Today in History: July 28-30

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Hello out there! In case you hadn’t noticed, Foreign Exchanges is taking a bit of a break and will return to regular programming on August 4. In the meantime, I’ll be sending out a couple of these anniversary posts so this place doesn’t go completely dark. And you can also check out the Discontents newsletter, the first issue of which went out earlier this week. Please give it a look, there are some great writers and podcasters involved whose work you may not have seen before. And thanks for reading!

Eid al-Adha begins at sundown, so Eid Mubarak and a belated Hajj Mubarak to those commemorating those occasions!

July 28, 1364: A Florentine army wins a decisive victory over a much smaller Pisan army at the Battle of Cascina. The well-regarded Pisan commander, an English mercenary named John Hawkwood, attempted to overcome his numerical disadvantage with a surprise attack, but the Florentines were able to recover from the surprise and that was that. The battle settled a Florentine-Pisan war in Florence’s favor, but it’s probably better known for the artwork it produced—or almost produced.

In the early 16th century, Florentine leaders commissioned Michelangelo to produce a fresco of the battle for a wall in the town hall or Palazzo Vecchio. The artist was called away mid-project, in 1505, to work on the tomb of Pope Julius II in Rome, though Julius wasn’t dying and in fact lived until 1513—and his tomb wasn’t finished until 1545. Michelangelo never completed the fresco, but he did finish a preliminary drawing that was (allegedly) later destroyed in an epically petty fit by a rival artist, Bartolommeo Bandinelli. Several of Michelangelo’s students copied the drawing, however, and a few of those copies have survived—most prominently, one made by Bastiano da Sangallo. It depicts a scene before the battle wherein some overheated Florentine soldiers are leaping out of a river where they’d gone for a swim in order to get dressed and meet the Pisan attack. Choosing this subject allowed Michelangelo to incorporate the naked male form, a recurring feature of his work, into the piece:

A scan of Sangallo’s copy (Wikimedia Commons)

July 28, 1821: After entering Lima a few weeks prior and having been named “Protector of Peru” by local officials, South American revolutionary leader José de San Martín proclaims Peru’s independence from Spain. Annually commemorated as Peruvian Independence Day.

July 28, 1915: The US military occupies Haiti following a revolt that culminated in the assassination of pro-US Haitian President Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. Woodrow Wilson ordered the occupation out of concern that Germany could use the uprising to establish a foothold in the Western Hemisphere (and to make sure Haiti repaid the sizable loans it had received from several US financial institutions, but we don’t like to talk about that part). The US didn’t return control of Haiti to the Haitians until 1934.

July 29, 1014: A Byzantine army under Emperor Basil II defeats a Bulgarian army under Tsar Samuel at the Battle of Kleidion, in what is today southwestern Bulgaria. Basil, for whom the destruction of the Bulgarian Empire was perhaps his most important foreign policy goal, invaded Bulgaria nearly every year, when he wasn’t dealing with the Fatimid Caliphate in the east, but his 1014 invasion proved decisive and Kleidion was the climax of that campaign. Sending one of his generals to attack the Bulgarians from the rear, Basil was able to punch through a wall Samuel had built to protect a major mountain pass, virtually destroying a large Bulgarian army in the process and opening the way for Byzantine armies to campaign in the heart of the Bulgarian Empire.

The Byzantine victory at Kleidion, an illustration from the “Madrid” manuscript of the Synopsis of Histories by Byzantine historian John Skylitzes (Wikimedia Commons)

Samuel escaped but died suddenly on October 6, allegedly of a heart attack caused by the stress of the war, and though the Bulgarians for a time remained strong enough to resist the Byzantines, their empire was finally destroyed in 1018. A Second Bulgarian Empire arose in the late 12th century.

July 29, 1148: The Siege of Damascus ends

July 29, 1588: The English fleet puts the final nail in the Spanish Armada’s coffin at the Battle of Gravelines. After harassing the armada for the previous nine days, forcing it to regroup in the Spanish Netherlands, the English fleet used its vastly superior mobility to inflict a serious defeat on its Spanish counterpart, sinking five ships and killing some 600 people. The Spanish fleet was forced to beat a hasty and badly managed retreat north, and by the time it had circled back around Ireland and returned home it had lost about a third of its ships and thousands of men.

July 30, 762: Abbasid Caliph al-Mansur founds the city of Baghdad as his new capital. Located near the site of the former Sasanian (Persian) capital Ctesiphon, Baghdad replaced the Umayyad capital Damascus as the center of the caliphal court. Officially the new city was called Medinat al-Salam, or “the City of Peace.” It’s not entirely clear why it took the name Baghdad, but the prevailing theory as far as I know is that a village called “Baghdad” stood near the spot where the city was built, and common usage applied that name to the city. Eventually common usage won out. For several centuries Baghdad was arguably the most important city in the world. At its height it may have been home to more than a million people and was world-renowned as a center of learning and culture. Its decline mirrored the decline of the Abbasid dynasty, and the Mongol sack of the city in 1258 proved especially devastating.

July 30, 1419: The first of the three Defenestrations of Prague takes place when several Hussites (followers of Bohemian Reformation leader—and heretic, as far as the Catholic Church was concerned—Jan Hus), angry over the imprisonment of a few of their comrades, chuck the mayor, a judge, and several city council members out of a window in the town hall to their deaths. While not as significant as the third defenestration in 1618, which sparked the continent-wide Thirty Years’ War, this defenestration caused a complete breakdown in the tense relationship between Church and secular officials and the Hussite movement and its allies, leading to the first of a series of Hussite Wars that didn’t end until the mid-1430s.

July 30, 1619: Virginia’s House of Burgesses, often called the first “representative legislature” in the Americas although that designation seems fairly Euro-centric, holds its first session.