Posts filed under 'Precipitated'

1204: Alexios V, precipitated Byzantine emperor

Add comment December 25th, 2014 Headsman

Around this time in the year 1205, the fleeting Byzantine emperor Alexios V Doukas was put to a dramatic death in Constantinople’s Forum of Theodosius by being hurled from the top of the ancient Column of Theodosius.

Nicknamed “Mourtzouphlos” for his prominent brow, Alexios obtained his Pyrrhic purple by being the only elite with wit and courage in Constantinople during the horror of the its sack by a Venetian Crusader army.

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity! Hands in mailed gauntlets and silk gloves grasping after glory and treasure were our Emperor Eyebrow’s rise and his fall.

The prime desideratum was the prime desideratum, Jerusalem. In a monument to bad management, a Crusader army of 12,000 was mustered to Venice in 1202 for a flotilla suitable to thrice its number. Venice had taken on an enormous contract to assemble this fleet and since the soldiers who showed up could in no way pay what the Serene Republic had been promised, Venice simply repossessed the army to make good its debt by means of pillage.

First, it sacked Venice’s Dalmatian rival Zadar. Then, having picked up the exiled nephew of the reigning Byzantine emperor — the uncle had overthrown the father to get the job — the Crusader-mercenaries made for Constantinople, become now shameless Praetorians by dint of young Alexios’s assurance of all the liberalities the East’s treasuries could bear.

Constantinople in 1202 was the jewel of Christendom. Its mighty walls had preserved the city inviolate since antiquity — a city of half a million souls reposing in the splendors of the Roman world, augmented by eight more centuries’ imperial surplus.

A morsel so ripe needs but one unguarded moment for some ruffian to pluck it. The Crusaders’ attack so happened to catch Constantinople, at long last, at such a moment. The city was lightly defended and unable to summon more aid — while under the direction of an emperor, Alexios III, who had been cruel and profligate in the enjoyment of his power but vacillated fatally when he was required to defend it.

In a matter of days in July of 1203, Alexios’s rule collapsed, and the emperor himself fled, when the Crusaders besieged Constantiople. These Crusaders of course installed their scheming moppet as Emperor Alexios IV, actually co-emperor with his father who despite having been brutally blinded by his brother was liberated and acclaimed by the populace.

The ensuing months make painful reading — and surely much worse than that to experience at first hand. The new emperors feuded with each other despite their kinship. They also had to squeeze every revenue they could for the Crusader army, which stubbornly refused to depart as its leader, the nonagenarian Doge of Venice, schemed to establish lasting Venetian authority in Byzantium. Irritated residents, enduring the continued presence of a Crusader army that thought it was supposed to be going to Jerusalem all along, rioted and fought with one another.

(For a ready summary of this situation and the entire buildup of the Fourth Crusade, grab episode 15 of Lars Brownworth’s outstanding 12 Byzantine Rulers podcast.)

The bottom line was that young Alexios was no more impressive in power than had been his predecessor and he had the added disability of having been installed by a foreign invader. He also discovered to his chagrin that the staggering sum of 200,000 he had so lightly promised the Venetians in exchange for his throne was double what he could actually find in the capital. When the situation unmanned him in January of 1204, he cowered in the imperial palace and sent his chamberlain to petition the Crusaders to back him in the latest exigency.

That chamberlain was our man, Alexios Mourtzouphlos.

Acting with an alacrity that might have spared Constantinople a horror had an earlier prince exercised it, Alexios instead arrested the co-emperors and spirited them off to a dungeon where they were quietly murdered.

The usurper then turned the city’s energies towards reinforcing its battered defenses and attempted to mount an attack against the Crusaders. This proved, however, much too late to spare the Second Rome its most awful tribulation.

In a matter of days in April 1204, the rude band of Latins who set out to win Jerusalem for Christ overran glorious Constantinople and put it to the sack. Tourists today who gawk at the bronze horses decorating Venice’s St. Mark’s Basilica are in fact enjoying the plunder of Byzantium. In time Constantinople would be retrieved from the Latins, but neither the city itself nor the Byzantine Empire ever fully recovered from the blow. This is also the event that made the schism between Eastern and Western confessions of Christianity permanently irretrievable.*

It was not given Alexios Mourtzouphlos to see what horrors ensued for Constantinople, never mind to get a start on finagling an imperial comeback of his own. Fleeing the sack of the city, he wound up in Thrace in the company of yet another deposed ex-emperor. But after first allowing Mourtzouphlos to marry his daughter, that old schemer had Alexios V blinded and in November 1204 abandoned him to an advancing Latin army — and its eventual death-by-precipitation — while his former in-laws fled to Corinth.

