Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Disappearance Of Jarl Paul The Silent



According to the Orkneyinga Saga (written around 1200), the earldom of Orkney was often co-ruled by multiple jarls. This was made even more complicated during the reign of St. Olaf of Norway (r. 1015-1028), when the Norwegian crown reportedly claimed direct rule of one-third of Orkney. As portrayed in the sagas, the other two-thirds of Orkney was thereafter often ruled by two jarls, who both competed in befriending the Norwegian crown in hopes of gaining the right to administer the king’s portion of Orkney. In some cases, however, a single jarl claimed sole rule over the earldom by outliving or killing his co-rulers. One such person was Jarl Thorfinn Sigurdsson the Mighty (d. 1064), who outlived his brothers and executed a nephew to become sole ruler, although Orkney was once again split among his sons.

If the genealogy of the Orkneyinga Saga is correct, Jarl Paul the Silent was a great-grandson of Thorfinn the mighty. Paul came to power in Orkney sometime after 1117 and shared power with his half-brother, Harald Smooth-Tongue, until Harald mysteriously died at an unknown time. After Harald Smooth-Tongue’s death, Paul the Silent became sole ruler of Orkney and several members of his family were sent into exile. According to the Orkneyinga Saga, Harald’s son (Erlend), mother (Helga), aunt (Frakokk), and sister (Margaret) were all banished from Orkney or otherwise decided to stay in exile.

Although Jarl Paul the Silent had managed to become sole ruler of Orkney, he had several potential rivals who could claim a piece of the earldom. Two were nephews: the aforementioned Erlend and also Harald Maddadarson, the son of Jarl Paul’s sister, Margaret, and an earl of Atholl. Another threat was Rognvald Kali Kolsson, a Norwegian nobleman who was living the life of a merchant and adventurer. Rognvald Kali was related to the ruling family of Orkney through his mother, Gunnhild, who was a granddaughter of Jarl Thorfinn the Mighty. Rognvald Kali’s uncle was also Jarl Magnus of Orkney, who had been executed by the father of Paul the Silent in 1117.

With his lineage and powerful connections in Norway, Rognvald Kali became the predominant threat to Paul the Silent. King Sigurd the Crusader of Norway (r. 1103-1130) reportedly recognized Rognvald Kali’s claim to a piece of Orkney and elevated him to the rank of jarl around 1129. Before Jarl Rognvald Kali could launch an expedition to Orkney, he was delayed by the death of King Sigurd in 1130 and the chaotic politics of succession. Upon King Sigurd’s death, Norway was divided between the late king’s son, Magnus IV, and a self-proclaimed half-brother of Sigurd named Harald IV. Rognvald Kali joined the camp of the latter and did not return his gaze to Orkney until after Harald IV defeated, captured and blinded Magnus IV in 1135.

After receiving King Harald’s blessing, Rognvald Kali set off for Shetland with five or six ships. He also reached out to the nobles that had been exiled by Paul the Silent, such as the late Harald Smooth-Tongue’s sister and aunt, who were both reportedly powerful women in Scotland through marriage. These women were said to have agreed to help Rognvald Kali and mustered around 12 ships from their domains, which they sent off to Orkney. Yet, the target of all these conspirators was no pushover. Jarl Paul the Silent was said to have raised his own fleet of 17 ships and quickly put to use the tried-and-true strategy of divide and conquer. Jarl Paul defeated the ships from Scotland before they could unite with Rognvald Kali’s force. He then sailed for Shetland, where he defeated the Norwegian ships with a surprise assault. Rognvald Kali survived the attack and reportedly returned to Norway with the help of some merchants.

Around 1136 or 1137, Rognvald Kali returned to Shetland with a reported fleet of 14 ships. This time, the invaders took more time to plan their strategy. One such ploy was to target Jarl Paul’s network of signal fires set up on various islands in Orkney. Rognvald Kali had some of his ships sail up to the islands to trigger the lighting of these signal fires, then retreat without causing any damage. After repeatedly triggering the signal fires over a long period of time, the annoyed men responsible for igniting the signals began to neglect their duties. Taking advantage of this negligence, Rognvald Kali successfully landed his forces on the island of Westray, in northern Orkney, and did so without any signal fires being lit.

