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A Tyrant Who Was Not Tyrannical


A tyrant’s first problem was to seize power. Peisistratus had to solve this problem three times. In 560 he came before a meeting of the Assembly wounded and bleeding, alleging that his political opponents had attacked him. Sympathisers voted him a body-guard, with the aid of which he was able to seize power, but his opponents soon forced him to take flight. His next descent on the city was made in a chariot, in which he was accompanied by a handsome woman dressed up as Athena. He alleged that his companion was in fact Athena and that she had chosen him to rule her city. No doubt this escapade, if it really took place, impressed the simpler supporters of Peisistratus and amused the wiser ones. Anyway he again established himself as tyrant and after another short spell of power was again thrown out. This time he stayed away ten years. When he returned for the third time, in 546, he made a less spectacular entry than on previous occasions, but remained to rule until his death in 527. During that period his talent for display found a more useful outlet. He organised the annual spring festival of Dionysus, at which the great tragic dramas of the following century were performed and the Panathenaea, a festival in honour of Athena, which included the recitation of poetry as well as athletics and drew competitors from all over Greece. He saw to it that Athens had buildings and sculptures worthy of her guests. We have become so accustomed to thinking of Athens as the most splendid city in Greece that it is hard to realise how insignificant she was before about the year 600. Solon having prepared the way, Peisistratus put Athens on the map, not only by skillful showmanship but also by …

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Victory in Europe 1941 – 1945

Even before Pearl Harbour, there had been cooperation between the United States and Britain. In August of 1941, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill met secretly, on a cruiser at sea off the coast of Newfoundland. There they drew up the Atlantic Charter, a document stating the principles on which they based their hopes for a better future for the world. They pledged that neither country would seek more territory. They hoped that, “after the final destruction of Nazi tyranny,” all men in all lands could “live out their lives in freedom from want and fear,” and they called on all nations to give up the use of force and disarm. With the United States in the war, the cooperation among the nations fighting the Axis powers became still closer. There were meetings between the heads of the nations and their representatives — the first of many that would take place throughout the war. Out of the early meetings came an important decision. All possible strength must be thrown against Germany, for once Germany was defeated, Japan would surely fall. On January 1, 1942, all twenty-six nations fighting the Axis signed a pact. Calling themselves the United Nations, they agreed to abide by the Atlantic Charter and not to make a separate peace with the enemy. As the year began, the Germans started an offensive in Africa. General Rommel and his Afrika Korps won back El Agheila, which the British had taken the previous April. By the end of June, 1942, the British had lost 80,000 men and had been forced to retreat 400 miles to El Alamein, in Egypt. This was only 60 miles from the city of Alexandria and there was danger that Rommel would cut off the Suez Canal. Rommel could not take El Alamein. The British …

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Stalemate in the West, Decision in the East 1914 -1917

trench warfare

Germany’s generals had for some time expected that they would have to fight both France and Russia, and Count Alfred von Schlieffen had devised a battle plan that took this into consideration. The Schlieffen Plan was a good one and it might well have brought the war to an early end — if General Helmut von Moltke, who succeeded Schlieffen as the German commander, had followed it. The plan called for the German army to be divided into an eastern force and a western force. Russia, vast and with few good roads or railroads, would need more time than France to bring up its troops; a fairly small German force could therefore hold off the Russians during the first weeks of the war. Meanwhile, a huge German force would invade France and would defeat it in six weeks. Then the victorious German troops in the west would be sent east to join their comrades in a massive thrust against Russia. The heart of the plan was the strike into France and at the start of the war, the huge German army in the west was poised along the French and Belgian borders. Its left wing, running north from Switzerland, consisted of only several divisions, each of 15,000 men, but its right wing, farther north, was made up of most of the German foot-soldiers under arms. The army was supposed to move like a gate swinging on a hinge. Its right wing was to advance rapidly across Belgium into northern France, catch the French army on its left and hurl it back. Caught between the German right and left wings, the French would have to give up or be destroyed. For the plan to succeed, the right wing had to be very strong. Count Schlieffen, had understood this; his last words …

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Rivalries in the Middle East 1856 – 1912


