Wednesday, October 31, 2018

New Biography: The Remarkable Tale Of The Kidnapped Noble, Dou Guangguo


Dou Guangguo was from an impoverished noble family based out of Qinghe in Zhao. Even though the rebellion against the Qin regime and the consequential rise of the Han Dynasty under Emperor Gaozu (king r. 206-202, emperor 202-195 BCE) was a time of tremendous social mobility, the Dou family remained of little significance, holding virtually no worth except the noble blood that ran in their veins.

The downtrodden Dou family, however, was given a door to future opportunities during the reign of Empress Dowager Lü, the wife of Emperor Gaozu and the mother of Emperor Hui (r. 195-188 BCE). Either during Empress Dowager Lü’s domineering years over her son’s reign, or in her own sole rule by means of young puppet emperors between 188 and 180 BCE, the empress dowager took an interest in Dou Guangguo’s family. Empress Dowager Lü had many relatives in need of consorts and concubines, so she was always on the lookout for young women from good families who could be integrated into the imperial court. As it happened, Dou Guangguo had an older sister who fit the empress dowager’s requirements. Guangguo was very, very young at the time, but he would later claim to have vivid memories of spending time with his sister, Lady Dou, before she left to become a palace attendant of Empress Dowager Lü. Whereas the fortunes of Lady Dou were on the rise, young Guangguo would have a drastically different path in life.

 Read about Dou Guangguo's crazy life, HERE.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

New Article: Homer’s Detailed Ancient Ritual To Summon The Dead

(Souls on the Banks of Acheron, by Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl  (1860–1933), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

If you have a copy of Homer’s masterful epic poem, The Odyssey, on your bookshelf, you may be surprised to know that the poem contains a powerful ritual to summon the spirits of the dead. Yet, before you attempt try it out, this ritual will not work in your back yard. According to Homer, the spell will only work if performed at the borderlands of the underworld.

The Story
The ritual in question is mentioned at the end of book 10 and the beginning of Book 11 in The Odyssey. In regards to plot, this scene takes place after Odysseus blinded the cyclops, Polyphemus, a child of the sea-god, Poseidon. From the land of the Cyclops, Odysseus then sailed to the island inhabited by Aeolus, keeper of the winds, who gave the adventurer a bag of air that would ensure that the sailors had favorable weather on their journey home. Yet, Odysseus’ crew opened the bag, releasing the wind and consequently blowing the ship off course. The wind-blown sailors eventually washed up in the territory of the giant, man-eating Laestrygonians. When it became apparent to Odysseus that the locals wanted to have his crew for dinner, he quickly set sail and eventually anchored his ship at Aeaea, the island called home by the goddess-witch, Circe.

Odysseus sent out half of his crew to scout the island of Aeaea and these unlucky men found Circe’s polished-stone palace. Circe greeted the sailors and managed to lure all but one member of the party into her hall, where she fed them a feast of cheese, barley-meal, honey and wine. The goddess, however, had added a secret ingredient to the food and drink—all of the men who ate from her table were transformed into swine. Luckily for the pig-men, their captain, Odysseus, was on his way to save the day. Using a magical antidote dropped off by Hermes, Odysseus entered the stone palace, and after some intimate negotiations with Circe in her bedroom, Odysseus convinced the goddess to turn the crew back into humans. Interestingly enough, Odysseus’ crew and Circe became the best of pals after the incident, and Odysseus decided to party with the goddess on Aeaea for an entire year.

When that year was over, however, Circe told Odysseus that he needed to consult with the spirit of the dead prophet, Teiresias, to have any chance of returning to his home in Ithaca. In addition to this advice, Circe gave Odysseus instructions on how to reach the border of the underworld, as well as instructions for a ghostly summoning ritual and the supplies needed to perform that spell. Thus equipped with knowledge and provisions, Odysseus set sail toward the land of the dead.

Continue reading about the Odysseus' powerful spell to summon the dead, HERE.
 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

New Article: The Fatal Curse Over The Yngling Dynasty



King Harald Finehair brought all of Norway under his influence in the later half of the 9th century and continued to rule over Norway until his death around the year 940. His successors are often labeled as the Finehair Dynasty, but Harald supposedly claimed lineage from an even more ancient line royal line, which was said to link all the way back to the Norse gods.

