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6 Generals Who Switched Sides Hoping for Reward

Military turncoats come in all shapes and sizes, motivated by all sorts of considerations: power, revenge, disillusionment, and, most often, the sound of a little extra coin. But not every turncoat seems to bear the tarnished rep old Benedict Arnold came away with. The following are some of history's lesser-known traitors, but ones who were pleased with the results.

1. Flavius Josephus (ca. 37"“100)

Revolutionary governments, caught up in the heat of the moment, often make poor decisions. For example, the Jewish rebels fighting against Rome appointed Joseph ben Matthias to be military governor of Galilee. An inveterate coward, however, Joseph surrendered at the first opportunity and became the Roman general Flavius Vespasianus's adviser on Jewish affairs. A nice gig, for sure. And when Flavius became emperor in the year 69, Joseph (or Josephus, as his new pals called him) found himself vaulted to the top of Roman high society. After trying to encourage the surrender of Jerusalem by shouting propaganda at the walls, he retired to Rome and became a famous author. The guilt of his treason may have caught up with old Josephus in his old age; he penned numerous writings lauding Jewish civilization, possibly to try to clear his conscience.

2. Alaric (ca. 370"“410)

A nobleman of the Visigoths, a Germanic tribe living in central Europe, Alaric fought for the Roman emperor Theodosius I against the rebel Eugenius. The brilliant decision to hire Alaric, though, gave the cunning nobleman an insider's view of the empire's weaknesses, and he took careful note. When Theodosius died in 395, the empire was divided into eastern and western halves ruled by his quarreling sons—and Alaric decided opportunity wasn't just knocking, it was practically kicking down his door. Alaric marched on Constantinople and ravaged the Thracian countryside, capturing most of Greece before the Roman general Stilicho forced him to withdraw. Soon after, the eastern emperor Arcadius gave Alaric control of most of Illyria, all of which paved the way for his first invasion of Italy in 401.

Alaric invaded the nation of his former employment several more times, and in 410 he became the first "barbarian" king to sack Rome in over 500 years. Though Alaric died in a plague in his 40s, his descendants carved out an empire of their own in what is now southern France, Spain, and Portugal.

3. Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (El Cid, Campeador) (1043"“1099)

Balboa_Park_El_Cid_statue_2.jpgHis very title speaks of a checkered past: El Cid comes from the Arabic al-Sayyid, or "the lord," while Campeador is Spanish for "champion." Back when it all started, El Cid was a commander in the army of Castile. Of course, the cocky commander wasn't all roses to work with, and the Cid was forced to flee in 1080 after angering King Alfonso. What's an out-of-work commander to do, though? El Cid quickly decided to shack up with the enemy, joining forces with the Muslim emir (king) of Zaragosa. Despite the emir's cantankerous relationship with Castile, El Cid fought valiantly with his former foes for several years. That is, until Spain was invaded by Berber fanatics from North Africa. Bathing in schadenfreude, El Cid was summoned back by Alfonso, profusely apologized to, and begged to defeat the seemingly invincible invaders. El Cid accepted, and in the course of the fighting, "the Champion" maneuvered himself into the top spot in Valencia, the gem of Spain's Mediterranean coast. He died in 1099 fighting off a new wave of North African attackers, but even after his death proved useful. The city's defenders strapped the Cid's rapidly-assuming-room-temperature form to the back of his horse and managed to trick the enemies into thinking El Cid, Campeador, was still in charge. [Image courtesy of Stan Shebs.]

4. Francesco Sforza (1401"“1466)

Warfare in 15th-century Italy was dominated by the condottieri, mercenary generals who commanded motley crews of hungry soldiers. Of course, the soldiers for hire weren't exactly loved by everyone, and were seen as particularly uncouth by those gallant few who fought for land instead of money. The son of one of the most successful of the condottieri, Francesco Sforza was known for his great strength: reportedly, he could bend iron bars with his bare hands. Of course, as a mercenary, his loyalties were just as easily bent. After signing on with various feudal lords in their endless wars, he settled down in Milan and joined forces with Filippo Visconti, the local duke. On Visconti's death in 1447, however, Francesco turned on the duke's family and exiled or killed many of them. He also broke up an attempt to establish a Milanese republic, and then made himself duke. It's not nearly as bad as it sounds, though. Francesco went on to usher in nearly two decades of the best rule Milan had ever seen.

5. Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein (1583"“1634)

A minor, though well-educated, Czech nobleman, Wallenstein became an officer in the armies of the Holy Roman Empire. He fought numerous battles against Venice and other powers and gained a reputation for military genius. But when his fellow Protestants rebelled against the empire in 1618, ushering in the Thirty Years' War, imperial generals worked themselves into a tizzy fearing that they would face Wallenstein on the field. They needn't have worried, though. A man whose eye was always on the bottom line, Wallenstein calculated that the rewards of serving the Catholic side of the war were greater. He helped crush Protestant armies in his native Bohemia as well as in western and northern Germany. Removed from command in 1630 on suspicion of preparing to switch sides, he was reinstated shortly thereafter on the rationale that a general thought to be disloyal was probably better than generals known to be incompetent. In retrospect, however, the reasoning was questionable, as Wallenstein was killed in 1634 while attempting to defect to the Swedes.

6. Shi Lang (1621"“1696)

An admiral in the navy of China's Ming dynasty, Shi Lang came into conflict with Zheng Chenggong, a rival general. Deciding that the grass looked greener up north, he defected in 1646 to the Manchus, and left his family behind to be slaughtered as traitors. Was it worth the (very literal) sacrifice? Apparently so. Lacking experienced naval officers, the Manchu ruler Shunzhi welcomed Shi Lang with open arms, and the officer happily participated in the Manchu conquest of China. In fact, he became an official of the new Qing dynasty, made up of Shunzhi's descendants. Then, in 1681, he even got to lead the conquest of Taiwan, which culminated in the surrender of his old enemies, the Zheng family. In the end, Shi Lang made out pretty well, and was given the title "General Who Maintains Peace on the Seas" by a very grateful imperial government.

This article was excerpted from "Forbidden Knowledge: A Wickedly Smart Guide to History's Naughtiest Bits."

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10 Biting Facts About Snapping Turtles
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Here in the Americas, lake monster legends are a dime a dozen. More than a few of them were probably inspired by these ancient-looking creatures. In honor of World Turtle Day, here are 10 things you might not have known about snapping turtles.

1. THE COMMON SNAPPING TURTLE IS NEW YORK'S OFFICIAL STATE REPTILE.

Elementary school students voted to appoint Chelydra serpentina in a 2006 statewide election. Weighing as much as 75 pounds in the wild (and 86 in captivity), this hefty omnivore’s natural range stretches from Saskatchewan to Florida.

2. ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLES CAN BE LARGE. (VERY LARGE.)

An alligator snapping turtle
NorbertNagel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Utterly dwarfing their more abundant cousin, alligator snappers (genus: Macrochelys) are the western hemisphere’s biggest freshwater turtles. The largest one on record, a longtime occupant of Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, weighed 249 pounds.  

A monstrous 403-pounder was reported in Kansas during the Great Depression, though this claim was never confirmed.  

3. COMMON SNAPPERS HAVE LONGER NECKS AND SPIKIER TAILS.

Alligator snappers also display proportionately bigger heads and noses plus a trio of tall ridges atop their shells. Geographically, alligator snapping turtles are somewhat restricted compared to their common relatives, and are limited mainly to the southeast and Great Plains.

4. BOTH VARIETIES AVOID CONTACT WITH PEOPLE.

If given the choice between fight and flight, snapping turtles almost always distance themselves from humans. The animals spend the bulk of their lives underwater, steering clear of nearby Homo sapiens. However, problems can arise on dry land, where the reptiles are especially vulnerable. Females haul themselves ashore during nesting season (late spring to early summer). In these delicate months, people tend to prod and handle them, making bites inevitable.

5. YOU REALLY DON'T WANT TO GET BITTEN BY ONE. 

Snapping turtle jaw strength—while nothing to sneeze at—is somewhat overrated. Common snapping turtles can clamp down with up to 656.81 newtons (N) of force, though typical bites register an average of 209 N. Their alligator-like cousins usually exert 158 N. You, on the other hand, can apply 1300 N between your second molars.

Still, power isn’t everything, and neither type of snapper could latch onto something with the crushing force of a crocodile’s mighty jaws. Yet their sharp beaks are well-designed for major-league shearing. An alligator snapping turtle’s beak is capable of slicing fingers clean off and (as the above video proves) obliterating pineapples.

Not impressed yet? Consider the following. It’s often said that an adult Macrochelys can bite a wooden broom handle in half. Intrigued by this claim, biologist Peter Pritchard decided to play MythBuster. In 1989, he prodded a 165-pound individual with a brand new broomstick. Chomp number one went deep, but didn’t quite break through the wood. The second bite, though, finished the job.

