The Mystery at Wilga Waterhole

Tags

, , , , , ,

Around 100kms south of Longreach in central Queensland lays an inconspicuous small waterhole name Wilga. By this waterhole is said to lurk a ghost which screeches such a sound that the most hardened of bushmen scurry off in terror at the first sound of it.

A small hut was built by a swagman and his wife by the waterhole but quickly was abandoned after the shrieks of the ghost drove them away.  The legend grew and more and more people were certain that the place was haunted. There was even legends that the local indigenous would not go near the area as it was said to be cursed. An article in the Longreach Leader may shed some light as to the source of the mystery. It says “A boundary rider there went mad and after killing his wife and daughter, hid them down a well, and that it is his mad cries that are heard. It is a fact, that while sheep sleep quietly, graze in the paddock, cattle or horses if put there always break the fence and get out. They simply refuse to stay there” (1942). The newspaper continues to give an account of another pair of men who stayed at the station and heard a terrifying shriek coming from outside the hut. Needless to say they didn’t sleep much that night and in the morning when they exited the small building they found their horses were gone (later found quite some distance).  Of course there were those who don’t believe and some had even set out to solve the mystery of the Wilga, “Two shearers who did not believe in ghosts, swore to get to the bottom of the mystery. They went off with rifles and food but were back within a few hours, scared stiff. It seems they found the old hut and took up position there, just before the rise of the moon. Suddenly they heard the most dreadful screams and they went to investigate. So clumsy were they in their efforts to emulate Sherlock Holmes, that one of the men nearly fell down the well, from where they considered the screams had emanated. They crawled back to the old hut, one moving round to see what he could locate, while his mate, forgetting that his cobber was about on the other side of the hut, heard a noise, crawled round to see what it was – saw something, and fired. Soon they were blazing away at each other – happily missing. When of course, they both heard the greatest clattering of hooves, they took to their heels, not stopping until they reached the shed” (1942).

 

43-dufznuq

The Australian outback can be an eerie place (courtesy of outbackqueensland.com.au)

 

There are numerous other tales in many publications throughout the early to mid 20th century. Very few however did much in the way of offering an explanation as to what was heard by all these people, most newspapers preferred to perpetuate the idea of a ghost looming over a hut in the middle of rural Queensland. However, S.W. Cleary in the Narromine New & Trangie Advocate offers a very reasonable explanation to what may have been responsible for scaring so many people away from this spot; “There is nothing supernatural about the supposed haunted Wilga waterhole, and the shrieking can easily be explained, in fact it is no mystery to most sensible minded people who have camped there. The legend first got its start from a man being left in charge of a house owned by Colin Bertram. I often heard the weird sound which reminded me of a woman in pain. One night I followed it to a huge tree over hanging the river. Next day a man from Ruthven Station climbed the tree and in a hollow limb (sic), found a nest with four young owls in it. I lived in those parts for years  and never knew the blacks to be frightened of the place, in fact they often fished in the hole and one of them, named Milbung Tommy, is buried there. It used to be a common thing for bushmen to who came that way to be asked “Did you hear the Wilga ghost?” but take it from me the owls or some other birds are at the bottom of the business” (1928).

So there you have it and although not as fanciful and entertaining as the idea of a ghost looming over the waterhole, the most probable culprit are birds (Maybe an lyrebird imitating the dying cries of the wife and daughter who were murdered?) Anyone who has spent any amount of time camping in the Australian outback can vouch for the strange sounds and all-round eeriness of some places in the bush. Its what makes it what it is. It wouldn’t take much for something like the Wilga ghost to gain traction from a seemingly inexplicable event. So it was probably nothing – although I will definitely not be finding out for myself!

Advertisements

The Beaumont Children

Tags

, , , , , ,

Few disappearances in Australia (Holt excluded) have had such an impact on this country as the disappearance of the three young Beaumont children. Truth be told, a rather sombre realisation when looking at missing person cases is that there is an unnatural amount of children that go missing. Adults are incredibly complex and disappear for a whole host of reasons, whether voluntary or not. But when children disappear it is almost always at the hands of a predator. You don’t have to look very deep into news sources to realise that this is far more common than we would like to imagine. Right now there are a couple of high profile cases in Australia of children seemingly vanishing without a trace. But this wasn’t always the case – at least the perception – is/was that Australia was once a very safe country. That parents could let the their kids walk down the shop on their own, catch a train or bus, go to the park and meet friends. Basically do all those things that kids should be doing.

The disappearance of the Beaumont children helped change all of that – and in the process shattered the conception  of safety and destroyed Australia’s innocence forever.

