September 15 is the 258th day of the year (259th if it’s a leap year) and historically, it has most often been a Tuesday, Thursday, or a Saturday. Just a few of the notable people who were born on this day are Marco Polo, President William Taft, and Agatha Christie. While it may sound like a mundane date, there are some amazing things that happened on September 15. These are 10 of the most interesting of those events.
10. 668 – Constans II is Assassinated
Constans II Pogonatus was born in Constantinople, which is now Istanbul, Turkey, in 630 AD. He was the son of Constantine III, and when his father died in 641, Constans assumed the throne of the Byzantine Empire at the age of 11.
As an adult, Constans was pretty sneaky when it came to protecting his throne. First, he named his son as co-ruler so that his brother, Theodosius, wouldn’t be able to succeed him as emperor. Then in 660, to guarantee that there was no way his brother could usurp the throne, Constans had Theodosius killed.
The murder of Theodosius angered the people of Constantinople, so Constans moved to Syracuse in Italy. Not long afterwards, he announced that he planned to permanently live there and make Syracuse the capital of the Byzantine Empire. The local citizens of Syracuse didn’t like this plan, so a few of them paid Constans’ eunuch chamberlain to kill him. The chamberlain hit Constans in the head with a silver bucket while he was bathing on September 15, 668. The blow to the head fractured his skull and he died as a result.
His son, Constantine, succeeded him and he became Emperor Constantine IV.
9. 1440 – Serial Killer Gilles de Rais is Arrested
Serial killers are often thought of as a modern phenomenon, but there were some horrifying serial killers that predate even Jack the Ripper. One of the worst of those historical serial killers is Gilles de Rais.
Born in 1404 in France, de Rais fought in many wars and was a notable soldier. Because of his reputation, he was promoted to Joan of Arc’s special guard. Once she was captured, de Rais retired from the army and lived on the land he had inherited from his family. De Rais also married rich, so he lived a life of luxury that rivaled the King of France.
As a nobleman, de Rais became obsessed with alchemy and in the pursuit of his knowledge he turned to Satanism. It was during this time that he apparently murdered 140 children. According to his own confessions, de Rais would decapitate them and save the heads.
He avoided prosecution for a long time because he was a nobleman. What finally got him in trouble was when he ordered a priest to be kidnapped in the middle of a service.
He was arrested on September 15, 1440, and hanged on September 26 at the age of 36. De Rais would go on to be a major influence on the French folklore character Bluebeard.
8. 1812 – Napoleon Reaches The Kremlin and Moscow Burns
In the spring of 1812, French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was fighting a war against the British, but he was having problems conquering them. That’s when he devised a plan to invade Russia as a way to economically isolate the British, thus forcing their surrender.
In June 1812, Bonaparte amassed 500,000 soldiers and staff, which was the largest fighting force ever assembled in history up to that point. They entered Russian territory on June 24, and on September 14, they invaded Moscow. Just after midnight on September 15, Bonaparte was inside their capital building, the Kremlin.
This should have signaled the defeat of the Russians, but it didn’t. When the French arrived in Moscow, they found out that the city had been evacuated and the Russian army had retreated. The fleeing Russians didn’t leave much in the way of food or supplies for the Grande Armée, who were running low on both as they entered Moscow.
Another problem that the Grande Armée faced upon entering Moscow was massive fires. Russian citizens started fires throughout the city as they evacuated and even the Kremlin was set ablaze. The French were then forced to flee through the burning streets to the outskirts of the city to avoid being asphyxiated to death.
The city continued to burn for three days and by the time it was done, two-thirds of Moscow had been destroyed.
The French were hoping that the Russians would surrender, but they didn’t. The French waited around for a month, but when it was clear that no surrender was coming, the Grande Armée was forced to flee because they had no food and winter was coming.
As the French started to leave Moscow, the Russians began attacking. The Grande Armée was already starving and freezing to death, so the attacks were devastating.
The invasion of Russia was a terrible defeat for Bonaparte and the Grande Armée. In total, they lost 400,000 troops. Bonaparte was eventually exiled after the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 and he died in 1821.
7. 1821 – Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica Gain Their Independence From Spain
In the early 16th century, Spain started to conquer Central America. They were able to take over what is modern-day Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica because they had better weapons. Specifically, the indigenous tribes of Central America hadn’t yet discovered metal forging or gunpowder. The Spanish also engineered fighting between different indigenous groups to tire and weaken their armies. Then the Spanish came in and conquered them.
In 1609 the conquest was complete, and Central America was called the Captaincy General of Guatemala in 1609 and King Philip III of Spain was the head of state.
In the 18th century, the Spanish were looking at ways to keep control over their land in Central America and decided to divide the area into Intendants. The borders of the Intendants were similar to the borders of the modern day countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. These divisions led to culture flourishing in the Intendants, and instead of gaining more control over the area, the people living in Central America began to despise their colonial rulers.
In the 19th century, Spain was having problems with the Napoleon Bonaparte-led invasion and there were several attempts to overthrow the King of Spain. This instability in the country, along with the United States and Mexico gaining their independence, emboldened the countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica to get their independence. So on September 15, 1821, they announced their independence and the formation of the Federal Republic of Central America, which was based on the principles of the United States.
The Federation didn’t last long. Honduras pulled out in 1838 and they descended into civil war. The rest of the Federation disbanded two years later.
