On June 16th 1958, Hungarian Communist politician Imre Nagy was executed. Arrested after Soviet forces brought the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 to an end, Nagy was found guilty of treason in a secret trial and executed by hanging.
Nagy had been sacked from his position as Chairman of the Council of Ministers in April 1955 due to his independent attitude that favoured a “New Course” in Socialism. Although his moderate reforms were met with hostility from the USSR, they garnered significant support within Hungary where opposition to the hard-line government of Mátyás Rákosi had grown since the death of Stalin in 1953. Nagy’s popular support led to him being appointed Prime Minister on October 24th 1956, the day after the Revolution began.
After a week of violence, Nagy recognised the crowd’s desire for political change. Despite being an ardent Marxist he began moves towards introducing a multiparty political system and, on November 1st, announced Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and its status as a neutral country. This proved too much for Khrushchev in the USSR, who moved his troops into Budapest and seized control of most of the city by the 8th November. Nagy took refuge in the Yugoslavian embassy, but was arrested when he was given false promises of safe passage to leave Hungary on the 22nd November. He, and other leading members of the deposed government, were imprisoned in Romania until 1958 when they were returned to Hungary for trial.
News of Nagy’s trial and execution were only made public after the sentence had been carried out.
The Arab Revolt began fully on June 10th 1916 when Grand Sharif Hussein bin Ali, the guardian of the holy city of Mecca, ordered his troops to attack the Ottoman Caliphate’s garrison in the city. Hussein’s troops, drawn from his tribe, significantly outnumbered the Ottoman soldiers but were considerably less well equipped. Consequently, despite impressive initial gains, Hussein’s troops were unable to win the battle until Egyptian troops sent by the British arrived to provide artillery support.
Through correspondence with Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner of Egypt at the time, Hussein had become convinced that the Revolt would be rewarded with an independent Arabian empire stretching through the Middle East. The British supported the Revolt as it distracted tens of thousands of Ottoman troops from joining other fronts in the First World War.
Captain T. E. Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia for his involvement in the Revolt, did not join with the Arab forces until October 1916. Although he was just one of many British and French officers who worked closely with the Arabs during the Revolt, newspaper reports of his guerrilla tactics and close relationship with Hussein’s sons Faisal and Abdullah earned him fame.
The Revolt was an enormous success, but the outcome was not what was agreed in the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence. The British and French instead divided the land according to the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement that they had negotiated between themselves in 1916. Hussein was given the Hejaz region in the Arabian Peninsula, but was defeated in 1925 by Ibn Saud.
On the 7th May 1794, just a few weeks before the Law of 22nd Prairial that created the Great Terror, Maximilien Robespierre formally announced the creation of the Cult of the Supreme Being in a meeting of the National Convention.
The Cult had been devised almost exclusively by Robespierre, and followed a period of dramatic de-Christianisation that had seen the French Church stripped of its authority. The Republic had fought hard to remove the influence of the Church from politics, with even the calendar being changed to remove all religious connotations.
What made the Cult of the Supreme Being unique as the state religion was that it recognised that God had created the universe, but that he did not interfere or intervene in its operation. Therefore, humans were responsible for their own actions and destinies. In the words of Robespierre, the existence of God and the immortality of the human soul were, “constant reminders” of the virtuous way people should live their lives in the Republic.
A month later, on the 20th Prairial (otherwise known as the 8th June 1794), Robespierre ordered a national celebration known as the Festival of the Supreme Being. The most significant celebrations were in Paris, where a huge man-made papier-mâché mountain was built on the Champs de Mars. This event is seen by many as marking the pinnacle of Robespierre’s influence. However, within just 8 weeks the Thermidorian Reaction had removed him from power and executed him.
The 25th April 1792 saw the world’s first use of the guillotine as a method of execution. Nicolas Jacques Pelletier, a French highwayman found guilty of killing a man during one of his robberies, was the guillotine’s first – but by no means last – victim.
Pelletier’s status as a common criminal was significant. Prior to the French Revolution, beheading as a form of execution had been reserved for the nobility. Commoners were usually subjected to longer and arguably more painful deaths through hanging, or worse. To end the privilege of the nobility, the National Assembly therefore made decapitation the only legal form of execution.