BACKGROUND

Jim and Nancy Beaumont lived in the beachside suburb of Somerton Park, Adelaide, South Australia. Nicely settled to the south of Adelaide the suburb is largely residential and offers what most would consider the Australian dream, living close to the beach. On the 10th of September 1956 Nancy gave birth to the first of what would be three children Jane Beaumont. Just over two years later Jane had a younger sister, Arnna and finally on the 12th July, 1961 Grant Beaumont was born. There are no real details as to the lives of these three young children before their disappearance, but there is no evidence to suggest that they lived in anything other than a loving household.

THE DISAPPEARANCE

On Australia Day 1966, Jane – 9 at the time, Arna (7) and Grant (4) would travel a few kms north on the bus to spend the day at Glenelg Beach. Glenelg is another beachside suburb with walkways, a  jetty, shops, restaurants and has even had numerous amusement parks throughout its history. Needless to say it was very popular with children. Now by todays standards it would seem quite bizarre to let three young children travel away from their parents on their own. But truth be told, this was 60s Australia. There was nothing to worry about, and the three Beaumont kids had made this trip numerous times before. They had even been at the beach the day prior to their disappearance. The fact that they were regular beach goers may have been their downfall.

beaumont-children-paper

Front page of The News (Adelaide). A day after the disappearance.

 

So on the 26th January the 3 kids go to the beach. Nancy told the kids to be home at 2pm. That was the norm. And every time prior to the 26th the kids were home by 2pm. Jane, although 9 years of age, was incredibly mature and was trusted by her mother so when the kids did not walk through the front door at 2pm she would have been slightly concerned and with each passing hour that concern slowly turns to dread.

Police were called at 7pm and thus would begin one of the strangest and longest running missing persons cases in Australian history.

WHAT WE DO KNOW

Details of the movement of the children on the day of their disappearance is scarce, however there are some occurrences that have been verified. They did make it to the beach. There were a few witnesses who came forward claiming to have seen the children playing with a man in his mid 30s on the beach. The man was tanned and blonde and had a thin to athletic build. By all reports the children were seemingly relaxed with this stranger. So much so that most people would not have given it a second look; and most unfortunately didn’t. A little after midday on that ill fated day the children were seen walking from the beach with the mysterious blonde haired man. A shopkeeper had also mentioned that the children had come into the shop with a one pound note to buy some pasties. At around 3pm there children were seen walking hand in hand seemingly in a jovial mood which was quite bizarre considering the kids should have been home by this time.

WHAT WE CAN ASSUME

The fact that the children were playing openly with the mysterious blonde man on the beach that day suggests that it was not their first meeting. Nancy and Jim both suggested that that the children would not just ‘go with a stranger’. The fact that the kids were going to the beach regularly during those summer holidays would give a predator opportunity to gain the childrens’ trust. This would explain the seemingly lax attitude of both the children and the man that day. When the children went in and bought pasties they had purchased them with a one pound note, a one pound not which was not given to them by their mother (she verified this), one can connect the dots and assume that the money was given to the children by their abductor. This was probably done as to not raise suspicion, and one can imagine that unless you knew the children personally, you would have just assumed that they were with a carer or relative. Unfortunately, that’s it. That is all we know and all we can really infer from the evidence.

THE INVESTIGATION

When police got the call at 7pm that night the search immediately commenced. A police car with a loudspeaker canvassed the streets of Glenelg calling out for the children and seeking public assistance. Many from the community did come out and help the search and there were calls coming from many different Adelaide suburbs which offered information and possible leads. Despite the response from the police and public, that night Jane, Arna and Grant did not come home. As the search intensified the next day there was still no sign of the missing children. And again that following night Jane, Arna and Grant did not make it home. Days turned to weeks which in turn turned to months. Still no sign of the children.

Seemingly in a desperate bid to find out what happened to the kids; a ‘psychic’ was flown to Australia from Holland.  Gerard Croiset was confident he could crack the case and when he set foot on Australian soil it created a media sensation. He claimed the children were buried in a warehouse. Understandably the owners of the warehouse were not too keen on knocking down the building on the basis of this psychic, but with public pressure money was raised and the owner allowed for excavations. Predictably, nothing was found and Croiset went back to Holland having failed.

A report did come out which was particular disturbing and many people were left to wonder what might have happened if the following information was given immediately to police and not months after said disappearance. On the night of the disappearance a woman had seen a man matching the description of the person seen with the kids that day. The man had walked into an abandoned house across from her home with a young girl and a boy. That may have been weird in itself but later that night she witnessed the same boy running from the house in a tearful and terrified state before being aggressively pursued by the man and dragged back into the house. By the time this information had found its way to South Australian police the man and the three children had well and truly gone. Why this was only revealed by the woman months later has never been established. One is left to wonder.

