1 March 509 BC

After defeating exiled king Tarquin the Proud, aristocrat Publius Valerius Publicola celebrates the first official ‘triumph’ in the history of the Roman republic, riding through the city in a fine chariot. For centuries, generals copy his example.

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1 March 86 BC: Sulla brings a nightmare to Athens

The ruthless Roman general ravages the Greek city

Of all the great characters in Roman history, Lucius Cornelius Sulla ranks as one of the most ruthless. A brilliant general and cunning politician, he rose to fame in his campaigns against Rome’s enemies abroad. And in the spring of 87 BC he arrived in Greece, in preparation to take on one of the most formidable: Mithridates, king of Pontus.

Sulla’s first target was the Greek city of Athens, run by Mithridates’ ally Aristion. Though a shadow of its former self, it was still a tough nut to crack. Needing wood for his siege engines, Sulla cut down the sacred groves and raided the local temples. Week by week, he tightened his grip. And at last, at midnight on 1 March 86 BC, the Romans broke through the walls and poured into the city.

For the Athenians, what followed was a nightmare of horrific proportions. “The arrival of Sulla,” wrote the biographer Plutarch, “was made terrible by the blasts of trumpets and bugles, and by the cries and yells of the soldiers whom he let loose for plunder and slaughter, who rushed through the narrow streets with drawn swords. It was impossible to count all the slain; to this day people calculate the total using the space that was covered with blood.”

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But the most revealing thing, wrote Plutarch, were the Athenians who “slew themselves out of yearning pity for their native city, which they thought was going to be destroyed”. Even the best of them lost the will to live: they realised “they could expect no humanity or moderation from Sulla”. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook


1 March 1815: Napoleon boldly returns to France

The military leader lands on French soil to retake power

By the last week in February 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte had been in exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba for more than nine months. Europe was at peace, and the campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars were a fading memory. Yet in Vienna, where the major powers were redrawing the bloodstained map of Europe, tempers were fraying. In France, too, under the Bourbon monarch Louis XVIII, there were already hints of unrest at the restoration of the old order. But surely nothing could go seriously wrong – could it?

And then, on 1 March, something extraordinary happened on the south coast of France. Napoleon – who had escaped from Elba on the brig Inconstant – landed in the seaside village of Golfe-Juan, between Cannes and Antibes, with a thousand men. He issued a defiant proclamation, asserting his right to rule.

“Frenchmen!” he declared. “In my exile I have heard your complaints and your desires: you were claiming that government of your choice, which alone is legitimate. You were complaining of my long sleep, you reproached me with sacrificing to my own repose the great interests of the fatherland... I have crossed the seas in the midst of perils of every sort; I arrive among you in order to reclaim my rights, which are yours.”

It seemed the stuff of a novel, the stuff of fantasy. But it was real. The Bourbons sent troops south, but Napoleon seemed unstoppable. First Antibes fell, then Cannes. On 7 March, in the village of Laffrey, the army at last caught up with him.

“Soldiers, do you recognise me?” Napoleon cried. “If there is one among you who wishes to kill your emperor, here I am!”

After a long silence, one musket clattered to the ground, then another, then another. First one soldier was shouting: “Vive l’Empereur!” – then they were all shouting it.

Napoleon smiled. “It’s over,” he said. “In eight days, we shall be in Paris.” | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries

1 March 1559
Death of Sir Thomas Tresham at Rushton Hall, Northamptonshire. He had been a loyal supporter of Mary Tudor who rewarded him by making him the prior of the re-established Order of St John of Jerusalem in England.
1 March 1810
Composer and pianist Frédéric François Chopin was born in the village of Zelasowa Wola in the Duchy of Warsaw, the son of a Polish mother and a French expatriate father.
1 March 1811
Muhammad Ali Pasha began his destruction of Mameluke power in Egypt by inviting 500 of their leaders to a banquet in the Cairo citadel where he trapped and slaughtered them.
1 March 1812
Birth of English Gothic Revival architect and designer Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin. Pugin is probably best known for his work on the Palace of Westminster where he designed the interiors, wallpapers and furnishings and also the clock tower which houses Big Ben. Pugin was also a prolific designer of churches and houses, such as the Grange at Ramsgate, where he died in 1852.
1 March 1813 
English scientist Michael Faraday was appointed laboratory assistant at the Royal Institution after the previous assistant, John Payne, had been sacked following a punch-up in the Institution’s lecture theatre.
1 March 1907
The Royal Navy issues the first ready-made uniforms to its men.
1 March 1938
Italian writer, airman, daredevil and nationalist politician Gabriele d'Annunzio dies at his home in Brescia. In August 1918 he led a squadron of Italian planes on a 620-mile round trip to drop propaganda leaflets over Vienna. In 1919 he seized the disputed seaport of Fiume and ruled it as dictator for over a year until ejected by the Italian government when he retired from public life. His bombastic leadership clearly influenced that of Mussolini although he vigorously opposed the latter's courting of Hitler.

1 March 1932: The ‘Lindbergh baby’ vanishes

The kidnapping of the famous aviator’s son becomes the crime story of the century

On the evening of 1 March 1932, the pioneering aviator Charles Lindbergh was at home in New Jersey with his wife, Anne, and 20-month-old son, Charles Jr. At 7.30pm, a nanny laid the toddler down to sleep in his crib. About two hours later, Charles heard a noise he thought sounded like a crate smashing, but thought nothing of it.

Then at 10pm, the nanny, frantic with worry, reported that the baby had disappeared. In his bedroom, Charles found a handwritten, misspelled note: “Dear Sir! Have 50000$ redy 25000$ in 20$ bills 15000$ in 10$ bills and 10000$ in 5$ bills… We warn you for making anyding public or for notify the Police. The child is in gut care.”

So began one of the most lurid cases in American criminal history. Amid massive publicity, crowds swiftly swarmed to the Lindbergh estate, destroying any chance of finding footprints. Amateur detectives, military men and even Chicago mobsters offered their assistance. More ransom notes arrived. In early April, Lindbergh delivered $50,000 to the kidnapper via an intermediary. But there was no baby. Then, on 12 May, a truck driver found a child’s body in woods near Lindbergh’s home. It was little Charles.

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Two years later, the police arrested a German-born carpenter, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who had a record of robbery and whose garage contained notes from the ransom money. Protesting his innocence, he went to the electric chair. But many observers were convinced that he must have had help. And for the novelist Agatha Christie, the case inspired one of her greatest books, Murder on the Orient Express. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook

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