DNA Identifies Modern Czech Men As Descendants of Medieval Noblemen
The large Czech town of Uherské Hradište is believed to have been a center of the Holy Moravian Empire, which was the first major state that was predominantly West Slavic. The empire was notable for ushering in Christianity in the region after the arrival of St. Cyril and St. Methodius in 863; the Holy Moravian Empire's use of the Glagolitic alphabet invented by those saints also birthed the first ever Slavic literary culture.
Uherské Hradište itself boasted a large church and baptistery and was inhabited by dukes, noblemen, craftsmen, tradesmen, farmers, and probably slaves. A team of researchers have recently conducted a study comparing samples of DNA obtained from 75 men buried in high-status graves between the 800s and 1200s CE with 340 living men, whose last names appeared in historic registry records. In other words, the living men's last names suggest their families have been in the area of Uherské Hradište for quite a while.
Y-chromosome markers identified 18 men, out of the 340, who are descended from Great Moravian noblemen. The researchers were surprised by such a large number. It seems small, yes, until you consider that East Moravia used to border Hungary. As a liminal space between Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire it was affected by many wars, from the Thirty Years' War to World War II.
Beowulf talks a lot about gold rings. It was so important that rings inspired a smash hit Wagner opera in the 1800s which in turn inspired JRR Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. Many gold neck and arm rings have been found in Scandanavia dating between 300 and 550 BCE. But after that? No rings. Furthermore, no such rings have been found in Anglo-Saxon England during the right time period: from 550 CE till the late Viking period, the last possible dating for Beowulf.
What does this all mean? It is archaeological evidence that Beowulf, the Old English epic, was first told in Scandinavia and somehow made its way to England.
Korea had two kingdoms from the 700s through the early 900s CE. So it is imaginatively named the "North South States Period." To the north, much larger than North Korea today, is Balhae and to the south is the surviving state from the earlier Three Kingdoms Period, Silla.
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."
Chang’an, capital of the Tang Dynasty of China (618-904 CE), was a true metropolitan city. It not only accommodated all sorts of religions, ethnicities, languages, sexualities, and arts but also exported its own language, art and religion. Archaeological and written evidence points to Chang'an housing communities and places of worship for Daoism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.
Chang'an was considered such a center of culture that Japan's emperor sent delegations to Chang'an to learn Chinese knowledge, religion, and arts. For example, Japanese doctors studied Chinese medicine, and priests studied Chinese Buddhist practices. Chang'an not only took in many cultures, it contributed back its own amalgamated culture to the world.
Chang'an, by the way, means "perpetual peace." It was renamed by the time of the Ming Dynasty (1368 CE) to Xi'an, or "western peace."
The Persian physician Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) published his Canon of Medicine around 1025 CE. Although the specifics of bacteria and microorganisms were unknown, he discussed the contagious spreading of sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis, and the usefulness of quarantines to limit the spread of certain diseases. Ibn Sīnā's ideas were known to physicians, but it would take until the 1800s for the invention of the actual field of epidemiology, however.
In the winter of 970 to 971 CE, a Viking magnate was buried in a chamber grave in Mammen, Denmark. He lay on two down cushions inside a wooden coffin. It's important to be comfortable in your eternal resting place. With him were symbols of his power: an expensive outfit of red and purple silk with blue and red embroidery, a large wax candle, a bronze bucket and two wooden buckets, and a ceremonial axe inlaid with silver decorations.
What does his tomb tell us about this man? It is unclear if he was Christian or pagan. The decorations on the ceremonial axe could be interpreted either way, but the wax candle was likely a Christian symbol, so its more likely than not that he was Christian. The fine quality of his grave goods, and the timing of the burial, suggest the Viking belonged to the circle around King Harald Bluetooth.
Anglo-Saxon names tended to be made up of two elements, combined to have a particular meaning. For instance, Æthelstan (considered the first King of England united) is formed from Æthel, meaning "noble" and Stan, meaning "stone."
Within families the first part of a name might be reused many times. It was a sort of marker that people were related -- each would get a unique second half, of course. Sharing a name’s first part appeared especially common in aristocratic families. But it seems to have been widespread among Anglo-Saxons. In the 1000s, when England was conquered by the Danes and then the Normans, new naming practices were introduced and the two-part naming structure fell out of usage.
Gold was probably the first metal to be exploited in the Andes, by the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. From there, the archaeological record suggests goldworking then traveled north, reaching Central America in the first centuries CE, and Mexico by about 1000 CE.
This particular necklace is from the Chavin Civilization, which developed in the northern Andean highlands of Peru from about 900 BCE to about 200 BCE. That sounds old, but relatively speaking, that is not old at all. Gold had already been mined and worked in the Andes for a thousand years when the Chavin arrived on the scene.
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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!