Welcome to Your Historical Compass

"The purpose of this blog is to generate discussions about historical issues. Students, enthusiasts, and friends are all welcome to join by reading and participating with comments. I hope to generate interest in history and offer help to the perplexed." Caleb Johnson

Saturday, June 30, 2012

SPQR and the USA

Republics, being molded by the same sorts of people, have in many ways similar histories. Each is formed on the basis of self-government in rejection of an authoritative monarchy. Having the peace and prosperity of its citizens as its chief aim, Republics can do without the detrimental practice of constantly warring against its neighbors. The Roman and American Republics have enough historical similarities to make the observant reader look twice. Let us examine at a few of these similarities.


The city of Rome was founded on the edge of civilization, far from the center of Greek and Persian culture. Life was simple, and rustic virtues were held in high esteem. In 509 BC, the people of Rome threw out the hated Etruscan Monarchy and founded a republic based on a senate and a popular representative body of elected tribunes. From this point the city of Rome expanded and developed independently in the center of Italy. In 1776, the people of the American colonies, also at the edge of civilization, overthrew the monarchy of Great Britain and established its Republic based on a Constitution.

Trend of Isolationism

Early Romans liked to keep to themselves and ignored the politics of the outside world. In 387, the Romans were unexpectedly attacked by the Gauls of northern Italy. This rude awakening forced the Romans to pay attention to international politics and the started a program of alliances with their immediate neighbors. In 1941, the United States was attacked by the Imperial forces of Japan and pulled into the global conflict World War II. In each case, the republics were forced out of isolationism and into a more internationally assertive posture.

Rise to Superpower Status

After the sack of 387 Rome remained, for the most part, concerned with Italy and Sicily. They were dragged into a larger conflict when Carthage attacked Rome’s Sicilian ally. Rome and Carthage eventually had to fight a series of wars that culminated in the final destruction of Carthage and the complete domination of the Western Mediterranean  by Rome. In much the same way, World War II and the subsequent Cold War forced America into an even more powerful position in order to fight both its Axis and Soviet enemies.

Although three examples is a meager sampling of the many similarities of the two Republics, these cannot be ignored. Further examination of the early Roman Republic can only convince the reader that the parallel history of Rome can serve as a mirror with which to examine our own Republic. Perhaps we can indeed learn from both their mistakes and triumphs. If we ignore the similarities of the two republics we may suffer the consequences. For as it has been said, “Those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.”

Saturday, June 2, 2012

In 1415, a Czech priest named Jan Huss was condemned and burned at the stake for heresy against the Roman Catholic Church. Jan was, in fact, one of the first of the great Church reformers who stood up against corruption in the Church, what he saw as extra-Biblical practices, and church abuses. Before this time, heretical factions that were persecuted by the Church would eventually melt away, but in 15th century Bohemia the story was different.
Jan Huss

When news of the death of Huss spread throughout Bohemia, the people were outraged. Huss had gained many followers, knights and common people alike, who were tired of Church abuses and the death of their leader meant naught but persecution for them, as well. Protests broke out and a radical event unfolded in the city of Prague when supporters of Huss, now called Hussites, took a burgomaster and some council members and threw them out the second story window of the town hall. This “Defenestration of Prague,” as it came to be known, sent a shock through Bohemia and Moravia that literally killed the Catholic King Wenceslas by way of a heart attack. This power vacuum gave the Hussites time to organize. With full knowledge that the Church wouldn’t sit idly by, the Hussites developed a spectacular war strategy. They came up with a war wagon system in which carts were drawn up in a defensive circle and hand gunners and pike men defended the circle from the protection of the armored wagons.  This strategy was particularly effective against the mounted cavalry of the late Middle Ages and the Hussites gained a fierce reputation for battle prowess.
Hussite wagon circle

When the Papal crusade arrived at Prague, the Hussites were forced to negotiate. However, once the Imperial armies withdrew, the Hussites continued to capture fortresses and consolidate their base.  Indeed, they would withstand three crusades led against them by the Germans and the Church. Despite the repeated attempts of their enemies, the Hussites were able to maintain nominal independence and worship in their own manner.

City of Prague
When the larger Protestant Reformation broke out, the Hussites continued their traditions and joined the larger movement as Protestants. Even to this day, the Czech people are proud of a heritage of standing up for your beliefs and resistance to outside control. Jan Huss and the succeeding Hussites were indeed a reformation before the Reformation.