Karma can be funny. Take that time in 1966 when John Lennon compared the Beatles’ popularity to that of Jesus. The resultant furor over what was actually an out-of-context statement was intense. Amidst predictions that lightning would strike the band for blasphemy, a Bible Belt radio station hosted a “Beatles bonfires” to burn the group’s LPs. Lightning struck, but rather than take out the band, it hit the station’s tower and knocked it off the air. Below are thirty things about that and other times when karma made a sweet appearance.
30. It is Hard to Conceptualize the Cultural Impact of the Beatles Half a Century Ago
Today, more than half a century after their 1960s heyday, it is hard to grasp just how big a phenomenon the Beatles were. As their popularity grew in Britain, fueled by hit singles like She Loves You, Please Please Me, and From Me to You, words failed to adequately express the fans’ frenzied adulation. So journalists coined the term “Beatlemania” to describe the hysteria and high-pitched screams that accompanied the group wherever they went. Such intensity was compared to religious fervor, and for good reason: some fans actually believed that the band had supernatural healing powers.
When the Beatles crossed the Pond in early 1964, they took the US by storm. When the band performed before an audience of 55,000 at Shea Stadium, it marked the first time that an outdoor stadium had been put to such use. To safeguard them from the crush of their fans, both figurative and literal, the Beatles had to travel to their concerts in armored cars. As American teenagers screamed with delight, their parents just screamed, unsure what to make of the shaggy-topped foursome. Then in March, 1966, John Lennon said in an interview with a London newspaper that the Beatles seemed to be “more popular than Jesus“.
29. An Interview That Caused Controversy, But Not the Expected One
John Lennon’s comment that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus” caused no controversy when published in Britain. When republished in America a few months later, however, the result was moral outrage. Lennon’s statement was made in the context of a free-ranging interview with him and Paul McCartney. In it, McCartney criticized America’s widespread racism and mistreatment of black people: “It’s a lousy country where anybody black is a dirty nigger!“, he fumed. When the interview was republished in the American teen magazine Datebook on July 29th, 1966, McCartney’s comment led, and only his face appeared on the cover.
Datebook’s editors assumed that it was what McCartney said that would create the most controversy. As things transpired, his words about America’s race relations were widely ignored. Moralists made a beeline instead for Lennon’s comment about the band being more popular than Jesus. Outrage swept through Christian communities across the country, especially in the Bible Belt. The furor erupted amid the band’s 1966 US Tour and overshadowed much of it. As seen below, the heated reaction led to a dose of comic karma – not against the Beatles, but against their outraged critics.
28. Manufactured Outrage by Moralists Elicits a Dose of Comic Karma
As outrage grew about John Lennon’s comment that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus“, he explained that the statement was taken out of context. He was actually ridiculing the notion that a group of musicians were being worshipped. In a series of press conferences, he denied that he was comparing himself to Christ, and apologized. Neither explanations nor repeated apologies calmed the furor. Protests were held, threats were made, editorials called for the band’s deportation, the Ku Klux Klan jumped in and began to picket Beatles concerts, and some radio stations ceased to play their songs. Some stations went further and organized “Beatles bonfires” – public burnings of the band’s records.
One such was KLUE, in Longview, Texas, which invited listeners to burn the band’s records and other symbols of their popularity on August 13th, 1966. Beatles’ LPs and merchandise were burned, amidst imprecations and predictions made that lightning would strike the group for their blasphemy. Attendees included a KKK Grand Dragon, who nailed a Beatles record to a wooden cross. In that time and place, a KKK Grand Dragon’s participation was positive PR for the radio station rather than negative. However, whatever PR benefit was gleaned by KLUE did not last long. In a display of karma, rather than lightning striking the Beatles, the very next day lightning struck that station’s transmission tower. It knocked out KLUE’s news editor and knocked the station off the air for quite some time.
For much of history, men treated the idea of women’s participation in politics as inconceivable, or as a joke. The latter is why in 1887 a cabal of men opposed to women’s participation in politics nominated a woman for the office of mayor of Argonia, Kansas. They were the opposite of fans of women’s empowerment: their aim was to secure a massive defeat for the female candidate that would humiliate women, and discourage them from voting or running for office.
