The Season of Pompion Pyes

The season is upon us where every coffee shop begins to sell “pumpkin spice” whatnots and most major grocery stores begin to stock up on the orange-brown goo filled pastry.

Ah 1800s Thanksgiving…  Nothing like a pumpkin pie to get your mind off the Napoleonic wars.

The pumpkin has been a part of the North American diet for thousands of years, and was introduced into the European diet shortly after Columbus made landfall and brought back the wonders of the Americas.  Native Americans had been boiling and stewing the squash for millenia, using it as a successful ward against things like scurvy and malnutrition.  Depending on the source, pepon, later called pompon, later called pompion, later still to be called pumpion, was introduced into the European diet between 1536 and 1651.  By 1651, the “Tourte de Pompion” was included into Francois Pierre La Varenne cookbook that achieved a great deal of publicity.  La Varenne wrote that you should, “Boile it with good milk, pass it through a straining pan very thick, and mix it with sugar, butter, a little salt and if you will, a few stamped almonds; let all be very thin. Put it in your sheet of paste; bake it. After it is baked, besprinkle it with sugar and serve.”

The humble pumpkin slowly gained popularity as it spread through the European subcontinent, gathering dozens of methods of preparation.  The pompion pie of the 1600s looked little like the pumpkin pies of today, one recipe called for baking the pumpkin strips with raisins, currans and sack (honestly don’t know what that is, all research for “sack spice” or “spice sack” only results in pictures of burlap) at which point the chef would put the whole shebang in a pie crust on top of a thick layer of apples.  Some New England recipes simply asked the people to hollow out a pumpkin, fill the gourd with apples and spices, then bake the amalgam of dust and goop in the ashes of a fireplace.

In 1796, the official recipe for pumpkin pie (closest to the stuff we mostly eat now) was written in The American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (who literally called herself “an American orphan” in the headline of the book)

Amelia Simmons, An American Orphan, wrote it down.  If you see something that looks like an “f” in this, it’s really just an “s”.  Thif if juft the way they wrote back then.

After 1796, the pumpkin pie simply got refined.  There were moments where people doubted the subtle power of the orange squash, but the moments passed.  For example, after the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national holiday, Southern reporters criticized the North’s strange ritualism; with one reporter saying, “This is an annual custom of that people, heretofore celebrated with devout oblations to themselves of pumpkin pie and roast turkey.” (That is correct, Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a holiday.  It was a response to the Union Victory at Gettysburg, making the “distinctly American holiday” distinctly pro-Union)  In the end, the canning revolution took hold and instant “pumpkin pie in a can” recipes began to spring up in 1929 that dramatically cut down the preparation time for the pies, further cementing the place of the pumpkin pie as the king of the Thanksgiving desert bar.



This one is about Lincoln making Thanksgiving:

Propaganda Swing

In Gene Sharp’s 198 methods of nonviolent protest, one of the ideas is “music” as rebellion.  Music has been a tool of transference of emotions and ideals since it began (the oldest known sheet music is a hymn to a sun god, praising and exalting the deity), but one of the more interesting moments in the history of music comes from World War II.
File:Entartete musik poster.jpg
A propaganda poster from 1938, depicting an Black man playing jazz and wearing a Star of David on his jacket.  It was meant to implicate the “racial inferiority of jazz music” by linking it to two populations that the Nazis actively debased.

In 1930s Germany, Hitler was on his rapid rise to power pontificating about the purity and superiority of the German people.  One of his first attacks was on the growing jazz culture of Germany.  Jazz was widely considered to be “Negro music as seen through the eyes of the Jew” (-Henry Cowell, American Jazz musician)  The jazz that Germany feared was largely a product of New York’s hip (predominantly Jewish and African American) musical atmosphere, with deep borrowings from African-American blues songs.  Hitler’s brain trust was not blind to the cultural diversity that was present in Jazz and swing music; Black musicians were banned from performing, followed by a ban jazz on the radios of Germany in 1935 because it was damaging to the German culture.