Before any bloodshed occurred between Rognvald Kali and Paul the Silent, the local bishop arranged a truce while the different factions negotiated the fate of Orkney. The truce was accepted by both parties, but Jarl Paul’s enemies used it to their own advantage. According to the Orkneyinga Saga, Paul’s sister, Margaret, hired Svein Asleifarson, one of the ablest men then living in the Scandinavian-controlled regions of the British Isles, and sent him on a mission to abduct Jarl Paul the Silent. Svein and the kidnappers successfully infiltrated Orkney and captured Jarl Paul in 1137. They did such a masterful job that no one in Orkney knew what happened next.

The Orkneyinga Saga provided two or three possible outcomes. One version was that Svein Asleifarson brought Jarl Paul to Margaret in Atholl, where she convinced her brother to freely give up his claim to Orkney so that her son, Harald Maddadarson, could become a jarl of Orkney. In this cheerful ending, Paul the Silent lived a quiet life in exile, possibly in a monastery. Yet, the author of the saga also wrote that Jarl Paul may have been imprisoned for life or executed by his captors. With no clear answer, the saga concluded its account of Paul’s life with an eerie statement: “We can’t say which comes nearer the truth, but this much is known, that he never came back to Orkney and he never gained power in Scotland” (Orkneyinga Saga, section 75). With the timely disappearance of Paul the Silent, Rognvald Kali (r. 1137-1158) claimed sole rule over the islands. Yet, not long afterwards, he accepted Margaret’s son, Harald Maddadarson (r. 1139-1206), as a co-ruler of Orkney.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Social media crop of a Viking Funeral by Carl Schmidt (1858-1923), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • Orkneyinga Saga, written anonymously approximately c. 1200, translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. New York: Penguin Classics, 1981.
  • Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson and translated by Lee Hollander. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964, 2018. 
  • http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/stmagnus/magcath.htm 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Olaf-II-Haraldsson 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Harald-IV 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sigurd-I-Magnusson 
  • https://www.britannica.com/place/Scotland/Cultural-life#ref483807  

Monday, February 11, 2019

Queen Deuteria And The Sad, Strange Death Of Her Young Daughter



Theudebert I was the son and heir of King Theuderic I (r. 511-534), ruler of one-third of the Frankish Empire. Theuderic arranged a betrothal between his son, Theudebert, and a Longobard princess named Wisigard—daughter of King Wacho, an early 6th-century king of the Longobards. The betrothal, however, never progressed to marriage during Theuderic’s lifetime. While campaigning against Visigoths in the south of France, Theudebert, met a woman named Deuteria in the fortified town of Cabriéres. It was apparently love at first sight for Theudebert. Despite his ongoing betrothal to Wisigard, the Frankish prince brought Deuteria home and she became his consort for several years.

Bishop Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), the main source for information on the relationship between Theudebert and Deuteria, was extremely disapproving of the impromptu match. Perhaps, as a clergyman, the bishop disapproved of the disregard that Theudebert showed for his holy betrothal between royal families. If that was not enough, Gregory of Tours also claimed that Deuteria was a widow, a divorcee, or possibly a runaway wife. Whatever the case, Gregory regarded the affair as improper and painted Deuteria as a seductress and a villain.

According to the chronology presented by Gregory of Tours, by the time King Theuderic died in 534, his son, Theudebert, had been together with Deuteria long enough for a daughter to be born from their affair (whose name unfortunately was not mentioned by Gregory). Upon hearing of his father’s death, Theudebert momentarily left Deuteria so he could fight against his power-hungry uncles, Chlotar and Childebert, for his inheritance of one-third of the Frankish Empire. After he succeeded in claiming his kingdom, King Theudebert (r. 534-548) retrieved Deuteria and made her his queen. After they were officially married, the couple had another child, a son named Theudebald.

