On This Day in History, August 23

In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius begins to stir, leading up to its eruption in the following days, as is Roman tradition. The day the stirring began also happens to be a feast day for Vulcan, the Roman god of fire, including deserts, the forge, and volcanoes. The ensuing eruption would destroy several Roman cities, best known being Pompeii and Herculaneum. Though the total populations of all settlements destroyed were over 20,000, total casualties from the eruption are unknown.

In 1703, Ottoman Sultan Mustafa II was dethroned as part of the Edirne event, a janissary revolt. The sultanate passed to Ahmed III, Mustafa’s brother. The janissaries initiated the revolt due to a combination of three factors: the Treaty of Karlowitz, which followed fifteen years of conflict after the failure at Vienna; the rise of Seyhulislam Feyzullah Efendi; and the implementation of a change to the practice of tax farming, allowing a person to claim tax collection rights for a lifetime. This revolt would begin to transition power away from the sultan himself and into the janissaries.

In 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression agreement between the two totalitarian powers. Embedded into the pact were agreements about the division of power and influence in Eastern Europe, including the partitioning of Poland and decisions concerning small, potential claims. While the pact would be used by the Soviet Union to justify their invasion of Poland, it would be terminated upon the implementation of Germany’s Operation Barbarossa—the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.

A Notable Birth

1978 – Kobe Bryant (d. 2020) was an American basketball player. Leaping straight from high school into the NBA, Kobe spent his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Quickly becoming a fan favorite player, he was instrumental to the Lakers’ three-peat in the early 2000s. Injuries late into his career led to his retirement in 2016. He passed away earlier this year due to a helicopter crash. He would have been 42 today.

A Notable Death

634 – Abu Bakr (b. 573) was an early convert to Islam and a close companion of the Prophet Muhammad. Coming from a rich family, he came to disdain idols as a child. After Muhammad declared himself the Messenger of God, Abu Bakr was among the first 100 converts to Islam. He would stick close to the Prophet, immigrating to Medina in 622 and fighting in the campaigns during the Prophet’s lifetime. His daughter, Aisha, would become one of the Prophet’s wives. Following Muhammad’s death, Abu Bakr became the first caliph and consolidated Islamic rule over the Arabian Peninsula.

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