Monday, August 4, 2008

10 Fascinating Facts About the Ancient Olympic Games

1. Ancient Olympic Athletes Competed in the Nude

Milo of Kroton, one of the greatest Ancient Olympic champion. He won
the wrestling event 6 times, over the span of 34 years!

Yes, that's right - ancient Olympic sportsmen (all men, by the way) ran, wrestled, and fought buck naked. The ancient Greeks had a tradition of doing things nude (they walked around in the buff in the bedroom and at parties called sympsia*, and they exercised without any clothes on) - indeed, the word gymnasium came from the Greek word gymos, which means "naked."

Why naked? Well, to appreciate and celebrate the male physique, of course, and as a tribute to the gods. Participants regularly anointed themselves with olive oil to enhance their looks ... and to keep the skin smooth!

In the sixth century, there was an actually attempt to make athletes wear loincloths, but this proved to be unpopular and soon afterwards nudity regained its status as fashion in athletics.

*Great trivia for the next time you're in a boring symposium: the original symposium is a nude drinking party (sympotein is Greek for "to drink together"), complete with courtesans (basically sophisticated prostitutes).
2. The Prudes Wore Penis Restraints

Did I say all athletes competed naked in the Ancient Olympics? Silly me - actually, not all of them were naked.

Some wore a kynodesme (literally a "dog leash"), a thin leather thong used as a penis restraint:

[The kynodesme] was tied tightly around the part of the foreskin that extended beyond the glans. The kynodesme could then either be attached to a waist band to expose the scrotum, or tied to the base of the penis so that the penis appeared to curl upwards.

3. A Chef Won the Very First Olympic Games

The very first recorded Ancient Olympic Games took place in 776 BC. The event was a stadion race (a foot race equivalent to a 190-m or 208-yard dash). The winner was a humble baker from the Greek city state of Elis named Coroebus (also spelled Koroibos).

For the first 13 games, the stadion race was the only competition. At the 14th Ancient Olympic Games, a double race was added.
4. ... and He Won ... An Olive Branch!

An Olympionike or a winner of an event receiving an olive wreath and red ribbons
(Epiktetos Painter, 520 - 510 BC - from

Yup - that's because the Ancient Olympic Games didn't have any medals or prizes. Winners of the competitions won olive wreaths, branches, as well as woolen ribbons. Oh, that and the all important honor.

They did, however, come home as heroes - and got showered with gifts there. Many victors subsequently used their fame to endorse products and to get paid posing for sculptures and drawings (just like today, huh?)
5. More than Just Running: Wrestling and Boxing Added to the Ancient Olympics

Tired of all the running, a new game of wrestling (called pale) was added to the 18th Olympics in 708 B.C.

Greek wrestling was a bit more fun than your regular high school wrestling. For one, submission holds were allowed (actually, they were encouraged) and that a referee could punish an infraction by whipping the contestant with a stick until the undesirable behavior stopped!

Later, pygme/pygmachia or Ancient Greek boxing was added. Now, some historian believed that boxing was originally developed in Sparta. Being the original tough guys, Spartans believed that helmets were unnecessary in battle. Instead, they boxed themselves in the face to prepare for battles!

In the Ancient Olympics, there were no rounds - boxing was done when a fighter was knocked out cold (if the fight lasted too long, then they each took turn punching each other in the head until one collapsed).
6. Pankration: Ancient Greek Mixed Martial Arts

In this Pankration scene, the pankriatiast on the right is trying to gouge his opponent's eye and the ref is about to beat the living tar out of him with a stick
(Photo: Jastrow [Wikimedia])

If you think that Ancient Greek boxing was violent, it's more like knitting when compared to pankration, the ancient form of mixed martial arts.

How violent was pankration? Let's just say that there were only two rules: no eye gouging and no biting (the referees carried sticks to beat those who violated the rules). Everything else - including choke holds, breaking fingers and neck - was legit. There was no weight division or time limits: the fight continued until a combatant surrendered, lost consciousness, or died.

