Some of you might still be recovering from Thanksgiving. And soon, Office Christmas Party season begins. People will be saying and doing things they may regret. Some of these parties might be boring, but a few might be epic, and one or two might change someone’s life forever.
But what about History’s craziest parties? There were a few parties that went down through the ages as utterly insane, amazing, catastrophic, or that changed the world we live in. Let’s take a look at 12 of these.
1. The Shang Emperor’s Deer-Meat Island, Wine Lake, and Torture Extravaganza
The first historical dynasty of ancient China were the Shang. And according to legend, they were mostly decent for a long time, but the last emperor of the Shang, Di Xin, was an insane decadent maniac. He blew the kingdom’s treasury in making a pleasure-palace for himself, and spent all his time partying there, with naked courtesans, on an island filled with ‘trees’ made of skewers of Deer Meat, surrounded by a “lake” of wine. So he and his friends could lie around plucking savory meat and sipping wine, entertained by dancing girls. Oh, and tortures. Horrible horrible tortures of anyone who dared question him. Stuff like slow-roasting victims by tying them to burning-hot bronze pillars.
Of course, this party had a hell of a hangover. One of the Shang’s vassal tribes, the Zhou, rose up against the king and overthrew him. Rather than be taken alive, he burned down his palace, dying inside it the same way he lived: on his Island of Deer Meat.
Di Xin’s reign-long party changed history forever; because the Shang were quite different from modern Chinese; but the Zhou, who would become the longest dynasty of Chinese kings, were pretty much the cultural foundation of all Chinese civilization from 1100BC right up to the modern era.
2. Alexander the Great Conquers The World’s Greatest City, Parties Too Hard, And Stuff Happened
Alexander the Great dedicated his entire reign to conquering most of the known world. But the most important conquest he ever made was over Persia. Macedonia, where Alexander came from, was a tiny backwater; while Persia was the greatest nation on Earth at that time. It’s like if Honduras conquered the USA. More than that, the Macedonians and Greeks HATED Persia. It had been their greatest enemy for ages. So you can forgive Alexander for wanting to party when he finally defeated the Persians and conquered their capital, Persepolis, which at that time was probably the most important and majestic city on Earth.
Only, they partied for about five months straight. A massive orgy of looting and raping. Finally, one night Alexander himself was so drunk he got into a conversation with a courtesan that somehow (accounts differ) ended with him breaking a jar of booze over his own head and declaring that he’ll burn the whole freaking city to the ground.
And he did.
Alexander almost immediately came to regret it. Like, literally as soon as he’d sobered up, he saw he’d made a huge mistake. But it was too late. Later on his successors would do some rebuilding, but Persepolis, and Persia, would never be the same. It was the dawn of a new era, and a drunken dare shifted the focus of world power from the middle-east to the West.
3. The Last Supper
You can’t talk about “wild parties that changed history” without bringing up the Last Supper. Jesus was actually quite the party guy; spending a lot of his time (in the Bible, at least) eating and drinking. In fact, one of the first things he asks the disciples right after the resurrection is “have you got anything to eat”? And the Wedding at Cana could have been another good choice, but it’s at least a little more likely the Last Supper actually historically happened.
Now, was it a wild party like some of the others here? Maybe not, but who knows? Jesus did spend a lot of his time around eccentrics, outcasts, and of course prostitutes. But whether or not it was very wild, it was definitely subversive. Jesus was the leader of a cult in direct opposition to the authorities of the Jewish Temple. He had, just that week, arrived triumphantly into Jerusalem, in a big display of defiance to those authorities.
And in fact, several historians believe that Jesus’ meal might have been outright illegal. Various minority sects of Judaism, in defiance with the Temple authorities, held their Passover meals on different dates than the official ones the Temple demanded. Jesus had some connection to some of these groups, like the Essenes and the Zealots. It may be that the biggest defiant act of the Last Supper was WHEN he did it, too early and against the religious laws in Jerusalem.
