The Ballet Of Chestnuts
The House of Borgia is well-known for the power it attained in Renaissance Italy and all the crimes, depravity, and debauchery that came along with it. Arguably the most influential member of the family was Rodrigo Borgia, who became Pope Alexander VI. His papacy was fraught with controversy due mainly to his many illegitimate children by several mistresses.
One of those children was Cesare Borgia who, with the help of his father, became a cardinal. On October 30, 1501, Cesare allegedly staged what was probably the most depraved party ever held at the Papal Palace—the Ballet of the Chestnuts.
Along with nobles, clergymen, and everyone else you might expect at this kind of event, 50 prostitutes were invited to attend the banquet. At first, they simply danced to entertain the guests. After a while, servants covered the floor with chestnuts. The prostitutes undressed, got down on all fours and proceeded to crawl between attendees, collecting all the chestnuts. Afterward, the guests were invited to have sex with the prostitutes, and rewards were even offered for the ones who showed the most stamina. All the while, the pope and his entourage sat back and enjoyed the show.
Although this kind of debauchery fits perfectly with the historical view we have of the Borgias, not everyone agrees on the chain of events. The only written source for the banquet comes from Johann Burchard, who mentioned it in Liber Notarum, his compendium on all the papal ceremonies he attended. While Burchard was a respected chronicler, he also wasn’t a friend of the Borgias.
Olga Of Kiev’s Revenge
Today, Saint Olga is an important figure in the Russian Eastern Orthodox Church. During the 10th century, she was the wife of Igor I, ruler of the Kievan Rus’, a federation of Slavic tribes extending over regions of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Prince Igor was killed by the Drevlians when he went to collect tribute. The Drevlians then sent word to Olga, demanding that she marry their Prince Mal.
According to the Primary Chronicle (our main source of information on the Kievan Rus’), Olga embarked on a bloody journey of vengeance. She started out by burying alive the Drevlian envoy who came with the demand. Then, Olga sent word to the Drevlians that she accepted their proposal and that they should send their most distinguished men after her so that she might leave Kiev with honor. The Drevlians obliged and, when their new retinue arrived, Olga invited them to bathe in the bathhouse. She then had her men lock it up and burn them alive (shown above).
Unaware of the gruesome fates of their brethren, the Drevlians prepared a feast when Olga arrived. When they were all drunk, Olga had her men slaughter everyone in attendance. The survivors offered to pay her tribute, but Olga only asked for three sparrows and three pigeons from each house. The Drevlians happily complied, but Olga took the birds and tied embers to their feet and released them. The birds returned to their homes, quickly setting the whole city on fire.