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The Women of Chios Defeat Philip V

Around 201 BC, King Philip V of Macedon (r.  221-179 BC), laid siege to Chios, the principal town on the Aegean Island of that name. 

Thinking to stir up trouble for the defenders, Philip made what the Second Century historian Plutarch called a “barbarous and insolent proclamation”, calling upon the Chians’ slaves to abandon their masters and come over to him, for which they would be rewarded with both their freedom and marriage to the wives of their former owners.

Oddly, the proclamation backfired.  Not only were the citizens – male and female -- of Chios angered by Philip’s unprecedented decree, but so too were their slaves.  As Plutarch reports, women and slaves together “hastened to mount the walls” to help the men defending the city, hurling stones and missiles at the enemy, while shouting insults at Philip and urging the defenders to fight harder.  Confronted with a reinvigorated defense, Philip was repulsed and abandoned the siege.

FootNote: One can understand the willingness of the Chian women to aid in repulsing the assault on their city, given Philip’s promise to their slaves, but that they were assisted by those very slaves is curious.  Perhaps the slaves were unusually loyal, or perhaps they did not consider the ladies of Chios desirable prizes?

 

The Bannermans, Merchants of Death and Collector’s Friend

For nearly a century, New York’s Bannerman family prospered in the war surplus business.

Of Scottish origins, tradition has it that the family owed its name to Robert the Bruce, King of Scots.  Supposedly, at the Battle of Bannockburn (June 23–24,1314) one Francis of clan MacDonald rescued the clan pennant from capture, and as a reward, the king granted him a streamer cut from the national St. Andrew's Cross and the name "Bannerman".  A different tradition has it that during the massacre of the Catholic MacDonalds by the Protestant Scots Covenanters in 1642, a certain Francis fled with the clan colors, thus earning the name “Bannerman”.

The Bannermans emigrated to United States in 1854, settled in Brooklyn in 1858, and opened a military surplus business near the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1865, trading in equipment from the American Civil War.  Two years later, they moved the business to a ship chandlery on Atlantic Avenue.

In 1897, by which time Francis Bannerman VI (1851-1918) was in charge of the business, it was transferred to Manhattan, to a building on the east side of Broadway between Spring and Broome Streets.  The following year, Bannerman bought an enormous amount of Spanish materiel, either directly from the Spanish Army (which was preparing to evacuate Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines) or from stocks captured by American forces during operations in the Spanish-American War.  He acquired so much equipment that in 1900 he bought an island in the Hudson about 50 miles north of New York to keep much of his enormous stockpile of weapons, ammunition, uniforms, and miscellaneous materiél, erecting an elaborate castellated structure there which he named “Bannerman’s Arsenal.” Meanwhile, his store on Broadway soon spread into adjacent buildings until it engulfed the entire block, and included a small museum on the second floor. 

The Bannermans had good heads for business, particularly Francis VI, buying equipment in huge lots and then selling it in smaller lots at a considerable profit.  For example, having purchased an enormous number of surplus cannon from the U.S. Army after the Civil War, they proceeded to sell them to veterans’ groups, small towns, cemeteries, and so forth all over America for use in memorials.  Other profitable markets were school and college cadet corps, theatre companies, even Buffalo Bill's "Wild West Show".   In addition, several Latin American countries, and apparently even Siam, proved reliable customers for surplus arms, ammunition, and other materiél.

The Bannermans also sold to belligerents.  During the Russo-Japanese War, Japan purchased 100,000 rifles, 20 million cartridges, and other equipment, including horse furniture, uniforms, tentage, and so forth.  At the outbreak of World War I, Francis VI, true to his Scottish roots, donated equipment to Britain – reportedly he outfitted several battalions – and after the United States entered the war donated a good deal more to the American war effort.

Following World War I, of course, the Bannermans acquired still more surplus.  In the post-war world sales to Latin America and some other countries continued.  The company also began publishing an illustrated catalog for collectors and dealers, which eventually expand to 300 pages.  During the mid-1930s, Bannerman’s became popular with a certain variety of idealistic young men, who were directed by International Brigade recruiters to the shop to purchase uniforms and other non-lethal equipment before embarking to fight for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War.

Following World War II, which provided another boom in cheap surplus equipment, business began to decline.  With the U.S. government undertaking to equip small, “friendly” military establishments in Latin America and elsewhere, block sales fell off.  And while Bannerman’s remained popular with collectors and curators, neither group could generate the sort of revenue that once came from sales to small armies.  Moreover, by 1959 the Bannerman “shop” on Broadway (a wonderful place for teenage boys to browse) had become a serious hazard to public safety.  Not having been erected to carry the great weight of the materiél, the buildings were deteriorating, and people were beginning to get very nervous about all that live ammunition lying around, some of it quite old.  In early June a complex operation involving the Army, and both the New York Police and Fire Departments was initiated.  The facility was closed, nearby streets were roped off, and the contents were carefully transferred to a warehouse on Long Island or disposed of in various ways, such as by dumping into the harbor.

Bannerman’s remained in business, operating out of what was then a rural area on the south shore of Long Island and the “castle” for some years afterwards.  Even today, old Bannerman catalogs remain valuable as references on arms and equipment, and collectors of militaria generally prefer items that have a Bannerman’s provenance.

The buildings on Broadway that once housed the Bannerman store are now occupied by several trendy clothing outlets.  As for the “castle”, it slowly fell into ruin.  It was damaged on several occasions by lightning, and several hundred pounds of ammunition once exploded, prompting the removal of much of what was left.  A fire in the 1960s destroyed the roof, letting in rain which wreaked havoc on the structure, and some of the walls have since collapsed.

Long a featured landmark on boat rides up the Hudson, the ruins have been adopted by a preservationist group, which has turned it into a tourist attraction, and is working to stabilize the remains.

BookNote:  There’s a good account of Frank Bannerman’s life and work in Bannerman Castle, by Thom Johnson & Barbara H. Gottlock, a volume in the “Arcadia Images of America” series.

 


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