Anyways, this was one party that definitely changed history forever.
4. Nero’s 4-Year Long Party at his Pleasure Palace
The Emperor Nero was pretty famous for his total decadence. Though it’s probably a myth, the story goes that he played the lyre while Rome burned in its great fire of 64AD. What’s definitely not a myth is that after the great fire, Nero undertook a massive rebuilding project, but one that was mainly for his own hedonistic pleasure and self-glorification. He took 100 acres right in the heart of Rome, and built a massive palace called the Domus Aurea (the “Golden House”). It included an artificial lake and gardens, a massive 40ft tall statue of himself as the sun god (called the Colossus, and eventually the Colosseum would be named after its future location), and a 300-room pleasure center. Not one of the rooms was a bedroom, kitchen, or even a bathroom. They were all dedicated to rooms for partying; everything from art exhibitions and poetry recitals to outright orgies.
The Golden House became the site of a virtually 24-hour party for almost four years. The rooms were made of white marble. Ivory and diamonds covered the walls and ceiling. The whole place was covered in astounding frescoes. Mechanisms were built to spray perfume and drop rose petals from the roof, and the massive main hall had a ceiling that rotated in the style of the heavens.
The building of the Golden House, and the lavish constant party that went on there, had massive historical consequences. Economically, Nero devastated Rome’s treasury. Politically, it made him despised and contributed to the revolt against him that would end with Nero committing suicide, wiping out the Julio-Claudian dynasty and plunging Rome into civil war.
5. The Heir to England’s Throne Throws a Boat Cruise Party, Causes Civil War
In 1120, England plunged into a crisis that would lead to it’s first civil war (now known as “the Anarchy”). The disaster that brought this about was the death of the King’s son and heir, who drowned (along with a large number of the King’s Court) in the famous sinking of the White Ship.
King Henry I’s son Prince William was returning to England from their territories in Normandy. And he was returning in style, on one of England’s finest boats. The White Ship was one of the fanciest ships of its kind, and one of the fastest. Even before they set sail, Prince William decided to make a party of it, opening a large number of barrels of wine and sharing the booze with the 300 people on board, including his half-brother and half-sister, the King’s Steward, his secretary, his Chamberlain, a troop of guards, some visiting German nobles, the Earl and Countess of Chester, and about 50 sailors. By some accounts, almost everyone on board was drunk before they even set sail. Then, according to the only survivor of the disaster (a butcher’s son), the (drunk) Prince ordered the (probably drunk) Captain to go full-speed ahead to try to pass his dad’s ship (the King having set sail earlier). And I should mention: all of this was happening at night.
Of course, the ship hit a rock, broke apart, and everyone drowned. Because of this, there was no clear heir to the Throne, and after Henry died a civil war broke out between his only surviving daughter (Matilda) and her cousin (Stephen). The Anarchy would devastate England for 20 years, because of a drunken booze-cruise.
6. The Black Dinner
Remember the “Red Wedding” from Game of Thrones? Well, the Black Dinner is the real historical party that probably inspired George RR Martin’s fictional massacre. And it happened in The North… er, I mean, Scotland.
In the 15th century the Scottish Kings (the Stuarts, descendants of Robert the Bruce) were in an ever-increasing rivalry with the Douglas clan. The Douglases were technically the second most powerful family in Scotland, after the royal family, but in practice they had built their way up to being more powerful. The two clans had been staunch allies for a long time, but the Douglases had amassed enormous power during the minority of King James I, where the Earl of Douglas acted as regent.
By 1440 there was another child-king on the throne, James II, but this time the current Earl of Douglas was also underage, and the people running things were political enemies of the Douglases. So they had 10-year old James invite the 16-year old Earl of Douglas and his younger brother to a great feast of friendship. In the middle of the party, James’ Chancellor brought out a plate with a black boar’s head on it; this was a symbol of death. Then the music stopped and the two young Douglas brothers were set upon, dragged into the courtyard, and decapitated. It was a total violation of the laws of hospitality, and started a fight between the Douglases and the Crown that would last for decades.
