The Moon Star Flag: How Turkey’s Flag Came To Be

The Turkish national flag is mostly red, with a white star and a crescent in the center. Ottoman Sultan Selim III formalized the look in 1793, but the flag is actually much older.

The crescent-and-star combination has been used in Turkey since Hellenistic times (400s to 100 BCE). It likely came from ancient Mesopotamian iconocraphy. Ancient depictions of the symbol always show the crescent with horns pointing upward and with the star placed inside the crescent, for reasons that have been lost to time. When it came to Turkey, they gave it their own meanings. For Byzantium the moon symbolized Diana, also known as Artemis, the patron goddess of the city.

In 1453, when the city was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, the flag remained unchanged. With time, it became not just Istanbul’s flag but the Ottoman flag, with its design formalized in 1793 and its status as national flag formalized in 1844. Turks affectionately call the flag "ay yildiz" -- the "moon star" flag.

Many nations that were once part of Ottoman Empire adopted the star-and-crescent when they gained independence, including Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria. In the 1900s the symbol became associated with not just the Ottomans, but with Islam in general, and many states that were never part of the Ottoman Empire adopted it too, including Pakistan, Malaysia, and the Maldives. Pretty amazing that an ancient Mesopotamian symbol is flown around the world today.

The Creation of Rotterdam

What would become the important port city of Rotterdam has been inhabited since at least the Roman period. It was part of the frontier province Germania Inferior, and there is evidence of wooden locks, trenches, and ditches built by the Romans to control water levels. After the Romans withdrew in the second half of the 200s CE, the population steeply declined. Partially because sea levels rose, making much of the region uninhabitable.

It was not until 900 CE that pioneering farmers returned to the riverbanks of the Rotte River, or "Muddy Water" River. Archaeologists have found the remains of six farmsteads, dating from 950 to 1050 CE. Life in Rotta Village was difficult: flooding was always a threat, and attempts to drain the peat they farmed on just caused the ground level to sink when drained, making flooding even worse. Unable to make a living, Rotta Village was abandoned around 1050.

It was thanks to a local noble looking to protect his nearby lands that Rotterdam ever came to be. In the year 1270, the Count of Holland, Floris V, ordered the construction of a single sea wall to protect the region from floods. The resulting dike was 1,300 feet long, 23 feet wide, and nearly five feet high. It was constructed across the Rotte River, not far from the now-abandoned Rotta Village.

A town sprang up after the dike was built. Because it was close to the North Sea and the River Rotte, the area was between two trade systems: the Baltic Region which included Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, and the north Atlantic coastal area, which included France, England, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Because the new dike blocked direct passage to the Rotte River, traders had to unload their goods and reload them on the other side, or temporarily store them in Rotterdam. This made Rotterdam an important port and market for staple goods, such as beer and textiles, which people had to buy no matter the difficulty in getting it across the dike. It also developed a fishing industry, selling its herring along the trade systems it linked. And the rest, as they say, is history!

Unique Roman Washing Bowl Found In Netherlands

This bowl’s shape is what makes it such a special find. The bronze bowl is decorated in the shape of an eagle’s wings, with a head on the rim.

Found in a grave with three cremated remains, it likely dates to the 300s CE. It’s a very fancy bowl. The only known Roman bowl with this particular shape, in fact. So researchers think it likely belonged to a high-status individual, perhaps an important member of the Roman army staff.

A Royal First

Mary, Queen of Scots went into public a few days after her husband’s murder to play golf. Many people were upset -- she was playing a game and her husband had just been murdered! So they wrote about it, in their diaries and to each other. Making Mary, Queen of Scots the first recorded woman to golf in Scotland. And since they invented it, that makes her the first recorded woman to play golf anywhere, I would think.

This fresco was found in Pompeii, with its colors amazingly preserved. It survived a volcanic eruption by almost two thousand years. But it was destroyed by the recent fire at Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro.

Saïd Abdullah

This bust was entitled "Saïd Abdullah of the Mayac, Kingdom of the Darfur" by the sculptor Charles Henri Joseph Cordier in 1848. It was modeled on an African visitor to Paris. That same year, slavery was abolished in all French colonies. Yes, in 1848. The sculpture, and its later companion piece "African Venus," were hailed as expressions of human pride and dignity in the face of grave injustice. They also lent an exotic interest to "the other" which was a hallmark of romanticism.

Birds of a Feather Learn Together

In the early 1900s in the United Kingdom, blue tits and robins had easy access to cream from the open milk bottles left on humans’ doorsteps. After World War I, the British began to seal the bottle tops with aluminum foil. By the 1950s the entire blue tit population of the United Kingdom had learned pierce the foil to reach the cream. But the robins had not. What was going on?

The difference lay in cultural transmission: a blue tit can learn a new behavior by observing another bird performing it. Robins generally can’t do this — while an individual robin might learn to pierce the foil, it has no way to pass on this discovery to other robins. In addition, young blue tits are reared in flocks in which they can observe one another easily, and learn from one another. Robins are territorial and have fewer such opportunities.

Unfortunately for both, the milkman is now extinct.

Men’s Hair In The 1970s Was Something Else

The 1980s gets too much attention for being a horrible, no-good, very bad time for hair. But we ignore the atrocity that was men’s hair in the 1970s! Click through the image gallery for some more egregious examples

Is This Right-Side Up?

That's Le Bateau ("The Boat") by Henri Matisse. In 1961, the Museum of Modern Art in New York hung it upside down for 47 days! The mistake was noticed by Genevieve Habert, a stockbroker, and she notified a guard. But nothing was done. So Habert got in touch with the New York Times who in turn notified Monroe Wheeler, the Museum's art director. Wheeler had the piece flipped, and it has hung right-side up ever since. Or has it?

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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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