Over the next few months and years tip offs and information trickled through but the information was unreliable and the police were none the closer to finding the children. There were a few people of interest and some were investigated more than others, however nothing solid eventuated and the case remains an open to this day. Interestingly enough, in 1973 two more children disappeared whilst watching an Australian Rules Football game at the famous Adelaide Oval. The Family Murders were a group of murders which targeted young teenage boys, one person, Bevan Spencer von Einem was charged and even though he to this day denies any involvement with the Beaumont children, he did not work alone in the Family Murders (the other killers remained at large). While a connection between the two cases lacks direct evidence it is impossible to dismiss entirely. Even as recently as October of this year, police are working on a new lead. While all of Australia hopes for some kind of closure in this case, I doubt many are holding their breath.

THE IMPACTS

The disappearance of the Beaumont Children changed Australia forever, it was really the first case of child abduction that truly captured the nation’s attention and saw the shift from a carefree country which allowed for children to play away from adult supervision – to a country which became fully aware of the looming threat of child abduction.

Alea Iacta Est

Tags

, , , ,

‘Alea Iacta Est’ (translated roughly to The Die is Cast) may just be one of the coolest Latin phrases ever spoken in history. Said to be uttered by Julius Caesar after a decision that would go on to change the course of history as we know it.

This story takes us back to 49BC at the River Rubicon. The river was said to separate Rome proper from the rest of its provinces. Julius Caesar, Rome’s greatest general was on the banks of the river (opposite side of Rome). Caesar had just finished many years of campaigning in Gaul where he had built a very strong reputation for himself. He was successful in subjugating all the Gauls and incorporating them into Rome. Caesar was a man who was loved by his legions but probably more importantly, by the people of Rome itself. For this reason, he quickly became despised by the Senate who were envious (and frightened) of his growing power. The Senate sent an ultimatum to Caesar; lay down your arms and surrender to Rome, where he would be put on trial for his crimes against the state.  Caesar, thus marched his legion to the banks of the Rubicon. Probably still unsure as to his next course of action. If he surrendered, he would surely die, be jailed or best case scenario; exiled. On the contrary if he marched his troops across the river, it would be seen as an act of war against the state and would surely plunge Rome into a long and bloody civil war in which he would not be favoured to come out triumphant.

caesar_paused_on_the_banks_of_the_rubicon

Caesar on the banks of the Rubicon

 

Caesar must have had an idea as to what he was going to do before he got the river. But like all great decisions one must make in life, he must have deliberating for a pain staking long time, realising that there would be great consequences regardless of the decision he would go on to make. I can see the image played out perfectly in my head, his men waiting a little further out watching their great general, nervous; anxious but supportive.  And Caesar; aloof, thinking, reflecting, staring across the river into Rome and contemplating the struggle, death and pain that will surely follow. Caesar turns his horse to face his men and utters the words that will go down in history- Alea Iacta Est – and with that marched his forces into Rome and took on the Roman Senate in a four year civil war which would prove to be as bloody as everyone had predicted and feared.

I guess what sticks out most to me in such a story (unfortunately there is no concrete evidence that Caesar uttered those words, historians of the time were notorious for stretching the truth) was that Caesar had no idea of the way it would all play out. I mean he must have gone over every scenario in his head before deciding to march on Rome and even then he must have asked himself if the correct path was chosen – but what Caesar didn’t do is back down. He made his decision and never turned back. He decided then and there he would capture Rome or die trying. His sheer determination and strength of character which was hardened by all the years campaigning in Gaul ultimately helped him succeed. He knew he was a man capable of great things and the most importantly  – he backed himself. Julius Caesar went all in and Julius Caesar won.

The 38 Minute War

Tags

, , , ,

Usually wars are long drawn out affairs that are heaped with death, anguish and misery. There was one war however, that was over approximately 38 minutes after the first shots were fired (40 minutes after being declared). The war centred on what is now known as the Zanzibar Archipelago, off the east coast of Kenya.

In the late 19th century the Sultanate of Zanzibar was an important ally to the British in the region as it was around the time that Germany had begun its late foray into imperialism. When the pro British Sultan died unexpectedly, his nephew, Khalid bin Bargash, seized the opportunity to instil himself on the throne. He quickly assembled an army and barricaded himself in the palace. This was quite concerning to the British as they had planned to have Hamud bin Muhammad in power. With Bargash, they would get an unknown and one that could ultimately align himself with the Germans. On the 27th of August at 8am an ultimatum was put out to Bargash to vacate the palace peacefully within an hour. He did not. At 9.02am the British through the leadership of General Lloyd Mathews, bombarded the palace from cruisers in the harbour, thus totally destroying the palace. Bargash escaped to the German consulate – and ultimately would escape Africa altogether. The shelling stopped at approximately 9.40am. 38 minutes of war. 500 casualties.

