Where Does The World Admiral Come From?

"Admiral" comes from Arabic! It probably returned with crusaders to Europe. English gets admiral from the 12th-century French word, amirail, meaning "Saracen military commander."

The original Arabic word, amīr, means "ruler," and when it came to French, it somehow kept the Arabic suffix -al, meaning "of the." So in Arabic, amir-al is the cut-of-sounding "ruler of the."

Carnival, the Catholic holiday, probably comes from the word for "meat" in some way, which is "caro" in Classical Latin and “carne” in Medieval Latin. It was the last time that people could eat meat before the start of Lent, when meat was forbidden for 40 days.

Where Does Leprosy Come From?

Leprosy may have originated in Europe -- not Asia, as previously thought. An international team of researchers sampled about 90 different skeletons bearing the telltale deformations of leprosy. The skeletons were unearthed in Europe, and have been dated to between 400 and 1400 CE.

From the bones, the scientists reconstructed ten new genomes of medieval Mycobacterium leprae, in addition to the one or two strains already known to have been circulating in medieval Europe. All the strains of the leprosy bacterium were in fact present in medieval Europe, which strongly suggests leprosy originated closer to Europe than previously thought. Higher diversity is present near an area of origin - this is true of languages, humans, and apparently, leprosy. The new results suggest that leprosy came from someplace closer to Europe, like south-eastern Europe or western Asia.

The oldest strain was detected in a skeleton found in Great Chesterford, Essex, in southeast England, which has been dated to between 415 and 545 CE. This is the same strain found in modern-day red squirrels!

The Americas' Linguistic Diversity

There were dozens of language families, each the equivalent of the Indo-European family, before 1492. This map is a "simplified" one. In today's California, for instance, languages that are spoken by neighboring tribes are as different as French and Chinese.     Why did the Americas develop such linguistic diversity? Many linguists suspect that at least some of these separate families date back to separate migrations of different tribes from Asia who originally spoke unrelated languages. Linguistic and archaeological data hint at more than one migration from Asia into the Americas, all of them through Alaska.     Extra Fun Fact: see “Eskimo-Aleut” in northern North America? It is not colored because there is no evidence those languages are related to any other indigenous American languages!

In 1287 CE, China's great Mongol emperor Kublai Khan received word that his navy had been crushed in Vietnam. Nearly 400 of the emperor's prized ships, part of a massive invasion force, had become trapped in the Bach Dang River, where Vietnamese soldiers set them afire with flaming arrows and burning bamboo rafts. But how did Tran Hung Dao, king of Vietnam’s Tran Dynasty, do it?     According to texts from the period, Vietnamese forces cut down hundreds of trees, sharpened their ends, and placed them in a "stakeyard" across the Bach Dang River. Then, small ships lured Kublai Khan's fleet into the area just before the tides turned. As the water ebbed, long lines of stakes emerged several feet out of the water, barricading the river and preventing escape.     Today archaeologists are mapping the surviving remnants of the stakeyard. At least some of the stakeyard lies in local rice paddies, whose mud helps preserve the wooden stakes. They archaeologists also found that stakes weren't the only barriers -- the Vietnamese forces cleverly used existing islands and other natural obstacles in their barrier.

The Imperial Tomb of Western Xia Empire Are Surprisingly Un-Imperial

The tomb are called "the pyramids of China" by locals. But anyone who has seen pictures of ancient Egypt's pyramids would be underwhelmed. About 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) to the west of the modern city of Yinchuan, lies the enormous burial complex of the Western Xia dynasty. The burial complex is quite large, with the tombs taking up 40 square kilometers, or 25 square miles. The sheer size of the complex is a testament to the power of its long-ago empire.     The Western Xia dynasty existed from the 1000s to the 1200s. Then it was annihilated by the up-and-coming conqueror, Genghis Khan, because the Western Xia refused to aid Genghis Khan in his conquest of Khwarezm (on the far left of the map in the image gallery). Genghis Khan systematically destroyed Western Xia cities, slaughtering its population, destroying all its written records, and razing its architecture and cultural artifacts for good measure. He did his job well: until the 1900s, historians were unaware that Western Xia had existed! When put into context the imperial tombs become impressive simply for surviving.     When first built, the tombs were more slightly more imposing. They were surrounded by two layers of walls, with watchtowers, pavilions, and halls for sacrifices. The mounds themselves had five or seven stories tall, and each story was covered with colorful glazed tiles. But the buildings are unrecognizable now. And with the tiles lost to time, the tombs' inner earth is exposed to the elements. The last survivors of an empire wiped from the map, slowly fading over the centuries, until they, too, are gone.

Medieval Berlin Discovered Under A Parking Garage

Archaeologists were very excited by a recent discovery in the heart of modern Berlin, found during construction of a parking garage. A church, a grave yard with skeletons, a school, and a cellar were found.

The cellar sounds the least exciting, but it recently became the prize find when its oak beams were dated for the first time. Berlin has previously been dated as far back as 1237, using Catholic Church records, the helpful friend of every Medievalist. The beams were cut in 1192. That's a full forty year earlier than our earliest records of Berlin!

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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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