5 Forgotten Revolutions That Created The Modern World
When it comes to revolutions, we're quick to remember the big ones -- the American, the French, the Bolshevik and the one that accompanies Prince when he tours. What you probably hadn't realized is that we may never have had "Darling Nikki" if it hadn't been for some world-changing movements everyone promptly forgot about. Such as ...
The Taiping Rebellion
Although virtually unknown in the West, the Taiping Rebellion took place at around the same time as the American Civil War and remains one of the largest, most devastating wars in human history. More than 20 million people died -- 20 times as many as the American Civil War -- and it may have involved more soldiers than the Napoleonic Wars and it was started by one charismatic crazy guy who convinced millions of people he was related to Jesus. Yet it still doesn't get as much respect as the Battle of Hoth.
Which, it should be noted, happened years before the Taiping Rebellion.
It all started when a rejected civil servant in China decided what his country really needed was a clean break from Buddhism, Confucianism and sanity. So in 1844, Hong Xiuquan invented his own sect of Christianity by declaring himself the little brother of Jesus Christ. This gained him the loyalty of 30 million followers, who took on a dynasty that was over 250 years old.
His hat would have had to be at least twice that height for there to be any hope of victory.
The only equivalent we can imagine would be if those Hale-Bopp guys convinced the entire state of California to join the club and they stormed Washington, D.C. The cult army lost, of course, which is why we aren't discussing U.S./Heavenly Kingdom trade relations today. But the rebellion took the Qing Dynasty 34 years to completely defeat, and directly led to the version of China currently limbering up to kick the West's ass in the 21st Century.
Depending on who you ask, Hong looked like either a total dweeb or a character from Dynasty Warriors.
The problem was that the Qing Dynasty were so far over their heads with the rebels (not to mention several copycat rebellions) that they had to appeal to Britain and France for help, which they were thrilled to provide because it was the 1800s and the West was all up on that imperialism shit. While helping the Qing defeat the rebels, the British Empire and France also helped themselves to whatever they liked along the way by launching the Second Opium War against the Chinese.
By the time the 20th century rolled into town, the previously stable Qing Dynasty was overthrown for good, China was as divvied up as a nerd's candy the day after Halloween and a second civil war between the nationalists and the communists was brewing. Guess who won that one?
"But it'll be smooth sailing for China from now on, guys. Trust me on this."
Arminius' Unsuccessful Attempt to Unify Germania
For those of you unfamiliar with the Germanian barbarian Arminius, think of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian, but picture him fathering nations instead of scandals.
Within that nugget pouch is Western history.
Nineteen hundred years before anyone had ever heard of the Nazis, or their leader Voldemort Von Tiny-stache, Germanic tribes welcomed another charismatic, nationally minded Germanophile into their loving arms. Unlike Hitler, Arminius wasn't just some Austrian with a dream and a Michael Jordan mustache. As a child he was handed over to the Romans, trained in the Roman military and eventually made a Roman commander, citizen and noble, all of which made him hate Rome and rendered any "Don't knock it until you try it" rejoinders moot.
After Rome unwittingly trained him into a living, fire-breathing super weapon, Arminius led a campaign to unite the Germanic tribes against their Roman enemies, a conflict you might remember from the opening scene of Gladiator. And he might have gotten away with it, too, if not for those meddling, excellently armed, better trained and more numerous Italians.
The Romans had Russell Crowe on their side. We're not sure who actually benefited from that.
The Romans, as you may have heard, were really into territorial expansion, which wasn't too cool with Arminius when the expansion was in his own backyard. Sometime in the year A.D. 8, however, Rome got a taste for German soil and decided Arminius' backyard was exactly what they wanted. Noticing that he was highly trained in Roman warfare and possessed the loyalty of thousands of other Germans, Arminius staged a rebellion that gave new meaning to the phrase "won the battle but lost the war." During the Battle of Teutoberg Forest Arminius completely ambushed -- and subsequently massacred -- 20,000 men, or 10 percent of the entire imperial army. That was the good news. The bad news for Arminius was that Roman retaliation was slow but brutal, and rival members of his own tribe eventually murdered him themselves.
On the plus side, a few centuries later he's remembered as a Warhammer figurine.
