Friday, November 17, 2017

New Article: Dwarves Made Most Of The Amazing Items Used By The Gods Of Norse Mythology


(Cropped painting of Thor by Mårten Eskil Winge (1825–1896), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Interestingly, the gods of Norse mythology often had little-to-no innate power when compared to the divinities of other mythologies. At times, the band of deities led by the High One, Odin, seemed to be merely equivalents to Greek or Roman demigods. A prime example is that the immortality of the Norse gods did not occur naturally—to stay alive, the gods were said to eat magical apples of youth, tended by the goddess, Idunn. Also, the gods of Norse mythology were some of the most vulnerable and mortal deities ever worshipped; almost all of the major Norse gods were prophesied to die at Ragnarok. Yet, despite all of their handicaps and vulnerabilities, the Norse gods did become incredibly powerful. Curiously, however, the brilliant workmanship of the dwarves played a huge part in making this happen.

In Norse mythology, the dwarves were the go-to craftsmen for the gods. The great Icelandic chronicler of Norse mythology, Snorri Sturlusson (1179-1241), wrote about several of the magnificent items that the dwarves created for the gods. From tools, to weapons, to livestock, the dwarves could create it.

Read about some of the greatest masterpieces that the dwarves produced for the Norse gods, HERE.
 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Dualistic Reign of Ghazan Khan Of The Ilkhanate

(Depiction of Ghazan and Öljaitü. Jami' al-tawarikh, Rashid al-Din, image produced c. 15th century, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The Mongolian-descended Mahmud Ghazan was born around 1271 and was raised by his grandfather (Abagha Khan, r. 1265-1282) and his father (Arghun Khan, r. 1284-1291) to be a follower of the Buddhist faith. When Abagha Khan died, his son, Teguder, became the new khan of the Ilkhanate. Yet, Teguder’s brother, Arghun successfully raised a large faction against the khan, with one of the main complaints being that Teguder had forsaken Buddhism for Islam. Arghun managed to overthrow Teguder and continued Buddhist dominance over the Mongolian-ruled Ilkhanate.

In 1284, Arghun Khan named his teenage son, Mahmud Ghazan, as the new viceroy or governor in charge of the Ilkhanate’s lands around the region of Persia. Ghazan remained in this post for about ten years, during the reigns of both his father, Arghun Khan, and his uncle, Gaykatu Khan (r. 1291-1295). During his post in Persia, Ghazan battled against a rival faction of Mongolians, known as the Chagatai Mongols, and also defeated a rebellion led by an officer named Nawruz. Even though the revolt was finally crushed in 1294, Nawruz’s life was spared. Interestingly, the rebel leader would play a significant role in Ghazan’s later rise to power.

Continue reading about this khan's reign and his two-sided rule, HERE.  

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Many Different Categories of Divination, Witchcraft or Magic

(The Witch of Endor (cropped), by D. Martynov (1826-1889), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The idea of magic, or at least the belief that the future can be predicted through ritualistic, magical or religious means, has seemingly been in the minds of humans since the dawn of recorded history. When hunting witches was a craze in European society, two Papal Inquisitors named Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger described the abilities of the strongest witches in Part II, Question 1, Chapter 2 of their witch-hunter’s manual, The Malleus Maleficarum, which was published around 1487 CE. They wrote that the most talented witches had the ability to control weather. These top-tier supernatural magicians could supposedly summon strong storms of wind, lightning and hail, which they could aim directly at their enemies. They could also curse or hex both man and beast in various ways (such as infertility or death), and they also were said to have psychological powers that could instill madness in victims. They could also allegedly influence the speech of others, specifically by magically forcing any of their captured accomplices to keep silent when tortured by inquisitors.

Offensive magic and witchcraft, which seems to be the type of magic that authors and filmmakers like to portray most of all in their works, drew an unfair lot when compared to the carefully-crafted complex and grandiose names used to label the other categories of supernatural abilities—especially the field of divination, or the prediction of the future using supernatural or pseudoscientific means. Although the magical field of prediction gets a lot less coverage in the books and theater box-offices of the modern world, these prophetic practices were deemed very serious and important in the ancient, medieval and early colonial world. The great Roman orator and statesman, Cicero, wrote one of the most extensive ancient books on the subject, On Divination (De Divinatione). Furthermore, as a consequence of the human addiction to labeling and categorizing absolutely every little thing known to mankind, there is no shortage of overly-specific names for virtually each and every form of these supernatural crafts. Many of these fields fall under the broad category of sortilege, or predicting the future using tools of chance, such as cards. Yet, the broader terms for divination were broken down even further, spawning a whole host of new words, many of which end in “mancy.” For example, divination through the use of cards is called cartomancy. Most of these types of divination are discussed in Part I, Question 17 of The Malleus Maleficarum. Here are just a few of the endless subdivisions of divination that were popular in cultures based out of Europe or the Middle East:

Read about 20 more categories of divination, HERE.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

New Article: Love Killed The Norse God, Frey

(Gerd by W. G. Collingwood (c. 1908) and Frey from Journey Through Bookland (c. 1920) in front of sunburst through a cloudy sky via pxhere.com, all [Public Domain] via Creative Commons or pxhere.com)

On a fateful day, Frey ascended to the top of Hlidskjalf, a watchtower near the center of Asgard. From his vantage point on the tower, the god of sun and rain looked to the north and saw an enormous, beautiful home that belonged to a family of mountain giants. The residence was magnificent, even by the standards set in Asgard. Either inside the house or absent from the property were the giants Gymir and Aurboda, yet their daughter, Gerd, was presently in front of the home, about to approach the door.

