Category: Reruns

For the historically minded, or challenged, we’ll rerun some interesting bits from the past 4.5 billion years.

Rerun: First Reich

So I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from the blog while I tried to squeeze the last bits of summer out of the past month or two.  Now that fall is fully in swing, I’m back with a vengeance.

Some of you, seeing this post, might choose to believe that I actually spent all my time away writing this one article.  Unfortunately, I can’t prove otherwise.  Those of you with an aversion to reading, it’d be best if you went and turned on the TV now; if you’re lucky, you might just catch the latest Jersey Shore episode.

Growing up in the late 20th Century, we all heard about the dreaded Third Reich of the Germans, and could easily recite at least two or three movies set in that general historical period (perhaps our resident film expert would care to come up with The 7?  Maybe make it a little tougher on him and add the stipulation that all seven can’t be war movies…?).  But how much do we really know about the other two Reichs?  What the hell is a “Reich” anyway?  Noble questions, my friends…

Generally speaking, a Reich is simply an empire/realm.  Etymologically related to the English word “rich”, it essentially implied a sovereign and imperial state of the Germanic Nation, and was applied to a few separate national/political entities – hence First Reich, Second Reich, etc.  Compare to königreich, “kingdom”.  For this Rerun, we will be going all the way back to the First Reich of the German People, otherwise known as the Holy Roman Empire.  Sounds impressive, eh?  Cue the lights…

enter, this guy:

Otto IV, Holy Roman Emperor

epic movie trailer announcer guy:

‘Tis October the 21st, in this the 1209th year of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The sun rises over the Eternal City.
A man journeys hither to kneel – but when he rises,   he       will       be             Emperor.

We look back on an era long past, the Middle Ages of European history.  The majority of the Continent was controlled by a vast and powerful empire of an old and warlike people, conquerors/inheritors of the legacy of the Ancient Romans.  After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 (and a subsequent period of power-jockeying lasting a little over 300 years), the Franco-Germanic tribes, having already invaded and settled on much of its territory, founded a new “empire of the Romans” in 800, headed by the Frankish King Charles the Great (a.k.a. Charlemagne), and stretching from the Pyrenees mountains to the Elbe and down into northern Italy .  Like its predecessor, this empire eventually split into (effectively independent) western and eastern realms.  The western half (West Francia) was molded into the medieval Kingdom of France by descendants of the youngest grandson of Charlemagne.  On the other hand, the eastern half (East Francia) under the descendants of Charlemagne’s second grandson became the Kingdom of Germany, and soon after that the Holy Roman Empire, as it acquired other Frankish and Italian territories.   Got all that?  Good.  There might be a pop quiz later…

During the year in question (1209 AD, remember?), the Holy Roman Empire was comprised of modern day Germany, and parts of the Low Countries, France, Austria, and Italy.  Much to the consternation of the Pope and certain members of the German nobility, Otto the IV of Brunswick and the noble house of Welf, King of the Romans (which is a title that actually meant ”King of the Germans”, who were more or less a Romanized people by the time Ancient Rome fell), King of Italy, and King of Burgundy, was being crowned and anointed by Pope Innocent III as Romanorum Imperator Augustus.  Technically the German monarchs weren’t called “Holy Roman Emperor”, at least not in those exact words.  In fact, the word “Holy” never had a place in the actual title of the emperor; it’s there essentially as a result of the modern understanding of the monarch’s position as leader of the Holy Roman Empire.  Nonetheless, as the empire grew in power and controlled more of Italy (and as a result, had some measure of unofficial control over the papacy), and owing to the fact that only the Pope, being the supreme representative of the last surviving institution of Ancient Rome, could crown someone as “Emperor of the Romans”, it was increasingly understood that the power to rule was of divine origin.  Of course, the real power was given to the king by the German princes (Germanic kings were elected by a council of the nobility, and the office was not necessarily hereditary); there could be no Holy Roman Emperor who was not also “King of the Germans”, and the emperor would forget that only at his peril.  At the same time however, an emperor without the blessing of the Pope was technically only emperor-elect, and viewed as somewhat less than legitimate in – and outside – of Germany.  Notwithstanding this fact, there were many times when the emperors were at strife with the Church, and more than a few Holy Roman Emperors that spent the majority (or all) of their reign without the actual title because they had incurred the wrath of the Pope.  On this day, however, Otto IV of Brunswick stood enough in the good graces of the Pope to be crowned.  Further, he was only the second emperor to be crowned since Frederick I had re-introduced the concept of divine right to rule by twisting the Justinian Code to his own purpose, and the Church had yet to regain much of the power (and lands) it had lost to the German empire over the centuries since the fall of Rome.  The Pope dared not refuse to crown Otto – at least, not at this time.  Anyway, he had made quite a bargain with the would-be emperor; what was a little ceremonial hocus-pocus when compared to the return of papal lands that had been in the hands of the German nobility for centuries?