In the late 530s, tragedy stuck Theudebert and Deuteria. Their unnamed young daughter suffered a sudden and bizarre death. According to Gregory of Tours, the incident occurred near the city of Verdun, where a bridge allowed for travelers to safely cross over a river.  According to the story, the young princess was riding in a carriage over that bridge when something spooked the animals that were pulling the vehicle. None of the guards or attendants were able to get the animals back under control and the carriage plummeted off the bridge into the river below. By the time any rescuers could reach the sinking wreck, the king and queen’s young daughter had already drowned. As sometimes happens after the death of a child, the king and queen suffered emotional stress and eventually separated following their daughter’s passing.

Gregory of Tours embellished the story with some peculiar additions. He claimed that the princess’ carriage had been pulled by untamed bulls and that it had not been a tragic accident, but a horrific premeditated murder. Furthermore, he accused the princess’ own mother, Deuteria, of being the mastermind of the plot. As for the queen’s motive, Gregory incredibly wrote that the murder was perpetrated because she feared that King Theudebert would be more sexually attracted to the young princess than to herself. This is an odd motivation, as (incest aside) the princess would have certainly been less than ten years old at the time. After all, the separation of the king and Deuteria reportedly occurred only seven years after the date of the betrothal agreement between Theudebert and the Longobard princess, Wisigard, which was arranged before Theudebert ever met Deuteria or had a child.

Whatever the truth of their daughter’s death, Theudebert and Deuteria did indeed separate soon after the tragic incident occurred. Eventually, Theudebert made good on his delayed betrothal and married the long-waiting Wisigard. Yet, tragedy struck again and Wisigard quickly fell ill and reportedly died around the year 540. Although Deuteria was still alive, and her son, Theudebald, was her ex-husband’s heir, she and King Theuderic never rekindled their relationship.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (The Ox Cart by Vincent van Gogh  (1853–1890),  mixed with figures by Albert Kretschmer c. 1882, both [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Theodoric-I-king-of-Reims 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Theodebert-I 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Theodebald 
  • https://www.revolvy.com/page/Wisigard  

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Trial Of Rusticus And Senecio



In the year 69, Emperor Vespasian and his Flavian Dynasty came to power after a year of civil war between powerful generals, a period known as the Year of the Four Emperors (Galba, Otho, Vitellius and, finally, Vespasian). After coming to power through such chaotic means, the Flavian Dynasty understandably shed some of the carefully crafted façade of the earlier Roman Principate, and decided to rule more openly as a military dictatorship. Therefore, treason trials were resumed and more restraining measures were put in place against possible threats to the imperial family, especially during the reign of the last Flavian Emperor, Domitian (r. 81-96). Although many people were sentenced to death during the reign of the Flavian Emperors, two executed men named Arulenus Rusticus and Herennius Senecio particularly stood out to contemporary scholars of the age.

Renowned writers of the 1st century, such as Tacitus, Suetonius and Pliny the Younger, all wrote about the case of Rusticus and Senecio. One reason that these specific executions hit the scholars so hard was that they had been acquaintances of Rusticus and Senecio, and, in the case of Pliny, close friends. Additionally, Rusticus and Senecio were sentenced to death as a consequence of the literature that they wrote, and therefore the case directly affected the scholarly and literary community to which Tacitus, Suetonius and Pliny the Younger belonged.

Arulenus Rusticus and Herennius Senecio drew the suspicion of Emperor Domitian after they wrote admiring pieces that honored deceased rebellious senators. Rusticus chose as the subject of his text Senator Thrasea Paetus, who was executed in 66, after years of being a public critic of Emperor Nero. As for Senecio, the individual he idolized in his text was a bit more sensational for the days of the Flavian Dynasty. Herennius Senecio praised Senator Helvidius Priscus the Elder, who was executed in 75 for his outspoken resistance against Emperor Vespasian, the father of Domitian. Such glowing accounts of rebellious senators put Rusticus and Senecio at odds with the Flavian emperors, as well as pro-Flavian senators. Yet, for vague reasons, Emperor Domitian did not only question the loyalty of Rusticus and Senecio, but he also was suspicious of many people connected to the two controversial writers.

In the year 93, Arulenus Rusticus, Herennius Senecio, and even Helvidius Priscus the Younger (son of the senator executed by Vespasian) were all put on trial. Also tried was Fannia, the widow of the elder Priscus, and Fannia’s mother Arria, as well as Arulenus Rusticus’ brother (Mauricus) and wife (Gratilla). At the end of the trials, Rusticus, Senecio and Priscus the Younger were all executed. Everyone else mentioned above survived the trials, but they all were sent into exile and did not return to Rome until after Domitian’s assassination in 96.