In 564 BC, Arrhachion of Philgaleia was crowned the pankration victor ... even after he had died:

Arrhachion's opponent, having already a grip around his waist, thought to kill him and put an arm around his neck to choke off his breath. At the same time he slipped his legs through Arrhachion's groin and wound his feet inside Arrhachion's knees, pulling back until the sleep of death began to creep over Arrhachion's senses. But Arrhachion was not done yet, for as his opponent began to relax the pressure of his legs, Arrhachion kicked away his own right foot and fell heavily to the left, holding his opponent at the groin with his left knee still holding his opponent's foot firmly. So violent was the fall that the opponent's left ankle was wrenched from his socket. The man strangling Arrhachion ... signaled with his hand that he gave up. Thus Arrhachion became a three-time Olympic victor at the moment of his death. His corpse ... received the victory crown. (Source)

Lastly, just to prove that they're bad asses, the ancient Greeks then decided to start a pankration event for the paides or youth (boys aged 12 to 17) Olympic games!
7. The Olympic Games Weren't the Only One

Those Greeks sure did love their sports! The Ancient Olympic games were actually just a part of four sports festival called the Panhellenic Games:

- The Olympic Games, the most important and prestigious game of them all, was held in honor of Zeus every four years near Elis.
- Pythian Games was held every four years near Delphi in honor of Apollo
- Nemean Games was held every two years near Nemea, in honor of Zeus
- Isthmian Games was held every two years near Corinth, in honor of Poseidon

The games were arranged in such a way that there was one going on (almost) every year.
8. Heraea: Ancient Olympics for Women

Married women were banned at the Ancient Olympics on the penalty of death. The laws dictated that any adult married woman caught entering the Olympic grounds would be hurled to her death from a cliff! Maidens, however, could watch (probably to encourage gettin' it on later).

But this didn't mean that the women were left out: they had their own games, which took place during Heraea, a festival worshipping the goddess Hera. The sport? Running - on a track that is 1/6th shorter than the length of a man's track on the account that a woman's stride is 1/6th shorter than that of a man's!

The female victors at the Heraea Games actually got better prizes: in addition to olive wreaths, they also got meat from an ox slaughtered for the patron deity on behalf of all participants!

Overall, young girls in Ancient Greece weren't encouraged to be athletes - with a notable exception of Spartan girls. The Spartans believed that athletic women would breed strong warriors, so they trained girls alongside boys in sports. In Sparta, girls also competed in the nude or wearing skimpy outfits, and boys were allowed to watch (to encourage gettin' it on later marriage and procreation). (Photo:
9. Ancient "Computer" Used to Set Olympics Date

In 1901, a Greek sponge diver discovered the wreck of an ancient cargo ship off the coast of the Antikythera island. One of the item recovered was an ancient mechanical computer that became known as the Antikythera mechanism. Scientists estimated that it was created in 150 to 100 BC

For over a hundred years, scientists debated the true purpose of the Antikythera mechanism and marveled at the intricacies of the device (mind you, the mechanical clock didn't appear in the West until about a thousand years later).

Recently, scientists believed that they've finally cracked the mystery:

Tony Freeth, a member of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, said he was "astonished" at the discovery.

"The Olympiad cycle was a very simple, four-year cycle and you don't need a sophisticated instrument like this to calculate it. It took us by huge surprise when we saw this.

"But the Games were of such cultural and social importance that it's not unnatural to have it in the Mechanism." (Source)

10. Christianity Killed the Ancient Olympics

The Romans, who conquered Greece, viewed the Olympics as a pagan festival.

So, in AD 393, Roman Emperor Theodosius I banned the Ancient Olympics in part to institute Christianity as a state religion. The Olympics was no more ... until it was revived 1,500 years later in 1896.