Confusing, isn’t it?  Well, put your seatbelts on, it gets worse.  While technically Otto was being crowned by the Pope as Emperor of the Romans, his claim as the king of Germany was on shaky ground, only recently coming out of a long and bitter struggle with Phillip of Swabia, the youngest son of Emperor Frederick I and brother to Frederick’s successor, Emperor Henry VI.  Frederick (dubbed Barbarossa by the Italians for his coppery red beard) had been a popular king in German eyes, and was credited with restoring much of the lost glory of the Empire in his day.  As a result, his sons were looked on favorably by much of the German nobility, to the point that two of them ended up being elected as king, though only the elder, Henry VI ever truly reigned as emperor.  However, when Henry died in 1197, Phillip was elected as guardian of Henry’s son, the young heir (and later Emperor) Frederick II, which effectively made him (Phillip) prince-regent of the realm.  While at first Phillip appeared to have his nephew Frederick’s best interest at heart, he eventually capitulated to pressure from the southern nobles (who did not like the idea of having a boy king), or depending on who you ask, bribed them with promises of land and gold in return for their support, and was himself crowned in 1198.  Several others of the German nobility, no doubt bitter that they hadn’t been invited to the coronation party, immediately elected their own king, Otto.  I think we all know what happened next…

Yep, you guessed it.  Only, minus the whole muskets, artillery, and African slavery thing; I imagine “states’ rights” had a bit of a hand in it, however…

At any rate, the realm descended into warfare, while the Pope used the resulting confusion to kick a few German lords out of the fiefdoms of Ancona, Spoleto, and Perugia, which had been papal lands before Henry VI.  At the same time, the Pope encouraged the cities in Tuscany to form an anti-imperial league under his protection to further strengthen his position.  Nonetheless, the Pope declared Otto the only legitimate king in 1201.  Oh, that crafty Pope…  After much back and forth fighting that brought both claimants to the brink of defeat more than once, and at the point when victory finally seemed in sight for Phillip, Pope Innocent forced the two parties into peace talks in 1208, after which Phillip was murdered (quite un-peacefully, I might add), leaving Otto as the uncontested King of the Romans and paving the way for his coronation as Emperor.  Thus Otto was able to wrest the imperial prize out of the hands of the Hohenstaufen (Frederick I and his descendants) and take it for himself and House Welf.

However, victory was short-lived for Otto.  He quickly proved himself and inept ruler, focusing on the ancient power struggle between the German imperium and the Roman Catholic Church, warring with the Italian city-states, and neglecting domestic German affairs.  By the time Frederick II (Phillip’s nephew and Frederick I’s grandson) came of age and into his power, Otto was thoroughly despised by the majority of his nobility, who then proceeded to throw their lots in with Frederick and support his claim to the throne.  After another period of civil war, Otto eventually ended his reign excommunicated from the Church and bereft of his power.  He abdicated in 1215 and died three years later, beaten to death – supposedly of his own free will – by his priests as atonement for his many grievous sins.  Meanwhile his lifelong rivals (and cousins – all the German dynastic families were related in their descent from Charlemagne) of House Hohenstaufen were vindicated with the rise of Frederick II to the imperial throne.

Sometimes that’s just the way the Kaiser crumbles…


And Raised-Up-Sky-Lord said, “Let there be Light.”

(So this is a post I started on my lunch break Thursday, and then completely forgot to finish after I got home from work.  Let’s all just turn back the calendar a few days on this one…)

Too bad he didn’t add a stipulation to that clause, something along the lines of, “…but let there be no bloody Spaniards!”