For Tacitus, the tragedy was not so much the deaths of Rusticus and Senecio—they knew the risks of challenging an all-powerful regime—but instead the lack of Roman resistance against censorship in literature and oration. Following the execution of Rusticus and Senecio, the literary works that they wrote were gathered and burned by the government. Writing of the Rusticus and Senecio trial, as well of the subsequent burning of their books, Tacitus wrote: “We have indeed left an impressive example of subservience. Just as Rome of old explored the limits of freedom, so have we plumbed the depths of slavery, robbed by informers even of the interchange of speech” (Agricola, section 2).

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (Archimedes before his death with the Roman soldier - copy of a Roman mosaic from the 2nd century, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • Agricola and Germania by Tacitus and translated by Harold Mattingly and revised by J. B. Rives. New York: Penguin Classics, 2009.
  • The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, translated by Robert Graves and edited by James B. Rives. New York: Penguin Classics, 2007. 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Publius-Clodius-Thrasea-Paetus 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Pliny-the-Younger 
  • http://oxfordre.com/classics/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.001.0001/acrefore-9780199381135-e-3002 
  • http://oxfordre.com/classics/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.001.0001/acrefore-9780199381135-e-3032  

Thursday, February 7, 2019

King Gundobad Of Burgundy And The Covert Capture Of Vienne



Sometime after the year 500, a Burgundian warlord named Gundobad besieged his own brother in the city of Vienne, France. The trapped brother, whose name was Godigisel, should have known not to let his guard down. After all, in the years before 500, Gundobad had already killed at least one brother, a certain Chilperic. Another sibling, Gundomar, had by then also mysteriously disappeared from the historical record.

The dislike and distrust between the brothers Gundobad and Godigisel was mutual—on the aforementioned date of 500, King Clovis of the Franks entered Burgundy on invitation and fought alongside Godigisel against the forces of Gundobad. The Franks pressed Gundobad into a defensive position, and the battered warlord eventually bunkered down in the fortified city of Avignon. The defenses of the city, however, were stout enough that Clovis decided to accept a promise of tribute from Gundobad in exchange for withdrawing Frankish forces from Burgundy, thereby leaving Godigisel alone with an incredibly angry brother.

Gundobad had been in continuous civil war with his brothers, even before the intervention of King Clovis. Yet, Godigisel’s invitation for the Franks to invade Burgundy brought Gundobad’s bloodlust to a new height. As soon as he recovered from Clovis’ foray into Burgundian politics, Gundobad mobilized his army and marched against his brother. Godigisel must not have employed competent scouts and informants, because Gundobad apparently had little trouble cornering his brother in the city of Vienne. Despite being caught off guard, Godigisel apparently had a sizable garrison in the city. After assessing the situation, Gundobad decided not to assault the city. Instead, he settled down for a siege, content with starving his brother into submission until a better opportunity appeared.  

The siege of Vienne reportedly was lengthy. According to Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), the city of Vienne began to run out of food, so Godigisel forced all noncombatants to abandon the city.  This move would have dire consequences—among the people forced to leave was a disgruntled engineer. For whatever reason, the engineer was angry at Godigisel and decided to help Gundobad’s forces enter Vienne. One of the traitor’s jobs as an engineer was to work on Vienne’s aqueduct system. He told Gundobad that a small force could covertly make their way into the city through the waterways. The king decided the plan was worth trying and began planning his next assault on the city.

