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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

Mata Hari Was Either the World’s Greatest Female Spy or a WWI Exotic Dancer Way In Over Her Head

00:00 33:25
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Even before Mata Hari (née Margaretha Zelle) was executed by a French firing squad in 1917 for spying on behalf of the Germans, her life had already become legend. At her trial, prosecutors claimed that the world-famous exotic dancer had seduced countless men from both sides of the war (definitely true) and leaked intelligence that caused the deaths of 50,000 French soldiers (almost certainly false).
Immediately after her death, biographies ran with the juicier narrative and turned her into the femme fatale archetype, who lured high-ranking officers into her boudoir and steal their documents while they were asleep. She inspired books, musicals, and films.
But more recently, historians argued that she was merely a gossip who tried to steal state secrets but never discovered anything that couldn’t be found in the newspapers. The only recent the French military charged her with espionage was to distract the nation from France’s poor showing in the war.
In today’s episode, we explore the life and death of Mata Hari, a woman who was an excellent performer, perhaps a poor spy, but above all else, never, ever uninteresting.
September 08, 2022
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to scottrankphd.com.
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