Thoughts on Book 9 of the Histories of Herodotus

Sharp-eyed readers will note that I never got around to writing something about the final book of the Histories, which we read in an HON 301 course this past spring (the other posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). The end of the semester is always busy, you must understand. You’ll find some scribblings below, but I’d also like to say that I just finished off my summary of the work, which is now on its own page – see the link above. The Histories is very long, very detailed, and not always straightforward in its narrative, so last summer, in preparation for my CIC seminar at the Center for Hellenic Studies, I started summarizing each chapter as I read it, which forced me to pay attention to the contents, and which produced a document I could review if I needed to. Events got ahead of me, however, and so I couldn’t get it done until now. In Herodotean fashion, I dedicate the fruit of my labors to the service of humanity.

As for Book Nine, the main event, of course, is the battle of Plataea (479 BC), the last major episode in the Persian Wars. Following the Persian defeat at the naval battle of Salamis the previous year (detailed in Book Eight), the Persian King Xerxes hightails it back to Asia, leaving his general Mardonius in charge of the war. After wintering in Thessaly, Mardonius moves south into Attica to try to bribe the Athenians into becoming allies, but the Athenians have once again retreated to the island of Salamis for safety. In the meantime, the Spartans are building a wall across the Isthmus of Corinth to guard the Peloponnese; the Athenians are worried that the Spartans will abandon them, and suggest to the Spartans that they just might take up the Persian offer. Fortunately, the Greek alliance holds, and the Spartans, the Athenians, and other non-Medized Greeks march out to face the Persians and their allies in Boeotia, and the Battle of Plataea ensues. It is not pretty, but the Greeks are ultimately victorious, and that is the end of the Persian attempt to conquer Greece. In an edifying parallel development (which Herodotus claims happens on the same day as Plataea), the Greeks fight another battle across the Aegean Sea at Mycale, defeating the Persians there and freeing Ionia once again. 

Herodotus does not shy away from depicting how fractious the Greek alliance is. Athens and Sparta and perennially suspicious of each other, and the squabbling between the Athenians and Tegeans (at 26-27) about which of them would get the place of honor on the wing at Plataea is a marvel to behold. Herodotus gives overall credit to the Spartans for the victory, but he also illustrates that this battle is no Thermopylae – the Spartans voluntarily give up fighting directly against the Persians (the Athenians, they acknowledge, have more experience in this activity), and when they find that the cavalry attacks are too much for them, they are only too willing to retreat to “the Island,” a defensible hill between two streams (although one Spartan captain, Amompharetus, refuses to go, and a mighty quarrel ensues between him and the Spartan general Pausanias about this). Emboldened by this apparent Spartan cowardice, Xerxes orders an attack, and at this point the Spartans rise to the occasion: “In spirit and strength, the Persians were the equals of the Greeks, but they had no armor, and they were unskilled besides and no match for their enemies in cunning. They made their charges singly or in tens… and so they were destroyed” (62).

But I think that the Greek fractiousness serves a literary purpose. Herodotus is not necessarily trying to show how a plucky underdog or a lovable band of misfits can ultimately be victorious over a superior foe, although I’m sure there is some of that. Rather, he is contrasting the Greek penchant for debate with the Persian custom of obedience. When the Athenians and Tegeans argue about placement on the wing, they each present numerous reasons why they themselves should get it. The Athenians are more convincing, and the rest of the Greeks shout their approval of the Athenian position. This is how the Greeks conduct themselves – they debate their issues in public. Compare this to the Persian “debate” prior to their attack at Plataea – in a war council, Artabazus suggests that the Persians retreat to Thebes, and from there attempt to bribe the various Greeks into Medizing. Mardonius, however, fearful that the longer they wait, the stronger their opponents will get, is in favor of attacking right away, contrary to the results of the sacrifices by the prophet Hegistratus. “Against this argument of his, no one took a stand, and so his plan won out. For he and not Artabazus had the supreme power of command from Xerxes.” When Mardonius asks his commanders if any of them knows of any oracles about Persian defeat in Greece, the commanders “kept silent, some because they did not know the prophecies, some because, though they knew them, they did not think that opening their mouths was a safe thing to do” (42). Thus does their leader pull rank, and they are all obliged to follow him to destruction.

