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The Mysterious Ancient Tale Of Xu Fu And His Realm Built With Stolen Wealth From An Emperor

According to ancient folklore and legend, a certain Xu Fu made contact with the First Qin Emperor (r. 221-210 BCE) and claimed that he had a lead on finding three evasive spirit mountains—huge and mobile supernatural landmasses which, like mirages, could be seen but not reached in the Gulf of Bohai region. These spirit mountains, according to the legends, served as homes to a mysterious community of supernatural Chinese entities, known collectively as “the immortals.” Xu Fu claimed he had discovered specific spirit mountains called Fangzhang, Yingzhou and Penglai, of which the last was seemingly the most important. From these magical islands, an elixir (or herb) of immortality could reportedly be obtained, which was something that the First Emperor was eager to possess.

Xu Fu must have been a charismatic and persuasive man, for the First Emperor of Qin (who was obsessed with the supernatural realm and immortality) decided to place Xu Fu in command of a large expedition tasked with exploring the Gulf of Bohai and making contact with the spirit mountains. In his enthusiasm, the emperor spent a fortune on the expedition, allegedly recruiting thousands of explorers to accompany Xu Fu and providing the expedition members with enough ships for their seaborne search. Yet, despite the more-than-adequate funding and the large manpower involved in the search, Xu Fu never made any progress in his expedition—after all, he was searching for ghostly spirit mountains of legend. Xu Fu, however, reportedly kept the emperor interested and invested in the expedition by sending in fantastical reports. He came up with a number of odd excuses for his inability to find the magical mountain abodes, such as suggesting that magical barriers guarded the islands and that hostile aquatic guardians patrolled the gulf. According to the historian, Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE), one such message to the First Emperor read, “The herbs of Penglai can surely be obtained. But always there are large fish that cause difficulty, and therefore we are unable to reach the island” (Shi Ji, 6). In response, the emperor reportedly gave the explorers fishing gear and, for the biggest of fish, repeating crossbows.

Xu Fu likely knew that he could not keep the charade up forever. He would not be able to provide the emperor with immortality-bestowing herbs, and heads would roll when the truth came out. Therefore, Xu Fu decided to prepare an exit plan, and he used his influence over the emperor to get the government to provide him everything he needed to start a new life abroad. The aforementioned historian, Sima Qian, recorded the conclusion to the fantastical and folkloric story of Xu Fu, writing:

“[T]he First Emperor of the Qin sent Xu Fu to sail over the sea in search of the spirits, and he returned and lied to the emperor, saying, ‘In the midst of the sea I met a great spirit who asked me if I were the envoy from the Emperor of the West. When I answered that I was, he asked me what I was seeking for. ‘I am looking for the medicine which increases one’s years and brings long life,’ I said. ‘Your King of Qin,’ replied the spirit, ‘is too stingy with his courtesy! You may see the medicine, but you cannot take it back with you!’ Then he led me to the southeast, to the mountain of Penglai, where I saw palaces and towers surrounded by lawns of grass. There was a messenger there, copper-coloured and shaped like a dragon, with streams of light pouring from his body and lighting up the sky. When I saw him I bowed before him twice and asked, ‘What sort of offerings should I bring?’ and the Sea God (for that was what he was) replied, ‘If you will bring me the sons of good families, and beautiful maidens, along with the products of your various craftsmen, then you may have the medicine!’” (Sima Qian, Records of the Grand Historian, Shi ji 118).

As the bizarre tale goes, Xu Fu’s imaginative account, with its cast of spirits, spirit mountains and dragonesque gods, was highly compelling to the ears of the supernatural-obsessed First Emperor. The items supposedly requested by the Sea God were said to have been quickly gathered by the emperor, and Xu Fu gladly took possession of the personnel and materials on the pretense of bringing them as an offering to the spirit mountain residents. Yet, of course, Xu Fu did not really intend to bring the caravan of people and goods to the Gulf of Bohai. He had more personal intentions. As told by the historian Sima Qian, “When the First Emperor heard this [account from the explorer], he was overjoyed and immediately sent Xu Fu back east again, accompanied by 3,000 boys and girls of good families and bearing presents of seeds of the five types of grains and articles produced by the various craftsmen. But when Xu Fu reached Pingyuan and Guangze, he halted his journey, made himself king of the region, and never returned to the Qin” (Shi ji 118). And so, after wasting the emperor’s time and squandering a great amount of the government’s money, Xu Fu reportedly was able to escape with treasure and followers. As for the First Emperor, even after the expedition leader’s disappearance, he evidently continued to believe in Xu Fu’s stories about there being spirit mountains and magical beings at the gulf. In keeping with this, the First Emperor was said to have been touring the coastline of the Gulf of Bohai (and hunting for giant fish) when he fell ill and died in 210 BCE.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Panel with immortals, dated to the  Qing dynasty (1644–1911), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).