According to Gregory of Tours, Gundobad attacked Vienne from outside the walls, drawing the attention of the defenders toward the siege camps. While the gaze of defending forces was focused on the army outside, an elite group of warriors followed the engineer’s directions to navigate their way through the aqueduct system, using crowbars to pry away any obstacles in their path. The covert group successfully made their way into Vienne and broke free of the aqueduct. Finally, they sabotaged the city’s gate and signaled for the besieging army to charge. Gundobad’s forces broke open the gate with ease and took control of the town. According to tradition, Godigisel was found and slain inside of a local church. With his capture of Vienne and the death of his brother, Gundobad became the sole king of Burgundy and ruled until his death in 516.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (Lid of the Franks/Auzon Casket, photographed by Wilhelm Viëtor (c. 1901), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Gundobad  

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Embarrassing Way An Athenian Fleet Broke Into The Sicilian City of Catana



In 415 BCE, Athens and its allies launched an expedition to Sicily reportedly consisting of over 130 warships, plus more than 100 smaller supply boats. Accompanying the sailors was a combined force of over 7,000 hoplite infantry, skirmishers and even some cavalry. When the expeditionary force reached Italy and Sicily, it met with a cold reception. The Italian cities were extremely suspicious of the Athenians, and they usually gave the expedition members some water and allowed the fleet to anchor offshore, but no more—after this brief show of hospitality, most Italian cities barred their gates and manned their walls. Of all the coastal cities in Italy, Rhegium behaved the friendliest toward the Athenians. It was near that city that the Athenians set up their first prolonged expedition camp. Rhegium also opened up a temporary market from which the Athenians could buy supplies, but like the rest of the Italian cities, they refused to let the foreigners inside their walls.

After resting up near Rhegium, the expedition force turned its gaze to the true target of the campaign—Sicily, especially the city-states of Selinus and Syracuse. The three generals in charge, Alcibiades, Nicias and Lamachus, had differing views on how to make their approach. In the end, Alcibiades convinced his comrades that recruiting Sicilian cities to the Athenian cause was the best first step. Following Alcibiades’ plan, Athenian ships sailed from Rhegium toward Sicily. Yet, just like in Italy, the local city-states gave the newcomers a cold reception. Messina, the city that Athens most wanted to have as an ally, refused to align with the expedition and closed their gates, although they did open up a market for trade. The city of Catana also refused to allow the Athenians inside their walls and told the fleet to keep sailing. Only Naxos allowed the expedition to freely enter their city.

Before long, the Athenian fleet encountered the powerful city of Syracuse. Here, the Athenians laid out the conditions that had to be met to avoid war. The main demand was that swaths of land be returned to Athens’ ally, Leontini. With the ultimatum delivered, the diplomats took a tour of the city and did reconnaissance work. After assessing Syracuse’s strength, the Athenian fleet began backtracking toward the camp at Rhegium, where some of their ships had stayed behind.

When the expedition force returned to Catana, they found the city slightly more willing to negotiate. The leaders of Catana reportedly invited the leading generals of the expedition to come inside the city and talk things over. This offer was accepted and the generals entered the city (presumably with some bodyguards), but left their ships and men nervously waiting outside the walls.

The Athenian generals walked into an interesting situation, to say the least. The city was in a state of disrepair, and even its walls and gates were poorly maintained. Moreover, the leaders of Catana were apparently very unpopular with their people and unrest was on the rise. With their city crumbling and their political power waning, perhaps the local leading party was willing to align with the expedition to maintain power. Alas, we will never know, for the arranged one-on-one meeting between the generals and the ruling party of Catana never occurred.

Not long after the generals had entered the city, the loitering Athenian fleet began to feel restless. Thucydides (460-400 BCE), the main historian of the period, did not provide a motive for the army’s behavior, but it is possible that they feared their leaders were walking into a trap. Otherwise, maybe the Athenians were just fed up with so many Italian and Sicilian cities closing their gates against the expedition. Whatever the case, large numbers of Athenian warriors began gathering by the walls of the city. There, the expeditionary forces saw what their generals had witnessed earlier—the city defenses were in a horrible state. Incredibly, the Athenians were reportedly able to simply push their way through the city gates without using any siege weaponry.

Once the unruly Athenian warriors had broken into the city, they found their generals were safe. In fact, Alcibiades was reportedly giving a speech to the assembled masses of the city when the worried Athenians broke down the front gate. When the generals were found safe and sound, the Athenian forces calmed down and, according to Thucydides, many decided to awkwardly “stroll about in the market-place” (History of the Peloponnesian War, Book VI, section 51).

