Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Vlad the Impaler, the Real Dracula

Before vampires did stupid things like sparkle and impregnate high schoolers, they were among the most terrifying creatures of legend, right alongside witches, werewolves, and koalas. The classic vampire that everyone recognizes is Count Dracula; based on Irish author Bram Stoker's classic 1897 novel, the character has been popularized in the storied performances of Béla Lugosi in the 1931 film, Christopher Lee in the 1958 version, and Zale Kessler's fantastic voice acting in 1988's Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School. But the real Dracula was not so much interested in ingesting people's blood as he was killing invading Turks and sticking their rotting corpses on spikes for everyone to see. Not nearly as bad!

Fig.1: What Vlad III Dracula 
lacked in fangs and a thirst 
for blood, he made up for 
with awesome hair!
This man was Vlad III, Prince (or Voivode) of Wallachia. Wallachia was a principality in Eastern Europe located in present-day Romania, just to the south of a little place called Transylvania! Dramatic noise! Vlad III was born in 1431 to Vlad II, whose nickname was Dracul ("the dragon"). Thus his son became known as Dracula, meaning "son of the dragon," implying that Vlad's great-great-great-great grandsons could have been called Draculaaaaaa. Anyway, this was a very precarious time to live in Wallachia, as those darn Ottomans were beginning their surge into Europe, and Vlad's kingdom was right on the front lines. Wallachia needed a strong, ruthless ruler to defend their territory and way of life, and a prince whose nickname would later be used for a blood-sucking monster was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mongol Conquest of China

Fig.1: Genghis knows how to grow a playoff beard.
The Mongols did a lot of conquesting in the 13th century. By 1279, their empire consisted of nations such as Russia, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and the all-important "Stans" of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Stan Lee, the Stanley Cup (fig.1), and the wealthy banking conglomerate of Standard Chartered (stock name STAN on the London Exchange). But perhaps the jewel of their empire was a little-known place called China. The ethnic Chinese had ruled China for several millennia, ever since the people who ruled China suddenly realized they were ethnic Chinese. The Mongol invasions from 1206 to their final victory in 1279 changed all that, establishing the precedent that non-Chinese conquerors would follow in the Manchu, the Europeans, the Japanese, and those filthy stinking Communists. Ug, they're the worst.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Peloponnesian War (Part Two)

Last time...on the Canned Historian:

  • Greek city-states became Greek city-men during the Persian War.
  • Workplace tensions between Athens' Delian League and Sparta's Peloponnesian League could not be resolved by HR, initiating the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC.
  • Sparta refuses to get wet, and Athens doesn't want to get out of the pool, so the war goes nowhere at first.
  • Jack Bauer rescues his daughter and takes down the Serbian agent who kidnapped her, only to realize that he killed the agent's body-double's second-cousin-twice-removed, and had mistaken his daughter with a My Size Barbie.
  • Athens and Sparta agree to the Peace of Nicias, putting the war on hold...for now...

Fig.1: Despite popular knowledge, 
this gentleman would not be 
involved in Syracusan politics 
until the mid-4th century BC.
By 415 BC, Athens and Sparta had been at "peace" for six years (I use that word as lightly as Burger King uses "healthy" to describe their new menu options). There had been fighting between Athens' and Sparta's allies in their respective Leagues, but the two main powers had stayed out of their gym class squabbles for the most part. But then Athens received a nice letter from some friends on the island of Sicily, asking them to help in their struggle against the big man on campus there: Syracuse (not really fig.1). Athens saw an opportunity not only to help a friend out, but to plant a foot in Sicily and hopefully use its resources to eventually defeat those Spartans. Okay, to be honest, Athens was really only thinking of that second thing, but who hasn't been a little selfish when given the chance to take over a large island in the Mediterranean? You and I have no right to judge!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Peloponnesian War (Part One)

Fig.1: The Battle of Mrs. Hutchinson's Geometry Class, circa 6th Period.
Among the funny-sounding wars in Ancient history, the Punic Wars always win out (hehe...Punic), but perhaps more costly and ground-breaking is the Peloponnesian War. This fight to the death between Athens and Sparta in the 5th century prior to the first baking of doughnuts (which scholars refer to as Before Crullers, or BC) devastated Greece and its colonies, and practically ended the Greek Golden Age of literature, philosophy, athleticism, and binge drinking that we commonly associate with the era. What's worse is that the conflict played out pretty much like a high school quarrel: one person said something bad about another behind their back, causing both sides to involve all of their friends in the feud, which effectively ended any hope for a quick peaceful resolution without someone getting sweet potato casserole dumped over their head in the cafeteria. And let me tell you, that stuff does not get out of your hair easily at all.