1648: The leaders of the Salt Riot

Add comment July 3rd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1648, the ringleaders of a short-lived rebellion over salt taxes were executed in Moscow.

Salt saker image (cc) Greg Bishop

The Salt Riot is exactly what you’d think from its name, right down to being over in a matter of weeks.

Common folk irked at a new salt tax* that made the commodity dramatically more expensive besieged tsar Alexei I at the beginning of June, soon joined by opportunistic Streltsy who hadn’t been paid in a while.

The specific target of their rage was the boyar Boris Morozov, the elder brother-in-law of the teenage monarch, and the true power behind the throne. He accordingly played the traditional role of bad cop to the tsar’s presumptive good cop.

Of course, both guys were really on the same team.

A few days of mayhem, a few boyars’ heads on pikes later, the Streltsy had been bought off and the rioters divided and quashed. Alexei avoided handing over Morozov to the vengeance of the mob, and “exiled” him to a monastery. He would return from “exile” in a few months, once everyone had chilled out and the rising could be taken with a grain of salt.


Salt Riot in Kolomenskoe, by Nikolay Nekrasov.

This passing spasm in the Russian polity left a long-lived and troublesome legacy: one of the demands of the rioters was the convocation of the Zemsky Sobor to hammer out a new legal code.

This happened to be a need for the Russian state anyway, since its rulers were governing by the haphazard issuance of countless ukases nobody could keep straight. So, 1649 saw the promulgation of the Sobornoye Ulozheniye, helpfully rationalizing the lawmaking process.

Win, and win! Except that this legislative milestone also codified serfdom in its most heavy-handed form, formally binding most Russian peasants to their estate without freedom of movement, and making this unhappy condition hereditary. The legal code, and the institution of serfdom subsisted until the 19th century.

* According to The Cambridge History of Russia, the salt tax itself had actually been abolished at the end of 1647, but “other direct taxes were tripled to compensate for the loss of revenue.”

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Public Executions,Rioting,Russia

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1972: Three Somali officers for an attempted coup

1 comment July 3rd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1972, Somali Generals Muhammad Ainanshe Gulaid and Salad Gaveir, along with Col. Abdulkadir bin Abdulla,* were publicly shot in Mogadishu by a 90-man** (!) firing detail for attempting a coup the previous year.

Forged from the decolonized territories formerly known as British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland, Somalia had weathered a rocky 1960s before Siad Barre seized control in a 1969 military coup.

Muhammad Ainanshe Guleid had been Barre’s second vice-president (the first was also arrested for another supposed plot, though not executed), so the alleged conspiracy would have been treason at the very highest level. It’s obscure at this point to what extent the arrests might be attributed to an actual intended coup as against internecine politics within the ruling Supreme Revolutionary Council, or even whether those categories were wholly distinct.

“They were charged,” according to An Encyclopedic Dictionary of Conflict and Conflict Resolution, 1945-1966 (it makes great bathroom reading) “with treason in a plot to assassinate the president … and other high officials and to return the socialist country to capitalism.”

The Soviet-backed Barre had plenty of problems over the next two decades, but actually managed to hold the tumultuous country until 1991. Then rebels finally deposed the dictatorship. Neither those rebels nor anyone else, however, was able to establish an effective central government — leaving Somalia to become the anarchy/libertarian paradise it’s famous as today.

(Juxtapose: the Barre regime’s attempts (pdf) at establishing a more conventional tourist profile.)

* Each of these names have several possible transliterations. Actually, later this same year, Barre would announce an official choice of Latin script for the heretofore unwritten Somali language; schoolchildren at this time had to learn English, Italian, Arabic, and Somali.

** The source for the 90-man firing squad figure is I.M. Lewis, “The Politics of the 1969 Somali Coup” in The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Oct., 1972). As the title indicates, our day’s principals are not the author’s chief concern, but he adds apropos of Barre’s doomed efforts to shift loyalties away from tribes and towards the state that the massive fusillade party “was anti-tribal in composition, and that the Government would see to the funeral arrangements — traditionally a lineage responsibility.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Shot,Soldiers,Somalia,Treason

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1931: Ernesto Opisso

Add comment July 3rd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1931, a carpenter became the first Gibraltar native hanged by the British on that strategic peninsula.

Ernesto Opisso was convicted, in his second trial (the first jury hung), of murdering Marie Bassano, the true crime sensation of the day. Strangely, the elderly woman had been killed in her apartment but neither robbed nor sexually assaulted; Opisso was placed in the vicinity by a witness despite his denials, and a “maybe they got into a fight” theory sufficed to outfit him for the halter.

(Courtroom color: Opisso’s lawyer, evidently something of a functional alcoholic, got around a no-drinking-in-court rule by dipping bread in liquor. “Not drinking, m’Lord,” he replied when the judge’s suspicions were aroused. “Eating.”)