If you know who Raised-Up-Sky-Lord is and why he is probably kicking himself for forgetting to not create Spain, without reading the rest of this post, give yourself a gold star for the day.  If not…it’s time for another Rerun!  This one goes back a ways…

The date was August 11th, 3114 BCE, which is 5125 years ago, to the day.  It was a Monday.  Everything was dark (obviously), because the sky was lying on the face of the sea.  There is much scholarly conjecture as to why, exactly, Lying-Down-Sky was still on top of the Sea, when everyone knew that the sky had collapsed during the Deluge  a long time ago.  Yes, that Deluge – it’s an interesting fact that stories of an ancient, global (or else large enough that everyone affected by it thought it was global) flood can be found on every continent in the world, with the exception, of course, of Antarctica (penguins tell no tales…).  Anyway, it was about time Lying-Down-Sky got up again and went about his business.  Some say he was just being lazy; others, that he was getting a little too friendly with the Sea, and she was frankly getting tired of it.  Thankfully, she had friends in high places (or possibly relatives – those ancient gods all seemed rather incestuous back in the day).  So Raised-Up-Sky-Lord came and set three mighty stones which centered the cosmos and allowed the sky to be raised, revealing the Sun.  At this point Lying-Down-Sky was given a new name, Lazy-Propped-Up-Sky; he was also known in certain circles of the gods as Way-Too-Friendly-Creepy-Old-Horn-Dog-Sky, but this was generally only said indoors, where naturally he couldn’t hear.  Then, the Heart-of-Heaven and the Heart-of-Earth came together (now that they had some breathing room), and they raised up the earth from the depths, divided the currents of the sea, and created high mountains to separate the waters.  The gods then created the plants and animals, and finally they made Men in their own image so that they would be worshiped and venerated by their creation.

A few thousand years later, when all this was discovered by the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica, they worked to apply their calendar system to the history of the world, and when they had, they realized that the current world age had begun on August 11th – and what do you know?  It was a Monday.  But the really interesting thing was actually the calendar itself, which is sometimes referred to as the Mayan Calendar.  However, since the Mayans didn’t actually invent it (they just perfected it and put it into common usage), it is more accurately described as the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar.  The calendar was created using complex (and surprisingly accurate) calculations based on the changing seasons, the lunar cycle, and the movement of the heavens.  In fact, the calendar is much more accurate than any other system that would come out of the “Old World” for more than 1500 years, until the advent of the Gregorian Calendar, which is the basis for our modern calendar system.

Of course, when we think of the “Mayan Calendar”, in this day and age everyone invariably thinks of this:

The Mayans warned us what would happen if we put John Cusack in an action flick!

Actually, the cultures responsible for creating/using the calendar (the Mayans included) never predicted that the world would end in 2012.  Yes, the current “world” ends on December 20th, 2012; however, they also stated that there had been three “worlds”, or world ages/cycles before the current one.  In fact, there are several ancient inscriptions referring to dates far beyond the year 2012, showing that the Mayans didn’t actually believe the world would end (“You can put down the day planner now, Ah-Cuat-Chel, the world’s over soon anyway”).  The whole concept of a world-ending cataclysm in 2012 was not created by the Mayans at all, but is really the product of New Age “spiritualists” and various Christian eschatologists with an imperfect and misconstrued conception of the facts involved.  Anyway, if the world does end, it’s much more likely to be the result of something we humans have brought on ourselves, so take your pick: we’ve got nuclear war, some crazy biological super-weapon bug, complete economic meltdown and the resulting collapse of world governments, or possibly – just possibly – some kind of EMP event that takes out the entire electrical grid and most of our technology with it.  So cheer up, people!  You don’t have to worry about some ancient Native Americans telling you “I told you so!” a few days before Christmas next year.  Although…if they had the choice, I’m sure they’d be happy to gloat over the surprised and newly-dead ancestors of those damnable Conquistadors when our civilization falls to its knees like theirs did a few hundred years ago.  Just a theory I have…  Maybe if Raised-Up-Sky-Lord and his cohorts had remembered to not create Spain in the first place, none of this would be an issue.

150 years ago, when Men were Men, and generally Pissed Off

Being Americans, we’re all pretty familiar with tales of the Old West, and characters like Billy The Kid, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Jesse James, and good ol’ Wild Bill.  Today’s Rerun will deal with the last of these legendary characters: James Butler Hickok, known by his nom de guerre, Wild Bill.

