Meaning of the Cards

The deck of playing cards has a lengthy amount of symbolism behind it.  From Suicide Kings to One Eyed Jacks, the cards hold stories that have slowly fallen into obscurity.  To begin with, we know that playing cards were introduced into Europe some time around 1377 because that year marked the first time governments started banning card games as a form of gambling.  Cities who were trying to police the vices of their citizens had banned dice and chance games, but until 1377 (a German monk talked about the introduction of cards in “the year of our lord MCCCLXXVII”) that cards were banned in the cities of Florence and Basel.

The original deck of cards was similar to the current version, but had minor variations.  Some of the first sets of cards were split into the suits of Cups, Coins, Swords and Batons.  Over time, the Coin became the Diamond, the Cup became the Heart, the Sword the Spade and the Baton the Club.  German cardmakers took to using leaves, bells and acorns as symbols because they resonated more with their culture.  Speculation has been made that the suits represented classes of society; for example, the Bell suit in the German card sets was meant to represent hawking bells, a sport only accessible to the nobility.  Spades in French card sets represented a spearhead, signifying that it belonged to the warrior class (middle nobility).  The same applied to things like the clover (club) and acorn, because they were pig food and represented the peasantry.

Early versions of the cards had identification written on their sides.  Kings were thought to represent Solomon, Augustus, Constantine and Clovis, famed emperors and kings that all people would recognize.  However, in the late 1500s, the cards were standardized so that the king of Hearts would always be Charlemagne, Clubs would be David, Diamonds would represent Caesar and Clubs would represent Alexander the Great.  For some reason, we don’t know who the Queens are supposed to represent.  They bounced between wives of kings, women of the bible, and famous figures like Joan of Arc.  The Knaves or Knights in the deck were typically representative of famous knights from folklore: Lancelot, Ogier, Hector and La Hire.

Even the Aces in the decks of cards have some history behind them.  For example, the Ace of Spades is always the most ornate of the aces for the reason that it was the only card in a playing card deck that was taxed.  Because of the large amount of white space around the cards, the ace was able to be stamped as a taxed good.  For that reason, many people at the time took to purchasing 51 card decks with all the cards except the Ace of Spades.  The phrase “not playing with a full deck” is believed to have come from this era because people found themselves a single card short of a real game to avoid the taxation.


The World’s Smallest Invasion

In 1943, the British set up a naval fortress about 7 nautical miles off the coast of Suffolk.  It was built to house around 300 soldiers and ward off German aircraft trying to damage England during World War II.  The fortress never really saw any military activity and in 1956, the British abandoned it.  Fort Roughs was from that point on, technically unowned.  Fast forward to 1967, when Roy Bates took the unoccupied fortress by force.  Roy Bates was a pirate radio man, meaning he was an illegal broadcaster on the airways (he ran Britain’s Better Music Station).  When he decided to take over Fort Roughs, one of his first actions was to declare the small concrete structure a sovereign nation.

Because of British law at the time, Bates’ Hail Mary was a success, and because of the distance from British shores, Fort Roughs was rebranded as “The Principality of Sealand”, with Roy as Prince Roy of Sealand.  The true birth of Sealand was actually the next year, when Prince Roy’s son, Prince Michael, took some potshots at engineers surveying the waters near the base.  Evidently because the engineers were making catcalls at Princess Penny, Michael decided that shooting at them “to scare them off” was the best course of action.  When he was arrested and brought to court, the British court let him off Scott-free because their courts had no jurisdiction over Sealand.

Now with the backing of precedence and the British courts, Sealand was in theory, a real micronation.  Roy and his wife took to giving it an anthem, a currency, stamps, passports, all the little amenities that a real country would have.  In 1978, when Roy and his wife were away from Sealand, a German lawyer named Alexander Achenbach declared himself the prime minister of Sealand and raided the fort with a handful of Dutch mercenaries.  Landing in a helicopter, the men took Prince Michael captive for several days before releasing him to Prince Roy.  The first invasion of Sealand appeared a success from the outside.

