Unwhitewashed History, pt.III

Round three of this set.  Just as a proof that not all historical figures who are brought up in this segment are successful or clever in what they do.

Xerxes I: So Powerful He Punished A RIVER
The Emperor of Persia from 486-465 BCE, Xerxes has recently gained a degree of face time in pop culture with the release of 300, the film that somehow managed to gratuitously protray everything.  Not exactly a 7 foot tall golden Goliath coated in rings and piercings, Xerxes was not the eldest son of Darius I of Persia.  By tradition, this would mean that he was not destined to rule, but Darius married Xerxes’ mother to solidify his power as emperor, making Xerxes the child of royalty and a symbol for the cohesion of the Persian Empire.  His father left for Egypt to put down a revolution in 486, and true to Persian tradition, he chose his successor and built his tomb before leaving (just in case he died while there).  Xerxes was chosen and when Darius died in 486, he became the true emperor of Persia.  He charged the Egyptians and splattered a couple uprisings in Babylon before setting his sights on Athens.  Making it his target, Xerxes gathered his forces to invade.  Ordering the creation of a massive pontoon bridge across the Hellespont for a land invasion into the Greek lands and a channel to be dug for the naval forces, Xerxes began his quarrel in 480.  A storm happened to completely destroy his bridge across the Hellespont, and according to Herodotus, Xerxes ordered the river to get 300 lashes and fettered.  So men went wading into the water to “punish” it for ruining his plans.  Herodotus also wrote that there were whispers about him trying to brand the river by wedging red hot pokers into the waves, all the while the torturers were supposed to say “Thou bitter water, thy master lays upon thee this penalty, because thou didst wrong him not having suffered any wrong from him: and Xerxes the king will pass over thee whether thou be willing or no.. Thou art a treacherous and briny stream.”  Yessir.  Before starting off his 15 year war with Leonidas and the rest of Greece, Xerxes decided to punish nature for stopping him.  Not content with just punishing it, he had to chastise it and LITERALLY CALL IT NAMES.  They say power does things to people…

Lu Buwei: The Man with the “Plan”
Lu Buwei was a Chinese official/merchant/scholar who was at the peak of his career, he had massive influence in the court, he was a successful general, he had the young emperor in the palm of his hand.  He gathered scholars and clever people from across China at the court and developed the Spring and Autumn Annals, basically Ancient China’s encyclopedia Britannica.  His only trouble that he had was in the Empress Dowager being somewhat free with her sexual desires (like, really really free).  While the illicit adventures of the Empress wasn’t ruining his career, rumors about Lu Buwei and the Empress fathering a child (and rumors about Lu fathering the current Emperor with the former Empress) were beginning to cramp his style and could have led to his execution.  He came up with a plan, ordering a man named Lao Ai to the court, Lao became one of Lu’s personal assistants.  Lu had Lao Ai parade around doing what he was known best for: having a huge “tool”.  Stories were that Lu had Lao wedge his thing into the center of a wooden wheel and walk around showing off his skill as a wheel axle.  As Lu predicted, the Empress was excited with the new addition to the court and he met with her in private to explain his “plan”.  He planned to accuse Lao Ai of a crime heinous enough to require castration, then bribe the man with the tin snips to “forget” his job for a day, they would then shave Lao and pluck his eyebrows.  Lao Ai then became assigned as one of the Empress’ eunuchs to “wait” on her night and day.  After fathering two of her children, Lao Ai decided he should be the rightful emperor and raised an army to take the capital city.  The Emperor Qin Shi Huang cracked down on the rebellion and Lao Ai’s ambitions.  Ai was executed, as was every single living family member of his, both his sons, and basically anybody who had any relation to him whatsoever.  The empress was placed under house arrest for the rest of her life and Lu Buwei was banished to another kingdom.  Sensing that he would be executed on arriving in a kingdom he had led armies against, Lu committed suicide and the emperor expelled every scholar from the court in a paranoid reaction to Lu’s betrayal.  Other people have said that the entire Lao Ai saga was made up as a reason for the young emperor to wrest the power from Lu Buwei’s impressive base.  The decision is up to you: was the exile of Lu because he was a politically relevant target who made ambitious decisions, or because he ordered a gigalo for the empress?

Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different, at the very least that the history of interesting people is not always super heroic.

Citations, because Lao Ai is virtually scrubbed from the history books:

Xerxes: Ever Been SO Mad You…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xerxes_I_of_Persia
http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/xerxes/g/Xerxes.htm
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/650720/Xerxes-I
http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Xerxes_I.aspx

Lu Buwei’s Shame (Seriously, there is almost literally nothing online about Lao Ai)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%BC_Buwei
http://www.as.miami.edu/phi/bio/Buddha/lubuwei.htm
http://asianhistory.about.com/od/profilesofasianleaders/p/qinshihungbio.htm

Unwhitewashed History, pt.II

Here goes for round two of the history of non-European figures who made a splash on the timeline.  Oddly enough, these two are some that most people should have heard of.  They both singlehandedly changed the course of history, and yet we know very little about either.

Musa I of Mali: The Golden King of Africa
The kingdom of Mali was successful, centered in Western Africa, it had access to both the gold and the salt trades.  This lucky happenstance of geography and resources meant that Mali was loaded.  The empire had enough money to outfit thousands of ships to send them into the Atlantic and explore (According to the Arabic historian who talks about this, the vast majority were swallowed by a whirlpool and the venture was abandoned).  They had more money than nearly any other area in Africa, and certainly more money than large swathes of Europe.  No king of Mali made that fact more clear than did Mansa Musa, the first of his name and the emperor of Mali from 1312-1337.  Musa’s most famous moment was when he, a devout Muslim, made his Hajj to Mecca.  The journey from West Africa to Saudi Arabia is rather difficult because of the Saharan Desert, which meant Musa took his escort and made the longer trip around the Sahara.  His escort consisted of 48,000 men, 12,000 slaves, some 80 camels and his baggage.  As is tradition for a Hajj, Musa began to give charitably as he journeyed.  As an aside, all of his men were said to be wearing finest silks, each of the slaves was carrying a 4 pound bar of gold, some of the men had gold staves, and each camel had between 50 and 300 pounds of gold dust.  Adjusted for inflation (keep in mind, this was in 1320~) Musa’s total value is put at around $400 Billion.  Making him, literally, bar none, the most wealthy person to have ever walked the Earth.  As Musa traveled to Mecca, he supposedly built a Mosque every place he stayed on Fridays, and passed out gold like it was a cheap parade favor.  He gave out so much gold that it totally devalued the price of gold around Egypt and caused a short spell of hyperinflation until he borrowed money from every moneylender he could find in the area to revalue the gold standard there.  It made him the only person in history to ever have total control of the price of gold in the Mediterranean.  Besides him being the richest thing to ever happen, his other importance in history?  Musa’s gold trek sparked extreme fame and stories spread like wildfire.  Europeans wishing to get in on the gold trade needed to find a way around the heavily Muslim North Africa, eventually leading to Henry the Navigator and the Genoans striving for a route around West Africa, and the European fingers in African affairs from then on.