THE MIDDLE EAST where Europe, Asia and Africa meet had long been known as one of the great crossroads of the world. Most of its people were Moslems, but among them were many Christians and Jews. They spoke languages as different as Arabic and Latin, Slavic and Turkish. They had little in common except that they were all subjects of the Ottoman sultan in Constantinople. The Ottoman Empire — so called after its early founder, Othman — was the last of several empires to rule over a large part of Islam. Unlike the earlier empires, it was dominated not by Arabs, but by Turks. Centuries before, the Turks had fought their way west from Central Asia and founded a new homeland in the West Asian peninsula of Turkey. From there, they had pushed outward, conquering lands and peoples. In 1699, however, they had lost Hungary to the Austrians. After that, while the nations of western Europe grew stronger, the Ottoman Empire became weaker. Throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Ottoman sultans had to combat enemies both within and without their empire. Their foreign enemies were the European powers, which snatched up their outlying lands. Their enemies at home were the subject peoples, especially in the Balkan Peninsula of southeast Europe, who demanded their freedom. Unrest was chronic and the Ottoman Empire, which was usually called simply Turkey, came to be known as “the sick man of Europe.” By the 1850’s, Turkey had lost lands north of the Black Sea to Russia and Algeria‚ in North Africa, to France. Of its former Balkan holdings, Greece was independent and both Serbia and Rumania had some freedom. A native Arab dynasty ruled much of Arabia. In Egypt, a former Turkish governor had set himself up as hereditary khedive, or viceroy, …

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India and the Indies 1856 – 1914


In 1856, Great Britain was at war with Russia in the Black Sea area and with the Chinese emperor in south China. Many British troops had been withdrawn from India to fight on these battlefronts. As a result, nine-tenths of the 200,000-man army guarding Great Britain’s largest and richest possession, the subcontinent of India in south-central Asia, consisted of native soldiers called sepoys. At the time, the British were putting a new type of rifle into service in the Indian Army. To load it, a rifleman had to insert each cartridge separately and the cartridges were covered with grease. In January of 1857, rumours began to circulate among the sepoys in the Ganges Valley. The cartridge grease, it was whispered, came from animals. Moslems believed that it came from pigs, which their religion taught them to shun in any form, while Hindus believed it came from cows, which they held sacred. So sepoys of both religions refused to handle the new rifles. THE SEPOY REVOLT This refusal to bear arms was an act of mutiny which the British felt they could not leave unpunished, but punishment only made the sepoys desperate. On May 10, troops at the key post of Meerut massacred the British officers and their families. Other garrisons rebelled and hordes of peasants, villagers, Moslem and Hindu, joined them. The uprising was supported by native princes, who were either fretting under British rule or feared that the British would soon take over their lands. By June, most of northeast India was in rebellion. The Sepoy Revolt, as the rebellion was called, was the bloodiest event of Great Britain’s long history in India. Hundreds of Englishmen were slain, some with their families and countless thousands of Indians slaughtered in revenge by British troops and loyal sepoys. Cities were burned, …

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Russia Under the Tsars 1462-1796


IN THE LAST PART of the fifteenth century, the monks and courtiers of Moscow began to say that Moscow was destined to become the “Third Rome.” The first Rome, they said had been great as the centre of Christianity; but when the Romans had recognized the pope, Rome had been punished by destruction. The second Rome had been Constantinople, the centre of the Orthodox Church; but Constantinople, too, had briefly recognized the pope, and it, too, had fallen. Now Moscow, where the Orthodox faith still remained pure, was to become the Third Rome — the great centre of the Christian world. It would remain so, “for two Romes have fallen, the third stands and a fourth will not be.” Once Moscow had been small and unimportant, but the dukes of Moscow had been bold and ambitious, seizing every opportunity to make Moscow stronger. Sometimes they acted more like thieves than princes. Grand Duke Daniel once invited another prince to dinner, pretending friendship. When the guest arrived, Daniel threw him into prison and seized his lands. Daniel’s son, Ivan, who was called Ivan Moneybags, made Moscow the home of the Metropolitan, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Ivan Moneybags also became the tax collector for the Tatar overlords and he kept a good part of the taxes, for himself. Other dukes stole or bought or conquered new lands to make Moscow greater. THE BOYARS So, when Ivan III became Grand Duke in 1462, he inherited one of the most powerful kingdoms of Russia. Ivan acted very much as though he believed the story of the Third Rome. He married Sophia, niece of the last Byzantine emperor. He put the two-headed eagle of Rome on his own state seal. He sometimes even called himself tsar, which was the Russian way of …

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The Ottomans, the Last Great Islamic Power A.D. 1299-1922


