Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Sacrifice Dilemma At The Battle Of Marathon

By 490 BCE, King Darius I of Persia had brought Ionia, Thrace and Macedonia under his influence and began his presumptive next phase of subjugation by sending an expeditionary force into Euboea. The Persian expeditionary force (estimated to have numbered anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 troops) crossed over to Attica, where they were intercepted by an army of around 10,000 Athenians and Plataeans on the plains of Marathon. Herodotus claimed that the Greek forces gave sacrifice to the gods before the battle and watched for omens, which, when found, were interpreted as signs of a good outcome. Although not mentioned by Herodotus, Athenian tradition and future historians (such as Xenophon and Plutarch) claimed that one of the religious actions taken by Athens before the Battle of Marathon was a vow to the goddess, Artemis, that, if Greece should prove victorious, they would sacrifice to her a number of animals equal to the number of Persians killed in the battle. When they made this sacred vow, they likely did not know just how big a task they were arranging.

According to Xenophon and Plutarch, Athens promised to sacrifice young goats (kids) to Artemis. Yet, in the scholia to Aristophanes’ The Knights, it was claimed that the Athenians actually promised oxen to the goddess. Whatever the case, promising either goats or oxen, the Greeks charged against the Persians, hoping that their vow of a future sacrifice would bring the gods over to their side. The ensuing Battle of Marathon would become one of the most famous engagements of the ancient world and a key point in the development of a panhellenic Greek identity—it would also, unfortunately, lead to the deaths of untold numbers of livestock.

The Greeks won a major victory at Marathon, and, despite being greatly outnumbered, they reportedly only lost 192 men in the battle. In contrast, Herodotus claimed that 6,400 Persians were killed, which was seemingly calculated on the assumption that a hundred Persians were slain for every three Greek deaths. Although Herodotus gave the Greeks a favorable statistic for the number of Persian dead, many the of historian’s ancient Greek peers apparently believed Herodotus’ account of the Battle of Marathon was maliciously unembellished. For instance, Plutarch wrote in his essay, The Malice of Herodotus, that the statistic of Persian dead should be increased from Herodotus’ claim of 6,400 to one in which “the number of the dead [is] appearing infinite” (section 26).

In any case, whether or not the number of Persian dead was closer to six thousand or infinity, the Athenians owed Artemis an incredible number of sacrificial animals. Although the account from the scholia of Aristophanes claimed the Athenians had originally promised oxen, the story went on to propose that Athens downgraded to goats after they discovered just how many Persians they had killed. Faced with the challenge of rounding up and sacrificing thousands of goats, the Athenians decided to make a pragmatic emendation to their vow with Artemis. Instead of sacrificing the goats in bulk, they made the decision to offer the sacrifices in yearly increments. Writing around a century or more years later, Xenophon (c. 420-350 BCE) commented on the subject, claiming, “They had made a vow to Artemis that they would offer her in sacrifice a goat for every enemy soldier they killed, but they couldn’t find enough goats and so they decided to sacrifice five hundred a year, and they are still carrying out this annual sacrifice” (Anabasis, Book 3, section 2). Most ancient sources agreed with Xenophon that the sacrifices were in increments of 500, but Aelian, in his Various History, claimed that the yearly sacrifices amounted to the favored Greek number of 300.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Pheidippides giving word of victory at Marathon, painted by Luc-Olivier Merson (1846–1920), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

  • Anabasis Kyrou (The Expedition/Upcountry March of Cyrus) by Xenophon and translated by Robin Waterfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2008.01.0352%3Asection%3D26 
  • https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Marathon 
  • https://www.ancient.eu/marathon/ 
  • https://www.livius.org/articles/battle/marathon-490-bce/the-significance-of-marathon/ 
  • https://www.nationalgeographic.org/thisday/sep12/battle-marathon/ 
  • https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/battle-of-marathon  

Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Bold Way Zhou Yafu Reportedly Earned The Respect Of Emperor Wen

Zhou Yafu was the son of Marquis Zhou Bo of Jiang (d. 169 BCE). If he was the type of man who wanted to surpass his father, he had a tough act to follow. Zhou Bo was instrumental in bringing Emperor Wen (r. 180-157 BCE) to power, and, although Zhou Bo and the emperor had the occasional tiff, he was generally a well-respected figure in the court of the Han Dynasty until his dying day.