Quite a dapper fellow, wasn’t he?  Time was when men such as Bill went around dressed in handsome finery, complete with gold-buttoned waistcoats, French cravats, exorbitantly large hats, and extravagant, well-groomed, and utterly absurd facial hair.  Oh, and let’s not forget the guns and knives, which they pulled out with reckless abandon and at the least provocation.  Accidentally spit on another man’s boot?  That’s a knifin’.  Decline a drink offered by a complete stranger (who happened to be Johnny Ringo)?  That’s a shootin’.  Steal another man’s horse?  You guessed it: that’s a hangin’.

On the day in question (July 12th, 1861), Mr. Hickok was working for the Russell, Waddell, and Majors Freight Company (later to be known as the Pony Express).  He had been a freight driver for the company a few months back when he was attacked by a bear that was blocking the road.  Bill dismounted and fired his pistol at the bear’s head, but the bullet ricocheted off the bear’s skull, which (as you may imagine) really pissed the bear off.  The bear attacked, crushing Bill with its weight and badly mangling his arm with its teeth.  Somehow, Bill (a.k.a. Man With Steel Balls) managed to shoot the bear in the paw and slit its throat with a Bowie knife, thereby saving his life while simultaneously providing himself with several weeks worth of meat and a nice, warm blanket.  Anyway, while recovering from his injuries he was stationed as a stable hand at the company’s Rock Creek Station in Nebraska, which shows you what L & I benefits were like in those times:  “Mauled by a bear while faithfully serving the Company?  Congratulations!  Your new job is to shovel horseshit all day.”  And we wonder why the men of the day were so ticked all the time…

While working in the stables on July 12th, Bill heard some Tomfoolery in the station house, followed by a Ruckus (not to be confused with a Rumpus).  Moving into the house from the stables (while staying conveniently hidden from view behind a room-dividing curtain), he witnessed a certain Mr. Dave McCanles having a rather heated argument with the manager of the establishment, Mr. Horace Wellman.  Sources state the Mr. McCanles was sorely vexed about the fact that he had not been payed the second installment of money owed him by the company, and he had brought his son and a few men with him in an attempt to either intimidate or downright rob the station master.  McCanles, who was known as a local bully and braggart and was no stranger to the occasional bout of fisticuffs, already had a history of antagonism with Wild Bill, whom he called “Duck Bill” due to Bill’s rather large, elongated nose and protruding upper lip.  It has been said that Wild Bill exacted his revenge for the bullying and insults by surreptitiously seducing McCanles’s lover, Sarah Shull.  There has been speculation that McCanles had recently learned of the affair; indeed, the thought that he was being cuckolded may very well have contributed to his overall poor humor and generally ungentlemanly behavior that day.  Spying his rival behind the curtain, McCanles approached, stating that he would like nothing more than to give Mr. Hickok a good walloping.  Wild Bill was in no mood to accommodate that request however, and is stated to have responded, “There will be one less son of a bitch when you try that.”  Either this man truly had Huevos de Acero, or he was really pissed off about something – keeping in mind the fact that he had been severely mauled and almost killed by a bear a mere four months prior to these events, I tend to lean towards D) All of the Above.  As McCanles (who was reported as being unarmed) failed to back down from his threats, Wild Bill calmly shot him in the chest, at which point his companions rushed into the building.  Wild Bill shot one with his pistol and nicked the other.  The other station employees, threatened by the invading gang, joined the fray, killing one man with a shotgun blast, and another who was apparently hacked to death by an average garden hoe.  A trial ensued, in which Bill, Wellman, the other station employees, and the hoe were all judged to have acted in self-defense.

It was the first of many exploits to color the career of Wild Bill Hickok, who became known as a notorious gunfighter and lawman.  He also served in the Union Army as a teamster, scout, and spy.  He is most well-known for being the first to kill a man in a “quick-draw” gun duel, and to this day his estate is payed royalties by the makers of every bad Western movie, as he is known to have copyrighted and trademarked the encounter in a moment of astounding entrepreneurial foresight.  The remainder of his exploits, however, are beyond the scope of this particular article.  For now we shall leave it being that, on this day exactly 150 years ago, Wild Bill Hickok shot a man in cold blood, and became an American Hero.

