Constantinople burns, killing hundreds

Constantinople burns, killing hundreds

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A huge section of the city of Constantinople, Turkey, is set ablaze on June 5, 1870. When the smoke finally cleared, 3,000 homes were destroyed and 900 people were dead.

A young girl was carrying a hot piece of charcoal to her family’s kitchen in an iron pan when she tripped, sending the charcoal out the window and onto the roof of an adjacent home. A fire quickly spread down Feridje Street, one of Constantinople’s main thoroughfares.

The Christian area of the city was quickly engulfed. There was a high degree of cooperation among the various ethnic groups who called the city home, but even this was no match for the high winds that drove the rapidly spreading fire. An entire square mile of the city near the Bosporus Strait was devastated. Only stone structures, mostly churches and hospitals, survived the conflagration.

In 1887, Edmondo de Amicis published perhaps the best account of this disaster in a book called Constantinople.

The ancient Roman and Byzantine empires had well-developed associations, known as demes, [2] which supported the different factions (or teams) under which competitors in certain sporting events took part this was particularly true of chariot racing. There were initially four major factional teams of chariot racing, differentiated by the colour of the uniform in which they competed the colours were also worn by their supporters. These were the Blues (Veneti), the Greens (Prasini), the Reds (Russati), and the Whites (Albati), [3] although by the Byzantine era the only teams with any influence were the Blues and Greens. Emperor Justinian I was a supporter of the Blues.

The team associations had become a focus for various social and political issues for which the general Byzantine population lacked other forms of outlet. [4] They combined aspects of street gangs and political parties, taking positions on current issues, notably theological problems or claimants to the throne. They frequently tried to affect the policy of the emperors by shouting political demands between races. The imperial forces and guards in the city could not keep order without the cooperation of the circus factions which were in turn backed by the aristocratic families of the city these included some families who believed they had a more rightful claim to the throne than Justinian. [ citation needed ]

In 531 some members of the Blues and Greens had been arrested for murder in connection with deaths that occurred during rioting after a recent chariot race. [5] Relatively limited riots were not unknown at chariot races, similar to the football hooliganism that occasionally erupts after association football matches in modern times. The murderers were to be executed, and most of them were. [6] But on January 10, 532, two of them, a Blue and a Green, escaped and were taking refuge in the sanctuary of a church surrounded by an angry mob.

Justinian was nervous: he was in the midst of negotiating with the Persians over peace in the east at the end of the Iberian War and now he faced a potential crisis in his city. Facing this, he declared that a chariot race would be held on January 13 and commuted the sentences to imprisonment. The Blues and the Greens responded by demanding that the two men be pardoned entirely. [ citation needed ]

Justinian and two of his leading officials, John the Cappadocian and Tribonian, were extremely unpopular because of the high taxes they levied, [7] the corruption of the latter two [7] and John's cruelty against debtors. [7] [8] John and Justinian had also reduced spending on the civil service and combated the corruption of the civil service. [8] The many nobles who had lost their power and fortune when removed from the smaller, less corrupt civil service joined the ranks of the Greens. [8] Justinian was also reducing the power of both teams, the Greens seeing this as further imperial oppression akin to the reforms in the civil service, while the Blues felt betrayed. [8] The Roman legal code had a popular image as the biggest distinguishing feature of the civilized Romans as compared to "barbarians" (Latin: barbari). [9] The law code was also religiously important as the Romans were believed to be "chosen by God", it being a symbol of justice. [9] As such it brought legitimacy with it if an emperor successfully made significant legal reforms but if this process bogged down it showed divine anger. [9] What had taken nine years for the Theodosian code took Justinian just thirteen months. [9]

Just before the Nika riots of January 532, however, the pace of reforms had slowed to a crawl. [9] At the same time Justinian was fighting an unsuccessful war against the Persians while Byzantine victories at Dara (spring of 530) and Satala (summer of 530) had fostered his legitimacy for a short while, the defeat at Calinicum (531) and negative strategic situation damaged the emperor's reputation. [9] On top of that the legal reforms were unpopular with the aristocracy from the start, as they made it impossible to use obscure laws and jurisprudence to avoid unfavorable verdicts, further angering the aristocracy. [9] On top of this both Justinian and his wife Theodora were of low birth - late Roman and Byzantine society was not as class driven as the feudal-dominated society of the west. [9] The Greens were a Monophysite group and represented the interest of the moneyed non-landowners, Justinian being neither of those. [10] When Justinian refused to pardon the two arrested rioters there was already a deep-seated resentment among the general populace as well as among the aristocracy.

On January 13, 532, a tense and angry populace arrived at the Hippodrome for the races. [ citation needed ] The Hippodrome was next to the palace complex, and thus Justinian could watch from the safety of his box in the palace and preside over the races. From the start, the crowd had been hurling insults at Justinian. By the end of the day, at race 22, the partisan chants had changed from "Blue" or "Green" to a unified Nίκα ("Nika", meaning "Win!" "Victory!" or "Conquer!"), and the crowds broke out and began to assault the palace. For the next five days, the palace was under siege. [ citation needed ] The fires that started during the tumult resulted in the destruction of much of the city, including the city's foremost church, the Hagia Sophia (which Justinian would later rebuild).

Some of the senators saw this as an opportunity to overthrow Justinian, as they were opposed to his new taxes and his lack of support for the nobility. [ citation needed ] The rioters, now armed and probably controlled by their allies in the Senate, also demanded that Justinian dismiss the prefect John the Cappadocian and the quaestor Tribonian. They then declared a new emperor, Hypatius, who was a nephew of former Emperor Anastasius I. [ citation needed ]

Justinian, in despair, considered fleeing, but his wife Theodora is said to have dissuaded him, saying, "Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss. Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as empress." [11] She is also credited with adding, "[W]ho is born into the light of day must sooner or later die and how could an Emperor ever allow himself to be a fugitive." [12] Although an escape route across the sea lay open for the emperor, Theodora insisted that she would stay in the city, quoting an ancient saying, "Royalty is a fine burial shroud," or perhaps, "[the royal color] Purple makes a fine winding sheet." [13]

As Justinian rallied himself, he created a plan that involved Narses, a popular eunuch, as well as the generals Belisarius and Mundus. Carrying a bag of gold given to him by Justinian, the slightly built eunuch entered the Hippodrome alone and unarmed against a murderous mob that had already killed hundreds. Narses went directly to the Blues' section, where he approached the important Blues and reminded them that Emperor Justinian supported them over the Greens. He also reminded them that Hypatius, the man they crowned, was a Green. Then, he distributed the gold. The Blue leaders spoke quietly with each other and then they spoke to their followers. Then, in the middle of Hypatius' coronation, the Blues stormed out of the Hippodrome. The Greens sat, stunned. Then, Imperial troops led by Belisarius and Mundus stormed into the Hippodrome, killing any remaining rebels indiscriminately be they Blues or Greens. [12]

About thirty thousand rioters were reportedly killed. [14] Justinian also had Hypatius executed and exiled the senators who had supported the riot. He then rebuilt Constantinople and the Hagia Sophia and was free to establish his rule.


In early March 1821, Alexandros Ypsilantis crossed the Prut river and marched into Moldavia, an event that marked the beginning of the Greek War of Independence. [4] Immediately in response of rumors that Turks had been massacred by Greeks in the Danubian Principalities, [5] particularly in Iași and Galați, [6] [ full citation needed ] the Grand Vizier ordered the arrest of seven Greek bishops in Constantinople. In addition, on the evening of April 2, the first news of the Greek Revolt in southern Greece reached Constantinople. [7]

Leading personalities of the Greek community, in particular the Ecumenical Patriarch, Gregory V, and the Grand Dragoman, Konstantinos Mourouzis, were accused of having knowledge of the revolt by the Sultan, Mahmud II, but both pleaded innocence. Nevertheless, the Sultan requested a fatwa allowing a general massacre against all Greeks living in the Empire [8] from the Shaykh al-Islām, Haci Halil Efendi. The Shaykh obliged, however the Patriarch managed to convince him that only a few Greeks were involved in the uprising, and the Shaykh recalled the fatwa. [4] Haci Halil Efendi was later exiled and executed by the Sultan for this. [7]

The Ecumenical Patriarch was forced by the Ottoman authorities to excommunicate the revolutionaries, which he did on Palm Sunday, April, 15 [O.S. April, 3] 1821. Although he was unrelated to the insurgents, the Ottoman authorities still considered him guilty of treason because he was unable, as representative of the Orthodox population of the Ottoman Empire, to prevent the uprising. [9]

Although the Patriarch found himself forced to excommunicate the revolutionaries, he still failed to appease the Ottoman rulers. [10] Later, on the same day as the excommunication, the Sultan ordered the execution of the Grand Dragoman, Konstantinos Mourouzis. He was arrested at the house of the Reis Effendi and beheaded, while his body was displayed in public. [11] Moreover, his brother and various other leading members of the Phanariote families were also executed, [12] although in fact only a few Phanariotes were connected with the revolutionaries. [13]

Despite the efforts of the Orthodox Patriarch to profess his loyalty to the Sultan, the latter remained unconvinced. [11] One week after the excommunication, on Easter Sunday, April, 22 [O.S. April, 10] 1821, he was grabbed by Ottoman soldiers during the liturgy and hanged at the central gate of the Patriarchate. [14] [15] Thus, although he was completely uninvolved with the Revolution, his death was ordered as an act of revenge. [16] His body remained suspended at the gate for three days, and was then handed to a Jewish mob (there had been animosity between the Greek and Jewish communities of Constantinople at the time), dragged through the streets before being thrown into the Golden Horn. [8] [17] The body was eventually picked up by the Greek crew of a Russian ship, brought to Odessa, and fifty years later was brought to Greece, where, on the one hundredth anniversary of his death, Gregory V was formally proclaimed a saint by the Greek Orthodox Church. [17] Gregory's execution caused outrage throughout Greece and the rest of Europe, and resulted in an upsurge of sympathy and support for the rebels in Europe. [17] The gate from which he was hung remains closed to this day. [ citation needed ]

On the day of the hanging of Gregory V, three bishops and dozens of other Greeks, high officials in the Ottoman administration, were quickly executed in various parts of the Ottoman capital. [8] Among them were the metropolitan bishops, Dionysios of Ephesus, Athanasios of Nicomedia, Gregory of Derkoi, and Eugenios of Anchialos. [15]

Moreover, the execution of the Patriarch signaled a reign of terror against the Greeks living in Constantinople in the following weeks, while fanatical Muslims were encouraged to attack Greek communities throughout the Ottoman Empire. [19] Thus, groups of fanatical Turks, including janissaries, roamed the streets of the city, as well as the nearby villages. They looted Greek churches and property, initiating a large-scale pogrom. [20] Around 14 Christian churches suffered heavy damage, while some of them were completely destroyed. The Patriarchal complex also became one of the targets. Eugenius II, the newly elected Patriarch, saved himself at the last moment, by escaping to the roof. [21] During this period, the Ottoman authorities sought prominent Greeks from all over Constantinople: in government service, in the Orthodox Church, or members of prominent families and put them to death by hanging or beheading. [22] In addition, several hundred Greek merchants in the city were also massacred. [23] [24]

By May 1821, restrictions on the local Greeks increased, while churches continued to be assaulted. [21] On May 24, Patriarch Eugenius presented a memorandum to the Ottoman authorities, begging them to be merciful towards the Greek people and church, claiming that only a few Greeks revolted and not the entire nation. [21] Eugenius also repeated the excommunication of Gregory toward the revolutionaries. Nevertheless, public executions of Greeks were still a daily occurrence in Constantinople. On June 15, five archbishops and three bishops were executed. Additionally, in early July, seventy shared the same fate. [22] Additionally, 450 shopkeepers and traders were rounded up and sent to work in mines. [22]

The same state of affairs also spread to other major cities of the Ottoman Empire with significant Greek populations. In Adrianople, on May 3, the former Patriarch, Cyril VI, [15] nine priests and twenty merchants were hanged in front of the local Cathedral. Other Greeks of lower social status were executed, sent to exile or imprisoned. [22]

In Smyrna, numerous Ottoman troops were staged, waiting orders to march against the rebels in Greece. They entered the city and together with local Turks embarked on a general massacre against the Christian population of the city which amounted to hundreds of deaths. [25] During another massacre in the predominantly Greek town of Ayvalik, the town was burned to the ground, for fear that the inhabitants might rebel and join the revolution in Greece. [26] As a result of the Ayvalik massacres, hundreds of Greeks were killed and many of the survivors were sold as slaves. [25]

Similar massacres against the Greek population during these months occurred also in the Aegean islands of Kos and Rhodes. Part of the Greek population in Cyprus was also massacred. Among the victims was the archbishop Kyprianos, as well as five other local bishops. [26]

The British and Russian ambassadors made strong protests to the Ottoman Empire as reaction of the execution of the Patriarch. [27] The Russian ambassador in particular, Baron Stroganov protested against this kind of treatment towards the Orthodox Christians, while his protest climaxed after the death of the Patriarch. [28] In July 1821, Stroganov proclaimed that if the massacres against the Greeks continued, this would be an act of war by the Porte to all Christian states. [29] The public opinion in the European countries was also affected, especially in Russia. [30]

The events in Constantinople were one of the reasons that triggered massacres against Turkish communities in regions where the uprising was in full swing. [31] On the other hand, part of the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch, secured in 1453, was revoked. [12] The Patriarchate had until then been vested by the Ottoman Empire as the sole representative of the Orthodox communities of the Empire. Apart from leader of the Greek Orthodox millet, the Orthodox Patriarch was also responsible for legal, administrative, educational rights of his flock. [8] The Patriarchate never recovered from the atrocities that occurred in the city in 1821. [12]

The massacres were undertaken by the Ottoman authorities, as a reaction to the outbreak of the Greek Revolution, centered in southern Greece. The victims of these actions were hardly related to the revolution, while no serious investigations were conducted by the Ottoman side in order to prove that there was any kind of involvement by the people put to death. [22]

The French newspaper Le Constitutionnel reported on May 21, 1821 that it had been formally decided by the Ottoman authorities to "slaughter all Christian subjects of the Empire." [25] [32] The same newspaper also stated that it was the Ottoman government's intention to "wipe Christianity from the face of the earth." [33]


The Germanic tribes had undergone massive technological, social, and economic changes after four centuries of contact with the Roman Empire. From the first to fourth centuries, Germanic populations, economic production, and tribal confederations grew, and their ability to conduct warfare increased to the point of challenging Rome. [3]

The Goths, one of the Germanic tribes, had invaded the Roman Empire on and off since 238. [4] But in the late 4th century, the Huns began to invade the lands of the Germanic tribes, and pushed many of them into the Roman Empire with greater fervor. [5] In 376, the Huns forced many Therving Goths led by Fritigern and Alavivus to seek refuge in the Eastern Roman Empire. Soon after, starvation, high taxes, hatred from the Roman population, and governmental corruption turned the Goths against the empire. [6] The Goths rebelled and began looting and pillaging throughout the eastern Balkans. A Roman army, led by the Eastern Roman emperor Valens, marched to put them down. At the Battle of Adrianople in 378, Fritigern decisively defeated emperor Valens, who was killed in battle. [6] Peace was eventually established in 382 when the new Eastern emperor, Theodosius I, signed a treaty with the Thervings, who would become known as the Visigoths. The treaty made the Visigoths subjects of the empire as foederati. They were allotted the northern part of the dioceses of Dacia and Thrace, and while the land remained under Roman sovereignty and the Visigoths were expected to provide military service, they were considered autonomous. [7]

Fritigern died around 382. [8] In 391, a Gothic chieftain named Alaric was declared king by a group of Visigoths, though the exact time this happened (Jordanes says Alaric was made king in 400 [9] and Peter Heather says 395 [10] ) and nature of this position are debated. [11] [12] He then led an invasion into Eastern Roman territory outside of the Goths' designated lands. Alaric was defeated by Theodosius and his general Flavius Stilicho in 392, who forced Alaric back into Roman vassalage. [11] [13] In 394, Alaric led a force of Visigoths as part of Theodosius' army to invade the Western Roman Empire. At the Battle of the Frigidus, around half the Visigoths present died fighting the Western Roman army led by the usurper Eugenius and his general Arbogast. [14] Theodosius won the battle, and although Alaric was given the title comes for his bravery, tensions between the Goths and Romans grew as it seemed the Roman generals had sought to weaken the Goths by making them bear the brunt of the fighting. Alaric was also enraged he had not been granted a higher office in the imperial administration. [15]

Visigothic invasion of Rome Edit

When Theodosius died on January 10, 395, the Visigoths considered their 382 treaty with Rome to have ended. [16] Alaric quickly led his warriors back to their lands in Moesia, gathered most of the federated Goths in the Danubian provinces under his leadership, and instantly rebelled, invading Thrace and approaching the Eastern Roman capital of Constantinople. [17] [18] The Huns, at the same moment, invaded Asia Minor. [17] The death of Theodosius had also wracked the political structure of the empire: Theodosius' sons, Honorius and Arcadius, were given the Western and Eastern empires, respectively, but they were young and needed guidance. A power struggle emerged between Stilicho, who claimed guardianship over both emperors but was still in the West with the army that had defeated Eugenius, and Rufinus, the praetorian prefect of the East, who took the guardianship of Arcadius in the Eastern capital of Constantinople. Stilicho claimed that Theodosius had awarded him with sole guardianship on the emperor's deathbed and claimed authority over the Eastern Empire as well as the West. [19]

Rufinus negotiated with Alaric to get him to withdraw from Constantinople (perhaps by promising him lands in Thessaly). Whatever the case, Alaric marched away from Constantinople to Greece, looting the diocese of Macedonia. [20] [21]