Upon the death of Zhou Bo in 169 BCE, it was not Zhou Yafu who succeeded to the marquisate. Instead, his brother Shengzhi became the new Marquis of Jiang. Zhou Yafu, for his own part, was granted an appointment as the governor of Henei not long after his brother became a marquis. Like many second sons of noble families, he probably felt that his path up the social hierarchy would not come from inheritance, but from showing merit in government and military spheres.

Zhou Yafu was still governor of Henei when Xiongnu nomads entered the provinces of Shang and Yunzhong in 158 BCE, invading both regions with separate armies, reportedly numbering 30,000 men each. In response to the Xiongnu invasion, the emperor ordered several officials to mobilize Chinese forces and had them set up camps at certain regions in the empire. Zhou Yafu was one of the military leaders, and he was ordered to gather his forces at Xiliu.

It was at the time of the Xiongnu invasion of 158 BCE that Zhou Yafu caught the attention of Emperor Wen—and he reportedly did so in a bizarre and bold way. Emperor Wen was said to have toured the various military camps during the months-long showdown between the Xiongnu and the Chinese forces. As no major battles were reported during the conflict, the visits of Emperor Wen to his camped troops were often the most dramatic events of the invasion. According to the historian Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE), Emperor Wen personally visited at least three of the military encampments set up during 158 BCE, and, by far, the emperor’s visit to Zhou Yafu’s camp at Xiliu was the most peculiar.

Channeling his inner Sun Tzu, Zhou Yafu reportedly adopted the persona of a strict, no-nonsense general when the emperor came to visit. Whereas the other camps toured by the emperor had immediately opened their gates and welcomed their ruler with great pomp and celebration, Zhou Yafu’s camp was on complete lockdown. The emperor’s caravan was alleged to have been awkwardly halted before a heavily guarded gateway, and the entrance of the Xiliu camp was reportedly not opened until Emperor Wen sent a messenger to display his imperial credentials to Zhou Yafu. Yet, that was only the beginning to the general’s display of extreme military by-the-book discipline. Sima Qian described the scene: “After the guards had opened the gates one of them told the cavalry and carriage drivers accompanying the emperor, ‘The general says there is to be no galloping within the camp!’ The emperor accordingly reined in the horses of his carriage and proceeded at a slow pace to the headquarters. General Zhou Yafu appeared bearing his arms and bowed curtly” (Shi ji, 57).

Emperor Wen’s companions were said to have been outraged at Zhou Yafu’s treatment of his sovereign. The emperor, however, was immensely impressed, appraising Zhou Yafu as one of his toughest generals, as well as the military leader least likely to be tricked by Xiongnu warriors attempting to impersonate the emperor. In his assessment of Zhou Yafu, Emperor Wen was likely thinking of sayings of Sun Tzu, such as “Have a capable general, Unhampered by his sovereign” and “The general is the prop of the nation. When the prop is solid, the nation is strong. When the prop is flawed, the nation is weak” (The Art of War, chapter 3).

The Xiongnu withdrew only a few months after the invasion of 158 BCE and the Chinese armies sent to defend against the invaders were recalled from their camps. Emperor Wen soon made Zhou Yafu a palace military commander and also appointed him as Marquis of Tiao. Yet, the old emperor was at the end of his reign. When Emperor Wen was on his deathbed in 157 BCE, he reportedly advised his son, Emperor Jing (r. 157-141 BCE), to put Zhou Yafu in charge of the empire’s military. Emperor Jing did, indeed, put great trust in Zhou Yafu, making him his general of carriage and cavalry, palace military commander, grand commandant, and finally chancellor. Yet, he and Emperor Jing had a falling-out over what to do with Xiongnu defectors in 147 BCE, at which point he resigned as chancellor. A few years later, Zhou Yafu was arrested under suspicion of rebellion and he eventually committed suicide through a hunger strike.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (19th or early 20th century depiction of Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮), styled Kongming (孔明), on top of a city wall. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

  • Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji) by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu, translated by John Minford. New York: Penguin Classics, 2009.  
  • http://www.chinaknowledge.de/History/Han/personszhouyafu.html  

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Unappreciated Grain Savior of 6th-Century Bordeaux

Around the year 571, a plague ravaged the French regions of Clermont-Ferrand, Lyons, Chalon-sur-Saône, and Dijon. Gregory of Tours (539-594), author of The History of the Franks, lost friends and acquaintances in the plague, and reported that the dead were “so numerous that it was not even possible to count them” (Book IV, section 31). After describing the plague and subsequently listing who succeeded to the duties of prominent plague victims, Gregory then moved on to a curious tale about a monk in Bordeaux, France. Perhaps the transition fit the chronology of his history, or maybe he placed the story of the monk where he did as a change of pace after the account of the plague.

In the narration of his history, Gregory of Tours abruptly broke away from his account of the plague with the undetailed statement, “I will now tell you something which happened in another monastery at about the same time” (History of the Franks, Book IV, section 34). Although Gregory’s section heading disclosed that the events of the story took place in Bordeaux, he unfortunately left all the other identifying pieces of information (names of people and specific places) strictly anonymous. Gregory provided a reasoning for his lack of specification—he wrote, “I do not propose to give the name of the monk concerned, for he is still alive, and if he should read what I have written he might be filled with vainglory and so lose virtue” (History of the Franks, Book IV, section 34).

As the story goes, a certain youth of Bordeaux arrived one day at a local monastery and asked to be admitted to the religious order. The abbot in charge of the place was skeptical, and, intending to drive the youth away, he described with embellishment the disciplined lifestyle of those allowed to live inside the monastery. The youth, however, was not deterred by the abbot’s words. In the end, the abbot decided to humor the youth and allowed him to loiter in the monastery. Yet, the monks soon recognized true humility and piety in the youth, and he was eventually admitted as a novice monk.

The youth presumably joined the monastery around 571, for Gregory’s story, set around the time of the plague, reportedly occurred only a few days after the youth became a novice monk. As the newest addition to the monastery, the youthful novice was given menial tasks, such as watching over grain as it dried in the sun. Yet, that boring task would bring the youth great renown in the 6th century.

One day, the monks of Bordeaux hauled about three bushels of grain out to a sunny patch not far from the monastery and left it out to dry. When the grain reached its destination, the novice was tasked with watching over the crop while his senior monks returned to the monastery. The abbot and the older monks returned to their usual cloistered routine, feeling reassured because not only was it a pleasant day, but they also had their most energetic and youthful novice keeping watch over the grain. Yet, the monks did not have a meteorologist among their ranks, and, therefore, the residents of the monastery were caught completely by surprise when a freak rainstorm began to form above their heads.

With all of the progress on the drying grain about to be undone by the sudden storm, the monks began sprinting toward the spot where they left the novice. To their horror, the rain began to pour before they reached the crop. The drenched monks, however, were struck with amazement when they finally reached the grain.  There, they found the young novice splayed out on the ground in prayer, fervently begging God to spare the crop. In the sky above the prostrate novice, “The clouds divided, the rain poured down all around the corn, but not a single grain was wetted, if what I have heard is true” (History of the Franks, Book IV, section 34). To the newly arrived abbot and monks, it looked as if God had parted the rainclouds and protected the grain in response to the youth’s prayers.

With the monks mumbling to themselves about divine miracles, the abbot responded bizarrely to the holy scene. Gregory of Tours wrote down the abbot’s peculiar reaction:

“When the abbot perceived what had occurred, he lay down in prayer beside the monk. The rain passed over and the abbot finished his prayer. He then told the youth to get up and ordered him to be seized and beaten…He had him shut in his cell for a whole week and made him fast in expiation of his sin, to prevent him from becoming too pleased with himself and so that he might learn to mend his ways” (History of the Franks, Book IV, section 34).
Gregory of Tours, at least in his writing, did not challenge the abbot’s assertion that the novice’s punishment was meant as a good-willed act to curtail a sinful ego. Yet, the cynic and skeptic may believe that the abbot prayed beside the novice in an unsuccessful attempt to steal credit of the miracle for himself, and the subsequent punishment resulted from the abbot’s jealousy of the novice.