7. The Borgia’s Banquet of Chestnuts
The 15th century had a long line of incredibly crappy popes, and then along came Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia, who pretty much didn’t even try to hide his decadence. He promoted his various bastard children to positions of power, made war against half of Italy’s noble families, made deals with the Turks, and almost openly celebrated sexual debauchery.
The most famous party the Borgias ever threw was the Banquet of Chestnuts, in 1501. According to the Vatican’s own highest-ranking scribe at the time, the banquet was attended by the Pope, his son Cesare, his daughter Lucretia, a variety of Cardinals and other church officials as well as other important dignitaries, not to mention 50 of Rome’s best prostitutes. The ladies quickly got naked and chestnuts were strewn all over the floor; they were then made to crawl around naked on their hands and knees between the legs of the guests, trying to compete to collect the most chestnuts. After that, various contests were held with prizes awarded to the guests who could pleasure the most prostitutes or perform other sexual feats.
The infamy of Alexander VI’s behavior, at the Banquet and countless other times, was a big part of what led to the massive discontent that caused the Protestant Reformation.
8. Henry VIII and the Field of the Cloth of Gold Party
Henry VIII and King Francis I of France were two of the most famous ‘party kings’ of the 16th century. Their nations had been enemies for hundreds of years when, in 1520, the two young monarchs got together in the border between French and English territories in Europe to try to work out a permanent peace. So of course, you had both of them showing up totally determined to be more wild and extravagant than the other, and the biggest party of the century ensued.
It lasted 17 days. There were over 7000 people in attendance. Henry (the host) filled the valley they were meeting in with gold-cloth tents, and his own ‘tent’ was actually more like a small palace. He also built fountains of wine. There were banquets, jousts, dancing, and Francis was said to have kissed every single woman in attendance “except for 4 or 5 who were too old or ugly”. Henry’s jousting armor and horse barding were covered in 2000 ounces of gold and 1100 large pearls. Henry even built an entire chapel and filled it with religious treasures for holding the Mass during the party, because he didn’t want all the debauchery to ruin his reputation as the ‘defender of the faith’. According to records, 2200 sheep had to be slaughtered to keep everyone fed in meat throughout the festivities.
Things were going swimmingly until the penultimate night of the conference. The kings were dining together in a banquet, and Henry (probably drunk) challenged Francis to a wrestling match in front of everyone. Francis accepted, and beat Henry badly. Henry left, the conference was over, and the peace was lost. Very shortly thereafter the English would ally with the Germans against France.
9. Andrew Jackson’s Inaugural Bash Almost Wrecks the White House
Andrew Jackson was a populist candidate, running against the corrupt establishment in Washington, and even though they had lined up against him and cheated him out of the White House once before, in 1828 Jackson finally won the Presidency in what was one of the craziest and most scandalous US Elections of all time, at least until 2016.
Since Jackson had said he was “man of the people”, to the point that his opponents had given him the nickname “King Mob”, he opened up the White House for his inauguration party. “Open” as in, anyone could come right on in.
Well, 21000 people came to his party, off the streets, and right on into the White House! The party was so wild that at one point Jackson himself was forced to flee out a window. The party was only broken up after one clever White House staffer came up with the idea of putting tubs of free whiskey out on the white house lawn. That finally drew the party-goers out of the White House itself and they were eventually dispersed, though by some accounts only a couple of days later. The damages added up to thousands of dollars (which I’m pretty sure is something like fifty quazillion dollars in today’s money).
You know, Donald Trump has been called the heir of Jacksonian Democracy. I wonder whether his inauguration party will live up to the name?
