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.

God Created the World, But the Dutch Created the Netherlands

The famous Dutch saying is not very wrong. Since the 1200s, the Dutch have been slowly creating land from the sea. A large part of the Netherlands is below sea level. Without the existing dikes, about 65% of the country would be underwater. There's a reason the Netherlands are famous for their windmills: this revolutionary medieval technology was instrumental in allowing them to drain land. The windmills at the lower level will pump out the water to higher level, which is be pumped out again to a higher level. The windmill chain continues until the water is drained to a nearby river, where it can flow to the sea.

Beautiful Axe From A Danish Vikings' Tomb

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.

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.

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 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.

A Linguistic Mix-Up

This newspaper report is false. In 1844, British general Sir Charles Napier was criticized in Parliament for his ruthless campaign to take the Indian province of Sind. On hearing this, 16-year-old schoolgirl Catherine Winkworth “remarked to her teacher that Napier’s despatch to the Governor General of India, after capturing Sind, should have been Peccavi (Latin for ‘I have sinned’).” She sent this immortal pun to Punch, which unfortunately printed it as a factual report.

The Ottoman Australia

From an Ottoman Empire atlas published in 1803. Notice how the island of Tasmania is part of the mainland -- Australia had been added to western maps for only a few decades at this point.

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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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