Nevertheless, Gregory of Tours did apparently agree with the abbot that the youth was vulnerable to hubris after performing a flashy miracle, and Gregory therefore did not record the novice’s name. Yet, at least during the late 6th century, the novice reportedly had an impeccable reputation. Unfortunately, the identity of the novice remains a mystery, and there is no knowing if this occurred because of a fall from grace or if his name was simply lost to time.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Titus as a Monk, painted by Rembrandt (1606–1669), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

  • The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Odd Demise Of Romulus

Ancient Roman antiquarians reportedly found around twenty-five separate stories about the foundation of Rome while delving through the folklore and myth of their past. The creation myth put forward by Livy (59 BCE-17 CE), however, became the official version of Rome’s foundation. For his telling of Rome’s early history, Livy began with the myth of Aeneas migrating to Italy after the Trojan War and then transitioned into the more homegrown myth of Romulus and Remus.

The mythical twins were said to have been demigods scandalously born from a union between the war-god, Mars, and a Vestal Virgin. As happened to numerous other ancient heroes, the powerful infants were condemned to death by a tyrannical king. They were left to die by the edge of the Tiber, but a she-wolf protected and fed the twins until they were discovered by a shepherd named Faustulus. The kind shepherd brought the twins home and raised them on his farm. Even before they reached adulthood, Romulus and Remus began to show the common signs of heroic nature—an instinctive ability to lead, great physical strength, limitless ambition and a knack for warfare. The twins’ military career started when they began hunting bandits, but they eventually shifted their focus to the tyrannical king who had attempted to kill them while they were babies. Romulus and Remus deposed the king and soon after left the region to found a new city. The brothers disagreed on the site of the planned settlement and Remus was ultimately killed. Romulus gained sole power and his city, named after him, was called Rome. Romulus then became the quintessential conquering demigod, laying down the foundations of Roman government and spreading Rome’s influence through warfare.

With godly vigor, Romulus was said to have remained lithe and physically active in Rome up until the day he passed away. In fact, according to Livy, Romulus spent his final moments on the Campus Martius, giving his troops a thorough inspection. As may be expected in a story about a demigod, Romulus’ ending was quite supernatural. The official version of Romulus’ departure from earth was: “One day while he [Romulus] was reviewing his troops on the Campus Martius near the marsh of Capra, a storm burst, with violent thunder. A cloud enveloped him, so thick that it hid him from the eyes of everyone present; and from that moment he was never seen again upon earth” (Livy, History of Rome, 1.16). The event understandably left the army shocked. Yet, Roman senators, who were reportedly standing beside Romulus at the time, quickly cheered up the troops by proclaiming that the cloud had carried off Romulus to the realm of the gods.

There was, however, a second prominent interpretation of what occurred in the storm cloud. Livy recorded the theory, albeit in a subdued fashion, by stating, “even on this great occasion there were, I believe, a few dissentients who secretly maintained that the king had been torn to pieces by the senators” (Livy, History of Rome, 1.16). In Livy’s scenario, where senators were beside the king when the storm arrived, it would have been quite the impressive feat for the statesmen to dismember and hide the body of their king before the clouds dissipated. Yet, in other accounts of myth, the senators put much more time into their plot. One particularly gruesome telling of the tale had the Senate lure Romulus into a meeting where the senators cut the king apart and disposed of the body in piecemeal fashion, with each statesman smuggling a part of Romulus’ remains away from the scene of the crime.  While this second interpretation of Romulus’ disappearance was not very pious, it was definitely Roman.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (Sketch of the immortalization of Romulus by Antonio Tempesta (1555–1630), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

  • The History of Rome by Livy, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.
  • The Beginnings of Rome by T. J. Cornell. New York: Routledge, 1995. 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Livy  

Monday, April 22, 2019

King Hardecanute Reportedly Desecrated The Remains Of His Half-Brother

King Canute the Great seized the throne of England following the deaths of King Æthelred the Unready and Edmund Ironside in 1016. After seeing to things in England, Canute then asserted his claimed over Denmark between 1018 and 1019 (his father had been King Svein Forkbeard of the Danes) and he later usurped power in Norway by deposing King Olaf II Haraldsson (Saint Olaf) in 1028.