Magister utriusque militiae Stilicho marched east at the head of a combined Western and Eastern Roman army out of Italy. Alaric fortified himself behind a circle of wagons on the plain of Larissa, in Thessaly, where Stilicho besieged him for several months, unwilling to seek battle. Eventually, Arcadius, under the apparent influence of those hostile to Stilicho, commanded him to leave Thessaly. Stilicho obeyed the orders of his emperor by sending his Eastern troops to Constantinople and leading his Western ones back to Italy. [21] [22] The Eastern troops Stilicho had sent to Constantinople were led by a Goth named Gainas. When Rufinus met the soldiers, he was hacked to death in November 395. Whether that was done on the orders of Stilicho, or perhaps on those of Rufinus' replacement Eutropius, is unknown. [23]

The withdrawal of Stilicho freed Alaric to pillage much of Greece, including Piraeus, Corinth, Argos, and Sparta. Athens was able to pay a ransom to avoid being sacked. [21] It was only in 397 that Stilicho returned to Greece, having rebuilt his army with mainly barbarian allies and believing the eastern Roman government would now welcome his arrival. [24] After some fighting, Stilicho trapped and besieged Alaric at Pholoe. [25] Then, once again, Stilicho retreated to Italy, and Alaric marched into Epirus. Why Stilicho once again failed to dispatch Alaric is a matter of contention. It has been suggested that Stilicho's mostly-barbarian army had been unreliable or that another order from Arcadius and the Eastern government forced his withdrawal. [24] Others suggest that Stilicho made an agreement with Alaric and betrayed the East. [26] Whatever the case, Stilicho was declared a public enemy in the Eastern Empire the same year. [25]

Alaric's rampage in Epirus was enough to make the eastern Roman government offer him terms in 398. They made Alaric magister militum per Illyricum, giving him the Roman command he wanted and giving him free rein to take what resources he needed, including armaments, in his assigned province. [24] Stilicho, in the meantime, put down a rebellion in Africa in 399, which had been instigated by the eastern Roman empire, and married his daughter Maria to the 11-year-old Western emperor, Honorius, strengthening his grip on power in the West. [24]

Aurelianus, the new praetorian prefect of the east after Eutropius' execution, stripped Alaric of his title to Illyricum in 400. [27] Between 700 and 7,000 Gothic soldiers and their families were slaughtered in a riot at Constantinople on July 12, 400. [28] [29] Gainas, who at one point had been made magister militum, rebelled, but he was killed by the Huns under Uldin, who sent his head back to Constantinople as a gift. With these events, particularly Rome's use of the feared Huns and cut off from Roman officialdom, Alaric felt his position in the East was precarious. [28] So, while Stilicho was busy fighting an invasion of Vandals and Alans in Rhaetia and Noricum, Alaric led his people into an invasion of Italy in 401, reaching it in November without encountering much resistance. The Goths captured a few unnamed cities and besieged the Western Roman capital Mediolanum. Stilicho, now with Alan and Vandal federates in his army, relieved the siege, forcing a crossing at the Adda river. Alaric retreated to Pollentia. [30] On Easter Sunday, April 6, 402, Stilicho launched a surprise attack which became the Battle of Pollentia. The battle ended in a draw, and Alaric fell back. [31] After brief negotiations and maneuvers, the two forces clashed again at the Battle of Verona, where Alaric was defeated and besieged in a mountain fortress, taking heavy casualties. At this point, a number of Goths in his army started deserting him, including Sarus, who went over to the Romans. [32] Alaric and his army then withdrew to the borderlands next to Dalmatia and Pannonia. [33] Honorius, fearful after the near capture of Mediolanum, moved the Western Roman capital to Ravenna, which was more defensible with its natural swamps and more escapable with its access to the sea. [34] [35] Moving the capital to Ravenna may have disconnected the Western court from events beyond the Alps towards a preoccupation with the defense of Italy, weakening the Western Empire as a whole. [36]

In time, Alaric became an ally of Stilicho, agreeing to help claim the praetorian prefecture of Illyricum for the Western Empire. To that end, Stilicho named Alaric magister militum of Illyricum in 405. However, the Goth Radagaisus invaded Italy that same year, putting any such plans on hold. [37] Stilicho and the Romans, reinforced by Alans, Goths under Sarus, and Huns under Uldin, managed to defeat Radagaisus in August 406, but only after the devastation of northern Italy. [38] [39] 12,000 of Radagaisus' Goths were pressed into Roman military service, and others were enslaved. So many were sold into slavery by the victorious Roman forces that slave prices temporarily collapsed. [40]

Only in 407 did Stilicho turn his attention back to Illyricum, gathering a fleet to support Alaric's proposed invasion. But then the Rhine limes collapsed under the weight of hordes of vandals, Suebi, and Alans who flooded into Gaul. The Roman population there thus attacked rose in rebellion under the usurper Constantine III. [37] Stilicho reconciled with the Eastern Roman Empire in 408, and the Visigoths under Alaric had lost their value to Stilicho. Alaric then invaded and took control of parts of Noricum and upper Pannonia in the spring of 408. He demanded 288,000 solidi (four thousand pounds of gold), and threatened to invade Italy if he did not get it. [37] This was equivalent to the amount of money earned in property revenue by a single senatorial family in one year. [41] Only with the greatest difficulty was Stilicho able to get the Roman Senate to agree to pay the ransom, which was to buy the Romans a new alliance with Alaric who was to go to Gaul and fight the usurper Constantine III. [42] The debate on whether to pay Alaric weakened Stilicho's relationship with Honorius. [43]

Before payment could be received, however, the Eastern Roman Emperor Arcadius died on May 1, 408, of illness. He was succeeded by his young son, Theodosius II. Honorius wanted to go East to secure his nephew's succession, but Stilicho convinced him to stay and allow Stilicho himself to go instead. Olympius, a palatine official and an enemy of Stilicho's, spread false rumors that Stilicho planned to place his own son Eucherius on the throne of the East, and many came to believe them. Roman soldiers mutinied and began killing officials who were known supporters of Stilicho. [44] Stilicho's barbarian troops offered to attack the mutineers, but Stilicho forbade it. Stilicho instead went to Ravenna to meet with the Emperor to resolve the crisis. Honorius, now believing the rumors of Stilicho's treason, ordered his arrest. Stilicho sought sanctuary in a church in Ravenna, but he was lured out with promises of safety. Stepping outside, he was arrested and told he was to be immediately executed on Honorius’ orders. Stilicho refused to allow his followers to resist, and he was executed on August 22, 408. The half-Vandal, half-Roman general is credited with keeping the Western Roman Empire from crumbling during his 13 years of rule, and his death would have profound repercussions for the West. [44] His son Eucherius was executed shortly after in Rome. [45]

Stilicho's execution stopped the payment to Alaric and his Visigoths, who had received none of it. [42]

Olympius was appointed magister officiorum and replaced Stilicho as the power behind the throne. His new government was strongly anti-Germanic and obsessed with purging any and all of Stilicho's former supporters. Roman soldiers began to indiscriminately slaughter allied barbarian foederati soldiers and their families in Roman cities. [46] Thousands of them fled Italy and sought refuge with Alaric in Noricum. [47] Zosimus reports the number of refugees as 30,000, but Peter Heather and Thomas Burns believe that number is impossibly high. [47] Heather argues that Zosimus had misread his source and that 30,000 is the total number of fighting-men under Alaric's command after the refugees joined Alaric. [48]

First siege of Rome Edit

Attempting to come to an agreement with Honorius, Alaric asked for hostages, gold, and permission to move to Pannonia, but Honorius refused. [47] Alaric, aware of the weakened state of defenses in Italy, invaded six weeks after Stilicho's death. He also sent word of this news to his brother-in-law Ataulf to join the invasion as soon as he was able with reinforcements. [49] Alaric and his Visigoths sacked Ariminum and other cities as they moved south. [50] Alaric's march was unopposed and leisurely, as if they were going to a festival, according to Zosimus. [49] Sarus and his band of Goths, still in Italy, remained neutral and aloof. [46]

The city of Rome may have held as many as 800,000 people, making it the largest in the world at the time. [51] The Goths under Alaric laid siege to the city in late 408. Panic swept through its streets, and there was an attempt to reinstate pagan rituals in the still religiously mixed city to ward off the Visigoths. [52] Pope Innocent I even agreed to it, provided it be done in private. The pagan priests, however, said the sacrifices could only be done publicly in the Roman Forum, and the idea was abandoned. [53]

Serena, the wife of the proscribed Stilicho and a cousin of emperor Honorius, was in the city and believed by the Roman populace, with little evidence, to be encouraging Alaric's invasion. Galla Placidia, the sister of the emperor Honorius, was also trapped in the city and gave her consent to the Roman Senate to execute Serena. Serena was then strangled to death. [54]

Hopes of help from the Imperial government faded as the siege continued and Alaric took control of the Tiber River, which cut the supplies going into Rome. Grain was rationed to one-half and then one-third of its previous amount. Starvation and disease rapidly spread throughout the city, and rotting bodies were left unburied in the streets. [55] The Roman Senate then decided to send two envoys to Alaric. When the envoys boasted to him that the Roman people were trained to fight and ready for war, Alaric laughed at them and said, "The thickest grass is easier to cut than the thinnest." [55] The envoys asked under what terms the siege could be lifted, and Alaric demanded all the gold and silver, household goods, and barbarian slaves in the city. One envoy asked what would be left to the citizens of Rome. Alaric replied, "Their lives." [55] Ultimately, the city was forced to give the Goths 5,000 pounds of gold, 30,000 pounds of silver, 4,000 silken tunics, 3,000 hides dyed scarlet, and 3,000 pounds of pepper in exchange for lifting the siege. [56] The barbarian slaves fled to Alaric as well, swelling his ranks to about 40,000. [57] Many of the barbarian slaves were probably Radagaisus' former followers. [1] To raise the needed money, Roman senators were to contribute according to their means. This led to corruption and abuse, and the sum came up short. The Romans then stripped down and melted pagan statues and shrines to make up the difference. [58] Zosimus reports one such statue was of Virtus, and that when it was melted down to pay off barbarians it seemed "all that remained of the Roman valor and intrepidity was totally extinguished". [59]

Honorius consented to the payment of the ransom, and with it the Visigoths lifted the siege and withdrew to Etruria in December 408. [46]

Second siege Edit

In January 409, [60] the Senate sent an embassy to the imperial court at Ravenna to encourage the Emperor to come to terms with the Goths, and to give Roman aristocratic children as hostages to the Goths as insurance. Alaric would then resume his alliance with the Roman Empire. [46] [61] Honorius, under the influence of Olympius, refused and called in five legions from Dalmatia, totaling six thousand men. They were to go to Rome and garrison the city, but their commander, a man named Valens, marched his men into Etruria, believing it cowardly to go around the Goths. He and his men were intercepted and attacked by Alaric's full force, and almost all were killed or captured. Only 100 managed to escape and reach Rome. [60] [62]

A second Senatorial embassy, this time including Pope Innocent I, was sent with Gothic guards to Honorius to plead with him to accept the Visigoths' demands. [63] The imperial government also received word that Ataulf, Alaric's brother-in-law, had crossed the Julian Alps with his Goths into Italy with the intent of joining Alaric. Honorius summoned together all available Roman forces in northern Italy. Honorius placed 300 Huns of the imperial guard under the command of Olympius, and possibly the other forces as well, and ordered him to intercept Ataulf. They clashed near Pisa, and despite his force supposedly killing 1,100 Goths and losing only 17 of his own men, Olympius was forced to retreat back to Ravenna. [63] [64] Ataulf then joined Alaric. This failure caused Olympius to fall from power and to flee for his life to Dalmatia. [65] Jovius, the praetorian prefect of Italy, replaced Olympius as the power behind the throne and received the title of patrician. Jovius engineered a mutiny of soldiers in Ravenna who demanded the killing of magister utriusque militae Turpilio and magister equitum Vigilantius, and Jovius had both men killed. [65] [66] [67]

Jovius was a friend of Alaric's and had been a supporter of Stilicho, and thus the new government was open to negotiations. [65] Alaric went to Ariminum to meet Jovius and offer his demands. Alaric wanted yearly tribute in gold and grain, and lands in the provinces of Dalmatia, Noricum, and Venetia for his people. [65] Jovius also wrote privately to Honorius, suggesting that if Alaric was offered the position of magister utriusque militae, they could lessen Alaric's other demands. Honorius rejected the demand for a Roman office, and he sent an insulting letter to Alaric, which was read out in the negotiations. [68] [69]

Infuriated, Alaric broke off negotiations, and Jovius returned to Ravenna to strengthen his relationship with the Emperor. Honorius was now firmly committed to war, and Jovius swore on the Emperor's head never to make peace with Alaric. Alaric himself soon changed his mind when he heard Honorius was attempting to recruit 10,000 Huns to fight the Goths. [65] [70] He gathered a group of Roman bishops and sent them to Honorius with his new terms. He no longer sought Roman office or tribute in gold. He now only requested lands in Noricum and as much grain as the Emperor found necessary. [65] Historian Olympiodorus the Younger, writing many years later, considered these terms extremely moderate and reasonable. [69] But it was too late: Honorius' government, bound by oath and intent on war, rejected the offer. Alaric then marched on Rome. [65] The 10,000 Huns never materialized. [71]

Alaric took Portus and renewed the siege of Rome in late 409. Faced with the return of starvation and disease, the Senate met with Alaric. [72] He demanded that they appoint one of their own as Emperor to rival Honorius, and he instigated the election of the elderly Priscus Attalus to that end, a pagan who permitted himself to be baptized. Alaric was then made magister utriusque militiae and his brother-in-law Ataulf was given the position comes domesticorum equitum in the new, rival government, and the siege was lifted. [65]

Heraclian, governor of the food-rich province of Africa, remained loyal to Honorius. Attalus sent a Roman force to subdue him, refusing to send Gothic soldiers there as he was distrustful of their intentions. [73] Attalus and Alaric then marched to Ravenna, forcing some cities in northern Italy to submit to Attalus. [69] Honorius, extremely fearful at this turn of events, sent Jovius and others to Attalus, pleading that they share the Western Empire. Attalus said he would only negotiate on Honorius' place of exile. Jovius, for his part, switched sides to Attalus and was named patrician by his new master. Jovius wanted to have Honorius mutilated as well (something that was to become common in the Eastern Empire), but Attalus rejected it. [73]

Increasingly isolated and now in pure panic, Honorius was preparing to flee to Constantinople when 4,000 Eastern Roman soldiers appeared at Ravenna's docks to defend the city. [74] Their arrival strengthened Honorius' resolve to await news of what had happened in Africa: Heraclian had defeated Attalus' force and cut supplies to Rome, threatening another famine in the city. [74] Alaric wanted to send Gothic soldiers to invade Africa and secure the province, but Attalus again refused, distrustful of the Visigoths' intentions for the province. [73] Counseled by Jovius to do away with his puppet emperor, Alaric summoned Attalus to Ariminum and ceremonially stripped him of his imperial regalia and title in the summer of 410. Alaric then reopened negotiations with Honorius. [74]

Third siege and sack Edit

Honorius arranged for a meeting with Alaric about 12 kilometres outside of Ravenna. As Alaric waited at the meeting place, Sarus, who was a sworn enemy of Ataulf and now allied to Honorius, attacked Alaric and his men with a small Roman force. [74] [75] Peter Heather speculates Sarus had also lost the election for the kingship of the Goths to Alaric in the 390s. [75]

Alaric survived the attack and, outraged at this treachery and frustrated by all the past failures at accommodation, gave up on negotiating with Honorius and headed back to Rome, which he besieged for the third and final time. [76] On August 24, 410, the Visigoths entered Rome through its Salarian Gate, according to some opened by treachery, according to others by want of food, and pillaged the city for three days. [77] [78]

Many of the city's great buildings were ransacked, including the mausoleums of Augustus and Hadrian, in which many Roman Emperors of the past were buried the ashes of the urns in both tombs were scattered. [79] Any and all moveable goods were stolen all over the city. Some of the few places the Goths spared were the two major basilicas connected to Peter and Paul, though from the Lateran Palace they stole a massive, 2,025-pound silver ciborium that had been a gift from Constantine. [76] Structural damage to buildings was largely limited to the areas near the old Senate house and the Salarian Gate, where the Gardens of Sallust were burned and never rebuilt. [80] [81] The Basilica Aemilia and the Basilica Julia were also burned. [82] [83]

The city's citizens were devastated. Many Romans were taken captive, including the Emperor's sister, Galla Placidia. Some citizens would be ransomed, others would be sold into slavery, and still others would be raped and killed. [84] Pelagius, a Roman monk from Britain, survived the siege and wrote an account of the experience in a letter to a young woman named Demetrias.

This dismal calamity is but just over, and you yourself are a witness to how Rome that commanded the world was astonished at the alarm of the Gothic trumpet, when that barbarous and victorious nation stormed her walls, and made her way through the breach. Where were then the privileges of birth, and the distinctions of quality? Were not all ranks and degrees leveled at that time and promiscuously huddled together? Every house was then a scene of misery, and equally filled with grief and confusion. The slave and the man of quality were in the same circumstances, and every where the terror of death and slaughter was the same, unless we may say the fright made the greatest impression on those who had the greatest interest in living. [85]

Many Romans were tortured into revealing the locations of their valuables. One was the 85-year-old [86] Saint Marcella, who had no hidden gold as she lived in pious poverty. She was a close friend of St. Jerome, and he detailed the incident in a letter to a woman named Principia who had been with Marcella during the sack.

