Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Greek, Roman And Norse Mythology All Feature The Land of Troy


(Center: Homer, Left: Snorri Sturluson and Right: Virgil. All images in the collage are licensed as Public Domain via Creative Commons)

The concept of the Trojan War is perhaps the most important event for Greek mythology. The ancient bard Homer’s epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey, detailed events occurring before, during and after the Trojan War. In Homer’s work, the Greek gods were made personable and relatable, with emotions, preferences and observable motivations that made the actions of the gods more palatable to the average person. The Homeric poems about the Trojan War became central to the understanding of the personalities and desires of the Greek pantheon of gods. Other cultures, such as Rome and the Nordic people of Scandinavia, tried to tap into the story of the Trojan War to link their own mythology to Homer’s widely respected epics.

The Romans, who adopted and renamed the Greek gods, understandably wanted to claim some ownership over the famous tale of the Trojan War. Therefore, the Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BCE) undertook the task of constructing his own addition to Homer’s classic epics that would connect the Trojan War to the Roman legendary founders, Romulus and Remus. Virgil accomplished that goal in his poem, The Aeneid, which follows a Trojan noble named Aeneas after the fall of Ilium. As Odysseus sailed back to Ithaca, Aeneas led a contingent of men out of the burning city of Troy, from which they underwent a long journey, sailing to Carthage and then to their future home in Italy.

Once they reach Italian shores, Aeneas stated, “We will never shame your kingdom, nor will your fame be treated lightly, no, our thanks for your kind work will never die. Nor will Italy once regret embracing Troy in her heart” (The Aeneid by Virgil. Penguin Classics, 2006). A coalition of Italians, however, did not want the Trojans settling on their land. A war broke out between the Latins and the Trojans—a war that Aeneas and the Trojans won. After the war was over, Jupiter declared that the Trojans would assimilate into the Latin culture. He stated, 
“Latium’s sons will retain their father’s words and ways. Their name till now is the name that shall endure. Mingling in stock alone, the Trojans will subside…Mixed with Ausonian blood, one race will spring from them, and you will see them outstrip all men, outstrip all gods in reverence. No nation on earth will match the honors they shower down on you” (The Aeneid by Virgil, Penguin Classics, 2006). 
Romulus and Remus, the mythological founders of the city of Rome, would be born from Aeneas’ line.

The documenters of Norse mythology also attempted to attach their stories to ancient Troy. While Norse mythology had an elaborate creation myth involving a primeval cow licking a block of salty ice and the creation of the world out of the corpse of a giant named Ymir, there were also accounts of the Norse gods migrating to Scandinavia from Troy. In The Prose Edda, written by Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241 CE), Odin spoke about the Norse gods, stating, “Next they made a stronghold for themselves in the middle of the world, and it was called Asgard. We call it Troy. There the gods lived together with their kinsmen, and as a result many events and happenings took place both on the earth and sky” (The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson. Penguin Classics, 2005).

In other passages, Sturluson detailed Odin’s migration from Troy to the Nordic lands that would become his home. He wrote, “Odin had the gift of prophecy, as his wife also did, and through this learning he became aware that his name would become renowned in the northern part of the world and honored more than other kings. For this reason he was eager to set off from Turkey, and he took with him on his journey a large following of people, young and old, men and women” (The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson. Penguin Classics, 2005). Once settled in Scandinavia, The Prose Edda suggests that Odin and the Norse gods became the ancestors of many noble families that would rule the north.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

More info on the historical figures mentioned:
  •  Check out our YouTube video on Snorri Sturluson, HERE.
  • Read our biography on Virgil, HERE.
  • Read our biography of Homer, HERE.
 

Sources:
  • The Aeneid by Virgil, translated by Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 2006.  
  • The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Jesse Byock. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Thank The 15th-Century Bureau Brothers For Bureaucracy


(Print of Jean Bureau, from Ambroise Tardieu, Dictionnaire iconographique des Parisiens, Herment, 1885, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In the last decades of the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453 CE) between France and England, artillery began to play an increasing role in warfare. Around 1424, two brothers, Jean Bureau (1390-1463) and Gaspard Bureau (1393-1469), joined the French army of Charles VII and quickly became the king’s most skilled artillery officers.

King Charles VII had the Bureau brothers develop an organized and centralized department to procure, distribute and deploy the French artillery in an efficient and effective manner. Many scholars believe that the administration and oversight provided by the Bureau brothers for the French cannons inspired the word ‘bureaucracy.’