It was recognised that manual beheading was, however, still a gruesome form of execution. On 10th October 1789, physician Joseph Guillotin argued that every execution should be swift and mechanical. The National Assembly agreed, acknowledging that capital punishment should simply end life, not purposefully cause pain as well.
Another physician, Antoine Louis, was appointed to lead a committee to develop a quick and efficient decapitation machine. Although Guillotin was a member of this committee, it is actually therefore Antione Louis who is credited with the device’s invention, even though it carries the Guillotin’s name.
As for the highwayman Pelletier, his execution went smoothly – much to the disappointment of the crowd who expected better ‘entertainment’. Excited to see the new machine in action, they were disappointed at its speed and efficiency.
Vladimir Lenin arrived in Russia after a decade of self-imposed exile.
Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Party, had left Russia in 1907 after Tsar Nicholas II cancelled many of the reforms he had promised following the 1905 revolution. While abroad he remained busy organising Bolshevik groups and publishing Marxist works, but following the February Revolution and the abdication of the Tsar in 1917 he began making plans to return to Russia.
The country had been weakened by the exhausting toll of the First World War and this, combined with disastrous food shortages, had prompted the popular revolt that overthrew the Tsar. In his place the Provisional Government ruled the country, and they opted to continue the war effort despite strong opposition from the Russian people.
German officials were keen to further destabilise the situation. Despite being at war, Lenin and other Bolshevik exiles were granted permission to return to Russia from Switzerland through Germany in a ‘sealed train’. This meant that Lenin and his companions were never legally recognised as being in Germany.
The group then took a ferry to Sweden followed by a second train to Finland, arriving at Finland Station in Petrograd on 16 April. The next day Lenin published the April Theses in which he denounced both the Provisional Government and the First World War, and claimed that Russia was “passing from the first stage of the revolution…to its second stage, which must place power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants.”
Less than seven months later the Bolsheviks overthrew the Provisional Government in the October Revolution.
On the 11th February 1979 Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, was overthrown as a result of the Iranian Revolution. His overthrow saw the end of the 2,500 year old monarchy in Iran and ushered in a theocracy overseen by the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Under the Shah, Iran enjoyed immense wealth built on an abundant supply of oil, although the vast majority of the population continued to live in poverty. The Shah, who had come to power in 1941, tried to secure support by using oil money to modernize Iran. However these reforms, known as the ‘White Revolution’ were interpreted by some as pandering to Western ideals that went against Iran’s traditions.
Despite the establishment of the brutal SAVAK secret police, a growing number of Iranians were increasingly turning against the Shah. They found a leader in the Muslim scholar Ayatollah Khomeini who, despite being forced into exile in 1964, continued to be a vocal critic of the Shah’s government. He played down his intention to establish an Islamic government, focusing instead on his desire to overthrow the Shah.
On September 8th 1978, over 500 people were killed by soldiers on what became known as ‘Black Friday’. The Shah’s attempts to restore calm had no effect on the public, who continued to call for his removal.
Recognising that his overthrow was becoming inevitable, the Shah and his wife left Iran on January 15 for the USA. Khomeini returned to Iran two weeks later. Finally, on the 11th February the Supreme Military Council ordered all troops back to their barracks, effectively handing control to Khomeini and his supporters.
On the 22nd January 1905, the Bloody Sunday massacre took place in the Russian capital Saint Petersburg. Soldiers of the Imperial Guard fired on protesters led by the Orthodox Priest Father Georgy Gapon as they marched towards the Winter Palace where they planned to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II.
By 1905 there was growing discontent amongst the urban working class. Father Gapon had established the “Assembly of the Russian Factory and Mill Workers of the City of St. Petersburg” to promote workers’ rights in 1903, but after four Assembly members from the Putilov ironworks were sacked from their jobs in December 1904, workers across the city went on strike. Capitalising on the situation Father Gapon drafted a petition to the Tsar calling for improved working conditions and various other reforms that received 150,000 signatures.
