Monday, September 27, 2010

August 15th in History

 778  The Battle of Roncevaux Pass, at which the legendary Paladin Roland of Emperor Charlemagne is killed.  This became a part of the famous Chanson de Geste, the Chanson de Roland, the epic poetry and early oral history of France.

 982   Holy Roman Emperor Otto II is defeated by the Saracens in the battle of Capo Colonna, in Calabria, as the expansion of Islamic forces reached Italy, and threatened to overrun the center of Roman Catholicism.

1040   King Duncan I is killed in battle against his first cousin and rival Macbeth. The latter succeeds him as King of Scotland.  Unlike the events depicted in the historic tragedy by Shakespeare, he was neither old, nor treacherously killed in his sleep, and apparently there were no three witches prophecy.  Unlike the Gargoyles cartoon version of history, he was a capable king.  Sometimes art, or at least artistic license, does not imitate life.

1057   King Mac Bethad mac Findlaich, anglicized Mac Beth, is killed at the Battle of Lumphanan by the forces of Máel Coluim mac Donnchada.Mac Beth was defeated and was then beheaded.  The real history differs from the Shakespeare play which has MacBeth meeting his end at the Battle of Dunsinane.

1261   Michael VIII Palaeologus is crowned Byzantine emperor in Constantinople, founder of the Paleologan dynasty, the longest ruling dynasty of the Byzantine empire.

1309   The city of Rhodes surrenders to the forces of the Knights of St. John, completing their conquest of Rhodes. The knights establish their headquarters on the island and rename themselves the Knights of Rhodes.

1461   The Empire of Trebizond surrenders to the forces of Sultan Mehmet II. This is regarded by some historians as the real end of the Byzantine Empire. Emperor David is exiled and later murdered.

1483   Pope Sixtus IV consecrates the Sistine Chapel.

1517   Seven Portuguese armed vessels led by Fernão Pires de Andrade meet Chinese officials of the Ming dynasty at the Pearl River estuary.  This marked the opening of direct trading and diplomacy with China.  In Chinese records, Andrade is referred to as a "Folangji" a corruption of the muslim word for the Franks, or Frankee (what we might term Frank-ish), a generic word for Europeans dating back to the crusades, and continued under the Byzantines.  This became the Indian and Southeast Asian word ferengi.  It was muslim guides and translators from the Spice trade between Asia and Europe. For the geeks among us, per wikipedia, yes this was the origin of the name for the Star Trek aliens, and Nagus was derived from the afro-asian Semitic root word for reign in the word Negus.  The 'Negus' was the traditional historic title of the reigning monarchs of Ethiopia, and was the inspiration for the title "Grand Nagus".  You just never know where an armchair exploration of history will take you on Penigma.

1534  Saint Ignatius of Loyola and six classmates take initial vows, leading to the creation of the Society of Jesus in September 1540.  A part of their vows in founding the Jesuits was the conversion of the Muslims in Asia.

1549   Jesuit priest Saint Francis Xavier, one of the co-founders of the Society of Jesus, above, comes ashore at Kagoshima, in Japan, the first Christian missionary in the country, and as the official diplomatic ambassador of the King of Portugal.

1717    Birth of Blind Jack, John Metcalf, English civil engineer in the English Industrial Revolution (d. 1810).  Metcalf became blind from smallpox at the age of six. He was born into a poor family, but appears to have been an extraordinary individual who overcame poverty, blindness and an astonishing list of other obstacles in his life.  He was responsible for the development and construction of 300 miles of turnpike in the UK, the forerunner of our modern turnpike or tollways in the United States, in part through road building innovations he developed for difficult terrain, especially swampy areas.  Despite his blindness, Metcalf was a swimmer and diver, and an accomplished musician.  He rode horses and drove horse-drawn vehicles of the time, including commercially.  He hunted; and acted as a tour guide in his own vicinity, and was an extensive and adventurous traveler on his own despite his disability.  During the second Jacobite Rebellion, he served as a recruiting sergeant, who then went with the army into Scotland, and used his skills as a civil engineer to assist moving guns through boggy areas.

