1098: Rainald Porchet, martyr Crusader

Add comment April 3rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1098, Antioch’s besieged Muslim defenders martyred a Crusader knight who refused to secure a ransom for himself.

The armies of the First Crusade had pressed their way through Anatolia and had laid to siege these past five months the ancient Syrian city of Antioch. (It’s in modern Turkey now, where it’s known as Antakya.)

On April 3, 1098, by the account of the priest Peter Tudebode, an eyewitness to the event,

the Turks led to the top of an Antiochian wall a noble knight, Rainald Porchet [alternatively, Rainaud or Reynaud Porquet], whom they had imprisoned in a foul dungeon. They then told him that he should inquire from the Christian pilgrims how much they would pay for his ransom before he lost his head.

According to Encounter Between Enemies: Captivity and Ransom in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem — a source which ought to know, if any would — marching a guy out to appeal to his comrades was little to the Antiochians but the time-honored practice of ransoming captured VIPs, “the usual diplomatic method of starting a peaceful encounter with the enemy, in the between-fighting interlude.” It’s not like this sort of hostage-hocking was unknown to Europeans; even hundreds of years later, France cratered its economy by ransoming its captured king from the English.

To the shock of the garrison, Porchet went all clash-of-civilizations on this routine diplomacy.

From the heights of the wall Rainald addressed the leaders: “My lords, it matters not if I die, and I pray you, my brothers, that you pay no ransom for me. But be certain in the faith of Christ and the Holy Sepulchre that God is with you and shall be forever. You have slain all the leaders and the bravest men of Antioch; namely, twelve emirs and fifteen thousand noblemen, and no one remains to give battle with you or to defend the city.”

The Turks asked what Rainald had said. The interpreter replied: “Nothing good concerning you was said.”

The emir, Yaghi Siyan, immediately ordered him to descend from the wall and spoke to him through an interpreter: “Rainald, do you wish to enjoy life honorably with us?”

Rainald replied: “How can I live honorably with you without sinning?”

The emir answered: “Deny your God, whom you worship and believe, and accept Mohammed and our other gods. If you do so we shall give to you all that you desire such as gold, horses, mules, and many other worldly goods which you wish, as well as wives and inheritances; and we shall enrich you with great lands.”

Yaghi Siyan was obliged to make this proposition of apostasy to his prisoner as a prelude to executing him.

Rainald replied to the emir: “Give me time for consideration;” and the emir gladly agreed. Rainald with clasped hands knelt in prayer to the east; humbly he asked God that He come to his aid and transport with dignity his soul to the bosom of Abraham.

When the emir saw Rainald in prayer, he called his interpreter and said to him: “What was Rainald’s answer?”

The interpreter then said: “He completely denies your god. He also refuses your worldly goods and your gods.”

After hearing this report, the emir was extremely irritated and ordered the immediate beheading of Rainald, and so the Turks with great pleasure chopped off his head: Swiftly the angels, joyfully singing the Psalms of David, bore his soul and lifted it before the sight of God for Whose love he had undergone martyrdom.

Rainald got himself a starring role in the Chanson d’Antioche, an epic poem celebrating the Crusade, for this pious self-sacrifice. We can only presume that his name- and numberless compatriots in the dungeons, who also paid the price for Rainald’s obstinacy, were satisfied with suffering the same fate but only getting a role in the chorus.

Then the emir, in a towering rage because he could not make Rainald turn apostate, at once ordered all the pilgrims in Antioch to be brought before him with their hands bound bend their backs. When they had come before him; he ordered them stripped stark naked, and as they stood in the nude he commanded that they be bound with ropes in a circle. He then had chaff, firewood, and hay piled around them, and finally as enemies of God he ordered them put to the torch.

The Christians, those knights of Christ, shrieked and screamed so that their voices resounded in heaven to God for whose love their flesh and bones were cremated; and so they all entered martyrdom on this day wearing in heaven their white stoles before the Lord, for Whom they had so loyally suffered in the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom is the honor and glory now and throughout eternity. Amen.

In these heady early months of the Crusades, when the enterprise stumbled from near-disaster to miraculous success, the renown of Porchet et al was clinched by the siege’s success in early June — just days ahead of the arrival of a Turkish relief force which thereafter had to content itself with besieging the now-Crusader-held city.

When this second siege was repelled with the help of the Christians’ convenient — staged, one might think — “discovery” of the Holy Lance of Antioch, everyone had to know that the Big Guy was truly on their side.