As soon as Frey laid his eyes on the young giantess, he was drawn to her grace and beauty. Yet, it was when Gerd lifted her arm to unlock her door the Frey became completely and utterly smitten. With awestruck eyes, Frey watched as his own rays of sunlight reflected against the delicate skin of Gerd’s raised arm, magnifying the radiance of the air, land and sea that lay around her home. She literally and figuratively brightened Frey’s world.

Continue reading about Frey's dooming sacrifice for love, HERE.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

New Biography: Artemisia I—An Impressive 5th-Century BCE Queen From Within The Persian Empire

(Sketch of Artemisia I by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In the past, just like today, the majority of political and military leaders were men. In most (but not all) regions of the world, the prevalence of female leaders decreases as you go back further and further into history. As a sad result, it is common for historians to become extremely enthusiastic when they find even a single woman in a position of influence within a kingdom or empire in the ancient or medieval world. Sometimes, these female rulers earned their place in history by merely achieving and maintaining power, an impressive feat in a world dominated by men. Yet, a few women during this male-dominated period of early history truly proved themselves to be more cunning, courageous and politically competent than their male counterparts. One of these great female figures from ancient history was Artemisia I, a vassal, military leader and trusted advisor of the Persian King of Kings, Xerxes I (r. 486-465 BCE).

Continue reading about this impressive queen, HERE.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

New Article: John Skylitzes’ Scandalous Libel Against The 9th-Century Patriarch Of Constantinople, John VII “The Grammarian”

(Left: John the Grammarian, Center: Emperor Theophilos, Right: Pope Silvester II serving as a model for Skylitzes' portrayal of John the Grammarian, all Public Domain via Creative Commons)

Those who win victory can, and sometimes do, distort the memory of the factions that they triumphed over. This reality can be found in the Synopsis of Byzantine History by John Skylitzes, a historian who thrived during the reign of Emperor Alexios Komnenos (r. 1081-1118). In his synopsis of the history covering the reigns of emperors throughout the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries, Skylitzes gave little-to-no sympathy to the proponents of Iconoclasm—a Christian movement that condemned the use of ‘icons,’ such as images and sculptures, claiming that the veneration of these items constituted idolatry. Empress Irene almost eradicated the movement in 787, but Iconoclasm recovered and was only defeated decades later, on the instigation of Empress Theodora in 843. John Skylitzes, despite writing centuries after the fall of Iconoclasm, apparently still held a grudge against the last Iconoclast Patriarch (religious leader) of Constantinople—John VII “the Grammarian.” In his history, Skylitzes accused John the Grammarian of almost every horror imaginable.

Continue reading about the bizarre alternative history that John Skylitzes wrote for Patriarch John VII, HERE.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

New Article: King Cleomenes I of Sparta—His Eventful Reign And His Odd Demise

(Greek Warrior kneeling with decladded sword - possibly Achilles, ca. 560 BC. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The co-kings of Sparta, Cleomenes I (of the Agiad royal house) and Demaratus (of the Eurypontid royal house), ruled in the opening years of the Greco-Persian Wars. Although Cleomenes and Demaratus were both kings of Sparta, they did not see eye to eye on how to lead their great city in the very tense time of Greek history in which they lived. While Cleomenes would usually get his way, Demaratus was able to thwart his co-monarch’s ambitions in several circumstances.

Cleomenes (r. 520-490 BCE) worked ruthlessly during his reign to make Sparta the most dominant and influential power in the Peloponnesus and to strengthen the Peloponnesian League against its rivals. While he did this, he kept his eye on events elsewhere in Greece, and often participated in the conflicts and powershifts occurring in other Greek cities and leagues.

Continue reading about Cleomenes I and his wartorn life, HERE.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

New Article: Startling Saints—The Adventures of Saint Germanus of Auxerre

(Portion of a stained glass window in Truro Cathedral depicting Saint Germanus of Auxerre, donated by a benefactor in 1907. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Saint Germanus (or Germain) of Auxerre lived in one of the most chaotic times in Roman history, under the reigns of some of the most incompetent Roman Emperors that ever existed. His life, as a Roman government official and then as a bishop, was notable and influential enough to ensure him a place in the history books, yet Germanus’ biographers and commentators also recorded the numerous miracles that were attributed to the saint. In this account, the miracles will be left in the narrative, so that readers can decide for themselves how much or how little credence to give the miraculous events reported to have occurred during St. Germanus’ life.

