Thursday, December 27
Anonymous asked: How has history influenced you? Do you regret going in the field? How hard was it to follow your particular path? - A Curious Consider-er.
History influences all of us, I think, because what happened in the past created the patterns that we’re all unconsciously following today. Our roots are in yesterday, whether we care to notice or not.
I absolutely do not regret getting into this field. Even if archaeology isn’t what I do with the rest of my life, studying it and loving it has shaped a lot of who I am today. I’ve learned skills I wouldn’t learn anywhere else—real-world skills, too, not just academic ones.
The hardest part of following this academic path was dealing with naysayers, with those lovely people who tell you that your field is useless, that you can’t make money, that you won’t go anywhere with your degree.
Don’t listen to those people. The study of history is the study of us, and there’s nothing more useful in life than understanding how people work.
Let’s talk about something old.
I mean really old.
Let’s talk about the eminently sexy site of Göbekli Tepe, in Turkey.
Did I mention that it’s old?
Monday, May 7
Hey, you know what everyone likes?
Everyone likes GOLD.
I’m sexy and I know it.
Every archaeologist wants to find gold. We may say we don’t care, but this is a lie. Gold is bad ass.
But life is not an Indiana Jones movie (WHICH IS AN AWFUL FACT, I KNOW) and finding gold doesn’t really happen in most excavations. Trained archaeologists may dig their entire career and find not a hint of the shiny pretty metal.
And then some dude with a metal detector may go for a stroll in England and find a goddamn HOARD.
This dude in particular. His name is Terry Herbert.
And thus begins the story of the Staffordshire Gold.
Thursday, March 15
HAPPY IDES OF MARCH!
Caesar got pincushioned to death on this day in 44BCE. It was dramatic.
If any soothsayers get all prophecy-y on you today, you might want to heed their words.
Sunday, March 4
Hello and welcome back to The Bygone.
Endless apologies about being a terrible blogger, etc. Here is a gigantic post to make up for my absence.
LET’S TALK ABOUT CARTHAGE.
[THANKS FOR THE REQUEST, YUGIMUTTON!]
The ruins of Carthage are in what is now Tunisia. They are very sexy ruins.
There will come a day that I will use an adjective other than ‘sexy’ to describe old shit, but it is not this day.
Back in the day (like, 1st millennium BCE), Carthage was a Phoenician colony. The Phoenicians sure as hell knew what they were doing when they colonised the area—the site of Carthage would come to be super important in just about every single realm: trade, agriculture, and military. Carthage also managed to piss off the goddamn Romans. More on that in a minute.
According to legend, Carthage was founded by the exiled Phoenician princess Dido (aka Elissa) who manages to build up a kingdom in just seven years. Buuuuuut because this story comes from Virgil’s Aeneid, Dido then kills herself because Aeneas won’t stay in Carthage with her. SO TYPICAL.
Anyway fast forward to the third century BCE. Carthage is now independent, super wealthy, and an all-around ballin’ place to be. It is the most powerful economic and military power in the Western Mediterranean, and has the best navy.
It does, however, have some rather, uh, difficult neighbours.
Rome and Carthage had already signed some treaties to avoid conflict that they both must have thought was inevitable (Rome = conflict always being inevitable), and had even sided together to defeat Pyrrhus. But in 264BCE, their pretty little alliances all came crashing down.
See that island in between Carthage and Rome? That’s Sicily. And everyone wanted it.
The problem was that Carthage’s navy was like 29302X better than the Roman navy. And the Roman infantry was 29302X better than the Carthagian infantry. So the two regions found themselves in a stalemate.
So then the Romans started building warships…by copying Carthagian ones.
[I KNOW THIS POST IS ABOUT CARTHAGE BUT I NEED TO YELL ABOUT THE EMINENTLY BADASS THING THE ROMANS INVENTED FOR THEIR TRIREMES: THEY MADE A GANGPLANK WITH A GIGANTIC METAL SPIKE AT ONE END THAT THEY WOULD SLAM INTO THE ENEMY SHIPS AND THEN THEY WOULD BOARD THE ENEMY’S SHIP WHILE IT WAS SINKING AND DESTROY THEM. SO BADASS.]
Because of the Gangplanks of Death and Badassery (aka the corvus), the Romans were able to turn naval warfare into infantry battle on the high seas. And thus the Romans won the First Punic War.
BUT BACK THE FUCK UP BECAUSE HERE COMES HANNIBAL.
Cooler than you.
I am so good at photoshop.
Hannibal was a Carthagian general and scholars generally agree that he is the King Badass of History. He gathered his forces, brought them to Spain, marched them north, and then right goddamn through the Alps..in the winter.
We are not in Tunisia any more.
Oh, and he brought elephants.
Hannibal’s ballsyness (ballsiness?) never ceases to shock me.
