Today in History: October 22-24

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October 22, 1633: The Ming Chinese navy defeats a Dutch East India Company fleet at the Battle of Liaoluo Bay, in the Taiwan Strait. The battle reestablished Chinese authority in the strait (though they subsequently negotiated very generous trade concessions with the Dutch) and was the largest naval engagement between Chinese and European fleets until the Opium Wars.

October 22, 1884: The International Meridian Conference, which was a real thing, designates the line of longitude running through the Royal Observatory at Greenwich as the international Prime Meridian. Previously most major seafaring countries, at least, designated their own separate prime meridians that often ran through their capital cities (Germany used the “Berlin Meridian,” for example, and France used the “Paris Meridian”). But such was the ubiquity of British map-making that the UK prime meridian, which ran through Greenwich, became the international standard by default even before this conference made it official. Nowadays the international Prime Meridian is the IERS Reference Meridian, which still runs through Greenwich but is around 100 meters east of the previous one.

October 23, 42 BC: A Roman army jointly led by Triumvirs Marc Antony and Octavian defeats Brutus’s Republican army in the second phase of the Battle of Philippi. Brutus committed suicide after the battle. As his co-commander, Cassius, had already killed himself following the first phase of the battle, on October 3, this left the Republican army leaderless and it unsurprisingly fell apart. Although there were other Republican leaders still in the field, like Sextus Pompey in Sicily, the defeat at Philippi marks the end of Republican resistance. The way was clear for the “Second Triumvirate” of Antony, Octavian, and the almost forgotten Marcus Lepidus to seize uncontested control of the Roman Republic.

17th century Flemish painter Pauwels Casteels’ The Death of Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi ahistorically depicts the two republican leaders dying at the same time, but you get the general idea (Wikimedia Commons)

October 23, 1942: The Axis Panzer Army Africa under Erwin Rommel and the British Eighth Army under Bernard Montgomery meet in the Second Battle of El Alamein in Egypt. The Eighth Army won the battle and drove the Axis out of Egypt on November 11, pushing Rommel back into Tunisia and setting up the final phase of World War II’s North African campaign.

October 24, 1648: The Peace of Westphalia (mostly) ends the Thirty Years’ War under the tenet cuius regio, eius religio (“whose state, his religion”)—in other words, the principle that a ruler should be allowed to determine his/her nation’s religion. Many IR scholars trace the origins of a world order based on national sovereignty to Westphalia, with its emphasis on the sanctity of national borders and the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs—hence the term “Westphalian sovereignty.”

October 24, 1912: In the same day, the Ottoman Empire suffers two decisive defeats, one to a Bulgarian army in the Battle of Kirk Kilisse in modern Turkey and the other to a Serbian army in the Battle of Kumanovo in modern North Macedonia. The simultaneous defeats set the tone for the First Balkan War, which had begun on October 8 and would end in May 1913 with a decisive victory for the Balkan League (Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, and Serbia). The Bulgarian victory at Kirk Kilisse gave its armies an open path to Istanbul, though in two battles at Çatalca (on the outskirts of the city) in November and then in February-April, the Ottomans were able first to stop and then to rout the Bulgarian offensive. Thus, although they lost the war, the Ottomans were able to defend their capital and preserve what was left of their empire.