Category Archives: history

If you think things have only recently gone a bit nuts …

Lewis Lapham is an American writer and editor, who commented widely on American society and politics in the 1980’s. Here he is looking rather dapper

Image result for Lewis Lapham

This paragraph is from a sermon he delivered in 1988 called “!Fin de Siecle”. Stripped to the essentials, Lapham blasts those who think them know more than they realistically could.  Enjoy!

Unhappily, (the) egoism (of the Ayatollah) has a familiar sound. In the United States for the past twenty years, spokesmen for various agencies of the higher consciousness have located the world’s wickedness in the personae of oil companies, media syndicates, big business, black men, white men, the federal government, homosexuals, and real estate developers. During the heyday of what was known as”The New Left”, Susan _Sontag identified the white race as the cause of the world’s sorrow. The triumph of the neoconservative right shifted the blame to black welfare mothers and Columbian drug dealer. Attorney General Edwin Meese wishes to search the American electorate for impurities in its blood, its urine, and its speech. The Reverend Pat Robertson promises the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire that if elected President, he will purge the State Department of diplomats stained with the sins of the eastern establishment. As a defense against AIDS, Mayor Koch exhorts the people of New York to swear the vows of monastic celibacy, and the Reverend Jerry Falwell goes about the country, accompanied by a choir and a battery of American flags, assuring the faithful that “Jesus was not a pacifist” and inciting them to rise up against “the infidels” in the public schools who teach Satan’s doctrine of “secular humanism”.

Ah, the memories!


Suddenly the Mars Exploded!

The Mars was an enormous fighting ship built for Swedish King Eric. XIV.. BTW, while Eric is known as Erick XIV, he was not actually the 14th Eric on the throne. That is a bit of Swedish fiction.  Here is good old Eric

Image result for Swedish King Eric XIV

Eric has a rather colorful story. He took over from his dad, Gustav, in 1560.

While he has been regarded as intelligent and artistically skilled, as well as politically ambitious, early in his reign he showed signs of mental instability, a condition that eventually led to insanity. Some scholars claim that his illness began early during his reign, while others believe that it first manifested with the Sture Murders.

Eric, having been deposed and imprisoned, was most likely murdered. An examination of his remains in 1958 confirmed that he probably died of arsenic poisoning.[1]

Ah, the life of kings! Not so glamorous after all!

Eric thought it would be grand to expand Swedish influence over the Baltic area, which, among other things, led to Estonia being pulled into the Swedish Empire. It also led to conflict with lots of his neighbors.

Eric decided that he needed a kick ass navy, and he commissioned the construction of great ships, the Mars being the biggest and most bad ass of them all with over 100 guns. It was built around 1563,

Image result for The Mars Swedish battleship

A year later, the Mars was in battle with the Danes and everyone else. Things were going well  until the Danes realized that the only way to get the Mars out of action was to board her. They succeeded and started looting the ship while it was on fire …. errrr … bad idea!  The Mars suddenly exploded, sending its mainsail up like a rocket!   Man did it go down fast!

BTW, around the same time, Eric was going bonkers. That also did not end well.

The Mars lay at the bottom of the Baltic Sea for hundreds of years. No one knew precisely where, until 2011 when it was discovered. Now we have some very cool images and video of the wreck.

Image result for The Mars Swedish warship

Check out the above link to the History Blog for more on the wreck and with a video reenactment!



A Mysterious Sword

In the movies, Vikings are often seen carrying swords. In fact, few of them actually did. Swords were too expensive for most Vikings to get their hands on. Only a few had them. The rest made do with axes or other weapons that had far less precious metal. And for those lucky few who owned a sword, it was likely their prized possession.

For this reason, it is odd that a few Norwegian reindeer hunters, wandering up high in the mountains, found a three foot long Viking sword sticking out of a clump of rocks. Apparently, it had been there for a thousand years.

Image result for found viking sword

But what was it doing there?

The sword was brought there by someone and left there. Perhaps a dying Viking. But archeologists found no evidence of any gear in the area. Nothing. Just the sword.