Sources:

  • Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji) by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

The Indulgences; or, The Ninety-Five Propositions, By An Anonymous Artist Inspired By Pierre-Antoine Labouchère (c. 1807 – 1873)

This engraving, by an unknown artist influenced by Pierre-Antoine Labouchère (c. 1807 – 1873), re-creates events around the publication of the Ninety-five Theses or Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences by Martin Luther (c. 1483-1546). As the story goes, Martin Luther hammered his Ninety-five Theses onto a church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. Although Luther may have meant the act to be a harmless proposal of debate on the Catholic Church’s most controversial practices, the posting and subsequent printing-press-aided mass dissemination of his Ninety-five Theses became a catalyst for the Protestant Reformation. The artwork seems to bring to life the commotion that occurred after Luther’s public posting of his thought-provoking writing.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Sources:

  • Carter Lindberg. The European Reformations (Second Edition). Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
  • A Reformation Reader: Primary Texts with Introductions, edited by Denis R. Janz. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.
  • https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/object/1091PS

Pliny the Younger

Pliny the Younger (c. 61/62-113)

“How often we judge actions by the people who perform them! The self-same deeds are lauded to the skies or allowed to sink into oblivion simply because the persons concerned are well known or not.”

  • The Letters of Pliny the Younger (6.24), translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1963, 1969.

Count Eulalius Of Clermont-Ferrand And The Tale Of His Murderous Deeds

In the 6th century, there lived a man named Eulalius who ruled as a count over the Frankish-controlled region of Clermont-Ferrand. Although he was not one of the top noblemen or power players of the age, his peculiar interactions with other nobles and the Frankish legal system made him a household name to members of 6th-century Frankish society who kept their ears open for the realm’s latest gossip. One such avid listener to the news was Bishop Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), who wrote a contemporary Ten Books of Histories, also commonly known as the History of the Franks, which covered events that occurred during Bishop Gregory’s own life. Chaotic wars and brutal dynastic intrigue between the Frankish kingdoms were the main focus of Gregory’s work, and once again, it should be said that Count Eulalius was in no way a leading character in the overarching narrative that the bishop recorded. No, Count Eulalius was not a leader of armies or a statesman masterminding the kingdom’s administration behind the scenes—therefore, you would not find him mentioned in accounts of battle or described as having any meaningful influence in the throne rooms of the Frankish kings. Instead, in Gregory of Tours’ account of the 6th century, you are more likely to find brief mentionings of Count Eulalius scattered in digressions here and there about a marriage that Eulalius was involved in or some crime that Eulalius was accused of. Curiously, as Count Eulalius’ marriages and crimes were both several in number, Bishop Gregory of Tours ended up recording quite a few tales about the unscrupulous count.  Most of these tales can be found scattered in volumes 8-10 of Gregory’s history, and although the stories do not come close to a complete biography of Eulalius, they nevertheless can be combined to present a colorful outline of the count’s infamous life.

According to Gregory of Tours, Eulalius was born in the Clermont region sometime before the year 571. Fair warning, Gregory’s account of Eulalius’ childhood (as well as every other stage of his life, for that matter) is heavily laced with bias and innuendo of evil and villainy—even so, there are likely grains of truth to the legends, and it is better to have folktales than nothing at all. Eulalius, so the story goes, was an unruly child who often clashed with his parents, especially his mother. When she subsequently died suspiciously, the local populace and authorities strongly suspected that young Eulalius was somehow involved in his mother’s demise. On this tale, Bishop Gregory of Tours wrote:

“As young men often do, Eulalius used to behave in an irresponsible fashion. The result was that his mother frequently had reason to chide him, and in the end he came to hate her whom he ought to have loved. After the servants had retired to bed, it was his mother’s habit to go off to pray in her oratory and to keep the night vigils there, making her tearful supplications to God. She was found garrotted, still wearing the hair-shirt which she put on when she prayed. No one knew who had done this, but her son was strongly suspected of having murdered his mother. As soon as Cautinus, the Bishop of Clermont, came to hear of this, he cut Eulalius off from communion” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, 10.8).