Of course, public debate is not always the best way to determine policy, especially in times of war. But the overall message, I think, is the same one that the US tried promulgating during World War II and the Cold War: totalitarian societies always look terrifying from the outside, projecting as they do this image of unity and efficiency. But it’s all an illusion, and based on fear of being sent to a concentration camp or Gulag. The US was a “nation of joiners,” in the words of Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. – that is, American “civil society” was made up of a lot of voluntary groups that people joined because they wanted to, or because there was some tangible benefit to them (e.g. professional organizations, churches, service clubs, choirs, bowling leagues, etc.). It might look like a mess from the outside, that all of society is not moving forward in lock step to some goal, but it gives people a stake in their own country, and when moved to, they will all get together and defeat their enemies. And it is certainly edifying that many of the Medized Greeks abandon their loyalty to Persia the minute they think it is safe to do so.

The utility of public debate is not the only piece of pro-Hellenic propaganda in Book Nine. In numerous places, the Persians (and their allies like the Thebans) believe that all they need to do is to use their wealth to bribe the Greeks into taking their side (e.g. in 4, 41, 87, or 120). They don’t seem to realize that, to most Greeks, there are more important things than money. This lesson is underlined when, after the battle of Plataea, Pausanias orders Mardonius’s servants to prepare a meal in the Persian manner, and his own servants to prepare a meal in the Spartan manner. The contrast cannot be more stark – the Persian meal is a model of decadent luxury, while the Spartan meal is very simple indeed – prompting Pausanias to declare that the Persian king is foolish: given that he is used to such extravagance, what good can he possibly derive from conquering the poor Greeks? (The final chapter of the book [122] further emphasizes that “from soft countries come soft men. It is not possible that from the same land stems a growth of wondrous fruit and men who are good soldiers.”) Finally, there is the elaborate story (at 108-113) about how Xerxes falls in love with the (unnamed) wife of his brother Masistes, and so he contrives to marry his own son with Masistes’s daughter Artaynte, hoping that this tie will bring him closer to his sister-in-law. Instead, he falls for Artaynte, and conducts an affair with her, his own niece. This affair is discovered by Xerxes’s wife Amestris, who places the blame for it on Masistes’s wife; Amestris thus has Masistes’s wife mutilated. As a result of this outrage, Masistes leaves for Bactria in order to raise a revolt there, but Xerxes’s troops overtake him and kill him before he gets there. Now, Herodotus certainly deals with Greek misbehavior and malfeasance throughout The Histories, but to close out his work with such a story of incest and intrigue at the Persian court is surely a deliberate attempt to impress upon the reader who the bad guys are.

One final observation. In Book Nine, there are numerous instances of “prophets,” like Hegistratus, making sacrifices – but these sacrifices are not just to propitiate some god, but to determine his or her will. I suppose this is a form of haruscipy – the examination of the entrails of an animal to see what the future holds – perhaps a replacement for augury, the practice of discerning the will of the gods by the flight patterns of birds (as Calchas does in Book One of the Iliad). So if you don’t have time to consult the Oracle at Delphi (or that of some other well-known shrine like Dodona), you can have a personal seer providing answers to immediate questions. I must say that the Greek faith in such customs is something that has always puzzled me about them, or at least serves as the strongest counter-example to the notion that they are “rational.” Of course, the Oracle isn’t stupid, and often gives ambiguous answers so that whatever happens, it’s always right. But why no one ever saw through this (at least, Herodotus gives no evidence of any skepticism either on his own part or the part of any of his subjects) is a mystery to me. I suppose we have to wait until the fourth century and the further development of Greek philosophy under Plato, Aristotle, and others, before we encounter doubt about Fate.

