Wellington’s Cavalry by Marcus Cribb.

In the warfare that had developed out of many year’s conflict in Europe and its colonies, were 3 broad area of the combat system, most numerous were the infantry, supported by the artillery, guns, both large and small, finally, performing the tasks of reconnaissance, providing a screen of pickets (sentries) and scouting off the battlefield as well as lightning fast strikes and flanking manoeuvres in battle, were the cavalry. 

King’s Dragoon Guards – Waterloo. [Perry Miniatures]

Wellington himself served 2 years in the cavalry, from 1789 to 1791 with the 12th Light Dragoons. Service in the Army as an officer was through a complicated system of purchasing promotion, that was open to exploitation. The design behind it meant that the offer of promotion on merit alone was relatively rare, as it was hoped to favour those from a aristocratic background. A officer’s commission in the cavalry was particularly fashionable, with bold uniforms, a flamboyant reputation and the chance to seek glory and favour in a famous cavalry charge, meant that a commission in a cavalry regiment cost more than in the a line infantry regiment. 

The purpose of this article is to provide a overview of Wellington’s “British” cavalry regiments. As Spanish, Portuguese and “foreign” (Émigré regiments in British service) would have differences in their structure which may be covered at a later date. Each regiment would have varied on the number of men & horses sent on campaign, but a common structure was laid out.

For a British cavalry regiment during the period, it was formed round a single regiment. Unlike the infantry regiments, which would typically be formed of 2 Battalions, but could be many more in some cases, a cavalry regiment was a single unit.

The typical Regimental structure:Colonel of a regiment (General – Major General overseeing Administrative duties, promotions and supplies, such as uniform purchasing.)1x Lieutenant Colonel (with 1 additional space on the list, he would be able to promote to General rank and serve away, the other would be the Commanding Officer of the Regiment) 2x Majors10x Captains across 10x Troops100 ‘Troopers’ Per Troop. This was reduced to 80 men in December 1805.(Trooper referred to: Private – Corporal. N.b. Lance Corporal was only a regimental rank & stood as part of regimental standing orders, likely to received no/little extra pay)2 Lieutenants & 1 Cornet (equivalent to 2nd Lieutenant) per Troop.5 Serjeants per Troop (N.b. to tradition spelling of Serjeant with a J in the Cavalry)1 Trumpeter Serjeant Major with 10 Trumpeters (1 per Troop for passing orders) Regimental staff consisting of: Paymaster, Adjutant, Veterinary surgeon, Surgeon and 2 assistant surgeons.Plus a Serjeant Major (RSM), Paymaster Serjeant, Saddler Serjeant, Farrier Serjeant & Armourer Serjeant, along with a cadre of farriers.1x Quarter Master. (N.b. previously there was rank of Quatermaster Serjeant per troop, this developed into a Troop Serjeant Major.) With a strength of just over 1,000 men and the same again of horses (around 1,064 would have been needed per regiment), this was found to be unrealistic. Officers were permitted time away from regimental duties, such as adjutant to other units, staff officers, leave and even serving as sitting Members of Parliament common.

Along with this, there were always, casualties, sickness, missing (including desertion which was unfortunately common in the non-commissioned ranks) and with the strains of a long war, recruitment was a problem. The recruitment problem contributed to the December 1805 decision to formally reduce a regiment to 800 men plus staff, even then there was difficulty recruiting enough men, but more trouble was had in finding enough horses to mount the men. The high demand persisted meaning higher prices were asked for by horse-breeders for the cavalry mounts.The decision to lower the regimental number to around 860, meant that a typical number serving in a regiment overseas could be around 400-600 men. This was usually supplemented by leaving 2 to 4 Troops at home to train new recruits and horses.

12th Light Dragoons.

This leaves the modern and traditional sub-units. Principally, the “Squadron”. Unlike in the modern army, a squadron wasn’t a standing unit, but still a common one. Usually formed of 2 Troops, with the senior Captain in command (occasionally a Major in place for tasks deemed important by the Commanding Officer).

The squadron allowed for 2 Troops to support one another and proved a useful structure. For example if a regiment was sent to the Peninsular, then a single squadron would often be maintained at the depot, to recruit, train, provide replacement and break in new horses. Often when orders came for campaign a given number of squadrons for a regiments was requested, leaving much to the colonel to decide on who to send.

Secondly, under the Troop level, was “The Squad”, these were kept separate and each commanded by a Serjeant, leaving the common administrative work to NCOs meant the officers were relieved of some mundane orders, however it was regulated that the officers were to check their men at “meal times”. So this left a structure of: Regiment – Squadron – Troop – Squad.

