King So-and-So the “_____”

Throughout history, kings have gotten additional titles.  They collected them like Pokemon, with “the strong” and “the just” and “the conqueror” being added on to dozens of names for kings.  What has fallen to the wayside in history is the glorious list of added namesakes that the kings wanted to hide from the annals of time.  Most interestingly is that you can trace the feelings of groups at the time based off the names for the monarchs that survived.  The modern translation would be stumbling across a tape a hundred years from now that had Fox News calling Reagan the greatest, or Obama a terrorist, or MSNBC calling George Bush a lackwit.  The feelings of the political climate can be extrapolated from the names that are given to the leadership

The perfect example of a terrible title to add was James II of England, “the be-shitten” or “the shit”.  Named so because he abandoned Irish allies in one of his military endeavors, the Irish took to calling him James the shit.  Sviatoplok I Vladimorovich of Kiev was known as Sviatopolk the Accursed because of his actions to take the throne.  Born one of the lesser claimants to the throne of Bulgaria, he ordered the assassination of three of his relatives and went to war with his younger brother to grab at the title of King.

There was an Eric II of Norway who had a weak relation with the Church of the era, leading to his nickname being Eric, Priest Hater.  Wladyslaw of Poland was nicknamed “elbow high” because he was short (while likely taller than an elbow, his political acumen can be gathered by the knowledge that he did little more than be short.  His son by comparison was known as “Casimir the Great”)

Ivaylo of Bulgaria was known as Ivaylo “of the cabbage” because he was a peasant who led a rebellion and dreamed of becoming a great king.  Because peasants were farmers at the time, his title was one to hail back to his origins.  There were a shocking number of obvious titles added to names, “Louis IV, the German” was a German monarch who became the Holy Roman Emperor.  Similarly, there were two kings who were known as “the purple-born” because of umbilical cord issues at birth.

Other titles described features that were striking, Edward Longshanks was said to be 6’4″ or taller, and was known as such because he was all leg.  Fredrick I “Barbarossa” was called that because of his red beard.  Barbarossa was Italian for redbeard, but in German he was known as “Kaiser Fredrick Rotbart”.  Louis of Aquitaine was called Louis the Fair, or Louis the Debonaire because he was a 9th century heartthrob.

By contrast, many people believe that the toilet has become known as the John because of King John the first of England.  John snagged the throne from his elder brother during the crusades and lost large amounts of power when he was forced to sign the Magna Carta.  The legend is that the toilet was known as the John because King John died of dysentery after losing the power of the English Monarchy to the Nobility, but the actual truth is that the toilet is known as a John because the modern flush toilet was invented by John Harrington in 1596 (produced by Thomas Crapper as well).

Names are quite important, they are what primarily designate your memory in history.  Remember that.

Citations:  (Through this you can find the links to any of the monarchs I talked about, and by searching their names online you can find out more about them individually)

The Biggest Things Anybody Ever Lost

Everybody knows the feeling of losing their car keys or wallet, the drop in the pit of the stomach as you realize that you’ve left something you always told yourself you would never leave behind.  In the grand scale of things, car keys are an understandable thing to lose, given that they are tiny.  When things begin to get bigger, it becomes a little more odd that the object would just… disappear.

One of the most famous “lost” things is the continent of Atlantis.  Everybody has heard of it, some sort of a crazy island state that just sank into the ocean one day.  We owe that account to Plato and his writings about a city state in the ocean bigger than Asia Minor, safe from harm and blessed by the gods.  Plato wrote the version of it in 349 BCE, saying that the city was punished and an earthquake turned the entire continent into an impassable mud flat in the ocean.  Early Christian writers somehow glommed onto the idea of Atlantis, and wrote about how the city was destroyed because of their pagan ways.  Since that time, historians and treasure hunters have been scouring the ocean floor for the lost city.  Nobody has found it, though there are many hypothesis and several National Geographic specials about archaeologists and historians who “found the lost city”.

Next to Atlantis is the continent of Mu.  Believed to be found in a Mayan codex, the concept of the proto-civilization of mankind was spread by Augustus Le Plongeon in the late 1800s.  Plongeon claimed to have translated the Mayan writings using the de Landa alphabet (since that time, we have found that Mayan language was iconographic like hieroglyphics, not translatable using an alphabet) and found the writings to describe the origin of Mayan civilization coming from the continent of Mu.  He said it was somewhere in the Pacific Ocean and when the country was sunk into the waters, refugees from it spread about and began to populate the world in the other locations of great civilizations, Egypt, South America and Asia.  While researchers have found some oddly hewn stone formations off the coasts of Japan called the Yonaguni Monuments, there is no proof of Mu.  Again though, people have been searching for the lost land for over a century.