From 1437 onward, the Bureau brothers used their expertise in artillery to aid in obtaining French victories. In 1437, they helped siege Montereau. The Bureau Brothers were also at Meaux in 1439, Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1440, and Pontaise in 1441. Next, they played a large role in the French campaign against Normandy—their cannons fired upon cities such as Bayeux, Caen, Rouen and Cherbourg. Finally, they turned their artillery against Gascony, where they captured Bordeaux and defended Castillon in 1452.

When the Hundred Years' War ended in 1453, the Bureau brothers were renowned in France for their skill in artillery management and administration. The name, Bureau, eventually spread to encompass government administration in general, and led to the bureaucracy that so many people love to hate in the modern world.

Source:
  •   The European Reformations (Second Edition) by Carter Lindberg. Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
  • The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare And Military Technology, edited by Clifford J. Rogers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 
  • http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095535959  

Sunday, February 26, 2017

As A Young Boy, The Native American Mystic, Black Elk, Pranked His Elders During The Time Of The Daunting Religious Sun Dance


(Water for Camp, painting by Charles M. Russell (1864-1926), [Public Domain] via Cretive Commons)

Black Elk Speaks, published in 1932, is a biography, a history, a philosophy and a religious text orated by the Ogalala Lakota Sioux shaman, Black Elk, and written down on paper by John G. Neihardt. In the book, Black Elk guides the reader through his various experiences—bloody battles, mystical religious visions and the daily life of a Native American man during the time when the United States was expanding westward. Though many of the scenes described by Black Elk are bleak, there are also sections filled with humor and mirth.

One such enjoyable story from Black Elk Speaks occurred when Black Elk was only around 13 years old. A large coalition of tribes had camped by the Rosebud River in Montana. Many of the major Native American Chiefs were present, including Red Cloud, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. While the tribes were together, they called for a sun dance—a grueling religious test of pain endurance. The sun dance began with fasting and visiting a sweat lodge. Then, the participants would be cut on either their back or chest, and a piece of rawhide would be threaded underneath the person’s skin. The strap extended from the flesh of the dancer to the top of a holy tree or pole. When the hide was in place, the dancer would put weight against the strap and dance until the pain was too unbearable, or until the hide burst free from its anchor in human skin. According to Black Elk, the dancers would undergo such hardship to seek purity and empowerment.

As a child of 13, Black Elk did not participate in the sun dance, but he and his friends were still extremely busy during the two days of dancing. Young people like Black Elk found the sun dance to be a perfect time to prank the adults. Apparently, during the sun dance, there was supposed to be no scolding, loss of temper or shouts of surprise. As a result, the children could cause all sorts of annoyances and embarrassments without any repercussions—the adults were encouraged to ignore and endure the childish nonsense.

Black Elk and his friends were devious and creative in their pranks. They gathered sturdy and sharp blades of spear grass with which they would jab unsuspecting men. Using ash boughs, they also crafted popguns that they would use to ambush distracted men and women. Most devilish of all, however, were the small arrows they shot at bags of water that were being carried by women, causing the bags to leak their contents.

When the two days of dancing ended, the pranks were put to an end and life returned to its usual course. 

Take a look at some Black Elk quote pictures, HERE.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Source:
  • Black Elk Speaks: The Complete Edition, orated by Black Elk and written by John G. Neihardt. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

In WWII, The Allies Adopted Much Of Their Airborne Tactics From The German Capture of Crete


(Airplanes and parachutes above Crete, [German paratroopers from JU 52 cargoplanes]. Greece, Crete, 1941, [Public Domain] via Flickr)

In 1941, Germany set its sights on the strategically important island of Crete. Any country that controlled the airfields of Crete could send airplanes into Greece and the Balkans, and keep an eye on Turkey’s important city of Istanbul—a place that was filled with much international intrigue during the war.

To take Crete, the Germans would need to defeat the British and Greek troops that were defending the island. The task of the German forces would be even more arduous, however, because British intelligence had already warned the defenders of Crete that an attack was imminent. In response, the Allies readied their defense on the island’s coastline, waiting for the Germans to arrive.

Germany’s General Kurt Student led the planning for the attack on Crete. He decided to attack the island using a combined invasion force of Italy’s navy and the German Luftwaffe. The ultimate objective of his plan was to use airborne paratroopers to seize the airfields of Crete at Maleme, Rhethymnon and Herakleion, where more reinforcements could be flown in to secure control of the island.

When the plan was put into action, it did not go smoothly. The Italian Navy took a beating from the Britaish ships, and the German planes carrying paratroopers (and towing gliders) were also heavily damaged. Nevertheless, the Luftwaffe aircraft flew inland and dropped their paratroopers in range of the Allied airfields. While the Allied defenses were still focused on the coast, the German airborne infantry captured the airfield at Maleme. With an airfield secured, the Germans flew in reinforcements and weaponry, allowing them to take other parts of the island. Realizing that Crete was lost, the Allied defenders withdrew.

