This Week In History

The Battle of Teutoburg Forest. September 11, 9 AD.

The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, described as the Varian Disaster by Roman historians, took place in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE, when an alliance of Germanic tribes ambushed and destroyed three Roman legions and their auxiliaries, led by Publius Quinctilius Varus. The alliance was led by Arminius, a Germanic officer of Varus’s auxilia. Arminius had acquired Roman citizenship and had received a Roman military education, which enabled him to deceive the Roman commander methodically and anticipate the Roman army’s tactical responses. Despite several successful campaigns and raids by the Romans in the years after the battle, they never again attempted to conquer the Germanic territories east of the Rhine river. The victory of the Germanic tribes against Rome’s legions in...

The Battle of Actium. September 2, 31 BC.

The Battle of Actium was the decisive confrontation of the Final War of the Roman Republic, a naval engagement between Octavian and the combined forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra on 2 September 31 BC, on the Ionian Sea near the promontory of Actium, in the Roman province of Epirus Vetus in Greece. Octavian’s fleet was commanded by Agrippa, while Antony‘s fleet was supported by the power of Queen Cleopatra of Ptolemaic Egypt. Octavian’s victory enabled him to consolidate his power over Rome and its dominions. He adopted the title of Princeps (“first citizen”) and some years later was awarded the title of Augustus (“revered”) by the Roman Senate. This became the name by which he was known in later times. As Augustus, he retained the trappings of a ...

Geoffrey Plantagenet. August 24, 1113.

Geoffrey V, called the Handsome or the Fair and Plantagenet, was the Count of Anjou, Touraine, and Maine by inheritance from 1129 and then Duke of Normandy by conquest from 1144, and was born on August 24, 1113. By his marriage to the Empress Matilda, daughter and heiress of Henry I of England, Geoffrey had a son, Henry Curtmantle, who succeeded to the English throne as King Henry II (1154–1189) and was the first of the Plantagenet dynasty to rule England. His ancestral domain of Anjou gave rise to the name Angevin for three kings of England (Henry II his son and heir, and Henry’s sons Richard and John), and what became known as the Angevin Empire in the 12th century. Geoffrey was the elder son of Fulk V of Anjou and Ermengarde of Maine. Geoffrey received his nickname from the yellow...

First evidence of HMS Erebus found. August 15, 1855.

The search by Europeans for a western shortcut by sea from Europe to Asia began with the voyages of Christopher Columbus in 1492 and continued through the mid-19th century with a long series of exploratory expeditions originating mainly in England. These voyages, when to any degree successful, added to the sum of European geographic knowledge about the Western Hemisphere, particularly North America, and as that knowledge grew larger, attention gradually turned toward the Arctic. By 1800, the discoveries had already showed conclusively that no Northwest Passage navigable by ships lay in the temperate latitudes between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. In 1804, Sir John Barrow became Second Secretary of the Admiralty, a post he held until 1845, and began a push by the Royal Navy to comple...

Il Duomo. August 7, 1420.

By the beginning of the 15th century, after a hundred years of construction, the structure was still missing its dome. The basic features of the dome had been designed by Arnolfo di Cambio in 1296. His brick model, 4.6 metres high, 9.2 metres long, was standing in a side aisle of the unfinished building, and had long been sacrosanct. It called for an octagonal dome higher and wider than any that had ever been built, with no external buttresses to keep it from spreading and falling under its own weight. The commitment to reject traditional Gothic buttresses had been made when Neri di Fioravanti‘s model was chosen over a competing one by Giovanni di Lapo Ghini. That architectural choice, in 1367, was one of the first events of the Italian Renaissance, marking a break with the Medieval ...

Octavian enters Alexandria. August 1, 30 BC.

The breach between Antony and Octavian prompted a large portion of the Senators, as well as both of that year’s consuls, to leave Rome and defect to Antony. However, Octavian received two key deserters from Antony in the autumn of 32 BC: Munatius Plancus and Marcus Titius. These defectors gave Octavian the information that he needed to confirm with the Senate all the accusations that he made against Antony. Octavian forcibly entered the temple of the Vestal Virgins and seized Antony’s secret will, which he promptly publicized. The will would have given away Roman-conquered territories as kingdoms for his sons to rule, and designated Alexandria as the site for a tomb for him and his queen. In late 32 BC, the Senate officially revoked Antony’s powers as consul and declared ...