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1209: Massacre of Beziers, “kill them all, let God sort them out”

27 comments July 22nd, 2009 Headsman

Today the French town of Beziers remembers the 800th anniversary of the first sack and massacre of the Albigensian Crusade.

Rome was alarmed by the advent in southern France of a mass religious movement, Catharism, with such scandalous doctrines as spirit-body dualism and not giving tons of money to Rome.

Naturally, God said to cut them to pieces.

Beziers was the first town invested by the invading crusader army, left to its fate as the Cathars mustered in Carcassone. Interestingly, this particular city did not so much present that familiar spectacle of Christians killing Christians who thought differently — unless the thought in question was about handing over their neighbors to a throng of land-grabbing nobles.

Part of the Catholic faith did itself honor this day: those Biterrois who refused to abandon to the glories of martyrdom the Cathars in their midst, who are thought to have numbered merely a few hundred. So when the walls fell, it was mostly orthodox Catholics killing orthodox Catholics.

Well, what’s a crusading army with other cities to sack supposed to do?

“Kill them all”

After the fortified city embarrassingly got itself captured within hours by camp followers, Caesar of Heisterbach recorded one of history’s more quotably infamous instances of prayerful deliberation:

When they discovered, from the admissions of some of them, that there were Catholics mingled with the heretics they said to the abbot “Sir, what shall we do, for we cannot distinguish between the faithful and the heretics.” The abbot, like the others, was afraid that many, in fear of death, would pretend to be Catholics, and after their departure, would return to their heresy, and is said to have replied “Kill them all for the Lord knoweth them that are His” (2 Tim. ii. 19) and so countless number in that town were slain.

Or, in glorious Latin:

Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

And so they did.

And they killed everyone who fled into the church; no cross or altar or crucifix could save them. And these raving beggarly lads, they killed the clergy too, and the women and children. I doubt if one person came out alive … such a slaughter has not been known or consented to, I think, since the time of the Saracens. (William of Tudela, cited in Cathar Castles)

Ten to twenty thousand are thought to have been slain this day — in what proportions Catholic and heretic, only God can say.

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1187: Raynald of Chatillon, by Saladin

6 comments July 4th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1187, Saladin dealt the Crusader Kingdom a crippling blow at the Battle of Hattin — and a fatal beheading to douchebag French knight RaymondRaynald of Chatillon after the fray.

Saladin personally administered the chop.


That’s a weight off his shoulders.

Conduct so ill comporting with Saladin‘s reputation for chivalry had been earned by Raynald’s own bad behavior.

Crusaders with a view to realpolitik saw that the Kingdom of Jerusalem had to coexist with its Muslim neighbors. Raynald (or Reynald, or Renaud) just preferred killing them.

His raids against Saladin’s caravans when the Crusader state was supposed to be at peace with the Ayyubids precipitated the war that would claim his own head — and, within three months of this date, Jerusalem itself.

The Muslim commander vowed going in to slaughter the notoriously vicious Raynald if he captured him. Here he is making good the threat in the ponderous Ridley Scott epic Kingdom of Heaven:

According to the account (sourced to Wikipedia, such as it is) of Saladin house historian Imad ad-Din al-Isfahani, an eyewitness to the event,

Saladin invited the king [Guy] to sit beside him, and when Arnat [Raynald] entered in his turn, he seated him next to his king and reminded him of his misdeeds. “How many times have you sworn an oath and violated it? How many times have you signed agreements you have never respected?” Raynald answered through a translator: “Kings have always acted thus. I did nothing more.” During this time King Guy was gasping with thirst, his head dangling as though drunk, his face betraying great fright. Saladin spoke reassuring words to him, had cold water brought, and offered it to him. The king drank, then handed what remained to Raynald, who slaked his thirst in turn. The sultan then said to Guy: “You did not ask permission before giving him water. I am therefore not obliged to grant him mercy.” After pronouncing these words, the sultan smiled, mounted his horse, and rode off, leaving the captives in terror. He supervised the return of the troops, and then came back to his tent. He ordered Raynald brought there, then advanced before him, sword in hand, and struck him between the neck and the shoulder-blade. When Raynald fell, he cut off his head and dragged the body by its feet to the king, who began to tremble. Seeing him thus upset, Saladin said to him in a reassuring tone: “This man was killed only because of his maleficence and perfidy.”

The Egyptian classic El Naser Salah el Dine, whose composition and subject matter reflect its production at the acme of Nasser-led Pan-Arabism, noticeably soft-pedals this scene, with Raynald as an over-the-top boor who challenges his captor to a duel and is slain in a fair fight. (Skip to about 35:25 in the clip below to see it, but the whole thing is well worth the watching.)

