As Chechens (led by many who grew up in the deportation) declare independence in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin’s Russia does nothing for three years. Embarrassment at the new state’s defiance eventually drives an attempt to topple the Chechen government through far superior arms. Spoiler Alert: Russia, thought to be the second most powerful country in the world at the time, gets a disastrous comeuppance.

Check out this episode!

Slideshow:

For Further Awesome Reading…

The Lost American: Killing Chechnya by Fred Cuny 

This is an excellent article by an embedded American journalist—one who paid the ultimate price for his bravery in reporting. While he was with the rebels, Russian double agents passed along false information that he was a Russian spy, resulting in his execution. The opening paragraphs of this article, written in 1995, are eerily accurate for the future Cuny would never see.

The Sky Wept Fire by Mikhail Eldin

This is a personal account of a Chechen fighter and spy during the 1990s. While occasionally a little too purple in prose, it captures the desperate position of the guerrillas well.

One Soldier’s War by Arkady Babchenko

A personal account from the other side: a Russian conscript, but then, curiously, a volunteer. Babchenko recounts the hazing, poor training, and hopeless situation of the Russian draftee deployed to Chechnya, and the moral trouble and “gunpowder disease” (read: addiction to combat) of the redeployed volunteer. Grim book, worth reading for anyone.

Jocko Podcast #13: Chechens vs. Russians

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xqy3Sh7BlaY

Jocko has a great podcast in general, but this one is particularly relevant here as he analyzes U.S.  and Russian military primary sources for conclusions about urban combat in the Chechen Wars. Jocko does a great job breaking down the disintegration of morale in the Russian forces and the discipline problems that resulted, along with the effective tactics of the guerrillas.   If you like this one, check out his review of Babchenko’s book as well.

For the tactical observation text Jocko references:

https://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/jenkinson.pdf

 

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You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

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Thank You!

There have never been more than one million Chechens in the world at any given time, and their homeland is no bigger than Connecticut, yet the trials and tragedy of the Chechen people have an underestimated but important legacy in the horrific guerrilla wars and terrorism of the twenty-first century. At the heart of the conflict is (of course) the policies of Josef Stalin, who attempted to deport an entire people to Kazakhstan in 1944.

Check out this episode!

 

Slideshow:

 

For Further Awesome Reading…

Allah’s Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya by Sebastian Smith

This is hard-hitting embedded journalism, but Smith does a great job introducing the roots of the Chechen conflict in the opening chapters. From there he covers his experiences on the frontlines reporting the war for the French Press in the mid-90s.

Inferno in Chechnya: The Russian-Chechen Wars, the Al Qaeda Myth, and the Boston Marathon Bombings by Brian Glyn-Williams

In-depth historical look at the conflict and its roots. I wish it had been by a better writer: this is one of those books that you read after you’re already interested deeply in the subject. It wouldn’t make a convert out of anybody else. Still, there’s really useful stuff here and it’s easy to read.

 

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post.

Thank You!

Jon Stewart darkly joked that for most people, Chechnya might as well be Narnia. He was right, and it’s a shame. The Chechens are a distinct and proud mountain people, steeped in long traditions of bravery, daring, and generosity. On the other hand, they also possess a cultural dark side of ruthless banditry, gangsterism, and unreformed ancient practices like bride-stealing. For the last 800 years, they have periodically defied imperial might (from the Mongols to the modern Russians) and tenaciously clung to their values.

Check out this episode!

Slideshow:

Pictured:

  • Rugged Chechen mountains are the heart of most of their insurgencies
  • Mongols conquered all of Asia, but not the Chechen spirit
  • Timur Leng, the fiercesome conqueror
  • Chechen medieval warrior
  • Chechen cavalryman, 15th century
  • Traditional Chechen “kinzhal”
  • Modern Day Chechnya

For Further Awesome Reading…

Allah’s Mountains: The Battle for Chechnya by Sebastian Smith

This is hard-hitting embedded journalism, but Smith does a great job introducing the roots of the Chechen conflict in the opening chapters. From there he covers his experiences on the frontlines reporting the war for the French Press in the mid-90s.

Inferno in Chechnya: The Russian-Chechen Wars, the Al Qaeda Myth, and the Boston Marathon Bombings by Brian Glyn-Williams

In-depth historical look at the conflict and its roots. I wish it had been by a better writer: this is one of those books that you read after you’re already interested deeply in the subject. It wouldn’t make a convert out of anybody else. Still, there’s really useful stuff here and it’s easy to read.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post.