Everybody’s Favorite Heathens

Alright everyone, listen up.  It’s time for yet another Rerun, and you know what that means:  I will spend the next few hours slaving over a hot keyboard trying to bring a little knowledge and historical perspective to my ultra-modern, technology-, television-, and pop-culture-obsessed friends and countrymen.  So here it is, today’s episode!

Everybody’s Favorite Heathens

Starring: Bjorn, Alrik, Alfgeir, Harald, Gunnar, Floki, Leif, Ingvar, and of course…Bjorn (the other Bjorn)

[Cue music] Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries (of course!)

[Fade in] on a scenic, small tidal island off the coast of Northumbria, England.  The island is surmounted by a small abbey, founded roughly 150 years prior by an Irish monk named Aidan.  Despite the fact that the island is located off the northeastern coast of Britain, today the sky is blue and there is a fair wind from the east.  Summer, such as it is in these parts of the world, has arrived.  The other thing that has just arrived is, or rather are, several long wooden ships with square sails, many oars, and fearsome dragons carved into the prow.  Bearded, fierce-looking men walk the decks, fingering axes and surprisingly long swords.  Round wooden shields are slung at their backs and mounted to the sides of the ships, affording the oarsmen some protection from archers.  Their conical iron helms are significantly lacking in any sort of curved, horn-like objects.

[Cut scene] to a nearby beach, where one of the longships has just landed.

[Enter, stage right] Bjorn, Alrik, Alfgeir, Harald, Gunnar, Floki, Leif, Ingvar, and Bjorn.

Bjorn:      Hurpdee flurdee blurn, de florgen blorgen bjørg!  (subtitle: “About time we found some dry land.  Now let’s get to the raping and pillaging!”)

Gunnar:     Flurn diggen blurn durn! Ingvar skjurben me fergin.  Scør mergin vjergin!  (subtitle: “I agree!  Ingvar’s starting to give me funny looks.  He needs a women!“)

Ingvar:     Ee skurgee vurgee Viking, ig de flurg!  Bork bork bork bork! (subtitle: “Maybe if you grew a beard like a proper Viking, you wouldn’t look like a woman to me!  Ha ha ha ha!”)

Bjorn, Alrik, Alfgeir, Floki, Leif, and Bjorn:      Bork bork bork!

Harald:     Fjor bjorgen!  De alfgar skivarg blorgen bjørg, i Valhalla flargen blarg! Vjergin i florgen me skrogar! (subtitle: “Shut up, you men!  We’ve got some killing to do, and Valhalla take any of you bastards that fall in battle!  More loot and English women for me!”)

[Exit, stage left] Bjorn, Alrik, Alfgeir, Harald, Gunnar, Floki, Leif, Ingvar, and Bjorn.

It is anno domini DCCXCIII to the monks in the abbey, which to you and I is 793 AD.  The date, as you may have guessed, is June 8th.

Now before any of you Scandinavian scholars out there get all pissy about my fake Old Norse,  let me sum up everything I know about Scandinavian languages:

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I can get on with the rest of this post.

As I said, it’s June 8th, 793.  A raiding party from Scandinavia has just landed on Lindisfarne island (or the Holy Island, as it was called at that time due to it’s well-known abbey) just off the coast of Britain, ushering in what has since come to be known as the Viking Age.  Certainly there had been seagoing raiders in the past, from Ireland, Scotland, and the Orkney Islands, continental Europe, and possibly even as far afield as the Mediterranean, but nothing of this magnitude.  These Norsemen were well-armed, well-organized, and utterly ruthless.  And pagan, to boot.  And whereas before most of the earlier raiders were just in search of quick loot, the Vikings were just as apt to set up seasonal or permanent settlements (from which they could raid the surrounding countryside in the months and years to come) as they were to pillage and plunder a village or monastery and then leave.  Fortunately (relatively speaking) for the Northumbrians, this particular party were of the latter type, looking for quick loot and then sailing back to Norway.  Alcuin of York, a scholar in the court of Charlemagne and himself a Northumbrian, described the sack of Lindisfarne thus:  “Never before has such terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered from a pagan race. . . .The heathens poured out the blood of saints around the altar, and trampled on the bodies of saints in the temple of God, like dung in the streets.”  As I said, fortunately these guys weren’t planning on sticking around for long.