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1098: Yaghi-Siyan, commander of Antioch

3 comments June 3rd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1098, the Turkish commander of Antioch put to flight by the invading Crusader army was seized and beheaded as a trophy of the victory.

Yaghi Siyan, the Seljuk governor known to European chroniclers as Acxianus, Gratianus or Cassianus, found himself in a bad way when Christian forces of the First Crusade laid siege to Antioch late in 1097.

Although the Europeans were famished, they maintained the siege for the best part of a year, finally surging into Antioch on the night of June 2-3, 1098, with the help (as so often the case in siege warfare) of an inside man who agreed to open a gate.

Arab historian Ali ibn al-Athir described the city’s fall.

Yaghi Siyan showed unparalleled courage and wisdom, strength and judgment. If all the Franks who died had survived they would have overrun all the lands of Islam. He protected the families of the Christians in Antioch and would not allow a hair of their head to be touched.

After the siege had been going on for a long time the Franks made a deal with one of the men who were responsible for the towers. He was a cuirass-maker called Ruzbih [or Firuz, or Firouz] whom they bribed with a fortune in money and lands. He worked in the tower that stood over the river-bed, where the river flowed out of the city into the valley. The Franks sealed their pact with the cuirass-maker, God damn him! and made their way to the water-gate. They opened it and entered the city. Another gang of them climbed the tower with ropes. At dawn, when more than 500 of them were in the city and the defenders were worn out after the night watch, they sounded their trumpets … Panic seized Yaghi Siyan and he opened the city gates and fled in terror, with an escort of thirty pages.

Yaghi-Siyan fell from his horse in flight; his

companions tried to lift him back into the saddle, but they could not get him to sit up, and so left him for dead while they escaped. He was at his last gasp when an Armenian* shepherd came past, killed him, cut off his head and took it to the Franks at Antioch.**

A borderline “execution” at best, but close enough for our purposes; the Turkish garrison Yaghi-Siyan left behind to face the music was receiving similar treatment from the Crusaders, as were civilians, Muslim and Christian alike.

The month following Yaghi-Siyan’s death was a strange and pivotal one in the strange and pivotal history of the Crusades.

The city of Antioch was almost immediately invested again — by a relief force of Turks who had arrived too late. Facing seemingly long odds on the other end of the siege, and still near to starvation, the Crusaders discovered the “Holy Lance”† and managed to repel the Turks, enabling the upstart Christian army to march on to Jerusalem.

* Having had their homelands overrun by the Seljuks during the preceding decades, there was no small tension in the Armenian relationship with their Turkish rulers; the man who betrayed the city was himself said to be an Armenian who had been forced to convert to Islam. The account of the city’s capture by Raymond d’Aguiliers reports that our day’s victim “was captured and beheaded by some Armenian peasants, and his head was brought to us. This, I believe, was done by the ineffable disposition of God, that he who had caused many men of this same race to be beheaded should be deprived of his head by them.”

** Different accounts give slightly different versions of how Yaghi-Siyan came to his end — whether thrown from his horse or caught attempting to take refuge — and the station in life of the Armenian (everyone seems to agree on the nationality of the executioner) who decapitated him.

† The spear supposed to have pierced Christ on the cross, whose discovery was directed by Peter the Hermit at the direction, he said, of St. Andrew. Ibn al-Athir had a more skeptical take:

a holy man who had great influence over them, a man of low cunning … proclaimed that the Messiah had a lance buried in the Qusyan, a great building in Antioch … Before saying this he had buried a lance in a certain spot and concealed all trace of it. He exhorted them to fast and repent for three days, and on the fourth day he led them all to the spot with their soldiers and workmen, who dug everywhere and found the lance as he had told them.

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1182: Maria of Antioch

Add comment December 17th, 2008 Headsman

On an uncertain date thought to be around the end of 1182, the mother of the Byzantine emperor was strangled to death in Constantinople on her adolescent son’s authority.

In signing his mother’s death warrant, 13-year-old Alexios II signed his own … and that of his dynasty.

The progeny of a nearby Crusader principality, Maria of Antioch was dynastically married to Alexios’ dad, Manuel I.

Two realms separated by a common religion, Orthodox Byzantium’s relationship with western Crusaders was fraught at best, and it was about to get a lot testier. Maria’s Latin heritage went over like a lead balloon in the Greek empire.

When her husband died in 1180, the widow was left in a tenuous position as the unpopular regent of a child-emperor in a political snakepit.