In addition to taking the English throne, King Canute also claimed the queen. Canute married Queen Emma, the widow of Æthelred the Unready, in the year 1017. Although Emma returned to England, her sons Ælfred and Edward (fathered by the late Æthelred), remained in exile. Not long after the marriage, presumably 1018 or 1019, King Canute and Emma had a son named Hardecanute, who would eventually inherit much of his Canute’s domain. Hardecanute was soon shipped off to Denmark, where he was tutored and prepped for kingship. By 1028, King Canute had enough trust in Hardecanute’s loyalty and talents to affirm the young prince as a governor or minor king in Denmark.

Yet, not all of Hardecanute’s siblings had been exiled and one half-brother, in particular, posed a significant challenge to Hardecanute’s future. While Hardecanute was seeing to his responsibilities in Denmark, a half-brother named Harold “Harefoot” was making powerful friends in England. Harold was born from Ælgifu of Northampton, who was favored by King Canute before he married Emma, and although Hardecanute seemed to be the favored prince, Harold managed to build himself a formidable faction of English thanes and earls. When King Canute died in 1035, Hardecanute easily assumed the full kingship over Denmark, where he had been the region’s effective ruler since at least 1028. Yet, England was another matter—it became a political warzone, with Earl Leofric of Mercia leading a party in favor of King Harold Harefoot, while Earl Godwine of Wessex and Queen Emma rallied to the cause of Hardecanute. Yet, Hardecanute’s long absence from England was used as a political weapon by Harold, who, in contrast, was a familiar face to the English noblemen. In the end, Emma and Earl Godwine could only contain Harold to the rank of co-king of England, or possibly regent. Yet, by 1037, Harold had gathered enough strength to do away with political pretenses—he declared himself the sole king of England and forced Queen Emma to leave Britain.

Harold’s reign was bittersweet. On the one hand, he successfully defended his kingdom’s frontiers against attack, albeit he reportedly took considerable casualties on the Welsh front. On a more negative note, his reign also saw a gruesome assassination—Ælfred (son of Æthelred and Emma) was said to have been kidnapped while in England to see his mother; he was then reportedly mutilated and left to slowly die from his wounds. Additionally, the threat of an invasion by Hardecanute always loomed over England in the years after Harold’s proclamation of sole rule. Nevertheless, Harold Harefoot died in 1040, before any conflict could erupt between the half-brothers. After Harold’s death, Hardecanute, who was lurking beyond the English Channel with a fleet of sixty ships, crossed over to England and assumed control of the vacated throne.

King Harold I Harefoot was buried in Westminster after his death. Yet, Hardecanute had unfinished business with the man who usurped his throne and exiled his mother. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Hardecanute was willing to go to incredible lengths to get payback against his troublesome sibling. Not long after arriving in England, Hardecanute reportedly “caused the dead Harold to be dragged up, and had him cast into a fen” (ASC 1040). The act of tossing his half-brother’s remains into a wetland was a poor start to what would be an ungraceful and unpopular reign in England. In his short period of rule, Hardecanute earned himself a reputation for brutality and oath breaking before he died of drinking problems in 1042. He was succeeded by his half-brother, Edward the Confessor, a fellow son of Queen Emma.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (Image of King Canute from the Young People's History of England, c. 1870s, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by Benjamin Thorpe in 1861 and republished by Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  • Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson and translated by Lee Hollander. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964, 2018. 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Canute-I 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hardecanute 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Harold-I 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Godwine 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Leofric  

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Cyrus The Younger Should Have Remembered To Wear His Helmet!