When the soldiers entered [Marcella's house] she is said to have received them without any look of alarm and when they asked her for gold she pointed to her coarse dress to show them that she had no buried treasure. However they would not believe in her self-chosen poverty, but scourged her and beat her with cudgels. She is said to have felt no pain but to have thrown herself at their feet and to have pleaded with tears for you [Principia], that you might not be taken from her, or owing to your youth have to endure what she as an old woman had no occasion to fear. Christ softened their hard hearts and even among bloodstained swords natural affection asserted its rights. The barbarians conveyed both you and her to the basilica of the apostle Paul, that you might find there either a place of safety or, if not that, at least a tomb. [87]

Marcella died of her injuries a few days later. [88]

The sack was nonetheless, by the standards of the age (and all ages), restrained. There was no general slaughter of the inhabitants and the two main basilicas of Peter and Paul were nominated places of sanctuary. Most of the buildings and monuments in the city survived intact, though stripped of their valuables. [76] [79]

Refugees from Rome flooded the province of Africa, as well as Egypt and the East. [89] [90] Some refugees were robbed as they sought asylum, [90] and St. Jerome wrote that Heraclian, the Count of Africa, sold some of the young refugees into Eastern brothels. [91]

Who would believe that Rome, built up by the conquest of the whole world, had collapsed, that the mother of nations had become also their tomb that the shores of the whole East, of Egypt, of Africa, which once belonged to the imperial city, were filled with the hosts of her men-servants and maid-servants, that we should every day be receiving in this holy Bethlehem men and women who once were noble and abounding in every kind of wealth but are now reduced to poverty? We cannot relieve these sufferers: all we can do is to sympathize with them, and unite our tears with theirs. [. ] There is not a single hour, nor a single moment, in which we are not relieving crowds of brethren, and the quiet of the monastery has been changed into the bustle of a guest house. And so much is this the case that we must either close our doors, or abandon the study of the Scriptures on which we depend for keeping the doors open. [. ] Who could boast when the flight of the people of the West, and the holy places, crowded as they are with penniless fugitives, naked and wounded, plainly reveal the ravages of the Barbarians? We cannot see what has occurred, without tears and moans. Who would have believed that mighty Rome, with its careless security of wealth, would be reduced to such extremities as to need shelter, food, and clothing? And yet, some are so hard-hearted and cruel that, instead of showing compassion, they break up the rags and bundles of the captives, and expect to find gold about those who are nothing than prisoners. [90]

The historian Procopius records a story where, on hearing the news that Rome had "perished", Honorius was initially shocked, thinking the news was in reference to a favorite chicken he had named "Rome":

At that time they say that the Emperor Honorius in Ravenna received the message from one of the eunuchs, evidently a keeper of the poultry, that Rome had perished. And he cried out and said, 'And yet it has just eaten from my hands!' For he had a very large cock, Rome by name and the eunuch comprehending his words said that it was the city of Rome which had perished at the hands of Alaric, and the emperor with a sigh of relief answered quickly: 'But I thought that my fowl Rome had perished.' So great, they say, was the folly with which this emperor was possessed. [92]

While the tale is discounted as false by more recent historians like Edward Gibbon, it is useful in understanding Roman public opinion towards Honorius. [93] Regarding the anecdote, it was recently demonstrated that the bird observations in Procopius’ work had direct connection with Rome and its prospective rulers. The tale's cock and Rome were not two entities but one, the opportunity of Honorius of being an emperor ruling over the both sides of the empire. [94]

The Ottoman Attack and the Siege of Constantinople in 1453

The defenders of Constantinople had strung a huge metal chain, which had been floated using barrels, across the entrance of the harbor, the Golden Horn.
(Image: Cobija/CC BY-SA 4.0/Public domain)

The Ottoman Turks were determined to capture Constantinople. Their nickname for it was the ‘Golden Apple’, the ultimate prize. Like New York, the ‘Big Apple’ of our times, Constantinople, the Golden Apple, was seen at the time as the ultimate metropolis, the ultimate object of desire. Given all this, it was clear that eventually, the city must fall, and the real wonder is how long it had held out, given its deeply weakened state.

The Siege of Constantinople Begins

Constantinople had weathered the attack of the Christian Crusader army in 1204, but couldn’t fend off the onslaught of the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman Turks swiftly conquered the lands in the Near East, until eventually Constantinople was reduced essentially just to its city limits, a capital without its empire.

The young Ottoman sultan, Mehmet II, and his armies began their siege on Easter Monday, April 2, 1453. Inside the city walls, Emperor Constantine XI was determined to hold out, even if the situation was hopeless.

The siege, once it began, lasted for eight weeks. The city’s defenders strung a huge metal chain, floated on barrels, across the entrance of the harbor, the Golden Horn. The defenders hunkered down behind the huge thousand-year-old walls of their capital and waited. Seven thousand defenders were matched against some 80,000 invaders.

Outside the city was mustered the huge Ottoman army, which in fact, even included some Christian forces who were fighting with the Ottomans as allies.

The elite of the Ottomans were the Janissaries. The Janissaries were what we today would call shock troops, who as boys had been taken from their Christian parents in the Balkans, under Ottoman rule, had been converted to Islam and then conscripted into the Ottoman army, where they were a kind of supersoldier.

Orban, the Hungarian Artillery Expert

One other figure played a decisive role in the fall of Constantinople, and that was a Hungarian artillery expert by the name of Orban, who gave the Ottomans a dreaded new weapon, a monster cannon using gunpowder.

Gunpowder, with its explosive potential, was actually a Chinese invention, from around the 9 th century. Knowledge of gunpowder had reached Europe around the 12 th century. Once this technology was perfected by people like Orban, it would devastate the certainties and the traditions and the way of life of the medieval age.

Think of the Middle Ages, and one of the first things that probably would leap to mind for us are castles, those immense, strongly fortified structures that were the power bases of their day. Artillery would change all of that, as the shattering of the walls of Constantinople demonstrated.

The young artillery expert Orban at first offered his services to Constantinople. His native Hungary was a Christian country, so there was this religious affinity, and for a while, Orban worked for Constantinople. But then the money to pay him ran out, so Orban went over to the Turks because they offered him a better salary. It was nothing personal, just better financial incentives.

Now, Orban, the professional artillery master constructed a monster cannon, the largest yet seen, that would be used to pound the ancient walls of Constantinople. The cannon was 27 feet long, and it was able to shoot a 1,500-pound stone ball at the defenses of the beleaguered city.

The monster canon constructed by Orban, which gave the Ottoman army the edge and helped them breach the walls of Constantinople. (Image: User:The Land/Public domain)

When this huge artillery piece was actually cast and constructed in faraway Adrianople, it had to be hauled more than a hundred miles to the besieged city. Hundreds of Turkish soldiers and teams of oxen dragged it there, moving two and a half miles every day.

When it finally had been dragged and put into position, the sight must have been awe-inspiring, and clearly very bad news for the defenders of Constantinople. With deafening thunder, the cannon fired. In fact, the cannon could only be fired seven times each day, because it needed to be cooled off in between or risk exploding.

In addition to this monster, guns were many other smaller cannons that continued the bombardment that had begun. This was the sound of a military revolution, making stone walls and towers and battlements largely obsolete.

Despite differences, the West helps Constantinople

Constantinople didn’t really have any hope for help from the West because doctrinal questions and theological disputes had separated the Western Latin Christians from the Eastern Orthodox Christians in the so-called Great Schism of 1054.

So, the defenders were delighted when some reinforcements from the West actually did arrive in spite of the theological differences. These reinforcements came from the Italian commercial city-state of Genoa, and among their number was an expert in fortifications.

That Genoese fortifications expert, remarkably, helped the Byzantines to rebuild or reinforce crumbling parts of the city wall by night after they had been pounded by cannon during the day. During the night, the damage of the day would be made good. Further Genoese ships actually managed to break through the Ottoman blockade and reach the harbor, bringing reinforcements and supplies.

Ottomans Circumvent the Golden Horn Barrier

In an amazing military feat, the Ottomans actually lifted some of their own ships out of the water and rolled them over land and surrounding mountains for around two or three miles. They used logs as rollers, and by brute force transported them over the terrain.

This is a transcript from the video series Turning Points in Modern History. Watch it now, Wondrium.

Next, they set the ships down on the water on the far side of the chain that had been drawn across the entrance of the harbor at Golden Horn. The Ottomans had circumvented that famous defense.

To demoralize the defenders and to stir fear inside the city, the Turks also impaled prisoners within sight of the walls. The Byzantines responded by throwing Turkish prisoners to their deaths from the ramparts.

The Walls of Constantinople Are Breached

After long weeks of siege, after the relentless pounding of the cannon that had been set up and directed by the Hungarian professional Orban, the walls at last broke. The Ottomans’ elite forces, the Janissaries, raced in to exploit the breach, and the defenders started to fall back from the walls. The city was about to be taken.

A painting shows the Ottoman soldiers and defenders of Constantinople battling each other, after the canon made by Orban broke the city walls. (Image: Steve Estvanik/Shutterstock)

Through it all, Emperor Constantine refused to surrender and rallied both local inhabitants of the city and Latin Christians from Venice and Genoa, who were merchants who had worked in the city, all fighting together in defense of the beleaguered metropolis.

When the walls were breached, Emperor Constantine did something dramatic. He shouted out to all who could hear, ‘The City is lost, but I live’. With that, he tore off the emblems of his imperial rank, which marked him as the emperor, and like an ordinary soldier rushed into the thickest part of the fighting, and he was never seen alive again.

The Fall of Constantinople

The city of Constantinople fell on May 29, 1453. Mehmet’s forces sacked the city and sold the surviving inhabitants into slavery. The Sultan Mehmet entered Hagia Sophia, what had been a church, and now turned it into a mosque. Geometric designs were painted over the famous mosaics of Hagia Sophia, and verses of the Koran were placed where earlier holy icons had been hung.

Henceforth, the victor of this siege would acquire a new nickname. He would be known as ‘Mehmet the Conqueror’. He would also be called the ‘Sultan of Rum’, that is to say, the Sultan of Rome, of the lands of the expired Roman Empire.

Reactions to the Fall of Constantinople

In the rest of Europe, the news of the fall of the city took some time to spread given what communications were like, how slow they were in those days. In fact, given the confusing situation of war, news of the capture of Constantinople only reached Rome and Italy more than a month after it had happened.

When the news did spread in the West, it was met with shock, disbelief, and a growing sense of horror. Some contemporaries simply refused to believe it, as if the news must be wrong. Others accepted it but were certain that this must be reversed it must be changed. In fact, fascinating rumors circulated that sort of reinforced the strength of this conviction.

Such rumors are worth considering because they tell us deep truths about what people at the time were feeling, fearing, or wishing. Let me offer two examples.

As mentioned before, Emperor Constantine had rushed into battle without insignia, his body was never identified after the fighting. As a result, legends circulated that Emperor Constantine did not die, but had miraculously been saved, and had fallen into a mystical sleep. The rumors continued even now, Emperor Constantine is sleeping in a secret underground chamber under the city gates of Constantinople, waiting for the chance to reclaim his empire.

Another legend referred to the church of Hagia Sophia. This story concerned priests who were in the middle of holding Christian services as the siege reached its climax. These priests, according to the legend, were not done with their service as the Turkish warriors broke into the church, and the priests didn’t flee. Instead, they were somehow absorbed into the walls of the church. Someday, the story ends, those priests will step out of the walls, to complete their rituals after a hiatus of hundreds of years.

Common Question about the Ottoman Siege of Constantinople

Constantinople was was finally conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 . The Ottoman army was being commanded by Sultan Mehmet II, who is also known as ‘Mehmet the Conqueror’, and the ‘Sultan of Rum’ or the Sultan of Rome.

The key to the Ottoman Turks conquering Constantinople was the cannon constructed by Orban, a Hungarian artillery expert , that pounded the walls of Constantinople and eventually broke them down, allowing the Ottoman army to breach the city.

The Ottoman siege of Constantinople began on April 2, 1453, and lasted till May 29, 1453, when the Ottoman army sacked the city.

In 1453, the over 1,200 years old imperial city of Constantinople was weak and vulnerable. Its walls were no longer as strong and impenetrable as it once used to be, and the army at the disposal of Emperor Constantine wasn’t too big either. In addition, the Ottoman Turks were very strong and very determined to capture Constantinople. The canon built by Orban proved to be the final proverbial nail in the coffin.

7. Antonine Plague 165-180

The Antonine Plague was a devastating epidemic that made a major contribution to the decline of the Roman Empire. This deadly disease raged for 15 years, from 165 to 180, wiping out up to one third of the population in many areas and filling the streets with bodies faster than they could be buried.

Symptoms of the disease included fever, diarrhea and inflammation of the throat, and it was frequently deadly. Although the great Greek physician Galen was present during the plague, his descriptions are sketchy and it is therefore difficult to say exactly which virus was responsible. Most historians, however, agree that the culprit was either measles or smallpox.

Total deaths from the epidemic are estimated at around five million. And due to the combined effects of other outbreaks, such as the Plague of Cyprian, the shrinking population couldn’t produce the military or economic might to sustain the Western Roman Empire. By the third century, the capital city was no longer providing strong central government, and from then on, Imperial power could only go downhill. Just to think: the disintegration of Rome’s global empire, all caused by a handful of germs.

A Spectacle of Horror – The Burning of the General Slocum

It was, by all accounts, a glorious Wednesday morning on June 15, 1904, and the men of Kleindeutschland—Little Germany, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side–were on their way to work. Just after 9 o’clock, a group from St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on 6 th Street, mostly women and children, boarded the General Slocum for their annual end-of-school outing. Bounding aboard what was billed as the “largest and most splendid excursion steamer in New York,” the children, dressed in their Sunday school outfits, shouted and waved flags as the adults followed, carrying picnic baskets for what was to be a long day away.

A German band played on deck while the children romped and the adults sang along, waiting to depart. Just before 10 o’clock, the lines were cast off, a bell rang in the engine room, and a deck hand reported to Captain William Van Schaick that nearly a thousand tickets had been collected at the plank. That number didn’t include the 300 children under the age of 10, who didn’t require tickets. Including crew and catering staff, there were about 1,350 aboard the General Slocum as it steamed up the East River at 15 knots toward Long Island Sound, headed for Locust Grove, a picnic ground on Long Island’s North Shore, about two hours away.

Built in 1891 and owned by the Knickerbocker Steamboat Company, the General Slocum was made of white oak, locust and yellow pine and licensed to carry 2,500 passengers. The ship carried that many life preservers, and just a month before a fire inspector had deemed its fire equipment to be in “fine working order.”

As the ship reached 97 th Street, some of the crew on the lower deck saw puffs of smoke rising through the wooden floorboards and ran below to the second cabin. But the men had never conducted any fire drills, and when they turned the ship’s fire hoses onto the flames, the rotten hoses burst. Rushing back above deck, they told Van Schaick that they had encountered a “blaze that could not be conquered.” It was “like trying to put out hell itself.”

Bodies collected on the shore at North Brother Island (Wikipedia)

Onlookers in Manhattan, seeing the flames, shouted for the captain to dock immediately. Instead, Van Schaick, fearing the steering gear would break down in the strong currents and leave the Slocum helpless in midriver, plowed full speed ahead. He aimed for a pier at 134 th  Street, but a tugboat captain warned him off, fearing the burning ship would ignite lumber stored there. Van Shaick made a run for North Brother Island, a mile away, hoping to beach the Slocum sideways so everyone would have a chance to get off. The ship’s speed, coupled with a fresh north wind, fanned the flames. Mothers began screaming for their children as passengers panicked on deck. As fire enveloped the Slocum, hundreds of passengers hurled themselves overboard, even though many could not swim.

The crew distributed life jackets, but they too were rotten. Boats sped to the scene and pulled a few passengers to safety, but mostly they encountered children’s corpses bobbing in the currents along the tidal strait known as Hell Gate. One newspaper described it as “a spectacle of horror beyond words to express—a great vessel all in flames, sweeping forward in the sunlight, within sight of the crowded city, while her helpless, screaming hundreds were roasted alive or swallowed up in waves.”

A witness reported seeing a large white yacht flying the insignia from the New York Yacht Club arrive on the scene just as the burning Slocum passed 139 th  Street. He said the captain positioned his yacht nearby and then stood on the bridge with his field glasses, “seeing women and children jump overboard in swarms and making no effort to go to their assistance…he did not even lower a boat.”

Passengers trampled children in their rush to the Slocum‘s stern. One man, engulfed in flames, leaped over the port side and shrieked as the giant paddle wheel swallowed him. Others blindly followed him to a similar fate. A 12 year-old boy shimmied up the ship’s flagstaff at the bow and hung there until the heat became too great and he dropped into the flames. Hundreds massed together, only to bake to death. The middle deck soon gave way with a terrific crash, and passengers along the outside rails were jolted overboard. Women and children dropped into the choppy waters in clusters. In the mayhem, a woman gave birth—and when she hurled herself overboard, her newborn in her arms, they both perished.

At Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island, where patients with typhoid and other contagious diseases had been quarantined, staff spotted the burning vessel approaching and quickly prepared the hospital’s engines and hoses to pump water, hoping to douse the flames. The island’s fire whistle blew and dozens of rescuers moved to the shore. Captain Van Schaick, his feet blistering from the heat below, managed to ground the Slocum sideways about 25 feet from shore. Rescuers swam to the ship and pulled survivors to safety. Nurses threw debris for passengers to cling to while others tossed ropes and life preservers. Some nurses dove into the water themselves and pulled badly burned passengers to safety. Still, the heat from the flames made it impossible to get close enough as the Slocum became engulfed from stem to stem.

Rescuers at the scene of the greatest maritime disaster in American peacetime history. (Wikipedia)

Firefighter Edward McCarroll dove into the water from his boat, the Wade, and pulled an 11 year-old girl to safety, passing her to a man with a boat hook. He went back for another when one woman grabbed him by the throat, pulling him under water momentarily, and shouted,  “You must save my boy.” McCarroll dragged the child to the Wade, and they were both hoisted aboard. Crews from tugs following the Slocum were credited with pulling in the living and the dead “by the dozen.”

Within an hour, 150 bodies were stretched out on blankets covering the lawn and sands of North Brother Island. Most of them were women. One was still clutching her lifeless baby, who was “tenderly taken out of her arms and laid on the grass beside her.” Rescued orphans of 3, 4 and 5 years old milled about the beach, dazed. Hours would pass before they could leave the island, many taken to Bellevue Hospital to treat wounds and await the arrival of grief-stricken relatives.