In a nutshell, the whole thing was a sexist prank, along the lines of “nyuk, nyuk – a woman mayor. How absurd” type deals, for misogynists to chortle over. Karma had something else in mind, however. As seen below, rather than lose, the female candidate, Susanna Madora Salter (1860 – 1961), won the election convincingly. That made her the first woman ever elected mayor in American history. To put even more egg on the pranksters’ face, she went on to capably fulfill the duties of her mayoral office.
26. A Crude Joke to Make Women’s Participation in Politics Look Ridiculous
American women were not guaranteed the right to vote until the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920. However, women had been able to vote for decades before that in at least some states, where female voters were given the franchise in whole or in part. Kansas was one such state. There, the protracted struggle for women’s right to political participation earned a partial victory in 1887, when women won the right to vote in municipal elections. For many opponents of women’s suffrage, that heralded the world going to hell in a handbasket.
Some such in the town of Argonia, Kansas, set out to demonstrate their contempt for the concept of women in politics with a prank. They would place a woman’s name on the mayoral ballot. She would of course lose, and everybody would get a laugh at the absurdity of females floundering about in the manly world of politics. Their chosen mark was Susanna M. Salter, born in 1860 into an Ohio Quaker family that moved to Kansas when she was twelve years old. Karma decided that she, rather than the pranksters, would get the last laugh.
Susanna Salter had long been a low-key pioneer. When she was twenty years old, she attended the predecessor of today’s Kansas State University. Unfortunately, because of ill health, she was forced to drop out just a few weeks before graduation. While she pursued her higher education, Salter met her future husband. After they got married in 1880, the couple moved to Argonia and started a family. Susanna became active in her local Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) – an anti-alcohol organization that advocated prohibition. Temperance organizations generated many enemies, especially among those who profited from alcohol. When women got the right to vote in Kansas municipal elections in 1887, the WCTU made enforcement of the state’s Prohibition law its main issue and backed a slate of like-minded (male) candidates.
The WCTU’s efforts to get women to exercise their newly-won right to vote displeased some men. A group of about twenty guys from Argonia were particularly upset by both women’s involvement in politics, and by the WCTU’s pro prohibition stance. So they decided to kill two birds with one stone: get a good laugh, and discourage women from political participation. There was no legal requirement to secure candidates’ consent before their names were placed on the ballots. So just before Argonia’s 1887 municipal elections, they prepared a slate of candidates comprised of WCTU members, and Susana Salter’s name headed the list as candidate for mayor.
24. Karma Secures an Unexpected Win for Women’s Political Participation
Argonia’s misogynist pranksters figured that no man would vote for a woman, and Susana Salter would lose. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union would be humiliated, women would learn their lesson, grow discouraged and henceforth stay away from elections and politics. Thanks to karma, things did not work out the way the pranksters figured they would. When the polls opened on April 4th, 1887, Susana Salter was unaware that she was on the ballot. She first found out when a local Republican Party delegation went to her house, to ask if she was actually running for mayor. She had not been – until then.
Asked if she would serve as mayor if actually elected, Salter said “yes”. The Republicans backed her, and the WCTU abandoned its candidate and voted as a block for Salter. She won over 60% of the vote, and America got its first female mayor. Her term was relatively uneventful, but her election became global news. Domestic and foreign press frequently reported on Argonia’s town meetings, women’s suffrage took a step forward, and instead of humiliation for female voters, Argonia’s misogynistic pranksters were the ones humiliated. As to Salter, she eventually resettled in Oklahoma, where she lived to the ripe old age of 101 before she passed away in 1961.
23. A Great Emperor’s Not so Great Treatment of His Son
Emperor Constantine I, commonly known as Constantine the Great, had many admirers in his era. Christians were particularly grateful because he took Christianity out of the catacombs and into the palace. He also gave the Roman Empire a new lease on life, relocated the capital from Rome to the newly built Constantinople, and laid the foundations for an Eastern Roman Empire whose remnants survived into the fifteenth century. However, his admirers seldom mentioned his shortcomings, such as the mercurial temper that led him to kill his eldest son, Flavius Julius Crispus (circa 299 – 326).