This unflattering story makes up the bulk of the knowledge about Eulalius’ childhood. In summary, he did not seem to get along with his parents (his father is not mentioned), his mother was reportedly murdered, and there was enough evidence against Eulalius for the young man to be excommunicated from the local church after his mother’s death. Eulalius did manage to regain access to the church’s communion relatively quickly, however, and there is no mention of him ever suffering any real legal trouble from the government regarding his mother’s death. Make of it what you will regarding his guilt or innocence, but the gossip that he may have murdered his mother apparently lingered for the rest of Eulalius’ life. As a side note, the Bishop Cautinus featured in the quote is known to have died in 571, and his role in the story is the reason why we know Count Eulalius was born before that 571 date.

Next time we hear of Eulalius, time had skipped forward to his wedding day. He married a noblewoman named Tetradia, and their fates would be intertwined for the rest of their lives. Yet, instead of a picturesque love story, the couple would unfortunately turn out to be life-long enemies. Eulalius, following his usual character traits, was said to have been a cheating and abusive husband. When he was not pursuing maids or beating his wife, the count could also be found squandering the family’s money. Eulalius’ behavior and expenditures apparently even surprised and appalled his own relatives, eventually causing one of Eulalius’ own nephews, named Virus, to go out of his way to intervene on behalf of the battered wife, Tetradia. Summarizing these details up to this point in the story, Gregory of Tours wrote:

“[Eulalius] had married Tetradia, through her mother a young woman of noble blood, but of humbler origin on her father’s side. He was in the habit of sleeping with the women-servants in his household. As a result he neglected his wife. He used to knock her about when he came back from his midnight exercises. As a result of his excesses, he ran into serious debt, and to meet this he stole his wife’s jewelry and money. In the appalling straits in which she found herself, Tetradia gradually lost all standing in the marital home. Eulalius had occasion to go off to see the King. During his absence a man called Virus, who was her husband’s nephew, fell in love with Tetradia. He had lost his own wife and wanted to marry her. He was afraid of what his uncle would do to them both, so he sent Tetradia off to Duke Desiderius…” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, 10.8).

When Tetradia fled, she did not leave empty handed. She grabbed whatever valuables had survived Eulalius’ debt-fueled plundering, and she also took with her a son that was old enough to travel. On these developments, Gregory of Tours wrote, “She took with her all her husband’s property, gold, silver, clothing, everything in fact which she could carry. She also took her elder son, leaving her younger boy behind” (History of the Franks, 10.8). While Tetradia fled to the safety of Duke Desiderius—a top military commander who served with varying degrees of loyalty under the Frankish Kings Chilperic (r. 561-584), Guntram (r. 561-593) and Childebert II (r. 575-595)—Virus unwisely decided to lag behind. As a result, Virus was still in the vicinity when Eulalius returned home to find out that his wife, eldest son, and a large amount of household belongings were gone.