According to Scandinavian tradition, Harald Finehair was a member of the Yngling Dynasty. The Icelandic scholar, Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), wrote an account of this peculiar family in his Yngling Saga. He began with pure myth and gradually moved through legend, semi-legend, and finally folklore-laden history to reach the more factually-grounded time of Harald Finehair. According to legend, the first two members of the family were gods and, if calculations are correct, Harald Finehair was supposedly the thirty-fifth ruling member of the Yngling Dynasty. Yet, despite the supposedly divine origin of their family, the Ynglings were very, very unlucky—according to the saga, twenty-five of Harald’s thirty-four predecessors died violent, accidental, or simply unnatural deaths.

The Yngling Saga begins with an interesting theory that suggests Odin and the Norse gods migrated from a location near the Black Sea and eventually traveled across Europe to ultimately settle Sweden, where Odin founded a kingdom. After a long reign, Odin handed the control of his kingdom over to another god from outside his family. The successor’s name was Njord and he was technically the founder of the Yngling Dynasty. The dynasty, however, was actually named after Njord’s son and successor, Frey, a popular god who apparently also went by the name Yngvi, hence the family name of Yngling. In the saga, the reigns of Njord and Frey were portrayed as golden ages of prosperity, as would be expected from gods. The personal luck of these two god-kings were said to have been very positive during their time as rulers over a Swedish kingdom and their aura of good fortune spread over the entire kingdom during their reigns. Of course, Frey was prophesied in the Norse religion to eventually fall during the apocalyptic battle of Ragnarok, but that did not stop his mythical days as a monarch from being considered the epitome of good fortune.

After the reign of Frey, however, the Yngling Dynasty suffered an unbelievable fall from grace. Here are the bizarre fates of the Yngling Dynasty members, beginning with Frey’s son and ending with Harald Finehair’s father, Hálfdan the Black. Enjoy the stories, but keep in mind that the Yngling Dynasty is considered mythical or extremely legendary, with Harald Finehair, and to a lesser extent, Hálfdan the Black, being the only members of the dynasty generally accepted as historical figures.

Continue reading about the bizarre fates of these 34 Yngling monarchs,
 HERE.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

New Biography: Árni Magnússon And His Many Chests Of Original Icelandic Manuscripts

(Image of Árni Magnússon (1663-1730), by an unknown artist, combined with the Kringlublaðið [the Kringla leaf], c. 1260, both [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
In the year 1663, Árni Magnússon was born in the region of Kvennabrekka, Iceland. The occupations and status of his family would serve him well in later life—Árni’s father was a local sheriff with some political clout and his grandfather and uncle were familiar with the processes of printing and scribing. As these latter two men oversaw Árni Magnússon’s early education, their love of books evidently affected the young boy’s future interests.
 
After graduating from the Skálholt School in Iceland, Árni Magnússon accompanied his father on a trip to Denmark in 1683. While there, he enrolled at the University of Copenhagen and found a job as an assistant to Thomas Bartholin Jr., the Keeper of the Royal Antiquities in Denmark. This trip to Denmark was a momentous event in Árni Magnússon’s life, as the Keeper of Antiquities would set the young scholar on a task that would become his lifelong passion. 
Continue reading about Árni Magnússon and his life's work, HERE.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

New Article: The Crazy Succession Crisis In Early 9th-Century Denmark

((A scene from the saga of King Olaf, by Halfdan Egedius (1877–1899), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons))
 
Charlemagne came very close to open war with what could have been one of his deadliest foes—King Godfrid of Denmark (also spelled Godofrid, Godefrid, Gudfrey and Godfrey). As early as 804, presumably Godfrid’s first year of rule, the Danish army and navy moved down to the border of Saxony, a region that the Franks held dearly, as they had spent decades crushing Saxon rebellions to stabilize the region. Godfrid wisely did not invade Saxony proper, but he did invade the territory of the Obodrites in 808, a people who were neighbors of the Saxons, and a long-time ally of the Franks. In response, Charlemagne sent forces to defend Saxony against a possible attack.

Continue reading about King Godfrid of Denmark and the turmoil in his kingdom following his death, HERE.

Friday, September 14, 2018

New Biography: The Tragic Tale Of Puncker—A Masterful Archer From 15th-Century Germany


In the 15th century, there supposedly lived a man named Puncker (or Punker), who was renowned as a showman and a warrior in the Holy Roman Empire, an empire that consisted of Germany, Austria and other surrounding Central and Eastern European lands. The life of this legendary or semi-legendary person, interestingly enough, was recorded in the pages of the Malleus Maleficarum, a text on witchcraft and demonology that was published around 1486 or 1487. 
 
