Archive for the ‘History’ Category

medieval court lawyer

The earliest written use of the “F-bomb” has been traced back to the 14th century:

We previously thought that the first use of the “F word” dated back to 1528 — to when a monk jotted the word in the margins of Cicero’s De Officiis. But it turns out that you can find traces of this colorful curse word in English court documents written in 1310.

Dr. Paul Booth, a former lecturer in medieval history at Keele University, was looking through court records from the age of Edward II when he accidentally…

You’ll have to click through for the context of this important discovery. It’s hilarious, albeit unsurprisingly R-rated.

And, as someone who studied Latin for several years, I can sympathize with that monk — I used that same word many times while trying to translate Cicero.

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His fate a reminder

His fate a reminder

There’s a wonderful article at the BBC about the traditions surrounding the Queen’s Speech in the House of Lords, which opens Parliament. The whole article is worth a read, but this in particular delighted me:

And here is the really cheeky move: parliament forces Her Majesty to consider her own mortality as she gets dressed for the occasion. For in the Robing Room of the House of Lords, where the Queen puts on her robe and imperial state crown, the authorities have chosen to display a facsimile of the death warrant of her ancestor, Charles I.

If ever there were a symbol to express the end of the divine right of kings and the limits of a constitutional monarchy, that document is it.

Who says the British don’t have a puckish sense of humor? 😀

Of course, fair is fair. The Queen is allowed to keep a member of Parliament hostage during her speech, to guarantee her safety. This year’s designated fall guy will have to suffer by sitting in Buckingham Palace and drink tea, while watching the speech on TV.

Oh, cruel fate!

The author makes an excellent point at the end, though, about why the British maintain these seemingly silly rituals:

The point is this: as you watch the state opening of parliament, remember it is one of the strongest ceremonial demonstrations of our liberty that we have. Democracy is not just the freedom to vote out a government we dislike; it is also the freedom not to be ruled by an autocratic monarch chosen by God.

It is what our ancestors fought over in the civil war. And it is a right that we are reminded of every year.

I can appreciate that.

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"Your sommelier"

“Local postmaster?”

What makes this special is that the letter was written by a Roman soldier to his family in Egypt, over 1,800 years ago:

A newly deciphered letter home dating back around 1,800 years reveals the pleas of a young Egyptian soldier named Aurelius Polion who was serving, probably as a volunteer, in a Roman legion in Europe.

In the letter, written mainly in Greek, Polion tells his family that he is desperate to hear from them and that he is going to request leave to make the long journey home to see them.

Addressed to his mother (a bread seller), sister and brother, part of it reads: “I pray that you are in good health night and day, and I always make obeisance before all the gods on your behalf. I do not cease writing to you, but you do not have me in mind,” it reads.

“I am worried about you because although you received letters from me often, you never wrote back to me so that I may know how you …” (Part of the letter hasn’t survived.)

(The back of the letter contains instructions for the carrier to deliver it to a military veteran whose name may have been Acutius Leon who could forward it to Polion’s family. Although the Roman Empire had a military postal system, Polion appears not to have used it The back of the letter contains instructions for the carrier to deliver it to a military veteran whose name may have been Acutius Leon who could forward it to Polion’s family. Although the Roman Empire had a military postal system, Polion appears not to have used it, entrusting the veteran instead.)

Polion says he has written six letters to his family without response, suggesting some sort of family tensions.

Change the religious and other references to modern-day terms, and this letter could have been written by a worried American anywhere around the world. I’ve often said that people haven’t changed all that much since civilization began around 6,000 years ago, and I think this letter is more evidence of that. Though the letter apparently reached his family (it was discovered in the ruins of a Roman-era Egyptian village), there’s nothing to indicate if Aurelius Polion ever heard back.

I’d like to think he eventually did get that letter from home.

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"Your sommelier"

“Your sommelier”

A neat archaeological find in Israel: a wine cellar from 1700 B.C. with enough remains to tell us something about ancient winemaking:

Talk about aged wine.

Archaeologists say they have discovered a 3,700-year-old wine cellar in Israel, a finding that offers insights into the early roots of winemaking.

The large wine cellar was unearthed in the ruined palace of a Canaanite city in northern Israel, called Tel Kabri, not far from the country’s modern wineries. The excavations revealed 40 one-meter-tall jars kept in what appeared to be a storage room.

No liquid contents could have survived the millennia. But an analysis of organic residue trapped in the pores of the jars suggested that they had contained wine made from grapes. The ancient tipple was likely sweet, strong and medicinal—certainly not your average Beaujolais.

If the researchers’ theories are correct, winemaking may have originated in Canaan and been exported to Egypt, where the oldest known wine cellar, dated to 3,000 B.C., during the Old Kingdom, was found. From the description the wines once housed in Tel Kabri sound like they tasted like an herbal liqueur. Bleh.

If they recreate the flavor, however, I expect Trader Joe’s will soon offer it as “Pharaoh Joe’s.”