Through unexplained means, Eulalius was able to deduce a clear picture of what had happened, including the role of Virus played in Tetradia’s escape. Despite their uncle-nephew relationship, Eulalius was filled with rage at Virus over the incident and eventually chased him down. Concerning these events, Gregory of Tours wrote, “When Eulalius came back from his journey he discovered what they had done. For a while he took no action, nursing his resentment. Then he attacked his nephew Virus and killed him in one of the narrow defiles of Auvergne” (History of the Franks, X.8). Killing Virus, however, did not solve Eulalius’ marriage situation. Tetradia had already reached the safety of Duke Desiderius, and the duke decided to take her in and offer her protection. As it happened, Duke Desiderius was a widower, and after he and Tetradia got along well during the time they spent together, the duke decided to ask Tetradia to marry him. She agreed to the proposal, but as Tetradia was already married, her new union with Duke Desiderius became a national incident. Eulalius began preparations to bring the case to court, but, in a curious turn of events, other nobles and even King Guntrum intervened on the side of Tetradia. As told by Gregory of Tours, “Duke Desiderius hurried off to see King Guntram, taking with him Antestius, Abbot Aredius and a number of bishops…At this same time Eulalius was also there, for he was preparing to bring a lawsuit about his wife, who had left him and gone to live with Desiderius. However, he became the subject of so much ridicule and humiliation that he decided to remain silent. Desiderius received presents from the king and came back home” (History of the Franks, 8.27). Count Eulalius, knowing he was outranked and politically outmaneuvered by Duke Desiderius, decided to drop the issue for the time being.

With Tetradia out of reach, Eulalius eventually remarried. Instead of trying to learn from his mistakes and achieve a normal relationship, Eulalius ended up embarking on an even more scandalous journey of courtship and marriage than the last one. As told by Gregory of Tours, “Eulalius abducted a nun from a convent in Lyons and made her his wife” (History of the Franks, 10.8). This sacrilegious move caused a stir in the community and it earned Eulalius enemies from the nuns family, as well as from more of his own relatives. Just as had happened at other points in his life, Eulalius’ critics began mysteriously dying and the infamous count was rumored to have been the culprit. According to Gregory of Tours, “A little later Eulalius assaulted Emerius, who was one of the nun’s cousins, and killed him. Then he killed Socratius, the brother of his own half-sister…He committed a number of other crimes which I have no space to relate” (History of the Franks, 10.8). Such was the villainous life that Eulalius was living as he stayed out of Duke Desiderius’ way. Desiderius, however, was no immortal, and as the duke frequented the field of battle, he often put himself at risk.

Around 587, Duke Desiderius embarked on an ambitious raid into the lands of the Frankish Empire’s southern rivals—the Visigoths. As the story goes, the duke called in help from only one other nobleman before he launched his attack. This ally was Count Austrovald, who marched with Duke Desiderius down toward the Pyrenees. How far the daring noblemen were planning to push into Visigoth territory is unknown, but their first target was the city of Carcassonne, on the French side of the Pyrenees Mountain chain. What allegedly happened next was recorded by Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594):

“The Carcassonnais got wind of this, for the news reached them early, and they made their preparations, being determined to resist. The battle began, the goths turned in flight and Desiderius with Austrovald at his side attacked their rear. As the Goths continued their retreat Desiderius came near to the town, accompanied by only a handful of his troops, for his men’s horses were exhausted. As he rode up to the town-gate, he was cut off by the inhabitants, who had been lurking inside their walls. Desiderius was killed, together with all the men who had kept up with him” (History of the Franks, 8.45).

With the downfall of Duke Desiderius, Tetradia lost her protector. She also discovered that her social network and acquaintances were fair-weather friends, for they abandoned her after her powerful husband died. Count Eulalius was quick to realize his ex-wife’s weakened position and he eagerly renewed his much-delayed plans to bring Tetradia to court. This time, Duke Desiderius’ influence was not able to override Eulalius’ schemes. Instead, the count’s charges were taken up by the court and Tetradia suffered greatly. As told by Gregory of Tours:

“Eulalius pleaded his own case against her. He demanded restitution of the property which she had taken when she went off to Desiderius. The verdict was that Tetradia should repay fourfold all that she had taken. The sons which she had borne to Desiderius were declared illegitimate. It was agreed then that if she paid back to Eulalius all that she had been ordered to pay, she might return to Clermont without let or hindrance and have there the free use of what she had inherited from her father. All of this was done.” (History of the Franks, 10.8).

So ended Tetradia’s long streak of leverage against her ex-husband. Following the death of Duke Desiderius, Tetradia’s children were disenfranchised, she had to pay back four times what she took from Eulalius’ home, and she was banished from Clermont until she paid over what was ordered by the court. Unfortunately, other than the “All of this was done” quote, Gregory of Tours did not elaborate any further on the chaotic tale of Tetradia and Eulalius, leaving the story of the rest of their lives a mystery.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Cropped manuscript illustration, attributed to Maïtre François, [Public Domain] via the Koninklijke Bibliotheek and Europeana.jpg).