After Cannae, the Romans realised that this Hannibal guy knew what he was doing. So they started chasing him around Italy, basically attacking him if they got a chance and then retreating. Hannibal, meanwhile, was low on supplies and didn’t have the equipment to attack Rome directly. So, despite winning both pitched battles, Hannibal heads back to Carthage.
He is followed by Scipio Africanus. At the Battle of Zama, the Romans defeat the Carthagians, and the Second Punic War ends.
BUT DON’T WORRY BECAUSE THERE IS A THIRD PUNIC WAR STILL.
This post is a novel so here is the TL;DR version: some dude in Rome (Cato the Elder) yells CARTHAGO DELENDA EST a lot (“CARTHAGE MUST BE DESTROYED”), the Romans siege the city, the Romans build a goddamn bridge across the harbour, and then what follows might be one of the saddest events in all of history.
The Romans devastate Carthage.
The destruction of Carthage is so violent and so savage that the site is left abandoned for nearly two centuries. The entire population is killed or enslaved. Legend says the Romans even salted the earth so nothing would grow. What was once the most powerful city in the Mediterranean is gone.
I don’t have a joke about it because it’s actually really sad.
Carthage would eventually rise to power again as a Roman colony, but its age of independent glory was over. There would never be Carthaginians living in Carthage again: from that moment on, it became Roman.
After the fall of Carthage, the Roman Republic began to crumble. And thus a whole new period of history begins.
[Also, a GIGANTIC THANK YOU to everyone who signed the petition to get Spike TV to not air their disastrously bad idea called American Digger. I’m not sure what’s happening with it right now, but I know that a bunch of archaeological associations are sending in letters to try to get the show cancelled for legal reasons and also because it is AWFUL.]
Monday, February 27
Anonymous asked: I got curious about Nicaeaeaeaeae and Googled it - isn't it now called Iznik in Turkey?
Nicaeaeaeaeae is the ancient city. It’s inside the modern city of Iznik in northwestern Turkey. It’s super fertile, which is probably why there’s been settlement there for basically forever.
Also it has sexy ruins.
Anonymous asked thebygone:
Was referring to “A city was founded here following the the battle, called Nicaea, which hasn’t been discovered.” from the Alexander the Great movie post - sorry, didn’t realize how old it was, should have clarified.
GOLLY THAT WAS AGES AGO ANON.
Yeah so confusingly, there are multiple Nicaea’s. Just like there are multiple Alexandria’s because apparently Alexander the Great just got super tired of having to come up with all these new city names because his life was so haaard and he founded so maaaany. So there is the Nicaea in Iznik, and there was also this mysterious, never-discovered one in the Punjab.
THANKS FOR MAKING IT EASY FOR US, ALEX.
I’m serious guys, this is really fucking important.
Archaeological sites can only be dug up once. They want to go in with metal detectors, locate ‘treasure’, bulldoze it, and sell it. If there’s an artefact there, it’s a fucking site. It needs to be dug up properly. Everything needs to be documented. Even the colour of the fucking dirt needs to be recorded. Otherwise we lose all kinds of really valuable information and in doing so, we lose a bit of our human past. Our last tiny thread of connection with the people of the past is going to be bulldozed so Spike TV can make money.
Please please please please please go sign that petition. God knows if it will actually make a difference, but at least we’ll be making some noise. The past belongs to everyone: it’s not there so a select few get some dollars in their bank account.
I know this blog hasn’t been updated in forever and I apologise.
I will come back and write tongue-in-cheek retellings of ancient history soon.
But right now, there are still a fair number of you following, and we need numbers. Spike TV is starting a series that follows a former wrestler and a salvage crew as they decimate sites for artefacts they can sell for profit.
It’s horrible. They are going to do a hell of a lot of damage.
Please please sign this petition, you guys. The archaeological world and the world in general really needs this show to not happen.
Saturday, November 5
Friday, October 21
This is a long post because she is my spirit animal.
I can’t believe that Hollywood hasn’t made a pseudo-historical movie—in which all the actors speak with British accents and wear aesthetically pleasing costumes—about Eleanor of Aquitaine since The Lion in Winter.
Because Eleanor, my friends, is freaking fabulous.
Eleanor was born in 1122AD, known now as the High Middle Ages. It was the time of Robin Hood (a story that Eleanor, as mother of King John, is intricately connected to), the Crusades, mad impressive architecture, and French people.
And out of the land of said French people came William X, Duke of Aquitaine.
In the eventual movie of Eleanor’s life, I think her father William (Guillaume?) will play a significant role. William was a patron of arts and literature and music. This is pretty fab, since practically no one apart from monks read much back then.
"I cannot wait for someone to invent fanfiction."
