This week in history: July 8-14

Foreign Exchanges is on a summer break. I’m taking care of some things around HQ and maybe even going on a little road trip. There will be no updates, AMAs, or other essays until I return on July 15. In the meantime, just so you don’t forget about me, I’ve been sending out “this week in history” summaries every Sunday. This is our final one. Thanks, enjoy, and I’ll see you tomorrow!

July 8, 1497: A Portuguese armada sets sail under the command of Vasco da Gama bound for India. Da Gama’s completion of the route around Africa was the first direct European oceanic contact with India and stands, for better or worse, as one of the milestones of the Age of Exploration.

July 8, 1709 (New Style dating): Peter the Great’s Russian army defeats the Swedish army of Charles XII at the Battle of Poltava (located today in central Ukraine). In defeat, Charles fled all the way to the Ottoman Empire, where he had an interesting time to say the least. Poltava proved to be a turning point both in the Great Northern War and in northern European politics more generally, as Russia asserted itself while Sweden began to lose power.

July 9, 1368: The Old Swiss Confederacy defeats an army led by Austrian Duke Leopold III at the Battle of Sempach (located in central Switzerland today). The outcome led to a loss of Habsburg authority in the area of modern Switzerland and is considered an important milestone in the consolidation of the Swiss Confederacy.

July 9, 1816: Argentina declares independence from Spain.

July 9, 1875: A group of ethnic Serb insurrectionists clashes with Ottoman authorities in Herzegovina, beginning the 1875-1877 Herzegovina Uprising. The relatively minor revolt eventually drew in Serbia and Montenegro, leading to the 1876-1878 Serbian-Ottoman War and the 1876-1878 Montenegin-Ottoman War. Those wars in turn drew in Russia and led to the 1877-1878 Russian-Ottoman War. If you’ve ever wondered how World War I could have happened, here’s a case study in European dysfunction. The whole shebang here is known as the “Great Eastern Crisis,” the crisis being that Russia seriously threatened to put the Ottoman Empire to bed and upset the balance of power in Europe. It ended with the Treaty of Berlin in July 1878, which rewrote the earlier Treaty of San Stefano (at British and French behest) to be a little less favorable to the Russians.

July 10, 1778: King Louis XVI of France declares war against Britain. This turned out to be one of the biggest inflection points in the American Revolution, because without French assistance it’s safe to say that war could have turned out much differently.

July 11, 1405: Chinese admiral Zheng He sets sail on the first of his “treasure voyages.” Between 1405 and 1433 Zheng led his fleets to destinations around Southeast Asia and across the Indian Ocean, visiting India, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and East Africa. There’s even some creative pseudo-history out there that argues he visited South America. The voyages ended as suddenly as they began, for reasons that still aren’t entirely clear but seem to have been related to Ming court politics.

A 17th century Chinese woodblock carving of one of Zheng He’s fleets (Wikimedia Commons)

July 11, 1995: The Srebrenica massacre begins. Bosnian Serb forces killed almost 8400 Bosniak men and boys in and around Srebrenica over the next couple of weeks, and carried off an estimated 25,000-30,000 women, children, and elderly.

July 12, 1191: The Siege of Acre ends

July 12, 1575: At the Battle of Raj Mahal, the Mughal Empire eliminates the Karrani Dynasty and annexes the Sultanate of Bengal.

July 13, 1878: The Treaty of Berlin (temporarily) settles the “Great Eastern Crisis” over Russia’s threat to the Ottoman Empire. The treaty superseded the earlier Treaty of San Stefano, which ended the 1877-1878 war between Russia and the Ottomans but was so lopsided in Russia’s favor that Britain and France felt compelled to step in and quash it. Berlin recognized the independent states of Montenegro, Romania, and Serbia and an autonomous (effectively independent) Bulgaria. It shrunk Bulgaria down from the size envisioned under San Stefano and forced the Russians to return some territory to the Ottomans. Austria-Hungary was allowed to effectively annex Bosnia and Herzegovina, which it formally annexed in 1908.

July 13, 1977: The Somali National Army, working with a rebel group called the Western Somali Liberation Front, invades Ethiopia, beginning the Ogaden War. Ethiopia’s historical Ogaden region is nowadays officially known as its Somali Region, which might give you some indication as to what the conflict was about. Basically the Somalis thought they could take advantage of a moment of internal weakness in Ethiopia to seize the predominantly Somali Ogaden. As both countries were Soviet clients, Moscow had a decision to make here, and it chose Ethiopia. With Soviet aid and Cuban reinforcements, the Ethiopians turned the tide and pushed the SNA back into Somalia by March 1978. Somalia then shifted its Cold War allegiance to the US.

July 14, 1789: The Storming of the Bastille sees a crowd of rebels and national guardsmen seize control of a royal prison/armory in Paris. Generally regarded as the flashpoint of the French Revolution, as the insurrection spread from Paris throughout the country.

July 14, 1915: Sharif Hussein of Mecca writes to the British high commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, initiating an exchange of ten letters (through March 1916) known as the “McMahon–Hussein Correspondence.” In them, the two men discuss Hussein undertaking a revolt against the Ottoman Empire in exchange for British recognition of an independent Arab state/caliphate (ruled by Hussein, of course) at the conclusion of World War I. Hussein did, as we know, revolt against the Ottomans, but Britain reneged on pretty much everything it promised him. It carved the Arab world up into mandates (colonies), let France take Syria-Lebanon, and eventually, after Hussein’s repeated complaints, more or less green-lit the Saudi conquest of Mecca and the rest of the Hejaz.

July 14, 1958: The 14 July Revolution