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A 16th century mechanical monk:


From the description at Retronaut, where you can see more pictures:

An automaton of a monk, 15 inches in height. Driven by a key-wound spring, the monk walks in a square, striking his chest with his right arm, raising and lowering a small wooden cross and rosary in his left hand, turning and nodding his head, rolling his eyes, and mouthing silent obsequies. From time to time, he brings the cross to his lips and kisses it. After over 400 years, he remains in good working order. Tradition attributes his manufacture to the mechanician to Emperor Charles V. The story is told that the emperor’s son King Philip II, praying at the bedside of a dying son of his own, promised a miracle for a miracle, if his child be spared. And when the child did indeed recover, Philip kept his bargain by having hismechanician construct a miniature penitent homunculus.”

I can imagine so many freakish, frightening, nigh blasphemous scenarios and stories involving “Brother Tock.” Make him life-size and he’s the hideous “secret priest” in the haunted cathedral. Or he’s still miniature, a powerful counselor behind the throne, literally at the monarch’s ear — advising him of who knows what? Is he a machine come to life, the product of Da Vinci-ian weird science? Possessed by a demon? Or is he a holy relic, powered by a bit of the heart of a saint and guarding against some unspeakable evil?

Even if so, he creeps me out. And I love it.

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His Majesty does not seem amused.

His Majesty does not seem amused.

As in the capital of Ancient Egypt. It seems the mystery surrounding the death of Pharaoh Ramses III has been solved:

Conspirators murdered Egyptian King Ramesses III by slitting his throat, experts now believe, based on a new forensic analysis.

The first CT scans to examine the king’s mummy reveal a cut to the neck deep enough to be fatal.

The secret has been hidden for centuries by the bandages covering the mummy’s throat that could not be removed for preservation’s sake.

The work may end at least one of the controversies surrounding his death.

Precisely how he died has been hotly debated by historians.

Ancient documents including the Judicial Papyrus of Turin say that in 1155BC members of his harem attempted to kill him as part of a palace coup.

Apparently there was a dispute over which of his sons (from different wives) would inherit the throne on Papa’s death. The losing mother and son weren’t happy and arranged for Ramses to get a second mouth. The article is quite worth reading; the forensic work was impressive.

Oh, and the conspirators? They got theirs:

The trial documents[8] show that many individuals were implicated in the plot.[9] Chief among them were Queen Tey and her son Pentaweret, Ramesses’ chief of the chamber, Pebekkamen, seven royal butlers (a respectable state office), two Treasury overseers, two Army standard bearers, two royal scribes and a herald. There is little doubt that all of the main conspirators were executed: some of the condemned were given the option of committing suicide (possibly by poison) rather than being put to death.[10] According to the surviving trials transcripts, 3 separate trials were started in total while 38 people were sentenced to death.[11] The tombs of Tiy and her son Pentaweret were robbed and their names erased to prevent them from enjoying an afterlife. The Egyptians did such a thorough job of this that the only references to them are the trial documents and what remains of their tombs.

Some of the accused harem women tried to seduce the members of the judiciary who tried them but were caught in the act. Judges who took part in the carousing were severely punished.[12]

Pentawere looks to have been strangled in an execution, so it doesn’t appear he was allowed suicide. Perhaps he was granted the right to choose the manner of his death, in deference to his rank.  It seems some mercy was shown him since, as the BBC article mentions, it looks like the unknown youth buried with Ramses III is Pentawere, although his body wasn’t given royal treatment.

Still this would have let him enter the afterlife. Many of the other conspirators, however, weren’t so “lucky:” they were burned alive and their ashes scattered in the streets. In the Ancient Egyptian religion, this meant their souls were destroyed too, as only mummification allowed survival after death. Thus, it wasn’t just execution, it was utter eradication. (Sorry, no link. Saw it yesterday but can’t find it, now.)

Now that’s what I call “extreme justice.”

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How Roman Emperors died

Augustus. He died of natural causes, lucky guy.

I love Roman History, from it’s beginnings with the foundation of the city in the 8th century BC, to its end with the fall of Constantinople in 1453*. With a history that long, you can imagine that, somewhere along the line, some of it rulers met some odd –and grisly– ends.

At The Awl, Josh Fruhlinger provides a “how they died” list for the emperors from Augustus Caesar through Romulus Augustulus, in what we classically think of as “The Roman Empire, 27 BC to 476 AD. The whole list is worth browsing (if you’re a Rome-geek like me), but here are a couple of my favorites:

Tiberius (37): His entourage thought he died of old age, announced his death, then smothered him in a panic when he suddenly regained consciousness. (“I’m not dead yet!”)

Carinus (285): Assassinated by an officer whose wife he had seduced. (That’ll teach him to keep it zipped.)

Leo II (474): Poisoned by his own mother so her husband could become emperor. (Mommie Dearest.)

Valerian (sometime after 260): Captured by the Persians and died in captivity; rumored to have been used as a human footstool by the Persian king, killed by having molten gold poured down his throat, then taxidermied. (Dude…)

*Yep, I count the Byzantine Empire as part of the Roman Empire. The political continuity was there, and “Romans” was how they referred to themselves to the bitter end. So there.

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