Tamerlane
Born likely around 1336, Timur was a minor noble in a Mongol tribe that had been “Turkicized”, he pictured himself as the next heir to Genghis Khan’s glorious legacy of destruction and empire.  After a rough childhood, he sprung up in history around 1360 where he began a military career leading successful cavalry units for the Jagatai khans.  It is thought that he gained his title Tamerlane around this time when he lost fingers on his right hand and took a sword hit to the right leg which left him crippled; or he got hit with arrows in the leg and hand when stealing sheep as a young man (no real way of knowing which was the case).  Timur the lame, as Europeans called him, slowly became Tamerlane (The belief is the injury happened around 1363, because a Soviet archaeologist exhumed the body of Tamerlane and did an autopsy of it)  Tamerlane fought for the Khans but was the true power behind the throne, until in 1369, when he took to the throne himself and began his conquest as the new Khan.  For the next 25 years, Tamerlane raided and conquered.  His armies ravaged Baghdad, Karbala and Moscow, he destroyed the Silk Road for an era, and he invaded Delhi and Egypt.  Tamarlane practiced what we now call “information warfare” by sending spies out beyond his invading force to spread rumors about the cruelty and mercilessness of his armies.  The rumors would sink in and moral of the enemy would have all but disappeared by the time his forces crested the horizon to attack.  Even then, his rumors were not unfounded; thousands upon thousands of people were slaughtered by Tamerlane’s men, upwards of 5% of the world population was killed in his 25 years of conquest.  On the 25th year of his conquests in 1404, he began a war with the Ming Dynasty in China and was moving his army to invade when fever struck him and he died at 68.  Tamerlane’s empire fell with him, as they did not raid to form an empire, they raided to steal and pillage.  There was no infrastructure, so when the warlord died, as did his kingdom.  The man who once was feared beyond all other men, who killed nearly 1/20 of the world, died from a fever in 1405; his entire empire fell because it was too cold in Kazakhstan for a 68 year old khan.

Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different, like why you should never go near Russia any time after July.

Citations, Worth as much as Gold!  Ish..:

Just So We’re Clear, Musa’s Escort Had Over 72,000 Pounds of Gold:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mansa_Musa
http://www.islamlaws.com/mansa-musa-biography-birth-date-bio-history-king-of-mali/
http://www.harcourtschool.com/activity/biographies/musa/
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/world-history/meet-mansa-musa-i-of-mali–the-richest-human-being-in-all-history-8213453.html
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/king-mansa-musa-named-richest-history-article-1.1186261
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_exploration_of_Africa

Tamerlane, History’s Forgotten Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timur
http://www.reference.com/browse/Timur
http://asianhistory.about.com/od/profilesofasianleaders/p/TimurProf.htm
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/596358/Timur

Unwhitewashed Historical Figures!

If one looks at any “Top 100” or whatnot lists of most influential or most incredible people, you begin to realize just how many white faces there are.  Abraham Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth, Pope John Paul II, Henry VIII, Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, Francis Drake, Francis of Assisi (a lot of Francis’s) but very few non-European, or even non-male figures.  In large part because history is told by the victor, the White Male history that is told does seem to reinforce itself as time goes on.  Well, here at Hemlock Scholar the plan is to change that.  This will probably become a regular thing, focusing on different cultures and different professions, telling the stories about the influential men and women who are not white, male, and generally bearded.

Yi Sun-sin: Korea’s Naval Genius
Born in 1545, Yi was not a son of royalty.  He was a skilled leader from a young age, making him an excellent choice for military.  In 1576 he is said to have passed the military examination, impressing the judges with his swordsmanship and archery, he was sent to the northern border to defend against bandits.  After several years of successful campaigns against the Jurchens, Yi Sun-sin was rewarded with an appointment to the Left Jeolla Province.  Within a short time, he rocketed up the ranks, becoming the commander of the Naval District, at which point he set about reinforcing the navy of the area in 1591.  Credited with resurrecting plans to build turtle ships (Korean heavy warships, armed to the teeth, possibly armor plated) he created a small fleet of advanced fighters just as relations with Japan began to sour.  in 1592, Japanese ships launched to strike at Korea, where they harried the Koreans for nearly a decade.  The Battle of Myeongnyang is considered to be Yi’s greatest victory, occurring on October 26th, 1597, the battle began when Yi’s troops spotted over 200 Japanese warships flowing past them.  When Yi’s ships gave chase, the Japanese fleet turned and Yi found himself facing 133 warships and some 200 or more support ships with 13 of his Turtle ships.  Outnumbered 10 to 1, Yi’s fleet sank 31 Japanese ships before the Japanese retreated in the face of the slaughter.  Yi lost no ships of his own, and suffered only a handful of casualties.

Zhuge Liang: Bluffing like a Boss
During the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history, the Wei, Shu, and Wu states warred against one another for supremacy.  It is the origin of some of China’s most revered heroes and the home to a grand number of epic tales.  One of those stories focuses on Zhuge Liang, known as Kongming Wolong (Wolong literally means Sleeping Dragon.  Metal.  I know) when he was a general of the Shu army.  In the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a famous story about the era that melts legend, history and folklore together, Liang was attempting to take a Wei city, when nearby Shu forces lost to a Wei army and left Liang open to attack from the Wei army that would be bearing down on him.  The Wolong came up with a plan to avoid being destroyed, and he holed up in a small town nearby, he ordered the gates to be open and his small force hidden.  When the Wei commander came upon Liang’s position, he found the gates open and Liang sitting above the gate playing a small string instrument calmly watching them.  The Wei general commanded overwhelming troop superiority in the situation and would have splattered Liang’s small force if he had entered.  Liang had a reputation for never taking risks, so the Wei general declared the empty city must be an ambush and he retreated, allowing Liang to escape unscathed.

Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different, it doesn’t have to all be European history, there are stories everywhere!

Citations, so they’re all from Wikipedia; it was a long week, sue me:

Korea’s Favorite Sun-sin:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yi_Sun-sin
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtle_ship
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Myeongnyang
http://yisunsin.prkorea.com/imjin.htm

Wolong.  It’s Chinese for “Balls of Steel”:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yi_Sun-sin
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_of_the_Three_Kingdoms
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empty_Fort_Strategy

Interesting Everyday: Tea edition

With the bubble tea and the chia-mocha-frappa-what have yous that have taken root in the cities, we easily forget that it really is just water strained through a moist blob of plant refuse.  Tea has long been a culturally and historically relevant object, in virtually all areas of the globe now.  Not just the beverage to accompany crumpets, tea pressed along several events that drastically changed the political and economic face of the planet.

Originally discovered in China, the legend is that the Emperor Shen Nong had decreed to his citizens that they must boil water before drinking it for sanitation and medicinal reasons.  The story holds that one of two things happened that sparked the teamaking epiphany.  The first is that the Emperor was boiling water and tea leaves fell from a tree overhead, and after a light boil the monarch noticed a pleasant aroma rising from his water.  The other is that he was boiling the water with Camilla branches and somehow the leaves got into his water.  Incidentally, there is also a legend about the Buddha discovering it (as told by the Buddhists) where the proto-Buddha Indian ex-prince, Siddhartha made a pilgrimage to China.  He promised to not sleep for his entire trip, and when he finally slipped and slept, when he woke up he tore off his eyelids in shame, casting them onto the ground.  They wormed into the ground and out sprung tea trees!  Full of wonderful spices that Siddhartha strained through water and made into the first energy drink.

Legends aside, what is known is that tea formed a minor part of the local diets until around 800 BCE~ when a manual was written to standardize tea cultivation.  Prior to this writing, tea was largely used by the wealthy/gathered locally for medicinal purposes.  Standardization and discovery of other tea plants led to the Chinese public drinking larger quantities of it during the Tang dynasty.  Japanese priests studying in China slowly brought tea back to Japan, where it took root in Zen Buddhist practices as a meditation aid.

When the British trounced the Spanish Armada in 1588 they got involved in the Silk Road trade and the East India Company was formed.  The company was given a de jure monopoly of the Asian trade in England, but when men are told to not do things, they inevitably do them.  Smugglers and black markets sprung up to enter into the trade with China, and tea found a new market with the British.  When the British tea market truly took off (it was the safe version of gin, a whole different episode of British fad-craze history), the East India Company began to fund its purchases of tea from China with opium from India (another British holding that the EIC had heavy control of).  The opium was brought into China in mass quantities, and the growing number of addicts concerned the Chinese government.  Opium was banned in 1799, but English (and American) traders continued to smuggle it into the country.  In 1839, a Chinese official seized a large quantity of British opium in a warehouse and had it publicly burned to show that the government ban on opium had teeth.  British demands for reparations on their illegal smugglings were met with refusal and the Brits shelled the coasts of China until the Chinese empire was forced to surrender trade rights in 1842 during the treaty of Nanking.  These rights allowed virtually tariff free import of British goods into China as well as granting British citizens exclusive rights and privileges in China.  By 1844, France and the United States also found a way to weasel their way into the treaty and gain trade rights.

Speaking of the United States, tea finds a special location in the formation of the nation.  More than simply an organization where Americans protest governmental principles in a pseudo-libertarian way, the actual Boston Tea Party was the culmination to a long series of events and rumblings between the colonies of America and the British Empire.  During the French-Indian Wars, British attempts to take French holdings in Canada would be supported by American merchants and American levies.  Several bungles through the process led to American distrust of British troops (they never seemed to show up at the places they were supposed to) and the British distrusted Americans (the merchants refused to equip and ration troops who were not guaranteed to succeed).  To finance the massive cost of the war, Parliament organized the Stamp Act, which would tax consumer products of a huge variety.  Protests by the colony led to a repeal of the Stamp Act, but Parliament decided to keep the plan of taxing the colonists to refill their atrophied treasury.  The Revenue Acts of 1767 placed a tax on specific important commodities, among them, tea.  Colonists boycotted the process and began to smuggle the items in through Dutch traders, leading to the British repeal of all parts of the Revenue Acts except a three cent tax on tea, meant to buoy the failing East India Company.  Americans met the tax with a broadside response, burning warehouses, tea ships and forcing the reloading of tea back onto British ships; with one exception: a certain Governor Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts.  Hutchinson found a way to get his two sons positions as East India trade company sales reps.  It was in his best interest to reinvigorate the East India Company, so Hutchinson decided to meet the protests in Boston with equal force.  He blockaded the port in Boston to prevent the tea ships from leaving the port, with a British trade law in mind that would force the ship to be unloaded after 20 days in the port.  While his plan seemed iron-clad, Samuel Adams and a handful of patriots decided to avoid the offloading by dressing as Native Americans and marching to the boats.  They hopped aboard, making certain to cause no damage to anything except the tea, bashed open the boxes with tomahawks and chucked the product into the bay.

Oddly enough, the British Empire reacted poorly to American brand hooliganism and set about punishing Boston with the Coercive Acts of 1774.  More and more stringent laws and holds were placed on the colonies after the Boston Tea Party made their way to the harbor, attempting to wrest the control of the colonies from unruly colonials demanding representation in their taxation.  The rest is history.

Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different, how a product from China makes it to England, then to America, then forms a nation in America while destroying an Empire in China.

Citations, while the kettle steeps:

“All the Tea in China” is an Australian term:
http://www.chcp.org/tea.html
http://www.bigelowtea.com/universitea/history-of-tea.aspx
http://www.teavana.com/tea-info/history-of-tea
https://www.lib.umn.edu/bell/tradeproducts/tea

The EIC made sure American Tea Parties need no crumpets:
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/176643/East-India-Company
http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Opium_Wars.aspx
http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Boston_Tea_Party.aspx

The Secret of History

History is not an exact art.  That’s the first myth of academia.  In school, you learn that anything you read in a history textbook is true.  Anything you read that was said by a respectable historian is true.  Anything you read that is said by the archaeologist is true.  This is all false.  That’s the secret that they never tell you until 300 level history courses at Universities.  When it really comes down to it, history is the exalted task of educated guesswork.  The reason for this is simple: we aren’t omniscient.  History would be a fully different story if every single fact were known, it would be an exact art, nearly a science if we could trace every action and every event to another and connect every dot in the tangled web.