On the morning of the 22nd January workers marched with the petition to the Winter Palace, alongside religious icons and pictures of the Tsar. Gapon had already notified the authorities of the petition and the march, and in response approximately 10,000 troops from the Imperial Guard were placed around the palace. However, why they began firing on the peaceful march is unclear. Even the number killed or injured is uncertain with estimates ranging from the government’s official figure of 96 dead to revolutionary claims of more than 4,000.
The Tsar was not in the palace at the time, and did not give an order for the troops to fire, but was widely blamed for the massacre. In response strikes and protests spread around the country, and eventually developed into the 1905 Revolution.
On the 7th November 1917, Red Guards entered the Winter Palace in St Petersburg in a defining event of the Bolshevik Revolution. Sometimes referred to as the October Revolution, the 7th November is the date from the modern Gregorian calendar that aligns with the 25th October on the old style Julian calendar, from which the revolution got its alternative name.
On the night of the 6th November Leon Trotsky led the Red Guards to take control of key government buildings and communication points such as post offices, bridges and the State Bank. Although the Red Guards were armed, historians generally accept that the takeover was carried out without bloodshed or indeed any shots being fired.
Throughout the 7th November large crowds of troops sympathetic to the Bolsheviks began to surround the Winter Palace. The actual attack on the palace began after a signal shot fired from cruiser ship Aurora. Soviet accounts of the night, portrayed most powerfully in Sergei Eisenstein’s film reenactment, present the takeover of the Winter Palace as a huge battle. However, this popular image is a fabrication. The large number of Red Guards marching towards the palace led to the Cossacks guarding the palace to desert their posts, while the remaining Cadets and volunteers from the Women’s Battalion laid down their weapons and surrendered after the Red Guards found their way inside the palace through an open door.
The remnants of the Provisional Government were discovered in a small dining room and arrested. Meanwhile the wine cellar was looted, leading to what historian Orlando Figes suggested was perhaps, “the biggest hangover in history”.
Mussolini, who was determined to restore the glory of the Roman Empire following the ‘mutilated victory’ of the First World War, had formed the precursor to the Fascist Party in 1919. His skill as an orator, the intimidating power of his Blackshirts, and the relative weaknesses of the existing liberal government all contributed to the speed at which the Fascists gained influence.
On 24 October 1922 Mussolini went on stage at the Fascist Congress in Naples to declare his willingness to use the power of the Fascist movement to overthrow the government of liberal Prime Minister Luigi Facta. Four days later approximately 30,000 Blackshirts from around the country gathered in the capital in an event known as the March on Rome. As they filled the streets and occupied public buildings, they called for Facta’s resignation.
The Prime Minister chose to oppose the attempted revolution, but King Victor Emmanuel III refused his request to declare martial law. Stunned by the King’s rejection of military action, Facta offered his resignation which was immediately accepted. Victor Emmanuel later invited Mussolini to form a government, whose cabinet was sworn in on 31 October in front of the King himself.
The establishment of Mussolini’s government was greeted by a victory march by tens of thousands of Blackshirts. In time the March on Rome would achieve mythical status among Fascists as a revolutionary seizure of power, but the reality is that Mussolini was granted power the King. Within a few years, however, he would transform the country into a dictatorship.
On the 6th October 1981 Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group that was enraged by the peace treaty he had negotiated with Israel. His assassins were arrested, put on trial and executed, while the death of the President led to Vice President Hosni Mubarak becoming the premier just eight days after the assassination. He went on to rule for almost 30 years before he stepped down during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.
Three years before his assassination, Sadat had signed the Camp David Accords and jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The Accords led to Egypt signing the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty in 1979, which marked the first time that an Arab nation had formally recognised Israel. Although the treaty ended 40 years of almost continuous war between the two nations, it was met with hostility by some people in Egypt who felt that Sadat had betrayed the Palestinian cause and the honour or Egypt.
With hostility to his rule growing at home, Sadat was surrounded by security as he observed the 6th October parade that marked the Egyptian crossing of the Suez Canal at the start of the Yom Kippur War. The assassins were in the procession on board an artillery truck that stopped directly in front of Sadat and allowed them to approach the President. Believing that this was part of the proceedings, Sadat stood to salute them but was killed in a hail of grenades and indiscriminate firing of AK-47s. He died in hospital two hours later.