6 Historical Snitches

1. Anna Sage: Dillinger’s Deadly Date

Picture 9.pngThe Tale: Anna Sage was a Romanian immigrant who came to America in 1909 and found work in a brothel in East Chicago, Ind. Although she was successful in this venerable and established field (she opened several of her own houses of ill repute in Indiana and Illinois), the Department of Labor sought to deport her as an “alien of low moral character.” But when famed bank robber John Dillinger—whom she met through mutual gal pal Polly Hamilton—asked her to a movie, Sage thought she’d found a way to stamp her Green Card. Dillinger was wanted in five states, and Sage hoped that if she turned him in, the good karma would translate into an invitation to stay in the U.S.
Picture 10.pngThe Tattle: To stage the arrest, Sage called her ex-boyfriend, Martin Zarkovich, at the East Chicago Police Department, and was put in contact with agent Melvin Purvis, who was working the Dillinger case for the FBI. Sage told Purvis about her upcoming date with Dillinger at the Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934. (O.k., maybe she didn’t specify the year…) In order to be identified in the crowd, Sage agreed to wear a white blouse and orange skirt that night, even though history would later dub her the “Lady in Red.” (Historians believe the lights of the marquee made her outfit appear red, spawning the moniker.) As she, Dillinger, and Polly Hamilton exited the theater, Purvis confronted the group. Dillinger tried to run, which worked pretty well until four FBI bullets put a hitch in his stride. He died at the scene.
The Aftermath: Sage collected $5,000 for information leading to Dillinger’s “capture,” but was soon sent back to Romania. According to most sources, agents at the FBI told Sage they couldn’t prevent her deportation because of the organization’s lack of influence over the Department of Labor, but recent research suggests a more devious motive. In Jay Robert Nash’s book Dillinger: Dead or Alive, the author suggests the whole episode was a setup. Because the FBI’s failure to capture the elusive Public Enemy No.1 was a source of considerable consternation, Nash believes the scene outside the theater that night was the shooting of an innocent man staged by Sage, Zarkovich, and the FBI. The goal? Alleviate pressure on the FBI and help keep the “Lady in Red” in the country. Nash claims Sage’s hasty deportation was part of the cover-up, and also points to discrepancies between the body of the dead man and Dillinger. John Dillinger was widely known for his blue eyes and missing upper tooth. The body from the scene, however, had brown eyes and a full set of teeth. Adding further credence to Nash’s theory is the disappearance of local criminal John Lawrence the night of the shooting.
2. Aldrich Ames: Soviet Mole and CIA Rat

Picture 15.pngThe Tale: Aldrich Hazen Ames was pretty much born a CIA agent. His father spied for the CIA in Burma during the 1950’s, and at age 16, Aldrich went to “The Farm,” a CIA training facility, to learn the ropes himself. Despite his pedigree, it seems unlikely that Ames will win CIA Employee of the Year. Not now. Not tomorrow. Not ever. Why? Because Ames was the most damaging mole in CIA history. Beginning in 1985, he sold out every spy the CIA and FBI had in the then-USSR, and we doubt a “my bad” will cover that.
The Tattle: Ironically, Ames started out at the CIA recruiting Soviets to spy on their government, but he soon discovered he wasn’t very good at convincing people to snitch. Luckily for him (and his career), his next assignment was with a Soviet Diplomat to Colombia named Aleksandr Dmitrievich Ogorodnik. Ogorodnik had already been convinced to spy for the U.S., but he didn’t prove very useful until he was transferred to Ames’ CIA department. In Ames’ hands, Ogorodnik (code-named Trigon) was reassigned to the Russian Foreign Ministry, where he developed a knack for photographing sensitive documents and files. Although Ames had never successfully recruited a single spy, his handling of Trigon earned him a promotion. He became the Counterintelligence Branch Chief of Soviet Operations, where he had access to information on every aspect of U.S. operations in Russia. Life was looking swell for Ames until he ran into some girl trouble. Ames was having an affair with a Colombian woman named Maria del Rosario Casas. He brought Rosario to Washington, D.C., and it wasn’t long before she started making trouble. She demanded Ames divorce his wife, which he did, wiping out almost all of his savings and assets. Rosario also spent money like it was going out of style, calling home daily and swiftly digging Ames nearly $35,000 into debt.
Ames became so desperate for funds that he considered robbing a bank. But then he remembered that the Soviets paid $50,000 for the names of U.S. spies working in their country. He arranged a meeting with Sergei Chuvakhin of the Soviet Embassy and gave him the names of three CIA spies. In exchange for this information, Ames received $50,000. The story could have ended here but for the arrest of another tattletale, former Navy Warrant Officer John Walker, Jr., who was caught selling information to the Russians. Ames got so freaked out that he, too, would be exposed that he decided to beat all possible blabbers to the chase. He contacted Chuvakhin and gave him the names of every single “human asset” the CIA had in Russia. To make the deal sweeter, he also reportedly gave up a British spy and nearly seven pounds of documents that he’d carried out of the CIA office in his briefcase. For his generosity in “playing the game,” the double agent was made the world’s highest-paid spy, with an annual salary of $300,000.
The Aftermath: Ames named 25 spies. All of them were caught, and at least 10 were executed. Meanwhile, the unsuspecting CIA transferred him to its office in Rome. Ames felt Rosario would be happier there and wanted to distance himself from all his mischief. He did not, however, distance himself from the cash the Russians were paying him, and he and Rosario lived lavishly. Although his CIA salary was $70,000 a year, he wore a Rolex watch and drove a Jaguar to work. It only took the CIA nine years to notice that something didn’t quite add up, and the couple was arrested in 1994. Today, Ames is serving out a life sentence, and Rosario was shipped off to Colombia after serving a five-year jail term.
3. Doña Marina: Dictator’s Translator