* One of Alexios IV’s promises to his Crusader buddies was to submit the Byzantine patriarchate to Papal authority — another pledge that could never have been realistically delivered.

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Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Byzantine Empire,Execution,Heads of State,History,Italy,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Precipitated,Public Executions,Turkey,Uncertain Dates,Venice

1655: Massacre of Waldensians

8 comments April 24th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1655, Catholic forces under the Duke of Savoy carried out a notorious massacre of Waldensians* in the Piedmont.

This interesting, excommunicate sect had persisted for centuries in those hard-to-reach places in Alpine foothills, intermittently ignored and hunted. After Martin Luther, many Protestants inclined to see them as a proto-Reformation movement, or even a counter-papal apostolic succession reaching back to ancient Christianity.

At any rate, they sure weren’t Catholic.

And our friend the Duke decided — perhaps piqued by the murder of a missionary Catholic priest, or for whatever other reason — to mount one of those heresy-extirpating sorties and make them Catholic in 1655.

On April 17, the Marquis of Pianezza appeared with an overwhelming force of mixed Piedmontese, French, and Irish** troops. They conducted a few skirmishes, then made nice with the Waldensian civic leaders and induced them to quartering their troops temporarily further to some expedient pretext.

Alas! alas! these poor people were undone. They had received under their roof the executioners of themselves and their families. The first two days, the 22d and 23d of April, passed in peace, the soldiers sitting at the same table, sleeping under the same roof, and conversing freely with their destined victims …

At last the blow fell like a thunderbolt. At four of the clock on the morning of the 24th April the signal was given from the Castle of La Torre. But who shall describe the scenes that followed? On the instant a thousand assassins began the work of death …

Little children were torn from the arms of their mothers, and dashed against the rocks; or, more horrible still, they were held betwixt two soldiers, who, unmoved by their piteous cries and the sight of their quivering limbs, tore them up into two halves. Their bodies were then thrown on the highways and the fields. Sick persons and old people, men and women, were burned alive in their own houses; some were hacked in pieces; some were bound up in the form of a ball, and precipitated over the rocks or rolled down the mountains … Some were slowly dismembered, and fire applied to the wounds to staunch the bleeding and prolong their sufferings; some were flayed alive; some roasted alive; others were disembowelled; some were horribly and shamefully mutilated, and of others the flesh and brains were boiled and actually eaten by these cannibals.

Source, whose atrocity accounts channel those in this French tome

Without doubting the capacity of man’s inhumanity to man, the cannibalism charge reminds that we’re dealing with propaganda alongside historiography. And what great propaganda — like, babies-torn-from-incubators great.

Thumbnails (click for a larger, disturbing view) of selected images of this date’s atrocities from Samuel Morland’s The History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piedmont

And there’s little doubt as to the overall savagery of the affair, which could well have become the opening salvo in a full-scale sectarian cleansing campaign. (A later addendum to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs narrates the ensuing Piedmontese armed struggle, petering out before any definitive resolution in the field.)

Outrage at this hecatomb spread in Protestant Europe — which would also refer to the day’s doings as the “Bloody Easter,” since it corresponded with the eve of that celebration as reckoned by the Julian Calendar (source).

It was felt especially in Protectorate England, which intervened diplomatically.

A “day of solemn fasting and humiliation” was promulgated in Albion, along with collections for the relief of the survivors. Oliver Cromwell personally put £2,000 into the kitty.

More importantly, he dispatched diplomat Samuel Morland† to force the House of Savoy to lay off the persecution; in fact, he threatened to disrupt high statecraft between England and France unless the French twisted arms on behalf of the Waldensians.

Written correspondence for Morland’s diplomatic tour addressed to Louis XIV of France and various other continental potentates, as well as a fiery bit of oratory that Morland delivered to Savoy, all seem to have originated from the pen of Republican scribbler John Milton — the future author of Paradise Lost.‡

Milton, for whom the whole thing was more than just a day job, was further moved to put his umbrage at the slaughter into sonnet form:

Avenge O Lord thy slaughter’d Saints, whose bones
Lie scatter’d on the Alpine mountains cold,
Ev’n them who kept thy truth so pure of old
When all our Fathers worship’t Stocks and Stones,

Forget not: in thy book record their groanes
Who were thy Sheep and in their antient Fold
Slayn by the bloody Piemontese that roll’d
Mother with Infant down the Rocks. Their moans

The Vales redoubl’d to the Hills, and they
To Heav’n. Their martyr’d blood and ashes sow
O’re all th’ Italian fields where still doth sway

The triple Tyrant: that from these may grow
A hunder’d-fold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian wo.

