The World's Largest Book

Kuthodaw Pagoda is a Buddhist stupa, located at the foot of Mandalay Hill in Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar). It was built during the reign of King Mindon Min who had the pagoda built as part of the traditional foundations of the new royal city of Mandalay, which he was building in the 1850s. He was concerned that the teachings of Gautama Buddha would be lost, due to an ongoing British invasion and their lack of support for Burma's traditional religion. So King Mindon came up with a giant, amazing, and extremely unique way to preserve the entire text of the Tipitaka Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism. He had it inscribed in huge stone slabs, 730 slabs in total. Each slab is a meter wide and a meter and a half tall (3.2 ft by 5 ft), and 13 centimeters thick (5 inches). Each stone has 80 to 100 lines of inscription on each side in round Burmese script, chiseled out and originally filled in with gold leaf. The slabs are big enough, but King Mindon wasn't done yet. Each slab was housed in its own shrine, called kyauksa gu, with a precious gem on top. Again -- that's 730 shrines with 730 giant stelae. Finally, the shrines were arranged around a central golden pagoda. King Mindon must have bet that the British would be unwilling to destroy such a large, beautiful, and expensive complex.   And about the title of this post -- because they technically can be read, these 730 slabs of marble are figuratively called the “world's largest book.”

The Summer That India and Pakistan Terrified The World

India tested its first bomb in 1974. Pakistan tested their first in 1998, trying to catch up to their rival. And it was not long before Pakistan was threatening to use it. In May of 1999, the two nations were in the middle of a border war. The Pakistani army crossed into Indian-controlled Kashmir, and got ready its nuclear weapons, with official pronouncements like "[Pakistan will] not hesitate to use any weapon in its arsenal to protect its territorial integrity." The world was very afraid that India and Pakistan would start a war that, for the first time, would involve nuclear weapons being actively used.

But there was more, and it was even more terrifying. When US President Bill Clinton attempted to mediate the crisis he found out that the Pakistani prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, did not know that his country's nuclear arsenal had been deployed! Sharif ordered the Pakistani ary to withdraw in July of 1999. The threat of a nuclear war was no longer immediate. After the crisis, it came out that the decision to deploy the nuclear arsenal may have been taken unilaterally by the head of the Army Staff, Pervez Musharraf, without informing his government. And though India and Pakistan's longstanding hatred has not heated up to that level since -- but nuclear weapons are now on the table, and given what has happened in the past, it is enough to make anyone uneasy about what could happen in the future.

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.

At its peak in 1637, the Dutch East India Company was valued at US$ 7.9 trillion. That’s adjusted for inflation. US$ 7.9 trillion is the value of the top 20 highest valued companies in the world today -- yes, including Apple and Microsoft.

The World Has Been Ending Since 2800 BCE

An Assyrian clay tablet dating to about 2800 BCE is said to bear the words "Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common. Children no longer obey their parents."


"No one in their country ever ploughs a field or touches a plough-handle. They are all without fixed abode, without hearth, or law, or settled mode of life, and keep roaming from place to place, like fugitives, accompanied by the wagons in which they live."

Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus, describing the Huns when they first appeared to the Roman world in the 300s CE (Res gestae 31.2.10)

Where are Witches?

A belief in witches -- and consequently witch-hunts -- have been found in every single inhabited continent of the world, and most of the peoples who have lived on it. But belief in witches is not entirely universal: the largest witch-free area is Siberia, covering about a third of the northern hemisphere, and the ancient Egyptians were notable for their lack of belief of witchcraft and embracing magic, instead of fearing magic.

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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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