As far as non-land based big things to lose go, there are a few:

Cambyses II, king of Persia was going to destroy an Oracle at the Siwa Oasis who angered him.  He decided to send 50,000 man to level the city, but at some point during the journey they were swallowed up whole by a cataclysmic sandstorm.  Overnight, all of them disappeared.  Recently, a pair of Italian archaeologists claim to have found the remains of the lost army of Cambyses in the Western Desert of Egypt.  While it hasn’t yet been proven that the bones and artifacts are truly Persian, expeditions are being made to try to dig up more proof.

In Rome, they had a similarly lost army.  The Legion IX from Spain (Legio IX Hispana) operated in York, England around 108.  They went north of Hadrian’s Wall in 117 and never returned.  The assumption is that the legion was crushed by the warlike peoples of Scotland who forced Hadrian to build the wall, but there is no proof or hard evidence to support that.  Names of senior officers from the 9th legion were found in other Legions in 120, so the unit could have potentially been disbanded without record, or it was splattered and the survivors who limped back to York got reassigned without mention of the 9th Legion’s shame.

In the grand scheme of things, losing a credit card is bad, but it isn’t the worst thing you could lose.


Athletic Origins: the Pole Vault

Most people have seen it happening at the Olympics; a person barreling down the runway with a twenty foot long poker, bending it into a bow and attempting to enter low earth orbit.  When seeing something so foreign to most everyday actions, the first question many people ask is: “who first thought that would be a good idea?”  Depending on who you ask, the answer could be anything from the Ancient Irish to Egyptian soldiers to Industrial Age Germans.

Images of Egyptian soldiers scaling walls using poles are considered the oldest record of pole vault humanity has ever done, but they amount to little more than simply climbing slabs of wood to get over ramparts.  Aside from that, the oldest records that involve something akin to the pole vault are found in the 12th century book of Leinster.  The book described the 1829 BCE Taliteann games in Ireland, where men would compete in nearly everything (Spear throwing, pole vault, singing, you name it, the Ancient Irish claim to have done it.)  The only issue with the Book of Leinster’s version of Pole Vault’s origin is that the first Taliteann games were more or less legends.  3000 years of time passing between the events and the recording allows for a certain amount of artistic liberty to be taken with the accounts.

5th century BCE Greek imagery found on some pottery depicted men preparing to use poles to spring onto a horse, and the Greek word for pole vault roughly translated to spear high jump.  Pole vault as a whole was not considered a sport, more a method of ambulation because it would allow an individual to get higher or farther than normally possible with a simple stick.  French and English commoners were known to use rods of wood to leap over small rivers and streams; but it was not until much later that the pole vault became a sport.  It took Johann GutsMuths the father of modern Gymnastics to make Pole Vault an official thing.  In 1792, when he produced his book on how youths should exercise, he had a small section on how to pole vault detailing how to hold the sticks, how to run and how to jump.  Prussia at the time was the world’s leading military superpower, with better troops, better training and better leaders than anybody around them.  Because the Prussians were the bar standard for nearly anything military during that era, things they proscribed (such as exercises and youth programs) were immediately copied by the rest of Europe and America.  Within 60 years, the vault was being done in the English Games and intercollegiate sports; and within 100 years, it was an accepted event in the Olympics (women didn’t get to vault Olympically until 2000, 108 years later).  America led the sport with a 16 Olympic gold sweep, winning from 1896 all the way until 1968.  With 45 Olympic medals to their name, the United States are the winningest nation in Olympic Pole Vault.

As the current numbers stand, the original Gold medal height in Pole Vault was 3.3 meters, roughly 11 feet.  The current record for men is 20 feet, 2.5 inches, 6.16 meters off the ground.  For such an odd sport, a surprising amount of effort and skill has gone into raising the bar.

The most famous two examples of the vault:
~10 BCE: Roman poet Ovid describes a goddess escaping earth by sticking a spear into it and “taking off for the heavens”.

July 1, 1520: Pedro de Alvarado, injured and fleeing from Aztecs angry over the murder of Montezuma, sticks his lance into the ground and blasts himself over a gap in a causeway and out of the clutches of his pursuers.  His crazy leap became known as the “Salto de Alvarado”,


I Wasn’t Kidding About the Jumping Over Rivers Thing, the Dutch do it Professionally Now:

Pole Vault!:

History of a Holiday: Why Eggs and Bunnies on Easter

For a holiday that is supposed to be about rebirth of Christ, it seems odd that the holiday has become so associated with candy, rabbits and eggs.  Coming at the end of Lent, most people think of Easter as a firmly religious holiday that has a totally secular bent to it.  The truth behind it is that Easter is a Pagan holiday/festival that was absorbed into the Christian faith and later absorbed into secular society.