During this ban soldiers and citizens who were caught listening to jazz would be subjected to severe punishments, but the music found a way to survive and musicians dodged Nazi agents who tried to crack down on the playing of swing.  When the Nazi war effort seemed to be going well, the harsh bans were somewhat relaxed, allowing jazz to flourish.  In 1940, Goebbels (Hitler’s propaganda minister) formed a state-approved band called “Charlie and his Orchestra”.  The band would play a style of jazz that is now known as “propaganda swing” because of its lyrics that lauded German submarine attacks and stirred up fears that American soldiers would come and ravish England’s women (the jazz was predominantly broadcast into England, so much so that a BBC survey found that 75% of British adults had heard Nazi Jazz). (Charlie and his Orchestra music)

For more information on the German jazz bans and propaganda, look to Jazz: A History of America’s Music (Ken Burns documentary) for a fair shake on it.


State’s Rights or Slavery?

There is a story that has been circling around the news for the last month about the state of South Carolina being forced to take down a Confederate flag outside their capitol building.  The argument is that the South holds a deep history of pride in the flag and that the flag is an integral portion of the South’s national heritage.  The counter-argument is that the South was a slave holding nation for 4 years that actively fought to keep slavery.  Nobody really wants to defend the institution of slavery, so the refutation is that the South fought a war to protect state rights.  Then the discussion becomes “was the Civil War about state rights or about slavery?”

Every study of history needs to start with background before analysis can be made: In December of 1860, South Carolina seceded from the United States of America, some 20 days later, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana  followed them into the fledgling Confederate nation.  By February 1st, Texas joined the confederacy and the Civil War officially began.  Following one of the first engagements of the war, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee joined to form the 11 rebel states.  As for the causes: each state has left a declaration of their reasons for leaving the union, most of the declarations can be found online.  While these declarations may not encompass the entirety of the public reasoning for fighting the Civil War, the declarations are the true straw that broke the camel’s back and led to open war between two halves of the United States.  We begin with the herald of the war to come and their reasoning for leaving the nation:

South Carolina

South Carolina led the charge, releasing an official document declaring the “Causes of Secession” on December 20, 1860.  The document begins with explanation that since 1852, the state of South Carolina had been mulling over leaving the Union because grievances were left unaddressed and because rights were being infringed upon that the Constitution of the United States was meant to uphold.  The document explains that the state has a right to secede, as part of the American tradition.  Our Declaration of Independence makes it clear that when a people find their government to not be operating based on the consent of the public they have a right to declare independence.  (It worked in 1776, it should work in 1860, essentially)  Having established that they were guaranteed the rights to be a free and independent state when they broke free from King George’s yoke, South Carolina’s declaration explains that they feel it to be their sad necessity to do the same to the American Union. The official reasoning was that South Carolina only entered into the United States compact because of certain protections given to their people:

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of Slavery; they have permitted the open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign (steal or take) the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

The lion’s share of the reasoning for why the state left was built off the fact that Northern states were beginning to make laws that bypassed or actively broke the 4th article of the Constitution, specifically section 2 that dealt with fugitive slaves and transportation of slaves through non-slave states.  In the mid 1800s, Northern states were passing laws that officially made a slave free when they touched Northern soil, so taking a stroll into New York with your slave would lead to the accidental freeing of the slave.  The final few paragraphs of South Carolina’s declaration states:

A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the Common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that Slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

The official beginning of the Civil War, as far as South Carolina was concerned, was about slavery.  All this information is available at:


Perhaps even more clear than South Carolina, Mississippi began her Declaration of Secession in more direct terms:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth.

