to that effort, the French were determined to make the USA a splendid gift. The anniversary present would prove to be  La Liberté éclairant le monde, the gigantic Statue of Liberty (more properly “Liberty Enlightening the World”)

Work began on Liberty years before the centenary but the difficulty of the task and financing problems meant that by 1876 only the statue’s arm bearing the torch could be sent to Philadelphia for the festivities. It was designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel. Made of copper, it depicted the Roman goddess Libertas carrying a torch and a law tablet inscribed with “1776”; at her feet is a broken chain signifying freedom from oppression. The statue was shipped in pieces to New York where it was erected on an island platform in the harbour, towering 305′ above the ground.

On this date in 1886 President Grover Cleveland dedicated the statue after a grand ticker-tape parade (the first ever) through the streets of New York.

October 27

constantine

312 Constantine has a vision

The chaos in Roman politics that weakened the empire in the 3rd century was ended by reforms put in place by Diocletian (r. 284-305), particularly his institution of the Tetrarchy. Henceforth there would be four emperors: a senior Augustus in the East and in the West, each with a junior Caesar. There would be four capitals, each close to strategic border areas to allow rapid response to barbarian incursion. The plan was that when the senior rulers stepped down they would be replaced by their Caesars and the usual unseemly battles for power would be avoided. Alas, the scheme did not work in practice. After the retirement of Diocletian in 305, fighting broke out in the western part of the empire between rival generals who each thought they should be next in line. In the fall of 312, Constantine brought his army into Italy to contest the throne with Maxentius; they would meet outside Rome at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.

According to Lactantius, on the evening of October 27 Constantine saw a vision:

Constantine was directed in a dream to cause the heavenly sign to be delineated on the shields of his soldiers, and so to proceed to battle. He did as he had been commanded, and he marked on their shields the letter Χ, with a perpendicular line drawn through it and turned round thus at the top, being the cipher of CHRIST. Having this sign (ΧР ), his troops stood to arms. The enemies advanced, but without their emperor, and they crossed the bridge. The armies met, and fought with the utmost exertions of valour, and firmly maintained their ground. In the meantime a sedition arose at Rome, and Maxentius was reviled as one who had abandoned all concern for the safety of the commonweal; and suddenly, while he exhibited the Circensian games on the anniversary of his reign, the people cried with one voice, “Constantine cannot be overcome!” 

Dismayed at this, Maxentius burst from the assembly, and having called some senators together, ordered the Sibylline books to be searched. In them it was found that:— “On the same day the enemy of the Romans should perish.”
Led by this response to the hopes of victory, he went to the field. The bridge in his rear was broken down. At sight of that the battle grew hotter. The hand of the Lord prevailed, and the forces of Maxentius were routed. He fled towards the broken bridge; but the multitude pressing on him, he was driven headlong into the Tiber. This destructive war being ended, Constantine was acknowledged as emperor, with great rejoicings, by the senate and people of Rome. 

Eusebius has another, more detailed account of the vision, which in his version seems to have taken place somewhat earlier. There is no doubt, however, that the triumph of Constantine led to the legal recognition of Christianity and its eventual conversion of the Roman Empire.

October 12

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Jeanne Geneviève Garnerin takes a pioneering jump

Late in the 18th century the French were fascinated by the globe aérostatiquehot-air ballooning. Since the Montgolfier brothers made the first ascent in 1783, the possibilities for air travel — military, commercial, recreational — tickled the French imagination. Women were among the first passengers and in 1799 Jeanne Geneviève Garnerin (neé Labrosse) became the first woman to fly solo and pilot a lighter-than-air craft when she took a hydrogen balloon aloft.

Mme Garnerin was made of very brave stuff. Her husband André-Jacques Garnerin, who would be named the Official Aeronaut of France, had been the first to jump from a balloon and survive with the aid of a parachute. On October 12, 1799 Jeanne Geneviève took a balloon to an altitude of 900 meters and separated her basket from the balloon, controlling her descent with an attached parachute — the first woman to do so. They later filed a patent for  “a device called a parachute, intended to slow the fall of the basket after the balloon bursts. Its vital organs are a cap of cloth supporting the basket and a circle of wood beneath and outside of the parachute and used to hold it open while climbing: it must perform its task at the moment of separation from the balloon, by maintaining a column of air.”

October 11

Barabino, Nicolo; The Death of Pope Boniface VIII; The Collection: Art & Archaeology in Lincolnshire (Usher Gallery); http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-death-of-pope-boniface-viii-81675

 

1303 Death of an ambitious pope

Since the middle of the eleventh century, popes had been asserting their power over secular rulers. They claimed that the spiritual authority ordained by God held precedence over mere earthly power. They had deposed kings and emperors and named substitute rulers; they had precipitated civil wars; claimed dominion over entire kingdoms and excommunicated princes right, left and centre. By 1300 they had gutted the power of their chief rival, the Holy Roman Emperor, and begun to quarrel with the new centralized monarchies of western Europe.

Benedetto Caetani, elected Pope Boniface VIII in dubious fashion in 1294, had twice forbidden the kings of England and France from taxing the Church in their countries. The King of France Philip IV “the Fair” responded by cutting off money from the French church to the papacy. Boniface replied by hinting that he might exercise his right of deposing Philip who immediately began a campaign of vilification of the pope including circulating forged documents.

