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Biggest Own Goals of History

Throughout the years I have read over a 100 books about history, the sheer number of unforced cockups, however, never seize to amaze me.


Numerous conflicts emerged between states throughout history, some ended in stalemate, others ended with one side as the clear winner and the other as clear loser.

The losers of these conflicts were often, though by no means always, led by highly competent men. These men, though hard working and competent they might have been, still succeeded to steer their countries into disaster

Khwarezmian Shah Killing the Envoy of Genghis Khan

The Mongol conquest of the Khwarezmian Empire was a brutal affair, it took the Mongols only a few years to destroy the empire and leave Iran severely depopulated. Estimates vary, but some even put the number of civilians killed by the Mongols to around 15 million.

Yet despite the great destruction the Mongols unleashed it was not an outcome that was inevitable. According to sources Genghis at first, sent a caravan to the Khwarezmian Empire to establish trade routes between the two empires. His caravan was attacked by one local governor, the governor claimed the caravan was filled with Mongol spies and refused to pay for the damage his men caused, or punish the perpetrators.

The angered Genghis then sent three envoys directly to Shah Ala ad-Din Muhammad. The Shah had all the men shaved and ordered the execution of the Muslim ambassador of Genghis. To add further salt to the wound he sent back the head of the Muslim ambassador with the surviving ones. This act of arrogance and sheer disrespect outraged the Great Khan who gathered a huge army and invaded Khwarezm in 1219.

Mir Jafar meeting with his secret ally, Robert Clive, after the Battle of Plassey

Mir Jafar meeting with his secret ally, Robert Clive, after the Battle of Plassey

Mir Jafar Assisting the English

The Battle of Plassey is widely regarded as one of the most important battles in the history of the Indian subcontinent. The battle came as a result of the conflict between the British and the ruler of Bengal, Siraj ud-Daulah’s. When Siraj ordered the British and French enclaves to stop further fortifications the British declined. Siraj used this defiance as cassus belli to attack Calcutta and take it over from the British.

The British retook Calcutta and made peace with Siraj. Once peace was achieved with the local Indian prince the British turned on the French. This attack outraged Siraj who finally decided to get rid of the British.

The British got wind of a conspiracy against Siraj and succeeded in bribing many important Bengali noblemen to defect. The most important of these noblemen was Mir Jafar, the commander of Siraj’s army.

The British under the command of Robert Clive marched out to meet the Bengali. The two armies met at a place called Plassey, Clive had around 3,000 men; while Siraj had over 50,000.

Despite his huge numerical advantage, the position of Siraj was desperate, most of the army was under the influence of Mir Jafar, who once the battle had begun did nothing. Siraj soon realised what was going on and fled, Mir Jafar’s men soon hunted him down and he was executed.

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Mir Jafar became the new ruler of Bengal after the Battle of Plassey, however, the growing influence of the British worried him also. He allied with the Dutch to expel the British. His Dutch allies were defeated by the British, who lost no time to depose Mir Jafar after this episode.

Pompey Accepting Battle at Pharsalus

After defeating Caesar at the Battle of Dyrrachium Popmpey seemingly had the upper hand in the Roman Civil War. The word of Caesar’s defeat spread quickly and local people flocked to Pompey’s cause, the hostility of the population caused Caesar’s army supply problems. One town named Gomphi shut their gates before Caesar’s army, forcing Caesar to storm the town. Pompey also had a force that was twice the size of Caesar’s army.

Nonetheless, Pompey was in favour of wearing down Caesar and was not keen on risking a decisive battle. Caesar’s army was made up of his veterans from Gaul, many of them fought alongside Caesar for 10 years, or more. In contrast to Caesar’s veterans, Pompey’s army had relatively experience, his troops and the politicians on Pompey’s side were not sharing their general’s concerns and constantly pushed for a decisive battle.

After a while Pompey conceded and marched against Caesar, the two armies came into contact at Pharsalus. Pompey initially occupied the high ground and was reluctant to engage Caesar. Only when Caesar’s men were looking to break camp did Pompey, most likely due to the pressure of his entourage, order him men to leave the high ground and meet Caesar at the plain. The following battle was a disaster for Pompey, Caesar’s veterans routed his army and he had to flee to Egypt.

The Dutch became a major commercial and naval power during their war against Habsburg Spain

The Dutch became a major commercial and naval power during their war against Habsburg Spain

Spanish economic war against the Dutch during the Eighty Year’s War

The Eighty Year’s War saw the birth of the Protestant Dutch Republic and the emergence of the Republic as a global commercial power. The coastal territories of the Dutch Republic were always a place where commerce thrived, but unlike their southern neighbour Antwerp, cities like Amsterdam were only local commercial centres before the outbreak of the Eighty Year’s War in 1568.

This situation changed after 1568 when the Dutch revolted against King Philip II of Spain. The famous Army of Flanders cost Philip II enormous sums and by the mid-1570s army pay was usually late, this led to mutinies.

With his army in mutiny, Philip was unable to crush the rebels. Once the situation of the army stabilised the Spanish were back on the attack, however, Philip’s invasion of England in 1588, and his intervention in the French Civil War from 1589 left the Dutch off the hook.

Thanks to the war Antwerp declined very quickly, many of the rich traders and bankers of the Southern Netherlands emigrated north, particularly to Amsterdam, as a result, Amsterdam slowly replaced Antwerp as the commercial centre of Europe. The Spanish tried to wage economic war against the Dutch by cutting off Iberian trade from them, this led to Dutch expansion into Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, Brazil and the Indies. Dutch expansion into Brazil and the Indies dragged Portugal into the conflict as well. Philip II and his heirs were kings of Portugal also, so by defending Portuguese interests they had to divert forces from Flanders.

The Dutch had their biggest commercial success in the Indies, initially, were several chartered companies trading in Asia, however as the leading politicians deemed this inter rivalry ineffective the rival companies were merged into the Dutch East India Company. Thanks to their superior banking and shipping the Dutch East India Company became the dominant force in the East. The commercial power of the Republic slowly wore down Spain and a truce was signed in 1609.

War was resumed in 1621, the Spanish waged an effective commercial war until 1648, their privateers caused great damage to Dutch trade. Unfortunately for them Cardinal Richelieu attacked Spain in 1635, the war against both France and the Dutch was too much for the Spanish Empire, they made peace with the Dutch in 1648, the war against France dragged on longer until a settlement was reached in 1659.

As the war ended the Dutch Republic was the foremost commercial and naval power of Europe, while the endless multi-front wars saw Habsburg Spain lose her status as the strongest country of the Old Continent to France.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Andrew Szekler

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