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September 19, 2018

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Short Rounds

“Just Going for a Little Boat Ride”

During one of quite a number of wars between the two cities, the Athenians besieged the nearby city of Megara.

Now the defenses were formidable. Somewhat inland from the sea, Megara was surrounded by stout walls, as was its port, Nisaea. In addition, the two were connect by a pair of “long walls,” forming an extensive fortified area. Since like all Greeks of their era, the Athenians were not very good at siege warfare, the only possibility for victory was a long blockade by both land and sea that might result in starving out the defenders. Unless, of course, they could gain the city by treachery.

Now as was common during many of the wars among the ancient Greeks, a certain faction within the city favored the Athenians. So they sought a way to betray their city to the enemy, and soon hit upon a clever scheme.

The traitors procured a boat, and each night slipped out of one of the city gates with the excuse that they were going to raid the Athenian ships on blockade offshore. Some hours later, the would return, carrying their boat, which had to be brought into to city, lest the Athenians find it, and telling tales of heroic deeds. This went on for some weeks, so that it became rather routine.

One night a party of Athenian light infantry and hoplites – heavy infantry – concealed themselves in the vicinity of the walls. Shortly afterwards, the “raiding party” returned, carrying their boat. The guards, thinking nothing amiss, opened the gate. At that point the traitors slew the guards, admitted the Athenian light troops, who seized the gate house, and then the hoplites charged in. In short order the long walls were in Athenian hands.

 

Paix des Dames -- The Ladies’ Peace

In 1495 a series of what would number about ten wars began between the House of Valois of France and the Spanish Crown. The issues were many, but essentially boiled down to the control of Italy. There was also an element of male one-upmanship. In 1515 Francis I ascended the throne of France at 21, while Charles I of Spain and V of the Holy Roman Empire was even younger, having attained the throne in 1516, at age 15. There were a few other youthful monarchs at time, who occasionally put their oars in as well; Henry VIII of England was 25 when he became king 1515, as was Suleiman the Magnificent of Turkey, when he became sultan in 1520. So one element of these wars was that a bunch of young punks were out to prove themselves.

On January 14, 1526 the Spanish seemed to have gained the upper hand. King Francis, captured at the Battle of Pavia (February 24, 1525), signed a treaty giving up all his – largely theoretical – rights to Italy, and ceding to Spain much land beside. But on May 22nd, soon after Francis obtained his freedom, he repudiated the treaty. So another round of wars began. Which went badly for the French and their allies. By mid-1528 the French were beaten. Although Charles, concerned that whilst occupied against the French he might be jumped by the Turks, was inclined to make peace, Francis, hoping that the Turks would save his bacon, was much less so.

Into this impasse stepped their womenfolk.

On July 7, 1529, Louise of Savoy, Francis’ mother, began negotiating with Margaret of Austria, Charles’ aunt, at Cambrai. The two ladies engaged in protracted negotiations, and on August 8th concluded the “Treaty of Cambrai.” Under its terms, Francis again repudiated his claims in Italy, and agreed to pay an indemnity, while Charles ceded Burgundy to France, in an agreement that would forever after be known as “The Ladies’ Peace.”

Alas, little more than six years later Francis decided to try to take over Italy yet again; altogether he made five attempts, and his son made a fifth, before being finally defeated in 1559
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