Feeling stabbed in the back by politics? Villain or revolutionary, some of history’s most colourful characters had two faces. Often appearing next to the most powerful players of all time, traitors and acts of treason can alter the course of history for good or ill.
Marcus Junius Brutus (85-42 B.C.) and Nelson Mandela (1918-present) were both considered traitors to their governments, but their bold actions helped to change the course of their nations’ history. Brutus’ act paved the way for a new Roman Republic, while Mandela helped to create a post-apartheid South Africa.
Left: Bust of Brutus (85-42 BC), Michelangelo Buonarroti / Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy Right: Mandela, 1993, Bayo Iribhogbe, (Contemporary Artist)
Guy Fawkes (1570-1606), a member of the Roman Catholic Restorationists, aimed to blow up English parliament while King James I and the entire Protestant nobility were inside. His failed attempt is still the source of amusement for the English, who honor him on November 5th, with bonfires and fireworks. Colonel Benedict Arnold (1741-1801), an American general during the Revolutionary War, swapped sides during the war to join the British Empire. He remained a British Loyalist until his death from dropsy and delirium in 1801. In American culture, Benedict Arnold’s name has become synonymous with the term traitor.
Left: Bonfire Night, Barry Watkin, (Contemporary Artist) Right: Colonel Benedict Arnold, Brown University Library, Providence, Rhode Island, USA
According to Christian narrative, the Apostle Judas betrayed Jesus for a bag of thirty silver pieces by identifying Christ with a kiss. Jesus was then captured by the Romans and eventually crucified. For 1100 silver coins, Delilah, a Philistine, seduces the Herculean figure, Samson, into revealing that the source of his strength lay in his hair. She cut off his seven locks while he slept and having lost all of his strength, Samson was captured by his enemy, the Philistines.
Left: The Kiss of Judas, Cornelis Engebrechtsz, Musee Denon, Chalon-sur-Saone / Roger-Viollet Right: Samson and Delilah, follower of Caravaggio Hospital de Tavera, Toledo, Spain
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg (1915 and 1918 – 1953) were American communists accused of passing information about the development of the atomic bomb to the Soviets. They were put on trial in 1951 and executed by electric chair in 1953. After President Richard Nixon (1913-1994) was elected in a landslide victory, he was forced to resign after it became apparent that several of his high level advisors had committed acts of sabotage, espionage and tax fraud.
Left: Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in jail, 1953 (b/w photo) Peter Newark American Pictures Right: President Nixon (1913-94) visiting the 1st US Infantry Division during his tour of Vietnam, July 1969 (b/w photo)/ Peter Newark American Pictures