Van Shaick was believed to be the last person off the Slocum when he jumped into the water and swam for shore, blinded and crippled. He would face criminal charges for his ship’s unpreparedness and be sentenced to 10 years in prison he served four when he was pardoned by President William Howard Taft on Christmas Day, 1912.

The death toll of 1,021, most of them women and children, made the burning of the Slocum New York City’s worst disaster until the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The fire was believed to have been touched off by a carelessly tossed match or cigarette that ignited a barrel of packing hay below deck. There were also remarkable tales of survival. A 10-month-old boy floated to shore, uninjured but orphaned, and lay unclaimed at a hospital until his grandmother identified him days later. Eleven-year-old Willie Keppler had joined the excursion without his parents’ permission but made it through the flailing of non-swimmers who dragged fellow passengers down with them he was too scared of punishment to return home until he saw his name among the dead in the next day’s newspaper. “I thought I’d come home and git the licking instead of breaking me mudder’s heart,” Keppler was quoted as saying. “So I’m home, and me mudder only kissed me and me fadder gave me half a dollar for being a good swimmer.”

The men of Little Germany were suddenly without families. Funerals were held for more than a week, and the desolate schoolyards of Kleindeutschland were painful reminders of their loss. Many widowers and broken families moved uptown to Yorkville to be closer to the scene of the disaster, establishing a new Germantown on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Some returned to Germany. Before long, Kleindeutschland disappeared under New York’s next wave of Polish and Russian immigrants.

Articles: “One Man Without a Heart,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 16, 1904.  “Recover 493 Dead,” Boston Globe, June 16, 1904.  “Captain of Boat Tells His Story,” Chicago Tribune, June 16, 1904.  “East Side’s Heart Torn By the Horror,” New York Times, June 16, 1904. “General Slocum Disaster,” “A Brief Account of The General Slocum Disaster,” by Edward T. O’Donnell. also,

Books: Edward T. O’Donnell, Ship Ablaze: The Tragedy of the Steamboat General Slocum, Broadway, 2003.

Christian Atrocities: Three Centuries Of Pagan Persecution

Pythagoreans greet the sun with song by Fyodor Bronnikov. (Credit: Wikipedia / Public Domain)

To help counter Christians in denial, a Greek correspondent, Florin Achaios, has submitted the following chronology of Christian persecution especially of the Greeks…

314 Immediately after its full legalisation, the Christian Church attacks the gentiles (non-Christians). The Council of Ancyra denounces the worship of Goddess Artemis.

324 The emperor Constantine declares Christianity as the only official religion of the Roman empire. In Dydima, Minor Asia, he sacks the Oracle of the god Apollo and tortures the Pagan priests to death. He also evicts all non-Christian peoples from Mount Athos and destroys all the local Hellenic temples.

326 Constantine, following the instructions of his mother Helen, destroys the temple of the god Asclepius in Aigeai Cilicia and many temples of the goddess Aphrodite in Jerusalem, Aphaca, Mambre, Phoenicia, Baalbek, etc.

330 Constantine steals the treasures and statues of the Pagan temples of Greece to decorate Nova Roma (Constantinople), the new capital of his Empire.

335 Constantine sacks many Pagan temples of Minor Asia and Palestine and orders the execution by crucifixion of “all magicians and soothsayers”. Martyrdom of the neoplatonist philosopher Sopatrus.

341 Flavius Julius Constantius persecutes “all the soothsayers and the Hellenists”. Many gentile Hellenes are either imprisoned or executed.

346 New large scale persecutions against non-Christian peoples in Constantinople. Banishment of the famous orator Libanius accused as a “magician”.

353 An edict of Constantius orders the death penalty for all kind of worship through sacrifices and “idols”.

354 A new edict of Constantius orders the closing of all Pagan Temples. Some of them are profaned and turned into brothels or gambling rooms. Executions of Pagan priests. First burning of libraries in various cities of the Empire. The first lime factories are built next to closed Pagan Temples. A large part of Sacred Gentile architecture is turned into lime.

356 A new edict of Constantius orders the destruction of the Pagan Temples and the execution of all “idolaters”.

357 Constantius outlaws all methods of Divination (Astrology not excluded).

359 In Skythopolis, Syria, the Christians organise the first death camps for the torture and executions of the arrested non-Christians from all around the empire.

361 to 363 Religious tolerance and restoration of the Pagan cults declared in Constantinople (11th December 361) by the Pagan emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus.

363 Assassination of Emperor Julianus (26th June).

364 Emperor Flavius Jovianus orders the burning of the Library of Antioch. An Imperial edict (11th September) orders the death penalty for all Gentiles that worship their ancestral Gods or practice Divination (“sileat omnibus perpetuo divinandi uriositas”). Three different edicts (4th February, 9th September, 23rd December) order the confiscation of all properties of Pagan Temples and the death penalty for participation in Pagan rituals, even private ones.

365 An Imperial edict (17th November) forbids the gentile (Pagan) officers of the army to command Christian soldiers.

370 Valens orders a tremendous persecution of non-Christian peoples in all the Eastern Empire. In Antioch, among many other non-Christians, the ex-governor Fidustius and the priests Hilarius and Patricius are executed. Tons of books are burnt in the squares of the cities of the Eastern Empire. All the friends of Julianus are persecuted (Orebasius, Sallustius, Pegasius etc.), the philosopher Simonides is burned alive and the philosopher Maximus is decapitated.

372 Valens orders the governor of Minor Asia to exterminate all the Hellenes and all documents of their wisdom.

373 New prohibition of all divination methods. The term “Pagan” (pagani, villagers, equivalent to the modern insult, “peasants”) is introduced by the Christians to demean non-believers.

375 The temple of god Asclepius in Epidaurus, Greece, is closed down by the Christians.

380 On 27th February, Christianity becomes the exclusive religion of the Roman Empire by an edict of Emperor Flavius Theodosius, requiring that “all the various nations, which are subject to our clemency and moderation should continue in the profession of that religion, which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter”. Non-christians are called “loathsome, heretics, stupid and blind”. In another edict Theodosius calls “insane” those that do not believe in the christian god and outlaws all disagreements with the Church dogmas. Ambrosius, bishop of Milan, starts destroying all the Pagan Temples of his area. Christian priests lead the mob against the Temple of Goddess Demeter in Eleusis and try to lynch the hierophants Nestorius and Priskus. The 95 year-old hierophant Nestorius, ends the Eleusinian Mysteries and announces the predominance of mental darkness over the human race.

381 On 2nd May, Theodosius deprives of all their rights the Christians that return back to the Pagan religion. In all the Eastern Empire the Pagan temples and Libraries are looted or burned down. On 21st December, Theodosius outlaws even simple visits to the temples of the Hellenes. In Constantinople, the temple of goddess Aphrodite is turned to a brothel and the temples of Sun and Artemis to stables.

382 “Hellelujah” (“Glory to Yahweh”) is imposed in the Christian mass.

384 Theodosius orders the Praetorian Prefect Maternus Cynegius, a dedicated Christian, to cooperate with the local bishops and destroy the temples of the Pagans in Northern Greece and Minor Asia.

385 to 388 Maternus Cynegius, encouraged by his fanatic wife, and bishop “Saint” Marcellus with his gangs scour the countryside and sack and destroy hundreds of Hellenic temples, shrines and altars. Among others they destroy the temple of Edessa, the Cabeireion of Imbros, the temple of Zeus in Apamea, the temple of Apollo in Dydima and all the temples of Palmyra. Thousands of innocent Pagans from all sides of the empire suffer martyrdom in the notorious death camps of Skythopolis.

386 Theodosius outlaws (16th June) the care of the sacked Pagan temples.

388 Public talks on religious subjects are also outlawed by Theodosius. The old orator Libanius sends his famous Epistle “Pro Templis” to Theodosius, with a hope that the few remaining Hellenic Temples will be respected and spared.

389 to 390 All non-Christian date-methods are outlawed. Hordes of fanatic hermits from the desert flood the cities of the Middle East and Egypt and destroy statues, altars, libraries and Pagan temples, and lynch the Pagans. Theophilus, Patriarch of Alexandria, starts heavy persecutions against non-Christian peoples, turns the temple of Dionysos into a Christian church, burns down the Mithraeum of the city, destroys the temple of Zeus and burlesques the Pagan priests before they are killed by stoning. The Christian mob profanes the cult images.

391 On 24th February, a new edict of Theodosius prohibits not only visits to pagan temples but also looking at the vandalised statues. New heavy persecutions occur all around the empire. In Alexandria, Egypt, pagans, led by the philosopher Olympius, revolt and after some street fights they lock themselves inside the fortified temple of the god Serapis (the Serapeion). After a violent siege, the Christians take over the building, demolish it, burn its famous library and profane the cult images.

392 On 8th November, Theodosius outlaws all the non-Christian rituals and names them “superstitions of the gentiles” (gentilicia superstitio). New full scale persecutions against Pagans. The Mysteries of Samothrace are ended and the priests slaughtered. In Cyprus the local bishop “Saint” Epiphanius and “Saint” Tychon destroy almost all the temples of the island and exterminate thousands of non-Christians. The local Mysteries of goddess Aphrodite are ended. Theodosius’s edict declares: “the ones that won’t obey pater Epiphanius have no right to keep living in that island”. The Pagans revolt against the emperor and the Church in Petra, Aeropolis, Rafia, Gaza, Baalbek and other cities of the Middle East.

393 The Pythian Games, the Aktia Games and the Olympic Games are outlawed as part of the Hellenic “idolatry”. The Christians sack the temples of Olympia.

395 Two new edicts (22nd July and 7th August) cause new persecutions against Pagans. Rufinus, the eunuch Prime Minister of emperor Flavius Arcadius directs the hordes of the baptised Goths (led by Alaric) to the country of the Hellenes. Encouraged by Christian monks the barbarians sack and burn many cities (Dion, Delphi, Megara, Corinth, Pheneos, Argos, Nemea, Lycosoura, Sparta, Messene, Phigaleia, Olympia, etc.), slaughter or enslave innumerable gentile Hellenes and burn down all the temples. Among others, they burn down the Eleusinian Sanctuary and burn alive all its priests (including the hierophant of Mithras Hilarius).

396 On 7th December, a new edict by Arcadius orders that Paganism be treated as high treason. Imprisonment of the few remaining Pagan priests and hierophants.

397 “Demolish them!”. Flavius Arcadius orders all the still standing Pagan temples to be demolished.

398 The Fourth Church Council of Carthage prohibits to everybody, including to the Christian bishops, the study of the books of the Pagans. Porphyrius, bishop of Gaza, demolishes almost all the Pagan temples of his city (except 9 of them that remain active).

399 With a new edict (13th July) Flavius Arcadius orders all the still standing Pagan temples, mainly in the countryside, to be immediately demolished.

400 Bishop Nicetas destroys the Oracle of the god Dionysus in Vesai and baptises all the non-Christians of this area.

401 The Christian mob of Carthage lynches non-Christians and destroys temples and “idols”. In Gaza too, the local bishop “Saint” Porphyrius sends his followers to lynch Pagans and to demolish the remaining 9 still active temples of the city. The 15th Council of Chalkedon orders all the Christians that still keep good relations with their gentile relatives to be excommunicated (even after their death).

405 John Chrysostom sends hordes of gray dressed monks armed with clubs and iron bars to destroy the “idols” in all the cities of Palestine.

406 John Chrysostom collects funds from rich Christian women to financially support the demolition of the Hellenic temples. In Ephessus he orders the destruction of the famous temple of goddess Artemis. In Salamis, Cyprus, “Saints” Epiphanius and Eutychius continue the persecutions of the Pagans and the total destruction of their temples and sanctuaries.

407 A new edict outlaws once more all the non-Christian acts of worship

408 The emperor of the Western Empire, Honorius, and the emperor of the Eastern Empire, Arcadius, order together all the sculptures of the Pagan temples to be either destroyed or to be taken away. Private ownership of Pagan sculpture is also outlawed. The local bishops lead new heavy persecutions against the Pagans and new book burning. The judges that have pity for the Pagans are also persecuted. “Saint” Augustine massacres hundreds of protesting Pagans in Calama, Algeria.

409 Another edict orders all methods of divination including astrology to be punished by death.

415 In Alexandria, Egypt, the Christian mob, urged by the bishop Cyrillus, attacks a few days before the Judaeo-Christian Pascha (Easter) and cuts to pieces the famous and beautiful philosopher Hypatia. The pieces of her body, carried around by the Christian mob through the streets of Alexandria, are finally burned together with her books in a place called Cynaron. On 30th August, new persecutions start against all the Pagan priests of North Africa who end their lives either crucified or burned alive.

416 The inquisitor Hypatius, alias “The Sword of God”, exterminates the last Pagans of Bithynia. In Constantinople (7th December) all non-Christian army officers, public employees and judges are dismissed.

423 Emperor Theodosius II declares (8th June) that the religion of the Pagans is nothing more than “demon worship” and orders all those who persist in practicing it to be punished by imprisonment and torture.

429 The temple of goddess Athena (Parthenon) on the Acropolis of Athens is sacked. The Athenian Pagans are persecuted.

435 On 14th November, a new edict by Theodosius II orders the death penalty for all “heretics” and Pagans of the empire. Only Judaism is considered a legal non-Christian religion.

438 Theodosius II issues an new edict (31st January) against the Pagans, incriminating their “idolatry” as the reason of a recent plague!

440 to 450 The Christians demolish all the monuments, altars and temples of Athens, Olympia, and other Greek cities.

448 Theodosius II orders all non-Christian books to be burned. All copies of Julian’s work which could be found were destroyed, and they would have been lost entirely if bishop Cyril of Alexandria (376-444 AD), had not cited extracts from the first three of seven of Julian’s books in his refutation of him, while admitting that he would not cite some of his srguments!

450 All the temples of Aphrodisias (the City of the Goddess Aphrodite) are demolished and all its libraries burned down. The city is renamed Stavroupolis (City of the Cross).

451 New edict by Theodosius II (4th November) emphasises that “idolatry” is punished by death.

457 to 491 Sporadic persecutions against the Pagans of the Eastern Empire. Among others, the physician Jacobus and the philosopher Gessius are executed. Severianus, Herestios, Zosimus, Isidorus and others are tortured and imprisoned. The proselytiser Conon and his followers exterminate the last non-Christians of Imbros Island, Norheast Aegean Sea. The last worshippers of Lavranius Zeus are exterminated in Cyprus.

482 to 488 The majority of the Pagans of Minor Asia are exterminated after a desperate revolt against the emperor and the Church.

486 More “underground” Pagan priests are discovered, arrested, burlesqued, tortured and executed in Alexandria, Egypt.

515 Baptism becomes obligatory even for those that already say they are Christians. The emperor of Constantinople, Anastasius, orders the massacre of the Pagans in the Arabian city Zoara and the demolition of the temple of local god Theandrites.

528 Emperor Jutprada (Justinianus) outlaws the “alternative” Olympian Games of Antioch. He also orders the execution—by fire, crucifixion, tearing to pieces by wild beasts or cutting to pieces by iron nails—of all who practice “sorcery, divination, magic or idolatry” and prohibits all teachings by the Pagans (“the ones suffering from the blasphemous insanity of the Hellenes”).

529 Justinianus outlaws the Athenian Philosophical Academy and has its property confiscated.

532 The inquisitor Ioannis Asiacus, a fanatic monk, leads a crusade against the Pagans of Minor Asia.

542 Justinianus allows the inquisitor Ioannis Asiacus to convert the Pagans of Phrygia, Caria and Lydia, Minor Asia. Within 35 years of this crusade, 99 churches and 12 monasteries are built on the sites of demolished Pagan temples.

546 Hundreds of Pagans are put to death in Constantinople by the inquisitor Ioannis Asiacus.

556 Justinianus orders the notorious inquisitor Amantius to go to Antioch, to find, arrest, torture and exterminate the last non-Christians of the city and burn all the private libraries down.

562 Mass arrests, burlesquing, tortures, imprisonments and executions of gentile Hellenes in Athens, Antioch, Palmyra and Constantinople.

578 to 582 The Christians torture and crucify gentile Hellenes all around the Eastern Empire, and exterminate the last non-Christians of Heliopolis (Baalbek).

580 The Christian inquisitors attack a secret temple of Zeus in Antioch. The priest commits suicide, but the rest of the Pagans are arrested. All the prisoners, the Vice Governor Anatolius included, are tortured and sent to Constantinople to face trial. Sentenced to death they are thrown to the lions. The wild animals being unwilling to tear them to pieces, they end up crucified. Their dead bodies are dragged in the streets by the Christian mob and afterwards thrown unburied in the dump.

583 New persecutions against the gentile Hellenes by the Mauricius.

590 In all the Eastern Empire the Christian accusers “discover” Pagan conspiracies. New storm of torture and executions.

692 The “Penthekto” Council of Constantinople prohibits the remains of Calends, Brumalia, Anthesteria, and other Pagan/Dionysian celebrations.

804 The gentile Hellenes of Mesa Mani (Cape Tainaron, Lakonia, Greece) resist successfully the attempt of Tarasius, Patriarch of Constantinople, to convert them to Christianity.

950 to 988 Violent conversion of the last gentile Hellenes of Laconia by the Armenian “Saint” Nikon.

Source: Vlasis Rassias, Demolish Them!… published in Greek, Athens 1994, Diipetes Editions, ISBN 960-85311-3-6. Any similar material will be received gratefully.