Welfare of the horses for paramount to the regiment, for every sick or lame mount a soldier could not perform their duties. The Royal Veterinary College had only been founded in 1791, so the requirement to have a Veterinary surgeon in each regiment was forward thinking from the Army’s commanders at Horse Guards, ensuring a better provision for the mounts at home and on campaign.

Farriers, under the Farrier Serjeant were part of the Troop, but with additional duties. Typically strong men, made bigger by the work of beating steel. They developed a role to care for the horses, along with riding instructors; there was a wealth of knowledge of equine science and welfare. For example, foreign forage was found to cause illness if fed immediately to the horses, so it was mixed into food brought from Britain, whilst on campaign, weaning them onto local food so to acclimatise them to their new feed.

There was well documented knowledge of experience of equine diseases and illnesses that would be well cared for. Sometime at the grumbling of infantry soldiers who thought the horses sometime had better care than they did.Recruits and training; Although Horse Guards set out guidelines for training the way new recruits were instructed was a matter for each individual regiments. Recruits were trained as part of the Troop, under the instruction of the NCOs.

A Special cadre of “rough riders” were kept with the depot to break in newly bought horses, with that came a special pay. For new officers, horse riding was thought to be an essential skill, but they also paid a small sum to the Sergeant in the role of master at arms, for sword and sabre practice.

General John Le Marchant, after having observed the British Cavalry’s inferior skills at arms in the lowland campaigns of the 1790s wrote a new doctrinal book, as well as redesigning the swords. Before this, swords were purchased by the Regimental Colonel, leading to a myriad of designs, across a variety of qualities.

What followed was the 1796 Pattern Light Cavalry Sabre and the 1796 Pattern Heavy Cavalry Sword (for respective designations of light and heavy cavalry troops). Le Marchant thought that British swordsmanship had reminded him of “someone chopping wood”.

His thoughts and practices were turned into a drill manual, becoming The Rules and Regulations of the Sword Exercise of the Cavalry (Released in 1796 also). This led to a rapid improvement of the close combat ability of the British cavalry, using Le Marchant’s manual, each man would learn the key 6 offensive cuts, along with guard positions and downward strokes, all formalised. The 6 cuts centred round a circle, representing an enemy’s face, rather than wildly hacking at the upper torso that had been ineffective before.

1796 Pattern Light Cavalry Sabre.
1796 Pattern Heavy Cavalry Sword.

.It is also worth noting here the 2 main branches of cavalry; heavy and light. The distinctions meant different uniforms and swords, but meant little in the way of duties and both types were armed with pistol and carbines. In theory the light cavalry rose slightly smaller horses and were purposed for scouting and pickets (sentry). But heavy cavalry frequently often see themselves used in that role. Also it was the heavy cavalry that were meant to execute fierce charges on the battlefield, but light cavalry would see heavy action and carry out brilliant charges, such as the combat at Villa-Garcia. Wellington himself paid little attention to the designation of the cavalry role, compounded by the fact he was often calling for more cavalry (of either type), he used regiments as convenient, without regard to their official classification.

Ride Like the Devil. The Light Dragoons at Vitoria. Chris Collingwood. Image, Cranston Fine Arts.


Light cavalry was made up of a mixture of “Light Dragoons” and “Hussars”. It wasn’t until after Waterloo in 1815 that regiments converted to become lancers. The heavy cavalry were “Dragoons” or more elaborately “Dragoon Guards” along with the Life Guards and Royal Horse Guard regiments (which formed the Household Cavalry).

Wollen, William Barns; The Scouts; Horsepower: The Museum of the King’s Royal Hussars; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-scouts-24256 National Army Museum.

Sources: “Gallantry and Discipline. The 12th Light Dragoons at War with Wellington” by Andrew Bamford”So Blood a Day. The 16th Light Dragoons in the Waterloo Campaign” by David J. Blackmore”The Cavalry that Broke Napoleon. The King’s Dragoon Guards at Waterloo” by Richard Goldsbrough” Wellington’s Peninsular Army” Men-at-Arms series, by James Lawford.

Writing for Land of History: https://adventuresinhistoryland.com a collection of excellent articles and blogs by Josh Provan, which I can strongly recommend.Linked via https://marcuscribb.wixsite.com/thedukeofwellington/blog & https://twitter.com/mcribb89

Wellington the Boy. By Marcus Cribb.

I am writing this to tie into what would have been the 251st Birthday of Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, on 1st May 1769.