Sources:

  • The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.

The Crusader Invasion Of Constantinople, By Vasilios Chatzis (c. 1870–1915)

This painting, by the Greek artist Vasilios Chatzis (c. 1870–1915), recalls the awkward Fourth Crusade, when Christians crusaded against Christians. This bizarre series of events began around 1201, when the European kingdoms were once again riling themselves up for another crusade campaign. During previous crusades, Christian armies had ventured through Constantinople’s territory in Greece and Anatolia to reach their targets in the Holy Land. The crusaders, however, turned out to be unruly and destructive guests in these earlier wars, so when the Fourth Crusade was about to begin, the emperor of Constantinople barred the crusading armies from the borders of his empire. Initially, the crusaders decided to accept the decision and planned to transport their forces by sea instead of land.

After reassessing the situation, the crusaders of the Fourth Crusade chose to set sail from Italy, with Venice being the designated hub for transportation. Venice did not host the crusaders out of charity—they drove a hard bargain in their terms and conditions. Per the agreement, once the crusaders reached their bountiful destination, Venice wished to keep 3/4 of the loot, 3/8 of the captured territory and 1/2 of the positions on a council to choose the next ruler of the seized territory. Furthermore, the Venetians began to manipulate the crusaders into pursuing a new target for their campaign. In this regard, Venice’s recent history at that time should be addressed. Venice had been a former ally of Constantinople, but by the Fourth Crusade, they were bitter enemies. With a huge army delivered to their harbor, the Venetians began contemplating a plan to strike a blow against their imperial foe. Therefore, when the crusaders agreed to Venice’s terms in 1204, the army was packed onto ships and sent not to the original target of the Holy Lands, but instead on course for Constantinople.

At the time, Constantinople was arguably the greatest Christian city of its day. Nevertheless, the crusaders caught the city, and its emperor, completely off guard. For around three days, the crusaders brutalized the city of Constantinople, killing its inhabitants, looting its wealth, and vandalizing its structures. With the emperor of Constantinople ousted, and the empire in disarray, the crusaders and Venice founded their own Latin Empire in Constantinople and Greece that lasted from 1204 to 1261. Such are the events that inspired Vasilios Chatzis’ artwork.

After decades of occupation, the Crusaders were eventually driven from Constantinople. Nevertheless, the empire never fully recovered. The destabilization and damage caused by the Fourth Crusade proved fatal for Constantinople as its enemies only continued to grow stronger. In 1453, Constantinople, and its empire, fell to Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Turks.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Sources:

Heraclitus

Heraclitus (c. 540-480 BCE)

“This world-order (kosmos) was made neither by god nor by man, but it was always and is and shall be; fire ever-living, being kindled by measures and being quenched by measures.”

  • From fragment 30 (b) of Heraclitus, translated by Diels-Kranz, c. 1951-52.

The Story Of The Berber Queen, Kahina

In the late 7th century, there thrived a powerful Berber woman named Kahina. Also known as, Kāhinah, al-Kahina, Dahlia, Daya, Dihya al-Kahina or Dahia-al-Kahina, this intriguing woman held influence within the Berber Confederacy in the Mauretania region of North Africa. In particular, her base of power was with the Jawāra tribe in the Aurès Mountain region. By the end of the 7th century, Kahina had risen to the top of Berber society, wielding political and military authority. Yet, with power came responsibility, and in her case, the grave responsibility she inherited was to lead the Berber people in resistance against Arab invasions that were occurring during her reign.

Unfortunately, the stories recorded about Kahina were mostly written down by scholars from the cultures that invaded her realm. Furthermore, many of these scholars lived more than a century after Kahina’s own time. The Futūh of Ibn Abd al-Hakam (c. 9th century), is one of the most cited texts concerning Kahina’s reign, but even Abd al-Hakam’s account is filled with far-fetched folktales and embellishments. Nevertheless, a general outline of her reign can be pieced together.