In short order, Andronikos I Komnenos, after a lifetime of scheming, got his mitts on the throne two years after he’d been obliged to grovel in chains before Maria’s husband to be allowed a peacable retirement.

Some retirement.

Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates narrates Andronikos’s ruthless divide-and-conquer path to the purple.

Having thus slaughtered those whom he had been most eager to seize, Andronikos bided his time to assail others; some he delivered over to prison, some he condemned to banishment, and some he utterly destroyed in various ways. Those few who remained were anxious to go along with the majority and to reverse their former course. They changed their minds like the unstable planets and offered their necks to Andronikos to be tread underfoot, revolving around him as their axis, and so Andronikos hastened to bring about the ruin of the empress. After leveling several accusations against her, he finally charged her with treason and convened a court sympathetic to his cause with judges certain to condemn, not try, the wretched woman. The empress, who had attempted to enlist the help of her sister’s husband, Bela [III], the king of Hungary, writing him letters and tempting him with grand promises to ravage the lands around Branicevo and Belgrade, was led away to a cramped dungeon near the Monastery of Saint Diomedes. There she was grossly reviled by the guards as the butt of their jokes, and, pining with hunger and thirst, she was haunted by a vision of the executioner standing on her right where his edge would cut most surely. Andronikos’s ferocity did not abate even a whit. In the words of David, he perceived trouble and wrath and hastened to deliver her over to death, annoyed by the fact that she was still numbered among the living. Ere long he again assembled the justices who mete out injustice and whose right hand is the right hand of iniquity. He inquired as to what punishment the laws decree for traitors of cities and provinces, receiving in hand a written judgment sentencing such criminals to death, his assault against the empress went unchecked. When these lawless men raised their voices and shouted aloud as they cast their votes that this ill-starred woman must depart this life, a decree condemning her to death was immediately signed by her son, the emperor, written as though with a drop of his mother’s blood.

Elected to carry out this loathsome and unholy deed were Andronikos’s firstborn son Manuel and the sebastos George, the brother of Andronikos’s wife. Both men recoiled from their selection in disgust and contemned the emperor’s decree, declaring that they had not concurred earlier in the empress’s execution and that their hands would remain guiltless of such defilement; now, even more so, they could not endure to see her innocent body broken. This unexpected reply struck Andronikos like a thunderbolt. He continually twisted the hairs of his beard around his fingers, his eyes were filled with fire, and, shaking his head up and down, he repeatedly pitied himself and was greatly troubled that he did not have friends who delighted in blood and were eager to commit murder at the nod of his head. Holding his rage in check, like a hot-blooded horse champing at the bit or like smoke wrapping itself around a flame, he quenched his unremitting anger and postponed the execution. A few days later he condemned the ill-starred empress to a wretched death by strangulation. The sentence was carried out under the supervision of Constantine Tripsychos, who held the office of hetairarch, and the eunuch Pterygeonites … And she, who was the sweet light and a vision of beauty unto men, was buried in obscurity in the sand of the nearby shore (O Sun, who didst look down upon this defilement, and Thou, O Word of God, who art without beginning, how inscrutable is thy forbearance!). The bloodthirsty soul of Andronikos exulted at this, for with the extermination of Manuel’s family, with the imperial garden laid waste, he would reign as sole monarch over the Roman empire and hold sway with impunity.

The next year, Andronikos dispensed with the charade and had the young Alexios strangled, too.

A much worse fate awaited Andronikos himself not long after, with still less able successors to follow him … sending the Byzantine Empire into a calamitous tailspin that would see Constantinople sacked by those antagonistic western Crusaders within a generation.

Update: Maria’s German Wikipedia page pegs her execution date at August 27, 1182, citing Detlev Schwennike, Europäische Stammtafeln Band II, Tafel 177, Verlag Stargardt, Marburg, 1984.

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1396: Thousands of knights of the Last Crusade

5 comments September 26th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1396, Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I put thousands of Christian Crusaders to the sword — and with them, Christians’ zest for holy war against the Turk.

The day after crushing a European Crusading expedition at the Battle of Nicopolis — where Christ’s multinational divisions might have crippled themselves by opting for political reasons to go with gloryhounding French knights’ demand for a heavy cavalry charge as opposed to sneakier tactics — Bayezid was mighty sore to find that the invaders had executed en masse Muslim prisoners from their last engagement.

Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror relates the result:

The defeat was followed by a frightful sequel. As Bajazet toured the battlefield … he was “torn by grief” at the sight of his losses, which outnumbered the Christian. He swore he would not leave their blood unavenged, and the discovery of the massacre of the prisoners of Rachowa augmented his rage. He ordered all prisoners to be brought before him next morning. … [T]he leading nobles … were … spared [for ransom], as well as all those judged to be under twenty for forced service with the Turks.

The rest, an uncertain figure of several thousand, were marched naked before the Sultan, bound together in groups of three or four, with hands tied and ropes around their necks. Bajazet looked at them briefly, then signed to the executioners to set to work. They decapitated the captives group by group, in some cases cut their throats or severed their limbs until corpses and killers alike were awash in blood. [The Christian nobles being spared] were forced to stand by the Sultan and watch the heads of their companions fall under the scimitars and the blood spurt from their headless trunks…. The killing continued from early morning to late afternoon until Bajazet, himself sickened at the sight or, as some say, persuaded by his ministers that too much rage in Christendom would be raised against him, called off the executioners.

In truth, the era of the Crusade as most readily conceived — a bid to conquer the Holy Land — was long past by this time. But it had been under that tattered old banner that Christendom summoned its vassals to check the rising Ottoman Empire, which by this time had reduced Byzantium to a rump state around Constantinople.

The battle that precipitated this day’s* feast of carrion occurred in Bulgaria, where the Turks’ growing European footprint (and this affair essentially pinched out the Bulgarian Empire of the day) exercised the European courts in figurative as well as literal ways. Though other ventures would hoist the crusading pennant, there would be no major offensive incursions against the Turks until “crusades” had fallen well out of fashion.

None of this gory affair is to be confused with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where a leap of faith proved more felicitous.

* Most sources place the Battle of Nicopolis at September 25, although some say September 28 — the latter date would obviously place this massacre on September 29.

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1191: Muslim prisoners at Acre

Add comment August 20th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1191, Richard the Lionheart had 2,700 Muslim prisoners of Acre demonstratively executed before his opposite number Saladin, when ransom arrangements dilated.

Courtesy of Project Gutenberg, here is Guizot on this ugly prod to action from the Third Crusade

From the 1st of August, 1191, to the 9th of October, 1192, King Richard remained alone in the East as chief of the crusade and defender of Christendom. He pertains, during that period, to the history of England, and no longer to that of France. We will, however, recall a few facts to show how fruitless, for the cause of Christendom in the East, was the prolongation of his stay and what strange deeds—at one time of savage barbarism, and at another of mad pride or fantastic knight-errantry—were united in him with noble instincts and the most heroic courage. On the 20th of August, 1191, five weeks after the surrender of St. Jean d’Acre, he found that Saladin was not fulfilling with sufficient promptitude the conditions of capitulation, and, to bring him up to time, he ordered the decapitation, before the walls of the place, of, according to some, twenty-five hundred, and, according to others, five thousand, Mussulman prisoners remaining in his hands.

The only effect of this massacre was, that during Richard’s first campaign after Philip’s departure for France, Saladin put to the sword all the Christians taken in battle or caught straggling, and ordered their bodies to be left without burial, as those of the garrison of St. Jean d’Acre had been. Some months afterwards Richard conceived the idea of putting an end to the struggle between Christendom and Islamry, which he was not succeeding in terminating by war, by a marriage. He had a sister, Joan of England, widow of William II., king of Sicily; and Saladin had a brother, Malek-Adhel, a valiant warrior, respected by the Christians. Richard had proposals made to Saladin to unite them in marriage and set them to reign together over the Christians and Mussulmans in the kingdom of Jerusalem. The only result of the negotiation was to give Saladin time for repairing the fortifications of Jerusalem, and to bring down upon King Richard and his sister, on the part of the Christian bishops, the fiercest threats of the fulminations of the Church. With the exception of this ridiculous incident, Richard’s life, during the whole course of this year, was nothing but a series of great or small battles, desperately contested, against Saladin. When Richard had obtained a success, he pursued it in a haughty, passionate spirit; when he suffered a check, he offered Saladin peace, but always on condition of surrendering Jerusalem to the Christians, and Saladin always answered, “Jerusalem never was yours, and we may not without sin give it up to you; for it is the place where the mysteries of our religion were accomplished, and the last one of my soldiers will perish before the Mussulmans renounce conquests made in the name of Mahomet.”

Good thing that Jerusalem issue has since been cleared up.

The BBC treated the scenario — complete with the resultant loss of the last chunk of the supposed True Cross — in a chunk of its 90-minute documentary on the Third Crusade:

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