Monday, 10 October 2011

The Tenth of October

I found myself stuck for a topic and decided to browse Wikipedia’s homepage to see what happened on this day.

I discovered that this day, the 10th of October, which I had previously thought to be a rather mundane day, has seen it’s fair share of historical interest (unlike my birthday, which is depressingly uneventful considering that history is long and there are only 365 days per average year).
Anyway, on this day in the year 680 AD, Husayn Ibn Ali took on the forces of the Umayyad Caliphate in a hopeless gesture where he and all his troops were killed. He is viewed as a martyr by the Shiite Muslims and revered as a great man by many Sunnis. The death of Husayn deepened the split of Islam between Sunni and Shia, sowing the seeds for future civil war in the Caliphate. The battle took place in Kerbala in present day Iraq and the city is a site of pilgrimage for Shiite Muslims, although the commemorations of the battle change days due to the lunar Islamic calendar. Al-Qaeda and their affiliates, who view Shiites as non-believers, have often attacked the commemoration festival of this battle.

On this day in 732 AD, the forces of the Frankish kingdom fought and eventually defeated the forces of the Ummayad Caliphate at Tours. The Franks were commanded by the interestingly named Charles Martel (meaning Charles the Hammer!) The armies of the Arab Caliphate had swept over Egypt, Northern Africa, through Spain and were pushing into southern France. The great historian Gibbon has this to say,

“A victorious line of march had been prolonged above a thousand miles from the rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland; the Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet.”  Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 52

It sounds like a fairly dramatic scenario (see below for a much later romanticised picture of the battle that includes a Celtic Cross and a topless woman for reasons best known to the artist) but most historians now consider the attack to be a glorified raid. There was a rich church of St Martin’s at Tours and the Arab commander seems to have planned to raid it but it is highly unlikely that a conquest of all of Europe was actually planned.

On this day in 1938 the Munich Agreement came into effect (OK, it's not actually "ancient" history, but pretty intriguing all the same). It had been signed earlier but today was the day that the German troops actually occupied large sections of what is now the Czech Republic, neutralising their armies, taking most of their steel production and paving the way for a later takeover of the whole country, a Nazi-Soviet alliance and World War II.

For those of you who are whiskey lovers, we may take a moment to remember Jack Daniel, the founder of the Jack Daniels distillery who passed away on this day in the year 1911.Even if you aren't a fan of his actual whiskey, surely some appreciation can be had of a man who allegedly died of an infection caused by a broken toe, which in turn was caused by trying to kick open his own safe.

Enjoy the day!

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