Continue reading about Saint Germanus' eventful and miraculous life, HERE.
 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

New Article: The Tragic Life Of The Roman Emperor, Julian The Apostate


When Constantine the Great became the ruler of the entire Roman Empire in 324 CE, most of his relatives probably thought they would be set for life in positions of power and luxury. Actually, when Constantine died in 337, only a few people in the royal family benefited. The large empire was divided between Constantine’s legitimate sons, Constantine II, Canstans I and Canstantius II. These three brothers each adopted the title of emperor and ruled their own domains. Unfortunately for all of the other relatives and cousins who were not direct, legitimate heirs of Constantine the Great, their fate was very different. Instead of being seen as allies and kin, the three new emperors saw most of their family as rivals and enemies.

Continue reading about how Emperor Julian arose to power out of the bloody reign of Constantius II, HERE.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

New Article: The Chaotic Reigns Of The Sons Of Constantine The Great

(Collage of Constantine (front), Constantius II (left), Constantine II (middle) and Constans (right), via Creative Commons (CC2.5), pixabay.com and the Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.)


Constantine the Great, emperor of the Western Roman Empire (c. 312-324 CE), and later the entire Roman Empire (c. 324-337), climbed to ultimate power after defeating a host of rivals in a long and bloody civil war. Despite experiencing firsthand the complications that come with dividing a single empire among multiple emperors, Constantine the Great groomed all three of his legitimate sons for rule and gave them each the title of caesar. When Constantine the Great died in 337, none of his sons were given primacy. All three of them, Constantine II, Constans I, and Constantius II all proclaimed themselves to be an augustus (or emperor), and divided the empire amongst themselves. Constantine II ruled Roman Britain, Gaul (France) and Spain. Constans I took Italy, North Africa (excluding Egypt) and some of the Balkans. Constantius II took the remainder of the Balkans, and the rest of the Roman lands, with land spanning around the Mediterranean from Greece to Egypt.

Continue reading about what happened to the Roman Empire after it fell into the hands of Constantine's sons, HERE.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

New Article: The Killer WWII Dogs Of Cat Island

(Sentry dog alerts to movement outside the perimeter of Phan Rang Air Base. (U.S. Air Force photo), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and www.nationalmuseum.af.mil)

During the Second World War, all the warring countries were looking for an edge in their war effort, be it through machinery and science, new methods of personnel training or, unfortunately, even experimental drug-use. While most military research and development funding went to the tried and true necessities, such as weaponry, tanks, airplanes and ships, the war-torn countries of the world were also open to investigating more abnormal methods of warfare. Looking for any and every way to win the war, some countries invested their resources into turning mankind’s furry, four-legged best friends into trained man-killers.

Continue reading about this odd canine program, HERE.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

New Biography: Horace de Vere Cole—The Great Prankster of Britain

(Photographs of Horace de Vere Cole in 1910, around the time of his Dreadnaught prank, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Horace de Vere Cole, born in 1881, came from a prominent and prosperous Anglo-Irish family with powerful connections. His sister, Anne, married Neville Chamberlin, the British Prime Minister who, unfortunately, would be forever associated with the appeasement of Nazi Germany. Yet, even with a controversial figure like Neville Chamberlin as his brother-in-law, Horace de Vere Cole’s own reputation for scandal, in many ways, is the more prominent of the two. By the time of his death in 1936, Horace had cemented himself as one of the greatest pranksters of the modern age.

Continue reading about Horace de Vere Cole's life of pranks and mischief, HERE.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

New Biography: Saint Teresa Of Avila And Her Life Of Mysticism And Reform

(The Ecstasy of St Therese, by Francesco Fontebasso (1707–1769), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Teresa de Capeda y Ahumada, now known at St. Teresa, was born in 1515 within the region of Avila, Spain. Her parents, Don Alfonso Sanchez de Capeda, and his second wife, Dona Beatriz Davila y Ahumada, were from wealthy and powerful families with ties to the old kingdom of Castile. Despite her family’s affluent background, Teresa would go on to lead a reform movement among the Carmelite nuns, calling for a more honest vow of poverty and a harder, more religiously sincere, life of meditation and prayer.

Continue reading about St. Teresa and her mystical life, HERE.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

New Article: The Marriage Fiasco of Cleisthenes, Tyrant of Sicyon

(Painting of a ancient festival to Demeter, by Francis Davis Millet  (1846–1912), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The tyrant, Cleisthenes, is thought to have ruled the city-state of Sicyon from approximately 600-570 BCE. Sicyon was located somewhere in the northern Peloponnesus, between ancient Corinth and Achaea. Cleisthenes was a member of the Orthagoras family (or the Orthagorids), and his reign was the climax of his dynasty’s rule in Sicyon.

Cleisthenes successfully ushered Sicyon through the political and military conflicts of ancient Greece. He sided with the Oracle of Delphi in the First Sacred War (around the 590s BCE), which led to the destruction of Crisa. He was also a patron of athletics and sports, both in Delphi and at home in Sicyon.

