Thursday, February 15, 2018

New Article: The Numidian Chief, Tacfarinas, And His Persistent Wars Against Rome

(Hannibal at Cannae, by Heinrich Leutemann (1824-1905), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

In the first two decades of the 1st century, a peculiar military leader named Tacfarinas asserted himself as a constant thorn in the side of the Roman Empire by unrelentingly threatening their interests in North Africa. Thankfully for us, the Roman historian and statesman, Tacitus (c. 56-117), kept fairly detailed records of Tacfarinas’ campaigns within his book, The Annals of Imperial Rome. Even though The Annals focused on the actions of the imperial family, especially Emperor Tiberius (r. 14-37), Tacfarinas’ name made numerous appearances in the pages, popping up each time he launched another invasion of Rome, which seemingly occurred every other year. So, even though Tacitus often sidelined describing Tacfarinas’ reign of terror in favor of discussing political maneuverings in Rome, a decent sketch of Tacfarinas’ life can be drawn from The Annals of Imperial Rome.

Tacfarinas was born in Numidia, and like many of Rome’s greatest threats, he began his career in the Roman military as an auxiliary soldier serving in North Africa. He eventually deserted from the Roman military and started a new life as a bandit. His ambitions, however, were too broad for common thievery. He gathered a large band of marauders and began to teach them Roman military discipline and tactics. Once he had gathered enough resources, he even equipped an elite core of his forces in Roman-styled weaponry and armor. Finally, Tacfarinas somehow maneuvered himself into becoming chief of the Musulamian tribe, a strong Numidian people known for their great warriors. With his newfound power, Tacfarinas was able to strike up a secret alliance between his own troops and other anti-Rome factions in North Africa. Along with Tacfarinas’ own bandits and Musulamian soldiers, the Cinithii tribe and dissidents from the Roman-aligned kingdoms of Mauretania and Garamantes also joined the growing coalition.

Continue reading about the persistent campaigns of Tacfarinas against the Roman Empire, HERE.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

New Biography: The Dramatic Life of Fan Ju, The Marquis Of Ying, And His Quirky, Bizarre Ascension To Power


Countless advisors, philosophers, generals and statesmen of all kinds found fortune and destruction while serving the plentiful warring kings of ancient China. One particular statesman named Fan Ju definitely can be ranked as having one of the quirkiest and bizarre ascensions to power. As an added bonus, unlike many of his contemporaries, Fan Ju’s story actually had a pleasant ending.

Most of the information on this interesting figure was left to us by Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE), a Grand Historian from the Han Dynasty who is often labeled as the father of Chinese history. According to the Grand Historian’s sources, Fan Ju was born in the kingdom of Wei. Even though his family had little wealth and influence, Fan Ju aspired to be an itinerate advisor to the kings of the age. Yet, despite his ambition, the young intellectual found that his low social status and his limited resources were obstacles barring him from entering the courts of the ancient Chinese kings. Facing reality, Fan Ju decided to start climbing the social ladder from the bottom, hoping to eventually reach the top.

Continue reading about the bizarre rise to power of Fan Ju, HERE.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

New Article: The Light Of The Moon Suppressed A Roman Army Mutiny In Pannonia

(Moon in front of a blueish background, [Public Domain] via Pixabay.com)



Shortly after the death of Augustus in 14 CE, the civilian soldiers in the three Roman legions stationed in Pannonia were incited into mutiny. Most of the known information about this event was recorded by two statesmen-historians of the Roman Empire, Tacitus (c. 56/57 – 117) and Cassius Dio (c. 163-235). Tacitus, perhaps the greatest orator of his time, gave the lengthier and more detailed account of the mutiny, but he was also known to take artistic license with some of his historical descriptions. Nevertheless, both historians claimed that the goal of the mutiny was to bring about military reforms, specifically a restriction of military service to 16 years, as well as an increase in pay from one sesterce a day to one denarius (4 sesterce) per day. Without these changes, the mutineers claimed that the excessively long period of military service, combined with the harsh discipline and severe punishments in the Roman Army, were simply unfair.

Continue reading about how the moon foiled a potentially dangerous mutiny in Pannonia, HERE.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

New Article: The Outrageous Childhood Of the Semi-Mythical Viking-Poet, Egil Skallagrimsson

(Ingolf settling Iceland, painted by Johan Peter Raadsig (1806 - 1882), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Egil Skallagrimsson was one of several prominent Vikings whose lives were recorded by the Icelanders in the form of a saga. Egil’s Saga was anonymously composed around the 13th century, with the Icelandic historian and scholar, Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), being one of the likeliest authors of the piece. While most of Egil’s Saga is folklore and embellished history, many historians think that the plentiful poems contained in the saga may have indeed been written by a historical Viking-poet from the 10th century. So, like many other figures from the sagas, Egil Skallagrimsson is often considered to be a historical person whose reputation, over time, became exaggerated to the point of bordering on mythical.
 
Continue reading about the absurd life of the semi-mythical Viking-poet, Egil Skallagrimsson, HERE.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

New Biography: The Obsessively Pure Life Of Saint-Queen Etheldreda And Her Miraculous Remains


(cropped 10th century depiction of Saint Æthelthryth (Etheldreda) of Ely from the Benedictional of St. Æthelwold, illuminated manuscript in the British Library, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
 
Etheldreda (also known by the names Æthelthryth and Audrey) was one of the most popular saints to come out of early Anglo-Saxon England. In particular, she found an admirer in Bede (c. 673-735), the author of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which recorded events in England from the days of the Roman Empire up to Bede’s own time; in it the monk included a chapter on Etheldreda, drawing largely from clergymen who had known the saint, specifically her friend and mentor, Bishop Wilfrid.
King Anna of East Anglia (d. 654) fathered several saintly daughters, one of which was Etheldreda. The young princess was said to have begun dreaming about life as a nun relatively early on in her childhood. Even though she was not allowed to join a religious order, she reportedly still tried to live with extreme virtue. Most importantly, she vowed to live in chastity and remain a virgin. Despite her vow, noblemen still sought her hand in marriage, for the union (even if only symbolic) would still bring the prospective husband into an alliance with the East Anglian king. Therefore, Etheldreda was married to a certain Tondbert, a prince or king from South Gyrwas. Apparently, the couple struck up an accord—she received her own estates, he became the king’s son-in-law, and neither husband nor wife bothered about consummating the marriage. As such, when Tondbert died shortly after the marriage had occurred, Etheldreda was still widely considered to be a pure virgin princess.

Continue reading about the intriguing life (and afterlife) of Saint Etheldreda, HERE.