It was especially unfortunate because from the available historical accounts, it seems that Crispus was the kind of dutiful and capable son who would have made any father proud. While still in his teens, Constantine appointed Crispus commander in Gaul, and he delivered. Crispus won victories in 318, 320, and 323, that secured the province and the Germanic frontier for his father. In a civil war against Valerius Licinianus Licinius, a challenger to Constantine’s claim on rulership of the Roman world, Crispus commanded his father’s navy and led it to a decisive victory over a far larger enemy fleet.
Crispus also played a key role in a subsequent battle that secured his father’s triumph over Licinius. All signs indicated that Crispus was destined to go places and that he would make a worthy successor to his father someday. Then in 326, his life came to a sudden end when his stepmother, eager to remove an obstacle to her own sons’ succession to the throne, falsely accused Crispus of having tried to assault her. An enraged Constantine had his eldest son tried and convicted before a local court, then ordered him hanged.
Flavia Maxima Fausta (289 – 326), daughter of the Roman Emperor Maximianus, was married to Constantine the Great in 307 to seal an alliance between him and her father. She bore Constantine three sons, but her stepson Crispus, Constantine’s eldest from a previous marriage, stood between her kids and the throne. In 326, Crispus was at the height of his power and the odds on favorite to succeed Constantine, after he played a key role in the defeat of his father’s chief challenger. So Fausta engineered his downfall. She succeeded, but as seen below, karma caught up with her.
While Crispus went from success to success and cemented his claim to imperial succession upon his father’s death, his half-brothers, Fausta’s sons, were in no position to don the purple. The eldest of them was only ten years old at the time. In order for any of Fausta’s sons to succeed Constantine, something would have to happen to Crispus. So Fausta saw to it that something did. She reportedly tried to seduce Crispus, but he balked, and hurriedly left the palace.
Undaunted, she lied to Emperor Constantine and told him that Crispus did not respect his father since he was in love with and had tried to rape his father’s wife. Constantine believed her, and had his eldest son executed. A few months later, however, karma caught up with Fausta when Constantine discovered how she had manipulated and got him to kill Crispus. As punishment, he had her boiled alive. He then issued a damnatio memoriae (“condemnation of memory”) to erase her from official accounts – a form of dishonor issued against traitors and those who brought discredit to the Roman state.
As World War I raged, the Ottoman Turk authorities sought to end the restiveness of their oppressed Armenian citizens by ending the Armenians via genocide. They carried it out under the guise of “relocating” them from border regions to the interior of their empire. The Ottomans subjected the Armenians to massacres and death marches, interrupted by widespread and horrendous abuses that claimed the lives of one million to one and a half million victims. After Turkey’s defeat and surrender at war’s end, desultory efforts were made to bring those responsible to account. However, no international tribunal existed to try the criminals, and their prosecution in Turkish courts eventually petered out because of domestic politics.
At the end of WWI, an Ottoman military tribunal sentenced the principal leaders responsible for the Armenian Genocide to death. However, the condemned were freed at the end of the trial. They promptly fled to Europe, where they lived under assumed names. Thus, those who had orchestrated the genocide escaped formal justice and were able to travel relatively freely throughout much of Europe and Central Asia. As seen below, karma caught up with at least some of the key killers when Armenian activists brought them to account, vigilante-style.
19. The Decision to Visit Retributive Karma Upon Monsters
Disgusted at the miscarriage of justice, some members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), a nationalist party, decided to take matters into their own hands, and bring the guilty to account. The ARF passed a resolution called The Special Mission, to visit karma upon and punish the main perpetrators of the Armenian genocide. The result was Operation Nemesis, named after the ancient Greek goddess of divine retribution. Between 1920 – 1922, Armenian avengers stalked those responsible for the genocide throughout Europe and Asia and dealt them lethal doses of karma.
The first target claimed by the avengers of Operation Nemesis was the first prime minister of independent Azerbaijan, Fatali Khan Khoyski. He had played a prominent role in the massacre of tens of thousands of Armenians in Baku in 1918. Azerbaijan’s independence did not last for long, and the Bolsheviks overran and incorporated it into the Soviet Union in 1920. That April, Khoyski fled to Tiflis, Georgia, to escape the Red Army as it overran his country. On June 19th, Armenian revolutionary Aram Yerganian opened fire on Khoyski in Tiflis’ Yerevan Square, and killed him on the spot.
