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The United States and Victory 1915-1918

war

FEW AMERICANS noticed the advertisement that appeared in the New York newspapers on May 1, 1915. Signed by the Imperial German Embassy in Washington, it reminded Americans that Germany was at war with Britain. It warned that British ships in the water near the British Isles were “liable to destruction,” and that “travelers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.” That same day, the British steamship Lusitania sailed from New York and among the 1,250 passengers were 188 Americans. On May 6, when the Lusitania was off the coast of Ireland, she was attacked without warning by a German submarine. She was struck by torpedoes and within fifteen minutes she had sunk. Of the 1,154 persons who died, 114 were citizens of the United States. Many Americans were horrified, but they agreed with Woodrow Wilson, who had been president since 1915, that the United States should not take sides in the war. Wilson was re-elected in 1916, after campaigning on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Since the beginning of the war, agents of both the Allies and Germany had been trying to influence Americans. Although Wilson faithfully carried out his policy of neutrality, he was personally sympathetic to the Allies. As a matter of fact, most Americans favoured the Allies. At the same time, American citizens of German descent had no wish to fight against their old “fatherland,” and Irish-Americans, who disliked British for its treatment of Ireland, felt that the England should be given no aid. Then the German submarine commanders asked their government to resume unrestricted submarine warfare. By that, they meant that once again they would be free to sink ships of all nations‚ including neutrals, in the waters around the British …

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The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte 1796-1802

napoleon

In March of 1796, a new commander named Napoleon Bonaparte was placed in charge of the French army on the Italian front. The soldiers and officers were amazed when they first saw him. He was short, thin, pale, only twenty-seven years old and spoke French with an Italian accent. Napoleon was not an unknown. He had first come to public attention as the young artillery officer who drove the British fleet from the harbour at Toulon. Later, as a brigadier general, he had successfully defended the Convention from an uprising in Paris. What most people did not know was that he had been a rebel most of his life. He had been born on the island of Corsica, a rebel stronghold, where fighting for independence from French rule was considered the duty of patriots. His father had been a rebel leader and the boy Napoleon had dreamed of the day when he, too, would lead a Corsican rebellion against the French. He had kept that dream alive during his years in French military school and even after he had become an officer in the French army. During one of his visits to the island, while on leave, he had actually tried to stir up a rebellion in Corsica. The attempt failed and that put an end to his boyhood dream, but he still remained a rebel at heart. Napoleon’s new army was a small one of only 30,000 troops and most of them were suffering for want of food and clothing. This was the army with which he was expected to fight the Austrian troops in Northern Italy. According to French war plans against Austria, the Italian campaign was supposed to keep enemy troops busy on the southern front while the main attacks were launched by two large French armies …

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Venice, City in the Sea 1350 – 1590

venice

The houses of Venice are “like sea-birds half on sea and half on land,” said Cassiodorus. An officer of a king of the Goths, Cassiodorus saw Venice in 537. It was a little settlement of huts built on the mud-flats in an out-of-the-way lagoon. Its people were refugees‚ Italians who had been driven from their homes by a horde of barbaric invaders. They were safe in the lagoon, for no stranger could navigate the treacherous channels. For the sake of safety, they were content with comforts that were simple at best. “In this place,” Cassiodorus said, “rich and poor are alike — they all fill up on fish.” A thousand years later, when Venice had become the richest and most powerful city in Italy, it was still a place of refuge from the wars and turmoil of the mainland. The lagoon was still an unbeatable defense. Instead of streets, there were canals and the city’s mansions, marble palaces and gold-peaked churches still hovered above the water like sea-birds, perched on 117 islands linked by nearly 400 bridges. In every way, Venice belonged to the sea and for many years the sea belonged to Venice. The descendants of the settlers commanded mighty warships that ruled the eastern Mediterranean. With their great merchant galleys, they were the lords of the trade-routes of the Adriatic and Aegean Seas and they sailed the Atlantic to England and Flanders. In the Middle Ages, the Venetians built and manned the hundreds of ships that took the Crusaders to the Holy Land — and they saw to it that the knights captured a few colonies for Venice along the way. Through the years, these colonies multiplied into an ocean empire until even Constantinople, the capital of the old Roman Empire of the East, paid homage to the …

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Arabia, Mother of Religions 3000 B. C. – 570 A. D

