One Is None, Two Is One: The Byzantine Tradition of Co-Emperors

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, Baileus to his autokrator. For his kindness to the man he deposed, Romanos I Lekapenos was given the nickname "the gentle usurper."

Winner Of Most Insane Contract Clause Goes To...

Jet Li turned down a role in "The Matrix Reloaded" because Hollywood producers wanted to digitally record all of his martial arts moves, creating a digital library, which the producers would have exclusive rights over. Bonkers.

The Earthquake So Big It Was Mistaken For An Atomic Attack

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.

The Ironic End of Ernest Hemingway

During Ernest Hemingway's final months, he extremely paranoid that the FBI was following him, monitoring his phone calls and mail, freezing his assets, and taking his money. None of Hemingway’s friends or family believed him. Which is unsurprising when you consider that Hemingway was in failing health and, whether due to paranoia or depression, would refuse to leave his room for days. Hemingway sought treatment at the Mayo Clinic in December 1960 but their electroconvulsive therapy and medication cocktail may have made any preexisting depression worse. Hemingway shot himself in 1961, his failing health was blamed, and the world mourned.

In the 1990s, the Freedom of Information Act was passed. And the FBI released documents revealing that they were, in fact, following Hemingway, monitoring his calls and his mail, freezing his assets, and taking his money. J. Edgar Hoover himself ordered it.

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.

Shoelaces did not become widely popular until the 1900s, although we have archaeological examples dating to at least 5,500 years ago.

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.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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