Even though the Allies lost the strategically important island of Crete, they gained something even more vital—a respect and understanding of the power and utility of airborne warfare.

Source:
  • Warfare in the Western World: Military Operations Since 1871 (Volume II), edited by Robert A. Doughty and Ira D. Gruber et al. Massachusetts: D. C. Heath and Company, 1996.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

In 1409, There Were Three Simultaneous Popes


(Depiction of the Council of Constance, c. 1417, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

The Years from 1309 to 1377 were called the Avignon Papacy, or the Babylonian Captivity. It was a time when the headquarters of the pope was moved from Italy to France. In 1377, Pope Gregory XI moved the papacy back to Rome, but after his death in 1378, the Catholic Church was thrown into an even stranger set of events.

The people of Rome took to the streets to voice their desire that the papacy be kept in their city. After all, Pope Gregory XI had only just moved back to Rome right before he died. Romans, understandably, did not want the next pope to immediately pack up and leave for France.

With unrest in the streets, Cardinals met in a conclave and elected Pope Urban VI (1378-1389) to lead the Catholic Church. A large group of the Cardinals, however, felt that the election of Urban VI had been a mistake that had only occurred because of the rioting Romans. As a result, the disillusioned Cardinals snuck out of Rome and elected Clement VII (1378-1394) as their pope. Of course Urban VI, in Rome, scoffed at the election of another pope and he excommunicated Clement VII. In turn, Clement VII excommunicated Urban VI.

Urban VI remained in Rome and Clement VII returned to Avignon. The Christian countries of Europe began to fall in line behind the two popes. Pope Urban VI was supported by Italy, Germany, Hungary, Poland, the Scandinavian countries, and England. As England was on the side of the pope in Rome, it was not surprising that France and Scotland, along with the Spanish countries of Castile, Aragon and Navarre were on the side of Clement VII, in Avignon.

The Council of Pisa in 1409 sought to end the schism between the popes in Avignon and Rome, so they elected a new pope, Alexander V (1409-1410). Then, they decreed that the other two popes should step down in favor of the new pontiff. The popes of Avignon and Rome, however, refused to comply. There were now three popes—The pope of Rome, the pope of Avignon and the pope of Pisa.

Alexander V’s successor, John XXIII, called the Council of Constance into session in 1414, hoping that he would be legitimized in favor of his rivals in Rome and Avignon. Instead, in 1417, the Council of Constance put an end to all the crazy nonsense by deposing all the popes and having a new election. They elected Pope Martin V (1417-1431) as the sole pope and finally restored the Catholic Church to stability.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Source:
  • The European Reformations (Second Edition) by Carter Lindberg. Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Ancient Greek God Hephaestus Had A Really Rough Childhood


(Vulcan in his Forge, by Pompeo Batoni (1708–1787), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

According to the Homeric version of the birth of Hephaestus, the newborn god was in no way given a warm and loving reception by his mother, Hera. In Homer’s account, Hephaestus was born with weak and crippled legs. Hera, the queen of the Olympic gods, despised her son because of his imperfections and immediately plotted to dispose of him. With her mind set on her son’s destruction, Hera dragged Hephaestus to the edge of Mount Olympus and threw him from the summit.

After a long descent, Hephaestus splashed into the sea and sank into its dark, watery depths. Fortunately for the newborn god, two sea-goddesses found Hephaestus abandoned in the ocean. Their names were Thetis (a sea nymph, and future mother of Achilles) and Eurynome (a titan who lived in the ocean).

Thetis and Eurynome rescued Hephaestus and brought him back to a cave where they sheltered and provided for the young god for nine years. During the time he was cared for by the sea-goddesses, Hephaestus used his unmatched skill in metalworking to make all sorts of trinkets and jewelry for the two kind goddesses.

After the nine years came to an end, Hephaestus left the cave and returned to Olympus. He eventually made golden supports to help himself walk, and even constructed golden women to help him in his forge. Once Hephaestus returned to Olympus, he took his place as the blacksmith of the Greek gods.