Picture 16.pngThe Tale: To this day, Doña Marina remains a controversial figure in Mexican history. To some, she’s the embodiment of treason for her role in helping the Spanish conquer the Aztecs. Others believe she was simply a victim. To still others, La Malinche (as she was called) is the symbolic mother of the Mexican race who saved hundreds of Aztecs from the conquistadores.
This is what we do know: Doña Marina was born to a noble tribal chief in the southeast part of the Aztec Empire. As firstborn, she was to become her father’s successor. After her father died, however, her mother remarried and had a son whom she wanted to rule the tribe. To make sure La Malinche didn’t make too much trouble over the deal, her parents sold her into slavery. She spent several years as a slave in the present-day state of Tabasco. When Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés invaded the country, she became one of his servants.
The Tattle: Although described as intelligent, forward, and ambitious, La Malinche’s most important attribute was her linguistic skill. A native speaker of the Aztec tongue, Nahuatl, her years in Tabasco also left her fluent in Mayan. This was of tremendous help to Cortés, who was negotiating with Mayan tribes as a means of usurping power in Mexico. Her talents were discovered when she began speaking in Mayan to a member of Cortés’ party, a friar named Gerónimo de Aguilar. It was unusual for a Spanish monk like Aguilar to know Mayan, but as luck would have it, he had been shipwrecked in Mexico in 1511 and spent seven years living among the Mayan tribes and learning their language. Before long, Aguilar was translating La Malinche’s Mayan into Castilian for Cortés. This was a major breakthrough in communicating with the Aztecs, but the process was slow and cumbersome. Fortunately, La Malinche quickly achieved fluency in Castilian, converted to Christianity, took the name Doña Marina, and was promoted to Cortés’ personal staff. Soon, she became Cortés’ constant companion (read: mistress) and played an essential role in the Spanish conquest.
The Aftermath: Aided by Marina (not to mention his superior weapons and military tactics), Cortés subdued the Aztecs in 1521, marking the official fall of the Aztec Empire. Amid all of his conquering, Cortés and Marina had a son who, as the product of Native American and European ancestry, is recognized as the first official Mexican citizen.
Today, much of the Hispanic world sees La Malinche only as a woman who betrayed her people. In fact, her name eventually coined the term malinchista, which describes a Mexican who favors and/or imitates the language and customs of another country. Some modern Mexican feminists even claim that the stereotypical disdain that Mexican men display toward their women is rooted in their anger at Marina’s betrayal. Is all this anger misplaced? There’s evidence to suggest so. Many historians contend that Marina’s diplomacy saved Aztec lives and brought civility to an otherwise barbaric society. Still, to this day, the house Marina and Cortés shared in Mexico City is not even adorned by a plaque. Current resident Rina Lazo explained, “For Mexico to make this house a museum would be like the people of Hiroshima creating a monument for the man who dropped the atomic bomb.”
4. Mordechai Vanunu: Paying the Price of Going Public