It was around this time, after emerging victorious from the First Sacred War, that Cleisthenes began thinking of arranging a marriage for his daughter, Agariste. The tyrant, however, did not want just any marriage for his daughter; he wanted to marry his girl to the greatest man in all of Greece. To make sure the most accomplished men in Greece would hear of his daughter’s marriage eligibility, Cleisthenes made an announcement at one of Greece’s most prestigious events—either the Olympic or Pythian Games. According to the historian, Herodotus, he made his declaration after having won fist place in an Olympic chariot race. Yet, others think his announcement came after participating in the 582 BCE Pythian Games. Either way, the most athletic and affluent Greeks heard that Cleisthenes was accepting suitors for his daughter’s hand in marriage. As with most stories recorded by Herodotus, the tale of Cleithenes’ marriage fiasco is likely highly exaggerated and filled with folklore, but nonetheless, it remains incredibly entertaining.

Continue reading about the bizarre story of the tests and trials that Cleisthenes of Sicyon put his daughter's suitors through, HERE.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

New Article: During WWII, A United States Serviceman Became A Serial Strangler In Australia

(Photograph of Edward Leonsky taken prior to 1942, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Private Edward Joseph Leonski, also known as Eddie, was one of around 15,000 U. S. military personnel stationed in Melbourne, Australia in 1942 during the midst of World War II. Yet, unlike the other thousands of U.S. troops, the twenty-four-year-old Edward Leonski was a serial killer who would go on a murder spree, ending the lives of three innocent women.

Continue reading about the strange soldier who murdered women for their voices, HERE.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

New Article: Ripper May Have Been One Of The First Self-Named Serial Killers

(Jack the Ripper image titled "A Suspicious Character" from Illustrated London News for October 13,1888, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Mass murderers and predator killers have plagued mankind since before recorded history, but the idea of the “serial killer”—with its quasi celebrity status—is more of a recent development. Many think the first recognizable serial killer of the modern variety was Jack the Ripper. Jack’s multiple killings in the fall of 1888 not only caused widespread terror, but also sparked a remarkable media sensation.

One of the side effects of the media’s attention was hundreds of anonymous letters that claimed to be sent by the killer. All of the letters are viewed with extreme skepticism, but two of them (the so-called “Dear Boss” and “Saucy Jacky” letters) are thought to be the most legitimate. After assessing the writing style and tone of the letters, they are both thought to have been written by the same person. They both seem to have information that should have only been known by the police and the murderer. Furthermore, the two letters were sent directly to the Central News Agency to ensure media coverage. The letters, both signed with the name “Jack the Ripper,” are thought to have been the original source of the serial killer’s now globally-known name.

Read more about the Jack the Ripper killings, and the possibility that the murderer coined his own infamous name, HERE.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

New Biography: Gottfried Leibniz, The Tragic Genius Of The Early Enlightenment

(Portrait of Gottfried Leibniz by Christoph Bernhard Francke  (1660–1729), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Education and Advancement
In 1646, one of the great Western minds was born in the city of Leipzig, within the Electorate of Saxony, in the Holy Roman Empire. The boy’s name was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and his path as an intellectual and an academic was seemingly set in stone from an early age. Leibniz’s father, Friedrich, was not only a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Leipzig, but was also the chairman of the university’s philosophy faculty. As a child, Gottfried Leibniz was undoubtedly influenced by the his father’s collection of books, as well as Friedrich Leibniz’s personal knowledge accumulated from years of academia.

In 1661, Gottfried Leibniz was accepted into the University of Leipzig, where he studies philosophy and law. He obtained his degree, and applied to be a doctoral candidate at Leipzig, yet the university declined his application. Most historians and observers cite Leibniz’s youth as a reason his application was refused. Nevertheless, he quickly shed any resentment or bitterness caused by the rejection and gained a doctorate elsewhere, at the University of Altdorf.

Continue reading about the life of this brilliant polymath, HERE.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

New Article: Origin Myths Of The Ancient Scythians

(Scythian gold comb housed in the Hermitage museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The bulk of what is known about the Scythian people was recorded by the Greek historian, Herodotus, in the 5th century BCE. In more modern times, archaeologists have broadened the historical perspective on the Scythians by studying sites found within the territory of the ancient Scythian empire. From unearthed relics and artifacts, archeologists have found that the Scythians possessed bronze armor of Greek design and swords of Persian style, as well as ample gold, art and jewelry.

In book four of The Histories, Herodotus gave three possible scenarios that led to the creation of the Scythian people as he knew them in the 5th century BCE. Of the three possibilities that were recorded, Herodotus favored one about nomadic migration. In the model, the Scythian people moved from central Asia into Russia and Ukraine between the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, displacing the Cimmerians as they flooded into the region.

Although Herodotus favored the nomadic model mentioned above, that did not stop him from recoding two other interesting and entertaining Scythian creation myths. The two myths relayed to the reader by Herodotus differed greatly, but they had two great similarities. In both myths, three children played a great role in the story, with the youngest child always taking the most prominent role.

