This Week In History

The Julian Calendar. January 1, 45 BC.

  In the mid-1st century BCE Julius Caesar invited astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria to advise him about the reform of the calendar, and Sosigenes decided that the only practical step was to abandon the lunar calendar altogether. Months must be arranged on a seasonal basis, and a tropical (solar) year used, as in the Egyptian calendar, but with its length taken as 365 1/4 days. To remove the immense discrepancy between calendar date and equinox, it was decided that the year known in modern times as 46 BCE should have two intercalations. This insertion amounted to an addition of 67 days, making a year of no less than 445 days and causing the beginning of March 45 BCE in the Roman republican calendar to fall on what is still called January 1 of the Julian calendar. Previous errors havi...

The Nativity of Christ. December 25.

Around the Third Century, the date of birth of Jesus was the subject of both great interest and great uncertainty. The Nativity of Jesus Christ, narrated by both Mathew and Luke in the New Testament are prominent in gospels and early Christian writers suggested various dates for the anniversary. Around AD 200, Clement of Alexandria wrote: “There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of (the Egyptian month) Pachon (May 20)… Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi (April 20 or 21).” Various factors contributed to the selection of December 25 as a date of celebration: it was the date of the winter solstice on the Roman calendar;...

Caracalla and Geta. December 19, 211 AD.

Caracalla’s father, Septimius Severus, died on 4 February 211 at Eboracum while on campaign in Caledonia, north of the Roman Britannia. Caracalla and his brother, Geta, jointly inherited the throne upon their father’s death. Caracalla and Geta ended the campaign in Caledonia after concluding a peace with the Caledonians that returned the border of Roman Britain to the line demarcated by Hadrian’s Wall. During the journey back to Rome with their father’s ashes, Caracalla and his brother continuously argued with one another, their relations growing increasingly hostile. Caracalla and Geta considered dividing the empire in half along the Bosphorus to make their co-rule less hostile. Caracalla was to rule in the west and Geta was to rule in the east. They were persuaded...

The Battle of Trebia. December 18, 218 BC.

The Battle of Trebia was the first important battle of the Second Punic War between the Carthaginian forces of Hannibal and the Roman Republic, fought around the winter solstice. It was a huge defeat for the Roman Republic, and in spite the heavy losses, around 10.000 soldiers, over two legions, survived on the field and retreated to Placentia. Hannibal´s opposing general, the consul Tiberius Sempronius Longus acted too impetuously and allowed himself to be provoked into frontal assault and failed to see that he was being led to a trap, named Mago´s ambush, after Hannibal´s brother, Mago, that commanded a detachment of 1,100 infantry and 1,100 cavalry concealed in the underbrush of the Trebia River under the cover of night. Theodore Ayrault Dodge, a military historian, wrote of the battle:...

The Battle of Nineveh. December 12, 627.

The Battle of Nineveh was the climactic battle of the Byzantine-Sassanid War of 602–628. The Byzantine victory later resulted in civil war in Persia, and for a period of time, restored the Roman Empire to its ancient boundaries in the Middle East. This resurgence of power and prestige was not to last, as after a few years, an Arab Caliphate emerged from Arabia and once again brought the empire to the brink of destruction. The victory at Nineveh was not total: the Byzantines were unable to capture the Persian camp. However, this victory was significant enough to shatter the resistance of the Persians. With no Persian army left to oppose him, Heraclius’ victorious army plundered Dastagird, Khosrau’s palace, and gained tremendous riches. Khosrau had already fled to the mountains o...

Mary, Queen of Scots. 14 December 1542.

Mary, the only surviving legitimate child of James V of Scotland, was six days old when her father died and she acceded to the throne. She spent most of her childhood in France while Scotland was ruled by regents. King Henry VIII of England took the opportunity of the regency to propose marriage between Mary and his own son and heir, Edward, hoping for a union of Scotland and England. On 1 July 1543, when Mary was six months old, the Treaty of Greenwich was signed, which promised that at the age of ten Mary would marry Edward and move to England, where Henry could control her movements. The treaty provided that the two countries would remain legally separate and that if the couple should fail to have children the temporary union would dissolve. However, Cardinal Beaton rose to power again ...

