October 19, 1781: Victory at Yorktown

Hopelessly trapped at Yorktown, Virginia, British General Lord Cornwallis surrenders 8,000 British soldiers and seamen to a larger Franco-American force, effectively bringing an end to the American Revolution.

Lord Cornwallis was one of the most capable British generals of the American Revolution. In 1776, he drove General George Washington’s Patriots forces out of New Jersey, and in 1780 he won a stunning victory over General Horatio Gates’ Patriot army at Camden, South Carolina. Cornwallis’ subsequent invasion of North Carolina was less successful, however, and in April 1781 he led his weary and battered troops toward the Virginia coast, where he could maintain seaborne lines of communication with the large British army of General Henry Clinton in New York City. After conducting a series of raids against towns and plantations in Virginia, Cornwallis settled in the tidewater town of Yorktown in August. The British immediately began fortifying the town and the adjacent promontory of Gloucester Point across the York River.

General George Washington instructed the Marquis de Lafayette, who was in Virginia with an American army of around 5,000 men, to block Cornwallis’ escape from Yorktown by land. In the meantime, Washington’s 2,500 troops in New York were joined by a French army of 4,000 men under the Count de Rochambeau. Washington and Rochambeau made plans to attack Cornwallis with the assistance of a large French fleet under the Count de Grasse, and on August 21 they crossed the Hudson River to march south to Yorktown. Covering 200 miles in 15 days, the allied force reached the head of Chesapeake Bay in early September.

Meanwhile, a British fleet under Admiral Thomas Graves failed to break French naval superiority at the Battle of Virginia Capes on September 5, denying Cornwallis his expected reinforcements. Beginning September 14, de Grasse transported Washington and Rochambeau’s men down the Chesapeake to Virginia, where they joined Lafayette and completed the encirclement of Yorktown on September 28. De Grasse landed another 3,000 French troops carried by his fleet. During the first two weeks of October, the 14,000 Franco-American troops gradually overcame the fortified British positions with the aid of de Grasse’s warships. A large British fleet carrying 7,000 men set out to rescue Cornwallis, but it was too late.

On October 19, General Cornwallis surrendered 7,087 officers and men, 900 seamen, 144 cannons, 15 galleys, a frigate, and 30 transport ships. Pleading illness, he did not attend the surrender ceremony, but his second-in-command, General Charles O’Hara, carried Cornwallis’ sword to the American and French commanders. As the British and Hessian troops marched out to surrender, the British bands played the song “The World Turned Upside Down.”

Although the war persisted on the high seas and in other theaters, the Patriot victory at Yorktown effectively ended fighting in the American colonies. Peace negotiations began in 1782, and on September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, formally recognizing the United States as a free and independent nation after eight years of war.

Another hidden gem Diocletian’s Stadium under Piazza Navona

You may or may not have learned that the Roman Baroque masterpiece now known as Piazza Navona started out as a stadium built by the Emperor Domitian (81-96 A.D.) in 86 A.D. to celebrate the Certamen Capitolino Iovi, a musical, theatrical and athletic performances dedicated to Jupiter. He modeled the new stadium and the accompanying odeon on the Greek model, but Domitian didn’t simply use the terrain of a natural hill to build the multi-tiered stands into the way the Greeks did with their stadia. He had the financial means, the labour and the technology to create everything from scratch, and boy did he. The site he selected was on the Campus Martius, a level field outside the ancient Servian Wall that had served for centuries as a military training ground when Roman law prohibited the presence of troops inside the official boundary of the city.

Measuring about 275 long and 106 meters wide (902×348 feet), the stadium had one curved end and one flat end with two long parallel sides. The entrances were in the middle of the curved end (the hemicycle) and the long side and like all Roman stadia, had meticulously arranged numbered archways and staircases for optimal traffic flow and access to the bleachers. Archaeologists estimate that it could seat around 30,000 people.