* The Waldensians in question here are interchangeably known as the Vaudois for their geographic region, actually above the Piedmont and abutting the Swiss region also known as Vaud. (These pages have visited the latter.)

** Fresh from being on the receiving end of another infamous massacre.

† Morland is more regarded for his post-Restoration labors as an inventor; he created an early calculator and internal combustion engine.

‡ The speech in particular is not definitively attributed; see Robert Fallon, “Milton in Government: Denmark and Savoy,” Milton Quarterly, May 1989.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Burned,Children,Disfavored Minorities,Dismembered,God,Gruesome Methods,Heresy,History,Impaled,Innocent Bystanders,Italy,Known But To God,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Precipitated,Put to the Sword,Religious Figures,Summary Executions,Torture,Wartime Executions,Women

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1868: The native prisoners of Emperor Tewodros II

Add comment April 9th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1868, on the eve of his rout at the hands of a British expeditionary force, the frustrated Emperor Tewodros II had hundreds of prisoners executed en masse.

Our setting is the 1868 British Expedition to Abyssinia, “one of the most expensive affairs of honour in history.” And it all got started from a bad experience with technical support.

Tewodros — generally known to the Europeans as Theodore — had risen from a humble station to the throne of Abyssinia, but by the 1860s held it but tenuously against various rival warlords. Tewodros lodged appeals for aid with a number of European powers, including the British, who evidently took the emperor’s letter for Queen Victoria and stuck it indefinitely in a file called “Pending”.

After two years without an answer, Tewodros took hostage the British consul Charles Duncan Cameron, a missionary named Henry Stern (whose unflattering report of Tewodros’s mean origins particularly enraged the monarch), and other Europeans.


Illustration of the hostages from Henry Stern’s The Captive Missionary.

And then he took hostage the Ethiopian sent to negotiate their release.

He wasn’t “Pending” any longer.

Gaze not into Abyssinia

Tewodros, perhaps, had depended on the notoriously treacherous Ethiopian highlands to protect him from any effective reprisal. But when the Brits decided in 1867 to let men with guns resolve the dispute, they spared no expense at all.

Months of planning and millions of pounds were poured into the operation, which landed 13,000 soldiers and 40,000 animals organized by the Bombay Army.

“For a total cost of about £9,000,000,” writes Harold Marcus in a biography of another former Tewodros hostage, the future Emperor Menelik II, “Napier set out to defeat a man who could muster only a few thousand troops and had long ago ceased to be Ethiopia’s leader in anything but title.”

The forces converged on Tewodros’s last stronghold, Magdala, with the mercurial king refusing repeated demands of the invader to release his European captives.

Angrily refusing, at least according to the accounts of the hostages who were the subject of all this … and whose accounts have just enough consciousness of the privilege their own skin has given them as they witness these bloodlettings.

On April 8, the king put to death seven of the native prisoners in his train. These prisoners comprised generally people on the political outs with Tewodros, adherents of once-rebellious chiefs and the families of those adherents. It was no mean thing to slaughter a few of them arbitrarily.

But much worse was to come the following day, when the hunted emperor espied the British advance guard reconnoitering his position.

According to a report by European hostage W.F. Prideaux in the May 21, 1868 London Times, the Emperor

had seen the British troops descending the Bashilo, and had remarked among them four elephants and some white animals, which we surmised to be Berbera sheep. A short time afterwards a friend of ours (for we had a few friends at Magdala) … implored us to keep within our tents, for the King was in a fearful passion, and was then issuing an order to kill all his native prisoners, who were confined in a few houses a couple of hundred yards off. The repeated discharge of firearms, which we heard soon afterwards, confirmed the sad story, and it was with many misgivings that we asked ourselves, “What next?” At dusk, however, the King returned, and we returned to our tents comparatively at our ease. From what I have heard it appears that the King rushed down mad with rage and arackee, and calling out one of the prisoners hacked him to pieces with his own sword. Another speedily met the same fate. The third was a boy about ten years of age. His youth and innocence (for it was his father who had been the offender) were no protection. He was mangled in the same way as the two others. The cutting and slashing went on in this manner for some time, when the King, finding this mode of execution too slow for his impatient spirit, ordered out the musketeers. The remainder were then quickly shot down, and thrown over the low cliff, the force of the shock in several cases opening the chains of the wretched victims. Those whose quivering limbs showed any signs of life were fired on from above till the murderous work was completed.

