Napoleon infamously invaded Russia in 1812, which he entered with 685,000 men, only to come out with 120,000 cold and hungry survivors. The catastrophe shattered France’s dominance of Europe, as client states and subject nations rushed to shake off French hegemony. Racing back to France, Napoleon managed to raise an army equivalent in size to the one recently lost, but of lower quality and experience than the veteran force destroyed in Russia. They were desperately needed for the 1813 German Campaign, which pitted a coalition of armies, led by Russian Tsar Alexander I and Austrian field marshal Karl Philipp against Napoleon. It culminated at the Battle of Leipzig, October 16th to 19th, 1813, in which the French emperor was decisively defeated after his Saxon allies pulled a slimy move, and betrayed him mid-battle.
Marching into Germany to reassert French dominance, Napoleon won some victories. However, he was unable to follow them up with a decisive win because his enemies avoided battle with him. Instead, they fell upon his subordinates instead, whom they defeated as often as not. By October, 1813, the allies were confident enough to challenge Napoleon directly. The showdown took place at Leipzig between Napoleon’s forces of 225,000, and a 380,000 strong coalition of his enemies. Although outnumbered, Napoleon planned to take the offensive against the allies who sought to envelop him, as he operated along interior lines. That allowed him to concentrate against enemy sectors faster than they could be reinforced by his foes, who operated on exterior lines.
The Battle of Leipzig’s first day, October 16th, ended in a hard-fought stalemate. Allied attacks were defeated, while Napoleon’s outnumbered forces were unable to achieve a breakthrough. The 17th saw limited actions, and by the 18th, Napoleon was running low on supplies and munitions, and prepared to withdraw. An attempt to negotiate an exit was rejected by the coalition, which launched a massive attack all along the line that day. That steadily pushed Napoleon’s forces back into Leipzig, and only fierce resistance prevented a breakthrough. The bottom fell out on the afternoon of the 18th, when Napoleon’s Saxon allies pulled off a well-timed betrayal. With Napoleon’s forces already stretched to their limit, a Saxon corps of about 10,000 men occupying a sector of the French line suddenly abandoned their positions.
The Saxons deserted Napoleon, and marched out to meet the allies. It might have been dishonorable and slimy, but it was highly effective. With a gaping hole now suddenly appearing in their lines, Napoleon’s forces had to abandon that entire sector. That night, with their positions untenable, they began a retreat. It went smoothly at first, but the next day, incompetence led to the premature blowing up of a bridge while it was still crowded with retreating Frenchmen. The result was a panicked rout in which thousands were killed, while tens of thousands more were stranded on the wrong side of the destroyed bridge and captured. It transformed the battle from an arguable tactical draw into a disastrous French defeat.
Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes (1485 – 1547) pulled off one of history’s most slimy – and most effective – moves, in his conquest of Mexico. Its victim was Emperor Montezuma II (circa 1469 – 1520), ruler of Tenochtitlan and the Aztec Empire from 1502 to 1520. The result was the native empire’s destruction and replacement by a vast Spanish domain in Mexico, while Cortes amassed extraordinary wealth and power. It began in February 1519, when Cortes landed with a small force on Mexico’s eastern coast near today’s Vera Cruz, and subdued that region.
The Spaniards then proceeded to march inland towards the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, defeating and allying with the natives en route. By the time he reached Tenochtitlan, Cortes had a large native army, around a core of Spaniards. Montezuma, indecisive since he heard the first reports of Cortes’ arrival, invited him and his Spaniards into Tenochtitlan in November, 1519. He hoped to better understand them and their weaknesses. Foolishly, he plied his guests with lavish gifts of gold. That only served to excite their lust for plunder.
In a slimy move, while a guest in Montezuma’s palace, Hernan Cortes treacherously seized his host, and held him as a hostage. He then proceeded to rule Tenochtitlan and the Aztec Empire through the captive emperor. In April, 1520, Cortes had to speed back to Mexico’s east coast in order to ward off another Spanish expedition sent to oust him. He left behind a Spanish garrison of 200 men under a trusted deputy. In Cortes’ absence, his deputy massacred thousands of Aztecs in Tenochtitlan’s Great Temple.
That triggered a massive uprising against the Spaniards. Cortes rushed back to Tenochtitlan, and trotted out the captive Montezuma in hopes that it would placate the natives. It did not work as well as expected. The livid Aztecs proceeded to stone the Spaniards’ puppet ruler to death. Cortes fled Tenochtitlan, and assembled a powerful native army. With it, he finally subdued the city, whose population had been decimated with plagues of Old World diseases against which the natives had no immunity.