It was used temporarily to host gladiatorial games after a fire disabled the Colosseum in 217 A.D., and some years later it was restored by the Emperor Alexander Severus. We know it was still in use in the 4th century because the historian Amianus Marcellinus mentions it. Shortly thereafter it was abandoned and suffered the same fate as the Circus Maximus, Colosseum and other monumental feats of Roman architecture: it was used as a quarry to supply travertine and brick for new construction. As its building materials were stripped away, its entrances and arches were used as shops and stables.

Within three centuries of Marcellinus’ writing, Romans had already forgotten the very name of the stadium, calling it the Circus Flamineus, then the Circus Alexandri, then the Campus Agonis which was corrupted into Navoni and ultimately Navona, which happens to mean big ship. The coincidence of this linguistic evolution led to the birth of the urban legend that the Piazza Navona was named after the naumachia, sea battles staged in an artificial lake inside the Circus. This never happened. It wasn’t that kind of arena.

Once the Piazza Navona was built, following precisely the shape of its ancient progenitor which had been extensively built upon by that point, THEN it was flooded. Roman nobles got a big kick out of racing their carriages, some built in the shape of fantastical sea monsters but still pulled by regular terrestrial horses, poor things, through the flooded piazza every year.

Elements of travertine cladding, masonry and pozzolana structrure in the arches and walls around the staircase.With all the despoilation of Domitian’s original structure, the regular bouts of construction on top of and in the middle of whatever was left, it’s remarkable that any of it was left to rediscover in 1936 when Mussolini’s project to demolish, rebuild and modernize the area’s streets and houses ran into the remains of the cavea, including a large travertine-clad entrance arch from the hemicycle end. A few bits and pieces were known to have survived in the basements of some of the houses along the piazza and under the Church of St. Agnes, but the discoveries from the 30s were more extensive and complete.

Still, nobody gave much of a damn about them. When I was a kid growing up in Rome in the 80s, you could see exactly one part of Domitian’s Stadium from the street, the big entrance arch, and because ground level was so much higher than it had been in imperial times, you really had to look for it at ankle height. That finally changed in 2014 when a new archaeological area opened underneath the Piazza. It is a small, eminently manageable, phenomenally well-lit museum featuring large chunks of Domitian’s Stadium and a handful of statue fragments, inscriptions and building materials discovered during the dig. I didn’t even know it was there until I happened to walk by the sign and followed it like the yellow brick history nerd road it is, and I read about this kind of thing every day. It’s crazy that it’s so little known. It is the only surviving example of a masonry built stadium outside of the Greek world. People should be freaking out about it.

I mean, the rest rooms alone are worth the price of admission:


The Little Church: 1901

New York circa 1901. “The Little Church Around the Corner (Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, East 29th Street).” This Neo-Gothic confection, whipped up in 1849 and frosted with various architectural embellishments over the next 60 years, still stands as a sort of English country garden urban oasis. 8×10 inch glass negative, Detroit Photographic Company. View full size.

King David

According to biblical tradition (and some say myth), David (c. 1035 – 970 BCE) was the second king in the ancient United Kingdom of Israel who helped establish the eternal throne of God. A former shepherd, David was renowned for his passion for God, his touching psalms and musical abilities, his inspiring courage and expertise in warfare, his good looks and illicit relationship with Bathsheba, and…

Sleepover in a Paris Bookshop

Sleepover in a Paris Bookshop

Bookworms, library lovers and Parisphiles gather round. In the heart of the city, behind the facade of an old bookshop in the Marais, a secret awaits…

For the bookshop at number 12 Rue Caffarelli is no ordinary Parisian library, but in fact, a place for the weary traveller after dark.

But like any good bookshop, they just so happened to have a few copies of  

Scholars Decipher 3,200-Year-Old Hieroglyphic Inscription

Luwian Frieze Translated Archeological Discovery

Luwian hieroglyphics.

