Political Assassinations: the Big Ones

I thought just for fun I'd do a list of the political assassinations that had the biggest consequences for the world. So here we go:

Gaius Julius Caesar

Hard to go past this one for the top spot.

Caesar's death led to the official end of the Roman Republic and the rise of the first Roman Emperor, Octavian Augustus, who just happened to be Caesar's nephew and heir.

I think we can reasonably say the Roman Empire was kind of a big consequence.



The Archduke Franz Ferdinand

A man defined by his death.

The otherwise forgettable Archduke managed to get himself killed by Serbian anarchists.  Which he largely did by ignoring not only a lot of serious warnings, but also a previous attempt on his life on the very same day.

Unfortunately, since he was heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, his demise kicked off a war which in turn started a domino effect of treaties that ended with World War One.

So that's about 38 million casualties right there that this assassination caused, plus the near destruction of Europe.


Philip II of Macedon

He was the father of Alexander the Great. 

Philip was assassinated when Alexander was only twenty years old.  Alexander spent the next thirteen years conquering the entire known world, and then himself died.

The world would be a very different place if Alexander had spent those thirteen years as his father's lieutenant.

You might argue that Alexander would have gone on to conquer the world after he inherited the kingdom anyway, but Philip was only 46 when he died. He might have lasted another twenty or thirty years. Which would have left Alexander inheriting at age 40 or 50. 

So Philip's death at just that moment changed the world a lot.



You've probably never heard of him, unless you've read my first murder mystery, which is about the death of this fellow.  

Ephialtes created the first true democracy at ancient Athens, which in turn invented the whole idea of Western democracy. Not a small thing.  

Ephialtes was promptly assassinated for his troubles, and here comes the part that makes his killing so significant:

Ephialtes had a lieutenant, a rather likely lad by the name of Pericles.  

Pericles took the top job when his friend died, and that was the start of the peak of classical civilization that we call the Age of Pericles.  




Charlemagne had a younger brother, which was very inconvenient because by the rules of inheritance at the time they were required to split their father's kingdom.  

Charlemagne was particularly put out. He had plans to conquer Europe &/etc, and an uncooperative little brother was going to be a drag.  

Then Carloman mysteriously died, still a young man, in circumstances that were never explained, and no cause of death was ever given.

It was very convenient for Charlemagne though. He promptly conquered Europe and founded the Holy Roman Empire.

Which probably would never have happened if Carloman had hung around. Charlemagne was never actually accused of arranging the assassination of his little brother, however this must be tempered by the observation firstly that Charlemagne was incredibly good at planning things, and secondly that only a crazy person would accuse the Holy Roman Emperor of murder.



Do feel free to add your favourite assassinations in comments.  Somehow I have a feeling people will have their own lists.

Yep. it's Hades and Persephone

The archaeologists have uncovered the rest of the mosaic.  And there, sure enough, is Persephone.

Which means the guy carrying her off is Hades.  Which means you can't use this picture to predict who's inside.  It's a stock image, like putting Jesus on the cross over a modern tomb.

Of course, this one's a particularly exquisite stock image!  The intriguingly round damage in the centre is a bit of a bummer, but even so this mosaic will be gracing art history textbooks for the next century or so.

The press release on this mentioned the same thing I did in my last post: the style of this picture is very similar to one at the royal Macedonian burial ground at Vergina.  That other tomb is believed to be Philip II's, the father of Alexander.

Let me take a moment to talk about why the guy on the chariot could be called either Hades or Pluto.  In the original Greek religion he was Hades.  His underworld realm of the dead came to be known by the name of its ruler, but that wasn't originally the case.

By the time of Nicolaos and Diotima, the dead go to Hades, which is ruled by Hades.  This is kind of confusing.  In my books therefore I usually distinguish by calling the place Hades, and its ruler Lord Hades, which isn't technically correct but means you have some idea of which Hades is meant when my characters are talking.

Real classical Greeks had the same problem, so sometimes referred to the god Hades by his epithet Plouton.  The Romans picked that up and changed it to Pluto.

So technically I could call him Pluto in my books, but if I did, too many readers would imagine a lovable puppy dog, which isn't quite the reaction I want when discussing the feared Lord of the Dead.

The Brazen Bull

Here's another exotic way to die horribly.  (If you're wondering why I so often return to this subject...you've come to the web site of a murder mystery author.)

The scene is Acragas, a city in Sicily. The time is about a hundred years before Nico and Diotima, so we're talking 6th century BC.   Back then Sicily was Greek and Acragas was ruled by a tyrant named Phalaris, who was renowned for his cruelty.  

In fact, the reputation of Phalaris was so well-known that an Athenian by the name of Perillos came to the tyrant with a suggestion.  Why not, he said, build a bull out of hollowed bronze?  The tyrant's enemies could be shut inside and then a fire set underneath the brazen beast's body so that the tyrant's enemies roasted to death.  

Phalaris thought roasted enemy was a terrific idea.  He commanded Perillos to build the brazen bull.  The statue had a door in the side for easy access.  Pipes were installed inside that ran to a horn in the bull's mouth, so that the victim's screams would emerge as a bull's roar.  

Quite why Perillos came to the tyrant with the idea in the first place is unknown, but presumably he was either in it for the money or else was a fellow-traveling sadist.  Either way, legend has it that when the bull was ready for its first run, that Phalaris the Tyrant ordered Perillos be the first victim.  This is so neatly according to the usual narrative that it's probably an invention.

The brazen bull, however appears to have been a for-real instrument of torture.  No less than Pindar mentions it in a praise song, a hundred years after the event.  (This is the same Pindar who appears in Sacred Games, which is what brought the whole story to my attention.)  Pindar had this to say:
The kindly excellence of Croesus does not perish, but Phalaris, with his pitiless mind, who burned his victims in a bronze bull, is surrounded on all sides by a hateful reputation.
Pindar takes it for granted that everyone knows the story of the brazen bull.  Phalaris clearly had a public relations problem.

Cicero and Diodorus get into the act a few hundred years later.  Between them they say that the brazen bull was eventually captured by the Carthaginians who took if back to Carthage.  Since the Carthaginians most certainly did practice human sacrifice, there's a fair chance the brazen bull saw continued use.  It was later returned to its home by Scipio after he conquered Carthage, after which the brazen bull somewhat thankfully disappears from history.