Fenian Raids!

An article in the National Post today revisits a somewhat-forgotten chapter in Canadian history: the Fenian raids of the 1860s and 70s. These were conducted by the Fenian Brotherhood, a group of American-based Irish republicans who attacked Canada (at the time either a British colony or a dominion of the British empire) in the hopes that they could exchange it for Irish independence. (The title, as many commenters point out, is silly. Just because Osama bin Laden was a Saudi citizen does not mean that Saudi Arabia attacked the United States on 9/11.)

Ireland likes to brag that they’ve never invaded anyone. Too bad they invaded Canada

In 2015, Ireland’s justice minister Frances Fitzgerald attended a Dublin citizenship ceremony and proudly told 73 people that they were now citizens of a country that didn’t invade things.

“Ireland has never invaded any other land, never sought to enslave or occupy,” she told the crowd of newly-minted Irish.

It’s a uniquely Irish boast. On a continent jam-packed with invaders, the Emerald Isle is known to count itself as one of the few that has resisted the urge to charge onto foreign soil and plant a flag or two.

Too bad it’s not true.

Go back 150 years to the frontiers of Canada, and you’ll find no shortage of armed, rowdy, top-hatted militants who would beg to differ that they weren’t an invading army of Irishmen.

“Canada … would serve as an excellent base of operations against the enemy; and its acquisition did not seem too great an undertaking,” wrote Irish nationalist John O’Neill, an architect of what are now known as the Fenian Raids.

The plan was simple: Take a bunch of Irish veterans of the American Civil War, take over Canada and then tell Queen Victoria she could have it back in exchange for an independent Ireland.

That, or the whole thing would just be a good chance to shoot up some relatively undefended British land.

The wildly optimistic planners of the scheme figured they would only need about two weeks to take over Kingston, Toronto and the other major centers of what is now Southern Ontario.

From there, they would commandeer some ships, slap together a navy, sail up the St. Lawrence and demand the surrender of Quebec. Then, once the Atlantic Coast was swarming with Irish privateers, the English would have to deal.

The invasion’s organizers, the Fenian Brotherhood, even began funding the effort by selling bonds that would be promptly repaid by a future Irish Republic.

But like most rebellions throughout Irish history, the “invade Canada” scheme was big on romance but very deficient in strategic planning.

Although the Fenian Brotherhood had envisioned vast columns of battle-hardened Irish-Americans streaming into Canada, their peak showing was only about 1000. Of those, many forgot to bring guns, and many more deserted as soon as they hit Canadian soil.

All told, Fenian conquests added up little more than brief occupations of a customs house, some hills, a few villages and Fort Erie.

More at the link, and at Wikipedia.

Templars

Crusade historian Christopher Tyerman once wrote that:

The Templars occupy a prominent place in the pantheon of Alternative History of the ‘what they have tried to conceal from us’ genre, championed by obsessive, swivel-eyed anoraks and conspiracy theorists allied to cool money sharks bent on the commercial exploitation of public credulity.