The document goes on to explain that “none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun”, and that removing slavery would be like taking a four billion dollar enterprise out of the state.  Mississippi lays out a list of grievances, nearly all about slavery, with the few that do not explicitly say slavery stating that the Union has failed to uphold compacts that ensured the state’s security.  There is however, an entire paragraph that explains part of their reason for leaving as the North lionizing John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry when he tried to start a slave revolt.  Mississippi’s declaration explains that as a failing of the guarantees of security that the American Constitution promised them.

Read it for yourself, make your own opinions:


Florida’s Declaration of Causes finds similar purchase for their reasons to leave the Union.  John Brown is first cited as a terrible man who should be criminalized rather than lauded.  Perhaps my personal favorite reason for leaving the Union, “A President has recently been elected, an obscure and illiterate man without experience in public affairs or any general reputation mainly if not exclusively on account of a settled and often proclaimed hostility to our institution and a fixed purpose to abolish them.”  Florida’s main beef was about the official decision to not allow more slave states to join America.  Their claim was that half the money and half the manpower that went into exploring and buying the new territory was Southern, so half the land gained should be pro-slavery.  The Floridians feared that the nation was trying to smother slavery over time.  Their final fear was that free Africans would be criminal and lazy.

What must be the condition of the slaves themselves when their number becomes so large that their labor will be of no value to their owners.  Their natural tendency every where shown where the race has existed to idleness vagrancy and crime increased by an inability to procure subsistence.  Can any thing be more impudently false than the pretense that this state of things is to be brought about from considerations of humanity to the slaves.
It is in so many words saying to you we will not burn you at the stake but we will torture you to a death by a slow fire that will not confiscate your property and consign you to a residence and equality with the african but that destiny certainly awaits your children – and you must quietly submit or we will force you to submission – men who can hesitate to resist such aggressions are slaves already and deserve their destiny

Find it here:


Georgia’s Declaration of Secession is likely the most comprehensive and explanatory of the documents.  It begins with similar grievances to the prior declarations, citing denial of constitutional rights, denial of new slave states, the election of Lincoln and his Republican party (later in the Declaration called the anti-slavery party), and Congress’ willful ignorance of Georgia’s calls to fix these issues.  What Georgia’s Declaration does that few others did is give a brief but nuanced argument about Constitutionality and economics.  According to the Georgian Declaration, Northern and Middle businesses were being given huge concessions and monetary subsidies that were not being given to the South (things like fishermen getting $500,000 annually from the US Treasury and some $7,000,000 being used to improve infrastructure on the argument that the businesses were infant and there was a scarcity of labor in the North).

Furthermore, Georgia cited the Dred Scott Supreme Court case as a reason why the Fugitive Slave laws were legal.  The Fugitive Slave laws stated that slaves who escaped over state borders would be given back to their owners, and that any person who willfully hindered or denied knowledge of the fugitive would be fined a hefty sum of money.  In the 1850s, Dred Scott was a slave who was brought into the state of Illinois, a free state.  He sued for his freedom and in a 7-2 ruling by the Supreme Court, was denied it.  Georgia cited the decision as a reason why the free states were wrong to break free from the Fugitive Slave laws.  Georgia makes the claim that they would never have joined the Union in the first place had the right to own slaves not been protected as it was, and by backing down on those protections, it was Georgia’s imperative to leave the Union.

Again, form your own opinions after reading the Declaration:


Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery – the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits – a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.

The third paragraph of Texas’ Declaration of Secession explains much of their issue with the American Union.  Slavery was not protected, and Texas joined up with slavery as a keystone to the deal.  They also cite the issues with Mexican Banditti and Indian war parties that made incursions into the state as a reason for leaving the Union; predominantly because the Federal government did not reimburse Texas for expenses in fighting off invaders, forcing the state to pay for protection with its own money.

They have, through the mails and hired emissaries, sent seditious pamphlets and papers among us to stir up servile insurrection and bring blood and carnage to our firesides.
They have sent hired emissaries among us to burn our towns and distribute arms and poison to our slaves for the same purpose.
They have impoverished the slave holding States by unequal and partial legislation, thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance.

They have refused to vote appropriations for protecting Texas against ruthless savages (1865th word in the post!), for the sole reason that she is a slave-holding state.

While a fair amount more about the protection and payment of Texas, the Declaration is still unabashedly focused on Slavery as the primary reason for leaving the Union.
Read it:


This is not something that should be up to debate.  The Civil War was about Slavery, officially, on the record books, in the STATE CONGRESSIONAL statements; slavery caused the war.  By no uncertain terms however, was it not about state rights.  By 1860s standards, slavery was a right that was guaranteed to many states, and many states approached slavery in the same way one would approach interstate commerce legislation.  When the Constitution was written, some states had a right to slavery and the right was slowly taken from them through policy and politics.  It is however, a historical failing to equate a war over slavery with a war over state rights.  Over time I will try to find the other 6 Declarations of Secession and see if all Southern states had similar reasoning, but in no uncertain terms, 5 states fought the “War of Northern Aggression” because they wanted to protect their right to own humans as chattel.


Who were the Knights Templar?

Ever since Hollywood took command of the storytelling aspect of the Knights Templar, the history and mystery of the fallen order has blossomed into a majestic conspiracy theory.  The Poor Knights of Christ of the Temple of Solomon have captured imagination of several authors and storytellers because their history is one of glory and treachery.
The motto of the Knights Templar:
“Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name be the Glory.”   –Psalm 115

For the record, there is no Templar castle hidden in Boston, there is no American-Freemason-Templar organization, the Constitution does not have a map on it, and Nick Cage is not a history professor.

Beginning in 1118, just after the First Crusade left European armies quizzically victorious after storming the Holy Land and conquering it in an unexpectedly fast and simple conflict, pilgrims from across Europe began pouring into Jerusalem.  Banditry accosted many of the wealthy pilgrims, lawlessness was rampant in the countrysides and trails around the Crusader stronghold.  9 knights approached King Baldwin II of Jerusalem with a novel idea: an organization of monks, trained to fight, designated to protect the pilgrims.  With the blessing of the king of Jerusalem, the knights formed their order and were given a wing in Baldwin’s central complex to be their headquarters.  The wing that they occupied was believed to be directly above the granulated remains of the Temple of Solomon; hence the name, the Knights of the Temple of Solomon, or later simplified down to just “the Knights Templar”.

Although relatively unknown for many years, the knights became internationally famous when Bernard de Clairvaux (later became a saint, also has a dog named after him) advocated for them at the Council of Troyes in 1128 and won sanctioned support of the Church.  People were originally wary that holy men should not be men of war, but with some clever writings, Bernard convinced Europe that holy men packing heat was a good strategy and donations to the Knights Templar began to flow in.  In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued the bull Omne Datum Optimum, which placed the Knights Templar order directly under the authority of the Papacy.  That meant that Knights Templar were not subjected to taxation, borders, or laws of any man save the Pope.

Pope Innocent II gave the order the 12th century version of a blank check

One of the primary tenants of the Templar order was poverty, so the knights themselves did not live opulently regardless of the money that they raked in each year.  The Order began to become fabulously wealthy and spread itself across Europe and the Crusader kingdoms.  The strength of the Templar army and the strength of their convictions made it so that they were one of the most trusted organizations in all of Europe, and people who would go off to fight in the Crusades would leave ownership of their lands to either the Knights Templar or a different Templar order, the Knights Hospitaller.  The Templars actually began a system of “traveller’s checks” and primitive IOU notations that would allow withdrawals at other Templar banks for any amount that was deposited at another Templar hub.

Being the Bank system of Europe didn’t hurt their income either.  The Templars owned half as much property as the Hospitallers, but were substantially more wealthy

As the Crusades continued, the Europeans began to lose.  Like, a lot.  The Crusader knights then were left with huge amounts of power, a ton of property, the Papacy’s personal seal of approval, and spare time.

Other orders began asserting their influence around Europe and would help or quash coups in assorted kingdoms, which leads to the story of the downfall of the Knights Templar: King Philip IV of France was in debt to the Templar order and was dead center in a bare-knuckle political brawl over the Holy Roman Empire.  Philip went so far as to say that the Vatican was wrong when it elected a German-favoring pope into the seat, and in 1309 started a separate papacy in Avignon, France.  Philip feared Templar influence on his tentative position in Europe’s power structure, but perhaps more likely, he really wanted the cash that the Templar order had stocked away in France.  There is a story about Philip having to hide away from an angry mob in a Templar building, where he experienced the raw majesty of the Templar order’s wealth (something like 2077 liters of wine being drunk by his court in a few days).  Lo and behold, several days later, the Templars begin being arrested on charges of heresy and irreverence.  After extreme torture, many Templars confessed to everything from kicking the cross to “obscene kisses at ceremonies” (one Templar was recorded saying that the torture was so bad that he would have admitted to having killed God by the end).  Clement V, the French pope, did little to aid the Templars, and their order who stood against Saracens for 200 years was eradicated in a matter of 3 years as rulers from around Europe who were in debt to the Templar order turned on them and wiped them out.
This is supposed to be a picture of one of the “obscene kisses”

As for why the Templar order remains so relevant in pop culture?  Several legends survived the order, giving the remembrance of the order of knights a near magical mysterious quality.  First off, the Order was founded on the footsteps of the Temple of Solomon, one of the most biblically powerful locations in Christian theology.  When the order had to ship out at the close of the Crusader era, stories began to arise that postulated that they had located the Holy Grail somewhere in the dirt beneath their headquarters and jealously guarded it as they clandestinely ferried it to Europe.  Secondly, the order began to be suspected of heresy, witchcraft, black magic, sacrifices, Satanism, demon worship, and a whole host of other things before it was eradicated.  Most historians believe the charges to be propaganda circulated by angry opposition forces similar to the Blood Libel that circulated about Jewish people killing babies at night (For real, Jewish communities were accused and in some cases killed because of fear that they were using the blood of Christian children for their magic).  A third, though likely not final reason why Templars are still seen as oddly magic comes from the legendary last statement of Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar.  As he burned at the stake, he reportedly said, “Within one year, God will summon both Clement and Philip to His Judgment for these actions.”  Serendipitously, both Philip and Clement supposedly died within a year of Molay’s immolation.


Ancient Grecian iMac

In April of 1900, a cadre of Greek sponge divers (literally divers who collect sponges off the sea bed) located a shipwreck off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera (anti-kith-era).  When the first diver whipped off his helmet and babbled about having found treasure, the world did not know just how impressive the find was.  Dozens of statues, adornments, objects, jars, pots and whatnot were brought up.  Artifacts from over 2,000 years before, dating back to somewhere around 140 BCE.  Among the finds were some of the most impressively preserved bronze statues from the era.

The Antikythera philosopher and the Antikythera youth.  Bronze sculptures of exceptional quality and craftsmanship.

Two years later, when the excitement had died down a bit, curators began to work with the less impressive finds from the Antikythera shipwreck.  Among the doodads and chunks of pots that they parsed through was a blob of wood and bronze, previously unnoticed because of how prosaic it was.  While checking over the artifacts, archaeologist Valerios Stais noticed that there was a gear squashed into the metal.  His first assumption was that the thing was some sort of astrological clock, built by the Greeks millenia before Enlightenment Europeans even tried to puzzle together a clockwork.  Historians and archaeologists largely ignored the claims of Stais, arguing that a geared mechanism would be far beyond the capacity of ancient people, even the Greeks.

This is the main gear, it has over 200 fine teeth and served a specific purpose.  For some perspective, when this thing was made, Caesar was still around.  The Antikythera device was Thousands of years ahead of its time.

The mechanism was relatively forgotten until the 1950s, when an Archaeologist and a Nuclear Physicist worked together and X-ray’d the entire bronze piece, finding several more layers of gears and inscriptions underneath the outer corrosion.  The device was recreated in the flurry of research that followed the find.  Inventors found that the mechanism was likely used to tell time on an astrological scale.  Spinning one of the nobs would cause the device to whir to life and would show you the relative positions of the Sun, Mars, Venus, Mercury, Saturn and Jupiter, as well as showing the relative position of stars, the day, and perhaps most importantly, it could predict eclipses far in to the future.  The mechanism even had advanced enough mechanics that it could take into account the epicycles of Greek astronomy (Greeks had a Geocentric model of the universe, everything revolved around Earth.  If you think that the planets revolve around the Earth, then you have to come up with a really creative way of explaining positions of the planets.  Instead of going with a Heliocentric model, most Europeans agreed upon the idea that planets would orbit Earth all the while making tiny orbits of their own about imaginary centerpoints.  The bobbling of the planets in a Geocentric model would more or less align the positions of the planets, but it made the math impressively difficult to do.)

If you have 8 minutes to watch, this video gives a more complete description as well as a more visual model of the mechanism:

Epicycles made the math work, but at what cost…

60 years of work has come up with several conclusions: That we don’t know who made the thing; it may have been directly based on a device made by Archimedes, it may have been an original creation by a Greek mathematician.  That we really are unsure when it was made; recent findings say 205 BCE, older beliefs say 140 BCE (this is important, it means the math that the mechanism used was either a Greek creation or a Babylonian creation depending on when it was built).  That we are fairly sure that there must be other inventions like this one, and that the Greeks were advanced far beyond our wildest dreams in their technical skills.  Until we find something else similar to it, the Antikythera mechanism remains the only ancient computer we have ever found.  Cicero talks about there being devices like it, planetariums and similar manual automatons, but all we currently know about the impressive computers of the ancient world comes from a small box of bronze, tin, and wood that we scraped off the sea floor.


Carthago Delenda Est pt.I

“Carthago Delenda Est”, originally said by Cato the Elder when referencing the shining city of Carthage translates directly to “Carthage must be destroyed.”  The Carthaginian empire and the Roman empire had been fighting for nearly 100 years, and the growth of Carthage’s military strength in the years before 146 BCE was enough to provoke Roman officials to clamor for the utter destruction of the city.

How is it then, that a city that was able to stand toe to toe with the Roman empire holds so little memory in the modern day?  Most people have heard of Carthage, several have heard of Hannibal, some may even know that he wasn’t the guy from Silence of the Lambs.  The city of Carthage was wiped off the map.  Its people enslaved, its city literally torn stone from stone, its books burned or scattered, and its memory made something that people would speak about in hushed tones.  There is a reason why so little is known about something that so many have heard about, and it starts nearly 3000 years ago.

One of these things is not like the other…

The legend is that Carthage was founded by an exiled princess from the Phonetician city of Tyre.  Queen Elissa escaped from a murderous brother and started the small city on the northern tip of Tunisia, where modern day Tunis is located.  The story is that Aeneas came to the city as an exile, fell in love with the Queen but went out to meet his destiny by founding the city of Rome.  When Elissa found out about this, she threw herself on his sword and invoked a spirit of vengeance to fall upon Rome (that was a direct reference to Hannibal, the poem was written after Rome splattered Carthage).  In all honesty, the city was likely just a 9th century BCE colony of Phonetician traders who broke away from the greater empire as the classic Phonetician cities were ransacked by Assyrians in the 600s.  When Alexander the Great crushed the Tyrians in  332 BCE, the fleeing remains of the Phonetician empire consolidated at their city in Carthage, where they set about conquering the Libyan and Numidian people who lived in the area to create the new Punic empire.

Seriously, this empire was HUGE for how little people know about it.

