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Today in History: September 2-4
The American Revolution ends, the First Opium War begins, and more
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September 2, 31 BCE (or thereabouts): Octavian’s forces decisively defeat the navy of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the naval Battle of Actium. Actium effectively marked the end of the war between Octavian and Antony, as both Antony and Cleopatra subsequently retreated to Alexandria and eventually committed suicide after Octavian besieged the city. His rival gone, Octavian became the first emperor of Rome, taking the title Augustus to mark his new status.
September 2, 1192: The Third Crusade effectively ends with the Treaty of Jaffa, under the terms of which Richard the Lionheart and Saladin agreed to a three year cessation in hostilities, during which time Saladin would allow Christian pilgrims to visit any holy sites in his territory, including Jerusalem. Richard agreed to surrender the city of Ascalon (modern Ashkelon) to Saladin, but only after destroying its fortifications. The treaty was the product of Richard’s realization that he lacked the manpower to besiege Jerusalem and that he needed to return home to defend his French territories.
September 2, 1870: The Prussian Third and Fourth armies thoroughly defeat the French Army of Châlons at the Franco-Prussian War’s Battle of Sedan, in northeastern France. In military terms the Prussian victory was of significant importance. The entire Army of Châlons, which had been trying to come to the Army of the Rhine’s aid during the Siege of Metz, was eradicated, suffering some 18,000 casualties and a whopping 104,000 soldiers captured.
In political terms the impact was massive. It just so happens that French Emperor Napoleon III had accompanied the Army of Châlons to Metz, and he was among those taken prisoner. Two days later, an uprising in Paris saw whatever was left of the empire give way to the “Government of National Defense,” which attempted to salvage the war but ultimately surrendered in January 1871 and transitioned into the French Third Republic.
September 3, 301: According to tradition, this is the date upon which a stonemason-turned-deacon named Marinus founds a new monastery on Monte Titano, some distance outside the Italian city of Rimini. He may have fled Rimini after a woman there accused him of being her estranged husband. The monastery grew quickly, possibly fueled by Christians looking for sanctuary amid the Diocletianic persecutions (though historians continue to debate the actual extent of those persecutions), and, taking the name of its founder, became the historical basis for the tiny nation of San Marino (“St. Marinus”). San Marino commemorates September 3 as “Republic Day.”
September 3, 863: A Byzantine army manages to defeat an Arab raiding party at the Battle of Lalakaon, in the process killing the emir of Melitene, Umar al-Aqta. They may also have killed the leader of the Paulician movement, Karbeas, though while he did likely die in 863 it’s unclear whether he died in battle at all, let along this particular battle. The Byzantines followed up this victory with a raid of their own into the Caucasus, where at some point they killed the emir of Tarsus, Ali ibn Yahya. As it turns out, the three biggest thorns in the empire’s eastern side at this time had been Umar al-Aqta, Ali ibn Yahya, and the Paulicians, and in basically one fell swoop the empire had eliminated all of them as threats. Constantinople was able to shift its focus west and ensure that it, not Rome, would manage the Christianization of the Bulgarians. That in turn pacified the Byzantines’ western border for the time being, which allowed them to shift focus again to the east and make significant gains at Arab expense in the decades to come.
September 3, 1260: A Mamluk army stops the seemingly unstoppable Mongols at the Battle of Ayn Jalut at what is known today as Ma’ayan Harod in northern Israel. The leader of the Mongols’ offensive through Iran, Iraq, and into Syria, Hulagu, had returned east with a sizable portion of his army in order to defend his interests following the death of the great khan, Möngke, in August 1259, so the Mongols were undermanned. They also happened to be fighting an army of slave soldiers recruited from Central Asia, who fought like the Mongols and seem to have used many of the Mongols’ favorite tactics against them. The battle is a genuine turning point in world history, as a Mongol victory probably would have seen them continue into Egypt and thus there is an argument to be made that the Mamluk victory preserved Islam’s status as a major world religion.
September 3, 1650: The English New Model Army invades Scotland and wins a decisive victory over Scottish/Royalist forces at the Battle of Dunbar. English commander Oliver Cromwell moved quickly to capture Edinburgh and the key Scottish port of Leith. The invasion, prompted when the Scottish Parliament voted to recognize Charles II as the successor to Charles I after the English “Rump” Parliament had the latter executed in 1649, ended coincidentally exactly one year later, on September 3 1651, when Cromwell’s army again crushed a Royalist army at the Battle of Worcester.
September 3, 1783: Representatives of Great Britain and the United States of America sign the Treaty of Paris, ending the American Revolution and establishing the United States as a newly independent nation. US negotiators went around the French government, which saw itself as the leader of an anti-British alliance, to negotiate a bilateral treaty with London. As a result they reached an agreement that, among other things, gave the new nation control of all North American territory east of the Mississippi River. The French delegation, by contrast, had favored a settlement that confined the US to the territory east of the Appalachian Mountains.
September 3, 1939: France and the United Kingdom, along with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa, declare war on Germany in response to the German invasion of Poland, officially kicking off the Second World War.
September 4, 476: Odoacer and his army depose western Roman Emperor Romulus Augustus (“Augustulus”) at Ravenna. This is the conventional date given for the final end of the Roman Empire in the west, though there were other claimants to the throne still kicking around. Modern historians tend to discount the notion that there was a specific end date for the western empire, with this date instead serving as one of many markers in a lengthy transition from the Roman world to one that was more recognizably medieval in makeup.
September 4, 1839: Four British boats open fire on a group of Chinese junks enforcing a blockade on the English community in Hong Kong, killing two in what’s known as the Battle of Kowloon. This minor engagement sparked the First Opium War, which ended with Britain in control of Hong Kong and China forced to agree to major trade concessions.
September 4, 1912: The Albanian Revolt of 1912 ends with Ottoman authorities agreeing to a list of rebel demands that gave the empire’s predominantly Albanian provinces a significant degree of autonomy. The Ottoman Empire was at war with Italy when the revolt broke out and simply lacked the capacity to deal with both struggles at once, so it more or less acceded to Albanian demands. That didn’t help, as it turns out, because the empire lost the war with Italy a few weeks later. As far as the Albanian provinces were concerned, the outbreak of the First Balkan War on October 8 short circuited the autonomy plan. But the war ended in mid-1913 with, among other things, the creation of an independent Albanian nation. One assumes the rebels were pleased with that outcome.
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