Thank You!

Apocalyptic: I find that’s the best word to describe the year 1099 in the lives of those who undertook the First Crusade. Anyone who’d survived this long (3 years of continuous marching and war—crazy in and of itself) still had several more months before the attainment of the final goal: the city of Jerusalem. Along the way, death by thirst, hallucination, cannibalism, and frustrated lower classes rising up and seizing control of the whole enterprise from their “superiors” would mark the journey. The culmination of their efforts would leave a legacy that echoes to the present day.

Check out this episode!

Slideshow:

Pictured:

  • Alexius I of the Byzantine Empire
  • Map of Europe and the Near East at the time of the First Crusade. Sorry for the French: it was the only quality free map for the time period I could find!
  • 11th Century French knight. Note the difference in helmet style from what you might have imagined, and the armor that looks like fish scale rather than linked plates. The “classic” image of the knight comes from a later period.
  • Pope Urban II
  • Norman knights and archers, 1066

For Further Awesome Reading…

The Crusades 2nd Edition, by Hans Eberhard Mayer (translated by John Gillingham)

Part of my introduction to the Crusades, through my studies at Cornell University and progress to a specialty in this period. Mayer does an excellent job detailing the many different forces at work. It’s dense for the average reader and probably not for someone unwilling to come to grips with college-level writing, but the depth and quality of the analysis can’t be ignored.

The Crusades: A History, by Jonathan Riley-Smith

And/or… you could tackle this one. Riley-Smith is another premier historian of the period, and while less in-depth than Mayer, he’s a little more “readable.” He’s also valuable as companion to Mayer for the contrast in analysis and in the decisions of what to emphasize and what to downplay. How the two men each describe the fateful sack of Jerusalem in 1099 is an illuminating look into the biases of both.

Chronicles of the First Crusade (Penguin Classics), edited by Christopher Tyerman

It can be very hard to find well-edited and readable compilations of first-hand accounts from events in the medieval period. For that, this book is solid gold. Tyerman has done an excellent job assembling the best of the accounts from the people who lived through this extraordinary event in history.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post.

Thank You!

The (double) Siege of Antioch in 1098 has all the stuff a Hollywood movie is made of: two different cultures (and their military approaches) clashing in the style of your favorite old school tournament fighting game, starvation, giant ancient fortresses, disease, hardship, miracles real and imagined, betrayal, sword fights, massacre, and a final, heroic charge against impossible odds. Too much stuff, really: I feel like any script with this much jammed into it would be dismissed as corny and over-the-top. Except it’s true! I hope I do it a measure of justice. Check out this episode!

Slideshow:

Pictured:

  • Alexius I of the Byzantine Empire
  • Map of Europe and the Near East at the time of the First Crusade. Sorry for the French: it was the only quality free map for the time period I could find!
  • 11th Century French knight. Note the difference in helmet style from what you might have imagined, and the armor that looks like fish scale rather than linked plates. The “classic” image of the knight comes from a later period.
  • Pope Urban II
  • Norman knights and archers, 1066

For Further Awesome Reading…

The Crusades 2nd Edition, by Hans Eberhard Mayer (translated by John Gillingham)
Part of my introduction to the Crusades, through my studies at Cornell University and progress to a specialty in this period. Mayer does an excellent job detailing the many different forces at work. It’s dense for the average reader and probably not for someone unwilling to come to grips with college-level writing, but the depth and quality of the analysis can’t be ignored. The Crusades: A History, by Jonathan Riley-Smith
And/or… you could tackle this one. Riley-Smith is another premier historian of the period, and while less in-depth than Mayer, he’s a little more “readable.” He’s also valuable as companion to Mayer for the contrast in analysis and in the decisions of what to emphasize and what to downplay. How the two men each describe the fateful sack of Jerusalem in 1099 is an illuminating look into the biases of both. Chronicles of the First Crusade (Penguin Classics), edited by Christopher Tyerman
It can be very hard to find well-edited and readable compilations of first-hand accounts from events in the medieval period. For that, this book is solid gold. Tyerman has done an excellent job assembling the best of the accounts from the people who lived through this extraordinary event in history.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one! Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Thank You!

