12 Historic Little Known Rebellions with Tragic and Bloody Ends
12 Historic Little Known Rebellions with Tragic and Bloody Ends

12 Historic Little Known Rebellions with Tragic and Bloody Ends

Khalid Elhassan - December 17, 2017

12 Historic Little Known Rebellions with Tragic and Bloody Ends
‘Sicilian Vespers’, by Erulo Eroli. Wikimedia

The Sicilian Vespers

The Sicilian Vespers, 1282, was a massacre of thousands of French in Sicily, which inaugurated a rebellion against French rule. It began in Palermo, and from there, spread like wildfire throughout the island. By the time it ended six weeks later, three thousand French men and women had been killed, and French control of Sicily had come to an end.

In 1266, Charles of Anjou, a member of the French royal family, invaded and conquered Sicily, and crowned himself its king. The new king brought to Sicily a vast retinue of French courtiers, bureaucrats, officials, and nobles, who treated the locals contemptuously. Sicily was taxed heavily to fund Charles’ endeavors elsewhere, while Sicilians nobles were shut out of any role in ruling their own island. The Sicilians, understandably, resented the exploitation and disrespect.

Things finally came to a head on Easter Monday, March 30th, 1282. Sicilians were celebrating outside a Palermo church, when they were joined by a group of drunk Frenchmen. One of them dragged a married woman from the crowd and crudely propositioned her, and ended up stabbed to death by her enraged husband. When the other Frenchmen tried to avenge their comrade, the Sicilian crowd fell upon and killed them.

Just then, Palermo’s churches began ringing their bells for Vespers, and amidst their clanging, messengers raced throughout the city calling on the public to rise against the foreign oppressors. Soon, the streets were filled with angry Sicilian mobs crying “Death to the French!” They killed any French man, woman, or child, whom they came across, then began breaking into French houses and butchering the inhabitants.

They then broke into convents and monasteries to kill any French nuns or monks they could find. Those claiming not to be French were made to say “ciciri” – a word which French tongues had difficulty pronouncing. Those failing the test were put to death. By the following days, the rebels were in control of Palermo, and over two thousand French had been killed.

As word spread to the rest of Sicily, the rest of the island joined the revolt, and more massacres took place. The uprising swept away French control of the island within six weeks. As described by a Medieval author: “By the time the furious anger at [French] insolence had drunk its fill of blood, the French had surrendered to the Sicilians not only their ill-gotten riches, but their lives as well “.

12 Historic Little Known Rebellions with Tragic and Bloody Ends
Map of the Chimei Rebellion and other major uprisings. Wikimedia

The Chimei Rebellion

The Chimei Rebellion was a 1st century AD major agrarian rebellion in China. It began after the Yellow River changed its course between 2 and 11 AD – a natural disaster whose consequences included floods, famines, and extensive dislocation and hardship. Amidst the turmoil, civil war broke out when an imperial government official, Wang Mang, overthrew the Han Dynasty which had reigned over China for two centuries. In its place, Wang Mang founded the short-lived Xin Dynasty in 8 AD.

The political instability, natural disasters, hunger and hardship, took place against a backdrop of agrarian unrest. China’s peasant population was angered by a rise in debt slavery, and a trend of steady consolidation of land into large tracts in the hands of powerful magnates. The small farmers who had once owned their own plots were turned into serfs, working what had once been their own land on behalf of others. Otherwise, they were evicted altogether and forced into a life of migrant laborers.

Secret societies began forming to protect the interests of the peasants. One of them, led by a mystic who spoke through mediums, organized armed bands known as the Chimei, or Red Eyebrows. They took their name from the red paint used by members to make their faces look like demons, and in 15 AD, they began armed resistance. The Chimei’s popularity grew, and by 17 AD, their insurrection had become a widespread popular uprising, led by a Fan Chong.

Back in the capital, Wang Man turned out to be inept and out of his depth. He responded to the Chimei rebellion and other popular revolts by hiking taxes. That provoked more rebellions, as the new tax burdens fueled the popular discontent. The various rebellions soon consolidated into a major uprising, as disparate rebel bands united under the banner of the Chimei and the leadership of Fan Chong.

The Chimei played a key role in defeating Wang Man and destroying his Xin Dynasty in 23 AD. Into the vacuum stepped Liu Xuan, a member of the Han royal family, who reestablished the Han Dynasty and declared himself emperor. The Chimei disliked his policies, however, so they overthrew him, and placed an imperial Han child descendant on the throne as a puppet emperor, and ruled China in his name.

The Chimei, however, turned out to be as bad at governance as they had been good at fighting, and their misrule soon led to widespread counter revolts. Their puppet emperor was overthrown and replaced by another Han descendant, who forced the surrender of the Chimei and ended their movement. He then went on to found the Later Han Dynasty, which ruled China for another two centuries.