Derbent, Russia's Oldest City

Located on a narrow strip of land between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains in the far western end of Eurasia, is the city of Derbent. With a history going back by five thousand years, Derbent is said to be Russia’s oldest city. It is also the southernmost city in Russia. Derbent’s position between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus mountains is strategically important in the entire Caucasus region. It is one of only two crossings over the mountain range; the other being over the Darial Gorge. This position has allowed the rulers of Derbent to control land traffic between the Eurasian Steppe and the Middle East and levy taxes on passing merchants. In fact, the city’s present-day name comes from the Persian word Darband which means “barred gate”.

Being at such a strategic location, it has long been a target, or a prize, of states with imperial ambitions. The city was historically an Iranian city, and its first intensive settlement in the 800s BCE was Persian. The city’s modern name came into use during the 500s CE, when the city was re-established by the Sassanid dynasty of Persia. In 654 CE, Derbent came under the hands of the Arabs. They called the city Bab al-Abwab, or “the Gate of Gates”, signifying its strategic importance. The Arabs transformed the city into an important administrative center and introduced Islam to the area. After the Arabs, the region came under the Armenians who established a kingdom there which lasted until the Mongol invasion in the early 1200s. After the Mongols, Derbent changed hands relatively quickly, given its history, coming under the rule of the Shirvanshahs (a dynasty in modern Azerbaijan), the Iranians and the Ottomans before finally being ceded to the Russian Empire as part of the end of the Russo-Persian War.

Slightly Gruesome But Well-Preserved Mummy Found In China

She's about 700 years old. Still, she looks pretty good. Found preserved in a brown liquid, her silk and cotton dress indicates she was likely at some high-ranking level in the Ming Dynasty, which ruled China from 1368 to 1644. Click through the images to see her like some lucky researchers can!

Aizen Myoo, a Shingon Buddhist protective deity and god of love. The protective deity makes sense. But he is not looking particularly loving. Maybe his tough exterior hides a soft heart? This particular seated wooden statue of Aizen Myoo is Japanese, from the Kamakura Period, circa 1200s to 1300s CE.

Two pages from the Grolier Codex, a controversial Maya codex. It appears to be pre-Columbian. But its authenticity is in doubt, and scientific examinations have been inconclusive. The codex’s text contains an almanac based on Venus, the planet, and its four stations.

Tash Rabat, a mysterious site in Kyrgyzstan, was once a settlement along the Silk Road, a way station for caravans -- a caravanserai. It provided shelter and food for both human traders and their animal workers. What makes Tash Rabat slightly mysterious is that its layout is unusual for this kind of caravanserai. What’s left is a single structure that looks like a blend between a castle and a temple.

Archaeologists are puzzled by Tash Rabat. They believe the location was used as a resting place for traders from about the 1400s but there’s also evidence that a Christian monastery may have been there from as early as the 900s. That could explain the odd layout – perhaps the travelling merchants just adapted an existing structure.

The first book published in English and definitely written by a woman came out around 1395. Written by Julian of Norwich it is an account of her divine visions, as well as her thoughts on love, sin, and hope. Unfortunately very little is known about Julian herself. The name Julian might not even be her birth name!

Mary, The Once-King

On September 17th, 1382, Mary the daughter of Louis I, "the Great," of Hungary, of Croatia, and of Poland, was grieving. She was eleven, and her larger-than-life father had just died seven days before. But Mary was a princess. And she was her father's eldest daughter, and his heir. So on September 17th, 1382, Mary was crowned King of Hungary.

Unfortunately her reign was short, bloody, and filled with twists. Unhappy noblemen did not want a woman on the throne, and supported her distant cousin Charles III of Naples. Meanwhile, Sigismund of Luxembourg invaded Upper Hungary (today's Slovakia) in September 1385. By October, Mary and Sigismund were married, pretty much at sword-point. Charles III also invaded that autumn, took Buda, and forced Mary to renounce the throne. He was crowned in December 1385. Then Charles III was assassinated, likely on Mary's mother's instigation, in February 1386. But the dead king's supporters captured Mary and her mother, and held them until 1387. That's about two years longer than their king had reigned! The mother was executed but Mary was let go, and officially became co-ruler with her husband Sigismund. In reality, she had little power. Mary died eight years later, at age 23 or 24, when thrown from a horse.

This axe is perfectly crafted out of a single piece of stone! From the Late Mississippian culture, around 1300 to 1500 CE.

On an uninhabited Caribbean island, archaeologists were amazed to discover a series of cave drawings pre-dating European contact. This was a surprise because the drawings are so well-preserved. Over 70 winding caves on the island of Mona, between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, contain art. Some are scratches on the rock. Others are more sophisticated, with paint made from sophisticated organic materials such as bat droppings, plant gums, minerals like iron, and materials from native trees like turpentine trees. The islanders were putting a lot of work into their art, deep where the light of day could not illuminate their creations.

The researchers noted that the indigenous people of Mona Island believed that the sun and moon emerged from beneath the ground. So exploring deep into the expansive network of subterranean caves, and making art there, is interpreted by today’s archaeologists as a highly spiritual act.

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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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