Now I wouldn’t put it quite that way, but it’s true: like the Bermuda Triangle, the lost continent of Atlantis, and the Nazca Lines, the Templars do tend to attract a good deal of Speculation. The Templars, or more formally “The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon,” were founded as a religious order in 1119 in the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. Like the crusading movement itself, they represented “a fusion of Christian and military practice” – that is, the members took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but instead of praying eight times a day and copying out manuscripts like monks, they practiced horsemanship, guarded pilgrims to the Holy Land, and fought Muslims as they needed to, like knights. (This is definitely a novelty – prior to the late eleventh century the Church did not like knighthood much, but after numerous unsuccessful attempts at regulating it, the Church threw in the towel, and gave it their blessing – but only if the knights exercised their craft far from Europe, and against non-Christians. Thus were they allowed to organize themselves into religious orders.) What attracts everyone’s attention is the Templars’ sordid end: in 1312, King Philip IV of France accused them of heresy, tortured confessions out of the leadership, and prevailed on Pope Clement V to dissolve the order, after which many of them were burned at the stake. But some of the Templars, it is alleged, escaped and “went underground,” later to emerge as the Freemasons. Some of them even sailed to the New World before Columbus, which is why the fifteenth-century Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, built by supposed crypto-Templar William Sinclair, features carvings of new world corn. One author claims they buried treasure in the Oak Island Money Pit off Nova Scotia. A student of mine once lent me a book suggesting that the Shroud of Turin actually depicts an image, not of Jesus, but of the martyred Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay. A character in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code asserts that the Templars, while in the Holy Land, had uncovered evidence that the Papacy was a con job, and that the leadership of the true Church belonged to the descendants of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene – which is why the Pope was so keen to eradicate them.

And so on.

I tell my students that history is interesting enough without concocting such theories. The real history of the Templars touches on several late-medieval themes – among them the rising power of the king of France (at the expense of the papacy), and the desire to find a scapegoat for the loss of the Holy Land (Acre, the last Christian stronghold there, had fallen in 1291). But what it touches on the most is the money one could make as a result of the medieval commercial revolution – and the envy this provoked in others. The Templars were not just active in the Holy Land – they had chapters throughout Western Christendom (their churches were usually round, and you can visit one in London). Templars got into long-distance banking – and made a fortune, so much so that their formal title of “Poor Knights,” and their seal showing two knights riding a single horse, became ironic.

Seal_of_Templars

Wikipedia.

A BBC article, which my friend Chris Berard points me to, explores this history in greater detail. Author Tim Harford claims that they “invented modern banking.”

The Templars dedicated themselves to the defence of Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem. The city had been captured by the first crusade in 1099 and pilgrims began to stream in, travelling thousands of miles across Europe.

Those pilgrims needed to somehow fund months of food and transport and accommodation, yet avoid carrying huge sums of cash around, because that would have made them a target for robbers.

Fortunately, the Templars had that covered. A pilgrim could leave his cash at Temple Church in London, and withdraw it in Jerusalem. Instead of carrying money, he would carry a letter of credit. The Knights Templar were the Western Union of the crusades.

We don’t actually know how the Templars made this system work and protected themselves against fraud. Was there a secret code verifying the document and the traveller’s identity?

They did more than this, however:

Templars were much closer to a private bank – albeit one owned by the Pope, allied to kings and princes across Europe, and run by a partnership of monks sworn to poverty.

The Knights Templar did much more than transferring money across long distances.

As William Goetzmann describes in his book Money Changes Everything, they provided a range of recognisably modern financial services.

If you wanted to buy a nice island off the west coast of France – as King Henry III of England did in the 1200s with the island of Oleron, north-west of Bordeaux – the Templars could broker the deal.

Henry III paid £200 a year for five years to the Temple in London, then when his men took possession of the island, the Templars made sure that the seller got paid.

And in the 1200s, the Crown Jewels were kept at the Temple as security on a loan, the Templars operating as a very high-end pawn broker.

Harford goes on to say that Philip IV owed money to the Templars, and didn’t like how they operated beyond his control, and so contrived to dissolve them. But I can’t help but think there was even more at stake here. Lester Little’s Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy in Medieval Europe (1983) talks about how money made people very anxious in the Middle Ages, especially the “money from nothing” that one could get from currency exchange, lending at interest, or taking advantage of scarcity to sell at a premium. Charging more money than the “just price” for something was uncharitable and un-Christian, and if you made any extra-normal profits at all the only way to expiate your sin would be to give it all to the Church. (This helps to explain all those elaborate late medieval “wool churches” in East Anglia, and it also helps to explain the increased anti-Semitism of the High Middle Ages – Jews were increasingly shut out of various professions, leaving them in the role of the hated money lender.) It’s true that the Templars were themselves a church organization, but I suspect that just made it worse.

