Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Blunder At Fort Douaumont And The Hundreds Of Thousands Of Deaths That Followed In The 1916 Battle Of Verdun

The Great War

  (French soldiers moving into attack from their trench during the Verdun battle, 1916, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In February, 1916, the world was in utter turmoil. A Great War had erupted after Serbian-backed assassins shot to death Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife (and their unborn child) while they drove in their car around Bosnia. In response to the assassination, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia, and the two belligerent nations pulled in their broad nets of alliances. Soon major countries from all over the world were called into what would be later named World War I.

At the onset of the war, Germany had pressed quickly through Belgium into France, but became bogged down well shy of Paris, and the war gridlocked into WWI’s iconic trench warfare. In early 1916, however, General Erich von Falkenhayn of Germany believed he knew a way to crush France and weaken Britain’s will to fight—by seizing the French defensive position at Verdun.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Six Years of Chaos In Byzantium: The Cumans Vs. The Pechenegs Vs. The Byzantine Empire Vs. Çaka Bey of Smyrna

The Invasion

(The Pechenegs defeating the Rus, from the Skyllitzes Matritensis, fol. 173r, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In 1087 CE, a horde of Pecheneg warriors (followed by their families) poured down from the steppes above the Black Sea and into territory controlled by the Byzantine Empire. The empire was ruled at that time by Emperor Alexios Komnenos, who had led the empire since 1081 CE. These tens of thousands of hostile warriors threw the empire into such a panic that memories of the old ‘barbarian’ enemies of the Roman Empire were revived to describe the new Pecheneg threat. Anna Komnene, daughter of Emperor Alexios, likened the invaders to the ancient Scythians, Sarmatians and Dacians in her history, The Alexiad. She estimated that the Pechenegs had crossed into imperial territory with as many as 80,000 warriors.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Diogenes ‘The Cynic’ of Sinope—The Philosopher-Hermit Who Disregarded Luxury, Law And Civilization

(Diogenes by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

During the late 5th century BCE, one of the most bizarre men to have ever lived was born in the Greek-colonized city of Sinope, located on the coast of the Black Sea in modern Turkey. His name was Diogenes, and he would go on to impress and astound many of the great names from ancient Greece. The renowned philosopher, Plato, supposedly described Diogenes of Sinope as a “Socrates gone mad” and Alexander the Great (according to Plutarch) honored the man by saying, “If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.”

Diogenes of Sinope grew up in a wealthy household. His father was a moneychanger, or a minter, whose business was in currency. Despite this, Diogenes detested money. In fact, most accounts of Diogenes’ early life claim he was exiled from Sinope because he defaced or tampered with the local currency. Whatever the exact cause, Diogenes was expelled from Sinope and found himself in Athens with—reportedly—only a wooden bowl or cup to his name, which he soon discarded.