Did you know that handwritten sheets -- called avvisi -- circulated among the cities and courts of Europe in early modern Europe after public mail routes became common? They were bought on the streets or by subscription, and had information and news from cities like Warsaw, Paris, and Madrid. They sometimes even had information from further afield such as Ireland or the American colonies. It is hard to understand now, by the once or twice weekly avvisi were a revolution in news, connecting Europeans more than ever before.
One newsletter, dated March 19th, 1588, describes the famous Spanish Armada which sailed against Queen Elizabeth I of England. It was described as having "140 or more sailing ships and eight months of provisions" plus "17,000 combat soldiers and 8,000 sailors." The same avvisi also discusses the reconstruction of the Rialto Bridge in Venice, and how problems with pilings were fixed on-site rather than being replaced due to the "inconvenience" of closing the Grand Canal.
King John of England is most famous today as the bad prince in Robin Hood, or the king whose barons rebelled and made him sign the Magna Carta. But did you know that within his first three years as king, he lost almost all of the crown’s holdings in France?
He lost to the French king the duchy of Normandy, whose duke William had conquered England, along with Anjou, Maine, and Touraine. King John was nominally still the head of Aquitaine, but only because his famous mother Eleanor still lived. Most of Aquitaine’s nobles made quiet peace with the French king. And as soon as Eleanor died, John lost Aquitaine as well.
Just to be clear how great a disaster this was: John lost about half of his country. He went from being king of a vast domain connected by the sea, to being confined to England with a domain that ended at the coast. No wonder no English king since has been named John.
This was illustrated by an emperor of China. Emperor Xuanzong of the Ming Dynasty made in the fourth year of his reign (1429) for the high official Yang Shiqi. The focus of the hanging scroll is the cat and a bowl of peony blossoms the cat is looking at. The traditional word for cat in Chinese is a homophone for octogenarian and therefore a blessing for longevity, while the peony was a symbol of wealth and prosperity. With this wall scroll, Emperor Xuanzong was wishing long life and good fortune to his chancellor.
An intrepid band of French soldiers and adventurers -- and their horses -- worse suits of armor to cross the Alps while the rest of the country struggled to stay cool in the summer heat. The “MarchAlp” expedition retraced the steps of King Francis I of France and his army, who crossed western Europe’s highest mountain range in the summer of 1515 before vanquishing Swiss mercenaries who were defending the duchy of Milan. Several dozen soldiers of the 27th Mountain Infantry Brigade recreated the 17-mile journey over 500 years later. They crossed the border between France and Italy via the 8,665 ft-high Mary Pass, accompanied by a doctor, four horses, two donkeys, four adventurers and 60 camp followers in costume. The aim was to measure the physical effects of marching over the Alps in armor and chain mail. Measurements were taken on things like heart rhythms and the effects of armor's rubbing on the men and the armored horses.
New genetic research now suggests that when the ancient Inuits migrated from Siberia to North America they brought their dogs with them. Considered one of the toughest and strongest breeds, this ancient Siberian canine was so indispensable, the genetic research shows the Inuits used them exclusively. They did not even interbreed with the new dogs they found in North America. The new study showed that over 4,500 years, Inuit new dogs were and remained genetically distinct and physically different from the dogs who arrived earlier in North America.
Where the humans went they brought their dogs, so Inuit dogs rapidly dominated and spread eastward in the North American Arctic alongside their humans' migration. Because the Inuit remained faithful to their sled dogs, the pre-existing native dogs were almost completely replaced.
This genetic distinction has been maintained through today, too. The study compared 922 Arctic dogs and wolves who lived over 4,500 years. Modern sled dogs, according to their genomes, are some of the last direct descendants of the breed the Inuit brought with them from Siberia.
Etymology -- the study of words' origins -- is pretty interesting. African currencies are an excellent example. How far back do you go for a words' "true" origin? Sierra Leone's currency, the Leone, comes from the Spanish "lion mountains" ("sierra" + "leon"). The Spanish word for lion comes from the Latin word for lion "leonem." But that Latin word comes from Greek "leon", which in turn comes from a non-Indo-European language, likely a Semitic language. The Greek word leon sounds similar to the Hebrew labhi (lion) and Egyptian labai (lion) and lawai (lioness). So which language do you count as the "origin" of Sierra Leone's currency? How far back do you go?
In Laconia, the district around Sparta, and specifically in Maina, now Mani Peninsula, the inaccessible middle finger of the Peloponnese, there were people who worshipped the Greek gods until the 800s CE. They finally began converting to Christianity under Byzantine Emperor Basil I (867–886 CE). However they were still having to be re-converted for generations, which we know because the Orthodox preacher (and eventual saint) Nikon the Metanoeite did missionary work in Maina around the 950s.
The Mamluks were a corps of slaves which went from being the elite bodyguards of the Ayyubid Caliphate founded by Saladin, to running Egypt for themselves. It lasted as an independent state for over 250 years, from 1250 to 1517 when Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. But the Mamluks survived.
By the 1630s, a Mamluk emir managed to become de facto ruler of the country. By the 1700s, the importance of the pasha (Ottoman governor) was superseded by that of the Mamluk beys, and it was even made official. Two offices, those of Shaykh al-Balad and Amir al-hajj -- both offices held by Mamluks -- represented the rulers of Egypt. In the name of the Ottoman Sultan, of course. It was only with the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon in 1799 that the Mamluk power center was permanently ended.
The Tiwanaku state dominated the Andean highlands for centuries yet we know very little about them. What we do know comes from their archaeological remains. They appear to have developed in the Lake Titicaca region, and at their peak, they may have only numbered 10,000 to 20,000 people. Recent underwater excavations near the lake's Island of the Sun reveal ritual offerings made by the Tiwanaku centuries before the Island of the Sun was converted into a major Incan pilgrimage site. The finds include puma-shaped incense burners with fragments of charcoal present on the excavated deposits, and a number of gold, shell, and stone ornaments. They date from the 700s to the 900s CE. And they were, intriguingly, found near anchors -- like the offerings had been deliberately weighed to drift the bottom of the lake.
A snapshot of the world of Islam in 1400s. The newest Mongol state, the turkic-mongol Timurid Empire, was at the height of its power, while the last Islamic state was clinging to the Iberian Peninsula. The Kilwa Sultanate was at its peak, controlling much of the trade along the Swahili coast of Africa. Meanwhile India had broken up once again into a series of small kingdoms; the Muslim Mughal Empire was not for another 125 years.