Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Ancient Royal Blunder Of Crown Prince Dan of Yan



In 227 BCE, the Kingdom of Qin was well on its way to becoming the sole ruling power in ancient China. In fact, the Qin leader at that time, King Zheng (r. 246-210 BCE), was only about six years away from decisively subjugating all of his rival kings and declaring himself the First Emperor of China. Consequently, King Zheng would have been seen by his contemporaries as the most threatening king, in charge of the most powerful state of the age. As such, the kings who had not already submitted to Qin rule were desperate to remove King Zheng from power.

Crown Prince Dan, son of the King of Yan, decided to take matters into his own hands and sent an assassin by the name of Jing Ke to kill the powerful monarch of Qin. Nevertheless, King Zheng was a paranoid man who benefitted from a tough network of personal security. Jing Ke, like several future assassins, did not accomplish his mission and was instead captured by the Qin. According to the first major historian of China, Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE), Jing Ke was gruesomely executed by being pulled apart, his limbs torn from his body. Yet, before the execution was over, King Zheng learned that it was none other than the Crown Prince of Yan who had hired the assassin.

King Zheng of Qin, like the vast majority of kings from the Warring States Period in which he lived and would eventually end, was a wrathful king who rarely forgave insults or attacks. Therefore, before the year (227 BCE) was over, King Zheng placed two of his most accomplished generals, Wang Jiang and Xia Sheng, in charge of an army meant to invade the Kingdom of Yan. When the king of Yan heard of the approaching army, he mobilized his forces and marched out to meet the approaching Qin. The state of Dai also contributed its forces to the Yan army, as the Dai also felt threatened by the ever-expanding Qin. In the end, King Zheng’s forces clashed with the armies of Yan and Dai near the Yi River and won a decisive victory.

The next year, in 226 BCE, the Qin forces were free to move about in the Kingdom of Yan. They besieged the kingdom’s capital of Ji, and once reinforcements arrived, they stormed the city. During or after the battle for the capital, the Qin general, Wang Jiang, captured Crown Prince Dan and executed him by beheading. And so, while the earlier assassin sent by the Crown Prince had failed in his mission, the army dispatched by King Zheng proved more than capable of seeking vengeance against the Kingdom of Yan.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (Rubbing of a 3rd century stone thought to depict Jin Ke's attempted assassination of Emperor Shihuangdi, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • The Basic Annals of Qin in the Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji) by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.  

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Fatal Duel Between A Swedish Berserk And An Icelandic Viking-Poet



According to the anonymous Icelandic author of the semi-mythical Egil’s Saga, an opportunist berserk with the ominous name of Ljot the Pale crossed from his homeland in Sweden over to the kingdom of Norway sometime during the 10th century. Once in Norway, Jjot went about challenging wealthy Norwegians to duels, and after killing his opponents, as he always did, the Swedish warrior claimed each victim’s land and wealth as his rightful prize.

For much of his dueling career, Ljot the Pale would have likely been the most talented warrior in Norway—after all, he was a berserk, the most elite of the Scandinavian fighting men. The berserks allegedly were religious warriors who had been bestowed with incredible fighting abilities by none other than the leader of the Norse pantheon of gods, Odin. Through religious meditation (and likely narcotics), they could reportedly achieve a state of unnatural strength and unimaginable pain tolerance. When these warriors went “berserk” their battle-frenzy apparently led the super-soldiers to gnaw at the edges of their shields—consequently, it is this action (as well as bearskin pelt garments) that is used in many visual depictions of berserks. With such strength at his disposal, Ljot the Pale amassed considerable wealth by dueling the prominent men of Norway.

Around the middle of the 10th century, supposedly during the reign of King Hakon the Good (ruled roughly 934-960), Ljot the Pale decided it was about time he became a married man. According to the saga, the berserk set his sights on an unnamed Norwegian woman. Yet, when the Ljot proposed the marriage, the woman’s family firmly refused. The berserk did not take the rejection well—he immediately challenged the woman’s brother, a man named Fridgeir, to a duel.

As it happened, at the same time that this drama was taking place, a famous Viking-poet from Iceland, named Egil Skallagrimsson, arrived in Norway to lay claim to some land that belonged to his late father-in-law. He was a friend of Fridgeir’s family, so he stayed on their farm for part of his stay in Norway. In this way, the poet became entangled in the local events and ended up accompanying Fridgeir to the site of the duel.