Cyrus the Younger was the ambitious son of King Darius II (r. 423-404 BCE) and a younger brother of King Artaxerxes II (r. 404-358 BCE). Cyrus and Artaxerxes II were both born from Queen Parysatis, but she reportedly showed clear favoritism for Cyrus. With the help of his doting mother, Cyrus the Younger was appointed by his father as the political and military ruler of Lydia, Cappadocia and Phrygia in Anatolia. As governor of those regions, Cyrus helped the Peloponnesians win the Peloponnesian War (ended 404 BCE) against the Athenian Empire, earning the Persian prince many powerful friends in Greece. In 401 BCE, after Darius II had died and was succeeded by Artaxerxes II, Cyrus the Younger hired around 14,000 Greek mercenaries, and mobilized a greater number of additional forces from his own domains. With his army, estimated to be between 70,000-100,000 men by ancient sources, but reduced to 20,000-30,000 warriors by modern estimates, Cyrus marched out of Anatolia, through Syria and trekked into Babylonia, hoping to overthrow his brother and seize the Persian throne.

Somewhere along the Euphrates River, at a site called Cunaxa, Cyrus the Younger was intercepted by the royal army of King Artaxerxes II, a force claimed by the ancients to have been between 400,000-900,000 strong, yet modern estimates have reduced the number to about 60,000. Whatever the case, Cyrus’ army was greatly outnumbered—Xenophon, a mercenary in the rebel army, wrote that Artaxerxes’ battle line extended so far beyond that of Cyrus that the rebel left flank was in danger of being surrounded from the get-go. Nevertheless, the Greek mercenaries (on the rebel right wing) charged forward against their opponents. Cyrus, too, in a scene that would make the future Alexander the Great proud, led a cavalry charge straight for his brother, Artaxerxes. According to sources on both sides of the conflict, Cyrus’ charge succeeded in breaking through rows of Persian warriors and he triumphantly reached his foe. The brothers exchanged blows, but Cyrus was the first to draw blood. He struck Artaxerxes on the chest with his spear, leaving a wound that the king’s doctor, Ctesias, reported was five centimeters deep. King Artaxerxes II was reportedly knocked off his horse by the impact of the blow and he was promptly carried away for medical treatment.

With the Greeks making progress on the right wing, and Cyrus victorious in the duel against his brother, the rebel army was poised for greatness. Yet, Cyrus the Younger had failed to heed the advice given to all children who pedal bicycles and leather-clad adults who ride motorcycles—the prince had tragically forgotten to wear his helmet. Xenophon (on Cyrus’ side) wrote that the prince simply chose not to wear any protective headgear into battle, whereas Ctesias (on Artaxerxes’ side) claimed that Cyrus rode into battle wearing only a poorly-fitted royal tiara that fell from his head early on during the battle. Consequently, at the climax of the battle, just after unhorsing Artaxerxes, Cyrus the Younger had no protection against a javelin or dart that came flying toward his head. Xenophon and Ctesias agreed that the projectile slammed into Cyrus’ head, hitting somewhere near the level of the prince’s eyes, although they disagreed on whether the weapon flew in from the front or the side. Despite the horrific wound, Cyrus continued to cling to life for some time after the blow, but he eventually succumbed to his injury and fell from his horse, dying not long after. When news of his death spread, Cyrus’ Persian followers fled the battlefield, leaving the Greek mercenaries alone in Babylonia with an angry Persian king, but the march home of these so-called Ten Thousand is a story for another day.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (Battle of Cunaxa and the retreat of the 10,000, painted by Adrien Guignet (1816–1854), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

  • Anabasis Kyrou (The Expedition/ Upcountry March of Cyrus) by Xenophon and translated by Robin Waterfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/cyrus-vi-younger 
  • https://www.livius.org/articles/person/cyrus-the-younger/ 
  • https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cyrus-younger 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Cyrus-the-Younger 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Artaxerxes-II 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Darius-II-Ochus  

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Costly Miscalculation Of King Chilperic I