Continue reading abut the interesting Scythian creation myths recorded by Herodotus, HERE.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

New Article: Brunhild of Austrasia—The 6th-Century Kingmaker Of The Franks


(15th-century depiction of the marriage between King Sigebert I and Brunhild from the Grandes Chroniques de France, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In 566 or 567 CE, King Athanagild of the Visigoths gave his two daughters in marriage to two powerful Frankish kings who also happened to be brothers. One daughter, named Galswintha, was married to King Chilperic I of Neustria, whose lands consisted of much of northern France, excluding Brittany. Athanagild’s other daughter, Brunhild, married King Sigebert I of Austrasia, ruling a domain spanning (in modern terms) from eastern France into Belgium, the Netherlands and western Germany. When these marriages were cemented, neither the Frankish nor Visigothic kings could have guessed just how influential one of these two women would become. Brunhild would prove to be a powerful kingmaker for several generations of Frankish monarchs.

  (Approximate map of the rise of Frankish Empire, from 481 to 814 (including Austrasia and Neustria), licensed as Creative Commons 1.0 (CC 1.0))

Continue reading about the impressive political career of Brunhild, HERE.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

New Article: The Gods Of Norse Mythology And Their Mead of Poetry And Knowledge

(Odin entertaining guests in Valhalla, by Emil Doepler  (1855–1922), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

According to the stories of Norse mythology, the gods in Asgard possessed vats of mead that turned the drinker into a poet or a scholar. Yet, the mead itself is not the best part of this interesting tale. Before the mead reached its final resting place in Asgard, the special brew underwent a tremendous journey from its creation to its acquisition by the Norse gods. It is a story that starts and ends with the Norse divinities, but in between, dwarves, giants and murder all make a showing.

Continue reading about this peculiar mead of the Norse gods and its gruesome tale of its creation, HERE.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Did The Crusader Bohemond Escape The Middle East By Pretending To Be A Corpse? The Byzantine Emperor’s Daughter Believed He Did

 (Bohemond of Antioch by Merry-Joseph Blondel  (1781–1853), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

When Pope Urban II announced the First Crusade in 1095, the Norman noble, Bohemond (1050/58-1109 CE), quickly grasped at the opportunity. Of all of the crusader lords that partook in the armed pilgrimage, his motives are among the clearest. As his half-brother seized the great majority of the family’s lands and assets, Bohemond saw the crusades as an unequalled opportunity to amass land, gold and glory. Plus, the spiritual rewards and absolution of sins promised by the pope were also gladly welcomed.

The crusader coalition made their way to the Holy Lands by a route through the Byzantine Empire, which controlled most of the Balkans and much of western Anatolia at that time. To gain safe passage through the Byzantine territory, the crusaders made a costly deal with the emperor, Alexios I Komnenos—the crusaders swore that they would hand over all the lands to the emperor that they captured which were former imperial provinces. Unfortunately for the crusaders, the Byzantine Empire was the surviving remnant of the Roman Empire, which meant that Emperor Alexios claimed as his own almost everything that was captured during the First Crusade.

Continue reading about the interesting rumors about Bohemond's escape from the Middle East after he captured Antioch during the First Crusade, HERE.

New Biography: The Talented Princess Of The Byzantine Empire And Her Impressive Book Of History

(Portrait of the Princess Anna Komnene, unknown artist or date, via Ancient Origins and Pinterest)

Anna Komnene (1083-1153 CE) was an extraordinary woman. She was an erudite scholar of multiple intellectual fields and a cunning political schemer who is believed to have attempted to climb to ultimate power in the Byzantine Empire. Yet, her greatest claim to fame resulted from her ambitious history, The Alexiad, which detailed the military and diplomatic accomplishments of her father, Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, the emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 1081-1118 CE.

Continue reading about the life of the astute princess of the Byzantine Empire, ANna Komnene, HERE.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

New Article: There Was An Incredible Amount Of Military Technological Advancement In the Decades Leading Up To World War I

(75mm pack howitzer M1920, c. 1921 [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

By the end of the 19th century, into the early 20th century, the weapons of warfare were evolving at an alarming rate. Guns, explosives and machines were becoming increasingly more lightweight, powerful and exponentially more deadly. The tragedy of the situation was that very few people knew just how devastating many of these new weapons would be when a major war broke out. True, there were many wars in the years before World War One— such as the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), the Boer Wars (1880-1881 and 1889-1902), the Spanish-American War (1898), and the Ruso-Japanese War (1904-1905). Yet, in these wars, countries often remained doubtful about the new weaponry in their arsenals, and were still in a phase of experimentation and implementation. By the start of WWI in 1914, however, most major powers had adopted the latest guns, artillery, explosives, ships and planes, resulting in a Great War the likes of which the world had never before seen.

Continue reading some of the devastating military inventions that came about in the decades prior to WWI, HERE.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

New Biography: The Action-Packed Life Of Japan’s Greatest Duelist, Miyamoto Musashi

Birth of a Legend

 (Miyamoto Musashi fighting Tsukahara Bokuden, painted by Yoshitoshi  (1839–1892), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Around 1584 CE, a boy was born into the Hirata family of samurai in the village of Miyamoto, located in the Harima Province of Japan. The boy’s father, Miyamoto Munisai (or Shinmen Munisai), was considered to be one of Japan’s greatest swordsmen, and he ran the village’s local dojo. With such a skilled parent, many would have expected that the boy would grow to be skilled with a sword. Yet, few could have predicted the unprecedented martial prowess that the newborn child would soon show the world. The boy’s name was Miyamoto Musashi, and he would later claim to have fought in over sixty duels, many of which ended in the death of his opponents.

