December 17, 2018 all-day

On this day in history:

497 BC –  The first Saturnalia festival is celebrated in ancient Rome. Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honor of the god Saturn.  It was held on December 17 and then later expanded with festivities through to December 23. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves. A common custom was the election of a “King of the Saturnalia”, who would give orders to people and preside over the merrymaking. The gifts exchanged were usually gag gifts. The poet Catullus called it “the best of days”.

546 – – – –  Siege of Rome – the Ostrogoths under King Totila plunder the city, by bribing the Byzantine garrison.

920 – – – – Romanos I Lekapenos is crowned co-emperor of Constantine VII.  It is a bit of a challenge to sort out exactly what happened beyond the headline – “Romanos I Lekapenos was crowned co-emperor”. What we know did happen is that on March 25, 919, as the head of his fleet Lekapenos, a Armenian who became a Byzantine naval commander, seized the Boukoleon Palace and the reins of government.  Initially he was named magistros but moved quickly to consolidate his position.  Then in April, 919, his daughter Helena was married to Constantine VII, Lekapenos assumed the new title basileopator and then was named Caesar (or Co-Caesar) on this date and was seen as the senior emperor. In subsequent years Romanos crowned his own sons co-emperors, Christopher in 921, Stephen and Constantine in 924, although, for the time being, Constantine VII was regarded as first in rank after Romanos himself. It is notable that, as he left Constantine untouched, he was called ‘the gentle usurper’. Romanos strengthened his position by marrying his daughters to members of the powerful aristocratic families of Argyros and Mouseles, by recalling the deposed patriarch Nicholas Mystikos, and by putting an end to the conflict with the Papacy over the four marriages of Emperor Leo VI. As for Constantine VII, he was the fourth Emperor of the Macedonian dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, reigning from 913 to 959. He was the son of the emperor Leo VI and his fourth wife, Zoe Karbonopsina, and the nephew of his predecessor, the emperor Alexander.  Most of his reign was dominated by co-regents: from 913 until 919 he was under the regency of his mother, while from 920 until 945 he shared the throne with Romanos Lekapenos, whose daughter as mentioned he married, and his sons. Got that?

942 – – – – Assassination of William I of Normandy.

1538 – – – Pope Paul III excommunicates Henry VIII of England.   Pope Paul, who came to the papal throne in an era following the sack of Rome in 1527 and rife with uncertainties in the Catholic Church following the Protestant Reformation, has a significant legacy of which Henry VIII is but a small part. Among many other things, during his pontificate, and in the spirit of the Counter-Reformation, new Catholic religious orders and societies, such as the Jesuits, the Barnabites and the Congregation of the Oratory, attracted a popular following. He convened the Council of Trent in 1545

1586 – – – G—Yozei becomes the Emperor of Japan.

1777 – – – American Revolution – France formally recognizes the United States.

1790 – – – The Aztec calendar stone is discovered at El Zocala, Mexico City.

1812 – – – War of 1812 – U.S. forces attack a Lenape village in the Battle of the Mississinewa.

1819 – – – Simon Bolivar declares the independence of Gran Colombia in Angostura (now Ciudad Bolivar in Venezuela).

1862 – – – American Civil War – General Ulysses S. Grant issues General Order No. 11, expelling Jews from parts of Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky.  The order was issued as part of a Union campaign against a black market in Southern cotton, which Grant thought was being run “mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders.” In the war zone, the United States licensed traders through the United States Army, which created a market for unlicensed ones. Union military commanders in the South were responsible for administering the trade licenses and trying to control the black market in Southern cotton, as well as for conducting the war. Grant issued the order in an effort to reduce corruption. Following protests from Jewish community leaders and an outcry by Members of Congress and the press, President Lincoln revoked the General Order on January 4, 1863. During his campaign for the presidency in 1868, Grant claimed that he had issued the order without prejudice against Jews, but as a way to address a problem that “certain Jews had caused.”

1903 – – – The Wright Brothers make the first controlled powered, heavier-than-air flight in the Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

1926 – – – Antanas Smetona assumes power in Lithuania as the 1926 coup d’etat is successful.

1935 – – – First flight of the Douglas DC-3.  Built in Long Beach, California, the DC-3 was revolutionary in many ways and can still be found flying in some remote parts of the world.

1938 – – – Otto Hahn, a German chemist, discovers the nuclear fission of heavy element uranium, the scientific and technological basis of nuclear energy.

1941 – – – World War II – Japanese forces land in Northern Borneo.

1943 – – – All Chinese are again permitted to become citizens of the United States upon the repeal of the Act of 1882 and the introduction of the Magnuson Act.  The Act of 1882 prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers. Building on the 1875 Page Act, which banned Chinese women from immigrating to the U.S., the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first law implemented to prevent all members of a specific ethnic or national group from immigrating. Now – decades later – the law is repealed.

1944 – – – WWII – Battle of the Bulge – Malmedy massacre – American 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion POWs are shot by Waffen-SS Kampfgruppe Joachim Peiper.

1947 – – – First flight of the Boeing B-47 Stratojet strategic bomber.

1950 – – – The F-86 Sabre’s first mission over Korea.

1957 – – – The United States successfully launches the first Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

1960 – – – Troops loyal to Emperor Haile Selassie in Ethiopia crush the coup that began December 13, returning power to their leader upon his return from Brazil. Haile Selassie absolves his son of any guilt.

1969 – – – Project Blue Book – The United States Air Force closes its study of UFOs.

1970 – – – Polish Protests – In Gdynia, soldiers fire at workers emerging from trains, killing dozens.

1983 – – – Provisional IRA members detonate a car bomb at Harrods Department Store in London.  Three police officers and three civilians are killed.

2014 – – – The United States – during the Obama Administration – re-establishes diplomatic relations with Cuba after severing them in 1960.

Composed by Robert A. McConnell

Any opinions expressed herein are solely those of the writer and not necessarily those of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation. 

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