6. SCIENTISTS RECENTLY DISCOVERED THAT THERE ARE THREE SPECIES OF ALLIGATOR SNAPPING TURTLES.

A 2014 study trisected the Macrochelys genus. For over a century, naturalists thought that there was just a single species, Macrochelys temminckii. Closer analysis proved otherwise, as strong physical and genetic differences exist between various populations. The newly-christened M. suwanniensis and M. apalachicolae are named after their respective homes—namely, the Suwannee and Apalachicola rivers. Further west, good old M. temminckii swims through the Mobile and the Mississippi.

7. THANKS TO A 19TH CENTURY POLITICAL CARTOON, COMMON SNAPPING TURTLES ARE ALSO KNOWN AS "OGRABMES." 

Snapping turtle cartoon
Urban~commonswiki via Wiki Commons // CC BY PD-US

Drawn by Alexander Anderson, this piece skewers Thomas Jefferson’s signing of the unpopular Embargo Act. At the president’s command, we see a snapping turtle bite some poor merchant’s hind end. Agitated, the victim calls his attacker “ograbme”—“embargo” spelled backwards.

8. ALLIGATOR SNAPPERS ATTRACT FISH WITH AN ORAL LURE …

You can’t beat live bait. Anchored to the Macrochelys tongue is a pinkish, worm-like appendage that fish find irresistible. Preferring to let food come to them, alligator snappers open their mouths and lie in wait at the bottoms of rivers and lakes. Cue the lure. When this protrusion wriggles, hungry fish swim right into the gaping maw and themselves become meals.

9.  … AND THEY FREQUENTLY EAT OTHER TURTLES. 


Complex01, WikimediaCommons

Alligator snappers are anything but picky. Between fishy meals, aquatic plants also factor into their diet, as do frogs, snakes, snails, crayfish, and even relatively large mammals like raccoons and armadillos. Other shelled reptiles are fair game, too: In one Louisiana study, 79.82% of surveyed alligator snappers had turtle remains in their stomachs.

10. YOU SHOULD NEVER PICK A SNAPPER UP BY THE TAIL.

Ideally, you should leave the handling of these guys to trained professionals. But what if you see a big one crossing a busy road and feel like helping it out? Before doing anything else, take a few moments to identify the turtle. If it’s an alligator snapper, you’ll want to grasp the lip of the upper shell (or “carapace”) in two places: right behind the head and right above the tail.

Common snappers demand a bit more finesse (we wouldn’t want one to reach back and nip you with that long, serpentine neck). Slide both hands under the hind end of the shell, letting your turtle’s tail dangle between them. Afterwards, clamp down on the carapace with both thumbs.

Please note that lifting any turtle by the tail can permanently dislocate its vertebrae. Additionally, remember to move the reptile in the same direction that it’s already facing. Otherwise, your rescue will probably turn right back around and try to cross the road again later. 

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Tina Fey
Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions
Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

Tina Fey has transformed modern comedy more than just about anyone else. From the main stage of Second City to the writer’s room of SNL to extremely fetch comedy blockbusters, Elizabeth Stamatina Fey has built a national stage with a dry, eye-popping sarcasm and political satire where no one is safe. She has a slew of Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG, PGA, and WGA awards to prove it—plus a recent Tony nomination (her first). But, more importantly, she’s the closest thing we have to a national comic laureate.

Here are 10 facts about a fantastically blorft American icon.

1. SHE DID A BOOK REPORT ON COMEDY WHEN SHE WAS 11.

Fey got a very early start in comedy, watching a lot of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bob Newhart, and Norman Lear shows as a kid. Her father and mother sneaked her in to see Young Frankenstein and would let her stay up late to watch The Honeymooners. So it’s no surprise that she chose comedy as the subject of a middle school project. The only book she could get her hands on was Joe Franklin’s Encyclopedia of Comedians, but at least she made a friend. "I remember me and one other girl in my 8th grade class got to do an independent study because we finished the regular material early, and she chose to do hers on communism, and I chose to do mine on comedy," Fey told The A.V. Club. "We kept bumping into each other at the card catalog."

2. THE SCAR ON HER FACE CAME FROM A BIZARRE ATTACK THAT OCCURRED WHEN SHE WAS A CHILD.

Fey’s facial scar had been recognizable but unexplained for years until a profile in Vanity Fair revealed that the mark on her left cheek came from being slashed by a strange man when she was five years old. “She just thought somebody marked her with a pen,” her husband Jeff Richmond said. Fey wrote in Bossypants that it happened in an alleyway behind her Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, home when she was in kindergarten.

