Human history is littered with pivotal dates; some of these individual dates ‘ often events covering no more than a few hours ‘ can alter the course of history forever. They are dates that stick in the mind and for those that are recent, can have people reminiscing about where they were and what they were doing at the time.
1. Europe – 11th November 1918
It was the end of ‘The Great War’ and millions of men had lost their lives. Considered the last throw of the dice for European imperialism, Kaiser Wilhelm II German armies invaded Belgium in 1914 and soon found itself at war with the allied powers. Four years of trench warfare followed and in August 1918 the ‘Hundred Days Offensive’ began in which the allies made overwhelming advances. Germany officially became a Republic when the Kaiser fled to the Netherlands and the Armistice was signed shortly afterward.
2. England – 1215
It was unprecedented in western Christendom at the time in that it set down a series of laws and finally put into writing the rights of freed men in England. It was imposed on King John by the nobility of England due to the perception that the king was taking liberties. There are still rights within Magna Carta that have passed into modern law, especially regarding due process in prosecutions. Most interesting is Clause 61 which sees the foundation of The Great Council which is considered the building blocks of the modern British Parliament.
3. The New World – 1492
Christopher Columbus theorised that he could reach Asia by sailing west across the Atlantic rather than the conventional route of westward around the cape of Africa. Though it has passed into popular myth that he wanted to prove the world was spherical, the people of Columbus’ era believed it round and the man wanted to see how far he had to travel the reach Asia. The resulting journey led to the discovery of the Americas. He did however think that he had reached the Far East when he first touched down in the Bahamas.
4. France – 1789
Within a matter of hours on that fateful day of 14th July, French monarchy came to an end and it led to the French Revolution and the birth of a Republic. There were only seven prisoners in the prison at the time and the storming of the building was initially for the rebels to seize the arms stored there. It was already scheduled for closure as an unnecessary expense for holding so few prisoners but was seen by the rebels as a symbol of royal tyranny to be claimed.
5. USA ‘ April 1865
It was the fifth year of the American Civil War and in spring of 1865, General Lee offered the surrender of the Confederate armies. It had been going badly for the southern states and when news of his surrender reached his deputies, they quickly surrendered too. April was also the month that President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by a Confederate sympathiser. His successor, President Johnson, reunited the USA and the surrender of the final general came in June.
6. Russia ‘ October 1917
With just over a year to go before the First World War would end, Russia ‘ which had struggled with internal strife for several years ‘ began a series of changes that would mark the end of the imperial period and the beginning of Communism. Led by an inept Tsar for many years who had failed to correct rising unemployment and a starving population, the revolutionary army of Lenin led an uprising in which the royal family would be executed. Russia would withdraw from the Great War and have a brief civil war between the ‘Red Army’ and the ‘White Army’.
7. The Moon – 1969
The first time that a human being would step on a world other than our own ‘ the crew of Apollo 11 are household names and there is not a person in the western world that doesn’t know the famous line uttered by Neil Armstrong as he opened the door, climbed down the ladder and finally stood upon alien soil. The moon had fascinated humanity for thousands of years and it was a declared target of NASA to finally go there. The crew collected samples, went for a drive, played some games and placed an American flag.
8. Rome ‘ 476AD
Romulus Augustulus: it is not a household name compared to Augustus, Vespasian, Constantine or Diocletian but it is a name remembered by history as the last Emperor of the Western Roman Empire. Effectively, it ended with his abdication and formal recognition by the eastern half that Italy was now ruled by the Vandal Kingdom. Zeno, the Eastern Emperor, refused to reunite the two halves so the western empire was dead. It wasn’t the cataclysmic end that we might imagine. Rome had already lost control of the provinces but the date of 476AD is seen as a formality.
9. Reunited Germany – 1989
The end of widespread Communism and the reunification of Germany had not been planned but it was inevitable when refugees flooded out of the east into West Germany, Hungary and Austria. Realising the inevitable, East Germany opened its borders including the gates of the Berlin Wall. In truth, it was not a quick dismantling and reunification, the wall came down gradually with new border points opening. However, the images of people going at it with sledgehammers are so iconic that the real process of slow dismantling of the wall and the Eastern Block is easily forgotten.
10. Black Death in Europe – 1348
The most horrific pandemic in human history saw as much as 40% of the population of Europe killed by a deadly disease spread by rats, probably originating in the Far East. Whole communities were destroyed and it affected people of all ages and social ranks. Interestingly, the events and how authorities reacted, over-employment and other social issues all combined to bring about the end of the feudal system. Peasant farmers soon found themselves owners of land they once toiled and owners of flocks they once herded.
Many of these events have passed into legend. Sometimes the procedures of events are different from what is taught in schools or how it is written by the historians who follow in the wake, offering their commentary. What is not in dispute is how much the respective country or the world changed after these events.