Famous Military-Related Deaths for the Week of March 13-19

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Famous Military-Related Deaths for the Week of March 13-19

Roman Emperor Tiberius (reigned AD 14 – AD 37)
Bust in the collection of the Romano-Germanic Museum, Cologne, Germany
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are from Wikipedia)

This Week in Military History

March 15, AD 37 – Tiberius, 2nd Roman emperor, age 78

Tiberius became the second ruler of the Roman Empire upon the death of his step-father Augustus in AD 14. Tiberius was one of Rome's greatest generals. But he came to be remembered as a dark, reclusive, and somber ruler who never really desired to be emperor; Roman author Pliny the Elder called him tristissimus hominum, "the gloomiest of men."

Tiberius conquered Pannonia, Dalmatia, Raetia, and temporarily, parts of Germania, thus laying the foundations for Rome's northern frontier. He was appointed the heir to Caesar Augustus, after the first three candidates, all more closely related to the Emperor than Tiberius, died. Tiberius was as reluctant to be the heir apparent as Augustus was to appoint him. However, when Augustus died, Tiberius did his duty.

Tiberius was no fan of the gladiatorial contests the crowds loved, and made no attempt to deny the fact. There was also a great deal of intrigue surrounding the imperial court. Finally, in AD 26 Tiberius had had enough. Because he had probably always been happiest when away from the capital and its everlasting intrigue, Rome's emperor simply departed to his holiday mansion on the isle of Capri, never to return to the city.

He left the government in the hands of Lucius Aelius Sejanus, the praetorian prefect. Sejanus believed himself a potential successor of the emperor, and was conspiring against Tiberius whilst removing any other possible candidates to the throne.

In early AD 37 that Tiberius fell ill while travelling in Campania. He was taken to his villa in Misenum in order to recover, but died there on March 15, AD 37. If Tiberius, aged 78, died naturally or was murdered, is uncertain. He either died of old age or was smothered on his deathbed with a cushion. He was succeeded by his great-nephew, Caligula.

March 15, 1311 – Duke Walter V of Brienne, Duke of Athens, age about 33

Walter of Brienne, born in about 1278 at Brienne-le-Château in eastern France. Through his father he laid claim to the title of King of Jerusalem (despite the fact that Muslims had re-captured the Holy City in 1244). He spend most of his youth as a hostage in Sicily. On the death of his father Hugh in 1296, Walter inherited the titles of Count of Brienne, Conversano, and Lecce.

The death of his mother's first cousin in 1308 brought him the Duchy of Athens. There he found himself hard pressed by the Despot of Epirus, the Emperor Andronicus II Palaiologos, and the Lord of Thessaly, John II Doukas. [These were "splinter states" that survived the sack of Constantinople by soldiers of the "Fourth Crusade" in 1204.]

In 1310, Walter hired the Catalan Great Company, a mercenary unit then busy ravaging the remnant of the Byzantine Empire, to fight the Byzantine Greeks encroaching on his territory. With a minimum of effort, after two months the Company successfully reduced his enemies. Then, in a supreme moment of stupidity, Walter attempted to expel the Company from Athens with their pay in arrears four months. The Catalans refused, and marched north and occupied a number of the Duchy's towns. The mercenaries then began raiding and ravaging the Duchy of Athens to recover some portion of the pay they were owed.

Determined to rid himself of the troublesome Catalans, Walter marched out with a strong force of at least 700 French knights from Athens, the Morea, and Naples and between 4000 and 24,000 Greek foot from Athens. Walter's army met the Catalans (with 4000 infantry and about 2000 cavalry) at the battle of Halmyros, located in southern Thessaly, on March 15, 1311. Fighting a defensive battle, the Catalans won a devastating victory, killing Walter and almost all of his cavalry, and seizing control of his Duchy of Athens. Walter's head was severed by the Catalans, and many years later was taken to Lecce in Italy, where his son buried him in the Church of Santa Croce.