SultanPalace.jpg

The destroyed palace  (Richard Dorsey Mohun)

Ultimately the British got their man, Hamud bin Muhammad in power and stability would return to the region. And while Bargash did survive, he could not entirely escape the British wrath, he was captured in Tanzania in 1916 before being exiled. The Anglo-Zanzibar war is not the most well known of the battles or wars fought by the British during the colonial days but it is a war that is remembered for being the shortest in recorded history. 38 minutes long, me writing of the war, has taken longer than the war itself.

Death by Tennis

Tags

, , , ,

Tennis is not a sport one would generally consider dangerous. You hit a ball over a net and never have to make any physical contact with another competitor apart from shaking your opponents hand. So when I heard of a particular tennis match over 400 years ago which directly resulted in the death of a competitor my ears immediately pricked up.

untitledThe incident was written by the philosopher Montaigne in his essay, ‘That to Study Philosophy is to Learn to Die’. It was actually Montaigne’s younger brother who died in this most peculiar fashion and the event (understandably) tormented Montaigne. So much so that he would go on to have a very real fear of death, realising it is never too far away as evidenced by his brother’s untimely death. In his book Montaigne writes……

“A brother of mine, called Captain Saint Martin, a man of three and twenty years of age, who had already given a good testimony of his worth and forward valour, playing at tennis received a blow with a ball that hit him a little above the right ear. Without appearance of any contusion, bruise or hurt and never resting upon it, died within six hours after of an apoplexy, which the blow of the ball caused him. These so frequent and ordinary examples, happening and being still before our eyes, how is it possible for man to forgo or forget the remembrance of death? And why should it not continually seem unto us, that she is still ready at hand to take us by the throat?”

As seen above his brother died from a brain haemorrhage directly caused by the impact of the ball. The death, which haunted Montaigne for many years, helped spur him into a life of philosophy and the idea of death was something he weighed heavily into. The incident is no doubt a rare one. I looked for other reported deaths in tennis and found only one which was not directly caused by a tennis ball (an umpire fell backwards after getting hit by the ball and hit his head on the hard surface- it was the blow from the fall and not the ball itself which caused his death). Of course death in other sports is more common. In a country rugby league game 28 year old Grant Cook tragically died from the injuries received from a tack. Phil Hughes, an Australian cricketer passed away after getting his head hit with a bouncer (a cricket ball is a LOT harder than a tennis ball however), and even more recently a paralympian bike rider, Bahman Golbarnezhad died after crashing his bike. As tragic as all these events are, there are inherent risks involved with these sports and although rare, there are multiple anecdotes of tragedies in particular sports. Tennis on the other hand, not so much. That’s what makes this case even more fascinating. So next time you attempt that forehand up the line, spare a thought for Captain Martin who was the first (and hopefully last) person to die whilst playing tennis.

 

The Mysterious Case of Spring-heeled Jack

Tags

, , ,

Jack6

An artists impression of what Spring-heeled Jack looked like.

Throughout the 19th century Britain was (supposedly) terrorised by a monstrous man/creature nicknamed Spring-heeled Jack. A nickname given due to the inane ability to jump from building to building and clear fences in a single bound.

When looking at the evidence of such a phenomena (history is littered with stories of the paranormal) it is extremely difficult to separate fact from fiction. Was there a man/demon/creature running about the boroughs of London and Liverpool terrorising young women? Maybe. Maybe not. But what is certain was there was a kind of mass hysteria around the time that these bizarre events were happening.

The first recorded sighting was in 1837 when a young girl named Mary Stevens was walking to her place of employment in the south of London. A ‘man’ jumped out from a dark alley and grabbed the young woman. He ripped her clothes off with his ‘claws’ and was forcefully kissing the girls face. After a brief struggle Spring-heeled Jack made a swift getaway. The following day Jack was at it again, launching himself in front of a carriage, causing an accident. Jack was then said to have leaped over a 9ft wall whilst laughing hysterically.