Justin´s madness forces his abdication. December 7, 574.

  As insanity invaded the mind of Justin, he became aware that he had to name a colleague for succession of his throne. Passing over his own relatives, he raised, on the advice of his wife Sophia, the general Tiberius to be Caesar in December 7 574, adopting him as his son, and withdrew into retirement. According to John of Ephesus, as Justin II slipped into the madness of his final days he was pulled through the palace on a wheeled throne, biting attendants as he passed. He reportedly ordered organ music to be played constantly throughout the palace in an attempt to soothe his frenzied mind. The tardy knowledge of his own impotence determined him to lay down the weight of the diadem; he showed some symptoms of a discerning and even magnanimous spirit when he addressed his assembly, Y...

Napoleon crowns himself French Emperor. December 1, 1804.

  On December 1, 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself as French Emperor at Notre Damme Cathedral. He was Emperor of the French from 1804 until 1814, and again briefly in 1815 (during the Hundred Days). Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. One of the greatest commanders in history, his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. Napoleon’s political and cultural legacy has endured as one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders in human history.  

This Week In History – Commodus Imperator. 27 November 177 AD.

On November 27, 177, Emperor Marcus Aurelius granted his son Commodus the rank of “Imperator” and makes him Supreme Commander of the Roman legions. This marked the start of Commodus´ rule, first as co-emperor with his father, and solely after his father´s death in 180. His accession was the first time a son had succeeded his biological father since Titus succeeded Vespasian in 79. He was also the first emperor to have both a father and grandfather (who had adopted his father) as the two preceding emperors. During his solo reign, the Empire enjoyed a period of peace and reduced military conflict compared to his father´s reign but intrigues and conspiracies abounded, leading Commodus to an increasingly dictatorial style of leadership that culminated in a God-like personality cult...

Emperor Diocletian and the Tetrarchy. November 20, 284 AD.

After his rise through the ranks of military until he became the Roman Cavalry Commander to Emperor Carus, when Carus and his son Numerian died on campaign in Persia, Diocletian became emperor on November 20, 284. Of course, Carus surviving son, Carinus also claimed the title, but was defeated in the battle of Margus.  Diocletian´s rule put an end to the Crisis of the Third Century. Diocletian named his fellow officer Maximian co-emperor,  Augustus, in 286. Afterwards, in 293, he named caesars Galerius and Constantius, or heirs of the augustus title. This new regime was called the Tetrarchy, or “government of four”, and it meant the geographical division of the empire into four parts. Diocletian lead military campaigns against Sarmatians, Carpi, Alemanii, and the usurpers in Egypt, securin...

The finding of Tutankhamun´s tomb. 26 November 1922.

After hard years for Howard Carter, with little findings, Lord Carnarvon employed him to supervise Carnarvon´s Egyptian excavations in the Valley of the Kings. He had been introduced by Gaston Maspero, in order to ensure that Carter was able to impose modern archaeological methods and systems of recording. This research was interrupted during the First World War, but they enthusiastically resumed work following the end of the conflict. On early November 1922, Carter’s excavation group found steps that Carter hoped led to Tutankhamun’s tomb (subsequently designated KV62), and he wired his employer, Lord Carnarvon, to come to Egypt. On 26 November 1922, Carter made a “tiny breach in the top left hand corner” of the doorway, with Carnarvon, his daughter Lady Evelyn Her...

The Battle of al-Qadisiyyah. November 19, 636.

The Battle of al-Qādisiyyah , fought in 636, was a decisive battle between the Arab Muslim army and the Sassanid Persian army during the first period of Muslim expansion. It resulted in the Islamic conquest of Persia and was key to the conquest of Iraq, which was a Persian territory at that time. The battle also saw the alleged alliance of Emperor Yazdegerd III with Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, who married his granddaughter Manyanh to Yazdegerd as a symbol of alliance.  

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