Category Archives: history
This past summer came news of possible interbreeding between early Homo sapiens (modern humans) and other groups, possibly of different but related species. This is in addition to the possible and much-disputed hybridization with Neanderthal Man. Admittedly I’m a little late on this–I was deep into “Legends of the Fall” at the time, and somehow overlooked this fascinating news, which I should have incorporated at the time. Oh, well–better late than never.
The first story indicates a possibility of mixing between modern humans and the so-called Denisovan hominin. Denisovans were discovered only four years ago, and the remains are still fragmentary. Nevertheless, DNA analysis indicates the Denisovans to be distinct both from modern humans and from Neanderthals, though they seem more closely related to the latter. This analysis also indicated Denisovan DNA exists in modern populations, too, especially Melanesians and Australian Aborigines. This would indicate some interbreeding between early modern humans and Denisovans.
The second story indicates hybridization between early modern humans and one or more unknown species or subspecies in Africa. In this case there are no physical remains such as bones; rather, patterns of DNA unlike any other human (or Neanderthal) DNA have turned up in some African populations. This is interpreted as indicated hybridization with some other unknown group or groups–quite likely, given the large number of early hominids in Africa. What is surprising is the relative recentness of this interbreeding–as recently as 20,000 years ago, long after other populations had already left Africa.
This is still more evidence that while all humans today have common ancestors in the relatively recent past, there were nevertheless many different groups that contributed to the human genome, and not all original populations necessarily had a single origin. More and more we see the need to rethink traditional theology in regard to the Fall and the origin of humanity.
I wrote the following essay a few years ago after seeing the Mel Gibson movie about the American Revolution, The Patriot. Enjoy!
From 1957, in the old-fashioned style of Hollywood sword-and-sandal (or turban) epics of the day. Let’s say that its portrayal of our Patron is–loose–but it’s still fun in the way only big Technicolor epics can be. Despite the lettering around the edges, it is in English, by the way! Enjoy!
Having watched the movie The War Lord, which is reviewed elsewhere in this site, I got me to thinking about the so-called “right of first night”. This is a major plot element in the movie, as it also is in the movie Braveheart. Also, as is less well known, it is one of the most controversial topics of Medieval history. I thought therefore that it would be of interest to discuss this issue in the context of its times and with reference to its factualness.
To begin with, I would first like to sketch the basic outlines of how feudal society works, in order to have the proper context for understanding the “right of first night”. Most movies are abysmal in correctly portraying Medieval politics (an area in which The War Lord succeeds very well, incidentally) and show little or no understanding of feudalism. Sadly, even most schools and history classes and many books and novels don’t do much better. Thus, a little Feudalism 101 will not be a complete digression. Read the rest of this entry
This isn’t quite in the same vein as my earlier “Plato or Aristotle”, that is, in terms of asking preferences. Rather, it’s more about our society’s imagination and “preference” if you want to put it that way. In case you’re interested, if I were asked this as a preference, my answer would be “Egypt”. Let’s move to the main subject, though.
I’ve been reading Our Gods Wear Spandex and The Cult of Alien Gods of late, and Egypt comes up tangentially in both. That got me to reading some of my books on Egyptian archaeology and mythology; and that got me to thinking. The two oldest Western cultures are Egyptian and Mesopotamian. I’m not going to go to much trouble to defend the term “Western”. Egypt is in Africa, and Mesopotamia in what is now usually termed the “Middle East”, of course. However, historically they have both had extensive contacts with the Mediterranean and later the Greco-Roman world, especially from the Hellenistic Era onward. Since both were absorbed into the Arabic/Islamic world from the 7th Century onward, we tend to think of them both as “Middle Eastern”; but for millennia the two cultures exercised profound influence on what would become the West. Certainly there are long connections and cultural commonalities of a type not seen in our relationship, say, with the also-ancient Chinese culture, or for that matter with the better-known (in Antiquity) but still distant culture of India. Thus, “Western” they are for this essay. Read the rest of this entry
Here’s another essay of mine dealing with the weapons of ancient Greeks, written to compliment the essay on Roman swords. I will be concentrating on the era from about the 7th to 4th centuries B. C.