However, it wasn’t until the Mayor of London received a letter from a ‘resident of Peckham’ that the real hysteria took hold. In the letter the person claims that this “unmanly villain has succeeded in depriving seven ladies from their senses, two of whom are not likely to recover, but to become burdens to their families” . After this letter Jack received some main stream attention, appearing in newspaper articles as his attacks seemed to get more audacious. He would even resort to door knocking where invariably a young woman would answer the door and be exposed to Jack’s hideous face. Jack would be dressed in a large overcoat, was tall, thin and had a grotesque face. He was said to have fiery red eyes and sharp teeth.

In a weird twist to the Spring-heeled Jack phenomena he almost became like a hero. He was the subject of plays and stories (particularly penny-dreadfuls – a cheap story printed on cheap paper – similar to comic books) and would be looked at with a little more affection than horror. The attacks would continue but inevitably slow down before the last reported sighting of Spring-heeled Jack occurred in Liverpool around 1904.

There is much conjecture about Spring-heeled Jack and what he was. Most historians believe it is a case of mass hysteria. One incident leads to another (maybe just some pranksters) and before you know it you have a demon like creature terrorising the streets. Some however give it up more paranormal backstory, this was after all an era of ghouls and ghosts (the last remnants of the Victorian Age). Interestingly enough the story reminded me of another so called creature that was terrorising New Dehli (India) some 100 years after the last reported sighting of Spring-heeled Jack. I remember seeing this story on the news as a teenager and freaking out at the possibility of something like this wreaking havoc in a suburban setting. Like Jack, these sightings would eventually peter out to nothing and in all likelihood it was nothing more than a deformed monkey.

Whatever Jack was or wasn’t the story is fascinating. Was there was a demon like man assaulting young women who had springs in his feet or is it just a perfect example of how mass hysteria can engulf a suburb, city and then eventually a nation? Either way interesting to think about.

Flat White, Hold the Faeces.

Tags

, ,

Few things I enjoy more in the morning like a hot cup of coffee. I, like many people, rely on it to jolt me into existence and prepare me mentally for the daily grind that is life. Never do I question what exactly is in my coffee, nor where it comes from. I guess I just imagine the beans’ origins as being somewhere deep in a South American jungle. I trust the process (blindly) and assume that there generally isn’t any nasties in my coffee.

In the early 18th century however, you would be right to look at what is in your coffee a little more closely. Coffee beans, still relatively new to the old world, were not cheap. So to maximise profits some economic minded people decided to replace some coffee beans with sheep shit (sorry couldn’t pass up the opportunity on some good ol fashioned alliteration). The problem got so bad, that the British Government could no longer rely on morality and the natural law that they decided they needed explicit laws to prevent dealers putting ‘unwholesome’ material in coffee. This came to be known as the Adulteration of Coffee Act 1718. It would remain an act of parliament til the 1950s. Most of those who were peddling this crappy coffee would cease almost immediately as with a fine of up to 20 pounds in the 18th Century, it could become some quite expensive shit…..

Hulagu Khan and the siege of Baghdad (1258)

Tags

, , , , , ,

Long before the Americans came in bombs blazing the Mongols managed to raze Baghdad to the ground in a siege that was so brutal and bloody that it would take Baghdad centuries to fully recover. It was a sacking unlike any other in history in bloodiness, brutality and sheer terror and cemented the Mongols’ reputation as the most bloodthirsty of conquerors throughout history. Consequently there is a push from more modern historians to downplay some of the Mongol atrocities of the past and really emphasise the good they did (religious tolerance, freedom and the opening of the Silk Road among some). And the Mongols did good, but when they did bad, they REALLY did bad. If you offered any kind of resistance to the Mongols you would surely end up with your head on a stake, but not before you probably witnessed your wife raped and children slaughtered. If you offered no resistance, paid your taxes and swore allegiance to the Khan; life, more or less would continue the way it had always been. Unfortunately there were those who refused to pay any kind of respect to those they considered of barbarian stock. Al Mustai’sim was one of those rulers.

Al Musta’sim became the Caliph of Baghdad in 1242. He is said to be not a particularly strong leader, and one who was quite enthralled with his own wealth. He had vast fortunes of gold that he kept in his storerooms and lived quite the extravagant life. He also relied heavily on advisors rather than ruling in his own right. It was this lack of initiative that might have cost the Caliph his life and the lives of a countless amount of Baghdad residents.

Hulagu_Khan

14th Century painting of Hulagu Khan (Hamadani)

Hulagu was a grandson of the great Genghis Khan. His brother Mongke Khan had become Great Khan in 1251 and asked Hulaga to lead an expedition to recapture and solidify the rule of the Mongols in those areas further east. Hulaga would follow the Mongol ideology with treating those who submitted to the Great Khan with kindness and respect, but totally destroying those who did not adhere. Hulagu (like most Mongols) was tolerant of all religions. There were Christians, Buddhists and even Muslims in his army. He had erected statues and helped build places of worship but like all Mongol leaders, he was completely merciless for those who would not submit (and again – it did not matter what faith you belonged to).