Michael and Roy Bates, however, did not give up.  The two men hired a helicopter pilot who had worked on the James Bond franchise and struck back to take their ancestral home back.  Sweeping in under the wind at first light of dawn, the men rappelled down onto Sealand’s soil (concrete), and took back their home with a sawed off shotgun and a pistol.  Achenbach and the Dutch were taken prisoner, which led to the second time Sealand became a recognized nation.  When the nations asked the UK to get their citizens back from Sealand, the British answered that they had no sovereignty in affairs that happened in Sealand.  German officials were forced to send a host of diplomats to Sealand to deal with Prince Roy, further cementing Sealand’s status as a “semi-nation”.  Achenbach immediately went about setting up the “Sealand Rebel Government” in Germany when he returned, billing it as the one true government of Sealand living out its time in exile.  The last time the nation was semi-recognized as a real nation was during the 1982 Falkland War.  Argentina and the UK were in a spat over the little group of islands off the coast of Argentina.  During the 10 week war, Argentina attempted to purchase Sealand from Prince Roy to use as a military deterrence against the Brits during their conflict.

Food for thought: Sealand is currently for sale.  For only around $900,000,000 anyone could own a sort-of-nation that has been invaded by less than 10 men twice.


Citations, I can’t actually make this stuff up:

As French as Apfelstrudle

When people think of France, the imagery generally includes the Eiffel Tower, small towns in lush green meadows, cafes full of loitering people wearing berets, a mime perhaps; and most of the time a croissant or a baguette.  Oddly enough, the croissant, probably the most quintessentially French thing outside of Charles de Gaulle, is not French.

Go ahead and ask, “what does this picture possibly have anything to do with Gaulish puff pastries?”  Answer: this is an image of the 1683 Siege of Vienna

The word “croissant” actually ends up meaning crescent, a clever name for a crescent shaped roll of dough.  Similar to croissant, the Austrians have a food called a Kipferl, similarly crescent shaped, though the Austrian treat is usually dusted in sugar and filled with honey and almond.  The story that holds is that the French imported the Kipferl into their country around 1800 when Marie Antoinette requested the treat from her native homeland of Austria be brought into the court.  Marie Antoinette likely didn’t bring the bread to her husband’s country, but if there’s one thing people love to do in history, it’s making shaky connections between famous people and famous inventions (citation: Al Gore inventing the Internet).  Many now believe that France didn’t begin having croissants until almost 1840 when Augustus Zang opened an Austrian pastry shop in Paris.

The Austrians on the other hand were thought to have created their Kipferl treats a good 150 years before the French got their hands on them.  While there are several stories for when it happened, many point towards the siege of Vienna in 1683 as the origin point of the Kipferl.  The story is that the Viennese were under siege, unable to leave their city walls, but somewhat safe from the Ottoman army outside.  The Ottoman army began sapping the walls, digging underneath them at night to force a breach in the wall.  Legend has it that Viennese bakers, while up at the wee hours of dawn making bread, heard the sound of the digging tools and were able to alert the military about it.  The Viennese were able to counter the digging efforts and prevented it from destroying their walls.  The story is that the bakers began making small crescent shaped sweets to celebrate their victory over the Ottoman army (who had the star and crescent as their flag).

Nobody can really be sure about when the crescent roll began, or if it was actually a means of celebrating a European victory over Islamic forces, but that hasn’t stopped the legend from having an impact.  in 2013, Syrian rebels banned croissants within their territory, citing it as a symbol of oppression and a commemoration of Western victory over Muslims.