I see such a metaphor for human forces here: how whatever Pope Urban II and Emperor Alexius had in mind for this holy war/armed pilgrimage, things quickly escalated out of their control and the message and mission as it came to actually be almost swept both men right off their feet. Never underestimate the power of human passion! Although doomed to failure and disaster, the first wave of people (under Peter the Hermit) to attempt the approach to the Holy Land would have important effects on how both the Seljuk Turks and the Byzantine Greeks perceived the following waves—underestimations both groups would later come to regret.

Check out this episode!

Slideshow:

Pictured:

  • Alexius I of the Byzantine Empire
  • Map of Europe and the Near East at the time of the First Crusade. Sorry for the French: it was the only quality free map for the time period I could find!
  • 11th Century French knight. Note the difference in helmet style from what you might have imagined, and the armor that looks like fish scale rather than linked plates. The “classic” image of the knight comes from a later period.
  • Pope Urban II
  • Norman knights and archers, 1066

For Further Awesome Reading…

The Crusades 2nd Edition, by Hans Eberhard Mayer (translated by John Gillingham)

Part of my introduction to the Crusades, through my studies at Cornell University and progress to a specialty in this period. Mayer does an excellent job detailing the many different forces at work. It’s dense for the average reader and probably not for someone unwilling to come to grips with college-level writing, but the depth and quality of the analysis can’t be ignored.

The Crusades: A History, by Jonathan Riley-Smith

And/or… you could tackle this one. Riley-Smith is another premier historian of the period, and while less in-depth than Mayer, he’s a little more “readable.” He’s also valuable as companion to Mayer for the contrast in analysis and in the decisions of what to emphasize and what to downplay. How the two men each describe the fateful sack of Jerusalem in 1099 is an illuminating look into the biases of both.

Chronicles of the First Crusade (Penguin Classics), edited by Christopher Tyerman

It can be very hard to find well-edited and readable compilations of first-hand accounts from events in the medieval period. For that, this book is solid gold. Tyerman has done an excellent job assembling the best of the accounts from the people who lived through this extraordinary event in history.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post.

Thank You!

“Crusade” is a loaded word, and often code for the “bad” history in the cultural heritage of Western Europe. In this episode, I set the stage for some of the real characters in this widely misunderstood period, discussing the brutal realities of medieval Europe and the basis for anybody would be so “crazy” as to declare holy war.

Check out this episode!

Slideshow:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pictured:

  • Alexius I of the Byzantine Empire
  • Map of Europe and the Near East at the time of the First Crusade. Sorry for the French: it was the only quality free map for the time period I could find!
  • 11th Century French knight. Note the difference in helmet style from what you might have imagined, and the armor that looks like fish scale rather than linked plates. The “classic” image of the knight comes from a later period.
  • Pope Urban II
  • Norman knights and archers, 1066

For Further Awesome Reading…

The Crusades 2nd Edition, by Hans Eberhard Mayer (translated by John Gillingham)

Part of my introduction to the Crusades, through my studies at Cornell University and progress to a specialty in this period. Mayer does an excellent job detailing the many different forces at work. It’s dense for the average reader and probably not for someone unwilling to come to grips with college-level writing, but the depth and quality of the analysis can’t be ignored.

The Crusades: A History, by Jonathan Riley-Smith

And/or… you could tackle this one. Riley-Smith is another premier historian of the period, and while less in-depth than Mayer, he’s a little more “readable.” He’s also valuable as companion to Mayer for the contrast in analysis and in the decisions of what to emphasize and what to downplay. How the two men each describe the fateful sack of Jerusalem in 1099 is an illuminating look into the biases of both.

Chronicles of the First Crusade (Penguin Classics), edited by Christopher Tyerman

It can be very hard to find well-edited and readable compilations of first-hand accounts from events in the medieval period. For that, this book is solid gold. Tyerman has done an excellent job assembling the best of the accounts from the people who lived through this extraordinary event in history.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post.

Thank You!

The story of “How the West Was Won” (ie. how native people were pushed into tiny corners of the North American continent or exterminated) has many unexpected elements as well as true clichés. We’ll explore one small but symbolic episode of that history in this episode, drawing (in part) on a very unusual source: the autobiography of a native woman that learned to read and write English, survived war, and became a famous speaker for her people.

Check out this episode!