The earliest know image of Arthur Wesley (Wellesley) silhouette aged around 7 years old. C. Stratfield Saye Preservation Trust

A Disputed Birth

The birth of the future Duke of Wellington, in itself has some interesting nuances in that some facts are still disputed. It is widely accepted that the 1st May is his birthday, his own father and mother wrote that it was the 1st May and Arthur himself celebrated it on this day. However; the baptismal register of the Parish of St Peter, Dublin records Arthur’s christening on 30th April 2 days before his birth. One possible explanation for this was that, sadly 2 of the Earl and Lady Mornington’s children had died in infancy, including a Arthur Wesley (the family name was changed later to Wellesley in order to Anglicise it), who dies in 1768 aged 6 or 7. As such there may have been some haste to baptise their second Arthur (the future Duke of Wellington) with some haste, in case he should die without having received such a blessing. There was already a surviving eldest son, Richard Wellesley and a second son William. In the baptismal register it is possible, albeit less likely, that the parish officials did not know what the date was. There is at least a little likelihood that these records have been falsified, either intentionally or otherwise. The entry above is dated 23rd April and the entry following is dated 24th May; all are in the same handwriting.

Mornington House today – Wiki commons

There is also a dispute ongoing about the place of birth, Mornington House, Dublin, or Dangan Castle, County Meath, the two family homes, town and country respectively. It is almost certain that the baby Arthur was born in Dublin as this is widely agreed upon, however some sources exist about whether the family were actually in residence there at that time, because the house may have been in the process of renovation until the summer of 1769, which would put Dangan Castle, the family seat, as a strong contender, it was also where the 2 eldest brothers were born, which is often proposed by local historians and the tourist trade. Dangan Castle is now, sadly a “romantic” ruin. Other sources have provided over 9 different locations in which Lady Mornington may have been in May 1769 and given birth to the infant Arthur, but the family (including the 9th Duke) maintain now, that it was in Dublin.

Ruins of Danagan Castle today – wiki common

“Food for powder”

It’s fair to say, that Arthur was not a natural student. Following in his brother’s footsteps, he was sent to Eton, but unlike them, he did not settle in naturally and was thought to have learnt relatively little. This young Arthur stood out from his brothers, who were already progressing in their careers, Richard was sent to Christ Church, Oxford and excelled as a scholar, William entered a career in the Royal navy as an officer. Young Arthur did have his father’s passion for music, Lord Mornington is thought to have composed some pieces (a dance survives in his name, though it could be dedicated to him). Arthur we know played the violin, like his father and grandfather before them and had hopes to be a musician of sorts.

It was Arthur’s inability to excel academically and fit into his surrounding that caused his mother to lament: “I vow to God I don’t know what I shall do with my awkward son Arthur. He is food for powder and nothing more.” Powder referring to gunpowder, Anne, his mother thought his fate was to join the army and probably die in some obscure battle. She was at least half right. Shortly after starting Eton, Garret Wesley, the Earl of Mornington died, giving the family some financial worries, along with the title passing to Richard as eldest son. They decided to send Arthur at first to a school in Brussels, where he picked up French quickly, apparently speaking the language with a slight Belgian accent for the rest of his life. From there, a military career apparently chosen for him, he was sent on to France. It was in the French, Angier Military School that this young Arthur learnt the basics needed to become a Army officer.

Wellington’s first encounter with the French’ – National Army Museum, out of copyright

By this point, with Richard having assumed the title of Lord Mornington and sitting in Parliament, William was commissioned in the Royal Navy and a elected Member of Parliament, younger brothers, Gerald Valerian was destined for the clergy with the youngest, Henry still at Eton, Arthur now found his natural habitat. The course at Angers proved not too difficult for Arthur Wesley, it consisted of, fencing, riding, dancing, French grammar, mathematics and the science of military fortifications. Arthur did well at dancing, fencing and riding, important skills for a young gentleman, he relaxed into the life, playing cards and walking his dog, a white terrier called Vick around the medieval town.

By the time he returned home in 1786, aged just 17, with the skills to equip him in a military life (along with being fluent in French), he agreed with his mothers derisory advice and embarked on a career in the army. He offered a commission in the 73rd (Highland) Regiment but the family used influence, to transfer him to the 76th (Hindoostan) Regiment with a promotion to Lieutenant and then a transfer to the 41st Regiment so he could take up duties in Ireland as the Lord-Lieutenant’s aide-de-camp based in Dublin castle.

Chateau D’Angers today

It is from here the man that would be, Wellington, a Lieutenant of now only 18 years old began a life in the army full of bureaucracy and administration, which would lead to a political career and fast advancement which would see a brilliant journey as commander in the filed in Flanders, then India, before the now famous Battles of the Napoleonic wars.

A young boy, with little talent outside of languages, riding and music who would become, arguably the greatest military talent of the age, if not the greatest ever in Europe. 

Postscript:

The Wesley family originally hailed from Rutland, England and moved (as the Colley or Cowley family in around 1500) they are described as Anglo-Irish, to label them as “Irish” would be anachronistic and unhelpful. With this Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington never did utter the quote “Though a man maybe born in a stable, that does not make him a horse” or words to that effect. This was probably said by Daniel O’Connell (‘The Emancipator’) or one of O’Connells close relations.