Arminius may have failed at his ultimate goal of uniting German tribes into one uber reich, but his victory was so savage that Rome was too traumatized to ever attempt expanding in the German neighborhood again. EVER. The whupping at the Battle of Teutoberg was so horrific that the Roman Emperor at the time, Augustus, turned into a first century emo. He stopped shaving, let his hair grow out and began knocking his head against door posts while whining about his lost legions. The only things missing were skinny jeans, guyliner and threats of running away if he didn't get his own room already.
"Seriously Marc. We've been living together for years and I don't want to sleep on the couch anymore."
Even more important than one guy's descent into Whinyville, the defeat at Teutoberg triggered a complete shift in military strategy for the Roman Empire. For the next 400 years, Rome remained on their side of the invisible line between their empire and the Germanic regions. One historian speculated that had Rome won that single battle, Germans would be speaking a Romance language, the Thirty Years' War might never have occurred and the long, bitter conflict between the French and the Germans might never have taken place.
Thousands of hipsters would ironically wear "The Chaplin."
No Germany as we know it, in other words. Period. In short, not only did Arminius successfully deny Rome the opportunity to expand as far east as Moscow, he established the Rhine as the de-facto German border for -- checking our calendar -- the next 2,000 years. And counting. And the kicker? Everyone in the universe, including Germany, forgot the battle ever took place for over 1,000 years, and no one even knows Arminius' real name to this day.
"For the purpose of this lecture, we'll call him 'Superkraut.' "
The Haitian Revolution
In August 1791, 465,000 slaves in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (later called Haiti) successfully overthrew the 30,000 whites in the area. So naturally an up-and-coming Napoleon Bonaparte dispatched his brother-in-law Charles Leclerc with an expeditionary force to put the slaves back to work. However, two-thirds of the expeditionary force, including Leclerc himself, were wiped out by yellow fever and the military stylings of Toussaint L'Ouverture. On November 28, 1803, the French surrendered and Haiti was declared a republic: the second of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.
Way to be posers, Haiti.
The Haitian Revolution didn't just change the world of human rights or bolster democracy in North America-- it also forced Bonaparte to sell the Louisiana Territory to America, thereby scrapping his plans for a United States of Napoleon.
To understand the Little Corporal's ultimate scheme for North American infiltration, you need some background. In 1697, Haiti was called Saint-Domingue and was one third of the island of Hispaniola. France owned Saint-Domingue, and Spain owned the rest, a proto-Dominican Republic.
One hundred years later, France didn't just own this little slice of Caribbean heaven off the coast of Cuba; she also owned 828,000 square miles of the interior of the North American continent:
You certainly couldn't expect a guy like Napoleon Bonaparte to look at a map like this and not see a continent ripe for the taking. Sending French troops to re-establish slavery on Saint-Dominigue was only the first part of the plan, which thankfully fell apart. Had it succeeded, however, phase two was to transfer the bulk of the French army to New Orleans, and phase three was to establish the island as a major sugar and coffee exporter, with Louisiana providing food, lumber and military support. To do that, the French would have to colonize Louisiana, obviously. And if you think anyone in their right mind trusted Napoleon with a foothold in the Americas, you're dead wrong. Thomas Jefferson himself was scared shitless that the man would attack the U.S., but only after getting all of the "gold and silver of Mexico and Peru."
"And all the beer in Texas."
But none of that ever happened, thanks to yellow fever and General L'Ouverture. Once Napoleon lost Haiti, he didn't have the financial incentive to hang on to the behemoth that was Louisiana, or the strategic launching point of Haiti from which to start rolling on America. So he sold it. To America. And the rest is le history.
Things worked out especially well for liquor wholesalers.
Ancient Egypt Invents the Peace Treaty So Ramses II Can Get Laid
The Nineteenth Dynasty of ancient Egypt was hard for a pimp, and by "pimp" we mean "Ramses II," and by "hard" we refer to his "penis." Following the epic Battle of Kadesh around 1274 B.C., Ramses II and Hattusili III of the Hittites decided they had better things to do than throw some 6,000 chariots at each other.
Oh sure, it looks fun. But you can't imagine how tedious desperate battles really are.
Fortunately for both sides, Hattusili had a hot daughter and an open mind.
Get your minds out of the gutter -- it was a peace treaty.
The treaty between Egypt and the Hittites was important for many reasons, not the least of which was an amendment about Hattusili's daughter which Ramses had to sign with his dick. It set diplomatic standards that survive to this day, such as having the document copied in both parties' respective languages. The treaty even took creative steps to resolve future disputes between the nations, such as maintaining that both signers' respective gods had to demand peace as well, because the last thing a guy named "Hattusili" needed was more cosmic strikes against him.