Of course, what we see here, in the eyes of modern history (and from a generally Anglicized viewpoint) can be more or less depicted by the fine gentleman to the right. the blood dripping from his axe, smoke and flames in the background, the manic grin and savage eyes, and the generally unkempt, disheveled appearance.  Quite different from the civilized, prim, proper, and altogether much better looking citizens of Anglo-Saxon (pre-Norman) England (“Oh Dennis, there’s some lovely filth down ‘ere!”).  But anyway, it’s perfectly easy to picture a boatload of dudes just like our friend here tooling around the North Sea, landing somewhere on a drunken whim, and causing much havoc, murder and mayhem among the bountiful fields of Bonny England, all the while grinning like lunatics and waiting to take their pick of fine English women.  The only sure defense against such invaders was, apparently, to own a specific type of credit card.  Even then, I have my doubts…

This is, you’ll no doubt note, quite a skewed way of looking at things, for several reasons.  First and foremost being the fact that, most of what we know about the Vikings (and by we, I mean us non-Scandinavian types) comes from eye-witness accounts of, well…people they f#%*ing invaded!  There’s just the slightest, tiniest, teensiest chance those accounts are a little bit biased.  Furthermore, there’s the additional bias in that the accounts were generally written by Christians, who grew up with a good and healthy dose of “fear the Godless heathen” in their daily diets – and twice on Sundays, of course.  Compound this with the fact that, generally speaking, the history and culture of the Norse people was primarily an oral tradition, which means that if you didn’t speak their language (i.e., you weren’t Norse yourself), you just had no access to or understanding of their culture, other than when the worst of the worst (think the gangs of Compton got boats and decided to go f- some shit up somewhere else for a change) came knocking on your door.  Generally speaking, the vast majority of Norse people were farmers, just like most everywhere else in Europe at that time.  The term “Viking” itself wasn’t actually applied to the people or a culture as a whole, but only to the raiders, pirates, and invaders that went sailing with the intent of conquering new lands or stealing something that didn’t belong to them.  The long and short of it is that the Norse people had (and have) a rich, varied, and sophisticated culture which was completely unknown to 99% of the people they came in contact with during the so-called Viking Age.  The study of this, however, is well beyond the scope of this article.  For those eager little students out there (or those of you with exceedingly brown noses), further reading can be found in the list below, all of which I highly recommend.

The Sagas of the Icelanders

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun

The Prose Edda

And of course, Ye Olde Wikipedia

Damn it, I spent too long writing this damn thing; it’s now technically June 9th.  Just pretend I didn’t write any of this, I guess.  Oh look, a Capital One commercial…!

May 12th: Yet Another Rerun

I feel like I’ve seen this one before…

It starts out innocently enough: a bunch of guys between the ages of 17 and 25 get together at a house just off campus, have a few drinks, and shoot the breeze.  One thing leads to another, and before you know it they’re running naked through town, yelling incoherently, falling all over each other, and generally causing a Ruckus.  Sounds like last Saturday at your local university, right?

Studying the rules to a medieval drinking game

Wrong.  We’re actually talking about May 12th, 1364.  And yes, it was a Saturday.  The drunken students in question are celebrating the founding of Jagiellonian University (say it with me now: Ya-gyel-Oh-nee-an) in Kraków, Poland – the second oldest university in Central Europe (after Prague, in 1347), and one of the oldest in the world that is still operating today.  Now for those of you that are being especially attentive, you may be thinking something along the lines of, “Wait a minute, the university was only founded on May 12th, and it already had students?  And they’re already drinking?!”  If you’re thinking that, go ahead and deduct two gold stars from your name and see me after class for being such a smart-ass.  It happened, okay?  I have reliable documents that can prove it.  They’re just…in the manuscript shop…being dry-cleaned…to get out the beer stains.  Yeah. (more…)

They Don’t Make ’em Like They Used To

Try and picture any current male major motion picture star in place of Robert Redford in this picture. You cannot. There are a few that might look a little less awkward – Clooney, Pitt, Crowe – but for the most part they’d all look like they were playing dress up.

Because they would be.

Today, only 490 years ago

I’ve decided that, since my compatriots are so far focusing on the here and now for their posts, I will instead bring a sense of historical perspective to the table.  So, without further ado, here is my version of a “Today In History”-type article.