Marcus Cribb

Sources:

Wellington: A Personal History: Hibbert, C.

The Great Duke: Bryant, A.

Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769-1814: Muir, R.

Wellington: the Place and Day of his Birth Ascertained and Demonstrated. Murray, J. (1852)

Writing for Land of History: https://adventuresinhistoryland.com a collection of excellent articles and blogs by Josh Provan, which I can strongly recommend.Linked via https://marcuscribb.wixsite.com/thedukeofwellington/blog & https://twitter.com/mcribb89

French Atrocities in the Peninsular War.

By Marcus Cribb.

A difficult topic, but one that is often ‘dismissed’ by Francophile historians as too common, was the French Army’s behaviour towards the civilian population when it invaded a country. Here the focus is on Spain & Portugal, though there were cases in many other invasions, Napoleon had already encouraged his troops to loot and kill after sieges in Italy and after the siege of Jaffa he ordered thousands of captive civilians killed at bayonet point (in order to save ammunition) For examples in Russia see: https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v31/n23/geoffrey-hosking/peasants-in-arms)

This is not to say that the British Army behaved angelically, though allied and invited to liberate Portugal & Spain from Napoleon’s aggressive expansionism. The retreat to Corunna in 1809 ‘remains a dark chapter in the history of the British army’ (Charles Esdaile), and the sacking of Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz and San Sebastian were abysmal incidents, which caused Wellington to fly into a rage and order the hanging of perpetrators on the spot. The differential factor is that the French were ordered to use the murder (and worse) and fear as a weapon as well as individual crimes and on the whole the British Army at least tried to convict those caught and Wellington was clear on harsh punishments for any crimes committed on their allies.

In the Autumn of 1807 Napoleon ordered General Jean-Andoche Junot along with over 24,000 men to invade the neutral nation of Portugal, to end it’s trade with Britain, which it refused to cease (this was an alliance with Britain which dated back to the the 14th Century). No military resistance was offered (The only resistance was offered by the governor of Valenca, who refused to open his gates to the northern column. He only caved in when he found that Lisbon had fallen and the Royal family had already fled to Brazil)

Junot was instructed to seize the property of the 15,000 persons who had fled to Brazil and to levy a 100 million Franc fine on the nation. As it happened, the refugees had carried off almost half of the specie in Portugal and the French were barely able to raise enough money to maintain the occupation army. Nevertheless, the harsh taxes caused bitter resentment among the population. By January 1808 there were open executions of civilians who resisted the heavy handed demands of the French. Meanwhile in Spain, King Charles IV, France’s supposed ally, was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, all of whom were held captive in Bayonne. The remaining children of the royal family were then forcibly ordered to join their parents in France. This led to a spontaneous uprising in Madrid; The Dos de Mayo. What followed was street fighting in different areas of Madrid as the poorly armed population confronted the occupying French troops. There were only a few Spanish military leaders involved, most of whom had been planning a campaign away from the capital and were caught unawares. The uprising was brutally put down by French Troops, street by street, famously having to storm a Spanish artillery barracks which was bravely defended.

[El dos de Mayo / The Charge of the Mamelukes. By Goya – The Prado]

The repression following the crushing of the initial rebellion was harsh. A special military commission was created on the evening of 2 May to be presided over by General Grouchy. This commission issued death sentences to all of those captured who were bearing weapons of any kind. In a statement issued that day Murat said: “The population of Madrid, led astray, has given itself to revolt and murder. French blood has flowed. It demands vengeance. All those arrested in the uprising, arms in hand, will be shot.”

These initial executions against cooperation, as in Portugal, or reprisal killings, as in Spain formed a pattern for the French behaviour during the Peninsular War that followed.

[Tres De Mayo by Goya – The Prado]

As the Spanish uprisings became open revolt against their invaders and evolved into successful Guerrilla War, elements to liberate their nation, the French Army used murder and fear as a weapon, under orders and spontaneously alike.

There is far less detail given in French memoirs, on how they carried out orders to sack villages and spare no one (sometimes enthusiastically as the loot provided a chance for the soldiers to gain great valuables). Joseph de Naylies, a French officer (who later because a Captain in the Eclaireurs of the Imperial Guard) wrote, “we entered the town… which was immediately pillaged and reduced to ash… We burnt [it down] and killed everyone we found there”

Maurice de Tascher, another French officer, but who was related to the Empress Josephine wrote a more harrowing account of the sacking of Cordoba; 30th June 1808:

“The Cathedral and the sacred lives within were not spared, which made the Spanish look upon us in horror, saying out loud that they would prefer we violated their women than their churches. We did both. The convents had to suffer all that debauchery has invented and the outrages of the soldier given up to himself”

Chart: Murders in the 2nd French Invasion of Portugal (1810-1811) in 1 district. Source University of Coimbra.

