Today in History: September 9-11
The Battle of Teutoburg Forest, the Battle of Lake Erie, and more
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September 9 (or thereabouts), 9: A large Roman army under general Publius Quinctillus Varus is thoroughly defeated by a Germanic alliance under one of Varus’s former auxiliaries, Arminius, at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest somewhere in what today is northwestern Germany. Arminius was able to use his experience serving in the Roman military under Varus to plan an ambush and anticipate Varus’s response. Also known as the “Varian disaster,” which gives you some idea of the extent of the Roman defeat, the battle saw the effective destruction of three legions and brought an end to Roman efforts to expand further into Germania. German nationalism made Teutoburg Forest into a historic turning point that preserved an independent Germania and thus laid the groundwork for the eventual Germanic migration into the empire, but more recent historiography has suggested that the empire’s northward expansion probably would have reached its natural limit at the Rhine River with or without this setback.
September 9 (or thereabouts), 1141: A Qara Khitai army led by that dynasty’s founder, Yelü Dashi, defeats a Seljuk-Karakhanid army at the Battle of Qatwan, north of the city of Samarkand. Yelü Dashi was a relatively minor royal during the last days of China’s Liao dynasty who fled during the accession of the Jin dynasty and founded the Qara Khitai empire (sometimes also called the Western Liao) in Central Asia. Doing so meant displacing the Karakhanids, which his victory at Qatwan helped accomplish. The defeat of its Karakhanid vassal and the loss of a substantial chunk of eastern territory also triggered, or at least contributed to, the collapse of the Great Seljuk Empire. Sketchy tales of this battle may have provided the basis for the Christian legend of “Prester John,” a mythical Nestorian Christian ruler who was supposed to make war against Islam from the east while the Europeans did so from the west.
September 9, 1855: The nearly year-long Siege of Sevastopol ends with a Russian withdrawal from the city. The siege is among the most famous in history and the centerpiece of the Crimean War—it’s pretty much the reason we call it the “Crimean War” even though most of the other fighting in that conflict took place somewhere other than Crimea. The Allied capture of the city contributed heavily to Russia’s eventual defeat.
September 10, 1813: In one of the largest naval engagements in the War of 1812, a US fleet defeats a smaller British fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie. This was a significant strategic victory, in that it gave the US control of the lake and enabled both the recapture of Detroit in late September and the US defeat of Tecumseh’s confederacy at the Battle of the Thames in early October. The victory also prompted US Commodore Oliver Perry’s famous message to General William Henry Harrison: “we have met the enemy and they are ours.”
September 11, 1565: The Great Siege of Malta ends with the Ottoman attackers forced to withdraw after taking heavy losses from both combat and disease over the course of a nearly four month operation. The heavily outnumbered Knights Hospitaller garrison managed to hold out long enough for a relief army to assemble and set sail from Sicily, though it seems the Ottomans had already made the decision to retreat by the time it arrived at Malta.
September 11, 1697: In a battle near the town of Senta, or Zenta, which is today located in Serbia, a Habsburg army under Prince Eugene of Savoy defeats a substantially larger Ottoman army under Sultan Mustafa II. Eugene attacked the Ottomans as they were crossing the Tisza River, catching them off guard and enabling the Habsburgs to inflict thousands of casualties and to seize the Ottoman treasury while taking few casualties of their own. One of the most decisive engagements of the 1683-1699 Great Turkish War, Senta thwarted a planned Ottoman invasion of Hungary and cost the Ottomans control of the valuable Banat region (which today lies in western Romania, northeastern Serbia, and southeastern Hungary). The Habsburgs continued to advance into Ottoman territory until the two sides negotiated the Treaty of Karlowitz, the first time in Ottoman history that the empire was forced to accept an unfavorable peace treaty.
September 11, 1714: The Siege of Barcelona ends with the French-Bourbon besiegers victorious over the city’s Habsburg defenders. The siege was one of the final engagements of the War of the Spanish Succession, which had begun back in 1701 following the death of Habsburg Spanish King Charles II. It pitted Charles’ chosen heir, the Bourbon royal Philip of Anjou, against the Habsburg claimant Archduke Charles of Austria (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI) for control of the decaying but still large and wealthy Spanish empire. Barcelona’s surrender brought an effective end to the war and also ended the Principality of Catalonia, a hitherto independent entity joined in dynastic union with the kingdom of Aragon, as new King Philip V reshaped Spain from a loose union of polities into a single, centralized political entity.
September 11, 1973: With the support of the US government and specifically the Central Intelligence Agency, a Chilean military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet overthrows President Salvador Allende, who died (probably by suicide) as soldiers seized the presidential palace in Santiago. Pinochet ruled as a dictator until 1990, becoming Chile’s legal president in 1981 under a newly-promulgated constitution, then continued to exert significant authority as military commander in chief until 1998. His regime is noted for its extensive human rights violations and for overseeing the neoliberalization of the Chilean economy under the Milton Friedman-trained “Chicago Boys,” a process that generated high levels of growth but also high levels of inequality. His legacy is still being felt in Chilean politics to the present day.
September 11, 2001: Al-Qaeda operatives kill nearly 3000 people by flying airliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. A fourth plane, probably intended for the US Capitol, was brought down over Pennsylvania. The attacks sparked the “Global War on Terror,” which included US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and during which the United States essentially ran roughshod over the rest of the world and any concept of international law. It’s difficult to assess that conflict in a historical context given that it’s still going over two decades later.
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