10. Czar Nicholas II Throws a Huge Party While Russia Starves
In 1903, Russia was a crappy place to live in. Well, when hasn’t it been, really? But a huge part of the population was starving, and there was massive social unrest over the complete lack of citizen’s rights. So how did Czar Nicholas II deal with these serious problems in his nation? He threw a huge party for the wealthy and powerful.
In the Winter Palace at St.Petersburg, he held a lavish costume ball where everyone went dressed up elegantly as different characters from history. There were dances, costumes, diamonds strewn about for decoration, and the whole affair lasted about three days. It didn’t feature as much boozing or sex as some of the other parties on this list, but it was decadent in a much worse way. For example, there was ridiculous amount of money spent on fine foods, while just outside the gates the Russian population struggled to eat.
Nicholas II had already gotten in trouble with a party, right at the very start of his reign. In 1896 he held a coronation feast for the people, with free food and drink being handed out. But there wasn’t enough food, and a riot ensued where 1300 people died. Instead of doing anything in response to this tragedy, Nicholas went that night to a gala ball held in his honor by the French ambassador.
So he had a bad reputation right from the get go, but the Winter Ball of 1903 was what in many ways sealed the deal of his reputation among the Russian people as a callous clueless asshole. His costume party played a direct part in the start of the revolutionary movement that would ultimately lead to the death of his whole family and over 70 years of communism.
Yes, OK, it was a concert. But it was also a party. Woodstock, the 1969 music festival that would become legendary in hippie-history, drew close to a half-million people for “three days of peace, love and music”. And drugs, and sex, and a lot of other craziness.
As a party, Woodstock was so amazing that almost no one who was actually there remembers it. As a concert, it was actually kind of crappy, in spite of its reputation and all the albums and movies made about it. It had a lot of the greatest superstars of 1960s music, and almost all of them were awful. The conditions were difficult, they were stoned out of their minds, and the size of the event worked against its musical quality. Even the Grateful Dead, largely considered to be one of the greatest live bands in history (so good at performing live that everyone agrees their records aren’t nearly as good as the experience of their concerts) were godawful. They themselves admitted it was probably the worst performance they ever gave.
A lot of commentators over the years have waxed nostalgic about how Woodstock ‘changed history’, and in a way it did. But definitely not the way that the hippies imagined. They thought it was the start of something really big happening, but looking back it was really the end. It was the high point of a musical and cultural revolution that was already being taken over by corporate interests and big money and that had politically proven itself to be very loud but mostly incompetent. After Woodstock, the hippies would never be as big as they were, and all the power of the 60s youth movement would slowly roll back and fade away.
12. A Guy Throws a Back To School Party for His Sister, Invents Hip Hop
In 1973, an 18 year old named Clive decided to throw a party for his sister, to help her raise a few dollars for her school supplies. He and his sister made invitations on cheap index cards, charging fifty cents for guys and twenty-five for girls, for a party that would be held in the rec room of their apartment building, in the Bronx. Their dad bought some drinks at the corner store, mom made some food.
Clive, nicknamed “Herc” because he was a big muscled dude, had been trying to work at being a party DJ, advertising himself as “DJ Kool Herc”, so he probably figured this would also help spread his reputation. He’d be doing the entertainment for the party, playing records from his own collection. His equipment? Two turntables and a microphone.
About 300 people showed up. This party would change all our lives.
At the party, DJ Kool Herc tried something new: he’d stretch out the instrumental part of the music by ‘scratching’ the record at the turntable so people would dance longer, and started MCing in rhyme during those parts. It was a huge hit, and Kool Herc became instantly famous all over the Bronx. People started doing special kinds of dances during these ‘breaks’ of instrumental music, which would come to be called ‘break-dancing’, and the music came to be known as Hip Hop.
Everything that came after: breakdancing, rap, NWA, the Wu-Tang Clan, Tupac, Biggie, the Fresh Prince, Puff Daddy, Jay-Z, Kanye, all the acts and music and dancing of the greatest musical movement since rock and roll, none of it would have existed without DJ Kool Herc’s back-to-school party.
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