ARABIA

ARABIA, the big, boot-shaped peninsula off the northeast corner of Africa, is one of the hottest and driest regions on earth. It is also extremely rugged. Almost all of it is made up of mountains‚ deserts and immense plains of sand broken by hills. Not a single river crosses it, only dry riverbeds called wadis which quickly carry away the little rain that falls. Water is so scarce that trees and plants can grow only along some of the coasts and in small “islands” of green called oases, mostly found in the wadis, which dot the vast interior. Yet this bleak‚ patched land was once the home of a people, the Semites, who gave the world much of its learning and three of its greatest religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Thousands of years ago some Semitic tribesmen migrated north to the fertile region by the Mediterranean Sea. Over many generations they developed the principles of Judaism, the religion of the Jews. Much later Christianity also came into being there. Before the coming of the third great Semitic faith, Islam, Judaism and Christianity had long been established in Arabia. Most of the people still worshiped the sun, moon, stars and the spirits of hills, caves, rocks, springs and palm trees. They bowed down before the day idols of hundreds of gods, goddesses and demons. THE BEDOUINS Most Arabians were herdsmen called Bedouins. They roamed endlessly across the empty spaces, looking for water and grass for their camels, goats and sheep. They ate dates and a mixture of flour with water or goat’s milk and slept in tents woven from the hair of camels or goats. They wore flowing head-scarves and long shirts and went barefoot. They owned very little. A Bedouin’s most prized possessions were his camels and his sword. For …

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Byzantine Glory A.D. 610-1057

Byzantine

The period from 610 to 717 was one of the darkest in Byzantine history. During that time, the edges of the empire crumbled under the pressure of powerful enemies. A people from northern Italy, the Lombards, conquered more than half of Italy. In central Arabia, the Arab tribes had joined together under the religion of Mohammed and marched against their neighbors. They took the kingdom of Persia, invaded Palestine and in 658 captured Jerusalem. The conquering Moslems, as the followers of Mohammed were called, swept on and soon took over Syria and Egypt. They marched along the northern shore of Africa and took Carthage in 697, then sailed across the Mediterranean and captured Spain. By this time the empire seemed all but doomed. It had been reduced to Asia Minor, the Balkan Peninsula and southern Italy. Shortly after Leo III had been crowned emperor he was forced to defend Constantinople during the Arab siege of 717-718. Later he drove them back on the Taurus front. After saving the empire from the Arabs, he organized the country into military districts and placed a military government over each of them. This system, together with Justinian’s fortresses, made the empire’s defenses stronger than ever before. The empire reached the height of its glory under Basil I and his descendants, a period lasting from 867 to 1057. Most of the emperors of this period were brilliant military leaders and good administrators. Under them the empire regained its strength, beat back the Arabs in South Italy and in the East forced the Arabs back to the Euphrates, overran Cilicia and Syria, and pushed down into Palestine to the gates of Jerusalem. On the European side, Basil II crushed the mighty empire of the Bulgars. DIPLOMACY AND TREACHERY Byzantine emperors often used treachery to weaken their …

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The New Capital: Constantinople A. D. 306-532

CONSTANTINOPLE

EMPEROR Constantine’s decision to build a new capital for the Roman Empire in the East did not come as a surprise to the people of the empire. Rome had lost much of its influence as the seat of government and emperors avoided the city. They preferred to build castles for themselves in distant provincial cities. Emperor Maximian, for example, had ruled from Milan. Emperor Diocletian had moved to Nicomedia, far to the east in Asia Minor and ruled from there. Constantine had many good reasons for turning eastward in searching for a site for his new capital. Most of the important activities and interests of the empire lay far to the east of Rome. The great trade centers at Ephesus, Antioch and Alexandria were all in the East. For centuries, the kingdoms beyond the eastern frontiers had been weak and peaceful. Now the Sassanids, a new royal family of Persia, had risen to power and become a serious threat. The East German tribes, particularly the Goths, had also become a threat, building up their strength on the Danube. As a man of the sword, Constantine knew well that the empire was in danger of being invaded. A capital city in the East, within striking distance of the Danube and the eastern front, would help the empire standoff attacks from either direction. There was also an advantage in having the capital city close to the Balkans, for there the empire recruited its finest soldiers. Constantine himself had come from there. His personal pride may have been still another reason. Many Roman emperors were great builders. They were proud men and they liked to build roads and great buildings which would stand for centuries as memorials to their greatness. A new capital city would bring him fame and glorify his memory for …

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Rome and the Christian Church A.D. 64 -180

church

TRUMPETS sounded the fire alarm in Rome on the night of July 18, in the year 64. It seemed that the flames first broke out in the crowded section near the Great Circus and spread rapidly, driven by a strong wind to row after row of wooden houses. Sparks carried by the wind started other fires. People fled in panic. The fire roared on unchecked, continuing for six days and six nights. When it was finally brought under control, most of the city lay in ruins. People could not believe that one small accidental fire somewhere could have caused all that damage. Some thought several fires had started at the same time. They looked about for someone to blame. Soon they began saying that Nero, the emperor, had set the fire himself. Others said that he had murdered members of his own family and the angry gods were striking back with thunderbolts from the sky. Frightened by such talk, Nero turned suspicion away from himself by blaming the Christians. Not much was known about them, but since they were members of the poorer classes they were looked upon with suspicion. The bread and wine of their suppers, which represented the body and blood of Jesus, led many Romans to believe that the Christians were actually cannibals. There were rumors that Christians killed and ate small children at their secret meetings. Nero’s persecution of the Christians, therefore, proved to be highly popular. The prisons were soon filled with a “great multitude” of Christians and executions and brutal tortures went on day after day in Nero’s Circus, which was located where St. Peter’s Cathedral stands today. Peter and Paul may have been executed during or shortly after this wave of persecution. The “great multitude” that filled the prisons suggests that the Christian …