Kahina was reportedly related to (and possibly a daughter of) the Berber leader, Kusayla b. Lamsam, who flourished in the 680s. Although Kusayla tried to coexist with the Arabs and even converted to Islam, this did not stop the Arab commander, Uqba b. Nafi, from invading Berber territory in an attempt to impose direct Arab rule over the region. Since an enemy of an enemy is a friend, Kusayla reached out to the emperor and vassals of Constantinople, who had been defending against Arab invasions for decades. With imperial support, Kusayla was able to put forward a formidable defense of the Berber Confederacy, and it would not be surprising if Kahina played a role in helping Kusayla with his achievements. In the course of his campaigns, Kusayla killed Uqba b. Nafi in a battle around 683 and forced the Arab forces to retreat. Kusayla continued to lead the Berber forces in their resistance until around 688, when he was killed during an invasion by the Arab commander, Zuhayr ibn Qays al-Balawī. There was not much time for Zuhayr ibn Qays to celebrate, however, for he, too, was reportedly killed in battle before the end of 688.

During that intermission, while the Arab and Berber forces were finding new commanders after the loss of Kusayla and Zuhayr ibn Qays, it finally came time for Kahina to ascend to power. There may have been a succession dispute or competition, but she seems to have solidified her leadership position among the Berbers by 690. Although she had big shoes to fill, she did an admirable job of reorganizing and refocusing the Berber forces in anticipation of another Arab invasion. Her opponents, however, took their time to plan and prepare before launching their next major campaign.

In 698, around a decade after the deaths of the previous leaders, Kusayla and Zuhayr ibn Qays, the Arabs launched their long-delayed invasion of the Berber Confederacy. Commanding the Arab forces was Hasan ibn al Nu’man, and he faced off against Kahina’s prepared defenses. Unfortunately, the war between the two leaders is difficult to accurately date on a timeline, and accounts of Kahina’s actions are filled with propaganda and folkloric embellishments, such as stories of Kahina having magical or supernatural abilities. Whatever the case, it was a long war with momentum shifts going back and forth; and as the conflict dragged on, the region became devastated as slash-and-burn tactics were implemented, taking a great toll on the landscape.

As the story goes, Kahina was dominant in the beginning phase of the war. When Hasan ibn al Nu’man launched his invasion in 698, Kahina was ready for a fight and was able to outplay the invaders. She managed to definitively defeat Hasan on the battlefield at least one or two times, forcing the Arab commander to retreat and regroup before continuing on with his campaign. Nevertheless, as the years pressed on and her resources dwindled, momentum began to shift. Again, the timeline is vague, but Hasan eventually backed Kahina into a corner between 702 and 705. In that window of time, Hasan won a decisive victory against Kahina’s forces, causing the Berber queen’s death. Despite her demise, the memory of Kahina, as well as her predecessor, Kusayla, continued to serve as inspiration for Berber freedom fighters. Unfortunately, later rebel figures could not reproduce the successes of Kusayla and Kahina.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Illustration from Rustam Captures the Shah of Sham and the Shah of Berber, Folio from a Shahnama (Book of Kings) of Firdausica, dated c. 1330–40, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).

 

Sources:

Samson And Delilah, By Gerrit Van Honthorst (c. 1590-1656)

This painting, by the Dutch artist Gerrit van Honthorst (c. 1590-1656), was inspired by the Biblical story of Samson and Delilah. The first of the pair, Samson, was a legendary Israelite warrior featured in the biblical Book of Judges. As the story goes, Samson was a scourge to the Philistines, a mysterious seafaring people that invaded and settled a section of the Palestine coast around the 12th century BC, becoming a serious threat to ancient Israel. While the Philistines had formidable weaponry and an admirable military organization, the Israelites had legendary heroes. Wielding superhuman strength, Samson proved to be almost an indomitable foe for the Philistines. Yet, as the biblical story and the painting above divulge, there was an exploitable weakness to Samson’s strength—hair. If Samson’s long and braided locks were cut, then so would his strength also be shorn away. As the story goes, the Israelite warrior unwisely told this secret to a woman named Delilah, who then conveyed the secret to the Philistines and plotted with them to capture Samson. The Book of Judges described the story of what happened next:

“After putting him to sleep on her lap, she called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him. Then she called, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ He awoke from his sleep and thought, ‘I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him. Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza” (Judges 16:19-21, NIV version).