The fighters met on Valdero Island, where a stone circle had been specially made to mark where the duel would take place. Once Egil Skallagrimsson laid eyes on the berserk, he immediately knew that the weak and inexperienced Fredgeir was hopelessly outmatched. Therefore, Egil decided to take Fredgeir’s place in the duel, so as to even the odds.

You may wonder why this poet thought he could put up a fight against a berserk. After all, by this point, Egil described himself as an “old bald-head” (Egil’s Saga, chapter 65). Nevertheless, Egil Skallagrimsson was no typical poet. He was not the kind of man who spent his days dreaming, with his thoughts in the clouds. Instead, he was a ruthless killer who had been going on Viking raids throughout northern Europe ever since he was a young teenager. In addition, he was reportedly one of the tallest and strongest men in all of Scandinavia. As a semi-mythical legend, he was also a supposed shape-shifter with berserk blood in his ancestry. If that was not enough embellishment for Egil’s larger-than-life character, the saga also claimed that he had a knack for magic. For sure, Egil was not the average literary artist.

Eager for combat, Egil entered the stone ring equipped with his trusty shield and two swords, named Adder and Slicer—the latter was the blade that the poet wielded in his hand; the other he left sheathed. Even though Egil was ready to fight, Ljot the Pale was still in the process of going “berserk.” Annoyed, the giant poet called out to his opponent in verse, beckoning him to battle. Finally, Ljot found his fighting spirit and he entered the arena howling and biting at his shield.

Egil launched the first strike of the duel, which was deflected by the berserk’s shield. Even so, the momentum was on Egil’s side and, impressively, the momentum would stay with the poet for the entire duel. With an onslaught of blows, Egil forced the berserk out of the stone circle. None of the slashes or jabs met their mark, but they were persistent enough to keep Ljot from making any attacks of his own. Eventually, after the duel had transitioned out from the arena and into a nearby field, Ljot asked for a short period of rest. Egil, interestingly enough, decided to humor the berserk and agreed to the proposal. During the break, however, Egil mocked his opponent with another stanza of highly critical poetry.

The brief respite did not last long. Eventually, Egil became impatient and demanded that the fight resume. Just like in the previous bout, Egil immediately had the overwhelming advantage—with a mighty blow, Egil stripped Ljot of his shield. While the berserk was still disoriented from the impact, Egil cut downward with a savage blow. His sword, Slicer, lived up to its name; the blade cut cleanly through the berserk’s thigh, delivering a wound that would prove fatal. In the end, Egil refused to accept any reward from Fridgeir as payment for his victory in the duel, claiming (in another poetic stanza) that the fun he had while fighting Ljot was reward enough. Yet, it was not too much of a financial sacrifice on the poet’s part, for Egil Skallagrimsson was more than happy to seize all of the fallen berserk’s wealth and property as fair winnings.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture attribution: (berserk from a medieval Swedish helmet plate and Norse god of poetry (Bragi) by Carl Wahlbom  (1810–1858), in front of more berserks by Luis Moe, all [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • Egil's Saga (recorded c. 13th century possibly by Snorri Sturluson), translated by Bernard Scudder. New York: Penguin Classics, 2004 edition.  

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Spectacularly Underwhelming Invasion of The Thracian King Sitalces Into Macedonia During the Peloponnesian War



In the winter of 429 BCE, King Sitalces of the Odrysian Empire in Thrace launched a campaign against his western neighbors of Macedonia and Chalcidice. At the time, Sitalces was an ally of Athens, and was consequently on the Athenian side of the Peloponnesian War. The Chalcidians, however, had sided with the Peloponnesians, led by Sparta. The kingdom of Macedonia, as usual, was trying to navigate precariously with both sides of the war. King Perdiccas of Macedonia had voiced support for Athens at the beginning of the conflict (on the urging of King Sitalces), but had shown little desire to support the Athenian war effort ever since becoming their ally. In fact, the historian, Thucydides, wrote that Perdiccas lent the Peloponnesians 1,000 Macedonian soldiers for a failed attack on Athenian-aligned Acarnania that occurred earlier in 429 BCE, but his troops arrived too late to be of any help. Therefore, King Sitalces’ winter invasion served as both an attack against an Athenian enemy and a punitive mission against a terrible Athenian ally.

Around the time of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE), the Odrysian Empire in Thrace was considered one the most powerful entities known to the Greek world. Thucydides, an Athenian, even claimed that Sitalces’ kingdom was more wealthy and prosperous than the Athenian Empire. Also, in sheer military might, Thucydides estimated that the Thracians could have only been outmatched by the combined power of the populous Scythian tribes.