Easter was originally celebrated two days after Passover, so it would arrive any day of the week given the year.  It wasn’t until 338 when Emperor Constantine declared that the day would happen on Sunday that the day was given a solid date.  More than that, the name “Easter” has little to do with Christianity.  Easter loosely correlates to the old Germanic word for dawn, and more than that, to the goddess of the dawn.  Eostre was the Pagan goddess heavily associated with Spring and Fertility, and festivals for her were held roughly around mid April.  The holiday slowly distanced itself further and further from the original traditional meaning and timing.

As for why we have eggs, the egg has long been an incredibly important object in religion and culture because of its miraculous ability to bring forth life from a lifeless container.  Originally, Christians were thought to have painted eggs red, allowing them to signify both the blood of Christ and his escape from the tomb at the Resurrection.  Another reason why the egg may have become integrally linked to Easter was that the Church forbid the consumption of eggs during lent, so the day lent ended (Easter) would be marked by a moment when people were allowed to chow down on them without God frowning.

With time, other symbols got added to the holiday (Eostre was said to have a small horde of bunnies who carried the light of dawn across the sky) and the Hare got permanently tangled into the mythos of the Easter holiday.  Hares were long thought to be hermaphrodites who represented fertility and life; so their connection to the holiday that represented fertility and life was a short stretch.  In the 1700s, German families in America told their children that they would be visited by the “Oschter Hase” if they were good and it would lay brightly colored eggs for the good children.  Kids would build small nests for the Rabbit to lay its eggs in and over time, that evolved into egg hunts and baskets full of candies.  Jelly beans and chocolate eggs made their break into the holiday tradition in the early 1800s (and the 1930s for the Jelly beans) in large part simply because of their shape.  Easter shaped candy is a multi-billion dollar business these days simply because of the raw expenditure on sweets.

As a fun little parting tidbit, in other parts of the world, the Easter Bunny is not necessarily a bunny.  Australia has the Easter Bilby (kinda looks like a ratsquirrelmouse) while Germany has everything from the Easter Fox to the Easter Stork.  Some kids even get eggs delivered by an Easter Cuckoo.


Citations; eggcelence in reference:

Oldest Joke in the Book

If you’ve ever watched a comedy from the 60s or read a comedian’s sketches from the past, it always seems like humor was more tame in the past.  When George Carlin explained the seven things you can’t say on TV, it was a shock.  Comedy now has few qualms about going to the farthest corners of social commentary that we can imagine; but it would surprise most to learn that raunchy jokes have been around since society began.

The oldest joke on record was a Sumerian pondering from 1900 BCE.  It goes as follows: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”  While not exactly a humorous joke by most standards, the concept behind it still finds its way into modern humor, as we find many a person yukking it up about farts 4,000 years later.  In 1,001 Arabian Nights, a similar story hits the pages.  The Tale of Abu Hasan describes a man who just got married.  He meets with his guests and has a grand time, his new wife retires to the bedroom and after a short while he declares he will as well.  As he stands up, he lets fly the longest and loudest trouser cough that Arabia had ever seen, “that echoed from wall to wall and silenced every voice in the room”.  His guests resume conversation and he bolts.  He runs to India.  So embarrassed was he, that he spends the next 10 years in India, until finally he decides to return home.  When he gets there, he hears a small boy ask his mother what year he was born in, to which she replies “Oh, that’s easy, my dear, you were born in the year that Abu Hasan farted!”  This in a book that is considered a timeless piece of literature.  Not only that, the act of breaking wind finds its way into Don Quixote, Canterbury Tales, Mark Twain and dozens of other famous pieces of literature.

In Iraq, archaeologists found a tablet that was engraved in 1500 BCE.  A perfect example of how 3.5 millennium can shift the understanding of humor.  Translation differences and simple changes in how a phrase is turned have made the riddles all but unsolvable to a modern mindset.  It contained classic joke riddles we all know and love like:

Like a fish in a fish pond, like troops before the king.    The answer: A broken bow.  The thought is that a fish in a fish pond is useless, just like how troops who don’t fight and simply guard the king are useless.  Therefor, the most clearly useless thing to a Bronze Age Babylonian would have been a bow that could not shoot.

The deflowered girl did not become pregnant.  The undeflowered girl became pregnant.     The answer: Auxiliary forces.  Honestly, your guess is as good as mine.  I literally have no idea what this one could possibly mean.

Perhaps the most important find of the century, the tablet also had the following: “…of your mother is by the one who has intercourse with her.”  Ancient Babylon was the original home of the “your mother” jokes.  If Babylon gets the medal for inventing “your mother” jokes, England gets the prize for inventing “that’s what she said”, when they used the phrase “said the actress to the Bishop” in the late 1800s.

Citations, for the petrified imagination: