The Weight of Privilege

Maya rituals may have literally been weighty affairs for high-ranking rulers. During these festivities, elite officials adorned themselves with an assortment of jade pendants, mostly worn on the ears or around the neck. Heavier ones (such as a 5-pound carved head from Ucanal in Guatemala) were likely attached to a belt and would have made customary ritual dancing quite cumbersome.

It is theorized that the weight of the assembled stones, which may have totaled as much as 25 pounds, symbolized a leader’s prestige and responsibilities.

An Artist's Interpretation of Constantinople Around 1200

What it says on the tin: a birds-eye view of Constantinople with its famous walls and horse racing track. This is pretty specifically in the years 1200 to 1204. In 1204, the fourth crusade sacked the city, burning much of what you see and effectively marking the end of the Byzantine Empire as a regional power. The art is by Antoine Helbert, a French artist.

Let's Talk About Angkor Ceramics!

The Khmer Empire, also known as the Angkor Empire, was a powerful Hindu-Buddhist empire in Southeast Asia. It held more or less power in the region from the early 800s to the mid-1400s when its capital city of Angkor fell. The first evidence by an academic of stoneware ceramic production was the documentation in 1888 by the French explorer Etienne Aymonier of an abandoned kiln site on Phnom Kulen. Not much investigation into Angkor ceramics was made until the 1960s, however, when deforestation and road-building uncovered kiln mounds for ceramics in the fields of Buriram province in northern Thailand. Once the discovery became known, a new interest in the ceramics of Angkor was born. Since then, many more kilns have been found across the former empire.

Angkor ceramics were made either with grayish-white clay bearing green glaze or with dark-colored clay using brown glaze. Occasionally, when a potter was apparently feeling adventurous, a ceramic would be made with both grayish-white and dark clay, and glazed with both green and brown glaze. And of course there were many unglazed ceramics. Angkor ceramics, though just two colors of clay, had a variety of shapes. Click through the image gallery to see some examples.

Europeans Divided Up Australia Before They Even Discovered It

In the 1500s three provinces, Beach, Maletur, and Lucach, were added to Australia. Note that the Europeans talking about Australia had not yet discovered it. Australia was a concept, a possibility, and somehow it already had named provinces. The names were corruptions of real places in Southeast Asia that were mentioned in Marco Polo's book. Later European readers mistakenly placed them south of Java, over 1,000 miles wrong. And from there, the myth took on a life of its own.

The most important of the three was Beach, which appeared on many maps with the enticing title provincial aurifera, or “gold-bearing land." Sailors often referred to the continent of Australia as "Beach."

Maletur was given the title scatens aromaibus, or a region overflowing with spices. Lucach was said as late as 1601 to have received an embassy from Java. These three places were believed to exist in Europe during the 1500s. In fact, in 1545 Spain even appointed a governor of the nonexistent Beach – a certain Pedro Sancho de la Hoz, who was one of the conquistadors of Chile.

Medieval Viking Town the Size of London Was An International Destination

Analysis of human remains from the Viking town of Sigtuna dating to the 900s to the 1100s CE finds that at least half the population consisted of immigrants. Researchers from Stockholm University studied DNA and strontium isotopes from the remains of 38 people to determine where they originated. They found that around half came from the nearby Lake Mälaren area, but the other half came from areas as far off as Ukraine and the British Isles.

Sigtuna, in other words, was the Viking Age equivalent of London or Shanghai today! Sigtuna was one of Sweden’s first cities, founded in 980 by the country’s first Christian king, Olof Skötkonung. It quickly grew and reached a population of 10,000. That's roughly the same as London at the time. The new discoveries suggest that the city grew partially due to new arrivals, ambitious people interested in working their way up in the world. While Vikings are generally thought of as travelers and adventurers, this suggests they welcomed travelers too.

You Could Sell Your Child Into Slavery In The Aztec Empire -- If A Judge Okayed It

If you wanted to sell one of your kids, you first had to go before the courts and present your case to government officials. After hearing all of your reasoning for why you want to sell your child, they would then adjudicate if they thought you had sufficient reason. Families had to be desperately poor, and struggling to provide basic supports to their children, and believe that the child would have a better life as a slave. Based on the families' reasons the court would then either approve or deny. So the Aztec government let you sell you child into slavery, legally.

