The Aztecs believed that a soul-like aspect of oneself left the body while one slept, and spent time in the dream world as a “nagual.” A nagual is a sort of spirit animal (very rough translation). If one’s nagual got hurt, then one’s body got hurt.
The creature referred to in Chinese as lóng and in Mongol as lū appears on the Chinese twelve-year zodiac as the year of the dragon. When the eastern zodiac tradition was brought to Iran by the Mongol conquest in the 1200s, this zodiac animal's name was translated into Persian as nahang. Nahang was used to describe to dangerous water beasts whether they be real (crocodiles, hippos, sharks) or mythological (dragons, sea serpents, etc.)
In the 1900s the word "nahang" shifted meaning to specifically refer to cetaceans (whales, porpoises, dolphins). And that is how the Chinese year of the dragon is the Persian year of the whale!
This highly polished piece, believed to be Aztec, shows a monkey holding his tail over his head. It is one of the star pieces in Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Anthropology Museum). And it could be a fake!
The piece was catalogued in the museum as having come them in 1880 from ‘an ancient tomb, found in the grounds of an hacienda near Tezcoco.' But how did it end up at the museum? The monkey was the subject of an article written in 1884 by the French collector and archaeologist Eugene Boban, who claimed that a Dr. Rafael Lucio had obtained the piece in 1869 after spotting it in the home of a patient of his. The patient had apparently ‘bought the object from a peasant farmer who found it on an hacienda, in exchange for a sheep “worth 12 reales”’. But Boban later wrote that ancient Mexicans ‘never made figures or idols of obsidian’, concentrating their work mainly on masks, jewellery and adornments, concluding ‘all obsidian objects with body, arms and legs can be considered fake.' He would know, as both an expert in Mexican antiquities, and aware of the existence of numerous fake pieces (most importantly including obsidian ones) made somewhere near the small town of San Juan Teotihuacán. If a fake it is one of the most famous fake pre-Columbian Mexican artifacts outside of the crystal skulls. Boban's suspicions about the obsidian monkey has been a continuous feature of the artifact's history. As has its prominence at the Museo Nacional de Antropología.
In the late 1200s and early 1300s, English people joked that there were two kings in England. One was in London and wore a crown, and one was in Durham and wore a miter. The second man was Antony Bek, bishop of Durham. He was bishop of Durham from 1284 until his death in 1311.
As bishop of Durham, Bek was the head of the independent "palatinate of Durham." This was a quasi-state with large landholdings recognized by the English crown. The palatinate could mint coins, raise armies, administer justice, and collect taxes. In return for these rights, the palatinate had to protect its territory from the enduring threat of Scottish invasion into far northeastern England. It was a sort of especially independent marcher holding that was headed, not by a hereditary marquess, but by a bishop. This made Bek a military, diplomatic, and religious leader. And not just in England too -- while on crusade with King Edward I he was named patriarch of Jerusalem, a title that made him the most senior churchman in England.
Ancient China had its own form of mixed martial arts. Called lei tai, it was a no-holds-barred mixed combat sport that combined Chinese martial arts, boxing and wrestling. Killing your opponent was allowed. The sport was played by having a man on a rail-less platform who would invite anyone who wished to challenge them. If a challenger won, they became the man on the platform. But if a man beat enough opponents they would win acclaim as a “champion.” One famous champion, Lama Pai Grandmaster Wong Yan-Lam, fought over 150 people over 18 days to become a champion.
The modern form of lei tai appeared during the Song Dynasty. It is still practiced, though in a modified form that makes deaths less likely.
Aztec god of rain, Tlaloc, was believed to need children's tears to perform his duties. Priests of Tlaloc would induce child sacrifices to cry before they were killed. Children would be sacrificed starting in a certain month each year, and continue to be sacrificed until "the rains began in abundance."
Archaeological evidence has added nuance to this tale. First, there is evidence of multiple pre-death injuries to the children which would have caused significant pain. The Tlaloc priests were not shy in inducing those tears.
Another interesting archaeological find: child sacrifice remains have been found outside of Aztec and other Mesoamerican cities, whereas many adult sacrifice remains have been found inside cities. It seems the people could stomach child sacrifice, but only so long as they did not have to watch.
Ivalyo of Bulgaria started life as a peasant. But he knew how to take advantage of opportunity when it presented itself. Ivalyo lived while King Constantine Tich was on the throne, and Bulgaria was struggling both with the Tatar invaders and an economic crisis. Ivalyo put together a peasant army that would defend Northern Bulgaria against the Tatars and defeated them in numerous battles.
King Constantine was grateful (probably) but peasant armies are usurping the throne's monopoly on force, so his gratitude did not stop King Constantine from leading his army to put down the peasants. And in a surprise twist, the king's army lost. They lost so badly that Constantine was killed by Ivalyo!
What followed next was even more unusual: Queen Mary decided to marry Ivalyo in 1278, effectively making him king, and in charge of handling ongoing threats from the Tartars and the Byzantines. King Ivalyo did what Queen Mary had hoped. He won battles against the Tatars and against the Byzantines with his army of peasants. But eventually King Ivalyo met a foe he could not defeat, and he decided to try teaming up with Nogai, a Tartar leader. Who not only declined to join forces but killed King Ivalyo. Thus came to an end an illustrious career.
Today, Ivalyo is known as "King Ivalyo the Cabbage" -- probably a reference to his humble origins.
Aztecs used matchmakers! When a family had an eligible son, the parents would ask for the help of a matchmaker to find a potential wife. The bridegroom was usually around 20 years old. The matchmaker would put two families in contact. If the families agreed, and the match was liked by the community, the parents of the groom would offer a bride-price for the bride. When the bride's parents accepted the bride-price a wedding could be planned!
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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