Popular dissatisfaction with the questionable verdict against a local was widespread; because nobody on Gibraltar itself would carry out the execution, a hangman had to be imported from Britain.

The London Times reported of the scene on the eve of the hanging, once all prospect of reprieve had been refused,

Scenes of wild disorder were witnessed to-night when crowds surged through the streets demonstrating against the execution fixed for to-morrow morning of a carpenter, Ernesto Opisso, who has been sentenced to be hanged for the murder of an elderly woman. It will be the first execution in Gibraltar since 1896. A reprieve was refused by the Governor in Council. The crowds thronged the streets demanding a reprieve and forced cafes and places of amusement to close. No taxis were to be had, as the drivers are on strike.

So ugly was the situation that troops turned out and are patrolling the streets armed with hockey sticks.

It was Gibraltar’s first execution of any kind since 1896 — and remains to date its last peacetime execution. (Two Spanish citizens were hanged for wartime offenses in 1944.)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gibraltar,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Wrongful Executions

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1963: 21 Iraqi Communists

Add comment July 31st, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1963, Iraq’s infant Ba’ath government executed at least 21 soldiers — all Shi’a — who had participated in a Communist coup attempt on July 3.

The Ba’ath were newly in the saddle after overthrowing Qasim earlier that year, and would be ousted again a few months hence before their definitive seizure of power several years later.

For the moment, they were a fledgling government trying to tilt away from the Soviet bloc and towards the west while navigating a minefield of domestic politics. If the coup really occurred as described, it was the fruit of an Iraqi Communist Party with daggers drawn for the regime after the Ba’athists had massacred their membership with CIA help in the course of offing Qasim. (The name is also transliterated Qassim or Kassem.) If it was bogus, it was probably an official cover story to keep massacring Shi’a Communists.

The affair, in either guise, amounted to a minor hazard in the jagged path of the Ba’ath — but of course, we come by that judgment with benefit of hindsight. Far more interesting to follow, courtesy of this site‘s library of historic cables, the perceived unfolding of the situation through the anxious American diplomatic pouch:

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Iraq,Known But To God,Mass Executions,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

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1570: Aonio Paleario, Italian religious reformer

July 3rd, 2008 Headsman

On this date, Antonio della Pagliara was hanged across the Tiber from the Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome for heresy.

The present-day view from the square where Paleario is thought to have been put to death, over the Ponte Sant’Angelo’s span across the Tiber to the Vatican’s imposing citadel.

Better known as Aonio Paleario (English Wikipedia entry | the considerably deeper Italian), the humanist scholar grew into his intellectual career just as Martin Luther’s doctrine was shaking Christendom.

Paleario’s positions were dangerously — and at length, fatally — close to Protestantism. He counted himself a humanist, a great admirer of Erasmus, who from the Low Countries managed to hold his critical positions without running afoul of the Catholic Church.

This would prove an increasingly difficult trick as the century unfolded … especially in the pope’s back yard.

Paleario’s most particular offenses were to take what amounts to the Lutheran side on the primacy of scriptural text over ecclesiastical tradition, and of salvation through Christ alone without the Church’s intermediation. (He also denied Purgatory.)

Since the Italian academic also cottoned to the Protestant-humanist critique of clerical corruption, he pitched Martin Luther and John Calvin on the notion of convening a Christendom-wide ecclesiastical council to reconcile competing sects. He seems to have wanted to reconcile the reformist current of humanism still within the Catholic tradition, and that of those critics who had broken, perhaps not yet irrevocably, with Rome.

The effort ultimately foundered. Instead, the curia-approved Council of Trent formulated a Roman Catholic doctrine that insured the permanent schism with Protestantism.

The Counter-Reformation was on. Still, with contending theologies — and contending polities — afoot in the Italian quiltwork plus his own towering reputation as the greatest orator in Italy, Paleario was able to find protectors and carry on. He taught in Siena, Lucca and Milan for more than three decades, surviving two bouts with the Inquisition before a Rome in crackdown mode finally pinned a heresy rap on him.

By that time, the septuagenarian didn’t much bother to fight it.

If your Eminences have so many credible witnesses against me, there is no need to give yourselves or me any further trouble … Judge, therefore, and condemn Aonio; satisfy my adversaries, and fulfil your office.

The office was fulfilled consuming the old man in flames, but they did extend the favor of hanging him (and apparently exposing the corpse for several days) first.

A book uncertainly attributed to Paleario, Beneficio di Criso (The Benefit of Christ’s Death) is available free at Google Books.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Hanged,Heresy,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Papal States,Power,Public Executions,Wrongful Executions

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