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The End of the City A. D. 192 – A. D. 476

constantine

ON ROME’S first day, Romulus took a bronze plow and drew a magic circle around seven of the hills that stood beside the River Tiber. The magic of the circle was protection against the evils outside. More important, it bound together the people who were inside, making one city where there had been six towns. Seven hundred years later, Augustus drew another magic circle, this time around all the Mediterranean world. It kept out barbarian and Asian invaders and held together millions of people, making one empire where there had been dozens of races and nations. So long as the circle had its magic power, Rome would exist. There was no magic in the circles themselves. The real magic had been in Romulus himself, a chief who was strong and wise enough to build a city. There had been magic, too, in Augustus, whose wisdom had brought order and peace to an empire. Without such men, the circles were powerless. Invaders and conquerors could break through them. The people and countries they held together would fall apart. That was what happened to Rome after the death of Marcus Aurelius. TOO MANY CAESARS It did not happen all at once. There was still an empire and there were emperors who tried to rule it — too many, in fact. When Commodus was murdered, four would-be rulers, each with a Roman army behind him, fought over the throne. The winner, Septimus Severus, the commander of the Danube troops, held it for eighteen years. When he was about to die, he gave his two sons a piece of advice about ruling Rome: “Stick together, pay the soldiers and forget the rest.” His sons did not stick together. When Septimus was dead, each of them tried to be the emperor. Caracalla, the elder of …

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The Second Triumvirate 43 B. C. – 30 B. C.

AS THE news of Caesar’s death spread through Rome, sorrow, anger and fear took hold of the city. On March 17, two days after the murder, the Senate met again. Cassius, Brutus and the other assassins took their usual places. There was no doubt that most of their fellow senators felt that they had done the right thing in ridding Rome of a tyrant, but Caesar’ s veterans were still in the city, taking their orders now from Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, who had been his Master of the Horse, the commander of the cavalry. Mark Antony was still consul, he had not yet said what he intended to do about Caesar’s murder, but certainly he would not forgive the killers.Of course, no one could tell what the mob might do. If the people took it into their heads to avenge the murder of their hero, there might be many more killings. So it was a cautious, quiet group of men who gathered in the Senate to discuss the death of Caesar and the future of Rome. When Mark Antony spoke, he surprised them by not demanding that the assassins be arrested and put on trial. Perhaps he was afraid that they had strong forces of their own or that he might be the next victim. Whatever his reasons were, he offered to make a bargain. He would agree to let the assassins go unpunished, if the Senate would agree to approve Caesar’s will and allow his friends to give him a proper, public funeral. To the senators, the terms sounded fair — better, in fact, than they had hoped for. They quickly agreed to their part of the bargain, ended the meeting and went home, congratulating themselves that it all had been so easy. THE FUNERAL OF CAESAR On the …

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The City Divided 130 B. C. – 70 B. C.

MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO, a young statesman known for his dramatic speeches, stood before a panel of judges in a courtroom in Rome. He stared at them angrily. For fifty days he had travelled through Sicily, collecting facts about the crimes committed by Caius Verres, the man who was on trial. Now the judges had told him that there would not be time to listen to his evidence. Cicero knew that the judges had been bribed. For it was no ordinary criminal that he meant to send to prison or to death. Caius Verres was an aristocrat and a senator and had served for three years as the governor of the province of Sicily. Verres’ lawyer was Hortensius, the leader of the aristocrats. Indeed, every rich or important man in Rome seemed to be supporting Verres, but Cicero was determined that this man should not escape judgment. He turned to Hortensius and offered to present his case in one day. “Would the court have time enough for that?” ‘ he asked sarcastically. Hortensius was surprised, but he smiled and told Cicero to try it if he liked. The judges agreed. For a moment there was silence in the courtroom, as Cicero turned to face the benches where the long lines of judges sat. Sternly he looked from man to man until he was certain all their eyes were on him. Then he began to speak. He listed Verres’ crimes: When he was governor and the commander of Rome’s army in Sicily, he had taken for himself the money raised to pay the troops. When he was governor and responsible for order and justice in the province, he had taken more money to allow pirates to rob the ports, to set criminals free and to condemn innocent men. For gold, he had …

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