6. 1835 – Charles Darwin Reaches the Galápagos Islands
In the winter of 1831, Captain Robert FitzRoy was going on a charting expedition around South America aboard the H.M.S. Beagle. A 26-year-old Charles Darwin convinced FitzRoy to let him come along as a naturalist.
Four years later, on September 15, 1835, the H.M.S. Beagle landed in the Galápagos Islands, which is about 605 miles off the coast of Ecuador. When Darwin arrived at the islands, he didn’t yet have any notions about his theory of evolution. That would come much later.
What Darwin noticed was that on different islands, some animals, like the Galapagos mockingbirds and giant tortoises, were slightly different from each other. Darwin would eventually figure out that these differences were the result of evolution. This realization led to his landmark book, On the Origin of Species, which was published in 1859.
5. 1916 – Tanks Are Used for the First Time in Warfare
On July 1, 1916, during World War I, the British started to bombard the German occupied area of the Somme River region of France with shells. After launching the shells, 100,000 British soldiers poured into no-man’s land. Unfortunately for the British troops, the shelling failed to destroy many of the German machine guns. By the end of July 1, 20,000 British soldiers were killed and 40,000 more were injured. It was the worst military loss in British history.
Months later, the Battle of Somme was still raging. That’s when the British brought in a weaponized vehicle that would change warfare forever: the tank. On September 15, 1916, the British deployed about 40 tanks, but they weren’t very effective. They had a tendency to break down and were too slow to hold their positions when the Germans began their counterattack.
Although the tanks failed on their first outing, British General Douglas Haig saw the potential of them and ordered more to be constructed. The Battle of Somme was pretty much a stalemate, albeit a very bloody one. 600,000 British and French forces were killed, while the Germans lost 650,000 men.
Two years later, Germany became exhausted by the war and signed an armistice agreement on November 11, 1918, ending World War I.
4. 1935 – Nuremberg Laws Enacted
On September 15, 1935, at their annual party rally, the German government, which was called the Reichstag and was comprised entirely of Nazi party members, announced that the German flag would officially be the infamous Nazi flag that is red with the black swastika. They also passed two laws that were collectively known as the Nuremberg Laws.
The first law was the Reich Citizenship Law, which was used to define what makes someone Jewish and ban them from having German citizenship. At the time, many Germans who had Jewish heritage couldn’t be easily identified because they had merged with mainstream German culture, or they didn’t practice Judaism, and some had even converted to Christianity. The Reich Citizenship Law defined a Jewish person as someone who had at least three Jewish grandparents. So tens of thousands of people who didn’t consider themselves Jewish suddenly found themselves without citizenship in their own country and eventually were shipped off to concentration camps if they weren’t able to flee Germany first.
If someone had one or two Jewish grandparents, they were called Mischlinge, and they weren’t considered a German citizen or a Jew. They shared the same rights as the German citizens, but the Nazis continually made life difficult for them.
The second Nuremberg Law was the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor. It banned marriage and sexual relationships between Jewish and non-Jewish people. These laws led to thousands of people being sent to concentration camps.
3. 1947 – Typhoon Kathleen Hit Japan
After World War II and all the way until the end of the 1950s, Japan was hit by a series of typhoons. One of the worst happened on September 15, 1947. Typhoon Kathleen made landfall near Tokyo with winds reaching 115 miles per hour, and there was also a record amount of rainfall, which caused several levies to break on the Tone River.
The breaking levies caused flooding in Tokyo, which effected 300,000 people and 9,928 buildings were razed. The total death toll was somewhere between 1,692 and 2,320. It was one of the deadliest typhoons in Japan’s history.
2. 1968 – The Soviets Launch the Zond 5
In 1968, the space race between the Americans and the Russians was in full swing. On September 15, the Russians made a major leap ahead of the Americans when they launched the Zond 5 from a Tyazheliy Sputnik. On September 18, it started to orbit around the moon, becoming the first craft to do so. The closest it got to the moon was 1,210 miles.
After orbiting the moon and taking some pictures of the Earth from 90,000 kilometers away, it returned to Earth. It crashed down in the Indian Ocean and was later retrieved by the Soviets.
About a month later, the Soviets announced that on board the Zond 5 there were wine flies, meal worms, plants, seeds, bacteria, and two tortoises. According to Discovery’s Amy Shira Teitel, that means that, “The first living beings to see an Earthrise from the Moon were communist turtles.”
1. 1974 – Muhammad Ali Becomes First Person to Win Heavyweight Championship Three Times
In October 1974, Muhammad Ali knocked out the highly-favored George Foreman in the eighth round at the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, Zaire to win the World Heavyweight Championship belt for the second time in his career. Ali lost the title the first time because it was stripped from him due to his refusal to be drafted into the army during the Vietnam War.
Ali would go on to lose the title a second time to Leon Spinks on February 15, 1978, at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas. At the time of their fight, Ali was 35 and Spinks was 24 and it was Spinks’ eighth professional fight. The bout lasted 15 rounds and Spinks won in a split decision.
After the loss, people expected Ali to retire. Instead, on September 15, 1978, at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, he had a rematch against Spinks. This fight also went 15 rounds, and this time Ali won by unanimous decision, making him the first person to win the heavyweight title three times.
Ali retired in 1979, but came back for two more fights. On October 2, 1980, he fought heavyweight champ Larry Holmes and was knocked out, and on December 11, 1981, he fought Trevor Berbick and lost by unanimous decision.
Ali finished his career with a record of 56 wins, five losses and 37 knockouts. He passed in June 2016.