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Triumph in North Africa. March 10, 298.

  Maximian was Roman Emperor from 286 to 305. He was Caesar from 285 to 286, then Augustus from 286 to 305. He shared the latter title with his co-emperor and superior, Diocletian, whose political brain complemented Maximian’s military brawn. The man he appointed to police the Channel shores, Carausius, rebelled in 286, causing the secession of Britain and northwestern Gaul. Maximian failed to oust Carausius, and his invasion fleet was destroyed by storms in 289 or 290. Maximian’s subordinate, Constantius, campaigned against Carausius’ successor while Maximian held the Rhine frontier. The rebel leader was ousted in 296, and Maximian moved south to combat piracy near Hispania and Berber incursions in Mauretania. With Constantius’ victorious return after he expel...

The Battle of Pavia. February 24, 1525.

The Battle of Pavia, fought on the morning of 24 February 1525, was the decisive engagement of the Italian War of 1521–26 between the Kingdom of France and the Habsburg Empire of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor as well as ruler of Spain, Austria, the Low Countries, and the Two Sicilies. The French army was led by King Francis I of France, who laid siege to the city of Pavia (then part of the Duchy of Milan within the Holy Roman Empire) with 26,200 troops since the month of October. The French infantry consisted of 6,000 French soldiers and 17,000 foreigners: 8,000 Swiss mercenaries, and 9,000 German-Italian black bands. The French cavalry consisted of 2,000 knights and 1,200 lances fournies. Charles V sent a relief force of 22,300 troops under the nominal command of the Flemish Charles de La...

Julia. January 17, 38 BC.

  According to Suetonius, Scribonia was married three times; her first two husbands were consuls. In 40 BC Scribonia was forced to divorce her second husband and marry Octavian who in turn had divorced his wife Clodia Pulchra. Octavian’s motive in marrying Scribonia was to cement a political alliance with Sextus Pompey, husband to Scribonia’s niece (or sister). The marriage was brief and unhappy; he divorced her on the very same day as the birth of their daughter, Julia the Elder, his only natural child. He allegedly wrote that he was “unable to put up with her shrewish disposition.” Soon after divorcing Scribonia, Octavian took Julia from her. Octavian, in accordance with Roman custom, claimed complete parental control over her. She was sent to live with her s...

The Capitulation of Granada. January 6, 1492.

With the fall of Baza and the capture of al-Zagal in 1490, it seemed as if the war was over; Ferdinand and Isabella believed this was the case. However, Boabdil was unhappy with the rewards for his alliance with Ferdinand and Isabella, possibly because lands that had been promised to him were being administered by Castile. He broke off his vassalage and rebelled against the Catholic Monarchs, despite holding only the city of Granada and the Alpujarras Mountains. It was clear that such a position was untenable in the long term, so Boabdil sent out desperate requests for external aid. The Sultan of Egypt mildly rebuked Ferdinand for the Granada War, but the Mamluks that ruled Egypt were in a near constant war with the Ottoman Turks. As Castile and Aragon were fellow enemies of the Turks, the...

Drake´s circumnavigation starts. December 13, 1577.

With the success of the Panama isthmus raid in 1577, Elizabeth I of England sent Drake to start an expedition against the Spanish along the Pacific coast of the Americas. Drake used the plans that Sir Richard Grenville had received the patent for in 1574 from Elizabeth, which was rescinded a year later after protests from Philip of Spain. He set out from Plymouth on 15 November 1577, but bad weather threatened him and his fleet. They were forced to take refuge in Falmouth, Cornwall, from where they returned to Plymouth for repair. After this major setback, Drake set sail again on 13 December aboard Pelican with four other ships and 164 men. He soon added a sixth ship, Mary (formerly Santa Maria), a Portuguese merchant ship that had been captured off the coast of Africa near the Cape Verde ...

The Source of the Nile. November 14, 1770.

James Bruce was born at the family seat of Kinnaird, Stirlingshire, and educated at Harrow School and Edinburgh University, and began to study for the bar, but his marriage to the daughter of a wine importer and merchant resulted in him entering that business instead. His wife died in October 1754, within nine months of marriage, and Bruce thereafter travelled in Portugal and Spain as part of the wine trade. The examination of oriental manuscripts at the Escorial in Spain led him to the study of Arabic and Ge’ez and determined his future career. In 1758 his father’s death placed him in possession of the estate of Kinnaird. On the outbreak of war with Spain in 1762 he submitted to the British government a plan for an attack on Ferrol. His suggestion was not adopted, but it led t...

