A Curated Weekly Review of Interesting Historical Occurrences


This Week in History: Augustus reunites Church and State, a Middle-Class uprising, and an invisible hand.

The Lost Battalion Dispatch #36
for the Week of March 5, 2023

Knights of the Livonian Order

At the Battle of Aizkraukle on March 5, 1279, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania defeated the Sword-Brethren of the Livonian Order.

The Livonians Order was a branch of the Teutonic Order formed after 90% of the Livonian Brotherhood of the Sword’s knights were killed by Samogitians and Semgallians (Lithuanian tribes) in 1236 during the Battle of Saule and the subsequent retreat from Riga. Hermann von Balke was charged with reorganizing the Order and recruited 60 Teutonic knights from northern German convents who spoke the same Low German dialectic as the remaining brothers. After von Balke upset the Order by returning Danish Estonia to the King of Denmark, he was replaced by a Templar. The Order was an autonomous branch of the Teutonic Order that operated under its own rule (based on that of the Templars) and follow the policy of its own Grand Master, who was simply a de jure subject of the Teutonic Grand Master.

After partly subduing the Semigallians through a series of raids in 1254, the Livonian Order built a castle at Dinaburga, in the heart of their territory, in 1273. They hoped to use this as a base for continued raids and to discourage support for the Semigallians from the Grand Duchy of Lithuanian, which had already consolidated control of the Samogitian and Aukstaitian tribes.

In February 1279, the Livonians launched a raid into the territory of the Grand Duchy from Castle Dinaburga. They met with little resistance as Lithuania was in the grip of a famine, and much of its army was raiding Polish lands for food. However, Grand Duke Traidenis, a noted pagan and hater of Germans who had already slain two Livonian Grand Masters in battle, shadowed the Livonians with a small army. When the Livonians reached Aizkraukle while returning from their raid, Grand Master Ernst von Rassburg sent most of his non-noble force home with their share of the loot. It was then that Traidenis attacked. Seventy-one knights were killed, including Rassburg.

As a result of the battle, Traidenis was acknowledged as the leader of the Semigallians, and they rose in open rebellion against the Livonians. Traidenis was able to incorporate some of their lands into the Grand Duchy but died around 1282 without completing the task. The Livonians decided to elect a common Grand Master with the Teutonics so the two orders could coordinate future attacks on Lithuania. After Traidenis died, a massive scorched earth campaign was mounted against the Semigallians, which drove some 100,000 survivors off their land and into the Grand Duchy. The few remaining were thus Christianized.

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Statue of Augustus Wearing the Hooded Robe of Pontifex Maximus

On March 6, 12 BC, Augustus, the successor of Julius Caesar and the first Emperor of Rome, took the title Pontifex Maximus. In the Roman Republic, this was the title of the highest office of the state religion. The Pontifex Maximus carried out his religious duties from the Regia, a building adjacent to the Forum. These duties included determining the manner and timing of sacrifices, allocation of religious funds, authority over all religious institutions, instruction of the public in religious rites, and the interpretation of omens. The king of Rome had originally held this title, but when the people of Rome overthrew the tyranny of monarchy and established the Republic, the religious hierarchy was separated from military and political power. The title Pontifex Maximus still exists. The name of the current holder is named Francis.
Operation Ripper began on March 7, 1951. The goal of the plan, conceived by General Matthew Ridgeway, was to destroy the Chinese and North Korean forces that had pushed South Korean and UN armies back from the 38th parallel during the 1951 Chinese New Year offensive. The prime objective was not Seoul but the towns of Hongh’on and Ch’unch’on. Both were major road hubs, and the latter was believed to be a major supply center for the PVA and PRK troops occupying South Korea.

Throughout the operation, enemy forces offered little more than token resistance. They seemed more intent on delaying the advance with small counter-attacks and long-range fire than stopping the US 8th Army and ROK troops from taking ground. Hongh’on was taken on March 14th. Ridgeway had ordered a double-envelopment of the town, thinking the Chinese would make a stand there, but it proved unnecessary. At this time, Ridgeway discerned that the enemy’s high command was not intent on holding Seoul. Aerial observation showed troops pulling out, and patrols found key defensive positions unoccupied. Troops from ROK’s 1st Division entered the city. One patrol reached the capitol building and raised the ROK flag without being fired upon or seeing enemy soldiers.