The Duke of Wellington wrote of the murder, thefts and worse: “The British people, I’m certain, wouldn’t believe the indecent behaviours of the French after their retreat.  I have never seen, nor heard, nor read of such behaviour and am convinced their actions have no equal in world history. You will hear several shocking recounts which should be told to the world at large. They killed all the countryfolk they found. Every day, we found the bodies of women, young and old, who were either stabbed, or shot. Since we were near Condexia, they regularly sent patrols to fetch all girls over the age of 10 to the camp to satisfy the soldiery… Every child we met was in tears, mourning the death of a parent. The houses were systematically burned … They dug up and looted the graves. Two days ago, one of our patrols entered a village where they found 36 corpses, most of whom were in their beds…”

It’s worth noting that the British public and Parliament were already well motivated against Napoleon as a threat towards Britain. The fear of invasion was tangible, especially in London and along the South coast. Wellington was not prone to exaggeration, nor did he often write graphic descriptions of the war he witnessed (for example the aftermath of Waterloo so deeply upset him, that he refused to talk about it), so we can presume his writing is factual.

Marcus Cribb, Writing for Land of History: https://adventuresinhistoryland.com a collection of excellent articles and blogs by Josh Provan, which I can strongly recommend.

Linked via https://marcuscribb.wixsite.com/thedukeofwellington/blog & https://twitter.com/mcribb89 

Sources:

Charles Oman: History of the Peninsular War

https://www.jstor.org/stable/26070650

https://historiana.eu/case-study/rights-civilians-and-responsibilities-armies-during-war-wwii-and-onwards/spanish-peninsular-war-1808-1814

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1468-2281.12252

5 Weird Facts about the Ancient Olympics by Adrian Burrows.

Notwithstanding a short break (what’s a millennia and a half between friends ay?), the Olympics has been a part of humanity’s story for the last 2800 years – ish. The start of the Ancient Olympics is usually attributed to the year 776 BC -that’s when the first Olympic Games took place in the town of Olympia; situated somewhere between the city-states of Elis and Sparta on the west coast of the Peloponnese. The first Games consisted of only one event, the Stade race, in which runners had to run 280 meters (or a Stadion, the word we derive ‘stadium’ from). The race was unremarkable, should 20 competitors decide run a Stade race today it would be remarkably similar to a modern sprint – other than the fact that male competitors would all be naked of course. Which would certainly make for some unflattering media coverage, or perhaps a 21st century resurgence of the Stade race would make the Olympics more popular than ever? 

There are many other ways that the Ancient Olympics differ to our modern Olympics but this list represents by far the weirdest.

Only Men Could Compete

The Ancient Olympics was both primarily a religious event and also a strictly man only affair. That’s not to say that women couldn’t take part in their own sporting events – they could compete in the Heraean Games, though many of the finder details of this event have been lost to the mists of time – but they were forbidden from entering the Olympics. In fact, if you were a married woman you were prevented from even watching the Olympics. The punishment for ogling the jiggling glutes of the male competitors for a wed woman was severe, if you were caught you’d be thrown off a mountain.

That’s not to say that a woman never won the Olympic Games however. Who achieved this seemingly impossible feat? That would be a Spartan woman called Kyniska, daughter of the Archidamos. Rather oddly, the winner of a chariot race was not the rider, rather it was the owner of the horses who received the glory – enabling Kyniska to win the event, without actually being there. The rider – despite being in command of a rickety chariot pulled by four muscle bound horses over some 12 laps and 14,000 metres – received a grand total of zilch for their efforts. 

They Were Stinky. Very Stinky

Today, a country fortunate enough to hold the Olympics must invest millions into creating custom built stadiums. Not only are they perfectly constructed in every conceivable way, providing the ideal environment for the athletes competing within them, they also offer comprehensive comfort for the spectators. Offering food, drink, seating and – most importantly – lots and lots of toilets. 

The spectators of the Ancient Olympics had no such luxury, Every four years (that’s an Olympiad) over 50,000 people descended on the ordinarily virtually uninhabited Olympia (a few priests kept things ticking over but that was about it). 50,000 people sat in the hot sun with only a river to poop in. Just imagine the stench. Add to that the fact that 100 oxen would be sacrificed and burnt on the Alter of Zeus in the middle of the festival. There’s one thing for certain, no candle manufacturer will ever be making an overpriced candle infused with the scent of the Ancient Olympics.