Unwhitewashed History. pt.VI

Saladin, Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb,  صلاح الدين يوسف بن أيوب.  One of the most famous figures of the 12th century.  Born in 1140~ as Yusuf, son of Ayyub; the name that the Western world knows him by actually translates to “Righteousness of the Faith”. (Basically, the only name most people know Saladin by is more like a description of him.)  Saladin’s was a Kurdish family, and devoutly Muslim; but his denomination was Sunni, during the Fatamid dynastic period (Fatamid rulers were Shia, as were most of the government officials).  Saladin climbed the ranks as a military commander of great ability; leading attacks on enemies of his Fatamid lords.File:Saladin the Victorious.jpg

After several years of successes, Saladin became the Emir of Egypt in 1169, (some accounts say the Caliph appointed him to that post because he was the weakest and youngest, so he held the least influence and stood the least threat to the throne) where he began to consolidate his power and begin passing off government positions and official jobs to family members.  After destroying a few uprisings angry about his appointment, Saladin gained a permanent foothold in North Africa.  Within 2 years of his appointment, the Caliph of the Fatamids died (or was poisoned) and Saladin took the opportunity to become the Sultan of Egypt, marking the beginning of the Ayyubid dynasty’s true rise to power.

Over the next 18 years, Saladin battled Muslims and Crusaders alike while growing his power base.  One story tells about Saladin and his political griefs with a small sect of Syrians known as the “Assassins”, led by “the wise man of the Mountain” and famous for killing Crusader leaders and officials who were deemed unfit for service.  The Assassins were servants of the Egyptian Fatamids who Saladin replaced, forcing Saladin to attack their mountain strongholds.  In the account, Saladin had guards with lights patrolling his camp and spread cinders and chalks around his tent with hopes to catch or deter assassins.  A guard noticed the cinders moving and called the other to arms.  Saladin wakes up to see a figure leaving his tent and sees that there is a warm pile of scones arranged in a pattern particular to the Assassins, stabbed through the middle with a poisoned dagger and a note telling him to shove off and stop attacking.  The story is that Saladin retreated and never really ended his dispute with them in anything more than a shaky peace.

Shortly thereafter, Crusaders began to harry Muslim pilgrims along the way to Mecca, leading Saladin to declare Jihad against the violence on the innocent.  Crushing the forces decisively, Saladin began a short march through the Crusader territory and retook nearly every city the Europeans had conquered in the First and Second Crusade.  Effectively starting the Third Crusade by himself, Saladin took back Jerusalem from the Christians after almost 90 years of their occupation.  At this point Saladin and his family began to become a well known figures in the West, known for their ability militarily, but also for vast magnanimity and honor.  When he sieged Jerusalem, his terms for the ransoms of the citizens within the city were abnormally low, requesting a small sum of money from citizens to allow their safe passage out of the city (about $50 today), but he allowed many to leave without even paying that fee.  When the city was captured 15,000 Christians were enslaved, and Saladin’s brother requested 1,000 for his own personal use.  When granted his wish, Al-Adil freed them on the spot.

After his capture of Jerusalem, Saladin began his conflict with the Third Crusade.  Most notably, Richard the Lionheart.  Richard was one of the few leaders who scored decisive victory against Saladin.  Richard and Saladin had one of history’s strangest relationships, because the two men fought each other tooth and nail; yet retained a grand deal of respect for one another.  When Richard had a horse killed underneath him in a conflict, Saladin sent him two Arabian horses with a note saying, “it is not right that a man so brave should fight on foot.”  When Richard fell ill, Saladin offered his personal physician to treat him, and Richard even talked about having Saladin marry his sister, with ownership of Jerusalem as the wedding gift.   The Treaty of Ramla in 1192 gave ownership of Jerusalem to the Muslims, while still allowing Christians to make pilgrimages to the Holy Land. File:Saladin and Guy.jpg

Saladin died shortly after the treaty, with only a small handful of silver left to his name.  In the later part of his illness, he gave nearly all of his massive fortune to the poor.  He was buried in a simple wooden tomb, but his memory lived on.  Western tales about him began to spread (Dante made him one of a small number of Virtuous pagans in Purgatory) while Arabic accounts of him were written to focus on his magnanimity.  Stories about his magical ability to inspire trust, his simplicity in clothes and diet, his passion for theology, and his surprising ability to forgive all painted an image of the leader as the great leader and honorable enemy of Christiandom.