4 Mistakes that Changed the Course of History

4 Mistakes that Changed the Course of History

The World Could Have Been a Totally Different Place

Hindsight is always 20/20 so it’s impossible to know beforehand exactly what seemingly minor decisions would end up having massive consequences. You are rarely able to spot a mistake until you’ve already made it and, by that time, it might be too late. That was certainly the case with these next examples that went on to have a major impact on the entire world.

1. Khwarazmian Shah Beheads Genghis Khan’s Ambassador


Photo Credit: Francois Philipp via Flickr

The Khwarezmid dynasty ruled over most parts of Greater Iran between the 11th and 13th centuries. Towards the beginning of the 13th century, the dynasty gained a new neighbor in the form of the Mongol Empire which was busy extending its borders. Word of the ruthlessness of the Mongols had reached the Khwarazmians but, still, modern historians opine that Genghis’ original intentions were to establish trade relations and perhaps even an alliance with the Khwarezmid Empire.

In order to facilitate his goals, Genghis sent a 500-man caravan to the Khwarezmian city of Otrar to meet the governor, Inalchuq. Here comes the first mistake. Instead of agreeing to trade or, perhaps, even politely declining, Inalchuq takes the entire caravan hostage. Surprisingly, Genghis tries again and sends his ambassadors to meet the Shah directly and explain the actions of his governor.

Here comes the second mistake. Instead of apologizing and offering the governor on a silver platter, Shah Muhammad II orders the entire caravan executed, beheads one of the ambassadors (who was Muslim), shaves the heads of the other Mongolian ambassadors and sends them back home. Apparently, the whole “don’t kill the messenger” thing was really important to Genghis because he takes it as a huge insult and brings down the wrath of the Golden Horde in a way never seen before.

First he besieges the city of Otrar, captures it and executes Inalchuq. Then he makes his way towards other cities such as Urgench, Samarkand and Bukhara. The war only lasts for about two years, but it leaves the Khwarezmid Empire completely decimated. Around a fourth of the entire Persian population was slaughtered, including most of the adult males. The economy was completely ruined and the new Mongol rulers prevented the society from recovering for the next coming decades.

2. An Open Gate Leads to the Fall of Constantinople

Fall of Constantinopole Eugene Delacroix

The conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 is regarded by historians as a prominent moment in history. Some consider it to mark the end of the Roman Empire while others even claim that this event marked the end of the Middle Ages. However, it is possible that the defeat of the Byzantine Empire could have been prevented were it not for one gate left open.

Prior to this mistake, the Byzantine Empire had a pretty decent chance of winning. The Turks had been besieging the city for a while but their attacks were constantly being pushed back. However, on the day of the final assault, the Turks noticed that the northern gate (called the Kerkoporta) had been left open. Taking advantage of the situation, the Turks rushed the gate and Constantine and his forces were unable to hold the walls. The Ottoman forces then began to fan out, reaching other gates and unlocking them as well, thus allowing for a multipronged attack that ensured their victory and marked a pivotal event in history.

3. Alexander the Great Doesn’t Name a Successor

Alexander the Great Riding Bucephalus

Photo Credit: Paul Pela via Flickr

Without a doubt, Alexander of Macedon was one of the greatest conquerors to ever live. Despite dying at the tender age of 32, he still managed to build one of the largest empires that the ancient world had ever seen.  However, so sure was he of victory that Alexander never bothered to name a successor. When death came swiftly and unexpectedly, his empire fell into chaos and, almost as fast as it was built, it was torn down.

During his lifetime, Alexander married most of his Macedonian generals to Persian noblewomen from Susa as a way of combining the two cultures. However, after his death, most of these marriages dissolved, further creating a divide between the Macedonian and the Persian regions of his empire. Moreover, Alexander’s death opened up the possibility for numerous family members, friends and generals to lay claim to his throne who would collectively be known as the Diadochi (the Successors).

This eventually brought on the Wars of the Diadochi, a series of conflicts that lasted for over 40 years in order to establish who the rightful heir is. When it was all said and done, Alexander’s own son who ruled under regency until coming of age had been assassinated and the once-mighty empire crumbled and split into four distinct kingdoms: Macedon, the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, the Kingdom of Pergamon and the Seleucid Empire.

4. Caesar Is Assassinated to Save the Republic

Caesar assassination

Julius Caesar went down in history as one of the most famous rulers in history. But why was he so important? It’s not really because of his military success (although it was significant, particularly against Gaul), but the instrumental role he played in ensuring the collapse of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire.

If you want the full story, you should probably watch Rome or something. The short of it is that Caesar wanted to take control of Rome for himself away from the Senate by installing a dictatorship. Unsurprisingly, this created many enemies for him. Some of them, like Pompey, were openly hostile and went to war against Caesar while others, like Brutus, preferred a bit of subterfuge and betrayal. Eventually, the plotting Senators saw no other choice than to assassinate Caesar in order to save their beloved Republic.

Eventually, this is what happened, but the unforeseen results were exactly the opposite of what the Senators were expecting. Despite them trying to promote Caesar as a cruel, ambitious tyrant, the lower and middle classes still liked him and were angered by his death. Violent mobs attacked the Senators’ houses, forcing them to leave the city and civil wars broke out in order to determine who will rule Rome. The winning side turned out to be a triumvirate formed out of Mark Antony, Caesar’s trusted ally, Marcus Lepidus, another one of Caesar’s generals, and Octavian, Caesar’s adopted heir. This alliance didn’t last very long, though, and another war broke out between Mark Antony and Octavian. In the end, Octavian stood triumphant, changed his name to Augustus Caesar and became the first emperor of the newly declared Roman Empire.