Animated map shows how Christianity spread around the world


In the process of being burned to death, a body experiences burns to exposed tissue, changes in content and distribution of body fluid, fixation of tissue, and shrinkage (especially of the skin). [1] Internal organs may be shrunken due to fluid loss. Shrinkage and contraction of the muscles may cause joints to flex and the body to adopt the "pugilistic stance" (boxer stance), with the elbows and knees flexed and the fists clenched. [2] [3] Shrinkage of the skin around the neck may be severe enough to strangle a victim. [4] Fluid shifts, especially in the skull and in the hollow organs of the abdomen, can cause pseudo-hemorrhages in the form of heat hematomas. The organic matter of the body may be consumed as fuel by a fire. The cause of death is frequently determined by the respiratory tract, where edema or bleeding of mucous membranes and patchy or vesicular detachment of the mucosa may be indicative of inhalation of hot gases. Complete cremation is only achieved under extreme circumstances.

The amount of pain experienced is greatest at the beginning of the burning process before the flame burns the nerves, after which the skin does not hurt. [5] Many victims die quickly from suffocation as hot gases damage the respiratory tract. Those who survive the burning frequently die within days as the lungs' alveoli fill with fluid and the victim dies of pulmonary edema.

Antiquity Edit

Ancient Near East Edit

Old Babylonia Edit

The 18th-century BC law code promulgated by Babylonian King Hammurabi specifies several crimes in which death by burning was thought appropriate. Looters of houses on fire could be cast into the flames, and priestesses who abandoned cloisters and began frequenting inns and taverns could also be punished by being burnt alive. Furthermore, a man who began committing incest with his mother after the death of his father could be ordered to be burned alive. [6]

Ancient Egypt Edit

In Ancient Egypt, several incidents of burning alive perceived rebels are attested to. Senusret I (r. 1971–1926 BC) is said to have rounded up the rebels in campaign, and burnt them as human torches. Under the civil war flaring under Takelot II more than a thousand years later, the Crown Prince Osorkon showed no mercy, and burned several rebels alive. [7] On the statute books, at least, women committing adultery might be burned to death. Jon Manchip White, however, did not think capital judicial punishments were often carried out, pointing to the fact that the pharaoh had to personally ratify each verdict. [8] Professor Susan Redford speculates that after the harem conspiracy in which pharaoh Ramesses III was assassinated, the non-nobles who had participated in the plot were burned alive, because the Egyptians believed that without a physical body, one could not enter the afterlife. This would explain why Pentawere, the prince whose mother instigated the would-be coup, was most likely strangled or hanged himself as a royal, he would have been spared this ultimate fate. [9]

Assyria Edit

In the Middle Assyrian period, paragraph 40 in a preserved law text concerns the obligatory unveiled face for the professional prostitute, and the concomitant punishment if she violated that by veiling herself (the way wives were to dress in public):

A prostitute shall not be veiled. Whoever sees a veiled prostitute shall seize her . and bring her to the palace entrance. . they shall pour hot pitch over her head. [10]

For the Neo-Assyrians, mass executions seem to have been not only designed to instill terror and to enforce obedience, but also as proof of their might. Neo-Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II (r. 883–859 BC) was evidently proud enough of his bloody work that he committed it to monument and eternal memory as follows: [11]

I cut off their hands, I burned them with fire, a pile of the living men and of heads over against the city gate I set up, men I impaled on stakes, the city I destroyed and devastated, I turned it into mounds and ruin heaps, the young men and the maidens in the fire I burned.

Hebraic tradition Edit

In Genesis 38, Judah orders Tamar—the widow of his son, living in her father's household—to be burned when she is believed to have become pregnant by an extramarital sexual relation. Tamar saves herself by proving that Judah is himself the father of her child. In the Book of Jubilees, the same story is told, with some intriguing differences, according to Caryn A. Reeder. In Genesis, Judah is exercising his patriarchal power at a distance, whereas he and the relatives seem more actively involved in Tamar's impending execution. [12]

In Hebraic law, death by burning was prescribed for ten forms of sexual crimes: The imputed crime of Tamar, namely that a married daughter of a priest commits adultery, and nine versions of relationships considered as incestuous, such as having sex with one's own daughter, or granddaughter, but also having sex with one's mother-in-law or with one's wife's daughter. [13]

In the Mishnah, the following manner of burning the criminal is described:

The obligatory procedure for execution by burning: They immersed him in dung up to his knees, rolled a rough cloth into a soft one and wound it about his neck. One pulled it one way, one the other until he opened his mouth. Thereupon one ignites the (lead) wick and throws it in his mouth, and it descends to his bowels and sears his bowels.

That is, the person dies from being fed molten lead. [14] The Mishnah is, however, a fairly late collections of laws, from about the 3rd century AD, and scholars believe it replaced the actual punishment of burning in the old biblical texts. [15]

Ancient Rome Edit

According to ancient reports, Roman authorities executed many of the early Christian martyrs by burning. An example of this is the earliest chronicle of a martyrdom, that of Polycarp. [16] Sometimes this was by means of the tunica molesta, [17] a flammable tunic: [18]

. the Christian, stripped naked, was forced to put on a garment called the tunica molesta, made of papyrus, smeared on both sides with wax, and was then fastened to a high pole, from the top of which they continued to pour down burning pitch and lard, a spike fastened under the chin preventing the excruciated victim from turning the head to either side, so as to escape the liquid fire, until the whole body, and every part of it, was literally clad and cased in flame.

In 326, Constantine the Great promulgated a law that increased the penalties for parentally non-sanctioned "abduction" of their girls, and concomitant sexual intercourse/rape. The man would be burnt alive without the possibility of appeal, and the girl would receive the same treatment if she had participated willingly. Nurses who had corrupted their female wards and led them to sexual encounters would have molten lead poured down their throats. [19] In the same year, Constantine also passed a law that said if a woman had sexual relations with her own slave, both would be subjected to capital punishment, the slave by burning (if the slave himself reported the offense- presumably having been raped- he was to be set free.) [20] In AD 390, Emperor Theodosius issued an edict against male prostitutes and brothels offering such services those found guilty should be burned alive. [21]

In the 6th-century collection of the sayings and rulings of the pre-eminent jurists from earlier ages, the Digest, a number of crimes are regarded as punishable by death by burning. The 3rd-century jurist Ulpian said that enemies of the state and deserters to the enemy were to be burned alive. His rough contemporary, the juristical writer Callistratus, mentions that arsonists are typically burnt, as well as slaves who have conspired against the well-being of their masters (this last also, on occasion, being meted out to free persons of "low rank"). [22] The punishment of burning alive arsonists (and traitors) seems to have been particularly ancient it was included in the Twelve Tables, a mid-5th-century BC law code, that is, about 700 years prior to the times of Ulpian and Callistratus. [23]

Ritual child sacrifice in Carthage Edit

Beginning in the early 3rd century BC, Greek and Roman writers commented on the purported institutionalized child sacrifice the North African Carthaginians are said to have performed in honour of the gods Baal Hammon and Tanit. The earliest writer, Cleitarchus is among the most explicit. He says live infants were placed in the arms of a bronze statue, the statue's hands over a brazier, so that the infant slowly rolled into the fire. As it did so, the limbs of the infant contracted and the face was distorted into a sort of laughing grimace, hence called "the act of laughing". Other, later authors such as Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch say the throats of the infants were generally cut, before they were placed in the statue's embrace [24] In the vicinity of ancient Carthage, large scale grave yards containing the incinerated remains of infants, typically up to the age of 3, have been found such graves are called "tophets". However, some scholars have argued that these findings are not evidence of systematic child sacrifice, and that estimated figures of ancient natural infant mortality (with cremation afterwards and reverent separate burial) might be the real historical basis behind the hostile reporting from non-Carthaginians. A late charge of the imputed sacrifice is found by the North African bishop Tertullian, who says that child sacrifices were still carried out, in secret, in the countryside at his time, 3rd century AD. [25]

Celtic traditions Edit

According to Julius Caesar, the ancient Celts practised the burning alive of humans in a number of settings. In Book 6, chapter 16, he writes of the Druidic sacrifice of criminals within huge wicker frames shaped as men:

Others have figures of vast size, the limbs of which formed of osiers they fill with living men, which being set on fire, the men perish enveloped in the flames. They consider that the oblation of such as have been taken in theft, or in robbery, or any other offence, is more acceptable to the immortal gods but when a supply of that class is wanting, they have recourse to the oblation of even the innocent.

Slightly later, in Book 6, chapter 19, Caesar also says the Celts perform, on the occasion of death of great men, the funeral sacrifice on the pyre of living slaves and dependants ascertained to have been "beloved by them". Earlier on, in Book 1, chapter 4, he relates of the conspiracy of the nobleman Orgetorix, charged by the Celts for having planned a coup d'état, for which the customary penalty would be burning to death. It is said Orgetorix committed suicide to avoid that fate. [26]

Human sacrifice around the Eastern Baltic Edit

Throughout the 12th–14th centuries, a number of non-Christian peoples living around the Eastern Baltic Sea, such as Old Prussians and Lithuanians, were charged by Christian writers with performing human sacrifice. Pope Gregory IX issued a papal bull denouncing an alleged practice among the Prussians, that girls were dressed in fresh flowers and wreaths and were then burned alive as offerings to evil spirits. [27]

Christian states Edit

Eastern Roman Empire Edit

Under 6th-century emperor Justinian I, the death penalty had been decreed for impenitent Manicheans, but a specific punishment was not made explicit. By the 7th century, however, those found guilty of "dualist heresy" could risk being burned at the stake. [28] Those found guilty of performing magical rites, and corrupting sacred objects in the process, might face death by burning, as evidenced in a 7th-century case. [29] In the 10th century AD, the Byzantines instituted death by burning for parricides, i.e. those who had killed their own relatives, replacing the older punishment of poena cullei, the stuffing of the convict in a leather sack along with a rooster, a viper, a dog and a monkey, and then throwing the sack into the sea. [30]

Medieval Inquisition and the burning of heretics Edit

Civil authorities burned persons judged to be heretics under the medieval Inquisition. Burning heretics had become customary practice in the latter half of the twelfth century in continental Europe, and death by burning became statutory punishment from the early 13th century. Death by burning for heretics was made positive law by Pedro II of Aragon in 1197. In 1224, Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, made burning a legal alternative, and in 1238, it became the principal punishment in the Empire. In Sicily, the punishment was made law in 1231, whereas in France, Louis IX made it binding law in 1270. [31]

As some in England at the start of the 15th century grew weary of the teachings of John Wycliffe and the Lollards, kings, priests, and parliaments reacted with fire. In 1401, Parliament passed the De heretico comburendo act, which can be loosely translated as "Regarding the burning of heretics." Lollard persecution would continue for over a hundred years in England. The Fire and Faggot Parliament met in May 1414 at Grey Friars Priory in Leicester to lay out the notorious Suppression of Heresy Act 1414, enabling the burning of heretics by making the crime enforceable by the Justices of the peace. John Oldcastle, a prominent Lollard leader, was not saved from the gallows by his old friend King Henry V. Oldcastle was hanged and his gallows burned in 1417. Jan Hus was burned at the stake after being accused at the Roman Catholic Council of Constance (1414–18) of heresy. The ecumenical council also decreed that the remains of John Wycliffe, dead for 30 years, should be exhumed and burned. (This posthumous execution was carried out in 1428.)

Burnings of Jews Edit

Several incidents are recorded of massacres on Jews from the 12th through 16th centuries in which they were burned alive, often on account of the blood libel. In 1171 in Blois 51 Jews were burned alive (the entire adult community). In 1191, King Philip Augustus ordered around 100 Jews burnt alive. [32] That Jews purportedly performed host desecration also led to mass burnings In 1243 in Beelitz, the entire Jewish community was burnt alive, and in 1510 in Berlin, some 26 Jews were burnt alive for the same crime. [33] During the "Black Death" in the mid-14th century a spate of large-scale massacres occurred. One libel was that the Jews had poisoned the wells. In 1349, as panic grew along with the increasing death toll from the plague, general massacres, but also specifically mass burnings, began to occur. Six hundred (600) Jews were burnt alive in Basel alone. A large mass burning occurred in Strasbourg, where several hundred Jews were burnt alive in what became known as the Strasbourg massacre. [34]

A Jewish man, Johannes Pfefferkorn, met a particularly gruesome death in 1514 in Halle. He had been charged with a number of crimes, such as having impersonated a priest for twenty years, performing host desecration, stealing Christian children to be tortured and killed by other Jews, poisoning 13 people and poisoning wells. He was lashed to a pillar in such a way that he could run about it. Then, a ring of glowing coal was made around him, a fiery ring that was gradually pushed ever closer to him, until he was roasted to death. [35]

Lepers' Plot of 1321 Edit

Not only Jews could be victims of mass hysteria on charges like that of poisoning wells. This particular charge, well-poisoning, was the basis for a large scale hunt of lepers in 1321 France. In the spring of 1321, in Périgueux, people became convinced that the local lepers had poisoned the wells, causing ill-health among the normal populace. The lepers were rounded up and burned alive. The action against the lepers didn't stay local, though, but had repercussions throughout France, not least because King Philip V issued an order to arrest all lepers, those found guilty to be burnt alive. Jews became tangentially included as well at Chinon alone, 160 Jews were burnt alive. [36] All in all, around 5000 lepers and Jews are recorded in one tradition to have been killed during the Lepers' Plot hysteria. [37]

The charge of the lepers' plot was not wholly confined to France extant records from England show that on Jersey the same year, at least one family of lepers was burnt alive for having poisoned others. [38]

Spanish Inquisition against Moriscos and Marranos Edit

The Spanish Inquisition was established in 1478, with the aim of preserving Catholic orthodoxy some of its principal targets were "Marranos", formally converted Jews thought to have relapsed into Judaism, or the Moriscos, formally converted Muslims thought to have relapsed into Islam. The public executions of the Spanish Inquisition were called autos-da-fé convicts were "released" (handed over) to secular authorities in order to be burnt.

Estimates of how many were executed on behest of the Spanish Inquisition have been offered from early on historian Hernando del Pulgar (1436–c. 1492) estimated that 2000 people were burned at the stake between 1478 and 1490. [39] Estimates ranging from 30,000 to 50,000 burnt at the stake (alive or not) at the behest of the Spanish Inquisition during its 300 years of activity have previously been given and are still to be found in popular books. [40]

In February 1481, in what is said to be the first auto-da-fé, six Marranos were burnt alive in Seville. In November 1481, 298 Marranos were burnt publicly at the same place, their property confiscated by the Church. [ citation needed ] Not all Maranos executed by being burnt at the stake seem to have been burnt alive. If the Jew "confessed his heresy", the Church would show mercy, and he would be strangled prior to the burning. Autos-da-fé against Maranos extended beyond the Spanish heartland. In Sicily, in 1511–15, 79 were burnt at the stake, while from 1511 to 1560, 441 Maranos were condemned to be burned alive. [41] In Spanish American colonies, autos-da-fé were held as well. In 1664, a man and his wife were burned alive in Río de la Plata, and in 1699, a Jew was burnt alive in Mexico City. [42]

In 1535, five Moriscos were burned at the stake on Majorca, the images of a further four were also burnt in effigy, since the actual individuals had managed to flee. During the 1540s, some 232 Moriscos were paraded in autos-da-fé in Zaragoza five of those were burnt at the stake. [43] The claim that out of 917 Moriscos appearing in autos of the Inquisition in Granada between 1550 and 1595, just 20 were executed [44] seems at odds with the English government's state papers which claim that, while at war with Spain, they received a report from Seville of 17 June 1593 that over 70 of the richest men of Granada were burnt. [45] As late as 1728 as many as 45 Moriscos were recorded burned for heresy. [46] In the May 1691 "bonfire of the Jews", Rafael Valls, Rafael Benito Terongi and Catalina Terongi were burned alive. [47] [48]

Portuguese Inquisition at Goa Edit

In 1560, the Portuguese Inquisition opened offices in the Indian colony Goa, known as Goa Inquisition. Its aim was to protect Catholic orthodoxy among new converts to Christianity, and retain hold on the old, particularly against "Judaizing" deviancy. From the 17th century, Europeans were shocked at the tales of how brutal and extensive the activities of the Inquisition were. [ citation needed ] Modern scholars have established that some 4046 individuals in the time 1560–1773 received some sort of punishment from the Portuguese Inquisition, whereof 121 persons were condemned to be burned alive of those 57 actually suffered that fate, while the rest escaped it, and were burnt in effigy instead. [49] For the Portuguese Inquisition in total, not just at Goa, modern estimates of persons actually executed on its behest is about 1200, whether burnt alive or not. [50]

Legislation concerning "crimes against nature" Edit

From the 12th to the 18th centuries, various European authorities legislated (and held judicial proceedings) against sexual crimes such as sodomy or bestiality often, the prescribed punishment was that of death by burning. Many scholars think that the first time death by burning appeared within explicit codes of law for the crime of sodomy was at the ecclesiastical 1120 Council of Nablus in the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Here, if public repentance were done, the death penalty might be avoided. [51] In Spain, the earliest records for executions for the crime of sodomy are from the 13th–14th centuries, and it is noted there that the preferred mode of execution was death by burning. The Partidas of King Alfonso "El Sabio" condemned sodomites to be castrated and hung upside down to die from the bleeding, following the old testament phrase "their blood shall be upon them". [52] At Geneva, the first recorded burning of sodomites occurred in 1555, and up to 1678, some two dozen met the same fate. In Venice, the first burning took place in 1492, and a monk was burnt as late as 1771. [53] The last case in France where two men were condemned by court to be burned alive for engaging in consensual homosexual sex was in 1750 (although, it seems, they were actually strangled prior to being burned). The last case in France where a man was condemned to be burned for a murderous rape of a boy occurred in 1784. [54]

Crackdowns and the public burning of a couple of homosexuals might lead to local panic, and persons thus inclined fleeing from the place. The traveller William Lithgow witnessed such a dynamic when he visited Malta in 1616 :

The fifth day of my staying here, I saw a Spanish soldier and a Maltezen boy burnt in ashes, for the public profession of sodomy and long before night, there were above an hundred bardassoes, whorish boys, that fled away to Sicily in a galliot, for fear of fire but never one bugeron stirred, being few or none there free of it. [55]