Sigurd Eysteinsson, AKA Sigurd the Mighty (died 892) was a Viking Earl who ruled the Orkney and Shetland Islands off Scotland’s northern coast. Allied with other Vikings chieftains, he invaded the Scottish mainland, conquered northern Scotland, overran Sutherland and Caithness, and asserted Viking control as far south as Moray. Sigurd’s exploits in that conquest earned him the epithet “the Mighty” from fellow Vikings. The king of recently unified Norway had sent Sigurd’s brother, Rognvald Eysteinsson, to conquer the Shetland and Orkney islands after they became a refuge for Norwegian exiles, from which they raided their homeland. Rognvald lost a son in that conquest, and in compensation, Norway’s king gave him the islands and made him earl. With interests elsewhere, Rognvald gave the islands and title to his younger brother, Sigurd.
During the course of his conquest of northern Scotland, Sigurd challenged a local chieftain, Mael Brigte the Bucktoothed, head of the Mormaerdom, or kingdom, of Moray, to a forty-man-per-side battle. In a slimy move, Sigurd cheated and showed up with eighty men. Outnumbered, the Scots were defeated and massacred, and Sigurd personally beheaded Mael Brigte. Tying the defeated leader’s head to his saddle as a trophy, Sigurd rounded up his men and rode back home to celebrate the victory. However, on the way back, as the severed head tied to the saddle bounced around, the bucktooth that gave Mael Brigte his nickname cut Sigurd’s leg. The cut became inflamed and infected, and Sigurd died of the infection before he got back home.
Rodrigo Borgia (1431 – 1503) was a pope from 1492 until his death. He was perhaps history’s most slimy and brazenly corrupt Holy Father, and did not bother with even the pretense of a fig leaf to cover his venality. He openly sold church offices, as well as indulgences to the wealthy. Unconcerned about his vows of celibacy, he openly acknowledged having fathered nine illegitimate children, including four with his live-in mistress. He also reportedly had an incestuous affair with his own daughter – when she was not busy having incest with her brother.
He was born near Valencia, Spain, into the Borgia family, a powerful ecclesiastical dynasty. Nepotism was the norm in those days, so when Rodrigo Borgia’s uncle became Pope Callixtus III in 1455, he ordained his nephew a deacon, then made him a lay cardinal. Soon thereafter, he was made vice-chancellor of the Catholic Church, at the age of twenty-five. Nepotism got Rodrigo a leg up, but he was a capable man in his own right and continued rising through the Church hierarchy after his pope uncle’s death.
7. A Slimy Pope Who Did Not Bother to Pretend to be Religious
By the 1490s, Rodrigo Borgia had served under five popes, and amassed considerable administrative experience, wealth, and influential connections. When the papal throne became vacant in 1492, he put those assets to good use, and bribed a majority of the College of Cardinal to elect him pope. Taking the name Alexander VI, he transformed the papacy into a nepotistic kleptocracy for the benefit of his family. This slimy pope was highly unpopular with the devout, because he made no pretense of being religious.
The new pope threw lavish parties that often degenerated into drunken orgies. One of them, which went down in history as the “Banquet of Chestnuts“, involved the hiring of fifty prostitutes, who danced with the guests naked. Chestnuts were then strewn around, and the naked women crawled on hands and knees to pick them up. Then a competition was announced to see which guest could copulate the most, while servants kept score of each man’s orgasms.
Pope Alexander VI brazenly carried on with his mistresses before and after he became Holy Father, and acknowledged the resulting illegitimate children. He arranged dynastic marriages for his kids, and dipped into Church coffers to splurge on lavish weddings for his bastards. The pope also used his daughter Lucrezia, with whom had an incestuous affair, to snare wealthy and powerful notables. He had her seduce those whom he deemed useful, married her off to them, and when Lucrezia’s husband was of no further use, the pope arranged the dissolution of the marriage. The apples did not fall from the tree when it came to this pope’s children, and they too were notoriously corrupt and venal.
Alexander VI openly sold church positions to the highest bidders. When his lavish lifestyle and reckless spending drained Church coffers, this slimy Holy Father began to sell indulgences – like Monopoly’s “Get Out of Jail Free” cards, but for hell instead of prison. He made the name “Borgia” a byword for corruption, nepotism, and libertinism, which were the hallmarks of his pontificate. Alexander VI’s brazen corruption was not just gossip fodder: it had a huge historical impact, and set in motion a backlash that eventually culminated in the Protestant Reformation.
5. Hernan Cortes’ Success Inspired Other Conquistadors
Hernan Cortes’ conquest of the Aztec Empire inspired other Spanish conquistadors, such as Francisco Pizarro (circa 1471 – 1541). He managed to pull off a betrayal against the Incan Emperor Atahualpa (circa 1502 – 1533) that was even more dramatic, venal, and slimy than that pulled off by Cortes against Montezuma. It also resulted in the destruction of a native empire, and its replacement by a vast Spanish domain. In 1525, Atahualpa had inherited the northern half of the Incan Empire from his father, while the southern half went to his brother Huascar.
Five years later, Atahualpa attacked his brother, and by 1532, had defeated Huascar and reunited the empire. His reign proved brief, however, for Pizarro showed up soon thereafter. Pizarro landed in Peru in 1532, established a small colony, then set off to conquer with a tiny force of about 200 men. En route, he was met by an envoy from Atahualpa. He bore an invitation to visit the Inca ruler at his camp, where he was resting with his army of about 100,000 men after his recent victory over his brother.