1769    Birth of Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France (d. 1821)

1771    Birth of Sir Walter Scott, Scottish novelist and poet (d. 1832)

1824   Freed American slaves found Liberia.

1843   The Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Honolulu, Hawaii is dedicated. Now the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu, it is the oldest Roman Catholic cathedral in continuous use in the United States.

1863   The Anglo-Satsuma War begins between the Satsuma Domain of Japan and the United Kingdom.  The war was over an incident enforcing the rights of extraterritoriality of westerners in Japan which exempted them from Japanese laws that were part of the 'unequal treaties' forced on Japan, China and Korea by superior western military power.

1907  Ordination in Constantinople of Fr. Raphael Morgan, first African-American Orthodox priest, "Priest-Apostolic" to America and the West Indies.

1914   A male servant of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright sets fire to the living quarters of the architect's Wisconsin home, Taliesin, murders seven people and burns the living quarters to the ground.
The Panama Canal opens to traffic with the transit of the cargo ship Ancon.

1935   Will Rogers and Wiley Post are killed after their aircraft develops engine problems during takeoff in Barrow, Alaska.

1939   13 Stukas dive into the ground during a disastrous air-practice at Neuhammer. No survivors.  The Stuka's capability as a dive bomber was an essential part of the blitzkrieg warfare.  It was used by Germany in the Battle of Britain where it wasn't very good against allied fighter aircraft.

1941   Corporal Josef Jakobs is executed by firing squad at the Tower of London at 7:12am, making him the last person to be executed by firing squad at the Tower for spying, under the Treachery Act of 1940.  He had parachuted into the UK, but broken his ankle on landing, contributing to his prompt capture and identification as a spy.  Because he had a broken ankle, he was executed blindfolded, sitting in a wooden chair- appropriately a Windsor chair.  Subsequently, spies were executed by hanging.

1945   World War II: Korean Liberation Day, celebrating the surrender of the Japanese to the U.S and Soviet Union.   The Japanese had annexed Korea and made it a part of Japan in WW II. .

1948   The Republic of Korea is established south of the 38th parallel north, by the United States, partitioning Korea between the democracy in South Korea, and a communist North Korea under Soviet influence in the north, later replaced by Chinese influence.

Conrad Schumann leaping the 'Berlin Wall'

1961   Conrad Schumann flees from East Germany while on duty guarding the third day of construction of the Berlin Wall. This became a major propaganda event for the west.  The defection apparently was unplanned; Schumann acted on an impulse in response to West Berliners chanting (in German) 'come over'. So, he did.

1962   James Joseph Dresnok defects to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) after running across a mine field in the Korean DMZ.  He defected, not for political beliefs, but to avoid court martial for forging signatures on  paperwork to leave the base, resulting in him being AWOL.   Dresnok still resides in the capital, Pyongyang. He did a famous interview with 60 Minutes in 2007.  His first wife was a Romanian, who appears to have been abducted by the North Koreans to be a wife to one of the four American deserters.  Dresnok acted as a propagandist for North Korea, and is the last of the four deserters alive in North Korea.

1963   Execution of Henry John Burnett, the last man to be hanged in Scotland, ending the profession of hangman.

1965   The Beatles play to nearly 60,000 fans at Shea Stadium in New York City, in an event later seen as marking the birth of stadium rock.

Magritte painting

1967  Death of René Magritte, Belgian painter (b. 1898)


1969   The Woodstock Music and Art Festival opens.

1971   President Richard Nixon completes the break from the gold standard by ending convertibility of the United States dollar into gold by foreign investors.

1974   Yuk Young-soo, First Lady of South Korea, is killed during an apparent assassination attempt upon President of South Korea, Park Chung-hee.  Park was making a speech when a sniper fired shots at him; as his wife was removed by stretcher, he continued speaking.


1977   The Big Ear, a radio telescope operated by Ohio State University as part of the SETI project, receives a radio signal from deep space; the event is named the "Wow! signal" from the notation made by a volunteer on the project.

1984  The PKK in Turkey starts a campaign of armed attacks upon the Turkish military

1998   Omagh bomb in Northern Ireland, the worst terrorist incident of The Troubles.

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