Continue reading about Puncker and why a book on whitchcraft was interested in his story, HERE.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

New Article: The Terrible Battle Of Olpae During the Peloponnesian War


Around 426 or 425 BCE, an army from the Peloponnesian League set out to conquer Amphilochian Argos, a city founded on the southeast end of the Ambracian Gulf, and not to be confused with the more widely known Argos in the Peloponnesus. This army, according to Thucydides (c. 460-400 BCE), had around 3,000 heavy infantry hoplites and was commanded by a Spartan general named Eurylochus. In addition to this, a further 3,000 hoplites invaded Amphilochian Argos from pro-Peloponnesian Ambracia, located just north of the Ambracian Gulf. This Ambraciot army was the faster of the two invading forces, so they seized the stronghold of Olpae without Peloponnesian help, and in doing so, gained a strong position just a few miles from Amphilochian Argos.
Eurylochus and the Peloponnesian army apparently did not launch their invasion until after the Ambraciots had already seized Olpae. As a result, the Amphilochians had time to muster their manpower and call for Athenian help. As the Ambraciots waited for Eurylochus’ army, the Amphilochians reinforced their city of Argos and placed scouts at a region called Crenae, in order to watch for the Peloponnesian army. They also successfully contacted, Demosthenes, one of Athens’ craftiest generals—he answered their plea and arrived with twenty ships. His fleet was only carrying a reported 200 hoplites and 60 archers, but Demosthenes’ knack for odd strategies would make up for the lack of numbers. In addition, the Amphilochians also received military aid from Acarnania, a neighboring region that survived a Peloponnesian invasion between 429 and 428 BCE. Demosthenes was appointed as commander-in-chief of this coalition of forces and he marched their united front to challenge the Ambraciots at Olpae.
 
Read about the dramatic battles near Olpae, HERE.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

New Biography: Leucothea—A Mortal Greek Woman Of Myth Said To Have Become A Goddess


(Odysseus and Ino/Leucothea, by Alessandro Allori  (1535–1607), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Among the exclusive club of Greek deities that could claim to have originally been mortal humans was an interesting immortal named Leucothea the White Goddess. She began her days as a proud Greek princess in an important Boeotian city, but, after a life of tragedy and madness, she became a protective goddess of the sea.

Read about this goddess' tragic story, HERE

Thursday, August 16, 2018

New Biography: The Downfall of Callisthenes, The Official Royal Historian Of Alexander The Great

(Alexander the Great Refuses To Take Water, by Giuseppe Cades (1750–1799), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Alexander the Great had such confidence in himself and his army’s ability that he must have believed wondrous deeds would be an inevitable part of his future. So, before invading the Persian Empire in 334 BCE, Alexander the Great hired an official historian to document his military campaigns. The man tasked with this job was Callisthenes of Olynthus. Like Alexander, Callisthenes was a student of Aristotle. In fact, he and Aristotle had co-written a piece on the Pythian Games. Yet, Callisthenes was best known for his ten-volume history of Greece, covering events that occurred around the years 386-355 BCE. As a result, it is not surprising that Callisthenes came highly recommended when Alexander the Great put out a request for a royal historian to attend him on his journeys. The fact that Callisthenes was Aristotle’s nephew also undoubtedly helped in the selection process.

While accompanying the conquering king, Callisthenes was not just any historian—he was also Alexander’s propagandist. His job was not simply to document Alexander’s campaigns, but to write it in the way that best promoted the king’s public image. Callisthenes understood this second role of his and did indeed fill his history of Alexander with propaganda. From fragments of the history that survive, as well as references and critiques aimed at it from other ancient authors, we know that Callisthenes’ account was filled with stories of divine interventions on the Macedonian king’s behalf, and he was also one of the first to write down rumors alleging that Alexander may have been fathered by a god.

Continue reading about the work and demise of Callisthenes, HERE.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

New Article: The Dire Escape From Lyncus Of Brasidas And His Peloponnesian Army


(Battle between Greeks and Persians from a book by John Warner Barber c. 1798-1885, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In the year 423 BCE, the Athenians and Spartans, who had been in the midst of the Peloponnesian War since 431 BCE, decided to observe an armistice that was planned to last for one year. Athens and Sparta did, indeed, halt the official war, yet smaller states on the periphery of their alliances kept fighting in their own minor feuds. As for the leaders of the war, Athens and Sparta, they also kept up their militancy in ways that would not break the armistice. For Athens, this was a time to crush rebellions and suppress dissidents. On the Peloponnesian side, a general named Brasidas (responsible for many of the aforementioned Athenian rebellions) decided to occupy his time by participating in a joint-invasion alongside his ally, King Perdiccas of Macedonia, against the Kingdom of Lyncus.