18. The Daylight Vigilante Execution of an Architect of Genocide on the Streets of Berlin
Next to fall to Operation Nemesis was Mehmed Talaat Pasha. One of a triumvirate known as the Three Pashas who had ruled the Ottoman Empire throughout WWI, Talaat had initiated the Armenian Genocide in 1915 while he served as Minister of Interior Affairs. He fled the Ottoman Empire in early November 1918, aboard a German submarine, and settled in Berlin. He was tried in absentia by a Turkish court-martial, and sentenced to death. However, the Turks were not that eager to have him extradited, and the Germans denied knowledge of his whereabouts. In reality, Talaat’s presence in Germany was a semi-open secret, and he traveled throughout much of Central Europe and Scandinavia without hindrance. That state of affairs lasted until 1921 when karma and Operation Nemesis caught up with him.
An Armenian revolutionary named Soghomon Tehlirian discovered Talaat’s Berlin address, rented an apartment nearby, and studied his every move. On March 15th, 1921, he shadowed Talaat, and when he confirmed his target’s identity, pulled out a Luger pistol and shot him dead in broad daylight. He then waited over the corpse for the police to arrive and arrest him. Tehlirian’s murder trial was a sensation, and he used it as a platform to draw attention to the Armenian Genocide. His lawyers focused on Tehlirian’s mental state. He testified that he had acted after his mother – killed during the atrocity – had appeared to him in a dream and berated him for his failure to avenge her. It took a Berlin jury one hour to acquit him and return a verdict of not guilty on grounds of temporary insanity.
17. The Most Depraved of the Turkish Monsters of the Armenian Genocide
Cemal Azmi, known as “The Butcher of Trebizond”, might have been the most abhorrent of Operation Nemesis’ targets, and the one who most deserved its brand of lethal karma. He was a founder of the Teskilat-i-Mahsusa (Special Organization), a unit created to suppress dissent and separatism in the Ottoman Empire. Azmi was the governor of Trebizond province when the Armenian Genocide began in 1915. An enthusiastic participant, he massacred Armenians by the tens of thousands. He was particularly vicious towards Armenian children and women, and had thousands of them drowned in the Black Sea. Witnesses testified that he had turned a local hospital into a “pleasure dome”, where he indulged in sexual orgies with young Armenian girls before he murdered them.
Azmi gleefully reminisced about it, and told an acquaintance: “Among the most pretty Armenian girls, 10 – 13 years old, I selected a number of them and handed them to my son as a gift; the others I had drowned in the sea“. After the war, he fled to Germany, and the organizers of Operation Nemesis eventually tracked him down in Berlin. His execution was assigned to Aram Yerganian, an activist who had already killed one of the retribution campaign’s targets. In addition to Azmi, Yerganian was also tasked with the execution of another genocide accomplice, Dr. Behaeddin Shakir. Arshavir Shirakian, another Armenian revolutionary, was assigned to Yerganian as his partner.
16. Lethal Karma Catches Up With a Monster and With Another of Turkey’s Three Murderous Pashas
On April 17th, 1922, karma caught up with Cemal Azmi and Behaddin Shakir. That day, Aram Yerganian and Arshavi Shirakian came upon the two murderers while they strolled Berlin’s Uhlandstrasse with their families. Shirakian opened fire and killed Azmi, but only wounded Behaddin, who ran for his life. Yerganian took off after the genocidier, caught up with him, and finished him with a bullet to the head. Neither shooter was apprehended. They were not the last prominent Turkish genocideiers dealt doses of lethal karma by Operation Nemesis. Ahmed Djemal Pasha was another of the Three Pashas who had ruled the Ottoman Empire in WWI. Also known as al Saffah, or the Blood-shedder, Djemal Pasha was one of the key participants in the Armenian Genocide.