Baldwin IV, King of Jerusalem; From manuscript of William of Tyre's Historia; Painted in 1250's; in British Museum, London, UK
Baldwin IV, King of Jerusalem
From manuscript of William of Tyre's Historia
Painted in 1250's; in British Museum, London, UK

March 16, 1185 – Baldwin IV "the Leper," King of Jerusalem, age 24

Baldwin was born in 1161 to King Amalric I of Jerusalem and Queen Agnes of Edessa. When playing as a child it was noticed that he seemed to feel no pain in his limbs, an examination discovered that he had leprosy. In the Middle Ages, this malady would have condemned a commoner to a life of isolation and cruelty. However, considering that he was in a position to rule the Kingdom of Jerusalem and attempt to preserve Christian ownership of lands wrested from the Muslims less than 65 years before his birth, his life was a remarkable success.

Baldwin's father died in 1174 and the boy was crowned at the age of 13, on July 15 that year. In his minority the kingdom was ruled by two successive regents. He came into his majority in 1176. Baldwin ruled the Kingdom of Jerusalem, weathering countless court intrigues, and served as the uniting symbol of the Christian occupied lands of the Middle East. He also led the army of the kingdom on large-scale raids, as well as at the battle of Montgisard in 1177, where Egyptian emir Saladin absorbed the worst defeat of his military career.

In 1183, Saladin besieged the castle of Kerak while a wedding was taking place within. Gathering a relief force, Baldwin led them in the raising of the siege of the castle. He accomplished this feat despite the fact that the leprosy had left him blind and unable to walk or ride; he was now carried from place-to-place on a litter.

However, the relief of Kerak and continuing dynastic troubles weakened Baldwin considerably. He died in the spring of 1185, finally succumbing to the ravages of leprosy. He had ruled for much longer than had been expected. He was succeeded by his 8-year-old cousin Baldwin.

Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) and friend; Date of photograph unknown
Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) and friend
Date of photograph unknown

March 19, 1950 – Edgar Rice Burroughs, cavalryman, war correspondent, writer; age 74

Edgar Rice Burroughs was born in Chicago on September 1, 1875. He failed at nearly every job he took. He was a cowboy and gold miner in Idaho, a railroad policeman in Utah, and even served for a time with the 7th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Grant, Arizona – after he failed the entrance exam for West Point. A heart murmur was discovered during his cavalry service, and he was discharged.

Burroughs worked as a shopkeeper, an accountant, pencil sharpener salesman, and a stationary salesman. He was to the point that he had sold his wife's jewelry for money to buy food for his family.

Finally, he decided to try something else. All his life he had drawn sketches and told stories; he decided to take his chances as a story writer. He began writing a story based on an Earthman making his way to the nearby planet of Mars. After writing what a magazine editor called "half a book," Burroughs wrote the second half, submitted it, and it was published as a serial in The All-Story Magazine in 1911 as "Under the Moons of Mars," now known as "A Princess of Mars."

Burroughs marveled at the $400 check he received for the story. This simple sword-and-planet story changed the course of twentieth century science fiction and fantasy-fiction. His next effort, a story set in the jungles of western Africa, only earned him $700, but it catapulted him into American literary history. Published in 1912 – again in All-Story Magazine – Burroughs introduced the world to "Tarzan of the Apes." Two years later it was published in book form; in 1918 it was made into a movie, the first to gross $1 million.

Over the next 30+ years, Burroughs would write stories of Mars, Venus, the Moon, Apaches, a civilization at the Earth's core, and of course more Tarzan stories. The success of his writing career allowed Burroughs to become the first modern writer to incorporate himself. He also bought a ranch near Los Angeles and renamed it Tarzana.

In 1941, Burroughs and his family had moved to Hawaii. He was a witness to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and he volunteered to work as a war correspondent with the U.S. Pacific Fleet. However, a series of heart attacks ended his career. He returned to the U.S. and continued writing almost to the last, dying of a heart attack in 1950.

Burroughs had written at least 80 novels. Many have been turned into films, and Tarzan was the subject of a 1966-68 TV series. Most recently Burroughs's Mars stories were dramatized on screen for the 2012 movie John Carter.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.