Picture 14.pngThe Tale: Mordechai Vanunu was a Moroccan who immigrated to Israel in 1963 with his parents and his ten siblings. Upon arrival, Vanunu served in the Israeli army before finding employment at the Dimona Nuclear Research Center in the Negev desert. Happy to have a job, he worked there from 1976 to 1985 before concluding that Dimona was a secret nuclear weapons production plant that was covertly producing military warheads. That’s when he started to feel a smidge uncomfortable. The “research facility” housed an enormous plutonium separation plant that rendered the Israeli nuclear arms program vastly more advanced than the international community suspected and operated entirely without the knowledge of the Israeli people. Fully aware of the harsh repercussions he could face, Vanunu felt it was incumbent on him to share this information with the world.
The Tattle: Despite having signed an “Official Secrets Pact,” Vanunu brought a camera to work one day and stealthily photographed the facility. Soon thereafter, he fled Israel and went public with his information. On October 5, 1986, The London Sunday Times headline blared, “Revealed: The Secret of Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal.” The cat was out of the bag, and it was sharing Israel’s secrets with anyone who’d listen.
The Aftermath: Even before the Times story ran, the Israelis knew what Vanunu was up to. Agents from Israel’s intelligence institute, Mossad, lured him to Italy, where he was kidnapped, drugged, and cargo-shipped back to Israel. (Details of this abduction were made public when Vanunu inked them on his hand and allowed quick-thinking news photographers to snap pictures.) In Israel, Vanunu was charged with treason and espionage. Despite international outcry, the closed-door trial led to an 18-year prison sentence, the first 11 of which he spent in solitary confinement. In 1998, Vanunu was allowed to join the general prison population, and in 2004, he was “conditionally” released. While currently “free,” the Israeli government still refuses to let Vanunu leave the country, and he is forbidden to speak with the international media. He remains an unrepentant whistleblower and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times.
5. Elia Kazan: Snitch To The Stars

Picture 13.pngThe Tale: Between 1945 and 1957, Elia Kazan enjoyed a hot streak few in Hollywood could even dream about. He directed 13 acclaimed motion pictures (including “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “East of Eden”) and was nominated for four Best Director awards. Kazan was riding high when Hollywood entered the blackest period in its history (barring the second and third installments of the “Matrix” trilogy): the Communist witch hunts of the 1950’s.
The Tattle: A philosophical and politically passionate man, Kazan had been a founding member of the leftist Group Theater in New York and, for a little more than a year, was a member of the Communist Party. In 1934, however, Kazan’s ideals began to diverge sharply from those of the Party, and he soon found himself a zealous anti-Communist. Wanting names, the government pressured Kazan to spill the beans, even threatening to have him blacklisted by major Hollywood studios. After wrestling with the question of whether or not he should sacrifice his career for people whose ideals he disdained, Kazan decided to share his knowledge of Communists in Hollywood with the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In 1952, he went before the Committee and named eight of his Group Theater buddies who had been members of the Communist Party with him.
The Aftermath: After Kazan’s testimony, the government was fast on the tails of those he’d named, pressuring them for yet more names, and it was officially witchhuntin’ season! Many actors, writers, and directors were blacklisted, and scores of careers were ruined. The era remains one of the least tinselly in Tinseltown history.
Not surprisingly, pretty much everyone not already in the business of rooting out Commies reviled Kazan. His longtime friend and confidant, Arthur Miller, explained his feelings on the matter in his allegorical play “The Crucible.” Not to be outdone, Kazan shot back by crafting a sympathetic informer character in his film “On The Waterfront,” which Miller rebutted in “A View From The Bridge.” (Jeez, guys, just pick up the phone or something.) But the controversy surrounding Kazan was yet to abate. In 1999, Kazan was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars, and more than 500 people showed up to protest. Writer and director Abraham Polonsky, whom 20th Century Fox had fired and blacklisted for his refusal to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee, said of the event, “I’ll be watching, hoping someone shoots him.” Um, Mr. Polonsky, do you think you could put that in the form of a play?
6. Sammy “The Bull” Gravano: Blabbing on the Boss