For Further Awesome Reading…

Sand in A Whirlwind, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Paiute Indian War Of 1860, by Ferol Egan

This is truly “history as story” and a great place to start for people who want to get deeper into the characters and events of this episode before exploring primary sources.

Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims by Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins

Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins has a controversial legacy. On the one hand, she mastered American language and culture enough to become a famous vocal advocate for her people, despite losing loved ones in war with the United States. On the other, she assisted the US Army in its war and advocated the assimilation of her people into modern American life, abandoning many of their cultural traditions in the process. Either way, this writing is a sort of Holy Grail in the history of the American West: the primary source written purely from the perspective of a native woman. If you want to know something important about this period in American history, this is essential reading.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post and sharing your favorite part of the episode!

You can also purchase an Edge of History t-shirt! We have them for sale for $13 and $16 and you can pick one up over on our Support page. All proceeds help us to pay our hosting fees and create more content. 

Thank You!

The Spartans have a legendary name in military history, only partly earned. I discuss that legend and the time when a motley group of lightly-armed patriots, led by an unlikely general, popped that legend’s over-inflated bubble.

Check out this episode!

Glossary:

Hoplite: Heavy infantryman in the ancient Greek style. He was expected to furnish his own weapons and armor, which would be of varying amount and quality. Essential equipment included a long wooden shield with embossed metal, a helmet, a spear, sword, and sometimes a dagger. The sword and dagger were basically side-arms, because the spear was the star of the show: anywhere from 6 to 9 feet long, it was the prime mover in the “phalanx” warfare of the day, where hoplites marched in tight order, shields partially covering themselves and the guy next to them, the spear (almost certainly) stabbed in an over-arm motion. Phalanx combat being straightforward, each line of hoplites would push forward, attempting to disrupt the enemy line and push it backwards. Downed opponents could be finished off by a spike mounted on the bottom of the spear as the line moved forward.

Sparta: Prominent Greek city state. Greece at the time consisted of many independent city-states, each with distinct governments and often at odds with the others. Greeks had a natural affinity for each other over “foreigners,” but this affinity did nothing to diminish their fierce rivalries. Sparta was famous for the quality of its warriors and for creating a system specifically to make them professional. Moat other Greek hoplites had other occupations and only trained and fought when their city was at war; Spartans had a state system to support their full-time training. This was in part supported by their enslavement of the Messenian people, creating a class known as ‘helots’ that did the work otherwise neglected by the Spartan professional warriors.

Athens: Prominent Greek city state. The Athenians pioneered a form of limited direct democracy, building a successful empire around it in the fifth century BC. While fielding classic hoplite armies (and using them to famously defeat much larger Persian ones), Athens became known for her trade network, supported by her innovative, high-quality navy. Athenian sailors were easily the best in the region, being as they were professional free men, as opposed to the slaves who frequently worked the boats of other city-states. This in turn allowed for tactically superior assault boats, used to great effect against her enemies. By the time of the Peloponnesian War, Athens was easily the wealthiest and most powerful Greek city state.

Thespiae and Plateaea: small Greek city states. Thespiae bears mentioning in the context of this episode chiefly because the Spartans historically get all the credit for the heroic “last stand,” at Thermopylae, but 700 hoplites fell alongside them after the final Persian encirclement, when it was known to be suicide to continue fighting. Plataea was a staunch ally of Athens for generations, defying both massive Persian armies and threatening Spartans.

Peloponnesian War: Three-part conflict between Athens and Sparta for domination of the Aegean Sea (and, by extension, ancient Europe), that occurred from about 431 BC to 404 BC. Despite vast wealth, and an innovative mindset fostered by its proto-democratic society, Athens bungled its way to total defeat. Much of Greek dominance of the ancient world evaporated with the widespread destruction and impoverishment that resulted from the conflict. While Sparta was the “winner,” her prosperity did not last long.

spartan map 1

Persian Empire: Massive domain covering most of the Middle and Near East, ruled by the “King of Kings” seated in modern-day Iran. They had displaced the Babylonians and were famously wealthy and powerful, even by ancient imperial standards. They were capable of fielding gargantuan (for the time) armies of over 100,000 men from all over their dominion. Their numerous defeats and struggles at the hands of much smaller Greek armies in the early fifth century BC (Marathon in 490 BC, Salamis in 480 BC, Plataea in 480 BC, and Eurymedon 469 BC) form the basis of many ‘David and Goliath’ stories that have captured the popular imagination of Western Civilization for thousands of years.