Because a Viking’s sword was likely his most prized possession, it wouldn’t have just been abandoned or forgotten during a mountain-top jaunt. Not that the find site is ideally suited as a walking trail. The rocky terrain would have been treacherous and there was a well-established path nearby without any such obstacles. It’s possible the owner of the sword got lost in the white-out of a blizzard and died, but, as the glacier archaeologists point out, if that were the case, then where is the rest of his gear? You don’t climb a mile up a mountain carrying only a sword.

It is a bit of a mystery.


Today’s History Lesson: Chivalry as Facade and Bodiam Castle

The word “chivalry” these days,  has a positive connotation. We should strive to be chivalrous. But what does the word actually mean?  It relates to male behavior and suggests that one is

courteous and gallant, especially towards women.

But historically, the term was not so simple. Chivalry was a code of behavior. To be chivalrous meant that you had sufficient social status to claim a right to be chivalrous (a knight at least) and that you followed the code. Here is the kicker. The code was not all about  positive behavior. It included as well, the right to be rather nasty in battle. For example, fighting in order to steal property from your foes. In fact, a chivalrous knight could make a fortune that way.

Which brings me to the story of Sir Edward Dalyngrigge and Bodiam Castle, built in 1385. Here is the castle.

Image result for Bodiam Castle

Just how did Dalyngrigge get the money to pay for it? Here is a fun video that tells the tale rather well. Enjoy!

Rebuilding a Gyro-X

This is a Gyro-X back in the 1960’s

Related image

Is that a smile on the driver’s face? If so, it was short lived. The original designers and builders of this two wheeled self-balancing car never got it into production.

But there was a prototype hanging around. It was bought and sold over the decades. And recently, some enterprising dudes decided to buy it and get it to work.

This is their very cool story! It starts off like this

At the far end of the field, hundreds of yards past the 1930s Duesenbergs, the prewar Rolls-Royces, and the grand touring Ferraris, curious showgoers at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance gather around a particularly unusual kind of car. They listen to the quiet hum and puzzle over the thing, bright red, about 15 feet long, and hardly wider than a motorcycle.

Enjoy with coffee and some smoked trout on toast!




Met any Scythians Recently?

This is a bit macabre

The Greek historian Herodotus left vivid accounts of the nomadic Scythian horsemen and archers who terrorised their neighbours from an empire stretching for centuries from the Black Sea to the borders of China. His stories, often doubted, have been vindicated by recent archaeological finds, and he wrote that when a princely warrior died, a concubine was often chosen to accompany him to the grave, along with servants and horses.

The Scythians had no written language and left nothing behind. But fortunately, they believed that warriors traveling to the next world needed his worldly possessions.  For that reason,  and because the Siberian bog where they are found preserves things so well, their burial grounds are intensely interesting.

Most recently, the mummified  body of a Scythian warrior underwent a face job where scientists removed the clay mask that covered the face. Here is the story

The real face concealed by a clay mask on the mummified head of a Scythian warrior has been revealed for the first time in almost 2,000 years. The head is on display in an exhibition opening at the British Museum this week along with the scan, made in a St Petersburg hospital, which reveals that he had fine teeth, a ginger moustache, a pierced ear, a hole in his skull where his brains had been removed, and a savage wound, beautifully stitched and healed, which originally ran from the corner of his eye socket to the point of his jaw.



Something Weird Happened in Vindolanda

Vindolanda was a stone Roman fort built around 105 AD. It protected a strategic road at the northern border of the Roman Empire in Britain. 20 years after it was built, Hadrian would order the construction of his famous wall that would run just north of Vindlanda.

So what is the big deal? For reasons that are long lost to history, suddenly, the cavalrymen posted in Vindolanda fled. We know that they fled because archeologists have just found their weapons that they abandoned in the fort. Not just weapons but all sorts of artifacts including children’s toys. Soldiers would not abandon their weapons  unless they were in a big hurry.  What was the hurry? We have no idea.

The History Blog offers some detail on what archeologists are finding. And what they are finding is truly remarkable. The unique soil has preserved these items, including wood and leather, as if new.

Check it out!