In 1532 and 1409 in Augsburg two pederasts were burned alive for their offenses. [56]

Penal code of Charles V Edit

In 1532, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V promulgated his penal code Constitutio Criminalis Carolina. A number of crimes were punishable with death by burning, such as coin forgery, arson, and sexual acts "contrary to nature". [57] Also, those guilty of aggravated theft of sacred objects from a church could be condemned to be burnt alive. [58] Only those found guilty of malevolent witchcraft [59] could be punished by death by fire. [60]

Last burnings from 1804 and 1813 Edit

According to the jurist Eduard Osenbrüggen [de] , the last case he knew of where a person had been judicially burned alive on account of arson in Germany happened in 1804, in Hötzelsroda, close by Eisenach. [61] The manner in which Johannes Thomas [62] was executed on 13 July that year is described as follows: Some feet above the actual pyre, attached to a stake, a wooden chamber had been constructed, into which the delinquent was placed. Pipes or chimneys filled with sulphuric material led up to the chamber, and that was first lit, so that Thomas died from inhaling the sulphuric smoke, rather than being strictly burnt alive, before his body was consumed by the general fire. Some 20,000 people had gathered to watch Thomas' execution. [63]

Although Thomas is regarded as the last to have been actually executed by means of fire (in this case, through suffocation), the couple Johann Christoph Peter Horst and his lover Friederike Louise Christiane Delitz, who had made a career of robberies in the confusion made by their acts of arson, were condemned to be burnt alive in Berlin 28 May 1813. They were, however, according to Gustav Radbruch, secretly strangled just prior to being burnt, namely when their arms and legs were tied fast to the stake. [64]

Although these two cases are the last where execution by burning might be said to have been carried out in some degree, Eduard Osenbrüggen mentions that verdicts to be burned alive were given in several cases in different German states afterwards, such as in cases from 1814, 1821, 1823, 1829 and finally in a case from 1835. [65]

Witch-hunts Edit

Burning was used during the witch-hunts of Europe, although hanging was the preferred style of execution in England and Wales. The penal code known as the Constitutio Criminalis Carolina (1532) decreed that sorcery throughout the Holy Roman Empire should be treated as a criminal offence, and if it purported to inflict injury upon any person the witch was to be burnt at the stake. In 1572, Augustus, Elector of Saxony imposed the penalty of burning for witchcraft of every kind, including simple fortunetelling. [66] From the latter half of the 18th century, the number of "nine million witches burned in Europe" has been bandied about in popular accounts and media, but has never had a following among specialist researchers. [67] Today, based on meticulous study of trial records, ecclesiastical and inquisitorial registers and so on, as well as on the utilization of modern statistical methods, the specialist research community on witchcraft has reached an agreement for roughly 40,000–50,000 people executed for witchcraft in Europe in total, and by no means all of them executed by being burned alive. Furthermore, it is solidly established that the peak period of witch-hunts was the century 1550–1650, with a slow increase preceding it, from the 15th century onward, as well as a sharp drop following it, with "witch-hunts" having basically fizzled out by the first half of the 18th century. [68]

Famous cases Edit

Denmark Edit

In Denmark, after the 1536 reformation, Christian IV of Denmark (r. 1588–1648) encouraged the practice of burning witches, in particular by the law against witchcraft in 1617. In Jutland, the mainland part of Denmark, more than half the recorded cases of witchcraft in the 16th and 17th centuries occurred after 1617. Rough estimates says about a thousand persons were executed due to convictions for witchcraft in the 1500–1600s, but it is not wholly clear if all of the transgressors were burned to death. [82]

England Edit

Mary I ordered hundreds of Protestants burnt at the stake during her reign (1553–58) in what would be known as the "Marian Persecutions" earning her the epithet of "Bloody" Mary. [83] Many of those executed by Mary and the Roman Catholic Church are listed in Actes and Monuments, written by Foxe in 1563 and 1570.

Edward Wightman, a Baptist from Burton on Trent, was the last person burned at the stake for heresy in England in Lichfield, Staffordshire on 11 April 1612. [84] Although cases can be found of burning heretics in the 16th and 17th centuries in England, that penalty for heretics was historically relatively new. It did not exist in 14th-century England, and when the bishops in England petitioned King Richard II to institute death by burning for heretics in 1397, he flatly refused, and no one was burnt for heresy during his reign. [85] Just one year after his death, however, in 1401, William Sawtrey was burnt alive for heresy. [86] Death by burning for heresy was formally abolished by King Charles II in 1676. [87]

The traditional punishment for women found guilty of treason was to be burned at the stake, where they did not need to be publicly displayed naked, whereas men were hanged, drawn and quartered. The jurist William Blackstone argued as follows for the differential punishment of females vs. males:

For as the decency due to sex forbids the exposing and public mangling of their bodies, their sentence (which is to the full as terrible to sensation as the other) is to be drawn to the gallows and there be burned alive [88]

However, as described in Camille Naish's "Death Comes to the Maiden", in practice, the woman's clothing would burn away at the beginning, and she would be left naked anyway. [ citation needed ] There were two types of treason: high treason, for crimes against the sovereign and petty treason, for the murder of one's lawful superior, including that of a husband by his wife. Commenting on the 18th-century execution practice, Frank McLynn says that most convicts condemned to burning were not burnt alive, and that the executioners made sure the women were dead before consigning them to the flames. [89]

The last person to have been condemned to death for "petty treason" was Mary Bailey, whose body was burned in 1784. The last woman to be convicted for "high treason", and have her body burnt, in this case for the crime of coin forgery, was Catherine Murphy in 1789. [90] The last case where a woman was actually burnt alive in England is that of Catherine Hayes in 1726, for the murder of her husband. In this case, one account says this happened because the executioner accidentally set fire to the pyre before he had hanged Hayes properly. [91] The historian Rictor Norton has assembled a number of contemporary newspaper reports on the actual death of Mrs. Hayes, internally somewhat divergent. The following excerpt is one example:

The fuel being placed round her, and lighted with a torch, she begg’d for the sake of Jesus, to be strangled first: whereupon the Executioner drew tight the halter, but the flame coming to his hand in the space of a second, he let it go, when she gave three dreadful shrieks but the flames taking her on all sides, she was heard no more and the Executioner throwing a piece of timber into the Fire, it broke her skull, when her brains came plentifully out and in about an hour more she was entirely reduced to ashes. [92]

Scotland Edit

James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) shared the Danish king's interest in witch trials. This special interest of the king resulted in the North Berwick witch trials, which led more than seventy people to be accused of witchcraft. James sailed in 1590 to Denmark to meet his betrothed, Anne of Denmark, who, ironically, is believed by some to have secretly converted to Roman Catholicism herself from Lutheranism around 1598, although historians are divided on whether she ever was received into the Roman Catholic faith. [93]

The last to be executed as a witch in Scotland was Janet Horne in 1727, condemned to death for using her own daughter as a flying horse in order to travel. Janet Horne was burnt alive in a tar barrel. [94]

Ireland Edit

Petronilla de Meath (c. 1300–1324) was the maidservant of Dame Alice Kyteler, a 14th-century Hiberno-Norman noblewoman. After the death of Kyteler's fourth husband, the widow was accused of practicing witchcraft and Petronilla of being her accomplice. Petronilla was tortured and forced to proclaim that she and Kyteler were guilty of witchcraft. Petronilla was then flogged and eventually burnt at the stake on 3 November 1324, in Kilkenny, Ireland. [95] [96] Hers was the first known case in the history of the British Isles of death by fire for the crime of heresy. Kyteler was charged by the Bishop of Ossory, Richard de Ledrede, with a wide slate of crimes, from sorcery and demonism to the murders of several husbands. She was accused of having illegally acquired her wealth through witchcraft, which accusations came principally from her stepchildren, the children of her late husbands by their previous marriages. The trial predated any formal witchcraft statute in Ireland, thus relying on ecclesiastical law (which treated witchcraft as heresy) rather than common law (which treated it as a felony). Under torture, Petronilla claimed she and her mistress applied a magical ointment to a wooden beam, which enabled both women to fly. She was then forced to proclaim publicly that Lady Alice and her followers were guilty of witchcraft. [95] Some were convicted and whipped, but others, Petronilla included, were burnt at the stake. With the help of relatives, Alice Kyteler fled, taking with her Petronilla's daughter, Basilia. [97]

In 1327 or 1328, Adam Duff O'Toole was burned at the stake in Dublin for heresy after branding Christian scripture a fable and denying the resurrection of Jesus. [98] [99] [100]

The brothel madam Darkey Kelly was convicted of murdering shoemaker John Dowling in 1760 and burned at the stake in Dublin on 7 January 1761. Later legends claimed that she was a serial killer and/or witch. [101] [102] [103]

In 1895, Bridget Cleary (née Boland), a County Tipperary woman, was burnt by her husband and others, the stated motive for the crime being the belief that the real Bridget had been abducted by fairies with a changeling left in her place. Her husband claimed to have slain only the changeling. The gruesome nature of the case prompted extensive press coverage. The trial was closely followed by newspapers in both Ireland and Britain. [104] As one reviewer commented, nobody, with the possible exception of the presiding judge, thought it was an ordinary murder case. [104]

Colonial Americas Edit

North America Edit

Indigenous North Americans often used burning as a form of execution, against members of other tribes or white settlers during the 18th and 19th centuries. Roasting over a slow fire was a customary method. [105] (See Captives in American Indian Wars)

In Massachusetts, there are two known cases of burning at the stake. First, in 1681, a slave named Maria tried to kill her owner by setting his house on fire. She was convicted of arson and burned at the stake in Roxbury. [106] Concurrently, a slave named Jack, convicted in a separate arson case, was hanged at a nearby gallows, and after death his body was thrown into the fire with that of Maria. Second, in 1755, a group of slaves had conspired and killed their owner, with servants Mark and Phillis executed for his murder. Mark was hanged and his body gibbeted, and Phillis burned at the stake, at Cambridge. [107]

In Montreal, then part of New France, Marie-Joseph Angélique, a black slave, was sentenced to being burned alive for an arson which destroyed 45 homes and a hospital in 1734. The sentence was commuted on appeal to burning after death by strangulation. [108] [ circular reference ]

In New York, several burnings at the stake are recorded, particularly following suspected slave revolt plots. In 1708, one woman was burnt and one man hanged. In the aftermath of the New York Slave Revolt of 1712, 20 people were burnt (one of the leaders slowly roasted, before he died after 10 hours of torture [109] ) and during the alleged slave conspiracy of 1741, at least 13 slaves were burnt at the stake. [110]

South America Edit

The last known burning by the Spanish colonial government in Latin America was of Mariana de Castro, during the Peruvian Inquisition in Lima on 22 December 1736 [111] after she had been convicted on 4 February 1732 of being a judaizante (a person who was privately practicing the Jewish faith after having publicly converted to Roman Catholicism).

In 1855 the Dutch abolitionist and historian Julien Wolbers spoke to the Anti Slavery Society in Amsterdam. Painting a dark picture of the condition of slaves in Suriname, he mentions in particular that as late as in 1853, just two years previously, "three Negroes were burnt alive". [112]

West Indies Edit

In 1760, the slave rebellion known as Tacky's War broke out in Jamaica. Apparently, some of the defeated rebels were burned alive, while others were gibbeted alive, left to die of thirst and starvation. [113]

In 1774, nine enslaved Africans in Tobago were found complicit of murdering a white man. Eight of them had first their right arms chopped off, and were then burned alive bound to stakes, according to the report of an eyewitness. [114]

In Saint-Domingue, enslaved Africans found guilty of committing crimes were sometimes punished by being burnt at the stake, particularly if the crime was attempting to foment a slave rebellion. [115]

Greek War of Independence Edit

The Greek War of Independence in the 1820s contained several instances of death by burning. When the Greeks in April 1821 captured a corvette near Hydra, the Greeks chose to roast to death the 57 Ottoman crew members. After the fall of Tripolitsa in September 1821, European officers were horrified to note that not only were Muslims suspected of hiding money being slowly roasted after having had their arms and legs cut off but, in one instance, three Muslim children were roasted over a fire while their parents were forced to watch. On their part, the Ottomans committed many similar acts. In retaliation they gathered up Greeks in Constantinople, throwing several of them into huge ovens, baking them to death. [116]

Islamic countries Edit

Followers of a false claimant of prophethood Edit

The Arab chieftain Tulayha ibn Khuwaylid ibn Nawfal al-Asad set himself up as a prophet in AD 630. Tulayha had a strong following which was, however, soon quashed in the so-called Ridda Wars. He himself escaped, though, and later was reconverted to Islam, but many of his rebel followers were burnt to death his mother chose to embrace the same fate. [117] [ citation needed ]

Catholic monks in 13th-century Tunis and Morocco Edit

A number of monks are said to have been burnt alive in Tunis and Morocco in the 13th century. In 1243, two English monks, Brothers Rodulph and Berengarius, after having secured the release of some 60 captives, were charged with being spies for the English Crown, and were burnt alive on 9 September. In 1262, Brothers Patrick and William, again having freed captives, but also sought to proselytize among Muslims, were burnt alive in Morocco. In 1271, 11 Catholic monks were burnt alive in Tunis. Several other cases are reported. [118]

Converts to Christianity Edit

Apostasy, i.e. the act of converting to another religion, was (and remains so in a few countries) punishable with death.

The French traveller Jean de Thevenot, traveling the East in the 1650s, says: "Those that turn Christians, they burn alive, hanging a bag of Powder about their neck, and putting a pitched Cap upon their Head." [119] Travelling the same regions some 60 years earlier, Fynes Moryson writes:

A Turke forsaking his Fayth and a Christian speaking or doing anything against the law of Mahomett are burnt with fyer. [120]

Muslim heretics Edit

Certain accursed ones of no significance is the term used by Taş Köprü Zade in the Şakaiki Numaniye to describe some members of the Hurufiyya who became intimate with the Sultan Mehmed II to the extent of initiating him as a follower. This alarmed members of the Ulema, particularly Mahmut Paşa, who then consulted Mevlana Fahreddin. Fahreddin hid in the Sultan's palace and heard the Hurufis propound their doctrines. Considering these heretical, he reviled them with curses. The Hurufis fled to the Sultan, but Fahreddin's denunciation of them was so virulent that Mehmed II was unable to defend them. Farhreddin then took them in front of the Üç Şerefeli Mosque, Edirne, where he publicly condemned them to death. While preparing the fire for their execution, Fahreddin accidentally set fire to his beard. However the Hurufis were burnt to death.

Barbary States, 18th century Edit

John Braithwaite, staying in Morocco in the late 1720s, says that apostates from Islam would be burnt alive:

THOSE that can be proved after Circumcision to have revolted, are stripped quite naked, then anointed with Tallow, and with a Chain about the Body, brought to the Place of Execution, where they are burnt.

Similarly, he notes that non-Muslims entering mosques or being blasphemous against Islam will be burnt, unless they convert to Islam. [121] The chaplain for the English in Algiers at the same time, Thomas Shaw, wrote that whenever capital crimes were committed either by Christian slaves or Jews, the Christian or Jew was to be burnt alive. [122] Several generations later, in Morocco in 1772, a Jewish interpreter for the British, and a merchant in his own right, sought from the Emperor of Morocco restitution for some goods confiscated, and was burnt alive for his impertinence. His widow made her woes clear in a letter to the British government. [123]

In 1792 in Ifrane, Morocco, 50 Jews preferred to be burned alive, rather than convert to Islam. [124] In 1794 in Algiers, the Jewish Rabbi Mordecai Narboni was accused of having maligned Islam in a quarrel with his neighbour. He was ordered to be burnt alive unless he converted to Islam, but he refused and was therefore executed on 14 July 1794. [125]

In 1793, Ali Pasha made a short-lived coup d'état in Tripoli, deposing the ruling Karamanli dynasty. During his short, violent reign he seized the two interpreters for the Dutch and English consuls, both of them Jews, and roasted them over a slow fire, on charges of conspiracy and espionage. [126]

Persia Edit

During a famine in Persia in 1668, the government took severe measures against those trying to profiteer from the misfortune of the populace. Restaurant owners found guilty of profiteering were slowly roasted on spits, and greedy bakers were baked in their own ovens. [127]

A physician, Dr C.J. Wills, traveling through Persia in 1866–81 wrote that: [128]

Just prior to my first arrival in Persia, the "Hissam-u-Sultaneh", another uncle of the king, had burned a priest to death for a horrible crime and murder the priest was chained to a stake, and the matting from the mosques piled on him to a great height, the pile of mats was lighted and burnt freely, but when the mats were consumed the priest was found groaning, but still alive. The executioner went to Hissam-u-Sultaneh who ordered him to obtain more mats, pour naphtha on them, and apply a light, which 'after some hours' he did.

Roasting by means of heated metal Edit

The previous cases concern primarily death by burning through contact with open fire or burning material a slightly different principle is to enclose an individual within, or attach him to, a metal contraption which is subsequently heated. In the following, some reports of such incidents, or anecdotes about such are included.