Over the next days, resistance continued to fade. Units that had taken heavy fire on the 14th found enemy positions unoccupied on the 16th. An airborne operation to block the exits from Ch’unch’on was canceled due to the rapid Chinese withdrawal. The 1st Cavalry Divison, tasked with taking the town, was advancing without opposition. An armored task force spearheading the advance entered the town in the early afternoon of the 21st. A second task force arrived later and was greeted by General Ridgeway, who had been observing the action from a light plane and landed on one of the streets. The suspected supply depot was found to be bare. Although the operation achieved all its terrain objectives and captured Seoul as a bonus, it failed to trap and destroy any significant enemy forces.

Matthew Ridgeway in Korea Wearing His Signature Hand Grenade

Single Combat Prior to the Battle of Hausenbergen

On March 8, 1262, the Battle of Hausenbergen freed the burghers of Strasbourg from the tyranny of “Prince-Archbishop” Walter of Geroldsbeck.

The rise of the middle-class burghers was an important development during the late Middle Ages. Early Medieval society was divided into three classes: Those who prayed (clergy), those who fought (nobles), and those who worked (peasants). Merchants, craftsmen, educated non-nobles, and other skilled workers in towns grew into a fourth class and became increasingly powerful during the 11th century.

In Strasbourg, a major commercial center in the Alsace region governed by the Bishop of Strasbourg, previous bishops had granted the burghers judicial and economic privileges. When Walter of Geroldseck came to power, he attempted to turn back the clock. After accusing the leading burghers of misgoverning the town in their own self-interest, he threatened them with excommunication and episcopal prohibitions. Instead of cowering before his religious authority. the burghers formed a league with some of the nobles, including Count Rudolf of Hapsburg, a former supporter of Geroldseck. Three other town leagues formed in the area within months, and Geroldseck called for reinforcements to put down the uprising.

The Bishop of Trier and the Abbots of St. Gall and Murbach sent troops to Geroldsbock’s headquarters in Molsheim. From there, he instituted a blockade of Strasbourg by attacking supply wagons moving in or out of the city. On March 8th, burgher Reimbold Liebenzeller led half of the Strasbough militia to nearby Mundolsheim to capture the church bell tower there. He believed Geroldseck was using it as a lookout post for his blockade. The bishop set out from Molsheim with 300 knights and 5000 infantry to prevent this. Upon sighting the approach of this force, Liebenzeller sent for reinforcement. Fellow burgher Nicolaus Zorn arrived with the rest of the militia and some knights, and the combined force fell back to a better defensive position near the village of Oberhausbergen. Thinking that his enemy was fleeing for Strasbourg, Geroldseck raced to pursue, leaving his infantry behind. He found the Strasbourg militia drawn up in good order, and the battle was joined.

It began with single combat between Marcus of Eckwersheim for Strasbourg and a knight known as Beckelar for the episcopal army. Both men were unhorsed in the joust. Beckelar was killed, but Eckwersheim was rescued by his seconds as the knights from both sides charged one another. Liebenzeller led his militia into this clash, where they hacked at the enemy’s horses with Danish axes. Meanwhile, Zorn led 300 militia crossbowmen off to engage the bishop’s infantry as they tried to catch up and join the fight. Deterred by crossbow bolts, the infantry turned back. Sixty of Geroldseck’s knights were killed, including his brother Hermann. Seventy-three were captured. Geroldseck fled on a third horse after having two killed under him. He retired to Molsheim and officially gave up his prerogatives over Strasbourg. Less than a year later, he died. Henry of Geroldseck, cousin of the deceased, became the new bishop. He made a treaty with Strasbourg that confirmed the complete independence of the city council.