Read about how their joint invasion turned to chaos, HERE

Thursday, August 2, 2018

New Biography: Lu Wan—A Childhood Friend Of Emperor Gaozu Who Abandoned The Han Dynasty And Became A Nomadic Ruler


(14th Century painting of Mongol cavalrymen by Sayf al-Vâhidî, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
 
Lu Wan hailed from the village of Feng, in the region of Peixian (modern Jiangsu province), near the eastern end of central China. Lu Wan’s father was a close friend of the so-called Venerable Sire—the name given to the father of Emperor Gaozu, the founder of the Han Dynasty. The friendship between the two fathers passed on to their sons, with Gaozu and Lu Wan becoming inseparable friends. Legend even claimed that the two boys were born on the same day, something that the villagers thought was significant.
Although Gaozu (known then as Liu Bang) was destined to become an emperor and Lu Wan a nobleman, the two began their lives as peasants. The friends began their upward mobility during the reign of the Qin Dynasty (222-206 BCE). The pair studied together and Gaozu succeeded in qualifying for a position as a village official. Lu Wan presumably did not fair as well as his friend in the examination, for he did not seem to receive a local government post and he instead followed Gaozu wherever the future emperor went. Gaozu eventually moved to Pei, where he married the daughter of Master Lü, a friend of the region’s magistrate. It was there that Gaozu and Lu Wan would begin their great rise to power.
 
 Continue reading about the interesting life of Lu Wan, HERE.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

New Biography: The Other Side Of The Roman Scholar, Suetonius


(Image of Romans from "The International library of famous literature / selections from the world's great writers, ancient, medieval, and modern," page 552, (1898), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, better known simply as Suetonius, was born around the year 70 to a family of the equestrian order—a Roman equivalent of knighthood. The exact location of Suetonius’ birth is uncertain, but many point to the ancient city of Hippo Regius, in Algeria, where a memorial inscription in his honor was excavated in what had been once the city square. Although his family was not among the highest elite of Rome, they still had considerable influence. Suetonius claimed that his grandfather had contacts in the inner circle of Caligula (r. 37-41). His father, too, was a prominent figure, serving as a military tribune during the short reign of Emperor Otho (r. 69). Suetonius’ popularity and fame, however, would rise far higher than that of his forefathers, and he would accomplish that feat not with military victories or political maneuverings, but with education and writing.

Continue reading about Suetonius, HERE

Thursday, July 19, 2018

New Article: The Tyrian Troubles Of Alexander The Great


(Illustration of Alexander besieging Tyre, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

From 336-323 BCE, Alexander the Great undertook a remarkable campaign of warfare and conquest, spanning from the Danube River in Europe, all the way to the Indus River on the edge of India. Interestingly, one of the most trying and frustrating conflicts that Alexander the Great endured during his travels took place relatively early on in his career. By the year 332 BCE, Alexander was advancing deep into Phoenicia, following the coastlines of the lands known now as Syria and Lebanon. Most of the cities in Phoenicia and Cyprus had surrendered to Alexander after news spread of his victories over the Persians at the Granicus River (334 BCE) and Issus (333 BCE). Despite this, the most powerful of the Phoenician cities, the island sea power of Tyre, staunchly kept its relationship with Alexander no warmer than neutral.

Continue reading about the showdown between Alexander and the city of Tyre, HERE

Thursday, July 12, 2018

New Article: The Failed Rebellion of The Illyrian King Cleitus Against Alexander The Great


(Alexander at the Granicus, painted by Charles Le Brun (1619–1690), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In 335 BCE, Alexander the great campaigned against the hostile tribes along the Danube River in order to ensure the security of his European territory before invading the Persian Empire. Soon after enforcing peace on the Danube tribes, Alexander received troubling news—King Cleitus of Illyria, who submitted to Alexander’s father in 349 BCE, had launched a rebellion against Macedonia. Making maters worse, Cleitus was not alone; the Autariatae tribe gave its support to the Illyrian king, and Prince Glaucias of the Taulantians also raised an army to support Cleitus’ rebellion.
Around the time that Alexander received the news, he was staying with his ally, King Langaros, the ruler of the Agriania. Upon hearing of the rebellion, Langaros offered to personally invade the land of the Autariates, so that Alexander could march against Illyria without any distractions. While King Langaros ravaged the Autariatae, Alexander the Great quickly marched toward Cleitus’ headquarters at the city of Pelium. He made good time (as he usually did) and arrived at the city before Prince Glaucias was able to reinforce the town with his Taulantian troops. Even so, upon the arrival of the Macedonians, the Illyrian forces at Pelium pulled back to the safety of their city and both sides prepared for a siege.
 