As unfair as their end was, however, it happened. “Templar” groups today are somewhat disreputable – at least, they have no institutional continuity with their medieval namesake. If you’re interested in joining a crusading order, try the Hospitallers, the Templars’ main rivals in the Middle Ages, who do enjoy continuity and who are thus much classier.

Kennesaw Mountain

building

Some more local tourism: Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, between Kennesaw and Marietta, north of Atlanta, which we visited yesterday. The park is almost 3000 acres in size and contains a very popular set of hiking trails. Its historic significance is that it was the site of a Civil War battle in June and July of 1864, part of the Atlanta Campaign, when Union troops under William T. Sherman fought against Confederate soldiers under Joseph E. Johnston along a broad front that included the twin peaks of Kennesaw Mountain (Big Kennesaw and Little Kennesaw, pictured), plus Pigeon Hill, Cheatham Hill, and Kolb’s Farm.

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Kennesaw Mountain, scanned from a postcard purchased at the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield gift shop.

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From a postcard purchased at the gift shop: “Union troops attacked the entrenched Confederates on June 27, 1864. This painting by artist Thure de Thulstrup hangs in the park visitor center.”

The Battle of Rocky Face Ridge, south of Chattanooga, starting on May 7, 1864, marked the opening engagement of the Atlanta Campaign. A series of flanking maneuvers on the part of Sherman and Maj. General James McPherson compelled Johnston to retreat southwards numerous times. By late June, however, the Confederates were too well entrenched across too wide a front, necessitating a frontal assault by Sherman. On June 27, Sherman ordered his troops to attack the Confederate positions on Kennesaw Mountain; the Confederates responded fiercely, inflicting some 3000 casualties and successfully defending the mountain. Some of them were induced to retreat, however, which allowed Sherman to return to his successful earlier strategy of outflanking his opponent. So the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain represented a tactical victory for the CSA, but one that did not halt the Union’s advance on Atlanta (which fell on September 2, 1864), nor Sherman’s March to the Sea (November-December 1864).

Some photographs: on the way up Kennesaw Mountain, one sees the remains of trenches that the Confederates dug.

trench

Atop the mountain, a replica cannon.

cannon

And in the gift shop, some Confederate memorabilia, including Polk’s flag, Hardee’s flag, the Bonnie Blue Flag, and the original Stars and Bars. No Battle Flags, though, of any type! (Both Lieutenant Generals Leonidas Polk and William Hardee were participants in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.)

flags

By the way, the double-headed Kennesaw Mountain serves as the logo for Kennesaw State University, now the third largest in the state.

Kennesaw_State_University

And as of May this year, the lighted Skip Spann Connector bridge over I-75 mimics the double mountain (although this is not the best photo of it):

ksubridge

Goliad

Via the most recent Reinhardt Recap, notice of an article by Funk Heritage Center Director Joseph Kitchens, in SaportaReport:

“Remember Goliad:” Georgians in a desperate land
By Joseph H. Kitchens

We ascended the monument aboard an elevator that was still new when Franklin Roosevelt was elected president for the third time, in 1940. The door opened upon a panorama that included the battleship Texas, looking no bigger than a canoe from our vantage point 567 feet above it. During our descent, and much to Karen’s surprise, I suggested we visit Goliad, a small town more than 150 miles to the southwest in the flat prairies of the cattle kingdom along the lower San Antonio River. I explained to her that it was where the “Georgia Battalion” had fought in the Texas Revolution. I overcame her slight reluctance by promising a stopover on Galveston Island to feel the gulf breezes and walk in the surf.

