This week in history: Thespis

Photo by Sailko, used with permission under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic (CC BY 2.5)

This week in 534 BCE, Thespis of Icaria became the first person we know of to portray a character on stage in ancient Greece. He sang about myths to an audience in Athens. But rather than just narrating by song, he played the various characters in the story, using masks to differentiate them. Thespis also won Athens’ first recorded “Best Tragedy” competition. Then he took it on the road, performing in the various Greek city-states with his masks, props, and costumes. Thespis changed theatrical story-telling in the ancient world – and today, we use “thespian” as a synonym for actor, in his honor.

A Chance to Win a Paperback Copy of The Jericho River

Happy New Year! Rockin’ Book Reviews, a great book site, is doing a contest/giveaway for a paperback copy of my book, The Jericho River, A Novel About the History of Western Civilization. It’s open to U.S. residents and runs until January 13, 2016. If you’d like to enter, click here and scroll down to the white giveaway box (“Physical Copy of The Jericho River”).

That same page has an author interview and a great review of the book, both by Lu Ann Worley.

The Magic of History

Last year, I spoke at a TEDx Youth conference — to an audience of smart, motivated high school students. My topic was the magic of history. I told the students many of my favorite short stories from past times. I wanted to reveal history’s endless well of fun, excitement, and humor, and to explain how reading history might enrich the kids’ lives. The message applies with equal force to adults and to younger kids. Check it out:

(Don’t be confused by use of the name “David Carthage” on the screen. It’s a former pen name.)

—————

© 2013 by David W. Tollen. All rights reserved.

History’s Worst Governments Had the Most Ideology

Ideology is great stuff. It topples tyrants and fires up the citizens to achieve momentous things. But when a government adopts an ideology, it’s grim tidings for those who disagree — and for anyone suspected of disagreeing. Plus, fiercely held ideologies tie governments’ hands and lead to irrational policy choices. Ideology, in other words, is a prescription for bad government. Continue reading “History’s Worst Governments Had the Most Ideology”

Pre-Columbian Cotton Armor: Better than Steel

According to Jared Diamond, the Spanish conquered the Aztecs and Incas with guns, germs, and steel. At first blush, his conclusion seems undeniable. But I’m actually not so sure about the steel. If steel gave the Spanish such an advantage in the 1500’s, why did so many conquistadors abandon their European breastplates in favor of Aztec and Inca cotton armor?

cotton armor in action: Native Mexicans vs. conquistadors
Native Mexicans vs. conquistadors (facsimile of a mid-1500’s illustration).

Continue reading “Pre-Columbian Cotton Armor: Better than Steel”

The Unbelievable Duration of Egyptian Civilization

Imagine the Roman emperors still ruled today—and kept ruling until the year 3000 C.E. Imagine an American president still presides in the year 4800—governing roughly the same part of North America as today and operating under American traditions and laws, including the U.S. Constitution. In other words, imagine a government and society lasting three thousand years, with only the occasional interruption. That’s how long the Pharaohs reigned over ancient Egypt. Continue reading “The Unbelievable Duration of Egyptian Civilization”