Continue reading to see how Alexander the Great crushed this early rebellion against his rule, HERE.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

New Article: The Story Of Grettir And The Undead Glam—One Of The Greatest Medieval Horror Stories

("The Sea Troll" by Theodor Kittelsen  (1857–1914), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

According to the medieval Icelandic text, Grettir’s Saga, an unlucky 11th-century farmer named Thorhall had an extensive farmstead in the Vatnsdal region of northwestern Iceland. His land was called Shady Valley (Forsaeludal) and he had a very grim family—literally, his father and his son were both named Grim. As befitting a grim family living in a place called Shady Valley, Thorhall’s lands were notoriously haunted. His farmstead had such a bad reputation that Thorhall was constantly short on farmhands and herdsmen. Each year he traveled to the Althing, the governing body of Iceland, to beg for farmhands and to seek advice on how to keep his employees around for longer spans of time. Thorhall became so desperate that he sought out the wisest man on Iceland, Skapti Thoroddsson, hoping that the wiseman could find a solution to his problems.
Skapti did not know how to stop the hauntings, but he did know of a Swedish immigrant to Iceland who was hardy enough in strength and skeptical enough of spirits to thrive at Thorhall’s farm. The man Skapti had in mind was Glam, a blue-eyed, grey-haired giant of great size and strength. Glam happened to be at the Althing, so Thorhall interviewed him and determined that he would be a fine herdsman. With the interview over, they arranged for Glam to arrive at Shady Valley in October.
 
Continue reading about the spooky descent of Glam and the story of how Grettir the Strong saved the farm, HERE.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

New Biography: Peng Yue—The Ancient Chinese Swamp Bandit Who Became A King And Ended Up In A Pickle Jar

(Two terracotta soldier miniatures photographed by Historian’s Hut Staff, on top of a Public Domain image of the Terracotta Army via maxpixel.net)

Few people have had or will have as many dramatic twists and turns in their life as Peng Yue, a man who lived in China around the turn of the 3rd and 2nd century BCE. Sima Qian (r. 145-90 BCE), the author of the Records of the Grand Historian, traced the place of Peng Yue’s birth to a region called Changyi. Not much is known about his early years, but by the time Peng Yue reached adulthood, he somehow relocated to the swamps of Juye, where a small troop of bandits pressured him to be their leader. Peng Yue, however, seemed to dislike leadership at that point in his life, and he spent most of his time fishing.
In the inaugural year of the Second Emperor of the Qin Dynasty (209 BCE), a commoner named Chen She began a rebellion in Chu, prompting numerous other disgruntled men throughout China to muster their own rebel armies. Chen She managed to place himself as a hegemon, or commander-in-chief, in charge of the loosely allied rebel forces, and his coalition proved to be more than a match for the Qin army. Peng Yue was still living in a swamp with his merry band of bandits at this momentous time, and the news sent thrills of excitement through the men living in his outlaw community. Still considering Peng Yue to be their leader, the bandits (maybe 100 in number) begged their reluctant commander to join the rebel cause. Peng Yue, however, refused their offer, claiming he would rather watch and wait as the powerful dragons fought among themselves.
It took over a year before Peng Yue was convinced to turn his band of robbers into a rebel army. When his mind was made up, Peng Yue called together his followers and told them that if they wanted to be an army they needed to start acting like soldiers. First of all, he needed to know if his troops could show discipline and follow commands. So, according to Sima Qian, he told the bandits that they would have a meeting at dawn in order to discuss the rebellion. Almost as an afterthought, Peng Yue added that anyone late to the meeting would be executed.
 
Continue reading about Peng Yue's bizzare twists of fate, HERE.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

New Article: The Battle For Delium In 424 BCE—Hillside Charges And Giant Flamethrowers


(Hoplite infantry on the Chigi Vase, assumed 7th century BCE, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

424 BCE was a momentous year in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE). Up until that point, the two warring factions, led by Athens and Sparta, had been trading blows for years, and Athens seemed to be gaining a strong advantage. Yet, in 424 BCE, the Spartan side was able to regain a great deal of momentum and morale. The Athenian general and historian, Thucydides (c. 460-400), attributed this shift of power to two men—the Spartan general, Brasidas, and Pagondas of Thebes, the commander-in-chief of the Boeotian League armed forces.