Source:
  • The Iliad by Homer, translated by E. V. Rieu and edited by Peter Jones. New York: Penguin Books, 2014.  
  • http://www.greekmythology.com/Olympians/Hephaestus/hephaestus.html
  • http://www.theoi.com/Olympios/Hephaistos.html  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

In The Western World, Medical Dissections For The Study Of Anatomy, Autopsy And Surgery Became Popular In 12th- and 13th-Century Italy


(Painting of John Bannister giving a lecture on anatomy, c. 1580, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

In the medieval age, leading up to the Italian Renaissance, the Arabic world was the leading authority in sciences, mathematics and medicine. Despite their great knowledge, Arab scholars, like the Greek and Roman educators before them, avoided one area of study—the human anatomy. A major anomaly in early human dissections were the ancient Egyptians. They did, indeed, pioneer methods of embalming and other such postmortem work, but they rarely dissected the corpses for the purpose of learning how to treat the living. For most cultures of the ancient world, disturbing the bodies of the dead was taboo, and if the bodies of the deceased were operated upon, it was usually only for the purpose of embalming and preservation. Few countries condoned dissecting the dead, and fewer still used research from postmortem operations to improve knowledge of anatomy and surgery.

For most of the Middle Ages, the Europeans were lagging far behind the Arab world in knowledge. After the Christian kingdoms of Europe invaded the lands of the Middle East during the Crusades, however, their interest in sciences, philosophies and medicines slowly began to revive as they came across the works of Arabic scholars and found preserved translations of ancient Greek and Roman texts that had been forgotten in some parts of Europe. It took some time for Europe to catch up with the world and benefit from their renewed interest in scholarship and learning, but in one area of study, Europe soon became the leader —anatomy.

While the rest of the world continued to see the dissection of the dead as taboo, European schools quickly began to put animals and cadavers under the knife. In the early 12th century, a university in Salerno, Italy, dissected pigs with the assumption that the animal’s anatomy was similar to that of humans. Near the end of the 13th century, however, other Italian schools decided to bypass pigs and study human cadavers, directly. Once human dissection became accepted in Europe, surgical manuals were quickly released and autopsies became a common practice.

Source:
  • Introduction to Medieval Europe, 300-1500 (Second Edition) by Wim Blockmans and Peter Hoppenbrouwers. New York: Routledge, 2014.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Nazi SS Ran Brothels Within The Concentration Camps During WWII


 (Photograph of Auschwitz, [Public Domain] via Pixabay)

The overseers of Nazi concentration camps orchestrated more than the systematic mass murder and medical experimentation on innocent civilians and prisoners. They also ran brothels that were forcibly worked by their woman prisoners.

Around 1942, Heinrich Himmler and the SS began to construct brothels in concentration camps to incentivize hard work from the prisoners who acted as informants and aided in the function of the camp. The first ‘special building’ was built in the Mauthausen concentration camp, but over the next years, at least nine more brothels were constructed in places such as Buchenwald, Dachau and Auschwitz. In these camps, prisoners who pleased the SS would receive vouchers that they could use at the brothels for a fifteen-minute session with a prostitute.

Some women supposedly joined the brothels willingly—for the prostitutes were well fed and housed—but if there were no volunteers, the wardens would seize women to fill the brothels by force. Jewish prisoners were forbidden from working in or visiting the brothel, but political prisoners, gypsies and other ‘anti-socials’ were allowed entrance.

Source:
  • “Auschwitz: The Nazis and the ‘Final Solution,’” episode “Exploitation.” Documentary mini-series, 2005.  
  • http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/concentration-camp-bordellos-the-main-thing-was-to-survive-at-all-a-632558.html 
  • http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-nazis-brothels-idUSTRE57G45X20090817 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Ten Fun And Unique Viking Names


(The Funeral of a Viking, by Frank Dicksee (1853–1928), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

During the Viking Age, the adventurous warriors of Scandinavia had some of the most entertaining and innovative names and nicknames in history.

Without further ado, here are 10 Vikings with very memorable names:
  • Ragnar Lodbrok (Hairy-Breeches)—He was a 9th-century Viking king from Denmark whose raids against Britain and mainland Europe became legendary.
  • Ivar the Boneless—He was a son of Ragnar Lodbrok. Like his father, Ivar was also a powerful Scandinavian king. He launched another invasion of Britain to avenge his father’s death.
  • Magnus Barelegs—He was the king of Norway from 1093-1103. Magnus Barelegs died while fighting in Ireland.
  • Hrolf the Nose—He was the grandfather of Hrolf the Walker/ Rollo of Normandy (c. 860-932).
  • Ketil Flatnose—He was a Viking who sailed to the British Isles and set himself up as a king in the Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland.
  • Harald Bluetooth—Harald Bluetooth (c. 910-987) was a powerful king of Denmark who also expanded into Norway.
  • Svein Forkbeard—He was the king of Denmark from around 987-1014, after usurping power from his father, Harald Bluetooth. Svein Forkbeard invaded the British Isles and built himself a strong foothold, but died shortly after invading Britain.
  • Ogmund Crow-Dance—He was a Viking officer in the army of the Norwegian king, Hakon IV (r. 1217-1263). Ogmund Crow-Dance participated in the skirmishes between Norway and Scotland, known as the Battle of Largs.
  • Viga-Glum (Killer Glum)—Killer Glum was a Viking thought to have lived around 940-1003. There is a saga dedicated to him, detailing his many exploits.
  • Eirik Bloodax—He was a 10th-century king of Norway. His father was Harald Finehair, the first king to unite Norway. Eirik Bloodax lost the throne of Norway to Haakon I. He then made himself king of Northumbria, but, again, he could not hold onto power.