A Dead Person Won the Olympics

The Ancient Olympics were a brutal affair, boxing and wrestling were much more violent than the modern versionwe are used to seeing on our televisions today. Though both these blood soaked spectacles paled in gore levels compared to Pankration – the mixed martial arts of the Ancient world.Pankration had only two rules, no biting and no poking out anyone’s eye. Other than that, anything went!

One remarkable account details the final fight of Arrhichionof Phigalia. Arrhichion was trapped in the vice like grip of his formidable opponent. Arms like steely vein covered greasy oil coated pythons were wrapped around his neck, and try as he might Arrhichion could not free himself. As his vision began to fade Arrhichion stamped as hard as he could on his opponent’s foot. The pain was so intense that this unknown fighter released Arrhichion and submitted. The crowd went wild, Arrhichion had overcame the odds and won. But while the crowd went bananas Arrhichion remained unmoving on the sand and dirt. He was dead. 

That didn’t dampen the celebration however. Despite being very deceased, Arrhichion was crowned the victor and returned to Phigalia a hero.

More Gore than Ever Before

Arrhichion’s final victory was not the goriest event to take place in the Ancient Olympics, instead that honour would fall to the boxing match between Damoxenos and Creugas. In Ancient Boxing there were no weight classes and the matches were randomly picked. So you could end up with a bout in which one fighter had a significant size and weight advantage over the other. Which reportedly was the case when these Damoxenos and Creugas, two undefeated champions, went up against each other. 

Damoxenos was a massive slab of humanity, whilst Creugaswas smaller but incredibly nimble. And a good thing too, with no boxing gloves fighters instead just wrapped their fists in leather; one punch from the giant Damoxenos would have levelled Creugas, and with no rules stating otherwise, the bigger man could keep on punching Creugas in the head – regardless of whether or not if he could defend himself. Either way power vs agility had led to a draw, meaning a ‘klimax’ was enforced. Here each man takes it in turns to hit the other with full force; this is an unprotected blow taking at their liberty. Like some sort of blood soaked penalty shootout the fight ends when only one man is left standing. 

Creugas went first, he punched the bigger man in the head as hard as he could. But to little avail, Damoxenos just shrugged off the assault. Then it was Damoxenos’ turn, Creugus braced himself as this terrifying beast punched him with full force with straight fingers into the bread basket. Damoxenos clearly needed a manicure as his sharp nails ripped at Creugas’ skin. Damoxenos then ripped his fingers once more along Creugas’ abdomen, gutting the fighter like a pig and causing his innards to come tumbling out like meat and potato from a freshly bitten pie. 

It was all over, Creugus had won. That’s right, Creugus. Damoxenos had been disqualified as the rules of the ‘Klimax’ state one punch at a time only. Sure, Creugas’  guts were getting a sun tan but it was all worth it for that laurel wreath.

The World’s Greatest

These days, in every Olympic event, multiple world records are smashed. Athletes are lucky to hold on to their world record for a decade but it would be unheard of for a competitor to hold a record for fifty years, let alone a hundred. Yet there was one ancient athlete who held his record for over two thousand years. Yes, TWO THOASAND YEARS. This phenomenal specimen of a Homo Sapien was Leonidas of Rhodes. 

He first competed in the Olympic Games of the 154th Olympiad in 164 BCE, where Leonidas captured the laurel wreath in three different races; the stadion, the diaulos (a foot face of (400 metres) and the hoplitodromos (a diaulos where the runners wear armour – talk about exhausting!). He then went on to win these three events over the next three consecutive Olympiads. Bear in mind that in the Ancient Olympics there was no second of third place, you were either a winner… or a massive loser.

This astonishing act, of winning twelve individual Olympic victories, was unmatched until 2016; when Michael Phelps, the American swimmer, one his 13th Olympic Gold.

Adrian is a co-owner of Imagining History workshops. Imagining History provides educational history workshops for primary schools that captivate and entertain.

Their interactive sessions combine role-play, storytelling, demonstrations and drama and performance to bring history to life for students.

Imagining History offer loads of free digital history resources for teachers and parents. You can find content on Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt and more at www.imagininghistoryworkshops.co.uk/blog.

You can also check out their biweekly Youtube series ‘Headlines from History’.

Guest Post: Who were the most powerful people in Ancient Rome?

By Adrian Burrows.

Illustration of two empresses, courtesy of the British Library Flickr Page. We associate Rome with power but who actually held the most power in Ancient Rome?

Who were the most powerful people in Ancient Rome?

How do you define power? That’s a difficult question to answer, certainly within the confines of this short article. So, for my purposes, power is being able to exert your will and have the maximum amount of people follow your instructions. In Ancient Rome then, there are a great many contenders for the title of ‘Most Powerful’. 