Persian_Empire,_490_BC

Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC): the foundation of the Spartan legend. Faced with a massive Persian invasion, King Leonidas of Sparta quickly moved with a small force of Spartans, Plataeans, and Thespians to block their advance in the mountain pass of Thermopylae. The naturally defensible position and the far superior quality and bravery of the Greek hoplites enabled them to hold off the Persian army for a few days, despite being outnumbered by (debatable) figures of 30+ to 1. Betrayed in the end by a traitor who showed the Persians a path around the Greeks, who were then encircled, the Spartan-led hoplites were killed to the last man. Their actions, however, bought the rival Athenians time to prepare their fleet: a development that would save Greece from Persian domination.

Battle of Marathon (490 BC): the first great victory of Greek hoplites against a much larger Persian invading force. Through a quick strike, the better-trained, better-equipped, and much more highly-motivated Athenian soldiers decisively defeated the Persians in an “upset” victory. The battle passed into legend, not only for its identity-saving quality (protecting Greece from foreign influence, a mark of great pride among Greeks everywhere), but for the invention of the Marathon—the imagined distance sprinted by an Athenian runner to give news of the victory before the city of Athens could submit to the blockading Persian fleet.

Prominent episode characters

Athenians: Pericles, Cleon, Demosthenes

Spartans: Leonidas, Agis

Thucydides: primary historian of the Peloponnesian War. He lived through the events, first serving as a soldier and general in the Athenian army before being wrongly exiled on trumped-up charges.

For Further Awesome Reading…

The Landmark Thucydides

Thucydides is, quite simply, the man. It’s so hard to find anything close to what we call ‘objectivity’ in ancient historians. It was taken for granted that telling a good story, imparting a moral, or showing your people in the best possible light was as much a part of history as the facts. Thucydides stood out for his stated attempt to focus on facts when we wrote about the Peloponnesian War. What also helps us in reading him were the circumstances of his life: as an important Athenian who was essentially screwed by the system he was trying to defend, he makes for an ideal witness, as what we can assume would have been his natural Athenian bias was balanced by his experience.

Donald Kagan’s work: Kagan wrote THE definitive history of the Peloponnesian War in four parts, called by one critic the foremost work of history by an American in the 20th century—pretty mind-boggling praise. Aside from this, Kagan was a highly-acclaimed professor at Cornell and Yale and brilliant mind. The four parts of his history are:

He’s also got a condensed version called “The Peloponnesian War” for those desiring a less comprehensive look at the conflict.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Also, use our Amazon links on the book title or picture to check out and purchase a book or finish your other shopping on Amazon. When you click the link, all of your other shopping supports the podcast whether you buy a book or not.

You can also purchase an Edge of History t-shirt! We have them for sale for $13 and $16 and you can pick one up over on our Support page. All proceeds help us to pay our hosting fees and create more content. 

Thank You!

 

Edge of History podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

 

Before you listen…

By the late second century BC, the Roman Republic had persevered and conquered through many disasters: so many, in fact, that conquest and eventual victory were taken for granted. In response to a barbaric tribal threat, a small group of selfish and complacent Roman aristocrats would bungle Rome into a catastrophe that cost hundreds of thousands of lives. The price for eventual victory would be freedom itself, as events were set in motion that would destroy the Republic and replace it with the autocratic Empire.

Check out this episode!

For Further Awesome Reading…

Fall of the Roman Republic by Plutarch

Plutarch wrote 150 years after the events of this book, but had quite a flair for biography. The story of the fall of the Republic is told through the “lives” of six several very important Romans, and the reforms of Gaius Marius kick off the list. Want to know how a civilization can crumble through the ambitions of its great aristocrats? Prepare to be educated.

Support the Edge of History podcast!

You can support our podcast by downloading on iTunes, subscribing and leaving a review. The Centurion reads every single one!

Please share it on social media using the links at the bottom of this post. Also, use our Amazon links on the book title or picture to check out and purchase a book or finish your other shopping on Amazon. When you click the link, all of your other shopping supports the podcast whether you buy a book or not.

You can also purchase an Edge of History t-shirt! We have them for sale for $13 and $16 and you can pick one up over on our Support page. All proceeds help us to pay our hosting fees and create more content. 

Thank You!

Edge of History podcast is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.