The brazen bull Edit

Perhaps the most infamous example of a brazen bull, which is a hollow metal structure shaped like a bull within which the condemned is put, and then roasted alive as the metal bull is gradually heated up, is the one allegedly constructed by Perillos of Athens for the 6th-century BC tyrant Phalaris at Agrigentum, Sicily. As the story goes, the first victim of the bull was its constructor Perillos himself. The historian George Grote was among those regarding this story as having sufficient evidence behind it to be true, and points particularly to that the Greek poet Pindar, working just one or two generations after the times of Phalaris, refers to the brazen bull. A bronze bull was, in fact, one of the spoils of victory when the Carthaginians conquered Agrigentum. [129] The story of a brazen bull as an execution device is not wholly unique. About 1000 years later in AD 497, it can be read in an old chronicle about the Visigoths on the Iberian Peninsula and the south of France:

Burdunellus became a tyrant in Spain and a year later was . handed over by his own men and having been sent to Toulouse, he was placed inside a bronze bull and burnt to death. [130]

Fate of a Scottish regicide Edit

Walter Stewart, Earl of Atholl was a Scottish nobleman complicit in the murder of King James I of Scotland. On 26 March 1437 Stewart had a red hot iron crown placed upon his head, was cut in pieces alive, his heart was taken out, and then thrown in a fire. A papal nuncio, the later Pope Pius II witnessed the execution of Stewart and his associate Sir Robert Graham, and, reportedly, said he was at a loss to determine whether the crime committed by the regicides, or the punishment of them was the greater. [131]

György Dózsa on the iron throne Edit

György Dózsa led a peasants' revolt in Hungary, and was captured in 1514. He was bound to a glowing iron throne and a likewise hot iron crown was placed on his head, and he was roasted to death. [132]

The tale of the murderous midwife Edit

In a few English 18th- and 19th-century newspapers and magazines, a tale was circulated about the particularly brutal manner in which a French midwife was put to death on 28 May 1673 in Paris. No fewer than 62 infant skeletons were found buried on her premises, and she was condemned on multiple accounts of abortion/infanticide. One detailed account of her supposed execution runs as follows:

A gibbet was erected, under which a fire was made, and the prisoner being brought to the place of execution, was hung up in a large iron cage, in which were also placed sixteen wild cats, which had been catched in the woods for the purpose.—When the heat of the fire became too great to be endured with patience, the cats flew upon the woman, as the cause of the intense pain they felt.—In about fifteen minutes they had pulled out her entrails, though she continued yet alive, and sensible, imploring, as the greatest favour, an immediate death from the hands of some charitable spectator. No one however dared to afford her the least assistance and she continued in this wretched situation for the space of thirty-five minutes, and then expired in unspeakable torture. At the time of her death, twelve of the cats were expired, and the other four were all dead in less than two minutes afterwards.

The English commentator adds his own view on the matter:

However cruel this execution may appear with regard to the poor animals, it certainly cannot be thought too severe a punishment for such a monster of iniquity, as could calmly proceed in acquiring a fortune by the deliberate murder of such numbers of unoffending, harmless innocents. And if a method of executing murderers, in a manner somewhat similar to this was adapted in England, perhaps the horrid crime of murder might not so frequently disgrace the annals of the present times. [133]

The English story is derived from a pamphlet published in 1673. [134]

Pouring molten metal down the throat or ears Edit

Molten gold poured down the throat Edit

In 88 BC, Mithridates VI of Pontus captured the Roman general Manius Aquillius, and executed him by pouring molten gold down his throat. [135] A popular but unsubstantiated rumor also had the Parthians executing the famously greedy Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus in this manner in 53 BC. [136]

Genghis Khan is said to have ordered the execution of Inalchuq, the perfidious Khwarazmian governor of Otrar, by pouring molten gold or silver down his throat in c. 1220, [137] and an early 14th-century chronicle mentions that his grandson Hulagu Khan did likewise to the sultan Al-Musta'sim after the fall of Baghdad in 1258 to the Mongol army. [138] (Marco Polo's version is that Al-Musta'sim was locked without food or water to starve in his treasure room)

The Spanish in 16th-century Americas gave horrified reports that the Spanish who had been captured by the natives (who had learnt of the Spanish thirst for gold) had their feet and hands bound, and then molten gold poured down their throats as the victims were mocked: "Eat, eat gold, Christians". [139]

From the 19th-century reports from the Kingdom of Siam (present day Thailand) stated that those who have defrauded the public treasury could have either molten gold or silver poured down their throat. [140]

As punishment for inebriation and tobacco smoking Edit

The 16th-/early 17th-century prime minister Malik Ambar in the Deccan Ahmadnagar Sultanate would not tolerate inebriation among his subjects, and would pour molten lead down the mouths of those caught in that condition. [141] Similarly, in the 17th-century Sultanate of Aceh, Sultan Iskandar Muda (r. 1607–36) is said to have poured molten lead into the mouths of at least two drunken subjects. [142] Military discipline in 19th-century Burma was reportedly harsh, with strict prohibition of smoking opium or drinking arrack. Some monarchs had ordained pouring molten lead down the throats of those who drank, "but it has been found necessary to relax this severity, in order to conciliate the army" [143]

Shah Safi I of Persia is said to have abhorred tobacco, and apparently in 1634, he prescribed the punishment of pouring molten lead into the throats of smokers. [144]

Mongol punishment for horse thieves Edit

According to historian Pushpa Sharma, stealing a horse was considered the most heinous offence within the Mongol army, and the culprit would either have molten lead poured into his ears, or alternatively, his punishment would be the breaking of the spinal cord or beheading. [145]

Chinese tradition of Buddhist self-immolation Edit

Apparently, for many centuries, a tradition of devotional self-immolation existed among Buddhist monks in China. One monk who immolated himself in AD 527, explained his intent a year before, in the following manner:

The body is like a poisonous plant it would really be right to burn it and extinguish its life. I have been weary of this physical frame for many a long day. I vow to worship the buddhas, just like Xijian. [146]

A severe critic in the 16th century wrote the following comment on this practice:

There are demonic people . who pour on oil, stack up firewood, and burn their bodies while still alive. Those who look on are overawed and consider it the attainment of enlightenment. This is erroneous. [147]

Japanese persecution of Christians Edit

In the first half of the 17th century, Japanese authorities sporadically persecuted Christians, with some executions seeing persons being burnt alive. At Nagasaki in 1622 some 25 monks were burnt alive, [148] and in Edo in 1624, 50 Christians were burnt alive. [149]

Stories of cannibalism Edit

Americas Edit

Even fateful encounters with cannibals are recorded: in 1514, in the Americas, Francis of Córdoba and five companions were, reportedly, caught, impaled on spits, roasted and eaten by the natives. In 1543, such was also the end of a previous bishop, Vincent de Valle Viridi. [150]

Fiji Edit

In 1844, the missionary John Watsford wrote a letter about the internecine wars on Fiji, and how captives could be eaten, after being roasted alive:

At Mbau, perhaps, more human beings are eaten than anywhere else. A few weeks ago they ate twenty-eight in one day. They had seized their wretched victims while fishing, and brought them alive to Mbau, and there half-killed them, and then put them into their ovens. Some of them made several vain attempts to escape from the scorching flame. [151]

The actual manner of the roasting process was described by the missionary pioneer David Cargill, in 1838:

When about to be immolated, he is made to sit on the ground with his feet under his thighs and his hands placed before him. He is then bound so that he cannot move a limb or a joint. In this posture he is placed on stones heated for the occasion (and some of them are red-hot), and then covered with leaves and earth, to be roasted alive. When cooked, he is taken out of the oven and, his face and other parts being painted black, that he may resemble a living man ornamented for a feast or for war, he is carried to the temple of the gods and, being still retained in a sitting posture, is offered as a propitiatory sacrifice. [152]

Immolation of widows Edit

Indian subcontinent Edit

Sati refers to a funeral practice among some communities of Indian subcontinent in which a recently widowed woman immolates herself on her husband's funeral pyre. The first reliable evidence for the practice of sati appears from the time of the Gupta Empire (AD 400), when instances of sati began to be marked by inscribed memorial stones. [153]

According to one model of history thinking, the practice of sati only became really widespread with the Muslim invasions of India, and the practice of sati now acquired a new meaning as a means to preserve the honour of women whose men had been slain. As S.S. Sashi lays out the argument, "The argument is that the practice came into effect during the Islamic invasion of India, to protect their honor from Muslims who were known to commit mass rape on the women of cities that they could capture successfully." [154] It is also said that according to the memorial stone evidence, the practice was carried out in appreciable numbers in western and southern parts of India, and even in some areas, before pre-Islamic times. [155] Some of the rulers and activist of the time sought actively to suppress the practice of sati. [156]

The East India Company began to compile statistics of the incidences of sati for all their domains from 1815 and onwards. The official statistics for Bengal represents that the practice was much more common here than elsewhere, recorded numbers typically in the range 500–600 per year, up to the year 1829, when Company authorities banned the practice. [157] Since 19th – 20th Century, the practice remains outlawed in Indian subcontinent.

Jauhar was a practice among royal Hindu women to prevent capture by Muslim conquerors.

Bali and Nepal Edit

The practice of burning widows has not been restricted to the Indian subcontinent at Bali, the practice was called masatia and, apparently, restricted to the burning of royal widows. Although the Dutch colonial authorities had banned the practice, one such occasion is attested as late as in 1903, probably for the last time. [158] In Nepal, the practice was not banned until 1920. [159]

Traditions in sub-Saharan African cultures Edit

C.H.L. Hahn [160] wrote that within the O-ndnonga tribe among the Ovambo people in modern-day Namibia, abortion was not used at all (in contrast to among the other tribes), and that furthermore, if two young unwed individuals had sex resulting in pregnancy, then both the girl and the boy were "taken out to the bush, bound up in bundles of grass and . burnt alive." [161]

Legislation against the practice Edit

In 1790, Sir Benjamin Hammett introduced a bill into Parliament to end the practice of judicial burning. He explained that the year before, as Sheriff of London, he had been responsible for the burning of Catherine Murphy, found guilty of counterfeiting, but that he had allowed her to be hanged first. He pointed out that as the law stood, he himself could have been found guilty of a crime in not carrying out the lawful punishment and, as no woman had been burnt alive in the kingdom for more than half a century, so could all those still alive who had held an official position at all of the previous burnings. The Treason Act 1790 was duly passed by Parliament and given royal assent by King George III (30 George III. C. 48). [162] The Parliament of Ireland subsequently passed the similar Treason by Women Act (Ireland) 1796.

In the modern era, deaths by burning are largely extrajudicial in nature. These killings may be committed by mobs, small numbers of criminals, or paramilitary groups.

Revenge against Nazis Edit

Benjamin B. Ferencz, one of the prosecutors in the Nuremberg trials after the end of World War II who, in May 1945, investigated occurrences at the Ebensee concentration camp, narrated them to Tom Hofmann, a family member and biographer. Ferencz was outraged at what the Nazis had done there. When people discovered an SS guard who attempted to flee, they tied him to one of the metal trays used to transport bodies into the crematorium. They then proceeded to light the oven and slowly roast the SS guard to death, taking him in and out of the oven several times. Ferencz said to Hofmann that at the time, he was in no position to stop the proceedings of the mob, and frankly admitted that he had not been inclined to try. Hofmann adds, "There seemed to be no limit to human brutality in wartime." [163]

Lynching of Germans in Czechoslovakia Edit

During the post-World War II expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia, a number of attacks against the German minority occurred. In one case in Prague in May 1945, a Czech mob hanged several Germans upside down on lampposts, doused them in fuel and set them on fire, burning them alive. [164] [165] [166] The future literature scholar Peter Demetz, who grew up in Prague, later reported on this. [166]

Extrajudicial burnings in Latin America Edit

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, burning people standing inside a pile of tires is a common form of murder used by drug dealers to punish those who have supposedly collaborated with the police. This form of burning is called micro-ondas (microwave oven). [167] [168] [169] The film Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad) and the video game Max Payne 3 contain scenes depicting this practice. [170]

During the Guatemalan Civil War the Guatemalan Army and security forces carried out an unknown number of extrajudicial killings by burning. In one instance in March 1967, Guatemalan guerrilla and poet Otto René Castillo was captured by Guatemalan government forces and taken to Zacapa army barracks alongside one of his comrades, Nora Paíz Cárcamo. The two were interrogated, tortured for four days, and burned alive. [171] Other reported instances of immolation by Guatemalan government forces occurred in the Guatemalan government's rural counterinsurgency operations in the Guatemalan Altiplano in the 1980s. In April 1982, 13 members of a Quanjobal Pentecostal congregation in Xalbal, Ixcan, were burnt alive in their church by the Guatemalan Army. [172]

On 31 August 1996, a Mexican man, Rodolfo Soler Hernandez, was burned to death in Playa Vicente, Mexico, after he was accused of raping and strangling a local woman to death. Local residents tied Hernandez to a tree, doused him in a flammable liquid and then set him ablaze. His death was also filmed by residents of the village. Shots taken before the killing showed that he had been badly beaten. On 5 September 1996, Mexican television stations broadcast footage of the murder. Locals carried out the killing because they were fed up with crime and believed that the police and courts were both incompetent. Footage was also shown in the 1998 shockumentary film, Banned from Television. [173]

A young Guatemalan woman, Alejandra María Torres, was attacked by a mob in Guatemala City on 15 December 2009. The mob alleged that Torres had attempted to rob passengers on a bus. Torres was beaten, doused with gasoline, and set on fire, but was able to put the fire out before sustaining life-threatening burns. Police intervened and arrested Torres. Torres was forced to go topless throughout the ordeal and subsequent arrest, and many photographs were taken and published. [174] Approximately 219 people were lynched in Guatemala in 2009, of whom 45 died.

In May 2015, a sixteen-year-old girl was allegedly burned to death in Rio Bravo, Guatemala, by a vigilante mob after being accused by some of involvement in the killing of a taxi driver earlier in the month. [175]

In Chile during public mass protests held against the military regime of General Augusto Pinochet on 2 July 1986, engineering student Carmen Gloria Quintana, 18, and Chilean-American photographer Rodrigo Rojas DeNegri, 19, were arrested by a Chilean Army patrol in the Los Nogales neighborhood of Santiago. The two were searched and beaten before being doused in gasoline and burned alive by Chilean troops. Rojas was killed, while Quintana survived but with severe burns. [176]

Lynchings and killings by burning in the United States Edit

Burnings continued as a method of lynching in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in the South. One of the most notorious extrajudicial burnings in modern history occurred in Waco, Texas on 15 May 1916. Jesse Washington, an African-American farmhand, after having been convicted of the rape and subsequent murder of a white woman, was taken by a mob to a bonfire, castrated, doused in coal oil, and hanged by the neck from a chain over the bonfire, slowly burning to death. A postcard from the event still exists, showing a crowd standing next to Washington's charred corpse with the words on the back "This is the barbecue we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe". This attracted international condemnation and is remembered as the "Waco Horror". [177] [178]

More recently, during the 1980 New Mexico State Penitentiary riot, a number of inmates were burnt to death by fellow prisoners, who used blowtorches. [ citation needed ]

African cases Edit

In South Africa, extrajudicial executions by burning were carried out via "necklacing", wherein rubber tires filled with kerosene (or gasoline) are placed around the neck of a live individual. The fuel is then ignited, the rubber melts, and the victim is burnt to death. [179] [180]

It was reported that in Kenya, on 21 May 2008, a mob had burned to death at least 11 accused witches. [181]

Cases from the Middle East and Indian subcontinent Edit

Dr Graham Stuart Staines, an Australian Christian missionary, and his two sons Philip (aged ten) and Timothy (aged six), were burnt to death by a gang while the three slept in the family car (a station wagon), at Manoharpur village in Keonjhar District, Odisha, India on 22 January 1999. Four years later, in 2003, a Bajrang Dal activist, Dara Singh, was convicted of leading the gang that murdered Staines and his sons, and was sentenced to life in prison. Staines had worked in Odisha with the tribal poor and lepers since 1965. Some Hindu groups made allegations that Staines had forcibly converted or lured many Hindus into Christianity. [182] [183]

On 19 June 2008, the Taliban, at Sadda, Lower Kurram, Pakistan, burned three truck drivers of the Turi tribe alive after attacking a convoy of trucks en route from Kohat to Parachinar, possibly for supplying the Pakistan Armed Forces. [184]

In January 2015, Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh was burned in a cage by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). The pilot was captured when his plane crashed near Raqqa, Syria, during a mission against IS in December 2014. [185]

In August 2015, ISIS burned to death four Iraqi Shia prisoners. [186]

In December 2016, ISIS burned to death two Turkish soldiers, [187] publishing high quality video of the atrocity. [188]

Bride-burning Edit

On 20 January 2011, a 28-year-old woman, Ranjeeta Sharma, was found burning to death on a road in rural New Zealand. The police confirmed the woman was alive before being covered in an accelerant and set on fire. [189] Sharma's husband, Davesh Sharma, was charged with her murder. [190]


In earlier times mildew was considered a major problem in many libraries, and so the emphasis on library design was to increase air flow by, for example, leaving openings under the shelves in adjoining floors. In a fire the flames would be drawn from floor to floor by the air flow, leading quite easily to the destruction of a whole library rather than just a small part.

Advances in technology have reduced the possibility of a library collection being destroyed by fire. These include water sprinklers, fire doors, freezers, alarms, smoke detectors, suppression systems, and emergency generators. Older libraries are usually altered by closing up air flow openings and installing fire doors, alarms and sprinklers. Air conditioning reduces the mold problems. These are all essential parts of new library design.

There is no recovery possible if a book is burnt, so it is accepted that it is better to put out the fire with water and then dry out the books. As mold destroys paper, the books are frozen until they can be dried. This process will damage the book but not destroy it, and the information will be intact.

To reduce the chance of damage from fire, or other causes, and decrease the time needed for recovery after a destructive event, libraries need a disaster management and recovery plan. This can be an ongoing process which will include professional development following updates in technology for key staff, training for the remaining staff, checking and maintaining disaster kits, and review of the disaster plan.