Continue reading about the dramatic battle of Delium in chaotic year, 242 BCE, HERE

Thursday, June 14, 2018

New Biography: King Agis IV—The Post-Alexander King Of Sparta Who Wanted To Bring Sparta Back To Its Glory Days


(Lycurgus of Sparta, painted by Jacques-Louis David  (1748–1825), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

When a civilization begins to decline, those witnessing the fall start to question what went wrong. Was it abandoning traditional government, apostatizing from the ancestral religion, or was it a general degradation of morality that brought about the end? And when once-great powers find themselves without strength, they look to the past in search of the specialness that they had lost by the time of their present.

King Agis IV felt these emotions strongly. He took power in 244 or 243 BCE, allegedly at the young age of nineteen. Agis was a member of the Eurypontid line of Spartan kings, one of two co-ruling monarchies in Sparta. His co-king from the Agiad line was Leonidas II, who had been in power since 251 BCE. The two kings had vastly different visions for Sparta and their personalities were bound to clash. It was a classic sociopolitical conflict—the ongoing struggle between the revolutionary and the defender of the status quo.

Continue reading about the dramatic struggle between Agis IV and Leonidas II, HERE.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

New Biography: The Life Of Saint Patrick And Nennius’ Extravagant Statistics About His Career


Saint Patrick is credited with spreading the Christian religion into ancient Ireland in the 5th century. The traditionally-accepted account of his life follows the Confessio, a brief autobiography supposedly written by St. Patrick, himself. 

According to the Confessio, St. Patrick was the son of a Roman citizen named Calpurnius. His family had some wealth, as they lived in a home that could be described as a small villa, located in a settlement called Bannavem Taburniae, somewhere on mainland Britain. Patrick’s father, Calpunius, was a clergyman, as was Patrick’s grandfather before him. Yet, Patrick, like many preachers’ sons, confessed to having little to no interest in religion during his early years of life. 

Everything changed when Patrick reached the age of sixteen. In a twist of fate that would change the world, the secular-minded Patrick was taken captive by a band of Irish raiders. The young teen was taken back to Ireland, where he was forced to work in the pastures. In the Confessio, Patrick claimed to have been forced to watch over his captors’ animals for six long years.

Continue reading about the inspiring life of St. Patrick, HERE.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

New Article: The Action-Packed Battle Between Grettir The Strong And Twelve Berserkers

(A Viking Foray, sketched by John Charles Dollman  (1851-1934),  [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

According to an anonymously-written book of historical fiction from 14th-century Iceland, a band of twelve Vikings silently landed their ship on the shore of Haramarsey, an island off the western coast of northern Norway. This scene was set around the years 1012 or 1013, when Norway was dominated by two powerful jarls, Eirik and Svein Hakonarson. The master of the island of Haramarsey, was a certain Thorfinn Karsson, a trusted advisor to the jarls. The twelve Vikings landed on the island while Thorfinn was away with most of his fighting force, meeting with the jarls in the Norwegian mainland. Therefore, Thorfinn's wife and daughter were left virtually defenseless on the island.

When the Vikings arrive in Haramarsey, a young wastrel of sixteen or seventeen years of age was the first person to spot them. The young man had been exiled from Iceland and was shipwrecked near Haramarsey. Thorfinn had allowed him to stay on the island and the young man accepted the offer. The stranded boy was a promising prospect-he was tall and immensely strong, with red hair and a freckled angular face. Yet, the youth was a notoriously free spirit, and he neither pledged loyalty to Thorfinn nor took up any jobs on the island. He mainly just loitered about and watched ships sail past. Luckily for the locals, he was lounging by the shore on the day when the Vikings arrived.
Continue reading about the action-packed encounter between young Grettir and the twelve berserkers, HERE.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

New Article: Emperor Nero Had His Own Mother Killed

(1st-century bust said to be of Agrippina the Younger, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, the future Emperor Nero, was the son of Agrippina the Younger and Cnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus. As the great-nephew of the reigning emperor, Claudius (r. 41-54), the young man was royalty, but not very high on the list of imperial succession. This was especially true since Claudius had a son named Britannicus. Yet, Britannicus’ mother, Messalina, was executed after having an affair. At the time when Claudius became single, Agrippina the younger was a widow and, despite being the emperor’s niece, she caught Claudius’ eye. The two married in the year 49 and Claudius adopted her son, giving him the named Nero.

