These days in History – August 11-14
Many interesting historical events happened on August 11 – 14: legendary battles, death of the most famous woman in history, first and last days for a number of Monarchs…
If you want to learn what important things happened in (royal) History on these August days, read on.
August 11, 2492 BC – The defeat of Bel by Hayk and founding of the Armenian nation
The legend of Hayk, as typical for Armenian mythology, has elements of both paganism and Christianity. The son of Goddess Anahit (Armenian equivalent of Artemis), he was also the direct descendant of Noah. According to legend, Hayk met Titan Bel (sometimes identified as Nimrod) in a Battle of Dutasnamart (literally: Battle of the Giants) on August 11, 2492. Slaying him with an ‘impossible’ shot, Hayk thus ended the reign of the tyrant. That day is also usually considered the foundation of Armenian Kingdom (or its forerunner, Urartu). Hayk is regarded as the greatest of all Armenian heroes: Armenians call themselves “Hay” and their country “Hayastan” after the legendary founder
August 7-August 11, 480 BC – the Battles of Artemisium and Thermopylae, death of King Leonidas of Sparta
Lead up to the Battles
Persian Empire sought to finally submit all the Greek states since at least 491, when the envoys of Darius I (sent for gift of ‘earth and water’ – proves of submission) were executed in Sparta and Athens, although most other Greek states obliged. In the ensuring war, Persia suffered a humiliating defeat during the Battle of Marathon. Darius died without revenge but his son Xerxes vowed to crush the Greeks. In 481, Xerxes sent for new gifts of ‘earth and water’ but deliberately omitted Athens and Sparta, thus effectively announcing his intentions.
August 7-August 11 – the Battle of Artemisium
When news of the approaching Persian army reached the Alliance of Greek City-states, a decision was made to defend two crucial passing points: the straits of Artemisium and the pass of Thermopylae. The Persians heavily outnumbered the Allied forces; nevertheless, during the first two days of the battle, the Greeks were first to attack and were victorious. Their smaller and lighter ships were easier to manoeuvre than the massive Persian vessels. On the third day, the battle raged all day, with both sides sustaining heavy losses: for the small Allied fleet, those losses were all the more considerable. Knowing that they wouldn’t be able to hold on for much longer and receiving news of the destruction of the units at Thermopylae, the Allied forces made a decision to retreat and prepare for the evacuation of the Athens. Although the Battle of Artemisium might not be viewed as crucial if taken separately, it is hugely important in the context of the entire war. The knowledge gained about Persian strategies was crucial in the decisive victory at the Battle of Salamis. As Pindar put it, “Artemisium was where the sons of Athenians laid the shining foundation-stone of freedom.”
August 8-August 11 – Battle of Thermopylae and death of King Leonidas
Thermopylae, a narrow passage that opened access to all of Boeotia and Attica, was a crucial strategic point: the task of defending it fell on King Leonidas of Sparta and some 6,000 men from the Greek states. Initially, Xerxes thought he would have no problems to defeat the Greeks as they were heavily outnumbered. However, during the first two days of the battle, Xerxes had to watch some of the best Persian troops defeated and slain, including his legendary Immortals. On the third day, a local man betrayed the Greeks and told Xerxes of another path. Knowing of the betrayal, Leonidas ordered most of the Allied troops to withdraw, while he and his fellow 300 Spartans resolved to stay. Apart from the 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans chose to remain and fight till the end. With the Persian forces attacking from both sides, the small group of Greeks had no chances: nevertheless, they fought bravely, causing considerable losses to the Persian side. As Herodotus says: “…They defended themselves to the last, those who still had swords using them, and the others resisting with their bare hands and teeth.” A fierce battle ensured over Leonidas’s body: the Persians were able to recover it only after every single Greek had been killed.
Although there are many theories about Leonidas’s decision to stay and fight (varying from his obedience to the Spartan rule of ‘never retreating’, to his determination to fulfil the prophecy of the Delphi oracle, which predicted Sparta could be saved only at the cost of its King’s life), the most accepted explanation is that they stayed to cover the retreat of the others: if they had all tried to escape, the Persians would have easily caught up and, in open field, defeated them.
Thermopylae is arguably the most famous battle in European ancient history. Regardless of the outcome, the mere heroism of those ‘300’ has inspired generations. A recent highly successful (and equally inaccurate) Hollywood movie “300” tells the story of the battle. A commemorative stone would later be placed on the hill when the last of Greeks died. An epitaph is engraved on it, which reads: “Stranger, bear this message to the Spartans, that we lie here obedient to their laws.”
