Did You Know Ancient Greeks Invented Flamethrowers?

(We think.) The first recorded example of military flamethrowing appears in Greek historian Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War between Athens ad Sparta in 431 to 404 BCE.

During the Battle of Delium in 424 BCE, the Athenians were surrounded and dug in at a fort made of wood and vines. Rather than wait them out, the Spartans hollowed out a great wooden log, lined it with an iron pipe, filled it with a smoldering mixture of coal, sulfur, and pitch. They attached a giant bellows to the Spartan end of the pipe, and were able to blow and burn down the Athenians’ fort. After this, it appears the Spartan invention became a standard weapon in war.

WW1 Fun Fact of the Day

On the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916, about 58,000 British soldiers were wounded or killed. On that same day, the US army had less than 58,000 soldiers.

Did You Know Joan of Arc Had Two Trials?

Twenty-five years after she was burned at the stake for heresy against the Roman Catholic Church, Joan of Arc was re-tried. It was 1456, the Hundred Years' War was over, and the side Joan supported had won. It was time to declare that the woman who had led Charles VII to his coronation was not, in fact, a heretic. On July 7th the various judges, clerks, and priests filled the Great Hall of the Archbishop's Palace in Rouen. Joan's aged mother and brothers were in attendance as well. They had waited twenty-five years to hear what was about to be said.

The verdict: the original trial and sentence "being filled with fraud, false charges, injustice, contradiction, and manifest errors concerning both fact and law" should be considered "null, without effect, void, and of no consequence." Joan was washed clean of the "taint of infamy." After the archbishop read the new verdict, a copy of the original charges and proceedings from her first 1431 trial were ritually torn up.

The Cherokee May Soon Get Back Half Of Oklahoma Thanks To The Supreme Court

A murder case from 2004 has ended up in the US Supreme Court. And with it, the fate of Oklahoma, which may have to return a significant amount of the state to the sovereign Cherokee Nation. Read more.

When the Chiricahua Apaches of what is today southern Arizona went on a raiding party, they adopted a special speech. One informant told anthropologists Morris Edward Opler and Harry Hoijer:

I used to know many words, but I have forgotten just about all of them. Only one sticks in my mind, and that is the ceremonial way of asking for a drink of water. Instead of saying, ‘I want to drink some water,’ we had to say, ‘I begin to swim the specular iron ore.’

This formal, alternative way of talking had to be maintained as long as the raiding party was away from home. As soon as they were back in camp, they could switch to everyday language.

First Evidence of Humans Enjoying Nutmeg

The oldest evidence — from some 3,500 years ago — for humans ingesting nutmeg has been detected on pottery sherds from Pulau Ay in the Banda Islands in Indonesia. It remains unclear whether neolithic humans were using nutmeg for its fruit, as a spice to flavor food, or for medicinal purposes.

What's Up With Anglo-Saxon Names?

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.

The Chinese New Year Is Anti-Revolutionary?

Under the rule of Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong, the Chinese government forbade celebration of the traditional Chinese New Year. It was considered un-communist, because it was a religious celebration, and Marx believed religion to be an "opiate of the masses." Red banners, which for 1,000 years had featured couplets about springtime and prosperity, now had to have revolutionary slogans lauding Chairman Mao. Temple fairs vanished. Lion and dragon dances were scorned. Teachers told students to reject traditional gifts of money in red packets from their parents -- true communists only took money they earned through the sweat of the brow.

Perhaps the most long-lasting cultural effect was the banning the Kitchen God. Traditionally, a paper effigy of the Kitchen God watches the family all year, from his perch above the stove. During Chinese New Year's he travels to heaven and reports on whether the family has been good or bad. Families would bribe their picture of the Kitchen God, to encourage a good report. But printing images of the Kitchen God was banned by Mao. Today many urban Chinese do not even know who he is. It was only in 2008 that the ban on the Kitchen God's image was lifted.

The First "Britons" Were Black

Genetic studies of 10,000-year-old Cheddar Man recently revealed that he had black hair, and dark brown to black skin. Not what many people expected. Cheddar Man was discovered in 1903 at the entrance to Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge, in Somerset, England. He is the most complete skeleton to survive from the period when hunter-gatherers were starting to migrate to Britain at a time when it was still connected to the Eurasian landmass. Meaning Cheddar Man suggests that ancient hunter-gatherers in Europe were darker, too.

How, then, did northern Europeans end up with pale skin? It has been suggested that it was the switch from hunter-gatherer to farmer. The Mesolithic diet, rich in fish and meat, provides adequate amounts of vitamin D to live; when prehistoric Europeans switched to a Neolithic, farmer's diet based on one or two cereals, they lost all that dietary vitamin D. Why is this related to skin pigmentation? Vitamin D can also be produced by the reaction of pheomelanin in the skin with sunlight. People can manufacture their own vitamin D! People with fairer skin have the highest levels of pheomelanin, whereas darker-skinned people have higher levels of eumelanin pigment, which acts as a natural sunblock. Natural selection on hunter-gatherers favored darker skin. Natural selection on farmers favored lighter skin.

India Has Been a Pluralistic Society for Centuries, Meaning Governing India Has Been Difficult for Centuries

Emperor Akbar ruled the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1605. When he came to the throne, he confronted a problem that had plagued his predecessors: how to be a Muslim ruler over a majority-Hindu nation, that also had substantial numbers of various other religions including Buddhism and Jainism. He eventually came to believe that no religion could have pre-eminence. In fact, he was not even sure that any religion was "the truth" but were all humanity's imperfect interpretations. The logical conclusion is that all subjects of his empire should be free to practice whatever religion they wished.

Akbar began to hold conferences weekly, with wise men from all faiths (no known women, though). He would apply their wisdom to questions of state. He slowly took over spiritual leadership, even getting the Muslim clergy to pronounce a fatwa (judgement) that as emperor, Akbar could adjudicate any dispute between religious authorities -- even overruling the Qur'an if necessary for the public interest.

Legally, Akbar made two big changes. He abolished the hated tax levied on the Hindu majority, the jizya, the "contribution for not being put to death". He also created a private faith for the elite. It was not a new religion, per se. It was a kind of Sufi system for the rulers, with 10 cardinal virtues, the essence of which was promoting tolerance. Akbar combined aspects of different faiths, borrowing from all the religions of his empire, to create an ethical code that he wished his inner circle to follow. He called this the Din i-Ilahi, or "Worship of God." While it has been accused of being a pick-and-mix religion, Akbar did not proclaim it a religion, and he remained a Muslim all his life. The Din i-Ilahi died with Akbar in 1605, and the jizya was reintroduced by Akbar's great-grandson Aurangzeb in 1679.

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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!

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