Pictured: Hat Too Silly.
Besides the sinister implications of daughter ho'ing, the agreement also forced both nations to back each other up if outsiders messed with their business. In other words, this peace treaty not only established the first surrogate for war, it also created the first precedent that made every other multinational war possible -- the stipulation that non-fighting countries would get sucked into their allies' conflicts.
Thanks a lot, Ramses II.
The Italian Renaissance
We know what you're thinking: only an IDIOT would forget about the Italian Renaissance, when art and poetry flourished as the nation of Italy remembered all the cool stuff Greece came up with back in the day. Even if your history class dropped the ball, TMNT was there to pick that ball right back up and throw it in your face.
Actually, there's a lot that we get wrong about the Italian Renaissance -- for instance, the name "The Italian Renaissance." As we've mentioned before, nations are a pretty recent invention. Prior to the late-18th century, people were loyal to their ethnic group or their local city-state, but declaring allegiance to something that you couldn't see while standing on your roof was about as common as feudalism is today.
"You know what I hate? Peasant uprisings."
At the time of the Renaissance, the region that would eventually become Italy was actually made up of Florence, Venice, Milan, Pisa, Verona, Mantua and countless other city-states that spent most of their time beating the shit out of each other. The only allegiance that crossed over those borders was to the Pope, who was considered exempt from the loyalty zoning rules because he was on a first-name basis with God and his hat was so tall that you could probably see it from your roof on a clear enough day.
They called it the Pope Signal.
A group of Italian intellectuals got one of those crazy "seriously you guys are going to laugh, but just hear us out" ideas: What if we all joined up together and created some sort of giant land-based thing. Like an empire, but unified around the same language and ideas, so we wouldn't have to murder each other to get it started?
"And once we have a bunch of these 'nations,' we can murder each other faster than ever before!"
The Pope decided he kind of liked being the biggest swinging dick on the peninsula, and what followed was a territorial culture war full of murder, mayhem and more double crosses and back stabbing than you can shake a cloak and dagger at.
Some of the greatest intellectuals of the Renaissance -- Petrarch, Dante, Machiavelli and others -- were all on one side of the massive tug of war. On the other side were the Papal States, anchored by the Pope, and all the brilliant artists he paid to make art. The rope was the place that eventually became Italy, and when the dust settled, the struggle had produced some of the most important art and influential political and religious writing in the history of the Western world.
The Italian poet Petrarch, for example, spent his whole life looking for an emperor/messiah who could both resolve the region's internal conflicts and restore Rome back to her former glory, all while receiving patronage from a tyrant in Milan. Dante was one of the first writers to actually write in the Italian language, which was considered a pretty radical political statement at the time. On the secular side, you had guys like Machiavelli proposing that Italians liberate themselves from the "barbarians" and "kill the Pope and all the cardinals." Which explains why his most famous works were all about the ideal alternatives to papal control.
"What if we replace our corrupt, violent religious leaders with corrupt, violent secular leaders?"
Speaking of popes, we can pretty much thank them for everything else we got out of the Renaissance. Because at the end of the day the struggle over the fate of Italy resulted in a propaganda war to win the hearts and minds of Renaissance Italian cities. Only instead of cheesy posters and uncomfortably racist Bugs Bunny cartoons, the Pope paid artists to create art. You might have heard of some of it: Michelangelo's "David," those epic frescoes Leonardo and Michelangelo worked on in Florence's Salone dei Cinquecento, even the whole damn Vatican. All just one big political ad.
Vote for Pope Julius II!
So, while it might be easier to teach us about the "Italian" Renaissance, it would have been more accurate to think of it as a centuries-spanning battle for the soul of a country that involved way more sex, murder and wife-boning than the East Coast-West Coast rap battle. But your teachers knew you'd be bored by all those details, so today we remember it as a bunch of guys sitting around a table, eating spaghetti and doing art.
Jacopo's book Go @#$% Yourself! is available for the Kindle (DRM free!) and in paperback, including his manic observations on nuclear war, public breastfeeding, video games, conspiracy theories, the economy, and alien invasions. Also includes: hidden messages and secret codes that may or may not reveal the location of the Holy Grail.
For more world-changers (or lack thereof), check out 5 World Changing Decisions (Made for Ridiculous Reasons) and 6 "World-Changing" Inventions (That Didn't Change Shit).
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