At its peak, in 117 AD, the Roman Empire was vast, covering a jaw-dropping five-million square kilometres. https://allthatsinteresting.com/height-roman-empire-map Just to put that in perspective; the Roman Empire was the equivalent of 1.4 Billion football pitches. They’d have certainly needed a very well inflated pig’s bladder and a team compromising of giants in order to set up a quick game of five a side. What is so impressive is this empire was ruled with a communication structure no more advanced than a lot of straight, flat roads.

The ruler of the Empire at its peak was the Emperor – in this case Trajan, soon to be handing over to Hadrian on account of a severe case of premature death* – who was responsible for some sixty five million people. https://www.unrv.com/empire/roman-population.php So, The Emperor had near incomputable and incomparable power. His will could, quite literally, change the course of history. Yet, did anyone have power over the Emperor? You could arguethat both the people and the senate had a degree of influence over the Emperor. After all, an Emperor is still only human and a great many of them received their comeuppance for miffing off the wrong people.** They also spent a fortune keeping the people entertained – and pliant – with Gladiatorial contests and other sporting events. However, I would argue that the group of people who had the most influence over the Emperor were the vestal virgins.

The Vestal Virgins were a group of six hand-picked women who were responsible for the maintaining of the perpetual sacred flame kept in the temple of Vesta. This was an incredibly important duty as it was believed that should the flame be snuffed out then Rome would fall. These sacred maidens had an unparalleled position of power amongst women at this point in history; this did not have to marry, they were not the ‘property’ of any man, and their position enabled them to wield significant religious and political influence. They could also, according to Alexandra Turney of Through Eternity Tours (https://www.througheternity.com/en/blog/history/vestal-virgins-in-ancient-rome.html), “own property, vote, and write a will. They had the best seats at public games, and they even had the power to free condemned prisoners and slaves. A condemned man on his way to his execution only had to catch a glimpse of a Vestal Virgin to be freed.”

The extent of their responsibility and influence can be seen by their punishment if something went wrong in Ancient Rome.We can see an example of this in the BBC article ‘Ancient Rome’s Maidens: who were the Vestal Virgins?’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/0/18490233

“Despite their elevated position within Roman society, some historians, including Professor Brennan, argue that they were often scapegoated for military defeat. Problems on the battlefield were blamed on a failure to maintain Vesta’s fire.”

Yet, I would argue, that an opposite case could be made. If the failure of a failed military campaign was the fault of the Vestal Virgins, then conversely a military success was due to their divine influence. To go a step further, if the Vestal Virgins were to decree that a military campaign was destined to fail, then could anyone, even an Emperor, disagree? Let’s take a look at a few examples of this. Pliny the Elder – the Roman naturalist, author and philosopher – wrote in Book 28 of his Natural History:

“At the present day, too, it is a general belief, that our Vestal virgins have the power, by uttering a certain prayer, to arrest the flight of runaway slaves, and to rivet them to the spot, provided they have not gone beyond the precincts of the City. If then these opinions be once received as truth, and if it be admitted that the gods do listen to certain prayers, or are influenced by set forms of words, we are bound to conclude in the affirmative upon the whole question.”

The Vestal Virgins had the power to convene with the gods and, even more impressively, the gods would listen to and be influenced by their words. More importantly, the people of Rome believed that they had this divine gift. This isn’t just regular Emperor power, this is super hero level power. If Gegania, one of the first Vestals, were to crop up as an Avenger in the next Marvel film then absolutely no-one should be surprised. The vestals had a power to wield such influence as to change the political landscape. To think that the Vestals wouldn’t take the regular opportunity to put this power to practise would be naïve.

For example, the Vestals interceded and saved Julius Caesar from Sulla’s proscriptions. Sulla was, at the time, the ‘dictator’ of Rome and the most powerful man in the city. He had a list of enemies of the state who, through his proscriptions, would be killed or banished. Julius Caesar’s name was on this list – his demise was certain. That was until the Vestal’s stepped up and saw that he was granted pardon. The Vestals had stood up to the most powerful person in Rome, in the midst of his punishing and pretty psychopathic political pruning, and been victorious. 

That’s is not to say the Vestal’s were untouchable however, they, like anyone, could be toppled. This was often done through the aforementioned scapegoating or through besmirching of their character. The punishments for Vestas put into this position were severe. Rules prevented Vesta’s from being killed or harmed but these restrictions were averted by effectively burying them alive.*** 

Yet, what power comes without severe risk? And what power the Vestal Virgins had. Who else could bend an Emperor, and by proxy 65 million Romans, to their will?

Notes.

*It really was a severe case of premature death. Trajan died of a suspected stroke in the city of Selinus. His adopted son Hadrian took on the mantle of Emperor who, along with his father, is considered one of the ‘good’ Emperors.