Last summer, Jamil Zainaldin wrote a column, “Our shared story — are those things that make us New Englanders or southerners more connected than we may think?,” that triggered a “memory debate” between my wife, Karen, and me. It centered on the question of when our visit to the remote town of Goliad in south Texas occurred. It was 2012, we decided. Karen’s brother was ill, and we drove that interminable stretch of I-10 across the Louisiana bayous to Houston to see him in high summer. Towering over the busy port and its oil refineries is the San Jacinto Monument, a tribute to the revolutionaries who created the Republic of Texas in 1836 and to their enigmatic commander, Sam Houston. The Mexican army was defeated when Houston’s own raw and restless men acted without orders and attacked. Their cry was “Remember the Alamo; remember Goliad.”

We spent the next night in Victoria, a bustling little city with a shopping center and the usual fast food restaurants. We left for Goliad Sunday morning and found it a sleepy town of 2,000, looking unchanged for the past 75 years. Church parking lots were filled with cars, and businesses were closed for the Sabbath. Leaving Galveston behind the next morning, we were met by a wall of fierce heat and drought — the driest summer in anyone’s memory. The grazing was meager, and white-faced steers were being shipped out to market, far short of their usual weight. Newspaper reports told of horses and cattle being put down because feed and water were both expensive and scarce. We were in search of history in a desperate land.

Signs directed us out to Presidio La Bahia, a fort built by the Spanish in the 18th century, a lonely sentinel guarding the Spanish frontier from the Rio Grande to the Mississippi. Here, volunteers, including about 30 Georgians, gathered under the command of Georgian James Walker Fannin Jr., a West Point dropout turned slave trader (and the namesake of Fannin County). Hopelessly posted to stop an enormous Mexican army, they waited on reinforcements from the Alamo that never came. When the Alamo fell, General Sam Houston ordered Fannin to move his forces north to Victoria.

A few escaped to tell the story,  but more than 200 men were killed. A great cry of angry revulsion swept across the plains and bayous back to the United States and beyond. Santa Anna’s reputation as a pompous, petty tyrant was transformed into that of a cruel monster, and support for Texas and its revolutionaries swelled. Independence was won when Santa Anna was defeated and captured at San Jacinto. Fannin hesitated for days, then began a withdrawal across open ground toward Coleto Creek and its covering trees. His little army was overtaken by an overwhelming Mexican army, and after a brief but determined resistance, Fannin surrendered. The able and wounded were taken back to the Presidio La Bahia under promise of fair treatment, expecting to be paroled at New Orleans. Instead, they were marched out the next morning and shot by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s troops. Fannin was accorded an officer’s death, shot as he was seated in a chair in the courtyard.

We ended our visit to Goliad and La Bahia by walking the steps up to the great monument erected near the site of Fannin’s defeat at Coleto Creek. It bears the names of those who died nearby. Far away from the famous Alamo, the much less visited La Bahia stands, restored by a generous benefactor. It includes the beautiful original Spanish chapel where Fannin’s men spent their last night in this world. It is still used by the local Catholic congregation. In a great show of pride, Texans celebrated their centennial in 1936, erecting monuments and markers and organizing reenactments. Georgia had given weapons to the “cause of ’36” and never sought repayment, the story goes. The Texas governor offered to ask the Texas legislature to appropriate money for that purpose, but was told instead to honor the dead, including the Georgia volunteers. A monument was erected at Goliad bearing the names of the Georgians and their fellow volunteers.

Fort Gaines, Alabama

One more set of summer-trip postcards, from Fort Gaines, Dauphin Island, Alabama. As it says on the sign, Fort Gaines was established during the presidency of James Monroe to guard the entrance to Mobile Bay. (Two miles across the bay, at the tip of Mobile Point, lies Fort Morgan, which was built in the 1830s. We did not get to visit that fort, however.)

