Where Is It Illegal To Die?

In the 400s BCE, Athens forbade anyone to die or to give birth on the island of Delos, to render it fit for the proper worship of the gods. Since 1878, no births or deaths have been permitted near Japan’s Itsukushima Shrine, a sacred site in Shinto belief.     Death is still outlawed in some places today, but for more prosaic reasons. In 1999 the mayor of the Spanish town of Lanjarón outlawed death, again because of an overcrowded cemetery. His edict ordered residents “to take utmost care of their health so they do not die until town hall takes the necessary steps to acquire land suitable for our deceased to rest in glory.” The French settlements of Le Lavandou (in 2000), Cugnaux (in 2007), and Sarpourenx (in 2008) have all outlawed death because of limited capacity in local cemeteries. The Sarpourenx ordinance added: “Offenders will be severely punished.” In 2005 Roberto Pereira, mayor of the Brazilian town of Biritiba Mirim, proposed a ban on death because the local cemetery had reached its capacity -- although he was unsuccessful.    

It's All Germanic To Me

Both Old English and Old Norse were part of a Northwest Germanic language group. The languages were similar until the 400s CE, when the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England made English part of the West Germanic language group -- like German instead of like Norwegian. But Old English and Old Norse followed the same phonological rules. Which meant they changed in predictable, and similar, ways.

Which means that during the Viking Age in England, Old English and Old Norse approached being mutually intelligible. Not only were the English being raided, invaded, and occupied, but the warriors who were doing so could be almost understood, speaking a strange version of their own tongue. Probably just made the Great Dane Army’s job easier. Isn’t it nice for threats to make people quake in fear, instead of just making them confused.

Why Do We Have A Seven-Day Week?

The seven-day week has no correspondence to astronomy -- unlike the presence of the sun giving us days, or phases of the moon giving us months. Historians generally think the seven-day week was "invented" by Mesopotamians and/or Jews. Both thought the number seven had mystic significance. Sumer had a (mostly) seven-day week system since at least the 21st century BCE. The Jewish weeks may have developed independently or been influenced by their Fertile Crescent neighbors.

From the crossroads of Europe, Asia, and Africa the seven-day week spread around the Old World. The Greeks and Persians adopted the Babylonian system, and fro Persia it spread to India and China in various forms. In Japan, for instance, seven-day weeks were mainly used by specialist astrologers until the 1800s. In Europe, it was officially adopted by the Roman Empire in the 300s CE, but it was already in common use throughout the empire.

Chinese Nobility Used Witchcraft To Handle Their Enemies

The punishment for "confusing" the people with witchcraft was death, in early China. Accusations of witchcraft were often wrapped up in aristocratic and dynastic struggles, particularly why the imperial succession was at stake. In 102 CE, the childless consort of the emperor died in prison, after being denounced as a witch. In 165 CE, the consort of the Emperor Huan was ordered to commit suicide, for a litany of offenses which included witchcraft.

What crimes had these noble women actually committed? We will likely never know for sure. But a witch hunt in Chang'an (Xi'an) in 91 CE offers some clues. On the instructions of the aging Emperor Wudi, who feared his long illness was caused by witchcraft, foreign shamans were brought in to search the imperial household for dolls used in harmful magics. Suspects were arrested for summoning evil spirits and saying malicious prayers at night. Those arrested were likely indicted for both magical and political reasons. Crown Prince Liu Ju was found to have wooden carvings of his "victims" in his room -- although the carvings could very well have been planted. He was duly removed from power and committed suicide in the aftermath.

Reconsidering Bacchus

The ancient Roman god, also known as Dionysus, does not have a good image today. His name is linked to drunkeness, excess, madness. But the ancients did not see him as one-sided. He was the god of losing one's inhibitions. But he was also the god of getting together. Ancient nicknames included Bacchus the Liberator, Bacchus the Saviour, and Bacchus the God Who Gives Men's Minds Wings. Those do not sound all bad, right?

Bacchic cults were banned in Roman times, because their members held allegiance to "a parallel state," but at the same time, Roman leaders have quotes on how fantastic it is that conquered populations enjoy Roman wine so much -- it makes them easier for Rome to control. To the ancients Bacchus was an ambiguous god, both beneficial and harmful.

Ancient Mirrors Said Nice Things To Their Owners

These five lead mirror frames, dating to the turn of the 200s CE, have been found while excavating a Roman villa in northern Bulgaria. Three of the frames are decorated with the image of a large wine vessel and bear an inscription that means a “good soul.” A nice thought to have when looking at oneself, no?   The villa belonged to a Roman military veteran. The specific building where the mirrors were found was initially thought to be a house for workers, but the mirrors suggest perhaps it was a temple.

Was the Persian Army so Big Its Arrows Really Blocked out the Sun?

The army of the Persian Empire had enough archers that they were said to be able to "block out the sun." You might remember the Spartan's famous answer to that: great, we "can fight in the shade."

Were those ancient chroniclers exaggerating? We do not know, but conservative estimates of the Persian army's capabilities was that they had 50,000 men in their army. Yes, that's a conservative estimate. Previous armies in the region are believed to have fought with mainly infantry, with archers being a supporting group; we know the Persians innovated by increasing the numbers of archers. Let’s crunch some numbers.

As a conservative estimate, let's say there are about 20,000 archers in the Persian battle line. Each archer can fire about 5 arrows a minute. And their quivers held 120 arrows, but let's assume they had to go hunting for dinner the last few nights, and give them 100 arrows. When you do the math, that means the Persian Army could fire 100,000 arrows a minute. And they could do that for as long as their arms held out, or until their arrows run out, so about 20 minutes.

The Persian army could fire 100,000 arrows a minute, for 20 minutes. As a conservative estimate. Now, I've never been on an ancient battle field, but that sounds like it could block out the sun.

Cato the Elder Almost Got Into Trouble For Cowardice, Talked His Way Out Of It

Here [in Hispania], as [Cato] was engaged in reducing some of the tribes by force, and bringing over others by good words, a large army of barbarians fell upon him, so that there was danger of being disgracefully forced out again. He therefore called upon his neighbours, the Celtiberians, for help, and on their demanding two hundred talents for their assistance, everybody else thought it intolerable that even the Romans should promise barbarians a reward for their aid; but Cato said there was no discredit or harm in it; for, if they overcame, they would pay them out of the enemy’s purse, and not out of their own; but if they were overcome, there would be nobody left either to demand the reward or to pay it.


quoted from a translation of "Plutarch's Lives"

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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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