Source:
  • The Viking Age: A Reader, edited by Angus A. Somerville and R. Andrew McDonald. Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 2010.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Alexander The Great Looted More Than A Trillion Modern U. S. Dollars Worth Of Gold And Silver In His First Three Years Of Rule


(Bars of Gold, [Public Domain] via Pixabay)

When Alexander the Great expanded his power from Macedonia and Greece to Egypt, Persia and India, he was bound to make a lot of money. The sheer size of the treasures he amassed, however, is simply baffling.

All of the gold and silver that Alexander captured is usually measured in talents. A talent is a tricky measurement that can often vary widely depending on the source. Sometimes, a talent is noted to be around 25.8 kilograms (56.9 pounds) of weight, but in other sources a talent is approximately 50 kilograms (110 pounds). Either way, a single talent is estimated to be worth nearly 6,000 days of wages to the average skilled worker in Alexander the Great’s day.

By the time Alexander had taken Egypt and pushed deep into the Persian Empire, he had already looted around 80,000 talents of gold and silver. His greatest prize, however, was found when Alexander seized the city of Persepolis, the capital city of Persia and the location of Persia’s royal treasury. In that one city, Alexander won himself a further 120,000 talents of gold and silver. Once Alexander the Great had captured Persepolis, he had gathered around 200,000 talents of precious metals, netting him an unbelievable amount of gold and silver that equates to around $1.6 trillion modern U.S. dollars in his first three years as king of Macedonia.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Source:
  • Alexander the Great: The Story Of An Ancient Life, by Thomas R. Martin and Christopher W. Blackwell. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

There Was A Brawl On The Senate Floor Between A Senator And A Congressman At The Onset Of The U. S. Civil War


If You Think Modern U. S. Politics Is Rough, Check Out What Happened Between Congressman Preston Brooks and Senator Charles Sumner In 1856 

 (Congressman Brooks Beating Senator Sumner, by John L. Magee (c.1820–c.1870), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Charles Sumner, a member of the Free-Soil Party and an ally of the Republican Party, was elected to the United States Senate in 1851. The top priority of Sumner and the Free-Soil Party was to quarantine slavery and not let it spread to new U. S. territories.

Though Sumner’s stalwart stance against the expansion of slavery gained him many enemies, it was a single speech in 1856, titled “Crime Against Kansas,” that would bring his life into mortal danger. In the speech, Sumner launched into a vitriolic verbal attack against the states, and state representatives, that supported slavery. He targeted two Democrat Senators in particular: Stephen Douglas from Illinois and Andrew Butler from South Carolina. Unfortunately for Sumner, by criticizing Senator Butler, he unknowingly drew the ire of South Carolina Democrat Congressman Preston Smith Brooks—Senator Butler was a relative and friend of Congressman Brooks. When he heard of the “Crime Against Kansas” speech, Preston Brooks, a veteran from the Mexican-American War, immediately sought to restore the honor of his tarnished relative.

That was why Congressman Preston Brooks marched into the Senate chamber on May 22, 1856. The Senate had just ended its business for the day, and Senator Sumner was gathering his belongings and tidying copies of his speeches, totally unaware of the approaching South Carolinian statesman. It was then that Congressman Brooks cracked Senator Sumner over the head with a metal-tipped cane. He continued to relentlessly bludgeon Sumner until the man fell unconscious, only ending his assault when nearby Senators pulled Congressman Brooks away from his prey.

Senator Sumner took more than three years to recover from the brutal beating. The assailant, Congressman Preston Brooks, faced very little repercussions for his actions; he only faced a moderate monetary fine. Brooks soon resigned from the House of Representatives and returned to South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union to start the United States Civil War in 1861.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Sources:
  • https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/The_Caning_of_Senator_Charles_Sumner.htm 
  • http://www.history.com/topics/charles-sumner 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-Sumner 
  • http://www.ushistory.org/us/31e.asp 
  • http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=B000885