gainessign

Fort Gaines was taken over by the Confederacy, and regained by the United States after the Battle of Mobile Bay in August 1864. This is the engagement when Admiral Farragut gave his famous order: “Damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead!” (or words to that effect – contemporary sources differ on the phrasing). This was a risky but ultimately effective tactic of running the Confederate minefield and then sinking the Confederate ships in Mobile Bay. Forts Morgan and Gaines surrendered to the US shortly thereafter. The anchor from the USS Hartford, Farragut’s ship, is on display in the courtyard of Fort Gaines.

gaines

The fort was modified in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American war, and decommissioned in 1926, at which time it was sold to the City of Mobile. During World War II it housed a unit of the Alabama National Guard. At some point the fort was deeded to the Dauphin Island Park and Beach Board, which act as its current caretakers. It is not currently in the best of repair but we kind of liked that – it was fun to explore all its nooks and crannies. Every time a hurricane comes through it gets damaged a little more, and erosion from seawater is eating away at its foundations. Apparently it’s on a list of endangered historic places so you should see it while you can, or give money to save it before it’s too late.

gaines2You can go on an interesting self-guided walking tour and see the cannons, magazine, fort museum, kitchen, twelve-seater latrine, barracks and, best of all, the working blacksmith forge and blacksmith Ralph Oalmann who explains his craft as he exercises it.

Flailing

Like the iron maiden, the flail is an invention of a later time, or so says the Public Medievalist:

The Curious Case of the Weapon that Didn’t Exist

Just about everybody interested in the Middle Ages, who has played Dungeons and Dragons, or read historical and fantasy novels knows what a military flail is. It’s one of these:

A military flail is a medieval weapon consisting of a short handle attached to a chain, at the end of which is a metal ball. This is not to be confused with a two-handed variant, often also called a flail, which derives from the threshing implement of the same name. Varieties of the one-handed version have multiple chains or spiked heads. They have appeared in a range of medieval movies and books, and they are held in the collections of museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Only problem is: they never existed.

Despite the weapon’s popularity in pop cultural depictions of the Middle Ages, the flail was almost certainly an invention of the imaginations of later people.

More at the link, including commentary from Kelly DeVries.

Caroline Affair

Reading Robert Bothwell’s Your Country, My Country, I was interested to learn about the Republic of Canada and the SS Caroline, historical details that had previously escaped me. In 1837, Upper Canada (that is, present-day Ontario) was rocked by a rebellion, led by William Lyon Mackenzie and directed against the so-called Family Compact that ran the place. Upper Canada had been set up in conservative reaction to the United States, and so had an established church and a government that was not actually responsible to its people. One did not need to be American to object to this situation, thus Mackenzie’s rebellion; it was unsuccessful, but an inquiry by Lord Durham recommended certain changes to the political situation to forestall future incidents, among them the union of Upper and Lower Canada into a single entity.

(When I first learned about this in grade eight, at my public junior high school, it was pretty clear that Mackenzie was supposed to be the good guy. What a surprise the next year when, playing sports for my private high school against Upper Canada College, I discovered a monument to its cadet corps, which had valiantly helped to defeat the rebels in the Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern. This was one of the many signs that I was now living in a different world.)

Mackenzie, defeated in Toronto, retreated with his men to Navy Island in the Niagara River where they proclaimed an independent “Republic of Canada” and where they were supplied from the American side by sympathizers who sent money, food, and arms to them on the steamboat Caroline. On December 29, 1837, however, Col. Allan MacNab (who was later the premier of the united province of Canada) led a party of militia across the international boundary, seized the Caroline, chased off its crew, set it on fire, and sent it over Niagara Falls! From Wikipedia, here is a depiction of the event by George Tattersall:

Destruction_of_the_Caroline

This was an international incident. President Martin Van Buren protested strongly to London, and in retaliation the next year a group captured and burned the British steamer Sir Robert Peel while in U.S. waters. But the Caroline incident has had a lasting influence: it has been invoked many times since in the justification of “anticipatory self-defense” a.k.a. the preemptive strike, like the one that the United States launched against Iraq in 2003.