Carthage quickly rose to be a wealthy and successful merchant city, with vast amounts of wealth at sea and connections to many kingdoms of the era.  They were rivaled by only a few empires of the era, chief among them was Rome.  Shaky alliances between the two kingdoms held together as Carthage and Rome conquered Sicily and a host of other Greek colonies.  In a last ditch effort, King Pyrrhus of Epirus tried to fight back against the Romans and Carthaginians by raiding their holdings rather than defending his kingdom.  When he attacked Roman coastal colonies, Carthage did little to help (why would they, it was Roman land after all..), and when he turned his focus on Sicily, a Carthaginian settlement, the Romans did little to help (why would they, Carthage didn’t help them after all…).  The Carthaginian response to Pyrrhus’ attacks was to sign a peace treaty, hand him a fleet of ships and point him back towards Rome with their blessings.  The treaty with Pyrrhus permanently damaged relations between the two empires.

Pyrrhus’ attack patterns.  If you squint, you can almost feel the Romans getting back-stabbed in Western Sicily.

Shortly after Pyrrhus’ attacks in the third century BCE, the Syracusan King Hiero began attacking a city called Massana in the norther most tip of Sicily.  The Carthaginians rushed to the defense of the Mamertines (people who controlled Massana) and fought off the fleets of Syracuse.  Within a few short years, the Mamertines began to resent Carthage’s occupying force, instead requesting Roman help to throw off the yoke of Carthaginian oppression.  This essentially began the First Punic War, with Rome and Carthage bashing against each other for nearly 4 years before the Romans conquered the seas.  In the end, the Roman navy bested the Carthaginian one, and the agreement was that Carthage would pay the Roman’s reparations to reduce the damages of the war.  Though Carthage lost the First Punic War, a general named Hamilcar Barca was undefeated in battle with the Romans, and his shame of losing a war while never losing a battle was grafted onto his son Hannibal Barca.

Hamilcar Barca rose to the power in the military when the First Punic War ended.  A large portion of Carthage’s troops were mercenaries and they were not paid for the war because Carthage was monetarily stripped from a 4 year long war and paying Rome at the same time.  Hamilcar had to put down a mercenary uprising and did so with ease, earning himself the name of Supreme Military Commander of the Carthaginian forces.  He immediately set sail for Sardania to claim it before the Romans could occupy the land.  News of Hamilcar’s mobilization spooked the Romans into demanding Carthage recall him from his mission and pay an additional 1200 talents of silver for their worries.  Rome then sent forces to occupy Sardania and further humiliated Hamilcar and Carthage.

Hamilcar shortly thereafter invaded Spain for the silver and minerals that could be found on the peninsula.  Rome had no interest in the Spanish lands in 235 BCE, and they allowed Carthage to conquer most of the area until some Greek settlements in northwestern Italy began to lodge complaints that Hamilcar was dangerously close to their borders.  When Roman agents checked in on what he was doing, Hamilcar welcomed them in and showed them around the silver mines explaining how it would help them to pay Rome back for the Punic War.  With that explanation Rome was happy and left him to his devices in Spain, unaware that the money was refueling Carthage’s war engine.

This time they would bring Elephants.  Angry, Drunken pachyderms

Hamilcar died in 229 BCE in a conflict with the Celtiberians, sending his sons one direction as he led the enemy another.  Hannibal Barcar took command shortly thereafter, considered to be the incarnation of his father, with a fierce hatred of the Romans.  He is still considered to be one of the greatest generals of all time.

The Carthaginians signed a Peace Treaty with Rome in 226 BCE that agreed to hold borders at the Iberus river in Spain.  Rome however, had a colony that extended South of the river into Punic territory, and Hannibal desired it.  Within a few years, the Second Punic War was raging, and Hannibal would leave his mark on history as the foil to one of Rome’s greatest generals of all time, Scipio Africanus.

There’s going to be a part two to this story, detailing the Second and Third Punic Wars and the destruction of Carthage.