The Battle of Cascina. July 28, 1364.

On 28 July 1364, the Florentine army under the command of Galeotto Malatesta advanced to Cascina, a few miles from Pisa. The road was open, but the temperature was unbearable. The armor of the warriors were burning hot in the blazing sun; many removed their armor to take a bath in the Arno River. The elderly Malatesta, convalescing from fever, fell asleep, leaving the camp unguarded and the defense disorganized. Pisan spies reported the situation to their commander, John Hawkwood (Giovanni l’Acuto). Hawkwood‘s forces were outnumbered three to one, so he decided his best chance of victory was to launch a surprise attack while the enemy was unprepared. However, Manno Donati and his friend Bonifacio Lupi, Marquis of Soragna had organized the Florentine defences by the time the Pis...

Deciphering Rosetta Stone. July 15, 1799.

The Rosetta Stone is a granodiorite stele, rediscovered in the western world in 1799, inscribed with three versions of a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The top and middle texts are in Ancient Egyptian using hieroglyphic script and demotic scripts, respectively, while the bottom is in Ancient Greek. As the decree has only minor differences between the three versions, the Rosetta Stone proved to be the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs, thereby opening a window into ancient Egyptian history. The stone, carved during the Hellenistic period, is believed to have originally been displayed within a temple, possibly at nearby Sais. It was probably moved in Late Antiquity or during the Mameluk period, and was eventually use...

The Emperor´s Mausoleum. July 10, 138 AD.

Hadrian died in the year 138 on the 10th of July, in his villa at Baiae at the age of 62. Dio Cassius and the Historia Augusta record details of his failing health. He had reigned for 21 years, the longest since Tiberius, and the fourth longest in the Principate, after Augustus, Hadrian’s successor Antoninus Pius, and Tiberius. He was buried first at Puteoli, near Baiae, on an estate that had once belonged to Cicero. Soon after, his remains were transferred to Rome and buried in the Gardens of Domitia, close by the almost-complete mausoleum. Upon completion of the Tomb of Hadrian in Rome in 139 by his successor Antoninus Pius, his body was cremated, and his ashes were placed there together with those of his wife Vibia Sabina and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius, who also died in ...

The Battle of Mantinea. July 4, 362 BC.

After the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, the foundations of Spartan hegemony stumbled. Thebes‘ chief politician and general Epaminondas attempted to build a new hegemony centered on his city. The Thebans marched south, into the area traditionally dominated by the Spartans, and set up the Arcadian League, a federation of city-states of the central Peloponnese, to contain Spartan influence and thereby maintain overall Theban control. In years prior to the Battle of Mantinea, the Spartans had joined with the Eleans (a minor Peloponnesian people with a territorial grudge against the Arcadians) in an effort to undermine the League. When the Arcadians miscalculated and seized the Pan-Hellenic sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia in Elis, one of the Arcadian city-states, Mantinea, detached itself fro...

Aqua Traiana. Fresh water to a new Rome. June 24, 109 AD.

On June 24, 109, Emperor Trajan opened the Aqua Traiana aqueduct, channelling fresh spring water from sources around Lake Bracciano to Rome, the bustling capital of his empire. The vast structure traversed the countryside to the Janiculum Hill, where it was used as bathing and drinking water for the locals, and also to power a series of water mills for industrial purposes like processing grain and sawing stone. The springs around Lake Bracciano, about 25 miles northwest of Rome, were an important water source for the Ancient Etruscans. Around the year 100, Trajan started the construction of a nymphaeum at the site—a monument consecrated to the nymphs, young water goddesses—as well as the Aqua Traiana, which has survived up to the present day. Trajan recorded many of his achievements in ima...

Life and death of a criminal. June 22, 1903.

John Herbert Dillinger was born on June 22, 1903 in the Oak Hill section of Indianapolis, a middle-class residential neighborhood. His father, a hardworking grocer, raised him in an atmosphere of disciplinary extremes (“spare the rod and spoil the child”), harsh and repressive on some occasions. John’s mother died when he was three, and John was taken care of by his elder sister and her husband until his father remarried six years later. John resented his stepmother, although later they fell in love and had a three-years long relationship. In adolescence, his bewildering personality became evident, and he was frequently in trouble. Finally, he quit school and got a job in a machine shop in Indianapolis. Although intelligent and a good worker, he soon became bored and often stay...

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