In addition, fire-safety investigations are periodically carried out, especially for historical libraries. The Library of Congress, for example, underwent a year-long inspection in 2000. Before the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, the Library of Congress and all Capitol Hill buildings were exempt from safety regulations. [4] Balancing historical preservation and contemporary safety standards proves to be a difficult task for "even a 12-year rehabilitation of LC completed in 1997 did not address many fire hazards". [5] After the Compliance Office inspection, however, the LC announced their wholehearted commitment "to achieving the highest level of safety possible" and "the Architect of the Capitol and Library of Congress will report their progress to the Office of Compliance every three months". [4]

Information technology is another reason for careful fire protection. With so many computers in libraries there "is a decrease in floor space and an increase in more compact and powerful computer systems" which generate more heat and require the use of many more outlets, increasing the number of potential ignition sources. [6] From as early as the 1950s the potential dangers of computer equipment, and the facilities that house them, was recognized. Thus in 1962 the National Fire Protection Association began developing the first safety standards specifically applicable to electronic computer systems. [6] This standard is called NFPA 75 Protection of Information Technology Equipment. FM Global Data Sheet 5–32 is another standard providing guidelines to protect against not only fire, but also water, power loss, etc. [6]

Image Name of Library City Country Date of Destruction Perpetrator Reason and/or Account of Destruction
Xianyang Palace and State Archives Xianyang Qin China 206 BC Xiang Yu Xiang Yu, rebelling against emperor Qin Er Shi, led his troops into Xianyang in 206 BC. He ordered the destruction of the Xianyang Palace by fire. [7] (Qin Shi Huang had ordered the burning of books and burying of scholars earlier.)
Library of Alexandria Alexandria Ancient Egypt Disputed Disputed Disputed, [8] [9] see destruction of the Library of Alexandria.
Imperial library of Luoyang Luoyang Han China 189 AD Dong Zhuo Much of the city, including the imperial library, was purposefully burned when its population was relocated during an evacuation. [10] [11] : 460–461
Library of Antioch Antioch Ancient Syria 364 AD Emperor Jovian [12] The library had been heavily stocked by the aid of the perpetrator's non-Christian predecessor, Emperor Julian (the Apostate).
Library of the Serapeum Alexandria Ancient Egypt 392 Theophilus of Alexandria Following the conversion of the temple of Serapis into a church, the library was destroyed. [13]
Library of al-Hakam II Córdoba Al-Andalus 976 Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir & religious scholars All books consisting of "ancient science" were destroyed in a surge of ultra-orthodoxy. [14] [15]
Library of Rayy Rayy Buyid Emirate 1029 Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni Burned the library and all books deemed as heretical. [16]
Library of Avicenna Isfahan Kakuyid Emirate 1034 Sultan Mas'ud I After conquering the city of Isfahan, the library of Avicenna was destroyed. [17]
Library of Banu Ammar (Dar al-'ilm) Tripoli Fatimid Caliphate 1109 Crusaders Following Sharaf al-Daulah's surrender to Baldwin I of Jerusalem, Genoese mercenaries burned and looted part of the city. The library, Dar al-'ilm, was burned. [18]
Library of Ghazna Ghazna Ghurid empire 1151 'Ala al-Din Husayn City was sacked and burned for seven days. Libraries and palaces built by the Ghaznavids were destroyed. [17]
Library of Nishapur Nishapur Seljuk Empire 1154 Oghuz Turks City partially destroyed, libraries sacked and burned. [19]
Nalanda Nalanda India 1193 Bakhtiyar Khilji Nalanda University complex (the most renowned repository of Buddhist knowledge in the world at the time) was sacked by Turkic Muslim invaders under the perpetrator this event is seen as a milestone in the decline of Buddhism in India. [20]
Imperial Library of Constantinople Constantinople Byzantine Empire 1204 The Crusaders In 1204, the library became a target of the knights of the Fourth Crusade. The library itself was destroyed and its contents burned or sold.
Alamut Castle's library Alamut Castle Iran 1256 Mongols Library destroyed after the capitulation of Alamut. [21]
House of Wisdom Baghdad Iraq 1258 Mongols Destroyed during the Battle of Baghdad [22]
Libraries of Constantinople Constantinople Byzantine Empire 1453 Ottoman Turks After the Fall of Constantinople, hundreds upon thousands of manuscripts were removed, sold, or destroyed from Constantinople's libraries. [23]
Madrassah Library Granada Crown of Castile 1499 Cardinal Cisneros The library was ransacked by troops of Cardinal Cisneros in late 1499, the books were taken to the Plaza Bib-Rambla, where they were burned. [24]
Bibliotheca Corviniana Buda Hungary 1526 Ottoman Turks Library was destroyed by Ottomans in the Battle of Mohács. [25]
Monastic libraries England England 1530s Royal officials The monastic libraries were destroyed or dispersed following the dissolution of monasteries by Henry VIII.
Glasney College Penryn, Cornwall England 1548 Royal officials The smashing and looting of the Cornish colleges at Glasney and Crantock brought an end to the formal scholarship which had helped to sustain the Cornish language and the Cornish cultural identity.
Records on Gozo Gozo Hospitaller Malta 1551 Ottoman Turks Most paper records held on Gozo were lost or destroyed during an Ottoman raid in 1551. [26] The raid is said to have "led to the near total destruction of documentary evidence for life in medieval Gozo." [27]
Maya codices of the Yucatán Maní, Yucatán Mexico and Guatemala 1562-07-12 Diego de Landa Bishop De Landa, a Franciscan monk and conquistador during the Spanish conquest of Yucatán, wrote: "We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they (the Maya) regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction." Only three extant codices are widely considered unquestionably authentic.
Raglan Library Raglan Castle Wales 1646 Parliamentary Army The Earl of Worcester's library was burnt during the English Civil War by forces under the command of Thomas Fairfax
Library of Congress Washington, D.C. United States 1814 Troops of the British Army The library was destroyed during the War of 1812 when British forces set fire to the U.S. Capitol during the Burning of Washington. [28] This attack was retaliation for the burning of the Canadian towns of York and Niagara by American troops in 1813. [29] Soon after its destruction, the Library of Congress was reestablished, largely thanks to the purchase of Thomas Jefferson's personal library in 1815. A second fire on December 24th, 1851 destroyed a large portion of the Library of Congress' collection again, however, resulting in the loss of about two-thirds of the Thomas Jefferson collection and an estimated 35,000 books in total. [30]
Several libraries Mexico City and major Mexican cities Mexico 1856-1867 Liberal troops and anti-clericalists During and after the Mexican Reform War, under the liberal governments of Benito Juárez and Ignacio Comonfort, many convent libraries and Church owned school libraries were sacked or destroyed by Liberal troops and looters, most notably included San Francisco Convent Library, which had over 16,000 books (great majority of them were unique collections of Spanish colonial era productions), the library was totally destroyed. Other important libraries included San Agustín Convent Library, was looted and burned. The Carmen de San Ángel Convent and its library were also totally destroyed (with a few books recovered), other affected convent libraries to different degrees were those of Santo Domingo, Las Capuchinas, Santa Clara, La Merced and the Church owned school Colegio de San Juan de Letrán, among others, all of them in Mexico City. Similar events happened all over Mexico, espcially in major cities. Besides books, other items such as altarpieces, unique collections of colonial period Baroque paintings, crosses, sculptures, gold and silver chalices (often robbed and melted) were also lost. Total estimates place the total of lost books and manuscripts at 100,000 by 1884. [31] [32]
University of Alabama Tuscaloosa, Alabama United States 1865-05-04 Troops of the Union Army During the American Civil War, Union troops destroyed most buildings on the University of Alabama campus, including its library of approximately 7,000 volumes. [33]
Mosque-Library Turnovo, Bulgaria Ottoman Empire 1877 Christian Bulgarians Turkish books in a library were destroyed when the mosque was burned. [34]
Royal library of the Kings of Burma Mandalay Palace Burma 1885–1887 Troops of the British Army The British looted the palace at the end of the 3rd Anglo-Burmese War (some of the artefacts which were taken away are still on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London) [35] and burned down the royal library.
Hanlin Academy Library Hanlin Academy China 1900-06-23/4 Disputed. Possibly the Kansu Braves besieging the west of the Legation Quarter, or possibly by the international defending forces. During the Siege of the International Legations in Beijing at the height of the Boxer Rebellion, the unofficial national library of China at the Hanlin Academy, which was adjacent to the British Legation, was set on fire (by whom and whether deliberately or accidentally is still disputed) and almost entirely destroyed. Many of the books and scrolls that survived the flames were subsequently looted by forces of the victorious foreign powers.
Library of the Catholic University of Leuven Leuven Belgium 1914-08-25 German Occupation Troops The Germans set the library on fire as part of the burning of the entire city in an attempt to use terror to quell Belgian resistance to occupation. [36]
Public Records Office of Ireland Dublin Ireland 1922 Disputed. Poss. deliberately by Anti-Treaty IRA or accidental ignition of their stored explosives due to shelling by Provisional Government forces. [37] The Four Courts was occupied by the Anti-Treaty IRA at the start of the Irish Civil War. The building was bombarded by the Provisional Government forces under Michael Collins. [38]
Several religious libraries Madrid Republican Spain 1931 Anarchists and anti-clericalists In 1931, several groups of radical leftists and anarchists, with the complicit inaction of the Republican government, burned down several convents in Madrid. Most included important libraries. Among them, the Colegio de la Inmaculada y San Pedro Claver and the Instituto Católico de Artes e Industrias with a library of 20 000 volumes the Casa Profesa with a library of 80 000 volumes, considered the second best in Spain at the time, after the National Library and the Instituto Católico de Artes e Industrias, with 20 000 volumes, including the archives of the paleographer García Villada, and 100 000 popular songs compiled by P. Antonio Martínez. Everything was lost.
Oriental Library (also known as Dongfang Tushuguan) Zhabei, Shanghai China 1932-02-01 Imperial Japanese Army During the January 28 incident in the Second Sino-Japanese War Japanese forces bombed The Commercial Press and the attached Oriental Library, setting it alight and destroying most of its collection of more than 500,000 volumes. [39] [40] [41]
Institut für Sexualwissenschaft Berlin Nazi Germany 1933-05-?? Members of the Deutsche Studentenschaft On 6 May 1933, the Deutsche Studentenschaft made an organised attack on the Institute of Sex Research. A few days later, the Institute's library and archives were publicly hauled out and burned in the streets of the Opernplatz.
National University of Tsing Hua, University Nan-k'ai, Institute of Technology of He-pei, Medical College of He-pei, Agricultural College of He-pei, University Ta Hsia, University Kuang Hua, National University of Hunan China 1937–1945 World War II Japanese Troops During World War II, Japanese military forces destroyed or partly destroyed numerous Chinese libraries, including libraries at the National University of Tsing Hua, Peking (lost 200,000 of 350,000 books), the University Nan-k'ai, T'ien-chin (totally destroyed, 224,000 books lost), Institute of Technology of He-pei, T'ien-chin (completely destroyed), Medical College of He-pei, Pao-ting (completely destroyed), Agricultural College of He-pei, Pao-ting (completely destroyed), University Ta Hsia, Shanghai (completely destroyed), University Kuang Hua, Shanghai (completely destroyed), National University of Hunan (completely destroyed). [42]
Library of the Catholic University of Leuven Leuven Belgium 1940-05-?? German Occupation Troops Caught fire during German invasion of Louvain, Belgium. [43]
National Library of Serbia Belgrade Yugoslavia 1941-04-06 Nazi German Luftwaffe Destroyed during the World War II bombing of Belgrade, on the order of Adolf Hitler himself. [44] Around 500.000 volumes and all collections of the library were destroyed in one of the largest book bonfires in European history. [45]
SS. Cyril and Methodius National Library Sofia Bulgaria 1943–1944 Allied bombing Allied air forces
Krasiński Library (housing special collections of the National Library of Poland, including the Załuski Library collection, as well as those of the Warsaw University Library) Warsaw German-occupied Poland
(General Government)
1944 Nazi German troops The library was deliberately set ablaze by Nazi German troops in the aftermath of the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The burning of this library was part of the general planned destruction of Warsaw. [46]
Library of the Zamoyski Family Entail Warsaw German-occupied Poland
(General Government)
1944 Nazi German troops The library (which housed the collections of the former Zamojski Academy) was deliberately set ablaze by the Nazi German troops in the aftermath of the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The burning of this library was part of the general planned destruction of Warsaw. Depending on source, 1800 to 3000 items constituting only 1.5% to 3% of the original collection (albeit the most valuable part) survived, partially due to the fact that the troops burning the library did not notice the entrance to the basement at the rear side of the building. [47]
Central Archives of Historical Records Warsaw German-occupied Poland
(General Government)
1944 Nazi German troops In the aftermath of the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, the archives were not only deliberately set ablaze, but the Nazi German troops also entered each of the fire-proof underground shelters and meticulously burned one after another. Part of the general planned destruction of Warsaw. [48]
Raczyński Library Poznań German-occupied Poland
(Reichsgau Wartheland)
1945 Nazi German troops The retreating Nazi German troops planted explosives in the building and triggered detonation, demolishing the entire structure and burning 90% of the collection.
Lebanese National Library Beirut Lebanon 1975 Lebanese Civil War The 1975 war fighting began in Beirut's downtown where the National Library was located. During the war years, the library suffered significant damage. According to some sources, 1200 of most precious manuscripts disappeared, and no memory is left of the Library's organization and operational procedures of that time.
National Library of Cambodia Phnom Penh Cambodia 1976–1979 The Khmer Rouge [42] Burnt most of the books and all bibliographical records. Only 20% of materials survived. [42]
Jaffna Public Library Jaffna Sri Lanka 1981-05-?? Plainclothes police officers and others In May 1981, a mob composed of thugs and plainclothes police officers went on a rampage in minority Tamil-dominated northern Jaffna, and burned down the Jaffna Public Library. At least 95,000 volumes – the second largest library collection in South Asia – were destroyed. [49]
Sikh Reference Library Punjab India 1984-06-07 Indian Army Before its destruction, the library contained rare books and handwritten manuscripts on Sikh religion, history, and culture. [50] It could have been a desperate act on failure to locate letters or documents that could have implicated the then Indian government and its leader Indira Gandhi. [51] [52]
! Central University Library of Bucharest Bucharest Romania 1989-12-2? Romanian Land Forces Burnt down during the Romanian Revolution. [53] [54]
Oriental Institute in Sarajevo Sarajevo Bosnia and Herzegovina 1992-05-17 Bosnian Serb Army Destroyed by the shellfire during the Siege of Sarajevo. [55] [56] [57]
National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina Sarajevo Bosnia and Herzegovina 1992-08-25 Bosnian Serb Army The library was completely destroyed during the Siege of Sarajevo. [55]
Abkhazian Research Institute of History, Language and Literature & National Library of Abkhazia Sukhumi Abkhazia 1992-10-?? Georgian Armed Forces Destroyed during the War in Abkhazia. [58]
City library Linköping Sweden 1996-09-20 Lack of evidence for trial After a year of repeated, minor arson attempts against an information bureau for immigrants located in the building, the library is eventually burnt down to the ground.
Pol-i-Khomri Public Library Pol-i-Khomri Afghanistan 1998 Taliban militia It held 55,000 books and old manuscripts. [59]
Iraq National Library and Archive, Al-Awqaf Library, Central Library of the University of Baghdad, Library of Bayt al-Hikma, Central Library of the University of Mosul and other libraries Baghdad Iraq 2003-04-?? Unknown members of the Bagdad population Several libraries looted, set on fire, damaged and destroyed in various degrees during the 2003 Iraq War. [60] [61] [62] [63] [64]
The People's Library Occupy Wall Street Zuccotti Park Lower Manhattan New York City United States 2011 New York City Department of Sanitation Over 5,000 books cataloged in LibraryThing were seized. [65]
Egyptian Scientific Institute Cairo Egypt 2011-12-?? Aftermath of street clashes during the Egyptian revolution A first estimate says that only 30,000 volumes have been saved of a total of 200,000. [66]
Ahmed Baba Institute (Timbuktu library) Timbuktu Mali 2013-01-28 Islamist militias Before the library was burned down, it contained over 20,000 manuscripts with only a fraction of them having been scanned as of January 2013. Before and during the occupation, more than 300,000 Timbuktu Manuscripts from the Institute and from private libraries were saved and moved to more secure locations. [67] [68] [69]
Ratanda Public Library Lesedi Local Municipality South Africa 2013-03-12 Public riots 1,807 library books, technological infrastructure including seven patron workstations, a photocopy machine and a large screen television. [70]
Libraries of Fisheries and Oceans Canada Canada 2013 Government of Canada headed by prime minister Stephen Harper Digitization effort to reduce the nine original libraries to seven and save $C443,000 annual cost. [71] Only 5–6% of the material was digitized, and that scientific records and research created at a taxpayer cost of tens of millions of dollars was dumped, burned, and given away. [72] Particularly noted are baseline data important to ecological research, and data from 19th century exploration.
Saeh Library Tripoli Lebanon 2014-01-03 Unknown The Christian library was burned down, it contained over 80,000 manuscripts and books. [73] [74] [75]
National Archives of Bosnia and Herzegovina (partially) Sarajevo Bosnia and Herzegovina 2014-02-07 Seven Bosnian rioters suspected of having started the fire two (Salem Hatibović and Nihad Trnka) [76] were arrested. [77]

In the repositories that were burnt, about 60 percent of the material was lost, according to estimates by Šaban Zahirović, the head of the Archives. [80]

Column: Survivors of Armenian genocide remember their history

Americans of Armenian descent finally got something they’ve waited on for decades: The U.S. officially recognizing what they’ve known for generations.

That their forebears were victims of genocide — or if you prefer the laundered term, ethnic cleansing — at the hands of the Turks. From 1915 to 1922, they knew from kinsmen that at least 1.5 million Armenians were massacred, endured starvation, tortured and interned in labor camps. They were told over the years that another 2 million of their countrymen had their ancestral properties seized and forced into mass migration, walking miles with few possessions in order to save their lives.

All thanks to the tyrannical rule and oppression of the Ottoman Empire. At the time, much of the world ignored the humanitarian crisis which befell the Armenians.

President Joe Biden, making good on a campaign promise, said on Saturday, April 24, the day Armenians mark as the anniversary of their holocaust, that indeed what the Turks did more than a century ago was “genocide.”

“The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today,” Biden said, according to The Associated Press. “We affirm the history . to ensure that what happened is never repeated.”

Watch the video: The Fall of Constantinople