Author: Historical Nonfiction

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The earliest depiction of quilting was discovered in Egypt! It was an ivory figurine of a First Dynasty pharaoh wearing quilted clothing, from about 3400 BCE.

One Is None, Two Is One: The Byzantine Traditi…

Did you know that the Byzantine Empire sometimes had two emperors? This was an old tradition dating back to Roman Emperor Diocletian in the late 200s CE, who created a system of four emperors, two senior emperors and two junior emperors. Byzantine co-emperors go back to at least the 400s CE with Leo II crowning his father Zeno co-emperor and promptly dying, making Zeno sole ruler. Not exactly off to a good start. But the co-emperor tradition continued. By the 900s it was common enough that there were distinct terms for the junior co-emperor (basileus) and senior co-emperor (autokratōr or occasionally megas basileus).

One of the more interesting co-emperors had not one co-ruler but four! Romanos I Lekapenos, an Armenian who became a major Byzantine naval commander, seized the royal palace and the reins of government in 919. In March he married his daughter to the reigning emperor, fifteen-year-old Constantine VII. In September Romanos decided that was not enough and had himself crowned co-emperor with his own made-up term for equal emperors “Caesar,” before finally, in December, naming himself the senior co-emperor or autokratōr

Romanos eventually crowned his own sons co-emperors: Christopher in 921, Stephen and Constantine in 924. For the time being, Constantine VII was regarded as first in rank after Romanos himself, Augustus to his Caesar. For his kindness to the man he deposed, Romanos I Lekapenos was given the nickname “the gentle usurper.”

The Earthquake So Big It Was Mistaken For An A…

In the 1970s, after years of tension, formal relations between the communist states of China and the USSR began to break down. Early in the decade China decided to start a “thawing” with the US government because they perceived the Soviets to be that much of a threat to China’s security. By 1976, China and the USSR had no diplomatic communications. An armed conflict was feared. And then China was hit with one of the deadliest earthquakes in history.

Called the Tangshan Earthquake, it started at 3:24 am on July 28. Most of the buildings in the city of Tangshan collapsed. At least 240,000 people were killed and many more injured. Many of the survivors from Tangshan and the surrounding towns immediately thought it was the dreaded Soviet attack, and it made sense: Tangshan was an industrial city, an obvious military target. Plus, shortly before the earthquake, survivors reported that they could see big flashes of light in the sky. Although those flashes were an obscure natural phenomenon, “earthquake lights,” it was reasonable to think they were caused by a nuclear explosion.

Although the earthquake was not the result of a nuclear bomb, it had the power of one. It is estimated that the event released the same energy as 400 Hiroshima atomic bombs.

Often called “Ireland’s Stonehenge,” Newgrange…

Often called “Ireland’s Stonehenge,” Newgrange is a prehistoric stone monument constructed around 3200 BCE by the Neolithic inhabitants of what is now County Meath. The mound is truly monumental, covering about two acres! Under the grass-covered dome is a 62-foot tunnel which leads to a central chamber, where stone basins house cremated remains. Newgrange appears to have been used as a burial place or ritual site for about a thousand years before falling into disuse and slowly being forgotten. It was only rediscovered in 1699.

One reason why historians continue to debate Newgrange’s purpose, despite the archaeological evidence of both cremated and unburnt human remains, is the monument’s architecture. Newgrange’s prehistoric builders designed it so that every winter solstice — the shortest day of the year — the rising sun shines through a “roof box” near the entrance, filling the main passageway and the inner chamber with light.

Why build something so architecturally sophisticated if it were only entered to lay down the dead? Many archaeologists, therefore, think Newgrange was a ritual site as well as a tomb.

The Salsa Musician Who Ran For President

Rubén Blades, a Panamanian singer, has the most successful salsa record of all time. Siembra (1978) has sold over 25 million copies. Blades went on to record with Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, Little Steven, and even Sting.

In 1994 he tried to parlay his musical popularity into a presidential run in Panama. Blades lost, but he was appointed Panama’s minister of tourism in 1994 and served for five years, before returning to his music career.

A Badass Rebranding

Martha Graham, considered the “Mother of Modern Dance” called dancers “athletes of God.”

Three different Japanese texts of the early 19…

Three different Japanese texts of the early 19th century refer to a “hollow ship” that arrived on a local beach in 1803. A white-skinned young woman emerged, but fishermen found that she couldn’t communicate in Japanese, so they returned her to the vessel, which drifted back to sea.

Although it reads similar to a folktale, it is an oddly specific one — the texts give dates (Feb. 22 or March 24) and give the dimensions of the craft (3.3 meters high, 5.4 meters wide), which was shaped like a rice pot or incense burner fitted with small windows. Reportedly the woman carried a small box that no one was allowed to touch.

Unfortunately, the place names mentioned appear to be fictitious. So most likely the story is merely an expression of the insularity of the Edo period. One thing the ship was not was a UFO — it never left the water, but simply floated away.

Where Was The Seven Years’ War Fought?

Known by various names – the Pomeranian War (Sweden), the Third Carnatic War (India), the French and Indian War (USA), La guerre de la Conquête (Quebec) – it involved all the major European powers and spanned five continent. Which is why the conflict is sometimes called “World War Zero.”

There is a cult of ignorance in the United Sta…

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.‘

Medieval Europeans Really Like Spices

A German price table from 1393 shows that seven fat oxen were equal in value to one pound of nutmeg.