An Anniversary Mix for '96

TOOT, TOOT, TOOTSIE, HELLO!

January 21, 1996|By Rick Horowitz

Admit it: You were just tickled to send 1995 off to the scrap heap. Not enough of this, too much of that, and way too much of that California courtroom thing. The new year simply has to be better!

Fortunately, there's a lot to look forward to in 1996. That is, if you look backward first. Way backward. There are all sorts of intriguing anniversaries waiting to be observed -- even celebrated, some of them -- in the new year. There are centennials and bi- and tri- and sesquicentennials and such everywhere you turn.

It's time to mark the beginnings of crusades and cannons. "Blue Tail Fly" and "Shoo-Fly Pie." Tootsies. Bikinis. (Or is that tootsies in bikinis?)

Plus all the news that's fit to print. ...

They Play for Keeps

We can go all the way back to two-digit territory, in fact, to the original 96: 96 A.D. That's when Roman Emperor Domitian's reign of terror -- persecuting Christians, confiscating property, sending countrymen into exile -- came to a sudden end, at the pointy end of a dagger. Among the plotters? The missis herself, the Empress Domitia.

Things were no gentler a few centuries down the road. In 396, Alaric, king of the Visigoths, invaded Greece and plundered Athens. (That's what Visigoths do -- plunder.) In 546, Totila, king of the Ostrogoths, completed his siege of Rome. (That's what Ostrogoths do.) Once a city of half a million people, fewer than a thousand remained.

Look to the east for important doings in 646; a Great Reform edict moves Japan toward a more centralized government -- an emperor served by a Chinese-style bureaucracy, ruling from a permanent capital city. And in the Middle East in 696 -- 1,300 years ago -- Arabic is declared the official language of Islam, and Arabic coins are declaredthe official currency.

"Rex Anglorum," "King of the English." The first man to use the term was the Anglo-Saxon king Offa, who dies in 796 after a 40-year reign -- not a bad career. Alfred, on the other hand, had a Great career -- Alfred the Great, that is. In 896, England's ruler beat back the Danish, condemning future generations to crumpets and scones instead of tasty pastry. In 946, Abu al Qasim Unujur becomes Egypt's official No. 1 -- but the man really pulling the strings is Abu al-Misk Kafur, an Ethiopian eunuch. (Don't ask. ...)

From Alexandria, Egypt, to Venice, Italy, in 996, exactly a millennium ago: cane sugar. It's all sweetness and light for Otto III, too; the 16-year-old is finally crowned Holy Roman Emperor. He was only 3 when his father died, but his succession was disputed by the Duke of Bavaria, one Henry the Troublemaker. Henry kidnapped the tyke (Henry the Felon?), but Otto's mom and grandmom get him back and eventually put him on the throne.

The First Crusade hits the road in 1096. The effort to restore Christianity in the Holy Land sets off from France under Peter the Hermit and Walter the Penniless, among others. (Typical Crusade-era conversation: "Hey, who's in charge of this outfit?" "Peter the Hermit." "Anyone else?" "Walter the Penniless." "Sounds good -- sign me up!")

It's 1346, early in the Hundred Years' War, and one of history's most significant battles is about to occur: the English against the French at Crecy. The French have Europe's best horse soldiers, plus heavy armor, the crossbow and plenty of attitude. The English invaders have foot soldiers, the longbow and "bombards," the first cannons. The result? A massacre. The French lines are wiped out by the rapid-firing English longbowmen, and the heavily armored French knights can't even remount when they're thrown from their horses.

A thousand years of cavalry superiority is at an end, as is the unchallenged dominance of the aristocracy, the only ones who can afford the horses and the armor. The foot soldier -- the common man -- is on the rise.

'Tabaco' and Typhus

Christopher Columbus is on the move in 1496; he returns from his second voyage to the New World. He still hasn't found India, but from the West Indies he brings back samples of a "bewitching vegetable" that the natives dry, ignite and inhale from a slingshot-shaped pipe inserted in their nostrils. The pipe is called a "tabaco." We can call it "Indians' revenge."

Health takes a step forward in 1546, with the first-ever description of typhus. The person doing the describing, Italian physician Girolamo Fracastoro, says he believes infections are carried from one person to another by tiny bodies that can reproduce and multiply. Not bad for 1546.

There are two major cultural advances in 1546. The first Welsh book is printed ("Yny Lhyvyr Mwnn" -- rough translation: "Buy a Vowel From Vanna"). And "The Proverbs of John Heywood" appear, including such cliches-in-the-making as "A man may well bring a horse to the water, but he cannot make him drink"; "Rome was not built in a day"; "When the iron is hot, strike"; "Look before you leap"; and "Haste makes waste." Omitted somehow from Heywood's collection: "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."

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