You Can Probably Guess What This Depicts

A textured manuscript illustration of, what else? Smallpox. From Japan, circa 1720.

Burning the Books of the Prophet

Zoroastrianism, arguably the world's first religion to worship just one god, still exists today -- mainly in India. But it barely survived an ancient blow. Specifically, the conquests of Alexander the Great.

When Alexander took Persia in the 320s BCE, large portions of the compiled works of Zarathustra were lost, in the destruction of cities and holy places. Some say it had once been over 12,000 pages. What remained was re-collected after Alexander's death, named the Avesta, and standardized into a five-part text which is still used by believers today.

The main section, named the Gathas, is the oldest: it contains 17 hymns believed to have been written by Zarathustra during his lifetime. Other sections contain prayers, rituals, accounts of how the world was created, and Zoroastrian law.

The World's Tallest Dam

On February 18th, 1911, and earthquake in Tajikistan caused a landslide. That landslide slid into a valley and created the world's tallest dam. Called the Usoi Dam, for the village the landslide buried, it stands at 500 to 700 meters (1,600 to 2,300 ft). Water seeps out the bottom, instead of over the top, meaning that the dam has not naturally eroded. So barring another earthquake, it is likely to retain its title.

A traditional Han Chinese bridal sedan chair, which would carry a bride to her wedding. The journey in the chair is meant to represent the bride’s transition from one family to another. Photographed by Englishman Thomas Child in the 1870s or 1880s.

Where Was Chess Born?

In India! The original word for “chess” is the Sanskrit chaturanga, meaning “four members of an army”—which were mostly likely elephants, horses, chariots, and foot soldiers.

The Largest Ziggurat in the World

Choga Zanbil is one of the few ziggurats that lies outside Mesopotamia. And it is the largest ziggurat left, too. Choga Zanbil stands at the site of the ancient city of Elam, in today’s Khuzestan province in southwest Iran. Choga Zanbil was built around 1250 BCE by the king Untash-Napirisha to honor the great god Inshushinak. But before the ziggurat could be completed, King Untash-Napirisha died and construction of the complex was abandoned. When the Assyrians attacked Choga Zanbil 600 years later, there were still thousands of bricks stacked at the site, waiting for building to resume.

The ziggurat is only a part of the complex. There are also temples, a total of eleven, dedicated to the lesser gods at the site. It is believed that King Untash-Napirisha originally planned twenty-two temples, which some scholars believe was an attempt to create a new religious center, possibly intended to replace Susa. And the ziggurat used to be much taller than it stands today, almost twice as tall in fact, and covered with glazed blue and green terra-cotta. Although it is shorter and less colorful than it once was, Choga Zanbil became Iran's first UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

UAE Falcons Get Their Own Passports

The sport of falconing is considered an important part of the UAE's Bedouin heritage. Saker and peregrine falcons remain highly prized there, and with value comes smuggling. The solution? Every UAE falcon traveling abroad gets its own passport, bearing its own identification number corresponding to the number inscribed on the falcon’s leg ring. Just like humans' passports, it must “be endorsed by the appropriate border control officer who should validate it with an ink stamp, signature and date to show the history of movement from State to State.”

The Importance of Nabopolassar, The Forgotten Founder of the Neo-Babylonian Empire

Nebuchadrezzar is one of the few Babylonian kings who people remember today -- or can begin to attempt to say. He is famous as a conqueror, the restorer of Babylonia's glory. But he was actually the second re-founder of Babylonia. His father, Nabopolassar, founded the Chaldean Empire, also called the neo-Babylonian Empire.

Governor of the region of Chaldea, Nabopolassar seized the throne of Babylonia around 625 BCE. Until then it had been controlled by the waning Assyrian Empire. Nabopolassar forged a coalition with the Medes, to the east, and fought the Assyrians for the next decade to retain what he had seized. Finally, in 612 BCE, the Chaldeans and Medes sacked Assyria's capital at Nineveh. Babylonia had been in the shadow of the Assyrians for centuries. Now that was flipped, and Babylonia was on the rise.

Although the great Assyrian Empire was no effectively dead, Nabopolassar's new kingdom faced immediate threats from Assyrian remnants and especially from the Assyrian's former ally Egypt. In fact, Egypt took advantage of Assyria's decline to seize Judah in 609 BCE, a small kingdom that would immortalize Nebuchadrezzar's name. But that's a story for the future.

For the first years of Nabopolassar's reign, Egypt and Assyria harassed the new empire's borders. The crown prince rose through the military ranks as the fighting continued, and eventually led armies beside his father. In 605 BCE, Nebuchadrezzar was given solo command and defeated Egypt and the remnants of the Assyrians at Carchemish in Syria. He returned to Babylonia victorious, the future of the new empire secure, only to be informed that his father had died. The stage was set for him to become the emperor history would remember.

Source: National Geographic: History, "The Builder King: Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylon" by Barbara Bock. Pgs 15 - 23.

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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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