This Week In History

Risorgimento. February 18, 1861.

Italian unification, also known as the Risorgimento, was the political and social movement that consolidated different states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of the Kingdom of Italy in the 19th century. The process began with the revolutions of 1848, inspired by previous rebellions in the 1820s and 1830s that contested the outcome of the Congress of Vienna, and was completed when Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. The term, which also designates the cultural, political and social movement that promoted unification, recalls the romantic, nationalist and patriotic ideals of an Italian renaissance through the conquest of a unified political identity that, by sinking its ancient roots during the Roman period, “suffered an abrupt halt [or loss] of its politica...

Valentine´s Day. February 14.

Numerous early Christian martyrs were named Valentine. The Valentines honored on February 14 are Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. Valentine of Rome was a priest in Rome who was martyred in 269 and was added to the calendar of saints by Pope Gelasius I in 496 and was buried on the Via Flaminia. The relics of Saint Valentine were kept in the Church and Catacombs of San Valentino in Rome, which “remained an important pilgrim site throughout the Middle Ages until the relics of St. Valentine were transferred to the church of Santa Prassede during the pontificate of Nicholas IV”. The flower-crowned skull of Saint Valentine is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. Other relics are found at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland. Valentine ...

The death of Severus. February 4, 211.

In 208 Septimius Severus travelled to Britain with the intention of conquering Caledonia. He probably arrived in Britain with an army over 40,000, considering some of the camps constructed during his campaign could house this number. He strengthened Hadrian’s Wall and reconquered the Southern Uplands up to the Antonine Wall, which was also enhanced. Severus then thrust north with his army across the wall into Caledonian territory. Retracing the steps of Agricola of over a century before, Severus rebuilt and garrisoned many abandoned Roman forts along the east coast, such as Carpow. He was supported and supplied by a strong naval force. Cassius Dio‘s account of the invasion reads: Severus, accordingly, desiring to subjugate the whole of it, invaded Caledonia. But as he advanced ...

Heraclius and Constantine. January 22, 613.

In 608, Heraclius the Elder renounced his loyalty to the Emperor Phocas, who had overthrown Maurice six years earlier. The rebels issued coins showing both Heraclii dressed as consuls, though neither of them explicitly claimed the imperial title at this time. Heraclius’s younger cousin Nicetas launched an overland invasion of Egypt; by 609, he had defeated Phocas’s general Bonosus and secured the province. Meanwhile, the younger Heraclius sailed eastward with another force via Sicily and Cyprus. As he approached Constantinople, he made contact with prominent leaders and planned an attack to overthrow aristocrats in the city, and soon arranged a ceremony where he was crowned and acclaimed as Emperor. When he reached the capital, the Excubitors, an elite Imperial Guard unit led b...

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...

Sacrifice to the gods. January 3, 250 AD.

Decius became Roman emperor in 249 as a result of military victories. He made efforts to revive Rome’s “Golden Age“, adding the name of one of his most admired predecessors, Trajan, to his own, revived the ancient office of censor and restored the Colosseum. Restoration of traditional Roman piety was another of his aims, and after performing the annual sacrifice to Jupiter on January 3, 250, he issued an edict, the text of which is lost, ordering sacrifices to the gods to be made throughout the Empire. Jews were specifically exempted from this requirement. There is no evidence that this edict was intended to target Christians or that persecution of Christians was even thought of as one of the effects this decree would have; rather, it was seen as a way of unifying a vast ...

Vespasian, pecunia non-olet. December 21, 69 AD.

Throughout the early months of 69, Vespasian convened frequently with the Eastern generals. Gaius Licinius Mucianus was a notable ally. Governor of Syria and commander of three legions, Mucianus also held political connections to many of the most powerful Roman military commanders from Illyricum to Britannia by virtue of his service to the famous Neronian general Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo. In May 69, Mucianus formally implored Vespasian to challenge Vitellius. His appeal was followed by Vespasian’s official proclamation as Emperor in early July. Under instructions from the prefect Tiberius Alexander, the legions at Alexandria took an oath of loyalty to Vespasian on 1 July. They were swiftly followed by Vespasian’s Judaean legions on 3 July and thereafter by Mucianus’ Syrian...

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 Capture of Sidon. December 4, 1110.

  The Siege of Sidon took place in the aftermath of the First Crusade. The coastal city of Sidon was captured by the forces of Baldwin I of Jerusalem and Sigurd I of Norway, with assistance from the Ordelafo Faliero, Doge of Venice. With Baldwin I as King of Jerusalem, the Egyptians failed to launch any major military campaigns against the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but they continually raided Baldwin‘s southern frontier. They massacred hundreds of pilgrims near Jaffa and defeated the governor of the town while Baldwin was fighting against Damascene troops in Galilee in October 1106. In 1107 the Egyptians attacked Hebron, but Baldwin forced them to lift the siege. The Egyptian raids did not prevent Baldwin from pursuing an expansionist policy. He compelled the governor of Sidon to pa...

Thanksgiving Day. November 26, 1789.

Setting aside time to give thanks for one’s blessings, along with holding feasts to celebrate a harvest, are both practices that long predate the European settlement of North America. The first documented thanksgiving services in territory currently belonging to the United States were conducted by Spaniards and the French in the 16th century. Thanksgiving services were routine in what became the Commonwealth of Virginia as early as 1607, with the first permanent settlement of Jamestown, Virginia holding a thanksgiving in 1610. In 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia. The group’s London Company charter specifically required “that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned… in the land of Virginia shall be year...

Judas Maccabee and the Temple. November 21, 164 BC.

Judah Maccabee was a Jewish priest (kohen) and a son of the priest Mattathias. He led the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire (167–160 BCE). The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (“Dedication”) commemorates the restoration of Jewish worship at the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 164 BCE, after Judah Maccabeus removed all of the statues depicting Greek gods and goddesses and purified it. In the early days of the rebellion, Judah received a surname Maccabee. Several explanations have been put forward for this surname. One suggestion is that the name derives from the Aramaic maqqaba (“makebet” in modern Hebrew), “hammer” or “sledgehammer” in recognition of his ferocity in battle. Others believe it is in reference to his weapon of choice. It is a...

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