Adam Smith

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Scottish philosopher Adam Smith was first published on March 9, 1776. It was the first coherent examination of how a nation’s wealth was established and became the fundamental work of classical or Smithian economics (as opposed to neoclassical, Marxian, and Keynesian economics). The book’s message is that a nation’s wealth is established by its national income, not the gold stored in its coffers. National income, according to Smith, is increased by an efficiently ordered division of labor on the part of the inhabitants and by the use of accumulated capital to invest in buildings, tools, and inventory. Smith defined capital as “that part of man’s stock which he expects to afford him revenue.” It is from this definition that the idea of Capitalism was born.

One of the work’s most well-known ideas is that of the “invisible hand.” The metaphor refers to the inevitable positive consequences that pursuing one’s own self-interest has on a free society. The phrase only appears once in the book:

“As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.”

There’ll be more about Adam Smith at our Locals community next week.

Rings Around Uranus Photographed by Voyager 2

The Rings around Uranus were “discovered” on March 10, 1977. This made it the second planet in the Sol system with known rings. The discovery came by accident while astronomers attempting to study the planet’s atmosphere were using the Kuiper Airborne Observatory to record the occultation of a star by the planet. While analyzing the results, they found that the star disappeared briefly five times before and after the occultation by the planet itself.

The credit for the first discovery might actually go to 18th-century astronomer William Herschell who noted in his observation of the planet on February 22, 1789: “A ring system was suspected.” Nobody else was able to see what Herschell saw, so his discovery was discredited for almost 200 years.

Rings around Jupiter were discovered by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1979. Neptune was definitively discovered to have rings in 1989 by Voyager 2. Efforts to spot Neptune’s ring using the occultation method began in 1983 with mixed results. Another old-school astronomer, William Lassel, the man who discovered Neptune’s moon Triton, mentioned he might have seen them in 1846.

On March 11, 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev was “elected” as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This made him the de facto leader of the USSR. He would be the last man to hold that title.

An example of the content in our Locals community is this reaction to Gorbachev’s death last August:

Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall

The passing of Mikhail Gorbachev is a big topic of conversation for the mainstream media right now, but he would be nothing but a footnote in the history of Kremlin leaders were it not for Ronald Reagan, Maggie Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II. Reagan and Thatcher’s determination put unremitting pressure on the failing Soviet economy, a military-industrial complex already under stress from its engagement in Afghanistan. This helped place Gorbachev in an untenable position. John Paul II’s visit to Poland sparked the Solidarity movement, a popular uprising against centralized socialist planning which spread to other Soviet client states and even into the Soviet Union itself. This tipped the already precarious balance. These three leaders put into practice Sun Tzu’s saying, “Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

Sadly, and perhaps predictably, the legacy of Gorbachev’s dismantling of the Soviet Bloc is being systematically undone today. The one pillar of the Soviet state that did not falter or fail was the various State Intelligence branches. They were renamed, their power waned briefly, and some of their secrets were revealed, but they continued to exist, awaiting the right moment to rise again. Vladimir Putin, a member of one of those secret state organisms, has provided them with that opportunity and has used them to cement his power and attempt to undo what was done by Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin.

The Cold War, like the First World War, seems not to have ended but to have only been put on pause. Twenty years passed before the First World War evolved into the Second when Hitler and Stalin invaded Poland. Twenty-two years after the Cold War “ended,” Putin invaded Crimea.

Samuel Clemens is reported to have said, “History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” This is true because human nature does not fundamentally change. Given similar circumstances, humans will behave in similar ways. The same type of politicians who did not aggressively oppose the policies of Hitler and Stalin are rhyming with their historical predecessors today by not opposing Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist leader who, only a few years after Putin’s reassertion of Soviet-style expansionism, called for China to become “a great power” with a “strong military.”

T.S Eliot wasn’t much on rhyme, but a section of his poem The Waste Land sums up this element of human nature:

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow

Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,

You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,

And the dry stone no sound of water. Only

There is shadow under this red rock,

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),

And I will show you something different from either

Your shadow at morning striding behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

President Ronald Reagan in Berlin
Delivering the “Tear Down This Wall” Speech

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