King Sitalces summoned a large force from several regions of his empire. Out of his heartland in Thrace, he called up a force of cavalry. From the Getae tribe near Scythia, he recruited mounted archers. Bands of sword-wielding infantrymen poured into his army from the Dii and other tribes near Mount Rhodope. Even more infantry joined the Thracian king from the Agrianian and Paeonian tribes. In the end, Thucydides estimated (with a likely dose of exaggeration) that King Sitalces set out on his winter invasion with around 150,000 men. One-third of the army was made up of cavalry, while the rest consisted of infantry. Even though the Thracian king had mustered a formidable military, the strength of Sitalces’ army was mainly due to sheer numbers—training and discipline were apparently lacking.

King Sitalces gathered his forces at Doberus, and once the troops were in position, he marched his men through mountainous terrain into lower Macedonia. Despite the alleged poor quality of his troops, Sitalces’ army did quite well. They caught the Macedonians off guard, causing Perdiccas to pull his men further back into Macedonia to regroup. In the meantime, he sent small bands of Macedonian cavalry to harass the Thracians, but he even had to call off these raids, because the horsemen were all too often surrounded and defeated by Sitalces’ horde of men. The Thracians were so confident when they saw the Macedonians withdrawing, that they split off a section of their army to march southward against the lands of the Chalcidians and even the Bottiaeans, another Peloponnesian ally. Just as had happened in Macedonia, the Chalcidians and Bottiaeans were forced to retreat further into their territories as the Thracians sacked towns and ravaged the countryside.

After about a month, King Sitalces had occupied and pillaged large swaths of Macedonia, Chalcidice and Bottiaea. Nevertheless, he had overextended himself, and, from the beginning, his military logistics had been lackluster. The king supposedly had 150,000 mouths to feed, and his horses and pack animals, too, required food and water. After a short campaign lasting only thirty days, King Sitalces simply ran out of supplies.

During this invasion, King Perdiccas of Macedonia had been allegedly keeping up a secret correspondence with Sitalces’ son, Seuthes. When the Thracians faced their food shortage after their month of mayhem, Seuthus urgently suggested to his father that the invasion needed to be ended and the soldiers should return home. In an underwhelming end to the Thracian winter invasion of 429, Sitalces agreed to his son’s advice and retreated back to his kingdom after only thirty days of fighting. Sometime later, King Perdiccas of Macedonia arranged for his daughter, Stratonice, to marry Seuthus as a reward for his service and accepted the Thracian as his son-in-law.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (4th-century paintings of Macedonian soldiers from the tomb of Agios Athanasios in Greece, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • History of the Peloponnesian War (Book II) by Thucydides, translated by Rex Warner and introduced by M. I. Finley. New York: Penguin Classics, 1972.  

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Secret Funeral Procession Of The First Qin Emperor of China



The conqueror of the warring states in ancient China, Qin Shi Huang Di (often abbreviated to Shihuangdi, or simply First Emperor), died in 210 BCE. According to Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE), the First Emperor supposedly fell ill while traveling through his empire in pursuit of herbs that he thought would make him immortal. Whether or not this was true, or if he was simply on tour, the emperor did indeed die away from the Qin capital city of Xianyang. The First Emperor reportedly breathed his last at the Ping Terrace in either Shaqiu or Sand Hill. Li Si, the chancellor at the time, rightly feared that if word of the emperor’s death leaked out, then regions throughout the empire might be tempted to rebel. Therefore, the chancellor decided it was best to pretend that the emperor had never died, at least until the party had returned to Xianyang.

Prior to his death, the First Emperor had been notoriously reclusive in his final years, limiting his personal contact to a small number of select officials. As a result, the chancellor was apparently able to keep knowledge of the emperor’s death suppressed to all except a privileged few. One of these men was the emperor’s son, Prince Huhai. The prince’s friend and mentor, Zhao Gao was also brought in on the secret. The only other people who knew of the emperor’s death were five or six senior eunuchs in the royal entourage.

As if nothing had happened, the Qin officials placed the emperor’s body in a royal carriage and headed for the city of Xianyang in a calm and normal manner. No information regarding the health of the monarch was sent out and no calls for mourning were issued—they wanted the rest of China to think that the emperor was still alive. While they were on the road, the eunuchs and officials who were in the know delivered meals to the carriage, as well as documents and orders that needed the emperor’s approval. Once inside, they would dispose of the plates and forge the documents to look as if the emperor was still actively running the empire.