 

Having already destroyed the Assassins in Persia, Hulagu set his sights to Baghdad. One of, if not the most, magnificent city of its time. Baghdad was home of many important scholars, poets and other prominent people of the Islamic world. Hulaga, sent forth a convoy asking for the agreement of terms from the Great Khan. The Caliph told him in no uncertain terms that he would never submit and that if Hulagu decided to attack, an Islamic army will be raised and would destroy the Mongols. Now, if there is one thing that Genghis Khan taught us; it is that you don’t make threats to the Mongols and get away with it, and his grandson would make Al Musta’sim pay for his threat. Historians are divided on why the Caliph might have sent such a defying response to the Khan, but most lay some kind of blame on his advisor and Grand Vizier. Whichever the case, it appears that after making the threat, the Caliph sat on his hands. He did not strengthen the cities defences nor did he enlist the armies of Islam as he had threatened to do. The Caliph was either naïve about the whole situation or just completely incompetent. Difficult to ascertain. What isn’t difficult to ascertain however is Hulaga Khan’s response. He gathered a huge army and marched on Baghdad, intent on killing every last inhabitant.

When approaching the city Al Musta’sim sent an army of around 20 000 soldiers to meet the Mongols. This army was no match for such a large and formidable force and the Mongols continued their march into Baghdad. Arriving at the walls of the great city on the 29th of January 1258, the Khan and his Mongol forces started to lay siege to the wall. Its important to make note that it wasn’t just Mongols involved in the siege of the city, there were Georgians, Armenians, Turks, Chinese and even a group of Shi’ite Muslims who were not happy at the persecution at the hands of the Sunni Al Musta’sim. With the use of battering rams and catapults (reminiscent of the scenes from Lord of the Rings) it wasn’t long before the walls of Baghdad started to crumble. The Caliph, realising his gross misjudgement, decided to push for peace. But, with the Mongols, you don’t get a second chance at peace. As the soldiers of the Caliph laid down their arms, they were all slaughtered by the Mongols forces. When Hulagu Khan finally entered the city of Baghdad on the 13 of February, his forces were vying for blood. What followed was a week long slaughter and total destruction of not only a people, but a culture. The Georgian forces convinced the Khan to let the Christians of the city live, so while they where holed up in the church a mass genocide was going on outside. I can only imagine how these Christians felt, surely their faith would have been stronger than ever, safe, inside the church, while just outside of those protected walls, hell was being unleashed.

Apart from the Christians, no one was spared. Men, women and children were all hacked to death with no mercy. A whole generation of Baghdadis were simply wiped off the planet. No living animal was spared. Even livestock and pets were put to the sword with the same ferocity as the people. All the blood and guts of those people killed coupled with the destroyed ancient works of the scholars, poets and writers which made Baghdad the most cosmopolitan city of its time, had reduced the Tigris River into a slow moving red/black sludge of blood, guts and the written word. It was truly horrific. The stench of those killed was unbearable. Historians have said that walking through the city was like walking through a thick mud; only this mud was that of decaying flesh.

Bagdad1258

The Fall of Baghdad (1430)

 

And the man who’s false bravado caused this murdering spree? Well reports vary about the fate of Al Musta’sim. After being forced to watch the merciless slaughter of his city, some say he was locked in his gold storehouse and told to eat the gold, being endeared to it so much. Another report states he was wrapped up in a rug and had Mongol horses trample him to death (as per Mongol tradition – they would not spill royal blood). Either way I could imagine there would be at least a tinge of regret oozing out of the Caliph. As for Hulagu Khan, he marched on to Syria and continued on with his campaigning for the Mongol Empire.

HulaguInBagdad

Al Musta’sim getting locked in his storeroom of gold (Mazarine, 15th Century)

 

The sacking of Baghdad remains one of the most brutal episodes of all history. It demonstrated what would happen when opposing the Mongols. The Mongols had a vision that by utterly destroying one city/people/culture, the next, would think a little more carefully before not agreeing terms with these nomadic horse riding barbarians from the east. Baghdad would take many centuries to reach the same prestige it once had prior to the Mongol invasion. The Great Library of Baghdad was completely destroyed (as was everything in the city) and thus we lost many treasured works which date back to antiquity. It was not just the people and the city destroyed, but also the entire culture and history of Baghdad wiped out in one week of bestial slaughter.