**Emperor Caracalla had it pretty bad. He was killed by one of his bodyguards whilst having a widdle at the side of the road. Worst bodyguard ever.

*** In 114 BC the Vestal Mercia was left to starve to death in a sealed tomb – not a good way to go. Though in the historical records the frequency of such a heinous punishment was rare, most Vestals retired after a thirty year service and enjoyed a rather generous pension.

About Adrian Burrows:

Adrian is the co-owner of Imagining History School Workshops – an organisation dedicated to bringing the very best history workshops to primary schools across the UK. You can find out more at www.imagininghistory.co.uk or follow them on twitter at @imagininghist

Longships and the Vikingverse: What research can do. By Ian Sharpe.

It is my great pleasure to host this highly entertaining thought experiment from the pen of the very talented Ian Stuart Sharpe, whose new book, The All Father Paradox, has just launched. It’s a very “Historyland” kind of thing. Read on to find out how fast you’d have to move to escape a Viking raid, and use the links provided to find out about the Vikingverse.

Josh. Continue reading “Longships and the Vikingverse: What research can do. By Ian Sharpe.”

The Commerce of Treachery: The Selling of Suriname, 1799. By Rob Griffith.

The Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars that spanned more than two decades are rightly famous for the epic battles that helped to decide the fate of a continent; Valmy, Waterloo, Trafalgar, Austerlitz, and Borodino amongst many others. But what is less well known are the machinations of countless traitors, spies and confidential agents that did as much to shape the progress of the war as any general or admiral. With almost constant political turmoil, especially in the early years of the conflict, France always had a ready supply of disgruntled former generals or ministers with axes to grind that were all too receptive to the approaches of foreign agents. Napoleon’s minister of police, Joseph Fouché and his foreign minister, Charles Talleyrand, both actively plotted against him on more than one occasion. Sometimes such men involved themselves in plots or conspiracies to protect their own positions and sometimes it was just for cold hard cash. Continue reading “The Commerce of Treachery: The Selling of Suriname, 1799. By Rob Griffith.”

Battle of The Alamo Reenactments In England, June 24-25, 2017

Alamo Church San Antonio
Alamo Church San Antonio

Introduction: Ned Huthmacher fills us in on the Remember the Alamo reenactment!

This June, despite dodgy weather and supply problems that required a great deal of improvisation, hundreds of reenactors gathered to remember the Alamo amidst the green and pleasant surroundings of western England.

Continue reading “Battle of The Alamo Reenactments In England, June 24-25, 2017”

Helping History Happen Podcast: Creating High Quality Historical Interpretation featuring Kyle Jenks.

Introduction by Historyland:

The world of interpretive history is sometimes confusing and mysterious, they tend to be the people who know all about Historyland. And this week hopefully we will get a little sneak peek into the effort and dedication that goes in to creating Historical impressions that spark our imaginations. A podcast called Helping History Happen with Allison Pettengill recently featured an interview with Historical Interpreter Kyle Jenks in an episode called “Creating High Quality Historical Interpretation” that… well I’ll let the guest fill in the details:

Continue reading “Helping History Happen Podcast: Creating High Quality Historical Interpretation featuring Kyle Jenks.”

A Memory of the Olympias or “THAT BLOODY BYRON ROGERS” by Nigel Hillpaul.

The “sly, apotropaic eyes” of Olympias at the Naval Tradition Park, Palaio Faliro. She is the only commissioned ship of her kind in the world. Ελληνικά: Φωτογράφηση εξ ιδίων Wikimedia commons.

Introduction.

My first sight of the Trireme Olympias was as I turned a page of an Osprey Book about the Greek and Persian Wars. Thrilling isn’t it? But if a picture can blow a fellow away, imagine what it must have been like to sail on her. If I’m honest I’ve never given much thought to who actually put Olympias through her paces. Luckily today’s guest post has been written by just such a man, who urged by an article written by journalist, essayist, historian and biographer Byron Rogers who is an “historian of the quirky and forgotten, of people and places other journalists don’t even know exist or ignore if they do”’embarked on an true adventure in a Historyland all his own, and shared by a select few. Olympias was built between 1985 and 1987 as an accurate replica of the ship that probably saved western civilisation. Designed by John F. Coates who consulted with many other learned people on the project, Olympias was built in Greece between 1985 and 1987. The information gathered during her many sea trials revolutionised the understanding of ancient seamanship and set a bar for all subsequent experimental archeologists. The author of the following story took part in the 1987 trials as one of “Happy few” who helped bring the Tireme back to life: Continue reading “A Memory of the Olympias or “THAT BLOODY BYRON ROGERS” by Nigel Hillpaul.”