Eleanor was his oldest child. Born Aliénor d’Aquitaine, she must have shown a spark of intelligence young. William ensured her thorough education: she was taught not only in both forms of Old French (les langues d’oïl et les langues d’oc), Latin, the arts, and presumably politics, but also in horseback riding, hunting, and hawking.
Like a boss.
Eleanor’s mom and brother died when she was six, putting her in line to inherit Aquitaine, the biggest and most pimpin’ of France’s provinces.
When Eleanor was fifteen, her father set out on a pilgrimage from which he would never return. At fifteen freaking years old, Eleanor became one of the richest and most marriageable people in Europe.
Also the most kidnappable, because stealing an heiress meant stealing a title, back in the good old days. Her father, to protect his daughter, had arranged that upon his death, Eleanor would come under the protection of Louis VI of France—the goddamn king.
Unfortunately, Louis was far more concerned about securing the rich as balls duchy of Aquitaine for himself than he was about the grieving Eleanor. Instead of, you know, protecting her, he married her to his son and took her lands.
That was a jerk move and I’m therefore glad that history remembers you as ‘Louis the Fat’.
William died in April. Eleanor was married to Prince Louis by July. By August 1st, the king had died and Eleanor was now the Queen of France. She gave birth to a daughter some years later.
Eleanor was twenty-three when the Second Crusade began. Not one to sit idly by while the men went on jolly crusade, Eleanor got Aquitainian soldiers and her ladies, and journeyed with her husband to the Holy Land.
The Second Crusade is one of history’s most brutal disasters.
It must have been a defining moment in Eleanor’s life. She would have seen so many things she had never seen before, from life in Byzantium to fields of dead soldiers. Her husband’s failures as a military leader clearly tortured Eleanor: she was imprisoned twice by him for refusing to follow his orders.
They returned home on separate ships. During storms that divided them (wow, the metaphors apparent in that sentence), both ships went missing for two months. When eventually the king and queen found one another again, the filed for annulment with the pope.
The pope, instead, made them sleep with each other.
"You have GOT to be kidding me."
They thus conceived their second daughter.
With no sons and that whole imprisonment thing between them, the King and Queen annulled their marriage in 1152. Eleanor was thirty. She got her lands back; Louis got her daughters.
Eight weeks later, Eleanor was married to Henry II, Duke of Normandy.
And thus begins the history of one of the most storied families ever. Welcome, dear readers, to the House of Plantagenet.
Two years later, Henry was King of England.
Henry and Eleanor fought and had affairs and incited rumours and fought some more, but over thirteen years they managed eight children. Three of her sons— Henry the Young, Richard the Lionheart, and King John—would be kings.
Eventually, though, the incessant fighting and adultery stopped being sexy and started being annoying, so when Eleanor was forty-five, she peaced to Poitiers.
According to the stories, it is here that Eleanor and her daughter Marie (from her marriage to Louis) encouraged the growth of arts, literature, music, troubadours, courtly love in a court of their own making. Compared to her early days, this would have been a quiet life for Eleanor, free of political intrigue and war.
So of course, it didn’t last.
Eleanor was fifty-one when her sons rebelled against their father. (When you’re the kid of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, you’re allowed to have a rebellious streak). For her encouragement of their revolt, Eleanor was imprisoned by Henry. She would remain imprisoned for sixteen years.
When the revolution failed and Henry the Young died, Eleanor was finally granted some freedom (though she would remain under control of a custodian). Henry died when Eleanor was sixty-six.
With his father’s death, Richard the Lionheart—Eleanor’s favourite son—ascended the throne. Among his first acts was so eradicate any remaining traces of surveillance from his mother’s life. While Richard was in France, Eleanor ruled England in his name.
"Don’t worry, guys—my mom’s got this."
Eleanor would live to see Richard’s death and the ascension of King John to the throne. In 1201, exhausted by never-ending disputes and wars, Eleanor declared herself a nun and retreated from the public sphere. She died three years later at the age of eighty-two.
Eleanor is a woman who took control of her life and incited some serious change. She directed the course of history and created a powerhouse family (that, granted, liked to stab each other). She was contrary and moody and influential and powerful and—as we see by her reactions during the Crusade and her later retreat from public life—very, very human. This is one amazing woman.
TL;DR: Eleanor of Aquitaine was a bad ass.
So if any screenwriters want to get on making this movie, that’d be much appreciated.
Monday, October 17
A note about wearing gloves when handling ancient books.
This is a controversial topic, and since there are over a dozen comments concerning it on that last post we made, here’s a note about it.
Gloves are not considered mandatory in all places when handling ancient material. There is an awesome article about it here (see page four), but these are the main concerns:
- they lower the wearer’s dexterity
- they can be as contaminated as bare skin
- wearing gloves warms the hands and ups the skin’s sweat production
The article linked to above recommends washing hands before handling old books.
But. There are exceptions to every rule, and there will always be those who say that gloves should be mandatory in archives. What do you guys think?