Although Musashi is best remembered for being the undefeated “Alexander the Great” of dueling, he was also a bit of a renaissance man. Besides being a duelist, he joined the military and fought in around six battles. He also was an artist who painted, sculpted and carved. As another occupation, he became a foreman or supervisor and worked in construction. Yet, his greatest contribution to his legacy was his writing career.

When he was around twenty-two (perhaps, 1606 CE) he produced his Writings of the Sword Technique of the Enmei Ryu (Enmei Ryu Kenpo Sho), which was his first known written work on swordsmanship. In addition to this, near the end of his life, he also wrote the Thirty-five Instructions on Strategy (Hyoho Sanju Go). All his earlier writing, however, were surpassed by the book he wrote in the years preceding his death in 1645—The Book of Five Rings, or Go Rin no Sho.

Nevertheless, Musashi’s careers in literature and construction are not why most readers are here, reading this article. No, the most interesting and dramatic events in Miyamoto Musashi’s life came about because of the decades he spent wandering Japan as a traveling duelist.

Continue reading about the unbelievable life of Miyamoto Musashi, HERE.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

(New Article) Virgil's Underworld: A Land Of Death...And Reincarnation

  (Dante and Virgil in Hell, by Crescenzio Onofri  (–1714) and Livio Mehus  (1630–1691), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In The Aeneid, an epic poem written by the Roman poet, Virgil (70-19 BCE), the main character of the story (Aeneas) traveled into the underworld to meet his father. The scenes that Virgil painted about the realm of the dead in book six of his masterpiece are likely some of the most vivid and elaborate illustrations of the ancient Greco-Roman underworld.

Virgil’s description of the underworld was so compelling that it undoubtedly served as an inspiration for Dante Alighieri’s conception of Hell in his famous work, The Divine Comedy. Despite Virgil’s disquieting portrayal of the gloomy, depressing and gruesome side of the underworld, he also described a highly interesting system of reincarnation that occurred in the Fields of Elysium. Although Virgil was not the only person from ancient Greece and Rome to envision reincarnation—Pythagoras and his followers also believed in rebirth—it is, nonetheless very interesting to read about souls in Greco-Roman mythology participating in a system of reincarnation similar to what can be found in Buddhism and Hinduism. 

Journeying to the Underworld

  (Aeneas and the Cumaean Sibyl, by François Perrier  (1594–1649), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Aeneas’ adventure to the underworld began when he decided to break into the realm of the dead to speak with his father. He sought out a renowned Sibyl in Cumae to teach him how a living man could enter the realm of the dead. She directed him to a Stygian marsh, where he needed to obtain a golden bough that would be vital to them during their journey into the depths of the underworld.

Continue reading about Aeneas' journey into the land of the dead, where souls were being reborn into the world, HERE.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

New Article: U. S. General William T. Sherman Was Shipwrecked Twice In One Day During One Odd And Unbelievable Adventure

(General William Tecumseh Sherman from 1865 in front of a sinking ship painted by painting by Willy Stöwer (* 1864; † 1931), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In early 1853, William Tecumseh Sherman was a captain of the United States Commissary Department, but he was looking for a change in profession. Around this time, some buddies sent Sherman an invitation to join a banking venture named Lucas, Turner & Co. Sherman enjoyed, and was comfortable in, his military life, but admitted that he would not mind a higher wage. Therefore, he petitioned his superiors for leave to journey to California to meet with his potential business partners and assess their banking operation.

From his location in New Orleans, Sherman boarded a steamship heading toward Nicaragua. Once he had arrived there, the passengers took smaller boats across the Nicaragua River and Lake, and made the rest of the voyage to San Juan del Sur by mule.

Now the passengers were ready to depart Nicaragua for California. Sherman boarded the propeller ship, S. S. Lewis, which Sherman later remembered was commanded by Captain Partridge. For the voyage, Sherman was given his own stateroom with three berths located on the deck of the ship. Little did Sherman know, however, just how dramatic his sea voyage upon the S. S. Lewis would turn out to be.

Continue reading about General Sherman's unbelievable journey, HERE.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

New Article: The Blunder At Fort Douaumont And The Hundreds Of Thousands Of Deaths That Followed In The 1916 Battle Of Verdun

The Great War

 (French soldiers moving into attack from their trench during the Verdun battle, 1916, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In February, 1916, the world was in utter turmoil. A Great War had erupted after Serbian-backed assassins shot to death Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife (and their unborn child) while they drove in their car around Bosnia. In response to the assassination, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia, and the two belligerent nations pulled in their broad nets of alliances. Soon major countries from all over the world were called into what would be later named World War I.

