May the 4th Be With You

Welcome to This Day in Today,

My name is Tom Keefe, and I’m the Babbling Professor!


  On this day, May 4, 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued the papal bull which divided the so-called New World between Spain and Portugal along the Line of Demarcation. Yes, that Pope Alexander VI… the Pope’s whose birth name was Rodrigo Borgia, an Aragonese from Valencia, meaning he was Spanish… that whole Ferdinand and Isabella/Castile and Aragon thingy… the Pope who drew the line on the map was a national of one of the two parties… what would we call that today? Conflict of interest maybe? And that’s skipping over the absurd assumption of terra nullis, the idea that the lands did not belong to anyone because, you know, the people living there weren’t European-Christians. In 1992, the Australian Supreme Court overturned terra nullis in the landmark case Mabo v Queensland (1992); indigenous people worldwide celebrated the decision and have implored governments in the Americas, in particular, to follow suit (see what I did there?) even if it is symbolic more than practical. So this Line of Demarcation, it had a few renditions, but it is essentially the same as the late, and more famous Treaty of Tordesillas.

Here’s one more, not sure if we call it ignorance or irony… can we call it ignorant irony? Anyway, here’s one more for ya, this line essentially drew a line in the Atlantic and said Spain gets west of the line (that’s why so much of the Western Hemisphere speaks Spanish, and Portugal got East of that line, essentially eastern Brasil; I always thought Portugal got the short end of the deal (though not as short as the indigenous peoples and the non-Spanish/Portuguese nations), but later I realized that Portugal had a see-empire that included the Canaries, the Azores, the Madeira, ports along the African coast, parts of India, particularly Goa, etc., etc, and with Portugal’s naval supremacy at the time, this sea-empire was contiguous by water… Perhaps the Borgia Pope did Europe a favor by taming the Portuguese Empire, but of course, Borgia was still, by modern standards, biased and his decision restrained Portugal while at the same time ushered in the rise of Spain is a way.

Finally, for whatever positive or nefarious spin we put to the story, the Line of Demarcation was only legally significant for about 24 years…at least in Europe… there is still the legal significance of terra nullis, but let’s go back to Europe in 1493: The Spanish Catholic Pope drew a line and granted extraterritorial gains to the Catholic Joint Kingdoms of Aragon and Castile and the Catholic Kingdom of Portugal. Hmmm… I think I see a pattern here? Something about the word, “Catholic”? Man, if I were a Catholic monarch from one of the other European countries, I’d be ticked! But, I mean, the Pope said so, right?  Play interlude music for 24 years…But wait! What’s that guy doing? He’s got a hammer and nails, huh! He just nailed a list, a long list, to the doors of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg! I guess we don’t have to listen to the Pope anymore… and if the Dutch, English, and Swedes aren’t going to listen anymore, then the French Catholics aren’t going to sit idly by and respect Pope Alexander VI’s Line of Demarcation which had divided the so-called New World between Spain and Portugal, issued on this day, May 4, 1493.


On this day, May 4, 1938, Carl von Ossietzky was born in Berlin, Nazi Germany. Von Ossietzky (October 3, 1889 – May 4, 1938) was a German. He was convicted of high treason and espionage in 1931 after publishing details of Germany’s violation of the Treaty of Versailles by rebuilding an air force, the predecessor of the Luftwaffe, and training pilots in the Soviet Union. As a result, Carl was awarded the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in exposing the clandestine German re-armament, but the German press was not allowed to mention it, and a government decree forbade German citizens from accepting future Nobel Prizes. In May 1936, Carl was transferred from a prison camp to the Westend Hospital in Berlin-Charlottenburg because of his tuberculosis, but under Gestapo surveillance. He later died in the Nordend Hospital in Berlin-Pankow, while still in police custody of tuberculosis and from the after-effects of the abuse he suffered in the concentration camps.


Seven years later, on this day, May 4, 1945, the Neuengamme concentration camp near Hamburg, Germany, was liberated by the British Army. The Neuengamme camp was established in 1938 near Hamburg, Germany. From 1938 to 1945, an estimated 106,000 prisoners were held at Neuengamme and at its subcamps. 14,000 perished in the main camp, 12,800 in the subcamps and 16,100 during the last weeks of the war on evacuation marches or due to Allied bombing. The verified death toll is 42,900. One of the most notable prisoners to perish in the camp was Fritz Pfeffer, a German dentist and Jewish refugee who hid with Anne Frank during the Nazi Occupation of the Netherlands. In Anne’s diary, Pfeffer was given the pseudonym Albert Dussel, and is probably more famous by that pseudonym.


Finally, on this day, May 4, 1977, Star Wars, surprisingly was NOT released. Believe it or not, it was release three weeks later on May 25, 1977.


That’s all for today’s segment of This Day in Today, and remember,

Today’s Tomorrow’s yesterday.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s