4 March AD 306

While torturing some Christians in Nicomedia, a Roman officer, Adrian, asks them what they hope to get out of it. He is so impressed by their answers that he promptly converts to Christianity, earning a date with the executioner. The good news is that he becomes a saint. | Written by Dominic Sandbrook


4 March 1193

Saladin, sultan of Egypt and Syria and founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, died in Damascus. In 1187 he had defeated Christian forces at Hattin and recaptured Jerusalem.

4 March 1212

Alexander, the only son of William the Lion of Scotland, was knighted by King John at Clerkenwell. In 1221 he married Joan, the 10-year-old daughter of the late English king.

4 March 1678

The birth in Venice of violinist and composer Antonio Lucio Vivaldi. His work will include 46 operas, 73 sonatas and over 500 concertos including the celebrated Four Seasons, composed in 1723.

4 March 1790

Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald died on Skye. In 1746 she helped Charles Edward Stuart evade capture after defeat at Culloden and then spent months under arrest. Questioned by Frederick, Prince of Wales, she replied that she would have done the same for him had he been in distress. In 1774 she emigrated with her husband to North Carolina; during the American War of Independence both were supporters of the British government. In 1779 they returned to Scotland.

4 March 1859

Richard Burton and John Speke return to Zanzibar at the end of their quest to find the source of the Nile. After jointly discovering Lake Tanganyika, Speke had gone on to find Lake Victoria but Burton will deny Speke's claim that it is the Nile's source.

4 March 1918: The first case of “Spanish flu” is recorded

Patient Zero falls ill at a military base in Kansas

The winter of 1917–18 had been harsh at Camp Funston, a training centre on Fort Riley in Kansas. The camp was set on a plain spanning some 80 sq km, studded with barracks, stables, repair units and hangars. It was a windy, cold location, creating a hostile environment for soldiers who lived and trained there in preparation to join the First World War, then raging across the globe. Barracks were overcrowded and insufficiently heated.

There was still a chill in the air on the morning of 4 March 1918. Private Albert Gitchell, a US Army mess cook, woke feeling hot and achy, his throat burning. Physically unable to attend to his duties, he dragged himself to the infirmary – Hospital Building 91 – where his temperature was taken, recording a shocking 39.4°C. Wary of spreading whatever disease had infected Gitchell, the camp doctor recom- mended that the cook – whom he diagnosed with “a bad cold” – spend a few days in a separate tent.

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It was already too late. Almost immediately afterwards, several more patients descended on the infirmary complaining of the same symptoms. Before lunchtime, 107 cases of the mysterious flu were recorded at Fort Riley. With so many soldiers ailing, alternative arrangements had to be made rapidly, to accommodate and provide beds for the sick. Men were moved from the bursting quarantine tent into a vast hangar where the beds were spaced in rows, as in a hospital.

This outbreak heralded the start of the pandemic that became known as the “Spanish flu”. This strain of influenza virus proved deadly and highly contagious, rapidly spread- ing worldwide. It infected nearly one-third of the global population and killed an estimated 50 million people. Fortunately, by 1920 the strain had weakened, and flu outbreaks became less-deadly seasonal phenomena. | Written by Helen Carr

4 March 1941

British commandos raided the Norwegian Lofoten Islands, destroying the islands' fish oil processing facilities, which were being used by the Germans. Nearly 300 prisoners were taken, as well as a set of rotors for an Enigma coding machine.


4 March 1967

North Sea gas is first piped ashore to the UK.

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