Picture 12.pngThe Tale: Probably the world’s most notorious hairdresser-turned-hitman, Salvatore “Sammy The Bull” Gravano was the highest-ranking Italian Mafia member ever to break omerta, the mob code of silence. Born in Brooklyn and nicknamed “The Bull” for his short stature, thick neck, and ruthless fighting tactics, Gravano rose to the position of underboss in the Gambino crime family. Allegedly responsible for 19 murders, Gravano was no angel, and no tight-lips, either. Sammy’s damning testimony sealed the fate of many in the organization, including his former boss, John Gotti.
The Tattle: The reason Gravano snitched varies depending on whom you ask. Some claim he did it to receive a lighter prison sentence, while others say he got mad after hearing Gotti badmouthing him on a wiretap. But in Underboss: Sammy The Bull Gravano’s Life In The Mafia, Gravano says Gotti needed to be taken down because he was addicted to publicity, and all the attention was harming the mob. Either way, Gravano delivered such damaging testimony in court that lead Gotti prosecutor John Gleeson described him as having rendered “extraordinary, unprecedented, historic assistance to the government.”
The Aftermath: Information provided by Gravano created a ripple effect throughout the Mafia underground, and numerous corroborating witnesses came forward. Dozens of luminaries in the Cosa Nostra crime syndicate were convicted, jury-rigging schemes were exposed, mobsters already in jail had their sentences extended, and high-ranking members of the Gambino, Colombo, DeCalvacante, and Lucchese families were imprisoned. In 1995, Gravano got a cushy five-year sentence for his 19 murders, and was later placed in the Witness Protection Program. After his release, Sammy made the most of his second chance by teaming up with some neo-Nazis and getting busted for selling Ecstasy. Not so bright, Bull. He got 19 years in the slammer this time, a sentence he’s still serving.

10 Most Decisive Ancient Battles

53 BC

The Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC was a decisive victory for the Parthian Spahbod Surena (try saying that 10 times fast!) over the Roman general Crassus near the town of Carrhae (now the present-day ruins of Harran, Turkey). A Parthian force of 1,000 cataphracts and 9,000 horse archers under general Surena met the Romans at Carrhae. Crassus’ cavalry was screening ahead of the main force when they were engaged by the cataphracts, and the weapons his cavalry employed were not capable of piercing the cataphracts armor. His cavalry was soon surrounded and routed, and his son Publius killed. Rome was humiliated by this defeat, and this was made even worse by the fact that the Parthians had captured several Legionary Eagles. It is also mentioned by Plutarch that the Parthians found the Roman prisoner of war that resembled Crassus the most, dressed him as a woman and paraded him through Parthia for all to see. The capture of the golden Aquilae (legionary battle standards) by the Parthians was considered a grave moral defeat and evil omen for the Romans. It required a generation of diplomacy before the Parthians returned them. An important and unexpected implication of this battle was that it opened up the European continent to a new and beautiful material: silk. However, the most immediate effect of the battle was that Carrhae was an indirect cause for the fall of the Republic, and the rise of the Empire. [Source]

168 BC

The Battle of Pydna in 168 BC between Rome and the Macedonian Antigonid dynasty represents the ascendancy of Rome in the Hellenic/Hellenistic world and the end of the Antigonid line of kings, whose power traced back to Alexander III of Macedon. It is often considered to be the classic example of the Macedonian phalanx against the Roman legion, and generally accepted as proving the superiority of the latter over the former. This was not the final conflict between the two rivals, but it broke the back of Macedonian power. The political consequences of the lost battle were severe. The Senate’s settlement included the deportation of all the royal officials and the permanent house arrest of Perseus. The kingdom was divided into four republics that were heavily restricted from intercourse or trade with one another and with Greece. There was a ruthless purge, with allegedly anti-Roman citizens being denounced by their compatriots and deported in large numbers (300 000). [Source]
301 BC

