Today in History: July 13-16

Revolutionaries storm the Bastile, Crusaders conquer Jerusalem, and more

Hello friends! Foreign Exchanges is taking a few days off but will be back to normal programming soon! In the meantime here are a few notable anniversaries for the past few days along with a reminder to please check out my new podcast with Daniel Bessner, American Prestige! Our second episode, an extended interview with Matt Christman of Chapo Trap House and Hell of Presidents, went live earlier today, and for those who are willing and able to support the podcast we’re now up over at Patreon! We’re also available on Apple Podcasts and elsewhere so please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts! And if you’re not on FX’s email list please consider signing up for that too:


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 The treaty superseded the earlier Treaty of San Stefano, which ended the 1877-1878 war between Russia and the Ottomans but was so lopsided in Russia’s favor that Britain and France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. The Berlin do-over 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 at the time, Moscow had a decision to make, 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 United States.

July 14, 1789: A crowd of Parisians, having been out in the streets demonstrating for two days over King Louis XVI’s sacking of finance minister Jacques Necker, attacks the Bastille to seize the arms and ammunition stored inside. The Bastille was mostly used at this point as an armory, but its reputation as a political prison also made it a potent symbol of royal excess. The “Storming of the Bastille” is generally regarded as the event that triggered the French Revolution, as the insurrection then 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, 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

July 15, 1099: The Siege of Jerusalem ends with the Crusaders capturing the city.

July 15, 1799: An officer on Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, Captain Pierre-François Bouchard, discovers an artifact later dubbed “the Rosetta Stone.” The stone, containing three versions of the same decree—in hieroglyphs, demotic Egyptian, and Ancient Greek—enabled scholars to finally translate hieroglyphs and was a landmark in the development of the field of Egyptology.

July 15, 1974: Greece’s military government engineers a coup in Cyprus in order to install a government favorable to union with Greece. The coup prompted Turkey to intervene to prevent Cyprus from joining Greece, partitioning the island and leaving it in a state of frozen conflict that continues to the present day.

July 16, 1212: The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa

July 16, 1945: The United States conducts the first successful detonation of an atomic weapon at Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range in New Mexico, code named “Trinity.”

July 16, 1979: Iraqi President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr cites health reasons in stepping down from his post. Bakr does seem to have been a relatively frail guy and he did die in 1982, but in reality his main health consideration was probably “my vice president is going to murder me if I don’t resign and get out of his way.” His resignation allowed that vice president, Saddam Hussein—who was already Iraq’s de facto ruler anyway—to make it official by replacing him as president. I’m fuzzy on what happened after that but I’m sure it all worked out great.