After multiple hot days on the road, as could be expected, the body of the First Emperor began to smell. This unpleasant odor became especially worrisome for Li Si and his accomplices when the party was traveling from Jingxing to Jiuyuan. After musing over possible solutions, the officials came up with an ingenious plan. They went into the carriage with the body and, after a convincing amount of time, they emerged from the vehicle with an imperial edict. The emperor, it seemed, suddenly had a craving for fish and directed all of his attendants to load their carts with heaps of dried fish. Thus, masked by the fumes of dehydrated seafood, the emperor’s body was successfully smuggled back to the capital in Xianyang.

Sometime while Prince Huhai, Li Si and Zhao Gao were orchestrating the secret movements of the emperor’s body, they also began to expand their conspiracy to encompass the succession of imperial rule. Shortly before the First Emperor had died, he had given a written statement to Zhao Gao, stating that Prince Huhai’s brother, Prince Fusu, would succeed to the throne upon the First Emperor’s death. Nevertheless, Zhao Gao, Li Si and especially Prince Huhai did not agree with the First Emperor’s decision, so they altered the emperor’s statement in favor of Huhai. They also cruelly sent a fake message to Prince Fusu, stating that the emperor believed him to be a traitor and that he should commit suicide for his crimes.

When the entourage arrived at Xianyang, the secret was finally revealed and the First Emperor was pronounced to have died. His body was entombed in a magnificent compound at Mt. Li that included replicas of palaces, officials, soldiers (the Terracotta Army) and livestock, among other things. The elaborate tomb even contained rivers of mercury that were constructed to look like they were constantly flowing. According to Sima Qian, Prince Huhai (who had now assumed the title of Second Emperor) had many of his father’s concubines killed and entombed with the deceased emperor. The craftsmen who had worked on the tomb were also allegedly locked away to die inside their creation. Although the validity of Sima Qian’s account of the tomb has been called into question, modern archaeologists have indeed found several ancient mass graves situated around the burial complex of the First Emperor.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

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

Sources:
  • Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji) by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. 
  • https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/china-first-emperor-terra-cotta-warriors-tomb/ 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Shihuangdi  

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Holy Roman Emperor Vs. Holy Roman Father—Henry IV Against The Popes



Henry IV (c. 1050-1106), an emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, lived quite an extraordinarily chaotic life in the Middle Ages. Although he was ruler the Holy Roman Empire for most of his reign, he had a dismal relationship with the spiritual leaders of Christendom, the popes. Even so, the Christian religion played an extremely prominent role in Henry’s life.

Henry IV became the ruler of the Germany-centered Holy Roman Empire in 1056, upon the death of his father, Henry III. As the child-emperor was too young to rule, his mother, Empress Agnes, served as the regent ruler, with helpful aid and advice from Pope Victor II. Unfortunately, the helpful pope only lived until 1057, and after his death, the empress had no luck acquiring competent and loyal advisors. For the next few years, Empress Agnes allowed the regional rulers of the empire to dramatically strengthen themselves against the crown. It would have been an odd childhood experience for Henry IV—the young ruler was even kidnapped in 1062 by the archbishop of Cologne, a man named Anno, who consequently replaced Empress Agnes as regent. The empress was not injured in the change of power, but she did retire to a convent soon after the event.

When Henry IV became old enough to rule by himself in 1065, he shed himself of the regents and other influencers, but found himself in charge of an unstable realm. Nevertheless, he quickly asserted his rule and soon the relationship between the monarch and his vassals began to strain. He announced that he wanted to divorce his wife of three years and also launched building projects at the expense of his vassals in the Harz Mountains. Unfortunately, the emperor’s desire for a divorce caused outrage among the religious circles, and the his construction projects in the Harz Mountains set the region of Saxony on a course toward rebellion.

Henry IV was eventually talked out of pursuing divorce, but the threat of a Saxon uprising persisted. Despite, or possibly because of, the arrest of Duke Magnus of Saxony, the Saxons rebelled in 1073, beginning the first of many military challenges to the rule of Henry IV. The rebels were initially successful. In 1074, they had Henry IV momentarily ready to concede to their demands, but he was able to come back and crush the rebellion in 1075.

While Henry IV was dealing with the Saxons, he was also negotiating with Pope Gregory VII over who should become archbishop of Milan. The Pope and the emperor had separate nominees for the position. While Henry IV had been preoccupied with the Saxon rebellion, he had seemed willing to follow the Pope’s lead on the nomination. After the rebellion was defeated, however, Henry IV defied the Pope’s wishes and named a chaplain from the German court as the archbishop of Milan.

