1907: Afanasi Matushenko

Add comment November 2nd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1907,* revolutionary sailor Afanasi Mat(y)ushenko was executed for his part in tsarist Russia’s Potemkin mutiny.

The son of a liberated serf, the Ukrainian Matushenko (English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed Russian) absconded in his childhood to enter imperial Russia’s industrial economy. After spending the late 1890s — his mid teens to early twenties — on the railroads and the docks he was conscripted into the navy.

The revolutionary year of 1905 finds Matushenko a quartermaster aboard the soon-to-be-famous battleship Potemkin stationed at Sevastopol, already politically radicalized enough to have participated in a revolutionary barracks riot the previous November.

Eisenstein is mandatory where the Potemkin is concerned but the fact is that the mutiny was not spontaneously generated: it had been planned, and Matushenko was a part of the planning.

On the day of the rising, it was he who led brother-sailors in a protest against worm-ridden rations, and he who eventually crossed the rubicon into mutiny by calling them to arms. He personally killed several of the ship’s officers, and with the mutiny’s success he was elected the chair of the ship’s executive committee.

The Potemkin sailed for Odessa where her aspirations to catalyze a wider rebellion ran (metaphorically) aground, and eventually sailed for Romania. Matushenko lived abroad for two years as a political refugee, crossing paths with kindred souls but indistinct in his political outlook, nearly terroristic. The leftist writer Vladimir Posse met Matushenko in Geneva and found him

Matyushenko … did not go into theory. And his practice was to destroy — precisely the destruction, not the elimination, of all the chiefs, all the masters, and above all the officers. For him, the people were divided into masters and subordinates … the lower ranks can free themselves only when the officers are “simply” destroyed. He himself killed two or three of his superiors during a riot on the Potemkin. And it seemed to him that the essence of the revolution lay in such murders. In this spirit, he wrote bloodthirsty proclamations to sailors and soldiers, urging them to kill officers. He thought that with such a program it was easy to attract all the sailors and most of the soldiers to the side of the revolution …

He considered himself to be doomed to die in battle or on the scaffold … He considered living in an emigrant position to be dishonorable, something of a betrayal. In his view, a true revolutionary is one who not only kills, but also dies himself.

In June 1907 he acted on the latter beliefs and returned to Russia — where he was promptly arrested and condemned by a military court to fulfill his prophesied destiny.

Several cities in the Soviet Union, including Sevastopol itself, had streets named for Sailor Matyushenko, and a Black Sea minesweeper received that name in 1969.

* November 2, 1907 per the Gregorian calendar. Tsarist Russia was still hanging on to the Julian calendar at this time.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Military Crimes,Murder,Mutiny,Revolutionaries,Russia,Treason

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Feast of St. Clement

Add comment November 23rd, 2014 Headsman

Today is St. Clement’s Day, the feast day of the first century Pope Clement I — who, tradition has it, was martyred by the Romans under Trajan at the ancient Crimean city of Chersonesus by being pitched into the Black Sea weighted down with an anchor.*


The Martyrdom of St. Clement, by Bernardino Fungai.

The documentary trail for leadership of the Christian community in these embryonic years is a little thin but officially, the Vatican rates Clement the fourth Pope following St. Peter, Linus, and Cletus; Tertullian says he was ordained by Peter’s very own hand.

He’s the earliest of these successors of the Apostle who can still speak to posterity. The First Epistle of Clement,** which might very well be from the pope’s own hand, is among the oldest extant Christian texts outside of the books actually gathered in the New Testament. Clement wrote it to recall the Corinthian congregation to obedience after “no small sedition” challenged its presbyters; by way of a voluminous review of authority both scriptural and natural,† the Bishop of Rome unsurprisingly concludes that folk ought submit to the constituted ecclesiastical authorities.

Forasmuch then as these things are manifest beforehand, and we have searched into the depths of the Divine knowledge, we ought to do all things in order, as many as the Master hath commanded us to perform at their appointed seasons. Now the offerings and ministrations He commanded to be performed with care, and not to be done rashly or in disorder, but at fixed times and seasons.

And where and by whom He would have them performed, He Himself fixed by His supreme will: that all things being done with piety according to His good pleasure might be acceptable to His will.

They therefore that make their offerings at the appointed seasons are acceptable and blessed: for while they follow the institutions of the Master they cannot go wrong.