Continue reading about the fate of Nero's mother, Agrippina, HERE

Thursday, May 17, 2018

New Article: How An Old Man Allegedly Helped Create The Han Dynasty By Dropping A Shoe

(Painting of Zhang Liang and Huang Shigong, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Zhang Liang was from a prominent family that served one of the feudal kingdoms that was eventually toppled by the Qin Dynasty (c. 221-206 BCE). Even after the Zhang family found itself under Qin rule, they still had wealth—Zhang Liang reportedly had the means to fund a staff of 300 servants. Yet, Zhang Liang was too patriotic to appreciate being able to keep his wealth under the new regime. Instead, he decided to spend his remaining family fortune on bankrolling a band of rebels to resist the Qin rulers.
According to the ancient historian, Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE), Zhang Liang and his band of dissidents tried to assassinate the First Emperor of Qin, Shihuangdi, in 218 BCE. They hunted down the emperor’s carriage train while he was touring the east. The rebels set up an ambush and Zhang Liang gave his strongest recruit an enormous iron bludgeon with which to lead the attack. As the rebels had planned, the emperor’s entourage rolled into the trap. When the time was right, the assassins charged toward the wagons and successfully smashed their way into one of the regal carriages. Luck, however, was not on the side of the rebels that day. They made the unsalvageable mistake of attacking the wrong carriage. Instead of discovering the vulnerable emperor inside, the rebels found only startled attendants. The mistake gave the guards enough time to rally to the defense of their emperor. With their plan foiled, the rebels scattered and went into hiding. Zhang Liang assumed an alias and settled down in Xiapei. While there, he spent much of his time pacing around the local embankments. 
Continue reading about the peculiar encounter that Zhang Liang had with an odd old man in Xiapei, HERE.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

New Article: The Otter’s Ransom—A Norse Tale Of A Dragon And Cursed Gold

(Sigurd and Fafnir, c. 1906, painted by Hermann Hendrich (–1931), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

A certain tale from Norse mythology, which has come to be known as “The Otter’s Ransom,” has had a great deal of influence on writers of the fantasy genre. One such visionary who drew inspiration from the tale was J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. “The Otter’s Ransom” was featured in the 13th-century Saga of the Volsungs, a book about the Volsung family, with the most notable sections of the text being about Sigurd the dragon-slayer. Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241), the greatest of the medieval Icelandic scholars, also recorded the tale in his own work, The Prose Edda.

Read about the exciting tale origin tale of the Norse serpent, Fafnir, HERE

Monday, May 7, 2018

New Article: Seven Strange Character Names From The Ancient Philospoher And Theologian, Chuang Tzu

(7 sages of the bamboo grove Wittig collection painting 16, c. prior to the 19th century, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
 
Get to the Point
The ancient Daoist philosopher, Chuang Tzu, was one of the most brilliantly witty thinkers of his day, and his work still is influential. He was one of the most important figures of early Daoism, with only Laozi, the founder that religion, consistently ranked above him. Chuang Tzu’s insight into the world we live in will leave a lasting impression on anyone who reads his work, but some particulars about his writing may cause a stray giggle here and there; the names of the characters in his stories can be very peculiar. This article uses the version of Chuang Tzu’s work translated by Burton Watson. Whether Chuang Tzu’s names are a result of the English translation, or a tool to convey meaning, is unclear, but the latter is the likeliest option. Here are seven of Chuang Tzu’s strangest names, starting with the most tame and ending with the most bizarre.

Read about the humorous names created by Chuang Tzu, HERE.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

New Guest Article: 16+1 Dark And Vicious Ancient Greek Deities

(Guest Article)


As well as being talented and innovative in science and philosophy, the ancient Greeks were also a very religious and devout people. They believed in many gods and deities. Many of these could be kind and fair, but the deities were also frequently evil, wrathful and merciless. Many of them were considered to be daemonic winged spirits, malevolent or benevolent, who, along with their lord, Hades, spread terror, panic, misery, unluckiness, disaster, violence and suspicion among their victims.

16. Ate

 (Thetis and other deities dipping Achilles in the River Styx, by Donato Creti (1671–1749), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Ate was the personification and deity of damage, devastation, delusion, mischief and infatuation. According to Hesiod, she was the daughter of Eris (strife), while according to Homer her father was Zeus. She led people in the path of destruction and was responsible for corrupted minds and recklessness of people, as well as for the results of such acts. She led not only mortals, but also gods in divergence and irresponsibility, blurring their minds and inducing catastrophe. After every accident caused by Ate, the Litai (prayers) came in to deal with it.