After the war, Ahmed Djamal fled to Germany, then to Switzerland. A Turkish court-martial sentenced him to death in absentia. In 1920, he headed to Afghanistan, where he worked on the modernization of its army. As the Bolshevik Revolution and the Russian Civil War roiled the neighboring USSR, Djemal headed to Tiflis, Georgia, to negotiate with the Soviets on behalf of Afghanistan. There, a trio of Armenian revolutionaries, Petros Ter Poghosyan, Atrashes Gevorgyan, and Stepan Dzaghigian, assassinated him and his secretary on July 21st, 1922. He was the last major genocidier dealt his just dose of karma by Operation Nemesis.
Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (12 – 41 AD) was one of Rome’s most depraved emperors. He earned the nickname by which he is better known to history, Caligula (“little boots”), because of the miniature legionary outfits he wore as a child while he accompanied his father on military campaigns. He grew to become emperor of Rome from 37 to 41 AD and is probably the gold standard for crazy rulers. He was raised by his uncle, the Roman emperor Tiberius, a paranoid odd fish in his own right, who spent much of his reign as a recluse in a pedophilic pleasure palace in Capri.
Tiberius did surface on occasion to order the execution of relatives accused of treason. They included Caligula’s mother and two brothers. He had probably poisoned Caligula’s father as well. A great natural actor, Caligula hid any resentment felt towards his uncle. He thus survived the bitter Tiberius, who named him heir and quipped: “I am rearing a viper for the Roman people“. Life with Tiberius left its mark on Caligula. Once freed of the ever-present threat of execution by his paranoid uncle, the combination of sudden freedom and sudden unlimited power went to his head. He cut loose and spent lavishly to gratify all his hedonistic whims.
Caligula kicked off the weirdness early. A soothsayer had predicted that he had no more chance of becoming emperor than of riding a horse across the Bay of Baiae. So Caligula ordered a two-mile bridge built across the bay, then rode his horse across it while clad in the breastplate and armor of Alexander the Great. Other examples include the time when he began to cackle uncontrollably at a party. When asked what was funny, Caligula replied that he found it hilarious that with a mere gesture of his finger, he could have the throat of anybody present slit, right then and there. Another example is the time he was annoyed by an unruly crowd at the Circus Maximus. So he pointed out a section of the stands to his guards, pointed out two bald guys, and ordered them to execute everybody “from baldhead to baldhead“.
On another occasion, he got bored at an arena when he was told that there were no more criminals to throw to the beasts – a common form of execution at the time. So he ordered a section of the crowd thrown to the wild animals. His depravities included incest with his sisters. At dinner parties, he frequently ordered guests’ wives to his bedroom, and after he had his way with them, returned to the party to rate the quality of their performance, and berated the cuckolded husbands for any of their wives’ shortcomings in bed. He also turned the imperial palace into a whorehouse, staffed with the wives of prominent senators and other dignitaries. As seen below, karma eventually caught up with Little Boots.
To show his contempt for the Roman senatorial class and the Roman Republic for which they pined, Caligula had his beloved horse made consul – the Republic’s highest magistracy. On one occasion, Caligula declared war on the sea god Neptune, marched his legions to the sea, and had them collect seashells to show him who was boss. He eventually declared himself a god, removed the heads from various deities’ statues, and replaced them with his own. However, when karma finally caught up with Caligula, it was not because of the craziness, above. Instead, it was because he offended his own bodyguards.
Caligula’s Praetorian Guard security detail was under the command of a tribune named Cassius Chaera. He had a high-pitched voice, and Caligula liked to mimic it and mock him as effeminate. The emperor also thought it was the height of hilarity to come up with derogatory daily passwords that had to do with homosexuality. Whenever Chaerea was due to kiss the imperial ring, Caligula made sure it was on his middle finger, and waggled it obscenely. Chaerea finally had enough, and in 41 AD, he hatched an assassination plot with other Praetorian Guards. Caligula finally got a dose of lethal karma when his own bodyguards ambushed and hacked him up.
Chin Shi Huang (259 – 210 BC), “First Emperor of Chin”, started off as ruler of the Chinese state of Chin – one of several rival kingdoms in China’s Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC). He ascended the throne as a child, and in his teens, he wrested power from the regents and courtiers who had governed during his minority. To consolidate his power, the young monarch massacred palace plotters who sought to usurp his prerogatives. He then went on the warpath, pushed back the northern barbarians, defeated and conquered all other Chinese states by 221 BC, and consolidated them under his rule.