The account of the Rev. Stern:

[W]e were suddenly startled by the sound of an intermittent musketry. … The rattle of musketry blended with the yells of despair, and the shouts of rage fell, however, with an ominous and appalling horror on our ears. “What is the matter?” I inquired of my neighbour. “Hist,” was the response, “the king is killing all the prisoners.” These terrible words diffused an aguish chill through my very heart. … The sun had already disappeared from the horizon, and twilight spread a dismal, dusky hue over the scene around, and still the firing continued unabated. With night it gradually diminished, and then only isolated shots reverberated across the panic-stricken camp.

The slaughter lasted about three hours, and during that interval three hundred and seven human beings* were, unwarned, and perhaps unprepared, hurled into eternity. Some of the prisoners did not unresistingly yield to their woeful doom. One, Immer Ali, a native of Ferga, near the Tzana Lake, formerly a chief of consideration in his province, in spite of hand and foot chains, with a convulsive grasp dragged his executioner towards the precipice over which he was to be hurled. The hangman, who dreaded the doom which he intended to inflict on his fellow man, shouted for help. On hearing the cry the tyrant, tiger-like, sprang forward and with his gory sword literally hacked the man to pieces.

And to hear Stern tell it, it was by dint of nothing but great fortune — or in his view, divine providence — that saved the British hostages from joining them.

One victim after another lay writhing and quivering in the last pangs at the foot of the dizzy precipice, and still the tyrant’s rage was un-appeased. “Bring the white men, and let their blood flow, mingled with that of my own subjects,” was the order that fell from his lips. Already, we were informed, whole bands of ruffians stood prepared to seize the intended prey, when several chiefs, no friends of the foreign captives, stepped forward, and requested that our execution might be deferred till next day. “Your Majesty,” they respectfully remarked, “the white men do not deserve the easy death of the sword and bullet; no, keep them till to-morrow, and then let the slow torture of a flaming hut put an end to their existence.” “You are right,” was the response.

Since the next day was Good Friday, the Christian Tewodros, “though a perfect fiend and coarse blasphemer, repaired, from a superstitious impulse, at a very early hour to church,” Stern says. The decisive British attack began later that day, and would end with the un-executed hostages liberated, and Tewodros taking his own life rather than fall captive.

Among the spoils of war was the crown of the dead emperor, which in 1925 King George V would personally present to Haile Selassie.

* The provenance of the very precise figure of 307 is not apparent in Stern’s account; presumably, he knew through his friendly contacts (of from relieving the boredom of captivity in recreational head-counting) the overall number of prisoners beforehand.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,England,Ethiopia,Execution,History,Hostages,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Precipitated,Put to the Sword,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

1419: The (first) Defenestration of Prague

14 comments July 30th, 2010 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 1419, an angry mob of Hussite peasant rebels stormed the town hall on Charles Square in Prague and threw the judge, the mayor and several city council members (either seven or thirteen; accounts differ) out the window. They all either died in the fall or were killed by the crowd outside.

The event has been the subject of several paintings, as well as being beautifully illustrated in Lego form and also reenacted.

Hussites followed a Christian reformer, Jan Hus, who was one of the forerunners of the Protestant Reformation. Hus was eventually excommunicated and burned as a heretic. The cause of the July 30 riot was the city council’s refusal to release from custody several Hussite prisoners.

The mob, led by the Hussite priest Jan Želivský and future general Jan Žižka, marched to the town hall, but they only became violent after someone inside the building threw a stone at them. After that there was no stopping them.

The riot had far-reaching consequences, inasmuch as it is seen as the start of the Hussite Wars, which lasted until 1434 or so and involved government-sponsored military action against the Hussites as well as Hussites fighting amongst themselves.

This event has come to be known as the First Defenestration of Prague. That is, I’m sure we all can agree, an AWESOME name, and probably the principal reason the riot is still remembered today. The word “defenestration” comes from Latin: de-, meaning “out of,” and fenestra, “window.”

The Czechs have a habit of throwing people out of windows at critical junctures in history; since 1419 there has been at least one more (nonfatal, but more famous) Defenestration of Prague, in 1618. A couple of similar events since then have sometimes been called the Third Defenestration of Prague, though this is not universally agreed upon.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,Czechoslovakia,God,History,Language,Lynching,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Notable Participants,Politicians,Popular Culture,Precipitated,Public Executions,Summary Executions

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c. 560 B.C.E.: Aesop, fabulist

2 comments December 28th, 2009 Headsman

On an unknown date around the 560s B.C.E., the storyteller Aesop is supposed to have been executed in Delphi by being hurled from the Hyampeia rock.