With Athenian forces suddenly appearing in the city, the leaders of  Catana decided to flee. Alcibiades’ speech to the masses must have been well-received, for the people of Catana agreed to an alliance with Athens and decided to allow (or did not resist) the expeditionary force to build a new camp for their Sicilian campaign near the city.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (Black-Figure amphora depicting Achilles and Ajax playing a board game overseen by Athena, c. 510 BCE, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • History of the Peloponnesian War (Book IV) by Thucydides, translated by Rex Warner and introduced by M. I. Finley. New York: Penguin Classics, 1972.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

According To Tradition, King Olaf I Of Norway Was Enslaved As A Child



Tryggvi Olafsson was a grandson of the first King of all Norway, Harald Finehair (ruled approximately 860-940). Tryggvi’s cousins, the sons of Eirik Bloodaxe (r. 940-945), conquered Norway around 961, after they dealt a mortal wound to King Hákon the Good (r. 946-961). Yet, even though the sons of Eirik were proven warriors and had royal blood in their veins, Tryggvi and other nobles worked together to resist the brothers. Jarl Hákon Sigurdsson of the Trondheim region led an open rebellion against the sons of Eirik after his father was assassinated in 963 and Tryggvi was one of the Norwegian chieftains that lent the rebels his support. Unfortunately, supporting Jarl Hákon put a target on Tryggvi’s back and he was ultimately assassinated by the sons of Eirik around 968. According to tradition, Tryggvi’s wife, Astrid, was pregnant at the time of her husband’s death. When the grim news arrived, she immediately fled from Norway. Her son, Olaf Tryggvason, was reportedly born while she was on the run.

As told in the sagas, Astrid and her newborn child escaped to Sweden, where they stayed until young Olaf was three years old. Yet, when agents of the sons of Eirik came looking for them, Astrid decided to relocate to Novgorod or Kiev, where Vladimir the Great (prince of Novgorod r. 970-972 and Grand Prince of Kiev 980-1015) was ascending to power. With this in mind, Astrid and her young son boarded a merchant ship and set sail for the lands of the Kievan Rus. Nevertheless, according to legend, the merchant ship never reached its destination.

Astrid and Olaf were reportedly thrown into chaos even before they reached mainland Europe. As the story goes, Vikings or raiders attacked the merchant ship somewhere in the Baltic Sea. The traders were overpowered and the assailants boarded the ship, seizing the cargo and passengers, alike. According to the sagas, Olaf Tryggvason and his mother were captured and separated. Astrid was hauled away to some unknown grisly fate, while young Olaf was shipped over to Estonia, where he was sold into slavery. The pirates apparently bartered him in exchange for a goat and then he was supposedly traded once more for a good cloak. According to the tale, Olaf Tryggvason remained a slave in Estonia for about six years, mainly working as an enslaved farmhand. Thankfully, Olaf was apparently discovered and freed by his uncle, Sigurd Eiriksson, who fulfilled Astrid’s wishes by bringing Olaf to the domain of Vladimir the Great.

Whether or not this is truly how Olaf Tryggvason spent his childhood, the real historical figure certainly lived his early years in exile from Norway and eventually became quite the adventurer. Anglo-Saxon accounts of Olaf’s Viking raids in Britain are some of the first definitive accounts of his burgeoning military career. He somehow became a companion of King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark and accompanied the Danish king on great Viking expeditions against England in 991 and 994. Finally, in 995, Olaf Tryggvason returned to Norway and usurped power from Jarl Hákon Sigurdsson (who had by then defeated the sons of Eirik with the help of the Danes).  King Olaf Tryggvason ruled Norway from 995 until his death in 1000.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (A depiction of a scene from the saga of Olaf, by Halfdan Egedius (1877–1899), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson and translated by Lee Hollander. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964, 2018.
  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by Benjamin Thorpe in 1861 and republished by Cambridge University Press, 2012. 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Olaf-Tryggvason 
  • http://avaldsnes.info/en/informasjon/olav-tryggvason/ 
  • http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/britannia/anglo-saxon/maldon/olaftryggvason.html 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Harald-II-Eiriksson 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Harald-I-king-of-Norway 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Haakon-I-Adalsteinsfostre 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Haakon-Sigurdsson 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Vladimir-I  

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Fatal Love Triangle Of Hipparchus, Harmodius And Aristogeiton In Ancient Athens



Hippias and Hipparchus were sons of Peisistratus, the tyrant of Athens who ruled from 546 BCE until his death in 527 BCE. Upon the tyrant’s death, power in Athens passed to his sons, of whom the eldest son, Hippias, took the lead political role. While his older brother ran the city-state, Hipparchus seemed to devote much of his time to pursuing pleasure. One such pursuit of desire, however, would become fatal for all parties involved in the drama.

As told by Thucydides (History of the Peloponnesian War, Book VI), Hipparchus lusted after a beautiful person named Harmodius. Although he laid on as much charm and seductiveness as he could muster, Hipparchus completely failed in realizing his sensual ambitions. As it happened, Harmodius already had a lover named Aristogeiton, and when Aristogeiton learned of Hipparchus’ advances, he was enraged. He also reportedly feared that Hipparchus might use his power and influence as a member of the Peisistratid family to force Harmodius into an unwanted relationship.

Indeed, Hipparchus’ lust had apparently evolved into emotions of anger after being faced with rejection. Yet, instead of unleashing his anger on Harmodius, Hipparchus instead publicly disgraced Harmodius’ sister in the midst of a parade or procession for all the population of Athens to see. This public act of cruelty was too much for Harmodius and Aristogeiton to bear, so they began planning the murder of Hipparchus.

Sometime during their macabre plotting, Harmodius and Aristogeiton broadened their horizon and, instead of just murdering Hipparchus, they decided to topple the whole tyrannical regime of the Peisistratids. In order to carry out the conspiracy, the lovers recruited other passionate Athenians to their cause. Yet, they kept the overall number of conspirators relatively small for the sake of lowering the chance of their plot being discovered.

The conspirators finally struck during the feast of the Panathenaea (or the Panathenaic festival) of 514 BCE. Yet, despite all their planning, the conspiracy quickly fell apart. Riled up by emotion, Harmodius and Aristogeiton raced off to find Hipparchus before the rest of the conspirators could get into position and surround the elder (and more powerful) Peisistratid brother, Hippias. The lovers cornered Hipparchus near the Leocorium and, without a thought for their compatriots, they stabbed their target to death with daggers. As soon as the commotion occurred, the Peisistratid private army of guards and mercenaries sprung into action. Harmodius was slain on the spot and Aristogeiton was captured.

As the conspirators did not strike in unison or with coordination, Hippias and his guards were forewarned of possible danger. Appraising the heightened security measures of the Peisistratid guards, the rest of the conspirators did not attempt to assassinate Hippias. The conspirators had also hoped that the Athenian masses would rise up against the tyrants when news of the attack spread. Yet, the Peisistratids, although they had gained power by force, had hitherto ruled Athens with a fairly light touch. Unfortunately for the conspirators, the assassination of Hipparchus did little to sway the masses to their cause. In fact, the man most inspired by the assassination of Hipparchus was Hippias, who, in response to his brother’s murder, hunted down the conspirators and began a wave of persecutions. For his part in the attack, the captured Aristogeiton was executed through tortuous and painful means. As for Hippias, he continued to rule as tyrant of Athens for four more years until he was forced to flee in 510 BCE by a military intervention from Sparta.

Despite the failure of Harmodius and Aristogeiton bring down the Peisistratid regime, their act of murdering Hipparchus was later celebrated as an act of liberty in Athens. Some even wrongfully credited the lovers as being responsible for Hippias’ departure from Athens, a falsehood that annoyed Thucydides. Therefore, setting the story straight was one of the reasons why Thucydides wrote down the tale in his history. Before launching into the story, Thucydides prefaced his account of the love triangle with a cautionary statement that read, “the Athenians themselves are no better than other people at producing accurate information about their own dictators and the facts of their own history” (History of the Peloponnesian War, Book VI, section 54).

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Exhibit of a stamnos depicting the assassination of Hipparchus, housed in the Martin von Wagner Museum - Würzburg, Germany. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • History of the Peloponnesian War (Book VI) by Thucydides, translated by Rex Warner and introduced by M. I. Finley. New York: Penguin Classics, 1972.
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Peisistratus 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hippias 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Harmodius