Once he accomplished all that, he declared himself the First Emperor of a united China. Shi Huang’s upside was that he was the first to unify the core of China into a single realm. His downside was that he was a megalomaniacal monster. It was a downside that invited karma to pay him an unwelcome visit. To consolidate his newly conquered empire, he standardized the currency, weights and measures, and introduced a system of government known as Legalism, based on strict laws and harsh punishments. He ended feudalism, which had produced centuries of warfare, and replaced it with a centralized, bureaucratic and meritocratic government.
To keep the nobility in check, Chin Shi Huang kept those he favored in the capital. He controlled them with pensions and fancy titles, and thus transformed them from an uncontrollable warrior class into dependents and tame courtiers. He then abolished all aristocratic titles and ranks, except for those created and bestowed by him, and had the rest of the nobility killed or put to work. As a matter of fact, Shi Huang put everybody to work. With unchecked power and the resources of an entire empire to draw upon, he grew megalomaniacal. He launched huge projects with massive amounts of forced labor, such as his tomb, whose construction required the toil of 700,000 laborers for 30 years.
The famous Terracotta Warriors site, discovered in the 1970s and now open to tourists with its thousands of life-size statues, is but a fraction of Shi Huang’s gigantic tomb complex. The bulk of it is yet to be unearthed. Millions more labored to dig canals, level hills, make roads, and build over 700 palaces. The biggest project of all was the Great Wall of China. It did double duty: kept the northern barbarians out, and the Chinese who sought to flee Shi Huang’s heavy taxation and oppressive rule, in.
10. Karma Causes a Great Emperor to Suffer an Ironic Death
Another manifestation of Chin Shi Huang’s megalomania – which eventually invited karma to do him in – was his pursuit of immortality drugs. He lavishly funded searches for a “Life Elixir” that would keep him alive forever. That included an expedition with hundreds of ships that sailed off into the Pacific in search of a mythical “Land of the Immortals”. It was never heard from again. He also patronized alchemists who claimed that they were close to perfecting the Life Elixir – if only they had more funds to speed up their R&D. Lack of funds for research was a problem that Shi Huang generously put to rights.
One of the charlatans who flocked to the emperor’s court gave him daily mercury pills. He claimed that they were a life-prolonging intermediate step in his research for immortality drugs, which should tidy Shi Huang over until the Life Elixir was ready. The emperor swallowed mercury every day. As a result, he gradually poisoned himself, and gradually grew insane. He turned into a recluse who concealed himself from all but his closest courtiers, listened constantly to songs about “Pure Beings”, ordered 400 scholars buried alive, and had his son and heir banished. In a twist of karma, rather than prolong his life, Shi Huang shortened it in his pursuit of immortality. He died of mercury poisoning at the relatively young age of 49.
Marcus Licinius Crassus (115 – 53 BC) was one of the most prominent figures of the late Roman Republic, and its richest citizen. Crassus was a shrewd and avaricious businessman. An ally of the dictator Sulla in the 80s BC, he got his start on wealth by bidding on the confiscated properties of those executed as enemies of the state, and bought them in rigged auctions for a fraction of their value. He even arranged for the names of those whose properties he coveted to be added to the lists of enemies of the state, slated for execution and confiscation of property.
He used his wealth to sponsor politicians. They included Julius Caesar, whose political rise he bankrolled. Through them, Crassus amassed considerable power. He leveraged his wealth and power to create the First Triumvirate: a power-sharing agreement by which he, Pompey the Great, and Julius Caesar, divided the Roman Republic amongst themselves. Crassus thus seemed to have it all, but there was one thing that he lacked and that he desperately craved: military glory. His pursuit of such glory would invite karma to pay him an unwelcome visit, and lead to catastrophe.
Military glory was one thing that Crassus lacked, but that his partners in the First Triumvirate had in abundance. Unlike Pompey’s and Caesar’s brilliant military records, Crassus’ only military accomplishment had been to crush Spartacus’ slave uprising. To defeat mere slaves did not count for much in Roman eyes. It gnawed at Crassus, so he decided to invade Parthia, a wealthy kingdom comprised of today’s Iraq and Iran, which he assumed would be a pushover. A decade earlier, Pompey had invaded and easily defeated other kingdoms in the east, so how hard could Parthia be?
