What’s A King To A Caesar?

From 27 BCE to 1946 CE, someone, somewhere in Europe has had a title “Caesar.” The czar of Russia, the kaiser of Germany...many, many European titles were just local derivatives of “Caesar.”

The last Caesar was Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria, who was removed from office in 1946 by the Soviets. He’s still alive, too!

On January 1st, 404 CE, the city of Rome saw its last official gladiator battle. The Emperor Honorius declared the tradition finished in 399 CE.

 

Pañamarca has impressive ruins from the Moche culture, which flourished on the northwest coast of Peru between 200 CE and 900 CE. Amazingly, many murals in Pañamarca still retain their colors, over 1,000 years after the last painter laid down his brush. The site was deliberately buried sometime around 750 CE. And in doing so, the Moche unintentionally preserved their art for future archaeologists to discover.

   

This mural is on one of the pillars of the imaginatively named "Temple of the Painted Pillars." The figures hold typical Moche objects, including a plate with three purple goblets, a multicolored stirrup-spout bottle, and a feather fan.

 

One day, King Vahahran, seated with his queen in an open pavilion overlooking the plain, saw two wild asses approaching. With his bow the strong man, skilled in the chase, transfixed both of the animals with one well-aimed shot. Turning to his spouse to receive the applause he thought due him, the wife replied: "Practice makes perfect." Angered at the lightness with which his skillful feat was received, he ordered her to be executed, but quickly repented, and simply divorced her from the palace.

In quiet moments, he repented of his haste. For years, he had no trace of the former queen, but when hunting one day he beheld a scene which quickly excited his curiosity and admiration. It was a woman carrying upon her shoulders a cow, with which, indeed, she easily walked up and down the stairs of the country house. On asking her concerning the remarkable feat, she replied, as she dropped her veil: "Practice makes perfect." The king recognized his wife, now no longer young, but still possessing physical charms, and invited her to take her place again in the palace.

The woman had commenced to carry the cow when it was but a tiny calf, and had shrewdly planned the feat in the hope that some day she might win back her husband's respect.

A story from the Sassanian Empire, circa 300 CE. Edward B. Pollard, Oriental Women (Philadelphia: Rittenhouse Press, 1908), pp. 193-194

Historians have just discovered the oldest reference to the mathematical concept of "zero" in India. The concept of zero as a number was revolutionary in mathematics. In Eurasia, the idea came from India (and the Mayans separately invented it hundreds of years late in the Americas) but exactly when zero was first conceived in India is a bit of a mystery. Now, we have a potential clue: the Bakhshali manuscript, which a farmer dug up the text from a field in 1881 in the village of Bakhshali, near Peshawar in what is today Pakistan. It consists of 70 leaves of birch bark and contains hundreds of zeros in the form of dots. Why was it only just discovered, if the farmer dug it up over 100 years ago?     People knew what it was, and knew it zeros throughout the text. But they thought the Bakhshali manuscript was written between the 700s and the 1100s CE. Since the oldest then-known written reference to zero was the Indian astronomer Brahmagupta's work "Brahmasphutasiddhanta," which was written in 628 CE, the Bakhshali manuscript was a lot less exciting. It was a mathematical manuscript utilizing the newly-invented concept of zero, which astronomers had been using for at least a couple decades before the Bakhshali.     But recent, more advanced carbon dating resulted in three different dates for different parts of the Bakhshali manuscript. It appears now to be not one document but several, put together. And the oldest part dated to 224 to 383 CE! That is hundreds of years before Brahmagupta! Two other parts dated to 680 to 779 CE, and 885 to 993 CE, which is probably why earlier analyses got the manuscript's age wrong. If further tests confirm the findings, the Bakhshali manuscript moves up when zero was invented to the same time the Roman Empire was falling to barbarians, the Three Kingdoms Period was reordering China, and Teotihuacan was near the heights of its power.

Times Were Different Then

Archers at the original Olympic Games in ancient Greece used tethered doves as their targets. Yes, live doves.

The Classic Maya political landscape was divided into more than two dozen polities, similar to city-states, with a major city and nearby allied villages and towns. Feasts sponsored by the ruling elite was a crucial avenue for securing relations among allies and negotiating new alliances. Feasts marked major state occasions, from rulers' accession rites to royal weddings to war victory celebrations to special religious observances. Eating large amounts of high-status foods, including drinks made from highly valued cacao (chocolate), was the main point of the feasts. The richness of the food, the quantity of the food -- and the beautiful vessels the food was served with -- showed off how wealthy the host was.     The banquets caused the production of elaborate, finely-made vessels. Sometimes the vessels' shapes were the attraction, sometimes the decorative images etched onto it. This vase is decorated with cacao pods, and the lid's knob is a cacao tree with a bird (sadly now broken). There are also pictorial panels with images of, among other things, the maize god as an embodied cacao tree. Is anyone else sensing a theme here? The vase's hieroglyphic text confirms that it was intended as a drinking cup for chocolate: -kakaw yuk'ib, or "the cacao drinking cup of . . . " The text goes on to name the cup's patron/owner, and his father Chakjal Mukuuy, "Reddening Dove." The artistic quality of the vessel and its detailed naming of its owner indicate the two men were members of the nobility if not a royal dynasty of the 300s to 400s CE.     courtesy of the Walters Art Museum

In Latin, what we call “doggy style” was called "coitus more ferarum," which roughly translates to “sexual intercourse in the manner of wild beasts.” In the Kama Sutra, it is known as the “cow position.”

Two skeletons dating to the 400s CE have been found beneath Wolseong Palace in South Korea. When they were placed there, the palace was the seat of the Silla monarchy, at their capital Seorabeol. Archaeologists speculate that the two may have been buried alive!     Ancient Koreans practiced shamanism, which believed in rituals, possessions, and animal and perhaps human sacrifices. There are folklore accounts of human sacrifices to please the gods and ensure structures like bridges and buildings last a long time. But if these two were sacrificed, this will be the first physical evidence of such a ritual in South Korea.

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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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