For unto the high priest his proper services have been assigned, and to the priests their proper office is appointed, and upon the levites their proper ministrations are laid. The layman is bound by the layman’s ordinances.

Let each of you, brethren, in his own order give thanks unto God, maintaining a good conscience and not transgressing the appointed rule of his service, but acting with all seemliness.

Not in every place, brethren, are the continual daily sacrifices offered, or the freewill offerings, or the sin offerings and the trespass offerings, but in Jerusalem alone. And even there the offering is not made in every place, but before the sanctuary in the court of the altar; and this too through the high priest and the afore said ministers, after that the victim to be offered hath been inspected for blemishes.

They therefore who do any thing contrary to the seemly ordinance of His will receive death as the penalty.

-1 Clem 40:1 – 41:3 (via)

Presumably in consequence of the device used to sink the pope into the Euxine, St. Clement is honored as the patron of smiths and metalworkers; little-observed now, St. Clement’s Day once saw clanging processions of cloaked, and tanked, blacksmiths answering to Old Clem and belting out tunes at every tavern they passed. Pyromaniacs and Warner Brothers cartoon characters might also wish to honor St. Clement with a good old-fashioned anvil firing.

* Chersonesus, which is the city where the prince Vladimir the Great was baptized en route to Christianizing all of Russia, has gorgeous ruins that can be seen adjacent to present-day Sevastopol. St. Cyril, missionary to the Slavs and fountainhead of the Cyrillic alphabet(s), is supposed to have dug up Clement’s relics during his sojourn and hauled them, anchor and all, back to Rome.

** There’s a Second Epistle of Clement, too, but it is not thought to be a genuine product of Clement.

† And unnatural! Viz. “There is a bird, which is named the phoenix. This, being the only one of its kind, liveth for five hundred years; and when it hath now reached the time of its dissolution that it should die, it maketh for itself a coffin of frankincense and myrrh and the other spices, into the which in the fullness of time it entereth, and so it dieth.” The phoenix is supposed to be evidence and/or metaphor for the Resurrection and the afterlife.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,At Sea,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drowned,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Russia,Summary Executions,Ukraine,Uncertain Dates

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1906: Pyotr Schmidt, Sevastopol uprising leader

1 comment March 19th, 2011 Headsman

On this date* in 1906, tsarist Russia executed the naval officer who had made bold to style himself Commander of the rebellious Black Sea Fleet.

During the unsuccessful 1905 Russian Revolution, our firebrand Pyotr Schmidt was lieutenant commander of a destroyer stationed at the Black Sea port of Sebastopol/Sevastopol.

Schmidt made an impassioned revolutionary speech that got him arrested, and was in turn freed by protesting workers and soldiers.

So they knew just the guy to call when a collection of Black Sea Fleet vessels finally out and mutinied. And Pyotr Schmidt knew how to talk the talk.

The glorious Black Sea Fleet, sacredly devoted to the people, demands Your Majesty to immediately call a meeting of the Constituent Assembly, and no longer obeys orders of Your ministers.

Commander of the Fleet P. Schmidt.

Nicholas II decided he was better advised to just order the mutinying ships stormed, and Schmidt was taken prisoner.

The most famous ship under Schmidt’s “command” was, of course, the battleship Potemkin, which trumps the cruiser Aurora as the revolutionariest hulk of floating steel in the Russian fleet by virtue of Sergei Eisenstein‘s silent cinematic celebration of the Sevastopol mutiny, The Battleship Potemkin.

With this sort of insurrectionary credential, Schmidt was a popular choice for Soviet-era naming and renaming — streets, bridges, other naval vessels.

(And come this, er, sea change in fortunes, the commander of the firing squad that did Pyotr Schmidt to death was himself arrested, and shot in 1923 by the Cheka.)

Schmidt thereby contributed his name to an entirely different innovation in the Russian language: in one Ostap Bender novel, there’s a “Children of Lieutenant Schmidt” network of con artists each claiming (in a different part of that vast country) to be the martyred mutineer’s progeny and mooching the material comforts due such an impressive lineage.

So striking and popular was this portrayal that “children (or sons) of Lt. Schmidt” remains a going Russian idiom for anyone running a similar scam.

* March 19 was the Gregorian date; it was March 6 by the obsolete Julian calendar still hanging on in Russia at this time.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Language,Martyrs,Popular Culture,Power,Revolutionaries,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

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