Crassus assembled an army of 50,000 men, and in 53 BC, marched off to what he assumed would be an easy conquest. He trusted a local chieftain to guide him. Unbeknownst to Crassus, the guide was in Parthian pay. He took the Romans along an arid route until, hot and thirsty, they reached the town of Carrhae in today’s Turkey. There, they encountered a Parthian force of 9000 horse archers and 1000 armored cataphract heavy cavalry. Although they outnumbered the Parthians five to one, the Romans were demoralized by the rigors of the march and by Crassus’ lackluster leadership.
The Parthian mounted archers shot up the Romans from a distance and retreated whenever Crassus’ men advanced. As casualties mounted, morale plummeted. Crassus, unable to think of a plan, hoped that the Parthians would eventually run out of arrows. The Parthians however had a baggage train of thousands of camels loaded with arrows, that kept them well supplied. Finally, Crassus ordered his son to take the Roman cavalry and some infantry, and drive off the horse archers. The Parthians feigned a retreat, Crassus’ son rashly pursued and was slaughtered with all his men. The Parthians rode back to Roman army and taunted Crassus with his son’s head mounted on a spear.
Shaken, Crassus retreated to Carrhae, and abandoned thousands of his wounded. The Parthians invited him to negotiate and offered to let his army go in exchange for Roman territorial concessions. Crassus was reluctant to meet the Parthians, but his men threatened to mutiny if he did not, so he went. Things did not go well. Violence broke out, and ended with Crassus and his generals killed. Karma had a particularly ironic – and cruel end – in store for the notoriously greedy plutocrat. To mock his avarice, the Parthians poured molten gold down Crassus’ throat. Those Romans still alive fled, but most were hunted down and killed or captured. Out of Crassus’ 50,000, only 10,000 made it back to Roman territory.
6. It Was Unwise to Deliberately Insult History’s Scariest Conqueror
Genghis Khan (1162 – 1227) was not somebody a rational person would deliberately seek to insult. He once stated: “Life’s greatest joy is to rout and scatter your enemies, and drive them before you. To see their cities reduced to ashes. To see their loved ones shrouded and in tears, and to gather to your bosom their wives and daughters“. Somebody who says stuff like that is probably not somebody a wise ruler should go out of his way to offend. Yet that is precisely what Shah Muhammad II, ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire from 1200 to 1220, did.
As if to double down on the stupid, Shah Muhammad then dared Genghis Khan to do something about it. Needless to say, it backfired and invited a serious dose of bad karma. Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire, the world’s largest contiguous empire, and was one of history’s scariest figures. His conquests were often accompanied by widespread massacres and genocide. As a percentage of global population, the estimated 40 million deaths of the Mongol conquests he initiated would be equivalent to 278 million deaths in the twentieth century: more than double the fatalities of WWI and WWII combined.
5. This Shah’s Execution of Envoys Invited Seriously Bad Karma
The beef between Genghis Khan and the Khwarezmian Empire of Shah Muhammad II began in 1218. At a time when the Mongol conqueror was busy with the conquest of China, he sent an embassy and trade mission to Khwarezmia. In addition to emissaries, the embassy included numerous merchants with valuable trade wares. Genghis had hoped to establish diplomatic and trade relations with the Khwarezmian Empire, which encompassed most of Central Asia, and whose borders stretched from present day Afghanistan to Georgia.
The Khwarezmian ruler, however, was suspicious of Genghis’ intentions. So when one of his governors halted the Mongol embassy at the border, accused it of espionage, arrested its members, and seized its goods, he approved. Genghis tried to keep things diplomatic. He sent three envoys to Shah Muhammad with a request that he disavow the governor’s actions, and hand him over to the Mongols for punishment. Muhammad executed Genghis’ envoys and followed that up with the execution of all members of the earlier embassy and trade mission. The bad karma reaped by that poorly thought-out decision was horrific.