Like the Romans, the Greeks used swords as backup weapons for close fighting in the later part of battle. Spears were the main weapons used, and siege technology, though extant, was not as sophisticated as it became later in Roman times. Still, the Greeks had a wider variety of swords than the Romans and had a higher regard for them in general.
Early Greek swords are similar to the gladii of the later Romans and the short swords used by the Celtic tribes. These Greek swords were about 1 ½ feet in length and made originally of bronze, and later of iron. Like the gladius, they were relatively simple and tapered outward. Unlike the gladius, which tapered inward to a “waist” and then outward to the point, the Greek swords had a gradual taper from the pommel all the way to the point. Also unlike the gladius, the Greek sword had a true crossguard, unlike the broad wooden cuplike pommel of the Roman sword. The Greek swords thus resemble the cruciform medieval short swords.
These Greek swords were double-edged and could be used for cutting, stabbing, hacking, and slashing. Later, the Greeks picked up various types of curved swords from the Persians and other eastern tribes. At the time of the Battle of Thermopylae, when Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans held off the cream of the Persian army, such swords were in wide use. The Spartans used a sword that was tip-heavy, single-edged, and curved slightly forward. The crossguard projected only downward (toward the edged side of the blade). This sword was mainly a slashing and hacking sword, and often had elaborately carved handles in the shape of birds or other creatures. It looked much like the later swords known as falcatas or falchions, or like the modern-day kukri swords of the Gurkha regiments of the British army.
The Greeks also had a sword much like a modern saber, although the Greek version was somewhat shorter. This was used to some extent by horsemen, although the preferred weapon of cavalrymen was the lance or the bow. Keep in mind that this is almost a millennium before the introduction of the stirrup to the West. Thus, swordplay from horseback was limited, as was thrusting with lances (which were usually thrown), since the rider would be in danger of being unhorsed. Some such fighting did occur, of course, but it was less common than in the Middle Ages. As noted, bows were sometimes used from horseback, but this style of fighting was more characteristic of the Persians and the related Parthians and Scythians.
Swords used by the Greeks, and by ancients in general, were much shorter than the giant two-handed swords used in the Middle Ages. First, even hoplites, the most heavily armored soldiers of antiquity, were far more lightly covered than even a bankrupt knight. There was thus much less for the foe to cut through. Second, steel (as opposed to mere iron) was not perfected and commonly diffused for several centuries. Thus, the technological limitations made really efficient long swords hard to make and brittle and ineffective for combat use. This is why swordplay was not developed to the art form it later became in Renaissance Europe—the relatively primitive technology made it counterproductive to do much more than simple stabs, slashes, and parries, and the spear-centered strategy left the sword in a position of secondary importance anyway. Thus in a TV show such as Xena: Warrior Princess, the general size and shape of the swords depicted is accurate, and the battered, nicked, rusty blade of the heroine rings true, but the flashy martial-arts style of combat shown is far from anything the Greeks and Romans ever did!
I wrote this essay awhile back as a tie-in to my review of the movie Gladiator. Hopefully it will be of interest for the history buffs out there.
This essay is a brief discussion of the swords used by the Romans of the early Imperial period, especially as shown in the movie Gladiator. The accuracy shown there, by the way, is very high. Now, though, let us consider in greater detail Roman swords and their uses.
The basic sword used by the Romans was the gladius. This was a one-handed shortsword, the blade being about 1—1 1/2 feet long, and the handle about 10 inches in length. The blade narrowed slightly towards the middle, and broadened again near the point. The crossguard was a single piece of rounded wood about the same width as the blade. Thus in appearance the gladius is more daggerlike than the cruciform swords with which we are more familiar. As should be obvious, “gladiator” derives from gladius, meaning literally “swordsman”. Also, the gladiolus flower takes its name from this, the name meaning literally “little sword”, which, indeed, is the shape of the leaves. Read the rest of this entry