The Battle of Ipsus was fought between some of the Diadochi (the successors of Alexander the Great) in 301 BC near the village of that name in Phrygia. Antigonus I Monophthalmus and his son Demetrius I of Macedon were pitted against the coalition of three other companions of Alexander: Cassander, ruler of Macedon; Lysimachus, ruler of Thrace; and Seleucus I Nicator, ruler of Babylonia and Persia. The battle opened with the usual slowly intensifying skirmishing between the two armies’ light troops, with elephants eventually thrown into the fray by both sides. Efforts were made by both sides to hamstring the enemy’s elephants, but also had to hang back to protect their own. Demetrius’ superior right-flank cavalry drove Antiochus’ wing back, but was halted in his attempted rear blow by Seleucus, who moved the elephant reserve to block him. More missile troops moved to the unprotected Antigonid right flank, as Demetrius was unable to disengage from the elephants and enemy horse to his front. At the beginning of the day, Antigonus had not been able to wear plate armor; this disadvantage was unexpectedly used by an anonymous allied peltast, who killed him with a well-thrown javelin. Without leadership and already beginning to flee, the Antigonid army completely disintegrated. The last chance to reunite the Alexandrine Empire had now passed. Antigonus had been the only general able to consistently defeat the other Successors; without him, the last bonds the Empire had had began to dissolve. Ipsus finalized the breakup of an empire, which may account for its obscurity; despite that, it was still a critical battle in classical history and decided the character of the Hellenistic age. [Source]
331 BC

The Battle of Gaugamela took place in 331 BC between Alexander the Great of Macedonia and Darius III of Achaemenid Persia. The battle, which is also inaccurately called the Battle of Arbela, resulted in a massive victory for the Macedonians. While Darius had a significant advantage in numbers, most of his troops were of a lower quality than Alexander’s. Alexander’s pezhetairoi were armed with a six-meter spear, the sarissa. The main Persian infantry was poorly trained and equipped in comparison to Alexander’s pezhetairoi and hoplites. After the battle, Parmenion rounded up the Persian baggage train while Alexander and his own bodyguard chased after Darius in hopes of catching up. As at Issus, substantial amounts of loot were gained following the battle, with 4,000 talents captured, as well as the King’s personal chariot and bow. The war elephants were also captured. In all, it was a disastrous defeat for the Persians, and possibly one of Alexander’s finest victories. At this point, the Persian Empire was divided into two halves – East and West. Bessus murdered Darius, before fleeing eastwards. Alexander would pursue Bessus, eventually capturing and executing him the following year. The majority of the existing satraps were to give their loyalty to Alexander, and be allowed to keep their positions, however, the Persian Empire is traditionally considered to have fallen with the death of Darius. [Source]
490 BC

The Battle of Marathon during the Greco-Persian Wars took place in 490 BC and was the culmination of King Darius I of Persia’s first full scale attempt to conquer the remainder of Greece and incorporate it into the Persian Empire, which would secure the weakest portion of his western border. The longest-lasting legacy of Marathon was the double envelopment. Some historians have claimed it was random rather than a conscious decision by Miltiades - the Tyrant of the Greek Colonies. In hoplitic battles, the two sides were usually stronger than the center because either they were the weakest point (right side) or the strongest point (left side). However, before Miltiades (and after him until Epaminondas), this was only a matter of quality, not quantity. Miltiades had personal experience from the Persian army and knew its weaknesses. As his course of action after the battle shows (invasions of the Cyclades islands), he had an integrated strategy upon defeating the Persians, hence there is no reason he could have not thought of a good tactic. The double envelopment has been used ever since, such as when the German Army used a tactic at the battle of Tannenberg during World War I similar to that used by the Greeks at Marathon. [Source]

197 BC

The Battle of Cynoscephalae was fought in Thessaly in 197 BC between the Roman army, led by Titus Quinctius Flamininus, and the Antigonid dynasty of Macedon, led by Philip V. This Macedonian defeat marks the passing of imperial power from the successors of Alexander the Great to Rome. Along with the later Battle of Pydna, this defeat is often held to have demonstrated that the Macedonian phalanx, formerly the most effective fighting unit in the ancient world, was now obsolete, although in fact the phalanx was able to force the legions back and held their own with swords until twenty maniples fell upon their rear (due to the weak Macedonian flanks and the Roman elephants routing the disordered Macedonian left flank). As a consequence of his loss, Philip had to pay 1,000 talents to Rome, as well as disband his navy and most of his army. He also had to send his son to Rome as a hostage. The battle in many ways determined the subsequent history of the Mediterranean. It also was a major turning point in how wars were fought. The image above is the site of the Battle of Cynoscephalae today. [Source]
31 BC

