Wednesday, July 26, 2006

July 26

The Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros I was undone in a most poetic manner on this date in 811 by his nemesis Krum, khan of Bulgaria. Endeavoring to secure the empire’s embattled northern border, Nikephoros had led a massive July campaign into the Balkans, defeating Krum at Moesia and Pliska, the Bulgarian capital. After sacking Pliska and setting it ablaze, Nikephoros I -- unsatisfied with his conquest and refusing Krum’s several offers to negotiate -- regathered his army and marched onward toward Serdica, where he presumably expected more of the same. Pestered along the way by Bulgarian ambushes, however, the Byzantines fell into disarray and soon began a slow retreat through the mountains toward Thrace. On July 26, Nikephoros and his army were destroyed at the Varbica pass, where a massive wooden barricade had been constructed to prevent their further advance. The Emperor was killed along with untold numbers of Byzantine soldiers, many of whom drowned while attempting to flee across a nearby river. Legend suggests that Krum -- wishing to savor the sweet nectar of victory for years to come -- boiled Nikephoros’ skull and lined it with silver, creating a handy and most fearsome wine goblet.

Krum’s efforts would most certainly have delighted Ed Gein, whose Plainfield, Wisconsin home was searched in November 1957 by horrified police, who discovered therein a necklace of human lips, clothing and lampshades composed of tanned human skins, and skulls that had been converted into bedposts and soup bowls. After nearly thirty years of confinement at various Wisconsin hospitals, Gein died of respiratory failure on this date in 1984.