In 1878, villagers in the small Turkish village of Beyköy discovered a 14-inch (35-cm) tall and 95-foot-long limestone frieze filled with hieroglyphic inscriptions of an unknown language. It would take 70 years before scholars could even read the language, which is now known as Luwian. And now, 3,200 years after its creation, scholars have deciphered the meaning of the frieze.

This ancient language of what is modern-day northern Syria and western Turkey went extinct around 600 BC, but not before the creation of the frieze, which is the longest Bronze Age hieroglyphic inscription. At the time of its discovery, French archaeologist Georges Perrot carefully copied the inscription before the piece of limestone was hauled away to be used in the construction of a mosque.

These inscriptions, and subsequent copies, were lost until the 2012 discovery of Perrot’s copy in the estate of famous archeologist James Mellaart. Now, a team of Swiss and German archaeologists says they have unlocked the key to the inscription and its marvelous story. According to Eberhard Zangger, president of Luwian Studies, the frieze recounts the wars, battles, and invasions of prince Muksus. This Bronze Age prince was from the kingdom of Mira, which controlled Troy.

Some people believe that the Luwians are the “Sea People” that were said to have driven the end of Egypt’s New Kingdom. Zangger—taking things a step further—feels that they may have fueled the collapse of Bronze Age superpowers by starting a series of conflicts called World War Zero.

Map of Where Luwian was Spoken

Map of where Luwian was spoken at the end of the Bronze Age.

With only two dozen people in the world who can read Luwian and a 95-foot-long frieze to decipher, it’s an incredible accomplishment to have translated these stories. “According to the inscription, the Luwians from western Asia Minor contributed decisively to the so-called Sea Peoples’ invasions—and thus to the end of the Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean,” states Zangger in the Luwian Studies press release.

Some scholars remain skeptical of the findings, pointing to the fact that the team is working with a copy of unknown accuracy which could be a forgery. Others point out that it would be difficult for anyone to forge such a long inscription, especially as Mellaart himself did not understand Luwian. The team’s full findings will be published in the journal Proceedings of the Dutch Archeological and Historical Society’s December issue, allowing us to discover more about this mysterious Bronze Age tale.

h/t: [Atlas Obscura, IFL Science!]

All images via Luwian Studies.

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The post Scholars Decipher 3,200-Year-Old Hieroglyphic Inscription appeared first on My Modern Met.

17 October 117 – Hadrian arrives in Tyana (#Hadrian1900)

On this day 1,900 years ago, Hadrian reached the city of Tyana situated at the foot of the Taurus mountains near the Cilician Gates. We know from a fragment of an itinerary found in Rome that Hadrian left Antioch in the beginning of October 117 AD and travelled northwards towards Ancyra (modern Ankara). The inscription… Continue reading 17 October 117 – Hadrian arrives in Tyana (#Hadrian1900)

Vietnam War: The Early Years, 1965-1967

On May 07, 1954, Viet Minh forces won the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and ended French involvement in Indochina. This victory led to the Geneva Conference where the French and Viet Minh negotiated a ceasefire agreement. Under the terms of Geneva Accords, France agreed to withdraw its troops from Indochina while Vietnam was temporarily […]

The post Vietnam War: The Early Years, 1965-1967 appeared first on Rare Historical Photos.

This Huge Korean Mud Wrestling Festival Looks Insane

The Festival

Every July in South Korea, there is a festival called the Boryeong Mud Festival, in which a huge crowd of people get as muddy as it’s possible to be. People travel from around the globe to attend the festival, where they play, wrestle and celebrate in viscous, gray-brown clay.

Boryeong is a small city located about two hours from Seoul. Every summer, the town is overrun with celebrants looking to get muddy.

The festival is held on a Boryeong beach, where the crowd bathes and plays in mineral-rich, mudlike clay. Take a look at these photos, picturing just some of the massive crowd of people that attend the festival.

The post This Huge Korean Mud Wrestling Festival Looks Insane appeared first on HistoryInOrbit.com.