From 558-561, the empire of the Franks was united under King Chlotar I. Before that time, Chlotar (also spelled Chlothar and Lothar) had precariously ruled in conjunction with his brothers. There was tension and intrigue during their joint reign, of course, but open civil war between the brothers was admirably infrequent. Chlotar outlived his three sibling co-kings, all fathered by the famous King Clovis (d. 511), and also outlived the sons of his late brothers. Therefore, the only legitimate heirs to the Frankish Empire were from Chlotar’s line. When King Chlotar died in 561, history repeated itself—the Empire of the Franks was divided between four of Chlotar’s sons. Chilperic (ruling from Soissons) and Sigebert (ruling from Rheims) were two of these new kings. Yet, unlike the previous generation of co-monarchs, Chilperic and Sigebert could not quarantine their political maneuvering only to the shadows.

The Avars, tempted by the drama of succession, raided the empire of the Franks in 562. According to Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), King Sigebert was the only brother who raised his forces to stop the warriors of the Avar confederation. Chilperic, too, mobilized an army, yet his forces were not gathered to defend the empire against foreign invaders. Quite the opposite, Chilperic reportedly took advantage of the distraction caused by the Avars and invaded his brother’s undefended domain. While the responsible King Sigebert was battling with the Avars, Chilperic seized several of his brother’s cities and even threatened Sigibert’s seat of power at Rheims.

The Avars, however, did not cause as much chaos as Chilperic had hoped. According to Gregory of Tours, Sigebert was able to halt the progress of the Avars in a single battle and quickly brokered a peace with the invaders. With the foreign threat withdrawing, Sigebert was able to turn his attention back to defending his kingdom against Chilperic’s encroachment.

Marching home from the front lines, Sigebert launched a well-executed military campaign against his brother. In Gregory of Tour’s account of the war, Sigebert began his counterattack with a bold move—he besieged and occupied Chilperic’s capital city of Soissons. In addition to the capital city, Sigebert also captured Chilperic’s son, Theudebert, during the siege. After taking Soissons, Sigebert apparently loitered in his brother’s territory until Chilperic appeared. The armies of the two siblings clashed in an unknown location, but Sigebert emerged as the clear winner. According to Gregory of Tours, it was only after Sigebert occupied Soissons and defeated Chilperic in battle, that the victorious king returned to his own domain and reclaimed the cites that his brother had seized.

 With his land back under his control and his brother’s army weakened, Sigibert brokered a truce with Chilperic. Gregory of Tours was not clear on the terms of the agreement, but one condition was that Chilperic’s son, Theudebert, would remain as Sigebert’s hostage for the span of a year. Theudebert’s captivity was fairly luxurious—his prison was the villa of Ponthion, after all. Yet, it was a prison, all the same. When the allotted year was over, Sigebert released Theudebert, and, according to Gregory of Tours, he even gave Theudebert many gifts before the prince departed for home. Unfortunately, the conflict between Sigebert and Chilperic was not over. In fact, the mutual loathing between the two (and their families) would only increase, eventually becoming one of the most infamous feuds that occurred during the reign of the Merovingian Dynasty.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (Portrait of King Chilperic I, by Atala Stamaty and Madame Augustin Varcollier (1803-1885), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

  • The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sigebert-I-Merovingian-king 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Chilperic-I 
  • https://www.britannica.com/topic/Avar  

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A Eulogy For Notre-Dame De Paris

On the fifteenth of April, during the year 2019, the iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris suffered a catastrophic fire. Flames spread out from a maze of scaffolding built around the cathedral’s spire (nicknamed “the Arrow”), eventually reducing the spire and the roof of the beloved structure to cinders. Fiery debris collapsed inward, and, in some places, punched through the cathedral’s vaulted ceilings to reach the priceless interior of the church.  Fortunately, church authorities have claimed that several key treasures (such as Notre-Dame’s Holy Crown of Thorns relic) were whisked away to safety. Yet, numerous cultural and religious wonders that adorned the cathedral have undoubtedly been destroyed or incredibly damaged. The site, however, is no stranger to adversity. Notre-Dame de Paris has faced looting, vandalism and wartime damage over the centuries. In spite of this, it has always proved to be a survivor; even now, the masonry and iconic shape of the Notre-Dame de Paris has survived the fire remarkably well. Someday, the cathedral may possibly be rebuilt in its old image—yet it will never be the same. For now, all we can do is remember Notre-Dame’s historic past and hope the best for the cathedral’s future.