The fiasco over the archbishop of Milan caused an ongoing feud between Henry IV and Pope Gregory VII. In response to Henry’s decision in Milan, the Pope excommunicated the emperor from the Catholic Church in 1076 and revoked Henry’s divine right to rule, basically giving the regional nobility of the Holy Roman Empire a religious reason to rebel against their king.

The pope’s ploy worked—regions of the empire became so hostile to Henry IV that he was forced to sneak through the Alps to meet with Pope Gregory VII at Canossa, within the realm of Mathilda of Tuscany. There, in 1077, Henry IV put on a grand display of humble penitence for Pope Gregory VII, reportedly even including the wearing of sackcloth clothing. Whatever happened at Canossa, it was convincing enough that Pope Gregory readmitted Henry IV to the Catholic Church and restored his divine right to rule.

With the pope’s forgiveness, Henry IV won back the support of many of his countrymen. Even so, plots were already in motion and factions began to coalesce behind their own claimants to the throne. The most important of these rebels was Rudolf, the Duke of Swabia, who fought against Henry IV for around three years. Pope Gregory VII eventually decided to give official support to Rudolf in 1080, when he once again excommunicated Henry IV and voided his right to rule. Unfortunately for Pope Gregory VII, he backed the wrong faction—Rudolf died in battle before the end of the year.

Henry IV did not forgive the papacy for its meddling. He convened his own religious synod, where he denounced Pope Gregory VII and set up a man named Guibert, the archbishop of Ravenna, as a rival pope. Once Henry IV had contained the rebellions in his own empire, he turned his forces against Rome, where he sieged the city unsuccessfully in 1081 and 1082, but finally forced his way into the city in 1084. In Rome, Henry’s anti-pope, Guibert, took the name Clement III and attempted to replace the exiled Pope Gregory VII as the head of the Catholic Church. Henry also took advantage of the occasion to officially receive the lofty title of Holy Roman Emperor, which had until then been withheld from him by the pope.

Even though the anti-pope, Clement III, was residing in Rome, the legitimate line of popes was still maneuvering behind the scenes to undermine Henry IV. Pope Urban II (r. 1088-1099) incited and supported leagues and rebellions against Henry IV, managing to even turn the emperor’s sons (Conrad and Henry V) against their father.

Understandably, Henry IV tried to calm relations, both with his vassals and the Catholic Church. He tried to enforce peace between feuding lords and hoped to gain a pardon from the Church in exchange for going on crusade. His son, however, decided it was time to break away from his controversial father—Henry V rebelled in 1104 and successfully forced his father to abdicate in 1105. Nevertheless, the stubborn Henry IV somehow escaped, raised an army and defeated his son in battle, shortly before dying suddenly in 1106.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Top picture: (Emperor Henry IV (by John Foxe, c. 1563) and Pope Gregory VII (printed 1891), both [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • Introduction to Medieval Europe, 300-1500 (Second Edition) by Wim Blockmans and Peter Hoppenbrouwers. New York: Routledge, 2014. 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henry-IV-Holy-Roman-emperor 
  • https://www.biography.com/people/henry-iv-9335166 
  • http://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/spanish-and-portuguese-history-biographies/henry-iv-holy-roman-empire 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Henry-III-Holy-Roman-emperor 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Gregory-VII 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Clement-III-antipope  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Scythians Of Herodotus Versus The Scythians Discovered By Archaeologists



Much of what we know about the Scythians comes from Herodotus, the 5th-century BCE father of history from Halicarnassus. In book four of The Histories, Herodotus described what he had found out about the origin story of the Scythian people, their military exploits and what he perceived to be their daily lifestyle.

The framework of Herodotus’ history of the Scythians is fairly accurate. He wrote that the Scythians were a fierce nomadic tribe that specialized in horsemanship and archery. As warriors, they were powerful enough to strike fear into the hearts of both the Greeks and the Persians. They even successfully repelled a massive invasion led by the Persian King Darius I in the late 6th-century, years before the Persians decided to launch their ill-fated campaigns against Greece.

On the other hand, Herodotus wrote about more (fair warning) rather graphic and disturbing accounts, where truth became increasingly merged with folklore. Among other statements, Herodotus claimed that the Scythians held annual sacrifices to their gods, where horses, cattle and prisoners of war were ceremoniously slaughtered. During this ritual, Herodotus claimed that the Scythians cut off the right arms of the human sacrifices and sometimes drank the blood of their victims.