TL;DR, People don’t know anything about Carthage because Rome wiped it from memory.  People do, however, remember the name and understand the significance of Hannibal and Carthage because Rome continually referenced Scipio’s victory while trying to stamp out mention of Carthage.  It was the greatest success and failure of propaganda of all time.  Carthage is now just a bogeyman of history, used to explain how Rome could be met with monumental adversity while still succeeding.  Carthage’s memory is both the ghosts of a failed empire and the boasts of a conqueror.


Popped Corks and Forgotten Resolutions

New Years comes with a set of annual traditions.  There is champagne, cork pops, ball drops, and then there is a list of things that we plan on doing over the next year that we inevitably seem to fail at doing.

Champagne is believed to have taken on the role of “symbol of joyful occasion” in the last two hundred years, but the legend is taht it was little more than a nuisance when it was first discovered.  Dom perignon, a Benedictine monk from the province of Champagne, France,  famed as the original discoverer of Champagne, as he stumbled upon the process of halted secondary fermentation through aeration of the wine that produces the carbonation in the liquid.  The story is something along the lines of him bottling the wines early and coming into contact with cold and damp weather that slowed the fermentation.  When the process was finished, accompanied by some exploding bottles (French bottles weren’t made to resist the pressures of the secondary fermentation) he tasted the drink and bolted about calling, “Come quickly!  I am drinking the Stars!”  While it is a popular story that is widely known, the assumption is that it is incorrect for a number of reasons.

The story that I’ve been able to find is that a group of Champenios (people from the province of Champagne) gathered together in the 1930s during the Depression and hosted a three day long brouhaha to celebrate “the 250th anniversary of Dom Perignon’s discovery” irregardless of the actual historical inaccuracies.  Their hail Mary worked and the Champagne sales rocketed while Dom Perignon was granted an immortal position in the wine maker’s pantheon.

Dom Perignon’s wine is believed to have been great, a grand red wine that was given to King Louis XIV, but it was not the bubbly that we know and associate him with today.  The true origin is now believed to have been in England, where Christopher Merret was believed to have written down a recipe for the drink over 20 years before Dom Perignon’s famous star tasting.  The English hold that Merret was experimenting with a similar process that the Brits used on ciders where sugar was added to start a secondary fermentation, and that English bottles were built stronger and thicker than French ones because of glassblowing techniques, making them able to withstand it.  The true reason for the secondary fermentation allowing the bubbles to begin wasn’t discovered until the mid 1800s when Louis Pasteur discovered how aeration could arrest anaerobic fermentation (originally to stop putrefaction of a liquid like milk), a process that we now call Pasteurization.

As for New Years resolutions, the history behind those is an old and religious one.  Babylonians would celebrate their New Years at the beginning of the Spring and would use the time as the moment to promise the Gods that they would do good things or great conquest.  Romans would start their new year on January 1st.  The date literally has no significance, it was just picked at random by Julius Caesar to honor the two faced god Janus.  The New Year’s beginning would mark the time where assorted vows could be reestablished (see “The Vow of the Peacock” to read a 1315 poem on the subject).  The most similar thing to what we have now is from the Watchnight service in the Methodist Church, thought to come form the Moravian tradition in Czechoslovakian history where people would stay up on the final day of the year and pray, sing, meet and make resolutions for their upcoming year.  As is the same with much of history, there is no true connection that can be easily found that connects the past to the present beyond the simple passage of time and the way that centuries can make a deeply religiously based tradition into a secular one that has less to do with not sinning and more to do with not eating cookies.

Hopefully y’all learned something new, something cool or something different.  Now when you look at a bottle of milk, just remember; both the moo juice and the NASCAR celebration bath were brought to you by the same guy.  Kudos to you Louis Pasteur.  Kudos to you.

Citations, because Champagne history is a surprisingly contentious issue:

Champagne from Champagne is totally Champagne champagne.

Merret’s Merits and Pasteur’s… Pasteurs?

Who watches the Watchnights?’s_resolution