A Tale of Two Brothers

Mihailo and Mahmud Anđelović were separated as infants. Although they belonged to a branch of the aristocratic Greek family Angelos, their branch had taken refuge in Serbia after the Ottoman conquest of Thessaly in 1394.

The family could not escape the Ottomans entirely. Mahmud was captured by Ottoman Turks as an infant, brought up near Edirne in Turkey, and converted to Islam. Mahmud grew up to be smart and capable. He rose through the Ottoman bureaucracy to become beylerbey (senior provincial governor) of Rumelia in 1451, and Grand Vizier in 1455. Mahmud's brother Mihailo (or Michael in English) stayed in Serbia. He served as a Serbian court official under the reigns of Đurađ and Lazar Branković. Serbia at the time was a state bordering the Ottoman Empire, and was largely dominated by the Ottoman Empire.

The two brothers were eventually reunited! But under strange circumstances. In the negotiations between Serbian ruler Lazar Branković and Ottoman emperor Mehmed II in 1457, Mihailo was sent to represent and negotiate for Lazar, and Mahmud represented and negotiated for Mehmed II!

The Father of the Angevin Empire

Geoffrey V of Anjou was born on August 24th, 1113. He was the eldest son of Foulques V d’Anjou and Eremburga de La Flèche, daughter of Elias I, Count of Maine. Geoffrey was the heir to several important titles and properties that took up a good chunk of southern France. And it did not hurt that he grew into a good-looking, strapping young lad as well. He was often called Geoffrey le Bel for his good looks, or Geoffrey Plantagenet, for the yellow sprig of broom blossom (genêt) that he habitually wore in his hats.

Thanks to some good publicity, King Henry I of England heard enough good things about Geoffrey to decide he was worthy of marrying the king’s only surviving legitimate child, dowager Empress Matilda, the widow of Holy Roman Emperor Henry V. Matilda was less than thrilled to be marrying a teenager who was eleven years younger than herself.They married in 1128. Matilda was 26, Geoffrey was 15. The marriage was unhappy -- Matilda left him shortly after the marriage for England and had to be persuaded to return -- but it produced three healthy boys which was frankly the whole point, to old King Henry I. Their eldest son, named Henry after his grandfather, would become Henry II of England through his mother as well as Count of Anjou through his father.

There was a nasty little civil war first, nicknamed "The Anarchy," because English nobility really did not want a woman running England. Matilda had to fight her first cousin, Stephen, who was less directly in the line of succession but was born with that all-important Y chromosome. The Anarchy was ended when all parties agreed that Stephen could be king in his lifetime, but he would leave the kingdom to Matilda's sons. So in the end Geoffrey V was the founder of the Plantagenet dynasty and the Angevin dynasty, which would rule over the united kingdom of England and more than half of France, through the 1200s. It was so large that it got upgraded to Empire status! The Angevin Empire, after their original title as overlords of Anjou.

There's lots of things that resulted from this one marriage between Matilda and Geoffrey. The War of the Roses, the 100 Years' War, the Magna Carta.... and all because a blue-blooded 26-year-old was forced to marry another blue-blood who just happened to be 15-years-old.

Yucatan Rainforest Still Shaped By Its Mayan Past

A new study shows that the centuries of deforestation under the Mayan Civilization -- which lasted from 200 BCE to about 950 CE at its height -- drastically changed the ability of local rainforests to store carbon in the ground. And even today, centuries after the Maya cities were mysteriously abandoned and the forests grew back, the region's carbon reserves have not yet fully recovered. Read the full article here.

The Longest War In World History... Sort Of

The Peloponnesian War ended in 1996. The bloody conflict between Athens and Sparta had stopped in 404 B.C. without an official peace pact, so after 2,500 years the cities decided to sign a symbolic agreement. It read, “Today we express our grief for the devastating war between the two key cities of ancient Greece and declare its end.”

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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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