The Battle of Actium was the decisive engagement in the Final War of the Roman Republic between the forces of Octavian and those of the combined forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. It was fought on September 2, 31 BC, on the Ionian Sea near the Roman colony of Actium in Greece. Octavian’s fleet was commanded by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, while Antony’s fleet was supported by the fleet of his lover, Cleopatra VII, queen of Ptolemaic Egypt. The victory of Octavian’s fleet enabled him to consolidate his power over Rome and its domains, leading to his adoption of the title of Princeps (”first citizen”) and his accepting the title of Augustus from the Senate. As Augustus Caesar, he would preserve the trappings of a restored Republic, but many historians view his consolidation of power and the adoption of his honorifics flowing from his victory at Actium as the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. The political consequences of this sea battle were far-reaching. As a result of the loss of his fleet, Mark Antony’s army, which had begun as equal to that of Octavian’s, deserted in large numbers. In a communication breakdown, Antony came to believe that Cleopatra had been captured, and so he committed suicide. Cleopatra heard the news about Mark Antony and, rather than risk being captured by Octavian, committed suicide herself, on August 12, 30 BC. She allowed herself to be bitten by a poisonous asp that was reportedly hidden for her in a basket of figs. [Source]
Siler River
73 BC

The Third Servile War, also called the Gladiator War, The Battle of Siler River, and The War of Spartacus by Plutarch, was the last of a series of unrelated and unsuccessful slave rebellions against the Roman Republic, known collectively as the Servile Wars. The Third Servile War was the only one to directly threaten the Roman heartland of Italia and was doubly alarming to the Roman people due to the repeated successes of the rapidly growing band of rebel slaves against the Roman army between 73 and 71 BC. The rebellion was finally crushed through the concentrated military effort of a single commander, Marcus Licinius Crassus, although the rebellion continued to have indirect effects on Roman politics for years to come. The Third Servile War was significant to the broader history of ancient Rome mostly in its effect on the careers of Pompey and Crassus. The two generals used their success in putting down the rebellion to further their political careers, using their public acclaim and the implied threat of their legions to sway the consular elections of 70 BC in their favor. Their actions as Consuls greatly furthered the subversion of Roman political institutions and contributed to the eventual transition of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. [Source]
48 BC

The Battle of Pharsalus was a decisive battle of Caesar’s Civil War. On August 9, 48 BC, the battle was fought at Pharsalus in central Greece between forces of the Populares faction and forces of the Optimates faction. Both factions field armies from the Roman Republic. The Populares were led by Gaius Julius Caesar (Caesar) and the Optimates were led by Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey). In addition to Pompey, the Optimates faction included most of the Roman Senate. The victory of Caesar weakened the Senatorial forces and solidified his control over the Republic. Pompey fled from Pharsalus to Egypt, where he was assassinated on the order of Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII. The Battle of Pharsalus ended the wars of the First Triumvirate. The Roman Civil War, however, was not ended. Pompey’s two sons, the most important of whom was Sextus Pompeius, and the Pompeian faction led now by Labienus, survived and fought their cause in the name of Pompey the Great. Caesar spent the next few years ‘mopping up’ remnants of the senatorial faction. After finally completing this task, he was assassinated in a conspiracy arranged by Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. [Source]
480 BC

The Battle of Salamis, was a decisive naval battle between the Greek city-states and Persia in September, 480 BC in the strait between Piraeus and Salamis Island, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens. The Greeks were not in accord as to how to defend against the Persian army, but Athens under Themistocles used their navy to defeat the much larger Persian navy and force King Xerxes I of Persia to retreat. The Greek victory marked the turning point of the campaign, leading to the eventual Persian defeat. The Battle of Salamis has been described by many historians as the single most significant battle in human history. The defeat of the Persian navy was instrumental in the eventual Persian defeat, as it dramatically shifted the war in Greece’s favor. Many historians argue that Greece’s ensuing independence laid the foundations for Western civilization, most notably from the preservation of Athenian democracy, the concept of individual rights, relative freedom of the person, true philosophy, art and architecture. Had the Persians won at Salamis, it is very likely that Xerxes would have succeeded in conquering all the Greek nations and passing to the European continent, thus preventing Western civilization’s growth (and even existence). Given the influence of Western civilization on world history, as well as the achievements of Western culture itself, a failure of the Greeks to win at Salamis would almost certainly have had seriously important effects on the course of human history. [Source]