3. HER FIRST TV APPEARANCE WAS IN A BANK COMMERCIAL.

Saturday Night Live hired Fey as a writer in 1997. In 1995 she had the slightly more glamorous job of pitching Mutual Savings Bank with a radical floral applique vest and a handful of puns on the word “Hi.” In a bit of life imitating art, just as Liz Lemon’s 1-900-OKFACE commercial was unearthed and mocked on 30 Rock, the internet discovered Fey’s stint awkwardly cheering on high interest rates a few years ago and had a lot to say about her '90s hair.

4. SHE WAS THE FIRST WOMAN TO BE NAMED HEAD WRITER OF SNL.

Four years after that commercial and two after she joined Saturday Night Live’s writing staff, Fey earned a promotion to head writer. Up until that point, the head writers were named Michael, Herb, Bob, Jim, Steve. You get the picture. She acted as head writer for six seasons until moving on to write and executive produce 30 Rock. Since her departure, two more women (Paula Pell and Sara Schneider) have been head writers for the iconic show.

5. SHE’S THE YOUNGEST MARK TWAIN PRIZE WINNER.

Established in 1998, the Kennedy Center’s hilarious honor has mostly been awarded to funny people in the twilight of their careers. Richard Pryor was the first recipient, and comedians who made their marks decades prior like Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg, and George Carlin followed. Fey earned the award in 2010 when she was 40 years old, and the age of her successors (Carol Burnett, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, David Letterman ...) signals that she may hold the title of youngest recipient for some time.

6. SHE WROTE SATIRE FOR HER HIGH SCHOOL NEWSPAPER.

Fey was an outstanding student who was involved in choir, drama, and tennis, and co-edited the school’s newspaper, The Acorn. She also wrote a satirical column addressing “school policy and teachers” under the pun-tastic pseudonym “The Colonel.” Fey also recalled getting in trouble because she tried to make a pun on the phrase “annals of history.” Cheeky.

7. SHE MADE HER RAP DEBUT WITH CHILDISH GAMBINO ON "REAL ESTATE."

Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) first gained notice as a member of Derrick Comedy in college, and Fey hired him at the age of 23 to write for 30 Rock. Before jumping from that show to Community, Glover put out his first mixtape under his stage name. After releasing his debut album, Camp, in 2011, Gambino dropped a sixth mixtape called Royalty that featured Fey rapping on a song called “Real Estate.” “My president is black, and my Prius is blue!"

8. SHE VOICED PRINCESSES IN A BELOVED PINBALL GAME.

Between the bank commercial and Saturday Night Live, Fey has an intriguing credit on her resume: the arcade pinball machine “Medieval Madness.” Most of the game’s Arthurian dialogue was written by Second City members Scott Adsit (Pete Hornberger on 30 Rock) and Kevin Dorff, who pulled in fellow Second City castmate Fey to voice for an “Opera Singer” princess, Cockney-speaking princesses, and a character with a southern drawl. (You can hear some of the outtakes here.)

9. SHE USED MEAN GIRLS TO PUSH BACK AGAINST STEREOTYPES OF WOMEN IN MATH.

Tina Fey and Lindsay Lohan in 'Mean Girls' (2004)
Paramount Home Entertainment

There’s a ton of interesting trivia about Mean Girls, Fey’s first foray into feature film screenwriting. She bid on the rights to Rosalind Wiseman’s book that inspired the movie without realizing it didn’t have a plot. She initially wrote a large part for herself but kept whittling it down to focus on the teenagers, and her first draft was “for sure R-rated.” Fey also chose to play a math teacher to fight prejudice. “It was an attempt on my part to counteract the stereotype that girls can’t do math. Even though I did not understand a word I was saying.” Fey used a friend’s calculus teacher boyfriend’s lesson plans in the script.

10. SHE SET UP A SCHOLARSHIP IN HER FATHER’S NAME TO HELP VETERANS.

Fey’s father Donald was a Korean War veteran who also studied journalism at Temple University. When he died in 2015, Fey and her brother Peter founded a memorial scholarship in his name that seeks to aid veterans who want to study journalism at Temple.

"He was really inspiring," Fey said. "A lot of kids grow up with dreams of doing those things and their parents are fearful and want them to get a law degree and have things to fall back on, but he and our mom always encouraged us to pursue whatever truly interested us." Fey also supports Autism Speaks, Mercy Corps, Love Our Children USA, and other charities.

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