August 12, 30 BC – Suicide of Cleopatra VII
The suicide of the last Queen / Pharaoh of Egypt firmly placed her in the first line of the most fascinating women in World History, even if she hadn’t already earned the place by gaining such influence over two of the most powerful men of her times.
All the ancient sources generally agree how Cleopatra committed a suicide. The oldest source is Strabo: he attributed Cleopatra’s death to a bite by an asp – a version Plutarch and Florus later agreed with. Plutarch gives a detailed account on how Cleopatra’s body was found: when the Roman soldiers finally break into her monument, they find Cleopatra already dead, one of her handmaidens dying at her feet, the other adjusting Cleopatra’s crown, before falling herself.
Numerous paintings, poems and movies depicted Cleopatra’s life and death; the most memorable (apart from Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”) is perhaps the 1963 movie “Cleopatra”, with Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in one of her most memorable roles.
August 12, 1424 – Death of Yongle, Emperor of China
Emperor Yongle died from heart attack (or weakness after suffering several strokes) during his campaign against Tatars in the Gobi desert. His reign was a period of unprecedented prosperity for Chinese people. On the downside, he was a ruthless Emperor, who didn’t tolerate other opinions. Yongle is best remembered for sponsoring Zheng He expeditions – China’s only major (sea) explorations. They started nearly 20 years before Henry the Navigator began Portugal’s “Voyages of Discovery” and at some point reached as far as Madagascar. According to National Geographic, some of the boats used were the largest sail-powered boats in human history. China’s ‘age of discoveries’ ended with Yongle’s death: his successors thought of the expeditions as unnecessary waste of money and resources.
August 14, 1464 – Death of Pope Pius II
Pope Pius is the author of “Commentaries”, the only autobiography ever written by a Reigning Pope. He was also one of the first people to condemn slavery and vocally express his views on the subject.
August 12, 1503 – Birth of Christian III of Denmark and Norway
Christian III’s life was guided by his strong sense of duty, the genuine goodness of character and a common sense. Upon his accession to the throne, he found a deeply divided nation: upon his death, he left Denmark stronger, wealthier and more unified that it had ever been before.
August 12, 1629 – Birth of Tsar Alexei I
Tsar Alexei’s reign saw some of the most important and exiting events in the History of Russia. Ardent believer of ‘divine rights of the Monarchs’, the Tsar was infuriated when Charles I of England was executed: he severed all diplomatic ties with England, banned English merchants and accepted Royalists refugees in Moscow. He also provided financial assistance to ‘the disconsolate widow of the glorious martyr, King Charles I’. Apart from his own achievements, Alexei I is remembered for his children: Tsarevna Sofia (talented regent, who showed that women can successfully Rule), Tsar Ivan and Peter I the Great – arguably the greatest Monarch in Russian History.
August 13, 1792 – Formal Arrest of Louis XVI
On August 13, 1792 Louis XVI was formally arrested by the National Tribunal and declared “enemy of the people”. He was tried by the Convention, found guilty of treason and executed (by guillotine) on January 21, 1793. Louis XVI was the only King of France to be tried and executed.
August 11, 1804 – Francis II assumes the title of first Emperor of Austria
Francis II was the only Doppelkaiser (double emperor) in history: already an Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, on August 11, 1804 he was proclaimed Emperor Francis I of Austria.
He’s perhaps best remembered for being the uncle of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, the father of Emperor Franz Karl I, as well as Archduchess Marie-Louise (the second wife of Napoleon I).
August 11, 1952 – Hussein is proclaimed King of Jordan
Hussein was proclaimed King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan upon his father’s abdication. King Hussein had been a great stabilizing influence for Jordan and is perhaps best remembered for his efforts to bring peace in the Middle East. Sadly, the hugely respected and loved Monarch passed away in 1999, before seeing the resolution. He was succeeded by his eldest son, King Abdullah II of Jordan. He is also survived by 11 natural children, an adopted daughter, 21 grandchildren and an adopted granddaughter.
Tagged Alexei I, Armenia, Birth, Christian III, Cleopatra VII, Death, Francis II, King Hussein, Louis XVI, Pope Pius II, Queen Sirikit, Yongle Emperor.