Saturday, June 20, 2009

This Day In History - 20 June: Attila Defeated, Oxford Chartered, Victoria's Coronation, & Maliki's Birthday

Art: Le Guepier, William Bouguereau

451 – This day began with "the whole fate of western civilization hanging in the balance." Attila the Hun threatened to overrun Rome and establish a pagan empire in the West. He was met on the field of battle by a Christian army composed of Visigoths under Theodoric I and Romans led by Flavius Aetius. In the end, they defeated Attilla at the Battle of Chalons.

1214 – In a critical development during the medieval period, the University of Oxford received its charter from King Edward III, bcoming the first, and today, the oldest university in the English speaking world. By 1209, it boasted over 3,000 students.

1631 – Muslim pirates sack the Irish village of Baltimore, carrying off 108 Christian men, women and children as slaves. Some are made galley slaves, others sex slaves in harems, with only two ever making it back to Ireland.

1756 – Indian rebels who captured a British garrison then imprisoned the men in what became infamously known as the Black Hole of Calcutta. It was actually the guard room in the old Fort William, Calcutta, India. Conditions were so cramped and the heat so great that within a day, of the 146 imprisoned there, 123 men died.

1782 – The U.S. Congress adopted the Great Seal of the United States. Obama later adopted it during his campaign.

1789 – Deputies of the French Third Estate took the Tennis Court Oath, it being one of the final events leading to the French Revolution.

1791 – King Louis XVI of France and his immediate family begin the Flight to Varennes disguised as the servants of a Russian baroness during The French Revolution. This attempt at escape was ultimately unsuccessful. They were captured, returned to Paris under guard, and would loose their heads with two years.

1819 – The SS Savannah arrives at Liverpool, UK. She is the first steam-propelled vessel to cross the Atlantic, although most of the journey was made under sail.

1837 – Queen Victoria succeeds to the British throne. She would rule Britain for over 67 years, overseeing the growth of Britain into the superpower of the era.

1840 – Samuel Morse received a patent for the telegraph.

1877 – Alexander Graham Bell installed the world's first commercial telephone service in Canada.

1893 – Lizzie Borden, accused of axe murdering her family, was acquitted by a Massachusetts court. The crime of which she was accused has never been solded.

1944 – The Japanese air and naval forces, decimated at Guadalcanal and replaced by inexperienced troops, suffered an overwhelming defeat at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, also known as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”.

1963 – The "red telephone" is established between the Soviet Union and the United States following the Cuban Missile Crisis.

1991 – Following the reunification with East Germany, the German parliament decides to move the capital from Bonn back to Berlin.


236 BC – Scipio Africanus, the finest Roman general of his era. He would finally defeat Rome's mortal enemy, Hannibal at the battle of Zama, bringing an end to the Second Punic War.

1005 – Ali az-Zahir, Seventh Caliph of the Egyptian Fatimid dynasty. He would try to repair some of the damage done to relations with Christians by his predecesor who had destroyed Christianity's holiest site, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But it was too little, too late, and Pope Urban II would eventually call for the first Crusade to liberate Jerusalem.

1924 – Audie Murphy, American actor and war hero. He lied about his age and enlisted in the Army in 1942 at the age of 16. In 27 months of combat action, Murphy became one of the most highly decorated United States soldiers of World War II. He received the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military's highest award for valor, along with 32 additional U.S. and foreign medals and citations.

1950 – Nouri Al-Maliki, the current Prime Minister of Iraq. He was origninally challenged as weak and as a tool of Iran, not given any chance of succeeding in leading Iraq to peace and stability. But when the "surge" began, Maliki threw his entire weight behind it, turning on Iranian interests. He has already earned a place in Iraqi history, and that place will be high in the pantheon indeed if he is able to finally unify Iraq and strengthen its democracy.


451 – Theodorid, King of the Visigoths, died defending Western Civilization against the mortal threat of Attilla the Hun.

Holidays and observances

Today is the feast day for the tenth century Saint, Adalbert of Magdeburg. He was the first Archbishop of Magdeburg from 968 and a successful missionary to the Slavic peoples to the east of Germany.

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