Beware The Dancing Girls!

The Tuyuhun were a nomadic people who created a powerful kingdom in the northern part of the Himalayan plateau. The Tuyuhun were unsurprisingly interested in their rich neighbor to the east, and invaded the Tang Dynasty in 623 CE. The Tuyuhun regularly raided Chinese settlements along the western Tang frontier. This was just another of a long line of incursions by nomads into China. So in 623, the Tuyuhun departed from their homeland, and invaded Gansu, in northwest China. The Tang general Chai Shao was dispatched to defeat them. The problem for him was the Tuyuhun army controlled the high ground, having arrived at a strong position and refused to abandon it. Their archers easily held off any approach by the Tang army, so why should they move? All pretty standard so far.

Chai Shao was an unorthodox man, though, and he thought of an unorthodox solution: erotic dancers. He sent two dancing girls and a group of musicians to a small hill near the Tuyuhun camp. The girls performed an erotic dance, accompanied by the musicians, just where they could be seen by the Tuyuhun army. Discipline fell apart completely as soldiers rushed to get a better view of the dancing.

Meanwhile, Chai Shao and the Tang cavalry snuck around behind the Tuyuhun, while everyone was distracted by the ladies. When they attacked, the Tuyuhun were completely defeated: they lost over 500 men, and were forced to retreat out of Gansu. Hostilities continued, but now the Tang were attacking the Tuyuhun, instead of fending off invasions.

Have you heard of the Moosleute? Dwarflike "moss people," they live in the forest of Germany. If treated well Moosleute will heal people, and for some reason, offer good advice. They're like folktale's Ask Amy.

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!

Norwegian Vikings Grew Hemp!

Recent archaeological evidence from a farm in Norway's southernmost Vest-Agder County offers strong evidence that Vikings farmers actively cultivated hemp. The farm's hemp remains date between 650 and 800 CE -- during the peak Vikings age. Hemp has been found at Viking sites before. But this site is special for how large the operation was. “The other instances were just individual finds of pollen grains. Much more has been found here,” says Frans-Arne Stylegar, an archaeologist and the county's curator.

As funny as the mental image of Vikings getting high is, archaeologists think the hemp was not being grown for its psychedelic properties. It was likely used for rope and textile -- much more boring.

 

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.

 

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.

Lost Arthurian Kingdom May Be Found

You probably are familiar with Camelot and Avalon. Legendary places in British legends, they were places the Knights of the Round Table and King Arthur visited or lived, sometime in the unsettled 500s between the collapse of Roman power and the coming of Saxon invaders. One of the less-well-known places in Arthurian legend is Rheged. It was home to a famous knight in the legends: Sir Owain, son of King Urian and Morgan le Fay, the man who killed the Black Knight. And now archaeologists may have found Rheged.

The researchers were drawn to Trusty's Hill, a hill fort in Galloway in Southern Scotland, because there are pictish symbols carved into its bedrock. They are unique in the region, and archaeologists (plus 60 volunteers) wanted to survey what they could about the mysterious Picts. And in the course of their examination in summer 2016, archaeologists realized they had accidentally uncovered something else: the Pictish symbols seemed to form a symbolic entranceway, which in many sites in Scotland is associated with royalty. Had they found a royal stronghold? Then the dig uncovered pottery from France, and a workshop exclusively to produce costly fine metalwork and jewelry, which support that the site was a significant trade center at the time.

Putting everything together, it seemed they had accidentally uncovered a royal hillfort stronghold, which flourished sometime around 600 CE under the rule of Britons who lived in Galloway. The region's wealth, demonstrated by the finds at Trusty's Hill, make it the strongest contender we have for the legendary kingdom of Rheged. We are pretty sure Rheged existed, too, because we have two sources on it. First, Rheged is mentioned in Arthurian legends dating to the 1100s, and second, Urien of Rheged was praised in verse by Taliesen, a poet we know lived around the 500s CE.

The Oldest English Poem Was Inspired By An Angel

For centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, everyone was still writing in Latin. It was the language used by scholars, monks, and government officials and since they were the main ones writing, most of what has come down from about 400 CE to about 700 CE is in Latin. Which means our first known literature in many languages was only written down centuries after those languages started being spoken, when it became fashionable to write in the local languages again.

In the 600s, people in Britain spoke what we now call Old English. It was a Germanic language, brought by invaders and retained by locals. Sometime between 657 and 680, a cowherd named Caedmon, who spoke Old English, lived in northern England’s Northumbria. Caedmon was likely illiterate, so most of what we know about his existence and what happened next comes from oral tradition.

An angel was said to appear to Caedmon in a dream. He asked Caedmon to sing a song of the creation of the world -- “sing me frumsceaft.” The hymn he was inspired to compose Caedmon recited to others, who recited to others....who eventually recited it for the scholar Bede, who wrote it down. Today, Caedmon’s Hymn is the first known English poem. Although you need a translation to understand it!

Constantinople, Not Byzantium

The term “Byzantine Empire” came into common use during the 1700s and 1800s. It would never have been heard, let alone embraced, by the people who once lived in it. To them, Byzantium was still the Roman Empire, which had merely moved its seat of power from Rome to a new eastern capital in Constantinople. Though largely Greek-speaking and Christian, the Byzantines called themselves “Romaioi,” or Romans. They used Roman law, played Roman games like chariot racing, and enjoyed Roman festivals. While Byzantium evolved a distinctive, Greek-influenced identity as the centuries passed, the Romaioi continued to cherish their Roman roots until the end. When he conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Turkish leader Mehmed II even took the emperor's title as “Caesar of Rome.”

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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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