The ancient historian elaborated on the subject of what the Scythians did to their fallen enemies—he claimed that they severed the heads of their foes for the purpose of using them as tokens to determine the size of their share in war loot. According to Herodotus, the Scythians did not let these heads go to waste. The historian matter-of-factly claimed that the Scythians transformed the scalps into handkerchiefs, and after accumulating a number of these macabre trophies, they would be sewn into forms of clothing. Herodotus went on to say that skulls of the slain were particularly important. He claimed that the Scythians made grisly chalices or bowls from the skullcaps, covered with hide on the outside and sometimes gilded on the interior.

While Herodotus’s account is a fascinating read, archaeologists have found little evidence to back up his claims. For example, at least 5,700 golden artifacts were uncovered in a Scythian burial mound (called a kurgan) excavated in Tuva, Siberia, yet not a single skull chalice was found among the horde of treasure. Similarly, furs and the fragments of cloth garments were discovered in the mound, but no evidence of clothing made from human skin was found. Even so, some of Herodotus’ other claims are plausible. The killing of prisoners and the keeping of unsettling war trophies was, unfortunately, a fairly common practice in many areas of the ancient world. As for sacrifices, archaeologists did indeed find horses, servants and concubines who were killed and buried along with fallen Scythian kings in their burial grounds, but this tragic practice, too, was not uncommon in other areas of the world.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture attribution: (Decoration from the top of a Scythian comb. Found in the Soloha kurgan. Now resides in the Hermitage museum, St. Petersburg, Russia, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • From The Histories by Herodotus (Book IV), translated by Aubrey De Sélincourt and revised by John Marincola (Penguin Classics, 2002). 
  • https://www.britannica.com/topic/Scythian 
  • https://www.ancient.eu/timeline/Scythians/ 
  • http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/features/world/europe/russia/scythians-text/1  
  • https://www.archaeology.org/slideshow/4562-russia-scythian-burial-mound-slideshow 
  • https://www.realmofhistory.com/2016/07/09/10-facts-scythians-warfare/  
  • http://listverse.com/2010/01/05/top-10-interesting-facts-about-the-scythians/

Monday, January 8, 2018

Destruction And Censorship Of Education In the Qin Dynasty



Over hundreds of years, the Chinese state of Qin grew more and more powerful under the loose, feudal and relatively weak rule of the Zhou Dynasty (c. 1046-256 BCE). As the Zhou decreased in power, and the states they lorded over increased in strength, the Warring States Period began, lasting from 426-221 BCE. It was a period during which the numerous kingdoms in China fought for supremacy. The Qin, under King Yeng Zheng, emerged victorious with the help of no-nonsense laws and merciless warfare. By 221 BCE, Yeng Zheng had risen to become the undisputed ruler of China. He then took the name Shihuangdi (Qin Shi Huang Di, “first emperor of Qin”) and founded the Qin Dynasty, the first true authoritarian empire in China.

The extreme legalist policies of the Qin Dynasty had some dramatic effects on China. Legalism in Shihuangdi’s empire elevated the rule of law above other sources of morality and ethics, including religion and Confucian philosophy. This coincided with the attempted censorship and possible eradication of any knowledge and education that did not align with the will of the Qin Dynasty.

In 213 BCE, Shihuangdi began the Burning of the Books, which saw to the destruction (or at least banning) of literature, history and records, often targeting works that referenced any state or dynasty other than the Qin. The burning was thorough enough to give the Han Dynasty historian, Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE), a tough time gathering information on the Warring States Period. In the end, he had to rely heavily upon a highly fictionalized text that survived the Qin Dynasty, known as the Zhanguo ce, or The Intrigues of the Warring States Period. The Intrigues severely dramatized the lives of protagonists from the Warring States Period, but at least it preserved many of the important names that may have been otherwise lost. By 212 BCE, the censorship policies had become so drastic that numerous scholars were allegedly executed.

Thankfully, the Qin Dynasty was short-lived. The extreme legalism proved to be excellent for winning an empire during a time of perpetual war, yet it was much less effective at keeping the empire stable and happy after the war was won. When Shihuangdi died in 210 BCE, his dynasty began to immediately collapse. In the following years, Shihuangdi’s heir and advisors were defeated and replaced by the Han Dynasty, which used many of the policies utilized by the Qin, but watered them down for the longevity of their rule.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture attribution: (18th century depiction of the Qin Dynasty Burning of the Books, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji) by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. 
  • https://www.ancient.eu/Qin_Dynasty/ 
  • https://www.britannica.com/topic/Qin-dynasty 
  • http://www.history.com/topics/qin-dynasty