In a history that had no shortage of weird rulers, Caligula (12 – 41 AD) was probably Rome’s most batshit emperor. His often terrifyingly bizarre behavior included cackling uncontrollably at parties, giddy at the thought that he could have anybody present killed on the spot, with just a gesture from his finger. One time he got mad at a noisy crowd in an arena, so he pointed out two bald guys at opposite ends of a section, and ordered his guards to execute everybody “from baldhead to baldhead“. He was into raping the wives of party guests, then rating the victims’ performances to their husbands. He also reportedly turned a section of the imperial palace into a whorehouse, staffed by the daughters and wives of prominent Romans.
However, it was not the preceding craziness that doomed Caligula, but his grievous error in offending his own bodyguards. The commander of his security detail, a man named Chaerea, had a high-pitched voice, and Caligula got a kick out of mocking him as effeminate. He thought it hilarious to come up with derogatory daily passwords that had to do with homosexuality, and whenever Chaerea was due to kissing the imperial ring, Caligula made sure it was on his middle finger, which he would waggle obscenely. In 41 AD, Chaerea finally had enough, hatched a plot with other Praetorian Guards, and hacked Caligula to death.
5. Ancient Greece’s Greatest Athlete Got Himself Stuck in a Tree, and Was Eaten Alive by a Lion
Milo of Croton (flourished 6th century BC) was the Ancient Greek world’s most celebrated athlete and wrestler, as well as a renowned warrior. A strongman, his training regimen included carrying a bull on his shoulders. His daily diet reportedly included 20 pounds of meat, 20 pounds of bread, and 10 liters of wine. Whatever his training and diet, Milo’s string of athletic victories was unprecedented and unsurpassed. He dominated the quadrennial Panhellenic Games – the Olympic, Pythian, Nymean, and Isthmian games – for decades.
His remarkable life came to a bizarre end one day while he was strolling through the woods, and came upon a tree trunk partially split with wedges. Always on the lookout for opportunities to challenge himself with feats of strength, Milo tried to rend the tree apart with his bare hands. However, the wedges fell off, and his hands got stuck in the crack. It was the start of a bad day for the strongman. It got worse when a lion passed by while Milo was struggling to free himself, and ate him alive.
After the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, king Bonaparte ended up in New Jersey. Not that Bonaparte: emperor Napoleon ended up giving himself up to the British, who eventually exiled him to the remote island of Saint Helena. However, fate was kinder to his older brother Joseph, whom Napoleon had made the first king of Naples, where he was popular, then king of Spain, where he was anything but. Following his younger brother’s final defeat, Joseph chartered an American ship, the Commerce, for an escape to the United States.
Fortunately for him, Joseph had looted the Spanish treasury before he had been forced from the throne, so he was able to lead a comfortable life in America. After a few years in New York City and Philadelphia, Joseph bought a large estate in Bordentown, New Jersey, named Point Breeze. There, he hosted many leading luminaries and intellectuals, such as Daniel Webster, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and the Marquis de Lafayette. He also claimed to have run into the Jersey Devil – a mythical monster, said to inhabit the state’s Pine Barrens.
In June of 1969, Honduras and Salvador’s soccer teams met in home-and-away matches to qualify for the 1970 FIFA World Cup. The rivalry on the pitch became a proxy for real-life tensions caused by Honduras’ mistreatment of immigrants from the more populous neighboring Salvador. The matches ended up exacerbating the preexisting tensions. Instead of soccer acting as a proxy for war, the real war ended up acting as a proxy for soccer. The first game, played in Honduras and won by the home team 1-0, was marred by fan fights. In Salvador, a girl killed herself in grief over the loss, and became a popular heroine, with a televised funeral that ramped up the emotions.
Salvador won the second leg, played at home, 3-0. Once again, fans fought, and some Hondurans were killed. In Honduras, the locals retaliated by taking it out on Salvadoran immigrants. Hondurans did so again, when Salvador won a final tiebreaker match played in Mexico on June 27th, 1969, 3-2. The Salvadoran government severed diplomatic ties in protest over the mistreatment of Salvadorans in Honduras. Two weeks later, on July 14th, Salvador’s military marched into Honduras. By the time a ceasefire was declared on the 18th, about 900 Salvadorans, mostly civilians, had been killed, while the Hondurans lost about 250 military dead, plus 2000 civilians. About 300,000 Salvadorans were displaced, most of them having fled Honduras.
During WWII, Hitler became a full-blown drug addict. It began with his daily use of Pervitin – a commercially marketed pill whose chemical formula was identical to that of crystal meth. Trusting in a quack doctor, Theodor Morell, the Fuhrer got hooked on daily shots that included Pervitin. Morell, who had eased Hitler’s chronic digestive ailments by prescribing him cultures of live bacteria, became the dictator’s personal doctor, causing the physician’s popularity to skyrocket among Nazi bigwigs. That popularity was helped by the fact that Morell routinely treated his patients by injecting them with addictive drugs, that had them coming back for more. Herman Goering, himself an all-out junkie and copious pill popper, sarcastically referred to Morell as “the Reichmaster of the injections“.
In addition to getting Hitlerhooked on crystal meth, via Pervitin, Morell also made the Fuhrer a cocaine addict by prescribing it to soothe the dictator’s sore throat and clear his sinuses. Hitler soon had a compulsion to frequently soothe his throat and clear his sinuses. By 1945, Hitler was an out-and-out junkie, complete with rotting teeth, addicted to a bewildering variety of drugs. When his drug supplies ran out in the war’s closing weeks, the Fuhrer suffered all the symptoms of severe withdrawal: delusions, psychosis, paranoia, extreme shaking, and kidney failure.
1. American Doughboys Suffered Thousands of Needless Casualties During the Last Hours of WWI
American military commanders’ aggressiveness is usually admirable, but that was not the case on the last day of WWI. The Armistice bringing the conflict to an end was signed at 5 AM on November 11th, 1918, to take effect six hours later, at 11 AM. However, American commanders, especially General John J. Pershing, who headed the American Expeditionary Force, were unhappy with the Armistice and its conditions. Pershing, in particular, thought that the terms were too soft, and he believed that the Germans should be severely defeated militarily, in order to “teach them a lesson“. So in the last few hours of the war, American commanders continued to launch their men against German trenches.
The result was thousands of needless casualties, both American and German, but mostly American since they were the ones attacking heavily fortified positions. The US 89th Division, for example, was ordered to attack the German held town of Stenay on the morning of November 11th, and successfully took it – the last town forcibly captured on the Western Front. However, that achievement came at the cost of more than 300 American casualties. The American V Corps alone suffered over eleven hundred casualties in the war’s final hours, including over three hundred killed. All in all, over 3500 Americans became casualties on the war’s last day.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading