Episode 5 - A Little Unexpected Dampness (Stupidity Week)
Updated: Apr 19
Sam's Episode Notes: The Battle of Karansebes, on the night of 21st-22nd September 1788 – AKA how to lose a war with booze. So, my story today comes as part of the Austro-Turkish war of 1787-1791, which again was part of a wider war in which Katherine the Great of ruling Russia and shagging horses fame was also attacking the Ottoman empire – modern day Turkey. The Austrian army was massive – over 100,000 men from all parts of the Austrian empire, including some Italians, czechs, hungarians, and lots of mercenaries. Many of whom, and this is important, didn't speak German. On 21st September 1788, the army arrived in the town of Karansebes in modern Romania, on the border between the Austrian Empire and the Ottoman empire. They were scouting for Ottoman forces, who they knew were around somewhere, but had no idea where. Anyway, it was getting late and the town was as good a place as any to stop – it was strategically important and had nice houses for the officers to sleep in and have their dress shirts cleaned, all the things that watching Sharpe for years taught me is important about early modern armies. Everything up to this point we pretty much know is true, but after this exactly what happens starts to get muddy – some of it is first or second hand reports, some is newspaper articles from the time, both from friendly and hostile publications. Some of it is just legend. But here's the most common retelling... So, the army sets up camp just south of the town, and sends out advance parties to watch for intruders, one of which was a company of Hussars, who crossed the Timis river and set up a little camp. They were approached by a group of locals who'd been distilling some schnapps, bought their entire supply, and started to get very, very drunk. Pretty quickly, a group of infantry from the main camp heard the party going on and also crossed the river to join in, demanding that the Hussars shared the booze. The hussars refused – they were elite cavalry, why would they share with scummy common soldiers? So obviously, a fight broke out. At some point it started to get serious, and the cavalry began to build barricades and fortifications around their little camp to keep out anyone trying to steal their booze. This got the infantry really angry, and at some point, someone fired a shot. The gunfire alerted yet another party of soldiers, who thought the Ottomans were attacking and started to yell out that the Turks were coming. The hussars and the infantry, suddenly realising that there was an attack incoming and that they were out in the open away from the main camp, started to scatter and run back towards it. Obviously, the men in the camp heard gunfire and saw people trying to cross the river at speed in the darkness, and assumed it was the Turks, so they opened fire. Other guards saw what was happening and began to retreat back to defend the camp, and got shot at as well – the soldiers in the camp now believing that, since the Ottomans were coming from all directions, they'd been surrounded. Some of the officers realised what was happening and started to shout “HALT” in German – but all the non-German speaking troops had no idea what they were saying, and assumed it was Arabic and they were shouting Allah, and therefore the Ottomans were in the camp. A total panic ensued.
One of the army's senior commanders ordered artillery to open fire on the camp itself, to stop the Ottoman cavalry. So the Austrian army was left fighting and running from itself, drunkenly shooting at anything that moved in the shadows, whilst being shelled by their own cannons There was pandemonium. At some point the Holy Roman Emperor himself Joseph II was knocked off his horse into a ditch. The army fled the town in panic. Dozens of soldiers died and many were reported missing, along with the army's paychest. The exact number of casualties isn't known, with most credible reports being from a few hundred to around 1500. What is known is that the town was completely abandoned by the army and when the Ottomans did show up two days later on around the 24th September, they found the camp in ruins and hundreds of wounded men. Exactly what happened that night will remain a mystery – oddly enough there's no full account of what happened from the Austrian army records. Foreign intelligence briefings in London at the time say that it was just a nighttime confusion and that Ottoman scouts had been taking pot shots at the camp, so that when two patrols discovered each other they panicked and around 150 men were killed. But that wouldn't explain how the entire 100,000 man army was routed and the Ottomans were able to take the town. The folk version is much more fun.
It was a great victory for the Ottomans though, it gave them a chance to take one of the most important and strategic towns on the border and was really the last defensible valley before the great Hungarian plains opened up, and also gave them a chance to secure large parts of the Danube river, which was a hugely important trade route from East to West. The Ottomans did eventually sort of lose the war having been ground down by Austria and Russia, but it was a really messy affair and a bit of a farce all round - tens of thousands of Austrian troops died – more due to disease than actual fighting, the death toll meant there was a threat of conscription so all the richest families of Vienna fled and threw the empire into recession, with the poor rioting on the streets.
Tom's notes: Juvenal - Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis (play recording)
· Lived between the middle of the 1stC AD and the middle of the 2nd C AD
· Gibbon; “if a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus” – The Five Good Emperors.
Satire 10 – Futility of Aspirations
· “We beg for things that will hurt us”
o The traveller with nothing has nothing to fear
o The wealthy man is scared of his own shadow
· Lucius Aelius Sejanus (1st C AD)
o Very ambitious and successful individual during the reign of Tiberius
o Grew the power of the Praetorian Guard and secured his control over it
o Became the envy of many Romans of senatorial class due to being a successful Equestrian
o Became unpopular with Tiberius’s family
o Sneaky plotter!
o Isolated Tiberius in Capri and because even more powerful; number 2 according to Juvenal
o Starts purging the Senate of potential threats
o Only Caligula survives Sejanus
o Execution AD31 – strangled and thrown down the Gemonian Stairs
o Public tore his body apart
§ Fickle public; turn on whoever is condemned, all they care about is ‘Bread and Circuses’
o His fried, Bruttedius, lines up to kick the body, making sure his slave sees
o “By craving even more honours and seeking ever more wealth, he was building a lofty tower of numerous storeys; which meant that the fall would be all the greater”
· Eloquence; very young man prays for it
o But it led to the downfall of Demosthenes and Cicero
o Demosthenes; Greek statesmen and famous orator; committed suicide after encouraging Athenians to seek independence from Macedon and being captured
o Cicero; executed on the orders of Marc Antony. After the death of Ceasar, Cicero made Marc Antony an enemy by attacking him in public orations. His severed hands and head were displayed on The Rostra.
o Preference for greatness over goodness
o “Who in fact embraces Goodness herself, if you take away the rewards?”
o Desire for status and praise
§ Inscription on their gravestones which are soon split by barren fig trees
o Hannibal, despite all of his great achievements, ends his life as an exiled novelty at the court of Anitochus III in Syria.
§ All to be a mere story in a kid’s school book!
o “It is only death which reveals the puny size of human bodies”
· Long lifespan
o “Look at the face, misshapen and hideous beyond recognition: instead of skin you see misshapen hide, baggy cheeks, and the kind of wrinkles that are etched on the aged jowls of an African ape”
o Young men always compare themselves to each other; old men are all the same. With snot running down their faces, trembling voices.
o Toothless gums
o Repellent to family
o Cannot taste anything
o No sex
o “his shrunken tool, with vein enlarged, just lies there, and though caressed all night, it will continue to lie there”
o Countless sickness
o Broken bones
· A good looking son
o “beauty and virtue are rarely found together”
o A good looking boy will just be sold into sex slavery; made a eunuch
o “Nero would never rape a stripling with bandy legs… or a swollen belly and crooked back”
o A lover? The victim of a vengeful husband
o Stealing the wealth of an old cougar
§ “For what will any women deny to her clammy crotch?”
o “pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body”
§ Mens sana in corpore sano
o Whatever will be will be
o “the tranquil life can only be reached by the path of goodness”