The semi-legendary fable-fashioner is not quite so irretrievable to history as, say, Homer, although assuredly many or all of the tales that have accrued under the heading “Aesop’s Fables” trace to origins other than this man.

Supposed to have lived from the late 7th to mid 6th centuries B.C.E., Aesop is first referenced by history’s first historian, Herodotus.

But by way of summation, we cannot improve upon Plutarch‘s succinct description of Aesop’s fate in his essay, “On God’s Slowness to Punish Evil”. (Available here; a different translation is free online here.)

I’m sure you know the story of how Aesop came here bringing gold from Croesus. He meant to make a magnificent offering to the god,* and also to give every inhabitant of Delphi four minas, but apparently he got angry and fell out with the locals; so he made the ritual offering, but sent the money back to Sardis, because he didn’t think that the people deserved a windfall. They then engineered a charge against him of temple robbery and executed him by pushing him from the famous cliff called Hyampeia.** Subsequently, the story goes on, divine wrath afflicted them with failed harvests and with all kinds of strange diseases, and as a result they used to visit all the festivals where Greeks were assembled and make an announcement inviting anyone who so wished to claim compensation from them for Aesop. Two generations later Idmon of Samos arrived at Delphi; not only was he not a relative of Aesop, but he was in fact a descendant of the people who had bought Aesop as a slave in Samos.† It was only when the Delphians had compensated him that their troubles ceased.‡ (We are also told that this incident was the reason for moving the place of punishment for temple robbers from Hyampeia to Aulia.)

There are many books and media under the Aesop’s Fables branding available for purchase, but you can also find the same content in the public domain at Gutenberg.org and elsewhere.

In any format, they’re timeless. “The Mischievous Dog”, for instance, could have been written especially for bloggers.

[audio:http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19616/mp3/19616-04.mp3]

* Referring to the sacred shrine occupied by the Oracle of Delphi, of course.

** When visiting Delphi, look for Hyampeia marked on your tourist map as “Phleboukos”, one of the Phaedriades surrounding the sacred site. Hyampeia/Phleboukos towers above the Castalian spring. It’s high.

† Besides being a slave, Aesop (at least, the Aesop as legend accumulated) was afflicted with other disadvantages suitable to elevate his mythological wisdom. According to The Life of Aesop:

AESOP (according to Planudes, Cameraius and others) was by Birth, of Ammorius, a Town in the greater Phrygia; (though some will have him to be a Thracian, others a Samian) of a mean Condition, and his Person deformed, to the highest degree: Flat-nos’d, hunch-back’d, blobber-lipp’d; a long mishapen Head; his Body crooked all over, big-belly’d, badger-legg’d, and his Complexion so swarthy, that he took his very Name from’t; for Aesop is the same with Aethiop. And he was not only unhappy in the most scandalous Figure of a Man, that ever was heard of; but he was in a manner Tongue-ty’d too, by such an Impediment in his Speech, that People could very hardly understand what he said.

Be sure to check The Life‘s account of Aesop’s demise, with the undiplomatic Aesop having enraged his hosts with his poor opinion of their digs … and the fables he tells in his defense falling very flat: “He was speaking on, but they pushed him off headlong from the Rock, and he was dashed to pieces with the Fall.”

‡ The Delphians’ search for compensation is directly described by Herodotus’ Histories, written little more than a century after Aesop’s death. Though the execution story itself could be apocryphal, its presence in Herodotus at least makes Greeks’ belief in the event as a real one of their recent past about as credibly documented as anything from 2500+ years ago.

That Aesop belonged to Iadmon is proved by many facts — among others, by this. When the Delphians, in obedience to the command of the oracle, made proclamation that if any one claimed compensation for the murder of Aesop he should receive it, the person who at last came forward was Iadmon, grandson of the former Iadmon, and he received the compensation. Aesop therefore must certainly have been the former Iadmon’s slave.

Evidently, Aesop’s reputation for sagacious wit was well-established in the 5th century B.C. Aristophanes makes respectful references to Aesop in his plays The Wasps, Peace and The Birds — in the latter, the birds’ ignorance is underscored because they haven’t read their Aesop.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Artists,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Greece,History,Myths,Popular Culture,Precipitated,Public Executions,Slaves,Summary Executions,Wrongful Executions

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