Francisco Pizarro set off to meet Emperor Atahualpa with 110 infantry and 67 cavalry, armed and armored with steel and equipped with three arquebuses and two small cannon. A meeting was arranged for November 16th, 1532, in a plaza in the town of Cajamarca. On the night of the 15th, Pizarro outlined to his men an audacious plan to seize Atahualpa. On the appointed day, Atahualpa, incautious about his own security, left his army camped outside Cajamarca, and arrived at the town’s plaza on a fine litter carried by 80 courtiers, and trailed by about 5000 nobles and other courtiers. The Incans were richly dressed in ceremonial garments and unarmed except for small ceremonial stone axes.
The Spaniards, concealed in buildings surrounding the plaza, with cavalry was hidden in alleys leading to the open square, fell upon Atahualpa and his party at a signal from Pizarro. The result was a massacre. The unarmored natives proved no match for the Spaniards’ steel swords, pikes, bullets, or crossbow bolts, while the Indians’ ceremonial stone axes were useless against Spanish plate armor. Thousands of natives were killed, the rest fled in panic, and not a single Spaniard lost his life.
Atahualpa was captured by Francisco Pizarro, and the Incan ruler desperately sought to buy his life and freedom. In exchange for his release, he offered to fill a room measuring 22 by 17 feet, up to a height of eight feet with gold, and twice with silver. However, after the payments were made, Pizarro once again deceived Atahualpa, and in yet another slimy move, he reneged on the deal. Instead, he put the Incan emperor through a staged trial that convicted him of rebellion, idolatry, and murdering his brother, Huascar.
Atahualpa was sentenced to death by burning, but was spared that fate by agreeing to get baptized as a Catholic. He was executed by strangulation instead. Treachery paid off for Pizarro, who amassed considerable wealth and power after his slimy move against Atahualpa, until some measure of karmic justice caught up with him in 1541. On June 26th of that year, heavily armed supporters of a rival stormed Pizarro’s palace. In the ensuing struggle, Pizarro was stabbed in the throat. Falling to the ground, he made a cross with his own blood while gurgling cries for help from Jesus to no avail, and bled to death.
In June 1932, Tony Marino, the proprietor of a rundown speakeasy in the Bronx, was in desperate need of money. So he and four acquaintances hatched a plan to murder somebody and collect the life insurance. Working with a corrupt insurance agent, they would take out life insurance policies on one of the habitual drunks who frequented Marino’s establishment. They would then get him to drink himself to death, and collect it when he perished. They chose Michael Malloy (1873 – 1933), a homeless Irish immigrant. Malloy was an alcoholic and a longtime client of Marino’s, where he drank on credit until he passed out. He paid when he could, whenever he found temporary employment, and let the tab run for months whenever he drifted out of employment and was broke.
Malloy seemed the perfect mark for a slimy scheme. Life insurance policies were taken of the Irishman, then Marino extended him unlimited credit at the speakeasy. However, Michael Malloy turned out to be extremely difficult to kill – a toughness that earned him the nicknames “Iron Mike” and “Mike the Durable”. The assumption was that Malloy would drink himself to death, but every day, the old Irishman drank all his waking hours without any noticeable decline in his health. So to speed things up, Marino and his accomplices added antifreeze to their mark’s booze. Old Malloy simply drank it until he passed out, then asked for more when he came to.
Tony Marino and his coconspirators replaced the antifreeze in Michael Malloy’s booze with turpentine. Malloy was unfazed. They switched to horse liniment – basically, liquid Bengay. Malloy gulped it down and asked for more. They added rat poison to the mix. Malloy’s constitution did not notice. Oysters soaked in wood alcohol did not do the trick, nor did a spoiled sardines sandwich sprinkled with metal shavings. Finally, convinced that nothing he drank or ate would kill him, Marino and his coconspirators decided to freeze Malloy to death. One cold winter night, when the temperature dipped to minus 14 Fahrenheit, they waited for Malloy to pass out. When he did, they carried him to a park, dumped him in the snow, and poured five gallons of water on his chest to make sure he froze solid. Malloy showed up the next day for his booze on credit.
So Marino and his confederates ran him over with a taxi owned by one of the plotters. All that did was put Malloy in a hospital for three weeks with some broken bones. He reappeared at the speakeasy soon as he was discharged. So on February 22nd, 1933, they stuck a gas hose in Malloy’s mouth after he passed out and turned on the jets. That finally did the trick. The plotters collected on the insurance, but rumors of “Mike the Durable” began making the rounds. When the insurers heard the tales, they contacted the police. Malloy’s body was exhumed and reexamined, and the truth came out. Michael Malloy’s slimy “friends” were tried and convicted in 1934. One got a prison sentence, while the rest, including Tony Marino, got the electric chair.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading