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Maps That Explain the Roman Empire

September 16, 2014

I’ve stumbled across a fun resource: 40 maps that explain the Roman Empire. It’s good reading and great use of visuals.

Downton’s Mr. Bates Must Be an Assassin

September 15, 2014

I know: this isn’t exactly history. But we’ve covered Downton Abbey before (twice), on more historical topics. And I can no longer keep silent.

The cold eyes of a calculating killer?

The cold eyes of a calculating killer?

[SPOILER ALERT: This post reveals details from Downton Abbey Seasons 1 - 4.] Read more…

Speech May Have Begun with Clicks Instead of Words

September 14, 2014
A San of the Kalahari: a Khoi-San speaker

A San (f.k.a. “Bushman”) of the Kalahari

Southern Africa’s Khoi-San languages use clicks alongside more familiar consonants and verbs. Some have more than a hundred tongue-made ticks, clops, troks, and other sorts of clicks, giving them around 150 sounds. That’s more than any other language. (Compare the paltry 44 sounds available in English.) And that’s interesting. Languages collect sounds over time — if they don’t move around and run into lots of foreign-speakers who pressure them to simplify. So 150 sounds suggests an extremely old language. Plus, the Khoi-San languages have a very wide range of structures and grammars. That suggests they’ve had no common ancestor for a long time — that they go way back. Read more…

Russia’s Romanov Czars Might Not Have Been Romanovs

September 12, 2014
Paul I of Russia: the first pseudo-Romanov?

Czar Paul I of Russia: the first pseudo-Romanov?

It’s possible Russia’s 19th and 20th Century czars didn’t really belong to the imperial family. They were called Romanovs, members of the dynasty that had built the Russian Empire, but for some the name rang false. The last undoubted Romanov, Czar Peter III, married a German princess in 1745. History remembers her as Catherine the Great. History also remembers Catherine’s extramarital affairs. The czar was sexually uninterested or even incapable, so Catherine enjoyed serial monogamy with a long list of lovers, starting with an officer named Sergei Saltykov. In her memoirs, she suggested that Saltykov fathered Paul I, the next czar, and some historians believe her. Read more…

Check Out the New Format

September 12, 2014

FYI, going forward, I plan a lot more very short posts: a paragraph or three. Some topics call for a detailed explanation, and we’ll still do a bit of that. But much of the history popping in and out of my head requires only a few sentences to reach the interesting part. So stay tuned! Read more…

How Scotland Can Have a Republican Head of State AND a Royal Family

August 9, 2014

On September 18, Scotland’s people will vote on whether to secede from the United Kingdom. If they vote yes, they’ll have to decide whether to keep the monarchy. Some favor a “personal union” in which the Queen remains head of state. Others want a sovereign republic: an end to the monarchy in Scotland. It’s a hard choice, and the struggle will create division and resentment, just when the new state needs unity. But the Scots don’t have to choose. They can keep their connection to the monarchy while establishing a sovereign republic with its own president. Here’s how. Read more…

“300” Got It Wrong: Persian Rule Might Have Benefitted Ancient Greece, and Western Civilization

August 7, 2014

During the early 400’s B.C.E., the Persian Empire twice tried to conquer ancient Greece. An alliance of city-states fought back, led by Athens and Sparta, and against seemingly impossible odds, the little cities defeated the greatest empire the world had ever known. Westerners have long credited the Greeks’ victory with saving Western Civilization. Persian rule, they say, would have cut off the flowering of Greek culture and the development of democracy during the following century, particularly in Athens. The movies 300 and 300: Rise of an Empire bang that drum particularly hard, casting the Greeks as masculine freedom-fighters saving Europe’s future from a corrupt, effeminate Asiatic slave regime. Obviously, you can’t take the movies too seriously, but how about the widespread view behind them? Read more…


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