Battle of Kosovo

Tags

, ,

The region of Kosovo holds a very important place in every Serb’s psyche for a number of reasons. It was the heart of the powerful medieval Serbian Empire and was the administrative centre for much of Serbia’s earlier history. It is the birthplace of the Serbian Orthodox  Church; and with a country where nationhood and church is, and has always been mutually inclusive, its importance as both a historical and spiritual centre cannot be overstated. Many of these monasteries are world heritage listed and date from the 13th Century, many however, have also been heartlessly destroyed in the last 15 years or so with little regard. Kosovo is also the place where a battle was fought between Serbia and the invading Ottoman Empire. It happened in June, 1389, and what followed this battle is a loss of independence that spanned centuries. Serbia would go on to become a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. There were periods of peace in between brutal years of rebellion however, it wouldn’t be until the early 1900s that the Ottomans would be driven out of the Balkans forever. Amazingly though, throughout these ‘dark’ years of Ottoman rule, Serbia never lost her idea of nationhood, the Serbian identity still remained strong, despite centuries of Ottoman overrule, a testament to this country and its people.

Background

By the commencement of the 14th Century the Serbian Empire was one of the fastest growing in Europe. By the mid 14th Century the empire stretched from present day Belgrade in the north to just outside of Athens in the south. Like most great empires, it starts with a great King, King Stefan Dusan is inarguably Serbia’s greatest king. Dusan, was also about to marry his son off to the princess of the Byzantine Empire, which would have forever strengthened his empire, however political unrest in Constantinople saw this idea peter out. Ultimately, fearing the growing strength of the Serbian Empire, the Byzantines invited the Ottomans to invade mainland Europe to put an end to Dusan’s reign (some say this leads directly to the fall of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire, however it is highly likely the Ottoman’s would have ultimately invaded either way, invited or not). When Dusan died unexpectedly in 1355, he was succeeded by his less than capable son, Uros. Like we see so many times through the course of history, when a great leader dies, the empire begins to crumble. Uros, will be nicknamed the ‘weak’ and his rule is seen as the decline of the empire. If Dusan was strong willed, assertive and driven, his son would be the complete opposite. The empire splintered off into various principalities and thus weakened the region as a whole. Uros died childless in 1371.

dusan

Wedding of King Stefan Dusan (Paja Jovanovic)

 

The impeding threat of the Ottomans required urgent attention and Prince Lazar united Serbia and defeated the Ottoman Empire at Plocnik and Beleca. The Sultan Murad i realised that he would need to go all in, to defeat the Serbs so he marched a huge force across Anatolia, ultimately settling in Kosovo in 1389. Lazar rallied his own troops as did Vlatko Vukovic and Vuk Brankovic (prominent noblemen) and the forces would meet at ‘Kosovo Polje’ on June 15th, 1389.

Battle of Kosovo

The exact figures of troops is difficult to ascertain, however, there is no doubt that the Ottoman forces greatly outnumbered their Serbian combatants. Some put the Ottomans as high as 40000 and the Serbian forces as low as 12000, I would imagine that the Serbs might have had slightly more than that and the Ottomans slightly less than 40000. All sources do agree however, that the Ottoman forces had a very large numerical advantage. The battle started with the Ottoman archers shooting into the Serbian forces. Thus the Serbian cavalry charged inflicting massive losses on the Ottoman side. Sources at this point are vague but it seems Vukovic inflicted the most damage down a flank, however, the other flank, and more importantly the centre, after the initial gains, had succumbed to the vast Ottoman forces. It is at this point that it becomes near impossible to separate fact from fiction, Vuk Brankovic is said to have betrayed Lazar and his men by retreating with his army from the battlefield, thus ending all hope for a decisive Serbian victory. To this day, Brankovic is seen by a traitor to the Serbian people. Lazar and a large contingent of the Serbian army died in battle that day.

Battle_of_Kosovo,_Adam_Stefanović,_1870.jpg

Battle of Kosovo (Adam Stefanovic, 1870)

 

A Serbian Knight by the name of Milos Obilic asked for an audience with the Sultan. Allowed in he was asked to kiss the feet of the Sultan, Obilic, who had concealed a knife, bent down to kiss the man’s feet but quickly rose up and opened the man from his belly to his throat. Obilic would be killed himself but not before he took out one of the most powerful people in the medieval world.

Miloš_Obilić_posle_zavere_pred_šatorom_Muratovim,_Pavle_Čortanović_i_Adam_Stefanović

Obilic at the tent of the Sultan (Adam Stefanovic)

 

 

Both armies were decimated, both Lazar and the Sultan were dead and history’s course would be changed forever. The battle itself was indecisive, it ebbed and flowed but I think its fair to say that if the numbers were even, the result would have been more decisive.