Gerrit van Honthorst re-creates this scene of Delilah betraying Samson to the Philistines. As mentioned in the quote, he did not get away from the ambush. Yet, Samson would have the last laugh. As his hair began to grow back, so did his strength. With a few prayers to supplement his recovering power, he was said to have summoned enough strength to demolish the Philistine temple where he was being kept, killing himself and many of his captors.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

 

Sources:

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton (c. 1755/1757-1804)

“Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question.”

  • From The Federalist No. 1, by Alexander Hamilton, in The Federalist Papers. Republished by the Henry Regnery Company (Chicago, Illinois, 1948).

The Story Of A Bold And Blunt Envoy At Privernum’s Surrender To Rome

Privernum, an Italian city-state, waged war against the Roman Republic between 330-329 BCE. Fighting in conjunction with their ally, Fundi, the Privernum-Fundi alliance began the war with a promising start. Vitruvius Vaccus, the commander of the alliance forces, launched attacks into the Setia, Norba and Cora regions of Rome’s territory in early 330 BCE. Nevertheless, the Roman military mobilized and finally pushed the Privernum-Fundi alliance into a defensive posture by the end of the year. Come 229 BCE, Fundi had surrendered and Privernum was under siege. That year, Privernum was finally overpowered or surrendered, and envoys from the defeated city were sent to Rome to negotiate the post-war relationship between Rome and Privernum.

With Privernum’s military defeated, its city under occupation, and its leader in Roman custody, Privernum could not bring much to the bargaining table. Nevertheless, even though Rome could have technically imposed something like an unconditional surrender, Privernum’s envoys arrived in Rome to negotiate on behalf of their city, and one particular envoy from the group was notable for his defiant spirit. The envoy in question, unfortunately left unnamed by the ancient sources, must not have been too involved in Privernum’s former wartime leadership or military command, as Vitruvius Vaccus and many of his officers would likely have already been imprisoned and executed by the Romans. Nevertheless, the envoy showed up at the hearing before the Roman senate with a forceful and uncompromising defense of the people of Privernum.

By the time the envoy spoke, there was actually not much left to negotiate. After all, Roman troops were already occupying the city and Rome had also by now condemned Privernum’s walls to be torn down. With Privernum’s independence off the table, the envoy was instead negotiating about the kinds of punishment that Privernum would receive and how the relationship between the city and its conqueror would play out in the future. As told by the Roman historian, Livy (c. 59 BCE-17 CE), the envoy was quite the cheeky fellow, surprising the Romans audience with his bold and unintimidated responses to their questions. When asked by the Roman about what punishments the people of Privernum thought they deserved, the envoy allegedly responded, according to Livy, with the line, “’The punishment deserved by those who think themselves worthy of freedom’” (Livy, History of Rome, 8.21). After recovering from their surprise, the Romans next asked the envoy if the people of Privernum would faithfully keep the terms and agreements that were made in the ongoing negotiations. To this question about the terms of surrender, the envoy from Privernum supposedly responded, as told by Livy, with the answer, “It you grant us a good one,…it will be loyally kept and permanent. If a bad one, it will not last long” (Livy, History of Rome, 8.21). This answer, like the last, caused shock and some anger, but a majority of the senators supposedly appreciated the envoy’s honesty.

Whether or not speeches or responses from envoys such as the one above played any role in Rome’s decision-making after the conquest of Privernum, the Romans did ultimately grant the people of Privernum with an honor that they did not always bestow on their conquests, especially with such speed. According to Livy, the Romans, after hearing from the envoys of Privernum, decided to grant the people of the city the honor of having Roman citizenship. While becoming a citizen of Rome was no small matter, it still would have been a bittersweet turn of events for the people of Privernum. After all, being violently absorbed into the Roman Republic, having your leaders executed, and watching your walls being torn down, were traumas that new citizenship could not quickly heal.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Illustration titled Humiliation of captive enemies by the yoke, from the Münchener Bilderbogen series (Braun und Schneider, 1852-1898), [Public Domain No Rights statement] via Creative Commons and the NYPL Collections).

Sources:

  • The History of Rome (Rome and Italy) by Livy, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1982.