This Week In History

The First Parachute Jump. October 22, 1797.

By the dawn of the 19th century, ballooning had become a staple of popular culture. No féte or celebration was complete without at least one ascent. Aeronauts, both male and female, rose majestically from pleasure grounds and gardens all over Europe. Tivoli Gardens in Paris, was one of the most popular spots for this entertainment and soon became the playground of the “flying” Garnerin family. Andre-Jacques Garnerin was the greatest French aeronaut to follow J.P. Blanchard, and during his aerostatic career he was accompanied and abetted by his wife Jeanne-Genevieve (the first woman parachutist, 1798) and niece Elisa (who learned to fly balloons at age 15 and became the first professional parachutist, making 39 parachute descents from 1815 to 1836). Garnerin had made his first balloon ascen...

The Columbus Day. October 12, 1492.

Columbus Day is a national holiday in many countries of the Americas and elsewhere which officially celebrates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus‘s arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1492. Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer on behalf of Spain, who set sail across the Atlantic Ocean in search of a faster route to the Far East only to land at the New World. His first voyage to the New World on the Spanish ships Santa María, Niña, and La Pinta took approximately three months. Columbus and his crew’s arrival to the New World initiated the Columbian Exchange, also known as the Columbian interchange, named after Christopher Columbus. It was the widespread transfer of plants, animals, culture, human populations, technology, and ideas between the Americas, West Afric...

The German-American Day. October 6, 1683.

German-American Day is a holiday in the United States, observed annually on October 6. It celebrates German-American heritage and commemorates the founding of Germantown in 1683. Germantown has played a significant role in American history; it was the birthplace of the American antislavery movement, the site of a Revolutionary War battle, the temporary residence of George Washington, the location of the first bank of the United States, and the residence of many notable politicians, scholars, artists, and social activists. Today the area remains rich in historic sites and buildings from the colonial era, some of which are open to the public. Although the founding of Germantown on October 6, 1683 was later to provide the date for German-American Day, a holiday in the United States, observed ...

The Coronation of Bloody Mary. October 1, 1553.

Mary I, also known as Mary Tudor, was the queen of England from July 1553 until her death. She is best known for her vigorous attempt to reverse the English Reformation, which had begun during the reign of her father, Henry VIII. Her attempt to restore to the Church the property confiscated in the previous two reigns was largely thwarted by parliament, but during her five-year reign, Mary had over 280 religious dissenters burned at the stake in the Marian persecutions, which led to her denunciation as “Bloody Mary” by her Protestant opponents. Mary was the only child of Henry VIII by his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, to survive to adulthood. Her younger half-brother, Edward VI, succeeded their father in 1547 at the age of nine. When Edward became mortally ill in 1553, he att...

The Battle of San Juan de Ulúa. September 24, 1568.

The Battle of San Juan de Ulúa was a battle between English privateers and Spanish forces at San Juan de Ulúa (in modern Veracruz, Mexico). It marked the end of the campaign carried out by an English flotilla of six ships that had systematically conducted what the Spanish considered to be illegal trade in the Caribbean Sea, including the slave trade, at times imposing it by force. Subsequent to the beginning of the Age of Discovery and the European exploration of the New World it was determined that in order to minimize potential conflict between the two major naval powers of the world at the time, Spain and Portugal, that a demarcation line between the two spheres of influence would be necessary. In the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, dividing the New World into Spanish and Portuguese zones w...

The Conviction of de Rais. September 15, 1440.

Even if there had been nothing else unusual about the Breton nobleman Gilles de Rais (1404–40), his outstanding career as a soldier in the Hundred Years’ War and as a comrade in arms of Joan of Arc would have been enough to guarantee his place in history. Today, though, those achievements can only be seen in the shadow of the secret life he led as the perpetrator of more than a hundred gruesome child murders, a rampage which made him arguably the first serial killer in recorded history. The early life of Gilles de Rais was marked by tragedy. Both his parents died about 1415: his father, Guy de Laval, was killed in a hunting accident that de Rais may have witnessed, and his mother, Marie de Craon, died of an unknown cause. He was raised by his maternal grandfather, Jean de Craon. As a young...

The Battle of Pinkie. September 10, 1547.