The Battle of Lepanto. October 7, 1571.

Venice had attempted to check Ottoman expansion in the eastern Mediterranean until 1540 but then, exhausted and despairing of support, made a humiliating peace with Süleyman I. His successor, Selim II, was determined to acquire the Venetian outpost of Cyprus and, when the Venetians refused to cede the island, invaded it in 1570. Venice appealed for help to Pope Pius V, who had tried since 1566 to form an alliance of Roman Catholic states. France and the Holy Roman Empire were preoccupied with the sweeping changes wrought by the Reformation. Spain offered hope, but Philip II, with an empty treasury, was faced with revolts in Andalusia and the Netherlands. Venice also deeply distrusted Spanish influence in Italy. Pius, however, was committed to drawing Spain, Venice, and the smaller Italian ...

Sacco di Roma. May 6, 1527.

The growing power of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V alarmed Pope Clement VII, who perceived Charles as attempting to dominate the Catholic Church and Italy. In effort to free both from Imperial domination, Clement VII formed an alliance with Charles V’s arch-enemy, King Francis I of France, which came to be known as the League of Cognac (including France, Milan, Venice, Florence and the Papacy). The imperial troops were 14,000 Germans, 6,000 Spanish, and an uncertain number of Italian infantry. The troops defending Rome were not at all numerous, consisting of 5,000 militiamen led by Renzo da Ceri and 189 Papal Swiss Guard. The city’s fortifications included the massive walls, and it possessed a good artillery force, which the Imperial army lacked. Charles III, Duke of Bourbon nee...

Cabral lands foot in Brazil. April 22, 1500.

On 15 February 1500, Cabral was appointed Capitão-mor (literally Major-Captain, or commander-in-chief) of a fleet sailing for India. It was then the custom for the Portuguese Crown to appoint nobles to naval and military commands, regardless of experience or professional competence. Cabral became the military chief, while far more experienced navigators were seconded to the expedition to aid him in naval matters. The most important of these were Bartolomeu Dias, Diogo Dias and Nicolau Coelho. They would, along with the other captains, command 13 ships and 1,500 men, of which 700 were soldiers, although most of them had no combat experience. The fleet had two divisions. The first division was composed of nine naus (carracks) and two round caravels, and was headed to Calicut in India with th...

The Battle of Munda. March 17, 46 BC.

During the Civil Wars, the republicans had initially been led by Pompey, until the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC and Pompey’s death soon afterwards. However, in April 46 BC, Caesar‘s forces destroyed the Pompeian army at the Battle of Thapsus. After this, military opposition to Caesar was confined to Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula, comprising modern Spain and Portugal). During the spring of 46 BC, two legions in Hispania Ulterior, largely formed by former Pompeian veterans enrolled in Caesar’s army, had declared themselves for Gnaeus Pompeius (son of Pompey the Great) and driven out Caesar’s proconsul. Soon they were joined by the remnants of the Pompeian army. These forces were commanded by the brothers Gnaeus Pompeius and Sextus (sons of Pompey) and by the talente...

The Egg of Columbus. October 12, 1492.

An egg of Columbus refers to a brilliant idea or discovery that seems simple or easy after the fact. The expression refers to an apocryphal story in which Christopher Columbus, having been told that discovering the Americas was inevitable and no great accomplishment, challenges his critics to make an egg stand on its tip. After his challengers give up, Columbus does it himself by tapping the egg on the table to flatten its tip. The Columbus story may have originated with Italian historian and traveler Girolamo Benzoni. In his book History of the New World, published in 1565, he wrote: Columbus being at a party with many noble Spaniards, where, as was customary, the subject of conversation was the Indies: one of them undertook to say: —”Mr. Christopher, even if you had not found the I...

The Battle of Dyrrhachium. July 10, 48 BC.

The Battle of Dyrrachium (or Dyrrhachium) on 10 July 48 BC was a battle during Caesar’s Civil War that took place near the city of Dyrrachium (in what is now Albania). It was fought between Julius Caesar and an army led by Gnaeus Pompey who had the backing of the majority of the Roman Senate. The battle was a victory for Pompey, albeit not a decisive one. The battle preceded the Battle of Pharsalus which was the decisive battle of the Civil War. Caesar did not immediately give chase to Pompey and instead consolidated power in Rome and Italy. He had other problems as well; Pompey had left him with no ships to cross the Adriatic, and Spain had begun to mobilize against Caesar. After gathering the remainder of his forces from Transalpine Gaul he marched into Spain and subdued enough of ...

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