Aftermath

The battle put a short term halt in the Ottoman advancement into Europe, however with a much larger population, the Ottomans faired much better than Serbia. They would control much of the Balkans for the next 500 years. Serbia, would lose her independence and would become a vassal state of the Ottomans. Ironically, the ‘traitor’ Vuk Brankovic, would fight the invading forces til his capture and would never claim vassalage. He was ultimately seized and thrown into Ottoman custody where he would die in 1397. Bayezid would go on to become Sultan but he would die a humiliating death at the hands of an invading Mongol force (see previous post 5 most humiliating deaths). Milos Obilic would go down in folk tales as one of the most important figures in Serbian history. Epic poetry, stories and movies have been written of his heroic deeds. Ultimately the Battle of Kosovo holds an important role in the hearts of all Serbs worldwide, it was to be the last stand and ultimately lead to the demise of what was once one of the greatest empires in Europe.

 

5 Most Humiliating Deaths in History

Tags

, ,

We’ve all seen those movies where the hero dies in battle, killed in a valiant final defence of their country or their love. We are undoubtedly moved by such acts, often putting ourselves in the very same situation and wondering if fate gave us those same cards, would we play the same hand? And while there are numerous historical figures who died in such a valiant way, there are quite a few who didn’t. There are certain people in times gone by who have died humiliating deaths. Some of these people were great leaders who unfortunately will be remembered for their deaths more so than their life achievements. So here they are. In no particular order. The 5 most humiliating deaths in history.

1  BAYEZID i

Following the death of Murad the first at the battle of Kosovo in 1389, Bayezid became the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, a man in a very powerful position who controlled one of the largest empires in the world. Bayezid did some things right, he controlled much of the Balkans and personally led Ottoman armies in some key defeats of Christian armies. Unfortunately for Bayezid, there was a Mongol called Timur who was wreaking havoc in the east. Timur captured Bayezid in the Battle of Ankara in 1402. Bayezid was mistreated and ultimately died in captivity. The story goes he was put in an iron cage in a dining room and was forced to view his wife naked in all her glory serving Timur and his Mongol buddies. Not being able to deal with the shame, Bayezid repeatedly slammed his head on the iron cage, effectively beating himself to death.

Bayezid

Bayezid being visited by his captor, Timur.

 

2 PRINCE ARTHUR OF BRITTANY

This ones a little ambiguous as there are various sources and accounts as to the actual death of Arthur. Nephew of Richard the Lionheart, Arthur was next in line to the English throne. However, when Richard was on his deathbed he appointed his brother John to succeed him as he probably felt Arthur, at 12 years of age would be unfit to be King. John and Arthur wage  war with one another. Eventually King John captures his nephew, blinds him and castrates him and if that’s not enough, ties him to a couple of large stones and lets him sink to the bottom of the Seine so the fish can feast on nobility.

3 VALERIAN

Valerian was a Roman Emperor from 253 to 260AD. Unfortunately for Valerian he is remembered as being the only emperor in the history of Rome to be caught by the enemy. While out campaigning against the Persians, he was thrown off his horse and captured by the Persian king, Shapur. He would go on to live for approximately another 5 years where he would serve the King, by being his own personal footstool to prop him up onto his horse. After being humiliated for long enough, Valerian begged his captor to let him go. The Roman’s would pay a handsome sum if the emperor is returned. Shapur instead of ransoming him, flayed him alive (another source states he had molten gold poured down his throat). Valerian was then stuffed and used as a decoration at Shapur’s court. Rumours are that whenever a foreign delegation would come to the King’s court he would bring out the stuffed Valerian to strike fear in the hearts of his visitors.

HumiliationValerianusHolbein

Valarian being used as a footstool.

 

4 CARACALLA

Something about Roman Emperors and their lust for power, must rub people the wrong way. Caracalla ruled the empire jointly with his brother Geta. However in 211AD he decided he didn’t need his brother any more and had some centurions slice him to death while he was in his mother’s arms.  This cleared the way for Caracalla to rule on his own. While he did he pissed a few more people off. While he was out campaigning, in what is now southern Turkey, Caracalla excused himself to go urinate. Mid stream he was hacked to death by his bodyguard. Apparently Caracalla had the brother of the man put to death on some trumped up charges.

5 AESCHYLUS

Aeschylus was an ancient Greek playwright. Unfortunately not much of his works survive and even more unfortunate was the manner in which this man died would make sure that rather than being remembered for his work, he will be remembered for the manner of his death. An eagle had mistook the mans head for a rock and dropped a tortoise onto it. He died instantly.