The Battle of Pinkie, also known as the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, took place on 10 September 1547 on the banks of the River Esk near Musselburgh, Scotland. The last pitched battle between Scotland and England before the Union of the Crowns, it was part of the conflict known as the Rough Wooing and is considered to have been the first modern battle in the British Isles. It was a catastrophic defeat for Scotland, where it became known as “Black Saturday“. A highly detailed and illustrated English account of the battle and campaign authored by an eyewitness William Patten was published in London as propaganda four months after the battle. In the last years of his reign, King Henry VIII of England tried to secure an alliance with Scotland by the marriage of the infant Mary, Queen of...

The Sacrifice of Stamira. September 1, 1173.

Emperor Frederick Barbarossa bore a long-standing grudge to Ancona, one of the Italian Maritime Republics, for its assertion of independence. Ancona had already stubbornly and successfully resisted an earlier attempt of Imperial occupation in 1167. Moreover, to counterbalance the power of the Holy Roman Empire, the Anconitans made a voluntary submission to the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos, and the Byzantines maintained representatives in the city. In the later part of May 1173 the Imperial forces, commanded by Christian von Buch, Archbishop of Mainz, laid siege to Ancona. In preparation for this step, the imperial troops had previously requested and obtained the naval alliance of the Republic of Venice. Despite the ongoing conflict between the Empire and the Italian cities associate...

Mount Vesuvius on the feast of Vulcan. August 23, 79 AD.

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis and Stabiae, as well as several other settlements. The eruption ejected a cloud of stones, ashes and volcanic gases to a height of 33 km (21 mi), erupting molten rock and pulverized pumice and ultimately releasing 100,000 times the thermal energy released by the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings. More than 1,000 people died in the eruption, but exact numbers are unknown. The only surviving eyewitness account of the event consists of two letters by Pliny the Younger to the historian Tacitus. On August 23, Mount Vesuvius begins stirring, on the feast day of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire. The Vulcanalia was the annual festival held August 23 in his honor. His Greek counterpart is Hephaestus, the god...

The death of Agrippa Postumus. August 20, 14 AD.

Agrippa Postumus was the youngest son of Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa and Julia the Elder, the daughter and only biological child of the Roman Emperor Augustus. Augustus initially considered Postumus as a potential successor and formally adopted him as his heir. In AD 6, an uprising began in the Roman province of Illyricum. Augustus sent Tiberius to crush the revolt with his army, and after a year of delayed results, he sent Germanicus in his capacity as quaestor to assist in bringing the war to a swift end. The reason, Dio says, that Germanicus was chosen over Postumus is because Postumus was of an “illiberal nature”. Postumus was known for being brutish, insolent, stubborn, and potentially violent. He possessed great physical strength and reportedly showed little interest in anyt...

Hayk and Bel. August 11, 2492 BC.

August 11, 2492 BC is the traditional date set for the defeat of Bel by Hayk, progenitor founder of the Armenian nation. Bel, signifying “lord” or “master“, is a title rather than a genuine name, applied to various gods in the Mesopotamian religion of Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia. Bel is represented in Greek as Belos and in Latin as Belus. Bel became especially used for the Babylonian god Marduk and when found in Assyrian and neo-Babylonian personal names or mentioned in inscriptions in a Mesopotamian context it can usually be taken as referring to Marduk and no other god. Though often identified with Greek Zeus and Latin Jupiter as Zeus Belos or Jupiter Belus, in other cases Belus is euhemerized as an ancient king who founded Babylon and built the ziggurat. He is r...

Life on Mars. August 6, 1996.

In August 6, 1996 a team of researchers announced that the meteorite ALH84001, discovered in the Allan Hills of Antarctica, may contain evidence of life on Mars, but further tests were inconclusive. To date, no proof has been found of past or present life on Mars. Cumulative evidence shows that during the ancient Noachian time period, the surface environment of Mars had liquid water and may have been habitable for microorganisms. The existence of habitable conditions does not necessarily indicate the presence of life. Scientific searches for evidence of life began in the 19th century, and continue today via telescopic investigations and deployed probes. While early work focused on phenomenology and bordered on fantasy, the modern scientific inquiry has emphasized the search for water, chem...

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