This led Boniface on November 17, 1302 to issue the proclamation Unam Sanctam, which asserted the doctrine of papal monarchy in the most uncompromising terms ever. He asserted (1) there is but one true Church, outside of which there is no salvation; (2) that head is Christ and His representative, the pope who is above, and can direct, all kings; (3) whoever resists the highest power ordained by God resists Himself; and (5) it is necessary for salvation that all humans should be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

Philip the Fair now summoned a kingdom-wide assembly, and before it he accused Boniface of every imaginable crime from murder to black magic to sodomy to keeping a demon as a pet. A small French military force crossed into Italy in 1303 and took Boniface prisoner at his palace at Anagni with the intention of bringing him to France for trial. The French plan failed—local townspeople freed Boniface a couple of days later—but the proud old pope died shortly thereafter, outraged that anyone had dared to lay hands on his sacred person.

This marks the beginning of the waning of medieval papal power. In 1305 the cardinals elected the Frenchman Clement V who submitted to the French king on the question of clerical taxation and publicly burned Unam Sanctam, conceding that Philip the Fair, in accusing Pope Boniface, had shown “praiseworthy zeal.” A few years after his election, Clement moved the papacy from Rome to Avignon in southern France, the start of the period of papal humiliation known as “The Babylonian Captivity”

October 10

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680 The Battle of Karbala

Though relatively bloodless, few combats in Islamic history have been as consequential as the Battle of Karbala.

When Mohammed died in 632, rulership of the Muslim world fell to a series of four caliphs or “successors”: Abu-Bakr, Mohammed’s father-in-law, Umar, Uthmana and Ali, Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law. The turbulence of the time may be seen in the fact that the last three were all assassinated. At the death of Ali in 661, the succession was disputed with a regional governor named Muawiyah winning more support than Ali’s oldest son Hasan. Muawiyah would establish a new dynasty, the Umayyads, and move the capital of the Islamic world from Mecca to Damascus.

Resistance to this new caliphate was led by Husayn, Ali’s second son, whose followers came to be known as Shi’ites. Husayn claimed that in establishing a dynasty the Umayyads had forfeited their right to rule. On October 10, 680 Husayn’s caravan was attacked by Umayyad forces and everyone in it killed or taken prisoner.  This Battle of Karbala became part of Shi’ite sacred history, inspiring further resistance and engendering the annual Ashura period of mourning. The split in the Islamic world between the majority Sunni and minority Shia branches remains unhealed to this day.

October 8

perfectlarsen

 

Don Larsen’s Perfect Game

It was the fifth game of the 1956 World Series, between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers, with both teams having won two games. Yankee Stadium was crammed with 64,519 spectators, watching Brooklyn’s Sal “The Barber” Maglie on the mound for the Bums and Don Larsen pitching for the Bronx Bombers. Maglie had earned his nickname because his high and inside fastballs gave batters a close shave; Larsen was having his best year, with an 11-5 record and a 3.26 ERA.

The Yankee lineup was full of stars such as Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Enos Slaughter, and Billy Martin – but the Dodgers’ lineup was equally stellar: Jim Gilliam leading off, followed by four future Hall of Famers in Peewee Reese, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. On this day in 1956 not one of the Brooklynites was able to get a hit; none of them reached base on a walk or an error. Using only 97 pitches, and shunning a windup, Don Larsen retired 27 Dodgers in a row, thus pitching the first, and only, perfect game in World Series history.

October 5

battle_of_the_thames

 

1813 The death of Tecumseh

The War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain was fought at sea and along the Canadian border. Allied with the British were many native tribes, resentful at American expansion into their traditional territories. A tribal confederacy under the Shawnee chief Tecumseh and his mystical brother known as The Prophet had consistently opposed yielding land to the Americans but had suffered a number of reversals.

In the autumn of 1813, the British and their native allies were being pushed back from positions below the Great Lakes. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry had won the Battle of Lake Erie capturing an entire British squadron, which prompted the famous phrase, “we have met the enemy and he is ours” and ashore the future president William Henry Harrison was also successful. He recaptured Detroit and launched an invasion of Upper Canada. On this day Harrison’s forces met a British army under Henry Procter backed by hundreds of Tecumseh’s warrior in what is now southern Ontario. The British wilted under an American charge but Tecumseh’s forces stood their ground. In the fighting Tecumseh was shot and killed.

The battle itself was of little significance as the victorious Americans were obliged to withdraw but the death of Tecumseh was a catastrophe for the native cause. Their confederacy collapsed and hopes of a pan-native resistance died.

October 3

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1995

O.J. Simpson is acquitted

On July 12, 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson, ex-wife of football star and actor O.J. Simpson, and her companion Ron Goldman were found stabbed to death in Los Angeles. Suspicion fell on Simpson who had had a turbulent and occasionally violent relationship with his wife. Simpson was asked to turn himself into the police but instead he began to evince suicidal behaviour and fled in a white SUV, pursued at low speed while spectators lined the streets and millions watched on live television.

The subsequent murder trial was a media sensation, widely televised and presided over by Judge Lance Ito, whose handling of the case widely criticized. The prosecution relied largely on blood and DNA evidence that linked Simpson to the murder site while the defense “Dream Team” argued that the pair had been killed by a Colombian drug gang and that racist police had planted and tampered with evidence.

The jury of nine blacks, two whites and a Latino (10 women and 2 men) took 4 hours to reach a verdict of not-guilty, astonishing most of those who had followed the trial. Though he remained a free man, Simpson’s reputation was fatally damaged. A subsequent civil trial, launched by the Brown and Goldman families, found Simpson criminally responsible and ordered him to pay $33,000,000 in damages. In 2007 he was sent to jail for 33 years for a violent incident in Las Vegas. He will be eleigible for parole in 2017.