ACCORDING to their tradition, the Ottoman Turks once belonged to the same Central Asian tribe as the Seljuk Turks. Their ancestors came to Asia Minor with the Seljuks. In time, they began to challenge the authority of their fellow Turks. The Ottomans took their name from a chieftain called Othman, who in 1299 became the emir of Seljuk lands bordering on the Byzantine Empire. Othman declared holy war on his Christian neighbours. His son Orkhan captured the city of Brusa and in 1362 Orkhan’s son Murad took Adrianople, beyond the strait and sea that separated Asia Minor from Europe. Thereafter, Murad and his son Bayezid pressed forward on two fronts–against Serbs, Bulgars and other Balkan peoples in southeast Europe and against Byzantines and Seljuks in Asia Minor. By 1400, the Ottomans had conquered Macedonia and Bulgaria, pushed the Byzantines out of Asia Minor and swept the Seljuk emirs from their thrones. In that year, however, Timur attacked the eastern Bank of their kingdom. After devastating Syria, he came back and crushed the Ottoman army near Ankara, taking Sultan Bayezid captive. He restored the Seljuk emirs to their posts. When Bayezid died in 1405, his three sons immediately began to fight over their inheritance. Their struggle raged for ten years. At last Sultan Mohammed came out the winner, with both of his brothers dead. These civil wars, coming so soon after the Mongol invasion, left the land and the people exhausted. The Ottomans’ fighting spirit soon revived. Under Mohammed and his son Murad II, Turkish armies again advanced across southeast Europe. In 1443, a huge army made up of Rumanians, Hungarians, Poles, Germans and Frenchmen defeated them. Five years later, however, they beat back another massive Christian attack in Serbia. Murad’s son Mohammed II, became sultan in Adrianople in 1451. He …

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Byzantium and Russia 400 B. C. – 1240 A. D.


THE BEGINNINGS of Russian history date back to the centuries when Byzantium was at the height of its glory. A thousand years before that Herodotus, the Greek explorer, found Greek settlements on the northern shore of the Black Sea. They traded with the Scythians, a tribe of nomads living on the open plains that stretched eastward for thousands of miles to the mountains of Asia. Bordering these plains on the north were the forest lands and above them, in the far north, stretched the frozen wastes of the arctic tundra. In all that vast land there were no barriers, no high mountains to serve as national boundaries. Even the rivers gave little protection against invasion, for they could be crossed when they froze in the winter. As a result, there was a constant shitting of tribes, the strong pushing back the weak. The Scythians who once held the grassy plains above the Black Sea were pushed away by the Sarmatians and they in turn gave way to the Goths in the third century. An invasion of Huns from the Mongolian desert in the fourth century overran everything in its path. It pressed far into Europe, threatening both Constantinople and Rome. All the conquered peoples, including the Slavic tribes of the forest, were forced to pay taxes to Attila, king of the Huns, for many years. Upon his death in the fifth century, the power of the Huns was broken and the tribes won their freedom again. Then followed a series of tribal wars and a general shifting of populations. Where the Slavs came from originally is not known, but they first appear in history on the Vistula River in the fifth century, as subjects of the Huns. It is possible that the name Slavs really meant slaves, since the Huns …

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


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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Greece and the World 323 B. C. – 250 B. C.


In the last years of the fourth century B. C., Greek citizens going about their business in the stoas or the shops sometimes stopped and wondered what was wrong. Everything seems strange. They themselves had not changed and their cities looked the same as before, but the world around them was so different that they could hardly recognize themselves. The little poleis on the mainland looked out at an enormous empire, which stretched across Asia and Egypt. They shipped their olive oil and pottery across the Mediterranean. Their corn came from fields beside the Black Sea and the Nile. Merchants who crowded their market places now did business in Antioch and their sculptors had gone to Alexandria. There were new Greek cities, thousands of miles from Greece, where Asians spoke Greek and Greeks began to dress like the barbarians. There were no barbarians now, only the many sorts of people who shared a world which Alexandria had conquered for  the Greeks. As the world the Greeks knew became larger, a man and his city seemed to become smaller. The Greeks began to wonder if there was a Greece at all any more. Athenians who travelled on business saw Athens in a new way when they came home. It was not very big and not very busy. When they went to the Assembly, the fine speeches had a hollow ring. In the old days, when Pericles or Themistocles spoke to the Assembly, things happened and the world felt the difference. Now, a man who spoke out in Athens might as well have dropped a pebble in an ocean. Alexander’s empire was much too big to be run by a group of citizens who talked over their problems in an Assembly. One man could rule it, if he was a king like …

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