To explain this more simply, think of a basic historical fact; my example is from “A brief history of Chinese Civilization”, and it reads, “Founded in the Sui and increasingly prestigious during the Tang, the civil service examination system came into its own in the Song and remained the most prestigious means of government recruitment until it was abolished in 1906.”  Simple enough; it just says that examinations to become government officials began during the Sui dynasty, and became more prestigious until they were stopped in 1906.  That single line, chosen at random from a book on a bookshelf, is the result of LIFETIMES of work.  It requires archaeologists to find the Sui information, linguists to translate them, Tang historians to see it becoming more used, historians and anthropologists through the ages who can trace the examinations as they were used until finally it comes to someone who finds a political order that stops it in 1906.  Dozens and dozens of people would be needed to fully explain this single sentence, which is why history is so inexact.  We like simplicity, it’s human nature.  We cut down and condense until we can easily absorb the information.  This single line takes a lot of guesswork and does so to avoid a torrent of information to prove the line, and because of the nature of history, discounting the information because it lacks support is foolish.

Such is the same with nearly all history, even the most well researched type.  The American Civil War is particularly well documented, but even using the documentation can lead to issues.  A journal left by a soldier from Manassas does not inherently prove what happened at Manassas.  People embellish, people imagine, people write things to puff themselves up or bring others down.  A soldier saying that a torrent of troops charging down a hill swept through them like they weren’t even there could have been an account of a front line survivor, or an account of a deserter who was rounded up and needed an alibi for his lone wolf status.  History is messy, it has few certainties.

The perfect example of the failures of historical certainty is from World War II.  When the Soviets charged through Poland in 1939, they took huge numbers of Polish officers captive.  In 1940, they put around 22,000 men on trains, took them out into a forest in the Katyn region and shot them at the base of the skull before throwing them in mass graves.  22,000 men disappeared in a short time in 1940, and when the Nazi’s pressed back to invade Russia in 1943, they stumbled across the mass graves of Katyn.  Nazi propagandists began to work and began a massive inquiry into the deaths of the officers, gathering scientists and forensics experts to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Soviets executed unarmed combatants.

Within a few months, the Soviets were able to expel the Nazis from Poland and when they reached Katyn, they gathered scientists and forensics experts (in some cases the exact same experts and scientists that the Nazis used) and began a second commission where they released documentation that proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Nazis killed the officers when they took the forest area in 1943.  Two equally scientific proofs that claimed different dates of death and foul play.   We know now that the Soviets were responsible because Gorbachev released documentation in 1990 that explained the Soviet acts in 1940.  But until that time, it was simply the word of a great nation against the word of another.  America even backed the Soviet story because we required the aid of the Red Army to win the War.  Nazi officers were forced to enter into kangaroo trials to admit their guilt in the Katyn massacres.  Before 1990, if one was to look into Katyn, you would hear two separate stories being told with equal historical and scientific validity.  Polish filmmakers and the Polish government have never forgiven the Soviets for the massacre and it remains a blighted moment between the two nations.

What needs to be said is that History is not accurate.  It can be, it can be interesting, it can be fascinating, it can be gory, violent, extreme, depressing, exciting, or boring.  History is not, however, something to read and believe like one does a scientific report.  Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different, and if it changes how you look at history, don’t let it ruin your views on it.  Just remember to do your own research and make your own opinions.

Citations, so you can do your own research!

I knew keeping that history book would be useful someday:
Conrad Schirokauer and Miranda Brown, A Brief History of Chinese Civilization, second edition (Wadsworth, 2006) pg.139.

The Katyn Forest Massacre:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katyn_Massacre
http://www.archives.gov/research/foreign-policy/katyn-massacre/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-24605103
http://www.desertwar.net/katyn-massacre.html
http://www.warsawuprising.com/doc/katyn_documents1.htm
http://rt.com/news/katyn-massacre-documents-usa-816/
http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/09/11/13803333-documents-us-uk-hushed-up-soviet-massacre-of-22000-poles-in-wwii?lite
http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/the-katyn-massacre-a-crime-without-punishment-1.944225

Even the Everyday can be Interesting: History of Glass edition

The lovely thing about history and science is that we don’t realize how much of it surrounds us at all times.  For example, glass, a common mixture of Silicones, Sodiums, Soda ash, Lime and some other pieces is around us at all times.  We drink from it, we look through it, we make art from it, we use it to gaze into space and at small things, we break it at weddings and we break it during drunken fumblings.  It has become an integral part of the American lifestyle and yet it gets very little attention regardless of its ubiquity and interestingness.

Physically, glass is a curious object because it has strange chemical structures.  When molten, glass cools, it attempts to form crystal lattices that would allow it to become fully crystal (“attempts”, let it never be said that glass is doing this on purpose) .  At the atomic level, icosahedrons form and prevent the liquid glass from forming proper lattices and cause a microscopic logjam within the pattern that gives glass the property of being neither quite solid nor quite liquid.  This structuring forms the basis of why glass fractures in the conchoidal way.  It shatters in large parts that stay relatively cohesive, shearing off from each other, leaving a sharp point at the corner of the break.  The conchoidal fractures are what allow obsidian arrows and knives to be so ridiculously sharp (some circumcisions were performed with obsidian knives in the past) and what makes broken glassware such a hazard.  Even today, there is talk about using obsidian scalpels for surgery because the stone is so much sharper than steel.

The first mention of glass’ creation was given by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historica where he described Phoenician sailors on a beach in 5000 BCE who had nothing to place their cookpots on.  They chose to use the blocks of Soda Ash that they were hauling as the block and the heat of the flames caused the ash and the sand to mix, forming glass.  As is true with most Roman historians, nobody believes them anymore because they had a grand manner of embellishing all their stories and limited archaeological proof to back them up (Atlantis is still MIA, Plato…).

The oldest glassware we know was found in Egypt between 3100 and 2500 BCE, and it began a steady rise to popularity from there on.  Glassblowing was invented in Babylon in sometime around the 200 BCE and glassware began to become available to the mass public.  When the Romans took on glassmaking, the system was further streamlined and sheets of it were beginning to be produced, with some glass “windows” being found in Pompeii.  The Roman sheet glass was not, however, transparent.  It wasn’t until nearly 1000 AD that the Venetians discovered a method for producing thin and clear glass.  Thin and clear glass was wildly popular because of the use it had as windows and storefronts allowing a shop to remain fully enclosed and yet not prevent the windowshoppers from viewing it (incidentally, we likely have the Venetians to thank for the act of viewing products through windows when shopping, but the term windowshopping was not coined until the early 1900s).  The Venetians did what every great inventor has done: tried to stop others from inventing it as well.  The Venetian glassmakers guild attempted to hide their method of production to allow them the monopoly on the market for clear glass, but it was to no avail and the recipe was ferreted out and shared with the rest of the world.

There are claims that the first colored glass was used in an image in 686, though that era of glassmaking would be unlikely to have an image like the Gothic cathedrals of the 1400s.  When Americans hit the scene in the 1700s, their glass industry had huge demand for the pressed glass that colonial America decorated their homes and stores with.  Henry William Stiegel founded a glassmaking business at the ironworks he bought and named Elizabeth furnace.  Stiegel glass (not to be confused with Glass-Steagall) was opulently successful, until taxation and debt forced Stiegel to sell his forge, where it was later used to make cannonballs for the Continental army.

Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different, even if it comes from an everyday origin.

Citations, because..  Mazel tov!

Dat Glass though..:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glass#Physical_properties
http://www.livescience.com/7511-bizarre-properties-glass-revealed.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fracture_(mineralogy)
http://www.allaboutgemstones.com/gemstone_fracture.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obsidian

Pliny is fun to say:
http://www.glasslinks.com/newsinfo/histppg.htm
http://www.cmog.org/library/historia-naturalis

Timelines of Glass (you can only make glass jokes so many times):
http://www.historyofglass.com/glass-history/glass-timeline/
http://stainedglass.org/?page_id=169
http://www.texasglass.com/glass_facts/history_of_Glass.htm
http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/window+shopping

That Glass-Steagall wordplay is my proudest moment of 2014:
http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Henry_William_Stiegel.aspx