Cat Shields

The Battle of Pelusium was the first major battle between the Persian Empire and Egypt, soon to be conquered by its growing foe.  The Persians easily routed the Egyptians and won a great battle, and they did so in the following way, according to Polyaenus.  The Egyptians held cats to be sacred and inviolate, and refused to harm one for any reason.  Cambyses, who disdained such religious devotion, took advantage of this.  He had his men carry cats in front of them as they advanced, as shields, preventing the Egyptians from launching their arrows at the Persians, lest they wound and kill the cats instead.  In this way, the Persians ended the independence of Egypt, which it would not regain for more than a millennium.

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Introducing the Potato

When the potato was first introduced to Europe, many were wary of the mysterious tuber.  Believed by some to cause leprosy, peasants had no desire to try it, and often used it solely for animal feed.  Only in fits and spurts did far-sighted individuals realize the crop’s potential and seek to share it with the world.

Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was a Frenchman taken captive by the Prussians during the Seven Years War.  During his captivity, he was fed almost exclusively potatoes, and came to realize their value.  Upon return to France, he became determined to spread them and their benefits throughout France.  He managed to introduce potatoes to the aristocracy, but the peasants were less susceptible.  However, he concocted the following plan.

He planted potatoes at Les Sablons, on the western edge of Paris, and had soldiers guard the crops during the day, ordering them to chase away any curious peasants.  At night, however, they promptly left, giving the peasants time to sneak in and steal the crop, eager to try something so valuable that it needed to be guarded so thoroughly.  Soon, potatoes spread throughout the city as people tried them and discovered their quality.

As for Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, he was awarded the Legion of Honor by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 for his accomplishments and efforts.

The Folly of Aspiring to Hegemony

While the Greek city-states had an approximate balance of power, they thrived and flourished.  Wars were typically small and minor, consisting of a few battles, which, while often deadly to both sides, tended to leave cities and civilians unharmed.

Beginning just before the Peloponnesian War, however, a series of city-states felt strong enough to contest with each other for the hegemony of Hellas, and their ambitions brought destruction and war to Greece.  Eventually, the Greeks were so weakened by their internecine wars that they fell easy prey to the Macedonians.

Had they instead been satisfied with the balance of power, rather than giving in to overweening pride and glory lust, how much more free and happy would they have remained.

The Miracle of the House of Hohenzollern

By the end of 1761, Prussia was losing the Seven Years’ War.  Its coffers and manpower were spent.  During the war, Prussia had lost 120 generals, 1500 officers, and over 100,000 men.  All seemed lost.

Frederick himself said,

The Austrians are masters of Schweidnitz and the mountains, the Russians are behind the length of the Warthe from Kolberg to Posen…my every bale of hay, sack of money or batch of recruits only arriving by courtesy of the enemy or from his negligence. Austrians controlling the hills in Saxony, the Imperials the same in Thuringia, all our fortresses vulnerable in Silesia, in Pomerania, Stettin, Kustrin, even Berlin, at the mercy of the Russians.

In January 1762, though, a miracle occurred.  Elizabeth, Tsarina of Russia, died.  She had been one of Frederick’s most implacable foes, second only to Maria Theresa.

Not only that, but she was succeeded by her nephew, Peter III, a man of whom it may be fairly said that he worshipped Frederick.  Peter detested the Russians and lionized Prussians, even going so far as to wear the uniform of a Prussian soldier, even as tsar.  Peter III immediately made peace with Prussia and concluded an alliance with Frederick.  With the abandonment of Russia, the other nations against Frederick no longer had the motivation nor the ability to conclusively finish the war, and by 1763, the Seven Years’ War was over, with Prussia having miraculously survived.

The Roman Dictator

Usually, the executive power of the Roman Republic was divided in two and shared between two consuls who had equal power.  But when the state itself was considered to be in danger, a single dictator was elected, whose power was absolute for the duration of six months, in order that the danger could be dealt with without internal struggles sapping the energy of the state.

Gustave Doré

Gustave Doré is a famous French engraver.  Although not necessarily well known today, then, his work was widely known, and his engravings spread the Bible to more people than most written editions ever will.  Most astonishingly of all, he appears to have acquired this gift before he had any training, although later training in life did refine his talents.  At the age of 15, though, his father brought him to Paris, where he saw an illustrated edition of the labors of Hercules, stories which he knew very well.  He found the illustrations in the book to be inferior, and so the next day he feigned sickness, in order that he might be left alone at home.  When his father and brother left, young Gustave drew up six pictures in two and a half hours.

He brought these pictures to the director of the Journal pour Rire, who recognized the great talent present, and asked the boy to draw another sample for him in order to verify the provenance of the drawings.  Gustave’s talent being proved, he was granted a three year contract, during which time he would also attend school at the Lycée Charlemagne, an education that went unfinished, since it became clear that Gustave knew more than his teachers about art.

Cyrus’s Camels

Cyrus the Great invaded Lydia in order to defeat King Croesus.  The Lydians were famed for their proficiency with cavalry.  In order to defeat them at their strength, Cyrus mounted his cavalry upon camels instead of horses.  For horses naturally fear the smell of camels, unless trained to familiarity.  So when Cyrus’s camel troops advanced, Croesus’s horses were unable to stand the smell of them and retreated from the camels, and thusly did Cyrus defeat Croesus.