At the onset of the war, Germany had pressed quickly through Belgium into France, but became bogged down well shy of Paris, and the war gridlocked into WWI’s iconic trench warfare. In early 1916, however, General Erich von Falkenhayn of Germany believed he knew a way to crush France and weaken Britain’s will to fight—by seizing the French defensive position at Verdun.

Continue reading about the Battle of Verdun, and the fateful capture of Fort Douaumont by Germany, HERE.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sun Tzu and the Art of War

A Violent Golden Age

 (Soldiers from the Ming Dynasty Departure Herald, from the Jiajing reign period in China (1522-1566 AD), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The centuries spanning the Spring and Autumn Period (8th-6th century BCE) and the Warring States Period (6th-3rd century BCE) saw the onset of an incredible amount of human innovation and thought. On one hand there were military advancements in China, such as the crossbow (introduced around the 5th-4th century BCE) and cavalry (made professional in China soon after the crossbow). On the other hand, texts of philosophy, religion and strategy were written that are still widely admired to this day. The number of great minds that operated during the Warring States Period is simply baffling. There was Confucius and his philosophical successors, notably Mencius and Hsün Tzu. Also prevalent were the major Daoist (or Taoist) intellectuals like Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. Later, there were the philosophers of authoritarianism and legalism, such as Lord Shang and Han Fei Tzu. Also present was the religious wildcard, Mo Tzu, who preached universal love and told of a personified Heaven that punished evil and rewarded good. Nevertheless, during this highly congested time period filled with so many geniuses, there lived a military strategist who would surpass all others in popularity and fame (except, perhaps, Confucius and Lao Tzu)—he was Master Sun, better known as Sun Tzu.

Continue reading about Master Sun and The Art of War, HERE.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

New Article: Six Years of Chaos In Byzantium: The Cumans Vs. The Pechenegs Vs. The Byzantine Empire Vs. Çaka Bey of Smyrna

The Invasion


(The Pechenegs defeating the Rus, from the Skyllitzes Matritensis, fol. 173r, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In 1087 CE, a horde of Pecheneg warriors (followed by their families) poured down from the steppes above the Black Sea and into territory controlled by the Byzantine Empire. The empire was ruled at that time by Emperor Alexios Komnenos, who had led the empire since 1081 CE. These tens of thousands of hostile warriors threw the empire into such a panic that memories of the old ‘barbarian’ enemies of the Roman Empire were revived to describe the new Pecheneg threat. Anna Komnene, daughter of Emperor Alexios, likened the invaders to the ancient Scythians, Sarmatians and Dacians in her history, The Alexiad. She estimated that the Pechenegs had crossed into imperial territory with as many as 80,000 warriors.

Continue reading about the this long war between Emperor Alexios and three other military powers, HERE.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

New Article: Diogenes ‘The Cynic’ of Sinope—The Philosopher-Hermit Who Disregarded Luxury, Law And Civilization

(Diogenes by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824–1904), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

During the late 5th century BCE, one of the most bizarre men to have ever lived was born in the Greek-colonized city of Sinope, located on the coast of the Black Sea in modern Turkey. His name was Diogenes, and he would go on to impress and astound many of the great names from ancient Greece. The renowned philosopher, Plato, supposedly described Diogenes of Sinope as a “Socrates gone mad” and Alexander the Great (according to Plutarch) honored the man by saying, “If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.”

Diogenes of Sinope grew up in a wealthy household. His father was a moneychanger, or a minter, whose business was in currency. Despite this, Diogenes detested money. In fact, most accounts of Diogenes’ early life claim he was exiled from Sinope because he defaced or tampered with the local currency. Whatever the exact cause, Diogenes was expelled from Sinope and found himself in Athens with—reportedly—only a wooden bowl or cup to his name, which he soon discarded.

Continue reading about this entertaining (and enlightening) philosopher, HERE.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

New Biographical Article: The Unlikely Man Who Popularized The Stories Of King Arthur—Geoffrey of Monmouth

(Painting of King Arthur by N.C. Wyeth (1882–1945), from Sir Thomas Mallory, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons

In 12th-century Britain, a peculiar churchman, historian and teacher named Geoffrey of Monmouth launched the mystical tale of King Arthur and the magician Merlin on its path to world acclaim with the debut of his book, The History of the Kings of Britain. Though the adventures of King Arthur and his chivalrous knights were eventually accepted and admired in Britain, the road to acceptance was rough. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s writing was initially widely criticized in the British scholarly world, but it found quick admirers in medieval French literature and poetry. Later, the tales of King Arthur sluggishly crept back to Britain, only becoming truly mainstream after the 16th century with the help of literary masters such as Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Tennyson.

Continue reading about the odd pseudo-history book that popularized the stories of King Arthur, HERE.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

New Article: Monsters of Münster

An Unbelievably Bizarre Anabaptist Rebellion

  (German city painted by Sebastian Münster (1488-1552), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

During the 1530s, a strange occurrence blandly labeled the Münster Rebellion broke out in the city of Münster, within the region of Westphalia (modern northwest Germany). For the multiple-year rebellion, Münster was basically turned into a theocracy ruled by a group of over-zealous Anabaptists—a Protestant Christian sect disliked at the time by both Catholics and other Protestants. In the case of the Münster Rebellion, however, religious debate turned into religious oppression, and a battle of theology devolved into bloodshed and war.