Continue reading about all of these dark and vicious deities, HERE.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

New Guest Article: 10 Legendary Figures From Ancient Greek Folklore And Mythology


(censored and cropped version of The Apotheosis of Hercules, by Noël Coypel (1628–1707), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Numerous heroes, due to their super-human strength, cunning and courage, were worshipped as gods or demigods. Their diligence in doing their duty for the good of all mankind, as well as their guts to slay monsters, have made their stories truly immortal.

Continue reading about ten of these immortalized heroes from Greek myth and legend, HERE.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

New Biography: Lucius Fulcinius Trio Lived And Died By The Law In Ancient Rome


(Zoomed and cropped version of “Cicero Denounces Catiline” painted by Cesare Maccari (1840–1919), c. 1889, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

During the reign of Emperor Tiberius (r. 14-37), lawyers could amass huge fortunes as prosecutors. Similar to a witch-hunt atmosphere, the rich and powerful in Tiberius’ empire threw countless accusations of criminality and treason at each other. The prosecutor that won these high-profile treason cases could expect to gain a portion of the defendant’s assets. In addition to the ill-gotten wealth, the act of prosecuting supposed traitors could also lead to honorary awards and government promotions. Among the many prosecutors that participated in the judicial reign of terror was a man named Lucius Fulcinius Trio.

Continue reading about Trio's eventfull law career, HERE.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

New Guest Article: 10+1 Life-Changing Quotes From Ancient Greece

(Plato’s Academy, by Raphael (1483–1520), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Greece preserves one of the most ancient cultures and one of the most inspiring histories worldwide. Its history is made up of bloody wars and occupations, but also of people who, with their ideas, visions and ambitions, have shaped the course of the whole world. Most of them are considered to be philosophers and many of their ideas, point of view and world theories still inspire modern people. Although many of them did not actually write texts, their sayings were saved by their students. Recognized virtues, such as discipline, glory, honor, and the value of family and friendship, can be traced back to their insights, and still move and influence modern people's lives.

Continue reading about these life-changing quotes from the brightest minds of ancient Greece, HERE.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

New Biography / Article: The Greatly Endowed Plot Of Lü Buwei To End His Affair With The Mother Of A Chinese King

(Career of Xu Xianqing Huanji Tu 18, c. 1590s, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Lü Buwei was a prominent minister of Qin during the decades before the kings of Qin formally became emperors. He began his career as a simple merchant, and, because of his keen mind for strategy and administration, his business was extremely profitable. Nevertheless, his career trajectory would dramatically change after a trip to the city of Handan, the capital of the state of Zhao.

While in Handan, Lü Buwei encountered a Qin nobleman being held there as a diplomatic hostage—the man’s name was Zichu. He was one of more than twenty sons fathered by Lord Anguo, who had become the crown prince of Qin around 267 BCE. As such, Zichu was a member of the Qin royal family, but he was still considered low enough in the succession to be given away by his king as a hostage to assure peace between Qin and Zhao. Nevertheless, with a potential heir to the kingdom of Qin at his fingertips, Lü Buwei decided to give up the life of a merchant for that of a politician.

Continue reading about the dramatic life of Lü Buwei and the bizarre story of his downfall, HERE.

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.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

New Article: Edgar Allan Poe Wrote A Short Story Based On An Actual Murder

(Illustration from Edgar Allan Poe's "Mystery of Marie Roget," Printed and published by Henry Vizetelly, 1852. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The poet and author, Edgar Allan Poe, worked several jobs in or around New York City during his life. While he was there, Poe, along with other writers and reporters, frequented a tobacco shop owned by a Mr. John Anderson. Surprisingly, many of John Anderson’s customers were not venturing into his shop for the fine selection of cigars. Instead, most of the men were lining up to talk to Anderson’s star employee, the twenty-year-old Mary Cecelia Rogers. Young Mary was a woman of legendary beauty, and the promise of catching a glimpse of her was more than enough enticement to lure in an eager crowd. Edgar Allan Poe was not the only famous writer who was lured by her beauty into the tobacco store; James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving also took the bait and went to see Miss Rogers.

During the time she was working at John Anderson’s tobacco store, Mary Rogers lived in a New York City boarding house located on Nassau Street, which was run by her mother. On a fateful day, Mary voiced her desire to travel from New York to New Jersey. The reason that she gave to her family and to her fiancé, a certain Daniel Payne, was that she wanted to meet up with relatives. Therefore, on Sunday, July 25, 1841, Mary Cecilia Rogers set off from her home to undertake what would become a one-way journey.

Continue reading about the murder of Mary Rogers, and how it inspired Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Mystery of Marie Roget," HERE

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).