This fashionably-bearded fellow is Ferdinand Magellan, the famous Portuguese explorer.  Note the nautical charts, galleons, and waves breaking in the background.  These are your clues that the guy in this picture was some sort of seaman or captain.  Looking a little closer, you’ll notice that surcoat on the ground with the funny-looking red cross, which (as everyone knows) is a Calatrava Cross, a symbol of Spanish knighthood.  This is your clue that the gentleman in the painting is no ordinary seaman, but a Great Explorer preparing to accomplish Great Deeds of Historical Significance (GDHS for short).  Right about now (for those of you paying attention), you may be thinking something along the lines of, “Spanish?  I thought you said he was Portuguese…”  Indeed I did, and for any of you that actually thought that, give yourselves two gold stars for being such attentive little readers.  Those of you paying less attention (and perhaps disgruntled by your lack of gold stars) are probably thinking something more along the lines of  “Get to the f-ing point already!”  Bear with me, you patience shall be rewarded.  In all seriousness though, Magellan was Portuguese, but while completing his GDHS’s, he sailed in the service of King Charles I of Spain.

Now Chuck the First (as everyone undoubtedly called him) was no slouch in the political arena.  Being the heir to three of the greatest houses in Europe (House Habsburg of Austria, House Valois-Burgundy of the Duchy of Burgundy in present-day France, and House Trastámara of Castile), he was not only King of Spain (a title he gained by being the first ruler of the kingdoms of Castile, León and Aragon simultaneously), he also became emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire (which was actually primarily German – long story) – a position which also came along with the small, insignificant titles of King of the Romans and King of Italy.  However, at the time (1517) he was still only Chuck the First of measly old Spain, and keen to expand his power both in Europe and overseas.

Enter Magellan (remember him?  This article is actually about him…).  By now he had already cut his teeth traveling under the Portuguese flag to subdue Portuguese India, fighting several battles, and actually saving his commander from some sort of rebel conspiracy, which earned him a substantial promotion and all the buxom native women he could shake his lance at.  However, taking leave of his post without permission upon returning to Portugal, he fell out of favor with King Manuel I and left for Spain.  The Spanish had long been looking for a westward route to the Spice Islands (as a result of the Treaty of Tordesillas reserving all the eastward routes for the Portuguese), and Magellan brought considerable nautical expertise, knowledge of the region in question, and simply excellent facial hair to the table.  He was hired immediately.  After departing on August 10th, 1519 and crossing the Atlantic, he traveled down the eastern coast of South America in search of a passage to the Pacific.  Finally, he found the Strait of Magellan, which strangely the Native Americans had already named for him.  Being quite the modest fellow, he renamed it “All Saints’ Channel”, but the original name has proven the better and stuck.  Call it what you will, his fleet traveled through the Strait and reached the Pacific on November 28th, 1520 – over a year after setting sail.

After another four months at sea, Magellan and his men were quite irritable when they reached the Philippines in March of 1521.  On the island of Cebu, Magellan quickly became embroiled in the local politics, no doubt due to unbridled passion for the first women he and his men had seen in God knows how long.  The local leader, Rajah Humabon, convinced Magellan and his men to overthrow his rival, Datu Lapu-Lapu.  It is well known that this rivalry was due primarily to Humabon’s loathing for Lapu-Lapu’s pretentious, rhyming name.  Magellan and his men traveled to the nearby island of Mactan to confront the nefarious, redundantly-named leader.  Confident in their superior weaponry and battle tactics, they arrived with a force of 60 men, 11 of which remained behind to guard the boats while the other 49 performed a small beachhead operation.  Lapu-Lapu and the natives were waiting with an estimated force of about 1500 men, armed with bamboo spears and steel cutlasses (cutli?).  At this point, our friend Ferdinand was probably having second thoughts, but buoyed by his glorious beard and the thoughts of scantily-clad native women, he led the charge.  Soon however, he and his men were overwhelmed, and recognizing the captain of the invaders, the natives fell on him in a fury.  He was greatly outnumbered, wounded several times, and died fighting the terrible, bloodthirsty heathens  – or noble, stalwart defenders, depending on how you look at things.  And thus we come to the point of this (no doubt unbearably long) article.  The date was April 27th, a day that will live in Infamy – for Portuguese sea captains and bored, frustrated blog-readers everywhere.