Continue Reading about the strange Münster Rebellion, HERE.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

New Biography: Saint Augustine (354-430 CE)

A Wayward Son Who Became One Of Christianity’s Most Influential Figures
(Saint Augustine, painted by Antonio Rodríguez (1636 - 1691), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Augustine was born in 354 CE to a Roman family living in Algiers. His mother was a Christian, and it is thought that his father converted to the religion on his deathbed. Suffice it to say, Augustine was exposed to Christianity from a young age. As a child, Augustine was made a catechumen—a person learning about Christianity before baptism—but he decided not to go through with it, and sought spiritual enlightenment elsewhere. 

Continue reading about the odd, but inspiring, Saint Augustine, HERE.

Friday, March 3, 2017

New Article: Emperor Commodus—History Is Better That Fiction

The Real Emperor Commodus Was Much More Bizarre and Odd Than The Way He Is Portrayed In Film

  (Bust of Commodus photographed by Wolfgang Sauber in the Antiques Museum in the Royal Palace, Stockholm, via Creative Commons (CC 1.0))

Film Portrayal
After watching the 2016 Netflix miniseries-documentary hybrid about Commodus called Roman Empire: Reign of Blood, I began to think about the ways Emperor Commodus has been depicted in film. In the hit movie, Gladiator, released in 2000, Commodus was portrayed as an incestuous snob who murdered his father, the great philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius.  At the end of that movie, Commodus was killed in a gladiatorial battle with the masses of Rome in audience. It made great cinema, but it was hardly a factual depiction of Commodus’ reign.

Netflix’s Roman Empire: Reign of Blood was much more factual, but there were noticeable differences between what the historians featured on the show said, compared to how the filmmakers recreated the scenes. The information provided by the historians was spot-on, but the filmmakers could not help but make the scenes more elaborate. The two scenes that really stood out in this regard were Commodus fighting as a gladiator and the depiction of his assassination. In the show’s gladiatorial scenes, Commodus was shown to be in dramatic (mostly fair) fights, but historically, Commodus likely only fought the crippled, the injured or the incapacitated in the arena. If he actually fought against skilled opponents, he would win by forfeit without any real combat. As to Commodus’ assassination, Gladiator and Roman Empire: Reign of Blood, both set the scene up as a final hand-to-hand combat showdown between the emperor and a gladiator, while history claims that Commodus was strangled by his wrestling instructor while bathing.

Yet, criticism is not the aim of this article. In the following paragraphs, read about the life and reign of Commodus and determine for yourselves if the historical Commodus is more interesting and bizarre than the interpretations provided by filmmakers.

Read about the real Emperor Commodus, HERE.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

New Article: The 17th-Century Adventures Of The Outlaw, Henry Pitman

A doctor who was a rebel, a forced laborer, and an acquaintance of pirates

  (James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch by Jan van Wyck, by Jan Wyck (1644–1702), [Public Doman] via Creative Commons)

Rebel Doctor
The Catholic King James II of England ascended to power in 1685 after the death of his brother, King Charles II. In June of that same year, however, the late King Charles’ illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, arrived on the coast of Dorset with a rebel army. Monmouth planned his rebellion to coincide with another revolt in Scotland, and he hoped to draw the majority of his manpower from the English Protestants who did not want to be ruled by a Catholic king.

For the rest of June, and into early July, Monmouth marched around the English countryside, recruiting a mass of unorganized, untrained and angry Englishmen. Around this time a doctor named Henry Pitman returned to see his family in Somersetshire after having been away in Italy. Pitman came from a relatively astute Quaker family that could be classified as belonging to the lower tier of the English gentry. The doctor heard of Monmouth’s Rebellion while he was visiting his family, and he began to feel that risky emotion that can bring either great reward or tremendous danger—curiosity. 

Continue reading about the wild adventures of the rebel doctor in our article, HERE.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

New Biography: The Megalithic Poet, Homer

The Obscure Legend And His Epic Tales


(Statue of Homer, photographed by Rufus46, via Creative Commons (licensed CC 3.0), cropped and edited)

All around the world, and in almost every country, countless educated people have heard of, or read, the famous works by the ancient Greek poet, Homer. His two masterpieces, The Iliad and The Odyssey, are widely considered to be the first two works of ‘Western’ literature. In addition to that, Homer (along with his possible contemporary, Hesiod) was one of the first Greeks to drag the gods of Olympus down from their obscure mountain and make the deities relatable and personified with emotions in ways that the average person could understand. The poet’s works would go on to be preserved, edited and translated into numerous languages, serving as a core component of literary education—and it is still taught in schools, today. Yet, except those general truths, much about Homer remains a mystery. Who was he? When did he live? Was Homer one man or many? To these questions, historians can only shrug their shoulders and hypothesize.

Continue reading about Homer, the timeless poet, HERE.