Thursday, January 11, 2018

New Article: The Wrathful Tale Of Amestris, Wife Of The Persian King Xerxes

(Cropped young woman spinning and a servant holding a fan from a fragment of a relief known as "The spinner". Bitumen mastic, Neo-Elamite period (roughly 8th – 6th century BCE). Found in Susa. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Although Xerxes I (r. 486-465 BCE) is mainly remembered for his massive invasion of Greece, his reign continued for around fourteen more years after his Greek ambitions were crushed at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BCE.  This later period of his life, after Xerxes withdrew from Greece and returned to the heartland of his empire, remains a fairly undefined part of the king’s reign. What we do know about Xerxes’ final years is that he began to focus a great deal of his empire’s resources on construction projects. Nevertheless, he eventually started to lose the support of several key governing satraps and advisors, ultimately leading to a violent end for the king.

Herodotus, one of the main sources on Xerxes’ life, lightly glossed over a few of the events that supposedly occurred in the Achaemenid Empire during the years after the Persian King of Kings returned home from Greece. By far, the most dramatic of these episodes (located in The Histories, Book IX) was a story about how one of Xerxes’ affairs led to the extermination of nearly all of his brother’s family. This story, which will be told shortly, is considered to be largely a fiction created by the father of history, Herodotus (490-425/420 BCE). Yet, many historians believe the core elements of the story were likely based on factual events.

Continue reading about the ruthless wrath of Amestris, following her discovery of her husband's affair, HERE.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

New Biography: The Crazy Life Of The Roman Princess Galla Placidia


Galla Placidia and her eventful life perfectly showcased the hectic state of affairs that the Western Roman Empire found itself enduring (and eventually collapsing from) during the 5th century. She was a daughter of Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395) and Empress Galla. Upon Theodosius’ death, two of Galla Placidia’s brothers were crowned as emperors, one to rule the East and another to control the West. Galla Placidia, herself, was left to the care of the powerful general Stilicho (or more specifically, his wife, Serena), under whose direction she learned Latin and Greek, as well as other subjects that women of the time were expected to be know, such as sewing and weaving.

The young princess stayed in the Western Empire during the reign of her brother, Emperor Honorius (r. 393-423), mostly residing in the city of Rome. Yet times were not easy—for various reasons (but mostly because of pressure from the Huns) a large coalition of peoples, including the Vandals, Suevi and Alans, crossed the Rhine into Roman Gaul in 406, throwing the empire into chaos. A former Roman mercenary named Alaric brought the havoc straight to the heart of the Western Empire. After becoming king of the Visigoths, Alaric eventually led his people to besiege Rome. He arrived at the city walls first in 408, but was paid off by the Roman Senate. He attacked again in 409, but was once more convinced to withdraw from the city. Finally, in 410, King Alaric and the Visigoths besieged Rome for one last time, with no intention of withdrawing from the city. Instead, they looted the city for three days, stealing wealth and harassing the locals, but keeping most of the city remarkably intact. Around this time, or perhaps during the earlier sieges, the Visigoths captured Galla Placidia. King Alaric hoped he could use the princess as leverage in his negotiations with Emperor Honorius. Alaric, however, had miscalculated—Honorius and Galla Placidia were not friendly siblings.

Continue reading about Galla Placidia's impressive waves of political weakness and strength, HERE.


Picture attribution: (Supposed miniature of Galla Placidia on top of a destroyed city painted by Thomas Cole (1801–1848), both [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sunday, December 24, 2017

New Article: Mistletoe, The Killer Of Gods

(Baldr and Nanna (by Friedrich Wilhelm Heine (1845-1921) over mistletoe, both [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and pixabay.com)

Baldr (or Baldur), a Norse god of light and beauty, was loved by almost all of creation, from the divine Æsir all the way to the plants and stones of the earth. As such, when Baldr began to have dreams and premonitions of his own death, the Æsir held a council and decided to make everything in the world swear an oath to never harm Baldr, an oath that most living beings and elements would be more than willing to make.
According to The Prose Edda, a collection of Norse myths compiled by the powerful Icelandic leader, Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), Baldr’s mother, Frigg, obtained promises from fire, water, metals, stones, plant life, animal wildlife, poisons and even diseases and viruses, all swearing that they would not harm her son. When all of the oaths were collected, Baldr was so invulnerable that the mighty gods, themselves, amused themselves by punching, throwing stones, shooting arrows, even striking or stabbing at Baldr, all to no effect. Baldr’s newfound defensive prowess was lauded and praised by the gods—well, all except one. Loki, the usual delinquent deity of Norse mythology, loathed Baldr’s invulnerability. Therefore, Loki began to investigate, hoping that, like Achilles, a vulnerable chink could be found in Baldr’s supernatural armor.

Continue reading to find out how Loki found and exploited Baldr's weakness in this tragic story, HERE.
 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

New Article: The Strategy Of The Decoy Camp—Alexios Komnenos Versus Nikephoros Basilakios

(Mashup of Madrid Skylitzes illustrations (medieval text about the Byzantine Empire), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In the autumn of 1078, a young general (and future emperor) of the Byzantine Empire by the name of Alexios Komnenos handed a freshly captured rebel leader named Nikephoros Bryennios the Elder over to an agent of Emperor Nikephoros III Botaneiates (r. 1078-1081). In exchange for the prisoner, the agent of the emperor delivered a message for Alexios containing a new task set to him by the crown. Around the same time that Bryennios’ rebellion was crushed, another rebellion had erupted in the city of Dyrrakhion (modern Durrës, Albania), led by Nikephoros Basilakios—Alexios’ task was to hunt down this third Nikephoros (whom we will simply refer to as Basilakios) and put a stop to the rebellion.

Continue reading about how Alexios Komnenos outsmarted Basilakios, HERE

Thursday, December 14, 2017

New Biography: The Poetic Life of Edgar Allan Poe

(Édouard Manet  (1832–1883) depicting the fist lines of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Few authors have mastered channeling the dark, eerie and macabre nature of the world like the great poet and author, Edgar Allan Poe. Even in his earliest years, Poe was intimately aware of the frustrations and burdens that can plague a life cursed with misfortune. Nevertheless, he saw beauty in even the darkest of places, but he could also imagine chilling horrors erupting out of the sweetest and most docile of scenarios.

Continue reading about the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe, HERE.