Surrounded by the waters of the River Seine and situated in the center of Paris, the island known as the Île de la Cité has long been associated with religious worship. During the age of the Roman Empire, the site housed a temple of Jupiter, and when Christianity later became the dominant religion in Europe, Christians designated the Île de la Cité as a place worthy of their own houses of worship. At least three Christian churches were constructed on the island, the last of which was the famous Notre-Dame de Paris.

Around 1160, during the reign of King Louis VII of France (r. 1137-1180), the Parisian Bishop Maurice de Sully proposed the project that would become the Notre-Dame de Paris. Construction officially began in 1163, when Pope Alexander III (r. 1159-1181) ceremoniously placed down the first stone of the project. The building effort reached its first milestone step in 1189, when the high alter of the cathedral was consecrated. Yet, the project was still a long way from completion.  During the 13th century, much of the building was constructed, including the nave and chapels, as well as its famous rose windows. The cathedral, however, still was not finished. In fact, construction was not officially completed until 1345, during the reign of King Philip VI (r. 1328-1350). Yet, even after that point, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris continued to undergo change, with new additions, decorations and remodeling. Upon completion, the cathedral’s interior measured around 427 feet long by 157 feet wide (130 by 48 meters). The rooftop of the cathedral stood around 115 feet high (35 meters) and the iconic front towers reached even heigher at 223 feet (68 meters) each.

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris faced its first major disaster during the French Revolution (c. 1789-1799). As the cathedral was associated with the French monarchy, it was ravaged and mistreated in the course of the revolution. Many of its windows were smashed. Bells were melted down and repurposed. Treasures were looted or destroyed. A reported twenty-eight statues of kings in the cathedral were pointedly decapitated. And, for a final touch, the cathedral, itself, was said to have been utilized by the revolutionaries as a warehouse. Yet, the cathedral found an interesting ally in Napoleon—he returned ownership of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris to the church in 1802, and he later used the site as the venue for his coronation as Emperor of France in 1804.

Although Napoleon brought the cathedral back to a dignified state, it still was in urgent need of repairs. A new wave of interest in repairing Notre-Dame came from an unlikely source—a novelist. The inspiration for major restoration work on the cathedral is attributed to the influence of Victor Hugo, whose novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (published 1831), showcased the cathedral in its 15th-century glory. The novel greatly affected the French population and, as early as 1844, King Louis Philippe of France ordered that the Cathedral of Notre-Dame be restored. The project was spearheaded by Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, who attempted to repair what was damaged and replace what was missing. To the best of their ability, they replaced the bells, stained glass and statues that had been destroyed during the French Revolution. Additionally, the team used old sketches and illustrations of Notre-Dame as a reference in order to rebuild or repair famous sections of the cathedral, such as the spire and bell tower.

The work of the 19th-century restorers shaped the Cathedral of Notre-Dame back into a structure of such beauty that it drew in tourists and pilgrims from around the world. Yet, on April 15, 2019, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame suffered a level of damage seemingly unprecedented in the history of the cathedral’s existence. Unfortunately, much of the tangible history lost in the fire cannot be replaced. Yet, history is always in the making, and, perhaps, the future of the cathedral will be just as beautiful and inspiring as its past.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (Edmund A. Hunt painting of Notre Dame de Paris, c. 1877, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

  • https://www.britannica.com/topic/Notre-Dame-de-Paris
  • http://www.medievalists.net/2019/01/notre-dame-cathedral-re-creation-french-past/ 
  • https://notredamecathedralparis.com/history/ 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Philip-VI 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-VII 
  • https://www.britannica.com/event/French-Revolution 
  • https://www.history.com/topics/france/french-revolution 
  • https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Hunchback-of-Notre-Dame