The Epic of Beowulf: A Secret Scandanavian?

Beowulf talks a lot about gold rings. It was so important that rings inspired a smash hit Wagner opera in the 1800s which in turn inspired JRR Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. Many gold neck and arm rings have been found in Scandanavia dating between 300 and 550 BCE. But after that? No rings. Furthermore, no such rings have been found in Anglo-Saxon England during the right time period: from 550 CE till the late Viking period, the last possible dating for Beowulf. What does this all mean? It is archaeological evidence that Beowulf, the Old English epic, was first told in Scandinavia and somehow made its way to England.

The Country of a Million Rice Fields

King Mangrai ruled a kingdom in today's northern Thailand in the late 1200s. Called Lan Na, or "the country of a million rice fields," it is mainly known today for its capital city of Chiang Mai. Founded in 1296 by King Mangrai, the city had a number of auspicious attributes. Presiding over the city was the scared mountain of Doi Suthep, to the west, and the Ping River flowed through the city before joining the Nan River to the south. After its founding by King Mangrai, the city attracted traders and the prosperity that follows. It became known as the 'city of 12 languages.' A moniker that conveys wealth and a cosmopolitan flair. Lan Na was the local hub for the rich surrounding countryside and hill villages, and goods produced there were sent south along the Ping River to be sold in the great city of Ayutthaya and beyond.

Prosperity brings its own problems, though. Burmese king Bayinnaung marched into Chiang Mai as a conqueror in 1558, and that was the end of Lan Na. But its beautiful remains continue to attract tourists.

Whiro, Lord of Darkness

In Maori mythology, Whiro is the embodiment of darkness and evil. He is the son of the sky father and earth mother, and brother and enemy of Tāne, god of the forests and birds. After a long and bitter war between the brothers, Tāne was victorious. Whiro and his followers were forced to go to the underworld where he reigns.

But Whiro is not quietly retired. He is viewed as a relentlessly active god, always trying to harm humans as they are the descendants of Tāne, especially through his Maike brethren, the personified forms of sickness and disease. Many offerings were made to Whiro, unsurprisingly.

A Shady Portrait Of The Greatest English Playwrite(s)

"Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare Playing at Chess." Unfortunately, this painting's authenticity has been subject to debate for more than a century. It became widely known only in 1878, when the painting was purchased for $18,000 by Colonel Ezra Miller; note this is more than two hundred years after both its subjects were dead. Already suspicious. Then, the authenticating documents were lost in a fire 17 years later. Meaning investigation of the documents, and modern forensic analyses, are impossible.

Supporters claim that it was painted by Karel van Mander (1548-1606), and in the best possible case, the painting would give us new likenesses of Jonson and Shakespeare painted by a contemporary. But a biography of van Mander, probably written by his brother, makes no mention of this painting, nor of the artist ever visiting London. Further, Shakespeare here appears younger than Jonson, but in fact he was eight or nine years older.

Korea had two kingdoms from the 700s through the early 900s CE. So it is imaginatively named the "North South States Period." To the north, much larger than North Korea today, is Balhae and to the south is the surviving state from the earlier Three Kingdoms Period, Silla.

Did You Know Jews Thrived In Ming China?

During the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) a population of Jews immigrated into the heart of China and lived as just another obscure, minor religion. There is poor documentation, but there what records exist show Jews worked as army officers, mandarin bureaucrats, tax inspectors, and school inspectors.

That is rare considering during this same period Jews were often persecuted as an unwanted group elsewhere: to name a few examples, Jews were expelled from France twice (1306 and 1394), forced to convert to Catholicism or leave Spain (1492), and heavily taxed and punished for inciting unrest in Egypt (1324).

This charmed me. A little bear, poised expectantly, or perhaps posing for the viewer. “Little” is also the right word: it is just under a foot tall (or 29.5 cm).

Bronze, Italian or possibly German, circa 1600. Courtesy of the Getty Museum.

People Have Been Eating Popcorn For A Long Time

A 1,000-year-old popped kernel of popcorn was found in a dry cave in the southwestern part of Utah.

A Quickly-Changing Word

The word "nice" originally mention "foolish". In the 1400s, the word came to mean "coy," then in the 1500s, "fastidious." By the 1700s, nice had assumed its modern meaning.

This beautiful art piece depicts a shaman's raptorial bird spirit, by combining flat painting and clay modeling. Click through the image gallery to see all of its sides. The bird's head, including the raptor's deadly pointed beak, and the tips of its wings and tail protrude from the vessel. Around them, the artist painted the spirit's wings and tail feathers, as well as human forms on either side. Each of the two figures grasps a staff topped by a human skull. Nicaragua, circa 1000 - 1350 CE.

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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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