In hindsight, Shah Muhammad II’s abuse and execution of Genghis Khan’s envoys, coupled with his refusal to make amends, turned out to be bad decisions. It invited bad karma and backfired on him and his realm in horrible ways that he probably could not have begun to imagine at the time. An incensed Genghis interrupted his campaign of conquest in China and concentrated a force of over 100,000 men against the Khwarezmian Empire. It was smaller than Muhammad’s forces, but the Mongols struck in 1218 with a whirlwind campaign that caught the Shah wrong-footed.
Amidst the Mongol onslaught, the Khwarezmian ruler and his army never got an opportunity to regain their balance or catch their breath. The Mongol invasion was a military masterpiece that overwhelmed Muhammad’s empire, and extinguished it by 1221. As to Shah Muhammad, he fled and was denied any opportunity to recover and try a comeback. Genghis put two of his best generals, Subutai and Jebe, in charge of hunting the Khwarezmian ruler. Muhammad was chased and hounded across his domain to his death, abandoned and exhausted, on a small Caspian island as his relentless pursuers closed in.
3. A Ruler’s Rash Decision That Invited Terrible Karma Upon Himself and His Realm
The bad karma invited by Shah Muhammad II’s execution of the Mongol envoys was visited not only upon himself, but upon his subjects as well. It was in their invasion of the Khwarezmian Empire that the Mongols cemented their infamous reputation for savagery. Millions died, as Genghis ordered the massacre of entire cities that offered the least resistance, and sent thousands of captives ahead of his armies as human shields. By the time Genghis was done, Khwarezm had been reduced from a prosperous empire to an impoverished and depopulated wasteland.
At the grand mosque in the once-thriving but now smoldering city of Bukhara, Genghis told the survivors that he was the Flail of God. As he saw it: “If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you“. The fate of Shah Muhammad, who brought catastrophe upon himself when he insulted somebody he assumed was just another upstart barbarian nomad chieftain from the Steppe, was tragic. Even more tragic was the fate visited upon his subjects because of their ruler’s decision to insult one of history’s scariest conquerors.
George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence (1449 – 1478) was one of history’s more problematic siblings. He was the younger son of Richard, Duke of York, whose struggle to secure power precipitated the Wars of the Roses between the houses of York and Lancaster. He was also the younger sibling of King Edward IV of England, who by all accounts was the soul of generosity towards his kid brother. George repaid that with a series of ill-advised conspiracies, which invited bad karma and resulted in his doom. After his brother broke the Lancastrians at the Battle of Towton in 1461, deposed the Lancastrian king Henry VI, and had himself crowned in his place as Edward IV, George was made Duke of Clarence.
A year later, Edward made the thirteen-year-old George Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. As he grew into early manhood, George idolized and came under the influence of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, also known as “The Kingmaker”. He wed Neville’s daughter in defiance of his brother’s plans to marry him into a European royal family to secure a dynastic alliance. Neville had been instrumental in the deposition of the prior Lancastrian King Henry and his replacement with Edward. He eventually fell out with Edward and deserted to the Lancastrians. George rewarded his brother’s earlier generosity with betrayal and took his father-in-law’s side. Although he was a member of the York family, George switched his support to the Lancastrians.
With the Kingmaker’s machinations, George’s brother Edward IV was deposed and forced to flee England in 1470. The once-deposed Lancastrian King Henry VI was restored to the throne. However, George began to mistrust his father-in-law, the Kingmaker, and switched his support back to his brother. Edward IV returned to England in 1471, defeated the Lancastrians in a battle in which the Kingmaker was killed, and was restored to the throne. To ensure that the twice-deposed Henry VI would trouble him no more, he had him murdered after he had already executed Henry’s son and sole heir. Edward pardoned his younger brother George and restored him to royal favor.
George could not keep his nose clean, however. In 1478, he once again betrayed his elder brother and was caught in a plot against the king. Finally fed up with his wayward sibling, Edward IV ordered George arrested and jailed in the Tower of London, and had him put on trial for treason. The king personally conducted the prosecution of his brother before Parliament. He secured a conviction and Bill of Attainder against George, who was condemned to death. On February 18th, 1478, karma finally caught up with George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence. He was executed by being dunked into a butt, or big barrel, of Malmsey wine, and forcibly held under its surface until he was drowned.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading